Anna Grayson and The Dragon's Lair

Shackles and Bolts

ONE

Anna was crying into the dead man’s chest. “No… no… Sidney…” She looked into Lieutenant Mantos’s face as he gently helped her to stand again.

“I’m very sorry for your loss, but I cannot allow you to touch the body. We have to leave all the evidence we can intact. I know you understand.”

“No — I don’t understand. What happened to him? Who could have done this to Sidney?” Anna sobbed.

“That’s what we intend to find out, Anna. Can I call you Anna?” She nodded, not taking her eyes off Sidney’s body, lying so dreadfully still in the cobblestone alley.

“So you obviously know this man,” Anna nodded again. “And… you said his name was… Sidney?”

“Sidney Heidelbach, yes.”

The lieutenant wrote down the name. “When was the last time you saw him?”

Still sobbing, Anna tried to remember. “About two weeks, I think. Sidney was here on business for my father.”

“And… this Mr. Heidelbach… he’s a Muggle, right?”

Anna glared back at Mantos. “No… he’s a person.”

The man frowned. “Of course, I meant no disrespect. How does he know your family?”

“He works with my father. He’s an employee of a Muggle bank that my father does business with.”

“Why would your father have a Muggle working for him?”

Anna scowled again. The leader of the Spellsburg Guard sounded condescending. “I’ll have you know, Sidney is extremely bright and caring.” She looked down at the body and sniffed again as another guard moved to cover him once more. “It was an honor to know him. Oh God… his poor family.” She wiped her nose on her sleeve and Mantos gave her his handkerchief.

“You must understand, Anna, we have to find out what happened to him. I’m afraid there will be a lot of difficult questions to answer here, so we’re going to need your complete cooperation and help on this.”

Anna looked back at the Crimson Lieutenant skeptically and then nodded. “I’ll do whatever I can, of course.”

Mantos jerked a quick smile. “Good. Now then… how did you get along with Mr. Heidelbach?”

Anna frowned. “I… got along fine with Sidney. He was a very, very sweet man.”

“Did you ever fight with him… have any disagreements?”

Anna looked appalled. “What? Of course not!”

“Ever have cause to carry a grudge, or report him to your father for anything he might have said or did that was inappropriate while he was around you?”

“No…”

“Can you think of anything that might have put the two of you into conflict with each another?”

“No!” Anna was starting to feel angry. “I don’t understand why you would think…”

The sudden clicking and flashing of several cameras at the alley entranceway caught their attention. They could hear several reporters yelling over the gathering crowd.

“Grayson, what do you know about this crime? What can you tell us about the murdered man? Why has your sister summoned here? Has she been implicated in a second murder?”

Anna saw Eric being escorted through the crowd, accompanied by Captain Hayman.

“Eric!” Anna threw herself into her brother’s arms. “It’s Sidney. Somebody…” she began to cry again, “somebody… hurt him!”

Eric Grayson looked down at the covered body in surprise while holding onto his sister. “My God… Sidney? Are… are you sure?”

“I saw him, Eric. Who would do this to him? Who?”

Captain Hayman was now kneeling over the body and pulled the cover down to look at the Muggle’s face. His dead dropped as he respectfully covered him again. He looked over at Eric and nodded.

“Not dead. I… I don’t understand,” Eric said, still holding his sister tight. “What happened?”

Mantos was motioning Hayman to the side. “There’s something you should see, John.” The lieutenant pulled a piece of parchment out of his robes and handed it to the captain. “We found this in the Muggle’s pocket. It’s addressed to Boris Grayson.”

Hayman opened the paper and read the words written upon it. A surprised frown fell upon his face as he looked quickly back at Anna and Eric.

TWO

The castle’s corridors were darkened by the foul weather outside and due the fact it was well past curfew. The school’s students had finished their dinner and returned to their rooms, to their studies and books. A lone rat scampered up the hallway in the darkness and then stopped at the strange sound of scratching behind a nearby door. The rodent cautiously crept toward the mat of light, stretching out from under the door’s bottom edge. He sniffed under the door and then dropped his chin to look in. A woman was sitting at her desk, writing a letter.

December 20th

Miss Grayson,

I was alarmed by your last owl to me, recounting your being transfigured into a rat by one of the crimson lieutenants of Castlewood. Apart from the fact this punishment was long since been banned here at Hogwarts, and in most other Wizarding schools, I am most troubled regarding your part leading up to this confrontation and subsequent response.

Reversing a transfiguration hex without the use of a wand is very difficult magic, even for the most talented of witches and wizards. You should strive to be more diligent in not parading your gifts so freely to those around you. I beg you to heed my warnings on this matter.

That being said, your descriptions of these events seem to confirm my initial view — that your given skills far exceed those of most Animagi. I dare not elaborate here, because our owls could be monitored. We will not be able to communicate in the manner again for the rest of the school year. Do not send any owls to me here at Hogwarts, and I will send my letters to your father when I am away from the castle.

Professor McGonagall leaned back in her chair to think. It was sleeting outside her Hogwarts window again, as it had been all week. The flashes of lightening outside her casement matched the spark of anger growing in her heart since the beginning of the school year. Cornelius Fudge was meddling in the affairs of Hogwarts and was blatantly challenging Dumbledore’s control over the school. The thought of it infuriated the woman. She suddenly whipped her wand around and blasted the rat’s nose sniffing under her door. There was a sharp squeal of pain from the other side and then the scamper of tiny feet running away. The witch sneered satisfactory, picked up her quill again, and continued to write.

Anna, you must try harder to control yourself while in public, and especially since You-Know-Who’s return. His followers are everywhere, watching all that might be interpreted as a danger to his ambitions. We must assume there would be some form of curiosity about you, and thus the very real danger in drawing too much attention to yourself during your studies at Castlewood. I pray for your caution always.

Remember my warning about not writing to Hogwarts. I will reach out to you again over the Christmas holiday.

Your council always during these troubling times, Professor Minerva McGonagall

Deputy Head Mistress, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

THREE

Anna was still sobbing in a chair in Captain Hayman’s office, the shock of Sidney’s murder still working its way through her numbed mind. Eric was sitting next to her, holding his sister tight in his arms. Hayman, Mantos and Dunning were going over the reports just given to them.

“Captain, I told you before we should have kept Anna Grayson under guard until we understood and fully investigated the Wendell murder,” Dunning whispered. “Now we have another murder to deal with and still no reason to think the girl wasn’t involved.”

Looking somewhat surprised by this statement, Hayman looked at Mantos who was now nodding his agreement.

“I would suggest restricting the girl’s movements, Captain,” Mantos suggested. “Even if she’s not implicated in these two cases, somebody is clearly making it look like she’s involved. For the girl’s own protection, it would seem reasonable to keep Miss Grayson inside the castle until the students leave for the holiday.”

Hayman was clearly struggling with his decision. “I’m reluctant to hold the girl a prisoner and under house arrest unless the evidence is overwhelming.”

“Captain — there were witnesses that saw them together just before his death!” Dunning spat angrily.

“Hold on,” Eric said, rising to stand. “Surely, you can’t believe my sister had anything to do with this murder.”

Anna was stunned as she looked from her brother to the Crimson officers huddled together.

“No…” she murmured softly. “Not me. I would never hurt Sidney. I couldn’t have; I liked Sidney very much!”

“Miss Grayson — what we may or may not believe doesn’t matter,” Dunning snapped back, glaring at Anna. “What matters is the safety of this school’s students and the residents within the city.”

“But…”

“You were the last one to see this Muggle alive. There were several eye witnesses that saw the two of you walking together the night he was murdered!”

“Hold on… how do you know for certain that Sidney was actually murdered two weeks ago?” Eric asked. “And if true, why is his body only being found now?”

“The body was half buried in the debris within the alleyway to keep it out of sight and a scourgifying spell was used to control the smell,” Mantos explained. “But our tests are conclusive about the time of death… it was at least two weeks ago.”

Dunning stepped up to Anna. “Let me have your wand.”

“My… my wand?” Anna said, suddenly afraid.

“Had it over!”

Anna looked at Eric and then to Hayman. The captain reluctantly nodded to her. She removed her wand from her robes and then handed it to Lieutenant Dunning.

“I’ll be testing this wand for any spells that might have been used against this Muggle.”

“Good!” Eric quipped. “Then it shouldn’t be difficult to quickly clear my sister of this crime. Just keep in mind, Dunning, that Anna is on both the Swift Slalom team and in the dueling club, so you should expect to find more than the casual array of classroom spells in that wand.”

Dunning was inspecting the wand closely. “I’m sure I won’t find anything out of the norm.” He peered over the wand and down at Anna again. “The perpetrator of a premeditated murder would have expected this simple inspection.”

“But… Trog was there with me. The three of us were together, and then Trog escorted me back to the castle after Sidney left us.”

Dunning could be heard grumbling under his breath about brainless beasts being allowed to roam in the city.

“We do have a sworn statement from Trog with an accounting of Anna’s time after Heidelbach left the two of them,” Hayman agreed.

“But captain… you can’t just set aside all the evidence on the word of a dim-witted ogre!” Dunning shot back.

“Trog is not dim-witted!” Anna retorted.

Dunning turned to her. “As long as his testimony clears you… of course not.”

“That’s not what I meant! And you’d believe a flobberworm if it told you it saw me hurting Sidney.”

Mantos stepped forward again. “Captain… for the girl’s own safety…”

There was another knock at the door.

“Come!” Dunning yelped.

“I have a scroll for the Captain from the Chancellor, sir.”

Dunning walked over and snatched the scroll from the guard’s hand. He looked at Hayman who nodded his approved to open it. Dunning slid his wand over the scroll’s seal and it opened immediately. He quickly read through the message and then smiled. He was staring at Anna with uncontained satisfaction as he walked over to Hayman and Lieutenant Mantos and handed them the parchment.

Hayman took the scroll and carefully read through the message. He seemed disturbed before turning to the Graysons. “Anna… I think it’s best that we restrict you to the castle.”

“What? But…”

“It’s just until we can finish this investigation.”

“But… that’s not fair. It’s going to make me look guilty to the rest of the school.”

Eric reached in. “Anna, I think this is a reasonable precaution. I agree with the captain on this.” Anna looked at her brother in surprise and Eric quickly leaned in to explain.

“Somebody is trying to make it look like you were responsible for this crime. It was the same with Wendell as well, and we have to assume it was the same person who attached Sarah Bell. Somebody is trying to get to you; for what reason I don’t know, but until we understand who’s doing this and why, I think it best that you stay out of the city.”

Anna frowned. “But… I don’t understand. Why would you think the person who hurt Sidney was trying to blame me?” She looked at Captain Hayman and then to Mantos and Dunning. She could tell there was something they weren’t telling her.

“What is it? You couldn’t have thought it was me just because I was with him that night.” She looked around again at Eric. “What it is you’re not telling me.”

Eric looked at Hayman and reluctantly nodded. Hayman slipped his hand into his pocket and pulled out the paper they had found on Sidney’s body and handed it to Anna.

“What’s this?” Anna opened the paper and read the following words.

Mister Grayson,

I am reluctant to inform you of my ambitions to end our working relationship, and to those you represent, effective immediately. I have come to this decision out of fear for my personal safety. Over the last several days in Spellsburg, it has become apparent that your daughter, Anna, harbors a very high level of animosity toward me to the extent that I am now fearful for my life.

Anna’s eyes widened. “What?” She read on.

I do not understand what I could have done in your service to deserve Anna’s violent reaction to my presence, but it has become abundantly clear to me that for my own safety and that of my family, I must resolve now to stay as far away from your daughter as possible. In addition, I would like set up a time to meet personally and share with you the threats Anna has delivered to me so as to insure she gets the proper care available to one with her obvious medical needs.

On a personal note, I hope my services have been of value to you and to your clients. It has been a pleasure working with you without the everyday shackles and bolts of corporate life. I will remain at your disposal for as long as is necessary to transfer any remaining tasks left undone by my expected departure. Until then, I remain in your service until the close of business tomorrow.

Respectfully yours, Sidney Heidelbach

Westfront International Investment Group

Anna angrily crumpled the letter into a ball and Dunning immediately stepped forward to snatch it out of her hand.

“Stop that! You’re won’t be allowed to destroy evidence in a murder investigation!”

“Sidney didn’t write that letter — he couldn’t have,” Anna yelled. “He couldn’t have — because I’ve never argued with him about anything!”

“That’s a lie too,” Dunning spat back. “When my sister found you last summer with this Muggle in the Shadowed Forest, she said the two of you arguing there as well.”

Anna was staggered. “What? But that wasn’t… I mean… that didn’t have anything to do with…” She looked at Hayman and Eric, lost for words. Both of them knew what happened the night when Sidney was found lost in the forest when he was looking to find Drogo prison and the gold he thought her father had stolen to send to the prison’s Secret Keeper. How much detail was Lieutenant Dunning and his sister allowed to remember? What did they still know about Victoria Grayson? Anna’s stare narrowed back at Dunning. She was suspicious that his memory had not been completely cleared. Would Castlewood’s former Captain of the Guard divulge the truth of what he still knew? It seemed Hayman was thinking the same thing.

“Gregory… can your sister tell us what the two of them were arguing about?”

Dunning’s face seemed to deflate. “No. She only remembers following Anna into the forest and hearing the two of them arguing before she sent up red sparks.”

“So she doesn’t know anything!” Eric argued back, believing the memory charm used on the Dunnings was still in effect.

“I know your sister is lying when she says she never argued with Heidelbach,” Dunning shot back.

“For God’s sake — if it hadn’t been for Anna, the man would have died in that forest. If she had some reason to harm Sidney, she wouldn’t have gone into the forest at all.”

Dunning sneered. “For all we know, she might have left him out there to die. If my sister hadn’t shown up to insure the Muggle got the proper medical attention he needed, who knows what she might have done to him. Remember… it wasn’t Anna who sent sparks into the air that night; it was my sister who did that!”

“I tried to send up sparks, but it terrified Sidney. I was there; I know what happened!”

“That’s enough!” Hayman bellowed. “Debbie Dunning can’t tell us what was said between Heidelbach and Anna, so to say they were arguing is just unsubstantiated conjecture.” Hayman took Sidney’s letter from Dunning. “And given the fact that the Imperius curse has been used indirectly against Anna already, it could be this letter was also given under duress. We have Trog’s statement that he escorted Anna back to the castle that night and then stood guard at the drawbridge from that time until morning; I don’t see how Anna could have gone back into the city without his knowledge.”

“But Captain… the calculated time of death is not absolute. The man could have been killed up to twenty four hours later..”

“But this report says the wristwatch Heidelbach was wearing was broken on the date and time of his attack. It confirms his death less than an hour after Anna left him,” Hayman argued back.

“But… she grew up with Muggles,” Dunning retorted. “It would have been a simple matter for her to kill the man the next day and then reset the watch to give her an alibi.”

“Simple?” Anna fumed. “You think killing Sidney would have been simple? You’re sick!”

“This isn’t getting us anywhere,” Hayman concluded. “Anna — you’re not to leave the castle until further notice. Do you understand?”

“But…”

“Not another word — or I’ll lock you in your room when you’re not in class! And if I have to put a guard next to you until the end of the school year, I’ll do that as well!”

Anna looked at Eric, clearly feeling put upon.

“I agree with John, Anna. It’s for your own safety; you’ll have to stay in the castle.”

Anna fell against the back of her chair with an angry huff.

FOUR

The next morning an owl flew into Mayor Ulric’s office window carrying a letter with the Castlewood crest embossed on the front. He opened the letter and read the note from the academy’s Chancellor.

My Dear Ulric,

Due to the terrible news coming out of the city about another murder, I am obliged to inform you of my decision to increase the general security of our student residents here at the school. With this ambition set as the highest importance, I have announced the cancellation of both the Quidditch and Swift Slalom seasons. I know this will come as a surprise to some of our city residents who, like the rest of us, look forward to these wizarding games and the fellowship they instill into our community, but I’m sure you would agree with me the children under our care must be our first priority in the weeks again.

Yours in Highest Regards, Elimar Thordarson Chancellor of Castlewood Academy for the Magical Arts

Mayor Prower dropped the letter into the fireplace next to him and heaved miserably.

“The odds-makers will be screaming for my blood!”

FIVE

“I’m very sorry about this, Boris. I truly am.”

Boris Grayson sat stunned by the news of Sidney’s murder just delivered to him by Captain Hayman and Chancellor Thordarson. Mister Grayson’s head fell into his hands in utter despair.

“My God… I don’t know what to say. How will I explain this to his boss, John Landers? To his wife and family?” The man shook his head and then looked up at the two heads floating in his fireplace.

“That’s not all, Boris. I’m afraid we have more bad news, perhaps just as troubling as the loss of this poor man’s life,” Thordarson added remorsefully.

“What do you mean, Professor?”

Hayman told Mister Grayson about the letter found on Sidney’s body. Its content came as a blow to Anna’s father who was on his feet before the last sentence was read to him.

“What rubbish is this? There’s no way in hell Sidney could have written that about Anna. It’s obviously a forgery!”

“I think not, Boris. Most likely, the letter was forced from the man by one of several methods —probably the Imperius Curse.” Thordarson’s head came forward in the fire. “I presume his references to shackles and bolts was something… prearranged?”

Mister Grayson nodded. “Yes, it was. I told Sidney to contact me or Kingsley Shacklebolt if he ever found himself in trouble.”

Thordarson nodded. “It must have taken the will of a very strong man to fight off the Imperious curse enough to add that tiny bit of subterfuge into his letter. I wish now I could have met him.”

“Boris, the Ministry of Magic has decided to take the body home to Chicago and make his death look like a local homicide,” Hayman added.

Mister Grayson frowned. “What? Is…is that really necessary?”

“Unless you can think of a better way to explain this to the Muggle authorities and to his family?”

Mister Grayson fell back. “It just seems so… disrespectful. Sidney was a very good man.”

Thordarson came forward again. I have written to the Captain of the Guard to restrict Anna’s movements to inside the castle grounds while they continue to investigate these murders.”

Boris smirked. “Anna won’t like those restrictions. She’s never liked being kept inside.”

Thordarson nodded. “It’s for the best anyway. Her parade of skills during her last Swift Slalom race was raising some very interesting questions from the faculty. I’m afraid her racing days this year are finished.”

There was a long pause before Hyman spoke again. “The man’s body was drained of all its blood again, Boris; just like Michael Wendell. We’re sure it was the same killer involved in both of these murders.”

There was another pause. “It… couldn’t be Victoria,” Mister Grayson finally struggled to say. “It just… can’t be.”

SIX

Anna was alone in the Shadowed Forest.

“Trog? Where are you? Please, Trog, I need your help.”

She pushed aside the remaining branches of a tree and saw an immense cave standing in a clearing under a very full moon.

“Trog? Are you in there?”

She could see an iron tri-pod standing over a smoldering fire next to a worn stump. Anna stepped into the mouth of the cave and pulled out her wand.

“Lumos!”

The cave looked empty, but much too deep to know for certain if anybody was really home.

“Trog — I’m looking for the dragon’s lair. I have to find it. Are you in there?”

There was a moan somewhere within the darkness ahead of her.

“Trog… is… is that you? Are you okay?” Anna bravely stepped forward, her wand outstretched in her hand.

Into the darkness she traveled, on and on, while the light of her wand seemed to dim with every step she took deeper into the cave. There was another moan, louder this time, mixed with the gurgled sound of someone struggling to breathe. Anna’s outstretched arm began to shake.

“Trog… is that you? Please answer me.”

She took another step and her wand’s light weakened again.

“Lumos! LUM-OS!” she chanted, shaking her purple heart fearfully. The wand sputtered and let out a sharp spark of purple before blowing itself out.

“Lumos!” Another spit of purple was all she could manage. She started to slowly back away, but then tripped. Her wand tumbled out of her hand as she fell to the ground.

“Oh- no. Where is it? My wand, where is it?” Another moan replied.

Anna’s hands began frantically sweeping over the dirt around her. She felt the stone walls of the cave and heard the familiar voices.

Fear not, for we will be your mettle.

Her hands kept moving until they fell upon something unexpected on the floor next to the cave’s wall. It was a large mound. Anna was terrified.

“Oh God…”

She scrambled away from the thing and then found her wand behind her. She gripped it tight, not immediately wanting to use its light.”

“Lumos!”

Nothing.

“Lumos-Maximus!”

A sphere of white light blazed around her and Anna screamed. The body of Michael Wendell lay beside her, his eyes still wide from the shock of his own death and blood pouring from the grotesque tear in his neck. Anna got to her feet, screamed again, and then turned to run. She tripped again and fell on top of Sidney’s body. He too was dead and fresh blood was spilling down both sides of his open neck. His eyes were staring at her with the same final look of horror he had given to his killer. Their eyes were locked together in terror and Anna shrieked again. She fell to the side and screamed again and again, waiting for Sidney to blink, to react in some way to her horror, but the dead man’s eyes could stare back at her.

“Anna…” came a whisper in a gurgled slur. “Get out… get… out!”

Anna turned and looked down. There on the floor next to Sidney was her brother Eric. His neck was torn open, his beard soaked with blood.

“Oh God — NO!” She fell down by her brother’s side. She reached out and then yanked back, not sure what she should do.

“Eric!” She set her wand on his chest and tried to cover his wound with her hands. She could feel his warm blood pushing up through her fingers.

“No!” He tried to whisper. “Get out…” He coughed. “Get out of…”

“Eric… I have to get you out of here… back to the castle. Doctor Pearl can help. Oh God, Eric… tell me what to do. We have to stop the bleeding!”

Her brother tried to pry her bloody hands away. “No… leave me. Get out of here. She’s going to kill you.”

Anna’s mind was drowning in terror. “No — I won’t leave you here. Tell me what spell I can use to stop the bleeding. PLEASE!”

And then there came a sound Anna would hear in every nightmare following that night. From out of the darkness surrounding her, a hissing whisper could be heard, and Anna could see her brother’s eyes widen with terror at something moving behind her. She slowly turned, and from out of the blackness two red, snake-like eyes slowly came forward. Anna screamed again and then pointed her wand at the thing coming at them.

“No…” Eric thrashed. “Run, Anna. RUN!”

Anna shrieked once more, her wand shaking violently in her hand.

A man’s voice was as cold as the grave and hissed as he whispered, “She vexes me… my pet.” The shadow of the man began to fall back and then disappeared into the darkness once more as something squatting by his feet growled. It too had red orbs for eyes that revealed a set of murderous fangs below.

“He’s mine!” The creature spat, its eyes refocusing upon Eric from out of the darkness.

Anna knew that voice. It was Voldemort’s servant, the evil one.

Anna pointed her wand at the thing. “Reducto!”

There was a flash, but the creature was suddenly gone. Anna’s hex streaked into the darkness of the cave in front of her and disappeared. She could hear the thing’s hateful giggles echoing all around her.

“You’re too slow, child. Leave here now or die!”

Anna looked up to see the eyes glowing down at her from the ceiling.

“I won’t leave my brother to you!” Anna screamed back. She pointed her wand again.

“Everbero!”

There was a flash of orange light and Anna quickly moved her aim to the left.

“Everbero!”

Another flash hit the wall, ricocheted, and hit its mark. The creature screamed and then disappeared into the darkness once more.

“Your aim is improved, little one… but still…” In an instant, the thing was upon her. She was behind Anna, her claws digging into her windpipe. “You’re still too slow,” the creature giggled. “I’m going to taste your blood again, Anna.” The creature licked the side of the Guardian’s neck; its tongue was like a metal rasp against her throat.

“NO!”

Anna struggled hard, but the vampire yanked her back straight.

“No? And why not? Wouldn’t you kill me if you had the chance? Tell me the truth, Anna. Wouldn’t you kill your own mother if I let you?”

Anna struggled desperately against the thing. “You’re not my mother!” Her body unexpectedly sent a shock through the creature holding her and the thing flew backward against the wall.

Anna quickly turned to point her wand. “And I won’t let you hurt Eric anymore.”

The evil one growled at her; its eyes bloomed red as she backed into the shadows once more.

“Silly girl: Your brother is already dead… or haven’t you noticed?”

Anna looked down at Eric still lying on his back in the dirt. His unblinking stare locked into her.

“NO!”

Anna took a step toward her brother and the creature was upon her again.

“The Master has called for your end, Sithmaith. No one will challenge his power. Now you will join your brother and your mother in death!” The thing shrieked a howl of delight as her fangs flew into Anna’s neck. Anna screamed as the last of her will and bones gave way in one hideous crack.

Anna awoke from her nightmare, screaming into the darkness.


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