Anna Grayson and The Dragon's Lair

The Wooden Box

ONE

Lieutenant Dunning was a little nervous as he reached up to knock on the heavy wooden door.

“Come in,” said a kind voice from the other side.

“Chancellor, I got your owl, sir?”

“Ah, yes, Gregory. Thank you for your prompt response. It will allow me more time today to prepare for the students’ arrival. Please — please, come in.”

Dunning entered the Chancellor’s office where Thordarson used his wand to move an empty chair in front of his desk.

“Make yourself comfortable. How was your holiday?”

Dunning sat before replying. “I decided to work at the castle again this year.”

Thordarson had almost seated himself again when he stopped. “Oh… but Gregory, it’s Christmas. It’s bad enough some of your men have to work through the holiday without making it necessary for you as well.”

“It’s all right, sir. My parents were abroad this year and visiting with family in Europe.”

“What about your sister? Where did Debbie spend her holiday?”

“With family in Canada. Our Aunt Valori lives on Prince Edward Island and Debbie loves the beaches there. She owled me to say they were having a wonderful time.”

Thordarson’s face brightened. “It sounds like your sister has a lot in common with another one of our students who loves the solitude of an ocean front.”

Dunning looked back at him questioningly.

“I’m speaking of course about Anna Grayson.”

The chancellor watched the lieutenant’s expression fall.

“Speaking of Miss Grayson… have you seen this morning’s editorials?” He slid an open newspaper toward him to reveal the article written by Chace Scroggs.

Dunning looked back at the chancellor. “No, sir. I’ve been rather busy with my duties to take the time.”

“Understandable - I usually don’t read the editorials myself, but a member of my staff happened across this one and it concerned him enough to bring it to my attention. I’m thinking it might be concerning to you was well, so I would ask that you read it now.”

Dunning’s jaws seemed to tighten, but he didn’t argue. He picked up the paper and quickly read through the article. When he finished, he slowly set the paper back down.

“See anything disquieting?”

Dunning shrugged. “I think the writer was a bit harsh on the Spellsburg Guard. I know Lieutenant Mantos also stayed over the holiday so he could continue the investigation.”

“Yes… I would agree. Thomas Mantos has been consumed by his search for the truth.” The Chancellor paused. “But does anything else in the opinion raise an alarm in your eyes?”

Dunning leaned forward. “Chancellor, perhaps if you just tell me what’s concerning you I can respond in manner meeting with your expectations.”

The old wizard smiled shrewdly. “Lieutenant… if what you just read had you drawing your sword and screaming at the top of your lungs… that just might meet with my expectations.”

Dunning fell back again, looking worried.

Thordarson picked up the newspaper and started to read aloud, “‘Unnamed sources within the Crimson ranks have told me that Miss Grayson is indeed the prime suspect, and the only reason the young girl isn’t locked in the city dungeon is because of her father’s position in the ministry and the unwavering support of the Chancellor of Castlewood.’” He scowled at Dunning before reading on. “‘In addition, it has also been reported to me that a personal letter was found on the second victim’s body that implicated Miss Grayson in the man’s own writing.’” He let the paper fall to the desk again.

“It concerns me, Gregory, that the writer seems to have a source within the Crimson ranks at his disposal who is willing to pass on these unsubstantiated rumors.”

“Rumors? If you’re talking about the letter found on Mr. Heidelbach’s person, implicating Anna Grayson in his murder, those facts not in question, sir.”

“So you believe, given where we are in the investigation today, that it’s proper to share this kind of information to the press?”

Dunning looked stern. “Of course not!”

“Good. At last we are agreed on that point. Do you have any idea who within the Crimson Guard might have passed this information on to the editor?”

“Other than the writer’s word… there’s no reason to believe it was one of our men. It could simply be the editor’s way of adding credibility and weight to his opinion.”

Thordarson raised an eyebrow. “But the letter found on Mr. Heidelbach was discovered by a Crimson Guard and then passed directly to Lieutenant Mantos, to Captain Hayman, and then to the two of us. It was shared with nobody else. Not even the Mayor of Spellsburg was told of it. As a result of this article, however, Ulric Prower was in my office this morning demanding that Miss Grayson be escorted back to the plateau immediately.”

Dunning didn’t respond.

Thordarson shifted in his chair to take on a more leisurely posture. He stared at Dunning for a while and then came forward again.

“Gregory… I understand how difficult this must be for you.”

Dunning frowned. “Sir?”

“To be demoted without a full understand as to the reasons why.” Dunning looked surprised and then somber.

“As you well know, there are many duties required of our Crimson officers,” Thordarson continued, “some of which are only known to their captain. And then there are duties associated with the captaincy that are unknown to all but a few within the Ministry of Magic. You wouldn’t know the specifics about these duties now, of course, because you were forced to have your memory modified by a Ministry official to extinguish the knowledge of these secret duties before your demotion.” The chancellor sighed. “It is regrettable that these measures have to be taken, but they are done for the good of the wizarding community regardless of any personal disagreements I might have with this practice.”

Dunning looked uneasy. “It comes with the job, Chancellor. We all know about this requirement long before we are sworn to duty.”

Thordarson nodded. “Yes… and I’ve always admired you and your men for accepting this reality, as a part of your obligation and responsibility. You are to be commended.”

The Chancellor studied him. “Still, I should tell you that at the time… there were two reasons for your demotion.”

Dunning’s stare darkened.

“The first we cannot talk about for the reasons I’ve already mentioned, but there was another that I am free to confer.” Thordarson leaned forward once more. “It was the passing of investigative information to unauthorized personnel outside the Crimson Guard; namely, to your sister Debbie.”

Dunning looked uneasy. “I’m sorry, Chancellor… but you have me at a disadvantage.”

“Oh — no doubt, and I understand you cannot be held responsible for a memory you no longer possess to examine. In addition, it would be unfair to your career to be reprimanded again for something that happened more than six months ago. However, I have recently received reports that some of these questionable habits on your part are continuing.”

“What? Who has made such reports?”

“The Castlewood Student President, Valentia Olivo.”

Dunning looked surprised.

“You see, I received a report from Valentia soon after the investigation started on the attack on Miss Bell. At the time, your sister was overheard discussing what valuables Anna Grayson kept in her room and then was heard to make the comment…” Thordarson looked to check his memory, “now how did Debbie put it again? Oh yes… how I was soon to get the sack for my support of the Hogwarts’ Headmaster.”

Dunning slowly fell back in his chair.

“Gregory… it is unacceptable to pass on investigative information to someone outside Crimson security. You know this, and this was one of the reasons you lost your captaincy over the summer. Now we have another break in security that could very well put your commission at risk.”

“Chancellor, please. If in discussing my job at an informal family gathering I have inadvertently let slip valuable information… I can assure you it was not my intention to…”

“In addition,” Thordarson cut in, “this lack of prudence on your part has put you in a very bad light regarding the information being passed to the press about the Heidelbach letter. Were you the person responsible for passing this information on to the newspaper’s editor?”

“Of course not!”

Thordarson stared at the man knowingly. “I’m certainly glad to hear that, Gregory; I truly am. Otherwise, I might have been forced to press you more as to the reasons why you did it. You see… for whatever reason it was done, it looks like a vindictive attack on the Grayson family name. If true, it would be a most regrettable commentary on the character of any man.”

Dunning was silent as Thordarson leaned back.

“And I am sorry that I suspected you, Gregory, and I am relieved it wasn’t you.”

The two men stared at each other, knowing full well the truth was opposite this conclusion.

“On the other matter: In my studies of the human mind, I have come to believe we sometimes find ourselves repeating our worst habits even if the practice leads to irreparable damage to one’s reputation. I will overlook this episode with Debbie, Gregory, but have a care in the future not to discuss the internal matters involving this school with your family. It’s important to keep the walls of professionalism high between your work and your private life. Are we agreed?”

“Yes, sir, of course. And I appreciate your willingness to set aside this… lack of discrimination on my part. I can assure you it won’t happen again.”

“Oh come now, Gregory. We all want what’s best for our students; we’re all on the same side, yes?”

Dunning wasn’t sure how to respond. Luckily, the Chancellor’s comment seemed rhetorical.

“And given the fact we are professionals, I need your help with something else,” Thordarson continued.

“Help, sir? Of course… you know I am at your disposal.” Dunning was eager to change the subject anyway.

“Thank you, Lieutenant. It’s not so much your help I need as it is your cooperation. You see, like yourself, I am very keen to see these murder investigations brought to a swift conclusion and those responsible to justice.”

“Yes, sir. You said you needed my cooperation?”

“That’s right. Given the letter found on Mr. Heidelbach, and the sometimes volatile relationship Anna Grayson shared with Michael Wendell, it comes to mind that you truly suspect the girl of these murders.”

Dunning seemed unwilling to answer.

“I need your honesty, Gregory.”

Dunning took a deep breath. “Yes, sir, I’m afraid I do suspect her.”

“And yet you still carry a strong sense of doubt as well.”

Dunning frowned. “Sir?”

“It has come to my attention that you’ve been helping Lieutenant Mantos outside the castle on the investigation. I might even go as far as to say that’s probably the real reason you didn’t go home for the holiday.”

Dunning looked uneasy again. “Well… yes, I’ve decided to lend a hand. It hasn’t taken away from my duties inside the castle and Mantos seems pleased to use whatever skills I might bring to bear.”

“Very admirable… and I applaud your enthusiasm to get to the truth. And it was you that found more blood evidence in another alley just few blocks down from where Ms. Heidelbach’s body was found. Lieutenant Mantos’s trust in your skills was obviously well placed; that was some truly marvelous detective work on your part. But I’d like to ask you… why did you go looking for this evidence? More to the point… tell me what lead to you search another alley so far removed from the given crime scene?”

Dunning stared at the man. “Given what we were told happened the night Miss Grayson and the ogre were last seen with the man, searching the other alleys seemed the logical thing to do.”

Thordarson smiled. “Can we assume then that you must have given some thought to Miss Grayson’s claim of innocence… enough to cause you to go looking for the many other routes the man might have taken back to his hotel that night?”

“Yes, sir. I took the customary routes between the two locations and found nothing. Then I decided to follow a few unconventional routes that eventually led to the second alley where I found the Muggle’s blood.”

Thordarson nodded and then his face turned very serious. “Gregory… I ask you now to look deep within your heart, where you’re proven skills as a law enforcement officer lie next to your peaked suspicions: do you truly think Anna Grayson murdered both Michael Wendell and her friend Mr. Heidelbach?”

Dunning frowned. “There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that leads to this conclusion, sir.”

“I’m not talking about the evidence. I’m talking about your instincts. That amazing quality within your brilliant mind that pressed you to go looking at the other routes Mr. Heidelbach might have taken to his hotel that night after leaving Anna’s company.” The Chancellor waited for a reply and when it was obvious one was not forthcoming, he added, “You carry a rather marvelous obsession, Gregory; a fixation, really, to check every possibility. It was your instincts that forced you to set aside the simple evidence left on the body and forced you to go looking for those other possibilities.

“There was no reason to search the pathways you did other than to confirm Mr. Heidelbach had made it safely to his room that night. Although the additional evidence you found doesn’t completely exonerate Anna of suspicion, it does tell us that while Trog was escorting Anna back to the castle that night, it’s quite possible Mr. Heidelbach was attacked just a few moments later. Your actions tell me, despite the evidence against Anna, you did have some lingering questions about her culpability.”

Dunning thought about it and then looked up at Thordarson again. “But I still believe…”

“What do you believe… Gregory? Do you truly believe a fourteen year old girl living in this school could have murdered two people in the brutal way in which they were found? I ask you now for the honestly given those marvelous instincts you carry. What do you truly believe?”

The lieutenant’s expression darkened and it seemed to the Chancellor it was taking all of Dunning’s strength to finally admit to a suspicion never consciously acknowledged. Finally, the man’s posture seemed to relax.

“I suppose… deep down, I find it unlikely the girl did it.”

Thordarson looked pleased.

“But we cannot set aside all of the evidence that implicates her,” Dunning added quickly.

Thordarson shrugged. “Surely not, Gregory, but we now must also ask ourselves why somebody would go to so much trouble to make it look like Anna Grayson is a murderer.”

The Chancellor paused for a moment and then, “And what of the attack on her roommate, Miss Bell? Do you believe the unforgivable assault on her person is an unconnected incident? What do your suspicions tell you there?”

The lieutenant seemed strained again. “I suppose it is possible that the roommate was used to steal something from Grayson as a way to implicate her once more.”

“I see your openness to these possibilities refreshing,” Thordarson replied with an encouraging smile, “which leads us back to my original request for you corporation.”

Thordarson leaned in again. “If somebody is trying to implicate Anna Grayson in these two murders and then going as far to use the Imperious curse on Miss Bell to push this plan forward more, then Anna would likely be in very great danger if she were to come back to the plateau.”

Dunning suddenly looked angry. “Are you trying to tell me the girl won’t be returning after the holiday? Chancellor - that would be unfair to the ongoing investigation. I warned Captain Hayman before he let the girl go home that she might not come back if it meant facing more questions about these crimes and…”

“I didn’t mean to suggest she would not return, Lieutenant. I only meant to say that when she does come back, she should have some extra protection surrounding her.”

Dunning looked to protest again, but Thordarson cut him short.

“I know what you’re going to say – that if Anna stays within the castle your men should be able to provide ample security. However, the men under your command are meant to insure the castle is secure as a whole and all its students within are kept safe. They are not dedicated to the security of a single child.”

Dunning seemed untrusting. “What are you suggesting, sir?”

“Mister Grayson and I have agreed that Anna should be granted extra security at the family’s expense.”

“What kind of security?”

“A bodyguard within the castle grounds.”

“Who?”

“We haven’t finalized all the details yet, but I wanted you to know this person will be working with you and Captain Hayman very closely to insure they do not get in the way of normal castle security and function. I have already made the captain aware of the situation and he has agreed to allow these extra precautions to be put in place if you are in agreement.”

“Do I know his man?”

“Yes… I do, but I’d rather not say until the final arrangements are completed. This person will report to you before beginning his duties out of respect to your post and given responsibilities, but I’m also asking for your cooperation as well. If Anna is innocent of these crimes then I am sure you can understand her family’s concern.”

Dunning looked spectacle. “I can’t have an outsider getting in the way of the duties given my men, sir.”

“Absolutely not; castle security remains under your charge. Are we agreed then?”

Dunning seemed reluctant, but he finally nodded.

“Good!” Thordarson got to his feet. “I appreciate you coming in to see me over the holiday. As always, it shows a tremendous amount of dedication on your part.”

Dunning stood. “Thank you, sir.” He turned and was almost at the door.

“And… Lieutenant?”

Dunning hesitated and then turned back again.

“I am glad to see that you and Professor Qwaad have become… friendly.”

“Sir?”

The Chancellor smiled. “I’ve always thought of you as something of a loner, Gregory, going all the way back to when you were a student here at the school. Even with the solitude given your position above your men, you are, as they say, a man unto himself. I am gratified that you seem to have found a friend within the castle in which you can associate.”

Dunning frowned. “Qwaad is a good teacher and I respect that in him.”

Thordarson’s eyes sparkled. “Let’s call it an acquaintance, then, of like minds.”

Dunning nodded and then turned and left the chancellor’s office.

A few seconds later another man entered the room. “I still don’t know why you keep him around.”

Thordarson didn’t look up as he sat again behind his desk. “Because I see a lot of good in Gregory Dunning… and… because it would tip our hand if I sent him packing.”

Bartholomaeus Qwaad sneered. “I find him subtly crude and vindictive; a terrible blend in any man.”

“Crude? Oh I don’t know.” Thordarson looked at the closed door again. “Vindictive? Yes… there is that…” he thought for a moment. “But you don’t know him as well as I do… and I see great potential.”

“And I see a vengeful little man bent on revenge.”

They were quiet for a moment and then, “Did you reach out to Boris like I asked?”

“Yes, sir. He sends his prayers for Arthur to Molly.”

Thordarson looked somber. “And?”

“He asked me to relay his decision to send his daughter back to the plateau.”

Thordarson’s face brightened. “Good, good.” He stood. “Boris is a man of immense courage, but his greatest gift has always been one of brilliant deliberation.”

Qwaad looked unsure. “To be honest with you… I told him I thought it was a mistake. The girl could be in great danger if she comes back to Spellsburg. You must know this, sir.”

Thordarson looked at Qwaad and then walked to his window overlooking the walls of the Guardian Union Hall. He stared at the purple flags flapping briskly atop its merlons and sighed.

“Yes… the evil set against her is formidable,” he looked back again, “but her training is paramount. Has our guest arrived yet?”

“Yes, Chancellor. As you requested, I escorted him up the back steps and he’s waiting outside your private entrance.”

“Excellent. Would you show him in for me?”

Qwaad bowed and then disappeared. A moment later, he returned with a large and rather nervous visitor by his side.”

“John Dell… it’s so very good to see you again.” The Chancellor walked over and set out his hand.

John looked surprised at the Chancellor’s greeting and then smiled broadly. He reached out and shook Thordarson’s smaller hand in his.

“It is always an honor, sir,” John replied in awe.

“It’s been a while since I’ve had the privilege to speak to you privately like this, but…”

“It was in my first year, sir. You summoned me to your office to tell me… about… the death of my mother. I…” his voice stumbled and Qwaad tried to look away from large man’s lingering grief.

John Dell sniffed and then his eyes suddenly realized he hadn’t taken off his hat. He quickly snatched it off of his head. “I’m… sorry, sir.”

Thordarson smiled. “Not at all, my boy… it is rather cold in here. Would you like to sit?”

John looked at the small chair in front of Thordarson’s desk and swallowed hard.

“Or… we can stand and talk if you would prefer.”

John looked relieved as he gripped his hat and nodded.

“I’m sure Boris has already shared his appreciation for what you’ve agreed to do here, but I felt it necessary to show you my gratitude as well. It’s so very good of you to take on this extraordinarily important role.”

“Thank you, sir. It shouldn’t be a problem keeping Anna Grayson safe and out of trouble.”

Thordarson immediately looked concerned. “I wouldn’t be too sure in your assumptions. Anna is very young and hasn’t been in the castle long enough to understand the normal dangers that exist within these walls. Adding to this, of course, are the dangers within the city. I take it you have been briefed about the murders and the attack on her roommate?”

“Yes, sir. Mister Grayson has told me everything,” John Dell looked at Qwaad, “and he also told me who can be trusted within the castle.”

“I have informed Lieutenant Dunning about the extra security precautions we’re putting in place for the girl’s sake. You should report to him directly after leaving here.”

“Yes, sir. I will do that immediately.”

“Very good.” Thordarson looked at John appraisingly for a few seconds before turning. “I have one more thing for you.”

Thordarson walked back to his desk and picked up a carved, wooden box. He returned to John and raised it up to show him.

John’s eyes widened when he saw the box.

“Given your new responsibilities, I believe this item might be helpful to you once more.”

John swallowed hard as he took the box and a wave of heartbreaking memories flew into his mind. He blinked as one shiny tear escaped to run down the side of his cheek.

“Good luck, John. And please… keep a care for yourself in all of this, all right?”

The large man sniffed. “Yes, sir. I’ll keep the girl safe.”

The Chancellor nodded and then patted the man on his elbow above him. “Well… that’s all I wanted to say, so I’ll let you go and unpack.”

A few moments later, Thordarson and Qwaad were alone once again.

“I don’t know that much about John Dell. Is Boris sure he’s the best man for the job.”

Thordarson smiled. “If Boris wasn’t certain then I would have tried to talk him into it. John Dell is more than what he seems. As big and intimidating as he obviously is, he has one quality in substantial measure that sets him far apart from any other wizard I’ve ever met.”

Qwaad looked surprised. “And what would that be?”

Thordarson glanced at the door where John Dell had left his office. “He carries with him an ambition to do what it is right… regardless of whatever danger may come of it to himself.” He turned to Qwaad again, looking worried. “Altruism bording on the fanatical.”

TWO

“It’s so very nice to get a visitor from Castlewood,” said a kindly woman, sitting on her couch. “Would you like some tea?” she offered expectantly, reaching for a small pot sitting on a tray between the couple and their guest.

Although Ines Valeria didn’t drink tea, she smiled and nodded. “That would be very nice, thank you.”

“You said your family lives in Mexico? How exciting. Isn’t that exciting, Robert?”

The man sitting next to her didn’t respond. Her husband sat quietly, staring at the young woman who he had found knocking on their front door just a few minutes earlier. After letting her enter their home, the man looked outside for a parked car. Where had she come from? He was still wondering.

Ines found the man’s watch unnerving. “Ah… yes. I come from a very small town called Colina de Ánima. It’s on the east coast of Mexico - a little north of Veracruz.” She lifted her cup to sip at the tea, looking at the woman’s husband again who remained stoic.

“I wish you could have come yesterday, my dear. Unity only left to go back to Castlewood a few hours ago.”

“Yes, I know. In fact I came late on purpose, because I was hoping that I might speak to the two of you alone.”

The woman swallowed hard. “Alone? Oh… well… I don’t see how we might…” She suddenly seemed to catch herself before smoothing the napkin on her lap. “So… tell us… how is Unity getting along at Castlewood? Our daughter doesn’t speak of it much or write many letters, and her father and I are a little worried about her, having to transfer into a new school, and all.”

“From what I’ve heard from some of the other students she seems to be settling in rather well. She says she prefers to be called… Nox?”

The mother’s face fell. She looked at her husband again and then nervously tried to smile once more. “Well, yes, but to be honest… we were hoping she would eventually outgrow the need for a nickname and go back to her given name.”

Ines smiled back. “I think Unity is a beautiful name. I’m sure, in time, she will eventually….”

“Is our daughter in any trouble?” Mr. Yolland suddenly said, cutting across her.

“Robert…” the mother whispered back in surprise, “of course not!” She tried to smile again at Ines, looking very nervous. “She isn’t in any trouble, is she?”

“No, ma’am, not at all. The purpose of my visit is just to learn a bit more about her. You see… I’m visiting the parents of some of our newest Guardians at the school and…”

“Guardians? What is that?” interrupted the man again.

Ines was taken aback. “Oh… I had assumed your daughter might have told you about…” Ines hesitated, “well… let me explain.”

It took Ines twenty minutes to tell the parents how the Guardians had been sustained the previous year at Castlewood. She told them the history of Merlin’s guardians and their ambitions to care for the magical places and objects of the wizarding world.

“And you’re saying there are only fifty of these guardians in the entire world?” asked the father.

“Well no. There are a few more now, but that’s how many are currently at the school today. Some of us who were the first Guardians at Castlewood last year have already graduated.”

“So you… are a guardian as well?” asked the mother.

“Yes, ma’am, I am.”

“So why are you here?” the man said suspiciously. “As you can plainly see, there are no magical objects in our small village. In fact, the only thing magical around here just left a few hours ago to return to Castlewood.”

“That was my understanding as well and that’s why I have come to visit with you. It was our understanding that everybody living here… living in this town, I mean, is a… ah…”

“A squib. Yeah… that’s right,” the man replied, looking worriedly at his wife.

“So it is true. You’re all squibs?”

“Oh my God! You’re from the Ministry of Magic, aren’t you?” the mother yelped unexpectedly. “Our Unity is still in school and she still calls this place her home! The Ministry can’t come in here and…”

“Edith!” chided her husband. “Enough! She never said anything about working for the Ministry of Magic.” The man’s expression softened as he raised a hand to sooth his wife. “Why don’t you go back upstairs and finish your nap. Let me do this and then I’ll come up and tell you what’s going on, okay?”

His wife looked at Ines again and then back to her husband. “Would you, Robert? Because I just can’t do this right now. Not again — not again! It’s just so…cruel to think…”

“It’s all right. I know, sweetheart, and our guest will understand.” he said soothingly. “You go upstairs and relax and I’ll be up shortly.”

The woman nodded and then stood. She looked at Ines. “I’m sorry for my outburst, dear. I just haven’t been sleeping very well lately. Unity is so young and it’s been difficult to see her leave…” she hesitated and Ines stood.

“I understand, ma’am, and I know you miss your daughter. You remind me of my own mother when I first left for Castlewood. I’m sure with a little more time things will get better… for everybody.”

The woman nodded appreciatively and then slowly turned to ascend the staircase.

“You’ll find your pills on the nightstand, sweetheart. I’ll be up soon to check on you.”

The two watched the woman disappear and then Ines turned to the father.

“I’m very sorry, sir. I didn’t mean to…”

Mr. Yolland raised a finger to his lips to quiet her and then motioned to follow him. They moved to the kitchen and out a rear door that led to a flowered backyard.

“Oh my,” Ines cooed. “It’s beautiful back here; all the flowers and the plantings… how very lovely.”

The man shrugged. “Some people call it gardening, but I call it my wife’s nervous habit. I see she’s been having problems again with her Day Breakers,” he observed, pointing to a sickly looking blooms to their right. He looked back at Ines.

“You’ll have to forgive my wife. Ever since Unity left to go to school it’s been very difficult on her. But it’s more than our losing our only child for most of the year, we’re also worried about what her going off and into the world will mean to those still living here in our village.”

“You’re talking about the Ministry practice of memory obliteration?”

The man looked at her. “So you know about that too, huh?”

“Yes, sir. We have confirmed the Ministry hasn’t done it in more than fifty years, but this wizarding law is… regrettably… still in effect.”

The man looked somber. “We had hoped by now the law might have been set aside, but...” he looked at her again, “we were afraid to ask for fear it would just bring unwanted attention to us and our neighbors.”

Ines tried to comfort the man. “I’ve come here today to confirm what we’ve heard about your village and your daughter’s place here. I’m to report back to those who are looking to protect the Guardians and their families any way we can.”

The man looked concerned. “But… who’s receiving these reports and what can they hope to do about our situation here?”

“My contact is very high up in the Ministry of Magic. In fact, he reports directly to the Minister herself, but his daughter is also a member of the new Guardian Union. Once I report back, I’m sure he’ll be looking to quietly change this law without mentioning your daughter, this village, or the people who live here.”

The man suddenly seemed hopeful. “You can’t imagine what that would do for this village… and for our daughter’s future.”

Ines looked worried. “Can I ask you a difficult question?” The man frowned at her and then checked to insure his wife was still upstairs. He nodded.

“Is this why your daughter seems so...” the young woman hesitated.

“Mad and angry at the world?” The man replied, knowingly. He turned to look around the flowered garden again. “As beautiful a place as this might seem to us, I suppose it should be expected that a young girl would feel trapped when told she could never leave it.” He turned to Ines again. “Our daughter might seem hash to you… but we know her heart well. Through all the rebelliousness, I hope you will eventually come to see the goodness within her.”

“I’m sure we will, sir. As I see it, she’s only angry because her future is in question, but that’s not really true at all, is it?”

“What do you mean?”

“Your daughter could leave here after she graduates from Castlewood and never look back.” She watched the man’s expression change to one of worry. “It’s only because she knows she’ll never leave her village to the whims of the Ministry that she remains hostile. After seeing all of this, it would concern me more if she wasn’t angry, because that would mean she didn’t care at all.”

Mr. Yolland studied the young Guardian for a moment and nodded. Ines smiled back and then raised her wand from out of her robes.

“Rosaceaeous!” she whispered softly, and the sickly blooms to their right began to lift to face the sun and fill with pink. The man looked at Ines and for the first time since she had met the man, he smiled at her.

“My mother is a gardener too,” Ines told him.

THREE

Anna was standing at the edge of the forest watching the men rebuilding the Jennings ancestral home. She had tears in her eyes when she should have been smiling.

“It really is coming along,” Mrs. Porchdow said standing next to her. “It’s like the presence of an old ghost coming back to visit us.” She looked at Anna and suddenly remembered a thousand other words she might have used instead.

Anna’s face began to crumble as she came forward to cry into the woman’s chest.

“There-there now. We’ll find her. I know we will. I’ll just take a little longer than we expected.”

Anna sobbed louder, gripping the woman tight.

“Oh child… your coming home has truly inspired me to look harder. I’ll put my feet on every inch of this mountain while you’re away, I promise.” Anna was clinching her fists tight in her friend’s robes. “Have faith, Anna…faith,” she whispered softly.

“What’s the matter with you?” said an intruding voice.

Anna and Mrs. Porchdow looked up to find Damon standing at the end of the path exiting the trees. Anna frowned and it immediately occurred to her that she had never seen her brother on the Grayson estate so far from the house.

Mrs. Porchdow smiled as she smoothed Anna’s hair.

“Nothing — just two women taking much too long to say goodbye again. I have to get back to the garden house before Samuel wakes up. He’ll be looking for his breakfast.”

The woman walked over to Damon. “My — but you’re getting so tall, Damon. Your mother would be so proud of you.” She kissed him on the cheek, sniffed, and then looked back at Anna. “Have a safe trip and I’ll darken the skies with owls, I promise.”

Anna smiled as the woman turned and headed into the forest and down the hill.

Damon looked suspicious as he came forward. “What the hell was that all about?” he said, wiping his cheek.

Anna scowled. “It’s called kindness, Damon. I can understand why you’re having trouble recognizing it.”

“Yeah, but she works here. She’s an employee.”

Anna rolled her eyes as she turned to watch the men working on her future home. Her brother stepped in to stand next to her and his closeness immediately made the Guardian feel uneasy.

“Father sent me up here to get you. The cars are on their way.”

“Yes — I know.”

They watched a beam being raised by one of the workers with his wand.

“I don’t understand any of this,” Damon finally admitted. “Why is father rebuilding this place?”

“Daddy already told the family why. This is where I’ve decided to live.”

Damon looked at her. “But you’re only fourteen years old. How can you possibly know this is where you’ll live for the rest of your life?” He looked at the building again. “It’s a total waste of gold.”

“Is that what you’re worried about, Damon, gold? Well don’t worry... I’m sure daddy will have your inheritance ready when the time comes.”

He looked at her. “I trust he will… but my portion is lessened now that you’re getting this house and all the surrounding property.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I heard father telling Eric about his decision to set aside all the Jennings’ assets just for you.” He looked at Anna appraisingly. “You being the only Jennings left, I guess.”

Anna was surprised. “I... I had no idea.”

“Really?”

Anna turned ugly. “That’s right, Damon. Daddy never told me!”

Her brother looked skeptical.

“Careful there!” yelled one of the workers directing several wizards, as they raised another beam high into the air.

“Did you talk to father about your roommate trying to commit suicide?”

“Suicide?” Anna was surprised again. “What are you talking about? Sarah Bell would never do such a thing.”

Her brother frowned. “You seem to forget... two members of my union saw the girl jump into the moat. She didn’t accidentally fall like you and Reese told everybody. Debbie Dunning has been telling everybody she jumped to the grindylows after she was caught stealing from you.”

“And you believe Debbie Dunning?”

“No.”

“Then stop repeating her rubbish!”

“I will… just as soon as you tell me what really happened.”

Anna gritted her teeth. Professor Thordarson had given her specific instructions not to tell anybody about Sarah being a victim of an unforgivable curse.

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because the Chancellor told me not to.”

Damon frowned again. “The Chancellor of Castlewood told you to lie?”

“Of course not! He just… told me not tell anybody what really happened.”

“And you thought that left you cause to lie to our family?” He tilted back, his mind retreating to think. After a short time he stepped in again. “I want to know what really happened.”

“I told you… I can’t.”

“Yes you can. It’s obvious father and Eric know what happened, and before we left to come home for the holidays all the Knights were told that you were restricted to the castle unless you had an escort.” Damon was suddenly stern. “You told me on the way home to be on my guard. You wouldn’t have said that unless you thought we might be in danger. If Tencha, Dowla or I left the castle grounds… would that concern you? Would you be worried for our safety too?”

Anna thought about it. She tried to imagine what would come into her mind if she saw her sisters walking across the drawbridge at night, if she saw Damon walking through a dark alley in Spellsburg alone. She looked at him again. “Yes… I would be afraid if you were alone in the city.”

“THEN TELL ME WHY?” He suddenly grabbed her by the shoulders. “We have the right to know!”

Anna could feel a growl rumble up through her throat.

“What is it you’re not telling us?” He pushed her back. “You… oh bringer of peace… refusing to do all you can to keep your family safe. You disgust me!”

Anna suddenly felt ashamed. Although she knew Damon well enough to understand his brand of trickery to get her to talk, in that moment she knew her brother was right. She turned away to look at the Jennings’ estate and then into the trees above them. She took a deep breath and then glared back up at him again.

Damon’s anger was apparent, his face red. “You tell me… right now. I have a right to know why we’re in danger. What really happened to your roommate?”

Anna finally relented. “She was cursed!”

“What?”

“You heard me. Sarah Bell was cursed into enslavement.”

Damon’s eyes widened. “Enslavement? What the hell are you talking about?”

“I don’t know. Thordarson told me it was something called the Imperious Curse of enslavement.”

Her brother looked staggered. “My God. Are you sure that’s what the Chancellor said? He used those exact words?”

“Yes Damon. It’s one of three unforgivable curses outlawed years ago by…”

“I KNOW WHAT THE HELL IT IS!” he shouted back.

He turned away and Anna could see Damon’s mind struggling to pull the pieces of the puzzle together, searching for the meaning in the information she had given him. In that moment Anna was struck at how much he reminded her of their father.

He glared at her again. “So the girl did steal something from you.”

“Yes, but she was forced into doing it. It wasn’t her fault.”

“And this attack on your roommate is now connected to the murders in the city and that’s why you’ve been restricted to the castle. It’s got nothing to do with you being a suspect – but your personal safety and that’s why the Crimson ogre has been stationed outside the drawbridge at night.”

Anna was amazed at how quickly her brother’s mind was working.

Damon finally nodded. “Yes… I see it now.”

“Damon, you can’t tell anybody else about this. It’s very important to the Chancellor that nobody know.”

Damon looked at her again. “I agree… but only after we tell Tencha and Dowla.”

“But Professor Thordarson told me…”

“To hell with what Thordarson told you. Tencha and Dowla have to know. They will be warned!”

Anna was about to argue back when a sudden howl turned their attention back to the forest’s edge where a dazzling, white bull unexpectedly entered the clearing. It shot forward to encircle them, a streaking smear of white radiance that bellowed as it thrust its luminous horns into the air. Anna smiled as she watched it turn and then retreat into the forest once more.

Damon looked at her. “The cars are here. It’s time to go.”


Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us:

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered book publisher, offering an online community for talented authors and book lovers. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books you love the most based on crowd wisdom.