Anna Grayson and The Dragon's Lair

Escape from Azkaban

ONE

It was unusually cold in the Pennsylvania Mountains that January. The snow and ice had finished its creeping invasion of the city to become a permanent resident in the streets of Spellsburg. The freezing winds whipped through the streets, giving the city its howling winter voice. The alleyways and lanes moaned and the shudders rattled as the smell of burning wood from numerous fires filled the air. The sun retreated early in the evening and rose hesitantly in the morning. It only added to the gloom Anna felt in her heart.

The news of Chace Scroggs’ murder came as a dark cloud over the despair already given to Anna’s missing ally and the loss of the Verosapt. It was obvious most of the students of Castlewood had read or heard about the editorials written about Anna during the Christmas break and the implications connecting her to the murders of Sidney and Michael Wendell as well. While it might have been possible that a majority of the students really didn’t believed Anna was responsible for the murders, most were as curious to see Anna’s reaction to the allegations as they would any good drama written especially for their entertainment. Unfortunately, the newspaper editor’s murder happened before Anna could respond to the indignity given her name and reputation. To make matters worse, Scroggs had been murdered on the very day Anna Grayson had returned to Spellsburg. It was more than just a bad coincidence for Castlewood’s first Guardian. For those whispering suspiciously behind her back, it only seemed to confirm something might have changed in their minds as well. Amusement had suddenly been shoved aside and replaced with distrust and for some… maybe even a little fear.

Gabriel was leaning against the wall reading a copy of the Spellsburg Seer and frowning at the letters submitted to the editor’s column about Anna Grayson. It would seem there was an increasing belief that Anna had now been a party in some way to the gruesome murder of three people. Gabriel also noticed another article reporting an unexpected run on the Spellsburg bank. It would seem some of the city’s residents thought it prudent to withdraw their gold entirely.

Perhaps they’re thinking about leaving the plateau, Gabriel thought, supportively. Although sympathetic to the Grayson family during this time of increasing scrutiny, the Guardian Knight understood why some residents would think about leaving. Now with three unsolved murders in the city… who could blame them?

Although she was never given to wonder about Anna’s part in the murders, Gabriel was watching Anna very closely. The Guardian Knight could clearly see the girl’s pain. Anna was somber and rarely looked up as she traveled through the castle to her classes. She clutched her books tight to her chest and stared down at her feet as she passed by those murmuring around her. The Knight frowned. She had been expected this before their return to Spellsburg.

Even before Chancellor Thordarson had delivered the ghastly news about the editor’s murder, Gabriel’s old friend John Dell had pulled her aside to warn her of the news and of Anna’s expected withdraw in response. She had also received an owl from Ines Valeria, telling her of the mission given to them by Anna’s father, Mister Grayson. Both John and Ines wanted Gabriel’s help.

From the very beginning, Gabriel had always believed there was something different about Anna Grayson. More than her becoming the Academy’s first Guardian, the voices within the Mirror of Enlightenment had told her that she, Gabriel, was going to carry the banner for magic’s cause and follow the first, what it called the Sithmaith, for protection’s sake, but the mirror had said something more:

“You will continue in the Order of those we sent in centuries past. The magic surrounding you seeks your protection from the destruction of those who would destroy all in their fight. But the Sithmaith is young and vulnerable and altered apart from what we helped to bring about at her birth. You must protect her as you would us from the ravages of chaos. And to it — be warned: The Dark Lord is gathering strength and so too are his minions in hiding everywhere. Fear it not, for you are with us and we within you, and together we shall turn chaos into harmony once more. Go now, Guardian. Go… and be vigilant!”

Thinking back again, Gabriel recalled Anna coming out of the Mirror of Enlightenment before the founding of the Guardian Union. That was a terrifying event and she would never forget seeing Anna’s body engulfed in those horrible purple flames. But the mirror had said something else that night that Gabriel would always remember: ‘She is… A GUARDIAN! SITHMAITH! Only those willing to sacrifice much may serve under this banner! But she is unprepared… you must… help her.’ From that moment on, Gabriel knew… Anna Grayson was what the mirror had called the Sithmaith, the future leader of the Guardians just as Merlin had been so many centuries ago.

Gabriel thought the argument between John Baird and Anna that first night in the Rotunda when the students had returned after the summer holiday. They argued about the possibility that He-Who-Shall-Not-Be Named had somehow returned, and it was then that Gabriel understood that the Mirror of Enlightenment hadn’t shared the same information with all the Guardians. When she had reentered the mirror almost exactly one year ago, the enchanted object already knew of Voldemort’s impending return. It said then, ‘He and his minions were gathering strength’. That was nearly ten months before the announcement by Professor Thordarson confirming the evil wizard’s return.

Dumbledore and Thordarson knew it was true then, and Anna Grayson knew it before them, and the Mirror of Enlightenment knew it before her.

Gabriel watched Anna as she passed by in a cloud of gloom. She frowned; the girl didn’t notice the Guardian Knight or the whispers that followed her.

“Anna?”

Anna turned and Gabriel could see the girl struggling to smile.

“Oh… hi, Gabriel. I didn’t see you there. Uh… Happy New Year.”

The Knight came forward. “And to you — how was your Christmas?”

“Oh it was good, and you?”

“Wonderful, as always.” The Knight looked around covertly. “Can I speak with you in private?”

Anna frowned. “Sure. Is everything all right?”

Gabriel took Anna by the shoulder and turned her down the corridor. She looked back at a group of whispering girls and frowned. “Shouldn’t you be heading to your next class?” she growled. The girls looked surprised and then turned and headed the other way.

Gabriel spied Anna again who looked worried. “Never mind them. There’s always something they need to buzz about in this place. It’s just your turn in the hopper, that’s all. If it wasn’t you… it would be somebody else.”

Anna tried to smile again.

“Listen, Anna. I got an owl from Ines Valeria about her new duties and those of John Dell under your father. I’ve also been in contact with Lieutenant Dunning about the extra security arrangements on your behalf and I wanted you to know I’ll be informing the rest of the Knights about these arrangements tonight.”

Anna was surprised. “Oh…?”

“I just wanted you to know who’s been informed, so you’ll know who you can reach out to if the need should arise.” She could see Anna seemed uncomfortable. “Is everything all right?”

“Yeah, I guess. I just didn’t realize this was going to be such a big deal.”

Gabriel motioned her forward.

“Listen, Anna. I know it’s been tough on you coming back to the awful news about the editor’s murder, especially after all his ranting about you and the ongoing investigations in Spellsburg.” She pointed down at her. “But you should know straight away that everybody who really knows you also knows you didn’t have anything at all to do with those crimes.” She could immediately see Anna’s eyes beginning to tear. “Do you understand me? We all know you’re innocent.”

Anna slowly reached out and, without saying another word, she hugged the girl. “Thank you, Gabriel. You have no idea what that means to me.” Gabriel smiled and hugged her back.

“We’ve got to stick together, Anna. It’s bad enough the Guardians are always set apart from the others in this school because of Qwaad’s ridiculous classes, but within the union we have to remain strong.” She could feel Anna’s head nodding on her chest and Gabriel pushed her back to smooth her hair.

“Two more things: First – I’m calling a meeting of all the Guardians tonight in the Union Hall and it’s imperative that you be there.”

Anna sniffed. “What’s the meeting about?”

“Don’t worry about that right now. I’ll explain when we’re together. Just make sure you’re there, all right?”

“Okay.”

“Second thing:” Gabriel looked around cautiously and then whispered, “There are rumors about who it was that hexed that Crimson guard at the museum.” She lowered her voice again. “There are those who say… that it was Nox.”

“What?” Anna looked around to insure nobody else could hear them. “It isn’t true, is it?”

“It doesn’t matter. We don’t need any extra attention right now and I don’t want another Guardian expelled, especially now that the Mirror of Enlightenment has been taken from the school. I’ve been asking those I trust from the other unions to start scattering some false possibilities — other union members they thought they saw hexing the guard. It would seem they were rather eager to help us, given the rough treatment they saw in the guards at the museum. I want to spread the blame around to keep the focus off of Nox.”

“Okay… so how can I help?”

“You’re the only one that Nox seems to show any respect, so I want you to keep her out of trouble. Warn her that the guards suspect her and if she gets a chance to deny it in public, she should do so adamantly.” Gabriel suddenly looked frustrated. “Given the chance, I get the feeling her rather charming disposition wouldn’t allow her to renounce the accusation otherwise, so I want you to keep that idiot under control, okay?”

“I’ll do what I can, but I don’t know that she’ll listen to me.” Gabriel glared at her and Anna immediately relented. “But… I’ll talk to her; I don’t think she’s stupid enough take credit for doing something like that anyway.”

Gabriel huffed and looked angry. “You give her too much credit. She’s thick enough to put us all at risk.”

Anna frowned. “You… don’t believe…” she hesitated. “I mean… you don’t think Nox actually hexed that guard, do you?”

Gabriel looked around guardedly again before angrily whispering, “With my own eyes!”

Anna was stunned. “No! She couldn’t have!”

Gabriel grabbed Anna by the arm and walked her forward. “And you tell that little maniac I wasn’t the only one who saw her do it either.” She jerked Anna’s arm again. “You tell her she’s to deny it if ever she’s confronted.”

The Knight released Anna and began to back away. “Although she doesn’t deserve it, I’m trying to keep that lunatic from being expelled.” Gabriel glared pointed back at her. “You tell her!”

TWO

Another hex slammed into a boulder near Anna and Gwen’s head. Gwen flinched and then cursed under her breath. She looked over at Anna.

“Whelp… here we are again getting our butts handed to us by the Defenders.” Another blast smashed above them. “My God! I think they’re trying to kill us!”

The Dueling Hall was echoing to the sounds of several hexes and curses flying across the sand from one side to the other. Anna quickly rose up.

“Protego!”

A shield of light suddenly appeared in front of a hex from a rushing Defender boy. The hex rebounded and hit the boy in the arm, sending his wand flying.

Gwen whipped around and took aim. “Exomento!”

The boy was hit again and suddenly fell to the ground holding his buttocks. The crowd groaned.

Anna looked at Gwen and frowned. “That’s gross!”

Gwen smiled. “Nothing like a good poo-hex to slow’em down.”

“Great shot, Gwen!” Gabriel yelled over from another hiding place to their right. She was smiling over at them. “I took out Debbie Dunning from the back row, so we finally have the advantage. It’s only Damon and Andrew Thomas.” Another blast hit her hiding place.

“That was Damon.” Anna groaned with a wince.

Gwen was ducking low. “How do you know?”

Another blast smashed above them and Anna looked livid. “Trust me… that’s him,” she snarled. “It’s time to get aggressive.” Anna suddenly stood upright and quickly scanned the field in front of her. “One on the left, one on the right,” she yelled out before running forward.

“Anna, wait! Don’t be foolish! This is our chance to….” Gabriel tried to yell, but it was too late. Anna was already pressing their advantage and sending hex after hex at the Defenders in front of her. Andrew Thomas suddenly rose up and fired at Anna who dove to the side to fire back. Gwen was moving forward as well as Damon stood. Gabriel fired at Damon, missed and then ducked as Damon returned. The Guardians were pressing forward as the crowd cheered and yelled out their warnings. Thomas fired at Anna again who was still in the open and Gwen hit him full in the chest will a well-placed hex that sent him flying backward.

“Gotcha!” Gwen yelled out before Damon hit her with a spell that turned her legs to rubber. He fired again and Gwen was down. Gabriel returned as Anna circled left to take her brother’s flank and the crowd cheered even louder. Suddenly, Gabriel was hit and as Anna looked behind her, she could see the Guardian Knight falling stiffly onto her back. She had been petrified.

Anna sneered as she fired at Damon again and again, and the crowd roared as the brother and sister flew into battle. They stood face to face, hexing and blocking spell after spell, and if anyone watching felt the Graysons might go easy on one another, those assumptions were quickly swept away as Damon continued to fire one spell after another to maximize the painful effect on his sibling.

Anna lunged behind another boulder as a well placed hex from Damon hit her on the foot. She crawled quickly out of sight just below another hex that barely missed her. She looked down and saw Debbie Dunning face up on her back She looked stiff as a board. Anna smiled evilly.

“Hello, Deb. How’s the sand down there?” Another blast smashed into the stone hiding her, as the voices of magic deep within her mind cried out their warning again and again. Anna was rubbing her numb foot, but could feel her brother’s footsteps approaching. He was pressing forward, looking to surprise her.

Anna dove to the side and pointed her wand at her brother, but Damon was quick.

Expelliarmus!” the two Graysons shouted simultaneously and their wands where suddenly jerked out of their hands. Damon and Anna were immediately lifted off of their feet and suspended there as their wands fell to the sand and began to hiss forth a bloody colored ribbon. Damon and Anna glared at each other, trying to understand what was happening as the crowd began to scream.

“Jinx!” “Jinx!” “Jinx!”

Damon’s eyes widened as comprehension suddenly hit him. “JINX!” the boy yelled, and he was immediately dropped onto the sand again before the spells placed on the castle transported the two of them into the moat outside.

“Jinx!” Anna dropped onto her feet again.

They both looked back at their wands. The red ribbons began to emit a hideous screech as they turned toward their owners. A crawled hand streaked through the air at Damon who leapt to the side to get away. The hand shot over his head and into the standing crowd and everybody ducked low as the flying hand immediately turned and raced back toward Damon again.

A second ribbon left Anna’s wand and began racing its way toward the Guardian. Anna fell backward onto the sand as the hand shot over her head, just missing her. It quickly turned as Anna scrambled backward up against a boulder. She tried reaching for her wand but it was too late; the clawed hand was nearly on her.

“No!” Anna screamed, as she raised her hands to protect her face. She closed her eyes and turned away, expecting the jinx to slam itself across onto her mouth. She waited… and waited… but nothing happened. The Guardian slowly opened her eyes to find the bloody claw frozen in mid-air just a few inches from her face. It was straining to reach for her and a mouth full of snapping teeth howled angrily from the center of the palm. There was something of a transparent shield the Guardian had unknowingly conjured between it and herself. The claw opened wide to bury its sharp nails into the shield holding it back and screeched madly again as it pressed in closer. Anna could hear the shield giving off soft popping sounds under the pressure. She growled back at the thing and as it opened wide to dig in again and Anna could see a blacked brand above the howling mouth. It looked like to letters: CC.

Damon dove to the side again as the other ribbon tried to grab him once more. He snatched up his wand from out of the sand and then whipped around to point at the thing racing back to him.

Finite Chirotha!” he yelled, and the claw screeched its last before instantly evaporated in a cloud of bloody ash. The crowd cheered as Damon looked around and frowned. He could see his sister holding back the ribbon with empty hands as her wand lay several feet away from her.

Anna watched in horror as tiny cracks began to appear in her shield . She began pushing her hands out, concentrating hard to press the claw back.

Finite Chirotha!” she whispered, and the thing suddenly shrieked and then vanished in a puff of red smoke. The shield fell away and Anna slumped to the side in relief.

The crowd stood stunned at what they had seen, and in the lull Anna could suddenly hear the voices of magic shouting into her head from the stones in her back.

“Defend yourself, Sithmaith!”

The Guardian jerked up to see Damon rushing forward; a sinister smile was carved into his face as he raised his wand at her.

The voices of magic were frantic as they shouted their warning into Anna’s mind; she didn’t need them to know her brother’s hex was coming.

Instinct immediately took hold as Anna raised an empty hand again and shouted, “Incursiosultus!”

A bright flash of purple exploded forward and struck Damon in the chest. Her brother flew backward across the entire length of the pit and slammed into the portrait overseer on the other side. The Dueling Hall was stunned into silence.

Anna was still on her knees in the sand, her empty palms outstretched and looking shocked at the sight of Damon lying unconscious and defeated across the hall. She lowered her hands and slowly stood. Realizing what she had done, she ran across the hall and fell next to her brother. She could see his robes were still smoking form the blast. She rolled him over to look down at him and was relieved to see him grimace.

Damon was dazed as he looked up at his sister, and for the first time in his life he understood something completely unexpected. The blast that had sent him reeling had been extremely powerful and yet, deep down even in that moment of humility and pain, he quickly understood one truth: What he experienced was only a fraction of what Anna could bring to battle. The helpless family squib was suddenly so much more than he ever thought possible. This realization brought something completely unguarded in his response to his sister’s concerns for him. Damon blinked hard to clear his vision and then smiled. He groaned as he tried to rise up and the crowd began to cheer.

“Nice shot,” he whispered.

“Are you all right?” she replied concernedly.

Damon sat up to inspect his body and robes. “Everything seems to be in working order. Get me up.”

She did and when her brother was standing once more, the crowd began to clap in satisfied relief.

“The Guardians are victorious!” Professor Bots announced and the students watching the battle started to applaud even louder.

The spells holding the other Defenders and Guardians where immediately set aside and soon the embattled were on their feet and helping each other to stand. Gabriel and another seventh year Guardian Joseph Philias hadn’t seen what Anna had done to mark their union’s first win against the undefeated Defenders, but that didn’t seem to matter as they hoisted Anna off her feet in jubilation and triumph.

Soon Gwen joined them as well, looking very sore, but delighted at their victory. “Anna, we won! We won! I can’t believe it,” she shouted, happily.

Anna finally smiled while the crowd continued to cheer. As Joseph put Anna on her feet again and thumped her on the back, she noticed Doctor Pearl had suddenly appeared to tend to her brother burns and broken pride. She watched Pearl set Damon back down against the wall below the overseer who was trying to communicate what had happened even as the crowd continued to cheer.

“How did you defeat him?” Gabriel asked her, but Anna was looking at Professor Bots and Lieutenant Dunning who were spying something unusual in the sand as Professor Qwaad stood over them.

Anna pushed through her teammates to see what they were studying and that’s when she saw it too; a river of purple, running like a stream of water from where she had been kneeling when she blasted her brother off his feet to where he had landed in defeat behind her.

Gabriel knelt down to examine the shiny substance running down the center of the hall. She tapped on it to confirm it was solid and then looked up at them.

“It’s glass. The sand… it’s been turned to glass.”

THREE

“The Spellsburg Seer – January 14th /News from overseas:

London - “The Daily Profit is reporting the escape of ten Death Eaters from Azkaban prison yesterday. England’s Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, made the following statement today: ‘We have confirmed that ten high-security prisoners, in the early hours of yesterday evening, did escape. And of course, the Muggle Prime Minister has been alerted to the danger. We strongly suspect that the breakout was engineered by a man with personal experience in escaping from Azkaban; notorious mass murderer Sirius Black, cousin of the escapee Bellatrix Lestrange.

“The Profit also reported the names of several other escapees, including Antonin Dolohov, Bellatrix Lestrange, Rabastan Lestrange, Rodolphus Lestrange, Augustus Rookwood and five others.

“This news comes at a most inopportune time in the wizarding world and on the heels of the prisoner escape from Drogo prison back in June. This together with the three as of yet unsolved murders in Spellsburg has put the city on high security alert.”

Anna lowered the newspaper to look at Gwen and Sarah Bell across the dinner table. “This has to be You-Know-Who’s doing,” she told them worriedly. “Maybe now the Ministry will do something about him.”

“Do you really think You-Know-Who broke all those Death Eaters out of Azkaban?” Gwen looked mortified at the idea of it.

Anna looked around cautiously and then leaned in. “Yeah, I do. Who else could have done it?”

“What about that other prisoner they mentioned who escaped two years ago… that Sirius Black guy? The Minister of England says they suspect him.”

“Excuse me,” Sarah broke in timidly, looking at Gwen. “You said something about Azkaban last year. Is this Azkaban a really bad place?” she asked.

Gwen looked surprised “A bad place? It’s the worst place you can go if you’re a wizard.”

Anna frowned. Being that she had already seen the darkest corners of Drogo prison, she wasn’t so sure Azkaban could be worse.

“Have you ever heard of the Dementors?” Gwen asked them.

Sarah looked a little frightened and then sorry she had asked the question.

Anna frowned. “Dementors? Who are the Dementors?”

Gwen looked surprised. “You’re kidding me? You mean to tell me you’ve never heard about the Dementors of Azkaban?” Anna shook her head.

Gwen leaned in and whispered, “The Dementors are really foul creatures that guard the prisoners there. My dad told me about them once. He even visited Azkaban and saw them when he worked for the Ministry. He said they looked like rotting corpses, floating around like ghosts in their death shrouds. They keep all the prisoners extremely weak by placing them into a perpetual state of misery, depression and gloom.” She swallowed hard. “They actually feed on their happiness; not that they would have all that much happiness living in a place like Azkaban prison. My dad had to take the next day off from work to recover himself after visiting the place.”

“Oh my… it sounds really awful,” Sarah lamented.

“Oh it is, and that’s why only the really, really bad wizards are permanently sent there.

“And only somebody as powerful as You-Know-Who could break them out,” Anna added.

Gwen nodded, “Yeah… maybe.” She quickly changed the subject. “We have to go to Gabriel’s meeting. You ready?”

Anna stood. “Do you have any idea what this meeting is about?”

“Yeah, I do, but she told me not to say.”

Anna frowned. “What? Why not?”

“She just told me to make sure you were there.”

Anna looked at Sarah who nodded. “S…She t…t…told me the s… same thing, Anna,” her voice stumbled.

FOUR

The three girls headed for the Guardian Hall.

“Why can’t you tell me what’s going on? Is it about me?”

Gwen looked at Sarah and then back again. “Anna… this meeting is going be kind of uncomfortable for you and that’s why Gabriel didn’t want us to tell you anything about it.”

Anna stopped to stare back at her. “Am I in trouble?”

“No — no, absolutely not. In fact…I think this is a good thing… really.”

“So why can’t you tell me?”

“Because we prom… p… p… promised Gabriel that we wo… woo…wouldn’t,” Sarah added, worriedly.

When they arrived in the Guardian Hall, it was obvious to Anna that every Guardian in the school was there. Some were standing in small circles and talking, while the others sat in very comfortable looking couches and chairs. When Gabriel saw them arrive, she stood.

“All right everybody, quiet down.” The room immediately fell silent. “I’d like to thank you all for coming tonight. We’re still waiting for a few others to arrive… so let me start by saying…”

Suddenly, the doors opened once again and three others entered the room.

“Oh good, you got my message. Excellent! Except for the first-years, I think everybody remembers our graduated seventh-year Guardians from last year. This is John Dell, Ines Valeria and Eric Grayson. They were members of the original fifty Guardians. And before you eggs ask… and in case you didn’t already know… Professor Grayson is Anna Grayson’s brother.” The first years in the group smiled and nodded.

“The reason I’ve brought everybody here tonight is because I wanted to discuss our future leadership.” Gabriel looked around the room. “And just to be clear, I’m not talking about our leadership here at Castlewood; I’m talking about after we leave this place.”

Anna was immediately nervous. She looked over and found her brother, Ines and John Dell staring back at her.

“We’ve all heard about the escape of the Death Eaters from Azkaban prison.” Gabriel surveyed the crowd to insure everybody knew what she was talking about and then quickly moved on.

“Now… there are a few of us here who not only believe He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named has returned but that he’s probably the one directly responsible for the escapes.” Gabriel could immediately see the skepticism rising within the room. “By a show of hands… how many of you are certain you were personnally warned about He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Name’s return prior to Thordarson’s announcement of this belief last summer?”

Again, Gabriel looked around the room intently. A few hands slowly and cautiously started to go up and when Eric, Ines and John Dell raised their hands, several others felt embolden to be more truthful. Anna raised her hand as well and she was surprised there were some many other Guardians who did the same.

“Most of you?” Gabriel said, leaning to the side to get a better look at the group. “Okay. So let me ask you something else: where and when did you first hear this said?”

As Anna looked around; nobody seemed willing to answer. She could see her brother wanted to speak, but he was clearly looking for some courage among the other Guardians.

Surprisingly to all, it was Nox who finally said, “I heard it in the Mirror of Enlightenment at the joining ceremony.”

Gabriel seemed pleased. “Yeah, that’s where I heard it too,” she replied encouragingly. She looked around. “Anybody else?”

“Yes… me too,” said another girl in the back and then several others started to nod in agreement.

“Let’s get to the point,” John Dell said abruptly, stepping forward. “You all heard about You-Know-Who’s return within the mirror, didn’t you?” Everybody who raised their hand agreed.

“Wait a minute,” John Baird broke in. “Yeah… okay… so some of us were told by the Mirror of Enlightenment that ‘the dark lord was gathering strength’,” he said, making quotation signs with his fingers, “but that doesn’t mean it was talking about You-Know-Who. It could have been talking about somebody else.”

“No, it was talking about Voldemort!” Eric blurted out and the rest of the Guardians let out a gasp of surprise at hearing the name. “Oh stop it! Saying his name isn’t going to hurt you. All of his supporters, all of his Death Eaters, called Voldemort ‘the Dark Lord’. This is a well-known fact the Ministry already acknowledged years ago.” He looked at Baird. “Your name is John, right?”

“Yes, sir.”

Eric took a deep breath. “John, I believe one of your grandparents was killed by Voldemort’s Death Eaters, is that correct?”

John Baird suddenly looked saddened. “My grandfather…fifteen years ago. A Death Eater killed him for refusing to provide proof that our family’s wizarding bloodline was pure,” he grumbled back.

“I’m very sorry, John. Truly… I am.”

The boy glared back and was suddenly unsympathetic. “It was Rookwood… one of the escaped Death Eaters. I never knew my grandfather, but my mother told me he was a great man and now his murderer has escaped!”

Eric nodded. “John… I met your grandfather when he came to visit our home on Ministry business. Although I was very young…I still remember him. He was an incredibly impressive and very brave man. I’m sorry for your loss, but all the more reason you should keep an open mind when it comes to these reports of You-Know-Who’s return.”

The boy looked at Eric and frowned. “I just can’t believe it; no amount of magic can bring the dead back to life. It was the only thing my mother told me that…” he hesitated and then, “…would stop my nightmares.”

Eric placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Voldemort’s body was never found after he failed to kill the boy who lived. It’s been my father’s belief that this fact always left room for his possible return… and now… he has come back.” John looked at him and began to shake his head.

Eric remained sympathetic. “Look deep within your heart and remember what the Mirror of Enlightenment told you about why the Guardians are here and how it all relates to the timing of Dumbledore’s announcement last June. We can’t ignore the fact that Voldemort has returned, because,” he looked up at the rest of the group, “others could die needlessly if we ignore the truth.”

John looked at Gabriel and then to Eric again. “I don’t know, Professor… I just… I don’t know.”

“John… when we’re all together like this… when all the Guardians are meeting as one, you can call me by my given name. You can call me Eric, all right?”

John Baird looked surprised and then smiled.

Gabriel stepped forward again. “Listen, I didn’t want to start another argument about You-Know-Who’s return. For those of us who heard the Mirror of Enlightenment speaking to us about being a Guardian, do you remember what it said about who would lead us? Who did it say we should follow?”

“Someone it called… the Sithmaith,” said a new first-year named Steven Borjg.

“That’s right. That’s what it said to me as well,” said Isabel Lang.

Gabriel smiled. “Does everybody agree that our unnamed leader is what the mirror called the Sithmaith?”

Nearly everybody nodded.

“No…” Anna yelped unthinkingly.

“Anna… it’s time you accepted this fact… and your future role,” Eric said to her and several of the other Guardians frowned.

“Wait a minute,” interrupted Teresa Sinclair. “Are you saying Anna Grayson is… this Sithmaith?” She looked at Anna in surprise. “How do you know?”

“Yes, I’m positive.” Gabriel replied. “I know there was a lot of chaos during the Joining ceremony last year, but if you will recall, the Mirror of Enlightenment called her Sithmaith when she first exited the mirror, after she was named the very first Guardian at the school.”

“Not to mention the fact she’s probably the best in our dueling class,” Gwen added confidently. “She even put her brother Damon on his back without a wand!”

“Gwen, please, don’t!”

“She blew Professor Qwaad on his ass during detention without a wand too.” Nox added with a smile. “Now that was impressive!”

“You did WHAT?” Eric snapped, looking shocked at his sister.

Anna was suddenly furious as she turned on Nox. “You promised you would never tell anyone about that!”

Nox shrugged. “So I lied.” Nox turned back to the group. “You should have seen Qwaad picking himself up off the floor. He was smoldering like a piece of green wood. Oh… he was a sight!”

“Yeah, it makes sense now,” added Arty Nelson. “Remember how she found that lost Muggle in the Shadowed Forest last year?”

“And how she stared down those dragons during the last Vollucross race?”

“Remember the way she blew that pixy out of the Swift Slalom stadium?”

“And she changed herself back without a wand when Dunning turned her into a rat? Now that was some amazing stuff there.”

“She can pick up a spell faster than anybody I know at the school,” added Joseph Philias.

“That doesn’t mean anything!” Anna protested. “And it certainly doesn’t make be a leader.”

Gabriel walked over to Anna. “Like it or not, Anna, you are the Sithmaith the mirror told us to follow. You have proven skills far beyond anybody your age and… probably a lot more that you’re not telling us, right?”

Anna turned and frowned accusingly at her brother. What had he already told them? She could feel the Lethifold within her chest rising up.

Eric seemed to know what she was thinking. “I could tell you a lot more about my sister’s abilities, but not without betraying her trust.” He looked at Anna again. “The fact is… she is the Sithmaith, what the Mirror of Enlightenment called the bringer of peace. She will be the leader of the Guardians one day and I intent to follow her.”

Gabriel stepped up. “I brought everybody here tonight so we could acknowledge this truth: that Anna Grayson is the Sithmaith. What that really means or how she’ll eventually lead us is still unknown, but we have to think about our future now that You-Know-Who has returned and his Death Eaters are gaining strength. We have to be on our guard from now on.”

Then Ines stepped forward. “And just because we believe You-Know-Who has returned, the Ministry of Magic cannot be trusted to listen to us. Just the fact the Guardians have come into existence again should have been warning enough that a war is coming, but the Ministry continues to deny it and will do everything they can to suppress us or anybody else who says otherwise. The expulsion of three Guardians after the incident at the museum is proof of this fact.”

John Dell spoke again. “Understand who your friends are and keep a tight tongue on the things you say in public. Don’t be ignorant to believe stepping out of line, even in the slightest, won’t get you expelled.”

There was a mixture of agreement and disagreement in the room. Arguments began to break out in smaller groups and soon the noise level was growing. Eric’s voice was calm but firm as he raised his hands to gather their attention.

“Please, everybody… please.” The room quickly fell silent. He looked at Anna again and then back to the group. “I love my sister with all my heart, and while I know she is very reluctant to accept her future role as our leader… I also know this is her destiny. In the meantime, and like the rest of us, she must continue with her studies at Castlewood and after we leave this place if we are to be successful in championing the cause of magic. Voldemort and the Ministry of Magic will be working against us and it is the very definition of our mission that will set us against them, but each of us has the courage to fight for what we believe to be right. It is who we are; it’s why we were chosen to be Guardians in the first place.”

Eric looked concerned as he took the time to gaze at each and every face in the room. “In this mission given to us…we cannot fail, because it doesn’t matter who leads us or sets themselves against us. In the end, the only thing that really matters is that magic is allowed to survive the folly of those working to kill each other.


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