Within the Jaws
The evening winter wind was howling in chorus with the wolves in the forest surrounding Castlewood Academy. As a silvery moon began its expected rise over the plateau, a small figure could be seen crawling between the castle’s cracks and crevasses looking for a way in which to enter and to warm his freezing bones. The creature moved unsteadily, pushed onward only by its lingering anger at the witch who had placed him in his lasting pain and difficulty.
The pixie named Mowgawk suddenly slipped and yelped raucously, only managing to save what was left of himself by clawing at the wood of an embedded windowsill set in the stone above him. A badly burnt and useless wing was flapping frantically over his left shoulder in rhythm with its twin as he pulled up and turned to finally sit. He sighed and then looked over the edge as the flakes of falling snow disappeared into the blackness between his knees. The creature shuddered before noticing his reflection next to him in the window glass. He growled under her breath.
“Moo-gak… tak ya noos.”
The left side of his face was blackened and scorched from the hex the human had used against him in the slalom race. He heaved a rattled sigh again before wrapping his arms around his freezing body. Wincing at his shoulder once more, he grumbled under his breath. The wing would eventually grow back, of course, but it would take several weeks, but now the coldest part of winter was upon him. He bared his chattering teeth as he reached back to remember the human who had caused him so much pain.
Mowgawk looked up in surprise. He hadn’t said the name; it was another voice coming from the other side of the window. He peered passed his reflection to see two wizards standing by a fire in the room beyond. The murmur of voices came from a small crack in the glass where he lowered himself to listen in.
“What manner of foolishness does she bear - to think she could do something like that in the Dueling Hall and not be seen? For God’s sake, the whole damn castle is talking about it.” Qwaad was scowling down into the fire at his feet. “Dumbledore said she was supposed to be intelligent, but I’m starting to question his judgment.” The man looked at the woman standing beside him. “Thordarson wants you to warn the idiot girl away from doing anymore magic without a wand in public!” He blasted the logs with his wand, which caused the flames to glow a bright green.
“You forget… she is very young,” Van Doorn grumbled back in reply. “Young and still… so unaware of what she is to become.”
“I should have warned her never to do that again after she blasted me over my desk!”
“You think too much of her to believe,” the woman heaved another injured breath, “that she can control her actions. She cannot possibly control what she does not understand.”
Qwaad only huffed in reply.
Under her black veil, Van Doorn was scrutinizing the man suspiciously. “I think… you play the role of spy all too well,” she grumbled on. “Was it truly necessary to tell the Minister of Magic about the two Guardians who have returned to Spellsburg to protect her?”
He turned to look at the woman and then smiled coolly. “You still don’t trust me, do you?” Although he was trying to disarm her with his candor, deep inside he didn’t like guessing at what the woman was thinking under all her shawls of black. She might as well have been a statue draped for storage. The woman said nothing in reply.
“It will be necessary to keep the Minister informed on an ongoing basis,” Qwaad continued. “That’s my role; it’s why she’s put me in Castlewood at the beginning of the year. I’m supposed to be watching over Thordarson and looking for any betrayal in partnership with Dumbledore. If I hadn’t told her, Dunning surely would have done so and that might have raised suspicions in both of them. The Chancellor cannot afford to have the Minister questioning my loyalties to her now, especially as it pertains to his position here at the school.”
“If you can lie to one, you can lie to the other. It still does not prove where your loyalties truly exist – with us or the Ministry!” Van Doorn retorted heatedly.
Qwaad’s expression hardened. “No, it does not. However, you should remember that it was I who the International Confederation of Ministries sent to wipe Gregory Dunning’s memory after Victoria Grayson’s escape from Drogo prison. And I was the one who went to Thordarson to warn him that Helawena Barkelnap had counteracted those orders of Obliviation on the Captain of the Guard. The Minister wanted Dunning’s memory intact after receiving his owl telling her he suspected Anna was responsible for her mother’s escape. Dunning is spying for the Minister too, but Thordarson wouldn’t know that if I hadn’t remained loyal to him.”
Van Doorn thought for a moment and then slowly turned to look into the fire. “But now you say Dunning is sending messages to the Minister about these murders in the city… he tries to implicate the girl whenever he can,” she replied coolly. “Does the Minister truly suspect her own blood?”
Qwaad shook his head. “I don’t think Barkelnap believes Anna had anything to do with the murders, but she does have some understanding of what the girl represents being the first Guardian. I think she suspects her of having more abilities than she knows and, perhaps, she used those abilities to help her mother to escape. Dunning has convinced her capability at Drogo, but as for the rest… the Minister believes as we do, that somebody is trying to frame Anna for the murders.”
“Bah! To what end?” Van Doorn shot back.
Qwaad frowned at her. “There could be several reasons. Our spy tells us that You-Know-Who is aware of Anna and also suspects what she is to become. If he can’t have her under his control then he’ll probably try and kill her. That’s always been his way of dealing with any potential obstacles.”
“Yes, kill her, but frame her for murder? I think not,” Van Doorn answered. “I told Thordarson and now I’m telling you: something is yet unseen in this work of blood and murder. It is not the Dark Lord’s doing. There is another who is still to reveal their presence in all of this. I know it in my bones.” The woman whipped out her own wand and blasted the fireplace at Qwaad’s feet. The heat even made Mowgawk lean back in response outside the window.
“I still do not trust you, spy. You are still the Minister’s man sent here to watch over us.”
Qwaad’s face darkened and for a long moment the two did not speak. Finally, he said, “The noose around Hogwarts is tightening again. Educational Decree number twenty-six was published yesterday.”
Van Doorn shoulders seemed to slump forward as she shook her head. “Evil does not understand justice. We know the Death Eaters are evil… but Umbridge is worse.” The woman looked at Qwaad and growled through her veil, “She moves to the side of strength regardless of its intent — like a moth to the flame mindless to the heat.”
Qwaad nodded. “Since Fudge named Umbridge High Inquisitor, McGonagall says she’s been inspecting all of the classes at Hogwarts. It’s clear now she and Fudge intend to remove the Headmaster; it’s only a matter of time. I expect Helen will do the same if Thordarson continues to support Dumbledore’s perspective on things. Helen and Fudge are still very close.”
“Cornelius Fudge is a fool. What is he doing now with this new decree?”
“The teachers of Hogwarts are not allowed to give out any information to the students beyond what is normal to their lessons.” Qwaad looked at her and sneered. “You know what this means, of course?”
The woman’s wand disappeared under her robes. “It would mean the truth will be harder to fashion than gold from the snow outside. No matter - they are only children; the truth given under bows of silk would be of no use to them anyway.”
“What about those who say the truth will set you free? Or in this case, it might keep you alive.”
The woman sneered. “They are children. What is freedom to them? The truth will only make them miserable with worry and doubt.”
Van Doorn looked at herself in the mirror over the fireplace. “Dumbledore is a good man, but in his current position he is forced to be least like himself. He should try wearing a mask…” she turned to stare back at the man. “He might then find the courage to do what is necessary.”
Qwaad smirked and then turned to head for the door. “Strange sentiment coming from one who wears a mask all the time.” He opened the door and turned to her again. “By the way, why do you wear that veil anyway? No matter the result, you should not be ashamed of your battles with him and his Death Eaters.”
She turned away as she took another rattled breath. “My scars… they go deeper than you can possibly know.”
Qwaad studied her and then left the room.
Van Doorn stood at the mirror staring at her draped reflection again. “My… scars…” she whispered softly.
An ungloved hand then appeared from under her wraps and two boney fingers slowly pulled off the veil covering her face. Mowgawk’s eyes widened.
“Perhaps… I should… think of them as trophies.” Her head dropped sorrowfully and her injured voice was mixed with great remorse. “Anna Grayson will soon have many scars as well.”
Mowgawk frowned and then turned away, grumbling as he went along.
“Ana-gray-sin, Ana-gray-sin, heh-heh. Moo-gak… tak ya noos, tak-ya-life, heh-heh-heh.”
Trog looked up and down the dark streets of Spellsburg and then turned to motion to those waiting in the alley to join him. John Dell and Anna Grayson quickly came forward.
“John, did Eric say why he wanted to see us so early this morning? It’s pretty strange time for a meeting. Are you sure everything is all right?”
It was still dark outside. Even the birds hadn’t started to sing at the impending dawn, but in the darkness Anna could see Trog raising a halting hand.
Three men were coming toward them across the street. They were staggering and laughing loudly.
“We earn every penny he pays us for the work we do,” one of the men said drunkenly. “In fact… I think we should demand more, aye? Hah-hah-hah…” he bragged, slapping one his friends on the back. Trog watched them suspiciously as they rounded the next corner and disappeared.
“I don’t known, Anna. Your brother’s note only said it was important that we meet.” John looked back at her and frowned. “What’s the matter?”
John Dell reached out to nudge her on the shoulder. “Anna… are you okay?”
Although the three men were out of sight, Anna was still listening intently to their conversation with focused interest. She looked back at John and smiled.
“Huh? Oh… sorry.” Her grin disappeared as she looked again in the direction where the men had disappeared. “I thought they had a familiar smell… I guess… it must have been nothing.”
“We should keep moving, we should.” Trog suggested worriedly. “It is not safe for you to be in the city.” The ogre had the same look of worry and concern he carried when they first crossed over the drawbridge earlier that morning. Trog wasn’t happy about the unexpected trip to Eric’s flat.
Anna laughed. “You’re kidding, right? I’d wager I’ve got two of the biggest escorts on the entire plateau right here with me. I really don’t think there’s anything to worry about, Trog.”
The ogre glared down at her. “You should be worried, you should!”
“Are they still following us?” John Dell asked the ogre, jerking his head toward something unseen behind them.
Trog nodded nervously.
Anna’s smile fell. “Following us?” She looked back into the darkness. “Somebody is following us?”
“We picked up a tail about two blocks from the castle,” John answered, looking worriedly at the ogre again. “Are they getting any closer?”
Trog nodded. “We must move… now! The first Guardian will stay between us, you will.”
The ogre straightened and then stepped forward, but Anna didn’t move. She was still staring back, concentrating hard on the two heartbeats she could now clearly sense moving cautiously in their direction. She was surprised she hadn’t sensed them earlier. The Guardian’s mind was probing, touching, and then she suddenly recognized their pursuers. The subtle details within the blood she could hear pumping through their veins gave them away instantly. Trog was right; there were two. Anna straightened and then moved to the center of the empty street and to a position where she could face the two women coming at them. She smiled again.
“Anna, what are you doing?” John Dell whispered loudly. “Get back here!”
Suddenly, two robed figures appeared from out of the alleyway. They stopped unexpectedly when they saw Anna and Trog staring back at them.
“Tencha? Dowla? What are you doing here? Why are you following us?”
Anna’s sisters looked at each other in surprise and then quickly came forward.
“Someday you’re going to have to tell us how you do that,” Dowla said in a frustrated tone of voice. “We did everything we could to make sure you didn’t see us.”
“Who are you and why are you here?” Trog demanded, rising to his full and very intimidating height. He came forward to emphasize his menacing presence over them.
“It’s okay, Trog. These are my sisters. This is Tencha and Dowla Grayson.
“Did Eric invite you this morning as well?” John Dell asked them.
The twins nodded. “Yeah,” they admitted simultaneously. “What’s all the secrecy about?”
Dowla pointed back behind them. “We wanted to warn you that Debbie Dunning is following you too. We saw you leaving the castle from the portcullis tower and then decided to shadow you after you crossed the drawbridge.”
“We know,” John said.
“You did?” Anna and the twins replied together.
“Well… Trog did,” John answered rolling his eyes.
The three girls looked up at the ogre who was sniffing the air coming out of the alleyway. He looked down at them again. “She’s still there, she is. Her smell is… potent, that one.”
The twins chuckled. “Yeah… that would be Debbie, all right. She does have a very rude smell to her,” Tencha added. They looked at Anna. “We wanted to warn you off before springing our little trap on her.”
Anna’s eyes flashed at them. “Trap? What do you mean? What… are you planning to do?”
The twins smiled at each other. “Better you don’t know. You head over to Eric’s place and we’ll meet you there just as soon as we take care of little Miss Do-Do behind us.”
There was an unexpected boom in the distance, a wand’s blast, and then a howl filled the air all around them. Everybody turned quickly to see the three men who had disappeared around the corner were coming straight at them in a dead run.
“What are they doing here? What the hell do they want?” screamed one of the men at another.
“What do you think they want? Run you stupid fool, run!”
John Dell stepped in front of the girls as Trog ripped off his crimson mask and crouched low into a protective stance.
The men skidded to a stop to scream again when they saw the ogre reaching out at them.
“Mother of God, we’re surrounded,” yelped the third man.
A horrible screech was heard over their heads and it immediately sent the three men running passed the ogre into the street beyond.
“Vipertooth!” Anna whispered anxiously, dropping down to stare into the dark, morning sky.
The three men were half way down the cobbled street when, suddenly, a large dragon crashed down upon one of the slate roofs high above them. Bricks and broken bits of tile slid down the roof under the dragon’s feet and crashed on the sidewalk and alleyways below. The men skidded to a stop again and then turned to run back.
“Oh my God!” Tencha yelped, as a second dragon flew unexpectedly over their heads in gust of wind that almost swept all of them off their feet. The beast crashed into the street ahead of the fleeing men, trapping them between the two creatures.
“Get to the door!” screamed one of the men, pushing his friends frantically toward one of the buildings.
The dragon on the rooftop shrieked angrily and with one abrupt, swiping motion from its bat-like wing, it sent the three of them flying thirty feet backward down the street. They hit the cobblestones with a heavy thud and rolled over and over before stopping just a few yards from John Dell. Something unexpected rolled out from under one of the wizard’s robes and slowly began to bump along, jerking rather oddly left and right between the cobblestones until it came to rest in front of Dowla.
Through it all, the Graysons were fearful at what might happen next, but when Dowla looked down at the object sitting quietly between her feet, she quickly looked up at Tencha in utter terror.
“Oh my God!” Dowla whispered. “It’s… an egg!”
Anna’s heart stopped. See looked up at the dragons and then back to the egg. “Dowla… get away from it. Move!”
Two sets of heavy footfalls were suddenly converging, and when Dowla looked up she barely saw Trog coming at her. One of his massive hands snatched the girl up by the top of her head and straight off her feet. Wrapping her in his arms, the ogre leapt and the two hurled through the air and crashed through a store’s display window just as a scaled claw swiped at the spot where Dowla stood. The creature screamed as its momentum hit the wet street. It slipped onto its side with a resounding boom and then slid into the side of one of the townhouses. Screeching madly, it scrambled to right itself, uprooting huge swaths of cobblestones with its black, knife-like craws.
Spying the egg still lying in the street, the second dragon leaped from the rooftop and crashed into the street below. Two of the men looked unconscious, but the third was slowly stirring. He sat up holding his head and tried to clear his vision.
“Look out!” Tencha screamed as the second dragon closed in.
Immediately, Tencha and Anna were lifted off their feet by John Dell who tucked them under his arms and ran full speed toward the open window where Trog had disappeared.
The wizard in the street looked up and screamed in terror at the beast thundering toward him. He fumbled desperately in his robes before raising a wand to fire, but it was too late. A second set of jaws abruptly seized him from behind with a loud snap. The second dragon screeched angrily as she tried to sink her teeth into the man still screaming within the shaking jaws of the other. Anna closed her eyes in horror as the two dragons fought over the pieces of the wizard between them.
John Dell dove through the broken window with Anna and Tencha held tight in his arms. They crashed to the floor on the other side and into a pile of broken glass and brick from the smashed wall.
Rolling over and over, John finally released the girls as he scrambled to his enormous feet.
“Hide yourselves, quickly!”
“Dowla! Trog! Where are you?” Anna called. She suddenly crouched low as Tencha stood to call out to her twin.
“Dowla!” she screamed.
“Shut up!” Anna yelped back, but Tencha ignored her.
In a flash, Anna clamped a hand onto her sister’s mouth and then pulled her down to the floor. Wrapping her legs around her, Anna locked her other arm around Tencha’s neck to pull her down on top of her body. Tencha’s looked both shocked and confused as she stared down into Anna’s terrorized face. She tried to muffle a short yelp, but Anna immediately countered by rolling her sister over onto her back to lie on top of her. She glared down into her face and clapped her hand down tight on her mouth again. Tencha struggled beneath her and then looked beyond her sister’s face to see a dragon’s head looming forward in the darkness under the ceiling above them. The creature was surveying the crashed displays and broken furnishing, looking for those who had escaped them.
Tencha’s breath caught and her eyes widened in horror. She looked back to Anna and could see her sister’s eyes were closed tight, her lips moving rapidly to the words of a silent prayer.
The dragon began sniffing at the air and peering eagerly into the dawn’s morning light just beginning to fill the spaces between them. It growled at the scent of something close and then looked down. For a split second, Tencha thought the creature might not see them laying there within the piles dust and fallen debris, but she could see it in the dragon’s eyes; its scaly lids widened in surprise as her head jerked back and then its pupils narrowed.
A second later the girls let out a chorus of screams as they were lifted six feet into the air before Anna was brutally snatched out of Tencha’s arms. The creature’s head smashed into the ceiling and then disappeared as broken pieces of lumber and plaster crashed to the floor on top of Tencha. When she looked up again, Anna was gone and her continuing screams seemed a mile away. A second later, there was a blur of something huge in crimson robes leaping over her head and out the window.
Dowla was suddenly by Tencha’s side.
“It’s got Anna! Come on!”
Anna? Tencha’s stunned mind was trying to clear itself, but Dowla was already dragging her toward the smashed wall overlooking the dawn filled street, and what they saw would be impossible to describe a week later. Trog was wrapped around the neck of the dragon that held Anna in its jaws by her robes and the ogre was beating furiously on the side of the breast’s head.
“YOU WILL LET HER GO, YOU WILL!” Trog screamed, pounding his huge fists into the creature’s jaws. “YOU WILL NOT TAKE THE GUARDIAN, YOU WON’T!”
A wand’s blast suddenly smashed into the side of the second dragon and the twins looked up to see John Dell firing hex after hex at the approaching creature whose booming footsteps made the ground quake beneath their feet. “I can’t hold the other one back, Trog! She’s too strong!” John’s eyes widened as death thundered toward him.
The approaching dragon screeched angrily and then swept John Dell off his feet with one smashing wing. The blow sent the man fifty feet through the air, crashing into a rod-iron fence and then into a doorway containing an elderly couple in their nightgowns looking out.
“LET GO, BEAST!” Trog roared, as he raised his giant fists again and again, raining down a storm of blows upon the dragon’s head. His fists looked as if they could take down an entire building, which gave Dowla’s reeling mind a moment of desperate hope.
Suddenly the tail of the creature whipped about to smash into Trog’s back, but still the ogre held fast. He began pawing at the breast’s jaws and then, unbelievably, they watched him trying to pry them open with all the magical strength his body could muster while Anna’s body dangled limp and unconscious within her tangled robes below.
“What should we do?” Tencha yelled, but when she looked up Dowla was gone. She looked around and saw her sister in the middle of the street with her wand held high and seemingly running away from the fight.
“Dowla — no! Where are you going?”
Trog was ripped off the neck of the dragon holding Anna by the second and with one angry whip of its neck the creature spit the ogre through the side of another building.
Shaking with terrified fear, Tencha stepped out of her hiding place and raised her wand at the dragon still holding Anna in its jaws, but another screamed stopped her from firing.
“Beast! Is this what you want?”
Tencha looked around and to her surprise she saw Dowla standing in the middle of the street with her wand held high and holding something unexpected under her other arm.
“Drop my sister, or so help me I’ll smash it!” she screamed.
Tencha looked again and groaned; she could now see Dowla was holding the dragon’s egg.
The two dragons wheeled around and stared. For a moment the streets were strangely quiet, as if a silencing spell had been cast upon the entire city. Only the hissing fires from several broken streetlamps could be heard warning Dowla of her foolishness.
One of the dragons lowered her head nearly level to the ground and growled menacingly. Green, iridescent drips of spit plopped onto the street as the creature’s gaze narrowed. The other dragon holding Anna let its jaw drop open in surprise, but the Guardian remained suspended there, her robes tangled and entwined in the creature’s lower fangs.
The ground quaking footfalls told Dowla all she needed to know. There would be no bargain, no trading an egg for the life of her sister, no hope of survival. She screamed as the dragon leapt at her and opened its wings and jaws. The blow that propelled Dowla Grayson into unconsciousness was both swift and massive and sent her flying more than three hundred feet through the air. Tencha’s heart froze has she watched her sister’s body tumble through the morning sky, over and over again, shrinking to nothing more than a speck of debris before abruptly stopping. Tencha’s horrified expressed frowned. She could see Dowla’s body hovering in midair, seemingly frozen there, suspended, saved before having to endure the landing that would have surely finished her if she wasn’t already dead.
The blasts of several spells and hexes were suddenly filling the streets all around her once moreand Tencha quickly ducked behind the wall to take cover. From nearly every window and door running down the sidewalk, several wizards and witches, still in their morning pajamas, were firing at the two dragons standing in the destroyed street.
Tencha’s anger flared. She immediately rose up and started waving her arms frantically. “Stop it! Stop firing! They have my sister, stop!” She covered her head as one of the blasts hit the adjoining row house, sending some of the slate down upon her.
“I said STOP IT!” And all at once, the hexes ceased.
Tencha slowly raised her head to see the street was quiet and suddenly empty of dragons. She could see two witches standing on their stoops and pointing into the distance as they lowered their wands. Tencha followed their gaze to see the dragons in the far off distance heading for the Shadowed Forest within a swarm of crimson cloaks giving chase on their doors and brooms. She turned to see the sidewalks beginning to fill with residents, their wands still in their hands, surveying what was left of their street and the neighborhood surrounding them.
“Anna?” Tencha looked around, but her sister was nowhere to be seen. “Have you seen my sister?” She yelled at the women standing on the stoop. They didn’t answer her, but the look on their faces was sympathetic and telling enough.
Tencha began to run down the street toward the disappearing dragons in the far off distance. She turned to the neighbors gathering behind her.
“Did they take her?” She grabbed an old man who was reaching out to her knowingly. “Did it take my sister? Please… tell me!”
“She’s over here!” answered another voice over the crowd and Tencha snapped around quickly, her mind stuck between terror and relief.
She pushed her way through the crowd of robes and pajamas, following a yelling voice. “Call a healer, quick. We have an injured girl over here!” the voice said.
“Let me through! Please… that’s my sister. Anna?”
Tencha finally broke through the crowd and a circle of residents looking down. She was praying Anna was still alive and then frowned as the unconscious girl was gently rolled to her back.
“Is she alive?” somebody asked, worriedly.
Tencha’s heart sank. It was Debbie Dunning. In all chaos, she had completely forgotten the Lieutenant’s sister had been following Anna through the city earlier that morning.
“I’m a healer,” came a man’s voice in the distance, “let me through, please.”
“Has anybody seen Anna Grayson? She was…” her heart sank again. Tencha couldn’t even begin to tell them where she last saw her sister — hanging from the jaws of a dragon.
An old woman reached out to hug her. “I’m afraid the beasts took her,” she said softly into her ear. “They picked up the egg and then flew away with the girl.” The women pulled back and then handed Tencha a wand. It was made of the strangest wood; the only one of its kind made of purple heart.
Tencha stepped back in shock and then her head dropped in depressed misery as she reached out to take the wand. Without saying another word, she turned and left the circle and headed for that spot in the open sky and where she had last seen her twin. Was Dowla dead as well?
“We have another injured man over here,” yelled another voice, but Tencha barely glanced at the house where John Dell had disappeared. She started to run. Two sisters gone, maybe dead; it couldn’t be true. It just could not. She tried to run faster.
“Dowla! I’m coming! I’m coming… oh God… please…”