Anna Grayson and The Dragon's Lair

Educational Decree Number Twenty Eight

ONE

By the end of March, the seasons were changing on the plateau and once again and Anna was overcome by all the glorious color and smells on the plateau. As the warm air reached into the mountains, it released the splendor of blossoms from their winter prison. The trees were budding, the hedges were bright with yellow and red flowers, and the grasses outside the walls of Spellsburg were a sea of purple. The bees set to work and the birds were singing gaily as they hunted for twigs to build their nests. It would seem neither the worry of the city’s unsolved murders nor the occasional dragon flying overhead could diminish the community of their smiles and cheery disposition. Spring had finally arrived in Pennsylvania.

Anna was sharing breakfast in the Great Rotunda with a number of other Guardians, but she was staring at the Defender table.

“What’s the matter, Anna?” Gwen asked her, seeing her friend was clearly annoyed about something.

Anna looked at her and then jerked a nod toward Debbie Dunning seated next to her Defender cronies.

Gwen cautiously turned around to look over and then frowned. “What?”

“Watch her,” Anna added irately. “Watch her hands.”

Gwen looked again and then saw Debbie raising her wand under the table and pointing it to the right where Sarah Bell was standing near the entranceway talking to Gabriel. Suddenly, Sarah’s shirt pulled up to her waistline and she dropped her books in a feeble attempt to quickly pull it back down. Looking to save her fellow Guardian from any further harassment, Gabriel moved to stand between Sarah and the crowd of students still eating. Surely, nobody would dare to do that to a Knight of Castlewood. Gabriel looked furious as she scanned through the tables, looking for the culprit with the wand. Luckily the room was so unruly at breakfast that nobody saw what was happening to Sarah.

Debbie flicked her wand again, and this time Gabriel’s shirt zoomed up as well, and Debbie’s fellow Defenders started snickering behind their napkins.

“Why that little…” Gwen whispered, reaching into her robes for her wand, but Anna stopped her.

“No, no… you don’t want to land in detention too, do you? No wands at the breakfast table, remember? Let me…”

Anna laced her fingers in front of her mouth and Gwen watched in amazement as her friend lowered her brow to focus her stare at Debbie across the room. It had been a full month since Anna had begun her instruction with Professor Van Doorn without the use of the wand. It was very difficult work, but as the weeks passed, Anna had come to believe there wasn’t much she couldn’t do without her mother’s purple heart. It took a great deal of concentration to do it, but with Van Doorn’s help, Anna found herself looking forward to their time together and had even asked to increase their lessons to twice a week.

Gwen looked at Anna and then over to Debbie who was still laughing and flicking her wand at Sarah and Gabriel. She saw Anna’s focus drawing hard through her hands and then watched as a single finger abruptly unfolded to rest against the side of her nose. Suddenly, Debbie Dunning’s wand and the hand holding it were wrenched up from out of its hiding place in front of her face. Debbie looked both surprised and shocked as her arm slowly extended itself outward with the point of the wand up, as if to hand it to the person seated in front of her. Gwen could see the girl struggling to pull her arm back, but the power of the spell being used against her was too strong.

“You!” yelled Gabriel from the doorway, and several in the Rotunda looked over to see the Guardian Knight coming forward and pointing at Debbie Dunning. “You think you’re being funny, do you? What are you playing at — casting spells at another student behind their back?”

Everybody went quiet and looked over to see Debbie still staring at her wand stretched out, as if to show the entire world she was guilty of the charge. One of her Defender friends tried to push her arm down again and began whispering frantically into Debbie’s ear, but her arm seemed rigid and locked in place, her wand upright.

Damon stood at the Defender table frowning at Debbie Dunning. “No wands at the breakfast table, Dunning. Stow it — now!”

There were beads of sweat pouring out of Dunning’s face as she tried with all her might to pull her arm back. “I…I can’t,” she finally replied. “I can’t move my arm!”

“Detention!” Gabriel yelled out.

Gwen was watching Anna who was concentrating hard across the dining room. Finally, she could see Anna slowly lowering her finger and then Debbie’s arm began to pull back.

“I said stow it!” Damon hollered.

Debbie was wide-eyed, watching her hand slowly returning on its own. And then, quite suddenly, she jammed the end of the wand straight up her own nose. The girl screamed and then feel backward, crashing to the floor as the entire Rotunda burst out in laughter. Anna finally lowered her hands and smiled broadly.

TWO

Two hours later, Anna was sitting in her Care of Magical Creatures class waiting for Eric to arrive. Her fellow classmates were still laughing and joking about Debbie Dunning jamming her own wand up her nose.

“And to think… she still has ta’do detention,” TJ sang out with glee. “That’ll teach her to squat with’er spurs on.” The room roared again.

“But who was it that hexed her? Does anybody know?” Sarah Bell said, worriedly. “I wouldn’t want anybody to get into trouble for my sake.”

“Yeah… you know… I was wondering about that myself.” Gwen replied. She looked over at Anna and smiled knowingly.

Anna’s eyes widened. Don’t you dare, she tried to tell her friend wordlessly. She was terrified Van Doorn might find out what she had done over breakfast. The woman’s warnings about not displaying her abilities in public had been frightening.

Gwen smiled back. “But nobody really knows, do they?”

Eric Grayson was shaking his head as he walked a brisk pace through the corridors of Castlewood. “Late for my own bloody class!” He whispered to himself angrily. He scanned the nearly empty hallways surrounding him.

“Good morning, Professor Grayson,” said a tiny first year girl going the other way.

“Good morning,” Eric replied kindly. “We’re both a little late for our classes this morning, aren’t we?”

“Uh… yes, sir. I’m on my way.”

Eric nodded and tried to smile as he passed her; his mind was racing in a mad dash of worried thoughts. How could Cornelius Fudge do this? he fumed angrily. How could the Ministry of Magic in London even suggest that Albus Dumbledore might do such a thing?

“Good Morning, Professor,” said another third-year girl.

“Get to your class!” Eric barked back.

He remembered staring at himself in the mirror that morning as he tried to shave in preparation for his busy day. He hadn’t slept again all night, tormented again by that woman’s voice whispering in his mind once more. He couldn’t forget her voice. He couldn’t get her out of his head. How could he? He could still hear it even now as his own steps echoed down the hall on the stone floors.

“I love you, Eric. I love you so much.”

While Eric had come to believe the woman invading his dreams might be his mother, his analytical mind was still fighting against accepting this abstract notion. My mother is dead, gone for more than thirteen years now. Why is this happening to me?

He remembered waking that morning and tiredly washing his face. Unfortunately, even the cold water could do nothing to stop the sweat from pouring out of him. The voice in his head had been nonstop all night long. He looked up into the mirror again and tried to focus his attention straight, but then watched as his own eyes seemed to change and then found a strange image stared back at him. It was nearly featureless, but clearly a woman with dark hair.

“You must protect your brother and sisters, Eric, and your father from the evil to come.”

Eric frowned and tried to reach out. “Mother? Is that you? Is it really you, or am I still dreaming?”

“I am a prisoner, my son, trapped in a place of hateful solitude.”

“Trapped… I don’t understand…. trapped where?”

“I must escape… because he is here with me.”

“Who is with you?”

“Evil,” the image hissed. “I must escape.”

“I don’t understand…” Eric insisted.

“You must protect her, for she is in very great danger.”

“Protect her? Protect who?”

Ssssssssssss…”the image hissed back.

“Protect who?”

“Sssssssssssssithmaith…”

Eric’s eyes widened. “Anna? You think Anna is in danger?” He reached out and put his hand on the mirror. “I don’t understand!” He could see the veil covering his own face starting to fade.

“Protect the Sithmaith… only she can free me.”

“I don’t understand. Where are you?”

Suddenly, the head of a huge snake with red eyes appeared in the glass before him. It quickly lunged at him with an open mouth full of fangs and slammed into the glass between them. Eric flew back in fear and hit the wall opposite before falling to the floor. He lay there a few seconds, struggling to pull his wand out of his robes and looking up again at the mirror over the sink fully expecting the snake to crawl into his bathroom. He slowly got to his feet to peer into the mirror, but only saw the expected reflection looking back. He reached up to push on the glass just to insure it was solid and then listened closely to the room surrounding him. Everything was quiet. Eric slowly reached down to turn on the faucet on and ten splashed his face again in the cool water before looking up to study himself in the mirror once more. He wiped his face with the towel, turned, grabbed his bag, and then left his apartment wondering if his lack of sleep was putting his sanity at risk.

Eric found himself still lost within his own thoughts of the events that morning as the entrance to his classroom finally came into view at the end of the hallway. Had what he had seen that morning in his mirror been real? He frowned, still thinking he could hear her voice in his head hissing again. Pleading for her escape from… from what? If the voice was real… then where could she be and where was she being held?

IN A PRISON MADE BY THE DARK LORD! came a shouted response within his mind. Eric immediately dropped his bag and fell against the stone wall in surprise. He could feel his entire body shaking violently.

“Stop it!” Eric whispered at the hissing voice inside his head. “Please stop…”

“Professor Grayson? Are you alright, sir?” came a concerned voice behind him.

“I thought I told you to get to your class!” Eric yelled back before turning again to find a very pretty seventh-year girl escorted by two Crimson Guards. It was the Student Body President Valentia Olivo.

“Oh… I’m sorry, Val. I thought…” Eric immediately tried to straighten his tousled robes, “I thought you were another student.”

The girl came forward looking very concerned. “Are you alright, Eric? You don’t look well at all? Should I summon the healer?”

“No — No, that’s not really necessary. I just turned my ankle a bit there.” He tried to laugh at himself. “That’s what I get for being late for my own class and having to rush.”

The girl looked at the guard to her left who looked just as concerned as she did. “As you sure you’re okay?” she asked him concernedly.

The other guard reached down to pick up his bag and then handed it to him.

“Thank you. Yes… I’m fine, truly.” Eric took another deep breath, checking again for the voice within his mind. “Well I’d better be off before my student think I’ve abandon them. Thank you again.”

He turned and headed off as one of the guards leaned in to whisper to the girl, “I don’t think he looks well at all.”

When Eric walked into the room, Anna could immediately see something was wrong. Her brother’s face looked ashen and his usual jovial manner completely absent.

“Okay… quiet down everybody — and find your seats.” Eric looked up at the class and the noise level in the room immediately fell away.

Anna slowly stood. “Eric… what’s the matter?”

Her brother jerked up at her, his face still pale. He seemed disgusted as looked down at his desk and shook his head. He peered up again and said, “I guess you should hear it from me just as well as anyone else… it’ll soon to be in the papers anyway.” He took a long breath.

“The Headmaster at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Professor Albus Dumbledore… has been sacked.”

“What?” Anna couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

“Sacked? But…. Why?” Gabriel asked.

Eric shook his head. “We’re not exactly sure yet, but he’s been accused by the Minister of Magic in England of building an army to destabilize the government.”

“Building an army? I don’t believe it!” yelped Teresa Sinclair.

Eric looked around the room again to be sure there were only Guardians present before answering, “Neither do it.” He hesitated. “And… I have to be very careful about what I say to you next. It’s not a secret to say the Chancellor of Castlewood and Dumbledore are very good friends. Professor Thordarson has been completely and publically supportive of the headmaster’s claims that He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named has returned. Now that Dumbledore is on the run, there might be some questions put to Professor Thordarson and perhaps… even his staff as well.”

“On the run?” Anna yelped. “What do you mean he’s on the run?”

Eric took another calming breath. “Apparently, the Minster tried to arrest him at Hogwarts, but Dumbledore was able to escape. London has already released an educational decree naming another teacher at Hogwarts to the post of headmistress. Her name is Dolores Umbridge.”

“Umbridge?” Gabriel said. “I’ve never heard of her.”

“She used to be the Senior Undersecretary to the Minister for Magic,” Anna replied scathingly, remembering the article in The Daily Prophet she saw on Van Doorn’s desk. “She was named Hogwarts High Inquisitor a couple of months ago.” She looked at her brother and sneered again. “Educational Decree number twenty-three.”

“High Inquisitor?” asked Heather Thomas.

“It doesn’t matter,” Eric replied. “For now, let’s get back to work and do what we can to support our Chancellor here. Open your books to page seven-twenty-nine; we’re going to continue our studies of the class-five creatures. What did you think of the input provided by the notable magizoologist Newt Scamander, regarding the bad omen label given to Thestrals?”

Anna slowly raised her hand. Perhaps it was the news of Dumbledore being fired as the Hogwarts Headmaster, but she suddenly felt even more vulnerable than ever.

Eric looked up and frowned, “Yes, Anna, what is it?”

“Eric…uh… Mr. Grayson,” she said, in a serious tone of voice, “I saw in your syllabus that you were going to begin our studies on vampires next week… but I was wondering if we might begin those discussions today.”

Eric looked at his sister and thought he knew what she was thinking. Since the death of Michael Wendell and then Sidney Heidelbach, Anna had always been suspicious that her mother might have returned to Spellsburg. He looked at Gwen and Sarah Bell sitting next to her and could see the awareness of Anna’s request as clear as he.

Eric looked down at his notes. “But we haven’t finished our discussions on Thestrals yet and, as you already know, The Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures does not classify vampires as creatures anyway. So covering them was supposed to be something we did only as time allowed and I wasn’t planning on going very deep on the subject anyway.”

Anna looked pleading. “But… I really think the subject is very important… to all of us.”

Eric took a deep breath and then tried to look put-upon. “Well… I supposed it’s a possibility. What does the rest of the class think? Would anybody mind if we concluded our discussions on Thestrals here and get an early start on vampires in greater detail?”

“That would be great,” said an excited Arty Nelson. “I’ve been waiting for this all year!” And the rest of the class nodded enthusiastically.

Eric looked at Anna again and then nodded. “Very well, then. Open your books to chapter thirty-eight and we’ll take a closer look.” There was an excited rustle of parchment as Eric turned to begin.

“Now then, there has always been a lot of speculation as to where the name vampire originated.” Eric waved his wand at the chalkboard and the word appeared in cursive script. “But it probably came from the word vrykolakas in Greece, or one of its variants: vorvolakas or vourdoulakas, which is a reference to a harmful undead creature in Greek folklore. However, the word vrykolakas is also derived from the Bulgarian word vǎrkolak.” These terms again were scripted out on the board and Anna could hear several quills eagerly scratching to take notes.

Eric looked again at his sister and could tell she was looking for something much more helpful in the short term. He set his wand down and came around to sit on the front of his desk.

“It’s most important to understand that despite most of the silly notions coming out of the Muggle community about what vampirism is, these creatures start out as a witch or a wizard before being infected by the bloodlust transfiguration. This transfiguration can only happen if they are attacked by another vampire and drained of their blood… not to the point of death… but near death.

The Nelson boy raised his hand.

“Yes, Arty? You have a question?”

“Yes, sir. Isn’t that why the Ministry doesn’t classify vampires as creatures… because they use to be a wizard?”

“That is correct and I’m proud of you for pointing that fact out. Obviously, Vampires are much more evolved than is a creature, because they started their lives as human beings. In fact, vampires are not creatures or beasts at all, but are considered ‘beings’ in much the same way, for example, as Centaurs. As an aside, both centaurs and leprechauns refuse to be called beings, because they equate the term to being human, which is egregiously offending to them. A being is defined as any creature with sufficient intellect to understand the laws of the magical community and actively work to help create those laws. Other beings would include goblins, werewolves and ogres.”

Eric looked at Anna again. “Since humans are also beings… then to… are vampires.” He looked up at the rest of the class and forced a smile. “That being said, the Ministry of Magic does keep a very close watch on the vampire population and especially those wishing to live among wizards and witches to ensure their bloodlust stays under control and they don’t attack innocent bystanders.”

“But are vampires still considered a witch or a wizard after they have been transfigured?” Arty asked again. “Are they still magical in any way?”

Eric seemed to struggle with his answer as he looked at Anna again. She looked stoic at her desk, but he could see her nod slightly. He remained uneasy.

“You can probably see that I’m somewhat hesitant to reply. This is because, according to the Ministry of Magic, vampires are no longer considered witches or wizards… but in my mind and in the minds of several experts on the subject that I’ve had the recent privilege to discuss the matter, many do retain some magical abilities and, in fact, are even enhanced in many ways. Some seem to have hypnotic capabilities that help them to entrance their prey and keep them spellbound. They can also be much faster and stronger than humans, which again, offer them an advantage when they hunt. And I have it on good authority that some can transfigure themselves in ways that help them to hide… perhaps as mist or even smoke.”

There was a pause and then Eric seemed to catch himself before looking up again. “There is much we still do not understand about vampires, but after a vast amount of study… here is what I have come to believe: vampires are very powerful physically, but can also be somewhat magical as well. No two are completely alike in their makeup, which explains why most in the wizarding world have some difficulty trusting them. This might be unfair, I know, but like werewolves it is the reality vampires must face today.”

“Can they still use a wand?” Arty asked.

Eric shook his head. “The Ministry would say no. However, I don’t see any evidence that supports that conclusion. Being that they were once a witch or a wizard in their previous life, their capabilities with a wand might be dependent on whatever training they had prior to being transfigured. If they were a fully qualified wizard prior to being attacked, then I don’t understand why they would lose that capability afterward and there is precedence for this with other beings as well. For example, there are numerous cases where werewolves keep their wand capabilities after being bitten and while they remain in their human state.”

At the end of class, Eric took his sister aside. “Anna… are you okay?”

Anna shrugged. “Yeah, I guess so. Your discussion on vampires was very informative — really very good.”

Suddenly there was a scream somewhere down the hallway and Eric and Anna had their wands out in a flash.

“Watch out!” somebody yelled, and Eric turned and ducked and then pulled Anna down as a scarlet, clawed hand flew over their heads and then around the corner.

Finite Chiro…!” someone tried to yell before they were abruptly cut short. A crowd of laugher was heard bursting out up and down the collider.

Eric smirked before stowing his wand. “Damned Jinx curse again. I wish the Chancellor would just get rid of that thing. It’s becoming very disruptive.”

Anna was smiling as she pocketed her wand.

“Listen… Anna… Thordarson wants to see you in his office during the lunch break.”

“Me? The Chancellor wants to see me? Do you know why?”

“Yes, I do… but I don’t want to say anything now in public.” Anna suddenly looked concerned. “Don’t worry,” he added. “Thordarson just wants to talk to you in private about a personal matter.”

“Something personal? Can’t you even give me a hint?”

A number of students started coming into the room for Eric’s next session. He shook his head. “You’d better get to your next class.”

After lunch, Anna headed to the Chancellor’s office, but before she lifted the heavy ring to knock, she heard voices coming through from the other side.

“Minister, as I’ve already told you… I have no idea where Albus Dumbledore is right now. If he is, as you say, a man on the run, then I would expect he could be almost anywhere but at another school of wizardry. Why would you expect he was here?”

“Because Elimar… I know how close the two of you are and you would support anything that man says or does.”

Anna frowned at the pause.

“It saddens me to know you see me that way, madam. I like to think of myself as a person with his own opinions and never one to default to another man’s view of the world.”

“Albus Dumbledore is now a fugitive and a criminal. As such, I expect you will inform the Crimson Guard and my office if he ever he tries to contact you. If I cannot count on you in this matter, then it would be my prerogative to remove you from your post.”

Anna bit her lip as she waited for the Chancellor’s reply.

“Minister… you can be assured… I will always fulfill the duties that bind me to my students and my fellow citizens.”

“Your words seem carefully chosen to me, Elimar, but you now clearly understand my expectations. If I find you’ve been hiding Dumbledore from us… you’ll be sharing a cell with the man in Azkaban.”

“I certainly understand your intent, Minister, even if they are without merit and groundless.”

“Have you captured the Chancellor’s response to my order word for word, Gillian?”

“Yes, ma’am,” replied her secretary, “word for word.”

“Good. Then, Chancellor, you have my counsel and warning.”

There was something like a chair being pushed out of the way and Anna could hear footsteps coming toward her. She quickly looked around and decided to hide from the approaching Minister of Magic. A suit of armor stood at attention across the hallway on a marble pedestal and Anna dashed over and forced herself behind it. She could hear the door to Thordarson’s office open.

“Good day, Chancellor.”

“Good day, Minister, and good luck with your search for the Headmaster of Hogwarts.”

Ex-headmaster, Elimar. The fugitive Dumbledore is no longer the master of anything now but his own ego and treachery.”

The door closed and the click-clack of shoes could be heard moving down the stone staircase and Anna frowned at the strange thumping sound that followed the Minister down. She could hear the Minister’s voice grumbling under her breath as the Guardian pushed out of her hiding place.

“I want a copy of your meeting notes on my desk by the end of the day, Gillian, and an affidavit attesting to their accuracy.”

“Of course, Minister. You’ll have it by the end of the day.”

“Elimar had better mind his path or I’ll see to it that he’s…”

Anna looked over the railing and grumbled angrily to herself as the two voices began to fade away. She frowned… there was the smell of something else following behind them as well. What is that? She thought as she leaned over thinking to test the air again, but the Chancellor’s voice stole her attention.

“Please come in, Anna.”

Anna looked around and then opened the Chancellor’s door to find Thordarson writing at his desk with a large quill. He looked up and grinned broadly.

“Hello, my dear. How very good it is to see you today. I hope you were able to get some lunch before coming upstairs?”

Anna smiled. She always found the Chancellor’s demeanor immensely kind no matter the circumstances surrounding him.

“Yes, sir. I was able to grab an apple, so I’m good.”

“You are far too generous with what little time my staff gives you between classes, but nonetheless… thank you for coming.” He stood and then motioned her toward the empty chair in front of his desk. Anna sat and then watched as the Chancellor lowered himself leisurely on its corner to look at her. He studied her for a moment and then… “I’m sorry you had to hear that little squabble between your aunt and myself. I usually don’t allow for eavesdropping, but I thought it important you hear the way of things presently.”

Anna frowned and then nodded.

He studied her again. “The Minister can be a very formidable woman. This is especially true when she believes she cannot trust those around her.”

“She can’t believe Professor Dumbledore would lead an army against the Ministry. That’s absolutely ridiculous.”

Thordarson smiled at her and then shook his head. “I wouldn’t be so sure about that.” He could see his comment surprised her, so he leaned in furtively. “I have it on pretty good authority… that Albus can be a real rabble-rouser when he puts his mind to it.”

Anna was shocked. “Who would say such an idiotic thing?”

Thordarson grinned and then pointed to the other corner of the room behind her. Anna turned and saw a man walking out from the shadows and her eyes widened with surprise.

“I’m afraid your Chancellor is correct, Sithmaith. I have been known at times to cause a lot more trouble than I am worth.”

“Professor Dumbledore!”

THREE

Albus Dumbledore was exactly the same as Anna remembered seeing him on the hospital floor before the summer and after her return from Drogo castle. His eyes were a beautiful blue and peered down at her over half-moon spectacles seated atop a very crooked nose. His lengthy gray hair and beard were pulled back and tied over his shoulder, as if he had been traveling.

“It’s very good to see you again, Miss Grayson. Professor McGonagall has informed me that she is very pleased with your progress, and your Chancellor says Professor Van Doorn has also agreed to school you on the more…” he leaned down to smile at her, “let’s call them exotic capabilities given your status as our first Guardian.”

Anna smiled. “Yes, sir. I can’t say enough about the extra help McGonagall and Van Doorn has given to me.”

“Professors McGonagall and Van Doorn,” Dumbledore said, correcting her.

“Um… yes, sir, of course.”

He smiled at her again, his eyes twinkling with satisfaction behind his spectacles.

“Professor… the Minister of Magic just left this office not more than five minutes ago,” Anna said worriedly. “If she finds out you’re here… then the both of you…”

“Not to worry, my dear. As a small boy, Elimar was always very good at wizard dodge-ball. He can be trusted to keep a secret,” he looked at the Chancellor and smiled, “and he is a very dear friend.”

“But why are you here, sir?” Anna asked him.

Dumbledore turned to her again. “Why? Isn’t it obvious? I’m here to see you, my dear.” He straightened, as if to assume this was all he needed to say.

“Me? You traveled all this way… just to see me?”

“Yes... I did. You see… I felt I still owe you an explanation for something I said the first time we met.”

Anna tried to think back, but nothing immediately came into her mind.

“The last time we spoke, you were in the hospital recovering from some rather severe injuries.” Anna’s hand moved unconsciously over her throat. “And you will recall… that you asked me how I knew your mother.”

Anna frowned.

“I thought it important now to tell you how that came to be.” The old man straightened and then thought back.

“Your mother came to Hogwarts with her Aunt, who at the time was your country’s Ambassador to England.”

“Yes, sir, I know. My mother went to Hogwarts as an exchange student in her sixth year,” she answered quickly. Dumbledore looked somewhat surprised so Anna explained, “The Minister of Magic told me before the start of term,” she suddenly looked disgusted, “back when she was still a member of my family.”

Dumbledore looked at Thordarson significantly. “I did not realize you were already aware of this history. Well then… are you also aware that your mother found a friend while studying at our school? She was acquainted with another young lady, who was originally assigned to be her guide while at Hogwarts and who eventually became one of her closest friends. She was from the same house Victoria Jennings was sorted into upon her arrival at my school.”

Anna shook her head.

“Victoria Jennings was sorted into Gryffindor House and the friend she eventually met there… was Lily Evans.”

Anna stared her him unknowingly.

“Have you ever heard that name before now?”

Anna shook her head. “No… sir.”

“After your mother completed her year of study at Hogwarts, she left to go back home to California, but Victoria and Lily remained very close friends. A few months after Lily graduated from Hogwarts, she invited your mother to come back for her wedding. You see… Lily Evans was to become Lily Potter and your mother served as Lily’s maiden of honor at the wedding.”

“Potter?” Anna answered.

“Dumbledore nodded. “Yes, Lily married James Potter… and eventually the two of them had a son…”

“Harry!” Anna yelped in surprise.

Dumbledore smiled “That’s right — a very happy event in the lives of Lily and James, two remarkable young people that I was personally honored to call my friends after they left Hogwarts.” Dumbledore walked to the window to gaze out into the city beyond. “Victoria Jennings remained very close to Lily and James.” He looked back at her. “So much so, that she was asked to be young Harry’s Godmother.”

Anna’s jaw dropped. “My mother was Harry Potter’s Godmother? I… I had no idea...”

Dumbledore shook his head. “Not many people do, I’m afraid. The times… being what they were… forced us to keep many things a secret. The only reason I know is because I was at the Christening.”

Anna let this information flow over her mind. As it was with any new information relating to her mother, Anna was surprised and sometimes… even astonished. Dumbledore finally turned to face her again.

“Anna, do you remember what I said to you when I saw you in the hospital? I asked you then not to impose yourself in the struggle to come. Do you remember?”

Anna’s stare darkened. “Yes, Headmaster… I do.”

The old wizard slowly came forward. “Anna… I pray to take my advice to heart. Despite whatever information you might come to understand about your mother… and Voldemort’s role in her fall, you and the rest of the Guardians here at Castlewood must remain steadfast in your role as the protectors of magic. The gifts we wizards enjoy are indeed rare, but always at risk by the chaos of war. I beg your promise… that you will do all you can to remain diligent to your cause and separate from these forces now moving to face one another.”

Anna frowned. She studied the man, one of the greatest wizards who had ever lived, but she could see it in his eyes. There was something he wasn’t telling her and he seemed fearful to share it.

Her stare bore into him and Dumbledore could suddenly feel an immense pressure, a massive probing for the truth that the girl was unknowingly pressing into him. She had no wand in her hand and yet it took all of the man’s skill as a learned wizard to hold her probe back without showing his distress. She was indeed very powerful, more so than she could know herself.

“Why did you risk coming to Castlewood, Headmaster? What is it you’re not telling me?”

The pressure in his skull was getting stronger and Dumbledore could see the girl had no idea of its magnitude. It took all of this strength to break his gaze away from her as he turned to stare out the window again.

“There is more, Anna, but I pray you remember your role in all of this before I tell you the rest. You must be given more time, time enough to find the healing path of acceptance before you act without regard to yourself, your family and your fellow Guardians.”

The healing path of acceptance… Anna had heard these words once before from the Great Ape of the Verosapt. She looked at Dumbledore again.

“Tell me… please.”

Dumbledore took a reluctant breath. “As you know, Voldemort kidnapped your mother… but what you don’t know is the reason why.”

Anna swallowed hard. “My mother told me it was because… Voldemort wanted to kill my father, for of his refusals to stop working with the Muggles.”

“Well… yes, that was always one of Voldemort’s ambitions, but that was not the reason he took your mother.”

Anna could already feel the tears beginning to burn in her eyes and she was suddenly unsure she wanted to know whatever truth might come next. Dumbledore could see her struggling already.

“I think it’s important that you know the truth, Anna, because I wouldn’t want you to be caught off guard and surprised if ever…” he hesitated and Anna quickly looked at him.

“If ever… what, sir?”

Dumbledore looked at Thordarson who nodded back encouragingly. The Headmaster looked at her again. “If ever… you should meet Voldemort in the flesh.”

Anna was horrified. Face to face with those snake-like eyes she had seen within Van Doorn’s curse; the flattened, colorless skin stretched over something dead but still living against all of God’s meaningful design. How in the world would it ever happen that she would be in Voldemort’s presence? Something bumped Anna in the back and she quickly looked about to find the office wall behind her. Her body had unknowingly retreated from the thought of it, and the very idea swept her courage away like a broom to the morning dust.

Anna swallowed hard and then reached back for the comfort of the castle’s stones. The voices of magic were waiting for her and she closed her eyes when she heard their voices weaving their way into her mind.

“The protector is afraid!”

Yes… so afraid, she replied wordlessly.

“What is it that sets your fears against the jagged rocks of worry and doubt, Sithmaith?” they asked her, but she could tell they already knew the answer. Those small pieces of the whole, simple shards of glass owing to the greater pane unseen… they already knew.

I fear… him.

“The Dark Lord… yes… we fear him as well.”

You? But… how is it you would fear anything?

“The One who is divine provides strengh… that we may protect ourselves. In the One’s own way, given what we are, given what we know, and… we know you, Sithmaith. Oh… we know you as we know us. Yet we fear the Dark Lord, as we fear those who would fight against his fuming ambitions. We… fear him… and thus… you cannot. You are our strength, little one… you… our courage.”

Anna’s eyes widened. In all she knew about her role as a Guardian, she never expected this, never realized she would be the one thing magic needed to survive. There was something they needed from her, a thing not created by them. It came from her mother, on one side in this battle, and from her father on the other in the war to come. In its own way, and perhaps with God’s help, the stings that made up the symphony they called magic had weaved something to become the Sithmaith, but now it was clear they needed to start with the one thing they could not bring about within the trumpets and drums that made them what they were.

“We fear… and so it is… that you cannot.”

Magic was seeking a protector, a leader for the Guardians to come, but even the giant redwoods Anna knew on Grayson Hill got their start from the most humble beginnings, a single seed that could produce what would come be. The seed needed to be nurtured, fed and watered, yes, but their strength was there from the very beginning, given to them by God and their parents.

“We fear… so you must not.”

They needed her strength… they needed her courage. She couldn’t be afraid any more.

She thought of the words in some forgotten dream. Fear not, my friends… for I will be your mettle.

“The protector is so very brave!”

Anna opened her eyes to find Professor Thordarson bending down to look at her, his eyes level with hers.

“You hear them… don’t you,” he whispered. “You hear them speaking to you through the very stones of this castle. Remarkable.”

Anna raised her hands and the whispers from the stones ceased. She stepped to the side of the Chancellor to look up at Dumbledore again.

“Tell me now, Headmaster. Tell me what you’ve come here to say.”

Dumbledore smiled. He could see it in the Sithmaith’s eyes: her strength and determination to remain resilient and wearing against the coming storm.

“Tell me the real reason He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named took my mother. What was he after if not my father?”

Dumbledore removed his spectacles and then a handkerchief to clean the lenses.

“Sir… please.”

The old man heaved again. “Your mother was taken, and tortured, because Voldemort had come to believe she might be the Secret Keeper of the knowledge that would lead him to James and Lily Potter and their infant son.”

Anna frowned. “Their Secret Keeper? I don’t understand. Why would they need a Keeper?”

Dumbledore looked at Thordarson again.

“Tell her Albus… she has a right to know.”

Dumbledore hesitated. “Voldemort wanted to kill young Harry for reasons I’m not at liberty to share at the moment, and he was informed by one of the Death Eaters supporting him that there were three possible Keepers to the Potter’s secret location. One of them was a man by the name of Sirius Black, Harry’s Godfather. The second was your mother, but there was a third who, as it turned out, was the actual Keeper, a man by the name of Peter Pettigrew.”

Anna frowned, for she had heard that name once before. When she was with her father at the Ministry of Magic, he had spoken to Sidney Heidelbach about this man Pettigrew. Her father said it was through this man that Voldemort was continuing to interfere with his dealings and with the Muggles.

“Pettigrew was working for Voldemort?” Anna surmised quickly.

Dumbledore nodded. “Indeed… he was, and he was the one that betrayed Lily and James, an act that eventually led to their deaths. But before Pettigrew was able to reveal their secret to his master, Victory Jennings was taken.” He dropped his head. “After Voldemort had broken your mother’s mind and soul through torture, after he was convinced Victoria was not the Secret Keeper he was seeking, he then decided to use her in yet another attempt to destroy Boris Grayson.”

Silence fell into the room and Anna felt sick to her stomach. Now she knew the rest of the story. Her mother had been destroyed in the attempt to kill the Potters. “Oh my god,” she whispered, as her stomach lurched and heaved and she had to reach out to the walls again to keep herself upright.

Dumbledore came forward quickly. “I struggled with my decision to share this information with you, Anna, because the Order of the Phoenix has come to know Voldemort is very interested in you and why the Guardians have come into the Wizarding world once more. He is renowned for using every advantage to strengthen his ambitions. Your paths will, I am sure, cross one another at some point in the near future, and when they do… he is very likely to use some twisted version of the truth about your mother against you… as a way, perhaps, to put you off your guard or to corrupt you entirely. You had to be told the truth by somebody who wouldn’t use it as a weapon against you and to give you enough time to absorb it into your consciousness.”

Anna tried to remain brave. She walked to the window and looked out into the flowering courtyard below her. To meet Voldemort face to face, the man who destroyed her mother and tried numerous times to kill her father, who did kill so many to create his horcruxes and make himself immortal. What chance would I have against such a wicked fiend?

She looked at Thordarson and then to Dumbledore. “I appreciate you coming all this way to tell me about my mother, Headmaster, and I pray you remain safe in the days ahead.”

She turned to stare out the window again and Dumbledore smiled as he bowed to her. He could see the girl was desperate to remain steadfast in her courage, and once again her bravery reminded him of another student back at Hogwarts.

FOUR

That evening at dinner Anna was quiet.

“So… are you going to tell us what Chancellor Thordarson wanted?” Gwen whispered to her.

Anna looked over at her friend and then to Sarah on Gwen’s other side. Both of them looked very concerned. Anna tried to force a smile.

“Oh… it was nothing…” she lied. “It was a message from my father about the upcoming Easter break. Since we only get a couple of days off from school, daddy might come back to Spellsburg to share the holiday with the family.” She tried to sound casual.

“The Chancellor delivered a personal message from your father?” Gwen couldn’t believe it. “Wouldn’t an owl have done just as well?”

“I’m really going to miss being home for Easter,” Sarah put in. “I really enjoy coloring eggs.”

“Coloring eggs?” Gwen flinched. “What the devil are you talking about?”

Before Sarah could explain, the doors to the Great Rotunda flew open and in walked a small squad of Crimson Guards being led by the Minister of Magic and Lieutenant Dunning following close behind.

Anna immediately jumped to her feet, as if to challenge the intrusion while everybody else in the room looked on in amazement.

“That’s the Minister of Magic.”

“Wow… what’s she doing here?”

The woman marched straight up to the head table where the Chancellor sat serenely eating his evening meal.

“Madam Minister?” Thordarson said, wiping his mouth with his napkin before standing to bow low. “I can assure you, Minister, Albus hasn’t been seen since last we spoke just a few hours ago.”

“I’m not here to discuss anything with you, Chancellor. I’d like to say something to our students, if you don’t mind,” she said curtly.

Thordarson bowed again and then sat back down as the Minister of Magic turned to put her wand to her throat. “Attention — please, may I have your attention?”

Nobody in the Rotunda immediately went quiet.

“For those who may not know me, I am Helawena Barkelnap… the Minister of Magic.” There were a few gasps in the crowd of students, which seemed to please the Minister as she paused importantly again before beginning.

“I have come here tonight to speak to you about some gossip and unsubstantiated rumors. I am sure you’ve heard the stories or seen the articles in the newspapers about a certain unnamed wizard… dead for more than fourteen years… who is said to have returned to the wizarding world. I am here tonight to assure you… that this is a lie. No magic, indeed no power anywhere can bring a man back from the dead. This rumor was started by the Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. And for his trouble… Albus Dumbledore has been sacked for dishonesty to his students and for spreading these malicious lies throughout our community. Dumbledore is now a fugitive and will be arrested for these crimes and for panicking the population as soon as possible.”

She slowly looked around the room to insure every student was listening. “This is the punishment awaiting anybody spreading such hateful fabrications. I say again… He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named… cannot come back from the dead!”

“Less’if’in he was never dead ta start with!” came a voice in reply somewhere along the Guardian table.

The Minister suddenly looked infuriated. “Who said that?!” She marched down the center aisle between the tables. “I want to know who said that? Show yourself!”

Nobody moved, nobody answered. The Minister looked down each of the tables in turn and then sneered. “From now on… any student saying something like that on school grounds will be expelled!”

“Madam Minister,” the Chancellor’s voice sounded, and when she turned she found Thordarson standing in the aisle behind her.

“I believe you have made your point. We have all heard you clearly enough; will there be anything else?”

The woman turned your nose up at him and then whirled to face the students again. “He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named has not returned to the wizarding world. This is a lie!” she shouted.

“Are you sure, Minister?” said a voice from the back and the Minister whirled again to find her Crimson escort parting to show Anna standing behind them.

Barkelnap moved quickly through the guards to stand before Anna. “You of all people should know better than to ask me such a question.”

Anna stepped up to the Minister. “Then… madam… can I ask you another?”

The Minister’s expression darkened. “You may ask me anything you wish, my dear… but be mindful of the announced consequences!”

Anna’s face remained cool, but deep inside her chest she could feel a series of alarms bells banging against her ribcage. There was a smell on the woman that Anna immediately recognized and the existence of it on the Minister’s person shocked the Guardian. It was an odd aroma, something Anna knew she had smelled before… but now she knew. The smell moved through her chest like a hunger, making her lungs rumble and heat up.

Anna stepped closer to the woman and actually leaned in to breath deep and then she growled in response under her breath. She knew what it was and where she had smelled it before.

“Dragons!”

The Minister of Magic had the smell of dragons upon her. It was very subtle, so much so that nobody but a Guardian could possibly detect it. More than that, it was the same smell she had sensed in the city when she was tracking the limping man. Anna jerked back in surprise at this realization and then she finally remembered something else. When she was tracking the limping man through the city, she had convinced herself she had smelled the odd odor somewhere before that time as well. It was the first day she had gone with her father to the Ministry of Magic and to visit the Minister in her office. That was the place she had first come into contact with the scent of dragons.

“But how could this be? How could the Minister have the scent of dragons upon her person? Was she working with the limping man? Did she know him? What was the connection?”

“Well?” the Minister whispered angrily, “you said you had another question?”

Anna was taken aback. She had almost forgotten what she wanted to say, but now she was both angry and suspicious of the woman. She thought about it and then, “You say He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named has not returned and so… he cannot also be the one responsible for all the unexplained disappearances we’ve heard about in England. You’ve also accused the greatest wizard of our time, Albus Dumbledore, of being a liar and Harry Potter a self-centered fraud.” There were a few low murmurs heard around them.

The Minister tilted in closer. “Be careful, young lady…”

Anna’s eyes moved to Thordarson standing behind her and she could see him vaguely shaking his head. She looked squarely into the Minister’s stare once more and breathed deep the smell of dragons once more. The Guardian growled loud enough for the Minister to hear her and then unknowingly loosened a wave of pressure into the woman’s skull that forced her to step back.

“I ask you now, Minister… would you bet the life of your family on that opinion that He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named has not returned?”

The woman eyes narrowed indignantly.

“Careful, madam…” Anna added quickly, “I say again… the life… of your family?”

The Minister tried to step forward again, but the pressure against her was growing. Her eyes widened as the sheer power of the young girl’s stare became crushing. How was this happening? She has no wand in her hand. How could this young girl have such ability — to unspool so much power? As her mind searched for an answer, only one response clearly made any sense. The first Guardian in more than fifteen hundred centuries was standing right there before her. Was Anna Grayson truly what she, the Minister, had suspected but refused to admit? Was this power real, some of the oldest magic known to the wizarding world? The pain in her head was growing fast.

Anna leaned in. “Would you… put your family… at risk against even the remote possibility that you might be wrong?” the Guardian whispered to her.

The woman fell back again and then suddenly whipped out her wand.

“IT’S A LIE!” she barked loudly, as she pointed her wand down at Anna. The Guardian never flinched and snarled back at her.

“Minister!” Dunning and Thordarson yelled together, as the lieutenant grabbed the woman’s arm to stop her.

Helawena Barkelnap glared at Dunning; that he would put a hand on her came as a shock. She looked down at Anna once more and sneered, and then she seemed to catch herself before ripping her arm out of Dunning’s grip. The Minister looked around at the sea of faces staring at her and then quickly stowed her wand. She then leaned in to whisper something into Dunning’s ear before turning to leave the Rotunda and the rest of the Crimson escort fell in line to follow her. Dunning remained and then turned to whisper something to Thordarson. The students could see the Chancellor looking appalled by what the lieutenant was saying but then reluctantly nodded.

Anna turned to leave the Rotunda as well but was stopped short.

“Anna Grayson!”

Anna straightened and then slowly turned to look back at Dunning.

“By order of the Minister of Magic, you are suspended from Castlewood Academy for one week and will serve that week in detention down in the Dungeons. There was a loud gasp from the crowd of students.

“Guards!” he hollered, and two Crimson-cloaked men stepped forward.

“Take her below!”


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