Anna Grayson and The Dragon's Lair

The Hall of Wonders

One

An hour later, Anna and her father were entering the brass elevator in the basement of his Ministry office.

“And one more thing, Greechins,” Mister Grayson said, as he turned to face his goblin assistant standing in his office, “make sure you inform the Minister’s secretary we’re on our way. We’ll be arriving an hour early so I can show Anna around the Ministry. That should give you time to send a message ahead of us.”

“Very good, sir. I’ll see to it right away,” replied the goblin, dressed in his usual waistcoat, tails and a string tie.

“Goodbye, Greechins.” Anna waved eagerly, and the goblin bowed as the doors to the elevator closed.

Mister Grayson sighed. “Now… let’s see if all the work to make this port key feel like an elevator is going to finally pay its long awaited dividends.” He reached out with both hands to press four of the buttons on the panel simultaneously. “Ministry office… Washington!”

Instantly, Anna knew something was wrong. She grabbed onto her father’s arm as the car around them began to blur and distort. She felt her stomach being yanked inward toward her spine, like she was being pulled down a very steep hill backwards. Her feelings of rushed wooziness were compounded by the unexpected feelings of being sucked into a whirlwind. It was a mixed mess of both a port key and a falling elevator. She tried to say something to her father next to her, but the howling rush of wind swirling around them made that impossible. Finally, the elevator stopped with an abrupt and jaw slamming bang.

“Yeah! That was so cool!” Anna yelped, as her father straightened and tried to gather himself. He looked down angrily at her.

“Only you would say that was cool.” He growled with an irritated huff, brushing himself off as the doors began to slide open. “I don’t know what it’s going to take to get this thing right!”

“I see you’re still having problems with your elevator, sir,” came a voice from the hallway on the other side of the doors. Anna and Mister Grayson looked up and smiled.

“Sidney!”

A man in a black suit, starched white shirt and carrying an umbrella was grinning back at them.

Mister Grayson stepped forward. “It’s good to see you again, my friend.”

“It’s good to see you as well, Director.” The man turned to smile down at Anna. “And it’s very good to finally meet you, Miss Grayson,” he said, reaching out to escort her across the elevator’s threshold. “Welcome to the Ministry of Magic.”

TWO

Anna smiled. It had been more than two months since she last saw Sidney Heidelbach, and under much more harrowing circumstances. She had found him desperate and lost in the Shadowed Forest outside of the city of Spellsburg. Unfortunately, the spells placed on the forest grounds had been hard on the Muggle, as he found himself completely disoriented and alone for days looking to find her mother, Victoria Grayson. Anna and her father felt it had been something of a miracle that the man had survived without being eaten by the many creatures living in the forest all those many days. And while Sidney owed his life to Anna’s willingness to enter the forest to rescue him, it was Anna who felt she owned Sidney Heidelbach everything. It was because of this Muggle that Anna had come to know the truth about her mother being held a prisoner at Saint Drogo Prison for Incurable Lost Causes.

“Hi,” Anna replied to the man shaking her hand. “It’s good to meet you as well.”

He smiled again, this time showing his nearly perfect white teeth. “I’ve been told I have you to thank to saving my life in the Shadowed Forest.”

“You know about that?” Anna answered, surprised.

“Yes, Miss Grayson. When your father acquired the permissions necessary to enlighten me about the existence of the Wizarding world, all of my old memories were returned to me.” He kissed her on the hand. “I am indebted to you for my life and being the investment banker I am… I’m not a man who forgets a debt owed. You were very brave to do what you did to save me. Please… I hope you will call upon me if ever you need anything while in Spellsburg.”

Anna’s face reddened and then she frowned. “Spellsburg? Are you going back to Spellsburg?”

Sidney looked at Mister Grayson.

“He is, Anna,” her father replied. “Sidney is now on permanent loan to me by his President Mr. Landers of Westfront International Investments.” He looked at Sidney and smiled. “He has become invaluable to us in managing our wizard investments within the Muggle world. He’s traveled back to Spellsburg several times this summer to deliver Westfront dividends to our clients and to meet with several new investors.”

Anna was impressed. “Wow. So how did you like Spellsburg, Mr. Heidelbach?”

The man set a likeable grimace. “It would please me greatly if you called me Sidney,” he said happily. “And, in answer to your question, you should know that I have traveled the world to its farthest ends for the interests of my company: I have met with corporate executives, heads of state, tribal and spiritual leaders, and even a selected few who would call themselves the chieftains of the underground economy, but it must be said that Spellsburg sets itself apart from anything I’ve ever experienced in my life.”

Anna giggled. “You’re right about that. It’s a very… um… interesting place.”

“As is its Mayor.” Sidney grinned, looking back at Mister Grayson. “I’ve never met a man so shrewd and astute in the manner in which one might seek to take advantage of an investment opportunity.”

“That describes Ulric Prower to a tee,” Mister Grayson agreed. “In my experience, most politicians have a knack for bending the circumstances that exist around them to their best advantage.” Anna glanced up at her father and was reminded of his warnings regarding the Minister of Magic. She looked back at Sidney who was smiling broadly.

“Mister Grayson… might I have a word with you regarding my meetings with the Auror Shacklebolt?”

“Shhh — Sidney,” Mister Grayson hissed, motioning the man to the side. “Be mindful of my counsel regarding your meetings with Kingsley,” he warned.

“Yes, sir,” Sidney replied, looking around them cautiously. “Mr. Shacklebolt has informed me the information I supplied to him regarding the messenger who met with me last year, the man calling himself Peter Pettigrew, has been corroborated. Reviewing the pictures he gave to me has confirmed my visitor at the bar and the man dubbed with the alias, Wormtail, were indeed the same person.”

Anna’s father seemed to catch himself from a sudden outburst of furious anger. He looked cautiously around again as two other wizards passed by them in the hallway. Mister Grayson strained to calm himself.

“Is Kingsley sure about this, Sidney? Are you sure? Are there any doubts regarding this at all?”

Sidney was resolute. “None whatsoever, Director. Shacklebolt wanted me to pass on his message of warning to you, and proposes an increase in the level of security currently in place at the Grayson estate. He wants to know if you need anything from the Order while you put these additional safeguards in place.”

Mister Grayson shook his head. “I’ve already made the necessary changes after that prisoner escape from Drogo a few months ago.”

“Daddy… what’s going on?” Anna interrupted.

Her father looked down at her and his face darkened. “It would seem You-Know-Who has wasted little time in causing mischief in the affairs of my office.” He reached out to shake Heidelbach’s hand.

“Thank you for the message, Sidney. Will you be heading back to Chicago now?”

“With your permission, sir — I will. I think I’ve given everything I can to Shacklebolt, and I have a number of accounts who have been enormously patient with my lack of attention.” He looked down at Anna and reached out to shake her hand.

“Thank you again, Anna. I will look you up on my next trip to Spellsburg.”

“I look forward to it, Mr. Heidel… uh… I mean, Sidney,” she said with a friendly smile.

“God’s speed, Sidney, and have a safe trip home,” said Mister Grayson, as Heidelbach tipped his hat and left them.

Anna turned to her father. “I think it’s really neat that Mr. Heidelbach is working for you now.”

Her father sighed. “It’s the least I could do for the man. After all, it’s really my fault that he finds himself in the current situation.” He looked around cautiously again and motioned her forward. “Sidney and his family are now under the protection of the Order of the Phoenix.” Anna’s eyes widened as Mister Grayson pressed a finger to his lips to keep her quiet.

As the two of them traveled the many corridors and hallways, Anna was enthralled by the hustle of activity all around them. There were brass placards at every corner, giving arrow directions to the various Ministry offices within the building. There was the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad and the Improper Use of Magic Office. Looking into an open door labeled Ministry Law Enforcement, Anna recognized Lieutenant Farren Doyle, sitting with his feet propped up on one of the desks. She remembered Doyle from his visit to their home after the Lethifold attack on Damon the previous year.

Mister Grayson escorted Anna through the building, introducing her to several people who were acquainted with her father’s work or their family. But as they passed a chained stairway, a soft whisper of voices fixed Anna’s attention. She stopped and then slowly returned to look down the steps that wound down in a circle of white marble.

“Daddy… what’s down there?” Anna said inquisitively. She could hear more whispers echoing up the stairs as she spoke. They sounded muffled — muted by both distance and several barriers.

Her father returned to her side. “Very interesting that you would stop here,” he answered meaningfully. “What was it precisely that got your attention?”

Anna looked at him. “Can’t you hear them?”

Her father looked down the staircase, tilting his head to listen. “I don’t hear anything. What do you mean?”

Anna could hear them more clearly now, dozens and dozens of voices whispering in different languages and intensity. It reminded her of the magic she once heard while inside the Mirror of Enlightenment. Without asking for permission, she stepped forward and unhooked the chain. Letting it slide out of her hand to the floor, she started down the staircase to the mesmerizing song of voices invading her mind. Unwilling to curb his daughter’s curiosity, Mister Grayson reset the chain in its hasp behind them and followed her down. At the end of the staircase, Anna found a door with a placard to the side that read:

The Hall of Wonders

She opened the door and what Anna found inside was truly amazing. The space looked like her father’s vault at home; an enormous cavern hollowed out of the basement of the building or, in Anna’s mind, perhaps an enormous cavern with the Ministry building constructed on top of it. There were stalactites and stalagmites protruding down from the ceiling and up from the floor, and a luminous glow of blue and gold light was dancing upon the walls from some unseen pool of reflected water. The room was cut in an octagonal shape, the far off walls opening to several lit caves that reached back and out of sight. The ceiling was at least twenty feet high and echoed with the whispered sounds of several ministry workers standing in small groups around velvet-draped pedestals. Upon these pedestals sat the most astounding array of magical objects Anna had ever seen.

There was a glass ball that shimmered silver and blue, and several wizards reaching out with their wands to poke at it. There was a strange contraption made of metal that looked like a strangely dented toaster. It had bizarre, double-jointed legs that walked the thing about as it snorted and coughed smoke. It was trying, to the best of its ability, to snap at the woman sitting next to it while she wrote on a clipboard.

“Now—now, there,” the woman said warningly to the metal-clad oddity, “mind your manners. No biting today!”

There were objects that grunted and puffed, whizzed, clicked and smoldered, and one that even changed its shape whenever one of the wizards tried to speak to it. Anna walked around the room and then stopped to listen to a pile of stacked scrolls that groaned and screamed whenever somebody passed by them.

She stopped to watch a very old wizard who was trying to pry open what looked like a small-hinged door on the side of a wisp of vapory smoke.

“Come — now,” wheezed the old man, prying at the door with the point of his wand. He began to chant a spell under his breath, but Anna could hear a few profanities intermingled with his words that she thought should have been avoided as he grumbled to lever the door open. Suddenly, the man’s wand was yanked out of his gnarled hand and sucked into the vapor of the thing where it was summarily chewed into splinters and belched out its top in a shower of sparks and feathers.

“Oh dear…” complained the old wizard from his chair. “That’s the third wand this week.” He leaned forward to point a crooked finger at the smoke. “My wands have hippogriff feathers in their core, blast you, and they are not cheap!” The vapor giggled maliciously through its now clattering door. Anna couldn’t help smiling as she moved to the next table.

There she found two women and a man discussing the object sitting in the center of the table between them. The object looked like a large cube made of solid jade with several drawers of silver and gold that continuously slid open and closed around its sides, each drawer revealing something of a treasure sitting inside. A draw opened on the right side to display a black pearl within. It slid closed as a drawer in the front opened to divulge a large, red ruby. As the drawer closed, another opened in the back to display a pebble with a wick of green flame. Anna smiled as the magic within the drawer whispered something about the depth of love. It too closed as another drawer in the top opened and Anna watched in wonder as one of the witches reached in to remove a beautiful diamond incrusted brooch. The three of them smiled as the drawer slid itself closed again. A moment later, there was a flash of light in the woman’s hand and the brooch was suddenly gone. As the door of the jewelry box opened once again, they could see the brooch had been returned to its rightful place inside.

“You can only keep the object if you have something more valuable in your other hand in which to trade,” said the old witch to the others. “It is estimated the contents within this box are at least a thousand years old and valued at more than fifteen million galleons.” The woman could see the bright shine of eager hope blooming expectantly in the faces of her apprentices. “But don’t get your hopes up too quickly on this one, my friends. I’ve been working to remove the objects for more than forty years without success.”

Anna felt a hand on her shoulder and she looked up to find her father smiling down at her. “See anything you like?” he said jokingly.

Anna smiled back. “What an amazing place, daddy. All of these magical objects… what are they doing here?”

“The Hall of Wonders contains untold treasures of every kind, brought here by their owners or finders who have given up trying to figure out how they work. Some contain objects of great value, like that jewelry box you just saw, but others seem to have no purpose at all other than causing mischief to anybody standing near them.

“Some are undoubtedly cursed objected, but some have enormous unknown power of a quality worth on going study. The workers you see here have been assigned the task of investigating each of these objects with the hope of making them safe for use. Some of these witches and wizards are trained curse-breakers; others are spell searchers and historians. All are extremely talented in their areas of expertise. The work accomplished here is done by reputation and invitation only, Anna. To be a worker in the HOW is a very great honor.”

“The HOW?” Anna said, frowning.

“That’s what everybody here calls the Hall of Wonders.”

“Hello, Boris,” a kindly voice said to the side, and Mister Grayson turned to find a very old wizard standing there.

“Ardley!” Mister Grayson shouted, reaching out to shake the other man’s hand. “How are you, my dear friend? It’s been years.”

The man smiled brightly. “It’s good to see you again too, Boris, or should call you formal now… Mr. Director!” The man said with a boasting chuckle.

“What are titles between us, Professor; I will always be your servant and apprentice.”

Mister Grayson turned to his daughter. “Anna, this is an old family friend, Ardley Moody.” He turned to Moody again, “Allow me the pleasure of presenting to you my daughter. This is Anna.” Moody’s face went slack as he reached out to take Anna’s hand.

“Ahh… so this is the young maiden everybody’s been talking about, ay? The first Guardian in nearly fifteen centuries.” Moody smiled. “I should think those in this room would do better with their time if they were to set aside the trinkets they’re working to examine you, my dear.” Anna smiled as she looked over to see another man approaching Moody from behind.

“Hello — Professor.”

Moody turned sharply and then gasped. “Merlin’s beard! Barthel!” Moody yelped happily, reaching out again to shake the stranger’s hand. “Oh… this is brilliant! Where have you been keeping yourself, my boy?”

The man Moody called Barthel was a tall and rather stern looking individual, reminiscent of a man who carried a well-planned agenda wherever he went. He was thin with neatly groomed, brown hair and had a certain manner about him that Anna was quite sure meant he was somebody important in the Ministry.

Moody clasped the man about the shoulders. “Now this does an old man’s heart a world of good.” He turned to look back to Anna’s father and smiled. “Two of my favorite students coming here to visit me on the same day. Marvelous… absolutely marvelous!”

Mister Grayson stepped in to shake the other man’s hand. “Qwaad, isn’t it?”

“Yes it is, sir. Nice to finally meet you, Director Grayson,” the man said stiffly, shaking Mister Grayson’s hand.

“Splendid… splendid,” Moody cooed happily. “With the three of us now here, I think we could knock out what’s left in the HOW by the end of the week. Bloody good to see you again, Barthel; I hope the Minister isn’t keeping you too busy. We could always use another good searcher of science, you know.”

The other man’s expression soured slightly. “You never will give up on me, will you sir?” He turned to Mister Grayson. “I suppose our old master has been trying to pry you from your duties as well, Director?”

“He has been relentless in his pursuit, as always,” Mister Grayson said, smiling back at Moody.

“Oh… come-come now, boys, you can’t blame an old man for seeking to reduce his life’s work in his waning years. What do you say, Boris? Barthel? Let’s find some time to work together while we’re all here. It’ll be just like the old days at Castlewood.”

“Unfortunately, sir… I’m off to the East coast, and the Minister has laid claim to my remaining week,” said the man called Barthel Qwaad. “I just wanted to stop in when I heard you were here and pay my respects.” He shook Moody’s hand again. “Take care of yourself, Professor, my best to your family.”

Moody looked disappointed. “Must you go so soon, Barthel?” He leaned in to whisper. “I think I could be pressed to join you for dinner at the Minister’s expense with little to no persuasion. Please… the three of us, for old time’s sake,” he begged, looking pleadingly again to Mister Grayson for support.

“As much as it would please me to do so, sir, I’m afraid it’s impossible. It was a pleasure to finally meet you, Director,” Qwaad said, reaching out to shake Mister Grayson’s hand again. “Have a safe trip home, Professor.” He patted his old school master on the back.

“Very well, by boy… very well. If I can’t keep you, at least promise to visit me when you find yourself in London again, ay?”

“Of course I will, sir. Goodbye.”

And with that, Moody watched the man turn to leave the Hall of Wonders.

“It was nice he made the trip down to see you, Ardley,” Mister Grayson observed.

“Yes… yes, indeed. But I wonder what he was really after,” Moody answered, dismissively.

Mister Grayson turned to him in surprise. “What do you mean?”

Moody limped around to face Anna’s father, his eyebrows raised. “Like yourself… Barthel was always the brilliant scholar. He came a few years after you, of course, but he was your scholastic match in every way but one.”

“And… what was that?”

“His ability to hide his ambitions. Brilliant as Barthel was as my prize student, he was never quite able to set aside his aspirations and devote himself to his Searcher skills. Attracted to power and the powerful, that Barthel. I’m not surprised he’s working in the front office today. The newly named Special Assistant to the Minister of Magic. Yes… I should think that would suit him very well.” Moody turned to face Mister Grayson again. “I wonder why he was here.”

“You… believe he had another reason for coming down here, then?”

“Oh… undoubtedly.” Moody looked around cautiously before stopping to stare at Anna. “I just wonder what it was he was after.” He paused. “Ah — well, no matter. At least I still have you, ay?”

Mister Grayson smiled. “How is your brother, Alastor?” he whispered, leaning in close. “We were all shocked by the news of his being held a prisoner at Hogwarts. Is there anything you need, anything my office can do?”

The old man smiled appreciably. “No… there’s nothing anybody can do, I’m afraid. How does one give a man a year of his life back? No, Alastor is fine. Mad as a hatter about all of this Death Eater business, and he’s joined up with Dumbledore’s Order again, of course,” the man replied, looking around carefully before lowering his voice another octave. “Can I assume you have also joined up with that lot again, Boris?”

“I have, sir.”

The man looked disturbed. “I told you the first time you came to me years ago about joining that crowd — that nothing good would ever come of it, and I repeat my warning to you again. Alastor wouldn’t listen to me, and look at him now. He’s barely a man of reason anymore.”

Mister Grayson looked stern. “But surely you’ve heard the report of You-Know-Who’s return? What should we do, turn our back on the problem like the Ministry, like Helen and Fudge?”

Moody shook his head. “Boris… I am a scientist, a Searcher first; you know that. And I don’t take to the rumors and stories of Dark Wizards being conjured up from the dead, or the idiotic whisperings of the silly minded. I am a man bound by the facts set before him. I cannot take seriously the story of one dead lunatic, killed by the Dementors, as anything more than myth and fallacy.” The man hesitated.

“But I can take seriously the repercussions due my family and friends for falling out of the Ministry’s graces, because of these unwarranted claims of the dead returning to life and rumor mongering. I tell you again, Boris, keep a level head about this and stay clear of it, I beg you.

Anna unexpectedly stepped forward. “Voldemort has returned!”

Ardley Moody was sent back two full steps and clutching his heart at her words. Leaning to the side of the table next to him to recover, he stared back at Anna in disbelief before looking around to insure nobody else in the room had heard her.

After gathering himself as best he could, Moody spoke softly. “My dear, young lady, you cannot possibly know what you are saying but by the unguided misinformation given to you by your father.” He looked at Mister Grayson again.

“Boris… I am surprised at you. It’s one thing to put yourself and your job at risk with these unsubstantiated claims, but to freely allow your children to do the same is without thought. Think of their future, man. If you don’t hold the proper care for yourself… keep a tight tongue for their sake, please!”

Mister Grayson bowed his head. “You’re right, old friend. You’re right.”

Anna was surprised. “But… daddy, you know…”

“That’s enough, Anna. Be still!” Anna hesitated, and then fell back.

Moody moved closer. “Seek my counsel often on this, Boris. I won’t have my favorite apprentice fall into disrepute.”

Mister Grayson reached out and then hugged the frail looking man. “Nor I you, old friend,” he whispered into Moody’s ear. “I beg you not to let fear set aside your peaked suspicions in the days ahead.” He stepped back but held onto Moody’s shoulders. “How can I convince you to join us?”

“I can’t see how you could… not with the evidence given us.”

Mister Grayson raised his head to think for a moment and then looked back at Anna. He could see her pained expression telling him to keep trying. He looked down at the table where Moody had been sitting.

“What are you working on here?”

Moody turned unexpectedly to stare down at an ornate cup, sitting upon the tabletop. His attention turned suspiciously back to Anna’s father.

“An unremarkable object of little significance. Why do you ask?”

Mister Grayson circled the pedestal where the object sat, thinking as he inspected it. “It must be important to have you travel all the way from England just to look at it. Tell me… what is it?”

Moody’s suspicions quietly relented. “Well… it’s said to be cursed, but I think not. There are claims of people having visions and terrible dreams when the cup was in their presence for too long a time. One family even said one of their children was possessed by something held within it. I’ve only spent a couple of days studying the object, but I’ve found nothing extraordinary about it thus far.

“However, I can confirm something I put in my last report on the object. It has been enchanted with a remarkable brand of magic that I’ve never seen before now. A very powerful spell barely holds the cup together at the molecular level. It almost seems as if it wants to explode apart and release from inside whatever still holds it together. What that might be, is beyond my grasp at the moment. It’s one of the oldest objects in the HOW, studied here for centuries to no avail.” He looked up at Mister Grayson and smiled. “I’ll figure it out. In fact, I could use a little help from my brightest apprentice if, that is, the world’s banking community can spare its Director for a few days.”

Mister Grayson leaned down to study the object closely, circling it again and again as his trained eye scanned every marking on the cup’s surface. Anna could tell her father was listening as he moved, tilting his head as if to eavesdrop on any sounds emanating from the object’s surface. Finally, his eyes moved up to stare at his old master and he smiled.

“A tempting offer, to be sure,” Mister Grayson said truthfully, before tilting his head again to look over at Anna.

“Why don’t you come over here and have a look at it, Anna,” her father said as he straightened.

Anna was surprised. “Me?”

“Yes. Come over here and tell us what you think of it.” Mister Grayson looked up at Moody. “Do you mind?”

Moody seemed perplexed. “Oh… well… by all means,” he said, motioning Anna forward. “If I cannot tempt the father, then perhaps I might set myself for a new apprentice in the future.”

Anna smiled and then stepped up to the object. Moody might have expected somebody so young to simply reach out and grab the cup, but the level of respect he saw in Anna’s approach surprised him. She circled the table in much the same way her father had done, studying the surface of the cup completely before approaching it. In two places, Anna moved in so close to inspect the object that her nose almost made contact with it. Finally, Anna reached out with one finger and then stopped, her eyes glancing up to look at Moody.

“Go ahead, if you must,” he said brightly, looking up to give her father a quick wink.

Anna smiled again before reaching out to place a single finger carefully on the cup’s base just below its rising stem. To Moody’s great surprise, he watched Anna close her eyes as if to listen more carefully with heightened concentration. He was pleased with Anna’s apparent reverence for the object, but enthralled with her method.

Anna focused herself to listen and was surprised by what she saw looming forward from out of the darkness of her mind. She closed her eyes tight and concentrated on the image struggling to advance. The soft whispers she heard grew to a roar as the face of a huge skull came screaming to the surface.

“RELEASE ME!”

Anna opened her eyes with a start and jumped back.

“What is it, Anna. What’s the matter?” her father barked in surprise.

Anna looked up at him and then to Moody. “I’m… I’m not sure… hold on.”

She stepped forward again, reached out, and took hold of the cup with both hands. Immediately the skull came forward in her mind once more.

“Please… release me. Destroy the vessel.”

“Who are you,” Anna said aloud, speaking to the thing living within the enchanted cup.

Several of the workers sitting at the surrounding tables looked over and watched as Anna, her eyes still closed, began to converse with the cup.

“I am a trapped spirit. A fragment of my host’s soul, locked away within this vessel in the foolish attempt to delay death. My name was Rufus Malissifa.”

“A piece of your host’s soul?” Anna repeated nervously.

Her words immediately gathered every wizard’s attention in the room. They stopped what they were doing and walked over to encircle them as Anna stood in the center of the room clutching the cup.

“What’s she doing, Moody?” asked one of the witches. “To whom is she speaking?”

“Shhh, quiet — please!” Moody snapped back.

The skull continued to speak to Anna within the folds of her mind. “My soul was a thing possessed of evil, who murdered to set this part of me a prisoner within this vessel. Please… I beg you… destroy the cup. Release me.”

“But… what will happen to you if what you ask is done?”

There was a long pause, and then… “I do not know. If God truly does exist, I pray for his quick and final judgment. Anything would be better than this perverted existence for all eternity.”

Anna shuddered and then opened her eyes. “My God,” she whispered softly.

“Anna… sweetheart… what is it? What have you found?”

She looked up at her father with tears welling in her eyes. She quickly set the cup down.

“He says his name is RufusMalissifa,” Anna explained, “and he says part of his soul is trapped within the cup. He’s a prisoner.”

There was a sharp gasp of surprise from several within the room, and then a cautious murmur of disbelief. Moody looked skeptical.

“My dear child… what you describe is barely legend in its possibility. You must be mistaken; this… cannot be.”

Mister Grayson put his hand on Anna’s shoulder. “Sweetheart… are you sure about this? What else did the cup say to you?”

“It’s not the cup, daddy. It’s some kind of prison. He called it a vessel.” Anna began to sob. “The poor man… he wants us to destroy the cup.” There was another sharp gasp.

“RufusMalissifa, did you say?” asked a man behind them, who was paging through a very old tome.

Anna looked back at the man. “Yes… that’s right; that’s what he said.”

“This is a copy of the book of the condemned. How long has the object been known to exist, Moody?” asked the man, flipping quickly back through the dusty pages.

“I’m not sure, exactly,” Moody replied. “It’s been in Ministry hands for more than six centuries. I don’t know its exact age. I’ve only taken to studying it recently.”

“The Cup of Sorrows, as it has been known to be called, is eight hundred and sixty five years old, according to HOW records,” said a witch to the side, looking in another book near the entranceway.

The first man, still looking through the book of the condemned, flipped deeper into the thick pages. “That would put it in the twelfth century.” He stopped, flipped back a few pages and slid a finger down the molding columns.

“Guster, Joist, Lenetsky,Mai... Mac… Mal… Malissifa, Rufus. My God… the name is here. It says the man Rufus Malissifa was found guilty of murdering a Muggle woman and using her body in an illegal… and what it calls unholy… ritual.” The man looked up. “He was hanged in London for his crimes by the Wizard Gamot.”

“Dear Lord…” said the woman standing next to Mister Grayson. “Then it’s true… the object could be… a Horcrux.” There was another murmur of disbelief again.

“Hold on, now,” Moody scoffed. “We have no proof of this, only the word of a young and untrained girl.” He looked at Anna.

“I’m sorry, my dear… but even if what you say is true, to destroy this object would be a serious breech of protocol. No… we must have proof of what you say before we can even consider doing such a thing.”

“Then you shall have it,” Anna retorted bitterly. She grabbed the cup once more and closed her eyes.

“They need proof of who you say you are.”

For the next fifteen minutes, Anna continued to converse with the broken and tortured soul imprisoned within the cup. He told her about his life, where he lived, and where and how he had committed his crime. All the time, the soul of the man pleaded to have the cup destroyed. Slowly, Moody came to believe what Anna was saying. He couldn’t understand how somebody so young could have acquired such a deep understanding of an object left to wizard study for hundreds of years, but the enormous weight of evidence soon became too much for even his analytical mind to bear without explanation.

“So… it is agreed,” Moody finally said to the others within the room. “For the sake of human decency, the cup will be destroyed.” He looked again at Anna. “In your own… way, child, can you tell the man Malissifa to prepare himself for the consequences of this decision?” Anna tearfully nodded and then picked up the cup once more.

“Thank you, Guardian,” said the condemned man within her mind. “You very well could be sending me from one hell to another, but I am repentant of my sins and look forward to seeing the everlasting and eternal face. I… am ready.”

“I will pray for you,” Anna sobbed.

“You would be the first, my lady, in many, many centuries. I thank you. And I feel I owe you reparation for giving me this chance… I have something for you.”

“What do you mean?”

“Like you, I too can hear the whispers of magic within my prison of hateful solitude… and something more. I know of other prisoners, like myself, who exist only within the deep shadows of this retched domain and within the relics that keep them captive here. Two of them are known to you.”

“What? You say I know them? But who would I know that…”

“The first has gone far beyond the sins of my doing, and has created multiple prisons that contain many pieces of his fractured soul, each smaller than the previous, until what remains on earth is barely the whisper of God’s meaningful design.”

Anna gasped. “But who would I know that would do such a thing? What kind of person would do something so terrible to himself… and to what end?”

“It was done to gain immortality. And despite the many sins of murder he’s had to perform to complete this evil task, his final intent is blasphemy to the greatest level true, for he seeks to raise himself to the very throne of God.”

Anna tried to summon her remaining courage. “Who would do such a thing?” She held her breath, waiting breathlessly for the reply.

“The blasphemer calls himself… Voldemort.”

Anna almost dropped the cup in shock. “What? Are you sure? That name is unspeakable here. This wizard you speak of… has he truly done this?”

“He has. I hear the pieces of his essence screaming angrily for their release in the shadows around me. ”

Shock and disbelief was pushing Anna to set the cup down, but then she stopped. “You said there was another, somebody else who was being held a prisoner. Who is it?”

There was a pause, and then the voice returned. “The one you call… the ally.”

“WHAT? But… I don’t understand, how?”

“Your ally was set a prisoner by a most powerful curse very recently. Her voice is new within this void we share.”

“Where is she? Can I talk to her? Who has imprisoned her, and why?”

“I do not know the answers to your questions, Guardian. I only understand she is lost somewhere beyond me. I hear her pleading for help, begging for the Sithmaith to release her, asking… for you.”

“How can I find her?”

“She is locked within an object, much like my own. You must find her, you must help her.”

“Where is this object?”

“I do not know.”

“Please… I won’t know how to find her unless you tell me more.”

“Please… release me now.”

“No… not yet. Not until you tell me where I can find her.”

The skull unexpectedly surged forward from the depths of the swirling mist within Anna’s frantic mind.

“RELEASE ME!!”

The face of the skull began to blur and distort, creating skin and sunken eyes within a human face. The man was crying.

“I beg you, Guardian. End my torture… destroy the cup that is my prison. If there be a maker of all things in our world, I wish to bear his judgment.”

Anna felt a sudden wrench of remorse. She was ashamed of herself, mortified for wanting to bargain with the poor man’s fractured soul. The thought of his suffering through the centuries, hoping beyond reason to make contact with somebody like herself, someone who might find the means to set him free, was horrifying to her. She slowly set the cup down and opened her eyes.

“Is he ready?” asked a witch standing among the others; she was now holding a wand.

“He is. How will it be done?”

“Hold on,” said Mister Grayson, stepping forward. “Anna… I heard you saying you thought there were others; other souls, like this one, trapped within other objects? Now might be the time to understand where they can be found.”

Anna looked at her father with tears running down her face. How could she tell her father about the curse placed upon his first wife, Leola Grayson? It would mean telling him how she had become a ghost, how she had been murdered by Victoria. No, she would never tell her father that terrible truth. She would find her ally’s prison herself. She now understood what she felt was missing in the woods earlier that same day. Her ally was gone. Leola Grayson was missing. Anna wrapped her arms around her father and buried her face into his robes.

“No, daddy. The prisoner of the cup only knows others exist, but he cannot tell us what these objects are or where they can be found.”

Her father looked shocked and then hugged her back. “Those poor souls,” Mister Grayson whispered, “trapped within a prison of their own making. Despite the sins that once put them where they are, I pray to God that he will eventually deliver them to his mercy.”

Anna looked up at her father and scowled. “Not all of them are worth praying for,” she said bitterly. Her father frowned and tried to reply, but Anna’s face gave a twitch of wrath that Mister Grayson understood well. Later… she was wordlessly telling him… she would explain it to him later.

The door to the HOW opened and two wizards entered the room, each holding the handle of a very heavy, lead box. The wizard’s heads were encased within a sphere of glass that Anna had seen only once previously. During the Hogwarts Tri-Wizard Tournament’s second task the year before, two of the champions wore the same Bubblehead Charm to enter the lake.

The two wizards set the box down and began to circle its exterior while whispering a complicated incantation. The locks on the box clicked and the lid immediately flew itself open.

“Move back everyone,” warned one of the wizards, as another lid opened inside the first, and then a third within the second.

They all watched as one silver rose slowly floated into the air from the bottom of the innermost box, its mirrored stem covered in shiny thorns spilling down its length. The petals of the rose fell open to reveal a tiny, crystal flask with what looked like a green vapory substance within. The vapor sparkled like diamonds within the mist, and Anna could hear the distinct but muffled sounds of purring coming from the flask.

“Wingardium Leviosa,” commanded one of the wizards within the Bubblehead charm and the flask began to levitate into the air and then slowly hover over to the cup. He carefully set the flask into the cup and the entire room exhaled a sigh of relief. The wizard rapped the sphere upon his head once and the Bubblehead charm quickly vanished.

“Can’t be too careful with this stuff,” said the wizard with a nervous chuckle. “The breath from the Nundo can be deadly.” He gave his wand a complicated wave again, and the cup and the vial were completely contained within another glass sphere.

“Nundo breath?” Anna repeated questioningly to her father, but Mister Grayson was eyeing his old school master worriedly.

“Professor Moody, are you all right?”

Moody appeared ashen faced as he looked up shook his head. “I’m fine, my boy. Thank you for asking. It’s just that… who could have expected this?” He turned to Anna and tried to the best of his ability to sound convinced they were doing the right thing.

“If this object is, as you say, a true Horcrux then it won’t be so easily destroyed. While you were conversing with the unfortunate soul within, I took the liberty of contacting the Office for the Regulation and Control of Dangerous Substances here within the Ministry, and they were kind enough to bring us the means by which we might set the poor man free. What little information we have outside of conjecture, speculation and legend say a Horcrux cannot be smashed or broken. In order to destroy it, the vessel must suffer the kind of damage which cannot be reversed by any magical means. If we are successful, the splintered soul within should be destroyed… or released… or… God only knows.” Moody shook his head mournfully. “The vaporous breath of the ferocious Nundo is extremely powerful… and lethal. It’s the only substance we have close at hand that might be strong enough to do the job.”

Moody sighed again, raising his wand. “Shall we… do it together, then? I didn’t come here to be an executioner. It should be done by us all as one.” It was agreed, and several witches and wizards stood back and pointed their wands at the cup within the sphere.

“Everybody… on the count of three; one, two… three!”

There was a blast and the sphere containing the cup and flask was raised into the air. The flask shattered and there was a sudden roar, like that of some great cat, echoing throughout the catacombs surrounding them. The roar fell over Anna’s mind like a drug; she could feel it rolling into her soul and then spreading throughout her entire body as a drug would after the needle. It encircled her wholly, like some familiar embrace from a loved one lost in time.

“My God,” Anna heard her father say, and she opened her eyes and watched in astonishment as the greenish vapor instantly engulfed the cup like some living thing trying to attack it and the cup’s edges began to melt.

“It’s working…” Moody yelled out. “Keep it up; more power, everyone!”

The sphere began to crack and then it shattered as the cup stretched and bubbled grotesquely, and then it exploded in a shower of golden sparks. A cloud of green mist emerged from the blast, and a scream could be heard issuing forth from out of the sparks. The form of a man was coalescing from the mist before them, arrayed in a bright glow of white. The wizards and witches who had delivered the spell were astonished at the sight; a pitiful soul in its last moments of existence was reaching out to Anna.

“Thank you, Guardian. What is left of the retched man before you is now free to seek the judgment of God.” Rays of golden light began to burn through the man’s smiling face. Spears of sunlight were tearing through his naked body, and then he too exploded in a blast of golden sparks and was no more.

Anna held her father close as the last of the sparks faded into nothingness, until only the acid smell of burnt dust was left of the cup. Several of the wizards and witches around the pedestal blessed themselves and, one by one, solemnly returned to their workplaces until only Moody remained. He seemed lost in troubled thought as he finally turned to Anna.

“Miss Anna… I am sorry I ever doubted you,” he said meaningfully. “It is obviously to me now what they say about the Guardians, having a special connection to the things of magic, is indeed true. You have a remarkable gift for one so young.” He looked at Mister Grayson and smiled.

“Your father’s true intention in asking you to look at the cup is now clear to me. By allowing you to display your insight, he was obviously hoping to convince me of your previous statements regarding You-Know-Who’s return.”

Mister Grayson smiled back. “Forgive me, old friend, but I thought a simple demonstration of a Guardian’s abilities might also entice you, like it did me, to search out the hidden reasons for their return to the wizarding world.”

Moody smirked. “A very clever plan, Boris.”

“So… you believe us now? You understand Voldemort is back?” Anna asked, hopefully.

Moody flinched at the name once again, and then, “I must admit you have given me much to consider.” He shook his head. “I can only promise… I will reexamine the facts around this possibility.”

Mister Grayson reached out and shook Moody’s hand. “That’s all we can ask, my friend, and more than I dared to hope.”

As Anna and her father left the Hall of Wonders, Anna’s mind was reeling. Somebody had recently attacked Leola Grayson and had imprisoned her. How would she find the vessel containing her? More than that, how would see even recognize the object if she saw it? And who would do such a thing? Only one answer immediately came to mind. Only one other person knew of Leola’s Grayson’s return as a ghost; only her mother Victoria knew this truth. And if Victoria knew, then so did Voldemort.

Anna knew the ally would never have strayed very far from her, and that could only mean Victoria or maybe Voldemort himself must have come to the estate. And if Leola had confronted them, perhaps that’s when her ally was imprisoned. Was it reasonable to assume then that Leola was still somewhere on the grounds? But how could she find her? Her alley could be locked within anything, a rock, or a structure, perhaps something in the house. Anna wanted to return to the estate immediately to begin the search.

“Are you okay?” her father asked, as they reached the top of the staircase and moved the golden chain aside to step into the hall. “That was a very impressive display of Guardian ability, Anna. What you did in the HOW was truly amazing.”

Anna looked at him and frowned. “Daddy, can we go home now?”

He looked surprised. “But we still have our appointment to see the Minister.”

Anna’s mouth dropped. With everything that had happened, she had completely forgotten about the reason they had come to the Ministry of Magic in the first place.

“Are you sure you’re all right?” her father asked her, sounding concerned.

“Yeah, I’m okay… but I have something very important I need to tell you about You-Know-Who when we get home.”


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