Anna Grayson and The Dragon's Lair

Vacant eyes that see

ONE

The rest of April and May was fairly uneventful as compared to the days Anna spent in the dungeons, but by the beginning of June the anxiety within the Union Halls was starting to build. Ordinary Wizard Level testing had begun for the fifth years, and a few days later the Grueling, Intellectual and Noetic Tests for the seventh years quickly added to the tension. Any unthinking laughter in the corridors was abruptly cut short by angry Knights and nervous seniors worried about graduating on time.

“Just wait until next year,” Gabriel scolded Gwen outside their Care of Magical Objects class, “when you see what it’s like when to take your O-W-Ls.”

Gwen suddenly looked worried. “Oh my God,” she whispered, “she’s right. I’ll have to take those tests next year.”

Anna wasn’t paying attention. She was watching Professor Qwaad closely as he prepared for their Care of Magical Objects class. The man seemed worried and rather hurried as he pulled his books from his satchel and unrolled the day’s parchment. Ever since their return from the Christmas holiday, Anna and the rest of the Guardians had noticed a remarkable change in their lessons with Qwaad. Gone were the days of buffing the goblets and silverware and traveling about the castle searching for empty rooms in which to clean. Their classes now included a vast array of magical baubles and trinkets on loan to them by the Chancellor and the Academy staff for study, and Qwaad seemed genuinely interested in any student showing the slightest suggestion of hidden understanding.

There were a number of Guardians that seemed transfixed by these studies as well, including the two first years Steven Borjg and, of all people, Nox who was especially fascinated with a number of objects she swore she could hear whispering to her. It was the first time anybody could remember the girl taking her studies so seriously. The fifth year Isabel Lang also seemed extraordinarily gifted at figuring out an object’s purpose with very little coaching from Professor Qwaad. Isabel was even late to her first O-W-L while studying the properties of an object she correctly surmised was used to ward off pesky garden gnomes.

Their Care of Magic Places class had improved as well. Qwaad had taken the students on several field trips throughout the spring to visit the best known magical haunts throughout the city. Once again, several of the Guardians showed an extraordinary understanding of these places or the areas within that made them so magically remarkable. Surprising to most was Sarah Bell, who seemed to have the gift of understanding more than most when it came to these spaces. Qwaad was especially impressed when Sarah discovered an unknown secret passage hidden behind a bookcase in the museum that led to an underground archway and an empty crypt two blocks away in the Spellsburg cemetery. Stunned by Sarah’s innate skills, even Nox had to agree it was a remarkable find.

More than anything else, however, their Auror Defensive Skills class was the most improved. When the Guardians were finally allowed to bring their wands to class, Qwaad had asked several Crimson Guards to join them with Lieutenant Dunning’s blessing. Perhaps the lieutenant thought his guards might be used to bring more pain and injury to the Guardians, because Dunning seemed happy to help. However, it wasn’t long before Qwaad was showing a much deeper motive and seemed decided at seeing the Guardians’ defensive abilities improved. These classes became increasingly exciting as more experienced guards with greater skill were allowed to join them. Soon, the students were studying a number of offensive spells and hexes clearly meant to improve their ability to survive a battle. Before long, the Guardians were showing their new prowess in the Dueling Hall where both their individual battles and team matches were becoming much more successful.

Anna still didn’t understand what Qwaad was doing to help her father, but it was becoming increasingly clear the man wasn’t following the orders of the Minister of Magic either. In fact, Anna was convinced that if the Minister knew what Qwaad was doing to help the Guardians, Helawena Barkelnap would probably be furious and that was all Anna needed to trust Qwaad’s ambitions for her fellow Guardians.

All the while, Anna was continuously troubled about the upcoming end of term. The thieves in the dungeons had said the smugglers were going back into the lair just days before the students left to go home. Although she had already informed Captain Hayman of their plans, and Trog and Glors were on guard in the forest, Anna hadn’t heard about any other precautions being taken to protect the cliffs. And, in Anna’s worried mind, a plan unshared was like having no plan at all. She tried to make several appointments to meet with Hayman, but the Captain of the Guard always refused. He finally sent an owl a week later telling her she should be preparing for her final exams and not worrying about the nests of Knowtor. “Every safeguard,” he said, “was being taken to protect the forest from intrusion.”

What safeguards? What was being done? Anna quickly surmised that when it came to protecting the magical objects and the places containing them, the responsibilities owned by the Guardians could never be defaulted to somebody else.

The summer holiday was fast approaching, but in Anna’s mind there were still far too many unanswered questions that needed answers before going home. For one, there were the three unsolved murders in the city. Anna’s eyes began to burn every time she thought about her friend Sidney Heidelbach whose body was left lying so callously in that cold alleyway. As she lay in her bed staring out the window, Anna watched as the silhouette of a soaring dragon crossed over the moon in the distance.

“And what about the cursed man who tried to warn me about my mother’s return to the plateau?” Anna whispered. “Was he really an enemy like daddy suspected… or something else?”

She stared at the ceiling and thought about her mother? Was Victoria Grayson with Voldemort, or was she somewhere nearby? Was she responsible for these murders… and, if so, why? Had she killed these men to protect me somehow? But then why would she kill Sidney in a way that seemed to implicate me?

Anna looked over at Sarah Bell who was slumbering quietly in her bed. And who attacked Sarah with an unforgivable curse and then forced her to spy on me? And where was the Ruby of YU?

There were far too many questions yet to be answered. Anna closed her eyes and tried to clear her mind, but after another minute slowly ticked by they slowly opened again.

When would Voldemort show himself? Would I really have to face him in the way Dumbledore had warned? When would the war come, and who was this Walpurgis collector? Who was paying the limping man and his poachers to steal the dragon eggs?

Anna thought about Harry Potter and remembered the Headmaster’s words. Voldemort wanted to kill young Harry for reasons I’m not at liberty to share at the moment.’ Why would Voldemort want to kill a baby? And when the time came to do it, how did the boy survive after his parents had been murdered? She thought about her kaleidoscope and the power lost to her, and to her surprise Anna realized there were other questions almost as important as those about to her mother. Where are Voldemort’s horcruxes? And the one most important of all: Where is my ally?

Leola Grayson was still being held captive – locked in the most horrible dungeon imaginable; a place the man Rufus Malissifa had once called ‘a prison of hateful solitude’; a retched domain within some unknown object that had seized Anna’s ally and kept her its prisoner. Where is this object? What is it? And how will I free her if I find it? A low growl rose up from within the Sithmaith. And who was it that had caused Leola and imprisoned there?

Anna was now convinced more than ever that magic had joined the ally to her in some vital way she didn’t fully understand. She once thought of Leola Grayson as a form of magical armor, a kind of mystical protection against the unknown. Without her… the Guardian felt weakened and exposed, as if a piece of her spirit used to rouse her strength had been lost. Leola had to be freed… but without the kaleidoscope and the Great Ape of the Hoard to help her find the vessel… the task seemed impossible.

Anna finally drifted into an uneasy sleep and dreamed of standing on the edge of a cold precipice overlooking an empty chasm. She could feel the thermals rising up in front of her, but the expected sound of beating wings was absent. The Guardian could see dozens of nests, unkempt and weakened by the elements, crumbing into the depths below. She looked north to the great mountain of the lair and gasped. Instead of the vaporous crown of white encircling its peak, there was an ominous veil of black draped over its summit like a death shroud. The dragons of Knowtor were no more.

The Guardian moaned softly in her sleep and began to sob.

TWO

Anna’s dream was reoccurring as the hours drifted by. She saw herself flying over the Shadowed Forest, searching desperately for the missing dragons. She raced across the Cliffs of Knowtor, down into the valleys and ravines and through its deepest chasms, but the nests were nowhere to be found. She finally saw a flickering light far away in the Shadowed Forest and Anna’s hope began to grow. Maybe the dragons are there, she thought, as she turned and headed for the light.

“Beware the fires that burn within the forest…” came an unexpected voice from out of the darkness. Anna frowned as the light in the forest floor began to fade.

“Beware…”

Anna was jolted awake and found herself staring out her bedroom window and at a nearly full moon over the city of Spellsburg. She listened to the crickets chirping softly, as a cold breeze gently moved the curtains back and forth across her face.

“Beware…” sounded a hash voice behind her and Anna turned to find Sarah standing by her bed.

“Sarah! Oh my gosh… you scared me. What’s the matter? Can’t you sleep?”

“Beware the fires that burn within the forest,” the girl repeated in a low guttural voice. “They are a trap to draw you near. This night and next… beware the fires that burn in the forest.”

Anna immediately sat upright. “Sarah?”

Her roommate tilted to look down and Anna gulped. Sarah’s eyes were wide and vacant, blank-white eyes that glowed in the dark; they were the eyes of a Seer. Sarah raised her arms out to the sides and her entire body was lifted off the floor. She floated there and then slowly began to turn as another prophesy came forth.

“The mothers howl their misery at the moon. For their babies are stolen from their nests… this night and next. Broken cases… scattered and discarded, the unborn lie dead upon the ground.” Her voice suddenly became shrill.

“The weak and unwanted are thrown upon the fire while their mothers lie as mountains of rotting flesh all around them. A river of blood… their life spills out to feed the shadowed roots and pool below the murderer’s dancing feet… this night and next…. this night and next.”

Sarah continued to turn, but then suddenly stopped to look down. Her eyes seemed to bloom bright as she continued. “Beware… your mother is close at hand and seeks you for his sake. He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named… is never left wanting… this night and next… this night and next. Beware… this night and next.

The girl’s body slowly dropped back down to the floor and she quietly turned to head back to her bed. “She seeks you for his sake… this night and next…” she whispered, before collapsing face down into her blankets.

Anna was shaking uncontrollably as she stared at her roommate. “Oh my God!” she whimpered. “My mother… she’s really here.”

THREE

The sun slowly crept over the mountains to enter the city and Anna was sitting on the edge of her bed watching Sarah sleep. She had been up all night, thinking about the prophecies that her roommate, a Guardian Seer, had finally come to deliver.

Anna was quietly thinking. After everything that had happened that year, it was astounding that Sarah wouldn’t have said anything in her sleep until just a few hours ago. The Guardian looked behind her at the rising sun. She was starting to believe it was only during the most momentous moments in time that created the prophecies. And although the things Sarah said had always been life-altering, it was the timing of their occurrence that to Anna made them even more significant.

Her mother was very close, probably in the Shadowed Forest right now. But why? Sarah said Victoria was seeking her for his sake; for Voldemort, but what would Voldemort want with me?

Sarah started to stir as the sun creeped into the room and the girl slowly rolled over to find Anna staring back at her. The look on her friend’s face told Sarah all she needed to know and she immediately bolted upright in response.

“Oh my God… what did I say, Anna?”

Of course, she was talking about the prophecies that always left those sleeping closest to her feeling terrified. Sarah had been expecting to find Anna waiting for her like this all year long.

Anna took a deep breath. “You said… the smugglers are in the forest again, Sarah. They’re poaching eggs from the nests once more, but this time… the theft is going to be huge.”

Sarah swung her legs over the side of the bed and sat up. “What are we going to do? We have to stop them!” The girl suddenly frowned. While Anna was obviously was just as concerned about the egg thieves, Sarah could see her thoughts were somewhere else.

Sarah’s expression fell. She thought for a moment and then said, “Why would I tell you about the Dragon’s Lair?” She studied Anna closely. “The prophecies that come in my sleep are always about those physically nearest to me. So… why would I tell you about the lair?” She was suddenly skeptical. “You’re not telling me everything.”

Sarah waited long enough to see Anna’s reluctance to speak. “What else did I say?”

Anna remained quiet and Sarah frowned. “Anna… I love you, but I have a right to know. I usually quiet these prophesies at night with a silencing charm, but you told me not to do that and I only agreed believing you would tell me if ever they came.”

Anna had expected this, but she wasn’t going to tell Sarah about her mother hunting her for Voldemort.

Anna tried to look relenting. “You also said something about a trap being set for me in the forest, but I have no idea what that means.”

Sarah quickly stood. “My god! I’m going with you!”

“What are you talking about?”

“You’re going into the Shadowed Forest to stop the poachers from raiding the nests again. If you know they’ll be there tonight and my prophecy warned you about it being a trap… that means you’re planning to go in!”

Sarah suddenly looked determined. “I’m going with you!”

Anna frowned. “I don’t think that’s a good idea, Sarah. If it is a trap… I can’t put you in danger too.”

Sarah came over to sit next to Anna on her bed. “Anna… you can’t do this alone. We’re all Guardians now, and I’m sure I’m not the only one willing to go with you to stop them.”

Anna looked skeptical. “But going into the Shadowed Forest after dark? We would have to be the only ones stupid enough to do something that crazy.”

Sarah thought about it. “We should tell the Chancellor and Captain Hayman. They have to know what’s happening.”

“But they already know, Sarah. I’ve already told them a millions times what those prisoners in the dungeons said.” Anna looked skeptical. “They’re already supposed to be protecting the lair.”

“No… they’re not, Anna. And you know it. That’s why Captain Hayman has been unwilling to talk to you about it. They’re not going to risk any lives in the Shadowed Forest to stop this. Not unless they have absolute proof it was happening.” Anna looked at her and frowned.

“But now they do,” Sarah added. “We all know from experience… these prophesies are real!”

“But who would listen to us, Sarah? Nobody knows about your gifts other than Gwen, your family and the Chancellor.”

“So let’s tell Chancellor Thordarson. I’m sure he’ll do something to stop this.” She reached down to take Anna’s hand. “He’s a very wise man, Anna, he’ll listen to us… I’m sure of it, and he’ll order the Crimson Guard to do something.”

A few minutes later, Anna and Sarah were trying to convince a burly Crimson Guard they needed to see the Chancellor of Castlewood.

“The Chancellor has been called away to an urgent meeting with the school’s board of trustees. I’m afraid he won’t return until very late this evening.”

The girls stepped aside. “Now what?” Sarah said, worriedly.

Anna thought. “I’ll go see Captain Hayman and you go and find Gwen and Gabriel. A Guardian Knight would surely know how to contact the Chancellor.”

Sarah agreed and turned to leave, but Anna stopped her.

“Take my wand,” Anna told her.

“You wand? But why?”

“I would rather you had it rather than taking the chance it might be taken from me when I go to see Hayman down in the dungeons.”

Sarah sighed and then pocketed the purple heart.

Anna arrived in the dungeons a few minutes later where one of the Crimson Guards told her Captain Hayman had also been called away from the plateau. He had boarded a ship in the night to Loon’s Lagoon on a family emergency. Anna was immediately skeptical. Both the Chancellor of Castlewood and its Captain are away on the night of the largest thievery in the Shadowed Forest? Annathanked the Guard for the information, turned, and was almost at the door then she ran headlong into Lieutenant Dunning.

“Ah… Miss Grayson. Don’t tell me you are already missing the comforts of our dungeons?” His words were dripping with sarcasm, but his expression remained stoic.

“Why are you here?” he asked her, looking over Anna’s shoulder to the guard seated at the desk behind her.

The guarded immediately stood. “The student was looking to speak with the Captain, sir.”

“Captain Hayman? Why?”

“She didn’t explain, sir. She would only say it was matter of utmost urgency.”

Dunning’s brow rose. “Utmost urgency… oh dear me. Miss Grayson… tell me… what kind of emergency would call you to bypass the normal chain of command around your Union Knight and me to speak to the Captain?”

Anna was seething with rage at the man. “Nothing I’m willing to tell you,” she fired back, “so I’ll be on my way.” She turned and was almost at the door when he called out to her.

“No… I don’t think so.”

Anna stopped and slowly turned to find Dunning smiling again before turning to look at the other guard. “Bring her into my office.”

Anna turned to flee, but when she opened the door she found three more guards standing outside.

Five minutes later, Anna was sitting in an interrogation chair with chains wrapped around her ankles and wrists. Dunning closed the door and then slowly sat down at the desk in front of her. He had a massive file in his hands that he let drop on the table with a loud smack.

He smiled down at her. “This is my Grayson file.”

Anna glowered back at him. “Get these chains off of me,” she growled under her breath

The man opened the file and pulled out another folder from within. “And this… is my Anna Grayson file,” he said serenely. He turned it sideways to show her how thick it was. “Already quite substantial… for a second year student.”

Anna looked up at the bars across the window and what daylight remained outside. She knew she didn’t have time for Dunning’s harassments. Sarah was already telling Gabriel and Gwen about the smugglers’ plans.

Dunning studied her carefully as she stared at the window. He smiled. “Beautiful day today, I know. So why don’t you tell me what you wanted to discuss with Captain Hayman and then I’ll decide if it warrants my keeping you here any longer than is necessary. What is this matter of utmost urgency?”

Anna yanked at the chains binding her wrists, but tried to remain calm. Chains or not, it took all her strength to keep from attacking the man across the table.

“Does this have anything to do with your mother?”

Anna’s eyes widened with shocked surprise.

“Oh… but wait. I’m sorry… I forgot. You mother is dead, isn’t she?”

Anna could feel the sharp spike of coldness in her heart rushing through her body and without thinking her anger decided she wanted the man’s throat. The manacles binding her wrists were suddenly released and shot across the table, stopping just short of the man’s face, snapping wildly at him.

Dunning remained cool as the chains attached to the manacles strained against the chair holding them back.

“No? Not about your mother, then?” he smiled wickedly.

No! She thought fearfully. I must stay in control… and the chains abruptly dropped with a crash upon the table.

Anna seethed with rage, but finally decided she didn’t have any options left. What was most important was protecting the Dragon’s Lair.

“Fine! I’ll tell you what’s happening!”

Dunning smiled again, swept the chains to the side and opened her file, and then picked up his quill and looked up at her. “I’m glad you’re starting to see reason, Miss Grayson. So… once again… tell me why did you come here to see Captain Hayman?”

Several floors above the dungeons, Sarah Bell had just finished telling her story to Gwen, Gabriel and Tanya Joe. It had taken her most of the morning to find the Guardian Knight and by the time she did, Sarah didn’t care who within the Hall knew about her Seer abilities; time was running out.

Gwen looked over to Gabriel and TJ and found the two of them completely lost for words. They were staring at Sarah, trying to the best of their ability to believe what she was telling them.

“So… you’re saying that you… are a prophetess?

Sarah rolled her eyes. “Yes… that’s what I’m saying.” She could see TJ and Gabriel looked incredulous. “Look… I’m not going to sit here and try to convince you. We have to get somebody to do something about the smugglers. Anna went down to tell Captain Hayman, but is there a way you can make contact directly with the Chancellor?”

Gabriel still looked skeptical. “Does Chancellor Thordarson already know about your…ah… abilities?”

“Yes he does!” Sarah shot back. “In fact… he’s been helping my family understand my divinations for over a year now.”

TJ’s jaw dropped. “Cri-mo-nilly…”

Gabriel tried to think. “Alright… well… we would have to find Val Olivo, the President Body President and…”

Sarah Bell leapt to her feet. “We haven’t got time for that!”

“Gabriel Laroche?”

The girls looked up to find two Crimson Guards standing there.

“Yes?”

“Guardian Knight, you have been summoned to Lieutenant Dunning’s office downstairs.”

“Why? What’s happened?”

“It’s about Anna Grayson, isn’t it?” Sarah said worriedly.

The guards looked down at Sarah and then back to Gabriel. “In fact… it is about Miss Grayson; she has been detained.”

“Detained? Why?”

“Guardian Knight… I am not at liberty to discuss the reasons in public,” the guard said, ignoring Gwen. “You should come with us. You’re presence in an ongoing investigation is now required.”

The Knight nodded and the guards turned to leave, but Sarah immediately reached out and grabbed Gabriel by the sleeve.

“Please Gabriel… you have to get Anna out of the dungeon. We’re running out of time!”

Gabriel seized Sarah by the shoulders. “Now you listen to me. I don’t know what’s going on here, but don’t you dare leave this castle. Do you understand me? You stay right here until I get back. I don’t want to worry about you doing anything stupid on your own… and that includes going anywhere near the Shadowed Forest!”

“Gabriel… it’ll be dark soon,” Sarah argued back, pointing out the window.

“DO YOU… UNDERSTAND ME?”

Sarah fell silent.

“Sarah Bell… tell me you understand. I want to hear you say it!”

“Guardian Knight?” the guard called out.

“Just a minute, please!” Gabriel yelled back. She looked at Sarah again and could see it in the girl’s eyes. She had no intention of promising anything.

“Fine… then you leave me with no choice.” She looked up at TJ and Gwen. “You two… take her upstairs and lock her in her room!”

Gwen was taken aback. “Oh come on, Gabriel… is that really necessary?”

“DO IT! And you will stand guard at her door until I get back. I’m holding both of you responsible for her.”

The Knight didn’t wait to argue more. She immediately turned and followed the guards out of the hall.

“Come on, Sarah. Let’s get you upstairs,” Gwen told her.

Sarah looked up at her friends and scowled. “You’re kidding me, right? Didn’t you just hear anything I said? You know I’m not lying, Gwen. Anna told you about my prophecies last year.”

“Yes… she did, but Gabriel is right. You can’t just fly off into the Shadowed Forest, looking to stop a bunch of criminals all by yourself.”

Sarah looked at TJ disbelievingly.

“She’s right,” TJ agreed. “You and Anna could git’ yourself killed, girl.”

Sarah threw up her hands, and for the first time anybody could remember the girl looked positively livid.

“Fine! Lock me up! But if you think for one minute that any dungeons anywhere is going to hold Anna Grayson for very long, then you don’t know her like I do. If nothing is done to stop these thieves, Anna will go into the forest by herself and we’ll be forcing her to fight them alone.”

Sarah suddenly looked pleadingly at them. “Gwen… she’s going to get killed unless we help her.”

Gwen looked at TJ and to her surprise she could see the other girl was already nodding in agreement.

“Ain’t no way Anna’s gonna’ let this go. If we don’t help her… she’ll go in alone.”

Gwen turned to look out the window. It was already getting late. She thought about it and then turned to look at her friends once more. “So what do you want to do?”

Sarah stepped forward and the other two could immediately tell the girl already had a plan. “We have to assume nothing is going to be done. We’ll know for sure by the time it gets dark if we place ourselves somewhere near the forest’s edge,” she hesitated. “I think we have to be prepared to go in.”

“Just the three of us?” Gwen said, nervously.

Sarah shook her head. “We can’t go without Anna; she’s the only one who knows how to get to the lair and we can’t enlist others without Gabriel finding out. But if we decide to go, we’ll need our doors and brooms.”

TJ looked at Gwen. “Our brooms are in’r our room… where’r your doors?”

“Slalom Stadium,” Sarah told them. “I’ll have to go there myself and get them out of the locker.”

Gwen heaved reluctantly. She knew Sarah was right. If Anna didn’t get what she needed from the Captain, she would head into the forest on her own.

“Fine… so let’s get them and then wait to see if the Chancellor or the Guards are going to do something. If we don’t hear anything by the time it gets dark… then I guess it’s up to us. We’ll meet at the edge of the forest near the stables,” Gwen suggested, “and wait for Anna there.”

Sarah suddenly looked concerned for her friends. “What about Gabriel? You’re supposed to be locking me in my room, remember? You two are going to be in a lot of trouble for disobeying a Knight. Even if we don’t go into the forest tonight, you might be suspended.”

TJ rolled her eyes. “Unless our luck changes, we’ll be headin’ into the Shadowed Forest after dark to start’a fight with god knows how many bushwhackin’ poachers for pilfer’in eggs from a bunch of angry dragons. And if we’re somehow able to get the eggs back, the dragons will most likely kill us for taking them in the first place.” The Texan shook her head. “Upsettin’ Gabriel Laroche outta’be the last worry on our minds.”

FOUR

“Thank you for coming down on such short notice, Miss Laroche,” Dunning told Gabriel.

“Lieutenant Dunning… why is Anna Grayson locked in the dungeons again?”

Dunning leaned back in his chair to cradle the back of his head in his hands. “For her own safety.”

“For her…? What does that mean?”

“Miss Grayson has somehow convinced herself that the smugglers we’ve been hunting are planning a raid on the nests of Knowtor tonight.”

“That’s what I heard too. And, of course, you don’t believe her.”

Dunning only smiled back at her.

“But she already told Captain Hayman what she heard in the dungeons. What the other smugglers were planning before the students left Spellsburg?”

The Lieutenant smirked. “Assuming she didn’t just dream what she claimed she heard from her cell on the other side of the dungeon, there’s no way a person, even a so called Guardian, could hear anybody talking from that far away. The prisoners would have had to be nearly shouting for her to hear what she claims they said… and then my guards outside in the corridor would have heard them too.”

He shrugged. “And even if she did hear something, I wouldn’t risk my men for three minutes, never mind three days, in the Shadowed Forest for a bunch of dragon eggs; that would be suicide.”

“So you’re going to do nothing.”

“Given the evidence to support her story… how could I do more? How could anybody?”

“So why did she come down here again this morning? What else did she tell you?”

“I imagine the same thing she told you… that her roommate prophesized the smugglers intrusion tonight.” The lieutenant smiled as if the whole idea was a joke.

Gabriel remained stoic. “I spoke with Sarah Bell about this and she claims she’s been confirmed as a rare Seer.”

Dunning laughed out loud.

“Seers do exist, Lieutenant.”

“Do they?”

“Yes… they do… there is a Professor Trelawney that teaches…”

“The subject of Divination at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry,” Dunning said, cutting across her.

Gabriel frowned. “Do you know Trelawney?”

“I know she was recently sacked from her post at the school by its new Headmistress, Professor Umbridge.” The lieutenant smiled again. “It’s said she was released because she was a fraud.”

Gabriel fell back in her chair, looking defeated.

“But none of this really matters anyway… because that’s not the real reason Miss Grayson is sitting in my dungeon.”

“Alright… so tell me why?”

Dunning leaned in, his expression set. “Because… she told me that if the Crimson Guard refused to act upon this misguided belief the smugglers were on the move tonight,” the man slowly fell back, “then she would do so herself.”

The Guardian Knight’s eyes widened in surprise.

“Gabriel… I should have locked her up just for insinuating this kind of suicidal stupidity, but the reason I was forced to do it in the end was to protect the men that would be forced to go into that forest looking for her. I don’t care if her roommate is a seer, a prophetess, an oracle, or the progeny of Merlin himself… Anna Grayson will not be allowed to go anywhere near that forest.”

Gabriel slowly got to her feet and turned to stare out the window.

After a long moment of silence Dunning spoke again. “You know… I was very pleased when I found out you were chosen to replace Eric Grayson as the Guardian Knight.”

Gabriel turned to look back at him.

“I’ve always considered you to be much more… pragmatic when it comes to making the right decisions for our students.” He stood. “I offer you this: I’ll leave the decision to you. What would you suggest we do with Anna Grayson tonight?”

Gabriel thought about it and then walked over to the door. She opened it and then looked back. “Keep her in her cell tonight.”

FIVE

Anna sat alone in her dungeon cell, angry enough to chew through the metal bars holding her prisoner. She could feel the Lethifold stirring within her bones in response to the building rage, as the voices of magic within the stones surrounding her tried to sooth her worried mind. They were singing to bring her comfort, but it was no use. As the minutes passed, Anna’s wrath was only amplified. She looked up at the bars fixed in the window and watched the setting sun beyond.

“If you think your bars will hold me in, Dunning, you’re sadly mistaken,” she growled knowingly.

She closed her eyes and tried to visualize the smugglers sneaking onto the cliffs and then stealing the eggs from any unguarded nests. The very thought of it caused droplets of black to fall from her face and into her hands.

“Not yet…” she whispered. “We’ll go very soon… but not yet.

The sound of flapping wings turned Anna’s attention to the window where she saw a pair orange eyes peering through the bars.

“Hobbs?” Anna ran to the window. “What are you doing here?”

The tiny owl hooted dotingly at her before slipping easily through the bars to nip at her fingers.

“Oh Hobbs… I’m in trouble again,” she whispered, as she carefully lowered him down.

The owl turned his head upside down to stare at her appraisingly before raising his foot. He clicked his beak and hooted.

“A message? But who would send me a message in here. For that matter… who even knows I’m in the dungeon?” She slipped the piece of parchment off his leg and unrolled the message.

Anna,

If you decide we have to go, then the Artisan and Texas are coming with us. I’ll be waiting at your locker at dusk. Sincerely, #50.

Anna smiled. “Sarah, Gwen and TJ… thank God.”

The metal latch to the room outside her cell unexpected sounded and the door was pulled open.

“Go!” Anna yelped at Hobbs… heaving him toward the window again.

“Stop that owl!” Dunning hollered, but it was too late. Hobbs was already gone.

Dunning pulled out his wand and pointed it at Anna. “Don’t you move a muscle, Grayson, or I’ll stun you where you stand.” He spied the parchment in her hand. “I want that message. Hand it over — now!”

Anna smirked and then raised the parchment toward him. “You mean this message?” she replied casually.

The lieutenant bore into her stare where he saw a spark.

“No!” he yelled, but once again he was too late. The parchment in Anna’s hand burst into purple flames.

Dunning lowered his wand and sighed. “You really are incorrigible, you know that? More so than any other student I’ve ever met in my life.”

Anna wrapped her body within her robs and smiled. “Well… it’s probably easy for somebody like you to recognize, Dunning. Remember it was Rousseau who said: ‘People are impossible in their youth; but they become incorrigible as they grow older.’” Anna turned to the side to peer over her should at him. “How old are you, Lieutenant?”

One of the Crimson Guards started to chuckle at the joke until Dunning’s glare froze him.

Dunning thought for a moment and then answered, “In an air of incorrigible innocence, there is always concealed a diabolical cunning.”

Anna forced herself to smile back. “Oh… I’m very impressed. Who knew a man like you would appreciate the classical poets. However, my brother Eric told me that Housman was talking about every American when he wrote that ditty,” Anna sat down on the bench and shrugged, “including you.”

“Just so you know… I’ll be stationing three guards in this room with you all night and two others will be outside your window.” He stepped up to the bars and rattled the steel door. “I know you have some skill at breaking into and out of locked rooms undetected… thus… you’ll understand the extra precautions.” Anna watched in amusement as the guards behind Dunning looked curiously at each other.

Dunning turned to them. “Did you take her wand?”

“We searched her, but she didn’t have a wand on her person,” the guard answered him.

Dunning inspected the bars again and then smiled down at her. “You will be released in the morning, Grayson. It’s for your own good.”

The lieutenant turned. “I’m locking this door from the outside,” he told the guards. “The three of you will stand guard in here until morning.”

“Yes, sir.”

Dunning left the room and slammed the metal door behind him. “And no sleeping!”


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