Anna’s vision cleared and she found herself staring down at the body of a very large dragon splayed grotesquely over a number of broken trees. The head of the creature was twisted backward and its mouth lay open as hundreds of flies were already at work in the burnt remains of her tongue. The morning sun began to rise over the Shadowed Forest and with tears in her eyes Anna looked up to see dozens of holes torn open in the canopy above her and several mounds of rotting flesh lying randomly in the woods surrounding her. Yes, a terrible battle had been fought in this place. A battle in which the Guardians did participate... “And now look at the results,” Anna moaned.
She turned when she heard a number of soft growls behind her and she could see several skunk-like tails in a circle, feeding on the remains of yet another dragon lying torn open and broken. Its insides were poured out in a wide circle of blood and entrails over the underbrush while the horned, cat-like creatures snarled and fought with one another to take their portion. Anna felt sick; the creatures would feast here for months.
The creatures suddenly stopped their fighting to look up at her; their yellow eyes seemed to glow within the remaining shadows all around them. They bared their teeth at her and then dropped their tails as they slowly began to back away. Anna frowned and then noticed the creatures were not looking at her at all, but at something behind her. The Guardian could suddenly hear the distinct sound of hissing at her back. Her eyes widened and she slowly turned to find the Dark Lord standing over her with his wand pointed at her forehead. His lips curled wickedly.
“You have sided against me in battle, Guardian. You will not be forgiven for your lack of vision.”
Voldemort pressed the tip of his wand into her forehead and yelled, “Avada Kedavra!”
There was a flash of green light and Anna screamed as she bolted upright in her bed.
Doctor Pearl immediately swooped in. “Oh my goodness, Anna,” she said, as Anna sat there gasping hard. “God preserve them. Must they all wake up this way?” Pearl added, concernedly. She sat down on the bed and wrapped her arms around Anna’s shoulders.
“There-there, now. You’re all right, dearie. It was just a bad dream, is all.” She began rocking Anna in her arms. “You’re among your friends now and your family too; there-there. Try and calm yourself.”
Anna was looking over the doctor’s shoulder and her eyes immediately focused on a painting on the wall behind her. It was the familiar portrait of galloping horses. Anna closed her eyes again and hugged the woman back as she began to sob.
“There-there, Anna, you’re all right,” the woman continued, tenderly.
“Hospital floor again?” Anna asked her through her shudders.
Pearl gripped her tighter. “I’m afraid so, my dear.” The healer finally pushed her back to look at her face. “We simply must find a way to keep you off of my floor, but I’m afraid all of my efforts to do so have failed us.”
Anna tried to smile. She truly loved Margaret Pearl. Suddenly, Anna’s mind was racing.
“Oh my God — the others — Gwen and Sarah, TJ and John Dell? Where are they? Are they…?”
Pearl smiled and held up a hand to halt her. “They’re fine… not to worry. You see?” She directed Anna’s attention to her left and when she turned, they were all there in the beds next to her. Sarah was on her back sleeping while her parents sat beside her on the bed. Gwen and TJ were on her other side sitting upright against a stack of pillows, looking bruised and tired but alive. Except for lingering pain in her stomach, Anna felt relieved.
“How you feeling, Anna?” Anna looked up and found Tencha and Dowla standing there.
“Okay, I guess.” She looked to the side and found Gwen smiling back at her.
“Yeah… I’m good. You sure you’re alright?”
Anna smirked back at her friend. “I guess it’ll be a long time before any of us are really alright again.”
Anna looked at TJ, “Tanya Joe?”
TJ shrugged. “Feel like I been chewed up, spit out, and stepped on,” she whispered under her breath, looking scathingly up at the three Crimson Guards standing by her feet. They were all leering and shaking their head condescendingly. TJ winced as she tried to adjust her position, “but I’m still breathin’.”
Anna nodded and then looked to the other side of the room to find John Dell snoring softly in another bed. His enormous feet were protruding over the end of the bed on a table.
“Doctor Pearl, I specifically told you not to allow these three to speak to each other.”
Anna saw Lieutenant Dunning entering the hospital floor.
Dunning stopped to stand between Anna and Sarah’s bed. “I won’t have these prisoners conspiring with one another before I’ve finished my investigation.”
“And I told you, Lieutenant, that I will not allow my hospital floor to be turned into an interrogation chamber,” Pearl fired back.
“Prisoners!” Anna retorted, looking angrily at Pearl. “What the heck is he talking about?”
“Dunning doesn’t believe our story about You-Know-Who being in the Shadowed Forest last night,” Gwen replied quickly. “It might not look like it, but he’s put us all under arrest.”
Dunning pointed an angry finger at Gwen. “Not another word out of you or I’ll have you moved to the dungeons right now.” He quickly looked at Pearl whose face had already turned a fierce shade of puce. “And don’t worry, doctor, for your sake I’ll be sure to send the bed along with her!” He then turned on Anna.
“And technically speaking, you have been my prisoner since last night. That little stunt you pulled to break out of the dungeons is an offense punishable by expulsion aside from what you did in the Shadowed Forest!”
“The dungeons?” Tencha came forward quickly. “Anna… you were in the dungeons again last night?”
“I don’t give a damn what you believe,” Anna fired back. “We were all there. We know what happened!”
“Oh… don’t even try to add to the fabrications your friends have already conjured,” Dunning continued. “Death Eaters in the Shadowed forest, of all places; oh… and the best lie of all — a battle to the death between the Guardians of Castlewood and You-Know-Who himself!”
“My daddy never raised no liars, sir,” TJ shot back.
Anna was furious. “Don’t waste your breath, TJ. Even if Voldemort was standing right here with a wand to Dunning’s head — he’d still call you a liar.”
“This is ridiculous,” Gwen added. “If we’re lying, then how do you explain what happened last night?”
“Simple enough,” Dunning replied crossly. “It would seem your little band decided to take the law into their own hands last night by trying to capture a number of wizards looking to steal more dragon eggs out of the forest. And when you found yourselves outmatched and running for your lives… you concocted his fairy tale to cover your actions. It’s a wonder none of you were killed out of your own stupidity. The initial reports coming back from the scene are telling us that a number of dragons are dead in the forest because of your interference. While any wizard has the right to protect themselves from an attacking dragon, those creatures are still protected while in the Shadowed Forest. You are arrested for taking unnecessary actions on your own that led directly to the destruction of a protected species.”
“We went in there to protect the Lair from the poachers because the Crimson Guard wouldn’t listen to us or act to do anything about it. And we didn’t kill those dragons. In fact, the dragons were trying to save us from Voldemort!” Anna yelled back.
Dunning pointed down at her. “You will not recite your half-baked, scripted story to your conspirators. Nobody is going to believe He-Who-Will-No-Be-Named is back. I’m only surprised you had the audacity to think we would believe these lies!”
“She’s not lying,” said a woman’s voice behind them and everyone turned to look around. They were shocked to see the Minister of Magic walking through the open doorway.
“Minister Barkelnap,” Dunning said in surprise. “Ma’am, I was not informed you were in the castle today.” Thordarson stepped into the room behind the Minister along with Professor Qwaad and Captain Hayman. The Minister was wearing traveling clothes and the Chancellor a stunning set of blue robes with gold trim and his customary black spectacles.
“Chancellor… I should have been informed about the Minister’s arrival,” Dunning sputtered. “Had I known, I would have arranged a proper escort inside the grounds.”
“Shut it, Dunning,” the Minister fired back harshly. She quickly came forward to stop on the side of Anna’s bed. She looked down at her with an expression reminiscent of reevaluation. “Anna is telling the truth,” she concluded. “He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named… has returned.” There was a gasp of sudden disbelief from everyone in the room.
“There were several eyewitnesses to this fact in London last night when he and a number of captured Death Eaters tried to break into the Ministry of Magic.” Dunning suddenly looked incredulous as the Minister added, “Including the Minister of England, several Aurors and… Albus Dumbledore.”
Dunning looked as if he had lost the ability to speak. Finally he leaned in, “Minister… surely not. It must be a mistake.”
“I just spoke with Cornelius Fudge through the Flu Network in the Chancellor’s office.” She stiffened and took a deep breath. “It’s true… he’s back. There will be an official announcement out of London within the hour.”
Dunning tried to whisper, “Minister… there’s no possible way that…”
“DON’T… try to explain away the facts already confirmed with your ridiculous stubbornness Gregory. We were wrong!” The Minister looked down at Anna again and swallowed hard. “God forgive me… I was wrong,” she whispered.
“But… even if it’s true, that doesn’t mean He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named was able to breach the spells protecting the plateau here last night. The account these girls have given of their actions and the events within the Shadowed Forest are epic in the level of their audacity.”
“Epic though they may be, the Guardians are telling the truth about that as well.” Thordarson added solemnly. “Soon after the battle commenced near the Dragon’s Lair, three Death Eaters broke into my office and tried to kill me.”
The Chancellor looked back at the men standing behind him and added, “Fortunately for me, Captain Hayman and Professor Qwaad were in conference with me after my return from the Ministry and helped to subdue the men.”
“Helped you?” Qwaad snorted back. “The men were already down by your wand before the two of us were out of our chairs.”
“Death Eaters in the castle?” Dunning sputtered, disbelievingly. “Why wasn’t I informed?”
“I’m afraid that was my fault,” Thordarson replied. “You see, I felt it vital to find out everything I could from the intruders, including why they had come and how they had managed to break the security spells that have protected this plateau for more than two centuries. It didn’t take much persuasion on our part to get them to tell us about the Dark Lord’s presence in the Shadowed Forest, his interests in Anna Grayson, and his orders to kill me here at the castle.
“It was a diabolic plan that started with a summons I received to participate in an emergency Board of Trustees meeting at the Ministry. That summons was false. In addition, the Captain of the Crimson Guard also received an emergency summons about a family emergency at home. That message was also false. Obviously, this was done to insure Voldemort’s arrival on the plateau remained undiscovered. The Captain and I had just returned to Castlewood when the Death Eaters attacked me in my office.
“Afterward, I sent a message asking you to lock down the castle, Captain Hayman and I alerted the staff and contacted Lieutenant Mantos in the city who immediately mustered the Guard. Thankfully, the ogre Trog showed up at the castle with the injured Miss Bell and confirmed a battle had taken place in the forest near the Dragon’s Lair and that Voldemort and his remaining Death Eaters had already fled.”
Captain Hayman stepped forward. “Trog guided Lieutenant Mantos and his Guards back into the forest and to the site of the battle. They captured eight surviving poachers and two Death Eaters were found dead in their masks. It looks like one was done in by a killing curse.”
“Voldemort killed him for disobeying an order,” Anna added.
“Do not say that name, Anna,” Dowla warned her. Her sister suddenly looked terrified. “If what they say is true, not saying his name is more important now more than ever,” she added, warningly.
Anna looked at Hayman. “Only eight poachers were captured?”
Hayman nodded. “Yes… were there more?”
Anna looked at the other Guardians. “Yeah… at least twenty five; I guess the forest took the rest.”
The room was stunned into silence as the captain continued. “At last count, as least twenty dragons were killed,” Hayman continued, “probably several more were also injured, but we dare not approach the lair now to confirm these assumptions. That would be suicide.”
Hayman stepped in to face Dunning directly. “Gregory… the Guards also found the body of Arief Sugianto at the site of the battle. He was also finished by a killing curse.”
Dunning’s eyes widened with shock. “Sugianto? But he was killed last year at Drogo!” he said, looking over at the Minister.
“It’s interesting that you would remember that fact, Gregory,” Thordarson said knowingly. He looked over at the minister. “It would seem we have failed in our responsibility on a number of other fronts as well.”
Anna frowned. Thordarson was referring to the fact that Dunning was supposed to have had his memory of Drogo erased by the Ministry when he was demoted from the Captaincy. Of course Thordarson already knew that the Minister had sent Professor Qwaad to alter Dunning’s memory, but was privately put under orders not to do so. What the Minister didn’t know was that Qwaad was also a member of the Order of the Phoenix and was reporting the Minister’s motives to the Chancellor directly.
Tencha leaned over to Dowla and whispered, “Who the hell is Sugianto?”
“It would seem we all were fooled about Sugianto’s death,” Hayman continued. “Upon finding his body in the Shadowed Forest, I sent an urgent message to Drogo. The guards there were ordered to exhume the body found in the dungeons last year from the prison cemetery and check it for any residual spells that might have hidden his true identity. I just received this reply from the prison fifteen minutes ago.” The captain handed Dunning a bit of parchment.
Dunning took the note and read through it quickly. “The body has been confirmed to be that of Reginald Carter. The transfiguration spells used to hide his true identity were no longer in place after the body was recovered.” Dunning was amazed, but still looked skeptical.
Hayman took the letter back. “The spells on the body probably ended last night after Sugianto was killed and while Carter was still in ground.
“There were also several objects found on Sugianto’s body directly linking him to the murders of Michael Wendell, Sidney Heidelbach and Chace Scroggs. It was Sugianto who killed them.”
Dunning’s jaw dropped, the news of so many important details was overwhelming his ability to reply. He finally looked at the Minister and said, “Sugianto was always one for collecting trophies,” he whispered.
The Minister sneered. “Gentlemen… I would like a private word with Anna, if you please. Could I ask you all to step back?” She looked at Pearl and made an effort to sound a little less imposing. “With your permission, of course, doctor.”
Pearl was still displaying a look of revulsion at the news of Voldemort’s return before looking up at the Minister in surprise. “Why… yes, of course.” She stepped forward to hand Anna a vial of silver liquid. “This should help with your recovery.”
“I’ll make sure she takes it, doctor,” the Minister replied, reaching out to take the vial from her.
“Very well, Minister, within the next ten minutes, if you please.”
The Minister nodded and then looked over to Sarah Bell’s parents sitting on the adjoining bed. They looked uneasy.
“Please… stay with your Sarah,” the Minister said kindly. “I wouldn’t dream of asking you to leave your daughter’s side, especially after she’s displayed so much courage and strength for our sake. Your daughter is a hero to us all.”
Mr. Bell stiffened and then looked down at his unconscious daughter with blooming pride while Mrs. Bell lifted a handkerchief to daub at her eyes. “Thank you, Minister,” she mumbled back.
The Minister nodded and then turned to face Anna again. She raised her wand, gave it a quick flick, and a frosted curtain began to rise from the floor around Anna’s bed.
“There now… our privacy is assured,” the Minister added.
Anna looked toward the bed where Sarah was lying on the other side of the curtain. “Thank you for telling Mr. and Mrs. Bell that Sarah was a hero.” She looked back up at the Minister again. “It’s true, you know. She was so brave. She saved my life. So did Gwen.”
The Minister smiled and then sat down next to her. “They were not the only ones who showed courage last night.” The woman studied Anna and then asked, “How are you feeling?”
Anna looked skeptical that the Minister would really care, but she laid back and took a quick inventory anyway. “I’m all right, I guess. My stomach really hurts, but other than that…” she shrugged and gave a wince. Once again… alarms bells began smashing into Anna’s ribs. The Guardian could smell the scent of Vipertooth eggs on the woman, as she prepared herself again for another round of Legilimency.
“Anna… it would seem… that I owe you an apology,” the woman began. “You tried to tell me last summer he was back, but I wouldn’t listen.”
Anna was surprised and she could hear the woman’s heartbeat remained steady. She was being truthful. “Minister… I…” Anna was trying to find a way to respond, but the Minister raised a hand to stop her.
“Please… let me get it out first. It’s not in my bones to admit a mistake.” She lowered her head in obvious sorrow. “Especially… a mistake that has costs the lives of so many others because of my mulishness.” She peered up at Anna again. “Cornelius Fudge was so insistent that it was all just a ruse by Dumbledore.” She shook her head and looked to the side. “The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness, and the end of his talk is evil madness,” she mumbled.
The woman noticed Anna frowning at her. “Ecclesiastes chapter ten; the quote is supposed to remind us how foolish words can be.” She heaved. “All the more reason I should have known,” the woman added, before dipping her head again. “I’ve been such a fool.”
“Minister… I don’t think any of us wanted to believe it could be true, least of all me or my father, but now you have a chance to warn everybody. They need to know the truth so they can protect themselves from him.”
“No… I can’t, Anna,” the Minister replied stoically. “It’s no longer my place.”
Anna frowned. “Not your place? But you’re the Minister of Magic! Of course it should be you.”
“No… you don’t understand: I’m no longer the Minister of Magic.”
Anna was stunned. “What?”
“I have resigned my post…” she hesitated again, “for my failures in office.”
Anna couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
The Minister grinned. “Don’t look so surprised. Despite what you might think of me personally, I do carry a strict code of honor handed down through the generations by our family. The wizarding world needs new leadership right now, the kind of governance unhampered by questions regarding my mistakes. I told Cornelius that he should do the same.”
Anna shook her head in disbelief. “And… will England’s Minister resign as well?”
The woman rolled her eyes. “I doubt it. Fudge is much more stubborn and I. No… I’m afraid he’ll wait right up to the moment they move to throw him out.”
There was a pause as Anna tried to internalize what had passed between them. The Minister smiled down at her.
“I meant what I said to Sarah’s parents. What all of you did in the Shadowed Forest last night was truly valiant and it proved to me that I should have been supporting the Guardians all along.”
Anna stared at her. “Thank you, Minister. I really appreciate you’re saying that.”
“Oh it’s more than just words, Anna. In fact, in my final act as Minister, I have ordered the Ministry to make a formal appeal to the Guardians of Castlewood to name a permanent protector to the Dragon’s Lair. Given what the four of you did last night in facing He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named for the Lair’s sake, the Ministry eagerly agreed and is drafting the request as we speak.”
“Oh my God,” Anna replied excitedly, “that’s… so wonderful!”
“They are, however, unsure to whom they should send this request. Although you were the first Guardian, you are still under age and should be absorbed in your studies; you can’t be bothered with such appeals.”
Anna thought. “You could send the request to my brother, Eric. He’s still a Guardian and in communication with those who have already left the school.”
The Minister nodded. “I saw him and your brother Damon in the passageway downstairs. I think they were heading to the docks to meet your father when he arrives. I’ll tell Eric to expect an owl from the Ministry before the end of the day.”
Anna surveyed the woman. To say the Minister had been completely humbled and humiliated by the news of Voldemort’s return would not be an exaggeration, but to set aside the most powerful office in the Ministry for the sake of public confidence was astounding to her. Perhaps, Anna thought, she had misjudged Helawena Barkelnap after all.
“Thank you, Minister. Thank you for working with us to protect the Lair.”
The woman leaned back and sighed. “Anna… I know we’ve had our differences and arguments in the past about the purpose and the future of the Guardians, about You-Know-Who’s return… and so many other things that I can’t even remember now, but I do hope we can leave those differences behind us. You told me… I was no longer a member of your family. I will admit to you now, at the time, those words truly hurt me. I’ve known the Graysons for a very long time, probably longer than any other family in the entire wizarding world. But whether you like it or not, you are just as much a member of my family as you are the Graysons and I pray that someday you will come to value that fact.”
Anna looked down into her blankets and then up into the woman’s eyes again. The Guardian could sense the Minister’s heart quicken as she waited for her reply. Anna thought about it again and then finally she said, “Minister… I regret saying those things to you and I have no excuses for doing so but to admit that… at the time… I was just… so angry.”
The Minister thought about it and then nodded. “You will find that the Jennings’ family is without equal when it comes to the levels of rage we can bring to bear. The truth is my sister and your mother both had what some might call a terrible temper. Given this reality… you were bound to this legacy before the day you were born in as much as any other woman in our family.” The Minister sighed, “Including me.”
There was another uneasy pause between the two of them as Anna tried to reflect. She knew her own temper was easily enflamed when provoked, especially if it was Damon doing the goading, and she had seen the Minister’s fury first hand as well. Still, nothing could compare to what she had seen in her mother while in Drogo and then again in the Shadowed Forest. While Anna always thought of her mother and the Dark Lord’s servant as two completely different individuals trapped within the same body, it was probably more accurate to say the two personalities were a blend of the two extremes at opposing ends. The wrath and anger displayed by the servant had been horrible to witness, but some of that was probably within her mother as well, and if true, what would that say about her daughter?
“The reports coming back from the Shadowed Forest are telling us that the magic in and around the scene of the battle is now nonexistent in a five mile radius,” the Minister told her, unexpectedly changing the subject. “Can you tell me what happened to have caused such a thing?”
Anna looked uneasy. “I really don’t know how it happened. I remember praying for the battle to end and for the killing to stop.” She shook her head angrily. “I wanted the magic being used to kill the dragons to stop.” She took a deep breath. “And then… I started to feel all the magic within the forest suddenly…” she halted again, trying to think. How could she possibly explain what had happened?
“Yes? Suddenly… what?”
“I can only describe it to say that it felt like it was flowing into me… and when it became too much to hold, it suddenly left me all at once. It was like…” she looked up at the Minister again, “the blast of a furnace, only in reverse. I really don’t know any other way to explain it.”
“Anna… would you say the magic gathered within you was destroyed or… for the lack of a better way to describe it… just displaced.”
It was still difficult for Anna to believe she had been the cause of what had happened. “Not just displaced,” she finally surmised, “sacrificed to stop what was happening there.” She peered up at the Minister again. “So… magic still isn’t working there?” She suddenly leaned forward and became fearful. “But it’s still working everywhere else, right?” She looked around at the dome of concealment all around them.
The woman shook her head. “Only the area of the battle was affected. Lieutenant Mantos was at a loss to describe it in any meaningful way other to call it a magical dead zone in the middle of the forest. Even the guards trying to fly over the area on their doors quickly found themselves falling out of the sky.” She paused meaningfully and then she added, “It would seem this dead zone also includes the Cliffs of Knowtor as well.”
Anna was suddenly filled with terror. “But… what about the dragons? Are they alright?”
“The dragons don’t seem to be having any problems at the moment. While they are highly magical creatures, most of their abilities, like flying and breathing fire for their nests, are not magical at all. We forced, by Veritaserum, some of the surviving poachers to show us the way to the Lair, and the spies we’ve sent in have told us the dragons seem to be caring for their young completely unaware of the changes to the environment around them.” The Minister smiled. “In fact, I should think their future safety is more certain now than ever. After all… what wizard would be foolish enough to enter the nesting grounds now without magic to protect them?”
The Minister’s smile slowly fell. It was as if she had suddenly remembered the most important reason for their conversation.
“Anna… could I ask you something else about last night? I know you’re tired, but this is very important to me personally.”
Anna could see the woman looked worried, but she tried to be agreeable. “I really don’t know that I’ll ever understand everything that happened… but I’ll help in any way I can, of course,” she answered back.
The woman’s lips pursed. “Is it true what your friends have privately told the Chancellor… that you saw your mother last night?” She fell back, but her eyes remained focused and eager with anticipation. “Did you see Victoria?”
Anna took a deep breath and nodded. “Yes, ma’am, I did. When You-Know-Who realized his wand wasn’t working, he commanded my mother to…” she suddenly hesitated, unable to finish her thought.
“He commanded Victoria to kill you,” the Minister finished solemnly, and Anna slowly nodded. “And… can you tell me what stopped her from doing so?”
Anna was already struggling to control the tears burning her eyes. “The thing the Dark Lord commanded to kill me was not my mother,” Anna finally said. “She was…” she hesitated again.
“The Dark Lord’s servant — yes, I understand that, but again… how did you stop her?”
Anna stopped to think. “I believe the absence of magic was the reason we all survived. My mother has this way of… well… she kind of… hypnotizes those she comes into contact.” She looked at the Minister again. “But it wasn’t working last night.”
The Minister seemed agreeable to this and nodded. “It is well known that on rare occasions, some vampires do have this ability,” the Minister replied, unsurprised.
“But she was also very slow.” Anna was choosing her words carefully. She didn’t want to give away the fact she had already seen her mother’s incredible speed within Drogo prison. “Eric told us in our Care of Magical Creatures Class that vampires can be much faster than humans, but last night there were times when I thought Victoria seemed surprised by her sudden lack of abilities.” She stared at the Minister again. “But that’s not why she didn’t try and kill us.”
The Minister swallowed hard and leaned in expectantly.
Anna took a deep breath. “I tried calling to her.” She could immediately see the Minister’s brow furrow, so she tried to explain. “I tried to look past the servant and reach out to my mother directly. I kept telling her that I loved her and that Victoria Grayson was my mother. I kept saying it over and over. I kept repeating it again and again until finally I could see it was having an effect on the other one. It was like the Death Eater was having difficulties holding back my mother’s will to come forth, so I kept repeating it over and over again — that loved her; I kept saying my name and that I was Victoria Grayson’s daughter and that… I loved her.”
Anna finally smiled at the Minister. “And that’s when it happened. My mother… she finally came to me right there in the forest.”
The Minister’s face went slack with surprise. “Impossible,” she whispered.
“No-No, it’s true. I swear it. Victoria Grayson… she came to me. It was a struggle for her to keep the servant of He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named down once she had been awakened, but it was her… and she spoke to me.” Anna’s tears were burning her eyes again.
The Minister leaned forward and calmly reached out to hold Anna’s shoulders. “Tell me exactly what she said, Anna. It’s vital that you tell me everything.”
“Well…” Anna sniffed, “she said… the servant was very strong and that she could feel her wanting to take control again. She said she could only keep her away for a few hours… no more than a day at the most.” The woman’s eyes widened in surprise.
“I tried to tell her… that she was stronger than the servant… that she had just proven it. She had stopped the other from killing us and was speaking to me.” Anna started to sob. “But she said… that I was the stronger one, and that He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named had put a curse on her that weakened her against the servant.”
The woman’s mouth dropped. “She said that?” Her grip on Anna’s shoulders suddenly tightened. “DID SHE REALLY SAY THAT, ANNA?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Anna was surprised at the woman’s surprise. “That’s exactly what she said.”
The Minister wanted to be sure. “She said the Dark Lord cursed her in a way that made her weaker against his servant?” the woman asked her again.
Anna was suddenly confused, but she quickly nodded.
The Minister finally released Anna and put a hand to her mouth in disbelief. “He’s still controlling her,” she whispered
Anna frowned. “Yes… but didn’t we already know that?”
The woman quickly stood. She began nervously wringing her hands as she thought. “He’s controlling her with spells and enchantments, in a way to strengthen the Death Eater within.” The woman suddenly lifted her head to look up and smiled gratefully. “Dear God… there’s still hope.”
The woman looked down and could see Anna’s confusion. Her eyes flashed as she sat back down next to her. “This is better than I would have ever hoped possible, Anna. Don’t you see?”
Anna still looked muddled. “See what? I don’t understand, Minister. What’s better?”
The woman quickly blessed herself and then looked at her again. “You said after magic had been expelled from the site of the battle — that Victoria seemed weakened by that fact. She was slower, you said.”
“And then, with your help, your mother was able to come forward despite all the efforts by his servant to keep her under control.”
Anna nodded again, but she was still confused.
“Don’t you see, Anna? It’s magic that’s keeping her from being herself, not the Dark Lord’s previous tortures or the other personality within caused by them. He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named has reinforced his servant with the necessary spells and enchantments that put Victoria at a disadvantage. But in the forest last night, after the magic in the area had been set aside, Victoria was able to take control again. Her will was stronger when she heard her daughter calling out to her.”
“Yes… I suppose that’s true. So…?”
“So all we have to do is remove the magic that enforces her weakness against the servant and Victoria should come back to us. She should have the strength then to push the other aside, or at the very least allow the healers to finally help her.”
“But how can we remove the magic enslaving her to the other… I can’t remove all the magic she ever comes into contact. How would that be possible?”
“No-No, Anna. You don’t understand. We don’t have to remove the magic itself… only the man who cast the spells!”
Anna frowned and then thought. She looked up again. “You mean Voldemort?”
“Don’t say that name,” the woman said quickly, beaming with joy. “Yes… if we remove him then his spells would naturally be lifted against Victoria. It’s not a cure for her vampirism, but that shouldn’t stop her from living a normal life again with her family. Many vampires do after the bloodlust transformation.”
Anna sat up quickly. “Do you really think it’s possible? We might be able to save her then?”
“I think so. In fact…I’m sure of it!” The woman suddenly reached out and hugged Anna. “Thank you, child… you have restored my faith in so many possibilities. Thank you so much for this.”
Anna was sobbing on the Minister’s shoulder. “She also said… that she loved me,” Anna moaned gratefully. She could feel the woman’s embrace tighten.
“I’m sure she does, Anna. While Victoria’s temper was infamous, she also had a great capacity for love and she proved that again last night when she came to you.”
After a long while the two finally separated and wiped their eyes.
“So what do we do now, Minister?”
The woman sniffed and then quickly leaned in again, “It’s rather obvious, isn’t it?” she whispered back. She smiled evilly “We going to kill the son of a bitch!” She winked at her and then handed her the vial of silver liquid.
“You’d better take this. I’ve known Margret Pearl long enough to recognize the disadvantages of getting on her bad side.” Anna quickly downed the vial as the Minister stood and raised her wand to drop the curtain of silence around them.
Still smiling, the woman stopped to look down.
“Thank you, Minister. Only you can know what it would mean to me and my father to finally find some hope that someday she might return to us.”
The woman lowered her wand. “Returned to all of us; besides you and my husband, Victoria is the only family I have left.” She thought for a moment.
“And by the way… I would like the formalities between the two of us to end if you are agreeable. All this ‘ma’am’ and ‘Minister’ stuff… I think it’s unfavorable to our relationship, and as I said before, you’re just as much a member of my family as you are your father’s. As such, it would please me greatly if you called me… Helen.”
Anna smiled doubtfully. “I don’t think that would be possible. My father… he insists on formality.”
The Minister sneered. “Yes… Boris is a something of a stickler when it comes to conventional correctness.” She looked down again. “I never cared much for that in him.” She smiled once more and then kissed her on the top of the head. “Well… how about ‘Aunt Helen’ then? Do you think that would calm is conventions?”
Anna grinned and nodded. “Aunt Helen… I like it.”
The Minister raised her wand again to give it a quick flick, and as the certain around them began to slowly fall, she added, “Certainly better than ‘Aunt Helawena’. Gracious me… what was my father thinking?”