Eric and Anna were walking alone through the woods on Grayson Hill. It seemed to the both of them the world around them had become unnaturally quiet given everything that had happened over the last few days. Anna felt tired and very frustrated. Edith Porchdow had been helping her search for the vessel containing Leola Grayson from the moment she had come home without success and Anna could never remember feeling so weak. It was as if the fight with Voldemort had taken everything out of her body, but she was starting to suspect her new frailty had nothing to do with the Dark Lord. Anna was now sure her failing strength was because of her missing Ally.
Anna never understood why magic had sought to bring Leola to her, but from the very beginning it was clear there was something vastly important about the Sithmaith and the Ally being together in the fight to come. And now that the magical world knew Voldemort had returned, it would seem whatever their connection, the relationship between the first Guardian of Castlewood and her magical Ally was more critical now than ever before. More to the point, without Leola by her side… Anna found her body and mind declining at an extremely increasing rate.
Anna finally decided to break the silence around them. “Eric… do you believe all things happen for a reason?”
Eric frowned and looked down at his sister. He thought about it and answered, “Sometimes… yes, I think so. Why do you ask?”
Anna continued down the path for a while before she said, “I used to think so as well. I thought God always worked to bring good into the world, but these last few days have forced me to reconsider that.” She looked up at him. “I still have my faith… but I just don’t understand why we have to have tyrants in the world like Voldemort.” She heaved loudly. “Why did he have to come back?” Eric couldn’t seem to find an answer either.
They continued together again before she added, “For that matter… why did father become the Minister of Magic? Is this part of God’s plan too, because I have to say, Eric, just the thought of it terrifies me. You know his position is going to make him a target. Why did the Ministry select him?”
“Because our father was telling those he trusted in the Ministry all along that Voldemort was back. Although nobody wanted to believe him at the time, he was persuasive enough to force a few key directors to take some rudimentary precautions just in case it turned out he was right.”
Eric looked down at his sister again. “That being said… you know… they offered the job to Thordarson first.”
Anna stopped to look at him. “What? Then… why didn’t the Chancellor take the job?”
“Probably for the same reason Albus Dumbledore has always refused to become Minister in England. The two of them care more about the future of our wizarding children than they ever did for themselves.” Eric looked up into the high canopy to think again. “It was Thordarson who recommended our father for the Ministry position and it was Dumbledore who talked him into taking the job.”
Anna’s jaw dropped. “Why would they do that? I thought Thordarson and Dumbledore liked our family!”
“They do, Anna, they do, and they have a lot of respect for our father as well. But like our father, they also know the job of Minister is not all prestige and glamor… it’s a lot of hard work and even dangerous at a time like this. The fact is… they saw a man in our father who was obsessed with being prepared, who would be willing to fight Voldemort to the bitter end if that ever became necessary, and because… in the end… it probably will become necessary. It might not seem fair to us, the Grayson children, but if you set all of our fears aside for a moment and think about it… who would be better than our father to do what needs to be done?”
“Well — I still don’t like it!”
Eric smiled. “And I don’t like it either. In fact, I think the only one in the family who thinks the whole idea of our father becoming the Minister is probably Damon.”
Anna smirked. “The idiot.”
They continued again down the path, the both of them lost in their own thoughts; Anna, with her worries about their father, and Eric with his fears about Voldemort.
“That was some quick thinking on your part, by the way, to use the Jinx hex on the Minister’s secretary the way you did.”
Anna smiled up at her brother who was staring down the path in front of them.
“I guess putting the Jinx on the entire castle turned out to be a good thing after all,” he said with a smirk. “So you see? God sometimes does work in mysterious ways for the good, to be sure.” He looked down at her again as they walked. “You do realize, of course, it was Chancellor Thordarson who created the Jinx in the first place, right?”
Anna stopped again. “You’re kidding me?”
Eric smiled. “Nope. He told the staff that he was doing it as a way to keep the noise levels within the castle to something a little more tolerable this year.”
“So that’s why the teachers never moved to get rid of the thing, because it was the Chancellor’s doing all along!”
“And as it turned out… it probably saved Minister Barkelnap’s life,” Eric said with a wink. “Who would have guessed that something so innocent would have turned out to be so useful?”
“Innocent!” Anna shot back. “Why that stupid Jinxed hand was downright terrifying. There were kids in school that were having nightmares, and why not? A bloody, branded hand with a screaming mouth full of teeth? What was he thinking?”
Eric laughed… “Oh so you did notice the brand on the palm, did you? I would have thought that would have given you a clue about who conjured the Jinx in the first place.”
“Yeah… it said ‘CC’. What was that supposed to mean?”
Eric led her down the path again. “Why… the Chancellor of Castlewood, of course.”
After another length of time spent alone with their own thoughts, Anna felt Eric’s hand slip into hers as they walked.
“Are you okay?”
Anna looked up at her brother and smiled. “Um… sure; why do you ask?”
“Ever since we got home you seem very distracted.”
Anna smiled and then shrugged. “I don’t know… I haven’t really been sleeping all that well.”
Her brother frowned. “Given what you’ve been through, I guess that should be expected.”
Anna didn’t reply. Of course her sleepless nights should have been expected. After all, Voldemort was the very embodiment of a living nightmare.
“To tell you the truth, I haven’t had a good night’s sleep for months,” Eric added.
Anna frowned up at him. “For months? Why?”
He shrugged, but Anna could see her brother knew why.
“Tell me,” she said, caringly.
He continued their walk together down the path and Anna followed. Finally, he said, “I’ve been having the strangest dreams since Christmas.”
“Dreams? What kind of dreams?”
He looked at her. “Dreams… about my mother.”
Anna stopped dead in her tracks. “Your mother? You mean… Leola Grayson?”
Eric turned to look back at her and frowned. It suddenly occurred to him that he had never heard Anna say his mother’s name. To him, in some unexplainable way, it was very odd to hear her say it.
“Yeah… that’s right.” He turned again to continue down the path and Anna quickly followed. “But I don’t think they’ve been what you would call normal dreams. They’ve been very strange.”
Anna was anxious. Since arriving home again her every waking moment had been dedicated to finding Leola, to rescuing her Ally. She stepped in front of her brother. She was starting to believe nothing in her life was ever a coincidence.
“Strange? Strange how? Tell me!”
Eric was surprised by what seemed to be his sister’s sudden aggressiveness. He frowned. “I suppose it’s nothing. Really… I shouldn’t have mentioned it. What… with all of the frightening things that have been happening this year… I suppose my mind….”
Anna suddenly grabbed her brother by the front of his robes and the sheer force of her body upon his was stunning.
“Tell me about the dreams!” she shouted.
“Anna! What’s the hell’s the matter with you? Put me down!”
Anna looked down and saw her brother’s feet were dangling off the ground. She quickly set him back down.
“What is wrong with you?” He said, straightening his robes again. “My goodness you’ve gotten unbelievingly strong.”
Anna tried to take a calming breath. “I’m… sorry; please… you must tell me anything involving Leola Grayson.”
“But…. why?” He was suddenly suspicious. “You didn’t even know her.”
Eric was startled again by her sudden rage. He could see a wave of repulsive blackness moving through his sister’s eyes.
“Tell me…” she growled.
Eric was immediately apprehensive and suddenly struck by the feeling there was something very important going on that he didn’t fully understand. Something so personal to his sister that without her insistence that he explain his dreams she would never speak of it with him. He was worried about Anna, but found his mind already falling back to his dreams of the woman he could barely remember.
“I’ve been dreaming about my mother nearly every night now,” he finally told her.
He stared back at her
“But you said they weren’t normal dreams… strange, you said. What did you mean?”
Eric frowned again. Did I really say that? He couldn’t remember. “They started out as whispers… a far off voice, a woman’s voice, telling me she loved me.”
“And this started at Christmas?”
“Yes… soon after returning to Spellsburg; I think that’s when it first started. Whispers at first… and then…”
Her brother suddenly looked frustrated. “Anna… what’s this about? Is there something going here that I should know?”
Eric looked into the tall canopy above them and heaved. “And… then afterward I started dreaming about my mother. They were her whispers I was hearing.”
“And what did she say to you.”
He shook his head and smiled. “They were just dreams, Anna, nothing more.”
She only stared back. He could see that wave of blackness moving through her eyes once more.
He sighed again. “She said what any mother would say,” he finally replied, snappishly. “She said she loved me and that I should protect my brother and sisters and…” he hesitated.
“And? What else?”
“She said… I should protect our father.”
He watched Anna gulp hard and then turn away. He could tell his sister was in troubled thought before she started whispering to herself.
“How could she be speaking to him?” Anna said under her breath. “How is it possible?” She scowled back at her brother. “He is a Guardian… and that might have been enough to detect her… but all the way from Spellsburg? It’s not possible.” Eric frowned and came forward. Anna saw him coming but she stepped away, unwilling to derail her train of thought. “What am I missing here?”
“There’s more, Anna.”
She quickly looked back. “More?”
“After Easter, I was dreaming nearly every night about her. It was getting to the point where I could still hear her voice in my head even when I was shaving in the morning, and that’s when she started saying the strangest things to me.”
“What things? Strange how?”
“You know how it is when you dream and people say things to you that seem to make a lot of sense at the time, but then after you wake up you wonder why you took the so seriously, because they don’t make a lot of sense.”
Anna frowned. “Yes…I think so.”
“But in my dreams I remember thinking that what my mother was saying didn’t make any sense at all and that fact seemed to make them even more terrifying. She once said she was being held a prisoner somewhere.” He saw his sister’s eyes widen in surprise. “She kept saying she had to find a way escape because… evil all around her and she kept warning me to protect the Sithmaith.”
Eric could see the beginnings of tears in Anna’s eyes.
“It seemed so real to me, as if she was…” he dipped his head, trying to think of a way to describe what he was feeling, “so close to me that I should have been able to see her.”
“And all of this happened while you were in Spellsburg?”
Her brother nodded.
Anna looked away again. I don’t understand any of this. Is the vessel holding Leola a prisoner now in Spellsburg? How could it have gotten to Pennsylvania?
“She also said the Dark Lord was really close to her, Anna, and she was terrified.”
Anna cringed. It was the same for Rufus Malissifa, she thought miserably. That imprisoned soul had said he could hear the pieces of Voldemort’s essence screaming angrily for their release. She tried not to think about it, choosing instead to remain focused on her Ally. How could Leola’s vessel have gotten to Spellsburg? She looked at her brother again.
“Eric… are you still having these dreams since we returned home?”
He stared back, and then… “Yes. Just last night… I had another one. My mother…” his voice hesitated again, “she seemed closer to me than ever.”
“Do you know if Damon, Tencha and Dowla have been having any dreams like this?” she asked him.
He shook his head. “Not that I know of… or at least… they’ve never mentioned it. Have you?”
Anna shook her head and tried to think again. I don’t understand. How could Leola reach out to him here at home over Christmas and then at Castlewood and now here again? It’s as if she was able to follow him wherever he went. And that’s when something finally hit her like a bolt of lightning from out of nowhere. She whipped about to face her brother again.
“Eric!” She rushed over to him and grabbed him by his shoulders. “Have you found anything unusual recently?”
“Found anything? What do you mean?”
“Something you’ve kept close to you over the last several months? Something you might have found here at home or in the forest?”
“I don’t know what are you talking about. What kind of something?”
“I can’t tell you what it might have been, but it could be anything — a stone that caught your interest, a shell from the beach — anything; something from the grounds, or from inside the house, in the woods — anything at all? It would have been around Christmas time when your dreams first began! It’s very important! Think, Eric! It could be anything!”
Anna’s eyes were ablaze with both hope and fury. And then something washed over her that she hadn’t sensed in months. It was just a whisper, a soft sound that she seemed to feel before she was able to hear it. It traveled from out of Eric’s shoulders and into her hands and then up arms and into her neck, the cracking sizzle of something familiar.
Anna seized her brother tight. “YOU HAVE IT ON YOU RIGHT NOW!” She looked down at what he was wearing and then began riffling through his robes.
“Anna! Stop! What are you doing?”
She finally stepped back to look at him properly. “Empty your pockets!” she demanded.
“Anna… I don’t have anything in my robes. Only my wand!” And then, quite suddenly, Eric froze and his eyes widened in disbelief.
“What is it? What’s the matter?”
“I… I did find something in the woods over the Christmas break. By the cliffs overlooking the north beach,” he replied suspiciously.
“What? What was it? Do you have it now? Show it to me!”
Eric slowly reached into his robes. “After finding it, I’ve always kept it with me. I don’t know why… but after a time… I just felt completely naked without it.”
From out of his robes, Eric showed her an old wand. It was gnarled, cracked and split, as if weathered for too long a time outside. It looked like something from a hoary root, taken from some long forgotten tree, but it sang to Anna like nothing else ever did or ever would in her life again.
Anna reached out and snatched the wand out of her brother’s hand. She immediately felt a surge of strength filling her, as if whatever was contained within the wand’s core was the very source of her existence. She immediately knew what it was she was holding.
“What?” Eric was immediately surprised. “Anna… what did you say?”
Anna barely heard her brother as she quickly turned and, holding the wand tight against her chest, she headed into the woods.
“Anna! Where are you going? Anna, come back!”
Eric’s eyes widened in shocked surprise; for a moment Anna was barely away from him and then a second later, she was was gone. A blur of smeared color was the only trace left to hint at where she might have gone.
Anna couldn’t hear her brother calling after her, but it wouldn’t have stopped her from looking to escape from his presence. And when she finally did hear him… it only made her desire to escape him even more crucial. She was finally in possession again of the most vital piece of her being, and she would never let it go again. To the Sithmaith, it was like finding the last pocket of oxygen on a planet without air.
Anna raced onward, a rainbow of zigzagging color quickly fading in the air behind her. She loved Eric more than her own life, but the Guardian meant to keep her brother away. She could hear the whispers coming from the wand and the familiar warmth she knew all too well. She gripped the wood tight as she sped along and could sense the core within was encased within something foul, cocooned in a web of wicked malevolence.
The Guardian suddenly stopped and then raised the wand to inspect it fully. It looked old and badly consumed by the weather. There were cracks down its length that were filled with dirt and moss. She closed her eyes and could see a familiar face looming forward from out of the folds of her mind. She concentrated on the image struggling to advance, and then she heard the sound that had once frightened her so badly.
“Ssssssssssssssss,” it sizzled softly, and Anna, her eyes still shut, finally smiled.
Finally… a face appeared within her mind through the darkness, a narrow band of pallid energy that began of coalesce into the face she had prayed to see every night since leaving for Castlewood.
“Oh my God, Leola!”
“Please, Sithmaith, release me….” she whispered.
“I will… I swear, I will. Tell me how! What can I do?”
“You are the one magic has sought for its protection. Surely… the spells that bind me here would bend to your will.”
Anna’s attention immediately broadened and she could now sense the magic wrapped around the wand in her hand. In was a crawling, pervasiveness that suddenly grew stronger at its discovery.
Anna frowned. “I speak now to the magic encasing this wand. Please… release my friend.”
And then another sigh began to come forward in reply. Insidious and hissing at first, its tone immediately turned devious.
We are part of the whole, Sithmaith, adjoined first to the magic of the wand and then to the power and strength of the one within. We cannot now be separated.
The Guardian frowned. Within her mind she could see a pair of red, snake-like eyes peering over Leola’s shoulder and Anna immediately knew who had imprisoned her Ally.
“Voldemort!” she whispered, and Leola moaned in fear.
“The person who cast you upon my Ally is a liar and a murderer,” Anna growled at the spells holding Leola. “Surely, you would know that I am here by the will of everything that is magical and the whole of magic in which you strive to rejoin would not wish you to be a hindrance to me.” She stiffened. “I command you… let my Ally go!”
There was a very long pause, as if the magic surrounding the wand was struggling within itself to reply.
This magic wishes to assist you, Sithmaith, but the spells and enchantments that define our existence here must work to block your path in the manner intended by the caster.
“I said let her go!”
The spells that define our presence here cannot be set aside, little one.
“You must destroy the wand, Sithmaith,” Leola whispered.
“Destroy it?” Anna was hesitant. “But what would happened to you?” she asked. “I’ve seen what happens to a trapped soul without the vessel meant to contain it.” She felt the beginning of tears burning her eyes.
“My soul was not sinfully torn away from my body to be placed within in this wretched prison… no. Who I was in life is where it should be… within God’s merciful embrace. Your Ally is but a ghost, an imprint of who I once came to be: a daughter, a wife… a mother, but not my soul at all. I never feared death, nor do I expect to exist in the present state given me by the same magic that, with God’s help, sought to bring you into existence.” Leola raised a ghostly hand, as if to caresses Anna’s face.
“Fear not, Anna Grayson. The vessel that has become my prison was my own wand in life, left behind at the cliffs from which I was murdered. Destroy the wand that has become my prison. Your Ally will remain.”
No… sounded the glowing eyes, peering angrily over Leola’s shoulder. She lies… to destroy herself. Her soul cannot remain without the vessel. We are now one.
Anna looked again at the image of her Ally. “Leola… are you sure? I couldn’t survive losing you again.”
The woman’s ghost finally smiled at her. “I would never lie to the Sithmaith, but even if I knew your actions would end my existence, I would long for it in trade for this hateful prison where I am forced to listen to the echoes of the one who destroyed my life.”
Anna thought. How did the Ally survive even this long while trapped in a place where pieces of Voldemort’s soul were left screaming for their release; entombed with the wizard who had her best friend murder her? The Guardian looked up again at the eyes trying to hide themselves and sneered.
“You will release the Ally!”
The glowing eyes glared back and then a skeletal hand suddenly appeared. Ghostly and red, it reached around to seize Leola by the throat.
The voice of the magic holding Leola prisoner hissed in a way to mimic its caster. She is our prisoner now and always!
“Then I will destroy the wand!”
You have neither the strength nor the means and will not without destroying my prisoner.
Anna remembered the words of Ardley Moody within the Hall of Wonders, ‘A true 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.’ But while Leola was held within the domain reserved for those souls trapped within a Horcrux… it wasn’t her soul being held at all; only an imprint of her former self, what her studies at Castlewood and what Leola had said herself was a ghost, but Anna didn’t believe that either. Leola wasn’t brought back into the world because she feared death like the ghosts she’d read about in school.
No, she has always been something different… something unique, brought forth to serve the needs of magic. She was the Ally of the Sithmaith, and although she still wasn’t sure what that really meant, Anna was convinced what was here of Leola Grayson could not be so easily destroyed.
Anna looked again into the eyes of Voldemort, peering out from behind her Ally. She could see the hand around the Ally’s neck change into the coils of a snake as it tightened its grip.
The Guardian frowned. “Voldemort wouldn’t have come to Grayson Hill just to create another Horcrux for a ghost.” Anna straightened, stunned suddenly by the realization of something so important and the greatest opportunity now delivered. But first… she had to confirm the obvious.
Anna thought hard and then said, “Like all of magic… you recognize me and know what I am.” She watched the red eyes soften to the truth.
“Who I am?” Anna demanded.
You are the Sithmaith, the one summoned to protect us.
“That’s right. I’m here to help you survive the war to come, to protect you from…”
“You must release my Ally. After all… you are part of the whole that brought her to me; without the Ally… I will surely fail you.”
“I am the interpreter,” Leola wheezed through the snake’s coils. “I was sent to assist the Sithmaith… and make ready her path. She needs me.”
Anna watched as the eyes staring at her back softened once again at the logic offered them, but then they hardened once more.
I must be remain what I was cast to be, Guardian. I cannot set aside the spells that brought me to this.
“But you would help me otherwise — surely.”
A look of suspicion invaded the bloody stare. Surely… we would not be conversing now if this were not so.
Within the image in her mind, Anna stepped closer. The opportunity was there for the taking. “Then tell me… who was it that cast you here and set you to do this terrible thing?”
There was a moment of pause, as if the spells holding Leola Grayson a prisoner were wondering if giving such information might be forbidden within the caster’s mind, but how could such restrictions ever be contemplated? How could the caster know the magic left behind might speak to another and would communicate with a Guardian?
The snake’s eyes refocused their attention upon Anna. The one who cast me here calls himself… the Dark Lord.
Anna sneered. “So Voldemort…”
“…came to Grayson Hill that night, looking to kill my father again. Is that right?”
If the opportunity arose… yes… but that was not the first reason the caster came to be in these woods.
Anna frowned. “Then… why?”
The magic used to create a horcrux is vastly complex and requires an act most evil by which to complete the task.
“You mean murder.”
Correct. The Dark Lord has created several horcruxes, for the magical properties of a certain number are indeed vast.
My place was to be the last horcrux, but the murder necessary for tearing the caster’s soul was only the last of a series of incantations necessary for placing it within the vessel. The Dark Lord came prepared with a plan of ultimate revenge and power.
“He was going to murder my father to create his horcrux,” Anna surmised, incredulously.
The red eyes peered around Leola’s head.
Anna frowned. “No? But if he didn’t come here to kill my father? Then… who?”
The Dark Lord intended to kill the entire Grayson family before he left this place and to finally put an end to your father’s willfulness against him, true…but it was the Sithmaith he intended to kill last and in that moment place the final piece of his soul into safety.
Anna swallowed hard. “Me? But… why me?”
Voldemort has come to believe those he murders to split his soul are just as important as the number of fragments undone and the vessels containing them. To murder the first Guardian thusly, he imagined untold magical advantages. You were to be given a choice: join him in his future quest for power, or watch your family perish and then use your death to advance his supremacy.
But he was unexpectedly confronted by the Ally and a battle to protect you soon commenced. The Ally of the Sithmaith is not without power but, alas, she was no match for the Dark Lord. She was finally cast aside, but the spells placed in the woods by your father sounded the alarm.
Anna suddenly remembered the alarms going off in the forest the night before her father took her to see the Minister of Magic. The use of dark magic set off the bells that brought three Aurors to Grayson Hill straight from the Ministry.
Knowing his plans for the first Guardian would now fail, the caster used the spells set aside for the creation of his horcrux to dispatch the Ally, but he would not surrender the vessel meant for you. The Ally was thus sent back to the spot of her original death near the cliffs and where it latched itself onto the only magical object available to sustain her. The wand you now hold in your hand.
“My wand,” Leola added, “dropped in the attack that led to my death.”
Anna couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Even after seeing him face to face, and surviving his trying to kill her, it was still hard to image Voldemort even knowing her name, never mind coming to Grayson Hill to give her his ultimatum. She suddenly imagined him killing her father the same way he had done to the Potter family; the thought of it brought forth a snarled growl. She stepped forward again within the folds of her mind.
“I am the Sithmaith, the first Guardian magic brought forth with a purpose: To stop a war that could very well end magic’s existence.” She stared into those hateful, red eyes once more. “You will release my Ally.”
I must be remain what I was cast to be, Guardian. I cannot set aside…
“I said let her go!”
The eyes began to fade and soon the connection between them was broken. Anna snarled again as she glared at the splintered wand still in her hand. She tried to break the wand in two, but it suddenly seemed as if cast in steal. Anna spied a pile of rocks between two large trees. She ran over, laid the wand down, and then picked up the largest stone she could find. She raised it over her head and sneered again as she heaved it down hard. The rocks beneath cracked and smashed apart, but the wand remained unbroken.
Eric was still looking for his sister in the forest. He couldn’t understand why she ran away, but he was desperate to find her again. More than trying to learn why the wand was so important to her, she had said something just before leaving that truly stunned him.
“The Ally,” he muttered, ducking under another large branch to look around. “She said… it was the Ally.” He looked up into the canopy and took a deep breath.
“Anna! Where are you?” He listened… but there was no response. “Damn her recklessness!”
Eric continued through the trees, looking for any signs that might help direct him as he whispered, “The Ally.”
In the dreams that he had shared with his sister, the whispered voice… my mother’s voice… was so loving and soothing to him, like a warm embrace encircling his entire body. He frowned as he remembered what she had said.
There is evil all around me and the malevolent souls of those trapped within my hateful prison. The fiend who has trapped me is here as well, crying for the blood of revenge. I must escape… find the Sithmaith, my son. She is my only hope… and I hers. For I am her Ally in all things brought forth by the magic with purpose and cause. I am her Ally… in all things… her Ally.
Eric stopped again to think. Is it possible that Anna knows who this Ally is? And what does all of this have to do with my mother? Eric looked around in frustration. “She will explain all of this to me… or so help me God I’ll know the reason why!” He threw his head back again. “ANNA!”
Suddenly, he could hear Anna screaming somewhere in the woods ahead of him. Surprised first by the great distance between them, he could feel her anger and pain in those hateful shrieks.
“Anna!” He began running toward the screams. “I’m coming, Anna, I’m coming!”
Anna heaved another large stone down at the wand again and again, screaming in frustration at her failure and at the exhaustion beginning to take hold of her. She finally fell to her knees and picked up the wand again. Blinded by her anger, she snarled and then tried to bite into the wood. She could feel her frustration changing to tears as she stood to stomp down upon it over and over again, but despite all her efforts, the wand remained unbroken. The spells used to create a horcrux were very powerful and with meaningful intent to keep a piece of Voldemort’s soul safe. The result was an unbreakable prison for the Ally locked within.
Anna tried to take a calming breath and that’s when she finally heard Eric calling her name somewhere in the distance. His voice immediately threw her into a panic. “No… he can’t find me now. I have to destroy the vessel first!” She began to circle the wand at her feet, thinking hard and trying to use whatever logic she had left to summon her reason. She remembered Moody’s words once more.
‘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.’
“The Nundo…” Anna whispered. She remembered the roar of the beast in the Hall of Wonders and how it rolled through her soul like a drug… like the embrace of a loved one lost. She closed her eyes and tried to remember that feeling again, recreating the sensations deep inside her body once more.
Immediately, she could feel something had remained of the experience within her. The Nundo was still there, left behind to mark her passing experience with the creature and her breathing became heavy, her vision blurred. It was like experiencing the approach of the Lethifold, but instead of the pangs of starving hunger, this time it felt as if her head was going to explode. She looked down at her hands and could see them swelling and her nails elongating and darken to black. Anna could feel something rancid burning inside her chest and then up her throat, a sickness she couldn’t contain. She looked down at the wand sitting undamaged on the ground and then opened her mouth and roared down upon the thing. A vaporous mist, sparkling and magical, suddenly came forth. It splashed as it hit the ground and then spread like a magma laden fog across the forest floor, burying everything under her feet.
The Guardian turned to see something coming at her through the trees.
Eric immediately stopped when he saw his sister glaring back at him. There was a cloud of green mist surrounding her head and robes, and through the mist, between the sparkles of popping magic, he could see a pair of shining, silver eyes and thick fangs down past Anna’s chin.
“Oh, my God!”
Anna fell onto all fours and her ears laid flat across the back of her head as she hissed menacingly at her brother through the deadly fog she had created.
Suddenly… a shriek of pain pulled her attention away to look back. The wand lying on the ground was trembling and twitching as the lava-like breath of the Nundo looked to be attacking it. Eric was suddenly by his sister’s side and looking down as the wand began to bubble and blister.
She suddenly grabbed her brother by the arm and pulled him away. “Get back!”
A second later the wand exploded in a shower of green and golden sparks. The two fell to the ground and tumbled in each other’s arms before looking up. A cloud of silvery mist emerged from the blast; it twisted and hissed loudly as the green fog surrounding it began to lessen. The mist thickened and elongated to reform itself into that of a standing woman and Anna could see a familiar face beginning to clear, its features becoming distinct and more refined.
“Ssssssssssithmaith,” it hissed softly. “I… am free!”
Anna smiled and then pushed herself up to stand. Already… she could feel a surprising resurgence of life returning to her, a surge of sudden power flowing into her body like air to a suffocating child. The weakening she had experienced had been so subtle over the past year that she hadn’t even realized what losing her Ally had done to her. And now, quite suddenly, everything around her was so much clearer, the twitters of the birds in the canopy overhead were more distinct, the smells of the forest surrounding them strong and pungent again. It was like awakening from some colorless dream where sound and the sensations of taste and touch never existed.
“My God…” Eric whispered. Her brother stepped forward and stretched out his hands and Anna was suddenly terrified.
In the rush to free her Ally and to break the spells holding Leola Grayson a prisoner within the wand, she had forgotten the woman was so much more in life. She was the husband to her father and to her brother Eric…
The ghost of Leola Grayson came forward. “My dear, sweet boy.” The woman smiled. “Look at the man you have become.”
Standing behind him, Anna could see her brother was trembling.
“I… don’t understand…” he said, unsteadily. “How can this be?”
Leola only smiled at her son again. “You look so much like your father… so very handsome.”
“Have you always been here?” he asked her. “Why haven’t I seen you before now?”
Anna could already tell Leola would soon disappear. Her translucent body was beginning to sputter and fade.
“I… tire…” Leola moaned
“You’re tired?” Eric stepped closer “But ghosts never get tired… what’s happening?” He could see the image of his mother beginning to weaken.
Anna took Eric’s hand. “Don’t worry… she’ll be back.”
Eric looked down as Anna and frowned. “Did you know about this?”
Anna slowly nodded.
Her brother’s anger quickly flared. “WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME?”
“Leola didn’t want me to tell her family she had come back.”
“Come back?! Anna… I don’t understand any of this. Tell me what’s happening!”
“Ssssssithmaith….” Leola hissed. “I weaken.”
Anna looked at the ghost. “I understand. You’ve had to endure so much… you must go to regain your strength. I’ll try to explain everything to Eric.”
Leola Grayson’s form began to sputter once again. “Yes… rest… but first… I must tell you…”
Anna frowned. “Tell me? Tell me what?”
“I’ve heard his voice in darkness that was my prison.”
“Anna! I demand to know what’s going on!” Eric fumed.
“The one who imprisoned me… was also with me… in that hateful place.”
Anna tried to ignore her brother. All of her attention was now on her Ally. “I understand… it must have been horrible for you to be with Voldemort for so long.”
“Sssssssssssssssssssssss,” Leola hissed at the name and then continued, “I could hear the other pieces he’s created screaming for their release.”
Anna’s eyes widened. “The other horcruxes,” she whispered. She quickly remembered the man RufusMalissifa she had released from his horcrux in the Hall of Wonders. He too had said he could hear the other pieces of Voldemort’s soul screaming to be free.
The Ally sputtered again, “I’ve heard them conversing… cursing the loss of their body… cursing the world… and each other.”
Anna tried to put aside what it must have been like for Leola to listen to the pieces of Voldemort’s soul continuously shrieking at their entrapment.
“I also heard something of great importance as well… just a few words…” She stopped and then slowly began to draw away, becoming less corporeal as she left them.
“What… Leola… what did you hear?”
“Just a few words about one of his vessels… just a few words…”
Anna followed what remained of the ghost into the woods as she spoke and Anna was surprised at what the Ally told her. A moment later… Leola Grayson had disappeared entirely; gone to slumber within the folds of magic set aside to renew her strength. Finally, Anna turned to find her brother kneeing on the ground behind her. He was sobbing.
Anna ran over and then knelt down in front of him. “Oh Eric. It’s okay… she’ll be back. She just needs time to rest, but we’ll see her again. I swear.”
He looked up with tears flooding his eyes. “I don’t understand any of this, Anna. That was my mother. It really was my mother!”
Anna reached out and hugged him as all his emotions, fused with confusion, completely broke down. Eric held his sister and cried into her breast like a little boy who had just watched his mother taken from him once again. It was something Eric had replayed and suffered through his entire life, but especially when he dreamed of his mother only to realize upon awakening that she was gone to him forever. But this time there was something new embedded within the agonizing rush of emotions that always seemed to overwhelm him. This time… there was hope.
Anna could feel her brother’s pain trembling through his body as she gripped him tight and she understood it fully; for she had gone through the same kind of anguish and uncertainty, the terrible merging of agony and loss. She held her brother close as she whispered to him.
“Yes… it was your mother and she still loves you very much. I promise… I can explain everything.”