Anna followed her father through the busy corridors within the Ministry building and then to the upper most floors. There, unlike the levels below, she found the busy hustle of ministry workers entirely absent. They entered a very formal reception area where a young man was sitting at a large desk, holding a wand to his throat and speaking into a funneled pipe sticking up through the floor.
“Attention all ministry supervisors: Please remember to submit your employee evaluations to your department heads before this Friday at noon. In addition, all Directors must have their budgets for next year turned into the Minister’s office by the following Monday.” Anna could hear the man’s voice reverberating through the walls around her. “That is all,” he finished with a trailing, bug-like zip.
“Hello Gillian, how are you today?” asked Mister Grayson. The man looked up and then quickly stood.
“Hello, Director Grayson,” the man said with a broad smile. “The Minister is expecting you in her office, sir. Let me just pop in and inform her that you have arrived.” Without waiting for a reply, the man tapped his wand on the foot of the chair where he was seated and with a loud whoosh both he and his chair dropped out of sight behind his desk. After the man disappeared, Anna’s father turned to her.
“Remember what I said about not divulging too much information about your abilities. Are we agreed?”
“Yes, sir,” Anna replied, just as a strange smell caught her attention. It was an odd odor the Guardian had never smelled prior to that moment.
There was another loud whooshing sound again from behind the desk and the man and his chair suddenly shot up from out of the floor. “The Minister will see you now, Director,” said the man, who then pointed his wand at the adjoining door and Anna heard a loud click. The door began to open on its own and Mister Grayson directed Anna forward.
“Boris… it’s good to see you again,” said a woman coming forward toward them as Anna and her father entered the room. Anna had met the Minister of Magic once before at Christmas the previous year. The woman was tall, very elegant, and Anna smiled at the graceful way in which she moved around the oversized desk to greet them. She was wearing a very formal dress of blue velvet with a high collar. Her hair, a natural gray, was pulled up in a stylish roll reminiscent of something found in a French court. It even sported several feathers and something that glittered within its sweeping folds.
“Good day, Minister. It’s very nice to see you again.” Mister Grayson kissed the woman’s hand. “You look lovely this afternoon. I hope we’re not keeping you from another appointment.”
The Minister smiled. “Not at all; I’m going to a charity social with Senator Clarkston. My duties require my keeping up with the Muggle appearances, even if it means being seen with somebody as pretentious and arrogant as the good Senator from California.
Mister Grayson chuckled. “You remember my daughter, of course. This… is Anna.” The Minister turned to Anna, who tried to smile without looking nervous.
“Well… of course I do. Hello, my dear. It’s very nice to see you again.”
Anna reached out to shake the woman’s hand, but to her great surprise the Minister actually moved forward to hug her.
Anna managed to wheeze out a startled, “Thank you, Minister. It’s an honor, ma’am.
The Minister, still gripping Anna’s shoulders, stepped back to inspect her properly, tilting her head to look into her eyes.
“Oh, Boris, she’s absolutely beautiful.” Anna blushed. “I’m very happy you were able to come by today, Anna. I’ve been meaning to visit with you ever since I heard the good news last year about your entering Castlewood. How were your studies? Did you find them adequate? I hope Chancellor Thordarson is treating you well.”
In that brief moment, Anna was surprised by the idea that the chancellor of Castlewood might very well be subordinate to the woman now fawning over her.
“Oh yes, ma’am. The school is everything I dreamed it would be — and more.”
The Minister smiled kindly. “Excellent! I won’t have a member of my family receiving a second rate education,” she said flippantly.
She paused to stare at Anna again, and then, “Well, Boris, I’m going to ask you to wait outside, if you don’t mind. I would like to have a little chat with my grandniece in private.” As she escorted Anna’s father to the door, she leaned in to whisper to him, “Give us girls a chance to get to know each other, without a father’s insistence on all the formalities.”
Mister Grayson couldn’t seem to hide his reluctance. “As you wish, Minister,” he said, grudgingly, turning to open the office door again. He then turned to look back at Anna. “And… despite the Minister’s wish for a more casual discussion, superlative manners are a Grayson devotion at all times.”
“Yes, sir,” Anna replied quickly. Her father nodded his unspoken warning again before leaving the room.
“Well now… alone at last. Sit there, Anna… please,” said the Minister, pointing to an empty chair in front of her desk before returning to her own chair on the other side. She seemed to work rather hard to settle herself before leaning forward to stare at Anna a full thirty seconds from across the large desk. The pause was extremely discomforting to Anna and she eventually found herself nervously peeking around the office, looking at the distinguished subjects staring down at her from the many portraits hanging on the walls.
“You look very much like your mother,” the Minister finally said, breaking the long silence.
Anna was taken aback by the abrupt comment. “Oh… thank you,” she replied. There was another long gap of stillness once more.
“Yes… the resemblance is quite extraordinary,” the Minister continued, “except…”
“For the eyes,” Anna finished unthinkingly, “yeah… I know;” another pause.
“Yes, you are quite beautiful… the very image of Victoria.”
Anna couldn’t help smiling. “Thank you, Minister,” she replied again, her voice filled with unreserved gratitude. There was another lull of silence before it finally came to Anna’s attention that the two women were actually sizing up each other up. Finally, it was Anna who decided to venture forward.
“So… you and my grandmother Jennings were sisters?”
The Minister grinned. “That’s right,” she motioned toward a portrait on the wall to her left. “That’s Mary there.”
Anna looked around to gaze up at the large portrait. The image was so startling to her that she couldn’t stop herself from unconsciously standing up at seeing it. The woman in the painting smiled back at her, the face the exact image of her mother, but older. She was gray with blue eyes, and she wore a tightly buttoned red-vest and ruffled collar. Anna found herself halfway between her chair and the painting when she suddenly stopped to look around once more at the Minister of Magic.
The woman was still smiling. “Go on, dear. It’s quite all right.”
Relieved, Anna stepped up to the portrait. Even at her advanced age, Anna could tell the woman within the frame had been exceedingly beautiful in her youth. While time had obviously aged the image looking down at her with a endearing smile, Anna was gratified to see the years fashioning themselves into a gentle form of sophistication.
A moment later, the Minister was standing by her side. “What do you know about the Meliflua women in our family?”
Anna looked around at her. “Not much, I’m afraid. I know Meliflua was your maiden name, right?”
“That is correct. Our family name goes back a thousand years in Wizarding history, back to the old country; farther back than even the Grayson name. You should seek to study your family history more thoroughly,” she said stiffly, pointing down at her.
Anna nodded, looking back up at the painting again. “She’s so beautiful,” she moaned, and the portrait smiled back at her, dipping her head graciously in return of Anna’s compliment.
Her aunt grinned again. “Yes, I thought so as well. My sister was quite the catch in her day, but our father was quite strict about the suitors coming to visit our home. He insisted on only the purest wizard blood.” The woman paused to look up at the picture of her sister again.
“I’ve always believed the Meliflua women had the amazing ability to pass their beauty down through their daughters,” the Minister continued, now looking down appraisingly at Anna again. “Not having any children myself, it lifts my heart to see this rather vain tradition continuing in you.”
Anna looked at the Minister and frowned. She wasn’t quite sure how to respond.
Her aunt chuckled. “I can see from your reaction, it disturbs you to know the women in our family were so weak in fighting off the allure of vanity.” She laughed again as Anna raised a puzzled eyebrow.
“Fear not, my dear. With age comes the wisdom to know the truth of what we truly are lies in a much deeper place under the skin.” The Minister cupped Anna’s chin and ran her thumb down the side of her left cheek.
“Yes…” she cooed softly, “so very beautiful.” The woman’s touch suddenly made Anna shiver.
“So… enough of the finer things,” the Minister said, quickly turning toward the desk once more. “Have a seat, dear. We have much to discuss.”
Anna found her chair again as the Minster moved around to sit. She stared at Anna, and then, “A dreadful thing… this business at Drogo. I understand your father has finally informed you properly of the truth, then? He told me that you were finally allowed to know about your mother.”
Anna was surprised. “Yes… ma’am. I know about my mother, but I didn’t know…” Anna hesitated. “I didn’t realize that you knew about her.” The Minister suddenly looked stern.
“Of course, I knew,” she blurted out angrily. “After all, I am the Minister of Magic.”
Anna was surprised by her aunt’s sudden change of tone. “I’m sorry, ma’am. I didn’t mean to say…”
“No thanks to your father that I know the truth, of course,” she blistered on. “Boris only decided to tell me my niece was still alive and being held at Drogo after I became Minister… when he knew I would find out soon after I took my post anyway.” Anna could see the woman was very irritated.
“I think… daddy was trying to save us from… the pain of knowing the truth… about…” Anna looked down at the floor disappointedly, “about what happened to her.”
The woman seemed taken aback by Anna’s comment. “You realize, of course, you have every right to be outraged by this deception.”
“No!” Anna blurted out, snapping up to look at the woman, but she slowly and unwillingly dropped her gaze to stare at the floor once more. “Well… when I first found out about it… yes… I suppose I was very angry. But I understand now why he kept her situation a secret from me.”
The Minister seemed unconvinced. “You are much more forgiving than I on the subject,” she said, scathingly. She paused, and then it seemed she was straining to smile again. “Still… I suppose he had his reasons, in light of You-Know-Who’s treachery in all of this.”
Finally, Anna could see her aunt’s anger bending toward the correct person responsible for her mother’s fate.
The Minister leaned forward in her chair. “I must ask you something, Anna… and I need your complete cooperation and honesty in your reply.”
Anna was surprised once more. “I… of course, Minister. What do you…?”
“Did you have anything to do with Victoria’s escape?”
Anna was struck dumb for a moment by both the tone of the question and the harsh, accusatory look on the woman’s face. There was a strange and sudden pressure building behind Anna’s eyes from the Minister’s stare. Although she didn’t understand what was happening to her, Anna immediately understood some form of magic was being used to gain the truth in her response. The attempt seemed invasive, intrusive, and Anna immediately moved to exercise her own abilities to close the breach behind her eyes that the woman seated in front of her was trying, with great force, to pry open.
“No.” Anna answered forcefully, slamming with an almost audible bang the gate within her mind. The force of her repulse seemed to manifest itself in her aunt’s posture. She fell back in her chair, looking surprised.
“No?” she replied. “Are you sure?”
Anna fixed her stare back at her. “Of course I’m sure.”
She could feel another probe at the door in her mind once more, and Anna almost laughed out loud at the feeble effort to pry it open again. The woman frowned. Finally, her aunt looked away and opened a drawer to her right. She removed an envelope with the Castlewood emblem embossed on the front.
“I have a letter here sent to me from the Captain of the Crimson Guard at Castlewood, Gregory Dunning. Do you know him?”
Anna’s heart sank. “Yes… everybody in Spellsburg knows Captain Dunning.”
“Apparently, the good Captain owled me this letter after his failings at Drogo… just before his memory was wiped away”
“Oh?” Anna said worriedly, still holding the door in her mind closed tight against the relentless probing from the other side of the desk.
“Yes. He accuses you of being directly responsible for your mother’s escape. In his letter, the captain claims you somehow broke into the prison undetected, made your way down to the dungeons, and then released your mother from her cell.
Anna seethed. “The good captain said that, did he? Well… I don’t know why he would accuse me of such a thing. I was at Castlewood the whole time. I don’t even know where Drogo is,” Anna lied. There it was again – more heavy probing, more pressure from her aunt’s relentless stare.
“How are your injuries?” the Minister asked her unexpectedly, and Anna was suddenly distracted by the question.
“My… my injuries?” she replied, moving her hand instinctually over her throat. “They’re… I’m okay, I guess.”
The Minister tilted her head and smiled. “Healing up nicely, are they?” Anna nodded.
“And… how exactly did you come to be injured again?” More probing; this time the pressure to enter was stronger than ever.
Anna grimaced and then pushed back again. “I don’t remember,” she answered flatly.
The Minister frowned. “Is that right? I would think a traumatic event like that would be a permanent fixture in your mind for a very long time. My report says you were attacked outside the Vollucross stadium during a projection of the third Triwizard task.” Anna stared at her, trying to keep her expression silent.
“Why were you outside the stadium during the last task? It says you were seen inside earlier that evening. Why did you leave?”
“Did Dunning tell you that too?”
“Answer the question, please.”
“I don’t remember.”
“Do you remember saddling your mount?” Anna didn’t answer, but she couldn’t hide her surprised expression. “Your Vollucross steed; you were seen in the stables before the start of the last task. Did you leave with your mount before you were attacked?” More pressure again, but Anna did not answer. She was worried somebody might have seen her flying off to Drogo.
“Nothing to say? Your mount was missing until the next morning, did you know that?”
Anna’s head dropped. “No… I don’t remember much of anything about that day.” Finally, her aunt leaned back, the pressure behind Anna’s eyes abruptly away.
“I see. A shame we couldn’t catch the beast that attacked you. Even Chancellor Thordarson was at a loss to contemplate what manner of creature that might have left the forest to attack you… and then drag you into the woods.” She paused again. “It’s all very… interesting… and quite disturbing, of course.” There was another uncomfortable silence.
“You know… your mother and I were very close.”
Anna was surprised again by the abrupt change of subject, but quickly took advantage of the opportunity to move on. “Really?” she replied inquiringly.
“Oh yes. In fact, she came to live with me in London for more than a year during her time at Castlewood.”
Anna was amazed. “Did she? I had heard she lived with you sometimes during the summer holiday, but how did she manage her studies…?”
“I got her a one year stint as a foreign exchange student at Hogwarts in her sixth-year.”
Anna’s mouth dropped. “My mother was at Hogwarts?”
Her aunt smiled. “That’s right. It was during my time as Ambassador to England that she came to live with me. I think she quite enjoyed her time in London.”
“Wow… that would be fantastic,” Anna replied enviously.
Her aunt smiled again. “Yes… well perhaps I can speak to the Minister in England, Cornelius Fudge, and see if we can keep up with this tradition. Would you be interested in something like that… if I could arrange it?”
Anna leaned forward excitedly, “Would I? Wow… that would be...” but a stabbing thought forced her to stop. “But… what about the Guardians?”
“What about them? Surely your new Union can do without one Guardian for a year.” Her aunt leaned back and smiled. “I think it would be interesting to see in which house you would be sorted at Hogwarts.” Her smile quickly left her. “Where would a Guardian land, I wonder?”
Anna could feel a subtle probe again. What was she looking for?
“Anyway, give it some thought and I’ll have a chat with your father about it later - perhaps next year.” Anna nodded, suddenly finding herself distrustful of the woman’s offer.
“Speaking of the Guardians,” the Minister continued, “I wanted to ask you… have you seen any changes in your abilities recently… other than those that brought you to Castlewood last year, of course?” More probing, more pressure.
“No… not really,” Anna replied cautiously.
“Nothing more? Nothing out of the ordinary to report?”
What is she looking for? “No, ma’am.” She thought for a moment. “In fact… I think I might be a little slower than the average witch in picking up some of the skills being taught to me in class,” Anna replied shyly, trying to deflect the conversation.
Her aunt’s expression contorted questioningly. “Anna… why do you think the Guardians have returned to us? Why are the Guardians here?”
Anna didn’t hesitate. Without thinking, she blurted out her reply. “The Guardians are here to protect the things of Magic from the battle to come.”
Her aunt frowned. “Battle? What in the world are you talking about, my dear? To what battle are you referring?”
“The battle with Voldemort and his Death Eaters.”
The Minister’s face suddenly turned to that of rage. She immediately stood. “Who told you that? Did your father tell you that lie?”
Anna was surprised by the fast change of emotion in the Minister once more.
“Who then? Was it Thordarson?”
“Minister, the newspapers have been filled with these stories, and there’s a lot of information written about the Guardians of old and why they came. The old Order was…”
“He-Who-Must-Be-Named has nothing to do with the Guardians of Castlewood!” her aunt scolded. She pointed angrily down at Anna. “I don’t know who has been filling your head with such things, but if I find out they work for the Ministry…”
“But you know I’m not the only one who believes this, Minister. Chancellor Thordarson and the Headmaster of Hogwarts believe it too. Harry Potter was an eyewitness to Voldemort’s rise. He was there when…”
“Harry Potter is nothing more than a self-centered little boy, looking for a lot of attention from the press. And as for Dumbledore — he’s already been disgraced for his lies about You-Know-Who’s return. He’s been asked to leave the Wizard gamot, and unless he learns to keep quiet about such things, he may not be the Headmaster of Hogwarts very much longer.”
Anna was stunned. “They would sack Dumbledore? No… who would dare to…?”
“For spreading unsubstantiated lies that could alarm the entire Wizarding world? Of course he’d be sacked. The Minister of Magic in London has the power to…”
“But surely… they wouldn’t!”
The Minister glowered down at her. “Yes… they most certainly would,” she said, her eyes widening. Anna was too shocked to reply. “And Thordarson too, if that becomes necessary,” her aunt added with a growl.
Anna scowled back. “And what if they’re right?” she persisted. “What if Voldemort has returned?”
“Don’t say that name!” the Minister raged.
Anna’s anger flashed. “And why not? If he’s dead — what difference does it make? Why would it matter?” Anna stood. “He’s back! I know it’s true, and my mother knew it was true!”
The Minister’s face fell. “And how would you know what Victoria believed? Have you seen her?” Anna was silent; she felt caught, trapped by her own anger.
Her aunt leaned over the desk, her face flushed with rage. “Did you go to Drogo the night she escaped? The truth!” she shouted. “Were you there?”
Anna stared at the woman, closing her mind tight. She thought of her father’s warnings not to divulge anything to this woman. Although she didn’t understand his advice at the time, Anna was positive now that he was correct.
Anna slowly sat back down. “No,” she answered, finally.
“Then how would you possibly know what Victoria could be thinking?”
Anna glared back at her. She couldn’t believe the Minister of Magic would ignore the threat that was Voldemort. She finally offered the only proof she had left.
Anna took a deep breath. “Victoria Grayson was a Death Eater.” At these words she could see her aunt fall back, as if Anna’s words had shoved her. For the first time since Anna had entered the office, the Minister looked truly hurt.
“Rubbish…” she whispered.
Anna was astounded. “Surely, Minister, you know as well as I how it came to be that Victoria fell under the Dark Lord’s will.”
“Of course I know!” the woman snapped back. “I know exactly what that fiend did to…” she hesitated, her voice suddenly hoarse, “what he… did to my beautiful Victoria.” The Minister’s eyes were filled with both grief and malice, but the sad gentleness in her response surprised Anna. Surely his woman had been very close to her mother. Anna leaned forward.
“Please, Minister… you must believe me when I tell you… he’s back. The monster that hurt Victoria Grayson has returned.”
The Minster stared at her disbelievingly. “You sound so sure of yourself; you sound… so much like her…” The Minister slowly slumped back in her chair. “Are you saying this because of your mother… or…”
“No,” Anna retorted. “I tell you this by everything that defines me as a Guardian. By the Order of Merlin… I’m telling you the truth: He — is — back!”
The woman stared at Anna, seemingly unsure at how to respond. Her lasting beauty seemed suddenly faded.
“By the Order of Merlin…” she whispered. She slowly stood in front of her chair and Anna copied her. The Minister walked over to her sister’s painting and stared up at the woman looking back. The image in the portrait was slowly shaking her head.
“It can’t be true,” the woman in the painting whispered aloud.
“No…” agreed the Minister. Looking around again, she said, “You are mistaken, Anna. You don’t know what you’re saying.”
“But Minister… please, you must believe me…”
“Enough!” her aunt bellowed, returning to her chair to sit. She picked up a quill next to a stack of parchment and began to write. “I’m warning you, Anna, as I did all those who work for the Ministry; if you repeat these lies about You-Know-Who’s return, you will regret it.”
Anna was staggered. “But… I don’t work for the Ministry; you can’t tell me what I can…”
“But your father does,” she said, cutting across her with a glare. “And I am sure there are other members of your family who would someday wish to work here as well. There is more at risk in what you say than just yourself, young lady.”
Anna was astounded by the woman’s open audacity. “My family? But… YOU ARE MY FAMILY, MINISTER! And you… would threaten us? You… would do this to us?”
“For the benefit of those who would be sent into a panic by these lies, I surely would… yes!”
Anna mind was racing. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. This was wrong. Anna leaned forward. “My father taught us our first responsibility is keep our faith in God, Minister, and then to be true to our family.” She glared at the woman sitting across the desk from her. “I would have thought this wisdom would have come from both sides of my family.”
The Minister continued to write, dipping the tip of her quill quickly into the inkbottle without reply.
“Just so that you know…” the Minister finally said, not bothering to look up,” I will be naming somebody within the Ministry to manage this new Guardian Union at Castlewood.”
Anna’s jaw dropped. “What?”
The Minister dropped her quill and looked up. “You heard me. The Guardians will be closely monitored while at Castlewood and after they leave the school.”
“But… why? For what possible purpose?”
“If the these Guardians are anything like you, if they are so intent on spreading vicious rumors about You-Know-Who’s return, then they must be dealt with in the most severe methods open to my office.”
My God, what have I done? Anna thought.
“You will all be required to register with the Ministry, and your course schedules will be monitored closely for anything considered subversive.”
“Subversive? We’re not here to cause any trouble,” Anna fired back, “and the Guardians will not be controlled by the Ministry; we must remain independent of all outside influences.”
“You and the rest of your little purple band will do as you are told or…”
“We will not!”
“…or you will be expelled from Castlewood altogether!”
Anna was stunned. She slowly fell back into her chair. “No…” she whispered painfully.
“The Guardians of Castlewood will be closely watched both at school and after they graduate. And if they are found to be interfering with any Ministry business, or spreading these malicious rumors about You-Know-Who’s return, the punishment will be most severe; expulsion from Castlewood for underage sorcerers, and time in Azkaban for any adults who should know better.” The woman glared at her threateningly. “I can also have the Guardian Hall torn down, if that becomes necessary.”
Anna sat there, disbelieving every word she was hearing. She finally stood to lean over the desk at the Minister of Magic.
“You… are not a member of my family!”
The Minister’s expression flattened. Her eyes suddenly absent of emotion. “I am sorry you feel that way, Anna. Being so young, you don’t realize what you’re giving up in having access to the Minister of Magic. You should be…”
“Thankful? Is that how I’m supposed to feel about all your threats against my family, against the Guardians and me? You… are not my aunt, and I will never admit to anybody that we are related until you come to your senses.”
“Are you finished?”
“No… I’m not!”
“Oh, then let me stop you now before you find yourself in even more trouble than you already are, young lady.” The Minister stood and pointed her wand at her. Anna took a step back in fear before hearing the bolt in the door behind her spin with a loud clack.
“The door to the outside world is open to you, Anna… for now. I suggest you use it.” Anna glared at her. “Now!” the Minister bellowed.
Anna stiffened and then turned. She was almost at the open door when the Minister called to her again.
“By the way… I meant to ask you, why is Eric Grayson taking up residence in Spellsburg?”
Anna turned around and frowned. “What?”
The Minister strained to smile, her composure returning. “I would have thought your brother would have preferred to continue his studies in Los Angeles. Why is he going back to Castlewood?”
Anna contemplated the many responses open to her, driven by both stealth and anger. Finally, “That is a private family matter, Minster,” she said, scowling angrily back at the woman, “and I’m not at liberty to discuss such things with strangers.”
Her aunt’s glare darkened. “It would be beneficial to Eric’s future if he works closely with the Mayor of Spellsburg to find the proper lodging after his arrival in the city. Mayor Prower is a personal friend of mine, and I am sure he would be willing to help Eric get settled in if I asked him for his assistance. Ulric can be very accommodating to his friends… but most inhospitable to those he deems troublemakers. I’m sure you’ll find the Mayor of Spellsburg anxious to keep Eric out of any Guardian activities.”
Without saying a word, Anna turned again and opened the door. Glaring back, she said, “I’ll make sure he gets the message,” and she closed the door with a bang without waiting for a reply.
“Thank you, my dear.”
After a moment of silence, “She’s is a lot like her mother,” said the portrait of Mary Jennings.
The Minister looked at her sister and then again at the closed door. “For her sake… let us hope not.”