Anna Grayson and The Dragon's Lair

A Final Debt Paid

“So when are you going to tell Captain Hayman where the limping guy is hiding?” Gwen asked Anna, as the two followed Sarah and TJ to their first Care of Magical Creatures class.

“I have a break after my second class,” Anna replied, turning down a corridor away from Gwen. “I’ll let you know what he says tonight.” Gwen nodded before disappearing into the crowd.

They entered Care of Magical Creatures to find Eric Grayson sitting at the teacher’s desk.

“Eric!” Anna yelped in surprised. “What are you doing here? Is daddy all right?”

Her brother smiled. “Father is fine. Have a seat, Anna.”

Anna frowned. “But… why…?”

“Please… have a seat,” he repeated sharply.

Anna did as she was told, and TJ and Sarah Bell sat next to her looking confused.

“What’s goin’ on, Anna,” TJ whispered. “Why’s your brother here?”

Anna shrugged.

The bell rang and Eric stood. “Good morning, class,” he said merrily. “For those who don’t remember me from last year, my name is Eric Grayson and I’ll be your instructor for this semester’s Care of Magical Creatures class.”

“Instructor?” Anna blurted out.

Eric smiled, but ignored his sister. “Professor Motim is one of my advanced instructors in my career of choice, and part of my studies will include student teaching in some of his classes. I’m looking forward to moving through Professor Motin’s course outline with you, so let’s get started. Please turn to chapter one in your texts and let’s start by discussing…”

“How many classes are you teaching for Motim?” Anna interrupted him. “Isn’t this a bit much on top of all your other studies?”

“Miss Grayson…” Eric shot back. “You will find I prefer a very tight regiment in my classes, which will preclude the shouting out of questions without first raising your hand.”

Anna’s mouth dropped. “Miss Grayson?” she whispered to herself. “Eric… I…”

“That’s Mr. Grayson… if you don’t mind, Miss Grayson.” Eric said flatly.

Anna frowned again and leaned forward to breathe… “Does daddy know about this?”

“What my family might think about my field of study, Miss Grayson, is of no consequence to your work in my class. Please turn to page ten of your text and let us begin our discussion of the Class B creatures we will be studying this year.”

There was some light-hearted snickering around Anna as several students opened their books.

Anna frowned. “Yes, sir… Mr. Grayson,” she cooed mockingly, as Sarah and TJ giggled next to her.

By the end of the class, Anna had to admit her brother taught a very engaging class. Although she always knew Eric was very knowledgeable, she was amazed at how easily he took and answered all the questions put to him by the other students around her. Finally, the bell rang, announcing the end of their hour together.

“What… already?” Eric said, sounding surprised and looking down at his watch; he had been enjoying their discussion about the proper way in which to handle the American bowtruckle.

“All right then — good class, everyone. Homework: Please finish reading chapter one in your text and be prepared to discuss the danger ratings given to some of the magical creatures by the Department for the Regulation and Control for Magical Creatures. Pay close attention to the creatures with poisons. You can expect a quiz on the subject within the next three days. That is all, you’re dismissed.”

Anna immediately got up and headed to the front. “Eric… why didn’t you tell me you would be teaching?”

Her brother laughed. “Because I was looking forward to seeing the look on your face when you walked into my class.” He stopped to smile at her. “You were a sight.”

“I thought the class was very good, Eric. Oh… I mean… Mr. Grayson,” Sarah said shyly.

“Thank you, Miss Bell. That’s very nice of you say.”

“Anna… you should tell yer brother about the gimp,” TJ whispered to her furtively.

Anna agreed and took Eric aside as the rest of the students filed out. She told him about the man she followed in the city, how she found this hiding place, and then about the baby dragon she had taken from the old house.

Eric was ashen faced by the time she finished telling him what had happened.

“Anna… what were you thinking? You could have been killed! You don’t know what these men would have done if they had caught you spying on them… and then breaking into the house?”

“But they were going to kill him, Eric. I heard them talking about it through the window.”

Eric gritted his teeth. The internal struggle between the things that defined him as a Guardian was at odds with the fear he felt for his sister. He placed his hands on Anna’s shoulders.

“Listen… I understand why you did it, but you can’t do these things alone. You’re too young — too vulnerable. Anna, anything could have happened.”

“Okay — okay, I get it. So now what?”

Eric took his first full breath in five minutes and then resigned himself to only hope his sister was listening to his warnings. “How’s the dragon doing?” he finally asked her and he watched as her face brightened.

“Oh… he’s doing great! He’s eating so much better now. I’m going in to check on him between classes when I can.” Her brother looked at her sympathetically and her face fell. “I know I can’t keep him, Eric. What do you think will happen to him?”

“I think it best you turn him over to me outside the grounds tonight before we go to Hayman with the story. I think it makes better since to say you turned the dragon over to the Care of Magical Creatures instructor than to admit you smuggled him into the castle. We don’t need to give Dunning a reason to suspend you.”

TWO

The next day, Lieutenant Mantos gave a signal and several Crimson Guards began rushing forward into an alleyway. Simultaneously, no less than six guards on brooms and doors shot forward into a predetermined and watchful position overhead. Their wands drawn, the guards on the ground stopped to glance around the corner and then, in pairs of two, they moved with military precision onto the next street. More guards now flooded into the alleyway from the opposite end, as the civilians stopped to stare in awl at the tremendous show of force.

They moved together from both sides of the alley and then down from the sky, converging on an open gap set between two dilapidated row houses. His men were set. Lieutenant Mantos strode bravely down the middle of the alley smiling broadly. Nobody would exit the street now without their knowledge or permission. Mantos stopped in front of the open gap and sneered. He had been waiting a long time for this moment. The smugglers he was about to capture represented the only blemish on his otherwise perfect record of security in the city of Spellsburg. This was finally his chance to wipe away this lawless scourge from the city entirely. Although he was completely mystified as to how a student from Castlewood was able to find this secret location when he and his men could not, in that moment the lieutenant of Spellsburg didn’t care. These questions would have their answers soon enough. For now, it was fine enough to know… the leader of the smugglers within the Shadowed Forest would be sleeping in a dungeon cell by nightfall.

Mantos slowly removed a piece of parchment from his picket and motioned a dozen other guards around him in a circle. Together, they read from a note a student named Anna Grayson had provided to them.

The hideout of the smuggler’s leader is

located within the gap at number 13 Old-Way Lane.

Their heads rose as one after reading the note. The house on the left of the gap had a number eleven over its door, the house on the right — the number fifteen. They stared into the gap, concentrating on what was on the note.

And all at once, number thirteen rose up from out of the mud before them, growing to fill the gap entirely. When the steps of the porch attached themselves to the broken sidewalk, Lieutenant Mantos smiled.

“Thank you, Anna Grayson… whoever you are.” The other guards looked at him in amazement.

“Go!” he yelped, and they all scrambled forward, taking positions under the building’s windows and doors. The other guards observing in the alley and overhead had their wands drawn and watched in astonishment as their comrades vanished one-by-one into the empty gap in front of them. They couldn’t hear the crashing door, or the yelling within, as several more guards moved forward and then suddenly disappeared.

Thirty minutes later, Eric and Captain Hayman were standing outside number thirteen, talking to Lieutenant Mantos.

“The house was abandoned, Captain. It looks like our man must have cleared out quickly after he realized somebody had broken in to steal the dragon.”

“Very good; give your men the all clear and a job well-done for me,” Hayman replied. He could see the disappointment on his friend’s face. He stepped in to put a reassuring hand on his lieutenant’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, Tom, we’ll get him. It’s only a matter of time now. We know what he looks like, we know what they’re stealing from the forest, and now your men have taken out his headquarters. We’ll have him soon enough.”

Mantos looked unappeased. “Yeah, I know. I just wish it’d been today.”

He gave a wave to his men on the street and then overhead and they slowly began to move away through the crowds of citizens who had gathered on both ends of the alley to watch. The lieutenant then turned back to Eric.

“So we have a new name to add to our list of suspects now… might even be the ring-leader. Your sister mentioned, ‘The Collector’?” He cocked his head to the side. “Mean anything to you?”

Eric shook his head and Mantos looked at Hayman with a raised eyebrow. “You know… Dunning would have probably fired me for this failure.”

Hayman smiled and gripped his friend’s shoulder again. “A different time… and different leadership. I think we have better tactics today. Go be with your men, Tom.”

As Mantos moved off, Hayman turned to Eric. “Walk with me.” Together they moved away from the other guards. “So… how is your new ward doing?”

“Remarkably well, considering what the dragon’s been through. I think he’ll make it.”

“Have you given any thought to what you’re going to do with it? I mean, you know it’s illegal to keep it in the city.”

Eric nodded in agreement. “I’d like to get it back to where it came from.”

Hayman’s jaw dropped. “In the Shadowed Forest? Not a chance, my friend. It would take every man I have just to find the Dragon’s Lair. Until today, I thought the lair nothing more than a legend — a myth. Nobody knows where the lair is and it would take months to find it; not to mention the untold number of lives we would lose during the search.”

The captain shook his head. “No, my friend; looking for the lair in those woods is out of the question. It’s lives-lost-per-mile in that forest. Our only hope is to catch Anna’s limping-man and get him to tell us exactly where the place is, and even then… I’m not sure I’d risk the lives of my men to talk it back.”

There was a pause between the two men before Hayman looked around cautiously and then lowered his voice. “So… when are you going to tell me how Anna did this?” His question was casual, but wanting.

Eric looked at him and then tried to steal some measure of innocence. “I don’t know what do you mean?”

“Don’t give me that, Eric. You know exactly what I mean. How did Anna become the Secret Keeper to this place?”

Eric stared at his friend and then shrugged. “She said she overheard the limping-man talking to his partner on the street somewhere; heard him telling the other where the house was located.”

Hayman’s expression turned cold. “That’s not how it works, Eric, and deceit is not a strong enough skill you possess. You must think me a complete idiot to make your lies so transparent,” he blurted out, banging his finger into his friend’s chest. “I might be dense, but I’m not that thin.”

The captain looked around cautiously again and then pulled Eric away. “We both know there’s something different… about your sister. The first Guardian in more that fifteen centuries? And then she brought that Threstral out of his invisible despair last year, the way she’s advanced through the dueling club, and then finding that Muggle in the Shadowed Forest a few months ago. I’ve seen the way the elves fawn over her in the castle, not to mention her closeness to Trog.” Hayman turned to look back at the limping-man’s house. “And now this.” He glared back at Eric and then cautiously around them. “I also know… Voldemort is back!”

Eric was at first surprised by Hayman’s declaration and then he smiled. “You’d better keep your voice down, John. I hear it doesn’t do a man’s career any good to repeat such things. Besides, nobody around here believes the coming of the Guardians has anything to do with You-Know-Who…or the stories of his return. Where would you ever get an idea like that?”

Hayman sneered. “I can read, Eric, and I’m not one for ignoring the signs.” He stepped in. “So take this warning back to your sister: If she ever pulls a stunt like this again, I’ll expel her with the Chancellor’s blessing. If Anna is what I think she is, then she’s too important to get herself killed breaking into the house of some a two-bit criminal.”

Eric was taken aback at first and then he reached out to put his hands on Hayman’s shoulders. “I’ll deliver your message — with all the ferocity a terrified brother can muster. And thank you… for seeking the truth in these things.”

Hayman gripped Eric by the wrist and nodded. “You just remember what I said about my sending her home. I will expel her — if that’s what it takes to keep her safe.” The captain turned to walk away, but was still looking back at Eric when he said, “And I’ll send that bloody Vipertooth home with her.”

THREE

The following Monday, Anna was sitting with the rest of the Guardians in a new classroom built within the Guardian Hall. From the animated talk going on around her, she was sure she wasn’t the only one excited about Castlewood’s very first Care of Magical Objects class. But her mind was troubled and unfocused; she was thinking about her visit with the Minister of Magic.

I will be naming somebody within the Ministry to manage this new Guardian sect at Castlewood. You will be closely monitored.

Anna was sure the Minister intended to control the movement and actions of all the Guardians and Qwaad was right out of the Minister’s front office. She was suddenly sure this class wasn’t going to be what her fellow Guardians expected.

“How was your distension with Van Doorn on Saturday, Anna?” asked a second year Guardian Heather Thomas.

Anna scoffed. “She had me cleaning out the fires in her office.”

The girl smiled. “Well… that’s not too bad.”

Anna looked at her and sneered. “Without my wand.”

“Oh my…”

The door opened and Professor Bartholomaeus Qwaad marched in and sat his dragon skin bag down on the desk. He quickly took the roll and then came around his desk to sit on its front. He stared at them appraisingly before reaching back to gather a stack of parchment from his bag.

“Good morning. My name is Professor Qwaad, and I’m going to ask each of you to fill out one these registration forms from Ministry of Magic.” With a flick of his wand, he made the parchment fly into the air and onto each of their desks. Anna quickly noticed each of their names was already printed on the top. “Please fill in all of the blanks as accurately as you possibly can, and I’d like you to pay close attention to the questions printed for you at the bottom of the parchment. If you need addition rolls to give a fully-formed answer then it will be provided to you.”

Anna read through the parchment quickly, which was embossed with a very official looking Ministry stamp at the top. It wanted her parents’ name, their home address, the names of any brothers or sisters, if any members of their family worked for the Ministry of Magic and, if so, in what capacity. They wanted their genealogy and ancestry filled out on a pre-printed family tree on a separate page. At the bottom of the page, there was a list of questions and a number of blank lines below each, hinting at the thoroughness of which they expected their answers. Anna felt the coldness of the Lethifold spark in the center of her chest before she realized what had caused it to turn inside her; she was angry.

Anna looked around at her fellow Guardians expecting to see them working hard on their forms, but to her great surprise, nobody was writing. Some were still reading through the pages of the parchment with furrowed brows while others were looking about, seeking eye contact around them. TJ had her arms crossed, defiantly staring back at their teacher at the head of the class. After some time had passed without the expected scratching of quills, Professor Qwaad looked up from his chair and smiled.

“What’s the problem – why aren’t you writing? The faster we get through the forms, the faster we can move on.”

His question was met with silence, except for a few more students who crossed their arms in obvious rebellion. Their reaction didn’t seem to come as a surprise to their teacher at all. He casually fell back into his chair and took up the roster again.

“Gabriel Laroche… where are you?”

The Guardian Knight was sitting in the front row. She watchfully raised her hand.

“Ah… a Knight, excellent! It’s a privilege to have someone with you obvious talents in my class,” Qwaad gushed.

He stood to come around his desk and looked down at the blank parchment sitting in front of the girl. “Tell me… why haven’t you started filling out the Ministry forms as I’ve requested? I’ve never heard of a Knight being uncooperative with a teacher in this school before now.” His voice suddenly hardened. “Explain yourself!”

Gabriel looked surprised by Qwaad’s severe tone. She straightened, suddenly aware there might be some unexpected reprisals for her actions. “It’s not that I’m trying to be uncooperative, Professor… it’s just that…”

“Yes?”

“I guess I just don’t understand why the Ministry of Magic would request this kind of information from us. I’m a seventh-year, sir, and I’ve never had this kind of personal information asked of me by a teacher before now. Is this really necessary?”

Qwaad stared at her for a time before looking around the room at the rest of the class. He could see several other students now folding their arms in agreement. Their teacher smiled.

“Isn’t it enough to know the Ministry of Magic has taken an important interest in the future of this curriculum and its students? The documents are nothing… if not the trifle supervision of your future studies. It’s nothing more than what you should expect from any member of the Chancellor’s staff seeking to guide you.”

“But sir,” Gabriel countered, “this doesn’t come from the Chancellor’s office, but from the Ministry of Magic. Does Professor Thordarson know about this questionnaire? Has he approved our having to fill it out? What is the reason…?”

“The needs of the Ministry of Magic are far more important than those of any single teacher, even if that teacher happens to be the Chancellor of Castlewood. You will fill out the given forms.” Qwaad’s tone was now much more demanding. He looked down at his roster once more.

“Where is… Miss Sarah Bell?”

Anna looked next to her and found Sarah timidly raising her hand.

“Ah… thank you, Miss Bell,” Qwaad gushed again. He came forward and looked down at Sarah’s untouched parchment in front of her.

“Why haven’t you filled out the questionnaire as I asked?”

Anna found herself pulling for Sarah, praying she wouldn’t immediately pick up the quill and begin writing in frightened response.

“I…” Sarah stammered inaudibly, “think I’ll… have to get permission from my parents to give this kind of private information to the Ministry of Magic… sir.”

Anna smiled. Sarah’s answer might have sounded frail, but it was perfection. Anna glared back at Professor Qwaad, who seemed very surprised by the answer given him. He looked down again at his roster.

“Tanya Wangstaff…” Qwaad looked up. “Where are you?” TJ’s hand immediately shot into the air on Anna’s other side. Their teacher walked over to her desk and lifted the parchment in front of her. He looked at the blank pages and then fixed an angry stare down at TJ.

“Well…? What’s your excuse for disobeying me?”

“The name’s Tanya-Joe,” TJ answered.

“What?”

“I said, m’name is Tanya-Joe; not Tanya… it’s Tanya-Joe,” TJ snapped back. “My daddy’d sock ya in the mouth for tryin’ta change ma’ given name. It’d be like callin’ you Professor Qwack.” There was the soft sound of snickering going off around them and Anna held her breath, but to everybody’s surprise, Qwaad smiled.

“All right then, my apologies to your father… Tanya-Joe. So tell me, why aren’t you writing?”

TJ frowned again. “Well… it’s like Sarah said. Seems like the Ministry is pokin’ their busy-body nose into something they shouldn’t. I’d have to default to my daddy on somethin’ like this as well.”

Qwaad stared at her appraisingly and then turned to Anna. He looked down at her blank document as well, collected it up, and then returned to his desk. He seemed to be deep in thought, lost at what to do next. He finally turned and nodded.

“It would seem that some of the Ministry’s concerns about a rebellious new Guardian Hall are not completely unfounded. I shall inform the Ministry of your unwillingness to comply. In the meantime, we shall carry on.” He turned to stuff the forms into his bag.

“By the way, Miss Wangstaff, I’m putting you in detention.” Everybody turned to look at TJ in shocked surprise.

“What!?” TJ shot back. “What fer?”

“For your disrespect and cheekiness.” He looked at Gabriel. “I’m also putting you in detention as well, Guardian Knight… for you insubordination when I should have had your partnered leadership in this matter.”

Gabriel first looked surprised and then settled back once more. “Yes, sir. If you think that’s fair, I will inform the Student President of my detention. I’m sure she will be most disappointed. I don’t think there’s ever been a Knight put in detention before now.”

“I should hope not, but she won’t be half as disappointed in you as I am right now.”

Professor Qwaad then left the room and then returned a moment later pushing a large-canvas roller bin through the door. The students could hear the sound of metal clanking and clinking within the swaying bin as he moved to the front and stopped.

“I’d like each of you to come up here and take one object from the cart and then return to your seats please. That is, of course, unless you feel it necessary to ignore another one of my requests.”

A hint of returning excitement followed the students as they stood, expecting to find an amazing assortment of magical objects within the bin. What they found instead was the most unassuming array of stacked plates, goblets and a box of tarnished silverware to the side.

“What’s this?” asked a first-year student, holding up one of the utensils.

“That, Mister Borjg… is a fork. Take a box of silver back to your seat, if you please… quickly now.” He looked at the rest of the Guardians staring into the cart. “Well… what are you waiting for? Take a box or a plate. Move along.”

They did as they were told and then quietly returned to their seats.

“Maybe we’re going to place a spell on them or try and transfigure them,” Gwen said hopefully, turning her plate around to inspect the back. Anna was skeptical.

Qwaad then reached deep into the cart to pull out a wooden box. “I’d like each of you to take a cloth and a jar as the box comes around to you.” Once again the Guardians were confused, but did as they were told. “The jar contains a mild polish. You will follow these directions to clean and polish the silver in your possession.” He waved his wand at the blackboard and words suddenly appeared there.

There was stunned silence as everybody stared back at the teacher.

“Polish the silver? But...I thought we were here to study magical objects,” complained a sixth-year boy in the front row.

Professor Qwaad looked up and smiled. “That is correct. This class is The Care of Magical Objects.” He stopped to survey them, expecting this pronouncement to explain everything. When it didn’t, he stepped forward to say, “Well you can’t expect to care for something magically important until you can convince me you can follow the simplest of instructions given to you.”

He turned to retreat behind his desk where he promptly sat down. He then opened his bag to remove an apple, put his feet unceremoniously up on his desk, and then took a sloppy bite. “Well… what are you waiting for, Guardians, carry on. Make it shine!” He smiled evilly at them as he took another bite.

FOUR

An unheard symphony was playing in obscurity. The place from which they were performing was dark and cold, even though the temperature outside was a balmy seventy degrees. A woman was kneeling alone on a bench in the darkness, whispering a prayer. Her petitions to God could be heard echoing against the stone walls inside the Grayson chapel.

“Help me find her, Lord, I beg you. Give me the wisdom to know where else to look.”

Edith Porchdow was stooped in solemn prayer. Desperate to leave no stone unturned in her continuing search for the vessel holding her friend Leola Grayson, her determination had lead her to the place where Anna had said she might find the help she needed.

She had entered the chapel, half buried in the mossy hillside, nearly two hours ago, but still, she wasn’t sure why she was there. Although her first and most obvious impulse was to kneel and pray to God for what she needed, she was suspicious of Anna’s advice. Her suggestion to come to the chapel seemed to hint at something less than the divine and, perhaps, better aligned with the news of her becoming a Guardian. But what else does one do when entering the house of God? She looked around and decided to pray for whatever Anna had offered to her. But what was it she was supposed to find here?

There were other whispers within the chapel as well, the voices of magic trying desperately to reach out to one of their own, to the Guardian now seeking help from the Creator of all. The voices screamed out, but their connection with this one was not as it was with the Sithmaith. It was like trying to pluck the right chord from an infinite number of symphonic strings. They strummed and cried out to her, trying to speak to the Guardian sharing their space.

We have news of the Alley. Listen to the sound of our voice, Guardian.

“Please, God…. help me find my friend. Help me stop her suffering.”

Hear us, Guardian. We have news.

“Where can Leola be? I’ve searched everywhere – the woods, the estate, the stalls, the old Jennings’ ruins. I’m sure she’s not there. Where else should I look? Please, Lord, help me.”

Hear us, Guardian. Hear our voice.

And then, it happened. Perhaps it was God’s personal intervention in all things inspired by goodness that finally connected the two bridges, which up to that time seemed heading in different directions. Perhaps it was just the inevitably that magic would finally pluck the proper note within the abundant repertoire of symphonies they had already performed before the kneeling woman.

Hear us, Guardian.

Edith Porchdow opened her eyes and looked up. Was that a voice she heard? No… more like a crowd of voices.

Hear us, Guardian!

“I… hear you… who are you?”

We are the voices of enchantment, they who would seek the help of one of our own, a protector of magic.

Although the woman could hear some part of them, their voices were like a wireless falling out of tune; something the Muggles might call a terrible connection. She listened hard as the crowd whined and faded, every fifth syllable breaking its way through the static between them.

“What? I don’t understand you.”

Then it suddenly dawned on her why she was there. This is what Anna wanted her to find. She wanted her to hear these voices, they who call themselves magic. Edith Porchdow suddenly became desperate.

“Do you know where I can find Leola Grayson? Do you know where she is?”

The woman was now standing, looking not at the altar or the cross of gold behind it, but at the stone walls surrounding her. The voices were fading now, falling away like a sudden breeze stealing autumn’s last leaf. The gentle harmony was changing, moving to a new chord and away from the one connecting them, never to be found again.

Please... can you help me?”

Two words made it through the buzz that was now completely gone.

… the beaches.

Three thousand miles away, Anna Grayson was several hours into a dreamless sleep when several voices reached across the void between her subconscious and wherever the mind travels to find peace and rest. Never waking, her face broke into a weak smile.

The Alley knows. She is aware that we are searching for her. Faith is reborn… and sorrows bartered for hope.

FIVE

There was a sharp crack, a flash of bright light, and then a man stood alone in the center of a flat plain of tundra; a vast, treeless desert of yellowed grass and mud. He had arrived with his wand out and a heavy cloak draped about his shoulders. Still, the September cold in this isolated place surprised him. He slowly turned to find a jet of black rock silhouetted against the clear, star laden sky about a mile away. The man moaned miserably, raised his collar, and then set off toward the midnight moon hanging low and bright over the distant mount. As cold as the night air was on his ungloved hands, his wand remained in plain sight.

It took the man nearly forty minutes to cover the muddy distance in the cold. He was sure this was the hiding place of the person he was seeking, but even in this miserable and desolate spot, manners had their place. Only an enemy would have come directly to the front door of a wizard in hiding. Those coming for a visit without evil intent would allow their presence to be known well in advance. Still, the walk would tire him and the cold would stiffen his muscles, a dangerous combination if a fight were to become necessary. But that was his quarry’s plan all along, wasn’t it? To make him tired and cold before meeting him face to face.

The man stopped before an open cave set in the bottom of the rock. His eyes scanned the site for the usual traps and he was surprised to find none. Obviously, he was expected.

“Igor… I am here.” The wind howled and the cave seemed to moan eerily in response. There was no reply. “I’m coming in.” The man entered the cave to find a hole and a silver ladder leading down into darkness.

“Igor?”

The man scoffed. Another well laid trap meant for those with aggressive and dangerous purposes. The trip down would require stowing his wand. Fine, he thought angrily to himself, whatever it takes to put this trip behind me. He pocketed his wand and thenreluctantly headed down the ladder.

It took another five minutes to reach the bottom of the cave, which surprised him when he finally touched down. He set his feet, turned, and then raised his wand again.

“Igor Kakaroff! Where are you?” No response. “Lumos!” The wand did not light. Blast the man and his brother the devil!

“I got your message and I came as you requested. What do you want?”

A whisper finally broke the silence somewhere deep in the cave in front of him. “Boris Grayson… my old friend.”

A match popped, illuminating a man’s head in the distant darkness. The man called Kakaroff looked gaunt and sallow, his eyes sunken and ringed in sleepless black. The head seemed to float through the air before disappearing again as the match traveled down to a small desk. There was a heavy clunk of glass and a lamp suddenly set the darkness aside.

Mister Grayson looked around at the abysmal conditions surrounding the two of them. “Nice place you have here, but I can recommend a better decorator.”

Kakaroff grinned. “Not all of us can live safe and happy in a family mansion, Boris. As you can plainly see, I’ve had to do away with a few amenities while in hiding,” the man answered in a deep eastern accent.

“In hiding, Igor? And why would that be? Don’t tell me you believe all those rumors about Voldemort’s return?”

Kakaroff scowled at the name. “You take too many risks with your life, Boris. You always did. Saying the Dark Lord’s name aloud can be dangerous… even here in my cave of quiet solitude. Do you not know the old Russian saying: Even the rats have ears in which to hear you?

“Enough of this, Igor… what is it you want? I didn’t come all this way to banter with you again. Those games never gave me the pleasure they did you.”

Kakaroff smiled. “A pity; I always considered you a worthy opponent.” He suddenly turned solemn. “I have asked you to come here… so that I may repay my debt to you.”

Mister Grayson’s face darkened. “If… I remember correctly, the payment of all debts in your culture is usually a prelude to death, Igor. Your cave seems secure enough to me.”

The man flashed an evil grin, and then pulled his sleeve up to show the Dark Mark branded into his chalk white skin. “The Dark Lord is closing in. My time is short.” He poked at the blackened burn upon his skin and then watched as the snake rose up to hiss and strike at his finger. The man laughed maliciously. “My pet does not seem to like me now, no?” He lowered his arm and then glared back at Boris.

“I never repaid you for getting me out of Azkaban.”

Mister Grayson looked like a man unfairly accused of a high crime. “I didn’t have anything to do with that! I only came to you at Dumbledore’s request, because he needed some of your memories about Voldemort’s past.”

Kakaroff sneered at hearing the Dark Lord’s name again. “Please… not in my hiding place. Remember… the rats,” he said, motioning into the darkness behind them. He reached down to pour some wine and then handed a cup to his guest.

“No, thank you.”

Kakaroff shrugged before taking a sip. “It was you who convinced Crouch and the gamut to grant my hearing and listen to my knowledge of the Death Eaters. I say a debt is owed. Honor must be served.”

“Honor is a gift a man gives to himself, Igor. You sold yours away when you took that brand,” Mister Grayson admonished him. He looked around at the dreary cave again and then heaved resignedly. “But if you must… then fine. What is it you have to tell me?”

Kakaroff took another sip of this wine and then, “News has come to me that the Dark Lord has taken an interest in the Guardians of Castlewood.” Mister Grayson’s eyes widened. “More than that… He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, not-even-in-my-cave, is seeking information about,” he hesitated, “one of your daughters. I believe her name is…”

“Anna!” Mister Grayson interrupted, and Kakaroff smiled as he lifted the cup to take another drink.

“I do not know what draws him to one so young on the other side of the world… but be warned… he would have her if given the opportunity.”

Mister Grayson began to sway as his legs weakened. “Perhaps… I’ll have that drink after all,” he groaned.

Kakaroff smiled again. “I thought you might.” He handed a goblet to his guest and poured. “I have more to tell you.”

Mister Grayson took an unsteady drink and then lowered the cup. “What more?”

“The Dark Lord is sending a Death Eater to take the girl from Spellsburg if it can be done… or,” he refilled Grayson’s cup, “kill her if not.”

Boris Grayson swayed ominously and then grabbed a chair to sit. “Who is this Death Eater you speak of?” he asked, holding his breath as he waited for an answer.

“I do not know. I only heard… it will be somebody your daughter trusts.”

The cup he was holding spilled to the dirt floor as Mister Grayson’s head fell into his hands. His worse fears were realized. Voldemort was after Anna and he knew whom he would send to take her. There was only one Death Eater that Anna would trust; only one known follower of Voldemort Anna would allow to come close; her mother Victoria.

Grayson rose to stand, his entire body racked with terror. “Thank you, Igor. Whatever debt you believe you owe me… has been paid in full.”

The sallow-faced Kakaroff bowed. “Then… I must ask you now to leave my hiding place, Boris.” He motioned him toward the silver ladder behind him. Mister Grayson nodded and turned to leave.

Twenty minutes later, Boris Grayson was well away from the cave and heading toward the open tundra again, his body shaking with fear. It was a new experience for him, because unlike so many others in the wizarding world, Boris never feared Voldemort before that day. He felt the worst thing that could happen to him was death, but to be killed fighting evil always gave him the calming assurance to know that heaven would be his reward. Now, however, dread was overwhelming his reason. His beloved Anna, his child, was in very great danger.

Igor Kakaroff watched the man walk a good distance away before seeing the flash of light that would take his visitor home again. He looked up at the very full moon.

“All my debts… are now paid,” the man declared with a heavy voice, and the wind moaned eerily in reply. He then turned reluctantly to descend the ladder into the pit again and that was the last anybody ever saw of Igor Kakaroff.


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