|Alexandra Quick and the Thorn Circle
Author: Inverarity PM
The war against Voldemort never reached America, but all is not well there. When 11-year-old Alexandra Quick learns she is a witch, she is plunged into a world of prejudices, intrigue, and danger. Who wants Alexandra dead, and why?Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Fantasy/Adventure - OC - Chapters: 29 - Words: 165,657 - Reviews: 380 - Favs: 291 - Follows: 45 - Updated: 12-24-07 - Published: 12-23-07 - Status: Complete - id: 3964606
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The Registrar's Scroll
"Be good, Alex," her mother said.
"I will." Alexandra couldn't help rolling her eyes.
They were standing in front of the blackened ruins of their house. They'd finally been allowed to go through the wreckage to pick out anything salvageable, but there was nothing to retrieve. So Alexandra was returning to school with little more than a few changes of clothing, and Charlie. Fortunately she had left her school clothes and books in her room at the academy, but she regretted the loss of her Christmas presents. Only Anna's charm bracelet had survived, because that she had been wearing when she escaped the fire.
Archie was waiting with them this time. He was wearing his police uniform, because he was on duty, but he'd swung by Sweetmaple Avenue to see Alexandra off.
"That means stay out of trouble," he said, as if he didn't think "Be good" was clear enough.
Alexandra sounded exasperated, but there was a trace of a smile on her lips. "I will, Archie."
The Charmbridge bus rolled around the corner. Charlie squawked excitedly, and her mother ran a hand through her hair, smoothing it down though it didn't need it.
"We'll let you know how the house-hunting is going," she said. "You could write more often, you know."
Her mother snorted at that. The short bus pulled to a stop, and opened its doors. Mrs. Speaks looked past Alexandra at the burnt wreckage behind her. "Miss Quick, whatever happened?" she exclaimed.
"We had a terrible accident over Christmas," her mother said to the bus driver. "But no one was hurt, fortunately."
Alexandra got on the bus, said "Happy New Year," to Mrs. Speaks, and walked past staring classmates.
"Troublesome burned her own house down!" she heard someone whispering, and she sighed and found her way to a lone booth. The bus was apparently making its previous trip in reverse order, which meant none of her friends were on board yet. She practiced wand movements and thought about the upcoming SPAWN until they reached Detroit, and David got on.
"Alex!" he exclaimed, and sat down next to her. "Did you have a good Christmas?"
"I had sort of a strange Christmas," Alexandra said. She wasn't going to go into detail on the bus, while others could hear. "How about you?"
"Pretty good, but my parents gave me a bunch of electronic stuff. Playstation, computer, MP3 player, even a new cell phone."
"Cool!" Alexandra was impressed, and a little envious.
"Yeah, except none of that stuff will work at Charmbridge. They didn't pay attention when I told them that Muggle devices don't work around magic."
"Oh." Alexandra thought about the flashlights and calculator she'd sent Constance and Forbearance, and hoped they weren't wondering why she'd given them useless Muggle junk.
When they arrived in Chicago, Darla, Angelique, and Anna all boarded. Anna beamed when she saw Alexandra wearing the charm bracelet that had been her Christmas present. They didn't have much chance to talk, though, because Darla and Angelique both spent the rest of the ride detailing everything they'd done over vacation and every one of their presents. This suited Alexandra, since she wanted to tell David and Anna about the Christmas blizzard without the other girls listening in.
As they ascended the highway leading up to the bluff where the Invisible Bridge was located, Alexandra saw that it had snowed here as well, and when they got off the bus, the valley was blanketed in frost, and the woods on the far side were caked with snow.
"Snow!" exclaimed Anna excitedly, and she bent over as soon as they disembarked to scoop some up in her hands.
"You act like you've never seen snow before," David said.
"I haven't. Except in pictures. We don't get white Christmases in California." She was happily making a snowball.
"Be happy. Detroit got buried. Heck, most of the Midwest got buried this Christmas. Believe me, you can get tired of snow real fast. At least here it won't turn all gray and nasty after it gets plowed and driven over for a few weeks."
Alexandra stared at David, and then recovered. She hadn't realized the blizzard had been so extensive.
"Here we go again," he muttered, as Mrs. Speaks began leading students across the Invisible Bridge. Once more, Mr. Journey was there. "Happy New Year, Starshine. Did you have a nice Christmas?"
"Nice enough," Alexandra said. She wondered if snow shoveling was among the tasks the custodian's Clockworks would now be performing, and resolved not join them in detention this semester.
"Goodness!" said Forbearance.
"Gracious!" said Constance.
They were all sitting in front of a crackling fire in the sixth graders' lounge. Alexandra was telling her friends about the events over Christmas. She had not yet told anyone but Anna about her possible connection to Abraham Thorn, but aside from that, she didn't leave out any details, not even her aborted curse.
"You almost died!" Anna said breathlessly.
"Again," said David.
"Do you still think no one is trying to kill me?" she asked.
Constance and Forbearance looked at each other, and Forbearance cleared her throat.
"That curse," she said.
"It was..." Constance's voice trailed off.
"I know," said Alexandra. "It was bad."
They were all silent for a bit.
"But willing you dead?" said Constance.
"Surely not," said Forbearance.
"Who would wish such a thing?" The Ozarkers hadn't been privy to the discussions Alexandra had had with David and Anna before Christmas, so this was all new and shocking to them. She hadn't gotten around to her theory about Ms. Grimm's involvement, and wasn't sure they would want to hear it.
"Gee, I don't know," said Alexandra. "Certain boys who use the m-word?"
The twins flushed, and looked down.
"Benjamin and Mordecai are... not always charitable," said Constance, diplomatically.
"And we know you and Larry are not on the best of terms," said Forbearance, even more diplomatically.
"But accusing them of murder in their hearts is too much."
"And it's silly anyway, to think they pursued you into the Muggle world?"
"I don't." Alexandra was not as certain as the Pritchards were that Larry and the Rashes might not wish to see her murdered, but she didn't really think they were the ones who'd been trying to murder her. She gave a warning look to Anna. "But it is awfully suspicious, don't you think?"
The twins exchanged another one of their meaningful looks.
"You conjured up an awful lot of ill," said Constance.
"It must had to go somewhere," said Forbearance quietly.
"And whether or not you loosed it on others, that's the sort of curse what always afflicts the one what did the cursing."
"Evil always returns to the one who dealt it." The Ozarkers looked very serious, and a little pale.
"Evil?" Alexandra exclaimed.
"We're not saying you're evil, Alexandra!" Constance said emphatically.
"Never!" Forbearance agreed.
And they both bit their lips and looked at her worriedly. Everyone was silent, looking at her.
"I'm not Dark!" she said.
"We know!" all her friends echoed.
She looked down. "All right, maybe what I did was bad. You think I brought it all on myself?"
Anna slipped her hands around Alexandra's arm and leaned her head against her roommate's shoulder.
"I think," she said, "that you should be careful, Alex. And I'm really glad you weren't hurt. And you should try really, really hard not to get in any trouble this semester."
There was an assembly the first day back from vacation, and the Dean addressed the entire student body, welcoming them back for a new semester, warning them that snow charms were not to be used indoors, and announcing the Winter Ball for grades eight and up. She also told them that Clockworks would be taking over more duties formerly performed by house elves, and introduced a new member of the staff, a young man with a scraggly goatee and an earring who looked like it hadn't been long since he was a student himself. "This is Mr. Thiel, who will be joining our groundskeeping and custodial staff. Our hard-working Mr. Journey has had the monumental responsibility of maintaining Charmbridge's grounds and facilities – with some help from elves, Clockworks, and of course, the occasional student with a little too much idle time..." there was muted laughter at this, and Alexandra felt quite a few pairs of eyes turning in her direction, but Ms. Grimm went on. "So I'm very pleased that our new budget allows for a full-time assistant who will be relieving Mr. Journey of some of his more tedious duties."
Alexandra noticed that Mr. Journey was smiling and applauding politely, but somehow he didn't seem all that enthusiastic about having a new assistant. Darla and Angelique were whispering and giggling, and Alexandra gathered that they thought the young assistant custodian and groundskeeper was cute.
"Finally," said Ms. Grimm, "I'm very pleased to announce that for commencement this year, the Governor-General himself will be our invited guest!" A ripple went through the auditorium. "As you know, it's been quite a few years since the Governor-General has honored Charmbridge with a visit, so I expect to see every student putting forth maximum effort to display Charmbridge pride and excellence." She beamed at the assembled students, and Alexandra thought her smile looked like a threat.
"The Governor-General!" Anna exclaimed, walking to lunch with Alexandra after the assembly.
"So what?" Alexandra shrugged. Commencement was for graduating students. The event was irrelevant to her, though she guessed there'd be a lot of fuss when the time came.
"Well, he's really important! He's the most important man in the Confederation!"
Alexandra thought maybe she'd know more about the Governor-General if she was in a regular Wizard Social Studies class with Anna, instead of Remedial Wizarding World History.
"He's also the one the Thorn Circle tried to assassinate!" Anna added, in a whisper.
That got Alexandra's attention. She stopped and stared at Anna. "The same one? But that was years ago! Before we were born!"
Anna nodded. "Governor-General Hucksteen has been in office for thirteen years."
Alexandra was thinking about that when they passed Larry Albo in the hall, and he called out "Nice going, Troublesome! One day back and already in the Dean's office! That must be a new record!"
She jerked to a halt. "What?" She hurried with Anna to the nearest notice board, and sure enough, Alexandra's name was posted there. She had been summoned to the Dean's office immediately after lunch.
"Well, if I have to answer for what I did this Christmas," she said, "at least I'm going to ask a few questions of my own."
Anna looked worried. "Is that a good idea, Alex?" But she might as well not have asked.
Even Miss Marmsley seemed to be getting used to Alexandra's presence. "On the bench, Miss Quick," she sighed, and Alexandra waited there for several minutes before the door opened.
Alexandra entered, and stood in front of the Dean's desk. Ms. Grimm was wearing a fur-lined jacket over an ankle-length dress, and had a scarf wrapped around her neck, which made her outfit appear warm, but did nothing to improve her frosty expression. So Alexandra was surprised when the Dean gestured at one of the chairs. "Please have a seat, Alexandra."
Alexandra was suspicious. Ms. Grimm hadn't called her by her first name since their first meeting. She slowly slid into the chair, and watched the woman across the desk. Grimm folded her hands together and leaned forward a little, studying Alexandra in return.
"I gather you had an eventful Christmas vacation," she said.
"I guess." Alexandra said slowly.
"Manners, Miss Quick."
"I guess so, Ms. Grimm," Alexandra repeated, trying not to look annoyed.
Ms. Grimm nodded. "Have you any idea why you're here?"
Alexandra decided there was no point in evasion, so she said "I used magic while I was at home. But someone burned our house down and tried to kill me!"
Grimm arched an eyebrow. "Before or after you used magic?"
Alexandra shifted in her seat.
"Just tell me everything, Alexandra," the Dean said. "And by that, I do mean everything."
So she did. She started with her return home, her very conscientious practice of wand-safety and her responsible abstention from magic use for the first few days, but she grew less confident as she reached the events at Larkin Mills Pond. She recounted her anger as she ran home as dispassionately as she could, but even now a flush came to her cheeks, remembering how upset she had been.
She took a deep breath, and confessed about how she had started to curse Brian and Billy. She didn't hold anything back, but she pointed out that she was angry and hadn't been consciously, deliberately, trying to cast a real curse.
"Except you did all this with your wand out," Ms. Grimm commented dryly.
Alexandra swallowed, and then described the malevolent bubble of energy that formed, and her attempt to Undo it, and then the snowstorm and the fire that followed, and finally, her confusing trek through the blizzard until her stepfather found her by the Interstate.
Grimm sighed, and actually looked tired. She rubbed the bridge of her nose, closing her eyes. Without opening her eyes, she held up one finger even as Alexandra opened her mouth to say something else. Finally, she looked at her.
"I have rarely heard of such irresponsible, self-indulgent, reckless disregard for the safety of oneself or others," she said. "I ought to take your wand away from you. In fact, I am strongly considering having your wand confiscated whenever you return home. It's an extreme measure, but not entirely unprecedented."
Alexandra said nothing.
"Do you realize what could have happened if you had unleashed that curse? It might have been not merely memories the Obfuscation Office would have had to conceal, but bodies. So your little friends called you names. Did you really want to kill them, Alexandra?"
"No," she said quietly. "That's why I tried to Undo it."
"Ignoring my previous warning on that topic."
"I didn't know what else to do!"
"Not spitting curses while brandishing your wand in the first place would have been an excellent choice."
"Fine!" Alexandra glared at the Dean. "So what's my punishment? Or my friends' punishment? But before you tell me, I just want to ask two questions. First, am I Abraham Thorn's daughter, and second, are you trying to kill me?"
It hadn't been a deliberate strategy to go on the offensive, but she experienced a rare moment of satisfaction when the Dean's eyes widened. She didn't think Ms. Grimm was often caught off-guard. But even faced with these outrageous questions, it only took the woman a moment to regain her composure.
"Why on Earth would you believe either of those things?" she asked.
Alexandra took a breath, and plunged ahead. She didn't really believe the Dean was trying to kill her, not anymore, but she had nothing to lose by making the accusation. She told Ms. Grimm about her locket, and about her suspicions, and about the many near-fatal accidents she had experienced since she first came to Charmbridge.
Grimm listened quietly and attentively until she was finished. "So all this time," she said at last, "you've believed you're the daughter of Abraham Thorn and that someone is trying to kill you. And this explains your utter disregard for the rules, your recklessness, your frankly atrocious behavior?"
"Well, not the entire time. It took me a while to figure out some of it."
"I see." The Dean stood up. "I will be right back, Alexandra."
She left her sitting there alone in her office for several minutes. Alexandra watched the portraits of the witches and wizards from decades past, all of them looking right back at her, but she couldn't think of anything to say to them, and they in turn seemed to have nothing to say to her, so she passed the time in silence.
Ms. Grimm returned, carrying a pair of large wooden spools that rolled and unrolled a long scroll between them. She laid them down on her desk, and beckoned Alexandra over. Alexandra got up from her chair and looked curiously at the scroll.
"Show me Alexandra Quick, Class of 2014," Ms. Grimm said.
The scroll began moving, the spools spinning by themselves, and Alexandra saw names flash by, decades of Charmbridge students, until finally the parchment was nearly at its end, and between 'Carol Olivia Queen' and 'Sonja Rackham' was her name: 'Alexandra Octavia Quick.'
"That is the name the Registrar's Scroll recorded. Alexandra Quick, not Alexandra Thorn," Ms. Grimm said. Alexandra stared at the dark freshly scripted letters, and felt an inexplicable pang of disappointment.
"But the locket," she said.
Ms. Grimm rolled up the scroll, and sat back down at her desk. She regarded Alexandra very seriously for several minutes.
"Alexandra," she said finally, and her voice was almost gentle. "I truly do not know how your mother came by that locket. But I suspect your earlier theory may well be true. It is entirely possible that your father was one of the Thorn Circle. Perhaps the locket with Abraham Thorn's cameo was something they used to communicate amongst themselves. Perhaps it was a keepsake. Without being able to examine it, I can only guess. Did some of them go into hiding among Muggles, and even take Muggle wives? It's possible."
She steepled her fingers. "Your desire to find out about your father is natural. Your intense curiosity is understandable. But it is quite dangerous for you to be telling other people that your father might have been one of the Thorn Circle, let alone getting it into your head that your father was Abraham Thorn himself. Do you see how this preoccupation of yours has blinded you to the consequences of your own actions? Oh yes, it is possible that someone might wish to harm you if your paternity became public knowledge."
"The Invisible Bridge almost killed me and David," Alexandra said.
"I realize it was frightening and believe me, I was as shocked as anyone, but we have confirmed it was an accident."
"The Clockworks -"
"You tampered with them, Alexandra, using juvenile magic you've already been told is crude and haphazard in its effects. Clockworks are complex artifacts, and unskilled modifications of the charms that motivate them have been known to result in inexplicable behavior. You told them to do harm to other children. Is it so surprising that your own jinx backfired on you?"
Ms. Grimm sighed. "Yes, Alexandra, Galen went through an open window – a window that you opened – as cats are wont to do, and upon discovering a pair of rodents, pursued them, as cats are also wont to do. Of course when I placed that jinx on you and Mr. Albo, I didn't expect you two would ever find yourselves alone together in the attic."
"The explosion in alchemy class – even you said I didn't cause that!"
"It does not follow that someone else caused it. We have no explanation for that after weeks of investigation, and can only conclude that the wrong component or the wrong spell caused a freak accident."
Alexandra's eyes narrowed. This was an awful lot of freak accidents!
"The fire -"
"Yes, the fire." Ms. Grimm's eyes narrowed. "What do you suppose happened when you tried to Undo your nasty, vengeful curse?"
Alexandra was quiet a moment. "I don't know," she mumbled.
"You poured out all your hurt and outrage and desire to cause harm, and made it take magical form. You may have succeeded in Undoing the specific form you gave it, a form that might have left poor Mr. Seabury and Mr. Boggleston in a very non-Undoable state –" Alexandra shuddered. "– but that sort of malignant energy doesn't just dissipate with an Undoing Charm."
"I caused the fire?" she asked quietly.
"Tell me honestly, didn't you already suspect as much?"
Alexandra looked down, and nodded.
"Have you ever heard of ignis fatuus?"
Alexandra looked up, and shook her head.
"Fool's fire. Also known as foxfire, or will-o'-the-wisp. It's a peculiar type of magic, very old magic, fueled by malice." The Dean's voice was low now, and Alexandra leaned forward, hanging on each word, and shivering a little. "It appears to those who are lost, in places where the path can't be seen and there is danger ahead. A light that beckons you, urges you onwards, inviting you to follow. And many have done so... right to their doom."
Alexandra remembered how she had followed that green and yellow light, not knowing why. If Archie hadn't found her... She shivered again.
"There's a reason we learn how to do magic properly, Alexandra," Ms. Grimm was saying. "Now do you see what happens when you conjure magic you don't understand?"
She nodded. "And the blizzard?" she asked quietly.
Grimm raised an eyebrow. "The blizzard?"
"It started right after I... right after I did the curse, and then tried to Undo it."
Grimm stared at her a moment, and then broke into laughter.
"Oh my. Did you actually believe that you caused the blizzard, Alexandra?"
Alexandra frowned a little.
Grimm kept laughing. "My dear, you might be capable of impressive feats of spontaneous magic for your age, but really!" Alexandra felt herself becoming small and silly. "If an eleven year-old could conjure a blizzard that stretches across five states just because other children were mean to her, why, I shudder to imagine what would happen when you experience real distress! I daresay that the trials and tribulations of adolescent witches would threaten civilization itself!"
Alexandra's face was burning. "Okay!" she said. "I get it. I didn't cause the blizzard. I'm glad."
The Dean composed herself, her expression becoming more serious. "Manners, Alexandra," she chided. Then shook her head.
Her tone was firm, but lacking its usual icy-hard edge when she spoke again.
"I can see now, how your troubled past and your difficulty in adjusting to the wizarding world has contributed to your recklessness. You have questions to which you may never get satisfactory answers. You've survived a number of remarkable mishaps, some your doing but not entirely. You're a bright, inquisitive child and you're unaccustomed to boundaries." She folded her hands on her desk.
"I don't discipline you to be cruel, Alexandra. I administer discipline so that you will learn to behave yourself properly in this world. There are much worse things that can happen to you than detention. You've already had but a small taste."
Alexandra was by now thrown so completely off-balance that she hardly knew what to say or how to react to the Dean's words. Ms. Grimm seemed almost kind in comparison to their previous meetings, yet Alexandra still sensed the condescension and something else. She wasn't sure all of her questions had been answered, yet it seemed so silly and childish to persist. Wasn't it true that she had brought most of her trouble down on herself?
"You do want to remain in the wizarding world, don't you, Alexandra? After seeing what you can become, do you want to go back to a Muggle school, a Muggle life?"
Alexandra nodded, then shook her head, confused.
"I promise you this, Alexandra." The Dean's voice was soothing, reassuring. "You will be safe here. I do not allow students to come to harm at Charmbridge. I want you to stop looking for enemies who are out to get you. If you feel threatened, you can come to me and I will address your concerns. I also want you to stop this obsession with the Thorn Circle and the Dark Convention. It's unhealthy and unproductive. Concentrate on your schoolwork, and master your gifts. Behave yourself, and don't bring trial and trouble to yourself and your friends. It's a new year and an excellent time to make a fresh start. Wouldn't you like that?"
"Excellent." And Ms. Grimm actually looked pleased. "We are agreed, then. I don't want to see you in my office again, Alexandra. Will you promise me that you won't make it necessary any more?"
She wasn't quite sure how she could promise that, yet it sounded so reasonable, and she didn't want to disappoint the Dean, so she just nodded.
"I believe you have a SPAWN test tomorrow. Good luck. Make the most of this semester, Alexandra."
Alexandra left the Dean's office feeling as if she'd been spun around and around and then sent staggering off in a new direction. Everything she had been certain of was now thrown into doubt. And she could never quite pinpoint what had happened, but she could not deny that she felt as if a burden had been taken from her. Maybe it was better to concentrate on learning proper magic and adapting to the wizarding world. She had all the time in the world to find out about her father.