|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: 289 - Follows: 42 - Updated: 12-24-07 - Published: 12-23-07 - Status: Complete - id: 3964606
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
"You're not in trouble?" Anna asked incredulously.
"I guess not." Alexandra was still a little dazed, after her meeting with Ms. Grimm.
"Maybe she forgot to give you your punishment."
Alexandra gave her roommate an annoyed look. Anna looked abashed, and shrugged apologetically. "So what are you going to do?"
"I guess I'm going to do what she said. Take my SPAWN. Study. Try to stay out of trouble."
Anna opened her mouth, and Alexandra cut her off. "Don't say it."
While most students took 'practice SPAWNs' at this time, to gauge their progress, Alexandra and David's scores would actually determine whether they would stay in remedial classes. David had studied hard over Christmas vacation, and was looking more nervous than she'd ever seen him. He was a good student, and generally much more diligent than Alexandra, but unlike Anna, he didn't obsess over his grades.
"You'll do fine," Alexandra said, feeling nervous herself. She was so sick of Newton's wand-drills, and Grinder's carping about sexism in the wizarding world (even if she agreed), and most of all, Mr. Grue watching her as if she were going to blow up the classroom again at any moment.
"Do you know Darla and Angelique are doing complex animate transfigurations already?" David asked. "And the regular Charms class is halfway through the basic Sixth Grade-Level Charms curriculum. They can start fires and clean spills and freeze water and cast tripping jinxes. We're still levitating feathers and making little sparks at the ends of our wands!" he said in disgust.
"We'll catch up." Alexandra had also seen how much Anna was learning in her classes, and was as jealous as David. She hated feeling inferior to her classmates at least as much as he did.
Mrs. Middle was administering the SPAWN again, and smiled pleasantly at all the sixth graders. "This is only a progress check. A practice SPAWN, if you will. It won't go into your permanent record," she assured them. Alexandra didn't care about her permanent record. She sat down in the room set aside for their test, and when given the parchment, she opened it up with her quill gripped tightly in her hand.
"Sixth Grade Level Standardized Practical Assessment of Wizarding kNowledge," it said, and on the next line: "Section One: Magical Theory."
This time, she thought, I'm ready. And she went to work.
The questions were different than last time, but generally similar in content. She felt confident after finishing the Magical Theory section – Mr. Adams had been boring, but thorough – and dived into Alchemy and Herbology. Here she wasn't quite as certain about some of the answers, but she wasn't taking wild guesses like last time, so she answered all the questions as quickly as she could, and moved on to Section Three: Arithmancy and Geomancy. She was fully prepared to explain the magical properties of the numbers six, seven, and thirteen, but the questions were quite different this time, and she became flustered. She had to match magic squares with their correct astrological signs, and describe the magical significance of each compass point, things she didn't recall being taught in any of her classes. And she had studied up on Roman and Arabic numerals, but was unprepared for questions about Sanskrit and Hebrew numerology.
She wished that Section Four: Wizard History had questions about the Dark Convention, because she was sure she could answer those, but here it was almost a repeat of her earlier SPAWN – to her detriment, because Ms. Grinder had gone off on tangents so frequently. Alexandra scribbled what little she could recall about the Declaration of Territorial Autonomy and the First Wizards' Congress, and when goblins first emigrated to the New World, and how that resulted in the Great Goblin Compromise, but it was just bits and pieces she had overheard, mostly while Anna was studying with her classmates.
When Mrs. Middle collected her parchment, two hours later, Alexandra didn't feel as helpless and hopeless as she had after her first SPAWN, but neither did she feel completely confident.
"How was it?" Anna asked her and David, during lunch.
"Not bad," David said, and Alexandra nodded, with a little shrug, but she suspected that Anna sensed her doubts.
"You're going to do fine," she said confidently, patting Alexandra on the arm.
"And if not," said Darla, across the table, "there's another SPAWN at the end of the year. You'll get out of remedial classes eventually." Alexandra shot her a look so dark that Darla nearly choked on her pumpkin juice.
Their practical SPAWN was after lunch, and it was with the same testers, who also happened to be Alexandra's remedial teachers.
Mr. Grue was the worst, as her instructions for the Practical Alchemy portion were written down, and he simply thrust them at her with a grunt. He stared at everything she touched and scribbled notes each time she measured something or stirred her cauldron, and never actually said a word. When she was finished, she thought she'd brewed a good Wakefulness Tonic, identified and measured all the Essential Salts correctly, and peeled and dethorned prickly pear skins and prepared crushed mistletoe properly. But she couldn't read from Grue's reaction whether he agreed.
Hobbes was as friendly as ever, and gave her almost the same transformations to perform as before. This time, she managed each one without difficulty, only hesitating when it came time to transform the mouse. Then she thought about Larry, and imagined the mouse as a big fat rat, and it became large and brown and grew a long pink tail.
"Rather basic," Hobbes said. "Rodent-to-rodent isn't much of a challenge, but it's acceptable." He waved his wand and the rat turned back to a mouse. Alexandra thought the mouse looked a little disappointed.
Newton watched her unsmilingly as she performed her Practical Charms portion. "Try to manage without doggerel verse this time, Miss Quick," he said in a sour tone.
"Yes sir," she replied, in a tone that was just barely polite. When some of her charms didn't go as well as she'd hoped, she became angry and wanted to ask the teacher why he hadn't taught those charms if she were going to be tested on them, but she bit her tongue and tried again.
Finally it was time for Basic Magical Defense with Ms. Shirtliffe. Alexandra had tried learning some new spells just for this test, but since she had learned them entirely from library books, she had no idea how well they would work.
"Well, since you've had an entire semester to prepare, I hope you have something to show me, Quick," Ms. Shirtliffe said. She already had her wand in hand.
"I do," said Alexandra, and then she pointed her wand. "Expelliarmus!"
Shirtliffe's hand jerked, and then she flicked her wrist and it was Alexandra's wand that flew out of her fingers. The teacher caught it in her other hand and tossed it back.
"You can't make up in volume what you lack in technique, Quick," she said. And then she flicked her wand again, and again Alexandra lost hers.
"Let me do that a third time and I may give you a Hocus Pocus mark," she said.
Alexandra retrieved her wand. Shirtliffe gestured again, but this time Alexandra half-turned and shielded her wand-hand with her body. Then she suddenly turned back and thrust her wand in the teacher's direction like a fencer lunging with a foil. "Expulso vermes!"
Nothing happened. Shirtliffe shook her head.
"It takes more than a Latin dictionary to create a new spell." But she was smiling a little as she picked up her pen.
"That will be all, Quick," she added, as Alexandra raised her wand again.
"That's not fair! You didn't hardly test me!"
Shirtliffe grinned. "Just because you aren't aware of all the ways in which you're being tested doesn't mean you haven't been. You're a clever girl, Quick, but you have much to learn before you even begin to know how much you don't know."
"I don't know what you're talking about, that's for sure," Alexandra muttered, as she left the room.
When she asked David afterwards what his Basic Magical Defense test had been like, he said, "Ms. Shirtliffe just cast some basic jinxes at me and had me try to defend myself. I guess I did okay. I mean, I know I couldn't have stopped her if she'd really been trying."
Alexandra had to continue attending her remedial classes for the next two days, and waited anxiously for her SPAWN results. They came one morning at breakfast, delivered in a flying envelope much like the Hall Passes that went zipping magically about the corridors. David received his too, and tore open the envelope eagerly.
"'Average, Average, Excellent, Average, Excellent,'" he read, sounding pleased. "Aw, man, I should have gotten an 'Excellent' in Wizard History."
"How did you do, Alexandra?" asked Darla. Alexandra was eager to see her results, but not so eager to show them to everyone. But everyone was looking at her expectantly. She held her breath and opened the envelope.
There were two pieces of paper. One revealed her SPAWN results, and she stared at them for several seconds before letting out a sigh of relief. She had scored 'Average' on every one, except Basic Magical Defense. Ms. Shirtliffe had rated her 'Excellent' there.
The other piece of paper was her new schedule. She looked at it and whooped. "No more remedial classes!"
"Oh, Alex, that's wonderful! Now you'll be in the same classes as the rest of us!" Anna was delighted.
"I got out of remedial Charms and Transfiguration too," said David. "Now maybe we can start learning real magic!"
"Well, I don't know why you're so satisfied with 'Average,'" said Darla. "My parents give me a lion for every 'Excellent' and two lions for every 'Superior.'"
"You mean, they would give you two lions for every Superior, if you earned any," said Angelique. Darla blushed while everyone else laughed.
"My parents threatened to pull me out of Charmbridge if I earn anything below Excellent," said Anna." Then she looked guiltily at Alexandra. "I mean, not that there's anything wrong with Average! That is, I'm not saying you're average. You just haven't had as much education as the rest of us – oh!" She covered her mouth with her hands, embarrassed. Alexandra just laughed.
"It's all right, Anna," she said. "I'm just happy to be out of remedial classes now."
Getting out of remedial classes didn't mean escaping her least-favorite teacher. Mr. Grue still taught the regular sixth-grade Alchemy class.
"We make potions in this class, Miss Quick, not just simple pastes and tinctures and household remedies," the teacher warned. "We handle toxic, flammable, and highly magical ingredients!" He glowered at her balefully, from beneath his bushy eyebrows. A number of students seemed to be trying to move further away from her, but David and Anna sat on either side of her, and she was grateful.
Hobbes and Newton taught regular sixth grade Charms and Transfiguration as well. Alexandra and David were both delighted at the spells being taught in the non-remedial courses, but this also made them painfully aware of how far behind they were. Anna patiently corrected Alexandra when she had difficulty with her transfigurations, and drilled her in the incantations for spells she hadn't been learning the entire previous semester. She was a little annoyed when she noticed that David was having less trouble than her.
Escaping from Ms. Grinder's Remedial Wizarding World History, she was now taking the regular sixth grade Wizard Social Studies class, which was less about history than about the cultures and traditions of the wizarding world, and the American wizarding world in particular. This was useful, as Alexandra began learning a lot of what most witches her age were assumed to know already. The teacher was Mrs. Middle, who was as sweetly patronizing as ever. She spent much of the first few weeks asking Alexandra, loudly, in front of the entire class, whether there was anything she hadn't understood or needed help catching up on. Alexandra decided she rather preferred Ms. Grinder's off-topic lectures about the obstinacy and ignorance of the Wizards' Congress.
She received another surprise in her first non-remedial Magical Theory class.
"You never told me Ms. Shirtliffe also teaches this class," she whispered to David.
"You never asked," he whispered back.
Shirtliffe was brisk and barely took notice of her newest student. The homework accumulated quickly, however, and Alexandra knew right away that this was going to be her most challenging class academically.
After the first week, she settled comfortably into her new schedule, and enjoyed the fact that she was now moving from class to class with all her friends in a single cohort. She knew that in seventh grade they'd begin to be separated again, by differing levels of ability and the introduction of electives, but in the sixth grade nearly everyone had the same classes.
January passed into February. Alexandra seemed to be succeeding in making the fresh start Ms. Grimm had enthusiastically encouraged. She didn't get into trouble, she did her schoolwork, and while there were still mutterings and occasional taunts directed at her, she retaliated mildly or not at all. She and Larry calling each other "Troublesome" and "Rat-face" in the hallway almost became a comfortable routine for both of them.
Anna seemed happy that Alexandra was no longer talking about the Thorn Circle. She asked her once whether she had given up on finding out who her father was. Alexandra shrugged and said that she had more important things to do right now, and this also seemed to please her friend. Alexandra was doing everything she was supposed to be doing, and staying out of trouble. No danger presented itself, and nobody seemed to be trying to kill her. All was well.
But she hadn't forgotten, and she hadn't given up.
It was nearly March. The weather was still intensely cold, and snow still blanketed the area, although there had not been any fresh snowfall in over a week.
David was spending more time outdoors, because he was discovering that a falcon was a demanding familiar indeed. Owls could be left in the aviary for days at a time, and ravens were practically self-sufficient, but Mr. Fledgefield, Charmbridge's Animal Care and Magizoology teacher, had made it clear to David that a falcon required a lot more bonding time and daily exercise. So David was sending Malcolm soaring into the sky overhead while Alexandra, Anna, Constance, and Forbearance all played in the snow, shaping snowballs by hand and then launching them at each other with their wands.
The crows that nested around Charmbridge were still thick in the trees, and Alexandra noticed the Ozarker girls start again as a great flock of them shot up into the air, like a black feathery funnel cloud, before resettling elsewhere.
"It's probably David's falcon," she said. "Falcons eat crows too."
"No, Malcolm's over there," said Anna, pointing far away in the opposite direction. "See?"
Then a large white projectile, the perfect combination of packed snow and slush with just a bit of ice, caught Anna directly in the side of the head, hard enough to knock her off her feet. She sprawled out in the snow, looking dizzy. A chorus of laughter told them who was responsible even before they turned to look.
"It's the hodag," said Larry, waving his hands and making a mocking, frightful face as he came shuffling through the snow towards them. He laughed again, while Anna tried to sit up. Her face was red, with embarrassment and from the stinging impact, and Alexandra was already kneeling next to her. It was only the fact that she was trying to help her friend that kept her from immediately launching into Larry.
"Benjamin and Mordecai Rash!" exclaimed Constance, outraged. The two Ozarker boys were behind Larry, along with Ethan Robinson and Wade White, his two friends who had been with him in Grundy's.
"You oughter be ashamed!" said Forbearance.
They just smirked. "You oughter be ashamed!" retorted Benjamin.
Mordecai sneered. "Still consortin' with the M –"
"Alexandra, don't!" said Anna, as Alexandra rose to her feet and pointed her wand. The Rash twins had their wands out in a flash as well. Then Larry was pointing his wand, and then snowballs pelted all of them.
"Hey!" Alexandra shouted, ducking and covering her head.
"What the –?" Larry exclaimed, crouching and putting his hands up.
"Stop it!" said Constance.
"This very instant!" said Forbearance.
The Pritchards had their wands out, and had just exhausted the girls' stockpile of snowballs. They looked angry and a little embarrassed, but their barrage had been quite effective.
Everyone stood up cautiously. Even the Rashes were staring at the Pritchard twins apprehensively.
"Go away, Larry!" Alexandra said. "Just go away!"
"Why can't you just leave us alone?" Anna asked, trembling a little.
"I just wanted to warn you," Larry said, in a tone of feigned innocence. "You're getting awfully close to the trees." He pointed to the woods. "There's a hodag in the woods, you know." He lowered his voice. "Every year, some little kid wanders in," he whispered, "and..." He made a sudden lunge and a gnashing sound with his teeth. Anna jumped.
"That's an old witches' tale," said Constance.
"Like hide-behinds and drop-spiders," said Forbearance.
"Everyone knows t'hain't no such creature," said Constance.
"They used to say there's no such thing as re'ems or arctic basilisks," Larry said. "Everyone knows there's been a hodag prowling the northern forests for years."
"Like I'd believe anything you say!" Alexandra snorted.
"Ask a teacher if you don't believe me," said Larry.
"Sure I will," she said sarcastically. "Thanks for being so concerned about us."
Larry laughed. "Okay, I dare you to go in there, then." He pointed at the woods.
Alexandra almost took a step towards the woods, but Anna grabbed her arm. "Alex! He's just baiting you!"
"Go on, prove how brave you are!" Larry scoffed.
With an effort, she calmed herself. "I'm not stupid. I'm not going to walk into the woods just because you dared me. You're just hoping I'll get in trouble."
He laughed, and drew himself up to sneer down at her. "How about a wager, then?"
"Oh, Alex, don't fall for this!" Anna said worriedly.
"A wager? Why should I?" Alexandra stood toe-to-toe with Larry, wishing she were tall enough to look him in the eye. She was skeptical, but a dare was a dare, and she'd always had a hard time turning one down.
"Stay in the woods overnight," said Larry. "Without getting caught, or eaten. And you can have a boon from me."
"A boon? Like a wish?" Alexandra squinted at him.
"It's an oath," said Anna. "If he swears a boon, he has to fulfill it."
"What if I ask you to go jump off the Invisible Bridge?" Alexandra retorted.
He smirked. "Oh, I don't think you'd do that, Troublesome. Especially since if you fail, you owe me a boon." He leaned closer. "And if I wanted you dead..." he whispered.
"I saved you too, or have you forgotten?" she hissed back. "If you really believe there's a hodag in the woods, then you are trying to get me killed."
"If you don't, then you've got nothing to worry about." Larry laughed. "But of course I'm just fooling around. I knew you're all mouth."
"You're an idiot. And you're on," Alexandra said.
"I'm what?" He looked confused.
"It means I accept, dummy!"
"You and your Muggle slang," he snapped. Then smiled triumphantly and drew his wand. "Touch wands."
"That's how you seal an oath," said Anna. "Don't do it, Alex. Please don't do it. You know he's just trying to get you in trouble."
"This is foolishness!" said Constance.
"You're both addled silly!" exclaimed Forbearance.
"He's an idiot for thinking a night in the woods would scare me," Alexandra said, holding out her wand and looking Larry in the eye. "I'll be spending the whole time thinking up something really good to make you do."
Larry smirked and touched the tip of his wand to hers. There was a flash of sparks and she felt a tingling, which quickly faded.
"So what happens if someone welches?" she asked.
"Bad things," said Larry. "See you later, Troublesome. I already know what I'm going to make you do." He waved, and trudged back through the snow towards the academy, with his friends following.
David was running over, awkwardly through the knee-deep snow, with Malcolm on his arm. "Hey!" he said. "What's going on? Were Albo and those hillbilly crackers causing trouble?"
"Those what?" demanded Forbearance quietly. David skidded to a halt, grimacing.
"Can we not start another fight?" Anna asked, as Constance and Forbearance both glared at a chagrined David. "We already have enough to worry about!"
"We?" asked Alexandra. "I'm the only who has to go into the woods. And there's nothing to worry about. There's no such thing as a hodag."
"You don't even know what a hodag is!" Anna exclaimed.
"What's a hodag?" asked David.
"A monster in the woods," said Anna. "And Alexandra just accepted a dare to stay out there all night!"
"You're kidding," said David. He looked at Alexandra. "Are you nuts?"
"Come on, if there were really a monster in the woods they'd have a fence or something," said Alexandra.
"Oh, jeez. Sometimes you're unbelievable, Alex!" He turned to the other girls. "You stood there and let her do this?"
"As if we had any 'letting' to do, where Alexandra is concerned!" Constance retorted.
"And what would you expect from a pair of hillbilly crackers?" added Forbearance icily. The Ozarkers turned and stalked away, leaving David gaping.
"That wasn't nice," said Anna to David. "And you know how you react to the m-word!"
He sighed. "I didn't mean them. I meant the..."
"The other hillbilly crackers?" Anna said, raising an eyebrow.
"Okay! I'll apologize." Then he added hastily, "To them, not to those... punks!" He turned to Alexandra. "Are you nuts?" he repeated.
"Look, I'll go read about hodags in the library," said Alexandra. "I'll bet they are just made up, to scare little kids. Do you really think if there was some terrible monster running around in the woods right there –" she pointed at the nearby tree line, "that it would be so easy for us to just wander in there?"
"Yes!" said Anna, a little shrilly. "Why don't you ever listen to me, Alex? This is what I keep trying to tell you! There are things out there that are dangerous that Muggles don't know anything about! You think the woods are like a park!"
"You don't know what kind of dangerous things I know about!" Alexandra said. "Anyway, you won't be complaining when I win the wager and Larry has to do whatever I say!"
With that, Alexandra stalked off in the same direction as Constance and Forbearance.
"Well," sighed David, "she's back to her old self, I guess."
Anna bit her lip. "Larry knows she'd never back down from a challenge like that, and he knows she'll stay the whole night. Either he really does expect the hodag to get her, or he's up to something."