The next morning, it was tub baths in the backyard for all of them. Alexandra feared something like the wooden barrels she had seen in old cartoons, but the tub was made of metal, and Constance and Forbearance showed her how to conjure water into it and heat it comfortably. It was actually not much different from a bathtub back home, except for being outside. A wooden palisade provided privacy from the house, as the girls took turns bathing and drying off before donning the clothes with which they would go to the "foreigners' village."
Alexandra climbed out of the tub and wrapped a towel around herself. Above her, Charlie sat sentinel atop the palisade. It was early morning, with the sun just above the horizon and not yet visible from the Pritchards' house, which was nestled in a valley and surrounded by tall trees. Already the air was warm and muggy, which meant drying off took longer without magic. Alexandra flicked her wand to dry her hair, a trick Julia had showed her, but flinched at a sharp crack, as if someone had rubbed their feet vigorously against a thick carpet and then touched the back of her neck. Her scalp tingled and wisps of steam curled around her head.
She stared, horrified, at her reflection in the plain mirrored glass hanging by the tub. Her hair was frayed and frizzed, as if baked beneath an overheated hair dryer, curling in all directions. She glared at the treacherous yew wand.
Turning to where her clothes had been laid out, she paused. Instead of the outdoor robes she'd brought, there was a calico dress.
"I'm not wearing this!" she called over the wooden barrier.
Constance and Forbearance answered with laughter, then Forbearance said, "You promised, Alexandra!"
"It wasn't a promise!"
"Oh, Alexandra, be a good sport." Julia had already finished bathing and was now waiting with the Pritchards.
"You hain't really gonna refuse, are you?" Now Forbearance sounded put out, even a little hurt. Alexandra realized they really were going to hold her to her foolish words.
"I said I'd wear a bonnet, not a dress!"
"You can't wear a bonnet without a dress," said Constance. "You'd look plumb foolish."
"Alexandra…" said Julia, with her "big sister" voice.
"You're really going to make me meet David and Anna in a dress and bonnet."
"You'll look darling," Julia said.
Alexandra made a face that Julia couldn't see.
"Anna will think you're adorable," Forbearance said.
"And David won't dare aggerpervoke you," Constance said.
Alexandra grudgingly donned the plain shift that went underneath, then pulled the yellow checkered dress over her head and down over her body, and fastened it up the back of her neck. It was only a little uncomfortable.
When she stepped out from behind the palisade, Constance, Forbearance, and Innocence all shouted with glee. Julia clasped her hands together, then gasped. "Oh, Alexandra, your hair!"
"Well," Constance said, "I reckon it's lucky you'll be wearin' a bonnet after all."
The foreigners' village that hosted visitors to the Jubilee was located in Down Below Holler, which was a fair piece from Furthest as the crow flies. The Ozarkers and their guests flew on mules.
Noah and Burton had been sent by Mr. and Mrs. Pritchard to escort the girls between Hollers. They left behind a disconsolate Innocence, who was once again consigned to childcare.
Alexandra looked down as they rose high above the trees, drifted over the green hills of Furthest, and kept going until they could see Muggle towns and highways below them.
"But how can they not see people on flying mules?" she asked. "We learned in school there's no such thing as an invisibility spell."
They were high in the air, but not as high as airplanes flew. Any Muggles who looked up would certainly see the curious shapes in the sky, and a decent pair of binoculars would reveal six people on flying mules.
"Hain't invisibility," Constance said. "It's more fancy than that." She said this with a degree of smugness.
"We'uns figured out way back that flyin' mules is so ridiculous, no Muggle would believe such plumb foolishness," Forbearance said.
"So the same magic what makes mules fly makes Muggles refuse to see 'em," Constance said. "They just will not, 'less'n you take off or land right 'fore their eyes."
"Which is strictly forbidden," said Noah. He interjected himself frequently into the conversation. Burton, for his part, did not spend so much time trying to take the reins of conversation; he just flew alongside Alexandra with a smarmy grin every time he caught her looking at him. It annoyed her, so she studied the ground far below or listened attentively to whatever Constance or Forbearance or Julia said.
"So it's rather like a Muggle-Repelling Charm," Julia said.
"There is some similar principles," said Forbearance, "but lots more to it."
Constance said, "The mules has to be —"
"Constance Gwendolen Pritchard, you hush your mouth now!" Noah said. "I do apologize, Miss King, Miss Quick, but Ozarker magic hain't to be discussed with furrin— outsiders."
Constance and Forbearance looked down.
"I'm sure it's not a big secret," Alexandra said. "Everyone knows about flying horses, and we learned about Muggle-Repelling Charms and Disillusionment and everything else at Charmbridge."
"Really?" Now Burton was the one who sounded smug. "Then how d'you feature even the Confederation Air Force hain't got flyin' mules? An' they can't hide their winged horses an' dragons an' wyverns an' other critters without conjurin' big ol' stormclouds?"
"Confederation Air Force?" Alexandra forgot all about magical theory. "Dragons and wyverns?"
"They'uns come this week to show off, 'long with the Regiment," Burton said. "But they'uns would like the secret of our mules."
"An' they'uns won't never get it nohow," said Noah.
"The Central Territory Regiment is here?" Alexandra asked. "Why are they coming to the Ozarks?"
"For the Jubilee, 'course," said Burton.
"A flight o' dragons an' mantycores an' other Beasts, an' the Regiment performin' wand 'n broom drills," said Constance.
"And then there'll be fireworks," said Forbearance.
The flying mules carried the Ozarkers and their guests from one end of the Five Hollers to the other. There was no sense of the mules flying particularly fast, so it seemed to Alexandra as if Down Below Holler was practically the next hill over from Furthest. Yet she knew that inasmuch as the Hollers could be mapped, it was quite far indeed, nearly as far as from Down Below Holler to Larkin Mills. There was more magic than flight at work here. She wondered if the mules traveled along a sort of Automagicka in the sky.
Down Below Holler, according to the Pritchards, was the first place Ozarkers had settled. The northernmost of the Five Hollers, like Furthest it was no longer far from highways and campgrounds and Muggle communities when seen from the air, but as the six mule-riders descended below the hilltops, the Muggle world fell away, and the woods that covered the hills could have been undisturbed by humans since the mountains rose. The six of them settled silently on the ground, amidst chirrups and buzzes and whoops and tweet-a-deets from the trees around them, and even the mules docilely lowered their heads in silent honor to the magic of the holler.
Alexandra remembered long afternoons spent lying on her back near the polluted, brackish mud of Old Larkin Pond. With the Interstate just over a ridge, truck sounds occasionally disturbed its solitude, yet that pond was where she'd most strongly believed that magic was real. And of course, she had been right.
She tried to see her surroundings now with Witch's Sight. She was just beginning to understand that the awareness of magic which her father had encouraged her to develop went well beyond what she could see with her eyes. Her concentration did not change the appearance of the trees and hills, but the feel of magic was strong — very strong. Much as it had been back at Furthest.
"Where is the foreigners' village?" Julia asked.
"Over yonder," Noah said. Alexandra was learning that this expression conveyed with subtle nuances, even without accompanying hand gestures, a meaning that Ozarkers could translate with great precision, even if to "foreigners" it seemed only to describe any place that was not here.
Noah led them toward a sunlit thinning in the trees. Alexandra asked, "So will any Jubilee events take place outside of Down Below Holler?"
"The Jubilee takes place throughout the Five Hollers, year 'round," said Burton.
"Is everyone else confined to the foreigners' village?"
"Hain't no one confined," said Noah over his shoulder. "You think we kin Bar everyone?"
"Well, how do you keep foreigners out of the Ozarks?"
"Mostly by not invitin' 'em," Burton said.
As they emerged from the woods, they saw a valley spread before them: Down Below Holler. Most of it was heavy forest in which only the occasional glimpse of homesteads and cleared land was visible, but directly across from where the Pritchards and their two guests sat astride their mules was what looked like a cross between a county fair and a Western boomtown. Tents and clapboard buildings drew hundreds of witches and wizards milling about wearing everything from traditional Ozarker clothing to flashy New Colonial wizard robes. There was a carnival-like atmosphere, with yells and music echoing across the valley. A dirt road led down from the opposite ridge, and behind the foreigners' village was a patch of worn and torn up grass where a number of wizard automobiles were parked, including a very familiar bright orange short bus.
While they watched, wizards and witches descended from the sky on brooms and flying carpets, and more materialized out of thin air near the "parking lot."
"That surely is a mess o' furriners," said Burton.
Alexandra sent Charlie into the trees, saying, "I think it's better if you stay away from the crowds, Charlie." The raven cawed and flapped off to a nearby perch from which it could survey the village, and no doubt swoop down to snatch any items of food or sparkly things that might be left unattended.
"Let's go find our friends," Alexandra said, her heart beating faster.
Rows of quickly-erected structures made of wood, rough stones, and clay bricks held together with magic served as hostels and hotels for visitors touring the Five Hollers. There were also conjured meeting halls and restaurants and shops catering to long-term and day visitors.
Ozarkers had set up stalls where they sold magical wooden toys and "traditional" Ozarker brooms and self-filling buckets and clockwork bugs and other quaint artifacts. The Pritchards told Alexandra and Julia that most of these artifacts weren't things Ozarkers actually used, nor were they really traditional crafts — they were "contrivances" they sold to foreigners.
They tethered the mules to a long rail where other mules and a couple of winged horses had been hitched, and made their way through the crowd toward a bright red building designated as a "Youth Hall." Kids in Colonial garb were streaming in and out of the building. Alexandra recognized several Charmbridge students. She walked right past Karina Knutzen, a girl she had cursed in a fight at Charmbridge two years ago. Karina didn't recognize her in her bonnet and dress, though the older girl did nod to Constance and Forbearance.
The ground floor of the Youth Hall was full of tables with open seating. Teenagers from around the Confederation were eating food from a buffet tended by a crew of Ozarker girls supervised by a matronly woman, whose girth filled the space around her as she used her wand to replenish trays of eggs and sausage and flapjacks and scour empty plates and tableware.
"Constance!" someone yelled.
"Alex!" yelled someone else.
The group turned toward a table in the back. David Washington was standing up and waving his arms. Anna Chu stood next to him, wearing shiny red and orange robes, with her long black hair tied back in a single braid. Seated at the table was Sonja Rackham, a pretty redheaded girl with a face that seemed to have become more freckled over the summer.
"Howdy, y'all!" Constance called, earning frowns from her brothers. The group of them made their way through the tables to the trio on the far side of the room. Other than the serving woman and her assistants, there weren't any other Ozarkers inside, so everyone else stared at them. Alexandra realized they all thought she was an Ozarker too.
Sonja rose to her feet. She and Anna both stared at Alexandra.
"Well, I didn't foresee this," said Sonja.
David grinned at the Pritchards. "You found us. But where's Alex?"
For a moment, no one spoke. Then David noticed the girl in the yellow dress and bonnet, and his grin collapsed as his mouth fell open.
Alexandra glowered. "Say something, dork."
"Nice bonnet," he managed.
"You look… cute," Anna said. She looked at Constance and Forbearance as if seeking an explanation.
"She's adorable!" said Sonja.
"Isn't she, though?" said Julia. "Why, I am thinking of buying one of those darling bonnets I saw for sale outside."
Alexandra gave her sister a sour look, then said, "Introductions all around. These are my friends Anna Chu, David Washington, and Sonja Rackham. This is my sister, Julia King."
"And these two boys slouchin' like bored, unmannered durgens is our brothers, Noah an' Burton," said Constance.
"I'll take you'uns right back to Furthest, if'n you're gonna be nettlesome," said Noah. He tipped his hat to Anna, Sonja, and David. "Pleased to meet you'all."
Burton mumbled an echo of Noah's greeting, while Julia seized Anna's hands and said, "I am so happy to meet you after everything I've heard about my sister's friends!" She let Anna's hands drop, then did the same with Sonja, then offered a hand to David.
"So, can we hang out, or do you have to chaperone us all over?" Alexandra asked Noah and Burton.
Burton smirked. "Are you hasty to get shy of us, Miss Quick?"
"We'uns actually have better things to do than mind young'uns," said Noah. "Beggin' yore pardon, Miss King, I din't mean you."
"Are you saying I'm not young?" Julia asked.
Noah gave her a small grin. "Now, you know that ain't how I meant it."
"I am only seventeen," said Julia, placing a hand over her chest and batting her lashes. "I might still be in need of chaperoning."
"I'd happily chaperone you anywhere you please," Noah said.
"Oh my God," Alexandra said. "You two."
"I do not know what you are talking about, dear sister." Julia affected an affronted, deep, thick accent. Constance and Forbearance both covered their mouths.
"We'uns'll be seein' to the Jubilee arrangements and talkin' to a few folk here in Down Below Holler," Noah said. "We'll be back to collect y'all 'fore dark."
"Gallin' around, I don't doubt," said Constance.
"Hush yore mouth, girl, or I'll fetch the Rash twins to chaperone you'uns," said Noah. Constance and Forbearance fell silent at that. David scowled.
"Behave, y'all," said Burton. "'Specially you, Miss Quick." He winked at Alexandra, and he and his brother departed.
"Why especially me?" Alexandra asked.
"You are destined to do something outrageous," Sonja said. "Even someone without the Inner Eye can foresee that."
"Oh man, Sonja, would you give that nonsense a rest?" said David.
Anna sighed, and whispered to Alexandra, "Apparently Sonja has decided that calling down the Parliament of Stars has opened her 'Inner Eye.' She's been going on about it ever since we got on the bus."
Several minutes of conversation and catching up followed. Alexandra was not surprised that Anna and Julia were immediately taken with each other and chatting like old friends. Sonja pestered the Pritchards with questions about the Ozarks, and Ozarker magic, and what the Jubilee would be like.
"So seriously, what's with the bonnet?" David asked.
"Punishment for making a promise I shouldn't have," Alexandra said. "That seems to be a bad habit of mine."
That put a chill on the conversation, until Sonja said, "There will be a solution to your problem, and it will be found here in the Ozarks. You will see dragons and fire and stars and your fate—"
"Which problem?" asked Alexandra.
"Seriously, Sonja, no one believes you're seeing the future," said David. "You're just telling us things we already know!"
"How do you know she hain't got the Sight?" asked Forbearance.
"Thank you, Forbearance," said Sonja, while Constance looked away to hide her exasperation.
"Let's go check out the Jubilee," Alexandra said. "I mean, you said there would be dragons and fireworks, right?"
"The Confederation Air Force don't arrive 'til tomorrow, and the fireworks is Friday, day afore you'uns leave," Forbearance said. "But there is games an' contests an' plenty o' feasts."
"Singin' and dancin' also," Constance said.
"Oh yes, a great dance afore the fireworks," Forbearance said.
"A mixed dance," Constance said.
"You mean Ozarkers and foreigners?" David asked.
"That too, but I meant girls 'n boys," Constance said.
"Excellent!" said Sonja, grinning. "Do your brothers have girlfriends?"
Constance and Forbearance looked at her in astonishment.
"What, you don't know that already with your inner eye?" asked David.
Sonja laughed. "I was kidding!" She stuck her tongue out at David.
The seven of them walked outside, where the dirt road running through the foreigners' village was even more crowded than before. Ozarkers were selling everything from winged goats to bonnets and dresses to magical carving knives, banjos with strings plucked by invisible fingers and fiddles that threw sparks when played, and all manner of jarred, canned, and magically-preserved jams and fruits, pies, pork, conohany, winged goat milk, and more exotic recipes whose authenticity Alexandra doubted, such as jimplicute tail stew and Ozark Snipe.
They stopped at a large rack of headgear and ribbons. Julia bought an enormous bonnet that cast enough shade for three heads, in a brilliant fuchsia color. Sonja chose a thin one that didn't do much to cover her curly red hair. Anna considered, and with a little help from Constance and Forbearance, selected a more modest bonnet, one slightly smaller and less decorative than the ones the Pritchards wore. She smiled at Alexandra as she tied it on. "Now you can stop looking so grumpy, since we're all wearing bonnets."
David was trying on a wide-brimmed hat which an old man claimed was made of wampus-cat hair.
"You can sell that to all the other furriners, but don't you build no pigpens for us," said Forbearance. "Mister, you din't never kill no wampus-cat and make it into a hat."
"Graves an' gullies, did I so, girl!" declared the elderly Ozarker. He wore suspenders and canvas britches, with a hat on his head similar to the one he was trying to sell David. His wife, the purveyor of bonnets, nodded vigorously, and the old man embarked upon a tale of his adventures in Hundred Boggarts Holler, a place he declared to be the fearsomest of all the Five Hollers, disputed by Constance and Forbearance with periodic objections and disclaimers, which they delivered gleefully in a manner that seemed nearly as staged as the hat-seller's storytelling. Alexandra listened with a smile on her face, realizing that the ridiculous story was probably a retelling of one of Brother Randolph's tales; the man's performance was clearly an integral part of his sales pitch. Anna stood next to her and rested her head on Alexandra's shoulder.
At the end of the Ozarker's story, David handed over two Lions.
"You was took," Constance said to him as they walked away.
"If'n you let Noah or Burton haggle for you, they'd get you a reasonable price," said Forbearance. "An' that hain't no wampus-hair hat."
David pulled the hat on over his thick, curly hair, which he had allowed to grow out over the summer. It had a tall peak and a wide brim, like a cross between a wizard's hat and a detective's fedora. "This is one bad-ass hat," he said. Constance and Forbearance both blushed.
"Hey!" A young voice caught Alexandra's attention, and she had barely turned around before a stout boy with blond hair practically ran into her. "Oh, gosh! Sorry." He panted a little. "Wow, Alexandra, it's you! I thought I recognized Constance and Forbearance, but you —"
"William!" Alexandra looked at the younger boy with surprise. William Killmond, a Muggle-born boy in the class two years behind hers, was wearing a disheveled Junior Regimental Officer Corps uniform.
"You got to come on this trip?" she said. "I thought it was for tenth graders and up. What are you doing in uniform?"
"Ms. Shirtliffe — I mean, Witch-Colonel Shirtliffe — organized a two-day trip for JROC students. We're going to do broom drills before the Regimental parade. JROC wands from all over the Territory, not just Charmbridge." William wiped sweat from his forehead. "Uh, you're wearing a dress. And a bonnet."
"Ms. Shirtliffe had better not see your uniform all messed up like this," Alexandra said. She straightened his collar with a yank and poked him in the belly, just above his loose belt. He blushed and tightened it.
"Hello Constance. Hello Forbearance," he said.
"Hello William," said Constance.
"We'uns're mighty pleased you could visit," said Forbearance.
"An' you're wantin' to know where Innocence is at, I reckon," said Constance.
William blushed again, and nodded.
"She had to stay home today, to watch the young'uns," said Forbearance. "But she'll join us at the Jubilee tomorrow."
"An' if'n Ma 'n Pa allows it, she might be allowed to come to the big dance," Constance said.
"Oh! That's great. I mean, that would be cool." William nodded. He was still staring at Alexandra, until she folded her arms and stared back at him, and then he looked away and his gaze fell on Julia.
"This is my sister, Julia King," Alexandra said.
"Hi," William said. This seemed to drain him of his remaining powers of speech.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, William," said Julia, extending a hand.
"Hi," he repeated. He took her hand, shook it, and didn't let go. Julia regarded the hand wrapped around hers with a patient smile.
"Isn't her bonnet lovely?" Alexandra said in a sweet tone. Sonja made a noise next to her, a snicker swallowed quickly.
"Yes," said William.
"And she's hot, too."
"Yes," said William. Then he blinked and turned bright red. "I mean — nice to meet you! Tell Innocence I'm sorry I missed her. See you later! At the dance, maybe. And come watch the broom drills. Bye!" He turned and ran away.
"Alexandra Quick, you're terrible," said Julia.
"Are you hot, Julia?" Forbearance asked with concern.
"Smokin'," said David, tugging at the brim of his hat. Alexandra elbowed him.
"We'uns best find some shade — we forgot y'all hain't used to Ozark summers," said Constance.
In fact, Alexandra was already sweaty. Other foreigners were retreating to shady benches and picnic tables or inside as the sun climbed higher. Julia had brought a pink parasol with her, tucked under one arm. She opened it, and it cast deep shade over her despite being made of fabric so thin it should hardly have blocked sunlight at all.
The seven of them sat down at a wooden table not far from the main avenue fronting the growing number of Ozarkers come to sell wares and songs and small charms and enchantments. Julia snapped open a fan and began fanning herself. Anna looked a bit wilted beneath her bonnet. Alexandra adjusted hers with a frown, wanting to take it off but knowing she couldn't while all the other girls still wore theirs.
"So tomorrow is the Convocation," David said, "and your elders give a welcome speech and stuff and formally invite us into the Five Hollers. Will they talk about Unworking and tell us what it's about?"
Constance and Forbearance reflected surprise. "Where'd you hear 'bout the Convocation and Unworking, David?" Constance asked.
"The Convocation's on the schedule they gave us at the foreigners' village," Anna said.
"I read about Unworking in Hillwizards: Secrets of the Ozarks," David said. "Do you really throw away all your magic items?"
"Oh, that book!" Constance made a face.
"It's awful, David," said Forbearance. "Don't mention that book to no one else. Folks hereabouts don't take kindly to it or the wizard who wrote it."
"He weren't no Ozarker an' he thought just 'cause he married a waylost witch he knew us," said Constance.
"What do you mean way lost?" Alexandra asked.
There was a moment of uncomfortable silence. Constance slowly pushed her bonnet back, just an inch, exposing a little bit more of her sweat-glistened forehead. When she saw David was watching her, she pulled her hand away and put it to her flushed cheek.
Forbearance cleared her throat. "We'uns call someone who leaves the Ozarks to live with furriners waylost."
"They get shunned forever, Barred from returning to the Hollers," David said.
"Now David, that hain't true," said Constance.
Forbearance clucked her tongue. "Don't you believe nothin' in that book."
David's shoulders slumped beneath his wide-brimmed hat. "I was just trying to find out about your culture. I didn't find a lot of books written by Ozarkers at Boxley's Books."
Constance smiled at him. "If'n you wants to know 'bout our ways, David, you oughter just ask us."
"So what's this Unworking?" Alexandra asked.
Constance began retying her bonnet, after pulling it firmly forward again. Forbearance spoke after a pause that she seemed to hope would be filled by someone else. "Every seven years, we'uns let fall all enchantments throughout the Five Hollers. No works cast can last past the Jubilee. Every charm is broken, every transfiguration undone, and if'n you has laid a curse or a blessin' on anyone or anything, it must be lifted."
"All charms?" Julia stopped fanning herself. "What about the Muggle-Repelling Charms that keep your homes hidden?"
"Them too. They has to end, and be cast anew," Forbearance said.
"What if Muggles come upon you in the meantime?" Julia asked.
The twins shrugged. Constance said, "We'uns is vigilant, but I reckon that's where most o' them 'Holler people' tales come from."
"What about your wands?" Anna asked.
"Wands is the sole exception," Forbearance said. "'Course we keep them. Couldn't Unwork or rework nothin' without 'em."
"But why do you Unwork everything?" Alexandra asked. "What's the point of making magic items and then… throwing them away?"
Constance and Forbearance shared one of their meaningful looks. Alexandra sighed. "I get it — not to be discussed with foreigners."
The twins shook their heads. "It hain't so much that we'uns can't discuss it," Constance said.
"It's a bit muddled," Forbearance said. "It's about traditions passed down everlastin' since we'uns settled in the Hollers."
"Oh, Forbearance, tell the unskint truth," Constance said. "We'uns don't know why. It's all elder talk an' I'll wager half the elders don't have an inkle. It's just done 'cause it's done."
Forbearance blinked at her sister in surprise. "The Grannies know," she said, not so much with conviction but in protestation.
"Well they'uns hain't told us," Constance replied.
Everyone was silent a moment. Julia cleared her throat. "I'm sure there's a sensible reason, and perhaps they will tell us at the Convocation."
Julia was being Julia, Alexandra thought, always wanting to fill awkward silences or distract from social mishaps with something cheerful, if completely off-point.
"It explains why Ozarker artifacts are so valuable," Sonja said. "I guess the only ones that survive are the ones you sell to foreigners."
"Actually, anything we craft for trade has a 'spiry worked into it," Constance said.
"A what?" Alexandra asked.
"You mean expiration?" David said. He winked. "See, I'm learning to speak Ozarker."
The twins both folded their arms.
"It also explains why you're not as wealthy as the rest of the Confederation," David said. "You toss all your magic every seven years. You can't keep any big enchantments. Things like the Wizardrail or the Goblin Market or the Invisible Bridge, you can't just reenchant that every seven years, can you?"
"Reckon you got us all figured out, do you?" Constance said. "Poor durgens, we'uns hain't as 'wealthy' as the rest of the Confederation 'cause we'uns don't clutter the Five Hollers with great works, or own all the magical gewgaws y'all do. Clockworks to mop your marble floors, talkin' portraits, tables that set themselves an' dishes that wash themselves an' crystal balls an' magic buses an' brooms made to last twenty years 'cept you'uns buys a new one every year 'cause last year's hain't in style no more."
"Whoa!" David said, holding up his hands. "I just meant — ah, heck."
Alexandra's mind drifted away from the discussion between David and Constance and Forbearance. The air was thick with humidity and bugs, and Julia's fan didn't even stir the air near Alexandra. Next to her sat Anna, who had been very quiet for most of the morning. Alexandra pondered what the Pritchards had said about Unworking magic, and the Grannies, and tried to make a connection between that and the Grannies' inexplicable interest in her. When would she get a chance to talk to them and ask about this "Troublesome" business?
"So, I notice Alex has kept us from talking about the most important thing."
Anna's voice interrupted Alexandra's reverie — actually, she had been nodding off. She sat up in surprise. "What most important thing?"
"Your appeal," David said. "Expulsion from Charmbridge. What are you gonna do?"
"She'll go to another wizarding school," said Sonja dreamily. "One of the Big Four."
"Two of the Big Four don't even exist anymore, and she's been expelled from Charmbridge. That leaves BMI," said Anna.
Sonja shook her head. "New Amsterdam Academy has resumed classes in the city, even though, uh—"
"Even though my father destroyed the school," Alexandra said. "Both of them already turned me down." She wiped sweat off her forehead. "My sister Livia is starting a day school right in Larkin Mills. So I guess I can go there to keep learning magic."
"A day school?" Anna said. "You were accepted at Charmbridge Academy! And now you're going to settle for a day school?"
"I don't have a lot of choices," Alexandra said.
"Aren't there magic schools in other countries?" David asked. "Some of 'em are supposed to be as good as ours. Even better."
"Another country?" Anna said. Her sadness was so evident, Alexandra just wanted to comfort her.
She didn't mention that Medea had proposed the same idea, but said, "I thought about that, but even if they'd accept me, I'd have to learn, like, French or Swahili. Unless I go to that creepy castle in Scotland where Voldemort went to school. No thanks." She looked at her friends and tried to smile. "Maybe we can find a way to meet up in Chicago sometimes. Like when you're on your way to and from school during breaks…"
"What about the other stuff?" David asked. "The Alexandra Committee. We got any solutions to that problem yet?"
"No," Alexandra said. "Do you?" She looked at Sonja, who for once had nothing to say.
It was a gloomier coda to their afternoon than she'd wanted. As they walked back to the hostel where David and Sonja and Anna had to rendezvous with the other Charmbridge students, Julia engaged them in conversation about their hometowns. She was as interested in David's Muggle neighborhood as she was in Anna's magical community of Little Wuyi, but even her charm didn't lighten the mood.
Alexandra said to Anna, "I wasn't trying to keep you from talking about me. I just don't have anything new to tell you. And I don't think I'm the most important thing to talk about all the time."
David, walking ahead of them, said, "Really?"
Alexandra shoved him. "Yeah, really. Since when do I want everyone to always be talking about me?"
"That is true," said Julia, who was walking just behind Alexandra and Anna with her parasol over one shoulder. "Alexandra would much prefer never having to tell us anything."
"That's not true," Alexandra said. Catching a sideways look from Anna, she added, "Look, if anyone thinks of anything, let's talk about it. But I'd rather enjoy having my friends and my sister here and not spend the week talking about gloomy stuff we can't do anything about."
Anna closed her mouth, but she was clearly not satisfied with ending the discussion there.
Julia sighed. "There are certain topics we have yet to discuss, dear sister."
"Well, you'uns look plumb wore out," said a hearty male voice. The seven of them turned their attention forward again. As they meandered their way back to the youth hostel, Noah and Burton had approached from down the avenue of stalls and tables to walk alongside the group of younger teens. Noah, who had spoken, addressed Julia with some concern. "Best if'n you take a rest when we get back to Furthest."
"I assure you, I'm in no danger of swooning," Julia said. "It does get hot and humid in Roanoke, you know."
"But you're next to the ocean," Noah said. "I reckon that cools things a bit."
"Yes," Julia admitted, "an ocean breeze would be lovely right now."
"Is your brother always so concerned about poor womenfolk in danger of swooning?" Alexandra whispered loudly to Constance and Forbearance.
The twins laughed.
"I feature you find our weather fair enough, Miss Quick?" asked Burton.
"Not so different from home," Alexandra said. "And I've been to Dinétah. It's a lot hotter there."
Burton frowned. "Deenayta? Where's that?"
"The Indian Territories."
Burton continued to look blank. "What were you doin' in Injun territory?" he asked.
Alexandra was slightly annoyed, though she couldn't say why. Perhaps because of Burton's ignorance of anything outside the Ozarks, perhaps because she suspected he was teasing her. "It's a long story."
"We'uns'll have time, back in Furthest," he said.
She shrugged. Behind her, Julia chided: "There, you see? I haven't heard everything about your adventure in Dinétah."
"Me neither," said Sonja. "I want to hear about your adventures, too."
"Maybe next time," Alexandra said. She liked Sonja, but she had not been friends with her since sixth grade as she had with Anna and David and the Pritchards, and Sonja didn't know everything the rest of the Alexandra Committee did. She wondered if the other girl felt left out.
Sonja said in a quiet voice, "It's true about the wardens. But beware what you set free. What you set free, you will have to deal with."
Alexandra looked at her and blinked. "What?"
Sonja turned away and walked to a cauldron corn stand, leaving Alexandra befuddled.
While Noah and Burton went to get the mules, the rest of the group parted from David, Sonja, and Anna on the lane through the foreigners' village. They exchanged embraces and handshakes. Alexandra and David hugged awkwardly.
"Anna, Sonja, we'uns'd sure love for you to come back home with us," said Forbearance.
"You too, 'course," said Constance, with a quick glance at David. "To visit."
"We have to stay here, with all the other Charmbridge students," Anna said, with real regret.
"Chaperoned by Mrs. Speaks and Miss Gambola and Major-General Shirtliffe," said David, rolling his eyes.
"Witch-Colonel," Alexandra said.
"Maybe we'll get a chance to visit your holler before we leave," Anna said. She held Alexandra's hands, and only reluctantly let their fingers slip apart as Noah called impatiently from down the street.
As they flew back to Furthest, Alexandra looked down at the ground from muleback, and had a sudden thought. "What about the mules?"
Everyone turned to her. "What?"
"We, umm…" Alexandra's voice trailed off. She looked from Constance and Forbearance to their brothers, wondering if she would get the girls in trouble for mentioning their conversation. But David had known about the Unworking from a book — surely it wasn't a great secret?
Forbearance seemed to apprehend the direction of her thoughts. "We'uns told our friends 'bout the Unworking," she said to her brothers. "Hain't secret. I reckon they'll speak of it at the Convocation."
"I don't feature that," said Noah, "but do go on, you two. There seems no stoppin' you from runnin' yore mouths when yore friends is about."
Forbearance turned red and fell silent.
Julia said, "That's not nice, Noah Pritchard. If these are secrets not to be shared with foreigners, then blame Alexandra and myself for being nosy and pressing your sisters too hard on the matter."
Noah and Burton hemmed and hawed. Finally, Noah said, "I allow as it hain't no secret that we'uns Unwork all our spells at the end of the Jubilee."
"An' that includes mules," Burton said. "For a while they will have to get used to stayin' on the ground." He patted the shoulder of his mule.
So they aren't bred as flying mules, Alexandra thought. They weren't like the winged goats, or Thestrals and Granians, whom she was pretty sure couldn't simply be turned back into mundane goats and horses. She had another thought. "What about your house?"
"Our house?" Noah said.
"You said your parents laid all those enchantments into the timbers of your house. But if you have to Unwork it…"
"Oh, yup," Burton said. "They do. And then they'uns rework everything. Takes a week, even when all us sons helps."
"We'uns'll be helpin' this year," said Forbearance.
"That remains to be seen," said Noah.
"But… for a week you have to fit everyone into a house that's no bigger on the inside than the outside," Alexandra said.
"Gets a mite crowded," Burton admitted. "But Prudie an' Faithful will be gone by then, an' hopefully Grace'll be back home with Able too."
"That would be lovely," Constance said lightly, in a tone of voice not quite loud enough to carry.
Alexandra puzzled over this all the way back to Furthest. Why create magic items just to destroy them every seven years? Why cast spells that couldn't be permanent? Why redo perfectly good enchantments?
Every seven years.
The connection hit her, not like an electric shock running up her spine or an illuminating light above her head, but with a cold shiver as from a sudden plunge into icy water.
She had no evidence, nor could she figure out how they were related, but it was surely not a coincidence that the Jubilee followed every year after the Deathly Regiment.
Everyone else flew on, oblivious to Alexandra's revelation. She caught Julia watching her thoughtfully, though. Probably thinking about Alexandra's promise to explain the Deathly Regiment, a promise Alexandra wished she hadn't made.