Alexandra sulked around the seven-gabled house for a day before Lucilla and Drucilla finally got the story of her visit out of her. Once they did, their sympathy was mixed.
"It is unfortunate that you couldn't see your friends, but it was foolhardy to go there in the first place," Lucilla said. "They can still arrest you in Central Territory."
"And why didn't you think Diana Grimm would be waiting for you?" asked Drucilla.
Alexandra shrugged. "I don't think her sister likes her there."
Drucilla scoffed. "Diana Grimm is a Special Inquisitor. If she wants to go to Charmbridge Academy, Dean Grimm can't stop her, sister or not. You were being foolish, very foolish. You just assumed nothing would happen to you because nothing has happened to you before at Charmbridge, despite your reckless adventures."
Alexandra had been staring at a book about ancient Etruscan necromancy without really reading it. Now her head snapped up.
"Nothing has happened to me?" she said. "Really?"
Lucilla glanced at her twin. "You quite put your foot in your mouth that time, didn't you, Dru?"
Drucilla glared at Lucilla, then turned back to Alexandra. "Well. I'm sorry, but you know what I meant. You've been protected from the Wizard Justice Department and Diana Grimm, and a great many consequences, until Dean Grimm couldn't protect you any longer. And when you paid her an unannounced visit, trespassing on school grounds and demanding to see her sister restored to human form for you, you insulted her."
"She wouldn't even let me say hello to anyone," Alexandra said. "I crossed the country to see them—"
"Oh, do stop whining," Drucilla said.
Lucilla sighed. "Gently, Dru."
"She's a grown witch, Lucy. Well, practically an adult, and an apprentice. Do you want to be coddled like a child, Alexandra, or do you want to hear the truth, especially when you've cobbled things up?"
Alexandra folded her arms, but kept her mouth shut.
Drucilla spoke in a somewhat gentler tone. "You did not think through the consequences of your actions or your words. It's not unlike what you did to Valeria. You still have a habit of launching yourself into whatever course of action occurs to you and expecting it to work out. Sometimes it doesn't, and then you suffer the consequences, but rather than learning from the experience, you brood on what went wrong and how it will turn out better next time."
"So you're saying I shouldn't have gone at all," Alexandra said.
"Yes, actually, I am saying that, or I would have if you'd bothered to ask," said Drucilla. "But you asked for neither permission nor advice. Apprentices do not typically run off on their own personal quests without at least asking their teacher if it will inconvenience them, you know."
Alexandra said, "I'm sorry. I just thought —"
"You thought if you told us what you were going to do, we'd try to talk you out of it," said Lucilla. "Didn't we have a conversation not long ago about keeping secrets?"
"All right," Alexandra said. "You're right. What should I do?"
Lucilla said, "You might start with writing an apology to your aunt." She laughed softly at the face Alexandra made. "Oh, Alexandra. Pride runs very strong in all of us, but you surely inherited a great share of Father's ego."
Alexandra's pride was bruised, but she tried to take her sisters' words to heart. She wrote explanations to her friends, who no doubt had heard of her unannounced visit, in which she didn't stay long enough even to say hello to them. And swallowing the greater share of her pride, she sent a letter of apology to Dean Grimm.
Over the next few weeks, owls brought back responses from Charmbridge.
Dean Grimm replied to her apology with a terse note: "Apology accepted. Please do not return without a prearranged visitor's pass."
Well, at least it wasn't a Howler, Alexandra thought.
A week after that she received a visit from a very solemn hoot owl, arriving just after dusk at her open bedroom window. It made no sound, just stared sternly at her until she took the scroll tied around its leg.
It was a single thick square of parchment, with flourishing cursive script penned above a wax seal:
"Be it known to all that Alexandra Octavia Quick, a Most Troublesome Girl, is hereby recognized, notarized, duly authorized and certified to represent the Five Hollers of the Ozarks at the Confederation Junior Wizarding Decathlon of the Year 2012 A.D. as the Ozarker Champion, and on behalf of the Five Hollers, it is respectfully requested that she be extended all rights, privileges, courtesies, and obligations owing to this election.
Leland Laird Sawyer
Jeremiah Mason Bevins
Rufus MacLaine Stuart
Dust Isaac Pritchard
Balthazar Nathaniel Donaldson"
Alexandra wondered how they had persuaded Balthazar Donaldson to add his signature. He must have heard about her appearance at the Jubilee, following the Unworking. Had the other Ozarkers persuaded the Exodans that she would take them to the World Away?
According to her friends, everyone at Charmbridge was excited about the Junior Wizarding Decathlon. Most of the school would be rooting for Larry, of course — only Alexandra's friends knew that she would be there, too.
All the other champions had been sent a list of decathlon events at the beginning of the year, but no one had bothered sending a program to the Ozarks, since the Ozarkers had never registered a champion before. David and Anna were the ones who procured a copy for her.
She unrolled the scroll on her workbench.
Schedule of Events for the 61st Confederation Junior Wizarding Decathlon
June 4-9, 2012
Every Junior Wizarding Decathlon features ten categories in which champions will compete: Alchemy, Arithmancy, Charms, Transfigurations, Divination, Apparition, Brooms, Beasts, Mysteries, and Dueling. While the categories are always the same, each Junior Wizarding Decathlon, like the Confederation Decathlon, is different. The judging panel, under the supervision of the Magical Sports and Games Commission, will devise a set of unique challenges for each event.
The challenges will test every champion's mental, physical, academic, and magical fitness. The champions will be scored on their performance in each event. The winner of the prestigious Gringott Grail will be the wizard or witch who achieves the highest total score in all ten events.
The schedule below provides the only clues available before the day of the event as to the nature of each category's challenge this year.
Arithmancy — Shimon Says
Alchemy — Drink If You Dare
Divination — Underground Necromancy
Apparition — Mirror, Mirror
Charms — The Burning Times
Transfigurations — Ancient Forms
Day Three (Evening) — The Junior Wizarding Decathlon Ball, Hosted by the New Amsterdam Academy for Witches and Wizards.
Mysteries — A Golden Thread
Beasts — Dungeons & Dragons
Brooms — Night Racing
Dueling — Standard multiple elimination rounds.
While reasonable safety precautions are in place to reduce the risk of grave injury or mishap, all champions acknowledge that every event has the potential to inflict serious, possibly even mortal, harm. All champions must have a waiver signed by their parent or guardian.
David and Anna had both included a great deal of speculation about what the nature of the events might be. David thought whoever created the Beasts challenge must be a Muggle-born nerd, and had mailed her several books from a fantasy roleplaying game, copiously marked with his commentary. Alexandra looked through them, but was not convinced that she was likely to face "gelatinous cubes" or "rust monsters."
Sonja claimed that her Inner Eye wasn't to be used for gaining an advantage in competitions. This didn't stop her from sending a long list of warnings:
They really are out to get you. You shouldn't trust elks. The bathroom isn't a safe place. Don't drink too much. Watch your wand. Stay out of traffic. Listen carefully. Feed Charlie before your trip. If someone says not to, believe them. Magnificent is awesome. Silver will save her. Night isn't when the worst will happen. Read the fine print. Sleep it off…
"She's lost her mind," Alexandra said.
David and Anna were of much the same opinion — even when one of Sonja's "predictions" came true, they were never helpful.
Alexandra was tempted to write back to Sonja, asking her to answer some specific questions, like "Who will try to kill me, and how?" or "When should I go to Storm King Mountain?" But she was sure Sonja would just tell her that her Inner Eye didn't work like that.
While Alexandra wasn't really going to New Amsterdam for the Junior Wizarding Decathlon, she was intrigued by the events, and her competitiveness would make it hard to walk away from any challenge. If she was in it, she was going to try to win it!
Her last months at Lucilla and Drucilla's house were spent divided between Artificing and studying for the Decathlon. Her sisters taught her many things she'd never have learned at Charmbridge.
The Apparition lessons in particular were trying. Lucilla and Drucilla were both experts, while Alexandra… wasn't. Any previous Apparating she'd done had been mostly accidental.
To avoid both Muggles and Aurors, they took her deep into the woods to practice, and many afternoons were spent getting unsplinched. After weeks of practice, Alexandra could Apparate well enough to get somewhere nearby that she knew well, but she didn't have high hopes for competing with champions who'd actually gotten their Apparition licenses.
All her Arithmancy and Magical Theory lessons at Charmbridge seemed inadequate. She'd barely been allowed to use her broom for weeks. She had faced more ghosts and spirits than most wizards had in a lifetime, but she'd never studied Divination, let alone necromancy.
"Isn't necromancy a Dark Art?" she asked the twins.
Lucilla responded by dropping a heavy book on top of the already sizable stack on her bench. It was one of their ominous, leather-covered volumes that made groaning sounds when opened.
"In vulgar usage, necromancy may involve Dark Arts," Lucilla said, "but the original practice, and what I should hope Decathlon champions will be restricted to, is consulting the dead for wisdom. It is as much diplomacy as magical art. Ghosts aren't always cooperative."
"I know that," Alexandra said. "I've had to Banish a few."
Lucilla gave her one of those looks that Alexandra was never sure whether to read as disappointment or concern.
"I also haven't found many ghosts to be that wise," Alexandra added.
"Oh, you found a book about dungeons and dragons!" Drucilla said, plucking up one of the volumes David had sent her. She frowned as she flipped through the pages. "Wait — this text is very odd. And what a ghastly picture of a goblin! Alexandra, you haven't been reading wizard supremacist materials from the Dark Convention, have you?"
"It's a Muggle book," Alexandra said.
"Muggle?" Drucilla turned the pages again. "Well. No wonder they have no idea what a fairy looks like. How will this help you?"
"It probably won't." Alexandra took the book and set it with her others. "I don't think it's a puzzle. I think they're just going to put us in a dungeon with a dragon."
"Possibly." Lucilla looked at the list of challenges. "But where will they find a dungeon in New Amsterdam? Putting a wizard-space like that under the city would be so staggeringly difficult as to be absurd."
Drucilla said, "The very idea of holding a wizarding decathlon there is quite odd, considering you'll be absolutely surrounded by Muggles. The New Amsterdam Academy for Witches and Wizards used to have some of the most formidable Muggle-Repelling Charms in the world, but young witches and wizards racing on brooms, challenging dragons, Apparating, in the middle of a Muggle city? I cannot see how it will be done."
"If only we could come to watch," Lucilla said.
"I wish you could," Alexandra said.
"At least they'll be broadcasting it on the Wizarding Wireless," Drucilla said.
Alexandra stared at the books in front of her, and thought about the ten challenges. The real challenge was getting to Storm King Mountain. She and the Whites spent evenings discussing how she might use one of the challenges as a diversion, but they had so little information.
She studied, and practiced, and read, as March turned into April, and April into May. She memorized maps of New Amsterdam and the Hudson River. She learned new potion recipes, and rituals for invoking spirits. She spent hours doing Arithmancy drills, and evenings that Lucilla and Drucilla weren't helping her practice her Apparition, she flew slalom courses through the trees on her broom. All this, while still performing her tasks as an apprentice.
She also read anything that might tell her about the World Away, but the few books that mentioned "ley lines" or travel to other realms were full of speculation and nonsense and very little that matched Alexandra's experience. No one had mapped cracks in the world, but she did find confirmation that wizards historically gathered and built at "places where magic made the borders thin."
Lucilla and Drucilla occasionally went across the river to conduct business. They brought Alexandra with them a few times, but only to let her practice more Charms and Transfigurations — they did not let her accompany them on their actual errands. Alexandra avoided Sojourns, but used the opportunities to call home.
"You'll always have a home here," Claudia said, her voice sounding thick and hoarse on the phone, no doubt a trick of the distance between them. "You can always return." But they both knew she couldn't.
There was little other news from Larkin Mills. Bonnie was still missing, and still considered a runaway by the police, though her parents were insisting that something else had happened to her, and had mounted a campaign to find their daughter.
Alexandra called Livia once. Livia was cordial, telling her that Madam Erdglass was still teaching at the Pruett School, and some new students had arrived to replace the ones who'd dropped out.
"What about Mr. Brown?" Alexandra asked.
Livia was silent a moment. "He's gone. He will not be back."
"Do you know what happened to him?"
"If I did, I don't think I'd tell you. Haven't you been in enough trouble, Alexandra? I hope Lucilla and Drucilla are keeping you busy."
"Oh yeah," Alexandra said. "I'm learning all about broom and cauldron repair, making Clockworks, enchanting Wizarding Wirelesses and mirrors and rings…" She didn't tell Livia about her plan to go to New Amsterdam. Neither did she tell Claudia.
As summer and the Junior Wizarding Decathlon approached, Alexandra spent almost every waking hour trying to take in everything the Whites could cram into her head.
"Can you believe this?" she asked Charlie, as she opened book after book. "I've become a wyrm. What would Anna say if she could see me now?"
"Troublesome!" Charlie said.
Though it wasn't supposed to be the real reason for her trip to New Amsterdam, Alexandra found herself hoping she would be able to participate in all the Decathlon challenges. The final one was the one she felt most confident about. She doubted any of her rivals had faced as many actual Dark Wizards and warlocks as she had, in duels that were actually life and death. Certainly not Larry Albo.
"Foolish girl, that's not why you're going, and it's certainly not what we've been training you to do," Lucilla said, walking alongside Alexandra as they made their way to the Wizardrail station on the other side of the river, several miles from the harbor, the day of her departure. Alexandra had confessed her ambition to her sisters, and mentioned her rivalry with Larry Albo.
"No, you certainly haven't been training me to duel," Alexandra said. "It's about the only thing you didn't help me with."
Lucilla and Drucilla both rolled their eyes.
"Anyone can hurl Charms about willy-nilly," Lucilla said. "I should hope you've learned important things from us."
"I have, but if you think hurling Charms about is easy, try it when someone's trying to kill you," Alexandra said.
"No one will be trying to kill you at the Junior Wizarding Decathlon," Drucilla said.
Alexandra snorted. "We'll see."
At the Wizardrail station, Alexandra had to rub her eyes to wipe away the guise the station wore for Muggles. To casual passersby, it was a decrepit, rotting old hulk of iron and crumbling stone, like many other abandoned structures from a century past scattered about the New England woods. But to Witch's Sight, it was a small, rather charming rail station made of polished red wood, with a flat paved stone walkway leading up to the platform.
Charlie cawed from inside the cage tucked under Alexandra's arm. She shushed the bird, then told the twins, "I'm really grateful for everything. I hope I was a good apprentice."
"You were adequate," Drucilla said.
"Oh, stop it, Dru." Lucilla gave Alexandra a hug. "You could be brilliant, if you dedicated yourself, but Artificing is not your calling."
"I don't know what my calling is," Alexandra said, as she returned the hug awkwardly. "I have a Name, and a fate, and… all these other things that are supposed to happen, and I don't understand most of it. I've probably done more planning for this than I've done for almost anything else in my life, and I'm still mostly making it up as I go along."
"That's one part being sixteen years old, one part life, and one part your essential nature," Lucilla said.
"We tried to help you prepare," said Drucilla. "Don't forget our lessons."
The Wizardrail train materialized out of the morning riverside fog and rolled almost silently into the station. There were only a few other passengers boarding here. One wizard had a mohawk, while the others were dressed like traditional Old Colonials, in robes and pointed hats. They looked at the young mohawked wizard with distaste, and then at Alexandra, in her jeans and light jacket, carrying a backpack and a caged raven, and their haughty expressions wrinkled further.
"Go!" said Charlie, causing the two Old Colonials to jump. They turned their backs and hurried onto the train.
"Remember," Lucilla said in a low voice, "the Thorn Circle is still watching over you, Alexandra. You've always been protected."
Alexandra resisted the urge to point out how often that protection had failed. The Circle of Protection that their father had put on her was broken when Benedict Journey tried to kill her in sixth grade. As far as she could tell, the protection of the Thorn Circle hadn't done her much good after that. Instead, she nodded. "I could probably use their help. You know, if I knew who any of them were…"
Lucilla smiled and patted Alexandra's cheek. "You'll know when and if you need to, and not if you don't."
"Farewell, little sister," Drucilla said. "We will see each other again."