Alexandra lingered in the laboratory after the judges and the other champions had left. She went through her components, examining each one in detail. She waved her wand over some. Others she examined by touch, or in some cases, by putting the ingredients to her lips.
Someone cleared his throat. "Trying to poison yourself again?"
Alexandra turned around to face Larry, standing in the doorway. "What do you want?"
He leaned against the frame. "I saw you stay behind. I was curious to see what you're up to. You're out of your league, you know. The rest of us spent all year preparing for the Decathlon. What have you been doing, besides getting expelled from one school after another?"
"Breaking out of wizard prison. It's more difficult than any of these challenges."
Larry's eyebrows went up. "You mean the rumors are true?"
Alexandra bit the small bean she held in her fingers. "I knew it! These aren't Calabar beans!" It was some other species, something that looked very similar.
Larry frowned at her. "Then you made the antidote incorrectly."
"I didn't make it incorrectly, someone sabotaged me!" She grabbed the jar and held it up, showing him the label, which said Physostigma venenosum.
"Of course. Everyone's always out to get you, Quick. You're crazy, you know that? You were actually willing to die rather than be humbled?"
Alexandra slowly set down the jar of unknown beans and looked directly into his eyes. "Is that what you wanted, Larry? To see me humbled? How far would you go to do that?"
His expression didn't change, but his fingers, flesh and silver both, curled into fists.
Something deeper than anger came over her. How many times had an unknown enemy tried to murder her? She never had figured out who Mary Dearborn's accomplice had been the previous year; they'd both thought it was John Manuelito, until Alexandra confronted him in Dinétah and he'd denied it. Maybe it had been the unseen hand of the Governor-General all along. Maybe Harriet Isingrim had somehow tampered with her ingredients. Maybe it was someone else. But she didn't think it was Larry. He didn't want to kill her; he was just a jerk who was always there to rub in her every failure and mock her every difficulty.
Her voice turned cold. "You've seen me survive attempts to kill me, and you still call me crazy. I almost died, again, and you just saw another chance to humiliate me. Why are you here, Larry? You're always telling me I don't belong and I'm not good enough. Well, I am good enough, and I'm going to beat you. Are you going to attack me, like Harriet Isingrim did? No? Then leave me alone, asshole."
They stared each other down, and then Larry shook his head and left.
When she went into the dining commons that night, the scores were posted. The top ten standings were:
Lawrence Albo (Central Territory) — 18.8
Albert-Louis Cachemarée (Louisiana Territory) — 18.6
Vanessa Lightwood (Roanoke Territory) — 18.4
Magnificent Blaze (Alta California Territory) — 18.4
Harriet Isingrim (New Amsterdam) — 18.1
Rebecca Good (New England Territory) — 17.9
Seimei Kamo (Majokai) — 17.8
Peter Mack (Hudson Territory) — 17.2
Jonah Crawley (Texarcana Territory) — 17.0
Alexandra Quick (Ozarkers) — 15.1*
The girl from Yukon Territory, whose name was Hela Punuk, was almost at the bottom, just above the North California champion.
"How is a Radicalist doing so well?" Angelique asked, coming up behind Alexandra. "Why, they don't even teach real magic at Sedona!"
"Seems like they do," Alexandra said.
As they sat down to eat, Angelique asked, "Is it true that you almost killed yourself by taking a Heartsploder potion without an antidote?"
"I had an antidote," Alexandra said. "Someone sabotaged it."
Angelique frowned doubtfully.
"I checked my supplies after everyone left," Alexandra said. "My Calabar beans were replaced with something else."
"Why would anyone do that?" Angelique asked.
"Calabar beans weren't an ingredient in any of the potions we had to make for the competition. We had a lot of ingredients that never got used. But the only thing anyone might have used Calabar beans for was a Heartsploder antidote."
Angelique shook her head. "That makes no sense. That would mean someone would have to know you were going to make a Heartsploder. Who would expect you to be that reckless?" Then she giggled. "Well, all right. But still, this sounds awfully far-fetched to me, Alexandra."
"Yeah, just like it was far-fetched that someone was trying to kill me in sixth grade! Why doesn't anyone ever believe me? No matter how many times I'm right, I always get told I'm crazy, I'm being ridiculous, I should just listen to the adults. You know what happened at Charmbridge, Angelique — or you think you know, although you really don't know much at all."
Angrily, Alexandra began eating, while Angelique stared at her.
Alexandra finally set down her knife and fork. "Look, I know you don't believe me. But they really are out to get me."
Angelique's eyes widened. "Who?"
"The Confederation, right?"
Alexandra started as Magnificent Blaze sat down next to her. He'd put robes on over the Radicalist garb he'd worn for the competition, and he'd tied his hair back in a long ponytail. "You have a loud voice when you're vexed, chickee. You actually do sound a little crazy to anyone listening in, right?"
Alexandra scowled. "Why were you listening in?"
"Muffliato," said Magnificent. Alexandra noticed that he hadn't actually taken his wand out of his pocket to cast the anti-eavesdropping charm. As he began eating, he smiled at Angelique. "Hey, you're from Baleswood, right? You should believe Alexandra — what happened there, the Thorn Circle was a false robe, right?"
"A what?" Angelique asked.
Magnificent lowered his voice, despite the Muffliato Charm. "The Confederation just wants you to think that Abraham Thorn and the Dark Convention destroyed Baleswood, right? But it was really them."
Alexandra and Angelique both stared at him.
"That's ridiculous," Angelique said. "And I'll thank you to keep your conspiracy theories to yourself, because I don't find them amusing. I was there. There were no Confederation wizards summoning the storms that destroyed our school."
"Did you actually see any Dark Convention warlocks?" Magnificent asked. "Did you see Abraham Thorn?"
Angelique glanced nervously at Alexandra. "No, but…"
Magnificent nodded. "That proves it, right? He was set up." He turned to Alexandra. "I believe you, chickee. They're trying to kill you because then when they destroy Charmbridge, they can blame that on your father, saying he was taking revenge for your death, right?"
Angelique's mouth fell open.
Alexandra wasn't sure whether to be outraged or intrigued. She looked around. As far as she could tell, no one was paying much attention to them, though she caught Larry and Harriet, who were sitting with most of the other champions over at the table nearest the window, occasionally looking her way.
"What makes you think the Confederation is going to destroy Charmbridge?" she asked.
"It's part of their plan to destroy all magical schools, right? They want to return the wizarding world to the way it was before we started mingling with Muggles, when all magical Beings were enslaved."
"That's ridiculous! That's not the Confederation's purpose," Angelique said.
"It's not what anyone will tell you," Magnificent said. "You just know the history you're taught in school, right? No one ever told you that the Confederation was founded by the Order of the Ancient Mu."
"Order of the Ancient Moo?" Angelique repeated.
"The Ancient Mu. They're descended from the Atlanteans, but after the war with the Hyperborean Wizard-Kings—"
"Hyperborean Wizard-Kings," Alexandra repeated slowly.
"Right? See, there was this war in ancient times, between wizards and giants —"
"Giants?" Angelique exclaimed. "Do you really think we're that stupid?"
Magnificent looked wounded. "I'm not making this up, chickee. I know it sounds incredible—"
"It sounds ridiculous!" Angelique said.
"It's the truth!" Magnificent said. Alexandra suspected he might actually be serious.
"So is this what all Radicalists believe?" she asked.
Magnificent's brow furrowed. "Oh, Stars, no. Most haven't been told all of this. It's too deep, right? We're all trying to liberate all sentient Beings, and teach Muggles magic so they'll be able to join us in resisting the Order when the time comes, but not everyone knows all the secret history, like my folks. But you're the daughter of Abraham Thorn — he must have told you all this, right?"
"Actually, he's never mentioned Atlanteans or Hyperborean Wizard-Kings," Alexandra said. "Maybe he was waiting until I'm ready."
Magnificent studied her. She knew he wasn't sure if she was taking him seriously or not. She wasn't sure if he intended her to take him seriously.
Finally, he said, "So, what was your plan, coming to New Amsterdam? I know you don't care about actually winning the Decathlon, right?"
"I didn't, but now I kind of do." Alexandra shook her head, realizing that this was all distracting her from her real objective: Storm King Mountain. "So, you really try to teach Muggles magic at Sedona? How does that work?"
Magnificent frowned. "Not too well," he admitted.
Alexandra wondered if Benedict Journey had believed this nonsense about wizard-kings and ancient conspiracies. Then again, hadn't she been upset at Angelique for not taking her seriously?
"Oh, hey, Thule," said Magnificent.
Hela Punuk stood behind Angelique, facing Alexandra with her tray of food, looking very uncomfortable. Alexandra thought the furs she was wearing had to be causing some of her discomfort.
"That's not my name," Hela said. Then she addressed Alexandra: "I am sorry about today."
"I helped you, and you refused to help me," Alexandra said. "I wonder if you would have given me Calabar beans."
"Maybe she should join us," Magnificent said. "The Thule don't like the Confederation either."
"What do you mean, join us?" Alexandra demanded.
"We don't call ourselves Thule," Hela said.
"What do you call yourselves?" Alexandra asked.
"We don't tell outsiders that," Hela said.
"Then what are we supposed to call you?" Alexandra asked.
"My name." Hela looked annoyed. "I just wanted to tell you it wasn't personal. It's important to my people that I perform well."
"Not much chance of that, after today," Alexandra said.
Hela's fierce features darkened. "There are eight more events. I knew I wouldn't do well with Arithmancy or your kind of Alchemy."
"Well, good luck," Alexandra said. "But don't ask me for help again."
"I won't." The other witch walked away.
Alexandra almost asked Magnificent for help, but she still didn't trust the Radicalist. After lunch, she asked Angelique where New Amsterdam Academy's library was, and spent some time that afternoon reading books about New Amsterdam and looking for information about Storm King Mountain. It was listed on most Confederation maps, but only as the records repository for the Confederation Census Office. The Accounting Office was mentioned nowhere.
She had trouble falling asleep that night. Reluctantly, she allowed Charlie to fly free, with a window cracked open, only because the raven protested so bitterly about being caged for so long. She knew New Amsterdam — or New York — was the home of millions of birds, but she was fearful for her familiar in a way she hadn't been anywhere else.
Her conversation with Magnificent Blaze had been bizarre and unnerving. The Radicalist seemed to know a great deal about her father, and believed her immediately in a way few others did, even her friends. But that nonsense about Atlanteans! She wasn't sure he wasn't putting her on.
She took a sip of the Draught of Peace she'd prepared that day, and fell into a deep slumber. She dreamed that Charlie was flying north, guided by her thoughts about Storm King Mountain. But Charlie couldn't see well in the night mist rising from the river, so Alexandra called the raven back.
She awoke the next morning to Charlie cawing, "Good morning, Alexandra!" She realized her familiar had been making noise for some time. She yawned, shaking off the effects of her potion, which left her lethargic and not as sharp as she needed to be.
"It's a Necromancy competition, Charlie," Alexandra said. "I might need your help."
Charlie was pleased by this. "Clever bird!"
Ravens were used in certain rituals as guides to the afterlife, and Alexandra had seen for herself that ghosts tended to respect her raven. David had warned her that champions were expected, even encouraged, to bend the rules, and no one had said there was a rule against bringing your familiar.
She used the bell to walk across the riverbed to the shore, and sent Charlie to wait on the roof, then entered Crown Hall.
She was much more cautious when she entered the bathroom this morning, but Harriet and her friends were nowhere about, and none of the other girls bothered her as she took her shower. She still kept her wand ready in her hand, even under the hot water.
She avoided the cafeteria, and instead went back outside and bought breakfast from a food stand on the street. As she returned to Walloon Tower to drop off last night's clothes, she fed Charlie some hash browns and eggs.
She found the entire trip laborious and unnecessary, and was tempted to just keep Apparating back and forth. But it was too early to risk getting thrown out of the Decathlon.
The champions had been told to assemble at the entrance to New Amsterdam Academy this morning, by the plaque Alexandra had seen when she first arrived. Alexandra saw Hela Punuk and the North California champion going through the gate from the street, and wondered where they were staying. Everyone else was already gathered when Alexandra arrived, with Charlie on her shoulder.
Larry had also brought his familiar, a large black owl named Corwin. Corwin hooted at the sight of Charlie, and Charlie fluttered nervously. Larry smirked. Rebecca Good held a black cat in her arms that was almost invisible against her black robes. Apparently all three of them had had similar ideas about the usefulness of familiars when it came to dealing with spirits.
In addition to the judges, Professor Haster was flanked by wizards and witches in red and black robes today. The red-robed officials, he explained, mostly speaking to Mudd and his Snitch, were observers from the Magical Sports and Games Commission. The black-robed witches and warlocks were from the Bureau of Hauntings.
"We'll be taking you to the site of this morning's Divination competition by means of Side-Along Apparition," said Professor Haster. Each adult paired off with one of the champions. Governor-General Hucksteen himself took Harriet, while a stern-faced witch in New Amsterdam orange wordlessly held out a hand to Alexandra.
With a twisting sensation that was smoother than most of Alexandra's Apparitions, they disappeared, and reappeared in some sort of dark underground bunker. The smell of dust and rot and other unpleasant things made several people begin sneezing immediately.
Over a dozen voices chanted "Lumos!" all at once. With Light spells giving them a better look at the chamber they'd been transported to, Alexandra realized it was a subway station. A very old, empty subway station. Cobwebs were everywhere, and bats stirred in the concrete arches high above them, while rodents scurried along ancient metal tracks that stretched off along branching tunnels into the darkness. Vault-like metal doors were marked with numbers and faded street designations. Behind a rusting iron portcullis, Alexandra saw concrete steps leading upward, but they were so far underground that not even a glimmer of light shone in.
Professor Haster began speaking. "This station was once part of what the Muggles call a 'subway' — it's their crude version of an underground Wizardrail. They abandoned this station almost a century ago. Now, it is one of New Amsterdam's designated Haunting Zones."
As if on cue, translucent glowing figures appeared all around them — ghosts, standing along the edge of the subway platform, on the tracks, and at the mouths of the various tunnels. Alexandra heard Hela Punuk gasp. A couple of the other champions looked nervous, but most reacted to the ghosts with interest.
"Necromancy was once one of the primary branches of Divination," Professor Haster said. "Of course it is rarely taught formally in schools nowadays, due to its association with the Dark Arts, but those of you who are well-prepared will have some knowledge of the art. Your task will be to ask questions of any spirits from whom you can wheedle, bargain, or compel an answer. The Bureau of Hauntings has assembled a gathering of volunteers who hold all the answers you seek."
The ghosts wore glum expressions, not looking particularly happy about volunteering — though in Alexandra's experience, ghosts usually wore glum expressions.
Professor Haster snapped his fingers, and as a bundle of scrolls appeared in his arms, all the ghosts faded from view.
"Each of you has a unique set of questions," Professor Haster said. "Your score will be determined by the speed with which you gather answers, and of course, their accuracy. Remember, ghosts can lie!"
The champions lined up, each taking a scroll. Then they stood apart, waiting for Professor Haster to give them the signal to begin.
Alexandra considered the layout of the subway station. Since this was a Divination competition, they couldn't just run around asking random ghosts to answer questions, like a scavenger hunt. They would have to track down particular ghosts, either summoning the ghost to them or casting a Divination spell that would lead them to the correct spirit. This was a hazy branch of magic, involving negotiation, empathy, and compelling, depending on how one approached ghosts. Alexandra had only ever approached them by asking questions directly. She knew how to Banish ghosts, but summoning them required diplomacy.
When Professor Haster told them to begin, Alexandra unrolled her scroll and read the questions:
How many wizards died in the Great Blizzard of 1888?
Who is buried beneath the Gorgeous Gorgon Inn?
How many seventh sons arrived aboard the Nibiru?
Which wizarding school did the daughter of the first Governor of New Amsterdam attend?
What was the Most Terrible Gift?
She froze when she read the last line. She looked around, wondering if this was some sort of sick joke.
No one was looking at her; even Governor-General Hucksteen's attention was elsewhere. The other competitors were all trying to divine the best way to call up the ghosts who'd answer their questions.
There was a gleam in the air as Mr. Mudd's Snitch flew overhead.
Unnerved, Alexandra cast her first spell. Calling cooperative ghosts from nearby wasn't difficult. She'd dealt with ghosts before, and they didn't scare her, but as she began questioning them, she found them uncooperative. Some tried to intimidate her. She realized that she'd been rattled by that last question, and the ghosts were reading her distraction as fear.
She Banished the first ghost who threatened her, and none of the others gave her trouble after that, but she realized that she now had the undivided attention of the wizards from the Bureau of Hauntings. Well, she thought, nobody said Banishing was against the rules.
Not every ghost would come to her. Like the other champions, she had to range about the subway station, and she was very mindful of where everyone else was.
"Watch my back, Charlie," she said. She wasn't entirely sure Charlie was helping with the ghosts, but she suspected they'd have been even less polite without the raven present.
"Yes'm," said Charlie.
Getting ambushed down one of these dark tunnels seemed like a very real possibility, so when she had to go into darkness seeking the oldest of the ghosts, her path lit only by the light of her wand, she was ready for an attack. But none came.
Alone in a massive tunnel that was large enough to sail a ship through, and so wet she suspected they were actually under the harbor, she closed her eyes and licked her lips, debating whether she should do what she was thinking of doing. She checked first to make sure the Snitch and its accompanying Eye-Spy weren't around.
"Quimley," she whispered.
She opened her eyes. She was still alone.
She held her wand up, and opened her eyes to what was revealed with her Witch's Sight. This was an old and haunted place, and she was not surprised when she saw seams between this world and the next, but there was no gate to the Lands Below here. Still, the borders were thin, and she knew Quimley was capable of moving between worlds with more freedom than she was.
She took a deep breath, and said aloud:
"In the dark, we're alone here,
No one will listen or interfere;
Quimley, free elf, I hope you hear;
Come to me, do not fear;
I need your help, I need your ear."
She waited, but nothing happened. She waited for a full minute, and then another. She was conscious of time passing by, which would cost her points, but this was no longer about scoring well in the competition. Someone had put a question on her scroll that no one living should know to ask… no one outside the Lands Below.
But Quimley didn't come.
She didn't know if her summoning had failed, or if Quimley was unable to come here, or simply unwilling. She might have attempted a stronger summoning, one to force obedience, but she wasn't willing to do that.
Angrily, she shouted into the darkness, "Hey! If you're looking to ambush me, you won't get a better chance!"
She was just venting. But to her surprise, someone moved in the darkness further down the tunnel. Alexandra immediately pivoted to face the unseen figure, and said, "Ter Lumos!" casting a blinding light directly into Hela Punuk's face.
The girl from Yukon Territory held a hand up to shield her eyes. Her wand was held away from her body, pointed downward. "I wasn't trying to ambush you," she said.
"What are you doing here?" Alexandra demanded.
"The same as you. Calling ghosts, away from everyone else. When you came down this tunnel, I hoped you'd finish and leave." Hela lowered her hand, and squinted. "What was that doggerel verse you were chanting?"
"Nothing," Alexandra said.
"You were trying to summon an elf? I don't even know if that's allowed."
"If it's not against the rules, it's allowed. And if you don't get caught, it's not against the rules," Alexandra said.
"Clever girl," said Charlie. Hela jumped.
"Ravens are evil," she said.
"Wicked," said Charlie.
Alexandra and Hela stared at each other.
Hela scowled. "You people — this entire contest is rigged."
"You have no idea," Alexandra said.
"They gave me a question that can only be answered by one of my people!" Hela said angrily, shaking her scroll. "None of our ghosts are here in New Amsterdam."
"Well, that sucks. They gave me a question that only my dead brother might know the answer to. So don't talk to me about how the Confederation screwed with you."
Hela paused. "I have dead relatives too."
Alexandra shrugged. "Too bad none of them can help us."
Hela said, "I'm very good at what you Colonials call necromancy. But speaking to one of my people from here requires a ritual, not just a summoning."
Alexandra hesitated. "I know ritual magic," she said.
"With two people, it would be easier," Hela said.
Alexandra frowned. "Oh, so you want my help again?"
"You need my help, too," Hela said.
Alexandra lowered her wand cautiously. "Ravens are also helpful in summoning spirits from the Lands Beyond."
Charlie let out a caw that echoed eerily in the tunnel.
"The Lands Beyond?" Hela squinted at Alexandra. "You want to summon your brother?"
"No!" Alexandra kept her wand tightly clenched in a fist at her side. "But I think that's where the answer to my question is… in the Lands Beyond."
"Weakening the wall between this world and the Endless Wastes is dangerous," Hela said.
Hela considered. "All right. We'll do it together. First mine, then yours."
They would have sat, except there was water pooled in the dank tunnel at their feet, so they squatted instead, using their wands to vaporize as dry a spot as they could, then while Alexandra put up wards, Hela began taking things out of a pouch at her side and arranging them on the wet concrete floor. The bony head of a fish skeleton. A chunk of white ivory — a tusk or a tooth, Alexandra wasn't sure. A silver necklace. Hela moved them around in arcane patterns, casting a spell each time she adjusted them.
Alexandra sent Charlie flying around them in circles. She began a ritual to call forth spirits.
"You who dwell on the Other Side
To this world, by raven ride,
See your guide, dark wings in flight,
Come to us from endless night."
"Wizard verse," Hela muttered. "I suppose that will work."
Each beat of the raven's wings weakened the border between worlds, and brought forth darkness and endless, eternal desolation. Alexandra felt a bitter cold unlike anything she'd felt since traveling to the Lands Beyond. She shuddered. They weren't going there — they were just trying to call a spirit from there.
The subway tunnel was gone. They crouched in ghostly stillness, on what seemed like a vast, frozen, blue-green plain. Light without a source reflected off of ice that had not seen the sun in millennia. Alexandra shivered harder.
Someone walked out of the endless darkness and approached them. A stranger in heavy furs, with a hood pulled up over his or her head so there was only darkness where their face should have been. Hela gasped and rose to her feet. She faced the spirit with her wand held between them, and the whites of her eyes reflected ghostly blue-green light from their surroundings.
She spoke in a language Alexandra didn't recognize. The conversation that transpired seemed entirely one-sided to Alexandra. As far as she could tell, the ghost never answered back. But eventually, Hela seemed satisfied. She waved her wand in a gesture of dismissal.
The ghost did not leave. Hela tried to dismiss it again. It stood there.
A little desperately, Hela tried a third time, but seemed weakened by the attempt, and the spirit loomed larger over her, as if it were drawing strength from her.
Alexandra raised her wand and cast a Greater Banishing. With a howl and a crackle like ice breaking, the spirit vanished. Charlie cawed.
"Thank you," Hela said, as the ghostly plain around them receded and gave way to the subway tunnel again. "Now, pay close attention." She lifted the silver necklace on the ground and held it in the air in front of her. It swayed back and forth, twirling and reflecting the light from their wands. Swaying. Alexandra's eyes followed it.
"Good morning, Alexandra!" Charlie cried.
Alexandra couldn't move. She felt her eyelids drooping, and her limbs wouldn't respond. With a jolt that roused her mind, but not her body, she realized she'd fallen for a simple sixth-grade charm.
"I'm sorry," Hela said. "It's not personal." Then she yelled as Charlie flew at her, cawing and beating wings against her head, pecking at her face.
Hela said, "Stupefy!" With a flash of red, Charlie tumbled out of the air and landed in a puddle with a splash.
"That bird is evil," Hela said. Her footsteps faded up the tunnel.
Rage fueled Alexandra's concentration now. She couldn't speak or move her wand, but the barrier between worlds was still weak from the ritual she and Hela had performed, and she had another way to reach across it.
She focused on the thin spot that had already been created between this world and the Lands Beyond, and demanded a response from the other side. Her physical form was paralyzed, but in her mind, she rose and stepped close to the barrier between worlds. She couldn't actually cross that barrier — not without a much more powerful ritual, at a place of power, preferably with the help of a Thestral. But she could speak through it.
"What is the Most Terrible Gift?" she asked.
A glow appeared. Distantly, Alexandra heard childish laughter, and someone chanting in a sing-song voice. She remembered her visit to the home of the Most Deathly Power and would have shivered if it were her body and not merely her mind standing here.
The glow came closer and closer, until it took the form of a little girl. A little girl in a frilly dress and curls and an old-fashioned hat. She was an old-time story-book illustration come to life… or rather, unlife. The ghost skipped up to Alexandra and said, "Hello! You're still alive. I shouldn't talk to you."
"Maybe not," Alexandra said, "but you came when I called. Thank you."
The girl shrugged. "What do you want?"
"Do you know what the Most Terrible Gift is?" Alexandra asked.
The girl's eyes went wide, then brimmed with tears. Alexandra felt an urge to apologize, but kept silent.
"I'm the Most Terrible Gift!" the girl cried. "And you're terrible for asking me that!"
"I'm sorry," Alexandra said. "I…"
"You have a geist," said the girl.
"A geist." Now the girl smiled smugly, as if delighting in knowing something about Alexandra that she might or might not share. "It's your adversy — adversery—"
"Adversary?" Alexandra said.
"Yes. Your ad-ver-sary."
"Is my geist in the Lands Beyond?" Alexandra asked. "My adversary is a ghost?"
The girl smiled, but didn't answer.
She looked like she had been seven or eight when she died, but Alexandra couldn't tell how long ago that was. Her frilly dress resembled some Old Colonial fashions, but Alexandra didn't think she had died recently.
"Thank you for talking to me," Alexandra said. "I'm sorry I called you without knowing your name or whether you wanted to come."
The girl looked down and scuffed her foot against the endless darkness that was the ground at their feet. "I don't get to see living people anymore. So I don't mind, I guess."
"Will you tell me your name?"
The child looked up at her. "I shall, because my Daddy is very important. You should tell him to punish that awful Quimley! Will you do that?"
Alexandra swallowed. "Quimley?"
"He's a house-elf. He's a very bad house-elf!" The little girl scowled. "I want him punished extra!"
"I understand," Alexandra said.
The ghost's expression brightened. She tossed her head and said haughtily, "My name is Jezebel Keren Hucksteen."
When the Entrancing Charm wore off, Alexandra stood, gathered Charlie into her arms, and walked back to the subway platform where they'd started.
Despite all the time she'd lost under Hela's spell, she wasn't the last champion to return. Hela and everyone else in the top ten on the leaderboard had beaten her, however. Alexandra glared furiously at Hela, but the other witch turned her back.
Alexandra was called forward to give her answers to a wizard from the Bureau of Hauntings. Consulting a long scroll with all the questions, he dipped his feather quill into an ink pot and asked, "How many wizards died in the Great Blizzard of 1888?"
"Three," Alexandra said. She had met one of them, and learned that he normally haunted Walloon Tower. After he kept trying to put his hand through her, she'd Banished him, so she didn't expect to see him again during her stay.
The Bureau of Hauntings official continued down the list of questions until he came to the last one. He frowned and adjusted his spectacles.
"This question is not on the list," he said.
Professor Haster and one of the other judges walked over.
"Her scroll hasn't been edited or otherwise tampered with," Professor Haster said, after casting a spell to detect such chicanery. He frowned at Alexandra, clearly ready to accuse her of something. "Well, did she get an answer to it?"
The official cleared his throat. "What was the Most Terrible Gift?"
Alexandra turned her head to stare at Governor-General Hucksteen. He looked as puzzled as the other judges. For a moment, she hesitated, and almost refrained from answering. Then, seized by some combination of hubris and malice, she said, "Jezebel Keren Hucksteen."
Hucksteen made a long, slow exhaling sound. His enormous girth and imposing presence still dominated the space around him, yet it seemed as if he had momentarily shrunk in his seat. His pale blue eyes, however, were like fire in their intensity as they fixed on Alexandra.
Everyone looked at him nervously, and back at Alexandra. Then the Bureau of Hauntings official exclaimed, "Here it is!"
Professor Haster looked at their master list, and back at Alexandra.
"That question was not written here this morning," Professor Haster said.
"But the scroll couldn't have been altered," said one of the other judges.
"Clearly it was!" Professor Haster snapped.
This prompted all of the judges to gather in another huddled conference. Governor-General Hucksteen barely seemed to pay attention to them. Finally, Professor Haster returned and said, "Miss Quick will get full credit for all her answers."
Alexandra watched as the remaining champions straggled in. She stroked Charlie's feathers as the raven recovered from being Stunned. Balefully, she glared at Hela Punuk, who continued to keep her back turned to Alexandra.
At last, all the scores were recorded. The remaining ghosts vanished, and Professor Haster told the champions and judges to Apparate back.
Governor-General Hucksteen walked over to Alexandra and seized her arm. Alexandra tensed, knowing it would do no good to look around for help. She wondered if he would strike her down right here in front of everyone.
"Fly, Charlie," she said, and Charlie flapped off before they could be Apparated. She didn't know where the exit to this abandoned subway station was, but she had to trust Charlie to find it.
Alexandra and the Governor-General arrived back in the courtyard in front of the New Amsterdam Academy plaque. Alexandra had expected him to splinch her or something, but their movement was instantaneous and without incident. Only his grip on her arm expressed violence — determined not to give him the satisfaction of wincing or crying out, she said nothing, but knew she would have a bruise all around her arm where he held her.
Before releasing her, he leaned over, so his beard was almost in her face, and whispered in a low, harsh voice, "I will see you burn."
He left her standing in the courtyard, shaken and fighting not to rub her arm.