Nothing was scheduled for the rest of the day. The champions had only to prepare for the next day's challenge: Beasts. At previous Junior Wizarding Decathlons, this had involved evading minotaurs in labyrinths, harnessing hippogriffs, and on one occasion, an underwater challenge. Two champions had died that year.
Alexandra avoided Anna, Magnificent, Angelique, and everyone else, and went directly back to her room. She was very tired and she needed a nap.
She allowed Charlie to fly freely over New Amsterdam and greater New York City, and while she slept, she dreamed of the great cityscape below. Far off in the distance was the Hudson River, stretching north until it was obscured by mist. Charlie ventured in that direction until Alexandra's worried thoughts pulled the raven back.
She woke up when Charlie returned. The sun was setting. Alexandra decided that maybe after dinner, she would be ready to face Anna, and possibly plan her attack on whatever dungeon she was going to be sent into, and think about how she'd get away from New Amsterdam after the Decathlon without Governor-General Hucksteen and his minions knowing what she was up to.
There was hardly anyone on the floor of Crown Hall when she walked out of the elevator and down the hall to use the girls' bathroom. Two girls were in the bathroom when she entered it. After she emerged from one of the stalls, it was empty.
She went to the sink. After washing her hands, she didn't bother reaching for her wand; she just levitated it into her hand, even before she saw Harriet Isingrim in the mirror.
She had to admire Harriet's stealth. Alexandra never saw her enter the bathroom or emerge from any of the stalls. The blonde girl had just appeared, as if from out of the shadows.
"Invisibility is impossible, and I didn't hear you Apparate," Alexandra said. "So how did you do that? I don't think Unnoticeability would work; I was kind of expecting you."
Harriet leaned against the wall. Her wand was held casually in her hand; not so casually she couldn't cast a spell in an instant, but she at least didn't appear to be intent on doing so immediately.
She shrugged. "A natural talent, I suppose."
Alexandra turned, her wand also held casually. "You don't have your friends with you this time."
"Neither do you." Harriet pushed off from the wall. "What was that clever rhyme of yours? Now you've got no friends, you bitch. Now it's you and me."
"That didn't work out so well for you last time."
Harriet smiled. "This time it will be Code Duello, in the old style. I don't suppose a Mudblood like you knows what that is?"
"Not that it matters, but I'm actually a pureblood," Alexandra said. "If I were a Mudblood, I'd wear that proudly. I'm still going to wash your mouth out for insulting my friends, though."
"You can try." Harriet grinned a savage, pointy-toothed grin. "A duel under the Code Duello is one-on-one. No interference, and no vengeance taken afterwards, by anyone. It is one of the wizarding world's most ancient traditions. If your pureblood father still has the least regard for his honor and reputation, even he won't violate it."
"And if I don't want to duel you?"
"Then I'll kill you anyway."
Alexandra shook her head. "We don't have to do this."
"Actually, we do," Harriet said. "And by that I mean, we really, truly do. I've already Blood-Sealed this room. Only one can leave."
Alexandra frowned. She had read about Unbreakable Vows to seal chests, envelopes, even rooms. But… "Sealing the two of us inside would require both of us to swear to it, and I didn't."
"Wrong. A Blood-Seal requires only our blood. There's mine." Harriet pointed to a small dark symbol on the wall behind her. "And there's yours." She pointed behind Alexandra.
Alexandra warily turned sideways so she could still watch Harriet while looking at the spot she pointed to. There was a similar dark red mark on the tiles practically where she was standing. "How?"
"I intended to shed your blood here the night you arrived, but that bimbo from Baleswood intervened before I could make you bleed. So I had to settle for getting a mouthful of your blood during our duel."
"That's gross," Alexandra said. "You had plenty of time that first night, but you were too busy gloating and torturing me."
Harriet nodded. "You're right. But I got your blood after all."
"So we're both trapped in here," Alexandra said, "by your stupid seal." Experimentally, she tried opening the bathroom door from across the room with an Unlocking Charm, and then tried blasting it open with a Blasting Curse. Harriet watched contemptuously.
"Only one of us can leave," Harriet said. "That's the Oath I put upon us. No force can open this room so long as we both live. Even a spell powerful enough to utterly destroy it would kill at least one of us. So there will be no rescues. Even your father, as great as you say he is, couldn't get you out of here." She assumed a dueling position.
Alexandra shook her head, and raised her own wand. "I never bragged about how great he is. I've never been part of my father's plans, and I don't try to use his name—"
Harriet burst out laughing. "Oh. My. God! You incredible liar!" She actually lowered the tip of her wand, though not enough to relax her guard. "Do you even listen to yourself?"
Alexandra extended her arm, keeping her wand pointed at Harriet. "What's so funny?"
"You don't use his name? Alexandra Octavia Thorn? Eighth child of the Enemy of the Confederation, who's been to the Lands Below, who's traveled to the Lands Beyond and back. Isn't that how you brag about yourself? You may call yourself Alexandra Quick, but you like to shout Abraham Thorn's name when you want to scare people, don't you? You don't use his name? Except when you're trying to intimidate journalists — yes, I heard you threatening Mr. Mudd!"
"I didn't threaten him—"
"Oh no," Harriet said mockingly, "you just mentioned what happens to reporters who write things about Abraham Thorn's daughters. You deny your father when you don't want to be associated with him, when it's socially inconvenient to be his daughter, but you have no problem dropping his name when it suits you… when you think it makes you sound impressive, or when you're trying to bribe or bully someone." Harriet advanced, eyes flashing, keeping her wand at the ready, but still ranting while Alexandra listened. "Do you think I picked you on a whim, you vile, narcissistic little cunt?" Alexandra backed away in spite of herself as the words spewed from the other witch. "After your father killed my father and my uncle, I swore vengeance, and I researched everything I could about him and his family. I know the names of all your siblings, and where they live. I know where they went to school, and I know their reputations. And of all Abraham Thorn's children, only one is always involved with his schemes. Only one has been causing calamities ever since she entered the wizarding world. Only one has left death and destruction in her wake because she's part of the Thorn Circle! You've been making enemies since you were eleven. Even the Governor-General hates you — that isn't because you're some innocent victim of your father's reputation. I could have gone after one of your sisters… but when I found out Alexandra Quick was coming here, to New Amsterdam…" Harriet smiled. "It was like fate."
Alexandra stopped backing away. Harriet also stopped. The two of them stood with wands pointed at one another, with barely an armspan's distance between the tips.
"Wow," Alexandra said. "You have got so much wrong. But — even if you weren't wrong, even if everything you say about me is true, I still had nothing to do with the Roanoke Underhill. You want to kill me for something my father did."
"No," Harriet said. "I want to kill you because it will make your daddy cry."
Alexandra said, "You can try."
Both their wands flared. Spells whipped past and around them, in incandescent white and green and purple arcs that stripped tiles from the floor, scorched burn marks across the walls, tore lights out of the ceiling, and shattered half the mirrors in the room. At such close range there was no finesse, only blasting and deflecting, again and again, the two of them hurling hexes and curses rapid-fire, one after another, as fast as the incantations could tumble past their lips, as fast as their fingers could make their wands fly, with just enough added motion to keep Shield Charms in the way. Fireballs and impaling black spikes and silver blades conjured out of the air and green acid clouds and poisonous white plumes blended together in a conflagration of destructive magical fury, boiling in a yard of empty space between them and spewing destruction in all directions around them.
Smoke and magic was so thick in the air, they could barely see each other even a few feet away. They stopped, stepped back, and circled, both taking long, matching breaths as each studied her opponent. They carefully stepped over bubbling pools of melted glass and blackened, burning ceramic, avoiding putting their feet down on the razor-edged shards of magically-conjured metal embedded in the floor. Harriet muttered a charm that blew the noxious fumes and gases away from her; Alexandra cast a Fresh Air spell on herself. Neither took her eyes off the other for a moment.
"I think you're really overestimating how much my father cares about me," Alexandra said.
"Oh, I don't think so," Harriet said. "Poor little witch, abandoned and neglected by Daddy, except when he wants you for some dire plan, some mission, some dark deed that you'll perform for him all the while crying that you have it so hard being his daughter…"
Another flurry of spells cut through the wooden wall separating the front of the girls' bathroom from the rear half where the toilets and showers were located. Alexandra and Harriet both moved to put the barrier between them, and promptly blew it to pieces. Alexandra conjured black rubbery tentacles to reach around it and seize Harriet; Harriet set them on fire and cast a Severing Charm that split and multiplied, turning the tentacles into a pile of black smoking chunks roiling on the floor. Then the cutting magic scythed off the floors, ceiling, and walls and converged on Alexandra. Alexandra's Shield Charm deflected the attacks, barely, and then she had to freeze the wall of fire rolling across the bathroom. It swept past her, leaving her with a bitter chill while setting on icy fire several stalls and what was left of the room's wooden divider. The mirrors in the room frosted over.
Harriet screamed and flung more curses that seared the air, burned what was left of the divider to the ground, and then burned through the floor tiles. Alexandra cast counter-curse after counter-curse, deflecting the effects away from herself, but she'd never dueled someone more brutally aggressive than herself, and Harriet was very good. The older girl kept Alexandra on the defensive until they'd circled the entire bathroom once more. The walls were blackened and charred, nearly all the mirrors were smashed along with the sinks, and half the stalls had collapsed. Ricocheting hexes had shattered partitions in the shower area, leaving a haze of dust from pulverized tiles, burned wood and carpet, and toxic fumes from vaporized metal and glass swirling in the unventilated room.
"Just die!" Harriet yelled. "Avada Ke—"
"Barak!" Alexandra said. Lightning flashed from her wand and flowed in sheets over the floor and Harriet. Arcs of electricity leaped to the metal faucets and mirror fixtures and across the room to the remaining toilets.
Harriet's Killing Curse was too slow to beat a Lightning Spell. Alexandra was faster.
She felt victorious, for an instant. Then she noticed something whirling through the air behind Harriet. It stabilized and spun about. Archibald Mudd's Eye-Spy turned its open iris on them both, surveying the battle scene.
Harriet unfroze from the rigid statue into which she had transformed herself. Her robes were tattered and charred, and her skin was red, cracked, and burned in places where the lightning had touched her; the transformation had not been complete. In rage and pain, she whipped her wand forward. Fountains of glass sprayed from the broken mirrors behind her, whipping viciously past her and hurtling at Alexandra in a glittering deadly stream of shards. Alexandra cast a Shield Charm, but now she was a heartbeat too slow, and glass ripped through her arm and sliced her legs. She staggered and almost dropped her wand. She switched hands quickly, turning her uninjured side toward Harriet and pulling her bloodied arm behind her back. But she was shaking now. Copious amounts of her blood spilled to the floor. She didn't dare glance at the one remaining intact mirror to see if any of the glass had touched her face.
She grimaced at Mr. Mudd's Eye-Spy, which floated behind Harriet, just before Harriet said, "Expelliarmus!" Alexandra's wand flew from her hand and clattered across the floor.
Harriet returned Alexandra's grimace with a feral grin. She took a step, only slightly less wobbly than Alexandra, but she held her wand steady. "You did this to me," she said. "You and your father."
"Let me guess — you never wanted to hurt anyone," said Alexandra.
Harriet's face twisted into a snarl. "Like they say in those awful plays: any last words?"
"Accio Eye-Spy," Alexandra said.
The Eye-Spy rocketed through the air in a straight line directly at Alexandra. Harriet's head was in its path. The impact made a heavy "Thwack!" sound, and as Harriet staggered forward, the Eye-Spy veered and spun away before arcing toward Alexandra again. She retrieved the yew wand from behind her back, where she had tucked it. She pointed it at Harriet and the onrushing Eye-Spy and said, "Caedarus!"
The yew wand was as ornery as ever, but wielded in fury, held by an arm soaked with blood, it yielded power generously. A green sphere erupted from its tip and seemed to fill half the bathroom. It lifted Harriet off the ground and hurled her against the last unbroken mirror. The mirror shattered, and Harriet slid to the ground, leaving blood smeared on the wall and broken glass behind her. The Eye-Spy was also knocked across the room, where it struck a toilet, bounced, and went rolling under the remaining undestroyed stalls.
Alexandra sank to the ground and sat cross-legged for a moment, still holding the yew wand and watching Harriet. The other girl didn't move. Neither did the Eye-Spy.
Alexandra waved her wand to blow smoke away from her. She was bleeding more profusely than Harriet. She was tempted to lie down on the floor herself.
After all the noise and destruction, no one had entered the bathroom. She tried to open the door again, but it remained shut. She couldn't hear anything from outside, and could not feel Charlie. She assumed that meant Harriet was still alive.
She had never been particularly skilled at Healing Charms, but she managed to extract the shards of glass from her skin and stop the bleeding. After resting for several minutes, she forced herself to her feet. First she stumbled to where Harriet's wand lay on the shattered floor. She picked the wand up, brought it over to one of the collapsed sinks, propped one end against the white ceramic basin, and brought her foot down on it. The wand broke with a splintering sound followed by a black and yellow flash and a cloud of smoke. Alexandra stomped the broken fragments a few more times for good measure, then kicked them under the toilets.
Then she retrieved her other wand, the black hickory wand. After considering a moment, she also picked up the Eye-Spy, which now lay motionless on the ground, its iris closed. She cast spells Lucilla and Drucilla had taught her, examining the enchantments that powered it, until she was satisfied, then cast a Shrinking Charm that reduced it to the size of a marble, and dropped it in her pocket.
Then she began pacing the room, exploring every boundary and seam. She tried burning through the walls, the floor, the ceiling, and of course, the door. Although she succeeded in leaving more burn marks, the room remained sealed.
She attempted to Disapparate from the room, but as she expected, she was unsuccessful.
Alexandra stood in the center of the bathroom and closed her eyes. For a very long time, she stood there, deep in thought. Then she opened her eyes, and looked around for an even longer time. With the yew wand in one hand and the hickory wand in the other, she remained in a state of near-meditation, and finally nodded to herself.
Just you and me, she thought. And only one can leave. Alexandra felt anger bubbling beneath her calm. It was like Darla all over again. Alexandra hadn't asked for this. She hadn't chosen to be put in this situation by another crazy girl who wanted to kill her and closed off all her other options. What else was she supposed to do?
She only moved again when she heard a growl.
"Down, girl," she said, pointing the hickory wand.
The growl was replaced with a startled grunt, then a whine. Alexandra turned to face Harriet, who was now in wolf form, wearing the shredded remains of her clothes. Alexandra's Deadweight Spell had pinned her to the ground with her four legs splayed out around her. The wolf was bloodied and dazed, and its fur was burned where Harriet's skin had been, but it managed to peel its lips back to growl at her.
"You really did seal this room up," Alexandra said. "You're right. There's no way to unseal it except for one of us to die."
The wolf stopped growling, and lay on the ground panting instead.
Alexandra walked over to her, and knelt by the quivering canine form. She tucked her yew wand back into her belt, and grabbed Harriet by the scruff of her neck, pointing her black hickory wand at her head.
"Do you want to do this as a wolf, or as a human?" Alexandra asked.
The wolf's eyes rolled back to stare at her. Then it transformed, and it was Harriet lying splayed, face-down on the bathroom floor, covered in blood, burns, and bruises. She was half-naked, but as Alexandra dispelled the Deadweight Spell and hauled her to her feet, she managed to pull the remnants of her robes to her body.
Alexandra maintained her grip on the back of Harriet's neck, now with her blood-matted blonde hair tangled in her fingers. She held the tip of her wand against Harriet's temple. Harriet took several deep breaths, then let out a sob.
"This isn't how you thought it was going to go, is it?" said Alexandra. Her voice was quiet, steady, no longer pained, though she still felt the cuts and burns over much of her body. But her calmness seemed to erode Harriet's. Tears ran down the other girl's face.
"I didn't do this to you," Alexandra said. "And neither did my father. You chose this. You chose this, and you can take all the reasons why and stick them where I ought to stick my wand."
"Everyone always has a reason for trying to kill me," Alexandra said. "But guess what? It never works! I'm still here!" She shook Harriet, who gasped and groaned in pain. "I won and you lost, just like everyone else. Any last words?"
Harriet squeezed her eyes shut, and shook her head.
Alexandra shoved the point of her wand between Harriet's lips, and as the bigger girl let out a startled squeal, Alexandra said, "Fussensuds!"
Harriet gagged as foam gurgled and spewed out of her mouth and nose. Alexandra reached for the magical seam she had felt running under the length of New Amsterdam, stretching out into the city. She opened a crack in the world, and shoved Harriet through it, before stepping after her.
They flashed through a brilliant landscape of gold and green, surfed over petals of enormous flowers, like Alice in Wonderland, all the while Alexandra still gripping Harriet's hair. Harriet's mouth opened in a soundless scream filled with soap bubbles, but she just flailed as Alexandra drew them toward the other side of the crack, which had seemed so much closer when she first opened it. She meant to just step into a world away and back, but that world was so much vaster than she'd imagined. She wondered if she'd made a terrible error, one that would leave her and Harriet trapped here forever.
Then the world dimmed and the air was cold against their skin, and Alexandra and Harriet both staggered into the corridor outside the girls' bathroom in Crown Hall. It seemed the entire New Amsterdam Academy faculty was there, with Professor Haster in the forefront. There were also a couple of those blue-robed Analysts, and a crowd of students, whom the adults were trying to keep back with little success. Half a dozen wizards were in the midst of casting spells before the girls' bathroom door, and the exterior of the door and the walls around it showed evidence of their efforts to break through.
Alexandra shoved Harriet, who fell to the ground in a heap of smoking, ragged clothing. She lay there, sobbing, a bloody, burned, bedraggled mess. Alexandra didn't feel much better, but she was determined to stay on her feet.
"She tried to kill me, if it matters," Alexandra said.
Professor Haster stepped forward. "As far as we could tell, the bathroom was Blood-Sealed, and from what Miss Isingrim's friends told us… " He turned to the two girls who'd joined Harriet in her ambush of Alexandra on the night she arrived. They looked terrified. "She cast it so that only one of you could leave."
"That's right," Alexandra said.
Professor Haster looked at Harriet. "No one can break a Blood-Seal. It's an Unbreakable Vow. Yet you are both still alive."
"I cheated," Alexandra said. "If you don't mind, I'd like to see a Healer now."
"We don't have a full-time Healer anymore," Professor Haster said. "You'll have to go to the hospital."
Alexandra was grateful when Angelique and Anna both emerged from the throng of open-mouthed spectators and took her arms.
"I guess she'll probably need healing too," Alexandra said, pointing at Harriet. "Just keep her away from me. Seriously." She looked at all the other girls crowding the hallway. How many of them had knowingly stayed away so Harriet could come after her again? "Sorry, that bathroom's going to be out of service, as long as we both live."