The Dark Convention

The library was closed, but Mrs. Minder was there to let Alexandra in. "Good evening, Miss Quick," she said cheerfully. "I hope you're ready to work! This is detention, so you won't be sitting around reading books, you know!" She wagged a finger in a friendly fashion.

"I know, Mrs. Minder." Even if she was just going to be cleaning tables and shelving books, she liked being in the library much better than being in the hallways, or outside raking leaves.

Alexandra expected to be handed a sponge, a scraper, and a spray bottle of cleaning solution – she had had to clean quite a few desks after school at Larkin Mills Elementary. When she asked for her cleaning supplies, however, Mrs. Minder looked as if she'd asked for a bucket of worms.

"Clockworks perform manual labor like Muggles," she said scornfully. "But since our Clockworks have been taken away – thank goodness! – you are to clean the good old-fashioned way. With magic."

And so Alexandra received the first of several unexpected benefits from her detention in the library. Mrs. Minder had to teach her some basic cleaning and gum-removal charms. This was more than Alexandra had learned in her entire semester in Mr. Newton's class, since he insisted on drilling the remedial students over and over again in Basic Wand Positions and Movements, and only allowed them to perform the most rudimentary (and in Alexandra's opinion, worthless) charms.

"I'm going to stay late to supervise you tonight," she said, "but Bran and Poe will assist you starting tomorrow. Tonight they're repairing damaged books, which takes a bit of skill."

Alexandra nodded peaceably. She actually rather enjoyed the work, now that she could do something with her wand. She went from table to table, exclaiming, "Tergeo!" and "Scourgify!" with such enthusiasm that Mrs. Minder reminded her that she was in a library.

"But there's no one else here!" Alexandra protested.

"You should still use your library voice," Mrs. Minder said in a hushed library voice. "And besides, at this rate you're going to strip varnish from the tables."

By the time Mrs. Minder released her for the evening, Alexandra had cleaned almost every chair and table in the library. She would have cleaned all of them, except several times she was distracted by things carved into the old wooden tables, such as 'Adolfus & Ada' with a heart around the names, and 'Magisterum Silencio!' and 'Orson has wrackspurts!' For decades students had apparently been using their wands to inscribe things in the tables, and it didn't seem that library furniture was replaced very often.

There was a celebratory feeling at breakfast the next morning. The lines where the students had previously waited for Clockworks to serve them were no more. Instead, every table had an assortment of silver platters being magically replenished with pancakes, waffles, fruit, hot cereal, sausage links, eggs, muffins, cornbread, and danishes, as fast as the kids could fill their plates.

"This is how it should be every day!" Darla proclaimed happily, serving herself a perfectly crisp, golden-brown waffle. Alexandra watched as fresh waffles popped back onto the platter out of thin air.

Not everyone was happy, though.

"It doesn't just appear by magic, you know," David said ominously. And when everyone looked at him, he added, "Well, okay, it does, but not by itself."

"Oh, David," Angelique sighed. "Can't you give it a rest?"

"Sure, why should you care about a little thing like slave labor?" David sneered at her.

"I notice you're not going hungry in protest," Angelique pointed out, gesturing at his plate full of sausage and eggs.

David scowled. "You know what? You're right. Maybe ASPEW should declare a hunger strike!" He pushed his plate away.

Anna, who was still wearing her ASPEW button, suddenly stopped chewing and seemed reluctant to meet David's eyes.

"Well, it's Alexandra's fault we don't have Clockworks serving us," said Darla. The story of Alexandra's brush with fiery death had gotten around the school, although the versions were not all consistent and none were completely accurate. She had heard one version that had Larry heroically diving into the flames to save her. She suspected Larry was responsible for spreading that one.

"Yeah, it's my fault," she said. "David, I'm going to meet the library elves tonight. So I'll ask them what they think of ASPEW."

"Fine," David said. "I'll see you in class." He got up from the table, leaving his breakfast behind. Anna watched him go uncertainly, and then began chewing again, slowly.

"He's going to get pretty hungry," murmured Darla, with an amused look.

In Remedial Charms, and then Remedial Transfiguration, David pestered Alexandra with a list of questions he wanted her to ask the elves, until she finally told him to shush. "I don't need you telling me what to say!" she hissed at him, before Mr. Hobbes made them both demonstrate that day's lesson in front of the class. Trying to one-up each other, they both generated piles of needles from a box of matches, leaving both of them annoyed at the draw, but Mr. Hobbes quite pleased.

Mrs. Minder let her into the library that night, as before. "Since you've almost finished cleaning all the furniture," she said, "you'll get started learning to shelve books and also to prepare new cards for the Card Catalog." As she spoke, she led Alexandra through the dim, silent stacks to a room behind her office, lit only by candles sitting on a pair of very low, ancient-looking desks. Seated at the desks, working their way through two stacks of books piled high above their heads, were a pair of elves.

Alexandra recognized them as elves because she'd seen house-elves in the Goblin Market, but whereas the elves on the street had been dressed in mere rags and scraps, the library elves were fully clothed, albeit in haphazard fashion. One was engulfed in a fluffy red sweater and wore an old, wide-brimmed black hat with a hole in it; the other had a mismatched pair of children's sneakers that swallowed his feet, a green and white moth-eaten scarf wrapped around his neck, and a rather frilly white blouse.

The elf with the blouse looked up, and its bulbous eyes went wide, then it croaked in a decidedly male voice, "Mrs. Minder! Is this the naughty girl who is going to help Bran and Poe?" The other elf also looked up, and gazed with unblinking curiosity at Alexandra.

"Miss Quick, this is Bran, and this is Poe." She smiled at the elves. "Yes, this is Alexandra."

Both elves hopped off their chairs and shuffled over to Alexandra. They shuffled because Bran was practically swimming in his sweater, and Poe could barely walk in his ridiculously oversized shoes. "Does Miss Quick like bookses?" Bran asked hopefully.

"We hopes Miss Quick will come to the library often," Poe said, almost pleadingly.

"Bran and Poe don't get to talk to children anymore," Bran said sadly.

"Except when they're naughty and have to serve detention, and most of them aren't really happy to be here." Poe looked mournful to the point of nearly bursting into tears.

"I love books," Alexandra said. "I like the library."

Both elves' ears perked up. Mrs. Minder said, "Remember that list of tasks, dears. Miss Quick isn't to be reading while she's serving detention."

"Yes, Mrs. Minder," they said in unison.

"You mind Bran and Poe," Mrs. Minder said to Alexandra. "I know they're just elves, but I've left very strict instructions and you're to do as they say. I hope they tell me you were a diligent worker."

"Yes, Mrs. Minder," Alexandra said.

She waited until Mrs. Minder's footsteps had carried her back to the entrance to the library and she heard the librarian locking the doors, then grinned at the elves.

"So, you must know how to find books that are off-limits, right?"

Alexandra soon discovered that it would be an understatement to say Bran and Poe loved books. They treated each and every tome as if it were their child. They looked aghast when they found one on the floor, or worse, left open face-down on a table ("It ruins the spine!" wailed Bran. "Our poor bookses!"), or worst of all, ripped, defaced, or soiled. ("Coffee stains!" screeched Poe that night, in anguish.)

Nervously, hesitantly, apologetically, but firmly, they insisted that Alexandra actually do what Mrs. Minder had told them to tell her to do, which was to reshelve, and look for books that had been improperly shelved by students randomly pulling them from their proper locations and then sticking them back anywhere they found a space. Alexandra didn't really mind, though it was tedious, and while she was learning the shelving system, she was able to talk to the elves.

"Where did you get your clothes?" she asked. "You know, I could give you a pair of my shoes that would fit better –" But Bran and Poe's eyes widened in horror.

"Oh no!" they both squealed. "Please don't give Bran and Poe shoes, please, Alexandra Quick! Please, naughty Alexandra who loves bookses wouldn't be so cruel? Bran and Poe are only doing what our Librarian told us to do!"

Alexandra calmed them down only by promising she would not give them her shoes, then asked, "But I don't understand, it looks like all your clothes used to belong to other kids."

"They came from the Lost and Found," Bran said. "Once a year, Dean Grimm –" His voice dropped to a hush when he spoke the Dean's name. " – allows all the elves to choose something from the Lost and Found. Since they was Lost, you see, no one is giving them to us."

"But –" Alexandra started to point out that technically, Dean Grimm was, but then decided perhaps this was not the right thing to say. "Why is it bad for someone to give you clothes? If you don't mind my asking," she added hastily, as both their eyes grew wide and worried again.

"Giving an elf clothing..." Poe gulped. "It means you are setting that elf... free!" He spoke the word as if it tasted bitter on his tongue.

"That's bad?" she asked.

Once again, their eyes popped wide open. "Where would Bran and Poe go?" they wailed.

"Away from the library?" Bran said tremulously.

"Away from our bookses?" Poe whimpered.

"Who would repair their damaged spines and mend their torn pages?"

"Or make sure that bookses about Mythical Beasts is shelved separately from bookses about Legendary Beasts?"

"Even Mrs. Minder sometimes confuses them," Bran whispered, nodding.

"Do all the elves feel this way?" Alexandra asked. "Even the ones who work in the kitchens?"

"House-elves and kitchen-elves and library-elves, we all does what we's supposed to do, Alexandra Quick," said Bran.

"We Charmbridge elves is very fortunate. Dean Grimm –" The elf lowered his voice again. "– almost never curses any of us or turns us into bats or Flobberworms."

"Almost never?" she exclaimed.

"We thinks it's better to be a Charmbridge elf than a Charmbridge student," said Poe.

Alexandra wasn't sure how to argue with that.

Bran and Poe had been told to let Alexandra leave at eight o'clock. Bran was able to unlock the library doors for her just by wiggling his finger. Both elves made her promise repeatedly that she would be back the next night, and seemed delighted to have her company. "We used to be able to help students look for bookses!" said Bran, and then his ears drooped. "But now we hears that some wizards doesn't want elves around so the Dean," again his voice dropped to a hush, "says we has to stay out of sight."

"That's too bad," Alexandra said, not sure exactly what she should think about all this, and waved good-bye to Bran and Poe. "I'll see you tomorrow night," she promised them, one more time.

David and a whole group of students from the ASPEW club were waiting to talk to Alexandra the next morning. They took over the table where Alexandra and the other sixth-graders usually sat, squeezing most of her friends towards the other end or else forcing them to move to another table.

"They didn't really sound like they want to be free," Alexandra told them.

"They've been enchanted that way!" said one eager, round-faced, older boy, with zeal burning in his eyes.

"Well then you'll have to unenchant them if you want to free them, won't you?" Alexandra said.

"We need to persuade the rest of the wizarding world that they should be freed from their enchantments... all of them!" said the President of the ASPEW club, a blonde girl named Dewshine Jennifer, who wore shimmery blue and white robes, and an assortment of flowers stuck in her hair.

"Okay, but since they like working here –"

"They only think they like working here!" another boy insisted. "They can't imagine another life!"

"Well, yeah. Bran and Poe would never want to leave the library. They love it there."

"That's brainwashing," said David. "Can't you see what being enslaved has done to them, Alex?"

"I don't know," she said uncertainly. "What exactly would they do if you did free them?"

"Work," said David. "And get paid for it!"

"Maybe they wouldn't want to work," said Dewshine. "Maybe they'd want to form their own elfish society. We could help them, let them build their own little communities." Her eyes had a far-off, dreamy look as her voice waxed poetic. "They have their own magic, you know, and it's different from ours, and they are wiser than anyone knows. Imagine them teaching us and us teaching them, elves and wizards living together in harmony, as equals..."

"You goblins are insane!" yelled Larry, from another table. He'd emerged from his stint working in the kitchens, and was watching the impromptu ASPEW meeting, keeping a safe distance away from Alexandra. "Elves and wizards as equals? I work with those little boogers every morning! No way is an elf my equal!"

"I'm sure they try not to make you feel bad about it, Larry," Alexandra called back. Larry flushed, amidst general laughter from all the kids within earshot.

After the first couple of nights, Alexandra found that she really did not have that much to do during detention. Bran and Poe were far more efficient at reshelving books than she was, and they truly enjoyed it. They seemed both apologetic and worried at having to let Alexandra do what they regarded to be their job. The sincerity and dedication with which they handled the books under their safekeeping made Alexandra far more conscientious about her task than any lectures from Mrs. Minder or threats from Dean Grimm could have achieved. It was obvious that mishandling library books literally pained the elves.

She remained uncertain about the goals of the American Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare, which seemed noble enough but didn't actually seem to take the elves' opinions into account. She was mindful about what David had said, that if the elves had been enchanted to serve wizards they might really be unable to imagine freedom, but whenever she broached the topic with Bran and Poe, the two elves became most distraught. She had to promise them several times that she had no intention of offering them any of her clothes.

They now usually finished shelving books soon after Alexandra began her evening's detention, and Alexandra was beginning to coax and wheedle them into letting her look at books that were supposed to be off-limits to sixth-graders.

"Mrs. Minder wouldn't like it, no, she wouldn't, Alexandra Quick," Poe said, his lip trembling.

"Alexandra Quick shouldn't be reading about Dark magic," Bran whispered. "Alexandra Quick is too young!"

"I don't want to actually learn Dark magic," she said. "I just want to learn about the Dark Convention." The elves flinched.

She tried another approach. "Shouldn't you be encouraging students to read more books? They wouldn't have been written if they weren't supposed to be read!"

Bran and Poe looked at each other, their huge eyes blinking uncertainly. Alexandra had put two of their most compelling responsibilities at odds with each other.

"But some bookses is not appropriate for young children," Bran said in an admonishing tone that was almost identical to Mrs. Minder's.

They really had no chance against Alexandra's persistence, though. She cajoled them over the course of the next week, and in truth, practically bullied them, until finally they relented, wringing their hands as they watched Alexandra give orders to the Card Catalog and then fetch books from shelves that would normally be inaccessible to her.

Alexandra soon learned that throughout history there had always been secret (and sometimes not-so-secret) societies of Dark wizards. The Dark Convention was just the most recent name given to them in America. She also noticed that who was considered "Dark" varied according to time and place. She remembered the Dean telling them at the beginning of the semester that voodoo was classified as a Dark Art. From articles she read in archived newspapers, it seemed that every year, the Confederation Wizards' Congress rejected petitions to allow voodoo under a Cultural Practices Exemption.

There were so many books to read through, and many of them were old, thick, and much more boring than she would have anticipated from anything that was off-limits.

Alexandra's questions in Wizarding World History were beginning to annoy Ms. Grinder as well.

"You're only required to name the countries whose Ministries are members of the International Confederation of Warlocks, Miss Quick," she said.

"But I read that Dark wizards are called warlocks," Alexandra said. "So doesn't that make the International Confederation of Warlocks a Dark conspiracy?"

Grinder sighed. "Word usage changes over time. It's true that 'warlock' is no longer a favorable term. Of course if they would change the organization to something less patriarchal, like the International Confederation of Witches and Wizards, it would be much more appropriate."

Alexandra's fascination with the Dark Arts was also getting around the school.

Alexandra and Anna were paired with Constance and Forbearance in Practical Magical Exercise class one afternoon. Ms. Shirtliffe had split the Ozarker twins up, telling them they couldn't always rely on one another, so Alexandra and Constance were trying to beat Anna and Forbearance in an enlarging contest. Constance had just turned a ball into a pincushion. Anna turned it into a small pillow. Forbearance turned the pillow into larger pillow, and Alexandra turned it into a beanbag chair.

The other girls all stopped and stared at it. "What is that?" Anna asked.

"Something misshapen and Muggleish," jeered a voice behind them. "Like the sorceress who produced it."

Alexandra turned to face Benjamin and Mordecai Rash.

"Where's your raven, sorceress?" taunted Benjamin.

"Out spying," Alexandra said. "For the Dark Convention. 'Cause, you know, I'm a member. I'm actually starting a Dark Convention Club here at school. Want to join?"

Constance and Forbearance gasped. "Alex, don't make jokes about things like that," Anna said nervously. And added to the Rash twins, "She's joking."

"I wouldn't be 'stonished if she wasn't," said Mordecai.

"If I were a sorceress I'd turn you both into toads," Alexandra said, waving her wand threateningly.

Mordecai sneered. "Just on account of your father bein' a Dark wizard doesn't make you nothing more than a sorry little brat. I hope the Dark Convention gives remediatin' in curses."

Alexandra glowered and took a step towards him, before Anna grabbed her arm. "Alex!"

"You have no idea who my father was!" Alexandra snapped.

"You neither, from what I hear!" Mordecai replied with a smirk. Anna had to grab Alexandra with both arms now. "Alex, ignore him!" she pleaded.

"Constance, Forbearance, you should stay away from her," said Mordecai.

The Ozarker girls looked down. "We'll consider your advice," Constance murmured.

"And thank you for your concern," Forbearance said politely.

The Rash twins stalked off.

"Why are you so nice to them?" Alexandra demanded.

"There's never harm in nice," said Constance.

"Nor detention," Forbearance added. Alexandra flushed a little, while Anna looked away, trying not to smile.

Back in her room that night, following another evening of book-shelving and then reading in the library, Alexandra pulled out a book she'd borrowed called 'American Warlock Lore: Tales of the Dark.' Anna looked appalled.

"How did you get that?" she asked tremulously. "We're not supposed to read books like that!"

"How does forbidding us to read things make sense?" Alexandra scoffed. "Aren't we supposed to learn things at school?"

Anna gave her a worried look. "What?" Alexandra demanded.

"Why are you so interested in Dark magic?" Anna asked quietly.

Alexandra put her book down. "I'm not interested in Dark magic," she said. "I'm interested in the Dark Convention."

"But why? Don't you know what kids are saying about you?"

"So what? Are you going to stop hanging around me because you think I'm a sorceress?"

Anna flinched, and looked down. "No," she said quietly.

Alexandra sighed, and chewed on her lip a moment.

"What Benjamin and Mordecai said," she mumbled. "It might be true."

Anna looked up at her in shock.

"Not about me being a sorceress!" Alexandra added quickly, with a frown.

Anna waited, her eyes wide. Alexandra had not talked about her father, or her locket, or much at all about her family, since coming to Charmbridge. She looked at Anna hesitantly, but she read only openness and sympathy in the other girl's face.

"I don't know who my father was," she said. And she told Anna about her mother, and her growing up in Larkin Mills with a stepfather who was not really her father, and finally about her discovering the locket and the bracelet in her mother's closet. She held it up to show Anna, and said, "Quiet, Charlie!" as the raven squawked excitedly at the sight of it.

Alexandra could open the locket easily now. Anna looked at the moving cameo picture inside, and back at Alexandra.

"Well, he does look like he could be your father," she admitted. "But you can't really tell."

"So, maybe he really was a Dark wizard," Alexandra said. "Maybe that's why I never met him. Mr. Journey said around the time I was born the Dark Convention was trying to overthrow the Confederation and they lost, and a lot of wizards went to prison or died. Maybe my father was one of them. I don't know if he loved my mother or not or if he ever told her anything about being a wizard, but maybe he just disappeared one day, and my mother wouldn't have known anything about what happened, because she's a Muggle so no one would have told her."

Anna was thoughtful for a long time.

"My father told me there was a conspiracy back then," she said at last. "It was named after the warlock in charge, but I can't remember his name. But, suppose your father was one of those Dark wizards?" She looked at Alexandra. "Being Dark isn't something you inherit, Alex. Magic is, but Darkness is something you choose."

Alexandra nodded slowly. "I know," she said. "But..." She looked at her locket. "I still want to know who my father was." The man in the locket, who might or might not have been her father, winked back at her.

Bran and Poe were also increasingly worried about Alexandra's preoccupation with the Dark Convention.

"It's not right," said Bran.

"It's not wholesome, this reading about nasty Dark wizards," said Poe.

"Do you think I'm going to turn into a Dark sorceress because I read some books about them?" Alexandra demanded.

The elves shrunk back. "No, of course not, Alexandra Quick!"

"Trust me, I have an important reason for reading about this."

"Alexandra Quick isn't supposed to be reading during detention," Bran suggested slyly.

"Mrs. Minder wouldn't like finding out what Alexandra Quick has been reading," Poe agreed.

"Mrs. Minder wouldn't like finding out that you've been letting me for two weeks," Alexandra pointed out.

The poor elves had no counter-argument to that. Alexandra felt a little guilty about pushing them around, but her reason was important enough, in her mind.

Ms. Grinder was not particularly helpful the next day, even though this time Alexandra waited until after class to ask her about Dark wizard conspiracies.

"Why is this so interesting to you, Miss Quick?" she asked in frustration. "It's all about power-hungry men who want control, that's all."

"So shouldn't we try to keep them from getting control?" Alexandra asked. "By knowing about them and what they're up to?"

Grinder grinned humorlessly. "Very clever, young lady, but I sense your interest is much more a matter of self-interest."

"I read about the Reign of You-Know-Who in Britain," Alexandra persisted.

Their Wizarding World History textbook didn't cover anything more recent than 1960 or so, but she had found references to more recent events elsewhere. She wasn't sure why they called it "The Reign of You-Know-Who" since some of the books actually named the Dark Lord, but Grinder paused and looked down at Alexandra.

"So?" she asked.

"So that was about the time I was born."

"It happened in Britain, not here."

"But there was another conspiracy here at the same time, right?"

"The Thorn Circle? What have you been reading, Miss Quick?"

Alexandra's eyes lit up triumphantly, and then she quickly composed herself again.

"I'm just curious. What happened to the Death Eaters who weren't captured or killed after Voldy-morty died?"

Ms. Grinder winced a little. "I suppose they went into hiding."

"So some could have hidden here?"

Ms. Grinder stared at her. "Miss Quick, I am delighted at your enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge, and I hope this enthusiasm carries over into your other subjects, but your score on the last quiz suggests that you would do better to apply yourself to material we are studying in class. The Death Eater regime in Britain will not be on your SPAWN."

Alexandra was undeterred, not even by her roommate's lack of encouragement.

"You think Dean Grimm was a Death Eater?" Anna blurted out, in a horrified whisper, when Alexandra shared her latest theory that night.

"She sort of has an English accent, don't you think?"

"Not really." Anna was looking at her the way Brian used to look at her when she voiced one of her more outrageous ideas.

Alexandra scowled and slapped shut 'An Inquiry into Death Eater Activity in America,' which Bran and Poe had checked out to her with many misgivings.

"You still don't believe me!"

Anna's lip trembled, but she looked Alexandra in the eye.

"I don't believe Dean Grimm is trying to kill you." Her voice was almost inaudible. "It just doesn't make sense."

"It does! Somehow."

"Even if she were a Death Eater, why would she want to kill you?" Anna persisted.

"Maybe it has something to do with the Thorn Circle!" Alexandra said dramatically.

"What?" Anna blinked. "What's the Thorn Circle?"

"That conspiracy your dad told you about. Ms. Grinder told me the name. Except not very much about it." Alexandra frowned. "Anyway –"

"Alexandra, please," Anna pleaded. "It's like you're obsessed with this stuff. Everyone says –"

"I don't care what everyone says!"

Alexandra was angry now, and Anna paled before her outrage. Brian would have recognized the signs that Alexandra had passed the point of being reasonable, but Anna hadn't yet learned. She could only bite her lip as her roommate turned her back and climbed into bed.