The Registrar's Office
Alexandra slept restlessly for days after that. She often woke up in the middle of the night, and snuck into the hallway just to check on whether the warlock watching Delta Delta Kappa Tau hall was asleep as usual, but really it was because she was having trouble sleeping.
Now that Alexandra knew she could get to the Registrar's Office, all that remained was getting into it, obtaining the scroll, and undoing the editing charm Ms. Grimm had put on it ("If she did," Anna kept reminding her).
She continued to plan their operation meticulously. She knew that the Deans and the custodians did occasionally patrol the school at night, but for the most part the faculty relied on the Hall Supervisors to prevent students from wandering after lights-out. The paintings that watched over the upperclass hallways were more vigilant, from what Alexandra had heard (which was mostly complaining from older students), but the warlock who was supposed to be making sure sixth grade girls didn't sneak in and out at night was always fast asleep before midnight. Alexandra had drawn her own map, and gone so far as to consider alternate routes down through the first floor and around that would bypass the main corridor. The main problem with this plan was that it went through the sixth grade boys' dorm, and she didn't know whether their Hall Supervisor also tended to fall asleep at night. If she was caught once, it might make a repeat attempt more difficult, and if she asked David, he might demand more answers. Even if not, she'd be placing more responsibility on him.
"You know, if you spent this much time on your schoolwork, all your grades would be Superior," Anna pointed out. "And why do you keep using words like 'operation' and 'mission'?"
"You don't watch enough TV," said Alexandra.
Her schoolwork was suffering a little because of her project, but she felt she was keeping up adequately in class. At least, she was learning the things she was really interested in, even if she wasn't paying so much attention to the things she wasn't. Her teachers, particularly Mr. Grue, did not fail to point this out, and Anna pleaded with her to at least study a little for their upcoming end-of-year SPAWN.
Alexandra was becoming very proficient with Unlocking Charms. In fact, it was quite possible that she was now the most skilled magical lockpick at Charmbridge. With careful practice around the school, she had learned that some wizard-made locks were more difficult to open than ordinary Muggle locks. She didn't think the Registrar's Office would have one of the charm-proof locks she had heard about, but she decided that it was best to assume it would be challenging.
One afternoon Anna returned to their room with a worried look.
"The Governor-General will be here in two weeks," she said. "I overheard Mr. Journey talking to the Vice Dean. There are some government wizards coming to inspect the school and talk to Dean Grimm this weekend. Something about security."
"There'll probably be another assembly," Alexandra muttered, but she remembered that Governor-General Hucksteen had been the target of the Thorn Circle's assassination attempt. Maybe it had made him paranoid. She looked at Anna.
"We'll have to do it before the weekend, then."
Anna swallowed, and nodded.
"You can still stay in bed. I've learned the Unediting Charm. I got in and out last time without a lookout."
Anna shook her head. "But you'll be in there longer, and I think Mr. Journey and the other faculty are going to start patrolling more."
"Anna, you don't have to prove anything to me."
"Stop it!" Anna looked angry. "Can we stop having this discussion? I already promised I'd help! If you didn't want my help you should never have accepted it in the first place! If you're so worried about me then be worried about yourself! But you can't give this up, can you? Well, stop trying to keep me out of it, it's too late for that!"
Stunned by this outburst, Alexandra stared wide-eyed at her friend. Anna glared indignantly back at her.
"Okay," Alexandra said quietly. "Tonight, then."
Anna swallowed again, and nodded.
That evening after dinner, Anna knelt by her bed, reached under it and pulled out a box. She set it on her desk and opened it. Alexandra looked over her shoulder, and saw a pair of wooden cylinders the size of salt shakers. Each had a raised seam around its circumference, appearing to have been made by fastening two halves together. Each one had a rubber seal over one end and several holes drilled into the other. Anna lifted them out of the box, and handed one to Alexandra.
"Whisperphones," she said. "They work sort of like the Wizard Wireless. You speak into the end with the holes, and you can hear what's said into the other by sticking the rubber end in your ear. They're a matched set."
"Magical walkie-talkies!" said Alexandra. "That's what they are."
"I guess." Anna shrugged. "These are just for kids. You can get much smaller models, but they're really expensive."
Alexandra walked into the bathroom and closed the door, and whispered into the holes of the cylinder she was holding: "How far away do they work?" Then she turned the rubber end around and pressed it to her ear.
"In the catalog, it said at least half a mile," she heard Anna whisper.
Alexandra opened the bathroom door and smiled. "Good enough."
They both went to bed early that night, to get enough sleep before they got up in the early hours of the morning. Neither one slept well. Alexandra stared at the ceiling, thinking about whether she was being selfish and whether there wasn't another way to find out who her father was. She heard Anna tossing restlessly beneath her covers as well, and tried not to feel guilty.
Just sneak in, and sneak out, she thought.
Eventually, they did both drift off to sleep. The alarm seemed to wake them up almost immediately afterwards. They both climbed out of bed, rubbing their eyes. They'd gone to bed fully dressed.
"Your job," Alexandra whispered, "is just to let me know if anyone is coming, and then sneak back here on your own. Don't worry about me. If either one of us gets caught, it won't matter if the other one didn't."
Anna nodded, but looked annoyed. "I know," she whispered back. "We've been over this enough times!"
Charlie squawked. "Shush, Charlie!" Alexandra hissed. And she went to their door and cracked it open. The hallway was dimly lit, and empty as usual.
"It's too bad there's no such thing as an invisibility spell," she murmured.
Anna just nodded again. This was not the first time Alexandra had said this either.
Alexandra crept down the hall, while Anna waited at the door. When Alexandra reached the entrance to Delta Delta Kappa Tau hall, she looked up. The old warlock in the painting was snoring. Alexandra turned back and gestured for Anna to join her, and Anna quickly tiptoed down the hall.
They went down the stairs and reached the entranceway to the academy, which was lit by the usual nightlights, but it was quiet and empty as usual. They turned to go past the cafeteria. Here, however, Alexandra paused. The cafeteria was brightly lit, unlike last time.
She gestured for Anna to stay put, and crept up to the entrance of the cafeteria. She gasped and almost stumbled backwards as a line of Clockworks marched out into the hall. They were carrying mops and buckets and brooms, and immediately began swabbing the floor of the main corridor.
Alexandra turned her head, and saw Anna was paralyzed with fear. But the Clockworks just began cleaning, and took no notice of the girls. Alexandra peered around the entrance to the cafeteria, but saw no sign of Thiel or Journey or any other living thing. She turned back to Anna, and raised her Whisperphone to her lips. Anna hesitated, then fumbled to bring hers to her ear.
"Just keep going," Alexandra whispered. "They should ignore us."
She could tell by the way Anna was edging along the wall that the Clockworks terrified her. It seemed at any moment that they might take notice of the two students brazenly sneaking past them. Although Alexandra didn't show it, the Clockworks disturbed her too. She could vividly remember the night when her group of golems had suddenly turned on her and tried to throw her into a fire.
But the Clockworks continued cleaning, not registering their presence at all.
Alexandra thought to herself that they must have run out of students to serve detention if one of the custodians had turned them to loose to clean unsupervised. But since she knew well that Clockworks couldn't remain completely unsupervised, she hurried her steps to the administrative wing; one of the custodians was surely around somewhere.
This was where Anna was supposed to stand guard. Corridors on the ground floor intersected here, directly in front of the main entrance to the Charmbridge offices, and thus the location gave her a view in all directions, should a staff or faculty member on late night patrol appear. Alexandra crouched against one corner and looked up at the portrait of Miss Marmsley. Just like last time, the secretary was asleep, this time with her head lolling back against her chair and her mouth open.
She nodded to Anna, and gave her a thumbs-up sign. Anna smiled falteringly back at her, and returned the gesture, a little awkwardly.
Alexandra crept past Miss Marmsley and the Dean's office, reached the door to the stairs, and opened it. There was not a sound. She continued up the stairs, and this time spent a minute at the top looking down the corridor. There was no sign of Galen, but she supposed the cat could be anywhere, and she wasn't likely to hear it before it was within sight. So, almost holding her breath, she tiptoed down the second floor corridor to the Registrar's Office.
Here was where success depended on her being able to do something she had never attempted before: unlocking the door to the Registrar's Office. She drew her wand and pointed it at the lock.
"Alohomora!" she whispered, enunciating each syllable carefully, and turning her wrist just so. There was a trick to it, she had found, that could make the difference in a difficult lock.
The lock clicked.
Alexandra reached out and opened the door. There was not a bit of light on the other side. Her heart was pounding. She looked over her shoulder; still no movement, from cats or people.
"Lumos!" she murmured, and with her wand lit, stepped into the Registrar's Office.
It was a tiny, unimpressive room. There was a table in the center with a writing quill and a bottle of ink sitting on it, a bare counter with cabinets beneath it along one wall, and a tall wooden cabinet, locked, sitting against the back wall. It smelled musty and unused.
Alexandra was almost disappointed. This was the goal of over a month's planning? But then, why should they go to any great lengths just to protect a list of students?
The cabinet was the most likely place to find the scroll, so Alexandra tried to open it. It was locked.
"Alohomora!" she intoned, pointing her wand at the cabinet. This time there was no click, and it continued to resist her attempt to open it.
She tried the Unlocking Charm three more times, her heart pounding even more. She couldn't think of any other way to get into the cabinet that wouldn't involve violence and a lot of noise. She forced herself to remain calm, and focused on the lock, and her spell, which she had practiced hundreds of times over the past month. On her fourth attempt, the cabinet door creaked open.
Alexandra raised her glowing wand over her head, and there, on the top shelf, sat a wooden case holding a pair of heavy wooden spools.
She moved the table over as quietly as she could, wincing as it made a scraping sound against the floor. She had to climb up on the table to reach the scroll, and then she had to tuck her wand into her pants in order to grasp one spool in each hand and carefully lift the Registrar's Scroll off the shelf and lay it at her feet on the table.
Eagerly, she jumped back to the floor, and raised her Whisperphone to her lips.
"Anna," she whispered. "I've got it."
She turned it around and held the other end to her ear. After a moment, Anna replied: "Good. Hurry up."
Alexandra set down the Whisperphone, and took out her wand again.
"Show me Alexandra Quick, Class of 2014," she said to the scroll.
Obediently, the parchment began unwinding from one spool and winding around the other, as names flashed past by the hundreds, until it came to a halt at the same spot as before.
Trembling, she held her wand over the black ink letters spelling out her name, there between Carol Queen and Sonja Rackham.
She spoke very carefully. It had taken her many, many repetitions before Anna had declared her pronunciation satisfactory, and many more after that before she had cast the first charm that actually worked.
"Yumo shui niuzhan!"
She stared intently at the parchment. For a moment, nothing happened, and she thought she might never know whether it was because she'd been wrong all along, or simply hadn't cast the spell correctly. And then the letters of her name began to twist and writhe, and when they settled, they spelled out:
Alexandra Octavia Thorn
"Anna," she gasped into her Whisperphone.
Then the door behind her slammed shut. She felt her throat constricting. She couldn't breathe. She dropped her wand and the Whisperphone and spun around. She was alone in the room, yet she was being strangled.
"Alex?" she heard Anna's voice say from the Whisperphone. She stumbled and fell against the table, and collapsed to the floor, clutching her neck, with the Registrar's Scroll clattering to the ground next to her.
Anna sounded desperate and frightened. Alexandra looked up. She was lying in the corridor outside the Registrar's Office, with Anna leaning over her.
"Alex!" she exclaimed, when she saw Alexandra's eyes open.
"Shh!" Alexandra whispered.
Alexandra turned her head, and saw Galen lying next to her, almost on top of her wand. Anna had apparently dragged both out along with Alexandra. The cat was splayed out on its side, but had just lifted its head. Its tail was twitching. It sounded as groggy as she felt.
"Anna, what –?"
"Garroting Gas!" Anna whispered, and spoke in a rush. "I came running up when I heard that noise and you didn't answer, I hope I didn't wake Miss Marmsley! And Galen was scratching at the door, and ran in when I opened it, and you were lying on the floor and then Galen suddenly fell over gagging, and that's when I figured it out! That's what must have knocked you out down in the basement!"
"Wh – what?" Alexandra could hardly follow this. She sat up, and was dizzy for a moment. "We have to get out of here," she said, then paused. "Wait a minute. If there was a gas in there, how did you get me – us –" she added, looking at the cat, "– out without being gassed yourself?"
"I used a Bubble-Head Charm. Older kids and the staff use it a lot, when seniors are throwing Dungbombs and Stink Pellets around."
Alexandra shook her head. "You're incredible, Anna!"
"Really?" Anna looked pleased.
"You're both incredible," sneered Mr. Thiel.
Galen leapt to its feet and hissed, as Alexandra and Anna looked up to see the junior custodian at the top of the stairs, with his wand out.
"I knew I'd catch you, Quick!" he said.
"You!" Alexandra shouted. "You tried to kill me!" She called him a name that made Anna gasp, and then without thinking, snatched up her wand and pointed it at him. "Expelliarmus!" His wand flew from his hand. He looked startled, and then Anna pointed her wand. "Petrificus Totalus!" she shouted, and Thiel went rigid, with the look of astonishment still frozen on his face. Then he tilted stiffly backwards and disappeared from sight. They heard his petrified body go tumbling down the stairs.
Anna grimaced. "I hope that didn't hurt him too badly!"
"Are you kidding? He tried to kill me!" Alexandra got to her feet, with Anna helping her up. She looked down at Galen.
"I guess you helped save my life," she said to the cat. "Thanks. Now get lost!"
The cat growled and turned its back on them, stalking away with an indignant swish of its tail.
They proceeded down the stairs, carefully stepping over Thiel, who was lying on his back as stiff as a board, head pointed down, feet pointed up. He slid out into the hallway when they opened the door, until his head came to rest on the floor with a bump.
"I hope that hurt!" Alexandra hissed, and they hurried out into the main office.
Miss Marmsley was gone. Her chair sat alone in her portrait.
"We're really in trouble now," said Anna, and jerked to a halt when she saw Mr. Journey blocking the way out of the office. The squad of Clockworks was behind him, still mopping their way up the main corridor.
"Sure looks that way, Blossom," said the custodian. "What in Merlin's name is going on here?"
"Mr. Thiel just tried to kill me," said Alexandra. "Again."
Journey raised his eyebrows. "Kill you?"
"He's back there," Anna said pointing. And added, in a high-pitched voice, "It was self-defense, I swear!"
Journey leaned forward and looked down the hall. Thiel was still lying immobile on the floor. He straightened up again, and put a hand on each girl's shoulder.
"I can't wait to hear the story behind this," he said. "But you two are definitely in trouble. Especially you, Starshine. You have no business in the Registrar's Office. Now we're going to find the Dean, and get this mess straightened out. You –" he gave Anna a little push towards the main corridor leading back towards the sixth grade dorms, "– go on back to your room, and stay there. I'm sure Ms. Grimm will want to talk to her favorite young troublemaker first."
"But –" Anna looked confused. She stood there in the intersection, as Journey began guiding Alexandra down one of the other corridors, which she thought led to classrooms for the older students.
"Go on, Blossom," said Mr. Journey.
Alexandra took a few steps, then said, "You know, it doesn't make sense that Mr. Thiel was trying to kill me. He's only been here since January."
The custodian paused. Alexandra stopped and turned towards him. She could see Anna still standing back at the intersection, looking uncertain.
"How did you know I was in the Registrar's Office?" Alexandra asked. Her right hand, blocked from Journey's view by her body, was sliding towards her wand, sticking out of her pants pocket.
"Well, where else would you be sneaking to?" he demanded. "It's what you were after when you tried to drag Em into your little scheme, isn't it?"
"Oh," she said. "That's true." She hesitated, and Journey suddenly spun her around and snatched her wand out of her pocket.
Anna squealed, and Journey turned towards her. "Blossom," he said, "I told you to go. You should have listened. Stupefy!" Alexandra's wand flashed red in Journey's hand, and Anna flew down the corridor and landed in a puddle of water at the feet of one of the Clockworks.
"Anna!" Alexandra cried out. Journey pulled out his own wand, while he tightened his grip with his other hand. She tried to pull away, and kicked him hard in the shin, but his fingers dug into her shoulder, and he barely felt her kick through his heavy boots. With both wands in his other hand, he pointed them at her face.
"I was hoping this would go a little easier, Starshine," he said.
"HELP!" she yelled, kicking and flailing at him. And then, remembering something her stepfather had told her once, she screamed, "FIRE!"
He squeezed her shoulder hard, and she gasped in pain and her knees buckled. She was surprised at how strong Journey's hand was.
"Accio carpet!" he said, pointing his wand down the corridor and dragging her with him. And then another voice said, "Revulsio!" Alexandra and Journey were hurled apart in a flash of purple light.
Alexandra bounced against a wall and slid to the ground. She saw Journey leaning against the opposite wall, and beyond him, Ms. Grimm, wrapped in a white robe and wearing a blue gown underneath. Her wand was leveled at Mr. Journey. Behind her, Galen was standing on Mr. Thiel's chest, tail held erect.
"Ben," said Ms. Grimm. "I'm very disappointed."
"Likewise, Lilith," said Mr. Journey.
A flying carpet flapped past Alexandra's head and flipped in mid-air, rolled itself up, and landed at Journey's feet.
"You don't really think you're going anywhere, do you?" asked Ms. Grimm. "Stupefy!" A red bolt of light shot from her wand, but the custodian deflected it and forced her to duck a hex of his own which scorched the wall behind her. Journey turned and abruptly flicked his wand in Alexandra's direction, growling a curse. A fiery bolt lashed out at her, and then Grimm yelled, "Protego!" and the flames rebounded off a shield that suddenly appeared in front of her. Journey turned around and swung his arm in an overhead arc, flinging a curse at Grimm that knocked her down.
There was a smoking hole in her chest as she struggled back to her feet. It looked like it had burned through her robe and the gown beneath – Alexandra couldn't tell whether it had also burned into her flesh, and she didn't want to look too closely. But Grimm was quick to fire another hex, while saying, "All the Deans are on their way, Ben, and I'm sure Thiel has already called the WDJ."
"I doubt that, Lilith," said Journey. He continued pelting her with hexes, but she dodged and deflected, and hurled spells back at him that forced him to duck and back away. Alexandra was impressed in spite of herself at Grimm's prowess. Red and blue and yellow bolts rebounded off the walls and floor and ceiling. One struck a Clockwork golem, which continued pushing its mop even after the hex melted the top of its head. The shield Grimm had conjured for Alexandra faded, and she could only keep her head down as more hexes flashed past her.
She was helpless; Journey still had her wand. So she crawled along the floor towards where Anna lay. She heard more voices, and saw that Dean Grimm had indeed been joined by Dean Price, and two other Assistant Deans along with Mr. Fledgefield and Ms. Shirtliffe were running up the corridor.
Journey gestured with his wand, and suddenly the Clockwork crew turned and charged the new arrivals. While Price and Grimm advanced on Journey, who was now hiding behind a shield of his own, the other faculty began blasting apart the golems, who were trying to batter them with mops or metal fists.
The custodian had a melee behind him, and two witches both trying to get past his shield in front of him. As he took another step back, he reached Anna's unconscious form, and placed a boot on her neck.
"I really don't want to hurt her," he said, "but I'm going to have to ask you two ladies to drop your wands."
Mrs. Price did. Ms. Grimm didn't. She continued to hold hers at the ready.
"Lilith," said Journey. "I'll do it."
"No!" Alexandra cried out. Journey was a tall, powerful man, and if he put all his weight down, she was sure he could crush Anna's throat in an instant.
"And then there will be nothing holding me back," said Grimm, her eyes flashing dangerously. "You don't want to do this, Ben. I know that you would never want to harm a child."
"You're right," he said. "But you don't want to leave me with no choice."
He snapped his fingers, and the carpet that had earlier fallen to the floor, not far from where Alexandra now lay, unrolled and launched itself at him. "Don't!" Journey admonished, and his weight shifted slightly, as the Dean pointed her wand at the carpet.
"A hostage?" Ms. Grimm demanded. "You won't get far. This can't possibly end well, Ben. Be sensible, and surrender."
He knelt, still holding his wand up and pointed at her. One arm scooped up the small unconscious girl, and he rose and dumped her on the carpet. Simultaneously, he turned his wand so now it was pointing at her throat.
"No, wait!" Alexandra cried out. She rose shakily to her feet. "Leave Anna! I'll go with you!"
"Be quiet, Miss Quick!" snapped Grimm, not taking her eyes off of Journey.
"Well, Starshine, you're the one I wanted to begin with," said Journey. "Come on, then, and your friend can stay behind." He gestured to her, and Alexandra took a step forward, and then Mrs. Price rushed over and interposed herself.
"She's going nowhere," said Grimm. "Don't even think it. Now let the other girl go. The entire Wizard Justice Department will be on your trail the moment you leave the grounds. This is madness and you know it."
"They won't be able to find me, and you know it, Lilith," said Journey. "Now, I'm going to fly out of here peacefully, and none of you are going to stop me. I really, truly, would regret killing a little girl." He pulled himself up onto the carpet.
"No!" screamed Alexandra. She struggled with Mrs. Price, who held onto her with difficulty. "Take me! Take me!"
"Stop it, Quick!" Price panted.
"Sorry, Starshine," said Journey. "Truly I am. But I'm afraid what happens to your friend now is your responsibility."
"Disgusting!" Ms. Grimm snarled. "You vile, cowardly man!"
"That hurts, Lilith, it really does."
"Stop him!" Alexandra screamed.
The other faculty had dispatched the golems, but didn't dare try to stop Journey as he guided the flying carpet forward and over their heads, with Anna held at wandpoint. He zoomed down the corridor towards the front entrance, and Alexandra was still screaming and kicking and fighting with Dean Price, even after she heard the doors slam open and knew that Mr. Journey and Anna were gone.