Alexandra was released from the infirmary the next day. She had to use crutches for a couple of days, which was less annoying than having to fend off an overly-solicitous Anna. But she was touched when even Darla and Angelique offered to carry her books, until Anna whispered in her ear, "It's because they're afraid you'll curse them."
Alexandra wasn't sure how she felt about being known publicly as Abraham Thorn's daughter. It meant many more students gave her funny looks, or avoided her gaze entirely. There was something both thrilling and disturbing in being feared, even by older students. Mindful of what Constance and Forbearance had told her about "preening," she tried not to take advantage of her even more fearsome new reputation. She was a little disappointed that Larry and his friends weren't among those who were intimidated by her, though. It just cemented her reputation as a sorceress with the Ozarker boys, and Larry continued to mock her openly, with perhaps a little too much bluster.
More disturbing were the students who took a sudden interest in befriending her – students who tended to have bad reputations, for being antisocial and having an unhealthy interest in the Dark Arts. She received an invitation to the Mors Mortis Society's year-end party, delivered anonymously by a screech owl. It was in red ink printed on black parchment.
None of her friends knew what the Mors Mortis Society was, but Stuart and Torvald overhead her asking about them.
"Warlock wannabes," said Stuart. "It's a very secretive group since Dean Grimm has forbidden their club. It's an honor to be invited, especially a sixth grader!"
"An honor to be asked to join the Dark?" Alexandra said incredulously, while Anna and David stared, aghast.
"They're not really Dark," said Torvald, punching Stuart in the shoulder. "Just kids who like learning jinxes and curses they won't teach us in school." He grinned at Alexandra. "If you do learn any good curses from, you know, outside school, you'll teach your friends, won't you Alexandra?" He winked at her.
"Oh sure," she replied, narrowing her eyes. "If I learn any good curses, you'll be the first to find out, Stuart."
The two boys laughed, and then simultaneously whipped out their wands and cast Tickle Charms on her. They ran away while David and Anna both tried to reverse the charms. Alexandra shouted, between uncontrollable giggles, "I'm...going...to...turn...them...into...doxy-droppings!"
Having lost both custodians and a good number of their Clockworks, the academy was forced to bring elves back into service. Elves and most students were delighted by this, though David and his ASPEW club were horrified.
"It's not my fault!" Alexandra snapped at Dewshine Jennifer, who kept giving her dirty looks every time a new plate of food magically appeared on their table at the cafeteria. She looked at David plaintively.
"No, it isn't your fault," he sighed. "But when I tell my folks about this, they're gonna write to the Dean and demand that she replace all the elves with Clockworks!"
"Do you really think the Dean will listen to... well, Muggles?" Angelique asked.
"For what they're paying for me to go here, she better!" David retorted.
That weekend, most of the students were studying for their SPAWNs, but Alexandra noticed the grim-faced witches and wizards from the Governor-General's security detail prowling the halls. They were poking into every classroom, waving their wands about, and had brought in new portraits to hang at every hallway intersection, each one of a former Governor-General. The Governor-Generals' portraits were sharp-eyed and alert and had nothing better to do than watch out for student misbehavior. The ranks of students assigned detention in the following week swelled, but Alexandra didn't have to endure any more curses being thrown her way. She did notice that every single Governor-General seemed to be giving her the evil eye from his portrait as she passed them by.
Alexandra approached her SPAWN far more casually than she had the last two, even though this one was supposedly more important. As Anna constantly reminded her, the year-end SPAWN went on their permanent records. After what she had been through, Alexandra considered a test to be a trivial ordeal.
It seemed easier this time. She didn't know all the answers on the written portion, but she was surprised at how much she did remember. Mr. Hobbes and Mr. Newton could find no fault with her practical Charms and Transfigurations, and even Mr. Grue, muttering to himself and standing back every time she added an ingredient to her cauldron during the Practical Alchemy portion, seemed satisfied.
She felt a sense of deja vu as she entered the classroom to face Ms. Shirtliffe for her Practical Magical Defense test.
"Got anything to show me, Quick?" asked Ms. Shirtliffe with a smile.
Alexandra raised her wand, and unleashed the nastiest curse she knew. Shirtliffe's smile faded, and she blocked the curse and retaliated with one of her own. Alexandra grimaced as it singed her neck, and tried to jinx the teacher. They exchanged no words, only curses, for a full minute. Ms. Shirtliffe nodded, and then, when Alexandra began to feel a bit smug as she almost spun the teacher around with a Spinning Jinx, Shirtliffe suddenly sent painful spasms running throughout Alexandra's body, disarmed her, and then brought her to her knees with a hex that felt like it simultaneously punched her in the gut and sucked all the air out of her lungs.
Alexandra collapsed to the floor, breathing heavily. She hadn't been hurt like that since the night she'd gone into the woods after Mr. Journey.
"You... already... disarmed me!" she gasped, as Ms. Shirtliffe knelt next to her and put a hand on her back.
"Yes, but I wanted to make sure you got the point," the teacher said, no longer smiling. "Your ability is impressive – for your age. You're starting to let it go to your head. This isn't a real test, Quick. A real test is when someone is actually trying to kill you and you survive."
Alexandra looked up at her, startled.
"You're not good enough to take me on," Ms. Shirtliffe said. "Not even close. Someday... maybe."
"And you wanted to make sure I know you can beat a sixth grader?" Alexandra muttered, as she got to her feet.
"No, Quick, and watch that smart mouth. I wanted to make sure you know that you still have a lot to learn. Have you thought about the JROC?"
Alexandra picked up her wand.
"You know," she said, "I think I've been tested enough this year. I passed – and no thanks to anything I learned in class."
She felt the teacher's hard stare as she left the room.
The following week, they got their scores. Alexandra opened hers without the nervousness of last time. She didn't even try to stop David from looking over her shoulder as she read it.
Sixth Grade Level Standardized Practical Assessment of Wizarding kNowledge
Assessee: Alexandra Octavia Quick
Section One: Magical Theory A
Section Two: Alchemy and Herbology A
Section Three: Arithmancy and Geomancy A
Section Four: Wizard History U
Basic Magical Defense S
"Wow!" David exclaimed. "Ms. Shirtliffe sure likes you!"
"I'm not sure about that," Alexandra muttered.
"Hey! Your practical scores are better than mine!" he realized with a frown.
She smirked. "So?"
"So your grades stink!"
"They do not!"
"If you keep getting a 'U' in Wizard History they'll put you back in Remedial class."
She snorted, but she was secretly pleased, overall.
For commencement, all the non-graduating classes, grades 6-11, would only have to sit in the audience in their formal robes. Under the watchful eye of the Governor-General, the graduating seniors would have to march across the stage to receive their Magical Diplomas, following a number of speeches by the Dean, the valedictorian, and the Governor-General himself. Alexandra was not looking forward to it, but she knew it was worse for the seniors.
The day before commencement, she was summoned to the Dean's office by a Hall Pass, immediately following P.M.E. class. She was walking back to her room with Anna when the Pass caught up to her.
"I didn't do anything!" she said to Anna.
"I believe you," Anna replied.
"If I'd done something, she would have put my name on the notice board!"
"I believe you."
Alexandra wasn't sure Anna believed her, but she hurried off to the administrative wing.
"Hello Miss Marmsley. How are you today?" she said with extraordinary politeness to the school secretary.
This time there was no doubt: Miss Marmsley rolled her eyes. "Fine, Miss Quick. The Dean will see you in a moment."
Alexandra sat on the bench outside the Dean's office and waited. Galen padded by.
"Were you really trying to save me, in the attic?" she asked the cat.
The cat gave her an incredulous look, as if to ask, "Are you actually expecting me, a cat, to answer that?" and then meowed.
The Dean's office door opened, and Galen strode in. "Come in Miss Quick," called the Dean.
Alexandra walked in, saw that no one else was in the Dean's office besides Galen, and took her accustomed place in the center of the rug. Ms. Grimm almost seemed to be waiting for Alexandra to say something, and then smiled slightly when she didn't. She gestured with her wand, and her office door closed.
"The Governor-General will be here tomorrow," she said.
"I know," said Alexandra. "Ma'am."
"He wants to talk to you."
Alexandra knew this shouldn't have surprised her, but it did.
"I can't tell him anything about my father," she said. "I don't know anything more than you do. Actually, I'm pretty sure I know less than you do," she added, giving the Dean a narrow look.
The Dean gave her a narrow look back. "I'm aware of that, Miss Quick. As is he." She gestured at a chair. "Please sit down."
Alexandra sat, and waited. The Dean seemed to be thinking, and she thought for several moments before she took a deep breath and looked at Alexandra directly.
"The Governor-General," she said, "is not a man to be trifled with. He is very, very important. And very, very powerful."
"Why would I trifle with him?" Alexandra asked, a little sourly.
Ms. Grimm scratched Galen under the chin. The cat purred while watching Alexandra through slitted eyes.
"I think you might be tempted to ask him... inadvisable questions. You might be tempted to reply to his questions in a sharp, dare I say, impertinent manner."
"Who, me?" Alexandra drawled.
"Yes. Like that." Ms. Grimm didn't look amused. She leaned forward.
"Alexandra," she said quietly, and there was a note of earnestness in her voice Alexandra couldn't recall ever hearing from the Dean before. "If you never trust anything I say again, if you never believe anything I tell you, believe this: do not make Governor-General Hucksteen your enemy! Do not sass him. Do not be sarcastic, impertinent, impatient, indignant, or disrespectful." Her gray eyes were fixed intently on Alexandra's. "In fact, the very best thing you could do is not speak at all unless spoken to. And of course, speak only the truth then."
Alexandra looked back at her. "How could I make an enemy of the Governor-General of the Confederation?" she asked in disbelief. "What is he going to do, send me to prison if I'm not polite enough?"
"No," Grimm said slowly. "He will smile ever so politely and send you on your way."
"Governor-General Hucksteen," said Ms. Grimm, "holds grudges. Even against twelve-year-old girls. Any disrespect you show him will be remembered. But more importantly, you are the daughter of Abraham Thorn. He wants to know not only if your father has had any contact with you, but if you show any signs of being at all like your father. Because if you do, Alexandra, then you can rest assured that the modest level of involvement the Confederation has had in your life since the day you were born will increase dramatically. If you march into his presence with a fire in your eyes and demands and accusations on your lips, he will mark you as someone to watch very, very closely, and believe me, Alexandra, you do not want that! Because he will make his presence felt – not just by you, but by your friends and your family."
Galen seemed to be watching her as intently as Ms. Grimm now, and Alexandra held her tongue and kept listening.
"The best thing you could do," Ms. Grimm said, "if you care about your friends and family, is to be as unthreatening and uninteresting as possible. He will be far less likely to take a special interest in you if you appear... meek, perhaps even a little... dull."
"I thought you said I should be truthful."
Ms. Grimm narrowed her eyes.
"He had my mother Obliviated, didn't he?" Alexandra asked quietly.
"I doubt he gave the order personally, but he was aware of it," Grimm nodded. She leaned forward again. "And that is why I am telling you to tread very, very carefully, Miss Quick. Because he can have far worse things done."
Alexandra thought about that, staring at her feet for a while, and then she looked back at the Dean.
"Are you afraid of him?" she asked.
Ms. Grimm's fingers moved slowly between Galen's ears. The cat's eyes were almost completely closed, but its eyes were still fixed on Alexandra.
"Yes," said the Dean. "And you should be too."
Alexandra thought about that long after she left the Dean's office. She told Anna a lie that night – she told her that the Dean just wanted to lecture her about behaving while the Governor-General was at the academy. She felt guilty about it, but it was a lie to protect Anna, and it was an easily believable one.
The next day, everyone rose early to dress in their formal robes for the commencement ceremony. It was every bit as dull as Alexandra feared. Dean Grimm spoke first, congratulating all the students for completing their year at Charmbridge, and then congratulating the graduating seniors who would be going out into the wizarding world. Then she said a lot of nice things about the Governor-General, who was sitting with the Territorial Governor amidst a group of wizards in black in the front row. There were trolls walking the hallways now and guarding the entrances to the amphitheater, making everyone nervous.
Next the Vice Dean spoke, saying a lot of nice things about the graduating seniors. Those who had done notable things were recognized: one girl had been awarded an Osthanes Scholarship to study alchemy in Alexandria, and one of the Quodpot players had been picked up by the Sheboygan Slammers. This generated thunderous applause, much more so than the girl who had been described as one of the most brilliant alchemists the school had ever seen. Then the Vice Dean said nice things about the Governor-General, and sat down to let the valedictorian give his speech. Alexandra didn't even remember the speech, except that the valedictorian kept thanking the Governor-General for coming.
The Governor-General looked just like the photographs Alexandra had seen. He was a big man with a huge belly and a long white beard. He wore a white shirt and dark vest underneath his long red and black cloak. He beamed jovially at the assembled students, and opened his speech by saying nice things about Dean Grimm and Charmbridge Academy. Then he made a joke about Quodpot that Alexandra didn't get, and then he spoke portentously for almost half an hour about the value of a quality American education and all the ways that Charmbridge students could help wizarding society.
Alexandra would have fallen asleep, but she was watching his eyes. They were cold and hard, even when he smiled. And the entire time he spoke, the wizards in black who had accompanied him were watching the students, with their hands on their wands.
Eventually the seniors were permitted to cross the stage and receive their Magical Diplomas. They got to shake hands with the Dean and with the Governor-General. Journalists were there, taking pictures. Alexandra knew the seniors would go outside for a flying hat ceremony, but she was just waiting for the rest of the students to be dismissed.
"Man, politicians talk a lot," David yawned, as they filed out of the auditorium. Anna eyed the troll at the door nervously.
And that was it for the commencement ceremony.
Just before dinner, another Hall Pass came for Alexandra. She shrugged when her friends gave her quizzical looks, and headed for the Dean's office.
Wizards in black were waiting at the intersection outside the administrative wing. There was a pair of trolls on either side of the entrance to the offices. They all scrutinized Alexandra as she approached, and one of the wizards said, "One moment, young lady." She stopped, and he held out his wand and muttered some incantations. Nothing happened, and he nodded and waved her on.
Miss Marmsley looked uneasy. She was watching the trolls and barely glanced at Alexandra. "Up to the second floor, Miss Quick," she said. "They're waiting for you."
The second floor? she thought. She passed the Dean's office door, and walked up the stairs to the second floor. She couldn't help glancing in the direction of the Registrar's Office, but it was closed. In the other direction, there was a wizard in a black cloak outside another door. He knocked on the door before Alexandra reached it.
"Go on in," he said gruffly, as the door opened.
Alexandra paused outside the door. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and then, bowing her head slightly, she walked into the room.
It looked like it was a teacher's lounge. There was a long wooden table, some nice chairs arranged around it, and a sofa and end table.
Dean Grimm was sitting at the table, still wearing her formal robes from the commencement ceremony. Seated in one of the chairs opposite her, as if he were just another visitor, was Governor-General Hucksteen. His heavy red and black robe was hanging on a rack by the door. His belly strained at the buttons of his vest; his white beard covered his chest. He smiled in a kindly fashion as Alexandra entered, but the smile didn't reach his eyes.
Sitting next to the Governor-General was a bald wizard wearing a black cloak, and a red shirt underneath that seemed to be some sort of uniform, but Alexandra couldn't make out any details about it. This man wasn't even trying to appear friendly; his expression was sinister, his gaze frankly scrutinizing. It was warm in the lounge, but the other man was still wearing black leather gloves.
Alexandra took in as much as she could with one quick glance around, and then she stood in front of them and fixed her gaze at a point on the table.
"You asked to see me, Dean Grimm," she said quietly.
"Yes, Miss Quick. Thank you. You recognize Governor-General Hucksteen, of course." She nodded at the Governor-General. Alexandra nodded to him also. "Yes sir. Pleased to meet you, sir," she said.
"I'm very pleased to meet you also, Alexandra," said the Governor-General. His voice sounded warm and friendly. "Do you prefer Alexandra or Alex?"
She kept her fists from clenching, with an effort. "Alexandra, sir."
He chuckled. "Very good. Alexandra, then. This is my special assistant and good friend, Mr. Raspire."
"Alexandra," said Raspire with a slight nod. His voice was quiet and smooth, and she could feel his eyes, never leaving her. She nodded back at him.
"I know it's been a long day for you, Alexandra," said the Governor-General, "and probably not very interesting, listening to a lot of grown-ups talk, eh?" he chuckled.
Alexandra looked at a spot on his chin, and nodded. "Yes, sir."
"Well, this won't take long, and then we'll let you run along to dinner." He smiled, and looked at Ms. Grimm. "Lilith, would you mind terribly if we had a word with Alexandra in private?"
"Not at all, Governor." She smiled. If she were afraid of Hucksteen, she didn't show it. She barely glanced at Alexandra before leaving the room. The wizard outside closed the door behind her.
There were no portraits in this room, Alexandra realized. That was why they weren't meeting in the Dean's office.
Hucksteen and Raspire now watched Alexandra a moment, and she sensed they were waiting to see how she would react, so she shuffled a little and looked from one to the other – still not quite meeting their eyes.
"Well, Alexandra, can you guess why I wanted to talk to you?" Hucksteen said at last, still sounding friendly.
"About my father," she replied.
He nodded approvingly. "That's right. I understand you had a rather difficult year. It would have been difficult for any young witch who'd grown up among Muggles and was just beginning her wizarding education, but of course, you're not just any witch, are you?"
She hesitated, then said, "I guess not, sir."
"The... unfortunate events surrounding Mr. Journey's efforts to kill you... horrible, just horrible! Well, that's why I've had you under a special protective watch since we first became aware of you. You see, your father had quite a few 'friends' like Benedict Journey, very dangerous men and women. We want to do everything we can to keep you safe. That's our top priority, Alexandra."
She nodded. She felt her fingers clenching, and unclenched them. "Thank you, sir."
"Now, Alexandra." he leaned forward, clasping his hands on the table. "Ms. Grimm tells me you're quite an inquisitive child. Maybe even prone to bending a few rules now and then?" He chuckled and winked at her.
"I try not to, sir," she replied. She wondered just how much Ms. Grimm had told him, but this answer only made him chuckle a little more.
"And understandably, you've been trying to find out about your father! I truly regret that we couldn't simply tell you everything we knew about him from the beginning, but we had your well-being in mind. I wouldn't blame you for being upset, but it was for your own good. I hope you can understand that, Alexandra."
She nodded. "Yes, sir."
"Good, good," he said, nodding. "Now, you've probably heard a lot of rumors, maybe even read some things, about Abraham Thorn." He watched her carefully. "Do you know why we're so concerned about your father and his friends?"
Alexandra licked her lips. "He was... he broke the law."
The Governor-General paused, then nodded again. "Yes. Yes, he did. And you see, he's still out there, and we're afraid he's still planning to break the law, and I know this may be difficult to understand, Alexandra, but we need to stop him. The best thing of all, of course, would be if we knew where he was and could take him into custody peacefully."
She nodded again.
"Have you ever spoken to your father?" he asked, his voice suddenly shifting. "I know you've been raised by your mother and your stepfather, but perhaps your father might have contacted you in some fashion... perhaps a card on your birthdays? Perhaps he came to see you, just once?"
She shook her head. "No, sir. I told Ms. Grimm that. I didn't even know who my father was until a couple of weeks ago."
Hucksteen nodded. Raspire spoke up for the first time. "Are you absolutely certain you've never had any contact at all with your father, Alexandra?" His voice was silky, insinuating; he sounded perfectly polite and friendly, yet something in his tone seemed to cast doubt, to pry at her conscience and suggest she was lying. "Perhaps you didn't even realize it was your father at the time. A man you didn't recognize who occasionally appeared near your school, watching you? Gifts sent anonymously? A telephone call, anything of that nature?" He was almost whispering now, urging Alexandra to confess, to admit that perhaps she was hiding something, or maybe, now that he mentioned it, there was just one little thing she had neglected to mention...
She shook her head and said firmly, "No, sir. My father's never contacted me. Ever."
Raspire and Hucksteen were both silent for a moment. Then the Governor-General said, "Well, we believe you, Alexandra. But – and this is very important – it is possible he might contact you in the future. Any father would want to talk to his own daughter. It's only natural." He smiled. "If he should contact you – with a visit, or an owl, or even – what do you call that device, Richard?"
"A telephone," murmured Mr. Raspire.
"Yes, a telephone. If you should ever hear from your father –" Here the Governor-General slid a card across the table to Alexandra. "I want you to promise that you will use this card to contact my office immediately. Will you do that, Alexandra?"
Slowly, she reached for the card and picked it up. It was a plain piece of stiff white cardboard. Printed on it was the Seal of the Confederation, the Governor-General's seal to the right of that, and below the seals, "The Governor-General's Office of Special Inquisitions."
"That's a very special card, Alexandra," said Hucksteen. "I don't just hand them out to anyone, especially not children. But you're a very important person, because you could help bring peace to the entire wizarding world."
Alexandra took several long, deep breaths, as if studying the card, while she was actually concentrating so she could hold it easily between her fingers. She kept her face slack, her hands relaxed. It was very difficult.
"All you have to do is press your thumb to either seal," said Raspire. "You'll be contacted immediately."
She looked at the card while remaining silent as long as she dared, and then she asked, "What will you do with him if you catch him?"
Both men were silent for a second, and then Hucksteen said, "Well, he's committed some rather serious crimes, Alexandra. I won't lie to you, because I know you're a mature young lady and you deserve to hear the truth. He'll be tried by a wizard court, and then I expect he'll be sentenced. Our laws are strict but fair. But I can assure you, you'll be allowed to see him, while he's in prison. And he has a lot of information we're interested in, and if he were willing to show remorse for his crimes and help us stop other Dark wizards, it's very possible he might receive a much more lenient sentence. You might even be able to help make that happen, Alexandra. I imagine he'd want very much to be able to have as much time as possible with his daughter." Hucksteen smiled.
"So, Alexandra," said Raspire's deceptively soothing voice. "If your father should contact you, you will let us know, won't you? I know you want to help us... you'll want to do the right thing."
Slowly, she nodded. "Yes, sir," she said. "I will."
"That's excellent, Alexandra," said the Governor-General. "I'm very pleased to hear that. And you know, if you should ever want to speak to me, I want you to feel free to contact my office. I know what a difficult life you've had up until this point, and your father hasn't made it easier for you. I want to help you in any way I can. That's a promise, from Governor-General Hucksteen." He held out one large, meaty hand. Alexandra hesitated, and then took it, with the hand not holding the card. His hand enveloped hers warmly.
"Thank you, sir," she said.
"Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?" Raspire inquired lightly.
She paused, then shook her head. "No, sir."
The two men looked at each other, and then back at her, and nodded. "Well, thank you very much for this conversation, Alexandra," said the Governor-General. "I look forward to meeting you again some time. I wish you the very best of luck here at Charmbridge Academy."
"Thank you, sir," she said.
She didn't see Dean Grimm on her way out, only more of the black-robed security wizards and the glowering security trolls. She walked calmly all the way to Delta Delta Kappa Tau hall, with her head bowed and her eyes fixed on the floor in front of her.
Only when she entered her room did she throw off her robes and stand there, trembling in fury.
"Liar! Liar! Liar! Liars! All of you!" she screamed in her head, but she didn't make a sound. Charlie was unnaturally silent as well, watching her.
It took her a long time to calm down. She didn't go to dinner. Anna returned from the cafeteria half an hour later, to find Alexandra sitting at her desk, with a pile of ashes scattered in front of her.
"What's that?" she asked, pointing at the ashes. "How come you weren't at dinner?"
"I wasn't hungry," Alexandra said. She swept up the ashes with a wave of her wand, sending them streaming into their waste basket. "That was just something I won't be needing."