Although she turned up her nose and expressed disinterest when asked about the Mors Mortis Society, Alexandra was secretly curious about them. She was sure they were exactly the sort of people Ms. Grimm wouldn't want her to associate herself with, and who would attract the special interest of Governor-General Hucksteen, should her involvement with them be brought to his attention.
It wasn't fear of the Dean or the Governor-General that made her decide not to show up at the basement juncture specified on her invitation. It was the worried looks Anna and the Pritchards still gave her. They denied that they had any doubts about her, but Alexandra feared what they would think if she did hang out with other Dark Arts enthusiasts.
It was new for Alexandra, worrying about what her friends thought, and actually deciding not to do something because of their opinions. She didn't like it. It made her annoyed and a little resentful. She was in a bad mood as everyone began leaving for the summer.
Anna, David, Constance, and Forbearance found her outside, reading a book about demons and other Dark creatures. The two Ozarker girls sat down next to her uninvited, spreading their skirts carefully.
"It's a fine day for a picnic," said Forbearance cheerfully.
"Since we won't see each other none 'til the end of summer," said Constance.
Alexandra lowered her book. "You're leaving this evening?" she asked.
The twins nodded. "The Charmbridge bus leaves just a'fore sundown."
"I can't wait to see the Ozarks again," Constance sighed.
"And our holler, and Ma and Pa," said Forbearance.
"And all our kin." Constance smiled, wiping at a tear.
"Well," said Constance, and she produced her wand. "Let's eat!" She conjured loaves of bread and a basket of fruit, and a fresh-baked pie, while Forbearance conjured a pitcher and then filled it with ice-cold tea, pouring from the end of her wand. Anna and David sat down as well, and Anna gently pried the book from Alexandra's fingers and tossed it aside. Alexandra scowled at her.
"You know, Alex, you can be a real jerk," said David.
"Tsk!" Constance said. She offered Alexandra a slice of pie.
"What –?" Alexandra was confused. She took the pie.
"You're in one of your moods again," said Anna.
"I reckon it's 'cause she's gonna miss us terrible," said Constance.
Forbearance nodded. "So you sit by yourself all sulky-like, not even fit company for ravens!"
"'Stead of socializin' with your friends proper!"
Alexandra sighed. "I'm not sulking!"
"Yes you are." Anna pursed her lips. "Because you think we're whispering about you and worrying you're going to become a Dark sorceress."
Alexandra blushed. "I am not!"
"Good, then let's have no more of such nonsense!" said Forbearance.
Alexandra looked around at all her friends. "Aren't – aren't any of you worried at all?" she asked. "About who I am? About my father? And, well, you know I'm not really going to..."
"Behave?" suggested Constance.
"Study?" said Anna.
"Become less hard-headed?" snorted David.
Alexandra glowered at them, but then started laughing when she couldn't hold the expression.
"Troublesome is as Troublesome does," said Forbearance.
"Knock it off!" Alexandra said, but she still couldn't stay annoyed for long. The five of them sat out on the lawn eating the picnic the Pritchards had prepared, and talked about what they would do over the summer, and the classes they would take next year, and which of their teachers had been the most horrible. It was a beautiful summer day, and as Alexandra looked off at the green woods surrounding them, she didn't see a single crow.
"We'll write," promised the Pritchards. "Our owls'll find you, don't you fret none."
Constance and Forbearance hugged Alexandra and Anna, on the steps of Charmbridge, and then they switched places. David stood there with his hands in his pockets, until Constance held her hand out. He shook her hand, and then Forbearance's.
"You'll write too, won't you, David?" asked Forbearance.
"Yeah, 'course," he replied.
They smiled, and waved, and then walked off through the woods with Mrs. Speaks and the other students leaving that evening.
The next day, Alexandra was on the early-morning bus. Anna joined her, with Darla and Angelique. David was left behind, not to be taken to Detroit until that afternoon.
"Dunno why they changed the schedule," he grumbled, standing on the steps once again to say good-bye to his friends.
"Are you going to miss us, David?" Angelique cooed, while Darla batted her lashes.
"I think he liked being surrounded by girls!" Darla tittered.
"Don't flatter yourselves!" he scoffed, a flush spreading under his dark skin.
He turned even darker when Angelique gave him a kiss on the cheek. "You're such a Muggle!" she giggled.
"You little hussy!" screeched her jarvey.
"Shut up, Honey," David said.
Anna hugged David next, and then he and Alexandra looked at each other for a moment, before she gave him an awkward hug. Honey continued screaming increasingly offensive names at them, until Angelique finally succeeding in casting a Silencing Charm on the jarvey's cage.
"Take care, guys," David said, and waved to them as the girls followed Mrs. Speaks into the woods.
The valley looked remarkably like it had when Alexandra first walked across the Invisible Bridge, but any trepidation she had felt on her subsequent crossings was gone now. She noticed some of the other students watching her a little uneasily and separating themselves from her on the bridge.
"Some kids are always going to be stupid," Anna said quietly, walking alongside her.
"We know you don't deserve your reputation, Alexandra!" said Darla, coming up from behind them.
"Yes, you're not to blame for your name!" said Angelique.
They were being obsequious and annoying, yet they were accompanying her on the bridge. Alexandra couldn't help smiling.
"My name," she said, "is Alexandra Quick."
The bus took them to Chicago, where the other girls once again got off at the Wizardrail station.
"Have a good summer, Alexandra and Anna," said Darla and Angelique, waving to them.
Anna turned to Alexandra, and looked as if she were on the verge of tears.
"Don't," Alexandra said softly, with an embarrassed smile. She put her arms around her friend, and Anna hugged her back tightly.
"You really are my best friend, Alex," Anna whispered.
"I know," Alexandra replied. "You, too."
"Time to get back on the bus, Miss Quick," said Mrs. Speaks. Alexandra nodded and pulled away.
"We'll write," she said to Anna. "Or you could, you know, call on the phone."
"My father doesn't allow Muggle devices in our house," Anna said.
"Well then, I hope Jingwei can find my house."
"She will." Anna smiled. "Bye Alex. Have a good summer."
Alexandra watched the other girl turn and walk up the steps to the Wizardrail station, her red cloak flapping around her. Then she got back on the bus, and sat alone except for Charlie, until they arrived in Larkin Mills.
207 Sweetmaple Avenue was now a bare concrete block. Archie drove her past it once, to see what was left of their house. It would be rebuilt eventually, he said, but they probably wouldn't be living there. Her mother and stepfather were still having trouble with the insurance company, which had not completed its arson investigation yet. In the meantime, they had moved into a two-bedroom apartment closer to the center of town. Alexandra didn't like it – it was closer to stores and the hospital where her mother worked, but it didn't feel like home. And the sounds of traffic, of neighbors going up and down the stairs, of televisions all around them, felt unnatural to her. She was there for almost a week when she finally realized why it bothered her. This was the sound of the Muggle world.
"Well, Charlie," she said to her raven, in her newly-furnished room, "just because I'm a witch doesn't mean I don't belong here." She had an entire summer ahead of her, and if she couldn't find something to do, she was bound to get into trouble. Charlie seemed to agree; the raven had had no trouble settling in, and Alexandra once again usually left her bedroom window open so Charlie could come and go at will. She resolved to go out and explore downtown Larkin Mills the next day.
Late that night, she was awoken by a rapping sound.
"Charlie, what's your problem?" she mumbled, as she sat up and rubbed her eyes. "I left the window open for you." She looked at the window, and then bolted to her feet.
The raven perched on her windowsill was not Charlie.
It was enormous, with iridescent black feathers and a lordly mien. It regarded Alexandra gravely, and then stepped into her room and sat upon her desk.
"Who sent you?" she asked. "What do you want?" She was whispering, less because she felt threatened than because her parents were asleep in the next room.
"Alexandra," croaked the raven. And while she gaped in astonishment, it held out one leg. Its powerful talons looked nearly equal to those of David's falcon, but it was the roll of paper wrapped around its leg that caught her attention.
"I thought ravens didn't deliver messages," she said.
"Alexandra," it repeated, more insistently. It flexed its talons.
Very carefully, she reached out and untied the string holding the paper to its leg, and unrolled the paper. The raven set its foot back down, and continued watching her as she flicked on her desk lamp to look at what it had delivered her.
It was a letter, written in ink with broad, powerful strokes.
My Dearest Alexandra,
I know you will be astonished to receive this letter from me, but I know also that you have been expecting it. Believe me, I wish I could deliver this message in person. I wish that I had not been absent from your life until now. There is not a day in the last twelve years that I haven't thought of you, my darling daughter.
I'm sure you have many questions. You deserve answers, and so much more. The manner in which you learned about your father is not the way I would have chosen. What happened this year at Charmbridge was beyond anything I might have anticipated. Benedict was a good friend, once, and I would never have believed him capable of such betrayal. You can be sure, Alexandra, that I have loyal friends who would never, ever harm you, and that they, and I, are watching over you now. Just as the Governor-General and his minions are, but they care nothing about you. They want only to get at me, and that is why I cannot come to you in person. I desire nothing more than to hold you in my arms, my dear child, as I did when you were a baby, but circumstances will not allow it, not yet.
You may be angry at me, Alexandra, and I don't blame you. I ask only that you reserve your judgment until I've had an opportunity to face you and answer whatever questions you may put to me. I promise, that day will come.
Alexandra, I have always been watching over you. I know that you survived your trials this year with courage and wit and skill, as befits a daughter of mine, and I am very proud.
I hope you will give some reply, even if it is angry and accusing. Just a brief note, or a word, for I so long to hear from you.
Your loving father,
Abraham Everard Thorn
Alexandra set down the letter, and looked at the raven, which was still watching her. She listened to the sounds of late-night traffic carried into her room through the open window, and stared at this intrusion of the wizarding world into her Muggle existence.
"You can tell my father," she said very calmly, "that he obviously knows where to find me."
The raven tilted its head, and squawked.
"That's all I've got to tell him," she said. And then shouted, "Go!"
"Alexandra," said the raven, and it took off through the window, its wings beating against the air. She heard it flapping off into the night, until the sound was drowned out by cars and other noise.
"Alex, I have to get up at 4 a.m., for God's sake!" her stepfather shouted through the wall. "Keep that bird quiet or else!"
Charlie came through the window and landed on Alexandra's desk. She held out her hand, and the raven hopped onto her wrist.
"Okay, Archie," she replied. She leaned over, and blew affectionately on the top of Charlie's head. "Ssh," she whispered. She extended her arm to place Charlie in the cage hanging by her bed, and then, very carefully, she closed her window.
Charlie watched as she very carefully tore her father's letter to pieces, then picked the pieces apart into tiny shreds, before sweeping them all into her waste basket. Then she climbed into bed, pulled the sheets up around her head, and closed her eyes. Soon she was fast asleep.
End Year One