Croatoa

Their flight over the waves did not take long, but by the time they reached a wooded shore, Alexandra was able to look back and see the glow of a Muggle lighthouse, what seemed like an awfully long way off. They had to be at least a few miles offshore.

The Thestral pulled the carriage along a path Alexandra couldn't see. "There are about a dozen ranches and plantations on the island," Julia was explaining, as they glided swiftly through the dark woods. "Ours is the largest, but we're more secluded. There's also a Muggle town on the southern end – the locals know better than to wander around the island, but sometimes tourists from the mainland come here and get themselves into trouble. New Roanoke is just across the sound."

Alexandra nodded, wondering what sort of 'trouble' a Muggle tourist might run into here. She didn't think winged horses were dangerous, so there must be other magical creatures about. Or maybe Julia meant discovering a wizarding plantation, and having their memories Obliviated.

"If you get homesick for Muggle things, I'm sure Mother will take us into town," Julia went on.

"She's hoping you'll get homesick, as an excuse to go into town herself," Maximilian said. "So she can watch Muggle boys."

"I am not interested in Muggle boys!" Julia retorted.

"Hah."

"Not that there's anything wrong with Muggle boys," she added, when she noticed Alexandra frowning a little.

Maximilian snickered, and then Ms. King admonished, "That's quite enough, both of you."

"I don't think I'll be homesick, but thank you," Alexandra said.

The woods began to thin, and they seemed to be heading uphill. Alexandra saw some lights blink rapidly in the trees ahead of them, and she thought she saw shadowy figures scurrying about in the branches overhead, and then they were in a clearing, and the Thestral was pulling them up a long road that led directly to a house at the top of a hill.

Although Maximilian never talked much about their wealth, Alexandra had already figured out that the Kings were well off. It wasn't until they arrived at their home that she realized how wealthy they must be. The plantation-style mansion before them was nearly the size of one of Charmbridge's seven wings. It glowed like a beacon on the hill, surrounded by woods on three sides and a bluff overlooking the sea on the fourth. Lanterns were hung along the path to the great columnar entrance, and light glowed through all the windows from within. Alexandra couldn't imagine just three people living in such a huge residence.

She met some of the other occupants when they were greeted on the steps of the plantation house by a pair of house-elves.

"Master Maximilian!" squeaked a house-elf wearing what looked like it had once been a doll's dress and bonnet. "We is so happy you is back!"

"And you has brought another sister!" said the other elf, this one with dark, wrinkled skin, peering at Alexandra with a frankly curious gaze. There was a stained red cloth wrapped around the little elf, but Alexandra had no idea what it might once have been. "Welcome, welcome to Croatoa!"

"It's good to see you too, Nina," said Maximilian, swinging down from the carriage and hurrying around it to help his mother out, though Ms. King didn't actually seem to need the help. He then held up a hand for Julia, who took it as she stepped down. Alexandra hopped out on the other side, rather than waiting for Julia to exit. She walked around the back of the carriage, still carrying Charlie's cage, and came to a halt as she found the elf in the red cloth had come running to intercept her.

"Please, let Gun-gun carry Miss's things!" the elf begged, holding out his skinny arms.

"I can..." Alexandra started to protest, but the elf's expression was so pleading, she handed the cage to him. He smiled happily at her, then glanced at the empty cage with a slightly puzzled expression. "Is Miss, er, missing something?"

"That's my familiar's cage," Alexandra explained. "Charlie will be back." She reached into her pocket and found an Eagle, which she handed to the elf. Gun-gun stared at it in horror.

"It's all right, Gun-gun. She's Mugg – she's not used to house-elves," Maximilian said hastily, moving to Alexandra's side. He gently pushed her hand down. Gun-gun nodded, and bounded up the steps to the entrance of the house, with surprising speed for such a wizened old elf.

"You don't tip house-elves," Maximilian told her. "Have you ever tipped an elf at Charmbridge?"

"No," Alexandra said. "But..."

"Porter-elves are different." He shook his head, with a small smile. "Don't worry about it. You'll get used to things around here."

Julia was waiting for them, so Alexandra followed them into the mansion, as several more house-elves came out and began unhitching the carriage, while one took the Thestral's reins.

The inside of the mansion was luxurious, with opulent carpets, plush furniture, and crystal chandeliers in almost every room. Everything looked very old-fashioned, yet it could have been newly manufactured; it was all so spotless. Alexandra started to feel herself shrinking in this vast house.

"Deezie," said Ms. King, snapping her fingers, and yet another house-elf appeared out of thin air, with a crack. This was another female elf, wearing clean, starched, but tattered rags, and what looked like a tangle of yarn knotted around her head. She had droopy ears that gave her a sad appearance at first glance, but her eyes were bright and eager.

"This is Alexandra," Ms. King told the elf. "Please show her to her room, and help her with anything she needs." The lady of the manor looked at Alexandra. "Deezie will be at your beck and call at all times while you are here."

The little elf nodded enthusiastically, almost shaking loose an unraveling strand of yarn. "Just snap your fingers, Miss," Deezie said, in a high-pitched voice, snapping her own fingers to demonstrate, "and Deezie will be there, snap-snap-snap!"

"Er, thank you," Alexandra replied.

"Deezie has already prepared a room for you – it's right next to mine, and down the hall from Max's," said Julia.

"All your things is there already," piped Deezie. "If you tells Deezie how you wants things kept, Deezie will make everything perfect, snap-snap-snap!"

"Alexandra might like a hot bath after her trip," Ms. King suggested.

"Yes, Mistress!" Deezie exclaimed, and disappeared with another crack.

"Please feel free to rest a bit, Alexandra. Dinner will be served in about an hour." Ms. King smiled at her. "We'll have all week to get to know each other, and show you around the island."

"And the Cotillion, Mother!" Julia wheedled. "We are going to go to the Cotillion, aren't we?"

"Julia," Maximilian hissed, under his breath, but Ms. King smiled patiently.

"We'll talk about that later, Julia. Let's not overwhelm the poor girl. You can see this is all new to her."

Chagrined, Alexandra straightened her posture, and tried to look less overwhelmed. Then Julia grabbed her wrist, and said, "Come! I'll show you your room! Deezie will be drawing you a bath now." And she began pulling Alexandra up a grand, spiral staircase to a hallway lined with picture frames, as Maximilian followed behind them.

Some of the pictures were wizarding photographs, but there were magical portraits, too, and these greeted Julia and Maximilian by name.

"Max, my boy! Back from school already?" asked one old wizard, with a white beard reaching to his waist.

"Only for a week, Great-Grandpa," Maximilian replied.

"And who's this?" asked an ancient crone wearing a high-collared chemise under a pointed bodice, with her hair tucked beneath a brocaded coif. She eyed Alexandra critically. "Maximilian, there is wisdom in choosing a young bride, but she looks barely out of the cradle!"

Alexandra sputtered in outrage, but Julia just smiled and shook her head, winking at the younger girl. Maximilian responded, "She's not my bride, Great-Aunt," and Julia pulled her onward.

"That's Great-Aunt Virginia," Julia whispered. "She's actually a many-times-great aunt. She's always pestering Max about marriage, and now she's starting on me." Julia rolled her eyes.

"It's annoying," Maximilian grumbled.

"I know the feeling." Alexandra smirked at him.

Maximilian gave her a narrow look and shook his head, and then he opened one of the doors in the hallway and said, "I'll see you two at dinner. Try not to concoct too much wickedness." He turned aside and entered his bedroom, and Julia led her to another door. It opened before either of them touched the knob.

Alexandra entered, and looked around in shock. It was larger than her living room at home. There was an immense canopy bed, with quilted sheets and drapes that looked suitable for visiting royalty. At the foot of the bed was a wooden chest that was almost waist-height. A large mirrored vanity table sat along one wall, next to a grand, polished wooden dresser. A writing desk, with parchment and quills and ink already laid out on it, sat before one of the windows. Alexandra couldn't see any of her things, except for Charlie's cage, which was now dangling by a chain from a tall metal post next to the window. She went over to the window and opened it, and leaned outside. A cool sea breeze blew across her face, and she could hear chirps, hoots, croaks, and a hundred other noises flooding into her room from the surrounding woods.

"Oh, you'd better ward your room if you're going to leave the window open," Julia warned. She drew her wand and pointed it at the window. "Repello Vermis." A yellow mist sprayed from her wand and whooshed past Alexandra, and then Julia walked around the room, repeating the charm until she'd covered the entire room. "The mosquitoes will eat you alive, otherwise."

"Gotta learn that one," Alexandra commented. She sniffed the air, but couldn't smell anything from the yellow spray.

Julia turned back to her. "So," she asked, spreading her arms, "do you like it? If there's anything you need, just ask either me or Mother, or one of the elves. Deezie will take good care of you."

"Just like Deezie took care of Miss Julia when she was a baby," said Deezie. Alexandra hadn't even heard the house-elf, but she was suddenly standing behind her.

"All of Miss Alexandra's things is in the closet or folded in drawers," Deezie went on, gesturing at a large door that Alexandra had thought went into another hallway. "And her bath is ready. Snap-snap-snap!" Deezie snapped her fingers at yet another door, and it opened, revealing a white-tiled floor.

Alexandra was still trying to take it all in. She looked at Julia, who was waiting for an answer, and smiled. "It's fine," she told her. "I mean, everything looks great."

Julia smiled, and gave her another hug. "Oh, Alexandra, I'm so glad you're here! I always wished I had a sister I could actually talk to."

"I'm glad I'm here, too," replied Alexandra, hugging Julia back a little uncertainly. Julia's bubbly personality and unreserved affection was a startling contrast to Maximilian's careful, quiet intensity.

The older girl stepped back. "Take your time, enjoy your bath. We can talk and concoct wickedness later!" She winked. Alexandra grinned, and Julia exited the room.

Alexandra walked into the bathroom, with Deezie at her heels. It was a spacious, marble-tiled room, dominated by an old-fashioned, claw-footed bathtub, which was now filled with steaming water topped with a thick layer of bubbles. Alexandra was used to showers, but she didn't see a shower head. She shrugged, and pulled off her robe, and then turned to find Deezie still standing there.

"Thanks," she said, and the elf bobbed her head and remained where she was, looking up at her.

"Umm." Alexandra shuffled uncomfortably. "I don't need anything else, thank you."

"Isn't Miss Alexandra going to take a bath?" Deezie asked.

Alexandra's forehead wrinkled. "Yes," she answered slowly. Deezie nodded, and picked up a back-scrubber and a sponge. Alexandra realized, with dawning horror, that the house-elf meant to attend to her while she was in the bath!

"Does Miss Alexandra need help getting undressed?" the elf asked, frowning a little at Alexandra's Muggle clothing.

"No!" Alexandra said quickly. She was afraid that Deezie might make her clothes disappear with a snap of her fingers, but felt guilty when the elf winced at her tone.

"I... I'm used to bathing myself, thank you," she stammered. Deezie blinked at her, and looked a little hurt.

"Can you do me a favor, Deezie?" Alexandra asked, and the elf nodded her head anxiously.

"I'm worried about my raven. Charlie always finds the way back to me, but this place is unfamiliar..."

"Deezie can tell the other house-elves to watch for Miss Alexandra's raven," said the elf.

"And maybe you could have some food waiting? Charlie might be hungry – any kitchen scraps will do. Ravens can eat practically anything –"

"Deezie will fix breadcrumbs and cheese crumbles, and corn, and there is some nice fish in the Thau-Ma-Freeze..."

"Charlie will like that," Alexandra assured her, gratefully.

Deezie nodded, then looked at the scrubber and sponge in her hands. "Is Miss Alexandra sure she does not want Deezie to scrub her back and do her hair?"

Alexandra shook her head rapidly. "No, thanks. Really."

Deezie nodded, and set down the bath implements. "If Miss Alexandra needs anything..."

"Right," Alexandra said, holding up her fingers. "Snap-snap-snap."

Deezie beamed, and disappeared with a crack.


Dinner was delicious: roast pork, red potatoes with gravy, sweet corn, and spinach (which Alexandra pushed under a piece of bread). It was served by house-elves.

"How many house-elves do you have here?" Alexandra asked, as another loaf of fresh-baked bread materialized on the table, replacing the crust and crumbs that had just disappeared.

"Six," Ms. King replied.

"We grew up with them," said Julia. "They're like part of the family."

"They've all lived here since before Maximilian was born," Ms. King went on. "Three were in my family before I was married, and Abraham brought the other three with him. When he left, he told them to stay here, and they did."

"We was happy to stay with Mistress and our young Miss and Master," said Rolly, who looked like the youngest of the house-elves, as he appeared with a hot pie in each hand for dessert.

Alexandra nodded. Neither Ms. King nor her children seemed to find Abraham Thorn a sore subject around the dinner table, but Alexandra wasn't feeling comfortable enough to ask questions about him yet. She thanked Rolly as he offered her a slice of pie. He gave her an ingenuous smile, and she wondered what David would think of her sitting at a table being waited on hand and foot by half a dozen house-elves. Actually, she knew what he would think.

Ms. King seemed very well-informed about what her children were up to. She knew, for example, about Maximilian being demoted a rank for getting Alexandra hurt. Maximilian looked flustered, as he tried to stammer his way through an explanation. Julia was much too interested.

"It was kind of my fault," Alexandra interrupted. "I really didn't like Max, at first – actually, before I found out he was my brother, I thought he was a jerk." Julia and Ms. King frowned a little at the unfamiliar expression, but nodded. "So I wouldn't listen to anything he said. In fact, I'd do the opposite of anything he said. That's how I wound up flying into a tree."

Everyone was silent, staring at her. Then Ms. King smiled. "Maximilian can be a bit... overbearing, can't he?" Maximilian flushed.

Julia giggled. "And gorgons can be a bit ugly!"

"Julia," her mother warned, while Maximilian glared at her, but Ms. King was still smiling. "I'm glad you weren't more seriously hurt, Alexandra, and that Maximilian did finally see fit to tell you about your father. Honestly, Maximilian, you spend so much time brooding and overthinking things sometimes." She shook her head. "But you should have been more responsible."

"I'm sure you'll get your stripe back soon," Julia soothed, patting her brother's hand, her tone shifting from teasing to sympathetic.

Julia attended the Salem Witches Institute, which apparently Ms. King had also attended, as she knew many of Julia's teachers. Alexandra wondered what it would be like to go to an all-girls school. She looked narrowly at Maximilian. She was sure he'd approve.

They only asked Alexandra a few questions about her life in Larkin Mills that night, and Ms. King stopped Julia before she could continue interrogating her, although Alexandra really didn't mind.

"Tomorrow, we'll show you the Granians," Julia promised, as they walked back upstairs to their rooms.

"Can we ride them?" Alexandra asked.

"Oh, yes!" Julia nodded.

"You two get some sleep," Maximilian told them. "Don't keep her up all night talking, Julia."

"You get some sleep yourself and don't tell us what to do!" Julia declared, turning around to give her brother a push. He caught her arms, and she squealed as he picked her up.

"Let go of me, blaggard!"

Maximilian walked as far as the door to Julia's room, and then set her down. Alexandra followed, watching the two siblings play-fight, fascinated and a little envious. Julia took out her wand, and said, "I've learned the Bat-Bogey Hex, you big snarly buffoon!"

"I can shove your wand up your nose before you cast it," Maximilian replied.

"You're awful! I thought Charmbridge was supposed to be more refined and genteel than Blacksburg! Your manners haven't improved one bit!"

That Charmbridge was supposed to be 'refined' and 'genteel' was news to Alexandra, but Maximilian just grinned. Obviously, neither of them were taking the other one's threats seriously. Maximilian leaned over and kissed Julia on the cheek. Despite her affected outrage, she didn't turn away.

"Good night, Julia," he said.

"Good night, blaggard!" Julia replied, giving him a quick peck on the cheek in return.

He walked back down the hallway, and paused when he was in front of Alexandra.

"Is your room all right?" he asked.

She nodded.

"Get some sleep." He reached out and tousled her hair. "Good night, Troublesome."

"Troublesome?" Julia giggled.

Alexandra shoved his hand away and smoothed down her hair angrily. "Good night, jerk!"

He grinned, and went into his own room.

"You should sleep," Julia agreed. "You've had a long trip, and it's a new place, so you're probably nervous and a little excited, which means it will take you a long time to fall asleep. At least, that's the way I am." She lowered her voice. "But tomorrow night we can stay up late and talk, if you like, and you can tell me everything that Max won't about Charmbridge and what he's been like, and your friends..."

Alexandra nodded. "I'd like that." Though as much as she'd like to confide in her sister, she knew there were things she couldn't tell Julia either.

Julia smiled happily, and gave Alexandra another hug. "Good night, Alexandra. Can I call you 'little sister'? Oh, I'm joking!" She laughed, and kissed her younger sister on the cheek.

Alexandra was too flustered to say more than, "Good night." Julia practically skipped into her room, with a little wave.

Alexandra felt many things as she entered her own room, but tired was one of them. A squawk greeted her, and she found Charlie sitting on the dresser, gorging on a platter full of raven treats that Deezie had set out.

"Charlie!" Despite her confident words earlier, Alexandra had been a little bit worried. Charlie had never flown over the ocean, and she hadn't really been certain that the raven could find her on an island. She just hadn't wanted to appear anxious around the Kings.

She walked to the dresser and held her arm up insistently. Charlie looked reluctant to leave the feast, but hopped onto her arm, and croaked, "Alexandra."

Alexandra brought Charlie to her cheek and nuzzled the bird. "Do you like it here?" she asked.

Charlie made the soft clucking sound that Alexandra knew signified contentment, pecked her cheek gently, and then hopped onto the top of her head, and from there back to the dresser top, diving back into the platter of breadcrumbs and fish.

"Greedy-gut!" Alexandra laughed quietly. She closed the window, and changed into pajamas. As Julia had predicted, though, it took her a while to fall asleep.


She found Deezie waiting at her bedside the next morning, and was unable to persuade the house-elf that she didn't need or want help choosing clothes. She did finally manage to shoo her away before she could brush or tie or braid Alexandra's hair. She stumbled downstairs to breakfast, to find that once again the table had been set by the house-elves, and an enormous meal had been laid out for them.

Ms. King lived alone in the mansion, except for the house-elves, when her children were away at school, but house-elves and one witch couldn't run a winged horse ranch. Alexandra met Myrta Applegate and Samuel Hunter after breakfast. Myrta was a chubby young woman with stringy blonde hair, only a few years older than Maximilian. She was perfunctory in her greetings, when introduced to Alexandra, and seemed in a hurry to get back to work. Samuel Hunter, an old wizard with bristly gray sideburns and a straw farmer's hat, was more friendly. Both of them had their own private residences on the Kings' land, and worked at the ranch full-time.

Granians were large, gray horses, with beautiful birdlike wings. There were thirteen of them at Croatoa, including a foal that had been born since Julia and Maximilian had last been home. They stayed in a stable the size of an airplane hangar, with a roof that folded away magically to allow them to fly in and out. Alexandra had a million questions. How did they get the winged horses back into the stable? What kept them from flying away to the mainland? How did they keep Muggles from seeing them? Could they fly as fast as they ran? How smart were they?

The three teenagers followed Sam around, as he answered Alexandra's questions patiently. Maximilian ambled along behind them, amused. Julia suddenly ran ahead, calling, "Misoo!" A large winged mare whickered and flapped her wings, and turned to greet the girl. Julia wrapped her arms around the horse's neck, and fished an apple from the pocket of her outdoor robe.

"That's her horse," Sam explained. "Misoo was born the same week Julia was."

Julia continued stroking the horse's neck, then beckoned Alexandra over. Alexandra approached the horse without fear.

"She likes it when you rub her nose," Julia said, and Alexandra reached up to do so. Misoo snorted softly.

"Let's bring Halo out," Maximilian suggested to Sam, and the old wizard nodded. Alexandra watched, as they led a smaller horse out of the stable, and Sam waved his wand and conjured a saddle out of the air.

"We'll keep her on the ground at first," said Sam, as Alexandra's eyes lit up. "Don't be over-eager, little lady. You aren't ready to take her flying yet."

"Riding a horse isn't as easy as riding a broom," Maximilian warned. "You take an attitude with a Granian, and she'll scrape you off on a tree."

Alexandra nodded. She allowed her brother to help her up, and then leaned over and whispered, "Now I know where you got the idea!" She gave Maximilian a smug grin, as he turned red and looked torn between guilt and wanting to throttle her.

They spent much of the day riding. Alexandra was eager to take off, especially after she saw Maximilian and Julia both sailing above overhead on Granians of their own, but Sam wouldn't let Halo take flight while Alexandra was on her until she had mastered the basics of earthbound horseback riding, and this was indeed somewhat more tricky than riding a broom. She thought by that afternoon that she was all right in the saddle. At least she wasn't constantly slipping and about to fall off.

Maximilian was dubious. "Tomorrow, we'll see."

Alexandra thanked Sam, who was taking the Granians they'd ridden back to the stables, where Myrta and one of the elves would help wash them. As they walked back up to the mansion, Alexandra noticed Myrta pushing a wheelbarrow full of hay. Earlier, she'd seen the young woman shoveling, carrying buckets, and climbing up a ladder to reach the side of the stable.

"Why doesn't she use magic?" she asked her half-siblings.

They both looked at her as if she'd asked an awkward question.

"Is she a Muggle?" Alexandra realized she had not seen Myrta use a wand once.

Maximilian and Julia shook their heads.

"She's a Squib, Alex," Maximilian answered.

"Oh." Alexandra had heard the term before – usually used as an insult. "Her parents were wizards, but she can't do any magic?"

Julia nodded sadly. "It happens sometimes. Myrta tried to live among Muggles, but some Squibs... even though they can't do magic, they're still just too different."

Alexandra thought about the way Myrta went about her duties, unsmiling, absorbed in her work, not interested in talking to any of them. She seemed to like the horses much better than she liked people. It must be hard living among wizards, knowing that you should be able to do magic but can't.

The house-elves, on the other hand, made Charmbridge's elves seem sullen and lazy by comparison. Alexandra could hardly shake Deezie off of her whenever she went into the house. She thought it must be partly because she was a guest – Maximilian and Julia and their mother weren't pestered so much – but there was always a house-elf somewhere nearby, ready to cater to their slightest whim with a snap of their fingers. They appeared happy, cheerful, and eager. Alexandra thought she would look like Myrta very quickly if she were constantly at someone else's beck and call.

Ms. King told Alexandra that they might all go out riding the next day, and take a trip to New Roanoke the day after that. This led Julia to bring up the subject of the Cotillion again.

"It's just a small one, not like the Summer Cotillion or the Yule Ball," she pleaded. "How can you expect us to present ourselves at those if we've never even gotten to attend one of the little holiday dances?"

"Us?" Maximilian raised an eyebrow.

"Oh, Max, you know most of your fellow upperclassmen from BMI attend, and you can't keep being a big snarly forever. Stop being so antisocial!"

"You've never been exposed to a public gathering, Julia," said Maximilian. "A society function in the Territorial capital is not like your little all-witches school."

"No one will know who our father is," Julia argued. "We're not that important." She looked at her mother, who was listening silently, her expression unreadable. "Please, Mother!" she begged. "It will be fun! Especially for Alexandra!"

They all looked at Alexandra, who was quietly eating while she tried to work out what a 'Cotillion' was. Some sort of dance, obviously. They had school dances at Charmbridge, but they were mostly for the older students. Alexandra was not interested in dancing, and she had no idea who Julia thought she would dance with.

"You mean especially for you," Maximilian retorted. "You just want to dress up, and flirt with boys."

"Oh, horrors!" Julia gasped, clasping her hands over her chest dramatically. "I might flirt with boys! And there might be girls there who will flirt with you! Why, you might even meet a girl you like and get married!"

"I think you're skipping a few steps there," Maximilian remarked dryly.

"Enough," Ms. King said softy, and Julia and Maximilian both quieted immediately. "I will think about it."

Maximilian frowned, while Julia protested, "But Mother..."

"I said I will think about it, Julia." She didn't raise her voice at all, but Julia shut her mouth and looked down. Ms. King looked at Alexandra. "Have you ever been dancing, Alexandra?"

"No." Alexandra shook her head. Glancing at Julia, she mumbled, "I guess it might be kind of fun."

She didn't really think that at all, but she saw the corner of Julia's mouth turn up in a smile. Ms. King sipped from her wine glass, and then said, "Well, we'll see."

After dinner, they played cards. Ms. King was pleased to learn that Alexandra knew how to play Witches' Whist. Maximilian could only be persuaded to play for a little while, before he made excuses and left the game, and Ms. King retired soon after. Julia suggested they move the card game to Alexandra's room, so they went upstairs, but they were soon sitting on Alexandra's huge canopy bed, talking about Charmbridge Academy and the Salem Witches Institute, the cards forgotten.

Alexandra was curious about magical education at Salem; Julia was much more curious about social activities at Charmbridge. They talked about house-elves and familiars, and Granians and Thestrals, and finally, Alexandra began talking a little about what had happened to her last year.

Despite her bubbly personality and liking for 'girl talk,' Julia could be a quiet listener as well, and she seemed to sense that Alexandra was speaking of things that she had never really talked about before – not since her brief conversation with Ms. Grimm, following Ben Journey's attempt to kill her.

The Radicalist warlock, and one-time friend of her father, had pressed a gun to her chest and pulled the trigger, and Alexandra had watched him die, as an enchantment placed on her at birth by her father reflected Journey's murder attempt back at him. She hadn't caused it or wanted it, but she was the reason he'd died. And being bound and gagged had made the experience that much more horrible. It wasn't the memory of Ben Journey dying before her eyes that haunted her dreams, so much as the memory of being utterly helpless to save herself, and not knowing what was happening.

Julia listened, wide-eyed at times, but always sympathetically. Alexandra didn't really feel like she needed a hug when she was finished, but she didn't mind when her sister gave her one.

"That's so awful," Julia murmured. "It's terrible that that happened to you. And you were so brave! I don't know what I would have done."

"You know more magic than me. I'm sure you'd have saved yourself."

Julia shook her head. "I don't think so." She looked at Alexandra seriously. "Maximilian says you're very bold, and quite a talented witch."

"He does?" Alexandra stared at her.

Julia nodded. "He also told me not to tell you he said that. But fie on him!" She winked.

"He cares about you a lot," Alexandra said. "He's always worrying about you."

"And you too, I'll wager." Julia rolled her eyes, then sighed and leaned back on the bed. "He's such a worrier. Always so serious. Even when we were little, he felt like he had to be the man of the house, because Father wasn't here."

Julia lay on her back, making stars and bubbles she conjured with her wand dance in a sort of shimmering magical mobile over their heads, as the conversation turned to their father. Alexandra watched, her eyes drawn by the lights and the ever-shifting patterns. It was a beautiful effect, and not like anything she'd learned at Charmbridge, though it didn't seem particularly useful.

"What do you think of him?" Alexandra asked. "Max sometimes defends him, and then sometimes he seems really angry."

Julia nodded. "Max has very mixed feelings about Father. I accept what little he offers us, but I don't expect anything more. I think our other sisters feel the same way. But Max..." Julia frowned.

"Does he try to tell you who you can date, and worry about whether you're going to get married?"

Julia burst into laughter, clasping her hands to her heart and causing the bed to shake. "Oh, Merlin, yes! He's going to be simply awful when I do get a beau! Like one of those old-fashioned warlocks who waits for the boys who come courting his daughter, boiling a cauldron of Universal Solvent in the yard!"

"So you're not worried about being Abraham Thorn's daughter?"

Julia propped herself up on her elbows, and grinned at Alexandra. "Do you have a beau?" she asked.

"No." Alexandra shook her head. "I don't want a boyfriend."

Julia laughed. "You haven't met the right boy yet, then!" She sat up, and crossed her legs, spreading her skirt across her lap. "No one at Salem knows who my father is, not even my friends. But here in Roanoke, there are a few families that know, and we've been shunned by them, even cut in public. Maximilian is very worried, that his sister – his sisters – might become social pariahs." Julia shook her head. "But I think true love won't care about your blood, don't you?"

"I guess," Alexandra replied. 'True love' was a vague and faintly silly concept to her, and 'blood' – as in, she supposed, 'bloodline,' or 'Mudblood' – was just an abstract and sillier one.

But it wasn't abstract or silly to Maximilian. He was immersing himself in Dark Arts, and possibly putting himself in danger, because he thought he had to redeem his family name, for the sake of his sisters.

Alexandra looked at her pretty, giggly, flirtatious half-sister, whom she had now known for less than two days, and who could hardly be more different from her. She thought about something bad happening to Maximilian, and what that would do to Julia.

It won't happen, she swore to herself. This little bit of family she had suddenly acquired was hers now. She was going to talk to Max, when they got back to Charmbridge. He didn't get to decide who needed to be protected and who did the protecting all by himself!

When, long after midnight, Julia gave her a final good-night hug before heading for bed, Alexandra hugged her back, with less reticence than before.