Enemy of the Confederation
Ms. Grimm brought Alexandra to a room very similar to the one where she'd been interrogated last time, when she and Maximilian had returned from Roanoke together. She was left sitting there, angry and confused, for almost an hour. When the Special Inquisitor finally returned, she did not bring a can of soda, and she was not smiling.
"Do you have any idea what's going on, Alexandra?" Ms. Grimm asked.
"No," Alexandra answered honestly. "I don't."
Grimm gave her a long, hard stare, and Alexandra wondered if she were using Legilimency. She practiced thinking about nothing, but she knew she was probably doing a very poor job of it.
"Did your father show up at the funeral?" Ms. Grimm asked quietly.
Alexandra's expression hardened. "No."
"Have you had any contact with him –"
"Since he Obliviated me? No. I don't know any more than I did the last time you talked to me. Do you want to make me drink some more Veritaserum? Or read my mind? Is Mr. Raspire interrogating Julia right now?" Alexandra glared at Ms. Grimm. She was consumed with fury. It was the first time in days that she'd felt anything besides grief and guilt, and she savored it. "You do realize we just got back from my brother's funeral?"
Ms. Grimm gazed back at her calmly, and then reached out and seized her wrist. "Come with me."
Alexandra was too startled to resist, as the woman dragged her to her feet and walked with her out of the interrogation room, down a set of stairs, and through what appeared to be the back offices of the Wizardrail station.
Robed wizards and witches were frantically speaking into Whisperphones and looking into crystal balls. Dominating one wall was an immense hand-painted map of North America, criss-crossed with lines that appeared to represent Wizardrail and Automagicka routes; little animated trains and other vehicles crawled along it like bugs. A uniformed wizard pushed aside a clockwork golem that was trying to hand a scroll to anyone who passed by, and yelled, "The Deseret Rose is trapped under the Rockies!"
"Where are we going?" Alexandra demanded.
In response, Grimm's grip on her wrist tightened painfully. Alexandra wondered if she was being taken to wizard-jail or something. Had the Special Inquisitor seen in her mind that she'd been to the Lands Below – that she remembered?
She was even more startled when they walked out into the street. Ms. Grimm ignored the commotion outside the Wizardrail station, and when a couple of wizards in Auror uniforms approached her, she held up a gold badge and waved them off. They continued across the street, to a concrete wall with posters plastered all over it – Aglaope Bright opening for the Wyld Hunt next month, the Sheboygan Slammers and the Rockwood Rooks playing next week, a going-out-of-business-sale for Ilsing's Wizard Wares – but Ms. Grimm stopped in front of a spot that had been left bare and unplastered.
Alexandra was becoming even more angry now, at being dragged around like a child. Grimm tapped her wand against the concrete, and a door appeared. She opened the door, and thrust the girl through it.
Alexandra looked around. They were in a dusty corridor with plaster walls. Ms. Grimm pushed her forward again, and they stepped out into a familiar-looking laundromat.
"What –?" Alexandra demanded, and Ms. Grimm held a finger up, and pointed at the ceiling.
There were several Muggles in the laundromat. They glanced curiously at the professionally-dressed Ms. Grimm, and Alexandra in her long witch's robes, but it was the kind of place where people didn't ask questions or talk to strangers, so no one approached them. Most were looking up, where Ms. Grimm was now pointing. Several small television sets had been anchored in brackets near the ceiling, giving laundromat customers something to watch while they did their laundry
On the screens was what looked like an aerial view of a disaster of some sort. A helicopter was flying above a large pile of wreckage. Alexandra thought at first that it must have been a tornado. Then, while the newscaster rambled on about rescue efforts and body counts, she saw the words scrolling along the bottom of the screen: "TRAIN DERAILMENT KILLS DOZENS."
"Your father's doing," Ms. Grimm informed her.
Alexandra stared at the screen, then at the Inquisitor. "W-what?" she stammered.
"That train," Ms. Grimm said, through clenched teeth, "was the Roanoke Underhill."
Alexandra turned pale. Wordlessly, she looked back at the screen.
"At about the same time you were saying good-bye to your friends at the Blacksburg Wizardrail station," Ms. Grimm told her, "the Roanoke Underhill eastbound went underhill. Except where it should have passed through, into the Lands Below, it did not. It hit solid earth, traveling at full speed."
"... no details about the train or its passengers available at this time..." the TV announcer was saying.
"Even Muggles notice when a train rolls over their houses," the Special Inquisitor said balefully. "The Thorn Circle has claimed responsibility. Abraham Thorn has effectively shut down Wizardrail travel throughout the country." Abruptly, the taller witch seized Alexandra by the front of her robes, and yanked her up onto her toes. "How do you suppose your father gained access to the Lands Below, Alexandra?" she shouted into the girl's face. "How did he gain control of the gateways? HOW?"
"I DON'T KNOW!" Alexandra shouted back.
"Hey! Lady!" One of the laundromat patrons, a middle-aged Hispanic man, stepped towards them, looking concerned. "I dunno what you're screaming about, but you shouldn't be shaking your daughter like that." He pointed a finger and waggled it in the witches' direction. "You ought to calm down."
Everyone else was staring at them. Ms. Grimm gave the man a look that caused him to take a step backwards, and then she looked down at Alexandra, and released her. Alexandra staggered.
"Do you understand?" Ms. Grimm hissed. "Your father did that!" She pointed at the TV screen. "That is why he is an enemy of the Confederation! Whatever sympathy you might feel for him, I want you to remember all the people who died today, wizards and Muggles alike. He did that! Is that the sort of thing you want to be a part of?"
Alexandra shook her head. "No," she whispered. She stared at Ms. Grimm, and then back at scenes of carnage on the television screen.
Ms. Grimm calmly smoothed Alexandra's collar, and nodded. The Muggles had all paused, while loading and pulling clothes out of their washers and dryers, and were staring at the two witches.
"Then," Grimm said, in a perfectly controlled tone of voice, as she drew her wand, "you'll tell me, if you remember anything, or learn anything, or hear anything? If your father contacts you, you won't refuse to tell us about it, out of misguided loyalty, or resentment because we ask hard questions when we're trying to stop a murderous Dark wizard?"
Alexandra swallowed and shook her head, eying the other witch's wand warily.
Ms. Grimm stared at her a moment longer, then nodded. She turned towards the Muggles, and pointed her wand.
"Obliviate!" she snapped. "Obliviate! Obliviate! Obliviate!" Alexandra jumped, as the Special Inquisitor pointed her wand at each witness in turn.
When she was done, the Muggles were all blinking, looking dazed and confused. Grimm turned back to Alexandra, and slid her wand back under the front of her jacket.
"We'd best get back to the station," she said. "I believe the Charmbridge bus will be taking you back to the academy now. I'm afraid your friends from Blacksburg are going to take quite a while to reach Chicago."
Beatrice and Martin and the rest of the Stormcrows did eventually make their way back to Charmbridge, though the Charmbridge bus had to go all the way to Appalachia to fetch them. It was the next day by the time they arrived, and Charlie sulked and would not come near Alexandra for a day after that.
Alexandra's familiar wasn't the only one shunning her. As soon as she arrived back at Charmbridge, she sensed students and teachers alike staring at her, and voices whispering behind her back, everywhere she went.
No one made jokes about her father anymore. She thought her reputation had reached rock bottom the previous year. But before, her notorious father had been a name most of her classmates had only heard in the past tense. Now, after thirteen years, Abraham Thorn was no longer just a warlock in hiding. He was once more an active enemy of the Confederation, and people were afraid.
Angelique avoided her, but Anna and David unhesitatingly declared that they didn't care about her father. Alexandra wasn't sure about the Pritchards at first – they still sat with her in the cafeteria, but for the first few days, they were very quiet, and she got the impression that they were uncomfortable about her presence. She wondered unhappily whether she was going to lose them as friends.
She continued attending JROC drills in the final weeks, without enthusiasm. The BMI students were actually more supportive of her than her fellow mages from Charmbridge. Ms. Shirtliffe suggested that she would do well if she continued, but Alexandra had no enthusiasm for wearing the JROC uniform again.
If not for Anna and David, she might have withdrawn completely. It was they who dragged her, unwillingly, to the seventh grade rec room the Saturday night before their last week of classes and the end-of-year SPAWNs. Alexandra was not in the mood for Wizardopoly or Heart of Three Kingdoms.
Constance and Forbearance were seated together on a sofa, wringing their hands and looking anxious. The other students in the room vacated when Alexandra arrived. To Alexandra's surprise, the Ozarkers scooted apart, and patted the sofa between them, indicating they wanted her to sit there. She did, looking confused.
"Alexandra Quick," Constance began.
"You know we treasure you dear," said Forbearance.
Alexandra nodded uncertainly. "Umm, thanks. I... treasure you, too."
She let out a startled breath as the Pritchards both hugged her.
"You're troublesome and wicked as can be!" Forbearance scolded.
"But brave and true," Constance declared, squeezing Alexandra tightly.
"And we know you wouldn't never set down no boon friend," Forbearance said.
"Of course I wouldn't," Alexandra replied. She wasn't sure whether to be touched or worried. "But..."
"Our Ma and Pa don't approve the least bit of us consortin' with your likes," Forbearance sighed, as they let go of her.
Constance nodded seriously, and looked down. "All year, they been owlin' us and even threatenin' a howler, since we mistakenly let out you was our friend."
"They already drew an idy you was our friend," Forbearance said. "But we told 'em we don't fix to set you by."
"'Course we said it more mannerly, to our Ma and Pa." Constance blushed.
Alexandra glanced at David and Anna, and back at the Pritchards. "I understand. And thanks –"
"No, Alex, you don't understand t'all," Constance interrupted.
"What we're sayin' is, we might not be here next year." Forbearance was now sniffling, and wiping at her eyes.
"Ma and Pa ain't amenable to send us back to Charmbridge if we'all is gonna make social with unrespectable sorts."
"We can't lie to our Ma and Pa, Alexandra, we just can't," Forbearance said tearfully.
"We ain't a'gonna swear to shun you."
"But if we don't, they might not allow us to come back."
Everyone was quiet for a while. Then Alexandra said, "I'm sorry. I'm really sorry. You shouldn't have to quit school because of me. Maybe I won't come back."
Everyone looked startled at that.
"That hain't what we want t'all!" Constance protested.
"Don't you dare draw such a notion!" Forbearance admonished her.
"We'll kill our own snakes," Constance said firmly. "Don't you own what hain't your'n. We just want you to know, we is always gonna be your friend, and whatever happens, it hain't your fault!"
Alexandra swallowed, and nodded.
"We all want you to know that, Alex," Anna said softly. "We're your friends." She knelt in front of Alexandra, looking up at her. "We know this has been a terrible time. Especially with what... what happened with Max." She laid her hands over Alexandra's and the Pritchards'. "You haven't talked about what happened. I know you don't remember exactly how... what happened, wherever you went and whatever you did."
Alexandra looked away, blinking quickly, as Anna continued. "But we know it hurts, a lot. And I know you keep hiding things."
"Is this, like, an intervention?" Alexandra demanded.
Anna's brow wrinkled, then she shook her head. "We just don't want you to think you're all alone."
Forbearance put an arm around Alexandra's shoulders. "Swear you'll keep owlin' and you won't talk us fancy 'bout how everythin's bees an' sunshine," she said.
"Or we'll bug you all summer," David said. "I'll even have my folks drive me to Larkin Mills."
Alexandra rolled her eyes. "Yeah, that'll convince my parents you don't want to be my boyfriend."
She looked around at her friends, and couldn't speak, around the lump in her throat. For a moment, she had to close her eyes and take deep breaths.
"Girls..." David declared, shaking his head, but that was immediately punctuated by a yelp, as Constance kicked his ankle, hard.
"Thank you," Alexandra said. "I... I care about all of you, too." She looked at David. "Even you, dork."
Hopping on one foot, he grimaced at her.
"I will talk to you," Alexandra promised. "And... I'll be okay."
Her friends nodded. Anna was less convinced than the rest, but they all looked relieved.
Alexandra forced herself to spend more time with them, for the remaining week of class. She held her head up when she walked through the school, not looking at the students who were whispering or shrinking away from her. Her father was an enemy of the Confederation, but she wasn't him.
She took her SPAWNs without really caring about the results. She ignored Mr. Grue's dire mutterings during her Alchemy test. She made no mistakes, and he seemed happy to dismiss her as quickly as possible. Mrs. Middle seemed terrified that Alexandra might not score well on Wizard History, and be forced to repeat her class. In a fit of spite, Alexandra mentioned her father or the Dark Convention every place she could think of in her final essay.
For her final SPAWN practical assessment in Basic Magical Defense, she met Ms. Shirtliffe once more, in an empty classroom.
"How are you feeling, Miss Quick?" asked the teacher.
"Fine." Alexandra faced her impassively, with her wand at the ready, but Shirtliffe didn't start the test immediately.
"You are not fine," Ms. Shirtliffe said. "We both know that."
"I thought you were testing me in Basic Magical Defense, not how I feel." Even while not wearing her JROC uniform, she knew her tone was inappropriate, but most of the teachers were content to keep their interactions with her terse and minimal, and she wished Ms. Shirtliffe would do the same.
A thin smile crossed the teacher's scarred face. "How you feel affects how hard I can come at you. It also concerns me, because I think you're a talented witch, and I'd hate to see this tragedy undermine your potential."
"Whatever my potential might be," Alexandra answered slowly, "I don't think it's as a Regimental Officer." She pointed her wand at the Witch-Colonel. "As for how hard you can come at me – bring it on."
Shirtliffe raised an eyebrow, and then her wand crackled with lightning, and Alexandra was thrown across the room.
Alexandra rose to her feet, but knew she was only able to stand because Ms. Shirtliffe let her. Angrily, she exchanged hexes with the teacher, until desks were shattered between them, and the walls were scorched, and then Ms. Shirtliffe ended the duel by Deadweighting Alexandra's wand hand.
While Alexandra removed the curse with the counterspell Maximilian had taught her, Ms. Shirtliffe calmly repaired the damaged walls and furniture.
"Well done, Miss Quick," Ms. Shirtliffe said. "But your potential is still just that – potential."
Alexandra nodded, and left the room. She waited until she was closing the door before she muttered, "Whatever," under her breath.
She thought she was coping well. She had done fine on her SPAWNs. She even convinced herself that she was okay. Every night, though, she dreamed of Maximilian, and the Lands Beyond.
There was an end-of-the-year party to say good-bye to the MASE Program students. Alexandra wore her JROC uniform for the last time, as she shook hands with Tybalt Franklin, Pierce Prince, Adelaide Speir, and finally, Martin Nguyen and Beatrice Hawthorne. All of them gave their condolences once more. There was one final memorial for Maximilian, where to Alexandra's embarrassment, the entire JROC stood at attention and saluted her, as she held a plaque, with a photograph of Maximilian in uniform, that would be placed on the wall of Charmbridge's JROC Headquarters.
She didn't cry, even when Beatrice and Martin got teary-eyed as they said good-bye.
"I meant what I said," Martin told her. "If you or Julia ever need anything..."
Beatrice smiled at her sadly, and then gave her a small hug. "You're not going to stay in JROC, are you?" she asked.
"No." Alexandra shook her head.
"I don't blame you." Beatrice sighed. She patted Alexandra on the shoulder. "Take care, Alexandra. And stay in touch." She regarded the younger witch seriously. "Max and I, there really wasn't ever anything between us but friendship, you know." Her eyes glistened. "But I will always miss him."
"Me, too," Alexandra whispered.
The BMI students left earlier than originally planned; the Roanoke Underhill, and most other Wizardrail lines, remained shut down indefinitely, which meant travel across the Confederation was by bus, except for the rare few who could afford to take a Portkey (and Portkey travel also had been severely restricted by the Auror Authority).
Mrs. Speaks was spending an entire week taking students not just to Chicago, but everywhere in Central Territory, and those like Anna and Angelique who lived even further away also had to leave early, taking specially chartered buses to California or Louisiana.
Anna's departure was two days before Alexandra's. They spent their last days at Charmbridge making plans to stay in touch, by owl and other means. Anna had never used a computer, though she had a vague idea how they worked, and she was familiar with telephones. Her mother, she promised, would help her, so that she and Alexandra could talk every day.
"You don't have to call every day," Alexandra told her. "If you check up on me that often, I'm going to get annoyed."
Anna looked worried, but Alexandra smiled reassuringly at her friend. "I'm kidding. Sort of."
Anna nodded. When she boarded the bus that was taking Charmbridge students to the West Coast, she waved good-bye once more, and Alexandra waved back, then turned away, to find herself face to face with Tomo Matsuzaka.
She hadn't spoken to the Japanese girl in months, and certainly not since her brother's death. For a moment, she thought she'd just accidentally put herself in between Tomo and the bus, so she stepped aside, wordlessly, but Tomo cleared her throat, and looked up, meeting her eyes nervously.
"I just wanted to say thanks," the Majokai witch whispered.
Alexandra raised her eyebrows. "Thanks?"
"You saved me. From the Mors Mortis Society." Tomo looked down again. "I'm really sorry about your brother," she mumbled quickly. "And I don't think you're Dark."
She brushed past Alexandra, who turned to watch her board the bus. Tomo didn't look back.
If that surprised her, she was even more surprised the next afternoon, while she was in her room packing for the next morning's departure, when a knock came from the other side of the door to the shared bathroom.
Alexandra opened it. Angelique stood there, arms crossed nervously across her chest. The other girl's things were stacked on the floor of the room behind her, waiting for Charmbridge's elves to collect them. Honey was in her Silenced travel cage, sitting on top of a pile of suitcases.
Angelique had not spoken to Alexandra since her return from Roanoke. Now she looked nervous, almost fearful. Alexandra just folded her arms and waited.
"I hope you don't hate me." Angelique sounded sad and a little scared.
Alexandra frowned. "Why, because you're afraid I'll curse you?"
Angelique winced. Alexandra realized she probably was afraid of that. But the other girl replied, "I really didn't know just how... how deep Darla was getting into Dark Arts. I still don't understand." She shook her head, and tears glistened in her eyes. "I don't know what happened to her, Alexandra. But I couldn't abandon her. She was my friend." Angelique bit her lip. "You can understand that, can't you?"
Alexandra gave Darla's ex-roommate a hard stare, and then, in a slightly softer tone, answered, "Yeah."
"Maybe her parents will straighten her out," Angelique went on hopefully. "She won't be around the Mors Mortis Society anymore. I... I sent her an owl, and she wrote back. She said the Juvenile Magical Offenses Division isn't filing charges against her."
"I guess having an uncle who's a Congressman helps," Alexandra remarked dryly.
Angelique looked down again. "Take care, Alexandra," she mumbled. "I'm really grateful to you, for saving Honey. I'm sure you didn't want to. And I'm so terribly sorry about your brother."
Alexandra paused, looking at the nervous New Orleans girl, then nodded. "Thanks. You take care, too. See you next year, I guess."
Angelique smiled weakly, and then an elf appeared in her room. "Is Miss ready to go?" he asked. Angelique held up a hand and gave Alexandra a tentative finger-wave, before turning around. Then she paused, and looked over her shoulder, just as Alexandra was closing the bathroom door.
"Oh, by the way," Angelique murmured, blushing a little, "you can tell David, I do like him."
The elf had reminded Alexandra of one more set of farewells she owed, so the evening before she was to leave Charmbridge, she went to the library. It was the first time she had set foot in the library since returning from the Lands Below. She was pleased that Mrs. Minder didn't look afraid or horrified at her presence, but Alexandra's heart was hammering in her chest when the librarian took her downstairs to see Bran and Poe.
The two library elves looked at Alexandra with surprised, sad eyes.
"Hi guys," Alexandra murmured. She waited for Mrs. Minder to leave, before sitting down in front of them. She put her hands on her lap, not sure what to say.
"I guess you know what happened," she said quietly, at last.
"Yes, Alex," Bran replied.
"Everything?" Alexandra mumbled.
The two elves looked at each other, and back at her, and nodded.
"We is very sorry about Miss Alex's brother," said Poe.
"It is a terrible, terrible, sad thing," Bran said, in a creaky voice.
"I used the obol," she whispered.
The elves nodded again. "We knows that," Bran replied quietly.
"We heard Miss Alex does not remember, though," Poe said.
Alexandra swallowed, and looked up at them.
"Have you talked to Em?" she asked.
They blinked slowly.
"Why would we have talked to Em?" Bran asked.
Alexandra took a deep breath. "I want you to know," she told them, "that I'm going to treat elves right from now on."
"Alex has always been kind to elves." Bran's forehead wrinkled, while Poe tilted his head, but both of them seemed to be studying her very intently.
"I've tried. But..." She swallowed. "Will you tell Em that I'm sorry, please?"
Bran and Poe were both very quiet. Then Bran inquired, "How would Miss Alex know that she should be sorry to Em?"
Alexandra just looked back at them, with a pained expression. They stared at one another silently for a long time, and then at last, Bran and Poe both nodded solemnly.
"We will tell her," promised Bran.
"But," Poe added, lowering his voice to a whisper, "someday, Miss Alex needs to be telling her that herself."
"I will." Alexandra nodded. She hesitated, then gave each of the library elves a hug, which they did not resist.
"Alexandra Quick is a good witch," Bran declared.
"A naughty girl, but a good witch," Poe agreed.
The vagaries of the bus schedule put Alexandra, David, and the Pritchards on the Charmbridge bus together. David and Alexandra played wizard chess, while Constance and Forbearance played Witches' Whist, until they reached Detroit, where David packed up his wizard chess set, and said good-bye to the three girls.
"No need for hugs," he said.
"'Course not," Forbearance replied primly. Constance gave him a smile that was almost a smirk.
Alexandra stood up to say good-bye to him. He looked at her, and cleared his throat. "Take care, Alex. And we'll talk on the phone and chat online, right? I meant everything I said before."
"But you don't need to hug me either." He held out his hand.
"Okay." She grabbed his face in her hands, and gave him a kiss on the lips. He let out a startled squawk louder than the one Charlie made.
She released him, and patted his cheek. "Have a good summer, dork. Oh, and Angelique said she likes you."
"What?" he sputtered, wiping his mouth.
"She did." Alexandra sat back down, and smiled wickedly at him.
Constance and Forbearance were both staring at her, open-mouthed, as David stumbled towards the front of the bus.
"You are awful, Alexandra Quick!" Constance huffed, but her outrage dissipated quickly. After their initial shock, the two Ozarkers actually looked more relieved than offended.
She joined them for Witches' Whist on the trip to Larkin Mills, grateful that they could say good-bye at her stop, instead of her having to hide when they reached the Ozark drop-off point where their family would pick them up.
"I'll miss you guys, a lot," she told them, when the Charmbridge bus turned down Sweetmaple Avenue. Constance and Forbearance were both looking curiously out the window, excited to see the real, live Muggle neighborhood where Alexandra actually lived.
They turned to her and nodded.
"We'll miss you terrible, too," replied Constance.
"But don't fret overmuch," Forbearance said.
"I really will stop going to Charmbridge if that's what it takes to let you –"
"Alexandra Quick! Not another word!" The twins both fixed her with fierce stares, and she sighed.
"You owl us and we'll owl back," Forbearance promised, giving her a hug. Her sister joined her in embracing Alexandra.
"We'll get Ma and Pa to see clear," Constance assured her.
And then Alexandra was trudging up the aisle of the bus, carrying her suitcase and Charlie's cage, passing the few remaining students, most of whom avoided looking at her.
"Have a good summer, Miss Quick," said Mrs. Speaks, as she opened the door.
"Thanks." Alexandra stepped off the bus, and found her mother waiting for her. They stood there and looked at each other silently, even after Mrs. Speaks closed the door, and the bus rolled away.
"Did you have a good semester?" Mrs. Green asked.
Alexandra bit her lip, silenced a thousand screaming thoughts in her head, and nodded, not looking at her mother.
"Miss you terrible," Charlie said, and her mother looked down at the raven, snorted, and then put an arm around her daughter's shoulders, as they walked back into the house together.
Claudia Green cleared her throat, taking a deep breath, as if bracing herself, and asked, "Is there... do you want to talk about anything?"
Alexandra turned her head to look at her mother. Her mother looked back at her, with doubt and worry in her eyes.
Alexandra shook her head. "No. Don't worry about it." She forced a smile. "Nothing I can't leave behind."
Claudia nodded. Her expression was uncertain and relieved at the same time.
Her mother and stepfather's schedules still didn't allow them to be home most days, and to Alexandra's chagrin, thirteen was still not old enough to be allowed to stay home alone all summer, in their opinion. After some initial resistance, she agreed to choose from the options they presented her, and so wound up enrolled in summer school classes at Larkin Mills Middle School.
This gave her something to talk about with David, as his parents, too, wanted him to make some attempt to keep up with his Muggle education. Alexandra was permitted to use the computer more often, as (she argued) she needed it for her classwork. Mostly she played online games, and chatted with David. She also sent an email to her half-sister Valeria, not expecting to receive a reply any time soon – if ever.
Perhaps it was her quietude, her relative lack of resistance to summer school, or just her sullen, unargumentative demeanor towards Archie, but her mother seemed to sense something was wrong. Yet Alexandra deflected every query, a little perturbed at the unusual level of attention her mother was giving her.
She knew her mother didn't really want to hear the truth. And besides, Claudia had been Obliviated once by the Wizard Justice Department. Alexandra wasn't going to put her mother in danger of having that done to her again.
She didn't really need to talk about what had happened. She was dealing with it.
In the first weeks that Alexandra was home, owls flew frequently to and from Larkin Mills. Jingwei was the first to arrive; Anna must have sent her practically as soon as she'd arrived back in San Francisco. Another arrived from Julia shortly thereafter. The Pritchards' barn owls brought word from the Ozarks, that while their Ma and Pa remained 'somewhat unpersuadable,' Constance and Forbearance still had faith that by the time September rolled around, they would be back on the bus to Charmbridge.
In her room, in the evening, Alexandra listened to her Wizard Wireless. Sometimes she listened to wizard bands, and sometimes she listened to the news. The name 'Abraham Thorn' appeared to be censored; he was referred to as 'the Enemy of the Confederation.' But he and the Dark Convention were all that the Wizard Wireless Company, the American Wizarding Network, and the Confederation News Network talked about; every speaker on the news worried about how vulnerable the country was to Dark Arts, and the Governor-General was campaigning to push the Wizards' Congress into granting him and all the Territorial Governors more powers to secure the safety of the Confederation.
It was on one of these evenings, after she had just turned off the Wizard Wireless so she wouldn't have to listen to Governor-General Hucksteen's voice anymore, when she heard a crack, followed by a startled caw from Charlie. She whirled around, and had her wand in her hand without even thinking about it.
A scarred elf with a missing ear stood in the middle of her room, cringing away from her.
"Quimley!" she exclaimed.
"Fly! Fly!" cried Charlie.
"Hush, Charlie!" Alexandra ordered, worried that her mother might ask what was causing Charlie to fuss so. She lowered her wand.
"Quimley," she whispered. "I thought..." Her voice trailed off. She wasn't sure what she'd thought. Her last sight of the former house-elf had been in those terrible moments as she was carried away from the Gift-Place, clinging to her broom. He had been surrounded by Generous Ones, and she didn't think they would have been happy about his helping her to escape.
"Quimley has brought back the things that belonged to Abraham Thorn's children," Quimley mumbled.
Alexandra's breath caught in her throat, as he held out Maximilian's backpack.
"I don't understand." In shock, she took the pack from the elf.
"These things Abraham Thorn's children did not gift to the Generous Ones, so they has no right to keep them," Quimley said.
She opened the pack, and looked inside. She saw a Skyhook, a box she knew contained medicinal potions, a couple of MRMs, and two hard brown lumps that were probably Flaming Dungbombs. The pack was more spacious inside than out, but she was unwilling to reach her hand inside and rummage around. She knew it would contain Maximilian's things. His clothes, that little Wick-No-Nick Razor he used to shave, maybe his toothbrush... She closed her eyes, and her fingers dug into the material.
"Weren't the Generous Ones angry at you, Quimley?" She opened her eyes. "You... you saved my life. I'd never have escaped without you." She looked at Charlie. "Charlie either."
Charlie made an uncertain crackling sound.
"They was angry." Quimley nodded. "But they will not be harming Quimley."
Alexandra shook her head. "I don't understand." Then another thought came to her. "You can travel between the Lands Below and here!" And she sucked in a breath. "You – you could have brought me and my brother back!" She stood up, her voice rising, but Quimley shook his head rapidly.
"No, Miss," Quimley quavered. "Not both of you. Only one, only while the Generous Ones was not watching."
"You could have taken Maximilian!" she whispered.
"Quimley offered," the elf told her sadly. "But Maximilian Thorn would not leave without his sister. Alexandra Thorn was in the Generous Ones' power. Quimley had no power to take Miss back, until her brother –"
Alexandra swallowed, and looked down, staring into Maximilian's pack again. "He traded places with me."
She saw some of the things the Generous Ones had 'gifted' them: the little talking stone heads (which were, thankfully, silent at the moment), the magical wooden sticks, a carved snake... and then she spotted something white, sitting on top of the box of potions. She tilted the pack a little, and felt a cold chill as she recognized the object.
"You put... that thing in here," she said. "The bone flute."
"The Generous Ones gave it to Miss. She should have it back."
"I don't want it!" she yelled, and she hurled the pack across her room, into her closet. Quimley jumped, and winced as it made a thump against the far wall. Alexandra looked at the elf, and remembered her words to Bran and Poe.
"I'm sorry, Quimley." She slid to the floor, next to her bed, and brought her knees up to her chest. "I just... it was my fault... and I miss him so much..."
It was easier, somehow, to admit this to the strange ex-house-elf. She didn't even feel embarrassed when she realized that her shoulders were shaking, and tears were running down her face, the first time since Maximilian's funeral. Charlie fluttered down to land on her knee, and cooed. She bowed her head, letting tears fall onto her lap.
"Not Miss's fault," said Quimley.
She didn't reply.
"Quimley could not find Miss, after she escaped the Generous Ones. In the Lands Below, not possible. In the wizard-world, Quimley cannot go." The elf shuddered. "But here, Quimley could find Alexandra Thorn."
"Alexandra Quick!" she snapped, and immediately softened her voice again, as the elf flinched.
"I'm sorry, Quimley," she whispered. "Just call me Alex. And... thank you. I'm very grateful."
The elf looked wide-eyed.
"What will happen to you now?" she asked. "Where will you go?"
"Go?" Quimley looked astonished at the question. "Quimley will go back to the Lands Below."
She shook her head. "I don't understand. Aren't you... free?"
Unlike all the house-elves Alexandra had known, Quimley didn't cringe at that word. He merely looked sad.
"Quimley is free." He nodded. "But Quimley's place is with the Generous Ones."
"You could... you could stay here." It wasn't really realistic, she knew... but then, why not? "There's plenty of space in the attic... or my room, and the room next to this one, as long as you make sure my mom and my stepdad don't catch you –"
Quimley's eyes showed a tiny flicker of amusement.
"Quimley thanks Miss. But Quimley thinks Miss is forgetting that house-elves, even free house-elves, is forbidden in Muggle houses. And the Confederation..." Quimley's voice trembled. "They will know, if Quimley stays."
The Trace Office, she thought. She considered offering Quimley a place at Croatoa, instead. Surely Ms. King would make a home for him there –
"Quimley must go now," the elf said quietly. "Good-bye, Abraham Thorn's daughter."
"No, wait," she protested, but the elf disappeared with a pop.
She rubbed at her eyes.
"Miss you terrible," Charlie crooned.
She looked at the raven, and nodded.
"I do," she murmured. She rose to her feet, and went to put Maximilian's pack deeper in her closet, underneath her winter clothes and old toys, where her mother (who rarely entered her room nowadays anyway) would not discover it.
She and David talked occasionally by phone, though she actually preferred texting. Her mother had, reluctantly, paid for a limited account she could use over the summer. But Alexandra was delighted one evening when she received an incoming call from a number she didn't recognize, and upon answering, heard Anna's voice.
"Hi Alex! Guess where I am?"
Anna laughed. "Yes! Of course. But I'm at a pay phone. Do you know how hard those are to find nowadays?"
Alexandra grinned. "So now you can call me. That's great, Anna!"
"How are you, Alex?" Anna's voice became serious.
Alexandra's smile faded. "I'm fine, Anna."
"I'm okay," Alexandra insisted. "Don't worry, Anna. I haven't been hassled by anyone from the WJD – yet – and I'm getting along fine with my mom and my stepfather. I just talked to David last night, and I got an owl from Julia the day before yesterday. Everyone's been great."
Then an automated voice interrupted: "Please deposit seventy-five cents for an additional two minutes."
"Oh, crap!" Anna blurted out. "I didn't bring any more quarters!"
"Try email!" Alexandra called out, and then they were disconnected.
I'm fine, Alexandra repeated to herself, as she set her phone in its charger.
She dreamed of the Lands Below that night, a nightmare ending with a terrible musical tone repeating over and over as she fell through an endless black void, screaming Maximilian's name.
"Max!" she cried out, sitting up with a start.
"Maximilian!" repeated Charlie, sitting in the cage over her desk, and then she realized her phone was ringing. She glanced at the clock. It was just past midnight. She wiped her forehead, and hoped Archie and her mother hadn't heard the noise. She grabbed the phone, wondering who would be calling her at this hour, and saw a blank screen where the caller ID should have been.
Cautiously, feeling disoriented and a bit annoyed, with her pulse still racing, she flipped it open.
"Hello?" she said.
Her heart skipped a beat, and her breath caught in her throat.
"Alexandra? Can you hear me?" A trace of irritation crept into her father's voice.
"I hear you." Alexandra's fingers squeezed the phone tightly. "Why are you calling me?"
"The Wizard Justice Department is watching you very closely," Abraham Thorn said. "I cannot even send Hagar to your house."
"It's possible to listen in on phone conversations, you know."
"So I have been told. I will be mindful of that, but the WJD is horribly inept when it comes to Muggle devices."
Alexandra closed her eyes. "I don't want to play these secret agent games. What do you want?"
"To find out if you are well. Alexandra, I know you must be terribly angry at me, and I cannot imagine how badly you are hurting..."
"You have no idea what I feel!" Alexandra hissed furiously.
He was quiet for a moment. "I know you will not understand, right now, and perhaps you never will. But no matter what you believe, my darling child, I love you, as much as I loved Maximilian. I want nothing more than to have all my children be safe and happy."
"How is what you did supposed to make us safe and happy?" she demanded, barely keeping her voice under control. "You caused everything Max warned me about! Now we're the children of a Dark Lord again!"
"'Dark Lord,'" he scoffed. "Alexandra, do you not begin to see just what sort of magic lies beneath the surface of the Confederation?"
"I saw a lot of dead people on the news," she retorted, in a flat voice. "My friends were on the Roanoke Underhill! If that had been the train going the other way..."
"Sometimes, terrible prices must be paid." His voice was grave. "No more terrible than the price that has been paid many times over in the past. But what the Wizard Wireless networks are not telling you is that I warned the Department of Magical Transportation what I was about to do. They chose not to believe me. Those deaths are on their heads. And I made sure none of your classmates were on board that train."
"What about the Muggle houses it rolled over? Did you warn them?"
Thorn was silent again.
"What do you want from me?" she whispered.
"Just to allow me to continue to talk to you. That you might, hopefully, someday, understand."
She shook her head, squeezing her eyes shut. Then she said, in a tight voice, "I think you want me to join you. You talked Max into joining you, somehow. Am I supposed to replace Max?"
"No one can replace Maximilian, Alexandra."
She swallowed. "I will join you," she said. "If –"
She paused, and her father said, "If what, my child?"
"You looked at my memories, didn't you? Don't deny it. I know about Pensieves. So you know exactly how Max died."
There was a longer pause. "And?" her father replied tersely.
"Tell me there's a way to bring him back." Suddenly, her heart was thudding in her chest, and she was almost breathless. She knew it was crazy, but surely there had to be a way? With magic...
Abraham Thorn did not reply, so she pressed on. "Dark Arts, trading with the Generous Ones, anything," she whispered. "I'll even let you sacrifice me, to bring him back. You're supposed to be a great wizard who knows magic no one else dares to use. Tell me there's a way to bring Maximilian back, and I'll join you. I'll do anything you want. I'll be the most obedient daughter you ever dreamed of." She wiped tears from her eyes. Where had those come from? "Please," she pleaded. "Just tell me it's possible."
It was as if an eternity in time and space hung between her and her father, and then she heard him speak at last, from her cell phone.
"No one can bring back the dead, Alexandra. That is not within my power."
She squeezed her eyes shut. The mad, irrational hope that had blossomed in her heart fluttered and died. But the idea did not.
"Then I don't think we really have anything else to talk about," she said, and hung up.
She stared at the cell phone for a while, half-expecting it to ring again. But it did not. Finally, she put it back on her desk, and looked up at Charlie, who had been quiet and attentive throughout her conversation.
"Good night, Charlie," she said.
"Good night," Charlie replied.
She laid her head down on the pillow, and closed her eyes. Eventually, she fell asleep.
End Year Two
A/N: Thank you, everyone, for reading. Thank you especially to those who reviewed – I really appreciate each and every one I get. Seriously, even though I don't usually respond to each review, and I don't beg for reviews at the end of every chapter, I am a total geek when it comes to checking my story stats, and logging on multiple times per day to see if I received any new reviews. I would continue writing anyway, I assure you, but feedback makes me very happy. Yes, even the concrit. So whether you've never reviewed before, or you've faithfully reviewed every chapter, why not make the author smile and leave a review now? :)
Now that the shameless begging is out of the way: obviously, Alexandra's story is far from finished. Rather than posting something here which may be out of date by the time you read this, years hence (by the way, I still love reviews even for stories that I finished long ago ;) ), I will invite you to check out my LiveJournal, which you can find on my profile page. I will post updates and more information about my stories there. I use that LiveJournal only for fan fiction updates, not for general blogging, so it's pretty low traffic and you won't be getting random posts about my personal life or political opinions.
Oh, and have I mentioned that I love reviews?