Em and another elf reappeared in the stairwell a moment later. The second elf's eyes almost popped from his head as he stared at Alexandra, and then he cowered away from her. Em put her tiny hands on Ms. Gale's face, and her expression became woeful.
"Oh, Ms. Gale!" Em moaned. "Ms. Gale is dead!"
The second elf began wailing. Em turned to Alexandra.
"What did Miss do?" Em asked, horrified.
"I didn't do anything! I found her like this!" Alexandra stared at Ms. Gale. "Get help! Bring Mrs. Murphy —"
"We is doing that." Em looked at Alexandra's wand, still clenched in her fist.
"I didn't do anything!" Alexandra repeated.
Em clapped her hands, and a lamp flared behind Alexandra. "Please put away your wand, Miss," the elf said, in a very polite but strained tone.
Alexandra hesitated, then said, "Nox," and tucked her extinguished wand into her pocket.
Dean Grimm and Dean Cervantes were the first to arrive, followed by more Assistant Deans, Mrs. Murphy, and Ms. Shirtliffe. The nurse gasped and knelt next to the inert form of Ms. Gale. After attempting to cast a Renervation Spell, and pouring several potions down her throat, Mrs. Murphy looked up at Dean Grimm, her face pale, and shook her head.
"Take her to the infirmary," Ms. Grimm said. "Everyone, please ensure no students see her. I'll send notices to her family and" — the Dean sighed — "the Wizard Justice Department immediately." Her baleful gaze fell upon Alexandra. "Ms. Shirtliffe, if you would be so kind as to remain a moment?"
Ms. Shirtliffe nodded, while the other staff levitated Ms. Gale's body, conjured a blanket to wrap around her, and retreated upstairs.
"You have a great deal of explaining to do, Miss Quick," said the Dean.
Alexandra started speaking: "I didn't hurt Ms. Gale! I found her —"
The Dean held up a hand to cut her off, and extended it, palm out. "Give me your wand."
Alexandra did so, and Dean Grimm held her own wand over it and said, "Prior Incantato."
A ghostly ball of light floated out of Alexandra's wand, and then the flickering traces of other spells, one by one, as the Dean examined each spell cast from it recently.
Alexandra waited nervously. At last, the Dean handed Alexandra back her wand, regarded her coldly for several seconds, and then said, "Tell me everything, and I do mean everything."
Alexandra closed her eyes, gathered her thoughts, and then told the two adults, in a flat tone, about sneaking down to the basement, searching the corridors, finding the door to the sub-basement ajar, and then her descent down the stairs, until she encountered Ms. Gale's body.
"You saw nothing else?" Ms. Grimm demanded. "Nothing and nobody?"
Alexandra shook her head. "Not until I called for help."
"Why were you down here?" Ms. Shirtliffe asked.
Alexandra looked at the JROC commander evenly, and said, in a steady voice, "I was looking for the ghost."
Ms. Shirtliffe exhaled between her teeth. Dean Grimm's eyes narrowed and she pursed her lips.
Alexandra abruptly turned away from the two women, and stepped down the corridor.
"COME OUT!" she yelled. "Come out of hiding! They're going to find you tomorrow!"
"Miss Quick!" the Dean snapped.
Alexandra ignored her. "PLEASE!" she called out. "Please... show yourself! You have to explain — they're going to think you had something to do with this!"
"Miss Quick, stop that! If there's a ghost haunting the basement, it's not going to appear now!"
"He!" Alexandra spun around and glared at Ms. Grimm.
The Dean blinked at her in astonishment.
"A ghost is a person," Alexandra said, through clenched teeth. "A he, not an it!" She felt something hot and prickly in the corner of her eyes, so she focused on meeting Dean Grimm's stare, difficult as it was, and holding onto her anger to keep away the feeling of desperation and hopelessness that threatened to overwhelm her.
Ms. Grimm and Ms. Shirtliffe were both silent for a moment. They glanced at one another, and then Ms. Shirtliffe stepped forward.
"Alexandra," she said quietly. "We talked about this —"
"You don't know!" Alexandra shouted.
Ms. Shirtliffe frowned. "I know that Maximilian wouldn't do something like this."
"No! He wouldn't!"
"So it's not Maximilian. Probably not a ghost at all."
Alexandra's mouth hung open, and then she closed it.
"I agree," Dean Grimm said. "But we must find out what it is. In the meantime..." She looked at Alexandra with an expression that was a mixture of anger, disappointment, and pity. "You worry me, Miss Quick."
Alexandra frowned, and looked down at her feet.
"For being out after curfew, and where you had no business being, you've earned yourself another month of detention. If you commit a single infraction during that time, I'll put you on wand restriction along with Miss Dearborn."
Alexandra clenched her jaw, but said nothing.
"We need to do some more investigation, before the Aurors arrive tomorrow," Dean Grimm said to Ms. Shirtliffe. "Miss Quick, you will return to your room."
By the time she was back in her room, Alexandra's sense of failure and frustration had given way to numbness, so when Anna raised her head from her pillow, Alexandra just shook her head at her and sighed.
"You got in trouble again, didn't you?" Anna said.
"Yeah." Alexandra sat down on her bed and began taking off her shoes.
"Troublesome!" squawked Charlie.
"How bad?" Anna asked.
"Another month of detention." Alexandra fell silent, and only realized she had been staring at the floor for a long time when Charlie squawked again. Alexandra looked up at Anna, who was still watching her.
"Ms. Gale is dead, Anna." When she said those words, her numbness suddenly gave way to regret and guilt and grief, and she had to look away, while trying to determine why she was feeling this way. Certainly she was sorry that Ms. Gale had died, but Alexandra barely knew the woman, and she wasn't responsible for her death.
Anna sat up in shock, and Alexandra had to tell her the whole story.
"But how did she die?" Anna's face had turned white. "Did an evil spirit get her?"
"I don't know. I didn't see anything."
"You could have been killed!"
Alexandra shook her head. "I don't think so."
"You don't know that! You never —" Anna stopped herself, and shook her head. She didn't say anything else while Alexandra undressed, but then she asked in a soft voice, "Was it worth it?"
Alexandra paused, and looked at her roommate.
"It would have been," she said quietly. Anna didn't ask any more questions, and Alexandra changed into her pajamas, brushed her teeth, and went to bed.
Friday morning was cold and damp. It was the beginning of October, and the weather was turning chilly. Ms. Shirtliffe said very little, turning the JROC over to Mage-Sergeant Major Strangeland for calisthenics and a Deadweight obstacle course. Alexandra wanted to ask her what she and Dean Grimm had found the previous night, but Shirtliffe left the yard as soon as exercises were over.
Alexandra returned to her room after showering and changing, and went down to breakfast with Anna. They all sensed the tension in the air — conversations in the cafeteria were furtive and muted, as the teachers on duty paced the room looking unusually tense and snapping at anyone who made too much noise. Mrs. Grinder, one of the school's history teachers, stared directly at Alexandra as she entered the room, and the gazes of dozens of students followed hers. Alexandra tried to ignore them.
"Hey Alex, something's going on," David said, as he joined her in line for breakfast.
"Funny how when something's going on, you decide you want to hang out with me," Alexandra said. "As if I might know something."
Usually David ate breakfast with a bunch of boys, except when he sat with Angelique when Darla wasn't around. He had the decency to look abashed, but he didn't miss the expression on Anna's face. He lowered his voice. "You do know something, don't you?"
"I'm sure we'll all find out soon enough." Alexandra knew Dean Grimm would have to tell the school something. They sat down at a long table and were joined by Constance and Forbearance, who were both wearing very unhappy expressions. Alexandra glanced over her shoulder. Innocence was sitting with the other sixth grade girls. Her hair was still uncovered, and had a red bow in it. Her lips were the color of persimmon.
Alexandra looked back at Constance and Forbearance. Constance looked angry; Forbearance tense and anxious. Alexandra didn't know what to say, and then Dean Grimm's voice was heard over the school's Wizard Address system.
"Good morning, Charmbridge Academy." Conversations halted, everyone stopped eating, and all eyes looked up. Other than at assemblies, the Dean rarely addressed the entire school at once like this.
"It is my sad duty to inform you that our Groundskeeper and Head Custodian, Elizabeth Gale, passed beyond last night in a tragic accident."
A chorus of whispers, mutters, and gasps filled the cafeteria. Anna swallowed and looked at Alexandra. Alexandra noticed that many other eyes were turning in her direction as well.
"Although I am loathe to release details that do not concern anyone but her family, I wish to squelch the inevitable rumors now," Ms. Grimm went on. "Ms. Gale did not perish as a result of 'ghost sickness.' No magic of any sort was involved — sadly, Ms. Gale died after falling down a flight of stairs."
"Oh, dear heaven!" Forbearance gasped, while a few other students cried out in shock as well.
Ms. Grimm continued speaking in the same calm, somber tone. "A routine inspection of the grounds will commence this morning; the Central Territory officials you may see around the school were scheduled to arrive previously, and their presence today, on this sad occasion, is purely coincidental. I expect everyone to be on their best behavior, as always, and treat our guests with the utmost courtesy. Teachers, I do not expect the work of our visitors to interfere with the conducting of your classes, but feel free to speak to me or your department head if you have any concerns.
"That is all. Please finish eating your breakfast and prepare yourself for another challenging day of magical education at Charmbridge."
There was a moment of silence after the Dean's speech ended, and then the noise of conversations in the cafeteria rose to a din, until the staff on duty began quieting the breakfasters down with threats of detention.
Alexandra and Anna ate breakfast without saying much, and Constance and Forbearance seemed too upset by the Dean's announcement to talk about Innocence. Alexandra responded to David's questions by giving him an extremely abridged version of the previous night's events.
None of them had much appetite. They joined the other students flowing out of the cafeteria, heading for their first period classes. As they passed the school entrance, the usual hallway chatter became muted — when Alexandra got there, she saw that there was a pair of red-robed Aurors standing by the doors. Anna visibly flinched when she saw them.
Not surprisingly, everyone was distracted during their Charms test in Mr. Newton's class. The teacher set out a chess board on his desk, and summoned students one by one to perform their Disillusionment and Glamour Charms on it. When it was Alexandra's turn, the teacher told her to make as many pieces as she could disappear. Alexandra waved her wand and cast the spell to blend an object with its background, and the entire board vanished.
Mr. Newton squinted at the space where the pieces had been. Making even small objects turn completely invisible was difficult magic. "Very good," he said grudgingly. "Now undo it."
She tried — the pieces did not reappear.
The Charms teacher put his hand on the board, where the concealed pieces should have been. There was nothing there.
"You were supposed to put a Disillusionment Charm on them, not Banish them!" he snapped, as he conjured another set.
Alexandra looked at her wand. She didn't know why her spell had gone wrong.
It was some small consolation that hardly anyone else did much better, though David looked rather pleased with himself after turning the pawns into queens — a little cheat he'd attempted once while playing chess with Alexandra — and Anna at least managed to make the king vanish. Constance turned a few pieces semi-transparent; Forbearance's Glamour Charm made the pawns look like pebbles.
Darla, with her collared wand, spent several minutes in front of Mr. Newton's desk. He finally waved her away after she burst into tears, unable to do anything.
With a start like that, Alexandra would have been happy if she were summoned to the Dean's office to escape any more classes, but the summons she was expecting did not arrive until the end of P.M.E. class. That last class of the day was particularly unpleasant, as the whispers and suspicious looks from her fellow JROC mages were more pronounced than ever, and some students audibly grumbled under their breaths when ordered by Colonel Shirtliffe to drill with Alexandra.
Shirtliffe looked unsurprised when a paper bird fluttered to her with a message from Miss Marmsley. She read it, and said, without looking in Alexandra's direction, "Quick, to the administrative wing."
Everyone knew that meant 'Dean's office.' Alexandra put away her wand, pivoted on her heel, and marched out of the gym, while the other uniformed students gave each other knowing looks.
She didn't see any Aurors or other WJD officials on her way to the administrative wing. She wondered if the ghost hunters were down in the basements now, or if they had already come and gone. Did they drag unwelcome ghosts away in ghostly chains, or did they cast a spell to banish spirits from the premises? She knew that the Bureau of Hauntings relocated spirits in Roanoke Territory to the island where Croatoa was located, but she didn't know what they did in Central Territory.
Miss Marmsley was her usual stern self, gazing down at Alexandra from her picture frame. "Dean Grimm is waiting for you," she said.
"What else is new?" Alexandra replied. She marched to the Dean's office and opened the door.
Dean Grimm was behind her desk, as usual. Sitting in a chair across the desk from her was her twin.
Alexandra's eyes were fixed on the Special Inquisitor as she walked into the office. Diana Grimm was wearing a plain red robe thrown on over black pants and a white shirt. She was holding the Dean's cat in her lap, stroking it gently.
"Come to arrest me?" Alexandra asked. Though her tone was sarcastic, she wouldn't have been terribly surprised if that was exactly why the other Ms. Grimm was here.
The Special Inquisitor arched an eyebrow. "Wandering around after curfew is a school disciplinary matter, not a criminal offense, but if you have something to confess...?"
Alexandra started to respond, but the Dean said, "That will be enough, Miss Quick."
The Dean's sister very gently lifted Galen off her lap and set the cat down, then stood up.
"You and I have some things to talk about, Alexandra," she said.
"Like what?" Alexandra asked. "I already told Dean Grimm everything about last night. I had nothing to do with what happened to Ms. Gale. Or Benjamin Rash."
Diana Grimm turned to her sister. "I'll bring her back when we're finished, Lilith."
"No need." Dean Grimm was already looking at papers on her desk. "I do have a school to run, Diana. I'm sure you can find your own way out after you're done with Miss Quick."
Diana Grimm nodded, with a thin smile, and gestured for Alexandra to precede her out the door.
Alexandra didn't say anything as the Special Inquisitor walked with her out of the hallway lined with the offices of other school administrators. Outside the administrative wing, other students stared and then averted their eyes from the red-robed witch who looked exactly like the Dean.
They walked past the cafeteria and the main entrance, and into a familiar hallway. The stairs down to the basement had bright red ribbons blocking them, but they parted for Alexandra and Ms. Grimm before floating back across the stairwell. The two of them went downstairs, and found a pair of wizards just coming up from the sub-basement.
"We've found some more traces of spectral activity," said one of the wizards, who was wearing a brown robe and carrying something that looked like a more elaborate version of Ms. Gale's spectrescope, with many more sets of lenses mounted in a rotating assembly that seemed designed to let various combinations of lenses be popped into place to look through. "And there were traces of Dark magic in that cave. But our Summoning Charms haven't drawn any ghosts out. If there was a ghost here, it may have fled after it saw all the commotion — or of course, it may have heard that we were coming."
Alexandra stared icily at the ghost hunter, as Ms. Grimm nodded and replied: "Finish checking the attics and the exterior. The Aurors will see to it that the sub-basements are sealed — permanently — after this."
She then continued down the stairs. Alexandra paused, then followed her.
"Did Ms. Gale really die falling down the stairs?" she asked.
"It appears so," Ms. Grimm said. "But to die in such a manner is very unusual for witches."
Alexandra knew that mundane accidents rarely killed witches and wizards. Maximilian had once told her, "You have to try really hard to die like a Muggle."
They reached the sub-basement, and Ms. Grimm lit her wand and walked on.
"Where are we going?" Alexandra asked.
"Where do you think?" Ms. Grimm replied. They reached another door, with more stairs on the other side. The Special Inquisitor began descending them without looking back. Alexandra continued following her.
"What's the point of bringing me down here?" Alexandra asked. They were now in a sub-basement below the one they'd just left. Below was the lowest level beneath Charmbridge Academy, where the Mors Mortis Society had conducted its activities.
"I know you don't remember being down here," Ms. Grimm said. "But I am thinking perhaps you might recognize something..." Sure enough, she was heading for a set of stairs leading down to the deepest sub-basement.
"I do remember being down here," Alexandra said. "The Mors Mortis Society met in a room in the basement below this one. My father didn't erase those memories from me."
"Ah, yes. Of course." Ms. Grimm nodded, and Alexandra clenched her fists, as she realized that the Special Inquisitor was testing her — trying to see if her story remained consistent.
She doesn't believe me.
They reached the last set of stairs, and Ms. Grimm paused, as Alexandra stood there looking down into what seemed like a descent into pitch darkness.
Ms. Grimm was watching her closely. Alexandra looked up at her, and scowled.
"Do you think my brother's ghost is down there?" she asked.
Ms. Grimm seemed surprised at the question. "No, I don't. His ancestors' ghosts already told us that Maximilian passed beyond — he didn't remain here."
A thought occurred to Alexandra, then: But what if they lied to you?
Possibilities whirled through her head. Her ancestors could have lied to the Aurors. You couldn't make a ghost drink Veritaserum. But why would they lie to Maximilian's family as well? She kept her expression neutral.
They went deeper. In the lowest sub-basement, the walls were carved into the rock — most likely by magic. Most of the rooms and tunnels appeared to have been formed from pre-existing natural caverns. It was cold down here, and utterly dark except for the light cast by Ms. Grimm's wand. Alexandra had not been down here since returning from the Lands Below, and she wasn't supposed to remember that.
And that was the room where Ms. Grimm took her — a large cavern, deep in these hidden tunnels beneath Charmbridge Academy, with rock walls still in their natural state, as they had been carved by time, rather than human intervention. But the floor of the cavern was a dark clay color unlike that of the rest of this sub-basement,
This was the secret gateway to the Lands Below. According to Maximilian, it was the very reason Charmbridge Academy had been built — to prevent Indian wizards from accessing it, and to deprive them of one of the magical locations from which they had performed their own powerful magic.
Alexandra looked around with an affected air of detached curiosity. She forced herself not to think about herself and Maximilian plunging through that floor, after Em had turned it insubstantial, and she likewise tried to banish the memory of returning — alone — to be greeted by her father, here in this very room.
That was what Occlumency allowed you to do — clear your mind, bury memories, master your thoughts. Alexandra knew she wasn't doing a very good job of it. The memories she wanted to bury were very near the surface, tormenting her with renewed pain and horror, and she had to maintain a straight face and calm demeanor before Ms. Grimm. Would the Special Inquisitor be using Legilimency on her now? She turned to look at the other witch.
"So why did you bring me down here?" she asked. "To see if I freak out? Am I supposed to be shocked into remembering something?"
"No," Ms. Grimm said quietly. "Memories that are truly Obliviated can never be restored. But your father might have left something that you don't remember that you remember —"
"And what if he did?" Alexandra asked. "Let's say I do remember something. How would that help you? You already know he can travel through the Lands Below now. What could I possibly tell you that would help you catch him?"
"Do you want to help us catch him?" Ms. Grimm asked.
Alexandra blinked. "I... I don't know. But even if I did, I can't."
"You can." Ms. Grimm leaned towards her. "One of the things that makes Abraham Thorn so elusive is the Fidelius Charm cast over his followers — we don't even know who they are, let alone where they are hiding."
"I know, I know, I'm the Secret Keeper for the Thorn Circle. That's why you won't leave me alone. If I knew who they were, I could rat them out. But I don't. I didn't know Mr. Journey was one of them until he tried to kill me. And my father doesn't even trust his own children. The man who was with him on Croatoa was using Polyjuice Potion — because they knew you'd question me and Max afterwards. You know, maybe he's just smarter than all of you. Is that why you harass us, because we're the only ones you can get at?"
Diana Grimm scowled at her. "You have no idea, Alexandra," she said. "You have no idea what 'harassment' is. All you've been subjected to thus far is periodic questioning which you find unpleasant. If the Office of Special Inquisitions suspects that you are actually aiding and abetting your father as he conspires to bring down the Confederation..."
"All my father has ever done is use me!" Alexandra said, with honest anger. "Why would I help him?"
"I don't know," Ms. Grimm said. "But I truly hope that you aren't, Alexandra."
"Is this where you threaten me with the WODAMND Act again?
Ms. Grimm's eyes became hard. "Do you know that your father killed a Special Inquisitor last week?"
Alexandra paled a little as Ms. Grimm continued. "We've begun pursuing the Thorn Circle even into the Lands Below — and they are striking back in earnest. WJD agents have died, Alexandra. Last week it was one of my colleagues in the Office of Special Inquisitions. He had a wife and children."
Alexandra was silent.
"Come." Ms. Grimm turned on her heel and led the way out of the room. Alexandra was forced to follow, or be left in darkness. She glanced back once, and then mentally shoved down, hard, on the thoughts in her head.
Ms. Grimm led her to another familiar cave, this one smaller and with smoother walls. There was one wall in particular, painted with drawings of humans and other creatures, that held Alexandra's attention as Ms. Grimm raised her wand to shine light on its reddish-orange surface.
"The Aurors said they found Dark magic here," Alexandra said.
Ms. Grimm nodded. "This is where you performed your illegal rituals last year, is it not?"
"I didn't perform any illegal rituals. I quit when I found out the Mors Mortis Society was teaching the Cruciatus Curse."
"But your brother didn't."
Alexandra kept her face still, and continued staring at the cave paintings.
"How much did your brother tell you about this place?" Ms. Grimm asked.
Alexandra didn't answer right away; she had to sort through the things she should remember and the things she shouldn't, all while hoping her novice attempts at Occlumency would be sufficient, if Ms. Grimm was in fact probing her for information. Finally, she replied: "The Indians used to come here and do magic. Before Charmbridge Academy was built."
"Yes." Ms. Grimm approached the wall, and laid a hand upon it. "They did dark things down here... very dark."
Ms. Grimm turned towards her, with narrowed eyes and a small smile. "Still curious, Alexandra? You don't yet know enough to stay away from magic you don't understand, that you've been told is Dark?"
Alexandra almost snapped something back, but she held her tongue at the last instant. She thought a moment, then said instead, "I'm more curious to know why students were able to come down here at all, if you've always known about this place."
The Special Inquisitor's smile stretched tightly across her face. "Surely you've learned by now how difficult it is to prevent... inquisitive children, who can do magic, from getting into places they shouldn't. It's not as easy as you might imagine to simply seal a doorway in such a manner that no one — not even a wizard — can ever get through it. Let alone an entire subterranean complex." She looked back at the rock wall, and her smile faded, as she continued running her hand over the rough surface. "And of course, no one thought this doorway could still be opened — especially by students." Her hand fell back to her side. "We suspect," she went on, "that the doorway through the Veil that your friends foolishly opened may not have been completely closed."
"They aren't my friends," Alexandra said. "They never were."
"And so," Ms. Grimm continued, as if Alexandra had not spoken, "spirits, of the sort I understand you saw before you quit, may have slipped through."
"Jibay, you mean."
"Some Indians call them that, yes."
Alexandra studied the wall, remembering when the drawings moved across its surface, and another time, when the wall had turned darker than the darkness around it, opening into the Lands Beyond. The spirit that had been called forth was not like a ghost at all — it had been smoky and black and full of malice, without any hint of humanity.
"So a jibay may have killed Ms. Gale? And struck down Benjamin?"
"Possibly. We have now made certain this doorway — and the other one — is closed. And we will be putting much stronger barriers in place to prevent students from coming down here. There will be no more secret rituals down here, no more sneaking around exploring the forbidden, meddling with things no one was meant to meddle with."
"Good." Alexandra turned to Ms. Grimm. "Are we done?"
"For now." The Special Inquisitor eyed her. "I'm still not sure you fully appreciate the gravity of your situation. I get the feeling that you are still being resistant, still trying to avoid telling anyone anything. What will it take to make you realize that this is for your own good, Alexandra, as much as it is for the good of the Confederation?"
Alexandra eyed her back. "You know," she said, trying to sound more confident than she felt, "all you do is threaten and warn me. If you really wanted my help — if you wanted me to believe you're the good guys — you might actually offer to help me."
Ms. Grimm tilted her head. "Help you? What sort of help do you want?"
"Actually, I don't need help. But Anna does."
The Special Inquisitor's brows knit together thoughtfully. "I see. I'm aware of the situation with Mr. Chu, but that's a Territorial matter. If you think I can simply ask the Governor of North California to let your friend's father go, you're mistaken."
Alexandra hid her disappointment. She began bombarding Ms. Grimm with questions instead: "What has he been charged with? And is he going to have a trial? Where is he being held prisoner? And why won't anyone answer Anna's letters, or notify her mother? Doesn't the wife of a wizard who's been arrested deserve to know what's happening to him?"
Ms. Grimm folded her arms. "I can't answer for the North California Auror's Office or Wizard Justice Department, other than to tell you that Mr. Chu is probably being held beneath Mount Diablo." She paused. "I will see what else I can find out for you."
Alexandra nodded. "Thanks," she said, with an effort. The Special Inquisitor turned away, and Alexandra wondered if she would ever get answers to any of her questions.
She followed Ms. Grimm back to the main floor of Charmbridge Academy, and only glanced back over her shoulder once more as they climbed the stairs, leaving the dark sub-basements behind.
Alexandra told Anna that she had asked Diana Grimm about Mr. Chu. Anna looked so grateful, Alexandra felt guilty for raising her hopes.
The Aurors and ghost hunters were gone by Friday evening. Alexandra's plans to celebrate being freed from detention turned into more chores, Friday evening and all day Saturday and Sunday.
On Monday morning, all the bulletin boards included a notice informing students that the basement was off-limits to everyone. Even the Magic Band had to relocate to a room upstairs. There was a particularly ominous line at the end of this announcement: 'All exits from the basement to other parts of the academy are now permanently Sealed and Barred. Any student discovered to be attempting to bypass these will face severe disciplinary actions.'
Alexandra stared at those words, feeling Anna's eyes on her. Part of her wondered why they hadn't done that last year. Another part of her wondered how she would get past a doorway magically sealed with something much more powerful than a standard lock.
Not that she had any plans to do so — yet. But just in case she had reason to go down there again.
Dean Grimm's admonishments notwithstanding, the presence of Aurors and ghost hunters in the school left more rumors than ever before circulating the school. Many concerned Alexandra's alleged role in Ms. Gale's demise.
A week after Diana Grimm's visit, Charlie came flapping in through the open window of their dorm room, squawking in a panic and fluttering all about the room before Alexandra could calm the bird. "Charlie, calm down! Is Jingwei chasing you?"
Anna, sitting at her desk doing her homework, said, "I sent Jingwei to deliver a letter to my mother yesterday. She's probably halfway between here and California right now."
Alexandra frowned at her familiar. "Then what are you making a fuss about, scaredy-bird?"
Charlie squawked as a sinister-looking screech owl appeared outside the window. Anna sat up, and Alexandra turned to face the owl, as Charlie hopped off her shoulder and fluttered up into a far corner of the room.
The screech owl bore an unmarked envelope. Alexandra took it, and the owl silently took off without even waiting for an owl treat.
Cautiously, Alexandra opened the envelope. It contained a short, stiff piece of parchment, with the Seal of the Confederation on it, and below that, the stamp of the Office of Special Inquisitions.
"It's from Ms. Grimm," she told Anna. "The other Ms. Grimm."
Anna waited tensely, while Alexandra read.
"Your father is being held under Mount Diablo," Alexandra said. "Ms. Grimm says under the WODAMND Act, he can be held for up to six months without charges, or indefinitely if there is 'compelling evidence' that he represents a 'threat to the safety and security of the Confederation or any of its Territories.'"
"How do they decide that?" Anna asked, looking distraught.
"I don't know." Alexandra handed the letter to her. "Ms. Grimm says in February, the Governor of North California will either have to charge him, label him a threat and continue the investigation, or let him go."
"February," Anna whispered. Tears welled up in her eyes. "Tomo said pretty much everyone agrees that my father is being railroaded. The rumor is, the Governor has offered to let him go if he agrees to drop out of the campaign. I guess no one expected that the Majokai would make trouble too if they saw a Chinese wizard being persecuted. And now the National Association for the Abolition of Blood Status is getting involved... it's a big mess."
"I'm sorry." Alexandra felt let down by the small amount of information that Ms. Grimm had given her.
"At least I know a little bit, now." Anna looked down. "I wonder if they allow visitors at Mount Diablo — maybe my mother and I can go see him, when I go home for Christmas break."
"Maybe he'll be out by then," Alexandra said.
"Maybe." Anna was struggling to hold back tears, and Alexandra gave her a hug, feeling completely inadequate.
"Thank you for trying," Anna mumbled.
"I wish I could do more."
"Me, too," Anna sighed.
Maybe I can do more, Alexandra thought that night. It was her father that the Wizard Justice Department wanted. She'd told Ms. Grimm the truth when she'd said that she didn't want to help him. She didn't owe Abraham Thorn any loyalty — so why did the thought of turning against him bother her?