And I Will Treat With Any Power
Alexandra sat shotgun in the police SUV, looking out the window as Archie drove through Larkin Mills. She shivered despite the fact that Archie had the heater on full blast. She still felt chilly after her dip in Old Larkin Pond, and she was glad that at least she'd kept her jacket dry.
Pops and thumps echoed from above as they drove past the park, and a shower of green and gold sparks rained down. The fireworks had started.
"How did it happen?" Alexandra asked.
"She was on the streets all by herself in Old Larkin." Archie shook his head. "No idea what she was doing there."
Alexandra felt an icy stab in her guts.
"Dale was on the scene," Archie went on. "The driver was babbling about owls."
"He claimed a bunch of owls flew in front of his car and that's why he didn't see Bonnie. He actually tested clean on the breathalyzer, but they took him downtown, of course. I'm sure he's on something."
"How bad is Bonnie?"
Archie was silent for half a block. More fireworks illuminated the sky. "Claudia couldn't tell me. Just that it's serious."
Alexandra closed her eyes. She had gone to Old Larkin Pond. Brian had followed her. Bonnie must have followed Brian. What was wrong with them? Idiots, both of them.
They were silent for the rest of the drive. Larkin Mills Hospital was small but usually busy, since it was the only hospital serving the entire region. An ambulance pulled in as Archie parked in one of the 'Police and Emergency Vehicles Only' spots. Alexandra got out and walked with her stepfather inside.
She'd been here many times, but never when someone she knew was hospitalized. A few nurses nodded to her and Archie.
They found the Seaburys in a corridor outside the Intensive Care Unit. Mrs. Seabury was leaning against her husband. Brian was huddled into himself, hands in his pockets, staring down at his feet. An odd wave of relief crossed his face when he looked up and saw Alexandra and Archie.
Archie took off his hat as they approached the family. "Kenneth, Jane, I'm very sorry about Bonnie. Claudia told me about the accident. How is she?"
Mr. Seabury inclined his head toward the room. "Comatose." His voice was flat. "Cranial hematoma, other injuries... we have to wait and see, the doctor said."
Mrs. Seabury let out a muffled sound. Alexandra felt numb and sick, both at once.
She'd never particularly liked Brian's mother. Mrs. Seabury had never been mean to her, but neither had she ever really been friendly. Now, all Alexandra could say was, "I'm really sorry. I... hope she'll be okay."
Mrs. Seabury nodded. "Thank you."
"Thank you for coming, Alexandra," Mr. Seabury said. "I'm sure Brian is glad to see you."
Brian did look glad to see her. She walked over to him. "You okay?" she murmured.
He shook his head, and looked around as if anxious to be somewhere else.
"I'm actually still on duty," Archie said. He looked at Alexandra, and back at the Seaburys. "I can take Alexandra home, or leave her here if you don't mind her staying with you. Claudia will check in on you now and then, but she's also on duty, so..."
Mr. and Mrs. Seabury hesitated. Then Mr. Seabury said, "Alexandra can stay with us. We don't mind."
Archie nodded. He turned to his stepdaughter. "Claudia will take you home when her shift ends, unless you absolutely have to leave before then. Can you handle yourself?" he asked, with that Behave yourself look.
Alexandra fought her every instinct to bristle or roll her eyes, and just nodded. "Yes, Archie."
He patted her on the shoulder, then gave Brian a squeeze on the shoulder as well before walking out.
Alexandra thought maybe Brian would want to sit down – she was hoping so, since she was actually quite tired – but he said, "Want to get a soda or a candy bar?" gesturing at the vending machines down the hall.
She tried to figure out what was going through his mind. "Sure."
"We're gonna get something to eat, okay?" he said to his parents. They both nodded, not really paying attention. Alexandra followed him down the corridor. When they reached the machines, rather than feeding money into one of them, Brian took her by the shoulders and pulled her into the alcove between the machines and the door.
"Thanks for coming," he said.
"Of course I came." Alexandra wondered if he was about to burst into tears or collapse against her or something. She was not sure what she was supposed to do.
"They said..." He gulped. His eyes glistened. "I heard the doctors talking to my parents. They... her chances... they're not good."
The icy spear in Alexandra's guts stabbed upward, pricking against her heart. "I'm sorry," was all she could think to say.
He looked around, making sure no one else was nearby, before asking in a whisper, "Did you bring your wand?"
"My... wand?" He kept gazing into her eyes, hands still on her shoulders waiting for an answer, so she said, "Yes. But..."
His expression became desperately eager. "So... you can do something, right?"
Alexandra didn't say anything. A nurse walked past, glanced at them and down the corridor at the Seaburys, and continued on.
"I mean magic," Brian whispered, once the nurse was gone.
"I know what you meant," Alexandra said.
"They don't let anyone but family in, and not even us right now, but..." Brian swallowed. "You can get in somehow, right? If you have to – I don't know how it works..."
"How it works? Brian, I can't do anything."
He cocked his head, as if he hadn't heard correctly. "What do you mean, you can't do anything? You can fly!"
"On a broom. That's different."
"You were walking around the same day you broke your leg."
"It's not that easy. I can't just wave my wand and make anything happen. There are rules –"
Brian reacted as if she'd slapped him. His face darkened and his hands dropped from her shoulders. "Rules? Rules?" His voice rose. "All of a sudden you're worried about following rules?"
"No, that's not –"
"You've always done whatever the hell you want whenever you want – since when do you care about rules? Are you kidding me? When have you ever cared about anything or anyone else, let alone following rules? Just once, I ask you to do something and you're telling me it's against the rules? I guess you can use magic when you break your leg doing one of your stupid stunts, but when my sister is dying, what, you don't want to get in trouble?"
She was unprepared for this, and she was tired and confused and in shock. She couldn't hold back her own anger. "Oh, right, for the last three years I've been a freak, a dangerous witch! Magic isn't real, remember? And now suddenly when you want something, I'm supposed to be your personal genie?"
She was boiling mad now, but Brian's anger dissipated as quickly as it had come. His shoulders slumped, and he said, "It's Bonnie, Alex," in the small voice of the boy she'd played with as a child. "It's my sister." Tears spilled down his cheeks.
Alexandra's anger evaporated too, just like that.
"Brian," she said quietly, "I don't know healing magic. Not for things like this. I didn't heal my own leg. I really can't just wave my wand and perform miracles. It doesn't work like that."
"Can't you try?" he pleaded.
She stared at him numbly. He turned away from her and walked back to where his parents were still holding each other. He sat down on a bench and put his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands.
Alexandra walked over and sat down next to him. After a minute, she put an arm around him. His shoulders were shaking. She leaned against him. A little while later, Mr. and Mrs. Seabury sat down, too, and they were all silent, listening to the noise of nurses and doctors moving around, occasional announcements on the PA system, and a beeping box in Bonnie's room.
Alexandra hadn't taken her jacket off despite the warmth inside the hospital. She didn't quite nod off, but her head dipped now and then, and her eyes closed and she hovered between sleep and wakefulness. Someone touched her arm, and she looked up into her mother's concerned face.
"Is it time to go yet?" she asked.
Claudia Green shook her head. She was in her nurse's scrubs. She spoke very quietly, as the Seaburys were all asleep: Brian with his head against the wall behind him, Mr. Seabury slumped forward, and Mrs. Seabury leaning against her husband.
"A couple more hours," she mouthed.
Alexandra nodded. She looked at Bonnie's room, and back at her mother. "How serious is her condition, really?"
Alexandra stood up, very carefully, making sure not to jostle Brian. She stepped a few paces away with her mother.
"Is she going to die?" she whispered.
"I don't know, Alex." Her mother's expression was sadder than she'd ever seen.
Her mother nodded.
They stood there, silently, then her mother said, "I'm not on duty in this ward. I have to go." She gave Alexandra a gentle hug. "I'm so sorry, Alex."
Alexandra watched her mother walk away, then looked up and down the corridor for other hospital staff. There were none. She crept past the Seaburys on the hard hospital bench, and looked around again when she reached the door to Bonnie's room. No one was watching. She slipped inside.
The lights were at half-brightness, enough for nurses and doctors to walk in without bumping into anything. Bonnie was a small, motionless figure hooked up to machines, with tubes inserted everywhere. Alexandra would never have known it was her, cocooned as she was in medical equipment, her face and body swathed in bandages.
Alexandra walked with soft, small steps to the side of Bonnie's bed, and stared down at the bandaged face. She took a deep breath and laid her fingertips, very gently, on the hand lying at the girl's side. Her other hand clenched her wand in her pocket. She said:
"By all the power that I hold, all the magic at my command,
Let this spell be true and bold, the greatest working of my hand.
Let the Most Deathly Power leave you be,
Let him pass on, or face me,
Keep the silence of the Stars Above unbroken,
Keep your fate by them unspoken,
And I will treat with any Power
That will offer to restore you,
And I will stand ready before you
To protect you, if Death comes for you."
With each line she spoke, she felt her mind sharpen, and the last words came out as if she were working a proper spell, one she knew like any incantation she'd cast at school. It felt like she'd done something, but her mind was in such a state, she knew she could just be feeling what she wanted to feel.
Bonnie lay quietly in her bed, and her monitors kept beeping and chirping.
Alexandra stood there looking down at the girl for another minute, then padded to the door and slipped out. Mr. Seabury had woken up, but he was looking at his wife, and when he turned to see Alexandra standing in the corridor, he just blinked blearily at her.
Alexandra walked back to the bench and was about to sit down next to Brian again when she remembered the card she had found in her parents' closet.
I can't wave my wand and perform miracles, she thought. But I didn't heal my own leg.
"I'm going to use the restroom," she said to Mr. Seabury. He nodded, probably without even hearing her. She walked outside instead, standing in the cold night where she could see yet another ambulance bringing in some unfortunate victim of New Year's Eve (now New Year's Day) revelry.
Her wallet and cell phone were still in the pockets of her jacket. She took both out, and retrieved Dr. Pruett's card. She turned it over and dialed the hand-written number on the back.
The phone at the other end rang five times before someone answered. It was a man, so when he said, in a very grumpy voice, "Yes?" it took her a moment to reply.
"May I please speak to Livia Pruett?" she said.
"Is this a patient? Dr. Pruett isn't on call tonight and you shouldn't be using her home number, however you got it."
"It's not a patient, but it is an emergency. Please, I'm sorry for waking you up, but I need to speak to her."
"Who is this?" demanded the voice.
Alexandra paused. "Tell her it's her sister."
There was no sound for a long time. Alexandra feared he'd hung up. Finally, she heard a woman's voice, just as annoyed but less sleepy. "Who is this?" she asked in a whisper that was almost a hiss.
Livia was silent a moment. Then she said, "Alexandra. I received your letter." Another pause. "How did you get this number?"
"Never mind that right now. I need something from you."
"Alexandra, I was planning to answer your letter. I was. But do you know it's three o'clock in the morning? And you called me at home?"
"I'm at a hospital," Alexandra said. "I have a friend here. She's dying."
This resulted in another pause before Livia said, "Alexandra..."
"She's eleven years old. She was hit by a car. The doctors say her chances aren't good. I tried to use magic to save her, but I have no idea if it will do anything."
"You – how could you know enough magic to save someone?"
"I don't. That's why I'm calling you."
Alexandra expected another long silence, and she got one. Then Livia said, "I can't do that."
"You can't, or you won't?"
"Alexandra, magic can't save everyone. Even Healers can't perform miracles. Without knowing what your friend's condition is, I can't even tell you whether it's possible I could do anything for her."
"Then come and look."
"I can't do that, Alexandra."
"Why, because it's inconvenient? Because you don't want any contact with me? Because you might get in trouble? You must make decisions like this all the time, I bet – who to save, who not to save."
"It's not that simple."
"But sometimes you do, don't you?"
"What you're suggesting would be completely illegal –"
"Right, completely against the laws of the Confederation. The International Statute of Secrecy, etcetera, etcetera. Except I was there when you were talking to Diana Grimm, remember? You have saved patients – your patients. You break the rules. When it suits you, when it's someone you care enough about, and when you can, you use your magic. You're a Healer and a doctor, and you don't like letting people die when you can save them, do you?"
"Well, this is someone I care about. And if I knew enough magic to save her, I would – I'd let them arrest me or break my wand or do whatever they'll do to me, but I wouldn't let her die if I could save her. Just like you wouldn't."
"So I told you in my letter I was only asking you to answer that one question and then I'd leave you alone forever if you want, but I'm asking for this instead. If being sisters doesn't matter to you, if me begging you for help because you're my sister doesn't matter, then think of it this way – just do this one thing that you've done for other people, just save an eleven-year-old girl who doesn't deserve to die just because she knows me, and I'll leave you alone. You'll never hear from me again. I'm sorry Diana Grimm brought me to you and disturbed your peaceful Wandless life. That wasn't my idea. But I'm not going to pester you for the rest of your life. If you want to pretend you don't have any sisters, fine – you don't know any of us, why should you care about us? But I'm asking you for this one favor. Just this once. Please."
This time, the silence stretched out until Alexandra wondered if Livia were still on the phone. A siren nearby caught her attention. An ambulance rolled out onto the street, off to fetch someone else who'd been hit by a car, or run off the road, or maybe been in a fight or had a heart attack or tried to commit suicide, all the million things that could happen to Muggles, some of them fatal, some of them fixable, some not.
Livia said, "You don't know what you're asking, Alexandra. You really don't."
"Yes, I do."
"No, you don't." Livia's tone was sharper this time, so Alexandra didn't reply.
After a short silence, Livia said, "It will take me some time to get there. I can't Apparate all the way to Larkin Mills."
"Her name is Bonnie Seabury. She's in the ICU. She's in critical condition, and I don't know how much time she's got. So, you know, whenever you can get here, but sooner would be better." And after another long pause, Alexandra said, "Thank you."
"Don't thank me until we know if I can do anything." Livia hung up.
Alexandra let out a long breath, and watched it mist and drift to the ground. She dropped her phone back into her pocket and walked inside. Brian had woken up. She sat down next to him.
"I'm sorry," he mumbled. "What I said earlier..."
"It's all right."
They sat together for a time, and then she whispered, "I tried. I tried to do something. I don't know if it will work. I can't promise anything. But I tried."
Neither of them spoke, and Alexandra dozed off.
She woke up when someone shook her. Her eyes snapped open.
Dr. Pruett was leaning over her. She was wearing a white doctor's coat over a blouse and knee-length skirt, and her dark hair was tied back. Her glasses were perched against the very bridge of her nose. She looked very professional and medical, except that she wasn't wearing a name tag. Alexandra opened her mouth, and Livia put a finger to her lips.
To her left, Brian was asleep, as were his parents. Alexandra got up, trying not to awaken Brian. Livia seized her arm above the elbow and dragged her to the door in front of Bonnie's room.
"Don't say anything," Livia whispered, holding up a finger. Her expression was stony, and her voice was hard even at such a soft volume. "Just listen and nod. I'm going to go in there and do what I can do. You keep a lookout, and knock gently on the door to warn me if anyone is coming. I'll do my best for your friend, but I cannot and will not make any promises. When I'm done, I'll leave. We won't say good-bye, and you will not call me again, not even if your friend or your boyfriend or your sister or your mother is dying. Do you understand? I'm going to do this, and then you're going to respect my wishes and leave me alone."
Alexandra could have burned a hole through her sister with her stare. Livia's stony expression faltered, just for a second, but her mouth remained implacably set. Slowly, Alexandra nodded.
Livia opened the door and walked into Bonnie's room. Alexandra stood with her back to the door, but now and then she looked over her shoulder. Livia was doing something with her wand, and once took a small glass vial out of a pocket inside her coat. There was no sound. Alexandra suspected Livia had cast a silencing spell of some sort.
Ten minutes later, Alexandra's mother came up the corridor, still wearing her nurse's scrubs beneath her coat. The Seaburys were still asleep, though Brian was stirring. Alexandra tapped lightly on the door behind her. Livia came to the door and exited the room.
"When the Trace Office questions you, you don't mention me," Livia said. "Do you understand?"
"Is Bonnie going to live?" Alexandra asked.
Brian was sitting up and looking at them, puzzled. Alexandra's mother slowed to a halt. The two women saw each other, and both turned white.
"Livia?" said Alexandra's mother.
Mr. and Mrs. Seabury were stirring, too. Brian just kept watching the scene, confused.
"Claudia," said Livia. She looked down at Alexandra. "You set this up."
"No, I didn't," Alexandra said.
"Livia," her mother said again, stepping toward them in shock. "What are you doing here?"
Livia closed her eyes.
"Is Bonnie all right?" Brian asked hoarsely.
Dr. Pruett opened her eyes, and was suddenly all professional brusqueness. "I need to find Dr. Stevens so he can update her status," she said to the Seaburys, "but I'm cautiously – very cautiously – optimistic. I would recommend all of you go home and get some rest. Please excuse me – Dr. Stevens or whoever is on call for him at the moment –"
"Dr. Wakeman," Alexandra's mother murmured.
"Dr. Wakeman," said Livia, "is really the only one who should be talking to you." Without letting the flustered Seaburys say anything else, she walked away.
"I need to take Alexandra home now," Mrs. Green said. "But I'm going to have a word with the doctor first. Excuse me." She grabbed Alexandra by the wrist and dragged her after Dr. Pruett. Alexandra was as speechless as Brian and his parents, who watched them go with stunned incomprehension.
Livia knew they were following her, but no one said anything until they reached the parking lot outside. It was cold and Alexandra felt it immediately – she hadn't zipped up her jacket and the chill was still deep in her bones after diving into Old Larkin Pond. All around them were cars with frosting-like layers of snow on their roofs and hoods in an otherwise empty parking lot.
"What are you doing here?" Alexandra's mother asked.
Livia turned to face her. "Ask your daughter."
Stricken, Alexandra's mother said, "Alexandra... you brought Livia here? How did you –?"
"How do you know her?" Alexandra pulled the business card out of her pocket and showed it to her mother. "Why did you have her card and her phone number?"
Her mother recoiled. "Where did you – were you looking in our closet?"
"Ground me. How do you know each other? You've known about her all this time! You knew I had other sisters! You've always known! How much have you been hiding from me? How could you not tell me?"
"You had no right," her mother said. She was white beneath the fluorescent lights of the parking lot.
"You had no right!" Alexandra shouted.
"She's right," Livia said, though it wasn't clear who she meant.
"Don't talk to me about rights!" Alexandra's mother said to Livia. "Where have you been all this time?"
"You knew where I was," Livia said.
"And now you decide to show up?"
"It wasn't my choice."
"Did Alexandra summon you magically? Did she force you to come?"
"You could say that."
"Wait a minute!" Alexandra said.
"Why did you come, Livia? Why did you come?" To Alexandra's horror, her mother was crying.
"To save a little girl," Livia said quietly. Tears ran down her face also. "Because our sister asked me to."
There was a space of three heartbeats before Alexandra's mind caught up to each word.
"Wait, what?" she said.
The two women stared at each other, their tears freezing on their cheeks.
"You must have known this would happen someday," Livia said. "Did you really think it wouldn't?"
"Shut up," Claudia said.
"Even if I never came, she's obviously beyond your ability to control."
"I wasn't trying to control her, I was trying to protect her –"
"You were trying to protect yourself!"
"HELLO!" Alexandra shouted. "I'm standing right here! What are you two talking about?"
Livia finally looked at Alexandra. "Ask her who your oldest sister is."
Claudia raised a hand. What she meant to do wasn't clear to Alexandra – reach for her? Stop Livia from saying anything? But it was a gesture of uselessness and futility. Alexandra stepped back and said, "What is she talking about?"
Claudia dropped her hand. "Me. She's talking about me."
Alexandra waited for this to make sense, but it didn't. "What?"
"I'm not your mother, Alexandra. I'm your sister." Claudia took a deep breath. "Abraham Thorn is my father, too."
Alexandra couldn't stop staring with incomprehension, even after the words sank in. She shivered.
"Alex," Claudia said, and stepped toward her. Alexandra backed away. "Alexandra... I'm sorry. Let's go home. I – I'll explain. I knew I'd have to someday –"
"No kidding?" Alexandra turned around and walked away from her.
"Alex, come back here," Claudia said.
"You're not my mother!" Alexandra shouted. And she began running.