Lies My Mother Told Me
It took Alexandra half an hour to cool off, and another half hour of wandering around – staying off main streets and keeping to shadows, especially when she saw a police car go by – before she realized she was only getting more cold and tired. She was tempted to simply not return home, but she'd left everything but her wand in her room... and she still had so many unanswered questions.
While she was walking around, her phone rang three times before she turned it off. No doubt her mother – no, her sister – was leaving angry messages.
The sky in the east was beginning to turn pale by the time Alexandra turned her footsteps in the direction of home.
She wished she had worn the Seven-League Boots. Sweetmaple Avenue was only a couple of miles from the hospital, but that seemed like a very long way to walk in the freezing cold. Oh, sure, she could call home. Archie would probably pick her up within minutes. But she preferred to walk. It allowed her to think, though she was tired and her thoughts had not arrived anywhere in particular when she finally turned down her street. The sun was just coming up when she walked through the door of her house.
Claudia was sitting in the living room drinking coffee. She stood up and said, "Oh, thank God," and moved toward Alexandra.
Alexandra held out her palm, and Claudia stopped.
"Who's my mother?" Alexandra asked.
Claudia was haggard and pale and looked even more tired than Alexandra, but she spoke in a collected, almost rehearsed way. "Before we go further: I know you're angry, and you have a right to be, but I am your mother in every way that matters, and that means I can still ground you or keep you from ever returning to Charmbridge Academy. Don't you ever run away like that and not answer my phone calls again. Archie is searching every street between here and the hospital looking for you."
Alexandra said nothing while Claudia dialed Archie's cell phone. "She's here," she muttered. "No – no, it's okay. Yes, I'm sure. I'll see you when you get off-duty. Yes. Thanks." She hung up, tossed the phone on the couch, and sat back down, with a hand over her forehead.
"Does Archie know?" Alexandra asked.
Claudia took her hand away from her forehead. "No."
"Do you and she have the same mother?"
Claudia hesitated. "No."
"Who's my mother?"
"That's a long story."
"What, was I created in a lab or something?"
"Don't be silly. Please, sit down Alexandra."
"No. Answer my questions."
Claudia sat up. "Stop talking to me like that. I'm –"
"Not my mother."
Lines deepened in Claudia's face. For the first time, Alexandra could see the resemblance to their father. "Do you want to hear the truth or not?"
"Will you tell me the truth? Seems to me you've been lying to me my whole life. Why should I expect you're going to tell the truth now?" Alexandra felt herself becoming more spiteful and unreasonable with every word, and she couldn't stop herself. She was angry and confused and all she could do was lash out. When Claudia didn't say anything, she felt worse still, and angrier, too.
"Are you a witch?" she asked. "Wandless, like Livia?"
Claudia didn't say anything for long enough to make Alexandra begin simmering again, then she answered, with an unmistakable note of bitterness: "No. Don't tell me you haven't figured it out yet, Alexandra."
Alexandra waited. Claudia sipped from her coffee, set her cup down, let Alexandra wait a little longer, and said, "My mother died when I was little. Our father married Desirée Pruett, and I was raised by her. She was the only mother I ever knew – a good mother – and Livia was my little sister. Until I was ten years old."
Her eyes glistened now, and Alexandra, who could not remember ever seeing Claudia cry before tonight, found her resolve crumbling, and her voice drained of anger. "Is that when they found out you... couldn't do magic?"
"That's when Desirée was killed by Aurors."
Alexandra gasped. "Killed by Aurors?"
"That's what Father told me. I wasn't there. I never knew exactly what happened. A tragic accident, everyone said, but I think that's when Abraham Thorn really became an enemy of the Confederation, even if he wasn't the Enemy until you were born." Claudia's voice lowered to a whisper. "Livia was there. She saw her mother die."
Alexandra would have sat down now, but clung to just enough stubborn anger to remain where she stood.
Claudia continued. "But yes, everyone knew by then that Abraham Thorn's first-born child was a Squib. We suspected it for years – I'd never shown any magic throughout my childhood. It was obvious you weren't a Squib by the time you were two." Claudia laughed mirthlessly, and more of Alexandra's righteous fury drained away.
"After her mother died, Livia was raised by her grandparents, but – well, the Pruetts were an old, traditional pureblood family. If I had actually been a Pruett myself, maybe they would have taken me in anyway, but... Squibs were considered shameful among the Elect. A sign of iniquity, something that went wrong in the blood."
"They separated you from Livia? They wouldn't let you stay with her?"
"What would I have done anyway, when Livia went off to Charmbridge a couple of years later?" Claudia shrugged. "Squibs are usually sent to live in the Muggle world, or so I've been told. Father found a Muggle family willing to take care of me, and I left the wizarding world behind."
"He just dumped you in a foster family?"
"They weren't bad people. Father checked on me to make sure I was doing well. I was a good student. I graduated high school, and got into a pre-med program." Claudia laughed again, still without humor. "Imagine, years later, Livia being the doctor."
Alexandra said nothing.
"And then one day, after I hadn't seen him in over a year, Father came to me, and he brought a baby. My sister. He couldn't explain what had happened, except that he was a wanted man, the Wizard Justice Department was after him, and for some reason, he thought you'd be safer in the Muggle world. Or maybe he just didn't know anyone else who'd take you in. It was frightening and confusing, especially when the Inquisitors showed up literally on his heels, but what else could I do? Turn you over to foster care?"
Alexandra sensed unspoken gulfs in Claudia's narrative – years brushed over, details omitted – but forced herself to concentrate on the questions of greatest urgency. "Why didn't you ever tell me?"
"I made our father swear to keep the wizarding world away from me. And I made him swear to keep away from me. They leave Squibs alone, mostly. Once they knew that Father never visited, the Inquisitors stopped bothering us. I just wanted a normal life." Claudia closed her eyes. "But I knew I couldn't keep the wizarding world away from you forever."
"So you thought you'd just tell me lies all my life, make our father promise not to tell me the truth either, and hope I'd never find out?"
"No, I just –"
"Who's my mother? Is she dead, too? Do you even know?"
"She's not dead."
Alexandra stood still, waiting, until Claudia said, "You've met her. She's at Charmbridge Academy."
Alexandra shook her head. "No. Oh, no."
Claudia stood up. "I'm sorry. You're right, you should have known, you should have been told."
"You think?" Shaking, Alexandra drew her wand.
Claudia's mouth dropped open. "Alexandra, what are you doing?"
Alexandra pointed her wand upstairs. "Accio broom!" Her Twister came clattering down the stairs, bumping against walls and knocking cups off a bookcase before it flew into her hand.
"Accio backpack!" she said. Claudia gasped and ducked as Alexandra's backpack flew into the room. Alexandra caught it and slung it over her shoulders with one motion while walking toward the door.
Upstairs, Charlie cried: "Alexandra!"
"I'm sorry, Charlie," Alexandra said, "not this time."
"What are you doing?" Claudia demanded.
"Going to see my mother."
"What? Are you out of your mind? Alex, you can't!"
Alexandra threw the door open, stepped out onto the porch, took one look up and down the street in the dim early dawn, and launched herself into the air.
If not for her anger, Alexandra might have frozen solid astride her broom, and so she held onto her anger, nurtured it and fanned it, all the way north. From her pack she retrieved her cloak and put it on, but it only kept the wind off, not the cold. She didn't know how to fly directly to Charmbridge, so she followed the Automagicka, which meant flying all the way to Chicago and then cruising along the edge of Lake Michigan. The sun was up now, but the winds were stronger and the air was colder. She hadn't seen any other flying brooms, but she didn't dare cast a Warming Spell. She didn't think Diana Grimm could track her broom, but the Trace Office might be looking for her even now.
Or maybe they didn't know or care where she was. It wasn't as if her mother – Claudia, she corrected herself; it was going to take a while to stop thinking of Claudia as her mother – was going to call Ms. Grimm. She'd be glad Alexandra had left. Now at last she was relieved of the unwanted burden that had been dumped on her fourteen and a half years ago.
Some part of her knew she was being foolish, especially when she had to put her hands inside her cloak because her fingers were turning numb, but anger and indignation kept her mind off the cold.
She found the highway that the Charmbridge bus followed away from Chicago and the lake and into the rolling woodlands dotted with more towns and highways. Fatigued, frozen, and still in an emotional fugue, she was relieved when she finally reached the river valley separating the Muggle highway from the woods around Charmbridge. She went shooting over it, right past the Invisible Bridge, and descended over the trees to land on the doorstep of Charmbridge Academy.
There were a few students who stayed here even over winter break. Thus, she wasn't surprised when the front doors opened for her. It was still early morning, and she didn't see anyone as she marched down the main corridor dragging her broom behind her. The corridor was fully lit, and it was warm inside, so her nose began running after the hours in the freezing cold. By the time she reached the administrative wing, she was still angry and indignant, but she was also shivering, wet-faced, and so tired that her knees were shaking.
"Miss Quick," said Miss Marmsley. "Dean Grimm told me to expect you. Wait a moment and I'll –"
"Pictogel," Alexandra said, twirling her wand at the portrait. Miss Marmsley's mouth still moved, but it was as if she were trying to chew through a mouthful of rubber. Alexandra marched down the hall and threw open the door to the Dean's office.
Dean Grimm was sitting behind her desk. Before Alexandra could say a word, the Dean flicked her wand, and Alexandra's wand flew out of her hand. Ms. Grimm neatly snatched it out of the air. Two more flicks of her wand caused Alexandra's broom to slam into the ground, followed by her backpack. Then she pointed her wand at Alexandra. "Sit."
Alexandra fell into the nearest chair before she could think. She tried to speak, but her lips were sealed together and her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth. Ms. Grimm made a minute gesture, and the chair Alexandra was sitting in, back against the far wall, came sliding across the carpet until it jerked to a halt directly opposite the Dean's desk, with Alexandra held to it as immobile and silent as if she'd been bound and gagged.
"Dean Grimm," came Miss Marmsley's voice from the small picture frame on the Dean's desk, sounding a little garbled. "I would have warned you Miss Quick was on her way in, but she tried to Freeze-Frame me!"
"Indeed." Ms. Grimm's expression didn't change, but her voice was wintry. "Well, she's here now. Thank you, Heather. Will you please see to it that Miss Quick's parents know that she has arrived safely and that I will be in touch shortly?"
"Yes, Dean Grimm."
The Dean held the ends of her wand pinched between her fingers, with her elbows on her desk. She and Alexandra stared at each other for a moment. Alexandra shifted a little to test the magic that held her to the chair. She couldn't even lift an arm.
"Let us be very clear, here, Miss Quick," said the Dean. "I will tolerate no outbursts, disrespect, or insolence. When I remove the Tongue-Tied Jinx I've put on you and unglue you from that chair, you will maintain your civility and your self-control and you will not raise your voice. We will have an adult conversation. You will not scream or carry on like a child. This is the moment you decide whether you're a witch or an uncontrollable little brat who doesn't deserve all the special consideration you've been given. Do you understand me?"
Alexandra's eyes burned with fury, but she nodded.
Ms. Grimm slashed the air. Alexandra could speak and move freely again. She didn't say anything; she was breathing too hard. The fireplace in the wall behind and to the left of the Dean's desk was ablaze, and Galen was lying stretched across the hearth with one eye open, regarding Alexandra.
"What you did was very foolish," Ms. Grimm said.
Alexandra remained silent.
"Claudia is very worried."
Alexandra didn't reply, except with a quick snort, followed by a sniffle.
Ms. Grimm set her wand down and steepled her fingers. "You're upset. That's understandable. I know you think you've been treated very unfairly, but there were reasons things were kept from you, Miss Quick."
"Miss Quick," Alexandra repeated.
The Dean raised an eyebrow. "Excuse me?"
"Never mind. It's okay. I don't call Abraham Thorn 'Dad' and I'm certainly not going to call you 'Mom.' So I guess 'Miss Quick' is fine."
Lilith Grimm opened her mouth and to Alexandra's surprise, looked startled. "Wait – did Claudia tell you I'm your mother?"
Alexandra sat up straighter. "I –" She tried to remember Claudia's exact words. Her anger fizzled into confusion. "She said my mother is alive, at Charmbridge." She shook her head. Too many sudden shocks, compounded with an awful lot of fatigue and cold over the last twenty-four hours, were making her head swim. "You aren't?"
"No." Ms. Grimm sighed. "Perhaps Claudia believes I am. I've never actually asked what Abraham Thorn told her, and Claudia and I have only ever spoken directly to one another twice. The first time was on the day I came to your home to invite you to Charmbridge Academy. The second was today." Her steel gray eyes fixed on Alexandra's. "I'm not your mother, Alexandra, I'm your aunt."
Alexandra's mouth opened, and she almost rose from her seat. "Diana Grimm is my mother?" she exclaimed in horror.
Ms. Grimm shook her head again. "No. Diana is also your aunt."
Alexandra squeezed her eyes shut. "Please," she muttered, "stop playing games with me."
"I'm not playing games with you, Alexandra." Ms. Grimm's voice was gentle now, so Alexandra opened her eyes again. "It's a complicated story."
Alexandra bit back her first retort, and said, "I'm listening."
Lilith Grimm settled back in her chair, as if she had been waiting to tell this story for a long time. All the past deans in the portraits on the wall behind her watched as a silent, respectful audience, their usual slight restive motions stilled, the occasional whisper of their voices quieted.
"Your mother," Ms. Grimm said, "is our sister Hecate. Our 'little sister' as we always called her, though we were all born in the same hour. Hecate was the third of three, and we never let her forget it.
"Last out of the womb, first into every form of trouble and mayhem. Hecate was always outgoing, adventurous, rebellious. She was punished more than Diana and I put together – in fact, Diana and I almost never got in trouble. Hecate got in enough trouble for both of us." There was a hint of amusement in Lilith Grimm's gray eyes... and something else, too. She spoke of her sister with real affection.
"Diana – the first-born, and she never let us forget that – was the bossy, judgmental one. Never willing to let go a slight, always correcting wrongs, especially ours. Oh, how Hecate and Diana fought! I was the quiet, studious one who remembered everything and said little. I tried to be peacemaker, and after getting hexed for my troubles once too often, I stayed out of their way." Ms. Grimm shook her head. "We stopped being as close after that. Perhaps if I had been less studious and taken more interest in Hecate's personal life, or if Diana had tried to meddle in it less, Hecate might have continued to confide in us. But we grew apart, all three of us. We went to different schools. Diana became an Auror, I became a scholar, and Hecate..." She sighed.
"Hecate was always popular with boys." Ms. Grimm smiled thinly. "Diana and I found the attention from young men fascinated with the 'Grimm triplets' unflattering, but Hecate reveled in it. She was a free spirit, but she could also be a heartless, manipulative one. She left broken hearts a' plenty in her wake, but I don't think she ever truly fell in love herself until she met Abraham Thorn.
"I don't know exactly when or how it happened – as I said, by then we weren't close and we weren't in regular communication – only that when everything went to Hades, when the Thorn Circle were all branded Dark Wizards and Abraham Thorn an Enemy of the Confederation, and the Wizard Justice Department was hunting the continent for him and his associates, it was Hecate who stood by his side, his most ardent devotee. Even though she was pregnant, she joined him as a fugitive... with her own sister one of the Inquisitors hunting her and her lover down."
Ms. Grimm seemed to be seeing someone else when she looked at Alexandra. Alexandra supposed she was. "They were on the run, the Inquisitors and Aurors were only a step behind them, most of the Thorn Circle were in hiding, imprisoned, or dead. Merlin knows under what circumstances Hecate gave birth. And of course, I was being watched continuously. So were all of Abraham Thorn's ex-wives and children in the wizarding world. I suppose that's why he brought you to your eldest sister, the one who'd been living in the Muggle world for years."
Alexandra's voice was hushed. "Because... they didn't want to take a baby with them while they were on the run?"
"No, Alexandra. I know my sister – Hecate had many qualities, good and bad. She was fiercely passionate, fiercely loyal, and fiercely stubborn. She'd never have abandoned you."
Alexandra swallowed. "She was killed? But Claudia said..."
"No. Hecate wasn't killed."
The Dean rose from her large leather chair behind her desk. She walked to the fireplace and picked up Galen, who meowed but did not resist being lifted away from the warm hearth. Ms. Grimm pulled another chair over to set it next to Alexandra, and set Galen on it.
"Hecate became Galenthias," said Ms. Grimm.
Alexandra stared at the black cat, who stared back at her and meowed.
"My mother... is a cat?" Alexandra thought that the world had become one very bad joke.
"Your mother was an Animorphmagus. Hecate may not have been as studious as me, but she was at least as clever and twice as talented. And when the Aurors and the Inquisitors caught up to her and your father – well, perhaps Diana will give you her version of what happened, if you ask her. Perhaps. I know that Abraham claims she was struck by a spell from one of the WJD agents. Diana claims it was he who Obliviated her."
"Obliviated?" Alexandra couldn't stop staring at the cat. Galenthias flicked her tail and continued studying Alexandra with unnerving attention, but nothing Alexandra could read as recognition.
"She lost the ability to transform out of her Animorphmagus state. She lost... all of her memories."
Alexandra tore her eyes away from the cat and stared at the witch. "Can't you restore them? Can't you turn her back into a human being? You just left her as a cat?"
Rather than become upset at Alexandra's tone, Ms. Grimm laid a hand on her shoulder, gently.
"Yes, Alexandra, I can turn her back into a human being. But restore her memories? No. Believe me, we tried. The greatest Healers in the Confederation tried. The Wizard Justice Department certainly tried." She reached across her desk and picked up her wand. "You won't really believe me unless I show you. I suppose you need to see this. It will not be easy."
It was only as Ms. Grimm waved her wand over the cat, whom Alexandra had always believed to be her familiar, that Alexandra realized that she didn't mean it wouldn't be easy for Alexandra. Lilith Grimm looked pained as she pronounced a few words and performed a complicated series of gestures.
Galenthias rose from her chair, elongated, grew, and in only a few seconds, transformed into a grown woman wearing a simple white gown.
She looked exactly like Lilith and Diana Grimm, except for the pleasant, blank expression on her face.
"Oh," she said, looking at Alexandra, "hello there."
Alexandra stared at her wordlessly.
Hecate Grimm looked up at Lilith. "Hello." Her face finally registered some emotion, as her forehead wrinkled in puzzlement. "Do I know you?"
"I'm your sister, Lilith," said the Dean. "Hello, Hecate."
"Hecate? Is that my name?"
"Yes." Lilith laid a hand on Alexandra's shoulder. "This is your daughter."
Hecate tilted her head as she studied Alexandra. Her eyes were gray, just like her sisters', but there was an openness to them that Alexandra had never seen in the Dean or the Special Inquisitor. "My daughter? Are you sure? I don't remember having a daughter."
"Her name is Alexandra," said Lilith softly.
Hecate reached a hand out and touched Alexandra's cheek. Alexandra didn't move.
"You're a very pretty child," Hecate said.
"Thank you," Alexandra said, in a voice that was a rasp.
"What's your name?" Hecate asked.
"Her name is Alexandra," said Lilith.
Hecate frowned at Lilith. "And who are you?"
Lilith took her hand off of Alexandra's shoulder and moved to stand behind Hecate, putting both hands on her shoulders instead. "She hasn't just lost her memories," Lilith said, "but her capacity to remember. The Memory Charm that robbed her of her memories was an extraordinarily powerful one – perhaps miscast, perhaps just the most terrible synchronicity. She can't hold a single memory in her head. She can still speak – her power of language was not destroyed – but everything else is gone, and nothing can bring it back. Whatever you tell her will be forgotten in seconds."
"Excuse me, I'm sitting right here," Hecate said. "You're talking about me as if I weren't."
Lilith stroked her sister's long, black hair. "Tell her who you are a hundred times, Alexandra, and she'll still ask you your name a moment later. She can't even remember her own name."
"That's ridiculous –" Hecate frowned, and in a worried voice asked, "What is my name?"
"Hecate." Lilith's long, slender fingers settled onto her sister's shoulders again.
"And who are you?" Hecate asked. Guilelessly, she turned to Alexandra. "And this girl? What's your name, child?"
Alexandra sat still, in mute horror.
"Have you seen enough?" Lilith asked softly.
"What's wrong, young witch?" asked Hecate. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
Alexandra said, "There has to be..."
"There isn't." Lilith abruptly tapped Hecate's head with her wand, and the woman disappeared, becoming a cat again. Lilith turned away.
Alexandra stared at the cat – her mother – Galenthias – who began licking one paw.
"So you just leave her as a cat for the rest of her life?" Alexandra asked, in a voice filled with disgust. "Letting her walk around the school like a pet, chasing mice and –"
Lilith Grimm whirled; her expression was hard and her voice was like a knife. "She can't take care of herself as a human, Alexandra! She can talk, she can eat, she can sleep, she can just barely dress and undress herself. Beyond that, she is as helpless as a kitten. What should I have done with her, put her in a home for the incurably cursed, where she can sit on a bed staring blankly at a wall, surrounded by gibbering lunatics and walking corpses? She's far happier and more independent as a cat than she'll ever be as a human, and here I can watch her and guard her and take care of her. But, when you're a grown witch and have a home of your own, perhaps we can discuss alternate arrangements if you'd like to take on that responsibility."
Ms. Grimm's face softened when she saw Alexandra's expression. Alexandra was not so much hurt, as her aunt may have assumed, but reminded that growing up to take care of her mother herself might not even be an option.
She was also trembling visibly, suffering from shock and bone-wearying fatigue.
Ms. Grimm picked up the cat and set it on her lap as she sat down next to Alexandra.
"We've watched over you since you were born, but we respected Claudia's demand for autonomy and privacy. She knew that you would have to learn about the wizarding world someday, but she wanted nothing to do with it herself. She's been badly hurt. Don't judge her too harshly, Alexandra."
"I don't. I judge you. And my father. And Diana Grimm. Maybe Claudia had a reason for hiding from the wizarding world, but once I was here, you could have told me the truth any time." Alexandra's voice became thick. She welcomed the anger that diluted other emotions. "Were you laughing at me, all those times you stood there holding my mother in your arms?"
"Laughing at you? Of course I wasn't."
"Liar. You're all liars. You've lied to me from the beginning. All I've ever heard is lies! Lies my mother told me, lies you told me – every time I try to get the real story, I get another bunch of lies. You're probably lying to me again now!"
Ms. Grimm slapped her across the face.
"Your mother never lied to you," she said.
Galen made a startled sound and clawed at Lilith, who let her go, while Alexandra turned her head and put a hand to her mouth. The cat jumped out of the witch's lap, took a few steps across the carpet, and turned to regard both of them warily, tail flicking in agitation.
"You are not the only one who was done wrong here," Lilith Grimm said, in a voice that was soft but with none of its previous gentleness. "You are not the only one who has suffered. You are not the only one who has had a difficult time."
Then she was silent, while Alexandra kept her hand over her mouth.
"School starts Monday," the Dean said. "You would have been brought here tomorrow. I'll need to discuss with Claudia whether to keep you here or send you back home."
"I think I have a say in that."
"Actually, you don't. But I do think the two of you need to talk some more."
"Talk about what? Obviously there's no need for me to go back to Larkin Mills. Claudia doesn't want me there. Now she can leave the wizarding world behind completely." Alexandra dropped her hand from her face. "Maybe the Kings will let me stay with them summers from now on. If not..." Her voice trailed off.
"Self-pity doesn't become you, Alexandra."
"I'm not going home."
"You're not being rational. You're very emotional right now. You've suffered a series of shocks, and you're exhausted."
"Don't forget being cursed and smacked around. And I'm not being emotional!"
Ms. Grimm stood up. "Go see Mrs. Murphy. You need some Pepperup Potion or you're going to catch a deathly cold. Then get some sleep. We'll talk this evening or tomorrow morning. I have always acted in your best interests, Alexandra."
"Yeah, I can feel that." Alexandra rubbed her face.
"Really, child." The Dean was severe and aloof again. "You'd have gotten a lot more cursing and smacking around if I weren't so partial to you. That's my own weakness. On your way out, you will apologize to Miss Marmsley, and I mean a real apology, not something mumbled through your teeth. And if you ever throw a Freeze-Frame spell or any other curse at her again, you'll find out what I do to students I'm not giving preferential treatment to."
Alexandra stood up, turbulent thoughts and emotions roiling in her head.
Ms. Grimm held out a hand, and without speaking a word, Alexandra's broom levitated off the floor and into her hand. "This will stay locked up now. You will not be taking it back to Larkin Mills with you." When Alexandra opened her mouth, Ms. Grimm said, "This would be a good time to consider your words carefully, dear. When in doubt, say nothing."
Alexandra closed her mouth. She left the Dean's office and shuffled to a halt in front of Miss Marmsley's portrait.
"I'm sorry I tried to Freeze-Frame you," she said. "I was... really upset."
"That's no excuse," Miss Marmsley said. And after a pause: "But I accept your apology."
Alexandra knew she did need rest. She obeyed the Dean's orders, and found Mrs. Murphy doing paperwork in her office. The nurse was surprised to see someone in the infirmary with the school almost empty, but she mixed a batch of Pepperup Potion for Alexandra and assured her she'd feel better in the morning.
On her way back to her room, trailing steam from her ears, Alexandra passed a squad of Clockworks mopping the floors. Leaning against the wall, twirling her wand and looking bored, was the sixth grader with dreadlocks who'd been outside the Dean's office the last time. She stopped twirling her wand when she saw Alexandra.
"Hey," she said, "you're back early."
"Yes." Alexandra didn't feel like talking to the girl.
"Hey, are you really a Dark Wizard's daughter?"
"Cool! Did Dean Grimm really turn you into a rat when you were in sixth grade?"
"Damn. You must have done something a lot worse than me."
Alexandra proceeded upstairs without giving the girl a chance to press for more. The warlock over Delta Delta Kappa Tau hall looked surprised to see her, too. She mumbled a greeting, reached her room, which was empty but for the blankets and sheets neatly folded at the foot of her bed and Anna's, awaiting their return. She stripped off her cloak, coat, and boots, pulled the blankets roughly around herself, and collapsed onto the bed, still steaming from the Pepperup Potion.
She didn't actually hear anything, or didn't remember hearing anything, but when she opened her eyes, it was with the definite feeling that there had been a sound in her room, and that was why she'd woken up.
She was lying on her side with her face to the wall. She rolled over onto her other side. She had slept all day; the sunlight coming in through the window was weak and fading. Her ears felt hot and her nose was a little runny, but she was no longer cold and shivering.
She saw the top of a bald, wrinkled head, and sat up. "Quimley!"
The elf stood in the middle of the room, arms hanging loosely in his oversized denim jacket, the baggy cuffs of his pants draped around his feet, almost covering his shoes. Even elves didn't go barefoot in the winter.
"I'm so happy to see you!" Alexandra threw her blankets off and rolled her shoulders, which were still stiff from hours spent hunched over a broom.
"Quimley thought Alexandra Quick would still be at her house," the elf said.
Alexandra winced. "Oh, no. You went looking for me there?"
"Do not worry. Muggles did not see Quimley."
Alexandra slid off her bed to sit cross-legged on the floor in front of Quimley. "I was worried about you. You've been gone so long, I thought something might have happened to you."
There was a ghost of a smile on the elf's pale lips. "Quimley is very good at not being seen and not being found. But Quimley found John Manuelito."
"You did?" Alexandra sucked in a breath. "Where is he?"
"What will Alexandra Quick do?"
She frowned. "I guess that depends on where he is. Is he around here? Or –" A horrible thought occurred to her. "Is he near Larkin Mills?"
"No. John Manuelito has joined some very bad wizards in a place far from here. Quimley thinks Alexandra Quick is better staying away from John Manuelito. Let wizards deal with wizards."
"I'm a witch."
"Alexandra Quick is a very young witch. And these are very bad wizards."
"Where is he, Quimley?"
The elf sighed. "John Manuelito is in the Indian Territories."
"The Indian Territories?" That was a huge area on the map of the Confederation. There were actually many 'Indian Territories' scattered around the continent, but most people, when referring to the Indian Territories, meant the large region in the southwest. "Where in the Indian Territories?"
"Wizards call it Dinétah," Quimley said.
"That's a long way from here."
"Yes, it is a long way from here."
"Do you know how long he's been there?"
"Quimley thinks he has been there for months."
"What's he doing there?"
Quimley shivered. "Indian wizards have no house-elves, and such magical beings as live in Dinétah are not the sort who are friendly to elves. Quimley only saw John Manuelito a few times, in his log house which is far from anywhere other humans, wizard or Muggle, live. Quimley saw other wizards visit him, wizards who turned into animals. They scared Quimley. But worst of all was when Quimley waited until John Manuelito left his house, and then snuck inside to look."
"Quimley!" Alexandra was horrified – and curious. "I didn't ask you to spy on him! I didn't want you to endanger yourself!"
"No, Alexandra Quick did not want Quimley to endanger himself, but she wanted to know about John Manuelito. She did not ask Quimley to spy, because she did not have to."
Alexandra swallowed, unable to deny the charge and unable to admit even to herself that it was true.
"Quimley also wanted to know about this wizard Alexandra Quick thinks is her enemy," the elf said, as if to assuage her conscience. Then he shuddered. "There were... skins and entrails in John Manuelito's house." His eyes were so wide that Alexandra could see her own face reflected in them. "Quimley does not think they were all from animals." The elf looked down. "Quimley is sorry – he did not stay to look more closely."
"It's all right. I'm glad you got out of there." Alexandra looked out the window. The sun was almost down. "Quimley...what kind of animals?"
"The wizards who visited John Manuelito. What kind of animals did they turn into?"
"Quimley saw coyotes, owls, a raven, and a fox. Perhaps others."
Owls. Alexandra's thoughts filled with bilious rage and a torrent of unspoken obscenities. Quimley shrank away from what he saw in her eyes.
She took several slow, deep breaths. "Can you show me on a map exactly where he's located? His house, I mean."
Quimley wrung his hands. "Surely you will not go there?"
"Maybe I want to tell my father. Or the Wizard Justice Department."
"'Maybe' does not sound like you want to do that."
"Quimley, you found him like I asked – are you really not going to show me?"
The elf's lower lip turned up and he regarded her with wide, woeful eyes. "Quimley is afraid Alexandra Quick will do something terrible and foolish."
"I just –" She took another deep breath, and forced herself to speak very calmly. "I just want to know where he is. It's not like I could actually go all the way to Dinétah. Dean Grimm took my broom away. I can't Apparate. I can't even drive. Will you take me there?"
Quimley shook his head vigorously. "No."
"Someday, maybe I will go looking for him. Or maybe I'll just settle for letting someone else do that. But he's been stalking me here, and in Larkin Mills, and I just want to know where he is. I want to have some way of knowing where to find him. Maybe I'll find a curse in the library I can cast at him by knowing where he lives. I'm sick of being helpless and sitting around waiting for someone else to come after me because they always know where to find me. I asked you to do this for me, Quimley. Are you going to tell me now that you won't, after you spent weeks finding him in the first place?"
Quimley's one good ear drooped. With a heavy sigh, he reached into the pocket of his denim jacket and withdrew a crumpled, folded map. It wasn't on parchment or vellum. It was paper, and when Quimley unfolded it, Alexandra saw that it was labeled: 'USGS Topographic Map of the Four Corners Region (including the Navajo Nation and Joint Use Territories).'
Quimley opened it to a vast, empty quadrangle that looked like it was about fifty miles from anywhere, and further than that from the nearest city. Quimley put a shaking finger on a smudged black circle. "Here is John Manuelito's log house."
"Right in the middle of nowhere." Alexandra sat looking at the map for a long time, while it continued to grow dark outside.
"Quimley must return now," said the elf.
"You mean to the Lands Below?"
Alexandra took one of his small hands in hers. "Are you sure you won't consider staying up here? Not all wizards are cruel."
"No, Alexandra Quick, not all wizards are cruel. But Quimley belongs with the Generous Ones."
"I don't understand that."
Quimley nodded sadly. "Alexandra Quick does not have to understand."
Alexandra put her arms around the elf and gave him a hug. "Thank you, Quimley. I know I've put you through so much. If you ever do want anything from me, I owe you. I really do."
Even in the dark, she could see Quimley turning pink. "No, Alexandra Quick. Quimley will not accept any debt from Abraham Thorn's daughter."
"Do you really have to go?"
"Yes. But Quimley hopes he will see Abraham Thorn's daughter again."
"I hope so, too."
"Good-bye, Alexandra Quick. Please do not do anything foolish or dangerous." The elf disappeared with a pop.
Alexandra went down to dinner, taking her pack with her. There were less than a dozen other students, none in her grade. A few sat together despite their age differences. About half sat alone, like her. From across the cafeteria, the sixth grade troublemaker waved her hand. Alexandra gave a perfunctory wave back, keeping her posture and her expression uninviting. It worked; the girl did not come over.
Alexandra had generous portions of everything, stuffing herself. Then she went back for seconds, then thirds, and each time she returned to her table, she wrapped the food and put it into her backpack. She even went back a fourth time to pick up some more bread and fruit.
On her way back to her room, the warlock hanging over the entrance to Delta Delta Kappa Tau hall said, "You aren't sneaking food into your room, are you?"
"No." She unslung her pack and held it defiantly open for him, knowing the portrait could not see into the depths of the magical pack. "See?"
"I didn't ask to see," he said with a harrumph. "Miss Marmsley told me to let you know that you're to report to the Dean's office tomorrow morning, immediately after breakfast."
She proceeded to her room and placed her backpack on her desk. She reached inside, rummaging around all the things she had stored in it while she was back in Larkin Mills. There were a few books, a first aid kit, the Seven-League Boots, and all of her Christmas presents. These she left in the pack, except for the magic mirror from Julia. She also took out her Skyhook, and her Lost Traveler's Compass. She laid these on her desk, along with a quill and a long piece of parchment.
She had several changes of clothing which she hadn't taken home still in her dresser. She put these in her pack.
Tomorrow was Sunday, and everyone who had gone home over vacation would be returning to Charmbridge, including Anna. Alexandra spent the rest of the evening writing a long letter to her friend, relating everything that had happened – and where she was going. Alexandra wouldn't be reporting to the Dean's office the next morning. She would be gone long before then.