The Injun-Blooded Warlock
From the front seat of Livia's car, Alexandra stared at the door of the warehouse as if a hideous, stunted, baby-like creature might come bursting through it and rush out at them. She was still gripping her wand. Livia inserted her key into the ignition and started the engine, but then took a deep breath and instead of putting the car into motion, demanded, "What was that all about?"
"Drive!" Alexandra said. "Now! What are you waiting for?"
"Stop telling me what to do." Perhaps realizing that this did not exactly make her sound authoritative, Livia moderated her tone. "You need to stop shouting orders at me, Alexandra. I'm not a hag." She squinted at the warehouse.
"Please," Alexandra said, "I'll explain everything, but let's get out of here."
Livia frowned, then put the car into reverse. "What was in the warehouse?"
"It's an undead... thing. It was created by Indian witchcraft, and it's evil."
"How do you know about this?"
"It stalked me all the way from Dinétah. It followed me to Charmbridge, and now here."
Livia took another long breath. "Then we have to get rid of it."
The car passed through the illusory fence around the Regal Royalty Sweets and Confections Warehouse, and Alexandra finally took her eyes off the metal door and looked at her sister. Livia was shocked and pale. If Alexandra hadn't heard her dressing down Goody Pruett a moment ago, she wouldn't have believed this polished, professional woman belonged in the wizarding world at all.
"Do you know how to get rid of an animated baby mummy?" Alexandra asked.
"I've never heard of such a creature."
"Then leave it alone. It's after me. I'm the one who has to get rid of it."
"You? Alexandra, you're just a teenager. This is something for trained wizards to deal with."
"Well, good luck with that. What are you going to do, call the Department of Magical Wildlife? Or the Auror Authority? You're not even a citizen of the Confederation anymore, are you?"
"No, I was taken off the Census when I became Wandless. But..." Livia sighed.
Livia shook her head as they backed onto the street. "I will do something about this. I want you to promise that you won't go back into that building."
"Only if you promise the same."
"You can't handle what's in there any better than I can," Alexandra said, thinking, Not even. "I won't promise not to go back unless you do, too."
"Alexandra, stop being so stubborn."
Livia took a deep breath, obviously vexed. "All right. Until I've had someone deal with whatever is in there, I won't return either. But stop talking about dealing with Dark creatures yourself. You need to let adults take care of dangers like that."
"Adults." Alexandra snorted. "Adults don't do anything."
Livia fell into a troubled silence at this. Neither of them spoke again until they were heading back to Sweetmaple Avenue. Then Alexandra said, "So, you're married."
"Yes," Livia said.
"The child you told Goody Pruett about – you meant you're actually going to have a child, didn't you?"
"So, I'm going to be an auntie?"
Livia's lips curved into a small, involuntary smile. "Yes, you're going to be an auntie."
"You said 'he.'" Livia didn't look pregnant, and Alexandra couldn't guess how far along she was. "How do you know it's a boy?"
"I'm a witch. With or without a wand, I'm still a witch." Livia pursed her lips, then glanced at Alexandra. "They do still teach these things at Charmbridge, don't they?"
"What things? Sex education? No, they don't have classes like that at Charmbridge, but I know everything."
Livia laughed. "Everything? Really."
Alexandra turned her face away to look out the passenger side window. "I mean, Claudia is a nurse, she made sure I knew all about biology and stuff."
"What about magic?"
Alexandra might have been able to talk about this with Julia, but she wasn't nearly so comfortable with Livia. "I know some things. But they don't teach anything about sex and pregnancy in class."
"Hmph. When I went to school, it was passed on by word of mouth, older students to younger ones. And there were always some teachers who would take younger witches aside. I assume boys got similar knowledge, but I never asked. They really should have classes, like Muggles do."
"No one ever took me aside. Maybe it's a pureblood thing." Of course, Alexandra had always adopted a rather superior attitude toward other girls, whom she assumed knew less than she did. Until Sonja had passed along the charms and potions she knew.
As they turned onto Sweetmaple Avenue, Livia said, much more seriously, "Most half-blood children are magical. In fact, contrary to popular belief, they're no more likely to be Squibs than so-called purebloods."
Alexandra considered that. "So your son will probably be a wizard."
"Yes." Livia slowed to a stop in front of Alexandra's house. They sat there in silence. Finally, Livia said, "I kept putting it off – even though I wanted a child as much as my husband. He knows about magic, but only a little, just enough to believe that it's real. There's a lot I haven't told him about the wizarding world – things I'll have to tell him, now."
"Because once you have a child, you'll have to deal with the wizarding world again," Alexandra said.
"Yes. In a way, it was meeting you and seeing Claudia again, and realizing what it's cost her to hide from the wizarding world, and what she did to you, that made me realize it was time for me to face the decision I'd been putting off myself. I'm not going to make the mistakes Claudia made."
"She had her reasons."
"Really? I'm surprised to hear you defending her. When I talked to her she seemed convinced that you're a long way from forgiving her."
Uncomfortably, Alexandra remembered Julia's admonition again. "I haven't, completely. But I don't blame her for wanting to hide from the wizarding world."
"She had no right to hide the wizarding world from you."
"Where do you get off pretending to be concerned about me? If you cared, why didn't you ever drive down from Milwaukee to set her straight? Oh, that's right, you were hiding from the wizarding world yourself."
Livia was taken aback by Alexandra's sudden anger. "That's different."
"Yeah, it's different – you're a witch. You had a choice. Claudia was abandoned by her family – your family – and kicked out of the wizarding world just because she couldn't do magic. You stayed. You have no idea what happened to her afterward."
"What do you mean?"
Alexandra shook her head. "Never mind. Just, it was pretty hard for her."
"Well, if you feel that way, maybe you should be more forgiving of her."
"Maybe." Alexandra got out of the car. "But you've got no right to judge either of us."
"Good-bye, Alexandra." Livia winced as Alexandra slammed the car door and went inside.
The monster wasn't going away. It had tracked her to Charmbridge Academy and then followed her to Larkin Mills. Alexandra wasn't sure why it hadn't attacked her in the warehouse. Perhaps it liked to confront its victims alone. She doubted it cared about wizarding secrecy, though. So she wasn't safe in her house. Neither were Claudia and Archie. She thought about running away again, but she didn't know where to go. She could try telling Ms. Grimm again, but the Dean hadn't really listened to her last time.
She walked around her house that evening, pacing the front yard, the side lots, the backyard, pondering what sort of wards she could create. They'd learned a few in Mr. Newton's class, but Alexandra had never actually tested her ability to create a barrier against Dark creatures, especially Dark creatures of unknown enchantment. She had no idea if she could cast a spell that would actually Bar this thing. And of course, if she tried the Trace Office would know, and casting spells at home while on probation would probably be an expelling offense.
The clouds overhead were sparse; there was no sign of weather that might conceal her use of magic.
If I get expelled for protecting my home, then that's what I'll have to do, she thought. She continued circling her house, lost in thought and aggravated at what seemed to be an insoluble dilemma, while Charlie sat on the roof observing.
On her fourth circuit around the house, she felt something, and stopped to identify it. It was not a smell or a sound or anything that sent tingles or shivers through her. It was not visible, but there was something there, something like when she had known her wand was beneath the ice at Old Larkin Pond, like when she had felt the extent of the wards at Charmbridge Academy, like when her father had urged her to see with her witch's sight.
There was magic around the house on Sweetmaple Avenue. It was as subtle as a whisper at the limit of her hearing or a tiny speck at the edge of her vision. And, she realized, she had never noticed it before because she had always felt it. It was like suddenly realizing that your home has always had a peculiar odor.
Alexandra went from walking in circles to pacing back and forth on her driveway. What kind of spell was on her house, and who had put it there?
Charlie cawed, and Alexandra saw Brian approaching from his house. He came to the end of her driveway and stopped.
"Hi," he said. "What are you doing?"
She wondered if he'd been watching as she walked in circles around her house. It must have seemed odd to him, though all the neighbors were used to odd behavior from her by now. She shrugged.
Brian waited, as if hoping for more of a response than that, then said, "We just got back from Florida yesterday."
"We went to Disney World. Bonnie's always wanted to go."
"How is Bonnie?"
"Really good." Brian leaned against the fence separating Alexandra's driveway from the neighbor's yard. "The doctors say her recovery is like magic."
Alexandra only nodded.
"I'd have brought her to say hi, but Mom and Dad are kind of weird about letting her out of the house." His face had a peculiar, unhappy cast, and he looked down. "They decided on this Florida trip kind of suddenly, after my mother talked to your mother at the hospital and she mentioned you were coming home this week on vacation."
Charlie took off, drawing Brian's attention for a moment.
"They can't exactly order me to stay away from you," he said, "but if I tell my mom I'm going to go talk to you, she gets this pinched look and doesn't say anything."
Alexandra shrugged. "We both know your mother never did like me much. Anyway, I'm going back to school tomorrow, so she can stop worrying."
"Until summer vacation starts."
Alexandra checked Charlie's location – still flying around over their block, but the raven wasn't giving any warning cries. The sun was still just above the horizon. She suspected her monstrous nemesis, if it was here in Larkin Mills, wouldn't just come skittering down the street in broad daylight. It might not care about the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy, but it had crossed several Territories without being detected, so it was obviously a stealthy creature.
"So do you think your parents will take you to Hawaii over the summer?" she asked.
Brian laughed. "I doubt it." He moved closer to her and lowered his voice. "I just wanted to say, I know what you did."
"I didn't do much, Brian. I told you, I don't know the kind of magic that could heal Bonnie."
"But you brought that other doctor who did something, and you used some kind of magic. I don't know exactly what, but –"
"We really shouldn't talk about this. Just pretend it never happened. I'm glad Bonnie is doing well, and I'm happy if I helped somehow, but you were right not to want to hang out with me, and you were right not to want to have anything to do with magic. Magic isn't real. It's better if we keep things that way."
Brian frowned. "You said – you wished you could talk to someone."
"Not you." To avoid his hurt expression, she focused her gaze down the street, where the sun now hovered on the horizon and she could almost imagine a horrid baby mummy with a demonic head clattering toward her, unseen in the sunset glare until it was far too close. "Brian, you said you were afraid when you found out that magic was real. You're worried about Bonnie being in danger. Your parents may not know why they're afraid of me, but they're not wrong. Magic is dangerous. There are bad things out there. You were all right, all along. Hanging around with me is dangerous. I can't even tell you all the things that could endanger you. You're in danger just by knowing as much as you do."
Brian didn't say anything, and when his silence stretched on, she forced herself to look at him again. His expression was no longer hurt. It was thoughtful, a little puzzled, but not afraid. The lack of fear annoyed her. Why did he treat her like a pariah for four years and then refuse to be frightened when he should be?
"What about your parents?" he asked. "Are they in danger?"
"Yes," Alexandra whispered.
"Can't you tell anyone? Do you have magic cops?"
"Tried. We shouldn't be talking about this, Brian."
"So what are you going to do?"
"Wait until tomorrow. I'll go back to school, and everyone here will be safe."
"Until this summer," he said.
Alexandra surveyed the street again.
"You kind of gave me this speech over Christmas," Brian said. "I don't blame you for thinking I'm going to freak out and shun you again, after the way I treated you. If you really don't want to be friends anymore, I'll leave you alone. But you can stop trying to scare me away."
Alexandra closed her eyes. "I don't – I don't know."
She wasn't quite sure how Brian wound up with his arms around her, or she with her head leaning against his shoulder. It felt good. Brian wasn't as tall as Torvald, and not as thin and bony. There was something familiar and comfortable about him, though in all their years of friendship, they had never so much as hugged one another.
She wasn't sure how long they stood like that, but they were interrupted when Archie pulled into the driveway and honked at them. They pulled apart as Archie's truck rolled past. He got out, still wearing his police uniform, eyebrows raised in bemusement. "Hello, Brian."
"Hello, Mr. Green," Brian said.
"Claudia will be home tonight," Archie said to Alexandra. "We'll both be seeing you off tomorrow."
"'Kay." Alexandra kept her eyes averted from her brother-in-law.
"You want to invite Brian for dinner?" he asked.
Brian said quickly, "Thanks, but I can't – my parents expect me back home in a few minutes."
"Oh. Well, okay – see you later then, Brian." The two teens stood outside in embarrassed silence while Archie went inside.
"My parents really would throw a fit if I ate over here," Brian said. "Especially my mom."
"I figured." Alexandra glanced down the street at the Seabury residence. Like most of the houses on Sweetmaple Avenue, light shined out of its windows as the sun fell further behind the horizon. Alexandra saw someone moving inside. Perhaps Brian's mother, cooking dinner at this moment, was checking out the window to see what her son was up to.
"She'd probably throw a fit if she saw me do this, too," Alexandra said. She placed her hands on either side of Brian's face and pressed her lips to his.
He didn't startle or back away. Brian was neither as bold nor as practiced as Torvald, but he returned Alexandra's kiss while she held it, and held it, making sure that Mrs. Seabury would have plenty of time to glance out her kitchen window and down the street.
Charlie's wings flapped overhead. Brian made sounds like he needed to breathe, and Alexandra separated from him, first her lips, then her embrace. He looked a little dazed.
"Pretty bird," Charlie said from the eaves of the porch, followed by a mocking cackling sound.
"Your pet raven is one weird bird," Brian said.
"Wicked clever," Charlie said.
"Tell Bonnie I said hi," Alexandra said.
"Okay." Brian nodded.
"See you in a couple of months – if your family doesn't go to Hawaii over the summer." Alexandra turned and walked inside, snapping her fingers at Charlie to indicate that the raven should wait at her bedroom window.
To her great relief, Archie didn't say anything, though the corners of his mouth remained turned up in amusement until that evening, when Claudia came home.
Claudia asked her how she felt about going back to Charmbridge Academy. Alexandra assured her that she wanted to, very much. Claudia was concerned about the dangers, and about Alexandra being happy there. Alexandra understood that her sister didn't just mean Charmbridge Academy, but the wizarding world.
In a softer tone than she had used with Claudia in months, Alexandra said, "The wizarding world is where I belong."
Claudia studied the surface of the table between them.
"But I don't want to leave this world behind," Alexandra said.
Her sister looked up to meet her eyes again.
"You said I'd always have a home here," Alexandra said quietly. "Is that still true?"
"Yes," Claudia said. "Always."
Alexandra nodded. "As long as I do, I'll always come back."
Alexandra didn't sleep all night.
After Claudia and Archie went to bed, Alexandra sent Charlie outside again. The raven protested, but Alexandra said earnestly, "Watch the house. Watch the house, Charlie. Tell me if anything is coming."
And she sat up, sometimes sitting at the top of the stairs and just listening intently, sometimes walking around quietly downstairs, looking out windows, checking the front and back and side doors, then going back upstairs to check her bedroom window and the guest bedroom window, and listening. She wished she could brew coffee, but Archie and Claudia would smell it.
It was a long, boring night. After the first time she nodded off, Alexandra went back to her room to fetch Nigel, and carried the snake looped around her wrist or coiled around her neck. She didn't really think her reptile familiar would sense anything she couldn't, let alone warn her, but the feel of Nigel's scales against her skin helped keep her awake. The snake seemed to have picked up on her agitation, and moved continuously while she held it.
Her heart pounded in her chest at every sound from outside, though the only thing she ever heard for certain was wind and passing cars. Now and then her imagination conjured up other sounds – dry, leathery feet scraping across the concrete path up to the front door, or something skittering along the side of the house, or little bony fingers scratching at a window, trying to pry it open.
She didn't know what to do if the monster did come to her house other than try to fight it, and pray she could distract it long enough for Claudia and Archie to get out. Maybe the use of magic would bring Aurors or Special Inquisitors to Sweetmaple Avenue, though she feared she was not being watched quite that closely. As the witching hour passed, and then three a.m., four a.m., and on toward dawn, Alexandra became more and more tired and her imagination more prone to hearing things in the dark. She started in a panic several times, and slapped, pinched, or poked herself awake once more, then fished Nigel out of her shirtfront or her sleeve or her hair.
By dawn, she was a wiry bundle of underslept nerves. When she let Charlie in at sunrise, the bird was too tired even to croak imprecations at her, just settled into the cage for a long bird-nap. She put Nigel in his cage too, and the snake coiled into a ball and flicked his tongue warily.
Alexandra stayed awake, not certain that the coming of dawn meant that the danger was past.
When Archie and Claudia got up, Alexandra pretended she had just gotten up herself. Reluctantly, she took a shower, still keeping her wand always within arm's length, listening for any unusual sounds. When she went downstairs, she stared longingly at the coffee Archie had made for himself and Claudia. She merely mumbled in response to most of what her sister and brother-in-law said. When Claudia asked if she were all right, Alexandra did her best to feign alertness and said she was just anxious about her final months of being a freshman.
When it was finally time to go, she hauled Charlie and Nigel's cages and her magical backpack downstairs. Before they went outside to wait for the Charmbridge bus, she and Claudia faced each other.
"I am sorry," Claudia said. "For everything."
Alexandra swallowed. "I know – I know it was hard for you. And unfair. And taking care of a sister you never wanted – that's our father's fault."
Claudia seemed to be struggling with something. "It's true that I never asked to have an infant dropped in my lap like that. Yes, it was hard. But you are my sister, Alexandra." She glanced down at Charlie and Nigel, and smiled. "My baby sister."
"Do you want to meet our other sisters?"
Claudia hesitated. "Yes," she said, very quietly, "I think maybe I would."
"Julia really wants to see you again, now that she knows you're our sister. Maybe this summer?"
They heard a vehicle come to a halt on the street in front of their house. Claudia reached her arms out and pulled Alexandra into a hug.
"Be good, Alex," she said. "And be careful."
"Sure," Alexandra said.
Archie and Claudia walked with her down the walk to the curb, and Archie gave her a much briefer hug and the same admonishment to be good.
"Bye, Archie," Alexandra said, and she got on the Charmbridge bus.
None of her friends were on the bus yet, so she curled up on an empty seat and fell asleep.
She only woke up as the bus was climbing the hill toward the Invisible Bridge. Anna was seated next to her, watching her with great concern. Alexandra sat up and rubbed her eyes as Charlie squawked.
"We thought about waking you up," said David from across the table, "but you looked so peaceful and quiet."
"David wanted to turn your hair into bird feathers," Anna said. "I wouldn't let him."
"Thanks." Alexandra sat up and only realized when she looked out the window that they had reached their destination.
"Are you sick?" Anna asked.
"No. I just didn't get much sleep last night."
As everyone got off the bus and lined up to file across the Invisible Bridge, they saw Ms. Shirtliffe and Ms. Fletcher standing on the far side, and Miss Gambola with several JROC seniors hovering in the air on brooms.
"Is it my imagination, or are they a little more alert than usual?" Alexandra asked.
"Maybe Ms. Grimm decided to take your safety more seriously," Anna said.
"You're the one who's been attacked twice on the bridge in four years."
"Maybe they're just worried about everyone else on the bridge with you," David said.
"Sure you want to cross with me?" Alexandra asked.
In answer, Anna slid her arm through Alexandra's and smiled. David grunted and walked alongside her. Despite being dull with lack of sleep, Alexandra was cheered by their presence, and by Constance and Forbearance, who caught up to them after leaving behind the Rashes whom they had sat with on the bus.
"We'uns 've got news," Constance said.
"But we best wait 'til we'uns can gather 'neath the willows," Forbearance said.
"I hope it can wait until after I take a nap," Alexandra said with a yawn.
She did take a nap upon returning to her room. Anna woke her when it was time for dinner, and then the 'Alexandra Committee' met in the library to catch up and share what they had done over vacation.
Everyone listened in horror while Alexandra told them about her monstrous nemesis.
David was the most skeptical. "This thing – it's the size of a baby, and it took down a hag?"
"It's created with Dark magic. It's practically indestructible. I hit it with everything I had, including lightning bolts, then trapped it in an inferno. And it still got away."
"Have you actually seen it since then?" David asked.
"No – but I've felt it."
She tried, without much success, to explain what she sensed when she walked in the woods around Charmbridge Academy, feeling the wards that protected the school.
"I've never 'felt' magic," David said. "Have you guys?"
Anna shook her head. The Pritchards exchanged a look and said nothing.
"Have you tried?" Alexandra asked. "Okay, look, I know maybe this sounds like wizarding mumbo-jumbo, but we thought astrology was like that, too."
"I still think astrology is like that," David said.
"Now hush," Constance said, while Forbearance's lower lip turned out.
"I believe you," Anna said to Alexandra.
David grumbled. "I'm not saying I don't believe you, I'm just saying it's not like you've never gotten the wrong idea before and jumped to conclusions. You do have kind of an imagination."
"Except when I turn out to be right," Alexandra said flatly. "If this undead thing isn't after me, what happened to Martha?"
"Maybe she took off. Witches are poking around in her 'secret' hideout, threatening her. I'd look for somewhere else to hide, too."
"And the blood?"
"Maybe she decided to have a snack before she left."
Anna put her hands to her mouth, while Alexandra glared at David, whose expression was deadpan.
"David Washington, that is a horrible suggestion," Constance said. Forbearance shuddered.
"Well, if it's all my imagination then there's nothing to worry about." Alexandra yawned. Even after her nap, she was tired.
"Anyway, you're safe here at Charmbridge," Anna said.
Safe for now, Alexandra thought. Was the creature even now running with its peculiar, hobbled gait through woods and marshes, crawling through culverts and underpasses, skulking in bushes, making its way north from Larkin Mills back to Charmbridge Academy, magically drawn to her with the tirelessness of an undead thing?
Maybe her imagination was running away with her. David was right, there were other explanations.
But her intuition told her that she was being hunted, and that she would only be safe when her nemesis was destroyed. Until then, she could not return home.
"We'uns hain't shared our news yet," Constance said.
"We'uns spoke to the Grannies again whilst we was home," Forbearance said.
Alexandra groaned. "I hope you're not going to suggest another ritual."
"No, Alex," the twins said together, and Forbearance said, "The Grannies wants to meet you."
"We'uns told 'em 'bout your conclavin' with the Stars Above," Constance said.
"An' they'uns wants to hear it themselves," Forbearance said.
"From me? But I told you everything. I can't tell them anything you didn't. Why would the Grannies care about me? And I thought Ozarker stuff was all secret. Now they're going to invite a 'foreigner' to learn Ozarker lore?"
"We'uns don't know that they'uns is gonna reveal secrets to you," Constance said.
"So they just want to talk to the girl named Troublesome who talked to Heavenly Powers?"
"They want to know for sure you is Named Troublesome."
David sighed. "That Naming stuff again."
Alexandra listened to the Pritchards argue with Anna and David, who were debating the significance of Ozarker legends, then said, "Are your Grannies going to help me? Did they have any ideas about me getting out of my bargain with the Generous Ones? Or avoiding the doom pronounced on me by the Stars Above?"
Everyone fell silent.
"You think you could send them an owl and ask if they know how to get rid of an undead baby mummy?" Alexandra asked.
Constance said hesitantly, "We'uns might could." The prospect seemed to daunt her and her sister.
"Great. If they can do that, I'll fly a broom to the Ozarks if I have to."
"I thought foreigners aren't welcome in your hollers," David said.
"It's different if'n you're invited," Constance said.
"An' this year is the Jubilee," Forbearance said.
"Jubilee years is the one time when allus invited to the Ozarks."
"It's a grand celebration."
"It'll carry on all summer an' inter fall."
"Sounds like fun," Alexandra said dryly. "So all I have to do is get rid of a Dark creature that can't be killed, and get permission from my sister to visit another magical Territory."
She wondered how much Claudia knew about the reclusive Ozarkers and their antipathy for Muggles. How she was supposed to finagle such a visit was no more clear to her than how she would get rid of her nemesis.
With only a couple of months left before the school year ended, most students were beginning to worry about their finals and end-of-the-year SPAWNs. Alexandra resumed reading everything she could in the library and from the books her father had given her. Bran and Poe had never heard of animated Indian baby mummies, but banishments were part of several Great Works, and soon she was reading about the various ways that spirits were bound to the living world and how certain Dark creatures were created. There were no instructions for actually performing such Dark Arts, but in a book with the rather sinister title Walking in Darkness that was actually the memoir of an Auror named Alastair Van Harkwood, Alexandra was delighted to find a comprehensive description of the Expecto Patronum spell that Henry Tsotsie and the other Indian Aurors had performed back at Witches' Rock.
'The wizard must bring vividly to mind his most cherished, happiest memory,' Van Harkwood wrote, before describing in verbose, meandering fashion his proudest moment as an Auror, which Alexandra skipped past to find the rest of the spell description. Van Harkwood also claimed to be the only wizard who had self-taught himself the Expecto Patronum spell: 'It is extraordinarily difficult for those less talented than myself, and I have never known another man who did not require a mentor before the first silver tracery of his Patronus could be seen.' Van Harkwood never mentioned witches.
Alexandra was excited at the prospect of casting a Patronus of her own. She told her friends, and for a few days, Anna, David, and Sonja joined her in the evening on the lawn outside Charmbridge, all of them waving their wands and crying, "Expecto Patronum!" They invited Constance and Forbearance, but the twins were once again mollifying the Rashes by spending evenings in the library or in a common study area with their 'bespoken' beaus.
After practicing nightly for over a week, no one had produced even a glimmer of silver light. Sonja and David stopped practicing the Expecto Patronum spell and began dueling each other, gently and without using flashy spells that would illuminate the night. Alexandra watched jealously and kibitzed.
Sometimes Innocence and William sneaked out to join them. Like Alexandra, they wanted to learn spells ahead of their grade level, and she obliged them. She had become a tutor of sorts. She saw William's improvement in JROC drills, and so did Colonel Shirtliffe, who bluntly asked Alexandra one afternoon, "Are you teaching dueling spells to Killmond and other students?"
"Yes, Ma'am," Alexandra said. "Is that against the rules? We're not dueling."
"There's a fine line between practicing dueling spells and dueling," Shirtliffe said.
"We're not dueling," Alexandra repeated.
"And are you actually learning anything?" the teacher asked.
"I hope so," Alexandra said.
"Stay out of trouble until the end of the year," Ms. Shirtliffe said, "and I'll teach you to cast a Patronus properly."
Alexandra was unable to hide her surprise, and the teacher laughed.
"You think all the adults around here are idiots, don't you, Quick?" With a curt gesture, Shirtliffe dismissed her, and Alexandra saluted and left, feeling chagrined and wondering how she could tell when she was being watched and when she wasn't.
It was the beginning of May when Constance and Forbearance came to her one evening in the library and told her, "We'uns got an owl from our Great-Granny."
"Oh," Alexandra said, without looking up from her book. "That's nice."
"It was about you," Constance said.
Alexandra paid more attention. "And? Did she have any advice?"
"She 'membered us 'bout an old Ozarker legend," Constance said.
"Oh," Alexandra said, less enthusiastically.
"It's 'bout Brother Randolph an' how he slipped his Nemesis, which was set on him by an Injun-blooded warlock," Forbearance said.
"Uh huh." Alexandra maintained a polite expression as the twins proceeded to tell her the tale.
Brother Randolph apparently played a trick on the 'Injun-blooded warlock,' stealing his heart and his feathered cloak, and in retaliation, the warlock created a monster out of blood and corpse powder and sticks and animal hides, which he sent to pursue Brother Randolph across all the Lands Above.
"It wouldn't never stop pursuin' him," Constance said.
"On account 'o it had his Name," Forbearance said.
"So how did Brother Randolph escape?" Alexandra asked.
"He went back to the Injun-blooded warlock," said Constance, "an' told him that he was tired of runnin'. He pled mercy an' he returned the warlock's heart an' his feathered cloak."
Forbearance continued: "The Injun-blooded warlock laughed at Brother Randolph an' thanked him for his heart an' his feathered cloak back, but told him that even if'n he wished it, he couldn't save him."
"That Nemesis would pursue him to the ends of the earth an' even to the Lands Below."
"So Brother Randolph bowed his head an' said he best just accept his fate, an' he slunk away."
"And?" Alexandra was impatient, but the Pritchards were obviously enjoying telling the tale.
"Well, it turned out that Brother Randolph switched hearts," Constance said.
"He kept the Injun-blooded warlock's heart an' give him his own," Forbearance said.
"With his Name writ on it."
"So the Nemesis found the warlock."
"An' that was the end of him."
"'Course, now Brother Randolph had the heart of a dead man."
"But that's another tale."
The Pritchards' voices both trailed away. They shifted restlessly while Alexandra waited for the moral. Then she said, "Is your great-grandmother saying I need to switch hearts with John Manuelito?"
The twins shook their heads.
"Brother Randolph's tales is mostly parables," Forbearance said.
"I think the point is, you gots to fool this thing someway," Constance said.
"I reckon Great-Granny Pritchard's meanin' is that you oughter use trickery 'stead o' tryin' to fight it."
"Thanks. That's very helpful," Alexandra said.
She waited until Constance and Forbearance went away, then buried her head in her hands. She was like that when Anna found her.
"Are you okay?" Anna asked, setting her books on the table very gently.
Alexandra sat up. "It's really hard sometimes, Anna."
Even though Anna didn't know what, specifically, Alexandra was talking about, she nodded and sat down next to her.
"I have... all these problems, not just stupid teenager problems, but life-and-death problems," Alexandra said. "If adults even believe me, they give me stupid advice I don't understand. Like I'm supposed to just figure everything out all by myself."
"But you're not all by yourself," Anna said. "You have us."
"I know, Anna." Alexandra took a deep breath. "I have been trying to keep my promise. I haven't been hiding things from you."
"I know." Anna smiled. "But you don't tell us what you're going to do until after you do it, and you only ask for help after you decide you can't do something on your own."
"Because most of the time you'd either want to stop me or join me."
"And you can't allow either," Anna said.
Alexandra sighed. She didn't want to argue. Then something came into her eyes. Anna saw it, and asked, "What?"
"I just had an idea," Alexandra said.
"You'll want to stop me or join me," Alexandra said, "and I can't allow either."
Anna bit her lip, then slowly straightened in her chair.
"Tell me your idea," she said. "I'll do whatever you tell me to do, I promise."