The yew wand did not like Alexandra.
She practiced with it every day in the Regal Royalty Sweets and Confections warehouse. She cast charms and transfigurations, flung hexes and jinxes, and even tried to perform ritual magic that her research said was particularly suitable for yew. It resisted with an obstinacy that Alexandra became convinced was intentional. Every spell was like trying to swat a fly on a window pane with a heavy metal chain.
But it was still easier than casting spells without a wand.
By the end of the week, she had succeeded in levitating her chair back to the third floor, though it kept bucking her control, jerking from side to side against the stairwell, animated like an angry beast.
By the end of July, she’d repaired the broken window. No Muggles had noticed, of course. She also began erasing the burns and acid scars and broken boards. Her attempts to fix the damage were prompted by an imminent visit from Livia, who apparently had plans for the warehouse. Alexandra knew Goody Pruett would rat her out, but with less evidence of her activities, she could claim she was only studying from the magic books she’d stashed in the offices.
She hadn’t yet told anyone about Medea’s gift. David and Anna had both offered to acquire a wand for her. So had Julia. Alexandra had firmly refused, and worried that they would try anyway. She didn’t want them to get in trouble for her, now that she knew Richard Raspire was watching her. And if the rest of the Confederation thought she was still wandless… well, maybe they’d think she was harmless and they’d leave her alone.
The Pritchards had not offered to procure a wand for her, only written back with consternation and dismay about the outcome of her appeal hearing.
Despite Alexandra’s troubles, everyone was eagerly awaiting August, and the great Ozark Jubilee. It was a festival held once every seven years, and it was the only time the reclusive Ozarkers invited “foreigners” into their territory.
Charmbridge Academy had chartered a summer field trip to the Ozarks, taking students willing to pay for accommodations to the festival. The Confederation’s cherished appreciation of its many Cultures made it an event they deemed worth busing students to experience.
Anna and David had begged permission from their parents to make the trip. Alexandra, of course, could no longer attend as a Charmbridge student, but she had an even more precious invitation: she and Julia would be guests of the Pritchards.
She was looking forward to the gathering with enormous anticipation. It would be the opportunity of a lifetime to see the Ozarks and the place where Constance and Forbearance lived, to enter a part of the wizarding world that was usually forbidden but hadn’t yet been denied to her, and to introduce her friends to Julia.
Underneath the anticipation was sadness and worry: that something would happen to screw it up, and if not, that this gathering might be the last time she’d see all her friends together.
Not far from the Interstate, but through a fence, a field, a spur of woods, and over a small hill, lay Old Larkin Pond.
The fence was gone; now there was a footpath. The fetid smell of old boots and algae still lingered, but an extensive clean-up project had cleared away the litter and debris and turned the little pond into an almost scenic spot. The town planned to build a golf course in the fields Alexandra and Brian had once roamed.
Brian and Alexandra had Bonnie with them, as they had for much of the last couple of weeks. When Alexandra wasn’t at home, in the library, or at the warehouse, she had spent most of her afternoons going out with Brian, but inconveniently, Mrs. Seabury had decided that Bonnie needed to be supervised by her brother more, and so had been sending her along with them. Bonnie was sometimes a noisy busybody, sometimes sullen and resentful, and always in the way. Alexandra tried to be patient with the younger girl, but she was definitely becoming a terrible tween.
The three of them sat at the edge of the pond staring into the water, each with their separate thoughts. Alexandra was remembering a summer day much like this one, four years ago. Looking back, that day was her entry into the wizarding world. It was hard to believe she had been younger than Bonnie was now.
“So,” Brian said, “do you know where you’re going to school yet?”
Alexandra shook her head. She had sent applications to every wizarding school in the Confederation. Even the Sheboygan Magic Academy and the Sedona School for the Mystically Inclined. Not even the Radicalists would take her. She was stuck going to a day school, if she was going to get a magical education at all. She wondered if Governor-General Hucksteen’s reach extended even to those, though supposedly they were required to accept any child with magic who could pay tuition.
“You okay?” Brian asked.
Maybe she should take Medea’s suggestion and go to school in another country. That’s what Valeria had done. But she wasn’t going to let Governor-General Hucksteen send her running, any more than she was going to take Livia’s way out and go Wandless.
Brian put an arm around her. “You’re awfully quiet. Are you depressed or something?”
“What? Don’t be stupid.”
“Maybe she should cast a spell to make you stop asking stupid questions,” said Bonnie.
Alexandra frowned. Had she really been this bratty at twelve? Bonnie’s tone was snarky, as it usually was lately, and Alexandra was annoyed that Bonnie kept bringing up magic, like a little provocation, even though she should know better. “Maybe I should throw you into the pond and see if there’s another kappa there.”
“Alex!” said Brian. He and Bonnie both turned pale, making Alexandra immediately regret her words.
“I was just kidding,” she said. When she saw that Bonnie was actually trembling, she added, “I’m sorry. Really.”
“I want to go home,” Bonnie said, standing up.
Brian sighed and started to stand. Bonnie said, “I can go by myself. You two can stay here and make out, which was what you really wanted to do.” She made an obnoxious kissy-face at them.
“No way,” Brian said. “I don’t trust you. If I take my eyes off you, you’re going to run away to hang out with your loser friends again, and Mom will blame me… again.”
Bonnie rolled her eyes in dramatic fashion. Then, transforming instantly to sweetness and light, she held up a hand, and put another hand over her heart. “I’ll go straight home. Girl Scout’s honor.”
“You were never in Girl Scouts,” Brian said.
“Swear on a stack of Bibles,” Bonnie said.
Alexandra stood up and drew the wand Medea had given her. Bonnie’s eyes widened.
“I’ve got a better idea,” Alexandra said. She held out the yew wand. “I’m going to cast an Unbreakable Oath on you. Any promise you make under an Unbreakable Oath is binding unto death.” She made some arcane gestures with the wand and spoke a few words of Latin. “Now swear you’ll go straight home, with no detours.”
Bonnie gulped. “I swear,” she said in a small voice. “I will. Really. I promise. Super-promise.”
Alexandra nodded, and drew another pattern in the air with her wand, then put it away. “Also, stop running your mouth about magic.” She made a shooing gesture. Bonnie, now even paler, turned and hobbled off through the fields, still limping as she had since her accident last winter.
Alexandra turned back to Brian, who was shaking his head. “That, uh, that wasn’t real, right?”
“Don’t be — no, of course it wasn’t.”
“She only fell for that because you scared her talking about the kappa. That was really mean, Alex. I can’t believe you’d say something like that.”
“I know. I am sorry.” She sat back down next to him. “But she’s really been kind of a drag.”
“Tell me about it.” Brian sighed. “You know why our mom keeps making her tag along with us, right?”
“Yeah, it’s pretty obvious.” Alexandra actually half-expected Mrs. Seabury to ground Brian, or even forbid him to see her anymore, but so far all she’d done was talk to Claudia. Claudia had then extracted a promise that Alexandra would not be alone in the house with Brian. It hadn’t been an Unbreakable Vow, but Claudia had made her give her word, which Alexandra took seriously.
Brian leaned into her, and they kissed. The two of them sank into the sticker grass that surrounded them. Burrs pressed into Alexandra’s back. With Charlie perched nearby she wasn’t worried about anyone walking up on them, but Brian didn’t seem to be giving it a thought.
“Brian,” she said, when they both had to take a breath, “this isn’t exactly a great place for making out.”
Brian’s face was flushed. He sat up, reluctantly. “Compared to your living room or an abandoned warehouse?”
She laughed. “Okay, you’re right. But other people do come around here. Also, these stickers aren’t very comfortable.” She reached behind her back to pull a few out, while they listened to the sound of cars and trucks on the Interstate, only a few hundred yards away.
Brian sighed. “Sorry. It’s just been a while since we were alone, you know?”
Alexandra felt a slight puff of air, something she wouldn’t have noticed if she hadn’t become sensitive to just that particular sensation, accompanied by an almost subliminal “whoosh.”
“Oh,” said a surprised voice.
Charlie cawed an alarm as Alexandra sat up and straightened her shirt, while Brian scrambled to his feet.
Livia stood there, in a sleeveless blouse and knee-length skirt, as embarrassed as the two teenagers. She hastily thrust her wand behind her back.
“Livia!” Alexandra exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”
“Er, I was practicing…” Livia licked her lips and looked at Brian. “That is, I found you with —” She cleared her throat and tried again. “So, I hope I didn’t interrupt anything? Or should I hope I did?”
Alexandra groaned and pulled her knees up to rest her forehead against them. “Brian, this is my sister, Livia.”
“Sister?” Brian said, completely flummoxed.
“Remember I said there were some things I can’t tell you about?”
“You couldn’t tell me you have a sister?” Brian stared at Livia. Then he said, “Wait — I remember you.”
“Oh dear,” Livia said.
“You were the doctor who came to see Bonnie in the hospital, the night of her accident!”
“Brian,” Alexandra said. “Please, don’t ask questions right now—”
Brian asked, “Are you… what Alexandra is?”
Livia raised an eyebrow. “What is that?”
Brian took a deep breath. “Did you save my sister? With magic?”
Livia looked from him to Alexandra, who shrugged helplessly.
“How is your sister?” Livia asked.
“She wasn’t going to make it,” Brian said. “Then she did. The doctors said it was a miracle, and that it’s a miracle she can walk now.”
Alexandra rose to her feet and tugged at Brian’s t-shirt, turning him around.
“Brian,” she said, “I’m really sorry about this, but I need to talk to Livia.”
“You just want me to go away?” Brian’s eyes, bright and eager moments ago, were now cloudy and cool.
“It’s not like that,” Alexandra said. When he kept staring at her, she said, “All right, I guess it is. I’m sorry. I’ll explain everything later.”
“Really?” Brian’s tone matched his expression.
Alexandra pressed her lips to his. He tried not to respond, until she slid her tongue between his teeth. He returned her kiss with less resistance then, and put his arms around her. Livia waited, with arms folded, until they broke apart.
“I guess I’ll see you later,” Brian said. He looked at Livia. “Nice to meet you, Alexandra’s sister Livia.”
“I am sorry for the timing,” Livia said.
Brian mumbled something, then headed back across the field toward the underpass beneath the Interstate.
“Is that how you usually handle your boyfriend?” Livia asked.
“Excuse me, but you practically Apparated on top of us,” Alexandra said. “What were you thinking?”
“That you were alone.”
“It didn’t occur to you that I might not be alone?”
“I cast a Revealing Charm before I Apparated. It only detected you.”
“What, you mean Homenum Revelio? Where did you cast it from? Don’t you know the resolution of that spell is terrible? From beyond line of sight, of course Brian and me looked like one person.” Alexandra shook her head.
“All right, I’m a little rusty with Charms,” Livia said, embarrassed.
“Should you be Apparating while you’re pregnant?”
Livia put her hands on her hips. “Now you’re an authority on Apparition and pregnancy? I don’t need you to worry about me, Alexandra. That scene with Brian was unfortunate. I’m sorry about that.”
“Pretty reckless,” Alexandra said.
Livia’s mouth opened. She stared at Alexandra in astonishment, then closed it again. “Would you like to know why I’m here?”
“Sure,” Alexandra said. “I hope it’s not to check up on me and my boyfriend. Did you come to collect Goody Pruett?”
“No. Take my hand.”
Alexandra squinted at her. “How rusty are you at Side-Along Apparition?”
“I was always very good at Apparition. I… even continued to practice occasionally, in secret, while I was supposedly Wandless.”
“Well, if I get splinched, at least there’s a Healer ready.” Alexandra took Livia’s hand.
“Very funny,” Livia said.
Charlie squawked and took off. The raven had been Apparated before, and didn’t like it.
Alexandra and Livia disappeared. Alexandra felt briefly squeezed and pinched, as if between two giant hands rolling her like dough, and then the two of them stood inside the Regal Royalty Sweets and Confections warehouse, on the ground floor.
The previously dark and empty space was clamorous with hammering, sawing, the scrape of wood and bricks, and the clang of metal feet tromping about on cement. Clockwork golems filled the warehouse. They seemed to be taking apart everything but the walls and the elevator.
Alexandra turned about in a slow circle, taking in the sight of the brass and copper workers. A couple of newer models gleamed brightly with burnished steel. They stepped nimbly around Alexandra and Livia, taking no more notice of the humans than of a post or wall or doorframe.
“What’s going on here?” Alexandra asked.
“I’m having the interior renovated,” Livia said.
The Clockworks were tearing down the walls of the small offices that had once filled part of the first floor. Four of them were moving the huge old cast iron boiler out of the way of another group that carried a forklift-sized load of lumber and metal beams.
Alexandra watched as the four Clockworks who held the boiler retraced their steps and set it back down precisely where it had been before. “So, what, you’re going to reopen Regal Royalty Sweets and Confections?”
“No.” Livia turned her eyes from the Clockworks to Alexandra. There was a hint of mischief in her smile, not something Alexandra usually associated with the prim Dr. Pruett. “I’m going to open a school.”
“A… what?” Alexandra was sure this was a joke, but she couldn’t figure out the punchline.
“A school. A day school.”
“You mean a wizard day school.”
“Of course.” Livia stopped smiling. “Claudia and I have been discussing the problem of sending you to Chicago to attend day school. With my inheritance, I could arrange for room and board for you, or even a daily wizard taxi —”
“I don’t want your money,” Alexandra said quickly.
“Yes, that’s what Claudia said, too.” Behind her glasses, Livia’s eyes became sad and distant. “I pointed out to her that by rights, she should have an equal share of it. My mother was her mother. Not by blood, but in every way that mattered.” Anger and bitterness crept into her voice. “Claudia accepted the house you live in from our father, for your sake, but it’s the only thing she’s ever taken from the wizarding world. She still won’t let me share our family fortune, even though I haven’t touched it for twenty years.”
“Our house?” Alexandra had never thought about how Claudia purchased the house on Sweetmaple Avenue. It was just where she had grown up.
Livia sighed. “Oh dear. I probably shouldn’t have told you that. Please don’t mention it to Claudia. At any rate, you won’t let me send you to school, and I’m sure you won’t let our father send you to school. So I’m bringing a school here. I can use the Pruett fortune to do that, whether you and Claudia like it or not.”
“You’re going to open a day school in Larkin Mills?” The idea seemed absurd. “Who’s going to come?”
“Besides you?” Livia smiled. “It seems Central Territory has a need for a school serving… problem students.”
“There are also Muggle-borns who can’t attend other day schools, some for reasons similar to yours. The Confederation Charter guarantees a right to a magical education for all wizard-born children, but leaves it to each Territory to provide for that education. Central Territory is particularly stingy. If you don’t live near Minneapolis or the Great Lakes, there are few options. There are also students who’ve been disciplinary problems, or have special needs.”
“And that’s where you want me to go to school?”
“Well, you have been a disciplinary problem, and you do have special needs.”
Alexandra glared at Livia, whose expression once again became prim and serious.
“Okay, seriously,” Alexandra said, “can you even do that? Just open a new wizarding school in the middle of a Muggle town? I’m sure the Confederation has tons of rules about that. And how will these other students get here? And who’s going to teach? You? And what if I don’t want to go to school in Larkin Mills?”
“All good questions,” Livia said, nodding. She was watching the Clockworks do something with the iron furnace. “The Department of Magical Education regulates day schools, and this school will be very closely scrutinized, for obvious reasons. But if you’re willing to bribe enough people, you can make it happen. There will be all sorts of rules that the school and its students will have to follow, of course. Some students will come by wizard bus on the Automagicka, but for those in Chicago, we’re going to open a connection to the Floo.”
“The Floo?” Now Alexandra paid closer attention to the big iron furnace the Clockworks were welding back into place.
“You know that your house is Floo-connected?” Livia said.
“Julia and her mother came to our house two Christmases ago through the fireplace,” Alexandra said. “But I thought they just used some kind of magic to do that.”
“Of course they used magic. But they couldn’t have used Floo magic if your house hadn’t been built with it.”
“Our house? How?”
“How do you think?” Livia’s voice flattened and she folded her arms.
Alexandra remembered Claudia’s insistence on moving back to the same address, after their house on Sweetmaple Avenue burned down when she was eleven.
“Our father,” Alexandra said. “He arranged it somehow.”
Livia pointed at the furnace. “Once, the Regal Royalty Sweets and Confections warehouse was a major Floo nexus. I’m going to have it restored. Students will be able to come here from Chicago.”
“Will it be two-way?” Alexandra asked.
“Of course. They have to get home, don’t they?” Livia gave her a sharp look. “But it’s not for you to Floo to Chicago whenever you feel like it.”
“Assuming I stay here.”
“Oh, be reasonable, Alexandra. Where else are you going to go? You do want to be able to legally carry a wand, don’t you?”
Alexandra closed her mouth. It was true, she could hardly get a better deal than a day school in her home town. “You haven’t said who’s going to teach.”
“I’m having teachers interviewed now. I expect the first class will be very small. We won’t need more than one instructor for a day school.”
Alexandra shook her head. “Livia… I don’t even know what to say.”
“Well, you could say thank you, but you don’t have to. This isn’t just for you.”
“Then why are you doing this?”
Livia didn’t answer. Instead, she began walking slowly through the hubbub and ruckus made by the Clockworks. Alexandra followed Livia to the stairs, where she turned and looked around.
“The Pruett School,” she said, almost inaudibly in the clamor.
Alexandra laughed. “You just wanted to name a school after yourself?”
Livia didn’t smile. “No, I’m naming a school after my mother — and my grandparents.”
“Your grandparents?” Now Alexandra frowned. “You mean the pureblood bigots who wouldn’t let Claudia live with you after your mother died?”
“And you’re going to name a school for Muggle-borns after them.”
“Yes.” Behind the lenses of her glasses, amusement with a touch of malice gleamed in Livia’s eyes. “I think it’s fitting. They took me in, made me their sole heir, and left me their fortune. I’m obligated to honor their memory. But I choose to honor it this way. This will be the legacy of my family’s enterprise.”
Alexandra smiled slowly. “They’d have hated it.”
“What about Goody Pruett?”
There was still a malicious twinkle in Livia’s eyes. “She hates hanging here alone in the dark, and she’s sad that her family’s enterprise has fallen into disuse. Now she’ll have company, and something to watch over again. Shall we go tell her?”
Alexandra laughed. “You’re kind of mean. Heck yeah.”
“One other thing.” Livia reached into her blouse and pulled a wand out of the front of it.
“I still don’t know how you do that,” Alexandra said.
Livia handed her the wand. Alexandra took it in surprise. It was a plain light wood, stamped at one end with the Grundy’s logo.
“Technically, you’re not allowed to have a wand until you’re registered in a wizarding school,” Livia said. “So please keep it hidden and make sure you don’t do anything to attract the attention of the Trace Office.”
“You bought a wand for me at Grundy’s after all,” Alexandra said.
“They have a new ‘automated matching system.’ I tried to get the best match I could for you. Unfortunately, there weren’t any wands of pecan wood, and certainly none with chimaera hair. That’s basswood with, um, goat feathers.”
“Goat feathers?” Alexandra examined the wand. It felt hard and uncooperative.
“From winged goats. I understand those materials are…”
“Cheaper,” Alexandra said.
“It’s just a temporary wand, until we can take you to a true wandsmith.”
Alexandra tucked the basswood wand into her pocket, next to the yew wand. “Thank you.”
“I’m serious about keeping it hidden. You remember what Mr. Raspire said.”
“Whatever. Screw him,” Alexandra said.
Livia’s mouth tightened disapprovingly.
“I’ll keep it hidden,” Alexandra said. “I won’t get you into trouble, Livia.”
“Don’t get yourself into trouble.”
“I promise.” Alexandra’s hand was still in her pocket.
“Say that with your fingers where I can see them.”
Alexandra made a poor attempt at looking abashed.
Goody Pruett was just as happy as they expected her to be that her family’s enterprise would soon be a school for Muggle-born witches and wizards. As they walked out of the warehouse half an hour later, the portrait’s moans and wails almost drowned out the sound of the Clockworks.
“I have one other gift for you,” Livia said, as they approached her car.
“A car?” Alexandra admired Livia’s new car. It was a very nice one.
Livia snorted. “You can’t even drive yet. Actually, it’s more of a gift for Claudia. She asked me to get it for you.” She opened the trunk and took out something wrapped in white paper. She handed the large, bell-shaped package to Alexandra, who took it and found it much lighter than she expected.
“A cage,” she said.
“With a Silencing Charm on it,” Livia said.
Alexandra’s face screwed up in annoyance.
“It’s a very nice cage,” Livia said. “It’s also got temperature control charms, cleaning charms, a mirror, and shiny dangly things. Your raven will love it.”
Charlie probably would love it, Alexandra thought, except for being Silenced.
“Thanks,” she said. “I appreciate all this, really I do.” Although Livia was beginning to remind her a bit of their father — trying to make up for an absence by throwing money around.
Livia smiled. “We’ll talk about a car when you get a driver’s license.”
“Really?” Alexandra said.
“Depending on how successfully you stay out of trouble.”
Alexandra got into Livia’s car, and watched with heightened interest as her sister started the vehicle and put it in motion. Well, if she really wanted to throw money around…
Alexandra spent the final days of July practicing with both wands. Every morning, she went with grim determination to the Regal Royalty Sweets and Confections warehouse. The Clockworks ignored her as she ascended the stairs to the third floor, and when Goody Pruett’s tirades got on her nerves, Alexandra practiced Freeze-Frame spells and Silencing Charms on her. Afternoons she spent with Brian, but she did not bring him to the building on the corner of Third Street again.
From the outside, the warehouse looked the same. Livia had not had the faded Regal Royalty lettering removed from the brick face of the building, and no one passing by on the street noticed any change in the abandoned structure. The Muggle-Repelling Charms continued to render it the most ignored and uninteresting of buildings, creepy and forbidding to those few Muggles who gave it a second glance.
Inside, it had been completely transformed by the Clockwork crew and it now boasted classrooms on the ground floor and laboratories and a lecture hall on the second floor. The third floor’s offices had been renovated, and a teacher’s lounge added.
The empty half of the third floor that Alexandra had been using as a practice studio remained an open area, but all the scarred, burnt floorboards had been replaced, and the walls cleaned and repainted. Alexandra didn’t know if Livia had seen the upper floor before the Clockworks renovated it, but she thought any more fire and acid marks would invite questions her sister might have refrained from asking before, so she concentrated on less destructive charms and transfigurations.
Once the Pruett School opened its doors, Alexandra doubted she’d be able to get away with sneaking into the building and using it as her private studio.
The basswood wand had an entirely different feel than the obstinate resistance of the yew wand. It didn’t want to point where Alexandra pointed it, and it dribbled out magic meagerly and resentfully. Alexandra measured her progress by how far she could push a plunkball with the wand; the day after Livia gave it to her, her best effort would have made her eleven-year-old self laugh. After a week, she’d still have been bested by Constance and Forbearance, the plunkball champions of sixth grade.
This was what she was reduced to, she thought. Governor-General Hucksteen and Richard Raspire and Lilith and Diana Grimm all wanted her handicapped, reduced to using third-rate wands and working the puniest of magic spells.
In the evening, she studied her magical textbooks; no longer out of curiosity or childish eagerness to learn, but because the world was against her (even her own wands were against her!), her friends were few and far between, everyone she loved could be in danger, and she did not intend to be beaten.