Alexandra waited a week before she called Livia. Claudia had accused her of being ungrateful, but Alexandra did know that Livia had gone to a lot of trouble to open the Pruett School, and couldn’t believe she’d want it to be so…
“Weak,” she said over the phone. She lay on her back on top of her bed, balancing her hickory wand on her finger.
“Weak?” Livia repeated.
“I think Madam Erdglass means well, but she can barely stay awake,” Alexandra said.
In a week of classes, most of her lessons had consisted of reading and performing a very few enchantments. Madam Erdglass had everyone practice the same subject each hour, differing only by grade level. The youngest students, the sixth graders, were still learning the parts of a wand and basic wand movements, and much to their disappointment, had yet to cast a single spell. Their eyes bulged with jealousy when the older students performed small charms and transfigurations.
“It’s all so basic,” she said to Livia. “And we’ve got thirteen students from sixth graders to a senior in one room —”
“Alexandra,” said Livia, with a flat tone like a slap, “I’m not running the school. And the worst thing I could do is try to micromanage it from a distance. Madam Erdglass is in charge. She determines the curriculum and the lessons, and she’ll be sure to follow all Department of Magical Education guidelines to the letter. I can’t believe after one week you’re calling me like I’m going to come down there and change things to your liking.”
“That’s not what I called you for,” Alexandra protested. “I’m just telling you, I don’t think anyone is learning much.”
“One week with your new teacher and you’re competent to judge her qualifications? Madam Erdglass retired before I was born, that’s how long she’s been a teacher.”
“You mean how long she’s not been a teacher.”
“Alexandra.” Livia’s voice was icy.
“I’m just saying —”
“You’re just saying,” Livia cut in, “that day school is not like Charmbridge Academy, and your new school doesn’t have the staff or the resources or the curriculum that you’re used to. I’m very sorry that the Pruett School isn’t living up to your expectations.”
“That’s not what I meant.” Alexandra could hear her own voice now, and how Livia was hearing her words, and she didn’t like it.
“What did you mean, then? What exactly should I do, Alexandra? Fire Madam Erdglass? Or perhaps you were hoping I have some more money I can use to hire half a dozen more teachers? You know, you can always turn in your wand and go to a regular high school, like Mr. Raspire suggested. I’m sure Claudia would approve.”
Alexandra said nothing.
“You’re complaining after one week of classes. Do you know how entitled you sound?”
Alexandra was glad this conversation was not happening in person.
“The school and all its students will be evaluated throughout the semester — stringently, I’m sure,” Livia said. “Don’t call me to complain like this again. I’m very disappointed that you’d presume on our relationship like this.”
“I wasn’t —” Alexandra said, but Livia hung up.
Alexandra lay on her bed, feeling horrible. Charlie hopped down from the cage at her bedside and sat on her stomach.
“Alexandra,” said the raven.
“I wasn’t trying to be entitled and presumptuous,” Alexandra said.
“Jerk,” Charlie said.
Alexandra tapped the bird’s beak.
“Troublesome,” Charlie said, and pecked her fingers, not without affection.
Her mood was not improved the next day. The owl she’d sent looking for Bonnie had never returned. Archie said the police still had no leads, no clues.
In the bathroom at the Pruett School that morning, she faced the mirror and pointed her hickory wand at it. She was angry at resorting to an improvised ritual with doggerel verse, thinking that if Madam Erdglass was a real teacher, she might know something that would actually work.
“Mirror, mirror, do as bidden,
Show me where my friend is hidden.
Bonnie’s lost, and I can’t find her,
If she’s hiding, I’ll remind her,
That her family wants her back,
And she needs to end this act.
If she can’t return, then show me,
Who’s responsible.” The fist clenching her wand trembled a little. “Then they’ll know me.”
It wasn’t a great verse, and maybe that was why the mirror was unmoved. It revealed her own reflection, glowering sullenly back at her, and nothing else.
In the classroom, the younger kids chattered about what they did over the weekend. Pete Venker and Rachel Ing sat in the back whispering to each other. Their faces passed close, like birds twirling about one another in spring flight. Rachel’s eyes were lively and focused on Pete; her lips, sparkly with some flavor of lip gloss, curved upward while he muttered in a low voice.
Alexandra found the couple annoying, and turned her back on them before they noticed her scrutiny. She slouched in her seat and waited for Madam Erdglass to show up.
Freddy leaned over to her and said, “Hey, is it true you’re Voldemort’s daughter?”
Alexandra sat up and exclaimed “What?” so loudly it brought a hush to the room.
“I heard your father is a Dark Lord,” Freddy said. Alexandra couldn’t tell if he was putting her on with such a straight face. Rachel Cohen turned around in her seat with wide, worried eyes. Helen Xanthopoulos stared with her usual open-mouthed gaze when she struggled to follow along, and everyone else was now listening with interest.
“Voldemort was British,” Alexandra said, “and he died, like, the year after I was born.”
“So he could be your father,” Freddy said.
“Seriously?” Alexandra noted how keenly Chris and Roger and the other youngsters were listening, and gritted her teeth. Freddy was yanking her chain. But he must have heard something. “My father is Abraham Thorn,” she said, figuring she might as well get this over with.
No one flinched. Freddy just regarded her with a smirk, as if she’d confirmed something. Besides him, only the Dennings seemed to recognize the name, as their eyes widened.
“He’s a bad guy!” said Taylor.
“He’s like a wizard Hitler,” said Leah.
Rachel Cohen’s eyes became even wider.
“He is not!” Alexandra snapped.
“No, Voldemort was the wizard Hitler,” said Freddy. “Abraham Thorn is like a wizard Osama Bin Laden.”
“He is not,” Alexandra said, trying to keep her voice from rising. Freddy was goading her.
“He destroyed New Amsterdam Academy,” Freddy said. His voice was no longer teasing, and his expression was serious. “A lot of my friends almost died that day. People did die at the Gringotts he looted. And some goblins.”
“I’m not defending what he’s done,” Alexandra said.
“What do you want, for me to apologize for being his daughter? I didn’t even meet him until I was twelve.”
“I just wanted to know if the rumors were true,” said Freddy. “So what’s the Enemy of the Confederation really like?”
“Scary,” Alexandra said. “And the rumors about how he knows when you’re speaking his name? They’re true.”
“What’s that, Miss Quick?”
Everyone jerked around toward the front. Madam Erdglass was sitting at her desk. No one had even noticed her enter the room.
I’d like to know how she does that, Alexandra thought. She decided a change of subject would be the best offense and defense. “Ma’am, when are we going to stop book-learning and start spell-casting?”
“You’ve been casting spells,” the teacher replied.
“I learned the eight basic levitation variations in seventh grade,” Alexandra said, “and I mastered Unlocking Charms in eighth grade. All we’re doing is practicing right out of the book.” She waved her copy of Young Wands, Level 5.
“We’re following the prescribed curriculum, Miss Quick,” said Madam Erdglass. “Are you bored?”
Alexandra was tempted to say “Yes,” but she caught a glimpse of something neither sleepy nor kindly flashing in the narrow slits of Madam Erdglass’s eyes.
“Just eager to learn, ma’am,” Alexandra said. She could never be sure what Madam Erdglass was thinking, but she didn’t think the old woman missed the dry sarcasm. Freddy snickered; he definitely hadn’t.
“Then open your book to lesson three and, if you please, you and Mr. DiStefano may demonstrate to those students studying from book one the wand positions you are reviewing. Mr. Venker, Miss Ing, you would benefit from paying attention as well.”
They continued rudimentary charms and wand movements until lunch. It had become clear in the first week of class that there was no school lunch requirement where day schools were concerned — students were expected to bring their own meals. Several students would have gone hungry if their classmates hadn’t shared food, while Alexandra had walked through the surrounding fence to visit the pizza place in the strip mall down the street. After that, she’d brought her lunch, but Freddy imitated her stunt, as did Penny — who had still barely exchanged three words with anyone.
Today, while Alexandra sat at one of the wooden tables in the former warehouse floor that served as their lunch room, the chubby girl drifted slowly in her direction, moving in a straight line, but gradually, as if trying to sneak up on Alexandra in plain sight. Alexandra watched without saying anything.
Twelve-year-old Penny, with her aggressively sullen attitude and jaded expression, might have passed for a year or two older despite her height. She always wore dark tops and skirts, varying only slightly in color and logo. She had added a single green streak in her purple hair. As far as Alexandra could tell, she’d made no friends.
She slowed to a halt in front of Alexandra, and stared fixedly at some point on the far wall, as if focusing in order to make contact with another world.
“Your raven is cool,” she said at last.
Alexandra stopped eating her sandwich. “Thanks.” She was aware of eyes on the two of them — Penny had barely spoken to anyone for the past week.
“Do you really know all the spells in our books?” Penny asked.
“Pretty much.” Reading ahead, Alexandra had found that the chapters on Alchemy and Arithmancy in Young Wands, Book 5, covered a few things she hadn’t learned, but at the pace Madam Erdglass was going, she doubted they’d get to any of the spells that she would have learned in her Charms and Transfigurations classes at Charmbridge. She had already decided to steal a copy from the untouched stack of Young Wands, Book 6.
Penny fiddled with her wand, which she’d tucked into the waistband of her skirt. “Do you know any hexes?”
“Yes,” Alexandra said.
“How about curses?”
Alexandra leaned back in her chair. “Is there someone in particular you want to curse?”
“No,” Penny said, “but if we’re gonna learn magic, we oughta learn something useful. Memorizing the magical properties of three, seven, and thirteen isn’t gonna get us a job in the Muggle world. And what good is levitating feathers or turning toothpicks into needles?”
Alexandra was inclined to agree, but she said, “If you can’t levitate a feather, you can’t do much of anything.”
“You know what I mean. I may not be the daughter of some famous wizard, but I could learn faster than this.”
“I already complained to Madam Erdglass,” Alexandra said. And the owner of the school.
“She doesn’t care. Muggle-borns and half-bloods aren’t supposed to learn anything,” Penny said.
Alexandra blinked at that. “Being pureblood has nothing to do with being a better witch.”
“Yeah, I read the chapter on Diversity in Our Blood, and the Confederation’s Many Cultures,” Penny said. “And the Special Contributions of Muggles.” She snorted. “‘Special’ like her.” She jerked her head toward Helen Xanthopoulos, who approached carrying her tiny magical purse from which she produced large home-made meals every day. Helen had taken to sitting across from Alexandra at lunch, shyly at first, but now she had decided they were friends. Apparently the Xanthopoulos family owned an Alchemical supply company and a chain of potion shops. Despite their wealth, Alexandra now understood why Helen didn’t go to a regular wizarding school.
“Don’t be like that,” Alexandra said in a low voice.
Penny rolled her eyes. “You know that’s what they think of us. Well, I mean us. Not you.”
“What?” Alexandra shook her head. Helen stopped a foot from Penny and looked at the younger girl curiously.
“You’re a pureblood,” Penny said.
“I’m a pureblood,” said Helen. She had a habit of trying to fit into any conversation without necessarily knowing what it was about.
“Not everyone at Charmbridge is a pureblood,” Alexandra said, “and for your information, I thought I was Muggle-born until a few years ago.”
Surprise dented Penny’s hostility. For a moment, she seemed interested. “Really? Well, maybe they let a few special students go there. Scholarship students, or someone with connections, or a lucky few so they can talk about ‘Blood Diversity.’” Penny waggled fingers in the air, pantomiming quotes around the words. “But the rest of us go to day school. The first one I went to? Was just like this. I thought this one would be different because supposedly some rich bitch who became Wandless wanted to make a new school for people like us —”
“Oh, you shouldn’t use words like that!” Helen said.
“What’s your point?” Alexandra demanded. As annoyed as she was at Livia right now, she didn’t like Penny talking about her like that, but she didn’t want everyone knowing that the “rich bitch” was her sister either.
“We’re not supposed to learn magic,” Penny said. “Not real magic. Powerful magic. Moving mountains and turning lead into gold and summoning demons —”
“Are demons real?” asked Chris. The younger kids had begun gathering around them, listening in.
“What’s a demon?” asked Helen.
“All of those things are very hard, or impossible, actually,” said Alexandra.
“But you know that, just like that.” Penny snapped her fingers. “Before you got kicked out of your fancy Big Four school, you actually learned all the things they’ll never teach us.”
“If I’d learned everything, I wouldn’t be here,” Alexandra said. Though she had to admit, she wasn’t learning much here.
“You could teach us,” Penny said.
Alexandra was disturbed at the enthusiasm of the onlookers. Helen held her hands together as if she were about to jump up and down and clap. The Dennings and Chris Naylor grinned. Roger, hanging behind Leah and Taylor, leaned in. Jamal and Rachel Cohen and Silvia were still sitting at an adjoining table, but their conversation had stopped and their eyes were on her.
“I’m not a teacher,” Alexandra said. “I’m only in tenth grade.”
“Like you don’t think you know more than everyone else here put together,” said Freddy. He’d been in the restroom, and wandered back into the lunch room in time to hear the last part of Penny’s speech.
Alexandra shrugged. She was pretty certain she did know more than everyone else here put together, but she wasn’t going to brag about it so Freddy could make one of his snide comments.
“I want to learn what real witches can do,” Penny said.
“You want to learn hexes and curses,” Alexandra said. “And summoning demons, which I can’t do, and wouldn’t teach you if I could.”
Penny grinned for the first time. “What about hexes and curses?”
“Who exactly do you want to curse?” Alexandra asked, repeating her earlier question.
Penny’s grin faded. “No one.”
“So how many people have you cursed?” Freddy asked. “Your father teach you any good ones?”
“Want to find out?” Alexandra asked.
“Yeah,” Freddy said. “I haven’t seen you do a whole lot, kiddo. Just talk up your Charmbridge education and your big bad father.”
“I haven’t talked up anything,” Alexandra said.
“Sure you haven’t,” Freddy said, “just made sure we all know you think we’re beneath you.”
“Do you think we’re beneath you?” Helen asked, hurt.
“No, I don’t.” Alexandra stood up and faced Freddy. “You know, you remind me of someone.”
Freddy grinned. “Who?”
“A big, fat jerk.”
“Oh, an ex-boyfriend. Don’t flatter yourself, sweetheart.”
Alexandra’s teeth clenched together. She drew her wand.
“Whoa,” said Freddy, holding up his hands. “Is this a duel?”
“I’d flatten you in a duel.” With a sweep of her wand Alexandra sent all the tables in the room, except the one Jamal, Silvia, and Rachel sat at, sliding across the floor to thump against the four walls. Everyone became very still.
“You want to see what I can do?” Alexandra asked. “Accio necktie!” The expensive, loose-knotted tie around Freddy’s neck tightened and yanked him toward her. She grabbed it and turned to her audience. “Want to see me levitate Freddy?”
“Yes!” said Helen. Penny smiled nastily.
Freddy jerked away from her. “I can cast a Summoning Charm too. And push furniture around.”
“Incarcerous,” Alexandra said. She flicked her wand, and cords of rope uncoiled from it and wrapped around Freddy. They didn’t bind him very tightly, but Freddy hopped around cursing and struggling while everyone laughed.
“Stop that,” Alexandra said. “Use magic to free yourself.”
He glared furiously at her. “I can’t use magic if I can’t reach my wand!”
“Sure you can,” Alexandra said. “Your wand is in your pocket, right? It doesn’t have to be in your hand.”
“It doesn’t?” asked Chris. Everyone was edging as close as they dared, without entering the circle between Alexandra and Freddy. As Freddy continued trying to pull himself free of his bindings, Pete and Rachel Ing walked into the room, and stopped before the scene in front of them.
“We spent all week learning the basic wand movements you need to cast spells,” said Roger.
“Everyone needs them starting out,” Alexandra said. “But some spells you can cast without gestures. Some are easier than others.”
“And you can free yourself from magic ropes without even holding your wand?” Freddy’s voice was somewhere between a snarl and a gasp as the ropes resisted his efforts.
“Yes,” Alexandra said. She’d spent some time practicing that. She’d been tied up too many times. She didn’t add that a good wizard could put a binding on her that she wouldn’t be able to free herself from so easily — but she was pretty sure no one here was that good. She doubted Freddy could even cast Incarcerous. He glowered as the ropes fell to the floor.
“Um, Madam Erdglass is sitting in the classroom waiting for us,” Rachel Ing said.
“What are you kids doing, anyway?” Pete asked.
“What were you kids doing?” asked Freddy. Pete smirked. Rachel folded her arms, turning her face aside to hide the color rising to her cheeks.
Alexandra waved her wand and cast the counter-charm; the ropes vanished. Eyes widened around the room.
They filed out of the lunch room. Everyone exchanged glances or simply stared at Alexandra.
They all gathered in the lunchroom again the next day, this time with Rachel Cohen standing guard. She disapproved, but her curiosity was greater than her apprehension at doing something that might not be strictly following the Pruett School’s curriculum. Alexandra pointed out that they weren’t actually breaking any rules; privately, she suspected they could be wizard-dueling up and down the corridors before Madam Erdglass would notice anything happening outside her presence. Still, there was an air of illicitness as they set up Alexandra’s demonstration.
“Incarcero,” Pete said, flicking his wand at her. For the third time, nothing happened.
Alexandra sat in a chair with a wand in each pocket. Pete, the biggest and oldest student at the school, was normally quite mellow, but he was becoming vexed. It didn’t help his spell-casting any.
“Incarcerous, with falling stress on the second syllable,” Alexandra said. “And it’s really more of a conjuration than a hex. You’re trying to cast it like a hex.”
“What do you mean I’m trying to cast it like a hex?” Pete demanded. “What does that even mean?”
Alexandra sighed. She wasn’t sure how to explain it; she just knew Pete was doing it wrong.
“Let me try!” said Chris, bouncing on his toes.
“Incarcerous,” Pete said again. Ropes came out of his wand and wrapped around Alexandra and her chair. He looked at his wand in surprise. “Hey! It worked!”
“Better,” Alexandra said. If he’d cast it correctly he’d have bound her from head to foot, including a gag, but she didn’t mention this. She rocked a little side to side, testing the bonds.
“I don’t see what this proves,” said Rachel Ing. “Harry Houdini could get out of ropes and he wasn’t a real wizard.”
“He didn’t use real magic,” Alexandra said, feeling for her wand. She laid her fingers on the hickory wand through the pocket of her pants. She muttered, then spoke out loud the counterspell. Pete’s ropes flew off of her, dissolved to gossamer threads, and vanished.
“Well, dang,” said Pete.
“Those ropes were pretty loose,” said Freddy.
“You think you could do better?” Pete asked.
“Yeah.” Freddy swaggered over and turned a profile to Alexandra, winking at Rachel Ing. The pretty girl rolled her eyes.
“I want to try,” said Helen.
“Me too!” said Silvia.
“Me too!” said Chris.
“I’m not making myself target practice for all of you,” Alexandra said. “I’m just showing you that you can cast spells without wand gestures. Freddy, you’d better cast it right.” She half-expected him to cast something else, and was silently preparing a counter-jinx, though she was less certain about managing that without her wand actually in her hand.
Freddy smiled and said, “Incarcerous.” Ropes whipped out of his wand and around Alexandra from head to foot. Cords filled her mouth, and her ankles were lashed together. Her arms were pinned tightly to the back of the chair.
Alexandra hadn’t expected that. Freddy was better than she thought.
“You look surprised,” Freddy said. “What, you think the New Amsterdam Academy of Witchcraft and Wizardry didn’t teach real magic?” He sauntered over to her, and put a hand on the back of her chair and tilted it back until she was forced to look up at him.
“I think you should untie her,” said Helen worriedly.
“Do you want me to untie you?” Freddy asked.
She was sure she could still undo the binding. She gave Freddy a glare and shook her head.
“Well then, let’s make it even more challenging,” said Freddy. Over protests from the other students, ignoring Alexandra’s furious squirming, he grabbed the hickory wand sticking out of her pocket. “Let’s see you do it without a wand.”
“Freddy!” exclaimed Silvia. “That’s cheating!”
“You shouldn’t touch someone else’s wand,” Leah said. She glared at her brother, as if this particular infraction had come up before.
“Give it back,” Rachel Cohen said.
“I’ll give it back when she asks me to,” Freddy replied. “This’ll teach her not to be so arrogant.”
Rachel Ing laughed. “Arrogant? You should talk.”
“How can she ask you with her mouth gagged?” asked Silvia.
“Just blink twice for ‘Uncle’,” Freddy said.
They were all arguing. Alexandra closed her eyes and ignored them. She’d left the basswood wand in her backpack, but no one knew about the yew wand in her other pocket.
Helen said, “I don’t like this. Let her go.”
“Let her let herself go,” said Pete.
“I’m going to get Madam Erdglass,” Helen said.
“Don’t be a snitch,” said Freddy.
The counterspell was simple, but the contested wand still challenged Alexandra every time she tried to call upon magic through its core. She wordlessly fought to master it.
“This is bullying,” Rachel Cohen said.
“How is it bullying?” Freddy asked. “This was her idea! She told me not to untie her.”
“Just because someone does something on a dare doesn’t make it right,” said Rachel.
“Is that what your rabbi told you?” Freddy asked. “What does he say about you being a witch?”
“Leave her alone, Freddy,” said the other Rachel.
The ropes around Alexandra burst into flames. The girls shrieked. Alexandra squirmed and tried to refocus her counterspell through the obstinate yew wand. With a sulfurous flash, the ropes flew off of her, trailing smoke. She flung her arm outward, and the flames wrapping around her rolled down her arm and became a fireball in the palm of her hand. She grimaced as the heat burned her skin. She flung the fireball away from the others; it splashed against a far wall and left a black charred mark.
Alexandra rose to her feet, shaking her hand, eyes fixed on Freddy. His eyes darted from her wand, still in his hand, to her. Alexandra thought about all the ways to make an example out of him. Helen and Rachel Cohen had the wide-eyed look of children who knew someone was about to get in trouble. Silvia put her hands over her mouth.
Alexandra held out her hand. “Give. Me. My. Wand.”
Freddy handed it to her. The smugness drained out of his face.
Alexandra said, “Don’t ever take my wand again.”
“Okay.” Freddy swallowed, too rattled to attempt a suave comeback.
To everyone’s surprise, Madam Erdglass appeared in the doorway.
“What in Merlin’s name is going on here?” she asked.
The students all exchanged looks. Helen looked like she was about to say something. Jamal spoke up first and said, “We’re practicing Light Spells.”
Madam Erdglass didn’t turn her head, though the black mark Alexandra’s fireball had left on the wall was clearly visible, and everyone could still smell smoke.
The remains of the ropes that were still lying on the floor burst into flames again. Everyone jumped. In seconds, they disintegrated into dust.
“Clean this up,” Madam Erdglass said. She turned and shuffled away.
“Scaaary,” said Leah. It wasn’t clear if she was talking about Madam Erdglass or Alexandra.