“You’d better not leave, Miss Quick,” Madam Erdglass told her as Alexandra walked to the door leading outside.
Upstairs, Freddy and Pete were with Mr. Brown. Rachel Ing had brought Penny downstairs, where the other girls, appalled and disgusted, took her into the lavatory to help her clean up. Penny kept her eyes on the floor and didn’t say anything.
Alexandra paused, without turning around. “Why not? It’s not like they don’t know where to find me.”
Madam Erdglass sighed. “You’ve made things very difficult for yourself, I’m afraid.”
Alexandra rounded on her. Madam Erdglass didn’t move, but there was a sudden clarity in her gaze as the usual sleepiness in her eyes vanished.
Alexandra’s flash of temper dissipated almost as quickly. With more frustration, she said, “You should have prevented this.”
Madam Erdglass blinked once, slowly. “I should have prevented Miss Oscar’s fascination with Dark Arts?”
“That’s not why Mr. Brown locked her in a closet with a Boggart. He did it to get at me. He thought she knew something about me.”
“Nonetheless,” Madam Erdglass said, “she brought her troubles on herself… just as you have.”
“You think Penny deserved this?”
Madam Erdglass’s expression didn’t change. “Sometimes we get what we ask for, not what we deserve.”
Alexandra shook her head and pushed her way out the door. Chris, Taylor, and Jamal watched her go without saying anything. Madam Erdglass didn’t try to stop her.
She walked through Larkin Mills, ignoring the crisp bite of the early November afternoon. It looked like it might snow.
What will they do to me? she wondered.
She’d crossed a line that in either the Muggle or the wizarding world was a sure way to exit childhood forever: she’d attacked an adult. Not just attacked, but seriously injured.
She hadn’t really intended to kill Mr. Brown, but she couldn’t say it would have bothered her when she let loose her wrath. She supposed she must have been holding back on some level. (A voice from her memory said: If you wanted someone dead, they’d be dead.) But that wouldn’t matter.
Walking past Brian’s house caused a twist in her stomach. He’d be at school right now. She wondered if she’d see him again.
Stop being so dramatic, she told herself. So you’ll be kicked out of another school. She hoped this wouldn’t be used against Livia.
She walked through her front door and found Claudia watching TV, home from a swing shift at the hospital.
“I think I’m in trouble,” she said.
It was listening to Claudia and Archie talk that made Alexandra realize she had to leave.
“What do you mean, the police won’t be involved?” Archie demanded. Her brother-in-law, when he got home and was given an edited version of events, had made one comment about Alexandra being an idiot and out of control. Then he’d displayed a more practical side, suggesting that if someone did call the police, it would be better if he brought her in himself.
“After we call one of those ratbag defense lawyers,” he said. “And you keep your mouth shut right now, Alex. They can use anything you tell us against you.”
Alexandra’s expression was blank as she regarded Sergeant Green, the man she’d known as her stepfather most of her life, whose role as a father figure had always been a complicated one, a difficult relationship for both of them. Now, as she hit what was probably for him the bottom, proof of his most dire warnings about where her reckless, disobedient attitude would take her, he exhibited impotent fury and protectiveness, as if he actually thought he could shield her from the consequences of her actions. She hadn’t really expected that.
The problem was, he couldn’t. If he tried to get in the way, he was only going to get hurt himself.
“Okay, Archie,” she said. “You call a lawyer. I need to go put some stuff away. I’ll come down when you call me.”
She glanced at Claudia, wondering if her sister realized what she did. Their eyes met, and Alexandra read concern and fear, but she couldn’t tell whether Claudia really understood or approved of what Alexandra was about to do.
She went up to her room and placed her yew wand on her desk. She opened Charlie’s cage.
“I need you to go far away, Charlie,” she said.
“Never, never!” Charlie said.
She stroked the raven’s head. “Maybe just for a little while. I don’t really know what’s going to happen yet. But I think they’ll probably take my wand, and I don’t know what they’ll do with you.”
Charlie croaked a weak protest.
With her hickory wand, she cast an Attraction Charm on the yew wand and Charlie. The wand stuck to Charlie like a magnet. She positioned it in the raven’s talons.
“Go to Croatoa,” she said. “Take this to Ms. King. She’ll keep you and the wand safe.”
Her cheeks were damp as she opened her bedroom window. She could only trust in her familiar’s cleverness and magical luck to bring it to Roanoke Territory and the island where the Kings lived.
“I’ll send for you when it’s safe to come back,” she whispered. “You’ll know.”
“Alexandra,” Charlie said.
She kissed Charlie’s beak. “Go, Charlie.”
The raven sat on her desk, balanced a little awkwardly with the wand stuck to one claw, inscrutable judgment in its black, bird eyes.
“Fly,” she said.
“Fly, fly,” Charlie repeated, and was gone.
Alexandra wiped her eyes, then took out her magic backpack and her broom. She waited as long as she dared, wanting Charlie to have a good head start in case Aurors or Special Inquisitors were already closing in on her. Then, as quietly as possible, she crawled out the window and closed it behind her. Hoping no neighbors were watching, she ascended straight up into the air until she was high enough that from the ground, she’d look like a bird to anyone not looking closely. She pointed her broom toward the edge of town and flew away from Sweetmaple Avenue.
It was cold; she hadn’t dressed warmly enough. She flew so fast that the air chilled her through her clothes, but it only took her a few minutes to cross Larkin Mills and reach Old Larkin Pond, on the other side of the Interstate.
From above, she saw no one around the pond. She dropped like a stone, and briefly considered not stopping at all. At the last moment, she decelerated and came to a halt, hovering inches above the muddy ground at the edge of the water.
Alexandra had been to this place so many times. It was where she’d first encountered magical creatures, where she’d first used magic to defend herself, where she’d almost lost Brian and Bonnie. A beginning point — and maybe an ending point.
She checked her backpack, with all of the artifacts and items she’d collected over the years: her Lost Traveler’s Compass, the knick-knacks and potions she’d kept from Charmbridge, her magic mirror and cosmetics from Julia, her Seven-League Boots and her JROC boots, the animated wizard photographs of Maximilian, the glass globe from the Roanoke Magibotanical Gardens that Payton had given her, the magical handwarmers and lucky socks from the Pritchards, the raven charm bracelet from Anna, her magic books, including the Auror Field Training Grimoire, and all the other physical accouterments of witchcraft. It was all inside.
She added her broom. She had cast many spells over the years, and seen so many incredible things, and yet watching the entire length of her broom slide into a pack that it couldn’t possibly fit into never failed to delight her. A part of her would never stop marveling at magic.
Finally, she carefully put her black hickory wand in the wand sheath in the pack’s inner lining, and then tied and sealed the pack shut.
Alexandra held the pack in her arms for a long time, lost in thought but always keeping an eye on the horizon. No one appeared. Charlie was still winging a long, lonely way to Croatoa, and the dead brown field between Old Larkin Pond and the Interstate, with rushes and weeds still tall enough to conceal anyone inclined to hide there, remained undisturbed as far as Alexandra could tell.
Finally she sighed, and with a twist of her body for extra momentum, she hurled the backpack into the center of the pond. It landed in the icy water with a splash and bobbed there.
Alexandra pointed her basswood wand at it and said, “Feordupois.”
With the department store wand’s stubborn goat feather core, it took two more castings of the Deadweight Spell before the backpack vanished beneath the surface of the pond.
The water was dirty and muddy, and while teenagers came here occasionally to drink or make out or set off fireworks, it was not heavily trafficked, and nobody swam or fished in the pond. Alexandra figured that until the town got around to its plans for cleaning up the pond and developing the land, the backpack should remain undisturbed.
Now she cast a Warming Spell, which helped a little in the fading sunlight.
There was a “pop” and Alexandra felt air puffing against the side of her head as someone appeared in her peripheral vision. She still held her wand in her hand, but it was at her side, and she was careful not to raise it as she slowly turned toward whoever had just Apparated.
“You,” she said. “I’m not surprised.”
Diana Grimm sighed. “You make things so very hard on yourself, Alexandra.”
“Give me your wand,” her aunt said, almost gently.
Alexandra handed it over.
The Special Inquisitor put a hand on her shoulder. It wasn’t exactly a consoling gesture, but it wasn’t the hard, unsympathetic clap of a law enforcement officer seizing hold of a suspect either. “Is there anything you’d like to say to me, Alexandra?”
“Do I have the right to remain silent?” Alexandra asked.
“No. But you don’t have to talk to me.”
Alexandra kept her face turned away from her aunt, toward Larkin Mills, whose lights glowed on the opposite side of the freeway. “What happens now?”
“We go to the Office of Juvenile Inquisitions. Mr. Brown has already demanded charges.”
“Of course he has.”
Diana’s fingers tightened slightly on Alexandra’s shoulder. “You could have killed him, you stupid girl. No, don’t tell me he picked on you and your friends and made you seethe with the unfairness of it all. Stars Above, Alexandra!” The older witch spun her around to face her, and Alexandra was surprised to see that the usual icy disdain that masked her aunt’s face had turned to fury. “How long have you been butting your stubborn head against the wizarding world and its walls of indifference? How long have you known that powerful people are out to get you? You are not the foolish, naive little girl you were when you first arrived at Lilith’s school. You’ve survived worse than this, and you’ve been warned — over and over. Do you have any idea how much trouble Lilith and I have gone to…?” Diana shook her head.
Alexandra didn’t trust herself to speak. She just stared at her aunt, not blinking. A tightness in her throat and heat in her chest made words difficult.
“You brought this on yourself,” her aunt said. “How many times do you think you can escape the consequences of your actions? Do you expect someone will always intervene on your behalf?”
Alexandra swallowed. “I never have. I never asked for anything special. I never asked to be treated differently. I never asked to be Abraham Thorn’s daughter.”
Her aunt’s fingers dug in a little deeper. “None of us have a choice about how we’re born. But you knew you were special. And now, because you’re Abraham Thorn’s daughter, you’re going to be treated differently. Come along, Alexandra.”
With a twist that seemed to tie her insides in a knot and then yank them up her throat, Alexandra was pulled away from Larkin Mills via Side-Along Apparition. With her head swimming and the feeling that her joints might have arrived not quite attached right, she registered that she and Diana Grimm were standing in a troll booth on the Automagicka. A large, reddish troll was leaning on the hood of a bright yellow convertible while its driver frantically looked for change. The troll did not turn around before Diana Grimm Apparated again. Several more times Alexandra was yanked out of one space and into another. She had never seen this kind of rapid, repeat Apparition before, and she definitely didn’t want to ever experience it again. She wondered how her aunt was able to stand it — the Floo or a Portkey seemed much easier.
Without warning, they arrived in an austere gray office dominated by a robed man behind a desk. Alexandra swayed, disoriented after the series of Apparitions. Diana Grimm gripped her elbow tightly enough to bruise, but Alexandra was thankful for it; it kept her standing erect.
Black-robed portraits of wizards and witches hung on the walls, all regarding her with disapproving scowls above folded arms. Now Alexandra felt an almost comforting familiarity — it was like being in Dean Grimm’s office.
The floor was cold, gray stone and there was only a single chair, behind the dark red-brown desk. The balding man sitting in it was vaguely familiar. Without looking up, he scratched something across a scroll with a large, black quill pen.
“This is the accused?” he asked.
“Yes,” Diana Grimm said.
Alexandra read the plaque on his desk. Carlos Black, Chief Inquisitor. She’d met him before, on her first visit to the Territorial Headquarters Building.
Carlos Black leaned back in his chair. His expression didn’t change, but there was satisfaction in his easy, reclined posture as he laced his fingers over his belly.
“Alexandra Octavia Quick, you are charged with assaulting a Confederation official with grievous intent, inflicting grievous harm upon a Confederation official, impersonating a Confederation official, theft of Confederation property, traffic in Dark Artifacts, unlicensed instruction, illicit transmission of witchcraft, moral corruption of juveniles, intercourse with hags —”
“What?” Alexandra’s face contorted. “I haven’t had intercourse with —”
“It means you’ve had illicit dealings with them,” Mr. Black said. “Commerce and bargaining. Do you deny it?”
Alexandra closed her mouth.
He continued. “Illegal practice of underage magic in a Muggle neighborhood, violating the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy, illegal use of Polyjuice, possession of an unregistered wand, use of an unregistered wand, and truancy.”
Mr. Black waved his hand dismissively. “Let’s just focus on the primary charges — your assault on Franklin Percival Brown. I’m dropping everything else.”
“Okay,” Alexandra said. That sounded unusually reasonable.
“I find you guilty as charged,” Mr. Black said.
“What?!” Alexandra almost twisted her arm free of Diana Grimm. “What kind of trial was that? What about hearing my side of the story?”
“This isn’t a trial. I don’t need to hear your side of the story,” Mr. Black said. “You do have the right to request a formal trial.”
“I request a formal trial!” Alexandra said.
“Fine. You’ll be informed when a date has been set. In the meantime, I sentence you to imprisonment on Eerie Island until the age of twenty-one.”
“What?!” After everything else that had happened, Alexandra found herself surprised that she could still be shocked.
“Are you hard of hearing, or merely slow-witted?” Carlos Black asked. “Do you not understand the sentence?”
Alexandra opened her mouth a third time, then closed it, and used her anger and indignation to keep her eyes fiery-hard and her mind focused so she didn’t allow the pronouncement of her sentence to overwhelm her, to let the Chief Inquisitor reduce her to tears and despair.
“Can I appeal?” she asked.
“You have to be tried first,” Mr. Black said.
Alexandra shook her head. “This is bullshit.”
“Take this vulgar little sorceress away,” Mr. Black said to Ms. Grimm. The Special Inquisitor did not Apparate away with Alexandra, but led her by the arm out of the office, into a familiar corridor leading to the elevators of the Central Territory Headquarters Building.
“This isn’t right, and you know it,” Alexandra said.
“You brought it on yourself,” Diana said. “Lilith and I have tried so hard on your behalf, you have no idea —”
“You said that.” Alexandra was in no mood to hear more about her ungratefulness toward her aunts, who seemed to have devoted the last few years to making her life miserable. “Sentenced to wizard prison until I’m twenty-one? Seriously, just like that? Is this how things normally work?”
“It is now,” Diana Grimm said. Alexandra glanced sideways at her. Her aunt was staring straight ahead, now that they were in the elevator. If there was any pity or compassion in her, it didn’t show on her face.
“What about my par— Claudia and Archie?” Alexandra asked in a hoarser voice.
“What about them?”
“Is anyone even going to tell them what happened to me?” Alexandra asked.
Diana Grimm finally looked at her. “I’ll see that they’re informed.”
The elevators opened again, to a dark stone hallway that Alexandra didn’t recognize, though it was similar to the basement level she’d gone to to speak to Mr. Bagby in the Census Office. Here, however, she was immediately confronted with a troll, holding chains. The reality of the situation felt like a leaden ball in her stomach. Suddenly she had difficulty swallowing.
Ms. Grimm thrust her forward. The troll clapped a collar around her neck and manacles on her wrists, attached to a heavy chain. Then the troll grabbed the end of the chain and Alexandra was nearly jerked off her feet.
Just like that, she was going to Eerie Island. She wondered if she’d be allowed to write and receive letters. She wondered if they would ever give her an actual trial. She wondered what they did to witches incarcerated on Eerie Island. She wondered if she’d even get clean underwear. She turned to look at Diana Grimm, unwilling to plead for anything but still hoping somehow her aunt would offer an alternative, an out, or at least some acknowledgment, but Diana Grimm was staring fixedly at a point past her head. The troll yanked on her chain again, and Alexandra stumbled after the creature, helpless, wandless, and hopeless.