Chapter 2: Grounded.
Her mother sometimes admitted to some anxiety about leaving Alexandra home alone during the summer. She was only eleven, and while quite clever and resourceful for her age, she was also entirely too clever, and her sense of responsibility was not nearly as precocious. But her parents didn't have much choice. Her mother was a nurse and her stepfather was a police officer, and while they tried to arrange their work schedules so one of them was always home when Alexandra wasn't in school, it just didn't always work out that way. (Alexandra suspected that Archie didn't even really try very hard to get his schedule changed when her mother had day shifts.) Neither her mother nor Archie had any relatives in town who could watch Alexandra. When she was younger, she would go to daycare or a babysitter, but she had been kicked out of three of the town's daycare centers, and not many babysitters would watch her anymore. All her mother's yelling hadn't made Alexandra any better about taking orders or staying out of places she shouldn't be (and of which it was said she had an almost supernatural ability to get into), and anyway, some of the things that happened to the babysitters she didn't like couldn't possibly have been her fault.
One of my earlier betas, miles2go, absolutely hated Claudia and Archie. He thought they were terrible, negligent parents. He made some good points, especially about specific instances where Claudia all but abdicated her responsibility as a mother. But I have always had a slightly more generous view of them, and not just because I knew the truth about Claudia all along.
Maybe it's because I grew up in the pre-"helicopter parent" era. At Alexandra's age, I was running around the neighborhood unsupervised, and often coming home from school to an empty house.
So in chapter two, I talk a little more about Alex's parents, and we see her using doggerel verse for the first time.
"So I'm grounded, what a bore,
Let me in, unlock this door!"
With the addition of a little flourish of her arms, the lock clicked and the door swung open.
She wasn't sure if she really needed to make up a spell, since sometimes she did magic without saying anything at all. But she had convinced herself that magic worked better when accompanied by a rhyme, and (according to other rules she had made up for herself), using the same rhyme twice was cheating, so she had to think up a new one each time.
Harry never used magic deliberately before he went to Hogwarts. So it was with some hesitation that I gave Alex abilities that put her well ahead of the character she'd inevitably be compared with. But I figured that Alex was too smart not to figure out that she was causing the weird things that happened around her, and too ambitious not to try to do it on purpose. So, doggerel verse: she makes up rhymes, which sometimes work and sometimes don't, and also let me play around a little bit with magic in the Rowlingverse.
I have always called the Alexandra Quick series "canon compliant," which means while it introduces elements that are not mentioned in the original books, I have avoided doing anything that obviously violates canon. In other words, I think Alexandra could exist in the same world as Harry Potter without violating Rowling's canon — which is why I have never referred to it as an AU.
People have questioned whether some of my interpretations of magic like Transfiguration or the Fidelius Charm are strictly compatible with how Rowling describes them, and so it can be argued that where I've deviated, I've pushed AQ into an AU. I have yet to be convinced of this, but it's pretty academic since Alex is never going to meet Harry anyway. :)
Sprawled out on the bed, listening to yet another couple yell at each other, Alexandra was glad Archie and her mother didn't yell at each other like that. Alexandra was like some of those children on the show, in that she didn't know who her father was. Archie Green was just her stepfather. He had started dating Claudia Quick when Alexandra was about four years old, and married her two years after that. So she supposed she should think of him as her father, but she didn't, and despite still being naïve about adult relationships, she had a fairly sophisticated understanding of her role in Archie's life. It was her mother that he'd married, and Alexandra was the baggage that came with her. She didn't even blame him, particularly, as she had never been willing to call him Dad. He was always "Archie."
Here's the problem with slipping into omniscient narrator mode, as was pointed out in the comments to the previous chapter. Does Alexandra really have a sophisticated understanding of her role in Archie's life, or does she just think she does?
The only thing she actively resented her mother for was refusing to tell her about her father. Alexandra knew that women who had babies with men they weren't married to were sometimes treated badly. She understood that from listening to the names women got called on that talk show. But as far as she could tell, her mother was treated like anyone else, even in a small town like Larkin Mills, and after all, it hadn't stopped Archie from marrying her. Maybe being an unwed mother had been the reason Claudia Quick moved to Larkin Mills from Chicago in the first place; Alexandra had been too young to remember that. But all Alexandra knew about her father was that her mother left him when she was still a baby. And that knowledge (which her mother had let slip once, when Alexandra was six) was very likely the reason she had failed to form an attachment to Archie. In her mind, somewhere out there she still had a father.
And here is where I introduce Alexandra's obsession with knowing who her father is.
People frequently comment on how annoying/unrealistic it is that Alexandra becomes so obsessed with a particular goal. In book two, she forms a quick attachment to Maximilian, such that after knowing him only a few months, his death still hits her as hard as if he'd been her brother all her life. Most of book three is about her obsession with trying to bring Max back. And in book four, she flips out and runs away in pursuit of John Manuelito on what is obviously a stupid quest and a bad idea, after learning the truth about her mother.
This is how she is! For all her intelligence and her (occasional) maturity in other ways, Alexandra is an obsessive sort of person. Once she latches onto an idea, she's going to cling to it, period, far beyond what any reasonable person would consider, well, reasonable.
Does it make sense for her to be this obsessed with a father she's never met, to the point that it impairs her ability to form an attachment with the stepfather who's right there? No, no it does not. And if Claudia and Archie tried harder (and if Claudia hadn't been so damned secretive), maybe they could have gently steered her into healthier pursuits. But, they left her to form her own ideas, almost devoid of any parental filters. And so Alex went on doing what Alex does, all the way through book four.
Pulling out the quilt and sleeping bag, and the little beaded bag on top of the box, Alexandra withdrew the yearbook. Andrew Donelson High School, 1992, it said on the cover. She opened the book and began looking through it.
I debated whether to actually fix Alexandra's age like this, but decided that I was going to go ahead and establish that AQATTC was happening in the same year I wrote it (2007). Hence, after that I just stayed consistent with my timeline: Alexandra was born in 1996, Claudia was born in 1974, etc.
She was able to find her mother fairly easily. Claudia Quick, three years before Alexandra was born, was a pretty girl with blond curls quite unlike her daughter's straight black hair. Alexandra learned that Claudia had played the flute, was a member of the Spanish Club, and made the Superintendent's Honor Roll. Whether or not she had attended the Senior Prom Alexandra wasn't able to determine, since she found no pictures of her mother in the prom photos. In fact, of the three photos Alexandra found of her mother in the yearbook, none of them showed her with a boy. She began reading what her mother's friends had written on the inside covers and throughout the pages of the yearbook. Katie P. wrote "Claudia, best of luck!" Sarah wrote "I will never forget taking biology class with you! Stay away from frogs! Hahahah!" Matt (or maybe "Mark"; his handwriting was really lousy) wrote something about Claudia being a really cool person, best wishes, etc. Alexandra squinted at that signature, and indeed, examined anything that looked like it had been written by a boy with particular scrutiny, but aside from a few who called her "Cutie" or "Babe," her mother did not seem to have inspired anyone to profess his love for her or write about their future plans together.
You may notice that I planted quite a few references to how Claudia didn't really look much like her "daughter." :)
And the frog comment was meant to be a red herring, though I don't know if anyone ever picked up on it as a "clue" that Claudia might have made something strange happen in her biology class...
So, when did I know the whole truth about Claudia? Not when I first started writing this book. I knew that Abraham Thorn was Alexandra's father — that, after all, was the whole point of the title! And I knew there would be some big secret about Alex's birth. But the details were things I was still working out as I wrote the first draft. Initially, I thought Claudia really would be Alex's mother, and I tried to figure out why Abraham Thorn had a daughter with a Muggle. Then I decided Claudia was a Squib. Maybe the two of them fell in love, but because she was a Squib, a politically ambitious man like Abraham Thorn couldn't marry her. Eventually, I settled on the real answer: Claudia was not, in fact, Alexandra's mother, but Abraham Thorn's daughter! (And yes, I did briefly entertain the idea of Alex being a product of incest — but I quickly decided that whatever else his faults, Abraham Thorn wasn't that sort of man.)
Obviously, I went back and reedited the final draft so that everything was consistent with this. But what I had not decided at this point was the details of Claudia's childhood: how did Abraham Thorn's Squib daughter come to grow up among Muggles in Chicago, and then wind up with Alexandra dumped on her while a medical student?
I left those questions to be figured out when I wrote a later book....
Her mother and stepfather were sullen to each other as well as to Alexandra the next morning. She wondered if they'd had a fight, maybe about her father, maybe because of the question she had asked, and she felt a little bit guilty. Only a little, though. Her feelings for Archie did not rise to the level of active dislike, but she knew if her mother ever left him, she wouldn't be sad, not really.
Huh. In retrospect, I don't like this line. I think I ended up playing the "Alex and Archie are emotionally distant" chord too heavily. Alex almost certainly would be sad if Claudia and Archie split up.
I think Alexandra's relationship with her parents (and the degree of their shittiness as parents) is something I didn't always handle perfectly. I knew they weren't the Dursleys, but sometimes I wanted them to be a little bit horrible, and other times I wanted there to be a little bit of bonding, and the result was not always consistent.
Alexandra lied cheerfully to her mother and stepfather, but this was probably the first time she had ever told an outright lie to Brian. Although she felt a little guilty about it, his reluctance to accompany her had swept away any thought of telling him about the redcaps. She wanted her bracelet back and she needed help finding it, and that was all that mattered. Only later would she regret this.
So here is the first example of Alexandra being really selfish, and using her friends in a thoughtless manner.
I think I did a pretty good job here of setting up the conflict, and Alexandra's bad choices, that would result in the end of her friendship with Brian, but I really should have omitted that last line. And I did do too much describing of characters' thoughts and attitudes rather than showing them in this chapter.
Whatever he was going to do never happened. Tom expected girls to scream or cower or run away when bigger boys threatened them. Alexandra kicked him in the kneecap, and when he yelled and doubled over to clutch his knee, she stood up and kicked him in the other kneecap. While he cried out in pain, she shoved him hard enough to send him toppling backwards. He landed heavily in the sand, pulling both his knees close to his chest. "She kicked me!" he howled in disbelief. The roles of bully and victim had been horribly reversed, and his world was in disarray.
In retrospect, I probably could have done without ever introducing Billy Boggleston and his friends except as antagonists to be mentioned in passing. Certainly, most of the scenes in which they have appeared haven't been entirely necessary. miles2go called this fight with Tom one of Alex's earliest Mary Sue moments, and he said their reappearance in books two and three had the feeling of "Oh, it's summer, time for another fight with Billy."
Do I have any greater plans for Billy Boggleston? Or is he just a cheap Dudley Dursley substitute?
Honestly, I never had any big plans for him. Which is not to say that I won't think of something...
And this chapter ends with my first cliffhanger.