Chapter 4: The Charmbridge Scholarship.
Their guest was a tall woman with jet black hair, as straight as Alexandra's but much longer. She was wearing a crisp white jacket and knee-length skirt and painfully high heels. Rings glittered on her fingers. There was a silver watchband and several bracelets around her wrists, and a matching silver chain around her neck. Alexandra wouldn't exactly have called her beautiful, but she was very handsome, with perfect chiseled features, high cheekbones, a sharp nose and an angular chin now raised in Alexandra's direction. She was holding a saucer in one hand and a cup of coffee that Archie must have brewed for her in the other.
Alexandra is not the only character for whom my mental image has changed somewhat over time. Lilith Grimm, when first introduced, is evidently quite stylishly Muggle, when it suits her, right down to the car she drives. I confess, though, that my sense of what would be stylish for a severe professional woman is pretty hazy. I mean, is wearing a lot of silver in or out? Does it go with white jackets?
The point being, when I first introduced Dean Grimm, I was heavily implying that she has at least a foot in the Muggle world herself. Unlike, say, Dumbledore, she's flamboyant in a way that doesn't scream "Other." But since then, we've rarely seen Dean Grimm outside of Charmbridge (in fact, I don't think we've ever seen her away from school except for this chapter). It's only her sister who seems to operate smoothly in the Muggle world.
Oh yeah — long black hair. Kind of like mentioning how much Claudia doesn't look like her daughter, I mentioned the Grimm sisters' long black hair quite a lot...
“Well, it sounds like a wonderful opportunity,” her mother said.
“Who'd have thought Alex would earn an academic scholarship?” Archie said.
Alexandra looked at them, disconcerted and confused. And, unexpectedly, hurt. Did they want to get rid of her that badly?
Alexandra has always had a few insecurities that she mostly hides, but when it seems like her mother and stepfather are ready to pack her off to a mysterious boarding school without any questions, even Alex can sense that this ain't right.
But this brings us to the first little detail I've hit upon in my rereading that made me go —
Ms. Grimm nodded. “Yes, you'll be residing there full-time, though of course you'll come home for summer and winter breaks. It's located out of state. Transportation will be provided, of course.”
... Okay, technically this is not an inconsistency. I mean, first of all, I have never specified exactly where Charmbridge Academy is. I have a rough notion of its geographic location, but all that's ever been said in text is that it's somewhere in the region of Chicago, but far enough away that there are woods and hills. That could put it just across the border in Wisconsin or Indiana, but that's not where I intended Charmbridge to be.
Dean Grimm might have meant that Central Territory is not part of Illinois, which is true politically (and from a wizarding point of view) if not geographically.
So, Alexandra indulges herself in a fine sulk, until Dean Grimm takes her for a drive, breaks up her little self-pity party, and introduces her to the wizarding world.
I did have a lot of fun creating an Americanized wizarding world. Of course American wizards have a highway system. And trollbooths.
“We can't go to Chicago, that's like three hours away!” Alexandra exclaimed.
Again, I have always had geographic locations pretty fixed in my head, even if I am deliberately vague in print. Larkin Mills is one or two hundred miles south of Chicago. (Alexandra's own sense of highway distance at age eleven is understandably vague as well.)
Grimm was silent for a while, and Alexandra sensed she was waiting for her to make the next move. Rather than saying anything, Alexandra continued looking out the window for a while, but her curiosity finally got the best of her.
“How did you find out about me?”
“In the Registrar's Office at school, there is a scroll that records the names of all school-age children.”
This is the point at which Dean Grimm begins to deceive Alexandra. Or, to be more charitable, refrains from telling her what she knows. Not the first time Dean Grimm will make this mistake.
In fairness to Dean Grimm, as we learn at the end of the book, this was partly to protect Alexandra from the scrutinizing gaze of Governor Hucksteen. Lilith knew Hucksteen (and her sister) would soon be taking an interest in Alexandra, and so the story she gives Alexandra in the denouement is that she was hoping Alexandra would turn out to be ordinary and non-threatening if she didn't know right away who her father was. Was this bullshit too? Maaaaaaybe...maaaaaaybe not.
She'd only been to Chicago twice, once when her mother had had a job interview at a hospital there, and once when her parents took her to the circus.
There's another little detail I'd forgotten.
The street was brightly lit, but not with neon signs and electric streetlights like Alexandra was used to. Instead, she saw lanterns hanging from posts, and storefronts illuminated by glass jars that seemed to contain bottled fire of various colors. The street was quite busy, filled with men and women wearing costumes Alexandra would normally have associated with Halloween. She saw long, flowing robes in flamboyant colors, she saw staid black and white dresses and tunics, she saw wide-brimmed hats and bonnets large and small, plain and colorful, she saw leather and buckskin outfits, and she saw one fellow dressed like a medieval knight in jingling chain armor, carrying a sword. Almost everyone on the street was a grown-up; she saw a couple of women carrying babies and a few teenagers, but hardly anyone her own age. She did, however, catch a glimpse of some grumpy-looking humanoids with long ears and beak-like noses, and following after some of the humans, even smaller creatures who would barely come up to Alexandra's waist, skinny, with oversized heads and bulbous eyes, dressed in little more than scraps of clothing.
And again, I had fun describing the Goblin Market and all the treats at Goody Pruett's.
“As I've told you, we tracked you down once we became aware of you through the Registrar's Scroll. It is standard practice to put a Trace on all wizards who reside in Muggle communities, to monitor their magical activities. Particularly in the case of underaged wizards and witches. Irresponsible magic use can cause enormous problems for the Bureau of Magic Obfuscation.”
Heh. Readers slowly figured out that the Confederation is a rather more authoritarian place than the British wizarding world, but little differences like this were in fact deliberate clues. The Ministry of Magic is ineffectual, bureaucratic, and burdened with "class" distinctions that are purportedly archaic yet still permeate British wizarding society. The Confederation, on the other hand, is rather like 19th century America with 20th century propaganda. On paper, once slavery was abolished, everyone had equal rights under the Constitution, right? Oh wait, women can't vote yet. Well, once that was fixed, everyone had equal rights, right? Hur hur. The Confederation is a little more aggressive in promoting itself as a champion of democracy and equal rights, and a lot more brutal in putting the lie to that behind the scenes. Just how brutal, you don't learn until book three.
"Of course you didn't," Ms. Grimm said smoothly. "But you do now. So to make it very clear, you are not allowed to use magic outside of school or the supervision of an adult wizard. You've been very lucky so far as it is, casting spells without a wand, untrained. But there will be no more transforming cookies into worms or using magic to open locks. Until you've earned your Magical Diploma, when you live among Muggles, you will have to live as a Muggle. Do you understand?"
Of course Alexandra breaks this rule every time she goes home... And yeah, I probably stretched the degree to which she got away with this, even with the Grimms kinda sorta covering for her.
Ms. Grimm smiled. "Your mother will always be your mother. And Mr. Green... well, he will always be your stepfather, I suppose. As you get older, you may see fit to tell them more, or not. But I think right now, they're better off enjoying blissful ignorance. Don't you?"
Abraham Thorn, you see, was not the only one telling Alexandra cagey half-truths.
So, question for those following along (which I will not answer directly): did Ms. Grimmm really use a Confundus Charm on Claudia and Archie?
Overall: I still haven't hit anything that really makes me wince in retrospect. I can see that I overused lots of dialog tags and everyone does lots of looking and staring and narrowing their eyes, etc., but still, I'm gonna rate my writing as not awful, thus far.