Alexandra nodded peaceably. She actually rather enjoyed the work, now that she could do something with her wand. She went from table to table, exclaiming, “Tergeo!” and “Scourgify!” with such enthusiasm that Mrs. Minder reminded her that she was in a library.
“But there's no one else here!” Alexandra protested.
“You should still use your library voice,” Mrs. Minder said in a hushed library voice. “And besides, at this rate you're going to strip varnish from the tables.”
Alexandra's library detention (another little bit of favoritism/leniency from Dean Grimm that she completely failed to appreciate) leads to her meeting Bran and Poe, whom I really don't make enough use of, but it's hard to find ways to get them into the story since they're supposed to be mostly out of sight.
“It doesn't just appear by magic, you know,” David said ominously. And when everyone looked at him, he added, “Well, okay, it does, but not by itself.”
“Oh, David,” Angelique sighed. “Can't you give it a rest?”
“Sure, why should you care about a little thing like slave labor?” David sneered at her.
“I notice you're not going hungry in protest,” Angelique pointed out, gesturing at his plate full of sausage and eggs.
David scowled. “You know what? You're right. Maybe ASPEW should declare a hunger strike!” He pushed his plate away.
Anna, who was still wearing her ASPEW button, suddenly stopped chewing and seemed reluctant to meet David's eyes.
Sigh - it's really painful to read these dialogs now, with all that sighing and sneering and scowling and adverbing.
David is playing the Hermione role here, with all the conviction and not-entirely-consistent moral indignation of an eleven-year-old. He's not necessarily wrong, but he doesn't know how to translate a principle which he doesn't completely understand into effective action. Instead, he's alienating his friends with his humorlessness.
But I never liked how Hermione's convictions were always treated as a joke. Even Alexandra, while not always on the same page with him, at least takes David's concerns seriously.
And fortunately for him, Alexandra is much better at alienating their friends.
“You mind Bran and Poe,” Mrs. Minder said to Alexandra. “I know they're just elves, but I've left very strict instructions and you're to do as they say. I hope they tell me you were a diligent worker.”
“Yes, Mrs. Minder,” Alexandra said.
She waited until Mrs. Minder's footsteps had carried her back to the entrance to the library and she heard the librarian locking the doors, then grinned at the elves.
“So, you must know how to find books that are off-limits, right?”
She's also pretty darned shameless about using them. This will by no means be the last time she exploits Bran and Poe for her own purposes. In later books, she starts noticing that she's doing this, but it doesn't actually prevent her from doing it. But cut her some slack, even a 14-year-old's morals aren't going to be entirely consistent.
Bran and Poe were initially introduced mostly as comical characters, but there was also a point to them, as there are with all the elf characters. In Harry Potter, elves are clearly enslaved. But, so far as we can tell, they like being enslaved. Or do they? They all insist they love being useful and abhor the thought of freedom, yet few of them seem to be really happy.
Why are elves compelled to serve humans? Was their bargain originally consensual? What did they get out of it? I've seen many fanon explanations for elves and why they serve. Elves are one of those fantasy elements that can mean anything to anyone; some people seem to like associating house-elves with the Fair Folk, but Rowling's elves are pretty clearly based on brownies (who depending on your fantasy/mythic taxonomy, are just another kind of faerie).
My personal opinion was that the relationship between wizards and elves was originally either symbiotic or some kind of exchange of services. So where did it go wrong? And why was even Dumbledore unable to find a way to free the Hogwarts elves? Or did he just not care?
I've said before that elves are going to be an issue in the AQ world. One of many things I wanted to do, and was just starting to do here, was work out what the real deal is with them. I hope I'll be able to provide a satisfactory answer by the end, though I'm sure it will not conform to anyone else's notions precisely.
“Maybe they wouldn't want to work,” said Dewshine. “Maybe they'd want to form their own elfish society. We could help them, let them build their own little communities.” Her eyes had a far-off, dreamy look as her voice waxed poetic. “They have their own magic, you know, and it's different from ours, and they are wiser than anyone knows. Imagine them teaching us and us teaching them, elves and wizards living together in harmony, as equals...”
Alexandra cajoles Bran and Poe into letting her read books she's not supposed to read, and her unwholesome preoccupation with the Dark Convention starts getting around the school. She has another confrontation with Benjamin and Mordecai.
“Where's your raven, sorceress?” taunted Benjamin.
“Out spying,” Alexandra said. “For the Dark Convention. 'Cause, you know, I'm a member. I'm actually starting a Dark Convention Club here at school. Want to join?”
Fortunately, her friends defuse the situation, this time.
“Why are you so nice to them?” Alexandra demanded.
“There's never harm in nice,” said Constance.
“Nor detention,” Forbearance added. Alexandra flushed a little, while Anna looked away, trying not to smile.
And as Alexandra continues bullying her friends and trying to wheedle information out of teachers, she actually makes some progress, finally hearing about the Thorn Circle. She also makes a little bit of progress in that she finally lets Anna in on the real reason for her quest, her obsession with finding out who her father was. Of course, she's still barking up the wrong tree with Ms. Grimm, but I did find the idea of Ms. Grimm being a former Death Eater amusing.
This wasn't one of AQATTC's more memorable chapters, and in fact I recall struggling with what the chapter title should be, settling eventually on The Dark Convention and then adding a few lines about the Dark Convention to justify the title. The Dark Convention is almost irrelevant in the story; it's really the Thorn Circle I should have been pushing into the spotlight. Indeed, the Dark Convention at this point existed only as a sort of vague American counterpart to the Death Eaters.
So, this chapter had very little action, but a lot of dialog, and a bit more information uncovered. Like a lot of these middle chapters, it's got a combination of interesting stuff and some padding, and a lot of it could be condensed, though there are some interactions, from the library elves to Alexandra's conversations with her friends, that I'd hate to lose.