Chapter 18 — The Christmas Blizzard.
Then her front door opened, and her mother came out. “Alex?”
Claudia Green took hasty skidding steps on the slushy path from their porch to the sidewalk where Alexandra stood, and seized her daughter in a hug that almost lifted her off the ground. It was unprecedented in Alexandra's memory. Her mother occasionally hugged her, but never so tightly or for so long. And Alexandra didn't mind. That night, as Claudia actually prepared a home-cooked meal, and even Archie made no snide or critical comments, Alexandra's resolve to corner her mother with questions about her father weakened. There would be time enough later, she thought.
By "parents" I mean Claudia and Archie, who are her parents even if not her biological mother and father.
I really liked this chapter. On rereading it, like all of my early chapters, I can see writing that could have been tightened up and things that could have been explained better, and there is probably a bit of excess indulgence like all the presents that Alex exchanges with her friends, but hey, fan fiction indulgence. (And I need to make a note of some of those; like, I think I completely forgot about that raven charm bracelet Anna gave her.)
However, the past few chapters have been a lot of padding with not much plot. This one did advance the plot, while introducing a lot of the themes I had had in mind all along and which I have pursued throughout the series. Alexandra's complicated relationship with Claudia and Archie. Brian's complicated relationship with Alex. Bonnie's ongoing, possibly unhealthy, fascination with Alex. Alexandra's raw power and her potential to do great harm, even (especially) when she doesn't mean to. I got to use some magic here that was not just Rowlingesque incantations but darker, more mythic stuff. And in the end, although Alexandra still doesn't really appreciate it, she sees evidence that her parents may not win any Parent of the Year awards, but they'll walk through a blizzard for her.
Pardon me if I allow myself to be pleased with my own writing now and then. :) I'm not nominating this chapter for any awards or anything, but on reread, I think it's one of my favorite chapters in AQATTC.
So, the first part is just Alex returning to Larkin Mills and beginning to sense how much she has changed. The transformation is just beginning, but Alexandra is a witch now, and it changes her. Right now, she still thinks of Larkin Mills as home, and Charmbridge Academy is just where she goes to school. But inevitably, the wizarding world will be where she spends more of her time and consume more of her life and her future, and she will have a harder time not being an outsider in Muggle world.
“What's that, make up stories about imaginary creatures and their imaginary friends and all the imaginary things they can do?” Brian said.
Alexandra's head whipped back towards Brian, as Billy and his friends laughed.
“If that's where they send all the crazy kids,” Brian continued, “then I'm glad you're not going to school with us anymore. You should be locked up, or kept far away from normal people.”
Wow, I didn't remember Brian being quite such an asshole here. I knew it was his "freak" comment that really set Alex off, but he's really pretty nasty here.
I always intended Brian to come back into Alexandra's life. (Indeed, he never completely left it.) No, that doesn't mean Alex/Brian are my OTP. But I was never going to just leave things the way they ended here, or with the reprise in AQATLB.
If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of the movement of the iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. The writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.
— Ernest Hemingway
Brian and Bonnie and their parents are minor characters for whom I have a lot of backstory that will never appear in the books. They are an iceberg.
Here's a little bit of extra-canonical authorial info: the Seaburys are evangelical Christians. That in itself doesn't say all that much about them; I am not implying there is some sort of Evangelical Christian Archetype to which they all conform. But does that little bit of information cast anything in a new light? There is a lot more going on than just their religious background, of course, but that's what I mean by 'iceberg.'
Some readers find them uninteresting, and certainly Brian is not very popular in Alex shipping polls, and that's fine. They were never meant to be major characters. But I like them. They are minor characters I've spent more time thinking about.
Alex gets her witch on
She cursed Brian, and she cursed Billy Boggleston, and she wished misery and retribution upon them, and she wished they'd suffer and wish they'd never been born, and she wished they'd be sorry they'd ever laid eyes on her, and most of all that they'd be sorry they'd ever said those things to her. All her frustration and rage and vengefulness came out of her mouth, and only when she was done and felt like she'd vented it all, did she see what was coming out of her wand.
It was a great green and yellow and orange ball of energy, swelling around her like a nasty glowing soap bubble, and it crackled with malice and spite. She knew in an instant that she was unleashing something terrible.
“No!” she gulped. “I didn't mean it!”
Charlie trembled, still not making a sound. The greenish ball of malice was still pulsing at the tip of her wand.
Alexandra knew there were things you couldn't take back, and this was one of them.
And boom, Alex does a Very Bad Thing. This is one of the few Very Bad Things she does where I really think she doesn't bear a lot of moral culpability, other than the fact that when you cause harm, it doesn't really matter whether you intended it. I mean, maybe it was stupid for her to be cursing people out while holding her wand, but she really didn't know any better; she's in sixth grade and even Ms. Grimm probably didn't realize she could pull off something like this. Plus, it might not have mattered whether she was actually holding her wand. Basically, she's a child who was badly provoked and hurt, she unleashed all her feelings (and in fairness, she did so in private in a manner that for anyone else would have done no harm to anyone), and then found out that she was accidentally invoking magic. More self control and more awareness of what magic can do would have prevented this, but I think that's a lot to ask of any eleven-year-old.
She does her best to undo what she's set off, but of course it doesn't turn out right.
What Alex did and what she didn't
I am not sure, though, how confusing this chapter might have been to the reader who couldn't see into my head to know what I was trying to describe. I've mentioned before that I kind of left a lot of Journey's plots rather vague. Basically, he kept trying to kill her in indirect ways that would neither trigger the protective spell he thought was on her nor leave him with blood on his hands according to his own self-serving definition.
In this case, Alexandra's spiteful magic set off a chain of events that were exacerbated by her curse, but not directly caused by them. As Dean Grimm tells her later, Alexandra does not (yet) actually have the power to summon an interstate blizzard. And her spell didn't start the fire that burned down her house; that was Mr. Journey. It did create the ignis fatuus that tried to lure her to her death, and it probably intensified the effects of the blizzard and the fire and was incidentally useful in cloaking Journey's activities, having produced a supernaturally malign environment generally conducive to all bad things. Alexandra was a catalyst, but it was as much bad luck as her own actions.
If there is any flaw in this chapter, besides the wordiness, it's the excessive amount of exposition at the end. And while I think I conveyed real emotion in the relationships between Alex and Claudia and Archie even if none of them display it openly, I probably could have done so in a more showy and less telly manner.