This was supposed to be a character growth chapter, with Alexandra learning to forgive, and learning how to earn forgiveness. In my opinion, it's partially successful in that regard, since Alexandra does learn a lesson or two here, but as we know, the lessons don't stick very hard. Alexandra shows herself to be a very bright twelve-year-old, but her maturity can be all over the map, and socially she has a long way to go.
“I found out something yesterday,” Alexandra said.
“I thought so,” Anna said, “since you were being such a jerk again.”
In this chapter, Anna assumes her role as Alexandra's Jiminy Cricket in earnest. Alexandra has now put most of the pieces together and drawn some semi-correct conclusions, it remaining only for her to figure out how to actually discover the truth. Of course, she will do so by getting in more trouble and making more mistakes along the way. Starting with her conversation with Dean Grimm following her trip to Chicago.
“No, of course that's not going to dissuade you,” Grimm said. She leaned back once more. “The fact is, if I expel you, you become subject to Confederation law on unschooled magical children, made more complicated by the fact that you now know about the wizarding world. They'll take your wand away, you'll never be allowed to practice magic again, and they might Obliviate your memories. Alternatively, they might decide that your Muggle home is unsuitable, and take you into foster care. You wouldn't like government-run foster homes, I assure you.”
Hey, you think this might bode ominously for book five?
Then follows the infamous scene in which, for more than a few readers, Dean Grimm crossed the line.
“Who's my father?” she asked.
Ms. Grimm raised her eyebrows again. “I don't know, and this conversation is over. Your insolence and arrogance are already well over the line.”
Previously in this conversation, everything Lilith said was technically true, albeit deliberately misleading. But when she says, "I don't know" - well, of course she knows who Alexandra's father is. And though Alexandra doesn't know Lilith is lying when she accuses her, she's actually right. And that's when she gets whipped. She won't forget that.
The Confederation, like most of the wizarding world, is still quite traditional, and it wasn't that long ago in the U.S. that it was no big deal for schoolteachers to paddle or even thrash students. In some states, it's even still legal, though it's rarely practiced nowadays. Dean Grimm's physical punishment of Alexandra is rather horrifying to modern sensibilities, but it's hardly more severe than turning a student into a rat. As we know from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, this makes Charmbridge rather less enlightened than Hogwarts — this was deliberate.
For Alexandra, her punishment here obviously crosses a line as well, because from her point of view, there was malice in it, unlike Dean Grimm's previous punishments. And in fact, Lilith did actually lose it with her niece at this point, a little bit; hence the portraits in Lilith's office finally speaking up.
Alexandra backed away, and then turned and walked silently out of the Dean's office. When she encountered Galen just outside, she had to fight the urge to kick the cat. She walked quickly past Miss Marmsley, who watched her pass in silence, and never noticed Ms. Grimm's own hand trembling slightly as she laid her wand back on her desk.
Lilith knows she's just screwed up. From a writing standpoint, unfortunately, this was a POV break.
Some readers have said that Lilith is an inept administrator or worse. I don't think that's true, but she's no Dumbledore, who never makes mistakes. (Well, according to Rowling. Hahahahahahah....) From her point of view, she's been bending over backwards to protect her niece, who's going out of her way to be as troublesome as possible, and then the little brat has the nerve to call her a liar to her face. (Never mind that she was lying.)
So, in this chapter, Alexandra puts together the fact that (she thinks) Dean Grimm has been lying to her, and Anna's Editing Ink Charm, and what she learned in the Census Office, and (correctly) concludes that the Registrar's Scroll lied to her too.
She has a few encounters with Mr. Thiel, but never suspects either his true role, nor Mr. Journey's. She can be forgiven for that; why should she suspect that Mr. Thiel is an undercover agent or that Mr. Journey has actually been trying to kill her?
And, after being a bitch to Anna, her friends give her a smackdown. David, Constance, and Forbearance all gang up on her and call her out, and Alexandra actually swallows her pride and admits they're right. After she apologizes to Anna, Anna brings her up short again by pointing out that she's risking herself to help Alexandra and that Alexandra never thinks about things like that.
Alexandra takes a few steps towards greater self-awareness and empathy in this chapter, but she's still enormously self-centered.
With one final shout of glee, she dropped out of the sky, descending at a speed that would make other children wrap their arms and legs around their brooms and hang on for dear life. She braked to a halt inches from colliding with the ground, and could only grin at her friends, who regarded her with consternation and shock. The Pritchards had their hands clasped to their chests, and Anna just looked pale, while David shook his head. Then, in spite of themselves, they all grinned back at her. They couldn't stop, even when Ms. Shirtliffe bellowed, “QUICK!”
This was an attempt to inject a little joviality and sense of wonder into the end of the chapter, but on reread, it seems perhaps a bit out of place. But Alexandra is, after all, twelve, still at the age where jumping from seriousness to silliness is easy.
Not a bad chapter, IMO, as we're now rolling towards the climax, and I don't think there was too much unnecessary fluff here. I've laid enough clues for the reader to make what follows make sense (mostly).