I noticed that I called the paintings that hang over hallways in Charmbridge Academy both "Hall Supervisors" and "Hall Monitors" in this book, but in all subsequent books (and in my head) they are "Hall Monitors." So there is one of the few edits I am making to my AQATTC manuscript as I go through this rereading project. I need my own InverarityWords dictionary.
Actually, I have one, a private wiki, but sometimes I miss things.
In this chapter, Alexandra prepares to execute her plan to sneak into the Registrar's Office.
“You know, if you spent this much time on your schoolwork, all your grades would be Superior,” Anna pointed out. “And why do you keep using words like 'operation' and 'mission'?”
“You don't watch enough TV,” said Alexandra.
This is an aspect of Alexandra's personality that has diminished a bit with age. Originally she was a very imaginative girl, given to dramatic flights of fancy from reading a lot and watching too much TV as a latchkey kid. A little bit of that is still evident in book two, when she conceives her ridiculous plan to make Angelique jealous on David's behalf, and arguably some of her later ill-thought plans (like stealing Valeria's Time Turner to go back in time and save Max) might not have seemed like such a good idea to her if she didn't have her head stuffed full of fictional plots. But being rash and arrogant (and a little dramatic) is certainly a part of her personality regardless of her flights of fantasy.
I haven't emphasized Alexandra's literary habits much in later books, but she is a reader. You can bet that if the Harry Potter books existed in her world, she would have read them. She probably read Twilight, too (and didn't like it, not because she's a particularly discriminating reader as a teenager, but because she'd think Bella is a wuss). She wouldn't read a lot of Magical Boyfriend books, though - traditional fantasy and YA dystopian novels would be more her thing. I'm afraid she probably does get her brain a little bent by Anne Rice and Laurell K. Hamilton, though — yup, that shit would intrigue her, and she doesn't know any better.
Anyway, back to the story...
Alexandra was becoming very proficient with Unlocking Charms. In fact, it was quite possible that she was now the most skilled magical lockpick at Charmbridge. With careful practice around the school, she had learned that some wizard-made locks were more difficult to open than ordinary Muggle locks. She didn't think the Registrar's Office would have one of the charm-proof locks she had heard about, but she decided that it was best to assume it would be challenging.
Keeping Alexandra off the Sue-spectrum has not always been easy. I started building up certain talents early, this being one of them. I foresaw a need for her to be good at lock-breaking well ahead of time. :D
“Stop it!” Anna looked angry. “Can we stop having this discussion? I already promised I'd help! If you didn't want my help you should never have accepted it in the first place! If you're so worried about me then be worried about yourself! But you can't give this up, can you? Well, stop trying to keep me out of it, it's too late for that!”
Stunned by this outburst, Alexandra stared wide-eyed at her friend. Anna glared indignantly back at her.
Okay, so maybe Anna's assertiveness is not always wholehearted and consistent. And they will have this discussion again (and again). I wasn't so much trying to establish that Anna isn't a doormat, though, but that Anna is the one person who can bring Alexandra up short. Alexandra doesn't always listen to her, but she usually does.
Constance and Forbearance (and later, Julia) are also able to play this role (and even David has his say now and then), but they don't have as much contact with Alex.
“Whisperphones,” she said. “They work sort of like the Wizard Wireless. You speak into the end with the holes, and you can hear what's said into the other by sticking the rubber end in your ear. They're a matched set.”
“Magical walkie-talkies!” said Alexandra. “That's what they are.”
“I guess.” Anna shrugged. “These are just for kids. You can get much smaller models, but they're really expensive.”
I didn't really forget about the Whisperphones, but I am going to have to think about whether there are any places in the later books where Whisperphones would create a bit of a plot hole. A lot of contemporary authors (and movie directors) have pointed out that cell phones have radically changed what sorts of plots work today (and have badly dated a lot of sci-fi written before they became widespread).
“Alohomora!” she intoned, pointing her wand at the cabinet. This time there was no click, and it continued to resist her attempt to open it.
She tried the Unlocking Charm three more times, her heart pounding even more. She couldn't think of any other way to get into the cabinet that wouldn't involve violence and a lot of noise. She forced herself to remain calm, and focused on the lock, and her spell, which she had practiced hundreds of times over the past month. On her fourth attempt, the cabinet door creaked open.
Hey, that was a tough lock: at least a -5 penalty.
(And before anyone takes me too seriously: no, I have never created RPG character sheets for any of my characters. I have a list of what spells they know and various other character traits and talents, but I don't think quantifying characters is a good idea for fiction writers. Jokes about "leveling up" aside, I never want anyone to say they can hear dice rolling when they read my stories.)
She spoke very carefully. It had taken her many, many repetitions before Anna had declared her pronunciation satisfactory, and many more after that before she had cast the first charm that actually worked.
“Yumo shui niuzhan!”
She stared intently at the parchment. For a moment, nothing happened, and she thought she might never know whether it was because she'd been wrong all along, or simply hadn't cast the spell correctly. And then the letters of her name began to twist and writhe, and when they settled, they spelled out:
Alexandra Octavia Thorn
“Anna,” she gasped into her Whisperphone.
Then the door behind her slammed shut. She felt her throat constricting. She couldn't breathe. She dropped her wand and the Whisperphone and spun around. She was alone in the room, yet she was being strangled.
“Alex?” she heard Anna's voice say from the Whisperphone. She stumbled and fell against the table, and collapsed to the floor, clutching her neck, with the Registrar's Scroll clattering to the ground next to her.
Okay, that is obviously some fake-ass Chinese. I know, I'd get dinged for that if this book were published, even if Rowling did use fake-ass Latin. (I did look up some Chinese words of approximately the meaning I wanted, and then deliberately garbled them, but I don't even remember what they were.)
The big reveal of her father's name probably came as no surprise to most readers by now. But a few readers did start putting that and "Octavia" together.
So, Journey stages another one of his lame murder attempts. Anna saves Alexandra, with a little help from Galen.
Alexandra turned her head, and saw Galen lying next to her, almost on top of her wand. Anna had apparently dragged both out along with Alexandra. The cat was splayed out on its side, but had just lifted its head. Its tail was twitching. It sounded as groggy as she felt.
Notice how I never called Galen "he"?
Then Mr. Red HerringThiel shows up, and Alexandra incurs a few more Sue points:
“You!” Alexandra shouted. “You tried to kill me!” She called him a name that made Anna gasp, and then without thinking, snatched up her wand and pointed it at him. “Expelliarmus!” His wand flew from his hand. He looked startled, and then Anna pointed her wand. “Petrificus Totalus!” she shouted, and Thiel went rigid, with the look of astonishment still frozen on his face. Then he tilted stiffly backwards and disappeared from sight. They heard his petrified body go tumbling down the stairs.
While Alexandra has managed to take out more than one adult in the course of the books, it's fair to point out that usually it's because she got the drop on them. At age twelve, it's not likely she would have been able to beat Thiel in a duel. He just didn't expect a sixth grader to attack him.
Then Mr. Journey shows up.
“I can't wait to hear the story behind this,” he said. “But you two are definitely in trouble. Especially you, Starshine. You have no business in the Registrar's Office. Now we're going to find the Dean, and get this mess straightened out. You –” he gave Anna a little push towards the main corridor leading back towards the sixth grade dorms, “– go on back to your room, and stay there. I'm sure Ms. Grimm will want to talk to her favorite young troublemaker first.”
“But –” Anna looked confused. She stood there in the intersection, as Journey began guiding Alexandra down one of the other corridors, which she thought led to classrooms for the older students.
“Go on, Blossom,” said Mr. Journey.
Alexandra took a few steps, then said, “You know, it doesn't make sense that Mr. Thiel was trying to kill me. He's only been here since January.”
The custodian paused. Alexandra stopped and turned towards him. She could see Anna still standing back at the intersection, looking uncertain.
“How did you know I was in the Registrar's Office?” Alexandra asked. Her right hand, blocked from Journey's view by her body, was sliding towards her wand, sticking out of her pants pocket.
“Well, where else would you be sneaking to?” he demanded. “It's what you were after when you tried to drag Em into your little scheme, isn't it?”
“Oh,” she said. “That's true.” She hesitated, and Journey suddenly spun her around and snatched her wand out of her pocket.
Alexandra is very smart, and she's got good instincts. A slightly older Alexandra, say book three or later, wouldn't have hesitated and would probably have taken out Mr. Journey too. But at this point, she's still a young child and her suspicion of adults hasn't become a survival reflex.
Fortunately, Alexandra isn't the only smart person around here:
Alexandra bounced against a wall and slid to the ground. She saw Journey leaning against the opposite wall, and beyond him, Ms. Grimm, wrapped in a white robe and wearing a blue gown underneath. Her wand was leveled at Mr. Journey. Behind her, Galen was standing on Mr. Thiel's chest, tail held erect.
“Ben,” said Ms. Grimm. “I'm very disappointed.”
“Likewise, Lilith,” said Mr. Journey.
There is a lot hinted at here that I never really explained, between Ms. Grimm and Mr. Journey. Remember that he was in the Thorn Circle; he knew Hecate. Now, if Lilith was not in the Thorn Circle herself, she can't know that Journey was, thanks to the Fidelius Charm. (More on that later, when we get to that chapter: yes, I know a lot of readers have issues with how I used the Fidelius Charm.) So how much did she know about Mr. Journey and when did she know it?
Not saying. ;) But obviously, at the very least she had her suspicions.
Mr. Journey says one thing here that hits Alexandra hard, though she doesn't really realize that it will leave a lasting impression:
“Sorry, Starshine,” said Journey. “Truly I am. But I'm afraid what happens to your friend now is your responsibility.”
Journey's not being fair, of course, though he is right in a sense. And Alexandra will take that to heart. Especially after she tries to exchange herself for Anna, and Ms. Grimm and Dean Price forcibly prevent her.
This chapter probably should have happened earlier. The climactic chapters I think were paced well, it's the lead-up to them and the denouement where I have always had a habit of letting things stretch out a bit too much.