This was the start of the post-climax, and also the start of my habit of drawing out denouements for several chapters. Alexandra is healing up in the infirmary, and her first visitor is Ms. Shirtliffe, whom Alexandra sees for the first time in her Witch-Colonel's uniform.
“You were given an unfair disadvantage from the moment you arrived here,” Ms. Shirtliffe said. “You were brought to Charmbridge Academy without even the minimal preparation most Muggle-born students receive, and set up to do poorly on your SPAWNs. Ms. Grimm didn't want you to immediately excel, and was hoping that being held back would make you a little less remarkable. I knew the moment I met you that you have too much talent to suppress, though. You're definitely your father's daughter.”
“So you knew who my father was all along?” Alexandra asked quietly.
Ms. Shirtliffe has always been one of the few teachers Alexandra respects, although like most people she respects, their relationship is a contentious one. But although she doesn't absorb it immediately, this is yet another scene that erodes Alexandra's trust of adults. While Ms. Shirtliffe didn't really agree with Dean Grimm's plan, she went along with it, so once again, Alexandra realizes that an adult she kind of looked up to has been lying to her.
Then Ms. Shirtliffe tries to talk her into joining the JROC. We know how that turns out in book two.
Then her friends come to visit.
“So,” David said, “I hear your father really was a bad-ass Dark wizard after all.”
There was a shocked silence. David was looking at her seriously. Constance and Forbearance had both turned bright red, and Forbearance was giving David a scathing look, which he ignored.
Alexandra stared back at him, and then snorted. “Yeah,” she said. “I guess that makes me bad –”
“Alex!” squeaked Anna, and David's face broke out into a grin. Darla and Angelique laughed nervously, and Constance and Forbearance looked relieved.
“So it's true,” Darla said quietly.
“Are you going to be afraid of me now?” Alexandra asked, and though she was looking at Darla, she was really watching Anna, out of the corner of her eye.
“She's already afraid of you,” Angelique smirked, and Darla protested, “I am not!”
Okay, those dialog tags are awful. Anna "squeaks," and you can't smirk dialog. But there is quite a bit going on here, particularly with... D-D-D-Darla. Whose ultimate fate I had not at this point worked out yet, but who I knew was going to become more than just Alexandra's snotty rich-girl frenemy in book two.
“I'm not Dark,” Alexandra said.
“'Course not,” said Constance.
“I'm not going to turn Dark just because of my father. I don't want people to be afraid of me.”
“I think you like being feared some,” said Forbearance.
Yes, yes she does.
Alexandra and Anna's tearful parting is interrupted by Dean Grimm. And Alexandra and Dean Grimm have it out. Except not really, because Aunt Lilith is still keeping most of the truth hidden from Alexandra. But Alexandra is not quick to let go of the fact that Dean Grimm lied to her earlier, and didn't seem to take the threats to her life seriously. Rereading this now, Ms. Grimm really does seem, if not incompetent, well, really, really bad at handling Alex. Which I intended, but perhaps not to this degree.
Dean Grimm gives Alexandra an explanation for the Thorn Circle. Mr. Journey's attempts to kill her, and the significance of being the Thorn Circle's Secret-Keeper. And she reveals the final twist: the true nature of the Circle of Protection.
Alexandra fell silent. Ms. Grimm continued. “Journey did surmise, correctly, that he couldn't strike you down directly. Making someone impervious to harm is extremely difficult. True invulnerability is like invisibility or immortality – highly sought after and virtually unattainable, even with magic. A lethal blow, a killing curse, it has to be borne by someone if not the recipient. Your father's charm couldn't make you invulnerable, but it could cause someone else to be murdered in your stead.” She smiled grimly. “Only Mr. Journey thought that by breaking your gold circlet, he had bypassed that protection. He broke the wrong circle.”
Alexandra's mouth fell open as she understood. “Oh,” she said. “The Circle...”
“Such a spell is not without precedent,” said Ms. Grimm. “But it's very difficult, very powerful, not found in any book. And I should think your father would have needed the permission of those whose lives were bound to yours. Perhaps they thought it was only fair, as your life was protecting them in return. I am only speculating. But Journey was a fool. He should have understood better the circle he was a part of.” She shook her head. “With his death, the Circle is broken, I think, at least as far as your protection goes. No one else is likely to die in your place, Alexandra.”
I gather this, like the Fidelius Charm plot device, wasn't entirely clear to all readers. Abraham Thorn, at the same time that he cast the Fidelius Charm, also created a life-bond between the entire Thorn Circle and Alexandra. It was a sort of one-time "Get out of death free" card — in which some member of the Circle would suffer the fate intended for her. In this case, it was Ben Journey. Was it because he happened to be closest, or because he was responsible for trying to kill her, or did the Circle of Protection act with a sort of mystical sentience, or was it merely coincidence?
Then she gives Alexandra a speech which Alexandra is, unfortunately, still not mature enough to assimilate.
“You are, I think, more like your father than you know. No, listen to me, child!” she added, as Alexandra was about to interrupt her. “What we know about Abraham Thorn is that he is egotistical, arrogant, willing to protect those close to him, but also willing to use them. Let me tell you what makes him such a terrible threat, what makes the Governor-General fear him. It's not that he is a powerful wizard – though he is. And it's not that his ideas and his ambitions are dangerous – though they are. It's that he is so very, very charismatic! How did he gather such a loyal following in the first place? People willing to face impossible odds and extraordinary threats on his behalf? A circle of followers willing to die for him – or for his daughter.”
She held Alexandra's gaze. “You have that same gift, Alexandra. Your friends are remarkably loyal to you. You haven't even begun to exercise your powers of persuasion, but it's clear you can talk them into putting themselves at great risk on your behalf. Miss Chu – well, I don't need to tell you what price she might have paid for her loyalty to you. Think on that. The difference between you and your father is in how you choose to use your gifts... and your friends.”
While Alexandra is still lacking in maturity and self-awareness, she's not lacking in perceptiveness (especially when it lends itself to pushing back against authority figures):
Alexandra thought a moment, and slowly shook her head. “My father never claimed me,” she said, with sudden resolution. “Why should I claim his name?”
“So be it,” Ms. Grimm said. “We will speak again soon, Miss Quick.” She rose to her feet. “Oh, yes.” She reached into the pocket of her jacket, and withdrew a wand. “This was recovered from Mr. Journey. I imagine you want it back.” She held it out.
Alexandra closed her fingers around the hickory wand. It was reassuring to have it back in her hand. “Thank you.” And as the Dean turned to leave, she said, “Ms. Grimm?”
Grimm turned, with a raised eyebrow.
“I think there are still things you're not telling me.”
The Dean stood there a moment, and then the corners of her mouth twitched.
“My dear child,” she said, with a bemused expression. “There are things I am not telling you that would fill half the library. Good evening, Miss Quick.” And she walked out of the infirmary without another look back, her heels clicking against the floor, while Alexandra ran her fingers along her wand and watched her go.
Okay, that's one of the few edits I'm going to make during this reread: fix that misuse of "bemused."
Ms. Grimm's deflection is skillful, but again, it shows that her biggest mistake throughout the books is probably underestimating (or mis-estimating) her niece.