Chapter 3 — Stormcrows
Chapter three starts with the traditional shopping trip to the Goblin Market, with Darla and Angelique both boasting about their summer activities which are much more interesting than those of Alexandra and her friends.
"My family and I went to the North Pole on an Aurora Borealis cruise," sighed Darla, barely waiting for Alexandra's reply. "It was so romantic! I met the most wonderful boy on the cruise, he goes to the Blacksburg Magery Institute, and he's four years older than me –"
The first step in Darla's downfall — an unrequited summer crush.
Rereading the bus trip, there is a lot of exposition that was mostly just rehashing, and dialog that probably could have gotten the important bits across in much fewer words. Of course I needed to drop the foreshadowing about Darla and Martin, and the Pritchard twins' education in wandcrafting and interest in Muggle Studies is also significant. But a lot of it is padding.
Of course, when I say "padding," I'm thinking like a 'wannabe pro' author and not like a fan fiction author. Sometimes I talk about excessive word count, and people say they enjoy the added details and worldbuilding. I enjoy it too, because you can get away with this kind of indulgence in serialized fan fiction chapters.
Alexandra's trip to Gringotts, for example:
At the front of the line, Alexandra had to crane her neck up to see the goblin leaning over the counter to stare down at her.
"Well?" demanded the goblin.
"I need to exchange Muggle money for wizard money," she said.
"Do you have an account with us?" the goblin snapped.
"Well, then you'll have to pay a surcharge."
Alexandra frowned. "What if I open an account?"
The goblin wrinkled his nose, studying her. "How much Muggle money do you have?" he inquired.
She pulled out her bills, and counted them. "Umm, seventy-six dollars."
The goblin grimaced, and showed teeth as he spoke, very slowly. "We are not a piggy bank, little girl!"
Alexandra could see why Gringotts didn't leave out any cards inviting patrons to comment on its customer service, like she'd seen at Muggle banks.
She left with two Lions, six Eagles, and two Pigeons, and a vague suspicion that she'd been cheated, though since she didn't really know what the exchange rate was, she couldn't be sure. Still, she liked jingling the gold coins in her hand.
I had fun writing that, and eventually the existence of a non-goblin competitor to Gringotts, the Colonial Bank of the New World, will have some relevance. But here it's basically nothing relevant to the plot. I could have eliminated that entire scene and it wouldn't have changed the story at all.
Likewise, the traditional annual confrontation with Larry.
Vance led the way through the large double-doors into the department store. A pair of shiny gold mechanical men (wearing magnets on their chests that said, "Get service like this at home, too! Tockmagi ® Clockwork Golems") opened the doors for them. As soon as Alexandra and Anna stepped across the threshold, they collided with an invisible barrier, and stumbled backwards. Anna yelped in pain and rubbed her nose, and Alexandra was about to do the same – it felt like she'd walked face-first into a wall. Then she heard howls of laughter from just inside, and saw Larry, Ethan, and Wade all standing in the entrance foyer of the store, doubling over and pointing with glee.
Of course that ongoing antagonism has not been entirely without purpose, but as I reread Stormcrows, I see a lot of character fluff before I get to the real point of the chapter.
Alexandra's eye was on the Muggle-Fried Specials section, wondering just what wizards thought 'Muggle-Fried' meant, but then she heard Darla let out an excited little squeal. She turned to see what the other girl was fussing about now, and noticed for the first time a group of six teenagers sitting at a table to themselves, all wearing blue and silver military-style uniforms, with dark blue cloaks lying neatly folded on the benches next to them.
They looked like they were probably juniors or seniors, but they definitely weren't Charmbridge students. There were four boys and two girls. They sat erectly in their seats, barely seemed to notice the other students and adults around them, and ate together in a stiff, almost synchronized fashion.
"Stormcrows," said Vance.
The Blacksburg Magery Institute is loosely based on institutions like the Virginia Military Institute and The Citadel. Of course those are post-secondary schools, so BMI is really more comparable to a military boarding school like Massanutten Military Academy. But I've been following Rowling's precedent in not giving the wizarding world much in the way of actual universities.
Alexandra noticed that all of the BMI students looked bemused, except for one, a tall, handsome, broad-shouldered boy with straight hair as dark as Martin's. He was studying Alexandra and the other Charmbridge students next to her, rather than staring at Darla, who was still babbling.
And that's all the introduction I gave for Maximilian's first appearance.
The rest of the chapter was poor Darla getting humiliated. A lot of people thought Martin was a jerk to her. He kind of was, but in fairness, their "romance" was almost entirely in her mind. Martin did not really (deliberately) lead her on; he flirted with her on that Aurora Borealis cruise because he thought she was cute (like a child, not like a girl) and it amused him. Not having a younger sister, like Max, he also didn't understand girls very well and didn't think she'd take it as seriously as she did. Keep in mind also, as we learn later, that Martin has been "flirting" for years with Julia, who also had a crush on him. So he's used to this kind of playing around, without meaning anything by it.
He could have been a lot nicer to Darla, and crushing her right in front of all her friends and his was definitely cruel. But he's a teenager and she's a kid, and he was surrounded by his friends, so he did not exactly show his nobler qualities here.
And while that, of course, was not directly the cause of any of Darla's subsequent behavior, it was a precipitating event, giving her a little push in the wrong direction. Alexandra, so far immune to the lure of boys and able to coolly assess Darla's own foolishness and humiliation, is seeing the beginning of Darla turning into her dark mirror image.