Chapter 12 — Crucio
In this chapter, Alexandra demonstrates again that she really is quite formidable — but as usual, not quite as formidable as she thinks she is. Although that's not really a fair criticism. It's not that she overestimates herself, but rather she underestimates what she's up against.
“Stupefy!” Alexandra shouted, not even slowing down. A red beam shot out of her wand and caught the surprised lookout full in the chest. He collapsed against the wall behind him and slid to the ground, legs splayed out at an awkward angle. She stepped over him and kept going.
She heard gasps and cries of alarm as she stormed through the doorway, and found herself facing over a dozen Mors Mortis Society members. John and Sue were in the center of the room. Alexandra felt sick fury when she saw that John was holding a knife, and Honey was lying on the ground at his feet.
“You psycho!” she shouted, pointing her wand at him. “Expelliarmus!” The knife spun away with a flash of light.
However, at age twelve, Alexandra has not quite realized her limits. (Okay, I know you're thinking "Well, she hasn't really learned them by age fifteen either." That's true.) She's used to being able to intimidate people with the force of her personality, and even physically dominate boys her own age. (This is the last year she'll get away with that — recall what happens when she tries it with Billy Boggleston in AQATDR. Puberty can be remarkably unfair that way.)
Now she's facing a boy who is not only older and stronger than her in every way, but just plain evil in a way she has yet to confront.
John's other hand lashed out and caught her by the throat, and she was so startled she almost dropped her wand.
John squeezed, and growled, “Turn around, walk out of here, and never come back, or –”
Memories from last year were flashing through Alexandra's mind, when Ben Journey had seized her by the throat while she was bound and helpless, just before his final attempt to kill her. It wasn't something she thought about often, though she had relived it more than once in her dreams. She felt a flash of rage, and John cried out and let go of her, thrown back by an invisible force. He shook his hand as if it had been burned, while she gagged and staggered away from him, clutching her neck with one hand and pointing her wand at him with the other.
Being a witch is a bit of an equalizer when it comes to physical confrontations, but she still loses the subsequent brief duel with John. And he proceeds to Crucio her.
Yuck. That's a pretty horrible picture. I spent a lot of time getting the poses and the facial expressions just right, but the clothing and textures look like plastic shrink wrap. The prop John is wearing was originally a kimono, which I simply retextured with a plaid flannel pattern. I've gotten a little bit better with clothing props, but it's kind of embarrassing to look at now.
Anyway, John gets a little too carried away, evidently enjoying torturing Alexandra. She has a very strong will and refuses to beg.
At last it stopped, and she heard John say, “Why don't you beg?” He leaned over her. “Or would you like us to bring your little Chinese friend down here, too?”
Her response was defiant and profane, as she rolled over and punched him in the face. He jerked back, rubbed his nose, and pointed his wand again. “Crucio!”
It was even worse the third time. Alexandra cried out once, then flipped over onto her belly, and then rolled back over, as if there were some way to escape it, and the torment just went on and on. She remembered Nigel twitching and writhing around, and she felt like her poor snake, thrashing and twisting in agony.
I'll never beg, she thought, but hot tears were blinding her and it was becoming hard to think about anything but the pain, and the thought of John doing this to Anna made her want to throw up as much as the pain did –
“That's enough!” someone yelled, and the pain stopped. Blinking, Alexandra lifted her head, to see that Maximilian had stepped into the center of the circle. His hand had grabbed John's wrist and yanked his wand away.
One of my earlier betas, miles2go, thought Alexandra was approaching Mary Sue territory here with her resisting Crucio and punching John. I disagreed, since I think a strong will (really, the hard steel core beneath her "stubbornness") is one of her defining character traits, and it's not as if she's defiantly laughing off the torture. I leave it a bit open-ended as to whether she'd have broken eventually, since Max intervenes, but I do think she would have gone down like the Longbottoms, resisting to the very end.
“I don't think you can break her. All you can do is drive her out of her mind, or kill her.” And as Alexandra shuddered, Maximilian told John, “I'll take care of her.”
There was a long pause. Alexandra was dragging herself to her hands and knees, but she was all out of heroic acts of defiance – it felt like it would take a heroic effort just to stand. She was aware of tears running down her face, and couldn't do anything about it.
Max saves her, and in so doing demonstrates all the moral equivocation we discussed earlier. He saved her, yes, but he let her be Crucioed three times. Was it cold tactical calculation, or lack of empathy? He expresses guilt to her afterward, but he let it happen. Surely he would not have hesitated if someone had been doing that to Julia. And he only saves Honey because Alexandra begs him to.
He walks her out of the MMS meeting, gives her a tongue-lashing for being such an idiot, and then drops the Big Reveal on her.
“The Mors Mortis Society invited me for the same reason they invited you. Because Abraham Thorn is my father.”
Her mouth opened, but she couldn't find words. Having endured one shock after another tonight, she could only listen wide-eyed as Maximilian said, “I'm your brother, Alexandra.”
I really enjoyed the reactions from the readers who'd already been predicting a Max/Alex ship. Not that the Big Reveal didn't stop some of you pervs. :P
This was one of the most important chapters in the book. Lots of plot and character development, no filler. I do see a lot of writing weaknesses in it, though — flaccid, wordy sentences and Alexandra "hissing" a lot. So, I give it high marks on plot, low marks on prose. I think (hope) I conveyed the drama and the tension pretty well, from Alexandra's realizing just what she was involved with, to her torture scene, to the revelations from Maximilian. This was meant to be an intense chapter. Did it work?