I'm now writing Chapter 23, with 150K words completed.
Happy New Year's!
The WODAMND Act
Residents of the City by the Bay loved watching tourists shiver in their shorts and t-shirts. Visitors often forgot that this was not Southern California; in San Francisco, the ocean was just blocks away, and it was cold. Sea breezes and fog could make for chilly mornings even in the summer.
Usually the fog burned off quickly at this time of year, but today it lingered almost until noon, lying over the neighborhoods of San Francisco and making everything damp and gray. It didn't slow the city down a bit, though, and in Chinatown, the streets were as crowded as always. The mist gave an even more picturesque quality to the chinoiserie trappings of the touristy areas, and shrouded the markets and crowded tenements that were home to so many residents.
To one lone individual exiting the Chinatown branch of the San Francisco Public Library, it offered the illusion of invisibility. The small figure pulled up the hood of her red cloak and walked down Powell Street, with the fog parting before her as if by magic.
Anna Chu wasn't invisible, but at least with the streets still foggy, this late in the morning, no one was staring at her, and she didn't feel quite so out of place.
In fact, she rarely attracted much notice even on bright, sunny afternoons. San Francisco, and Chinatown in particular, was host to a great many people dressed in varied and unusual outfits, and one person in old-fashioned robes and a red hooded cloak was barely noteworthy. But Anna always felt as if she were being stared at – particularly by other girls.
She turned a corner, and passed by a group of giggling teenagers wearing high-heeled boots, short skirts, sparkly blouses, and hair and makeup that matched the colors of their cell phones. They might be cold, too, in those skirts, but Muggle girls apparently valued fashion far more than comfort. Perhaps that was why they looked at Anna as if she were a refugee from some far-off medieval kingdom, as she navigated her way past the open-air markets and packed restaurants along Stockton Street.
This had always been the case. In Anna's infrequent contacts with Muggle girls, she was never able to fit in. She didn't know who the most popular entertainers were, she didn't understand their slang, she didn't care about shopping, she didn't know what made some clothes 'hot topics' and others not, and most damning of all, she did not have a cell phone. In her limited understanding of Muggle teen culture, this apparently marked her as an uncivilized peasant of the lowest order.
The four girls, simultaneously chattering away on their phones and to each other, pointed and lowered their voices to carrying whispers as the strange hooded girl walked past. They were judging her appearance, Anna knew – her robes, her shoes, her hair... everything about her. The sudden peals of laughter behind her back indicated that they were guessing what boat she'd just stumbled off of. They were speaking Cantonese, but Anna could still pick up some of the words.
You wouldn't laugh if I pulled out my wand and covered you with jellyfish, she thought.
That was a rash, irresponsible thought, though, and she quickly banished it. No, the Muggle girls wouldn't laugh – they'd be terrified. And that was the problem. As tempting as it might be to show off her special talent, to demonstrate to those silly girls what she could do that they couldn't, she knew that magic would never make them her friends. It would only scare them.
Plus, it would get her in big trouble. The Trace Office in California was exceptionally vigilant, and her use of underage magic would be detected and provoke an immediate response.
No, that was the sort of thing Alexandra might do – not Anna.
Anna smiled wistfully. She missed her friend. She'd never admit it, but she liked Alexandra's hot-headedness and stubbornness. Not that she liked seeing the other girl get in trouble afterwards, but she admired Alexandra's bravery, and wished she could be as fearless and heedless of consequences. Anna lived in fear of punishment, and could never muster the courage to stand up for herself the way Alexandra did.
So Alexandra stood up for Anna instead. She'd done it since they began attending Charmbridge Academy, two years ago. Anna had gone to the wizarding school in Central Territory, halfway across the country, knowing no one and having precious little experience making new friends, and found herself rooming with a Muggle-raised girl who knew nothing about the wizarding world. But Alexandra Quick soon proved that she was adaptable, wickedly talented, and an endless source of trouble. To be fair, not all of the trouble that came to her was her own doing, but she seemed fated to be at the center of every calamity, and frequently wound up dragging her friends into it as well.
Anna Chu, the timid, studious, rules-abiding girl who came to Charmbridge hoping only to make good grades, had gotten into more trouble and danger in the past two years than she could ever have imagined. It was all because of Alexandra – and to Anna, it had all been worth it. Alexandra was her best friend, and Anna thought going to Charmbridge was the best thing that had ever happened to her.
Her father, however, did not. He had almost decided not to send Anna back to Charmbridge for a second year, after what had happened at the end of sixth grade. Anna had begged and pleaded – one of the rare times she actually argued with her father – and her mother, for once, had supported her. Eventually, Mr. Chu had relented.
Alexandra's notoriety had only increased the following year, though. She was the daughter of a Dark wizard named Abraham Thorn, and a disastrous and fatal series of events had ended, in June, with the Thorn Circle launching a deadly attack against the Confederation's Wizardrail network. Since then, the entire Confederation had been in an uproar, fearing the rise of the Dark Convention.
None of this was Alexandra's fault, as Anna repeatedly told her father. Alexandra herself had suffered as much as anyone. Her own brother – whom she had only met last year – had died. Alexandra had nothing to do with the Thorn Circle's plans, and was being persecuted herself just because of who her father was.
But Mr. Chu didn't want his daughter rooming with the daughter of the most wanted warlock in America. Once again, he was threatening to pull her out of school; over Anna's tearful objections, he had sent a letter to Dean Grimm, demanding that Anna be assigned another roommate, or else she would not be returning to Charmbridge Academy.
They hadn't received an owl back yet. Anna was hoping Dean Grimm would be too busy to respond. With Aurors and Special Inquisitors trying to boss her around, an irate parent wasn't going to intimidate the Dean.
“I don't want another roommate!” she wrote to Alexandra. “I don't want to be stuck with Angelique and her jarvey, or snotty Lydia Ragland!”
She didn't want anyone but Alexandra to be her roommate.
Alexandra had taken the news of Anna's father's attitude towards her calmly and without indignation. In fact, her reply had been almost too calm, too reassuring. It was completely unlike Alexandra not to make at least one smart crack, but she had merely told Anna not to worry, that they'd still be in classes together and hang out together, and they would still be friends, no matter what.
All of Alexandra's letters and emails had been like that – calm, reassuring, bland. And to Anna's repeated queries about how Alexandra's summer was going, how she was feeling – Anna didn't quite dare ask directly: “Are you okay, since your brother died and everything?” – Alexandra merely replied that she was fine, her summer was boring, and that she was looking forward to returning to Charmbridge Academy in September.
She is not okay, Anna thought. She and David Washington and Constance and Forbearance Pritchard all agreed. All summer, the four of them had been communicating with each other by owl and email, as well as with Alexandra, and they all knew their friend was hiding how she really felt – but they didn't know what to do about it.
Anna sighed as she turned into one of Chinatown's many narrow alleys, and walked between two older buildings with basement windows cracked open at ground level on either side of her. Steam and cooking smells joined the fog in the alley, obscuring her enough that Anna didn't need to look around, as she usually did, before she raised her wand and traced a Chinese ideogram against the stone wall where the alley seemed to dead-end.
The wall made a sliding, grinding sound as the stones came loose, detaching from one another but still floating magically in place without falling to the ground in a jumble. She stepped through the wall and felt it part around her as if it were a curtain of beads, and then she was on the other side, at the bottom of another incline.
She was immediately confronted by a pair of large, angry swans, honking, flapping their powerful wings, and jabbing their beaks at her. Anna swallowed and stood her ground, waiting for them to let her pass.
She didn't like the guard swans – they were mean.
They didn't actually attack, unless you didn't belong here – or you ran. When Anna was little, the guard swans had terrified her even when she was accompanied by her parents, and the first few times she was allowed to pass through the gate by herself, the swans had frightened her into flight even though she knew she mustn't run. The evil birds had chased her all the way up the hill to her house, pecking her, beating her with their wings, and pulling strands of her hair out of her head. She had arrived at home panicked and in tears. Her mother held her and comforted her, but her father had told her sternly not to run next time.
Anna no longer ran from the guard swans, but they still scared her, and she was sure they knew it.
After their ritual attempt to intimidate her, the swans folded their wings and stepped back, regarding Anna with beady black eyes. She could almost hear them thinking: Go ahead... run!
Instead, she held her head up and walked between them, up the paved stone path. After another dozen paces, without any angry honking in her ear or hard beaks rapping the back of her head, she relaxed slightly.
The path she was on ascended a small hill that rivaled any in San Francisco for its steepness, but there were no cars here, and no street signs, and neither the paths nor the hill itself showed up on any map. Anna climbed her way past gardens full of petrified gnomes, and several traditional Chinese-style houses with golden fireproof shingles.
A large red salamander lay unmoving, half-in and half-out of the Zhengs' pond, as the water boiled and steamed around it. It glowed a little as Anna walked by, radiating more heat as a warning. She kept walking. The Cais' singing well was filling the air with a melody, after its long silence, which meant that Sanyun Cai must have returned home from his trip abroad. A swarm of giant swallowtail butterflies abruptly surrounded Anna, before drifting away towards Old Lady Wu's garden.
'Little Wuyi,' as its residents called their secluded enclave in the middle of Chinatown, was picturesque and magical. Every wizard living there took great pains to make it beautiful.
For Anna, growing up in this place, it had been a beautiful prison. To her, the magic and wonder of this refuge from the Muggle world outside represented only the loneliness and isolation she had shared with her mother throughout her childhood.
She saw Mutan Lin and her little brother playing on their patio, and gave them only the briefest of nods; Mutan returned an equally minimal acknowledgment. The other girl was her age, but Anna knew that the Lins, like all the other families in Little Wuyi, considered her a 'Mudblood.' Even being accepted to the prestigious Charmbridge Academy, while giving her father reason to boast about her, had only sparked resentment in her peers.
She couldn't wait to return to Charmbridge, and her friends. She felt guilty that her mother was left alone now for most of the year. That was why she was hurrying home this morning, even though she would have preferred to stay at the library all day.
The public library's computers had opened up a new world for Anna, and she loved the ability to communicate with her Muggle-born friends. She had also become quite fond of the patient librarian who taught her how to use email and the Web – even if the woman remained convinced, despite Anna's perfect English, that she must have just recently arrived from China.
Anna's mother sometimes accompanied her to the library as well, and Anna always encouraged her to come along, now that she could let them both through the gate, but today, Lisa Yuan had chosen to remain home. Mrs. Yuan was reclusive by nature, and never complained about living here, but she was a Muggle, and so could not leave Little Wuyi, or get back inside, without the help of her daughter or husband or one of the other residents. And while the Chinese wizarding community never complained openly about the Muggle living in their midst, or showed Mrs. Yuan disrespect, Anna knew that was only because of her father's reputation, not because they liked his wife... or his half-blood daughter.
The Yuan-Chu household was at the very top of the hill where Anna's great-great-great-grandfather had built his home a hundred and fifty years ago. He had hidden it from Muggle sight, and the Chinese wizarding community in San Francisco had grown around it. Anna's father was the last of the pureblood Chus, and he had courted the wrath of his dead ancestors, the horror of his living kin back in Fujian, and the astonishment and dismay of his neighbors, when instead of choosing a bride from one of the prominent Alta California Chinese families, or bringing a pureblood wife over from China, he had married a Muggle instead.
Geming Chu was still a formidable, respected community leader, and now he was running for the Wizards' Congress. This meant he spent even more time than usual away from home, leaving his wife home by herself. At times, Anna wondered whether she should have allowed her father to withdraw her from Charmbridge and keep her in San Francisco; at least then her mother wouldn't be alone. She was sure that her father's desire to keep his daughter away from Alexandra Quick was motivated in large part by his political ambitions. Alexandra's father had also been a Congressman once; the associations wouldn't reflect well on Mr. Chu.
Anna loved her father and feared him, in equal measure. So when she opened the door and heard his voice raised in anger, she froze. Her father rarely shouted at her mother, and it was terrible when he did. Had he found out about Anna's trips to the library? She was not, strictly speaking, forbidden to go to Muggle Chinatown, but Mr. Chu certainly didn't want his daughter becoming too enamored of Muggle technology, and he definitely would not have approved of her communications with Alexandra. Anna's heart pounded in her chest, and she gulped in fear as she heard her father swear violently.
Then she heard other voices, and realized that it wasn't her mother he was swearing at. There were other men in the house!
She heard her mother cry out in alarm. Anna gasped, then drew her wand and rushed forward, turning aside before the brick screen that separated the entranceway from the rest of the house. Around the corner was the marble-tiled kitchen; her mother was not there, and the fire spirits were flickering lazily inside the stone kiln where they lounged when not called to service. She passed her own room on the left, and the small family shrine at the center of the house, and continued past the library and the master bedroom.
She found her parents in the wood-floored south-facing bay of their house, where her father usually studied or wrote letters. His desk had been kicked aside, with parchment and pens and the pillows he sat on scattered across the floor.
Mr. Chu was on his feet; he and another Asian man were pointing wands at one another. A second stranger, a Caucasian man with thin hair combed over the top of a fat, round head, had grabbed Anna's mother by the upper arm, and was holding his wand at the ready. She looked frightened, and was trying to shake the large man's hand off, but his grip was too tight.
Anna started to point her wand at the man holding her mother, and then her father barked, “Hua, no!”
Anna realized then that both intruders were wearing the black robes and red vests of Aurors.
The Auror confronting Mr. Chu remained motionless, his wand steadily pointing at the other man; only his eyes drifted in Anna's direction. The second Auror turned his head, and his wand began to move.
“Hua, put your wand away immediately!” her father commanded, in his severest tone.
Anna's father only ever addressed her by her Chinese given name in tender moments; he had never used it in such an angry manner as this. She swallowed and almost dropped her wand as she fumbled while tucking it back into her robe. She looked at her father, and her frightened mother, and the two Aurors, and felt fear and helplessness bubbling inside her. She didn't know what was going on or what to do.
“Good girl,” said the Auror facing her father. He was much smaller than Mr. Chu, who was nearly six feet in height, but he was clearly the one in charge. He spoke in Mandarin, as Anna's father had. “I don't really want to arrest your daughter also, Mr. Chu. Now lower your wand – you don't want your family to get hurt, do you?”
“Arrest?” Anna gasped.
“Take your hands off my wife,” Mr. Chu said to the Auror restraining Anna's mother. “Mei, Hua, just stay out of this. It will be all right.” Slowly, he lowered his wand, with his eyes flickering angrily between the two Aurors.
Anna noticed that the second Auror, though he wasn't Chinese, smirked and obviously understood what they were saying.
“Father, what's going on?” she pleaded. She felt tears welling up in her eyes.
“It will be all right, Hua,” her father repeated, more gently this time.
The Auror in front of him said, “Accio wand,” and Mr. Chu's wand flew out of his robe and into the Auror's hand. Then the Auror said, “Incarcerous!” Silver ropes shot out of his wand and wrapped around the other wizard.
The taller Auror thrust Mrs. Yuan towards her daughter. Anna put her arms around her mother, while standing protectively between her and the two men.
“You can't just barge in here and arrest my husband!” Mrs. Yuan said, in English. “You – you need a warrant!”
The two Aurors laughed.
“Tell your Muggle wife that we're not Muggle policemen,” said the smaller Auror, still speaking in Mandarin. He gripped the end of the rope now wrapped around Mr. Chu with a smug smile.
“His Muggle wife has ears!” Mrs. Yuan retorted, in Mandarin.
“Mei,” admonished her husband. “Don't interfere. This will be remedied, and I will be back soon.”
“But... but what are you arresting him for? You do need a warrant!” Anna said. She was pretty sure that was true – they had covered the basic rights of Confederation citizens in their Wizard Social Studies class last year.
The Auror with the fat head and the thinning hair smirked again, and said, in English, “Not anymore. The Wizards' Congress passed the WODAMND Act.”
“The what?” Mrs. Yuan asked, looking faint.
Anna knew the answer to this – only because she'd started listening to the Confederation News Network occasionally, when it covered her father's campaign. Mr. Chu's opponents had excoriated him for his opposition to the War On Dark Arts Mandatory National Defense Act, practically accusing him of wanting to hand the Confederation over to the Dark Convention.
“What does the War On Dark Arts have to do with my father?” she asked, struggling to keep her voice from rising hysterically.
“Geming Chu, by the authority of the Governor of North California, you're under arrest for collaboration with the Dark Convention,” the Chinese Auror declared formally, in English, jerking on the rope. Mr. Chu stumbled and then glowered at the other man.
“This is an outrage! Politically-motivated harassment!” he bellowed. “You two, and whoever sent you, will regret this!”
“Threatening Aurors is a felony,” said the Auror holding the rope. “Let's go, sorcerer.”
“My father is not a sorcerer!” Anna cried. “He is not Dark! He has nothing to do with the Dark Convention! This is all a mistake!”
“Hua, take care of your mother,” said Mr. Chu. “Be brave, my daughter. I will be back soon. Mei –” He looked at his wife, and then the Auror's grip on the rope around him tightened again, and with a loud pop, all three men disappeared.
Lisa Mei Yuan wailed, and would have collapsed to the ground if Anna hadn't held her up, and then they both sank to their knees together, weeping.
“What's going on, Hua?” her mother sobbed. “I don't understand! Where are they taking him? What do we do? What do we do?”
“I... I don't know,” Anna said, her voice choking. She was as terrified and confused as her mother, and she didn't know what to do if your father got arrested. She would have to ask someone... except her father would never want this shame exposed to their neighbors. But wouldn't they find out anyway?
Anna couldn't think of anyone who could help, and she just wanted to cry and cry and let her mother comfort her. Except that now she was the only witch in the house; her mother was a Muggle, trapped in a wizarding community. There was no way she could leave her mother here alone. She squeezed her eyes shut to fight off the wave of panic threatening to overwhelm her. What could she do? She wasn't brave and strong like Alexandra... but Alexandra wasn't here.