The Special Inquisitor

Alexandra followed Ms. Grimm to the exit, in a state of agitation and confusion. They were delayed briefly at the main entrance that opened back into the mall, when a security guard demanded to check Alexandra's backpack. She wordlessly handed it over, feeling a bit nervous as the man pulled her shopping bag out of it and checked the receipt. He gave a quick glance inside, but if he saw the wand, he must not have thought it interesting, because he shoved the bag back into her pack and returned it to her with a perfunctory smile. "Have a nice day," he said.

Ms. Grimm waited for Alexandra to speak first. Alexandra waited until they were outside and surrounded by mall shoppers, before asking, "Why did you do that?"

Grimm's eyes twinkled. "To make the young man let go of your bag, of course."

Surprised, and not at all amused, Alexandra asked, "What happened to the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy?"

"Were you thinking about that the other day, when you poisoned a dozen children?"

Alexandra frowned. "I didn't poison them, and it was an accident."

The tall woman shook her head. "Careless, Miss Quick, very careless. Like leaving your wand out of reach, particularly when you're out in public. Do you know what a disaster it might have been if that Muggle boy had actually laid hands on it and started waving it around?"

The lecture only annoyed Alexandra more. "If you saw what was going on, you could have just walked over and made him give it back," she pointed out accusingly. "You're an adult."

"But you must admit, they're more likely to leave you alone in the future." Ms. Grimm seemed to find the entire thing very amusing.

Alexandra didn't like the woman's smirk at all. "Right, now they think I'm even more of a freak than they already do!" She scowled. "So am I in trouble?"

Grimm gave a little shrug. "What's important is that the existence of our world isn't exposed to Muggles. Do you suppose any of those children are going to tell their parents what happened? And if they did, would they be believed?"

Suspicion was gnawing at Alexandra now. Such a cavalier attitude wasn't like Ms. Grimm at all. And this woman didn't seem like Ms. Grimm in other ways. She was wearing jeans, for one. Alexandra had never seen Lilith Grimm wearing jeans. The Dean of Charmbridge Academy was often dressed in clothing that would pass for Muggle wear, but it was always stylish and professional-looking; suits or dresses or business-like skirts and blouses. Until now, Alexandra would have bet that Ms. Grimm didn't even own a pair of jeans.

It wasn't just that, though. There was something off about her that Alexandra couldn't quite put her finger on. Ms. Grimm stared down at her, with a small smile, as if waiting for Alexandra to figure it out, and she did, at last.

"You're not Ms. Grimm."

The woman looked amused. "Of course I am."

Alexandra's eyes narrowed. "You're Diana Grimm," she said slowly.

She had first seen that name on a Wizard Justice Department memo written twelve years ago. Just after Alexandra was born, Claudia Quick had been interrogated as to the whereabouts of the father of her child, and then Obliviated. And the Wizard Justice Department agent whose signature was on that memo was Diana Grimm: Lilith Grimm's sister.

Diana Grimm nodded, still smiling, like a teacher pleased at a student's answer.

"Dean Grimm didn't tell me you were twins."

Grimm's smile widened. "Well, why should she?" She looked around. "It's lunchtime. Why don't we get something to eat? My treat."

Alexandra still had a lunch packed in her book bag, but suspected that Diana Grimm intended to talk to her one way or the other. She thought she might as well get a burger and fries out of it, so she followed the older witch to an indoor diner. They took a booth in the corner that had a view of the mall's upper and lower levels, through a grease-smeared window. She studied the woman across the table warily. Grimm did look exactly like her sister. She had the same regal, handsome face, the same penetrating gaze, the same haughty demeanor and slightly condescending tone. Diana Grimm seemed less uptight, though, and she appeared perfectly comfortable in a Muggle environment.

Neither of them spoke until after the waitress had brought them drinks. Finally, Ms. Grimm said, "I suppose you know that I was the one who interviewed your mother, when you were a baby."

"I'm sure your sister told you everything I know." Alexandra's tone was sharp and not a little resentful, but Ms. Grimm merely smiled.

"Lilith told me what she was obligated to tell me." The Dean's sister seemed to be choosing her words carefully. "She doesn't work for the Wizard Justice Department, and she wasn't at all happy about our interfering with her running of her school last year."

Alexandra snorted.

"Your mother wasn't harmed, you know," Grimm went on. "In fact, by our watching over her, and you, you've both been protected."

"From what?" Alexandra demanded. She looked around and lowered her voice. "You're only trying to find my father; you don't care about us. Do you think my father would hurt us?"

"Abraham Thorn is a dangerous and ruthless man. He wouldn't hesitate to use you if it served his purposes."

"Really?" Alexandra's tone was flat. "And how does that make him different from you?"

The Wizard Justice Department agent gave Alexandra a long look, as if searching her face for bits of information she hadn't revealed yet. She slowly swirled her straw through the ice cubes in her glass of diet soda.

"The difference," she said at last, "is that we represent the forces of law and order. We keep the peace. Your father rejects rules and laws, and follows only his own ambition. He wouldn't hesitate to tear wizarding society apart."

Alexandra was silent for a moment, then shrugged. "I still don't know where he is."

"And you've had no contact with him at all?" Grimm asked, a little too casually.

The waitress returned with their plates of food, giving Alexandra a few moments to think while her hamburger and fries were set in front of her.

"Like I told the Governor-General," Alexandra answered, once the waitress had laid their bill on the table and left, "I've never even met my father." She picked up some fries and put them in her mouth.

"And he's still made no attempt to contact you?" Grimm repeated, leaning forward a little, to stare unnervingly at her.

"No." Alexandra lied shamelessly, meeting the other woman's eyes without blinking. She still didn't know how she felt about Abraham Thorn, but she had no intention of telling this agent of the Confederation about the letter her father's raven had delivered to her at the beginning of summer. She'd read it and then promptly torn it into tiny shreds.

Ms. Grimm stared at her a moment longer, then nodded and leaned back in her seat, and began eating her club sandwich.

"So, I'm not your only 'case,' am I?" Alexandra asked. "Or don't you have anything better to do than spy on me? Is the Wizard Justice Department going to have someone watching me at school again this year?"

"Well, I certainly hope no more of your father's associates will be trying to kill you," Ms. Grimm replied. "But we will be relying primarily on my sister to keep an eye on you. To answer your question, yes, I do have other cases, but for the last twelve years, Abraham Thorn and his Circle have been my top priority." Her tone softened. "I am sorry you're caught up in this, Alexandra. I realize it's not your fault. But you can blame your father for this unwanted interference in your life." She finished her sandwich and began chasing it down with a bowl of soup, while Alexandra bit into her hamburger.

"If nothing's happened in twelve years," Alexandra grumbled, talking around a mouthful of hamburger bun, "then why are you still chasing him? He hasn't done anything. Maybe he just wants to be left alone?"

Grimm's eyes narrowed, and she gave Alexandra a thin smile.

"We are quite sure that Abraham Thorn is not merely settled into retirement somewhere. And even if he were, it doesn't erase his past crimes. You don't try to assassinate the Governor-General of the Confederation and then walk away from that and expect to be left alone. Life isn't like that, Alexandra, and you're old enough to realize that."

Alexandra frowned, and continued eating her burger.

Ms. Grimm finished her soup, and watched Alexandra eat, her chin resting on her hands. "Did you keep the card that the Governor-General gave you?" she asked lightly.

Alexandra suspected that Ms. Grimm knew she hadn't. It was some kind of magical business card she was supposed to use to contact the Governor-General, or his henchman, Mr. Raspire, if her father contacted her. She had set it on fire before she even left Charmbridge Academy. Now she wondered if it had been charmed to tell them where she was, and possibly let them know if she destroyed it or threw it away.

"I lost it," she mumbled. She feared she sounded a little less convincing than before.

If Ms. Grimm realized Alexandra was lying, she didn't show it. She just smiled and slid another card across the table. "Here's mine. I hope you won't lose it."

Like the card the Governor-General had given her, it was just a stiff white slip of heavy paper with the Seal of the Confederation next to the Wizard Justice Department seal, and below that:

Office of Special Inquisitions
Diana Alecto Grimm, Special Inquisitor

Alexandra didn't touch it. Ms. Grimm merely smiled and waited, while Alexandra finished her hamburger. She picked up the bill, and began picking at it, tearing little pieces off with her long fingernails.

"It's all right to have questions, you know," said the Inquisitor. "And I realize Lilith wasn't exactly forthcoming, when you came to Charmbridge Academy. She was trying to protect you, I suppose, but I think you should have simply been told everything from the beginning. That's how I would have handled it."

Alexandra nodded, wondering if this was an effort to get on her good side. Maybe Diana Grimm was trying to seem more sympathetic than her sister.

"Dean Grimm said there was still a lot of stuff she wasn't telling me," Alexandra said slowly, watching her.

Ms. Grimm smiled, as she continued picking apart the restaurant bill, turning it over and over and absently tearing off little shreds from one edge, then the next. "I'm sure that's true. Though I doubt she was referring to any secrets about your father. If she knew more about that, she would have told me, I assure you."

"Like my mother. Who you had Obliviated!" Alexandra blurted out the accusation, but Grimm looked unperturbed. She merely continued picking at the ever-shrinking green and white carbon paper slip that had been their bill. Pick, pick, pick. Alexandra's eyes were drawn to the little scraps piling up on the table in front of her.

"Not I," Grimm replied softly. "It wasn't my decision. But don't you think she's better off not knowing?"

"Not knowing what? That her – that the man she – well, who's my father, is a wizard? That I'm a witch?" Alexandra scowled fiercely.

Grimm's gray eyes, so much like her sister's, regarded Alexandra, but there was sympathy there, something Alexandra rarely saw from the Dean. "I see," she said quietly. "It must be very difficult, living among Muggles, and not being able to talk about the wizarding world. And your mother can't give you any answers." She nodded. "I understand, Alexandra, I really do. That must be very hard for you, and you're at the age where you need to talk about these things. I can't tell you what to do about your mother, but from my observations, she and your stepfather have taken good care of you, and haven't exactly stifled you. Maybe you should consider talking to your mother, about everything. Including your father."

Alexandra found herself nodding along, for a moment. All her previous efforts to extract information about her father from her mother had hit a brick wall; her mother simply refused to discuss it. But that had been before Alexandra found out she was a witch, and then learned who her father was. Maybe she should just tell her mother everything, and make her deal with it. And then get the answers she wanted –

Her eyes narrowed, and her hands clenched into fists. "And then tell you anything she tells me, I suppose?" There was an angry tremor in her voice. That's what this was about, she realized. Just another way to use her to get to her father!

Grimm shook her head. "Alexandra, we already know everything your mother knows, remember? Really, you should stop assuming there's a hidden motive behind everything I say."

"Right, you just followed me into a department store and then took me out to lunch 'cause you thought I might like to chat," Alexandra replied coldly. "It has nothing to do with me being the Secret-Keeper for the Thorn Circle."

Grimm sighed. "Of course it has a great deal to do with your father making you his Secret-Keeper as an infant. I don't blame you for your hostility, Alexandra. I regret it, but I don't blame you. Believe me, interrogating new mothers and twelve-year-old girls isn't my favorite part of the job. But I do have a job. You'll be seeing me again, I expect. We can at least try not to make it more unpleasant than it has to be, can't we?"

Alexandra shrugged noncommittally. Grimm tapped the card she'd left on the table, nudging it a little closer to the girl. Alexandra took it, sticking it in her pocket without looking at it again, and then glanced at the tiny shredded remains of their bill, and snorted.

"You're supposed to pay that, you know. The waitress will need it to ring you up." She spoke as if lecturing someone ignorant of Muggle ways, though she was pretty sure that Ms. Grimm was not.

"Ah, yes," replied the other witch. She sighed, brushing off a few scraps of paper still clinging to her fingertips, and then looked around, to make sure they were unobserved, before drawing a wand. Alexandra didn't see exactly where she'd been keeping it. "A bad habit of mine – I tend to be restless." She held the wand over the pile of scraps, and murmured, "Recolligo."

The tiny shreds of paper abruptly flattened against the table, slid into place like a little jigsaw puzzle assembling itself, and then the bill lay on the table, whole again.

Alexandra stared at it.

"A very useful spell," Grimm observed mildly. "You'll probably learn it this year at school." She tucked her wand back into her shirt somewhere, and pulled out a wallet, from which she withdrew a couple of bills. She laid them on the table. "Well, I have to run – I do have other 'cases,' as you put it – but this will cover the bill, and a tip, and a sundae for you, so feel free to stay and have dessert. Until next time, Alexandra."

Diana Grimm rose from the table, and sauntered out of the diner, leaving Alexandra still staring at the reassembled bill, her mouth dry. She didn't feel like having a sundae.