Alex trudged into his building and over to the elevator banks with a half-hearted wave at the guard. It had been a bad day at school, and stupid daylight saving time had started last week, which meant it would be after seven before Lexington was up and they'd only have a couple of hours to hang out before Alex had to go to bed.
At least he had plenty of time to finish his homework before then.
He reached the castle and was on his way to his room when he heard his dad call, "Alex? Is that you?"
Alex froze. Uh-oh.
He poked his head into Dad's office, only to see Dad, and Mom, and Owen all standing there. Well, Owen was standing, anyway. Dad was sitting behind the desk, and Mom was leaning on the side.
His heart sank. He was pretty much always in for it if it was all three of them.
Alex sidled into the room. "Uh, yeah, Dad? What's up? I've got a lot of homework, so—"
Dad folded his hands on top of the desk. "I just got a call from Principal Argent."
Yeah, he was in trouble. "Oh yeah?"
Dad had his serious face on. "Apparently you had some kind of altercation with a boy named Brett?"
"He started it!" Alex burst out. "He was saying all kinds of stuff about Lexington, and—"
Dad held up his hand, and Alex stammered to a stop.
"Alexander, I realize there are people who are less than understanding about your friends, but really, name-calling?" Dad shook his head. "That's beneath you."
Alex frowned. "What are you talking about?"
"Principal Argent said you called Brett a frog and a rat," Mom spoke up. "And stole his homework."
"Oh! That was—" Alex snapped his mouth shut and reconsidered what he was about to confess. "I mean, I'm very sorry and I promise not to call him any names again."
Alex put on his very best contrite face. Dad's eyebrows rose skeptically, but Owen was the one whose eyes narrowed. Crap. It was hard enough trying to pull one over on Mom and Dad; with Owen it was nearly impossible. He was really good at hearing what wasn't said.
"Alexander," Owen said slowly, "what did you actually do?"
Alex tried a grin. "Would you believe absolutely nothing?"
Three very unamused faces met his. Okay. They wouldn't believe that, then. Which, fair, because it was a total lie.
He scratched the back of his neck and sighed. "I didn't call him names. What I said was 'A fly has a frog, a mouse has a cat, for a bigoted jerk," he held up his backpack, "a pack full of rats.'"
Mom's eyes went wide and she covered her mouth. "Oh, my God," she said. Her voice sounded a little strangled.
Dad blinked at him. "Did you fill his backpack with rats?"
"No! I...technically changed all of his books into rats. And his homework...and his DS. And then tied his shoelaces together." Alex glanced at Owen apologetically. "I don't remember exactly what I said for that one. I was really mad."
Mom made a squeaking noise. Her face was bright red where it wasn't covered by her hand.
Dad opened his mouth and closed it again, and then rubbed his temple. "In retrospect, I should be more surprised this hasn't happened before now."
"Hey, I didn't punch him!" Alex protested. "That would've gotten me suspended or expelled. This didn't! The teacher thought he'd snuck a bunch of rats into school in his backpack and he got in trouble. I just got in trouble for calling him names, which I didn't really do. He's just too stupid to realize that."
"Thank God for small mercies," Dad said dryly. "Although you did call him a bigoted jerk, if I understood that little rhyme correctly."
Alex shrugged. "If the shoe fits."
Owen coughed and cleared his throat.
Dad looked up at him. "Owen, are you...crying?"
"I've never had a protégé before Alexander," Owen said, and his voice was suspiciously thick. "I was unprepared for feeling this much pride."
Alex gaped. "You...you're proud of me?"
Owen cleared his throat again. "You assessed your opponent and the situation, determined a course of action that would suit your goals while putting you at the least amount of risk, and used a spell that got across your intentions to your magic while still, apparently, obscuring them from the target. The rhyming is a bit rudimentary, true, but it was effective." He actually smiled. "Yes, I'm very proud."
Alex ran across the room and threw his arms around Owen's middle. It took a second, like it usually did, before Owen hugged him back.
He looked up at Owen. "What I really wanted to do was make his hair fall out, because one of the things that he said about Lex was that he's bald, but I couldn't figure out how to say it so that it wouldn't happen until tonight or tomorrow morning. That way he'd really have no idea it had anything to do with me. Do you think you can teach me that later?"
Owen ruffled Alex's hair. "Gladly."
On the other side of the desk, Mom made another squeaky sound. Alex was starting to get a little concerned that she hadn't actually said anything since he'd admitted what he'd done.
Dad sighed and shoved his chair back from the desk. "I don't know why the hell I feel the need to be the responsible one. It sounds like the kid deserved it. Alex, I don't care what you do to your classmates when they're being little pricks, but don't kill anyone, don't get suspended, don't get expelled, and above all, don't get caught."
Alex let go of Owen so he could salute his dad. "Yes, sir, I promise."
Dad nodded once decisively. "Great. Let's go get ice cream."
Holy cow, this day was getting so much better. "Ice cream?!"
"Yes." Dad glanced at Owen. "My understanding is that this is a milestone in your magical tutoring?"
Owen nodded. "It is. A big one."
"Then that deserves some kind of reward. So, ice cream." Dad paused. "Unless you want something else?"
"Ice cream's great!" Alex shouted, and then paused. "Wait. Can we go after dinner so Lex can come with us?"
Dad shared a look with Mom and Owen, and then said, "Sure, we can do that."
Alex knew his parents weren't actually psychic, but the way they all managed to have conversations like that always made him reconsider it.
"We can do that if you finish your homework first," Mom said.
"Yes! Yes." Alex backed up out of the office. "I can definitely do that. All my homework will be done before dinner. Thanks Mom thanks Dad thanks Owen!"
He bolted out of the office before anyone could change their mind.
They got some looks at the ice cream shop, what with Owen, Dad, and Mom all crammed together on one side of the booth with their individual cones while Alex and Lexington were on the other, demolishing three hot fudge sundaes between the two of them, but Alex didn't care.
This was his family, and he loved it.