Regal Royalty Sweets and Confections
Alexandra was not feeling very merry on Christmas morning. Her parents had both taken Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off this year, so she couldn't search the house until they went back to work.
She tried closing her eyes and 'feeling' her wand calling to her, but without success. She was surprised at how defenseless she felt without it, even in her own home. For the past four years she had carried it with her everywhere. It wasn't unheard of for a sixth grader to lose a wand and have to beg an older student or teacher to Summon it. This had never happened to Alexandra. She was always conscious of where her wand was; its absence now made her twitchy.
She put on a cheerful face as she sat in front of the tree and opened her presents. Her mother and stepfather were now used to presents being sent by her friends, but Alexandra had been surprised by the Pritchards' package, which came through the Muggle postal service rather than by owl. When Alexandra examined one of the eagle postage stamps very closely, its tiny eye winked at her.
The flat package contained a framed black and white photograph. The entire Pritchard family was posed stolidly in front of a large timber house with a backdrop of tall, majestic trees. The girls were all wearing fine dresses, and Constance and Forbearance wore matching decorative bonnets that were enormous compared to the ones they wore at school. Alexandra saw for the first time the twins' three older brothers and two older sisters, the oldest brother's wife and the sisters' husbands, and Ma and Pa Pritchard. Innocence held the hand of a younger girl, who was in turn holding the hand of a little boy of perhaps five or six. There were several toddlers clinging to various family members, and one of the oldest Pritchard girls was holding a baby.
While the Pritchard patriarch's stern expression remained engraved in stone and everyone else held still as statues, Constance, Forbearance, and Innocence waved at her. Alexandra grinned, and quickly put the picture aside.
David had sent her a book: 1001 Chess Challenges, by Master Yusuf Shahryār, with an accompanying card: "If anyone can help you, maybe he can."
"Cute, dork," she said, to which the knight on the cover brandished his lance and said: "Turn the cover and say that as thou facest me on the board, oh unschooled one!"
She quickly shoved it under the box holding the Pritchards' photograph.
"One of those audio books," she said to Archie and her mother.
She was warier when she opened Anna's present. It was a long, beautiful feather that seemed to glow with its own light.
A fancy quill? she thought, but it wasn't sharpened for writing. She read the accompanying note:
"Dear Alex: This is a genuine phoenix feather. They're very rare, and completely illegal to import, export, or sell. But not to give as a gift. Love, Anna."
"That's a pretty feather," Claudia said.
"Is it real?" Archie asked.
"It's a phoenix feather." Alexandra found a certificate that Anna had enclosed with the feather, stamped with seals and covered in calligraphy.
"A phoenix feather?" Archie laughed. "That's a good one. From that girlfriend of yours in California, right? They sell those in Chinatown? Probably from a macaw or an ostrich."
Alexandra very carefully laid the feather back in its box, ignoring Archie. She cast a sidelong glance at her mother. Claudia was calmly sipping her coffee, and not saying anything.
Alexandra's gift from the Kings had undoubtedly been chosen by Julia. It was a large, gold-rimmed mirror. Julia had had some foresight, warning in her card:
You should probably take care when opening this. It is charmed, of course... though I hope you've become more open with your mother and stepfather, dear stubborn sister!
I was going to send you some potions and notions and a magical hairbrush or two, but I know you would probably just put them in the bottom of your drawer."
(Below this was a doodled pair of red lips which pouted for a second before laughing silently in the same way that Julia did.)
"So, at least this mirror will show you what you could look like if you bothered to take my advice. There's nothing wrong with wanting to look pretty now and then!
(P.S. Perhaps you will be permitted to visit over spring break. I am plying Mother, but she is being so very awful! If she won't agree, I may just Apparate myself to Central Territory. Apparition is harder than it looks! I'll tell you about the Splinching Incident in my next letter.)"
Alexandra risked a glance at the mirror, and her reflection, with a much smoother and rosier complexion, winked back at her. She put it face down before her parents could see it.
Payton had sent her a small glass globe from the Roanoke Magibotanical Gardens gift shop. It showed various flowers fading in and out of view, many of them not found in any Muggle garden.
After all the other presents had been opened – new clothes, gift cards, and a game for her laptop, as well as the things she had gotten for her parents and they for each other – they ate breakfast, and Alexandra again turned her mind to her missing wand.
There was not much she could do to find her wand on Christmas Day with her parents home, but the next day when they both went to work, she turned the house over from top to bottom.
She was relieved to find her parents no longer locked their bedroom door as they had when she was younger. She was pretty sure she could still improvise an Unlocking Charm as she had before acquiring a wand, but she didn't dare with the Trace on her.
She'd had little respect for her parents' privacy as a child. Now, she felt a little guiltier for violating it, but she doubted Abraham Thorn would have the same compunctions. She opened drawers, looked under the bed and dressers, searched the bathroom, and finally opened the closet. Here she paused. Three years ago, just before her first meeting with Ms. Grimm, this was where she had found a bracelet and her mother's high school yearbook.
So much had changed since then, but there was still a sleeping bag and a quilt piled on top of a box in the back corner of the closet. She pulled aside the bedding and found the old beaded bag on top of the box where the yearbook and the bracelet had been hidden.
Alexandra picked up the beaded bag, about to push it aside, and stopped. It was in this bag she'd found a locket with her father's picture. And she'd never looked in it again.
She turned the bag upside down and felt something sliding around. She pried open the mouth of the bag and stuck her fingers inside, and felt the corner of a stiff piece of paper. She pulled it out, and found herself holding a thick color photograph of the sort taken by old Polaroid cameras, yellowed with age.
It was a picture of a girl a few years younger than her. Alexandra laughed when she realized it was her mother, dressed like an 80s pop starlet. Claudia Quick had applied mascara to give herself long, black eyelashes that contrasted with her permed, blonde helmet of hair. She was posing in front of a hedge on a concrete driveway, wearing a denim jacket, sequined jeans, and high-heeled boots.
Alexandra flipped the photograph over. Nothing was written on the other side.
There was something odd about how that photograph had just fallen to the mouth of the bag. Alexandra pushed her hand into the bag again, and spread her fingers. She breathed in astonishment when the sides of the bag did not bulge.
It was bigger on the inside than on the outside, like her magical backpack and Valeria's traveling case. Her mother had had a magical purse in her closet all these years: how had Alexandra not realized what it was the first time she found it?
What else did it contain?
She pushed her arm further into the bag, up to her elbow, groping around and finding nothing. She pushed her arm in as far as it would go, until the beaded bag resembled some sort of monster swallowing her arm up to the shoulder. Her fingertips brushed against an inner surface, but she didn't find anything to grab onto.
She pulled her arm out and turned the bag upside down and shook it. There was no sound, nothing clattered or rustled or jingled, but there was a sudden heaviness and something metallic bulged from the mouth of the bag. Alexandra pulled it out, and along with a small metal canister came a white business card.
She picked up the card first. It was old and faded, but not as faded as the photograph. Her mouth dropped open when she saw the name:
Dr. L.J. Pruett
Below this was a business address and telephone number in Milwaukee. Alexandra didn't know if it was the address of the clinic Diana Grimm had taken her to. She turned the card over, and found a hand-written telephone number with the same Milwaukee area code. She stared at this number for a long time.
Finally, she examined the canister. It was a plain metal tin with blue and silver Arabesque patterns painted on the outside. There was no label. She cautiously opened the lid and looked inside. It was full of green powder.
She sat there on the floor of her parents' closet for quite a while, thinking. Then she slid the card and the photograph into her pocket, put the canister back into the beaded bag, and set everything else back the way it was. Back upstairs in her room, she took out the laptop her parents had given her for Christmas last year and went online. She entered the address of Dr. Pruett's clinic in a map search. She couldn't really tell, since she'd been lying half-prone in Diana Grimm's car when they drove through the city, but it looked like the right part of Milwaukee, a few blocks from the highway, not far from Lake Michigan.
She gave Charlie some owl treats and then lay on her back in her bed, thinking about her discoveries and what they might mean. She was tempted to call Dr. Pruett. She also wanted to confront her mother. She was sure either approach would be met with the evasiveness she'd come to expect from adults.
Notwithstanding her puzzlement, none of this was going to help her find her wand.
She realized that it had been foolish to think she was going to find her wand hidden in a closet or under a bed. Her father wasn't playing a game of hide and seek. A physical search would probably never turn it up. She was supposed to use her witch's senses.
"How am I supposed to do that if I haven't learned?" she asked out loud, as if her father might answer.
"Fly, fly," said Charlie.
"I can't fly, bird-brain." She thought about her broom in her closet with longing. Then she realized Charlie probably wanted to fly, having been stuck in her room for most of the week. She opened her bedroom window. It was cold but sunny outside, and Charlie hopped to the sill, made a cheerful noise, and flew off over the house opposite the backyard.
Alexandra shut the window and noticed Nigel moving about in his glass case, discomfited by the burst of cold air she'd let into the room. She reached into the enclosure and picked up her other familiar, then lay back down on her bed, letting the snake wrap around her fingers and sample the air with his tongue while she thought about her missing wand.
Could she sense it just by concentrating? 'Witch's sight' probably wasn't literal. She closed her eyes, and tried to picture magic as a visible aura again. She thought about her broom and her backpack in her closet – could she sense anything there? What about that beaded bag downstairs?
After several minutes of concentration, Alexandra hadn't sensed any magic nearby. But she was feeling warm and a little light-headed. She drifted off to sleep.
She woke with a start, with the confused mix of emotions one feels when waking from a dream. She thought she'd dreamed about Maximilian again, but already the daylight was melting away the images in her head.
She looked around, and realized her hands, lying across her stomach, were empty. Where was Nigel? Then she felt a slight weight on her chest, and a scaly lump coiled up almost directly over her heart. She unbuttoned the top button of her shirt and pulled Nigel out from beneath it. The snake squirmed and flicked its tongue rapidly out and in.
"How about you curl up on your warming rock instead?" She put Nigel back in his cage. That nap had not been helpful.
Charlie was still flying around, looking down at the roofs of houses, spotting bits of color and sparkly things while keeping an eye out for larger birds.
Alexandra rubbed her eyes. Maybe her wand was on a rooftop somewhere. Maybe it was on her roof. She considered climbing up there to check.
Maybe later, she thought. She'd feel awfully silly if it was there and she just didn't bother to look, but she was also pretty sure it wouldn't be that simple to find.
Loud cawing came from the backyard. She went to her window and saw Charlie sitting on the fence. She opened the window and shouted, "Well, come in then!"
"Troublesome!" the raven said.
"Shh!" She glared at the bird, and saw something in the patchy, melted snow covering their small backyard. It was a gray, round stone.
"Wicked!" Charlie said, and wings flapping, landed on the stone and pecked at it. It immediately began shaking, throwing Charlie off, and then moved through the snow.
Alexandra flew down the stairs and came running out the back door. Charlie was back on the fence cawing at her. She walked across the yard to the rock, which was immobile again.
That's not a rock. With a lunge, she grabbed it by its tiny arm, and pulled the gnome out of the ground. The ugly little creature made a face at her and wiggled its stunted arms and legs.
She stared at it with wonder. She had seen these creatures often as a child, in her backyard, sometimes in the park, often around Old Larkin Pond. They had never seemed terribly remarkable to her, though she knew that adults never noticed them, and Brian hadn't really believed her either – he always seemed to be looking the other way when she spotted one.
Alexandra had seen plenty of gnomes at Charmbridge, too. Mrs. Verde's Herbology class had rid the lawns and herb gardens of them that fall. In the wizarding world, they were unremarkable pests.
Muggles never noticed them. And since entering the wizarding world, Alexandra had stopped noticing them in Larkin Mills. She had stopped noticing all the creatures she used to see around Larkin Mills. She had even half-convinced herself that the magical creatures she remembered seeing as a child were products of her imagination.
"I didn't imagine you," she said.
The gnome grunted and squirmed.
She grasped it under its doll-like arms and spun about in a circle, faster and faster until she was dizzy herself, and then rather than hurling the creature away, she stumbled to the fence Charlie was perched on and dropped it on the other side.
According to Mrs. Verde (who was not very enthusiastic when she repeated the Department of Magical Wildlife's gnome control regulations), gnomes found in Muggle neighborhoods were supposed to be killed. They'd devastate gardens since Muggles couldn't figure out what was doing it and all their traps and poisons would be useless. But Alexandra didn't much like her neighbors, and anyway, without a wand she had no way of killing a gnome that wouldn't be messy. Even if she'd had her wand, she wouldn't have done it.
Where there was one gnome, there were others. She looked around the yard, while Charlie preened on the fence, but she saw no more suspicious head-like rocks.
What else had she not been paying attention to in her own backyard, once she'd become a witch with a wand? She left Charlie on the fence and went back inside to put on her coat before emerging again, this time out the front door.
With the sun out, the snow was melting into a slurry on the streets and sidewalks, so she had to watch her step. She walked around her block, now and then pausing to look at lawns, fences, and chimneys. Charlie followed her, circling overhead and cawing. She didn't see anything special.
The next day, she checked her email and found messages from David, Payton, and Anna. Anna was now permitted to visit the public library whenever she wished, though her father still didn't know she was going there to use their computers. David still wasn't sure if he wanted to give up Quidditch for dueling. Payton promised to call her the next day.
Alexandra answered them all quickly, then went walking again. Charlie was not inclined to venture out this time – it was much colder and more overcast than the previous day – so she left her familiar in her room.
At the end of Sweetmaple Avenue she crossed the street, heading toward downtown, when she heard Brian calling her name. She paused at the corner and looked over her shoulder. He came jogging up to her, puffing clouds of breath in front of him.
"I saw you walking around yesterday," he said.
"I'm walking around today, too," she said. "Is that the latest rumor going around the neighborhood – Alexandra Quick is so weird, she walks around in public?"
Brian stuck his hands into the pockets of his big downy coat. "I was just... wondering what you're doing."
She squinted at him. Then she nodded in the direction of downtown. "Come on."
She resumed walking. It took him a few moments before he followed. "Um, where are we going?"
"I want to see something."
"I'll tell you when we get there."
They kept walking. They passed a drugstore and a couple of strip malls, an empty lot which Alexandra paused to look into, and then, before downtown proper, they reached Third Street and the old Regal Royalty Sweets and Confections warehouse.
It was a large, abandoned, three-story building. It had been empty for as long as Alexandra could remember. Her parents had never been able to tell her when there was actually a Regal Royalty Sweets and Confections factory, or if they had ever sold their sweets and confections in Larkin Mills. Now, it was a forbidding place with 'Condemned' and 'No trespassing' and 'Danger' posted all over. The lot was surrounded by a fence topped with barbed wire.
She looked up at the third story, and saw a hunched figure at the window. She waved at it. It didn't wave back.
Brian asked, "Who are you waving at?"
"Do you see someone up there?" She pointed at the window, but the figure was gone.
"The only people who'd be in there are vagrants," Brian said. "Even the stoners and Billy Boggleston's crowd don't go in there."
"Why, is it haunted?"
Brian hesitated. "Of course not."
She looked at the building again. When had that fence gone up? When had Regal Royalty Sweets and Confections become surrounded by barbed wire?
"We shouldn't hang out here," Brian said.
She had started seeing things like a Muggle. She looked again. There was no fence or barbed wire. There were no signs. The Regal Royalty Sweets and Confections warehouse was an old, empty building, but it was not so terribly dangerous or forbidding... even if there was someone lurking up there on the upper floor. As a child, she'd imagined ghouls haunting the building. Now she knew this was exactly the sort of place actual ghouls might live. Ghouls were harmless, but she'd never seen one, and she was very curious. She was also very curious to know why Muggle-Repelling Charms had been put around this building.
What would Brian see, she wondered, if she walked inside? And might her father have hidden her wand in there?
"Come on," she said. "Let's go to the mall."
Brian kept his questions in check. At the mall, they visited the arcade and then had lunch in the food court. Their conversation remained sparse, while Alexandra thought about when she could return to the abandoned warehouse, and Brian seemed to be searching for something to talk about. Finally he said, "What is it like?"
That brought her attention back to him. "What is what like?"
She sipped her soda. "I don't know how to explain it. You saw me do magic when we were children."
"Not with... actual spells. Do you really use a wand?"
"Yes." She sighed. "Except my father's hidden it from me."
"Archie took your wand away?" Brian was confused. Alexandra never referred to Archie as her father, and she had never told him about Abraham Thorn.
"It's a long story. A lot's happened in three years."
He waited, as if expecting her to continue. Over his shoulder, she saw Billy Boggleston and his friends standing in line for pizza.
"Crap," she said. "Let's get out of here. Billy and his friends are here. Don't look! I don't feel like dealing with them right now."
It bothered her a great deal that one of the reasons she wanted to avoid the boys was that she didn't have her wand. It shouldn't have made a difference, since she couldn't use it on them anyway, but she was beginning to realize how vulnerable she felt without the hickory wand she'd been carrying for the past three and a half years. She wasn't afraid of Billy, but somehow she didn't feel as invincible and fearless as she once had, before she'd ever touched a wand.
Brian didn't argue, and Billy, Gordie, and Tom didn't see them as they quickly left the food court and the mall. Alexandra and Brian walked all the way back to Sweetmaple Avenue in relative silence, until Alexandra asked, "Do you want to come to my house?"
"Um... are your folks home?"
He scuffed the toe of his shoe against a chunk of ice on the sidewalk. "My parents wouldn't like it if I was there with you without any adults around."
"What? We're fourteen. Do your parents still think we need babysitters?"
Brian hesitated. "It's... kind of a rule. No going to a girl's house or having any girls over without parents around."
"What?" For a moment, Alexandra was confused. Then she felt a rush of embarrassment. "Wait a minute – are you serious? You think –"
"No!" He held up his hands. "It's just my mom, Alex. You know how she is."
She rolled her eyes. "Right."
He sighed. "We're going to visit my grandmother tomorrow morning and won't be back until Thursday."
"Oh." She shrugged, surprised at the twinge of disappointment.
"They're opening up Larkin Mills Pond for ice skating on New Year's Eve. Want to come?"
She considered that, and her face darkened for a moment, remembering a scene at Larkin Mills Pond where Brian had called her a freak, in front of Bonnie and Billy and everyone else they knew here in town. But she nodded. "Sure."
"Cool. Well, see you then."
"Have fun at your grandmother's house."
She went inside and threw herself on her bed, more confused than ever, and not just about her hidden wand.
There was no email from Anna the next morning, but Alexandra received a message at her window. It was a single barn owl, looking chilly and lonesome.
She let it in and closed the window, saying, "I've never seen you without your twin."
The owl hooted sadly.
Alexandra took the parchment tied to the owl's leg, gave it some owl treats, and let it warm itself while she read the note. It was signed 'Constance and Forbearance' but Alexandra recognized Forbearance's handwriting.
We hope you had a very Merry Christmas and that you and your family are happy and healthy and enjoying all good things.
We have some very interesting news for you, but we should probably wait until we see each other at Charmbridge before we speak about it."
The rest of the letter was a benign account of their vacation, which seemed to mostly be spent doing chores and taking care of their younger siblings. Alexandra read it twice, thinking there was something odd about the letter, and her eyes fell again on the underlined 'very interesting news.'
Of course! They'd written her a secret message, using an Editing Ink Charm.
She groaned and leaned forward, thumping her head on her desk until Forbearance's owl hopped and hooted worriedly. Alexandra sat up and gave the owl an apologetic smile.
"They're probably expecting me to answer," she said.
The owl hooted again.
She unrolled a bit of the parchment she'd brought home, and penned a quick reply:
"Dear Constance and Forbearance,
Thank you very much for your very interesting news. You'll never guess what happened to me over vacation? I lost my wand! Seriously! It's actually a longer story than that, but I have to go find it now. I'll write back soon with more news of my own – sorry this letter is so short.
The stylized pair of initials was something she'd just begun doing recently because she thought it looked cool. She tied the parchment to the owl's leg and said, "Take care." She opened her window, and the owl hooted and took off.
"You fly too, Charlie," she said.
Charlie said "Fly, fly!" but with a head tilt and less enthusiasm than usual.
"I know it's cold outside, but we have to find my wand. Fly!"
With much fluffing and puffing and fluttering and what Alexandra construed as something like a sigh, Charlie finally took off. She shut the window and put on her winter clothes before going outside.
She couldn't see Charlie, but she knew Charlie could see her. She walked a block before it occurred to her to wonder how she knew that. She looked up, but the brooding gray sky was empty. She scanned nearby rooftops and winter-bare trees, but there were too many places for a raven to hide. Charlie probably wasn't even hiding. She thought about calling Charlie to her in her mind, to see if it would work, but then people would notice the girl walking through town with a raven on her shoulder.
She crossed the park, taking a shortcut she hadn't on the day she'd walked with Brian, and reached the corner opposite the abandoned Regal Royalty warehouse. A black blur caught her eye as Charlie soared overhead and landed on the roof three stories above and cawed at her. She couldn't see anyone moving through the windows. The building seemed as empty and abandoned as ever.
She tried unfocusing her eyes. She found that when she expected to see a Muggle building with 'No Trespassing' signs and a barbed wire fence, she did, and when she didn't want to see those things, they disappeared. Once she knew the trick, it was like magic, standing there on the street corner watching fences and signs and gloom and broken glass and jagged, rusted metal doors appear and disappear in the blink of an eye.
It is magic, she thought. It was magic that had been right before her eyes all this time. Why didn't they teach them to see these things at Charmbridge?
The answer, of course, was obvious. No one at Charmbridge was taught to look for magic hidden in the Muggle world, because no one at Charmbridge was taught to live in the Muggle world. Oh, there were Muggle Studies classes and a yearly Muggle Awareness Month, which taught wizards to tolerate Muggles and maybe walk among them now and then, but Alexandra had never heard anyone, even among Muggle-borns, talk about graduating from Charmbridge Academy and then living in the Muggle world like the Wandless did.
Which left the question of why there was a building in the middle of Larkin Mills with magic charms on it.
She tried to look casual as she crossed the street and loitered near the fence. She reached a hand out to touch it, and found that just as she could make it appear and disappear from her sight, so could she touch it, push against it, even lean on it, and then pass a hand through it when she willed it to disappear.
A man in a hoodie under a threadbare winter coat walked past her, flipping a cigarette butt onto the sidewalk and giving her an unfriendly once-over. She resisted the impulse to glare or otherwise call attention to herself. Charlie cawed overhead. Regal Royalty Sweets and Confections was right at the edge of Old Larkin, not somewhere her stepfather would want her hanging out, and he would hear about it if one of his buddies on the police force were to drive by. Alexandra waited until the moderately busy street was clear of traffic for a moment, then walked straight through the fence-that-wasn't-there and made a beeline for the door that was a rusting, heavy metal padlocked thing to Muggles, and a much less imposing metal door without chains or locks to her witch's sight. She was unsurprised to find that it opened easily. Without looking back to see if anyone was watching, she walked inside and closed the door behind her. On the roof, she knew Charlie was waiting nervously.
The ground floor was all empty space with a few dark and dusty offices along the walls. It was almost as cold inside as it was outside, though contrary to its dilapidated appearance, no windows were broken and no snow had entered to pile up on the floors, though there were plenty of damp spots and water stains. Alexandra walked around in the abandoned warehouse for a few minutes, but saw nothing of interest other than an old, disconnected cast-iron boiler.
Notwithstanding what Brian had told her, Alexandra was surprised to find no signs at all of intruders, vandals, or squatters. Larkin Mills didn't have much of a homeless population, especially in the wintertime, but Alexandra heard Archie talk about the 'bums' and junkies he sometimes arrested. There were also vagabonds who passed through town, usually sent quickly on their way by the Larkin Mills P.D. A large, abandoned building like this would naturally attract occasional travelers or daring teenagers, barbed wire or no, but it seemed undisturbed. There was dust and some decay, but no trash or vandalism.
Alexandra found an old-fashioned elevator enclosed in a wire cage, like those at Grundy's. It was something from a century ago. Just how long ago had Regal Royalty Sweets and Confections gone out of business? She'd never heard anyone mention it, not even Mrs. Wilborough, the nosy old lady who lived across the street from Alexandra's house and was always talking about how much nicer the town used to be.
Next to the elevator were the stairs. Alexandra opened the door and looked up into the shadows of the unlit stairwell.
She wasn't afraid, but she knew she really shouldn't be here. At the same time, she was quite certain that she should be – was it possible that her father didn't know about this place? She didn't think so. And if he expected her to find it, then could he possibly expect her not to search for her wand here? If there were hidden dangers here, he wouldn't have led her here, would he?
She walked up the stairs, annoyed by the increasing thud of her heartbeat and the way her fingers twitched at the absence of her wand.
The second floor was more offices with old wooden filing cabinets, some knocked over and lying on their sides. One had been left open, with papers strewn about. There were some old desks as well, and bookshelves that were mostly empty but here and there holding scrolls or ledgers. Alexandra picked up a handful of slips of paper from a desk and walked closer to a window where enough light shined through to read them. They were faded invoices for things like Candy-Covered Butter and Choco-Crocs and Eternal Chewing Gum. The dates went back decades.
She was about to put the invoices down when she noticed the charges. They were not listed in dollars; they were listed in lions. She looked more closely at the addresses.
They had been sent to Melusine's (Goblin Market/New Amsterdam); Grundy's Department Store (Goblin Market/Chicago); Astoria's Cafe (New Roanoke); and invoices of a different color, with no costs listed, only units, to Goody Pruett's Witch-Made Pies, Cakes, and Other Confections in New Amsterdam, Chicago, and Sheboygan.
"Wow," she said. Regal Royalty Sweets and Confections was – had been – a wizard business.
Warier than ever, and also more certain than ever that her father had hidden her wand somewhere in this place, Alexandra took the stairs up to the third floor.
Where the first floor had been mostly open and empty and the second floor packed with offices, the third floor was half of each. To the right of the stairs was a large, open area where whatever had been there once – walls, fixtures, plumbing – had simply been torn out, leaving a large empty space with cold light flooding in from the windows all around. To her left were more offices, but these had thick wooden doors with metal plaques on them, some decorated with gargoyle faces. She supposed this was where the managers' offices had been.
She walked to the nearest door, but it was too dark to read the name on it. She wished again that she had her wand, or had thought to bring a flashlight.
She heard a noise and grabbed for her wand before she could stop herself.
"Hello?" she called out.
It was probably a ghoul. They haunted old buildings, but they were harmless to people. Or so she had read – and of course, when wizards wrote that something was 'harmless,' what they meant was 'harmless to wizards.' Without a wand, she was practically a Muggle.
The shuffling noise came from the dark half of the building, the offices to her left, and since the doors were closed, no light seeped in through any windows to light the corridors. Harmless or not, she didn't want to bump into something in the dark. She backed into the empty open space. Bits of metal and a few cards and stiff paper folders were scattered about the floor. There was a fireplace set into the brick wall, the chimney running up to the top of the building, not far from where Charlie was still perched, but it obviously hadn't been lit in many years.
Alexandra squinted at the shadows which she had just left, and which now stood between her and the stairs. Should the ghoul or other being that was up here prove to be dangerous, she'd now cut herself off from her escape route.
"Hello?" she called out again. "I don't mean you any harm." This didn't come out sounding quite as assertive as she'd intended.
The shadow moved toward her and took lumpy, hunch-shouldered form as it separated itself from the darkness of the corridor and stepped into the same light Alexandra was standing in.
It was not a ghoul, but a very large woman layered in tattered, frayed garments from head to ankle. Her feet were wrapped in fine leather boots. She had bulbous, greenish features and enormous teeth. Her eyes were almost invisible in the craggy shadows of her face, but Alexandra could just make out the red gleam in them.
"That's so sweet of you," the woman said, in the doddering voice of a little old lady. "But whatever harm could a little girl like you do?" She rubbed great, gnarled hands together, displaying black nails like iron. "You do look like such a sweet thing."