Chapter 1 : Bella's Books and Supply
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Hermione Granger sighed, propped her chin on her right hand, and leaned on the countertop. Of all the jobs I could have taken, working in a magic supply store is not one I’d have chosen on my own. Ever since the war I have preferred to keep a low profile.It was one of the reasons that she moved to New York because it was big enought that she was able to blend into the crowds.
She stared out the window and tried not to feel like some fool waiting for the next scream of “Incoming!”
I hate being exposed like this, but I owe Karen…She flexed her shoulders, forced herself to relax. Your paranoia is showing, Granger. There is no reason to be gun-shy. It’s not that bad. This isn’t like the some areas I have traveled to since becoming a Guardian four years ago, where muggles burn crosses on your lawn if they suspected you might be a witch. Most muggles around here are either going to take me for a flake, or a phony. They don’t want to believe in witches and so it makes it easier for wizards to blend in, especially for a muggleborn witch like myself.
She finally laughed at herself for being so nervous. The noon rush over at Bella’s Books and Supply, so the afternoon boredom had started to set in.
This is ridiculus; I’m letting this gloomy weather get the best of me. All is well. We made the rent at noon and so everything that we make this afternoon will be profit.
The turn her thoughts had taken reminded her of the morning rush, and she snorted, thinking of most of the regular customers and how they would react to the word “profit.” She yawned; stretched, and looked at her watch.
Still got a little time before the next little rush, so I might as well think about that stupid almost seduction scene in chapter five.
She mentally reshuffled palm trees, sand, moonlight, hero, and heroine one more time, made some internal notes, and then looked out the shop window stifling another yawn.
I should never have let Calvin set up this category romance novel deal. I’m just not the type to turn out marshmallow white bread story sandwiches. I know I requested to be allowed to write something different than my last set of books on the war, but this heroine is such a ninny. The stuff they want me to do with her is so incredibly boring.
“Just follow the outline,” says Calvin. “It’ll be easy, no thinking, just writing. Not only will this be published in the wizard world, we can branch these novels right into the muggle circulation as well. Which you know will open more doors for you when you have to do your guardian work.”
Calvin you shark, I will get you for this. You so owe me one. I wanted to do something with a little humor in it, and something with a bit of historical accuracy. Not American Hollywood’s idea of Caribbean pirates. You didn’t tell me that the editor with his ass on the line was your brother in law. You creep, you knew I decided not to go back to London for the holiday’s this year and so you knew I would have ‘free time’.
It all only made the filthy October weather and the drab New York street outside the shop seem bleaker and making the possibility of getting even with her agent Calvin even more appealing.
“I need a vacation,” she muttered, while the wind flung dirty bits of paper past the grimy window. Grimy despite the fact that she’d cleaned it yesterday morning. After a moment of self-pity, she chuckled and shrugged to herself. “Calvin is right, this is just the type of writing I need to help me branch from being just a wizard writer to being both a wizard and muggle writer.”
The glass rattled in a gust, and a listless spatter of rain drooled across the black and gold lettering. Even the storm predicted for this afternoon couldn’t get up the enthusiasm to do more than threaten. She rubbed her eyes, and shifted her weight sending a little more energy into the shield around the shop.
After six hours behind the counter, her feet did hurt. She wasn’t used to spending this much time on them and the thought of spending some time in someplace remote, isolated, and warm was becoming tempting.
“Now if somebody would just give me enough money to pay for a vacation and the rent that would be a dream. Maybe I could find a sugar daddy.” She laughed at herself.
“Yeah right, being real bad at taking orders is the reason you don’t have a mundane job to begin with. I will just have to settle with turning up the heat and putting on an ocean cd when I get home.”
Today had not been a good day to boost the mysterious and otherworldly atmosphere that Karen preferred to cultivate at the shop. Mysterious and otherworldly tended to be quite gloomy and chilly. Hermione had decided to change that for today. She had turned on every lamp in the place, turned up the heat a little, and chosen cinnamon incense spice candles and set them to burning as soon as she opened.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath; it was cozy in here as in a kitchen full of baking pies. She tasted the cinnamon in the air, and thought about a hot cup of tea—and looked up. Across the street she saw three people she knew so well she’d recognize them from a mile away and they were heading straight for the shop.
In front of the shop was a young man with a notebook sticking out of his pocket and a peculiar look on his face, one that spoke of curiosity and distaste. The young man pushed the door open, and the string of bells over it jingled in the rush of cold, damp air. They chimed with a cheer Hermione could not force herself to emulate; the sour expression this lad wore did not bode well.
“May I help you?” she asked, making face and voice as neutral as possible.
He started; she could see the whole shop from where she was, but the arrangement and sheer volume of merchandise crowded into the tiny storefront tended to confuse the unwary. She ran a practiced eye over him pegging him as a reporter, as the bells on the door jingled again and Melani, George, and Rita slipped in, heading straight for the ‘reserved’ shelf and the books that Karen spelled for her wizard customers in the back.
She watched the reporter carefully, keeping all her ‘feelers’ tucked in, reading only body language. No use in advertising that she was a witch, if it turned out he was just a muggle.
Caucasian, brown hair, brown eyes, about her age, so twenty five years old tops and from what she picked up on, definitely a muggle. She figured he was a ‘cub reporter’ that had been sent out just to get him out of someone’s hair, after a silly season fill story; he has visions of coming up with something weird enough that the wire services will pick it up.
The classical station on the radio behind her finished baroque, and began modern, grating and interminable. Not my day, she concluded and turned it down. The reporter looked for a path through the bookcases and standing racks of incense, notecards, and transparent ‘stained glass’ window decals. He clutched his notebook to his chest possessively and made his way toward the counter, emerging eventually from between two coatracks festooned with rainbow ‘ritual robes’, specifically made for the muggle tourist trade.
Hermione smothered a grin at his grimace of distaste. Most of the magical merchandise at the front of the store was not real. The front of the store catered to the muggle tourist and teenyboppers who came looking for the weird and outré’. In fact those ‘magic robes’ sold especially briskly just before Halloween and New Year’s, and at thirty bucks a pop, the polyester horrors would buy a lot of diapers for Karen’s upcoming baby.
Karen was smart enough to keep a stock of real wizard supplies in the back of the shop, spelled so that only wizards had access.
Hermione noticed the empty hangers as he pushed past the rack, and made another mental note. Remind Karen to order another batch of red, black, and purple robes. She knew before he even opened his mouth that this reporter was going to be one of obnoxious ones.
“Are you Miz Steel?” The very tone of his voice, strident and demanding, set her teeth on edge.
“She’s on vacation,” Hermione replied, polishing the counter with a piece of chamois and quietly signaling the trio at the back of the shop to stay out of the way for a minute.
“I can probably help you.”
She watched him out of the corner of her eye. His face fell, and he actually pouted.
“I expected to talk to Miz Steal. Give me her home address.”
“I’m sorry,” she said insincerely, wondering if he’d go away. “I can’t give out that kind of information.”
He sulked and glowered at her as if he blamed her personally for keeping him where he was, at the bottom of the journalistic pecking order. “My editor said she’d be here. My editor said to get an interview with a real witch.”
She smiled, a conciliatory, saccharin-dripping simper, and debated doing something to drive him off. She knew that she couldn’t use magic on him, even if she wiped his memory she knew from experience that American muggle reporters were just as obsessed with getting a story as Rita Skeeter back in wizard London. Even if it meant that they were writing up fake stories about witches in the city who sacrificed animals and had orgies.
So she groveled a little, and batted her eyes, and said, in a confidential tone of voice, “But I am a real witch.”
The corner of his mouth twitched. “You are?” he asked, making no secret of his doubt.
“Uh-huh,” she nodded vigorously.
“Well,” he sulked a moment more, then said ungraciously, “I guess you’ll do then.”
She caught Melani’s eye and gave her the nod; the three of them swarmed the counter.
“Excuse me a minute,” she said, “customers.”
“What’s up?” George asked, making a big show of asking for some of the herb powders behind the counter.
“Muggle reporter looking for witches,” she said sotto voce, and Melani grimaced.
Hermione measured powdered dragon’s blood into a plastic bag. These three were some of Karen’s steadier customers and if it weren’t for their other jobs, Karen would have asked one of them to mind the store for her instead of Hermione.
“Hey,” Rita spoke up, “Tell you what why don’t you tell him the most boring information on Wicca that you can think of and then we will come carry him away, okay?”
“Sounds like a plan,” she said gratefully.
Hermione returned to the visitor and went fully into a character she had created for moments like this one, the persona of “Elisa Boreson” (which was the name she gave him); the dullest muggle on the face of the planet.
She gushed, she wheedled, and she fluttered. She talked through her nose, so her English accent would be as whiny and grating as possible. She pitched it just on the bearable side of shrill. To finish it all off she made sure to giggle like a fool, while giving him nothing that he actually wanted. When he asked about Halloween ceremonies, she corrected him primly, like a school teacher.
“It’s Samhain,” she said, deliberately mispronouncing it, and then spelling it out for him.
With a sanctimonious air she described a ceremony that made a Tupperware party seem licentious revelry by comparison. Before he could draw breath to ask another question, she proceeded to a tedious homily on Harmony, Peace and Love, and the Role of the Spirit in the Universe. It was a piece of tripe riddled with the clichés of every wizard and pagan type she’d ever had to put up with. It was so boring that even had the young man possessed the temper and patience of a Saint he still would have thought longingly on satanic sacrifices before she was finished with her as the starring attraction.
Both of these dissertations were punctuated by flirtatious asides and hungry looks – “I’m single, you know”- “If you’d like to come to the ritual, I’d be happy to vouch for you- “We’re allowed a guest, and I’m single, you know”-.
It would have taken a stronger man than he was to shrug that blatant attack off. He took notes, then pretended to take notes, and finally stopped even pretending, waiting with growing and visible desperation until she paused for a breath. He flipped the notebook closed, shoved it into his pocket, and spoke before she could get started again.
“Thank you, Miss…,” he had obviously forgotten her name, and hurried on so that she wouldn’t notice the lapse, “Thank you very much; you’ve given me plenty of information. I’m sure I can do a terrific article from what you’ve given me. Of course, I can’t promise that my editor will actually print it.”
He was babbling now, and backing away, carefully, as if he were afraid that if he turned his back on her that she would throw a net over him. She encouraged that belief.
“You don’t have to go,” she cried faintly, flapping her hands frantically. “I have plenty of time. No one ever comes in here this time of day!”
The trio, who had been waiting for this moment of retreat, swooped down on him. Suddenly with Rita, exotic, dark eyed Rita, Rita the professional belly dancer, cooing at him, ‘witchcraft’ became a lot more interesting and the shop a lot less interesting. She watched the transition with veiled amusement. Before thirty seconds had passed, the ‘terrible trio’ had him neatly confounded and was luring him out the door; notebook, shop, Karen, and ‘Elisa’ forgotten.
When they passed out of sight, she leaned against the counter and wheezed, laughing too hard to get a full breath, tears coming to her eyes. She managed to get herself under control when the bells jingled again, and a middle aged couple who had muggle tourist written all over their faces crept in. By now the classical station, as if in apology for the first two pieces, was playing Dvorak’s New World Symphony.
That was usually a soothing piece, but I don’t think they’re soothed, Hermione thought, watching them inch their way into the shop. I don’t think they know what it is they’ve gotten into. They are actually scared, the poor things. I had better be gentle, or they may have heart attacks right on the threshold.
“Hi!” she said brightly, when she was certain they had spotted her. “What can I do for you?”
Mister Tourist peered at her while Missus Tourist clutched at his arm.
“What is this place?” he asked, blinking. “Is this some kind of hippie store?”
She came out from behind the counter, so that they could see her. Mister was at least six feet tall, so he towered over her by half a foot. The disparity in height seemed to reassure him, as she had intented.
“Well, not really,” she admitted. “We are kind of a religious supply house.”
“You mean,” Missus Tourist whispered, looking over her shoulder for demons, “Satanists?”
Hermione laughed, projecting reassurance as hard as she could. “Oh heavens no! We get a lot of people into Eastern religions in here,” she told them, with perfect truth. “Some odd kinds of Buddhists, and those of the New age faiths. We carry a lot of books on spiritualism and the occult, as well as fictional works as well.”
She beamed, and struck her hands in the pockets of her jeans. Both of them seemed to relax at the mention of fictional works and about then Missus Tourist subconsciously noticed the cinnamon scent in the air, the familiar odor relaxing her still further. In about five minutes they were chatting away like old neighbors.
There was a method to her madness. The next time someone back in their hometown said something about witches, wizards, or people practicing witchcraft, it would be Hermione that they would remember. They would think about the friendly, cheerful girl with the British accent who looked more like a refugee from the Ballet academy who had encouraged them to stay and chat until they had warmed up, in a store that smelled like apple pies baking, and maybe they would tell that person a thing or two.
It turned out that they had wanted something out of the ordinary in the way of a souvenir, and the hotel clerk, perhaps in a fit of maliciousness had suggested Karen’s shop.
That annoyed her enough that she went out of her way to be even nicer to them. Before they left, she’d found them their unusual souvenirs, a book on the ghost of NY and another on the purported Viking ruins found up and down the New England coast.
“I always used to carry one of those,” the gentleman remarked at last, while Hermione rang up his purchase on the store’s ancient pre-electric cash register. He had spotted, then insisted on buying, an overpriced rabbit’s foot key ring.
“My dog ate my last one and I haven’t felt very lucky since. Of course it wasn’t so lucky for the rabbit, now was it?”
Hermione laughed at the joke, no mean feat, since she had heard it at least once a day since she started tending the store, but they were good people and she felt a bit more cheerful as she wrapped their purchases and waved them out.
Her good humor lingered, which was just as well, because the rush was on. The trio returned from reporter seduction just as the classical station moved on to Pretorius’s suite from ‘Terpsichore.’ She was weighing out their purchases when the shop began to fill.
There were a couple of book browsers, who would probably come back for another couple of days before they made up their minds, a couple of teenage girls, and three young men of about college age who scanned the store and came straight for her.
“Hi,” said the bespectacled blond who seemed to be the leader of the group. “We need some help.”
“We’d like some books on Druidism and the Norse,” said the second, a thin and dreadfully earnest type, while she handed George the brown paper sack. “We war-game, I mean the hobby, and we’re just getting into something called ‘fantasy role playing games.’ Napoleonic’s we know, but we need rules so we know how to run magic and religions.”
“Is this something like recreating battles with miniature soldiers, only doing it, like, with Tolkien?” she asked, vaguely remembering a couple of her muggle friends talking about something like this during her summer breaks just before her friends all graduated from college.
The pair of giggling girls that couldn’t be older than fifteen watched her pull books down off the shelves, surrounded by the three boys. She ignored them for the moment; she was doing mental calculations and trying to keep in mind the fact that these young men probably didn’t have much spare cash.
Their finances, when pooled, got them the first four books on her list. “Believe me, that should hold you for some time,” she told them, while the two girls whispered and eyed the young men from the shelter of the astrology section with predatory interest.
The boys gathered up their books and headed off into the cold with an appreciative nod. The two girls sidled up to the counter, and a saturnine older man slipped in behind the exiting boys. She heaved a mental sigh and turned her attention to the girls.
“Hi,” she said when they just stared. “Need something?”
“Well we are having a Halloween party and wanted to try some spells and stuff like my cousin is able to do.”
“Are you both wizards?” she could tell from their faces that the answer was no. “The problem is that unless you are wizard you will not be able to manage the kind of spells that your cousin is able to do. However, there are some folk charms like the ones that teenage girls in Salem probably used to do that might interest you.”
She snagged a book from the folk magic section on American folk magic and opened it on the counter for the girls to look at.
The girls put their heads together over it, whispering. Suddenly all of Hermione’s internal alarms started shrieking at top volume, telling her that danger had entered the store. She looked up and got a good look at the man who had slipped in when the three boys had left.
Six three, if an inch, and dressed with expensive flash in a velvet Edwardian jacket and lace shirt, he was saturnine, brooding, and oozed charisma. He was a hungry hunter on the prowl and at this moment he had zeroed in on the girls. From what she could determine he was a physic vampire, he would grab them girls up, use them and then leave them as empty shells.
Not on my watch. Hermione bent down a little over the counter, pulling out her wand and keeping it out of sight behind the counter. She silently slapped up a barrier right in his face; he started to take a step forward and encountered it, and his expression changed in a split second from bored to enraged, then to cautiously wary.
She flared her shield just enough to catch his attention, but not enough to attract the attention of the muggle girls, or any other muggle passing by the store windows. She knew that if he could be stopped by her barrier, then he was probably someone she could handle.
His eyes narrowed, and she saw his thoughts in his expression and body language as clearly as if she’d read them directly. He’d taken her at first for a fellow Hunter. Now he knew her for a Guardian and he was not amused.
She distracted the girls with a comment about the section in the book on love charms using apples, which sent them hunting it. While their attention was on the book, she drew a runic glyph in the air between him and the girls, keeping her wand focused on the barrier. One of the added bonus’ of being a Guardian meant the use of wandless magic.
Out, she sent to him. This is my place, and you aren’t welcome in it. Find another hunting ground. He tried to contest her will, locking eye to eye, but in the end it was his eyes that dropped, not hers. He turned and left without a word, though she could see a tenseness in his jaw that probably meant he was grinding his teeth in frustration.
That incident was more than she wanted to handle this afternoon, and when the girls took their goodies and left, and the browsers- happily oblivious to the whole incident- followed, she headed for the front of the store and the ‘open’ sign in the window. It was more than time for a nice cup of strong tea.
She had her hand on the sign and was actually starting to flip the plastic rectangle over when she heard a sound coming from the curtained off entrance to the storeroom. She jumped a foot, and came down in ‘ready’ stance, facing the threshold and the intruder with her wand out, halfway expecting it to be Mr. Trouble back for a rematch.
Facing the front of the shop was a dusky, exotically handsome young man or boy; after a moment she no longer certain of his age. Then he moved hesitantly into the light, and there was no doubting his antecedents; if he wasn’t Romany she’d eat the scarf around his neck. The universal uniform of jeans, rock t-shirt, and jacket did nothing to disguise his origins, nor his halfhearted attempt to look like ‘everyone else.’ He couldn’t; even his curly hair didn’t match, as it was a little shorter than the current standard.
His chest heaved, and he stared at her blankly, his forehead beaded with sweat in spite of the cold. Then she saw his expression, and her paranoia kicked into high gear. Her self-amused and slightly lascivious thoughts wafted away like fog in a high wind because beneath his self-imposed calm, he was terrified.
“Drabarni,” he said, holding out a hand in entreaty, with an air of expecting to be slapped down. “Where is Mistress Karen?”
Drabarni, I think that means “sorceress” or something like it which means he knows what I am.
“She’s going to be gone for at least another couple of weeks,” she said. “But I am a friend. I will help you if I can.”
Relief made him go limp, those huge black eyes of his turning luminous with gratitude.
“Do you need sanctuary, help, or just an escape route?” she continued. More gratitude, this time tinged with wry surprise. “I told you, I’m Karen’s friend. Those of use with Powers get hassled too,” she pointed out, letting one corner of her mouth quirk up for a moment. “Probably as often as the Rom get it and we aren’t as good at hiding as the Rom are.”
He spread his hands and shrugged, acknowledging the truth of her statement, and relaxing in her company.
“I am looking for a hiding place, for now,” he replied nervously. “The shop will break my trail. The Hunter is good, but not that good. I don’t think that one will find my trail again, once broken.”
She dug into her back pocket and came out with one of her personal cards- the one with her name and home address on it. “Look, it sounds like you’ve been hunted by this guy before- am I right?”
He tilted his head sideways as she inched past the incense rack and got close enough to him to hand him the little rectangle of pewter colored paper.
“So if you’re in trouble in this neighbor,” she shrugged, trying to look casual. “Allies are always useful.”
He only then looked at the card, and smiled his gratitude at her, a brief flash of white in his dark face. He nodded and moved- he didn’t run, not exactly, but he certainly wasn’t walking. She saw little more than a flash of sneakers, then heard the alley door scream open and slam shut before the curtain had finished fluttering.
She waiting for a moment to see if his pursuer would put in an appearance, but the street seemed oddly deserted. It was definitely time for that tea, so that she would be warm and fortified for the subway ride back home. She put the kettle on the hot plate in the dark, redolent storeroom, and hunted through the clutter of teabags for cinnamon. The incense had put her in the mood for it.
The classical station on the radio behind her began something soft and precious; with a grimace she turned it down a hair. As her hand left the knob, the phone rang; she reached out across the hot plate, and opened the miniature coffin where it lived.
“Bella’s books and supply,” she said, as brightly as she could.
“How is everything going?” Karen replied, her voice thin and tinny.
“We’ve done a bit better than normal, and if your back is hurting you again, then lie down.” Hermione could tell by the strain in Karen’s voice that it had been a far too long day. “Drink some chamomile tea, put Brahms’s ‘Lullaby’ on the stereo and stick the headphones on your tummy.”
“You really think that would make the baby settle down?” Karen sounded pathetically hopeful.
“My mother swears by it, so I figure it should be a good one to try. Hopefully you will be having the baby soon. That fifth of fire whiskey I bought isn’t going to last much longer. Why did I ever let you talk me into running this joint for you?”
“Because you have a soft heart,” Karen chuckled. “You couldn’t bear the notion of me fighting my way through the subway with a monster under my belt.”
Hermione grinned, in spite of her sore feet, and leaned up against the wall. Three weeks ago Karen had resembled the Goodyear blimp. She hated to think what her old friend looked like now.
“Besides,” Karen continued, as the street beyond the glass grew darker, “you’re the only one I have ever worked with that I’d trust to handle the nutcases that show up around Halloween. Anyway, I think I will go try that music trick. If it seems dead, shut down early, no use in you sticking around for nothing, not with the weather like it is.”
“Okay,” Hermione agreed readily. “Bye and Give Carl a big kiss for me.”
Setting down the phone back on the cradle, she got the strongest feeling that she ought to check on the front of the store.
She sighed, turned the heat down, and stepped to the front of the store and saw him standing uncertainly in the light of the lamp in the window, peering through the glass, as if trying to make out if the shop was tenanted or not.
He was without a doubt, the foxiest, sexist, man she had seen in a year. He was short- he probably topped her by no more than four inches- and lean; but it was the slightness and leanness of a panther that he put her in mind of. His face was that of a medieval angel; fine boned, with high, prominent cheekbones and the most beautiful eyes she had ever seen in her life. His hair was dark, long and silky looking enough to make her itch to run her hands through it.
He was quick; she gave him points. She had scarcely taken a step when he spotted her by her movement, and locked his eyes on her. She nodded; he tightened his lips a bit and opened the door hesitating on the threshold with one hand on the doorframe.
“I beg to disturb you so late,” he said, his words faintly accented. It took her a moment to identify the accent as French. “I am certain that you wish to close and return to your home, but could you tell me if there was a particular man here an hour or so ago? He is tall, very dark, with narrow eyes and a prominent nose. He tends to favor somewhat flamboyant clothing.”
“He was,” she said shortly, admiring the graceful way his hand laid upon the doorframe and taking notes on it for the possible use in her book.
“I do not suppose that you would be able to tell me his direction, would you?” He sounded wistful, as if he really wasn’t expecting her to cooperate.
He aroused very ambivalent feelings in her; she was certainly attracted to him, yet he made her very uneasy.
“He headed down toward forty second,” she told him. “The less savory side.”
“My thanks; I shall not detain you any longer.”
He turned away, she caught sight of his face, and the expression had changed completely. There was something so implacable about him that she found herself backing up a step. She could readily believe that he would calmly commit murder if he felt the circumstances demanded it.
One moment he was there, the next, gone so quickly that the bells above the door scarcely moved. She stared into the dark for a moment, then moved carefully to the door and peered out at the street. There was no one, no one at all in either direction.
“That is enough for one night,” she said out loud. Pulling out her wand, she gathered her shields that she had put on the shop back around her. They settled into place automatically, and she dismissed their presence from her conscious mind. She flipped the sign to ‘closed’; in five minutes she had shut everything down, grabbed her coat, and was out the door.
I hope you enjoyed the first chapter to my newest story. This story is planned to end up being a three part series. Please leave a review in the box below to let me know what you liked and didn't like about this chapter. All input is appreciated. Thank you for reading.
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