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Stick Stone and Bone

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Looking grim, he let the door swing shut behind him.

        Luca looked up from her book, instinctively putting a finger on the spine to bookmark it.

        A boy of about fifteen was standing on the threshold, the shop bell clanging sharply behind him.  He brushed his Converse off on the doormat, hands in his pockets, casting his gaze around the room.

        His eyes locked onto Luca. A smile climbed onto his face, like he was flipping a switch inside his brain, and she felt a thrill of unease run down her spine.

        “Hey.”

        “Welcome to Stick Stone and Bone.  Is there anything I can help you with today?”

        The boy moved towards the counter, closing the space between them in only a couple steps.  Luca sat back on her stool, trying to regain some of the distance.  The shop was closet-sized, truly not much wider than a biking lane, and completely overcrowded with shelves of books, baskets of crystals, precious gems and stones, racks of jewelry, pendants, pentagrams, charms, displays of tarot cards, and other assorted trinkets.  Luca hadn’t yet seen it at full capacity – but she doubted that the shop fit more than ten at any one time.

        The kid’s eyes had traveled down, and she followed their movement.  He was staring at the open page of her book.  Self-consciously, she placed a hand across it.  He threw a dubious look at her from under his bleach blonde bangs.  Luca forced a stony smile.

        “Not me. I’m just perusing.”

        Luca narrowed her eyes on him. Before she could form a question, the door to the shop swung open again, the bell ringing out with an almost panicked c-clang.

        Three more boys piled through the door, all roughly the same age, the sound of them filling up the shop as though a flood gate had been pulled down.

        “…mean, really, I think the Finches have as good a chance of winning as the Stormers next Cup.”

        “I don’t see why.  They haven’t had a new player in ages.”

        They piled in behind the blond-haired boy, slipping past him and into the shop, stopping to look at the shelves. They were all dressed similarly, in dark jeans and t-shirts.

        “Dad says they’re recruiting soon.”

        “How would your dad know?”

        “He heard it from some guy at MACUSA, he says.”

        “What does some guy at MACUSA know about quidditch recruitment?”

        Luca watched them move from shelf to shelf, bending down over the tables placed in between, where woven straw baskets of stones and runes lay, with prices labeled on the side.  They stuck their hands into the different baskets leisurely, picking stones up and putting them down. She felt her shoulders tense.

        Amos had warned her to look out for shoplifters. It was more difficult than she had initially expected.  So many people came in and out of the store – experienced buyers and curious tourists alike, having wandered a little further away from Greenwich Village’s main attractions. And a stone the size of a penny was such an easy thing to slip into your pocket.

        “What book is that?”

        Luca whipped her head around. It was the blonde boy. He was still standing there, still staring down at the counter, glancing up at her with curious, amber eyes. A sickly feeling settled in Luca’s gut, her eyes drifting back towards the gaggle of rowdy boys. It felt like he was trying to distract her.

        It was too early for this.

        Les Misérables.”

        “Nice.”  His smile was quick and warm. “I’ve seen the musical. Can you hear the people sing?”

        He looked at her expectantly, a hand gestured towards her as though he expected her to answer in similar sing-song. Luca stared at him coldly.

        “No?” The boy shrugged. “What about the play? Have you seen it on Broadway?”

        “I haven’t been to Broadway.”

        Clink!

        “Shit!”

        Luca sat up straight in her seat, peering around the head of the blond.  The sound had been that of a pendant dropping from its rack and onto the glass tabletop it was placed on.  One of the kids, a curly-haired boy in a Led Zeppelin shirt and red flannel was scrambling to hook it back where it belonged.

        “Is there anything in particular that I can help you with?” Luca called over to them, fighting to keep her voice free of edge.

        They all looked up at her at once.

        “Uhm…”

        The curly-haired kid straightened out the pendant on its rack hurriedly, standing up.

        “Yeah. Just looking for some sticks and stones.”

        Luca felt her jaw clench. She cleared her throat.

        “And what do you need them for?”

        The boy smiled shyly as he spoke. “To break some bones.”

        Luca sighed, kicking herself mentally. She supposed the band tees and denim had been a little misleading, but she should have realized it sooner.

        They were wizards.

        Closing her book, Luca slid off her stool, throwing a look around the group.

        “All of you, yeah?”

        They nodded.

        Rolling her shoulders, Luca jerked her head towards the back of the shop. “This way.”

        She led them through the store, pulling aside the curtain that walled off the back room. It wasn’t more than a mudroom, windowless and stinking of mold. There was a narrow concrete staircase leading up to the second floor, and to her left, a white door. There was a sign on it, hand-painted, that read “employee restroom”.

        Luca was the only person currently employed at Stick Stone and Bone besides its owner, her uncle, Amos. And neither of them had ever used this bathroom.

Not to use the toilet, anyway.

        The boys piled up behind her, staring over her shoulder at the door. Luca tapped the door knob three times, before pushing it open. Inside, she looked upon the typical New York City bathroom.  Cramped, smelling faintly of mildew, and the sink and toilet both sporting their fair share of rust. She flipped on the light. The grey concrete walls absorbed most of the fluorescent glare.

        “Did you do it right?”

        It was a different voice, not the curly-haired or the blond.

        “Hakuna your tatas for a sec, Jake, jeez.”

        Luca grabbed the doorknob and closed it again, leaving the light on inside.  Then, after counting to three underneath her breath, she turned the knob counter-clockwise.

        The door opened, but not onto the bathroom.

        She could feel the boys peering around her into the room beyond.

        If the front of the shop was a walk-in closet, than the back of the shop was a small house by comparison.  A department store the size of a warehouse, tall shelves and tiered displays stretching farther than one could glimpse in a single look.

        Luca stood aside, holding the door ajar for them, ushering them in with an impatient look.  All of the boys streamed in single-file, stepping onto the fire escape just outside the door.

Luca always half-expected for people to stare around the warehouse in awe when she did this little magic trick, as she had when Amos had first shown her how to open the warehouse door. These boys were students, she understood. Amos had explained as much. Most of the business Stick Stone and Bone had gotten this summer was from students in the market for “school supplies”. But even the eleven-year olds didn’t so much as bat an eye.

Just a normal day in New York for their kind, Luca supposed.

        The blond boy was the last one to file in, staring at her as he slid past.  His friends were already jogging down the fire escape, heading into the web of magical oddities arrayed below.

        The front of Stick Stone and Bone was just that… a front. The witches and wizards who came in, all treated that part of the store with a similar sense of hilarity. It was all for the Muggles – the decks of tarot, the bunches of sage, the healing crystals. None of it had any value to the Wizarding community whatsoever.

        Behind the employee restroom was where the real business went down.  Amos Kokernak owned the largest, most well-stocked, wizarding equipment warehouse in all of New York City – and probably on the East Coast as well, or so he surmised.  It had been in his family for generations, and with each passing decade, more was added onto the shop.  In traditional American style, Stick Stone and Bone had evolved throughout the centuries from a piddling apothecary, where witches and wizards could locate just about anything that could be put into a potion, into a bookshop.  And then into robe shop.  And later, a store for writing supplies.  Much later, the Kokernaks began trading and selling second-hand items, from cauldrons to pet supplies, to sometimes even the pets themselves.

        It had all been thrown haphazardly into this hodgepodge of a Wizarding supermarket, until it really couldn’t be described as anything but an “equipment” store.

        Luca looked out over the rows of shelves, piled high with quills, tattered leather-covered books, brass telescopes, and other magical knick-knacks whose names she would never remember. She doubted that she would ever truly come to grips with this place’s existence.

        “Amos!”

        Luca waited a moment, listening to her voice carry around the wide, open room.  From down below, the boys stopped a moment in their ceaseless chattering to glance up at her.

        From across the way, she heard the sound of a rusty door screeching open.  There was another fire escape against the east wall, leading up to an office door, from which a twenty-something man in an ugly striped sweater and jeans stumbled out.  She could see his office beyond – piled, from floor to ceiling with loose parchment, manila folders, and leather binders overspilling with pay stubs, receipts, and post-it notes.

        Amos waved over at her lazily, his gaze taking into account the four teenagers making their way into the shop, before looking back at her.

        “I’ve got it,” he called over dryly.  He turned back into his office and slammed the door shut without another word.

        Sighing internally, Luca turned back into the bathroom.

        “Are you new to town?”

        She froze up, mouthing a swear. She whipped around, squeezing her arms tightly to her chest.

        It was the blond. Still.

        It was much, much too early for this twenty questions malarkey.

        “Yes,” she snapped.

        He brushed the bangs back from his face.  His hair was long and scraggly, and as he pushed it back, Luca took note of the plugs pierced in his ears.

        “Nice! Welcome to the Big Apple.”

        “Thank you,” Luca said tightly. She was standing on the other side of the threshold, just inside the mudroom, but he still had one foot inside, blocking her from being able to shut the door.  As she stared at him, he leaned forward, propping his body up against the door jamb.  She could feel her teeth grinding together.

        “How long have you been here?”

        “Three weeks.”

        “And you still haven’t been to Broadway yet? What about the Statue of Liberty?”

        “No.”

        “The Empire State Building?”

        “No.”

        “Well, come on, that’s just a bit of a walk from here! You really gotta catch up on your New York hist -”

        “Look, I have to close this door,” Luca interjected, giving him a stinging look.  “I can’t just leave it open for… whoever, to look into.”

        “Ah,” the boy said, standing up straight. “Sorry.”

        Before she could react, he had stepped back inside the mudroom, forcing her to stand back, and closed the door behind him.

        The sound of his friends bouncing from shelf to shelf was swallowed up by the snick of the door mechanism.

        Luca gaped at him, incredulous.

        “Where did you move from?” the boy asked, shoving his hands into his pockets, clearly unperturbed.

        She glared at him.

        “It’s the accent, right?” she quipped. “You wanna know ‘bout the accent.”

        The smirk that crept onto his face was almost bashful, but Luca knew he was anything but sorry.

        “Just thought I’d ask.”

        Luca nearly found a growl rising up at the back of her throat, but stopped herself short.

        “Linton,” she spat.  “I’m from Linton.  Not that you’d have ever heard of Linton.  But yes, because I know that’s what you’re really asking, I did just move from U.K. three weeks ago.”

        “Alright,” the kid breathed, taking a step back, as though only now did he feel the waves of hostility bridling off of her.  “Cool. I was just curious. I’ve been coming here since I was a kid, and I’ve never seen you before.”

        “Yeah?”

        Luca was completely and utterly uninterested.  What she wanted to do was tap on the door knob and go through the opening sequence again, so she could shove him through the door and return to the front counter and Les Misérables.  But he was standing directly in her way.

        “Are you a transfer?”

        Luca blinked at him.

        “What?”

        His brows wrinkled at her in confusion.

        “You know.” He shrugged. “From Hogwarts?”

        Luca just stared at him blankly, her mind going vacant.  He continued to watch her expectantly, as though once again she was supposed to understand his reference.  But this time, Luca had a feeling it wasn’t as commonplace an allusion as Les Mis.

        She scrabbled mentally, fishing for an answer, searching for the word in her memory.  Hogwarts.

        But for fuck’s sake, every single word that had been spewed at her from these people in the last couple months was one big jumble of nonsense.

        “Are you going to Ilvermorny this year?” the kid added.

        Luca gaped at him another moment, all froze up, before finally the connection was made.  Hogwarts was a school.  A Wizarding school.

        Torie’s school.

        “No,” Luca said quickly, shaking her head and licking her lips nervously.  “No.  No, I’m… homeschooled.”

        The kid cocked his head to one side.

        “Homeschooled?”

        Luca shrugged, suddenly very self-conscious.

        “Yeah.”

        “That’s pretty impressive.  What year are you, then?  Or do you know… do you not really follow years because of that?”

        Luca had no idea what to say.  She had been in Year 10 of secondary school back in Linton.  But somehow, she doubted that the British public education system translated that easily into the Wizarding world.

        After a moment, the boy shook his head nonchalantly.

        “Guess not.”  He stuck out his hand.  “I’m Sol.”

        Luca stared at the extended hand for a brief second before begrudgingly shaking it.

        “Luca.”

        He smiled.

        “It was nice to meet you, Luca.  Sorry if I rubbed you wrong.  I just thought, maybe you were new… it’s kind of a big deal.  I don’t remember the last time Ilvermorny’s had a transfer.”

        Luca felt the heat rise in her face, and exhaled roughly through her nose, throwing her eyes down at the ground.

        “No, you didn’t… you didn’t rub me the wrong way.”

        She felt guilty now, suddenly.  For Pete’s sake, he was probably just trying to be polite.  When she looked back up at him, his smile was sly.

        “Really?” he snorted, his eyes crinkling up at the sides.  “Because I think that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.”

        Luca chuckled.  And then she caught herself.  The smirk slipped as quickly from her face as it had sneaked onto it. It was stupid, she felt, and yet she couldn’t keep at bay the gloom that flooded her. The smile had felt strange. Her laugh had sounded stale.

        Just then, the door to the employee restroom opened.  The curly-haired kid stuck his head out.

        “Sol?” His eyes travelled quickly from Sol to Luca, taking in the situation, and she hated the knowing smile that quirked across his lips.

        “C’mon man, we’ve still got all our school lists to go through.”

        “I told you, man, my parents wanna take me shopping.”

        The kid groaned dramatically, rolling back his eyes.

        “Are they gonna hold your hand, too?”

        Sol threw a fist towards the kid’s head playfully, and he disappeared around the door, cackling. Before it closed, Sol put a hand on the door, turning back to Luca. She was surprised to see that same grim expression from earlier fading slowly from his face, as though thawing as he took the sight of her in again.

        “Do you work here full-time?” he asked finally.

        “Well… uh. Yeah.”

        There was no point in sugarcoating it.  Luca didn’t have much of a life at present.  She spent all of her days working in Stick Stone and Bone, and all of her nights reading in her room, in the apartment above the shop which she shared with Amos.  She hadn’t even really been around Greenwich yet.

        “So, if I were to come by a couple days from now, you’d probably still be here, right?”

        Luca furrowed her brows at him.

        “Yeah?” she said.

        “Ok. Cool. Do you think you’d maybe want to… hang out?”

        Luca stared at him uncomfortably.  The blunt answer was, no. Luca didn’t want to hang out with Sol. She didn’t want to “hang out” with anyone. He was probably the first person in New York City she had talked to since moving there that was her age. And that was probably a good thing, she supposed.  Back home, she had always been pretty good at making new friends.  She was the usually the one striking up conversations, inviting new people to come along for outings, and talking up random people in the line at the theatre.

        But this wasn’t Linton. And she wasn’t that Luca anymore.

        And, most importantly, Luca wasn’t what Sol wanted her to be. She wasn’t a witch.

        Even if he were a Muggle, it just wouldn’t work.

        Luca sighed, pulling her flannel shirt close around her.

        “Maybe,” she said quietly.

        Her eyes were on his sneakers, but she could feel his look grazing over her, could feel the disappointment and the question in his eyes. Because the word that she really had conveyed, was “no.”

        The sound of the bell clanging as the shop door swung open roused them both. Luca threw an urgent look towards Sol. He nodded silently, opening the restroom door all the way.

        “See ya,” he whispered.

        Luca watched him close the door quickly behind him.

        “Bye.”

        It had already snapped shut.

        Exhaling sharply, Luca tugged at the wiry black hair that framed her face, squashing down a groan. She drew herself back to her full stature, turned on heel and greeted the Muggle that had come in with a paltry smile.

        “Welcome to Stick Stone and Bone.”

 

***

 

Luca watched from the doorstep as the last customer of the day walked down the quiet, gloomy Greenwich sidewalk, waiting until they had gone beyond her line of sight with their bag of healing crystals and meditation stones toted in hand, before turning off the lights and flipping the sign on the door to “CLOSED.”

        She locked the door and bolted it, a taste of irony filling her mouth, wondering if it even made a difference.  As far as Luca could tell, the locks were only really there for appearances, or perhaps because the store had come with them.  Amos’ family had several spells, or charms, or whatever, laid over the door to prevent break-ins and thefts. Just today, as Sol and his friends had been heading out the door, it had caught one of them at the threshold and thrown them back into the shop.  As Luca might have suspected, the curly-haired one had slipped a piece of lapis lazuli into his pocket.

        She turned and looked out over the darkened shop, taking in the displays of spiritualistic trinkets.  A touch of bitterness welled up inside her.  She would have never been caught dead in one of these shops.  Not before.  And neither, she had thought, would her former best friend, Torie.

        Though it turned out, Torie’s whole life had been one magic shop right after the other.

        Growling under her breath, Luca went back to the employee restroom, opening it up onto the warehouse. The bronzers had been lit, the internal sun that normally illuminated the lofted ceiling having gone grey.  There was no one remaining, wandering from shelf to shelf to browse.  Luca walked quickly down the fire escape. The shelves stood high above her, some of them crooked and almost seeming to lean over her. She strode quickly through them, arms folded uncomfortably. She didn’t go back here if she couldn’t help it. Even when the shop was closed, and all its customers gone, she could still hear things stirring from within the shelves – paintings that moved, breathed, and often talked amongst themselves, trinkets that paced impatiently on their displays, sealed cauldrons and boxes that rattled with irritation.

        Luca climbed the fire escape to Amos’ office two steps at a time. At the top, she paused, opening up her ears and listening. She could hear him very clearly inside, even through the thick mahogany door.  He was muttering to himself quietly, shuffling papers between his hands, sounding bothered. Luca sighed. She supposed now was as good a time as any to broach the subject.

        And she really couldn’t afford to put it off any longer.

        She knocked on the door firmly, waiting a few beats.

        “You can come in.”

        Luca turned the knob, leaning against the jamb as she slowly peeked inside.

        Amos was sitting at his desk, his shoulders hunched over piles of parchment.  On another table against the far wall, she could see more stacks, with various colors of quills levitating over them, scribbling idly, marking things off.  As she stepped inside, wary, Amos gestured lazily with one hand, and one of the pieces of parchment from behind him came floating his way, settling softly onto his desk.  He didn’t look up from his work.

        “You closed the shop?”

        “Yeah.”  She eyed the self-propelled quills suspiciously.

        Amos nodded, his eyes still on his desk.

        “Thank you,” he murmured.  Picking up his wand from beside him, he flicked it at another parchment, and it rolled up into a tube before flying into the other far corner, where all of the other catalogued receipts and merchandise logs were stored.

        Luca stood there awkwardly, watching the quills write by themselves, and the papers assort themselves quietly, finding herself leaning forward by instinct to try and glimpse what was being written down.

        “Uhm?”

        She snapped back to present. Amos was looking up at her languidly, tucking his wand behind his ear as he leaned back in his seat. His eyebrows shot up at her questioningly.

        “Was there something else you needed?”

        “Erm.”

        Luca shuffled her feet uneasily, faltering for words. Now that she was here, none of the rehearsed conversations that she had been having with Amos in her head seemed to make much sense to her. Stalling for time, she closed the door to the office slowly.

        Amos cocked his head at her, the patience in his expression falling short.

        “Yeah?”

        Luca sighed, biting down on the inside of her cheek.

        “Um.”

        Amos waved a hand, and a chair from the table across the room scooted around, dragging itself right up to Luca’s legs. The look on his face was anything but tolerant. She had a feeling he thought she was wasting his time.

        She took a seat, folding her hands into her lap.

        “What’s up?” he insisted, his small, dark eyes looking at her intently.

        For some reason, Luca felt her hands shaking.

        “This Saturday,” she said shortly.

        Amos frowned at her.

        “Yes?”

        She looked up at him pointedly.

        “It’s the full moon.”

        Amos gazed at her vacantly for a second, and then comprehension dawned across his face.

        “Ahh,” he said, his eyes casted towards the ceiling. “Yes.”

        A moment of silence fell, broken only by the sound of Amos popping his lips together thoughtfully. Luca stared at him expectantly.

        “Jeromy said… well, I mean, Mr. Crowle had said something about you… finding a room for… it.”

        “Hmm-mm,” Amos murmured, his hands cupped around his mouth, brows furrowed in consternation.

        “Because… you know.”  Luca shrugged helplessly.  “I don’t really think you want me to transform… here.”

        “No, no, no.”

        “In the store.”

        “Yes, yes, you’re right,” Amos said distractedly, shaking his head with dismay.  “You are absolutely right.”

        Luca exhaled a puff of air through her nose incredulously, biting her tongue. She didn’t want to give him any sass. But for fuck’s sake, it sounded as if he hadn’t put any thought into this at all. And he was supposed to be her guardian.

        “I’m working on it, Luca,” Amos went on, drumming his fingers against the side of his unkempt beard. “I’ll figure it all out.”

        She frowned at him, fists clenching at her sides.

        “By… this Saturday? Right? Sooner than that, I would hope.”

        “I will, Luca,” he snapped, picking up his wand and levitating another parchment over into the logged pile.

        “Because this isn’t really the sort of thing you put off for last minute.”

        I said I will.”

        Luca’s jaw clenched. Amos held her gaze, hard and stony, and she felt a vein of cold run through her. She stared back at him stubbornly.

        “I said I would,” Amos said, stating each word with a solid emphasis. “And I will.”

        He bent back over his desk, his eyes roaming over the piece of parchment he held between his fingers. One of the quills drifted over and he took it in hand, scribbling down a few hasty notes.

        Luca watched him work, a taste of incredulity welling up inside of her. While it was true that they barely knew each other – having only met less than a month ago – and had barely any blood relation to be spoken of, she honestly hadn’t seen this level of incompetence coming from him. Some disinterest? Sure. He clearly had only agreed to adopting her because of the free assistance. He had told her as much himself when they were introduced. That was okay with her. She didn’t particularly care for him either.

        But this level of apathy?

        “You’re still here,” he noted dryly.

        Luca snorted.

        Yeah.” She shook her head at him. “I’m still fucking here. What part ‘bout me being werewolf did you not understand?”

        “I understand every bit of it,” Amos responded lightly, throwing her a reproachful glance.  “Probably a fair bit more than you.”

        Luca felt her face go red from the roots of her hair all the way down her neck.

        Amos sat back in his seat, sighing, looking her up and down studiously. He almost looked guilty. After a couple of beats, he scratched at the back of his neck awkwardly.

        “I know you’ve been going through a tough time –”

        “You better fucking believe it.”

        “And I can’t possibly know how you’re feeling.”

        She stared at him quietly, her face still pink, her gaze traveling down to her shoes.

        He heaved another uncomfortable sigh.

        “I’ve never really been good at this kind of thing.”

        Luca didn’t say anything for moment. Then, the corner of her lips quirked up.

        “I don’t think… finding out you have a werewolf, non-magic niece is something that you exactly get good at.”

        She surprised a laugh out of him.

        “Neither is finding out you have a magical, second uncle. Five times removed.”

        For a second, they both smiled.

        “I am working on it, Luca,” he said, and this time his tone of voice was earnest. “I know you’re anxious. But I don’t exactly have an answer for you. It’s not as easy as you might think to procure a safe… isolated, easily locked-down room in New York City. That no one else knows about. Without raising a few red flags.”

        She drew in a deep breath, nodding.

        “Yeah,” she agreed.  “Yeah.”

        They stewed in silence for a minute, avoiding gazes. Luca pushed back her chair, getting ready to stand up.

        “Do you…”

        Luca looked up at him sharply. Amos wasn’t looking at her, but at his feet. He cleared his throat uneasily.

        “Do you want me… to be there with you?  When it happens?”

        Luca felt all of the blood drain from her face, as though a bucket of icy water had been dumped over her head, dripping down onto her feet.

        “No.” She said it so quickly that Amos looked taken aback. She cleared her throat, shaking her head for emphasis. “No. That’s okay. I’m… good.”

        Amos nodded slowly, though his gaze conveyed anything but understanding. She gave him a look that begged no more questions asked.

        “Alright.” He coughed, turning back to his desk. Luca stood up, pushing the chair back up against the wall. “Alright. Good.”

        “Thanks.‘Night,” Luca said, opening the door to his office.

        “Goodnight.”

        She shut the door tightly, falling back against it a moment to take a breath.

        She had been condemning Amos for not being prepared for this Saturday, but as she was tramping down the fire escape, she found herself lost for breath.

        It was going to be her second transformation, and the first since moving to New York City.

        Only now that it was so close did Luca really realize, she was not even the slightest bit prepared.