Winter Mulcahy thought the girl by the necklace rack was maybe eleven, probably twelve. She had a bruise peeking out just beneath the collar of her oversized coat, fingermarks if Winter was any judge, and she was an excellent judge of abuse. The girl was heavy in that way that said weight would follow her throughout her life, but she moved easily through the store, caramel eyes flickering constantly towards Winter from behind too-large glasses.
The girl was stealing.
That wasn’t unusual, though. Homeless kids often stole from the stores in the Historical District, trying to fill empty pockets and empty bellies. No, what was remarkable were two things: first, that the girl had found Winter’s store, Olde Curiosity’s Gift Shoppe, at all. It meant she had a spark of magic in her that allowed her to see the store past the misdirection wards covering the front, keeping human eyes away.
More remarkable were her hands. Even though Winter knew she was stealing, she never saw the girl’s hands venture near her capacious coat pockets. She would touch an item and a moment later it would be gone. Winter could feel the flash of raw magic as a jade pendant vanished – childish, untrained, potent. The girl didn’t have just a spark of magic. She had a flame.
She was a wizard, like Winter.
But, little wizard or not, the girl could not be allowed to steal. Winter waited until the last customer left before she took her sturdy broom in hand and stepped around the display, right into the girl’s path. At nearly six feet she towered over the child, and dropped her head slightly to appear less intimidating. “Put them back.” Her voice was low and even, devoid of anger.
The girl’s eyes widened and her freckled cheeks flushed, but to her credit she stood her ground. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Winter drew her focus object on its chain from under the collar of her dress. The ring was a simple one, a slender golden band with an oval opal stone set between two small diamonds. When she moved the ring, the light played across intricate engravings on the inside of the band. The ring had belonged to one of the most important people in Winter’s life, and now it answered to her. Wizards needed focus objects to give structure to their magic and perform more complex spells. That the girl was able to cast spells without one said that not only was she strong, she was probably close to draining the power in her body. She must be protected before she hurt herself.
Winter held the ring between her fingers and her voice became resonant with magical Command. “Empty.” Objects came flying out, more than she had anticipated, and landed on the floor. Hand cream, lip balms, jewelry, anything that the store carried that could be palmed had made it into those coat pockets, as well as some spare change, half of a wrapped sandwich, and a crumpled bus pass.
The girl stared at the pile on the floor for a moment, mouth working, before gasping out, “How?”
“The same way you put them in your pockets, only I’ve had training.”
She looked up at Winter, brown eyes wide. “You’re… like me?”
The girl looked both fascinated and frightened… and then the frightened took over and she whispered, “Please don’t call the cops on me.”
Winter tucked the ring back into her dress and held out the broom to the girl. “Let’s make a deal. I have work here that needs to be done, and I’m busy with other things. If you help me for a few hours, I won’t call the police.”
The girl took the broom, some of the light returning to her eyes. “Can you show me how to do stuff? Like our stuff?”
Winter crouched and began cleaning the items up off the floor. “Sweeping first. Magic later.”
“Magic? Is it really magic?” The girl’s voice squeaked with excitement.
Winter smiled and handed the girl back her things. “Yes, it really is. And my name is Winter. My family owns this shop.”
“I’m Jessie.” The little wizard looked around. “So if I sweep… and then dust… and maybe put some stuff away, then you’ll teach me?”
Winter smiled. “That sounds fair. And remember to sweep in the corners,” she called after Jessie as the girl ran off to begin her chores.