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Winifred was still relatively new to being a friend, having been something of a consummate loner growing up in her native time period but she liked to think that she managed to be a reasonably good one, uncontrolled bouts of mass destruction aside. Certainly she still managed to be better socialized than the majority of her circle of peers, enough so that she'd been quick to scoop up her bag and borrowed music player and make her excuses when her roommate's boyfriend had knocked on their door. She'd almost let curiosity get the better of her once and asked Robin how exactly that worked before deciding that neither upsetting her friend or sitting through a detailed explanation were outcomes she particularly wanted. The Victorian was much happier to simply give the couple their privacy.

 

That did leave her somewhat at loose ends, however. Normally she would have put in some time in the chemistry lab but the most interesting equipment there was in the process of being repaired or replaced and as those weren't entirely unrelated facts she had been strongly encouraged to find other ways to spend her time until further notice. The weather had turned brisk enough to discourage a trip outdoors without a destination in mind and the common room wasn't an appealing option, not at a time of day where she knew it would be crowded; the altercation with Madison and her squad hadn't done Winifred's reputation around campus any great favours.

 

The miniature in-ear speakers Matthew had lent her made avoiding conversation while traversing the halls considerably easier but she'd found they did distressingly little to discourage interruption while sitting in one place. Sighing quietly to herself she placed them in her ears and gingerly pressed the triangular button on the player. Perhaps Raina and Cathy would allow her to hole up in a corner of their room for a while. It wouldn't be much warmer than the quad but the Scot was always eager enough to lend a wool jumper to any visitors.

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Upon arriving at Raina and Cathy's room, however, Fred discovered the door closed and a white sock covering the handle. Before she could decide whether to try knocking or not, a voice floated down from near the ceiling, just loud enough to be heard over the headphones. "You'll be soooooorryyyyyy" Raina was floating through the hallway like an untethered balloon, a paperback novel open in one hand. "Cathy and Phaedra are having 'private time' in there, and given the powers involved, I imagine it looks something like a cross between a Bosch painting and what happens when you drop dry ice into hot water." She used her free hand and sound effects to mime a huge cloud of steam. "Whatcha need?" 

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Winifred delicately plucked the headphones from her ears when she met Raina's eyes but almost immediately regretted it when the pyromancer explained the situation in entirely more graphic detail than was strictly necessary. The shorter girl couldn't help reflexively looking back toward the closed door before turning back to Raina with a sigh. "At some point in the near future I am going to have to speak to one or both of them, Sanderson," she groused, tucking the audio equipment away in her bag with a level of care normally reversed for blown glass, "and that... image is the only thing I am going to be able to think on. I would reprimand your manners but somehow I expect that would serve only as encouragement."

 

With a roll of her eyes she tugged her poorly fitting, Academy-provided outfit into some semblance of order. "Robin and Smith are likewise engaged -- if you have another Renaissance painter themed analogy prepared, kindly keep it to yourself. As such, I have been temporarily exiled from our room. How likely am I to regret asking for your suggestions for passing the time?" Her tone was sandpaper dry but then banter did seem to be Raina's default mode of communication.

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"Hey, my pain is your pain," Raina said expansively, "and I already chased Merlin off, so you're not alone. He has no appreciation for metaphor." She unfolded her legs beneath her and descended to the ground, dogearing her book so she could close it. "So you're sexiled too? Bummer. I would've thought Riley to be more a quickie-in-the-broom closet type," she mused. "But don't worry. I know it is wet and the sun is not sunny, but we can have lots of good fun that is funny." She laughed at her own rhyme. "Who else is around?" 

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The word 'sexiled' earned a snort of unladylike laughter from the alchemist, who quickly recomposed herself and assumed an expression that denied any such sound had escaped her. "Yes, well. One might be well advised to knock before opening any of the supply closets in the workshop with the metalworking equipment," she allowed, deciding not to let Raina's off-colour observations go completely unanswered. She placed her hands on her hips and consider, the folds of her white coat bunching behind her with the motion. There was entirely too much overlap between the list of their classmates who might be available for socializing and the list of their classmates who wouldn't wish to socialize with one or both of them. "If Smith is out of his room, Matthew and his hounds may be there?"

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"Those dogs creep me the hell out," Raina said frankly, "but Matt's okay most of the time. We should get off-campus before the weather starts getting too cold. There's supposed to be a big mall somewhere in the city, have you got any money?" Raina dropped her book in front of her closed bedroom door, presumably to retrieve later, and started steering Fred towards the stairwell. "Have you seen a shopping mall yet? They're great, they're probably like the street markets you used to have, but inside a huge building and every store has its own dedicated place and nobody is dumping chamberpots over the balcony and stuff." If Raina had made nothing else clear during their acquaintance, it was that her understanding of historical periods was piecemeal at best. "You'd like it." 

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Allowing herself to be guided away from the door to Raina's dorm room Winifred pursed her lips but said nothing. While she didn't particularly appreciate it being brought up she couldn't honestly dispute that the cities of the present had developed objectively superior methods of waste disposal. For all she would have once taken the aroma of London streets as a given there really was no contest. Instead she said, "The hounds are no stranger than anything else at this school. One simply has to make it clear she will not be party to their jesting." She considered the taller girl and allowed herself a subtle smirk. "Really, I'd say you have a similar sense of humour. I'm surprised you don't get on with them."

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"Well now you're suggesting that I'd get along well with myself, which is a flawed premise from the start," Raina countered, never losing her troublemaking grin. "But I still think dead ghostly hellhounds rate up there pretty high on the do-not-wantometer, and trying to deal with them at the mall would be basically impossible. We could put the little vests on them and everything, but nobody would believe us." She bounced down the stairs, literally bouncing, touching down on evey third or fourth step in a way that suggested she hadn't ended her spell, just made a good show of it.  "The problem is, you need money at the mall. I haven't got much of it these days. You got any?" 

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"I was led to believe they could easily evade detection but I suspect their desire to instigate trouble would outweigh that advantage. Again not unlike your invisibility trick. Honestly the resemblance is uncanny." Winifred followed behind Raina's bounding leaps with calm, controlled steps and perfect posture, cane tucked under one arm while she navigated the stairs. The Victorian didn't completely follow the comment about vests but let it pass in favour of giving the witch an exaggeratedly innocent look when she looked back over her shoulder.

 

At the bottom of the stairs she fussed with her baggy clothing again, making a small sound of irritation before quickly pushing the negative feeling to the back of her mind. "In fact in the wake of our most dramatic misadventures the Academy saw fit to provide me a stipend with which to expand my rather limited wardrobe." Her expression turned into a fain smirk as she adjusted her bag and continued forward. "They were careful to stress that this was simply for the fall semester and not recompenses for any indignities I may have suffered. Very careful."

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"Money troubles?", a smooth voice interjected from the sidelines. Aníbal was standing not far from the bottom of the staircase, leaning on the wall with his arms folded across his chest, observing the arriving pair with an amused smile. He was dressed for the chilly October weather, a crew neck golden brown cashmere sweater over a plain dress shirt and expensive looking dark jeans. His eyes gleamed as they met Raina's, and he took a couple of leisurely steps forward, acknowledging Fred with a polite nod and smile. Still, it was pretty obvious who he came here to see.

 

"If only you knew someone who was obscenely wealthy...", he continued, "Going to the mall?".

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For a second, Fred could see an unguarded look of embarrassment on Raina's face, but then it was gone completely under a broad grin. "You know I don't worry about money," she told Anibal teasingly, crossing the room with a gliding bounce as though walking on the moon. She threaded the fingers of one hand through his hair and gave him  a thorough kiss, then pulled back to look him over. "But speaking of, you're looking like a million bucks today." For her own part, Raina was wearing a Claremont sweatshirt over artfully distressed blue jeans that were slit and cuffed to capri-length. She had long enough legs to pull off the look, managing to hit ragamuffin chic rather than hobo coture, but just by a nose. 

 

She hooked one elbow in the crook of Anibal's arm. "Cathy's busy having sex in my room, so I'm exiled for the afternoon anyway. Gotta find something fun to do. Wanna come out and help me teach Fred about the wonder and beauty of the North American shopping mall?"

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Winifred cradled one brow with a pair of fingers and her thumb, studying the ceiling until Sanderson was finished with the boy. "I cannot be convinced that certain topics have genuinely fallen into the realm of polite conversation, century and a half or no," she muttered just loudly enough to be heard before somewhat belatedly returning Herrera Miramontes' nod. She was about to add something pithy about financials when she absently noted that his sweater seemed a good deal more tasteful than the ones of which Cathy was ever so proud. Nicer certainly than anything she owned in the here and now and nicer, perhaps, than what Raina could manage after everything that had befallen her family. Raina who pocketed and stockpiled little treats from the cafeteria for emergencies and who by rights should have been spending the afternoon with friends in a much different social stratum than the alchemist occupied.

 

So with unusual acumen she let the comment die behind a small clearing of her throat. "I can scarcely picture the splendour which awaits," she said instead, pushing forward so as to keep her back to any additional cavorting. "I feel as though Rivera might provide a more trustworthy perspective on the institution."

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If he hadn't heard Raina griping as she descended the staircase, it's safe to say Aníbal would have never mentioned money himself. He didn't like bragging, especially in the company of those less fortunate than him, but he enjoyed spending his sizable allowance on his friends when given the opportunity. His father once told him the tale of an Australian billionaire who, while in Vegas, heard a loudmouth Texan oil baron bragging about the 100 million dollars he made off his oil business. It went on and on, until the Australian finally snapped and told the braggart he'd flip him for it. The Texan kept his mouth shut for the rest of the evening. The moral of the story: no matter how rich you think you are, there's always someone richer than you. Even within Mexico, there were people whose wealth, legitimate or otherwise, dwarfed that of the Herrera family. His grandfather, meanwhile, was an old-fashioned padrón who shared Fred's Victorian distaste for discussing matters of a pecuniary nature, and imparted the same values to his grandson. This was all somewhere in the corner of Aníbal's mind, however, patiently waiting its turn at the forefront, which was currently occupied by the scent, touch and taste of Raina. After she kissed him, it took him a few moments to break eye contact with her and wipe the goofy grin off his face, returning to his studied nonchalance. 

 

"Oh, this is... it's... last season.", he awkwardly attempted a witticism, but nothing remotely witty came out. He realised how much he'd missed her presence and cleared his throat, trying to regain his composure. "You look great, though. Really like what you did with the jeans.", he added. Raina really had a knack with clothes, making the most modest duds look great. Of course, just about anything would look great on her, he thought. 

 

He gave a surprised laugh as Raina explained the reason for her afternoon outing. Huh... Guess it's true what they say about the quiet ones. "Of course.", he replied, flashing another smile to Raina's prim companion, "Can't say I'm an expert on malls, but I'm sure we'll find something fun to do."

 

His face scrunched up involuntarily as Rivera's name was mentioned. "Oh, he's coming too?", Aníbal asked, a hint of displeasure noticeable under an air of courtesy, "That's nice. The more the merrier." Something about that kid always rubbed him the wrong way, and it bothered him that he couldn't quite understand why. Still, for the sake of the group, he was prepared to ignore it and focus on having fun. Maybe Rivera was friends with Fred, and they could pair off. Everything would be fine.

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"Oh, don't be that way," Raina scolded playfully, tugging Anibal along in the direction of Matt's room. High-flirt-mode Raina had roughly twice the energy of regular strength Raina, and even less visible attention span. "We're team-building, right? He's a lot less completely awful than most of the nerds and brojocks around here. Also, I'm going to steal your sweater later, in case you want to buy a new one while we're out." She led the way down the hall and into the boys dorms, checking the wall signs until she found Matt's room. Didn't smell like dog, she noted. Interesting. She knocked firmly. "Hey Matt, you in there? We're going to the mall!" 

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The barely-audible guitar playing was noted less for its presence than for its sudden absence at the knock on the door; this was followed by indiscernible one-sided muttering, a quiet pause, and a scratching sound on the other side of the door. When the door swung open Matt was still back on his bed, three or so dogs in attendance for the now-cancelled performance - and a fourth on its way back, having apparently, inexplicably worked the doorknob to answer Raina's summons.

 

"Uh, alright," Matt managed, setting his guitar aside as several canine heads turned to look out the doorway. "Guess that's an invitation?" he hazarded, running a hand back through his hair. "Who's 'we' in this -- ah. Hey, Winifred. What's up?"

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"Less an invitation than a decree. And Americans insist they have no use for monarchy," Winifred mused with a small wave for Matthew and a wary nod to the pack of hounds. It seemed wise to keep one eye on them, at least as much as one could given their elusive natures. "You may well find it easier to come along rather than argue the point with her." Bantering with Raina wasn't going to be nearly so gratifying while she was affecting her eligible bachelorette persona - though there was always some degree of affectation with which to contend when speaking to the pyromancer - so she added more earnestly, "Our rooms have been commandeered and I require new clothing. The 'mall' is evidently something of a cultural touchstone I've been remiss in neglecting thus far." Her pronunciation of the new term was a little awkward, briefly adopting Raina's faint Indiana drawl.

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"You know, if you want to get me out of my clothes, all you have to do is ask.", Aníbal replied as an excitable Raina dragged him along the way back to the boys' dormitories. Fred, for her part, seemed less enthusiastic about the whole affair, though maybe it was just her manner that was difficult to read. They reached the boys' dorms, and soon enough they were in front of Rivera's room. Aníbal heard the faint sounds of music coming from inside and despite making a game effort to set aside his feelings about the kid, he couldn't help but wince.

 

"Ugh. Acoustic guitar... Of course.", he scoffed and muttered under his breath. Rivera may not have been a nerd or a brojock, but he was evidently part of a far more pestilential brood - the acoustic guitarbro. Any decent party would grind to a halt whenever one of those pendejos decided to whip out his guitar and play some tuneless frat boy dirge to try and impress the girls. Aren't you a sensitive soul... Still, he smiled at Raina and mouthed the words "team building". There would be no opportunity for guitar playing at the mall, hopefully, and he could smile and get along with dog boy for a couple of hours. Even if, in fact, no team would be built by the outing, Raina was there and that was all that mattered to him. 

 

When the door opened, Aníbal gave a curt nod to Rivera and let others do the talking.

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"...alright, fair enough," Matt conceded, gently pushing a dog out of the way so that he could get up and set his guitar aside. "Fingers could probably use a rest, anyway, and I've got some time to kill. And you bunch aren't coming," he quickly added, the dogs already looking a bit too excited - they sulked a bit at his tone, but got the message, sitting back down. "No way in hell I'm convincing a mall that you're all seeing-eye dogs or whatever. You hang out or go do whatever."

 

He grabbed a jacket on his way out, giving the door a small tug so that it would swing shut behind him. But as it closed, a couple of the dogs turned their attention on Aníbal, with a gleam in their eyes that was, just briefly, entirely too smart for an animal. "We like the acoustic guitar," one said, unmoving as the door slowly cut it off.

 

"And the school would not let him keep the big speakers in his room," another agreed, nodding at the great wisdom of its peer.

 

And then the door clicked shut. If Matt had noticed their input, he didn't show it. "So. Uh, bus, I guess? Or walking?"

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"Oh, no way," Raina insisted. "Anibal's got a car and driver we can use. We can't walk if we want to do any serious shopping." She plucked a tiny feather from her hair and crumpled it between her two fingers; instantly her feet settled all the way back to the ground again as the magic dissipated. "Let's get going before somebody puts on double-secret probation or something." Raina was relatively sure that going to the mall wasn't even against the rules, but she'd gotten kind of used to being in trouble by now, and that was hard to shake. "We'll make it back before curfew." 

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Suppressing the momentary urge to argue for their inclusion Winifred gave the hounds a small wave as the door closed then followed in the direction of the parking lot. "I'm not sure how 'serious' you expect to get," she told Raina, adjusting the strap of her bag  while considering how much she could reasonably fit into it. "I'd merely like to add some pieces to my current wardrobe that fit marginally better than an old tarp. I was hardly a clothes horse even in my own time." Deciding not to worry over fashion was certainly more expedient than trying to suss out what was or wasn't appropriate in the world of the present, especially when she was sure she lacked whatever specific quality allowed the taller girl to substitute projected confidence for haute couture. It wasn't as though any of their classmates were going to see her in the right outfit and abruptly discard their mingled fear and disdain. "Though if you think they should have a shop selling musical recordings I may wish to stop there as well, time permitting."

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"Uh, sure. Curfew," Matt agreed, in a tone of voice that lent credence to the vague student understanding that he was very often absent well after dark. His hesitation implied he'd half-forgotten a curfew was even a thing. "Should be fine. Half the mall'll be closed off at some point anyway. Haven't been in a while, but we oughta have plenty of time to hit whatever - including the music store," he noted, turning back to Fred with a casual gesture. "They're not as good as the little hole-in-the-wall shops, but they'll have plenty to look through."

 

"Car and driver, though, for a trip to the mall - that I gotta see." Shoving his hands into his jacket pockets, the young man tried not to look too uncomfortable or curious at the prospect, raising his eyebrows in something akin to suppressed anticipation. "Lead on. We'll probably be there in no time."

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Aníbal was only somewhat surprised by the dogs delivering their parting shots. He knew the strange beasts could speak, but now he discovered they were apparently mind readers as well. A year ago something like that would have stunned him, but Claremont made you get used to weirdness quickly. He didn't have time to reply to the dogs before the doors closed. It was time to head out. He reached into his back pocket just as Raina brought up that he could take care of the transportation for the whole group. A moment later, he was calling his personal chauffeur, stepping a few paces away as the rest of the group discussed shopping possibilities. 

 

"Julio? Hey.", he spoke in Spanish, "I'm going to the mall with some of my friends. Could you come pick us up in front of the school? Yeah. There's four of us, so I guess something room... NO, not that one. No. I know he bought it for me, Julio, I'm saying I don't need it. We're going to the mall, not to Syria. We don't need a bulle... Just the regular car. Yeah. OK."

 

The call ended, and Aníbal rejoined the others. He took his place at Raina's side again as they moved towards the exit. "OK, so, our ride will be here in about five minutes."

 

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Most of Winifred's excursions out into the larger city beyond the academy grounds had been following Robin's lead and accordingly making use of public transit so the luxury of Herrera Miramontes' private car and driver weren't wholly lost on her. Unsurprisingly Raina gave every impression that she was used to such treatment but Matthew's reaction gave her a little more context. The alchemist decided she would consider the whole affair a success if she managed to avoid accidentally referring to the car as a carriage.

 

Fortunately the trip to the mall passes with no such faux pas and she stepped out into the parking lot, taking a long moment to wrap her head around the sheer number and variety of vehicles tucked into neat columns. She couldn't imagine so much space being given over to such a thing in her London but then the Americans did seem to have a fascination with making things as large as possible. The sprawling building in front of them certainly followed that trend, the huge, garish signage being the only thing that would have suggested to her a marketplace. "Is it meant to be so... ugly?" she asked before the surprise of it all could wear off enough for politeness to reassert itself.

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"It's not supposed to be an architectural masterpiece, and this is just the parking lot," Raina scoffed cheerfully. "The point isn't to wander around looking at the building, it's the stores inside." She grabbed Winnifred by the hand, her own skin nearly fever-hot but dry and smooth, and pulled her through the main doors and into the building. The front lobby opened straight into the atrium, which was at least prettier to look at than the outside, with a soaring skylight and a wide balcony running along the second floor of shops. A glass elevator ran between the floors, while the water splashes from the large central fountain arced nearly as high. "So, you need clothes. You want the boring everyday school-type clothes, or do you want something cool?" 

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"Yeah, not gonna lie," Matt mused, shoving his hands in his pockets as they made their way into the mall. He hadn't quite been able to hide his curiosity and grudging admiration of the vehicle on their way out, but was making up for it by being fairly well at ease with the mall itself. "The whole private car thing? Not something I'd wanna do every day, but pretty cool."

 

He hadn't been out this way in a while, taking a moment to glance around and re-familiarize himself with his surroundings - all the old stores in all the old places, no surprises there, and he even got that itch in the back of his head as the dogs left behind whined about not being able to play in the fountain. They were going to be no end of grief until he took them to the beach or something. "Might wanna get a little of each. Take a look at everything, at least, figure out what you like."

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