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Life Can Be Sweeter With The Right Ingredients

Chapter Text

The clock was ticking by far too slowly for Natalie's liking. It had been a slow day; after all, not many people came in to buy candy on a Tuesday. Only the occasional school kid spending the rest of last week's pocket money before they were 'topped up' again. Thought she knew it wasn't her place to judge, Natalie couldn't help shake her head at the thought of someone spending their money so frivolously. But she had to remind herself that they were still just children, the only cares they had to worry about were what sweets to buy that afternoon.

She rested her head on her hand, drumming her fingertips on the counter top in a futile bid to pass the time quicker, though it seemed to be doing quite the opposite. Everything was packed up and tidied, and they hadn't had a customer for at least an hour or two. Natalie had suggested to her boss that they close up early, knowing that they both had families to get home to. But Jimmy as insistent that they stay open until closing time.

Finally, after one last glance up, the clock struck five. Finally, it was time to leave and head home. Smiling to herself, Natalie practically jumped up and pulled her apron over her head, threw it into her locker and grabbed her scarf and bag. Bidding Jimmy goodnight, she headed off home, saying goodbye to Farthingham's Candy store until the following day.

As she walked, Natalie kicked the snow off her boots, knowing the last thing she needed was more snow seeping into the soles of her shoes before she got home. The weather had been quite temperamental the last week, with snow already covering the streets, and the wind bringing in a bitter chill early in the evening. Fresh snow had already begun to fall, getting caught in her chestnut brown hair. From the looks of things, it was going to be a rather rough night, and she wanted to get home before being caught in the brunt of it.
The night air was setting in fast, causing Natalie to wrap her tattered scarf a little tighter around her neck to prolong the warmth until she made it home. It was a blessing when her grandmother made it for her as a Christmas present when she was younger, and had served her well ever since. Finally, after trudging through the snow, she arrived at the little crooked house on the hill where she and her family lived. Upon initial inspection, it didn't look like much at all, let alone a home for eight people. But it was theirs, and Natalie would no sooner complain than quit her job. It was small, and not exactly the lap of luxury, but it allowed them to stay together as a family, and that's all any of them needed.

Natalie was thankful as soon as she closed the front door behind her, glad to be out of the cold weather for the night. Their small fireplace was providing heat and was a beautiful change from the weather outside. Her family were just as she had expected them to be. Her mother, Helena, was in the kitchen preparing their evening meal. Her grandparents, still in their bed in the centre of the room, content and keeping themselves relatively occupied

"I'm home!" she called out with a smile, peeling her coat and scarf from her body, and taking the opportunity to shake the now-melted snowflakes from her hair. "Sorry I took a little longer. The weather is getting frightful out there."

"No matter, darling. How was your shift?" her mother wondered, sending a warm smile that could do far more good than their fire.

"Not too bad, I suppose. Same as usual really, a few less customers than yesterday. But I did get a chance to work in the back." Natalie replied, putting her bag down on the chair and pulling out a small rectangular tin. "I made us all a special treat for after dinner."

She placed the tin in the small refrigerator they had set up, and kissed her mother on the cheek before greeting her grandparents in the same fashion. Her little brother Charlie was sitting at the table doing his homework. She couldn't help but smile at the boy; only ten years old and full of more hope and kindness than anyone she had ever met.

Natalie walked over to the table where her younger brother sat and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, pulling him into a hug. The boy stopped instantly and smiled, gladly willing to return the embrace.

"How was school, Charlie?" she asked.

"Good. I managed to pass that math quiz I was telling you about." he replied, turning his head to offer her a bright smile. Natalie grinned and ruffled his hair.

"I knew you would." She told him, before moving away to help their mother to serve up dinner. Before too long, the front door opened once again, and their father, Noah, practically blew inside like a leaf.

"Evening Buckets!" he said, barely suppressing a shiver as he removed his soaked hat and coat. A chorus of welcome sounded throughout the house, from adult and child alike. Noah walked in and patted Charlie's shoulder in passing, before heading to the kitchen to give his wife and daughter a kiss on the cheek.

"I don't suppose that there's anything extra to add to the dinner?" Helena wondered quietly. Natalie looked up from the bread she as cutting and glanced over at her mother, waiting for her father's response. He looked at them both quickly before shaking his head, moving to sit with Charlie at the table.

"Oh well, nothing goes better with cabbage than cabbage, right darling?" Helena asked. Natalie smiled softly and nodded her head.

"Charlie, I think I have something you might like." Noah said, reaching into his pocket and pulling several deformed toothpaste caps. Almost instantly, the young boy's eyes lit up.

"It's just what I needed!" exclaimed Charlie, throwing his arms around his father in a hug. Noah chuckled and ushered the boy over to the nearby cupboard. Charlie soon with a rather large model building.

"What is it, Charlie?" Grandpa Joe wondered, craning his neck to get a better look. The younger boy's outburst soon captured the attention of everyone else in the room. Charlie took a moment, examining the pieces carefully before deciding on the perfect one.
"Dad found it…the missing piece that I needed; a head for Willy Wonka." he said happily, showing it to his grandparents. He had been working hard in his spare time, collecting bits and pieces that his father had found at work to create a model of Wonka's incredible Chocolate Factory. He passed the same large and foreboding gates to and from school every day, which gave him more than enough inspiration for the project.

"It's quite a likeness." Grandpa Joe said proudly, nodding his head in approval. His grandmothers and Grandpa George all hummed in agreement. Charlie smiled brightly at the praise.

"You really think so?" he wondered.

"Well, he should know. He used to work for him." Natalie grinned, coming around and helping her mother hand out bowls of soup. Charlie's eyes widened beyond belief, turning his gaze from his sister to his grandfather.

"You worked for Willy Wonka Grandpa?" he asked in awe, not believing that his grandfather had not only met, but actually worked for his hero.

"I did." Grandpa Joe affirmed. " It must have been about twenty years ago. I remember your sister was only a little thing back then. " he said fondly, smiling at his granddaughter.

"I had to have been only three or four." Natalie smiled, sitting down on the floor by the bed, eager to hear those beloved stories once again.

"Did you work inside the factory?" Charlie wondered, wanting to know more.

"Not at first. You see, before the factory and before he was a worldwide name, Mr. Wonka owned and ran a single candy store on Cherry Street." Grandpa Joe explained. Charlie smiled and turned to face his sister.

"That's near where you work!" said Charlie to Natalie. She could only smile at his enthusiasm and nodded her head, passing him his dinner.

"Not near, it's the exact same store." She said, lowering her voice to that of an excited whisper. "Jimmy bought the shop from Mr. Wonka just when he opened the factory all those years ago."

"So Jimmy's met him too?!" Charlie wondered. His childlike innocence and excitement brought a smile to his family. It certainly was a refreshing change to the worries that they faced every day.

"Indeed he has. I remember, I brought your sister to the shop one day, not too long before Mr. Wonka opened the factory. He was still working in that one, small shop. Though I don't believe that she ever got the chance to meet Mr. Wonka himself." Grandpa Joe recalled.

"That's a shame…that would have been wonderful, Nat." Charlie said, beaming over at his sister.

"Tell him about the Indian Prince, he'd like to hear that." Grandma Josephine suggested. Charlie's head picked up, and his smile beaming at the thought of another of his grandfather's stories.

"Oh, you mean Prince Pondicherry?" asked Grandpa Joe.

"Please tell that one, Grandpa! It's one of my favourites." Natalie smiled.

The family gathered around the bed, eating their supper and listening to Grandpa Joe tell the wondrous story of the Indian Prince who hired Mr. Wonka to build a palace entirely of chocolate.

Natalie smiled to herself as she heard the story for what had to be the hundredth time in her life. But she never tired of hearing it, nor any of her Grandparents' stories. The four of them combined had lead such extraordinary lives, and although at twenty four, she had yet to even leave the town, Natalie longed to imagine living vicariously though their tales of old.
Perhaps even more so, both the Bucket children loved hearing tales of the mysterious Willy Wonka, and his incredible, yet forbidden Chocolate Factory. In her entire life, Natalie had only caught a glimpse of the man himself, when she was very young, and even then it was a silhouette behind a window. Granted, it was far more than most in their town, or the entire world for that matter. But to this day, Willy Wonka, and his entire Chocolate empire was considered to be one of the world's greatest mysteries.

"What happened then, Grandpa?" Charlie wondered.

"All the other candy makers grew jealous of Mr. Wonka's success. Their once popular sweets and treats were becoming forgotten, for they could not match the magnitude of what Mr. Wonka and his workers were creating. So, they began sending Spies into the factory, paying them incredible sums of money to get their hands on Wonka's secret recipes and tricks of the trade. In time, his competitors had their hands on his secrets, and had started producing new inventions of their own. " Grandpa Joe explained.

Natalie's eyes fell a little, resting on the empty bowl of soup in her hands. This was the part of the story she dreaded; the part where the tale ceased being a story of wonder an excitement, and turned into a sad story, which unfortunately, was true in their lives.

"In time, Mr. Wonka seemed to just…give up. One day, without any warning, he called all his workers together and told every one of them to go home, not to return the next day, or the day after that. It was that day that he turned around and shut the gates, closing his factory down forever." Their grandfather concluded with a heavy sigh. Grandma Josephine smiled gently at him, patting his hand comfortingly.

"But the factory didn't close forever." Charlie said, slightly confused. "It's open right now. I mean, his candies are in the stores every day."

"Sometimes Charlie, when a grownup says 'forever', they usually just mean a very long time." His mother explained.

"Such as I feel as though I've eaten nothing but cabbage soup forever." said Grandpa George gruffly.

"Grandpa." warned Natalie, barely containing a hint of a smile on her lips. The old man rolled his eyes, but offered the girl a small, barely there smirk.

"The factory did close, Charlie. Everyone believed that it was truly to be forever." Grandma Josephine told the boy.

"There was no doubt that the gates would be closed for good. Then, all of a sudden one not so particular day, we saw smoke rising from the chimneys. It seemed that the factory was in business once more!" Grandpa Joe added.

"Did you get your job back?" asked Charlie. A brief pause halted the story as the elder man stopped for a mere moment, allowing his mind to cast back.

"No. Nobody did." He said finally. Even after all these years, it was still a rather sore point for him, and in turn, the family. One of the highlights in Joe's life had been working in the factory, along with his wife, and the birth of his children and grandchildren. When asked about that time, he would offer a warm, reminiscent smile. But beyond that, was a sense of longing.

Deciding that it was time to try and lift everyone's spirits, Natalie got to her feet and walked over to the refrigerator and pulled out the small tin she had brought home with her.

"Here you are, perhaps this will go down nicely with the story." She said, lifting the tin lid to reveal several small pieces of chocolate fudge. She handed them out to each member of her family with a smile, before sitting down on the floor once again.

"It's a pity that Mr. Wonka doesn't hire anymore, Nat. You'd have a job in an instant should he ever try your treats." Her father said warmly. Natalie could only smile, and roll her eyes jokingly at the compliment. It wasn't much, but she was thankful that they enjoyed whatever little pieces she could bring home with her.

"One thing still doesn't make sense." Charlie said, looking quite perplexed. "Wonka still makes his candy. There must be people working there, right?"

"Think about it, Charlie. Have you ever seen a single person going into that factory, or coming out of it?" asked Grandma Josephine with a kind smile. The young boy paused for a moment, deep in thought, then shook his head.

"No, not once. The gates are always closed." He admitted.

"Nobody's ever seen the trucks leave the factory either. All the candy is delivered to the stores and waiting well before any of us get there." Natalie added.

"But if that's the case…who's running the machines? Surely Mr. Wonka can't do it on his own?" Charlie wondered.

"Nobody knows." said his mother, shrugging her shoulders in resignation.

"It certainly is a mystery." Noah added.

"Surely someone could ask Mr. Wonka?" Charlie suggested. "Hasn't anyone tried?"

"Nobody sees him, Charlie…not since the factory closed. He just…doesn't come out anymore." Natalie explained quietly.

"Like your sister said, the only thing that comes out of that factory is the candy. The trucks are never seen, and it's already packaged, boxed and addressed, ready to be delivered." Grandpa Joe said. "…I'd give anything in the world, just to go in one more time and see what's become of that wonderful place."

"Well you won't…because you can't. It's a mystery and always will be a mystery." Grandpa George said. "That little model of yours Charlie is the closest any of us are ever gonna get. Anything else is impossible."

Charlie's face fell slightly after that. Natalie couldn't help the somewhat stern glance she threw at her grandfather. While she loved the man completely, after a difficult life, he had been left hard and cynical. Despite knowing that the man cared deeply for his family, particularly his grandchildren, George saw it fit to enforce the no-nonsense approach. Afterall, they hadn't been given the easiest road in life so far, why did it make sense to encourage belief in the 'impossible'?

"Come on kids. I think we better let your grandparent's rest for the night." Noah said. The children nodded and got up, each taking turns to bid goodnight to each grandparents. After Charlie gave his Grandma Georgina a hug, she held onto him tight.

"Nothing is impossible, my dear boy." She told him, offering him a childlike smile.

"I'll be up later, Charlie." Natalie said, hugging the boy tight. He nodded and smiled, going to hug his parents before climbing up the small, rickety ladder to the room he shared with his sister.

Natalie and her mother helped carry the dishes to the sink. Her father would wash them and put them away, ready to use tomorrow, while they made sure that the grandparents were comfortable and ready for bed.

"I wish you wouldn't say such things to him, Dad." Helena said, tucking in the corner of his bed.

"I was only speaking the truth." George said in his defense, sounding rather disappointed himself. "This world is hard. It won't do the boy any good to have his head in the clouds, only to have a harsh awakening when the time came."

"Charlie has dreams." Natalie said quietly, stealing a glance up the stairs. "He should be allowed to hold onto them a little longer."

There was no use prolonging the argument. They all knew that either party were stuck in their ways, and there was no chance of compromise on either part.

Once the grandparents were settled and sleeping, Natalie and her parents tidied up a little around the house. Noah tidied up the remainder of Charlie's homework on the table, while Helena sat and finished up some last-minute sewing that needed to be done. Natalie sat at the table, with her old boots, trying to figure out a way to prolong the soles wearing out too fast.

"Oh, I almost forgot. Jimmy gave me this week's pay early. It's in my bag." Natalie said, nodding to her satchel in the corner of the room. Helena and Noah shared a look, one that Natalie had to reluctantly admit that she had seen far too often.

"No, you should use it for yourself. We're doing just fine." Helena said gently. "Why don't you go buy yourself a new pair of shoes?"

She should have expected her mother to say no, she usually did nowadays. But that didn't mean that it stopped Natalie from trying. Despite her parents trying their best to not involve them in their financial issues, and they never got involved unless it was absolutely necessary. But Natalie was an adult, and not a blind one at that. She didn't see it necessary to spend the money on herself when her family needed it more than she did.

"These shoes are fine. I don't even think I need the tape yet." She said with a chuckle. "Mum, really. I don't need it. I'd rather you use it…please?"

Both Helena and Noah knew that there was no use trying to argue with their headstrong daughter. It was cases like this when they honestly believed that she had inherited her grandfather's stubbornness among her traits. They smile in silent thanks, knowing that there were no words needed to be spoken.

After staying up a little longer, Natalie decided it was time to retire to bed for the night herself. She kissed her parents on the cheek, checked on her grandparents one last time before turning out the light, and heading up the ladder to her room.

It wasn't much; a simple attic-like space that was just big enough for the two of them. Two small beds, some blankets, a shared clothes cupboard, and small touches that made it their own. On Charlie's side, the wall above his bed was covered with old Wonka wrappers, and drawings and pictures of different things, namely the factory. Natalie's side of the room was fairly similar; a small bed, with photos adorning the walls and a small basket of used books at the end of the bed. The floor was littered with notebooks and saps of paper with recipes and mock-ups of any ideas that came to mind. On a small, semi-broken bedside table, was a small box.

The first thing she noticed when she got upstairs, was that her brother's bed was empty, though there was no reason to panic. She glanced over at the hole in their 'wall', knowing full well that her brother would be out there on their makeshift balcony. Grabbing the blanket from his bed, she headed out and sat down next to him.

"What are you still doing up?" she wondered, wrapping the blanket around their shoulders.

"I couldn't sleep." said Charlie, still gazing out at the view. Natalie nodded her head in understanding and followed his gaze. That small spot on their roof had the best view; down the street and straight to Wonka's Chocolate Factory.

"Do you believe what Grandpa said before, about things being impossible?" he wondered. Natalie smiled softly and shook her head.

"I don’t believe anything is impossible, Charlie." She assured him, wrapping her arm around him and pulling him close.

"Surely some things are?" The young boy questioned.

"Not if you want them enough." Natalie said quietly. "I think it’s possible that we can get there someday, Charlie."

"Do you remember that song? The one you used to sing to me when I was really little?" Charlie asked. "Do you think you could sing it to me now?"

"Somewhere over the rainbow way up high. There's a land that I heard of once in a lullaby…"

When she had finished her lullaby, Natalie found Charlie sleeping with his head in her lap. She couldn't help but smile. He looked so much younger when he was asleep, far more peaceful and happy. Carefully, she wrapped the blanket around him tighter and helped him back inside and into bed.

Settling into her own bed, her thoughts began to stray back to the stories earlier that evening. Ever since they were young, the Bucket children had always loved hearing tales of Wonka and his incredible world famous chocolate factory. They passed it every day on the way to work and school, occasionally stopping to try and catch a glimpse of anything inside, though they never did. There was also the one occasion that happened with her friends when she was young, but she hadn't spoken a word of that since she was a teenager.
Then of course, there was the day that her Grandpa took her to the small Candy store, back when it was run and owned by Mr. Wonka. Despite so many years going by, she remembered that day perfectly.

~Fifteen Years Earlier~

Ten year old Natalie looked around the shop in complete awe. Never before had she ever dreamed of a place such as this, let alone actually visiting one. Her grandfather told her of stories and tales of Wonka's Candy Store, and ever since, she had wanted to visit and see the magic and wonder for herself.

Finally, after she was a little older, Grandpa Joe decided that it was time to take her. It was his day off from the store, thought he didn't seem to mind the fact that he was visiting the workplace on his day off. It was quite the opposite, in fact. It seemed as though he didn't mind spending more time than necessary in the place. He loved it.

The shop was bright and busy. Walls and walls of shelves, filled with so many delicious and incredible treats lined the shop. Workers were moving in and out behind the counter, testing new products with customers, offering samples and ringing up purchases. Natalie honestly could not believe her eyes. So many colours and shapes and wonders, all kept in one corner store. But the one thing she did notice, however, was the absence of the man himself. Willy Wonka was nowhere to be seen.

Grandpa Joe showed her around the store, pointing things out and telling her about what remarkable things that Wonka had to offer. Just as he was about to show her the collection of chocolate birds, one of his co-workers called him into the back of the store to the workshop, needing his help with some task.
Even though it was his day off, her grandfather didn't mind in the least, and told Natalie to browse around until he returned. And she did just that.

Before too long, Natalie decided to wait quietly and patiently in the corner of the store, away from the crowds of people, and not to get in anyone's way until her grandfather returned for her. It was nice, just to stand back and watch the reactions of so many others in the store.

"Kind of amazing, isn't it?" a voice said from beside her. Natalie turned and saw a young man leaning ever-so-casually against a nearby wall, slightly hidden away from the others around the store.

He seemed slightly out of place; a little awkward amongst the madness. Upon initial inspection, he didn’t look much older than twenty, mid twenties at a push. He wore a rather strange looking hat, and was dressed in a deep maroon colour, matching those who were serving behind the counter, and like her grandfather's uniform. Perhaps he was a worker there too?

"I think it's kind of magical." She replied, smiling softly at the stranger.

"What makes you say that?" he wondered, eyeing her curiously. At least, he appeared to be, behind the rather large sunglasses he wore. Natalie thought it rather strange, wearing sunglasses inside, but didn’t question him.

"I don't know. Does magic and the impossible have to be explained?" she wondered, shrugging her shoulders. The man eyed her silently for a while, not expecting an answer like that from such a little girl.

"How old are you, seven?" he wondered. Natalie turned to look at him with a smile and shook her head.

"Ten, actually." She replied. It was when she got a good look at him when she noticed it; the shining silver 'W' on the lapels of his jacket.

"My apologies." He said, bowing his head slightly and tipping his hat politely, making Natalie giggle. "So tell me, what do you think?"

"You want to know what I think?" she wondered, looking up at him in surprise. He simply nodded.

"I think it's the most amazing place I have ever seen." She answered honestly, smiling to herself as she looked around the room. Once again, the man was floored by such a response. He managed a small smile and reached up to a shelf by where he was standing.

"Here." He said, holding out a small gift for her. Natalie looked at it carefully as she took it out of his hand. It appeared to be a small flower, covered in shiny silver wrapping, with a deep maroon ribbon around it, covered in the signature 'W'.

"Open it." He instructed, giving her an eager nod. Though she was saddened to ruin such a beautiful gift, she did as he said, and carefully pulled away the wrapping.

"It's…it's chocolate!" she replied, looking at the treat in surprise. The man let out a funny sort of giggle and nodded his head.

"Yeah!"

Natalie smiled and took a small bite from one of the petals, taking a moment to savour the delicious, sweet flavour. As a child who rarely ate candy, save for special occasions, it tasted far more incredible than she could have expected.

"Thank you, Mr. Wonka." She said honestly, giving him a sweet smile. He looked at her in complete and utter surprise.

"How did you…?" But he was cut off as she raised an eyebrow, pointing to the broach on his lapels. "…Ahh."

Natalie could only grin at his confusion. Not a moment later, she heard her grandfather call out for her. Glancing over her shoulder, she nodded and started to walk away. She turned around and offered Willy Wonka one last smile and wave, before she skipped back over to her grandfather, her special prize still in hand.

Natalie couldn't help smiling at the memory. To this day, some fifteen years later, none of her family knew about her encounter with the mysterious Willy Wonka. Even her Grandpa's tales spoke of him as a man of complete mystery, and how the workers seldom saw him in complete view.

It still confused her greatly, not knowing why a genius such as he, would want to know what a young, nameless little girl thought of his shop. It was only a few months later that the factory opened, and Jimmy took over the store on Cherry Street, and Willy Wonka was seldom saw on the street again.

Careful not to wake her brother, Natalie carefully slipped out of bed and reached over to her bedside table, grabbing the small box that rested atop. Inside, ere the few small trinkets that she couldn't part with. Old photographs that were too fragile for the walls or frames, some old jewellery that belonged to her grandmothers, the few pieces that she had refused to sell, the clips her parents gave her for her twenty first birthday…an a small, slightly wrinkled maroon ribbon covered in a signature 'W'.

She honestly believed what she had told her little brother earlier, that nothing was impossible in the end. It was that thought that helped her get through the day, helped her believe that no matter what happened or what went wrong, her family were able to get through it.

She only wished that the 'impossible' would happen, to help her believe.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Natalie was up just after the sun once more, ready to be up and face the day. On rare occasions, she considered indulging in a little luxury, spending a few extra minutes in bed before heading off to work. But every day she reached the same conclusion; that wasn't fair, particularly when there were people up and about far earlier than she got up. There were things that needed to be done before she went to work, even if it was simple things like bringing the washing in for her mother. Alas, common sense won out once again, and Natalie pulled herself out of bed and readied herself for the day.

Her father was already on his way to work by now, usually leaving in the early morning to arrive in time when the factory opened, leaving her mother and her to take care of the morning chores before the children needed to leave for work and school respectively.

When Charlie made it downstairs, Natalie and his mother were in the middle of serving breakfast to the grandparents. He smiled and bid them good morning before taking his place at the kitchen table. Before too long, his mother came over with a small plate of toast for his breakfast.

"What about you, Nat?" he asked, noticing his sister had not joined him at the table that morning. She turned from her dishes and smiled, shaking her head.

"Don't worry Charlie, I ate mine earlier." She told him, trying not to pay attention to the sad, almost disappointed look that her mother was sending her. Instead, she busied herself by making sure that her grandparents were comfortable, before collecting her things for work.

"You both have a lovely day." Helena said, kissing her children on the cheek.

"Bye Mum!" Charlie called over his shoulder as he raced out the door, haphazardly grabbing his school bag on the way out. Both Helena and Natalie simply shook their heads and bid each other farewell before Natalie left to chase after her brother.

Charlie was halfway to Cherry Street by the time Natalie managed to catch up to him. She grinned and caught him by the end of his coat, pulling him back towards her and into a loose headlock.

"How you manage to have all that energy in the mornings is completely beyond me." She said, laughing as he struggled to free himself. She soon let go of him and they continued to walk at a leisurely pace.

The first thing they noticed when they arrived was a rather large group of people huddled around a telephone pole. Murmurs of disbelief as people flittered about, whispering to one another as they read what appeared to be a notice. The two Buckets excused themselves through the crowd until they could get a good look at what was posted; an all-all too familiar logo, and signature. It was a letter from Willy Wonka.

"It can't be." Natalie whispered, not believing her eyes. Fifteen years and not a single word, and now all of a sudden, an announcement for all to see.

Dear People of the World,

I, Willy Wonka, have decided to allow five children to visit my factory this year. In addition, one of these children will also win a special prize, beyond their wildest imaginations. All you have to do is look under any ordinary wrapper of any Wonka product and search for a Golden Ticket. These tickets could be in any store, in any country of the world.

Good Luck.

"Do you think it’s real, Nat?" Charlie wondered from beside her. "Do you think it's really from Mr. Wonka?"

"It seems to be." His sister replied, rereading the notice once more to ensure that she hadn't been mistaken or read it wrong.

"Five kids inside the factory. Can you imagine it? Actually inside the factory." Charlie said in awe as they slowly made their way out of the crowd and continuing along the street.

"It's hard to believe." Natalie nodded, smiling at her brother. "Although, I can only imagine the chaos that it will cause at work. Everyone's going to want Wonka bars…more than usual, at least."

"Busy day ahead, then?" the younger boy wondered, grinning up at her. Natalie shook her head and wrapped her arm around his shoulder, pulling him closer to her.

"Complete chaos is my bet, at least until those tickets are found." She agreed. As they reached the corner, Charlie wrapped his arms around her middle in a hug, before running off down the street towards school. Natalie shook her head with a fond smile as she headed down the other end of the street.

It seemed as though the store was already in chaos when Natalie arrived. People were waiting rather impatiently out the front of the store, despite there being an hour until they opened. Trying to prepare herself for the onslaught the day would bring, Natalie headed over to the alley by the store.

Jimmy was already in the small loading bay by the side, the wall outside piled to the roof with sealed boxes of Wonka confectionary. It was like nothing Natalie had ever seen before in her life. Hearing her arrive, Jimmy looked up from his paperwork and grinned the brightest smile anyone could ever manage.

“Did you hear?” he asked excitedly. Natalie barely had a chance to put her things down before he handed her a box.

“Impossible not to. There are posters covering every surface in town.” She said, tossing her bag and coat to the side before settling to do the morning inventory.

“Ohh Natty my dear, this is going to be wonderful, I can feel it!” Jimmy exclaimed, practically bubbling over with sheer delight. “Do you know what this will do for business?”

“Do you know what this will do to our heads?” she wondered with a small smile. The man simply laughed with her and followed her inside. They had at most an hour to do their inventory and reload the shelves before people were let inside.

They set to work quickly. Natalie put her apron on and started sorting through the boxes, making sure that the correct number of inventory was in each box, and that it matched the number they ordered on the forms. When she was done, she passed the box to Jimmy for restacking the shelves, and to store behind the counter on the chance that they ran out faster than they expected. Despite the extra boxes that were delivered this morning due to Wonka’s announcement, everything seemed to be in order.

She made it to the last box in her stack and noticed something a little odd; there was one extra Wonka bar in the pile. Natalie frowned slightly, checking and rechecking the papers to see whether there was some kind of miscalculation. But there wasn’t. it was strange, this had never happened before in all the years that she had worked there; Mr. Wonka always seemed to be very careful when he sent the boxes from the factory. Why would he allow a mistake now of all days?

“Jimmy?” she asked, looking over the papers one final time, just to be sure. “We didn’t order any extra stock, did we?”

“Just another order to be delivered in the morning. Why do you ask?” Jimmy wondered, appearing by her side. Natalie shook her head, not able to understand the error.

“There’s one bar extra. I’ve looked over the forms and every box that’s passed through here but it’s not listed anywhere. One Whipple scrumptious fudgemallow delight.” She said, looking at the label.

“Odd.” He said, taking the bar from her and looking at it like it was the strangest thing. “I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you hold onto it? Take it home for your family?”

“No, I couldn’t.” She said, giving him a look of disbelief.

“Natalie, it’s not listed as part of the inventory, it won’ hurt anyone. Just take it, have a treat and share it with Charlie.” Jimmy said with a grin.

“Fine…but I’m not taking it. I’ll hold onto it until I have the change and buy it from you.” She said stubbornly, a smile threatening on her lips. The older man sighed and shook his head.

“You’re too good to me, Natalie.” He told her, patting her shoulder affectionately. Natalie merely grinned and finished up the last of the boxes, slipping the unclaimed chocolate bar into the pocket of her apron until she could return it to her locker.

Once the shelves were stacked, Natalie waited behind the counter, while Jimmy headed for the door. The crowd of impatient people seemed to take notice, and all desperately tried to catch a glimpse inside, all hoping to be the first to get their hands on a Wonka bar.

“Well, here goes nothing, kid.” He said, as he flipped the sign over, quickly retreating back to the counter beside Natalie.

Dozens of people pushed their way inside the store as fast as anything; it was a miracle the door was still in one piece. They each hurried to the shelves grabbing as many bars as they could possibly carry, shoving them and money towards the two workers. It seemed like a hurried daze; person after person, Wonka bar after Wonka bar, until almost all stocked shelves were empty. It seemed that people even had the idea to come back later in the day with more money once they realized that they hadn’t found anything. Nobody could eat that much chocolate in only a few hours, she was sure of it. Natalie had to wonder what was happening to all that chocolate if it wasn’t getting eaten. It all seemed like such a terrible waste.

It was well past five when Jimmy had to force the last of the customers out of the store, locking it before they had the chance to get back in. He slumped against the door, completely exhausted and sighed gratefully.

Natalie was hunched over the counter, running her hand through her hair tiredly. Never before had she ever been so exhausted after one day of work. Not even Easter compared to the rush that they had been part of that day.

“Never in my life have I ever been a part of such a commotion.” Jimmy said, shaking his head as he made his way over to the counter. Natalie straightened up and took off her apron, leaving it on the countertop beside her.

“Trust some contest to bring out the worst in people. A contest for children no less, even though I saw Mrs. Lewellen come in twice, despite her hating children.” She said accusingly. Jimmy could only manage a light chuckle.

“I’ll call in a few hands for the next few days, there’s no way we can do this on our own. All of this will keep going on until people find those tickets.” He reminded her. Natalie sighed and rested her head in her hands.

“It can’t end soon enough if you ask me.” She said, heading to her locker to grab her things and head home.

“What happened to the girl with her head in the clouds who once wanted to have her own chocolate shop, huh?” Jimmy asked. Natalie put her apron on the hook and smiled gently. She pulled the Wonka bar out of the pocket and looked at it for a moment, running her thumb across the familiar white lettering, before quickly storing it in her locker, grabbing her coat and bag and heading out.

“She got a hard dose of reality.” She replied, giving him a kiss on the cheek before heading out the alley door towards home.

The wind had picked up rather early that evening, and Natalie was forced to wrap her coat a little tighter around her. People were still talking about the news of the Golden Tickets as they headed home for the evening, and Natalie couldn’t help being a little more than amused. It had to be the most exciting thing to happen in town for the longest time, and the fact that it was a commotion caused by Wonka, the supposed reclusive genius just made people more and more interested.

Nearing the turn off towards her street, Natalie arrived at an all-too familiar set of steel gates. Locked up and isolated, Wonka’s chocolate factory was the biggest building in the whole town, towering over everything else within a great distance. Honestly, Natalie wouldn’t expect anything less from one of the greatest minds in the world. Despite its cold, grey appearance, she couldn’t help but wonder what magic it held within. With all the wondrous things that it produced, it was impossible for there not to be something going on inside.

But Natalie sighed, pressing her forehead against the cool, metal gate. It seemed that all she could ever do about it was just that; wonder. Those metal bars were the closest she would ever get.

Shaking her head clear, she stepped back from the gates, and after one last look, she turned and headed off down the street towards home.

As soon as she walked in the door, Natalie collapsed onto the couch, her coat, scarf and shoes completely forgotten as she rested her head back against the arm of the couch.

“You look positively exhausted.” Grandpa Joe noted from the bed.

“That had to be the longest day of work ever.” Natalie sighed, just lifting her head to look over at her grandfather. Charlie smiled warmly at her as he left his spot at the table, coming to sit beside her. Carefully, he picked her feet up, resting them in his lap as he took off her shoes for her.

"I saw the huge crowd in the shop today when I was walking home." He said. Natalie smiled gratefully at her little brother and nodded.

"That wasn't even half of it. Every hour more and more kept flooding through the doors, all two or three times during the day. Our entire fortnight’s order of Wonka bars is gone today alone.” She exclaimed.

“This Golden Ticket venture seems like it’ll be more trouble than it’s worth.” Helena said from the kitchen. Natalie could only shrug her shoulders helplessly. There was really no point in complaining about it, it all came with the job. Though she tried not to admit it, but a part of her wished this whole ordeal to be over as fast as it could.

Charlie took her boots and put them by the front door, along with her scarf, before he went and joined his grandparents on the edge of the bed, snuggling down comfortably beside Grandpa Joe and Grandma Georgina.

"Wouldn't it be something Charlie to open a candy bar and find a golden ticket inside." said Grandpa Joe, with a giddy grin on his face. The younger boys couldn’t help but grin too.

"It would be great. But I only get one candy bar a year, for my birthday.” Charlie reminded them. “Or the occasional treat that Nat brings home.”

"Well it's your birthday next week. You never know what could happen" said Helena, wringing out the mop as she washed the kitchen floor.

“Rubbish. The winners of those golden tickets will be children who can afford to buy chocolate every day. Our Charlie only gets one bar a year.” Grandpa George scoffed. “He hasn’t a chance.”

“Grandpa.” Natalie warned sending a stern glance towards him.

“Everyone has a chance, Charlie.” Grandma Josephine said comfortingly, sending a glare towards Grandpa George. The old man simply shook his head but kept his mouth shut for once.

“I’m gonna go finish my homework upstairs. Goodnight everyone.” Charlie said. He made his way around to each family member, hugging them goodnight. When he made his way to his sister, she smiled softly, hugging him that little extra tighter before he jumped up to the ladder that lead to their room. When they were sure he was out of sight, there was a collective sigh throughout the room.

“Why would you go and say something like that?” Grandma Josephine asked, swatting Grandpa George’s leg with one of her knitting needles. “Did you see the look on that poor child’s face?”

“Keep those things to yourself, woman. I was merely being sensible. What use is it to the boy if he sets himself up for disappointment like that?” the man wondered.

“I don’t want Charlie giving up on his dreaming…not just yet.” Helena said, albeit a little quiet as she looked up towards the roof.

“Just because he doesn’t buy that much chocolate, doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a chance. Stranger things have happened in this world, you know.” Said Grandpa Joe.

“Such a sweet boy.” Grandma Georgina muttered to herself.

“A sweet boy that deserves a little good to happen to him.” Grandpa Joe added with a nod, trying to adjust the pillow behind his back. Natalie got to her feet and walked over, helping him fluff the pillow better.

“Charlie has just as much of a chance as anyone.” She said quietly. “Sometimes stories just aren’t enough…all he’s ever wanted was to see beyond those gates.”

“He’s not the only one, if I recall.” Grandpa Joe said knowingly. Natalie paused and looked at her grandfather with a soft smile, putting her hand on his shoulder affectionately. Grandpa Joe patted her hand gently as he thanked her and settled back down in the bed.

“Tell me you don’t believe he deserves something like this, Grandpa.” Natalie said. Grandpa George looked at the girl and sighed, rubbing his eyes tiredly.

“Of course I do, darling, he deserves it more than anyone. But mark my words, the lot of you. The first finder will be fat, fat, fat.” He told them.

Natalie sighed and nodded, knowing that despite how much she wanted to believe; there was no disputing her grandfather’s logic.

“Why don’t you head to bed early tonight, love? Your father can help me wash up when he gets home.” Helena offered.

“Thanks Mum.” Natalie said gratefully. Bidding everyone goodnight, she headed upstairs tiredly. When she made it to her room, she noticed Charlie’s homework sitting neatly in a pile on the floor by his bed, while he rested on his side and a book half open in his hands. Natalie had to wonder whether or not he was actually asleep or not, and if he wasn’t, whether he had heard them talking downstairs.

She grabbed the book, gently prying it from his hands and set it down with the rest of his work. She pulled his shoes off his feet, and wrapped the blanket around him more comfortably so he was properly covered.

“Don’t lose your dreams, Charlie.” She whispered, leaning down and pressing a kiss to the top of his head. “Especially if they’re all you have.”

Climbing into her own bed, Natalie couldn’t help think about what Jimmy had mentioned earlier at the shop; that girl with her head in the clouds all the time. Everyone used to say that about her, no matter what. After hearing stories from her grandfather, and working at Farthingham’s, Natalie always dreamed of opening her own shop, much like that little store on Cherry Street. But as time passed, the idea started to grow dim. Money troubles kept getting the better of her and her family and soon that dream had to take a back seat.

Before too long, Natalie realized that it would never become a reality, and she found out that she was content with that. She could still dream about it; imagination never harmed anyone. But she would be damned if her little brother had to suffer the same as she did. He would be ten within the week; far too young to give up on the possibility of dreams. She would make sure that that would never happen if she could help it.

Sometimes late at night, when she didn’t have to worry about money or work, and knowing that her family was safe and sound below her, Natalie would let her imagination get the best of her, even only for a moment. Sometimes, a moment was all she needed.

oOoOoOoOoOo

“Charlie! Natalie! Come see!”

“Augustus Gloop, from Dusseldorf, Germany is the winner of the first Golden Ticket…”

Charlie and Natalie came downstairs to find their grandparents watching the small television set that they had set up on the dining room table. Helena attempted to fix the picture with a bent up coat hanger.

“There! Hold it there!” Grandpa Joe exclaimed. The two children gathered round, with Charlie sitting on the bed amongst the grandparents, while Natalie sat down on the floor by the bed.

The large boy on screen was standing with his parents in what appeared to be a butcher’s shop. Camera flashes and reporters yelling questions at the boy left right and center as he stuffed his face with chocolate, completely ignoring the smear of it on his clothes and on his face.

“That’s the first winner?” Natalie wondered wincing slightly as the boy, Augustus Gloop, shoved another candy bar into his already full mouth.

“Told you he’d be a porker.” Grandpa George muttered from beside her.

"I took a bite out of the chocolate and I tasted something that was not chocolate…or coconut…or peanut butter…or caramel…or nougat…or sprinkles. I look at it and I find the golden ticket!"

“I don’t think he’s supposed to eat that.” Grandma Georgina said, frowning slightly.

"What a repulsive boy!" said Grandma Josephine, her face contorting with a look of absolute disgust.

“Only four golden tickets left.” Charlie said with a shrug.

“Now that they’ve found one, things will really start to get crazy.” Grandpa Joe nodded. Natalie groaned, letting her head fall against the bed.

This was going to be the difficult.

Chapter Text

Natalie often thought of herself as a kind and patient person. While there were times when things weren’t easy, and didn’t warrant niceties, she kept calm and saw it through. Though, the current situations at work weren’t making it particularly easy for her.

She was currently at the store counter with one rather unhappy and unpleasant customer. It had been an incredibly busy day, with more and more people in and out of the store than she had seen in the entirety of the year, though to Natalie, it seemed to drag on and on. But this particular woman wasn’t exactly making her job easier.

“You ran out of the same candy bar yesterday too! I thought you were getting more in today?!” The woman snapped angrily.

“Yes ma’am, we did. But unfortunately they were sold rather quickly this morning.” Natalie explained calmly.

“But you said there would be more! I reserved a box over the phone!” she repeated. Natalie sighed and pushed her hair out of her eyes, away from her face.

“I’m sorry, but as we told you repeatedly over the phone, it is impossible for you to reserve a whole box of chocolate bars.” She said, trying to reason with the woman. But the older woman was starting to grow even redder in the face.

“I’ve offered to pay more than it’s worth! More than your wages, surely.” She scoffed. Natalie sighed inwardly to herself and tried to keep a reasonable head about her.

“You’re probably right, ma’am. But that doesn’t change the fact that we have run out of that specific candy bar. You’re welcome to come back tomorrow and see when we have a new delivery, but until then, you’ll have to do with what we have here.” She said, offering the woman an apologetic look.

The woman scoffed and turned her nose up, turning on her heel and leaving the store. As soon as she was gone, Natalie let out a deep sigh. Jimmy had just finished up with a customer and offered her a sympathetic smile.

“This whole Wonka thing is turning people crazy.” She said, rubbing her forehead tiredly. “Who knew people could be so petty and greedy?”

“Unfortunately my girl, that’s always been the case. It just takes something like this to bring it out a little more.” Jimmy shrugged. “Not everyone has a heart of gold like you.”

“Oh, stop it!” She smiled, tossing a nearby cleaning cloth at him. Jimmy chuckled heartily and dodged the flying scrap of material as another small handful of customers came in through the doors. Both boss and employee shared a subtle look before putting on a smile and serving the desired number of Wonka products.

“It does make you wonder though, about what Wonka’s got going on in that factory of his.” Jimmy said, turning the sign on the front of the door.

“I’ve been wondering that my whole life.” Natalie muttered.

“Well, whatever it is, it’s enough to make the whole world go crazy at his command.” Jimmy reasoned.

“Jimmy, you bought the place from him when the factory opened, didn’t you? Surely you remember a little about him.”

“Not much to tell, I’m afraid, sweetheart. It was all very quick if I recall.” Jimmy said, shrugging his shoulders helplessly. He offered her a smile before heading back into the back room to finalise orders for the next few days.

“Oh, by the way, your mother called before, wondering if you could pick up Charlie’s birthday present before you leave.” Jimmy called out. “There’s some wrapping paper under the counter.”

“Oh, thanks.” Natalie replied. She grabbed a Wonka bar from the shelf; one she knew was Charlie’s favourite and a small piece of wrapping paper and wrapped up the chocolate. With a small sigh, she took her apron off, laying it on the counter top.

She looked around the shop, marvelling at the rows of empty Wonka boxes and packages that were left around the place. It was true that this whole Wonka Golden Ticket contest was bringing out an entirely different side in people. She had lived in the same town her entire life, grown up with these people and had very rarely seen an opportunity that had presented itself such as this. Then again, there was rarely anything going on in the town at the best of times; the only real claim to fame, was Wonka’s chocolate factory, and every foreboding secret that it held.

She was so far lost in her own little world, that she didn’t hear Jimmy come back in from out the back.

“Sorry, what was that?” she said, turning to face him with a small smile.

“I said I can’t believe your brother is ten already.” He said with a shake of his head. “Means ten years you’ve been working for me too.”

Natalie smiled softly and nodded, wondering where all the time had gone. Sometimes it seemed like only yesterday that she applied for the job at the relatively newly converted chocolate shop.

“I’m worried about you, Natalie.” He said, bringing her out of her reverie. Natalie jumped a little at his voice, once again pulling her out of her own thoughts, and turned around to face him.

“Worried?” she wondered, confused. “Whatever for?”

“I’m not just your employer, I’m your friend. I do worry about you.“ He reminded her with a somewhat stern look. “You work far too hard for a girl your age.”

“I don’t, really.” Natalie insisted, trying her best to dismiss the idea. But Jimmy wasn’t having any of it.

“You need to let go and relax, go out once in a while. You used to go out when you were younger.” He told her. Natalie sighed and shrugged her shoulders, collecting her apron and moving past him towards her locker.

“That was different...when everyone was still here. Besides, how can I leave the others at home?” She wondered, collecting her things for the day.

“They'd want you to have some time to yourself too.” Jimmy insisted, following after her. “When was the last time you spoke to Alice?”

Natalie had to pause for a moment, honestly not remembering the last letter she had sent or received. She felt a moment of shame for not being more reliable in their correspondence.

“Well, I last saw them properly at the wedding. But I guess the last letter was a few months ago. It’s just hard sometimes.”

“That girl would have my head if she knew I wasn’t doing more to get you out of here. They all would.” Jimmy said, paling slightly at the mere thought. Natalie offered him a chuckle as she closed her locker.

“And, if it’s not too much to say, it would be nice to see you with some fella too.”

“Jimmy!” She said, gaping at the man in disbelief. The older man grinned and chuckled like a boy being caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He merely shrugged and leaned against the counter.

“I'm just saying. I haven’t seen you with anyone since...” he trailed off, his voice growing quieter as he looked away. Natalie sighed, pulling her bag over her shoulder. She headed back into the main shop and offered him a smile.

“Since Connor. It’s okay, you can say his name. I’m not going to break or anything like that.” She assured him. Truth be told, she wished that more people mentioned him, after all it had been six years, more than enough time to move on with her life. “I need to focus on getting us all back on our feet. Really, I’m fine. I’m happy. “

“I know you're happy...but I want you to live, Natalie.” Jimmy said, looking at her with almost a fatherly affection. He had come to care for the girl like a daughter since she first started working for him, and heaven knows he would do all in his power to help her. “I don’t want to see you spend your entire life in this little shop.”

Natalie smiled softly, appreciating his concern, though she knew there was no need for it. Though if she had to be honest with herself, a little adventure or two wouldn’t be too harmful. She shook her head and shrugged, heading towards the door.

“Who knows, maybe some dark handsome stranger will walk into the shop and sweep me off my feet?” She laughed, unlocking the door.

“You never know” Jimmy shrugged. Natalie rolled her eyes and waved at him dismissively.

“Oh trust me. I have more luck winning one of those Golden Tickets. “She said, waving at him as she left the sho, heading for home. Jimmy watched her with a small smile, waving to her as she passed the window, moving out of sight.

“Perhaps. For all we know, your luck could be changing my girl.”

oOoOoOoOoOo

Walking through the snowy street, Natalie couldn’t help but think about what Jimmy had said. She knew he meant well, and she adored him for it, but her situation wasn’t exactly that of a girl with free time on her hands. Other people her age worked of course, but she wasn’t sure how many had a family of eight to help provide for. Despite her parents insisting that it wasn’t needed, almost all of her weekly pay check went into groceries or supplies, things for Charlie or her Grandparents, anything that needed to be done around the house.

Besides, she had never been once to go out and party on weekends anyway, it just wasn’t her thing. That certainly made things easier when one of her co-workers asked her to cover a shift for her; she would smile and say yes without much question.

Things hadn’t always been like that. Of course, she used to have school, and friends; back when things weren’t so tight at home and she had more free time on her hands. It was always the five of them; Natalie, Connor, Tim and the brother and sister duo of Alice and Daniel. Connor and Daniel had been friends since as long as they could remember, both coming to London from Ireland at a young age. Alice and Natalie met on the first day of school had had been practically glued at the hip, and her brother Daniel seemed to appear one day; he just fit so effortlessly into their little group that he never really left after that.

Natalie smiled to herself as she remembered those days; her group of friends hanging out after school, coming around at the crack of dawn where her mother would make them breakfast; the rest of them coming in and playfully annoying her s she worked the store with Jimmy; standing outside the Wonka factory gates and making up stories about what it was that went on inside; making friends with the kind man who ran the local pub, so much he often let them sit inside and have a hot chocolate on cold days.

She hadn’t even realised it, until she stopped walking but she had arrived at the very place; Corriston’s pub, just a short walk from the Bucket family home. It used to be their hang out as they got older. So many laughs and happy times happened there. They celebrated their birthdays and graduation, it was where Tim had proposed to Alice, then bought a round of drinks for the entire pub, only to have Ol’Corry put it on the house anyway.

The group was inseparable, and for a while, it seemed as though it would always stay that way. Just them against the world.

But things were different back then, and Natalie soon found out that things never really worked out the way you think they do.

Soon, everyone started leaving. First Connor, which at the time was more good luck than bad; then Alice and Tim left after their wedding, and her brother Daniel soon followed after. It wasn’t as though they had upped and left her; they all had asked her to join them. But Natalie refused; how could she have left her family like that, and when things started going downhill? So that was that; Natalie stayed behind in their hometown to help make ends meet, while the others went off and had brand new adventures. She wasn’t mad, she could never hate them for going and living their lives, but it just seemed as though their lives, which up until then were near in sync, had diverged and gone their separate ways.

But it did nothing to dwell on the past like that. Natalie had never once regretted or second guessed her decision to stay in London, and she wasn’t going to start now. She had more important things to think about...like her little brother’s upcoming birthday.

The following day, Charlie would be turning ten. Birthdays were never an extravagant affair in their house, but her family always put in extra effort to make sure they were happy on their special day. They always were, and they never went without much, and that was what mattered.

Her brother, bless his pure heart, was far more in-tune with everything around him than most kids his age. He knew things weren’t as easy at home as some of his school mates had it, but he never complained or said a word about it. In fact, he never really said a word about anything.

He insisted every year that his birthday would be simple; his one wish would be to spend time with his family and to be happy. That was something they could certainly give him. He never asks for any gifts or anything of the like, though his family never leave him without something to unwrap on the day. His parents usually pick up a Wonka bar for him to enjoy after his supper, and his grandparents work together to make a little something for him; a new pair of socks or an additional square or two to a scarf. Natalie tries her best every year to make sure he has something waiting for him, ignoring his protests that he didn’t need a thing. He was so much like her in that way, like so many others, but she wouldn’t hear of it. This year, her grandparents and herself had been working together to have a set of matching gloves and scarf for him, having spent most of the year collecting supplies and working on it when he was at school. Tonight, she hoped to get it finished in time for his birthday.

“Blast it.” She said, muttering to herself. She had only just remembered the Wonka bar she was saving for her brother, tucked away back in the shop. If she had remembered then, she would have wrapped that up for Charlie’s birthday present, rather than her parents’ spending money to buy another. But she was already halfway home, and the one she had was already wrapped, so there really wasn’t any point in turning back.

She was pulled out of her thoughts by the sound of thudding footsteps in the show behind her. She had barely enough time to quickly move out of the path before two young boys almost ran her over.

“Second one already, right here in the UK!” one shouted as they ran past; taking no notice or consideration for her whatsoever. Natalie watched them disappear down the street and shook her head, not even wanting to know what all that was about. She steadied herself back on her feet and dusted the snow off her legs as she continued her journey home, seeing that little crooked house on the hill just up ahead.

When she arrived home, she noticed her brother and grandparents gathered around the television set, Instantly, she felt something in deep in the pit of her stomach, filling her with dread. There really could be one reason for all the commotion.

“What’s going on?” she asked, setting her bag and coat over the arm of the couch. Her father tore his eyes away from the tv and smiled softly, nodding for her to join them.

“The second ticket has just been found.” He told her. Almost instantly, that feeling in her stomach returned, worse than it had before. Suddenly the incident out on the street earlier made perfect sense. Natalie held up her bag and pointed to it, silently sending her father a message. He smiled and nodded in reply. She kicked off her worn boots and took a spot on the floor by the bed, beside her brother. Charlie smiled in greeting at her before turning his attention back to the television.

“Yes, you’ve heard right; the second Golden Ticket has indeed been found this very afternoon, in Buckinghamshire, England. The lucky finder’s name, Veruca Salt; daughter of Nut tycoon Richard Salt.”

The news anchor’s face soon disappeared, replaced with the image of a rather extravagant mansion nestled on a luscious green property. The camera pan changed once more to a large room, filled with reporters and camera bulbs flashing all over the place. In the centre of the commotion, was a very well dressed little girl, standing with her parents; a giant grin plastered on her face as she proudly held up the Golden Ticket, turning and smiling for every camera as if she had been doing in all her life. By the looks of her, she probably had.

“A little rich girl, who could have guessed?” Grandpa George wondered sarcastically. “Her father probably has enough money to buy out the entire family.”

Natalie didn’t say anything, but in that very moment, she agreed wholeheartedly with her grandfather.

"When my little Veruca told me she wanted one of these golden tickets I knew I must find her one. So I bought as many cases of Wonka bars that I could lay my hands on.” Mr. Sault said, in a rather pompous, all-knowing tone.

“It’s a wonder he can see anything having his nose turned so high in the air.” Natalie remarked. Grandpa George chuckled heartily and patted her on the shoulder.

“Natalie.” Her mother warned, though it was obvious she was barely restraining a smile of her own.

“I'm in the nut business you see. So I told my workers to search the candy bars till I could get my little girl what she wanted. And I did." Mr. Salt continued. The screen soon returned to the newsroom, and soon much interest was lost. Natalie leaned forward and turned off the set, and sighed to herself.

"She's worse than the fat boy!" said Grandpa George, disgustedly. None of them bothered to admonish the older man, all silently agreeing with him in one way or another. Both Helena and Noah moved from their spots and headed over to the kitchen area.

"I don't think that's fair, she didn't find the ticket herself."Charlie said, turning around in his pot on the bed. He shrugged his shoulders sadly and Natalie felt a pain in her heart for the beloved little boy.

"Don't worry Charlie.” that man spoils his daughter, and no good can ever come from spoiling a child like that." said Grandpa Joe.

"I think we're all thankful that Charlie didn't turn out like that." Grandma Josephine whispered to her husband, who nodded in agreement. Natalie sat up and ruffled the boy’s hair, causing him to grin and swat her hand away.

“Charlie?” Noah said, interrupting the moment between siblings. Charlie looked up to see both his parents standing expectantly by the bed, hands behind their backs.

“Your mum and I thought that, maybe you’d want to open your birthday present tonight?” Noah offered. Helena beamed and produced a small, wrapped package from behind her back, sending a subtle wink to her daughter as she did so.

“Here you are.” She said, handing it over to the boy as she and her husband came to kneel down beside the bed. Charlie smiled and accepted the parcel, despite knowing full well what it was. He looked at the rectangular package in his hands and paused.

"Maybe I should wait till morning." He suggested, glancing around at the others for their opinions.

"Like Hell." Grandpa George muttered, earning himself a kick from Grandma Josephine on the other side of the bed.

"Pops" Noah warned. The older man grumbled under his breath, but didn’t say anything further on the matter.

"All together we're 381 years old, we don’t wait.” Grandpa Joe laughed. Charlie looked at the parcel once again, before nodding, and sliding his finger under the tape on the left side.

"Now, Charlie you mustn't be too disappointed.” His mother reminded him gently. “You know, if you don't get the…" She fumbled the last of her words, not really knowing how to say it. Fortunately, her husband caught on rather quickly.

"Whatever happens, you'll still have the candy." He finished for her. His wife nodded and rested her head on his shoulder.

Charlie offered the two a smile and looked down at the shiny chocolate bar in his hands. Though in that instant, it felt heavier; like the pressure of finding out what was inside it had added to it. The house fell still as He started to open the packaging. Everyone was focused on him, holding their breath and inching closer and closer as they waited. Charlie himself took a deep breath and tore the remaining paper off. All that was there was a plain bar of chocolate.

The heaviness in the room soon disappeared, replaced with something that none of them could really describe. Disappointment perhaps, but it seemed that there was something in the air that they could all feel, but none would dare to discuss.

“Ah well, that’s that.” Grandpa Joe said, breaking the silence in the room. Charlie still looked down at the chocolate bar in his hands, not having said a word. Natalie looked up and shared a concerned glance with her parents, when the boy finally lifted his head, nodding softly.

“We’ll share it.” He said finally.

“Oh no, Charlie. Not your birthday present.” Grandpa Joe told him. But it seemed as though there was nothing that could be said to change the boy’s mind.

“It’s my candy, and I’ll do what I want with it.” He insisted his voice quiet but determined. He took the chocolate and broke it up into even pieces, handing them out to each member of his family. The smell, the texture, the taste... it was almost like all their Christmases had come in two small pieces of chocolate.

As Charlie bit into a piece, the smallest flicker of a smile was on his lips, and then disappeared without a trace as soon as it appeared. Deep down, he knew he didn’t really have a chance, after all he only got one bar a year, and that was plenty for him. But despite that, he still felt disappointment. Maybe he shouldn’t have let himself get his hopes up as much as he had, but it didn’t matter in the end. He just thought that it would have been nice to have a chance to win something.

The rest of the evening was a little sullen after the disappointment of the Wonka bar, though Charlie did his best to keep his smile about him and cheer his family up. They ate their supper together, and Charlie told them stories of his day at school, before he headed up to bed early to get an early night before his birthday.

As soon as the light was off upstairs, the adults seemed to let out a unanimous sigh. Natalie sat on the bed beside her grandparents. Knitting needles and bits of wool and thread surrounded them on the blanket as they got to work finishing off Charlie’s presents.

“The look on his face...you could see it in his eyes.” Natalie said quietly, shaking her head.

“He knows the chances; I don’t think he had his hopes up too high.” Her father said from the dining table.

“But the likes of that spoilt girl on the telly. Her father probably bought millions of boxes just to go through and find the darn thing and wasted the rest.” She said, venting her frustration on the needles in her hands. “Its people like that that...that...”

“We know, darling.” Grandpa Joe said, patting her hand gently. She smiled softly in thanks, knowing there was no use in getting worked up over something she had no control over at all. She knew nobody really had any control over the matter, not even Mr. Wonka himself. She knew felt that after the two ticket winners they had seen, there were hundreds, if not thousands of others that seemed more worthy. Then again, she knew she had no right to judge any of them. She just hoped the last three would be a little better.

oOoOoOoOoOo

A few days later, Natalie woke up a little later than she usually would and stretched sleepily. Jimmy had all but demanded that she take the day off otherwise he threatened, somewhat jokingly, to bar her from the store. It took a little convincing, but Natalie soon decided that perhaps it would do her some good to spend the day at home. She had a little money saved in her purse, so she thought perhaps she could take Charlie out for a treat after school.

Charlie and her father were already gone by the time she threw a jumper over her pyjamas and made it downstairs. Her mother was in the kitchen, finishing up some toast for breakfast for the grandparents. She kissed her mother’s cheek and grabbed a piece of toast and the plate and headed into the living room to hand out breakfast. Natalie soon took her spot on the floor by the bed and enjoyed a calm morning, listening to the radio in the background.

“Breaking news; the third Golden Ticket has been found. Yes, that’s right. Reports are coming in that the third ticket has been found.”

Instantly, all eyes were on the small box in the corner of the room, as Helena rushed over to turn up the volume.

“No word yet as to who the lucky finder is, but we will cross back as soon as any information becomes available.”

“Another one...that was quick.” Grandma Josephine said quietly.

“Not even three days.” Grandpa Joe added, shaking his head.

“Those things are disappearing like magic, with only two left things are going to be even worse than before.” Helena said, turning the radio down low once again. “Hopefully this madness will end soon and things can go back to normal.”

The front door blew opened against the wind, and Noah quickly made his way inside, pushing it closed behind him.

“Darling, everything alright?” Helena wondered, concerned. It wasn’t like him to be home this early. In fact, he had barely left more than a few hours ago. Noah said nothing, but walked over to his wife; his face free of any emotion. He silently handed her a small pink slip of paper, and her face fell instantly.

It didn’t take any words for the others to know what had happened. Noah had lost his job. Natalie felt her heart break in an instant as she jumped off the bed, heading over to the two. Noah looked up at her and offered her a smile, trying not to worry her. But the look on his daughter’s face told him she already knew.

“What happened?” she wondered, her voice small. He sighed and shrugged his shoulders.

“With all the sales in Wonka bars, there’s been a huge increase in dental bills and sales for toothpaste.” He explained.

“Well, that’s good, isn’t it?” Helena wondered. “Surely that’s means for a raise, not a dismissal?”

“Normally yes, but with all the funds, they’ve decided to modernise. They bought a machine that puts the tops on the tubes, about double the speed than us workers.” Noah said. “No need for me then.”

Natalie sighed and wrapped her arms around her father, hugging him tight. Noah smiled gently and returned the embrace, stroking her hair affectionately.

“Don’t worry, sweetheart. We’ll be alright.” He told her. As much as she wanted to believe it, there was that small voice in the back of Natalie’s mind that almost convinced her otherwise.

oOoOoOoOoOo

By the time Charlie finished school that afternoon reports were out about the latest Golden Ticket winner. He ran by the corner store, spying someone who threw a newspaper into the bin and grabbed it folding it up under his jumper as he ran home.

“Let’s see who won it!” Grandpa Joe said as soon as he made his way inside. Charlie handed the paper to his father at the kitchen table and pulled off his new scarf and gloves, already in good use since he was given them on his birthday.

"Come on let's see who got It." said Mrs. Bucket. Charlie handed the paper to his father as his mother fiddled around with the knobs on the TV.

"The third ticket was found by Miss Violet Beauregarde of Atlanta, Georgia." Noah read aloud, as Helena quickly rushed to the television to try and get a good picture on the set. The news broadcast was showing a little blonde girl, standing in a room full of what appeared to be trophies. A woman, who could only be described as her mother, was standing beside her beaming with praise, and looked almost identical to her daughter; from the matching tracksuit to the same hair cut.

"I'm a gum chewer, mostly, but when I heard about these ticket things, I laid off gum and switched to candy bars." said Violet, snapping he gum as she talked rather rudely.

“That’s not attractive at all.” Natalie muttered from her spot on the bed.

"It says here that one of the kids is gonna win that special prize; one that’s better than all the rest? I don't care who those other four kids are that kid is gonna be me."

"Tell them why, Violet." said Mrs. Beauregarde.

"Because I am a winner." She said, staring down the barrel of the camera with such a fierce determination.

“What a beastly girl!” Grandma Josephine said with disgust.

"Despicable." said Grandma Georgina, nodding her head in agreement. For a moment, all eyes in the room turned to face her.

"You don't know what we're talking about." Her husband said, leaning close to her. Everyone waited for a moment, the tv forgotten, to hear what she had to say in response. The kind old woman looked around, before smiling sheepishly.

"Dragonflies?" she wondered. Natalie and her mother shared a smile before everyone’s attention was turned back to the screen.

"This just in! The fourth ticket has been found. I repeat the fourth golden ticket has been found. We cross now live to Colorado where we join Mike Teevee."

“You’ve got to be joking!” Helena said in surprise. “Two in a day?”

The screen changed to someone’s living room. A middle-aged couple stood there rather awkwardly, amongst the bright flashing cameras. Their son, the presumed ticket winner, was paying no attention to anything other than the apparently violent video game he was consumed in. The child started talking about tracking manufacturing codes and other mumbo jumbo that none of the others understood at all.

“So he broke into the Wonka system?” Natalie wondered incredulously. “And admitting it on television...isn’t that illegal?”

After a while, the child seemed to give up on his game and threw the controller aside, turning his bored attention to the cameras at last.

"In the end I only had to buy one candy bar." He shrugged, as if this entire scenario bored him.

"And how did it taste?" asked a reporter. The boy looked up at the man with such disdain that it was absolutely ridiculous.

"I don't know. I hate chocolate." he replied.

"Well it's a good thing you're going to a chocolate factory you ungrateful little b…" yelled Grandpa George. Natalie had managed to race over to Charlie and cover his ears before he heard their grandpa shout any profanities. When she was sure that her grandfather had finished his tirade, she moved her hands from her brother’s ears.

"Why would anyone want to visit a chocolate factory if they didn't like chocolate." wondered Natalie, shaking her head.

"…That question is where is the last remaining gol...?" wondered the TV reporter. Charlie frowned slightly and reached over and turned the television off. Once again, that heavy silence filled the air. Four were found, there was only one remaining and the chances of anyone finding it were growing slimmer and slimmer. The weekend started the next day, meaning more and more people would have time to go buy more Wonka bars while they could.

“Dad?” Charlie asked, looking over at his father at the table. Noah was sitting there, reading the rest of the news paper quietly.

“Yes Charlie?”

“Why aren’t you at work?” The boy asked. Natalie looked up at her brother, then over at her father waiting for a response. Noah paused mid-sentence and looked over at Helena, who shared a worried glance.

“Oh, well...the toothpaste factory thought they’d give me a bit of time off.” Noah said with a soft smile. It wasn’t exactly a lie, and it was far better than telling the boy the word-perfect truth, and having him worry when he shouldn’t.

“Like summer vacation?” Charlie asked. Natalie smiled softly to herself. She often forgot sometimes that while her brother was smart beyond his years, he was also still a child, and beautifully innocent at that.

“Sure, something like that.” Noah agreed with a smile.

With all the commotion surrounding the tickets, and their father’s dismissal from work, Natalie thought it best to get her and her brother out of the house for a while; do something fun while they could.

“Come on Charlie, grab your coat.” She said, reaching for her own over the back of the couch.

“Where are we going?” he wondered, getting up and putting his scarf and gloves back on. Natalie merely smiled and pulled her scarf over her head, leading him out the door.

The two had barely made it out the front gate and half way down the hill before a race broke out between them. They were a fit of laughter, running through the snow towards the main street trying to outpace the other. By the time they reached the main shops, they had given up, trying to declare a winner. They walked side by side, trying to get their breath back as they headed towards a fish and chip shop just on the corner. Charlie’s eyes lit up as he saw where they were standing. It was an old tradition when they were younger; every Friday they would go down to the shop and buy hot chips and sit in a park and eat them. But with things having gotten a little worse over the years, it became less frequent of a trip.

“Are you sure?” he wondered, really asking if they could afford such a treat. Natalie smiled at her little brother and tapped his nose, red from the cold and nodded for him to follow her inside. It had been a long day, and they both deserved a treat. So what if she had to wait a little longer for new boots now? The smile on his face was more than enough, and was warmer than any new pair of boots could ever be.

oOoOoOoOoOo

Later that evening, Charlie watched from the hole in his roof as his mother put the clothes out on the line. His father was worried, that much he could tell, and he knew things were worse off than they had told him. He understood why they did it, and for that he was grateful, but it didn’t ease his worries and fears over his family’s future.

"Charlie!" he heard a whisper coming from downstairs.

He looked down towards the ladder, not sure if he had actually heard something or not. He glanced over at his sister, sleeping soundly in her bed on the other side of the room. Tiptoeing carefully, Charlie headed down the ladder and saw his Grandfather sitting up in bed, beckoning him over.

Grandpa Joe pulled a small coin purse out of the pocket of his robe and held up a shiny silver coin.

“From my secret horde.” He said proudly, and rather mischievously. “You and I are going o have one last crack at finding that last Golden Ticket.”

"Are you sure you want to spend your money on that Grandpa?" asked Charlie.

"Of course I'm sure. Now, go down to the nearest store and bring back the first bar you see." His grandfather instructed. Charlie smiled and nodded, taking the dollar and grabbing his coat, heading out the front door. Grandpa Joe had closed his eyes for a moment before he felt someone shaking him gently.

“Grandpa, you fell asleep.” Charlie said with a smile.

“Have you got it?” The man wondered. Charlie nodded and held his hand out, showing him the Wonka bar. Grandpa Joe smiled and nodded, making room for Charlie to sit on the edge of the bed.

"Which end should we open?" He asked the boy. But Charlie shook his head, not caring at all.

"Just do it quickly...just like a band aid." He said. Grandpa Joe nodded his head in agreement and pointed to a corner. He carefully lifted the end of the paper, and the two closed their eyes, looking away as they ripped. The sound of foil packaging tearing away caused them to open their eyes. They slowly looked down at the chocolate bar in their hands. Nothing, just plain chocolate once again.

“It was worth a shot, right Grandpa?"Charlie said quietly. The old man nodded, but couldn’t hide the disappointment on his face.

Upstairs, Natalie watched the two with a heartbroken look. Those two wanted nothing more than a chance, and it seemed that everything they did turned against them. What she wouldn’t give for just a little luck; one single miracle to maybe turn things around. Perhaps she was kidding herself, wishing so hard on the impossible. Part of her told her to forget it, they had more troublesome worries on their plate as it was. But something else, that little voice deep inside piped up once more, telling her that maybe she shouldn’t lose faith...not just yet.

Chapter Text

The walk that morning was a silent one, no words needing to be spoken with a heavy sorrow hovering in the air. It had started that morning, when Natalie came down to get ready for work when she noticed her father sitting at the table with the newspaper in hand, a solemn look on his face. She didn’t need to even read the headline to know what had happened, yet curiosity still got the better of her as she moved to read over his shoulder.

WONKA’S FIFTH AND FINAL TICKE FOUND IN RUSSIA!

But it wasn’t the headline that had broken Natalie’s heart. It was the look of resignation on her brother’s face when he came downstairs and saw the paper. Charlie wasn’t upset, he wasn’t angry or anything of the sort. Instead, he smiled softly and shrugged, nodding his head and went to put on his shoes for school. He didn’t really say much after that; it was as though he knew he never had a chance at all. It couldn’t have had worse timing too, as Natalie had just managed to save up the last of what she needed to bring home that chocolate bar for Charlie. At least now he would still have the chocolate, though she had to wonder if t was such a good idea right now.

Natalie knew he was disappointed, and he had every right to be. Although he never said it often, nobody wanted to win that more than Charlie did, and in her opinion, there was nobody who deserved it more.  For the first time in her life, Natalie felt like she had failed him. She was his big sister, the one who was supposed to keep the bad things away and save him from getting hurt. The chance to win had meant so much to Charlie; not for the chocolate or the prize at the end, whatever it was. None of that mattered to him. The only thing he wanted was to catch a glimpse of the man who created such wonder, to meet his hero and to see what wonders were created behind those grey metal gates that he had spent his whole life dreaming about.

She glanced at her brother, walking beside her silently with his hands shoved into the holey pockets of his coat, eyes downcast to the snowy pavement in front of them. The one thing that she had wanted more than anything was for Charlie not to have a reason to give up on his dreams, yet here he was putting on a brave face for everyone but himself. It just wasn’t fair. Natalie thought if she ever did have the chance to come face to face with Willy Wonka, she would be tempted to give him a piece of her mind; why on earth would he create such chaos only to have those overly fortunate, and daresay beastly to come out victorious, giving more deserving folks no chance at all?

She almost didn’t notice that her brother had stopped walking. Looking up, it was almost some kind of twisted trick of fate. They had stopped outside the Wonka factory gates. Looking over at him, Natalie found her brother staring longingly through the cold metal bars, a distant look in his eyes. The sight broke her heart all over again. Charlie had never asked for a single thing in his life, not once. Yet the one thing he wanted most of all was dangled so close to him yet ripped away without a hint at a chance. It was just another reminder of how cruel the world could really be.

“You know what? I think it’s for the best we didn’t find one.” She said out of the blue, shrugging her shoulders nonchalant. Charlie looked up at her, tearing his gaze from the factory walls, eyebrow raised slightly in confusion. “For all we know we probably would have been incredibly disappointed. I doubt the factory was all that anyway. That’s why nobody knows anything about it.”

The younger boy smiled and nodded his head. They both knew the likeliness of that actually being true, but he appreciated his sister’s efforts to try and lift his spirits.

“You’re right. It still would have been nice though.” Charlie thought out loud. Natalie smiled softly and pulled her brother from the gates into her side, gathering him into a warm hug. The boy smiled in thanks, happily wrapping his arms around her waist and hugging his sister close as they continued on their walk.

“I know it’s not much of a consolation, and it‘s more than okay if you say no…but I managed to save enough to get you another chocolate bar, if you want it.” Natalie said, glancing at her brother, gauging for a reaction. Charlie seemed to ponder this for barely a second before he smiled up at her softly.

“You didn’t have to do that, Nat.” he assured her, but his smile was still firmly in place, sending a small wave of relief over her.

“I know I didn’t, but I wanted to and now there’s nothing you can do about it.” She grinned, sticking her tongue out like a small child. Charlie couldn’t help but laugh at her childish gesture, and the sound felt like music to his sister’s ears. Her little brother was young, but he was tough. Though it might take some time, she knew he was going to be okay.

The pair soon reached the corner of Cherry Street where they parted ways for the day; Natalie to the store across the street, and Charlie to his weekend shoe-shining job on the corner. Though he was only ten, it gave him something to do to get him out of the house, and a few pence to start saving up. Other than that, the customers seemed to really enjoy his company, though Natalie couldn’t blame them.

“Alright, don’t work too hard today, and I’ll see you at quitting time, alright? Remember I’m only working a short shift today. I should be out by the time you pack up.” she said, brushing the snow out of his hair. Charlie smiled and nodded.

“I know, I know. I probably should say the same to you.” He said. Natalie rolled her eyes and smiled, pulling him close and kissing the top of his head. With a final wave, she checked if there were any passing cars and ran across the road to the shop.

For the first time in what seemed like ages, there was nobody waiting outside the front of the shop. No crowds, no early morning travelers impatiently bashing on the windows for them to open. It seemed as though life had seemingly for the most part, returned to normal. As she walked in the door, she was met with complete calm and stillness. It was almost as though the Wonka Bar fiasco that took over the world the previous weeks had been nothing but a figment of her imagination.

Natalie shrugged to herself, knowing there was nothing to be done about it as she made her way out to the back of the shop, storing her things in her locker and pulling her apron on over her head.  Jimmy was leaning against the back wall, watching the quiet shopped with mild but reserved amusement.

“It’s like nothing’s changed.” He said to her, shaking his head in disbelief, voicing her own thoughts from only moments before. “Almost two months of complete, constant chaos and as soon as it’s over, people just forget about it. It’s unbelievable, it is. ”

“It’s the way of the world. People tend to forget about anything that’s no longer popular, especially if it doesn’t include them.” Natalie shrugged, crossing her arms over her chest as they observed the empty shop.

“You know, personally I’m glad it’s over. Darn ticket things had people acting like it was the end of the world if they didn’t get their hands on them.” He said, tossing her a dust cloth as he pushed himself off the wall and out towards the back. “No, I’m glad we’re rid of it, even if it was good for business.”

“Yeah, back to normal now.” Natalie agreed. That’s how things should be; back to the normal, slightly boring, mundane world of standing behind a counter, waiting for nothing. It seemed to be her lot in life, and although she wouldn’t really admit it out loud, Natalie had enjoyed the rush of uncertainty that came with those seemingly invisible Golden Tickets.

Natalie knew that she should be happy. No more chaos and bring run off her feet at the end of the day, no more impatient customers and being rude for no reason at all. Though as crazy as the time had been, it was the most exciting thing to happen in town for the longest time. It only proved how much influence that Willy Wonka seemed to have. Dare she say it, it was the first glimpse of anything truly exciting Natalie had ever been a part of. But just like that, it was over and everything was as it had been before.

Like it had so many times before, the day went slowly. The shop was quiet once more, with Jimmy casually greeting the few and far between customers they had. Mr. Jefferies bought his morning paper, Ms. Blight purchased her coffee and sat down at her usual table in the corner to read her trashy gossip magazines, and without a doubt once it hit three o’clock, the school children would arrive to spend their allowance on whatever they could lay their eyes on.

For the rest of the afternoon, time seemed to be at a standstill in the store. The hours seemed to drag on and on, making it feel like they had been working for longer than a few hours.

Only a few days ago they were complaining that they didn’t have enough time on their hands to deal with the hundreds of customers coming in and out of their shop daily, and now, they were barely finding things to do to pass the time. After all, there were only so many times one could reorganize the chocolate bars on the shelf.

Jimmy had gone out to get some coffee, leaving the shop in what he said was ‘Natalie’s more than capable hands’. She didn’t mind at all; now that the fuss was over, she was able to keep better tabs on their customers like she was supposed to. But right now, the whole shop was empty. She was sitting at the countertop, completely oblivious to anything around her as she started drawing pictures in the light layer of dust that the counter had collected. She barely registered anything as Jimmy returned with two cups of coffee and a newspaper.

“What says the outside world?” She wondered, not looking up from her drawing.

“The Russian ticket was a fake.” Jimmy told her simply, taking a sip of his coffee. Natalie’s hand stilled at his words as she looked up at him in surprise.

“…What?” she asked, not knowing if she heard him correctly. Jimmy nodded and handed her the newspaper.  Natalie straightened up immediately and took the paper from him, her eyes running through the words almost greedily. Sure enough, the headline was as big and clear as the day was long.

RUSSIAN TICKET FRAUD. STILL ONE WONKA TICKET REMAINING

“So there’s still one left?” she said, eyes scanning the article quickly. Honestly, how could someone fake something as unique as a Golden Ticket? But that didn’t really matter, not much at least. Suddenly, and she wasn’t quite sure why, but Natalie felt better than she had all morning. It was as much of a long shot as it was before, but the chance was still there. Something was telling her not to discount it.

“Seems like someone thought they were smart enough to get away with it. People never cease to amaze me these days.” Jimmy said.  Natalie hummed in agreement, still reading through the article with a smile on her face.

The bell at the door sounded and a few more customers came in the door. Natalie folded the paper and handed it back to Jimmy, taking a sip of her coffee before putting it aside, going to serve the customers and unable to keep the smile off her face.

oOoOoOoOoOo

Later on in the afternoon, things had quieted down somewhat. There were only two or three customers in the shop and Natalie had found herself organizing shelves for probably the third time in the last hour or so. Jimmy watched her silently for a moment, a knowing look on his face. After a moment or two, he shook his head and headed to the back, coming back a few moments later with a handful of letters.

“I don’t think we’re gonna get much busier today, love. Why don’t you pack up?” He suggested. Natalie looked over at him, eyebrow raised.

“You’re always trying to get rid of me these days.” She said with a grin. Jimmy looked at her offended, but his resolve soon broke and he grinned at her.

“Not at all, my dear. I just think that your time would be much better spent at home rather than standing around here collecting dust like my counter.” Jimmy shrugged. Natalie’s face softened as she let out a sigh. Jimmy knew of her father’s redundancy, and how she had been forced to tighten her belt around home, even during the madness at work. She knew there was no real reason for her to argue, she couldn’t help agreeing with him. With an overdramatic sigh, Natalie shrugged and untied her apron strings.

“Since you’re twisting my arm and all.” She smirked, pulling her apron off and heading over towards the back room.

“One of my best traits, love.” Jimmy laughed, stepping out of her way. Natalie headed over to her locker and put her apron on the hook, grabbing her coat and her bag. Resting underneath her belongings, Natalie spotted the forgotten Wonka bar in the corner of her locker. She hesitated for a moment, wondering if it was still a good idea or not. With a soft sigh, she grabbed the candy and shut her locker.

 “While you’re at it, would you mind dropping these off at the post for me on your way home?” Jimmy asked, grabbing a stack of envelopes from the back. “I’ve got to get these sent out as soon as possible. End of the month and all that.”

Natalie smiled and nodded, accepting the stack of envelopes with a smile. She headed back over to the register and fished around in her pocket, pulling out a few coins and adding them to the till.

“I’m going to leave that Wonka bar here. If Charlie comes by before I get back, could you tell him it’s there? If he doesn’t want it, just put it on the shelf again, I wouldn’t push it.” She told him, placing the candy bar just behind the counter.

“What would we do without you, my girl?” Jimmy asked with a chuckle. The brunette threw a grin over her shoulder and shrugged as she made her way to the door.

“I’m sure you’d manage!” She called out, waving to him as she headed out the door, moving past a woman who was trying to get inside the shop. Jimmy shook his head as he watched her disappear down the street.

“Tell Charlie to wait if he’s here before I get back.” She told him. Jimmy nodded and waved to her as she headed out the door, moving past a woman who was trying to get inside. Not too long later, Charlie arrived at the store, dusting the snow off his shoes as he walked in. Jimmy looked up as he heard the door and smiled.

“Ah, Charlie! Long time no see. How’ve you been, m’boy?” He asked happily, leaning against the countertop. Charlie smiled and waved in greeting.

“Good, thanks Jimmy.” The boy said happily. He looked around the store for any sign of his sister while Jimmy served customers.

“Your sister’s just run out to do a job for me, she said for you to wait for her here. Shouldn’t be too much longer.” The man said, noticing he boy glancing around. “Oh, she also left you a little something here on the counter.”

Charlie smiled in thanks and headed over to the countertop where he spotted a Wonka Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delight bar sitting against the till. He smiled at the thought of his sister saving up her last penny to get him this. He shook his head, knowing there would probably be no getting through to her ever. Just as Charlie reached for the bar, a woman made her way to the counter, putting down her newspaper on the bench as she reached for her purse.

"Honestly, the nerve of some people." she admonished, shaking her head. Jimmy chuckled lightly and nodded his head.

“I know, forging a Golden Ticket. Makes you wonder about people these days.” He said, ringing up her order.

 Jimmy’s words caused Charlie to stop suddenly, glancing down at the chocolate bar in his hands. He really had just planned on going home and sharing it with his family after supper, like he had on his birthday. But something was stopping him, telling him that he should open it here and now. It was stupid, just because there was still one left that he had more of a chance than before. Perhaps he should just get it over with, open it to remind him that it was plain chocolate, nothing more.

The packaging was tormenting him, all shiny and pretty in his hands. Finally, he couldn’t wait any longer. Carefully, he peeled back the outer wrapper, his hands trembling like mad. Charlie took a deep breath and pulled at the silver foil, careful not to tear it in his haste. He had expected to see just another plain bar of ordinary chocolate, as like every bar he had opened before. But this time…he was mistaken. As he lifted the foil, he caught a glimpse of a hint of gold.

Charlie froze instantly. His eyes widened beyond belief as everything suddenly became a blur. He tore away at the paper, piece by piece revealing more and more gold. The chocolate bar was soon forgotten as Charlie let it fall to the floor with the remains of the wrappers. His smile grew bigger as he held up his prize in his hands. A brand new, shiny Golden Ticket.

In that moment, everything around him seemed to stop. The noise in the shop seemed to fade away, and the conversation Jimmy and his customer were having seemed to stop mid-sentence. All eyes were on him, not that he even noticed.

“…That can’t be what I think it is?” The woman said, completely in awe.  Jimmy let out a joyous laugh and turned to Charlie, clapping him on the shoulder.

“Charlie, you did it! You found Wonka’s last Golden Ticket!” he beamed. Charlie tore his eyes away from his prize and grinned at the man, and Jimmy swore he had never seen the boy so happy in his life. Suddenly, one of the customers came up beside him, putting his hands on his shoulders.

"Listen kid, I'll buy it off you for fifty pounds.” He offered, sounding rather desperate. “And I'll get you a new bike."

The woman with the newspaper reached over and pried the man’s hands from Charlie’s shoulders rather harshly, pulling him towards her and putting her arm around him.

"Are you crazy? I’ll pay him five hundred!” She said, looking down at Charlie. “Would you like five hundred, young man?”

Another couple of customers had heard all the commotion and had started flocking over to his side like vultures, hoping to get a piece of the action. All of the unwanted attention, and the two customers fighting over him and his ticket had Charlie feeling rather terrified. Luckily for him, Jimmy had caught onto that rather quickly. He rushed out from behind the counter and pulled the boy gently out of their grasp.

“Stop it, all of you! Leave the kid alone!” he said, raising his voice for the first time in his life. The vultures flinched back, not expecting such a response from a well-known, patient man. They pulled back a little, not wanting to bear the brunt of another shouting match. Jimmy shook his head and turned to the young boy.

“Charlie, you listen to me.” He said. “Hold onto that ticket tight. You run straight home and don’t stop until you get there, you hear me?”

Charlie looked up at him, woken up from his trance and grinned brightly.

“Thank you!” he said quickly before pushing past the crowd and out the front door as fast as his feet could take him. He dodged passersby, who paused and wondered what had gotten into the young boy as he rushed down the street.

Natalie was making her way down the street, kicking clumps of snow off her boots as she made her way back to the shop. Surely Charlie would be waiting for her by now and they would get home out of the cold for the rest of the night. She was just about at Cherry Street when a blur ran past her. It only took her a moment to realize that said blur was her little brother.

 “Charlie?” she called out, confused as to where he was going in such a rush, especially since he was supposed to wait at the shop until she got back. It wasn’t until she noticed the glimmer of gold held tightly in his fist that Natalie was able to start putting two and two together.

“CHARLIE!”

Natalie ran as fast as her legs could carry her, through the snow and down the street after her brother. She slipped slightly on an icy patch on the corner, but soon managed to right herself as she ran up the hill towards the house.  Their parents were in the yard when they turned suddenly, hearing the commotion coming up the hill. Charlie was yelling excitedly, waving the ticket in the air.

Natalie watched as her brother and parents ran into the house, hearing the commotion of Charlie yelling inside as she got closer. She threw the door open, making it inside a few moments later, completely out of breath. She waved off the concerned looks her parents were giving her.

"What's going on?" she asked, looking at someone for confirmation. Charlie was grinning from ear to ear, waving the piece of gold paper around in his hand excitedly.

"I did it! I found the last golden ticket, it’s mine!" He exclaimed. Everyone looked at him in shock, not knowing what to believe. Each one looked at him with silent anticipation as Charlie handed the ticket to Grandpa Joe. The man adjusted his glasses for a moment as he read the headline.

His eyes widened beyond belief as he cried for joy; throwing back the covers and jumping out of bed, faster than he had moved in many years. His family watched on in both surprise and disbelief as he danced around, not sure what extraordinary feat seemed more believable.

“Wait a second, you found that in the chocolate bar I left for you?” Natalie wondered, her voice shaking somewhat. Charlie beamed at her and nodded his head.  Natalie suddenly felt faint; though she had a feeling it had nothing to do with running all the way home. She put her hand to her head as she reached quickly for a chair, with Noah quickly rushing to her side in case she fell.

“Darling, are you alright?” he asked worriedly. Natalie rubbed her forehead, nodding as her father helped her into a chair.

“I don’t believe it.” She muttered quietly, shaking her head in incredulously, a small smile forming on her lips.

“What is it, sweetheart?” Grandma Josephine asked, speaking up for everyone else in the room as all eyes fell onto the girl. After a moment, Natalie seemed to snap back into reality, once things started settling in.

“I’ve had that candy bar in my locker for months, since this whole thing began.” She said, running her hand through her hair, brushing it out of her eyes. “It was extra inventory, and I was saving it until I had enough money to buy it for Charlie. I…I had the fifth ticket all along.”

Her realization seemed to shock everyone further into unbelievable silence. It seemed so completely farfetched of an idea, that after everything, it had been with them all along, like some mysterious work of fate. Nobody really knew what to say. Charlie’s face was still a mixture of excitement and awe, and Grandpa Joe only seemed to realize that he still held the ticket in his hand.

“Well, let’s not waste a moment more! Here, read it aloud. Let’s hear what it says.” Grandpa Joe asked, handing it to Noah. His son dropped the firewood from his hands and took it with a shaky hand as his wife came to stand beside him, looking over his shoulder. Noah took a moment to compose himself as he looked at the ticket in his hand.

"Congratulations, lucky finder of the Golden Ticket from Mr Willy Wonka. I shake you warmly by the hand for now I do invite you to come to my factory for one whole day. I, Willy Wonka, shall escort you around the factory myself showing you everything there is to see.” He read. “Afterwards, when it is time to leave, you will be escorted out of the factory followed by a procession of large trucks each one filled with all the candy you could ever eat. And remember one of you lucky five children shall receive an extra prize beyond your wildest imaginations. Now here are your instructions; on the first of February be at the factory gates at 10am sharp. You are allowed to bring one member of your family to look after you. Till then, Willy Wonka."

“The first of February…but that’s tomorrow!” Helena said in surprise. With all the commotion of the ticket hunt, it seemed that time wasn’t really on their side. But that didn’t seem to bother Grandpa Joe. For a man who had spent the better part of the last two decades in bed, he was moving rather quickly.

"Then there's not a moment to lose!” He exclaimed, turning to the small boy beside him. “Charlie, comb your hair, brush your teeth, wash your face…"

"And get that mud off your pants." Grandpa George added from the bed.

“Hang on. We’re all getting far too ahead of ourselves.” Helena said, holding up her hands to stop everyone. “We need to calm down and keep our heads about us. The most important thing we need to figure out is who will be taking Charlie to the factory.”

“Nobody.” Charlie said, cutting in before anyone had a chance to say much else. They all looked at him in confusion, wondering if he was suggesting he go on his own. “…I’m not going.”

“What do you mean you’re not going?” Natalie wondered, getting to her feet in surprise, looking at her little brother as if he had gone mad. One minute he was running and screaming for joy, the next he had all of a sudden changed his mind? She knew her brother wanted nothing more than to see the factory, more than life itself. Why now when he had the opportunity to do it, was he saying no?

“A woman in the store offered me five hundred pounds for the ticket.” Charlie said, his face now clear of any previous excitement it once held. He looked around the room at each of the seven confused faces staring back at him. “I’m sure there’s someone who would pay more for it. We need the money more than we need the chocolate.”

The weight of his reasoning soon fell onto everyone rather quickly. Natalie sat down in her chair slowly, feeling as though her heart was breaking all over again, though this time the reasoning was far different. He was doing it for the money; Charlie was willing to give up his only dream so his family could have a little more than they did now.

Nobody said anything. How could they? Charlie had never asked for a thing in his life before, and now he was willing to give up the once chance he had for their sake. Helena and Noah shared a glance, unsure of what to do.

“Young man, come here.” Grandpa George said; breaking the silence before anyone else could. He crooked his finger, beckoning his grandson to his bedside. Saying nothing, Charlie walked over and stood beside the bed.

“There’s plenty of money in the world, they print more every day.” Grandpa George reasoned. “But these tickets…there’s only five of them in the world. That’s all there’s ever going to be. Now, all your life you’ve wanted to see inside that factory, and here’s your chance. You deserve this. Only a dummy would give this up for something as common as money. Are you telling me my grandson is a dummy?”

“No sir.” Charlie said, shaking his head, still unsure of what was really going on. George nodded once, and then cracked the first real smile any of them had seen in ages.

“Then get that mud off your pants! You’ve got a factory to go to!” he grinned, letting out a low chuckle. The sound alone shocked everyone, but soon it was clear that Charlie had in fact been won over.

Charlie’s smile brightened as he turned to his sister, still sitting in the chair with a sweet smile on her face. She had been so proud of him for putting others before his own needs and wants – like he always did. But this time, Charlie deserved something for himself. This was for him and him alone, and nobody was going to take that away from him, not if she could help it.

“Alright then, well I guess it’s settled. Charlie is going to the factory.” Noah said with a grin, handing the ticket to his wife for safe keeping and rubbing his hands together. “Now, next thing to decide is which one of us is going to take him?”

“I think that we all agree that there’s only one person who should go with Charlie.” Grandpa Joe said with a nod. “And that’s Natalie.”

Hearing her name, Natalie looked up at her grandfather in surprise. Hearing his stories over the years, knowing just how badly he wanted to see the factory again, she was almost sure that he would have volunteered himself for the job.

“What? Me?” She wondered, looking around to gauge everyone else’s reaction. The elder man nodded his head happily, soon followed by the rest of her family. Natalie opened her mouth to protest, but soon found that she didn’t really know what to say. Instead she got out of her seat and sat down in the vacated spot on the bed.

“Grandpa…all you ever do is talk about how much you want to see the factory again.” She said with a soft smile, knowing she would understand completely should he change his mind. “Are you sure you don’t want to go?”

Grandpa Joe looked at his beloved granddaughter with a fond smile as he made his way back over to the bed, sitting down beside her and taking her hand in his.

“My darling, I’ve seen the factory and all its glories with these two very old eyes. My wish has always been for the two of you to witness its wonder for yourselves, just like you’ve always dreamed.” He told her, giving her hand a gentle squeeze. “Besides, if it weren’t for you, Charlie would never have found his ticket in the first place.”

Natalie smiled at him, feeling slightly teary. She nodded her head, looking over at the rest of their family for their opinion. It was clear, however, that judging by the smiles on their faces everyone was in agreement. Natalie took a deep breath and nodded before turning to face her brother.

“What do you say, Charlie? Will you let your big sister tag along on the adventure?” she asked, knowing that his verdict was the most important of all. The grin on his face soon said it all.

“There’s nobody I’d rather take with me” He told her honestly. Natalie’s smile widened as she held out her arms for him, her brother wasting no time in launching herself into her embrace.

“Thank you, Charlie.” She whispered, holding him tight. The adults watched the very sweet display for a moment before it dawned on them once again that they didn’t have much time for preparations.

“Right, now we have quite a lot to do before tomorrow. Kids, find some nice clothes and I’ll fix them up ready for you two.” Helena said with a smile, practically shooing the two off the bed and upstairs. The Bucket children quickly got up of the bed, racing around in a fit of excited laughter as they rushed up the ladder, almost tripping over their own feet in the process. The rest of the family could only shake their heads as they watched on.

“I still don’t believe it.” Noah said in disbelief, glancing at the ticket in his wife’s hand. Helena smiled and wrapped her arms around his waist, hugging him tight and resting her head on his shoulder.

“I do believe there’s a change in the wind, Mr. Bucket.” She said with a nod. Noah smiled and brought her hand to his lips, pressing a soft kiss to her knuckles.

Everything from that moment on seemed to change. Neither one of them had ever been so excited about anything in their entire lives. Once they reached their room, they weren’t quite sure what to do with themselves. The frantic search soon began to find something suitable to wear. Though they didn’t have much, they knew with a proper look they would be able to find something.

“What exactly do you wear to a factory?” Natalie wondered, rummaging through her chest of things. Charlie stopped and looked at her for a moment, pondering the thought.

“You know, I don’t really know, really.” He said, shrugging his shoulders. Despite it all, he still couldn’t wipe the smile off his face.  Natalie paused in her search, just looking at him and how happy he was, and how much had changed since that morning alone.

It wasn’t too long before Charlie managed to find his good jumper, the one without the holes, and a pair of pants free of mud like Grandpa George had said. Natalie was having a little less luck in her search, but finally found something bundled up in the bottom of her clothes chest. It was an old but pretty dress that she hadn’t seen in years; the one she had worn to her graduation all those years ago. She smiled softly to herself, running her fingers over the soft pale green fabric.

“What about this? Think it’ll do?” she asked, standing up and holding the dress up against her body, striking a pose. Charlie laughed and nodded his head.

“It’s perfect. You’ll look lovely.” He told her.  She sent her brother a smile before putting her dress on her bed and going in search of anything else she might need. A cardigan, relatively warm knitted socks, and a pair of boots still miraculously intact. Once they had everything they needed, Charlie took it all downstairs for their mother to fix up ready for the morning.

That night, Natalie sat out on their little balcony, looking out across the town at the factory. It still didn’t seem real. After years of wishing and dreaming, they were finally going to get the chance to step behind those gates and see what had been hidden away for so long. More importantly, they would meet the man behind the legend, the one that had been so strange yet kind to her when she was a little girl, and had plagued her thoughts ever since.

“Nat, can you believe it? Tomorrow we’re going to meet him. We’re going to meet Willy Wonka himself.”  He said. Even in the dark, Natalie could see the bright grin on his face.

“I know.” She smiled, still feeling the need to pinch herself, though she resisted. If this was indeed a dream, she had no real desire to wake up at all.

oOoOoOoOoOo

The next morning seemed to bring a joyful panic to the little crooked house on the hill. Charlie was up bright and early, practically jumping out of bed and rushing about to get ready. If his parents hadn’t made him slow down and be patient, he would have been halfway out the door before he managed to pull his other shoe on.

“Are we ready to go yet?” Charlie wondered, sitting patiently on the couch, bouncing in his seat, earning a fond chuckle from his grandparents.

“Almost, love. Just let your sister finish getting ready.” Helena said at the stove. “Come and finish your breakfast.”

Charlie jumped up off the couch and sat at the table with his father. Grandpa Joe, who had decided that morning not to stay in bed any longer, slowly but surely made his way over to the table with a fresh plate of toast.

Upstairs, Natalie was checking herself one last time before heading downstairs. Her mother had braided her hair the night before, and it now fell in curls down her back. She smiled at her reflection in the slightly cracked mirror. She was never one for dressing up, never really having the means or the reason to do so. But seeing as this was a special occasion, she embraced the idea and as more than happy to spoil herself, even just for one day. As she gazed upon her reflection, she noticed that there seemed to be something missing.

Glancing over at her bedside table, she smiled to herself as she reached for her box of treasures, pulling out her maroon ribbon, embroidered with that signature logo. It seemed fitting to wear this of all days. Tying it into her hair, Natalie could see no harm in it. After all, what chance was there that Mr. Wonka recognized it, let alone remembered her? When she was satisfied, she grabbed her cardigan off her bed and headed downstairs to join the others.

“All ready to go then, Charlie?” she asked as she reached the end of the ladder.

“Ready? The boy’s been bouncing off the walls since the moment he woke up.” Grandma Josephine said with a slight giggle. Natalie rolled her eyes, but sent her brother a fond smile of understanding. Though she was better at hiding it, she could barely contain her excitement herself.

After eating a quick breakfast and making sure they had everything they needed, Charlie and Natalie said goodbye to their grandparents and followed Noah and Helena out of the house. The streets were packed with reporters and spectators alike, each one hoping to catch just a small glimpse of the mysterious and wonderful Willy Wonka and his chocolate factory. Somewhere amongst the crowd, the group found Jimmy, who had come to wish his luck to the Buckys and to witness the spectacle. The four other golden ticket winners and their guardians were lined up rather impatiently at the front gates.

“You two have fun, alright?” Helena said, hugging her children close.

“We will, Mum. Don’t worry.” Charlie said with a grin as he took Natalie’s hand and lead her over to the front of the gates, flashing his golden ticket to a policeman who formed part of a barricade that had come in to serve as crowd control. The policeman nodded and cleared a spot for them to line up with the others. They moved to a small space in line, beside Veruca Salt and her father. The father daughter duo turned their heads to look at the newcomers, taking one look at them and turning their noses up in the air, much like they had done on the television. Natalie glanced along the line, getting a look at the rest of the Golden Ticket winners and their parents, though she was careful not to say anything for fear of not able to hold her tongue.

After waiting rather impatiently, Veruca made a noise of frustration, turning to her father and yanking on his coat sleeve.

"Daddy I want to go in!" she demanded, a stubborn, spoiled look in her eyes. Her father looked quite exasperated already as she checked his watch for what could only be the hundredth time in the last five minutes.

“It’s nine fifty nine, sweet heart.” He told her, as though that alone should be explanation enough. Evidently, it was not enough for the small girl.

"Make time go Faster!" snapped the beastly child. Charlie and Natalie shared a quiet look of disbelief. Never in her entire life had Natalie been so thankful that her brother hadn’t turned out in such a way. They both bit their lips to stop smiling, when suddenly the gates opened with a loud creak, causing everyone to stop immediately and turn their attention to the factory once more. The nerves and excitement were bubbling away as Natalie looked down at her little brother, seeing the smile on his face. Special prize or not, everything leading up to this moment had been entirely and completely worth it, just for the look on his face.

A loud voice soon broke the silence, begging the ticket winners to come forward. As quickly as they could, they rushed in through the gates, not caring at all if they shoved the other aside. Charlie and Natalie held back until the others had gone though, making their way inside the gates. The surreal feeling to be standing on the other side was incredible.

"Come forward.” The voice commanded once more, and everyone moved slowly but surely towards the factory steps. They formed another line, just stopping short of the steps as they waited to see what would happen next. So far there was no sign of their host at all, hadn’t he come to welcome them?

"Dear Guests. Welcome to my humble factory.” The voice sounded again. Everyone seemed to look around, searching for the source of the sounds. “Who am I you may ask?"

The large metal doors soon parted, revealing a bright red show curtain, complete with the Wonka insignia. This was it, the moment that they had all been waiting for. After what seemed like an eternity, the curtain parted to reveal...a collection of strange looking puppets, dressed in what seemed to be miniature versions of the uniforms that used to be worn in Wonka’s shop. A lively yet slightly creepy polka-like tune started playing and as if the dolls could not get any creepier, they started singing.

“Well, that’s certainly unexpected.” Charlie whispered, making his sister grin. While they had to admit the tune was catchy, it was really just a theme song boasting the talents of Willy Wonka, and they had yet to see any sign of him so far.

Towards the end of the song, the puppet’s announced the arrival of their host. The stages parted and a red and gold throne rose from the ground, but it was empty. The group looked at each other in confusion, wondering if somehow this was a joke of a delayed entrance of some description. On the last note of the song, fireworks erupted on the stage, quickly spiraling out of control – quite literally, landing on everything in sight…including the wax and puppets. Everyone watched on in dumb horror as the already creepy little plastic things melted and liquefied before their very eyes.

There was silence. Nobody knew what to do or say, each one complete bemused as to just what was happening. The sound of over excited clapping was heard, breaking the awkward silence. Almost in perfect unison, everyone turned to see a strange looking man standing beside Mr. Salt, clapping with a ridiculous amount of enthusiasm.

"Wasn't that wonderful?" he exclaimed, turning to Mr. Salt with a giant, beaming grin. It was clear instantly that the others didn’t really seem to share his excitement. "I was afraid the ending was a little weird but that finale…wow!

Natalie stopped; looking closely at the surprise addition to their group s he walked up the steps, turning to face them all. Deep maroon coat, top hat and ridiculously oversized sunglasses, with a cane in his hand that was filled with...candy. But it was the silver lapel pin that she recognized instantly.

"Who are you?" Violet asked, eyes creasing in suspicion and the loud noise of gum snapping between her lips. The man just stood there smiling silently, glancing between each of the dumbstruck faces.

“He’s Willy Wonka.” Natalie smiled. It was remarkable, actually. Almost fifteen years had passed and yet he looked exactly as she had remembered.  Charlie looked from his sister to the man in front of him, his eyes lighting up at the realization that this was him…this was his hero, standing before him. Everyone else still didn’t seem quite convinced however. Mr. Wonka was still silent, glancing around somewhat nervously at the critical faces before him.

“Good Morning, Star shine. The Earth says hello!” he said happily, waiting for some form of reaction. But all he got was an exchange of a worried reaction. His face fell at the lack of reaction as he reached into his coat pocket, pulling out some cue cards.

“Do you think he planned this?” Charlie asked. All Natalie could do was shrug in response, not quite sure about what was going on.

"Dear guests. Greetings. Welcome to my factory. I shake you warmly by the hand.” Mr Wonka said, extending his hand. He quickly realized his mistake and retracted it, clearing his throat a little. “Uh…My name is Willy Wonka.”

"Then shouldn't you be up there?" Veruca interrupted dryly, glancing to the side and pointing to the throne, which was remarkable void of any flame damage. The question seemed to catch Mr. Wonka off guard a little, but he soon recovered and shot her a rather false smile.

"Well I couldn't very well watch the show from up there now could I little girl?” He asked, tilting his head to the side, the sarcasm very evident in his voice. Veruca seemed a little taken back by his retort, looking at her father for assistance, though it seemed that the man was just as lost as she was.

“Let's get a move on kids. Lots to see, not long to see it." Mr. Wonka said, shelving that discussion for the time being as he turned on his heels and headed up the steps, past the burning remains of the still moving puppets. The group didn’t have any other choice but to follow him inside the doors, into the factory.

Chapter Text

 With a loud bang, large steel doors shut behind them, providing a barrier between the outside world, and that of Willy Wonka. The only thing that the group could do was move forward, and frankly the curiosity was far too great to think of doing anything else. Mr. Wonka kept a steady, purposeful pace at the head of the group, deciding not to stop for chit chat or introductions.

"Don't you want to know our names?" mumbled Augustus, his speech muffled by the gooey clumps of chocolate he was rapidly consuming. But Mr. Wonka didn’t flinch. He kept straight ahead, not batting an eye at the interruption.

"Can’t see why it would matter." He said matter-of-fact, as he pushed through a large curtain, leading the group into a plain and rather mechanical looking hallway. The only real sign of colour was a large red velvet carpet beneath their feet. The temperature was rather warm, a stark contrast to the wintery chill outside the factory walls.

“Just drop your coats anywhere.” Mr. Wonka instructed, taking lead by shrugging out of his overcoat and tossing it aside, along with his glasses. It seemed a rather informal and odd approach, but the children and their guardians followed suit, leaving their belongings in a heap by the carpet.

Though no words were directly spoken, it was clear to see that each of the other winners and parents alike were sizing up the others. The oblivious Gloops, dressed in their brightly coloured garments, a stark contrast to the Mother-Daughter Beauregarde team in their matching velour tracksuits. The moment that Natalie and Charlie took off their coats, they could feel eyes watching them. Natalie turned to see the Salts, dressed in their tailored, designer garb, eyeing her as though she had just stepped out of the street. She gave them a pointed look, as they moved on, Natalie looking down at her attire. Her dress wasn’t designer, but was in no way in bad condition, and you couldn’t even see the tape holding her boots together. Though honestly, it was a wonder they could see anything at all with their noses so high in the air.

Natalie and Charlie gathered their coats and put them over one of the stanchions lining the edge of the carpet. Though it was better now they weren’t wearing so many layers, the heat in the air was still rather noticeable.

“Mr. Wonka, isn’t it kinda toasty in here?” Mr. Teevee noted, seemingly voicing the opinion of the rest of the guests as he pulled at his sweater vest a little. Mr. Wonka hummed in response, rather nonchalant as he turned his attention back to the group.

“Oh, yeah. I need it to be warm in here because my workers are used to an extremely hot climate. They just can’t stand the cold.” He explained, offering the group a rather oddly placed smile. But it wasn’t his smile that seemed to catch their attention, it was what he said. Natalie and Charlie looked at each other in surprise. Workers? So he did have someone working for him all these years.

"Who are the workers?" Charlie wondered. Mr. Wonka looked at him for a moment. He seemed almost surprised by the question, but it was as though he was suppressing another small smile.

“All in good time.” He assured them cryptically as he started walking once more, not waiting for the others to follow him. Natalie and Charlie shared a look of slight confusion, but the intrigue could not be hidden from their faces. With a grin, they rushed up to rejoin the rest of the group.

As they walked, Violet put a stop to their path as she reached out, wrapping her arms around Mr. Wonka’s waist and hugging him tight. The man gasped and flinched, but the girl’s grip was apparently tight. It didn’t take a genius to see that he was inexplicably uncomfortable with the gesture.

“Mr. Wonka, I’m Violet Beauregarde.” She said, snapping her gum rather loudly and producing a large, crooked smile. Mr. Wonka looked at her for a moment, at a loss for words. He clenched his fist for a moment, unsure of how to react.

“Oh…I don’t care.” He said quickly, and with that, he continued walking. Violet looked a little put out, and turned to her mother for a moment before catching up with the man.

"Well you should care. Because I'm the girl whose gonna win that special prize." said Violet matter-of-factly, an air of certainty about her.

"Well you seen very confident and confidence is key." Mr. Wonka nodded, not caring at all as he started the group down the hall again. He was stopped once more when Veruca appeared in front of him, the sudden stop nearly causing a pile up of guests behind them.

"I'm Veruca Salt. I'm very pleased to meet you sir." she said with a curtsy and the fakest smile anyone could ever see in their lifetime. Though her appearance caught him off guard once more, Mr. Wonka wasn’t so hesitant with his response. He merely gave the girl a slightly forced grin.

"I always thought a verruca was a little wart that you got on the bottom of your foot." He informed her with a giggle. A soft laugh was heard from the back of the group. Mr. Wonka turned his head, but he couldn’t quite find the source. The girl’s face fell instantly as she turned to her father, barely restraining the urge to stamp her foot.

Mr. Wonka only managed one more step before he was apprehended once more, this time by Augustus Gloop his face smeared in chocolate. The look of disgust on Mr. Wonka’s face was more than evident.

"I am Augustus Gloop. I love your chocolate." said the boy, shoveling more chocolate into his mouth. The chocolatier seemed at a loss for words as he looked at the candy bar in the boy’s hand.

"I can see that.” He nodded. “So do I. I never expected us to have so much in common."

Natalie’s eyes widened slightly, struggling to keep the smirk from her lips as she bent down to whisper in her brother’s ear.

“Snarky bloke, isn’t he?” she asked with a grin. Charlie playfully nudged her but smiled all the same. The group expected to start off once more. But mid step, Mr. Wonka seemed to change his mind and turned around to face the group. Both Natalie and Charlie stood up straight, thinking that he had overheard them and had been caught out. But it seemed that for the moment, Mr. Wonka’s attention was on the scowling pre-teen in the front of the group.

"You. You're Mike Teevee. You're the little devil who cracked the system." he said. The boy looked unperturbed at the sudden attention brought to him. In fact, he looked bored as all hell. When he got no reaction, Mr. Wonka then turned to Charlie.

"And you. Well you're just luck to be here aren't you?" He said with a slight sneer in his voice, though there really was no harm in his voice. Natalie rested her hand on Charlie’s shoulder instinctively. Mr. Wonka smiled before looking up at the group of adults, glancing between them all.

“And the rest of you must be their P…” He stopped, looking as though he was going to be sick. The children at the front of the group took half a step back, just in case anything should happen. The adults seemed confused as to why a seemingly normal word seemed to be causing the man so much trouble.

“Parents.” Mr. Salt finally supplied, growing weary of whatever game Wonka seemed to be playing. Mr. Wonka looked almost relieved as he nodded his head in agreement.

“Yeah, moms and dads…” he agreed with a shaky grin. Suddenly, something seemed to spark in his mind, and his entire expression darkened. His face fell instantly, like he was lost in his thoughts.

“…Dad?” He murmured, looking a million miles away from everyone else. “…Papa?”

Everyone seemed completely and thoroughly confused, looking around at each other as though the person beside them would know what to do. Finally, Mr. Wonka seemed to snap back to reality as he looked up at them, a nervous twitch in his eye.

“O-okay then. Let’s keep moving.” He said, chuckling nervously as he turned on his heel once more to lead them down the hall. It seemed as though most of the group were second guessing their decision to follow him any further, but moved somewhat reluctantly. Natalie looked over at the head of the group and made her way towards the front with Charlie following by her side.

"Mr. Wonka?"

Her voice seemed to bring the man out of whatever daze he had put himself in and turned to face her. He looked surprised by her sudden appearance, though not as much as he had with the children earlier.

“Are you alright?” She asked, genuinely concerned about the little episode back there. Mr. Wonka seemed to slow his pace a little a he seemed to seize her up a little. Something flickered in his eye but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. Natalie wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it.

“Uh, yeah.” He said, dismissing her concern and instead turning the conversation back onto her. “You’re awfully young to be the boy’s mother, right?”

Her confusion seemed to ease as she laughed, nodding her head. Something in Mr. Wonka’s face seemed to ease at the sound, recognizing it from earlier.

“Well, that’s a compliment if I ever heard one. I’m Charlie’s sister, Natalie.” She said, introducing herself.  Mr. Wonka’s lips twitched, as though he was attempting to hold back a smile as he nodded, and turned his attention back to leading them down the hall as the rest of the group caught up once more. Augustus soon appeared by Charlie’s side, still chomping away at his candy bar.

“Would you like some chocolate?” He asked, the oozing chocolate sticking his teeth together. Charlie raised a brow slightly but smiled politely.

“Sure.” He said with a smile. Almost as quickly as he had appeared, Augustus snatched the bar out of reach.

“Well then you should have brought some.” He sneered, taking a bite of the chocolaty mess for emphasis as he waddled his way back over to his mother. Natalie glared at the boy, wrapping her arm around Charlie’s shoulder. How on earth could there be so many vile people in one room?

Speaking of the room, it was becoming increasingly clear that the hallway was getting smaller. At first, the group thought it was their imaginations, surely that couldn’t be happening. But soon the walls and the roof were coming far too close to them, and soon they had made it to the end, reaching a tiny door.

"Now this is probably one of the most important rooms of all.” Mr. Wonka informed them, a small but proud smile on his face. “After all, it is a chocolate factory."

"Then why is the door so small?" Mike countered, rolling his eyes. His voice was practically dripping with attitude. But Mr. Wonka didn’t even flinch. He just smiled.

"Why that's to keep all the big chocolaty goodness inside." He retorted, like it was the most obvious response in the world. When Mike came up with nothing else, the chocolatier nodded and pulled out a large ring of keys. After fiddling around for a moment, he found the right one and unlocked the door.

In a moment, everything seemed to stand completely still. 

Inside the door, they found the most incredible sight. A giant room filled with bright colours and the most magical things any of them had seen in their lives, including a gigantic waterfall leading into a river.

Mr. Wonka led them inside as the group fell silent, taking in all the sights around them. The further into the room they went, the more incredible things seemed to become. Natalie could feel her breath suddenly leave as she looked around. In all her wildest dreams, she could never have envisioned such beauty in all her life. The most beautiful colours and shapes, everything looked right out of a fairy tale.

“Now, do be careful my dear children.” Mr. Wonka said, pulling them out of their daydreams. “Don’t lose your heads. Don’t get over excited. Just keep very…calm.”

Charlie reached out silently and took his sister’s hand, holding it tight. It seemed as though reality had finally set in upon them, they were actually standing in the factory. The only thing that Natalie could do was squeeze his hand in response. She didn’t know what to feel in that moment, other than completely breathless. She was mesmerized. It seemed as though everything they had dreamed about paled in comparison to the real thing.

The group gathered around, still in constant awe about the view. Augustus honestly looked as though he was, for lack of a better phrase, a kid in a candy story – or in this case, a kid in a chocolate factory, practically salivating at the sight. Even the Salts seemed to be taken back by the magnificence of the great hall around them.

"It’s beautiful." whispered Charlie, speaking the thoughts of every person in the room. The smile on his face was the brightest that it had ever been.

"What, oh yeah it's really beautiful." Mr. Wonka said, not quite as enthusiastically as the boy had, but still had a small smile on his face as he looked around at his creation.

He quickly led the group down a small hill and down along the river bank. Natalie was rendered speechless still. Everything that they passed seemed to astound her in every way; the trees, the flowers, the grass…it all looked so real, yet there was something distinctly magical about it. Natalie glanced down at the river bubbling beside them, dark and creamy, almost like chocolate. Surely that couldn’t be though.

"Every drop of that river is hot melted chocolate." Mr. Wonka explained, a smug little grin on his face."The waterfall is most important. It mixes the chocolate, making it light and frothy.”  Did you know that no other factory in the world mixes its chocolate by waterfall?" It was as though he had read her mind. Natalie’s eyes went wide as she looked at her brother. In all his life, Natalie could have sworn that she had never seen Charlie smile quite as brightly as he was now.

As the group continued to wander, Mr. Wonka pointed out the mechanics of the pipes and the chocolate delivery system through the factory, and the Bucket children seemed to be hanging off his every word.  From a technical point of view, it was incredibly interesting, making them wonder just how big the factory was. The other members of the group, though still interested, were more inclined to focus on jut what was out there in the fields of green. Something that didn’t go unnoticed by Mr. Wonka.

"Do you like my meadow?" he asked knowingly, eyeing every one of the children, noticing how each of them was looking around in complete wonder. "Try some of my grass. Please do, it's so delectable and so darn good looking."

Charlie was the first to speak up. He lifted his head, looking up at the man with an incredulous look in his eyes. Surely he didn’t mean they could actually eat the grass? It had to be real…right?

"You can eat the grass?" He questioned, undying hope lighting his eyes. The children looked up at him instantly, eyes going wide in disbelief. Surely this apparently foolish man was joking with them? Mr. Wonka turned to look at him, his lips quirking as he nodded his head.

"Of course you can. Everything that you see in this room is eatable. Even I’m eatable.” He informed them, gesturing to himself. “But that, my dear children, is called cannibalism and is usually frowned upon in most societies."

Natalie barely had a chance to cover her mouth before she let out another soft laugh. This time, Mr. Wonka was quick to meet her gaze, discovering that she was the source of the laughter before. Charlie nudged her lightly in the ribs, barely hiding a smile of his own, but she could barely contain it. Apparently this trip was doing well in proving she had a less than civilized sense of humor.

Glancing at her out of the corner of his eye, Mr. Wonka smirked and sent her a slight wink as he turned to the rest of the group. He bowed his head and gestured around the vast expanse before them.

"Enjoy." he said, motioning for them to help themselves to the array of treats. Augustus needed no further prompting. He was off a fast as his legs could carry him, with his mother hot on his heels behind him. Though some of the others took a little more convincing, the group soon separated and went off to discover the bright and incredible wonders within the Chocolate room. It seemed that almost everyone was taking advantage of the freedom to run amok. The Gloops were rushing from site to site, shoveling everything and anything they could into their mouths, with Mrs. Gloop even going so far as to shove mounds of chocolates in her purse to smuggle back home. Mike Teevee took a more physical approach, destroying everything in sight, much to the distain and frustration of his weary father.

Charlie smiled up at his sister and offered her his hand. Smiling in reply, Natalie followed him out along the field by the chocolate river. Knowing that the grass beneath their feet was in fact candy, it gave the pair the inclination to question every assumption they had made about their surroundings, far greater than they had ever imagined.

By the edge of the river, nestled between the blades of sweet flavoured grass blades, lay a patch of the sweetest looking candy daisies. Ever the gentleman, Charlie reached down and plucked a small flower from the patch and bowed as he offered it to her Natalie grinned and gripped the hem of her dress, curtsying politely as she accepted the flower. It was beautiful, so delicate and incredibly crafted, she wasn’t entirely sure if it was grown or hand carved.

She nodded her head for her brother to go ahead and explore, letting him know that she would catch up with him momentarily. Though he was slightly hesitant at first, Charlie soon smiled and nodded, running off over to a large multi coloured tree up ahead. Natalie smiled as she watched him, daintily picking at the petals of her flower and putting them to her lips. The moment they touched her tongue, they dissolved into the sweetest sugar she had ever tasted.

“Are you not enjoying yourself?” A voice asked, coming up behind her. Surprised, Natalie flinched slightly, her foot slipping on a patch of grass and making her a little off balance. Mr. Wonka was quick to react, taking her elbow and pulling her away from the edge.

“Thank you, I wasn’t aware I was standing so close.” Natalie admitted, feeling rather foolish for almost landing in the river. Mr. Wonka shrugged, dusting his hands off and gripping his cane under his arm.

“Well, we don’t want you falling in, do we?” he asked with a slightly nervous chuckle. Clearing his throat, he stood a little straighter to address her once more. “So, are you? Enjoying yourself?”

“Oh, of course I am. Ridiculously so.” She assured him with a warm smile. “It’s just, a lot to take in at once, I wouldn’t know where to begin. After all, I don’t really eat much chocolate.”

“You don’t like chocolate?” He wondered, his brow furrowing in slight confusion. If Natalie was being honest with herself, she would have had to admit, it was slightly endearing in an almost adorable way. She smiled and shook her head, assuring him that her place here was not wasted.

“Oh no, I love chocolate. I just don’t get the opportunity to have it often.” She explained with a light shrug of her shoulders. “It’s usually a rather rare commodity in our house.”

Fortunately, Mr. Wonka didn’t ask any further questions on the subject. Whether he got her meaning, or pieced together his own conclusions from the news reports and such, Natalie didn’t know, nor did she really care.

They soon found themselves walking along a small path between trees, not too far from the river’s edge, though a much safer distance away than she had been earlier. Natalie wasn’t entirely sure why he was entertaining the idea that she was remotely interesting to him, why would she be? But she found that she rather liked his company.

“So, if you don't mind me asking, how come you're here and not his…older relatives?” Mr. Wonka enquired, not taking the risk of stumbling over the word once more. Natalie smiled and shrugged her shoulders.

“It’s going to sound rather silly to you I’m sure of it.” She admitted. But Mr. Wonka didn’t look disinterested at all. In fact, her admission only made him more curious.

“If you haven’t noticed, I’m all about the silly stuff.” He prompted with a grin. She had to admit he had her there. Shaking her head softly, Natalie played with the remainder of the daisy in her hand, twisting the stem between her fingers.

“Ever since we were little, Charlie and I had this dream of one day getting the chance to see the factory. I know a lot of people probably had the same kind of dream, but…it was never about the chocolate or the mystery for us.” She told him.

“Then what was it?” Mr. Wonka asked, genuinely curious as to her reasoning why.

“Our grandfather used to work in your candy store and later here in the factory. He used to tell us the most incredible stories, we grew up learning of your adventures. So, when Charlie found the ticket, he suggested that I come with Charlie, also partially because he found the ticket at the place I work.”

“And you work where, exactly?”

“A small candy store on Cherry Street. Farthingham’s, actually.” She told him with a smile, brushing her hair behind her ear. Mr. Wonka’s eyes widened slightly. She worked at his store – well, what used to be his store before he moved on to bigger and better things, like his factory. But the coincidence…it was almost astounding. He opened his mouth to speak when something caught his eye. A glint of shiny maroon tied in the back of her hair. Before he had a chance to question it, a young shrill voice cried out from down the riverbank.

"Daddy, look over there! It's a little person!" exclaimed Veruca, a large lollypop paused mid way to her mouth. At the exclamation, almost everyone seemed to stop whatever they were doing and turn their attention to a high peak of grass just by the waterfall. Standing on the ledge, with a jackhammer roughly his own height, was a little man all dressed in red.  Sure enough, they began noticing more and more of them coming out of the woodwork, each with their own machine to harvest the treats that were growing.

“Where do they come from?”

“Who are they?”

“Are they real people?”

At the young Teevee boy’s question, Mr. Wonka looked almost insulted. He glanced down at the boy, frankly surprised that he said anything at all, looking at him as though his statement was the most ridiculous thing he had ever heard.

“Well of course they’re real people. They’re Oompa Loompas.” He told the group matter-of-factly.  A chorus of silent looked of confusion were thrown about the group. He spoke as though they were supposed to understand just what on earth he was talking about.

"Oompa Loompas?" wondered Mr. Salt.

"Imported, direct from Loompaland." Mr. Wonka explained with a satisfactory nod of his head. However, he was still yet to convince most of the group, particularly one in particular.

"There's no such place." Mr. Teevee spoke up, shaking his head. Mr. Wonka looked both confused and slightly put out as he turned to face the man.

"What?"

"Mr. Wonka I teach high school geography and there…"

"Well then you'll know all about it and oh what a terrible place it is." Mr. Wonka said, cutting him off and therefore ending the discussion. Charlie and Natalie looked at each other. Honestly, what reason was there for any of them to doubt him? Especially after everything they had seen so far.

Mr. Wonka went on to explain about his travels, and how he ventured off to the little known nation of Loompaland, to search for new flavours for his candy. While his intended search came up empty, he soon found the Oompa Loompas and their particular way of life; most importantly their fondness and love of the cocoa bean, coincidently the main ingredient of chocolate. In a rather fortuitous turn of events, he persuaded the Chief of the tribe to bring their people to work in his factory in exchange for a lifetime’s supply of cocoa beans and more.

"I must warn you though. They are rather mischievous. Always making jokes." Mr. Wonka said with a small, secretive smile on his lips.

Well, that seemed to answer a few questions, particularly for young Charlie. He had always wondered how Mr. Wonka managed to not only create and make the chocolate in such a large factory, but package and deliver it out, all on his own. The more that he thought about it, the more the ideas of Oompa Loompas seemed to make much more sense to him.

The rest of the group however, was not as easily swayed. Though, it seemed as though nobody else was willing to come up with a logical reason to challenge the man, so they once again went their own ways to explore whatever else they could.

While her brother went to explore a nearby hard candy shrug, Natalie was once again left to her own devices. Not that she minded at all, it was still far too much for her to comprehend. However, she wasn’t alone for long. After a silent stare down with Mr. Salt, Mr. Wonka was once again by her side.

"So…what do you think?" he asked her, gesturing with the end of his cane to everything around them. Natalie turned to him, a feeling of déjà vu washing over her, having heard the same words from him over a decade before.

"…You want to know what I think, Mr. Wonka?" she asked. Why would the opinion of one woman matter to him out of all of this? But still, nevertheless, he nodded his head. Natalie smiled and shook her head in disbelief, glancing out at the majestic view before them.

"I think it's the most amazing place I have ever seen. Better than anything I could ever have imagined."

Something she said seemed to stir something within him. He seemed to freeze up a little, his eyes glossing over slightly, and looking as though his mind was a million miles away. Natalie was starting to fear that he was having one of his little episodes like he had earlier, though he soon seemed to shake himself out of it, offering her a small apologetic smile.

“I’m sorry it’s just…you look very familiar.” He murmured quietly, apparently aware of just how strange that sounded. Natalie’s eyes widened slightly, trying not to convey her surprise at his comment. Surely there was no way he could think that? She had been by ten years old the last time they met, and it was nothing spectacular, a passing meeting at most.

“…I do?”

Mr. Wonka could only nod his head, his eyes focusing on her for a moment, putting her under soft scrutiny. After a moment of studying her face, his eyes shifted to her hair once more, focusing more on the ribbon tied in with her curls.

“Where did you get that ribbon?” he wondered, nodding to the small scrap of fabric in question. Natalie absently reached up, touching the ribbon gently, as though she wanted to confirm that it was still there.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” She assured him with a soft smile. There was something however, in his eyes that told her that he did believe her already without her saying a word. Mr. Wonka’s eyebrows lifted in surprise at her remark.

“Again, all of this and you think I wouldn’t believe you?” He countered. Natalie could only smile, realizing just how foolish that must have sounded. Well, what did she have to lose by telling him? Nothing really.

“You gave it to me.” She said finally, noting the look of surprise in his face, causing her smile to broaden. “It was about fifteen years ago. I was visiting the candy store with my grandfather was looking around at the shelves when I bumped into you. You asked me what I thought of the shop.”

Mr. Wonka was silent for a moment, considering her words carefully. Fifteen years was a long time, and so much had happened since then. He met with many people in and out of his shop, though he usually didn’t make a habit of taking to random customers, preferring to stay behind the scenes with the candy over people. But it did sound familiar. A little girl, looking at the candy with such wonder, though she never helped herself to purchase any. A little girl who he remembered being incredibly wise beyond her years.

“...I gave you a rose.” He said finally. Natalie’s eyes widened. He remembered. How, though? The trademark Wonka ribbon used to be strategically placed on a number of products, there could have been no reason for him to remember her by any means. Still, with a smile on her face, she nodded her head.

“You gave me a rose. Still one of the most delicious treats I believe I’ve had in my life.” She told him with a laugh.

“And now you’re here.”

“Now I’m here.” She confirmed with a nod, practically seeing all the tiny pieces fitting together inside his head. “Strange isn’t it? How all of that works out.”

Mr. Wonka chuckled and nodded his head, adjusting his hat on his head. He turned to look at her, still looking at her as though she was something he just couldn’t quite understand or comprehend.

“You kept it?” he asked, a small smile on his face. Natalie couldn’t help smiling in return as she nodded in reply. She decided to omit the part about it being one of her most treasured possessions, only imagining just how strange she seemed to him already.

"AUGUSTUS, MY SON! THAT IS NOT A GOOD THING YOU DO!"

Startled by the loud interruption, everyone followed the sound of Mrs. Gloop screeching, turning to find Augustus bent over by the edge of the river, scooping handful after handful of the liquid chocolate into his mouth from the river below. His face and clothes were covered, but it seemed that he didn’t have a care in the world that didn’t revolve around the chocolaty goodness.

Mr. Wonka turned, his face becoming paler than it had been as he spied the boy desecrating his precious creation. The rest of the group looked on, completely appalled, surely there had to be a way to stop him without anyone getting injured, or tainting the batch completely?

 “Hey, little boy? My chocolate must not be touched by human hands!” he called out, though he wasn’t making any other movements to try and stop the boy. Evidently, Augustus wasn’t interested in hearing his attempted pleas either. He practically dove in once more for another scoopful. However, he seemed to lose his balance, and toppled head first into the chocolate.

Gasps of shock fell from the mouths of those that watched, with the exception once more of Mr. Wonka, who simply looked a little put out, and rather desperate to say ‘I told you so’. After a few moments, the young boy surfaced once more, covered from head to toe in chocolate, but was floundering, unable to keep himself afloat.

“He’ll drown! He cannot swim!” Mrs. Gloop cried, her hand still clutching a candied cream apple she had been devouring moments before. She turned to Mr. Wonka and tugged desperately at his coat. “Please, you must save him!”

“Surely he won’t let the boy drown.” Mr. Salt muttered, eyeing a still Wonka who was watching the scene unfold with little expression present on his face.

All of a sudden, the pipes drifted over the river, landing in the chocolaty waves and started sucking it rapidly up the tube, pulling Augustus into a whirling roundabout before sucking him into the pipe, much to the relief of his mother. He didn’t get far, unfortunately, before he got stuck halfway up the pipe. With a pop, the bolts connecting the pipe started to burst, sending Augustus higher and higher up the pipe, until it gave out and he was stuck once more.   

“He’s blocked the whole pipe, there’s nothing coming through at all.” Mr. Salt said, not bothering to hide his light amusement at the situation.

A light humming and thrumming sound was heard, pulling the group out of their confusion as they looked around. More and more Oompa Loompas had appeared, bobbing their heads to a tune that they were creating on their own, each movement of their tools added to the rhythm. It was much like a catchy tune that nobody in the group had ever heard before.

"What are they doing?" Veruca asked, looking rather unsure as to whether she should be frightened or not. Mr. Wonka smiled and glanced around.

"I believe they're going to treat us to a little song.” He informed them fondly. “It is a special occasion of course, they haven’t had a fresh audience in many a moon."

“They’re singing now? At a time like this?” Natalie wondered, looking around in slight disbelief. A young boy was stuck in a pipe and these little men were going to put on a show for them?

And that they did.

The Oompa Loompas soon started performing a rather large and elaborate song and dance number, all in perfect and succinct unison. What was strange, was that the lyrics of the song fitted the situation perfectly, speaking to the rest of the group much like a Greek Chorus, filling in the blanks between acts. Honestly how did they manage to come up with that so quickly? And so many rhymes for ‘Augustus Gloop’.

So after the singing, dancing and synchronized swimming and acrobatics, with the promise that the not so little German boy would be turned into fudge, Augustus shot up the pipe and into the machine, before being taken away to another room. As quickly as they had appeared the tiny little men in red dispersed and went back to their work, leaving everyone rather unsure of what just happened…with the exception of Mr. Wonka, who was applauding the performance.

“Aren’t they delightful? Aren’t they charming?” he asked around, a large smile on his face. It seemed though that the others weren’t quite so sure.

“I do say, that all seemed rather rehearsed.” Mr. Salt pointed out dryly, raising his brow in suspicion at the chocolatier.

“Like they knew it was going to happen.” Mike added. Mr. Wonka looked between the two and barely resisted rolling his eyes.

“Poppycock.” He assured them, collecting his cane once more and leading the group down the embankment. Mrs. Gloop was quick to snap out of her daze and spring into action, apprehending the man before he could get too far away.

"Where is my son? Where does that pipe go to?!" she asked desperately, clutching his coat once more. Mr. Wonka glanced up at the disappearing pipe before returning his gaze back to the fear-stricken woman.

"That pipe leads to the room where I make the most delicious strawberry-flavored-chocolate-covered fudge." He grinned.

"Then…my son is going to be turned into strawberry flavored chocolate coated fudge, and they'll be selling him by the pound all over the world?" asked Mrs. Gloop, the fear in her voice rising every second.

"…No.  I wouldn’t allow it.” Mr. Wonka assured her. A small sigh of relief washed over the woman as she seemed to ease a little.

“Besides, can you imagine Augustus-flavoured chocolate coated fudge. Eww! No one would buy it." Mr. Wonka amended. The group looked at him in complete shock, though it was clear that a few were having a hard time keeping a straight face, despite the severity of the situation. Mrs. Gloop’s face dropped immediately, but Mr. Wonka took no notice. Instead, he turned around and made a strange sound, and soon one of the Oompa Loompas appeared before them.

“I want you to take Mrs. Gloop to the fudge room, okay. Help her find her son. Then, take a big stick, an start poking around in the large chocolate mixing barrel. ‘Kay?” he said, mimicking the motion with his cane. The tiny man nodded his heads and crossed his arms in way of salute, a gesture in which Mr. Wonka followed and before they knew it, the Oompa Loompa was tugging on Mrs. Gloop’s dress and leading her away from the rest of the group.

“Mr. Wonka?” Charlie questioned, bringing everyone’s attention back to the group. “Why was Augustus’ name be in the song? Unless they…”

“Improvisation is a parlor trick. Anyone can do it.” He assured the boy, cutting him off before more questions could be asked. He turned around and pointed at Violet.

“You, little girl. Say something, anything at all.” He asked. Violet didn’t look like a willing participant, but at the insisting nudge of her mother, shrugged and decided to play along.

“Chewing gum.”

“Chewing gum is really gross. Chewing gum I hate the most.” Mr. Wonka recited off the top of his head, all to prove his point. When he was done, he smirked at the children and shrugged. “See, it’s exactly the same.”

“No it’s not.” Mike grumbled. Mr. Wonka stopped, glancing over at the boy with a raised brow. He had to wonder if this little smart-alec kid was going to challenge everything he said and did.

“You know you really shouldn’t mumble, cause I can’t understand a word you’re saying.” He grinned all too brightly. Mike merely looked at him, clearly unimpressed yet he seemed to be unable to come up with another witty retort. Satisfied, Mr. Wonka gathered his cane and decided to continue on.

As they made their way down the bank, the Buckets held back a little towards the end of the group. Charlie was still unsure about the answer he got, and rugged on his sister’s sleeve.

“The Oompa Loompas were only joking, weren’t they, Nat? Augustus is going to be okay, right?” he asked, a slight hint of panic in his voice. Natalie smiled reassuringly at her little brother and nodded, wrapping her arms around his shoulders and bringing him close.

“Of course, love. He’s going to be just fine.” She told him. Charlie smiled, happy with her reassurance. When he turned his attention back to the group, Natalie’s face paled as she glanced up at the path the pipes had taken.

As they made their way along the edge of the river, a large shadow fell upon the muddy coloured river. Glancing up, the group was met with the sight of a large pink boat coming their way. It was large and immaculately carved out of what appeared to be hard boiled candy, resembling the shape of an old Viking war ship. Inside, at least two dozen Oompa Loompas dressed in blue were at the oars, rowing and bringing the vessel to a stop right in front of the group.

Once they ceased rowing, two dozen pairs of eyes immediately fell to the group, followed by a chorus of what could only be described as knowing laughter. If the group weren’t ill at ease before, they certainly were now.

"What's so funny?" asked Violet, snapping her gum as she screwed her face up in disgust. Natalie flinched at the sound, growing rather tired of hearing the sound. Mr. Wonka hid his smile carefully as he glanced at the group.

“It must be from all those doggone cocoa beans.” He suggested with a chuckle. Nobody seemed to be put at ease by that suggestion, but they didn’t dare speak out against their host. Well, at least it gave evidence to the theory that linked chocolate and hyperactivity.

“Hey, did you guys know that chocolate has a property that releases endorphins into your body? Yeah, it gives one the feeling of…” At this point, he was looking at each member of the group individually, as though he was excited to pass on this little tidbit of knowledge to new ears. But his words fell from his lips suddenly, causing him to lose his train of thought when he came face to face with Natalie.

“Of…being in love.” He stammered, not quite remembering where it was that he was trying to go with this. Natalie felt the uncommon feeling of heat suddenly rising to her cheeks, and looked away before her blush became too evident. Mr. Wonka looked away quickly, a small nervous smile on his lips as he nodded, gesturing to the boat.

"Okay! A-all aboard!" he announced with a somewhat forced giggle. Charlie nudged his sister with a grin, causing Natalie to playfully shove her brother and pull him into a headlock. The group made their way onto the boat, not quite pushing and shoving, but the young ones were eager to fight over what they thought to be the best seat on the boat. The remaining seats were up the back and Charlie took the lead in stepping onto the boat. Natalie took a step to settle her footing but Mr. Wonka took a step beside her and held out a gloved hand to her.

“Here, allow me.” He offered. Natalie looked at him in surprise, certainly not excepting such a gesture. But she smiled and took the offered hand, stepping into the boat and sitting down beside her brother at the end of the pew. Mr. Wonka soon followed suit and sat down beside Charlie, motioning for the Oompa Loompas to depart from the shore.

 

Chapter Text

There was a strange presence on the boat as the group travelled through the river. The Oompa Loompas sat rigid in their places, staring straight ahead, unmoving and unblinking as they rowed; an ominous tune being hummed amongst them in perfect unison. It was slightly unnerving, but no more than anything else that they had witnessed thus far.

Tensions were still a little high after what happened to Augustus, and the confusion as to where their eccentric guide was taking them next. If it were at all possible, the view from the boat was even more stunning than when they had been on land. Natalie and Charlie sat in complete awe, still trying to comprehend the fact that they were currently sitting in a boat made out of candy in the middle of Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Even after everything they had seen, they still felt the need to pinch themselves.

Each passing expanse seemed to be more beautiful than the last, though the thought seemed almost unbelievable. It seemed strange to believe that everything here was made entirely out of some form of candy, but considering where they were and the current company they were keeping, it didn’t seem too farfetched. The Bucket children had to remind themselves that there was a very good chance that nothing would seem strange ever again once the day was out.

Mr. Wonka looked ahead at the group sitting before them. Still and rigid, occasionally turning to look at something that they passed by, but they were simply waiting. It was almost as though everything they passed was as boring and mundane as they every day. It certainly wasn’t the reaction he had been anticipating. He kept his face expressionless, but was frowning within. Were these children’s lives so frivolous that nothing seemed to give them wonder anymore?

Turning his attention to the pair beside him, he was more than pleased to see that they were taking every advantage to look at as much as they could. They weren’t putting on a show, merely huddled together, whispering and pointing at each new and exciting thing they passed, never losing their sense of incredulousness. With a small smile on his face, Mr. Wonka had an idea, and reached for a soup ladle that was hanging by the edge of the boat, dipping it into the river.

“Here, try some of this, it’ll do you good.” He said, handing the ladle over to Charlie. “You both looked starved to death.”

The boy accepted the offering with a bright smile of thanks, bringing the ladle to his lips and taking an eager sip of the warm, sugary sweetness. He paused for a moment, savoring the taste before he looked up at the chocolatier.

“It’s great!” he replied, turning and handing the ladle to his sister. Natalie smiled in thanks and followed suit, sipping lightly from the ladle. The chocolate was warm, like a delicious cup of hot chocolate, pure and unrefined. She had honestly never tasted anything like it, and knew she probably never will again.

“It’s perfect.” She agreed, passing the ladle back over to Mr. Wonka. He smiled at her, pleased with the compliments, and Natalie felt as though she had never seen a more honest smile from anyone. For a moment his gaze seemed to drift down, and quickly reverted back up as he turned to look straight ahead. It wasn’t until Charlie motioned to her that she had a small spatter of chocolate at the corner of her lips. Blushing slightly, Natalie quickly wiped it away as she returned her gaze ahead.

“It tastes like that because the chocolate is mixed by waterfall. It churns it up, makes it light and frothy. Did you know that no other factory in the world m-.”

“You already said that.” Veruca noted, rudely interrupting him and catching him completely off guard. The look on her face practically screamed that she just did not want to be there at all.

Everyone immediately turned around, ready to gauge his reaction. It was clear he wasn’t expecting to be interrupted like that, and who could possibly blame him? Mr. Wonka simply froze, closing his fist and causing his glove to emit a slight squeaking sound. His lips were pursed, as though he was trying to come up with the best response he could.
Eventually, he simply straightened up, a nonchalant look on his face as though it had all happened completely as it should.

"You're all quite short aren't you?" he noted, glancing around at the three in front of him. It wasn’t the cleanest of topic change, but it seemed to work just as well. Violet looked at him as though he had miraculously grown another head.

"Well yeah, we're children!" she sneered, rolling her eyes.

Natalie had to bite the inside of her cheek to stop herself from saying something. She could honestly not believe how rude these children could be, especially to someone who was giving them such an incredible once in a lifetime opportunity. What made it worse was the fact that their parents were letting them get away with it. She shook her head and leaned closer to her brother.

“You have no idea how thankful I am that you didn’t turn out like that.” She murmured, causing him to grin up at her.

"Well that's no excuse.” Mr. Wonka retorted, seemingly unfazed by the little girl’s attitude. If he minded at all, he was doing a rather good job at hiding it. “I don’t remember ever being as short as you."

"You were once." Mike insisted, rolling his eyes. But it seemed as though Mr. Wonka was in no mood to adhere to logic.

"Was not! You know why?” He asked, challenging them almost childishly. Though he never really gave any of them a chance to consider it, let alone respond. “Because I remember putting a hat on the top of my head. With your short little arms, there’s no way you could ever reach."

The children seemed to be falling short with a comeback in retaliation, or perhaps they just simply didn’t care. Either way, the subject was dropped and Mr. Wonka was left looking rather pleased with himself. While the situation did seem rather ridiculous and a little childish, there was no reason to take that sort of attitude in your own home. Charlie glanced at his sister and the two merely shared a confused shrug, neither one of them fully understanding any better than the other.

"Do you remember what it was like when you were young, Mr. Wonka?" Charlie asked, turning his attention back to the chocolatier. It was an innocent question, one that a child would certainly ask of his hero that would not necessarily be much cause for concern. Mr. Wonka grinned and shook his head almost fondly.

“Boy, do I.” he murmured. Then, all of a sudden, it was as if someone had flicked a switch inside his head, his smile seemed to melt away, and his face was left with a look of uncertainty. “…Do I?”

His eyes glazed over once more as he seemed to slip into another one of his dazes. Natalie and Charlie exchanged a worried look. It was hard not to wonder just what on earth it was that seemed to capture his mind every now and then. They didn’t try to snap him out of it, merely turned their attention straight ahead once more, watching as the boat continued to drift down the chocolate river. Moments passed before the tide seemed to change, and the boat began to drift towards a large, dark tunnel. The guests onboard started to panic, unsure of what was going on as the atmosphere turned slightly unsettling while they made their way closer and closer into the darkness, all the while without the cognitive presence of their host.

“Mr. Wonka? Mr. Wonka, we’re heading into a tunnel.” Charlie murmured, lightly tugging on the man’s coat sleeve. Apparently whatever it was that consumed Mr. Wonka’s thoughts had a tight grip on him, making t difficult to bring him back to the matter at hand. It took Charlie a few tries before Mr. Wonka seemed to shake himself out of his daydream and bring himself back onboard the boat.

“Hmm? Oh, full speed ahead.” He called out to the team rowing the boats. Following orders, the Oompa Loompas quickened their pace as boat soon picked up speed, heading into the opening of the tunnel. The light from the chocolate room was quickly fading behind them, filling the passengers onboard with a slight sense of fear.

“How can they see where they’re going?” Violet wondered, her voice sturdy but clearly perplexed and almost accusatory. But Mr. Wonka barely batted an eye. He merely looked on ahead into the approaching darkness.

“They can’t. There’s no knowing where they’re going.” he said simply, as if none of them had a single thing to dread. This newfound information caused very head to turn to him in horror. “…Switch on the lights!”

The darkness was broken as an array of colorful lights switched on, just in time for the group to find themselves falling down into a tunnel below. The boat dropped down suddenly as the water changed from smooth to rapid. A few yelps of surprise were heard as each passenger held on for dear life while the boat sped downwards through a seemingly never ending tunnel. It seemed as though the Oompa Loompas had lost control of the boats direction, allowing the vessel to quite literally go with the flow.

Mr. Wonka looked around, trying to catch a glimpse of his guests. He could tell that they were frightened judging by the way they were gripping their seats and the edges of the boat as they rocked. Some even ha their eyes clenched tight as a means to try and pass the time. Glancing beside him, he found that the Bucket boy and his sister seemed once again to be the exception of the group. Their eyes were wide open, taking in every sight and sound that they could, smiling and looking as though they were having the time of their lives.

Though he said nothing, there was something about the boy that he couldn’t quite put his finger on, but it seemed strikingly familiar. And his sister…well, she had to be the only grown up on the tour that didn’t make him want to hit himself over the head with his cane repeatedly. In fact, he found it was quite the opposite, which he had to admit was more than incredibly weird.

The boat soon dropped down into smoother waters and flowed along the chocolate current with gentle ease. The group seemed to let out a collective sigh, glad to be done with the rushing rapids around them. As they floated along, they passed a collection of doors that seemed to hold various creations and ingredients. Some seemed rather typical of what you would expect to find in a chocolate factory, like clotted cream or coffee cream. Others, well they seemed more specialized for Wonka’s Factory alone.

“What do you use hair cream for?” Mrs. Beauregard wondered. Mr. Wonka turned and offered her an almost giddy smile.

“To lock in moisture.” He quipped with a giggle, primping his hair. The blonde woman offered a tight smile in return, deciding not to venture further with that particular comment.
Natalie and Charlie shared a look and a muffled laugh as they looked out at the passing rooms. On the left was an open door. Inside they could see some Oompa Loompas standing before a cow that had been strung up on a pulley. While one was taking notes, two of the workers were repeatedly whipping the bovine. The Bucket children turned to each other with glee.

“Whipped cream!” They said in unison. Mr. Wonka turned to them, thoroughly impressed the quickness of their understanding and made no move to hide it.

“Precisely!”

"That doesn't make any sense!" snapped Veruca. The mirth in Mr. Wonka’s eyes seemed to fade in an instant, with him rolling his eyes before turning his attention to the very unimpressed little brad sitting ahead.

"Well for your information little girl, whipped cream isn't whipped cream at all unless it's been whipped by whips. Everybody knows that." He sneered, almost challenging the spoiled child to question his methods any further. Veruca was clearly put out, making no effort to hide the fact, but she held her tongue, and turned around to face the front, sulking beside her father. Mr. Wonka let out another triumphant giggle as the boat continued to sail down the chocolate river. As they journeyed deeper into the bowels of the factory, they passed more and more rooms, each more strangely intriguing than the last. Finally, after drifting by a corner, Mr. Wonka perked up.

“Stop the boat!” he cried out, practically bouncing in his seat. “I wanna show you guys something!”

The Oompa Loompas adhered to the request and soon the boat slowly drifted towards a docking bay by another large door. The sign above caused a rather excited chatter among the guests. Natalie and Charlie shared an excited glance as the vessel finally came to a stop outside Wonka’s Inventing Room.

“Quickly now, everyone out.” Mr. Wonka called, ushering everyone to their feet. One by one the group piled out of the craft, carefully stepping up onto the dock. Charlie got to his feet, making his way out of the boat, followed by his sister with Mr. Wonka right behind them. As he had before, almost on instinct, Mr. Wonka offered his hand out to Natalie when she moved to step out of the boat. She smiled softly in thanks and followed the group onto the dock. When the last passenger was out, the drums sounded once more and the boat disappeared down the river, almost as mysteriously as its initial arrival.

Upon entering the room, they were met with a rather different sight. While it lacked the colour and uniqueness of the Chocolate room before it, the Inventing room was not without its splendor. It seemed as though everything was made of metal, industrial looking in every sense of the word, much like a giant science laboratory. Weird machines filled the room, each making its own individual sound or action, a whistle or some other strange movement. Darting between the machines, several Oompa Loompas were set at work at the devices, creating and testing what could only be the next batch of Wonka’s wonderful inventions.

If Natalie had been enamored before, this was heaven on earth. Something the Buckets prided themselves on was a creative mind, and it showed in both her and her brother. Ever since she was young, Natalie had developed a habit of creating things, wondering how things worked and could be improved for the better. Her love of science and home economics in high school were reason enough for her to spend endless nights thinking up new recipes and ways to make the troubles her family had a little easier. Perhaps that’s where the fascination with the factory came from?

Charlie looked around before his eyes landed on his sister. He smiled, noticing the look of wonder on her face as she glanced around the room. He knew especially now that there couldn’t have been anyone else that he could have brought with him to the factory.

“This is the most important room in the factory. All my inventions, everything that I come up with, is created right here.” Mr. Wonka said, seeming rather proud of himself. “Feel free to look around, but just don’t touch anything…okay?”

By then the group had already started to disperse, rushing off to inspect the large machines, eager to discover just what it was they were creating. Natalie shared a smile with her brother before walking over to a machine that seemed to be making a particularly loud buzzing sound. She stepped forward, and could see some of the cogs and gears whirling inside the machine, bringing it to life. She watched in utter amazement as large thick slabs of sugar passed through the machine, coming out the other end as an assortment of pink and white candies.

Mr. Wonka was determined to keep a watchful eye on the group as they flitted about his machines, with sticky, grabby hands tempted to reach out and touch anything they could. None of them did, much to his relief. However, he noticed out of the corner of his eye, the Bucket girl, simply standing in front of one of the machines, gazing at it as if it were the most incredible thing she had ever seen. It was strange…he’d never seen anyone look at a machine like that before. A little bemused, Mr. Wonka found the boy not too far from him and moved to his side.

“…Is she okay?” he wondered, a little hesitantly. Charlie turned to look at him in confusion before following his gaze. He smiled and nodded his head.

“She’s fine. Completely in her element right now.” He assured the chocolatier. Mr. Wonka furrowed his brow. What did he mean by that?

“Her element?”

“She loves science. Natalie was a bit of a chemistry geek at school. She loves figuring out how things work, that kind of thing. You know, putting things together and creating new things.”

Admittedly, the boy’s words took him completely by surprise. Putting things together and creating things…well, that’s what he did wasn’t it? In a way, at least. Mr. Wonka looked at her for a moment, head tilted to the side, deep in thought. From first initial thought, she didn’t seem like the type, though he supposed if there was ever a time for him to be wrong, this would probably be it.

“So…she’s an inventor?” He asked the boy slowly, his eyes still focused on the young woman. Charlie grinned knowingly and shrugged.

“Kind of. I know she used to want to be one. She’s got notebooks full of sketches and all kinds of recipes and things.”

“Recipes?” Mr. Wonka asked, surprised. Charlie nodded his head, his grin growing. “Interesting…”

“I’m sure she’d tell you about it if you asked her.” The boy said knowingly. Mr. Wonka looked down at him startled, but he had already walked away, busying himself with another machine. The man stood there, unsure what to do. He wrung his hands a little, only realizing that they were in fact shaking slightly. He was being foolish, he knew that. She was just a girl – a woman. He could talk to her. There was nobody standing around her, so it would be the perfect time.

Nodding his head, he walked over to her, standing just a little way beside her, looking up at the machine before them for a moment, glancing at her out of the corner of his eye.

“So. Working in a candy store, you must really like candy then, huh?” He asked. Natalie smiled softly in response, still looking up at the machine that had started to make a light whizzing sound.

“Oh, I do. I love it. The look, the smell…the taste of course.” She said with a light chuckle, finally turning to face him. “I think what I love the most about it is just how special it can be.”

For a moment, Mr. Wonka was a little struck. As she looked at him, he had only just noticed her eyes; they were the softest shade of blue he’d ever seen. He found himself momentarily forgetting how to speak, caught a little off guard by the fact. Thankfully, he manage to recover before she seemed to notice.

“Special?” He wondered, letting out a soft hint of nervous laughter and internally kicking himself for acting so foolish. Natalie smiled and nodded her head.

“Charlie and I were never able to have candy all the time, so it became rather special when we did have it. It helped us not take that kind of magic for granted, I think.” She said, more musing to herself than anything. Mr. Wonka found himself able to simply nod his head in understanding. It was strange to think that others could have the same or similar understanding about candy that he could.

“Your brother said that you’re an inventor yourself?” He said as they moved along slowly to another machine. Instantly, Natalie felt her cheeks flush with embarrassment. She was hardly an inventor, merely someone who messed around in the kitchen when she could.

“Hardly. I just…have a habit of writing things down. It’s nothing, really.” She said, dismissing the thought. Mr. Wonka furrowed his brow. Wasn’t that how the creative process started? Simply having an idea and writing it down for posterity later on? He opened his mouth to object, when a small but shrill voice beat him to it.

“Hey, Mr. Wonka, what’s this?” Violet asked, hovering near a large vat of water. Inside, an Oompa Loompa was diving around, picking up small brightly coloured balls.

Mr. Wonka let out a soft sigh, barely audible to anyone else. But he had to remember that he had a tour to conduct, and supposed he couldn’t be frustrated if they were asking questions, no matter how inane they could be. Natalie sent him a small sympathetic smile as they turned to rejoin the group. By the time they reached them, Mr. Wonka was back to his grinning self.

“Here, let me show you.” He said, marching over to the tank. After a moment, the Oompa Loompa surfaced, handing him a bright red hard candy. “These are everlasting gobstoppers. They’re designed for kids with very little allowance. You can suck ‘em and suck ‘em and they’ll never get any smaller.”

“How is that possible?” Mr. Teevee wondered dryly.

“Well, I suppose you could temper with the viscosity, thickening it before the solidification process?” Natalie mused, not realizing she had said it out loud and not to herself. Silence befell the group as everyone turned to look at her in either surprise or confusion.

“...Sorry.” She said sheepishly. Mr. Wonka looked at her in amazement. She said she wasn’t an inventor, yet she was able to understand the calculated scientific principles required in manufacturing candy.

“So it’s like gum.” Violet said, snapping her gum. The sound seemed to be getting louder and more obnoxious every time she opened her mouth. Mr. Wonka tore his eyes away, glancing down at her in annoyance.

“No. Gum is for chewing. If you tried chewing this, you’d break all your little teeth off.” He told her matter-of-factly, almost challenging her to argue with him again. Though the young girl seemed incredibly tempted to do so, she somehow managed to contain herself.

Mr. Wonka managed a small, smug smile, when something caught his eye on the other side of the room. Immediately, he rushed away from the group, causing everyone to look at each other in slight confusion. Though really at this point, they had grown somewhat used to the rather eccentric and odd behaviours of their host. Quickly, they hurried to catch up to him, standing before another large machine.

“Watch this!” He giggled, grinning wide as he pulled a large lever downward. The machine whirred into action, making loud, strange noises, with steam shooting out of the top. From where they were standing, the group could see cogs and wheels of every shape and size, turning and meshing together to create something wonderful inside. After a moment, the machine slowly extended what looked like a mechanical arm. Slowly but surely, the arm unfolded and a large ping like bell sound was heard, signaling completion. At the end of the arm, was a single solitary strip of gum.

All the noise and lead up, producing something so small seemed a little strange, even disappointing for those who weren’t exactly enjoying themselves.

"That's it?" said Mike with disgust, rolling his eyes. The smile fell from Mr. Wonka’s face, now showing signs of irritation as he turned to the boy.

"Do you even know what it is?" he snapped, looking just as bored with the questions as the children.

"It's gum," Violet said matter-of-factly, eyeing the piece with such intensity.

"Not just any old gum. This here I the most revolutionary piece of gum ever in the entire world. You know why?" corrected Mr. Wonka, ripping the strip from, the machine and holding it up with pride. The group shrugged and shook their heads, unable to understand. "Because this gum," he explained, "Is a full three-course meal, all by itself!"

“Why on earth would anyone want that?” Mr. Salt wondered, looking at the piece as though it were an alien object. Natalie’s eyes widened as she turned to the man in disbelief. Of course a man who wanted for nothing couldn’t understand just how rightfully revolutionary this was.

"Why wouldn't anyone want that?" said asked incredulously. “Hundreds of thousands of families who starve on a daily basis, able to eat properly with little cost? It could change the entire world.”

Mr. Wonka looked at her, giving her a warm smile and a small nod of the head. He opened his mouth to speak, but thought better of it for a moment, instead reaching inside his pocket and pulling out more cue cards.

“It will be the end of all kitchens and cooking! One strip of Wonka's gum is all you'll ever need for breakfast, lunch and dinner! This gum happens to be tomato soup, roast beef, and blueberry pie."

“No more cabbage soup!” Charlie whispered to his sister, as they shared a laugh. The rest of the adults were left still a little stunned, unsure of what to say.

"It…sounds wonderful," commented Mrs. Beauregarde weakly, forcing a smile as she glanced around at the group. The other children didn’t seem quite so impressed.

"It sounds weird," said Mike, rolling his eyes. It was more than obvious by now that he was done with everything, and couldn’t be more excited to leave.

"It sounds like my kind of gum!" Violet exclaimed. She pulled her gum out of her mouth, sticking it behind her ear as she stepped forward; all but snatching the piece of gum from Mr. Wonka’s hand, lifting it to her lips.

"Ah, I wouldn't do that if I were you." Mr. Wonka warned her, "Because I haven't gotten the formula quite right yet, so…"

"I'm the world champion of gum chewing. I’m not afraid of anything." She sneered, rolling her eyes. And with that, she shoved the whole piece in her mouth and started to chew. Every one watched on curiously, waiting to see just what would happen.

"How is it, honey?" asked her mother. Violet's eyes grew wide with amazement as she turned around to face the group once more.

"It's amazing! Tomato soup! I can feel it running down my throat!"

"Yeah…spit it out.” Mr. Wonka asked quietly, another nervous giggle leaving his lips. Natalie and Charlie looked at him, noticing the look of apprehension on his face. It was clear
that he hadn’t been just warning her to hear his own voice, judging by the slight fear evidence on his face. But instead of listening like she should, Violet held up her hand to silence him.

"It's changing." She said, completely ignoring him. Mr. Wonka closed his mouth and stepped back, but there was still that look of terror in his eyes. The sound of gum snapping between her teeth grew louder and louder as her eye widened beyond belief. "Roast beef, with baked potato! It’s got a delicious crispy skin with tones of butter!"
While the rest of the group looking on almost stupefied, Mrs. Beauregarde simply looked proud at her daughter’s desire to blatantly ignore everything she was being asked.

"Keep chewing, kiddo." She urged proudly, looking pointedly at the others. “My daughter is going to be first person ever to have a chewing gum meal!"

Mr. Wonka looked absolutely beyond terrified at this point. He had moved back away from the group, almost hiding behind the machine. He reached out his hand, as though he went to stop her, but pulled back, thinking better of it.

"Yeah. I'm just a bit concerned about the…" he started, but was immediately silenced once more a Violet let out an excited gasp.

"Blueberry pie and Vanilla Ice Cream!" she exclaimed, bouncing on the spot with utter joy.

"…that part."

"What's happening to her nose?" Veruca said all of a sudden, a sneer heard in her voice. Everyone instantly tuned to look at the small girl, each having the same reaction. Her face had been pale before, and now a bright blue speck was growing rather rapidly on her skin, covering her nose. Mrs. Beauregarde’s eyes widened as she turned her daughter to face her, bending down to her level to examine her face.

“Your whole face is turning purple. You…Violet! You’re…you’re turning violet!” she screeched in disbelief, turning sharply to Mr. Wonka. “What’s happening to her?!”

“Well, I told you I didn’t quite have it right.” The inventor said meekly, backing away from the furious mother, watching as Violet quickly changed colour. “I’m…I’m terribly sorry!”
With that, he moved away, rushing behind the machine. But nobody paid attention to him. Their focus was back on Violet. Within mere moments, the little girl was completely blue, almost exactly matching the colour of the tracksuit she was wearing. Violet gasped in panic, raising her hand and watching as the pigments of her skin changed before her very eyes. Suddenly, she stilled as she felt an odd feeling taking over her. She felt her clothes begin to tighten; feeling as though her body was heavy and swelling up. The others seemed to be getting the same feeling as they slowly backed away.

“Mother…what’s happening?” She asked, her voice shaking nervously as she started to swell and grow. The entire group looked on with horror as the once petite girl began to grow round, and fill out.

“She’s swelling up like a blueberry.” Charlie said, his eyes widening beyond belief. The room fell silent, the only exceptions being light sounds of fabric ripping and Violet’s panicked cries. After mere moments, the group were amazed to look up and see that Violet had turned into a large, bulbous blueberry. Mrs. Beauregarde looked at her daughter in absolute horror, not noticing Mr. Wonka return to the group, popping up beside her.

"I've tried it on like twenty Oompa Loompas, and they all swell up like a blueberry at the end.” He said suddenly, causing her to jump at his sudden appearance. She turned to look at him, horrified to see that he didn’t look that ashamed. “Really, it's just weird!"

"I can't have a blueberry as a daughter!" Mrs. Beauregarde protested in horror, turning to him and seemingly on the verge of strangling him "How on earth is she supposed to compete?"

"You could put her in the county fair," Veruca suggested spitefully, grinning as if she were the most angelic creature on earth. Mrs. Beauregarde glared at her, barely holding back her tongue. She went to speak, when suddenly soft music was heard once more, a rhythm sprouting from the thrums and whistles coming from the machines. The group looked around, feeling a slight familiar sense as Oompa Loompas appeared seemingly out of nowhere, coming out from behind steam, sprouting from the machines.

Much as they had done before the Gloops, the little men gathered around, humming a strangely harmonized tune. Every one of them watched in horror as the Oompa Loompas paraded around the inventing room, going on and on about Violet and her disgusting gum habits. Mr. Wonka however, didn’t seem quite as appalled. In fact, he was getting into the rhythm, dancing along to the beat. Mrs. Beauregarde was furious, growing red in the face as she watched the display, though not quite having the gall to do anything about it.

When it seemed as though their song was coming to an end, three of the little men jumped down from the rafters, landing on top of Violet’s enlarged shoulders. Natalie looked on in horror, while she didn’t much care for the child, she couldn’t believe that Mr. Wonka was allowing such things to happen. She turned to him, only to find his eyes glued to the scene before them.

Much to the horror of those watching, they continued to dance on top of her as she started to move. Without much warning, the girl began to roll, pushed by a small group of Oompa Loompas behind her, despite her cries and protests. They even went so far as to jump on her to gain momentum.

Almost as quickly as it started, the music began to fade, the Oompa Loompas in turn pushed her past the group, who were still in complete and utter shock about what they had just witnessed. Each time her head rolled around, Violet would call out for her mother, unable to do much else as they rolled her towards the door, getting caught on the way out.
Not a single one of them knew what to do or say. They simply stood around, glancing at each other, waiting for one of them to speak at all. Natalie shook her head in disbelief, watching the little men try to pry the poor girl from the doorway. She turned her attention to Mr. Wonka, who still had a rather giddy grin on his face, still bopping away lightly to the music, even though it had all but disappeared. As he met her gaze, he slowed his movements, only slightly and quirked his lips a little in response. She shook her head, still wondering just what happened as she noticed something behind him. She nodded for him to look as Mrs. Beauregarde appeared behind him. Seeing Natalie motion behind him, Mr. Wonka looked a little confused before he turned around, jumping a little in shock at seeing a furious mother by his side. Clearing his throat, he turned his attention to one of the remaining Oompa Loompas.

“I want you to roll Miss Beauregarde into the boat and take her to the juicing room right away.” He instructed the little man. The Oompa Loompa nodded and saluted once more before following the troupe down the hall.

“Wait, the juicing room?” Mrs. Beauregarde echoed, eyes widening at the thought. “What are they gonna do to her there?”

“They’re gonna squeeze her, just like a little pimple!” Mr. Wonka said with a light, nervous laugh. If it were at all possible, Mrs. Beauregarde’s eyes widened even more. Her face would have paled if it weren’t for the ridiculous amount of makeup spattered on her cheeks. Without another word, she pushed past the chocolatier and over to her daughter, giving Violet’s behind one final push to get her through the door.

Silently, they watched the group disappear through the door they entered until they were nothing more than a few echoes down the hallway. Nobody knew what to say or do, simply standing around waiting for whatever to happen next. Clapping his hands, Mr. Wonka grabbed everyone’s attention once more.

“Come on, let’s boogie!” Mr. Wonka said, dusting off his coat before leading the way towards another door in the back of the room. The remaining ticket winners were quick to move and follow after him, though feeling slightly more on edge than they had before.

Chapter Text

Nobody really knew what to say after Violet and her mother were escorted out of the inventing room. What they had expected to be once in a lifetime adventure was proving to be just that, as they slowly lost members of their troupe every way they turned. What was strange, however, was how odd the circumstances became. One child falling into the river due to his greed was one thing, but another swelling and turning into a blueberry? That wasn’t exactly something that was considered normal, and it left the three remaining children felt a little more on edge than they had when they first entered the inventing room; which they felt was completely justifiable.

Since their previous mode of transportation had been taken away rather swiftly due to a ‘juicing’ emergency, the group had to continue on foot; exciting through a door at the back of the room and finding themselves in another long, white corridor.

"Now that the boat's gone, we'll have to move twice as fast just to keep up with the schedule." Mr. Wonka said, keeping a brisk pace as they wandered through the hallway. The children made their way quickly behind him, eager to find out what had happened back there, though their host was acting as though nothing remotely out of the ordinary had occurred, which frankly seemed to be becoming an increasing occurrence.

Charlie was brought up to respect his elders, especially those who knew what they were doing in certain circumstances. But his mind was hurtling a million miles a minute, and there were things that his curiosity wouldn’t allow him to ignore without even attempting to find out a question. So he decided to ask the only person who knew.

"Mr. Wonka?" Charlie piped up, trying his best to keep his place and not be shoved aside by the others, despite his size and their ferocity. “Why did you decide to send out the tickets?”

“Well, so they can see the factory, of course.” Mr. Wonka replied with a grin, shaking his head as though it was the most obvious thing in the world. But the young boy was often more perceptive than people gave him credit for. He saw through the response completely, knowing that it had hardly answered his question, and Mr. Wonka knew it.

"But why now? And why five?" The boy pressed curiously as Natalie made her way to his side once more. It was clear to see that the question had caught the chocolatier off guard, causing him to falter for a moment and almost miss a step, seemingly lost for words on how to answer. He sent a quick side glance to the group, wondering if they were at all paying attention, and was slightly unnerved at finding them to be watching him rather expectantly. After a moment, he collected himself and opened his mouth to answer.

"What's the special prize and who gets it?” Mike asked rudely, shoving Charlie out of the way and cutting Mr. Wonka off before he had a chance to even reply. Natalie rolled her eyes, and rested her hand on her brother’s shoulder, rubbing it reassuringly as they continued walking. One thing was for sure, she certainly wouldn’t miss being in the company of these rotten children once the tour was over. Apparently, she wasn’t the only one who felt that way, as she noticed that the chocolatier made no effort to hide his frustration, rolling his eyes at the boy.

"The best kind of prize is a SUR-prize!" Mr. Wonka said, sending a pointed look to the elder boy, but masking his indignation with a giddy chuckle. Mike grumbled to himself, causing Mr. Wonka to grin, throwing a glance beside him to the Buckets, like some kind of inside joke. Neither of them could stand the others any more than he did, which seemed to be an utter relief for them all. Natalie caught his eye and smiled back, feeling that slightly familiar heat in her cheeks once more. She looked away quickly, casting her eyes to the floor for a moment, willing the feeling to make itself scarce.

"Is Violet always going to be a blueberry?" Veruca asked, pushing her own way to the front of the group and attempting to pull attention her way once more. Her tone of voice showed no sign of care for the girl at all, merely wondering out of pure boredom alone; almost as though knowing Violet’s unfortunate and unexpected fate would somehow make her feel much better about her own standing. Mr. Wonka looked as though he didn’t care in the slightest, giving a mere shrug of the shoulder and a half contemplative look at best.

"No. Maybe…I don’t know.” He mused lightly, though his heart wasn’t fully in it. “But I guess that's what you get from chewing gum all day. It's just disgusting!"

“If you hate gum so much, why do you make it?” Mike sneered. It was clear his comment had meant to show up their host, an attempt to show off just how equally bored and superior he felt in that moment. But Mr. Wonka didn’t bite, instead keeping his focus to moving the group along down the hall.

“Again, you really shouldn’t mumble cause it’s really kinda starting to bum me out.” He said, barely sparing a glance at the boy, though his words drew a line, bringing that particular conversation to an obvious end.

“…idiot.” Mike murmured under his breath, shaking his head at the apparent ridiculousness of it all.

Natalie studied the boy carefully, wondering just what sort of gain he was getting from all of this. He was clearly bored, and saw no point in anything he was being shown; why come at all if that was the case? And his father did absolutely nothing to reign in his child’s obnoxiousness, merely looking as though he had dealt with it too many times already, and had simply given up; he was merely there because he had to be. Glancing beside her, she saw that Veruca and her father looked bored out of their minds, as though none of this as worth their time. Apparently being allowed an exclusive look inside the world’s greatest factory wasn’t enough for them.

But Charlie, sweet Charlie was still looking around with wide-eyed wonder, even in a plain, white corridor. He was just grateful for the chance to experience all of this first hand. His curiosity had no limit, and any time he spent with the man he idolized, well that was just an added bonus. Natalie smiled softly to herself, once again finding herself astounded at how fortunate they were to have Charlie just the way he was.

“Do you remember the first candy you ever had, Mr. Wonka?” Charlie asked kindly, a small and seemingly innocent question that pulled his sister out of her thoughts. While Mr. Wonka didn’t stop completely, his pace did slow a little, faltering slightly as that blank, deep look returned to his face. The group paused, exchanging another knowing look as Mr. Wonka seemed to fade in and out. Natalie and her brother shared a worried glance. What was happening in his mind that caused him to drift off so terribly? More than that, they didn’t know if they had any reason to be concerned with their safety, or that of their somewhat oblivious host. Before they had the chance to truly wonder, Mr. Wonka seemed to snap back to attention on his own.

“I’m sorry, I was having a flashback.” He murmured, shaking his head and letting out a breathy giggle. Mr. Salt looked at him as though he had grown three heads and put a hand on Veruca’s shoulder, pulling her back closer to him for protection it seemed, as though that alone would shield her from whatever was going on.

“Do these…flashbacks happen often?” Mr. Teevee wondered, not at all convinced that Mr. Wonka was quite right in the head presently. Turning to the man, Mr. Wonka sent him a toothy grin, shrugging lightly.

“Increasingly today.” He admitted, glancing around nervously at each of them. Apparently, their look of concern mixed with apprehensiveness didn’t seem to faze him much, and he quickly motioned for the others to join him, picking up the pace once more.

The group wandered down the hall in a rather confused and uncomfortable silence, occasionally sparing a glance or two in Mr. Wonka’s direction. Though once again, he hardly seemed to notice. Natalie and Charlie once again shared a look and a shrug as they followed on.

“Finally, a room I know all about.” Mr. Salt said as they turned a corner, stopping the group outside of an unassuming door that read ‘Nut Sorting’. “You see, Mr. Wonka, I myself am in the nut business.” His pompous pride was practically beaming from him as he reached into his suit pocket, pulling out a business card, handing it to Mr. Wonka.

The man didn’t even look at it, instead throwing it away over his shoulder. Natalie let out a light snort of laughter, quickly covering her mouth, hoping nobody would notice. She did notice a slight turn of Mr. Wonka’s head, and could have sworn that he winked at her. Though that was silly to think so, she knew that. But there were very few other semi-logical reasons to explain why her knees suddenly felt a little weak. So she blushed a little for the hundredth time that day, brushing her hair behind her ear as Mr. Salt continued to go on about the nut business, to nobody’s interest but himself.

"Do you use the Havermax 4000 to do you sorting?" wondered Mr. Salt, brow raised as he sent a pointed look to the man he had only moments before held such disdain for. Mr. Wonka didn’t even bat an eye.

“…No.” He said simply, letting out a laugh. “You’re really weird.”

Mr. Salt barely had a chance to even contemplate what was said, before Mr. Wonka rushed past him and unlocked the door. It seemed as though this little detour proved to be useful. The group followed him inside, walking onto a large platform. A strange sound echoed through the room, coming from down below them, getting louder and louder the closer they got. Walking further into the room, the group was amazed to find no less than one hundred squirrels, all sitting in seats, attempting to crack what appeared to be some kind of nut.

“Squirrels!” Veruca gasped excitedly, pushing herself up as far as she could against the gate, glancing around at the animals at work. It was quite a remarkable sight. Each squirrel seemed to know exactly what they were doing; none of them running amok, simply focused on whatever their job seemed to be. Mr. Salt raised a brow, clearly not expecting something so literal and absurd when he had expected nut sorting.

"Why use squirrels and not Oompa Loompas?" he asked, the closest he would likely get to sounding remotely interested. The smirk on his face assured them that it was more about being smug and facetious than actual curiosity.

"Well you see only squirrels can get the whole nut out almost every time." Mr. Wonka explained, ignoring Mr. Salt’s look of indignation, pointing and turning their attention down below. "See how they tap them with their little knuckles."

Glancing at the squirrels at work, their focus was pulled to one squirrel in particular, who had apparently found a ‘bad’ nut. He tapped it repeatedly, before pausing a moment, and tossing it over his shoulder before it was quickly forgotten and he resumed his work. The bad nut travelled along the smooth indented floor, down a shoot in the centre of the room, never to be seen again.

"Daddy I want a squirrel. Get me one of those squirrels, I want one." Veruca demanded suddenly, turning her expectantly to her father. The words already sounded draining, and a few members of the group couldn’t resist rolling their eyes. Natalie sighed, shaking her head. She honestly wondered how many times the word ‘want’ had been uttered from that tiny child’s lips in her short life. But Mr. Salt seemed to at least try to appear reasonable.

"But Veruca darling, you already have many wonderful pets at home." insisted Mr. Salt, attempting to keep her calm. This did not sit well with Veruca at all. Her face turned to a look of disbelief, muted with frustration at her father’s attempt to ignore her wants.

"All I own is a pony, two dogs, four cats, six bunny rabbits, two parakeets, three canaries, a green parrot that talks, a turtle and a silly little hamster! I want a squirrel!" said the ungrateful little girl. Each remaining member of the group looked at hr in stunned disbelief as she truly showed her spoiled and demanding attitude in an instant, her father gave up, sighing and nodding his head. There never was a fight to begin with, Veruca had won already.

"Very Well darling." sighed Mr. Salt. “I’ll get you a squirrel as soon as we’re home.”

"But not just any ordinary squirrel, it has to be a trained squirrel!" the girl insisted.

“You have no idea how thankful I am that you’re not like that.” Natalie murmured to her brother, causing him to grin up at her. Mr. Salt looked at his daughter a moment before sighing in defeat, as though his life was much, much easier if his little girl got her way without a fuss.

"Alright. Mr. Wonka, how much for a squirrel? Name your price." said Mr. Salt. Veruca turned to Mr. Wonka, smiling sweetly as though butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. But the chocolatier couldn’t be swayed, no matter how she tried. It seemed as though he hadn’t even bat an eye at the request.

"Oh, they’re not for sale. She can't have one." He told the pair rather pointedly. He said the last part real slowly as if he was talking to a young child. The child’s face fell in an instant, looking as though she was out for blood. The others watching the show down almost wanted to take a step back, fearing for their safety, judging by the look on her face. Just shot of stamping her feet in frustration, she turned to her father, unsure of what to do being told no for likely the first time in her life.

"Daddy!"

Mr. Salt looked rather helplessly at his daughter, appearing as though he didn’t quite know how to turn her down without causing a rather unnecessary commotion. He opened his mouth to speak, but was abruptly cut off by his own voice it seemed.

"I'm sorry darling, but Mr. Wonka is being unreasonable."

Though his lips weren’t moving, there was no denying that it was his voice. Everyone turned to Mr. Wonka, who seemed to be looking rather pleased with himself, despite the ticking time bomb of a preteen standing before him. The others seemed quite amazed at his little parlor trick, everyone it seemed...except Veruca. If it were at all possible, she looked even more furious than she had before. Glancing between the two men either side of her, she let out a low growl of frustration.

“If you won’t get me a squirrel, I’ll just have to get one myself.” She insisted, glaring at the two before moving to the gate. Without a moment’s hesitation, Veruca bent down and slipped between the bars of the gate, making her way purposefully down the stairs, clearly on a mission. The other’s watched wide eyed as she descended the stairs, looking around at the squirrels busy doing the task at hand, and yet nobody made a move to stop her. Not even Mr. Wonka.

"Veruca, come back here at once!" Her father asked, attempting to demand it of her, though falling incredibly short. Regardless, the child paid no attention outside of her own gain.

Making her way onto the floor, Veruca crossed over to the workbenches, inspecting and sizing up each animal, deciding which was the one destined to go home with her. Eventually, it seemed she had made her choice, and advanced upon a poor squirrel that had its back to her, simply working blissfully unaware. As Veruca made her way closer, the rest of the workers seemed to stop, watching with bated anticipation as she drew closer and closer to her unsuspecting victim. As the child reached out, the squirrel leapt from its seat, giving her a fright. All of a sudden, they were all jumping off their seats, bounding towards her, herding her towards the middle of the floor. Mr. Salt frantically pulled on the gate to open it, but it was still locked. Mr. Wonka’s eyes widened as he reached for his keys, procuring a rather comically large set of over a dozen keys, frantically looking through each and everyone to fit the lock.

One by one, the squirrels started leaping and pouncing at her, making the others flinch and cry out in surprise as they looked on helplessly while the creatures seemed to exact their revenge; pulling and scratching at her until they finally had her pinned down to the ground. Mr. Salt was now desperately pulling at the gate, begging for it to open, but no matter how hard he tried, Mr. Wonka couldn’t find the right key.

The others watched on in stunned and silenced horror as the little girl seemed to quickly disappear under a mountain of squirrels, calling out for her father. Natalie for a moment, however, couldn’t take her eyes off Mr. Wonka and ring of perhaps far too many keys.

All of a sudden, things seemed to quiet down a moment as a singular squirrel made its way along Veruca’s body, sitting at the top of her chest. She watched it, wide eyed and afraid as it seemed to be taking in the sight of her, summing her up. It moved to her face, tapping at her forehead and listening in, much like it had done earlier with the nuts at its station. < p>

“What are they doing to her?” Natalie asked, albeit concerned for the girl. As much as she disliked the child, being attacked by squirrels seemed like a rather awful fate. Mr. Wonka looked up, his eyes widened as it appeared that the animals had come to a unanimous evaluation.

“Well, they’re checking to see if she’s a bad nut, and…” He paused, shaking his head gently, clicking his tongue. “Oh my goodness. It looks like she is a bad nut after all.”

It seemed that nobody knew what to do with that new information. Was he playing on words, or did that conclusion have some sort of other meaning behind it. There was barely time for the question to be asked, when a commotion came from below. Every eye was instantly on the swam of squirrels as they seemed to move in a rather organized fashion, carrying the little girl towards the centre of the room, towards the hole right in the middle. All the while her cries for her father seemed to be falling on deaf ears.

“Where are they taking her?” Charlie wondered, eyes widened in disbelief. The only one that didn’t seem more than a little fazed by this was Mr. Wonka. He merely watched on as though he expected something of the sort to happen.

“Where all the other bad nuts go. Down the garbage chute.” He explained, rather matter-of-fact. Everyone turned their focus onto him, not believing that this was actually happening. Mr. Salt was completely distressed. He looked at the chocolatier helplessly, alternating his gaze between the host and his daughter below.

"Where does the chute go?" he asked frantically, seemingly at a loss now that it appeared no amount of money could buy him out of this little mishap.

"To the incinerator.” Mr. Wonka explained, his eyes focused on the scene below. There was a glint in his eyes hat nobody could quite place, and it was a little unnerving if they were honest. Though just as quickly as it appeared, he was back to his usual self. “Don't worry we only light it on Tuesdays.”

"Today IS Tuesday!" said Mike, bringing everyone’s attention back to Mr. Wonka. The man looked between them all, though not quite game enough to meet Mr. Salt’s gaze. Clenching his hand, his glove squeaking as he tried to figure out what to tell them.

“Well there’s a small chance that maybe they didn’t light it today.” He offered weakly, a light shrug of the shoulders.

Nobody could say or do anything to stop it. They simply watched as almost a hundred squirrels banded together, closing in on the chute; dragging the squirming, pleading child towards her impending fate. And just like that, with one final push, they tossed her over the edge, and Veruca Salt went hurtling down the garbage chute; her cries gradually getting further and further away. Once their job was done, the squirrels dispersed, rushing back to their chairs and getting back to work as if nothing had happened at all.

The group was silent. Three children down in the most unusual and slightly horrific ways, but this seemed to take the cake, as it were. It was then and only then, that Mr. Wonka was able to find the right key to unlock the door.

“Now, there is a possibility that she could have gotten stuck in the chute just below the top. If that’s the case, all you gotta do is just reach in and pull her out.” He explained to the now shaken and slightly paler Mr. Salt. The man looked at him in disbelief as the gate was unlocked and slowly pulled open with a creek. Mr. Wonka stood back, giving the man an uneasy smile as Mr. Salt glanced at the others, all unable to meet his gaze before he slowly and rather cautiously descended down the stairs.

Natalie eyed the gate, noticing that the key didn’t look all that similar to the others. Biting her lip, she watched the disappearing form of Mr. Salt as she moved from her brother’s side, coming to stand by Mr. Wonka.

“That wouldn’t have been on purpose now, would it?” she wondered quietly, just low enough for him to hear. The man said nothing, but turned to look at her a subtle yet telling smile on his face as he sent her another wink. Natalie looked at him incredulously, yet still couldn’t hide her own flash of a smile. Though the moment was short lived it seemed, as once again it seemed the Oompa Loompas came out of the woodwork, poised and ready to perform once more, again with lyrics that were shockingly detailed and rather suited for the scene that had just occurred.

Mr. Salt made his way further down the stairs as he reached the floor, journeying closer and closer to the chute, dodging dancing Oompa Loompas. None of the others really knew what to make of it all. As the man stood by the edge, peering down into the blackness below, one rogue squirrel made a break for it, and running over to him; with a leap and a push, shoved the man down the garbage chute after his daughter.

Despite the obvious severity of the situation, several of the remaining group members found it rather difficult to keep a straight face, no matter how hard they tried. Charlie looked at his sister, sending her a reproachful look as she tried to control her laughter. Natalie cleared her throat, glancing down at her feet in apparent shame.

Before they could really process what had happened, an Oompa Loompa appeared, tugging on Mr. Wonka’s coat. The man bent down as something was whispered in his ear, which seemed to change the tone in the air.

“Well then! I’ve just been informed that the incinerator is broken. So, there’s about three weeks worth of old garbage to break their fall.” He reported happily, causing the others to exchange glances. “Now come on, let’s keep trucking!”

Chapter Text

With three children gone in the most absurd circumstances, the remaining group members had to wonder just what else was in store on their journey; and admittedly, whether the prize at the end was worth the somewhat questionable antics of their host. While the prize itself wasn’t the main goal of some, they still had to wonder.

Mr. Wonka lead them out of the room; the sound of nuts being sorted growing softer and softer in the distance until it faded away completely. Not that the remaining troupe seemed to mind; they were sure that the sound of nuts falling down a chute would haunt them for a long while yet. They followed dutifully, exiting the room where they found, rather conveniently, a strange looking elevator of sorts. At least, it seemed to be an elevator, but unlike one they had ever seen before. Where there should be three walls and a door of solid steel, there was nothing but glass.

"You know, I really don't know why I didn't think of this in the beginning!" Mr. Wonka said, shaking his head at his own private joke while his guests stared at the contraption in wonder. "The elevator really is the fastest way to get around the factory."

An elevator made completely out of glass. It looked beautiful, that was for sure. But the thought that seemed to be running through the minds of the two remaining adults was would it successfully be able to carry them all? But Mr. Wonka didn’t seem at all bothered by it – not that anything had really bothered him at all that day. Pressing the button, the chocolatier opened the door, making a sweeping gesture with his hands before stepping inside. He and the Buckets stood towards the back, while Mike and his father took up positions near the front. The young boy looked at the wall that seemed to be made entirely of buttons.

“There can’t be this many floors here.” He said, brow raised in an almost annoyed, yet still rather bored manner. Mr. Wonka looked almost affronted, dropping his mouth open in mock horror.

“Well how do you know, Mr. Smarty Pants?” He asked, cocking his own brow by means of childish retaliation as he awaited whatever retort Mike was planning on delivering. When the boy failed to be quick, the chocolatier cut him off quickly, allowing no room for him to respond.

"This isn't just an ordinary up and down elevator, oh no sir. This elevator can go sideways, front ways, slantways and any other ways you could think of! All you gotta do is press any one of these buttons and you're off!"

As if to emphasize the point he was trying to make, Mr. Wonka lifted his hand and not even glancing where he was pointing, pressed a random button along the wall. Before anyone had a chance to even think to prepare themselves, the elevator started moving with a harsh jolt, sending everyone crashing against the wall against one another.

With a whizz and a whirring sound, the elevator set off, passing through what had to be the inner workings of the factory; pipes and machines and all manner of industrial looking rooms. Every time the group managed to get their footing, their transport would suddenly correct its course, and move in another direction, sending them stumbling once more.

They passed through a tunnel and entered what looked to be a winter wonderland with flurries of snow-like sugar flying around about them. In the very centre of the great expanse stood a large mountain made entirely out of fudge. It was positively stunning; a feat that seemed magnanimous, for anyone but Willy Wonka. Making their way through tunnels and passages, even more miraculous sights were found; particularly the strange case of Oompa Loompas shearing pink sheep, which their host was decidedly, well…sheepish to discuss.

“Ah! The administration offices!” Mr. Wonka exclaimed as the elevator once more came to a halt. It seemed that he was the only one who was able to keep his balance for any one period of time. They arrived in front of a handful of small desks, with a female Ooompa Loompa typing away. After greeting ‘Doris’, they were barely able to stay for a chat before they were off once more into another darkened corridor.

With yet another sudden movement, everyone crashed against the far left corner of the elevator. It was so unexpected, Natalie was caught off guard and lost her footing. Her hands braced out to steady herself as she fell right against Mr. Wonka, who seemed to reach out on instinct, his hand settling at her waist to steady her. She stilled, glancing up at him, feeling her cheeks blushing with embarrassment. He glanced down at her, a similar flush to his cheeks despite the darkness of the room.

“Thank you.” She murmured clearing her throat with a soft smile as he quickly helped her upright.

“Not at all.” Mr. Wonka assured her, keeping his gaze low, but a soft smile graced his lips. Glancing up again, he watched her for a moment, opening his mouth to say something, when they heard a loud bang that shook the elevator.

Everyone glanced around as explosions of bright lights filled the darkened room, filling the air with all shades of brightly coloured fireworks. To the sides of the room there sat Oompa Loompas, stationed at machine gun type cannons, firing candy at targets and making it explode into brightly coloured smithereens.

Natalie looked around at the sight before them, completely mesmerized. Never before had she seen anything so beautiful in her entire life. Colours of possibly every shade, bursting and dancing around the room; some she had never seen. How could something so beautiful be possible in the most unexpected of ways? She smiled, at a complete loss for words, seemingly blissfully unaware to the fact that she was still standing with her hands against the Chocolatier’s chest.

Mr. Wonka paused, glancing over at her, his hand still resting at her waist despite the fact that she no longer needed saving. For a moment, he simply stared at her. Her smile was unlike any he had ever seen before, and her eyes, wide and completely in awe, seemed to shine brightly amongst the different colours flying about them. There was a strange, almost sick feeling in his stomach, like a nervous jitter, and it didn’t sit right with him at all.

“Why is everything here completely pointless?” Mike Teevee wondered, completely bored and unimpressed. The jab seemed to bring both Mr. Wonka out of his confusion, letting him let go of the woman beside him, scowling at the brat of a child.

“Candy doesn’t have to have a point. That’s why it’s candy.” Charlie said with an almost wistful tone to his reply. Mr. Wonka turned his attention to the boy, noticing how he looked like it was Christmas Day. Something deep within him stirred, a smile growing on his face as he stared at the boy in wonder; believing that truer words had never been spoken. Could it possibly be, as strange as it might seem to be, that he had found someone to share his thoughts? Had he possibly found – dare he think it - an equal?

But then that voice returned, the one he had been blocking out for twenty years, and Mr. Wonka seemed to feel the colour drain from his cheeks as he started going back. Luckily a bickering voice seemed to pull him back quickly, and he knew for sure he had never expected to be so grateful to hear Mike’s bratty tone. He snapped out of his reverie to see the boy in question looking at him expectantly.

“I wanna pick a room.” He demanded. Mr. Wonka merely smiled down at the boy and nodded. He bowed his head and stepped aside, allowing the boy to scan the wall and take his pick of the rooms. He pressed himself forward, shoving Charlie out of the way to huddle against his sister’s side. After a moment’s pondering, Mike selected a button labelled ‘Television Room.’

“Shocker.” Natalie murmured to her brother, who tried his best to compose his grin. The elevator came to a screeching halt before it changed directions, zooming to the left before it was on its way once more. Though it was rather like a balancing act, it seemed as though with every turn the guests were able to get a little more confident in their footing.

The group finally reached their destination and stepped out of the elevator. Charlie stepped out with a slight jump and held his hand out for his sister, who still seemed a little shaky on her feet. She smiled in thanks as he helped her out, before they followed the others inside.

They were instantly met with a stark bright room, blinding white from top to bottom, not unlike stepping outside after spending the afternoon at the cinema. It was so bright the pair had to shield their eyes, just to get their bearings. From what they could see, there was a strange looking machine in the far centre of the room, with a control panel, some kind of platform, a chair, and a television set.

“Quickly, put these on.” Mr. Wonka said, thrusting a pair of odd-looking goggles into their hands, the same as he and the Teevees had already adorned. “The light in here is so strong it could burn your eyes right out of their sockets!”

The Buckets were quick to act, slipping the glasses on and instantly feeling relief as the light was dulled to a more bearable tone. Natalie glanced at her little brother and grinned, finding the whole thing rather ridiculous.

“How do I look?” She wondered, pulling a dramatic pose akin to an old fashioned movie star. “…you look perfect.” Mr. Wonka murmured to himself, before his eyes widened, realizing the words that had come out of his mouth, thankfully not loud enough for anyone to hear. He pulled a face at himself and shook his head, clearing his throat loudly to gather everyone’s attention.

“This right here is the testing room for my latest and greatest invention; Television Chocolate.” He explained leading them down the ramp, getting closer to the machine. “One day it occurred to me. Hey, if television can break up a photograph into millions and millions of tiny little pieces and send them whizzing through the air, and reassemble them on the other end, why can't I do the same thing with chocolate? Why can't I send a real bar of chocolate through television already to be eaten?"

It was only now, glancing around the room that the others realized that it looked like a television studio, with camera-like machines and dollies angled towards the platform in the centre.

"That's impossible! You don’t understand anything about science" exclaimed Mike, rolling his eyes. Mr. Wonka didn’t even stop to look back at this time around, almost as though he had expected such an outburst. When he didn’t get any sort of reaction, the boy continued to rant.

“First off, there's a difference between waves and particles….duh! Second, the amount of power it would take to convert energy in matter would be like nine atomic bombs!"

“Mumbler!“ Mr. Wonka snapped, finally having enough of the issue, not that anyone could really blame him. “Seriously, I cannot understand a single word you’re saying.”

The small outburst seemed to have taken Mike by surprise, curing him of whatever snide remarks he had left. Glancing around at his guests, Mr. Wonka nodded his head and turned his attention back to the control panel.

"Okey dokey! I shall now send a bar of chocolate from one end of the room to the other by television!" He grinned, gesturing from the platform, to the television, where an Oompa Loompa seemed to be channel surfing rather unenthusiastically. “Bring in the Chocolate!"

As if on cue, an enormous chocolate bar was brought forth carried by no less than half a dozen Oompa Loompas. The group gazed in wonder, never before seeing a chocolate bar of such intimidating size and magnitude. Even just looking at it seemed to give the feeling of a stomach ache. The Oompa Loompas set the bar down on the platform, placing it perfectly centre before backing away once more.

“The bar has to be real big, cause you know how on TV you can film a regular sized man and he comes out looking so small? It’s the same basic principle.” Mr. Wonka shrugged. Mike opened his mouth to argue, but was stopped by his father placing a hand on his shoulder, only just reeling him in. The boy pouted and sulked, but thankfully remained quiet.

Once the chocolate was in place, Mr. Wonka pressed a large red button on the panel. The machines started to hum and rumble, with the Oompa Loompas aiming the ‘cameras’ towards the centre. As if by magic, the chocolate bar was lifted slowly into the air, hovering above the platform before being encased in a large glass tube. Everyone watched on in amazement as they waited expectantly, not knowing what was about to happen. There came a flash of blinding white light, filling the room and disappearing almost as quickly as it had appeared. When the group opened their eyes, the chocolate bar was gone.

“It’s gone!” Charlie exclaimed, his mouth falling open in complete and utter disbelief. Not that he didn’t have faith in Mr. Wonka, of course…especially after everything that he had seen so far. But the fact that such a large bar of chocolate had disappeared into thin air right before their very eyes was nothing short of miraculous/

"I told you so!" Mr. Wonka grinned, practically bouncing on his feet with giddy delight. "As we speak, that bar is whizzing above our heads in a million tiny little pieces. Now come on!"

He quickly dodged passed the group, urging them to follow as he all but sprinted down towards the platform, with the others having no choice but to follow, still mystified at what they had witnessed. They rushed over to the television set, gathering around the screen where there seemed to be a Planet of the Apes style movie playing.

“Alright, here it comes…” Mr. Wonka urged. Moments later, a bar of chocolate seemed to materialize right in the centre of the screen. It looked exactly like the one that had vanished, only much, much smaller. What seemed to amaze them most of all was just how realistic it looked.

“Take it.” Mr. Wonka urged, nudging Mike’s arm. The boy looked far from impressed, raising how brow as he turned to look at him.

"It's just a picture on a screen." He drawled, rolling his eyes behind the ridiculous looking glasses. Mr. Wonka sighed dramatically, shaking his head. “You can’t grab it, you’ll hit nothing but glass.”

"Scaredy cat." He murmured, before glancing over at Charlie, his smile widening once more. “You take it.”

"…Me?" Charlie wondered, albeit a little unsure. But the man nodded his head in encouragement.

"Yeah! Just reach out and grab it!”

The boy hesitated for a moment, glancing over at Natalie, unsure whether he should give it a try. But his sister smiled with a light shrug and nodded her head, giving her brother the encouragement he needed. Gulping a little, Charlie slowly extended his hand towards the screen, expecting to feel the cold clink of the screen at his touch, as Mike predicted. But he was amazed to find that his hand seemed to slip right through. He flinched a little in surprise, glancing at the others before reaching out once more.

Slipping his hand though the ‘screen’, and feeling a slight almost fuzzy feeling against his fingers, Charlie touched the chocolate bar, feeling it solid to the touch. Grinning in disbelief, he grabbed it and pulled it back through the screen, secretly afraid of what might happen if he remained there any longer.

Charlie looked at the bar in her hand with complete disbelief. All laws of logic should dictate that it was impossible and shouldn’t exist. But the day had been filled with such broken logic that it only made sense for this to be possible.

"Go on, try it. It'll be delicious! It's the same bar; it's just gotten a little smaller on the journey, that's all." Mr. Wonka assured him with an encouraging nod. Charlie glanced at him a moment before peeling back the wrapping paper.

The bar looked normal enough, so he brought it to his lips and took a bite. Immediately he was met with the rich, sweet taste of a Wonka chocolate bar. Charlie smiled, glancing up at the others who were watching with bated suspense.

"It's perfect!" he beamed, to which everyone seemed to let out a sigh of relief. He smiled up at his sister and handed her the bar. Mr. Wonka looked proud as anything, sending Mike a look that practically screamed ‘I told you so’.

“Imagine, you’re sitting at home watching television, and all of a sudden you see a commercial. ‘Wonka’s chocolates are the best in the world. If you don’t believe us, try one yourself!’” He announced, mimicking an old fashioned television advert. “Then you simply reach out and grab it right then and there!”

“Sounds like a bit of a blow to the candy store business though, doesn’t it?” Natalie wondered, more to herself than anything. If people were able to get candy from their living rooms, what need would they have to go visit a candy store? She would likely be out of the job.

Mr. Wonka seemed to stop short a moment, pondering this. Of course he hadn’t considered that had he? Though he still had other candies to sell, and he couldn’t do that without candy stores. His face softened as he sent her what appeared to be a reassuring smile, but was once again rudely interrupted by a Teevee. “I wonder...could you send other things if you wanted to?” The elder of the two enquired; stroking his hairless chin and looking at the machine with a sudden interest. “Say...breakfast cereals, perhaps?”

Mr. Wonka looked at him aghast, as if Mr. Teevee had spat on his shoe and called it a shoeshine. “Do you know what that breakfast stuff is made of? It’s those curly little wooden shavings that you find in pencil sharpeners.” He said, almost cringing at the thought. Though he paused and seemed to ponder it for a moment. “...But, yeah I guess I could. In fact, I’m sure I could.”

“What about people?” Mike asked suddenly. The other three seemed to look at him in confusion, wondering just what he was getting at. All the while Mr. Wonka appeared rather bored at the idea, putting his hands on his hips.

“Why would I want to send people? They don’t taste very good.” He said, rolling his eyes. “I don’t think you quite got the grasp of my cannibalism spiel before, you know?”

Mike wasn’t having any of it. He had been forced to listen to whatever garbage the man was talking about all day, and now that he actually had something worthwhile, and he didn’t have a damn clue about what to do with it. But Mike did.

“This is ridiculous! Don’t you realize what you’ve invented here? It’s a teleporter!” The kid exclaimed, practically tearing his hair out. “This is the most important scientific invention in the history of the world, and all you think about is chocolate! It’s a joke!”

“Calm down, Mike. I think Mr. Wonka knows a thing or two about what he’s talking about.” Mr. Teevee said, though he barely even tried to talk his son off the edge. The others simply looked at him in disbelief; none of them were parents, but even they could see that there was no discipline between the two visiting Americans.

“No! He has no idea! You all stand around here and think he’s a genius. But he’s an idiot.” Mike snapped. Something seemed to switch on in his mind then, and despite the novelty glasses over his eyes, something changed between them.

“...Well, I’m no idiot.”

Before anyone had a chance to do or say anything, Mike sprinted towards the machine; jumping over the chair and rushing up the ramp, shoving Oompa Loompas out of his way with no hesitation. Mr. Wonka called for him to come back, though his pleas were half-hearted and almost forced out of obligation rather than horror for the well being of the child and his factory.

Ducking under equipment and running up the ramp to the control panel, Mike smashed the big red button before hurling himself off the panel and onto the rising platform. The rest of the group watched on in stunned silence as the boy was lifted in the air, pulling all manner of triumphant poses, and was soon enclosed inside the glass tube. What could they have done, except stand there, watching in horror? There came the bright flash filling the room, causing everyone to turn away out of instinct.

When they turned back, Mike Teevee had vanished into thin air.

It seemed as though witnessing the shrinking chocolate bar mere moments earlier had done nothing to prepare the others for what had just happened. A disappearing candy bar was one thing, but a human child...that was something that had left them completely baffled, staring at the empty tube in complete and utter disbelief. There was absolutely no trace of him at all.

Mere moments felt like an eternity, trying to comprehend what had happened, until Mr. Wonka lead them back over to the television screen. It appeared exactly as it had before, with no sign of the boy in question.

“I sure hope no part of him gets left behind.” Mr. Wonka said, more to himself than anything. Unfortunately, Mr. Teevee, who had finally seemed to become rather panicked by the unknown whereabouts of his son, turned to look at him with a look of absolute horror.

“What do you mean left behind?” he exclaimed, his glasses slipping down the bridge of his nose, showing the stunned expression on his face. Had the situation not been quite as dire, it would have been almost funny.

“Well, sometimes only half of the little pieces actually find their way through.” Mr. Wonka explained, albeit a little nervously. There was a moment of very tense silence for a moment before the man turned back to the distraught father.

"If you had to chose only one half of your son, which half would it be?" he asked with a weak half smile, as though he was attempting to defuse the tension in the air. But the look that Mr. Teevee gave him proved in an instant that his efforts were for nothing. The smile faded from the chocolatier’s lips and he turned to the Oompa Loompa in the chair.

"Try every channel, I'm starting to feel a little anxious." he instructed, before looking back to the screen. The worker nodded and started surfing through channels once more. He soon stopped when he found what appeared to be a news broadcast, and slowly but surely the figure of a tiny Mike appeared on the anchor’s desk.

The little man began scanning through the channels quickly. He stopped when he found a news channel and saw the tiny figure of Mike hopping up and down on the anchorman's desk. As if on cue, and quite frankly it was a little expected at this stage, a chorus of Oompa Loompas filed into the room, serenading the group about the dangers of watching too much television, all the while Mike Teevee was fending off an array of rather vicious television programs. When the warning was done, the Oompa Loompa Anchor lowered his notes right on top of the boy’s head.

“Ew! Somebody grab him.” Mr. Wonka said, flinching back at the slight squelching sound. Mr. Teevee stepped forward, reaching into the television set without hesitation and pulled out his pint sized little boy. Immediately, all four sets of eyes were on the small, wriggling boy in his father’s grip, in complete and utter disbelief about what they were seeing in front of their very eyes.

“Oh, thank heavens. He’s completely unharmed.” Mr. Wonka panned, looking at the boy with unabashed disgust. The other three spectators seemed to pause a moment, turning to look at him with varying levels of disbelief. The boy was alive, yes, but it was safe to say that being dematerialised, shrunk down and put into a television set didn’t fall under the category of ‘unharmed’.

"Just put me back in the other way!" squeaked the miniature Mike in a barely-audible voice, still held by the scruff by his rather pale looking father. At this suggestion, Mr. Wonka didn’t bother to hide the roll of his eyes, even behind the absurdly large glasses.

“There is no other way. It’s television, not telephone. There’s quite a difference.” He said, shaking his head. Mr. Teevee seemed to be barely clinging to his last shred of patience. He turned to the chocolatier, pointed gaze as he pulled off his glasses.

"And what exactly do you propose to do about it, then?”

Mr. Wonka looked at the boy shaking his head, tiptoeing the line between puzzled and ready to wash his hands of his business.

“I don’t know. But you know, young men are extremely springy. He’ll stretch like mad...” He paused a moment, before his face lit up with excitement. “Let’s go put him in the taffy puller!”

“Taffy puller?!”

“Hey, that was my idea.” Mr. Wonka said, pouting a little. Natalie was forced to bite her lip to stop the impending laughter that threatened to spill from her lips at the most ridiculous sight before them. A pouting Willy Wonka was certainly a sight to behold, indeed.

“Boy, he is gonna be skinny.” Mr. Wonka said, inspecting the boy with a curious wonder. He signalled one of the Oompa Loompa to come and escort the Teevees to the taffy puller, with the hopes of stretching Mike out as a means of correcting his little self inflicted mishap. Mr. Teevee looked from the Oompa Loompa to Mr. Wonka, a strange look in his eyes, looking as though he was about to say something, but soon thinking better of it, and somewhat reluctantly carrying his son and following the little man in red out of the room, still trying to keep hold of his miniscule, wriggling son in his grasp.

Mr. Wonka sighed and shook his head, pondering what had happened for barely a moment before picking up his cane and rejuvenising with a new spring in his step. “On with the tour!”

The Bucket siblings paused a moment and shared a glance, neither one still quite sure what had happened, just now or throughout the entire day. Though, they didn’t linger too long, knowing by now that it was better not to get left behind by their host. Taking his sister’s hand, Charlie lead the way to follow Mr. Wonka, with Natalie putting the now shrunken Wonka bar in her pocket as they rushed over towards the exit. As they moved, the machines and the lights from behind them started to power down, having served their purpose for the day.

“There’s still so much left to see, and such little time.” Mr. Wonka said absently, pulling his glasses off as he paused by the door and turning to face them. “So, how many children are left?”

The remaining visitors stopped suddenly, turning to look at each other as realisation started to dawn on them. There were no others left, though really that couldn’t have been much of a surprise to their host, despite his rather absent focus to their whereabouts. But that point aside, one thing became almost too cleat; Charlie had won.

“Mr. Wonka...Charlie’s the only one left.” Natalie said softly, a smile growing on her face as she wrapped an arm around her brother’s shoulders. Mr. Wonka seemed to stop and pause a moment, his eyes widening as he moved his gaze from hers to the boy standing before him with an almost giddy grin.

“You mean you’re the only one?” he asked, appearing rather shocked by this fact. He had been smaller than the others, shorter and easy to be lost in a crowd perhaps. And yet, he was the only one remaining. How peculiar.

Charlie nodded his head, his smile brighter than anything he had managed in his life. “Yes sir.” He nodded. Mr. Wonka looked around the room as though he were looking for something.

“What happened to the others?” He wondered. Charlie and Natalie exchanged another look, their smiles growing as they turned back to the man. Mr. Wonka’s face soon changed from surprised to excited; a huge grin breaking out over his face.

"Yes Sir." he beamed. Willy looked around the room.

"Oh, my dear boy! That means you've won!" he exclaimed, grabbing Charlie’s hand and shaking it enthusiastically. “Oh well done! I congratulate you I really do! I want to tell you…both of you…that I had a feeling right from the start!"

Charlie was almost dumbfounded, an impossible grin on his face as he chuckled, the man’s enthusiasm and excitement proving to be incredibly infectious. Mr. Wonka released his hand and turned to Natalie, a softer yet no less bright smile on his face as he took her hand, shaking it also. He soon let go and nodded for the two to follow him out. As the door opened, the two were surprised to see their coats they had discarded before waiting for them on an outside hook. They deposited their glasses and grabbed their things before following Mr. Wonka.

"Now we must get a move on. We can't afford to dilly or dally for that matter because we have an enormous amount of things we need to get done before the day is out. But luckily for us we have the Great Glass Elevator to help…"

Far too occupied with the excitement of it all, Mr. Wonka was not paying attention to where he was going, walking right into the closed doors of the Great Glass Elevator, and falling to the floor. Both Bucket children rushed over to help him up, making sure he was okay. Getting to his feet, Mr. Wonka offered them a rather embarrassed smile, straightening himself up and opening the door for them.

“...Help speed things along.” He murmured, stepping in after them and closing the door. With the three of them safely inside, Mr. Wonka pushed a button that neither of his guests had recognised from earlier.

"…help speed things along." he giggled shyly. Once the three of them were safely inside the elevator, Willy closed the doors and pushed a button that neither of the Bucket children had seen before.

"Up and Out? What kind of room is that?" Charlie wondered, eyeing the button curiously. But Mr. Wonka merely smiled and told him to hold on. Not one to want a repeat of stumbling as she did before, Natalie was all too happy to heed the advice and keep her footing as the elevator started to go up higher and higher and higher. Mr. Wonka looked up, his face falling a moment as he glanced at the buttons.

"Oh dear, we're gonna have to pick up speed if we're ever going to break through." He said, tsking his tongue. Both Natalie and Charlie looked at him a little uneasy, hesitating a moment.

"...Break through what?" asked Charlie nervously. The man didn’t answer, instead having an almost manic grin of excitement on his face, practically bouncing on his heels.

“I've been longing to press that button for years!" he said giddily. The elevator continued to surge higher and higher, gradually picking up speed, far more than anything the pair were used to. "Well here we go…Up and Out!" Natalie looked at the man with a genuine look of fear in her eyes.

"You don't seriously mean…"

"Yeah…I do."

Her eyes widened beyond belief and she could feel Charlie clutching at her dress in fear. Surely he was joking, an elevator made entirely out of glass to go out the glass roof? It was suicide! She waited for the punch line to drop, or for Mr. Wonka to suddenly stop the machine at another floor at the top of the factory, but he never did.

“Everything’s made of glass! If we go through we’ll all be cut to ribbons!” she cried out. But Mr. Wonka simply giggled. Natalie clutched her brother close to her, his grip moving around her waist, holding onto her for dear life. They hunched over, bracing themselves for impact and the inevitable destruction of the elevator - and themselves – but it didn’t.

A large crashing sound was heard above with a slight shake of the elevator, and the sensation of hurling upward. They had crashed right through the roof of the factory, up and out, and were still going higher. The two Buckets parted ever so slightly, looking around as they reached the clouds. Had it not been so utterly terrifying, they would have been amazed. Soon, the feeling of lifting started to subside, and the elevator started to drop.

That sinking feeling of fear returned quickly, with the siblings clutching each other again, eyes clenched shut as they fell closer and closer to the ground, once more awaiting impact and inevitable demise. With mere moments to spare, a ding was heard as Mr. Wonka pressed a button, and the elevator began to hover.

Safe but feeling their nerves shot to complete hell, the Buckets straightened up, taking a deep sigh of relief and a glare at their host. Mr. Wonka offered a small smile of sheepish apology, and gestured for them to look around. Once they had given themselves a moment to breathe again, Charlie and Natalie glanced down at the view below.

It was rather incredible, seeing the factory from so high up, the total blanket of white snow that surrounding it, a stark contrast to the almost uninvitingly cold appearance of the factory. How strange, to know how many bright and colourful, warm welcoming treats lay inside those foreboding walls.

As they hovered over the entry way, the crowd of people at the front gates, still hoping to get a glimpse of anything, they noticed the front doors opening and one by one, the other ticket winners and their parents walked down the front steps towards the gate. Augustus Gloop was now covered completely in chocolate, suckling on his fingers much to his mother’s dismay. Violet Beauregarde could be seen doing all manner of backflips and turns down the stairs, now completely coloured blue. Her mother didn’t so much want to look at her. Veruca Salt and her father wandered towards the crowd covered head to toe in three weeks worth of garbage, looking quite the sight, though they still tried to keep their heads held high. And finally, Mike Teevee was nowhere to be seen...unless looked at face forward. The boy had been stretched so incredibly far that he was far too tall and too thin to be seen from certain angles.

Though they knew they should feel sorry for them all, Charlie and Natalie couldn’t help a slight grin on their faces seeing the children leave the factory. Their punishments, if you could call them that, were rightly fitting to the crime as it were, and neither of them could help the feeling of karma overhead.

“Where do you live?” Mr. Wonka asked, bringing the two of them out of their gaze. Charlie looked around, glancing out the window a moment before pointing.

“Right there, that little house at the end.” He said. Their little house with all its faults looked rather lovely from this height. Mr. Wonka nodded and pressed a button, and soon the elevator was zooming off towards the house. The small home grew closer and closer by the moment, and the two Buckets were half expecting to land safely in the yard. But no, it seemed as though the landing calculations were just a little off, and much like their exit from the factory, the elevator crashed through the roof of the Bucket home, landing with a crash in the middle of the living room, much to the surprise of their parents and grandparents inside.

Amongst the dust and debris that one made up their roof, the Bucket family looked around completely shocked and bewildered. What was once their living room had become a landing pad for what looked like an elevator. Inside, was their son, their daughter, and someone so strange that he could only be one person. Completely oblivious, Grandma Georgina set her knitting down in her lap and looked up.

“...I think there’s somebody at the door.”