Matthew was somewhere nearby. Laura felt his energy running through the web. The realization woke her out of a dream. He shouldn’t be here: it was nearly midnight.
She scanned and found him, hidden in the bushes outside her window. Pulling sweats over her pajamas, she slipped down the stairs and out the front door into the frigid winter air.
He must have smelled her coming, because he met her before she’d taken two steps away from the house.
“What on earth are you doing here?” she asked.
“Protecting you,” he said.
“Men,” she said, as if she was an expert already. “You’re shivering. You’d better come in.” She opened the door and waved her hand to shoo him past.
“How did you know I was out here?” He stood stolidly outside, as if he had no intention of doing as asked, or admitting how cold he’d become.
“Easy, silly. Now come in before you let in all the cold night air and everyone wakes up.”
“Too late,” Heather said, coming down the stairs, towards the open door. She yawned and rubbed her eyes.
They turned, guiltily, towards her.
“It’s okay,” she said. “Just stop wasting all of our heat. Get inside and shut the door.”
Matthew stepped through into the warm house, and let himself be led into the large kitchen, where he stood, his teeth chattering. Heather motioned him to sit. Laura went for a blanket while Heather microwaved a cup of tea and set a plate of cookies in front of him.
“If you’re going to stand guard every night,” Heather said, pointing at his thin sweatshirt, “you’re going to need warmer clothing. And, we have to get you better at cloaking. It’s one spell you’ll need. Otherwise, you’ll get yourself arrested.”
Laura smiled fondly at him, then sat beside him and took his hands in hers. “What are you going to do if you pick up on a bad guy? Beat him over the head with that?” She pointed to the iron bar he’d surreptitiously carried inside and set by the chair.
“You’ve been watching too much television,” Heather said. She reached her hand towards the rod. It dissolved. “Your uncle’s allies won’t be stopped by brute force.”
“Then what am I supposed to do? Nothing?” he said.
“For now. You’re not ready for any confrontations.”
“When will I be?” he asked, frustrated.
“When you’re ready,” George said, hoarsely. He stood groggily in the doorway. “We can’t predict when that will be, but, don’t worry, you’ll see plenty of action.” He yawned.
“For the next couple of years, you have to trust us to protect you,” Heather said.
“You?” Matthew said, scornfully. “But you’re just a couple of middle-aged witches. Look at you. You’re out of shape, overweight-”
“Matthew,” Laura said.
“It’s okay. He’s right about our waistlines. Anyway, it isn’t just me and George.”
“I think you should have more tea, and maybe some cheese and crackers,” George said, turning the flame up under the ample steel teakettle that Matthew’s mother would kill to own. “It’s time you two learned about your allies. We’ve perhaps talked too much about your uncle and the Reptilians, and given you the idea that you’re in immediate danger. That isn’t at all true.”
“You’ve met a few of the team,” Heather said, “but we’ve deliberately withheld the scope of our movement.” She busied herself for a minute, slicing cheese, apples and pears, and laying out crackers and thick slabs of dark bread and ham. She placed it on the table, then quickly added plates and napkins. When the kettle boiled, she made a big pot of tea.
“Why is everyone up? Why is Matthew here? Isn’t it late?” David said. None of them had seen him appear in the room, but now he slipped into a chair next to his sister.
“You should be in bed,” Laura said, turning to straighten his nightshirt, annoyed that they’d woken him.
“No, let him stay. He needs to hear this, too,” Heather said.
Once David was settled, sleepily eating, Heather nodded at her husband, who leaned against the wall. He joined the group at the table. “It’s like this,” he said. “There are millions of witches alive today. Most of them don’t have much power and don’t even know they’re witches, but about a tenth of them do and have joined our alliance. We have over three million members. All of the fairies, trolls, wolves, and nonhuman creatures have allied themselves with us. They’re all watching for any evidence that the Reptilians and their allies are after you.”
“He’s not saying,” Laura said, “but he and Heather are some of the most powerful witches alive.”
Now it was Heather’s turn to interrupt. She laid her hand on Laura’s arm: “He doesn’t need to know all this, just that we can and do keep you safe so long as you’re in York.”
Laura blushed. She thought Matthew should know everything, especially if he was so worried about her, but she didn’t say anything else. She wanted to tell him that his foster parents were also powerful, but Heather gave her a warning shake of her head, and Laura knew she’d read her thoughts. We trust him, she heard in her mind, but knowledge can be dangerous.
Heather nodded again at George. He explained further that her uncle and the witch that freed him were watched, not just by Yannis and a few others, but by an extensive network. There were messages constantly carried back and forth through time, about their contacts, any magic they practiced, and their movements.
“We’ll know when they start closing in on you. They will, eventually,” Heather said, “but we believe we have at least two years. Maybe three.”
“And you aren’t the only ones brought forward in time. There are over one hundred of you. We’ll know if they find one of the others.”
In any case, he said, the city was cloaked with an unbreakable spell. No one could find Laura and David so long as they stayed inside.
“That witch broke the spell that turned their uncle into a rock,” Matthew said.
“Yes, well, nothing is perfect. He was a member of the Council. No one realized that he’d turned to the dark.”
“What’s to stop that from happening now?”
“Council members are vetted much more carefully these days.”
“Not good enough,” Matthew said. He crossed his arms and look fierce.
Heather and George sighed together. “Nothing is perfect, but, with Padma involved, we’re much more likely to know if one of them does take a wrong step. Getting her on the Council was quite the coup. She’s very talented.” George said.
“Enough. It’s too late for you to go home alone tonight, Matthew. We’ll make up a bed on the couch. I’ll message your mother that you’re here, so she won’t worry.”
Laura and Matthew grinned. They’d learned early on that the two mothers communicated telepathically. They loved to watch them doing it, their foreheads wrinkled, their eyes squeezed tight.
After a couple of minutes, Heather opened her eyes. “She’s pretty upset. They’ve been looking all over the city, thinking you got lost. You should never leave without letting them know where you’re going, especially not at night.”
Matthew shrugged his shoulders, as if his whereabouts were his own business, but he let himself be led to the sitting room couch, while Laura carried her brother to his bed, then went to her own.