“We have a problem,” Jeremy said.
Laura and Matthew, along with their foster parents, and a large group of adult witches, were crammed into a musty sitting room in an old house that belonged to the most senior witch in York, a tiny elderly man with a huge beard, wild grey eyebrows and only a few shoots of hair still clinging to his age-spotted skull. The youngsters had been given the place of honor on a battered brownish couch, turned to face the adults, who had squeezed into arm chairs, kitchen chairs, and the spaces between. The heavy velvet brown curtains were drawn, as they’d been during the German raids many years before. No curious passerby could see in.
Laura examined the paintings on the walls, dark portraits of stern people, presumably the ancestors of their esteemed host, while picking at her dress. Even though Jeremy hadn’t told them why he’d insisted on this meeting, she had dipped into his mind a little. If Heather knew about her mind-reading, she’d be furious, because you were only supposed to invade another’s privacy if they agreed or it was an emergency. But she didn’t care. This was urgent. She’d wanted to be prepared.
She glanced guiltily at Heather, then back at the paintings.
Jeremy cleared his throat. “As you all know, I’m the president of the local teen witches.”
Heads nodded. He’d been elected almost as soon as he turned. Jeremy was a born leader, one of those rare sorts who knew how to inspire others without being pushy.
He paused, looked at Matthew and Laura, then at his own father for support. “A large group of them refuse to have anything to do with Matthew here, because he has reptilian blood.”
Matthew flinched and turned beet red. His foster mother opened her mouth to speak, but Jeremy held up his hand. “They’ve threatened to form their own group. Any teen who was at the New Years Eve party will not be welcome and I, since I’ve been spending Saturdays helping Matthew, will be punished.”
Now Matthew’s mother said one word: “ostracism.”
“This cannot be,” the eldest witch said.
Voices rose. He raised his hand, which held a large wooden staff, and thumped it on the floor. “Some of you,” he said, “have teenagers. Raise your hands if they are in this rogue group.”
At first no hands went up, then one woman fluttered her fingers. A man lifted his arm, and then two more rose.
“Speak,” the eldest ordered the first woman.
“It’s wrong,” she said, “that you have welcomed him. We can’t trust him. Reptilians are our sworn enemies. I don’t want him near our child. He might hurt him.”
“I’m not-“ Matthew shouted, but Heather placed a hand on his arm to stop him from saying anything.
Heads nodded in agreement. The other three parents were given a chance to speak. They told awful, horrible stories about reptilian atrocities. Then Matthew’s foster mother was given the floor. “You know me,” she said, softly. “You know my children. We have reptilian blood, too, but we are witches first and foremost. We are dedicated to preserving the earth. And we have examined Matthew’s heart. He is one of us. If he is raised properly, he will never be capable of betrayal.”
Angry voices rose, but the eldest hit the floor again, sending a loud boom into the room. “Enough,” he said. “Matthew, stand.”
Matthew had a difficult time getting to his feet. He trembled, and his legs threatened to give way under him, but he finally stood in front of the group.
“This is the child you fear. Look into his heart, those of you who have the power, and tell us what you find.”
The room grew eerily still. Laura felt the tendrils reaching out, then she realized she could see energy threads coming from the witches, entering Matthew, surrounding him. He turned pale, but he held himself steady. She wanted to protect him, but she didn’t dare. She was too young and too new to this community to know the rules.
The energy lines receded, one by one, until only one remained, then it, too, pulled back into the body of the woman who had spoken first. She smiled. Matthew collapsed onto the floor. Laura put her hand on his back and sent healing into him.
“Tell us what you found,” his foster mother spoke. “Am I right?”
Laura felt the room calm. “You did great,” she whispered.
“His heart is pure. He is more witch than reptilian,” someone said.
“He does have the potential to give in to the dark powers,” another said.
“Don’t we all?” Heather spoke for the first time. “If he is loved and respected, he will always ally with us. It’s no different for any one of us.”
Laura suddenly realized why they had allowed the four parents to say those awful things about Matthew. They’d been heard. By giving them respect, and allowing them to examine Matthew for themselves, they’d been kept in the community. They would no longer oppose his inclusion. She tucked this wisdom away for the future.
“Jeremy,” the eldest said. “I hereby call a meeting of the dissenters, to take place Saturday, with their parents and the York council. No one else is to attend. The matter is out of your hands. Plan your next teen meeting assuming all will attend, including Matthew.”
Jeremy bowed to the old man. Then he linked his arm through Matthew’s and led him and Laura outside.
“Whew!” he said, when they emerged into the cool night air. “I’m glad I didn’t have to take care of that myself. I’d have royally screwed up.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Matthew asked him. “I could have just stayed away from the youth meetings.”
“Oh, no you don’t,” Jeremy said. “You need to attend more than most. It’s where you’ll make friends who’ll stand by you forever and learn all the witchlore you missed since you didn’t grow up here.”
“You did great,” Laura said, giving Jeremy a quick kiss on the cheek. Her lips burned when she lifted them away. Funny, she thought, what was that? Jeremy glanced quickly at her, then away. She could half swear she heard him think: “so you’re the one.” But she couldn’t have; she’d stopped reading his mind before they arrived tonight.
“Move out of the way, you three,” Heather said, laughing as she opened the door. “Let everyone out of this hot house.”