Chapter 19:


The Wizard's Virginity

After witnessing the intense magic battle between Dan and Reiko, and Ms Matthews’ subsequent use of healing magic, it felt a bit anticlimactic for us to pile into Ms Matthews’ yellow Honda Jazz. I don’t know if this was witch-ist or something, but I kind of expected her to hop on a broom. Or at least to use some teleportation magic to instantly take us to her safe house. As it was, I carried Dan on my back as Ms Matthews led me and Hayley out of the building to where she had parked nearby.

Whatever Ms Matthews had done to Dan had stopped her bleeding, but she was clearly still in a very bad way. She was unconscious, and her breathing was so soft that I could barely feel her chest moving against my back. Speaking of which, I noticed that for a girl, Dan’s chest was not much different in shape from that of a boy’s. Maybe I could cut myself some slack for not working out her real gender all this time.

Hayley got in the front passenger seat whilst I carefully laid Dan in the back and then got in beside her, so that I could keep an eye on her. Ms Matthews took her place in the driver’s seat and we set off.

“It won’t take too long,” Ms Matthews said. “We only live about thirty minutes from here.”

That use of ‘we’ prompted another piece of the puzzle to fall into place. I should have worked this out already, but the reason that Dan was always so secretive about his aunt was because she was Ms Matthews. I guess it made sense that Dan would hide that, as it would have raised a lot of questions. However, Dan always described her aunt as strict, and it was hard to imagine this nosy old granny figure being like that. Then again, I guess I had also never imagined that she was secretly a witch. Time to reexamine a lot of my assumptions, I guess.

“So, could you tell me more about your coven now?” I asked.

At least at school, Ms Matthews loved gossiping, sharing the secrets of students and staff alike. The personal lives of other people seemed to interest her a lot more than the subject she was meant to teach, which now made sense given she wasn’t actually a teacher. I hoped that her love of gossip would extend to telling me more about what was going on.

“Well, I’m still not really meant to…” She hesitated a moment, and then said, “But the point of that was to stop you learning about magic. And I would say that the horse has bolted at this point, so all I’m doing is leaving the barn door open.” I watched from behind as she nodded to herself. “Yes, I’m sure Agnies would understand…”

“Agnies?” I prompted.

“Oh, that’s the High Priestess of our coven. Agnieszka Światło. She’s been the leader of Vindeca for as long as I can remember, and I’ve been around quite a while!”

Agnieszka Światło… Ms Matthews pronounced it as ‘shi-vat-wo’. I didn’t know much about names, but it sounded Eastern European. I was going to ask more about this Agnieszka, but Ms Matthews had already started talking now, and it seemed there would be no stopping her.

“Agnies and I have been friends for years. That’s why she trusted me to look after you and Dan. Well, and she knew that I would find life in a school entertaining. There’s always so much drama going on! More so than at the priory.”

The priory? I began to ask a question about that, but was beaten to it by Hayley.

“What’s a priory?”

“It’s like a church, but people live there. Nuns or monks, usually, but in our case, it’s where the witches of our coven live. When they’re not out on pilgrimages or doing some other kind of work for the coven.”

“What does a coven do?” asked Hayley. Somehow I had become the third wheel in this conversation.

“Hmm, it depends on the coven, really. Vindeca, the coven that Dan and I are part of, is dedicated to studying healing and protection magic. Well, and sometimes other things. But it’s all with the goal of helping people. Helping people like your brother here.” Ms Matthews caught my eye in the rear view mirror, and smiled.

Perhaps a bit petulantly, I replied, “I haven’t needed much help until the last few days. Up until now I’ve just had a normal, boring life. How come nobody has been looking for me before?”

“Well, it’s not quite true that nobody’s been looking for you. Dan and I have been working hard behind-the-scenes to keep you safe. I mean, you probably guessed, but Dan’s injuries weren’t from sports. Some were training, but others were from real battles. Like the time she was in a wheelchair, that was the result of a tussle with some Icelandic witches who could transform into bears.”

I looked over at the still unconscious Dan, slumped in the seat next to me. I had no idea that outside of our daily life together, she had been doing so much to protect me. While I was stressing about kids at school being mean, she was fighting life or death battles for my sake. It made me feel like a bit of a dick.

“Still, in a way, you’re right,” Ms Matthews continued. “Things have been largely quiet up until now. Potential wizards are a rarity, and therefore very much in demand. After your father died, we removed any magical objects from your home so that nobody would be able to find you by sensing them, or by otherwise connecting you with your father. That didn’t stop a few particularly eager witches from trying to locate you, but we were able to deal with them.”

Removing every trace of Dad from our home… It hadn’t just been my mum’s selfish attempt at moving on, without considering my feelings. It was done for the sake of protecting me. For the second time that day, I regretted how completely I had resented Mum and shut her out of my life.

“Things change once a young wizard’s adolescence reaches its later stages. The magic potential stops being something dormant hidden within you, but instead comes to the surface. It’s something that experienced magic users are able to sense. “

“So what, now that I’ve finished puberty, or mostly finished puberty, I’m giving off more magical pheromones or something?”

“Well, that’s not a completely incorrect explanation. But there’s more to it than that. Tell me, James, have you been having any strange dreams recently?”

At first, I didn’t know how to answer that. As a teenage boy, I had a lot of dreams that could be considered ‘strange’, but none which I would be willing to discuss with anyone, much less my elderly Citizenship teacher. Ms Matthews must have read the concern on my face via the rearview mirror, and laughed.

“I meant, dreams specifically about magic. Dreams that felt more real than usual. More dangerous.”

I started to shake my head, when I remembered. Yes, I had been having dreams exactly like that recently. I could barely remember them after waking, but the fear remained, and I remembered that.

“I saw battles, I think. Lots of confusion, fear and… death.”

Ms Matthews grimaced. “For male magic users, dreams are part premonition, part events happening now or in the past, and part your just usual subconscious. Skilled wizards learn to interpret these, so I've heard. If you’ve started having these dreams, that means that your powers are awakening. You won’t be able to learn specific spells without tomes, but still, there’s some inherent power flowing through you. It seems that a few covens began to sense this, and sent witches to retrieve you. More than Dan has been able to handle herself.”

“Not to overestimate my own importance, but in that case, couldn’t your coven send backup or something? You know, rather than leaving me and my family to get kidnapped?”

“It’s not that easy, unfortunately. There is a lot going on in the magic world at the moment. Those battles you’ve been seeing in your dreams.Those are real.”

“Even the flying naked women?” I asked.

Ms Matthews raised an eyebrow, and Hayley burst out laughing.

“As I mentioned,” Ms Matthews politely said, clearly trying to contain her own laughter, “some parts of your dreams are just your usual subconscious.”

“Oh.” I blushed.

“Anyway, those battles are real struggles that our coven and others are fighting around the globe. I won’t pretend that they are as simple as good against evil, but there are certainly some groups that are worse than others. Fusae’s coven, Sekkaku, for example, is definitely one that we do not want to grow any more powerful.”

Hayley, as easily distracted as always, had started going through Ms Matthews’ glovebox looking at her CD collection. I guess Ms Matthews had never heard of Spotify, although I suppose I should have been impressed that she at least had CDs rather than cassette tapes. Anyway, their conversation about ABBA gave me some time to collect my thoughts.

“Ms Matthews, there’s one thing I still don’t know,” I said, as there was a break in the conversation. “Why are you and Dan, and your High Priestess, so concerned about protecting me? I get that the Sekkaku coven want me to steal my magic potential. Are you just trying to stop me from falling into the wrong hands?”

Ms Matthews was uncharacteristically silent for a few seconds before answering.

“That’s part of it, James. But not all of it. You see, your father was a wizard. I think you’ve worked out that much already. Specifically though, he was a wizard of the Vindeca coven. Alex was a great man, and he did a lot for us. He helped a lot of people. Agnies made an oath that we would protect you when he was no longer here to do it himself.”

Just as it had all started with my dad’s notebooks, it all came back to him as well. I was proud to hear Ms Matthews speak of him so highly. That was the man I remembered looking up to, who always put helping others first. It also felt like this was the final piece that I was missing. When Dan protected me, she wasn’t acting according to some secret evil agenda. She was doing it as a representative of my dad.

I was going to ask more about my dad, when Ms Matthews announced, “We’re here.”

The car pulled into the drive of an unassuming semi-detached house. It was a nice suburban neighbourhood, at least a step or two up the social ladder from where we lived, and several hundred steps up from the dilapidated flat that Reiko was staying in. The front garden was well-maintained with lots of colourful flowers blooming. I smiled when I saw that. Ms Matthews had always proudly spoken of her gardening, and it was reassuring to see some evidence that not everything I had heard from her or Dan in the past had been a facade.

It was then that I noticed Mum. She had been sitting on the front door step, and stood as we approached. I could tell from her make-up that she had been crying.

Hayley opened the door and rushed out before the car had even come to a stop. She ran into Mum’s arms and seemingly without taking a breath, started to describe the events of the last few hours.


“Shhh, it’s okay, Hayley,” Mum stroked her hair. “You can tell me everything later. All that matters is that you’re safe. Where’s your brother?”

I got out of the car. “I’m here.”

I must have been quite a sight, covered in blood and missing my trousers. My legs were still feeling the aftereffects of Reiko’s immobilising attack, so I also stumbled a bit as I stepped onto the driveway.

Mum didn’t seem to notice any of this, or at least, didn’t show it. The only expression on her face was relief. I suppose it’s natural for a mother to worry about her son, even if that son is deliberately distant, only speaking to his mother to tell her off for embarrassing him with her cringey jokes. Still, at that moment, I suddenly realised how lucky I was. I had been wallowing in self-pity for longer than I realised, but here were a Mum and sister who cared about me. Dad was gone, so it was smaller than it should be, but it was still a family.

I walked towards Mum and Hayley and, without saying a word, joined their embrace. I imagine it took them by surprise. It certainly took me by surprise. I had so much to ask Mum, so much I needed to talk to her about. But right then, all that mattered was being close.

After a few seconds I broke away. Ms Matthews had been politely waiting for us to finish, but I knew she would need help with getting the still unconscious Dan inside. I lifted my friend out of the car and again carried her on my back.

Ms Matthews led me upstairs to a pretty plain-looking room. It had a bed, a wardrobe, a desk with a computer, and a couple of large bookcases. The room was immaculate, and there were no posters on the walls or any knick-knacks scattered around. It looked more like a fake bedroom from a furniture catalogue than the bedroom of an actual teenager. The only decorations were on the desk: two framed photos. One showed a group of smiling children and some accompanying adults, standing together outside a church. The other was a photo of me and Dan.

I gently laid Dan down on the bed, and then turned to take a closer look at the photo. I recognised it as being from a couple of years before. The school had run a Great British Bake Off competition, and for some unfathomable reason, Dan and I were picked to represent our form. As with most things, Dan was surprisingly skilled. She knew exactly what needed to be done in what order, how long everything needed to be in the oven for, how long it would need to set, and so on. Unfortunately, my absolute lack of skill offset all of Dan’s talents. I had misread the recipe and swapped the amounts of sugar and flour. I had also forgotten to use oven gloves when picking up the melted chocolate, and had subsequently dropped it all over the floor. In short, it was a disaster.

The photo was taken at the end of the competition, after Dan and I had been rightfully awarded last place. Although it was a loss, it was such an astounding loss that Dan and I could not stop laughing, much to the annoyance of Sara and others in our form who felt we had let them down. Ms Matthews had been taking photos of the event, using a camera that looked like it was manufactured before I was born. She snapped a moment when Dan and I were looking at each other with the biggest grins, both of our faces with some mixture of chocolate and icing on them. I hoped that Dan would wake up soon so that we could resume our friendship, this time with no secrets.

I briefly looked at the other photo on the desk, and recognised a familiar figure. One of the adults standing next to the group of twenty or so children, wearing some kind of black gown, was my dad. Ms Matthews saw what I was looking at, and spoke up.

“That was taken at the priory about ten years ago. That’s Dan, there.” She pointed to a small child with short, black hair, looking away from the camera and frowning. “She used to be such an unhappy girl. She’s like a different person these days.”

“What about…” I struggled to say the word ‘Dad’, but Ms Matthews seemed to know what I meant.

“Alex often came back to visit the priory. It was where he grew up, after all. The children always loved it when he came. I think it was good for them to see that it was possible to grow up with magic and have more options, rather than just becoming one of the stuffy old sisters managing the priory. It certainly inspired Dan.”

I continued examining the photo for a few more moments, and spotted a marginally younger Ms Matthews, also standing to the side, smiling widely. Next to her was another woman who looked to be a similar age, but gave off a completely different vibe. If Ms Matthews was a friendly granny type, this other lady appeared more like a Disney villainess.

“Who’s that?”

“That’s the High Priestess of Vindeca. Agnies, whom I told you about. I promise she’s not as scary as she looks!”

I looked more closely, and realised that this was likely the same High Priestess that Dad had mentioned in his journal. Dad had described someone particularly strict, and this Agnies lady seemed to fit the bill there. He had also described the High Priestess as having immense power, and the demeanour of the lady in this photo seemed to scream, “Don’t mess with me, or I will kill you.”

I wanted to ask more questions, but I found myself yawning. It was late in the evening by this point, and it had been an intense day of shocking revelations and near death experiences. I was also still not wearing any trousers.

Ms Matthews escorted me, Mum and Hayley to a guest room, which contained only one double bed. I insisted that I slept on the sofa whilst Mum and Hayley shared the guest room, mainly because the idea of sharing a bed with either my mum or my sister was not at all appealing. I was also so tired that I knew I could have slept on the kitchen floor, so the sofa was still an upgrade from that.

I still had lots of questions. Things to ask Ms Matthews, things to ask Mum and, when she woke up, things to ask Dan. The biggest question was about what to do next. If Fusae really was coming to get me herself, and if she was as powerful as Reiko had said, then the danger was far from over.

For now though, Hayley and I were alive, and we had Dan to thank. That was the thought I kept hold of as I drifted to sleep.