It was Dr Wellbelove's idea that I join the Coven.
He's been at me for years to join, ever since I defeated the Humdrum actually, but I always said no. I wasn't ready for that. After the end of the Humdrum – and the death of the Mage – I'd had enough of everything and wanted to live a normal life for a while. Not Normal, like without magic, but normal, like without all the bloody drama. I'd spent my childhood saving the magickal realm from every dark creature imaginable and then I was in therapy for years because of it, so joining the Coven was the last thing on my mind.
I had my own stuff to work through anyway, especially all that business with the Mage and his fucking Will. He left me some money and a cottage (which I didn't in any way want), and then when Penny and Baz finally talked me round to going there, we found out that he was my fucking biological father and that he had somehow given me all of my magickal power in the first place. Created his very own Chosen One, and then he stuck me in a fucking orphanage.
Those revelations were the final straw for me and I took off for a few months, completely lost in my own head.
But Baz and Penny stuck with me and things finally turned around. I found out that it was my mother who came through the Veil back at Watford and that she wanted me, and my magic came back when I found her wand. And then Baz asked me to marry him and I said yes (of course), so all of a sudden we were engaged. I even found that I have real relatives – a grandmother (my mum's mum), and an uncle (my mum's brother). I had a proper family and Baz was at the centre of it.
All that was really cool and my life finally settled into some kind of normal existence for a change. Well, as normal as you can get when you're a mage with dragon wings and a tail, and a husband who's a mage and a vampire. But it felt normal enough, and right – especially when Baz and I got married, and for the first time in my life I was really, blissfully happy.
So when Dr Wellbelove asked again about me joining the Coven a few months ago, I guess I didn't say no fast enough. I just shrugged, and he took that for a yes. That's why I'm here tonight.
I look around Dr Wellbelove's dining room. It's a big room with an enormous oak table and enough white leather chairs for all of us to be seated around. I used to spend Christmas with the Wellbeloves when I was dating Agatha, so I'm fairly comfortable here despite the fact that I haven't visited in a while. When Agatha and I broke up and Baz and I became boyfriends, I didn't really have a reason to come here anymore. I still do pop in every now, but just not that often, and usually only when Dr Wellbelove wants to check out my wings.
The Coven meetings are held at a different house each month so the Normal neighbours don't get suspicious. I think they tell the Normal neighbours that it's a book club or something. As long as no one ever asks me what we're reading I'm fine with that. (I don't think comics qualify.) (That's what Baz says anyway.)
Agatha's mum kisses my cheek when I arrive and asks after Baz. She got over the fact that Agatha broke up with me and I married Baz some time ago now, and once she found out Agatha was dating a mage, and an Englishman, she's been extra nice to us. She still tells me I look handsome every time she sees me. Some things never change.
Mrs Wellbelove and their helper Helen brought in snacks and drinks earlier and I've knocked off a fair few of the sandwiches already. Helen's sandwiches are the best, especially the roast beef with horseradish.
The first hour of the meeting is pretty boring. They're discussing how to allocate next year's school funding. When the Mage took over he created a whole bunch of taxes against the Old Families so that anyone with magic could attend the school. Before the Mage Watford had been much more selective, intentionally – there were school fees and mages had to pass some sort of magickal test to attend. When the Mage died, all of his new laws and taxes pretty much ended along with him. The Coven has been trying to sort through the mess ever since.
Now that Headmistress Bunce is running the show, she's managed to secure a load of Normal government funds because it's a school. (Regardless of the fact that it's a magickal school.) It's taken a lot of pressure off the magickal families while still allowing mages who are less financially well-off to attend. The Mage never really got involved in the Normal world so he probably had no idea how to access that type of stuff. He immersed himself entirely in the magickal world, I don't even know if he ever even used a mobile or a computer.
I try to look interested, but they're still droning on about how best to allocate those Normal funds and I don't really give a toss. I sink deeper into my chair and rest my head back – we're going to be here a while.
Maybe I didn't fight joining the Coven this time because most of my friends have left London recently. Penny and Micah left for America earlier this year, my old boss Alex and her boyfriend Marco left for their Italian adventure, and then my mate Olivia left to travel around the continent for a bit. Even Agatha's still over in California. So with everyone gone, I have a lot more time on my hands.
If only they would talk about something more interesting, and I could contribute something. They're arguing about whether or not they have enough funding to bring back the Watford Drama Society. I don't really care. I stifle a yawn.
I'm still well shocked to have a seat at this table. I didn't think anyone would actually vote for me to join the Coven but there must be enough mages around that still believe I'm the Chosen One or something because they voted me in straight away and I didn't really have a chance to say no again.
Penny thinks I was voted into the Coven because half of the mages believe they need the Chosen One close at hand. Kind of like an insurance policy – so that I could save the World of Mages at a moment's notice if it ever needs to be saved again.
Baz thinks I was voted in because the other half – mainly the Old Families, like the Grimms and the Pitches and their allies – think that because Baz and I are married, I would look after their magickal interests or something. None of the Old Families have any clue that Baz and I disagree on nearly everything when it came to stuff like that. We used to fight viciously back at school whenever Baz brought up things like the old days and the power trials and how taxes were for Normals and not Mages, and he would go off on a rant about how bad it was that 'every pathetic excuse of a magician' was allowed into Watford. Whereas I thought the opposite; why couldn't people go to a magickal school if they had magic? Then he would bang on about standards and traditions and I would stammer and get all mad and we usually ended up fighting and trying to push each other down the stairs.
Of course that was before we realised that we didn't hate each other but were mad for each other. (Well, Baz had already worked it out, he'd worked out how he felt years before me.) (It took me a lot longer.) And we may be married now and madly in love but we still disagree on loads of things about magickal politics. Especially things like inclusion and class. Baz is my husband and the love of my life but he's still a posh git and an almighty snob sometimes. Well, most of the time really.
I didn't know the half of what the Mage was up back when we were at Watford that kept getting Baz so riled up; taxing the Old Families, creating new laws that banned magickal books and magickal phrases, creating rules about where and when mages could go and where they could meet, raiding magickal houses whenever he felt like it and confiscating magickal artefacts and books and Merlin know what else. Actually I didn't know any of it. The Mage kept me isolated every summer in those fucking orphanages without any contact with other mages, not even my friends like Penny and Agatha. He said he was protecting me but I realise now he was keeping me in the dark on purpose.
It's pretty easy to control someone who's uninformed – that way you can make them believe whatever you want. And that's what he did to me for a long time. It wasn't until Baz and Penny and I tried to solve his mother's murder that we started to piece together that it was the Mage that was behind all the bad stuff that had happened. And I mean all the bad stuff; the wars with the Old Families, the wars with the dark creatures, letting the vampires into Watford that resulted in Natasha Grimm-Pitch's death – everything. I didn't know how evil he was until he killed Ebb and tried to kill me and take my power to end the Humdrum, even though Baz and Penny had already worked out that I was the Humdrum so there was no way he could end it. Only I could do that, and I did.
And then I accidentally killed the Mage too. You could argue that Penny did it – she cast the spell, but I said the words that killed him so I reckon it was me.
I grab another sandwich and glance around the room. There are thirteen of us in all, and they all have a few years on me. Some are from the Old Families, mages that managed to win back their position after the Mage died, and there are a few still hanging on from the Mage's reign like Dr Wellbelove and the bloke next to him. The rest seem to be fairly neutral, like Professor Bunce and the two women on either side of her. And then there's me. I'm the youngest by far, and the most clueless.
This is only the third Coven meeting I've been to, and I've hardly said anything. I'm never really sure what to say.
Penny says I should prioritise all of the issues that I think the realm needs to fix, like finding the fairies and the unconscious bias against women and equality for all magickal creatures. And Baz says I should try to restore the traditions of old, like the oral presentations and magickal trials to get into Watford. Whenever the topic comes up they always end up arguing so intensely that they forget I'm there. After a while I either leave the room or growl at them that if they feel that strongly about it, maybe they should join the Coven instead of me.
Finally we're on the next topic – the dead spots in the magickal atmosphere. Penny's dad enters to read a report on the status of the holes and I tune out a bit. I know what it says because I'm still working with him every now and then, visiting and measuring the dead spots to see if they've shrunk. They haven't.
He finally finishes reading and heads to an empty seat for the discussion.
"Maybe the holes will never close," one of the younger coven member's comments. I think her name is Kendra, and I think she's friend with Professor Bunce. She seems nice enough.
"Maybe they just need time, like the hole in the ozone layer. That's closing slowly, ever since the Normals banned those nasty chemicals," someone else chimes in. Theodore, I think. I'm still trying to remember everyone's names.
"But how much time? That's the question," an old bloke huffs. He's got glasses and he's sitting next to Alfie. I think they might be friends with Baz's dad, or maybe they're part of the Old Families or maybe I've seen them at the club. (Knowing my luck it's all three.) I don't remember his name.
"We'll just have to wait and see. This isn't an exact science, it's magic after all," Professor Bunce says as he sits down. He leans towards the other Professor Bunce and they start to discuss something between themselves.
"But these are people's homes, magickal homes that have lost their magic. You can't expect us to sit around and wait until they choose to close by themselves. It's been years now," that bloke Wilbur says. I think his is one of the houses in a dead spot. His family had to move so they could use their magic again.
"Well at least I haven't made any new ones?" I'm not really listening and it just comes out. I'm looking longingly at the half-empty plate of sandwiches and wondering if anyone would mind if I took a couple more.
I don't notice straight away that everyone stops talking.
"What was that, Simon?" that old mages asks. Alfie. He must be at least seventy. Why he's still on the Coven is anyone's guess.
"I said I haven't made any new ones. I gave all my magic to the Humdrum to stop him so I can't suck the magic out of the magickal atmosphere anymore. That's at least something." I shrug.
It gets really quiet. So quiet that even I figure something's not right. I pull my eyes away from the plate of sandwiches and look around the table. That's when I finally notice that they're all staring at me. I reckon they're staring at me for a good half a minute before everything goes pear-shaped. The two Professor Bunces look up.
"Simon. What are you talking about?" Dr Wellbelove asks. He's frowning slightly and leaning towards me across the table.
That Alfie bloke narrows his eyes. "What do you mean 'you haven't made any new ones'?"
"I thought the Insidious Humdrum made the holes?" Kendra. She frowning at me.
"You made the holes?" Theodore now.
"You sucked out the magic from my house?" Wilbur this time. It sounds a bit like an accusation.
"You?" that other bloke says. He doesn't look too pleased either.
"You?" Alfie yells, looking right pissed off now.
"You did this?" That bloke whose name I can't remember asks. He looks like a middle-aged accountant with his glasses and a dull grey suit that doesn't fit quite right – it's a bit rumpled.
"You caused all of this mess?" Wilbur bellows at me.
They're all standing now, looking down at me. Well, everyone except Dr Wellbelove and Professor Bunce and the other Professor Bunce.
Shit. I should really, really learn to pay attention. And to keep my big mouth shut.
"Wait, what?" I splutter. I'm flushing and my heart is racing. How the hell is this news? Didn't everyone know this already? Didn't everyone hear about it when Penny testified? Or Baz? Or Agatha?
By the looks on their faces it's obvious that they didn't.
They're all yelling at me and my heart is pounding out of my chest but I close my eyes and force myself to think back the trials – to what was discussed, what they asked Penny, and Baz, and me, even Agatha. Fragments of memories flood my mind – questions about the Mage, Ebb . . . And I realise with a jolt of panic that the cause of the holes never came up. That all the questions at the trial focused only the Mage, his crimes.
Fuck me, I'm an idiot.
"You were the cause of the holes, Simon?" Dr Wellbelove asks again, cutting through the noise. He's loud but composed, as if he's asking after my health, or the weather. That's what I've always liked about the Doc. He's so easy-going and calm.
"We thought the Humdrum created the holes," Lilly says, just as calm. I like her too, she's smart and always nice to everyone.
I don't know what to say; they obviously didn't know that it was me and now I've just gone and told them that I'm the cause of the biggest problem the magickal world has ever known. Shit. Shit. Shit.
"Well. I didn't do it on bloody purpose or anything, did I? It was whenever I went off, whenever I used a lot of magic, you know, to stop the Humdrum or the dragons or other dark creatures that the Humdrum sent. You knew that didn't you? I thought you knew?" Shit. Shit. Shit.
"We most certainly did not know!" Wilbur snaps. His perfectly round face is turning a bright shade of pink.
"How would we know that?" that other bloke says a bit too sarcastically for my liking. Reggie, that's his name. I'm not sure if I like him.
"You assume much, Master Snow," Alfie says, all high and mighty like.
"It's Mr Snow. I'm married." I say, automatically lifting my hand with my wedding ring. He still won't acknowledge that Baz and I are married, the homophobic old git. I drop my hand back down and start twisting my wedding ring with my other hand absently.
"Mr Snow," he drawls, narrowing his eyes at me.
Master Snow, Mr Snow, whatever. He's not calling me Simon anymore. Shit.
They're all talking so fast now that I don't know who's saying what. I keep looking at one to another as they fire their questions at me.
"It was the Humdrum," I say, backtracking a bit. "Of course it was the Humdrum who made the holes."
"But you just said it was you?" That accountant looking bloke says. Huxtable or Huxley or something.
"It was me, I mean it was the Humdrum!" I'm flustered now and my words are getting all jumbled up. "I made the Humdrum accidentally when I went off when I was a kid, and then the Humdrum sent dark creatures after me to get me to go off and make more holes. At least I think that's how it worked. Merlin, I thought you knew all this?"
"We most certainly did not!" a bunch of them answer together.
"Can everyone please calm down!" Professor Bunce says, trying to regain order but they're all ignoring her.
"So this is your fault!" Wilbur yells, looming over Dr Wellbelove's nice dining room table and pointing his stubby finger at me accusingly.
"No! Stop!" I finally stand up too, banging my fist on the table. "It was all an accident! I didn't know any of this until Baz and Penny worked it out. Then I stopped it, straight away!"
"How did you do that?" one of the twins inquires, Luella or Odella, I can't really tell them apart. They're quite an old pair, and I think they're friends with my grandmother, Lady Salisbury.
"I went to see the Mage, to tell him, and then all that shit happened. But I ended the Humdrum that very night. I gave it my magic, all of it, to stop it," I try to explain, looking around at their stunned faces. "I thought you all knew."
"We did not," Reggie says like the pompous twat he is. He's such an arse.
"I think everyone needs to calm down," Dr Wellbelove says in a firm voice. He stands up and stares at everyone in turn until one by one they sit down. I sit down after they all do, and I'm shaking so much that I spill a bit of my water as I try to take a sip. I'm so grateful to Dr Wellbelove for stepping in just now. "We need to move to the next topic on the agenda –"
But then it all flares up again.
"Welby, we're not finished here. It's obvious that you're the reason, Mr. Snow, that the holes aren't closing." It's that same person whose house is in a dead spot. Wilbur.
"Wait. What?" I jump to my feet again. "How can you say that?" I yell at him. I can't help it, I'm so frustrated. "You don't know that!" How can he say that? He's not an expert, he doesn't know anything. What a load of crap.
"Simon, calm down please," Professor Bunce is trying to keep some sort of order but is failing spectacularly.
"You created them, Mr Snow. So it's obvious that you're the reason they won't close!" Wilbur the prick insists.
"Now, now," Dr Wellbelove interjects in a calm but authoritative voice. "That's a serious accusation, Wilbur. There's no evidence to suggest–"
"I think it's obvious– he created them, so it must follow that he's the reason they're still open," Alfie snaps, interrupting Dr Wellbelove.
"What?" I yell. "That's tosh and you know it!"
"That's ridiculous." Professor Bunce steps in, much to my relief. "You cannot level such a grave accusation with no proof, Alfie."
"There is no evidence to suggest that Simon is the cause of anything," the other Professor Bunce says. "I've studied these holes for many years and there is nothing to suggest that anything or anyone is delaying their closure. I firmly believe it will take time and no manner of Normal or magickal interference will speed it up."
"But there's also no evidence to suggest that he isn't the cause," one of the more vocal members retorts. (Huxley I think.)
"How the hell would you know?" I throw back. I really want to tell him to fuck off but I don't think it would go down too well here in Dr Wellbelove's dining room. "I lost my magic for two years and nothing changed then, so why the hell do you think I'm the cause now?"
Everyone knows I lost my magic after I ended the Humdrum, and they know it came back, but most mages think it came back all by itself. They have no idea I got my magic back when I found my mother's wand. That would just lead to everyone finding out that the Mage was my father, and there's no way I'm ever telling anyone that.
"Well maybe you're the reason, Mr Snow, not your magic."
"Sod off," I growl at Reggie. I don't know what else to say to these tossers. I wish Baz were here. I wish Penny were here. They'd know what to say.
"That doesn't make any sense, Reggie." Professor Bunce argues back. "It's no more Simon's fault than it is mine."
"I think we all need to calm down. Obviously this is news to the Coven and I understand that you're all a little surprised," Professor Bunce chimes in. She stands then and looks over at me. "I repeat: Simon has done nothing wrong. He saved our realm and I will not have this Coven use him as a scapegoat for this."
I sigh in relief as everyone finally listens to her. The other members still look pissed off as hell but at least they're not yelling at me anymore. Some of them are even nodding. The others are looking at me like they want to kill me. It might be an even split.
"I agree with Professor Bunce." Dr Wellbelove says. "Simon Snow saved our realm, along with Tyrannus Basilton Grimm-Pitch and Penelope Bunce. And it would do you all good to remember that."
Dr Wellbelove emphasizes Baz's full name, probably to remind everyone that he's Natasha Grimm-Pitch's son. The Pitches were one of the most respected families in the realm for a long time. They probably still are now that the Mage is gone and is no longer trying to sully their name.
It seems to work– a few members of the Coven sink down a bit in their seats, like kids that have just been chastised. But a few of them keep glaring at me with their arms crossed. I try not to squirm.
I hear a couple of them mutter, "here, here." and I breathe a sigh of relief.
"I think this meeting should be adjourned. We're not going to resolve anything further tonight," Dr Wellbelove says.
I let out another loud sigh but I don't look up. I sit there with my head down, twisting my wedding ring around my finger until all of the members say their curt goodbyes and get up and leave, a few patting my shoulder as they pass by. It feels like it takes forever and it's not until both Professor Bunces and Dr Wellbelove are the only ones left that I lift my head.
"Are you all right Simon?" Professor Bunce asks. She's frowning at me, but not in an unfriendly way.
"Yeah," I say in a shaky voice. "I just . . . I had no idea they didn't know . . ."
"They didn't know. That fact didn't come up the trial. The trial was only to do with the Mage's crimes. I thought you realised . . ." The other Professor Bunce trails off. "And I stand by what I said; I don't believe for a moment that you're causing them to remain open."
"You knew, Martin? Mitali?" Dr Wellbelove asks.
"Yes, Welby," Professor Bunce says, taking off his glasses and wiping them on the corner of his shirt. "Simon, Baz, and Penny told us everything that night after the White Chapel."
I sink back into my seat and cringe a little. We didn't tell them everything exactly, like about Baz being kidnapped by the numpties and us visiting that vampire bar, because that would just lead to more questions about Baz being a vampire. Or how the Mage tried to take Ebb's magic and then take my magic. That would lead to too many other questions.
"We didn't see any point in bringing it out during the trial," the other Professor Bunce explains to the Doc. "It had nothing to do with the Mage's death and his crimes."
"And Simon had been through enough," Professor Bunce finishes, patting me gently on the shoulder.
I look at Professor Bunce and he's smiling at me and giving me a kind look. I look at the other Professor Bunce and she's nodding. Then I look at Dr Wellbelove and he's just looking at me with a slight frown. I guess it is big news and I owe him an explanation.
I take a big breath and I tell Dr Wellbelove what Penny and Baz worked out on that Christmas day in Professor Bunce's study. That I'd accidentally created the Humdrum when I went off the first time, when I was eleven, and that it sent all those dark creatures after me to get me to go off again, to make more holes. And that as soon as they worked it out I went to the White Chapel to fix it. They all know what happened after that. (Mostly.)
When I finish, Dr Wellbelove sits back and sighs. "That actually makes a good deal of sense," he says. "You acted very bravely, Simon."
"Thanks," I mumble. I also sit back, letting out a ragged breath. "I thought everyone knew . . ." I trail off.
Professor Bunce shakes her head. "We thought it best not to make that public . . ."
"Christ," I mumble. "What are they going to say when they find out the Mage is my father?"
"They won't find that out, Simon. Not unless you choose tell them." Professor Bunce reminds me.
"Or let it slip – like I did this."
"You won't, Simon," the other Professor Bunce says, patting me on my back again. He does that a lot. "Don't worry about that. Let's just deal with this now."
"Everything will be fine, Simon, they were just surprised. We all were. Now they need some time to calm down," Dr Wellbelove says, trying his best to reassure me.
I sit back and stare at the table. I hope he's right but I have my doubts. I'm a fucking idiot.
"Best get going Simon," Professor Bunce says. "I think we've discussed this enough for one night. We'll talk soon."
"Do you need a ride home?"
I shake my head. "No, I'll be okay, thanks." I just want to get out of here. I just want to go home.
"All right, then." Professor Bunce nods once, briskly. She's always so business-like, even when she's being kind.
I look at each of them and they're all looking at me. I give them a small smile. "Okay," I mumble as I get up. "Goodnight."
"Goodnight," they say in unison.
"Wish Basil all the best on his exam tomorrow," Professor Bunce adds as I head out the door.
"Yeah, thanks," I answer without turning around.