Dean waited in the living room for his mother. He had gone over and over his choices of what to do about what he'd heard. He didn't want to admit that he'd eavesdropped. She had warded them for a reason. At the same time, it was the family ward, and she had also taught him the charm to make himself impervious to the ward for a reason. Why did he even feel the need to be involved? His power wasn't going to help her. He didn't know anything about the magical world. He hadn't even known any witches beyond his mother, his tutor, and his Quizmaster until the past few weeks.
But he couldn't pretend he hadn't heard. Witches' magic being blocked? That was serious. It would hardly affect him to have his own blocked, but still. Especially witches who didn't integrate at all - most of them, to be honest - they couldn't live without their magic.
He had made it through the rest of the convention without letting anything on to his new friends. Maggie had caught him in deep contemplation a couple of times, but he had waved her off. She understood the weight of integration better than he, since this was his first attempt. She accepted that as the explanation readily enough.
It didn't seem like Hattie was going to come home any time soon. Dean was going to have to corner her another time. He was getting up to grab his bag off the floor when he heard the linen closet door bang open.
"Dean? Dean are you home yet?" Hattie called.
"I'm in the living room, Mom." Hattie came into the room, not sweeping in grandly like she normally would after spending so much time in the Veiled Realm. She put a hand on the recliner to balance herself while she took off her shoes. For the first time in Dean's life, Hattie looked truly tired.
"What's up?" he asked her innocently.
"It was a long convention, dear. Pushing back the darkness took more out of me than it did when I was younger." She sighed and dropped herself into the chair. "I was right." Dean waited for her to continue. Right about what? He didn't realize how intently he was staring at her until she narrowed her eyes at him. "We Society members are out of practice." She chuckled to herself, but Dean could tell she wasn't putting herself into it. It was the chuckle of someone who had been shown they had been making sandwiches wrong all along. "We've been content to relegate ourselves to simple household magics. How many of us have used battle magic since leaving the breach?"
Dean sat down at the end of the couch, catty corner to his mother. The silence stretched on for a few moments. He put his hand on hers.
"Mom. Talk to me." She looked up at him. This was the real Marie Hattison Paris. The witch who had been born into the most powerful birth line in history. The witch who had turned the tide the last time the darkness had nearly overcome the breach. The witch who had fully integrated into the mundane world while maintaining her place in the Society.
This was also Hattie Paris, the girl who had lost her mother at 16. The woman who had struggled to prove herself above her mother. The woman who had made her own way to become a powerful business woman in the mundane world. The mother who had been so excited to have her own little girl. The mother who had hidden his weaknesses to protect him from the rest of the magical world.
And there were tears in her eyes.
Dean leaned forward, looking closely at her face. "Mom, I know. I heard."
The tears flowed from her eyes, down one of the most powerful faces in the world. She hunched over, her forehead on his hand.
"Dean, oh, Dean. We're all in so much danger."
Dean looked to his mother. She was shorter than him. He had never actually taken notice of that. He squeezed her hand. "You can do this, mom. You're the only one who can." She smiled to him and took a deep breath. Suddenly she seemed the taller one. It wasn't a true illusion, there was no magic involved. Was that a trick she had picked up in the magical world, or in the the business realm of the mundane world? She had always been acknowledged as a powerful woman there too. She nodded and let go of his hand.
"Dean," she said, looking at the doors to the chamber hall, not to him. "Thank you. For encouraging me. I don't know what I would have done otherwise." Dean laughed a little.
"You'd have tried to solve it by yourself," he told her. "And hell, you might have been able to." He waited a moment. She reached forward and opened the door, stepping in. "But this way, I won't lose you," he said quietly to himself.
Dean's door was open a crack. She slid into his room and glanced around. Yellow streetlight came through the window, casting its unnatural glow over her son's fairly neat room. Mostly school books were scattered over every surface. Several were from past semesters. No doubt he was able to use them to improve his assignments now, though. A few discarded pieces of clothing hung from his desk chair and laid on the floor. But Dean had spent so much time in the Veiled Realm as of late that he clearly hadn't had time to make much of a mess.
Hattie sighed as she stepped closer to her sleeping son. He had been so wonderful, stepping up to comfort her. For the first time, they were together on something. Could she really take that away?
Knowing about the situation would do him no favors, though. He hadn't spent enough time in the Veiled Realm for her to let him be in that kind of danger. She had to do something about that, as much as it hurt her.
Her son didn't stir at all as she spun her spell finger over his head. Faint purple mist, almost white, swirled from his head, trailing after her finger. She cupped her hands and let the mist fill them. Carefully, she closed her fingers around it. When she opened them, there was nothing there.
Dean wouldn't remember over hearing Nav tell her anything. He would forget that they had discussed it late into the night. The one time he had been able to step up and be more than just her son would be lost to him.
Gertrude was introducing this time. They rotated.
"Hattie has asked us to seal this meeting to the Society. Anything said today will not leave the Society Hall. No one shall speak of any topics once they leave this room. Any time these are brought up again, the meeting must once again be sealed. Are there any protests?" There was a customary two minute wait, while everyone digested that. Few meetings were sealed to the Society. But no one protested. One of the perks of being so respected in the community was that few ever questioned anything suggested by Hattie.
Hattie enchanted her chair to take the podium, and she stood. As the person who had requested the Seal, it was up to her to ward the hall. Just as well, as wards were her specialty.
"Thank you for your cooperation. What I bring before you today is...dire, to say the least." She let that sink in, watching the face of each Society member flash before her. "We are all at risk. I have reason to believe, witches and warlocks, that there is a force working against us, sealing individuals from being able to wield control over magic." There were gasps. There were whispers. There was even a tiny squeak from Brigitte. Not a sound one would expect from such an imposing looking woman. A voice spoke up. It was Gertrude.
"Hattie, what would make you think that? Who can no longer control magic? This person is a liability!" Hattie shook her head.
"That attitude, that unthinking response, is why I am not giving you any names. Please rest assured that I am in control of that situation for the individuals I am aware of. They are warded from any internal build ups of magic." She let the whispers continue, waiting to see if anyone else spoke up. "But they are the victims, not the agitators. Please keep that in mind."
"So who is doing this?" Gertrude asked. Hattie sighed and shrugged.
"That is what I do not know. I do not even know what the cause actually is. You know I am not a healer, but I have done my best to investigate. I have ruled out that it is a curse or another concrete piece of magic. Nor does it even seem personal enough for that, based on those I've spoken with. Those affected have little in common in social circles or families. The blocks have been occurring sporadically for the past two months, and no one affected has later regained their ability. I am happy to answer any other questions you can put to me." She saw a few open their lips. "Except," she interrupted, "those questions which might reveal the identities of the affected. Until I am thoroughly convinced that no one has any intention of attempting any form of punishment to those affected, their identities will remain confidential."
Society members should trust one another implicitly. Hattie didn't deny that. But in her experience, any group of people brought with them their own trials and tribulations. Whether hoping for glory or just wanting to go on a proverbial witch hunt, there were likely people in this room who would be harmful to her endeavor.
Hattie floated her chair back to her spot, but summoned a blue veil over the podium to show that it was time for open discussion.
"Hattie is right." Matilda's face appeared over the veil. "There is no reason to go after the victims here. It must be hard enough for them as it is. I think that we can trust that Hattie has asked all the right questions of them already."
Richard's face appeared; he was a warlock of considerable age, but his face barely showed it. His black eyes were piercing. "How are we to investigate this? We can't make much of a show of it - a panic would rise." Hattie nodded to herself.
Different opinions came up, different options were given. Hours passed, and no conclusion was reached.
"Can you tell us anything about the affected witches, Hattie?" Matilda asked at one point.
"All I can say is that they were not prominent members of our community." Hattie thought for a moment. It would be dangerous for them if she revealed that, so far, everyone she knew of with a block was a youngling. "They are not known as particularly powerful or weak," she assured them.
Eventually, Gertrude called an end to the meeting by returning physically to the podium.
"A reminder that this meeting is sealed to the Society," she said severely. "I will ask Hattie to lift the ward, and nothing said under that ward is to be repeated or discussed unless under an official meeting that is also sealed. Hattie, you are permitted to continue your investigation with all the stealth you have used so far, but we do expect you to report your findings to us under the seal." Hattie nodded. "Please, lift the ward, and this meeting will be ended."