Few people talked about magic, much less witches. It had all been rather a shock when the world-at-large had discovered (or rather, re-discovered) the existence of magic. While they weren’t trying to burn witches at the stake anymore, most people tended to be very wary of “those sorts of people.” Grey was no exception. His parents had never much talked about magic, other than it being “unnatural.” He’d always had a vague fear of magical folk, though he had never met one personally.
Now he found himself lost in a magical neighborhood. The houses seemed normal enough, if a bit dark and looming, but there was something off about the whole feel of the place. While Downtown, where he lived, was quietly sleepy and peaceful at this time of night, and Dockside was rowdy in places, Grey felt like Hazel’s Hill was too quiet, almost as if he was being watched stealthily. No crickets chirped and no frogs croaked, no loud snores came from within any of the houses and no smoke puffed cheerily from warmly-lit bakery shop chimneys. Grey’s footsteps were the only sound, a hushed tapping against the cobblestones. The streets were uneven, crooked, and somewhat slimy, as if a whole herd of slugs had trawled over it just a minute before.
A fog had fallen over the town, and Grey couldn’t see the stars to even figure out which way was north. There was no way he was going to be able to find his way home. Hazel’s hill was much bigger than he thought it was. He sat down on a stone bench outside a shop window that read, “Potions, Poultices, and Poultry,” and began the long wait for sunrise, when he could tell directions at least. He hoped the rumors of people disappearing here were just rumors.
Nothing happened for a long time, except that Grey got increasingly colder. He was numb, and the darkness and monotony and silence made his eyelids heavy. Just as his mind was drifting into sleep, a noise dragged him back to his cold stone bench. He opened his eyes and just about yelped when he saw a girl staring at him from a couple feet away.
Her most striking feature was her huge eyes. They were dark like her hair and dress, and stood out against her pale skin. Her face was round, but her nose was sharp. “Who are you?” She asked.
“Grey,” he spluttered. “Who are you?”
“They call me Gwen. What are you doing sleeping here? You shouldn’t be out at this time of night.” When she spoke, her voice sounded somehow whispy and flowy, like she was in a dream.
“Then what are you doing out here?”
“I was just- I’m the one asking questions here. Never mind what I was doing.” Her eyes flicked to the street behind her, but it was deserted as it had been all night.
Grey was curious what she was trying to hide. “I’ll only tell you what I’m doing out here if you tell me first.”
Gwen regarded him seriously, then seemed to relent. She sat down on the bench beside him. “Okay, but you’ve got to promise not to tell the police.”
“Why would I do that?” asked Grey surprised. “It’s not something illegal is it?”
Gwen snorted. “Said the guy who’s been outside all night. Compared to you, I’m an angel.”
“What’s wrong with being outside?” Grey protested.
Gwen looked incredulous. Then a spark of realization dawned on her face. “You’re not a witch, are you?”
“Of course I’m not!” The look of realization spread to Grey’s face this time. “Are you?”
“Of course I am! This is Hazel’s Hill! Only witches come here. Are you completely stupid?” Even when she was speaking sharply, the whispy, dream tone to her voice remained, almost as if she were constantly stage-whispering.
“No,” said Grey, but Gwen didn’t seem to hear.
“Okay, I’ll make this simple so even you can understand.” She said, in a voice like she was talking to a four-year-old. “Your folk don’t like my folk. So your folk make up rules to keep my folk from scaring them. One of those rules is we’re not allowed outside after sunset or before sunrise. Your folk are afraid of the witching hour.”
“But the witching hour is only one hour! They don’t need to keep us locked up for the whole night! They don’t even need to keep us locked up for the witching hour. We’re not going to hurt anyone!”
“You’re not?” Grey said weakly, taken aback by this sudden vehemence.
Gwen looked disgusted. “I bet you grew up with stories about how all witches are evil and want to turn you into a frog and cook you in their cauldron to keep themselves young or something.”
“Well, don’t you?”
“Of course not!” Gwen exploded. The sound echoed across the street, and she suddenly looked frightened. “Listen,” she continued in a quick whisper, “Everything you know about witches is probably wrong, so just clear it from your head.”
There was a moment of awkward silence where Grey didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t just erase everything he’d ever known about witches from his mind. He sought to change the subject. “So what are you doing outside?”
“Practicing my powers. The witching hour doubles our power, just in case you didn’t know. We can use as much magic as we want without getting tired. It’s great! And I need practice. Stirring up a tiny breeze during any other time is about all I can do without completely exhausting myself. I’m a wind mage,” she explained, as if that would make Grey less confused.
“Okay…” said Grey slowly, trying to wrap his sleepy head around this new information.
“So now it’s your turn! You tell me why you’re out here, in Hazel’s Hill, by yourself, at night time.”
“I’m lost,” he said with a shrug. “Any chance you know how I can get back to Downtown?”
“Yes,” Gwen said, folding her arms. “But why should I help you? Your folk have been persecuting my folk for centuries. I see no reason to be nice to you at all.”
“Because I’ll call the police on you if you don’t?”
“You wouldn’t dare. And if you do, I’ll have my father hunt you down and turn you into a frog!”
“Please, I just want to get home,” Grey said, suddenly desperate to get out of this strange part of town.
“Make it worth my while,” Gwen said, examining a fingernail that looked as sharp as a talon.
Thinking back to his conversation with Ruby, Grey said, “How about a favor?”
“Deal,” said Gwen with a sharp smile.
A/N: I don't know if I like the name Gwen. I think I might change her name to Eerin. That's technically an Aboriginal name, but I really like it. An it means "Small Grey Owl" and her Familiar (basically animagus in harry potter but witches are born with it) is an owl. Open to suggestions though.
Maybe like an owl Genus? Like Strix, or Jubula, or Surnia, or Athene (ooh cool but might be a little too on the nose?), Aegolius (Aegolia?), Ninox, Tyto (Tyta?), or Otus?
But I also really like Eerin still.