Hazel and Holly — Dinnertime Drama, Part Two
Previous: Dinnertime Drama, Part One
Hazel sat, stiff-backed, in a plush green armchair. Holly perused the shelves of books, running a finger along the spines and she continued to munch on her figs. Hemlock cast her nervous glances, no doubt worried she might ruin the books with her sticky fingers, but he said nothing.
He pulled on a tasseled cord dangling from the ceiling next to the fireplace and then sat down on a sofa opposite Hazel.
After a moment, a young man in livery entered the library.
“Ah, James,” Hemlock said. “Could you bring us some tea?” He glanced at Holly, now rummaging through her pockets as she searched for more figs. “And perhaps some sandwiches or snacks of some sort. Whatever you can muster up is fine.”
James glanced at Hazel and then Holly. Holly, seeing his attention on her, brightened and took a step towards him. He cleared his throat and said, “Very good, sir,” and then backed out the door. Holly, pouting, slumped onto the couch next to Hemlock.
Hemlock adjusted his glasses. “I’m sure you have many questions,” he said to Hazel.
She did have many questions, but she wasn’t sure where to start. “How do you know my father?”
“Our father,” Holly said.
“Well,” Hemlock began, sounding thoughtful, “we’re warlocks. Much like witches, warlocks congregate from time to time. Perhaps even more so than witches do. Witches seem to be more forgiving of the solitaries, the ones that wish to practice their magic alone. Warlocks do as well, but are… stricter in not wanting to let individuals remain solitary for too long. As such, your father’s disappearance is a noticeable one among all of us.”
“Where did he go?” Hazel said. She cringed inwardly. She had wanted to show restraint, to not come across as too eager, but she couldn’t’ help it. She was eager; she feared it was beyond her capabilities to present herself otherwise.
Hemlock scratched his head. “As I said before, I don’t know.”
“Then why are we here?”
James walked into the room carrying a tray, and Hazel leaned back into her chair and put a hand over her eyes. Remain calm, Hazel. All will become clear. James left the tray on a table and then left the room.
Hemlock took the teapot from the tray and poured some of the amber-colored liquid into the accompanying cups. There was also a plate heaped with tiny little sandwiches. Holly took three, stuffing one into her mouth as she took the cup that Hemlock offered her.
“Good grief, Holly,” Hazel said. “Try to show some restraint.”
Holly screwed up her face as she chewed. “Why? The sandwiches are there to be eaten, it’d be rude not to have any. Right, Hemlock?”
Hemlock put on a smile. “Quite.”
She flashed Hazel a smug grin before dipping one of her sandwiches into the tea and taking a bite.
Hazel swallowed a few sharp words along with some tea. It tasted bitter.
“Sugar?” Hemlock said, offering her a bowl of little white cubes.
Sugar would be nice, but she didn’t want to be in any kind of agreement with Hemlock. “No, thank you.”
He dropped a cube into his own tea and stirred with a little silver spoon. He seemed lost in thought, and so Hazel quietly sipped her tea as she waited for him to speak. Whatever she did, she shouldn’t be the one to speak first.
“So how do you know our father?” Holly said, grabbing another sandwich. “You didn’t really explain it all that well.”
Hazel closed her eyes. Holly had the tact of a mud-covered dog.
Hemlock adjusted his glasses. “Ah, yes, of course. As I was saying, we warlocks gather somewhat regularly, and before he disappeared, Ash was a regular among these conclaves.”
Ash. Hazel knew it was her father’s name, yet somehow it still seemed strange hearing it spoken like that. To Hemlock, Ash wasn’t a father or a husband, he was just another man. It seemed odd to her. To Hazel, her father was little more than a muffled voice behind a closed door; or the immaculate handwriting of a letter that came twice a year.
“Conclaves?” Holly said. “What are those like?”
Hemlock sipped some tea. “I imagine they are similar to you own meetings among witches.”
Holly snorted. “I doubt it. What are they like?”
Hemlock gave a tight smile. “We aren’t really supposed to discuss it.”
Holly slumped, her face crestfallen.
“As you were saying,” Hazel said, annoyed at Holly’s distraction.
Hemlock glanced between the two women, looking more and more like a trapped animal. “Ash had… ideas, some of which were less than… ah… popular among other warlocks.”
Hazel frowned. “What kind of ideas?”
Hemlock remained silent, seemingly taking a great interest in stirring his tea. So much so that Holly leaned over and peered into his cup along with him.
“Is it the future?” she whispered.
Hazel set down her cup with a loud clank. “For all that is blessed, Holly, let the man speak!”
Holly frowned and slinked away from Hemlock. “You’d be sorry if I was a diviner,” she muttered, and then rose to once again peruse the books.
“I apologize for my sister, and for my outburst,” Hazel said.
Hemlock shook his head. “Don’t apologize. In fact, it’s probably for the best.”
“What do you mean?”
He leaned over to her and lowered his voice. “The truth is, your father is suspected of experimenting with… forbidden magic.”
Hazel swallowed. “Necromancy, you mean.”
Hemlock nodded, his expression severe.
“Yes, I suspected as much myself.”
Hemlock blanched. “What has he done?”
She looked away. “Nothing that I am prepared to talk about.”
He studied her. “I want to help.”
“You don’t even know what the problem is.”
“It doesn’t matter. Necromancy…” Hemlock’s voice had risen, and Holly peered at them over the top of a book she was pretending to read. He lowered his voice again. “Necromancy is a vile art, forbidden for good cause. As a fellow warlock, I can’t help but feel partially responsible.”
“Why on earth should you feel responsible?”
“Warlocks hold Conclaves for a reason. There must have been some indication in his behavior, an alluded reference that went unnoticed. We–I–should have been more vigilant.”
Hazel tightened her jaw. “It wasn’t anyone’s fault but his.”
They sat in silence for a while. Once again, Hazel wanted to tell him to not interfere, that this wasn’t any of his concern, but once again she couldn’t form the words. Was her reluctance really from a desire to keep the problem contained within the family, or was there another reason? She tried telling herself it was because he was a warlock, and no warlocks were to be trusted. But that wasn’t it. The truth of it was that her father’s betrayal was like an open wound on her heart, and she didn’t know if she could endure having her wound so exposed.
Yet, as much as Hazel hated to admit it, she might need him.
“How could you help?” she asked, unable to look at him.
“We have another Conclave coming up soon, I could make inquiries.”
“Such as finding any of his acquaintances, his haunts and habits. You might be surprised the kind of information that is revealed during the banal chit-chat of warlocks’ Conclaves. Most don’t pay that much attention anymore. Conclaves have become more a formality than anything of substance or use. That is where we have gone wrong, and it is, I believe, where we must begin.”
Hazel met his gaze. “Then let us begin.”
Next: Spoil Sport