Marie loved the summer.
Although Autumn was her favourite season, with its vibrant and changing colours, and the excuse to wear her bright blue wellies and splash about in the puddles, and bonfire night, and the smell of frost in the mornings (and, of course, her birthday, which really matters when you’re six), the three hottest weeks of the year were her absolute favourite, because that was when her cousins came.
They weren’t really her cousins – her mama and papa had no brothers and sisters – but they might as well have been. She couldn’t remember a time when they hadn’t all come to visit, and she and her brother and sister would wake up really early in the morning, and sneak out of the house and down to the gate to wait for them. Papa always made sure that there was a blanket and a basket full of delicious breakfast things waiting by the gate. Marie could never figure out how he did it – the basket was never wet with the dew, and she was certain that she and her siblings had never woken him and Maman…
She thought, perhaps, that she’d seen him at the kitchen window last year, chuckling at them, but he’d wandered out with Maman, later on, calling their names and still wearing his pyjamas, so she must have been wrong.
This year, her brother Thèo was sat on top of the wall, looking out along the dusty, winding track that led to the Village below. A couple of years older than Marie, he never lost the opportunity to scramble up the side of something, and (generally) fall off it again. Much to the consternation and amusement of his parents.
He was idly chewing a straw and swinging his legs.
Most of the year, she found him vaguely annoying, in an amicable kind of way, but as they waited for their friends to arrive, Marie felt an inordinate rush of warmth for her elder brother. She fondly remembered the first time he had brought her down to the gate… she had only just learned to walk properly, and she’d toddled along behind him until they’d reached the gate, when she had fully comprehended, in that extraordinary one-year-old way, exactly how dark it was outside, and he had held her hand in the darkness.
They had both fallen asleep that year, and had woken up to find their parents sat on a picnic blanket next to them, watching the sun come up over the mountains. Her Maman had brushed her fingers through Thèo’s brown hair, and sung under her breath as the little boy slept in her lap, and Marie had curled up in her Papa’s arms, safe and content.
Thèo had told her once that the older you got, the more you forgot about when you were tiny… she hoped that she never, ever forgot that morning.
Her little sister, Avril, was sat in the grass next to her, making chains of buttercups and daisies with her chubby, four-year-old fingers; she looked up at her sister and smiled happily. Marie ruffled her sister’s dark hair.
She had brought a book out with her – one that her Maman liked to read to her, about a beautiful peasant girl and a Prince who has been turned into a beast – but she was too restless to settle to it.
The morning sun had been slowly bumbling across the sky for quite some time when their parents came out to join them. This year they didn’t seem at all surprised that their offspring had migrated to the very edge of their land, and they sat down with them without comment, quietly unpacking the basket and handing out croissants, and breads, and fruits, and meats.
After they had eaten, and their parents had repacked the basket and tucked it under the wall, Maman took out her sewing and Papa read to them as Avril dozed in his arms.
At about half-past ten, the first signs of chaos began to trickle up the mountain track. As one person, the five members of the young family sat up straighter and craned forwards: along the track, just above the dip in the road, was a small cloud of dust.
It hurtled along the track towards them, slowing slightly as it hit the incline ahead of them and speeding up again as the path flattened out ahead.
Thèo jumped down from his perch and opened the gate; together, they watched as the cloud resolved itself into two dusty, black haired boys, who changed course slightly in order to leap on Thèo in a kind of enthusiastic, childish greeting. The three of them rolled, happily, in the dust, reminding Marie strongly of a litter of excited puppies.
Her Maman put away her sewing, and Papa secreted his book about his person in that mysterious way of his. With a flick of her wand, Maman sent the blanket and the basket whizzing across the meadow behind them to the Chalet.
Out along the road, figures, travelling much more slowly, had materialised; Avril, suddenly shy, clung to her sister’s skirts.
The ebullient ball of limbs in front of them fell apart abruptly, its constituent parts laughing happily.
“Hello boys,” said Papa, chuckling.
“Hullo Uncle Moony,” the two boys chorused, grinning. “Hullo Auntie Eleanor!”
“You two are enthusiastic this morning,” Maman observed, with amusement. “I fear you may have abandoned your parents.
The twin boys gave nearly identical barking laughs, before shrugging.
“They’ll catch up,” said Magnus. “Hullo Marie,” he continued, and beamed at the tiny face peeking out from behind her. “Hullo Avril.”
“Not speaking to us, Avril?” his brother smiled, more gently. “We’ve missed you.”
Avril hid herself completely behind Marie again, but this time she could tell that her sister was smiling.
The children grinned at one another.
A bark of laughter rang out along the track, and Uncle Sirius came into view, a young girl with glossy blond hair perched on his shoulders; Aunty Dorothy wasn’t too far behind, chuckling at her husband and sons.
Where Magnus and Aramis looked a lot like their father (though each had different parts of their mother), Rachel was almost the spitting image of Aunty Dorothy: long, silvery hair, a reasonably quiet disposition and a predilection for being a little on the short side. If it weren’t for her flashing silver eyes, you would almost think that she was some kind of miniature copy of her mother.
As Uncle Sirius lifted her off her shoulders and plonked her unceremoniously on the floor, it was Marie’s turn to run forwards and hug her friend. Their parents were hugging too, and taking the opportunity to hug, fuss over and muss the hair of the various children.
Uncle Sirius took Maman by the waist and span her around in the air, as she shrieked and laughed, trying to dislodge herself; Papa and Aunty Dorothy were laughing indulgently as Magnus and Thèo chased a giggling Avril around them in the grass.
Aramis, though equally enthusiastic, was often quieter than his brother and had hung back slightly.
“Good year?” he asked.
“Not bad,” said Marie, watching as her sister was once again caught, tickled and released. “Thèo taught me to climb the trees in the orchard and I’m better at it than him.”
Aramis laughed and said something quiet that sounded a lot like ‘It wouldn’t be hard.’
“I lost another tooth…” Marie continued, marking off important events on her fingers, one by one. “I got new wellies, and Avril starts school next month. You?”
“Cool,” grinned Aramis. “Me and Magnus got in trouble for accidentally making the school kitchens explode, I got the highest score in the end of year test,” he listed, swelling up with pride. “We got to go to see a Quidditch match with Dad and Uncle James and Gwen was sick all over Uncle James, which was dead funny… oh, and I finished that book I was telling you about. Do you want to borrow it?”
“Maybe, yeah,” she smiled.
Maman, having removed herself from Uncle Sirius, called over to fetch them into the Chalet to help make up beds and to have cups of tea.
Uncle Sirius grabbed Marie and Avril around their waists and ran down the hill to the Chalet, the two girls shrieking and laughing with glee, their unofficial cousins pelting after them, happily.
They’d finished setting out make-shift beds and hammocks in Avril, Thèo and Marie’s rooms, and had just sat down to have some cold raspberry lemonade and honey biscuits when the fireplace lit itself.
Avril, now quite jumpy with all the excitement, squealed and went to hide behind her mother, who swooped down and plucked her up, mid-stride. She wriggled in her mother’s arms, giggling.
The flames shot higher and higher until they reached the very top of the fireplace; Papa, who had Rachel on his lap, caught Magnus (who was still running around like a maniac) by the back of his shirt, while Aunty Dorothy and Uncle Sirius wafted children to the other side of the table.
Marie peered over the top of it, Magnus and her brother on either side of her.
Abruptly, the flames changed temperature a lurid emerald green, and a small cheer went up around the Chalet kitchen.
A tiny, doll-sized figure had appeared in the flames, and was spinning at an inordinate speed; they watched as it rapidly got bigger and bigger, until it was human-sized.
Aunty Alice stepped daintily out of the fireplace and shook the soot out of her hair.
“Morning!” she said cheerily, and stepped out of the way to let a second doll-sized figure to materialise.
A brown haired, round-faced boy of about five years old fell out of the fireplace and picked himself up, laughing.
“That was brilliant!” cried Neville, moving to stand with his mum. “Did you see, Marie? I got to do it all on my own this year!”
The wailing bundle in Aunty Alice’s arms seemed to disagree with Neville’s sentiments, and the young boy peered into the folds of his mother’s cloak; a head of bright blond curls emerged, crying noisily.
“It’s ok, Oliver,” he said, reaching up to catch his brother’s hand. “All done now.”
Behind them, Uncle Frank was climbing out of the fireplace, pulling a little tow-headed boy along behind him. Callum, who was three, and therefore amazed by everything, was staring around in open-mouthed wonder.
“Eville!” he shouted, excitedly. “Everythin’ wen’ green!”
He toddled over to his brother, who grinned at him.
“Yep, green,” he agreed.
“I like green!” Callum proclaimed, happily.
Baby Oliver, who appeared to be calming down a bit, watched his brothers carefully, as though at any moment one of them might explode, or turn purple, or something equally exciting – and, in his mind, perfectly likely.
Papa and Uncle Frank shook hands, warmly, dislodging Rachel, who gave Neville and Callum a hug; Marie joined them, as her mother and Aunty Alice hugged, awkwardly, Oliver balanced between them.
“It’s so good to see you!” Aunty Alice was saying.
“And you!” cried Maman. “I’ve missed the general air of chaos – mind you, Dotty and Sirius got here earlier, so…”
“I heard that,” called Sirius, as he and his sons attacked Uncle Frank.
“So it’s been much the same,” Maman continued, without missing a beat. “And how are you, Ollie?” she asked, and Oliver did his best to burrow back inside his mother’s cloak.
“And how are you?” Aunty Dorothy was asking Callum, scooping the boy up into her lap. “Ah, sticky as ever, I see…”
Thèo had detached himself from the Black twins to give Neville a hug, and passed Avril on the other side of the table, who was scurrying over with the intention of joining Callum on Aunty Dotty’s lap.
It had all got rather loud, and after a few minutes they were herded outside by the adults, who settled on the veranda to watch the ensuing chaos.
Marie and Rachel immediately ran off with Marie’s skipping rope, and took it in turns. The little ones were plonked down in the grass, where they crawled about merrily, Oliver having cheered up considerably now that he was certain that the world wasn’t about to randomly start spinning again. Around them, the boys chased each other, laughing and shouting; it was only a matter of time before they started to climb the trees in the nearby orchard, Marie knew, and it was highly likely that Neville (who was renowned for being able to trip over his own feet) would fall out of them. Marie and Rachel fully intended to watch, and provided ‘encouragement’. Perhaps the boys would help to pull them up into the branches, too, later on, and they could all have a go at adding to their collection of bruises.
Papa, who was leaning on the railing with Uncle Sirius and enjoying the morning sunshine, conjured a stream of coloured bubbles to keep Avril, Callum and Oliver occupied; the three of them whooped and shouted excitedly, toddling after the bubbles as best they could (well, Oliver crawled, but very quickly) and making them burst noisily, with their pudgy hands.
Neville had fallen out of the trees for the fifth time (and he was still grinning enthusiastically) when two very loud cracks made everyone jump. Oliver, who still hadn’t quite recovered from the morning’s ordeal, began to cry again, and his dad picked him up in a practised motion, jigging him up and down until his tears were really more like laughter.
There was the sound of running, and two more children came pelting around the side of the Chalet.
“Kai!” shouted the Black twins, and they and Theo pounced on the round, dark-haired boy, who was quickly engulfed in a pile of laughing boys. Neville and the girls hung back, primarily to avoid being kicked, but also because Kai’s older sister, Phoebe, had skidded to a dusty halt in front of them, beaming.
As one, they mobbed her.
Phoebe was as willowy as her brother was round, and while he had his father’s eyes and mother’s dark hair, she had been blessed with long, honey coloured hair from Uncle Peter and Aunty Claire’s bright blue eyes; both children had a liberal dusting of freckles, and their parents’ sense of the ridiculous – which came in handy, Marie thought, when dealing with the extended family.
Their parents followed them around the corner at a much more leisurely pace, and waded through the piles of excited children to greet their old friends (though no less enthusiastically). Mass hugging and shaking of hands concluded, they shrugged off their cloaks and cuddled the smaller children, their elder siblings still busy happily rolling about.
Marie, who liked Aunty Claire a lot because she’d always agree to sing to them, watched as Avril shyly presented her with a daisy chain. Her little sister was promptly swept up into a tight hug.
Up on the veranda, she could hear Uncle Sirius talking to Aunty Alice about his work in the Department of Mysteries; both Aunty Alice and Uncle Frank were Aurors, so they were often interested if Uncle Sirius found anything untoward ‘knocking about the genteel English countryside’, as he put it. Uncle James was an Auror too, and sometimes the four of them would tell the kids stories of their adventures; Thèo and the twins thought it sounded like excellent fun, but Marie (and, she suspected, Rachel) wasn’t so sure. It sounded like a lot of running around after people who didn’t particularly want to be chased, and Marie could think of several reasons why that might be a Bad Plan. It didn’t stop her sitting, enthralled, listening to their stories, though.
Aunty Claire worked at the British Ministry of Magic too, but in a different department from the others, something to do with protecting and talking to Muggles. Despite this, she seemed to end up working with one or two of them quite frequently, and her stories tended to centre around nose-biting teacups and her friend Arthur, who she occasionally accompanied on raids to find magical contraband.
These stories tended to be more comedic than nail-biting, but the general consensus was that this made them no less entertaining.
Uncle Peter, who was looking on indulgently as his children were passed around the adults for inspection and affection, had a much less exciting job, but Marie could see the appeal. Like his wife and children, he loved music, and owned a pretty little shop in Diagon Alley that sold magical instruments like singing harps and ceremonial drums; since Aunty Claire had muggle parents, the shop also carried a great many mundane instruments, and had become very popular of late. They sold sheet music, too, and tuned instruments. Marie fondly remembered an afternoon when they had been visiting the Pettigrews at their cottage and Uncle Peter had held her on his lap as he tuned a particularly temperamental piano. She had been fascinated by the way the keys and hammers moved, and he had had to snatch her tiny fingers away from the dancing strings more than once.
Marie looked up at her parents, who looked delighted to be surrounded by their friends and a horde of small, enthusiastic children.
She was glad that they hadn’t got ‘proper jobs’ like the other parents, since it meant that she and Thèo and Avril saw a lot of them, and they were always ready to drop everything and play, or read, or cuddle with them. Papa – Maman had explained, when she was quite small – had a condition called ly-can-thro-pee (she had to spell it out inside her head in order to remember it properly), that they weren’t allowed to talk about with anyone else. Marie didn’t really understand it, but she knew that every so often her Papa would get cross more easily and go off on his own for a while (presumably so he wouldn’t shout at them all the time), and that it had something to do with the old barn that they weren’t allowed to go near.
It didn’t matter to Marie, who loved her kind Papa very much, but she did worry when he came back looking so pale and tired. When that happened, she and her siblings would curl up on his bed with him so that he would feel better.
Anyway, this ly-can-thro-pee meant that he couldn’t have a ‘proper job’, so he wrote books of information for schools with Aunty Lily; barely a day went by at the Chalet without seeing Aunty Lily’s large barn owl flying in through the kitchen. They were working on a book of charms at the moment, and Marie and Thèo and Avril loved to sit and watch him practising each spell; sometimes he would read out the instructions for each part of it to them, so that they could tell him if they understood it, which they generally did.
When he wasn’t writing, he helped Maman run the bed and breakfast business that they had built up around the Chalet. After they had left school, Marie’s grandmother (who was very wealthy) had helped them to build a small complex of cottages around their land, and they hired them out to witches and wizards who wanted a holiday. They were open every day of the year except for five weeks: the week around Christmas (which they spent with Maman’s mother), the week around Easter (which they spent with Papa’s parents), and these three weeks in the summer.
Marie had overheard a neighbour remark that it was foolish to close for the three busiest holiday weeks of the year, but Maman had laughed, and said that you couldn’t argue with tradition.
Family, she had told Marie on the way home from the village, was much more important than what your neighbours thought.
The day was beginning to get hotter now, as it got closer to lunchtime, and the children were firmly herded into the kitchen, ostensibly to help get everything ready for lunch, but mostly to keep them out of the scorching sun.
They were almost immediately distracted, however, when Phoebe looked out of the window and squealed, pointing at the sky. Everyone crowded around the door and windows to get a better look (well, except for Oliver, who was much more interested in drawing imaginary patterns on the floor).
There was a large, flying, shape in the distance; it was far too big to be an owl, and in any case was rather lopsided.
They watched as the whatever-it-was got closer and closer, eventually resolving itself to two wizards and a witch flying in formation, their travelling clothes flapping in the wind.
They set down just beyond the orchard with a reasonable amount of grace, considering that one of them was carrying a very small girl, who upon hitting the ground, immediately (and quite unsteadily) toddled towards the Chalet at high speed. They let her go, dismounting and striding after her.
When she was little, Marie had been a little but wary of Uncle Severus, because he was very quiet, and – she felt – more than a little uncertain about her. He had warmed up as they had grown older, however, largely because Maman had a habit of dropping children on him and then running off, so that he had no option but to interact with them. Last year, he and Uncle Algie (who had always being much friendlier) had adopted two young girls from St Mungo’s Children’s Home, for which they had a special fondness.
Little Holly, who was still toddling at full tilt towards them, had been left on the steps of the hospital – and no one who met her could ever understand why – dangerously undernourished and covered in bruises. As Severus and Algernon ran an exclusive Potion shop and Apothecary, they regularly visited the hospital to deliver much needed healing tinctures, and to advise the healers on treatments. Algernon had been waiting to speak to one of the healers – an old school friend – when the tiny girl’s cries had drawn him out of the building and down to the ragged blanket that she had been left in. He had picked her up, carried her into the building, and fallen completely in love with her.
He’d announced to Severus that they were expecting that very night. To say that his partner had been unimpressed would be an understatement.
Until, that is, he met Eve.
Eve had admitted herself to the hospital four days later – at about the time when Algernon was forcing Severus to be nice to Holly – with severe burns. She had spotted Holly, who had squealed excitedly to see her sister again, and climbed off her gurney to cuddle her – to the consternation of her healers. She had glowered at both Algernon and Severus (which had immediately endeared her to him) with a wrath that only an embittered ten year old can muster, and had told them in no uncertain terms that she could take care of her sister, thank you very much. It had taken some persuading, but they had eventually managed to convince her that perhaps she could do that more easily with a bit of help from them.
She had been prickly and difficult to get on with for a while, which as far as Marie could tell, just meant that she and Severus got on perfectly well, but she began to see how much they cared for her and her sister, and had started to trust them. Last summer had been the first time that the girls had come to the Chalet, and Eve had been very quiet and reserved, but as the days had passed she had opened up more and more. This year, she looked a good deal more comfortable with herself, and was already smiling at her unofficial cousins. She had just finished her first year at Hogwarts, which had the dual effect of making her a good deal more confident, and making her a source of awe and wonder to the younger children, who were already flocking towards her.
Together, they swamped them, hugging and chattering and generally making Severus feel uncomfortable – which was part of the fun. Maman came to his rescue, extricating him from the centre of the swarm, and giving him a big hug.
Papa had told her that when they had finished school, Uncle Severus had lived at the Chalet with Maman, Tatie Estelle and Tonton Henrì, before he’d moved in with Uncle Sirius. They had lived together for the better part of a year before Uncle Severus and Uncle Algernon had managed to save up for the shop in Diagon Alley – just around the corner from Uncle Peter’s music shop.
Papa had sat them down when they had heard that they were gaining two more cousins, and explained to them why it was ok that they would have two daddies; it had never occurred to Marie that it shouldn’t be ok, but she had nodded seriously when her Papa had asked her if she understood.
Anyway, she liked Eve; she had written from Hogwarts from time to time, and she liked the way that she’d fought for her sister. Marie liked to think that if it came to it, she’d do the same for Avril or Thèo.
Last year, Marie had asked Uncle Severus what had happened to Eve and Holly’s parents – after Eve had told her what they had done to them – and he had just smiled, grimly. This, she had understood, meant ‘nothing good’.
She was glad that they each had one another.
They had finished setting out the lunch things, and were engaged in that strange dance that occurs in a room full of people (predominantly children) who all need to get to the opposite side of the room, and are not entirely certain of how this can be achieved. There was a certain amount of people getting lost and going the wrong way; amid the general chaos, the fire sprang into life.
There was a general scramble away from the fireplace, as the flames turned emerald, and the madly spinning shape resolved into Uncle James, who was immediately pounced upon by Uncle Sirius. Behind him, a miniature version of him was clambering out of the fireplace, and shaking soot out of his messy black hair.
“Hello Harry!” shouted Neville, over the general chaos; Harry waved over the table.
“That was weird!” he said, and was immediately enveloped by Uncle Sirius. A few seconds later, Aunty Lily emerged, carrying little Gwen.
In looks, Harry and Gwen were polar opposites: Harry was the veritable carbon copy of his father – messy black hair, bad eyesight, a little on the short side – but with his mother’s brilliant green eyes; Gwenny, on the other hand, had her mother’s flame red hair and freckles – and her father’s deep, chocolate eyes. Currently three, it was a general consensus amongst the adults that by the time she left Hogwarts, she would be breaking hearts left, right and centre.
Marie managed to fight her way through the general crush to hug Harry and Gwen, who had been put on the floor with the other little ones.
Her family were finally home.
It was tradition that the first night of the holiday was conducted in the Chalet, with the families moving out to the cottages the next day. This meant that the parents could all gather together on the veranda and be all grown up (or not, as the case may be) together, while the children, little monsters as they were, could generally be trusted not to get into too much trouble in their rough age groups. Marie had a strong suspicion that their parents all went down to the lake when everyone had fallen asleep, but she had never been able to stay awake long enough to check.
Tonight, Eve was in charge, and when everyone had got ready for bed – they all pitched in to help the smaller ones – she offered to read to them before they went to sleep. Or at least pretended to go to sleep.
Magnus picked the book this year, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and by the time she had finished, most people were quite sleepy.
Marie wasn’t, though, and she and Aramis helped Eve and Phoebe to make sure that their youngest cousins were, at the very least, in bed. Nobody expected them to be asleep within the next three hours anyway.
Marie, Rachel, Phoebe and Eve retired to the library – a new tradition that had developed the year before. Eve pulled down the old, cloth-covered book from the top shelf; Marie, Rachel and Phoebe settled down on the floor around her.
“Which one?” Eve asked. They had read the book through, the previous summer, and they each had their favourites, though there were a few that they didn’t understand. One of them, though, had been marked with a ribbon; Marie suspected that it was her mother’s favourite, even though she had often said that her favourite was the one that her Papa had had inscribed on her engagement bracelet. She had often seen her reading the marked sonnet, with a small, wry smile on her face.
“The marked one,” she said, firmly; Rachel and Phoebe nodded, and Eve smiled.
Let me confess that we two must be twain,
Although our undivided loves are one.
So shall those blots that do with me remain
Without thy help by me be borne alone.
In our two loves there is but one respect,
Though in our lives a separable spite,
Which, though it alter not love’s sole effect,
Yet doth it steal sweet hours from love’s delight.
I may not evermore acknowledge thee,
Lest my bewailèd guilt should do thee shame;
Nor thou with public kindness honour me,
Unless thou take that honour from thy name.
But do not so; I love thee in such sort
As, thou being mine, mine is thy good report.
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