The cottage is always at its sleepiest in the late afternoon, just after the sun begins to set. Annabeth likes to stand in the kitchen and let the quiet drape over her, settling inside of her as she lingers by the window. Usually, she'll lean against the sink, clutching onto a mug of tea and allowing the sun to graze her face as it settles lower in the sky. A quiet kitchen is one of the greatest joys of Annabeth's life, right after her children and husband and probably before Blackjack, if she's being really honest.
On this particular afternoon, the kids are outside, bare feet sinking into the bright grass under their playset. Samantha likes to tuck herself into the treehouse, her knees drawn up to her chest, a book placed on top of them. When she was little, she used to stick her practice-wand into her straight, blond hair, keeping it trapped in the bun that she had learned from Annabeth. Theo is on the swingset, pumping his legs through the air, slashing at it with his knobbly little ten-year-old knees and twisting his lips in determination. He's so determined to beat his younger brother that he doesn't see the way Morgan looks at him with complete awe in his sea-green eyes, not trying to takeover, but merely hoping to catch up. The wind rustles Morgan's curly black hair as he stares up at Theo, his short legs not enough to quite catch up to his brother.
Annabeth snorts out a laugh as her eleven-year-old daughter yells at her brothers to quiet their voices before burying her nose back in her book. She'll be twelve in a few months, and Annabeth doesn't even want to think about Sam being a teenager after that. Out of the three of them, it's always seemed that their baby girl is growing up more quickly than her brothers. She has Annabeth's maturity and Percy's humor and a sense of whimsy that neither of them can quite account for.
And tomorrow, Samantha is going to be just… gone.
She won't be gone to Percy. He'll put Samantha on the train and then apparate home to eat lunch with Annabeth and the boys before flooing up to the school. The ironic thing is that it's further for them to get to the Hogwarts Express than it is to actually get Samantha to Hogwarts, but both Percy and Annabeth had decided that it would be crucial for her to have the experience of going on the Hogwarts Express and meeting her peers for the first time. Percy had met Jason on the Hogwarts Express, after all. And who knows? Maybe, if he hadn't met Jason, the two of them never would have become friends. And then Percy and Annabeth might not have become friends. And then Annabeth wouldn't have gotten to marry her soul mate, which means that she would probably not be standing here, watching her three beautiful children play on their swing-set right outside of her favorite window in the house.
The sound of Blackjack's feet informs Annabeth that their crup is meandering into the kitchen, chased by her husband. Percy's been trying to give Blackjack a bath for the past twenty minutes, ever since Theo and Morgan chased him into the small pond in the woods behind the cottage. If the amount of water on Percy's shirt is any indication of his success, Annabeth would presume that it hasn't gone so well.
"He jumped out of the tub," Percy says by way of explanation, looking so thoroughly annoyed with Blackjack that Annabeth can't stop herself from laughing. He isn't usually this disgruntled, but ever since Sammy's bathtime temper-tantrums, Percy's always hated baths as well.
"You're soaked through," Annabeth says, trying to sound sympathetic, but there's laughter in her voice. "Go change your shirt, sweetheart."
"Kay," he says, using his finger to shove his plastic glasses further up his nose. He'd started out only wearing them when he read, but his eyes have gotten steadily worse, and realizing that Annabeth has a glasses fetish didn't help the situation."But I think I want a hug first."
Annabeth wrinkles her nose.
"Ew. No. Get away from me."
"C'mon. I'm the one true love of your life. Don't you want to hug me?" he asks, wiggling his eyebrows and moving closer.
"No," she insists, setting her tea-cup down on the sink and backing slowly away.
Percy's eyes flick outside to their kids, engaged in a heated debate about something that probably has to do with the amount of noise the boys were making and the lack of noise Samantha requires to read. Upon seeing that they're engrossed in what they're doing, Percy reaches behind his neck and tugs off his shirt, dropping it on the floor at his feet.
"How about now?" he asks, quirking an eyebrow.
"You're almost forty," Annabeth reminds him, frowning. "Stop whipping your shirt off every time you want to win an argument."
"I resent the implication that I am almost forty," Percy argues, frowning as he grabs his shirt from the floor and pulls it back over his head. "I am not even close to forty."
"You're closer to forty than thirty," Annabeth reminds him. "And you're too old for these shenanigans."
"I think you're too young to say 'shenanigans,' my dear."
"I think we're too young for 'my dear.' Can we revisit that in fifteen years?"
"Sure, sure. We can start using that when we begin eating dinner in the middle of the afternoon and going to bed after Wheel of Fortune."
"Honey, if you would pick Wheel of Fortune before Jeopardy, I'm not sure how much longer this marriage is going to last," Annabeth informs him, moving closer so that she can smooth his shirt over his shoulders.
He looks stricken.
"What will we tell the kids?"
"Tell us what?" asks Samantha, poking her head into the kitchen.
"Your mother has decided to leave me over a game show," Percy says seriously. "It's a cruel world, Samantha Jackson."
"You guys are gross," she says cheerfully. "Hey, dad, Headmaster Bolt sent an owl for you."
He takes the letter from her hand, wrinkling his nose at the thick parchment. Annabeth offers him a sympathetic smile; Percy has only been teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts for the last few years, and sometimes he still gets into arguments with the Headmaster about his syllabus. It's August 29th and they're still talking about which year the Unforgivable Curses should be discussed and how to create maximum negative impact on the students so that they won't feel curious and decide to try them out. They try to never go to bed angry, but sometimes Annabeth can feel Percy's fury rolling off of him in waves as he silently fumes next to her.
When that happens, she usually does her very best to distract him.
"You should get cleaned up before you read that," she suggests, gently tugging the letter from his hands. "Just reply to it as soon as you can so we can stop thinking about it and begin our night."
Annabeth has purchased all of the ingredients for crepes. Percy and Morgan like them best with Nutella, while Theo and Samantha like them with chocolate chips and Annabeth prefers them with strawberries. And she's even practiced her crepe recipe twice, just to make sure that she has it down. This is Samantha's last night; everything needs to be perfect.
After tomorrow morning, nothing is going to be the same ever again.
The ironic thing is that Annabeth hadn't really considered herself to be whimsical before she'd had children. But, over time, having kids had forced them to build strange little traditions that have now become ingrained into Annabeth's soul. Tonight, she's drenching her family in nostalgia.
Samantha takes a shower earlier than usual, letting Annabeth brush out her wavy hair and nimbly braid it back. By the time she's done, the two boys have finished their respective baths and are also dressed in their pajamas. At that point, there's nothing left to do but assemble the blanket fort.
Percy had spent the past week collecting blankets from their different friends and family members, trying to get as many as possible. As soon as it's dark enough, Annabeth turns off all of the lights except for the softly glowing lamps and allows everyone to begin strategically draping the blankets to turn their entire living room into a fort. She doesn't even mind very much when they ignore her blueprints; Annabeth is pretty sure she would have been able to build a better blanket fort, but the look of pride on Morgan's face when he figures out how to layer one of the blankets so that it stays up makes Annabeth beam.
"Dad, can you tuck this up there?" asks Theo, handing the corner of a blanket to Percy.
"Sure," he says easily, t-shirt pulling up to reveal his lower back as he stretches.
The shirt has Samantha's year of graduation on it, and he's only had the shirt for a week, having bought it on a whim when they'd gone to get her school clothes. Although they hadn't been able to purchase a tie, hat, or school-themed socks for Sammy without knowing her House, they'd still had to grab robes for her. Annabeth doesn't really know what House her daughter will be in. Samantha has a thirst for knowledge, but she is also sweet and funny. She can be introverted and extroverted at different times, unlike her brothers, who are so clearly one way or the other. And she's not always kind, but she also loves fiercely.
If Annabeth had to choose what House Samantha ended up in, she doesn't think she would be able to do it properly.
"Mum, did you make dinner yet?" asks Sam, her voice cutting through Theo and Morgan's argument about pillow placement. She's sat in the middle of the floor, staring at her wand, probably imagining what it will be like when she's actually able to make magic emerge from it.
"No, want to come help me?" Annabeth asks, and Sammy gets off of the floor, poking her dad in the side as she passes him. He mocks a hurt expression and Sam blows him a kiss, rolling her green eyes as he pretends to catch it. "You're a ball of cheese," teases Annabeth, shaking her head at her husband before releasing the blankets and allowing them to gracefully fall back in place.
Samantha is quiet as Annabeth sets out the ingredients and begins making the crepes. The boys will follow in a few minutes, lured by the scent of crepes and melting chocolate. Right now, however, Annabeth just wants a few moments alone with her little girl.
"Are you nervous?" she asks, wanting to leave the subject, but unable to.
"Mum," Samantha protests, tugging on her own braid for something to do. "You said you wouldn't talk about it."
"Sorry," Annabeth sighs, grinning at her. "I can't seem to help myself."
"I am nervous," Samantha admits, biting her lip. Annabeth looks into her daughter's green eyes and thinks Percy with a giddy jump in her stomach. "What if I can't make friends? What if Professor Stoll remembers the time I peed in his pool? What if I turn up at Hogwarts and they suddenly realize that I can't actually do magic?"
Annabeth chuckles as she puts a crepe on a plate and hands it to Samantha, then sets to making another one.
"I'm sure Professor Stoll will forgive eleven-year-old you for the actions of five-year-old you. And, as for the magic… sweetheart, you do accidental magic constantly. Remember the time you were reading the Hexing Hallie series and you were so enthralled with the plot that you didn't notice that all of your books were flying up around you?"
"It was right after she kissed Lynx for the first time," Samantha recalls. "I was so excited."
"And that's when we all realized that you're a hopeless romantic."
"Probably because of your hopelessly in love parents," says Percy, sauntering into the room with a wide grin on his face. He turns to Annabeth, purposefully peering at her over the lens of his glasses. "So, tell me. What does a bloke have to do to get a crepe around here?"
"Seduce the cook," Annabeth says drily, flipping a crepe onto a plate and handing it to him. "Or, you know, have her children. Whichever comes first."
Percy already has his spoon in the Nutella jar and is practically drooling in it.
"Daaaad," Theo complains, elbowing him slightly. "Don't eat it all."
"It's a new jar," Percy says, showing him. "Besides. I wouldn't deprive you of Nutella. I'm not that cruel."
Sam narrows her eyes. "Of course you are. We all know you have a stash somewhere, Dad. And the fact that you wouldn't deign to share it with us means that you are, in fact, cruel."
"I share it with your mum," Percy says brightly. "You guys can share secret Nutella stashes when you get married."
"Mum doesn't share her chocolate stash with you," Theo says, happy to impart this information.
"Ouch," Percy says, bending down to pull Morgan's thumb out of his mouth and ruffle his hair. At seven years old, he's a bit too old to suck his thumb, but Annabeth thinks that the strange habit matches his personality perfectly. His eyebrows are almost always pinched together. He has curious green eyes that dart underneath his mop of curly black hair, taking in everything he can. And he's the quietest of their three children; Annabeth knows that he's the most observant. He isn't stuck in his head the way Samantha is, or enthusiastic to the extreme, like Theo.
"Can we eat in the blanket fort?" he asks quietly, and Percy glances up at Annabeth to ask for permission with his eyes, because Morgan is the baby of the family and there isn't a lot that they wouldn't give him.
"Of course," she says, bending down to press a kiss to the top of his head before leading him into the family room. The five of them duck into the fort and sit cross-legged on the floor, all clad in their pajamas and munching on their too-sweet dinner. "So," says Annabeth. "Have you all prepared your memories?"
The four of them all have varying reactions; Percy tilts his head to the side and shakes it, smiling familiarly at Annabeth. Theo rolls his eyes and takes his frustrations out on his fourth crepe, which he attacks with renewed vigor. Morgan doesn't appear to have registered what Annabeth has said at all- he is quietly staring at the way his father is looking at Annabeth. Samantha is the only one who seems extremely enthused, nodding as she reaches for a handful of chocolate chips and pops them into her mouth instead of putting them on her crepe.
"I'll go first," Theo says decisively. "I want to get it out of the way."
Samantha huffs, annoyed, as he makes a face at her, cheeks slathered in Nutella.
"Grow up, Theo," she says with dignity.
"Never," he states proudly. Annabeth wants to clutch him to her chest and apologize for the severe case of middle-child-syndrome that she had accidentally given him when she'd gotten pregnant with Morgan. "Okay, the best memory that I could think of was the time that we all played in Professor Stoll's pool."
Being in Professor Stoll's home is odd for Annabeth. When she looks at him, she still feels like the little girl who sat at the front of his class, quills lined neatly up in a row, hand ready to spring into the air. But when she wraps her fingers around a glass of butterbeer, her ring makes a small clacking noise against the cup. And that's when she realizes that, while she is looking at Professor Stoll, she is not an eleven year old girl. She is a married woman with three children and a husband who is currently sneaking one arm around her waist as he carries a conversation with their old Professor.
Somehow, Annabeth thinks that they're about to get detention for public displays of affection.
"I don't know how you work with him," Annabeth says through a smile as Professor Stoll leaves. "Whenever I'm around him, I feel like I'm twelve years old."
"Well then it's a little odd that I have my hand on your arse right now," Percy teases, making Annabeth roll her eyes.
"Seriously. How do you do it?"
He kisses her temple, for some reason unable to keep his hands off of her. It's been like this every since their wedding anniversary a few days ago, and she doesn't really mind, except for the fact that Percy's boss is holding a conversation with one of their children a few feet away.
"I dunno," he shrugs. "I try not to think about the fact that he used to be my Professor because, really, he's my peer now. We're equals."
He lets the word drip off of his tongue, falling into the smirk that tugs at his lips.
Annabeth shivers slightly, which makes Percy's eyebrows raise, amused.
"Stop that," she scolds.
"What?" he asks innocently.
"Ugh," Annabeth replies. "Just… go spend time with our children."
"Yes, ma'am," he salutes, finding Samantha in the crowd of people and snatching her into his arms. She shrieks and kicks, but she laughs all the same. "Ready to go swimming?" Percy asks, stealing her away from her conversation with a little boy of one of the Professors.
"Daddy!" she giggles, but he doesn't reply as he spots Theo and grabs the young boy by the hand.
"Ready, kiddo?" he asks. Annabeth follows them outside to the pool, in which several children are playing. She watches as her family rushes off of the deck and towards the pool area, where Percy throws his bathing suit clad children into the pool, screaming as they go. He strips off his shirt and hops in after them, yelling at the top of this lungs. Samantha and Theo immediately crowd around him, climbing all over him as soon as he pops up from the water, shaking droplets from his shaggy black hair.
"Daddy," Samantha says, placing her hands on her hips as she kicks her feet. "We're in public. Behave."
In response, Percy drifts quietly under the water for long enough to gather a mouthful of water, which he promptly spouts in the direction of his daughter. This begins a full on splash war, which is largely ignored by most of the other families.
"WAIT!" Percy yells, halting the fight. Samantha and Theo stare at him as a sneaky smile begins to creep its way onto his face. "I have an idea."
Annabeth, to her credit, only feels a little anxious as she watches her husband lift himself out of the water and grab his wand from where he had discarded it by his t-shirt. He scrutinizes it for a moment before nodding and clearing his throat. Annabeth tightens her fingers around the wood of the deck and watches as her husband begins to spin his wand through the air, shouting enchantments that have nothing to do with water. But, sure enough, the water in the pool begins to move like waves, lifting their children into the air. Annabeth's eyes widen as they rise to the height of the house, hollering their delight into the sticky summer air. Percy looks mostly satisfied and not at all nervous about how high up his children are.
Fine then. Annabeth will have to worry enough for the both of them.
"Percy!" she calls down to him. "Put them down!"
"It's fine, honey!" he calls back. "They're okay."
They look like they're having the time of their lives, but that doesn't stop Annabeth from freaking out. She hurries down the steps of the deck and approaches Percy in full momma-bear mode.
"If something goes wrong, they could break their necks."
"But nothing is going to go wrong," Percy wheedles. "C'mon, Annabeth. You want to get up there with them? It looks fun."
"It looks dangerous."
"Dangerously awesome. Look, they're almost higher than the house!"
The other kids are swimming in the waves which Percy's magic is making, laughing and playing and beaming in his direction.
"If they get hurt, I will truly, genuinely murder you. And the Aurors won't even arrest me because they'll know that it was all your fault, your murder."
"It's a risk I'm willing to take," Percy says, nodding seriously. "Just… darling?"
She crosses her arms over her chest and glares.
"Kill me softly," Percy whispers, letting his words float into the air. Annabeth has to restrain herself from slapping his arm, lest she distract him and put the kids in danger.
"I'm going to go check on Morgan in the nursery," she says. "And when I come back, those kids had better be safely in the water with all limbs solidly attached to their bodies."
"It figures that your favorite memory would be one without Morgan," Samantha says musingly. Theo's mouth snaps shut, slowly drifting into a grin.
"Oh yeah," he says. "He was too little to be there I guess. Huh. Too bad."
Annabeth glances over at Morgan to see if he's offended, but the young boy just stares off into the distance, chewing at the skin on the tip of his finger. Percy glances over at her, wordlessly communicating, and then he slides over to Morgan and lifts the boy onto his lap.
"You want to tell us your favorite memory next, buddy?" he asks, meeting Morgan's eyes to pull him back to the moment.
"It's only fair, seeing as you weren't in the last one at all," Annabeth adds, and Morgan smiles at her slightly, the small movement warming his face.
"'Kay," he agrees, and then he's silent for a few moments.
Samantha is the first to grow impatient.
"What's your favorite memory, Morgini?" she says, nudging his knee with her foot, and he seems to snap back to the rest of his family, all clustered into the blanket fort on a cool August evening.
"Blackjack. Sledding," he says, nodding decisively.
"Over on Turkey Hill?" Percy asks, ruffling his hair. "Yeah, I know exactly the day you're talking about."
The chilly air bites Annabeth's cheeks, seeming to sink inside of her. She thinks that she can feel her pores cracking and popping, and is almost certain that they're about to explode in the freezing cold weather. But the rest of her family doesn't seem to be feeling anything at all- they're leaping up and down in the snow with the same enthusiasm they would a sunny day at the beach.
Annabeth would rather be at the beach. Granted, getting sand off of everything they own is difficult, but a few well-placed scourgify spells usually gets the job done, and then Annabeth can wash her hands of the whole experience.
But it's December, and Percy is on holiday from school, and when the kids had said that they wanted to go sledding, Annabeth had known that she wouldn't be able to argue it. So, instead, she had called their friends together into a family gathering, of sorts, and invited them all to come freeze in the snow with her.
The adults appear to be divided in two. Annabeth, Jason, and Piper linger on the sides while Hazel, Frank, and Leo have joined Percy in the snow. Lucas is pushing Samantha down the hill and she screams as she goes, blond hair streaming behind her. Jason visibly tenses when he begins running down the hill after Sammy, screaming and whooping behind her, but Piper lays a hand on his arm and calms him down from his tenseness.
Ruby and Morgan seem to be continuing their strange friendship- they are playing together almost silently, occasionally making a comment about the snow. Ruby is the only one of Hazel and Frank's girls to be so quiet- Marie and Lin, like most of their "cousins," are chatterboxes. Annabeth watches both of their mouths move a mile a minute as they tug on their parents' coats, trying to instruct them on how to make a perfect snowman. Annabeth can tell that Hazel is itching to take out her wand and shape the circles of snow into neater spheres.
"I've never seen Nico look this happy," Jason notes, glancing over at him where he is seated in the snow. This is Will and Nico's first winter with Bridgid and Ambrus, and the little brunette twins are bundled up so tightly that Annabeth can barely see their eyes. Ambrus sits in Nico's lap, slapping his tiny palms against the snow. Bridgid, for her part, seems far more interested in playing with her daddy's hair than she does the snow. Will hasn't gotten a haircut in a while, too busy with the move to a small suburb near Hazel and Frank's house, and with the adoption of the twins. As he bends down to whisper to Bridgid and tickle her sweetly, she tugs on his hair, fixated with the golden locks.
"I've never seen this many kids in one place," Piper jokes, lifting her hands to her lips to blow hot air onto them. Annabeth watches as her breath billows out in front of her. "We have to stop breeding. Jason, Lucas is it for us."
They've already talked about not having anymore kids, so it's not the first time Piper has made a joke like this, but Annabeth still finds it difficult to laugh. She can't imagine only having Samantha- her favorite part of watching Sam grow up has been seeing her interactions with her brothers and watching the way they, all three of them, grew in different directions, despite the fact that Sam, Theo, and Morgan had all come from Percy and Annabeth.
"Hey!" Percy tromps up behind Annabeth, dropping a snowball on top of her head. He slaps a hand against Jason's back to signal his acknowledgement of their bromanship, and greets Piper by quickly kissing her on the cheek. "How are you guys?"
"Um- great?" Piper replies, carefully watching Annabeth's reaction to the snow which is now slithering in droplets all around her cheeks and nose. Slowly, Annabeth makes a shushing motion with her lips. She's going to get Percy later. She's going to get him back when he least expects it. "How… how are you?"
"You know, the usual," Percy shrugs. "Aches in my back, pains in my chest. Etc cetera. Annabeth refuses to massage me and feed me grapes."
"I did get Theo to walk on his back though," she says brightly. "I'm not a completely terrible person."
"You have some good ideas," admits Percy. "Well, I'd better get back to the young whipper snappers. Coming, Annabeth?"
"Oh, sure, dear," she says brightly. "Just give me a few moments and I'll join you right away."
"Cool, cool," he agrees absently, sticking his tongue out at Lucas before he runs off to chase the little boy. As soon as he's gone, Annabeth turns to Piper and Jason.
"We must crush Percy Jackson," she says shortly.
"What?" Piper laughs, a confused smile stretching across her lips.
"He got the top of my hat wet. I will not stand for this. We must crush him with our snowy prowess."
Jason looks concerned.
"I don't know if I can do that to Percy."
"Nooo, it sounds fun!" Piper argues. "I'm in."
"Fine," Jason sighs. "What do you need me to do?"
"Distract him with your loving relationship."
"What do you mean?"
"I don't know; what do people in bromances do? Just… go whip your top up or something to distract him."
"I could do that," Piper suggests, raising her hand to volunteer.
"No," Jason and Annabeth say simultaneously.
"You know, we should really try to get Hazel and Frank in on this," Piper muses.
"Hazel won't want to betray Percy," Jason says.
"She will in the name of sisterhood," reasons Piper. "And Frank will follow her."
"We should get Leo, too. He lives for this shit."
"Good idea!" Annabeth says. "It can be us against Percy and the kids."
"You mean 'the kids,'" Piper clarifies. "Percy fits in that box."
"Fine, the kids," agrees Annabeth. "Let's just do it."
It only takes a few moments for Annabeth, Piper, and Jason to rope Leo, Hazel, and Frank into ganging up against Percy. They're hesitant at first, but they come to terms with betrayal more quickly than Annabeth would have expected. She's not sure if she should accredit it to her powers of persuasion or if they're just very easy to convince. Either way, it makes her smile.
Percy is giving Marie a push down the hill as Jason jogs up to him. As Marie begins flying towards the bottom of the hill, Blackjack lets out a yip and tumbles down after her, his tiny legs not quite enough to keep him from falling right down the hill after her.
"Hey, bro," says Jason. "I think we should go down together in one of the sleds."
Percy scrutinizes the sled very carefully.
"Do you think we'd both fit?" he asks doubtfully.
"Eh, we can snuggle up," says Jason.
Percy's still torn between excitement and incredulity when Annabeth, Piper, Hazel, Frank, and Leo attack him. He screams, falling into the snow as the snowballs pelt his face. Even after they're done, he lies there, laughing into the snow as Annabeth hovers above him, snapping a picture of his red-cheeked, snow covered face.
She puts the picture on her desk three days later, and when she sees it, she always feels warm despite the chill in the air on the day that the picture was taken.
"I want to go next," Percy announces. He has Nutella smudged on the corner of his cheek, and Annabeth has to stop herself from leaning over to kiss it off. She swipes at it with her thumb instead, and makes sure none of the kids are looking before she licks the Nutella off of it. Percy notices, however, and he smirks. Annabeth doesn't think he'll ever stop smirking at her like this. Like he's the same sixteen year old boy to whom Annabeth had lost her virginity back at Hogwarts; the same boy that she had always found ridiculously irresistible.
"Because you know that the kids are losing attention," says Annabeth, raising an eyebrow.
"I'm not," says Sammy helpfully. "After all, I am the favorite."
Percy pokes her in the side.
"You're all our favorites."
"Sure," she says, winking dramatically. "Keep telling yourself that, dad."
He glances over at Annabeth.
"I'm about 99.7-percent positive that it's the truth."
Annabeth rolls her eyes.
"Just tell your story."
They're all packed together like sardines, shoulder to shoulder, and if Annabeth wasn't so close to everybody in this room, she would probably be uncomfortable. But they've been like this for years- sharing space, sharing their lives. This, Annabeth has come to realize, is what family is. True, full-fledged family that actually wants to be in your life and actually makes a difference with who you are.
She loves her family, despite the fact that Frank's knee is digging into her black from where he is precariously perched atop the couch, and Percy is sweating excitedly next to her as he tries to see around the curtain to where the kids are hiding. It's way too hot for all of them to be clustered together, but Sammy had been insistent as she ushered all of the parents into the main room of Piper's dad's beach house.
Ever since they got there a week ago, the kids have been secretly giggling and working together between long summer afternoons at the beach and evenings on the boardwalk. Nobody has any idea what they're doing, but Jason strongly suspects that they are coming up with a plan to impeach the Minister of Magic and Hazel is relatively certain that they're coming up with a cure for cancer that can be used in both medical and muggle hospitals.
Annabeth, for the record, is pretty certain neither of them are correct.
There's a loud shushing from the other side of the curtain, and then Samantha steps out from the curtain, beaming as she twists her fingers together.
"Hey!" she says, hopping excitedly in her shorts and flip-flops. She's got a twinkle in her eyes that is all too familiar, and it makes Annabeth laugh. When she glances up, Piper is grinning down at her from her seat on top of the couch, back pressed against the window.
"This is your kid's fault," she says, quirking an eyebrow.
"It's actually Annabeth's fault," Percy says, not looking at either of them as he offers their kid two thumbs up. "Because the only one who loves being in charge more than Annabeth is Sammy."
"Ladies and gentlemen!" says Sammy, cutting in. "Hello, and welcome to the first concert of 'Festus and Friends.'"
Leo cheers when his dragon is mentioned, and Piper looks around the house wildly as though he will randomly appear. The one stipulation of Leo coming was that he wasn't allowed to bring his pet, and Piper's been suspicious of the dragon being around the past week.
The rest of the kids file out as Sammy picks up a hairbrush. Marie, Ruby, and Bridged all clutch onto hair brushes as well, smiling nervously as they line up behind Sam. Theo leaps out excitedly, a tongue sticking out as he shakes his head enthusiastically. Morgan follows quietly, settling down next to Lucas at the tiny keyboard. Ambrus positions himself next to Theo with Lin next to them, clutching onto two chopsticks as though they are drumsticks.
"And now," Sammy says into her 'microphone,' smirking at her parents, "our first song."
"Oh god!" Sammy says, drawing her knees up to her chest. "That's so embarrassing. Why would you tell that story?"
"Because I loved that!" Percy says, looking offended. "It was fantastic, sweetheart."
"Why did that band never make a comeback?" Annabeth wonders out loud.
"Um, probably because Theo and Ambrus both refused to learn guitar," Sam says, crossing her arms over her chest. "They ruined Festus and Friends before it had the chance to shine."
"Morgan was excellent on the piano," says Percy fondly.
"Not next to Lucas," says Morgan, picking at the carpet. He doesn't seem all that perturbed about it. Just states it like fact- as it is. Jason and Piper started Lucas on music before that kid could walk.
"Well, if your parents were nearly as annoying as Lucas' were, we would have inflicted all of you with skills from the moment you were born," Percy says. "Unfortunately, we were too busy loving you."
"Um, are you suggesting that Uncle Jason and Auntie Piper don't love Lucas?"
"Nice one, hon," Annabeth says. Percy's going to have an excellent time talking himself out of this one.
"Hey, mom, what's your favorite memory?" Samantha asks.
"Wow, deflection," laughs Annabeth, making Sam grin. "Did we teach you too well?"
"And somehow we still failed her."
"Nah, you didn't fail me," says Sam, ruffling Morgan's hair. "If you had, I wouldn't be so sorry to leave you all."
There's a long pause, during which all of them stare at each other. Even Theo looks slightly out of breath as he looks around at his mother, father, and siblings.
"Everything's going to change."
It's Morgan's voice that cuts through the silence.
"Yeah, kiddo," sighs Sammy. Annabeth's stomach clenches uncomfortably. "You gonna miss me?"
"You'll be right up the street," Theo says, frowning at the carpet.
"But it's never gonna be the same again, doofus," Sam replies.
"Hey," Percy says, cutting in. "Annabeth. Favorite memory."
"Oh," she says, and then she tugs Theo closer to her side, despite his protests. It only takes a few moments before he slumps into her lap and she is able to smooth his hair away from his forehead. "That would be the first time I took you two to Diagon Alley."
"I remember that," Percy says. "You had just given birth to Morgan, right?"
"Mhm," Annabeth says tenderly. "And I had never seen our world through the eyes of somebody who hadn't grown up with it like I had."
"How about my eyes?" Percy asks.
"I wasn't with you the first time you went," Annabeth says, making a face at him. "Stop ruining my story."
Eventually, Theo gets sick of not moving around and barrels out of Annabeth's lap, heading to his bedroom. It seems like that's the time to break the party up, so Annabeth gathers the plates as Percy hoists Morgan over his shoulder and carries him off to his bedroom to do the whole bedtime shebang. Twenty minutes later, he hunts down Annabeth where she is doing dishes in the kitchen.
"Is Sam asleep?" Annabeth asks, handing Percy a plate to dry.
"Not sure," Percy says, frowning as she gets some soapy water on his trousers. "She's your daughter, so she's probably re-packing her trunk right now."
Annabeth sighs, slumping against the sink.
"Alright," she says. "Chinese fire drill." Percy hops off of the counter and grabs the remainder of the dishes, washing them with far less precision than Annabeth had been.
"Are you going to be okay?" Percy asks. "I know… I know this is harder for you than it is for me."
"Because you're going to be able to see her every single day and I'm stuck in this daughter-less house while the two of you get closer and closer every day?"
"Mhm," Annabeth replies. "I don't know, Perce. I never thought about how it would feel to be left behind while my husband and daughter both attended Hogwarts simultaneously."
"Hey," he says, splashing water at her, and that was definitely on purpose. "Do you have any other suggestions for a career?" She crosses her arms. Stares at him. "I can quit and become Annabeth Jackson's 24 hour a day love slave."
Despite herself, she laughs.
"I know I'm being irrational," she says as Percy moves in to kiss her. "But it was bound to happen once or twice in a lifetime."
"Just once or twice?"
"You heard me, seaweed brain."
He shuts off the sink, leaning against the counter and looking out into their backyard, and that's when he squints into the darkness.
"Is there a light in the treehouse?"
Twisting her body around, Annabeth peers outside until she spots the warm light poking through the slats on the treehouse.
"Sammy," she says concisely. "C'mon. Let's go."
They trudge out the front door and through the moist grass, following the light from Samantha's reading lamp until they reach the treehouse. Percy goes first and Annabeth follows; by the time she gets up there, Percy is inspecting the book that Sam had deemed important enough to stay up late for and Annabeth has to nudge him with her foot to get him to make enough space for her. He slides over, closer to Samantha, and Annabeth takes her other side.
"So," says Percy, handing Sam her book back. "You never told us your favorite memory."
"I didn't?" she asks, looking to Annabeth for confirmation. Annabeth shakes her head, and Samantha smiles, snuggling into her mother's side. "Oh. Well. That would be this."
"This moment?" Annabeth asks.
"No," Sam replies, shaking her head. "This treehouse, I guess. With you guys. Like the summers, when I was little and we would come up here after the ice cream truck but before bed and you guys would read me my bedtime story and carry me inside when I fell asleep. Or when it would rain and we would sneak out here and tell stories about you guys growing up. Or when me or Theo had really bad nightmares and you couldn't soothe us and so you brought us out here." She gently pats the wood at the bottom of the treehouse. "I love this place." Then she pauses, beginning to frown. "I'm not ready to give it up."
"Well," Percy says, sounding truly serious for the first time that night. "I don't think you have to."
"We're going to be here, love, and so is this treehouse."
"Change is important," Percy says. "But… Sam, your mum had to grow up so quickly. We don't want that for you."
"When you come back for the summer holidays, the treehouse is going to be right here."
"So are your brothers and your cousins and your parents."
"And you're allowed to want all of it."
"You don't have to become an adult the moment you step on the Hogwarts Express."
"You just have to start figuring out the adult you're going to become."
"And if that being person involves spending your days reading in a treehouse, that's okay."
"It's going to be here for you as long as you need it. And we are too."
For the first time in years, they tuck her into bed and watch her nuzzle into her pillow as they whisper goodnight.
The first time Sam sees the platform, her hair is divided into two pigtails that glide nearly down her back. Her eyes, green like her father's, are skidding delightedly around the platform, taking in all of the different families saying their goodbyes.
"You can tell," Sam says, voice a whisper in the loudness of the crowd, "who is just discovering magic."
As Percy throws his arms around her, comforting her, Annabeth recalls thinking the same thing. She recalls seeing a boy with messy black hair and sea green eyes whispering a tearful goodbye to his mother, trying to hide his emotions but so sad about leaving her.
Annabeth hopes that Sammy is half as sad about leaving her mother as Percy was about leaving his. And she hopes she's done half as good a job at raising her baby, because if so, she knows that she's produced something beautiful. Then again. She'd had Percy with her the entire time, raising these kids, and Percy has so much of Sally that it makes Annabeth ache sometimes.
She loves to see the way they all sit in each other's minds, always gently nudging and influencing.
"Eyyy, Mr. Jackson!" shouts a voice, and Annabeth whizzes around just in time to see a loud group of boys all sprint up to Percy, slam their palms against his already waiting hand one by one, and then cheer and walk away, nodding at 'Mrs. J' as they go.
In a way, Annabeth feels like she's got a hand in raising these buffoons too.
"So those are your classmates," Percy says, beaming. "Well, they're sixth years. But you get it."
Samantha looked slightly alarmed.
"Don't worry, dear, you'll find your niche," Annabeth promises, knowing what that face is without even having to be told. "Ready to get on the train?"
First, Samantha hugs the line of fake Aunts and Uncles who came to see their first niece off to Hogwarts. Hazel gets misty eyed. Piper whispers last minute bits of advice as she hugs Sam. Jason goes to shake her hand, and Sammy rolls her eyes and hugs him anyways.
When it's Annabeth's turn, Samantha squeezes her just a bit too tight.
"Just think," she says, looking up at Annabeth. "The next time I see you, I'm probably going to have met my future husband."
It's just meant for Annabeth's ears, but Percy hears her too.
"What?" he yelps, nonplussed.
"Well," Samantha says patiently. "All of you guys met your life partners within the first two seconds of being at Hogwarts. Why shouldn't I?"
It looks like this thought is just occurring to Percy.
"Um," he says. "That doesn't mean you have to rush into anything." Samantha rolls her eyes. "No, really!" Percy continues. "Take your time. Smell the roses. Don't date."
The look that Annabeth is giving Percy is both incredulous and endeared.
"Your father and I didn't start dating until we were fifteen," she says, taking over for her husband. "And even then, we didn't rush into anything."
"I know," Sam says patiently. "I've heard the story. I promise I won't get married before second year," she adds, just to tease her father, and Percy's face turns red.
"Don't forget that whoever you date will have to be well worth it," Annabeth reminds her. "Because your father is going to be there the entire time. Watching."
This time, it's Sam's turn to look panicked.
"Nice one," Percy murmurs as she floats over to her trunk, absently reaching down to pet her cat.
"That's why you married me," says Annabeth condescendingly.
"Because you get shit done?"
"Because I get shit done."
Despite the fact that they are on a platform full of his students, Percy leans down to kiss Annabeth.
"Hey," he says. "We're almost empty nesters."
"How about that!" she murmurs. "Just two more to shove violently from the nest and we get to start all over as a new married couple."
"Think of all the sleep we'll be getting," sighs Percy. "That's the dream."
She raises her eyebrows, amused.
"Really. That's the dream."
Percy doesn't bite.
"Mhm. That's it."
"Fine," Annabeth sighs. "I guess that's our future. Alone. In the house. No kids. Just sleeping."
"There's probably other stuff too," Percy admits, starting to grin at her. "We can take that as it comes."
She kisses his cheek.
"You're just a weirdo," she says sincerely. "But you are my weirdo."
"That I am," he says cheerfully. "And happy to be."
Annabeth glances over at Theo and Morgan, who are chatting with Frank, who is squatted on the ground to be able to hear them, Lin on one knee, Marie on the other.
"For now, I'm taking those two back," she says decisively, and then she swoops over to their two little boys and snatches them into a hug.
"Muuuuum," Theo protests, but Morgan just snuggles in.
"Incoming," calls Percy, and then they're huddled in a pile together, with Sammy screaming as she runs back to them and throws herself in the pile.
Annabeth thinks of who she'd been. She thinks of standing on this platform feeling like she belonged to nobody, not even herself. She thinks of all the times she had felt alone, and how that had all ended when Percy became her best friend. She thinks about him learning her nuances, her intricacies, and then changing them with his easy friendship and unconditional love. She thinks about the games they'd played, on the pitch and off the pitch, and the family that they'd built- not only with children, but with their friends.
Years ago, standing on this platform for the first time, she hadn't realized that she would find someone who would mean this much to her. Even as a seventeen-year-old, here for the last time, she'd only had an inkling of what he could give to her.
And now, as she holds onto her son's hand and her daughter's pigtail and listens to the sound of her husband and other child's laughter in her ear, she still feels like this moment ending will only lead them to an even better start.
A/N: I went for the cheesy ending. I'm not even sorry.
I hope you guys enjoyed this fic. I cannot believe how long it got, or how much I loved writing it. It was an intense undertaking, but I'm actually so glad I took the time to be with these characters and enjoy them in this universe. For now, Spellbound is going to bed. But I'm never going to forget about this universe and what a wonderful opportunity it was to write it.
If you like this chapter, I hope you'll review or come find me and say hi on my tumblr- rongasm.
Thanks to Hannah, Mari, Sophii, Dan, and Ashley for being so supportive and wonderful about this fic. I owe you guys so much.