"There are some things I know for certain: always throw spilled salt over your left shoulder; keep rosemary by your garden gate; plant lavender for luck; and fall in love whenever you can."
~Practical Magic (1998)
Erza's hands formed the dough into as perfect a sphere as weight and gravity would allow. Flecks of rosemary dotted the mound and the soon the smell of baking bread would fill every inch of the kitchen. Once the future loaf was in the hearth, Erza turned back to her work table and brushed a stray wisp of hair behind one ear absently. With an experienced technique she minced garlic cloves and sprinkled the bits into a waiting dish of olive oil.
Squeals and laughter from outside seeped through the crack under the back door. Erza smiled and left the oil and garlic to marinade. Far too close for comfort to the sheets drying in the sun, she found her daughters and husband adding flower petals to several pans of mud. Even more mud caked their little hands, feet, and legs. Both sets of clumsily braided red hair showed signs of dirt, as well.
"Mommy!" Ellie called with a bright grin. "I made pies just like you!"
"They're messier than mommy's pies," Emma countered.
"Sometimes," Jellal cut in, gently tugging on the end of one of Emma's braids. "Messy pies can be the best pies."
"But we can't even eat them!" Emma whined.
"These pies are much too pretty to eat," he said with a smile. Jellal glanced up at the sun and down at the shadows starting to crawl across the yard. The exchange was brief but he met Erza's eyes and she smiled knowingly.
"Why don't you girls go and have a bath before dinner." A tandem of perfectly harmonized protests were met with a stern shake of the head. "There's a full moon tonight and we need to eat before sunset."
Ellie sighed and wiped her muddy hands over the front of her play dress. Emma – always more practical than her sister – gazed up at Jellal with furrowed eyebrows. He smiled down at her and winked.
"Go on," he said gently. "It'll be fine."
When both girls were inside the house and well on their way to being free of mud and flower petals, Jellal stepped into the kitchen and twisted the end of Erza's long braid around his fingers. He never missed an opportunity to appreciate her hair that had miraculously grown back. She caught his free hand in hers and smiled.
"Emma worries about you."
"I know." His eyes were stuck on the curl of red around his finger. "Do you think maybe –"
"No," Erza whispered. "They should know. Magic is in their blood. I won't hide things from them like my grandmother did with me."
"I don't know that I disagree with her desire to protect you." He let his forehead fall against hers. "But I think knowledge is a perfectly acceptable armor."
"I love you," Erza whispered. She tilted her head and just as her lips brushed his, a pattern of feet clomping across the second story floor perforated the quiet. "I'd better go make sure everything is in order up there."
"I'll lock up in front." Jellal swiped the keys from their hook and left Erza to check on their daughters. She found both girls in what used to be her childhood bedroom – now outfitted with two matching twin beds – and took a moment to watch Emma methodically comb and rebraid Ellie's freshly washed hair. The bond her daughters shared brought back so many memories.
Eileen's visits had been more frequent since the birth of Emma and Ellie, but she still followed the wind to her heart's content. The spell to return Jellal to his human body had been mostly successful, with only one unexpected condition.
They'd known he'd likely be bound to his cat form – and he was. Every full moon, Jellal transformed back into the blue-grey cat with striking green eyes. Instead of sleeping on the edge of Erza's bed, he now guarded his children with impressive vigilance and only let up just before sunrise. They hadn't, however, counted on the tether. Jellal couldn't live away from the bakery without sacrificing his human body. The magic allowed him to work, and carry on as normal... but his home would forever be the bakery. Not long after Eileen departed, he'd tried to return to his family's farm and had woken up in his bed with the wrong body and an intense, cattish drive to return to Erza's side.
Erza had tearfully apologized for the magical tether but, truth be told, Jellal didn't want to be separated from her anyway. Instead of accepting her apology, he asked her to marry him. Eileen didn't make it home in time for the wedding but when she did finally visit, she brought with her a curious stack of papers detailing Jellal's alleged deployment and discharge from the military. The glowing recommendation from one General in particular landed him a job with local law enforcement – a day shift, of course.
One Wednesday morning about a week before Erza's doctor believed the babies would be born, Eileen showed up unannounced. She smudged the house with sage, sweetgrass, and cedar. As the last of the smoke floated from the open windows, a heavy rain began to fall. That night Erza's water broke and – for the first time in a decade – the river flowing through the center of Magnolia flooded, cutting off access to the hospital. Eileen delivered her nieces herself with the help of Jellal.
The next morning was clear and bright. Porlyusica, the only midwife on the south side of the bulging river, declared the babies perfectly healthy. Not that she'd expected anything different, she'd been heard muttering under her breath. According to her, the Scarlet women were remarkably sturdy and resilient.
"Are you two ready to eat?" Erza asked from the doorway. A matching set of smiles greeted her.
"I'm so hungry I could eat a whole horse!" Ellie said from her spot next to Emma.
"I'm so hungry I could eat a hippo!" Emma said giggling.
"Well, I could eat a lion!" Ellie blurted but suddenly fell silent. She turned to her sister whose eyes were wide in horror. "I'm sorry, Em," she whispered. "I wouldn't really eat a lion. I wasn't thinking."
"It's okay," Emma said softly. Ellie chewed on her bottom lip in a very Erza way. She took her sister's hands and looked on the verge of tears. "It's really okay, El. I know you wouldn't eat Daddy." Both girls burst into a fresh round of giggles and Erza cleared her throat.
"Alright, that's enough," she interrupted with a smile. "Go on to the table, and I'll bring up the bread."
Erza could hear her daughters tackling their father as she descended the stairs again and brought the rosemary hearth bread out of the fire. The dish of warm oil and garlic was the last thing she grabbed before leaving the kitchen dark for the night.
The apartment was quiet, as was the bakery and shop below. Erza wriggled her toes in the warmth of the wood stove and ran her hands through her rumpled hair. Usually Jellal would unbraid it for her and leave kisses on her shoulder but tonight he was preoccupied.
A light tapping on the north facing window caught her attention. Erza crossed the floor and slid the sash upwards. She smiled and stepped aside as the cardinal flew into the room, circled around, and landed on the window sill. The shape of it burst and in its place was a folded letter sealed with red wax. Light from the full moon spilled across the floor and Erza gazed out at the night. She didn't think life could possibly be more perfect.
Just before sunrise a cat landed gracefully on the edge of the bed. He curled into a tight ball at Erza's feet.
"We'll have company soon," she muttered, still half asleep. Even after six years she still couldn't stay awake to see him transform from the cat into the man. It was something she let him keep to himself. Besides, the girls would be up soon and one of them had to be awake to make breakfast. Love was sometimes irrational and unpredictable but family, she decided, that was a practical sort of magic.
Author's Note: Thank you so much for taking the time to read this indulgence of a story. I hope it's been as fun to read as it was to write. Once again, thank you to thir13enth for enabling my furrier side.