The house was still, but it was not silent. Silence was a thing for other houses, houses that discouraged families of rats living in the walls and spiders ever weaving in the eaves. (It turns out that a sufficient number of spiders, weaving a sufficient number of webs, will make a soft shushing sound, like wind brushing leaves against a windowpane. It can be quite soothing, if you happen to be the sort of person who finds falling asleep to the murmur of a hundred tiny legs knitting strands of silk soothing, and not existentially terrifying.)
Marnie Piper fell rather solidly into the “soothing” camp. The house had been in her family for generations, constructed by some long-dead witch who felt that a bog made a lovely water feature for a yard, and that brambles were acceptable only if they understood the importance of occasionally grabbing the legs of passersby. She had fallen in love with the place the moment her grandmother pulled back the veil of enchanted trees that had been protecting it from vandals and lookie-loos. It was perfect for the enthusiastic young witch just getting started in life: two stories, four bedrooms, library and laboratory, and even indoor plumbing (not exactly a guaranteed perk in Halloweentown, where some of the residents still thought a bucket without holes in it was the height of sophistication). Marnie had moved in three days later, after she had filed all the paperwork with her school to release her dorm room for the rest of the semester. For a magical university, Witch U required a surprising amount of “file this in triplicate, and be sure you give a copy to the Dean.”
But whatever: all that was done and past, and had been done and past for three glorious years. Marnie was a fully accredited witch, an honor to the Cromwell name, and a full time resident of the only place she had ever truly called home: Halloweentown, where the witches and ghosts and magical creatures of the world could feel like they belonged, no matter how “odd” their habits and hobbies might seem to the uninformed. Home was where the bodies were buried, whether or not they were actually dead.
So the house was still, but not silent, and two bodies lay in comfortably tangled repose in the big canopy bed that ate up half the floor space in the master bedroom. One, smaller and softer and paler--Marnie spent very little time outside during the day, and when she did have to go outside, she tended to wear voluminous robes and her wide-brimmed witch’s hat, which protected all but the bridge of her nose--lay curled almost atop the other, her long auburn-brown hair snarled to cover her face and half his chest, like a particularly over-enthusiastic bramble. Her hair would have been taken for a dark red if not for the carroty orange of her bedmate’s own bushy locks, which seemed to have a mind of their own, and were currently in the process of enveloping a pillow. The color was surprisingly good for him--surprising both because no one really thinks of “carrot” being a good hair color for anybody, and because his skin was the olive green of healthy pond scum, young bullfrogs, and the moss that sometimes grows on the side of wishing wells. There was a time when Luke had been self-conscious about that skin, changing his clothes in the dark, trying to keep Marnie from seeing the lines of demarcation where his tan--goblins tan just like humans do, only instead of going from peach or chestnut or whatnot to a darker shade of same, they go from various shades of pale green to various shades of darker green--gave way to the softer, secret skin that never saw the sun.
That time was long gone and in the past, and both of them were grateful for its absence. After saving Halloweentown and saving the world and saving each other--multiple times for each, and sometimes all of them at once--they had seemed like an inevitability, and then like an impossibility, and then like an inevitability again, until all that was left was falling like stars into the implacable orbits of one another’s arms.
Then Marnie had gone off to Witch U, and there had been tears and fights and head phone calls that ended badly, usually with one of them crying again, usually with both of them feeling horrible about themselves and each other and everything else in the stupid world (which was only there because they persisted in saving it, so clearly, this was all their fault). Marnie had gone on a few dates with a stupid warlock who had stupid blond hair and stupid pink skin and could have given her a stupid normal life if she hadn’t broken up with him before things even really got started, swearing up and down that “it’s not you, it’s me” and “I’m sure you’ll find someone who’s right for you.”
She had been on Luke’s doorstep the next morning, ringing the bell over and over again until he stumbled out of bed and made his way across the cluttered central room of the tree where he lived, swearing and muttering about eating whoever had woken him up before noon. He’d opened the door, and had time to register one glimpse of hair like autumn leaves and eyes so bright he’d always believed they could outshine any jack-o-lantern before Marnie was on him, her arms around his neck and her lips crushing against his, and he’d known that he was finally home. (He’d even revised his impressions of Ethan since then, and his description of the warlock included a few less uses of the word “stupid,” although he was never going to really like the man, who represented Marnie’s one dalliance with her own species, and was thus a walking, talking manifestation of all Luke’s own insecurities.)
Marnie had gone back to school. Luke had devoted himself to learning the ins and outs of daily life in his part of Halloweentown, memorizing the community, discovering the things he would need to know in order to support his very own Cromwell witch. And then Marnie had come home, as she had always been destined to do, and she moved into the house with the pumpkin patch in the back and the bog in the side yard, where the frogs and the alligators sang swamp hymns to the eternal October moon. They had tried to play it slow and coy from there, and had succeeded in fooling no one but themselves. By the end of that first summer, Luke had been firmly ensconced next to the witch he loved so well and so foolishly, and neither of them talked about any futures that did not include the other.
Luke stroked her hair one-handed as he stared up at the canopy, which was so full of holes as to almost constitute a piece of very elaborate free-form lacework. Marnie stirred slightly, making a small, sleepy noise in the back of her throat, somewhere between a complaint and a purr of contentment. Luke twisted his neck so that he could kiss the top of her head. The noise subsided.
“Marry me, okay?” he said, and Marnie didn’t say anything at all, and in time, he drifted off to join her in sleep.
Luke woke to the not unfamiliar, not unwelcome sensation of a hundred and forty pounds of Cromwell witch kneeling on his chest. He opened his eyes and blinked blearily up at Marnie. She was hunkered forward in a decent impression of one of the gargoyles that sometimes came to roost on the roof during migration season. All she needed was the wings, and maybe half a pigeon sticking out of her mouth.
“Um,” he managed, once he woke up enough to process what his eyes were relaying to his brain. Marnie didn’t disappear, so this wasn’t a very strange dream. “...good morning?”
“What did you say to me?”
Luke blinked again, replaying the past few seconds in his head. “I said ‘good morning’?” he tried.
“No, not just now.” Marnie leaned closer, until her nose was almost touching his. “Last night. What did you say last night?”
“Marnie, I said a lot of things last night. I said ‘please pass the mashed pumpkin,’ and I said ‘do you want me to rub your shoulders,’ and then I said some stuff I’m really not comfortable repeating when we’re not in the right context.” Things said during sex always sounded puerile and a little silly when they weren’t in the right setting. Early morning with Marnie kneeling on his chest in a distinctly unsexy way was not the right setting.
“No, silly.” Marnie sat up, although she didn’t get off his chest, and crossed her arms. This pushed her breasts up in a way that was only accented by the scrap of burnt orange fabric that she insisted qualified as a nightgown. Luke became briefly distracted by the view, until Marnie dropped her arms again, leaned forward, and poked him in the chin with one sharp-nailed finger. “You thought I was asleep. What did you say?”
“Can I really be held responsible for what I say when I think you’re asleep? Why didn’t you say something at the time?”
Marnie shrugged. “I was sleeping. Come on, Luke. The spiders wove hearts all the way around the edge of the room. You said something.”
Luke looked up at her and sighed. This wasn’t how he’d envisioned asking her this question. To be honest, he’d mostly given up on envisioning asking her this question, because when he did, it usually ended with her laughing in his face and then sending him back to his tree to live a long and lonely life without her. He was smart enough to know that she probably wouldn’t really kick him out for something like that, but it was sometimes hard for him to get past the difference in their species. He’d been human when they met, even if that was only an enchantment, and part of him would always be convinced that her love was predicated on the memory of a pink-skinned boy with hair that wasn’t visible with all the lights out, and a nose that didn’t have to be kissed around.
“Can you get off my chest, please?” he asked, with uncharacteristic seriousness.
Marnie blinked at the change in his tone and slid off of him to the bed, where she perched and looked at him with wide, liquid eyes. “Sure, Luke.”
“Thanks.” Luke sat up, running a hand back through the wildfire tangle of his hair. It didn’t do any good, but it bought him a few seconds, and that was all he really wanted. “It was silly, okay? I was almost asleep myself, and you were asleep, and I said something silly. I’ll tell you if you really want me to, but I didn’t...I wasn’t trying to...”
“I’m not going to laugh at you,” said Marnie gently. She’d had plenty of time to grow accustomed to Luke’s little insecurities, even to accept them. She hoped he’d eventually get past them, but she also understood that three years of acceptance didn’t wash away a lifetime of rejection. This was Halloweentown. They could live for centuries, long past the point where everyone she’d ever known in her life in the mortal world was dead and dust and gone (and Marnie tried not to think about that more than she absolutely had to, because that included everyone she’d gone to school with, and all her relatives on her father’s side, and that was rather more people than she was comfortable to think about outliving). If she needed to be patient with him for a few decades, well. That wasn’t too much for him to ask.
Luke ran his hand through his hair again, shoving it into something resembling order, and said, “I asked you to marry me. It was silly, and I’m sorry, and--”
Luke stopped dead. Of all the responses he’d allowed himself to imagine (and there had been several, at least one of which involved hysterical laughter and Marnie packing her bags to return to stupid Ethan and his stupid human face, before realizing that this was her house and kicking Luke out instead), a clean and simple “yes” had never been among them. “Uh, what?”
Marnie looked at him and smiled. “I said ‘yes,’” she said, with more gentleness than she normally bothered to put into her voice. Part of being accustomed to Luke’s insecurities was understanding how she had been the cause of some of them, and while she would rather be a lover than a therapist, she wasn’t going to get mad at him for having been broken in the past. They’d both been broken, at least a bit, and she wouldn’t have known what to do with someone who had no scars. Not really. At least this way, they could be cracked and flawed together, and that made all the difference in the world.
Luke stared at her. Then, gradually, the corner of his mouth began to twitch, like it was struggling to smile, even as his expression remained deadly serious, the face of a man preparing to take the most important test of his life. “You said yes?”
“I said yes,” Marnie confirmed. “Yes, I will marry you. Yes, I would love to marry you. Yes, you are the only man I have ever wanted to marry. You are the only goblin I have ever wanted to marry. Yes, I am serious, and no, this isn’t a joke, and no, you’re not dreaming, although I’d be happy to hit you with a pillow if you’re worried about that.”
“See, that doesn’t really help,” said Luke. “You hit me with pillows in my dreams all the time.” The corner of his mouth continued to twitch.
“You have some pretty interesting dreams,” said Marnie, now grinning openly. “Hey Luke?”
“Yeah?” said Luke, sounding dazed.
“Will you marry me?”
“Yeah,” he said, and finally let his smile take over. It spread across his face like a full moon rising over the cornfields, growing brighter and brighter until it seemed to illuminate his entire body. “I will. I’m going to marry you. You’re going to marry me.”
“Yes I am,” said Marnie, and threw herself at him again, and proceeded to demonstrate just how happy she was about this turn of affairs. If what followed scandalized the spiders, they didn’t say anything. That was really for the best.
Luke didn’t have a family. Like most goblins, he had been abandoned as soon as he was old enough to take care of himself--and as was all too often the case, he hadn’t been the one deciding how old was old enough. He hadn’t spoken to his parents in years, and he was happy to keep it that way. (He had been a little concerned, when he first moved in with Marnie, that they would suddenly show up and start demanding he use his influence with the latest Cromwell witch to get them wealth, or wishes, or other improbable things. As the years slithered by, he had realized just how foolish his concern had been. For them to show up, they would first have to remember that he existed, and that was honestly asking a little too much of them.)
In the years since Marnie and her siblings had found the path from the mortal world into Halloweentown, Luke had started to think of them as the family he’d never had. Well, Marnie at least, and Sophie. Dylan was less of an honorary brother and more of a tolerated-for-Marnie obstacle that sometimes appeared in the guest room, complaining vociferously about the lack of Wifi and how it was impossible to get a decent cup of coffee outside the mortal world. (This was blatantly untrue. Hallowed Grounds in downtown Halloweentown brewed a great cup of coffee, as long as you didn’t mind the faint tang of holy water in your morning espresso. Luke thought it added a certain special something that the mortal world would never match.)
Gwen Piper was a little more difficult. As Marnie’s mother, she had to be told about the engagement, and it was true that she had gotten more...well, relaxed about magic since Marnie announced her intention to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps and become the latest in the long line of Cromwell witches guarding over their secret paradise. But “relaxed about magic” didn’t mean the same thing as “actually approving,” and while she had learned not to let her discomfort over Luke and Marnie’s relationship show, that didn’t mean she’d ever quite come to terms with her oldest daughter’s decision to move in with a man who wasn’t even human.
“Stop squirming,” commanded Marnie, adjusting his collar. “You know you don’t have to do this. I’m the one who needed to agree to marry you, not my mother.”
“I know,” said Luke miserably. He didn’t like wearing suits for anything short of a funeral. He didn’t even like wearing suits for funerals, really, but at least those generally came with an open bar and a lot of fun speeches poking fun at the recently deceased. (He understood that in the mortal world, funerals were sad, solemn affairs full of tears, and that the dead very rarely rose. This was just one more bit of proof that the mortal world was not a fun place to live.) “But it’s tradition, and I’m hoping that I can convince her I’m not going to hurt you by appealing to her heritage.”
Marnie rolled her eyes. “Luke. This is my mother we’re talking about here. The only boyfriend of mine she’s ever approved of was Ethan, and that’s just because he gave up his powers. Honestly, I think she hoped that I would settle down with him and give up my own powers, just so she’d have grandkids who didn’t fly around the house on brooms.”
“Not actually making things better,” muttered Luke, trying to look down at what she was doing without moving his head. It didn’t work as well is it might have, and he wound up cross-eyed, regarding the olive slope of his own nose.
“Not trying to make things better.” Marnie gave his collar one last tug before stepping back and looking at him appreciatively. “I’m just trying to make sure you understand that I don’t really care what she says when you ask her if you can marry me. If she says yes, then you’ve observed tradition. If she says no, you tell her that you’re very sorry she’s so stubborn and small-minded, and that you hope she’ll come to our wedding anyway. And then you come home to me, where you belong.”
Luke paused in the act of fussing with his cuffs to just look at her. Marnie took that as an excuse to do the same with him. She did love seeing him all dressed up, rare as it was. He was wearing his best suit, dark green linen over a pale green shirt, with a tie in such a deep shade of green that it verged on black. It was a little swampy, if she was being honest, but it was a good look for him, and it didn’t clash with either his skin or his hair, which was a difficult thing to manage. She was starting to think her wedding dress would need to be either orange or green, just to avoid the specter of wedding pictures that looked like they’d been taken during a bad acid trip.
“I love you so much,” said Luke.
Marnie grinned. “That’s because you’re smarter than you look, goblin boy,” she said. “The portal to Mom’s house is open. You sure you don’t want a temporary disguise to get you through her yard?”
“I’m sure,” said Luke. “If I’m asking her for your hand, I’m doing it with my own face. Wish me luck.”
“You don’t need it,” said Marnie. She kept her smile firmly in place as he turned and walked away, and it wasn’t until she heard the faint chiming sound of the gate in the side yard being used that she allowed herself to relax into an expression of more natural concern. She stayed where she was for a few minutes more, waiting to hear if the gate opened again. It didn’t, and she finally turned, grabbed her broom from where it leaned against the door, and slung her leg over the handle, kicking away from the ground. Her magic supported her easily, lifting her up into the sky. Another kick, this one to activate the propulsion spell, and she was off.
Marnie’s life had changed dramatically since her first visit to Halloweentown, and now it was on the verge of changing again, but her love of flight had always remained the same. No matter how sad or stressed or worried she was, she could find peace on the back of a broom and in the sweet serenity of an open sky. If it hadn’t been for the broomsticks, she might have been able to resist the lure of Halloweentown when she saw how sad the magic made her mother...but once her chosen home had offered her the sky, it was all over. Nothing the mortal world could give her would ever have been able to compare.
Aggie Cromwell’s house was less than a mile from the one Marnie shared with Luke; Marnie could just as easily have walked it, and did on occasion, when she felt like she needed the exercise. With worry over Luke’s visit to Gwen gnawing at her mind, and with her own traditions to uphold, the broom seemed the better way to go.
Marnie touched down in her grandmother’s yard only a few minutes after leaving her own home, stepping nimbly off the broomstick and holding out her hand as she waited for it to return to rest position. The handle obligingly floated up to smack into her palm. Marnie slung the broom against her shoulder and started toward the door, snapping her finger as she walked. Magic swirled around her, replacing her casual at-home clothes with a brown velvet trousers, a ruffled burgundy silk shirt, and long patchwork coat in a dozen shades of autumnal red, yellow, orange and brown. Only her hat remained completely unchanged, the symbol of her place in Halloweentown.
Marnie stepped up onto the small stone porch and raised her hand to knock. The door swung open to reveal a beaming Aggie Cromwell. “Really, darling?” she asked, before leaning forward and pulling Marnie into a hug, broom and all. “Oh, Marnie, I’m so happy for you both. I’d hoped that I would live long enough to see this day.”
“Grandma?” Marnie returned the hug before pulling away and staring at her grandmother, perplexed. Aggie Cromwell looked just as she had for as long as Marnie had known her: a well-preserved woman with white hair and sparkling eyes, apparently in her late fifties, for all that she had looked that age for more than fifteen years. She would look that age for a century or more, as long as she never gave up her magic--and that was never going to happen. Cromwell women never gave up their magic. Marnie’s mother was proof of that.
Aggie beamed. “Yes, darling, it’s Grandma. Are you so happy that you’ve started forgetting faces? Why, I remember when I proposed to your grandfather. Dear Ambrosias. He never did know how to answer a simple question--”
“No! I mean, yes. I mean, I know who you are, I wasn’t confused about that, but how did you know?” Marnie shook her head. “I was coming here to tell you. Please don’t tell me the spiders are reporting back to you or something. I don’t want to have to take a broom to the rafters.”
“Marnie.” Aggie’s smile softened, becoming the faintly indulgent look she had directed at her granddaughter so many times over the years. “You’re here in traditional Halloweentown fashions, even down to the coat, alone--and it’s not that you bring Luke every time you visit, that would be silly, but most of the time it’s either jeans and a half-robe or nice clothes and your boyfriend, not very nice clothes and no boyfriend to be seen. Aside from all that, did you really think I wouldn’t notice you opening an off-season portal to the mortal world? That takes a lot of power. I know you were responsible for permanently linking the two realities, but that doesn’t mean you can open those doors willy-nilly. If you did, we would have had to talk about closing them a long time ago. Now, what finally drove you to propose?”
Marnie blinked. Several times. Finally, finding her voice, she said, “I didn’t propose, Grandma. He did.”
It was Aggie’s turn to blink. “Really? Luke? Our Luke?” Her smile faded completely, replaced by an expression of wary concern. “You are marrying Luke, aren’t you? You didn’t take leave of your senses and decide to listen to your mother about getting back together with Ethan? He’s a very nice boy in a lot of ways, but he’s never been right for you.”
“It’s Luke,” said Marnie, and the words were so perfect--so right--that she laughed and repeated them, saying, “It’s Luke. It’s always been Luke. Even when it wasn’t Luke, it was Luke. I just needed to figure that out.”
“Oh, Marnie, I’m so glad that you did,” said Aggie. Her eyes widened as the rest of the conversation caught up with her. “And he proposed to you? Really? I never thought I’d live to see the day.”
“I don’t think he necessarily meant to,” said Marnie, and explained what had happened, with the spiders weaving hearts around the edges of the room, and her pressuring Luke until he explained what he had done to trigger that behavior. Aggie was laughing by the time she finished, a sweet, welcoming sound that echoed with delight and relief.
“Oh, my darling.” Aggie reached out and took Marnie’s hands in hers, ignoring the way the broomstick complicated the gesture. A simple broomstick was no match for a determined Cromwell witch, and it somehow found itself jammed up under Marnie’s arm while Aggie squeezed her granddaughter’s fingers and beamed. “You are going to be such a beautiful bride, and you couldn’t have found yourself a better husband, not in this world or any other.”
“I know,” said Marnie. “Will you help with the wedding arrangements?”
Aggie lit up even more, something Marnie hadn’t been entirely sure was possible until it happened. “I was only waiting for you to ask. Come inside, my darling, and I’ll get out my books of the land. There’s this lovely little pumpkin patch down by the swamp that may be exactly what the witch doctor ordered...” She tugged on Marnie’s hands as she stepped backward through the open door, and Marnie laughed, and everything in Halloweentown seemed so perfect that she couldn’t imagine anything going wrong ever again.
Luke was not having nearly such a good time.
Marnie’s portal had deposited him in the backyard of the Piper house, where Gwen Piper still lived with her youngest daughter, at least until the fall, when Sophie would be following in Marnie and Dylan’s footsteps and heading off to Witch U. Like Marnie, Sophie was intending to become a fully trained Cromwell witch and devote her long, long life to the protection and custodianship of Halloweentown. (Dylan, despite being an accredited warlock, had chosen to become something called a “systems administrator,” which Luke didn’t think could be nearly as rewarding.) The people of Halloweentown who knew about Sophie’s plan were ecstatic. They hadn’t had more than two Cromwell witches to watch over them in centuries. Gwen was...well, Gwen wasn’t nearly as excited. In fact, Gwen was angry, and frequently accused Marnie of subverting her baby sister.
Luke couldn’t keep himself from thinking about all the fights he’d tried to avoid overhearing, Gwen shouting at Marnie in the cobweb draped hallways of their home until he’d been forced, once or twice, to ask her to leave their home because she was upsetting her daughter, and hence upsetting him. Gwen had always been Ethan’s biggest advocate, both when he was dating Marnie and afterward, when she still thought there might be a chance she could convince her eldest daughter to marry a man who looked human (even if he wasn’t; a warlock without magic was still a warlock, still a creature born of jack-o-lantern fire and moonlight, not a mortal man, not a mortal man at all), who would be able to give her grandchildren with pink skin and soft hair and cute button noses.
The fact that Luke couldn’t help Marnie give Gwen grandchildren of any kind hadn’t helped his case. Dylan still wasn’t dating regularly (or at all), and Sophie had calmly, without any fuss or bother, started bringing home a very handsome blue-skinned troll boy on her sixteenth birthday, like she had just been waiting for her age to be removed from the list of barriers. Marnie was really Gwen’s only shot at that flavor of normalcy, and while Luke knew that she had never really been a good candidate for “the normal child,” Gwen kept refusing to see it.
He hesitated on the back porch, his hand raised to knock. Would Gwen actually give her consent for the marriage, or would she see this as the death knell of her hopes and dreams for Marnie? Gwen had been a Cromwell witch for decades before she chose a life in the mortal world. On some level, she might have been waiting for Marnie to wake up one morning and follow in her mother’s footsteps.
There was only one way to find out. Luke took a deep breath and knocked. Silence followed, and then the sound of running footsteps, accompanied by Sophie’s voice--no longer the sweet childhood soprano that he still heard sometimes, chanting in his dreams, but a warm teenage contralto--shouting, “I’ve got it, Mom!”
The door swung open. Sophie stood framed in the doorway, blinking at him. Her eyes traveled the length of his body, from his shock of orange hair, down to his undisguised olive skin, and along his overly nice suit to the polished sheen of his green leather shoes. Then they swung back up again, and Sophie pronounced judgment: “You look like an evil leprechaun. You know, from one of those bad movies they always play around Halloween. Did you bring me a pot of gold?”
“I did not bring you a pot of gold, no,” said Luke, and smiled a little. “Is your mother home?” He knew Gwen was home, he’d heard Sophie shouting at her, but there were forms to be observed, rules to be followed, manners to be maintained, and that meant that he had to ask. Even though he didn’t want to. Even though really, he wanted to ask Sophie if he could marry her sister, get an answer (which he knew would be a “yes,” out of all the Pipers, Sophie was the one who had always supported his relationship with Marnie), and then run off home before he had to do anything as terrifying as talking to Gwen. Even though all of that was true, he still needed to go through with things. For Marnie’s sake...and for his sake, too. Because he wanted this marriage as he had wanted very little else in his life.
Very little else, except for Marnie.
Sophie blinked when he asked the question. This time, her slow contemplation of what he was wearing began at his shoes and ended at his hair, which had clearly been brushed, or at least shown a brush, before he had entered the portal. Her eyes went wide. “Oh my gosh she asked you to marry her, didn’t she?” she squeaked.
“No!” Luke protested, before adding abashedly, “I asked her. I didn’t think she’d say yes, and now I have to talk to your mother. I need to get permission.”
“Uh.” Sophie grimaced. “You know this is Mom you’re talking about here, right?”
“I do.” Luke shrugged, his own grimace mirroring her own. “But this is what tradition says I’m supposed to do. If Marnie’s going to marry me, I want it to be according to the rules her family is supposed to uphold. That means I have to at least ask her mother.”
“And if she says no?”
Luke hesitated. Gwen saying no wasn’t his greatest fear, not really; he had plenty of fears that were worse, beginning with Marnie leaving him at the altar and then moving on into wicker men and human (or goblin) sacrifices and hysterical laughter from the guests. But Gwen refusing his suit was pretty high up there.
“I’ll be upset,” he said finally. “I’ll probably cry. I’ll definitely go home and have a big fight with your sister, because she doesn’t think I should be here in the first place, and having Gwen tell me that we can’t get married would just sort of prove that Marnie was right and I shouldn’t have come. And then I’ll marry Marnie anyway, because tradition isn’t more important than being in love with her.” They were brave words. He looked at them and realized that he liked them even more for being brave, and for being his. Marnie had always been able to bring out the bravery in him.
“Okay,” said Sophie. “I guess you’d better come in. Mom’s in the living room.” She stepped to the side, allowing Luke to walk past her into the house. She didn’t follow him. Instead, she stepped out onto the porch, shutting the back door behind herself, and sat down on the step. The concrete was cool through her thin denim jeans. She hugged her knees to her chest and looked at the empty air where a portal must have been, for Luke to be here. She thought she could almost see its echoes in the air.
It looked like the future. It looked like a time and place where she could be with Lurie always, and no one would care that one of them was a human and one of them was a troll, or if people did care, they would at least keep their mouths shut about it. It looked like freedom.
Sophie sighed, and put her chin down on her knees, and hoped that Marnie’s freedom was going to last.
“Ms. Piper?” Luke poked his head around the corner into the living room, shying away from the open drapes, even though he knew Marnie had enchanted the front window years ago. Anyone looking in from the street would see him in his old human disguise, the one he hadn’t asked her to cast for him since she took him to her senior prom. “It’s Luke.”
“Luke.” Gwen looked up from the pile of towels that she was folding, expression closing down like a slamming door when she saw what he was wearing. She sat up a little straighter, the washcloth she was holding slipping from her fingers and fluttering, unremarked, to the floor. “I see. Is it a death, a birth, or a wedding?”
“Ma’am?” Luke took a step into the living room, uncertainty writ large across his face. “I...I am here today because I have something I very much need to ask you.”
“Ah. A wedding, then.” Gwen began removing the towels from her lap, stacking them neatly to either side of you. “Marnie didn’t send you here.”
“You came here against her wishes, I assume; she knows what I think of her current lifestyle. She wouldn’t have asked you to come here.”
“No, ma’am.” Luke took another step into the room, stopping in front of the door and folding his hands in front of himself. It would keep him from fidgeting more than he was already inclined to do. “She knows what you think of it, and so do I. I guess the only thing I don’t know is why you feel that way.”
Gwen’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean?”
“I mean I know your mother, and I know how much she loves you. I wasn’t around when you were still in Halloweentown, but I’ve spoken to some of the old goblins, and all of them say that you were a really great witch. Are a really great witch, I mean. Some of them don’t even realize that you’re gone.” Luke paused uncomfortably, aware that he was losing control of the topic, but not quite sure how to get it back. It seemed like barreling straight ahead was the best way to find an exit, and so that was the solution he chose. “They, uh, don’t get out much, and most of them think the mortal world still has outdoor plumbing.”
“Most of Halloweentown still has outdoor plumbing,” said Gwen. “You answered your own question. When you ask the old goblins about me, what do they say? They say I was a great witch. They say I was a Cromwell. They probably say I look a lot like my mother did when she was young, don’t they? Even though I never looked a thing like her in my life, they still say I’m her spitting image, because that’s all they ever saw. They looked at me and saw a useful tool, something they could use to keep themselves safe. They never saw Gwendolyn Cromwell as an individual. I was a legacy. I was a pet. You wonder why I want Marnie to give up magic and come home? It’s because I want her to be allowed to be Marnie. Whoever that is.”
“But she is Marnie,” said Luke slowly. So many things were starting to make sense--why Gwen was always so willing to re-embrace her magic when her children were in danger, and why she always set it aside again the moment the danger was past, pretending that she hadn’t enjoyed the dance of power through her hands, even though anyone with eyes could clearly see how much she’d loved it. “She can’t be anyone but Marnie, because that’s who she is.”
“Are you really going to stand there and tell me that she was never ‘the Cromwell girl’ to you? Because I think we both know that you’d be lying.” The challenge in Gwen’s tone was cold and angry, laid naked to the world.
Luke swallowed hard. “No,” he said. Gwen blinked. Apparently, she’d been expecting him to lie anyway, to feed the fire of her anger...but he wouldn’t do that. Not here, not now, not when he was asking for permission. “When she first showed up in Halloweentown, I was working for Kalabar, and he’d told me to watch for her. He would have been happier if she’d been you. It was always about you, for him. And not because you were a Cromwell, either. You know, I’d been working for him for months before I learned that you were Aggie’s daughter? That was when I realized that your daughter would have to be a Cromwell. And then I met her, and...”
And it was all over. Marnie had changed his world forever just by stepping off the bus, all bright eyes and wonder. Before her, Halloweentown had never been anything but the place he lived: he’d been so busy trying to survive, trying to find a way to distance himself from the goblin heritage he’d never asked for or desired, that he hadn’t bothered to fall in love with his own homeland. Marnie had loved it enough for both of them, at first, and when he’d fallen in love with her, he’d fallen in love with Halloweentown almost accidentally. She loved it, so it must be worth loving.
It had taken him a long time to apply that same logic to himself.
Gwen shook her head. “I wanted more for her than that. I wanted more for all of my children than that. Being just another Cromwell...it doesn’t make you special. It makes you replaceable. Cromwell witches have always been interchangeable to the people of Halloweentown.”
“You weren’t interchangeable to Kalabar,” Luke protested. “Marnie isn’t interchangeable to me.”
There was a long pause before Gwen asked, incredulously, “Did you really mean to equate yourself with Kalabar just now?”
Luke shook his head, cheeks burning a deep pitch green. “No. It just sort of came out that way. But I guess the point is valid. Marnie isn’t just another Cromwell witch. She’s Marnie. I want to marry her because of who she is, not because of her family or her powers or anything like that. I just...I just want to spend my whole life waking up and knowing that I got to marry my best friend. Isn’t that what marriage is supposed to be about?”
“Luke...” Gwen stopped herself before she could go any further. Pinching the bridge of her nose with her left hand, she said, “I know you came here to ask me for my blessing. I can’t give it to you. I almost wish I could, because I know you mean well, I know you love her, and I know you’ll never hurt her on purpose. But you’re a goblin, Luke. You’re not going to give my little girl a normal life.”
“With all due respect, ma’am, I think your idea of a normal life and Marnie’s idea of a normal life aren’t even a little bit the same,” said Luke slowly. “If you’re not willing to give us your blessing, are you at least willing to refrain from giving us your curse?”
Gwen actually laughed. “You know, I asked William’s mother that, when she said she wasn’t sure she could support her son marrying a woman he’d only just met. She looked at me like I’d lost my mind. I don’t think she ever stopped thinking of me as a little bit strange, because I was the girl who’d said ‘will you please refrain from cursing my marriage’ when she said she wanted us to wait.”
“Okay,” said Luke, uncertainly.
“I mean no, Luke: no, I will not curse your marriage. If I’m living by mortal rules, that means I can’t pick and choose which parts of my heritage I’m going to hold to. I won’t bless the marriage. I won’t curse it either.”
“Oh,” said Luke, with substantially more enthusiasm. “Well, um, thank you. For not cursing us, and everything. Does that...does that mean I have your permission to marry your daughter?”
Gwen hesitated. Luke held his breath. This was the moment that mattered, more than talk of blessings (which could be useful, but were not required) or curses (which could be painful, but were not necessarily the end of the world). He’d meant it when he’d told Sophie that he would marry Marnie no matter what. At the same time, he was a child of Halloweentown and its traditions, and upholding those traditions mattered to him, on a level that was deeper and more intrinsic than he liked to consider. Gwen was Marnie’s only living parent, and an integral part of the Cromwell line. Without her permission, marrying her daughter would feel wrong.
“Yes,” said Gwen finally. “I don’t like it. I’m sorry, Luke. But I won’t tell you not to marry her. I’ve never questioned your love for her. Just how much of that love was for Marnie, and not for some Cromwell ideal.”
“It’s all for Marnie, always,” said Luke firmly. “Thank you for letting me marry your daughter. I promise I’ll do my best to do right by her, and I hope you’ll come to the wedding even if you can’t bless it.”
Gwen smiled. “My little girl is getting married. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Marnie was waiting when Luke got home, stepping through the waiting portal and into the sweet bonfire-scented air of their backyard. She looked at him. He smiled. And then she flung herself, laughing, into his arms, and he carried her inside, and everything was perfect, at least for a little while.
Perfection doesn’t last.
Planning a wedding is a difficult thing even when everyone involved is human, and living in the same dimension. Planning a wedding that involved the traditions of two different realities and two different species was complicated to the point of seeming impossible, especially with all of Halloweentown looking on (and expecting to be invited to what was very clearly going to be the event of the social season). Six months after getting the necessary permissions from everyone involved, Luke and Marnie slumped, exhausted, at the kitchen table, staring at the piles of paper and parchment that had overrun their eating space.
“Grandma says the pumpkins will be ripe soon,” said Marnie, still staring at the piles of paper. “She says a pumpkin patch wedding is really lucky.”
“I like the pumpkin patch,” Luke agreed. “But how many people can we fit inside it?”
“Not enough.” Marnie allowed her head to thud forward onto the table. “Not enough. The only place that’s big enough to hold everyone who expects to be invited is the town square. I don’t want to get married in the town square, Luke. That is the opposite of where I want to get married. I’d rather run away to Vegas and get married by a man dressed as Elvis.”
“You want to get married by an elf impersonator?” asked Luke blankly. “Why not just get a real elf to do it? There’s less chance of accidentally offending the Queen of Faerie if we get a real elf. Also they work for cookies. We could pay for the ceremony with three trays of snickerdoodles, and have pumpkin gingersnaps left over.”
Marnie lifted her head long enough to stare at him before allowing it to thump audibly back down onto the table. “Not elves, Elvis,” she said. “He was a rock and roll singer in the mortal world before I was born. Lots of people impersonate him for a living. Some of them perform marriages, mostly in a place called ‘Las Vegas.’ You’d like it there. Neither one of us would need to dress up.”
“I have no idea what that means, but cool.” Luke looked glumly at the piles of paper. “Suggest that again after I’ve talked to the florist.”
“I’m not allowed to just magic up all the flowers and garlands and scarecrows and stuff because...?”
“Because there’s a florist,” said Luke. They had had this particular exchange at least twenty times in the last two days, about various parts of the wedding planning process. “A Cromwell wedding is supposed to support the local economy, not undermine it by reminding people that magic makes money and jobs and stuff sort of silly.”
Marnie mumbled something into the table that Luke suspected was neither healthy nor good for the prospects of the local economy, which would probably not enjoy being transformed into an equal volume of frogs.
Luke leaned back in his chair. “This is getting us nowhere.” It had been getting them nowhere for months. Every time they started making headway, they wound up looping back around to another discussion of the venue, or the catering, or how many belladonna flowers tradition demanded Marnie carry in her bouquet versus how many belladonna flowers were actually healthy for a human to be anywhere near. He was starting to feel like Gwen hadn’t cursed the wedding because she was too busy cursing the engagement.
“It’s like going trick or treating and coming home with a pillowcase full of snakes,” Marnie agreed, lifting her head enough to make herself understood. No further. The whole table shook when her forehead impacted with it again.
“Please don’t hurt yourself,” said Luke automatically. He sounded distracted enough that Marnie actually sat up, to find him staring off into space with a poleaxed expression on his slack green face. Even his eyes looked faintly unfocused, like someone had disconnected him from some unspoken power source.
Marnie blinked. “Luke...?”
“Trick or treat,” he said. His eyes focused as he began to grin, suddenly looking at her again. “You’re a genius and I love you and we’re getting married in the pumpkin patch.”
“Trick or treat!” Luke jumped out of his seat and ran out the back door, leaving Marnie blinking after him, and feeling more perplexed than ever.
Slowly, Marnie got to her feet and followed her husband-to-be’s path out of the house. She found him at the far edge of the back yard, standing on the stepladder they used for harvesting apples from the four trees that constituted their home orchard. He was holding the bottom of his shirt with one hand, forming a makeshift basket. (Being a land of eternal autumn, the apple trees in Halloweentown were always in the process of bearing fruit, and no matter how many apples were picked on any given day, the trees always managed to replenish themselves by morning. It was just one more piece of magic that Marnie didn’t fully understand, coming as she did from the mortal world, but which she had learned not to question. Besides, there was always cider, and there was no way to see that as a bad thing.) As she watched, Luke pulled three apples off the tree and added them to the growing pile in his shirt.
“Luke?” she said, carefully. “What are you doing?”
“Picking apples,” Luke gleefully replied. “Grab a basket and help me. We’re going to need about six hundred. Do you have a spell that can make apples smaller? I should probably have asked you that before I started doing this. Sorry about that.” He picked two more.
Marnie stared up at him. “Oh sweet Samhain, you’ve snapped under the pressure of the wedding planning. Honey, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be asking you to do so much of it. Come down. I’ll call my mother to help us out.”
Luke stopped picking apples in order to focus on gaping down at her in utter disbelief. “Okay, first, I’m doing as much to help with the wedding as I am because it’s my wedding too. I want to be involved. I need to be involved. You don’t get to do this one by yourself, Marnie Piper, no matter how much your need to save the world every twenty minutes tells you that you should. Second...” He climbed down from the stepladder, careful not to drop his newly-harvested apples, and stood in front of her, virtually nose-to-nose, as he continued, “Why would you think that having your mother show up would make me less stressed about the wedding planning? I keep waiting for her to call and tell me that she sent an invitation to Ethan!”
“She didn’t invite Ethan to our wedding,” said Marnie. Luke blinked, an expression of profound relief flashing across his face. “I did.”
The relief died. “Marnie--”
“We’re still friends,” Marnie said. “I understand why you don’t like him, and I don’t blame you or anything, but I’m not going to forbid him to come to my wedding, just like I wouldn’t tell you not to invite any of your ex-girlfriends.”
“I don’t have any ex-girlfriends,” said Luke, and sighed. “You’re right, I’m sorry, and I’m trying to be less grumpy about Ethan, I honestly am. I just don’t like him.”
“I’m not asking you to like him,” said Marnie. “I’m just asking you to let him have a piece of wedding cake. Now why do you want me to shrink a bunch of apples? I don’t think throwing them at people is going to solve our seating problems.”
“Yes, it will!” said Luke, brightening as he returned to his original reason for being in the backyard. “There are six hundred creatures living in Halloweentown, give or take a few, right? And we have room to seat eighty in the pumpkin patch, including our friends and family.”
“Which means we have room to seat sixty in the pumpkin patch,” said Marnie. She hadn’t stayed in touch with many of the people she’d gone to school with; something about them thinking that staying in Halloweentown to act as guardian to the gates instead of going on to a glorious career in the magical world was “provincial” and “dull.” Marnie didn’t really mind their opinions. If it was provincial and dull, it was still her life, and it made it a lot easier to know who to avoid.
“Right. So you shrink the apples, and use a spell to turn sixty of them black, and the rest white, and then we invite everyone to come for a wedding invitation trick or treat. If you get a black apple, you get a seat at the wedding, and if you get a white apple, you don’t.” Luke beamed. “We do a private reception right after the ceremony, and then a big blow-out Halloween party reception in the town square a week later. Everybody feels like we’re being fair, it’s totally in the spirit of what the Cromwells have always meant for this town, and best of all, we’re using a format that we don’t have to explain!”
Marnie stared at him in growing wonder. “Everyone understands trick or treat. Everyone will respect that sort of lottery.”
“Yes!” Luke nodded enthusiastically. “So what do you say?”
“I say we’re going to need another ladder,” said Marnie, and turned and ran back toward the house.
The citizens of Halloweentown might have been ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties and things that went bump in the night, but they had a great deal of respect for tradition, and it didn’t get much more traditional than trick or treat. Although there was some grumbling (naturally) about the lottery system for wedding invitations, no one actually dared to tell Marnie and Luke that they wouldn’t participate. Cromwell weddings being open to the public was tradition, yes, but trick or treat? Trick or treat was virtually holy. One open evening, with hot pumpkin cider and cookies for all who showed up, and they finally had a guest list that could fit inside the confines of the pumpkin patch that had been selected to host the ceremony.
Now all that remained was everything else that had to be accomplished before the wedding could happen--and since setting a guest list had also required them to set a date, Luke and Marnie found themselves in the sudden, unenviable position of having less time than they’d expected to accomplish more fuss and bother than either of them had ever felt necessary in their lives.
“Why--?” asked Marnie, virtually every morning, as she and Luke pushed past each other in the hall.
“Because we have a florist,” he would answer dolefully, and go rushing off to whatever small errand was currently demanding his time. The caterer needed answers on the type of appetizers they’d be serving; the much-maligned florist needed to know how many swamp roses they wanted; the people who were handling the chair and table rentals--which Luke agreed was a silly thing to need when Marnie could easily have turned a few dozen pumpkins into perfectly serviceable dining sets--needed their deposit and confirmation of the seating plan. It just went on and on and on. At least, as the goblin of the pair, Luke could get away with wearing a nice tuxedo. Even better, the seamstress in town knew better than to expect Cromwell business to come her way. The witches had always been sweet, supportive, and seriously firm about the fact that they did all their own wedding dress design. If Marnie didn’t like his tux, or if it didn’t go with her wedding dress, she could just fix it herself.
It was nice to know that at least one small aspect of wedding planning wasn’t theirs to screw up. Luke kept that thought firmly in mind as he set off for the bakery, for one more round of cake samples and arguing about cake toppers. (The baker thought that using a traditional goblin poppet to represent Luke on their delicious baked symbol of eternal fidelity would be just fine. Luke thought Marnie would probably turn the baker into a pig or something if he rolled out a cake with a beautifully sculpted Marnie and a lumpy green “really it’s supposed to be Luke” on top. The conversation was ongoing.)
Marnie, meanwhile, was off for an unpleasant afternoon of her own, although hers would involve fewer knives and less pastry. She arrived at her grandmother’s house five minutes late and breezed inside without knocking, calling, “Grandma, I’m here!”
“You’re late,” said Dylan.
Marnie jumped, whirling toward the sound of her brother’s voice. “Dylan? Dylan!” Her first impulse was to run over and hug him. She quashed it. Dylan wasn’t demonstrative like that--he never had been--and while there was a chance that he was in Halloweentown to be a loving, supportive brother, there was also a chance he was there to try to talk her out of marrying Luke. Having half her family opposed to the magical world, even though both of them had graduated Witch U. and cast their fair share of spells, was more than a little nerve-wracking at times. “What are you doing here?”
“Grandma called and said that you needed help scoping out the venue, and that she didn’t want to go tromping around in the mud if she didn’t have to.” Dylan unfolded himself from the couch. It took a while. Of the three Piper children, he was the one who had inherited their father’s not inconsiderable height: he towered over both his sisters, something that would have seemed impossible when they were children. “She also said you were anxious about calling me for help. Something about my ‘anti-magic prejudices’ making you jumpy. Come on, Marn. You know I like Luke.”
“Now,” said Marnie. “You like Luke now. You used to call him a green weirdo.”
“I was fifteen,” said Dylan. “I was allowed to be a jerk.”
“And when you were nineteen?”
Dylan rolled his eyes. “You were my sister. I didn’t want you dating anybody. Having you date someone who wasn’t human was even worse. It wasn’t about Luke.”
“It wasn’t?” Marnie raised an eyebrow. “Ethan wasn’t human either, and you were a lot cooler about me dating him.”
“Yeah, because I wanted to be dating him,” Dylan shot back.
Marnie froze, blinking repeatedly. Dylan lifted his chin and glowered at her, daring her to say anything. Finally, she asked, “So you’re...?”
“You’d know, if you ever left Halloweentown for anything short of the end of the world.” Dylan shook his head. “I always have been. It just took me a long time to admit it to myself.” He might have come out sooner, if not for the magic. For Marnie and Sophie, magic was a great gift from the universe, something that made them special. For him, it was a punishment, a way of forcing him to reveal his freakishness to the world before he was ready to admit it to himself. By the time he’d realized that being a warlock and being gay were just parts of who he was, not scarlet letters meant to keep him separate from the rest of humanity, he and Marnie had been well and truly committed to their paths in life, and those paths didn’t really intersect.
Marnie blinked again. Then she shrugged, and asked, “Do you need Ethan’s number?”
“I already have it,” said Dylan. His smile contained more teeth than seemed anatomically possible. “He needed a date for the wedding. I was available. And I’ve always liked blond guys.”
Marnie blinked for a third time. Then, helplessly, she began to laugh. “Oh my gosh,” she managed to choke out. “You have just become Luke’s favorite brother-in-law.”
Planning a wedding was a lot like planning a Halloween ball: it was a seemingly insurmountable task at the beginning, but bit by bit, as to do lists and vendors chipped away at the mountain of things to be accomplished, the whole thing began to look like it was actually achievable. Then it began to look as if it were actually inevitable, like the world had just been waiting for the chance to set this marriage into motion, rolling it inexorably into the future, until all chances to back out were firmly in the past.
Marnie adjusted Luke’s tie one final time, holding onto the corners perhaps a bit longer than she needed to, and leaned forward to rest her forehead against his chest. “This is it,” she said. “If you want to change your mind, this is when you do it, because once I put my dress on, you’re going to marry me.”
“Then go put your dress on.” Luke reached down and put a hand under her chin, tugging gently. Marnie allowed her head to be lifted, looking up until she saw Luke smiling at her. His eyes were a little too bright to be explained by the cobweb-festooned chandelier. Marnie didn’t say anything. He wasn’t the only one on the verge of bursting into tears. “I’m going to marry you, Marnie Piper, and at this point it would take an act of vengeful sorcery to stop me.”
“Please don’t say that,” said Marnie. “I know how things work for us. You invoke an act of vengeful sorcery, and then an act of vengeful sorcery happens, and we probably wind up married anyway, but in the meanwhile, a whole lot of really nice pumpkin ravioli goes uneaten.”
“Maybe one of us will get turned into a scarecrow and stuck in some remote corn field while the other wanders amnesiac and wondering what’s missing,” said Luke.
“Or one of us could get turned into a whole flock of crows,” Marnie said, and leaned up to kiss his chin. “No dark sorcery. No hidden castles or enchanted trinkets or anybody getting transformed into anything, ever again. We’ve been there, done that, and we’re finished. I don’t want to be a swamp monster or a broken sword or a bowl of candy.”
“Well, I don’t want to be a questing hero, so we’re good there,” said Luke. He smiled. “I just want to be here, right now, with you. Getting married to the witch I love.”
“Ah, good, I had hoped I would find you here.” Aggie’s voice was followed by a quick knock. Luke and Marnie turned, both blushing, to see her standing in the open door leading to the hallway. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but what with your current topic of conversation, this seemed like a good time to give you my wedding gift.”
Luke blinked. “Aren’t we supposed to get those after we’re married?”
“Yes and no. It’s always been tradition that the head of the Cromwell line gives his or her gift in private. Keeps everyone else from feeling like they’re not measuring up.” Aggie walked quickly across the room to the pair, her skirts swirling madly with every step. She was wearing a deep burgundy gown, accented with drops of topaz and tourmaline, and a pale gray cloak trimmed in goose feathers. She looked both timeless and out of time, like she had been pulled from a fairy tale and thrust, somehow, into their home. It was an impression that only grew stronger when she reached into her pocket and pulled out a string of tiny bottles, all of them green glass, plugged with cork, and glowing like tiny stars.
Aggie held the string of bottles out toward her bemused granddaughter and soon-to-be grandson-in-law, and smiled. “As the head of the Cromwell line, I have blessed and approved this union. Luke, you have always loved Marnie more than anything else in the world, and that’s the sort of thing a grandmother wants for her darling granddaughter. And Marnie. You are better with Luke. He makes you realize how brave you are. I couldn’t have asked for a better match for you, or for you to find a better man. But he isn’t a warlock, or even a human. I have to think of the line.”
“Grandma...” said Marnie warningly.
“I’m not here to poison him, or to try to convince you not to go through with it; that would be silly. And this isn’t one of those foolish Disney films your sister used to love so much. I’m not going to turn him into a handsome prince.”
“Good,” said Marnie, taking Luke’s hand. “He’s already a handsome prince to me.”
She meant it, too; Aggie could tell by her tone. Beauty had always been in the eye of the beholder, and what Marnie saw when she looked at her green skinned, hook nosed suitor was more than beautiful. It was perfect. Excellent. That would make this easier. “That’s as it should be,” said Aggie. “But my darlings, there’s the matter of children to be considered, and as the head of the Cromwell family, it’s my job to remind you of that consideration. Maybe not tomorrow, but someday, you’re going to want children.”
Marnie bit her lip, and didn’t say anything. Luke, who had often thought that the one true tragedy of Marnie choosing him over Ethan was that there would be no more little Marnies in the world, didn’t say anything either.
Aggie gave the string of bottles a little shake. They chimed like bells when they knocked against each other. “One night,” she said. “Each of these is good for one night.”
“One night...?” asked Marnie.
Luke, who was occasionally quicker on the uptake when it came to things like this, having been raised in a world where “impossible” was the only impossibility, stared at Aggie. “Why do we need twelve?”
“Because unless you got very frisky with my thirteen year old granddaughter, which I doubt, or while we were all under a curse, which I also doubt, you’ve never been intimate while in a human body.” Aggie raised her free hand in a “stop” gesture. “If I’m wrong, I don’t want to know: it’s none of my business what you two get up to in the bedroom. But every body is different, even if it’s very similar to your original, and you may have trouble the first few times you try. Twelve should be enough to get you as many children as you want to have, while not being so many that you run the risk of becoming addicted to a skin that’s not your own. I remember what Kalabar offered you, Luke. I don’t want it to seem like I’m offering it to you again, or because I’m ashamed of seeing a goblin with my granddaughter.”
“It doesn’t seem like that at all,” said Luke gravely, and took the string. “Thank you, Aggie.”
“No, dear,” she said. “Thank you. Now both of you, hurry up! We have a wedding to attend!” She turned and hurried out of the room, leaving them staring after her, Luke still holding the string of bright bottles in his hands.
“Luke?” said Marnie, finally.
“Do you want kids?”
“Yeah.” Luke began to grin. “Do you?”
Marnie’s kiss was answer enough.
The sun was setting over the pumpkin patch. The sun had been setting over the pumpkin patch for the better part of an hour: with this many witches, warlocks, sorcerers, wizards, and other magic users in attendance, the sun was going to stay up, tinting the sky the precise right shade of orange trending into rose, until they decided it was time for night to fall. Fireflies and globes of eerie green flame had been strung around the patch, held up by grinning scarecrows wearing flower crowns or tangled in the branches of trees, and the amount of light they gave off was improbably high. Magic again, making everything better. That was what magic was for, at least if you asked these people, in this place, on this perfect and enchanted night.
An owl screeched in the distant wood as Luke took his place in front of the altar. Aggie was already there, Merlin’s spellbook held against her chest like the precious talisman it was. Dylan moved to stand behind him, filling the role of groomsman in his black tailcoat and orange vest. Luke’s tuxedo was white, that being the only color everyone had been absolutely certain wouldn’t clash with his hair, or skin, or Marnie’s dress; his vest and the lily on his lapel were orange, and while they did clash with his hair, a bit, no one was going to say anything.
“I think I’m going to pass out,” muttered Luke.
“Good thing Sophie charmed your jacket against mud stains,” said Dylan, with no trace of sympathy. “Just try to keep breathing, okay? And don’t faint on me. I don’t want to catch you.”
“I can already tell you’re going to be the best brother ever,” Luke said. He might have continued, but the organist (a very nice hitchhiking ghost who had agreed to play at the wedding for a modest fee, a coat, and a ride back to her grave) brought her hands down on the keys, and an expectant hush fell over the crowd. Everyone twisted in their seats to look toward the house. Luke swallowed, becoming even more certain that he was going to lose consciousness right there in front of Aggie, Dylan, and everyone.
Sophie came out first, wearing a black and orange bridesmaids dress, clutching a bouquet of hemlock and lilies, with Gwen’s hand resting lightly on her arm. She walked her mother to a seat, kissed her cheek, and took her place on the other side of the altar, beaming at Luke and Dylan. Luke swallowed, and tried to focus on breathing.
The music changed tempo, and Marnie drifted down from above.
Maybe it wasn’t customary for the bride to ride in sitting sidesaddle on a broomstick, but this was Marnie, and if this wasn’t a custom, it should have been, because there had never been a more beautiful bride; not as far as Luke was concerned. Marnie was always beautiful, but this...there was magic in weddings, and enough magic in a Cromwell wedding to change the world. He hoped the world wouldn’t change too much. He liked it just the way it was.
Marnie’s dress was orange at the bottom and paled as it went higher, culminating in an ice-white bodice covered in tiny crystals that flung back the light of the sunset until they blazed. Orange lilies and black roses were braided into her hair, matching the bouquet--although minus the belladonna--that Benny handed to her when she touched down. Her feet were bare. That was traditional, for Cromwell girls, keeping them rooted to the soil. It was also traditional for goblin girls, and the sight of her toes peeking out under the hem of her dress made Luke’s heart give a lurch. It was perfect. She was perfect.
The music continued as Marnie walked the rest of the way down the aisle to her waiting, wide-eyed groom. She stepped into place, smiling up at him, and while Luke would have sworn he would never forget a moment of that night, he didn’t really remember the vows that they exchanged. All he remembered was Marnie, his Marnie, smiling her jack-o-lantern smile at him while the sun, finally allowed to go about its business, slipped beneath the horizon. Nothing caught fire. Nothing exploded. No one was sent on any impossible quests, or transformed into anything unpleasant. Gwen smiled from her place next to Sophie. Ethan smiled from his place in the audience. No one interfered. It was perfect.
The question of last names had been easily answered: Luke didn’t have one, not in the human sense, and while Marnie missed her father, she wasn’t really a Piper anymore. She was home. Aggie lowered the spellbook and beamed, announcing, “Marnie and Luke Cromwell, I now pronounce you husband and wife.” The crowd cheered and applauded. Even Gwen.
“Luke,” said Marnie, looking amused.
“Hmm?” said Luke.
“You may now kiss the bride,” she said.
And so he did.