It was in the early hours of a cold November morning in the magical settlement of Tinworth when three (and a half, never forget the half) year old Marcus Flint sat at the breakfast table with his father, scowling at the bowl of porridge before him. His nose scrunched up at the foul smell wafting from it as he prodded his too large spoon in the too thick gruel. This sure wasn’t how his mum usually made his breakfast.
In fact, the whole morning was vastly different from his usual routine. His mum still wasn’t home from her visit to their neighbours. Because of this, he hadn’t woken up to their ‘wake-up’ song, was forced to dress for the day before breakfast, and the worst of all, he had to eat this. All by himself. He wanted the sausages and eggs, and he wanted his mum to feed him with those silly noises.
“Daddy?” When his father, William Flint, slightly lowered his newspaper, Marcus held up his spoon in askance.
“You’re a big boy now, Marcus. You can eat by yourself,” was his surly reply before he disappeared behind the Prophet, shaking his head and muttering to himself.
Not satisfied with his father’s answer, Marcus’ scowl deepened and he dropped his spoon back in the bowl. His lower lip stuck out in a pout as he crossed his arms.
“I want my Mummy,” he demanded.
Will grumbled something along the lines of ‘we both do’, but didn’t bother with forming an intelligible reply. Like Marcus, he was having a god-awful day. Dealing with an overly demanding three-year-old so early in the morning wasn't a part of his daily routine, and it showed. Usually, his wife, Sally, dealt with their son for the better part of the morning until he'd woken up properly. This, in short, meant that he needed a pot of coffee first to build up enough patience to keep up with a very rambunctious little boy.
“Bring Mummy!” Marcus ordered when his father kept on ignoring him. There were a few things -well, a lot of things- he didn’t like and being ignored was one of them. Mummy knew that. She'd never ignore him or laugh at him from behind the newspaper like his father was doing.
“Now!” He pushed his bowl away, sending the spoon flying and sloshing half of the gruel on the table.
The laughter died in his throat and sighing deeply, Will lowered his newspaper. For a brief moment, he regretted giving into his wife’s need to have ‘another one’ two days after they had sent their youngest off to Hogwarts. Out of all his five children, Marcus was by far the most spoilt and challenging one. He loved the boy to death, but sometimes…
“She’ll come home as soon as Auntie Grace had her baby.”
‘Gods, come back soon,’ Will wished silently. He'd heard the babe's first cries hours ago, long before an indignant Marcus had stared at him from his newly built big boy bed as he demanded to know where his mum was. Like his son, Will didn't understand what took Sally so long. Even with all the possible birthing trouble one could encounter, it made no sense for her to stay out this long.
‘She’s probably still mad at you for forgetting her birthday and this is her way of punishing you,’ he mused and picked up his newspaper again.
Marcus grumbled at the mention of the baby. He liked their neighbour, Missus Bell - or Auntie Grace as he called her. The pretty lady was always kind to him. He loved it when she smiled at him or ruffled his hair whenever she came over for tea. And the most important; she always had Chocolate Frogs and Cauldron Cakes ready. She even had cuddles waiting for him whenever his mum got cross with him for being naughty.
Her having a new baby didn’t sit well with him, not one bit. Because not only it'd take her attention away from him, but he found it strange that she had swallowed one to begin with. And now – as his sisters had explained last summer when he asked why their neighbour had got fat- Auntie Grace had to poop it out. Couldn’t she just have planted the seed in the ground or a flower pot?
However, Marcus’ biggest concern about the baby was for it to come out as horrible as Michael Bell, Auntie Grace’s son, was. The stupid boy always pushed him to the ground and took his toys when no one was looking, all because he was older and bigger.
No, Marcus didn’t like Michael at all. He was already plotting payback for later when he'd be bigger and stronger than him. But that wasn't the problem. His father had hidden behind his newspaper again, ignoring him.
“I want Muh-hummy noooow.” He violently wriggled in his seat, making the chair legs screech over the tile floor to attract attention. When his dad slammed the Prophet on the table, his lips curled up into a sly smile; he'd achieved his goal.
“Stop it right now,” Will warned his son, waggling a big finger. When he was confident that Marcus got the message, he picked up his paper again. “Now, be a good boy and eat your porridge.”
In hindsight, Will should have known that the huffing and puffing were enough warning signs to keep a closer eye on little Marcus. The boy took scowling to whole new levels. While his nagging could get bad at times, you needed to start worrying when he kept quiet. That had never boded well before for the one he believed had wronged him.
Like last September when he had cut off Lexie's plaits the middle of the night before she was due to return to Hogwarts, all because she had refused to give him her ice cream the day before.
By the time Will remembered that lesson, Marcus had already hopped off his chair and was now hopping up and down by the kitchen door to reach the handle.
“Marcus William Flint, come here this instant!” Will bellowed as he jumped up. Sally would have his head if he lost their son. Again. Sadly, it wouldn’t be the first time Marcus had made a run for it under his care.
Marcus looked over his shoulder with narrowed eyes and stuck his tongue out before he jumped up again to reach the handle. He succeeded at it at the exact same moment his father lunged at him. His flailing coal shovels sized hands missed him by a hair length and as fast as his skinny legs were able to carry him, Marcus made a run for it into the cold, misty morning.
Will rubbed his face in indecision as he watched his scrawny son flee into the Bells’ back garden straight through the leafless shrubbery. He knew that he ought to chase after him and bring him back by his ear. However, the prospect of a nice quiet breakfast was an alluring one. Finally, he decided that facing his wife’s wrath was worth the limited quiet time he'd have and settled down for another fresh cuppa.
Marcus’ mouth stood open in a perfectly shaped ‘O’ as he watched the scene before him. His mummy, the one he had been waiting for all morning while facing near-starvation, was busy feeding Michael and his dad, Uncle John. The eggs and sausages he still craved so much were on their plates instead of in his tummy.
Sally Flint, usually a no-nonsense woman, cringed when she heard her son’s shocked voice. Cursing her husband under her breath for letting Marcus escape and thwart her plans to unwind for an hour or so with the new father and brother after the intense night they had, she slowly turned around.
“What are you doing here, honey?” She sighed in exasperation when he kept staring at her as if she had sprouted a second head. "Use your words, love."
“Mummy,” Marcus whispered, his bottom lip quivering. His eyes shifted from her to the two others sitting at the table and back to her again while he blinked rapidly to squeeze out a few tears.
Sally knew how to read the expressions on his face like no other. It wasn’t really that hard, Marcus was an open book when it came to certain matters. Like now, he wasn’t on the brink of fake tears because he was sad or had missed her, heavens no. The main reason was that he was notoriously possessive of whatever belonged to him. In his mind, she belonged to him and he didn’t share. Ever.
The real question to answer was how long it would take before the meltdown started.
Michael Bell, also three - two months shy of turning four, thank you very much- laughed at his silly neighbour boy. He partially covered his mouth so that his father couldn’t see him and stuck his tongue out at Marcus as he persistently tugged at Sally’s sleeve. When she finally looked down, he straightened out his face and put on puppy dog eyes.
“I’m still hungry, Auntie Sally,” he said in his best, fake pitiful voice. “Can I have another sausage, please?”
He wasn’t hungry; he had already eaten his weight in eggs and toast earlier. But with his mother too busy to pay attention, he’d take every bit of affection he could get. And what better than to take it away from that stupid, weepy Marcus.
“Oh, poor baby,” Sally cooed as she broke eye contact with her son and patted Michael on the cheek. “I’ll fry some up-”
Before she could finish what she wanted to say, Marcus let out a wail and rushed forward, wrapping himself around her legs and burying his face in the creases of her skirt. Her wanting to make more breakfast for Michael was the greatest betrayal she could commit and needed to be stopped.
“Mu-hummy,” he cried miserably with one eye on Michael. Anything he could do, Marcus could do better, after all. “I’m hungry too-hoo. Come home.”
Sally sighed at her son’s antics and flashed John Bell, who was trying his best not to burst out in laughter, an apologetic small before she crouched down to Marcus’ level. Sighing deeply, she pushed his chin up with one finger to make him look at her. She'd have to have a good talking with Will about letting their son unattended.
And about dressing him properly, too. A vest and shorts were not appropriate clothing for the winter, not to mention his lack of footwear. Then again, she was grateful he wasn’t dressed in one of the girls’ old dresses, thinking it was a longer, flowery shirt. Will had done it before. In fact, he'd done more times than she'd like to admit, to the point she suspected that he did it on purpose to get out of tending to Marcus in any shape or matter.
Although Marcus faced his mother, he kept his eyes downcast and did his best to produce sniffling noises. Sally gently tapped his nose. “Look at me, please.”
He turned his gaze from his toes to his mother, still blinking rapidly to push out tears. Just in time, two fat ones rolled down his cheeks: another great achievement this morning. His hands, crossed behind his back, clenched into fists when he heard Michael giggle and he tried to shake them at him as unobtrusive as possible.
“Stop that, Micky,” John Bell half-heartedly scolded his son when he started laughing louder.
Sally mouthed a ‘thank you’ before she turned to Marcus again and gently dried his barely wet cheeks with the hem of her skirt.
“Honey, what have I told you about crying?” she asked sternly. Regardless of what her husband thought– or the rest of the village, for that matter, she did not coddle Marcus. Not always, with today being one of those rare moments.
Marcus sucked in his bottom lip, trying to remember what his mother had told him ages ago. At the table, Michael burst out into another fit of giggles. To his satisfaction, though, Uncle John scolded him again. It always made him feel better when Michael got told off.
“Marcus, answer me please,” Sally asked impatiently.
Her tone triggered the memory of weeks ago when he had cried until he was hoarse because she'd refused to buy him a broom like she had done for his sisters. He released his lip and lowered his eyes to his toes again.
“Only cry when it hurts,” he mumbled, still not completely understanding why she'd changed the rules like that. How would she know what to get him or do for him when he didn’t cry? It didn’t make any sense.
Sally lifted her brows, convinced that she had him there. “Hmm, are you hurt now?”
Not one to give up easily, Marcus nodded. Behind him, Michael scoffed.
“Oh,” Sally let out in surprise; she hadn’t expected that answer. She quickly looked him over in worry, turning him around and lifting his arms and feet. “Where are you hurt, honey?”
“It hurts here, Mummy,” he answered her tearfully as he rubbed his small chest. He had seen his father do it a few nights ago in an attempt to steal a kiss from his mum. He had put a stop to that just in time, of course. From the very few times he had played nice with Michael, he had learnt that kissing with Uncle John was how Auntie Grace had swallowed the baby-seed.
And Marcus certainly didn't want his mummy to grow a baby. He was the baby in their family.
Sally sighed and from the corner of her eyes, she could see John Bell bite his cheeks to suppress his urge to laugh. She didn’t blame him; she would have laughed too if it hadn’t been her kid.
Not exactly sure how to respond to her son, she decided that it would be for the best to change the subject for now. With Marcus, food usually did the trick.
“You know what? Why don’t you go and sit next to Michael and I’ll whip up some eggs and bacon for you? If you don’t mind, John?”
“No, no, of course,” John said laughing and turned to Marcus. “We’ll introduce you to the new baby afterwards. What do you think about that, little man?”
Marcus grunted in reply, not listening. He was too busy clambering onto the chair and throwing his meanest looks at Michael at the same time. It was very important to him to show off his newly learnt multitasking skills.
“Sausages, not bacon,” he grumbled when he saw his mother open the wrong package of meat. Her huffing and warningly saying his name didn't impress him, though, because she always did that and rarely went through with her warnings.
As his mum cooked his breakfast and chatted with Uncle John, Marcus and Michael silently engaged in one of their fierce battles: glaring, kicking, and pinching each other under the table.
His morning had returned to almost normal.
Marcus was giddy with excitement when his mother guided him into the dimly lit bedroom. He quickly ran over to the oversized chair in the corner and plopped down next to Michael just as his mum had ordered. Too excited about seeing a new baby, he forgot to care about sitting so close to the other boy. Finally, he'd have someone smaller than him to boss around and he was already thinking about ways to be better at it than Michael was.
Impatiently and his arms already stretched out, he watched Auntie Grace hand over the fluffy bundle of blankets to Uncle John. He placed a kiss on it as soon as it was in his arms, making Marcus scrunch his nose. Why would anyone kiss a pile of blankets? Still, his curiosity and excitement took over when a flash of arm -or was it a leg?- peeped out the bundle. Even the swift nudge in his ribs and kick to the shins didn't put a stop to that.
“Mine,” Michael hissed.
Marcus wanted to retaliate, but his mother clearing her throat and giving him that ‘look’ held him back. He didn’t want to go home without seeing the baby first.
“Are you ready to meet your sister Katie, Micky?” John asked softly. When saw his son nod, he lowered the bundle into his waiting arms. “Hold her like that. No, don’t poke her eyes. Yeah, that’s a good boy. Now stay very still, all right?”
Whereas Michael Bell was overly joyous to hold his baby sister, Marcus’ face quickly turned sour in disappointment. Why did the baby have to be a girl? Having four sisters himself, he knew that girls weren’t fun. They always teased you, walked too fast while they held your hand, and the worst of all, they always wanted to change you into one of them.
His sister Mary always stickied pink bows in his hair, and his sister Ellie had coloured his lips and eyes with red and blue face paint once. Thankfully, Lexie and Lizzy were nicer, when they didn’t try to dress him pink, frilly dresses and then blamed it on Dad when Mum got cross.
The more he thought about the tortures his sisters put him through whenever they were home from Hogswash, the more Marcus decided that Michael deserved an evil sister. It would only be fair.
“Smile, boys,” John ordered and immediately snapped few photographs, nearly blinding the two young boys with the camera’s bright flashes.
Marcus scowled in most of them. With his head turned to the side and arms folded, he was the epitome of boredom. Only his mother’s warning coughs had him change his stance and for the final picture, he nearly split his face in half with a very broad and very fake, toothy grin.
“Put the baby in Marcus’ arms. That should make a nice picture,” Grace ordered from her bed.
“A-are you sure?” Sally asked nervously. The unfortunate incident with Lexie’s Kneazle kitten came to mind, but Grace didn’t need to know that. “He’s never held anything so small before.”
“He’ll be fine,” Grace brushed her off. “What’s the worst that can happen?”
‘Him squishing thelife out of her’ Sally wanted to say, but instead chuckled anxiously and said, “Yeah, you’re right, he’ll be fine.”
‘I hope your little girl will be as well.’
Sally took her time crossing the small room, all the while hoping for John – or Merlin, whoever came first, really- to intervene. The only reaction she got from him was an encouraging nod.
Albeit short-lived, help came from an unexpected source. Michael, not wanting to share the limelight with Marcus, tightened the grip he had on the baby when she tried to take her from him.
“No!” he bellowed, startling the baby awake from her slumber. “My sister, he can’t have her.”
From behind a very relieved Sally –who was ready to give in- John and Grace guffawed at their son’s reaction. She awkwardly chuckled along as she crossed her fingers in hopes that the Bells would listen to their son.
“That’s my boy,” John wheezed, pinching his side, “Keep that up for the next eighteen years.”
“John, she’s barely a few hours old,” Grace half-heartedly admonished her husband when her laughter died down. When she was sure that she could put on a straight face, she turned her attention to Michael. “Let Marcus hold your sister, darling. You can hold her again after Daddy’s taken a few pictures.”
Michael protested some more as Sally pried his sister from his arms, but neither parent paid him any heed. His mother had already a look of endearment of her face as their smallest neighbour took her daughter in his arms, nearly dying at the adorableness of the sight in front of her. And his father was too busy taking more photographs of the moment.
As usual, Marcus ignored all the fuss around him; even his mother’s soft warnings not to squeeze the baby as he had done with Bubby were lost on him. He had only had eyes for the wrinkled, squirmy thing in his arms.
The first thing he noticed was how red and blotchy Baby Katie’s face was. Also, she was dirty, with strange white goo stuck to her skin. He reckoned that was from being pooped out; that could get messy he knew all too well. Her eyes, he couldn’t name the dark colour, were too big for her face, and she blinked far too slowly. Her thick, dark hair was stuck to her scalp in greasy looking strands. A small trace of hair branched out along her ears and onto her cheeks. With one finger, he stroked the downy hair covering the indentation on her head.
Huh, she already had a hole in her head.
Her lips were a pink colour, puckered and making suckling noises. Marcus pulled a face at hearing that; his Great-Aunt Beatrice did that too when she tried to kiss his cheeks whenever she came to visit. He quickly checked if Baby Katie had a prickly moustache as well, which she didn’t.
She didn’t look anything like his sisters, he concluded. They might tease him a lot whenever they were home from school, but they were pretty to look at, at least. In fact, Baby Katie reminded him of the baby monkey he had seen at the zoo last summer. She even had the wide button nose like the monkey.
“You have a beautiful daughter,” Sally sincerely told the new parents. She was already thinking about creative ways to convince Will to go for another one again. Was there anything more precious in life than having a baby? But then, Marcus opened his mouth and she knew that her husband would never agree to a sixth child.
“She’s ugly,” Marcus stated knowingly. His mum had always told him not to lie and she just told one. A big one. So, he took it upon himself to correct her like she always did when he fibbed.
His mother gasped, Michael kicked him in the shins again, and Uncle John and Auntie Grace started laughing. However, the worst reaction he got was from the baby girl herself.
With all the passing around, her already badly fastened nappy had come undone and went unnoticed under the layer of blankets. And just after Marcus had critiqued her appearance, Katie chose that exact moment to empty her bladder and bowels for the very first time in her life. Her little face twisted in utter exertion, reddening even more before she let it all go with a whimper of relief. It didn’t take long for the warm wetness to soak through the blankets and reach Marcus’ bare legs.
At first, he didn’t understand where the foul smell and warm stickiness on his legs came from. But when Baby Katie squirmed a bit and rubbed more into the cotton and wool enveloping her, he finally understood. His eyes grew large in horror before he let out a blood-curling scream. In his arms, little Katie joined his cries and proved that her lungs, just like her digestive system, were in perfect working order. It was that exact moment that John took his final picture of that morning.
The photographs taken that day were a source of hilarity for both families for many months. At birthdays, family gatherings, and then again when the Flint sisters came home from Hogwarts, the photographs were passed around for laughs. Most of the time, those moments at the Flint home ended with a hysterically kicking and screaming Marcus. It had become his young life’s mission to destroy the evidence of his embarrassment, but he never succeeded at it. Finding the photographs too precious, Sally had made sure to keep them far, far away from his reach.
Eventually, the novelty wore off and the excitement settled down. There was a brief revival six months later at the farewell party held for the Bells when they moved to London to take care of Grace Bell’s ailing muggle mother. But this time, Marcus didn’t care as much as he had about the often talked about pictures. He was too busy gloating over the fact that that awful Michael Bell and his evil, smelly sister were leaving. If one had not known better, they would have thought that the little boy had orchestrated the whole move to rid himself of his neighbours.
When the time came to wave the family goodbye on a warm May afternoon, two days before his fourth birthday, he had been the happiest boy alive. Even Baby Katie’s enthusiastic slobbering all over his face in an attempt to kiss him goodbye and the subsequent spitting up on his shirt hadn’t deterred him. Neither had Uncle John taking pictures of the moment, or Michael pinching him to get him to let go of his sister.
No, none of those things had mattered because, after that day, life was about to become good again for little Marcus.