When Laura got home there was a letter open on the kitchen counter and Sorry was in the garden round the back, aggressively pulling weeds. Never mind that the weeds weren't weeds but the herbs she'd been caring for. Never mind that weeds didn't dare take root in her garden. Never mind that if he was going to go doing yard work he could have at least done something useful, like trim the hedge in the front, which the postman had complained about twice then.
Laura sighed and picked up the letter. It was a missive from Winter, detailing daily life and promising a visit within the month. Which, of course it did. That explained it all right there. Laura stood at the kitchen counter, watching Sorry wipe a dirty hand over his face, leaving him smeared in the rich soil of the garden. She watched him as she made a cup of tea, then stopped watching him long enough to re-read the letter and make a second cup for him.
"You think they're really going to visit?" she asked, taking the tea out to him and setting it down on the garden bench. "They've said they would before, but something always comes up."
Sorry sat back on his heels and reached for the tea. It was hot enough to burn his mouth but he drank it anyhow, wincing slightly and rushing to cover, as if Laura would be put off by it.
"Miryam called," he told her, voice even and measured. "She said they have it all planned. That there's something important they needed to do. Something they need you for."
Laura nodded silently and blew on her tea before sipping it. "Did you tell her we've been working together?"
Sorry set his tea on the ground nearby and busied himself with the plants he'd pulled, now trying to replace them in the loam he'd taken them from. Laura concentrated a little, watching as their roots took hold again, reaching back into the ground. They'd need a little extra care, a little encouragement, but they'd be fine. They were always fine. Likely why Sorry always went for them first.
When all the plants were back in the garden, Sorry picked up his tea again and took a drink. It had cooled in the meantime, down to lukewarm, which he hated.
"I told her," he said. "I told her we'd done a working together, last month. She'll be wanting to see the results."
"Well, she'll just have to wait," Laura said, standing and taking her now-empty mug with her. "It wasn't a simple conjuring. It was subtle."
"She'll want to check anyhow. Her and Winter. They've never really believed we can work together. That I can be useful."
Laura shook her head. Winter and Miryam didn't truly see Sorry as useless. She knew that much from working with them. You learned a good deal about a person, doing magic together. They just didn't see him being as useful as each other, or her.
"Well, if they want to see, they'll have to stay a while to watch the changes in the brook."
And if the letter was to be believed, Winter and Miryam were planning on staying for at least a month. Laura tried calling them and they never picked up. She tried reaching out to them in other ways, but only ever got a vague sense of movement and anticipation.
So she cleaned the guest room, freshening the sheets and making sure they had plenty of food stocked for two extras. What a luxury, knowing you had enough for extra. Of course, that was the difference between two adults keeping house with two full time jobs and a single adult caring for two children.
In the evening they graded papers together, handing each other the more egregiously horrible examples, and they waited for Miryam and Winter to descend upon them. Sorry tackled the front path, finally, and Laura consulted the lunar charts and calendars, looking for clues as to what the two older witches could want.
As it turned out, Miryam and Winter arrived while Laura and Sorry were both in lectures, trying to impress upon bored students the importance of the world around them. Sorry's mother and grandmother let themselves in and made an inspection of the house, which Laura was glad she discovered first, or she expected Sorry would have tried to throw them out. But Sorry had an evening class as well that particular day, a fact which Laura felt sure Miryam and Winter knew.
"Now, Laura," Miryam said, ignoring the biscuits Laura had put out. "Sorrenson said you and he did a working together. How did you manage?"
"We work quite well together," Laura said, bristling slightly. "We work at dusk and dawn. It suits us, both somewhat in between. Either or. Both and. Half moons, half days, half nights."
"I expect you don't get quite the same power," Winter said, curious despite herself. "But Sorenson is so strong at times. Harnessing that, it would help, wouldn't it."
Laura nodded, settling again. "We keep close to home, cleaning the water, strengthening the plants. Nothing unnatural."
Winter and Miryam exchanged a look. Laura tried to read it and couldn't. She frowned and waited. She'd gotten good at waiting for these two.
"You can still work without him?" Winter asked after a moment. "We have need of a third woman, someone to complete our triangle and renew the protections on our home."
Laura considered it. There was nothing wrong with the request. It was sensible to set wards around your home, keeping those who might seek to steal a witch's power well away from it. And she did owe Miryam and Winter a good deal. Still, it felt wrong to exclude Sorry from the warding of his home, even if it hadn't been his home at first.
"It must be three women?" she asked. "What about four? Wouldn't it make sense to include as many aspects as possible? Ward against things he might sense that we can't?"
Which was how they came to sit around the edges of the Carlisle home, apart and yet connected as they'd all drunk from the same cup, all pricked their fingers with the same knife, all ate from the same bowl, all taken a handful of dirt from the same patch in the garden, holding it in cupped hands.
Laura could see the others in her mind's eye. There was no house now, no structure at all. In the landscape of their shared magic there was no building but a field full of grass and flowers and animals. Miryam was across from her, Sorry to her left, Winter to her right. They'd argued over positioning but it always came out similarly enough that it wouldn't matter.
Laura stood when a stone foundation snaked through the grass. She sprinkled a little of the soil at her feet and found a path to her right. Carefully, being sure not to waste a single bit, she sifted the soil to the ground as she walked the path. When she reached the spot where Winter had been she scooped up more soil and continued to walk. Across the property Winter, Miryam and Sorry were all doing the same.
They circled four times, enough to bring them back to the start, then they all walked into the center, meeting in what was beginning to look more like a house. They clasped hands and willed themselves back into the world and out of their magic, leaving the wards behind.
Sorry was smiling when they emerged. He wiped off his hands on the towel Winter handed him and put his arms around Laura, who did the same for him.
"Home tomorrow," Laura murmured. "We can do this for our own home ourselves."