Magic permeates. It sinks into your flesh, sets into your bones, and becomes a part of you. This is neither good nor bad, for magic has always been at the whim of its wielder, but it can be tricky, especially because magic can also settle into places and things. As their grandmother used to say, if a house could be filled with memories, why couldn’t it also be filled with magic? And a house filled with magic becomes a House.
The point being that it took Jet an absurd amount of time to realize what was happening. To be fair, she’d woken up with a headache caused by a late night of celebration and possibly too much rum.
“Probably,” she amended as she put the kettle on and yawned loudly. Jet had always liked the idea of hot cups of tea on cold winter mornings, but in practice she liked sleeping in more. Besides, the sun was barely out this morning, making their bright kitchen appear dull and tired, which was hardly the cozy romanticism she was going for. But it was nice having the house to herself and she hummed absently while trying to recall last night’s dream - something fitting for the season involving hanging sprigs of holly, mistletoe, and, oddly, paint chips – before finally frowning at the stovetop. It was turned on, but the copper kettle was barely warm.
“Late night too, dear?” she asked. The House by all accounts wasn’t a morning person either; there had been many times in the past when its boards had groaned loudly in protest as children ran up and down the stairs at too early of an hour, or it had chided those staying up too late by making rooms darker and more foreboding. But they had all been in good spirits last night as they’d celebrated their first Yule without Maria’s curse hanging over their heads and Jet could only assume that the House, like herself, was a bit slower these days to get started in the morning.
She decided to give the stove a few minutes more while she checked to see that the Yule log was still smoldering. It was burning slowly, the smoke giving off a pleasant scent of ash, apple, and clove, but a spark of flame was trying to ignite. Jet gave it a reproving look and it flattened in embarrassment. She smiled, but felt her lips pull back into a frown as she took in the parlor. The room was darker than normal, the wainscoting somehow too cage-like, the cracks in the leather chairs too pronounced. The botanical print wallpaper appeared to be almost drooping slightly in … unhappiness?
And then suddenly everything was fine. The parlor was back to normal and everything was as it should be.
Jet eyed the room warily. You didn’t ignore the inanimate, especially in this house. Magic spoke through more than the natural world and the House used what it had available.
“What- ” Jet started to ask as she headed back into the kitchen. But the question died on her lips as she realized the kettle still sat unheated on its burner despite the fire beneath it. The kitchen was even darker now, she realized, and when she looked closely it was as if she could see every chip and scratch on every surface, things that normally would have given the room character now just made it look worn and sad.
Jet blinked. She hadn’t seen the House this upset since-
She looked through into the greenhouse and saw that the plants ranged from drooping to dying, that the light was barely coming in through the usually clear windows. A cold and forlorn wind swept in from the greenhouse and past her, leaving behind an over-the-top impression of desolation and betrayal.
And then, to really drive home the point, the teakettle exploded.
Her brain finally caught up and she sighed. “Oh dear.”
Of the two of them, Frances had always been the more practical. The direct route was the right route and honesty was always better than sugar coated bullshit. While Jet tried to gently steer people away from choices that might not be the best for them, Franny would just shrug. “People will do what they want to do,” she’d say and, if magic were involved, it was “better for us to do the spell that letting a novice try it.” Besides, Franny would argue, she and Jet couldn’t live on just magic alone.
But every decade or so, Frances would get the urge to renovate the House and practicality went out the door. Come hell or high water, whatever needed to be changed would be changed - no matter the money, time, or cost to Jet’s sanity.
Jet should have seen it coming, of course. With the breaking of the curse, with the theme of renewal in the air, naturally Frances would see it as the perfect opportunity for change. It wasn’t that Jet was opposed to change, per se. It was just that her sister and the House never saw eye to eye. The House, being built in the Victorian era, was a traditionalist at heart and never wanted to venture far from its original aesthetic. When Franny had finally convinced their mother for a telephone, the House had turned off the electricity for a week in protest. When she had decided to start adding Art Deco décor into the parlor and dining room, the House had managed to cloud mirrors and break vases. But it wasn’t until Ethan that things had escalated. Frances hadn’t been looking for love, and Jet hadn’t meddled, but somehow Ethan had come into their lives one warm summer day. Ethan had been Franny’s counterpoint, her anchor, and her joy. He had been her everything and he had died. Getting Frances to leave the house for the next year had been next to impossible and when she had finally left it was to buy paint swatches from the hardware store.
The House had humored her at first, letting her paint her bedroom a turquoise blue and put bean bags in the attic, but when Franny had entered the kitchen with paint samples and design catalogs, the House had groaned in warning. Franny’s eyes had narrowed and then the Great Kitchen War had begun.
The breakfast nook Jet understood. They had stopped taking formal dinners after their mother had passed and Jet thought the idea of eating meals while overlooking the garden was lovely. Likewise, moving the scullery into the kitchen and building a larger pantry was more efficient and she was also in favor of prying up the linoleum tiles even though they were relatively new. Jet was not, however, in favor of Franny’s plans for things like sunshine yellow printed wallpaper, lime green appliances, or wicker accents. And she really wasn’t in favor of her sister’s plan to add an aviary off the side of the kitchen.
The House, coming from an era where a kitchen was more utilitarian, was shocked by the idea of eating in the same room that work was being done; it was opposed to the sink on principal, hated the aviary, and was adamantly opposed to the new color scheme. It chased out two builders and an architectural student from the mainland by echoing footsteps throughout the house and mimicking children’s cries.
Frances retaliated by apparating shag carpet in the parlor.
The House set fire to the carpet and managed to order an 8-track of the Osmonds, which it would blast whenever Franny tried to sleep.
Her sister tried to paint the kitchen anyway and the House dropped the temperature in her room and froze all her clothing.
Franny moved two steps forward and the House moved two steps back.
Jet wasn’t opposed to change. She just found it was messy, migraine inducing, and it either dragged you kicking and screaming, or hit you full force like a hurricane.
Jet had finally stepped in when her sister threatened to cast a spell that would bring forth a plague of termites. In the end they got the beautiful kitchen they had now and the greenhouse instead of an aviary, and then Jet had spent a much needed two weeks away from her family.
Now she pursed her lips. The truth was that there wasn’t much that could be improved on with the house. The kitchen was perfect, the garden and greenhouse beautiful, the exterior enchanting. There were places where the interior paneling was a bit dark, like the entryway, and they had never done much with the lighthouse, but those things seemed small when Franny was in Grand Gesture mode. She nodded her head, plucked a sprig of lavender that she tucked it into her pocket, and headed upstairs. Gillian met her halfway down the stairs, muttering something about not enough coffee and waving Jet towards Franny’s room.
She found her sister standing in the middle of the room, Chinese style pajamas and vivid blue silk robe practically rippling in the air around her in indignation. Her hands were on her hips. “Jetty, tell this old busy-body to mind its own business.”
“I’m sure she can hear you,” Jet said mildly.
“Well, then she’s ignoring me,” Frances replied, her tone making it clear that this was unacceptable. Owens women were feared, avoided, and sometimes hanged, but they were never ignored. “Tell her it’s my room and I can do with it what I damn well please.”
The House creaked ominously; Jet had the distinct impression it was sticking out its tongue.
“I’ll put in wall to wall carpeting,” Franny threatened. “I’ll put in recessed lighting,”
Jet and the House shuddered.
As she had long given up and accepted her role of negotiator, Jet asked, “Well, what did you have in mind?”
Franny shrugged, eyes widening slightly. It was the look she got when she was trying to play innocent and, unsurprisingly, it had never fooled anyone ever. “Oh. Nothing too drastic.”
The contractor, John, was a nice man in his mid-fifties, new to Maria's Island and a widower. His hobbies included fishing, gardening, and working on Victorian houses for practically nothing. He also didn’t apparently question it when everyone on the island asked if he was afraid to work for witches.
Jet gave her sister the stink eye. “Did you send for him?”
Franny just laughed and called it fate, the House started wailing like a banshee when John pulled out his tape measure, and John, to his credit, didn’t even bat an eye.
“Don’t be rude,” Jet murmured and the House quieted down. At least until Franny came waltzing in with a 'let's get this show on the road' and a stubborn set to her chin. Frances told John she wanted a “sanctuary bedroom,” with heated flooring, a bold architectural detail fireplace, and accent wallpaper. The House started wailing again.
“What have you been watching?” Jet demanded. They had never owned a television, but that didn’t mean they were completely isolated from the world. There were scrying spells, of course, but several members of the Committee were also avid soap opera watchers and had invested in sets; Jet herself was fond of Antiques Roadshow and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
“HGTV. I peeked a little into the future,” her sister admitted under her breath when John was trying to find his tape measure. “What? If Merlin gets to do it, so can I.”
“He’s a fictional character.”
Franny shrugged. “This world's a fiction and is made up of contradiction. “
“Did you just quote William Blake at me?”
Her sister harrumphed. “Maybe he was quoting me.”
“Oh, for the love of,” Jet started, huffing out an annoyed breath. “We’re not THAT old.”
“Well, I’m certainly not,” Frances replied with a flirtatious wink towards John, who missed the wink because he was still trying to find the tape measure. “I’m in my prime.”
“You’re in your dotage,” Jet retorted loudly and she heard John chuckle.
The House was better after that, although it never did return the tape measure. And it continued to grumble, but it rattled windows instead of breaking them and it only locked John out of the bathroom once.
On the third day, John gave the House a thoughtful look. Which he then extended to Jet. “My mother used to say that a house filled with memories often becomes a House, and that House has opinions about what you do with it.”
Jet smiled. “My grandmother used to say something similar.”
“Mother also used talk to squirrels,” he admitted.
“You’ve met my sister, right?”
The House had been suspiciously docile during this exchange, something Jet attributed to Franny being in town to look at wallpaper. John had also managed to talk her sister out of the heated flooring for which she assumed the House was grateful. The House had even let John fix the faucet in the sink, even though Sally had said that it was working fine two hours before. It had been a nice afternoon, with them exchanging stories about their crazy relatives, but when Jet mentioned her day to Franny later, her sister made a ‘hmmmm’ noise and then grinned.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Jet told her.
“What’s so ridiculous? He’s a nice and good looking handyman and you’re a sweet, though secretly curmudgeonly witch.”
“Oh, Franny, really. It’s absurd.”
“Jetty,” Frances said seriously then. “You don’t have to worry anymore.”
It wasn’t that there hadn’t been men over the years, but Jet had never let herself fall in love with any of them. She had seen what that had done to her grandmother, to Regina, and to Frances, and had frankly never wanted to subject herself to that kind of pain. It was safer for the men too. “I’m not opposed to it,” she finally told Franny, " I just don’t know if I’m ready … and don’t you dare cast a love spell on me!”
“I promise,” Frances replied solemnly.
“Of course not.”
“Or a push.”
True to her word, no spells were cast. Unfortunately, Frances decided to get more directly involved instead and Jet found that her sister had all the subtly of a brick. “I don’t know, what do you think, Jet” became “My sister has excellent taste” became “Maybe you should look at Jet’s bedroom too.” Equally unfortunate was that the House seemed to be thrilled with the idea of Jet’s love life. It would create more problems for John to fix so that he would have stay longer and would also lock doors to rooms that they were both in. Then she caught Franny and the House having an animated conversation (her sister flailing her arms, the House excitedly opening and closing windows) about romantic dinner options on the island.
Antonia and Kylie came home after school one day to find Jet nursing a cup of scullcap tea and a plate of brownies.
"Are you okay, Aunt Jet?" Kylie asked, concerned.
"Change can be hard, girls," Jet told them.
"Can I have a brownie," Antonia asked.
Jet passed her the plate with a large sigh.
"Change can be good though," Kylie said.
"You know, when it doesn't happen because of possession."
The girls ran off with their brownies and she quietly sipped her tea. Jet genuinely enjoyed the life she had made for herself and it was odd to think that she could expand on it, should she choose. There was nothing holding her, or any of them, back now.
There was a loud clanging sound from upstairs, followed by Frances bellowing and the House answering with an angry hiss from several faucets.
Well, Jet thought, nothing but their own stubbornness and Franny’s misguided attempts at interior design.
A knock had her looking up to where John was standing in the hall. "I think Fran's thinking about adding a porch off her room,” he said ruefully as more noises rang out from upstairs. Franny was calling for aid and the girls came running, giggling, as they looked for buckets and towels. There were feathers drifting down the stairs.
"Oh, dear. I suppose we should go help."
"I suppose," he said with a smile.
Jet waited a beat, then smiled back. "Would you like some tea, John?"