Authors: Natasha Lowe
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For Jon, who never lets fear stand in his way. Nem zentar topello!
And for Sebastian, Oliver, Ben, and Juliette
HE BABY CLIMBED ONTO THE
broomstick that was leaning against the kitchen table. Drool dribbled down her chin and she gave a gummy laugh. Then, waving one chubby little hand in the direction of her mother, she flew off through an open window and over the Potts Bottom Canal.
“No!” Poppy screamed, waking with a start. Her face was damp with sweat, and her braid had come unraveled. She clutched at her husband, reaching over the swell of her enormous belly. “Our baby,” Poppy gasped, shaking Tristram Campbell awake. “She was running around the bakery waving a magic wand and turning all the customers into chickens.”
“Chickens?” Tristram said, patting his wife's belly. He leaned across and switched on the light.
“Wearing nothing but a diaper. On these little plump legs.” Poppy grabbed for her husband's hand. “And then she turned you into a giraffe, Tristram, and me into a penguin. It was awful,” Poppy sobbed. “I waddled along behind her, but I couldn't move very fast because I was a penguin, you see.”
“Oh, I do,” Tristram said, giving Poppy's fingers a gentle squeeze.
“Then she ran into the kitchen and started turning all my cupcakes to stone. And the cookies and tarts and Ã©clairs. And right before I woke up, she got on my kitchen broom and flew out the window. Laughing.”
“Must have been terrifying,” Tristram murmured in his calmest voice. “Penguins and stone cupcakes and babies on broomsticks. But it was just a dream, Poppy, love.”
“A nightmare!” Poppy said as her stomach suddenly lurched to the right. “The most terrifying nightmare you could imagine.”
“Have a drink of water,” Tristram said, reaching for the glass on his nightstand. He held it up for Poppy and she took a few sips. “Look, Poppy. You're just nervous because your due date is tomorrow, and I'm sure that's quite normal. I'm sure a lot of women feel this way. But it will all be all right.”
“You don't know that,” Poppy said, starting to shake. “What if she inherits my magic gene, Tristram? I couldn't bear it, honestly I couldn't.”
“Yes, you could, Poppy. You're the strongest woman I know. And remember, it often skips a generation or two, so it's not very likely. But if she does,” Tristram said, “we'll just face it. Together.”
“Tristram, magic almost ruined my life. I hate everything about it. And I do not want that for our daughter.” The Campbells didn't know for sure whether they were having a girl, but Mrs. Plunket from the post office swore that they were. And since Mrs. Plunket had correctly guessed the sex of all the babies born in the little Yorkshire town of Potts Bottom, Tristram and Poppy were inclined to believe her.
“Look, it's not worth worrying about something that may never happen,” Tristram said, giving his wife a reassuring kiss on the cheek, his beard all soft and ticklish. “Now, try to go back to sleep.”
“What if I mess this up, Tristram?” Poppy said. “What if I'm a terrible parent and do everything wrong? I'm so scared.”
Tristram turned out the light and wrapped his arms around Poppy's belly. It was as warm as a big pan of bread dough. “You will make a wonderful mother,” he said. “I have no doubts about that at all.”
“I hope you're right,” Poppy whispered, feeling her baby shift about as if she was trying to turn a somersault. “I really hope you're right.”
HE FOLLOWING AFTERNOON AT 3:35
, Cat Campbell was born on the floor of her mother's bakery, right into the strong, hairy arms of her father. Tristram had been trying to hustle Poppy, who was clearly in labor, away from the caramel cookies she had been baking and off to the Potts Bottom hospital. But Poppy insisted on getting her last batch of cookies out of the oven first, and so Cat was born on a hot August day, in an even hotter kitchen, greeted by the scent of burning caramel. Her father wrapped Cat up in his none too clean shirt, and she gripped his finger tight in her hand. Staring right at him out of deep green eyes, Cat kicked her spindly legs free. Then, opening her mouth wide, she gave a loud, lusty roar. “Little lion!” Tristram murmured, his fatherly heart bursting with pride.
“Can I hold her?” Poppy said, stretching out her arms. She sighed with happiness as Tristram gently lowered baby Catherine into them. “Oh, she's got your red hair, Tristram! How wonderful.”
“And I bet she gets your passion for baking,” Tristram said, grinning through his wild, bushy beard. “How could she not, being born in a bakery?”
Cradling her baby close, Poppy whispered, “I don't mind what she does. I really don't. Just so long as it isn't witchcraft.”
As Cat grew older she loved to sit on the floor of the bakery, which was also the Campbells' little home, converted from an old, abandoned cottage that sat beside the Potts Bottom Canal. It was a few minutes' walk from the center of town, but nobody minded the detour because Cat's mother made the most delicious breads and pastries. Cat would stir imaginary concoctions around in saucepans, banging on their metal sides and chattering away in baby language. When she was two, Tristram made his daughter a wooden stool so she could stand at the counter mixing up her own special recipes beside her mother and Marie Claire, the elderly Frenchwoman who owned the bakery along with Poppy. Cat liked to raid the spice shelf, shaking cinnamon, ginger, and chili powder into her bowl. She'd open all her mother's canisters, spooning in cornmeal and brown sugar. Anything Cat could wrap her tiny hands around she'd use. One time a ladybug flew onto the table and Cat scooped him up before he could escape, dropping him into her batter.
“Insect cake! Yummy,” Cat's dad said, watching Cat stir it around with her spoon.
“Ibeldy gobble,” Cat shrieked, jumping up and down and waving the spoon over the bowl.
“A great baker, just like her mother!” Tristram commented. And Poppy couldn't help smiling because Cat did seem so happy in the kitchen, even though her experiments always ended up getting poured down the sink.
“What are you making?” Poppy asked one afternoon, as three-year-old Cat was hard at work. “Is it a lemon cake?”
Cat shook her head, sprinkling pepper and cloves into her bowl.
“How about a chocolate cake?” Marie Claire suggested.
“No,” Cat replied, plopping in a spoonful of cocoa.
“Not too much, now,” Poppy said, removing the tin from her daughter's reach. “Cocoa's expensive!” She gave an indulgent shake of her head. “So what are you making, Cat? Cookies?”
“A fly spell,” Cat announced. “I want to learn to fly.”
“Like an airplane?” Poppy said, a touch nervously.
“Uh-uh.” Cat shook her head. “Like a witch, Mamma. I want to be a witch.” Cat grabbed the kitchen broom and smeared the sticky potion all over it, and then, with the broom between her legs, she jumped off her little stool.
“That's enough,” Poppy snapped, startling Cat as she tugged the broom away. Poppy handed her a wooden spoon instead. “You're making a huge mess. And Marie Claire needs this broom to sweep the floor.”
“Mine,” Cat cried out, pointing at the broomstick.
“It is not yours,” Poppy replied with rather more force than was necessary. Cat's little face started to crumple, unused to hearing her mother sound so sharp.
“Why don't you help me make cookies?” Poppy suggested more gently.
“No.” Cat shook her head. “No,” she said again, dipping the spoon handle into her bowl of homemade potion. She lifted it out and held it up for Poppy to see. “I fly on this then,” Cat declared, straddling the wooden spoon.
Crossing her fingers under the table, Poppy made a silent plea.
Please, please, please, don't let my daughter be magic,
Poppy knew that if a child was going to inherit the magic gene, it usually showed up around four or five years old, so there was plenty of time yet. But although Cat spent every spare minute she had leaping off chairs with her arms outstretched, and mixing up pretend potions, she didn't, much to her mother's relief, show any real signs of magic.
“What are you going to do if she does start casting proper spells?” Tristram said one afternoon as he and Poppy watched Cat through the kitchen window. Their five-year-old daughter wore a witch's hat she had made out of paper and was waving a stick in the air. “It might still happen, Poppy. And you need to be prepared.”