Seraphina grumbled as her mother bustled into the bedroom, flinging open the curtains so bright sunlight poured into the room. She buried herself beneath the heavy blankets, pulling a pillow over her head.
“Mother, it’s early!” Seraphina protested.
Hecate yanked the covers off the bed, and grabbed the pillow, earning a flounce of teenage frustration from her daughter.
“It’s ten a.m.” Hecate said. “I was up at six. There is much to do.”
“My birthday’s not for another week!”
Hecate tutted. “Exactly. A week to prepare.”
“Can’t I just have yours?”
“That’s not how it works, and you know it,” Hecate admonished. “I want you washed and dressed in ten minutes; breakfast’s ready.”
Seraphina emerged twenty minutes later, clomping down the creaky staircase in the cottage she shared with her mother.
Hecate was stirring a pot of porridge on the hob, her familiar, Erebus perched on a wooden beam overhead hung with garlic, dried flowers, and battered old pots.
“Morning, you mangy old crow,” Seraphina said, winking at the raven as he pruned his feathers.
“That’s one reason why he can’t be yours,” Hecate said, spooning creamy porridge into a wooden bowl and placing it on the knotted, whorled surface of the oak table. “Amongst others.” She ruffled Seraphina’s jet hair affectionately.
“I’m not sure I’d be comfortable with a bird,” Seraphina said.
Hecate joined her daughter at the table, drizzling a large dollop of honey into her own porridge. “Why’s that?”
Seraphina shrugged. “They’re always flitting off somewhere, I want something loyal.”
“Ah, but they soar like comets across the skies,” Hecate said. “There is no better spy.”
“I thought the coven did that for you.”
“We’re a sisterhood, we work together.”
Seraphina frowned. “You’re head witch.”
“And when you take my place, you will learn that it’s not all rainbows and unicorns,” Hecate said. “Which is why today is important.”
“I can’t just take your place,” Seraphina grumbled. “I have to win it.”
“Ah, so you have been paying attention!”
A sharp rap at the cottage door interrupted their conversation. Hecate made a swirly gesture with elegant fingers and the door opened. A rather short, plump woman looking for all the world like she’d stepped out of the pages of a dark fairy tale, from the emerald-green cloak to the wart on her nose, wandered in.
“Good morning, Mother Agnes.” Hecate rose from her chair to greet the older witch.
“Hecate.” Mother Agnes inclined her head, then turned her steely gaze on Seraphina who scrambled to her feet, almost choking on her porridge.
Hecate said, “We’ve been discussing your familiar this morning, haven’t we Seraphina?”
Agnes frowned. “And?”
“Not a bird,” Seraphina said.
“Maiden preserve us!” Agnes said. “Hurry up.” She stalked from the cottage.
Go, Hecate mouthed at her daughter.
Outside, Agnes was on her broom, bobbing a couple of feet off the ground. Her familiar, an old scruffy cat, with deep green eyes draped across her shoulders.
“I haven’t got all day!” the old witch snapped as Seraphina awkwardly mounted the broom.
With a kick of one booted heel to the ground, Agnes launched them vertically into the air with stomach dropping velocity. Seraphina watched the cottage shrink in size, the surrounding countryside a patchwork blanket of greens, golds, and lavender. The morning sun a puddle of molten gold above the eastern horizon.
In the garden of Mother Agnes’s ramshackle cottage, a menagerie of animals wandered about. Toads and frogs perched on rocks around an algae covered pond. Ravens and crows flew in and out of the surrounding trees in the gloomy forest. Rabbits nibbled on grass, and black cats lazed in sun patches.
“Your familiar is one of the most important choices you will make as a witch,” Agnes explained. “You will be together for life, a bond that cannot be broken.”
Seraphina nodded. “How do I choose?”
“You’ll know.” Agnes stomped to her cottage, leaving Seraphina to wander around the garden.
After hours of attempting to coax rabbits out of their burrows, wiping slime from her hands left by a frog, scratched by a cat, Seraphina slumped down on a grassy hillock.
“This is impossible!”
“It doesn’t have to be.”
She whipped her head round. “Who said that?”
Seraphina scowled; Mother Agnes must be playing a trick on her. She’d failed at finding a familiar, and was being mocked.
She felt a warm pressure against her thigh, and looked down to see a large, fluffy ginger cat sitting nonchalantly on the grass. The cat had bright blue eyes, and a deep purr rumbled in his chest.
“I don’t remember you,” Seraphina said. She stroked his head, and the cat nuzzled her fingers. “Where did you come from?”
“I’ve been here the whole time,” the cat replied in an effete tone.
Seraphina’s eyes widened, it was not unheard of for familiars to speak, but it was rare. “Um…what’s your name?”
“Crowley,” the cat replied, voice dripping with disdain.
“Derivative, I know.” Crowley began licking his paws.
“Would you like a different name?”
“Are you offering me one?”
Seraphina shrugged. “If I think of one.”
Crowley did a deep, luxurious stretch. “Instead of that, riddle me this.” He padded to sit in front of Seraphina, fixing her with his cornflower eyes. “Answer correctly, and I’ll be your familiar, and you can choose my name.”
“I haven’t chosen you.”
Crowley yawned, the sun glinting off his sharp teeth. “I chose you.”
Seraphina pondered a moment. “Alright.”
“The person who built me, sold me. The person who bought me, didn’t use me. The person who used me, never saw me. What am I?”
“How many guesses?”
“Use it wisely.”
A big smile broke across Seraphina’s face as the answer dawned.
Crowley miaowed, a high pitched mewl, and Seraphina suddenly sensed a fine gossamer like thread linking her to Crowley. Their bond, delicate as spider silk, but with iron strength.
“We shall do great things, Seraphina Everheart.”