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Part Four—Confrontations and Consequences

"Um, hello."

Pomona watched with a careful eye as Harry Potter stopped in front of her, staring at Hebe and Dragon in the middle of Hebe's large, wood-paneled parlor. She had thought a carefully-monitored Floo call would be more appropriate than a meeting, but both Hebe and Harry had wanted to meet for reasons that Pomona would freely admit didn't make much sense to her. Hebe was bracing herself on her hands now, bent down to the floor, with Dragon beside her.

"Is that your familiar?" Harry asked, after a long minute of silent staring. Golden lifted his head next to Harry's and stared at Dragon with interest. Bryony crowded close to Pomona's robe hem in the meanwhile, and Pomona picked her up and stroked her. Her poor little familiar was sensitive.

"Yes. Although you can see that he's artificial." Hebe nodded at the golden aura and the words swirling around Dragon without taking her eyes from Harry.

"Yes. I'm sorry about that."

"Why would you be sorry? You caused this in the first place!"

Hebe's voice was rising, and Pomona took an immediate step forwards. As true as that was, Harry was still a child. "Hebe, listen—"

"No, it's all right, Professor Sprout." Harry was still studying her sister with the kind of intentness that most children his age would use on a new broom. "Miss Sprout, can you tell me what you feel when you connect with Dragon? When you work magic with him? Could you let me see some of that magic?"

He flushed a second later, as if he assumed that was an inappropriate question. But it wasn't, at least as far as Pomona was concerned. It was just that people so rarely talked about the connections between familiars and wizards or witches because it was hard to find good language for it.

But under the circumstances, Pomona thought, this question was absolutely warranted.

Hebe had frozen, and was staring at Harry with eyes so wide and glassy that Pomona wasn't sure she was seeing at all. She frowned at her sister and reached out to put a hand on her shoulder. "Hebe, are you all right?"

Hebe cleared her throat and blinked away tears that dimmed the color of her eyes like lenses. "Are you—are you going to destroy Dragon?"

"What?" Harry's voice crackled with what seemed to be genuine shock, as far as Pomona could tell, and he backed up a step as if he thought Hebe would drag him closer. "No, I mean—no, of course not, Miss Sprout! I did this because I had to make the Ministry do something, but I'm not going to kill people and their artificial familiars."

"Why do you want to see what happens when Dragon and I do magic, then?"

Harry glanced at his Golden and exchanged several hisses with him. Pomona had the impression that Golden would have been a wise familiar and an excellent companion for Harry even if he wasn't, well, gold, but of course, people wouldn't have been so inclined to trust him and Harry. Even Hebe was calming down as she watched them, her breath becoming more relaxed.

"I hope I might be able to see why it works," Harry said, and turned back to them, blinking a little, as if he had stepped out of a dark cupboard into the light. "I mean, it's kind of strange, isn't it, Miss Sprout? Squibs can't even see familiars. They can't work magic. But they can work magic after they have another familiar cut off and attached to them." He hunched his shoulders as he went on, but he didn't flinch away from what he was saying, which made Pomona smile at him.

Fierce as a badger. That was something she wanted for all her Hufflepuffs. Although perhaps fierce as an anaconda would do, too.

"I thought it worked because it was magic," Hebe mumbled, sounding a little dismayed.

Harry smiled at her, and she smiled back at him, hesitantly. "I'm sure it does," Harry said encouragingly. "But I just want to know more about it. It doesn't seem like linking an artificial familiar to a person without magic would work, does it? I mean, it probably wouldn't work with a Muggle."

Hebe shook her head, and finally got off her hands and knees, to Pomona's secret relief. "All right," she said. "I suppose we can try it."

She picked up Dragon, although Pomona could see the way she flinched away from touching her own familiar, as she never would have done before. Pomona shook her head a little. If Dragon was artificial, a mere reflection of Hebe's needs and desires, what relationship had there been to ruin?

But she supposed that was one reason why Harry had asked about the connection between Hebe and Dragon. It wasn't like Hebe would have known anything different.

Hebe closed her eyes and let her arms entwine around Dragon's body. Then she drew her wand with her right hand and murmured, "Lumos."

The brilliant light that shone from the tip of her wand looked the same as it always had. Pomona relaxed. She had been afraid that marking the familiars would somehow mean that Hebe was deprived of magic altogether.

"There!"

Pomona jumped. She hadn't seen anything but the light, but Harry was pointing at what seemed to be Hebe's arm.

"Did you see it, Professor Sprout?" Harry demanded, dancing in place, his face alight. Golden swayed beside him, and hissed out with what Pomona thought was a contented sound, although she wasn't a Parselmouth, so she didn't actually know. "Did you see it?"

"No, Harry, I'm afraid I didn't," Pomona said, and wished she had when she saw the way his face fell.

"There was a link between her and Dragon!" Harry clenched his hands and danced again. "I saw it! It came up and it flared and it disappeared, but it was there for a second!" He took a deep breath and eventually managed to hold himself still. "That's it, Professor Sprout, I'm sure of it."

"The familiar bond?" Pomona asked doubtfully. Bryony pressed into her palm, seeking comfort, and Pomona trailed her fingers gently across her spines.

"I don't know if it's that. Can someone who's an artificial familiar have a familiar bond?" Harry shook his head, his eyes narrowed. "But there was something there." He turned and looked at Golden.

Pomona glanced back at Hebe, and found her sister biting her lip. She wondered, again, if she should have brought Harry here. She didn't want her student to give Hebe false hope.

But Harry and Golden were hissing again, and Pomona reminded herself that while she didn't know what they were saying, she could wait and trust. She tickled Bryony's back with her fingers, and Bryony wriggled around in her palm to lie with her head towards her.

"Golden says that he thinks you forged a link to a shard of soul and magic, Miss Sprout," Harry went on in an excited tone, turning back to Hebe. "So there's something there, inside Dragon, not just nothing. Just a very small piece of whatever makes a familiar a familiar."

"Isn't a shard of soul and magic like that a sign of Forbidden Arts?" Hebe trembled all over, as if she was made of leaves.

"I think maybe it's part of it?" Harry shook his head and blinked. "Sorry, Miss Sprout, I don't know much about them."

"You shouldn't know anything about them, Mr. Potter," Pomona interjected, more than a little appalled.

She got a very, very old look from Harry then, and Golden draped his head over his wizard's shoulder. Harry sighed a little. "Don't I need to know about them, Professor Sprout? My enemies are using them." He shook his head and turned back to face Hebe before Pomona could think of what to say to that. "But if Dragon was made from a familiar who died, then he can't rejoin that familiar."

"I wouldn't want him to." Hebe held him close and glared at Harry. "Maybe he's just a small piece of what he should be, but he's mine. And my parents are the ones who practiced the Forbidden Arts, not me."

"I know, Miss Sprout," Harry said, in a soothing tone that Pomona found herself thinking no student should have to use on adults, either. But a goldenborn student had to be different all the time, it seemed. "But it makes me think that there are a lot of things going on that we don't know about. Shards of soul and magic aren't supposed to be able to practice true magic, and neither are Squibs, but they can. It makes me wonder if they can heal."

Hebe stared at Pomona as if hoping she would understand that. Pomona shook her head and asked the question that might be beyond her sister at the moment. "What do you mean, Mr. Potter?"

"Can the shards of souls heal and grow strong again?" Harry tilted his head and rested his hand on Golden's neck as if he needed to root himself. "Are they like severed limbs? Or are they more like seeds—"

"Which are only a small part of a plant, but can grow a new one," Pomona breathed. She had never thought of that. She wasn't sure why she never had. Then again, it wasn't like she had spent time thinking about artificial familiars and the Forbidden Arts on any regular basis.

Hebe closed her eyes and quivered again, but then slumped. "It's been decades since I got Dragon, though. He would have healed already if it was possible."

"Have you ever tried to heal him, Miss Sprout?"

"I'm not a Healer, and I don't know those spells."

"I don't think it's really spells, Miss Sprout. It's more like the opposite of the Forbidden Arts."

Hebe stared at Pomona with an expression that was familiar, but which Pomona hadn't seen since they were children and Hebe was trying to tame some plant that had run wild. Pomona just shook her head, though. "What are you talking about, Mr. Potter?"

"The Forbidden Arts involve altering familiars, and cutting them up, and changing them up," Harry said. He was looking uncertain, but he kept his hand on Golden's head, and the snake looked calm and certain enough to make up for him. "What if we could give of our own souls to our familiars? I mean, not cut them up. That would be bad. But if we could offer them healing out of our souls?"

"It sounds like it might be beneficial," Pomona allowed uneasily. Honestly, Forbidden Arts and other soul-magic were dangerous enough that she didn't want to have anything to do with them. "But how would we do it?"

"Golden says that he'll teach me."

"Can he start right now?" Hebe demanded. Pomona frowned at her, but her sister, impetuous as always, ignored her and stared hungrily at Harry. "I want to heal Dragon. I want to have a proper familiar."

"Golden said it would take a long time." Harry sneaked a glance at his anaconda. "And he said that maybe I shouldn't rush around just doing everything I think of the minute I think of. Um. The way I did when I marked the artificial familiars, Miss Sprout."

"Oh." Hebe sat back down, but at least it was on a royal blue chair that Pomona remembered from their mother's drawing room this time, instead of on the floor. Dragon blinked in her arms and flickered out his tongue. "When will you know what you can tell me?"

"After I do some research with Golden." Harry raised his head and shook it when Hebe opened her mouth again. "I'm sorry, Miss Sprout. I really don't know."

Hebe swallowed. Her hands stroked down Dragon's back, and then she met Pomona's eyes.

And she smiled, which Pomona hadn't seen her do in the several days since the markings had appeared on the artificial familiars.

"That's at least a promise of hope," she said.


Julian stared at the letter in his hand, then turned it over and cast a few detection charms on it. They didn't reveal anything unusual. As far as he knew, this letter had been written by Harry, sent by Harry, and not tampered with by anything or anyone.

Sarah chattered from the wall, and Julian extended his arm. She sprang from the wall into his hand, scuttled up to his shoulder, and sat there, her tail winding around her haunches as she bent over to consider the parchment, too.

Dear Julian,

I was talking to a witch who's related to one of one my professors and has an artificial familiar. She was a Squib before one of her parents cut up their familiar and gave her the pieces. She cast magic with her familiar because I asked to see it, and I saw a bond between her and her lizard! It was only there for a minute, but it existed!

That means there has to be something there. And I should have thought of that before, because just attaching a familiar to someone wouldn't make them capable of magic, would it? But I wondered if we could grow that little bond into a big one. Heal artificial familiars with a piece of our souls. I mean, not our souls. The souls of the people bound to them. Squibs have some kind of magic, so maybe they could strengthen the bond and make their familiars real ones?

Golden thinks we could do that. But all the professors I've talked to at school have been pretty skeptical, so I thought I would write to you and see what you thought.

Harry.

Julian sat back, a little shaken. Yes, the more he read it, the more he was sure it had to have come from Harry, after all. It was the idea that had given him pause, which seemed too creative and sophisticated for someone of Harry's age, but if Golden had helped him develop it…

And the tone of breathless excitement and dogged good will was certainly Harry's.

Sarah chattered on his shoulder. Julian looked at her, and she pulled his hair with a little fist and looked at him sternly.

Julian had to smile. "You think it's real?"

Sarah ran in a circle on his shoulder, so fast that she almost fell off, and shook her tail at him.

"All right." Julian put the letter down and took a deep breath. Another reason he had been resisting thinking the letter was real was that, if this could happen, then he would have to…

Apologize to his wife, and think of some way to repair the huge breach in his marriage.

"Father?"

Julian looked up. Philip, his older son, had come back from Durmstrang because David had got hold of some Floo powder and called him through the fireplace. Julian wasn't upset that he was here, but he didn't know how to explain what was happening to him. Philip, despite being older than David and understanding the situation better, seemed to think that what had happened between his parents was worse than what Kelly had done to Jasmine.

And if Harry's right, then Philip is right.

"Philip." Julian nodded and set the letter aside, waiting until Philip was sitting in the chair across from him. His bronze death's-head moth, Aconite, perched on his knee. "Did you have a question to ask?"

Philip stared at him for a second, and then clenched his jaw. "What are you going to do about Mother?"

He didn't look away, and Julian found himself surprised all over again, as he had been since Philip came home this time, how mature his son had become. He was still a little shorter than Julian, but his brown eyes—Kelly's eyes—were straightforward and direct in a manner that would have shamed some chronological adults Julian knew. He rubbed the back of his neck and leaned back in his chair.

"You know that your mother's familiar is artificial."

"Yes. And I know that she couldn't have lived in the magical world at all if she didn't have one."

Julian raised his eyebrows a little. "Do you think she thinks of Philberta or Sarah or Aconite, even, as real beings, with rights? Would she cut one of them up if you or David have a child who's born without magic?"

Philip closed his eyes. "I don't believe that of her."

"I find that I don't know what to believe." Julian reached over and took Harry's letter off the table. Normally, he wouldn't have shown this to a fourteen-year-old, but, well, Harry was even younger, and Philip was Philip, and these…these were the circumstances. "But you can read this letter and see what might be a possible solution."

Philip eagerly took the letter and read through it, blinking a little as he arrived at the end. "Is this a joke?"

"No," Julian said. "I'll need you to promise to keep this to yourself, but this comes from the boy with the only golden familiar in Britain that I know of."

"He's eleven, isn't he?"

"He is, but he's both Harry Potter and goldenborn, and since he's the one who marked the artificial familiars in the first place—"

"How in the world could he have?"

"That's part of what having a golden familiar means. And if he's right about the bond, then maybe we can strengthen artificial familiars like your mother's into real beings."

Philip turned over the letter and stared at it in wonder. Aconite took flight from his knee, landing on Philip's shoulder and peering down as if he also wanted to read the letter. "But you don't think it's that simple, or you wouldn't be talking about it with this kind of grim hope."

Julian took a deep breath. Yes, it was a good thing that he'd decided to involve his son, as he would have had a hard time concealing his emotions from Philip. "The bond needs a willingness to grow the familiar with a piece of the wizard's or witch's soul. And do you think your mother can do that if she really only thinks of Jasmine, and other familiars, as tools, not beings?"

Philip blinked, then nodded slowly. "I promise that I'll talk to her, Father. Just don't act rashly. Let me speak with her."

And may it do more good than I have done. But for the first time in days, Julian felt hope, and Sarah chittered softly and leaned over to touch one of her hands to his chin.