Second Place Fiction: Austin Kansa’s “You Seem Familiar”

Making the cat my familiar was not my idea, and frankly, Theo needs to shut up about it before Administration finds out I brought her into my dorm room and we both get expelled.

“I’m a potioneer, okay, how am I supposed to know how you spellcasters do familiar rites?”

He gives me a stink-eye. “Rowan. Your mom is a spellcaster, and even if she weren’t, we went over all the different familiar rites in Magickal Theory not even two months ago.”

“Don’t talk about my mom!” I yelp, but he ignores me.

“Spellcaster familiar rites require you to name your animal,” he continues, as if I hadn’t spoken at all. “What did you name her?”

“I named her Cat,” I mumble, but he can still hear me. Cat is batting at Theo’s hand with her paw, her pale fur contrasting with his dark skin. The traitor. He laughs, and I bristle. “Hey. it’s not like I knew I was naming her in the magickal sense when I picked her up!”

Here’s how it went down: I was walking down the sidewalk on the street outside campus– beautiful this time of year, with the orange leaves and autumn breeze, but I digress– when I tripped over a segment that was sticking out of the ground. I skinned my knee, so I went over to sit on a bench which was when Cat came up to me and started rubbing against my legs.

Now, I probably should’ve figured something was going on there because unbonded familiars tend to show up in a time of need and I had just hurt myself, but I was a little distracted because I


love cats, and she has one green eye and one blue one and it’s so adorable–anyway, I looked her in the eyes and I said “You’re so cute, aren’t you, little Cat,” which apparently counts as acknowledging and naming her because spellcaster traditions are weird. I wasn’t focused on

what she was doing after that, so she managed to touch my skinned knee with her paw and everything went white and when I could see again, my knee was healed and I could feel her presence in the back of my mind. So there.

I’m surprised the rites worked, actually, because I’m certainly not a spellcaster. My dad was a potioneer before he accidentally dissolved his hands–lab safety, guys, remember it–but my mom is a spellcaster like Theo said, so maybe I got it from her.

The issue with this whole thing is that at the Academy, we aren’t allowed to have familiars until we’re seventeen. Age of majority and all that, and I’m sure they wouldn’t believe me if I–a star student ranked first in my discipline–told them that I accidentally bonded myself to a cat. So if she’s found, I’m going to be expelled and Cat’s going to end up in the zoomages’ kennels until I’m of age and I can pick her up, which would make me really sad and also her too. I hope. We aren’t that in touch with each other’s emotions yet.

I’m pretty sure the only reason Theo hasn’t turned me in yet is because he wants to hold this over my head. We’ve been rivals since the day we entered this school. I’m the top potioneering student, mainly because it’s intuitive after living in the herbalism shop my parents run for so long, and he’s the top spellcasting student, mainly from studying all day and having no friends or fun. I mean, I don’t really have any close friends, either, but I go to parties and stuff. He just… studies. All the time. It’s infuriating.


Now he’s taking photos of Cat on his phone, with a little smile on his face. Something a little bubbly rises in my chest when I see him. It’s probably just because I think the cat is cute, though. Definitely. Anyway, who’s he going to send those photos to, his dad? I ask as much.

“I’m sending them to Emma from Healing Magic and Greenwitchery. Cool your cauldrons,” he looks at me as I startle, “I’m not going to out you for this, since there’s only a month or so until your birthday and it’s clear you’re too dumb to have done this on purpose.”

“Yeah, well… Well, maybe you’re too dumb to not do it on purpose!”

He looks around him and gestures with delicate hands at the empty air as if to demonstrate that there’s no other familiar in the room aside from mine. I deflate. Yeah, that was a bad comeback.

“As I was saying,” he continues, “Emma has a non-familiar cat as an ESA, so I asked her to bring over some supplies. I told her you took in a stray for a night or two, which is totally in character for you, so I don’t think she’d suspect anything.”

I frown, but he’s right–I’d totally take in a stray, and I’m not afraid to admit it. We sit in silence for a few minutes, and I watch him pet Cat absentmindedly. She’s purring in the back of my head through our mental link, like she likes feeling his fingers carding through her fur. I kind of wonder what it would feel like if he did that with my hair–No. No, I don’t. I turn my head away from him to hide the blush I’m pretty sure is beginning to form across my cheekbones.

Right at that moment, someone knocks on the door to our dorm. I panic for a hot second, thinking of the quickest way to hide Cat behind my bed, but Theo checks his phone and waves his hand lazily at me.


“It’s just Emma, no need to be so worried.”

Emma comes into the room and drops a few things on the desk on my side of the room. A few cans of food and bowls to go with it, a cat bed, and a mouse toy are the first things I see in the pile. She seems nice, I think, but I don’t hang out around her much because she’s an enchantress: they’re kind of like spellcasters, but they use music instead of spells to cast. She’s

the kind to pull out her guitar at every party–I know this because a couple of months ago she accidentally cast Jacob le Faye’s hair electric blue and he had to wait until our Charms teacher could spell it back that Monday.

After I thank her, Emma heads for the door. She reaches out to where Cat is sitting on the loft of my bed, but my familiar hisses when the girl’s hand comes near her head. I try not to flinch at the rapid barrage of emotions that flicker through our new bond: anger, stress, panic, and some territorial instincts that are definitely more cat than human.

That’s really weird, because she didn’t do that with Theo, and he’s, like, the embodiment of evil. Huh.

Having a familiar comes in handy for magic, but I can totally tell why we aren’t supposed to have one of them before seventeen. It almost feels like cheating, sometimes, when she supplements my magic when I’m making a particularly strenuous potion or warns me when an elixir has changed colors and needs to be stirred. If I hadn’t learned all these potions to the point where I could do them in my sleep years ago, I totally would be cheating. Fortunately what she can do from over in the dorm room is redundant to me, but I still feel a little bit guilty.


The feeling is squashed when her feline rumbling starts back up in the little space of my brain that she’s carved out to house both of our emotions, and I remember that Theo gets out early on Wednesdays. I can imagine him now, giving Cat scritches on her chin, and I can’t fully stop the goofy grin from making its way onto my face.

“What’s so exciting?” Asks Jesse, who has the cauldron next to me.

“Nothing,” I lie smoothly, stirring my potion thrice clockwise and pouring the cinnabar in from exactly three centimeters above the surface of the liquid. “This step just usually comes out lilac. I finally managed to make it lavender.”

There are only three weeks until my seventeenth birthday, and I’d like to think that Theo and I have gotten pretty good at hiding Cat. She’s better behaved than a non-familiar pet would be, too, so we don’t have to worry about her leaping from the window during class so she can go hunt birds or whatever cats do when they’re alone. She’s pretty easily entertained with normal cat treats, and overall I think she makes for a pretty good third roommate. Theo doesn’t seem to dislike her, either, and she certainly doesn’t have any issues with him if how she slinks around between his legs for attention every time he tries to walk anywhere is any indication.

However, it’s been a month and a half since our last surprise-dorm-check, and I’m catching myself jumping every time the floorboards outside of our room creak. Though, the actual check ends up catching me off guard, because of course it does.

Mrs. Henry knocks on the door in a specific pattern that everyone at the Academy has memorized by their second year here. Theo and I are competitively studying for our Folklore and


Mythology class when I hear that rhythm, and I just about throw my computer at the wall. Theo, for all that my illicit cat is sitting on his lap, barely startles. I look at him wide-eyed as the lock clicks and the door swings open, but Cat isn’t there. What?

I look closer at where Theo sits with his laptop carefully covering the hollow that his legs make when he sits criss-cross on top of his bed, and I realize that I can just barely see a tuft of white fur peeking out from under his leg. I frantically search the area around me for anything that could help, and my eyes land on my opaque plastic water bottle.

“Theo,” I call, “Stop leaving your stuff on my side of the room.”

I toss the water bottle over to him, where it hits his knee with a dull crack. Thankfully, he seems to get my meaning and lays the bottle parallel to his leg, where Cat is now fully hidden from view.

I watch with anxiety as Mrs. Henry checks around the rest of the room, but it seems as though my obsessive habit of putting the litter box and all toys away as soon as they’re not in use has come in handy since Administration isn’t allowed to look in our drawers. Theo’s dusting charms have definitely helped save us, too, keeping cat hair off of our furniture and out of the air.

After what feels like hours, Mrs. Henry finally finishes her sweep and leaves the room. I let out a deep breath and Theo frees Cat from the hole he hid her in. He lifts my girl by her armpits and she meows, her tone clearly offended.


Theo doesn’t care. “Who’s a good girl?” He croons, and Cat lets out another vocalization, this one resigned. Just a little breathless, he lets out a laugh as he continues playing with my familiar, and I find myself smiling.

He looks so… soft like this. I feel like I could hug him and he wouldn’t even complain. Not that I do want to hug him, of course. Just, if I did want to hug him–which, make no mistake, I don’t–I could.

Actually… hold on a second. Maybe I do want to hug Theo.

Oh no. Oh, magick, this is bad.

Cat’s purring grows louder in the back of my mind, like I’ve arrived at a conclusion that

she’s been waiting for me to reach for so long. What’s truly horrifying is that that might be exactly what’s happening here. I gulp.

It’s been a terrible three weeks since I figured out that I like Theo. On the bright side, I turned seventeen yesterday, so Cat is no longer contraband when I return to school tomorrow, even if it’ll be suspicious that our bond is so strong after “only one day”. Though, they can’t do anything about it even if they do think I’ve had her for a while, which is good.

The Academy let me go home yesterday to celebrate my coming of age, because it’s a huge milestone in any mage’s life, regardless of their discipline. While I was there, I spilled everything to my older sister. I don’t know what I was expecting to happen when I finished regaling her with my tale, but it wasn’t for Madison to look me in the eyes and tell me that she thought Theo and I were already dating. It did help put things into perspective, though, so here I am sitting


criss-cross on my lofted bed across from Theo as he dangles Cat’s mouse toy above her in the space between us.

“Hey, Theo?”

“Hmm?” He responds noncommittally, distracted as he tries to keep Cat’s claws from sinking into his finger.

“I… like you. I think. I like like you. A lot.”

Theo buries his head in his hands and I can feel panic rise in my chest until he sets his hand over my own and it fades to uncertainty. “Oh, magick, Rowan, you’re so dumb. The minute you brought Cat in I thought you were going to figure out how much I like you.”

I blink. What?

Theo notes my confusion and keeps speaking as Cat makes her way over to me and curls up in my lap, purring. “Most familiars aren’t fine with just anyone touching them. They’re pretty hostile to anyone that their owner doesn’t like, and her letting me pet and hold her these past few

weeks? Yeah, that was practically her giving me her blessing. I thought I was going to melt right there that first night.”

I bury my face in Cat.

“Rowan. Rowan.” Theo is tugging at my arm, which is really unfair because I want to drown my embarrassment in cat hair, and my inability to ignore His Royal Annoyingness is getting in the


way of doing that. I groan once more before sitting up to look at him, and there’s a cute little smile on his face but I can tell that there’s mischief hiding in it.

I keep my wary eyes on him as he starts speaking. “I’m just glad that your cat has given you some semblance of emotional intelligence.”

The worst part is that he says it with that smug grin that I’m honestly way too weak for, so my heart is too far up my throat to respond verbally and it’s all I can do to slap at his arm with the back of my hand. Theo begins to protest, but he can’t even get a word out before I have the collar of his stuffy Academy uniform shirt gripped in his hand and I’m pulling him in for a kiss.

I return to school the next day with Cat lying limply across my shoulders, her heterochromatic eyes landing on everything in sight as she tries to connect what she’s seeing now to what’s been flowing through our bond these past weeks. I accept high fives from classmates and the occasional teacher, acknowledgments of my “new” friend, but I notice how Cat flinches away whenever a hand gets too close to her. Seems like Theo was right when he said she would be hostile.

Nothing can beat the feeling of seeing Emma’s face when I walk into Healing Magic and Greenwitchery with my familiar on my shoulder. It seems she was still under the impression that Cat’s not my familiar, just a stray I met on the street. Oops.

Though, maybe there is something that can beat that, I think, as I see Theo walk into the room. We don’t have assigned seats in this class, so it’s easy enough to beckon him over from the door.


I land a peck right on the corner of his lips and relish in the fact that I can just about hear my classmate’s jaws cracking as they drop.

“You’re so dramatic,” Theo whispers to me. “What can I say, you’ve got me under your spell.” Theo only groans in response.