The youngest child of Wyborn and Wren Sprout, Pomona was the last of four children to inherit the wealth of her parents’ inheritance. Three older sisters suckled the last beauty from their mother’s bosom in their first years of life; Pomona was left with a gap between her teeth and unruly hair. Their eldest brother left no room for uptake of responsibility on the small property; Pomona planted a garden, tendering carrots and root marrows.
Bonnie was the prettiest. Tall and lean, but strong, her milky, flawless skin put Pomona’s freckled exterior to shame. Her long flaxen hair rippled down her back and her adroit needlework clothed her frame in luscious, exotic robes that centered her in the middle of the general attention.
Sloane was the toughest. She was stocky, muscular, and was the catch of the town. Boys followed her home in the evenings, at once awed by her power and entranced by her beauty. She was also their father’s favorite, and often accompanied him on hunts; and he taught her archery.
Lumina was the cleverest. She surpassed all of her peers in school, being the first in the Sprout family to have been sorted into Ravenclaw. She spent most of her time writing or solving cross-word puzzles, and experimenting with recipes. She remembered everything she ever heard, and could often be found in the fields on her back with her eyes closed, listening.
Henry was the eldest. He was an artist, and used Pomona as his model more than once. Pomona would never tell, but she loved Henry best. He wouldn’t let her do any of the yard work, or housekeeping, though, but he didn’t understand that this made Pomona feel out of place, and unwanted.
Pomona was the youngest. She was small, often bug-eyed, smiled too often, and wasn’t invested enough in a stable subject to please her parents. But she loved plants, and watching them grow. She kept a faithful diary, and took drawing lessons from Henry, who was the only member of the family who wished to encourage Pomona to excel in Herbology.
One day, Pomona awoke without having to be woken. The sun danced through the window of her second-floor room and set the curtains ablaze, blinding white. The light they absorbed was enough to rouse her from her sleep, and she felt wide awake. She rushed to the window, pushing her hair from her eyes and rubbing her nose. Down below in her garden she discovered that there was a new kind of plant that had sprouted.
If this was a regular garden, and not a magical one, Pomona might have thought it odd that a plant she had never planted herself had suddenly sprung up in the garden. But this was not unusual in Pomona’s garden, and she was excited to receive these little gifts, even if she wasn’t sure who to thank.
Running back over the hardwood floors to her wardrobe, Pomona pulled out a stained jumper and grabbed her used, worn copy of One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi off her night stand. Fumbling through a drawer, she grabbed a journal and a pencil and flew out of her room, down both sets of stairs and out into the garden.
The rest of her family was sitting out on the back porch, eating breakfast. They’d given up calling Pomona out for meals long ago: she was too often deeply engrossed in her Herbology study to respond to meal calls. She didn’t mind.
“There’s a new plant in my garden!” she exclaimed as her mother motioned her over to the table. She launched herself off of the porch and ran to the small plot of green land—nearly every square inch of soil was covered in foliage. It was a wonder to those members of the Sprout family who cared to wonder at all that from her window, two stories up, Pomona was able to detect the presence of a new plant.
Reaching the small garden, Pomona hunkered down on hands and knees by the new plant, which was nestled at the outermost edge of the soil plot. The plant was clearly distinguishable from the others—its stems were like small, hairy tree trunks and the large, waxy leaves were heart-shaped and the innermost area, around the veins, was mottled in colour. The leaves resembled those of a begonia, although Pomona could tell that this was a magical plant from more than one marker of magical properties: one, the small, shiny, round orange berries stemming from the leaves, and two, that the whole plant was moving slightly.
Pomona got down on the grass beside the garden, on her stomach, positioning her beloved copy of One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi on one end in front of her face, and she flipped through the pages, searching for the section labeled “Wiggly.”
She found an exact copy of the leaves on page 347, sprouting from the head of a slightly ugly, baby-shaped root.
“Mandragora,” Pomona whispered, her eyes widening, as she pushed the book down flat and scrambled to her feet.
“It’s a Mandrake!” she whooped, running back towards the house and leaping onto the patio. “It’s a Mandrake,” she repeated to her family.
Henry smiled, and nodded at her. “Are you going to harvest it?”
“The cry is fatal,” Pomona reported dutifully, having read the description many times before. When her parents looked alarmed, Pomona hastened to add, “But this one is only a newborn, so I think if we wear something over our ears it should be alright. Worst case is it would cause one of us to faint for a brief spell.” She shrugged.
Her two eldest sisters continued on with their meal, uninterested in all kinds of magical herbs and fungi, but Lumina looked up from her crossword interestedly. “I have a few scarves we could use,” she said brightly, smiling, and Pomona clapped excitedly. “I’ll go get them, wait for me, Mona!” She politely asked their parents if she could be excused, and leapt out of her chair upon receiving approval, running into the house.
“Are you coming, Henry?” Pomona asked her only brother, who smiled at her from across the table.
“In a little while, Po, Dad and I are just discussing my duties.” Pomona glanced at the large, silver badge glinting on his chest, embossed with important, capital-lettered words. They said “HEAD BOY,” and Pomona didn’t exactly understand what a Head Boy did, but it was apparently important. Since earlier that summer, when he had gotten the letter and the badge—it was pretty, Pomona had said, tracing the silver and green letters with a grubby finger—he had been wearing it everywhere, and Mum and Dad had been telling everyone that their eldest had been made Head Boy.
“Oh,” Pomona said, nodding a little, “okay.” She spotted Lumina coming back out of the house with scarves in her hand, motioning with a sweeping arm for Pomona to meet her at the garden.
She ran quickly, tripping once, but her pace wasn’t interrupted. She flopped down on the ground by Lumina and allowed her older sister to tie the scarf around her ears. She made sure that Lumina’s ears, as well as her own, were completely covered, looked back over her shoulder—her sisters were looking over Lumina’s crossword, and her parents were speaking animatedly with Henry—and put a determined, small hand around the hairy stems.
“Are you strong enough?” Lumina asked, and Pomona was tempted to shoot her a reproachful glare, but upon second thought, she remembered that the book didn’t say anything about a nine-year-old being able to pull up a Mandrake by herself.
“I don’t know, would you help?” she asked, and Lumina nodded, her blond curls tumbling into her face, over the scarf, as she leaned forward and grabbed a few stems.
“On three,” Pomona prompted. “One, two, three!”
She and Lumina pulled up on the stems, but the wiggling plant did not come loose from the soil very easily. They got to their feet, still pulling, when suddenly, and with a small pop! the strangely-shaped root broke out of the soil.
It looked just like the illustration, only more beautiful. Its little mouth was open wide, screaming, Pomona supposed, but the sound was muffled through the scarf wrapped around her ears. It looked like a very tiny baby, and Pomona wanted to hold it in her arms like a doll. She looked up at Lumina’s face; she was grinning widely, still clutching her stems in her hand, looking happy.
Pomona looked over at the patio and saw, as if in slow motion, a scene unfold before her which she had not forethought. Henry was smiling at her, his hands over his ears, and offered her a thumbs-up of approval before clasping his hand over his ear once more. Her parents were looking, interested, their hands also over their ears; Mother smiled when she saw Pomona wave. And it was then that it happened—her oldest sister Bonnie had not been covering her ears because she had been scribbling on Lumina’s crossword, and Pomona watched in horror as Bonnie slumped over in her chair and toppled onto the ground.
Pomona and Lumina glanced at each other, and without a word, pushed the Mandrake back into the soil and covered it up, stifling its piercing cries. Pomona tore the scarf from her head as she and her sister ran back to the porch, where her family was crowded around Bonnie, fanning her with their plates and napkins.
“I’m so sorry, Mum,” Pomona gasped as she hid in her mother’s skirt.
“It’s alright, dear,” Mother said, patting Pomona gently on the shoulder, never removing her eyes from Bonnie’s pale face, even as her eyelids fluttered and she slowly recovered. Her mother left her side and stooped down next to Bonnie, and with Sloane and Henry’s help, lifted the oldest sister up and shuffled her inside. Her father took Lumina’s arm and guided her inside, while Pomona stayed behind, feeling guilty, to clear the dishes.
In a haze, a stormy haze—
“I’ll be around,” Pomona whispered, gathering up a stray fork.
A/N: lyrics in this chapter are from Coldplay's Parachute: "in a haze, a stormy haze, I'll be around."