Characters: Minerva McGonagall, assorted Slytherins
Wordcount: 2643 words
Summary: Professor McGonagall follows her instincts...
Note: For chthonya with love! And thanks to lazy_neutrino for the beta!
Minerva let out a soft sound of pleasure when her hair came free of its tight bun, tumbling down over her shoulders and back as she put down the charmed pins on her drawer. Outside the window, the moon was a thin, sharp crescent. It called to her. It was late; tomorrow would be another long teaching day, and really, she should be in bed already. But her inner paws itched.
With a sigh, she allowed the urge to flow through her, and executed a deep, luxurious stretch. As always at the beginning of a new school year, the bustle of the Welcoming Feast, older students excited to be back at Hogwarts and first years going wrong and getting underfoot all over the place left her with a longing to prowl the halls on her own, in solitude. Doing so in her Animagus form allowed her to ignore students out of bed raiding the kitchens, or couples out for a nightly tryst in secluded alcoves which, as Deputy Headmistress, she would have to call to order.
That, she admitted wryly, and the influx of new pet cats left her with the nagging urge to assert her territory. She opened her mouth to test the air, encountering only the familiar smells of her rooms. Satisfied, she slipped through the cat flap, charmed to be invisible from both sides of her door.
She bounced down the tower staircase, past the upper-level classrooms – Charms and Transfiguration – and down towards the great hall. It was dark, and blissfully empty. On impulse, she jumped up onto the Slytherin table, pausing at the head of it to clean under her tail a few times.
Prancing out, she crossed the path of an unfamiliar half-grown black and white female slinking past the bust of Manfred the Malleable. The half-kitten stopped, fur bristling, at the sight of her. Its ears flattened back and a yowl started at the back of its throat, then died off when it caught a whiff of Minerva's smell. It flattened even lower, and crawled back a few steps. Then it turned and bounded off in the direction of Ravenclaw tower.
Satisfied, Minerva jumped onto the window seat besides Manfred's bust and sat in the bright glow of moonlight, drawing her tail tightly around her. The moonlight seemed to caress the tips of her fur, and after basking in it for a minute or two, she settled down for a pleasant session of grooming.
It was not something she enjoyed being observed at, even less interrupted. So when the sharp smell of male hit her nostrils, she spun round and her back arched reflexively. There he was, slinking around the bottom of the bust and staring up at her out of slanted eyes without an ounce of respect. Purely physically speaking, he was a handsome specimen: glossy black fur, a sleek body, ears well-proportioned in relation to his arrogant triangular face. In his physical prime, she guessed, about two or three years old. Young whippersnapper!
His nose twitched as he caught her smell, tail swishing uneasily. To her astonishment, he crept closer. Most common cats were sufficiently disconcerted by the touch of human in her smell to give her a wide berth. The rest she usually quickly fought off.
As he stretched up towards her, forward nose almost reaching the window seat, she saw that his right front and left back paw were white, making him look as if he'd forgotten to put on half his socks. Her mouth opened and spat forth a hiss. He slid down the wall a bit, ears flattening until they seemed to merge into his head. His tail swished merrily, though, and provoked all of Minerva's pouncing instincts. Her own tail unrolled, fluffing and twitching.
Instead of backing away, amber eyes blinked up at her, and then a paw came up, claws tangling through her tail hairs. She snarled and smacked right across the cattish smirk in his face. He fell backwards, executing a last-second save roll over his shoulder, and bounced several steps back, tail bent at a right angle. Minerva leapt down from the window seat after him. He shot away and down the nearest flight of stairs, with Minerva in hot pursuit. Exhilaration pounded through her, and her heartbeat sped up pleasantly.
They raced down several corridors and stairwells, with the tom pausing occasionally to throw provocative glances over his shoulder, increasing Minerva's determination to introduce him to a headlock and some instructional paw slashes to mess up that perfect coat. Wrapped up in the excitement of the chase, she saw walls and doors race past without paying attention where she was going. All she was focussing on was black and white paws, leaping away from her in a hypnotising rhythm.
When he suddenly came to a stop in front of a tapestry and rose on his hind to push forward with his front ones, she caught up with him in a few wide leaps. Expecting to feel fur under her claws, she wasn't prepared for him to disappear through the tapestry. Nor for herself to tumble after him, carried forward by her own momentum.
He elegantly jumped to the side, while Minerva skidded forward on the polished darkwood parquet, claws out without finding any hold until she hit the edge of a thick carpet. It was the most undignified entrance she'd made since falling asleep on her parents' garden wall on the afternoon of Guy Fawkes Day 1958.
A barrage of unfamiliar smells hit her nostrils. Just when her eyes caught the snake pattern of the rug, she felt herself being grabbed roughly by the scruff of her neck and lifted. She squirmed and tried to claw, but couldn't reach and the hard grip made her want to freeze. After a long moment of painful dangling, another hand grabbed her hind paws and held her up like a ratty handbag. Her eye caught sight of her nemesis, the black tom, being cradled in the arm of a blond first-year who scritched him delicately behind the ears. Minerva growled and twisted her head.
Another boy was holding her, this one black-haired with untidy locks who smelled as if he'd come out of potions class recently. She couldn't remember his first name, but his last one was Lestrange. His brother, a third year Slytherin, was a disruptive and malicious terror. This one had dirt under his fingernails; Minerva turned her nose away in disgust.
She craned her head to take in the surroundings. It was, quite obviously, the Slytherin first year dorm. Even through the greyish tinge of her cat sight, she recognised a few of the faces from her introductory Transfiguration lesson.
"It looks like a common stray," the boy who held her pronounced, staring down along his nose at her squirming form. "Look at those stupid eyes – like it's wearing glasses. Who do you think it belongs to? Not a Slytherin, I don't think."
Minerva growled softly at the back of her throat at the mention of 'stray', and 'stupid'. The blond boy – Lucius Malfoy, it wasn't hard to remember considering that his father had turned up in the middle of the summer break to inspect the school his precious heir was about to enter – stopped petting the tom, who now sat on his bed like a proud black statue, and took a step closer.
"She's probably a lady friend of Prince Mordred," he said with a smirk. "He's a very handsome cat."
A large boy who was eating an already headless chocolate frog barked out a laugh. "She was chasing him, yeah."
Minerva went warm under her fur as the boys guffawed. She recognised the speaker – Victor Crabbe, who'd whispered with Andrew Goyle all through her first class. Crabbe had sent three teacups to shatter against the wall instead of transfiguring them, and Goyle, while not making any headway with his own cup, had stepped on and squashed a Muggleborn Hufflepuff's mouse that had been near-perfectly transformed apart from still having a delicate floral pattern. It had been the first detention she'd issued in the new school year, and being laughed at by the culprits rankled.
"If there are kittens, maybe you can give one to Andromeda Black," a cheerful boy with honey-coloured hair and eyes suggested.
The pale face of the Malfoy child pinked a little.
"I couldn't give a Black a halfbreed kitten! It'd be an insult to her family."
The other boy – Rosier, Evan Rosier, Minerva's airborne brain provided after a moment – flashed a mischievous grin. "Probably. But I think Andromeda would like it."
"Well," the Lestrange lout said, shaking her a little for good measure, "I know that cats' tails and claws and whiskers are used in a few interesting potions..."
Crabbe and Goyle laughed at that, but for a second something like dread flitted across the Malfoy boy's face. Rosier leaned back and crossed his arms behind his head, content to watch.
"Cats are girls' pets anyway," Lestrange added in a dismissive tone. "Not half as useful as owls."
"They are not girls' pets!" young Malfoy snapped. "My family have bred cats for decades. Do you think Father would have given me Prince Mordred otherwise? A purebred cat for a pure-blooded wizard. Every halfblood pauper can have an owl."
"Then this one's really good for nothing," the boy concluded with barely concealed glee.
Minerva decided she'd heard enough by far. There had been rumours about illegal potions brewing last year, when two pet rats of members of the Ravenclaw Quidditch team had gone missing after Ravenclaw had trashed Slytherin, but the culprits had never been found.
She snapped her head around and sank her fangs into the heel of the boy's hand. He screamed and let go of her. Elegantly turning in mid-fall, she landed on her paws and licked a few drops of blood off her jaws. There were rules forbidding staff to cause bodily harm to pupils, but so there were – or should be! – against threats to dismember faculty.
She shot underneath one of the four-posters before any of the boys could catch his bearings, then the one beside it, and finally under the one next to the door. There she sat below the headboard, breathing hard enough for her flanks to tremble.
"That rabid mogg!" Her tormentor's voice sounded strangled, whether from pain or from humiliation she couldn't tell. She grinned a Cheshire grin in the shelter of her hideout. "Where has it gone? I'm going to skin it alive!"
"I saw her run under Lucius's bed!"
Then the Malfoy boy's voice, not even trying to disguise his spite. "A rather warlike girl's pet, wouldn't you say, Lestrange?"
"Try a Summoning Charm," young Goyle cried excitedly.
Minerva decided not to wait and see whether between them, this sad bunch could actually execute an Accio. The last thing she wanted was being forced to transform in front of a bunch of Slytherin brats, least of all in her nightgown and with her hair down. She'd never live it down without Obliviating the entire sorry lot, and Albus would have strong opinions on that.
She padded to the footend of the four-poster, crouching there just out of reach. She ducked down, coiled like a spring. Then she jumped out from under the bed and up, elegantly sailing through the air towards the tapestry-hidden doorway.
She expected it to let her through, just like it had opened before. All Hogwarts dormitories were bespelled to allow teachers to exit and enter, no matter in what form. She did not expect to crash, nose-first, into the door. It hurt, even with a much shorter nose than a human's.
Half-dazed, she slid down, claws scrabbling for purchase at the tapestry.
"Hah!" the Rosier boy cried. "I knew the trap charm would work!"
She felt a hand around her middle and clawed at it, but only managed to slice into a robe sleeve. Instead, she found herself scooped up again in an expert grip, legs pointing away from the body behind her. One arm came down across her belly, the other supported her behind. Minerva snapped unsuccessfully after a strand of blond hair... it was young Malfoy. Prince Mordred cuddled up against the boy's feet, batting at the tip of Minerva's tail that was hanging down and twitching with nerves. She rolled it out of reach quickly.
"Hush!" Malfoy commanded sternly.
"Give it here!" Lestrange snarled.
"I don't think so," Malfoy drawled. He sounded just like the cocky little brat he was, but being held closely against his chest, Minerva realised that his hands were moist; he smelled of fear. "The Prince likes her, and she fought bravely."
Lestrange inflated like a bullfrog; his wand still aimed in her – and Malfoy's – general direction. Minerva coughed out a curse. Abraxas's son held her with both arms; he would never manage to draw fast enough if the dark-haired boy threw a hex. As if sensing this, Prince Mordred wound himself around and behind Malfoy's legs until not even the tip of his tail was visible behind the boy's school robes.
Malfoy stood as if he didn't even notice the danger. As if protected by an enchanted amulet, he turned with supreme confidence to the door, his back unguarded. Only Minerva noticed that his hands were trembling. He hoisted her against his shoulder and placed one palm at the centre of the tapestry.
"Admit this Slytherin!"
This time, the tapestry parted soundlessly, and the door behind it swung open.
Minerva squirmed in his arm, eager to get away. He rapped her between the ears. "Quiet, you!"
He stepped out into the corridor and finally dropped her onto the flagstones. His dorm mates jostled out behind him, Lestrange at the forefront. Minerva ducked into a curve-backed crouch at his sight. Now, finally, the Malfoy child drew his own wand, not quite aiming it directly at his rival. It was all pose, but Minerva, having gone to school and faced off with his father Abraxas in the duelling club often enough, let out a sneeze of laughter that shook her entire frame.
Then he clapped his hands at her with a shooing noise.
"Run away, you stupid cat!"
It was advice best heeded, Minerva thought, and darted off.
A zap, a hiss, and a few magical sparks hit her behind. She yowled and lost her footing for a moment, skidding a few feet before getting back on her paws. Craning a furious head around, she saw it was indeed the Malfoy brat who'd thrown the hex. Behind him, Goyle and Crabbe laughed while Lestrange looked somewhat disappointed.
A second shower of sparks shot down the corridor towards her, but missed widely and fizzled out along the stone wall. The nearest portrait – of Malus Malificer riding a Thestral – glared as his mount reared up and flapped away out of the frame with its rider barely hanging on to the reins.
Minerva's reflexes kicked in. She shot up into the air with all four paws at once, then raced off in a zigzag course, her backside and tail smarting.
"Stupid cat!" Malfoy yelled. "Don't ever come back here!" His voice followed her as she raced up the stairs to safety.
Later that night, when she'd finally made it back to her rooms, her bed and her own body, Minerva McGonagall leaned her chin onto her crossed arms. Resting on her belly to take the weight off her stinging behind, she determined to keep a very sharp eye on this year's lot of Slytherin first-years.
That, and she'd revise her teaching plan towards demonstrating her Animagus transformation in the first session of first year rather than third. Which should, she thought, instil lasting respect for tabby cats in the entire student population.
Especially for tabby cats with spectacle markings around their eyes.