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The Cat by mouse [Reviews - 23]


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This story was written before the release of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince". That doesn't really matter to the plot at all, but since Half-Blood Prince changed everything I knew about Snape, I thought I would mention it.


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Disclaimer:
Hail to the great J. K. Rowling, who built the house of Potter, and who doesn't sue us silly for breaking in and messing up the place with all our rowdy parties.
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The Cat


"Poisonous, pompous, supercilious..."

Anne-Marie heard Minerva coming down the spiral staircase toward her, and paused, raising her eyebrows at the livid anger she could hear in the older woman's voice.

"...venom-tongued, arrogant prat!" snapped Minerva, coming into view around the curve of the staircase. She caught sight of Anne-Marie, and spat furiously, "Don't talk to me right now!"

The hint was hardly necessary; someone had clearly got Minerva into a towering temper this evening. Anne-Marie quickly stood aside, and watched the Transfiguration teacher stomp past her down the stairs, still venting furiously. "Thinks he can just order everyone about like he's their lord and master! Bloody well serves him right if I decide to take a page out of... Ha! Should have turned him into a ferret!"

Anne-Marie shook her head. She hadn't seen Minerva this angry in all the time she had been at Hogwarts, which, granted, was only since the start of the school year, when Dumbledore had hired Anne-Marie on as the new Muggle Studies teacher. Anne-Marie didn't envy whoever had set Minerva off like that, however. She knew the Transfiguration teacher well enough to guess that Minerva probably hadn't let the miscreant get away unscathed.

Anne-Marie turned and resumed climbing the stairs. When she got to the top, she did a quick check to make sure that she was where she had thought she would be. After all, as Dumbledore's newest experiment - the Muggle Studies teacher who was actually a Muggle - Anne-Marie had learned a lot of unpleasant lessons in her first few months of teaching at Hogwarts, with the first lesson being that constancy was not to be taken for granted in the magical world. People changed form, rooms appeared and disappeared, and staircases could not be counted on to lead to the same place they had led whenever you climbed them last.

Thankfully, this time, Anne-Marie was exactly where she had expected to be, in the corridor that led to her private quarters. She recognised the little alcove with the suit of armour in it on her right, and the door to the staff room midway down the hall to her left.

Anne-Marie remembered suddenly that she'd left her coffee mug in the staff room, and decided to fetch it before she turned in for the night. There was a hologram stuck to the side of the mug, and Filius kept nicking the thing on her, trying to figure out how the charm was done. No amount of careful explanations regarding diffraction and the nature of light had convinced the little man that magic was not involved somehow.

As Anne-Marie passed the suit of armour, she saw a glimmer of furtive feline eyes staring at her from the shadows in the back of the alcove. "Hello, Mrs. Norris," she said.

The faintly glowing eyes disappeared abruptly, as their owner retreated behind the suit of armour entirely. Anne-Marie smiled. "Suit yourself," she said, and pushed the door of the staff room open. "Happy hunting tonight, Mrs. Norris."

Her mug was over by the fireplace, which was certainly not where she had left it. It had a slight scorch mark on the rim that someone had obviously tried hard to clean off, and the hologram was a little melted on one corner. Anne-Marie sighed, and made a mental note to pick up a new hologram mug the next time she went to London, so that she could give Filius this one.

As she turned to leave the staff room, a dark shape in the corner caught Anne-Marie's eye. She turned, frowning, and walked over to the black puddle of cloth lying on the floor. She knelt down and picked the fabric up nervously, very aware that things at Hogwarts often weren't as harmless as they seemed.

In this case however, the thing in her hand did appear to be harmless. It was just a wizard's robe, large enough for an adult, and completely unremarkable except for the fact that it was lying on the floor in the staff room.

"Hmm," said Anne-Marie bemusedly. She wondered if perhaps one of the house-elves had dropped it while on his or her errands. She draped the fabric over her arm and took it with her as she left the staff room.

Anne-Marie walked down the corridor to her quarters, and yawned as she closed the door behind her. She locked the door, and then put the big wooden bar across it. The lock would keep Peeves out of her rooms, and the bar would guard against anyone getting in using Alohomora, but Anne-Marie was very aware of the fact that she was still quite vulnerable in the Wizarding world - she didn't understand half of it, and she couldn't defend herself against any of it. A student had hexed her on a dare during the second week of classes, and Anne-Marie had been quite hysterical afterward. Madam Pomfrey had been very kind - telling her gently that the effects of jinxes often wore off by themselves after a few hours - and Dumbledore had expelled the student for attacking a teacher.

Anne-Marie put the robe from the staff room and her mug down on the hall table. Then she took off her own voluminous teaching robe - thereby exposing the jeans and t-shirt that she habitually wore underneath it - and hung it on the hook by the door.

She picked up the robe from the table and shook it out. It was still, simply, an unremarkable black wizard robe. Whoever owned it was tall - at least as tall as she was - but there was nothing else to distinguish the garment. Anne-Marie wondered again at how it could have come to be left in the staff room. She carried the robe over the bathroom and dropped it into the laundry hamper.

The robe lay in a puddle at the bottom of the laundry hamper for a moment, and then disappeared. Anne-Marie grinned. She didn't think she would ever get used to seeing magic in action, even for mundane things like taking the laundry away.

She wandered back out into the living room, and smiled at the blazing fire. The house-elves were amazing in general, but particularly kind to her. They understood how handicapped she was when it came to things like lighting her own fires or cleaning up sudden messes. Nearly everyone at Hogwarts - with the exception of some rather nasty pureblood students and the pointlessly toxic Professor Snape - had been exceptionally kind to their token Muggle. Anne-Marie was truly enjoying working here.

She yawned again, flopped down onto the sofa, and picked up the book that she had been reading the previous night. Finding her page, she settled down comfortably.

A particularly loud and poignant meow sounded from outside in the corridor. Assuming that it was just Mrs. Norris on the prowl, Anne-Marie ignored the noise, and continued reading. Fifteen seconds later, there was another meow, even more protracted than the first. This time, she frowned and looked up from her book.

Another loud meow sounded from the corridor. The cat was starting to sound almost annoyed now. Anne-Marie marked her page, put her book down, and went to the door. She unbarred and unlocked it, and then opened the door and peered out.

"Oh, hello there," she said, looking down in surprise. "Who are you?"

A large black cat sat just in front of her door, staring up at her. Its pupils were so dilated in the dim light that it made the cat's eyes look completely black. The animal's ears were flattened against its skull, and it had its head lowered a little, which made the creature look both surly and sulky.

"Mmmrrrrooowwwrrrr," said the animal in a low voice, and then stood up and pushed past her legs, padding silently into her rooms.

"All right," said Anne-Marie bemusedly. "Come in, pussycat."

With typically feline curiosity, the cat immediately began to nose around her living room. Anne-Marie closed the door and looked at her wristwatch. It was nearly eleven o'clock. If the animal belonged to one of the students, then she wasn't going to be able to make enquiries about it tonight. She would have to locate its owner in the morning.

Anne-Marie looked back at the cat. It had worked its way over to her sofa and was moving its head back and forth quickly, looking both on and under the furniture, and eyeing every corner of the room closely. Anne-Marie loved cats, but even she had to admit that this was not a very pretty animal. It was quite large, but very skinny, with bony haunches and a prominent ribcage. Its fur had a dirty, oily look to it, and it kept its ears low, as if permanently in a bad temper. The animal was completely black, except for its very pale nose and the white flash of fur that covered the bridge of its nose entirely. That combination made the cat's nose, as a whole, look almost comically prominent.

"What are you looking for, kitty?" said Anne-Marie, as the cat began to move toward her bathroom. "I certainly hope it's not the litter box, because I haven't got one."

The cat walked into the bathroom, and Anne-Marie saw it freeze, staring at the open laundry hamper. She ran forward, just as the animal jumped up and placed its front paws on the edge of the hamper, thrusting its face over the edge and into the hamper.

Anne-Marie snatched the animal up by its middle, and slammed the top of the laundry hamper down.

"You don't want to go in there, pussycat," she said. "You'll wind up down in the laundry bin with that robe I found in the staff room."

The cat gave her a singularly pained look, its large dark eyes stretched wide as if in horror, and then it said, "Mmmrroowwrrr?"

Then the animal went completely berserk. Anne-Marie gasped in pain and dropped the cat as it exploded in a hissing, spitting fit, clawing her arm and landing on the floor with its back arched and all of its fur standing on end. She stared, as the cat danced about in the middle of her bathroom floor, hissing and trembling, its eyes squeezed into little slits and its claws raking against the floor. The anger didn't seem to be directed at Anne-Marie exactly, but the animal was clearly livid. The whole display looked like a feline equivalent of a child throwing a temper tantrum.

After a moment, the fit began to subside a little and the animal backed itself into the corner between the bathtub and the toilet. It flopped down on its haunches, and yowled in deep annoyance.

"What was that all about?" muttered Anne-Marie. She grimaced, looking down at her scratched arm. She scowled at the cat, and said pointedly, "Do that to me again, kitty, and you're going back out in the corridor for the night."

The cat's yowling subsided into a peevish mewling, and it dropped its chin onto its paws. Its ears were flat against its skull again, and it glared up at her, looking sulkier than ever.

Anne-Marie sighed, and went out to the living room. She threw a pinch of Floo powder into the fire, waited for the flames to turn green, and then called out, "Kitchens, please! May I speak to a house-elf?"

One of the tiny creatures stepped out of the fire immediately and beamed up at her. "Professor Moffat is wanting something?" it squeaked, curtseying to her.

"I found someone's pet cat out in the corridor, and it's late enough that I think it will have to stay here tonight," said Anne-Marie. "Would it be possible to get some food and water for it, and set up a litter box?"

"Oh yes, Professor Moffat!" said the house-elf delightedly, and Apparated away with a pop. Another pop brought it back with a deep pan full of sand, and two small bowls. One bowl contained cat food and the other water.

Anne-Marie let the house-elf set everything up, and then thanked it for its help. After it had Disapparated, she moved the litter box into the bathroom and put it down beside the laundry hamper.

"There," said Anne-Marie, looking down at the cat sulking behind her toilet. "If you need to use the loo, you use that. Got it?"

"Rrrr," said the cat grumpily, and it sounded so much as if the animal had answered her that Anne-Marie laughed, and reached down to scratch the cat behind the ears.

The cat immediately hissed and spat, and shrank away from her hand with its ears flat against its skull.

"All right," sighed Anne-Marie, withdrawing her hand. "I swear, you're even less friendly than Mrs. Norris. At least Crookshanks likes me. What's wrong with the rest of you cats at Hogwarts?"

The cat only hissed at her again, and then went back to sulking.

Anne-Marie straightened up. She yawned, and checked her watch again. "Well, kitty," she said. "No more reading. I think it's time for me to get ready for bed."

Anne-Marie pulled her t-shirt off over her head, and began to unzip her jeans. She glanced over at the cat. It was watching her movements, and its flattened ears had lifted a little.

Anne-Marie finished undressing, and stepped into the bathtub. Squatting down, she turned on the water and adjusted it to a pleasant temperature. The cat continued to watch her from behind the toilet. Its ears were standing up normally now, and it had raised its head off of its paws. The tip of its tail - which she could just see curled around the far side of the toilet - was flicking a little.

Anne-Marie sat down, and settled back into the tub. She picked up the soap and began lathering up. The warm water was making her feel pleasantly sleepy.

When the tub was full, she reached forward to turn off the water, and then lay down to submerge her head. Sitting up again, she grabbed the shampoo and began to wash her hair. A bit of foam slid down over her forehead and forced her to close her eyes. She finished washing by feel, and then lay down to rinse the suds out of her hair.

Anne-Marie sat up and wiped her eyes clear, then jumped a little when she saw a small black face peering at her over the edge of the bathtub. She giggled at the cat.

"Not just a tom, but a peeping tom?" she said playfully. The cat continued to eye her, but did not comment. Anne-Marie cocked her head at it. "You certainly look like you need a bath, kitty," she said, studying its greasy-looking fur with some distaste. "How berserk are you going to go if I dump you into this tub with me?"

"Rrrrr," said the cat, as if daring her to find out.

On a whim, Anne-Marie leaned forward and extended her hand toward the cat, presenting it with the tops of her fingers. When the animal did not shrink away, she slowly turned her hand, and then gently scratched the cat behind the ear. The animal regarded her silently, without complaint.

"Well," said Anne-Marie, getting to her knees, "let's see whether this is a bad idea or not." She reached over the side of the tub and picked the cat up. Settling back, she eased the animal slowly into the warm water and sat it down on her lap. The cat still did not complain, although it did keep glancing down into the water. Anne-Marie poured a handful of water over the cat's back. It looked up into her face, and she laughed again.

"Well, you are a water-lover, aren't you?" she said, pouring another handful of water onto the animal's fur. "Most kitties don't stand for this sort of treatment at all. Let's get you cleaned up, then."

Anne-Marie reached over and grabbed the bar of soap, then began lathering up the cat's fur, taking care to make sure that the motion of her hands would feel more like stroking than scrubbing. The cat endured the treatment with complete dignity. Anne-Marie even thought the animal might be enjoying it, as the cat readjusted itself so that it could lay its head gently against one of her breasts. She had almost finished cleaning the cat's back when the animal darted out its tongue and licked her nipple.

"Ow! Hey, you've got a rough tongue!" she said, and moved the cat's head away from her now stinging nipple. She finished washing the cat's paws, and then rolled the animal over onto its back against her chest, so that its four legs were splayed out. She started washing the cat's stomach, and the animal squirmed a little.

"Hold still now," she said, holding the cat firmly. "Hmm," she said, looking down at it. "You're a boy cat, I see. Nobody's fixed you." She washed the length of the cat's stomach, lathered its genitals gently, rubbed some soap against its anus to get that clean, and then washed the cat's long tail. The cat had stopped squirming entirely. In fact, it lay against her in quite happy passivity now.

Anne-Marie turned the cat over and slid it into the water, rinsing the soap off it. "Not quite done yet," she said, beginning to lather up the cat's head carefully, taking care to prevent soap from getting into its eyes. The animal continued to be perfectly well-behaved, gazing at her as she massaged soap gently into its ears.

"Now we're finished," said Anne-Marie, after she had rinsed the last of the suds off of the cat. "That wasn't so bad, was it, kitty?"

The cat purred deep inside its chest. Anne-Marie laughed, reached over to start the tub draining, and then picked up the cat. Holding the animal against her chest, she stood up and grabbed a towel, then wrapped the cat in it and began to dry the animal off gently. The cat continued to purr.

When she had it completely dry, Anne-Marie deposited the cat onto the floor and then began drying herself off. The cat sat down and watched her with a smug expression, the tip of its tail frisking back and forth.

"Bedtime?" said Anne-Marie to it when she had finished.

The cat said nothing, but continued to frisk its tail. It sat and watched her as she brushed her teeth, and then followed her out of the bathroom and into the bedroom as companionably as a dog might have.

Anne-Marie slid between the sheets naked, and yawned, then looked at the cat.

"You're welcome to share," she said, patting the bed beside her. The cat jumped up almost before she had finished speaking, and snuggled down beside her. Anne-Marie chuckled, running a hand over its now silky fur. "Is there anything better," she said with a grin, "than falling asleep with a cat beside you?"

"Rrrrrr," said the cat with a distinctly smug expression.

Anne-Marie yawned again, and lay down, smiling as she felt the cat's little body snuggle up close to her.

***

Sometime in the night, Anne-Marie's sleeping mind felt the mattress shift. It was as if something heavy had just sunk down onto the bed. Anne-Marie's body rolled slightly into a hollow in the mattress that had not been there a moment ago, and she came to halt pressed up against a long, warm mass that smelled like clean skin. She did not wake up entirely, but only smiled faintly to herself, her sleeping mind already presenting her with pleasant images of her last boyfriend - long before the messy break up - when she had still loved the feel of him sleeping naked beside her. Anne-Marie turned over, and snuggled up to the warm expanse of male flesh that was now inhabiting her bed, burying her nose into a tumble of silky clean hair.

The warm expanse, for its part, did not move at all except to breathe, and Anne-Marie quickly slipped back into a deep sleep. Sometime later, when the bare warm body moved itself carefully away from her, and the bed shifted again as if a weight had now been removed from it, Anne-Marie did not wake up at all.

***

The next morning, it took a while for Anne-Marie to notice that the cat was gone, but once she had missed it, a thorough search of her rooms didn't turn up any trace of the animal. The cat food was untouched and the litter box unused. The windows and door were also closed, so she didn't see how the cat could have escaped.

Anne-Marie frowned, and looked at her watch. It was time to go down to breakfast, and she had a lot of work to get to before her first class, so she couldn't spend any more time wondering about the missing cat. She walked over to get her teaching robe off the hook by the door, and halted in puzzlement.

Her teaching robe was gone. She remembered hanging the big robe up the night before, but it wasn't on the hook anymore. Had the cat pulled it down and dragged it off somewhere?

Another quick check of her rooms didn't turn up any errant robes either. Anne-Marie scowled, and began to feel a bit frightened. She could get another teaching robe from the house-elves - that wasn't a problem - but she wanted to understand what was going on here. Where was the cat? Why had her robe disappeared?

Still scowling, Anne-Marie reached over to unbar the door, and then blinked as another unpleasant shock hit her. The bar was lying on the floor, and her door was unlocked.

"Idiot!" hissed Anne-Marie to herself, realising that she hadn't remembered to lock and bar the door after she had let the cat in the previous night. Anyone could have come in, including Peeves, and obviously someone had - pulling a relatively harmless prank on her by stealing her teaching robe off the hook by the door. And they'd probably accidentally let the cat out when they did it.

Muttering at her own stupidity, Anne-Marie locked the door behind her and went down to breakfast.

***

Minerva had obviously got over her fit of temper, for she smiled and nodded pleasantly at Anne-Marie as she walked up to the head table and took her usual seat. Anne-Marie glanced down the table at the older woman, wishing that she could spare a few minutes to gossip with her before classes started. She was very curious as to who had inflamed Minerva's temper so much the previous night.

A moment later, however, Anne-Marie thought she might have her answer. Minerva's expression had just darkened, and the older woman's eyes were narrowing at someone across the room.

Anne-Marie looked over, and saw Snape striding toward the head table, looking even more rigid and severe than he normally did. Anne-Marie glanced back at Minerva, and saw the woman suddenly get a very smug expression, and nod politely to Snape.

Snape did not acknowledge the Transfiguration teacher in any way, although it seemed to Anne-Marie that his cheeks were more flushed than she'd ever seen them before. He strode around the end of the head table briskly and, to Anne-Marie's surprise, sat down right next to her.

"Good Morning, Severus," she said politely, feeling a bit nervous. Professor Snape had never been pleasant to her, and she secretly suspected that he was of the same ilk as those horrible pureblood students who thought that Muggle-borns at Hogwarts were bad enough, never mind an actual Muggle.

"Moffat," he said to her curtly, as if she were a student. He started serving himself breakfast.

Anne-Marie continued eating, but studied Snape out of the corner of her eye. What was so different about his appearance this morning? Ah yes...

It appeared that the normally disgustingly greasy Potions master had finally decided to take a bath and wash his hair. He looked rather nice for a change, in fact - the contrast of his hard, sharp features and the feathery-clean hair falling softly around them was pleasing. Anne-Marie noted that he was also wearing a clean robe - judging by the ironed creases still visible on his sleeves, he must have only just got it back from the house-elves that morning.

Anne-Marie glanced over at the nasty little smile playing across Minerva's face, and curiosity got the better of her.

Turning, she said, "What brings you to my side of the table this morning, Severus?"

"What an absurd conversation starter that was," he said witheringly.

"Well, you normally avoid me like the plague," said Anne-Marie pointedly. "I'm a little shocked to find myself suddenly sitting beside you."

Snape turned and fixed her with those cold black eyes. For some reason, his dark eyes reminded her of someone else's this morning, although she couldn't think whose.

"Your company has unexpectedly become preferable to Minerva's," he sneered.

Anne-Marie raised her eyebrows. "Oh?" she said. "Why is that?"

"It is none of your concern," said Snape, turning back to his breakfast.

"I was just asking," said Anne-Marie wearily, reapplying herself to her own meal.

She had thought the conversation over, but to her surprise, Snape said suddenly, "Minerva and I had a bit of a spat last night."

Anne-Marie looked up, and saw Snape shooting a poisonous glare down the table at the Transfiguration teacher, who was still looking terribly smug about something. "Unfortunately," said Snape - and Anne-Marie saw a flush that might have been anger or might have been embarrassment colour his cheeks - "she won."

Snape looked back at Anne-Marie, and smirked unexpectedly. "Although," he said, his dark eyes glittering at her strangely, "it didn't turn out to be quite as unpleasant an experience as one might have expected."

Snape's gaze flicked downward, taking in Anne-Marie's distinctly Muggle t-shirt and jeans. He curled his lip in distaste. "The house-elves found someone's teaching robe in the laundry this morning," he said, turning back to his meal, "if you happen to be missing yours."

The Cat by mouse [Reviews - 23]


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