I dedicate this story to Steph, owner of “softly, softly catchy monkey”. I hope it amuses her :-)
Many thanks to my fantastic beta Charybdis, and to Vocalion for her kind encouragement.
If the number of her pets is any indication of a single woman’s loneliness, then Brynhild Bromley, Q. C., is in dire need of human company.
Under a heap of dead leaves in her walled-in Mayfair garden lives a wrinkled tortoise that on sunny autumn days can be seen crawling out of its lair to slowly – very, very slowly – chew the cabbage leaves Brynhild has left by the back door. Its legs are crooked and its little head is ugly, and when it eats it munches away in the manner of a demented old lady. Tortoises do not provide much excitement, it is true; but every time it comes out of its hiding place, Brynhild feels a special kind of satisfaction. It is the longest living of her pets, and its sedate and stately manner makes her smile. It has a calm that she can only dream of.
In the drawing room of her house stands the large glass tank holding Edgar, a Burmese python of considerable size. She acquired him while she was at university; he fit inside the palm of her hand. In those days she fed him baby mice. Brynhild adores Edgar, her companion for nearly twenty years now, and she is prepared to go very far in order to serve his interests. She kills the prey she offers up to him with her own bare hands: mice, hamsters, rats and small rabbits. Her darling snake deserves fresh food, not the freezer meals she reserves for herself; but to let him strangle live rodents might lead to Edgar getting hurt, so she takes care of the dirty deed, coolly and efficiently, and carries the limp and still-warm creatures to his cage. Edgar is superior to the fuzzy little things he needs as nutrition. She has no qualms about supplying him with them. There is no cruelty in the act; it is natural.
When Brynhild takes Edgar out of his tank she drapes him around her shoulders like a stole. She kisses his small head and strokes his pale elastic throat and savours the sensation of his smooth scales sliding against her skin. She loves the long, heavy coils of his muscular body, the movement of his elongated spine, his weight upon her arms, his reptile caresses. His beady black eyes glitter, his specked and patterned skin gleams, his forked tongue is purplish and soft. Edgar is as dangerous as he is handsome, and strong enough to suffocate her should he try. He will do no such thing. She is too considerate, too comfortable to be dispensed with; she is also dangerous in her own right. He is only allowed to bask in the heat that radiates from her warm-blooded body, and in return she enjoys the subtle pressures of a lithe snake’s locomotion.
Allan is a perfectly white Persian cat with a long and noble pedigree. His ears are a tad too large, and his squashed nose makes him appear perennially grumpy. When he sleeps, curled up on his own private pillow, he looks like a fluffy snowball, and Brynhild nicknames him ‘the Ice King’. He is prissy and distant and is best left alone. His thick, shiny fur invites stroking, but Allan will hiss, bite and scratch any miscreant who tries to do so. He is almost ancient now, an intolerant patriarch in the house, one of these old-fashioned moody cats who consider it a painful but inescapable feline duty to grace an abode with their presence. Allan is not being kept. He is not accepting charity. He condescends to living with a human woman, and the choice bites served in a fine china bowl, the clean box, the fastidiously brushed-up velvet pillow are no more than the deference due to him.
But even this proud old gentleman is not made of stone, and there are times at which he lets his cold mask slip. His beautiful long fur needs grooming, and the sheer mass of it makes it impossible to manage with just one small pink sandpaper tongue. He has no choice but to submit to Brynhild’s care. Every morning after breakfast, she spreads a red blanket on her knees and Allan will jump into her lap, eager to get rid of the irritating tangles the previous day and night have produced. Brynhild will soothe him, and stroke him very tenderly until he is quite, quite relaxed. She will comb the largest knots away and then brush the entire surface of his body, deliberately in some parts and gently in others, and she will devote the utmost attention to puffing out the ruff that makes him look so impressive. She wants him to be worthy and glorious. That accomplished, she will pet him again with slow and discreet strokes and then … then it may happen that Allan closes his eyes and, almost despite his nature, abandons himself to her caresses until he purrs with contentment. At times like these Brynhild smiles, and triumph lights up her grey eyes, but she is careful not to voice it – bragging about pleasure given is vulgar and indelicate.
The youngest member of the menagerie is a black cat called Poe, the third of that name. Brynhild is a witch, or used to be one, so she considers a black cat absolutely indispensable. Poe lacks Allan’s distinguished background; his ancestors earned their bed and board by catching mice and rats in a Sussex farmstead, but felines have a natural nobility and so Poe is no less dignified than any purebred cat. His hunting instincts are most keen, and on rainy days, when he cannot chase birds or butterflies in the garden, he whiles the time away with yarns or plush mice or anything that moves, and when Brynhild is not looking, he sharpens his claws on the furniture.
Sprightly and playful, Poe craves Brynhild’s attention almost constantly; indeed, he seems rather keen on her. As soon as she opens the front door of the house in the evening he comes padding quickly through the corridor, his tail in the air, to greet her and rub against her silk-stocking-clad legs. He will loudly voice his delight at her presence by meowing, and follow her up the stairs to her room, where, like the shameless voyeur he is, he will watch her attentively as she changes her clothes. Despite his youth, Poe is of all the pets the most attuned to Brynhild’s moods. He senses her emotions and readily acts upon his intuitions. When she is down he attempts to console her by licking her hands with his grating tongue, nuzzles against her and dances attendance on her. When she is happy he draws her attention to himself, inviting her to cuddle him by turning over and displaying his soft black belly. Poe adores her every touch, tickle and caress; he begs for them, and his purrs come easily. He is affectionate and a flirt. When Brynhild reads a book or watches a film he will jump onto the couch and snuggle close to her. She is grateful for it.
The monkey – is a different matter entirely.
Monkeys don’t make good pets, and this one least of all. From the day it showed up in her house it has done nothing but screech, jump up and down like mad, pummel its small fists against the floor and generally throw massive tantrums. She has berated it, of course, first in stern tones, then quietly, then threateningly, but nothing has made any difference. If she comes too close to the monkey’s liking, it lashes out at her with its long arms and tries to bite her.
“If you don’t like it here, you can leave,” she has hissed at the end of the first noisy day. “No-one is stopping you.” She has opened the window and the back door to make her meaning perfectly clear. The monkey has not risen to the bait. Diminutive though it may be, it clearly has every intention of terrorising her, of bullying her into action, of forcing her into subservience, but she refuses to comply. And so the shrieking continues, the neighbours complain, and Brynhild nearly explodes with anger. It has taken all the restraint she can muster to refrain from whacking the little monster or strangling its scrawny neck. Only Edgar sleeps through all the fuss. He has had his weekly ration of rabbit, still visible as a sizeable lump in his stomach, and meals always make him drowsy.
Brynhild does not even like monkeys as a kind. They are too much like people: tyrannical, moody, wilful, insolent, cocky and disobedient. Oh, she is going to give Severus Snape a piece of her mind when he returns – if he returns. If she will let him. If she can forgive him for leaving her with that obnoxious animal and getting under her skin like that. She has objected to the whole thing from the first, but he, stubborn as a mule, insisted on continuing with his childish, obsessive plan and actually carried out most of it while she was away from home. And now she is stuck with that monkey. But she will have her vengeance and die rather than do what Severus asked her to. Whether he wants it or not, she is in control.
The monkey hardly ever sleeps. It exhausts itself with futile exertions. It wriggles, jumps, contorts its body, flexes and relaxes its fingers. Its activity is feverish and unrelenting. When it is not struggling or raging and disregarding her calls for silence, it sulks in a corner. It flashes its long canines at her and glares, won’t allow her touch, refuses to accept food from her and leers maliciously at the cats. Very well, she thinks. She puts a lock on the fridge and pointedly ignores the simian troublemaker. She is the mistress of her own house. Any animal that resists her simple rules will suffer the consequences, and respect is only given when it is first received.
Monkeys’ faces are surprisingly expressive – they show a wide range of all too human emotions. Brynhild recognises some of them: frustration, despair, anger, spite, pride, frustration, despair. She remains adamant. The monkey is an intruder on her domain. It has to bide by her rules, not the other way around. The monkey is equally determined. It seems to think it has a right to special privileges. But it is an animal like all the others. It will be tamed, eventually.
The monkey holds out for a good four days without food. It has nibbled at a few potted plants but found them unsatisfactory. Brynhild watches it icily as it crawls into the kitchen on the morning of the fifth day after its arrival, its proud defences finally shattered by the alluring smell of bacon and eggs. At a safe distance from her, the monkey halts and looks up, pleading with round, beady black eyes brimming with weariness. It is obviously worn out.
“You smell,” is Brynhild’s merciless judgement. “Wash first, eat later.”
Upstairs in the bathroom she fills a basin with lukewarm, foaming water and lets the monkey down in it. When she lifts it up, she notices just how light it is and how frail. She can fold her hands around its small ribcage – what a tiny space for so much rage and temper – and feel each of the thin ribs under the layer of skin and fur. When the monkey’s body is lifted from the ground, its disproportionately long limbs … unfurl, as it were; unfold like an accordion, and fold up again when being lowered into the water.
She hands the monkey a small bottle of shampoo and turns around to leave. A soft bloop behind her says that the bottle has slipped from ten no longer very nimble fingers, and when she turns back, she finds the tired animal peering disconsolately into the basin. She sighs. Maybe she really should soften up somewhat.
She ends up giving the monkey the kind of treatment only Allan ever receives. She gently massages the shampoo into its fur, taking care to avoid its eyes and mouth and ears, and neatly rinses it out again. Then she wraps the wet creature in a towel and patiently rubs it dry. With the help of a brush and a hairdryer she adds the finishing touches, and when she is ready, the monkey’s black fur is sleek and shiny. If she liked simians, she reflects, she might even find it rather cute, with its pinkish little face framed by a soft white fringe and its long bushy tail perpetually curled into a question mark.
To her surprise, the little horror reaches out for her after that. It wants to be carried. She snorts, decides to coop it up and, like a child with its mother, it wraps its outstretched arms around her neck. The skin of its long hands is leathery and their touch, though unfamiliar, is not unpleasant. The monkey lays its head on her breast; she can feel its small heart beat quickly against hers; and before she reaches the kitchen the creature is fast asleep. She can only hope that it won’t drool on her grey cashmere top.
The bath marks a change in their relationship. Once rested, the monkey does not revert to its former unbearable attitude, but instead grudgingly attunes itself to life in Brynhild’s house. It seems to have understood that shouting and scenes will achieve nothing, and that only patience and obedience have a chance of mellowing her. Its fate is in her hands. Everything is in Brynhild’s hands. It will not do to displease her. And so the monkey behaves properly: it is quiet, eats cooked vegetables with a dessert fork, leaves the pets alone and keeps itself clean. Without being clingy, or flirtatious like Poe, it comes to sit with Brynhild on the couch of evenings; and one night it spontaneously and quite absentmindedly begins to ruffle through her messy curls.
“That is very nice of you, but I am sure I haven’t got fleas,” she remarks dryly. The monkey whimpers and gives her a puzzled look. That is when she realises that it has given up on its strange flailing exercises too.
Resignation and assimilation are one bridge too far. It is time to put an end to the creature’s suffering.
Severus has left a note for her. She has deliberately disregarded it, but she knows whom to contact and how. She obtains a rendezvous at Florean Fortescue’s, of all places, on a Saturday around teatime. On the appointed day she follows a wizarding family into Diagon Alley – she cannot open the entrance herself; she no longer carries a wand. Walking through the busy magical shopping street with the monkey on her shoulder, she sees her contact from afar: sitting on Fortescue’s terrace in his bright purple robes he is difficult to miss. The light of the afternoon sun reflects on his gold-embroidered clothes, on the rim of his glasses and on the spoon with which he is eating a large green and pink sundae.
“Professor Dumbledore.” Brynhild’s tone is clipped.
“Please, Miss Bromley, take a seat.” Albus Dumbledore gives her a kind nod, puts down his spoon and steeples his fingers, ready to hear her. “You wanted to see me. I cannot deny that I am rather intrigued by an appeal from such an unexpected quarter, but I am always ready to step in for an old student. What seems to be the problem?”
“This is.” Brynhild grabs the monkey and plants it on the table before him. Dumbledore peers at it over his half-moon glasses.
“That looks like a healthy young monkey.” He frowns. “I’m afraid I don’t quite catch your drift.”
“That healthy young monkey,” Brynhild says, “is your Potions master, Professor Dumbledore.”
“I’ll say!” The Hogwarts Headmaster looks genuinely startled, his pale blue eyes wide. “Severus – an Animagus?”
“Eeek,” the monkey says.
“Well, he has worked long and hard enough to achieve it.” Brynhild disdainfully curls her lip. “Why a man who doesn’t even like animals should want to be one is beyond rational comprehension. But in all matters that concern that blasted Gryffindor foursome, reason must yield.”
“After all these years, can you still not accept your limitations?” Dumbledore asks the monkey. With his long, bony fingers he scratches it tenderly behind the ears. The sundae melts, entirely forgotten. “James, Sirius and Peter could do it, so you must prove you can, too?”
“I told him it was ridiculous,” Brynhild says. “He was never any good at Transfiguration to begin with.”
“Eeek!” the monkey objects.
“Really. I suppose that is why you are stuck in your animal shape, hm?” Brynhild says nastily. “It serves you right, with your childish preoccupations. For hating those three so much, you are certainly trying very hard to resemble them.”
The monkey glowers.
“She has a point, you know,” Dumbledore says gently. “But I will admit you make a rather beautiful monkey, Severus. And who would have guessed? I myself would have gambled a few Galleons on your turning into a black sheep. I suppose you find this shape preferable by far – I doubt sheep can scowl.”
“Can you bring him back, Professor?” Brynhild asks.
“Certainly. The enchantment is easily reversible. – Oh, dear me!”
Dumbledore raises his bushy white eyebrows as the monkey attempts to flea his long beard. He directs a stern look at Brynhild.
“How long has he been like this, Miss Bromley?”
“A full fortnight, Professor.” She does not repent of her actions.
“Such a long space of time is never advisable for a first transformation,” Dumbledore chides. “Animagic touches a wizard’s core. It is a very profound process. You see, Severus has developed monkey habits. I won’t be surprised if he keeps scratching himself or craves bananas for a considerable time after transforming back. Why did you not seek my help after a day or two?”
Brynhild shrugs. “I wanted to drive a point home. I wish he would invest his time in his present friends rather than in his enemies of the past. Now, will you please undo that stupid spell?”
Dumbledore looks at her pensively for a moment, stroking his silvery beard. Then he shakes his head.
“Of course I will. Let us find a less public spot, shall we? No need for all Diagon Alley to learn that a Hogwarts teacher is less than proficient in some branches of magic – what you, Severus?”
And so, in a narrow and unfrequented alleyway, Albus Dumbledore takes out his wand and gently taps the monkey’s head with it. In the blink of an eye there crouches on the cobbles not a simian, but a sallow-faced, hook-nosed wizard in crumpled black robes. Severus Snape gets up stiffly, his trademark scowl firmly in place. He mutters a thank-you to Dumbledore and gives Brynhild a black look.
“You,” he hisses, pointing a sharp finger at her, “treated me like an animal.”
“You were an animal, Severus. And you can thank me for cleaning your hair.”
“A monkey,” he mutters, “a bloody monkey. Just my luck that I should turn into a creature that is in the habit of displaying its privates.”
“Well, I should think it very liberating,” Dumbledore says reasonably. “Monkeys have no sense of shame. You will have to admit that there are distinct advantages to that.”
“I don’t care. I shan’t repeat the experience. I daresay I had been expecting something more …”
“Majestic?” Brynhild suggests innocently. “Unfortunately there is no escaping what you really are.” She gives him a wide grin that reveals her small, sharp teeth.
“Oh, shut up, will you?” Severus snaps. He is flexing his fingers, a clear sign that he has reached the limit of his tolerance.
“Now, now, my boy,” Dumbledore soothes, “don’t get worked up about it. Your animal shape never revealed anything we did not know yet – or did it, Miss Bromley?”
“Definitely not. You have always appeared clever, resourceful, stubborn, possessive, aggressive, domineering and difficult to live with.”
“That means neither of us has lost any of our esteem for you,” Dumbledore continues unperturbed.
“True. We love and hate you just the same.”
“So please put the whole business behind you.”
“And stay human,” Brynhild adds. “At least then your capacity for intelligent conversation in part redeems your unpleasant personality. As a man you are bad, but as a pet you were worse.”
For a moment it seems as if her banter will anger him further; at last his face assumes an expression of faint amusement. That is good. His companionship is secure. And the monkey won’t be back.
A/N: Brynhild Bromley already made her appearance in The Good-Morrow and As She Likes It.
A private note to mouse, if she should stumble across this: I SWEAR I wrote the bulk of this story well before I ever set eyes on The Cat... Any similarities are, cross my heart and hope to die, purely coincidental :-).