In the wee hours of a chilly September morning, Crookshanks opened one golden eye and looked over at his human pet. As soon as he reassured himself that she was sound asleep, he quietly jumped off the bed and padded out of the room. His feet made no sound but the ticking of his overly long claws on the stones. Halfway down the hall, he stopped and leaned on a particularly unimpressive stone in the left-hand wall. The stone responded by grating softly to one side revealing a small tunnel.
The half-kneazle slithered inside and pushed the stone back in place before picking his way down the tunnel. A few moments later, he emerged from a similarly concealed entrance near the stairs to that led down to the Great Hall. He trotted down the corridors and up and over three staircases, finally ending up in a perfectly obscure room on the third floor
It was a former classroom, now used by the humans of Hogwarts to store broken or overly shabby furniture. The air was stale with long disuse; even Norris’ pet rarely came up here to clean. Crookshanks sneezed at the dust, and his long white whiskers twitched as he noted that he was the first to arrive. He settled himself in relative comfort on a worn chair and waited for the other Familiars. Fawkes had not told any of them what this meeting was about, just that it was extremely important.
They straggled in by ones and twos, settling into whatever place each deemed comfortable. Any human who happened to be watching would be dumbfounded at the sight of some ten cats, two toads, a phoenix, a macaw, a terrier, and a large borzoi sharing the same room without fighting. Fawkes was one of the last to arrive. He chose to perch on a rickety desk in the center of the room. When they were all assembled, he whistled once and the room quieted down.
“Welcome Familiars,” the phoenix said as he fluffed out his red feathers. “I’m sure you all want to know what brings us here this evening. Our human pets have suffered greatly from this insanity they refer to as war. Many Familiars have lost their pet humans and been unable to replace them. Some humans have been so damaged that they have been put down. It is a terrible thing! Fortunately, this insanity is over now, and the Great Snake has been vanquished.
“But now we must rebuild. With the deaths of so many humans, our children and their children may never know the joy, the responsibility, of taking care of one. Familiars, the human wizarding population is depleted, and we must do something about it. It is our responsibility.”
The phoenix cocked his head to one side and waited for response.
“What are you suggesting, Fawkes?” Trevor asked in a bass croak. “Humans are complicated pets, and don’t take kindly to being manipulated.” This comment provoked a number of noises of agreement.
“We know our humans better than they know themselves – or we should. We must arrange for them to, ah…” he looked slightly embarrassed, “produce offspring.”
The lanky borzoi gave a deep-chested laugh. “Easy to say, Fawkes. Quite another thing to do it.” He scratched one ear with a long hind leg. “Most of our pets are pretty smart.”
“We can do it. We must do it!”
“It would be considerably easier,” said the macaw, “if we arranged pairings between our own pets. This would give us influence over both sides of the equation, if you take my meaning.” He shook his scarlet and gold feathers and settled down on the shelf he’d chosen as a perch.
“A good point, Topper,” Fawkes replied. “An extremely good point. You’ll notice that of the sixteen of us here, eight have male pets and eight have female pets.”
“Why not get the owls involved in this?” asked a Russian Blue. “That would give us a broader range… a better selection.”
“I thought about it, Erasmus. The owls, for all their cleverness, do not have the same bonds with humans that we Familiars do. They are also generally confined to the Owlery, which makes it difficult for them to guide their pets easily. We, on the other claw, have nearly free run of the castle. I chose the sixteen of us because we are best at managing our pets.”
“I see the necessity, but how do you suggest we begin?” Crookshanks asked. ”You are asking us to meddle with our pets at an extreme level. This could be dangerous.”
“We all know each others’ human pets by reputation and name. Let us consider for a few moments who would make the best matches, and then list them in turn.”
The room fell silent as the Familiars bent their thoughts to what they knew of their pets.
“Ffft!” The warning came from the Siamese standing lookout. “Gambit, your human’s abroad and looking for you!”
The terrier grimaced. “Oh dear. Thankee, Chang. Anyone willing to decoy her off?”
“I’ll do it,” Crookshanks volunteered. “She likes my pet, and I can slip out again easier than you can.” He shook his fur and padded over to the door. “Give me two more minutes before you start talking again.”
He skulked down the corridor again, pausing every few seconds to listen. Yes, there she was, right around the corner. He sniffed the air, extending his whiskers to catch every nuance, then nonchalantly strolled down the hall and around the corner with his tail a flag in the air, making no effort at concealment.
Minerva McGonagall snorted to herself as the big ginger tomcat came walking by. “Where do you think you’re going, Crookshanks?”
She scooped him up. “I’ll have to take you back to Miss Granger. I wish I could talk to you in cat form. I’d bet you could tell me where Gambit is.” She made her way back toward Gryffindor tower lugging the heavy cat. “It’s not fair, you know,” she grumbled, “I can understand humans perfectly when I’m a cat, but I can’t speak to them. And I can’t understand or speak to cats either. Maybe I should have Severus research a potion that would let me talk to other animals. What do you think?”
Crookshanks was horrified at the thought, but years of dealing with humans allowed him to simply look at her with big yellow eyes and yawn. She scratched him behind the ears, making him purr in spite of himself. In a few minutes, she reached the Gryffindor Common Room and opened the portrait.
“Here you go, boy. Now be good and go to bed.” She set him down gently. “I think I’ll take my own advice. Gambit’s been out before and always come back.”
The Gryffindor Common Room was slightly more difficult to “escape” from than Hermione’s room, but Crookshanks knew how to do it. In less than ten minutes he’d rejoined the other Familiars.
“Ah, Crookshanks, glad you made it back. We’ve settled a few pairings while you were gone.” The phoenix looked very satisfied. “My pet Albus will make a splendid match for Gambit’s Minerva. Trevor and Cassandra’s pets will get along famously as well.”
Crookshanks looked over to where the two toads were conversing quietly. “I’d agree with both those matches. Any others?”
“Hephaestus and I agree that our pets will be a good pair,” rumbled the borzoi. “They are much of an age, which is important to humans for some reason.”
“It’s one of their rituals, Swift,” answered the grey Persian who was sitting next to him. “They also have a ceremony known as marriage, which is necessary in order to reproduce. And they have to like each other to make the ceremony work properly.”
Crookshanks considered this. There were exactly two Familiars here tonight with male pets of the same general age as his, besides Trevor. Chang’s pet was a nice enough human, but he was not terribly bright. Hermione would never be happy with him. She needed an intellectual equal. Erasmus’ pet was a possibility though. He looked around for the Russian Blue to discuss it, and found him deep in conversation with Shadow. The two had obviously agreed to make a match of their pets.
Around him, it seemed that pairs were shaking out. Thunder and Thjalfe had paired off, which was surprising. But if anyone could bring their pets together, the two big toms could manage it. Lucius, Thunder’s pet, was new to the faculty this year. He was dreadfully unpopular with most of the other humans, as they thought he had been on the other side during the war. Only recently had it become known that he had been working for Albus Dumbledore for years. Crookshanks wasn’t terribly familiar with Thjalfe’s pet, as Xiamora Hooch taught flying and coached Quidditch – things that Hermione was not interested in.
Even Norris had managed to come to some kind of agreement with Topper, judging from the animated conversation they were having. He snorted softly. That wasn’t a match he would’ve foreseen, but now that he thought about it… very suitable. Both pets were well along in years, though still capable of breeding. Both were hard workers. It just might work out!
Back to his own problem though. Chang and Macavity were also nodding at each other. That left him… nowhere. He was about to ask Fawkes to reconsider asking the owls to join them when an inky black form oozed out of the shadows and sat down next to him.
“You are Crookshanks?”
“Yes, and you are Duster.” That was the only unmatched Familiar left.
“Yes. I believe our pets would make a good match, Crookshanks.” The black tom’s yellow eyes glowed. “My pet is difficult, I admit. But there is no one else I would consider pairing him with. He would be miserable with anyone else.”
“Difficult is a good description,” Crookshanks returned. “Hermione talks about your pet often – and it is seldom complimentary. She refers to him as a greasy git, you know.”
“How much of that is her thoughts, and how much is she merely echoing those of the young male she spends her time with? He does not like my pet at all!”
“You have a point, I admit. There is one additional difficulty we will face.”
“Ah, yes. This idea that because he is a teacher and she is a student, they cannot have a relationship. Pssh! We’ll have to work on that.”
“This is her last year as a student. We could use this year to set the groundwork, and then build on it when that is no longer an obstacle.”
“So you agree?”
“Yes. As you say, it’s the only possible match.”
“This is never going to work if they never spend any time together,” Crookshanks groused, “and classes don’t count. She’s just another student there!” It was the following morning, and the two Familiars were basking on the sun-warmed roof of the castle.
Duster lazily opened one eye. “True enough. A detention, perhaps?”
Crookshanks considered that suggestion, rolling over to get the sun on his belly. “I could hide her Potions homework. That would certainly get his attention.”
“Would he give her a detention for it, though?”
“He just might… if he were in a bad enough temper…”
“At least your pet supervises his own detentions. That’s one less obstacle. Now, let’s talk to some of the other Familiars tonight. I think we can arrange for Severus to have a truly awful day tomorrow.”
“Duster, if Fawkes weren’t a phoenix, I think I’d enjoy eating him. He’s altogether too much like his pet, with these progress report meetings every night. If he offers me a lemon drop, I may forget myself!”
Duster chuckled. “That could be painful. I expect Fawkes is merely anxious for progress. Of course, he and Gambit have a relatively easy task.”
Crookshanks sat up and scratched one ear. “I’d agree there. They just need a little encouragement. Who would you say has the hardest task? My vote is for Thunder and Thjalfe.”
“Pssh. Their pets have at least one thing in common – they both love to fly and are both good at it. I don’t envy Topper and Norris.” replied the black cat. “Consider – Poppy is obsessively fastidious, whereas Argus is…”
“Severely lacking in hygiene, to put it kindly. I hadn’t thought of that. I don’t see how Norris puts up with it. Or why she does, for that matter! But at least they’re of the same generation.”
“I believe you and I are the only ones that face that challenge.” He cat-grinned as something caught his attention. “I see Swift is already at work.”
“Oh?” Crookshanks looked in the direction Duster was waving a big black paw. The big borzoi was happily digging a hole in Ivy Sprout’s brand new flowerbed. “How’s that going to bring them together?”
“I’ve no earthly idea. I expect this is one of Swift’s canine-logic ideas. We can ask him tonight.”
“Which reminds me – one of us needs to sneak into the potions classroom tomorrow night and see what happens at the detention we’re arranging.”
“I’ll do that,” Duster said. “I can hide under Sev’s desk. It’s got some nice shadows to blend with.”
“And I’ll go to the meeting. We can meet up afterwards and compare notes.”
“A sound plan.” Duster suddenly cocked his head to one side. “I wonder…”
“What you said about Fawkes’ and Gambit’s pets only needing a little encouragement. I wouldn’t put it past that miserable bird to be creating this elaborate plot simply to acquire a mate for his own pet and amuse himself at our expense in the process.”
Duster heard about the results of their plan in great detail while his pet was shedding his dripping robes immediately after the combined Slytherin/Gryffindor seventh year potions class the following day.
“I cannot believe it! I thought even Longbottom knew how to measure ingredients properly by now. Do you know what he did, Duster? He added two tablespoons of ground nightshade, rather than two teaspoons! I should’ve made him test it on himself!” The robes fell to the floor in a sopping mess, and Severus headed for his private bathroom to bathe.
“That wasn’t enough though. Bulstrode surpassed herself today! She somehow managed to brew a Contraceptive, when the assignment was a simple Poison antidote! I had to deduct points from my own House!” He turned on the hot water with an ill-tempered jerk. “I asked her how she managed to make such a mistake and she said she must’ve misread the assignment.
Duster wondered how on earth Macavity had managed that. He’d have to ask. His pet was continuing on as he climbed into the tub.
“And Nott…” Sev's voice softened dangerously… “Nott overheard the exchange between myself and Bulstrode and volunteered his opinion that the Contraceptive potion would be completely wasted on her. I wonder how that boy ever survived seven years in Slytherin House sometimes!” The last sentence was somewhat garbled as he dunked his head under the water to wet his hair.
“Bulstrode very properly took offense to this comment, and slapped Nott. The Gryffindors, of course, found it amusing in the extreme.” He snagged the shampoo bottle with one long arm and continued. “Nott naturally attempted to evade Bulstrode’s assault, but unfortunately backed into another cauldron and upset it. He must be taking lessons from Longbottom!"
Duster looked quite sympathetic and turned on his rumbling purr.
“Then Nott managed to upset his own cauldron as well as Bulstrode’s. I had to deduct ten points from Slytherin. My own House, Duster! It was quite embarrassing!”
“And then, if you please, while I am collecting homework, that insufferable Miss Granger informs me that she has somehow left her assignment in her room and asks permission to retrieve it. Of course I said no. Do you know what she did?” He turned a face dripping with suds towards his Familiar, “She had the temerity to argue with me!” He rinsed the shampoo from his hair with economical but savage movements. “Of course, I gave her a detention tonight. I believe that four hours as my assistant will go a long way toward insuring that she behaves in my class henceforth.”
The potions professor climbed out of the tub and grabbed one of the thick silver towels piled handily nearby. He wrapped it around his waist and went into his bedroom. Duster followed. He couldn’t wait to tell Crookshanks about Sev’s extremely bad day.
Severus dried himself off and began dressing. “So then, as I’m on my way here to clean up, Professor McGonagall stops me. She has an idea, she says.” He snorted. “Do you know what that old biddy wants, Duster? She wants me to create a potion for her that will let her talk to both animals and humans while she’s a cat!” He slid clean robes over his head, completely missing Duster’s shocked expression. “As if I have time for that, what with supervising detentions and everything else.”
He looked up suddenly and bared his teeth in a feral smile. “Oh, she thinks she’s so smart, Miss Granger does. I believe I have just the task for her. I’ll have her research and create this potion for McGonagall!”