The Cat Prince

There's a bit of a problem with the plumbing." With a smile on his face, Argus Filch gestured toward the door to one of the student bathrooms. "One of the pipes is blocked, but you don't need to worry. I'm working on it and everything will be fixed by this evening. You have my word on it."

Minerva McGonagall exchanged a glance with Pomona Sprout as they listened to Filch's assurances that he had everything well in hand. The self-assured tone of his voice and the proud set of his shoulders, not to mention the unheard of smile lighting up his usually dour face, reflected his certainty in his ability to handle the situation. Minerva wondered just when this sudden change in his demeanour had taken place. Filch had always managed such problems very well, but, to her knowledge, never in the past had he seemed so confident or, dare she say, cheery, when facing them. It was a bit disconcerting.

"That's fine, Argus," Minerva replied agreeably. "But unless the water is leaking and is about to cause damage, there's no need to run yourself ragged trying to fix the problem today. There are plenty of other bathrooms that the few remaining students can use for a day or two. I know you have a lot to take care of, but you deserve a break as much as the rest of us."

"It's no trouble. I'll have everything back in working order in no time," Filch declared. Then he turned on his heel, opened the door to the bathroom in question and disappeared inside, humming a cheerful tune.

Greatly bemused, Pomona turned to her friend and asked, "Have you noticed a change in Argus lately?"

Minerva nodded. "He does seem different; happier and more confident. Do you have any idea why?"

Pomona shook her head. "No, I don't, but I hope it lasts. He's been much easier to talk to the last couple of days."

"Do you think it could just be because the students are gone for the Christmas holiday? That always makes his life easier."

"Maybe," Pomona conceded. "His cheerfulness did seem to begin around the time they left. Though their absence doesn't usually bring on this much of a change in attitude."

"Oh well, whatever the reason, when Argus is happy, things do go a bit more smoothly around here." Minerva smiled at her friend. "Now I'm afraid I need to get to the library. Irma is holding a book for me."

Pomona nodded. "I should get back to my greenhouse, too. I have an ailing screechsnap with a horrid case of laryngitis. Its screech is sounding more like a croak, and I really should go and give it another dose of syrup and be sure it's bundled up warmly. I'll see you at dinner."

With a smile and a jaunty wave, Pomona headed off toward the main staircase. Minerva watched her go for a moment then turned back to gaze thoughtfully at the closed bathroom door behind which she could now hear the industrious sounds of Filch attempting his repairs. Deciding that whatever had put the caretaker in such a good mood wasn't really any of her affair and looking a gift thestral in the mouth was a good way to lose a few fingers, she turned away and headed briskly off down a narrow corridor that was the most direct route across the fourth floor to the library.

Twenty feet down the corridor, an arm snaked out of the gloom, grabbed her around the waist and dragged her behind a standing suit of armour. A hand covered her mouth before she could cry out and warm breath brushed her cheek as a low voice murmured in her ear. "I thought you were going to stand there and talk with Pomona and Filch forever."

Minerva relaxed and removed her hand from her wand as she recognized the dark chocolate tones of the Potions Master. As his grip loosened slightly, she turned in his embrace and slid her arms around him. "If I'd realized you were lying in wait, I'd have hurried the conversation along."

"Glad to hear it," he said softly as he leaned in and kissed her.

She deepened the kiss and ran a hand down his back to pull his body more tightly against her own. It had been a very long day and having him in her arms again felt wonderful.

"Where were you off to in such a hurry?" he asked as he began to press kisses along her jaw line.

"The library...," she murmured as she tilted her head back and sighed, before adding, "Irma's holding a book for me. I need it for a presentation I have to give in London next month. I was intending to get a bit of work done before dinner, since I have other plans for my evening."

"Ah, yes, about your evening..."

Minerva frowned. "Surely you aren't cancelling! This is the first chance we've had to get together in more than a fortnight. I bought a new bottle of that Silken Touch massage oil you liked so much."

"The one that increases sensitivity? I wouldn't miss it," Severus said softly as he nipped at her ear and sucked on the lobe before pressing kisses down the slender column of her throat. "No, I just wanted to ask whether we were meeting at your place or mine."

"Ohhh..." She shivered as he touched a particularly sensitive spot. "Um... Mine, I think. I've come to you the last three times, and I'm tired of wandering through drafty hallways in the wee hours of the morning."

"But it's all right for me to wander around in the cold." His fingers encircled her breast and began to knead the sensitive flesh making her wish she was wearing fewer layers of fabric despite the chill of the castle.

Minerva suppressed a smile as she responded to the teasing tone of his voice. "Why not? It's only fair for you to share in the discomfort. Besides you've always seemed to enjoy prowling the back corridors in the dead of night."

"Only when there's a good chance that I'll catch an errant student or two where they shouldn't be, not when I'm trying to avoid being caught myself as I'm leaving my lover's bed. What am I to say if anyone asks why I'm wandering around the upper floors of the castle when most of the students are away on holiday?"

"I'm sure you'd think of something clever. I've never known you to be at a loss for words. I can't imagine that too many people will be around to ask though. Anyone with any sense will be tucked up warmly in their own bed."

"So that makes you the sensible one then." His tone was dryly amused.

"There's really no doubt about that," she said with a smile. After a slight pause she casually added, "You know, neither of us really has to wander the corridors."

"Oh?"

"With the advent of the holidays, we don't have any particular commitments in the morning. You could just spend the entire night in my bed." She watched him carefully in the dim light, wondering what he'd say. She'd asked before, but he always shied away from staying. Perhaps it felt too much like a commitment to him.

He paused for a moment and veiled his dark eyes as he bent to kiss her throat once more, sliding his lips down its length, sucking on the tender flesh at its base and causing her to moan softly. "That is a very tempting invitation," he finally conceded.

"I was hoping it would be. Do you accept?" Her heart pounded a bit harder in anticipation and she held him a little tighter.

"I'll certainly give it ample consideration."

She smiled a cautious smile. That was a step in the right direction anyway. Previously he'd simply declined with regrets as soon as she brought it up. "Well, while you're thinking about it, perhaps we could slip into one of these empty classrooms for a bit of an hors d'oeuvre before dinner. This alcove is rather cramped."

"What about your book?" he asked with a smirk.

"What book?" she whispered as she slid a hand further down the length of his back; the smirk broadened into a rare smile.

He tightened his arms around her and kissed her deeply.

Suddenly an explosion rocked the suit of armour on its base. Minerva and Severus broke apart and stared wide eyed at each other.

"What was that?" gasped Minerva, but before Severus could respond, another explosion echoed down the corridor accompanied by a piteous cry for help.

Both professors pulled out their wands and ran toward the sound of the trouble. When they reached the main corridor they both stopped and gaped in amazement at the sight that confronted them. The door to the bathroom where Filch was working had been blown off its hinges. Water gushed through the opening and flowed off in all directions. A blackened and singed Filch stood in the middle of the hallway, both hands fastened tightly around the shaft of a wand that was firing spells at random intervals. The frightened caretaker was being jerked first this way then that by the strength of the magic his wand was emitting.

"Good heavens!" exclaimed Minerva. "What are you doing, Argus? Stop that this instant!"

Filch turned at the sound of her voice and a stream of golden magic bit into the wall by her head, sending shards of stone flying everywhere. Both Minerva and Severus ducked and Severus threw up a shield to deflect the pieces of stone.

Filch's pale eyes shone with terror and he screamed in a panic-filled voice, "Help me! I can't control it!"

"Drop the wand, Argus!" exclaimed Minerva as she straightened up once more.

"I've been trying to drop it!" yelled Filch. "But the damned thing won't let me."

Minerva started forward, but before she managed to take more than a step or two, Filch was whirled around again and a stream of water blasted out of the tip of his wand with the force of the Hogwarts Express, knocking her off her feet and slamming her back into the corridor wall.

Thoroughly soaked and slightly dazed, Minerva clambered back to her feet with Severus's help just as Poppy Pomfrey and Albus Dumbledore appeared at the end of the corridor and began to wade through the now ankle deep water toward them as fast as they could. Filch glanced at the newcomers hopefully, and Severus took advantage of his distraction to try to disarm him.

The Potions Master stepped forward and cast his spell just as another bright stream of random magic burst from Filch's wand. The spells converged and enveloped Severus in a halo of magic which swirled around him, growing bigger and brighter until it obscured his figure completely.

Alarmed, Minerva cast her own disarming spell at Filch and watched in satisfaction as the troublesome wand flew out of his hand in a graceful arc and vanished into the water on the floor. As soon as the wand was blasted from his grasp, Filch collapsed in a boneless heap and Poppy ran splashing to his side while Minerva and Albus both turned to Severus.

The seething cloud of magic that had swallowed the Potions Master dissipated slowly now that nothing was feeding it. As the magic cleared, however, instead of revealing the familiar figure of Severus Snape, the professors found themselves staring at a small bedraggled, black cat who hissed at them in terror before bolting off down the corridor as fast as it was possible for a cat to run. In a matter of moments, he'd vanished around the far corner of the hallway and even the sound of his claws scrabbling against the stones had faded into nothing.

With a gasp, Minerva started after Severus, but was restrained by the Headmaster's hand. "Wait a moment, Minerva. We need to talk to Argus first. Before we can help Severus, we need to know what that wand did to him."

Reluctantly Minerva allowed Albus to turn her away from the now empty corridor. He was right and she knew it. Argus Filch was a squib. He shouldn't be able to use a wand at all. So how could he have cast a spell, any spell, which would have such a devastating effect?

Minerva's glance slid from the Headmaster to Filch as he sat leaning against the corridor wall, a miserable figure soaked through from head to toe. Dumbledore turned to Filch and Poppy. "Is he all right, Poppy?"

The mediwitch, herself now quite wet, nodded her head. "He seems to be. He's shocked and frightened, but his burns are relatively minor. He needs to come to the infirmary for treatment, though." She got to her feet and helped the still shaking Filch to stand as well. Dumbledore waved his wand, banished the water that covered the corridor, and cast drying spells on himself and his very wet staff. Then he bent and picked up the now quiescent wand that had caused all the trouble. It was quite short and thick and of a peculiar yellowish brown colour. He examined it carefully for a moment then he walked over to Filch and held it out.

"All right, Argus. Tell me what happened. How did you come by this wand? And how were you able to use it?"

Filch glanced around as if seeking a friendly face and a way out of his predicament, but none of the three faces currently staring at him offered him any solace.

"I saw an advertisement in a magazine for pre-loaded wands so I thought I'd give them a try. I didn't think I had anything to lose by it." His voice was shaky but faintly defiant.

"Pre-loaded wands?" exclaimed Minerva. "What does that mean?"

Filch squirmed uncomfortably. "Just what it sounds like. The wands come pre-loaded with a set of useful spells. They're specially made for use by wizards and witches who've lost touch with their magic through illness or injury," said Filch, unconsciously quoting from the advertisement he'd pored over for months before daring to give it a try. "They still have magic inside them, but they can't use it anymore, you see. These wands are supposed to tap into that trapped pool of magic."

Poppy frowned. "I've heard of such wands. The magic used to create them is extremely delicate and complicated. They're intended to be used in conjunction with intense magical therapy. They can be very helpful in certain cases, but Argus, you haven't lost your magic. You never had any to begin with."

"That's not true," exclaimed Filch hotly. "Squibs are magical." He turned to Dumbledore with an accusing look. "You told me that yourself. You said that we had magic in us. We just couldn't access it."

Dumbledore nodded. "That's true, Argus, but..."

"Well then, if Squibs have magic inside them that they can't use, how is that different from wizards who've lost touch with their magic? It's still inside, and we still can't get at it. The wands are made to be able to tap into that kind of hidden magic. They come with a numbered list of spells. All you have to do is hold up the wand and say the number of the spell or its incantation loud and clear."

"The difference is that wizards who once used magic know how to control it. They understand how it feels and, with aid, can learn to find new ways to touch their inner reserves," said Poppy firmly. "Squibs may have some magic within them but it's unfocused and deeply buried. No squib has ever been able to tap into and make controlled use of it; something in their body chemistry simply cancels it out."

Filch opened his mouth to argue further, saw all three of them frowning disapprovingly at him and closed it again, knowing that no matter what he said, his current audience wasn't going to be sympathetic.

"Is this the first time you've tried to use this wand, Argus?" asked Dumbledore kindly.

Filch sighed. "Yes. I thought it was going to be fine. It felt warm in my hand just like the brochure said it would, but when I tried to use it to clear the blocked pipe, it just went crazy. It started blasting random spells over and over. I couldn't stop it. I couldn't even let go of it." He dropped his head in shame. "I never meant to hurt anyone, especially not Professor Snape."

"I know you didn't, Argus. How many of these wands do you have?"

"There were three in the box. The other two are in my office."

Minerva turned back to Dumbledore. "We need to find Severus. By now he could be hiding anywhere in the castle."

Dumbledore nodded. "Yes. Though once he recovers from his fright, I'm sure he'll be all right. Do you think you can track him down?"

"I should be able to," said Minerva firmly. Without another word, she transformed into her Tabby self and ran off down the corridor.

oxoxoxo

The scent of fear was strong in the air and on the floor marking the passage of the small black cat the Potions Master had become. Minerva, in cat form, had no difficulty following it down the corridor to a twisting back staircase. Severus had clearly headed down which is exactly what Minerva expected him to do.

Animal brains operated largely on instinct. It took some familiarity and practice to retain the same sort of mental acuity one had as a human when in animal form. It wasn't as if you couldn't retain your intelligence or that you forgot what it was like to be human, but the first time you became an animal it was a great shock to your system. You really had to work at overcoming the new sensations and instincts that suddenly wanted to control you.

That was hard enough when you were prepared for the change. When such a change was abruptly forced on you against your will, with no prior knowledge or experience, your new animal nature invariably carried the day.

To Minerva's knowledge Severus had never attempted to become an Animagus, nor had he ever been transformed into any sort of animal form before. Therefore it was highly likely that she was pursuing an extremely bewildered and frightened cat while the human inside him simply hung on for the ride, exerting no real control.

Nevertheless, the cat she was following iwas/i Severus and his instincts would echo those of the man inside. His domain, the place where he felt safest and most in control, was in the dungeon, so that was no doubt where the frightened cat was currently headed. It was familiar ground.

She padded silently downward, following the fading scent of fear into the depths of the castle. Finally the stairs came to an end in a corner of the main dungeon level. The smell of fear, so strong above, had dissipated almost completely by the time she reached the bottom of the narrow staircase.

Standing in the middle of the damp corridor, she peered into the shadows, sniffed at the cool air, and swivelled her sharp little ears from side to side, listening for any sign of her quarry. Finding nothing she could be certain of, she headed toward Severus's classroom and quarters. Either of those rooms would provide a likely refuge and would be logical places to begin her search.

As she neared the Slytherin dormitory, her sharp nose picked up the alarming scents of singed fur and fresh blood. Picking up her pace, she rounded a corner and came upon two Slytherin fourth years who'd remained at Hogwarts for the holidays. One of them cradled an injured wrist that was dripping blood onto the floor. His friend boasted a jagged scratch across one cheek.

Both boys stared down the corridor away from her and weren't immediately aware of her presence. As she crept closer, she heard the one with the scratched face say, "Come on, Philip. You need to get that bite looked at. It's deep."

"If you hadn't told me to try to hit that damned cat with a spell, it wouldn't have attacked either of us," exclaimed Philip, turning angrily to his companion.

"Hey, it was just an idea. You didn't have to actually do it, you know," protested the other boy, all injured innocence.

"I hope the damned thing doesn't have rabies or something," muttered Philip as he tried to wrap his bleeding wrist in a fold of his robe.

"Naw. It's got to be someone's familiar. Old Pomfrey looks all the familiars over when they come in to be sure they aren't carrying anything dangerous."

"Maybe it picked up something while it was here. It better not be infected with anything! You ever see it before, Will?"

"Nope. Must not belong to anyone in Slytherin," Will said. "It shouldn't be down here anyway."

"That cat better watch out. If I see it around here again it's not going to get away so lightly!" said Philip angrily. "I'll take it to the Forbidden forest and feed it to the Thestrals."

Will put a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Come on. Let's get up to the infirmary."

"Yeah, okay. Damned cat," said Philip darkly.

As the boys turned her way, Minerva ducked into a handy alcove and hid behind the statue within, deciding it would be prudent to avoid them under the circumstances. When the way was clear once more, she padded back into the corridor and continued on her way. The scent of singed fur in the air worried her, and she hoped that they hadn't injured Severus too badly.

Mentally she smiled a grim smile. Even wounded Severus was far from helpless, and whatever damage he inflicted on those boys was well deserved for trying to torment what they thought was a helpless animal.

That the cat in question was anything but the weak animal they thought they were attacking only meant that their troubles were far from over, of course. Once Severus regained his human form, she was quite sure that he wouldn't let the incident pass unnoticed, particularly since the boys were members of his own House.

As Minerva approached the Potions classroom, she noticed that the odour of singed fur was much stronger. Glad to find the classroom door ajar, she peered inside and wasn't surprised to see a small black shape huddled in the far corner by the desk, licking his wounds.

Slipping into the room, Minerva cautiously approached her quarry. She managed to cross half the room before the black cat became aware of her presence. Once he realised she was there, he jumped to his feet and hissed menacingly, fluffing himself up to twice his normal size. Minerva stopped where she was and watched him carefully, trying to assess his injuries. His whiskers were singed and he held one paw close, curling it against his body, but otherwise he appeared undamaged. Thinking back to the injuries he'd inflicted on his two, much larger tormentors, she came to the conclusion that Severus had been the victor in that match.

Slowly she began to approach him once more, purring as loudly as she could and keeping her body posture low and non-threatening. Severus stopped hissing and sank to the floor as she reached him, allowing her to lick his head in reassurance. Entwining her body with his, she continued to purr comfortingly until she could feel him relax against her and begin to purr in response. Once she got him calmed down, he curled up in a ball and closed his eyes. She remained curled against him until his breathing indicated that he'd fallen into a light sleep then she cautiously moved away and resumed her human form.

Though she'd hoped to avoid it, her abrupt change alarmed Severus, who jumped to his feet and scurried around the side of the desk. Minerva followed slowly; peering beneath the desk to see him crouched in a far corner. She moved the chair out of the way and sat down on the floor facing him. Extending a hand, she spoke to him in a calm, reassuring voice.

"It's all right, Severus. I'm not going to hurt you..." Before she even finished speaking, he'd sprung to his feet and leaped into her arms. She cuddled him close, burying her face in his soft fur as he purred and rubbed his head affectionately against her. Clearly he recognised her, which hopefully meant that, now that he was over the initial fright of his abrupt transformation, he was regaining possession of his wits.

Slowly she disengaged one hand and reached into a pocket for her wand, hoping that he wouldn't react badly to the sight of it after being attacked by those boys. She needn't have worried, however. When she held the wand up, he obediently jumped from her lap, paced a few feet away and sat down, yowling at her as if urging her to get on with it.

With a smile, Minerva cast the spell that should return Severus to human form. Her smile faded, however, when the spell didn't have the desired effect. Narrowing her eyes, she tried again, using a slightly more powerful version of the basic spell. Once more the expected change failed to occur. As Severus yowled again, more sharply, she aimed her wand at a nearby table and turned it into a toad. Before the creature could do more than croak at her once, she waved her wand and turned it back. Clearly whatever the trouble was, it wasn't her wand or her transfiguration abilities.

The tone of Severus's voice was becoming quite impatient, and she turned back to him and answered his obvious question. "I don't know why that didn't work. It should have."

Severus came closer and placed his injured paw in her lap, yowling demandingly once more. Minerva peered at the oozing burn that sliced across the small paw. "That does look painful," she murmured as she wielded her wand once more. The wound vanished and Severus rubbed his head against her knee in gratitude.

Getting to her feet, she gently scooped up the cat and settled him comfortably against her. "I think we'd better go and see Albus," she said. "Whatever caused this change, it wasn't a simple transfiguration spell. Perhaps looking at the list of spells that wand of Filch's was supposed to be able to cast will give us a clue as to how to change you back to normal." Severus meowed his agreement and Minerva left the dungeons with the black cat tucked snugly in her arms.

oxoxoxo

Minerva found Dumbledore in Filch's office examining the pre-loaded wands. The caretaker himself sat slumped in his usual chair watching with a sullen look on his face. His wounds had been healed, but he still looked rather pale and shaken. Just as Minerva entered the room, Dumbledore held one of the wands up and said, "Lumos."

The resulting sharp flash of light caused them all to wince and close their eyes. Minerva frantically tried to hang onto the howling cat, who, quite naturally, scrambled against her with claws drawn as he attempted to escape the burst of sudden brightness. Dumbledore quickly extinguished the flare, and they all blinked at the spots of colour that danced before their eyes.

"Clearly these wands aren't meant to be used by wizards whose magical powers are in full working order," said Dumbledore mildly.

"They're dangerous in the wrong hands!" stated Minerva as she turned to look at the still dazed Filch. "There should be some sort of control over who can buy them. Yet you were able to purchase these through a magazine advertisement?"

Filch nodded. "In the Quibbler..."

Minerva rolled her eyes. "I might have known."

"It seemed perfectly legitimate," exclaimed Filch hotly.

"Yes, yes, I'm sure it did and perhaps it was," said Dumbledore trying to avoid an argument and get back to the problem at hand. "But whether these wands should be freely available or not is a discussion for another time. Right now we need to determine what happened to Severus and what we can do to remedy the situation. Since Severus is still a cat, I assume you were unable to reverse his transformation, Minerva?"

Minerva nodded unhappily and tightened her grip on Severus who was beginning to hiss softly at Filch. "The usual spells didn't work. I thought taking a look at the list of spells this wand is able to cast might suggest another course of action. It did seem to be a combination of spells that caused the change, and you know how unpredictable such accidental mixtures of magic can be."

"An excellent suggestion," said Dumbledore as he removed the other two wands from the box on Filch's desk and took out several pieces of parchment that were nestled beneath them. Rifling through the pages, Dumbledore set aside the sheet of instructions and disclaimers along with a large number of advertisements for other equally useful products and paused to peruse the list of numbered spells.

"Hmmm... there's nothing out of the ordinary," he remarked as he scanned the list. "Nox, Lumos, Reparo, Alohomora, Aguamenti, Confringo... that explains a few things, Engorgio... dear me, well it could be worse, couldn't it? Drought, Accio, and Scourgify."

"That last one would have been really useful around here," muttered Filch regretfully. "What with all the messes these bra...ur, students make."

"No doubt," agreed Dumbledore amiably. He handed the list to Minerva, who set Severus down in order to take it. The cat immediately jumped up on the desk and sat staring at Filch through narrowed eyes, lashing his tail vigorously and causing the caretaker to inch warily backward in his chair.

"Not a true Transfiguration spell in the bunch so it couldn't have simply been something Filch inadvertently cast," mused Minerva disappointedly as her eyes confirmed what Dumbledore had read out.

"Do we know what spell Severus was casting when he was affected?" asked Dumbledore.

"I assume it was a disarming spell," said Minerva as she looked to the cat for confirmation. A brief nod and meow in her direction seemed to indicate agreement and confirmed that Severus had indeed completely overcome his shock at the change and was now in firm control of his faculties.

Dumbledore frowned. "A disarming spell shouldn't combine with any of the possible spells in such a way as to cause a transformation of this sort."

"No, it shouldn't, but what else could have happened? We both saw Severus disappear into that swirling cloud of magic and emerge as a cat. Plainly something transformed him. He didn't do it himself."

The cat got to his feet and began pacing back and forth across the breadth of Filch's desk, attending to first one speaker then another, clearly following the conversation.

Dumbledore considered the black cat thoughtfully. "Are we sure about that?"

"What do you mean? Surely if Severus turned himself into a cat, he'd have changed back by now. He obviously wants to." A vigorous and slightly indignant yowling from the top of Filch's desk gave support to Minerva's assertion.

"Perhaps the magic didn't actually create the change as much as trigger it," suggested Dumbledore.

"Oh!" exclaimed Minerva. "You mean you think it might have actually initiated the change for Severus? You think the cat is his Animagus form?"

"It's certainly possible. Even if Severus has never previously attempted such a change, the theory has always been that any wizard is capable of it and has an inherent form inside them. Animagi don't choose their forms after all, they discover them within themselves, just as you do with a Patronus."

Filch seemed to brighten up momentarily. "Well then, can't you just change him back? There's some sort of spell that forces an Animagus to change back into a human, isn't there?"

"How did you know that, Argus?" asked Minerva, curiously.

Flushing faintly, Filch shrugged. "I hear things," he muttered, not willing to admit that he often listened when the professors discussed magical theory in hopes of learning something that would help him to use magic himself.

"It's true that such a spell exists, but I don't think it would help in this case," she said, tactfully not pressing Filch any further when he was clearly uncomfortable.

"Why not?" asked the caretaker.

"That spell forces the Animagi to trigger his own change," explained Dumbledore. "Since Severus acted quite unconsciously, he's not going to be able to consciously trigger the change himself. We're going to have to teach him how to do it."

"If we're right, it might not be a simple matter," said Minerva. "It can be a long process to learn to control the change properly. Learning to manipulate that one special spot in your brain is difficult and delicate work. Training your brain to develop any new behaviour takes practice. It could take weeks for Severus to grasp the procedure and be able to voluntarily effect the change."

Dumbledore nodded. "It might, but I doubt it. If this is what happened, and it seems a likely explanation to me, he's obviously quite capable of causing the transformation, and in this case he won't be seeking to discover an unknown shape within himself, he'll simply be trying to return to human form. Since that is his default shape, so to speak, it should be an easier thing to manage."

"I certainly hope so," said Minerva thoughtfully. She glanced over at the cat, who'd halted his pacing and was meowing at her in apparent agreement. "Even when you know the theory, it can still take quite a lot of trial and error to become comfortable with the procedure."

"As an ongoing thing, certainly, but Severus only needs to do it once," said Dumbledore.

"Even to do it once, deliberately, may take some trying. He's unlikely to just hit on it all on his own."

"Quite right," said Dumbledore with a twinkle in his eye. "He'll need guidance, and I can think of no one more capable of providing that than you, Minerva."

Severus yowled his agreement and Minerva couldn't help but smile at their obvious faith in her. "All right, I'll do my best."

"Excellent! I suggest you get started immediately. Severus is no doubt already tiring of being a cat." That got a vigorous growl of support from the top of the desk.

oxoxoxo

A few hours later, Minerva had stopped smiling and Severus was still a cat. A rather hungry cat as well, which wasn't making anything easier. When Minerva had opted to skip dinner in the Great Hall in favour of beginning their work immediately, Dumbledore had offered to have the house-elves send some dinner up to her rooms while they began their work. He hadn't properly explained about the cat however, no doubt hoping to keep Severus's plight a secret for as long as possible.

Naturally when asked to provide food for a cat, the house-elves had brought Severus the standard fare they offered to all feline familiars who chose not to catch their own meals, but, not surprisingly, raw fish and a cold dead mouse wasn't to Severus's taste. He'd indignantly refused the offerings with a snarl and a swipe of his paw.

Minerva had offered to share her own dinner with the picky feline, but he'd turned up his nose and gone to sulk by the fire until she finished eating. Not for the first time, she wished that Severus wasn't such a stubborn man. Forgoing dinner hadn't improved either his mood or his concentration and had likely contributed to their lack of progress throughout the evening.

As the clock on her mantle chimed eleven, Minerva rubbed at the persistent ache in her temple and sank down on the sofa, contemplating the black cat who paced before her fire with ever increasing agitation.

"I'm sorry, Severus," she said softly. "If you were still in human form, we could discuss this and you could tell me exactly what you're doing and how it feels, which would make it much easier to guide you along, but under the current circumstances, I just don't know what else to tell you to try.

"In some ways learning to trigger a transformation is like turning a small key in a delicate lock. At first, it often feels as if you're wearing oversize dragonhide gloves when you try to manipulate the key, but after a good deal of practice, the gloves will come off and you'll find that placing the key in the keyhole has become much easier."

The cat stopped his pacing and glared at her, howling sharply.

"I know this is frustrating for you, but training the brain to perform a new task takes time. You shouldn't be surprised that the answer hasn't come immediately," she responded a bit tartly. The failure of their evening's work had worn thin on her, too.

A gentle knock on the door, drew her attention away from the annoyed cat, and Minerva got up to answer, glad for a diversion. Unsurprisingly, their visitor was Dumbledore who'd come for news of their progress.

The Headmaster entered the room and his eyes immediately sought out the cat now sitting on the hearth rug, repetitively tearing at the material with his claws.

"Ah, no luck yet, I see."

Minerva closed the door behind him and sighed. "No, and I'm afraid we're both becoming somewhat frustrated at our lack of progress. I've described the process of triggering a change in great detail to Severus, but I can't really guide him through it because he can't tell me exactly what he's tried and how it felt. Finding the right spot in the brain is a delicate business. Sometimes you hit on it right away, and other times it can take weeks to get it right."

At her mention of weeks, Severus abandoned the rug and jumped to his feet with a hiss, beginning once more to pace back and forth, lashing his tail vigorously. Minerva's shoulders slumped dejectedly.

Dumbledore gave her a sympathetic smile. "I think what you both need is a good night's sleep. I'm quite sure that this will sort itself out eventually. There's no need to get discouraged too quickly. You've only been working on this for a few hours. Severus can sleep here with you tonight, and you can both begin again first thing in the morning."

Minerva nodded her agreement, thinking to herself that when she'd suggested that Severus should spend the night with her, she hadn't remotely considered the idea that he might do so curled up at her feet in a furry ball.

After Dumbledore said goodnight, Minerva turned back to Severus who was now sitting on the sofa, staring at her with a rather disgruntled look on his furry little face. Her thoughts turned to the bottle of massage oil sitting untouched on her dressing table, and she realised that she was feeling a bit disgruntled herself. This was hardly the way she'd intended to spend her evening. Too bad she wasn't a princess in a Muggle fairytale and he, her princely frog. She'd heard the remedy for that sort of transformation was rather easy to perform.

Sitting down on the sofa next to her transformed lover, she ran a comforting hand down over his glossy fur. "Albus is right. We're both tired. We should get some sleep and start fresh in the morning. We will find a way to reverse this transformation, Severus. I know we will."

Severus rubbed his head fondly against her hand and purred his agreement. With a final caress and a wistful smile, Minerva extinguished the lamps, got to her feet and headed into her bedroom with the cat following closely behind her.

Once she'd changed for bed, she sat at her dressing table and brushed her long dark hair until it gleamed in the light from her bedroom fire. She'd made a point of wearing a more attractive nightgown than the flannel one she usually wore during the winter months when she was sleeping alone, and although she was going to braid her hair against night-time tangles, she intended to forgo wearing a hairnet. Severus might be a cat and they might not be able to spend the night as they'd both intended, but beneath that furry exterior, he was still a man, with a man's sensibilities and desires, and she wanted to appear at her best.

Suddenly she set down her brush and picked up the bottle of massage oil, gazing at it thoughtfully before turning to Severus with a speculative look in her eyes. The sleek dark cat was stretched out full length on her bed and was watching her intently, kneading the bedclothes rhythmically with his paws.

Perhaps she'd dismissed the idea of a fairytale kiss too quickly. Oh, a kiss wouldn't magically reverse the transformation, but it was instinct that got Severus into this situation and perhaps instinct could get him out. Cats don't have lips. They can't kiss as humans do, but the man beneath the fur had always thoroughly enjoyed kissing her. Maybe, if she kissed him, his desire to reciprocate would instinctively help him to do what he couldn't seem to do any other way.

After all, if he wanted to kiss her back, if he wanted to make love to her as he'd certainly implied that he did a few hours ago, then he'd have to take a shape that would allow it to be possible. If he could just let his instincts take over, his body should naturally assume the shape that would best let him achieve his desires...his own human form.

It was certainly worth a try. What did she have to lose? Setting the bottle of oil back on her dressing table, Minerva got to her feet and slipped off her robe. Leaving it casually draped over the back of her chair, she approached the bed. Instead of slipping under the covers, she lay down on top of the coverlet next to the cat and began to stroke him slowly.

"You are a beautiful cat, Severus," she said softly as she ran her hands gently along his back and then across his soft belly fur. He began to purr heavily in response to her attentions and turned onto his side to give her easier access to his stomach.

She smiled and slid a bit closer, placing her face near his and continuing to stroke his body more as she would a man than an animal. "But as beautiful as you are as a cat, I'd much rather be sharing my bed with the man you are inside. I want my wonderful lover back. The man who makes me feel things no one else can. I want to rub the massage oil on my dressing table into your body and hear you gasp out my name as I touch you. I want to stroke smooth, pale flesh instead of soft black fur. And I want to kiss you and be kissed in return."

Bending closer, she pressed her lips to his mouth and hoped that the human's instincts would take precedence over the cat's; if not, she was likely to get nipped at instead of kissed. For a moment, nothing happened; then everything changed at once. The cat's body lengthened and grew, paws became hands, fur became skin and clothing, and warm lips were suddenly pressed passionately to her own as strong arms drew her closer.

After a long and immensely satisfying kiss, she drew back and smiled into the dark eyes of her now very human lover and murmured, "So a kiss was the answer after all. Who'd have thought I'd be living a fairytale life at this late date."

Severus laughed shortly. "That's the first time anyone has cast me as Prince Charming, I assure you. What made you think that kissing me might work?"

She tightened her arms around him and smiled. "If we were right in supposing that the magic that enveloped you had caused you to instinctively trigger a transformation without really understanding how you did it, then I thought maybe I could get you to do the same in reverse by appealing to your instincts as a man. Of course, it all depended on whether or not you really wanted to kiss me. As a cat you couldn't, but as a man..."

"As a man I can do a lot of things to you that I couldn't as a cat," purred Severus as he leaned in and kissed the soft flesh at the base of her throat. "Kissing is just the beginning..."

She shivered in delight. "Exactly. I would much rather have a man to warm my bed than a cat curled up at my feet."

"I guess I'll be staying all night after all, at Albus's suggestion no less." He smirked at her and she laughed softly in return.

"I don't think this is quite what he had in mind when he suggested you stay."

"Perhaps not, but there's no need to give him any details, is there? I now have permission from the Headmaster himself to spend the night in your bed, and I intend to make the most of it."

"That sounds like happily ever after to me," she murmured as she began to unbutton his robes.