Chapter 3: The reveal
A/N: Just a short addition here, setting up some future stuff and tossing in some ideas on how the two will still have a relatively normal Hogwarts experience despite being turned into, well, cats.
Disclaimer: Not mine. Don't want it. This fic isn't dead. I blame the strange aeons we live in.
Breakfast on january the second was traditionally a low-key affair at Hogwarts. Far from the pomp & glamour of Christmas Eve and even the subdued party atmosphere only a night of debauchery being supervised by people old enough to have taught your grandparents a thing or two can afford, breakfast on that day was often a solemn occasion at Hogwarts. It was the day where those legally of age came to grips with their first hangover and their inebriated self's choice in bed partners, where the staff managed to have one breakfast that was so peaceful and quiet they could believe that it was a vacation period and where the younger students were too stressed out by having to prepare for the coming semester to even think about making noise.
"RONALD BILLIUS WEASLEY!"
Leave it to Molly to ruin the occasion.
"HOW DARE YOU TAKE POLYJUICE POTION! DON'T YOU REALISE HOW DANGEROUS THAT IS? IF I EVER FIND OUT THAT IT WAS YOU WHO THOUGHT OF THIS, I WILL TEAR YOUR NADGERS OFF YOUNG MAN, I-"
Sprout, deciding to indulge herself a bit, turned to a rapidly paling Lockhart, feigning confusion at some of the swearwords being launched at the small redhead. "Gilderoy, what are nadgers?" The spluttering defence professor completely missed the sly snickers his stuttering covered up.
"Pay up Filius." Minerva said, holding her hand out and making 'come hither' gestures to her height-challenged neighbour. "I always knew Molly would figure it out by herself. She was a smart one back in the day."
"Huh. If only she'd put as much of her brain to work during charms class as she does keeping track of her offspring, I would not have taken up that bet Minnie." Flitwick grumbled as he charmed the requisite coinage to float over to his colleague.
"Indeed. She must be a genius if she can keep track of all of her offspring, given how, ah, bountiful she turned out to be." Severus remarked, fairly dripping smugness said as Sprout handed over her coins after the fifth utterance of the word 'disgrace'. "Though she could crack open a dictionary from time to time. Her vocabulary seems rather... limited for such an intelligent woman."
"Now that's enough of that my dear Severus! Surely, that's not how you should refer to one of my loyal fans!" Albus, obviously fascinated with how well his former pupil had mastered the Howler-specific memory expansion charm, managed to snap out of his trance and stare at the sparkling buffoon in disbelief. Maybe he should have made a different bet with the twins this year after all.
"Well well, a fan you say? I guess that solves the mystery surrounding her vocabulary, or lack thereof, then." Snape said, smiling at the stupid, stupid man sitting as far away from him as was physically possible. Minerva and Filius scoffed, Pomona giggled before blushing at her own behaviour and Albus's twinkle doubled. Guess that's five points to me, then. Better yet, five points to Slytherin for teaching the fundamentals behind well-reasoned and intelligent rebukes. The distant pling of points being added to the Slytherin tally attracted McGonnagall's glare.
"Severus..." the grand duchess of intimidation-land growled at him.
"What? I didn't say it out loud, Minerva. And if I didn't say it out loud, yet the points are still added, that means that-"
"Hogwarts agrees." Came the monotone drone from everyone other than Snape and Dumbledore making the head of Slytherin smirk in satisfaction. At least, until a muffled plink was heard coming from the three other hourglasses, once again evening the score. "Oh, it's on."
"Children, children, please." Albus's soothing yet irritating voice calmed all the participants in the brewing points fight. "It seems Mister Weasley's well-deserved Howler has just burst into smoke. Just in time as well, I believe..."
The doors to the Great Hall groaned open once more, barely registering amongst most of the student body other than those nursing their Worst Headache Ever. Though the two... people that stepped through them did manage to attract their attention.
Hermione looked practically the same. Bright-eyed, bushy-haired, wearing her traditional frumpled uniform and a cardigan she was known to treasure during those cold winter days esconced in the library. Maybe a bit taller, but it's not like anyone outside of a very narrow and specific circle of friends would curry onto that fact. The one accompanying her, however, was somewhat different.
He looked, for all intents and purposes, like a cat on two legs. The lithe and oddly graceful body was covered in a dark-coloured coat of messy, striped fur. The hands, though still recognisably human, no longer had fingernails but instead sported slits through which, if one looked carefully, one could see a hint of ebony-coloured claw poking out. The head, though sporting human features, had unnaturally high and pronounced cheekbones that tapered off into a square jaw. Green eyes peered around the Hall, the vertical eyeslits with a pitch black centre taking in every detail with a tired-looking leer. Then the thing yawned, revealing a set of razor-sharp, pointed teeth that made some of the hufflepuffs present recoil in fear at this strange, unnatural beast wearing a boy's Hogwarts uniform with Gryffindor tie. The inside of the hand was covered in a dark, leathery skin reminiscent of a keepers' glove, sticking out like padding in the palm area. Oddly enough, the nose, though covered in fur, was still recognisably human.
"Holy shit, I didn't know elves had fur." A hung over Ravenclaw muttered in the dead silence, causing Hermione to jump in surprise.
Turning to her monstrous companion, she facepalmed and tugged on his arm. Turning ever so slightly to catch his attention, she inadvertently showed something that made the already slack-jawed crowd goggle in surprise. Young miss Granger had a tail sticking out of the back of her skirt. A number of boys, and an astonishing number of girls, drooled openly at the sight.
"Harry." she said in a level tone, pulling on the half-awake teen's sleeve. "Harry... HARRY!"
"Huh? What? Hermione? What is it?" the moody apex predator asked her.
"You forgot your glamour." The again was left unsaid, though she was sure that this would become an issue later.
"Oh what-Oh! Ah-heheh sorry, completely forgot." he said, tapping his uniform's Hogwarts emblem with a vicious-looking claw. All of a sudden, rather than a man-sized murder machine, there stood ickle Harrikins, suspected heir of Slytherin and all-round goofball. With a tail wagging along behind him. And standing at roughly six foot one. Not so ickle anymore, then. "Uh, hi guys, uh..." the crowd listened in rapt attention. "Potions accident."
And then there was chaos.
"I can't believe you!"
Harry looked up from morosely poking away at his bacon. "Huh, what? Hermione, did you just say something?" the girl in front of him, though just as tired as he was, managed to shake her head whilst maintaining that mask of alertness he envied with a passion during Binns's classes. He looked around, hoping against hope that he would not only spot the person doing the speaking, but maybe even the smoked salmon that sometimes appeared for breakfast. Hmm. Smoked Salmon. And Cream. Yes...
"Up here, you fluffy-eared moron!" Still looking around wildly, Harry completely failed to act upon the 'up' part of the statement and crane his neck back a smidge. "Oh, for crying out loud..." All of a sudden, Harry felt a weight sitting on his right shoulder, digging her claws deep into his sleep-addled flesh. He yowled.
"AHHH! WHAT WAS THAT FOR?" he exclaimed, turning his head to glower at his less-than-impressed familiar.
"I leave you alone for five minutes, count them, five and you go and turn into a bloody cat." The owl huffed at him. "Well, excuuuse me for being a bit miffed at that, thank you oh so very much!"
"Oi! It's not like I set out for this to happen, you know!"
"Yes, I am sure that you are completely innocent of all wrong-doing, fool."
"Hey!" He whined, his long, pointy ears flattening against his skull in a show of petulance. "You know I am."
"Oh, sure you are, you preeeck!" His familiar screeched at him, taking off to go and hunt for shadow voles while she calmed down. Harry just sighed, turning back to poking at his bacon and wishing that it was a bit fresher. As in that it squealed when he managed to catch it and tear its throat out fresher. Wait. Eww...
"She... talks." Harry turned towards Hermione, looking at her stunned face in confusion.
"Well, of course she does. We talk all the time."
"No, I mean... she talked. In English."
"Yeeess, I would have a hard time understanding her otherwise."
"She is an Owl."
"That she is." Harry nodded sagely at that. Hedwig was most definitely not a raven or even one of those weird bat-winged teddy bears he'd seen in Diagon Alley over the summer break. Nope, definitely not. She was way cooler. Than BatBears, at least.
"But she could talk. I heard her. An Owl. Talk in English."
"Really? That's so cool! You hear her talking too?"
"Yes..." the stunned girl answered her dense companion. "Wait, you mean she's done this before?"
"Yes, she does. In fact, over the summer break, she never shut up. She kept nagging me about everything, my diet, my relatives, my homework, my sanitary habits... It's soo annoying sometimes, but I know she means well." he cracked a smile at his friend's look of Ron-level confusion. "You'll get used to it."
"I.. doubt that somehow. Do you think this has anything to do with our... accident?"
"Probably." the teen blithely replied as he gave up and asked one of the prefects to summon him some salmon ASAP. "I'm sure we'll find out soon enough."
Ron just shook his head at his two friends' antics. "Hedwig? Speaking English? You two are bonkers."
"I heard that, you red-headed son of a monkey!" a distant voice shouted back. Ron just kept on eating, oblivious to the amount of pain he was going to be in for when the white-feathered fury came back.
"My Lord." The diminutive figure bowed, his uniform positively sparkling in the gloomy lighting provided by the torches lining the walls of the parlour.
"What is it? Can't you see I'm busy?" The 'Lord' snarled, not happy at having his studies interrupted so carelessly. The opened tome fluttered in the wake of some unknown breeze, making the shadows given off by the fires dance and writhe in some grotesque choreography of their own making.
"I bring news, my Lord, from our artifacts at Hogwarts."
"Ah. And what of it?" He waved at the diminutive figure, indicating that the wretched thing may rise and present itself in the way an intelligent being should, namely upright and not drooling all over the carpet.
"It seems that new entities now roam the halls of Hogwarts, milord. They are making our artifacts nervous."
"Are they now?" The Lord of all, King of the Goblins and Defender of the Burrows of England smiled at the idea. "A new species, huh? Good to know. Now leave me, I have work to do."
The servant scurried away, too frightened of being in the King's presence to dare linger within earshot. The Goblin smiled a toothy grin. It had been a long time since he'd been allowed to execute a wizard for creating a chimaera. Maybe he would pay Hogwarts a visit soon.
A/N: the short version of this is that talking to some other animal species is something cat people can do. If you're asking why, it's because I find the idea to be a funny and interesting one. And because I can, but that goes without saying. As for the artifacts being involved, I believe that the Goblin process of artifact creation & enchantment creates sapient magical artifacts, which is why the Goblins always rent, but never sell.
Being intelligent beings in their own right, the artifacts have extensive rights under Goblin law, one of which is the right to not be sold into slavery. Hence, rental agreements... and quite the spy network to boot. No, the wizards haven't figured that bit out yet.