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like a cat

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Evenings in the tunnels of Slytherin are damp.

They are damp in the sense that the air is heavy with humidity, the stone walls are cold, and the chambers are thrumming with the life of the Great Lake. Rather than the night sky, the floor-to-ceiling windows reveal the depths of the lake to them, warping whatever light may pass and filtering it in the patterns of the water.

Jaemin waits for his roommates’ breaths to slip into a steady, shallow rhythm before he slides out of his blankets and into his cloak. When he’s certain his wand is safely lodged in its sleeve strapped to his thigh, he makes his way out of the dorms.

It isn’t as though Jaemin is an active troublemaker, or a troublemaker at all, really. But he is an active boy, one who relishes in the open air and the smell of grass in the early morning. Since coming to Hogwarts, however, he has had to learn how to live with the low ceilings and labyrinth-esque halls of the Slytherin dungeons. While the sun shines brightly outside, here it feels as though the darkness never ends.

It is suffocating, but more than that, it is a challenge. How much would it take for him to find a way to get what he wants?

He was only fifteen when he first figured it out, the process of turning oneself into an animagus. It was not in any way or manner completely legal, but Jaemin is a Na, and Nas know their way around the law. By the summer of his seventh year, he was successful; a full-fledged unregistered animagus, with the form of a small black cat. There is an irony there that is lost to him.

When he’s close to the stairs leading out of the dungeons, he pushes close into an alcove, takes a deep breath, and shuts his eyes.

When he opens them again, he’s closer to the ground and the castle suddenly seems so large, the torch that had been at eye level just seconds before suddenly burns from so far above him. His ears twitch atop his head, and his tail flicks, once, twice.

He travels up the steps, first with his front legs, then pushing up with his hind legs. He has grown used to this form, enough that sometimes the residues of furballs still remain in his mouth even when he’s human. It doesn’t take long before he’s walking past the Entrance Hall, slinking in the shadows, and making his way to the Gryffindor wing.

He lingers by the painting of a witch posing by a tree, ignoring the way she moans and complains about her fate and calls for the portrait in the third floor to send her some food. He supposes that it’s best she doesn’t see him, unable to forget that time he tried to sneak some food from the kitchens and she’d seen him and alerted the Caretaker and gotten him a week’s worth of detention. He had charmed her mute for the duration of it in return. It was not his brightest moment, he admits, but there was satisfaction there, at the very least.

“Oh, Lady Dodderidge, good evening!” a voice floats over, followed by the calm padding of feet. “I hope you’re feeling fine.”

Jaemin has strategically positioned himself to a few feet away from the portrait, sat right beside a statue of armour. He licks his paw delicately, tail swishing in a docile fashion. He peeks through half-lidded eyes at the Gryffindor Prefect walking his way, robes trailing behind him.

“Oh, pretty, it’s you!”

Jaemin pretends he hadn’t seen the wizard and lets out a small mewl of surprise when a warm palm rubs over his head. He hisses, but the Prefect only chuckles and sends him a smile, one that has Jaemin slumping into his form almost immediately.

The Prefect catches him (he’s small enough to fit in his palms) and cradles him to his chest. “Oh, pretty, have you missed me?”

Perhaps, Jaemin would say, if he could speak at all in this form.

The Prefect leans close, touching noses with Jaemin. The animagus keeps his eyes wide open, observing the dark fan of his eyelashes. “Hmm, pretty, do you want to do my rounds with me tonight?”

Keening in protest, Jaemin digs his claws into the thick fabric of the Prefect’s robes.

He laughs again. “Alright then, pretty. Let’s go.”

He walks slowly, steadily. Jaemin leans his head against the plane of the wizard’s chest, curling into the cradle of his arms. He lets his eyes flutter shut and the scent of the wizard - something like fire and cinnamon - envelope him.

As they make their way through the halls, the Prefect’s thumb drawing circles in Jaemin’s sleek fur, he speaks in his gentle, slightly-crackling voice, like he isn’t quite used to how deep it is yet. Jaemin thinks he’s talking about his Housemates, though he really wouldn’t know. He’s not very familiar with people outside of Slytherin, honestly.

The wizard is a Gryffindor in his year. Jaemin went through the pains of finding his name out in the most discreet of matters (that is, he actually tried to stay awake through Slytherin’s shared classes with the Gryffindors until he was able to catch it). It is handsome, really, Lee Jeno. A strong name for a strong-looking boy.

Jaemin doesn’t really know him but he feeds him and he pets him and he cuddles him close even though his skin sometimes turns too red or his nose starts to itch and Jaemin appreciates it.

Perhaps it has something to do with how foreign the experience of open affection is to him, but that hardly matters, now, when Jeno is cooing into his cat ears and telling him he’s the prettiest thing he’s ever seen.

Someday, Jaemin thinks, tail flicking and wrapping around the circle of Jeno’s wrist in the only way it can, he will tell the Gryffindor the same.