Throughout her entire life Hermione had been a smart girl: logical, exacting, practical. Which was why, out of all her years mucking about at Hogwarts and traipsing through the Forest of Dean and other ridiculous things, this had to have been the stupidest situation she had ever been in.
And the kicker was that she couldn’t even blame the boys (well, maybe Harry, but she was trying to be reasonable). For the first time in their lives, they had nothing to do with a troublesome situation that revolved around her. Basically, she had only herself to blame. Damn her incessant desire to learn and study. Damn it to hell.
Hermione sighed as another child roughly grabbed her ear, then stroked her fur. She glared at it, coming to the conclusion that if she ever had children they would not be allowed to treat animals so roughly. Specifically cats.
The blame really lay on little James Albus Potter. She had thought to pop in to reveal to Harry her new skill as an Animagus, thinking herself clever and quite proud. She hadn't expected little three-year-old James to discover her, grab her tail and drag her to his unsuspecting parents.
She really hated children.
But no more than she hated Harry and Ginny when they saw their son with his new acquisition.
"James," Ginny gasped, jumping from her seat at the picnic table, "put that down right this instant!"
James’ little hand tightened then released, chubby lower lip pouching out in what was claimed to be an award-winning pout.
"Where did he find it?" Harry asked, adjusting his glasses to study her. "Looks a bit scruffy."
Hermione turned to glare at him, flicking her tail in irritation. She was not scruffy. Yes, her fur could be a bit wild at times, but she was perfectly domestic--
"I think it's a cat," Harry said. "Looks wild."
"I better wash James’ hands," Ginny sighed. "Thank Merlin it didn't scratch him."
Hermione, having thought that was enough, prepared to change back and hex the living daylights out of her friend, but there was none of the warm-melting, bone-crunching magic of the transformation.
"Do you think it's a stray?" Harry asked his wife.
Panic. Why wasn't she changing? Why wasn‘t she changing?
Deep breaths. Deep kitty breaths. Anything that was calming. Incense. Charms. A particularly difficult rune translation.
"Well, we can't have it hanging around here with James around," murmured Ginny. "He's not ready for pets."
"I know!" Harry exclaimed brightly, "let's take it to the pet shop. I'm sure they'll find it a nice home."
This experience was, Hermione decided, a deciding factor with her future treatment of animals, that was for sure. Being Accio’d into a basket and promptly latched in, she spent the full thirty-minute trip yowling and hissing. Upon release she had suffered the indignity of a gender check, various disease detectors and a bath.
"Can't seem to control this hair," muttered the witch as she furiously scrubbed. "Might have to shave."
Hermione then resorted to vicious scratching and was unceremoniously dumped in a cage with the threat of extermination for any more unnecessary lacerations. It had to have to have been one of the most humiliating times in her life, and Hermione was no longer surprised by how foul tempered Crookshanks had been. But before she could change back she would have to get out of this Merlin-damned cage. In any pet store she could have easily figured out the lock and latch, but a wizard store was magically sealed, most likely in defense to the abnormally smart pets they tended to sell.
And now children were abusing her damp fur and sensitive ears like she was a stuffed animal and not a very sensitive cat - or witch.
Harry would have hell to pay and she was going to disown her godson forever.
The light tinkle of the door alerted Hermione to more customers entering. Perhaps more customers with grabby children.
Hermione peered through her bars to see a very stiff back woman with pale, coiffed hair enter the shop.
Draco was not particularly fond of the holidays. While once they had been the spoiled highlight of his life, now that his parents were working so hard at being 'redeemed' and 'light'’, even a simple Christmas dinner became an Inquisition of the Third Degree.
"So, darling, I've heard there is an opportunity for a promotion?" Narcissa would wheedle.
"If you don't get it I'll disown you,” Lucius would snap.
"Now, Lucius, he'll get it. Draco's such a smart boy. Handsome, too. I've such a lovely girl for you...."
"If you don't settle down then none of this will be yours. You hear me? We can't afford a poof in the family tree."
"Father, I'm not interested in men."
"Well, you're not courting anyone, are you? Shaming our blood--"
"--Enough, dear. I'll set him up with the perfect witch. She'll match his coloring perfectly. They'll give us adorable grandchildren."
"As long as they HAVE grandchildren, I don't care."
"I'm not a poof!"
And it never ended. He lived in the Manor, but it just wasn't safe anymore. He was an adult, for Merlin's sake, and deserved to be in control of his own life, not hounded every time he slipped from his room for a spot of afternoon tea. He’d really hit a new low when he was hiding in the hallway to escape his parents while pondering failed family dinners.
Speaking of, he could hear the clatter of the front door opening. His mother returned from her mid-December shopping trip, and probably toting an assortment of unnecessary trinkets that he would have to sort and coo with her over. No, not anymore.
With that last desperate thought, Draco slunk back to his room.
"Narcissa, what, pray tell, is that?"
Lucius had his chin tilted haughtily enough in the air to reveal his extreme distaste for what was in the carry-cage. Narcissa tiptoed forward to kiss his cheek daintily before unwinding her scarf and slipping from her winter robes. His study was warm and welcoming with a cheerful fire in the grate and an assortment of paperwork neatly stacked on the desk.
"It," Narcissa replied, "is Draco's Christmas gift."
Lucius peered a little closer to the cage, which had been propped on his desk. The creature promptly hissed and unsheathed its claws viciously. "Is it a cat?"
The cat gave an offended yowl, then quieted to glare him down sullenly. "Of course it's a cat, Lucius, what else would it be?"
Lucius muttered something along the lines of 'drowned rat' but wisely ensured that his wife didn't hear it.
“I’m not quite sure this is… appropriate,” Lucius said sternly. “Draco would much prefer something more--” attractive, classy, proud? “--fitting.”
“He never likes our gifts,” Narcissa disagreed, “so I decided to try a different route. He’s become so sullen. And if he doesn’t like it we can loose it in the forest.”
The disgruntled looking cat turned to shoot Narcissa a pleading gaze. Completely misreading the look, Narcissa smiled proudly. “See? It’s already learning.”
Lucius had higher doubts, but decided curling his nose disdainfully was the best route. “Well, you must give it to him early. How will you… wrap it?”
Narcissa tapped a manicured finger against her cheek thoughtfully. “Ah!” she exclaimed. “I have just thing.” Snapping her fingers, she reached out to grab the silken Christmas stocking. It was gaudy and pompous with golden thread that decorated the edges with green velvet softly lining the inside.
The cat stared incredulously at it, then yowled plaintively.
The uppity knock on his door alerted Draco that it was his mother on the other side. She always emitted a light tap, while his father either burst in or sent a house-elf.
"Come in," Draco sighed. He lounged on his bed; book in hand to appear busy, as she padded into the room.
"Draco," Narcissa smiled softly, holding one hand behind her back. "I've brought you something."
Draco set his book down, tolerantly returning her smile. "Oh?"
"A Christmas gift," she proclaimed.
"But... it's not Christmas yet."
"Yes, well," Narcissa replied, "it couldn't really wait. It's an early present."
Slowly she drew her arm from behind her back to reveal an elegantly stitched stocking, which contained some kind of squirming creature. Draco stared at it dubiously, not wanting to seem ungrateful, but having no idea how to react.
"Is that a... cat?"
The beast shot him a deadly glare from its posh holiday confines.
"Yes!" Narcissa said proudly. "I thought it would be a perfect companion for you. Something to cheer you up and keep you busy."
As if he wasn't busy enough with work and avoiding his parents or anything.
"Besides," Narcissa said, distaste coloring her voice as she glanced pointedly at a terrarium in the corner, "it's much better than the snake your father got you last year."
To be honest, Draco agreed.
"Well," he replied hesitantly, moving to sit at the edge of his bed, "that is very thoughtful, mother. Thank you."
Narcissa smiled graciously. "Of course. It's a female too, so you should get along just fine. The store owner said she was feisty, but easily tamed."
The cat hissed, attempting to rip into its stocking with unsheathed claws.
"I see," Draco said. It took him a moment to reach for the possibly deadly creature as his mother held it out to him.
"Oh," Narcissa said thoughtfully, "I used a sticking charm so it wouldn’t get free. Might want to take that off once it calms."
Draco glanced askance at his mother, holding the cat out at arms length, but she didn't notice or didn't care, exiting the room with a flourish.
"What in the bloody hell," Draco muttered, awkwardly staring at the thing. Its frizzy mane sprouted every which way, overflowing from the stocking like a fur explosion. "I have no idea what to do with you," Draco informed it severely.
The cat gave him a flat, disturbingly intelligent look, before squirming.
"Uh, yes, the sticking charm." Draco grabbed his want and tapped the beast softly. "Well, that should do it--"
Suddenly the cat changed, morphing and melting and growing until instead of a fuzz filled stocking, Draco was being flattened by a fully grown, very naked woman.
She had predicted awkwardness, but nothing like this. Not once had she transformed back and been missing her clothes. Instead she found herself straddling Malfoy, staring into his stunned eyes and very, very nude.
Draco's mouth gaped, jaw working up and down as though he wanted to speak but no sound issued forth. Her own heart and body seemed to have frozen for her too, because the only thing she could seem to do was gaze down at him, horrorstruck.
"This is not what it looks like," Hermione burst out.
Draco's eyes glanced down and, if possible, widened more.
"Don't look!" Hermione hissed.
"I'm not sure how I could possibly misconstrue you straddling me naked," Draco said sarcastically.
Out of all the people, Hermione thought, it just had to be him. The Fates must hate her. What had she done in her past life? Quicker than a Seeker's reflexes, Hermione scrambled off him, grabbing a pillow and clutching it in front of her body. Draco slowly propped himself up on his elbows. Shock receding, a leering smirk was quickly spreading across his lips.
"This is the first time I wasn't trapped!" Hermione ground out. "I couldn't change back anywhere else!"
"It doesn't help you're naked."
Hermione flushed. "I wasn't when I changed before."
"I'm not continuing this conversation without clothes," Hermione said stubbornly.
Draco rolled his eyes. "Too late. I've already seen it, and you're certainly not going to wear my clothes."
"--No, nothing can be done. You'll just have to continue desperately covering yourself with my pillow."
"I swear to Merlin--"
Draco sat up completely, eyebrows quirked expectantly and elbows propped on knees like she was the most interesting thing in the world. On second though, at that moment she probably was for him. Hermione tightened her grip on the pillow, glancing around the floor for any cover in sight. No clothes, but just peeking from the shadows of the bed lay her wand.
"Oh, thank you," Hermione breathed, awkwardly dashing, hunching over, grabbing it, then stumbling back. With a whirl and a flick, the pillow was transformed to a very loose, linen dress. Finally she was able to throw her shoulders back and lift her chin. "Now," she demanded, "show me where I can Disapparate."
Draco snorted. "I don't think so."
"Not without an explanation. It's not every day a naked coworker tumbles onto my lap. Every other day, maybe...."
Hermione shot him a disgusted glare. "You're such a git."
"Eloquent today, aren't we?"
Hermione growled. "Fine. I was practicing my Animagus form. Harry found me and took me to the pet shop and I wasn't able to change back. Until just a few moments ago, I was trapped in some kind of cage. Happy?"
Draco couldn't hold in his laughter. "Potter? Potter turned you in?"
"He didn't know it was me," Hermione sniffed.
His sniggering grew more pronounced.
"Now I told you, so let me leave," Hermione muttered stiffly.
"Wait, wait," Draco gasped. "One more question. Are you really a cat?"
"Yes," she said, offended, "I'm really a cat!"
"You've got to be one of the ugliest--"
"--if you don't shut up… I'm not ugly--"
"--all that hair. And the colour--"
"--Malfoy, I will hex you--"
"--you're a much more attractive human."
Hermione fell silent, staring at him, aghast. Draco, seeming to have realized what he said, flushed slightly.
"Well," he backtracked, "you can't get much worse than your cat form."
Hermione snorted, folding her arms awkwardly across her chest. "Can I leave now?"
Draco pointed at the hearth across the room. On the mantel sat a container of Floo powder. Hermione sent one more disgruntled glare at Draco before quickly striding to the fireplace.
“Oh, Granger,” Draco commented lightly, “Nice arse. See you at work on Monday!”
Hermione groaned, not even deigning to respond as she called out her home address and leaped into the hearth.
Monday morning found Hermione staring at her desk, shocked, but with a small, amused smile. Haphazardly tossed across her paperwork was the now frayed, gaudy stocking with a small note sticking out.
My cat ran away and I need comforting. Dinner at six?