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a ribbon and a smile

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It was Christmas Eve morning, and Harry had not slept in for once! Even though he very much could have! With Gryffindor Tower pretty much emptied out for the holidays, none of Harry’s dormmates were in residence and the lack of classes or schedule meant he could while the day away however he pleased, fetching food from the kitchens when he was hungry.

However!

Today, Harry had a plan. And it was a marvelous plan. And he figured the sooner he could put it into action, the better!

This explained why the fifth-year was meandering his way downwards through the castle as quickly as he could while remaining unseen. Or at least as unseen as he could - there were both pros and cons to the lack of students at the castle over the holidays, for sneaking purposes. One pro was that less people existed to see him and one con was the lack of crowds to hide in. Harry wished, not for the first time, for an invisibility cloak like the one he’d read about while researching Demiguises. But alas, Harry had to make do with hiding behind statues as he made his way to the kitchen, his wand gripped tightly in his right hand and a red ribbon in the pocket of his jeans. 

Why the ribbon, you might ask? That was the heart of his dastardly plan.

Harry tickled the pear (didn’t that just sound like a euphemism) and slipped through the portrait-turned-door, grinning and waving at the house elves who noticed him. “Hello, Flimsy! How are the preparations for the Christmas feast going?” He asked a short elf in a neat blue apron who had turned to greet him.

She clapped flour off of her hands in a white cloud while beaming. “They’s going well, Harry! We’re working on the desserts now, yes! I’m cherry-tart-making.” 

“That sounds delicious,” Harry said honestly. “I don’t mean to interrupt you if you’re in the middle of something?”

Flimsy emphatically shook her head, her ears flapping a little at her sides. “It’s not a problem, the doughs can rise a little longer.” 

“Good. I was wondering if you could help me with a Christmas surprise?” The elf’s eyes widened even more. Harry crouched down to her level. “You know I can turn into a cat.” Flimsy nodded. The elves liked kitten Harry, and gave him water if he roamed as far as the dungeons. Harry reached into his pocket, steadied himself so he didn’t fall over, and held out the ribbon on the palm of his hand, then paused, staring at the ribbon and blushing a little as he tried to come up with the right words. “I’d like to… I think it might be cute, if, Icouldmaybe wear this as a collar with a Christmas present bow on top? As a cat?” 

He glanced up at her sheepishly to see what she thought, to see the elf happily bouncing up and down. “Yes, of course Flimsy can do that for Harrycat! I make very pretty bows for Christmas, and Harrycat will be the prettiest thing with a bow.” 

Harry’s smile turned a little wry as he handed the ribbon over. He had probably been asking for that. “Thank you, Flimsy.” 

He stood back up, rolled his shoulders back, and focused on the energy inside for his transformation… 

There. 

He could feel himself shrinking, 

all four paws hit the ground, 

he could hear everything as his ears swiveled around with activity bustling all around him. The first few seconds as a cat were always a little overwhelming, but then the sensory input settled down and Harry blinked up at Flimsy.

With a big smile on her face, she reached down and gently wrapped the ribbon around Harry-as-cat’s neck, making sure it wasn’t tight enough to restrict his breathing or loose enough to fall off, and tied one knot. Then she drew both hands up the two ends of the ribbon, swirling a small amount of house-elf magic around them, and positively cooed at the result. Harry had no way of seeing himself, but judging from the way Flimsy reacted, he was indeed “the prettiest thing with a bow.” 

Perfect! Phase 1 of his plan was complete. He meowed up at Flimsy, who seemed to understand it as a thank you and goodbye and waved back, and turned around to find the cat-sized passage that led directly from the kitchen to the Great Hall. 

It was time to go be cute.

-X-

Tom Riddle was having a fairly ordinary Christmas Eve, all things considered. Since he was eleven, he’d spent much happier Christmas holidays in Hogwarts than anywhere else. This year was not an exception - the castle was fancied up with garlands on the staircases, giant decorated trees in the Great Hall, and even tinsel on the suits of armor, though that could have been more Luna’s thing than any of the professors. Tom had gotten to wake up early and not be confronted with the snores and smells of five other teenage boys. (It was a wonder he was still attracted to men after living in a boarding school with them for so long. Two words to kill any and all attraction: burping contests.) 

He went for his regular morning swim in the prefect’s bathroom, then stayed for an extra-long soak once he’d spelled the pool to be hot. Making his way downstairs in a navy knit sweater over a dark red button-down, Tom spelled his hair mostly-dry so it wouldn’t completely frizz out and lose its curl pattern, idly combing through it with his fingers as he strode through the entrance hall. There were around twenty students staying at Hogwarts for the break, which was actually a slightly higher number than normal. Breakfast, however, started at the typical time, which was… yes, just after Tom walked in and took a seat. A glance around revealed the only other occupants of the hall were Professor Babbling and a seventh-year Ravenclaw girl who had been a prefect two years ago. Marissa something. He nodded at them both, took a sip of coffee from the steaming mug that had popped into place in front of him, then moved to make himself a jam sandwich.

And then stopped mid-reach for the jar, Tom’s jaw and knife dropping at the same time with a loud clatter against a plate.

From behind a carving detail on the baseboard came the black-and-white kitten, its fluffy tail proudly held straight in the air like a plume, its green eyes contrasted by the bright red Christmas bow around its neck, one of the folded-loop multilayer puffy ones, made out of silk ribbon if Tom was seeing correctly. 

He literally actually rubbed his eyes, then pinched himself, to make sure he was seeing things correctly because this was the absolute cutest thing Tom had ever seen and he still wasn’t sure he wasn’t hallucinating from some obscure potion in the coffee. 

The kitten paused when all of it was within view and… was it posing? It tilted its little triangular head, looked Tom straight in the eyes, and gave a little, “Meow.” 

Oh. My. God.

Tom was mesmerized as the cat daintily stepped closer… to him? Yes, it jumped up on the bench of the Slytherin table opposite him, and then on to the table. He grinned in genuine delight, his eyes crinkling up at the edges. “Hello cutie, are you here for me?”

(The cutie in question had to pause for a second to calm his heart down. Tom was charming on a bad day, and a smile coming from him with actual happiness? Was devastating.)

Apparently the kitten was there for Tom, because it walked right up to him, sat down one foot from his face, and let out a proud “Meow!” 

“Aren’t you the sweetest thing?” Tom murmured, tilting his head. Should I go for it? He decided to go for it, and reaching forward slowly, telegraphing his movements, he brought one finger up and booped the cat on its little pink nose.

It jerked its head backward and scrunched up its face, closing its eyes. When it did open them, its green gaze locked on Tom with disgruntlement. He broke into laughter, free and real, the snorting kind that he would never let himself show in front of people he wanted to impress (which was most people). “Oh dear,” he managed to get out, “Did I offend your great kittiness?” It gave one single huff to show its opinion of him, then primly lifted a paw to its face and began to groom itself. Tom broke out laughing again.

Eventually they both calmed down, and Tom held out his hand for the cat to sniff, which it did as a show of its magnanimous forgiveness. “I was just about to eat breakfast, would you like to join me?” He offered. The kitten literally perked up, both its ears swiveling to completely focus on Tom. “I’ll take that as a yes.” He smiled wryly, then knocked on the table and asked, “Could I have breakfast served for my furry friend here?” When two cat-sized bowls appeared, one full of shredded chicken and the other with water, Tom nodded and added to the air, “Thank you!” The house-elves would hear. They always did.

They ate in companionable silence, Tom finally getting to make his jam toast, and the cat neatly picking at the chicken.

After breakfast Tom and cat wandered the castle together, following whatever vagaries they felt like. Tom probably shouldn’t have been surprised that the kitten knew more secret passages within Hogwarts than he did.

They found themselves in a hallway that afternoon, Tom sitting crosslegged on the floor and the kitten on his shoulder, having used him as a personal jungle gym. He had one hand steadying its back and they were having a staring contest. “Stupid cat.” Tom narrowed his eyes. “Very silly kitty. Daft darling.” The kitten got a calculating look. “Don’t you dare, Fluff-for-brains.” He could feel its small body tensing up under his hand, but had no way to prevent it from jumping on top of his head and completely mussing up his hair. His hair! It jumped off and circled to stand in front of him with the air of a job well done. “You think you’re so clever.” Tom tried to be stern, but couldn’t. The cat was adorable, literally wrapped up like a Christmas gift, the ribbon around its neck the perfect addition. And that gave Tom an idea.

“Hey, would you mind if I took off your ribbon for a second? I want to try something.” The cat tilted its head at him and seemed to be considering. To be honest, Tom had been talking at the cat all day, and it had seemed to understand every word. He wasn’t surprised, it was clearly a magical pet and those regularly achieved higher levels of sentience than their completely-muggle counterparts. So he expected the cat to understand, and when it nodded and stepped within reach, he gently took hold of the two ends and tugged. The ribbon came free with a flourish. The kitten was temporarily distracted and brought up one back leg to scratch at its neck. “Here, kitty. Want to play?” Tom flicked one end of the ribbon up into the air, letting it float down in front of the cat’s face. 

He could see its pupils dilate to wide circles as the cat switched to play-mode. It immediately batted at the ribbon, trying and failing to catch it in mid-air. “You’re going to have to try harder than that.” Tom was grinning so widely his cheeks hurt, but he didn’t care. He pulled the ribbon farther away, then minutely moved his wrist so the end of the ribbon moved like a snake, making a soft swishing sound on the stone. 

The kitten crouched.

Its tail twitched.

Its butt wiggled.

And it pounced forwards, both paws landing on the ribbon in triumph. It had won! But not for long, because Tom yanked the ribbon away so cruelly and held it above the ground so the cat had to jump. 

Hogwarts had not seen Tom Riddle laugh or smile this much since he had come to stay five years ago. It was indeed a Christmas miracle.

-X-

Harry curled up in his bed in Gryffindor Tower at the end of the day, exhausted and smiling. Success. And if he wrapped his anonymous Christmas gift to Tom for the next morning in a familiar ribbon, who was to know?