The Junkyard was not so much in London as it was London. A different London, just a whisker sideways of normal. Every city has its own cat-spaces, the little pockets of somewhere else that all cats know how to find.
Don't be surprised. After all, even scientists know that once you put a cat in a box and shut the lid, anything can happen.
The movement from one to the other is less a transformation than a realisation, the cat becomes itself entirely, becomes its true name and shape. Think of Bast.
This much any Jellicle can do.
Rarer are those who know more than one alleyway to the Junkyard. Mungojerry and Rumpleteazer have made almost a collection of such pathways, always looking for means of escape. Rarer still those who can turn a corner, step sideways into a shadow, and emerge into the light somewhere else entirely. There is a ginger tom who has walked those paths for a long time, and paces them still, with dusty tail and uncombed whiskers. For now he avoids the Jellicle's living spaces in London proper, always out of reach of Munkustrap's patrols. He has known the magics of secret London, cat-London, the longest.
But he is not the cat who knows them best.
The first time the Rum Tum Tugger encountered the magical Mr Mistoffelees was not in the Junkyard at all, but one of the greener enclaves of the human city, where the trees and the night screened out the world of brick and roads. The park's pathways were lit only faintly, but a Jellicle's eyes could still see as clearly as daylight. Nonetheless as Tugger perched on this week's favourite bench, a small black form emerged from shadow directly into the intersection of moonlight and lamplight. And Tugger knew he hadn't been there a moment before.
The stranger turned his face towards Tugger, placid and unafraid, eyeshine glittering between red and gold. He wasn't pure black, his nose and lips were striking against his white face. The tuxedo marking of his chest was perfectly triangular. Tugger leapt down from his bench and paced towards the stranger, shaking out his mane to its fullest.
They breathed breaths, noses close enough to feel each other's heat. Tugger knew he smelled of tuna and cream, after visiting both houses that catered to his wanderings. The stranger's breath was beetles and electricity, all over something birdlike. Not pigeon, not chicken, not duck... Tugger cocked his head to one side, whiskers forward, and the smaller tom flicked an amused ear at him. Ah. Canary.
He made a circuit of the stranger - small, almost kitten-faced, but clearly mature. Neuter. Tugger gave the empty sacks a gentle sniff, and the short black tail twined against his face. Intrigued, Tugger sat back on his haunches and allowed himself to be circled in turn. His thick tail fluffed out proudly as he was inspected with open-mouthed concentration, the smaller tom making a point of tasting Tugger's scent all across his palate. Then he sat up slightly, forepaws off the ground, and with utter self-possession rubbed his cheek against Tugger's until their whiskers intermingled, scent-marking him.
The stranger's scent was friendship, not dominance. Not challenge. And he was an unknown in all the ways that enticed Tugger most strongly, like something bright dangling just at the edge of his reach.
With his scent still thick in Tugger's mouth, the stranger turned away, whiskers flaring, and Tugger watched the shadows gain an extra depth. He flicked his tail in affirmation, and followed the stranger through the darkness into the Junkyard.
His body shifted in the in-between, but there was always that moment of becoming on the other side. That first breath through a different face, the first instinctive balancing act of standing with different feet. And then the Rum Tum Tugger was settled into himself again, long and lanky and truly Jellicle in that way only the Junkyard allowed.
He turned to his companion. "Oh, very nice." His voice rumbled through his chest and curled, purring and self-satisfied, in his throat. It had always been one of his best features. One of many.
The small stranger was still small, still tuxedo, and still very intriguing. Here, where a Jellicle was most real, most themselves - here the stranger shone, as though his coat were shot through with fireflies. Precise black paws had become delicate-fingered hands, and the electricity of his breath danced at their tips, grounded itself with tiny shocks into the fur of Tugger's ruff, as they carded through it. "Not bad yourself."
Tugger's chest swelled at the involuntary purr that produced, but withdrew not at all from the glittering claws against his sternum. "What name will you give me?" His own hands reached out, found purchase in that glittering coat. Something in the stranger's fur sparked over his fingertips.
"Mistoffelees. Mr. The Magical."
Tugger could believe it.
Under the moons that followed they chased over the rooftops and fences and through the trees as freely as kittens. Mistoffelees was more sure-footed in his leaps than any cat Tugger knew. They perched weightless on the thinnest branches beside a lamppost, and swatted moths from the air with their paws. Tugger tossed his head, crunching his catch, moth wings powdery and insubstantial in his mouth, rent to pieces on the barbs of his tongue. Mistoffelees' smile was full of fangs, and they purred insect-dusted breath into each other's mouths.
The magic was always most obvious when they were alone.
Before Mistoffelees, Tugger hadn't known it was possible to go disguised within the Junkyard. But to the other Jellicles, Mistoffelees was Quaxo. Ordinary. Quaxo's fur was coarser, fluffier across his tuxedo-patterned breast. The pure black of his feet and hands hid beneath patchy white socks. Even his tail gained a white tip. But his face was the same, and his eyes, and when Tugger pinned him beneath his longer body to groom him, he could still taste the sparks of Mistoffelees' fur beneath his tongue. And when Mistoffelees struggled, and batted ineffectually at Tugger's ears, keeping his disguise meant refraining from more overt electrical strikes.
Tugger grinned, settled himself more firmly on top of the smaller tom, and set about licking his fur in the wrong direction as obnoxiously as possible.
Being sung was introduction and acknowledgement all in one. It might mean a gentle tease, a warning to others, and accolade, or simply a cat announcing 'Here I am! This is my Name.' With tongues freed by the Junkyard's magic, Jellicles could convey every thought that crossed their felinoid minds, could recount histories of pirates and battles and dogs, or share the exhilaration of a train with Jellicles who had never been farther than the confines of their own garden.
Tugger had helped sing other cats, all Jellicles had. Last Ball he and the others had sung Munkustrap, and Tugger had laughed to watch his brother squirm under the weight of their combined praises. This year he sang himself, and reveled in contrariness and catly self-love.
And then his father vanished. Macavity vanished after him, with only a snarling echo. Munkustrap was left licking at the torn patches of his fur, without a direction to proceed in. And the Rum Tum Tugger found he knew the answer, that he was the only cat who did.
And so he sang Mistoffelees. And his confident smile widened into truth when Mistoffelees appeared.
Even having felt Mistoffelees' magic with his own body, Tugger's heart raced watching him cast. This was more than lightness of foot, more than sparks, or glowing fur, or vanishing cutlery.
If you put a cat in a box, the cat exists in quantum superposition. It can be many states at once. But if you put Old Deuteronomy in a box, he exists in only one state, and that is elsewhere. You would be lucky to still have the box.
Or, put another way, Tugger was lucky to have met a stranger.The stranger was lucky too.