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Pussycat, Pussycat

Chapter Text

“Well,” Percival said, with more than a touch of forced cheer. “Isn’t it nice to be out of the house?”

Credence didn’t seem to agree. His face was positively sulky as he poked at the rapidly melting ice cream in front of him--a plain vanilla sundae with all the toppings left off, except for a whip of fresh cream.

“It’s too cold to eat,” Credence said. “I don’t think I like it. I like normal cream better.”

Percival sighed. Credence was always like this when made to wear clothes. Once he’d tried a concealment charm but that hadn’t gone very well at all. Concealing an absence of something, such as clothing, was a hit-and-miss affair. Unfortunately for the perceptive--as a certain elderly neighbour had discovered--it was only a flimsy disguise and easily seen through. She’d screamed loud enough to wake the whole block and Percival had had to quickly engage in some extremely tricky memory extraction.

“I can’t keep you at home all the time,” Percival explained. Again. “It can’t be healthy. Even for a house cat. You need fresh air.”

Credence perked up then. Percival saw his ears twitch, even hidden under his woollen cap. “Can we go to the Park?” he asked.

“As long as you promise not to hunt the birds,” Percival said. “It would be nice if I didn’t have to Obliviate anyone this time.”

“It was a gift,” Credence said, looking hurt. “Because you’re my Owner and are very kind and good at taking care of me.”

Percival rubbed his temples to hide his wince at the word ‘Owner’. But he managed to smile as he replied. “Yes I know,” he said. “I’m your Owner. I promised to take care of you and that’s what I’m going to do.”

*

It had been three whole months since Credence had arrived on his doorstep unannounced, wrapped up like an elaborate birthday present--there had been bows where bows really should not have been. A mail order catboy, highly trained in the arts of pleasure and with the biggest cock Percival had ever laid eyes upon. And, most appallingly of all, apparently a raffle prize for a MACUSA house elf fundraiser he couldn’t even remember buying tickets for.

He couldn’t have paid attention to whoever sold them to him--no one expected to actually win the prizes, did they?--or he definitely would have remembered that the grand prize was a live-in half-human pet bred to satisfy the baser whims of witches and wizards. And who on earth thought that was an appropriate prize in a workplace raffle?

For, of course, Credence had been the grand prize. Human pets were beyond the reach of everyone except the most wealthy--even Percival would have had to have scrimped a little to have afforded his price. And all his colleagues seemed to know that he’d been the lucky winner--even just yesterday, as he prepared to leave the office for the weekend, suggestive glances had followed him wherever he went. Abernathy had even dared to wish him a pleasant weekend in a tone that made Percival consider bringing him up for insubordination.

The popular belief seemed to be that Percival needed to lighten up and have some fun. Perhaps they were right. But Percival was of the opinion that a pet-cum-concubine was not a great solution, however big his dick was.

And owning one was quite different to how people imagined. To them, it was just a subject for nudges, winks, and Halloween costumes. Maybe, for the more interested, a topic of specialist magazines. It didn’t involve feeding them, or finding somewhere for them to sleep, or trying to persuade them into normal wizard clothing so once in a while they could actually leave your apartment. In short, it was not something which had ever held Percival’s interest and yet, here he was, looking after a pet of his very own.

Right from the start, Credence had been frighteningly willing to please. And then, when he’d realised Percival didn’t welcome his rather forward advances, he’d become more and more withdrawn. He’d tried to cover his nakedness, because Percival had complained about it, and cringed away whenever Percival had to pass him by. He made a nest in the corner of the sitting room, out of clothing pilfered from the laundry hamper, and would peer accusingly out at him when all Percival wanted was to sit in peace and read.

It had been when Percival had finally given up and stared right back that he’d realised how cruelly he’d acted. Credence’s gaze had immediately turned frightened, even terrified, and he’d hidden himself quickly out of sight. In a very short while, Percival had come to realise that it would have been kinder to have taken him to bed and thoroughly used him for what he was intended, than to have shunned him so completely.

So, a compromise had been reached. Credence had been given a new collar--a replacement for the crass sugary-pink one he’d been sent with--on the understanding that he would listen to instructions, not pester Percival endlessly with sexual overtures, and allow him plenty of peace in the evenings. This had immediately mollified Credence--he became noticeably cheerier, especially once Percival made it clear that though he might frequently hear the word ‘no’, that didn’t mean he wouldn’t sometimes hear a ‘yes’. And he’d proved deeply susceptible to even the smallest amount of affection. A kind word and an ear rub and all Percival’s previous sins had been forgotten.

The collar had helped greatly. It had been an absolute non-negotiable for Credence, who had sniffily explained that only strays didn’t have one and that that shame was great indeed. Percival suspected that was nothing more than a story told to little kittens to keep them in line--unless there really were throngs of feral pets slinking around Central Park after sundown--but Credence believed it and that was what mattered. At his request, Percival conjured him a mirror and he spent a full half hour curled up in his nest, tilting his head this way and that, so as to make his new silver bell tinkle and admire how it sparkled in the light.

After that, they’d managed to get along very well--Credence had kept his promises and had settled down to what seemed to be a contented existence. Once Percival had stopped saying ‘no’ and started saying ‘yes’ things became even more pleasant--besides being extremely skilled, Credence’s enthusiasm and enjoyment were quite genuine. He’d purred loudly, happily curled up in Percival’s bed, for at least an hour after the first time, which had certainly helped Percival feel a bit better about his own weaknesses.

The problem he had was with the idea of Ownership--it just didn’t sit right with Percival. He found their unusual situation much easier to bear when he viewed Credence as an eccentric and unusual roommate. But, admittedly, there were aspects of it which he really enjoyed--perhaps a little too much. It was good to come home to a warm welcome each evening; even better to savour a glass of single malt while Credence wound himself round Percival’s legs, swishing his tail lazily through the air. Best--or, perhaps worst--of all, were the times Percival allowed him to stretch out across his lap so he could be petted. With cut crystal glass in hand, he would survey the expanse of flawless pale skin spread out beneath him and feel a commanding thrill to know all of it belonged to him. It was an extremely dangerous feeling; a slippery slope he resisted as much as possible.

For there was no escaping it--Credence’s absolute commitment to Percival’s pleasure, however willingly bestowed, remained unquestioning. Anyone could have bought the winning ticket and Credence would have to have behaved exactly the same as he did now, regardless of who it had been. The simple fact was that Percival could change his mind about Credence, but Credence couldn’t change his mind about Percival.

Slowly, over the past few weeks, he’d been trying to help Credence understand this but with little success. With the exception of his sleekly-furred ears and tail, Credence appeared exceedingly human but he could behave with all the perverse logic of a true cat.

His latest plan was to expose Credence to more varied experiences--spending all of his day in Percival’s apartment and with only Percival for company was not going to help and meeting a few more people would allow him a chance to develop some perspective. The trip to the diner had been intended to be just such an opportunity but Credence had spent nearly all of it being sulky and disinterested, right up until he’d remembered about the Park. Then he’d been distracted by his melted sundae, discovering it was very much like ordinary cream but sweetened and flavoured with vanilla, and had drank it straight from the glass. So the only opportunity Percival had found there was to test his newly-formed hypothesis that if he pretended everything Credence did was perfectly normal, everyone else would believe it too.

Thankfully, Credence was much less conspicuous in the Park. Though there was much more to interest him, he behaved impeccably, keeping pace at Percival’s side exactly as instructed. His gaze might’ve chased little birds, fluttering leaves, and reflected rays of sunlight about, but no other part of him did. His cattishness was neatly disguised, too--in addition to his cap, he wore a long heavy coat to keep his tail in check and a scarf covered his collar. No one, except for the most discerning of enthusiasts, would have been able to recognise him for anything other than a lovely, if slightly gauche, young man.

The people they passed held little interest for Credence unless something about their dress appealed to him. Though he hated the constrictions of clothing, even in the softest and warmest of fabrics, he was fascinated by the things regular people choose to wear. Especially if they were brightly-coloured.

“That man has a red bowtie,” Credence said, as a young and suitably handsome man walked past. “I’ve never seen a red bowtie before. Is that a usual thing for human men to wear?”

Percival privately thought that if anyone wearing a red bowtie could ever be called ‘usual’, especially at two o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, he would pack up and move to the loneliest part of North Dakota he could find, as civilisation itself must be coming to an end. “No, not usual,” he said. “Did you like it? He looked very striking, didn’t he?”

“Yes,” Credence agreed fervently. “Striking, yes. Especially with that red hair.”

Here we go, thought Percival. A perfect opening. “He looked like a nice sort of man, don’t you think? Imagine--in another world he might have been your Owner, instead of me.”

Credence wrinkled his nose. “Maybe,” he said. “But he’s not. You are.”

“But if he had been,” persisted Percival, “what would you have thought then?”

“I don’t know,” Credence said, with a careless shrug. “I’m sure he would be very nice. Maybe not quite as nice as you.”

“He might have been nicer,” Percival said. “Have you thought about that?”

Credence opened his mouth to reply but Percival cut him off before he could.

“I know you don’t like to say anything bad about me, but you can--I wouldn’t mind,” he said. “In fact, I’d prefer it if you told me if there was anything you didn’t like.”

“But there isn’t anything,” came back Credence’s immediate answer.

“The point I’m trying to make,” Percival said, changing tack, “is that anyone who walks past us now could be even nicer to you than I am. Or maybe the same amount of nice, but you might like them better. Just because you were shipped to my door doesn’t mean you need to settle for what I offer you.”

Someone shuffled past just then--a red-faced and rather out-of-breath old gentleman, followed by two small yappy dogs on a leash.

Credence visibly turned up his nose at the sight. “If you were like him I’d find it easier to say something bad about you.”

Percival sighed inwardly. “Good thing I’m not, then, isn’t it?”

Credence didn’t answer. Just ahead of them, a woman had unwrapped a stale loaf, and both Credence and the local pigeons had begun vibrating with anticipation.

“I think we’ll turn back now,” said Percival. “Come on, let her feed the birds in peace.”

“Oh,” Credence pleaded. “Can’t I just watch?”

“I don’t know,” Percival said. “Can you?”

Credence’s face crumpled into disappointed petulance--he knew he’d been out-maneuvered.

“Let’s go home,” Percival said, much more kindly. “And maybe you’ll get a treat for being good.”

*

As soon as they got home, Credence stripped off every stitch of clothing, stretched luxuriously, and slipped off to patrol his favourite napping spots.

“We’ve only been gone a couple of hours,” Percival called after him. “They won’t have changed that much.”

He gathered up Credence’s discarded clothes, left unceremoniously in the middle of the hallway, and sent them into the hamper. Then he poured himself a generous measure of whisky and walked into the sitting room, intending to settle down to read.

What greeted him was the sight of Credence plunged face-first into his pile of cashmere blankets, with his bottom half waving carelessly in the air.

Percival paused, then stepped around him to sit down. Credence flopped over onto his back and gazed up at Percival, lazy-eyed but clearly ready to spring at the slightest hint of encouragement.

Percival crossed his legs. “So it’s like that, is it?” he said, conversationally.

Credence slid closer and pressed his cheek to Percival’s knee. “You did say I could have a treat.”

“I was thinking of a sugar mouse.” Those had been a great hit when Percival had first had the idea--a child’s soft sugar candy, shaped like a mouse, which he would enchant to squeak and run about. “As you were so keen on chasing things in the Park.”

Credence said nothing, just stared up at him meaningfully. He was quite a vision--soft dark curls topped with even softer and darker ears, liquid eyes, and a smooth slope of pale shoulder. The rest of him was obscured by the sofa. Percival leaned forward to rub his curls. And also to get a better look.

“The choice is yours,” he said, and smiled. “Which would you like best?”

Credence smiled too. His hands stole slowly up Percival’s shins and came to rest on his thighs. Percival uncrossed his legs and Credence slipped in between them.

“Good boy,” Percival said, rubbing softly behind his ear. “Want to stay there or sit in my lap?”

Credence grinned and, in one smooth movement, leapt astride him. Percival put his glass aside and forgot about it until much, much later that evening.

Chapter Text

Soon it was Monday again. Percival unblinkingly stared down any and all requests into how his weekend had been and became quickly absorbed in work. There were meetings (too many), paperwork (same), and a very satisfying interview with Abernathy, where Percival suggested that should he even so much as think about Percival’s private life again he’d find himself supervising in the Cleaning Department instead.

All was going swimmingly until, somewhere around mid-afternoon, it happened. One moment his mind was deeply focused on how to improve communication between Aurors and the Federal Bureau of Covert Vigilance. And then the next, all serious thought was blotted out by a vivid memory of Credence’s lithe young form. That morning he’d watched Percival dress, spread extravagantly across the bed, and before he’d left for work, Credence had risen to his knees and kissed him goodbye.

Percival set his quill down. It wasn’t the kiss which made his collar feel too tight--it had been sweet and smiling and really quite chaste. It was a very different part of Credence which had caused his distraction, one that had curved with soft but impressive weight against his thigh, and had swayed heavily when he knelt up to bestow his kiss.

Percival pushed his chair back from the desk and tried to gather himself. It would not do--it was, in fact, most inconvenient to be preoccupied by such thoughts at work. It was one thing to be constantly aware of its insidious presence while Credence was in the same room; it was another thing entirely when he was not.

But the thoughts got worse; a flash of Saturday afternoon, Credence’s weight in his lap, his eagerness as he rode Percival with vigour. And his hot hard cock--easily ten inches, Percival thought helplessly, probably more--jabbing up between them, sliding and slapping wetly, and generally making a mess of them both.

Percival groaned in dismay and lay his forehead against the cool surface of his desk. What had become of him? Three months with Credence and he’d regressed back to adolescence. He had a job--a serious and important job; a job with responsibilities. He had dignity. What had become of that?

He forced himself upright again and considered his choices. A humiliating trip to the bathroom, which he dismissed out of hand, or use a schoolboy Flaccidus, which he must be rather rusty at after all this time. Or he could simply grit his teeth and get back to work.

Which was exactly what he did. And it worked--a minor victory for rationality, thought Percival--but it put him in a splendidly bad mood. Whether it was the inconvenience of the distraction itself, when he had so much work to do, or was resentment stemming from his thwarted baser instincts, he couldn’t say. He kept his office door closed, spoke to no one--a few who tried soon regretted it--and left for home as soon as his desk was clear of paperwork.

He thought he’d mastered himself by the time he arrived home. At his command the locks whirled smoothly open and the bolts slid away. The sound of his voice lifted the wards. The front door opened, welcoming him back into familiar territory. He stepped inside, removed his coat, sighed in relief.

Honestly, he hadn’t thought any further ahead than that. It was only when Credence peeked out into the hall that Percival knew what was going to happen. It was pathetically inevitable and had been all day--all he’d managed to do was delay it.

Credence gave him a wide smile; both ears swivelled round in his direction. “Mr Graves!” he said.

Percival was already moving, waistcoat unbuttoning as he went, when Credence came forward to greet him. Percival’s eyes snapped down to his beautiful unfettered length; his mouth went rapidly dry. He accepted Credence’s kiss but afterwards took hold of his shoulders and spun him around.

“Bedroom,” he said. And though it sounded a little more urgent than he’d intended he didn’t stop to worry about it.

He followed Credence’s delighted bounce out of the hall, shedding his waistcoat and setting his shirt to unfasten itself too.

Credence had leapt onto the bed, eyes sparkling and tail held high. He turned slowly around, exposing his little pink hole, and gazed coyly at Percival over his shoulder.

“Not this time,” Percival said, shaking his head. “It’s my turn, not yours.”

“Oh!” Credence said, dropping instantly onto his knees and making the mattress quake. “Of course, Mr Graves, anything you say.”

Percival sat on the end of the bed, shirt half-off and pants unbuckled. “Come stand here,” he said, pointing at the floor between his legs.

Credence did as he was told, brimming with his maddening blend of shy obedience and enthusiastic compliance. Maybe it something catboys were taught--how to be pleasingly submissive but confident enough to not need excessive instruction. Percival had no idea--he’d never asked.

He grasped Credence’s hips and pulled him closer, spreading his own legs wide to admit him. Credence’s cock was directly before him, still soft but filling out nicely. He was smooth, too, and his testicles were firm and ripe. And it didn’t take much for him to become excited--Percival suspected he lived in a constant state of readiness, in case his services should be required. If needed, he could perform several times a day.

He brushed his thumb along Credence’s length, from tip to root, and let it trail low across his belly. Credence gave a little gasp; his toes curled into the carpet. Percival leaned in and suckled the tip gently, slowly swirling his tongue across it. Credence whimpered quietly; his fingers found Percival’s shoulders and kneaded, thighs already trembling with pleasure.

Percival’s decision was made: he would have Credence just like this, helpless and shuddering, spilling in his mouth. And after that he would have what he’d thought about all afternoon--what had made him squirm in his seat with his pants uncomfortably tight. He held a palm to himself and ground up into the pressure--but no more than that. It would be worth his patience to delay.

He let Credence slip from his mouth, wanting to see his face. There were spots of high colour on his cheeks, and his eyes were tightly shut. He was dutifully still, waiting.

Percival’s gaze slid all the way back down, over Credence’s smooth creamy skin and lean, agile frame. His cock rose, proud and thick, framed between the narrow ridges of his hips. The foreskin was drawn tight around the blunt tip, begging to be freed.

“Beautiful,” Percival said to himself, and slipped his lips around him again.

This time he was less gentle, sliding back his foreskin and probing his slit with his tongue. His other hand pushed between Credence’s thighs to cup his balls, rolling them in his palm. Credence gasped; his thighs tensed. His cock was leaking freely. Percival smiled and lapped at him with the broad of his tongue. Credence made another sound, a cut-off one--all his muscles were rigid, holding himself in check. Percival hummed with pleasure, at Credence’s perfect understanding of what what required of him. Later, he would be able to let go, when Percival was bent over, face pushed into the mattress. When things became sweaty and urgent, when Percival wanted to be fucked hard and deep. Right now, he just wanted to enjoy him as he was--sweet and biddable; a tame little kitten, needy for attention.

“Good boy,” Percival said, and licked a fat stripe all along his length, just so he could watch Credence’s wetness well and drip.

Before Credence, he hadn’t known this about catboys--that they weren’t built quite like human men. They were made for pleasure, not procreation. Their fluids were free-flowing and plentiful, slick but not sticky--perfect for lubrication. Their taste was different too--sweeter, lighter on the tongue, and dissolved more easily in saliva. Once Percival had been fastidious in bed, detesting unnecessary mess and squeamish about the exchange of bodily fluids. Now all that had changed--Credence had seen to that. Rumour had it that catboy semen was an aphrodisiac--Percival didn’t know if that was true and didn’t particularly care. All he knew was he’d discovered a taste for Credence, and that the messier things got, the better it was.

Plus the slick slipperiness of Credence’s cock was extremely practical. Without it, there would be no hope of Percival swallowing even half of it. Nevertheless, it was challenging--Percival did the best he could and, ever the perfectionist, strove to do better next time. His arm wrapped around Credence’s slender waist as he bore down as deep as possible and pulled back with tight-lipped suction. Credence shook in his embrace while his fingers dug hard little pits into Percival’s shoulders in warning.

Percival glanced up at him and met his eyes before plunging back down. Credence cried out, then; his tail whipped out wildly, ghosting its soft warm fur over Percival’s wrist. Percival worked him with his mouth, up and down, fast and unrelenting, while his other hand slid round his hip to squeeze a firm round buttock.

“I’m--!” Credence managed, before he bent almost double with the force of his orgasm.

Percival grasped him around the waist to keep him upright, throat working hard. It was impossible to keep up; Credence always came too copiously for that. Instead he pulled back and let the tip rest heavily upon his tongue, stroked the rest of his twitching length with his hand, and allowed each spurt to land where it may. The last were more feeble; Percival took him in his mouth again and sucked down every drop.

There was a brief pause where Percival wiped at his face and Credence panted hard, wobbly-legged and draped heavily over his shoulder.

The moment sizzled with expectation. Now his attention was not absorbed with Credence’s cock, it rushed back to his own neglected one with a vengeance. It was still trapped, achingly hard, in his underwear. He freed it, to relieve some of his discomfort. Credence shifted; it would be Percival’s scent which had stirred him. He could smell even his slightest arousal, which had at first been mortifying, but Percival had come to admit it could be a very useful trait.

Credence straightened, immediately seeking Percival’s eyes; seeking instruction. He was flushed, hair hopelessly mussed, and still a touch dazed around the eyes, but it was obvious his initial passivity had waned. After his first orgasm there was always something a little determined about him, as if perhaps he might now hunt Percival down like a sugar mouse and devour him instead.

Percival smiled and leant back onto his elbows. He let his eyes rake across Credence’s form and noted his cock was already thickening again.

“Take off my pants,” Percival said, and Credence broke out into a gleeful grin.

His movements were beautifully fluid; precise and intent. He knelt, tugged both pants and underwear neatly off Percival’s hips and then down, yanking them free. Then he swarmed on top of Percival, pushing him back into the mattress. Percival grabbed for his hair and kissed him passionately, grinding up against him. Credence made a hungry sound before he pulled away--there was confidence in his eyes and his cock bobbed, swollen to its fullest size.

“You know what I want,” Percival said.

It wasn’t really a question but Credence nodded. Percival turned onto his stomach, raising himself onto his knees. Credence was already behind him, keen fingers sliding across the backs of his thighs, thumbs parting him to the air.

Percival was mid-way through casting a lubrication charm when something hot, wet and pliant pushed rudely against his entrance. Percival swore and tried again--despite the best efforts of Credence’s tongue, this time he was successful.

“I don’t want to wait, Credence,” Percival said, half muffled by a pillow. “Just concentrate on getting that thing as deep as you can.”

Instead of a verbal answer, Credence gave a purr so deep it was almost a growl--the promise in it made Percival shiver with anticipation. Something broached him, probably a thumb, and Percival concentrated on receiving it. He didn’t particularly care about pleasure, just then--this part was an act of will, purely to make himself ready for what Credence had to give.

Practice made perfect and he was well practiced. He bore down on Credence’s fingers and then felt him shift, lining up behind him.

“Slowly at first,” he said, encouraging himself on with judicious strokes of his cock.

Finally, he thought, as he felt the exquisite stretch begin. Credence soon halted to allow Percival a moment to breathe. And, when he was ready to press back, Credence continued his forward glide until Percival thought he might pass out from the pleasure of it. He clawed his fingers into the pillows; the world had shrunk to a point. He was pinned in place and nothing mattered beyond where they were joined. It was so simple; purely animal, a kind of freedom he’d rarely allowed himself to feel.

Slowly, he adjusted. He planted his knees more firmly into the mattress and spread his thighs wider, bracing himself. Credence took his cues perfectly; he was made for this and could have been designed to fuck Percival’s brains out. He began to move, with a firm but gentle in-stroke and then a slow slide out. Percival groaned and arched his back--the luxurious rub of Credence’s cock was exactly what he needed, especially after a stressful day. He could feel the twitch and squeeze of his body around him, the glide becoming easy; he was loose and wanting, begging for more.

“Yes,” he panted. “Now faster, Credence. You know how to do it.”

What he wanted was to feel thoroughly used and exhausted; to be sore and aching and empty of everything, cleansed of his thoughts and his work, even of himself. Just to be a body working only for its pleasure, for blissful release. He wanted nothing else to exist.

Credence did exactly as instructed. He went hard and fast, everything was beautifully slick, the sounds they made were indecently loud. There was a ferocious heat building in Percival’s gut, his cock ached. He grabbed it and found it wet; all of him was, between his thighs, his balls, all the way back to where Credence fucked him so surely. There was nothing else but Credence’s cock, and his strong fingers on his hips, and his high keening-moans and the way he begged for Percival to come.

“Yes, yes,” he cried. “Oh it’s so good, Mr Graves, please come, I want to make you come like this, please let me!”

His words were punctuated with the smack of his body against Percival’s, the force enough to shake the entire bed. Percival’s arms ached with tension, with keeping himself upright rather than shoved into the mattress. His legs were spread wide, his ass presented and eager. All this and Credence still acted like Percival was bestowing upon him a great favour, one he could snatch away at any moment.

Percival groaned, reached for his cock and tugged himself. Twice was all it took--everything temporarily whited-out. He was dimly aware of Credence’s loud high yowl and then a heavy weight on his back.

He turned over, with difficulty. Credence promptly curled up on top of him and began purring, heedless of their mess. His tail curved up softly and brushed Percival’s chest. Percival sighed happily, scratched his ears, and fell asleep.

*

He woke up with a jolt, only a couple of minutes later, to find Credence cleaning him with his tongue. Percival watched him in dazed disbelief--he’d never been able to get used to it and doubted he ever would. Credence not only scented Percival’s arousal, he apparently needed it as well--the pamphlet which had accompanied his sudden arrival even suggested it was essential for his health.

Was it really biology or just a learned behaviour? He watched Credence’s velvety tongue flick over his limp cock, excessively gentle, so as not to cause him discomfort.

“Are you sure you actually like it?” he said, brushing his hair out of his eyes. “I can’t really believe you get any nutrition out of that.”

Credence paused, still crouched over him. “It’s hard to believe you can turn a lamp into a chair but I’ve seen you do it.”

“But that’s magic,” Percival said. “That’s normal for a wizard.”

“And this is normal for me,” Credence said, with terrifyingly precise logic. And then conceded: “Though there isn’t very much of it. So maybe there’s not as much nutrition as there could be.”

“Great ghouls, don’t make it worse,” Percival grumbled. “Not only are you a moral problem I’ve yet to solve but at the same time I’m not even a good provider.”

Credence gave him one of his unblinking and slightly eerie cat-like stares, which meant he was deep in thought. He crept a little further up the bed and rubbed his chin on Percival’s chest. “What does ‘moral problem’ mean?” he asked. “Did I do something wrong?”

Percival drew him closer with an arm. “No,” he said, taking care to sound very certain about that. “I mean that when you arrived I wasn’t expecting you and, now that you’re here, I have to make sure you’re happy. That’s all.”

“Okay,” Credence said. “And I am happy, so you don’t need to worry.”

Percival looked at his soft, trusting expression and suppressed a sigh. If only he could be sure about that. How happy was Credence, really?

The clock told him barely thirty minutes had passed since he’d arrived home but it could’ve been days later. He felt lighter and looser than he had in ages. He looked at Credence, now snuggled comfortably against him. Was this how he felt all the time? The world seemed quieter, everything in its proper place. If he could leave aside his niggling worries about Credence, he might be confident enough to declare himself happy too.

They rose. Percival went to run a bath and Credence followed, bending low to sniff the water. He loved bathing--though he hated the spray of the shower--and climbed in before it was even thigh-deep. Washing was extremely important for him; the little pamphlet had instructed new Owners to offer their pet a bath at least once a day, and twice if needed.

It hadn’t explained that pets were liable to fall asleep, if left unsupervised, and that they would want to wash their Owners too. Though Percival didn’t know if that latter was true for all cats, or just Credence. At first it had been unbearable--even the house elves when he was a child had never done such a thing. It had made him feel uncomfortably like an emperor in some ancient world, the kind which would have had beautiful slave boys for all manner of intimate tasks. But that was before he’d understood that it was just Credence’s way. And before he’d learned that if he reciprocated he felt much better about it.

He left Credence soaking to find a clean robe and straighten the bed. And as he did his mind drifted back to that pamphlet and how very small it was. There were many things he’d learned about Credence and the pamphlet contained hardly any of it. Just the basics, and nothing else. It said so little; the number of words were too few. It really wasn’t enough.

With that thought, he took Credence a fresh towel and went to steam some fish for his supper.

Chapter Text

By the next weekend, Percival’s thoughts had returned many times to the little pamphlet which had accompanied Credence. Enough that, as soon as Credence’s nap had deepened to quiet kitty snores, he went to fetch it so he could read it again.

It was in a box, stowed away at the top of his closet, which contained everything Credence had arrived with. Percival had rejected all of it, almost immediately. There had been the sickly-pink collar and the bows and ribbons. He’d also worn an anal plug, the end studded with pink crystals to match his collar. That had been particularly galling--as if the first thing Percival had been expected to do with Credence was bend him over, before even saying hello. There had also been a soft dark garment, like a blanket with sleeves. It had covered his nudity while Credence waited for Percival to come home and find him on the doorstep.

The plug had been the first thing to go, swiftly followed by the collar. Percival had made him a new one, conjured out of his own belt--plain black leather with a little silver bell. The blanket had lasted longer--Percival had an idea that its smell was a comfort to Credence--but the reminder of him huddled on the doorstep in it had been too strong. So he’d replaced it with several new blankets, all beautifully soft and as pale as Credence, woven from cashmere.

He retrieved the leaflet, which had been stuffed down the side of the box amongst the offending items, and was just opening it when Credence slipped into the room.

Percival froze, experiencing an absurd guilt that he was doing something he shouldn’t, rather simply looking through his own things in his own bedroom. But Credence didn’t seem to notice. He sat down on the bed next to Percival and gazed with mild interest into the box, as if it had nothing to do with him.

“I was just, er, tidying up,” Percival said. “I thought you were sleeping.”

“I was,” Credence said. “But I’m not now.” He pulled out a long silky pink ribbon from the box and rubbed it to his cheek. “I remember this,” he said. “I wore it when I came to live with you.”

Percival took a breath. Where Credence had worn it was not something he was likely to forget.

“And this,” Credence said, leaning forward now to search through the box. He found the plug and held it up. Its shiny bulbous end glinted reproachfully at Percival.

“Yes, I remember,” Percival said, hastily taking it back from him.

“You didn’t like it and you told me to take it out,” Credence said.

“Yes,” Percival said. “Yes, I remember that too.”

“Would you like me to wear it now?” Credence said, with a touch of hope in his voice.

Percival cleared his throat. Now he understood Credence better and had grown accustomed to him, he found his attitude to this idea had changed. But there was no getting around it--the plug was hateful. He thought he might detest it more than he’d ever detested an inanimate object before.

“Do you like wearing it?” he asked, avoiding Credence’s question. “Does it feel good?”

“Oh yes,” Credence said, easily. “You know I like having things inside me.”

“Right, well.” Percival dropped the plug back into the box with a clang of finality. “I’ll get you another one and you can wear that instead.”

“Really?” Credence said, eyes wide. He threw his arms round Percival, cheek pressed to his shoulder. “You are so good to me, Mr Graves. Very generous and kind.”

I’m really not, thought Percival. I’m horribly selfish, used to getting my own way, and I have far too much money for just one person. The thought made him obscurely sad, like he’d somehow let Credence down.

He put the leaflet aside for later and returned the box to his closet. As he stood, Credence immediately seized upon the leaflet, unfolding it to trace the lettering with one long finger. He was still bent over it when everything had been satisfactorily tidied away.

“What does it say?” Credence said, glancing up at him.

Percival stopped, shocked. “You can’t read?” he said.

Credence shook his head. “They didn’t teach me,” he said. “Some pets learn. I didn’t.” He waved the pamphlet excitedly at Percival. “Is it about me? What does it say?”

“Yes, it’s about you,” Percival said, sitting beside him. “It tells me how to look after you, what to feed you, how often. That kind of thing.”

He was still stunned--he’d just assumed that Credence preferred to sleep on top of newspapers rather than read them. Not that he didn’t know how. It seemed barbaric, somehow; another way he’d been slighted by a world which valued him only for one thing.

“Do you know your letters?” he asked.

Credence shook his head.

Percival scratched his chin, thinking. “Would you like to?”

Credence went still with wonder. “Could I?” he asked. “The other cats were all talented, you see. I’m just an ordinary cat. I can’t do anything special.”

Percival’s mouth dropped open. He shut it with a snap. “You don’t seem at all ordinary to me,” he said. “If you want to learn, I’ll get you some books and things.”

Credence didn’t say anything for a moment then he nodded eagerly. He shuffled close to Percival and clung to him, eyes shining.

“That’s settled, then,” Percival said, with grim determination. “We’re going shopping.”

*

Shopping with Credence could, on occasion, be a touch fraught. Pets were trained to show deference to their Owners, particularly in the company of others, but sometimes the amount of deference Credence displayed was rather excessive. The idea was to not draw undue attention to himself, for that was his Owner’s job--and that would have suited Percival fine. But walking a pace behind Percival at all times and refusing to meet anyone’s eye, let alone speak to them, without explicit and continual instruction, usually resulted in exactly the opposite effect.

Percival had found this was more easily managed while out for a walk, when the only people around were passing by in a hurry. No one would hear Percival telling Credence to walk beside him and to stand up straight; that yes, he could stop and look at the prettily-decorated cakes displayed in a window, or that no, he couldn’t go stalk something he’d seen slink down an alley. Even a diner was far preferable to shopping. Only one person needed to order, which took only a few seconds, and even No-Majs sensed that Percival was a man of importance who should always be approached first. In this way, Percival managed to shield Credence from overly-curious bystanders. Or, maybe the reverse was more correct, and bystanders were shielded from an overly-curious Credence. Either way, everyone was happier for it, particularly Percival.

A store, though: that was very different. A store was arranged to entice, to tempt curiosity--curiosity which Credence had in spades. One look at his bright face, shining with eagerness, was all the encouragement a salesman behind the counter needed. On these occasions Percival felt like a cross between a bodyguard and a babysitter, having to swiftly intervene before Credence could say anything too odd or touch anything he shouldn’t, while trying to accomplish the business which had sent him there in the first place.

But at least that wouldn’t matter in the next store. They’d already visited one--a large No-Maj bookstore where they would be less likely to be beset by helpful assistants and could disappear more easily into the crowd. As Percival had only wanted an alphabet book, it didn’t much signify--there couldn’t be a great difference in content and a No-Maj book might even be better for Credence, for he was easily distracted by pictures which moved. The whole operation had been over quickly and Percival was feeling rather relieved. Just one more place to visit and then they could return home.

Percival had been aware of its existence for some weeks, after making some delicately-phrased enquiries. It had stood to reason that there must be a store which catered for Credence’s needs and he’d been right. But it had been dismaying to learn it was located close to the kind of parlours which claimed to have Veela hostesses. He’d delayed visiting for that reason, despite the convenience of such a place.

The bell tinkled pleasantly as they entered. Percival hoped to Morrigan no one recognised him; inside was as bad as he’d feared--indescribably seedy and darkly lit, with fizzing neon lighting coating everything in a blue gloom. The store was tiny and crowded with mean little shelves. On the walls were collars and chains, things with studs and things which appeared menacingly phallic. And, browsing alone, were a couple of men, both huddled studiously in separate corners. One of them raised his head and looked over when he heard them enter.

Credence had already taken off his cap--Percival had promised him he could once they were inside but the stare the man gave Credence made Percival regret it. He was holding a magazine with a lurid cover, which stopped just short of being openly pornographic. It was called Kitten and featured a young witch in a cat costume with very red lips and a very pink tongue. There were more magazines displayed by the counter, all called similar things and all displaying similarly-costumed witches and wizards. Some had definitely strayed into pornographic territory--Percival fought a ridiculous urge to cover Credence’s eyes.

No one spoke. So Percival squared his shoulders and made for the horrible phallic objects, hoping Credence would choose one quickly so they could leave.

Credence followed quietly and surveyed the range of plugs, as naturally as if he were choosing a pair of socks. Up close, the sparkly pink one at home looked distressingly like the best of a bad bunch. These were even more garish--and huge. Downright uncomfortable, in Percival’s opinion, and that was saying something.

He tried to direct Credence’s attention to a smaller one made of plain silvery metal, but his sleeve caught on a leash dangling close to his elbow. The sound drew Credence in immediately--his expression folded in on itself when he saw what had made it.

Credence’s fingers hovered along to the chain but didn’t quite make contact. “Is that for when I’m bad?” he asked fearfully.

Percival was horrified. “No! No, of course not,” he said. “No one’s going to chain you up, least of all me.” He looked more closely at the leash, which had a bone-shaped pattern stamped into the leather handle. “I think these must be for dogs, anyway.”

Credence blinked, brow still furrowed with worry. But he said, “Dogs are very bad,” as if that explained everything.

“That’s not what I meant,” Percival said. “I think they must like it. Makes them feel secure, I suppose.”

Credence’s expression, still doubtful, now grew superior. He opened his mouth to speak, probably to express the opinion that dogs were very stupid creatures if they liked to be chained up, but he was distracted by something behind Percival.

The man with the Kitten magazine had edged closer. Percival glanced over his shoulder; the man carefully ignored him and continued browsing a selection of spiked collars.

He turned back to Credence but, once again, Percival saw his gaze flick to a spot just behind him.

He leaned in to whisper to Credence. “What is it?”

“That man keeps smiling at me,” Credence said. “Should I say hello?”

The effect was instant. Percival spun round and had him backed up against the wall before he could do anything about it. “Can I help you?” he said.

The man looked down at the lack of space between them--Percival was toe-to-toe with him and his stare was unfaltering. Whatever he’d been expecting, it hadn’t been this.

The man shook his head and tried to stammer out something but Percival cut him off. He didn’t want to hear his excuses anyway.

“I didn’t think so,” he said. “I don’t think it was me you wanted to talk to, was it? As I’m the only conversation you’re going to get, perhaps you’d better go elsewhere.”

There was a faint cough to Percival’s left. “I think you’d better leave, sir,” came the polite but firm suggestion. “You know the rules.”

Percival looked towards the voice, aghast. It was frankly unbelievable that he--of all people!--was about to get kicked out of the only pet store in town. They’d have to go to Philadelphia, or somewhere despicable like that.

But the voice--which presumably belonged to the store’s owner--was not directed at him. It was, in fact, directed at the man with the Kitten magazine. With a furious look at Percival, he thrust the magazine out at the owner and stalked out in a huff.

The owner turned to Percival, blank-faced.

Percival straightened his coat and prepared for an argument. But the pet store owner merely glanced between Percival and Credence and asked, “New Owner?”

Percival nodded. “Fairly new.”

“You’ll be looking for the back rooms,” the man said. He waved a hand and a door shimmered into visibility between the magazines and the counter. “First on the right is for cats.”

“Oh,” Percival said, quite stupidly.

The owner waved a hand dismissively. “This is just for casuals,” he said. “Fetishists and the curious. Popular side of the business, you see.”

“Right,” Percival said, heartily wishing he’d known that before and trying to pretend that he had.

The man gave a short bow. “I’m Mr Nota,” he said. “And at your service should you need it.”

“Well, er. Thank you,” Percival said. “Come along Credence.” He paused in the doorway, an absurd swell of gratitude welling towards Mr Nota, and promised: “If he likes what’s in there, I’ll spend more this visit than that man would’ve in a lifetime. You have my word.”

Mr Nota nodded complacently. “I wouldn’t expect anything less from an Owner,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?”

*

The back rooms turned out to be an actual pet store, with everything an Owner might want or need for their pet. It was much larger too, with different rooms for different breeds. Percival spotted signs for dogs, rabbits, and also something referred to as ‘exotics’.

Though there were still plenty of explicit toys, and though some were still huge and intimidating, they seemed more to be the kind Percival could imagine buying for Credence. And maybe the setting helped them appear more sympathetic; the lighting was better and there was more space. And they were completely alone, which was a definite bonus.

The room held plenty of other things, too. Food and treats, beds and pillows, as well as more prosaic toys and amusements. Percival felt a weight lift; this place might be very useful indeed. It was a new feeling to think there might be others like him--a new Owner--trying to do the best for their pet but unsure what exactly that might be.

What he’d said to Mr Nota had been entirely true--relief was making him feel generous. He turned to Credence, who was staring in wonder at the variety of goods on offer.

“Go choose one,” he said, pointing in the direction of the plugs. “And when you’ve done that, we’ll look round together. Anything you like, you can have.”

Credence beamed, which warmed Percival’s spirit further. He stood back to watch him, hands in pockets, much more at ease, before slowly drifting after him.

The shelves next to the plugs were filled with dildos and similar items. They were difficult to ignore and Percival studied them idly while Credence was busy. In a very short time he’d learned a lot--there were toys which were charmed to grow bigger or smaller, toys which vibrated and pulsed. Even a couple which were hands-free, as it were, and responded to vocal commands. He wished he’d known about that one prior to Credence--it would’ve simplified his life no end. Another had two ends and seemed to be flexible, so one could position it in a number of different ways before use. This last gave Percival serious pause for thought--the possibilities it raised were extremely interesting.

He was still in somewhat of a reverie when Credence said, “Mr Graves--would you help me choose?”

Credence was at his elbow, a plug in each hand. “I don’t know which is best,” he said. “Which do you think?”

They looked very similar to Percival--one was slightly longer and the other was slightly rounder. Both were, thankfully, rather plain and undecorated.

“Whichever would be more comfortable to wear for a longer period,” Percival said. “Are you sure you don’t want one in a brighter colour?”

Credence shook his head.

“But you love bright colours,” said Percival, wondering why he was arguing, especially as he really didn’t love bright colours.

“These match my collar,” Credence said, proudly.

Percival went hot all over. Every time he thought he was getting the hang of this, Credence would say something like that and he was back where he started, with a dangerous amount of power and nowhere near enough self-control.

Credence was studying the plugs critically. “This one,” he said, holding the roundest one up.

Percival took it and summoned a basket. It followed them around the room, stopping with them at each display and expanding to accommodate its growing burden. In went a bag of cat treats, one of each available flavour--“Might as well try them all,” Percy said--and a padded bed like a big floor cushion which Credence could pop up into a cosy tent with a simple word.

“It’ll be like I can do magic!” Credence said, while Percival mentally sized it up. It was large enough for two grown men to lie down in, so fitting it into the sitting room required some thought.

“I might move the side table,” he decided. “Or just make the whole room bigger. Put it in the basket.”

Next came a succession of cat toys, for ‘enrichment and to prevent boredom’. There were balls and bells, things with feathers and fluff--all promised to evade capture and provide hours of entertainment. Also, there were a number of musical toys which hung in mid-air and promised to be both relaxing and stimulating. Credence picked one with little fluttering wooden birds which chimed soothingly but was much less interested in the section for ‘Health and Well-Being’. Percival lingered there, eventually settling for a specially formulated vitamin potion and powdered milk recommended for unwell cats--just in case.

The double-ended dildo had remained at the back of his mind but, surveying the basket and imagining Mr Nota ringing its contents up, he decided to leave it behind. He couldn’t quite bring himself to buy it this time. Perhaps the next. Or maybe there was catalogue he could order from.

Their final stop was the clothing section. Judging by how much Credence hated being dressed it hadn’t occurred to Percival that there might be such a thing. But then, he reflected, perhaps Owners needed to take their cats out with them in public, exactly as he’d done today, and maybe there were certain styles or materials which were more bearable. Some of it was extremely practical--indistinguishable from wizard clothing, except with as few constrictions as possible and easily undone fastenings.

“Will any of this be better for you?” he said, gesturing at the wizard-passing rails. “Or is what you’re wearing now okay?”

But Credence, of course, was drawn to the more ‘decorative’ side of the display. There was quite a variety of colours and sizes and styles, of which the dominant material seemed to be silk. All if it was clearly only to be worn in the privacy of the Owner’s home.

Percival, resigning himself to more compromises, joined him. But he was pleasantly surprised to find at least a couple of items which would not feel out of place in his apartment. One was a silk robe, the colour of smoked rubies and so fine it was likely Credence would hardly feel it.

“Do you like this?” he asked.

Credence stroked his fingers over it thoughtfully. “It’s soft,” he said, and put it to his cheek--a good sign.

There were similar items hanging near it--underwear, which Percival at first mistook as being for catgirls. But closer inspection revealed some were definitely for catboys, if their generous proportions were anything to go by. Percival hesitated only for a second, before he added several pairs and a couple of robes to the basket.

Credence watched this with a wounded expression. “Don’t you find me pleasing?” he said.

Percival ruffled his hair, just between his ears. “Trust me, you’re going to look plenty pleasing in that robe.”

“What about these?” Credence said, taking a pair of the offending underwear and stretching them across his hips. “I thought you liked looking at me.”

Percival sighed. “It’s not because I don’t like looking at you,” he told Credence. “It’s because I do like looking at you but sometimes I have to think about other things.”

Credence nodded but he still seemed doubtful.

“Don’t worry,” Percival said, drawing him close. “Just try them--but if you don’t like them, I won’t make you wear them.”

After that, the only thing to do was pay. Mr Nota made no comment about the amount or type of purchases and acted as if Percival were doing nothing as remarkable as buying the weeks’ groceries. Percival was so grateful that, when Mr Nota asked if he would like to set up an account, he agreed immediately.

It was only then that he realised he’d have to give his name and address and therefore confirm his identity as one of the most pre-eminent wizards of the age. Percival was never entirely sure how often he was recognised, but he preferred to think that no one would have the bad manners to mention it until he’d given his tacit approval. And surely this would be giving tacit approval.

After he’d signed his name, there was an awful pause which seemed to last forever.

Mr Nota blew gently on the drying ink. “Don’t worry, Mr Graves,” he said. “Our reputation is built on discretion and my clients are drawn from some quite surprising circles.”

Percival frowned. Though it was true that pet Owners must be exceedingly rich, that didn’t necessarily require taste or distinction--as the insalubrious nature of the storefront seemed to prove.

Mr Nota smiled at his expression. “Oh, this?” he said, a casual wave of his hand taking in the blue neon and the magazines and the alarming priapic objects. “This is to put off idle gawpers--those that do stray in soon leave. And the clientele it does attract, well. It keeps them out of the main rooms and prevents the kind of altercation we had earlier.”

That was when Percival noticed a list of ‘Rules for Patrons’ pinned behind the counter. Number One was ‘Do Not Address a Pet Without The Owner’s Consent’. Number Two was ‘Do Not Stare at Any Pet, Accompanied or Unaccompanied’. Number Twelve was ‘All Breakages Must Be Paid For’.

“Forgive the liberty,” Mr Nota said, “but we sponsor an event you may be interested in. A sort of relaxed meeting of like-minded people. And their companions, of course.” Here he nodded fondly at Credence. “They do tend to enjoy the company of their own kind on occasion. As do we all.”

He handed Percival a stiff piece of parchment, which was blank.

“This has all the information you need,” Mr Nota said. “The password is habere carum. It’s a very select gathering, I understand.”

Percival took it and politely thanked him, already knowing he didn’t have the slightest intention of looking at it, never mind attending. He slid the parchment into the bulging bags and wished Mr Nota goodbye.

Chapter Text

Credence loved his new clothing. He spent most of the next day with a robe draped over him, unfastened, so it merely framed his nakedness rather than covering it.

Still, Percival thought, at least he has something to put on should anyone come over unexpectedly. Not that anyone ever does.

“It feels nice,” Credence declared happily, splayed across his new bed.

Everywhere Percival looked there was either a long stretch of pale limb or the sheen of wine-dark silk. The effect was hardly less distracting.

And the underwear made it worse. Percival already had had to school himself out of thinking of them as panties. Credence’s impressive endowment made them appear far more flimsy than they had seemed in the store, and the ribbons at the back, which tied above his tail and held them on, gave such an impression of delicacy that it was nearly obscene. Percival had had to help him put them on, of course, by tying the ribbons. And then by untying them, once Credence tired of his new amusement. And then by tying them again, when Credence decided he was ready to put them back on. So really, Percival had spent about as much time thinking about Credence’s anatomy as he would on any typical Sunday. If not more.

According to Credence, the underwear felt ‘nice’ too. He was exceedingly grateful for them, and for the rest of his new things, and in between lolling around half-naked would leap up and look at them all again, exclaiming that his Owner was the kindest, most generous, and, in fact, the best Owner he could wish for. Then he would return to sit by Percival’s feet, with his arms wound through Percival’s legs and his head against Percival’s knee, and sit quietly purring.

All this was happening while Percival tried to read his newspaper. It was a long-standing habit and one of his favourites. Naturally, he read the newspapers every day and made notes on inaccurate articles, potentially sympathetic journalists, and current public concerns--such detail could be very useful in his line of work. But on a Sunday, the newspaper, like everyone, seemed to tire of important matters and instead preferred amusing stories, travel supplements, and photographs of the latest fashions. Everyone, even the Director of Magical Security, needed to relax over their coffee at least one day of the week and Percival liked to make the most of it.

It was possible to get more reading done when Credence sat at his feet, especially if he petted him too. Ear rubs were par for the course, but some gentle scalp massage and a regular slide of fingers through Credence’s hair would cause the sort of low deep purr which suggested he might drop off into sleep. For a while a quiet would settle, and Percival could enjoy uninterrupted a review of the latest broomstick models, of which he had no need, or a feature on wizard-friendly Mediterranean cruises, which he had no intention of going on. But then Credence would stretch, Percival would lift his hand free, and the whole cycle would begin again.

After some time of this, Percival became aware that Credence’s restlessness had shifted to a different cause. The lolling on his bed seemed more a display; not posed, exactly, as Credence was never so clumsily artful. But there was a definite--and very loud--expression of willingness and availability in his attitude. Particularly since Credence made sure Percival saw everything which was available.

He lay on his side; the robe had fallen open so that it skirted one shoulder and one nipple, and grazed down the length of one hip. The little silver bell winked at his throat and there was growing visible evidence that his underwear did, in fact, feel ‘nice’. The silk was taught and the shape of him clearly visible, outlined in glossy shades of garnet.

Percival wetted his lips but continued reading. He wasn’t unaffected but he’d had plenty of practice at managing this kind of behaviour--Credence’s appetites really were astonishing. He’d thought perhaps that, after the previous night, Credence might be content for a while. But it appeared not.

Now it was even more challenging to concentrate on the paper. He tried, he really did, but the memory of holding Credence flush against him the night before kept intruding--the backs of his thighs rubbing over his and tail twitching soft over Percival’s chest. His heat and tightness, his wiry strength and smooth skin. And the scent of his slick spine: sweet milk and bitter oranges. Percival had feasted on him--Credence had wanted to try out his new plug and it had driven him quite desperate, which had driven Percival to desperation too. He’d taken him twice--had been rather impressed with himself, actually--and marvelled at Credence’s abandon, his beautiful carnality. There was no wonder people would pay so much to have a pet of their own.

He knew Credence’s needs were in demand. The creeps at the pet store had shown him that, not that they really understood what it was to own a pet. Probably they didn’t even care, so long as they could fantasise about his obedience and willingness and suchlike. They missed the bigger picture: Credence’s needs were real, not fantasy. And Percival was responsible for them.

Which raised a question he’d not given much thought to before--what did Credence do when he was not there? Did his needs ever trouble him then? Or did he wait patiently for Percival to relieve them?

“Credence?” Percival said, lowering his newspaper. “Credence--do you ever pleasure yourself while I’m not here?”

Credence gave him the slightly vacant stare he always did when he wasn’t sure how to respond. For a moment, it looked as if he was considering lying, but then realised he couldn’t lie to his Owner. And probably didn’t even want to.

“Sometimes,” he said. “Are you angry?” He flipped onto his back, exposing his bared chest and collared neck--an appeasing, submissive posture.

“No,” Percival said. “I work long hours. I wouldn’t want you to get bored. Or lonely.”

“You didn’t tell me not to,” Credence said. He crept over to Percival’s ankles and arranged himself there instead. “I think about you,” he said. “When I do it.”

Percival peered down at him. Credence’s eyes glittered up brightly at him; he carried no sign of tension or reluctance. Not now that he was sure he hadn’t broken any rules.

“Do you?” Percival asked. “What do you think about?”

Credence smiled and stretched out more fully. One arm was now clasped around Percival’s calf. “I think about you coming home early and finding me,” he said. “Laid out here, just like this.”

He wiggled round, nudging his silk-clad hips directly into Percival’s eyeline. A shamelessly blatant display, one which made Percival smile.

“And then what happens?”

“I’m usually very close to coming when you get here,” Credence said. “I imagine the sound of you Apparating in the hall, the locks all turning and clicking open, and those words you say when you get home--all muffled, because the door is closed. And when it opens and you see me on the floor, with my hands on myself and everything is slick and wet and good, you stop and stand and watch me for a moment. Then you say ‘if you’re going to make a mess you’d better clean it up’ and sit down right where you are now and then I come. And I know before I can sit on your lap I have to lick myself clean.”

Well, thought Percival. “And after that?”

Credence screwed up his face in thought, which made his ears twitch. “I don’t know,” he said. “I never get that far because I always come when you say that.”

Percival leant forward over his knees to see Credence better. “Want to find out what happens?” he said.

Credence blinked, very rapidly. He sat up, too. “Really? You want me to do that? And you’ll say those things?”

“Why yes, of course,” Percival said. “It’s really no hardship.”

And because, he reflected, he had his own needs to look after too. Ones which were currently becoming harder to ignore.

He set the paper aside and gestured for Credence to kneel up and turn around, which he did very prettily.

Percival ignored his subtly presented backside. “But I have an instruction for you,” he said, as he untied his underwear. He guided Credence’s hands to the silk band just clinging to his hips. “I want you to keep these on while you touch yourself,” he said. “Until you can’t any more. Understand?”

Credence nodded and gave him a little smile over his shoulder.

“Now,” Percival said, sitting back comfortably. “As you were before.”

Credence stretched out again, grinning, long fingers drifting towards his growing bulge. “Like this, Mr Graves?”

“Exactly like that,” Percival agreed. “Show me how much you like your new underwear.”

Credence sighed and closed his eyes. His finger found the edge of the silk, then slid smoothly down to cup his length. He squeezed softly, massaged himself with his palm, then withdrew his hand and peeked up at Percival.

“Keep going,” Percival said. “You’ve got to pretend I’m not here, remember?”

“Yes,” Credence said, shutting his eyes again and concentrating. “You’ve got to find me like this. Misbehaving.” A very faint flush crowned the tops of his cheekbones.

A sudden inspiration struck Percival. He leaned over, elbows on his knees, curious about what effect his next words might have.

“Credence,” he said, “are you a naughty kitty?”

“Oh!” Credence’s cock twitched visibly. His hand moved on it with more purpose, squeezing and pulling, and he kept his eyes shut tight. “I don’t know, am I, Mr Graves?”

Percival smiled to himself. “Yes, I think you might be,” he said. “After I all, I didn’t say you couldn’t touch yourself when I’m not here, but neither did I say you could.

Credence moaned and arched his back. His cock was straining against the silk, thick and curved, tightly confined.

“Bad kitty,” Percival said, finding he was thoroughly enjoying himself. “You’re making a mess of your new underwear. Do you think I won’t notice when I get home?”

Credence shook his head. The silk was damp and sticking to him; Credence touched himself lightly now, fingers and thumb teasing the head, then slipping down the shaft, spreading his wetness around under the material.

“No, I know what you want,” Percival said. “You want me to find you like this.”

Credence nodded and bit his lip. His stomach was tense, his chest shuddered.

“What do you think I’ll do then?”

“You’ll tell me to make it up to you,” Credence said. His hands were balled at his sides; he was already too close. His underwear was soaked through. “You’ll say I can start by sucking you. But first-- First, you’ll say--”

He opened his eyes and looked pleadingly at Percival.

“Go on then,” Percival said. “If you’re ready.”

Credence scrambled to push his underwear down. His cock sprang out and slapped against his belly and he took himself in hand. In two hands, actually; one at the base, which occasionally dipped to cup and squeeze and rub, and one which moved fast and hard over the tip. Percival was entranced--it was unusual to see Credence work solely for his own pleasure and he rather liked it.

He crossed his legs and said, in his best disinterestedly stern Director-voice, “If you’re going to make a mess, you’d better clean it up.”

Credence came instantly. He gasped loudly, breathlessly, and bucked into his hand. Come splashed his chest, right up to his neck. As the spasms receded he coaxed out the last droplets, as creamy as his skin. Percival watched them drip onto his belly with all the satisfaction of a job well done.

Credence opened his eyes and met Percival’s, still panting, flushed from cheeks to sternum.

Percival picked up his paper again. He was pretending to read it when he said, “Well? What did I say?”

A quick glance caught Credence’s kittenish smile. Percival watched him bring a single finger to his lips and lap at it delicately.

Percival raised an eyebrow. “It’s going to take a long time if that’s how you go about it.”

Credence laughed, caught out in his performance. The next finger he sucked rudely, extracted it with a pop, and licked his palms. Then he ran his clean fingers through the mess on his chest and brought that to his mouth too.

Percival remained utterly still. The newspaper was in danger of tearing, so tight was his grip. He flung it aside and opened his pants with an impatient flick of his fingers. Credence paused and threw him a questioning glance.

“Go on,” Percival said, freeing himself. “I’ll keep watching.”

He stroked himself firmly as he did. Credence watched him just as avidly, eyes following the motion of his hand while he sucked on his fingers. Percival knew what he was thinking of--it was almost too much to bear. But soon, Credence was as clean as could be. Or, at least Percival thought he was.

Credence sat fluidly up. His cock was almost, but not quite, flaccid and hung heavily between his legs. He grasped it lightly, pulling it upright as he bent down to meet it.

Percival cursed; only an act of will managed to stave off his climax. Credence’s soft parted lips grazed the tip easily. He peeled down the foreskin and lapped carefully at the head, a final fastidious act which could’ve undone Percival all on its own. Percival yanked his hand off himself, dug his nails into his thighs, and forced himself to wait.

But Credence was unable to resist now he had a rapt audience. His pink tongue traced a line down his shaft, and then further down still; he held Percival’s eyes the entire time.

Credence,” Percival ground out in warning.

Credence didn’t need to be told twice; suddenly he was there, nestled between Percival’s outspread thighs, and eager for his reward. His plush lips engulfed him, his tongue worked, he moaned and mewed in hungry satisfaction. Percival lasted no time at all and Credence swallowed every drop, eyelashes fluttering in pleasure.

When he was finished, Credence pulled back and began to lick Percival clean as well, wearing a contented little smile.

*

How can I have lived with you for almost four months and still not know you could do that?” Percival said.

Credence shrugged lightly. He was in Percival’s lap, fulfilment of the final part of his fantasy, sitting particularly neat and cat-like. Percival felt wrecked in contrast; he’d slumped back against the corner of the sofa and had remained there. His back hurt but he couldn’t be bothered to move.

“I just thought you knew,” Credence said. “Most of us can. We’re very flexible.”

Percival put a hand to his forehead. “Mercy Lewis. What other tricks have you got up your sleeve? What else don’t I know about you?”

Credence looked blankly back.

“Okay, tell me something about where you came from then,” Percival said. “What was it like?”

“It was nice,” Credence said. “Madam Bast was very good to us.”

“Us?” Percival said. “Do you have brothers and sisters?”

Credence nodded. “Six,” he said. “Amity, Charity, Faith, Grace, Honour, and Merritt.”

“That’s quite a list,” Percival said. “And where are they now?”

“They all have Owners,” Credence said. “I was the last to leave.”

Percival frowned at that. He quashed the urge to make a joke about the best being saved for last. He found he didn’t really want to think about Credence on his own, waiting for someone to claim him. Maybe that was why he ended up a prize in a staff lottery.

Instead he asked, “Do you miss them? Or being around other cats?” It was then that he remembered what Mr Nota had said, when he’d given him that invitation. ‘We all occasionally enjoy the company of our own kind,’ he’d said. Or something like that.

Credence thought about this. “Yes,” he said. “It would be nice to know if they’re all happy like I am.”

Percival smiled. “Maybe we could find out somehow,” he said. He imagined contacting a stranger, writing a letter perhaps. Would he really? What if they weren’t happy? What if this stranger was like a very rich version of the pet shop creep? What then?

Credence, though, had been set on a course of reminiscing, most of which Percival had missed. Something about how highly trained and sought-after Madam Bast’s cats were, how the talented ones sang and danced and entertained.

“And,” Credence said, as if imparting a great and important secret, “it was even said that the President herself has a pet from Madam Bast.”

Percival nearly choked. “What!? Credence, no, that’s impossible.”

Credence looked affronted--his expression went charmingly haughty, nose in the air and the corners of his mouth turned down. “No, it isn’t,” he said. “Honour told me she’d seen her visiting and she wouldn’t lie.”

“But--” Percival protested. “She would have told me!”

But as soon as he said it, he realised that that was not true. Seraphina wouldn’t tell him anything like that, in precisely the same way he wouldn’t tell her. And Percival did have a pet, which Seraphina knew all about, and yet she’d still not mentioned it. Not even to make dry little comments and digs. Was that perhaps, on reflection, not a little odd?

Credence was staring at him. “Do you know her?” he asked, wide-eyed. “What’s she like? She looks so glamorous on those billboards.”

This juddered Percival’s thoughts to an absolute standstill. He forgot about Seraphina and her possible secret pet and instead focused on one horrific fact: Credence didn’t know who he was. Another realisation quickly followed--that it would be ridiculous to utter the chilly ‘don’t you know who I am?’ which trembled on the tip of this tongue. Especially now, with his dick still hanging out of his pants.

Instead he said, “Credence, you know I work for MACUSA.”

It came out huffily but Credence didn’t notice. He was still in raptures about Seraphina, about how beautiful he thought her and what a wonderful Owner he was sure she would be.

“And there’s the law which she made recently,” Credence was saying. “The one about making sure all pets are properly looked after? She must understand us very well to do that.”

“The Bill of Part-Human Rights,” Percival said, tightly. It had passed about a year ago and his team had been heavily consulted during its drafting, particularly regarding the presence of pets in non-magical spaces.

Credence finally noticed his mood. “Oh, you’re angry with me!” he said. “I did something wrong, didn’t I? What was it? Tell me so I don’t do it again.”

And, just like that, all the outrage drained out of him. Percival scratched his head and sighed deeply--he didn’t know how to answer that. So, he flipped to the fourth page of the New York Ghost and held it in front of the Credence.

“Look at that photograph,” he said. “What do you see?”

Credence smiled. “Madam President,” he said. “Her robes are so pretty there, don’t you think?”

Percival took a steadying breath. “And who is standing just behind her?”

“Oh!” Credence went still. His eyes, round as saucers, looked up at Percival.

“Yes,” Percival said. “‘Oh’. And for the record--not one piece of legislation is put forward without my say so. Including that one.”

“I had no idea,” Credence exclaimed. “They should have told me! Why didn’t they tell me?”

Because you were a raffle prize, thought Percival. They had no idea who they were sending you to. But he said, “It doesn’t matter. You know now. I shouldn’t have assumed that you did.”

“But you must be a very important man,” Credence said, looking stricken. “I’m sorry, I’ll try to be better and more deserving of you.”

Percival frowned, more at himself than at Credence. Wasn’t this exactly what he’d wanted--to impress his importance upon Credence? How else had he expected him to react?

But to Credence, he said, “What are you talking about? There’s nothing wrong with the way you are. Why does it matter who I am?”

Credence said nothing further, though his unhappiness and uncertainty were palpable.

Percival pulled him close. When he had him settled against his chest, he kissed his forehead, took a deep breath and said, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I spoke sharply and I’m sorry I was angry. You mustn’t worry about it--it really doesn’t matter.”

Credence stirred. “But it does matter,” he said. “There are plenty of cats much better than me and any of them would have wanted to be yours. Any of them would have chosen you. But you didn’t get a choice--you got me instead, just an ordinary cat.” He lowered his eyes; his tail drooped. “I’m happy here, I don’t want to go back.”

“What do you mean ‘they would have chosen me’?” Percival said. “I didn’t think pets had much say in it.”

It was Credence’s turn to look confused. “We don’t have to go with anyone we don’t like,” he said. “Madam Bast says that ‘Owner is a title which is earned, not bought’.”

There was a silence in which Percival had his world turned slowly upside down. He’d had it all wrong--both of them were the same, trying to make the best of a difficult situation. Obviously Credence was perfectly aware that he’d been denied something by being given away like he had. He’d been even more aware of it than Percival had. So much so, that he was even worried that Percival might think he’d got the bad end of the bargain.

“Um,” Percival said, rather stupidly. He tried again. “Did you like anyone, before… Before--”

Credence shook his head. “I only had two potentials,” he said. “One of them tried to pull my tail and Madam Bast was angry. He never came back. The other smelled funny.”

“Only two?” Percival said, before he could stop himself.

“I told you,” Credence said, “I’m just an ordinary cat. But Madam Bast said that one day I’d find someone who’d appreciate me and when that happened then--”

“I wish you’d stop saying that,” Percival said. “You are not ordinary at all. And, before you say anything else about singing and dancing cats, what use are they? I can’t imagine anything worse when you’re trying to relax at home. What do people even do with them? Show them off to their friends? Sounds damned tedious.”

Credence’s mood had shifted; he was smiling softly.

Percival smiled too; he couldn’t help it. “What are you smiling about? Is it funny that I’m a grumpy old man?”

“You’re not going to send me away, are you?” Credence said. Except it wasn’t a question. He nestled closer and his ear tickled Percival’s chin. “And I’m going to stay here with you.”

“But of course,” Percival said. “I made you a promise, didn’t I? I said I’d look after you.”

“Yes,” Credence said emphatically. “Yes, you did. Because you’re my Owner.”

“Yeah,” Percival agreed. “I’m your Owner.”

And, for the first time, he thought he might really believe it.

Chapter Text

It took another couple of days before the penny really dropped. Percival was unusually inattentive at work but vague on precisely why. He shut himself in his office and trusted it would pass. He knew there was something eluding him--some vital piece of information he’d missed--but when he got home and finally had time to think it didn’t seem to matter so much. In fact, then he was almost cheerful. It was only once he got back to his desk the next day that the problem reared up again to nag at him.

But, when it came, the answer arrived quite suddenly.

It was usual, now, for Credence to sleep in Percival’s bed. Right from the start Credence had been set on sleeping in the same room--Percival’s suggestion he should have his own had not been well received--so he’d had to choose between making Credence sleep on the floor or sharing his own bed. And no matter how many times Credence insisted that sleeping on the floor was perfectly acceptable, Percival disagreed. They’d tried it for one night and the experience of waking up and stepping over Credence’s huddled form had been quite enough. From then on, Credence had slept in a real bed alongside Percival.

Credence only spent half the night there anyway. He would fall asleep with Percival and would be there when Percival woke, but a couple of hours after midnight he went on silent nocturnal prowls around the apartment. Percival was used to it, now; in fact, he fell asleep very easily with Credence there. He’d never been a particularly good sleeper but Credence’s deep-throated purring was extremely effective at helping him drop off. There seemed nothing significant in this--it was merely a soothing rhythmic sound which aided relaxation. Which was why it was an extreme shock when, after Credence had wriggled back into Percival’s embrace in the early hours of the morning and began softly purring, Percival had felt his entire body unclench and he’d thought, in a very clear and lucid voice: missed you kitten.

His eyes had snapped immediately open, heart hammering, and then he’d lain awake for quite some time trying to explain this away. It was only natural, he told himself. He spent a lot of time with Credence and his presence was familiar. Maybe he’d been dreaming about something which had made him prone to sentimentality. In other words, that he hadn’t really meant it and there was nothing for him to worry about.

But all the time he knew the truth. He knew. And when dawn broke he was ready to admit it--at least to himself.

Credence had woken too, blinking in the brightening light and stretching his limbs one by one. Then he’d snuggled back into their shared warmth and Percival thought his heart might stop, so strong was the throb of love it gave. It caused a pain which was quite, quite agonising.

He’d struggled out of bed, made straight for the bathroom and locked the door behind him.

There he had decided to leave the apartment, as quickly as possible, and had done so, telling Credence he had to be at work early that morning. Credence had waved him off as usual, entirely unconscious of the turmoil he’d caused. Percival had breakfasted in a diner, the most anonymous one he could find, and spent an hour staring at the oily surface of his coffee, cursing himself for his stupidity.

For who on earth would fall in love with their pet? To feel fond of them, to desire them, to enjoy their company was fine, normal, to be expected. But to love them as one was supposed to love another witch or wizard? How pathetic. Credence surely could feel nothing more than affection for him--affection mixed with gratitude, for Morrigan’s sake. What was his heart thinking? Why had it chosen to exercise its power now?

He’d never loved anyone before, not like this. He’d simply never been interested in that side of things. Sometimes matters had become a little complicated and he’d had to extricate himself from the grasp of one or two more determined lovers. A handful had, perhaps, thought they could change his mind but soon realised how wrong they were. Not once had his heart spoken up or singled someone out--it had kept silent and he’d grown complacent about his ordered and solitary bachelor status.

Now, however, his heart had plenty to say. And it said it all the time, without let up. Apparently all it wanted was Credence and complained loudly whenever they were apart. It was extremely disturbing. He returned home that night in dread of Credence noticing; of being unable to be around him without giving something away. But it was easy, disgustingly so. He found he was happy--and Credence demanded nothing so much as an ear scratch and Percival’s presence, and didn’t that just speak volumes about Percival? The only time he’d ever loved anyone was when he called the shots and so little was required of him in return.

But he did start to wonder about those who had actually chosen this life. Was it simply a sexual perversion--or could it perhaps be an emotional one too? One he perhaps shared in? No human relationship could be quite like this, could it? He wished there was someone he could ask.

The thought of Seraphina bubbled up in his mind but he pushed it away--even if it was true, and he doubted that very much, the idea of discussing it with her was preposterous. But he had one other option--there was the blank piece of parchment given to him by Mr Nota. ‘A relaxed meeting of like-minded people,’ he’d promised. All he had to do was find out how true that was.

*

“Are you sure you want to go?” Percival asked. “If you’ve changed your mind, we can just stay here. I won’t mind.”

They’d only just finished dressing but it was very tempting to consider shedding his evening wear--and, for Credence, clothing in general--and settling down to another quiet night. Alone.

But Credence was red-cheeked and bright-eyed with excitement. “I’d like to go,” he said. “I might see one of my sisters. Or Merritt. Or maybe Madam Bast--do you think she will be there?”

Percival sighed. “I have absolutely no idea who will be there,” he said. And it was that, he realised, which was worrying him.

Once he’d spoken the password--habere carum--the blank parchment had blossomed with words: ‘By Invitation Only, a Private Salon for Devotees of Felinus’. There was a place, time and date, and the vague instruction that ‘Companions are Excused from the Wearing of Evening Attire’. Percival hoped he’d decoded that correctly--Credence wore his usual outerwear for travel but underneath only his new silk underwear. A room full of ‘devotees of felinus’ would understand that cats preferred a state of undress, wouldn’t they?

“You been to anything like this before?” he asked Credence, once they were out on the street. He brought out his wand and summoned a taxi--Apparition made Credence terribly sick so transport was needed.

Credence shook his head. “Never,” he said, sounding almost pleased about it. Percival supposed he should be grateful--a reluctant Credence would have made this even more difficult.

There was a small pop in the alley behind them and shortly after a taxi nosed out of it. The window opened a crack.

“Where to?” said a raspy voice.

Percival opened the door for Credence and climbed in after him. “The Astor.”

The driver, now visible, nodded. She was about his mother’s age but, aside from that, could not have been more different. Under her cap, her hair was bleached and shingled, and her lips were crimson. A cigarette smouldered in a holder, hovering carelessly above the wheel, dropping ash onto the floor.

She turned the wheel, pulled a lever and put her foot down. The cab lurched; already they were halfway across town. Credence, with his cat poise, was undisturbed by the motion. His face was pressed to the window, watching the lights and buildings blur past. Percival grabbed for his seat and held on, remembering why he hated cabs.

“We’re not in any particular hurry,” he said, as they squeezed improbably through standstill traffic. “You can take your time.”

The driver laughed. “You tell that to your young man,” she said. And then she winked at him in the mirror.

Percival ignored her for the rest of the journey which, mercifully, was extremely short.

*

The hotel was bustling with guests and visitors. They made an odd pair--Percival in tailcoat and white tie and Credence in his soft wool cap, loose sweater and pants. Percival cast a mild concealment charm as they passed the doorman, who nodded them inside without really seeing them. Just as well--the hotel had a reputation for turning a blind eye to certain patrons but it still might take exception to rich men soliciting street boys on their premises. Which, unfortunately, was what they rather resembled, judging by the taxi driver’s comments.

He kept the charm up as they made their way towards the public rooms. Credence was enjoying himself immensely, gazing around in raptures at the soaring ceilings and the glittering attire of the guests. Percival had to grip his arm to make sure he didn’t lose him in the crowd.

The Astor Bar was just ahead. Percival stopped and looked around, seeking the yellow door he’d been told to watch out for. There it was, screened by a potted fern.

He knocked, expecting to wait, but it swung open immediately. A haughty-looking woman with very short hair stared out; she wore a monocle and her pristine white tie echoed his. For a moment she said nothing, silently scrutinising him.

Percival bristled with indignation--surely she knew who he was--and presented her with the invitation just as haughtily. She hardly glanced at it; instead she raised an eyebrow and looked him up and down. But when her gaze shifted to Credence she immediately softened.

“Credence, darling,” she said, and held out her hands to him. “I hardly recognised you in that frightful get-up. Do come in.”

The door opened wide and admitted them. Inside was dark and narrow. Dark because the walls, floor, and ceiling were all painted black. Narrow because it was an entranceway, with doors leading off in all directions. Tucked into a corner was a tiny desk.

Credence was all smiles. “Madam Bast!” he said, kissing her softly on the cheek. She was so tall that even Credence did not have to stoop. “I hoped you would be here.”

“My dear,” she said. “I am always here. I am extremely in demand--they tell me no one else will do. Now, let me look at you--take off the terrible hat--yes, still as beautiful as I remember.”

She took his face between long-nailed fingers and tilted it from side to side. Percival narrowed his eyes--she may very well be the infamous Madam Bast but that didn’t mean she should touch Credence without his permission.

“Oh yes,” she smiled. “Doing very well, I think.” Credence blushed prettily and she turned her sharp eyes to Percival. “So this must be Mr Graves,” she said.

Percival stepped forward and offered his hand. “Charmed,” he said, making it clear he was anything but.

She laughed first and then shook it. “Come, now,” she said. “We must be friends--we have someone very important in common, after all.”

Before Percival could reply she turned back to Credence. “You may change through the door at the end,” she said. And to them both, “The main room is through there and, should you need a private room later, we have several left. Those you can arrange through me.”

And, for the second time that evening, Percival Graves was winked at. He sighed, and took Credence off to get changed.

*

Walking into the main room was one of the most nerve-wracking things Percival had ever done. Even facing down a rogue Hungarian Horntail in the middle of a battlefield somewhere near Ypres was nothing in comparison.

Credence, by complete contrast, was all calm. He waved at Madam Bast as they passed her again--she waved back and called, “I’ll see you later darling, I want to know everything you’ve been up to”--and then wandered into the main room like it was nothing. Like being almost entirely naked beside a formally-dressed Percival in public was completely normal.

The room was well-sized, almost a ballroom in proportions, and decorated in the Ancient Egyptian style. There were blue-and-green painted papyrus columns, lashings of gold leaf, and plenty of cat-themed ornamentation. Two Egyptian black cat statues flanked the entrance, while smaller ones were mingled in amongst the columns. Exaggerated cat-eyes peered out from the walls and the floating brass lamps were wrought into sinuous feline shapes. In between the columns, couches and chaise longues and little footstools were dotted about, occupied by small groups of well-dressed people. These groups were further secluded from the wider room with decorative screens and large ferns. Two good fires, roaring away on opposite walls, threw flickering light over the scene. Everywhere beads sparkled, gold shimmered, and platinum flashed. And at their Owners’ feet, languorously entwined on fur rugs, naked cat-flesh was warmed with golden firelight.

Percival almost choked; he rapidly averted his eyes. But another glance told him it wasn’t quite as bad as he’d first thought. Those on the rugs--catboys and -girls--were merely conversing, exactly as their Owners were, albeit in an extremely demonstrative fashion.

As he watched, a woman in a silvery dress called to one. She plucked a morsel from a gold plate and held it out. “Merritt, my dear!”

A cat scampered over to her. She petted his soft golden hair as he ate it placidly from her fingers.

Credence clutched Percival’s arm. “It’s Merritt!” he said, and turned huge pleading eyes towards Percival. “Please can I go talk to him?”

Percival frowned. “I thought Merritt was your brother?” he said. When Credence had reeled off his siblings’ names, he’d imagined a row of watchful brown eyes, dark curly heads and alert black ears. Merritt’s ears were white and fluffy, his skin delicately bronzed, and his hair was neither dark nor curly.

“He is, he is!” Credence said. “Oh, please, he’s right there!”

“Of course you can,” Percival said. “I’ll be, er--” He looked around for a vacant seat but there wasn’t one. There was nothing for it--he’d have to mingle. “Why don’t we go say hello together?”

Credence nodded. Percival expected him to go rushing off but he didn’t. He grew shyer as they approached the group, half-hiding behind Percival. He soon realised why--three curious faces all turned towards them, ears pricked, and only one of them was Merritt’s.

Credence shuffled a little further behind him.

“Come along, Credence,” Percival encouraged. “Don’t you want to make friends?”

There was no need to worry, though. Merritt had spotted Credence; in a flash, he’d pounced, and Credence was flat on his back with a delighted Merritt on top of him. The other two cats--a boy and a girl--crowded round in a welcoming manner.

“Delightful, aren’t they?” said a voice behind him.

Percival turned. It was the woman in the silvery dress, Merritt’s Owner.

“Merritt’s very affectionate,” she said. “So don’t worry. I know what the first visit can be like--you spend all that time cosied up together and it can be a real shock to let them have a bit of freedom. Especially once you’ve bonded.”

“Bonded?” Percival said, at the same time as the woman introduced herself. “Sorry, I missed your name.”

She laughed and patted the seat next to her. “You may call me Sylvie,” she said. “And you’d better join us--your pet seems to be making firm friends with Merritt.”

Percival followed her gaze to Credence on the floor, who’d already made great strides to overcome his shyness. He was in the middle of their little group, grinning and talking and playfully swatting at the other catboy. Merritt was behind him, arms loosely around his middle and chin resting on Credence’s shoulder. He was talking, too; in fact they all were, seemingly at once, so Percival couldn’t make out a word they said.

“Oh, yes,” he said. “That’s Credence. Apparently he’s Merritt’s brother.”

“Indeed?” said Sylvie, leaning in to get a better look. “So he’s that Credence, is he?”

Percival frowned. “Well, he’s the only one I know of.”

“Merritt talks of him frequently,” Sylvie said, in an overly tactful manner.

Percival was pondering this when one of the other Owners, a woman with long, very dark hair, and even darker eye makeup, addressed him.

“What beautiful curls he has,” she said, leaving Percival in no doubt that this was intended to be a compliment to him, rather than to Credence. “And such sleek ears--I do adore short-haired fur.”

“Oh, forgive me,” Sylvie said. “Please let me introduce you to everyone. But before you do the same, I’d better explain that I’m only ‘Sylvie’ inside this room--none of us use our real names. It’s a little convention we have, just in case of any public awkwardness.”

Percival smiled. “Understood,” he said. But really, he wasn’t sure if that was better or worse. Would it help if he pretended that every witch and wizard in the room didn’t know exactly who he was? Or would it be more sensible to keep himself very, very aware of that?

“This is Ravenna, Pearl’s Owner,” Sylvie said, indicating the woman with the opinions on Credence’s curls. Pearl was, presumably, the only catgirl in the group, and so fair it was obvious how she’d come by her name. “And this is Julius.” Julius, seated opposite, gave a practiced kind of wave--he was older than the rest of the group by at least a decade and had a distanced air. His pet was introduced as Isaiah and he was a little older as well--strong and athletic-looking, like an ancient Greek statue come to life.

Everyone nodded politely at each other. Percival arranged himself more comfortably on the couch and considered what his nom de plume should be.

“I did a lot of work undercover in the war,” he said, after a moment. “The people I worked with called me Bagheera. I suppose you could call me that.”

Sylvie raised her brows; she leaned in again and was on the cusp of enquiring what it meant before she was interrupted, quite spectacularly, by Madam Bast.

More accurately, it was the stream of cats who went to greet her at the door which cause the interruption. They quickly surrounded her, about two dozen of them, making a racket comprised of ordinary human speech and wordless happy yowls. Everyone in the room stopped to watch the scene. Madam Bast crooned their names, dispensing little scratches and rubs and pats as she sailed magnificently into the centre of the room.

“My darlings,” she said to the circling crowd of cats. “How nice it is to see you all again.” Then she ostentatiously removed her monocle, placed it with care on a small side table, and sleekly transformed into a proud and majestic lion.

Oh, thought Percival. Well. That explains a lot. I wonder what Credence would think if--

“They just adore her,” Sylvie said in his ear, as if any translation was needed. It was quite obvious that they did and also that the feeling was mutual.

Percival watched the ripple of excitement pass through the cats--most of them seemed to have been expecting this. In turns, they rubbed against her sandy fur, purring and blinking and gradually quieting into little groups by her paws. In return, she was indulgent with her affection; a lioness with her kittens.

“As do we all,” Sylvie continued. “She’s really quite marvellous--our high priestess.”

Unnoticed by Sylvie, Percival raised a skeptical eyebrow. It made perfect sense for the cats to be enamoured with Madam Bast but he thought it a step too far for grown witches and wizards to be as well. It might not be common to be an Animagus but neither was it uncommon. And cats were one of the most frequent forms taken.

This attitude of false wonder struck an odd note. Did he share anything with these people besides his accidental Ownership of Credence? ‘Devotees of felinus’ the invitation had called them but did that really apply to him? Percival used the pause to take a good look around the room. The other cats seemed nice enough and he could see the physical appeal of one like, say, Isaiah; but he felt no real attraction to any of them. If he’d attended alone, and without having met Credence, he couldn’t see himself walking away resolved to obtain one of his own. So perhaps he was just a devotee of one felinus in particular.

He finally spotted Credence; the melee had died down and he’d been drawn in to the tête-à-tête she’d promised him. The other cats were all settling peacefully, with only the odd ear or tail twitching. Credence was cross-legged at her side, talking easily while she licked her paws. Every so often a pair of amber eyes would flick over to where Percival was sitting.

Percival smiled to himself. He sat back in his seat, crossing his legs and ensuring she had a very confident picture to look at. Now he had the measure of Madam Bast he knew he was on much safer territory--indeed, they were now almost on equal terms. So much so that he might even ask her a few questions, later.

But then, as if there wasn’t already enough to occupy him, there was another grand entrance. This one was easily as unexpected as the first and quite a lot more shocking.

The doors opened slowly and smoothly. No one immediately noticed--that came later, when she was fully amongst them. But Percival did, and with a growing kind of horror that he had to find out the truth like this. In company.

A catgirl entered first, with a light and graceful tread. She was beautifully dressed, of course, in satin draperies and a delicate gold anklet. Close behind followed a slender but stately figure.

Percival groaned. It was Seraphina.

Chapter Text

Seraphina paused regally, allowing the realisation that Madam President had arrived to filter across the gathering.

There was a suppressed murmur, then all the cats bowed low--with the exception of Credence, who gave an excited gasp before he remembered himself. Everyone who was fully human stood--with the exception of Percival, who simply put his head in his hands and tried not to pass out.

Madam Bast instantly transformed back into her usual form and swept over to greet her. Seraphina remained poised on the periphery until Madam Bast, after a brisk air-kiss, led her to a spot which was right in the centre of the room. Couches and footstools were summoned and arranged; other patrons graciously made way for her. And then she was seated, sheltered considerably by various screens, columns, and plants.

Somewhat recovered, Percival watched this disappearance carefully. Madam Bast came out to make further arrangements--several glasses and plates followed, ferried inside by a troupe of cats. He counted them all in and out. Madam Bast didn’t re-enter--Seraphina and her cat must be alone in their private enclave.

By that time, everyone had settled down again. All the guests had returned to their conversations with a conspicuously nonchalant air, and all the cats had returned to their Owners. Credence, too--he appeared suddenly at Percival’s feet.

Sylvie made a little cooing noise in his direction. “What a beautiful face,” she said. “He’s quite enchanting.”

Percival ignored her comment and instead spoke quietly to Credence.

“Would you like to meet the President later?” When Credence’s eyes went as wide as saucers, he went on. “In that case, I need you to wait here for a little while. This is Sylvie, Merritt’s Owner”--Sylvie preened a little, likely hoping she was going to get an introduction too--“so you stay with Sylvie and Merritt for now, and I’ll call for you soon. Okay?”

Credence nodded. His eyes were bright and sparkling--clearly he was having a much better evening than Percival. And knelt on the floor between Percival’s legs he looked so… youthful. Almost angelic. With an abrupt pang, Percival wished they were at home where everything was simpler and it was just the two of them.

He realised then how reluctant he was to leave him behind, out of his sight. It felt wrong, somehow, with all these people around. Like Percival should stay by his side to protect him.

But he gave Credence a little kiss, square on the forehead, and ruffled his hair. “Be good,” he said, and left.

Attack is the best form of defence, he thought, as he strode directly towards Seraphina’s cosy dominion.

He’d been right--aside from her cat, posed with extreme elegance on a silk cushion, he found her alone. He took a seat on a low couch and prodded a bowl of olives.

“Do they think you’re royalty?” he asked, instead of saying ‘hello’.

Seraphina gave him a penetrating look. But all she said was, “I’m the highest-ranking patron they’ve ever had.”

“Give them what they want?” he said, raising his eyebrows. “Is that it?”

“Status is a big deal for cats,” she said, deftly levitating the olive bowl away from him. “You’d better learn to embrace it. Or are you just annoyed they didn’t do the same for you?”

“I don’t like olives,” he said, which made her laugh. And which made him feel better--this was Seraphina and they were simply having one of their squabbles. It was something familiar to hold onto.

He stretched out his legs and leaned back into the couch. “Why didn’t you tell me? I know you know about--”

“Credence?” she said. “I was waiting for you to come to me.”

He stared hard at her. Was it odd that she knew Credence’s name?

“This is Cleo,” Seraphina said. “Cleo, say hello to Mr Graves.”

Cleo, now she’d been addressed, trained her huge hazel eyes on him. She was excessively beautiful, with warm brown skin and glossy russet-coloured ears. “Good evening, Mr Graves,” she said and dipped her head at him, almost like a curtsey.

Percival realised then he had no idea how he was supposed to respond. She was nothing like Credence--being the President’s pet clearly required a staggering amount of self-possession and mastery of many social graces, more than even he possessed. He couldn’t imagine her chasing pigeons in the Park. Or at all, in fact.

“I don’t really know the etiquette,” he said. “Nice to meet you?”

Seraphina snorted. Cleo, wonderfully trained, smiled serenely and somehow melted into the background again.

“What?” he said to Seraphina. “People keep making overly-familiar comments about Credence. If that’s what’s expected of me then I’m going to have to disappoint--I don’t like it.”

She watched him carefully. While he waited for her to choose her next words, he examined the bowls of finger food. There were tiny squares of hot toast with fish paste on them--probably meant for Cleo. He avoided those, choosing instead a breadstick which he snapped into pieces before eating them one by one.

“You don’t really still think you won him in a raffle, do you?” Seraphina suddenly asked. “Not now that you’re, well, here?”

Percival stared at her. “What do you mean?” he said, carefully. “I came home one day and he was on my doorstep. With a card which said things like ‘congratulations’ and ‘grand prize’. What else was I supposed to conclude?”

“Come on, Percy,” she said. “You were an Auror for nearly twenty years. I thought you’d have figured it out by now. Surely you can’t still believe we would treat a pet as callously as that?”

We. Everything went very quiet and Percival’s mouth went very dry. The breadstick had been a bad idea. He looked around and found only water and a single goblet of claret next to Seraphina--neither were sufficient for his needs.

“Could you get one of your flunkeys to fetch me something to drink?” he ground out. “Something very strong.”

Seraphina bent to whisper in Cleo’s ear, who bowed and vanished. Percival regretted not specifying a entire bottle.

“It was you?” he said, hardly able to believe it. “All that sparkly pink nonsense he was sent with? You?”

Seraphina frowned and shrugged. “I didn’t see to the details.”

“Evidently not!” spluttered Percival.

“It is an unusual situation,” she said. “I thought about it very carefully.”

“Oh well, as long as you thought about it carefully.” Percival groaned into his hands and tried to catch his breath. “I feel like I’m having a stroke. Or maybe a heart attack.” Then he sat bolt upright and brandished a finger at her. “And I really don’t know if I want you to keep talking or just shut the fuck up.”

Cleo chose that moment to arrive with his drink. Seraphina glared at him and gently sent her away, out of the reach of such uncouthness.

Without a pause, he drank it in one gulp. “I’ve decided,” he said, throat burning. “Talk. Firstly, why? And secondly, how dare you?”

Seraphina eyed him, unperturbed. “I know you,” she said. “We are, and always have been, birds of a feather. Except for one difference--I can be honest about what I want. And I am much happier for it.”

“And what I want is…? What? A sex slave with a tail?”

“Stop being so dramatic,” she said. “You know that’s not what it’s about. You’ve bonded with him, haven’t you?”

Percival buried his face in his hands again. “What does that even mean?” he said. “And if I had how would it make any of this better?”

“If you’d just let yourself think about it properly, you’d find you already know,” she retorted. “If you hadn’t bonded with him, he wouldn’t still be living with you. And you wouldn’t have found this place.”

“What else was I supposed to do?” he said. “Throw him out? It’s… basic chivalry!”

“Chivalry my ass,” she said. “If you’d really wanted to, you would’ve found somewhere to send him--he could’ve gone back to Madam Bast at any time. But you didn’t. And now, at this very minute, he is somewhere in this room and you can’t see him or what he’s doing or who’s talking to him. How does that make you feel?”

He didn’t answer. But he did scowl very viciously at her, mainly because he’d just realised she had a point.

“Exactly,” she said. “And what if someone said or did something you didn’t like to him?”

An image of the man with the Kitten magazine flashed into Percival’s head. His fingers ached for his wand.

“Now you get it,” she said. “That’s what bonded means. And that’s why he’s still with you. You don’t want anyone else to look after him--it has to be you.”

“I thought--” Percival began, thinking of the troublesome pain in his chest. “I thought it was love. I thought I’d fallen in love with him.”

“Oh hex us all,” Seraphina said. “I should’ve guessed you’d be like this. Yes, it’s love, of course it is, but must you be so brooding about it? I bet you hand feed him every meal and he sleeps in your bed every night.”

“Just the bed thing,” Percival said, dazedly. And then: “Am I supposed to hand feed him?”

She was smiling. It was irritating and he wished she would stop. He told her so, and in the resulting silence asked her the final, looming question.

Why?” he said. “Why like this? You could’ve just introduced me to Cleo and gone from there.”

“Because I knew you’d refuse to consider it for yourself,” she said. “That’s why we came up with the raffle idea.”

We?

“Madam Bast and I.”

Percival took a breath in and out. “No,” he said. “You’re going to have to explain it better than that. Start from the beginning.”

Seraphina sighed deeply and reached for her wine. “I know Madam Bast well,” she said. “She was my introduction to all this and, a few months after I first met her, she told me about a problem she had. A bit later on, I realised the solution might be to solve yours at the same time--two gnomes, one stone.”

She glanced at him but Percival remained tight-lipped. His ‘problem’, indeed.

She sighed again. “I know what you’re thinking,” she said. “We’ve discussed it before and you told me not to interfere. But somebody has to, Percy. You should be thankful I chose a bold and creative solution rather than forcing you into a heart-to-heart.”

“You did all this,” he said, “because you think I’m a lonely workaholic? You bought me a human companion who had no choice in the matter, because I refused to see your cousin again after he ordered for me in a restaurant?”

“No,” she said. “That would’ve annoyed anyone. It was because of what you said to me about it later. ‘How dare he presume, Seraphina. It should have been the other way around, Seraphina. People should know when to let others handle things, Seraphina.’ Honestly, you should’ve heard yourself.”

Percival humphed. “I was angry,” he said. “It didn’t mean anything.”

“You were outraged,” she said. “And yes it did. You were so offended you disappeared halfway through the entrée. I had to apologise to him on your behalf.”

“He was also very irritating,” Percival said. “And boring. Look, can we argue about that another time and focus on the argument we’re currently having? The one where you’ve meddled in two lives and are supposed to be explaining why?”

“Fine,” she said. “Firstly, Credence did have a choice. Also, technically, he’s half-human. And yes, it was the incident with Jackson which convinced me that you needed someone who would let you be fully in charge; someone who would trust in you completely. Someone who needed that too.”

He opened his mouth to speak but she cut him off.

“And, finally, you know I had good reason to believe you’d prefer a cat to another kind of pet.”

Percival squeezed the bridge of his nose and didn’t respond. Of course. Why did everyone think that was so significant?

She lifted a brow. “Oh, Credence doesn’t know? He’s going to be thrilled.”

“Credence was Madam Bast’s problem, then,” he said, changing the subject. “Why? What choice did you give him?”

Seraphina picked up her wine again. She looked smug, which Percival didn’t like. It meant he’d asked exactly the question she’d wanted him to.

“Would you like me to explain it?” she said. “Or Madam Bast?”

*

They waited in silence for Madam Bast to join them. Cleo had been summoned again, sent to fetch her, and had arrived back with the message that Madam Bast would be there presently.

Percival used the time to digest all he’d heard. Or tried to--it was difficult to grasp. Seraphina had acted with inconceivable arrogance. He thought how he would’ve cursed her--quite literally--if he’d known about her involvement to begin with. She’d handed him a dependent and changed his life forever--and then told him it was all for his own good. That was much worse than ordering someone’s food for them without asking.

And there was Credence, too. Was what had been done to him worse still? He supposed he’d find that out when Madam Bast arrived. He shouldn’t speak to Seraphina, ever again. But he knew he would, as soon as he was finished being angry. Because, even if it were possible to rewind time so that none of this had happened, he would want things to remain exactly as they were. He would want Credence to stay with him and would refuse to give up the time they’d already had together. He’d lose all the things they’d learned about each other, all the little things they’d said and done. And there was the bond they’d formed.

His heart gave that painful squeeze again.

“Bonding,” he said, turning to Seraphina. “Is it just a one way thing or do they get it too?”

Seraphina blinked at him in surprise before she spoke. “It’s even more important for them than it is for us,” she said. “They want to be Owned--to be singled out and treasured.” She sighed; her hand strayed to Cleo’s neck and stroked it. “But winning their love is a privilege. It’s their gift to us.”

Percival sank back into his seat again. Seraphina, mercifully, fell silent and let him think.

There was Credence’s easy acceptance that Percival was his Owner to consider, and also his constant insistence that Percival was good and kind. And how anxious he became if he thought Percival wasn’t pleased with him or by him. Finally, Percival thought of him purring, eyes closed, with his cheek to Percival’s knee. He’d taken all of this to be casual, almost meaningless--charming, maybe, but just how Credence would be with anyone. Had he been wrong? Was it possible that Credence’s feelings matched his own?

Madam Bast chose that moment to enter and interrupt his thoughts. Percival didn’t want to waste any more time and got straight to the point.

“Tell me everything about Credence,” he demanded, before anyone else could open their mouths. “Why did you send him to me?”

Madam Bast sat opposite him, ankle planted across her knee. She smiled and lit a cigarette. “I knew we were going to be friends,” she said. “Not the ordinary kind, of course. It’s always like this when one big cat meets another.”

“Credence?” Percival prompted, impatiently.

She nodded. “You must’ve noticed he looks nothing like his brother? Well, the litter he was brought up with aren’t his blood relations--I have no idea who they might be or where he came from. He was found, you see, when only a kitten of about four years old. Abandoned, I presume. He was hungry and dirty but only a little thin, so he can’t have been on his own for very long. The people who found him brought him to me and I’ve looked after him ever since--right up until he became yours.”

Percival recalled Credence insisting on having a collar and explaining the shame of being a stray. It had never occurred to him that Credence might once have been one.

“He was always a lovely thing,” Madam Bast continued. “But timid in company--he would never put himself forward over his brothers and sisters. Any prospective Owners just sort of passed over him in favour of the others. They never saw his potential, not when he spent most of their visits hiding behind a chair.”

Percival remembered the tips of Credence’s ears poking out above his armchair. I would’ve, he thought fiercely. But Madam Bast’s words didn’t make sense. Credence had been so forward, particularly at first. He’d hidden, yes, but only after Percival had shunned him. Before that he’d not been at all shy of seeking attention.

“He wasn’t timid with me,” he said. “A little more timidity might’ve been easier to handle, in fact.”

“Because he liked you,” Madam Bast said. “He was expecting to like you--to his way of thinking, it would make no sense for me to have sent him to someone he wouldn’t like. He simply wanted to please you.”

Percival spread his hands wide. “Why send him away, though? And why to me?”

“Because he needed an Owner and none seemed forthcoming,” she said. “He’d have been very welcome to stay with me forever. But the older he got, the more impossible it seemed, while the likelihood that someone would claim him grew less. Adult pets have needs--ones I can’t fulfil.” She shrugged and snuffed out her cigarette with a click of her fingers. “I just like the company of cats. I breed them, I find them good homes. I’m not an Owner, I’m not interested in that side of things.

“And when Madam Picquery told me her idea, I wasn’t sure. But she vouched for you--she said she knew your tastes and together we came to the conclusion that you and Credence were highly suited. So I explained it to Credence--that a very special person had found him a potential Owner and we were going to do things a little differently. It would be a kind of trial--he was to live with you to see how he liked it, and if he didn’t then he could come back at any time.”

Percival blinked. “But how could he have gone back?” he said. “Credence has no magic, no contact with anyone. So unless that awful butt plug was a Portkey then I don’t see ho--”

Madam Bast laughed and said, “Mr Graves, he’s a cat. If he wants to do something, then he will. It would’ve been no problem for him to find his way back if he’d wanted--he could have walked there in ten minutes.”

“Oh,” Percival said. That hadn’t actually occurred to him. There was nothing to prevent Credence from just walking out and going home to Madam Bast--all he had to do was open the front door. But he hadn’t--even during those first difficult days.

Madam Bast smiled. “See?” she said. “He likes you. Very much.”

“Hold on a minute,” said Seraphina. “What butt plug?”

“Oh merciful gods,” said Percival. “Can we not? I’d like to retain some personal mystique.” But she looked so intent that he was compelled to explain. “When Credence arrived he, er, had it with him,” he said, delicately. “It was part of the sparkly pink nonsense I mentioned earlier.”

Madam Bast nodded sagely. “I did try and persuade him into a subtler introduction,” she said. “But he was so set on looking nice for you.”

Percival whipped round to face her, mouth open. “That was all his idea?”

“Why, yes,” she said. “Who else’s could it have been?”

His horror couldn’t have been greater. All that time he’d thought someone had forced it upon Credence--and it had been his idea all along! And what had Percival done, the moment they’d met? Taken it all away. Those things, sitting in the box in his closet, they were all Credence’s.

The only belongings he’d had in the world and Percival had taken them all away.

“I hope you were kind to him,” Madam Bast said, watching Percival narrowly.

“Maybe I could’ve been kinder,” he was forced to admit. “But it would been easier had I known all this! You left us to figure everything out ourselves.”

Madam Bast lit another cigarette. “Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “From what I’ve heard, you’ve both done rather well.” And, for an unbelievable third time that evening, Percival was winked at.

Percival glared at her. And at Seraphina too, when she stretched and said, “So there you have it. You needed someone, Credence needed someone, and it sounds to me like it’s been a roaring success.”

“I should fetch him,” Percival said, suddenly exhausted. “He’ll be wondering where I am--and I promised he could meet Seraphina. He’s a big fan, apparently.”

All this talk about Credence had focused on attention on his absence--he felt it like a physical pain. No, not like pain--more like a lack of something, as if he were cold and craved to get warm.

“Oh, really?” Seraphina said, sounding delighted and very, very amused. “And what did you tell him about me?”

“Almost nothing, I guarantee it,” said Percival, and Seraphina laughed, louder than he’d heard her for a long time.

It was Madam Bast who went to fetch him--a little piece of tact which Percival greatly appreciated. The pause gave Seraphina and himself time to straighten themselves out before Credence arrived. He still had a lot of strong words he wanted to share even though his first flush of anger had burnt itself out.

‘My tastes’?” he said. “What the hell have you been saying about me to total strangers?”

“Nothing that isn’t true,” Seraphina sniffed. “You’re not as unreadable as you think, you know. And I was right, wasn’t I?”

There wasn’t much he could say to that. Seraphina listened to his silence with every sign of triumph.

“Come along,” she said, in friendlier tones. “Don’t sulk. Not in front of the children, remember.”

It was something they joked about at work--regardless of how heated things became behind closed doors, they always presented a united front. Which reminded Percival of an important detail.

“If there was no raffle, how come all my staff seem to know about Credence?” he said, anger rising again.

Seraphina looked confused. “They don’t,” she said. “They can’t. No one else was involved--just Madam Bast and I.”

“They keep looking at me,” he said. “Meaningfully. And asking about my weekend.”

“Oh,” she said. “That. Well, they’ve figured out you’ve settled down with someone and I think they’re just curious. There might be a sweepstake. Stop being such a paranoid old Auror, no one knows anything.”

“Mercy fucking Lewis,” Percival said. “A sweepstake?”

“They were going to notice,” she said. “Especially as you’ve not stayed past six once in the last three weeks. And there are other signs--like that time I caught you whistling in the archives corridor.”

“There will be absolutely no whistling from now on,” Percival vowed. “And there won’t be time for this kind of idle speculation once I double their workloads.”

“Or,” Seraphina said, “you could try relaxing into this newer, happier you and not worry about it. Credence has obviously done you some good. I’m looking forward to meeting him.”

Percival eyed her resentfully but she just smiled.

“I mean it,” she said. “I’ve heard a lot about him, and once I managed to sneak a glance when I visited Madam Bast’s, but that’s it. And he wasn’t your pet, then--just an idea of one.”

“And at any point in your matchmaking schemes did you stop to consider that the two of us might not get along? Or not get along enough?”

“It was a calculated risk,” she said. “I was watching out for indications it was going badly.”

There was movement behind one of the screens. Madam Bast appeared, holding Credence’s wrist and trying to encourage him inside.

“He’s shy,” she said, as Credence shuffled into view.

Percival felt the smile rip across his face--the sight of Credence caused such pleasure it cured much of his wounded temper. And Credence responded in kind--he looked sulky about being persuaded to do something he was frightened of, but lit up immediately when he saw Percival.

Percival held out his hands. “Come here, kitten,” he said.

Credence darted towards him, and hid himself behind Percival’s legs. He peeked out, solemn-eyed, over his knee. Percival rubbed his curls, stroked his ears. He couldn’t stop touching him.

“Did you miss me?” he asked. “I missed you.”

Credence nodded and crowded closer. He laid his head on Percival’s thigh and wound his arms tight around his leg. There was a very, very faint purring sound coming from his throat. Percival rubbed a bit harder and heard it grow louder.

“We’ll go home soon,” Percival said. “But first I thought you wanted to meet someone? She wants to meet you too.”

Credence raised his head. His eyes flicked nervously over to where Seraphina was sitting, then back at Percival.

Seraphina took charge of the situation before Percival could respond. She rose and settled herself down on the other side of Percival, close to Credence.

“I’m a friend of Percy’s,” she said. “Which means I’m your friend as well. I’m very glad to meet you, Credence.” And she extended her palm to him.

Credence froze while he considered her gesture. Then he slowly unwound himself from Percival’s leg, leaned towards her hand and sniffed it. When he didn’t move away, she lightly rubbed his cheek with her thumb.

Percival witnessed this with a sense of unreality--but a very pleasant kind of unreality. It was strange to see her tenderness for someone he cared so much about. They’d known each other for a long time but they’d shared few real intimacies. The picture they made touched him more than he could’ve imagined.

Credence closed his eyes and gave a tiny purr. Seraphina turned to him, her smile genuine.

“He really is lovely,” she said.

This time, the words meant something. Percival didn’t find them over-familiar at all.

“Yes, isn’t he?” he said, and smiled back.

Chapter Text

They took another taxi home.

Credence had grumbled about having to dress again--a rebellion which was a sure sign he was overtired--so Percival allowed him to take off his hat and coat off in the cab. A certain devil-may-care attitude had befallen his own self--probably a sign that Percival was overtired too. But what did it matter what the taxi driver thought? Who cared if they saw Credence’s ears or tail and realised what he was? Or what Percival was?

He was an Owner, that’s what he was.

Percival spent a little time practicing that in his mind. I am an Owner. This is my pet, Credence. Yes, he is beautiful, isn’t he? Touch him and I’ll snap your spine in two. That sort of thing. It was surprisingly satisfying and he found he was feeling quite good about himself.

Credence, however, was restless. It was dark in the back of the cab and the lights outside blurred past as they moved with unlikely speed through the streets. Percival got flashes of his face--he was drooping with tiredness but too distracted by the busyness outside to settle.

Percival reached for his hand and squeezed it. Credence turned to him and tugged at the neck of his sweater.

“Can I take these off too?” he asked.

“Wait until we get home,” Percival said.

Credence let go of the sweater and blinked owlishly around the cab. Percival saw the driver catch a glimpse of him in the mirror. He stared only for a second before he turned back to the wheel.

“Can I sit here?” Credence asked, pointing at Percival’s lap.

Usually, Percival would’ve said no. But tonight was different. Tonight he felt different, about Credence and about himself as well.

And Credence was in dire need of a nap.

“Yes, okay,” he said, and lifted his arm to admit him.

There wasn’t a lot of space on the backseat and, after some fidgeting around, Credence decided the best thing to do was to curl up with his back to the front seats and lay his head on Percival’s thigh. Percival’s hand went automatically to the back of his neck; he slowly massaged the soothing spot there, just under his collar. It didn’t take long for Credence to relax into something like sleep.

“Hey you back there!” the driver piped up. His face in the mirror was red, his hands gesturing angrily. “No funny business in my cab!”

Inside, mild irritation at the man’s stupidity warred with protectiveness. Percival glared fiercely and leaned closer to the driver.

“He’s sleeping,” he said in a harsh whisper. “What’s funny about that? Just keep your voice down and your eyes on the road. You’d better not wake him--especially if you want a tip.”

The driver huffed, cast a suspicious glance at Credence’s still form, but didn’t make another peep. Not even to say thank you at the end of the ride, when Percival handed him a whole dragot and told him to keep the change.

*

The nap, though short, had done Credence good. By the time they got inside, he’d perked up considerably. Being able to get rid of his clothes helped even more.

He wandered into the sitting room entirely naked--apparently after prolonged periods of enforced clothing even the silk underwear had to go--and leapt with relieved glee onto his own bed.

Percival meditated on this picture while he unfastened his cuffs.

“We’ve had quite a lot of excitement, haven’t we?” he said, sinking into a chair. He knew how Credence felt--there was nothing better than being at home with your very own things. “I think a quick bite to eat, maybe a bath, and then bed.”

Credence flopped over, onto his back, and gazed up at Percival. “Bed?” he asked hopefully.

“I don’t know,” Percival said. “Are you too tired? I know I’m tired.”

He gestured for his tie to unknot itself but it snagged; the knot grew tighter, rather than slipping undone.

“Hex it,” he said, reaching to prise it loose with his fingers. He really must be tired if he’d messed up such a simple spell.

But suddenly Credence was there, astride his lap. “Let me?” he said and, with much studied concentration, set to work.

Percival sat back and watched him. His nearness was very welcome after the evening they’d had. He let himself really look; at the length of his eyelashes, the bump on the bridge of his nose, the curve of his cheek.

“You’re beautiful,” he said, at the same time as Credence triumphantly pulled his tie open.

“I did it!” he said, and then heard what Percival had said. His eyes went wide, his ears flattened a little, indicating an unexpected shyness.

Percival gathered him closer. “I should’ve said that before,” he said. “About you, not just about parts of your anatomy.” And then he kissed him.

Credence gave a muffled sound of surprise, but his fingers soon found Percival’s chest, and then his shoulders, and then they were hovering tentatively at the edge of his shirt collar.

“You can touch whatever you want,” Percival told him. He briefly recaptured his mouth; it was soft and so warm. “I should’ve kissed you a lot more, too. I’m going to make up for that, I promise.”

Credence gazed wonderingly at him. His fingertips grazed Percival’s neck, moving slowly upwards, until they reached his jaw. They traced his mouth, circled his cheek and the sides of his nose. It tickled; Percival laughed and kissed his fingers.

“Why do you look so starry-eyed, hmm?” he asked. “I’m not that handsome.”

Credence lifted his chin. “Yes, you are,” he said. “You were the most handsome Owner there tonight.”

“Was I now?” Percival said, grinning. “Did you do a survey?”

Credence nodded seriously. “While I was waiting for you. Sylvie took Merritt and I to meet her friends.”

Percival leaned in confidentially. “Well, I did a survey too,” he said. “You were easily the most beautiful pet. And I was the proudest Owner.”

Credence blushed. “No,” he said. “I can’t have been, I’m j--”

Percival kissed him again. “No,” he said. “I don’t want to hear it. You are not ordinary and you’re not to describe yourself like that anymore.”

Credence looked doubtful.

“Do you think I’m ordinary?” Percival asked.

Credence shook his head fervently.

“So how can my pet possibly be described as ordinary?” said Percival. “It makes no sense. A pet I would choose above any other? A pet I adore as much as I adore you?”

Credence’s bottom lip trembled. His fingers tightened in Percival’s shirt. “Me?”

Percival wrapped him in his arms and held him close. “Yes, you,” he said. “I’m sorry it took me so long to get here, especially as it turns out it was really all very simple. I am your Owner and I love you with all my heart. That’s all there is to it.”

There was a silence, and then a quiet gasping sound. Credence freed himself from Percival’s hold and looked at him, eyes brimming with tears. One escaped and ran down his nose.

“Why are you crying?” Percival said in alarm. “Did I break another Owner rule? Am I not supposed to say things like that?”

“Say it again?” Credence whispered.

“Not if it’s going to make you cry! Where did that lovely smile go?”

But Credence’s lovely smile didn’t come back. He stayed where he was, crouched in Percival’s lap, waiting. Percival couldn’t help it--a picture swam into his mind of Credence as he must have been at four years old, lost and cold and unloved--and a lump formed in his throat. There was a real moment of danger, especially when he repeated it.

“I’m your Owner,” he said, a bit more unsteadily than the first time. “And I love you with all my heart. Okay?”

Credence nodded and flung his arms round Percival’s shoulders. Percival held him tightly. After a moment, Credence drew back and wiped his eyes.

“Am I permitted to say it?” he asked.

Percival frowned. “Permitted?”

“You have to give me permission,” Credence said. “I can’t say it unless you do.”

Oh. Percival took a deep breath. “Is this something you’ve been wanting to say for a while?”

“Yes,” Credence said. “For a very long while.”

Percival rubbed his forehead, stunned. He’d been such an idiot. “Then say it, kitten. Say whatever you want, whenever you want to say it.”

Credence paused, bit his lip. “You’re my Owner and my heart is yours, just like the rest of me.” His words were soft and quiet and Percival felt each individual one strike him right in the chest. “I love you, Mr Graves.”

That was what did it--the moment of danger was upon him and Percival found it didn’t matter. Nothing else mattered. What were a few tears shed when such happiness was his?

“Say it again?” he asked, and afterwards kissed Credence until they were both breathless.

*

By the time the next morning arrived, Percival had made some decisions. He had meant to follow his declaration up with another confession, but Credence’s own declaration had rather derailed things. There had been far too much kissing to fit in, then matters had quickly grown urgent and talking had no longer been important. Afterwards, both of them had fallen fast asleep, worn out as they were--Credence didn’t even get up for his nightly prowl--and Percival had woken with a warm sleepy kitten wound tightly around him and a strong desire for a new beginning.

“There’s something I need to show you,” Percival said, once they’d breakfasted. “I wasn’t keeping it from you or anything, but… Well. I didn’t even think it would matter until last night.”

Credence looked up from where he lay across his lap. He’d been extra attentive all morning and had decided that the only place he wanted to be was wherever Percival was--which now suited Percival perfectly.

“It’s something that I haven’t done in a long while,” Percival said. “Sometimes I forget I can do it at all. But, if you want me to show you, you’re going to have to get off my lap.”

Credence sat straight up and went to settle on his bed, tail waving softly behind him and ears pricked with interest.

Performing any kind of magic had never made Percival nervous, not even when he was still learning, so what he felt now was a new sensation. He’d had little need of his ability in the past few years--not since the war, really. What if it had deserted him? People said doing it gave them a giddy feeling; that it felt freeing and light. He wasn’t entirely sure he remembered that. Maybe it had, at first. But then had come the war, with its noise and horror, and they’d needed people like him--his stealth and strength and secrecy had been useful. And then after that, it hadn’t seemed like as much fun.

Plus, however stealthy, it was quite difficult for a panther to stroll around New York City unnoticed. No-Majs were unfortunately prone to calling for help and performing memory charms with no hands was awkward, to say the least.

He stood and shut his eyes, so he could no longer see Credence’s eager, lovely face. But he found it was incredibly easy to transform; once he’d found the right intent, it was like fitting a key into a lock. There was a feeling like the world swirling around him while he remained stationary--it was still familiar, after all these years. And when he next opened his eyes, they were much closer to the floor than they had been.

Credence had his knees hugged to his chest, mouth hanging open. He didn’t say anything.

“Credence?” said Percival, taking a step towards him. The words felt odd in a mouth not designed for human speech. “It’s me.”

Credence slowly released his knees and reached out a tentative hand. Then his face split into a grin and he opened his arms wide. “Mr Graves!”

Percival made straight for them. His padding gait was foreign still, but he had to admit it felt good. It was even better when Credence threw his arms around his neck.

“I knew it,” Credence said. “Well, no, I didn’t know. But everything makes sense now.”

He rubbed his face against Percival’s shoulder while his fingers sought out more of his dense black fur. Then he found Percival’s tail, which just as black as his own but thicker and longer, and stroked it. Percival flicked it at him and Credence laughed.

“It feels just like velvet,” he said, holding it to his face.

“What makes sense?” Percival asked, as he sat down on Credence’s bed and stretched his paws out in front of him. Maybe he did feel a bit lighter--definitely a lot less stiff around the shoulders.

“That you’re part cat,” Credence said, throwing himself down to inspect Percival’s claws. “Humans are weird and you’re not weird.”

Percival blinked. “But I am human, Credence,” he said, and transformed back to prove his point.

Credence, now holding his wrist instead of a foreleg, gave him a disbelieving look.

“That was magic,” Percival said, hardly able to believe he had to explain this. “It’s not real. You know it isn’t--you’ve seen Madam Bast do it.”

Credence shrugged and propped himself up onto an elbow, tail swaying overhead. “I know only some wizards can do it and those that do always change into the same animal.”

“Yes,” Percival said patiently. “But it’s magic. I’m not part cat.”

Credence sniffed. “Of course you are,” he said, very reasonably. “Or you wouldn’t turn into one, would you? You’d turn into something else.”

He was so serious that Percival started laughing. “Do I look like a cat now?”

“No,” Credence said, as if that was a very stupid question. “But obviously the part of you which is cat is the invisible bit. And the magic just makes it visible.”

And then he pounced, leaping up into Percival’s lap and pushing at his shoulders with his palms, so Percival was forced to lie back with a groan. With Percival sufficiently subdued, Credence climbed on top of him, nestled his face into his neck, and began to purr noisily.

Percival sighed. He was lying fully dressed on the floor--on a cat bed, no less--with his very own half-human cat on top of him. Maybe he could concede Credence’s point, just a little. Just enough to admit that, perhaps, he had his own cat-like qualities. And that the bed was actually quite comfortable.

Construo,” he said, which was the command to turn the bed into a tented den. Out of nowhere, the sides of the bed flipped up and formed a gentle canopy.

Credence raised his head and grinned at him. They were entirely enclosed; inside it was dim and cosy and Percival decided that maybe, just maybe, a cat-nap might not be unwelcome. It was a Sunday, after all, and last night had been a late one.

“Ever had a nap with a panther?” he asked Credence.

Credence shook his head, still grinning.

“Want to?”

Credence wriggled on top of him. “Yes please, Mr Graves.”

Percival, who’d been about to transform again, paused. “You know, I don’t think I want you to call me that anymore.”

“No?” Credence said. His face had fallen a little and his tail wasn’t quite so mobile.

What Credence should call him had been one of their first battlegrounds and ‘Mr Graves’ had been their very first compromise. Credence had gone immediately for ‘Master’, which Percival had found utterly intolerable, and then he’d run through a number of other titles which had all made Percival shudder.

“No,” Percival said, shaking his head. “I think people who call me that don’t actually like me very much. They certainly don’t know me. Certainly not like you do.”

Credence slid off him, onto his side, and shuffled up so his face was level with Percival’s. “Everybody should like you,” he said. “You’re very likable--I liked you right away. I like you more than I like anyone else in the whole world.”

Percival smiled at him. “Yeah?” he said. “What did you like?”

“I liked how you smelled,” Credence said, which was not the answer Percival was expecting. “You know that thing I’m not allowed to say anymore? Well, Madam Bast said that one day I’d find someone who’d appreciate me and when that happened I’d know. And when I met you I thought he smells good and I think it might be him.”

“I had no idea that smell was such a reliable indicator of character,” Percival said. “Is that why you stole all my shirts from the hamper?”

“I didn’t steal them,” Credence pouted. “I just borrowed them.”

“Right.”

“So what should I call you?”

Percival turned onto his side and brushed a curl back from his forehead. “Call me Percival,” he said. “No one else does. It’ll be just for you.”

Credence smiled, slow and soft. He shuffled closer and kissed him sweetly. “Percival.” He looked so happy as he said it. “That’s your name.”

“That’s my name,” agreed Percival. “Now, how are we going to do this? I’m out of practice dealing with four legs and a tail--dealing with six legs, two arms, and two tails is totally unprecedented.”

He transformed again and Credence flipped over and snuggled back against his belly. Percival hooked a paw over his waist and rested his head on his shoulder.

“Do I smell the same when I look like this?” he asked.

Credence nodded and sighed happily.

“Good,” Percival said. “I don’t want you wandering off with any strange panthers.”

He saw Credence’s cheeks rise up in a smile.

“I liked you as well,” he confessed. “When you first got here, I mean. It just took me a while to understand how much.”

Credence nodded again, more haltingly. His breathing was slowing and his smile had slipped dreamily off his face. Percival softly licked his collarbone--he tasted like salt and sweet thin cream. Soon they were both asleep.

Chapter Text

It was another Friday night. Percival had arrived home with a paper bag, already wriggling and squeaking from the charm he’d cast.

“Where are you kitty-cat?” Percival called, as his coat swirled off his shoulders and hung itself up. “Did you fall asleep in the tub again?”

Credence came skidding into the hallway. He did indeed look like he’d just woken up--his hair was rumpled and one of his ears was flattened on one side.

Percival grinned at him. “I brought you a treat,” he said. “But you have to catch them first.”

He held the bag close to the floor and tipped out the contents. Two sugar mice fell out, one pink, one white. They paused, sniffed the air, then promptly ran off in all directions.

Credence gave a gasp of delight and streaked after them. Percival followed at a distance, keeping a watchful eye on proceedings while he did all the things he liked to do in the evening.

He found the morning paper and put it in the trash, then laid out the evening one he’d just brought home. Next, he took out his pocket watch, wound it, and took it round all the other clocks in the apartment to wind them as well. He checked the Threat Level Measurer hanging on the study wall, to ensure it was working correctly, and tidied away any stray papers--not that his study was ever very untidy. Then he undid his cuffs, rolled up his sleeves, and went to mix a drink.

First he had to get ice. He ran the faucet in the kitchen and, with his mind fixed on the sharp crystal edge of newly-cut ice, froze three perfect ice cubes out of the running water and summoned them into a glass. Bourbon was in the little cupboard by the sink, with the coffee. Finally, he opened the cupboard where the fresh food was kept cool with weather magic and slipped inside the packet of white fish he’d bought for later. It was Credence’s main diet and, after a brief internal battle, Percival had swapped his Friday night steaks for fish. It was less effort than cooking two different meals and the Department’s Healer said it was better for his heart anyway.

When he strolled back into the sitting room, newspaper and glass in hand, Credence was lying on his stomach with his arm thrust under the couch--almost up to his shoulder and straining to reach further under. In his free hand, squeaking frantically, was the pink mouse--there would be no prizes for guessing where the other one was.

“I can’t reach it,” Credence complained. “It won’t come out.”

“No wonder,” Percival said. “There’s a fearsome predator in its midst.” He sat down on an unmolested chair and surveyed the drama in front of him. “Want a helping hand?”

“Yes please,” Credence said, still trying to insert himself bodily under the couch.

“Get ready then,” Percival said, spreading out the newspaper across his knee. “You know it’ll run.”

Credence drew back and sat on his haunches, poised to spring. His ears twitched, his tail went still. Even the mouse in his hand fell quiet, like it knew something momentous was about to happen.

Percival moved his palm upward and so did the couch, enough so that Credence could dive for the hiding mouse. But it was also enough so that the mouse realised its cover had vanished and had better make a run for it.

Both happened simultaneously. Credence dived, the mouse ran. There was a crash; the mouse escaped but only just. Credence scrambled after it, into Percival’s study.

“Mind the furniture,” Percival called. He took a pleasant swallow of whiskey and opened the paper.

Aside from some muffled distant thumps, silence reigned in the sitting room. Percival sighed, crossed his legs, and settled down to read. Five minutes later Credence returned, victorious, with the fugitive mouse dangling between his fingers by its string tail.

“Are you going to put it out of its misery?” Percival asked, eyeing its struggles to escape--powdered sugar was dropping all over the carpet. But the charm was holding well--it would probably last another few minutes. “Or are you going to play some more?”

This was an important matter: Credence considered it seriously, with a mouse in each hand. He frowned at them in turn while they wriggled and squeaked and tried to squeeze free of his fingers. Then, very resolutely, he bit off the pink one’s head. Instantly the charm ended and both mice turned back to ordinary sugar ones.

“Okay then,” laughed Percival. “Decision made.” He put aside his article on cauldron imports and patted his knee. “If you’re done then come sit here--you haven’t said hello to me properly yet.”

Credence bounced over and climbed into Percival’s lap, draping sugary hands around his neck. Percival shifted, opening his legs wider to take his weight.

“That’s better,” he said, sliding his arms around Credence’s waist and grinning back at him. “I missed you today.”

“I missed you too.” Credence kissed him softly, and rubbed his cheek against Percival’s, purring.

Percival’s hands slipped from his waist, over his hips and lower, and gave what he found there a gentle squeeze. He’d been looking forward to this all week--but first he had to check something.

“Did you do your lessons?” he asked.

“Yes,” said Credence, nodding solemnly. “All of them.”

“Show me?”

Credence slid lightly off him to retrieve his copybook and Percival opened it at the most recent page. Credence’s wonky attempts at the alphabet were present and correct, along with that day’s words, which had been painstakingly copied out three times: ‘Snake’, ‘Tree’ and ‘Umbrella’.

“Very good,” he said to Credence. “You’re getting much better at writing out the letters, don’t you think?”

“I am trying,” Credence said, scratching an ear and looking doubtful. “It’s hard.”

Percival kissed his forehead. “It’ll get easier. You’re doing well, don’t worry.”

Credence had been so keen to learn but the amount of concentration needed had come as a shock, one that had disheartened him at first. He’d not been required to learn anything before which didn’t come easily and instinctually. But Percival had plenty of faith and he was proving to be a hard worker.

“I practised your name again, too,” Credence said, turning the page. “And mine.”

Percival smiled. “So you did,” he said. “Those look very good. You’ll be writing me a Christmas card in a couple of months.”

This must’ve satisfied Credence’s craving for praise. By swinging both his legs over the chair arm and some considerable slouching, he was able to rest his head on Percival’s shoulder. There he settled, purring loudly.

Percival took the hint. “There’s not much in the paper this evening. What would you like to hear about first--cauldron imports or the price of gillyweed?”

Credence pulled a face. “They both sound boring. Are you in the newspaper today?”

“Thankfully, no,” Percival said. Usually if he was it was not a good sign. “I suppose we really should get you some books--we could read them together. What do you fancy? Adventure, mystery, and maybe a few scantily clad boys thrown in for good measure? I bet that would help your reading come along no end.”

“Are there really books like that?” Credence asked, wide-eyed.

“Oh yes,” Percival said. “And illustrated too. But just think--if you do all your exercises and try hard, you could read those while I’m at work. And get up to all kinds of naughty kitty things, I imagine--which you must promise to tell me all about when I come home.”

Credence was smiling, tail curling lazily over his shoulder. “But you’ll still read to me at night, won’t you?”

“Of course I will.” Percival stroked the soft tip of his tail thoughtfully. “Yes, we’ll get you a nice selection of books. Maybe tomorrow afternoon, before Seraphina gets here.”

“I’d forgotten they were coming tomorrow,” Credence said. “That’s good. I want to show Cleo my letters.”

They were both regular visitors now. Though Percival still took Credence to the ‘Felinus’ every month, so he could see his old family and make new friends, Percival much preferred a quiet evening with the four of them. And Cleo had been something of a surprise--once away from the public sphere, she was a different kind of cat. Her training masked a timidity, especially of new people and new situations, but Credence’s gentle nature and Percival’s sugar mice had soon overcome that.

“Maybe she can help you,” Percival said. Credence was extremely impressed by her beautiful handwriting and had great aspirations of developing the same. “But, before then, we have a whole evening to ourselves. What on earth are we going to do with it?”

Credence’s arms snaked a little tighter around his shoulders and he angled his mouth up towards Percival’s. He didn’t speak, just smiled knowingly.

“Come on, out with it,” Percival said. “Naughty kitty--I know you have plenty of ideas.”

Credence suppressed a laugh and displayed himself more appealingly across Percival’s lap. Percival snorted at him and his attempts to be coy. The only sensible response was to tickle an answer out of him, especially when his stomach was right there, exposed and vulnerable.

Credence laughed, wriggled, and gave in. “I want to play,” he said, grinning hugely. “You know what game.”

“Oh, I see,” Percival said. “You want to be the mouse?”

“Yeah,” Credence said, scrambling up to his knees and beaming. “I want to be the mouse.”

*

This particular game, invented only a handful of weeks ago, never lasted long, no matter how hard Percival tried to draw it out. For one thing, there simply weren’t that many places for Credence to hide. But principally it was because Credence enjoyed being found far too much and because Percival enjoyed finding him just as greatly.

He waited in the kitchen to give Credence a head start. There were no good hiding places there and it had been declared out of bounds, should either of them want to halt the game or rest. Credence hadn’t yet worked out how to use it to his advantage--when he did, Percival was certain the ‘chase’ portion of the game was going to go on indefinitely, or until Credence was ready to surrender.

The silence in the apartment was telling--he’d been listening for sounds of Credence moving around, to give him an indication of where to begin (or not to begin) searching. Though he was stealthier than a human opponent, Percival’s heightened senses could usually pick out some sounds. Cushions being moved, the soft swish of disturbed drapes, maybe the squeak of a chair leg against the floor. This time Credence had excelled himself--Percival had heard only a vague shuffling which indicated movement towards the dining room and that was all. He’d have to scent him out.

He couldn’t match a real panther for tracking ability but he could definitely outshine a human hunter when transformed. It had been one of the reasons he’d been so sought after for undercover operations in the war--Percival could find anyone at close range without the need for locating magic, which would risk giving away his presence. His best work had been at night, sticking to the shadows and patiently stalking his prey until he was a man once more, wand held to his captive’s throat.

He stuck his whiskers out into the the hallway and sniffed. Credence’s scent was everywhere but it was freshest towards the dining room. It was difficult for Percival to phrase what he smelled like in human terms--it was sweet and somehow creamy. Dessert was how his brain translated it. If Credence was panther prey then he smelled like dessert, and Percival planned to have him with a cherry on top.

It was time to move. Silently he padded down the hall and stopped outside the dining room. The door was ajar and Credence’s scent lingered on the door knob. He nosed it further open and scented the room. Even if he wasn’t there now, he was sure Credence had been in the last few minutes.

The room itself provided few options for Credence to hide. The drapes were long and behind them there was just space enough for Credence to conceal himself. There was a roomy leather trunk which was empty save for a few papers and a sideboard it would just be possible for Credence to fold himself into. Alternatively, he could be behind the door, waiting to slip out when Percival entered. Percival hoped it was the last one--it would force him to give chase and would easily be the most fun.

In case it was the latter, he decided to go in and take a look. And if it wasn’t, he could have a good sniff round, locate Credence, then saunter away to ‘search’ the other rooms. Credence would be left tucked away, quivering with excitement and waiting for Percival’s return.

He butted the door fully open and prowled inside. The scent became stronger; Percival was now sure he was there somewhere.

“I wonder if there’s a naughty kitty in here,” he said, pacing the room’s perimeter. “There’s one on the loose and I’m determined to find him.”

He paused. From behind him came a muffled snicker. The cabinet and trunk were to his left and the drapes were right in front--Credence must indeed be behind the door. He waited for his grin to pass before glancing round--human expressions didn’t sit easily on a panther’s face and a smile looked positively ferocious. When he did, the door was slowly swinging closed--Credence had escaped.

Percival bounded for the door, shouldered it open, and sprang out into the hall. Light footsteps came from the bedroom. He ran down the hallway and made it to the door just in time to see the tip of a black tail disappearing under the bed.

Percival leapt on top, making sure to land heavily so the springs bounced and creaked. He paced round a few times for good measure, paws sinking deep into the comforter. “I know you’re under there, little kitty,” he said. “What are you going to do now? Will you surrender or are you going to try outrun me?”

There was a sound halfway between a squeal and a laugh, then something flew out from underneath the right-hand corner of the bed. It was a pillow; it bounced off the wardrobe while Credence made a dash for the door.

His distraction worked well; Percival was genuinely taken aback and lost valuable seconds before he too dove for the door. By the time he’d followed Credence’s pattering footsteps into the sitting room his blood had quickened pleasingly. It gave authenticity to his first pounce--Credence was streaking across the room, aiming to take cover behind the couch, but Percival just missed him. Credence darted left, out of reach of his outstretched paws.

Percival hit the floor and skidded to a halt. Credence vaulted the couch, quite impressively, and ran back out of the room with Percival hot on his heels.

Victory was approaching, now; Percival could feel it. Credence ran into the study, grinning over his shoulder at Percival’s pursuit--a clear sign he was ready to be caught. Percival sprang just as Credence turned, cornered--with Percival blocking the doorway, there were few places to run even if he’d wanted to. His front paws made contact with Credence’s chest and both of them arced down to the floor. Credence fell back with cat-like grace and Percival ended up crouched low over him, paws either side of his head.

Credence was laughing so hard he could barely speak.

“Do you surrender, little kitty?” Percival said, pointedly licking the tender skin beneath his jaw. He may even have let his teeth drag, just a little; just enough to give Credence a thrill.

Credence nodded breathlessly, holding his ribs and giggling.

Surrender was the signal for Percival to change back into human form but doing so hardly helped him feel any less dangerous. He was still crouched over Credence’s prone body, which was gleaming pale and trembling from the excitement of his pursuit. He grinned devilishly, pushed his face into Credence’s neck and nipped the skin just above his collar.

Credence shrieked with laughter. “I surrender, I surrender!” he said, raising his hands above his head, palms upraised and fingers slack.

Percival chuckled in his ear and drew back. His bare chest hovered barely an inch over Credence’s; the heat between them was as if they’d skipped ahead to where Percival’s thoughts had been since he’d transformed and left his clothes behind.

“If you surrender, you know what you have to do,” he said, lowering himself down to his elbows to further cage Credence in. He was gazing up at Percival; eyes hooded, blinking slowly, the shape of his mouth growing more wanton with every passing second. “I won my prize fair and square.”

Credence’s excitement finally tipped over into raw lust. He made a noise from somewhere low in his throat and flipped onto his stomach, pressing his knees into the carpet and raising up his hips. His tail swished impatiently over his back.

Percival groaned; he knelt up and slid greedy, possessing hands up over his ass, and then down between his legs to massage his thick length. Credence whined and spread his legs wider.

“Fuck,” Percival said. “Yeah, that’s it, present for me.” He rubbed his thumb over Credence’s hole and with his other hand tugged gently at the root of his tail. “I take it back--you’re a very, very good kitty indeed.”

Credence moaned in answer, somewhat muffled by the carpet. Percival’s grabbed his own cock, to ease it’s ache; Credence was as effective as the strongest stiffening potion known to wizardkind. There was no question of holding back; no taking Credence by the hand to lay him tenderly out on the bed. They were going to fuck, right here on the floor in the middle of Percival’s study. Percival was going to get carpet burns and Credence was going to end up with all manner of interesting marks on his neck and neither of them would change a damn thing about it.

It took no time at all--a lubrication charm and a few thrusts of his fingers and he could slide right inside. Credence’s body was quick to warm up, another deliberate attribute which matched his extravagantly large cock. Credence moaned again, this time more throatily, and wriggled back against him until his ass was flush against Percival’s hips. Percival took a moment to compose himself, grasping hold of Credence’s hips and taking a shudderingly deep breath. His first thrust was too gentle for what he craved but, judging by the violence of his cravings, that seemed prudent. But it also seemed too gentle for what Credence craved; he yowled imploringly, dug his fingers into the carpet and braced himself hard against the floor.

That was all the encouragement he needed. Percival growled, seized Credence around the waist, and drew his hips back before slamming into him. Credence gave a gasp which sounded like relief, high-pitched at first but the noises he gave grew more guttural as Percival fucked into him. It was so good, as thrilling as their chase, if not more so. It was like flying, or maybe like freefall; it was dangerous and sweet and perfect and he wanted it to last forever. And the sounds they made--the smack of skin and grunts and harsh breath; and the need to be close, to possess and to own, and the remembrance that he actually did possess and Own. It filled him with such an ache, something to be treasured as much as it was to be sated.

The intensity of his thrusts forced them both forward, Percival pressed tight against Credence’s back and Credence’s chest nearly touching the floor. Percival found his hands; Credence twined his fingers through his own, squeezing so tight it was close to painful. Percival’s lips, teeth, and tongue met his neck, tasting salt and the leather tang of his collar. He could hear the words Credence was panting into the carpet--yes oh yes oh Percival yes--like a chant or a prayer, like those words alone could allow him to come. Percival’s thighs were screaming, and so were his knees, and his back was hurting, but nothing mattered except the space he’d made for himself inside of Credence. His orgasm was building, gathering, a force waiting to burst out of him, but it couldn’t yet--first there was Credence-- Credence had to-- Because he wanted him to come just like this, just with his cock and his overwhelming love and need and adoration and-- And--

Credence’s body tightened and shuddered around him; something hot spattered down his thigh. Credence gripped his fingers hard and groaned his name like it was everything and then Percival couldn’t hold back anymore. It was with relief and joy that he emptied himself into Credence; it went on and on; it felt like all he had, and that giving it was the most rapturous and important thing he could ever do.

After, he slumped onto Credence’s heaving back. Vaguely, he hoped he wasn’t squashing him. But, as even the thought of unbending one knee hurt, he didn’t think he could move. Not yet. He definitely didn’t have the energy to.

Credence seemed to be in a similar state--sweaty, exhausted, collapsed bonelessly in a heap. And then he stirred beneath Percival and sighed happily and said, “That was fun.”

And Percival began to laugh. Because yes. Yes, it was--so much fun. He planted a kiss to his neck and wrapped his arms around him tightly.

So much fun, and a lot more besides.

*

The rest of their evening was much calmer and a touch more civilised. They’d staggered wobbly-legged to the tub and then, having realised precisely how hungry they both were, Percival had cooked dinner in record time. The dining room had seemed like a laughable formality and, as even Percival’s usual chair would have put an unbearable amount of distance between them, Percival had, in pyjamas and robe, plonked himself down on Credence’s bed. Credence had been delighted by this and had sprawled across the floor to lay his head in his lap.

There they were eating, with Percival’s plate on what Credence kept calling ‘the invisible table’--really it was just a hovering charm--and Credence’s beside Percival on the bed. In between feeding himself, Percival would hold out little morsels of food to Credence. It was time-consuming, not practical for every meal, but at times like these Percival found it absurdly romantic. There was something special about how Credence had to stretch his neck up to meet his fingers or about the hot plushness of his tongue and faint scrape of teeth on his thumb. Or maybe it was more to do with the dreamy look Credence had when he ate from Percival’s hand. Percival knew what he was thinking--about being Owned and loved and taken care of. It was exactly the kind of thing Percival thought about too.

“I’ve got something I want to give you,” he said, once their initial hunger had been sated. “I thought of leaving it until Christmas but I’d like you to have it now.”

The dreamy look passed from Credence’s face. “Like a present?”

Percival smiled and tousled his curls. “Yes, a present,” he said. “And not an ordinary one, either.”

Credence’s mouth fell open into a little ‘o’ and he sat up expectantly.

“Close your eyes,” Percival said, and wordlessly summoned his gift from its hiding place. “No peeking until I say.”

Credence nodded, eyes squeezed tightly shut. Percival pressed the tiny box into his hand.

“Go on, then,” he said. “You can look.”

Credence’s brows drew down as he studied the box. Then he opened it and gasped.

Percival had got the idea during a visit to the ‘Felinus’. He’d seen a few different types of name tags by now--some cats’ were very plain, just a simple engraving of their name and details of their Owner. Some had added tracking charms, in case a pet ever became lost, and some were more ornamental, typically matching a pet’s collar. All were as varied as the cats and their Owners were, but Percival was sure none had ever been quite like this.

The tag was platinum and one side was elegantly engraved with Credence’s name. The other side was more eye-catching--Percival’s own monogram, depicted in tiny white and black diamonds, and with a single emerald placed on the flourish of the ‘P’.

Credence picked it up and stared at it. The letters ‘P’ and ‘G’ twinkled out in little black diamonds; Credence traced them with his finger then gazed at Percival like he’d just been handed an engagement ring. Which, Percival knew, was pretty much exactly what he’d given him.

“Do you like it?” he asked. “Your name’s on the other side.”

Credence flipped it over, revealing his name in clear but flowing script; a perfect match for the monogram. Then he looked helplessly back at Percival again.

Percival smiled, an unusual and fragile warmth washing through him. “Want me to put it on you?”

Credence nodded frantically and found his speech again, but only enough to say “oh” in a happily lost manner.

He had to tilt his chin up for Percival to attach it and he looked unbearably anxious the entire time, as if afraid it wasn’t going to fit right and Percival would have to send it away.

“You know why you’ve got this, don’t you?” Percival said, after checking it was firmly in place. It was perfect; the way it glittered at his throat matched the sparkling dark of his eyes. “Everyone will know who you belong to; who Owns you. No one will be able to miss it.”

Credence gazed down at it against his chest. He was speechless for quite some time, then he grasped Percival’s arm and said wonderingly, “It’s so pretty. Prettier even than my old collar.”

“Yeah,” Percival said. “About that. I owe you an apology. I shouldn’t have taken it away from you like that--I thought someone had made you wear it.”

Credence looked up, then; surprised. “Why would someone make me wear it?”

“I don’t know,” Percival said, defensive. “A bad person might.”

“I don’t know any bad people,” Credence said. “I just wanted to look nice for you.”

“And that’s why I’m sorry,” Percival said. “It was wrong of me. And I thought this might help make up for it.”

Credence smiled and shrugged. “You didn’t like them so it didn’t matter anyway,” he said. “You got me a new collar and a new plug. And I liked that much better--I didn’t have an Owner to choose things for me before.”

“I didn’t just choose this,” Percival said. “I had it made for you. Each of these little stones are real diamonds.”

Apparently that hadn’t occurred to Credence. “Real diamonds?”

“Yeah,” Percival said, slipping an arm around his waist. “Real diamonds. Each as precious as you.”

This stunned Credence all over again; he returned to silent contemplation of the tag.

“And you could always have your old plug back?” Percival said. “I think I changed my mind--you’ll look very pretty wearing it for me.”

Credence frowned and looked again at his tag. “Maybe,” he said. “But I prefer the way this looks. Could you use magic to make the plug match?”

Percival blinked and imagined how that might look. He hadn’t thought of putting his monogram in such a place, but he could clearly see it now, winking at him when Credence crossed the room.

Or when he bent over.

Percival swallowed and fished out his wand. The compromises they were coming to now were nothing short of improvements on already good ideas. They’d come a long way in a few short months--who could guess where they might be in a few more?

“Well, they won’t be diamonds but you know what? I can certainly try.”