When Rowan woke up, it was already late morning. She winced at the uncomfortable brightness filtering through the window into her bedroom and momentarily contemplated pulling the covers over her head and going back to sleep. Unfortunately, her stomach probably couldn’t go that long without attention. Rowan groaned. Food it was, then.
Her purple hearing aids were on her nightstand, right next to the textbook Rowan had been studying the night before. The girl turned away without touching either, adamant that no one should have to deal with fire incantations before breakfast, even if the person in question did have a practical exam the next day. She trundled into the kitchen on heavy feet, eyes still squinted half-shut. The aroma of coffee greeted Rowan, who moved toward it with newfound destination. The teenager grabbed the pot, doubtlessly left there by her mother. it was still warm, probably kept that way by a heating charm.
After loading the coffee up with hazelnut creamer, Rowan took a few long sips and at last opened her eyes fully. Her mother did not seem to be home, although Rowan spotted her two familiars by the door to outdoor balcony. Tiger, the older of the two cats, looked up and glared at Rowan reproachfully, as though blaming the girl for her mother’s absence. Sighing, Rowan realized that she probably was.
Tiger opened her mouth, still facing Rowan, but whether she was hissing or trying to say something the girl couldn’t tell.
‘I can’t hear you’ she signed, grinning smugly. Tiger continued glaring, her tail puffier than usual, and it occurred to Rowan that something might actually be wrong. Still carrying her coffee mug, Rowan came over to investigate. Their other cat, Leon, stood guard with his tail puffed up and lashing angrily. Rowan mindlessly began scratching under Leon’s chin as she searched through the window to see why the felines were so enraged.
Leon was apparently not in the mood to be pet. Rowan hissed in pain and drew her hand back, forcing the cat to withdraw his teeth from the back of her hand. Tiger nodded her head toward the ground outside, and Rowan realized her mistake when she looked down and saw a small mass of fur sitting calmly on the sill. It appeared to be staring down Leon, which explained why he had bitten her; It is difficult to look intimidating while purring.
The cat outside did not bother to look intimidating, and Rowan wasn't sure it could succeed if it did. The scrap of fur looked small enough to fit in her cupped hands, so she set down her drink, reached through the window, scooped it up, and ignored the unhappy rumbling she felt as she did so. Tiger ran back a considerable distance, glaring at Rowan the whole way. The teenager felt uncomfortably certain that her mother’s familiar was not saying anything particularly pleasant about her, and in that moment she was glad that it was impossible to lipread anything said by a house cat. Unsatisfied with this, Tiger raised her right paw to her mouth and brought it down. Bad.
Rowan ignored her. The cat in her palms had tortoiseshell patterned fur and wide, green eyes which stared up at Rowan. It opened its mouth, but whether it meowed or spoke the human couldn’t tell.
She looked at Tiger helplessly. The calico turned her head away. Sighing, Rowan then turned to Leon, who balked a bit under her gaze. He stood carefully on his hind legs and circled his right paw in front of his face twice, then brought it forward toward Rowan. Searching for you, he signed in the best ASL he could manage without fingers.
Rowan cocked her head. Why? She signed back, carefully repositioning her hands so that she needed only one to hold up the tiny feline.
Leon scoffed. He looking pointedly in the direction of Rowan’s cupped hands. The torty stood and stretched, revealing the uninterrupted fur covering the spot where its left foreleg should have been. Oh.
Rowan pointed to herself, first looking at the kitten and then at Leon in confusion. But why me?
Finally, Tiger glided over to where Leon stood. She addressed the kitten, who responded while resettling itself within Rowan’s palms.
“Is she a familiar?” Rowan asked aloud, but Tiger shook her head furiously, looking disgusted at the notion. Disgruntled, the torty kitten spoke again, then rubbed its head against Rowan’s fingers. The human was growing slightly uneasy that the felines’ conversation was beyond her grasp. Clutching the kitten tightly, she brought it close to her chest and looked straight into its glowing green eyes.
“I don’t know what you’re saying, and Tiger apparently doesn’t like you. If you want to have a chance, you’re going to have to figure out how to talk to me.” The young cat nodded to indicate its understanding of her words. Slowly, Rowan sank down onto the floor, letting the cat roam the floor if it chose to. Instead, it stayed close to her belly. When Rowan gave in and began petting it gently, she felt the cat’s vigorous purring in her fingers. A bright smile lazily filled Rowan’s expression as she watched the cat on the floor. Suddenly, she was confident they would communicate just fine without words.
Still, the rumble coming from the kitten’s tiny body reminded Rowan of her initial purpose for leaving her bedroom. She reclaimed her mug of coffee, but caffeine alone was not a sufficient breakfast. Rowan pointed toward the kitchen, and a warm flood of relief ran through her when the cat instantly complied by getting up and running toward the direction of her finger.
Rowan got to her feet and followed suit. She had to work to avoid kicking the cat, who somehow seemed to always be underfoot. Despite this, five minutes later gifted the girl with a toasted bagel covered in cream cheese and smoked salmon. She settled back on the floor, offering her new friend pieces of salmon and laughing when she felt its sandpaper tongue on her fingers.
- - -
Hecate slowly made her way up the winding stairs to the apartment on the fifth floor with her arms full of tomatoes and warding charms from the general store.
“Morganite’s Curse!” she called to the door in front of her, which magically unlocked upon receiving the password. Hecate sighed a bit, eager to see her daughter and familiars again, but aware that Tiger would expect recompense for being left alone with Rowan all day.
Hecate was not wrong about her cat’s sour mood, but she was surprised to see that the source of it was not her own fault. Leon rubbed himself against Hecate’s legs affectionately, urging her to pet him despite the load she was carrying. Tiger, on the other hand, greeted Hecate tersely from her location upon the bookshelf.
“Welcome home. Will you please get rid of that scavenger that’s affixed herself to your daughter?”
After gently setting down the box she’d brought home, Hecate stepped over to Rowan’s bedroom to see what the problem was. Rowan looked up from her bed, startled to see that her mother had come home. She waved to Hecate, revealing the small cat cradled in her other arm. It looked up at Hecate, then flicked it’s mottled tail contentedly.
“And who are you?” Hecate asked in surprise. Tiger ran over to join Leon at her back, and Hecate held up a hand to warn either one of them against speaking. The cat she was currently addressing shifted guiltily under her stare.
“I could be a familiar. One of the neighborhood strays told me there were witches here, and that they could maybe use another cat....” The strange feline’s high, squeaky voice trailed off uncertainly. Rowan stared at her mother, holding it protectively.
“But who are you?” Hecate asked again, less patiently this time. “What is your name and where did you come from? Why are you here? Do you even know what it takes to be a familiar, little one?” She did not receive a reply, but the small torty looked down uncomfortably.
“She could learn,” Rowan insisted suddenly. “She found her way here, clearly she’s clever. And you understand her, even though she’s not yours, so she must have at least the potential for magical aide.” Hecate’s daughter looked up at her with wide, pleading eyes. The grown witch sighed heavily.
“I see you’ve managed to imprint yourself upon Rowan. Can you even talk to her?” At this the kitten rubbed its head against the teenager, and Hecate was suddenly hit with the realization that this was, after all, a cat she was talking to. Not even a familiar yet. Despite the fact that she spoke to Tiger and Leon constantly, as both friends and trusted confidants, she suddenly felt ridiculous.
“It’s not one of us,” Tiger insisted haughtily, and Leon timidly agreed. But Rowan simply glared as though she knew what they were saying.
“Gee, imagine,” she began sardonically. “A cat that can’t speak to its owner. However could they communicate? It’s as if they’d have to rely on nonverbal cues, and whoever heard of loving a pet that can’t speak to you with words.” She glared at the calico, but her glare was a bit too personally offended to really come off as scathing. Tiger hissed and reared onto her hind legs-
“She’ll need a name,” Hecate said briskly before Tiger could sign what she was thinking. She really needed to have a talk with that cat about being a better influence on Leon. Hecate returned to the kitten. “I don’t know what magic you’ll be able to do, but it’s true Rowan doesn’t have a familiar yet, and she seems to have grown attached to you.” At Rowan’s blinding grin, the witch smiled. “Should you prove to be an ordinary cat, I suspect there will still be room for you in this household, but you might want to prove yourself if you want to stand up against Tiger.”
The kitten released a delighted mewl with no words involved, and Tiger shuddered from under Hecate’s legs. But Rowan only grinned, and as her daughter also expressed her joy wordlessly, Hecate was overcome with a sense of certainty about this decision.
“Sphinx,” Rowan said, pantomiming the great statue. The newly-christened kitten pounced lightly at her legs, as though approving of the name. The girl laughed, playing with Sphinx as left her bedroom and returned to their kitchen.
Neither the cat nor the girl said another word.