From the author: Hēi Māo works to convince Brigitte that he's her cat.
The apartment was quiet, and Brigitte was peacefully asleep. She looked so calm and comfortable. Hēi Māo reluctantly left the warmth of her bed, hopping down to her desk before relaxing and letting himself shift. He sat in silence for a moment, hoping the green flash of his transformation wasn't enough to wake her. His old clothes were snug, though they were still in good shape; he'd not had the chance to wear them out since he ran away. While he planned to primarily stay cat, he'd have to replace the clothes for times like this, when he needed proper hands. Despite his limited socialization, he was fully aware that it would be creepy to sit around naked in a teenage girl's room, whether she was aware of him or not. But he could worry about clothes after he convinced her he was her familiar.
He moved on silent bare feet to her desk and rummaged quickly for the supplies he needed. He'd seen everything earlier. Scissors and note cards in the second drawer. Colored pens and pencils in the canister on her desk. Ruler tucked in the center drawer. He pulled out her Chinese homework and started with this week's characters. Using his neatest handwriting, he wrote out flash cards, hanzi on one side and pinyin with the definition in French on the other. His witch was so clever. With the right tools, she was going to pick this up and do great, and that's where he could help out.
While he worked, he considered what it would mean to be Brigitte's familiar. His witch was the sweetest person on the planet. As Jacque Parenteau, he'd met a good many people at photo shoots, galas, shows, pretty much any time his father wanted to parade him about. None of them were like her or her parents. They were so warm and kind. Even though her parents avoided touching him, they spoke about him and to him with more respect than anyone ever had, except maybe his mother. And they thought he was just a cat.
Brigitte made sure he felt welcome and comfortable, even though she seemed unsure about keeping him. She was so considerate. He just needed to convince her, because his mind had been made up before he'd first let her see him. Miss Gigi was right, and now that he was here, he understood better. This was where he belonged, even if he never revealed his other side. He felt happier here than he'd ever been. He could be truly useful here. He'd also be protected from his father's magic, so it was a win for both of them.
The bond was unbreakable, even non-witch-born knew that, and his father couldn't force him to go back, even if he were found. His new role would also give him purpose, something his life had always lacked. He nodded, refocusing his attention on the task at hand. He would do whatever he had to, to prove himself worthy of her. And once he had, he was determined to be the very best familiar in all of Paris.
He could feel the approaching dawn by the time he finished up. He suspected her parents would be up soon, and he didn't want to risk getting caught like this; all his new plans would be out the window before his witch woke, if that happened. He stacked the flashcards neatly on her desk, proud of his night's efforts. He'd managed to make flashcards for every week of the fall semester plus much of the second semester from the previous year. It helped that she was so organized and kept everything where he could easily find it. He shifted back into his cat form to return to the warmth of the bed.
He was Hēi Māo now.
Brigitte woke to Hēi Māo curled next to her head. She beamed at him. "You weren't just a dream." She caressed him lightly, loathe to disturb him if he was tired. She had no idea what the life of a stray was truly like, but she suspected it was exhausting.
He purred in agreement, but didn't fully rouse. When she started gathering up her school things, she found a pile of homemade Mandarin flashcards. A perfect character on one side with the pinyin pronunciation and definition on the other. The tidy handwriting was completely unknown to her.
"Yes. Of course," she said quietly, both surprised, yet somehow not. "If you can speak Mandarin, why wouldn't you be able make beautiful flashcards overnight?"
He didn't respond. Her kitty was sound asleep on her pillow.
Papa was at the table when she sat down for breakfast. Maman was downstairs running the shop and mixing up potions that needed morning attention, while Papa was between bread batches, with all the ovens full. Knowing their routines meant she was fully aware that she was at least ten minutes behind schedule and needed to pick up the pace or she'd be late.
"Hēi Māo says he's my cat," she said, taking her seat.
"We saw him tell you that yesterday," her papa pointed out as he reached for a croissant. "That pawing and purring was cat for, 'you are my favorite person ever.'"
"Yeah, well, while I was doing homework he told also me in Mandarin." She pulled the flash cards out of her pocket and set them on the table.
"Your familiar speaks Mandarin?" He glanced at her in surprise.
She rocked her head from side to side. "Well he didn't speak it. He still has kitty vocal chords, but he pointed out the characters, in order, and scent marked me after I translated it."
Her papa beamed at her. "And you were afraid you wouldn't find a cat. That this one wouldn't want to stay."
"But isn't it a bit… unusual?" she asked. "Could Callie read before your ceremony?"
He shook his head. "No, but Callie was a regular cat. And while calicos are sought after, they don't have some of the innate abilities and magic their black kin have." He slathered his pastry with lingonberry jam.
"Can Callie write in French?" Brigitte asked. She'd seen her parents' familiar read over their shoulders. Sometimes she pointed out notations in spells, or recipes.
"No," her papa laughed. "Cat paws aren't designed for that."
Brigitte handed her papa the top flashcard. "Hēi Māo made these for me last night."
The amusement faded, leaving awe in its place. "Wow. That's… that blows my expectations out of the water." He ran his index finger across the French translation, then handed it back. "He must be exceptionally gifted, even for a black cat. Are you going to make it official?"
Nervously gnawing on her lip, Brigitte shook her head.
"He told you, very clearly, that he's yours, right?" Papa asked, his voice gentle.
"He's a smart cat, Cupcake. Given what you've learned and seen from him already, I can't see this as a mistake. He knows what he's getting into, and he's letting you know he's okay with it." He gently tugged one of her braids. "With him as your familiar, you're going to be capable of so much. Don't let go of that opportunity, just because he's different. I know you want to do this right, and I support that. But don't let uncertainty become an excuse."
Brigitte is a teen witch who is desperately ready to find her familiar. Jacque was an internationally-known teen model, but he's spent the last four months living as a stray cat on the streets of Paris. What could possibly happen when these two cross paths?
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