From the author: Brigitte makes an initial decision about the black cat.
His tiny kitty motor encouraged her to keep petting him. Her magic reacted to him as it hadn't for any other cat, urging her to sweep him up and take him home, but her logical brain advised caution.
She let out a sigh, utterly stumped. She didn't feel right claiming him without making sure he was truly available and willing to lock himself into a life-long contract. It was her excessive caution that resulted in her being the only unpaired sixteen-year-old witch at her entire lycée. Any claim of ownership that had been on him was shredded, something he would have had to do himself, so clearly he'd left home of his own volition. From everything she'd read, he was legally and magically available. Maybe her parents could help confirm that… though this was supposed to be her decision.
He was more interested in attention than food, which made her worry about how he'd been treated. If she left him out here, someone less scrupulous would snatch him, she was sure of it. "I don't think I can leave you here. It's just not safe for a sweetie like you."
He crawled fully into her lap.
"Ooh," she sighed, a little breathless. "I'll bring you home with me, then. And… I guess if you decide you like me, you can be my familiar, and I can be your witch. Does that sound okay?"
His response was to burrow close to her belly, purring louder.
She dipped her finger in the milk and offered it to him. His scratchy little tongue made quick work, his sharp teeth grazing her skin, but not biting.
She recapped the thermos, tucking it back into her bag, then stood, cradling Hēi Māo in her arms. "Do you want to stay in my jacket?" she asked.
He pressed his whole body against her in response. She was pretty sure that was right up there with his aura for odd. Usually it took a while, and a ritual of contract before familiars and witches understood each other at all, and it took even more time before they were good at it.
"Okay, then." She tightened the belt on her jacket to keep Hēi Māo from sliding out the bottom once she stood up, and buttoned the next two buttons. He moved around a little, careful not to scratch, then settled in where he could lean against her while peeking out of the front of her coat. "I promise, I'm going to take good care of you."
He let out a small, "mow," of agreement, as though he had similar plans. But that was definitely wishful thinking.
Dusk was settling over the city as Brigitte approached her family's boulangerie pâtisserie and potion shop. With the shadows lengthening, she was glad of the added warmth of Hēi Māo's body tucked into her coat. "We're almost home," she told him. "Just at the end of this block." His little head peeked out of her coat again, and his purr picked up. "If you like it, it can be your home, too. Yeah?" She curled her finger under his chin, and he rubbed against it. "Yeah," she whispered.
The bell jingled overhead as she pulled the door open. The black cat looked up at it, then around the room, curious, but not spooked.
"Good boy," she murmured.
Her maman was behind the counter, boxing up bread and pastries to drop off at the women's shelter once they closed. "Oh, Brigitte. I was wondering when you'd–" She broke off and stared at the front of her daughter's coat. "Nik," she called, her voice going hoarse. "Come see what your daughter dragged in."
"One moment, Ling," her papa called from deep within the kitchen. "Oh, is it what we hoped for?" There was a scuffle and clank as he finished whatever he was doing.
Without looking away, Maman set aside the pastries and rounded the counter to slowly approach, her hands alternating between out and open, and clutching at her cheeks. "Oh, sweetie, his eyes… he's lovely." She didn't reach forward, though it was obvious she wanted to. It was incredibly rude to touch another witch's familiar without express permission, and even then it was discouraged. "Is he all black?"
Brigitte nodded, catching sight of the tears in her mother's eyes. Maman had lost her familiar in an attack at the Trocadéro when Brigitte was just a baby. She'd been too heartbroken to even consider a replacement. In time, Papa's familiar bound herself to both her parents; it was a little unusual, but not completely unheard of.
"Oh ho!" her papa said happily, stepping out of the kitchen. He was a giant of a Frenchman, and while Brigitte inherited just enough of his height that she might make average stature, her strong Chinese features and lighter build favored her maman. "Success this time?" He wrapped an arm around his tiny wife. "He seems so calm, Brigitte. Did you use a catnip lure?"
Brigitte vehemently shook her head. "I didn't bring any. I didn't want to resort to that."
Her papa chuckled. "What's his name."
Brigitte bit her lip. "Umm. I'm calling him Hēi Māo for now, because I'm not sure if he wants to keep me. It feels wrong to name him… at least until I know." She stroked his head lightly. "He ran away from his last home." He rolled in the nest of her jacket to look up at her, batting gently at her chin, his claws safely tucked in.
"Oooh," her maman half-squealed. "He definitely likes you."
"His aura seems odd to me," Brigitte pointed out. "Like he's cat but not cat at the same time."
Her maman scrutinized Hēi Māo for a moment. "Oh. I see what you mean."
"It made me worry that he's not really meant to be a familiar," Brigitte added. "I'd hate to lock him into something that might be a bad fit for him."
"His chi is compatible with yours," her maman said. "It's a very favorable match." She shook her head. "And it's probably what drew him to you."
"Really?" Brigitte hadn't been blessed with the ability to see chi, and she wondered if Hēi Māo was the tom Master Fu had mentioned weeks ago.
"Black cats carry a fair bit of their own magic," her maman said, reaching over to pat Brigitte's shoulder, but drawing back before she could accidentally touch Hēi Māo. "It'll amplify yours, but there are usually a few quirks along the way. That's probably all there is to it."
Brigitte scooped her maybe-familiar out of her jacket, cradling him in both arms. "I guess I remember hearing that somewhere."
Her papa grinned. "Because they have their own magic, they generally get to pick their witch, rather than the other way 'round."
Papa nodded. "They can resist our summons even if they aren't bound to one of us, unlike most cats. And they're immune to a lot of the simpler tricks to catch a cat." He shrugged. "They can still be caught by force, of course, but it takes some doing. I think that little guy knows full well what he's in for, and he picked you."
Brigitte pressed her face gently against Hēi Māo's side. "Aren't you a clever kitty," she whispered.
A much louder purr rumbled out of him.
"See," her papa said with a smile. "He agrees."
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?
Note: Curious Fictions may receive a commission if you purchase through Amazon.