Mrs Norris crouched behind the suit of armour, which stood next to the front door of Hogwarts castle, the end of her tail thumping in an annoyed cadence. It was late afternoon on a Hogsmeade weekend, and she’d assumed her usual position for spying on the students as they returned from the village. It was the perfect hiding spot, really. The chattering students would burst through the front doors in groups, paying little heed to their surroundings and often bragging about illegal purchases made at Zonko’s. If Mrs Norris was extremely lucky, she might even catch sight of some contraband article as it was passed from hand to hand.
She lashed her tail in even greater irritation. In the past, her master had always been so jubilant when she was able to bring such rule-breaking to his attention. He’d smile on her, give her treats, stroke her until she purred… But all of that had changed in the past year. And it was all her fault.
The previous year had been witness to upheaval at Hogwarts, when she had insinuated herself into the school, first as Defence Against the Dark Arts professor, then as the High Inquisitor. She hadn’t stopped until she’d wormed her way into the position of Headmistress.
Normally none of this would have posed a problem for Mrs Norris. Normally Mrs Norris might even have approved of the stricter surveillance and discipline under which the students were placed. No, the problem was the toad-woman herself. For Mrs Norris’ beloved master had become infatuated with her, and Mrs Norris, for the first time in her unnaturally long life, was now faced with something she’d never thought to know: competition.
The events of the previous June should have made Mrs Norris happy. Something had happened to the toad-woman in the Forbidden Forest, and she’d ended up in the hospital wing in silent shock. A clop-clopping sound echoed across the Entrance Hall, and Mrs Norris’ whiskers twitched as she turned her head to see Firenze emerging from the Great Hall. She wanted to purr out loud at the sight. Whatever had happened to the toad-woman, it had involved his kind, and any noise resembling that of hooves was likely to reduce her to a quivering puddle of nerves.
Mrs Norris’ head whipped towards the front door as it opened to admit several black-robed students. Mrs Norris observed them closely, taking in their scarlet and gold Gryffindor scarves and memorising their features. She didn’t really know this group, which meant they, unlike those annoying red-headed twins who had thankfully left school after a seven-year reign of terror, couldn’t be categorised as troublemakers. Not yet, at any rate.
They were only third-years, and they were jabbering in excitement over their first Hogsmeade visit. One of the students stopped in his tracks and looked about as if making sure there was no one to overhear the group. Mrs Norris lifted her head, more alert now, anticipating trouble. A quick glance told her Firenze had moved on, which meant the students would speak more freely if they were up to something.
"Look what I’ve got," a sandy-haired boy was saying, as he produced what looked like a bag of sweets from his pocket. "Anyone want a piece?"
Several of the others declined, protesting too much Butterbeer and Honeyduke’s chocolate.
"What about you?" asked the sandy-haired boy, turning to a shy-looking girl who had remained on the fringes of the group.
She was reaching towards the bag, which the boy was holding in front of him and shaking so that the sweets in it rattled together, when one of the others made a grab for it. The contents spilled onto the floor rolling in all directions. One of them cake to a stop behind the suit of armour, and Mrs Norris sniffed at it suspiciously.
"What’s the idea, Natalie?" the sandy-haired boy was demanding.
"Those are from Zonko’s, you prat," replied the tall girl who had knocked the bag to the floor. "Merlin only knows what they’ll turn you into!"
The sandy-haired boy shot Natalie a dirty look, but at the same time a blush began to creep over his features. "The effects are only supposed to last an hour or so," he muttered, before going down on all fours to pick up the sweets.
Natalie put her hand on the shy-looking girl’s shoulder. "Come on, Hortense," she said loudly. "Boys are prats." The two headed for the marble staircase while the rest of the group scrambled after the scattered sweets.
Mrs Norris covered the sweet that had rolled behind the suit of armour with one paw, intending to show her prize to her master later on. She hoped he’d be pleased with her find. His list of banned items would surely be longer by tonight.
The door opened again, and Mrs Norris hunkered down to see what other potential mischief she could intercept.
"Hem, hem!" said a sickly sweet voice, and Mrs Norris felt the fur along her spine stand on end. "And just what have we here?"
The sandy-haired boy and his friends looked up, shocked at the unexpected arrival. Of course they would all remember her from the previous year. "N-nothing, Professor Umbridge," replied one of them, but Mrs Norris thought his fear sounded feigned.
"See that you get this mess tidied up immediately, or I shall have to inform the caretaker," the toad-woman said, as her face twisted into a hideous smile.
"Is there a problem, Dolores?"
Mrs Norris’ tail bushed out. Her master had just turned up as if he and the toad-woman were using some sort of mental telepathy. There’d been a time when such means were exclusive between Mrs Norris and her master.
Meanwhile the toad-woman was giving Argus Filch a hard look. Her eyes darted meaningfully to the students and back to the caretaker. Argus turned an ugly shade of puce, and Mrs Norris realised what had just happened. Her beloved master had addressed the toad by her given name.
"Ahem," the toad cleared her throat. "Nothing that these students can’t handle right away. There’s no sense in making extra work for you, is there?"
Argus’ expression softened and Mrs Norris wanted to bristle and spit with rage. The pair surveyed the students with identical stern looks on their faces until the last sweet had been picked up from the floor.
When the students had disappeared up the marble staircase, Argus turned to the toad. "This is unexpected, Dolores. What brings you to Hogwarts today?"
"Professor Dumbledore has asked to see me, but it seems I’m a bit early." The toad’s voice had taken on a more sickly sweet tone than ever. It was nearly coy. "But really, Argus, you must be more careful about using my given name in front of the students. It’s unseemly."
Argus looked contrite. "I’m sorry, Delly, I forgot myself in my surprise at seeing you." The toad blushed and giggled at the use of the pet name. "Would you like to come down to my office then while you’re waiting for Professor Dumbledore?"
"I thought you’d never ask."
Mrs Norris was seething. She picked up the sweet, holding it carefully between her teeth, and was off like a shot. She’d been trying unsuccessfully to keep her master and the toad apart for over a year. When she’d discovered that the toad harboured certain prejudices against magical beings, she’d tried to arrange things so that the toad discovered her master’s Kwik Spell course, but that plan had failed. Now Mrs Norris had another weapon at her disposal, and she meant to use it even if she didn’t know what it would do.
Owing to her size, there were quite a few shortcuts she could take through the castle that no human could ever use. She arrived at her master’s office first, as she knew she would, and deposited the sweet in her master’s bowl of nibbles. Then she crouched in a corner and waited.
It wasn’t long before the toad’s sickening giggles could be heard in the corridor. Argus opened the office door with a flourish and heralded the toad into the room. No sooner had they taken seats than Argus proffered the bowl. "Sweets for the sweet?"
"Why, don’t mind if I do!"
If Mrs Norris could have smiled, she would have. As it was, her feline heart began to beat faster in anticipation, as the toad reached for the bewitched sweet and popped it into her mouth.
Her eyes went round with delight. "Those are quite nice, Argus. You wouldn’t happen to have any more, would you?"
"I’m afraid not, Delly," he replied, inspecting the bowl of sweets and helping himself to one. "There don’t seem to be any more like that."
The toad let out a disappointed sigh. "Pity, that."
Mrs Norris wanted to scream in frustration. She was angry enough to get into her master’s wardrobe and claw his clothing to shreds. Nothing was happening! Another beautiful plan had fallen through. The toad was still sitting there, simpering at her master. It was enough to make Mrs Norris wish she had a hairball to vomit up just so she’d have an excuse to be sick.
Unable to stomach watching them any longer, she slunk out of the office and took up her guard post in the Entrance Hall once more. More students returned as the afternoon wore on, but Mrs Norris barely had the heart to watch out for miscreants.
There was a rather large crowd gathered by the time Professor Dumbledore turned up. He seemed to be looking for someone, and Mrs Norris remembered the toad’s appointment. She toyed with the idea of bringing the headmaster down to Argus’ office in hopes of catching the pair doing something compromising, but she wasn’t sure if her heart could stand it. In any case, all her plans seemed to be doomed to failure these days.
After a few moments the toad herself appeared, while Argus followed at a discreet distance. "Ah, Dolores," Professor Dumbledore greeted her. "I’m enchanted that you’ve decided to set our differences aside and agree to meet with me."
The toad opened her mouth to reply, but instead of words, all that came out was a strangled cry. Mrs Norris soon saw why. Firenze was standing there amongst the crowd of milling students, many of whom looked quite unhappy at the prospect of seeing their former Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher return.
Mrs Norris looked back towards the toad and saw she’d gone quite green. Professor Dumbledore was pushing through the students towards her, looking concerned. Argus was closing in from another direction. Suddenly she wavered, but before anyone could react, she’d disappeared altogether.
Being a cat had always afforded Mrs Norris a unique point of view on the world. She usually saw things that no human noticed. Thus she was able to spot through the sea of legs a fat brown toad hopping quickly towards the stairs to the dungeon from about the spot where Dolores Umbridge had been standing.
Pure instinct made Mrs Norris streak off in pursuit, belly low to the ground, eyes alert, and paws silent. In the confusion, no one seemed to pay her any heed. The toad was on the dungeon steps when Mrs Norris pounced, deliberately falling short. Bulging eyes turned to look and became round with panic as the toad began to negotiate the steps. Mrs Norris allowed it to get a head start, before gathering herself to spring forward onto her prey.
She gave the toad a taste of her claws this time, drawing blood, but she still allowed it to think it had a chance of escaping. She let it reach the bottom of the stairs before renewing her attack. She landed with the toad trapped beneath both front paws, claws retracted, but holding it down by her weight alone.
Noises from the Entrance Hall above reached Mrs Norris’ ears. It sounded very much as if chaos had descended while the humans tried to work out what had happened, but there was no sound on the stairs just yet. No one had thought to widen the search. It would be prudent to move to a safer spot while there was still time.
Picking up the struggling toad in her mouth, Mrs Norris trotted off down the corridor taking several turns until she came to a place where the stones in the wall had separated just enough for a cat to fit through. The toad in her mouth kicked ineffectually in a bid for freedom, but Mrs Norris ignored its efforts with ease. The toad-woman, it seemed, was quite soft.
Once inside the walls, Mrs Norris set her prey down, and the toad immediately began to hop towards the corridor. Mrs Norris caught a hind leg in one paw, pinning it to the floor. With the other paw, she struck it on the head. She let go and the toad made a second attempt to escape. Mrs Norris caught it again easily.
The scenario was repeated until Mrs Norris became tired of the game, and the toad was too weak to move. Then she held it down with a paw and tore into it.
The following day found caretaker Argus Filch doubly distressed. His dear Delly had disappeared under some very strange circumstances. The way he saw it, she’d caught sight of a centaur and vanished out of sheer fright. While Professor Dumbledore couldn’t say how this was possible, he could not come up with any other explanation.
On top of that, his faithful cat had fallen ill. He hadn’t been this worried for her since she’d been Petrified a few years earlier. Memories of that time came rushing back to him; he’d felt her absence quite keenly, and he didn’t know what he’d do if he’d have to get on with things without her again.
He only hoped someone in the castle could cure her of her current affliction. He’d never seen his cat cough up such an enormous quantity of hairballs, and he was at a loss to explain how a dust-coloured cat had managed to produce hairballs of shocking pink.