In G. Norman Lippert's James Potter and The Curse of the Gatekeeper, (a Harry Potter fanfiction) the Wizarding Literature Professor Revalvier (an allusion to J. K. Rowling herself) introduces The Kings of the Cats as a wizarding bedtime story that has also found its way into Muggle myth and legend. As the Muggleborn student Ralph Deedle (actually Dolohov) recalls it:
“This man is going for a walk in the country one day, really far away from where he lives. No one else is around and there aren’t any houses for days in any direction. All of a sudden, he sees a whole bunch of mice. At first, he thinks that he should chase them off, but then he notices that they aren’t acting like regular mice. They seem to be walking in a sort of procession, and they are carrying something. The man crouches down behind some bushes because he doesn’t want to scare the mice, but he’s really curious about what they are carrying. As they pass in front of him, he sees that they are carrying another mouse on a little tiny bed. The man realizes that the mouse on the bed is dead, and that this is a little mouse funeral procession. “As quietly as he can, he follows the procession deep into the woods until they come to a big, wide clearing, all bright in the sun. In the center of the clearing is a tiny stone stairway leading to nothing. It just goes up and stops. There is a big cat sitting at the bottom of the stairs, blocking them. It’s all striped and golden and very serious and solemn-looking. The cat watches the mouse procession as it crosses the clearing, getting closer and closer. The man almost calls out to the mice because he is sure the cat will eat them, funeral or not. But then the mice finally get to the cat and stop right in front of its paws. They put the tiny bed down and back away. The big gold cat is watching the whole time with its huge green eyes. Finally, it bends down and says something to the dead mouse. The mouse jumps up, alive and dancing. It darts between the golden cat’s legs and runs up the little stone staircase. The man watches, still hiding, as the mouse runs right past the end of the stone stairs, still going up. The mouse climbs further into the sky, as if on invisible stairs, until it is completely out of sight. The man can hardly believe what he is seeing. “When he looks down again, the rest of the mice are all gone. Only the big golden cat remains, and it is staring right at him with its big green eyes. The man is scared of the cat, so he turns on his heels and runs as fast as he can out of the woods. He doesn’t stop running until he gets back on the path, and he runs the whole path all the way back to his own land and into his own house. That night, the man sits down at dinner with his family. He tells them everything he saw that day, and the last thing he says is, ‘That cat was surely the King of the Mice!’ Just then, the big old family cat, which up to that moment had been sleeping in front of the fire, jumps up on its hind feet and says, plain as day, ‘Then I am the King of the Cats!’ And it leaps up the chimney and is never seen again.”
Now, there indeed is a British folktale called the The King of the Cats, but, as is common with such tales, has numerous rather hazy versions.
While it is indeed true that it, unusually for a children's tale, mentions unpleasant stuff like death and cremation, as the Professor Revalvier tries to bring up (I assume) in all the (Muggle- real life) versions I could set my eyes upon in the internet, the story has a rather simple or even simplistic theme - the rat/cat being cremated was the King and the cat in the narrators's home happens to be its successor in the line to the "Crown". Hearing the narrator's story convinces that it is the King now and it quickly escapes through the chimney (presumably to take up its kingship).
No so in our story, where this is made out to be far more mysterious and significant than I can wrap my head around. To be fair, one or two subtle aspects of Ralph's storytelling do enhance the enigmatic nature, though. Note that Ralph has the man say that "That cat was surely the King of the Mice!" even though its is a cat that he is is talking about. And it is in sharp response to this that the cat below the chimney exclaims that "Then I am the Kings of the Cats!" (as opposed to rats??)
While in the real life British bedtime story, any version of it, I could not find any such expression of contrast.
Towards the end of the novel, the protagonist James Potter is told by the titular antagonist of the novel (an unearthly entity called the Gatekeeper) that
“I, James, am the King of the Cats!”
“I sit at the base of the steps, Lord Guardian of the doorway between the living and the dead! I determine who passes through the Void, who proceeds into the Everlasting! And, I might add, I am also the Lord of… who comes back!”
(Well, this is not entirely true as Albus Dumbledore who makes a short appearance in a later installment* of the series says, according to whom "Even the Gatekeeper, that great beast of the otherworld, sees but through a glass darkly…” and it only "fools itself into thinking it is Lord Guardian of that door" while actually "It is not.")
I should say I am left with the lingering feeling that I have missed something important. It is not explained anywhere after this episode in the novel whether the bedtime story actually refers to the Gatekeeper or if not, then to what else.
So, is there a deeper significance to this in-universe story than what what meets the eye? If so, does it go with the real life versions too?
Or is this just another instance of a fantasy author trying to sound enigmatic for the purpose of the plot on something which is not?
*James Potter and the Morrigan Web, G. Norman Lippert