Chapter 1 : King's Cross
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December 18, 1975
King’s Cross was unusually crowded for a mid-December day, bustling with trolleys and the warmly-dressed people pushing them between platforms. The high, vaulting ceiling arched in a perfect half-circle, and the enormous glass windows stretching between them were frosted over and covered in a thick layer of snow. Everything appeared normal on the surface, a superficial calm infecting the weary travelers. But beneath the front were business men muttering to each other about the strange disappearances in London, speculating why people continued to disappear from their homes in the middle of the night; clumps of concerned mothers whispering about the bewildering winter weather they had been experiencing as of late; and an unspoken tremor of fear hidden within everyone, wondering what would happen next.
Between Platforms Six and Seven, sitting on a hard wooden bench with her legs tucked underneath her, was an ordinary girl. Her dark hair was woven tightly into a thick French plait down her back, She wore a woolen maroon sweater beneath an oversized leather jacket, one that clearly did not belong to her tiny frame, and tight blue jeans. Her arm rested against her chest in a sling, She appeared quite bored, as if it were a great bother for her to be there. But underneath that plain, expressionless exterior raged a vicious fury of thoughts, ones that swirled constantly around and around her head until she could barely stand to think any longer. But one thought in particular that haunted her was the night she made up her mind about coming to London in the first place.
Cate had been sitting alone in her brother’s small bedroom, staring at a spot on the floor as she struggled to make sense of everything that had happened. Her entire life had seemingly unravelled in a matter of days, and she hadn't had any time to process any of it.
"Miss Vega," Cate had jumped, startled by the presence of another in the room. Her arm jostled painfully in it's sling as she twisted her head around to see who was bothering her now. She was shocked to see an older man with silver speckled auburn hair, and glasses standing in the doorway. He was different from the other people she had seen at the funeral: older, more refined and less tired looking. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to disturb you. Your friend, Henrietta I believe, let me in."
Cate made a mental reminder not to tell Henrietta not to let anymore of her brother's well-wishers in. She had had enough of their sympathy and pitying looks to last her a lifetime.
"Who are you?" Her voice had been cutting and hard like jagged glass. Just thinking about it now made her wince slightly.
"My name is Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry."
"What do you want?" She asked cooly, wishing he was gone already. All she wanted was to be left alone.
"I wished to express my deepest grievances for the loss of your brother," The older man had said calmly, as if Cate hadn't spoken rudely to him. Cate shifted her gaze to the ground, waiting for the non-existent tears to come but, like she expected, they didn't. "I, too, have lost someone who was very dear to my heart. I know how difficult it is, especially so soon."
Cate nodded, hoping he was finished talking. But instead he surprised her by sitting down on the bed next to her, and as the mattress dipped low she stiffened.
"I also have another matter to speak with you about. I understand this is hardly the time but I'm afraid that the nature of your brother's death has forced my hand a little."
He had slipped something from his pocket as he spoke, and held out the heavy envelope towards Cate. She had leaned away from it, trying to hide to leery, doubtful look on her face. In the previous years, any post they received had only carried bad news and Cate didn't think she could handle any more misery.
"I want you to come to England instead of staying here in Paris. I'm sure you've realized that it is no longer safe here for you, given recent events. I am also aware that you are still under age. Under Wizarding Law, you required to live with a legal guardian until you have turned seventeen." Cate had swallowed harshly then, knowing where he was going with this. He wanted to take her away from her home, he was going to make her leave everything she and Nate had built here in Paris!
"However," He began again before Cate had the chance to utter a single word of protest, "I am not here to recite Wizarding Law to you, nor to enforce them. Instead, I wish to give you the choice of picking your own future. Should you decide to come to England, I have enclosed three tickets inside this envelope that will take you to London, where your Aunt Estelle will meet you. And, if you decide to come, you can join your peers at Hogwarts for your sixth year, if you so wish to pursue it. Again, I must stress that this is your decision to make, and no one else can choose for you."
She nodded, her previously steadfast mind already bending under the tremendous weight of his offer. He had stood up to leave but there was a still one question burning in her mind.
"Mr. Dumbledore?" She started, and he looked inquisitively at her through his half-moon spectacles.
"Why are you doing this for me?"
"Your brother was a former pupil of mine, until he dropped out in his sixth year to look after you if I’m not mistaken. He was a great man through and through, Miss Vega, and he did not deserve the fate that was handed to him. You remind me greatly of him, you know, with that brave spirit of yours. You have seen and done things that no one your age should ever be exposed to. There are people twice your age who have seen less pain in their lifetime than you have in your sixteen years. That is why I am doing this for you."
Cate could only sit there mutely as the older man got to his feet. She still had a million questions swirling around her head, ones that continued to that day, but it seemed that the conversation was over.
"Good day, Miss Vega," He said briskly, before he swept from the room, leaving Cate more confused than she had been before.
At first, Cate had been adamant about staying in Paris. She would find a job, and support herself that way. But there was more to this offer than this Dumbledore person had let on: she wouldn’t only be leaving her life behind, he was giving her the chance to start over, to wipe the slate clean. She would be starting anew. And as much as she hated to admit it, she wanted to start over, to forget about everything that had happened in her past and just move on. It’s what Nate would have wanted. So she had packed up all of her belongings into her brother's old trunk from his school days, and began the long journey to London. Which led her to where she was now, quietly surveying the old building in order to distract herself from the pending reunion.
The station really was quite beautiful, in it’s own, busy way. As Cate looked around the room, past the people and the steam emitting from the trains, she was able to admire it for what it really was: a work of art. Though she admired it with the appreciation of someone who knew a great deal about architecture, really, the only knowledge she had was what her brother had told her. He loved old buildings, and since she was old enough to talk, he had promised her one day when he had saved enough, they would travel to different continents and visit these amazing structures. She had fallen asleep every night during her childhood listening to his stories of ancient civilizations, beautiful princesses and sword-wielding knights. But of all the countries he described however, she was most fascinated with Egypt. The old pyramids, the catacombs, the endless sand dunes; everything about it intrigued her.
She fiddled absently with the strap of her sling, ignoring the strange stares she received from people as the ruffled white owl in the cage beside her hooted indignantly at them. Some even skirted around the bird, as if it would bite them if they came to close. Cate attempted to soothe Isis with little success, so she threw a few treats from her quilt bag into the cage, and covered the bars with an old blanket.
“Catherine?” The girl jolted from her thoughts, and looked up to see a tall woman with pin-straight blonde hair staring harshly down at her.
“Estelle,” She said stiffly, and immediately seized up when the bony woman wrapped her thin arms around her. She winced as her aunt pressed against her still healing arm
“Auntie Estelle,” She corrected with a purr, the pearls around her neck catching the light as she pulled away from the embrace.
“Right,” Cate replied gruffly, but Estelle didn’t seem to notice.
“It’s been far too long, Kathleen dear!” Cate nearly gagged at the amounts of phony emotion being thrown her way but luckily caught herself just in time as Estelle looked her way suddenly, “Though I suppose our lack of visits wasn’t your fault now was it?” Cate was too busy seething at her aunt’s empty accusations to bother correcting her name. How dare she say that? Wasn’t the whole point of this move to move on with a clean slate? Clearly, her aunt hadn’t gotten that message.
“This way darling, no time to waste.” Not for the first time since arriving at the station, Cate contemplated hopping back on the train- anything to get away from this horrible woman. But she followed the woman mutely, biting her tongue as the snide comments about her brother grew more outlandish and untrue. Within minutes, they arrived at her aunt’s vehicle, and Cate all but threw herself into the back seat to avoid sitting next to Estelle. The car had a new smell to it, the leather’s perfume filling her nostrils
“I think it’s time we got you some new clothes instead of those ratty old things,” Estelle started, and Cate froze, blue eyes narrowing considerably at the front seat, “Wouldn’t you like that, Katrina?”
“It’s Catherine, and I like my clothes,” Cate replied carefully as to not offend her aunt, toying with the sleeve of her leather jacket subconsciously.
“But dear, they’re so... plain,” Estelle simpered. And that’s a bad thing? Cate wanted to lash right back but she bit her tongue, swallowing her words. No point in arguing with a woman who was never going to listen.
“It’s alright, Aunt Estelle,” She said firmly, “I have plenty of clothes, I don’t need new ones.” Estelle shifted in the front seat, and let out a shrill sigh. Cate guessed she wasn’t the only one in the car biting her tongue.
Silence consumed them for the rest of the ride from London to Brighton, and Cate spent it curled against the car door, trying to catch another hour of sleep to avoid the awful churning in her stomach. Like always however, sleep evaded her, and she was forced to curl up into a tight ball on the seat, hugging her knees to her chest and praying that she didn’t throw up over the nice new leather interior. She had faired pretty well on the boat, and the two train rides to get here, but the second she stepped into the car, the familiar bubble of nausea formed in her stomach.
As the car slowed down, Cate looked out the window to see a fancy wooden sign set on a foundation of rounded stones on the side of a street: Welcome to Harrington Court. By the time they pulled into a driveway, Cate was beginning to wonder (not for the first time) what she had gotten herself into.
Cate stepped out of the car, her knees wobbling unsteadily as she touched down on the smooth pavement, and she got her first look at her new home. The row of houses on both sides of the street were nearly identical, with similarly shaped lawns covered in a thick blanket of snow, and long icicles drooping from black tile roofs. Cate pulled her trunk and Isis’ cage from the boot, and began the long, unsteady walk the stone path to the house.
She stepped inside the door, and was immediately hit with the overwhelming sense of elegance. The main entrance hall, which was nearly twice the size of her flat in Paris, had white marble floors and walls painted a pristine, unforgiving white. The room was decorated sparsely, with absolutely no colour to speak of, and Cate noticed that towards the end of the hall, there was an enormous staircase that led to the upstairs. As Cate looked around, she began to feel very unwelcome in this strange habitat, and was not at all excited to see the rest of the manor.
“This way!” Estelle called from the doorway up ahead, and Cate reluctantly followed. The difference between this room and the first wasn’t overly huge, but there was more colour spread throughout the furniture and paintings to off-set the stark whiteness of the walls.
“Kathleen, this my husband, Henry,” Estelle pointed to a thin, well-dressed man sitting in the arm chair with a large tome open on his lap. His hair line was receding slightly, but his cropped hair, a dark, warm brown, still maintained it’s rich colour.
“My name is Catherine,” Cate snapped, and Estelle turned to reprimand her when her husband stood from his seat. He smiled kindly at Cate, and pushed his reading glasses up his nose. His mind seemed elsewhere, his eyes distant as he set his gaze on his niece.
“It’s a pleasure to see you again, Catherine,” He said, his words full of warmth and sincerity unlike his wife’s cold, unfeeling tone, “I’m sorry it had to be under these unfortunate circumstances.” Cate’s cheeks flushed, and she ducked her head, unable to meet her Uncle’s gaze any longer.
“Sophie?” He prompted loudly, and the blonde girl beside him glanced up from her nails to give Cate a once over. Sophie grimaced and looked away with an expression of disgust on her face, as if the sight of her cousin repulsed her in some way.
“It’s good to see you,” Sophie said cooly, already focused back on her brightly painted cuticles. Cate could tell they weren’t going to get along very well, if her reaction was anything to go by.
“Ethel!” Estelle suddenly clapped, and with a loud CRACK! something- or a very small someone- appeared out of thin air and immediately fell into a bow. “Show Catherine to the guest room please. The one I had made up yesterday-”
“Estelle, really, that isn’t necessary. I can show her up there myself,” Henry cut in, and Estelle checked herself, nearly giving Cate whiplash with the sudden change in attitude.
“If you think that’s best, Henry,” She simpered, placing a hand on her husband’s arm and began stroking his forearm. Cate resisted the urge to gag.
“Is Mistress requiring Ethel’s service?”
“Yes, you can take the girl’s trunk and the cage up to her room,” She commanded, and, with another exaggerated bow, Ethel disappeared once more, taking Cate’s belongings along with her.
“Come along, Catherine,” Henry said jovially, “Let me show you around the house.” They climbed the stairs slowly, and turned right around a corner leading down a large hall. “This is the bathroom here, and Sophie’s room is right across the hall. My private study is here,” He pointed to a thick mahogany door to their left, “It would be best to remember to not go in there unless I’ve given you express permission.”
He smiled at Cate, who faked an interested expression. All she wanted to do was get away from this family as quickly as possible. As if sensing this, Henry pointed to a room at the very end of the hall, saying, “And this, I believe, is where you’ll be staying.” He opened the door, and Cate felt her breath catch in her throat. The entire room was bigger than the living, kitchen and bath rooms in her old flat, plus some. A wide, canopy bed took up most of the space, made up with navy and white sheets, and there was a large mahogany desk in the corner. An enormous wardrobe sat in the other corner, by the door, and a floor-length mirror hung on the wall next to it.
“I hope you find everything you need here, Catherine,” He said gently, hand resting on the doorknob as Cate stared, gobsmacked. She jolted, and looked at the one person who seemed actually cared about her with a small smile.
“Please, call me Cate.” He smiled back at her, and nodded, pleased.
“Before I forget, supper is at six o’clock sharp in the dining room.”
“The dining room?”
“I’ll come up again to show you.” Cate nodded, sitting on the edge of her bed and nearly fell off in shock as she sank into the wonderfully comfortable feather duvet. She looked towards the doorway again.
“Yes?” He tipped his head to the right slightly as he looked at her curiously.
“Thank you. For everything.” He smiled again.
“If you ever need anything, Cate, please don’t hesitate to ask,” He said, and Cate could have sworn she saw him wink at her before he swept from the room.
A/N: Hi everyone :)
So this is my first "official" posting on HPFF and I must say it's been a long time coming! I've tried different stories in the past but the inspiration was either lost or the plot was non-existent. Here's to hoping this one will be a little different!!
Please remember to review, it really does make my day!
EDIT: I've completely re-edited the chapter because my perfectionist ways wouldn't let me not do it. I've added some things, and taken some things out but the basic premise for the story is still there!
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