This is a story split into two parts. Or two books, if you'd like to call it that.
Chapter One | The Dream
Sea-salt hung in the air as waves lapped gently against the shore. The beach was empty, its sand more that of a thick gravel interspersed with jagged, crumbling shells and pointed rocks than anything one would dream of.
White sand would be what comes to mind, water such a bright blue that it seems to reflect the sky - hot sun bearing down and carrying an almost palpable serenity.
This beach reeked of melancholy, of death.
Sheer craggy rocks lined the inlet and stood high above, as if looking down at the cavernous mouth they wrapped around with some level of anger. Ships masts poked out of the sea, splintered and broken, the deep gray water having swallowed them up, dragged them and their passengers to their depths.
Catherine wondered at this, this dream she found herself in.
It was no nightmare yet it felt as such, a deep fear that seemed to cling to her bones and whisper in her ear.
Thou art not welcome here, it spoke, not in a voice but in feeling. Something so terribly raw as to worry at her very thoughts and send what modicum of sanity she had fleeing into the darkest corners of her mind. This graveyard, this prison. Thou'rt lost, in mind and body. The Paleblood, yes? O' how it beckons so sweetly.
She stood on the shore, watching as the waves rose, climbing up around her. They wrapped around her waist lovingly, a caress, one of both death and comfort.
Do not be afraid of thine fate, child, lest you fall to madness. The Blood sings in thine heart. The Nightmare shall be yours, if you will it.
The waves crashed all around, and she drowned in their mothering grasp.
Catherine shot up, clothes soaked in sweat as she gasped at the cold night air.
Her eyes set upon the canopy around her, deep crimson. She normally thought it a sign of comfort, her one and true home. Now it seemed to choke her, stifle her, tortured by her own love.
Hogwarts hadn't felt like home for a long time.
Not with Cedric dead. Not with Dumbledore seemingly ignoring her. Not with Snape carving at her mind. Not with Umbridge striking lines through her knuckles and casting her blood across a tattered page.
She fiddled with her bandages, the pinkish-red of blood peeking out from against the many woven layers, reminding her of the portraits of Victorian boxers she'd seen once in a history book.
Tired and weary, she snatched her glasses and rose from her bed, legs shaking as she stumbled towards the toilets. Door shutting quietly behind her, she grasped feebly at the sink, holding herself up and looking into the mirror.
Her hair was ragged, sharp black strands hanging about her face as if she had been electrocuted. She pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose, scowling at the way they made her face look even sharper, more starved.
Too early in the year, she thought. All skin and bone.
Catherine didn't hate the Dursleys. Not really.
She could understand them in some way. Their fear, their disdain for things that were beyond their knowledge.
It was only natural, she decided - that people fear what they can't possibly understand. People feared Voldemort, and she'd never once figured out what made that man tick. The rage he felt, the murderous delight he seemed to display but a few months ago as he struck her friend down.
Cedric was kind, and she had been happy to know him.
He didn't deserve to die. Not like that.
'Kill the spare.'
Those words still came to her at her lowest moments, somehow striking her down even further. They hung in her mind as the moon does the sky, pale and indifferent to her pleas for mercy, to just have one fucking night's rest without waking in a cold sweat, body shaking and death on her lips.
She reached forward and turned on the tap, blindingly frigid water pouring into the sink. Ignoring the cold, she took off her glasses and splashed her face, eyes screwed shut against the sudden shock.
Sighing, Catherine flicked the tap shut and wandered back to the dorm, the dimmest bit of light cutting through the drapes and revealing motes of dust dancing along the floor.
Early. Too early.
It always was when she woke.
"Cat? Is that you? Wh- what are you doing up?"
"You want to know what I do in the washroom, Hermione?"
Hermione was suitably embarrassed, face poking out of the red curtains that surrounded her bed turning a similar shade. "I just- you're up early, often. I hear you get up."
"It's fine, really, nothing to worry about." She stood staring at her trunk, trying to decide if it was worth going back to bed or to just get on with her day.
Not that she was having a particularly interesting dream, watching some dour beach rise up and drown her.
No, she'd get an early breakfast, maybe fill out a touch more.
"Yeah, I'm sure." Catherine rummaged through her trunk for a moment, pulling out the first things she set eyes on.
Jumper and plain trousers.
"Alright, well… you know I'm always here, okay?" Hermione whispered, glancing at the other beds. "I just- what Umbridge is doing to you, it's horrible. You can talk to me, you know?"
"I know," Catherine echoed. "I'm going to go get some breakfast, elves should be at work already.
Hermione grimaced. "You know, they really shouldn't be- "
"Yeah, yeah, I know." She raised her hands in surrender. "I'm pretty good friends with one of them, if you don't remember."
"Yup." Catherine grunted, working her way into her clothes. "Excitable little guy, but he's good company."
Humming quietly, Hermione nodded. "Sounds like it. Just… take care of yourself. Okay?"
Catherine slunk out the door and down the stairs, mind wandering as she made her slow journey towards the Great Hall.
The halls were quiet, staircases almost silent as they shifted over one another in mesmerizing patterns.
She still hadn't learned how they work, how to predict them. If she was being honest, she quite liked getting lost. There was always something new to find at Hogwarts, be it a simple abandoned classroom of the Room of Requirement itself.
Oh yeah. DA that evening.
A sigh on her lips, she continued her journey, and a minute or two later Catherine found herself seated at the Gryffindor table, snatching a slice of toast and shovelling eggs and bacon onto her plate.
She buttered it methodically, glancing up at the staff table to see Dumbledore and McGonagall almost huddled together, quite animated as they spoke.
Her eyes glazed over as she watched, exhausted and so damn tired of Dumbledore putting her off, ignoring her, distancing himself from her when all she had were questions.
'Why me? Why Cedric? Why any of this?' she wanted to scream, letting her words strike him as if a curse. 'Why?'
Dumbledore chose that moment to glance up from his conversation, gaze settling upon her.
Her shoulders stiffened, jaw clenched, and Catherine had to bat down the derision that clawed at her belly.
The Headmaster seemed to grow much older in that moment, eyebrows knitting together and his moustache bristling - a telltale sign of his lips being pursed dramatically, as if an actress from a soap opera.
Throwing caution to the wind, Catherine stood up, marching towards where Dumbledore sat.
"Oh dear," she could see McGonagall mouthing from afar, and Catherine felt her stomach twist.
What was she doing?
She faltered, legs stilling as she looked up at the Headmaster.
Dumbledore seemed resigned, tired, as he raised his hand and beckoned her over. "Catherine, please. What is it?" he asked, his words heavy.
"I… I just… where have you been? I haven't- we haven't talked in, well, a while." She fiddled with the hem of her jumper. "Why are you acting like this?"
McGonagall, seeming to read the mood, took that moment to pat Dumbledore on the arm. "Albus," she said plainly. Not a whisper, but calm and steady. "Tell her."
He seemed to collapse in on himself, and though his head didn't sag, nor did his shoulders quiver, a weight seemed to fall upon him. "Would you like to come to my office, Catherine? I can have your breakfast brought up."
Both excited and fearful, she nodded. "Sure."
Dumbledore smiled faintly at McGonagall as he stood up, snapping his fingers. His food disappeared, and Catherine could only assume hers had as well.
She followed him as he rapped his wand against the side door - the one which she'd been dragged into last year to be told she would have to once more fight for her life.
He opened the door, smiling at her awestruck expression as it revealed his own office, hundreds of little instruments whirring about.
"Hogwarts has many secrets, many of which even I am not aware of." Dumbledore motioned towards the door. "Take a seat."
Catherine shut the door behind her, settling into the large chair in front of Dumbledore's desk, her fingers trembling.
What had she just gotten herself into?
She stared dumbly at her breakfast, a cup of tea steaming next to it and filling the air with the sweet aroma of bergamot. Trying her best to hide her excitement, she took the mug, sipping quietly as Dumbledore sat down and steepled his fingers, the room suddenly washed in a solemn chill.
"So… Catherine." He clicked his tongue, eyes cast to the ceiling. "This isn't quite how I imagined this year would go. Nor did you, I believe."
She found herself nodding, nose brushing against the mug and staining the tip of it in tea. Catherine scowled, wiping it off with her thumb.
"Your Occlumency lessons haven't been going well, have they?"
"I… no, they haven't." She looked away. "Snape is awful. I can hardly sleep when I'm done with them, the headaches alone…" Catherine blinked heavily. "It's awful."
Dumbledore pinched the bridge of his nose, looking almost defeated. "I will speak with Severus about his lessons, and please do not hate me anymore for this, but there was good reason that I asked you to undertake them. There is… information that I would like to tell you, I have to tell you, but your seeming connection with Voldemort makes that nigh impossible."
"I know, I just… it's tough. It feels like you don't trust me, like you don't want me here."
"Catherine." Dumbledore's voice was nearly sorrowful, the pain in it evident. "I could never feel that way, never. You're important to me, terribly so. Would you like to know something?"
"It scares these old bones to know how much you mean to me. Family, for an old man with nothing but a school to his name, that's everything."
"Nothing but a school?" she scoffed. "It's Hogwarts."
"Yes, but those I hold close are far and few between. I care for all of my students, everyone who walks these halls, but not to the degree that I care for you." Dumbledore picked up his fork, slicing off a bit of hash brown and sticking it in his mouth. He chewed thoughtfully, beard shifting with each click of his teeth. "The Dementor attack this summer sparked a fear in me that I didn't know I had. It made me think. About you, about your home, about your family."
"Yes." He readjusted his glasses, spindly fingers worrying at the frame. "They don't treat you well, do they?"
"I…" Catherine never imagined he would ever ask him that, to confront that one, awful question. "No. They don't."
"I had thought so. I- I never wished that for you, Catherine. Not once. But Voldemort, even in the state he was in during your childhood - a gheist wandering the forests of Albania - still terrified me. He could still hurt you, get to you, and I thought where better than with her own family?"
"Headmaster, I don't see where this is going - I mean, not to be rude - but I'm confused."
He leaned back in his chair, hands curled over the arm rests. "I made a mistake, Catherine, and I seem to be making it again. I promise to tell you everything, but you must make progress with your Occlumency. The knowledge that you wish to know, that I wish to tell you - it would be no less than disastrous if Voldemort got his hands on it."
"Got his hands on what?"
Her world stilled, ears ringing and blood thundering in her skull. "Prophecy?"
"Regarding you and Voldemort, yes."
"I…" She could scarcely think, let alone breathe. Could barely notice as her hands shook and hot tea spilled over her fingers. "That's why? That's why he's after me? Why he came after me when I was just a baby?"
"All that and more," Dumbledore stated sadly. "I'm sorry I cannot tell you everything, but the wording of it matters immensely. Voldemort is aware of the prophecy, has known it since before you were ever born."
"My dreams. Do they have anything to do with it? Why Mister Weasley got attacked?"
"Tom wants something in those halls that he holds dear, but does not wish to reveal himself in his quest to find it." He took another slow bite, looking as if the food tasted of ash. "I imagine he hopes you go there instead, and then attack you in your efforts."
"Why didn't you tell me this?"
"Because you have a habit of running headfirst into danger."
Catherine laughed, the sound strained, not her usual lilt. "Because I'm the one that has to. Quirrel, Ginny, Sirius? I'm always the one that has to."
"And that is an incredible mistake on my part, to have even allowed those things to happen in the first place."
"My saving them?"
"Your getting hurt. Their getting hurt. I promise to you, Catherine, this year will be different. But, I fear that I may be ousted from the school sooner rather than later."
"What?" her shout shook the room, even the tiny spinning dials upon the various clockwork objects scattered around the room stilling for a moment.
"Umbridge and the Ministry have an out for the both of us, myself in particular."
"But Fudge is an idiot."
"An idiot with the entire country eating out of his palm." Dumbledore paused, almost shocked to find himself admitting it aloud. "We cannot fight Voldemort with a divided country, and better a Minister who mobilizes the Aurors against me than one who doesn't at all."
"I thought I was self-sacrificial," Catherine muttered, putting her tea down.
This time, Dumbledore's laugh echoed out across his office, and Catherine had never heard him sound so amused in her life. "It seems that's something we both need to work on. Now, I will speak to Severus, but please study Occlumency on your own time. Trust me when I say that it will be one of the most useful skills you will ever learn."
"Okay. I… I'll try. I'll do my best."
"That's all I can ever ask of you."
"Thanks Headmaster, I'm uh- I think I need to let all that digest."
He reached across the desk, taking her hand in his own and squeezing it. "My door is always open."
Catherine felt lighter for his words. "Thank you."
She left his office in silence, thoughts jumping from one to the next as she tried to wrestle with what she had just been told.
The word felt like poison in her mind, something to be cursed at, as if it were profanity.
That was it. This whole time. Why Voldemort wanted her. Wanted her family.
What, because of a few words?
She laughed to herself as she walked through the halls, startling a nearby portrait.
The only 'seer' she knew was a crackpot at best, half-drunk off sherry and her job nearly in tatters. Catherine knew that Trelawney would soon be off, what with Umbridge's reign of terror nearly in full swing.
Her day went by in a haze, barely cognizant of her professor's words and Hermione's murmured questions.
Are you sure you're fine? You seem distracted.
Ron didn't seem to care all that much, simply saying to Hermione, 'She's got shit to worry about, of course she's distracted.'
Catherine quite liked it when he had little bouts of wisdom like that. Ron had a way with words, and by way with words she meant that he was terribly blunt, but remarkably funny about it.
'It is the way it is,' seemed to be Ron's motto. A simple statement she could agree with.
'But it's not so simple!' Hermione would cry out. 'There's… all sorts of things that aren't the way they are!'
Then Catherine would laugh, telling them that they're both right and both idiots.
She settled down in her bed, mind still dancing with the realization that Voldemort was after her for a reason, a reason that she was truly yet to know.
"God," she muttered, pinning her glasses to the bedpost with a sticking charm. "What a day."
Catherine rubbed the sleep from her face, exhausted.
What happened that afternoon was… momentous. She'd never seen Dumbledore so open, so scared.
It gave her hope.
She fell asleep quickly, once more finding herself on a beach surrounded by high walls, the low sobs of a man echoing off towards the sea.