Summary: Sometimes Fate makes us learn the hard way.

Rating: M

Warnings: Sexual situations, violence, child abuse, intended suicide, self-harm, dub-con, angst, Kleenex

Disclaimer: I only own the plot (more or less), and most of the characters you don't recognise – the rest belongs to JKR. I am simply a manipulator, and proud of it to boot.

Author's Notes: THIS CHAPTER IS NOT COMPLETE. I intend to keep adding detail after it is posted. At the moment most is description rather than scenes or dialogue. I will rewrite and replace the text of it at some point, probably (hopefully) before the next chapter is posted. I will say in the author's notes of the next chapter when I have reposted. When I write the chapter out in full I will have the fic submitted to a beta-reader.
I challenge you all to read it without crying. Serious angst ahead.
Oh, and let me know if you think it needs scene breaks. I wasn't sure whether to or not, as they all seems to run into each other. If you spot any part you think desperately needs elaborating on, please tell me NOW,before I submit it to a beta, please!


About a Kitten: Prelude

Chapter One: Revenge is a Dish ... (Part One)

By Alexannah

This isn't really me, I try to hide my colours
They've been turned to black and white by so many others
There's nothing wrong, but something's
Happening, I'm falling
- Kym Marsh

My name is Minerva Caitlyn McGonagall.

You can't tell much from a name, can you? Most that know me, or know of me, will probably describe me as the strict Professor McGonagall, stubborn Gryffindor, and Deputy Headmistress.

Others that know me better see me as a loyal friend, dedicated teacher, and only really close friends will describe the relationship between me and Albus, as it shapes a large part of who I am.

But even my closest friends do not know the real me; they see only the shell I created for myself goodness knows when. The front I hide behind, too scared to show the world my true face. Even I do not truly know what it looks like.

Only Albus has ever looked upon it, and even he cannot see it as a whole, because I do not let him. We have shared a lot of things in our lives together, and one of them is pain. Pain was the main factor that caused me to be who I am, and I cannot bring myself to let others see, not even Albus.

He knows me better than anyone. He was always there for me, and still is. Our relationship has frayed in the past, and sometimes I can't confide in him, but those times are rare. He knows what I have been through, because he was there almost all the way, but he cannot understand the permanent effects it had on me. No-one can ever understand.

I was born to Malachi and Athena Chester, in October 1924. My parents were both Muggleborn and had been in the same year at Hogwarts. I think they had been lovers for years, but it wasn't till Mother found out I was going to be born they actually got married. I was a big surprise to both of them, as my mother was nearly ninety when she had me; which is old, even for a witch.

For the first few years of my life, I was happy. I was an only child, but I did not long for siblings. My parents hardly spoiled me, but I had all that I wanted.

I loved my mother dearly. Everyone said to me how much I looked like her, and I had a desperate desire to be like her when I was older. She was fairly well-known, and most who knew her, even if only vaguely, liked her.

She was wonderful, my mother. One of my earliest memories is of her and myself – I think my father was away – on the beach in the summer. I must have been about three or four years old.

It was a very new experience for me. Both my parents were Muggleborn, but I'd never really been in Muggle public before then – not that I recall, anyway. It was the first time I'd seen the sea up close, and I remember my mouth falling open when I saw it. I couldn't believe how big it was! Mother laughed and mopped up the ice-cream that had fallen out of my mouth onto my dress.

"It's so big," I exclaimed. "Does it go on forever, Mummy?"

She laughed again. "Not forever, dear, but it is very big, isn't it? Can you see any land the other side?"

I squinted. "No."

"Well, it is there. I can't see it either. Maybe if we come back on a clear day we will."

"Really?" I said eagerly. "We can come back?"

"I don't see why not," she smiled. "Shall we go and get you another ice-cream?"

I looked down at the large, half-melted, and now very dirty scoop of ice-cream that had fallen on to the pavement without me even realising. I'd never really had much of a sweet tooth, which my parents always thought was strange, but I adored, and still adore, ice-cream. That day was the first time I'd ever tried it.

"Oh," I said, staring at the blob. "Yes, please."

Mother took me by the hand and we went back to the ice-cream cart. Before I'd just chosen a plain vanilla, not having tried it before, but now I realised how nice it was I decided to be adventurous and chose chocolate flavour. The second ice-cream was bigger, nicer and colder than the first. My first lick deposited a smear of it on my nose. Passers-by stopped and grinned at me until Mother wiped it off with her handkerchief. She took me down to the sea with me licking it vigorously, trying not to drop it again. A difficult feat, as it was a very hot day and kept dripping, sometimes on my feet. I was wearing open-toed sandals, which made it rather uncomfortable.

When I finally crunched the last of the cornet, Mother suggested I dangle my feet in the sea to wash the ice-cream off. As I couldn't reach them to lick it off, as I wanted to do, I agreed. She led me over the rocks, sat me down and I stuck my feet in the water.

I should have learned from my experience with the ice-cream that things that don't look cold can be very cold. I squealed and pulled them out sharply, causing others around us to laugh.

However unpleasant it may have been at the time, that was one of my favourite memories of my childhood.

My life was pretty much carefree back in those days. I envy my younger self now. At that age, I could not recognise that my father, Malachi, was not a particularly nice person. Mother did her best to shield this fact from me, and it worked. I was too naïve to recognise the signs when she failed to hide them. I loved both my parents, and I thought naturally, as most children do, that they loved me.

My father certainly acted as though he did most of the time. It was necessary in public. As he was Muggleborn, he had to try harder to be accepted into higher class, and not seeming like a loving father could have damaged his reputation. It worked: he became quite an important wizard, high in the Ministry. Now I compare him to Cornelius Fudge, although there are definite differences in their personalities.

Because of Malachi's status, my mother and I were sometimes dragged out to important parties and dinners. I found them all rather boring, but Mother and I had a giggle about them afterwards. The first time I met Albus Dumbledore was at one of these very occasions: a formal dinner. Mother knew him through a friend at work, although not particularly well, and my father was desperate to please him, as he was so well known and respected, even then, before the days of Grindlewald.

I remember every detail of that day. I was dressed in a light, cotton emerald-green frock, that I adored back then and often wore to these occasions. Mother had tied part of my hair back in plaits with a matching silk ribbon, but the rest hung loose. She said the green made my eyes stand out. She would know, as I had inherited my eyes from her, just like her long raven-black waves. Mother wore the same colour, but in an entirely different, much more grown-up style. I remember gazing at her, longing to look just like her when I was a grown-up. Everyone said Athena Chester was beautiful, and they were right.

When Albus – or Mr Dumbledore as he was to me back then – arrived, I saw the crowd whispering and parting for him, and I knew he must be someone important. He greeted my father, though not very enthusiastically. I think he was perhaps put off by Malachi's clear desperation to please him. He smiled genuinely when he saw Mother and me. I felt my cheeks turn a little pink. Even at that age, I could recognise him as a rather handsome grown-up. He was taller even than my father, with sparkling blue eyes that I instantly adored, and long, sweeping auburn hair and beard. He had a moustache too. He kissed my mother's hand, and then to my great surprise, did the same to me. It tickled and I giggled.

"Hello, Mr Dumbledore," I said shyly. My father hissed, "Professor!" in my ear. I hastily corrected my mistake, to get a smile from my parents. Dumbledore chuckled and said hello to me too, then leaned in and whispered in my ear.

"Please Miss Chester, I prefer 'Mister'. 'Professor' makes me feel old." Then he winked at me, kissed my hand again, and moved on to the next couple.

I was far too shy to say anything else to him, but I watched him for the rest of the night – for some reason, he fascinated me.

By this time I was six years old. Around the time of the dinner, I started being tutored at home, like most wizard-bred children. My tutor's name was Adelaide Zeller, and she and I did not get on. She acted as if I was a stupid child who could never learn anything, and she was wasting her time with me. I was brighter than most children my age, but she treated me the same as them. I wished for a different tutor, someone who understood me and didn't treat me so patronisingly, but I didn't make a fuss.

Occasionally we would disagree over something and it would end up in an argument. Once after a particularly bad one, after which I heard her threatening to resign to my father, I pretended I was ill the next day so I did not have to see her. Mother found out I was pretending, and told me off. I felt ashamed afterwards, and my tutor had this little smile on her face the next day, as if I had proved how much of a child I was.

Two weeks after this incident, we had another disagreement. It ended much the same as it had done last time, only I didn't pretend I was ill. I had learned my lesson the first time round.

Unfortunately, bad timing is something that I am all too familiar with. A few days after our last row, I began to feel genuinely ill.

Of course, when I said so, Malachi immediately told me off for trying it on again. I tried to tell him it was for real this time, but he didn't believe me. Neither did my tutor, or even my mother. I can't honestly blame them. I did ask for it by pretending the first time.

I had to put up with my tutor. I continually complained of tummy-aches, nausea and dizziness, but no-one took me seriously for another two weeks, by which time Mother was getting suspicious that it perhaps wasn't an act. I heard her and Malachi arguing about it.

He wouldn't call a Healer to have them look at me; he said there was nothing wrong and it would be a waste of money. Mother wasn't very happy with this, and neither was I. I think it was around this time that I began to see my father wasn't all I thought he was.

A few days after their row, I woke up in the night with a bad pain in my stomach. Malachi refused to believe it was real, but when I was sick Mother began to really worry. My father still insisted that there were a million things that could have caused it, that I could be easily faking it, and if there was something wrong at all it was just a simple bug, and I'd be fine in a few days. I knew better, and I know my mother believed it was more than that.

The next day my father went out of the country for a year for work. Mother came to me and asked me to tell her honestly exactly how I felt. I told her, and she took my temperature, which was higher than it should be.

She called a Healer, but no-one was available to come over for a few days unless it was an emergency. I was grateful that Mother believed me in the first place, so I wasn't about to complain about having to wait.

Two days afterwards was a bad day. I woke up in a coughing fit, and when I drew my hands away from my mouth I saw blood on them. Mother panicked and asked a Healer to come immediately. They said it would have to wait a few hours, but someone would be there as soon as possible.

The pain was much worse, and I threw up several times, each time blood coming up too. I had a bad fever and could barely sit up without my vision going fuzzy. Mother stayed with me, muttering some very bad things about Malachi as she did so. I remember hearing and privately agreeing. When the Healer saw me, she said I should be taken to St Mungo's immediately.

It was horrible. I think I mentally blocked out a large part of that time in the hospital, but I remember feeling almost constantly sick, and I grew very tired. It didn't take long for the Healers to find out what was wrong with me. Within hours of my arrival, I was diagnosed with wizarding cancer.

I didn't understand what cancer was. How could I? I was only six. I'm not very familiar with the Muggle version of cancer, but the wizarding one can be either very slow or very fast-moving, and I had the fast one. The Healers tried every treatment they had, but I had been diagnosed too late, and the cancer was too far gone, for there to be much hope it would work. They warned Mother and I about that before even trying, so as not to get our hopes up too much.

When they broke the news to me that the cancer would most likely claim my life, I could not understand. People got ill every day, and they got better, didn't they? I was just taking longer than others.

By the end of the week they had tried everything they could. I was bed-bound, and sleeping most of the day. Mother never left my side. In the end she took me out of hospital. There was nothing more the Healers could do for me, and I wanted to be at home.

I had not seen home for so long, and I relaxed much more once we arrived. The moment we set foot indoors Mother gave a chair wheels and took me out into the garden in it, so I could see the outdoors and smell the fresh air after being cooped up in a ward for so long.

She never gave up. While I slept, she hunted and hunted for something, anything, that the Healers hadn't tried that could help, and in the end came across a spell that had been outlawed almost immediately after it had been invented – not because it was necessarily Dark, but because it didn't destroy the cancer, merely transfer it to another person.

I know if it had been me in her position, I would have performed it.

Mother must have spent ages learning it; the incantation was very complicated. Finally she came to me and told me about the spell … but not about all the effects.

"Minerva, sweetheart … I have found something. It is a spell that will take away your cancer."

My eyes lit up, I could see the reflection in her glasses.

"There is only a small chance it will work, but if it does, it will be worth it."

"Will I stop feeling so tired and ill?" I asked. Hope was rising inside me.

"If it works, yes, poppet. But … I need to warn you, it will hurt a bit. You will need to be a big brave girl and bear it, all right?"

I knew a few moments of pain had to be better than what I was going through. "Will it hurt you, too?"

I saw her bite her lip. "Yes, Minerva, it will. But it will be better in the end … you'll see. I promise."

I nodded. I wanted it.

Mother propped me up in bed and arranged cushions behind her, in case she passed out. Then she began to chant the spell.

I could feel the cancer being dragged out of me, and it was agony. The force felt white-hot, and I was sure my insides were being melted; I writhed in pain, but bit my lips to prevent anything more than whimpers escaping. I could not see Mother during the process. Was she pleased? Afraid? Upset? Having second thoughts? I did not know. I passed out.

I don't know how long I was unconscious for, but when I woke I felt different – sore, but my fever had gone down, and I no longer felt sick. Mother was crumpled on the floor, her face white. I didn't want to test the strength of my legs just yet, so I called to her until she woke. When she did, she hugged me hard and burst into tears.

She didn't see any need to contact my father. She hadn't while I was ill, and there was no point now I no longer had the cancer. For a while we both celebrated, while I recovered my strength, but then I noticed Mother began to look ill. I asked her about it, but she said she was fine. She said it was just an after-effect of the spell and it wouldn't last long.

I believed her.

Mere weeks before my father was due home, my mother became too ill to get out of bed. I acted immediately, finally recognising that it was serious, and she was taken to St Mungo's. An owl was sent to my father. He did not come home at once.

Shortly after my seventh birthday, my mother died.

My father returned that same day. I had been kept in a private office while they waited for him to show up – they thought I would need him there when they broke the news to us. When he turned up they told us both what my mother had done.

My childhood was lost in that moment. For a moment I couldn't breathe, and they had to sit me down and give me a glass of water to stop my head spinning.

I was young and did not understand the concept of death, but I knew that after you died, you didn't come back. I didn't want Mother to die. She had always been there for me; she had to stay. I burst into tears in the waiting area.

Malachi did not cry, or shout, or even react. I think he was too in shock. Later I learned he was angry, although then I could not understand why.

He took her passing very hard. He completely changed; I no longer recognised him. He seemed to be furious all the time. I, young as I was, could not understand him.

I had inherited my mother's love of reading, and most of my day, when I wasn't being tutored, was spent curled up with a book. By the time I was eight I had read the entire first-year curriculum. I read only partly because I wanted to – I learned that Malachi rarely disturbed me when I was doing something 'constructive', so I used it as an excuse to get away from him.

It did not always work. Often he would lose his temper and yell at me, or just yell in general. I learned how unfair he thought life was. Malachi may not have been a nice person, but he did love my mother. More than he loved me – if he loved me at all. He still often acted as though he did, as if there had been no change, in private as well as in public, but he was so changeable, I knew not to believe it would last. I was terribly afraid of him.

He said terrible things to me. I don't mean swearwords (although he used them alarmingly often), but the meanings behind his words. I won't repeat most of it, but the few facts I learned from him, that I had drummed into my head, was that Mother was better than me, that I could never be as good as her, and that I should have been the one to die, not her.

That last one was the worst. It had a huge impact on my self-esteem. I grew to believe it, and every day I felt guilty that I was alive when Mother should have been in my place. It hurt me deeply, especially as the words were coming from my own father, whom I had always loved, and thought he loved me.

Occasionally he would throw things. They never hit me, but I was so afraid of him. I repeatedly made excuses to leave his presence. Even when we were with others I never felt safe. I'm not sure what our visitors thought of my continual need to go to the bathroom, or to fetch something I'd left in my room. They must have thought I had a serious bladder problem and was extremely forgetful. I never enlightened anyone. It was preferable to the truth.

He used to be back from work late in the evenings, and it was up to me to cook dinner. It was not really a problem as such, as Mother had taught me when I was younger, and I was good at it. But Malachi always picked holes in my efforts, and when he couldn't find something specific to complain about, he simply said "Athena would have done better". That was more hurtful than you could imagine.

I was shy and never got on with other children my age. They teased me for being so withdrawn and for my love of books. I could never relate to them. How could they be so happy and carefree? I was alone, miserably lonely, and I pined for someone I could talk to.

When I was nine or ten he hired a house-elf. I was both hurt, as I took it to mean he didn't want to put up with my cooking anymore (I knew it anyway, but the fact that he had done something about it stung me more), and relieved, as I thought it meant there would be a living being in the house that I didn't have to be afraid of, and could even be a friend.

Blinky was a sweet thing, and I felt comfortable confiding in her. I knew she couldn't do anything about it, but I felt a weight lift for a while when she actually listened to me. But it didn't last. Malachi found out I'd been saying things behind his back, and Blinky was forbidden to even be in my presence.

Then he hit me.

An hour later, when I was still sitting in my room in numb disbelief, he came and broke down, saying he was sorry and it would never happen again. I didn't believe him, and I was right not to.

I can remember the first – and last – time I ever answered back. I woke up in the middle of the night thirsty, and crept downstairs to get a drink and a biscuit. I poured out a glass of milk from the fridge and then stood on a stool to reach the cupboard. But my old tin Mother always kept full of Ginger Newts was missing. She used to keep it as treats, and to get some energy into me, as I didn't really eat much sweet foods. I felt a pang when I discovered it was not there.

As I closed the cupboard, my foot slipped, and I fell off the stool backwards, landing on the stack of saucepans on the bench. The clanging was enough to wake everyone in the neighbourhood. I hurried to empty my glass into the sink and put it away, as I knew Malachi wouldn't like me helping myself to the milk, but in my panic I dropped it. My father walked into the kitchen just at that moment, furious.

"MINERVA CHESTER, WHAT IN THE NAME OF MERLIN ARE YOU DOING?"

I froze, shaking madly.

He scoured the kitchen, frowning deeply. "Look at this mess! Glass everywhere! Milk all over the floor! What have I told you about helping yourself to milk? If you're thirsty between meals, you have water!"

"Mummy let me have it," I answered back, amazed at my own daring.

"You have always been spoiled rotten, Minerva," he snarled. "It's about time you learnt some discipline. Athena didn't know what was good for you."

I hated when he did that – refer to Mother by her first name in front of me, as if I was nothing to do with her. I found a surge of anger rising inside me.

"Obviously she didn't, or she wouldn't have married you!"

The kitchen fell deathly silent. I was suddenly terrified; I knew I'd crossed the line. Again.

Malachi grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me vigorously. "Don't you ever speak to me like that again, do you hear? Never!"

I nodded, shaking like mad. He was still for a minute, and then he suddenly hit me across the face, throwing me backwards into the table. I yelled as I hit my head hard, and when I fell to the floor I landed in the shattered glass.

"Get this cleared up," he whispered. "I don't care how long it takes, just get it all off the floor. Now." With that, he stormed out of the kitchen, locking me in. I crouched on the floor, my arms over my face, sobbing madly into them.

"Stop that pathetic whimpering!" he yelled through the door as a final departure, before I heard him storming up the stairs. I scrabbled around in the milk puddle and the glass, trying to get it up by hand – I couldn't use the dustpan and brush, as they were kept in a cupboard in the pantry, which was locked. The glass got into my hands and my knees and feet and under my nails. The floor was smeared with blood by the time I had all the glass removed, or what I could pick up. For the next week or so, we kept stepping in tiny fragments, too small for me to see in that light. Every time my father found one he pinched my arm, digging his nails in.

Whenever he was violent, it was mostly a slap round the face, or occasionally he would grab my hair. I learnt to stay well out of his way as much as possible, and dreamed of the day I could get away from the hell-hole I called home.

All wizard-bred children long for the day when they can attend Hogwarts, and I awaited it more hopefully than the rest. I would be away from my father, at least during term-time, I could make a fresh start with people my own age who, hopefully would be more mature than the hateful kids I grew up around who called me a bookworm, and the best of all, I would be with my childhood hero, Albus Dumbledore.

The time dragged by, but finally, one glorious morning, I came down to breakfast and found an envelope addressed to me in my place.

HOGWARTS SCHOOL OF WITCHCRAFT AND WIZARDRY

Headmaster: Armando Dippet

(Order of Merlin, Third Class; Member of Wizengamot)

Dear Miss Chester,

We are pleased to inform you that you have a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment.

Term starts on September first. We await your owl no longer than 31st July.

Yours sincerely,

Albus Dumbledore

Deputy Headmaster

TBC …

A/N: Well? What did you think? Did you cry? Do you want to read on?
I find mostly people don't read the author's notes at the top, so I'll put it down here. This fic is the prelude to a series (hence the title), rather than a full story in itself. Although I suppose it could be read on its own, there will be parts at the end that won't make sense which will be cleared up in the series.
The series, About a Kitten, is a set of three fics – Foundations of Glass, The Calm Before the Storm, and Back in the Picture, which are all AUs to each other. I don't think that idea has ever been used before, which is why I felt the need to make it clear. They all begin at a different point in canon. (If you're interested, FoG starts the morning after Harry's name has come out of the Goblet, TCBtS when Harry's in the Three Broomsticks the first time he sneaks into Hogsmeade, and BitP the year before he starts Hogwarts.) This fic is the prelude to the series as a whole. Got it?
Oops, I almost forgot to mention this - I have no experience with cancer, I've just judged on other fics I've read, and hoped that making it the wizarding version will cut me some slack. Advice is welcomed, though.

Please review!
Alex
xx

Note about reviewing: Please, for the love of Merlin, do not review simply to tell me to update! I get it all the time and am sick of it. If you review, please say what it is you did or didn't like, and bulk out your review as much as possible. Make it worth the review alert, please! As always I love guesses where the story is headed and what I'm going to do next, and helpful suggestions are always welcomed. Don't flame.
Thanks.