Prologue - Night Thoughts
The leaves on the giant oak trees that surrounded the entrance to Hogwarts School were beginning to fall. A patchwork of colours was descending from the sky and landing gracefully, covering the soft ground with vibrant shades of yellow, orange and brown. It was October; and as such there was a sense of change in the air; there was a hint of darker and colder days to come. Night was falling rapidly, and the castle was bathed in the sharp glow of the full moonlight.
A small silvery cat sat silently under one of the trees, watching intently out at the vast grounds of the castle. There was no one about; the distinct chill in the air meant the grounds remained largely undisturbed by human contact. This particular cat, a regular visitor, would normally spend this time exploring and hunting but today it remained absolutely still, waiting. Waiting for what, it was not certain, but the expectation that something important was about to occur remained, and so the cat waited.
The vast clock tower that was affixed to the castle ticked away the seconds and minutes as the moon rose higher into the sky. The leaves continued to fall, and the cat continued to wait. And then, just as the chimes of the clock began to signal the hour, a figure appeared on the edge of the Forest. The cat sprang to its feet and moved to investigate, keeping its keen eyes on the new comer at all times. It could see clearly now that the figure was a man; the very man indeed it had been expecting to see.
The leaves crunched underfoot as the stranger walked purposefully towards the castle. Spotting the cat watching him, he allowed himself a small smile before bending down and reaching out his hand. The animal instinctively moved forward and sniffed his fingers, before allowing him to lightly stroke it behind the ears.
'Yes,' he muttered, as the cat purred gently, 'I knew that you would you recognise me. I promised I'd come back.'
He straightened up stiffly and moved on. After having moved a few steps, he turned back and said, 'Go on.' He gazed into the cat's eyes for a moment, before setting off towards the castle once more. The cat watched him momentarily as he disappeared through the large double doors and then it turned and fled towards the forest. Although evolution had not blessed the animal with any semblance of logic and reasoning, the cat somehow knew that Hogwarts was no longer a safe place to be.
The man, who rather enigmatically preferred to be known as Smith, moved stealthily through the castle, not wishing to alert any of the residents to his presence. Although he doubted that anyone would truly object to his being there, he preferred to have some privacy to carry out his work, and a horde of curious students asking pointless questions was not exactly conducive with accomplishment. It was in this vain that he carefully avoided a patrolling teacher who was making her way towards the Great Hall. Dodging out of sight, Smith waited silently until she had passed, before re-emerging and proceeding through a set of double doors that led to the Grand Staircase. As he did so he felt a slightly sense of satisfaction, all the effort that had gone into designing the castle's defences and he had just walked through them like an ordinary door.
Once onto the staircase, he moved upwards until he reached the corridor that led to the Second Floor. It was here that he came face to face with the stone gargoyle that guarded the entrance to the Headmaster's office. The creature glared at him as he approached, waiting for the password.
Smith cleared his throat and said authoritatively, 'Open up, it's me.' The gargoyle surveyed him for a moment before leaping to one side and allowing him access. He began to ascend the golden spiral staircase that lay beyond but as he reached the third step the gargoyle muttered, 'He's not there, you know.'
'I know that. It's not him I'm after, I just need to use his office,' replied Smith, and he resumed climbing the stairs.
Dumbledore's office looked much as Smith remembered it. The shining silver instruments whirred merrily to themselves, and the Headmaster's red-gold phoenix was singing contently, perched in his usual position, watching Smith with a slight air of curiosity but nothing more. The only missing element was Dumbledore himself, and this suited the strange man just fine. He did not wish to divulge his presence to his old friend just yet, he still needed more time. Ironic, he thought to himself, when time was the very thing he was running out of.
He moved stealthily across the office and sat down in a comfortable looking chair. Almost immediately he was on his feet, moving across to the other side of the desk to closely examine an ornate chess set. Clearly, Dumbledore was indulging in one of his favourite hobbies again.
'You're going to lose if you keep playing like that Albus,' he muttered to himself. 'Mate in...eight moves I believe. It would better if you did this.' He moved one of the bishops three squares, putting the opposing queen in potential danger. 'But then who am I to interfere with your game,' he added, returning the bishop to its original position, 'I've only beaten you four times out of four.'
He sighed slightly, and then remembering why he was there, he moved over to the fireplace. He removed three scraps of paper from his pocket. Seizing a handful of floo powder, he threw it and the fragments of writing into the fire. Satisfied that they were going to their intended destination, he turned to leave the office. He wanted to leave the castle as soon as possible, to avoid possible detection, but there was still one more task to be completed.
Professor Sybil Trelawney could not sleep. No matter how much she tossed and turned her mind was too troubled for her to relax completely. Therefore, instead of remaining in her chamber and uselessly attempting to combat this insomnia, she had decided to return to her classroom and see what portents she could discern from her silvery crystal ball. As had been the case for the last several nights, the secrets of the future remained frustratingly out of her reach. The ball remained obstinately blank, and this did nothing to cure her of her troubled thoughts. She had seen more than she wished recently; a lightning-struck tower, a blazing inferno, and a cold and twisted abomination.
'Hello Sybil,' said a voice from the corner of the room.
Professor Trelawney jumped and uttered a soft scream. 'Who's there? How did you gain access to my classroom?'
'Surely you know the answer to both those questions already,' replied the intruder, before stepping into the clear candle light. Professor Trelawney recognised him instantly, not from his face but his manner betrayed his identity. He raised his white hat slightly in greeting.
'I am indeed humbled that you paid me a visit,' she said softly. 'To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?'
Smith smiled slightly and took a seat in the armchair directly opposite to the one that Trelawney was in. 'I was wondering if you would do a card reading for me. I sense a great evil approaching, but I need some more specific details.'
'A great evil you say. What manner of evil?' she asked, her interest piqued. But Smith remained silent. Realising there was little point pursuing the subject, Trelawney rose from her chair and moved across to the shelves that lined the walls of her classroom. They were full of tea pots, crystal balls, and great thick textbooks, but also a small collection of packs of tarot cards. Selecting her favourite one, she moved back to her chair and sat down once more. Smith was now sitting comfortably with his legs crossed, his fingers together and waiting patiently for her to continue.
'I must warn you,' she said. 'There is no guarantee of good news. The cards may contain distressing-
But Smith waved his hand impatiently. 'I'm perfectly aware of what they may contain, that is why I wish to have the reading.'
She nodded lightly, and removed the cards from the pack. Shuffling them slightly, she placed five cards face down in two sections, one of three and the other of two.
'Let us start with the present,' she said, her voice regaining its former mystical quality. Smith, however, cut across her.
'I would prefer to start with the future,' and he flipped over the two cards. One was the hanged man, and the other was the Death card.
Outside the castle, the temperature dropped several degrees. Like the cat before them, the other animals that resided in the grounds felt uneasy and afraid in a way they never had before. Fang, Hagrid's great bull hound, whimpered lightly in his sleep. Even the Thestrals felt a pang of terror as they moved silently through the Forest. As they do before some form of natural disaster, the birds in the trees took flight, fleeing the grounds in an attempt to find a warmer and safer environment. The ground frost began to spread, emanating from the entrance of the castle, as the cold expanded outwards into the night.
'I can see it all clearly now,' said Trelawney. 'My dear, you are in the most terrible danger.' The remaining cards clearly pointed to this fact, and she was confused that her visitor still looked distinctly puzzled. 'From what I can see,' she continued. 'It is clear that whatever you are planning will end in fire. Whether you survive the coming inferno is down to your actions. Take the right action now and you can still save yourself.'
Suddenly, he leaned across the table. 'What about the others that cross my path? Can I save them too?' he asked, looking deep into her eyes. She saw a slightly hint of despair in his green eyes. Or were they blue? She found she could not tell.
'Some of them perhaps, but not all of them,' she finished dramatically. Smith closed his eyes and rested his head on his hands. Feeling distinctly uncomfortable with the situation, Trelawney reached forward and touched his shoulder gently. He looked up, and the smallest hint of smile played across his face.
'Thank you Professor for your assistance,' he said suddenly, getting to his feet. 'But I'm afraid I must be leaving now.'
Trelawney felt slightly taken aback. 'So soon?' she inquired. 'Will you not wait for the Headmaster's return? You and he are old friends after all.'
'I'm afraid not, the fewer people know about my visit the better. Speaking of which...' He reached across the table and placed two fingers lightly against Trelawney's temples. 'Forget,' he whispered. She felt decidedly confused for one moment and then felt a sense of incredible calm.
Smith watched impassively as Professor Trelawney slumped forward in her chair into a deep sleep, her head resting on the table. After having neatly tidied away the tarot cards, Smith left the classroom and proceeded back to the main Entrance Hall. There, he surveyed the golden hour glasses and the entrance to the Great Hall fondly, before turning and hurrying out of the castle.
After he had left the castle grounds, the warmth returned to the air and the frost gradually receded once more. The fleeing animals, however, did not return.