Categories > Books > Harry Potter


by Vermin_Disciple 1 review

Sybill Trelawney, fortune-teller extraordinaire, finds herself in need of a career change.

Category: Harry Potter - Rating: PG - Genres: Humor - Characters: Lily, Sibyll Trelawney, Other - Warnings: [!!] - Published: 2006-12-13 - Updated: 2006-12-14 - 4469 words - Complete

A/N: Written for Femgenficathon 2006 at LiveJournal, based on prompt 101: /I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity./--Gilda Radner.
Many thanks to dbassassin and rebel_spy @ LJ for beta reading.


There was certainly something amiss with the temporal forces that morning, for Sybill Trelawney awoke with a splitting headache. That was not unusual, of course, because the temporal forces were by their very nature quite unbalanced, and Sybill was very sensitive to any atmospheric shifts, particularly those brought on by large quantities of alcohol poured into an empty stomach.

The air was stale and stifling, contrasting oddly with the gray sky just visible through the cobwebs on the window. In the fuzzy haze of morning, she felt as though her head was swimming in the lukewarm soup that would already be stewing in a greasy cauldron behind the bar. If she breathed deeply, she was almost sure she could already smell it, though it was rather difficult to tell. The Inner Eye could cloud one's perception of the mundane present, and what she smelled could be the soups of ages past or the soups of dismal tomorrows. It was the little details like this, after all, that made the Sight as much a burden as a Gift.

Sybill sat up in bed, pushing aside a threadbare blanket (that turned out to be one of her own shawls), and felt along the rickety bedside table for her glasses. As soon as she found them, she began inspecting her extremities; she had felt itchy all over during the night, and her dreams had been crawling with insects. She dearly hoped that this was hyperbole on the part of the metaphysical realms, and shuddered to think at what might be living in any mattress that made its home in this wretched tavern.

She planned on having another polite word with old Aberforth, the barman, about the bedbugs. She would also be forced to inform him of the omen she seen in the last cup of Ceylon. The outline of a goat had been clearly discernable, a sure sign of approaching enemies. It was only right to inform him; after all, it was all in accordance with the integrity born of her profession. Perhaps she could offer further assistance in this matter. Undoubtedly he would grateful, as awareness did not come cheap. And whatever humble reward he might give her in gratitude would be accepted in lieu of payment, preferably in the form of a waiver on this month's rent. She'd even settle for a hot bowl of stew.

With one hand pressed firmly against her temple, she stood up, very slowly. Now that she was fully awake, her stomach made its displeasure known. It would be ill-advised to venture back into the barroom again, owing less to planetary alignment than the alignment of her coin purse. She began searching the room, shifting astrological charts, spare quills, tea cups, and even a sprung trap she had set out the night before, now containing an extremely fat and extremely dead rat. At least she wasn't that desperate.

Sybill nearly let slip a cheer when she dug out a half-full box of stale biscuits from beneath a scrap of parchment on the desk. It was only after she was licking her fingers to garner the last remains of salt in the bottom of the box that she realized what was written on the discarded parchment. It was a letter.

It wasn't a particularly legible letter. Even with her considerable prowess at divining the ambiguities of the unseen and well-obscured, it took her a few seconds to realize it was written in her own handwriting. It took her even longer to work out what it said. The parchment was stained along one edge, obscuring some of the ink, and the ink was smudged in a few places where the bangles on her sleeve had smeared it across the page. It also smelled of an unidentifiable mix of substances.

The idea had come to her last night while she was conversing with that poor young professor sitting forlornly at the bar. She had had to inform him that she feared his current career was coming to an unfortunate end. ("...though I've never seen a grindylow bite react quite like that." "Actually it was a kappa...") He had been kind enough to buy her a drink for her troubles. Somewhere between telling him all about her great-great-grandmother's brief stay as Divination professor at Hogwarts, and explaining the finer points of extispicy to a nearby post, she had a sudden moment of perfect clarity. Her vision, which she couldn't quite remember at the moment, had nevertheless been clear in its meaning.

It had sent her scrambling for parchment and quill. Sitting at the desk and chewing absently on a biscuit, she attempted to decipher what she had scribbled out in the night. It began legibly enough, Dear Headmaster Dumbledore, it saddens me greatly to realize that your students remain ignorant of the great mysterious... But as it progressed, her elegantly looping handwriting reduced was gradually reduced to a clumsy scrawl.

This was, although she wasn't entirely ready to admit it to herself, a very important letter. It would have to be considerably more presentable and convincing than /that/. Besides, she had completely forgotten to inform Professor Dumbledore of his vibrant good health, sure to continue for years to come.

Sybill reached for a dark, dingy quill that had no doubt seen better days. She stroked the feather fondly against her cheek, contemplating her words. The feather had been plucked long ago from a stately raven belonging to her own great-great-grandmother, and he had been a prophet of some distinction in his own right. How many had seen that swift black omen swooping over bloody battlefields or grazing the marble shoulders of politically significant statues? In the days when augurs were revered, (and reviled, as is always the case with those who dare divine the mysteries of the future) that bird had led many to come in search of supernatural aid to their natural dilemmas. For the venerable Cassandra Trelawney, he was as much a bringer of profits as prophecies.

It made her feel slightly better using her grandmother's quill, even though Sybill Trelawney certainly didn't hold with good luck charms-silly superstitious, a mockery of the true Seer's art. However, long-dead birds were not especially helpful in matters of persuasive job applications, except for serving as a functional writing utensil.

She sighed, pushing from her mind the question of how she was going to pay the post owl, and read over the fresh lines she had written. She would have to find more tangible direction elsewhere. She sought out a battered deck of cards, shuffling through them with swift, well-practiced hands.

It was no use though, as the Fool and the High Priestess had been ruthlessly incinerated by an insolent teenager during her last reading. The girl would be very sorry when she confirmed what Sybill had told her about that shady boyfriend of hers. But the damage had already been done, and a deck rendered incomplete could offer no guidance.

...a very ancient and misunderstood branch of magic... She put the quill down again, staring out the window as she gave careful consideration to her objectives. Her reverie was interrupted by a tentative knock at the door.

Thought of future prospects temporarily pushed aside by the possibility of real and present customers, she hurried to the door, throwing on her most impressive (and last remaining) crystal necklace for effect.

To her immense disappointment, she was greeted shyly by Margaret the cleaning witch, who had only ever received one O.W.L. during her stint at Hogwarts, but was rather good at removing vomit stains from oak floorboards. Of the staff at the Hog's Head-an impertinent bunch, nearly as colorful as their clientele-she was the nicest, and she always treated Sybill with an air of fearful respect.

"Sorry to disturb you ma'am. Only someone's torn down your sign again, and I thought you should know." The shy smile quivered.

"Thank you, I shall see to it immediately." As Margaret turned to leave, Sybill reached out to her with a spindly finger. "Oh, and my dear," she said somberly, "be careful. Pluto is particularly bright, a sure omen of ill-health." Margaret shivered and departed quickly with a muttered 'thanks'. Sybill heard her suppress a sneeze.

Sybill remained where she was for a few minutes, letting a few precious minutes slip by for the sake of her image and her head. She never enjoyed the crowded atmosphere of the bar below and avoided it whenever food and funds permitted. It simply wasn't conducive to any sort of clear thought.

However, if circumstances beyond her control demanded her presence, who was she to resist? This early in the day, the crowd would be reasonably small and the atmosphere reasonably favorable for the free flow of psychic energies. It would not hurt, therefore to stay downstairs for a bit and seek out any weary souls who might benefit from her counsel.

She dressed herself quickly, in robes of gauzy lavender. They were a mite dingy, but that only added to the air of mystery befitting any self-respecting diviner. She summoned her remaining necklaces and talismans from scattered locations about the room, and stood in front of a small, grimy mirror, fitting in her looping earrings.

"Those don't do you no good," sneered the mirror. "You already look like the inside of a colorblind magpie's nest."

Sybill ignored it with a haughty sniff. While she was brushing her hair, her eyes drifted to the edge of the mirror where the letter was visible, staring scornfully at her back from the desk behind her. She would return to it later.

At last she departed, following Margaret's path past the barren walls of the short hallway. There were no portraits, holiday garlands, or even mirrors on the walls of the Hog's Head, the former because the owner was far too cheap to waste money on anything so frivolous as decoration, and the latter because the inn at the Hog's Head rarely served patrons who had any desire to see themselves.

She saw the sign before she reached the bottom of the stairs. The blank side of the parchment stared up at her, besmirched with footprints, as she took each step with an oddly slow gait: steady but filled with anticipation, like a cat on the prowl.

With an irritated flick of her wand, the sign was back in its proper place by the banister. She examined it with a frown. Someone with a juvenile sense of humor had removed the 'am' from Madam Trelawney. Another simple wand maneuver took care of that.

Satisfied that the sign was returned to its original state, Sybill turned to scan the pub. The letter burned ominously in the back of her mind, but she had other business to attend to. Moving like a large ornamented butterfly, she flitted delicately across the room, traveling in a meandering circle and pausing by loud conversations at dark tables.

The tavern was devoid of early-morning holiday shoppers, wrapped in winter cloaks to guard against the chilly fog. And though she had not ventured out that far, of late, she doubted that even the warmth of the Three Broomsticks would be welcoming its usual assortment of visitors. Even those few who could afford a Ministry escort did not venture out much these days, preferring to order things like Christmas goods by owl post.

At a large center table, a group of goblins sat, heads close together, obviously keen to avoid the prying ears of busier, friendly establishments. A pair of men in hooded cloaks sat in silence nearby, probably as keen to serve as prying ears.

She passed a hag she had seen the night before, still sitting with a cup of something that smelled of swamp gas, idly stacking hard, days-old ginger biscuits. The hag looked up from a vaguely house-shaped formation and gave Sybill a grim smile. Sybill moved on with her eyes firmly fixed on the ceiling.

"But if Dumbledore-"

Ears perked at mention of the familiar name, Sybill finally landed, to watch and wait in stillness.

"Shh! You never know who's listening in a place like this."

Two young women were sitting at a table nearby, looking around anxiously but not sparing more than a passing glance at Sybill. They looked tired and worn, lined beyond their years and with eyes darkened by more than the inefficient torchlight.

The girl with the concerns about espionage spoke again, in a low voice. Her plump cheeks were rather drawn and her light brown hair hung limp over her shoulders.

"That last was too close, much too close. I'm not sure what Dumbledore-"

"We're still alive, aren't we?" cut in her companion, a redhead not far past her teenage years.

The other muttered something Sybill did not hear, though intuition indicated a derisive tone.

"And he will be really displeased when he finds out how badly they've messed things up for themselves."

"That's not going to help us any, though! If anything it's going to make things worse. And you're in no condition to be involved with this anyway," she added primly.

"Neither are you."

"But I have more experience with this sort of thing. It's my job."

Sybill examined them more closely to determine what sort of condition they were in. It was not anything readily apparent, but she had suspicions. More than suspicions, in fact. There was a definite aura of destiny about them, and it was time for her to act on it.

She rose without attracting their notice, gliding through the shadows. She crept up slowly behind the table, and then swooped down on them like a bejeweled and glittering bird of prey.

"You are in grave danger," she said, in a voice as misty as the dense morning air, "as is your child. And this child's fate will be very important, very important indeed."

The women at the table jumped in surprise. They turned to face her, wild eyed, wand-hands clenched.

They both relaxed somewhat once they'd taken in Madam Trelawney's appearance.

"Important? Really," said one, green eyes still flashing. "What would you know about it?"

"Not that the path set for you and yours is less portentous," replied Sybill coolly, "for as much as the Signs pain me, I foresee many trials..." she faded off, meaningfully. "But I'm afraid I was talking to this young lady."

The redhead scoffed, but her friend was staring up at Sybill, eyes widening in her round face.

"Who are you?" she asked.

"Madam Sybill Trelawney, great-great-granddaughter of the illustrious Cassandra Trelawney. I am but a concerned Seer, with valuable insights on the shadowy avenues of destiny," she said, her voice drifting out in a silky, ethereal whisper.

"Yeah? What price?"

"I would not call it anything so vulgar as price. A small due, will of course be appreciated for my insights, the sum of which we may discuss-"

"That's what I thought. We've got enough to be going on with. We don't need another doomsday prophet. Come on, Alice."

But Alice was still staring at Sybill, eyes still wide with something that resembled pity. Sybill understood, of course. She too had had friends with minds too dull to accept anything that went beyond their comfortable, worldly dimensions.

"Your aura, my dear," she continued, looking past the unfortunate cynic in their midst, "proclaims you to be one who is more perceptive to the greater mysteries beyond the mundane world. Accompany me upstairs and learn what the future has in store for you."

"/Alice/," said her friend with a hint of warning.

"Oh, it won't hurt any, Lily. We might learn something useful." Lily looked as though she very much doubted this.

"This way," said Sybill with an elegant sweep of her arm.

They rose from their chairs. Sybill walked behind them, herding them forward like a sheepdog. They turned to glance at her occasionally, wary expressions on their faces.

Sybill determined that the soft looking one, Alice, was not someone to be underestimated, despite her unassuming round face and her kind eyes. The Inner Eye was very perceptive about these things. She carried herself with a straight, determined air and she walked with a brisk, purposeful stride.

When they reached the stairs one began speaking to the other, very quietly. Though her hearing wasn't nearly as sensitive as her less corporeal senses, Sybill could hear snatches of their whispered conversation.

"What the hell are we doing? You don't believe any of this rubbish, surely?"

"Well, there have been true Seers in the past, who were able to give immeasurable aid-"

"And you think she's one?"

"Er, I'm not, I mean, I don't-"

Lily snorted a bit too loudly. Alice elbowed her, and Sybill did not catch her next response.

"Don't be so quick to judge until we've heard her out. Besides, just look at her. The poor woman..." She trailed off, and they remained silent until they reached Sybill's doorway.

With a few graceful flicks of her wand, Sybill had cleared the desk of papers and moved it to the center of the small room. She indicated a chair beside it, and Alice sat down warily. Lily sat down on the bed, legs crossed and arms folded.

Sybill stepped lightly over to the closet, where her crystal ball sat on a top shelf. She dusted it off with one of her shawls, and set it on the desk in front of Alice.

She pulled the curtains shut and pointed her wand at the lamp, dimming it with a muttered incantation.

"Now, my dear," she said in her most ethereal tones, "stare into the eye of the luminescent orb."

Madam Trelawney began to move her hands around the crystal, occasionally obscuring it from view with her dangling lengths of shawl. Her eyes, greatly magnified by her glasses, were unnaturally bright. There was an uncomfortable silence. Alice stared dutifully into the glass; Lily rolled her eyes.

"Oh, my poor child..." said Sybill at last, "I perceived the dangers you faced, but this... this fate that awaits you, is so grim, so truly dire..."

Alice pursed her lips, but said nothing.

Lily chose that moment to unfold her arms and stand up. "Your crystal's cracked," she said.

"My dear girl, just because you do not wish to hear the inevitable, does not mean-"

"No, I meant literally. There's a hairline crack near the base."

Skeptical, Sybill turned the sphere around. There was indeed a small crack running up the side of the crystal.

"Can we go now?"

Alice rose hesitantly. "I'm sorry," she began.

"Wait, my dear!" said Sybill, her airy voice nearly breaking, "Your child! I assure you, your child, a beautiful little girl, will be a great heroine for the wizarding world."

Alice sat down again, sparing Lily a glance of ill-concealed discomfort.

"A girl, huh? Funny, that's not what the Mediwitch told you."

Alice shushed her, and turned back to Sybill. "But what about your crystal ball?" she asked, in a gentle tone often used for calming upset children.

Sybill put on a serene smile, though it did not reach her eyes, which were darting around the room in a swift search. "It is no matter. There are many paths of contact."

Her eyes locked onto something, and her lips tightened into a more fixed smile. "Accio."

A dead rat landed on the table. The trap it had been stuck in promptly sprung itself open. Both girls grimaced, but only slightly. They had seen horrors far more sickening than dead rats.

"Extispicy. The reading of entrails..." There was an odd edge to her voice now, and she was speaking a bit too quickly. Her smile looked a bit manic. She moved her wand-tip to the rodent's abdomen. "...a very ancient and respected form-"

She stopped speaking when Alice placed a soft hand on her own.

"I think we have heard quite enough for today." She squeezed Sybill's hand, as if to reassure her, though Sybill wasn't sure what of.

"Finally," muttered Lily.

"You have given us a lot to think about, and I thank you for your warnings." She didn't look quite as earnest as Sybill would have liked. "But we really do have things we need to do today, and I'm afraid we're a bit low on time."

"That is all right, my dear," replied Sybill, rather sullenly. "Perhaps we will meet again someday."

Lily muttered something that sounded like, "you mean you don't know?" which Sybill ignored.

"Perhaps." Alice smiled.

"Farewell then," she said, "and beware the many perils that lurk in the darkness."

"That we will," said Lily, grimly.

Alice reached for her hand again, sliding a few coins into her palm, and gave her one last, uncertain, pitying glance.

They departed. Sybill stood in the doorway and watched their retreating forms, her fingers curled around the side of the door, pressed down hard enough to blanch. A heavy sadness crept through her as they disappeared across the hall, around the banister, down the stairs. Doom was imminent, alas, and there was little more she could do for them if they did not want to listen.

And it went deeper than that. It did not take the Gift to see how things were, and she was not a fool.

The door slammed shut behind her when she finally released it, with a flick of her wrist and a turn of her heel. But it was the hall she entered, and not the bedroom. She counted the coins that had been hastily emptied into her hands as she walked, by feel rather than sight.

She reentered the pub with nary a glance in her direction. She wondered at that. An impressive figure, she supposed, could stay too long in any place and sink into the monotony of daily life. There was no reverence for a Seer in a place like this. It was a sad mark of their times that someone with her talents could find herself in circumstances such as these.

At the bar she ordered a large bowl of stew without an extra word to the barmaid. She rapped her fingers on the bar while she waited, staring unseeing at the far wall. Her meal arrived without delay, and the smell immediately seized her by the nostrils. Unable to keep any semblance of dignity, she fell on the thick, glutinous, artery-choking mass with an approving snarl from her empty stomach.

Her mind drifted back to Alice and Lily, to the girl who had destroyed her tarot cards, to the jaded young professor and his kappa bite, to a plethora of minds clouded by condescension. That was another mark of the times: reluctance, unwillingness, ignorance. The ever-omnipotent Hand of Fate was not accepted for general consumption. These were dark times, and yet she was surrounded by a public who routinely refused lanterns.

Another spoonful and the stew was all but gone. Sybill slid her finger along the bowl to get the last few drops. Her head felt clearer as a revelation danced across her brain, fueled, perhaps, by the insight of a full stomach. Yes, it was ignorance that was the problem. Education was the cure. And she now had enough silver sickles to rent a single post owl. She had a letter to finish.

Once she was upstairs, and the rat and other unsavory rubbish had been properly disposed of, she looked across at the pile of papers on the floor beside her desk. She searched through them with renewed enthusiasm. It did not take her long to find the letter she had started that morning, and she placed it on the desk before her with a flourish.

She finished writing without hesitation, this time, blocking any uneasy questions from her mind. The raven feather moved feverishly over the page, with fervor and furor and desperate resolution. Her hand shook slightly as she dotted the final 'i' above her looping signature.

She read it over, nodding at key phrases, and satisfied at last, she rolled up the parchment. She slipped her the quill into her handbag for safe-keeping.

She departed without further preparation this time, and in a few moments she was stepping out onto damp cobblestones beneath a bitter gray sky. There was a promise of rain in the air, late but not unseasonable. Soon the ground would disappear under the first December snow, and later Capricorn would burn bright in the night sky, in the 10th House, if she was lucky. She gazed up at the towers of the nearby castle, just visible over the shingled roofs of the village, their windows emanating light and warmth through the mist.

The windows of the post office were well-lit but plainly decorated. She marched past the 'Wanted' posters hanging by the doorway, pulling her cloak in tighter around her, trying to suppress the grim unease that suddenly gripped her.

A few Sickles later and she had employed the use of an overexcited little Scops owl. She signed for it and wrote out the delivery destination with Cassandra Trelawney's raven feather quill. With some difficulty, she tied the letter to the bird's leg. Without delay, the owl skittered out of one of the large windows, perpetually open but enchanted to keep out the cold.

The owl flew out and up, over a village where her craft was considered unsavory. She watched the bird depart, realizing as she did that a strange feeling had slid in from some locked portion of her mind and seeped into the pit of her stomach, creeping unseen. She was in the grips of something like uncertainty, which was impossible, surely, because Sybill Trelawney was never uncertain, not in such an ingrained and profound way.

For if she allowed herself to feel something like uncertainty her stability would crumble and she might be consumed by other emotions. Hope, and even fear-the twin specters of doubt that hovered before an ambiguous future; they might be integral to the human condition, certainly, but they were sure to suffocate the Inner Eye.

The letter disappeared from view, though Sybill had yet to look away from the window. The quill was stilled clutched in her hand. She continued to stare out at the dark, bleak sky, waiting for the uncertainty of her own future to overwhelm her. Much to her surprise, it didn't.

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