Although the doors separated the old man and himself from the voices inside, they could hear every word.
A woman shrieked. "No! NO! This cannot be happening ... it cannot ... I refuse to accept it!"
Vulgar, he thought. And excessive.
"Wait here until I signal for you," whispered the old man to him, winking.
From within, the charade continued. "There, there, Sybill, calm down, you are not going to have to leave Hogwarts."
The old man raised his wand ...
"Oh really, Professor McGonagall? And your authority for that statement is... ?" This came from a new voice, cloying but definitely venomous; he deduced this was the female that he had been warned about.
The doors swung open, and Albus Dumbledore entered the front hall of Hogwarts.
Left behind on the front lawn with his own thoughts, he shook his head, saddened. Deceit, he thought. Sham and artifice.
"No -- no, I'll g -- go, Dumbledore! I sh -- shall -- leave Hogwarts and s -- seek my fortune elsewhere --"
"No", said Dumbledore sharply. "It is my wish that you remain, Sybill."
I have renounced my place in the herd. My life.
Life amongst a race of frauds.
He closed his eyes, letting the shame wash over him.
Oh, get over yourself!
He almost cried out in surprise as another voice -- female -- invaded his thoughts. Get ready, will you?
"The Ministry has the right to appoint a suitable candidate if -- and only if -- the Headmaster is unable to find one", said Dumbledore, from within. "And I am happy to say that on this occasion I have succeeded. May I introduce you?"
He straightened, hearing his cue. A few moments ago the weather had been clear, but suddenly for some reason the centaur found himself standing in a small, and obviously unnatural, fog bank.
"This is Firenze", said Dumbledore happily to a thunderstruck Umbridge. "I think you'll find him suitable."
Showtime, thought Firenze, shuddering, as he went to meet his destiny.
Earlier that afternoon in Classroom Eleven, the Chair of the Hogwarts Faculty Peer Review Committee paused to finish her tea, remaining calm as the enraged centaur galloped about the shade trees, looking for something or someone to kick to pieces. She peered at the bottom of the cup, then thought better of it.
"Are you finished yet?" she called out. Furious grunts and the crash of splintering wood were the only response. Wincing at the racket, she poured herself another cup, topping it off with a generous splash from her flask.
The dispirited centaur returned to her side. "Got that out of your system, have you?" she asked, not unkindly.
"I can never accept your mendacious ways, human!"
"Too bad", she replied, taking a sip. "I guess we'll just have to throw you back with your old friends."
"It would be death for me to return to the Forest."
"Umm-hmm, and we can both imagine what Mademoiselle La Grenouille would do with you, given the opportunity. Probably something involving a glue factory."
"Your insults mean nothing to me, fortune-teller!"
She peered at him through her thick glasses. "It really would be better for both of us if you would just take a good long drink," said Sybill Trelawney, offering him her flask for the third time.
"I am not thirsty."
"More for me, then," she reasoned. "Sit down, Firenze."
He glared at her. "Oh, yes, well -- whatever," she mumbled by way of apology. "So, you've taught the foals, have you?"
"It is the duty of every adult of the herd -- "
"A simple yes would do," she interjected with asperity. "And do you really expect me to believe that the young ones show unlimited respect and attention to their teachers?"
"Much more than you humans do!"
"Oh, get off your high horse. I have too much respect for your intelligence to believe that you really think that for a second!"
Firenze started to react, but something in Sybill's voice stopped him. "Dumbledore asked me to keep an eye on you, Firenze," she said. "And I always do what Dumbledore tells me to do."
He was silent. "I've been teaching children for sixteen years. A fraction of your lifespan, granted, but enough to get an idea that the foals of intelligent creatures have more in common than you credit them for."
She stood, and peered up into his face. "You've the makings of a good teacher, but you will never capture their imaginations if you don't learn to be a showman."
"The Muggles have a phrase -- 'you gotta have a gimmick.' Mine is the Absent-Minded Seer. It helps that I'm really as blind as a bat, so I actually need these ugly glasses. Then I dress up like a Laura Ashley scarecrow and lay on a load of Muggle fortune-teller balderdash -- " She went into her classroom mode: "You must have the Inner Eye! You must look -- " she threw her arms in the air with great drama -- "BEYOND!"
"Well, of course it's nonsense! Look at me, Firenze, I'm a Divination teacher! Have you ever heard of anything so stupid in you life? How do you teach Divination? I might as well be teaching them how to chew their food!"
Firenze seemed to be taken aback at Sybill's bluntness. "So, you admit..."
"That I'm a fraud? As a teacher, yes. As a seer, no. But it keeps their attention, at least long enough for me to try to get some sense of the Universe into them." She sat down, realized her tea was cold, shrugged, and drank directly from the flask.
"How do you exist like this, you humans?" cried Firenze. "How do you abide such a life of denial, and pretense?"
She took pity on him -- but only to a point. "Albus Dumbledore and I are probably not the best role models for the behavior of humans," she admitted. "Whenever I feel a bit ashamed at my behavior in class, I just pop over to a faculty meeting and gape in wonder at Dumbledore conducting the choir. But not all humans are as phony as Albus, or myself, or, Merlin help us, Dolores Umbridge."
She examined the flask, realized it was empty, and sighed. "Did the headmaster tell you how he had come to hire me?" she asked.
"He said you had the Inner Eye."
"I do have the Inner Eye, and I had a Sight the first time I met him. But he didn't hire me as a teacher because of that." Again she peered at him, and again he was unnerved at the unflinching gaze from behind those huge lenses. "And why do you think he hired you?" she asked.
"Exactly. Umbridge is going to try to fire me, and she'll positively have tadpoles when she sees you, but Albus will prevail. I can See it with my Inner Eye" She could have been over-optimistic, but she thought she saw the hint of a smile cross the centaur's face. "My fate is inscribed in the heavens, because ... well, no one else has the patience, not with these children. Yours is inscribed, because The Boy Who Lived will need you."
"And so speaks your Inner Eye?" asked Firenze.
Yes, she thought, that is a smile.
"Aye, and it is true Sight. And as to the Dark Lord ... well, even an old charlatan like me can See Mars and Saturn, my friend," she said quietly. "Your herd and mine can run from it, but they can't hide."
Firenze looked to the skies, and Sybill followed his gaze. "Dumbledore and I know we can't teach the foals to be Seers," she said. "But we can at least get them to look up."
"Let us begin", said Firenze.
He swished his long palomino tail, raised his hand towards the leafy canopy overhead, then lowered it slowly, and as he did so, the light in the room dimmed, so that they now seemed to be sitting in a forest clearing by twilight, and stars appeared on the ceiling. There were oohs and gasps and Ron said audibly, "Blimey!"
"Lie back on the floor", said Firenze in his calm voice, "and observe the heavens. Here is written, for those who can see, the fortune of our races."
Sybill, who couldn't have stopped herself from listening if she'd wanted to, laughed out loud. Don't worry, Albus. He'll do just fine.
A/N: I have liberally plagiarized from Chapters 26 and 27 of Harry Potter and the Order Of The Phoenix. Anyone who has not figured out on their own that this is the intellectual property of J. K. Rowling needs to pay better attention.
This story originally appeared on The Sugar Quill. My thanks to The Morning Starr and Bucktavius for their intelligent and perceptive beta work. This story is entirely the fault of Alfonso Cuarón, for casting the luscious and brilliant Emma Thompson. I think of my humble tale as an attempt to bring Ms. Trelawney up to Ms. Thompson's standards ;)