The character and settings in this story come from J. K. Rowling. They are all hers.
It is as if she has been called out of sleep by a loud voice. She gasps and sits upright, looking around for the one who called her.
But there is no sound. The dormitory is as dark as blindness and her roommates are stonily asleep. No one has awakened her. Occasionally during her life she has come awake suddenly, gasping and disoriented, probably because she was sleeping in the wrong position and had been breathing badly. When such things happen she usually lies back down and goes immediately back to sleep.
But this time is different.
She has the strongest sense of being summoned, of being pulled from her dreams by something or somebody urgent who will not be gainsaid. She cannot place it, but she feels sure that something terrible is happening and that she must help. Confused and bewildered, she opens the curtains of her bed and swings her bare feet onto the floor.
As she begins to dress in the darkness, the sense of urgency intensifies. The feeling is familiar, like a strain of music one almost remembers but cannot quite place. This music might be a march, or paean, or a call to arms, or a dirge; it is insistent, it is frightened, it is sad, it is hopeful. She begins to hurry, slipping her feet quickly into trainers and throwing her robes over her head. As she seizes her wand, she herself is suddenly seized by the most powerful feeling of déjà vu she has ever experienced. She has picked up this wand, with this hand, from this table, in this darkness, with this same odd feeling of feet without socks in her shoes and this same fuzziness in her head, a dozen times before.
She walks quickly to the door of the dormitory and leaves in silence.
Now she can place the déjà vu. This is the dream she has had, usually several times a year, since she was old enough to remember. It is relentlessly consistent: Always she grabs the same wand, she hurries down the stairs (as she is doing now), she runs down a long corridor, faster and faster in order to face … something. But she has never found out what it is she must face, nor why it is so desperately important, before awaking. All she has known, in the dream, is that everything somehow depends on getting where she is going, that she, and only she, can do what must be done, and that the consequences if she fails are so terrible that they cannot be named.
Now she is frightened. She does not know whether she has ever believed in "destiny," but the awful, consistent clarity of her dream, and the fact that it matches every movement of her feet and every breath in her mouth, gives her to understand that her life, somehow, has been leading to this moment. This will be the thing she was born to do. But she has no notion of what she is supposed to do, and the weight of it is terrible and lonely.
She picks up her pace as she crosses the common room; she is no longer merely walking; she begins to trot. She pushes her way through the portrait hole as if the Furies are behind her. Which way to go? In the dream she has always been certain, but now she is not sure.
All at once she knows who has called her.
He is here. Somehow, somewhere in the castle, he has returned to her. She cannot say how she knows, but she is certain. Her heart would sing with joy if her certainty were not coupled with a cold, piercing understanding that he is in grave peril. Without her, she is sure, he will fall, and he is – that way. Still not knowing how she knows, she turns left and heads in the direction of the lowest dungeons near the roots of the castle.
Her steps echo as she jogs down stone passages and rushes down stairs. She tries to calm herself, to think rationally, to plan out contingencies for what she may find when she arrives at her destination – wherever her destination is. But it is futile. She is completely and fully in the Now, and her dreams, though they have surely happened in the past, seem but reinforcements of this current moment. The future does not exist. The past does not exist. There is only this instant, in which she is hurrying along a darkened, subterranean hallway to find the man she loves and save him from some fate she cannot see.
It briefly flashes across her mind that she has never used that phrase – "the man I love" – to describe him, whether to herself, to him or to anyone else. She has spoken of their closeness and affection so lightly, as if using easier words would make the doing easier. But now she longs to look him in the eyes and say that precise old cliché, "I love you." Desperately she wonders whether she will ever get the chance.
She knows she is heading in the right direction; but she begins to sense the ticking of a clock, the whisper of sand in an hourglass, the creaking of a mighty tree as it begins to fall. Time is not her friend.
She is running flat-out now, grateful for the conditioning of her Quidditch practice. Ahead, she begins to hear vague shouts and cracks and explosions, as of a struggle fully underway. She sprints even faster, knowing that she is almost there, that just around the corner she will see what she needs to do. With all doubt suddenly gone, she knows that she will be able to do it. Her fear, desperation and love mingle with a strange, fierce kind of joy.
Flying down the darkened hall, Ginny does not see the portrait of the ancient witch whose eyes follow her as she runs. The portrait's eyes are filled with terror, and with pity, and with old, old sorrow.
Thanks to Viridian, Runsamok, Antosha, Sovran and Something Flowery who acted as pre-betas for this chapter and Ilovecats, who acted as beta. This prologue has some markings of Frank Herbert in it; they're not really intentional but he was such a master of describing echoes in the mind that anyone who tries it sounds like they're imitating him. Also, an important realization of Ginny's near the end of the prologue is cribbed from C. S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters.