September 1st, 1976
The first feast of the new academic year was in full swing when John Constantine arrived at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, in what was described as the most elaborate entrance the school had seen in living memory.
The headmaster had just begun his welcome speech when it happened.
When Professor Dumbledore rose to his feet, the chattering students immediately fell silent. He beamed at the students, new and old, and spoke in a loud, clear voice for all to hear in the Great Hall.
“Welcome!” he greeted them cheerfully. “Welcome to a new year at Hogwarts! I hope that you have all had a pleasant summer holiday. Before we begin our feast, I have an important announcement to make. I am pleased to introduce a new teacher to our ranks this year. Professor Constantine, who…” Dumbledore glanced around at the empty chair beside Minerva McGonagall and chuckled. “Incidentally has yet to arrive at the school, has kindly consented to fill the post of Defence the Dark Arts teacher.”
Minerva glowered at the empty seat as though it had personally caused her offence. If there was one thing she hated more than losing a game of Quidditch, it was tardiness: she hadn’t even met this fellow yet and already she disliked him. Professor Slughorn chortled beside her, “Traditionally the longest anyone has remained in the post of Defence Master is a year, but I’ve never met anyone who didn’t last a single day. We may have a new record.”
“Well, he better be dead or dying in a ditch somewhere. There’s no excuse otherwise for missing the welcoming feast,” she quipped. Horace laughed heartily, his large midriff jiggling as he did so.
“You are wicked, Minerva,” he said appraisingly. “While we’re on the subject, will you be partaking in the death pool this year?”
“Certainly not,” she bristled. “Predicting the demise of our colleagues is as unprofessional as it is morbid.”
“Oh come now, it’s all in good fun!” he laughed, spearing his lamb chop with a sharp knife. “And it’s not as though all of them die; most of them quit before the year’s up.”
“Or leave due to some grievous injury,” she pointed out darkly. Slughorn shrugged carelessly.
“It is Defence the Dark Arts, my dear. Death and dismemberment - it comes with the territory.”
Suddenly screams of horror rang out across the hall. Minerva looked across the room, alarmed.
“What’s going on?” she asked sharply. Her query was quickly answered as several students and a couple of teachers pointed towards the ceiling, wide-eyed and gaping with fear. Minerva followed their eyeline and gasped. Beneath the starry night sky of the enchanted ceiling, a large portal had appeared. The vortex of swirling flames roared, drowning out the screams of the fleeing students who scarpered in all directions. Horace yelled and fell out of his seat, his rotund figure crashing to the floor and shaking the ground beneath their feet. Instinctively Minerva jumped to her feet and raised her wand, but Dumbledore held out his hand and bellowed, “Stand down, Minerva!”
She couldn’t help but draw the headmaster a fierce look, but she did as she was instructed.
“Are you mad?” she cried. “There’s a flaming portal to Merlin knows where directly below the majority of the student body! We need to protect them!”
“They are quite safe,” Dumbledore assured her. Without further explanation, he rose to his feet and strode towards the portal. The few remaining inhabitants of the Great Hall watched with morbid fascination as he stood under the fiery hellhole and looked up as though he were expecting to see something. What was he going to do?
An unearthly scream suddenly rang out through the hall and the remaining students dived for cover under the tables, covering their heads with their arms. The eerie voice made the hairs on the back of Minerva’s neck stand on end - it sounded as though someone was being tortured. In a flash, Dumbledore drew his wand and pointed it at the ground beneath the vortex and several plump purple cushions appeared out of thin air. Before Minerva could even think how ineffective that piece of magic would be in banishing the vortex, something - or more accurately, someone - fell through the portal and hit the pile of cushions with such force that several of them exploded, sending goose feathers in all directions.
In a blink of an eye, the portal had vanished and a stunned silence followed the sudden appearance of the stranger. Dumbledore pocketed his wand and stepped towards the mystery man sprawled across the pillows. Minerva didn’t immediately recognise him - his brown trench coat was filthy, his shirt and trousers equally so. His sandy blonde hair was long and matted, and his hands and face blackened with soot. Steam rose off of his body like he was a roast that had just been removed from the oven. For a moment Minerva wasn’t sure if the man was unconscious or dead, but then he groaned and rolled over onto his back, staring up at the headmaster with a dazed expression.
“Hello, John,” Dumbledore greeted him brightly. “You’re late.”