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2012 Writer's Duel: A New Kind of Love by HPFF United
Format: Short story collection
Chapter 18: Phoenix Flames by DracoFerret11
Outside the mullioned windows, the sun was setting below the Dark Forest. Albus Dumbledore stood in his office, his back to the brilliant colors illuminating the sky. On a perch beside the door, a large scarlet bird stood, carefully watching the Headmaster as he read a letter from Nurmengard Prison.
Albus sighed and placed the letter on his desk again. He hadn’t spoken to Gellert Grindelwald in fifty-one years, why would his former-friend choose to write to him now? He shook his head—it wasn’t important. He had already decided that he wasn’t going to respond.
Crossing the room, Albus reached out to the phoenix that still hadn’t looked away from him.
“I will be fine, Fawkes,” the aged man murmured, stroking his pet with a withered, blackened hand.
Fawkes moved carefully to step onto Dumbledore’s arm so the Headmaster could carry him to the desk. As he sat in his high-backed chair, Fawkes shifted to perch on his knee, resting his head against Dumbledore’s palm while large, shiny tears dripped down his face.
“This is one ill that you cannot heal,” he murmured to his oldest friend, deeply touched by the phoenix’s concern for him. “This hurt goes deeper than just a charred hand…I regret that I have to say that I am dying, my dear friend.”
The phoenix’s tears fell harder, as if he was trying desperately to prove his companion wrong. They had been together for nearly a hundred years; Fawkes didn’t want to say goodbye just yet.
Albus’ smile faltered as he watched his phoenix’s distress. They had been through so much together. Stroking the bird’s scarlet head, he remembered the day Fawkes came into his life:
“You don’t know what you’re talking about, Albus,” Gellert snapped. They were standing in the kitchen of Albus’ home in Godric’s Hollow. The early morning light was filtering through the windows, brightening a scene that couldn’t have been more serious.
“I’ve changed my mind, Gellert,” Albus scolded his younger friend. “I don’t think domination is the right way to go about things. We aren’t on top of the world! The rules still apply to us!”
“You disgust me,” Gellert hissed, turning on his heel and wrenching the door open to the garden. Albus quickly followed the boy he loved, hoping desperately that this was an argument they could overcome…if only Gellert would listen to reason.
Outside, the sunlight blinded the two young wizards, causing them to pause in their spat to blink the white spots from their vision. Maybe if they had paused longer, Albus thought, things would have turned out differently.
“Gellert…” Albus said quietly, running a hand through his auburn hair in frustration and slowly approaching his friend, “Gellert, please…we can find a different way to change the world. We can still be in this together.”
The sixteen-year-old wizard looked furious. He pursed his lips and drew his wand, glaring at Dumbledore from only a few feet away.
“If you take one more step, Albus, I won’t be responsible for what I do,” he warned, his eyes narrowing. “Stay away from me.”
Albus closed his eyes, trying to hide the pain he was feeling at his best friend’s rejection. He really had believed that he and Gellert would be together forever, but he could no longer agree with the direction that his friend was taking in his path towards power.
Opening his eyes, he stared sadly at Gellert Grindelwald for only one more moment before making one of the most terrible decisions of his life: he stepped forward.
Later, looking back on it, Albus wouldn’t be able to remember why he had done it. Was he trying to prove that he wasn’t afraid of his friend? Was he being arrogant and daring Gellert to start a fight? It didn’t matter. Once he had taken that one step, Gellert’s wand whipped through the air, beginning the first battle that the two powerful young men would endure and breaking their friendship forever.
Albus stumbled backwards as Gellert’s first curse hit him. He drew his own wand, tears pooling in his eyes—the boy he loved had attacked him, and now he was forced to defend himself. He had no desire to curse Gellert, but he had left Albus with no choice. Things had gone too far and now there was no other option but to duel his best friend.
“Don’t be soft, Albus!” Gellert yelled furiously, throwing curse after curse at his friend. “Fight back!”
Albus knew he couldn’t defend himself forever. If there was another wizard in the world who could match him for skill, it was Gellert Grindelwald. He had to incapacitate his friend before someone saw their duel—Muggles lived nearby; they were at risk of exposing their entire world.
Hesitantly, Albus began to fight back, his wand lashing through the air as he attempted to stun, curse, or disarm his opponent. And then, shockingly, everything changed. In one moment, Albus’ world was turned upside down:
A scream rang out from somewhere to Albus’ left. He turned to find the source, recognizing his sister’s voice and praying she was just upset by the display of violence she’d seen. Ariana was slumped against the house, her eyes dull. Albus felt bile rise in his mouth, fearing the worst. He quickly turned back to face Gellert, just in time to see the second most-horrifying thing that day:
A flash of green light emitted from Gellert’s wand and Albus’ blue eyes widened as he realized his friend was trying to kill him. Before he had the chance to leap out of the way, a burst of flame erupted before him and a glorious scarlet bird appeared, swallowing the jet of green light and turning into fire once more, falling to the earth as a pile of ashes.
Gellert stood, shocked at this change in the battle, surprised for just long enough for Albus to shoot a stunner directly at his chest. Gellert stumbled backwards, his eyes losing focus for a moment. He regained his balance and took one last look at Albus before turning on his heel and disapparating.
Albus had no time to mourn Gellert’s departure. He stumbled to the side of the house, his bright blue eyes already filling with tears.
“Ariana?” he choked. “Ariana, please…please, no…” He knelt beside his younger sister’s still body. Her blonde hair was spread around her face like a halo. Had her eyes not been open and staring into nothingness, she would have looked like a sleeping angel, lying gracefully in the dew-damp morning grass.
Albus reached forward and gently smoothed her eyelids down, gathering her in his arms and rocking her back and forth as he cried. This was his fault. It didn’t matter whose spell had hit her; this was his fault. If only he hadn’t been so selfishly absorbed in his own quest for power…if only he had paid more attention, noticed more…maybe Ariana would still be alive.
He sat, holding his sister’s body for a long time, knowing that everything had now changed. Nothing would ever be how it was again. Gellert was gone, Ariana was dead, and he could be assured that his brother Aberforth was never going to speak to him again.
Albus took a deep breath and wiped his eyes on one sleeve. He still couldn’t breathe or even think completely clearly, but he knew that he had things to do. Carefully lying Ariana down, he decided first to check on what had saved his life in the duel against Gellert. He pulled out his wand and inched slowly towards the pile of ashes still smoking on the garden path. The closer he got, Albus could hear small chirping noises emitting from the cinders.
Curiously, he prodded the pile of ashes with the tip of his wand and, to his great surprise, the head of a tiny, shriveled bird poked out. Despite everything that had happened, Albus’ face broke into a smile. He knew what this was. He could barely believe his eyes, but his studies weren’t in vain—he was crouched face-to-face with a phoenix, one who had just swallowed a killing curse for him.
“Hello,” Albus murmured, scooping the tiny bird into his large palms. It cooed at him and looked trustingly into his eyes. Albus’ tried to swallow the lump that rose in his throat. “It’s just you and me now…” he whispered, his voice breaking. “I’m sorry we have to meet under circumstances like this.”
The phoenix blinked slowly and raised its tiny, damp wings to attempt to gain enough balance to stand.
Albus smiled again, his blue eyes filling with tears. As he watched the bird, a name flashed into his mind.
“Fawkes?” he asked quietly. “Is that your name?”
Albus had experienced enough of the magical world to know that he had no reason to question how this animal was able to communicate with him. There was enough on his hands without wondering that yet.
Fawkes chirped quietly and Albus nodded.
“Into my pocket, for now, I think,” he reasoned, sliding the little phoenix into a fold in his robes. “I have things to deal with.”
As he turned back to the house, his brother immerged. Aberforth spared only one look at Albus before turning to his sister’s body. Instantly, all Hell broke loose.
Shaking his head to rid himself of the memory of his sister’s death and his brother’s rejection, Albus Dumbledore turned back to the phoenix on his knee. It had been nearly a hundred years since Ariana’s death, but he still felt it every day. It had been an accident, yes, but that didn’t matter. He still played a part in what had happened, and for that, he would never forgive himself.
He could have died that day, though, and there was a very blatant reason why he hadn’t: the phoenix still perched on his knee. Fawkes had come from thin air, literally, to save Albus’ life. The Headmaster couldn’t explain just why it had happened, but the bond between the two was irrevocably strong. They had spent nearly every waking moment together since that day. If there was anyone in the world that Albus could tell everything to, it was his phoenix.
Fawkes finally looked up from Dumbledore’s hand, his tears abating as he accepted that this injury could not be cured by phoenix tears. The elderly wizard stretched his crippled hand and tucked it into his pocket, smiling at his pet.
“It will be fine, Fawkes,” he assured the bird. “Thank you for trying.”
The phoenix settled down, his black eyes still shining with moisture. Albus could tell that Fawkes didn’t easily accept that he could not help his companion, but he knew that the bird was exceptionally intelligent as well…he understood what was happening.
“We’ve been through quite a lot together, haven’t we?” the Headmaster said quietly. “I will sincerely miss you when I am gone…”
Fawkes began to sing softly, comforting Albus and himself as they sank back into the world of memories:
“I know I have to face him, Fawkes,” Albus said quietly as he sat in his office one night. It was very late, he noticed, glancing down at a strange watch with twelve hands and tiny planets moving around its edges. The phoenix on the other side of the room cooed softly. Albus smiled. “Don’t worry,” he said reassuringly. “I know Gellert…I know how he will choose to fight me…and I know I will win.”
He sighed, his eyebrows knitting together. The last thing he had ever wanted to do was duel the man he loved for a second time. Their first battle had ended terribly enough…but this was something that had to be done. There was no turning back. Gellert had gone too far in his desires to become a Dark wizard and rule over Muggles—he had to be stopped, and Albus was the only one who could do it.
Double-checking that he had everything he needed, Albus whistled softly to Fawkes who glided onto his arm. There seemed to be a heavy weight resting on Albus’ chest. He wondered vaguely if he would be able to travel in such a weighed-down state, but the moment that Fawkes settled onto his arm, there was a flash of flames, and they were gone.
The moor where they landed was nearly pitch-black, but Albus knew that Gellert would be here soon. He had been closely monitoring him with Legilimency for several weeks. There was no doubt that he knew Dumbledore was coming for him—he would show up.
A strong wind whipped through the few trees on the hilltop, swirling around Albus and Fawkes, ruffling robes and feathers, chilling them slightly. It was still the middle of summer, mid-July, but a sudden cold ran over the area, signaling Gellert Grindelwald’s arrival.
“Albus,” a cold voice said from behind the Transfiguration professor.
Albus turned slowly, Fawkes balanced carefully on his arm, a comical location for such a large bird.
“Gellert,” he replied calmly, drawing himself up to his full height which easily towered over the other wizard.
“We both know why you’re here, Albus,” Grindelwald said bluntly, not even slightly intimidated by his opponent. “You think you can convince me to ‘come quietly.’ You think you can convince me to conform to what the Ministry says I should do. Don’t you understand? I have been above your precious laws for years! There’s nothing you can do to stop me now!”
Albus continued to smile as Fawkes took flight, carefully circling the two wizards. The wind strengthened, blowing the phoenix off-course and forcing Albus to regain his footing. He would not be defeated by a simple gale, he thought sternly.
“You cannot continue with how you’ve been going about things, Gellert,” Albus replied. “You’re hurting people…and I can’t allow that.”
Grindelwald laughed coldly.
“You disappoint me, Albus,” he taunted. “You weren’t always such a Muggle-lover. It really does disgust me how soft you’ve become. Do you even have the stomach to fight me anymore?”
“This is a mistake, Gellert. The Aurors are on their way…you will be going to prison for your crimes. Fighting me will just make things worse for you.”
Grindelwald’s face contorted into a mask of rage. For a man who had once been quite attractive, he had become bitter, withered, and cruel with age. Nearly fifty years had passed since their fight in the garden at Godric’s Hollow, but Albus remembered it like it was yesterday. Their differences divided them, and things would never have worked out for the better…it had all come down to this: a battle on a lonely hilltop in the dead of night, surrounded by the howl of the wind and a faint whisper of phoenix-song.
“Your bird won’t save you this time, Albus,” Grindelwald warned, drawing his wand. “This is between you and me…this is the end of it all.”
Albus reluctantly pulled out his own wand. He knew his former-friend was right…this was the end of it all. As soon as his opponent’s wand was raised, Grindelwald bowed and began a battle that would become one of the most famous in wizarding history.
The two wizards slashed their wands through the air with unimaginable speed, countering and blocking one another’s spells. Jets of multi-colored light illuminated the scrub grass and gnarly bushes that the combatants only barely managed not to trip over. Albus’ gray-tinged auburn hair flew behind him in a spectacular halo as he parried Grindelwald’s blows, dodging curses and hexes with the ease of a man half his age.
“Just give up!” Grindelwald yelled as an ugly maroon cloud shot from his wand towards Dumbledore. “You can’t beat me. I have the most powerful wand in the world! I am the most powerful wizard in the world! Walk away, Albus. Walk away and I will not pursue you.”
Albus didn’t reply. He had never been one to taunt an opponent during a duel; he had more important things to concentrate on. A beam of golden light danced from his wand to dissipate the menacing red cloud; he prepared for the next onslaught. Surprisingly, it didn’t come.
Grindelwald froze as the night air filled with the popping sounds of Aurors apparating onto the hill. They quickly surrounded the two great wizards, expecting to be able to take Grindelwald into custody easily—that wouldn’t be happening.
The Dark wizard threw his wand up and began a new assault on Dumbledore, desperate to at least win the battle against his nemesis, if he couldn’t escape prison. The Aurors were casting anti-disapparition spells around Grindelwald and Dumbledore; there wasn’t much else they could do to help.
A black cloud surrounded the dueling pair, blocking them from sight. Spells shot back and forth, crackling in the darkness and fizzling as they missed their marks. Finally, desperate to end the battle, Dumbledore let out a piercing whistle, calling Fawkes back to him. Grindelwald shrieked in anger.
“Leave your bird out of this, Albus! We both know he has nothing to do with our quarrel!”
“He is merely here as a precaution, Gellert,” Albus replied calmly, firing another spell at the man who had once been his dear friend. Gellert parried Albus’ attack and responded with a wildly-shot curse. Albus threw up a shield spell just in time, forcing the curse to rebound. Then, without warning, as Fawkes dove between them, Albus used a spell that Grindelwald would have thought to be far too elementary—the Expelliarmus charm.
The Elder wand flew through the air in a graceful arc, landing at Albus’ feet where he stooped quickly to pick it up. From where he stood, Gellert took three steps forward, his eyes widening in shock.
“Albus,” he murmured, before falling to his knees. Albus hurried forward as the black cloud began to slowly dissolve. There was blood blossoming from Gellert’s neck—the spell that had rebounded had hit him.
Desperately, Albus turned to Fawkes, knowing the phoenix was the last hope in saving the dying man’s life. He may have made the wrong choices, but at one point he had meant the world to Albus and he didn’t want him to die.
Fawkes swooped over to the pair of wizards and landed lightly on the grass beside Gellert’s chest, leaning down to let soft tears fall onto his wound and heal him.
Gellert looked curiously into Albus’ eyes and nodded. They were through. Albus had won. He had also saved Gellert’s life whether or not they would ever speak of it. As the Aurors surrounded him, Gellert finally looked away, admitting defeat.
Albus stood and beckoned to Fawkes, and together, the two of them left the scene.
Dumbledore shook his head once more, bringing himself back to Fawkes’ song and trying to blink the tears from his eyes. He had only done what was necessary. He had to stop Gellert before he hurt anyone else…but he had sent his best friend to prison for the rest of his life.
He looked back down at the letter resting on his desk. It didn’t say much. Gellert was simply requesting Albus’ visit. He didn’t say he had changed, and Albus knew he hadn’t. There was no redemption for that man, as hard as that was to accept. Sighing, Albus turned back to the softly-singing phoenix, the one creature that had been with him through the hardest times in his life, the one creature that had saved his life countless times and the lives of those important to him. Fawkes had healed Gellert all those years ago, knowing without Albus having to say, that he would never have been able to live with himself if his former-friend had died at his hand. The bond between man and phoenix was undeniably strong. After nearly a hundred years, the two were inseparably. Their loyalty to one another was unparalleled by anything in memorable history.
“You are truly the best companion I could ever ask for, Fawkes,” Albus admitted quietly as the last wavering note of the phoenix song drifted into silence. “You have been with me through more than I could ever expect another to have to experience…and for that I will never be able to thank you enough.”
The phoenix crooned again and rested his head against Albus’ shoulder, showing his unyielding support once more. Albus felt incredibly lucky to know that this animal had chosen him above anyone else and had stayed by his side through thick and thin…what more could he really ask for?
“I do not have much longer on this Earth,” he whispered to Fawkes, looking him directly in the eye. “You have been the best companion that I could ever hope for…the one this that I regret, knowing that I will soon die, is that I will leave you behind to fend for yourself. You are strong beyond measure and loyal without compare…I am sure that you will be able to endure this life without me. I only regret that I will be moving to a life without you.”
Fawkes’ tears began to fall once more, this time in sorrow for the approaching loss of his closest friend. He bowed his head as the tears coursed down his beak and splashed onto Albus’ robes.
“Oh, my dear friend,” the Headmaster murmured, “if only your tears could heal the pain you are feeling…Come, Fawkes,” he said quietly, lifting the phoenix to his arm and standing, “we’ll go to sleep and forget today’s worries. Sleep will renew us and the morning will feel different.” Together, they went to Albus’ bedchambers and Fawkes swooped carefully onto the perch beside Albus’ bed, settling down for the night, knowing that the emotional pain that the two of them were feeling was something he couldn’t heal.
Eight months later, the pain was fully renewed, but not for Albus. He was gone. Fawkes knew the moment that the life left the Headmaster; he felt the loss in every fiber of his being, instantly crumbling in on himself. If he could burst into flames and leave this world behind, he would choose to in an instant. Life without Albus would not be the same. It would not be comparable.
Tears could not heal this pain, but they coursed down the phoenix’s face all the same, drenching his feathers and embodying what he felt. Albus was no longer here with comforting words and soft hands. For the first time in a very long time Fawkes felt alone, empty and alone.
He slowly lifted his head as he heard the shouts from below in the castle—Dumbledore’s body had been discovered. His duty at the school had ended with the Headmaster’s. Carefully, he closed his eyes and in a flash of fire, found himself outside the window, soaring on the air.
The song he sang spoke of friendship. It spoke of loss. It spoke of sacrifice. He sang for the lives that Dumbledore had saved over the years and the many times that he had saved Fawkes, himself. He sang for the long nights awake in the dark, listening to Albus’ voice as he pontificated quietly to the one being in the world that he knew would listen and understand. Fawkes sang for the loss that the world felt when Albus Dumbledore left it. He knew that he could stay for the funeral…He knew he would see people who appreciated the greatest wizard to ever live, but to him…nothing would ever be the same and no kind words could change that.
As the stars faded and the morning sun peeked over the horizon, shattering the darkness with pinks and oranges, Fawkes turned away from Hogwarts. His song was over. He had said his goodbyes, and in a flash of phoenix flames, he was gone.