The stories of past courage...can offer hope, they can provide inspiration. But they cannot supply courage itself. For this each man must look into his own soul. – John F. Kennedy
In a flash of flames, a phoenix buries itself in ashes, burning slowly like an ever-glowing candle, a beacon of light for the weary. Then it rises again and it may not be as beautiful or as strong as it once was, but it lives and matures until it regains its youth, its courage.
A phoenix is immortal.
Men are not.
The picture on the front page of the Daily Prophet reveals motionless bodies in an image where everything else is constantly moving. A house crumbles and a haunting, glowing mark floats angrily in the sky – a warning to everyone, a tell-tale sign of death and destruction.
"The Dark Mark, the reporters are calling it. There are claims that the Mark is burned into the skin of his followers, the Death Eaters. A name that fits their dastardly deeds, no doubt," Professor McGonagall sniffs as she finds herself sitting with Professor Dumbledore, the Prophet open on her lap. "Killing off innocent Muggles and the families of Muggle-born wizards and witches."
Dumbledore hums his assent, though his thoughts are elsewhere.
"What are you thinking, Albus?" McGonagall questions, folding the Prophet and placing it carefully upon his desk. "You’ve been distracted lately."
Dumbledore gazes at the newspaper on his desk – the ink telling the story of attacks and deaths, revealing the threat of a coming war – and then refocuses his concentration on the woman before him. He sighs and tightens his grip on the arms of his chair.
"There are two sides to every war, Minerva."
The sun dips below the horizon and the sky darkens, marking the end of another day, another set of casualties. The fire crackles behind him, warm and bright; a stark contrast to the world outside the walls of his beloved school. He moves away from the window when he hears a sharp rap on his door and sits down in his chair.
"Come in," he says, and motions towards the chair before his desk as his guest enters.
He is greeted with a curt nod.
"To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit, Minerva?"
McGonagall settles in the chair, her dark hair pulled tightly back into a bun and her face, a solid mask to hide the worry that bubbles anxiously in her stomach.
"Lemon drop?" Dumbledore offers.
For a moment, McGonagall looks at him distastefully before she politely declines. "The war is coming to Hogwarts."
"The war is already here," Dumbledore replies evenly.
"I’ve separated four fights just today between the Slytherins and other Houses. I had to send six students to the Hospital Wing. The war is causing a rift between the Houses. Now, more than ever, should they stand united, not divided."
"This war will shake the very foundations of the wizarding world, Minerva, not just Hogwarts."
"There must be something we can do."
"We cannot choose our students’ futures for them. Their actions now will consequently affect their actions later, when they are forced into this war."
McGonagall’s eyes darken. "So we just leave them be? Let their hatred and prejudices threaten the unity and safety of our school and students?"
Dumbledore leans forward slightly, the twinkle in his blue eyes never faltering. "We cannot choose their futures, Minerva, but we can guide them and light their way down the darkened path of life that awaits them."
"And then what, Albus?" McGonagall asks. "We let them out to fend for themselves?"
"No. Sometimes," he begins, his voice growing softer as he gazes at the phoenix perched beside him, "sometimes, we cannot fight our battles alone."
Dumbledore pushes his chair back and stands, moving towards the red and gold bird. He curls a finger and runs it gently down the phoenix’s chest.
"Phoenixes are fascinating creatures, don’t you think, Professor?"
McGonagall gives Dumbledore a strange look. "Well, yes," she admits as she moves to stand beside Dumbledore. "They burst into flame when they are ready to die and are reborn from the ashes. But, what does this have to do with anything, Albus?"
"Phoenixes are also extraordinarily faithful." Dumbledore smiles and turns to McGonagall.
"I am afraid I do not follow your train of thought."
Dumbledore brushes past McGonagall and stands before his window once more, his eyes flickering to the hut beside the Forbidden Forest and then to the reflection staring at him questioningly from behind.
'As I’ve said before, Minerva, there are two sides to every war. It’s time for us to fight back."
"But what can we do?" she asks, and Dumbledore smiles, confident now that he has picked the right person.
He returns to his desk and pulls open the top drawer, his fingers grabbing and curling around a small object. He outstretches his hand to McGonagall and unclenches his fist, revealing a small, golden pin.
She hesitates. "Is that – is that a phoenix?"
He clasps his hand with hers, transferring the pin, and gives her hand a reassuring squeeze. He then leans toward her and tells her of an idea that has been flourishing in the recesses of his mind. He speaks of a secret order built on the foundation that some good still exists in this world, that there are more important things than power and purity.
"Out of the ashes a phoenix will arise, but never will it die."
She looks at him with understanding now and nods her head, slipping the pin into the pocket of her robe.
"I have a list…" Dumbledore shuffles through some parchment on his desk before extracting a piece near the bottom of the pile and hands it over to McGonagall. "I assume you understand what you must do?"
McGonagall glances down at the parchment quickly. "But Albus, these are just students…"
"We need those that are steadfast in their beliefs and have courage in the face of fear, Minerva. I have no doubt in my mind that these students fulfill both requirements admirably."
McGonagall sighs and folds the parchment, placing it in her pocket beside the pin (it feels heavy in her hand, like the weight of the world, like the lives of her students). She bows her head and bids Dumbledore a quiet goodnight. The wooden door clicks shut behind her.
Dumbledore returns to Fawkes and the bird rubs its head against his hand, reassuring and ever faithful.
There is nothing more he can do now. The pawns are in position, are ready for their next move, their next command. And all Dumbledore can do is wait.
Author's Note: The beautiful banner was made by Violet Gryfindor. Thanks to TenthWeasley for editing this story.
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