He thought she was a fox...
Disclaimer: I own neither Buffy nor anything in the HP-verse, I don't even own the computer I'm writing this on! -_- Woe is me.
Timeline: Post Season Seven, Buffy died in the cavern with Spike, but the PtB won't let her stay dead! Pre-series for Harry Potter, and also AU. Very AU.
A/N: This story is the response to a picture-challenge, if anyone would like to follow the link and see the picture or make fanart out of it (would you, could you, please?) then I will be ecstatically grateful. Sorry Cesia, for the late posting, it was giving me a LOT of trouble!
I touch the fire and it freezes me,
I look into it and it's black.
Why can't I feel?
My skin should crack and peel:
I want the fire back...
He found her on a moonless night, deep in the Forbidden Forest, while he was gathering ingredients for a particularly tricky potion for his NEWTs.
At first he thought it a trick of the light, some odd reflective surface giving him back the illumination of his Lumos in a distinctly pleasing form. A closer look dissolved that theory.
She was naked, forlorn, golden.
Then her eyes snapped open, revealing gimlet gemstones of the finest amber. Like the stones themselves they seemed to glow from within, holding an oddly feral sparkle as she studied him, motionless.
Wordlessly he held out his hands in the universal gesture of 'no harm,' foolishly forgetting his still-lit wand clasped tightly to his left palm.
Her eyes flickered from the wood to his face and back again before she was gone, rolling away in a seamless blur of motion that left him blinking in the pale golden light.
Though he searched the rest of the night, he found no sign of her.▬▬▬▬▬
The second time was a complete accident, he had half convinced himself that she was but a dream, and truly the few weeks that had passed served only to reinforce this theory. He was back in the Forest again, and though the sun was high in the sky, few beams managed to penetrate the dense foliage above to touch the ground below.
He was supposed to be studying the herd-mentality of one of the many equine-related beasts that roamed the woods: thestrals, hippogriffs, centaurs, unicorns, whichever he chose.
Instead he found himself face-to-face with her
Suddenly between one breath and the next she appeared, standing before him bracketed by two elm trees and watching him steadily with those jewel-bright eyes.
This time he did not waste gestures trying to convey his harmlessness, he merely stared in turn, taking in the picture she presented. Her hair was long and tangled, a few leaves sticking out of it here and there. She was still naked, and yet somehow it did not seem indecent, though she was covered in half-healed scratches and cuts. Around her neck hung an odd pendant of some sort, and he could barely make out faint scorch marks upon the yellow metal.
Goosebumps covered her flesh, small wonder in the sharp October air. His fingers moved automatically, hands rising to unclasp his cloak and fling it towards her in one smooth movement that would have been impossibly awkward and clumsy had he had time to ponder it.
Her hand moved unerringly to catch the black material. For the first time her eyes left his to study the small offering. Delicate fingers stroked the smooth fabric, ragged nails catching faintly against the cloth before she swung it about her shoulders.
It gaped open on her petite physique, somehow highlighting her nakedness instead of concealing it. For the first time he flushed as he realized that she was a woman and he almost
a man, and she was barely clothed.
Gold-green eyes assessed the faint rise of color, coral lips quirking just the slightest bit in amusement, and then she was gone again.
This time he did not attempt to search for her.▬▬▬▬▬
After that he saw her every time he entered the forest. Sometimes he caught barely a glimpse of her through the woods, other times she came and watched him, occasionally even walking beside him for a stretch.
She never spoke, though he often did. He told her about his day, described his various classes and teachers. Sometimes she smiled - but that was rare indeed - once he even surprised a short, raspy chuckle from her. The sound brought her to a halt and ended the visit for the day.
Gradually she became, not quite tame
, but at the least accustomed to his presence and voice. When he could, he would slip away from the common room and library to read or study in the woods. There was a small clearing there, towards the back of the lake, that they claimed as their own.
It was then that he discovered that she could read. He'd been dozing against one of the trees, forgotten Arithmancy text in his lap, when a soft rustling noise drew his attention just enough for him to open his eyes. What he saw made him freeze.
She was sitting cross-legged against the tree opposite him, mirroring his pose right down to the book in her lap. What surprised him most though was the look of concentration on her delicate features. Her lip was firmly between her teeth as her eyes flicked back and forth across the page, reading quickly. She mouthed certain words, ones that he recognized as parts of some of the more advanced theories.
They sat like that for a fair few minutes before she glanced up to see him watching her. Slowly, a faint pink color began to creep up her neck, but she made no move to relinquish the book. Her knuckles turned white and the leather binding creaked ominously, goading him into speech.
"D'you want to keep that one for a bit?" He asked the question without moving anything other than his lips, he did not want to startle her back into her shell.
She nodded tentatively.
"Right then, that's Morgan Mogrifyer's Advanced Transfiguration Manual, right? I could get the basic one too - if you wanted."
A light entered her eyes that he rarely saw and she nodded again, this time much more vigorously. She opened her mouth and a rusty croak emerged. Frowning, she coughed and tried again, "Th-thank you."
Her voice was harsh from disuse, almost inaudible in it's softness. Still, Albus didn't think he'd ever heard anything more beautiful in his entire life.▬▬▬▬▬
This set the pattern for the next few months, taking them through the winter and into early spring. Cooped up indoors during the occasional vicious blizzard, he was left with more time to puzzle the mystery that was his Lady of the Wood.
She was not a witch, at least not a trained
one. He had seen no evidence of a wand on her person, nor any other means of focusing magic. When he first showed her his she had regarded it with wary disinterest, she recognized it as a weapon but not one that she wished to or knew how to use.
Yet magic positively saturated
the air around her, leading him to believe that she was some sort of magical creature or creature-cross. She wasn't a veela, he knew that much for sure. While he found her to be undeniably beautiful it wasn't with the same blind adoration that most books associated with the shape-shifting land-sirens.
Truthfully what he did know was little. She healed quickly, the scratches that marred her skin - even the odd animal bites - were gone with nary a mark on her golden skin between his visits. She was also impervious to the cold, repeatedly refusing his offers to either build her a shelter or bring more clothing than the simple black cloak he'd first given her (though she did enjoy the warmth of the fires he conjured when he managed to trek through the snow for a visit).
She read and spoke, though the latter was almost rarer than her laugh. When the concepts in the books he brought confused her she would ask him not so much with words, but with expressive body language. She had the most animated face he'd ever seen. He cherished each wrinkle of her nose, each studious frown, even the frustrated scowls that appeared over some of the archaic or specialized language in some of the older books.
He was halfway to being in love with her when he discovered the reason for her interest in his books. What he had always assumed was idle curiosity - maybe a desire to keep up with current lore? - was in fact a burning obsession, much to his dismay.▬▬▬▬▬
It was early in the month of April, a beautiful time for the Forbidden Forest. Even the most deadly of creatures was celebrating spring, the wood itself seemed excited - practically bursting at the seams with a riot of colorful flowers and shrubs, though most were no doubt poisonous.
When he came to their clearing he was startled to find her and all the books she'd hoarded - and seeing them all together, he was startled to realize just how many
he'd given her - spread in a small circle. She looked so odd in the midst of all those clean white pages: her robe, once black and well-kept, was tattered. The edges had frayed and parts of both sleeves had been ripped off entirely to make a sort of make-shift band to tie her hair firmly into place.
She looked up at his footfalls, amber-green eyes uncertain. "Al-bus," she pronounced his name slowly and he shivered involuntarily at the sound of it on her lips. "Albus," she said again, this time with more confidence, "Could I become an An-i-ma-gus?"
He was struck by the question and answered honestly, before he could censor himself, "I don't think so." Seeing her crestfallen expression he hastened on, "Maybe, you could try? At worst you don't succeed, at best - " He gave a gallic shrug.
Truthfully he did not think that she would be able to do it. The Animagus transformation was a difficult one, nine out of ten wizards didn't have the desire or the pure cussedness to stick it out through all the time it usually took one to find their true spirit-form. Not to mention the fact that if she truly was a creature
than she would have no form at all - unless, maybe it was as a witch?
Upon seeing the beaming smile that had replaced her discouraged look, he had not the heart to tell her all the reasons 'why not.' She was committed to this, so he would be too.▬▬▬▬▬
The next few weeks were torturous for him, getting ready for his NEWTs while simultaneously guiding a non-witch through the process of becoming an Animagus drained him body, soul, and magic. His eyes lost their sparkle as dark circles grew beneath him, classmates whispered that he would be the first to snap and be admitted to the tender care of Madam Nightingale in the Hospital Wing.
Albus was not
the first to crack - that honor belonged to a Miss Judith Edgecomb of Ravenclaw - nor was he the second, third, fourth or fifth. He persevered under the pressures and was able to continue his juggling act well into the end of May.
He wondered which would come first, the Lady's attempt or his NEWTs. Truthfully the order did not much matter to him, so long as both were accomplished. Albus put off thinking about what it would mean when he finished his exams. He would be leaving Hogwarts and the Lady behind... no, that did not bear contemplating, not if he wanted to continue to escape the clutches of the infirmary.
On the 23rd of May she told him she was ready, though she refused to tell him what form had been divined during her meditations. Privately he wondered if other hopefuls would be as successful if they lived as she did - half wild and unfettered by the usual constraints, free to pursue her form at any time she chose.
He had told her repeatedly of the dangers of the transformation: many novices became stuck in between forms, some went mad if they were not properly prepared, others still were beast-taken.
"Beast-taken?" She had asked, "What does that mean?"
"They lose all sense of themselves. Essentially, they become
their animal counterpart."
Her eyes flickered oddly then, and she asked no more questions that day. Later he would wonder why he did not think to ask until the day of her transformation dawned.
"Lady," he began, for she still refused to tell him her name, "Why do you want to do this?"
She sighed and seemed to shrink in on herself, looking small and deceptively helpless. There was quiet for a time, he knew not to press her. "I am tired, Albus," she said at last. "I've done - been - too many things with and to way too many people." A small smile quirked her lips and she glanced towards the sky for the briefest of seconds before looking to him once again. "I want a rest, even if it's just the equivalent of a catnap in the scheme of things."
"You - you mean to stay in your beast-form?"
The sad smile that did not quite reach her eyes was answer enough.▬▬▬▬▬
Albus moved away through the trees for her transformation. It would not be wise to distract her, nor would she likely be in total control if - when - it was complete... and to be honest he was not a little angry to be finding out what she had planned.
Would he have aided her if he'd known that she did not want to return?
He did not know, and the not-knowing pressed on him.
After it seemed that an appropriate interval of time had passed, he headed back through the trees. It seemed that the journey back was far longer than the trek away had been, but he was walking slowly - not sure what he wanted to find.
An animal, which meant his friend was lost to him forever?
Or a woman, one who had failed at the only task that seemed to bring her joy?
Albus stepped into the small glade carefully, looking for any signs of movement. Suddenly a fox burst from the underbrush, streaking across the grass, he quickly gave chase. Objectively he knew he must look a sight, seventeen year old limbs flailing as he attempted to catch a fox in a woods.
Twenty minutes later he was leaning against a tree to catch his breath, mourning the loss of the mind of his friend, when it happened. Soft golden light began to glow under the canopy of the trees, accompanied by a soft fluttering sound.
He jumped away from the tree, wand out and pointed in the direction of the disturbance. A red-gold-orange shape flashed over his head and circled there, gradually slowing until it came to rest at about chest-height in one of the trees beside him.
"Merlin's beard," Albus breathed. He was looking at a creature out of legend, a phoenix.
It trilled softly and began to preen.
It - no, she
- bobbed her head in an unmistakable nod.
"I - I thought you were a fox!"
Her beak opened and she seemed to be laughing at him.
Carefully he reached out a hand to caress the golden-orange-red feathers of her neck and crest. She chirred quietly and made an odd humming noise in the back of her throat that he took to be approval.
"Are you pleased?"
She bobbed her head again.
He tried to call up a smile for her, "I'll miss you, you know."
There was a small flash as she resettled her wings, then he was treated to the sight of a phoenix's version of an exaggerated eye-roll. She hopped off the branch and onto his shoulder, surprisingly light for all her size (about the same mass as a goose, though proportioned like a swan).
Albus was delighted, "You want to come with me?"
She combed his hair gently with her beak, something he took to mean yes
He tried to keep the tears from showing in his blue eyes, "Well, if you're going to stay with me, I'll have to think up something to call you - you can't be 'lady' forever." His feet knew where they were going without need for his brain's input, leaving him quite able to ponder this conundrum as he headed back to the castle.
She chirred, whurred, chirped, and sang to him as he walked.
Her voice was still the most beautiful thing he had ever heard.▬▬▬▬▬
A/N: Yes, I know
Fawkes is supposed to be a boy-phoenix, but this is an AU, so he's got girly-birdy-bits, ok?