Ariana shivered a little; Aberforth put his arm around her. Albus sat beside Gellert, but did not quite dare to do the same.
"Look! Up in the sky, there!" Aberforth pointed with his free hand.
"What? Where? I don't see anything." Albus gazed upward, but all he saw was a blanket of darkness, liberally sprinkled with stars.
Then he caught sight of it. A bright trail through the air: like a meteor, only golden.
"It's a phoenix," breathed Gellert.
"It's beautiful," said Albus.
"See it, Ari?" said Aberforth. "Look ..."
Ariana looked. Delight colored her features as she caught sight of the gold trail among the stars. She laughed.
"Shh," Aberforth whispered. "Be very quiet, and you might hear it singing."
They all hushed. And sure enough, they could hear the song of the phoenix, faint but clear through the peaceful evening air over Godric's Hollow.
Albus lay back on his blanket, hands behind his head, admiring the brilliant constellations. This was one of those wonderful moments he thought he'd remember forever: his brother and sister were both happy, he was here with them, and right beside him was, well, his best friend. Things couldn't be better. He hadn't enjoyed himself like this since their parents had died.
"We should try to capture it," said Gellert, in his slightly accented English. "Phoenixes are rare, and very magical. They're valuable. We could do a lot of things with one."
Albus rolled over and looked at him. "Catch it?"
"Yes! If we track it we could find out where it's nesting, and then ..." Gellert stood up, to see which direction the bird's golden trail was heading.
"Hey, sit down, would you?" said Aberforth. "You're blocking the view."
Gellert moved aside, with some annoyance. "Come on, Albus, get up. Come with me, we'll follow it." He pulled out his wand and lit it like a torch.
"Are you sure?" said Albus. "I'd rather not. Let's just stay here and watch it. We don't need to capture the phoenix to enjoy it, do we?"
"But think of what we could do if we caught one! Let's at least find out where it lives."
"Oh, all right." Albus got up and brushed bits of grass off himself. "Don't stay out here too late, Abe. You'll look after Ariana for a bit, won't you?"
"I always do," said Abe. "And don't you stay out too late, Albus. Running 'round in the dark, chasing after a wild bird, I dunno..."
But Albus and Gellert were already jogging away.
The next morning, it was half nine when the two boys banged in the kitchen door, carefully carrying a cage made of branches.
"Close the door, will you?" said Aberforth, who was fixing breakfast. "The bugs'll all fly in. Thought you two'd never show up."
"Look! We caught a phoenix!" said Albus triumphantly, unperturbed by his brother's grumpy mood. "See, Abe? We got it!" He and Gellert set the cage on the kitchen table.
Aberforth turned away from the hot stove and peered into the cage. There was indeed a chick inside: a ball of downy, dark red fluff about the size of a plum. It blinked its beady black eyes at him.
"You sure that's a phoenix?"
"'Course it is! They don't grow the long gold tail feathers till they're a bit older," said Albus. "Took us ages to find him."
"Where's the mother?" asked Aberforth. He turned back to the stove and poked the sausages around in the pan a bit.
"We could not catch the parents," said Gellert. "But this one is too young to fly still. It was easy, once we found the nest."
Aberforth tipped the sausages onto a plate. Then he picked up the plate and started to carry it out of the kitchen.
"Hey, where're you going?" said Albus, watching the retreating food. "Aren't any of those for us?"
"These are for Ariana," said Aberforth. "And me. You two can cook up some more if you want, there's more in the icebox. Please clean up when you're done, it was your turn to wash the dishes yesterday and I had to do it – and get the bird cage off the table, would you?"
"Humph!" snorted Albus, as Aberforth departed. "Some welcome for the conquering heroes, eh, Gellert?"
"Too bad," said Gellert. "Your brother is rather rude, isn't he. Like an old woman."
"Oh, he's all right, he's just a bit short-tempered," said Albus, though he could not conceal his amusement at Gellert's apt analysis. He rummaged in the icebox. "There's only two sausages left, you want one? We can fix some eggs too, and there's goat's milk."
"You should not have to do the housework," said Gellert. "You are head of the family, are you not?"
"Yeah, but Abe's busy, he's giving breakfast to Ariana," said Albus, shrugging. "Which is technically supposed to be my job. It doesn't matter, this won't take long." He waved his wand over the frying pan and the sausages began to sizzle.
Aberforth wasn't sure he approved of Albus and Gellert keeping a pet phoenix, but as long as it was here, he could show it to his sister. Maybe cheer her up.
"Ariana," he called out. "Come take a look at this."
She came, and saw the cage. She stopped short.
"Look, it's a phoenix," said Aberforth. "Pretty, isn't it? You can get closer, it's not going to hurt you."
Ariana approached the cage, tentatively. Aberforth smiled.
Ariana cautiously poked her fingers into the cage, and the phoenix chick fluttered over to peck lightly at her. She jerked away at first, scaring the bird, but before long they began to get used to one another, through the bars.
Aberforth noticed the dish of food in the cage hadn't been touched, though the chick did seem to appreciate the cup of water. The boys weren't sure what a phoenix would eat, so they had put in some leaves from several different plants. The chick had not eaten any of them, but it seemed cheerful enough for now, so perhaps it could manage a few hours without a meal. Albus and Gellert would probably let it go in a little while and it would be fine.