Disclaimer: Me not own.
A/N: Just a tiny scene from the long but none-too-happy life of Albus Dumbledore. It doesn't respect DH, and was inspired by a fanfiction I cannot for the life of me recall, so sorry for not acknowledging anyone… err, and it happens during chapter 25 of HBP, The Seer Overheard.
Albus' gnarled fingers tapped on the tabletop. The polished ebony for a moment kept small imprints as mementos of his touch, before the warmth evaporated.
A rustle of feathers reminded the old wizard that he was not quite as alone as he at times felt. He leaned back in his armchair, sinking into the upholstery, and turned to the corner enlightened with dim red glow. A pair of dark eyes narrowed slyly; the phoenix stretched its neck, opened its beak and breathed onto the knot of the nearest candle. A tiny orange flame sprang to life amidst a shower of golden sparks that fecklessly fell to the lacquered floor.
"I…" Dumbledore spoke, but found his throat suddenly too parched to continue. A soft trill made him smile a very world-weary smile that he only ever allowed to surface in the most private of settings. It was at the same time sad and amusing that even the most perceptive and intelligent of his colleagues believed that a man of his age and brainpower could have the slightest bit of idealism or naivety left.
He closed his eyes, swallowed, took a deep breath and opened them again.
"For all that it is worth, I regret the fate we made for ourselves."
What a grotesque comedy of errors! Nothing gained but a shimmer of legend, and the losses… He could not have known at the time how much he would be crippled by a broken heart.
The phoenix spread its wings and with a single mighty magical flap set off from his perch, landing in the centre of the desk. The ebony shone with orange and red, exquisite…
"We made too many mistakes – the only choices left to me were bad ones. I regret what I had to do, but I cannot apologise for doing it."
The feathers were warm – hot – blazing against his left hand, and there was no anger – only exhaustion, forgiveness and curiosity. It would have been so much simpler if they could communicate in words, but Albus was much too old to believe in simplicity.
"Why? I am tired, my friend… I am apologizing in advance, for I shan't have the opportunity tomorrow."
The phoenix sang a quiet tune, in which acceptance and mourning mingled with fear it couldn't quite hide. Albus felt it in his bones – saw it every time he looked upon the blackened stump that used to be his right hand… the end. He thought of laughing at himself, at the trivial, but so appealing lie he told Harry to help him pass his fear of death – next great adventure, indeed! Death scared him.
Albus was a brave man, and by no means foolish, and therefore he was aware of how much he had missed in life, how much he never would experience. He felt bereft and reluctant to accept the reality of his imminent demise.
The phoenix crooned, inclined its head to the side and let a pair of pearly tears slip from its eyes and fall onto the withered carcass of Albus' former fingers. The opalescent drops slid down onto the gleaming ebony and radiated in the dimness. The bird let out a desperate screech and dove head-first into the cage of blackened fingers. Its beak – razor-sharp – came into contact with the necrotic mass, repeatedly. Albus felt nothing.
He raised his left hand and stroked the rough plumage. His heart could break, again, when a tiny pool of pearly liquid formed under his withered limb. Hardly aware of the cry ripped from his throat, Albus leaned forwards and hid his face in the crimson feathers, weeping like he didn't believe he still could.
"Can you forgive me?" he choked, helpless and shamed when faced with the amount of wrong he committed in his life, grasping at the tiniest bit of absolution that could be granted to him. "If I could reverse it, I would… I would now. I merely wished…"
The phoenix extracted its head and pressed it into the side of Albus's neck, this time careful to keep its beak away from skin, crooning as soothingly as it could in its own emotional turmoil.
"Thank you…" Albus whispered, releasing his spasmodic hold on the bird and resuming the stroking of two dimly glowing red and gold wing half-stretched, covering the entire desk. "Thank you. I tried my best, you know?" He could never have killed someone he loved so much – the light of his life, his heart's companion. "Captivity would have killed you – I strove to give you as much liberty as I possibly could." Albus gasped as peculiar warmth flooded him. With closed eyes, he could sense a phantom caress of gentle fingers touching his face, exploring, as if trying to remember. He had no knowledge of how long he remained there, unmoving, submerged in a memory so old but never forgotten, a memory of their golden times, of happiness and hope and love.
The gargoyle guardian of the Head's office jumped aside and Albus straightened, suddenly cold and almost, almost welcoming of the looming finality, for he surmised it couldn't be worse than this unquenchable desire. He pressed a kiss onto the phoenix's head, stood and whispered (so quietly that he might have imagined it, but the phoenix heard and closed its eyes in grief): "Farewell, Gellert."
He raised the blinds on the windows and red light of the sunset rapidly invaded the office mere moments before Harry barreled in (forgoing the courtesy of knocking in favour of hammering with all his might) pale in the face, disheveled and so enraged that Albus could immediately tell something else had gone horrifically wrong.
With an odd sense of detachment, he spoke: "Enter."