Il Silenzio Delle Stelle Cadenti

A Fiery Mount

Time seemed to have passed by slowly as she danced in his arms. She couldn't tell for sure how long it had been as she was trapped in his embrace, gazing and unable to look away from the dark abyss of his gaze. Surely it hadn't been so long as they danced on the dance floor? But yet everything was just blurring around her and she could see and focus on nothing but him, with equal (though she wasn't sure why) fervor and focus being returned in kind from him.

His presence commanded her gaze, and somehow she also seemed to have commanded his.

She could feel his hand, large and warm, placed flat against the small of her back as he twirled her around in circles, in a waltz lost in the crowd. His other hand held hers firmly, in an escapable grip. Every so often, their fronts would brush against each other intimately, so close together were they.

Even with a mask, she felt so very naked underneath his gaze.

"Harry," he breathed out her name reverently. "In all honesty with you, I plan to abduct you from this place, and rush you off to my blackened world. I do not yet have a chariot ready, but I promise you this, my little Kore."

If she were being rational, if everything was rational, she would have pushed him away and run from him. But she couldn't help being entranced by him and his intensity.

Bells were tolling in the distance and then he was sweeping her off nearer to the entrance, where he stopped and she could break out of his spell, pushing away from him. However, he caught one of her hands and held on tightly, tilting his head as he examined her. He smirked slightly.

"Harry dear, if you so wish to run away from me, then I advise you to not leave behind a 'glass slipper' for me to pursue. Because I promise you, if you leave any kind of clue behind, I shall pursue you to the ends of the earth."

He slowly lifted her hand, watching her watch his actions, and caressed her knuckles with his lips.

"I look forward to our next waltz," he murmured.

Without another word, he straightened up and walked away, and she wanted to scream at him because he was the one chasing her so fervently, when she was the one who wanted to walk away from him. The sounds of laughter and merry cheers sounded distantly to her ears, seemingly so far away, despite only being a mere foot from her spot.

She swallowed harshly and closed her eyes, but he and his words wouldn't stop haunting her.

In fact, even days after the masquerade ball, he haunted her dreams and her every waking hour. Her mind, usually so enwrapped in the torment of the Wizarding World, had instead traded one torment for another, as she was plagued by thoughts of him, about him…

She wished she could just run away from it all –from all of them. Run away from the Wizarding World, run away from him

Even as the Dursleys left to go to the city for an outing, leaving her behind for once, she couldn't think of anything but him. So she was immensely surprised when the doorbell rang and when she looked through the peephole, saw nothing of note. But as she opened the door, she saw a black box with a bright red ribbon tied around it. Her hands shook as she reached down and took it. It could be any one of her enemies, delivering this unknown box…but she had this instinctive feeling that she knew exactly who this box was from.

She swiveled her head and she looked around in a panic, but didn't see anyone at all or who could have dropped it off.

She went back inside and shakily closed the door, going back to her room and then sitting down dazedly on her bed. She saw a card poking out from the intricate knot on top. She plucked it out and read it quickly.

I saw that you were wearing the same dress last time. Though I don't know if it is your only one, I hope you will like this one and wear it to the next ball.

Harry opened it and inside was an elegant dress, black silk practically flowing off of her hands as she held it up. It was, she had a feeling, probably even more expensive than the emerald dress she'd worn the last two times.

But more importantly…

He knew where she lived.

She didn't know how he knew. But he did. There was no other explanation as to account for how he'd gotten this dress delivered to her, unless he knew where she lived and had it brought to her.

She honestly didn't know how to feel about this, but for some reason, she wasn't as upset and disturbed as she should have been.

Harry was agitated as she cooked the Dursleys their breakfast. It had been three days since the delivery of that damnable dress, and she hadn't seen or heard from Giovanni Rocketto. She was starting to think it was just some sort of prank. She was going to write it off as one.

It was probably best that she did, and forget about it as quick as she can.

"You know, I was thinking…" she heard Vernon say suddenly. She refrained from making a look that would obviously be sarcastic, focusing instead on the bacon. "Those…freaks from her world don't nearly check up on the girl as much as they used to in the beginning. The only time they do is to pick her up for whatever they still need her for, and I got a pattern on that –they always come in the beginning of the month, in the first week. They just took her, so there's time…I was thinking of taking this week off and we can go visit Marge and have a short vacation, and leave the girl behind."

"But weren't we sure she'd destroy the house or something?" Petunia asked hesitantly, just as Harry finished cooking the food and was beginning to dish it out.

Vernon huffed. "I figure, if she's as dangerous as they say and with those markings on her, I bet they did something to keep her in check. Some kinda…safeguard or something. The girl is probably harmless now."

"Harry," Dudley interrupted all of sudden, sounding strangely irritated. "Her name is Harry."

And he got up from his seat and practically stomped over to Harry, ignoring his gaping parents all the while as he grabbed hold of Harry's baggy shirt and dragged her behind him as he stomped out of the house.

Harry was completely bewildered, and had been since the beginning of Dudley's nicer attitude towards her once she'd been "released" into the Dursleys' custody.

Dudley hadn't stopped until he'd taken her all the way out to the park, where he stopped and made a frustrated noise as he glared at the ground. Then he sighed and looked at her.

"Sorry. I probably seem off my rocker and completely mental to you," he shrugged.

She raised an eyebrow at him.

He licked his lips. "It's just…I'm sorry for being an arse to you all these years…And I wanted to thank you for saving me back then…before those D-Dement –Dementoids. Those things back before…your last school year." He flushed red.

She smiled a little at his mispronunciation of Dementors, and nodded to him to accept his apology. It was strange coming from him, but looking back at his behavior since she'd come back, it shouldn't have been so surprising.

"So, we basically walked out on breakfast," he grinned briefly at her. "I'll go nip off to the corner store and get us something to snack on, alright? I'll be back. You just enjoy the swings."

She let him go, plopping herself onto a swing and lightly making a go of it. It was nice of him to realize she'd like some time to herself and gather her thoughts.

After a minute of just swinging, she heard light footsteps and she looked up to see a man with a white outfit that seemed slightly familiar, an embroidered red R on his right breast, while the uniform was easily visible as being extremely crisped, and it was shown even more as he stood with a perfect posture. His hair actually looked to be a natural light blue.

She inwardly let out a sigh of relief, considering for some reason she immediately thought it was going to be him.

"I'm sorry. I hadn't meant to startle you," he started off, and she was still a bit wary. "Let me introduce myself –my name is Archer. I am Giovanni's right-hand, to be blunt."

Her eyes widened and she stood up, ready to run. He held up his hands to indicate his harmlessness, which she didn't buy. And yet she wasn't running away anyway…

"As you can surmise, Giovanni has been asking about you and you must know by now how persistent and stubborn he is. And also that, by the least of your knowledge, he is at least knowledgeable about your address. However, let me assure you, despite his underhanded tactics and skewed perspective, he means you no harm. Truthfully, though he is not aware of it and wouldn't be pleased for me to say this whether or not he was aware of it, but I believe he is very much enamored with you."

He stepped closer, and though she tensed, she didn't move. He took several more steps and sat on the swing next to her, sitting prim and proper on it, while clasping his hands politely together on his lap. After a moment, she joined him in sitting back down.

"I admit, Giovanni and our organization has a habit of…being awfully gray or downright dirty," he gave her a side-glance, while she hesitantly wondered what he meant about an 'organization.' Wasn't Giovanni just a businessman? "In fact, he and the whole Team tend to be rather morally ambiguous when it comes right down to it. Regardless of any of that, he seems quite content to try to slow down his intentions and chase after you on your pace, hoping not to scare you off. It's unlike him, but you seem to be rather special. I understand he's been forceful with you so far, but Giovanni can be a lot more forceful than he has been. He may usually have an impressive reserve of patience, but when it comes to desires he really wants, he tends to be such an impatient man, Henrietta."

She silently snorted. She'd suspected that to be an aspect of the man. And she also shouldn't be so surprised this Archer knew her name. They knew her address after all, and Merlin knew what else.

"I have a favor to ask," he then continued and she focused on him even more warily than before. "I request that you…allow him to get closer to you. Give him a chance, if you will. He will respect your boundaries, of course. There are a great many things he has no qualms pushing through, but he won't push you, especially because it is you. Well, at least not unless you want him to."

Harry swallowed heavily. It was actually a huge thing to ask of her, especially at this point in time in her life. She couldn't fathom why or how an older man like Giovanni could intensely be so intent on her.

"Will you consider it?"

She scrutinized him heavily before reluctantly nodding. The truth was that she was rather intrigued and when her life was already in shambles and consisted of nothing more than a confinement to a place she couldn't stand and visits to a place she considered Hell, this new development seemed to be the brightest spot in her life at that moment.

So if Giovanni Rocketto could provide even a moment of something resembling happiness for her, then who was she to turn him away?

She had nothing else left.

"Then I shall leave you to it," he smiled kindly at her. He stood up smoothly and turned to her, slipping a hand into his pocket and pulling something out, to which he then handed to her. She nearly dropped it in surprise as she saw just exactly what it was.

"Giovanni would prefer that you kept this on your person at all times," Archer explained the small can of Mace Harry now held. "Actually, he would prefer to have given you a semi-automatic, but he hasn't decided which one he would like to give you and would fit you best. Well, that and he would prefer to make sure you can handle one and learn to use it before just handing it off without further instruction."

Harry stared blankly at him. He chuckled and bowed slightly at the waist.

"Welcome to, as Giovanni would say, la famiglia Razzo."

He straightened up and after one last smile, he turned and walked away with Harry still staring after him.

"Was he bothering you?" Dudley nearly startled her, but she'd caught the sound of his footsteps only just a little ways away from her before he finally managed to reach her side. She looked at him, seeing him narrow his eyes suspiciously at Archer's retreating figure, with the blue-haired man now quite a distance away from them.

Harry shook her head, clutching onto the Mace. Dudley caught sight of it and his eyes widened.

"Where did that come from?! W-where did you get a can of Mace?"

She dazedly and wordlessly pointed at the direction Archer went off to, which made Dudley stare in that direction with a bewildered look. He shook his head as he snapped out of it, handing her a sandwich. Cautiously placing the Mace into a pocket, she unwrapped the plastic from the sandwich and began to take a bite.

"Okay, whatever. Anyway, some white-haired arrogant prick wanted to talk to you," Dudley brought up, recalling the encounter in irritation. "Said it was important."

She perked up and looked intently at him. He cleared his throat nervously at her attention.

"Uh, I think he said his name was…Drago Malkoy?" Dudley screwed up his face, trying to remember.

Excited, Harry opened her mouth and began speaking, forgetting that she couldn't actually speak anymore.

Dudley winced. "Er, s-sorry," he stammered. "I couldn't understand what you were saying…"

She recoiled slightly. She hated that when she got all excited, she would just forget about her lack of voice. Ron and Hermione had the misfortune of this particular effect (then again, they were the only logical choices, considering she didn't communicate or like to communicate with anyone else previously).

"So," Dudley tried to change the conversation back to what he'd brought up. "I told him that I'd talk to you first. He said in the meantime, that I should hand you this."

He gave her a rather thick letter, thanks to the parchment, with Gringotts' emblem sealing it closed. She placed her sandwich on her lap and eagerly opened it, looking it over and face unrevealing to Dudley of what the letter contained. She finished up and folded it carefully, and then smiled brightly at him, a first in a long time for her. His own lips twitched up. Good news then.

"Alright, let's finish these sandwiches and then head back."

Harry didn't mind going back, and now even more so with the Dursleys leaving.

The Dursleys had all left as soon as Monday arrived. Harry had briefly enjoyed the silence, before she'd found a second card that came from the dress given to her by Giovanni, having missed it the first time by focusing on the dress and it having dropped from its place aside the dress when Harry had picked it up in awe. She apprehensively took a second, before reluctantly reading it.

This coming Monday, I will be hosting another ball. I would very much like to see you there. If you're agreeable, go to the corner of Magnolia Crescent at 8, and you shall be picked up promptly.

Already, the silence of the house was beginning to bother her. While she preferred the Dursleys, except maybe Dudley, to be away, the silence was beginning to haunt her and remind her of her isolation. This was an 'out' for her, but it was a highly strings-attached one, she was sure. And yet…

So it was a little before 8 that she anxiously put on the dress and headed out. She was surprised that it came with small, black kitten heels, having also missed them in the box during her initial opening of it. She wasn't too bothered by them, considering they weren't too high and as she was rather short already, she was glad for a little extra height…especially with Giovanni's tall figure. It was much better than the light green ballet flats she'd worn with her green dress, and that she'd also had worn during the Yule Ball during her fourth year.

She was also not too surprised to find both heels and dress fit perfectly. She did, however, bemoan her lack of distress at his capability of finding out everything about her, from her measurements to where she lived.

She didn't know what time it was, but as soon as she was at the corner of Magnolia Crescent, a fancy and expensive short limo pulled up in front of her. She apprehensively stared at it, taking a step back when she saw Archer step out from the driver's side. Why did she not expect this, or that it was for her?

"Hello, Miss Henrietta," Archer bowed slightly. "Giovanni will be most pleased that you accepted his invitation. Please, step inside."

He opened the door for her and held it, and she tentatively got in. She sat rigid on her seat, sticking close to the door and even more so once the car started driving off. The divider that separated her from Archer was rolled down, and he glanced at her from his mirror.

"Don't be alarmed or frightened, Henrietta. Giovanni has requested I tell you that if at any time you wish or at any time you feel uncomfortable, you may approach me to be driven home. I shall see to your safe return."

She was still feeling like she was entering the wolves' den, despite his reassurances.

Harry stayed quiet the entire time, and soon enough they were in front of the same banquet hall that Giovanni had procured last time for his masquerade ball. Archer got out and opened her door, and she awkwardly accepted his hand and stepped out. He then turned somewhat, still holding her hand.

"Giovanni sir, I've safely retrieved Miss Henrietta and had no problems along the way or at the retrieval point," Archer reported succinctly to the man that stepped out of the shadows.

Harry immediately dropped Archer's hand and looked at Giovanni, feeling even more awkward by the second. He was yet again dressed in an expensive suit, tailored obviously to him.

Giovanni gave a brief nod to acknowledge Archer, who then said, "I shall inform Ariana that you won't be available for the night and that I will conduct business in the hall in your stead," before stepping away. Giovanni then turned to her.

"I hope everything was to your liking?" he inquired quietly to her, and Harry glanced at Archer, who wasn't looking at her but was dutifully standing nearby and ready for anything ordered of him.

Of course, she knew he meant the dress, the heels, the ride…she wasn't exactly even sure how she felt about all of it. But…they were nice and weren't too over the top…

She held out her hand for him to take, and that was as much approval as she could convey to him. He grinned slightly, taking her hand and then tucking it into his arm as he pulled her a bit to be by his side.

"I have something different planned for tonight," he informed her, taking her into the banquet but then taking a detour to the side and entering into a hallway. "While I'm sure the ball will go on, I've already made my rounds and will just appear later. For now…I would like it if you'd join me in a private dinner?"

And then they entered into a large room, sparsely lit with just a few candles, and a small table in the middle. He led her to it, seating her first and pushing her chair in, before he sat opposite her.

She took a deep breath and looked at him, and he steadily looked bacḱ unflinchingly.

Into the belly of the beast, it was then.

She found, as the night progressed, that Giovanni was an extremely intelligent and shrewd man. He was also very logical, a little like Hermione (but much colder at certain situations). But he did have a rather humorous side to him (most of the time, very sarcastic and dark humor though). She was surprised at how much she enjoyed this time with him, and listening to him. Well, it didn't help that his voice was lovely to listen to, especially with the slight accent coloring his voice. She now understood why there were people who swooned at others with accents.

After being served lobster-stuffed mushrooms and a fancy salad (he called it panzanella) for appetizers, shrimp-tossed linguini for entrée, they were now being served dessert. Two small bowls of a white, creamy dessert was brought out and placed in front of them both.

"It's a lemon ricotta granita," Giovanni revealed. "On top is the ricotta and sugar blend, while underneath is the lemon dessert."

She curiously took a bite, giving a small smile after as she enjoyed the taste. However, she heard a sigh and looked up to see Giovanni looking disappointed, and she began to feel self-conscious.

"Mia stella, you are still so very cold to me," he gave her a wry smile. "I suppose I'll have to continue to thaw you, my ice queen."

Oh. Oh.

He didn't know she wasn't able to speak. All this time, he had been under the impression that she was being deliberately icy towards him and refusing to talk to him (er, well sort of and really just mostly in the beginning, when they first met).

The thing is she realized she didn't want him to know.

Maybe he was chasing after her so fervently because she'd seemed to adamantly refuse him so much, and if she revealed why she really wasn't talking to him he'd lose interest and leave her alone. She hated to admit it, but she didn't want that. When there was really nothing going for her and she had nothing, she wanted to hold onto whatever this was –hold his attention for as long as she could. She knew he'd probably eventually lose interest in her, especially if he'd gotten what he wanted…but for now, even if she had to rebuff him over and over and keep him challenged and interested, then she could agree to play at it.

In all honesty, the idea of being alone, confined, and forgotten terrified her.

She was already so isolated from everyone, from both worlds. She was put out of the minds of Muggles and wizards and witches alike, refused to be thought of or remembered in the slightest. This man, even with his frightening intensity, saw her, noticed and paid attention to her, and didn't push her aside like some broken doll to be discarded now that its use was finished.

Even if his focus on her was worryingly passionate and relentless, it also kept her from feeling the loneliness she had been plagued with. It kept her from feeling too claustrophobic in her "cage," from feeling the monotony of her current life's routine. And with all his concentration on her, she felt like the only person in the world, and like she mattered and wasn't someone so easily thrown away and wouldn't at all be forgotten.

Admittedly, she was rather drawn to his burning intensity and felt more alive in his presence than she had been in a long time and with anyone else. His ability to draw out the emotions in her and strengthen them both scared and awed her. Even if this was to eventually end up in the same manner like she was used to, holding onto it for now was more than worth it.

"Thoughts on your mind?" he asked, and she gave him a careless glance, before deliberately focusing on her dessert and frowning. "Ah, forgive my nosiness then. However, I do wish to ask something of importance."

She looked at him from underneath her eyelashes, keeping her mouth closed. He took it as a sign to continue.

"I believe your family has departed for the week, yes?" She wasn't even going to think about how he'd known that little tidbit, and so quickly at that. "Why don't you stay with me for the week, at my English estate then?"

Her head fully rose abruptly and she stared at him, eyes wide as she genuinely expressed her shock and how caught off guard she was.

"You don't have to decide now," a small smirk was playing on his lips. "Tomorrow morning would be sufficient. I'll come by at 7 for your answer, but I won't push you either way. Consider it seriously, please. I promise nothing untoward, and you will find that you might even enjoy your stay there."

She swallowed nervously, pretty sure that her uncertainty and apprehension was clear on her face.

"You'll consider it?"

Harry looked at him and he looked vaguely indifferent about the matter, only his eyes conveyed his expectancy and anticipation. Thinking about it, she supposed it would be a chance to get away from her "prison cell." Deciding she would go for it, she gave him a hesitant nod.

"Excellent," his eyes were gleaming. "You seem tired. If you want, I shall have you brought home, so that you can think on the matter there and rest for the night."

She did feel tired and was now trying not to fret about her decision, so she gave him another nod and stood up. Giovanni got up as well, heading to her side and taking her hand to tuck it into his arm again. Surprisingly, after he'd stealthily yet smoothly avoided going into the main hall (where others were still enjoying the night and party), he'd led her to a sleek red car to the side of the building. After he got her into the passenger seat (which she was much more comfortable with, than sitting in the back of a chauffeured car), he went to the driver's side himself and sat down, further surprising her. She looked at him questioningly.

"I'll drive you home," he said simply.

His voice brooked no arguments, so she settled back in her seat and gazed out the window. That didn't mean she wasn't confused and questioning him again, once they were nearing her address and he'd stopped nearly two blocks away, closer to the park where she'd met Archer at.

"It is a nice night out. I thought it would be a good idea to walk the rest of the way," he watched her carefully.

She gave her assent and then they were walking side by side in no time, with he once again tucking her hand to his side and wrapping her arm around his. She'd been tense at first, until after awhile of walking, Harry finally started to relax by his side.

A man stopped them, a knife in his hand and threateningly pointed at them.

"Give me all your money!" he snarled at them. "Empty out all your pockets!"

Harry grumbled inwardly, wishing she had her wand (even the Elder Wand would do). Although, he was a Muggle…

From the corner of her eye, she could see Giovanni's face blanking over as he stared down the mugger.

"I said give me all your money! Hand over your wallet, asshole! You look like you got a whole lotta change on you –give me what you got, and your girl won't get it," the unkempt mugger threatened her, and Harry recoiled a bit, scrunching up her nose in distaste. Right now, she wished she had learned to defend herself beyond dueling with her wand. Aside from her rather impressive (if she may say so herself) evasive and running capabilities, she wasn't very well-versed in defending herself beyond using magic.

She then saw Giovanni reach inside his dress jacket, inwardly upset that she was partly at fault for making him lose money, even if she was sure what he had on him was merely a drop in a bucket compared to the vast fortune he was certain to have amassed in his name. Except, right then, both she and the mugger paled exceptionally when Giovanni merely drew out a gun and pointed it in the mugger's direction calmly.

"Would you care to repeat that?" he asked coolly.

"Y-you wouldn't dare shoot at me!" but the man's voice turned high-pitch, and he took a step back from the duo.

Giovanni raised his eyebrows slightly in disdain, face still looking rather indifferent. He then apathetically shot to the side of the mugger, close to his head. Their would-be attacker yelled.

"I assure you the next time I won't miss," Giovanni drawled, sounding rather bored with the confrontation. "I suggest you run off and leave us to our rather peaceful walk."

The mugger turned tail and ran without any further prompting.

Her companion gave a small huff in irritation, before turning to her and smiling slightly, like nothing had happened and everything was fine and normal. Like that was normal. Like he hadn't just pulled a gun on someone who had been trying to mug them.

"Shall we?" he asked evenly, completely at ease.

She could only continue to stare at him in wide-eyed alarm.

What kind of man was she involving herself with exactly? Just how dangerous was he truly?

Rufus Fudge entered his home, tiredly dropping his stuff to the ground next to the door. He trudged further inside, seeing his uncle miserably at the kitchen table and staring into his cup of tea. After his uncle's impeachment and shunning from the rest of the magical world (with the addition of the sequence of events that happened after, with the war), Rufus had opened his place to the disgraced former Minister of Magic. Family was family after all.

He made a slow trek over to the stove, taking the kettle and making himself a cup of tea. Afterwards, he sat opposite his uncle and stared into his own cup.

"Bad day at work?" Cornelius Fudge asked lightly, looking drawn and weary.

Rufus twitched. "More like bad weeks," he muttered.

He closed his eyes tightly and tried to not remember the images that were threatening to burn themselves into his mind.

He heard the horrific screaming, an odd combination of also sounding terrifyingly beautiful and haunted, and yet also bloodcurdling. He had rushed back to where they were keeping the Girl Who Lived, bursting through the door and into the room, with his eyes bulging at the scene.

There were multiple wizards and witches there, positioned around the room and holding tightly onto metal chains that rattled violently. The metal chains they were holding tightly onto, and were easily tossing them into a furor and panic? They wrapped around a colossal-sized, magnificent beast that screeched and yet distinctly also trilled its pain, aggressively fighting against its restraints with a righteous fury.

It was, to Rufus' dismay, a titanic, captive phoenix –godly in power and size.

Glistening jet-black feathers drifted about, but it was the emerald eyes that drew Rufus' gaze to.

Was that…?

"Ah, Fudge! Curious, were you?" Malcolm came over to his side, before going back to studying the over-sized phoenix with sickening adoration.

"Is that…"

"Henrietta Potter, yes," Malcolm was quick to answer him, still not taking his eyes off of the struggling phoenix. "I'm not surprised the subject's loud trilling brought you in here. It is, curiously, the only time she's capable of making sound, after we'd written in those runes to silence her."

Rufus clenched his jaw. "How is she…what is this?"

"Hm, this? Well, the specimen was easily extremely powerful in her own right, and still growing –but after attaining the Hallows, that power grew immensely. Even after binding her magic, before the Hallows we might have been able to keep her power bottled up. After the Hallows, we could only conclude that they expanded her power beyond true, complete containment. We had been experimenting earlier on with her, and accidentally discovered and brought out her animagus form –amazingly and unheard of as a magical creature! And not just any magical creature: a phoenix.

"Since we theorized that with her power continuously still growing, she could soon easily overpower the magical binds. However, if we were to somehow find a way to drain that power…We came up with introducing a sequence of runes that would activate once her 'power gauge' was nearly full, and thereby transform her into her animagus form and drain her power extensively, preventing her from being able to overcome the magical binds.

"Right now, we are currently trying to see if the animagus transformation shortcut we discovered through her can be adapted to be more available to the Wizarding community, and if we can reduce the pain factor…"

The man continued to talk, but Rufus could only reel back in horror and stare at the agonized phoenix that flailed about in pain.

He tried to block out the beautiful, anguished trilling of the transformed songbird, but it continued to haunt him right down to his soul.

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