After weeks of feeling the skin between his hat brim and collar blister while he sifted through sand, Frank’s archeology unit hit a wall—quite literally. A four thousand year old circular barrier meant to cordon off some sacred site—so went the group’s hypothesis, at any rate. The stone had crumbled over millennia, and been attacked by relentless weeds. However, the intent of the people who had made it remained, as did the general outline of the shape.
Professor Durgan, the revered Camridge professor in charge of the expedition, had sent word to the British Consul of the potential significance of the find. With the message had gone a request for more supplies, more sensitive digging equipment that would need to be driven over from Athens before they could continue.
All of which resulted in Frank having some unexpected time off.
The other fellows had given a few drachmas to a local olive merchant for a ride into the nearest town. Frank had begged off, saying he had better ideas of how to spend his afternoon than sitting behind the wrong end of a donkey for twenty bumpy miles.
“What will you do?” Saunders asked as he clambered into the cart.
Frank had to look up to reply, and so shielded his face from the sun with an already sunburnt hand. “I was thinking of exploring that virgin forest that begins at the far end of the site. The trees look enormous, and it’ll be jolly to have some shade for a change. It’s awfully romantic over there.”
Saunders and Stowe laughed. They were well accustomed to Frank and his sense of romance. They were good fellows, all, but lacked all sense of poetry. Frank had begun to learn that there were two types of archaeology specialists: those with no imagination, who looked for facts to stick to—life lived in footnotes, Frank had always told David—and those, like himself, who possessed too much, and looked for life in the shadows of time.
Their laughter was drowned out by a sudden barrage of Greek idioms too modern and rushed for Frank to follow, though the accompanying gesticulations clearly expressed great disapproval. The merchant had learned a smattering of English over the years, enough to understand much of what the British visitors said, even if his responding accent was too thick to comprehend. At Frank’s words, he’d sat straight up and begun shouting.
“What is he on about?” Frank asked Stowe, the only one of the party fluent in modern Greek.
“Superstitious piffle. He wants to know why you want to go into the forest. He says it’s bad enough that we’re digging around the edge of it, in places no one should ever dig or explore,” Stowe translated slowly, giving his interpretation in the brief and infrequent pauses between the merchant’s impassioned exhortations. “It’s apparently haunted. Nobody goes there, and nobody ever comes back.”
“Well, it stands to reason nobody ever comes back,” Frank replied lightly, “if nobody goes in the first place. I’m not afraid of their ghost stories.”
“We know you aren’t,” Saunders said. “In fact, you love them.”
Frank watched them drive away, and then set out. He carried nothing with him but a notebook, pencil, thermos, and some sweet biscuits and slices of cold meat he’d pinched at breakfast. In his right hand, he gripped the strap of the bag that held these essentials, and in his left he swung the walking stick David had given him for his last birthday—a beautifully polished bit of oak that Frank had treasured in his luggage during the long voyage.
Although the superstition had been laughable, the driver had been correct that this term’s dig had ventured much farther into the Greek wilderness than Frank had ever heard of any expedition going. The nearest town, to which the others had gone, barely warranted the designation of ‘town’. Even ‘village’ would have been a stretch. As a result, the forest that was considered out of the way even by such extremely rural denizens more than satisfied its promise of being the most beautiful and most virgin Frank had ever explored. Mere minutes after stepping over the remains of the ancient wall, Frank felt as though he’d entered a different and older world. Eager ferns fought for rays of sun between the canopying evergreens. Clear little creeks babbled all around, criss-crossing the mossy earth. Picturesque bundles of boulders and jagged rocks asserted themselves here and there, forcing proud pines to grow around them.
Although it was only the beginning of November, Frank hummed an old French carol that his mother always sang to him on Christmas mornings, enjoying how the damp air and leaves dampened his timbre and made the song more haunting. It was a green old tune, appropriate for the setting, he thought to himself, in the whimsical way that often got him teased here, but which his friends at home had always understood.
Three hours into his walk, he spied what appeared to be the vine-covered entrance to a cave, through which he saw a very faint light glowing. Thinking it one of those dreamy formations with an opening to the sunlight on both ends, he entered, poking in front of him with his stick and imagining himself a great explorer on a quest for Incan gold.
He stopped singing his carol, as it did not fit this new guise.
The light led the way, and Frank followed. Oddly, though he spied no other entrance or break in the rock, the mysterious light grew brighter, as though he was getting closer to the source. However, on closer inspection, even if there had been an opening, this could not be sunlight; sunlight did not shine with this particular pulsing hue.
The cave proved to be larger and more labyrinthine than Frank had initially estimated, closer to a carved catacombs than a natural cave. The winding hallway eventually opened up into a wider room, at the center of which stood a plinth. Atop the plinth sat a perfectly round nest made from fragile twigs. And in the nest sat a glowing egg, the source of the light.
Frank stared. He could sense that he entered somewhere special, somewhere sacred. He imagined—was almost certain—that he was breathing air few men ever had. Whatever sat in the nest deserved admiration. However, he could not begin to imagine what it was, nor why something so special had been placed here in this cave, forgotten and unguarded.
And then, almost in sarcastic rebuttal to his unvoiced thoughts, he heard a growl, low and steady, and growing closer. Frank froze at the sound, and then heard scratching paws and heaving hot breath. The light was not overly bright and the beast still hid mostly in the shadows, but it was enough for Frank to make out a lion’s head and mane. However, that was impossible; such beasts roamed the plains of Africa, not the forests of Greece.
A moment later, a different shadow showed a different angle, this time of a tail, which was sharp and jagged, not at all like a lion’s.
The beast growled again, and the air grew hairy and hot as the thing approached. Frank scrambled backwards. The claws pawing at the ground looked like those of a… no, it could not be a dragon, for dragons did not exist.
Disoriented and telling himself that he was seeing things, Frank continued in his retreat. The beast prowled closer, sniffing loudly.
The sound of a snap from somewhere nearby caused Frank and his pursuer to stiffen.
“I’m going to distract it with some goat pheromone,” a slightly hesitant but soothingly British voice said. “As it turns to the left, I want you to run past it and towards me on the right. Can you do that?”
Frank was too surprised and frightened to voice any of the questions he normally would have posed at such a moment, the most salient of which would have been who are you? and where did you come from? and goat pheromone? Therefore, all he said was, “I suppose.”
“On the count of three, then,” the calm voice replied. “One, two, three.”
There was the sound of something being thrown, and a ghastly stink, and the beast grunted, still in bestial hunger, but now with a different cast. It must have turned, because the waves of smoky hot exhalations ceased rolling towards Frank. Following the instructions of his unseen saviour, Frank dashed between it and the rock wall. Unfortunately, both he and the savior had misjudged the length and vigor of the thing’s tail. What felt like a fire-tipped cat o’ nine tails lashed across Frank’s chest as he squeezed by. The pain felled him.
Things happened very quickly after that. Frank felt a sturdy grip on his shoulder, and then it was as though his insides had been turned inside out, in addition to his chest having been ripped open. He tumbled to the ground, suddenly out of the cave and somewhere much brighter than even the surrounding forest. Frank rolled over onto all fours and vomited into the grass.
“Frank Maddox?” the voice asked, in a shocked tone, but Frank lacked the strength to look up and see if he recognized his savior, too. Instead, he let himself be dragged by two hands under his armpits along sandy earth and pulled into an empty tent. No supplies, no clothes, no food, he noted as he slid inside. No sign of anything except a worn leather suitcase in the center.
“Stay with me, Frank, just a minute longer,” the man said.
“How do you know my name?” Frank whispered.
Instead of answering, the main unlatched the suitcase and then, impossibly, stepped into it.
“You’ll have to lean on me,” the man said, and then, without further explanation of his mad plan, he hoisted Frank’s bottom over the edge of the suitcase and down down down into a space that should not have been there.
No, Frank thought to himself, he was mistaken. Suitcases could not be climbed into. And especially, they lacked little wooden sheds in the world contained within.
The man settled Frank on the floor of this impossible shack and propped him up against the wall. Though Frank’s vision clouded from pain (the blood oozing out between the shards of his ripped shirt was streaked with green and white, so something was very wrong with him), he thought he recognized something familiar about the man’s loping gait.
“Don’t try to move,” the man said, as though Frank were capable of getting up and doing a jig.
Through his drooping eyelids and heavy breathing, Frank watched him rummage through some cabinets on the opposite wall.
“Thank you. For saving me,” Frank forced himself to croak out, despite the pain that now spread from his chest upwards to his throat. Politeness above all, he’d always been taught. “I must have lost consciousness for a minute, as we seem to be elsewhere. Where is this? What has happened?”
“We’re at the edge of the forest, where I’m staying. You’re lucky I was there.” The man’s voice halted and skittered, in time with his feet. “These gashes can be fatal, but but I have just the thing. Bit of essence of moonlight and pickled dragon’s egg will fix you up nicely.”
Frank assumed he’d misheard and deciding to ignore the man’s private ramblings. He lay still while the man knelt down between his splayed legs and ripped the rest of his shirt open. Dirty blond hair covered most of his face, but there was something about those quick fingers as they rubbed a soothing salve over his wounds, something about the shape of his face, the sweet freckles, the darting shyness of his gaze, the familiarity with which he touched Frank…
“Newt?” he asked, dredging up a name from what felt like a lifetime ago. “Newt Scamander? What on earth are you…”
Newt, for indeed it was him, couldn’t possibly have been anyone else, frowned wryly. “I wasn’t certain you’d recognize me.”
Frank wanted to snap that of course he would recognize an old… He couldn’t firmly call Newt a friend, but at least an acquaintance, fondly, though not very well, remembered.
It had been years since they’d last seen one another. The Scamanders had lived next door to the seaside house that Frank’s mother rented every summer. All alone at the edge of the village, the two houses came with adjoining stretches of private seaside. Frank had always been fascinated by the eccentric Scamanders and their sprawling grounds full of mysterious barns whence even more mysterious noises sometimes originated, hooting and screeching and hissing in the night. Frank had spent his youth imagining extravagant explanations too fantastical to ever be true.
Theseus, the handsome, heroic, golden-haired elder brother with the strong nose and rich voice had held young Frank’s hero-worshipping regard from afar. Newt, younger, awkward, and shy, had looked hopeful, so many times, for so many years, whenever Frank had come into view. He had always seemed a lonely sort of kid, no doubt because he was terribly scuggy, always carrying all manner of vermin in his pockets and digging around, elbows-deep, in the low tide mud. He’d been a nice enough kid, for all his scugginess, and Frank had always tried to be kind to him, to share his sweets if they were down swimming at the beach together.
Everyone in the village had muttered about those ‘strange Scamanders’ who were ‘suspicious folk, of an old family, to be sure, in the area for centuries, but suspicious nonetheless’. They weren’t wrong. Frank had seen it for himself when he’d run into them unexpectedly, and a different situation entirely.
It had happened in London, at King’s Cross station, when Frank had been about to board the train that would take him to his second year at King’s Hall. He’d been equipped in the normal fashion, with trunks and a straw hat and a little book of poetry tucked into his greatcoat pocket. Frank had run headlong into little Newt, or rather, into a cage that Newt had been tugging round a corner, and which contained the most beautiful owl Frank had ever seen, as well as some queer animals Frank could not name and was not certain he had ever seen before, even in pictures.
“Why, it’s you!” Frank had said pleasantly, and an essential part of himself had awoken at the delighted look Newt had given him. It was in that moment that Frank had realized there might be something in cultivating friendships among those younger than himself, instead of being the one forever looking up into the sun. He’d never felt such gratification before, and rather reveled in it.
“Hullo, Frank,” Newt had gushed, followed by, “Thanks awfully,” when Frank had reached out to steady the rocking case of creatures.
“This is going to be your first year, isn’t it?” Frank asked pleasantly. “Perhaps you’re going to my school!”
Newt had shaken his head, even before Frank had a chance to name the place. “I doubt it,” he’d said, and just then the cage had tipped open and something round and soft had leaped at Frank and…
Frank found that he couldn’t remember.
The touch of a hand on his shoulder broke his reverie and brought him back to the present, back to this odd little shack in what couldn’t possibly be a suitcase, within an otherwise empty tent that he couldn’t remember having traveled to from a cave in which he’d been attacked by a…
Frank shook his head, for he knew the name of the beast he’d thought he’d—but couldn’t possibly have actually—seen.
He opened his eyes again and saw Newt crouched down to eye level with him, but avoiding direct eye contact, an old peculiarity of his. Newt was older now, of course, than in the memory Frank had just been trying to grab, but the bright eyes and awkward eagerness had not diminished. His face hovered in front of Frank’s, a little too close, but instead of discomfort, Frank felt a fleeting kind of natural ease.
“How are you feeling?” Newt asked. He was shaking something behind his back.
“Rather rotten, but I expect you guessed that,” Frank grumbled through the pain. “Newt, what’s going on? What are you doing in Greece?”
“Writing a book.”
“Really? So am I.”
Newt’s eyes glistened. “What on?”
Frank knew Newt was using enthusiasm to distract him from the large syringe he brandished behind his back. He’d always been rather transparent. Part of Frank wished Newt would just get on with it, but another, unsubstantiated part knew that as soon as this moment was over, it might vanish, just like the memory of the train station. Therefore, he kept talking, even though each word was agony to force out.
“It’s my dissertation, not a book anyone would ever want to read. On the cult of Asclepios.”
Newt smiled shyly and rubbed the back of his neck, almost stabbing himself in the process.
“You never did stop loving the Greeks, did you? Not even when... I’m glad to hear it.”
“I don’t remember ever talking to you about antiquity,” Frank said.
“You did,” Newt replied.
“What’s your book about?”
“It’s a sort of zoology book. About different types of animals, their habitats, and why they’re special.”
“I see you never did stop loving animals.”
They smiled shyly at one another for another long, sad, minute, until a stab of pain shot across Frank’s chest and a tug of guilt pulled at his heart. It wasn’t right, Frank thought, to think about Newt like that, to think about anyone like that. He winced, and Newt, always so admirably empathetic, even as a boy, winced along with him.
“What was that thing, Newt? In the cave? You know, don’t you?”
“I have to inject you with this,” Newt said, almost apologetically, looking away instead of answering. “It will put you to sleep, but when you wake, all will be well. I promise. I’m so sorry. If I don’t see you again, or if you don’t… It was nice to see you again, Frank.”
“What was in the cage that day at King’s Cross?” Frank asked stupidly, irrelevantly, almost desperately, just before Newt pressed the end of the syringe until it emptied into Frank’s arm. The pain had finally made him delirious. “I can’t remember. Why can’t I remember?”
Newt’s eyes opened wide, with almost as much pain as Frank felt. Liquid ice raced through his veins as the contents of the syringe spread. He screamed, and Newt held him close, at first hesitantly, but with increasing strength from his bony arms, until Frank had gone hoarse. Even then, Newt kept his arms wrapped tightly around Frank, in a caring but awkward embrace.
In response to his cries, Frank heard a cacophony of roars and squeaks and caws coming from somewhere nearby. It seemed natural, however; such sounds seemed to follow Newt.
“It was a jersey,” Newt whispered into his ear. And then the world went black.
Frank woke back in the hayloft he was renting above a peasant family’s barn. He had the distinct impression that he’d just been laid down. He shifted slightly, and from the way his back rubbed against the sheets, he could tell that he was wearing his shirt again, the same one but mended. He couldn’t even feel a wound stinging underneath the linen. It was as though he’d never set out at all that morning, except for the fact that the shadows slanting along the wooden floor were long, and the temperature cool, as it always was in the evening.
The only reminder that it had been real at all was Newt himself, standing over the bed in the semi-darkness and pointing a stick at Frank, shaking as he did it.
Something about the stick filled Frank with terror.
“Newt?” Frank pleaded, as soothingly as he could.
“I have to,” Newt said, quite unconvincingly.
Frank hadn’t the faintest idea what Newt was doing in his room, nor what the stick was for, but he knew that he didn’t want it, whatever it was. “I don’t believe you do.”
Newt slowly lowered his arm and crumpled to the ground. “I’m so sorry.”
Frank sat up and reached for a lamp. Newt seemed agitated, even more so than Frank, and it seemed wise to skirt around some issues, at least at present. He couldn’t remember having taken this approach with Newt before, but something told him it was the right one.
“How did we get back here?” he asked as he struck the matches.
“I brought you back,” Newt said miserably.
“You couldn’t possibly have carried me all that way. It’s miles and miles.”
“I apparated us. Just as I apparated the chimera to a place where it could no longer attack people.”
“I don’t understand,” Frank said, shuddering equally at the word he’d been avoiding and the one whose definition he did not know. “I don’t know what that means.”
“You once knew what it meant,” Newt said, even more miserably. “I’ve told you before.”
“It’s better manners to remind me of what I’ve forgotten than to cast up my faulty memory,” Frank said, meaning for it to be a joke, but hearing the remark come out rather heavy-handed; David had once or twice commented on this unfortunate habit. Newt didn’t seem to mind, or perhaps he didn’t notice (or perhaps, a small, dampened part of Frank tried to think, he knew Frank well enough to know he didn’t meant it).
Frank pursed his lips. In the years since David had entered his life, he hadn’t had much cause to think about Newt. Indeed, the last time they’d seen one another had been on what David always called their ‘immortal day’, when David had come to stay at the seaside and they’d played so much golf. Newt had been mucking about in the pond near the seventh hole, despite being entirely too old to persist in that kind of scugginess. He had waved. Frank, feeling ashamed for reasons both apparent and unknown, had pretended not to see him, which only made Newt wave even more vigorously, even more shyly. David had spotted him and asked who that strange boy was, to which Frank had replied, “No one. Just one of my eccentric neighbors.”
From the way Newt’s face had fallen, Frank was certain Newt had heard him. The moment counted amongst his most regretted, and was the reason why Frank could never look on that day with quite the same reverence David did. He’d rejected a friend that day, rejected him for reasons he couldn’t even remember and didn’t want to think about. He’d never had a chance to explain, because his mother had stopped renting the house after that, and Frank had never seen any of the Scamanders again.
Today, despite the rejection, that friend had saved his life.
Frank owed Newt kindness, and more.
“I’m the one who’s sorry,” he said, wanting to apologize for everything, but starting first with his harsh tone.
“You’ve nothing to be sorry about. I’m the one who should be sorry.”
This startled Frank. “You? You’ve done nothing but save my life today.”
Newt shook his head. “I meant… Well, I suppose it wasn’t me. But it was knowing me that led to others doing it. Knowing me. And… and… Other things.”
Frank did not know, but he had an inkling that froze through his veins as effectively as the shot Newt had given him. He knew that he’d been a beast, the worst of boys, with many sins to his name. Newt was looking at him now the way many boys had looked at him once upon a time: with dismay and hurt, spoiled love. For the first time in years, Frank felt like a cad, except he couldn’t remember why.
“Led to what, Newt?”
“You can feel it, can’t you? That you know me, better than you have reason to think you do, but you can’t remember the details. You don’t remember how the jersey got loose and bit your mother that day on the train platform, and how my mother administered the antidote. You don’t remember how you translated that book about wyverns from French into English for me, and how you held my hand afterwards. You don’t remember the day I sneaked you into the barn to watch the hippogriffs being fed. You don’t remember the day we swam in the ocean and I helped you hold your breath long enough to kick down to the depths and wave at the merpeople.”
Newt had always been a strange, birdlike creature, but this was something extreme, more like raving. The odd, annoying thing was, however, that the raving didn’t sound as ludicrous as it should have.
“I shouldn’t have let any of it happen,” Newt continued, staring at the knees that he hugged from his position on the floor. “I knew the rules. I knew what would happen, what the protocol would be, what they would do. But I was selfish and always wanted to see you anyway. Everyone else finds me rather irritating. You were one of the few real friends I had, and the only one who was more than…” Newt frowned. “I never did understand why you stopped.”
“It wasn’t that I stopped because of you,” Frank explained. He couldn’t remember having started, couldn’t remember any of it at all, but the crestfallen hurt on Newt’s face was more convincing than his own memories. And even if he couldn’t remember the details of the beginning, he could easily extrapolate his motivation regarding the end. “I don’t remember, but… It stands to reason I stopped because I stopped. Not because of anything you did. I found salvation. I stopped… all that. It was wrong. It was beastly. I should never have dragged you down with me. I sullied you, and for that I am sorry.”
“I’m not. I know you mean ‘beastly’ as a bad thing, but I can’t say I agree.” Newt laughed, but there was little mirth in it, nor even longing, as that must have all crusted over years ago. His crooked little smile was sad as he looked at the floor and said, “You’re being a good sport, going along with this silly story, like you always did, for the fun of it, But you have no idea what I’m talking about, do you?”
In the distance, Frank could hear the clinking of bells and the drunken shouting of Stowe and Saunders as they were driven by the outer gate of the house and past it, to their lodgings. However, Frank did not begrudge them their easy pleasures. That was all very well for them, but injury and all, Frank had had the better day and was about to have the better night. He was about to revel in the kind of extravagant fantasy he’d used to invent about his neighbors. He had faced a chimera—for he suddenly decided to stop doubting his own eyes—and lived. And now, here, was an old friend and an old mystery, both ready to unburden and unravel themselves.
“Why don’t you start at the beginning?” he suggested.
“But who told you about the egg? How did you track it here?” Frank asked at the end, feeling oddly accepting and peaceful about it all. For here was what he’d always wanted, he told himself. To know that romance was real, that fantasy lurked around every corner. In fact, the revelations Newt had been delivering for the past hour or so seemed less outlandish than reassuring. Less disruptive to Frank’s worldview than confirmatory.
“There are old tales, in some of our children’s books, of the chimera, who keeps watch over the egg in its sacred cave until it is time. I asked the local people and have been wandering from forest to forest, tracking the stories of hauntings and danger that no one can explain. I’d been hiding in there for days, covered in fox dung in order to observe it. No one’s spotted one in a millennium. He’d ignored me for so long that I’d almost forgotten chimeras are dangerous, predatory killers. And then you walked in,” New finished, in a somewhat reprimanding tone.
“I’m sorry to have interrupted your observations, but I hardly asked to be nearly mauled to death.”
Frank had taken it all rather, well, he thought. A world with witches and wizards and wyverns. An old acquaintance who carried a zoo in his luggage. A relationship’s worth of memories erased—memories of which he probably would have been ashamed, but would have selfishly wanted to keep anyway.
“You don’t seem angry,” Newt stated slowly. “Nor confused.”
Frank should have been angry—indeed, he was furious—but not with Newt. Newt had not been the one inflicting a lifetime of violations on his mind, leaving blanks instead of discovered magic. In fact, he had always campaigned against it. The fault lay with Newt's parents, with other wizards, with the larger system. So, he decided to let it lie, especially in light of how guilty poor innocent Newt looked about it all, and how eagerly he had tried to fill those blanks for him again. So, lightly, he replied, “I always knew there was something interesting in that barn of yours. Now I have finally found it out.”
Newt grimaced. “This is the third time you’ve found out, unfortunately.”
“Are you going to do it?” Frank asked, seriously now. “Are you going to obliviate me, erase all that has happened today?”
Newt had held his knees this entire time, for the entire tale. His arse must have been numb. “I can’t. You know I can’t. You’ll keep a secret, won’t you? They never believed me when I said you could, never gave you a chance to, but I always knew you could keep a secret.”
“Yes, I can keep a secret. But I want you to take me back. I want to go back to that cave and see it again. I know what it is now, though it had been stumping Professor Durgan. It all makes sense now. The perimeter wall we found. It encircled the forest. It was originally meant to keep the chimera inside, so it could protect the egg without hurting anyone. How will I explain to the others, in research terms, without telling them, or giving it away…”
“You’ll think of something.” Newt finally got up and sat next to Frank on the bed.
Frank felt his blood heat up a bit, at the thought of what he couldn’t remember having gotten up to with Newt. Somehow, the lack of information made him feel that much guiltier.
“I always wanted to ask,” Newt began tentatively. “Your friend… The one who came to visit that last summer before your mother stopped taking the house… Did you and he…? I know they made you forget about our previous summers, but you’d always come back, wanted to start afresh. Is he the reason you…?”
“Yes, but not in the way that you think. He made me see the light, and I put all that behind me. I never touched him, never once.”
“But you wanted to.” Newt sounded more confused than rejected. “You are unhappy.”
“I’m perfectly well.”
“You’re lonely. Lonelier than even me, because you won’t even admit it to yourself, because the thing you want is forever in front of you, and you refuse to do anything about it. Is that why you keep coming on these expeditions? To give yourself a reason to be away from the torture that you inflict on yourself?”
Frank frowned. “Let’s talk about what we are to do next. What to do with the egg.”
Newt sighed, but didn’t push. “I’d like to hatch it, but I don’t know what it needs. I’d sit on it for a few days, but something tells me that wouldn’t work.”
“What I wouldn’t give to see you, though,” Frank laughed, picturing Newt as a proud mother bird, sitting on that plinth.
“It needs something. I’ve encountered animals like this before, who need a certain ritual in order to reproduce, regardless of which stage the ritual occurs. The egg is on that plinth and guarded by that chimera for a reason. This is the sacred ground the bird always returns to, like sea turtles.”
“They always return to the same spot to breed, even if it is thousands of miles away from where they are at the moment,” Newt explained, growing engagingly enthusiastic in that boyish way he’d never lost. “It’s quite fascinating.”
“I believe you. I also think I know what the egg is.” Frank had accepted everything Newt had told him, and now it was time to embrace it enough to propose his own insanity made real. “I believe it is a phoenix, waiting for rebirth. There are ancient texts about it, many conflicting accounts, but almost all agree that the bird dies is reborn in a ritual fire, fueled by spices.”
“I’ve heard of this legend, but never knew the specifics. They don’t teach us ancient languages at Hogwarts.”
“Luckily, you have an old friend who received a double first in Latin and Greek at Cambridge.”
Newt grinned. “Yes, I do.”
“Cinnamon, are you sure?” Newt asked the next day, when Frank arrived at the edge of the forest with a jar of the stuff.
“Solinus, Satyrus, Pliny, and Lactantius all mention it as a key ingredient in the rebirthing process. I also brought balsam, cassia, myrrh and panacea, just in case. They were mentioned in other texts, though my hunch is that Satyrus had the measure of it. I even found an old incantation in a forgotten play that my professor loves. It may be less rubbish than we think.”
Newt twinkled at Frank. “I should keep you along for all my expeditions.”
“I’m afraid I’d only be useful to you on Greek mythology-related endeavours.”
“You speak French, too,” Newt noted.
“Is there a lot of call for that, in your line of work?”
“Not much, but it’s nice to listen to. I used to love it when you read to me”
As they walked, the feeling of comfortable companionship returned. Frank longed to know why, and asked Newt to remind him, in as much detail as possible, asked him not to spare even the guilty details that made Frank’s face heat up.
By the time they reached the cave entrance, now safe to enter with the chimera gone, Frank’s cheeks were red with the stain of what a little scug he’d been, and embarrassed that Newt had ever liked him, and yet less guilty than he should have been about other things.
“You were always kind to me,” Newt said when Frank expressed as much. “It was only at the end, that you became different, dismissive. You wouldn’t even speak to me. What you call ‘salvation’, I saw as something else. And I still see it. An unhappiness that has changed you. Why did you do it?”
Instead of answering, Frank forged ahead into the cave. Newt sighed and followed.
Newy had brought a torch this time, but the light from the egg led the way just the same as it had the previous day.
“I’ll assemble the spices and light the pyre. You read the words from the play,” Newt said.
Using the light of the fire that burned merrily a few minutes later and sent the sweet smell of cinnamon wafting through the air, Frank pronounced the ancient Greek words.
The light from the egg grew brighter and brighter and began to quiver as the flames grew hotter and as Frank spoke.
“It’s hatching!” Newt whispered, sounding like a proud papa. In his enthusiasm, he grabbed Frank by the shoulders, and Frank grabbed back. Like the two innocent schoolboys they’d once been, they held one another and watched. Frank’s papers drifted to the ground.
In later years, Frank wouldn’t be able to remember—quite naturally this time—who moved first, but soon they were kissing, kissing and clutching one another in joy and excitement and a sense of wonder to be sharing this moment together, thousands of years in the making. They kissed and watched the egg out of the corner of their eyes as it quivered and cracked, seemingly fueled by the happiness they exuded. It was as though a dam had broken, and all the passion and need Frank had denied himself all this time burst forth, but instead, of dirty, he felt cleansed, emptied, almost purified by the flames before him. With Newt, he felt innocent again, in this act that he had perhaps foolishly, and for so long, considered guilty. If the sacred Phoenix approved, he thought madly, then what argument had a mortal like him to make?
They stopped kissing in order to gasp simultaneously when the glowing shell finally split to reveal a beautiful reddish chick with a long tail. As soon as it was free of its casing it made an adorable, high-pitched squawk, and jumped out of the fire and right into Newt’s waiting hands.
“He likes you,” Frank said, wonderingly.
“Come, you can pat him. He’ll like you, too.”
Frank carefully stroked the top of the chick’s head with his index finger. The bird was still warm, and he wondered how Newt could stand to hold it, but the feathers were so soft, drier than a chick’s usually were.
“What should we call it?” he asked.
From somewhere outside and far away, they heard explosions. Newt glanced up in alarm.
“What is that?”
Frank calculated in his mind and found the answer. “It’s just Stowe and Saunders lighting fireworks. They mentioned to me that they’d bought some in Athens for just this occasion, and have been promising the townspeople a show. It’s November fifth, you know.”
“Guy Fawkes Day,” Newt said, mostly to himself.
At the words, the little chick began to hop in Newt’s hand and rub the top of its head even harder against Frank’s finger.
“Do you like that, phoenix?” Newt asked it, and received a more vigorous hop in reply.
“Fawkes is a good name for a little red bird who likes fire,” Frank remarked.
The chick hopped into Frank’s hand and rubbed against his fingers as if in agreement.
Newt laughed. “Fawkes it is.”
Newt put his hand on Frank’s shoulder and apparated them out of the cave and into a clearing where they could watch the fireworks. Little Fawkes hopped in delight with each burst of colored light, and with each happy glance Newt and Frank shared.
“Do you know,” Newt said towards the end of the night, when the fireworks were long over and they’d returned to the suitcase. “In America, they don’t allow men of my kind and to marry women of your kind, and vice versa?”
“Why ever not?” Frank asked. He was settled on the steps of the supply shack, holding Fawkes and watching Newt feed the other creatures.
“They think it beastly and unnatural.”
Frank could sense a lesson coming, but after the night he’d had, he found that he didn’t mind. Newt was only voicing what he must have known Frank had already reconsidered.
“Wizards and muggles. Warring peoples. Men and women. It’s hard enough to find people we truly care for. Why should we limit our affections even further? That’s what my old professor used to say.”
“Your old professor sounds wise,” Frank said, and meant it honestly, for the old fears and prejudices seemed rather silly in the face of what he’d experienced this week.
They both knew this thing they had rekindled could not last. Newt had come to Greece to seek the chimera. With that accomplished, he would be on his way, first to Egypt to follow a tip he’d received about a hippogriff, and then off to South America. Frank had responsibilities here, and back in England. But they’d shared a truly immortal evening, had hatched a phoenix, had recovered something precious that had been lost. More than one thing, really.
So, no, Newt could not stay, and this would vanish as quickly as an apparition, but Frank found that it was enough. He felt light and happy and free for the first time in years. He didn’t know what or who might happen to him next, but he embraced the possibilities as eagerly as little Fawkes embraced his rebirth.
“I hate the idea of Fawkes being cooped up in here forever,” Frank said, resuming his gentle petting. “He needs space to fly, to grow.”
“I was thinking of stopping at Hogwarts on my way to South America. I could leave him with my old professor. Fawkes be happy at Hogwarts, I think. There’s even an ancient wood there for him to fly around in once he gets bigger.”
Fawkes seemed to be listening, because he hopped excitedly in Frank’s hand.
“I believe Fawkes himself approves of the plan,” Frank said.