A/N: Though it was quite a while ago, I want to give the biggest THANK YOU to everyone who reviewed the last chapter! I was extremely nervous about posting my thoughts on J.K. Rowling, and was so grateful for everyone's responses. From people agreeing with me, disagreeing with me, commenting just on the chapter, to agreeing partly in that cancel culture is toxic? Thank you so much for the calm, balanced messages. To be clear, I'm not saying that Rowling (or anyone else) can do no wrong. I'm also certainly not saying that everyone should agree with me. I just hope we can look rationally at subjects and understand the need for discussion over blind hatred or taking blazing headlines at face value.
At any rate, this is already too much politics for me! Back to the much delayed story :D Though, as to why the updates are so far and few? Procrastination, honestly. But I've also been grappling with multiple fanfics and have been very much on the fence about which ones to finish. I then realised I was being silly and should just finish this one since it's so close to the end (for those who followed 'Hallowed Time Twists', I might just bite the bullet and finish that one too—poor writing and all).
Anyway, HAPPY NEW YEAR!
It was a nice, boring day. The press was still camped outside of hospital, Hermione wasn't entirely living at the office, Rose and Hugo were cutely obsessed with fireworks (thank you George), Harry's sanity was…meh…, and most of the other magimaguses were on the verge of leaving. This was a pretty good omen for the New Year, Ron felt. Or—he'd take it, at any rate. Things were going so well, in fact, that he decided it was time for Harry not to be as much of a hermit.
"Harry, Tabitha. Tabby, Harry." Ron gestured at them both. He'd figured the two ought to meet. Maybe it'd help them. Not that he thought they'd share stories or the like, but it had to be good to find someone to relate to.
Not that he'd been (too) worried about it. Tabby was adorable (terrifying but cute) and Harry was great with kids. When he'd mentioned the idea to Hermione she couldn't see a negative to it. Both of the 'patients' had seemed alright with it. He hadn't gone into detail with them, but he'd gotten the impression they both wanted more company. That is, Tabby wanted more company. He suspected Harry wanted a further reprieve from the barrage of gingers.
So Ron was surprised when, before the short introductions had finished (or barely begun), Harry and Tabby were glaring at each other rather than bonding.
"Ron!" Harry sniped, not taking his eyes off of the sunglasses-wearing but obviously furious girl. "What the hell is she?"
"Sssame to you!" Tabby hissed back before Ron could answer. Her nostrils flared, like she was smelling something disgusting. "Urgh, you're worssse than the baddiesss."
"Hold on, what?" Ron said weakly, staring from one to the other.
"RON!" Harry exclaimed, still not looking away from the young witch. He also appeared to be smelling something rotten. "What're you playing at? What is she?"
It was only then that Ron recalled the events from his second year at Hogwarts. He began to wonder how much of Fawkes' heroism had been him saving Harry and Ginny, and how much had been the bird being pissed off at the giant snake. "Oh. Oh, okay, I see it now. This might be a problem." He said faintly.
"Might be?" Tabby had scooted back her chair and was glaring in the direction of both men. "It'sss a freaking bird! A sssmelly, totally grossss bird. A bird on fire!"
"You're one to talk." Harry darkly sniffed the air and cut off Ron's scramble to calm them down. "Gah, what even is that? You look like a girl, but all I'm getting is—"
"Basilisk." Ron supplied. Maybe this was said a touch too bluntly, as both jerked their heads towards him. But he was tired of more being added to this madness, and subtlety had never been his thing. "The word you're looking for is 'basilisk'. Which is what Tabby can transform into. Tabby, Harry's form is a phoenix. Which is basically a 'bird on fire'. In other news? I've just realised your animals are natural enemies."
"Really Ron." Harry said with clear exasperation, sending another glance at Tabby. "Whatever gave you that idea?"
"Sssmelly, burnt bird." Tabby waved a hand over her nose, making a disgusted face (one that was echoed by Harry). "Eww…"
Harry's nose crinkled, his gaze now wary rather than hostile. "A basilisk? Wow, and I thought I was unlucky."
"Better a sssnake than a ssstupid, sssmelly bird." She sniffed. Then coughed at the odour, holding her nose shut. "Leasst I have deadly ray visssion!"
Harry seemed affronted. His best friend was about to step in to stop a fight (which, in all likelihood, would raze St. Mungo's to the ground), when the younger man's lips twitched in amusement. "My form has magical tears."
"Oh." Tabby drooped a touch before rebounding with a toothy smirk. "I have huge, poisonouss teeth!" Her hissing was noticeably fading alongside her anger.
"Very sharp beak." Harry sat back. Though he held his nose, he now seemed bemused.
"Ginormouss body!" Tabby flailed her arms around in emphasis.
"Wings." Harry tilted his head in thought. "I should try those out…but I really don't want to transform…"
"Feathers. Hold up, I keep forgetting about flying. Ron, do you think you could—"
"You already said that one. But fine, immortality. Or regeneration, whatever. Ron! What happened to you sneaking in my Firebolt? I've been going spare without—"
"Super…" Harry paused, forced out of his distraction. After a few seconds his face pinched into a frown. Ron coughed, nodding pointedly at the burned curtains. The dark-haired wizard brightened. "Fire! Yeah, I can create fire from nothing. I should've remembered that one."
"You think?" Ron said drily. Still, he was relieved they were more or less chatting animatedly. It beat them attacking each other.
To say that Minerva was confused was an understatement. Or no. Perhaps not 'confused', as it was clear where the issue lay. But what wasn't clear was how to solve it. The very thought of an unsolved problem set her on edge (while making her all the more determined to solve the dratted thing).
In contrast, Harry was completely done with it.
"It doesn't work." The man ranted, restlessly pacing the space between the bed and the window. "Why continue? This is obviously messed up!"
Minerva sat back in her seat, contemplative. She understood his frustration. She did. But she sometimes wished Potter wasn't such a restless Gryffindor (and wasn't that saying something). "Let's examine this from a different angle." She suggested. "We need to figure out why you're unable to 'consciously' transform into a phoenix."
"I don't see why we should."
"Mr. Potter." Minerva repeated neatly, though sternly enough that he faced her. "Let's examine this from a different angle."
Harry coughed. He sat on the bed a bit sheepishly. "Fine. But this is a waste of both our times."
She raised an eyebrow. "Never mind the phoenix for a moment, the direct approach clearly falls flat. Have you ever had a mental block before? Specifically, with anything concerning magic?"
Harry gave her an odd look. "I suppose." She silently returned the stare. "Ah, at least twice. I had problems with the summoning charm and the Patronus spell."
"But you eventually managed to accomplish both spells, quite famously in fact."
"Do you know the reason for the original block?" Her words were crisp. "At least for the Patronus, was it due to its complexity?"
"That wasn't why." Harry hesitated. "Honestly?"
"That would be preferable." She answered thinly.
He cleared his throat. "I was afraid. For the summoning charm, I had to learn it to perfection before the first Triwizard Tournament task. I kept picturing a dragon, which was distracting." He nervously pushed his hair back. "With the Patronus, it was more complicated. But I guess I was also afraid."
"Of dementors?" Minerva said sympathetically.
"Yea—no." Harry sighed. "When I was a kid, my worst memory was my parents' murder. Every time a dementor got near me I'd hear my mother's dying words. It wasn't pleasant. But I," he cleared his throat, "it was still her voice. I didn't want to lose that."
"Thus, you had problems producing a Patronus." Minerva pictured a bright young potions mistress. He remembered that? Good heavens. "The details aside, it isn't surprising. Fear is a prime reason behind magical blocks. It is because magic is so intertwined with one's intention, that fear critically gets in one's way."
He gave a bitter laugh. "Then I'm hopeless. I don't like the bird. I don't want to transform into him, even if I'm trying to force myself. I just want him to be quiet in my head. Is that too much to ask?"
There it was again, the separation of the entities. "I suppose it would be pointless to remind you—yet again—that the phoenix is part of your personality and not a separate being?"
"Yep." Harry shrugged. "Besides, it was an experimental potion. Maybe it's different."
Minerva gave him a stern look, but they both knew she didn't mean it. "I'll even side-step how you're 'hearing' your animal form, as it's likely a symptom of the greater problem. I have to ask: do you blame the phoenix?"
"Do you blame the phoenix for what happened to you?" She repeated. "Your animal form is the reason you survived and had to suffer through the past year. You've also laid blame on 'him' for your changes in emotion and personality."
Harry blinked at her, stunned. She doubted he was surprised at the words and was more shocked that she had vocalise them. "I guess so." He said uncertainly. "I mean, yes, I do. Though there's plenty of self-blame as well." He shook his head. "My mind's a mess."
Minerva hmmed. "Can you think of anything positive about the phoenix?"
There was a narrow silence.
"'He'," she said gently, "is the reason you were able to return to your family. That isn't a small thing. The phoenix made it so you could meet your daughter."
Harry grudgingly nodded, clearly not thrilled at admitting this.
Minerva speculated him. "You need to accept that your animal form isn't a burden and that it's a part of you. A part that is greatly suffering." She said primly. "This won't happen overnight. But I might have a way to convince you that it'd be a positive thing to transform."
"Really." Harry said in clear disbelief.
"You need to counteract the fear. You need to find a reason to do this that outweighs your uncertainties. Knowing you, I doubt any 'selfish' reason concerning yourself would suffice."
"Then what could I—"
"Your family and friends have many physical scars from the war, do they not?" Minerva cut in brusquely. "I have a simple question for you. Which animal, Mr. Potter, has extremely potent healing tears?"
If Harry's jaw dropped any farther, it'd have touched the ground.
Minerva stood up, straightening her robes. "View this as a dragon you have to conquer." She watched the stunned wizard. "I'll want you to demonstrate the transformation next time I visit: no excuses. However, don't be foolish and try it without my supervision."
"Right, Professor." Harry said half to himself, staring at his hands in amazement. "Healing tears. Healing tears! What the f—"
"Have a good day, Harry." She gave a faint smile as she headed out of the room.
Rose was sitting on Ron's lap, Hugo was in her lap, and she was staring at her brother in utter disgust. Ron thought she bore a momentary resemblance to Narcissa Malfoy. Contradictorily, he also thought it was one of the most adorable things he'd ever seen. He…wasn't sure what that meant.
"It's good to bond with your brother." Ron told her matter-of-factly. Rose's disgusted stare turned upward to him.
"Drooling. You used to do the same when you were a baby."
"Did not!" Rose was careful not to touch her suddenly gross brother. Ron shuffled Hugo onto his other knee, just to be careful.
"Not not not!"
"Did—okay, I'm not doing this." Ron adjusted both his kids, giving an extra adoring look as Hugo gave a huge yawn. Rose, in turn, miffed in betrayal. "You two will be best friends. I'm friends with all my brothers and sisters, aren't I?"
"Auntie Ginny used to bited you!" Rose exclaimed, staring at him reproachfully. He wondered how she'd learned all of these expressions. He regretted his tendency to exaggerate.
"We've always been close." He soothed, glossing over her actual statement. "I don't know what I'd do without her and the others."
"Uncas George 'n Fred turned your teddy ina spider!" She was on the verge of tears. Ron froze, flabbergasted. "Wha' if Hugo does?!"
"Hold on. How did you know that?" He'd barely mentioned Fred to her, let alone comment on Sir Grizzlypaws.
"Unca George didna want Roxy bullying Freddy!" Rose cried out.
"So he said…" Ron gave a slow exhale, not having expected this. He took another breath, shoving this aside. "Look at your brother. At your cute, innocent baby brother. Does he look like he'd turn your teddy into a spider?"
She looked at the baby doubtfully, her lips pressed together.
"Do you always get along with your cousins?" Rose shook her head. "Do you sometimes get along with them?" A nod. He parted her hair, grinning down at her confusion. "Here's the important question. Even when you aren't getting along with your cousins, do you love them?"
Rose's face squeezed up in thought.
"It's the same with siblings—with brothers and sisters." Was his quiet response. "I don't always get along with my family, but I'd do anything for them. Give Hugo a chance. He won't always be tiny and he'll grow out of drooling soon enough."
She still seemed doubtful. Ron considered this for a minute before inspiration struck. "Think of it this way. You've been trying to mould Crookshanks into your perfect partner in crime, right?"
"Not sayin' anything." Rose promptly denied. He couldn't be more proud of her.
"Naturally. Though see, while Crookshanks is lovely, he's an animal. But this little guy?" Ron pointed at Hugo, who turned his sleepy eyes towards the hand. "He's human. He's going to grow up and learn things. What if you're the one teaching him stuff?"
Rose remained confused for another moment, before comprehension dawned and brightened her expression. She looked at her brother in a new light.
"Terrifying baby girl." Ron said fondly, wondering how he could play this off as good parenting when explaining it to Hermione.
A comfortable silence fell as Rose poked her brother curiously, disgust now transformed into interest. Ron thought about his daughter's words: about Sir Grizzlypaws' horrid transformation and about his not-entirely-exaggerated biting sister.
"Say, Rosie Posie?" She made a face at the nickname. "You could take your cousin Lily under your wing as well."
Ron smiled, cottoning onto this idea. "Lily's just a baby too. You could make her another assistant. You should also talk to Roxy and coordinate your plots."
At Rose's sudden smirk, he felt the smallest hint of remorse. Ginny was going through an incredibly hard time, after all. But a distraction would be good for her. Also, it wasn't like Rose could actually turn Lily evil.
On the other hand, Ron had no qualms about setting his daughter on George. Karma was a bitch.
Luna beamed at the sight. "That's good Harry! I'm so glad you're practicing this."
When the witch had come in she'd been met with the sight of Harry trying to get rid of feathers that had replaced his hair, while his hands were talons. The exasperated wizard had then explained what McGonagall had told him. While he was doing better, he still couldn't get a hang of the voluntary transformation.
In the present, Harry gave her a baleful look. He wasn't able to speak as his mouth and nose were a beak.
"It's progress." Luna patted his arm. "This is a very good goal to have. You'll get this in no time."
"Squaaawk," Harry sighed, falling back against the pillow.
She frowned at him, her purple bangles and headdress flopping every which way. "Why don't you want to transform? Why do you dislike the phoenix so much?"
"He's a victim too," Luna said gently. "Or, perhaps that's the problem. You don't want to view yourself as a victim?"
Harry turned away from her, staring at the ceiling.
"Why isn't it enough to accept a part of yourself? Or to be able to fly? Why are you only interested in this if it helps others through the healing tears?"
He didn't try to answer.
"Maybe," Luna said, "instead of the transformation, you ought to work on going from 'self-sacrificing' to having self-confidence."
Harry wearily put his hands on his head, still not able to speak due to the beak. He loved Luna, but he wished she had a filter.
"Though, that doesn't help you in the short term: you need to become comfortable with the phoenix transformation." She continued neatly. "I agree with the Headmistress. I believe your best chance at accepting the transformation is through the goal of gaining healing magic. I imagine it would be such a relief, to know you'd be able to save someone. You do know you must be careful with that? That is very important, Harry."
He groaned in response, a soft creeeee coming out.
Luna mused. "Can I say something extremely traumatising that would surely upset you?"
Harry peered at her, eyebrows raising.
Luna took this as a 'yes' and strode straight ahead. "Imagine death." She said. He looked surprised. So surprised that the beak faded to a gobsmacked mouth. "Imagine everyone you care about dying."
"Luna," he said slowly, rubbing his mouth as it returned to normal, "I don't think this will help."
"Shush. Imagine all the guilt you feel whenever someone dies. It's misplaced, but it always weighs on you."
Harry was paling. "Could we not?"
"Harry," Luna tutted, "this is important. Now, imagine that you could get rid of this guilt. This is the motivation behind your goal. I'm not saying it will make any future guilt disappear. But isn't that a nice thing to aim for?"
He stared at her, jaw slightly agape. "I—I can't figure out if that's genius, or disturbing."
Luna shrugged, unconcerned. "Go on then, give it a try."
Harry took a deep breath as his eyes closed. Slowly, ever so slowly, he transformed. After a bit he peeked his eyes open. "Did it work? Drat, English."
Luna smiled at him. "You have very nice feathers."
He looked down, seeing his skin was now covered with the aforementioned feathers. "Thanks."
"It's a good start." Luna said encouragingly. "Keep going!"
Whenever Ron visited and Harry was 'comatose' by the window, he was typically sad and prepared for a boring hour. But not today. Not when he'd spotted the other man in the room.
"Stop." Ron told his brother, who'd been starting to leave. "You and I've got to chat."
"Wotcher Ron." George put his coat back over the chair. "So you know, Harry isn't doing great today."
"I can see that!" He gestured at the frozen man by the window. His temper grew. "I have a bone to pick with you. You're a right git."
"It's good to see you too," George said weirdly. "What'd I do?"
"What don't you do? Anything you touch explodes."
"Not that I'm disagreeing with that, but you're turning an interesting shade of red."
"My teddy bear when we were kids, you ruddy bastard! You told my daughter about it?"
"Hold on. I don't know what…oh. Last week." George paled slightly. "Listen mate, Roxy was planning a bad prank and I warned her against it. Rose was in the other room. I didn't think she'd heard."
"Oh, she did! She was scared her baby brother was going to turn her toys into spiders. Can you believe that? Right after I'd finished telling her how great having siblings are, and she about bursts into tears over this!"
"I'm being serious, I'm sorry. For that stupid prank and for mentioning it—"
"But you keep flirting with explosives, don't you. Dragging all of us into it!" He glanced at the wizard by the window: Harry hadn't so much as twitched. "You and your goddamn ideas that you don't think through."
"Ron, I'm sorry." George stressed, getting the hint. "I was a git growing up. We've never really talked about, you know. But it doesn't mean I tried to drug someone! That has nothing to do with anything."
Ron met his brother's stare, his own jaw tightening. He decided to jump into the abyss, because screw George. "There's something else I've been meaning to tell you. Do you know how I found Harry?"
George looked at him strangely, brow creasing.
"It was because I was stupid and desperate. I went in search of the Resurrection Stone. I wanted to know for sure whether he was dead or alive."
His brother's eyes widened, surprise tinging his features. "Did you find…?"
"I had a great chat with Bellatrix Lestrange. Amidst her screaming, she let a couple things about her husband slip. But, before that?" Ron's voice grew harder. "I called up Fred."
George stumbled back, half-falling and half-sitting on the bed.
"It wasn't actually him." Ron dismissed, more smoothly sitting on the chair. A small part of him was enjoying this. "I expect 'Death' was trying to get me to off myself."
"He…you…what?" George said weakly, gobsmacked. Though a yearning hungriness had entered his eyes.
"The whole thing's a fake. It isn't the actual spirits, they just want you to kill yourself." Ron crossed his arms. "Back to my point. Do you know how I figured out it wasn't Fred?" A shaking, disbelieving head. "He was nice to me. 'Fred' acted like a more mature version of himself. He apologised to me, said he was proud of me; a lot of crap like that."
Ron had never seen George this speechless.
"It wasn't actually Fred, just my impression of him. Like, what I wanted him to be. As for your next question? There's no way I'm telling you where the Resurrection Stone is."
George blinked, still supremely pale. Though the hungriness was leaving for confusion. "Never mind everything else for a second. You don't think 'he' was real because he…was proud of you?"
"That, and he tried to convince me to kill myself. All in all, I wouldn't recommend it." Ron tried for a nonchalant voice. "What I'm saying? The spirit was a hell of a lot nicer to me than what I remember of Fred."
George was like a deer caught in headlights. "That's not…" he said weakly, "Fred didn't…"
"We didn't have a good relationship." Ron shrugged, telling himself it didn't bother him. "Merlin knows I got the hint after all the pranks. George, you and I've always been more-or-less alright. But Fred never cared. He laughed after his acid pop burnt through my tongue! He kept making jokes about the teddy bear incident. So you, you, telling my daughter about that? Telling anyone about that?"
George stared at him, not answering for a long time.
Ron rubbed his eyes, suddenly exhausted. He wondered if he was in the right. He wondered if he cared. "I know you love Fred. I do too, as much as I hate it. I'm saying this because Rose is more important than any of this nonsense. So don't say anything else that could drive my kids apart. Got it?"
George swallowed, his expression downcast and haunted. Ron hated himself for a moment, then decided he didn't regret a thing.
Through it all, Harry hadn't made a goddamn move. Ron stared at his best friend for a long moment before huffing. "Not that any of it seems to matter." He said dourly. "The world's just unfair. Look at Harry! He saves everyone, sacrifices everything, and what does he get in return?"
George slowly turned to the motionless wizard. "He's getting better," he said hoarsely.
"That doesn't mean it's enough!" Ron then sighed. "Why can't one thing be simple? You and I—things have been getting better. Then it gets mucked up. Over and over again."
George also sighed, though some of his colour had returned. "Life's like that, y'know. With ups and downs."
"I know." Ron kept peering at Harry. He wondered what the bloke saw. "When I was convincing Rose her brother wasn't going to turn evil? I told her something like that. That people argue. But I said the important bit is that, through it all, they'll love each other."
An eery stillness had long since filled the room.
"You're a good dad." George said at last, turning back to Ron. "You and me? I get it, it's complicated. Mainly 'cause of me. But I'm…I'm up for giving it another go. A proper go."
Ron looked at him, not knowing what to think. "I don't mean to keep you." He said instead, taking George's coat off the chair and thrusting it at the surprised man. "Go on, I'll keep an eye on things here."
Ron woke up startled, feeling off. Or crooked, like he'd slept with his limbs all bent up. He was also strangely hot. Had Hermione turned up the temperature? He yawned and, in glancing around, most of his questions were answered. He'd fallen asleep in Harry's hospital room. In the bedside chair, to be precise, which was why he was so stiff.
He started to stretch before stopping and glancing down, realising why he was so warm.
"Mate?" Ron asked the bird in his lap cautiously. "Is this a relapse?"
The phoenix sent him a single, disparaging look, before snorting and returning to what he'd been doing. Which was…crying?
"You okay?" Ron asked in concern. So Harry was having a relapse and was crying about any of the number of things he had every right to cry about. But that didn't explain why the phoenix was flung over his lap, sobbing onto Ron's arms.
"Holy fu—" his swear petered out as he stared gobsmacked at his arms. "Whoa, wait Harry, stop!"
The phoenix sent him another annoyed glance before he jumped off Ron's lap. Before he reached the floor he'd lengthened into a man. Soon enough, a kneeling and exasperated Harry was looking at him. "What?"
"How did you do that?" Ron stared at him. His seemingly sane brother-in-law. Who'd consciously transformed. "Wait. You can transform now? While you're in your right mind?"
"Magical healing tears, and yes I can. I've been practicing." Harry waved this impatiently away. But he was teetering, unsteady. "Can I finish healing you?"
"I've tried everything!" Ron's amazement only grew as he stared at his nearly scar-free arms, gazing at them from every angle. "I've even tried phoenix tears before."
Harry huffed. "Bottled tears? I expect fresh tears from someone who's trying to heal the scars works better. Funny how that is. Now, shut up and sit still."
Ron stared as Harry transformed and continued to erase the scars that had been etched onto Ron's arms since he'd been sixteen. The brains had left a permanent mark—or, semi-permanent, apparently.
Within minutes Harry was human once again, pulling himself off the floor with a stretch. He looked at Ron's arms clinically. "Let me know if any trace of them comes back."
"What—" the bloody hell was that? "What'd you do that for?"
Harry looked at him like he'd said the stupidest thing on earth. "I wanted to heal you. Besides, it was my fault you got those scars in the first place." He sat back on the bed, curling his legs up to his chest. He shivered. "The least I could do was erase them. Could you let Hermione know I'll try the same thing on her arm? I want to get that word off her."
"She'd love you forever." Ron said quietly, still in shock. He kept running his fingers over his arms, not remembering the last time they'd been free of anything but freckles. Then, what Harry had said trickled into his brain. He wrenched his head up. "What're you on about? It's not your fault I touched those dratted brains."
"I led us into that trap." Harry said tiredly, eyes closing and head leaning back. "Just like how I said Voldemort's name and caused Bellatrix Les—" he flinched, something Ron didn't miss, "her, to torture Hermione. At least getting rid of the physical scars is something."
Ron took another glance at his arm, rubbing it. "It's not your fault, I chose to go to the Ministry with you. The name thing could've been any of us."
"I don't care."
"Whichever way, thanks. And Hermione will be over the moon." Something else occurred to him and he frowned. "Are you feeling alright?"
"It's the magic behind the tears." Ron peered at Harry closely. The man seemed okay, just tired. "It's supposed to come from the phoenix's magic, or something."
"Ah. Fantastic." He stayed quiet for a moment. "Have you thought about using those tears on yourself?"
Harry opened his eyes, staring at him blearily. "Wouldn't work."
"It could work." Ron liked the idea more with each passing moment. "Yeah! It would basically be fresh tears. So we could put it on your neck and all over that stuff on your chest—"
"Let it rest." Sheer exhaustion layered his voice. "It wouldn't work. My scars run too deep."
Ron opened his mouth to loudly protest, before he stopped. He thought about it and felt helplessness wash over him. "Well it," he cleared his suddenly dry throat, feeling useless, "if I can help with anything…"
"Seriously, thank you. Though it wasn't your fault."
The wizard seemed extremely tired. Ron stared at his arms for another minute, guessing this magic was the cause. By the time he looked back up Harry was laying against the headboard, drifting off.
"Thanks Harry." Ron murmured, tugging a quilt over the man.
"I swear it won't hurt!" Harry exclaimed. "Ron even slept through it."
"That isn't the problem." Hermione jerked away, absolutely aghast. "You want to do what on my arm?"
"Cry. I have healing tears, come on!"
She held her arm close to her, physically blocking him. "Absolutely not. No wonder you've been asleep all day! This is a very attached cursed scar, you aren't going anywhere near it."
Harry stared at her, puzzled. "I'm tired, so what? But yes, I know it's cursed. That's why I want to heal it."
Hermione gave a frustrated groan. "How did Ron agree to this?"
"How did Ron agree to, ah." She trailed off. "You did it while he was sleeping. Harry, love, do you know how healing tears work?"
"They're tears that heal." Harry said brusquely. "Give me your arm."
"Magic can't just 'appear'." She replied. "Especially healing magic! All the studies show that it's taken from the phoenix's own magic and life force."
Harry paused. "I guess I felt lightheaded afterwards. But whatever, I'm immortal. Give me your arm!"
She jumped back, putting more space between them. "Your human form isn't immortal!"
"I'm not doing this as a human, am I."
"We don't know if you can regenerate." She said gruffly.
He stopped, then pointed bluntly at his neck.
Hermione couldn't meet his eyes or his scars. "I know it happened before." She didn't see him reach for his wand. "But it left you horribly wounded. I'm not risking you having a—a Burning Day—or a—"
"Petrificus totalus." Harry quickly waved his wand. The shocked woman fell to the floor and he kneeled beside her. "I would say I'm sorry, but I'm not."
As he took a deep breath and transformed, Hermione's furious gaze never left him. But she was helpless to stop the phoenix from hopping to her arm and crying over the word that Bellatrix Lestrange had carved so many years ago.
After a few minutes, it was done. Harry transformed back and took the hex off Hermione. She didn't even glance at her curse-free arm. She merely stared daggers at her best friend.
He sat back. "I'm not apologising." He wrapped his arms around his legs. "Besides, McGonagall told me to heal some scars. Blame her."
Hermione made a furious noise, sitting up. "She didn't mean to heal deeply ingrained curse scars that—" she heaved a huge sigh, kneeling next to him. "How are you feeling?"
"A bit woozy." Harry shook his head. "I'll be fine."
Hermione frowned, lightly touching her arm. She stared at it for a long moment. "You're a stubborn git, but thank you. So, so much."
"No problem." Harry coughed, deciding to stay on the ground awhile longer.
She cupped his head, pulling his eyes up to meet hers'. She bit her lip nervously. "You don't look great."
"Do I ever?"
"Don't give me that, you're clearly exhausted." Hermione stood and pulled the reluctant man up with her. Then she gently helped him to the bed. "You can't do that wily-nilly."
"It's not like I'm healing every cut or scrape." Harry lay back on the blankets, feeling the day weigh on him. "But it's you. And Ron."
She sighed in response and took off his glasses. "If you die in your sleep, I'll resurrect and kill you."
"Noted." Harry said clumsily, his eyelids flickering.
"Go to sleep, Potter." Another sigh. "Don't you ever put me in another body-bind."
The next morning was eventful, to say the least. And fiery.
"What the fuck was that?"
It was a damn good question. Ron didn't feel up to getting out of this chair at the moment, and certainly wasn't up to answering. So he continued staring slack-jawed at what had once been a hospital bed.
"What the hell!" Harry was thoroughly panicking, sitting in the middle of the twisted metal bed frame. Ron would normally make a joke or comfort him. But the guy had done something insane.
"Ron? Ron!" Harry scrambled over the side of the metal, his clothes and hair a mess, his gaze hysterical. He seemed to catch himself and scooted back, now trying to get as far from his friend as possible. "What just happened?"
"Uh." Ron answered. He cleared his throat, not able to tear his gaze from him. "Uh?" The small piece of his mind not shrieking in terror (or sighing in world-weariness) jabbed at his brain to say that this wasn't an answer. "Out of curiosity," he croaked, "how've you been feeling?"
"Like," Ron clutched onto this lifeline for all he had, "apart from you being super crazy and all the fire stuff. And the starving stuff. You know what, forget the list. Have you been feeling sick since you healed our scars?"
Harry stared at him disbelievingly.
"For example," Ron rambled on, "have you been stuffed up, or achy, or sneezing, or tired—"
"I've been mostly sleeping," Harry answered abruptly. "But crying doesn't explain WHY I RANDOMLY TURNED INTO A PHOENIX, LIT EVERYTHING ON FIRE WHEN I DIED, AND WAS REBORN AS A GODDAMN BIRD!"
Ron made a small noise, feeling the slightest hint of amusement rising in him. "Have you heard of 'burning days'?"
Harry paled. "Excuse me?" His voice was deathly quiet.
"It's part of a phoenix's lifecycle," Ron said awkwardly, "where they get sick for a few days before they spontaneously combust and—"
"I KNOW WHAT BURNING DAYS ARE!" Harry suddenly roared.
"Ah. Good. Because I was starting to feel like I was explaining a morbid version of puberty."
"HOW COULD I HAVE A BURNING DAY?" It didn't seem like Harry was in any hurry to lower his voice. Ron's eardrums were starting to protest.
"Because you're part phoenix now? Because you're recovering? Because you used a load of magic with the healing tears? It's not as bad as it seems." Ron paused. "Actually, it is about that bad. But we worried it'd be worse. If anything, Hermione will be thrilled this didn't kill you! Human you. Yay, you're alive and kicking! It didn't suck out your life! Those are all good things."
Harry stared at him with wide eyes, mouth slightly agape.
"Sure, we don't know how often this'll happen." Ron shrugged. "Just never, ever use those tears for stupid stuff. We can also put you on lockdown whenever you start sneezing, to be extra careful. Maybe it'll be like a werewolf or like women's monthlies. We'll start tracking whenever you die and it'll be fine."
Harry barely blinked. "Ron," he hissed at last.
Ron frowned. "This was exactly why I compared this to werewolves or periods. You're getting all moody—"
"I JUST DIED!"
"I mean, I don't know about you? But I'm already getting used to the sorta-immortal thing."
"SHUT UP WEASLEY!"
"Expecto patronum." Ron eyed the barking silver terrier, still unnerved. He'd slipped into an empty hospital room, after very strict words with the Auror guards at Harry's door (that they should bloody well come in when they hear roaring flames and screaming). "Send this to every Weasley adult. People: DO NOT let Harry heal you! He's just discovered healing phoenix tears are a thing. But after getting rid of some curse scars, Harry had a burning day." He paused. "He's good. Don't panic. But we want to avoid him spontaneously turning into a phoenix, then dying in an inferno." He shuddered at the thought. "Unless it's a life-or-death thing, ex nay on healing tears! Tell Harry to shove it if he's being stubborn."
"Don't kill him."
"I won't kill him." Ron answered Lisa stormily as the two strode down one of Azkaban's hallways. "I wanna ask him more questions."
"You want to kill him." Lisa's voice lowered. "I heard about the incident at St. Mungo's. Don't do something you'll regret."
"It's fine. Shush. I'm your boss."
Lisa made a noncommittal noise. They remained silent until they'd reached the occupied interrogation room.
Ron had his hand on the doorknob when he glanced at her again. "I won't kill the bloke. I'll be calm and chill."
She huffed, glaring through the window at the occupant. "Who said anything about being calm? You can punch him, but killing causes paperwork which you'll hoist onto me."
He struggled to keep back a grin. The guard at the door seemed to be having the same problem. But soon enough, the door was closing behind them and they were in the room.
Ron made his way in and sat at the table, the grin having left his face. He eyed Rodolphus Lestrange, who seemed as tranquil as ever. "How the hell do you look this good?"
Lestrange raised an eyebrow as Lisa also sat down. "Good afternoon to you too, Head Auror Weasley." The Death Eater said with a slight smirk. "Was that a compliment?"
"Oh yeah, I'm just dying to snog you." Ron frowned at the bloke. There were no dementors at Azkaban and the prisoners weren't mistreated, but Lestrange looked better than he had any right to. This wasn't only because the criminal 'deserved' it or some such. It was just that prisoners didn't look like this. Lestrange wouldn't have seemed out of place with the well-groomed elites in the Wizengamot. "I see you've been getting on well."
"Perfectly well." Lestrange smiled. "I'm finding jail fairly suiting. How about yourself? The Director? Mr. Potter?"
Lisa coughed, likely seeing Ron twitch in anger. "We had a few questions for you." She said smoothly.
"I haven't told my regular interrogators enough?"
"You haven't told them anything!" Ron fumed as Lisa paused. "All you say is that Rowle was the mastermind."
"Because she was." Lestrange answered neatly.
"Fine, you ruddy oaf." Ron scowled. "Serena Rowle's evil incarnate and you were her minion. Happy?"
"Good for you." Ron sat back, crossing his arms. "Let's say I believed you. You'd still know all the creepy crawly secrets of the place. Even as a pathetic little minion, you must've done something worthwhile the past few years."
A shadow crossed Lestrange's face.
"Forget about Harry." Ron waved it away, focussed on the man's expression. "Forget about murder at all, as you managed to muck up the grey area in-between. I want to know some other things."
"Charlotte Fawcett." A blank expression. "Do you remember? The girl who had the Skiving Snackbox on her?"
Realisation flowed across Lestrange's expression. "Ah yes."
"I'm glad I jogged your memory." Ron said sarcastically. "Why did Rowle kill her?"
A shrug. "She needed specimens."
Specimens. Sweet Merlin. "Why her?"
"I imagine because she was there."
Lisa leaned forward. "The Snackbox was used in Harry Potter's kidnapping. How did Rowle have prior knowledge?"
A grin flickered on Lestrange. "I dare say she didn't. It was a fortuitous accident. Let's see now." He clicked his tongue. "If I was dear Serena, I'd be a potion's expert. I'd be well aware that a man such as Harry Potter could detect most common-place poisons, and that the Aurors would have defences against them. I suspect I'd have thought an unknown potion could get through his barriers." A smirk. "And I'd have been right."
Ron inwardly cursed, wishing to throttle the other wizard. "So everything with Fawcett was an accident."
"I would guess."
"What about Roger Davies?"
"I thought we'd covered that!" Lestrange gave a fake laugh. "That was certainly Rowle's plan. She'd been supplying the man with potions, allowing his little Quodpot team to win. When he stopped paying, she came a-knocking."
Ron frowned to himself. But before he could speak—
"What do you really want to ask, Head Auror Weasley?" Lestrange leaned forward, eyes on him and ignoring Lisa. "Interrogators have questioned me about all of this and more. Why are you here?"
Ron was silent for a long moment. "Why?" He asked at last, his anger deflating and leaving a hollowness behind. "Don't give me the bull about 'magical progress' or 'blood purity'. I don't care if you or Rowle was in charge: it was both of you. Why'd you do this?"
Lestrange inclined his head, truly contemplating a response. "When you and yours destroyed the Dark Lord, my people were left flailing. Though it was Rowle's plot, she wasn't the only one to feel satisfaction while staring at Harry Potter's burned-up husk." He looked back down at them, his gaze hard. "It was so satisfying to prove he was only a man."
Ron took a swift inhale, willing himself not to hex the prisoner. "You made him more than that." He said bitingly.
Lestrange laughed with true amusement. "I suppose that's true. Ah, hubris. It gets us all." He said loftily. "I also liked the idea of having my way with both Potters, but cooler heads prevailed."
After Lisa stopped Ron from hexing the prisoner, both were quickly leaving Azkaban. There was an unnerved, contemplative silence between them.
"It's not right." Lisa said at last, frowning to herself.
"He's a psychopath." Ron batted away his anger. "A psychopath in gaol, so good riddance."
"No, I meant…" she hesitated, "there's nothing in Lestrange's file about him being sexually, ah, 'adventurous'."
Ron sent her a strange look. "What in Merlin's name are you talking about?"
"The last thing he said. About wanting to 'have his way' with both Potters?"
"He was threatening Ginny, that's it." Ron dismissed, continuing the walk to the exit. "He was just getting under my skin, saying they'd wanted to kidnap them both."
Lisa frowned, but kept walking.
Hermione was barely a step into the hospital room when a gleeful cheer pierced her ears.
"Hi yourself!" She smiled warmly to the cheerful girl, taking a seat. "Oh my, you're looking much better."
"You allllways say that." Tabby rolled her eyes, fwumping back onto the blankets. "But I'm still stuck here."
"You're still getting better," Hermione corrected gently. "We're also figuring out a few details about your living situation."
Tabby looked over at her, frowning. "Oh yeah. They're gonna be sooo mad."
The girl made a whoosh with her hand. "The orphanage. This is like, the fourth time I've run off? Dunno, I forget."
Hermione's breath froze. "I've been meaning to ask you about that. Why did you run away so often?"
"'Cause they're boring."
"I'm serious." The woman patted her leg. "I need to know what's wrong there."
"Nothing's wrong!" Tabby puffed. "They just don't like me 'cause I'm…" she went cross eyed as she remembered, "like, a 'trouble-making brat' 'n stuff."
Hermione twitched. It was all too obvious someone had called her that. "I see."
Minerva McGonagall stared at him, stunned. "You healed cursed scars."
"Like you told me to," Harry said irritably. "Then I died!"
"I obviously meant to heal normal, small scars, and only under my supervision." She shook her head. "Have you researched phoenixes at all?"
McGonagall gave a weighty sigh. "What do you mean, you 'died'?"
"Earlier today I had a 'burning day'." There was a heavy silence between them. Harry's nervousness grew. "I'm better now?"
"You're 'better now'," she repeated in disbelief, eyeing him up and down. "Is this a joke to you?"
"No." But she kept staring, narrowing her gaze. The phoenix whimpered. "Yes? I mean, no. No is absolutely the correct answer and…good god, how are you this terrifying?"
"Due to decades of dealing with unruly students." Minerva gave a final sigh. "Yourself included. Very well, you managed not to kill yourself. Congratulations."
"That was sarcastic," she continued. "But you did transform into a phoenix, yes?" A nod. "Good. Do it now."
Harry hesitated. But like learning a spell or a Quidditch move, it was much easier to do once he knew how it felt. He couldn't describe it—it was like grasping his magic? Grabbing the squawking phoenix? Doing an internal 'swish and flick', willing for feathers to come?—but the process flowed through him. Rapidly, he found himself looking up (and up, and up) at a smiling Minerva.
"Very good." She said with a true warmth. He tried to say something, but only got out a squawk. "Don't transform back just yet, nod or shake your head. Is your human mind in charge?" A nod. "Are you more aware of the—ahem—phoenix's mind?" Another nod. "You used the healing tears earlier, but there are more basic elements. Have you flown yet?" A hesitant shake of his head. "Well! No time like the present."
Harry eyed the space between them distrustingly. Then he eyed his own wings. 'His' wings? Bloody hell. He took a deep breath, hoped for the best, and—
"Shut up," Harry said grumpily, his head in his hands.
"Sorry." Bill sounded anything but. "Just, it's you! Does Ginny know yet?"
"Do I talk about your marriage?"
"My marriage's amazing." Bill said with a chuckle. "Come on, you must see the humour in this. How can you not fly?"
Harry pulled up his head to glare at him. "I'm sure I'd be great on a broom. I'd like to see you figure out wings!"
"I'm not the one who turned into a bird. Isn't flying supposed to be, you know, natural?"
"You'd think so." Harry grumbled. "McGonagall nearly burst out laughing! Yeah, like you're doing right now. She said I'm to 'sort it out'. Like it's homework or some such."
"McGonagall's giving you homework." Bill snickered.
"Poor Potter. Afraid she'll put you in detention?"
Harry groaned, collapsing back onto the pillows. "You joke, but I actually think she would."
"She would," Bill frowned. "Why d'ya think we make ourselves scarce whenever she's around? Scary, she is."
"Thanks for not tossing me out." Ron said jokingly. He wasn't joking.
Moira Green surveyed him sourly. She sat in a chair by the hospital room window, feet tucked neatly between it. She wore a sweater dress and leggings.
Ron searched for something to say. "Not that it's any of my business, but shouldn't you be in a hospital gown?"
"You're right. It's none of your business." She smoothed her dress out deliberately. She was also thin—not as emaciated as Harry, but close. "The Healers aren't doing anything." She brushed away.
He knew that. "They're trying."
She sent him a dour look. After a moment it marginally lightened. "You know they're worthless too."
"They aren't worthless." Ron rubbed his head. "The physical issues with your animal have mainly been fixed. To be blunt: it's the psychological stuff that's a problem. Why won't you people see therapists? All of you are so messed up!" …or, maybe he shouldn't have said that to a woman who could transform into a dragon.
Moira now seemed faintly amused, though still pissed off. "I'm glad someone's blunt around here. Though, I'm not the only one telling the shrinks where they can shove it?"
Ron hesitated. Then thought, screw it. "You've used the most colourful language. But there's at least two other survivors who don't play nice with Healers or shrinks."
Moira leaned forward. "I feel like that's a story. What're they doing?"
Jacob was a therapist himself and point blank refused to go to one. As for Harry, that was a whole thing. As well as whatever the hell was going on with Jessica. "That's none of your business. Or mine, really."
"Fair enough." She sat back.
"Just," Ron groaned, "look, I'm no fan of shrinks myself. But they can genuinely help. I was a disaster after the war and the best decision I made was to let my fiancée manhandle me to a therapist."
Moira hummed. "I see. You're trying to be relatable, showing your own scars, all in attempts to get me to open up?"
"Merlin. I'm not trying to—"
"Do you know how dragon heartstrings are harvested?" She cut in.
Ron came to a full stop. He didn't respond.
"From your expression, I guess you do." Moira said with a hard edge. "Dragon heartstrings are all over the place. One's even in my wand! Here's how they're collected. They immobilise the dragon. If they're humane, they put the dragon to sleep and make it painless. The Sweenies weren't humane."
"They open up the chest cavity," she continued, staring right at him as though daring him to look away, "then start cutting at the heart. Scraping it, rupturing non-vital arteries. The real kicker? If you give the dragon a healing potion they'll grow back the heartstrings within a few days. Same with the scales. Same with…same with my blood." She gave an uncontrollable shiver.
"Moira," Ron said softly, "you've gotta talk about this. I'm an idiot with no medical training, who barely knows you, and even I can see it."
Moira huffed, controlling herself again. "Does anyone buy that?"
"Your idiot act." She said. "You're a bonafide war hero: who believes that tripe?"
Ron gave a shaky laugh. "You'd be surprised, it comes in handy."
"Really. It's how we found you lot. The Sweenies underestimated me." Ron said. "But don't change the topic. Why won't you talk to someone?"
"I like to think I'd try."
They were silent for a few minutes.
"Whatever you decide, it's obviously your decision." He said at last. "At any rate, you're physically healthy. St. Mungo's said they're ready to release you soon, as long as the MLE has no objections."
"Of course not, it's stupid red tape. I have to sign off on anyone who was involved in a crime: victims and perps alike."
She still didn't seem very trusting.
"Your Healers will tell you more. But the big thing is: do you have anyone to stay with while you get back on your feet?"
"That may be a good idea." He said.
"My mum's in a nursing home, my friends looked at me shiftily the few times they visited, and I can only assume my girlfriend's dumped me." Moira rolled her eyes. "I still have a flat to go back to, yes?"
"Then I'll grab some groceries, go home, and try to restart my life." She said simply.
Ron let out a low breath. "You're hard as anything, aren't you."
She gave the first smile she'd had all visit. Even if it was small.
"If you need any help, could you try to remember there are people you can reach out to?"
"Uh huh." She clearly didn't believe any of this.
They were in bed and Ron couldn't shut his mind off. This was unusual for him: it was typically Hermione who complained of the sort. Still, this didn't help him tonight. He kept glancing at his strangely normal arms, which only made him more distracted.
Hermione turned, smiling at him. The smile faded as she focussed. "What?"
Ron considered lying. It wasn't worth it. "Lestrange."
Hermione gave a huge sigh, wrapping around him. Her bare skin was a much better distraction compared to his freckly arms. "Can we not? I've had enough of that Death Eater for a lifetime."
"I visited him a coupla days ago." Ron thought about his words. He didn't usually do this, but it felt important. Like something was wrong, incomplete. "He looked too good."
"You aren't torturing a prisoner." Hermione groaned. "Even if it's him."
"That's not what I meant." What did he mean? Not what Lisa had mentioned. Just, nothing about the meeting had made sense. "Something doesn't add up. I can't put my finger on it."
"What kind of thing?"
"I honestly don't know."
There was silence for a long moment. Then Hermione twisted and cupped his face in her hands, her serious gaze not matching their unclothed states.
"You," she breathed against his lips, "are the most brilliant man I've ever met. Don't doubt yourself."
He grinned a bit ridiculously. "Like I can hold a candle to you."
"And Lestrange's a pompous idiot. Whatever it is, we'll figure it out and destroy him."
"We destroy things?" Ron swung his legs around to cradle her. He wasn't sure when this had turned provocative, but he wasn't complaining.
"Oh yes." Hermione pressed against him with a kiss. Then pulled back a hair's width. "We destroy whatever's in our way. We win. Even if we're up against the world, we win."
"Us against the world." Ron pulled her even closer.
'"From now on, I don't care if my tea leaves spell 'Die, Ron, Die,' I'm chucking them in the bin where they belong."'
—Ron Weasley, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
A/N: I know I know, there is a lot in this chapter. But I had to cram in cryptic clues about Rodolphus Lestrange, more of a character intro for Tabby, the uneasy relationship between Ron and George, and Harry being utterly hopeless at being phoenix. This is why I was always amazed at Rowling's foreshadowing: that stuff's impossible to write.