Disclaimer: I do not own anything you recognise and probably a few things you don't. Most grateful to J.K. Rowling.
Wow. I wanted to write a response to the Severitus Challenge for a long time, but... there were so many wonderful pieces that I couldn't think of anything original. Fortunately, beloved J.K. wrote the Half-Blood Prince for me. There aren't many post HBP Severitus fics, are they?
There will be little to no Severus (except for a few scattered Harry's thoughts here and there) in the first few chapters, he will make appearance later. You'll see several pairings, most of them canon (BillFleur, RemusTonks, HermioneRon, hints on HarryGinny and... surprise!). The story is centred around Harry, which means there will be only one point of view (wish me luck, it's my first attempt on a story from one POV). With that said...
On with the story.
Chapter 1: Fawkes
"Yeah, we shouldn't miss that," he said finally.
His hand closed automatically around the fake Horcrux, but in spite of everything, in spite of the dark and twisting path he saw stretching ahead for himself, in spite of the final meeting with Voldemort he knew must come, whether in month, in a year, or in ten, he felt his heart lift at the thought that there was still one last golden day of peace left to enjoy with Ron and Hermione.
He wasn't really sure what to use it for. He wanted to embrace Hogwarts for one last time before he left for what might have turned out to be forever, but the castle was too great to properly part with in a day.
Its Headmaster had also been too great to properly part with in a day and they all... they all managed it. Hagrid's howls eventually subsided, and he was being carried away by his brother, giant steps taking him towards his cabin at the edge of the Forbidden Forest. The Ministry didn't give a damn, they had it all that much easier now, when there was no one to criticise the way they run the society...
"Wait-" Harry didn't realise he had spoken aloud.
"What?" asked Hermione, already a few steps away, turning back to him to find out what might have held him. How was he supposed to explain this to her?
"Never mind..." he said dismissively, "You guys go ahead. I want to... take a walk." Hermione nodded, being the considerate person she was, and dragged Ron towards the castle. Harry paced in the exactly opposite direction - towards the Forest. Across a meadow, littered with medley-coloured flowers, across a strand, across a bay, lined by a cliff from the side, so he had to go through the water. It didn't bother him; the day was warm. When he climbed up at a dry rock again, his dress robe was wet up above his knees and he dripped all over the stone, leaving a trail of slightly darker grey behind himself.
He stood up on the high shelf, solitary, a dark silhouette against the azure sky overhead, and looked back at what he was leaving. The mountains. The forests and the Forest. The town of Hogsmeade... The lake... The castle. School. Youth. Illusion of safety.
'Because that's all it was. And it all fit in one word: Hogwarts.' He didn't think there was anything that might have shattered the shards of his heart, but this was it. The castle standing strong, beautiful, mesmerising as ever, not knowing that some 'Harry Potter' was leaving it.
And then a wave of sound hit him; it was coming from all around, the air smelled with a tangible sweetness and Harry felt warm and happy as though he just downed a demijohn of Butterbeer, as though he had not a care in the world, as though his heart was whole...
Thinking about it; his heart was whole.
Harry smiled - no, he laughed, and then the air cracked and in a whirlwind of crimson flames and feathers a phoenix swooped down on him. He probably slipped, or what other way could he all of sudden find himself sitting on the stone?
"Fawkes!" he gasped, "I thought you were gone..." The phoenix sat on his lap and stretched out its wings - they were vast, much greater and much grander than he remembered and then...
Then Fawkes hugged him.
Or how else could enclosing a boy in a pair of wings be called? Harry didn't feel warm now, he felt downright hot. His blood boiled and a soft touch of feather sent cold shiver down his spine. It was pleasure, pleasure behind anything he ever experienced - it was the feeling that caused the need for invention of the word 'bliss'.
And then it was gone as suddenly as it came, when Fawkes pulled his wings back and stopped singing. Harry hadn't realised that the phoenix had sung, but he hadn't noticed pretty much anything. His mind had been completely blank but for the emotion, more powerful than any other. Now, as he started thinking again, he realised so many things at once - that creating a Patronus with this memory would be a child-play, though its shape had probably changed... That Fawkes didn't intend to leave and of all people to 'befriend' he had chosen Harry... That he had just acquired the most important ally in his fight against Voldemort... That his feet weren't sloppy anymore. And he ended the sentence he had started before.
"...because Dumbledore left us."
'Albus didn't leave, not yet.'
Harry rapidly looked around to see who said that, but there was no one, no one except him and the crimson bird sitting in his lap. He stared at it. It stared back.
It had black eyes, twinkling familiarly, much more perceptive than any animal he had ever seen before. Much more perceptive than anyone he had ever seen before. He could have sworn Fawkes chortled, though he didn't let out more than a twitter.
'You are... in my head?' he asked dumbfounded. Fawkes now openly laughed at him in his infuriatingly bestial way.
'Most certainly not, young one. I do have my own body in the case you failed to notice.' Harry took a while to glare at the bird, not considering its jibe as witty as it might have seem to itself, going through past memories of the creature.
'Yes, such a turn of events isn't that surprising, is it? And what's with the young one? I do have a name!'
Fawkes decided it was about time to resettle himself, using Harry's shoulder as a perch.
'I call all of you 'young one' for all of you are young.'
'Even Dumbledore was?' Harry asked mentally, though instantly cursed himself for it. Thinking of the deceased Headmaster brought back ghost of the pain he had felt before the elation the phoenix had given him.
'Curious. Very curious.' Harry rolled his eyes. He had heard that already. He knew he was curious - hardly anyone failed to remind him of that. Mimicking himself from almost seven years ago he spoke.
"And may I ask what is so curious?"
'That you would be thinking of ghosts.'
Harry shrugged the bird off, phoenix or not. He stared at it, for the first few minutes hoping that it would expand that statement, but vainly. After a while, when he guessed it started to get bored with the staring contest, he gave up.
"Are you implying that Dumbledore..." He couldn't complete. He simply couldn't. It was unthinkable. Impossible. Out of realms of reality. Hopeless. Without a chance-
'A clever one! Figured it out! Look everyone!'
"Where the Hell is he?" Harry yelled. He couldn't believe it. After all that happened, after he started comprehending Dumbledore had left him on his own, after he came to terms with it-
'Language,' acknowledged Fawkes and the sudden strictness struck the boy. 'I might have chosen you to be my charge for the next few decades, but I won't have that sort of impudence from you.'
'Oh Hell, I start to see where Dumbledore learnt his manners.' Harry felt like he was splashed in a freezing cold juice. It was much worse than water; it was sticky and wouldn't dry off. He tried to get rid of it with a spell, but he wasn't really splashed. It was just a feeling...
'I said: Language!'
Half an hour and several more 'disciplines' later Harry seriously wished the phoenix would leave or, better, never had come to him in the first place. While it was usually virtually impossible for him to control what he was saying, there was no way he could damn control what he was thinking! He always thought there was Dumbledore, a great and noble man, and Fawkes saw this in him and that was why he kept him company. Never in his life would it cross his mind that it was actually the wizard keeping company to the phoenix, being scolded after every other remark and constantly coached.
'All right. Once more, please... So, I can make fun if it is witty. I can insult people if it is mannerly. I can be a manipulative bastard if it suits you-' He had suddenly a very good idea of what it felt like to bath in hot chocolate. It was... sticky. Yuck.
'Fine - I can lead people to do what I want them to do if the cause is objectively justifiable.' In the last split-second he had decided to replace the word 'trick' and was very glad he did. It earned him a praise in the form of removing the chocolate-feeling.
"Why me?" he asked suddenly as they entered the castle, Fawkes comfortably sitting on Harry's arm that threatened to fall off any minute now. A few people scattered in the Entrance Hall gave him odd glances, but he couldn't really blame them. He just returned as the last of those who attended the funeral and carried Dumbledore's 'pet' (he painfully sighed at the unfairness of the qualification).
'You ought to do more exercise.'
'I'm doing a lot in Quidditch,' he responded, trying hard to not sound cheeky.
'Not enough. And not only physical. Though I would say you're doing significantly better than Albus did. I guess his tuition rubbed off on you, after all.' So that was it. He was not going to find out just why did he become the pet of this magisterial bird. As though he didn't have enough of that with the Dursleys.
'Could you, please, move to my left arm for a while?' A politely formed request surprisingly met a polite acceptance.
'Where are we going?' There was no response. Harry sighed. He had no idea what the phoenix awaited from him and guessed it would take him a lot of time and a lot of sensations of various goo until he figured that out.
"May I ask where are we going?" he attempted to reformulate it. The bird had to answer. Otherwise they would spend the day there, in the centre of the Entrance Hall, eyed and, in his case, ridiculed by the students.
Harry had become a living perch. He didn't like the arrangements at all. But he could think of nothing that could get him out. For all that was pure, even Dumbledore, the most powerful wizard he knew, managed that only through death!
'About Dumbledore... I-I still can't quite believe... I mean... That's freaking impossible! I won't believe that until I see him with MY OWN EYES! Dammit, not even Sirius became a ghost!'
'Then 'Sirius' didn't have a reason,' came a cold answer, along with the sensation of falling head-first into something slimy and smelly. The phoenix abandoned its position, giving both Harry's elbows a deeply desired rest, and flew first, leading the way. He was once again wrong. The bird didn't have to answer.
The Great Hall was packed. All four house-tables were swarmed with students and parents and random people, who attended the feast to Dumbledore's tribute. Only two spots were empty, both at the Head Table. Harry forced himself to look away from the spaces; they reminded him of unpleasant memories. Raw. Dark. But not painful anymore; they shrunk into a reminder, into a warning for future. Who to trust. Who to obey. Who to squash.
He thought all of this while striding across the room, up the aisle between the Ravenclaw and the Hufflepuff table. He was half-way through the Hall when a realisation hit him. Apart from the scowl plastered on his face, due to an uncomfortable stink of a substance he was glad didn't really exist, he must have looked... different. Different from everybody else.
There was Dumbledore's phoenix flying few steps ahead of him, as though making a way for him, powerful, divine creature out to herald his presence. And there he strode, quickly, raising wind, his dress-robes billowing behind him in a Snape-like fashion. The silence that hung over the Hall was completely justifiable. The gapes he received from about everyone in the room were as well.
The only sound was that of his shoes, impacting with the stony floor in a quick interval, until McGonagall's stool scraped and she stood up, meeting him, though her expression gave away she was just as perplexed as the rest of the residents of the Great Hall.
'Wicked! I think I start to see how did the old man manage to always look so... forceful.' The flattering in his thought cancelled out with the inappropriate address and he remained unharmed. Deciding that it would be a good idea to acknowledge the Headmistress, Harry nodded to her silently and continued his way around the staff table to the door behind it. He had been in that chamber before. There was nothing good waiting for him then. He briefly wondered what it was going to be now.
'Can't be anything worse than I already landed in,' he thought grimly, glancing at the tail of the phoenix in front of him. His mouth was suddenly so full of toddy ice-cream that he could neither swallow nor spit out. Harry hated toddy. It disappeared.
'Courtesy for the nice greeting to Minerva. Helped the effect quite a lot.'
'Thanks,' Harry said and meant it. Fawkes just reached the door. It opened by itself. Harry wasn't surprised; it seemed that the Hogwarts castle was obeying the phoenix as though it had no other possibility. Which strongly reminded him of himself. However, he suppressed the thought before he received more toddy.
The door slammed shut and the occupants of row of portraits on the wall turned to him as one.
'Greet.' Harry felt like a small child being taught to be polite. 'Which is precisely what you are. Greet.'
"Good afternoon," Harry said obediently and tried to make it sound as nice as he could.
"Good afternoon, Harry," replied Violet - a portrait he had briefly acquainted - for all of them. He sighed exhaustedly and sank down into a soft leather armchair.
'What a day!' And it was nowhere near evening yet. He considered talking to the paintings a bit, but felt too overwhelmed. He had to sort out his thoughts before he did or said anything.
He was a pri- a 'charge' to a phoenix. Said phoenix had bel- 'tutored' Dumbledore before. The wizard himself was dead. Burnt. Buried. And supposedly had become a ghost. And he - Harry - was sitting in a chamber he particularly disliked, because he felt like he was some sort of show for a line of pictures, and waited for something mysterious to happen after he decided to not return to Hogwarts for his last year. World was a mess.
He opened his eyes just in time to see a silvery, half-transparent figure step inside the room through an inch of solid wood. That was nothing unusual at Hogwarts, of course. But this was a figure of a tall, very old man, with long hair and beard easily reaching the immaterial buckle of his immaterial belt. Harry gasped.
"My boy..." whispered Dumbledore and Harry suspected that if he hadn't been dead, he would have had tears in his eyes. He was suddenly very much awake.
"Sir..." Harry was alive. He had tears in his eyes. And for probably the first time he wasn't ashamed to show them to this man. The ex-Headmaster smiled. Harry wiped his cheeks and stood up, pacing toward the ghost, but eventually stopping a step from him.
"I would hug you but I'm glad I'm warm right now..."
Dumbledore glanced over the boy's shoulder and gave Fawkes something that looked awfully like a smirk.
"I'm sorry, Harry."
"What for, sir?" There were so many things that the ex-Headmaster could have been sorry for - should have been sorry for-
He felt like he was dipped in the lake in the middle of January.
"I think that now I can hug you without further discomfort," he said bitterly. Dumbledore's eyes still managed to twinkle mischievously.
"For this, Harry. Exactly for this..." The hug wasn't as bad as he feared, though it threatened to send another wave of tears down Harry's face. He blinked them away.
"I know I'm risking something rather nasty, sir, but I'm afraid I know what you are talking about... Though I can't imagine how did you manage to stand it so long?" Dumbledore chuckled.
"Yes, it was a very eventful-"
'Century,' inserted Fawkes, without any retribution for Harry's previous statement.
"Sir, may I ask you something?"
"Didn't you just?" The ghost laughed. If Harry's eyes widened yet more, they would have squeezed his brain out through his ears. "Yes, of course."
"What the Hell is going on here?" This time the punishment was instant.
The door slammed open and revealed a shocked and angry Transfiguration teacher. Minerva McGonagall stood at the head of a small crowd, consisting mostly of the staff, but even as Harry watched it was quickly growing. Dumbledore blended with the surroundings; the only part of him that remained visible were his eyes, twinkling somewhere high above the boy.
"Mr Potter, I require that you tell me the reason for your actions!" she fumed.
Harry frowned at her back-up; he didn't feel like arguing with the new Headmistress in front of half of the wizarding society.
'We have been having a conversation,' suggested Fawkes. Harry blinked. It was a good answer. Truthful enough.
"We have been having a conversation," he said coldly, watching the witch's face. She looked around, as though hiding embarrassment, but then composed herself again.
"May I ask how did you come to possession of Professor Dumbledore's phoenix?" The Headmaster's ghost's eyes were gleaming with amusement. Harry didn't need help this time; he knew what to answer.
"I didn't, Professor. You can not own a phoenix." His reply seemed to entertain both the ex-Headmaster and Fawkes. There was another while of silence. McGonagall obviously didn't know that much about phoenixes.
"Why didn't you respond when I asked you to let me inside?"
'Yeah. Asked. That's just the right word,' Harry thought smugly. His 'tutor' once again came to his help.
'Because, dear Professor, of the Two-way Silencing Charm I have put on the room.'
"Because, Professor, of the Two-way Silencing Charm I have put on the room. Would you, please, excuse us now?" It seemed to work. For a short while in his life Harry was polite and mannerly and the Headmistress of Hogwarts obeyed him. He watched the woman as she retreated, repairing the mangled door with a quick series of movements of her wand.
'Hmm, it seems that you are quite different from Albus, young one...'mused Fawkes, staring at him with a new spark in his eyes. Harry tried the same tactics which worked so magnificently while ago.
"Would you please call me 'Harry' instead of 'young one'? And... different?" The phoenix chuckled.
'Albus never left out a chance to humiliate someone to amuse himself, Harry.'
"Fawkes and I agreed that you shall be his next charge."
"Yes, sir, I caught on so far. I meant... Nick - ouch! - Sir Nicolas said that only those who were afraid of passing became ghosts... I can't quite imagine you..."
'Being afraid? Albus?' Fawkes seemed to be enjoying himself better than Harry had ever seen him. And Dumbledore also. That old... spirit was damn enjoying that he was dead!
"As I once told you, Harry, for a well-organised mind, death is but an adventure-"
"Then what are you - ouch! - doing here? In this form?" he yelled, not really caring if he could be heard from the Great Hall. He supposed he couldn't be, anyway.
"I can not leave, Harry, much as I would cherish the well-earned peace-" he shot Fawkes a glare, "there is no one, who could sufficiently fill my rank in the organisation of the Order of the Phoenix-" another glare was enough to tell Harry the name wasn't quite Dumbledore's idea, "and thus I am here. Oh, and also to... complete the lessons we started together. Your new pet wouldn't like me to abandon that quest. It had been working on 'preparing you' for quite a long time." The pointed glare the phoenix was giving the ghost sent shiver down Harry's spine, though it wasn't aimed at him. Not even Snape could do such a thing! To his awe Dumbledore laughed with mirth.
"Can't get at me now, can you? Cannot, cannot, cannot-" chanted the ghost merrily. Harry gulped. Something had gone awfully, awfully wrong. Yes - Dumbledore died. He freed himself of the creature that controlled him for a century - century! - left it to harass Harry and now was happy about it and allowed to show it.
'I almost hope I die young-' thought Harry bitterly. 'There has to be a way to get out of this!'
'There is, young man. Obey. Learn. Accomplish your task. You must deserve your 'freedom'.' Harry's jaw fell even lower.
"But Albus Dumbledore didn't deserve it? I'm screwed!" he cried, and immediately groaned. More toddy.
'The 'Great Albus Dumbledore' couldn't do away with one Dark Wizard.' proclaimed the phoenix, sending another dark look in the direction of the ghost.
"So... All you want me to do is to kill Voldemort?" He snorted. "Not too original..."
So... read and review
and it will be continued...