Author's Notes: Well, you all know me. I get these little whims and have to run with them.
So, I may or may not finish this story. I guess it all depends on you lot, doesn't it? Flattery and/or pestering gets you everywhere.
Anyhoo, beta'd by James Milamber, who has recently moved over to Wizard Tales (. net). He's an all right chap, push come to shove.
Harry Potter and the Phoenix' Ash
Chapter One – Comings and Goings
The yellow moon was hidden behind rain-laden clouds that swirled and stretched effortlessly through the night sky. Its light seemed to flicker as it pressed against the atmosphere; patches of light wrapped around tree branches and blades of grass.
A soft breeze floated across the yard, bowing and leaping in a strange ballet. The trees swayed in applause, twisting from their positions to get a better look as the wind pirouetted and lifted to its toes.
A light streamed softly, silently, across the skyline, meandering around trees and ducking behind houses. It was late – 11:45, to be exact. Ron and Hermione, approaching on Ron's broom, had been told to come at nighttime, when they couldn't be seen by any of the neighbors. If one strained hard enough – which was not very hard at all – one could hear the passenger's soft whispers.
"Ron! Look out!"
"Will you stop pestering me? You're making it hard to concentrate!"
"You're a Quidditch player – you shouldn't need to concentrate on flying! It should just come naturally!"
"Yeah, well, it's a bit more difficult with two people, Hermione, so why don't you just – "
"I see that, Hermione, it's a house – "
"Not the house, Ron, the – "
There was a dead silence, in which both Ron and Hermione lay as still as they could, eyes squeezed shut, praying that no one had heard them. After several minutes of quiet, Hermione hissed, "The tree, you imbecile!"
Ron rolled his eyes at her, inspecting his broom carefully for any damage. "Look at what you almost did to my broom!"
Hermione groaned despairingly at her friend, swatting his shoulder. "Never mind your stupid broom, we could have woken one of the Muggles! How on Earth would we have explained – "
"Ron? Hermione?" The pair fell silent at the amused voice of Harry Potter. His hair was mussed and his glasses skewed, but he was smiling widely. Ron clambered to his feet, grinning, and gave Harry a quick hug as Hermione pecked his cheek and began busily to dust herself off, embarrassed. "That was quite a landing," Harry complimented, grinning.
Ron rolled his eyes, lightly punching Harry's shoulder. "Shut up, mate," he laughed good-naturedly. "It was all her fault, anyway," he added, jabbing his thumb at Hermione. "Bloody back-broom driver, she is."
"You're a twat," Hermione snapped, before turning to Harry and smiling. "It's good to see you, Harry."
The green-eyed boy laughed, shaking his head at his friends and then nodded at the house, slinging his arm around Hermione's shoulder. "Let's get on inside. It's nearly midnight – if we want an early start we'll have to get some sleep."
Ron arched an eyebrow at his friend, shoving his hands into his pocket and pulling out a handful of highly suspicious-looking objects. "Are you daft?" He asked cheerfully. "It's your last night with the Dursleys … you want to leave your mark, don't you?"
Upon closer inspection, Harry saw that Ron was holding some of Fred and George's new inventions: toffees that caused the two nearest humans to switch bodies. He met Ron's eyes with a manic grin. "Boys," Hermione warned, "you can't possibly be thinking of – "
"Of course not," Ron interjected smoothly. "We wouldn't dream of it, would we, Harry?"
Harry shook his head, raising his hands in surrender. "Never," he promised. Hermione rolled her eyes exasperatedly.
"Men," she muttered, and began collecting her things. Ron, however, placed a gentle hand on her arm. She looked up, startled, and he shook his head slightly. Hermione's eyes widened and she blushed, slightly, immediately dropping the bags in her hand.
Harry frowned. "What?" He asked. "Aren't you coming inside?"
Ron nodded, but sat back down, leaning against the tree and tucking his hands behind his head. "Eventually," he said with a shrug. "But we thought we'd Apparate in."
"Okay," Harry agreed slowly, "So … why don't you?"
Hermione took a seat beside Ron and then patted the ground beside her. "Well, we've still got – " she checked her watch, "Half an hour, don't we?"
Ron grinned. "Until your birthday."
Harry paused, not understanding at first. Then it slowly dawned on him, as he sat on the cold grass, what his friends were saying. A smile blossomed across his face and it was all he could do not to grab Hermione and squeeze her to death. "Until I can do magic outside of school, you mean," he said softly, unable to keep from smiling.
"Ron thought that it would be nice to do it together, you know?" Hermione told him, smiling.
The man in question blushed, shrugging. "Hermione gave me the idea, I just – solidified it."
Harry grinned affectionately as he teased, "Ooooh, solidify. That's an excellent word – can you spell it?"
Ron faked indignation as Hermione laughed, and he retorted, "It only seems like a big word to pea-brains like you."
"Excellent comeback," Harry complimented as he gave a mocking salute. "Right up there with, 'you're a twat'." Hermione rolled her eyes, smiling and shaking her head.
Things continued much like this for the next twenty-nine minutes; banter flipped back and forth between Harry and Ron, with Hermione acting as a sort of referee, until she finally threw her hands in the air. "Amusing as this all is, don't you think we'd better go inside – before one of you dolts wakes up the neighbors?"
Ron and Harry sobered almost immediately, the prospect of having to deal with the Dursley's wrath not appealing to either. Hermione jiggled her wrist until the watch fell off, and held it out for both boys to see. "Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two…"
She glanced up at Harry, gave his hand a squeeze, and whispered, "One."
Harry stood for a moment, almost as though he expected something momentous to happen. But time marches on, even for people of his stature, in and sixty seconds it was 12:01. "Shall we?"
Despite a little grumbling on Ron's part, the three shut their eyes and Apparated into the house.
Harry was awoken by someone shaking him roughly. He peeled his eyes open slowly to find Petunia Dursley standing over him, her lips pursed. "Get up," she ordered quietly. Mindlessly he obliged, following her from the room and down the stairs. Once they were a safe distance from the rest of the household, she pointed to the living room couch and demanded, "Sit."
Petunia was silent for several minutes before turning away from him, sucking in a deep breath. "You're leaving today."
Harry nodded. "Yeah."
She nodded, as though to herself. "You have somewhere to go?" She asked stiffly, turning back to face him.
"I'm going to Ron's house," he told her carefully. "I'll probably stay there for a while before – " he broke off. She didn't want to know, and he didn't really want to tell her. "school," he finished.
"Good," she said in a clipped tone, nodding. There was a pause, and then she added, "The phoenix rises from the ashes." Harry blinked, bewildered. "That's what that awful old headmaster of yours wanted me to tell you. The phoenix rises from the ashes."
Harry nodded, although his heart constricted at the thought of Dumbledore, bewildered at both the message and his aunt's strange behavior. "All right – well – thank you."
She watched with a helpless look in her eyes as he stood. "Harry!" She burst out. He paused, turning to look at me. "I have something for you." Her words were forced.
Petunia scurried into the kitchen. Harry heard her opening and shutting cupboards and it was several minutes before she returned, a small box in her hand. She shoved it at him and nodded once, to herself.
He wasn't sure what to do, at first – if he should thank her, or simply walk away. But before he could do anything, she'd lifted a hand to her eye. He frowned, backing up a little. To his great surprise, she let out a small, bitter laugh as she removed her hands from her face and raised her eyes to his.
Harry was hit so hard by shock that he nearly fell over. Because staring at him from his aunt's gaunt face were his eyes.
His mother's eyes.
Petunia smiled bitterly. "They were my eyes first," she told him. "Be gone by nine – you can make your own breakfast." She tucked her contacts into her apron. "Don't tell Vernon," she added sharply.
Harry nodded, walking up the stairs in a daze. He couldn't quite grasp what had happened.
Petunia has the same eyes as he did. As his mother did.
Why did she keep it hidden?
Why was she showing me now?
"Harry?" Hermione was sitting up in bed, looking worriedly at him. "Are you all right? What did she want?"
But he couldn't tell her, for reasons he didn't quite understand. It was a sort of peace offering, he thought. After all those years. A secret between the two of them, a gift – an understanding.
"She said she wanted us gone by nine," he said instead, shrugging. "And she gave me this." He tucked the box into his trunk. There would be time for looking at whatever was inside later. Right now, he just wanted to get out of Number Four.
Hermione shot him a glance as if to tell him that she knew he was lying, but said nothing. "All right," she replied with a shrug. "I'm going to shower and change. You wake Ron."
Breakfast was a relatively light affair – Petunia had allowed them one bowl of cereal each. The trio had the house to themselves; the Dursleys had left earlier to go see Vernon's parents for the weekend.
Harry and Ron were discussing how best to slip the toffees into the Dursleys' food. "Put it in the cereal boxes," Harry suggested. "Dudley'll probably think it's some sort of prize."
Ron nodded eagerly. "Sure, but how about your aunt and uncle? No way would they be tricked into eating it after the first one wears off."
"How long do they last?" Harry asked curiously, shoveling a spoonful of Raisin Bran into his mouth.
"Up to six hours," Ron answered, kicking his feet up and resting them on the table. "We could always disguise some of them to look like other things. Like – a banana, or something."
Harry shook his head, "Maybe for Petunia, but Uncle Vernon and Dudders seem to have a deadly vendetta against all fruit."
"And vegetables," Hermione added dryly, "And anything else that's healthy and won't contribute to their ghastly size." Both boys blinked at her, jaws slack. She rolled her eyes, primly straightening her skirt. "Just because I usually refrain from commenting doesn't mean I don't notice these things," she told them. "And anyway, after years of mistreating Harry, I should think they deserve a little bit of comeuppance."
Ron beamed proudly at the bushy-haired girl. "Knew you had it in you, old girl," he congratulated, patting her on the back. "Rise up from your chains and all that."
His words sparked Harry's memory, and he started. "Rise up!" He cried. Ron and Hermione shared a glance, as though unsure if Harry was trying to contribute to the joke (and failing), or if he'd suddenly gone mad. He laughed, rolling his eyes at them, and elaborated, "You reminded me, Ron. Petunia told me that Dumbledore wanted her to pass this message on to me: the phoenix rises from the ashes."
Hermione's eyes lit, gleefully realizing that they now had a clue – or perhaps a puzzle. "The phoenix rises from the ashes…" she repeated slowly. "Well, in an exterior context it makes sense, but it's meaningless. Phoenixes are, after all, reborn from ash. But why would he want you to know that, Harry?"
He shook his head helplessly, shrugging. "I don't know. I can't remember anything he said to me before that might give me a clue."
"He could have just been talking about Phoenixes," Ron pointed out, draining his bowl of remaining milk and cereal. "Maybe he was talking about Fawkes."
Hermione shook her head. "Well, if he was, it doesn't really help us. Fawkes flew off after the funeral, remember? No one's seen him since. McGonagall thinks that the only reason he stayed at Hogwarts was because of Dumbledore, and now that he's … " she trailed off, looking away.
Ron placed a hand on her shoulder as Harry stacked their bowls, clearing them away into the kitchen. He paused in the doorway, glancing at his friends. Ron was holding Hermione's hand comfortingly as she sniffed, dangerously close to tears.
"It's not that I haven't accepted it," she was saying softly, "It's just that sometimes I'll say something, or think something, and it all comes rushing back, as though I've only just heard."
He nodded, giving her a gentle hug. "It's all right to be sad, you know. He was like a grandfather to must of us."
"Or at least an eccentric uncle," Harry added dryly, re-entering the dining room. Hermione laughed wetly and then stood, brushing her hand over her eyes.
"Sorry," she apologized. "I know you two hate it when I get teary like that."
"No," Ron corrected with a light grin as they started up the stairs, "We hate it when you get teary over something stupid – like homework, or Crookshanks, or a near-death experience."
"Oh, please," Hermione told him, rolling her eyes. "I never cry over near-death experiences. That would just be silly."
Harry shrunk his trunk and tucked it into his pocket, leaning idly against the doorframe of his bedroom as Hermione went to the bathroom to freshen up and Ron slipped Fred and George's One-Touch Toffee's into the Dursley's food cupboards.
It seemed impossible, that this room was the same. His mattress was still barely more than linen on top of sagging springs, his blanket ripped and full of holes. The cupboards were stuffed with old toys of Dudley's, and his closet door still hung on a single hinge. His door still had the little cat-flap where the Dursleys would slip food, and if he looked close enough at the window he could see the slots where the bars used to be.
He thought of how to say goodbye to this room – it didn't feel like home, exactly, and yet he'd suffered a great deal here, and the room clung to him. His eyes roamed over the walls – bare, now. He'd packed all his things. If someone were to come into this room, they'd never know Harry Potter had ever lived there.
And yet he had, and Harry was almost … frightened to think that he could be forgotten so easily.
"Ready?" Hermione's voice was soft as she placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. He turned to her, forcing a tiny smile. "It'll be all right, you know," she told him, stepping back so that he could go in front of her. "This wasn't your home, anyway."
Harry smiled. "No," he agreed. "It wasn't."