Dulce Bellum Inexpertis
"I only believe in fire. Life.
Being myself on fire I set others on fire.
Never death. Fire and Life. Les Jeux."
- Anais Nin
Muggles, while not magically gifted, were still bestowed with certain specialties. One of the most prominent and wide spread of these has always been their special capacity for denial. Over the years it had taken many forms ranging from "I don't have a drinking problem, I'm just allergic to water" to "I don't care what Paula says, I'm going to be the next 'American Idol'." For centuries it has been this endearing characteristic that has allowed the Magical community to stay hidden amongst the Muggles.
When these simple Muggles see dragons flying overhead, they pass it off as a plane and a trick of the light. When someone spots a wizard or witch apparate, they only remember a car backfiring and a figment of their imagination. Muggle morticians whose customers had fallen victim to the Avada Kedavra had, of course, died of natural causes. Once, a young Scottish youth had even spotted a flying car being driven/helmed by a red-haired boy, only to be disregarded as an oddly large bird with bright orange feathers.
In this particular case of Muggle denial, a teenage Russian couple spotted a flying ball of fire from the back seat of their convertible. The orange flames that licked the air behind the fireball were unmistakable. Even from their distance in the parked car, they could feel the heat being generated. It's proximity to the ground made it impossible to be just anything, and yet, not a moment after it had passed them…
"Did you see that shooting star, Vira?"
"Mmm," Vira murmured in return, "very romantic."
As the couple returned to their evening, the "shooting star" continued its steady progress towards England, and a certain memory-deficient young man.
Almost two weeks had passed since Harry had awoken with no memory of the past seven years and already his life had fallen into a regular routine.
Each morning Harry was gently woken up by Kingsley. Madam Pomfrey had told Harry that his healing could only be expedited with lots of bed rest, so his official morning started whenever Kingsley's lunch hour was. With Kingsley's help, and to much embarrassment on the part of the raven haired boy, Harry managed to get through his morning routine. After a few days the pair managed to get him out of bed without tearing any bandages, find relief in the loo down the hall, manage a thorough shower, and get dressed.
Today was the first morning he was allowed to go through the process by himself and, despite the fact that he just knew Madam Pomfrey was listening outside the door in case he needed any help, he felt rather proud about it.
"Morning," he rasped to Madam Pomfrey as he opened the bedroom door. He had only just recovered enough of his voice to communicate without the aid of the parchment and quill.
"How are you feeling, Mr. Potter?" she asked, immediately falling in next to him, as he made his painfully slow march to the loo next to the staircase. He shrugged off her attempt to help him. He wanted, no, he needed to do this alone.
"I'm good, Madam Pomfrey," he replied hoarsely.
"Poppy, dear," she reminded him lightly, "you're no longer one of the pupils, you can call me by my first name. Even if you do still get injured like a first year."
"Right," he managed to mumble apologetically, "sorry."
This had happened a lot recently. For him, it had been only a few weeks since the incident on the bridge, but for everyone else it had been almost a decade. He still thought he was just a very well known sixteen year old, when actually he was closer to being twenty-four. Every time he misspoke like this was a painful reminder of the time he had lost, the experiences he'd never have, and the people he'd lost touch with. Worst of all, he still didn't even know why it had all happened.
He finally disappeared into the bathroom, breathless from the exertion of walking down the hall. As the lock clicked into place, he leaned his tired weight against the hard wooden door.
He turned the shower's metallic spout to the right and felt the cold water turn from a light dripping into a steady stream down his bare arm. He straightened slowly to avoid the head rush, and walked over to the simple mirror above the sink. He gripped the sides of the porcelain sink and stared at his reflection.
Kingsley had been teaching him how to shave, not that he needed it. He had retained only a shadow of stubble even after a week of not shaving. He ran a hand down the hollows of his cheeks, feeling the hard bones that gave him such a defined jaw line. He never thought that he'd actually miss the slight baby fat from his youth, but he desperately needed something to have stayed the same.
His bandages, as Poppy had informed him, were charmed to be waterproof so that he could keep them on while showering. In Harry's opinion, they were also charmed to emit some heat, as he was continuously getting hotter with each passing day. Kingsley, as the only male that knew he was still alive, had been forced to help him shower and had made him keep them on. Today, however, Kingsley was not there and Harry needed to see himself fully. The bandages required only a light bit of tugging before they came free. The mediwitch had taken great care in wrapping several thick layers of bandages, and as such it took him nearly 10 minutes to be completely free of all his wrappings. Once removed, he felt the refreshing cold air tickle his previously covered flesh.
His gaze fell to the poorly healed gash on his leg that was dominated by scar tissue. Poppy had done an excellent job on his broken femur, the hardest bone in the leg, if not the entire body; one could barely tell it had ever been snapped in half. He could still taste the bitterness from what he had jokingly dubbed the "extra-strength" skelegrow, a muggle prescription joke that had been lost entirely on the pureblood witch.
There was a long, thin scar that ran the length of his pelvis to his bellybutton that had been too old to heal. The skin above his ribs was still a mix of purple and yellow where the broken pieces of his ribcage had broken through the skin. The side of his chest that had been bandaged was covered with a sickly sheen from his burns. They told him that nearly 30% of his chest had been burned. The healing potions for the burns were showing very little signs of progress. They had assured him that the slow rate of healing was perfectly normal for burns as severe as his. He didn't bother looking at how the burns had scarred his face; he avoided the sight at all costs.
Not all of his body's changes were negative ones though. He supposed that, objectively, his body was more appealing now. Wherever he was held the past seven years, he had had plenty of time to exercise. No longer was he so pathetically thin that one could see his bones through his skin. Now he had bulk, he had muscles that were taught against his skin. Tonks had called it a "swimmers build". He wouldn't be modeling for any magazine covers but he was on his way.
His stomach held the remnants of a six pack that had slowly been disappearing over the course of his bed rest. His arms had biceps that were elongated rather than rounded. Even though he'd been sick in bed, he still had better skin color than when he was at Hogwarts. He'd even grown a foot, though Kingsley had been so kind as to confide to him that his friends were still taller than him.
Harry sighed at the thought of his friends. Would they even remember him? Had they moved on from him? Did they hate him? He hadn't brought himself to ask anyone about them yet. Harry just wasn't ready for the answers and Kingsley hadn't offered him any. Of any of the adults in his life, the only one that had tried to push him to get answers about his old life was Andromeda Tonks. The woman had taken to him faster than even Molly Weasley had. She had made it her personal mission to try and get him to ask after his old friends or anything at all. Harry had been holding back his curiosity as long as he could, but he knew his hold over his inquisitive side was breaking down with the passing of each day.
Harry finally noticed that the mirror he had been so intently looking at was filled with steam from the shower. Shaking his head he stripped the rest of his clothing away and climbed into the shower. As he scrubbed himself clean, being especially considerate of the areas previously covered by the bandages, he thought about how much his friends might have changed over the years. Had Ron and Hermione stayed together or had their bickering separated them? How many of his old classmates had been killed in the war? Who else in the Order of the Phoenix had fallen? Was Voldemort winning since Harry had been captured? What else had been done to him while in captivity?
Harry let the thoughts consume him, something that he'd been fighting against since he first awoke in the Tonks home. Once it started it wouldn't stop, and soon tears began to form in the corners of his eyes. His emotions overpowered him and then he was lost to it.
He chocked back the first sob.
"How long has he been in there?" Andromeda Tonks asked worriedly.
"He's fine," Madam Pomfrey responded, sipping her tea, "he's just getting reacquainted with himself again."
Tonks smirked wickedly, "Once a teenager, always a teenager."
Both of the older women blushed at the young woman's crude joke.
"I meant," Madam Pomfrey clarified tersely, "that much of his body has changed and he needs time to deal with it."
"I'm sure he does," Tonks muttered.
"He's been through so much, the poor boy," said Andromeda, wisely choosing to ignore her daughter's comment.
"Thankfully he doesn't remember any of it," added Madam Pomfrey.
"It couldn't have been all bad," Tonks said hopefully, "I mean look at how nicely he turned out. If Remus wasn't so good in bed, I'd be seeing if Harry needed any help in there."
Andromeda, who had long since resigned herself to the fact that her daughter had the social graces of a Norwegian Ridgeback, merely chuckled at the scandalized look on Poppy's face.
"You have to remember, dearest daughter of mine," Andromeda chided lightly, "that while Harry's body may have matured, his mind has not. He's still a young man of 16 or 17 at heart."
"Whatever his age, I'm happy he's back with us." Tonks said in a unusually somber tone. "I know Remus will be pleased."
"Yes, and Teddy can finally meet his godfather," Andromeda added lightly. "I can only hope Harry's a better influence on him than his mother."
Tonks just grinned wolfishly. While Remus was always maintaining his serious nature, Tonks had redoubled her efforts to bring out the fun loving side of him. Teddy, her sweet miracle Teddy, had been blessed with the best of both of what his parents personalities had to offer. Harry would be a happy addition to their little family, and she just knew Teddy would take a shine to him. She was also looking forward to seeing Remus reunited with the godson he had been searching for since his abduction. It would be nice to see her wolf-man smile again.
"It is a mystery, though," Poppy admitted, bring Tonks back into the conversation that had gone on without her, "as to how he managed to keep in such good shape whilst being tortured. If they intended him harm, why keep him healthy?"
"Outside of the torture, you mean?"
"So they could make the torture last longer, of course," interrupted a new voice, startling the three witches. Tonks nearly dropped her china in surprise.
Harry stood in the small corridor that led from the sitting room to the bedrooms, still dressed only in his damp towel. He coughed a little from the effort he had made to speak.
"Oh, Harry," said a startled Andromeda, the first to recover. "We didn't mean to discuss such things behind your back…"
Harry held up a hand and smiled slightly to stop her apologies and to indicate no hard feelings. It wasn't like he hadn't thought about it every waking moment as his body healed. The women visibly relaxed.
"Why aren't you dressed, Harry?" asked Tonks.
"Did you not like the clothes we bought you?" Andromeda inquired worriedly.
"Size," was all Harry could force out of his throat, hoping that they would understand his dilemma. His earlier comment had put too much of a strain on his vocal cords.
Immediately Andromeda felt a wave of embarrassment engulf her. How could she have been so stupid? When she had gone shopping for Harry she had purchased clothes for someone the size of Harry's younger self. Of course he couldn't wear them, they were far too tight to be comfortable for someone of his new size. If only she'd had more time…
"I'm so sorry, Harry," Andromeda said, not liking this new habit of apologies, "I must have mixed up the sizes."
"It's okay, mum," said Tonks, already grabbing her wand off the table, "I can help Harry resize his wardrobe."
Poppy, having spotted the mischievous glint in Tonks' eyes, was quick to intercede. "I'll handle whatever alterations Mr. Potter needs, Nymphadora."
"Are you sure, Poppy? It's really no trouble," she said, throwing a smile in Harry's direction, "no trouble at all."
Harry blushed at Tonks' innuendo, and allowed Poppy to steer him out of the room and back down the hallway.
Andromeda was about to release her mirth over Tonks' antics when she heard Poppy cry out, "Harry Potter! What have you done with your bandages this time!"
Both Tonks women erupted in laughter, neither thinking to save Harry from the medicine woman's wrath.
When Harry reappeared from his room, he had found that little had changed. The three older witches were still seated around the coffee table, chattering on as before. He tried not to listen in, in case he heard something he hadn't wanted to know about his missing time. Eventually though he had to make his presence known again.
"Not still talking about me I hope?" He asked, pleased that the soothing potion Pomfrey had given him in the bedroom was working. He hated hearing his voice so gravelly and sore. He was pretty sure the others appreciated its effects as well.
He fought a blush as Tonks wolf whistled at him. Thankfully, Andromeda came to his rescue.
"Really, Nymphadora," she chided her only daughter, "what would Remus say?"
"Remus?" Harry asked hopefully.
And there it was. For all his planning and his deliberate decision to take things slow when it came to news about hid old friends, he had failed. He had made it less than a minute into the conversation before asking about someone.
The women didn't seem to mind. In fact, they seemed to be a little relieved that he had asked.
"You want to know about Remus, Harry?" Tonks asked with a reassuring smile.
He knew what they were offering him. Harry could take it back; forget his need to know what had happened to those he loved. He could enjoy this break from the drama of his life for a little more. In the end though he knew he wasn't that much of a coward. It was time to face the truth of this new world he was living in.
"Yes," he answered, nodding.
"We're married," Tonks said immediately. While Harry's shock appeared to be dominating his mind, Tonks used her wand to undo the disillusionment charm on her wedding ring. "I didn't want you to see it until you were ready to ask about him."
"You and Remus? Married?"
"Way to go slow on the information train, daughter," Andromeda said wryly. Poppy giggled to herself.
"We have a son," Tonks continued, as if her mother had really been giving her permission to continue to blow the young boy's mind. "His name is Teddy, and he's just over 6 years old now."
Harry tried to picture what a child of his parent's only living friend and his slightly older Auror friend would look like. He smiled at the thought, and felt a strange warm feeling in his gut.
"Does he take after Remus?" he asked cautiously, wondering if he phrased it as politely as he could have.
"You mean does my little one become a ball of fur once a month, Harry?" she asked with a small smirk. "No, Harry, the curse is only passed genetically in extremely rare cases or if both parents are infected."
Harry breathed an internal sigh of relief at the news.
"Although," Tonks added with obvious mirth, "if he had inherited the curse, we would have named him Harry. Get it? Harry, because he's hairy."
Andromeda did not look amused, and Harry had the distinct impression that this was not the first time she had heard this particular joke about her only grandson.
"You still could have named him after me," Harry said jokingly.
"Well we thought about it," answered Tonks, "but we decided to compromise and just name you as his godfather."
"Really, Nymphadora," chided Poppy, "you could try to not give my patients so many shocks in a row."
"I could," she acknowledged shortly.
"Can I meet him?" Harry asked, still recovering from the latest bomb Tonks had dropped on him.
The women shared an uncomfortable series of looks with each other, but Tonks was at least smiling. She had always known that Remus knew what he was doing by naming the Boy-Who-Lived as godfather to her little one.
"We'll ask Minerva when she gets here, Harry," Andromeda said.
Harry let it go… for now. "Remus doesn't know I'm back, does he?"
The answer was clear on their faces, long before Tonks confirmed it for him.
"It's for the best, Harry," Poppy added. "The less people who know, the more safe we can make you until you're well enough to leave."
"Not all of us agree on that point, though," Tonks muttered to him.
Harry was about to ask more when Minerva McGonagall arrived with a slight cracking noise in the middle of the room.
"Good morning, Minerva," Andromeda greeted, standing up and offering the Headmistress her seat.
"And to you, Andy," she said with a slight smile. Harry assumed that was as a relaxed smile as anyone had ever received from his former Head of House.
Andy walked to the point of the room where Minerva had arrived and instantly disappeared with a slightly louder cracking noise.
"Where is she off to?"
"Mom's watching the little tyke while she'd off duty," answered Tonks, "so that we can hang out with you, kid."
"We're alternating rotations, Harry, so three of us will always be here," McGonagall continued to explain. "I see you've all been chatting for a bit if you've already unearthed Teddy in the conversation."
"Not as much, Tonks just decided to open with the news of my godson's existence," Harry said dryly.
Minerva looked amusedly at Tonks, "You didn't, did you?"
Tonks just nodded and sipped from her cup. Harry was positive that, had her cup not been covering her mouth, it surely would have been in a large smirk reminiscent of the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland.
"Would you mind excusing Harry and myself for a moment, my friends?"
Harry noted that as nicely as the question was phrased, it was hardly up for debate. Harry settled himself down at the chair across from his former transfiguration professor and waited.
Until something strange happened, something never before done by an Order member when Albus Dumbledore had been the leader, Harry was invited to ask questions.
"Would you like to know anything about the Order, Harry?" McGonagall asked him. "As I'm sure you've surmised by now, I am the new head."
"Yes, I had assumed as much," he said respectfully, trying to withhold his surprise at not only being included, but practically begged to ask questions. He was not about to look a gift horse in the mouth and immediately jumped at the opportunity. "What's Voldemort been up to?"
"I see you are as direct as ever, Harry," McGonagall replied, though not unkindly, "these should help you understand the situation with the Dark Lord better."
The Headmistress waved her hand at the table and three stacks of papers materialized in front of him. She pointed to the first stack, easily the largest, and he could see that all of the pictures he could see in the pile had a dark mark prominently featured.
"This first stack of newspapers, a mixture of The Prophet and The Quibbler, highlight the major Death Eater attacks and Ministry scrimmages over the past few years. As you can see, there have been… many."
Personally, Harry thought this was an understatement but wisely elected not to comment.
"This second pile," she pointed to the middle stack, a stack that reached half the height of the first, "is a consolidated collection of obituaries. These individuals were casualties of the war whom were associated with either side."
"It seems so short compared to the amount of attacks," Harry pointed out, unconsciously pulling away from the stack of death notices.
"The Dark Lord," she began, before Harry interrupted her.
"Excuse me?" she asked politely.
"His name is Voldemort," Harry said slowly. "Last time I checked, the Order was at least not afraid to say the bad man's name."
"Things have gotten much worse than you remember, Harry," she said sternly. Harry was distinctly reminded of her 'lecture' voice from his time as a student. "You'd do best to read through those pages before getting your hackles up at me. Titles do not only indicate fear, more often than not they show respect. While I despise that man, I have learned to respect his power."
"No offense, Professor," Harry responded, "but I doubt Albus Dumbledore would have agreed with you."
Unbeknowst to Harry, Minerva had spent her first five years as Headmistress and leader of the Order defending herself against the visage of her deceased friend. Two years ago she had been forced to end it out of pure frustration. She was not about to endure it all over again, even from Harry himself.
"Albus Dumbledore and I were friends for more years than you've been alive. Do not presume to know the man better than I. No matter how much time you two spent together before his passing."
Harry could see she was bristling, and chose to pursue the argument further… for now. He needed her to answer his questions, no matter how frustrating she made it.
"And the last pile?" he asked, changing the topic.
McGonagall leaned far back into her chair, an impressive feat given her ridiculously firm posture. She paused a moment before responding.
"That pile contains every lead or rumor we've ever had about your disappearance and whereabouts."
Harry eyed the pile greedily.
"You have Remus Lupin to thank for most of that," she added. "He refused all the other assignments I gave him, saying that someone needed to keep looking for you. I admit I had lost hope myself. I pray you can forgive me for abandoning you to the lost."
He nodded in acknowledgement.
"I know how desperate you must be for information, but I must ask you to look over the papers on your disappearance first," she instructed him. "It is of the upmost importance we discover your previous whereabouts."
"I understand," he replied, "but I honestly don't remember anything after that day on the bridge."
"Poppy concurs that the memory loss is quite severe," she acknowledged. "However, we have arranged for a few specialists on the subject to have a look at you."
Harry didn't like this one bit, and she easily surmised this. "I know this may not be your favorite course of action after weeks of being poked and prodded by Madam Pomfrey, Harry, but this is important. If we can find a way to regain some of your memories, the information it leads to could be invaluable."
"I was tortured for years," he said quietly. "How is that valuable."
She was hiding something from him and Harry felt intense anger at her.
Of course she would feed him all of this information, he thought bitterly. It's not like it wasn't public record or anything. Even the information on his disappearance could have been gotten from Remus at a later date.
"What about Remus?" he asked. "And my friends? Do they know I'm alive?"
"Not yet," McGonagall answered. "For your safety we decided to keep the circle tight and play this close to the vest."
"Surely Remus, Ron, and Hermione could have been trusted."
"That one will have to wait for another conversation, Harry," she replied, "once you are fully back on your feet we can discuss whom else to include in this secret."
"You may not like the comparison, Minerva," he said dryly, "but that was very Dumbledore-esque of you."
"Thank you, Harry."
As much as Harry missed his old headmaster, he had not meant the comparison as a kindness.
"Albus left me a few penseive memories to use, including his introduction to you of the concept of a Horcrux."
Harry heard the slight uplift at the end of the sentence and realized he was supposed to respond. "Yes, and…"
"Over the years we have managed to locate some of the Dar-" she paused, not wanting to rehash the earlier argument, "some of his soul fragments. I would appreciate your help in confirming some of them."
"Anything to help destroy Voldemort," he said, exaggerating the name pointedly.
"Thank you, Harry."
The conversation then turned largely social. A silent agreement had been reached by the pair to not discuss things of the war until later. Minerva had seen how Harry had slowly been becoming worn out through the conversation. Laughter from one of Minerva's stories about the new first years brought Tonks and Poppy back into the room.
Sadly, Minerva noted, the added presence of his two minders did nothing to help his fatigue. She felt compelled to intervene when he began to fidget in his seat. No matter the slight hostility from the earlier conversation, Minerva McGonagall had always protected the Gryffindor cubs in her care.
"Are you tired, Harry?" she asked kindly. "Would you rather save the conversation for tomorrow?"
Harry thought about throwing in the towel and taking up her offer, but he had been starved for human contact for too long. He wasn't so much tired, as really warm, and the candles on the table were doing nothing to alleviate it. His body never stopped aching for the cool of his sheets though.
"I'm fine," he said, trying to sound convincing. "Really."
Minerva chose not to press him on it, and the conversation continued in its casual manner. However, all three women noted that Harry was becoming less and less of a contributor in it.
For his part Harry tried to concentrate on the conversation going on around him. The unbearable heat of the room was quickly dominating his attention, and he found it more and more difficult to keep up.
He could hear the voices of the women but could barely make out what they were trying to tell him. He felt horrible for his lack of attention on a subject he had asked them to talk to him about. It wasn't that he didn't care about what his friends were up to, the damage the Death Eaters had accomplished in his absence, or the attempt of the Order to minimize their opponent's success. It's just that it was so hot.
He wiped the back of his hand across his brow and was surprised when it didn't return completely drenched in sweat. It felt like his forehead was crying sweat as he perspired. He sensed the pressure on his arm as Tonks put a questioning hand to him. Tonks was asking him something and she sounded concerned but he couldn't remember the question.
"It's a little warm in here, isn't it?" he muttered, pulling his arm free of Tonks' hand. It was simply too hot for the added humidity that accompanied the human body heat. Her gesture, while kind in nature, was like adding hot coals to his skin. He could sense that all three women were looking at him oddly.
In spite of his rising concern he was tired of being coddled. He had spent the last month bedridden and forced to depend on these very people. He was grateful for their caring, but just too tired to deal with it any longer. He pulled at the tight collar of his shirt to release the steam that surely must have been wafting off of him before repeating himself.
"Well," he demanded defensively, "it is HOT in here, isn't it?"
He was suddenly reminded of his fifth year all over again, and it made him distinctly uncomfortable. He had had no control over the moodiness of his mind and body. Worse he was forced to see how it frustrated and hurt those around him, and yet he couldn't bring himself to stop said behavior. The women's gazes and his own erratic behavior was just eerily similar for his taste.
Minerva muttered something and began casting spells around the small table and chairs. At first Harry was wondering what she was doing, and then he felt the blessed cold of a cooling charm. This, of course, barely lasted all of 10 seconds before the heat began to assault his body once more.
What the hell is wrong with me? he mentally asked himself, now confirming that something was off with him. Cooling charms from even the weakest of wand wielding witches and wizards lasted at least a half an hour at a time. For a witch of Minerva McGonagall's exalted talents and power, the charm should have lasted a full week even if left alone. Some of his shock and concern over this realization must have shown on his face as all three women now had their wands out.
Unbeknownst to Harry, Poppy began casting diagnostic spells on her most injury-prone patient. She was shocked to detect that his body temperature was at a boiling 108 degrees. Muggles body temperature was considered normal at 98.6 degrees, and a fever of 105 degrees meant running the risk of a coma or death. Wizards, as usual, could go a bit further than Muggles when it came to health limitations. Still, even for a Wizard, a temperature of 108 degrees was nothing to scoff at. A bad omen indeed. Poppy quickly shared her findings with the other two women before deciding what to do.
"I just cast a cooling charm on him, Poppy," claimed Minerva.
"Let me try," offered Tonks, already aiming her wand and squinting one eye. Poppy used her non-wand hand to push the eager Aurors' down.
"If you don't mind," chided the mediwitch, "I'll be the one treating my patient. Frigidus Persona!"
Harry, who had been furiously wiping his damp hair and face of sweat, felt a brief calming sensation come over him almost immediately. Poppy checked him again with her diagnostic spells before breathing a sigh of relief. Despite the fact that Harry looked near to unconscious, Poppy felt confident that he would recover just fine.
"Let's get Mr. Potter back to bed please," Poppy said, already mentally preparing a list of medical texts to consult once he was settled.
As Harry could not make it back to bed on his own, and Tonks still wanted to feel useful after Poppy's early comment, she levitated him down the hall to his bedroom.
Once they had disappeared into the guest room Minerva leaned over to her long time friend and colleague.
"What was that, Poppy?"
"I'm not entirely sure, Minerva," Poppy replied honestly. "I can only guess. I know it's not naturally occurring. That leaves spell, curse, or potion; ones my scans must have missed."
"Are you sure?"
"To the best of my abilities," Poppy explained. "If it had been a reaction to infection or a normal fever spike than my detection spells would have alerted me immediately. The stasis spells alone would have eliminated any infections long before showing such extreme symptoms the likes of which we just witnessed."
"I've never heard of something like that that would also bypass a medical scan," Minerva pondered. "Especially one of yours, Poppy."
"It must have been time delayed. We can ask Tonks about it once Harry is settled. They cover those in Auror Training more than in most medical institutions."
"What would it wait for? His escape?" Minerva theorized.
"That would make sense, and it sounds like a Death Eater tactic," Poppy said in agreement. "Kills the captive if they escape for a certain amount of time."
"So it would have killed him?"
"If he hadn't been around a witch or wizard with a working knowledge of temperature spells, than yes. He would have overcooked his own body."
"Surely they must have anticipated he would find him way to a magical person though. Why choose something so easily countered?"
Poppy decided to be as honest as possible with her friend, "Most likely because that is not the only parting gift they left him with. I only wish the next will be as easily countered."
"We should make sure he's not alone until all this has passed," Minerva concluded.
Both women started at the terrified scream of the young Auror. While each of them was more than twice the age of young Nymphadora, neither woman was slow in their response. Wands drawn they barreled down the hallway that housed the living quarters of the Tonks home.
As they charged into the room, they were immediately propelled backwards against the hallway wall by a violent force and a bright flash of light.
Tonks had only just taken the levitation spell off of her young friend when he began to moan again.
"Harry?" she asked tentatively. More moaning was her only response.
She put a hand to his forehead only to pull it back a millisecond later covered in a thick layer of sweat. Indeed, there was a bright sheen to Harry's skin from the lamp's glow at his bedside table. His shirt clung tightly to his body as if it were being super glued by the perspiration.
Tonks wiped her damp hand on the bed sheet beside him and again placed her hand on his forehead. The skin beneath surged with heat and wide pulsing veins. As she continued to hold his head, he began to become more listless.
Beneath her hand, Harry felt as if he were locked in a steam room and dressed in full Eskimo winter gear. The additional weight and heat of Tonks' hands were not helping that feeling loosen. Suddenly the heat was building to the point that it would be unbearable. And then said point was reached…
Harry shot up in the bed violently flung his arms out, pushing Tonks and her offending arms away from him. He never registered the tightened expression on Tonks' face. In fact he never even registered her presence in the same room as him. His focus changed to the other factor in his heat problem: his clothing. He began to pull and grip his clinging t-shirt. A few moments and a few satisfying tearing sounds later, and cool air rushed at his bare top. The heat quelled for a moment before renewing its fight for insufferable dominance.
Not enough! his brain screamed in frustration. He began to tug and scramble to get the rest of his clothes off himself. He needed to breathe.
Tonks cried out for Poppy as Harry was left in only his boxers. She was about to try and cover him in the still damp towel from his earlier shower when a bright light erupted from outside the bedroom window. She turned to the open window and saw a large light in the distance. She sucked in a startled breath.
Flying over the rooftops of her neighborhood was a bright flying ball of orange flames. Tonks had enough time to experience her surprise before realizing the course of the flames and its intended destination: her home. She grabbed a now fully disrobed Harry Boy-Who-Lived and flung them both to the ground as the fireball struck the bedroom wall.
Minerva and Poppy, who had just reached the bedroom door, were thrown backwards by the concussive force of the collision.
To Tonks' eternal surprise and horror, the fireball followed her and Harry to floor. Before she could so much as cry out in warning, Tonks was forced to witness the single most terrifying experience of her young life. She watched Harry Potter be engulfed in flames.
The experience for Harry, of course, was far more terrifying. After all, he was the one being assaulted by the fireball. In his mind, it was as if he watched the flames come at him in slow motion.
He could hear the crackle of the flames as they ball hovered over him. The fireball changed form and turned into a coffin, his coffin, of flames. This new formation charged his fallen body and surrounded it, mere inches off his own body, it melded to his own sprawled form.
But the flames did not touch him.
Like the Siren's Song from mythology, it felt as if the flames were trying to seduce him into touching them. Somewhere deep inside his mind, a voice promised eternal pleasure and ecstasy if he but reached out and stroked a single flame.
Unlike the heat that had plagued him only moments before, this felt like a jet of cool air rushing over his bare body. The air the flickered between the magical flames kissed his flesh lovingly. His body hummed in relief and goose bumps erupted across his flesh. It was undoubtedly the single most sensual experience yet in his young life.
He decided he wanted more.
Just before he could flex his finger into reaching out for a piece of the fireball, he was interrupted. The flames exploded towards the ceiling and the pleasure vanished, and rational fear returned.
Minerva and Poppy, recovered from their earlier altercation with the wall, had aimed identical banishing charms at the flames. They had tried water conjuring spells to douse the flames, and failed. Their freezing charms, famous for their use during the Witch Hunts of American history, were of equal ineptitude against the flames. In a fit of frustration and desperation Minerva managed to move some of the flames with a banishing charm. Thus, their combined efforts succeeded in removing the flames from their young charge.
Unfortunately, the flames were forced into the ceiling by the power of their spells and the room burst into fire.
The flames raged as if conscious of their loss of prey. It seemed that the fire was determined to punish the women for their interference by consuming their entire house. The quarter was forced to retreat quickly as the room was falling apart by the seconds. Poppy led the way back to the living room as Tonks pulled a surprisingly unhurt Boy-Who-Lived. Minerva continued to push the pursuing flames back with banishing charms, but was quickly tiring from the effort required.
While Harry was not anxious to have any more experiences with fire ever, he did not complain as he was steered towards the Floo. Poppy grabbed a handful of Floo powder and shouted "Wolf's Den!" before disappearing in a burst of green flame. Tonks nodded for him to follow the Mediwitch's example. Some powder fell through his fingers, but he managed to hold on to enough to make the Floo journey.
Minerva was now quickly losing ground to the flames, and Tonks rushed over to aide her. Harry made to step out of the Floo and help but Tonks shouted back to him in a fit of anger. He wisely chose to get back into the Floo and, at the top of his voice, clearly stated, "The Wolf's Den" before his world spun.
When his world righted again he found himself planted face first on a cool hardwood floor. He heard Poppy talking to someone and then a sharp intake of breath as the pair entered the room.
"Harry?" a strangled voice asked from somewhere above him.
Harry, suddenly conscious of the fact that he was completely naked, looked up and stared in shock.