PART I: ALL TO ASHES
Business as Usual
Harry's sixteenth birthday had come and gone, and Dumbledore had dropped him off at the Burrow after recruiting Slughorn's services, but for the first time in Harry's memory, he wished he had stayed just one day longer at the Dursleys'. He struggled to hide the evidence of his dreams—strange, amorphous blobs of colour and desire so strong he could taste it—but Ron was already awake and aware, unfortunately.
"Some dream, eh?" Ron waggled his eyebrows. "Heard you moaning all the way to the loo!"
Harry buried his head in his hands. "Oh gods. Please tell me no one else did."
"Eh, don't get so worked up about it, mate. There are at least five blokes in this house at any given time. We've all had our share of those dreams and woke up the house by it. Least you didn't scream someone's name, like I did the last time. Worst of it was, it was Eloise-bloody-Midgen ! Hermione was visiting and heard it, and I thought I'd never live it down!"
Harry snickered over the memory. "Yeah, can't forget that. You blushed every time you saw Midgen for like a month at the start of last spring term. I'm positive she thought you fancied her."
"Merlin forbid, no. 'Mione is more than enough woman for me." Ron tossed him a pumpkin-orange towel from somewhere nearby. A dirty one, probably, but it would do to cover Harry's… little problem. "Anyway, don't get so het up about it, mate. Happens to all of us. Who did you dream of, though?"
Harry frowned. "That's the strange thing. I couldn't see anyone. I'm not even sure I was dreaming of a person at all. I just saw a lot of blurry shapes and colours, and knew I really wanted whatever it was for some odd reason." He scoffed. "Honestly, I think I'd prefer dreaming about Midgen to nothing at all."
Ron cocked his head. "Huh. That's odd. I usually at least get a suggestion of a girl, even if I don't always know which one."
Harry shrugged. "More of the strangeness of being me, I suppose."
"Reckon so. Long as you don't start dreaming of Aragog or something."
The shudder creeping down Harry's spine felt too much like spider legs on his flesh. "Dear gods, Ron. I say colours and shapes and you pull Aragog out of your hat?"
Ron snorted. "Just saying, it could be worse." He tossed a pillow at Harry. "For Merlin's sake, man, go wash up before it starts dripping."
There was a lovely mental image. With a blush that could have heated all of Ottery St. Catchpole, Harry dragged the towel around his waist and made a mad dash for the loo.
The dreams kept coming. Every night, he dreamed of the strange colours and shapes and an overwhelming sense of wanting… something. Thank Merlin, the dreams didn't always turn sexual, but they mystified Harry enough to engender concern. Still, at least the colours had started to come together into a cohesive… blob. They usually featured a lot of black, though the ones that did turn sexual only had one small patch of it amongst a giant swath of pale pink and cream.
At a loss and wondering if his friend might have experienced something like this, Harry mentioned his recurring dreams to Ron a few weeks into term.
"You never see anything but a blob of colours?"
Harry nodded. "Sometimes it's mostly a pale sandy sort of colour with some pink and black. Other times, it's half black, half white, and there's a pale blob at the top with some more black. Most of the time, though, it's almost all black but for a blob of cream and pale pink near the top."
"That's the strangest thing I've ever heard, mate. Maybe you should ask Trelawney."
Harry raised an eyebrow. "Somehow, I don't think I need divination to know how that meeting would turn out."
Ron snorted and spoke in a wavering, high-pitched tone. "Oooh, Haarry! It's all so clear. I seeee… the Grim!"
Harry laughed. "See? Who needs the Sight when you've got us?"
Ron chuckled, but it faded into a wry frown. "Well, my next best suggestion is Hermione, mate."
Harry gulped. "Maybe I'll ask Trelawney after all."
By the time Harry got up the courage to ask Hermione about his dreams, he had begun to notice a roughly human form taking shape. So it was a someone he wanted and not a something, but that still didn't narrow it down much. He still had no idea which girl he'd taken to fantasising about every night.
Or if it was a girl at all.
Hermione tugged Harry into a corner and cast the Prince's muffling charm the minute he mentioned the dreams—so his book was good for something, apparently.
"Let me get this straight, Harry," she hissed, temper running high, "all fall, you've been having strange dreams about something or someone you really want, that you can neither stop nor explain, just like last year, and you haven't told the headmaster yet?"
Harry slumped against the wall, aghast. "You think it's…?"
"Honestly, Harry. I'm stunned that you didn't at least consider the possibility."
Harry frowned. Come to think of it, he should have considered it. Sirius hadn't been dead for six weeks when the first dream started.
Why hadn't he ever considered Voldemort as a potential source of his dreams? He rubbed his scar in dismay and wondered if being possessed in the Ministry had addled him somehow.
Wait. His scar.
Harry slumped in relief. "It's not Voldemort, 'Mione. I'm sure of that."
"How can you possibly be sure when you have no idea what or whom you desire?"
"It's definitely a whom, and I know because of my scar. It's never so much as twinged after these dreams. Dreams from Voldemort and visions and such always leave me feeling like my head's just been cracked like an egg. And Dumbledore said he thinks Riddle will back off from that method for a while anyway, since the last time he tried hurt him like hell, too."
Hermione's ire deflated like a popped balloon. "Oh. Oh, that's good then."
"Yeah." He gave her a worried look. "So you've no other ideas as to what they might be, then?"
She shrugged. "Not off the top of my head, but I'll help you research it."
"Hermione, when am I supposed to have time to research anything? I've got to get that memory from Slughorn, remember?"
She bit her lip. "All right. I'll see what I can find."
"Thanks, 'Mione. You're a lifesaver."
"Yes, I know."
Halloween came and went with no answers for Harry, but the morning after left him with new questions to ponder. He rolled into a sitting position and rubbed his aching shoulders. Merlin, should he still be hurting from Quidditch practice two days later? Maybe he had strained his back or something.
He grimaced as he stood, feeling the sticky evidence of another amorphous dream in his pants. Well, not so amorphous anymore. He now knew the person he wanted was tall and slim and had long black hair and fair skin. Everything else remained a mystery. Still, at this rate, maybe he would have some firm answers by Christmas.
He turned to grab the spare towel he had taken to keeping under his pillow for moments like this, but froze at the sight of his bed. A few downy red and orange feathers lay scattered on the sheets.
What in Merlin's name? Had Fawkes kept him company last night? Maybe the pillow had burst. Harry examined it, but he didn't see any evidence of a torn seam, and it looked to have cotton inside anyway.
Unable to work out an answer, Harry banished the feathers, grabbed his towel, and made his way to the loo.
The feathers appeared again a week later. This time, he hadn't practiced quidditch for three days, and despite his aches having vanished the second day, his shoulders hurt again that morning.
Harry could think of no other explanation than possible leftover injuries from defence class, and either a prank or Fawkes visiting him in the night for the feathers. Neither option made much sense.
With a niggling sense of worry, Harry grabbed his clothing and rushed to grab a quick bite before his early morning meeting with the headmaster.
Gods, Snape was a bastard. Did he really need to dig the knife in Harry's chest every free second?
Harry hid himself in Myrtle's loo after defence, staring at the broken tap which led to the Chamber of Secrets. Maybe if he grabbed the basilisk skin from there and gave it to Snape as a peace offering, the man might stop reminding him of his father's crimes every chance he got.
'Your sainted father, Potter, was an inhuman monster, and you are shaping up to be just like him! Did you enjoy it, him? Seeing my young body on display for your perusal… against my will?'
"I'm not a goddamn rapist," Harry told the sink, and winced at the plop-plop of tears dripping into the bowl. "I'm not…."
He would have to actually have touched someone before that was a remote possibility. His father, though… Harry couldn't deny the man had been an utter shite to treat Snape the way he had.
The memory of his father's last threat before Snape had hauled Harry out of the pensieve cracked across his ears like the sound of a gunshot. Was it rape to strip Snape down to his smalls? Maybe not, but if his father had carried out his threat… well, it still wasn't rape, but it crossed a line Harry didn't want to contemplate.
And the fear in Snape's face when Harry's father had said it… Merlin, but Harry had never seen anyone look so terrified.
The sink had gone shiny with his tears. Gods. His dad had been in the wrong that day, no denying that, but why did Snape have to take it out on Harry? He had never done a thing to hurt Snape.
Until he broke into the man's pensieve. Maybe it did count as some kind of assault to view his memories—and his body—without consent.
Shite. Harry wasn't sure of anything other than the fact that he probably owed Snape an apology, and that Snape would hex him if he dared try to offer it.
With a sigh, Harry dragged a hand across his wet cheeks and went to splash some water on his face, but froze at the sight of his hand. It was shiny from his tears—not simply wet, but… shimmering. Like mother of pearl in the light.
Harry gasped and jerked his head up. His face had the same shimmering, opalescent coating running down his cheeks, and, as he stared, gobsmacked, another tear wobbled and dropped.
A tear that looked just like Fawkes' tears.
"What the bloody fuck?"
Myrtle popped over a toilet stall and scowled. "Your mouth is even dirtier than the other boy who comes here to cry."
Harry whirled around. "Another boy?"
"Yes. He cries a lot about his mum and not wanting to do his task. But…." Myrtle wiped her glasses on her uniform, cocked her head, and frowned. "Why are your tears so strange?"
Harry wiped his face and hands until the strange sheen vanished. "I have no bloody idea."
He took a deep breath to steady himself, asked Myrtle not to mention his tears, and left.
He didn't mention them to anyone either. He had no idea what was happening to him, but he wasn't ready to deal with it. Not now.
Harry woke from another wet dream with a gasp. This time the images had been much clearer. He still didn't have a firm identity, but the person's gender was no longer in doubt.
Apparently, the person he wanted was a man.
Shite. Did that mean Harry was gay?
He bolted up, cringed at the small pile of down and fluff under his sore shoulders, banished the mess, and raced to the loo. The sun hadn't come up yet, so Harry leaned on the sink counter, staring at his wide-eyed reflection and struggling to come to terms with the mess his life had become.
Gay. Well, there was one more thing he couldn't tell anyone. Not least because he wasn't certain himself.
Harry splashed some water on his face and dried it off, but hesitated as a golden glint shone in his eyes. Dawn? No, the sun hadn't risen.
With a creeping sense of foreboding, Harry leaned in to investigate his reflection.
His eyes had developed a wide band of gold around the pupil.
"What the hell is happening to me?"
As the possible answers terrified him, Harry glamoured his eyes back to their normal green and went about his day. Or tried, at any rate.
What in Merlin's name was going on?
Christmas break should have been a time to relax, but three days in, Harry woke up in bone-crushing, soul-rending pain. He couldn't decide if he was glad no one was around to see what new strange thing had happened to him, or terrified that no one could call for help.
Writhing agony seared the skin of his back—fuck, was something moving under there? Images from a film Dudley had watched once while Harry was about filled his mind. Merlin help him, if an alien burst from his back, he'd do Voldemort a favour and kill them both himself.
With a white-hot surge of anguish and a crimson burst of blood, Harry screamed in pain and terror that his worst fears might have been realized. He lay face-down on the bed, quivering and trying not to feel the heavy, sticky, warm things on his back, big as blankets and red with gore.
What the fuck had just happened to him?
After several moments of stillness, spent breathing through the pain and getting his fears back under control—aliens, really?—he mustered the courage to turn his head.
Wings. Merlin help him, he had wings. Giant, red feathered things no one could possibly miss.
He couldn't hide anymore. Whatever was happening was too big for him to handle alone.
He thanked his lucky stars that all the sixth year girls but Hermione had gone home for Christmas break and struggled to find his wand.
Harry's fingers finally closed around the wood. With a shaky sigh, he struggled to form enough positive memories to produce the spell he needed.
Thank Merlin Ron had gone to breakfast early, judging by the state of his curtains. Harry really wasn't ready to face him, especially not like this. He wondered briefly why Ron didn't wake him, then decided he had more important things to worry about.
"Expecto Patronum." His stag appeared and bowed. "Go get Hermione."
Prongs bowed again and cantered away.