AN: This is a bittersweet week for me. According to my calculations, the final chapter is going to be posted on Thursday. It is surreal given how long I've been posting this story and how many people have stayed with me through it all. They'll be more details over the next few days about my next work, but until then thank you so much for all the support! It is very deeply appreciated!
Severus brushed Fawkes' wings. The sensation brought back so many memories of conversations with Albus. Some concerned a class, others others were spying for the order, and a few precious ones were the ordinary type two friends under stress free circumstances would have. For a moment, Severus even smelled the lemon drops Albus was so fond of.
Yet, a part of him felt as if he had never touched Fawkes before. Instead of lemon drops, he smelled the Hershey's kisses Neville enjoyed. Instead of war against pureblood extremists, Severus was fighting a war against his own amnesiac mind. Even Fawkes' feathers felt unfamiliar. The previous times Severus had touched him they were coarse, almost like sackcloth. Now they were soft, not unlike that of a young kitten. Had Fawkes changed, or had Severus?
"I don't think Fawkes was ever upset with you for killing Dumbledore," Neville began as he continued to hold Fawkes up with his left arm.
"No, in fact I believe he knew exactly how sick Albus had become, and why you needed to appear as if you were a heartless traitor."
"Did Dumbledore tell you this?"
"He didn't need to."
Severus' eyebrow shot up.
Neville leaned against his desk. "I saw Fawkes' reaction when you shot through the floo. He was annoyed that you did not so much as nod in his direction, but other than that he showed no displeasure. I even saw him move his wings, as if he was preparing to embrace an old friend."
"Do you mean to tell me you have expanded your area of expertise from plants to birds then?"
Neville's eyes sparkled. "I suppose I have."
"That is very fortunate for you then."
Severus removed his hands from Fawkes. "If any headmaster aside from Albus deserved a phoenix as a companion, it would be you."
"I couldn't agree more," Dumbledore's portrait replied.
"That means a lot coming from you," Neville answered.
"Also, you are correct in your assessment of Fawkes' emotions towards Severus. I told him everything that was to occur a few nights before my death."
"If he knew what was to happen then why did he fly away as if he despised me?"
"You had an image to project. Fawkes' presence would have indicated that you were not all that you seemed. That could not happen."
"That is accurate enough."
"Besides you didn't need him during your tenure as headmaster. You had enough inner strength to perform the tasks you needed to do. Still, it was always his intention to return when the time was right."
Fawkes cooed and began to preen himself.
"He wanted to find a headmaster who was strong, yet was gracious enough to accept his help. The new headmaster needed to be kind without being too soft, just without being too harsh. In short, he needed an excellent leader, which Neville has more than proven he is."
Neville blushed. "Thank you. That means a lot coming from you."
"He is only being honest," Severus replied. "I can safely say you are one of the best headmasters in Hogwarts history. I am honored that my children were students under you, and that my daughter is one of your employees."
"It was an honor to educate your children, and an even bigger honor to have your oldest daughter serve under me. She has truly made your legacy proud."
"Indeed she has."
Dumbledore cleared his throat. "There is one other thing I believe Headmaster Longbottom should see."
"Yes, please pull out your wand and cast a Patronus."
Neville took a deep breath before pulling out his wand and casting the spell. Wisp floated from his wand, but it did not form a beam of light. Instead it took on the shape of a phoenix.
The Headmaster's eyes double in size.
"Just as I suspected," Dumbledore hummed.
"How did you know my Patronus would finally take a form?"
"Because your circumstances have changed enough for your Patronus to take on a new shape."
"Fawkes has chosen you as his new life partner. It only makes sense for your Patronus to change," Dumbledore continued. "I know you will cherish his friendship forever."
"I will," Neville choked before turning to Fawkes. "I promise you I will always cherish you!"
Fawkes rubbed his head against Neville's, cawing the same vow in his native tongue.
Although Severus neither smiled nor frowned, there was a twinkle in his eyes which the world rarely saw, the twinkle of a former headmaster looking towards a much brighter future.
Rose positioned the gas tank under the granite platform. Then, she attached it to the pipes leading up to the surface. Once they were secured, she pointed her wand at the structure and chanted, "este flacāra în securitate?"
The platform glowed teal before transforming to cerulean. Hogwarts would not burn to the ground, nor was anyone at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Rose strolled out of her lab and into her living quarters. Then she pointed her wand at the doorway.
The room warmed.
Her mind focused on the way the Half Blood Prince's sixth year cracked potions book felt in her sixteen year old hands. She could see the gleam of pride in her father's eyes.
"I should've known you would meditate on the potions book."
Rose lowered her wand and turned around. Her lips curled up. "I suppose I should have known you would appear once more."
"It seemed rude to leave without saying goodbye," the ethereal, emerald eyed figure replied.
"Yes, it would be, Harry."
He laughed. "So you finally figured out who I am."
"I think I knew who you were all along." She admitted. "I was just afraid to admit it to myself."
"You must admit that the idea of your mother's deceased best friend warning you of her impending cancer diagnosis is more than a little eerie."
Rose stepped closer to him. "With all my heart, I thank you for all you have done for my family."
He shrugged "I did very little. You made the choices which led you to this point."
"Do not be so modest. We all know it was you who showed Violet where to find Fawkes."
"I only took a walk in the woods. She was the one who decided to follow me. When I pointed to Fawkes, she was the one who convinced him to return. I had no part in that."
"True, but I do not believe she would have found him without you."
"Oh I think she would have, but I did want to speed the process along to keep Hermione from becoming too sick worrying about her daughter."
Rose gulped. "Do you know if she will survive this bout with cancer?"
"I cannot say," Harry answered.
"Because the rules do not allow you to say anything?"
"That, and the fact that more decisions must be made to affect the outcome one way or the other."
"Which actions must I take to ensure the best outcome then?"
"Why would you ask me? I'm just a boy who found a potions' master's book during my sixth year. In reality," he lowered his voice, "I'm quite bad at potions."
"You're the potions mistress. You know what works and what doesn't. Trust yourself. You know what to do."
"Could you at least tell me if you foresee any horrible side effects from whatever potion I am meant to create?"
"Again, I'm just a boy who found a potions book. You're the potions mistress."
Her lips curled up. "The Half Blood Prince had the answer in the book the entire time, did he not?"
"He had an answer in one of the many books he has written, though I cannot confirm or deny that it was in that particular textbook."
"I will scour his notes the second the eternal flame is lit."
"If you feel that is best, then do so, though the answer may be more current than you believe."
Her frown returned. "For a spiritual guide you are proving shockingly unhelpful."
"I give guidance in how one should go, not provide the answers."
"That is for us to do ourselves then."
He grinned. "Now you're catching on."
"I am capable of catching onto things."
"Don't ever lose faith in yourself again." Harry turned yellow. "Remember you have the two brightest parents the Wizarding World has ever seen. They've given you all the love and knowledge you will ever need. You are more than capable of making each of your dreams come true."
"I will always remember that," she vowed.
"That being said," Harry glanced up at the sky. "My work here is done, and they are looking for me in the afterlife."
"Who are they?"
"That is for me to know and for you to find out eventually."
"Will I ever see you on this earth again?"
"If you know where to look you will see me quite often."
"Yes, I suppose I will."
"If you mess up too badly I might be able to convince the person in charge to let me visit you again, but it could be a long shot."
"I would rather see you when my life is going well."
"Trust me, you will see me in your happier moments," Harry promised.
She stared at him, memorizing his every feature.
"Cast the Patronus," he began. "Do what needs to be done."
Harry's glow intensified until it was brighter than a nova. Then, the light was gone.
Rose kept her eyes on where he had been.
"Stop staring into space. Cast the spell!"
She pulled out her wand and chanted, "Expecto Patronum."
The wispy cobra appeared before her.
"Please tell Headmaster Longbottom and my dad that the platform is ready. We are ready for Fawkes' burning day."
The cobra nodded before slithering away. She took a deep breath.
Their fate was now in her hands.