For me, things started to click in the center of the grid at 74-Across: “Local addiction treatment”. I was already at least halfway through this resolution, trying to negotiate the insane entry that was forming at 30-Down through a series of locked responses: BUCS, CHINA, Lucy RICARDO, ELDERLAW, Joel OSTEEN and EXHALE. (What about AND? That’s a tricky little clue – AND translates to “e” in Italian.) -Down, currently RETNECB, could be read backwards. I started 74-Across with REHA, turned north and got REHAB CENTER. For the first time, I arrived somewhere.
But what about the end of 74-Across? Knowing HUSHED and NICHOLAS (with his big Christmas hint) gives us one word, though its relevance is unclear: REHASH. All right, let’s move on.
I had considered myself hopelessly confused in the northeast corner, but when I revisited it with an eye for reverse reading, 31-Across made sense. “Like the essence of these days” is UNLEADED: UNLEA comes from the Across entry, and ADED is 17-Down, read bottom-up. Oh, and 31-Across in its entirety? The answer is just as confusing: RELEASE. REHASH, RELEASE – let’s do one more.
To the southwest, at 114-Across, is one of the two great Harry Potter references in this grid: “Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw”. I still haven’t read the books, and I’m still unfamiliar with the whole world (although I love HERMIONE, mostly any crossword references to her, like the one in this puzzle). However, I do recognize these terms – they are all part of the school of magic. Got the HOGW, I turned left onto the A, and the long stream of 65-Down nonsense made sense. If you turn ESUOHSTRA backwards, you get the HOUSE OF POUDARD; if you read 114-Across in its entirety, you get HOGWASH.
REHASH, UNLEASH, HOGWASH – all these thematic entries come from the ashes!
Yes, there is a developer set at 50 and 97-Across that you may have gotten at the start of your resolution: RISE FROM / THE ASHES. And yes, I searched in vain for a reference to the phoenix, which would have been a real icing on the cake. The Potterheads might have more to say about this, but there is a phoenix named Fawkes on the show whose tears have healing powers, which seems to suit this perilous theme.