Harry awoke to warm, short puffs of breath on his face.
Wrinkling his nose, he opened his eyes. He found himself staring up into a shaggy black face. "Padfoot, its early," he whined, though he honestly had no idea what time it was. It felt early.
Padfoot didn't seem to care. Harry let his eyes drift shut again, only to suddenly have a long tongue licking his nose. "Padfoot!" he complained, but giggled at the ticklish sensation as the tongue poked at his neck. "Fine, fine! I'm awake!"
He rolled away and sat up, only to find that he had an audience. He squinted at the fuzzy forms as he reached for his glasses. He started to smile at his parents before the realization hit him. His parents were dead. He glanced apprehensively at the dog beside him as it jumped off the mattress and slowly morphed into his godfather.
"I'm not awake, am I?"
He knew he'd occluded his mind before bed, so this was somewhat concerning. But during the planted visions, he'd never realized that they weren't real. The nightmare had come from his own conscious; this must be as well.
"I'm dreaming," he announced to the three figments of his imagination. "This isn't real."
"No," his mother said gently, coming to sit in front of him on the bed. "But we are here because you wish to speak with us."
Harry bit his lip, glancing between them all. His father came to join them on the bed. "What is it, son?"
"I miss you all," Harry finally choked out.
Lily reached a hand to caress his cheek. "I know, sweetie. We miss you, too."
"I am sorry that we can't be there," James said softly, squeezing his shoulder.
"I know it's hard. But Severus will take good care of you," his mother went on softly.
"Snape?" Sirius exclaimed dubiously from his place near the head of the bed. " Snape!"
James looked a bit unhappy at this statement as well. But Lily declared, "Despite everything, he has become a good man. And he is there when we cannot be. Have you ever known Albus Dumbledore to be wrong about someone?"
"I didn't see him doing much to get me out of Azkaban," Sirius groused.
Harry shifted uncomfortably. "Well, he did sort of have a hand in your escape from Hogwarts that night. He believed that you were innocent."
"Dumbledore is very wise. He does always have your best interests at heart," James put in. "I suppose if he went to so much trouble to put you with Snape…"
Sirius was still not happy with this. "In case you've forgotten, Snape hated you, Prongs. I never saw any indications that he felt any differently towards Harry."
"That's because you died!" Harry exclaimed suddenly. "If you hadn't, you'd be around to see…" He trailed off realizing that if Sirius hadn't died, it was doubtful that any of this would have happened.
Quite abruptly, tears welled up in his eyes. "I'm sorry," he choked out.
"It's all right." Sirius brushed it off easily, and Harry realized he thought he was apologizing for yelling at him.
"No," he whispered. "I'm sorry I got you killed."
Sirius' expression changed. "Oh, Harry." He quickly took a seat on the edge of the bed beside him, looking at him urgently. "That was not your fault. Don't you dare blame yourself."
Harry chewed on his bottom lip. "Then who do you blame?" he asked hesitantly, expecting and dreading to hear him name Snape.
Sirius met his eyes for a moment. "Bellatrix. Maybe Voldemort." He looked away. "Maybe myself, a bit. But that's all."
Harry gazed at him through blurry eyes. "I wish you hadn't gone."
Sirius looked to him again, then slung an arm around him to pull him into a rough one-armed hug. "Me too, Harry. But it is good to know that you are not alone. Remember, Remus cares a great deal for you as well." He cringed slightly, then forced out, "And, if Snape can make you happy, I suppose that's a good thing."
Harry smiled ruefully, knowing that was hard for him. "Thanks," he whispered, leaning his head against his godfather's shoulder for a moment.
Sirius gave him a last squeeze before he released him and stood. "I'll let you talk to your parents. I love you, kiddo."
Harry scrunched up his face against the tears, and tried to smile. "I love you, too."
As Sirius left, he turned back to his parents.
James leaned closer and planted a kiss on his forehead. "You've got a hard task in front of you, Harry. But Sirius was right; it is good to know you're not alone."
Lily waited until he had sat back before scooting closer and wrapping his arms around him. Harry melted against her.
"We love you, son. We'll always be with you."
Harry opened his eyes somewhat reluctantly. He sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the bed, moving to press his palms against his eyes.
Dreams were the mind's way of working through things shoved out of conscious thought, right? So did his subconscious really believe all of that?
There was a degree to which he was relieved that the dreams had ultimately been from Dumbledore. It meant that he didn't have to view them with fear and repulsion. In a way, Dumbledore had given him a gift by letting him see them. By planting enough in his head for him to come up with a dream of his own.
That didn't mean that he was all right with it. He was still very uncertain, and he knew that he would need time.
After a moment, he sighed and took a last swipe at his eyes before he stood, making his way into the main room. His mood lightened a good deal as he made his way towards the table, once again filled with breakfast. Snape had obviously noted which things he preferred over the last couple of days, for that was what had reappeared today.
"Good morning Mr. Potter."
Harry quirked a small smile, and took a seat. "I had a dream," he admitted as he reached for a plate.
Snape looked at him sharply. "Oh?" he asked seriously.
"Not a vision, not a nightmare, just…a regular dream. I wasn't even sure I could have those anymore," he confessed softly.
"Not a nightmare, but not a happy dream?" Snape hazarded after a moment.
Harry shrugged. "It was my parents and Sirius again. But I knew it was a dream this time. They…it was like they were telling me goodbye."
Snape considered him somberly as he took his own seat across from Harry. "I know that this is…difficult for you," he finally said. "I'm not sure how much assistance I would be, but I am here if you wish to try."
"Thanks," Harry responded softly. He appreciated the effort more than he would ever be able to say. Still, it was obvious that Snape was unaccustomed to this. Harry felt the need to lighten the mood. "Was that difficult for you?" he asked, smile tugging at his lips.
Snape looked at him askance as he raised his glass. "You have no idea," he responded dryly before taking a sip of the juice.
Harry smiled and reached to take a taste from his own glass. They ate in silence for a bit before Harry looked up again. He chewed on his lip.
Snape glanced up and caught him doing so. "Something you wish to discuss?"
"Do you still hate me?" Harry asked abruptly.
Snape was clearly taken aback. But when he spoke, he was perfectly composed. "I do not."
"But you did, right?" Harry pressed, not really knowing why he felt so compelled to do so.
Snape answered carefully, "I greatly disliked the person I thought you to be."
It took Harry a moment to interpret that. "So…you think I'm different now?"
"I think that I overestimated the arrogance that I assumed your fame would have brought you."
Harry was beginning to think that Snape was choosing his phraseology solely to make him think before he responded. It was working. After a moment he shook his head slightly and said, "About that…I really didn't know how to cope with the fame. The first time I met you, I'd known I was famous for all of a month. And while there may have been a few times when I liked it, for the most part I've just wished it would go away." He paused, then said very softly, "I'd have given it all up in a heartbeat to have one person who cared for me while I was growing up."
"You are still growing up, Mr. Potter," Snape said, a curiously tender note in his tone.
It gave Harry a rush of warmth, and gave him the courage to say impulsively, "I don't suppose you could call me Harry?"
Snape gave him a sideways glance and tilted his head. "Harry," he said slowly, as if the word were from a foreign language and tasted funny on his tongue.
Harry couldn't help his snort of laughter. He brought a hand up to cover his mouth when Snape glared. "That was great," he managed to say with a straight face. "Maybe we could work on it?"
"Perhaps," Snape said with slightly narrowed eyes. "We can work on it after detention, which you and Mr. Weasley are going to serve tonight for that abominable example of potion-making."
Harry tried to resist the urge to pout—but not very hard. "I thought you were kidding about that."
Both eyebrows went up. "Do I strike you as a kidder, Mr…Harry?"
And that forced Harry to try to cover his giggles once more before he went back to his food, neglecting to answer.
As they ate, Harry kept glancing up at the man. The man he had hated for so long; the man he was now beginning to see as his salvation.
It still didn't compare to the dreams. But they had been surreal. He clearly wasn't meant to have that life.
Perhaps he could get used to his new reality.
A few notes:
I want to send huge thanks to all my readers and reviewers! I've really loved writing this story, and hearing from you all has made it all the much more enjoyable. I hope you have liked reading it.
I especially appreciate those of you who left in depth feedback. Several of your comments got me thinking in different directions and helped the story along. I had a plan in my head from the beginning, but it evolved and grew longer than expected!
For the record, I really like Ron. He's one of my favorite characters. His and Harry's relationship lends itself very well to this type of story because they can fight and then get over it and go back to being the best of friends, and because Ron is the type to distrust Snape and to say exactly what he's thinking about it. But their friendship has been forged in fire and it continues to stand up, and I think Ron's a great friend.
As long as we're on that record, I like Dumbledore as well. But I question some of the decisions he's made in canon, and I really liked that we got to see the human side of him at the end of Book 5. Admittedly, I was hoping to create a surprising twist for the end of the story. But my intention here was not to make him the bad guy; rather I wanted to explore the idea of him using his power to do what he thinks is best. I think he cares greatly for both Harry and Snape, and would easily recognize that they could both benefit from a relationship like this. He would also know that it would take something drastic to get them to consider each other that way.
Of course, not everything is settled and happy. I have a couple of sequels in the works, one of which is half-written in my mind. This will all be AU very shortly anyway, so I suppose I'm planning this series as my own version of Harry's final years at Hogwarts. Anybody interested:)