A/N: What can I say? I'm a sentimental bastard. There might be a similar one, later. Dunno. Writing on impulse while doing my best on trying to restore Harry Snape...
Ooh, notice how I've snuck Grindewald into it XD
The forest, once more
Harry kept his promise, and left the ring where he had dropped it. He remembered how Dumbledore had advised him not to go looking for the Mirror of Erised when it was moved, and realised that that had been the first time he had made that decision. It was a decision that every human has to make several times during her lifetime, a decision not to waste her life longing for that which is gone forever, and never can come back.
And he was happy with his life, he realised. Some things you lose, but that doesn't mean that the things you've got are worth less. Rather the opposite. He told Ginny that one evening, and she called him a fool.
"Hadn't you realised that until now?" she chided gently, pulling him closer by his hair and kissing him tenderly. Falling asleep with his arms around her, he smiled and acknowledged that she was right. He had been foolish, from time to time, and he would – like everyone else – continue to be so to the end of his days. You learn a little every time you are foolish, until you finally learn how to be foolish in a clever way. Like Albus Dumbledore.
He slowly drifted into sleep, and as a dream took hold of his brain, he found himself standing where he had dropped the ring. It wasn't there now, had probably sunk into the soft folds of the moss.
The time was just before twilight, or so it seemed, the time of the day when the light becomes golden and the air cold, and the forest smelled of the moisture of leaves and grass. People were walking towards him, wrapped in thin veils of mist, their faces obscured by a trick of light in the gauzy whiteness.
"We wanted to see how you were doing, sweetheart," mumbled the voice of his mother, right behind his back, and he spun around to see her smiling at him.
"I didn't think I'd ever seen you again," Harry said, his heart swelling at the sight of her and his father, arm in arm, their eyes shining with love and pride.
"It was a good choice you made," Lupin agreed to his left, and Harry turned and saw him standing just some feet away, his arm around Nymphadora, who smiled impishly and waved at him. "But I'm afraid we couldn't resist. There're so many of us, really, and the four of us," he nodded at James, Sirius and Lily "weren't the only ones that felt like they had something to say to you."
Harry could only watch them, wide-eyed, as their faces became clearer. Fred was sitting down on a tree-stump, hands on his knees, looking peaceful and somewhat older than he had been when he died. Albus Dumbledore smiled and waved cheerfully, standing next to an old man Harry didn't recognise. Mad-Eye Moody grunted approvingly at him, and Harry recognised him only by the gruffness of his voice, for the scar-tissue that had covered most of his face was gone, and he was no longer leaning on a walking-stick; he didn't need one, with two legs instead of one and a half. His mismatched eyes were replaced by a pair of sharp, dark ones. Dobby was sitting in a tree, probably to make up for his lack of height, but he was waving so violently that he looked on a good way to fall down. He was wearing an assorted collection of brightly coloured clothes, but on his left foot, Harry could see, the ghost of the sock that had saved the elf from slavery still lingered. And standing among the trees stood all the people that had given their life to defend Hogwarts, smiling and nodding and… and there, leaned against a tree, Severus Snape was smirking the same smirk in death as in life, yet without the usual sparkle of malice in his black eyes…
"Professor," Harry said quietly.
"Oh, you only have to die to be shown some respect. Why didn't I think of that earlier?" But the drawl that once had set Harry fuming now made him smile ruefully. He heard his mother laugh.
"Oh Severus, really, that wasn't necessary!" But she understood, as did Harry, and accepted that they both had some share in the blame, even if it was hard to see how they could've acted differently.
A black eyebrow shot up, and a very slight smile pulled the corners of Snape's thin mouth upwards. "I think I'll be the judge of that, thank you", he said, and there was an odd tenderness in his voice. However, there was no resentment in his eyes when he met the gaze of Harry's father, only a kind of wry amusement. James smiled uncertainly and looked a bit embarrassed, something Harry wholeheartedly understood.
"I never had a chance to thank you," Harry said to his Potions Professor.
"Oh, really. Please, I can't stand sentimentality. And besides, I didn't do it for you, did I?" But there was no longer any edge to his voice, no longer that dark and terrible hatred in his eyes. In life, he had hated the evidence of Lily's love for James being flaunted in front of him every day. In death, Harry supposed, there was no use in denying the obvious, and so Snape didn't try anymore.
"Let them say their thanks, Severus," Dumbledore said, mildly chiding but with amusement sparkling in his eyes. "After all you've done, one would think that you could handle being admired for just a few moments."
"And even if it wasn't for me, I still owe you," Harry said, simply, and met no more protests, just a sardonic grimace.
"So do I," James said, apparently talking to his hands. It was almost enough to make Harry laugh, seeing his dead father looking so much like an ashamed schoolboy.
"And I most of all," Lily said.
"That'll do. I wouldn't want to steal the whole show, I am sure." Harry was equally amused to see the ghost of a faint blush rising on Snape's pale cheeks. But as he didn't want to make the poor man more embarrassed than he already was, Harry obediently let his gaze wander over the faces of the people that had been sacrificed on the altar of Voldemort's terrible hunger. Cederic Diggory was grinning and waving, Collin Creevey was bouncing up and down eagerly, as if nothing had changed even with his death. But he, like Fred, looked a bit older. He thought he saw Amelia Bones, recognised her from his trial with the Wizengamot, and there were old Order members standing a bit to the back, the ones that died during the first war. Ted Tonks stood behind his daughter, looking proud and content.
But there was one figure that still was faceless, hovering at the outside of the circle of warmth that had formed around Harry.
"Who's that?" he asked Sirius, and his godfather's smile faded instantly, his face grew inscrutable and his eyes grew hard.
"Oh, yes. That's Peter, that."
For a moment, the last seconds of Wormtail's life flashed before Harry's eyes. It figured, he supposed, that he was here. Somehow. Voldemort had killed him too. But among all the heroes of the war, he was still the odd one out, and it was clear that no one wanted to get too close to him. Harry understood them.
"Oh, you mean that he's the one that betrayed…" Nymphadora said, her eyes turning a piercing blue. James and Lily nodded, sadly. "And he's the reason Remus lived alone and miserable for all those years?"
Remus looked like he was on the verge of protesting, but Sirius said, "Yeah," rather fiercely and glared at the blurred figure. Nymphadora nodded shortly, and before anyone could react, she had marched up and slapped Peter Pettigrew over the face with all the force she could muster. Pettigrew staggered backwards, and when he looked up his face was no longer indistinguishable. Harry was surprised by how young he looked. He couldn't be older than seventeen, and his eyes flickered nervously as everyone's attention turned to him.
"You can do that again, if you like," he said faintly. "I've been wanting to do that to myself for some time."
"I'm sure we're all happy to oblige," Sirius growled. To Harry's surprise, Pettigrew actually smiled, a bleak and sad smile.
"I'm sure that you would like to kick me to the moon if you could, Padfoot," he said mildly. "And I suppose… no, actually, that was a bit rich, I know that I deserve it."
"We're not arguing," Lily said sweetly.
Pettigrew shrugged. "Nonetheless… I… well, I wanted to apologise. I don't," he added, a bit louder, as Sirius snorted, "expect you, anyone of you, to actually forgive me. I might've been many things, weak and cowardly and… and yes, stupid, but I've never been that stupid. And there was one thing…" He looked up, and Harry experienced a weird mixture of contempt and vague pity, as he saw that Pettigrew's eyes were filled with tears. But he wasn't looking at Harry, but at James, and then, oddly enough, at Fred. "The last thing I saw…" he said, his voice very weak and very thin "…the last thing… before…" He shuddered, briefly, as if suddenly cold, and didn't seem to find words for his abrupt and pathetic end. But then his gaze intensified and his voice grew a bit more firm. "The last thing I saw was Harry Potter and Ronald Weasley trying to save my life. And I killed Harry's parents; I took his devoted godfather from him… And… well, poor Ron didn't have much to thank me for either, as I had spent years masquerading as his pet… They had every reason to hate me, and I believe they justly did, but still they…"
He was weeping, and turned away. Harry got a strange feeling that the man – who right now was no more than a boy, really – didn't want to impose his own personal grief on them, that he didn't think he deserved it.
"Well, I always figured that if you really think that you have the right to decide who deserves to die, then you're just one step away from the hood and the mask and the mark," Fred said unexpectedly, shrugging. Harry nodded, and although he couldn't bring himself to look at Pettigrew while doing so, spoke:
"That's what you do if you see someone dying. You don't stop to consider if they're worth it or not. And besides, that thing with the hand was…"
"Cruel?" Pettigrew suggested, and there was a wry smile in his voice. "You don't think letting Sirius spend years in Azkaban on my behalf was cruel?"
"Yeah, so?" Harry shook his head. "So if you die through cruelty that makes it all better? It's not better if it happens to you, just because you've been a bastard."
"It would make me feel better," Severus mumbled wryly. Sirius actually laughed at that; it was probably the only time he had ever agreed with Snape. Harry couldn't help smiling, but it was a short-lived smile.
"Does it make you feel better about yourself?" he asked, addressing Pettigrew, who shook his head. "There. Do you think it really changes anything, then? I can hate you for what you did, and I certainly would've expected you to be punished for it when the war was over. But like that? No."
"Well said, Harry," Dumbledore mumbled.
Pettigrew smiled very faintly, and there was almost something in that smile that was… less crushed, less pathetic, more alive, if that word could be used about someone that was, quite clearly, deceased. "I remember," he said, "when James picked you up from the cradle and he smiled like I had never seen him smile before and he said 'Look at the boy. He's a little hero already'. And we laughed and laughed at him…"
And while he was speaking, he faded away.
"Good riddance to bad rubbish," Snape claimed laconically. Nobody disagreed with him, but Harry somehow suddenly felt that his hatred for Pettigrew had become… obsolete. He certainly didn't like the little rat, he never would, but loathing him quite so fiercely seemed somewhat pointless now.
He turned to his parents again, but he didn't know what to say. This wasn't really a time for small-talk, and bigger talk easily got stuck on the way out.
"You'll do great," James said gruffly, looking like he was struggling, just like Harry, to find words that suited the occasion. "You don't need us anymore."
Harry opened his mouth to protest, but slowly closed it again. In a way, he conceded, it was true. During the war, the thought of his parents had kept him going. He didn't need that anymore. But still...
"We love you. And we know you love us. Every time you think of us, we know." His mother stepped closer, touching his cheek. "But you don't need us anymore. You've grown up. It happens to all children. It was only more difficult for you, because when you did need us... we weren't there."
"I know you never blamed us. But sometimes, we blamed ourselves." She shared a painful glance with her husband. "We blamed ourselves for getting involved, for drawing that danger upon ourselves... Maybe, if we hadn't..." Her voice died, choked by tears that Harry wished he knew how to dry. But Nymphadora Tonks took his mother in her arms, holding her with eyes that were full of the same guilt, the same tears. Remus and James watched, saying nothing but sharing it nonetheless.
Dumbledore smiled encouragingly at Harry. "It only makes us prouder, Harry. Somehow, you managed on your own. But I think there are some more things that need to be said, and time is, alas, running rather short. Mr. Weasley?"
Fred stood up, nodding. "I know it is much to ask, Harry," he said, looking more sombre than he ever had in his life, "but could you... somehow... tell George that I'm... that I'm fine now? Could you...? And mother and father and Percy... everyone...? I want them to know..."
Harry could only nod, for there was a painful lump in his throat, and tears were blurring his vision. Fred was crying too, and it was odd and painful to see. But people closed in around him, reaching out to touch him and smiling encouragingly at him, and Cederic Diggory put a hand on his shoulder and leaned over to whisper something in his ear. And even though tears were still running down his cheeks, Fred smiled.
And then his mother and father both embraced him, and he knew he would treasure the memory of them being solid – of holding actual bodies in his arms to cling to – forever. And Sirius gave him a rough hug, and Remus hugged him while smiling the same mild smile as he had in life, and Dumbledore embraced him and winked at him as he stepped away, and Nymphadora kissed his cheek, and Fred swatted him playfully over the head and told him to take care, and he could feel the glow of affection and admiration from everyone present.
And for the shortest of moments, Severus Snape rested his hand on his shoulder. "Perhaps you didn't turn out so bad, after all," he said, with the faintest ghost of a smile on his lips, and then he turned and walked away. And as he faded, the forest faded, and all that was left was a perfect certainty of being loved.
Harry woke with tears drying on his cheeks, and for a moment he thought that he could feel the scent of the forest, before it faded and turned into the familiar scent of Ginny's body. He thought of the dream, and decided to believe in it.
'Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?'
He smiled as he remembered Dumbledore's words, and as Ginny sighed faintly in her sleep, he pulled her closer. He would have something to tell her tomorrow. But for now, he would let her sleep, and soon he would join her.
But maybe, he thought, he'd stay awake a little longer, and listen to the whisper of wind through leaves in the glowing memory of a forest.
A/N, again: Ta-da! It's in the middle of the night, and I've cried like mad while writing it. Pathetic me.