Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter.
Fog enshrouded Harry's mind, but the first thing he noticed upon returning to consciousness was the fact that he was lying in someone's arms. He felt so warm and comforted that for a while, he didn't open his eyes. The arms were soft and secure, and the embrace was full of so much love and nurture that Harry wanted to bask in it forever.
"Open your eyes, my sweetheart," a soft voice said, and Harry felt his hair being stroked gently. "Oh, you are such a wonderful boy. It's all right, darling, open your eyes."
Suddenly, memories flooded back to him; the last thing he remembered was thinking of Ginny and all that he would be leaving behind as Voldemort's killing curse sped towards him. His expression changed to one of pure shock as he suddenly had a feeling who the loving, tender arms belonged to. Merlin, he thought to himself, could this be real?
Slowly, he opened his eyes. And then, he looked up into the face of Lily Evans-Potter. "Mum?" he said, his voice hoarse with emotion.
"Yes, angel," Lily said, still holding him close. "It's me."
Harry then felt someone else joining the embrace, and there, right next to his mum was his dad, James Potter. "Hello, son," he said, pent-up emotion clear in his voice also. "How are you?"
"Dad?" Harry said, drinking in the sight of his parents. A torrent of his own feelings swept over him, and then, without being able to stop them, tears came to his eyes. It was all over; he was dead. And he was finally, finally, finally with his parents, the people he'd longed to see for so many years. His control finally slipping altogether, he buried his face in his mother and father and wept.
"Shhhhh, sweetheart," Lily murmured as she stroked his hair lovingly. "It's all right, love. Everything's going to be all right now."
After many unfathomable moments, Harry lifted his tearstained face and stared at Lily and James. "It's over," he croaked. "I'm d-dead, aren't I? You helped me walk into the forest, and now it's over."
His parents still stared at him, as if memorizing every facet of him that they could. "We did help you walk into the forest," said James. "But as far as you being dead ... no, you're not, son."
Harry gaped in shock. "I'm n-not?" he stammered. "But Voldemort used the killing curse!"
His parents let go of Harry then, and all three of them sat up. Harry realized that he was in a beautiful garden, with flowers of every kind all around him. He looked at the surreal sight, trying to take in everything that was happening.
"Well, it's a long story," James said, smiling. "The short version is that when your mother sacrificed herself for you, she gave you magical protection. When Voldemort took your blood at the end of your fourth year, he unknowingly protected you from death because that protection tethers you to life. As long as he lives, you do."
Harry stared, numb disbelief taking a hold of him. "So you mean ... I can go back?" he asked quietly.
"You have a choice, darling," Lily answered. "If you want to go back, you can. But if you don't want to ..."
"You can come with us," James finished.
Oh Merlin, Harry thought. This was going to be one of the hardest things he ever had to do. He took in his parents once again, not wanting to leave them, wanting to stay forever in their protective cocoon of love. But thinking of everything he would leave behind ... He couldn't let the world go to ruin, he had to go and finish Voldemort. It was his duty to see that this war ended once and for all.
"Honey," Lily said, causing him to look at her again. "Whatever you choose, we're not going to judge you for it. You've been through so much in one lifetime."
Harry felt tears sting his eyes again. "I ... I have to go back," he said, feeling as if every word cost him a great effort. "But it's the right thing to do."
"Harry, we're so proud of you, baby," Lily murmured as she stroked her son's cheek. "We knew you'd say that."
"Very honorable, Harry," James added. "A much better person than I ever was. I know you were very disappointed in me a few years ago."
Harry's cheeks reddened as he turned to James. "You ... you were watching?" he croaked.
"We've always been watching you, Harry," Lily replied quietly.
"I was a horrible person," James admitted, looking extremely ashamed. "And we had no idea that Severus would do what he did for you, for Lily. He turned out not to be a bad person at all."
"He loved you his whole life, Mum," Harry said. "Everything he did was for you."
"I know," Lily said, her eyes filling with tears. "Oh, Sev." she choked.
"Is he okay?" Harry asked. "Did he make it here all right?"
"He's fine," James reassured him, ruffling Harry's hair. "He's just fine."
"Before you go back," Lily said, emerald eyes meeting emerald eyes, "There are a few more people who want to see you."
Harry's heart began to race. "Who?" he whispered.
At that very moment, a figure began to make its way toward the three. As Harry looked, his stomach flip-flopped. For making his way closer and closer was none other than Cedric Diggory, the first casualty of the second war.
"Hey, Harry," Cedric said as he rested a hand on Harry's shoulder. "What's up?"
"Cedric?" Harry whispered, his heart pounding so hard that he was sure it could be heard.
"Don't worry," Cedric said, smiling at the other teen. "I don't blame you at all. What happened wasn't your fault."
Harry felt a few tears slip down his face, and Cedric gently put out his hand and wiped them away. "Harry, my friend," he said gently. "Please believe me. It wasn't your fault."
"But ... I led you right to Voldemort," Harry choked out. "It had nothing to do with you, and he just ... he just ..."
"What that monster did is not any of your doing," Cedric repeated firmly.
"But you had your whole life ahead of you," Harry whispered brokenly. "And you were so afraid, I saw the look on your face after he ... after he ..."
"I can't deny that I was afraid. I wasn't ready to go," Cedric admitted softly. "But I guess, in the end, everyone has a time, and I guess it ended up being mine. I'm used to being here by now, it's a very nice place. But I just wanted to see you so I could let you know that you need to live your life, Harry, and live it to the fullest. Stop blaming yourself for what happened to me, okay? Just make sure you take care of everyone I love for me."
"There's no doubt he'll do that, Ced," came another voice. A barklike laugh followed the statement. Harry's eyes streamed as he recognized that voice and that laugh. Even though he'd seen him only moments ago in the forest, seeing him in the flesh filled him with a mixture of unbelievable joy and crushing guilt.
"Hey, kiddo," Sirius Black said as he embraced his godson in a bone-crushing hug. "And what happened to me wasn't your fault either. No one put a wand to my head and told me I had to come and save you; I did it of my own volition. And many older wizards have been caught in Voldemort's trap, so I never want to hear or see you hold yourself responsible."
Harry returned Sirius's embrace, sobbing into his black hair. Embarrassment filled him, for he'd never cried like this before, but he just couldn't stop.
"After all," came another familiar voice, "to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure."
"Harry Potter, sir! Dobby is so pleased to see you again!" came yet another voice.
"Hi ho, humble sir! Nice place, isn't it?"
"And the three real Marauders will prowl once again."
Overwhelmed, Harry found himself surrounded by Lily, James, Cedric, Sirius, Dumbledore, Dobby, Fred, Remus, and Tonks. Unable to find words, he just stared at all of them in complete and utter amazement.
"Not even a hello?" said Fred cheekily. "And stop blubbering, mate, you look like a girl!"
"Fred!" Tonks chastized. "Leave the poor kid alone, won't you?" But she was grinning.
"Hey," Harry said weakly, trying to smile. "I ... I'm so sorry."
"What did I tell you about keeping on apologizing, Harry?" Sirius said, ruffling Harry's hair just as James had before. "We just wanted to let you know, before you go back, how very proud we all are of you."
"We couldn't have asked for anyone better to be Teddy's godfather," Remus said, and Tonks nodded in fervent agreement.
"Hey, finish off old Moldy Voldy for us," Fred chortled. "Give him the old one-two! And tell my twinnykins not to be sad, all right? Tell him not to blubber like a girl like you were just doing. And you'd better take care of my sister, too. She'll need you."
"Oh yes, Ginny," Sirius grinned. "She's a spunky young lad, isn't she?"
As Harry thought of her, he managed a genuine smile. "There you go, knew that'd cheer you up," James laughed.
"Anything to cheer up Harry Potter, sir!" Dobby squeaked. "And I know he will take care of his Wheezy, won't you, Harry Potter, sir?"
"Yeah ... yeah, I will," Harry said, overwhelmed. "Thank ... thank you all. I couldn't have done any of this without you."
"We'll never leave you, Harry," Lily promised, tenderly hugging him again. "We're always going to be watching."
"Before you go back," Dumbledore said, "There's one more person who wants to pay you a visit."
Harry looked around again. With another jolt of pure shock, a man he never expected to come near him of his own free will came walking over. It was Severus Snape.
For a moment that stretched into eternity, green and black eyes met. Harry stared at the person who he'd hated for so many years, the person who he had thought was plain evil, the person who had ended up helping him more than ever. "P-professor?" he stammered weakly.
"Potter," said Snape, and his voice was no longer filled with bitter venom.
"Uh ..." said Harry, searching blindly for words. "Uh ... thank you, sir."
Snape said nothing, but the look in his eyes said it all. He gazed at Lily, and Harry could see the love in his eyes. Lily stared back, her own eyes full of emotion.
Then, Snape walked away, and Harry knew why; he was not one for huge displays of tears, embraces, and emotion. But Harry understood; they had finally made peace with each other.
"Darling," Lily said softly, breaking Harry out of his thoughts. "It's time for you to go back now."
Harry gazed at all the people who had helped him, who had died so that he could live, so that the world would become a better place, free of fear and terror. "How do I go back?" he murmured.
"Just lie down, son," James told him quietly. "In a few moments you'll start to feel very tired. Just let the feeling take you over, and you'll fall asleep. When you wake up, you'll be back where you belong."
"We love you so very, very much, baby," Lily said, tears beginning to stream down her face as Harry lay down on the soft grass, and she and James put their arms around him again. "We'll all be watching over you. Whenever you need us, look for us in your heart."
"Stay strong, Harry," Cedric said, patting Harry's shoulder. "We'll be thinking about you."
"Remember, you'd better treat my sister right or I'll haunt you!" Fred threatened, but he was grinning. "And tell Perce it wasn't his fault, and that he'd better not wallow. The family's going to need him."
"I will," Harry promised, exhaustion sweeping over him. As his eyes began to close, he said, "I ... I love you all. Thank you so much."
"We love you too, kiddo," Sirius said, and that was the last thing Harry heard as his world turned dark. He was sad to be leaving them behind once again, but he knew that they'd always watch over him, as they had said. And he was going to go back and beat the monster that had destroyed their lives, to avenge them and to also make the world a much better and safer place.
They were his guardian angels.