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Harry was woken from sleep by a loud bang resulting from his door being burst open. Sitting up from his pad by the fireplace, he looked around. “Wazzamatter?” He said disoriented.

Ron stood in the doorway. “Why are you still in bed?” he asked incredulously. “It’s Christmas!”

Harry found his glasses and put them on. Spying the clock on the wall, he pushed his blankets aside and stretched. “Ron, it’s six in the morning. Can’t we wait a couple more hours?”

Ron rolled his eyes. “Everyone else is already up, Harry.”

“You can’t be serious,” Harry muttered, scratching his head and yawning.

“Well, okay, mum and dad are still asleep along with Bill and Fleur and Andromeda and Teddy and Charlie and Percy but everyone else is up.”

Harry groaned. What possessed the others to be up at the crack of dawn? He was positive he’d just transformed back into a human judging by how badly his muscles burned. Since the start of the break, the transformations had been more intense than they had while he was at school but Harry didn’t feel that this was something the Headmaster needed to immediately know about. He would be arriving sometime today anyway.

“Ron,” Harry began exasperated, “can you wait a couple more hours? Please?”

Ginny pushed Ron out of the way. She looked just as tired as Harry felt. Her dressing gown was lopsided, her hair in tangles, her eyes half closed. “Ron, I already told you that the rest of us want to sleep in for a couple more hours,” she said angrily. “It’s dawn for Merlin’s sake!”

“Exactly,” Ron retorted. “It’s the perfect time to be up on Christmas day, Ginny.”

“Did it even occur to you that Harry just barely transformed back to normal?” Ginny snapped. “And if you haven’t noticed, these transformations the last few days have been even more painful than usual. Show your best friend some sympathy and let him get a couple more hours sleep!”

Ron looked crestfallen at the realization of her words. Before he could say a word of apology however, Ginny pushed him from the room and slammed the door in his face. Turning around, she sighed and leaned against the door for support.

“I’m exhausted,” she muttered. “Do you mind?” She pointed at one of the spare beds.

“Not at all,” said Harry. “You came to my rescue anyway. I owe you.”

Ginny smiled. Harry settled back onto his pad, covered himself once more in his blanket, and closed his eyes. Ginny’s lips lightly brushed his forehead.

“I’ll see you in a couple of hours,” she muttered.

Harry, half asleep, nodded. “See you.”

He drifted off. In no time at all, it seemed, the door to his room was thrust open again, with Ron standing in the doorway, wide awake. He didn’t even seem the least bit upset about being kicked out two hours ago.

“Happy Christmas, Harry!” he shouted happily, bounding into the room.

Harry sat up and found his glasses again. Feeling like he was experiencing déjà voo, he looked up at Ron and managed to smile. “Happy Christmas, Ron.”

Ginny sat up from the bed she’d occupied. Ron looked surprised. “What are you doing in here, Ginny?”

Ginny looked annoyed. “I decided to sleep in here instead of heading up to my room. I thought if I stayed here you would be less likely to barge in again since I yelled at you earlier.”

Ron looked bemused. “What are you talking about?”

Ginny eyed him with suspicion. “Don’t tell me you don’t remember waking us all up at the crack of dawn?!”

Ron scratched his head. “I did?”

Harry nodded. “You did.”

“Hmmm, I don’t remember that at all,” Ron muttered more to himself than to them. “I guess I must have been sleepwalking or something.”

Ginny looked mutinous. “You mean you woke me up and you weren’t even awake?!”

Harry, sensing danger, came to his feet and gave Ginny a hug. “Don’t get angry, Ginny.”

“Why aren’t you upset?” she asked, turning on him.

“It’s Christmas,” he replied simply. “Ron always gets over excited about this holiday.” He leaned in and kissed her. “Cut him a little slack?” he whispered in her ear.

Suddenly dazed, Ginny turned around and eyed her brother. “Oh, alright. I’ll forgive him. Happy Christmas, Ron.” She gave him a hug.

Ron, looking over her shoulder, mouthed a thank you to Harry who shrugged.

“Come on, let’s open some gifts,” Harry said.

There was definitely a great deal of commotion in the Weasleys living room when the three of them came around the corner. The Gate Framers were sitting in chairs along the wall, watching as the Weasley children ripped open packages and thanked their parents and each other for what they’d received. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, along with Mr. and Mrs. Granger (who had arrived two days ago) sat on the couch, smiling at the kids’ enthusiasm. Hermione was surrounded by a small pile of presents and had just unwrapped her gift from Harry, a cook book filled with a lot of meals that Ron seemed to really enjoy. She looked up at him and smiled as he sat down next to her.

“Thanks, Harry,” she said, giving him a hug. “I’m definitely going to need this.”

She flicked through a couple of the pages. Ron leaned forward and gasped. “Oh, man! I just want to eat the page the pictures look so good! You’re not going to make this kind of stuff are you?” he asked Hermione.

Hermione looked amused. “And who did you suppose would do the cooking after we get married?”

Ron’s face turned pink. “Oh…right.”

Harry laughed, picking up his first present. It was from Ron. Ripping off the paper, he smiled. “Wow, thanks, mate,” he said, holding up a compass that was in the shape of a snitch.

“Thought it would be useful when you have to travel a lot as an auror,” explained Ron.

“Good thinking,” Harry murmured before turning to the rest of his pile.

Several minutes later, packages and bundles of tissue paper littered the floor as Harry observed his presents. Hermione had given him a new traveling cloak; the Weasleys, the traditional handmade jumper and a wallet; a box of the latest Weasley Wizard Wheezes products came from George; and Ginny had decided to go out of her way to knit a Gryffindor scarf for him. She was incredibly embarrassed about it since it was her first attempt and several of the stitches were incorrect. Harry kissed her gently before wrapping it around his neck to show his appreciation.

The Gate Framers had gone out of their way to give him incredible gifts. From Tonks and Remus, Harry received several books that would be very useful once he’d become an auror. Sirius had surprised Harry with a set of Two-way Mirrors, similar to the ones he and James used to have when they were in school. But the gift from his parents nearly caused tears to fall from Harry’s eyes.

They’d given him a book, a book of pictures and words, beginning with their childhoods all the way up to their deaths. Harry couldn’t understand how they’d had so many pictures of their experiences or how they were able to remember them in such detail but he suspected that they’d used some serious magic to look within their minds and write every life detail down on paper.

He looked up at his mum and dad, trying to put his gratitude into words. Thank you didn’t seem to be enough. They both smiled, understanding perfectly what he couldn’t bring himself to say. James wrapped an arm around Lily and squeezed her tightly as they silently agreed that this was the best present they could give to their son. Harry kept the book in his lap, cherishing it too much to set it aside.

He broke away from looking at his parents because Professor Merrylow -or Elle as she asked him to call her whenever away from school- had just let out a squeal. Everyone’s attention turned to where Sirius knelt, holding out a small open box with a wedding ring inside. Elle apparently had just said yes because Sirius was leaping to his feet, kissing her intently.

As they wrapped their arms around each other, Andromeda and Draco let out a gasp. Harry realized from their expressions that all of a sudden they could see the Gate Framers. He found this odd since he hadn’t asked permission for them to see them; maybe Elle kissing Sirius had somehow placed a spell upon the place. It wasn’t every day that a dead man got to ask a living woman to marry him after all.

“Oh my stars,” Andromeda gasped, holding her heart. “Nymphadora?”

Tonks jumped. Her attention had been occupied by the newly engaged couple to notice that her mother was now looking right at her. Her eyes widened. “You can see me, mum?”

Andromeda looked ready to faint. “What is going on here?” she asked desperately.

“I’d like to know that same thing,” Draco demanded, eyeing Sirius and then Harry’s parents with wide-eyed disbelief.

Harry cleared his throat. “It looks like the H.U. s have given Andromeda and Draco permission to see you guys.”

Sirius finally broke away from Elle’s embrace. “What?”

James grinned. “Welcome back to the present situation, Padfoot. Although, congratulations, mate! When’s the wedding?”

Sirius grinned. “We still have to plan that. But what’s this about Andy and Draco being able to see us?”

“Well, take a look,” said Remus, pointing. “Either they’re staring at the wall with wild expressions or they’re actually seeing a bunch of dead people in the Weasley’s living room.”

This caused a general round of chuckling. Draco and Andromeda had finally slipped out of most of their shock and were now eyeing the Gate Framers with a mixture of awe and trepidation. Harry cleared his throat. “Allow me to explain since it’s because of me they’re even here.”

He then went into a brief story of how the Gate Frame came to be in his possession and its strict laws and limitations. “I guess you two have made the cut with the Higher Ups so you can see them now. But you can’t tell anyone about them, right dad?”

James nodded. “That’s right, Harry.”

“So I guess I have to be silent too, huh?” said a subdued voice behind them.

Everyone twisted around. In the doorway to the living room stood Albus and Aberforth Dumbledore. Aberforth was looking at the Gate Framers with slight interest but also apprehension.

“You didn’t tell me that we would also be spending the holidays with spirits, brother,” Aberforth grumbled. “I thought Potter would be bad enough.”

Harry grinned. “Good to see you too, Aberforth. How are you professor?” Standing up he went over to shake Dumbledore’s hand.

The Headmaster smiled. “I’m wonderful, Harry. I’d wondered whether to knock but seeing as everyone was rather enthralled with your Gate Frame tale, I thought it reasonable to let ourselves in. I hope that’s alright, Arthur.”

Mr. Weasley shrugged. “I couldn’t keep you out anyway, Albus.”

Dumbledore smiled. “I suppose you don’t feel the need to secure that I am in fact Albus Dumbledore?”

Harry narrowed his eyes playfully. “And if you weren’t?”

“Then I would say that the man next to me is not Aberforth but a fellow Death Eater here to kill you, Harry,” Dumbledore said cheerfully.

Draco rolled his eyes as everyone in the room suddenly turned to look at him. “They’re definitely not Death Eaters,” he said flatly, returning to the book on potions that Harry had given him for Christmas.

“Incredible likeness you have to Severus, Draco,” Dumbledore commented kindly. “Completely blunt but also incredibly honest when dire demand asks to know the truth.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment, sir,” Draco said, smirking.

“As you should,” said Dumbledore as he sat down in an empty armchair. “Come, Aberforth, we don’t want you standing in the entranceway like a decoration.”

His brother seemed a little apprehensive but he rolled his eyes and defiantly replied, “I was just trying to find a vacant chair, thank you.” He bustled over to the couch and plopped himself down on the last empty cushion.

Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled. “Well…Happy Christmas everyone! So sorry we were a tad late.”

Shortly after, everyone made their rounds of congratulating Sirius and Elle before becoming busy once more in their own conversations. As Dumbledore went over to speak with the Gate Framers, Harry inched closer to Ginny who seemed to be trying to appear happy to see him though her face held obvious disappointment.

“Why the long face?” he asked her. “You got some great stuff.”

“Yeah,” she muttered, looking at her pile of possessions, “But I thought that you’d…”

“That I’d what?” Harry prompted because she’d stopped.

She was obviously extremely upset. Eyeing the scarf she’d given him, it appeared as if she were imagining strangling him with it. Harry waited for one full minute, wondering how long he should continue to fake ignorance.

“You didn’t get me anything,” she finally muttered, her face betraying her inward anger and hurt.

Harry suddenly grinned. “Sorry,” he muttered, “but I really wanted to give this to you in person.”

Ginny’s brow furrowed. Harry pulled out a small rectangular box wrapped in simple paper.

“Merry Christmas, Ginny.”

Ginny lifted the box from Harry’s outstretched hand and ripped the wrapping off, slightly flustered. “You could have told me you were going to give it to me in person!” she grumbled.

Harry merely chuckled. She was so cute when she fussed over things. He propped his head on one hand and waited. She pulled the box open and out fell…

“A key?” Ginny asked incredulously. She eyed him questioningly, demanding an explanation.

“Well, I couldn’t actually fit your real present into a box,” Harry responded.

Ginny’s eyes lit up. “What does this open?” she asked, suddenly excited.

“Ahhh, now you asked the right question,” said Harry, hardly containing his smile. “Look again in the box.”

Ginny, perplexed now, looked and a small piece of paper suddenly appeared. Pulling it out, she immediately recognized that it was an address. Her heart hammered loudly as she stared again at Harry.

“This isn’t what I think it is,” she whispered.

Harry finally couldn’t contain his grin. “What do you think it is?”

Ginny shook her head. “I don’t want to say,” she muttered. “It sounds too good to be true…you couldn’t have anyway. Where would you have gotten the money?”

Harry laughed out loud. “Let’s just say the Ministry asked me if there was something I wanted as payment for defeating Voldemort.”

“You’re giving me a house?” she said so loudly that all conversation stopped.

Harry shrugged. “Technically the house is in my name but, seeing as I only planned to live there once married, I thought I’d give my fiancée the key for safe keeping.”

Ginny looked down at the key and then at Harry. “You’re serious.”

“If you don’t want it, I’ll take it back.”

“NO!” Ginny leapt into his arms, kissing him fully on the mouth. “Oh, Harry! Thank you! Thank you! When can we go see it?”

“I thought maybe sometime over the break,” Harry suggested.

Ginny turned to her parents who both appeared completely stunned. “Can we go see it, mum? Dad? Please!”

“Wait…Harry gave Ginny a house?” asked Ron, completely baffled. “Are you for real?”

Harry grinned. “I thought it a good Christmas present.”

“Well, I can’t say this was unexpected,” Hermione muttered.

Ron twisted around. “Why do you say that?”

“Well, Harry’s going to marry her right after they get out of school, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Therefore it’s only natural for Harry to give her a house,” Hermione explained.

“Oh,” muttered Ron, suddenly appearing to be worried about something.

“That’s a wonderful gift, Harry,” said Dumbledore. “May I inquire as to the home’s location?”

“Where else?” said Harry, looking at his parents. “Godric’s Hollow.”

James grinned. “Well, I wonder why on earth you’d want to live there, Harry. Terrible place I’ve heard.”

“Filled with strange folk,” insisted Sirius.

“Indeed,” muttered Remus. “There’s even a rumor that a major murder mystery happened there. Have you heard about it James?”

“You mean those nutters, the Potters?” he guessed.

“Yeah that’s them!” said Sirius. “I heard they were always causing trouble for the neighbors… especially their noisy son. What was his name? He used to drive the neighborhood crazy with his constant crying at three in the morning.”

“Don’t remind me,” James shuddered. “The kid had a natural alarm clock set for that exact time for four months. Nearly strangled myself with my own trousers, the noise was so obnoxious.”

The three marauders laughed hysterically while Lily rolled her eyes. “Alright, you three knuckleheads, that’s enough. Harry, I think going back is a great idea. Godric’s Hallow is a very peaceful village.”

“That reputation is going to change once Harry moves in,” George interrupted loudly.

Ginny glared at him playfully. “At least it’s spared your presence George. The neighbors would hightail it to the next country if they found out you were planning on living on the block.”

“Why thank you for the wonderful compliment, my dear favorite sister,” said George, grinning.

“This is very generous, Harry,” said Mrs. Weasley. “It almost seems like too great of a gift.”

Harry looked at Ginny. “What do you think? Are you going to bail out on our engagement anytime soon?”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Sure am,” she replied sarcastically. “I’ve already been cheating on you for five months with some fifth year in Ravenclaw.”

Harry snorted. “That’s the best you can come up with?”

She shrugged. “I’m not up to par at the moment, I guess.” She leaned over and kissed his cheek. “Thanks, Harry.”

Harry blushed as several of Ginny’s brothers wolf whistled (along with Sirius and his father).

~*~*~*~

It was just after noon. Harry had planned to go to Godric’s Hollow to show her the house but Mrs. Weasley asked if they could hold off until tomorrow because she wanted Christmas day to be spent entirely with all her children. After much bickering between mother and daughter, it was determined that Mrs. Weasley’s suggestion was for the best. But nothing was preventing Harry from going. He actually had another reason to go, one that he hadn’t been entirely comfortable sharing with everyone that morning.

He wanted to spend a couple of hours just with his parents at Godric’s Hollow. It was an entirely selfish decision but it was something he’d been wanting ever since the Christmas Season had drawn closer. Harry stepped out of the living room, making the excuse of needed to use to bathroom. As he stood, he thankfully caught his mother’s eye. She immediately stood up and followed after him. Once in the empty kitchen, Harry leaned against one of the counters as his mother appeared.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, coming closer, her eyes filled with concern.

“I…it’s kind of stupid, really,” Harry muttered.

Lily smiled kindly. “Harry,” she said gently, “what is it?”

Harry sighed before looking up into the eyes he’d inherited. Searching them, he said, “I want to go to Godric’s Hollow with you and dad.”

Lily considered him. “Do you want to go today?”

Harry nodded. “I really, really want to. I’ve never spent the holidays with…”

“Your own family?” Lily provided.

“Well, yeah,” answered Harry. “Don’t get me wrong,” he said quickly, “The Weasleys have been great! But…”

Lily put her arms around him. Rubbing the back of his head, she whispered, “I understand, Harry. You don’t have to explain.”

Harry’s stomach felt like it was twisting in knots. His eyes burned slightly as he held on to his mother’s embrace. Suddenly he didn’t feel like a grown up. He felt like a little child, longing for nothing but to stay within his mother’s arms, safe and sound. The comfort -the security- it brought was something Harry had desired his whole life. He’d longed for this more than anyone knew, more than what anyone around him could completely understand.

“It’s alright, dear,” Lily soothed, holding his head. “It’s alright.”

Just then the door to the kitchen opened and James stepped inside. Beholding the scene, he shut the door quickly and came forward. “What’s going on?”

Luckily Harry’s back was facing his father. He hurriedly got rid of any traces of threatening tears before stepping away from his mum. Lily put her hand in his and squeezed.

“Dear, Harry wants to go home,” she said.

James’s brow furrowed. “He wants to go…” But then a light filled his eyes. “Oooh!”

“Would that be okay?” Harry asked.

Lily surveyed James. “Well?”

James blinked. “I don’t see why not.” But then he hesitated. “Except…”

“What?” Harry asked, trying not to sound too desperate.

“Well…” -James rubbed the back of his neck- “I’m just concerned about a possible Death Eater attack. If I was them, I’d have Godric’s Hollow monitored because it’s more than likely that you would visit there, Harry.”

Harry felt like a flat tire. Dejected, he let out a long sigh. “I guess you’re right,” he mumbled.

James, seeing the distress of his son, felt terrible. He’d seen Harry depressed like this in the past when he occasionally would check in on him but seeing it in person tugged deeper on his heart strings than those times had. He bit his lip.

“Harry, let me talk to Albus. I’ll see if something can be done.”

Harry perked up. “Really?”

James smiled. “Yeah. Stay here; I’ll be right back.”

The second the door of the kitchen closed, Lily grabbed Harry’s shoulders. “Harry, can I ask you something?”

She sounded unsure, like what she wanted to ask seemed to be crossing some kind of line. Harry eyed her nervousness with curiosity as well as concern. “What is it, mum?”

Lily let out a long sigh. “I know you want to spend the rest of the afternoon with just me and your father but I was hoping that you could allow a guest to join us later – before you become a stag.”

At first Harry was slightly irritated but then he stamped out his selfish desires. This person, whoever they were, apparently was extremely important or else his mother wouldn’t be asking him to sacrifice part of their family time.

“Who is it?”

Lily bit her lip. “Severus,” she muttered. Harry blinked. Of all the important people he’d been thinking of, Severus Snape was not on his list. His mother saw his surprise and decided to elaborate. “Since our conversation about him, Harry, I’ve tried several ways to summon courage to tell your father the truth but I haven’t been very successful on my own. So I thought that maybe, if you were there to support me, that I’d be able to tell him.” She was wringing her hands as she finished the last of her explanation in a rush.

Harry sighed. “Well, this is going to be a fun afternoon, that’s all I can say.”

Lily, sensing his slight sarcasm, looked up. “You’re not mad?”

Harry shook his head. “No. This needs to be taken care of. And then you and dad can support each other when you tell Sirius and Remus.”

Lily closed her eyes. “Let’s pray this goes well.”

The door to the kitchen opened again and James reappeared, followed closely by Dumbledore. The professor surveyed Harry silently and Harry suddenly felt something trying to probe his thoughts. On instinct Harry’s mind occluded, shutting the intruder out; Dumbledore raised an eyebrow. The prober returned, smashing against Harry’s defensive wall, but Harry only strengthened it tenfold. Pushing with all his might, Harry thrust out the intruder. Dumbledore actually took a step back.

“Well, well,” he said, his voice filled with obvious delight. “You’ve finally mastered it.”

Harry smiled sheepishly. “Yes, sir.”

“May I ask how?”

Harry explained that when he was captured by snatchers and taken to Malfoy Manor, Voldemort’s mind kept interfering with his own. “Because we were in such a dangerous situation,” said Harry, “I felt it explicitly important to block him out and stay focused on what was going on to me instead of him.”

“And in the process you mastered Occlumency,” Dumbledore finished, looking positively thrilled. “Well, I must say, I am pleased! This is simply wonderful, Harry! Truly wonderful!”

“Thank you, sir.”

“You’re quite welcome, my boy! Now, concerning your desires, I find them appropriate.”

“You do?” asked Harry, surprised.

Dumbledore nodded. “I wanted to see how deeply you felt about this Harry by looking in your mind but you blocked me magnificently. I suppose I shouldn’t pry on this matter. Forgive an old man’s concerns.”

Harry smirked. “I guess I could, just this once.”

Dumbledore’s beard twitched. “Yes, just this once.” He smiled. “I have no problems with you going but I want you to apparate, diapperate, and travel around the town in your invisibility cloak. You are not to take it off for any reason. If you accept these terms, I’ll permit you to leave.”

Harry frowned. “I was planning on going to my house. Do I have to leave the cloak on even while there?”

Dumbledore tapped his chin. “No, I suppose that won’t be necessary. However, I do want you to check to make sure the house is free of all persons. You know the spell, I presume?”

Harry nodded.

“Very well,” said Dumbledore. “I want you back here one hour exactly from sunset. If you are late, I will be forced to come fetch you. Are we in agreement?”

Harry nodded again. “Yes, sir.”

“Good. Now, off you go. And Harry?”

“Yes, sir?”

“Enjoy yourself.”  The old man smiled, his blue eyes twinkling with fatherly fondness.

Harry returned a smile. “I will, sir. Thank you.”

And with that he slipped out the back door, his parents’ right behind him.

~*~*~*~

Harry threw on the Invisibility cloak just outside the gate of the Burrow. His mother and father gently grabbed onto his arms. Counting to three, Harry turned on his heel, twisting into the small compacted space, his parents’ right beside him. With a small pop, the three Potter’s reappeared on the same street Harry had landed upon when visiting here last year. It was only after they had arrived that Harry realized that last Christmas Eve, he had been here with Hermione. Trying to dispel the memories from his mind, Harry looked around.

The street was almost the same as in his memories except it was daytime and the snow covering every surface was brilliantly white and sparkling like glitter. Cottages lined the road, twisting around a bend to the left which Harry remembered would take him to the main part of town where the memorial statue of him and his parents had been placed. Children were outside, testing out new sleighs given to them for Christmas, having snowball fights, making snowmen, and creating snow angels. Their laughter echoed around the street, carefree and unaware that they were being watched.

Harry started moving forward. His parents, still holding on to him, began to walk as well.

“I came here last year.”

“We know,” said Lily.

“You do? How?”

James decided to explain. “Though separated from our bodies, we can sense things close them. The moment we felt your presence, Lily and I left Paradise to come see you.”

“It was terribly difficult to make the arrangements in such a short time to visit you,” said Lily. “But the H. U.s seemed to be informed of our situation and they allowed us to pass without incident.”

“I don’t understand everything you’re getting at mum,” Harry admitted.

Lily smiled. “Sometimes, Harry, spirits are allowed to visit the living. You usually have to set an appointed time way in advance, since there are so many people, you see.”

Harry tried to understand but he was having a difficult time comprehending this. He supposed it should have been easy to grasp the concept but for some reason it was being rejected by his brain.

James noted his conflicted expression and sighed. “Lily, I don’t think he’ll be able to understand that until he reaches the other side.”

Lily smacked her head. “Darn it, I forgot. Sorry, Harry. I shouldn’t have tried to explain it. When we do try to clarify ways of the afterlife to those still alive, they can’t seem to comprehend our words.”

Harry felt like he was getting a slight headache. Deciding to give up on trying to understand his mother’s earlier comment, he shrugged and pushed the thoughts away. Immediately the headache vanished.

“I guess the main point I’m trying to make,” said Lily, “is that we were able to be here last year.”

“I couldn’t see you then,” Harry muttered.

“Yes,” his father said quietly. “But we could see you.”

“It was the first time we were able to actually look at you,” Lily sighed. “We’ve only ever been able to look at you in a mirror,” she explained upon Harry’s confused expression. “Seeing you in person for the first time, Harry…”

“We were so proud,” finished James, smiling.

“But I was disguised with Polyjuice Potion,” said Harry as they turned the corner leading into the main part of town.

James chuckled. “We were able to see the real you underneath the mask, Harry.”

“How?”

“That’s another thing about the afterlife that you’ll learn when you get there yourself,” said his mother gently, squeezing his shoulder.

The three of them drew closer to the memorial. Christmas lights were once more spread all over the surface along with the rest of the town. All the shops were closed for the holiday but their individual decorations in the windows and over the doors twinkled merrily and bright. James approached the war memorial.

“This wasn’t here before,” he said, looking it over.

Lily joined his side but Harry hung back a little bit. He wanted to fully see his parents’ reactions to the statue dedicated to their family. As the two Potters curiosity over the monument grew, the statue transformed. Lily gasped.

A hand came to her mouth. “Oh…”

She looked at James who in turn looked around to Harry, who stood invisible. Finding where his tracks stopped in the snow, James’s eyes rose to Harry’s invisible eyelevel. “Do you know who made this?” he asked.

“No,” said Harry’s voice.

James swallowed, trying to battle with some silent emotions. “Well, at least they got my nose right.”

Lily managed a laugh. “And my face.”

“Harry looks all wrong though,” James muttered. “They made him look too good. He wasn’t that cute as a baby.”

Snow scraped up off the ground. The small ball soared through the air and smacked James in the side of the head. Though just pelted with a snowball, James merely laughed. “Only kidding, son!”

Though invisible, Harry still rolled his eyes. “Whatever, dad.”

“So, what do you want to do first Harry?”

Harry rubbed the back of his neck. “Is it okay to visit your graves?”

James and Lily glanced at one another. James shrugged.

“Of course,” Lily answered.

Harry’s footprints moved towards the graveyard. The kissing gate stood open, leading into where the tombstones sat in rows upon rows of solid stone. Harry stopped at Ignotus Peverell’s along with Ariana and Kendra Dumbledore’s graves. He magicked a wreath for each of them, placing them with care over the tombstones before moving on to his parents’ final resting place.

James and Lily watched as Harry stopped. Last year, many tears had been shed here. But today, there was only a smile on Harry’s face. He conjured another wreath for their grave and then sat down in the snow.

“I always pictured coming here,” Harry muttered, “talking to the two of you and wondering if you could hear me.”

“And now you can talk directly to us,” said Lily, coming over to her own grave and sitting down directly on top of it.

James did the same. The two of them sat staring at their son, their pride and joy. He had been through more than they had thought possible, more than they had even comprehended. As Harry sat there in the snow, staring at his parents’ graves and his parents themselves, his mind drifted backward through his life. There had been so many times he had wished them to be there, to be able to tell them his fears, to share his triumphs, to comfort him through his trials. Even though they were here with him now, his heart ached. He supposed it was because that now that he did have them, he wished more than anything that things had been different, that he could have had them in his childhood too.

His life would have been here, in Godric’s Hollow. He would have grown up with loving, caring parents, knowing everything about the magical world, getting decent meals, plenty of attention, friends, family, a loving godfather, no fame, and most importantly, no heartache.

Harry rubbed his eyes. He didn’t regret everything about his life. There were several things, drastic things, that he would have loved to change, but there were also many blessings that he should be thankful for. Voldemort may have destroyed the life he could have had but he hadn’t touched nor would he ever be able to touch Harry’s future. And that was the glorious thing that Harry looked forward to: a life free of Voldemort, a life where he could live with Ginny, raise a family, and continue to save the wizarding world from dark wizards.

Harry stood up. Brushing the snow off himself, he said, “Come on. Let’s go.”

The three of them left the graveyard, moving down a side street that took them to the end of the village. James and Lily already knew where Harry was going. How many times had they taken this same path? Soon, at the end of the row of cottages, stood the remains of the Potters home. James and Lily couldn’t believe the destruction of the house. Tears actually sprung from Lily’s eyes as they drew closer. James put an arm around her shoulder in comfort.

Harry stepped right up to the gate and placed a hand on the rail. Once more, just as it had done before, a sign sprung up from the ground. New graffiti had been added to what already was there. Multiple praises to Harry were written for defeating Voldemort along with gratifications, all written in permanent ink. James read the official golden letters upon the wood before chuckling.

“It looks like people thought it appropriate to graffiti the sign.”

Lily sighed. “At least all the messages are positive.”

“Yeah,” James muttered. “Too bad none of the Death Eaters wrote something like ‘The Dark Lord Forever’ or some other nonsense.”

Harry snorted.

Lily leaned against the rail. “It’s too bad it was destroyed,” Lily muttered, wiping a tear away. “It was such a lovely home.”

James squeezed her tightly. “Yes it was, Lils. But it was just a house. A home is where your family is.” He placed his other arm around Harry and drew him close. “This…these two wonderful people in my arms, make up my home.”

Lily twisted around, pulling Harry with her. She pulled her husband and son into a warm embrace. “You’re right, James,” she whispered. “This is my home.”

“And mine,” Harry whispered, holding his parents tightly.

Pulling herself together, Lily stepped away and said, “Alright, let’s see this house of yours Harry.”

Harry led the way back down the street, away from the Potters ruined home. Five cottages down, Harry stopped. “Here we are.”

The house itself was similar to the one belonging to the Potters except this structure didn’t have half the roof in shambles. A small group of bushes huddled beneath the front windows, their tops covered in snow. A small cobbled path (at least one assumed it was cobbled since it was buried under the snow) led up to the front door. A brass knocker was placed in the center at the top of the deep mahogany wood. Opening the gate, Harry made his way up the path towards the light colored cottage. He pulled a key from his pocket.

“I thought you gave the key to Ginny,” mused Lily.

“I gave her the spare,” Harry replied. “I needed one so I could get in to check on how things are being kept up here.”

They stepped inside.

On the other side of the door was a long hallway that led down to a staircase. An open room branched off to the right, the living area; a full set of brand new black leather furniture filled most of the space. Thick deep green carpet covered the floor, transforming into neatly laid tiles three feet away from a glorious fireplace.

On the left side of the hallway were three doors. The first one was a coat closet and the second, a bathroom without a shower. The third actually turned out to be an open doorway leading into a dining room. A beautifully carved black table stood in the center, the surface a pane of glass skillfully framed into the wood. Six comfortably padded black chairs sat around the table matching in wood and color. There was another door in the corner of this room that led down to the kitchens. Everything was remarkably low to the ground, leaving James and Lily the impression that this was a room designed for a house elf.

Harry crossed the kitchen to another door which opened up to a hallway containing a storage room and a spare bedroom with a small winding staircase that ascended to the first floor level. The door was located at the end of the house’s main hallway across from another door placed directly underneath the staircase.

“I’m not technically happy with this room’s location, seeing as it reminds me too much of life back at the Dursleys. But I wanted a study put in and there was no other location to put it.” Harry sighed before pushing the door under the staircase open.

A magnificent study was revealed inside. Another fireplace, smaller than the living room’s, stood in the farthest wall from the door, a built-in bookshelf was on the left, the first three out of ten rows already filled with books, while a desk with drawers and a tall-backed chair sat against the opposite wall. A large yellow and gold rug had been laid in the middle of the floor over the deep blue carpet and a couple of arm chairs and a small table had been placed near the bookshelf.

“Let’s check upstairs,” said Harry after giving the room a once over.

The upper floor consisted of four bedrooms and two bathrooms. The landing was also carpeted the same color as the downstairs living room. Two smaller rooms and one bathroom were on the left side of the house while on the right were one more small room and the master bed and bath rooms. The master bedroom was the only room upstairs that held any kind of furniture. A king sized mattress stood against the wall in the middle of the room, a nightstand on either side. A thick deep red quilt had been laid out on the bed with intricate patterns that swirled and curled.

A closet occupied the entire right hand of the room, empty cupboards on either side with a long bar extending from one end to the other, complete with hangers ready for use. The master bathroom was on the other side of the room. A built-in-the-floor bathtub was in the center of the room, an empty wicker cabinet for towels and other necessary bathroom supplies stood against the wall next to the toilet and cupboard containing two separate sinks. A shower had also been built in to the far wall if one desired to take that instead of an actual bath.

After briefly overseeing the top floor, Harry led his parents back to the main level, where they entered the living room area. A fire had been started while they were perusing. James and Lily were apprehensive at once but Harry was totally at ease. Before either of his parents could ask who had started the fire, Kreacher appeared from the dining room entrance way, his hands carrying a tray with biscuits and a cup of tea. He placed the tray on the table and bowed.

“Thanks Kreacher,” said Harry, before taking a sip of the tea. “I appreciate you getting the fire started.”

Kreacher bowed again. “Master Harry had told Kreacher to expect him at the new house on Christmas Day. Once Kreacher felt master’s presence at the house, he apparated here immediately and set to work.”

Harry smiled. “I really appreciate you taking care of this place, Kreacher. I promise that soon we’ll have more company once school is over.”

“Ahhh, yes!” Kreacher said enthused. “Mistress Ginny will be here then, yes?”

Harry nodded. “Yes, she will. Actually, tomorrow we’re coming to check out the house. I’m planning around lunch time. Do you think you could have something prepared?”

Kreacher bowed. “Of course, Master Harry.”

Smiling, Harry thanked the elf again before dismissing him to other duties. Harry let out a sigh after the elf disappeared. James and Lily had watched this exchange in silence as well as Harry’s current expression. He seemed exasperated. Harry, picking up a biscuit, noticed their stares.

“What is it?” he asked.

James shook his head. “I’m just still finding it odd how much you appreciate your house elf, Harry. It’s so different from all the other house elf owners I’ve ever met.”

Harry noted that his father wasn’t trying to be condescending. He was simply baffled. Harry grinned. “I kind of like to see other people’s reactions when I do that – makes a pretty great laugh. Mind you, I don’t do it for show. I just naturally act that way.”

“We know, Harry,” said Lily. She looked around the room. “This house is wonderful! I’m sure Ginny is going to love it.”

“I have noticed one thing, son,” said James.

“What’s that?”

“There’s nothing on the walls. No pictures, no posters, no mirrors; it’s kind of creepy.”

Harry laughed. “Well, I told them to keep the walls bare since I thought Ginny might like to fill them herself. Although…there is one picture I already possess that’s going to hang in the study over the fireplace.”

James’s brow furrowed. “I didn’t see any picture frame in there.”

“That’s because it’s the second portrait of Dumbledore,” Harry explained.

His parents stared.

“You get the sister portrait of Dumbledore?” James asked, shocked. “I thought they would have hung it in some room in the Ministry.”

“To be honest, I thought that as well,” said Harry, “but apparently the old man wanted me to have the other picture; said so in his will. Probably so he can continue to watch over me even though he should be enjoying the afterlife.”

Laughing at Harry’s sarcasm, James shook his head. “It makes sense. I suppose you don’t have it yet because he’s still alive?”

“Actually, the Ministry is planning to give it to me as a wedding present,” Harry explained before sipping more of his tea.

Lily raised an eyebrow. “You mean this house isn’t it?”

Harry shook his head. “No, the house is a thank you for destroying the most powerful dark wizard of all time. They wanted and expected me to want more than that but I told them this was enough. Although they did say that I was already given a sure pass into the auror’s program. I insisted that I wanted to be accepted like everyone else, you know, getting good grades on my N.E.W.T.s, passing the training tests, and all that but they didn’t listen. They handed me the acceptance letter anyway.”

Harry sighed, appearing truly upset about this.

“Why does that bother you?” James asked, wanting to understand. He silently envied his son. The training had been grueling work and extremely taxing in some areas. He would have traded all that for a free pass any day.

“I just want to be like everybody else,” Harry muttered. “I want to try to accomplish things on my own, without anyone’s help, without anyone holding my hand as if I were still a child. I just want to prove that it’s all me and me alone. Not some highly rich or respectable wizard pushing me through the ranks simply because I’m The Boy Who Lived.”

He took a bite from one of the biscuits and let out another sigh.

“If they handed you the acceptance of being an auror, why did you return to school?” asked Lily, more to keep conversation going.

Harry smiled. “I think you of all people can understand wanting a fair grade, mum. I’ve heard all about how you were always shooting for the top grades and gaining as much magical education as you could.”

Lily chuckled. “I suppose that’s about right.”

“It’s way more accurate than that,” muttered James. “Sometimes she’d stay in the library for six hours on the weekends. It used to drive me crazy.”

“I didn’t do that in seventh year,” Lily defended.

“No, I’m talking about your first five years,” James elaborated.

“How’d you know I used to do that?”

“I spied on you.”

“James!”

“What? I liked you, Lils. It was only natural for me to spy on you back then. Besides, the second you saw me you’d turn tail and run in the opposite direction. The only way I could get a good look at you was when I spied.”

Harry cleared his throat. “Anyway, the point is I’m going to finish school and then start auror training.”

Lily still seemed to want to converse about James spying on her but her husband seemed totally enthralled with Harry’s conversation. Sighing, Lily let it go. The family talked for a couple more hours before Lily managed to somehow bring the conversation around to Severus Snape.

“James,” she whispered, breaking the short silence that had spread up around the family.

“Yeah, Lils?”

Lily swallowed. “T-There’s something…I need to talk to you…about…” her voice became smaller and smaller as she finished her sentence.

James looked up from his chess game with Harry to fully look at his wife. “What’s up, Lily? Is something wrong?”

“No, nothing’s wrong,” Lily replied hurriedly.

James’s eyebrows rose. “Lily…”

“Yes?”

“You’re stuttering and talking fast.”

“So?”

“That always means you’re nervous about something. What’s wrong?”

Lily let out a long sigh.

“Go on, mum,” Harry encouraged.

James looked at him and then to Lily, obviously feeling left out because Harry seemed to know what was disturbing his wife so much.

“Okay,” Lily muttered, “here goes…”

Lily explained everything, starting at the beginning when she’d first met Severus Snape. James’s nose wrinkled when he realized the topic of this conversation was a man he had detested his whole life. He tried to interrupt Lily at first but she adamantly insisted that this needed to be discussed. It wasn’t until Harry joined her side that James conceded to listen.

Harry had to help his mom in certain parts of the story: the prophecy Snape overheard, his conversations with Dumbledore in private, and any other small details he felt like adding in to his mother’s account. The tale came to an end. Lily had tears in her eyes once more, Harry was having trouble staring at either parent, and James was in shock. He came to his feet and paced away to the fireplace before leaning on the mantle.

“So he was the one…” he muttered more to himself than to the other two. “He warned Dumbledore…he made sure we went into hiding…because he…because…”

He looked at Lily.

“He loved you his whole life, didn’t he?”

Lily nodded, tears trailing down her cheeks. “Yes, James. He did.”

James sighed. “Did…did you...” – he swallowed painfully – “Did you ever love him?”

“I loved him as a friend, James. That’s all. And when he started following after the ways of Voldemort, I couldn’t agree with his choices. Ending our friendship was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.”

James frowned.

“He was my first friend, James,” Lily said. “He introduced me to magic. We looked out for each other. He helped me so many times, in so many ways. I know you’ve never wanted to talk about it but you need to realize that Severus is part of my past. He always will be. And though his intentions of protection failed, he saved our son. We owe him, James.”

James clenched his fists. “It was all for you. Your tears prove you care about him.”

Lily stood up. She came over and grabbed James’s hands, desperately trying to make him understand her feelings. “James, I love you. I chose you! I married you! Not him! Severus will always be my friend but he isn’t my best friend. My best friend is someone who has always watched out for me; even when I didn’t want him to. He was annoyingly handsome, he was incredibly smart and hotheaded, he thought everyone worshipped him, he went out of his way to make my early years miserable, he made my seventh year in school the best of all years, he took care of and nurtured my pains, celebrated my joys, shared in my sorrows, gave me a wonderful home, love, and a son. You are my best friend.”

James looked into her eyes, studying her intently. It had been years, almost a lifetime ago it seemed, that he had to concern himself with the emotions he was now once more experiencing. Gently removing Lily’s hands from his own, he stepped away.

“I need to be alone,” he muttered. Turning on his heel, he left the house, closing the door and stepping out into the winter chill.

Harry looked at his mother. She was standing in the same place, her hands still outstretched, almost as if waiting for James to come back and fill the empty space. Harry couldn’t truly explain what he was feeling. He wasn’t angry with his father for walking out. He was nervous. This revelation of Snape wasn’t going to tear their family apart, was it? Harry prayed it didn’t.

He looked at his mother. “He’s going to come back, isn’t he?” even to him his voice sounded like a child.

Lily looked at him with furrowed brows. “Oh, Harry,” she muttered, coming over to join him on the couch. She put an arm around him. “I’m not sure what he’s going to do.”

“But he’s going to come back!” Harry said, pleading for reassurance. “He’s not going to abandon us, is he?”

Lily kissed his head. “We’ll just have to have faith in him, Harry,” she whispered. It was obvious that she was trying to reassure herself just as much as her son. “He’ll come back…..he’ll definitely come back.

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