Madam Pomfrey soon deemed Harry fit to go downstairs and retrieve his clothing. He crept downstairs softly, listening intently to the urgent conversation that seemed to be going on in the kitchen. The door was closed, so he could only hear the murmur of voices. He could only assume Hermione was elsewhere, for he could only hear Dumbledore and Snape's voice. Madam Pomfrey had gone home now that her job was done, with instructions to send her a Patronus if anything went wrong. Nobody seemed to notice him because of this, something he was glad for. Thus, Harry walked into the laundry room and closed the door. He grabbed his clothes from his trunk and set about getting changed, thinking that he would haul all of his things upstairs later. After a moment, he sunk down on the trunk lid and sighed.
Was there any sense in bringing his trunk upstairs? What if he had to go back to Privet Drive right away?
Harry looked up from his feet, but after a moment or two his eyes were drawn by the wardrobe sitting in the corner, still and silent. It seemed like an age ago that he had hidden there. Harry felt his eyes fill with tears at the thought of just how frightened and lost he had been that night. Well, most nights, that was. Even now he felt sad at the thought of Sirius, but this was not the same type of sadness. It was no longer a deep, aching guilt that was numbing everything. Now it was just an ache. Harry wished that Sirius could still be here, but most of all he found (however surprised he was to admit it) that he also hoped that things between him and Snape could remain how they were these past few days. Harry recalled that night in the cupboard after Great Aunt Isobel's visit, when Severus had made a promise to a little boy that he could stay right here. Harry feared that this promise would be rescinded, and for this reason he seemed to freeze in that laundry room, sitting atop the trunk and staring at that empty wardrobe which now seemed to hold all the weight of the past.
Snape had taken it well when Harry had woken up after changing back and so suddenly hugged him, and this thought filled Harry with hope. Maybe it was true what Sirius said - maybe his life really was in the arms of another now.
Of course, these pleasant thoughts left Harry's mind as soon as they came, for it was staring at the wardrobe that reminded Harry of all that had happened when he was a child. He felt his neck grow hot, and he looked at his feet. He'd cried, and gotten into all sorts of scrapes, and told Severus Snape (his once upon hated professor) all sorts of things about his life at the Dursleys', often without meaning to. Harry felt his stomach drop when he remembered accidentally calling Severus Daddy. What if Snape used that against him? What if he brought it up? It had been a simple slip, because for a moment, Harry had caught himself with the feeling that the way he felt when Severus paid attention to him was the way he might feel if his father was still around. Harry wondered what James Potter would say about what had happened that day on the way up to the attic. Harry wasn't sure what to think, but he felt sick at the thought of all this, for he wondered if Snape wasn't just playing nice to get back at him. His hopes, which had risen at the thought of his awakening, faltered.
No, Harry thought forcefully. He shook his head slowly. No, that wasn't Severus' plan, it never was. That's just your paranoia, Harry. Too many years at the Dursleys'. Too much time spent looking into every action, every word to make sure they weren't trying to hurt you.
Harry felt his thumping heart slow a little bit, for he was now fairly certain that Severus was not simply trying to get some dirt on him. He had genuinely cared, at least a little bit. The night during the thunderstorm had been a good example of that, and even though Harry felt his cheeks grow hot at the way he had clung to Snape's leg, he felt his insides fill with a different sort of warmth at the memory of how Severus had helped him build a fort to keep away the lightning. He did not have to do that. He could have simply sent Harry back to bed with a "too bad, grow up," and a scowl, which was exactly what Harry had expected him to do ... but Severus didn't.
It was perhaps the thought of all the times Severus could have acted badly, but didn't, that gave Harry the strength to get up off his trunk. Despite all the memories of just how silly and childish he had acted, all the times he'd had to poke Severus awake in the middle of the night for a change of sheets, all the times he had let something slip, all the times he had acted immature, he didn't feel as embarrassed anymore. Now, at least the feeling was tolerable.
Taking a deep breath, Harry crept from the laundry room, not looking back at the wardrobe, which seemed to be staring at him from afar. He walked through the hall, past the staircase. He glanced at the clock that could be seen in the sitting room. It was now eleven o clock.
"How are you?" he heard a quiet voice from the top of the stairs. He looked up to see Hermione smiling down at him from the stairs, looking exhausted.
"Good," Harry said, smiling slightly.
"Quite an adventure, wasn't it?" Hermione said with a rather unsteady laugh.
"Yeah," Harry said, shaking his head as though in disbelief. "Not at all the usual kind of adventures we have though, right?"
"Yes ... very different" Hermione said, sounding rather thoughtful.
"I just don't know what to think of it all," Harry said. "I mean, everything that's happened."
"Me neither, sometimes," muttered Hermione. She glanced behind her, looking longingly toward her bedroom before turning back to Harry. "Anyway, you had best not keep Severus and Professor Dumbledore waiting. I'm going to bed. I think it's a conversation they want to have with just you."
"You think?" Harry said nervously.
Hermione nodded, and she couldn't meet his eyes. Harry was frightened by this, but did not say anything.
"Goodnight Harry," she said. "Don't worry though. I have a good feeling about tonight."
She gave him another soft smile, this time meeting his eyes, and then went quietly up the stairs. Worried, Harry stared at the closed kitchen door. He knocked before he could lose his mettle.
Severus opened the door, his expression unreadable. Harry swallowed thickly, his throat dry, and walked into the room.
"Eat," said Severus curtly, nodding toward the grilled cheese sandwich that sat on a plate at the end of the table. Despite his nerves, Harry was starving. He did not need telling twice.
"Tea, Harry?" asked Dumbledore, gesturing to the pot on the table.
Harry nodded, his mouth full of his sandwich. Three bites later and he had reached the conclusion that Severus could make a mean grilled cheese.
Dumbledore poured the tea, and the rich aroma of peppermint filled the air. He topped up his own cup. Severus stood watchfully in the corner, his arms crossed.
"Harry ... remember how you have said to me on occasion how you dislike living with your relatives?" Dumbledore began after a few minutes, when Harry had finished most of his snack. Harry felt bewilderment grow within him - had he heard a tremor run through Dumbledore's voice?
"Yes," muttered Harry, for a moment confused. He looked to Snape, who was studying his feet in the corner still.
He looked to Dumbledore again, and upon his face was a look that seemed very much like one of pity. It was then that Harry understood. He stood up, looking to Severus. A part of him was glad. Another terrified. The sudden fear, the sudden panic made him unable to sit.
"You ... you said something, didn't you," Harry said, hating the way his voice shook. It shouldn't have surprised him. He had known - if Severus was actually going to be true to his word, he would have to say something. A confusing mess of emotions rose inside Harry at this thought. He was somehow grateful for Severus' initiative, furious that he had told, and frightened beyond belief of what this would mean.
"I had to," muttered Snape. "Besides, you do not like living with them, right?"
"Well ... no," Harry said as Snape's deep brown eyes flicked to meet his and then looked away again.
"Then this has to be discussed," muttered Snape. No, Severus, Harry reminded himself, noting that his brain sometimes reverted to old habit now that he was older again. It was Severus talking to him. He forced himself to remember Severus, not Snape, who had been here with him.
Harry slowly sank back into his chair, unable to meet Dumbledore's eyes.
"What do you know?" muttered Harry without heat. "What did he tell you?"
"Nothing you told Severus has been repeated, Harry," Dumbledore said gently. "Severus paid some attention to your actions as a child, and he informed me that something was wrong. He did not go into details, but merely asked to speak with me, hoping that I could answer some of his questions." Dumbledore sighed, and fell silent.
"Is that why you were writing letters so much, Severus?" Harry said to him, suddenly understanding.
Severus nodded, but he looked a little bit bitter, for some reason.
"Well, what did you two talk about?" Harry asked hesitantly, frowning. He looked from Dumbledore then to Severus, and both looked rather tense. Disappointed too, perhaps? "How long have you known?"
"We were only able to discuss things today, Harry," Dumbledore said at last, the pain quite suddenly evident in his voice. "I pushed aside Severus' letters because I was busy. I thought what I was doing was more important, at the time. I am sorry I did not come right away. I am sorry this couldn't have been fixed sooner."
Harry felt his fists clench, but right now, however much he wanted to yell at Dumbledore for his oversight, he feared that if he did he would never get to leave the Dursleys'. Both Dumbledore and Severus seemed to have been waiting for an outburst from him.
"So if Severus didn't tell you the details, how do you know how bad it is?" Harry asked curiously in a voice that only barely suggested the forced calm, surprising them.
"Well, Severus took matters into his own hands. He did something incredibly brave, Harry, given the circumstances."
Severus scoffed in the corner, but Dumbledore ignored it. Harry looked at Severus, puzzled.
When Severus did not elaborate, but continued to stand haughtily in the corner, Dumbledore continued.
"A few days ago Severus had Hermione distract you, and - at great risk to himself - he attempted to apparate to Privet Drive," he explained, to Harry's shock. "He did so successfully. He then went to visit your home, and found your Aunt Petunia there. He was able to talk her into confessing many of the things that went on in her household, and how she viewed you." There was no doubt about it: Dumbledore's voice was definitely shaking now. "Tonight, Severus was able to show me just how wrong I was to place you in their care. It is appalling the way they treated you, and I am sorry you had to go through that, believing yourself to be alone. You are never alone Harry, and even though I have done a poor job of showing it ... I care deeply for you. If you will simply give me the chance ... I feel that perhaps we can rectify the situation."
Harry sat in stunned silence, his eyes only for Severus. He blinked hard, trying to keep his watering eyes from giving himself away.
"It had to be done," barked Severus, not meeting Harry's eye, seemingly expecting Harry to be angry with him.
"I'm not angry," muttered Harry, getting to his feet and standing, facing Severus, hovering, unsure of what to do with himself, but once again feeling that he could not sit. Much like Severus, it seemed. "I ... I want to thank you. Nobody ... nobody's ever done anything ... like that for me."
"Oh. Well, good."
They stood there awkwardly for a moment, standing a few feet from eachother, looking unsure of what to do. At last, Dumbledore spoke.
"Severus, I believe that you mentioned a suggestion as to Harry's new living situation -"
"You mean I don't have to go back?" Harry said, his legs suddenly weak. "Just ... just like that? I don't have to tell you everything ... everything that happened first?"
"A full account would be highly useful to determine the punishment suitable for the Dursleys' offences. To know the degree of their abuse would help us immensely. The full story can wait, however. But a part, perhaps, yes."
"Hang on ... suggestion, what suggestion?" Harry said, his mind having caught the other detail he had not paid attention to, dismissing Dumbledore's words without so much as a thought.
"Well ... you see," began Severus slowly, and Harry noticed that a minute tremor seemed to have begun in Severus' right hand, "I recall that - you might have changed you mind of course - when ... when ... the other day you mentioned you didn't want to go back to your relatives' house. And, I thought, perhaps, you might like to stay ... well, with me."
"What, you mean have you as a guardian?" Harry asked, hardly daring to believe it. He paid no attention to Dumbledore, who seemed to be watching the scene with interest.
"I ... er, yes," muttered Severus. "I can understand however, if you wanted someone different. I just thought ... after all this ..."
Severus seemed greatly surprised when Harry's eyes filled with tears, and he looked suddenly alarmed.
"Stupid idea, you're right," Severus added, looking worried.
"I don't think it's stupid," murmured Harry, hastily wiping his eyes. A part of him was furious at his display of emotion, and another part was glad. It made him human again. It made him alive again. That was something he had not felt properly for a long time.
"You ... you don't?"
Harry shook his head. Then, to his surprise, a hesitant smile broke over Severus' face. His hand was steady once more.
Harry returned it.
Both came back to their senses when Dumbledore broke the silence.
"Well, now that that is settled," said Dumbledore briskly, "however much I hate to interrupt this, another matter must be discussed."
"And what is that?" said Severus, sounding rather weary.
"I am afraid, Harry, there is one thing I must ask you to do," said Dumbledore apologetically. "I have heard Severus' side of the story. I have seen Petunia's. Now ... if you agree, will you show me a part of your story? Only a part. There is always more than one side, and as this situation concerns you, your point of view is most important."
Harry felt his heart grow cold.
"Please, sir, not now," Harry said, imploring him, not wanting anyone to see the humiliation ... the fear ... the pain. "I don't want to talk about it."
"What if you showed us?" said the quiet voice of Severus. "All you would have to do would be to select a memory, and put it in the pensive."
"Do I have to see it too?" Harry muttered.
"No," was Severus' reply.
Harry looked to Dumbledore for a moment, with his sad expression, then to Severus, who was looking at him with the kind of look that held a steady sort of encouragement.
"Okay. What do I do?"
"Think of a memory," said Severus. "One you are alright with sharing, and that you feel gives a good picture of what life was like with your relatives. Bad, or very bad. Whatever memory you choose."
"And you'll see it too?" Harry muttered to Severus.
"If you would permit me," said Severus.
Harry nodded and said he would, then thought long and hard. He felt his heart clench, for he knew immediately what memory it was to be. He hated this memory. Oh how he hated it. Oh how he wished it never would see the light of day, but right now, with Severus standing before him, his eyes piercing his soul with a strange kind of warmth, Harry wasn't so afraid. He knew that this was the kind of thing that both Dumbledore and Severus feared to see. The same thing Harry feared to share. But it was what needed to be shown ... it was what Vernon Dursley deserved ... for his actions to be seen at last and hated for what they were.
It had finally come to this, the day when the secrets would come out; the time for the barred door to be open and for the prisoner to be released. And Harry wasn't sure who that prisoner was right now. Maybe it was the little boy in the memory, maybe it was the person he had become. Maybe it was a piece of his spirit locked away, the part that held his hopes and his dreams, his trust and his safety. His ability to truly love and be loved. Whatever it was ... whatever had been locked away, he knew that today was the day he needed to let the walls come down and unleash the memory of what once was, for just as he had cried for Sirius, just as he had at last allowed his blindness to the truth to shatter into pieces by his feet, Harry needed to let the fortress fall for the light to reach him. He needed to let himself be vulnerable for any good to come of the old hurts and fears.
And so he held his wand to his temple as Dumbledore instructed him to do, pulled the silver strand with a shaking hand from his clammy temple, and dropped it into the pensive. He shut his eyes tightly as the two men before him prepared themselves. Dumbledore was across from him on the other side of the table, Severus beside him. A hand grasped his shoulder for just a moment, and then the two men had disappeared into the memory of a night long ago, a night that Harry had never forgotten.
The kitchen was empty, the night silent except for the soft noise of Harry's shuddering breaths. His head in his arms, his damp eyes resting on his shirt sleeves, he sat with his face close to the tabletop, waiting.