Harry didn't understand why Snape and Dumbledore looked so pale as they came into the sitting room, both appearing as though they had news. He had been kneeling in front of the coffee table and working on his Quidditch figurines while he ate the homemade chocolate Ron had sent him in the mail. The moment he saw them come in, he stopped chewing abruptly.
"May we sit?" asked Dumbledore, nodding to the sofa across from Harry and the table. Harry swallowed painfully, nodding in the process.
"Is something wrong?" Harry asked in a voice that felt too small. "Am I in trouble?"
Snape sighed slightly, to Harry's surprise.
"I had suspicions about your family's treatment of you," Snape confessed, looking slightly guilty. "I shared them with Dumbledore - only because I was worried. We were able to get a friend from the Ministry to look into it quietly."
Harry stood up suddenly, bumping the table slightly as he did so.
"Harry, I am so sorry -" croaked Dumbledore. "Had I realized how bad it was, I never would have sent you back."
"Yeah, well, you didn't realize," said Harry coldly, the words coming out before he could stop them. A moment ago he had been terrified, and now here he was, cold and aloof. He was hiding from them, and he knew it.
"Amelia Bones looked into it, and while she didn't share details, she did say there was grounds for a case," said Snape quickly. "We don't have to know those details if you don't want us to. As it is, it is unlikely you will return to the Dursleys' home."
"Just ... just like that?" Harry said, shocked.
"Well, both your aunt and uncle were given Veritaserum in separate spaces," Dumbledore replied, "and their answers matched perfectly. Arabella Fig also agreed to be questioned, and what little she knew of it also corresponded to the stories given by your relatives. All were tested for traces of memory altering charms, and it was a negative for all three. Under Ministry policy that is enough grounds to remove you from their care."
"However, there's something else that is required," said Snape, looking annoyed with Dumbledore, as though he wished he would have mentioned this part as well. "Amelia Bones has requested to speak with you about your family."
Harry felt his stomach drop through the floor. "No. No, I won't."
"Harry, this will give weight to the case," said Dumbledore. "It will be difficult to guarantee one hundred percent that you won't be sent back there unless you can corroborate some of the evidence."
"I don't care - I won't tell some stranger about my childhood."
"What if you told someone you knew?" Snape asked quietly. Dumbledore looked at him quickly, curious.
"Tell, tell you?" Harry said.
Snape paused slightly, but after a moment of hesitation said, "If you wanted to."
"So, I'd tell you, then you'd tell Amelia Bones?"
Snape nodded minutely. "If it would be easier for you."
Harry stood there, trembling slightly. Dumbledore seemed afraid to speak as he looked at the two, Harry's answer hanging in the air.
"You could also tell your healer, Richard," said Severus quickly.
Harry chewed his lip slightly, wiping his sweaty hands on his trousers. "I'd rather tell you."
"Alright, I'll get Amelia to make up a list of things she has to know," said Dumbledore. "You are sure of this, Harry?"
"Yes," said Harry.
"Alright. Severus, you would have to provide the memory afterwards."
"I know, Albus."
Harry stood awkwardly before Dumbledore and Snape. Nobody seemed to know what to say.
"I shall go no, then, to speak with Amelia," said Dumbledore.
Dumbledore got up and headed for the door of the sitting room. He looked over his shoulder once, back at Harry. It was with alarm that Harry noticed there were tears in his eyes.
Harry sunk down onto the carpet, placing his arms on the coffee table.
"I am sorry I had to breach your trust," said Snape quietly. "But knowing what I did -"
"It's okay," Harry said quietly, resting his chin on the table as well, his eyes filling with tears against his will. "I'm not mad. It's just ... nobody ever took me serious like this, before."
"I know. Nobody took me serious at your age either."
Snape got up slowly, avoiding Harry's gaze. He slouched out of the room, and Harry was left there, sitting in shock. He closed his eyes, and pressed his face into his arms.
He remembered thinking he would cry if someone ever found out, although he was never sure if it would be because of relief or because his secret had been found. Right now, though, his eyes were dry again. Instead, an emptiness rose up in him. An emptiness created by a simple question.
Why had nobody ever noticed until now?
A few tears began to run down his cheeks at last, and they were of grief. Grief over the fact that he was sixteen now, and that all of this was coming fifteen years later than it should have. And those fifteen years were lost forever to the Dursleys. Yet, in all of his grief, Harry could not help but wonder how Snape had felt, losing all seventeen years to his father's abuse. And more, because as Harry knew too well, when you left a bad home, even for a magical place like Hogwarts, it stayed with you.
Severus felt a twisting motion in his gut as he sat with a mug of tea cupped in his hands. When he'd suggested that Potter try telling someone else, he'd meant Potter's healer. And then Potter had looked so amazed, so thankful as he spoke aloud that he thought Severus had suggested he become Harry's confidant. He couldn't believe Potter would rather tell him. He was touched, actually, not that he'd let on that he was. He didn't mind being the one for Potter to tell, but he had not even considered that the boy would want to. And now, despite how touched he was, every time he thought of it, his stomach hurt, and the prophecy echoed through his head like some sort of death song.
How could he let Potter trust him right now, when he was hiding such a terrible secret? He was sure that once Potter knew - and he was starting to see that he'd never be able to rest until he told Potter - he'd never trust him again. Severus ran his hand through his hair. He swallowed thickly, and took a sip of his tea, though it didn't appeal to him at all right now. The peppermint tasted bitter and vile in his mouth as he reminded himself that if this was the only way to get Potter to open up, then this was what had to be done. In the end, whether or not he decided to tell Potter about the prophecy, whether or not Potter chose to hate him for it, the boy had to get out of that house. He had to find a safe place to live. If that meant allowing Potter to trust him now, and hate him later, then so be it if it meant the boy would be safe at last.
Severus told himself that this should have been enough for him, that the knowledge that he was saving Lily's son should have made all of this inconsequential to him. He felt like he should be glad to do whatever was best for the boy, even if he knew it would hurt himself. But right now, all he could think about was how terrible it would be to lose this fragile, spider-thread of a connection between them. He'd never really had someone to care for, like this. There was something else too, a kind of openness and camaraderie between them, formed perhaps by such a terrible situation. Severus didn't want to lose the only person who he really felt understood what he had been feeling this summer. There was something so comforting in knowing that Potter, despite how Severus had treated him previously, was willing to overlook that and didn't shun Severus for attempting suicide. In fact, Potter seemed to trust him more now because he knew that they both came from bad places. But if he never told Potter the prophecy, if he hid that from him, there was even less a chance that Potter would forgive him when he inevitably found out.
He would have to tell Potter, and he could see it now. But this was not the time. First, he was going to help change Potter's fate. Then, he was going to give his fate to Potter, and tell him. And Severus was going to take whatever reaction he got, and not let it kill him. He wasn't going to let that prophecy kill him. Not this time.