"Thank you for bringing him here, Severus."
Snape contemplated his cup of tea as he and Dumbledore sat at the Weasley's kitchen table. "Potter's home is not what I expected." The words came out slowly, they were hard to say.
"No. I expect it isn't."
"You knew, then."
"I knew the Dursley's were not kind to him by any stretch of the imagination. But I've never known them to be violent."
Snape arched an eyebrow, and Dumbledore held up a hand in apparent defense.
"It's no excuse, I do realize. But the situation warranted extreme measures. I truly felt Harry was safer there than he would be elsewhere. What a fool I've been." Dumbledore's voice was weary, his shoulders slumped like the weight of the world was upon them. It was disconcerting. And Snape wasn't sure he wanted to travel down this particular road, so he changed the subject.
"I'm not certain this is the best place for him after Pomfrey's diagnosis. Molly's coddling will only serve to incapacitate him further."
"He's never been a coddled child, Severus. Maybe being here with the Weasleys is exactly what he needs. Would you deny him that when you know his future?"
"He has no future and you very well know it." Snape straightened, took a breath. It wasn't every day one tried to talk sense into Albus Dumbledore. But it wasn't every day one reminded the headmaster that the boy he loved had to die. "Your regard for the boy has clouded your judgment, Albus. Potter is using his blindness as a crutch, and we cannot wait until he has decided to stop living in denial. There is too much at stake."
Dumbledore gave Snape a sharp look. "Don't presume to believe I don't realize what's at stake. But, I refuse to minimize Harry's life, his own worth." He sighed, then after a moment asked, "What do you propose?"
"To take him with me in search of the remaining horcrux."
Dumbledore didn't say anything, just pulled down the length of his beard in smooth, even strokes--a sure indication that he was deep in thought. "This past school year I was faced with the inevitable that I have put off for longer than I should have, I'm afraid: Harry's destiny. Foolishly, I'd hoped that the road that damned prophecy set him upon could somehow be changed, or that I'd been wrong in deciphering it." He looked at Snape with such sadness that it took every ounce of willpower for Snape to hold the gaze. "I sentenced him to a life no child should have had to endure under the guardianship of the Durselys. And now, it seems, that I have sentenced him to death."
"The latter was the Dark Lord's doing. Not yours. You did the best you could given the circumstances."
"Did I? He's just a child, Severus. He's more than a means by which to rid the world of Voldemort. And if you take him with you, you will need to believe that."
"That will not change what must be done. What he must do."
"It will give him the strength to do it. Otherwise, how could he? How could any of us if we were in the same position?" Dumbledore looked at Snape with such intensity that Snape thought he could very well expire from it. "You will be with him? When the time comes."
It was phrased as a question, but Snape wasn't fool enough to believe it wasn't a command. "If it is within the realm of possibility."
"Not just with your presence, Severus. He needs someone to lean on. What he has to do…I don't want him to die alone. Do you understand?"
Snape nodded. He did understand. And Merlin help him, he actually felt sorry for the boy. "Are you certain?"
Dumbledore shook his head. "There is a chance. But he must not think so. It is vital."
The first thing Harry sensed when he woke up was a familiarity he'd come to crave when he'd been stuck with the Dursley's during the summer. His visits to the Burrow had always been brief, but he'd forever remember the home filled with worn furniture, too small bedrooms shared by a too large family, enchanted clocks, and muggle items in various stages of dissection, betraying the curiosity of the head of the house. And now the familiar scents, the feel of the bed beneath him and the old quilt on top of him, was almost too much of a relief in too short a period of time. It took every ounce of control he had not to cry out from it, and to not curse Dumbledore for keeping him from the Weasley's. But after the past school year's fiasco at the ministry—after Sirius had died, leaving Harry alone—Dumbledore finally explained his reasoning. And Harry had understood. Blood wards at the Dursley's kept him safe from Voldemort. They just didn't keep him safe from the Dursley's.
But Harry had never told anyone about that.
A soft hand rested on his forehead with simple words of comfort uttered by a familiar voice. It was a mother's touch he'd grown accustomed to over the years, a voice that was sometimes harsh but always filled with love. Harry had often wondered if this was what it felt like to have a mother. He wished he could remember his own mother's voice, her touch. He wondered why he was beginning to crave it. It was disconcerting. Harry had learned a long time ago never to dwell on things he couldn't have. It'd made everyday living easier that way.
Her hand brushed the hair from his face, then settled against his own on the bed. "You gave us quite a fright, Harry. But Madame Pomfrey says you'll be right as rain in no time."
"It's dark." He didn't know why he said it. It had been dark for a while now. He'd even grown used to it. At least the consistent thrumming in his head was gone.
"Can you see anything at all, dear?"
He shook his head, felt her thumb brush against his cheek, then felt something wet being brushed away. Was he crying? He couldn't seem to help it. He wasn't afraid even though he probably should be. No, he was relieved. And safe. And home.
"Everything's going to be all right, Harry. Just you wait and see." Mrs. Weasley took him into her arms, and he believed her. He'd been rescued. Everything was going to be all right.