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The next morning, Harry Flooed with Severus back to Hogwarts to use Minerva's Pensieve again. While Severus was using it, Minerva set out tea and cakes and told Harry to help himself, she would be back soon, she had to oversee some new construction going on in the Astronomy Tower. "Just make yourself at home, dear," she said cheerily before departing.

Harry would have liked to relax, but first he had a few questions he needed to ask Dumbledore's portrait. He approached the former Headmaster, who was dozing with his head on his hand, his snoring making his beard fly about. "Albus? Would you mind waking up? I need to talk with you."

Dumbledore woke with a start. "Huh? Oh, it's you, Harry!" He said, his eyes twinkling genially. "What can I do for you, my boy?"

Harry had to smile at the familiar address. He was an adult now, a father with kids, and yet to Dumbledore he was still "my boy". Harry cast a simple Privacy Ward about himself and the portrait, as he didn't want any of the other portraits to hear what he was going to discuss with his old Headmaster. Everyone who was on staff at Hogwarts knew that there was no better inveterate gossip around Hogwarts than the portraits, and he didn't want them spreading this secret around the school.

"Albus, recently I took Ginny, Alby, and Sev on a vacation to Devon," Harry began.

"How splendid! I hope you had a good time."

"Yes, we did, but that wasn't what we need to talk about. You see, Sevvy and Alby found a secret tunnel in the house we were staying at. A long time ago it belonged to family of smugglers, or free traders, as they call themselves. The tunnel led to a secret room and Alby and Sev got trapped down there. They couldn't get out, and the sea was rising and we couldn't hear them since the walls were too thick, growing desperate, Severus managed to conjure a Patronus."

"A Patronus! At his current age? Harry, that's simply amazing!"

"I know. Unfortunately he also drained his magical core and almost died."

Dumbledore gasped. "Is he all right now? Harry, please tell me he's not . . . not . . . "

"He's fine , Albus. Poppy came and helped me and she gave Severus a shot of Magic Replenisher. She also had a few interesting things to say about you . . ." Harry related the conversation Poppy had had with him and Ginny. "So, is what she said true, Albus? Was all of your "greatest wizard in the world" a big hoax?"

Albus cleared his throat. "Yes and no. You see, I created the great and powerful wizard persona long ago, to keep Voldemort occupied with me so he wouldn't search for you, Harry. I had to do something to distract him while he hunted for you, so I exaggerated my abilities. Voldemort had always been somewhat in awe of me as a child, I was his mentor once upon a time, and so it wasn't all that hard to create an alter ego that he believed was much more powerful than himself. Now, that's not to say that I lied about my magic, for I was a very strong wizard, and possible stronger than Voldemort. But the strongest? Harry, I've said it before-you are stronger than I could ever be. You mastered the Hallows, and by doing so became Master of Death. Not even I accomplished that."

"You held custodianship of the Elder wand though."

"True, and yet, Harry, I was never its true master. It obeyed me . . . sometimes. Yet I sensed always that it was waiting for its rightful owner to claim it. And that one was you, Harry. You alone can walk into death's kingdom and return . . . such is the power of the Master of Death."

"I know. Did you also know that I still have access to the power of the Hallows?"

"You have kept the triad together still?" Dumbledore sounded surprised. "I would have thought you'd destroyed them."

Harry shook his head. "No. Albus, I have to keep them together. I'm linked to them until I choose to pass them on to someone else. My magic has changed because of them, Albus. It's grown stronger, deeper. And the Hallows has made me . . . for lack of a better word . . . nearly immortal."

"What do you mean, Harry?"

"I mean that because I'm Master of Death, I cannot die unless I choose to. I can be killed and hurt, but I can't die forever. I'll always return, since death's kingdom cannot hold me." Harry explained. "Such is the gift of the Hallows."

"How extraordinary!" exclaimed Dumbledore. "I never knew the Hallows was so remarkable."

"Neither did I, until I used them to come back." Harry admitted.

"I am glad it's you who mastered them, Harry. In the hands of anyone else, even myself, it would have been abused. Only you have sufficient purity of spirit to use the Hallows properly. That's one reason that I say you are a stronger wizard than I. You also have a great deal of raw power, more even than I had."

"And Severus? What about him? Do you agree with what Poppy says?"

Dumbledore nodded. "Severus was the strongest wizard of his generation, I cannot deny that. He did what no other wizard his age could have . . . he became my eyes and ears in the darkness. He also became your protector, and you could not have asked for a better one, Harry. He knew how to recognize dark curses better than anyone else I knew, because he studied the enemy close up. It was something that only he could have done, and lived to tell the tale. Poppy was right, he was truly Master of Light and Dark magic." Dumbledore chuckled. "Poppy is a wise woman, you'd do best to listen to her, my boy. She always did know me best." The portrait's expression turned wistful. "Had it been a different time, and I a different sort of man . . . we might have been happy together . . . very happy."

Harry's jaw nearly dropped. "You and . . . Madam Pomfrey?"

Dumbledore chuckled again. "Once upon a time, Harry, back when I was younger and less blinded by my own plans to defeat Voldemort, I loved her. She came here to be a mediwitch at my request, she could have easily stayed at St. Mungos as a pediatric Healer. But I needed someone reliable to heal my students, someone I could trust, and I was lonely. Poppy knew me like no one else ever did. As she did Severus."

Harry whistled. "It's too bad, sir, that you never . . . got the chance to marry her."

"Yes. That's one of my biggest regrets." Dumbledore sighed. "Speaking of Severus, where is he?"

"Putting some more memories into the Pensieve," Harry replied.

"Ah. Poor Severus! It's partially my fault he has so many terrible ones. I was not kind to Severus all those years ago." The old wizard's face was pinched with sorrow and regret. "I wish to speak with him, Harry. There are many things left unsaid between us. Do you think . . . he would be willing to talk to me?"

"I . . . don't know. I'll have to ask him," Harry said.

"Please do," Dumbledore urged. "Perhaps then some more old ghosts can be laid to rest."

"All right." Harry banished the Privacy Ward, then went to go and check on Severus. He had been inside Minerva's inner office for about fifteen minutes.

He tapped on the door and then walked in.

Severus was just coming out of the stone basin, several bottles of memories glistening on the side of the bowl. "Harry?"

"Are you just about done, Sev?"

"Yes. Why?"

"Because someone wants to speak with you."

"Who? Minerva?"

"No, she's out right now. It's Dumbledore's portrait. He asked me if you wouldn't mind talking with him."

Severus bristled. "Oh, he does, huh? What's he want with me now?"

"I think . . . I think he wants to apologize or something."

"About time!" Severus snorted.

"Will you go?"

Severus hesitated. Then he decided it was time he had a heart-to-heart chat with the man he both loved and hated. "All right."

"I'll cast a Privacy Ward about you so no one will hear, not even me," Harry told him.

"Thank you, Harry," Severus hopped down from the small stool.

Together they headed back into the outer office.

Severus stood before Dumbledore's portrait, and Harry cast the ward. Only then did Severus speak. "Headmaster, you wished to speak with me?"

"Hello, Severus!" Albus said, giving his former spy a regretful smile. "I . . . I'm glad you chose to meet with me. I've wanted to speak with you ever since your . . . rebirth, but you never came back to school."

"I was busy," Severus said bluntly.

"Do you . . . like living with Harry and his family?"

"Yes . . . and they're mine too now. But you didn't call me here to discuss whether or not I'm happy with the Potters. Why did you want to see me?" Suspicion lined the boy's face, making him look older than five.

"You deserve another chance to be happy, Severus. Your previous life was . . . not a very good one."

Severus chuckled harshly. "That's the understatement of the decade, Albus! My life, to put it in vernacular, sucked royally. I was abused, humiliated, wretched, feared, and hated. I lived a life of solitude and sorrow, of danger and risk . . . and most of that, old man, was your doing." His onyx eyes flashed accusation and bitterness. "No family and no friends save you and Poppy. Not even Minerva or Filius trusted me there at the end. They thought I'd turned traitor. Minerva attacked me, tried to curse me with an Unforgivable!"

"Oh, Severus! I am so very sorry. I should have left evidence that you were working for me. In my arrogance I assumed you would find a way to convince them of your innocence."

"You were a fool, Albus!"

"Yes, many times over," admitted the Headmaster contritely. "More than you know."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means that . . . I twisted the truth to get you to work with me . . . to be my eyes and ears in dark places."

"Twisted the truth how?"

"That night, when you came to me begging me to help Lily, to help you walk away from the darkness, I told you if it weren't for me, you'd be in Azkaban right now. I . . . lied. I could not put you away in Azkaban, even if I had wanted. Because Poppy came and testified before a Board of Inquiry that you were not a dark wizard, that you had been coerced down the dark path by Lucius and his cronies, that part of the reason you turned from the light was due to relentless persecution by the Marauders, which I did nothing to stop, and from the love of your life rejecting you. The other part was due to my manipulation."

"And the Board believed her?"

"They had no reason not to. She was and is a respected member of the community. She testified that you were not a troublemaker, and that you bore no prejudice or malice towards Muggleborns and their families. She was given Veritaserum and asked many questions. But she never wavered. The night you finally came to me, you had been exonerated by the board. You could have walked away from my offer without a single glance. That's why I chose to hide it. Because I needed you to be my spy."

"And I needed you to help rescue Lily." Severus recalled that night. Then his mouth firmed. "I came back for her, Albus. And because I was sick and tired of death and torture and uncertainty. I'm not angry so much for that, as for some other things. Things which you chose to ignore. Like the Marauders' constant bullying."

"I know. I should have never let it go on, and the only excuse I have is that back then I tended to see most forms of mischief as mere pranks."

"Pranks!" spat Severus. "These were more than pranks, Albus. They were determined to break me, only I wouldn't! Let's talk about the time Remus shifted into a werewolf. Where were you while they almost threw me into its shack? You laughed when I accused Black of attempted murder. You let them walk off without so much as a slap on the wrist and I had to deal with the fallout. My classmates thought I was crazy and a liar. And Lily thought I was going dark. And there you sat, eating lemon drops."

"Severus, I truly am sorry. I can't tell you how much I regret not interfering. Or doing something to punish them." Albus said regretfully. "It was a terrible mistake. Poppy tore me into pieces for it, but by then it was too late. You had left and so had they, and it would have been no good punishing them next term. Poppy was very put out with me."

"I can't imagine why," Severus said sarcastically. "After all of that, I still became your spy, and what thanks did I get from you? Nothing, except a request to kill you with an Unforgivable. Do you have any idea how hard that was for me?" The former spy demanded, his eyes shining with sudden tears. Tears that streaked his face and dripped onto the floor. "You were my mentor, Albus! The closest thing I had to a father . . . and you forced my hand! You guilt-tripped me into becoming your executioner! Do it for me, you said, it'll be a mercy killing for an old man, and spare me pain. Do it for Draco, so his soul remains pure. What about my soul, Albus? What about me? You didn't answer that question before when I asked it . . . but by God you'll answer it now! Why were you so willing to risk my soul? Was it because you already considered me tainted, a lost cause? Your Slytherin lackey had outlived his usefulness, right? Therefore who gave a damn if I cast an Unforgivable? You put my soul in jeopardy, and you didn't even care!"

More tears streaked his face.

Albus stared down at the weeping boy and felt his heart crack.

"Severus, I'm so sorry I hurt you."

Severus lifted his eyes and glared at the portrait. "I don't want to hear I'm sorry, Albus! I want to know why. Why not just overdose on Dreamless Sleep, or something else? You knew before I ever made the Unbreakable Vow that you were dying. Long before. Yet you chose me to be your executioner, and don't tell me it was because of the Unbreakable Vow. Why, damn you? Why?"

"Because . . . you were the only one who could do what had to be done. And . . . I assumed that you had killed before . . . and you could make it swift. I didn't know that you had never cast an Unforgivable before that night."

"Because you never bothered to ask. You just assumed . . . like every other bloody Gryffindor . . . that I was okay with being a murderer. Well, I wasn't, Albus. And then you were dead, and I was a fugitive, and I never had the chance to ask you why, you bloody git!" Severus hissed, his shoulders shaking with sobs.

"Severus, I know there is nothing I can do, nothing I can say, that can take away the pain and suffering I caused. But please, know that I truly regret everything I did to you. I'm sorry I hurt you, sorry I misjudged you. Sorry I put your soul in jeopardy. Know also that I loved you like the son I never had."

"Oh, so now I'm your son?" he sneered suddenly. "Before the golden Marauders were like your sons. Your favorite sons. I was the son you never acknowledged. The one you shoved into the shadows."

"You're right, child. I made too many mistakes with you. But I hope . . . that someday - -"

"I'm not your child, Albus." Severus growled, his small hands fisting at his sides. "If I'm anyone's son, it's Harry's. And Ginny's. They care about me, not what I can do for them."

Dumbledore suddenly began to cry too. "Severus, whether or not you believe it, I cared for you too. And I hope that someday you will forgive me for all I've done."

"I'll consider it," was all Severus could reply then.

"That's all I ask. I am very glad that you have this second chance, Severus. I know that this time around will be a different experience for you, and I wish you every happiness. No one else could have done what you did, been what you were, and I am proud to stand beside you, Severus, for you are a better man than I ever was. And I owe you more than you will ever know." The portrait sniffled, blew his nose with a hanky, then wiped his eyes.

Severus sniffled too, and wiped his eyes with a tissue. Hearing that Dumbledore was proud of him filled him with an odd sort of satisfaction. He had waited half his life to hear those words. "Do you know . . . that I would have followed you into death if it hadn't been for Draco and Harry? I stayed for them, to protect them, but if they had been gone . . . I would have let the guilt and bitterness consume me. Then I was truly your son. But now . . . " He trailed off, wishing that he could both hug the portrait and punch it in the mouth.

His emotions were so mixed and hurting that they gave him a headache. A part of him was glad that he had made the portrait hurt as he had been hurt, but another part regretted his anger, for as he had said to Ginny, he didn't like to see someone he cared for in pain. And once he had cared for Albus Dumbledore very much. "Maybe someday . . . I can forgive you. Right now though . . . it can wait. I understand why you did what you did, but I can't forgive you. Not yet."

"I understand, Severus. This isn't something you can forgive all at once. Take all the time you need."

"I shall," was all Severus replied. He felt good about getting those issues and emotions off his chest, and at the same time worn and hurting. "Goodbye, Albus."

"Goodbye, Severus." The portrait waved as Severus turned around and walked over to Harry.

"All finished?" Harry asked gently. Though he hadn't heard what was said, he had seen how upset both Dumbledore and Severus had gotten and he had been tempted to run over and hug Severus. While he had been waiting, he had eaten some sugar cakes and drank some tea. He had put some cakes in his pocket for Ginny, Alby, and Severus.

"Yes. Take me home, Harry." Severus said, his eyes overflowing with tears. He held up his arms.

Harry picked him up and held him. "All right, Sevvy."

But instead of Flooing back to Godric's Hollow, Harry Flooed to his quarters in Hogwarts. He didn't want Ginny or Alby to have a conniption because Severus was upset, and he sensed that Severus needed privacy even if he didn't ask for it.

So Harry went to his quarters, and called a house elf to make a fire and bring some tea laced with a Calming Draught. Then he sat down in his recliner, which was a soft coffee brown shade, and held and rocked Severus, who was quietly crying on his shoulder. He said nothing, simply rocked back and forth, rubbing the youngster's back, until Severus had cried himself out. Then he helped the little boy drink the tea and soon he grew quiet and fell asleep on Harry's lap.

Harry sat there, running his fingers through the ebony locks, and he prayed that Severus had gotten some closure. A part of him knew that the talk with Dumbledore had been necessary for healing, but another part wanted to smash the Headmaster over a chair for getting his child so upset. He longed to go back and ask Albus exactly what had been said, but he knew better. That had been a private conversation between two old allies and he would not pry.

He cradled Severus close and began to sing a lullaby, hoping to stave off any nightmares Severus might have. When he was sure Severus was fast asleep, he would go home to Godric's Hollow. But for now, it was just the two of them, and that was exactly how Harry wanted it.

A/N: A short chapter, but I think it's packed with emotion. Please let me know if you thought the conversations with Dumbledore were done well. What did you think about Harry's revelation?

Next chapter: the return of Lily! I'll try to update soon!

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