A/N: This chapter is not for the squeamish. You have been warned. I felt obliged to up the rating.
"Hey Mark! You look happy today!"
"Hey Harry, hi, Severus. Yes, we have some good news, finally. Since Cornelius kept refusing to mate with Dolores, we finally took matters into our own hands and used artificial insemination."
Severus chocked on his icecream cone. "Artificial…insewhat?"
"Artificial insemination," Mark replied happily.
"I didn't know that could be done on frogs," Harry muttered, discarding his own icecream. He suddenly didn't feel like eating the green frozen yoghurt anymore.
"Oh, no, in fact, frogs were among the first species that artificial insemination was practiced on. In 1780, Lazarro Spallanzani experimented with it, using frogs, among other animals."
Seeing the two blackhaired males staring at him in utter shock and horror, he chuckled.
"Come on in, I'll show you our lab."
Mark nearly danced around, showing off the fertilized eggs.
"We were VERY careful, because we didn't want Cornelius to die, of course, which usually happens when harvesting the testis for fertilization. We put him under. Once the male is completely anesthetized, we remove the testis via an incision in the abdominal wall normally. In his case, we were more careful and managed to extract them without cutting him open completely. It's pretty close to the aorta, though, so it was touch and go."
Harry and Severus both winced a bit at the description of the procedure.
"The female is different. You can give her hormone treatment and then squeeze out the eggs once the cloaca is red and swollen. Takes about four hours, usually, but for some reason this one reacted a bit different – needed more hormones. Anyway, then you hold back her legs, aim the cloaca at the dish to make sure you don't dribble the eggs all over your fingers, and squeeze."
"And there you have it. Soon to be tadpoles. Great, eh?"
After the tour, Harry and Severus visited the toads. The Dolores toad was looking extremely happy, in a froggish kind of way, while the Cornelius toad was obviously in shock.
Harry muttered to Severus, "Imagine, Severus – hundreds of Fudge/Umbridge crossbreeds."
"I prefer not to think of it," Severus said, slightly green, "I must admit the lab was very interesting, and I certainly will correspond with Mark to see if there is anything in their research that is helpful to our own world, but I refuse to think about THAT."
"What? You can't stand the thought of Umbitch's cloaca being squeezed…"
"Ooooh," Harry moaned suddenly, "I made myself sick, I think."
Waving at a whistling Mark, they stepped into the fresh air.
"Do you think they'll even make it?" Harry asked, "after all, they're not REALLY toads."
"They are now," Severus replied, "Albus is a master of Transfiguration. The change is most likely permanent until he dispels it."
"On them, yes, but on their erm…tadpoles?"
Severus groaned, holding his stomach. "Stop, Harry, please! If you wish to know that badly, ask Albus. He should be informed of this development anyway."
When they got back to the Burrow, Molly ordered them both up to bed, seeing how pale they were. She was even more concerned when both of them were violently ill when Bill mentioned Fleur's dinner of escargot and frog legs.
"Things I regret doing, by Albus Dumbledore, aged 159 ¾.
I regret spending too much time doing things myself instead of training others.
I regret allowing people to put me on a pedestal after the defeat of Grindelwald.
I regret giving Aberforth that goat for Christmas
I regret not spending more time with Tom to teach him right from wrong
I regret not convincing Armando not to let the boy return to the orphanage.
I regret not taking him in myself.
I regret never talking to Moaning Myrtle about what happened because I can't stand crying females.
I regret not expressing my doubts more strongly when Hagrid was expelled
I regret not keeping Tom as my apprentice when he applied for the DADA job.
I regret giving Aberforth that rare book on Charms.
I regret allowing myself to believe I could never be wrong.
I regret not spending more time with Severus.
I regret not teaching both him and the Marauders right from wrong.
I regret not talking to Sirius and pushing for a trial.
I regret placing Harry with the Dursleys and never checking up on him.
I regret coming within striking distance of Molly Weasley's rolling pin after she found out what the Dursleys were really like.
I regret manipulating and controlling Severus for so long.
I regret never telling him and Harry how proud I am of them.
I regret taking Sybil Trelawny seriously.
I regret hitting Severus.
I regret allowing their enmity to continue for so long without getting them help.
I regret threatening to stop paying for Severus's sessions when I didn't get my way.
It's a whole list, Doctor. Do I have to continue?"
The doctor smiled. "You are nearly 160 years old. One would expect a much longer list at that age."
"You think I lied?"
"No, not at all. I am merely pointing out that no one is perfect, and that very few of us, at 160, can say they can list all their faults in a single page."
"I always assumed I am perfect, even when I tell people I am not. True, these mistakes take less than a page, but so many people suffered because of me."
The Doctor shook his head.
"Do not take blame that isn't yours. It is arrogant to think you can never be wrong, it is equally arrogant to assume that you could have prevented everything that went wrong with the world."
The Doctor's eyes penetrated the clear blue ones of the old man. "You made mistakes with Tom Riddle. But who is responsible, in the end, for Tom's behavior and Tom's choices?"
"Tom. But if I had…"
"Maybe it would have made a difference, maybe not. There's no way of knowing. Tom chose his own path. You didn't rob him of his free will, he could still have turned from the Dark. And Severus. As much as I care about Severus, he too made his own mistakes and choices. Your mistakes contributed to that, but he was always free to make his own choice. As he showed when he came back to you. He has legitimate grievances against you, but he fully admits to making the wrong choices, on his own.
You should have talked to the Dursleys before you made your decision to leave Harry there, and you should have checked up on him, but the Dursleys made the choice to treat an innocent child like that. They are adults – they had the choice to at least treat him decently despite their fear of magic. Had they chosen to, they could even have learned to love him, but they didn't. That was their choice, not yours. Don't be so arrogant as to think you can control the choices and actions of the whole Wizarding World and beyond."
"But they depend on me! They want me to do that!"
"Do YOU want to do that?" the doctor countered.
"No-Yes. Maybe. I'm so used to dealing with people that way…"
"True. Habits of years…practically a century, really…are hard to break, but I am convinced you can do it. You're a strong man. Few could've done all you did and still remain a good person."
The former Headmaster snorted. "Tell that to Harry and Severus, and to Tom, wherever he is now. They hate me."
"They are angry with you," the doctor corrected, "that is not the same."
"They keep pranking me…"
"Are their pranks harmful?"
"No. Just embarrassing sometimes. They charmed my clothes to be see-through. In the middle of a busy street, and I'm pretty sure they are responsible for the lemon drop prank as well. I don't think they'll ever forgive me."
"They may or they may not. You have no influence on that. The only thing you can do is apologise to them and offer to make amends the best you can. After that, it's up to them."
I know you don't want to hear from me. I failed you so badly. I'm more sorry than I can ever say.
All I can do now is offer my apologies, though they will never be enough. I want to try and make amends, Harry. Please allow me to try that.
I don't think there's much more I can or should say. I fell into two traps: loving you, and thinking I could never be wrong.
I'm working hard on overcoming the latter. The former will forever hold true, not matter what. I've always been so very proud of you.
Harry sighed and watched Severus read his letter.
"Well, I knew something like this would be coming the moment Doc got his hands on him," the ex-spy said calmly, folding the letter.
"I guess. I'm surprised; I figured he'd spend pages telling me why I should forgive him."
"He didn't mention that either. He offered to try and make it up, though."
Suddenly whipping out his wand, Severus exploded a pillow.
"NOW he tells me he loves me, and that he's proud of me! What good is that? Why should I believe him? He's just writing down what the Doctor told him to!"
Panting slightly, Severus moved on to the chairs in the room while Harry followed him, repairing whatever he broke.
"Did you mean what you wrote in that letter to me?"
Severus turned around in surprise. "Of course I did. Though I meant what I wrote in the first draft too. I just saw things like they really were eventually, so what I wrote was still true."
Harry said nothing.
"So you think he means it?" Severus bit his lip and thought. "I guess we have to go tell him about the tadpoles anyway, right?"
"Where are Harry and Severus NOW, Ron?"
"Replying to Dumbledore's letters and enlist his help with the tadpoles, Mum."
Molly stared at her youngest son in confusion. "Oh. I see."
Ron grinned and resumed his Quidditch training for the Chudley Cannons try-outs.
Dumbledore returned from his Childcare class with mixed feelings. The teacher was beginning to lose the haunted, desperate look whenever she looked at him, and even complimented him on how he had improved. He still had a tendency to offer lemon drops, but at least he could talk to a child in understandable English, and without spouting off vague allusions to events children could not oversee anyway.
Harry and Severus had not replied to his letters yet.
He entered his home and settled on the couch with a nice cup of tea, hoping to chase away his depressed mood.
"You'd think the former leader of the Order of the Phoenix would be more careful," a well-remembered voice said.
"True. After all, nothing beats ConstantVigilance," another answered in familiar silky tones.
"What if we'd been Death Eaters?"
"Nah, those are dead."
"True. But, we could've been planning another prank."
Dumbledore shot to his feet, his heart racing.
"Yes, that's us," the Potions Master drawled. "We got your letters, and we're here to talk about them later."
"But first we need your help with the tadpole situation."
"Tadpole situation?" Dumbledore repeated, stunned.
"Yes. You have to charm them. Mark will be ever so sad if they all die."
"Yes, Mark. The keeper of Cornelius and Dolores, two very rare toads."
Dumbledore turned a light green. "You don't mean to say…"
"Oh no," Harry said cheerfully, and waited until Dumbledore breathed a sigh of relief before adding: "it's worse than that, actually. See…"
Severus clasped a hand over Harry's mouth.
"Enough! I don't want to hear about it ever again. I'm in denial and I'm staying there." He turned to Albus, a hand still over Harry's mouth.
"Cornelius. Dolores. Artificial insemination. Hundreds of tadpoles. Need I say more?"
Finally it clicked and the old wizard first gasped, then turned green again, before he finally chuckled.
"Yes, it's funny," Harry said, finally having managed to get Severus's hand away, "but we can't just destroy the embryos. Mark is so happy that they finally managed it. Just make sure that they grow into normal toads, or we'll have a job explaining to the Muggles why Mark suddenly found himself the 'daddy' of hundreds of infant Fudge/Umbridge products."
"Yes, we'll have to check them. I think the spell should have carried over to them, but just to be sure I'll recast it on the embryos. How do they do that, artificial insemination with frogs?"
Before Harry could open his mouth, Severus had clamped a hand over it again.
"You don't want to know. Trust me."
So, in the middle of the night three men Apparated into the Zoo.
A wandless and soundless 'Alohomora' from Harry and they were in the Reptile House. The lab had better security, but a few swift spells, and they were in.
"Oh look, Severus, they've grown," Harry snickered.
The green drab was now in a small pondlike structure.
Dumbledore waved his wand over them, chanting a long sequence of spells before nodding in satisfaction.
"They'll grow up normal toads. Relatively normal. I should like to see Cornelius and Dolores."
The others led him there. Upon seeing Cornelius, still with the wound in his abdomen, Dumbledore once again waved his wand and healed the toad.
"Don't secrete venom, Cornelius, that skin is still sensitive," Dumbledore admonished.
"I'm sorry, but you brought this on yourselves. I'm sure this young man Mark takes good care of you."
The Dolores toad seemed to glare a bit less in agreement.
"Ah, you like him? He is quite taken by his new toads as well, I hear."
This caused both toads to secrete angrily.
"Well, must be off. Wouldn't want Mark to be upset if he found us here."
With that, the ancient Mugwump calmly left the building, leaving two frustrated and angry toads behind.
"Oh, that was GREAT!" Harry snorted.
"Definitely amusing," Severus agreed, "we owe you."
Dumbledore smiled sadly. "I don't suppose you'd repay me by allowing a few more joined sessions?" he inquired casually.
The Doctor was going to be busy.