Author's Notes: After book 7. Follows canon with the exception that Snape was saved after that snake bite and is still alive. Post-Hogwarts. Warnings: Character death, suicide themes. Special thanks to bookslug and frodolove12 for the awesome beta-read!
Chapter 1: Dumbledore's Dark Secret
Harry still couldn't believe that Voldemort was dead and he was alive. The headlines had been almost comical: The Boy Who Lives Still Lives and The Boy Who Once Lived Lives Again. He half expected to find ones that said The Boy Who Just Keeps On Living or The Boy Who Refuses To Die. He smiled at the thought. He finally felt free of the fear and pressure that had dogged him since he'd found out that Lord Voldemort had killed his parents.
He wound his way through the castle to the headmaster's office. He wondered idly who would take over now that both Snape and Dumbledore were gone.
"Harry Potter," he said sardonically.
The gargoyles saluted him as they leapt aside.
"You wished to see me?" Harry asked, addressing the portrait of Albus Dumbledore. He noticed that the witches and wizards in the rest of the portraits appeared to be dozing, but if he watched closely, he saw them steal peeks at him under their lashes.
"Ah, yes, Harry. I assume you are well?"
"Yes, thanks," Harry replied.
Dumbledore paused and caressed his long, white beard. "May I inquire, then, how Professor Snape is doing?"
"He is still in St. Mungo's, sir. He is in stable condition, but he may have permanent damage from the wound in his neck."
"Have you visited him?" Dumbledore asked.
Harry shuffled his feet. "Briefly," Harry said. "I passed along your well wishes..." or at least I tried to, Harry thought.
"Would I be accurate in saying that Professor Snape does not desire company?"
Harry laughed. "You could say that." He could remember all too clearly how Snape had told him to either leave of his own accord or he would curse him into the next ward.
"I see," Dumbledore said more seriously, stroking his chin in thoughtful consideration. "Harry, I have something for you. For both of you, actually."
"Professor Snape and I?"
"Yes. I have written letters for both of you and I think it's time that you read yours. When the time is right, I ask that you give Professor Snape his letter as well."
Harry frowned. "How will I know when the time is right?"
"Trust in yourself, Harry. You'll know."
Per the former headmaster's instructions, Harry retrieved the letters from where they were hidden, said his good-byes, and turned to leave.
"One last thing, Harry."
Harry stopped and waited. At that moment, the Dumbledore in the portrait looked every one of his 156 years.
"Please don't think too harshly of me. I've made a lot of mistakes in my life, and I fear this is one of my greatest ones yet. I did what I thought was best at the time, Harry. I hope after you read the letter that you can still believe that."
Harry nodded, not sure what to make of the Headmaster's last words as he headed back to his dormitory to read the letter.
If you are reading this, then you have defeated Lord Voldemort. Well done, Harry. Words can not express my pride and joy in you as a wizard, as well as your many accomplishments. I admire your courage, bravery, and strength, especially in light of all of the struggles you've faced and the many disappointments life has put in your path.
I've known from the beginning that I've put too much pressure and responsibility on your shoulders, and often with very little information to guide you. I hope you know that I did my best, Harry, even if it wasn't always good enough. I have made many mistakes along the way, as I'm sure you know. And while I've strived to never lie to you outright, I have withheld important information on several occasions, presuming you had quite enough on your plate already. For that, Harry, I am truly sorry. As you so rightly pointed out more than once, you had more than proved that you could handle knowing the truth. It was an old man's failings in trying to protect the boy he so deeply cherished and loved.
I fear, though, that my biggest mistake of all was not telling you the truth about your parents. I believed, at the time, that I was doing what was best. If I had to do it all over again, I'm not sure I would act any differently. However, one wonders how things might have been different—for better or for worse—if certain information had been brought to light sooner. Harry, this will likely be difficult for you to hear, but James Potter was not your biological father.
I learned of the discrepancy in your parentage when Hagrid brought you back from Godric's Hollow. I had to be sure Hagrid had the right child. I cast various charms to make sure you were truly the son of Lily and James Potter. That is when I discovered that you were Lily's son, but that James was not your father. After some time, I was able to discover that Severus Snape was your true father.
As I'm sure you've realized from Professor Snape's memories, he was in love with your mother. And for a time, your mother loved him too. Young Severus made one last attempt to win Lily's heart before she married James Potter, and while they shared one romantic and passionate evening, their union was not to be. Lily felt, and rightly so, that Severus was too deeply involved in the Dark Arts. For young Severus, the liaison ended with disillusionment and a great deal of disappointment. The love of his life had chosen another.
By then I'd already placed you with your mother's sister. As you know, your mother's blood had protected you from Voldemort's curse, and considering what I knew about Voldemort, this seemed like the safest place for you to be. Severus had already turned spy for the Order, but he was still a young and impulsive man, suffering severely from the loss of your mother, and much too close to Lord Voldemort for your safe keeping. I feared that when Voldemort returned, both you and Severus would be killed if anyone knew about the connection between the two of you. And so I chose to remain silent on the issue, telling neither you nor Severus what I had learned.
As you might have guessed, Harry, Professor Snape does not know that you are his son. I have my suspicions as to why this possibility never occurred to him, but I will leave it up to you to tell him if and when you choose to. Furthermore, I do not know whether Lily ever confided in James that Severus was your father. I am sure that Lily and James would have gone on to have more children if things had turned out differently.
I won't begin to beg your forgiveness in this matter, since I am unworthy of it. You have spent too much of your life with relatives who did not appreciate you for who you are. I would like to believe that if Severus learns that you are his son, he will become the kind of father you truly deserve. I am sad to say, however, that I do not know if this is possible. Severus has suffered much in his life. He has survived by building impenetrable walls around his soul and shielding himself from any sense of vulnerability. The only person who ever breached those walls was your mother.
I leave the decision up to you, Harry. You can reach out to Professor Snape, or you can walk away. I pray that whatever choice you make, it is one that brings you peace.
"No," Harry whispered. "It can't be true."
He threw Dumbledore's letter on the bed, his hands balled into fists.
"NO!" he shouted, shaking his head vehemently in denial.
He got up paced the dormitory, thankful he was alone. It wasn't true. It couldn't be true. Dumbledore was lying. He was just making this up in yet another futile and ignorant attempt to make Harry and Snape like each other.
It was absolutely ridiculous to think that Snape, the man he loathed, and who loathed him in equal measure, was his father. And what did that say about his mother? That she cheated on her soon-to-be husband mere weeks before their wedding? Unless she wasn't a willing participant... Harry snatched back up Dumbledore's letter: "they shared one romantic and passionate evening." That didn't sound like rape. But what was he thinking anyway. His mother had NOT slept with Severus Snape! His mother would never do such a thing. Thoughts raced through his mind, justifications and denials in equal measure.
There was no proof, just the silly ramblings of an old man who wished the world was a better place, who wished the likes of Snape and Harry could be friends. But whether what Dumbledore said was the truth or a lie, the seed had been planted in Harry's mind, and try as he might, he could not root it out.