A/N: This is the end . . . finally. I know that some of you will be disappointed, but really—the story is over. Will there be a sequel? I doubt it—at least not one written by either of us. There is some good news though. Claihm Solais and I are sticking together for another story. You should be able to find it on my/our account page. Thank you to all those who read and left reviews over the years. ~Lord Silvere
The old man slowly turned around at the sound of the door creaking open. He found himself looking at a familiar figure, one that he hadn't seen in years now. It had taken Albus Dumbledore weeks to recover from the injuries he'd taken at Voldemort's hands, and when he'd woken up, he'd found himself in St. Mungo's. After he'd recovered, the headmaster had resolved to only serve one more term as the head of Hogwarts before passing that mantle on to Minerva McGonagall. He'd gotten his wish, and bought a cozy little cottage on the coast to retire to, with the calming sounds of the waves crashing onto the shore nearby.
"What can I do for you, Harry?"
The young man was silent for a long while, and shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other. "I just came to…say goodbye, I guess."
Harry hadn't been in contact with anyone for years, making like a recluse in Nair'i'caix. The last Albus had heard from him was that Bella had given birth to a daughter. The old headmaster had sent him a card then, to which he'd gotten a curt note with "Thanks" in return. It had been seven years since the wizarding world had seen the last of Harry Potter, after he defeated of Voldemort.
Dumbledore suspected that Harry was still in contact with Cuthbert Mockridge, who was currently serving his second term in office – in fact, it looked like he would go on to serve a third, with the votes of most of the magical creatures behind him. It was thanks to Mockridge, really, and, probably with Harry in the background, that the wizarding world was slowly undergoing reforms that would eventually make it a more cohesive whole. Laws prohibiting the rights of magical creatures were abolished and replaced with fair contracts, and while the ban on some of the more dangerous magical creatures remained, it wasn't uncommon these days to see goblins walking around Diagon Alley, or to see squibs, goblins, and centaurs enjoying a drink together in the Leaky Cauldron.
"Goodbye?" Albus mused. "A strange thing to say when you have already been gone for years."
"I just…Bella and I are getting ready to cut all ties with the wizarding world. We're finally ready," Harry said. "I…I sort of felt I owed it to you to check up on you before we left for good."
Dumbledore sighed. He'd been practicing for this particular conversation for years. By now, he even had memorized exactly what he was going to say. "I'm glad you did, Harry…I owe you an apology for what I have put you through, but I know that it will never be enough."
"Yeah…I was…pretty bitter for a while, there," Harry admitted. "You tried to do what you always do, manipulate people. You did it for the good of the world, but that still doesn't make it right."
"I wasn't referring to that, Harry, though I am also terribly sorry for that." A slight twinkle returned to the ancient wizard's eyes. "I failed you as my charge when you needed me most. I failed to believe in you, failed to investigate further, because I was so blinded by the fear of everyone around you. I have over a century of experience in dealing with people, and I let others control my opinion. I didn't believe in you, despite knowing everything about you, everything you had done."
"You're not the only one," Harry muttered bitterly. The Weasleys, with the exception of Molly and Ron, had come around to seeing the colossal mistake they had made. Of course, the twins did everything they could to rub their faces in it and get some payback for Harry, knowing that Harry would never go to get it himself. The pain from their betrayal had kept him far away from the Weasleys ever since the last day of battle, with the exception of the twins.
Ginny had tried to apologize and actually prostrated herself before him, begging him to kill her or torture her for her betrayal, but he couldn't bear to watch her like that, and had left. He didn't know how to deal with her, didn't want to deal with her. He had his own demons to deal with.
His anger at her for almost having killed Bella and their child had stood between them for a long time, until he was finally able to let it rest. Last he heard, Hermione and Ginny had gotten around to getting therapy for both of them to deal with the guilt. While a lot of people in the wizarding world were quick to blame Ginny and label her as a traitor for her actions under Voldemort's influence, their protests had died a quick death when more and more people were discovered to have been under a spell or potion of some sort.
The wizarding world had gotten a good, long look at itself, and the sight hadn't been pretty, because, as many unwitting traitors there were, there were even more who had voluntarily served Voldemort.
Eventually, over the years, Harry had forgiven Ginny, and they had made small steps to a tentative friendship again, much like he had with Hermione, though their relationship was still very strained and uncomfortable. He had, in fact, taken Hermione aside one day and screamed, yelled, and cried at her for all he'd been through. The brunette girl had just stood there, taken it, and comforted him when he'd broken down. Unlike with Ginny, their friendship was still a little skittish, but it was well on the road to recovery.
It certainly helped that Hermione and Bella seemed to get along rather well, but their contact had been very infrequent ever since Harry and Bella had sequestered themselves away from the wizarding world a few weeks after Voldemort's death.
The only person who'd remained with them, to their great surprise, had been Neville. The day he'd had an argument with his parents about Bella was the day they had given him a choice: leave with them, or stay and be disowned.
He'd chosen to stay. Harry knew the decision had hurt Neville tremendously, and had more than once tried to convince his friend to go and return to his parents. Neville just shook his head every time Harry brought it up, and told him that he'd been more of a family to him than his parents in the last few years. Neville was determined that what had happened to Harry before, when he was deserted by everyone he knew, never happened again. Harry took a guilty pleasure from knowing that Neville had chosen to side with him over his parents, though he took great care to never let it show. Even to this day, Neville's parents refused to talk to him.
"I suppose so," Dumbledore agreed. "But I have been the catalyst for it. Had I voiced my concerns, or believed in you, then you would not have been condemned so quickly, by so many."
"Yeah." Harry sighed. "You know what? You're right. I got screwed over big time. By you, by my supposed friends, by the wizarding world in general. That's why I wasn't a part of it for the last few years."
"And now?" Dumbledore asked, curious.
"Now…let's just say we're preparing to vanish completely."
"What about your daughter?"
"My daughter is exactly the reason we're going away for good," Harry replied. "Do you have any idea what she'd go through if the wizarding world found out? If I had it bad, she'll have it a hundred times worse – 'daughter of dark lord Potter,' 'second Bellatrix Lestrange,' 'dark mistress in the making.' Frankly, I got tired of that crap years ago."
Dumbledore nodded. "I can understand that." He turned around to look out the window again. "Harry…you are a great man. No matter what the rest of the world says. I know I probably don't have any right to tell you anymore, but your parents would be proud. I'm certain of that."
"You know what's funny?" Harry snorted as he stepped forward to stand next to the old headmaster. "I'm not as great as you think. In fact, Neville is by far the better man than I am."
"How so?" Dumbledore arched a curious eyebrow.
"You taught me to care only for those closest to me. The wizarding world taught me to beware of betrayal. Sirius taught me how to care, Bella how to love. Voldemort taught me how to hate. But only Neville taught me how to forgive."
Before Dumbledore could ask, Harry explained. As he talked, the old headmaster could see Harry's posture relax, his hands comfortably clasped behind his back as he stared out to sea. "A few days after Voldemort died, Neville had a long talk with Bella. And you know what? He forgave her. She took away his parents, tortured countless people, committed horrible crimes. I never held it against her, but then again, I love her. Heh. Love blinds, they say. Neville…he had every reason to hate her, but he didn't. And you know why? Because, he said, it's in the past, and we can't change it." Most of the time, Harry amended silently. The instance they used a time-turner to save Sirius and Buckbeak came to mind.
"What's more," Harry continued, "he said that she isn't who she was back then. The insane Bella, the one who served Voldemort…that was someone he could hate. Not the Bella who risked everything to be my informant, and risked her life in helping us in the war against Voldemort. And mostly…because I was happy with her. Do you have any idea what that meant to me?" Harry turned to look at Dumbledore, and the ancient wizard saw the unshed tears in his eyes. "For the first god-damn time in my life, with the exception of Sirius and Bella, someone actually was willing to give up something for me. He cares more about me as a friend than he does a grudge against Bella. And you know what? When his parents woke up, and they found out, they were ready to disown him and throw their lot with the 'Harry Potter has gone dark!' crowd. He told them off. He told them to let things rest in the past. They wouldn't hear any of it and left…and Neville's been staying with us ever since."
Dumbledore could only stare back in shock. This was all news to him. While he had heard that Neville had remained with Harry, he had never suspected something like this to be the reason. "I-I don't know what to say," he admitted.
"And you know what? Neville forgave his parents, too. What did he say again? 'Life's too short to be wasting it on grudges and hatred.' That kid's had it almost as bad as I have, and he's…he forgives everyone, and he's happy because of it. He's happy because he doesn't carry around the burden of hate. And he's right. I've hated the wizarding world long enough. I…wasn't in a good place for a long time. I was bitter, I hated all of you, hated the wizarding world for what they did to me, for condemning the one person who'd ever bothered to be there for me. They made a mistake, but there's nothing that can be done about it now. It's in the past – history, just like Voldemort. Just like what Bella did. I understand that forgiveness won't be given anytime soon…if ever, but holding grudges and hating people over it? It seems…so pointless now. Am I still angry at you all for what you did? Not really. Bitter? Perhaps a bit. But I no longer hate you. I…I came to tell you that, before I left for good. I didn't want to leave with you thinking that I hated you, because, for better or for worse, you were one of the few people in my life who bothered to care."
"Harry…" Dumbledore sighed heavily, turning his head to look out to sea, as well. "Won't you reconsider? If you remained with the wizarding world-"
"No, Professor," Harry said, using the respectful title for the first time in years. "I can't stay. For my daughter's sake. I don't want her growing up in the circus that was my life."
"You could have made such a difference, you know," Dumbledore said. "The people who know you, who've followed you, would be quick to attest to that. You were the only one of us throughout all of this to remain true to your ideals. Your…your courage, your determination, your will to never give up. The way you stood up, against impossible odds, because it was the right thing to do…all of that is something that has been lacking in the wizarding world for years. If…if only we'd had some of those traits, then Voldemort would never have gotten as far as he had. He would never have driven us to the brink of extinction."
"They have that. They all do…Neville, Fred, George, Luna, everyone in the Legion. Even Hermione now. They just…" Harry shrugged. "They just needed someone they could follow, I guess."
"You led them by example, Harry," Dumbledore insisted. "You showed them the best we could be."
Harry snorted at the praise. "I also showed them the worst they could be. Like I said, I wasn't in a good place, myself, for a long time."
"Severus spoke very highly of your leadership and determination these past few years. He insisted that despite any…bad times, your will was what pulled you through. Your unwillingness to surrender."
"Praise from Snape?" Harry chortled. "Somehow, I don't quite believe that."
"Well, he didn't say it outright, of course," Dumbledore chuckled. "But I know him well enough to be able to read between the lines, as it were. And you are right, of course, they all have the ability to be good people, but the fact is that it was you who brought them together, who brought it out of them. It's fortunate that the old breed is dying out. You youngsters seem better suited for this world, a free world, where every creature is equal, and evil is immediately stood up to."
"Please, don't get all corny on me."
"Have you visited Minerva yet?" Dumbledore asked after a moment of silence.
"No. I didn't plan on it, either, considering her reaction to me the last time I saw her."
"Rest assured, Harry, after she got the full story, she was mortified at her behavior. Surprisingly, she was tested positive for a slightly mind-altering potion. At Severus's suggestion, we had everyone tested for it, but only Minerva and Arthur Weasley were found positive."
Harry shook his head moodily. "Those two did enough damage as it is."
"True. However, I do know that Minerva has been looking for a chance to apologize to you. It would really ease her mind."
Harry shrugged. "Sure. Since I'm on a forgive-and-forget trip, anyway."
"Thank you, Harry. She has been having a hard time lately. The war severely depleted our ranks of experienced wizards, and worst, most of the teachers you knew retired shortly after the end of the war. Those that weren't killed at the Ministry, that is."
"So that's why you mentioned her. Should've known there was a hidden agenda."
Dumbledore inclined his head, conceding the point. "You could do a lot of good at Hogwarts, Harry. You have so much to teach, so much we could learn from that would make us all better people. You could teach the children to do what's right and not what's easy."
"No. And believe me, I'm not saying no for myself, I'm saying no because of my wife and daughter. Despite the fact that Bella got a full pardon from Minister Mockridge and we all got plastered with Orders of the Merlin, the public isn't exactly fond of her. Heck, the public isn't fond of me, either. Can you imagine what they'd do to my daughter?"
Dumbledore considered that for a moment, then realized that Harry was probably right. While the children and young adults – most of whom were people Harry had gone to school with, and many of whom had been part of Potter's Legion – wouldn't have a problem with Harry and his family, the older generations most likely would. "That is true. I cannot ask you to give up your daughter's welfare. But please, at least consider it," he pleaded. "There is so much good you could do."
Harry rolled his eyes. Neville, Bella, and Hermione had been trying to convince him of the exact same thing. His empire didn't really need him. The Ice People and the Trazkabanian sorcerers had governed themselves for the last few centuries without any problems.
Neville, Hermione, Fred, and George had been trying to convince him to return to the wizarding world and come out of his hermit-like reclusion. Even Bella agreed to an extent, telling him that he could do much good out there, teaching the wizarding world to stand up for itself so that another Voldemort would never again rise up. He had to admit, he was tempted…if simply by the fact that it would give him something to do. But the fact that the public would be all over his daughter like hungry cats over fish sausage stopped him cold in his tracks, and once he brought up that particular argument, none of the others could find a way to refute him.
"You wouldn't believe how many times I heard that during the last few years," Harry muttered. Unfortunately for him, Hermione and the twins had come up with a solution to that problem recently. Without Harry's knowledge, they had contacted Cuthbert Mockridge and the goblins, and asked them to set up an alternate identity for Harry's entire family. The whole idea, as Hermione had explained a few weeks ago when the trio had presented him with the option, was to allow him, Bella, and his daughter to walk the streets without being bothered by other people, after putting on a specialized glamour spell. They would even have the correct credentials, thanks to Mockridge and the goblins. Hermione told him she had gotten the idea from a muggle concept known as "witness protection." Harry still wasn't sure what he wanted to do, but everyone he knew was urging him to return.
"I'll think about it," he finally said.
Dumbledore nodded. "So, what has become of the Rod of Dominion?"
Harry eyed him curiously, though the ancient wizard could pick out the carefully-hidden suspicion lurking beneath. "Let's say it's gone, and hopefully gone for good. Since there aren't many warlocks around, I think that'll be that."
"It's destroyed, then?"
Harry paused for a moment. "Lost in space, is more like it," he said, before turning around and leaving the room. Dumbledore didn't need to know that, after years of research, he, Bella, and Hermione had found a way to destroy the staff. They were pretty sure that the original creator had known about it, but since it involved using up so much magic that whoever cast the spell would end up practically powerless, it was a safe bet that it had been quickly discarded by the earlier lords of Polairix. Now the Rod of Dominion was gone, and Harry was an ordinary wizard once more, all trace of his warlock powers gone. He paused inside the doorframe for a moment.
"Merlin's blessings upon you, Professor Dumbledore."
The ancient wizard turned around and smiled into his beard, repeating the ancient phrase. "Merlin's blessings upon you, Harry Potter."
A knock at her door caused Minerva McGonagall to look up. "Enter," she said, straightening the glasses on her nose. The door to the headmaster's office of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry creaked open, and in walked the last person she had ever expected to see.
To the readers: I'm hoping I managed to convey the original sense of the story as it was started by Lord Silvere, and I'd like to thank you - and him - for your support. I have done my best to tell a story with a moral at the end, and I apologize to anyone who felt that the story and my depiction of it was too simplistic, too two-dimensional, but keep in mind, this is a story, and stories are meant to teach. If I wanted things to be realistic, I'd point you over to politics, if you want shades of grey. The sad truth is, the world, for all its wonder, is also filled with a lot of uneccessary hate and anger, and over- and under-reactions to it. Shades of grey are reality, but they don't really teach you much. I felt that the moral of the story would be better served if I showed both sides of the coin, and let the readers draw their own conclusions. In the end, it's like Alec Guiness said as Obi-Wan Kenobi: it all depends on your point of view. Compromises are a fact of life. But all of that aside, we also have to keep in mind one thing: this story is entertainment. As much as I would like for it to teach, I would also like for it to entertain you, the readers, and usually, that is done through conflict. There is a reason why stories depicting complete utopias are usually quite short, and that is because of a lack of conflict, and conflict can't always happen in shades of grey. I hope that, despite all, you did enjoy the story, and if you did, then I, too, will have some sense of fulfillment. Thank you for reading.
- Claihm Solais