Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters or places in this story (said characters/places are property of JK Rowling).
"If I tell you to leave me and save yourself, you will do as I tell you?"
They looked at each other for a moment.
"I -- I can't, Professor." Before Dumbledore could protest, Harry barreled on. "I can't just walk away and sacrifice you, that's not the way it works, that's not fair, I --"
Harry had every intention of continuing, saying every last thing he could think of to convince Dumbledore that he would never walk away and save himself like that, but Dumbledore had held his hand up to silence Harry.
"As noble as your intentions are, Harry, and as much as I cannot begin to tell you how touched I am that you would be willing to risk your life for me, I cannot allow it. I think the lessons we've been having on and off all year should have taught you at least that much."
"I don't understand," Harry said, confused. He'd thought they were learning about Voldemort, tracing his life story to find a way to defeat him, and he couldn't see what that had to do with leaving Dumbledore to die, should the occasion arise.
"Have you not realized that I had a purpose for teaching you of Voldemort's past, not anyone else? There are things we've discovered that could be useful to anyone wishing to fight against Voldemort, yet I've chosen to show you. Do you not understand why? Have I not shown you why it had to be you to know how to defeat him?"
"Do you mean the prophecy? But, sir, you said --"
"-- I said the prophecy wouldn't have mattered had Voldemort not chosen to fulfill the beginning of it. Once the prophecy was put into play, it had to be carried out. Had he never 'marked you as his equal', I would not have had to show you his past. But it is not I who is to go and defeat Voldemort. It is you, Harry, not anyone else. Voldemort marked you to be the one to do it, even though he didn't intend it to be so. It is you, and you alone, who must make it out alive, if it comes down to it. Your life is more important than mine, and that is why you must promise me that you will leave me and save yourself if I tell you to."
Harry looked into his professor's blue eyes for a moment, and swore he saw a flicker of desperation in them, somewhere far away, clearly imploring him to agree. But then, Harry, filled with a sudden anger at what he was being asked to do, looked away, over at the desk, glaring at the wood. "You can't ask me to do that. My life isn't more important." He spoke the last sentence in a whisper, almost unconsciously, as if he hadn't actually meant to say it at all.
Without speaking, Dumbledore placed his uninjured hand under Harry's chin and lifted it, so Harry had no where else to look but at his elderly headmaster. Harry suddenly felt his eyes burning and blinked a few times, silently trying to will the tears in his eyes to leave, he didn't want Dumbledore to see that, to think him weak….
"Do not say your life is less important than mine."
"But it is," Harry interrupted, his voice shaking slightly, "You're much more powerful than me, you can protect people, I can't!"
"Harry, have the past five years taught you nothing?" Dumbledore said, removing his hand from under Harry's chin, but Harry found himself unable to look away. "It is you Voldemort continues to go after, not me."
"That's because he's afraid of you! He's not afraid of me, he knows he has a chance at beating me because I'm not as powerful as you!"
"My life is not more important because I am a more powerful wizard in general standards. It is not my sort of power that will defeat him. It is your sort -- the sort he gave to you the night he failed to kill you -- that will be his downfall. Voldemort has attacked you more than once because he knows you have a power he can't defeat. He could've tried to attack me numerous times, and he didn't. Because I was not a pressing concern, I was not the one putting him at risk."
"But -- but that was only because he wasn't a person…just a spirit! If he'd been a whole person, he would've gone after you."
"I don't believe he would. He was a full person the night he possessed you and tried to persuade me to kill you." Harry felt an uncomfortable twinge in his stomach at the words, but Dumbledore spoke them as he did everything else, with the air of someone discussing the weather or a favorite book, as if they were the most natural and mundane things he could be speaking of. "And to what purpose? He was trying to bring about your end, Harry, not mine. True, he would've been hard-put to try and possess me, but he also did not to try to possess you to get you to kill me. He wanted you dead, he didn't want you causing others' deaths. It would have been just as easy, if not easier, for him to force you to kill me, rather than forcing you to beg for death as he did.
"Do you understand, Harry? He's finally realized that it's you who will ultimately try and, if I have taught you enough, succeed in killing him. He knows that I will not be able to. He knows you're a threat. You have to stay alive to bring him to his end, Harry. So again, I will ask you: If I tell you to leave me and save yourself, will you?"
Harry was silent for what felt like an eternity, but he did not look away from Dumbledore. His mind was fighting a war against itself. He had a sick feeling that by promising to leave Dumbledore behind if ordered, it was like condemning the man to his death, but if he didn't promise, he felt as if he were betraying him, and he respected Dumbledore too much to not give his word when asked.
As if knowing precisely what Harry was struggling with, Dumbledore said, still in that infuriately calm manner of his, "Harry, there is a reason why I held these private lessons with you, besides the fact that you needed to learn all you could about Tom Riddle."
"Yes. Couldn't I have merely sought out the Horcruxes myself, with no danger to you, and destroyed them, and allowed you, as the prophecy dictates, to finish off the final bit of soul within the man himself? Couldn't I have explained to you Voldemort's love of trophies and what had happened to him in his life at any time? Why was it now that I had to show you all of these first hand, and use your assistance in attacking all the Horcruxes?"
"I don't know," Harry supplied lamely, wondering why he'd even bothered to say it, when it was obvious Dumbledore knew he didn't understand.
"Because I knew that there could well be a day, very near in the future, when I may not be around to tell you all of this. I had to arm you with the knowledge I received as I received it so, in the event that the time should come when I must give my life for this fight, you would know all about Lord Voldemort that I do, so you would be able to destroy any Horcruxes I was unable to find."
Harry felt the burning sensation in his eyes again, and looked slightly to the left of Dumbledore, no longer able to meet his eyes. "So you're saying…you're prepared to die tonight?"
He couldn't bring himself to look directly at Dumbledore's face, but he could've sworn he was smiling as he said, "Alas, I am prepared to die every night. No one knows for sure when it is their time, but I have a strong feeling I will not be here to see the end of this war. I can only hope my knowledge and memory will be there at the end, in the hearts of those who remain loyal to me."
At the word "loyal," Harry felt himself look back at Dumbledore. He understood now. He understood that Dumbledore knew the risks of what they were about to do, yet was brave and noble enough -- if not also a bit foolish -- to do it anyway. He understood that whether he agreed or not, Dumbledore was going to go, and he, Harry, would only be complicating an already complicated situation by refusing to do as Dumbledore ordered. He felt a sudden sense of pride well up inside him at Dumbledore, who seemed wiser than anyone should be allowed to be, wise enough to understand and accept things no one else would be willing to, to look death in the face and not be afraid, to understand that it was not the end -- would never be truly the end. He understood that, whether Dumbledore died that night, or the next week, or several years from then, he couldn't be sure, and it was important that he remain forever loyal to the man who had taken him under his wing, to make sure that all Dumbledore had taught him did not go to waste.
But still he waited to answer, until he could be sure his voice would remain steady. He wanted this vow, the vow he dreaded to think felt like the last he would ever give to the man, Dumbledore took a moment in the silence to say, "I feel I should tell you this, Harry, before it is too late to do so. Through the course of these years we have spent together, particularly during this year, with these private lessons, I've stopped thinking of myself as a teacher teaching a student."
Harry was caught off-guard by the sudden confession. "You have?"
He noticed Dumbledore's eyes watering again but, not fully understanding why, didn't look down at his knees as he'd done the last time. "No, I did not. I began to feel as though I were a surrogate father or sorts, teaching his son how to defend himself."
Stunned, Harry was unable to speak for awhile. Did Dumbledore truly think of him as his son? When he finally found his voice again, Harry said, without truly having given it much thought, speaking directly from the heart, "And I didn't feel as if I were learning from a teacher. I was being taught by a man who the closest thing to a father I could ever have -- he was my father, in my mind. He'd kept me safe and under his wing, protecting me as a father should. And for that, I shall never forget him, and I shall never let his memory be forgotten."
He saw a tear slip down Dumbledore's cheek and, for once, didn't feel awkward for having caused it. Instead, he felt almost honored by the tear, because he knew what he'd said had touched Dumbledore, and it made him feel good for having been able to do so, when such uncertainty lay so suddenly before them.
"I swear, Professor. I will do whatever you order me to do. I promise."
As the funeral ended and Harry turned his back on the others, a single thought filled his mind. If I tell you to leave me and save yourself, you will do as I tell you?
A short smile, albeit terribly sad and remorseful, flashed across Harry's face. The time has come, Professor, for me to leave you and save the world. And he knew Dumbledore would want nothing more from his 'son'.