The halls of Hogwarts had a very different atmosphere in the summer than during the school term. Absolute silence hung over classrooms and there was no one rushing about, late for an afternoon class. Even the moving staircases had settled down in positions that allowed the easiest access from the few areas in frequent use. Rays of sunlight could be seen in the slightly dusty air, and even the magic of the castle itself felt different without all the disturbances from hundreds of students running around doing magic. All in all the feel was almost sacred.
Harry Potter walked through these empty hallways towards the hospital wing, where he had been summoned by professor McGonagall. Albus Dumbledore was dying, and he wanted to have a final conversation with Harry.
Harry greeted Madam Pomfrey silently as he entered the infirmary. Dumbledore lay in a bed at the far end of the large room, where more room had been cleared for armchairs and a small table filled with flowers and some books. Harry noticed that the Headmaster looked every bit as old as his venerable years, and his previously healthy looking white hair had started to get thinner. The long white beard was still there, though, resting on top of the blankets.
Harry stood by the bed for the longest moment, just looking at the old man. Even the Headmaster's amazing senses seemed to have lessened, as he didn't seem to notice Harry's presence.
"I am here, Headmaster", Harry finally said.
Dumbledore slowly opened his eyes, and a small smile appeared on his lips.
"Ah, Harry, my boy, I'm glad you could come."
The two looked at each other, both expecting the other to start speaking. Finally Dumbledore looked away, and a sigh escaped from his lips.
"I'm so sorry, Harry, for everything I did. I truly believed that it was the best thing I could do, but now I'm not that sure anymore. Laying in bed just thinking, without anything that really needs attention, allows one to find whole new perspectives. Even for someone as old as I am. Still I am happy that you became the young man you are now; even if it was regardless of my actions, and not because of them."
Harry considered Dumbledore's words. So much of what had gone wrong in his life seemed to someway or the other lead to the old man laying in front of him. Still he couldn't find himself getting angry at him. The real issue was the wizarding world's inability to handle their own problems and dependence on strong leaders that had led Dumbledore to the position where he had been able to make those mistakes.
"I don't know if I will ever be able to forgive you", Harry said finally. "But I'm prepared to let things be as they are."
"But I don't think I'll be able to feel truly sorry that you're dying, either", Harry continued, pausing to consider whether or not to say the next thing that was on his mind. "I could say that it is for the Greater Good, that it is time for new people to step into your shoes. But I'm not that cruel. Nor do I believe that I will ever be able to say what the Greater Good really is. Maybe there isn't even such a thing, and we should focus more on the lesser goods."
Dumbledore looked utterly defeated, and didn't say anything. Harry was looking at the table next to the Headmaster's bed. The man was still hugely popular, and there were a lot of letters from friends and allies. His death would truly mark the end of an era, and Harry simply hoped that the next one, where he had found himself at the center of, would be better than the last. Dumbledore's era was one filled with war and hardship, hopefully the next would be more peaceful. At least Harry was working to change the community so that starting an open war wouldn't be so easy anymore.
"You know", Harry started again, "I recently intercepted a draft for a book that Rita Skeeter is writing. 'The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore', I believe that was the title. There were some interesting implications about you and Grindelwald; Skeeter had interviewed some old lady in Godric's Hollow."
Harry watched the old Headmaster as he spoke, and the way he averted his eyes told him everything he needed to know.
"I will try to stop it from ever being published. I don't like you, but I still respect what you have achieved. And I don't think anyone deserves to have their name dragged into the mud by that woman. To be honest, I'm viewed as your unofficial apprentice, and as Daphne pointed out to me, anything that shows you in bad light will reflect on me, too."
Harry let the not entirely selfless motives of his actions sink to the old mans brain.
"But you know as well as anyone that the truth has a habit of rising to the surface, no matter how deep you bury it," he finished.
Dumbledore nodded, part acknowledging the truth of Harry's words, part from gratitude. He had his personal journals and correspondence from his long career as a Hogwarts teacher and Headmaster stored in his quarters, and he had left them to the school in his will. Hopefully someone truly interested in history and not scandals would someday find them and write a biography.
"Thank you, Harry, for coming," he said finally. "It is not often that people talk to to me as honestly as you have done today. They still see me as the defeater of Grindelwald, and all the different honours I've been granted. I think you might be the only person alive to truly understand how it feels to have the world's expectations on your shoulders. I just hope that you will succeed in filling those expectations better than I did."
"So do I, Headmaster, so do I."
Harry turned and walked away. When she had delivered Dumbledore's invitation Professor McGonagall had told him that they didn't believe the Headmaster would make it to the start of the new term. She had also presented Harry with the badge of the Head Boy, that he had gratefully accepted. Hermione would be the Head Girl, just like she had hoped from the first year.
Harry looked at the door of the infirmary, where his beautiful fiancée was waiting. Daphne was wearing a flowing summer dress that reminded Harry of the birthday party a year ago when they had first gotten together. She was truly the best thing that had ever happened to him, and he still didn't believe how lucky he had been.
He gave her a small hug and a peck on the lips, and the two started their walk out of the castle, hand in hand. It was a sunny and warm summer afternoon, and life was looking good.
A/N: That's it, guys. Never would have guessed this story would gather such following, or that it would grow to such length. Writing this has also been a huge learning experience, and I hope some progress in skill can also be seen as the chapters progress.
Writing this story took me almost two years, something I never expected when I started writing. For example this epilogue has been ready in more or less identical form since around April 2012, and it was originally intended to be something like chapter 10. That's why I'm unsure if I want to start something like this again. But there are a few ideas bouncing around in my head (and on paper) that might force themselves out at some point.
And finally lots of thanks to everyone who has taken their time to review my story, as those alerts arriving to my e-mail have been a constant reminder that I have done something right and that people enjoy what I have written. Also special thanks to Majerus, who helped me along for the later half of the story.