Chapter One: More Than Words Can Say
Albus Dumbledore's mind was a blank. This was very unusual for him, especially during a conversation with Harry Potter. Harry was just slumped in the chair, facing him but not looking at him, grief etched all over his face, along with bitterness and exhaustion. His eyes were somehow blank, as if his own mind was elsewhere at this point. Albus watched him for a minute or two, feeling very little and yet sure the pain would sink in soon.
"I feel I owe you another explanation, Harry," he said hesitantly. "You may, perhaps, have wondered why I never chose you as a prefect? I must confess … that I rather thought … you had enough responsibility to be going on with."
As he spoke, he realised he had said all he had intended to, and as Harry raised his head to meet his eye the first wave of pain hit him and the first tear escaped.
Any more words that were uttered by either of them washed over Albus without making any imprint – in fact, the next thing he knew, he was standing by the closing door and Harry had left.
Albus Dumbledore was alone, and his walls finally crumbled. His knees gave way and he sank to the floor, the first sobs beginning to escape.
Harry looked up at Number Four and sighed. He had been dreading the return to Privet Drive more than ever this year. Unlike last summer, there would be no comforting letters from Sirius to look forward to. He knew Ron and Hermione would write, but it wasn't the same. As much as he loved his friends, he had found he needed an adult figure to confide in as much as he had in Sirius … and now he was gone.
There was no use dwelling on the fact. Harry blinked furiously and stepped inside, ignoring the Dursleys completely.
The smallest bedroom looked just like he had left it, only with a thick layer of dust. Harry wiped down all the surfaces with an old t-shirt and opened the window wide to let in a non-existent breeze.
"Bloody Dursleys," he muttered. Glancing round the room, Harry took in the rotten carpet and the peeling walls. The Dursleys had redecorated all of their rooms several times but never this one. Harry had had to help out with Dudley's room and knew what to do. Maybe this summer, he would take his mind off everything by making his bedroom fit for a human to live in. Not that he would need it much longer – Harry knew why he had to stay here now, but fully intended to clear out the moment he turned of age.
After a short walk to re-familiarise himself with the neighbourhood and get some fresh air, Harry went to bed with a textbook. It was only seven o'clock, but he wasn't hungry and couldn't think of anything better to do with himself. He read till he felt himself falling asleep several hours later, and slept soundly until something light fell on his face.
Harry woke with a jump and there was a squawk as he grabbed at something solid in the darkness. Brushing something feathery, he fumbled for a light.
"Fawkes!" he gasped. "You scared me! What are you doing here?"
The phoenix, perched on his knees, trilled and directed Harry at the envelope in his lap. It was addressed simply Harry and not even properly sealed. Harry pulled out the scrap of parchment.
I am sorry. I know that cannot ever do justice to how I feel, how I let you down when you needed friends most. But I truly regret everything I did last year and I want to make things right between us. I'm not begging for forgiveness, just a second chance.
Harry rubbed his eyes blearily and glanced at his clock. It was three in the morning, and the writing was less legible than usual; as if the letter had been penned on a whim when the addresser was half-asleep.
He had been mad at Dumbledore before. Now he just felt depressed, and a little bit guilty for being mad before. Harry stroked Fawkes' feathers gently, thinking, before finally reaching for a quill.
Dear Professor Dumbledore,
Thanks for your apology, it means a lot to me. While I'm ready to forgive I'm not sure I'm ready to forget, and I think you realise that we may have trust issues. But I'm prepared to work on that if you're prepared to do your part. I think the biggest problem last year was my lack of knowledge, so keeping me informed of things from now on seems like a good place to start.
He was sorry to see the phoenix go, but Fawkes willingly took the note, trilled a goodbye and disappeared in a flash. Harry yawned widely and lay back down, not expecting to return to sleep yet … but he was snoring within half a minute.
"I thought I might find you here."
It had not taken her long, Albus thought. It was too late to hide the Firewhiskey from her now, but he avoided her sharp eyes as she sat down on the bar stool next to him and laid a hand on his arm.
"Albus, it's late," Minerva said in an unusually soft voice. "Far too late. You should go home, get some sleep."
"I'm not tired," he lied.
"You know me too well to think I will believe that, Albus Dumbledore," she reprimanded.
"Did Aberforth tell you I was here?"
"He didn't have to. I know you, you silly old codger."
"I believe the phrase is 'barmy old codger', actually." Albus regretted correcting her, as a lump formed in his throat which would not budge. Minerva looked as if she was about to say something else, but they were interrupted.
"Albus, I'm cutting you off, you've had enough tonight," Aberforth said, taking the empty glass out of Albus' hand forcefully.
"Just one more, Abe -"
"Absolutely not. And I think you'd better stay upstairs tonight; I'll take the sofa -"
"As much as I value your most unusual display of charitableness, Aberforth, it is unnecessary; besides, I don't want to spend a minute in that room of yours, it smells like a goat stable." Albus paused. "Even more than it does down here. How can you not have been shut down yet?"
"How many Firewhiskeys has he had?" Minerva addressed Aberforth sharply. He winced in response.
"Five. I think. Maybe six. I don't know, I lost count."
"Some brother you are," she muttered. "Albus, come on, you're coming home with me. You shouldn't be on your own like this."
Albus tried to stand, and the world immediately span. "Maybe a good idea," he mumbled.
"Has he paid?" Minerva said to his brother.
"No, he hasn't. Albus," Aberforth said slowly and clearly, "you owe me twenty Galleons."
Albus put his hand in his pocket, but Minerva stopped him and slapped Aberforth sharply. "You rotten swine, Aberforth Dumbledore! Taking advantage of your brother like this -"
"Do I owe him or not?" Albus asked; he was rapidly becoming more and more confused.
"No, you don't owe him anything," Minerva said firmly before a glaring Aberforth could speak. "Come on, Albus, let's get you out of here."
He followed her obediently out of the bar. She took his hand firmly and Apparated them; upon arrival, Albus fell flat on his face and had to be helped up.
"I don't know what I'm going to do with you," she sighed, and Albus felt a strange pang that he had made her sad. Before he could say anything, a flash stunned him for a moment, and he realised that Fawkes had appeared, dropping a piece of parchment at his feet.
Minerva retrieved it before Albus could. "You can read it tomorrow," she said firmly. "Now go to sleep before I hex you."
Albus knew Minerva's range of creative hexes well from all the years of working with her, and lay down on the sofa. It took him a moment to realise she had Transfigured it into a bed. As he sank into it, she tucked a blanket round him and kissed his forehead.
"Sleep well, you barmy old codger."
As he drifted off, his thoughts turned to Harry, and wondered vaguely what he had written back.
The next morning, Albus woke with an unsurprising headache, and turned down Minerva's offer of breakfast.
"I really don't know what I'm going to do with you," she repeated, making them both a cup of tea instead. "Albus, you should think about staying here with me for the summer holiday. You really shouldn't be on your own right now."
"I appreciate the offer, Minerva," he mumbled, one hand to his head, "but I'm fine."
"You are not fine. It's all right to admit that, Albus," Minerva replied. "You're only human, and last year's affected all of us. Especially you and Harry."
Albus tensed, but seized the opportunity to change the subject with gratitude. "What did you do with the note from him last night?"
"Oh, that …" Minerva felt in her pockets, and drew it out. "Here."
Upon reading it, Albus sighed. Harry's reply had left him with a mixture of emotions. On the one hand, he was glad to see that Harry seemed to have responded a lot better than he had expected … But on the other, the tone of the letter was still far from happy.
"You've really done it this time, haven't you?" he muttered to himself, staring at the last part. I think the biggest problem last year was my lack of knowledge, so keeping me informed of things from now on seems like a good place to start.
Was it a good idea? Harry had enough on his plate … But he had offered to give Albus a second chance, and if he messed up now, Harry would never forgive him.
"Minerva," Albus said slowly, "could you get me a quill and parchment, please?"
She did so, and Albus, before beginning the new letter, hesitated. Perhaps he should be more strategic about this. Harry would not take everything at once at all well, and he was bad enough at the moment. But if he let Harry know that there were things still to tell, maybe when he did tell him the backlash would not be so bad.
All right Albus, time to show your Slytherin side, he thought, the first smile creeping onto his face for weeks. It diminished quickly. Albus had nearly been put in Slytherin himself – just like Harry had. And someone else he knew.
No, he would not think about that. Harry needed him now.
"What are you going to write back?" Minerva asked.
"Hopefully," Albus said, "the beginning of something better."
Thank you. I don't deserve it, but I am forever grateful to you for it.
I have been thinking that I never really played as big a part in your life than I should have done. I want to now, if you will let me.
I know at our last meeting I promised I would tell you everything – and I did, at least everything to do with what we were discussing. But there are still things that you have been kept in the dark about which we will talk about. Not now – I think you have enough to deal with – but soon, I promise you. I know you will not be happy to hear this but I assure you I never wanted to keep you or anyone else in the dark about any of it and I apologise.
As for being informed of other things, I fully intend to learn from my mistakes and do so. That we can discuss when I see you.
Take care, Harry.
As he sent Fawkes back with the letter, he smiled at his Deputy. "Minerva, thank you for offering to put me up for the summer, but I think I have something else in mind now."
Harry rubbed his eyes. He had thought the midnight letter had been a dream; apparently not.
He had never heard Dumbledore talk like this until their discussion in his office. After reading the letter, he felt a stab of hurt that obviously Dumbledore hadn't told him everything when he said he was going to, but re-reading it he surmised that whatever Dumbledore was keeping from him was kept for a reason – hopefully a good one – and it sounded as if it didn't relate to what they had discussed then anyway … What else could there possibly be?
Harry groaned. His head ached.
He didn't know what to write back without demanding to know what Dumbledore was keeping from him, so he didn't. As he carried out the chores the Dursleys laid on him, he wondered what Dumbledore meant by wanting to be a bigger part of his life …
That question was answered that evening. Harry was cleaning out Hedwig's cage and the Dursleys were watching something on the television when the doorbell rang. He peered out of the window, wondering who was calling this late. He stared. Was he going mad or was that really …?
He raced downstairs and landed on the hall floor in his socks just as the door opened.
In the doorway, looking completely out of place, was Albus Dumbledore himself.