Disclaimer: Harry Potter and all related characters are property of JK Rowling.

Summary: The summer after Harry's disastrous fifth year, Dumbledore pays the depressed teen a personal visit. On the Weasleys' cellar steps, Harry and Dumbledore discuss Sirius' death, the prophecy, and how best to avoid tickling sleeping dragons. Based off a dream I had, albeit tweaked... A LOT ^^. Originally, Dumbledore was comforting Harry on MY basement steps, but... er... I saw fit to change that ;D Enjoy the impending angst coupled with a refreshing amount of silliness!

~Forgive an Old Man~

Harry sighed, fidgeting in his chair as he watched the Weasley children play Quidditch in the backyard. He noticed that they occasionally glanced toward the house, lips pursed and countenances wistful. The boy couldn't help but feel bad for them as they worried, needlessly, over his well-being. He knew his friends were concerned- after all, the seeker had just turned down flying, of all things- but being on his Firebolt was too painful right now. It brought back unpleasant memories of the man who'd bought the broomstick for him, and Harry had dwelt enough on Sirius' death that summer already. All he wished anymore was to be alone, out of the spotlight of pitying eyes and half-hearted attempts at conversation.

Because he was fine. Absolutely, positively, unconditionally, exceptionally, unquestionably fine.

Unfailingly, entirely, completely, thoroughly-

"Harry?"

Although the fifteen-year-old did not want to admit it to himself, he was glad that Mrs. Weasley had interrupted his musings... otherwise, the synonym game would have consumed his brain for the next few hours. Even he would concur that it was a dull way to spend one's afternoon. With a mental yank out of reverie, Harry gazed listlessly at Mrs. Weasley, red head hanging from the kitchen doorway. He almost- almost- grimaced at the strange expression on her face, as if she was discomfited by his apathetic response, but resisted the urge. No need to spread his foul mood, though for some unexplainable reason, it seemed to be catching like a contagion. It was odd, how his... depression... seemed to make everyone else in the house melancholy. Why did it matter so much to them, whether he was mourning or not? Why did they care?

"Harry, could you be a dear and run down to the cellar for me? I need some frozen peas."

"Sure," the boy mumbled uninterestedly, noticing how the family had been trying to engage him with any and every activity imaginable. He stood and stretched, muscles (unfortunately suffering from lack of use this summer) protesting with loud pops. As Harry passed Mrs. Weasley, he briefly wondered why she didn't just Accio the food up from storage. One look at her informed him, though- her wand was moving in a blur, concentration clearly on whatever meal she was preparing. Obviously, the mother of seven couldn't spare a single second, and Harry's heart went out to her: Mrs. Weasley had done so much for him these past few years. A trip down to the basement was the least he could do to ease her burdens.

Mrs. Weasley turned when Harry paused, staring at her bustling figure. "Harry? Are you alright?" she inquired solicitously.

Harry started, realizing he'd been lost in thought. "O-oh. Yes, Mrs. Weasley. I'll be back in a second with your peas." He turned and made his way over to the cellar door, missing the sad glance sent his way.

The cellar was damp and dark, air pungent with the stench of must that permeated just about every basement Harry'd ever encountered. He descended the stairs swiftly, wondering where the frozen peas might be located and ignoring the eerie shadows twisting on the walls. Small, rectangular windows let in small rays of summer light, and Harry could just barely hear the tinkling laughter of Ginny Weasley. When she stopped, the cellar went quiet. Agonizingly quiet. As if fearful of stirring some ancient creature from slumber, Harry tiptoed over to a large white freezer. The peas were probably-

"Harry?" a gentle baritone cut through the silence. Aforementioned Boy-Who-Lived jumped about a foot in the air, whipping around with a wand brandished.

"P-Professor Dumbledore?" Harry exclaimed, suddenly embarrassed at his violent ephemeral reaction. He quickly stowed away the wand in his back pocket. "You scared me."

"And I do apologize for that," the aged Headmaster said, lowering himself onto the last cellar step. Harry couldn't help but gape at how out-of-place the man looked in this dreary room, what with his resplendent robes of maroon and empyreal silver hair. Dumbledore patted the space beside him. "Sit down for a minute, Harry. I want to talk to you."

Harry was reluctant, though. He had a good idea of what their impending conversation would be about, and he was not looking forward to it. "But Mrs. Weasley-"

"Knows that I am here and that I am going to intercept you. Please, sit. I can assure you the peas are imbued with patience; they will not shrivel in your absence," Dumbledore intoned humorously, once again gesturing to the seat on his right. Harry took a steadying breath and walked over to his professor, feeling rather self-conscious as he took the offered spot. It was a strange mixture of awkward and comfortable to be so close to the warm body of his Headmaster- normally a desk separated the pair into an air of professionalism, but this felt personal and even... nice. Then there was the behavior Harry had exhibited the last time he saw Dumbledore, which also weighed heavily on the boy's mind. As he recalled it, the fifteen-year-old had destroyed an awful lot of the man's possessions that terrible night in Dumbledore's office...

Harry blushed, feeling an apology was in order before they started any form of heart-to-heart. "Er... I'm really sorry about how I acted at the end of term, sir. Is your office... um... okay now?"

"Oh no," Dumbledore responded pleasantly, a benign smile pulling at his features as the mage twiddled his thumbs nonchalantly. "No, I left it untouched. It serves as a reminder."

Harry stared, unsure whether he'd heard correctly. "Of what?"

"Of what I did to you, Harry," Dumbledore answered simply, visage suddenly as pained and somber as it had been when he told Harry the prophecy's full contents. If possible, Harry's blush intensified, but Dumbledore continued on. "It is a reminder of an old man's shortcomings; of what can happen if I meddle too deeply in others' affairs, letting my desire for the... 'Greater Good'... blind me. I was wrong, Harry- I know that now. Still, I cannot help but to hope you will forgive this old man for all the troubles he has brought down on you."

"It wasn't your fault," Harry mumbled, but he could tell Dumbledore was not finished condemning himself. It was atypical to see such a sad expression on the Headmaster's face, and the emotion unnerved Harry.

"But it is, dear boy. It is," Dumbledore countered bleakly, but a spark was coming back to life in his bright, blue eyes. "I should have trusted you, Harry. I have already told you this, but I feel now more than ever, you need to hear it again. Everything I did was to ensure your survival, just as I tried with Sirius."

Harry flinched at the name, which did not go unnoticed by Dumbledore's sharp senses. He could feel the tremor as it raced down Harry's body.

"I should have realized my err then. One cannot attempt to control others; it is folly to believe so. I have always preached that and always attempted to practice it in my own life. Yet despite my efforts, I fell through that crack we with power try fruitlessly to avoid. I truly thought that in guiding your steps, I would be protecting you; keeping your best interests at heart. I loved you, Harry, but that love blinded me. I wanted nothing more than to shield you from all the evils of the world- from Voldemort; from your destiny. I wanted you to be happy. But I should have known you were too old to be coddled and safeguarded so; that you were a boy becoming a man and therefore needed to stretch your wings a bit...

"I'm sorry for having kept you in the dark, but now do you see my reasoning, Harry? I did not want to hurt you- I only wished to protect you, like all fools who love."

"Yeah," Harry agreed heavily. "I get why." He smiled wryly. "At least this summer I only had to be at the Dursleys for two weeks... and the Order's been telling me more- not everything, and I understand why- but it's better than knowing nothing."

Dumbledore's twinkle returned in full-force, and he nodded. "You have reached an age now where you are ready to shoulder greater responsibility. In fact, I am considering allowing you to join the Order in a minor capacity; Ron and Hermione as well, if their parents will give consent."

Harry beamed at this news. "It'll be hard getting Mrs. Weasley's permission, no doubt," the boy chuckled.

Dumbledore inclined his head. "Of course, none of you would be privy to all that is discussed, for matters of secrecy. Nor will I agree to let you three on missions of any kind... but at least you would be included. As an Order member, you would also have the opportunity for special training. You are important in this war, Harry, and as such deserve to know what you are facing and how to fight it."

Easy quiescence lingered between the two after this pronouncement, where Dumbledore hummed and Harry grinned down at his shoelaces. An Order member? He was glad Dumbledore was finally allowing him to- what was the phrase he'd just used? Ah yes- 'stretch his wings' a little. It was... freeing, to say the least. It made Harry feel like a useful adult, instead of a benighted child playing savior in a turbulent war. Maybe now, I'll have a chance to defeat Voldemort...

So caught up in fantasizing was Harry that he came close to missing Dumbledore's next question.

"So, Harry... how are you?" Dumbledore sounded as if he'd already concluded the answer, and was only asking for the Gryffindor's benefit.

"Sir?" Harry prompted, confused. Hadn't they just broached this subject minutes ago?

"I inquire, Harry, because I have been receiving an alarming amount of owls lately about how withdrawn you've become. It seems that you have even been depriving yourself of favorite pastimes in favor of moping about. To put it lightly, everyone is quite worried... myself included. That is one of the main reasons why I am here."

"I just haven't felt like doing anything," Harry muttered, excuse sounding lame even to his ears.

"Harry," Dumbledore reproached gently.

"I'm fine!" Harry protested, curling in on himself protectively.

Dumbledore raised a slightly sardonic brow. "Dear boy, forgive me for seeming unwavering, but if I were to find you with six broken bones, multiple lacerations, and on fire I would still be met with the same response."

Harry laughed at this, but it was distant and shaky. "That's true, I guess. It's been... hard. I miss him." Harry felt more than saw Dumbledore's scrutiny. He could already imagine the piercing blue orbs x-raying his every move, so he kept his own features averted. It would not do for Dumbledore to see the way his green eyes burned at the mention of Sirius.

"Sirius would not want you to shut yourself away, Harry. He would want you to live. By letting yourself fall apart, you are doing his death- his sacrifice- a disservice," the Headmaster said quietly. "Don't let your grief eat away at all you love, Harry. You must remember that although you will never stop missing him, the pain will lessen over time. Live, my boy. And some day, I believe you two will meet again."

"I hope so," Harry choked, glancing up at his professor. For a second, they just seemed to stare at each other, Dumbledore with his sparkling cerulean eyes and Harry with his shimmering emerald. In retrospect, the teen wasn't sure who made the first move. It seemed like Dumbledore's arms came up at the same time that he toppled forward, crumbling against the dependable, solid chest of his mentor. Tears streamed unchecked down Harry's cheeks, and although his shoulders trembled, no noise escaped his mouth. Dumbledore patted his charge's back consolingly, but Harry was not crying against the Headmaster's shoulder in sorrow. No, it was for another reason entirely:

Hope.

When at last the boy pulled away from the embrace, swiping at his eyes, he smiled gratefully up at Dumbledore. "Thank you, professor. This talk... it's really helped me."

Dumbledore winked affectionately. "I should hope so. House calls are strictly reserved for very important individuals. Now hurry up, dear boy! The peas and a wrathful Mrs. Weasley await!"

Harry's eyes widened comically in horror. "I thought you said...?"

The wizened old mage chuckled, mustache quivering. "Merely a cruel joke at your expense, my boy."

"Horrendously cruel! Do you know what Mrs. Weasley would do to me if...?"

Dumbledore looked honestly intrigued, but there was a hint of mischief dancing in his eyes. "What?"

"She'd... she'd... Well, actually, I'm not quite sure what she'd do to me. She likes me too much," Harry explained sheepishly.

"Back in my day, they used to say 'Never tickle a sleeping dragon'," Dumbledore told him wisely. "In this case, let us not test the patience of one Molly Weasley. I daresay she is desperate to 'fatten you up', and the frozen peas are quite necessary to her endeavors."

Harry snickered, standing, and Dumbledore followed suit. "I think I'll go play Quidditch with my friends after delivering Mrs. Weasley's food to her."

"An excellent idea," Dumbledore praised jovially, clapping Harry on the back. "Good day, Harry."

And then he was gone, maroon robes swishing as the Headmaster of Hogwarts exited the cellar. With a lighter heart than he'd had all summer, Harry pivoted and returned to the freezer in search of peas. He did not feel as the cold air hit his body, aiming to envelop the boy.

His insides were too warm for that.

FIN


A/N: Mm, what squishy angst. What yummy emotion. Hopefully I portrayed Dumbledore and Harry to your satisfaction; if not, let me know how I can improve. Reviews are encouraged!

AngelMoon Girl