Dumbledore never thought the fall from the Astronomy Tower would have taken so long and he thought he knew everything about the castle he lived in for the most part of his life. This was his choice, rarely anything happened to Albus that wasn’t his choice, he somehow always had an upper hand on life, calculating every move meticulously and making sure no one knew how prepared for anything the life may throw his way.
When his body hit the floor he opened his eyes slowly, checking his surroundings to figure out where he might have ended up at. This wasn’t some illusion, he was dead, this wasn’t Hogwarts but somewhere completely different where he could hear people mumbling. He straightened himself up and got up with the agility of a man his age normally wouldn’t have.
“YOU,” shouted a woman in the distance, her hair was still glowing like fire and she was walking to him fast with two man behind him trying to hold her back. “I TRUSTED YOU”
“Lily, please,” pleaded Albus. “Can we talk about this calmly?”
“Calmly??” yelled Lily, her green eyes were drowning in the tears trying to leave. “Are you even aware of the burden you have loaded on Severus? Let alone my son who is just a child.”
“Accepted?” she interrupted throwing her hands up in disbelief. “He said he didn’t want to do this and you made him kill you, in front of Harry.”
She was shaking so much, a beautiful disaster almost, her eyes creating new wounds on Albus’ already fragile skin and making him wish he had ended up in hell instead of here.
“It had to be done for–”
“The greater good.” completed Sirius, a disappointed look on his face rather than anger. Albus had kept him locked of for so long but he had to but he had forgotten how handsome the disowned heir of Black house was before he went to Azkaban. “What difference do you have from Grindelwald if you are doing the same things he had done?”
“It’s not the same thing Mr. Black and you know it.”
“I know nothing anymore Professor,” objected Sirius as he ran his hand through his hair. “I thought I knew everything up until two years ago, I thought I knew you too but things change I guess and don’t call me Mr. Black again… please.”
No one talked for a while as Sirius took Lily away to calm her down a little bit, tears streaming down her face as she watched Harry fight everyone who tried to take him away from where Dumbledore’s lifeless body was. James opened his mouth every few minutes to break the silence but he couldn’t do it.
“Do you know how devastated he was?” he asked finally, his voice breaking a little. “Do you know Bill got attacked by Greyback? Do you know Harry tried to do something so bad to Snape because you made a monster of him?”
“James, I never thought I would see the day you worry about Severus.”
“No, no, no,” mumbled James his eyes gleaming with the fury he was trying so hard to keep at bay. “Don’t confuse my worry about my son with my worry about Snape. The way you are straying away from the subject, I think you don’t know shit, Professor.”
“I have made sure to leave a plan behind for Tom’s defeat,” explained Dumbledore, his fingers intertwined and his gaze on the ring he still was wearing. “These weren’t some momentary decisions, I had known I had to die for a good while, sometimes you have to sacrifice–”
“Don’t you dare talk about sacrifice in front of Lily,” shouted James, Dumbledore had finally pushed him off of the edge he was trying to hold onto. “All three of us sacrificed ourselves, too, you are not the only one who tried to do something for–”
“The greater good,” whispered Sirius as he walked back and forth. “You raised him like a pig for slaughter for the greater good?”
“I tried my best to be there for him, there are things you can’t possibly understand,” began Dumbledore his fingers rubbing the burnt skin.
“If you had been there for him, I would still be alive you know,” said Sirius his voice breaking down in the middle of his sentence. “If you had been there for me as you promised when we joined the Order, I would still be whole.”
“I’m sorry Sirius that you–” he took a deep breath before staring to talk again. “I’m sorry that this happened to you but that was on all of us.”
“If you had been there for him Snape wouldn’t have made his life a living hell,” countered James. “He took his revenge out of my son, not me, my son and you just couldn’t say no to him because he was your Queen in your chess game where you were the King and Harry was nothing more than a stupid pawn.”
“Harry isn’t in the middle of the war because I put him there, Sybill made a prophecy about–”
“You know damn well prophecies don’t have to be carried out!” shouted Sirius, his grey eyes not so pale anymore but burning with anger. “You could have prevented so many things Albus, this could have gone so differently.”
Lily came back slowly from where she was, walked past James and stood right in front of Albus, her tears dried on her face and her eyes determined to hurt the shell of a man standing in front of her.
“You just love to make sure you are not the only one feeling guilty don’t you? Because how else could you have borne leaving Harry at that house?” said Lily, she was visibly calmed down but her disappointment was visible on every inch of her pale skin. “You left him to rot saying that it was the only way he could live, that’s not a reason good enough for me to leave my son in an abusive household Professor. You may have sacrificed yourself as you have sacrificed all of the pawns in your game but I will never forgive you for what you have done to me, my family. My Harry.”
“Harry was never yours to sacrifice,” continued James as he threw his arm over Lily’s shoulders, hugging her tightly. “I didn’t die for my son to become a soldier in someone else’s war, Sirius didn’t die so you can continue taking advantage of him and Lily didn’t sacrifice herself even though she could have ran away just so he can die at the hands of Voldemort again. Your plan, Professor, is flawed beyond belief and you are the only one who thinks it will work perfectly.”
“You are a coward, Professor and I always thought you were one of the bravest man I have ever met.”
Albus Dumbledore had been called many names before but it had been years since he had been called a coward, it was safe to say he was scared of the word even since Aberforth looked him in the eye at Ariana’s funeral and said it.
Albus would be the first to admit when he did something wrong, he wasn’t perfect and he knew it. Wizarding World however, ever since he had defeated Gellert, thought that he couldn’t make any mistakes. Tom Riddle had pushed him to make mistakes, sometimes to get to the better days you had to go through the darkest of times and he didn’t expect Sirius, James or Lily to understand that.
When he was left to his own thoughts, Albus had thought about all the mistakes he had made in his life, it was a long list for someone who was thought to be a hero of some sort, he was Harry’s hero although for one he hadn’t seen something coming. The more he thought about it the more he felt the weight of the responsibility on his shoulders. The boy he had raised to be a soldier say him as his hero, not knowing half the things he had done. Would Harry have seen him the same if he had known about Ariana? Would he still think Albus was brave if he had known his fate? Harry was a selfless boy, what would have happened if Albus never kept secrets from him?
Albus looked at the trio standing far away from him and decided it was best if he had stayed away for the time being because the more he thought about it, he understood why they were so angry. Harry trusted him and he had broken his trust by not trusting him enough to tell him everything but he had to. Albus had to keep this a secret for everything to work out how he planned them to.
It had to be Severus who killed him, this way he would get the complete trust of Tom and feed him false information. When the time came Snape had to make sure Order didn’t understand he was a spy for them and Harry, well Harry had to die. The moment he had survived the first killing curse, it was certain that Harry was meant for great things but now Albus didn’t know if dying was a great thing to do for a 17 year old child as Lily kept reminding but someone had to make the decisions that were hard to make for others, someone had to do the harder thing but he was a coward after all.
A coward who had to be the villain in the end to make sure the real villain was defeated. Albus Dumbledore never referred to him as a hero or a brave men, he never was, he hadn’t been brave with Gellert so he was determined not to make the same mistake he did because he was too blind to see back then, this time whatever it took, it wasn’t going to take more lives than it should. He hadn’t been brave with Ariana, he couldn’t save her from herself or the people around her. He wasn’t brave when it came to Sirius, he wasn’t brave when it came to Remus either, he wasn’t brave when it came to the people who he cared about because he was scared.
However Harry, he was brave, he was one of the bravest people Dumbledore had met and that was saying something. He had taken the risk of assuming that Harry would willingly sacrifice himself to save the people he loved and he knew that he was right. Albus was nothing compared to what Harry was, at least that was how he felt as the tall boy insisted he would be the one to do the blood sacrifice in the cave or when he insisted on defeating Voldemort when this wasn’t his war to fight.
Albus was hell-bent on not having another mistake in his life and if it meant being a coward he was fine with it because he knew deep inside that everything would work out, just fine and it was alright that Sirius, James and Lily didn’t understand just yet, he had to live with the hatred he now know he deserved for a while, at least until the war was over.
You cannot be a hero without being a coward. - George Bernard Shaw