Albus Dumbledore sat in his office, his elbows propped on his desk, his face buried in his hands.
The castle was silent, with not even the ghosts making noise, and the air felt as though Hogwarts itself was holding its breath. The children were headed out on the Hogwarts Express to their summer holidays, most of them no doubt excited by the months of relative freedom from study, and by the prospect of seeing friends and loved ones that did not attend the school.
“No, Harry,” Dumbledore said softly into the silence, “you are not nearly angry enough.”
Dumbledore sighed and reached for the rune-carved stone basin that waited on the corner of his desk. Everything he’d told Harry was true, he just, still, hadn’t told him everything.
A pair of green eyes stared at him in his memory, devoid of the hate and rage Harry felt, but were just as accusing.
“Lily,” he whispered. He tapped his wand on the side of his head, gathering the memory of the last meeting he’d ever had with James and Lily at Hogwarts. Slowly, he brought the wand down to the Pensieve, like the fall of the executioner’s axe. The silver threads swirled for a moment, then became clear, sharp and brittle as ice.
“…but I don’t understand,” James was saying. He stood behind Lily, a protecting hand on her shoulder. “I thought you said Hogwarts was safe.” A twenty-year younger Dumbledore nodded.
“And I believe it is safe. However,” his hand waved toward the window, through which they could see the Quidditch pitch. James could hear the distant roar of students as they cheered their respective teams. “I worry about their safety, too.” He leaned forward, looking James straight in the eye, “You know they’ve been targeting Muggleborns and half-bloods.” James’ hand reflexively tightened on Lily’s shoulder, and she patted his hand absently, while the other rested on her burgeoning stomach.
“But who’s going to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts?” James asked. His eyes narrowed at Dumbledore’s hesitation. “Not Snape.” Dumbledore shook his head.
“No, not Severus. I believe that would be too much of a temptation for him, whatever his motivation for returning to our side.” He risked a quick glance at Lily, but her face remained calm and impassive.
“Who, then?” James was impatient, he had always been. A true Gryffindor, ready to leap before he thought to look if there was anything there to catch him. Lily, on the other hand, was Ravenclaw, and another matter entirely.
“Dumbledore’s not called a professor for nothing, dear,” she said, her green eyes fixing Dumbledore with a penetrating stare. James goggled at Dumbledore, not quite believing it. The headmaster nodded, then said, “There’s a place I know, Godric’s Hollow… you should be safe there, especially if you employ the Fidelius Charm.” From Lily’s sharp intake of breath, he knew she knew the spell, and what it entailed. Her next question surprised him.
“Albus,” Lily’s voice held a note of warning, “there’s something you’re not telling us, isn’t there?” Her green eyes were accusatory, knowing there was something more that motivated Dumbledore. He was the wizard who’d defeated Grindelwald, after all, and even the current Dark Lord refused to seek him out. He was the general in the long war against Voldemort and his Death Eaters, who positioned things and people so carefully they seldom realized they’d been played. No one ever beat him at chess.
The silence between them drew out, punctuated only by the noise coming in from the Quidditch game. Then Dumbledore sighed and rubbed his eyes, breaking contact.
“The Fidelius Charm will keep you safe,” he said, avoiding answering her question directly.
“I know what the Fidelius Charm is, Albus. I’m sure we will find an appropriate person to be our Secret Keeper. In fact, why don’t we pick you?” Lily threw the question out as a challenge, waiting for Dumbledore to pick it up.
“Wait,” said James, wanting to defuse the situation. Though most people didn’t know it, his wife had a temper, and being pregnant seemed to bring out the worst in her. “Explain this charm to me – I can’t seem to remember it.” Lily turned and looked up at him.
“The Fidelius Charm allows you to pick someone to hold your Secret. While this person holds it, no one else will ever be able to discover it, even if it’s staring them right in the face.” James grinned, grasping the basics.
“Well, there is one person besides you who knows all my secrets!” Lily smothered a groan, and James grinned wider. “Sirius is going to love this!”
Dumbledore smiled, hiding a sigh of relief. Then he made the mistake of looking at Lily again. The green eyes bore into his, accusing, knowing somehow that he had just put them and their unborn child onto the board, pawns against the Dark Lord.
Dumbledore pulled himself out of the Pensieve, shaking. He had forgotten how it had been, how easy to move them. How Lily knew, somehow, that he was setting them out as a stalking horse, and for reasons of her own, accepted it. Perhaps she thought that, having faced and escaped Voldemort and his followers three times before, they could again.
He’d liked James and Lily well enough, but he hadn’t loved them. They were just two more soldiers in the war. Trelawney’s prophecy had been a huge break for him, and he’d known Lily was due at the end of July.
The long war had taken its toll on all of them; the first year students that year had known war all their young lives. Many of the older students could see the thestrals, and this knowledge had weighed heavily on Dumbledore. If he had to sacrifice two people, or even three or four or twenty, to save the whole of the wizarding world, he would do it. And he had.