Warning/s: Explicit sexual situations; character death
Disclaimer: All characters, settings and other elements from the Harry Potter franchise belong to J. K. Rowling.
“Professor Dumbledore?” The head Healer had come to where Albus and Poppy were standing. “I’m Galeneus Pye. I’m head of the team that’s taking care of your wife.”
Dumbledore nodded. “What’s happening? How is she?”
“She’s reasonably stable. We’ve slowed the bleeding and managed to get some Blood Replenishing Potion into her, and it’s helping. She’s had what’s called a placental abruption. That means her—”
“I know what it means,” Dumbledore said.
The Healer glanced at Poppy, then continued. “Good. The thing is, we need to deliver her immediately. The haemorrhaging won’t fully stop until the placenta is out and her arteries are sealed off.”
“Sir, I need to tell you that the foetus … the baby … has not survived. I’m very sorry.”
Albus wiped his hands over his face. He didn’t notice the smear of blood that stained his beard when his saturated sleeve brushed against it.
“When will she wake up?” he asked.
“Well, we want to wake her up now, if possible, so she can help deliver the baby. In cases like these, where the baby has already passed, it’s safest for the mother to deliver vaginally when she’s already lost so much blood. It will be faster if she’s able to push.”
“What do you mean you’ll wake her ‘if possible’?”
“Well, sir, she’s lost so much blood, it’s possible she can’t wake up.”
The greatest wizard of the age just looked at the Healer as if he couldn’t comprehend the words emerging from the young man’s mouth. The Healer looked again at Poppy for help.
“Albus,” she said, taking his arm, “you need to consent to the immediate delivery.”
“Thank you, sir,” said the Healer, nodding his head at Poppy in thanks. He hurried back to the group gathered at the table.
After a few minutes of bustling activity, Albus and Poppy heard a weak groan from the exam table. Albus moved to go over to her, but Poppy took his arm.
“Wait, Albus. You’ve got … I need to …” She took her wand, pointed it at his beard, and said, “Scourgify.” The blood smear disappeared.
Albus pulled away from her and went to his wife.
“Albus?” came the reply. She sounded far away.
“I’m here, my angel.” He gently stroked her hair and leant down to touch his forehead to hers.
“You got sick. You’re in St Mungo’s. These people are going to help you.”
“Albus, the baby—”
“Shh. Don’t worry about that now. Just … get better.”
The head Healer came over to her and knelt down. “Mrs Dumbledore, we need to deliver the baby now. I’m going to do something to help move things along, and I wanted to warn you first so you aren’t surprised.”
Incredibly, she smiled, her eyes still closed.
“Minerva … ?” enquired Albus, slightly alarmed.
“Nobody calls me that … ‘Mrs Dumbledore’.”
“It’s your name,” he said, kissing her forehead.
“Yes. Ohhh!” Her face contorted in pain, and Albus looked up desperately at the Healer.
“It’s all right, sir. She’s just contracting. We cast a spell to help her cervix dilate faster. It should be over shortly.”
“Ahhh!” Minerva cried.
Albus grabbed her hand. “Squeeze my hand, my love, when it hurts.” She did, and he was surprised at the strength of her grip.
They went on for the next ten minutes, moaning and squeezing, until the Healer at the foot of the table said, “All right, Mrs Dumbledore. At the next pain, I want you to give me a good push. Professor Dumbledore, maybe you could help support her back.”
Albus came around to behind Minerva’s head, and Poppy took his place at her side, taking her hand.
“Yes, love, I’m here. You’re doing fine,” said Poppy.
“How is the baby?” Minerva asked.
“You’ll see the baby in a few minutes,” said Poppy. She couldn’t bring herself to tell her friend the entire truth, Merlin help her.
“Ahhh!” moaned Minerva with another contraction.
“All right, Mrs Dumbledore, push.”
Minerva closed her eyes, gritted her teeth, and began to bear down. Poppy gave Albus a nudge, and he supported his wife’s back behind the pillow, lifting her head and shoulders from the table.
“Good, keep going, keep going …” said the Healer.
Minerva let out a gasp and opened her eyes, panting.
“Now come right back and give me another, right down here in your bottom …” the Healer instructed.
“Unnnnh …” She grunted with the effort.
When the contraction waned, the Healer said, “Okay, relax. That was very good, Mrs Dumbledore.”
Albus let the pillow gently back down to the table. He was perspiring heavily. Great rivulets of sweat ran down his face to wet his beard. He gently stroked Minerva’s forehead, which was damp with beads of perspiration. Poppy moved a strand of Minerva’s hair from her eyes, and felt how cold her friend’s skin was despite her exertions. Poppy realised it was due to the massive blood loss Minerva had suffered. Her body simply didn’t have enough resources to produce heat.
“Oh, gods!” gasped Minerva as the next pain started to build.
“All right, give me another push, just like the last one,” said the Healer.
Minerva’s moan cut off as she bore down, all her strength focused on the space between her legs. After a minute, she let her head fall back against the pillow, gasping for breath.
“Right back at it, Mrs. Dumbledore, come on …” urged the Healer.
“Yes, you can, love … you are,” said Poppy. She looked at Albus, willing him to say something.
“You can do this, my angel,” he said, looking into her eyes. “You’re my Viking warrior queen, after all,” he said, forcing himself to smile at her. It was a reference to a long-ago conversation, one in which he had conceded his weakness to her strength. She had laughed at the epithet then, and agreed to what he had asked of her.
So she pushed again, and as she did, she felt a deep burning sensation between her legs that made her cry out.
“All right, Mrs Dumbledore, relax for just a minute—try not to push.”
“I know, love … it will be just another minute, then it’ll all be over,” said Poppy.
“All right, one last push—not too hard, come on …” said the Healer.
Minerva held her breath and bore down once more. As she felt the burning increase, she released her breath and screamed—a ragged, desperate sound—then she felt something slide from her body, and just like that, most of the pain was blessedly gone.
Albus saw the Healer hand a bloody, towel-wrapped bundle into another pair of hands that took it away across the room. He knew it was their child, and for a moment he was torn—stay with Minerva or follow the bundle? Then he remembered that, great wizard though he was, there was nothing he could do for the tiny being that was part of him, part of her, so he stayed with his wife.
“The baby, Albus … ?” she asked, craning her neck up to try to see what was happening. “Albus?”
He couldn’t say anything, so he just sat caressing her hair, as if by staying silent he could undo it all.
It was Poppy who spoke. “Minerva, love … the baby has died. I’m so, so sorry.” Her voice trembled, and tears spilled from her eyes despite her effort to keep them at bay.
Minerva said nothing; she just closed her eyes in order to be alone with her agony. She had known, of course, from the moment she saw the blood pooling on the classroom floor; she was wise—the wisest witch of her age, some said—and had enough experience of life to know that merely not speaking a thing didn’t make it less true. But now she knew other things, as well. That grief, for instance, was an utterly inadequate word for so complete a void. It was a lesson she would have cause to revisit years later, in the course of two wars. But for now, it was new and raw information.
She felt Albus’s beard on her face, felt his kisses alight gently on her eyes, her cheeks, her forehead … heard him murmuring, “Oh, my love … my darling … my love …” as intimate as if they were alone in her bedroom making love rather than in this cold, sterile room surrounded by strangers who behaved as if wearing green robes stained with her blood were the most normal thing in the world.
She reached up and pulled his head to her, running her fingers through his hair as if to reassure herself that he was still there, still tangible, still hers.
Poppy stepped away, not wanting to intrude on their grief. She saw the Healer coming toward them, and put up a hand to stop him. “They know,” she said. The Healer nodded, then returned to the foot of the table to examine her. It seemed cruel, thought Poppy, but she knew it was essential. Minerva’s life was still in jeopardy. Her bleeding had left her dangerously low on resources; if she were to continue haemorrhaging or suffer a new bleed, the result could easily be fatal. Poppy had seen it happen.
“Mrs Dumbledore,” the Healer said gently, “I need to make your uterus contract some more to seal off the blood vessels. It may be uncomfortable. I’m sorry.”
She didn’t react, so Albus nodded.
The Healer waved his wand over Minerva’s abdomen, and she screamed. Albus took her head between his hands and kissed her forehead, his eyes squeezed shut, just as hers were.
It was repeated several more times, and Poppy could feel the sweat trickling down her chest and back under her robes, even thought the room was almost uncomfortably cool. She saw the Healer lower his wand, frowning, and she felt a chill.
Minerva and Albus were unaware of the danger. “What is it?” Minerva whispered. “The baby … a boy or a girl?”
“I don’t know,” Albus answered. “I’ll find out.” Poppy put a hand up again, gesturing him to stay with Minerva, and moved down to where the Healer was still frowning at the foot of the table. “Mr Pye, can you tell me the sex of the baby? The parents would like to know.”
“It’s a boy.”
When Poppy had relayed the information, she saw Minerva look at Albus. “Oh, Albus … your son …” she said. “Our son, my love,” he answered. “He’s our son.” His tears fell on her face and he wiped them gently away. She took his hand before he could move it away, and held it tightly to her chest.
Poppy had moved back to where Healer Pye was standing. He was looking at a table of numbers he had drawn in the air with his wand, still frowning. “Can you tell me what’s happening?” Poppy asked. When the Healer hesitated, she added, “Mrs Dumbledore was originally my patient, and I’m her regular mediwitch. And her friend.”
Pye nodded. He spoke in a whisper. “She still has some bleeding. I’m not very happy with these values,” he said, indicating the numbers.
“See this?” he said, indicating one of the numbers with his wand. “Platelets less than fifty, and this,” pointing to another, “Eighteen-second prothrombin time, and this one, fibrinogen, is zero-point-three-six.”
“DIC?” asked Poppy.
Pye looked at her, impressed. It was unusual in his experience for a general mediwitch to know about the coagulopathy that was now threatening their patient. “That’s what I’m thinking,” he answered.
“Gods! What can you do?” she asked.
“Keep replenishing her blood, keep her volume up and hope it stops,” he answered. “Madam … ?”
“Pomfrey,” Poppy said. “Could she be retaining part of the placenta?”
“Madam Pomfrey, she had a complete abruption. The whole thing came out practically on top of the foetus.”
Poppy let out a breath. “If only I’d known sooner—” she began.
“You did exactly right,” the Healer said. “There’s no way of knowing until it starts, and you identified the problem and got her here as fast as you could. You probably saved her life.”
“But now you’re telling me she could die anyway,” said Poppy, almost putting her head in her hands but remembering she was still within sight of Minerva and Albus. She settled for kneading the hem of her robe.
“It’s a possibility.”
“Thank you for your directness, Mr Pye. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.”
The Healer nodded.
Poppy went to where the others had taken the baby after its birth. A mediwitch was gently washing him. Poppy wordlessly handed a clean towel to the other woman to dry the baby when she had finished. Somehow, they both knew without speaking that using magic to tend to this tiny, extinguished life, so recently filled with its own magic, would be wrong. Some things had to be done by the touch of human hands. When they were finished, the St Mungo’s mediwitch asked, “Do the parents want to see him?”
“I’ll ask,” Poppy said and went to her friends. “Minerva … Albus … would you like to hold him?”
The couple looked at one another for a moment, then Minerva whispered, “Yes, please.” Albus looked at her as if to ask if she were sure, then said, “Yes. I’d like to see my son. Thank you, Poppy.”
It was Poppy who brought the tiny bundle to Minerva. She put him gently into her friend’s hands and left the room to give the family their privacy.
Minerva carefully unwrapped the green blanket that concealed her son from her. He was perfect. Tiny and perfect. She held him easily with one hand and gently touched the top of his head, so finely dusted with black fuzz. His eyes were closed, so she did not know their colour. She wondered if anyone would be able to tell her. She touched the nose, no larger than a ladybird, and his chest, its skin nearly translucent. He had not yet developed the fat that characterised healthy, full-term infants, and she could see his ribs like delicate piano keys lining his body. She lifted a hand with her index finger—so perfectly formed and so impossibly small.
She bent to smell his head. He smelt of soap and a deeper, meatier scent she recognised as blood. She kissed him, desperately trying to commit to memory the feel of the soft fuzz on her lips and the waxy texture of his skin against her cheek.
Albus knelt down beside them. “He’s beautiful, isn’t he?” she asked.
“Yes. He has your hair.”
“They all do at this stage, I think,” she answered. “You should hold him, Albus.”
“No, you.” He was afraid—absurdly, he realised—of injuring the child with his large hands. But he reached out to stroke a finger along the boy’s cheek.
They sat like that, the three of them—Minerva nuzzling the small head, Albus stroking the baby’s cheek—until the St Mungo’s mediwitch approached.
“Mr and Mrs Dumbledore, I need to take a footprint. I can do it here if you like, while you hold him.” Her voice was kind. She had tended to bereaved parents more often than she would have liked, but she knew she was good at it and was glad to be able to offer whatever small comfort she could. “I’ll take one for you to keep as well.”
Minerva nodded, and the mediwitch Summoned two pieces of parchment and an ink pad. “May I?” she asked, waiting for Minerva’s nod of assent before gingerly lifting a tiny foot, pressing the ink pad to it, then making the imprint on each piece of parchment. She Banished the ink pad and parchment to a table, then conjured a damp cloth and tenderly cleaned the baby’s foot of ink.
“Would you like a photograph?”
“I don’t know …” said Minerva, faltering.
“Why don’t I take one, and you can decide later if you want it.”
“Yes,” said Albus.
The mediwitch took a camera she had at the ready from a counter and held it up. “On the count of three: one, two, three …” and the flash went off. “Just so you know, this will be a Muggle-style photo; it won’t move. Most parents prefer it that way.”
“Thank you,” said Minerva.
They were allowed a few more minutes with the baby until Healer Pye came back into the room followed by the kind mediwitch.
“Mr and Mrs Dumbledore, it’s time,” he said. “We’ll take good care of him, I promise.”
Minerva looked stricken.
“Come, my love,” said Albus. “Come.” Minerva allowed the mediwitch to take the baby. As soon as he left her arms, she let out a low, keening wail that Albus knew was her heart breaking. His bones ached with it. He put his arms around her as she broke and sobbed into his shoulder, stroking her hair, crooning, “Now, love … now, love … now, love …” his own tears wetting her hair.
← Back to Chapter 10 On to Chapter 12→