Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter.
Author's Note: This is a very emotional piece for me to write, because I know what it's like, the hoping and the praying, and the endless, torturous waiting, to know whether a loved one will be all right. My brother was on dialysis and suffered from kidney failure for six years, but then, finally, miraculously, his life was saved by a transplant just over three years ago. He's perfectly fine now - as a matter of fact, I just had dinner with him three days ago! He is also a huge fan of the HP series and knows I have written tons of fanfic.
I hope that while you read this story, you are able to feel the emotions I am trying to convey here. I know that some people may think I write Albus Dumbledore kind of OOC, considering what we learned about him in book 7, and the harsh attitude he displayed to Severus. But by going on several forums, I've read many defenses for Albus's behavior. I've read that how he acted on the outside was just a facade, that what he said in Order of the Phoenix was true, that he indeed deeply, deeply cared for Harry. I also believe that there's more to Poppy Pomfrey than meets the eye too, that she wasn't just the brisk, no-nonsense Mediwitch we see in canon. I've tried to show her and Albus's friendship here.
Please let me know what you think of this story. I'd really appreciate feedback. Thanks!
Fear pounded through Albus Dumbledore's heart as he quickly made his way through the many defenses guarding the Philosopher's Stone. Merlin, how could he have been so stupid, to fall for that Ministry owl and leave the school when it needed him the most? With every twist and turn he made, he prayed that he wasn't too late to rectify his mistake.
He'd immediately known something was wrong when he realized he wasn't needed at the Ministry. No sooner had he returned to Hogwarts than he'd ran into a sobbing Hermione Granger, who was levitating an unconcious Ron Weasley. "He's gone after it, hasn't he?" Dumbledore had asked softly, and Hermione had nodded. That nod had confirmed Albus's worst fears, and he'd immediately taken off.
And now, with adrenaline running through his body at the speed of light, he finally arrived at the last room, the room where the Stone itself had been hidden. He looked around frantically, wishing, hoping, praying ...
And then, he found what he was looking for. Lying on the ground was none other than Professor Quirrell. He was burnt to a crisp, his eyes glassy and his face frozen in a look of abject terror. Albus had seen that look many times in his life, and he knew what it meant immediately. Professor Quirrell was dead. And Albus knew that the reason he'd been down here was because he was the one behind it all, the one who wanted to steal the Stone.
Albus just stared at the man, and he didn't even question how he had died in such a state. For there was only one answer. Magic. Magic beyond anything he had ever seen before. Magic which was unrelenting and powerful.
And since that magic had occurred, another of his worst fears was confirmed. And the moment he looked away from Quirrell, he saw it in plain sight. Harry. Harry was lying on the ground too, and he looked so, so tiny and vulnerable. His face was peaceful, though, unlike Quirrell's, and in his hand ... In his hand, he was holding a small, red stone. The Philosopher's Stone.
Without even realizing he'd done it, Albus immediately picked up Harry in his arms and began to run with him out of the chamber and past all the defenses again. The boy was alive, but barely. His face was pale, and Dumbledore knew, without even a diagnosis, that harry was suffering from severe magical exhaustion. Only a Healer's touch could get him through now, and he hoped with everything he had in him that Poppy Pomfrey could help him. "Hold on, child," he murmured as he ran. "Please, hold on."
And finally, blessedly, he reached the hospital wing. No sooner had he arrived than Madame Pomfrey was gently taking Harry from him and placing him on a bed. "There's no need to explain, Albus," she said softly. "Hermione Granger's told me everything. Ron Weasley's going to be fine - he's got a concussion, but he should be awake by tomorrow. I sent Miss Granger back to her dorm - she refused to leave at first, but I managed to convince her. She looked exhausted; I gave her a Dreamless Sleep Potion to take in her dormitory."
Albus nodded numbly, conjuring a chair by Harry's bedside. He sat down, and grasped the boy's hand while one of his oldest, dearest friends ran her wand over him, muttering healing charms under her breath. She ran to where the potions were stocked, and quickly returned with several bottles. Albus was always amazed whenever he watched Poppy work - she was so quick, and so efficient. Merlin, he was lucky to have her working in his school. They'd been friends for many, many years.
After she had done what she could, she straightened up, and she made eye contact with Albus, taking his hand at the same time. And Albus felt his heart sink at those two gestures. Poppy ... Poppy would only look at him like that if ... if ...
"Albus," she said, and her voice was soft. She kept her eyes fixed on him as she continued, "It ... it doesn't look good. Whatever he's been through in the last little while ... it's weakened him beyond anything I've ever seen. I'll do everything I can to try to heal him, but his chances ... Albus, it's very likely he won't survive the night."
And then she did something that Albus had never seen her do through all her years of healing. She bowed her head, placing it in her hands. Despite his own heartache, Albus placed his hand on her shoulder. "Poppy," he said gently. "Poppy ... I know you'll do all you can for him. You're not one of the best Healers out there for nothing. Just ... just promise me something, okay?"
"What is it, Albus?" Poppy's voice was muffled.
"Don't ask me to leave him," Albus whispered. "Don't ask me to sleep, or eat, or any of those necessities. Harry ... he needs me now. And if ... if it's his time ... he's not going to be alone."
Poppy looked up, and nodded silently. She was usually one to be strict, to be stern and no-nonsense, but not today. There was just something, something unexplainable about this eleven-year-old boy, that tore at Poppy's heart. Perhaps it was the way he was lying; he looked positively angelic. She felt desperation claw at her - for Merlin's sake, she wasn't strong enough for this! She was only supposed to heal black eyes and broken noses from students squabbling, she was only supposed to heal small, foolish injuries from people having too much fun on the Quidditch pitch. She wasn't equipped to deal with things like this. Not with life-threatening injuries.
After another moment, she squeezed Albus's hand. She had to leave, she couldn't watch anymore. She knew she was being selfish, but this was pulling at her heartstrings too much. "I'll be in my office," she said to Albus softly. "If his condition changes I'll know. I have him monitored so that if he gets any worse, I'll hear an alarm in my office."
"Very well." Albus replied, and taking one last glance at Harry, Poppy left, leaving the Headmaster to what she knew would be tortured thoughts.
And she was indeed right. As Albus sat keeping vigil over Harry, only one thought swirled around and around in his mind.
As he stared at Harry's innocent face, his mind flashed back to many, many years ago, and he remembered another face which had looked just as tiny and angelic. It was the face of his sister, Ariana. The only difference was that Ariana had already taken her last breath by the time Albus had collapsed beside her. He'd had eyes only for her - the wails of Aberforth and the sound of Gellert's pounding feet as he ran out of the house had only been white noise to him. He'd been transfixed by the sight of Ariana, and the same thought had been going through his mind then as it did now. You're a failure, Albus. You were so wrapped up in your own plans, in your own dreams, that you neglected your responsibility. The one thing, the one thing you were asked to take care of ... you failed.
And as Albus sat for minutes on end, holding Harry's hand and watching his chest rise and fall, rise and fall, he felt a blind, burning hatred for himself rise within him. One of his children, his precious children, had been attacked by a monster in his school, a place where he was supposed to feel safe. And this wasn't just any child - this was Harry Potter, the child he'd sworn to protect with his entire soul.
At that moment, Harry's breathing pattern changed. It grew more ragged, as if every breath was costing him a great effort. No sooner had this happened than Madame Pomfrey came out of her office, and in her eyes was sheer panic. She tried her best to shut her emotions off; this was no time for that. She had to remain clinically detached; she'd learned this in Healer training many, many years ago. She bustled around, collecting more Potions, and quickly, with the help of Albus, got them down Harry's throat.
And then, all the two could do was wait. The next few minutes meant everything. Either he would get better, or he'd quietly slip away.
As Albus and Poppy embraced each other, Albus remembered a conversation he'd had with Harry several months ago. Albus knew that when Harry looked into the Mirror of Erised, he saw his parents, alive and whole. He remembered the sorrow on the youngster's face when he'd told him that the mirror would be moving and not to seek it out again. He knew, if it really was Harry's time, that Lily and James would take good, good care of him. Harry would finally get his wish, to be with his family. But I need you too, Harry, Albus thought desperately, and he knew his thoughts were selfish. But he couldn't help it - he couldn't bear to witness yet another of his failures. Please, child, live. Please live, please live, Albus chanted inside his head as he tried to hold on to any shred of hope.
And then, it was as if that higher power heard his prayers, for Harry's breathing changed again. It suddenly wasn't ragged anymore. And though Albus knew Harry was still far from out of the woods, he somehow knew that everything, from this point on, would be okay. As he and Poppy made eye contact once again, he tried to convey to her how thankful he was for everything that she had done, and was doing, for Harry. She looked back at him with a gentleness that was rarely seen in her.
And Albus's instincts were right. It took three days, but during that time, Harry's body healed. It was truly a miracle. Well-wishers stopped by the hospital wing, and Ron and Hermione were constant companions. The relief Albus felt was insurmountable as he told each well-wisher that Harry had had it rough, but yes, he was going to be okay. He was going to survive. He was going to pull through.
The night before Harry awoke, Albus had a conversation with another old friend, and his heart ached again as he explained to Nicholas Flammel the events that had taken place. And both of them came to a decision, a decision which would send Nicholas off to the afterlife very, very soon. For the good of Hogwarts, of the wizarding world, of Harry Potter, the Philosopher's Stone needed to be destroyed. Nicholas took it with grace, and he looked at Albus with nothing but acceptance on his face. After all, he had lived for hundreds of years - it was time for him to go on his journey to the next great adventure. He told Albus not to grieve over him, and not to feel guilty. Albus nodded, his heart filling, and told Nicholas he'd come to see him one more time before his time ran out.
And so it was, that several hours after his and Nicholas's conversation, Albus was once again sitting by Harry's bedside. He felt more peaceful than he had in days, but that was nothing compared to what he felt when he saw the slightest of movement come from Harry's eyelids. He leaned forward and grasped the boy's hand, whispering, "Harry. Harry, can you hear me?"
And moments later, Harry's beautiful emerald eyes opened. It took a few seconds, but he finally focused them on Dumbledore.
And Dumbledore felt pure, unadulterated joy and relief. The vigil was finally over. Harry, his precious child, was alive. He had lived to fight another day.