An Enchanted Sleep
Blowing a tired sigh between dry lips, Hermione Granger unfolded her long legs from beneath her, wiggling her toes to wake them up. Every muscle in her body felt stiff from disuse. For the past three and a half months, she had spent at least nine hours a day curled up in a hard-backed chair at the bedside of her best friend, Harry Potter.
Outside, summer bloomed through the streets of London. Birds sang in the tops of green trees; gentle breezes swayed the tall grass; children played in the park across the street from Grimmauld Place. From behind a grimy window pane in a third-storey bedroom inside the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix, Hermione, untouched by the sun's bright warmth, had watched the weeks slip past. Mrs. Weasley had stayed after her to go out for a bit of air during the first month, but after that, she – along with all of the other Order members, most persistently Professor McGonagall – had resigned herself to Hermione's presence in Harry's sickroom.
The only other person who had been as faithful as Hermione in keeping vigil was Ron. Early on, they had worked out a schedule: Hermione took the day-shift, Ron the nights. She had protested this arrangement; despite the secrecy of its purpose, the Order's headquarters in daylight was a bustling place, members coming and going with whispered warnings, Mrs. Weasley bustling about tending to small tasks. The house at night was another story. Its silence was overpowering, ominous. Hermione thought it unfair for Ron to suffer alone through the long, empty moonlit hours. But he had brooked no arguments, insisting that if they were to find a way to help Harry, Hermione needed her wits at their sharpest, not dulled by a sudden shift from sleeping all night to sleeping all day.
Hermione didn't necessarily agree with Ron's assessment of her abilities – she thought he was rather cleverer than he gave himself credit for, actually, as was Harry – yet she had done her utmost to live up to his expectations. Each day, she had poured through any book she could put her hands on that discussed Occlumency, Legilimency, dream spells, magical slumbers, sleeping potions, anything that might give some clue as to what had happened to Harry and how to wake him up from it. Dumbledore, Hermione had gathered from his whispered conversations with Professor Snape and Sirius in the hallways, believed the sudden, inexplicable coma Harry had fallen into during their OWLs had something to do with the connection between Harry's mind and Voldemort's. Unfortunately, no healer had been able to corroborate Dumbledore's assumption, no matter how much poking and prodding Dumbledore had subjected Harry's sleeping form to. And no book had yielded the secret, either, which Hermione, who trusted instinctively in the power of books, found even more disconcerting than Dumbledore's bafflement.
Now, watching the sun fall on another long, tedious day, Hermione fought back the urge to scream in frustration. Soon, the Hogwarts Express would depart from King's Cross. Soon, students would flood across the grounds of the old castle again, eager for the start of another term. (Or as eager as they could be, with Dolores Umbridge still securely ensconced as Headmistress.) Would Harry sleep all year long, possibly forever? Would she and Ron be forced to abandon their vigil, to return to classes with everyone else? Would Harry know they were gone; did he know they were there?
She turned from the flame-kissed sunset to study Harry once more. Every morning, as she climbed the last remaining steps to the bedroom which had become Harry's infirmary, she couldn't quash the stupid hope that when the heavy wooden door swung open, Harry would be sitting up in bed, grinning at her, his glasses resting crookedly on his nose. He appeared so peaceful. She couldn't help believing that he really was just asleep, that one good shake or loud shout would rouse him. His handsome face was serene, if a little pallid from weeks spent indoors; his breathing remained regular and steady, if a little slow, like all dreamers'. If anything, he was almost too still: His eyes (she remembered with absolute clarity their brilliant green color) never shifted behind their closed lids, and he never sighed, moaned, shuddered, or gave any other indication that he dreamed. Whatever spell or potion held him in its thrall, Hermione drew a small measure of relief from believing that Harry at least wasn't being tormented by nightmares from which he could not escape.
But that was cold comfort, really, when she could find no way to wake him. After Mr. Weasley had arrived at Hogwarts to take Harry home (against Headmistress Umbridge's angry protests, overruled by Cornelius Fudge himself, who seemed delighted at having a comatose Harry Potter entirely out of the picture), the Order of the Phoenix had transported Harry only once, for a matter of hours, to his aunt and uncle's house to ensure that the protective charm his mother had cast on him would hold. Otherwise, they had kept him securely guarded at Grimmauld Place, a situation that seemed unlikely to change. Hermione knew Dumbledore had every loyal mind searching for a cure. Whatever Voldemort's reasons for trapping Harry in this unnatural slumber, Hermione knew in her very bones that each passing day brought the self-proclaimed Dark Lord once step closer to victory. She shuddered to think what would happen if Voldemort rose to power again…
There has to be a way to stop him! I just have to look harder!
Falling heavily back into her chair, Hermione desperately picked up one of the many volumes scattered haphazardly on the floor around her, where they had been discarded, one by one, when she reluctantly declared them useless. The book she picked up now she very nearly threw down again at once: Faery Tales. Luna Lovegood of all people had sent the book to her a few weeks ago, after Hermione had sent her an owl – she kept all of the DA members informed of Harry's condition, since the Daily Prophet was reporting that The Boy Who Lived had finally gone completely mad and was being hidden from the world by a humiliated Dumbledore – exclaiming her frustration with the books Professor McGonagall had brought her from the Hogwarts library. With her confidence in books waning, Hermione had actually cracked open the odd volume once she had read Luna's letter. Unlike Luna, Hermione didn't necessarily believe that nargils (whatever those were) could be responsible for such trances, but her spine had tingled a bit as she recalled how many fairytales did include someone being put in an enchanted sleep.
The Faery Tales, it turned out, was a collection of old, supposedly truth-based legends warning of how evil magic could go wrong. Sure enough, in one of the stories, which Hermione remembered from her Muggle childhood as a Brothers Grimm tale called Briar Rose, a lovely young witch had been unwittingly thrown into a deep, endless sleep by her mother, who had wished for the girl to be protected from old age or injury without realizing that she was inadvertently casting a charm over her daughter. The magic in the Faery Tales reminded Hermione of the magic that protected Harry, the magic contained in his mother's sacrifice of her life for his: It didn't need potions or incantations or even wands to work; it was a magic of the flesh, of the blood.
That notion had made Hermione decidedly uncomfortable. She loved being a witch; she couldn't imagine going back to her old Muggle life now. Yet she couldn't deny that sometimes, when everyone around her was going on about the "pure bloods" and the "mud bloods," a tiny part of her wondered what it was about "blood" that made magic work. Why did neither of her parents possess magical abilities, but she did? Why did Harry's mother, when no one else in her family did? At Hogwarts, it was easy to forget in the midst of her lessons that magic was about something more than a cleverly-worded spell or appropriate wand-work. Magic was literally in some people's blood, which meant that magic worked in ways Hermione's books couldn't fully explain.
What this book, the Faery Tales, did tell her was that the mother's unwitting curse was broken when the girl's lover kissed her on the lips, breathing (the book said) life itself back into her. Hermione stirred in her chair, glancing at Harry over the top of the page. She wondered – could this be some kind of ancient magic Voldemort had discovered, something not so unlike the magic Briar Rose's mother had accidentally performed on her daughter? If it was, could a kiss awaken Harry?
Wasn't it worth a try?
Casting her gaze hastily toward the door, through which she expected Ron to enter at any moment, Hermione dropped the borrowed book back onto the floor amidst the others. Her heart was pounding. She told herself it was only because she wanted this to work so very badly, but deep down, she knew that wasn't the only reason. Hadn't she thought about this before, when she was bathing Harry's forehead with a cool rag, or when she touched his hand to tell him good night? Hadn't she sometimes felt the strongest temptation to brush her lips against his, to see if he would stir? Maybe even just to see what it would feel like to kiss him, something she would never have found the courage to do had he been awake?
Hermione hesitated at the bedside, torn between an almost undeniable urge to test her theory – more than anything, she wanted Harry to wake up – and a terrible, overwhelming shyness. She studied Harry's long, dark lashes, resting neatly on his pale cheek. She felt her face heat up with a blush as her eyes traveled across his lips, parted slightly, down to his broad chest, rising and falling with the slow rhythm of his breaths.
If Ron walked in on her kissing their unconscious friend, she was certain she would die of embarrassment.
But Ron appeared to be running late this evening. Outside the closed bedroom door, Hermione heard no tell-tale creaking stairs, although the sun had dipped below the horizon several minutes ago. So, summoning her will, Hermione closed her eyes, brought her face near to Harry's, and breathed against his lips:
"Wake up, Harry. Wake up and come back to us. Please."
And then she kissed him.