Hermione Jean Granger, age 18, stared at the ceiling, her eyes and body completely motionless. She was in a hospital, and while none of her bones were broken, she just couldn't find the power to move any part of her body but her eyelids.
She could blink those.
Oh yes, she could still see. There was always that. She could watch as the doctors ran test after test after test after test on her, always sticking her with needles she couldn't feel and shoving various tubes and cameras into her body. She could hear every word they said, always telling her they would fix her…always saying they would make her better.
But they couldn't.
She couldn't move anything. Her arms, her legs, her head…nothing. She had been paralyzed. There was no way to fix that. There was no way to fix the fact that she would no longer be attending Oxford on a full-ride academic scholarship. There was no way to fix the fact that she would never meet a man and fall in love. There was no way to fix the fact that she would never speak again…never smile again.
There was no way to fix any of it. She couldn't even kill herself, either.
It was agony to sit there day after day, week after week, month after month staring at the ceiling of the hospital, the low sound of the television bringing her news that didn't really matter. Nothing mattered. Her life was over.
Why wouldn't they just let her die?
Her anger tiring her out, she felt her eyelids begin to droop, the soft sound of her heart monitor lulling her to sleep. Right before she reached that short, blessed relief from boredom, though, the sound of the lock clicking made her eyes shoot back open.
She strained her eyes to the door to try to see the person who had snuck in at two in the morning, but the angle was just impossible. What she did know, though, was that the person was definitely not supposed to be in here. There was no way the person was allowed if they were sneaking around so carefully.
Hermione heard the footsteps pause at the foot of each and every bed, and by the sound of his pattern, he would reach her bed last. She knew she probably should've been afraid, but she really didn't care about her life anymore. She wished she could open her mouth to tell this person to kill her.
Yet she could only watch as the person finally, quietly came to the foot of her bed. His eyes widened upon seeing her open eyes, though he calmed down a little when he realized that she had no intent of shouting out and getting him caught.
Not that she could have had she wanted to.
The man began studying her shrewdly, allowing Hermione to do the same to him in return. The first thing she noticed were his eyes. They were the most beautiful green eyes, full of many shades of green and a few tiny flecks of gold, but…but they were full of the greatest sadness and self-loathing she had ever seen. The man couldn't have been any older than her, yet his eyes told the tale of a weathered, beaten old man.
Hermione had no choice but to avert her own eyes, for the pain in his was too great for her to handle, leaving her to look at his face. He had a few days' growth of hair on a defined jawline, prominent cheekbones, and messy, black-as-midnight hair.
There were only two problems with the man from what Hermione could tell. The first were the glasses. Such a rugged, handsome man shouldn't have been wearing such plain glasses. The second problem was the way the man was dressed. He was wearing a purple robe that had silver stars on it, looking more like something that belonged to a crazy old man rather than a seemingly perfectly normal, even if depressed teenager.
He picked up her chart from the foot of her bed, scanned it for a few seconds, mouthing her name as his eyes scanned across it, and put it back down with an even sadder look in his eyes. She felt her temper rise.
Nothing made her angrier than the pity. They always said the same, depressing words and had the same, depressing look on their faces when they visited her. She was sick and tired of it.
The man pulled a seat out from next to the bed and sat down in it heavily, taking off his glasses and putting them on her nightstand before steepling his fingers together and leaning toward her a little, a thoughtful look on his face.
"Hermione Jean Granger."
The sound of his voice was louder than a gunshot as it snapped the silence. And the way he said her name…she didn't know what it was, but the way he said her name made her feel like she was the only person in the world at that very moment.
"You're very beautiful," he said quietly as he began to reach into his pocket. Hermione had to look away when her eyes began to hurt from being strained too much. She could do nothing but lie still and listen to the sound of this man's voice. "Smart too, from what I can tell. Innocent. Good. You are definitely a person worth saving. Who knows what you might go on to do?" He paused for a moment, then whispered, "Maybe you can save the world…" He let out a derisive, humorless chuckle.
Hermione casted her eyes down. She knew he was laughing at himself, but for what she did not know. All she did know was that his laugh made her very uncomfortable…it made her sad.
She blinked as his hand gently touched her forehead, then he just as gently tucked a few stray strands of hair behind her ears. He was looking at her hair in awe, and he whispered, "I imagine your hair was much softer and fuller when you were healthy." She narrowed her eyes at him, though he didn't seem to notice.
She felt something cold suddenly touch the middle of her forehead, and she strained her eyes to catch a glimpse of it. She was disappointed to find it was nothing more than a polished piece of wood.
"I know what you're thinking." The man's voice broke the silence again. "You think I'm crazy. I'm pressing a piece of wood against your head." Hermione silently agreed.
She thought he would continue, but he let his eyes slide closed and began whispering in a language Hermione, if forced to guess, would have guessed was Latin. She felt a little warmth in her head, which continued on even when the talking stopped. His eyes slowly opened to meet hers, his eyebrows a tad furrowed. "This is going to take a lot of work," he mumbled to himself.
Then he focused on her again. "You got it really good, didn't you?" he said quietly, though not teasingly at all. He sounded more disturbed than anything. "It's worse than I thought."
Thank you, Captain Obvious, Hermione thought to herself.
The piece of wood was pressed against her head for a while longer, the man in deep concentration as silence filled the room again. Hermione felt more warmth spread throughout her head, a feeling that made her want to smile and hug everyone in sight.
It was impossible, of course.
Instead of focusing on the good feeling, Hermione began to focus on what this man was really doing? Why was he here? He obviously wasn't trying to steal anything or kill anyone, from what she could tell. All he was doing was touching her head with a stick. Completely harmless, of course, but pointless nonetheless. She decided this man was crazy, what with the old robe and the stick and what-not.
She mentally shrugged, though. This was the most exciting thing that had happened to her in the three months that she had been hospitalized. So what that he was obviously a bit off his rocker. Maybe he was from the psych ward…
"Do you want to hear a story?" Once again, the sound of his voice jarred the peaceful silence that had fallen over them.
Hermione met his eyes and deliberately blinked to show him she was listening.
And, with his stick still touching her forehead, he began telling a story. It started off with a boy named Harry Potter who lived under his aunt and uncle's stairs, and he met a giant who told him he had magical powers, and he had discovered that he was destined to kill an evil dark lord that had supposedly died trying to kill him previously, and he rode a train to a magical school for other children who had magical powers, and he took magical classes and made friends and enemies, and he discovered a plot to bring the evil dark lord back to life, but he thwarted the plan with the help of a couple friends.
He talked for hours and hours, and Hermione listened, deciding it was more interesting than sleeping. The detail of what he described was incredible, almost making Hermione believe these stories were real and that this man had experienced them first-hand…except for the fact that magic didn't exist. This man's imagination, though, was absolutely incredible.
And slowly, to the soothing sound of his voice and the warm feeling in her head, she fell asleep.
She woke up groggily later that day to a very slight pinch on her arm, and when she registered that she had felt it her eyes shot open. It felt as though her whole body was numb…as if she had been submerged in ice for a while (minus the cold, of course). Her usual doctor, Dr. Brownstone, was running his daily tests on her, humming the song he always hummed when he worked on her.
"How are you today, Hermione?" he asked distractedly, knowing there could have been no possible change in her condition. They all knew that.
She blinked once to tell him everything was the same as usual. She was good, but with no improvement. He pricked her with the needle again and she resisted the urge to gasp. She didn't know why, but she didn't want to tell the doctor that she could feel everything he was doing, even if barely so. It was her and the mystery man's secret. She didn't know what he had done, but somehow her condition had improved a bit. How had he done it?
Speaking of the mystery man and knowing there was no way to determine how he could have improved her condition even just a tiny bit overnight, would he be back that night? She truly hoped so; she had loved last night's story.
There had always been something about a good story that had held her fascination, even when she had been a little girl. There was something about the way the words painted a picture in her head that made her want the story to never stop. And, especially with the man, when the story was told with such emotion and ease…it was truly a masterpiece at that point.
Before she knew it, she was lost in the world of that man's story. How sad and lonely it must have been for Harry Potter to grow up under a cupboard with no friends and without knowing his parents.
Then again, knowing one's parents could be a bit overrated, if one was to ask Hermione.
At least things had gotten better for him. He had made a couple close friends at his school and did somewhat well, learning magic and whatnot.
It was more than she would ever do again in her life.
Before Hermione knew it, day had turned into night. The doctor closed the door to her room and left for the night, and all of the lights turned off, submerging her and the hospital in complete darkness. Every long-term patient had a lamp on their nightstand, and so did Hermione, but for her, of course, there was no use.
She strained her ears as she continued to lay perfectly still, not feeling tired in even the tiniest bit. She held her breath, too, trying to hear the man coming into her room to tell her more of that story. She waited and waited and waited, yet nobody came.
She felt disappointment seize her, making hot tears prick her eyes. Why was she so sad? She had only known this man for one night, so why did she expect him to come again? Was she so selfish that she wanted this man to come again and tell her more of his story?
"What's the matter?" a voice suddenly asked from her side.
Her eyes opened and met his, her tears immediately stopping. If she could have smiled, the most brilliant smile anyone had ever seen would have been making her face light up at that moment.
"Did you think I wouldn't come back?" he asked, surprising her. She blinked once and looked away from his eyes in embarrassment. He gently brushed a tear off her face, making her even more embarrassed. "I already told you," he whispered, "you're worth saving."
Hermione still didn't know exactly what he meant by that, and wished she could speak to ask him. He took out his little stick and touched the tip of it to her head again, then closed his eyes in concentration. Hermione took that opportunity to observe every inch of his face again.
It was fascinating looking at his lips as he began to speak. "This story…this story that I'm telling you doesn't have a happy ending." He opened his eyes and met hers, and she couldn't look away. "Would you still like me to continue?"
She stopped for a second, now slightly apprehensive. She had always loved happy endings. Why would she want even more sadness in her life? She held his eyes as she debated mentally, then blinked once when she decided she wanted to hear him tell more of the story more than she wanted it to have a happy ending.
So he started talking about the boy's second year at Hogwarts, which started with a little creature called a house elf. The way he described the creature and how it behaved made Hermione angry at whoever his owner was. Harry Potter's second year was even more interesting than the first, with interesting developments with Voldemort, inept teachers, a diary that possessed people, and a giant snake, which the man said was called a basilisk.
She didn't notice it, but as the man continued to hold the stick against Hermione's forehead, the warmth began to spread through and infuse her body.
And once again, just like the night before, Hermione fell asleep to the soothing tones of the man's voice.
The following days began to pass in a much similar manner. When Hermione woke up, the man was already gone, and she would notice that her body had recovered somewhat and she could feel a little more of what the doctor was doing. By the fourth day, she was able to move her fingers a little.
At night, the man's tales continued, always with the stick he carried pressed against her forehead, spreading the delicious warmth through her body.
He told her about Harry Potter's third year, in which he saved his grandfather. She learned about his fourth year and the tournament he participated in. It was when he was telling her about Harry Potter's fifth year, though, that a wild suspicion hit her.
He was describing the death of Harry Potter's godfather. Despite it being dark, Hermione managed to see the tears that collected in his eyes and heard the grief and hitches in his words.
Those two coupled with the fact that she was getting better, as if by magic, made Hermione begin to believe that magic was real and this man was really Harry Potter. She was very logical, thus knew that nothing short of a true miracle would ever cure her of her paralysis, and especially at this rate.
There was only one explanation. Magic was real.
And if magic was real, it meant that this man's story was probably a true story. He was probably telling his story. He had to be Harry Potter.
So, despite now suspecting this, she listened quietly on the sixth night. During his sixth year, Harry had lost his mentor, Headmaster Dumbledore. It was another part of his life that made him get that sad, faraway look in his eyes. It was a look that definitely didn't belong on his face.
And then, much too soon, the seventh night came. Hermione had improved tremendously, even if she wasn't even close to how she had been previously. The man came again that night, and before he could open his mouth, Hermione brought her hand on top of his with a quite a bit of effort.
"Please," she managed to whisper, her hoarse voice barely audible. "Will you…take me…to see the…stars?"
The man blinked a few times. "Are you sure you're up to it?" he asked.
She nodded and reached her other arm out to him, and he smiled softly at her before pulling her arm over his shoulders and picking her up bridal style. Hermione felt her face heat up as he began walking quietly through the hospital, saying, "No way are you walking this whole way," as he climbed up the stairs to the roof.
Once up there, he waved his stick and laid her down on the ground, surprising her when she felt how soft it was. He laid down next to her and looked up at the sky with her, both of them growing silent as they took in the amazing sight above them. There were so many stars twinkling in the sky that it really made Hermione appreciate the fact how tiny she truly was.
"Beautiful…" she whispered. It was the first time she had been out of her room in over three months. It was a little chilly, but worth it nonetheless.
"This will be the last night of the story, Hermione," the man said. She looked over at him to find his eyes still glued to the sky. "Are you sure you want me to finish?"
Hermione hesitated for only the second time concerning the story. If he finished, was he never coming back again? Would she not get to see him anymore?
Then another thought hit her. This was his story. He needed to tell this to her. He was getting everything off his chest.
He had saved her. The least she could do was hear him out to the end.
"Please," she whispered.
She looked back up at the stars as he began the end of his story, starting out with the night Harry Potter turned seventeen. It was a long story again, full of wondrous adventures in forests hunting these things called Horcruxes, but when he got to the battle, he just…stopped.
She turned to look at him, worried, then froze as she saw how defeated he looked. He wasn't crying and he didn't necessarily look said, he just looked…defeated. Downtrodden. Weary. His eyes held the look of an old man who has seen his fair share of life, not the look of an eighteen-year-old ready to really begin his adult life.
"He killed a man, Hermione," he suddenly whispered. "An evil man who deserved to die, yes, but he killed him."
"I think…I think better Voldemort than Harry Potter," said Hermione, wincing at the pain in her throat. "The good guy has to win in the end, right?"
The man was quiet for a long while, making Hermione begin to worry again. "I already told you, Hermione, that this story doesn't have a happy ending. This is real life. Just because he beat the bad guy didn't mean he won." He took a long, deep breath and sighed it back out. "He lost a lot of friends that day, a few of which he loved like his own brothers. He was responsible for their deaths, too…" His eyes narrowed. Hermione could tell he was doing his best to hold off his tears. "It was his fault. If he could've just…if he would've…"
Hermione felt tears begin to form in her own eyes. "H…how does it end?" she whispered. "How does Harry Potter's story end?"
This silenced the man once more. "He graduates from Hogwarts," he finally said. "And he doesn't know what to do. He relives that battle every waking—and sleeping—second. He can't rid himself of the guilt." He swallowed and whispered almost nonchalantly, "So he decides to kill himself." Hermione gasped. "But that wouldn't be any good, would it?" he said, though not in a way that allowed Hermione to relax even a tiny bit. If anything, she tensed even more. "The least he can do is give his life to someone who deserves it. So he begins to visit hospitals in the dead of night." I was right, Hermione thought, though she wished with all her heart she had been incorrect. "At one of these hospitals, he meets a girl. She fits all of his criteria. Beautiful, smart, innocent, incorruptible…He decides to cure her of everything ailing her so she can live her life in his stead. Then, when she's healthy again, he'll be carried on to the after life." He licked his lips. "So ends the magnificent tale of Harry Potter, the boy-who-lived."
The burning in Hermione's throat wouldn't stop as her heart twisted in her chest. She was taking shaky breaths, though she just managed to fight her tears off. How could he kill himself when he finally found freedom? Didn't he know this wasn't how his friends, who had given their lives for him, wanted him to spend the gift they had given him?
When she had calmed down a bit, she whispered, "Can I tell you a story?"
He looked over at her for the first time since laying her down. Slowly, and somewhat apprehensively, he said, "Sure."
"There was once a girl," she began, "whose name was Hermione Jean Granger. She was a very ambitious girl, if a bit lonely. She would grow up and change the world with her brain, with everything else not mattering. She was smart enough…she had the brain. She didn't have any friends throughout elementary and middle school, but was lucky enough to finally make one in high school. Or at least she thought she had. Once Hermione brought this friend home, the friend and the dad got a little more comfortable with each other than they should have. One thing led to another, and, well…let's just say Hermione was surprised one day to find out the level of intimacy the two shared. Later that night, Hermione confronted her father, who had hit the bottle out of guilt. When Hermione told her father that she was going to tell her mother everything, her father decided to shut her up in the easiest way possible: with the beer bottle in his hand." Hermione could feel the man's eyes glued on her face in horror as she told her story unemotionally. "The next thing Hermione knew, she was in a hospital, unable to move a single muscle in her body. She could breathe and she could blink," she said bitterly. "Every single second she spent in that hospital she thought of nothing other than how much she wished she could kill herself. Every dream, every ambition, every hope she ever had…crushed in a single instant." A small smile lifted the corner of her lips. "But then she met a boy…a boy who told her wondrous stories while magically healing her of her ailments. She listened to this boy pour out his soul to her and was captivated by every second of it. She felt for him, she really did, and was surprised and horrified when she discovered, on the last night of the story, that he was going to kill himself."
She stopped there, the smile still on her face, and Harry, for it was undoubtedly he, vulnerably whispered, "And how does it end? How does the story of Hermione Jean Granger end?"
"That's the interesting part, isn't it?" she whispered. "Nobody knows how it's going to end." She turned her head to meet his eyes. "I want Hermione to have a happy ending," she whispered.
Harry snapped his head back to the sky. "She gets to live the life she thought she had lost," he said, troubled. "Isn't that enough?"
Hermione swallowed. It was now or never. "But…what if she's fallen in love with the boy?" she asked. "If he kills himself, doesn't that make her story a tragedy?"
Harry's wide eyes were staring straight into hers at this point. He licked his lips and said, "There's no other way for the story of Harry Potter to end. He finally gets his happy ending that way."
Hermione couldn't help it. Her face crumpled. "But what if…but what if…what if somebody else finishes the story of Harry Potter? What if the author has a sudden change of heart and wants him to live? What if the author lets the girl Harry healed heal him?"
"Hermione…" Harry whispered. "I…I…"
Hermione rolled over and, with great effort, put an arm across his chest possessively. "Please, Harry," she said. "You don't have to do this. Understand that there was nothing you could do. Your friends…you think they'd want you to turn so selfish? They gave their lives to take down Voldemort and help protect you, and you just throw it all away?"
She met his eyes angrily, tears still filling her own. He looked on with his mouth open, his eyebrows furrowed in thought. "Hermione…" he said. "I…I don't…I don't know what to do," he admitted.
"You mourn, Harry," she replied gently. "You thank and mourn your lost friends and draw from their strength to give you the strength to live on. Live for them, laugh for them, cry for them…love for them. Don't die, because then you won't be doing it for them. You've lived a hard life, but…but it can only get better from here." Her lips were trembling at this point and she tightened her hold on him. "So…so please…don't do it."
Harry swallowed hard, his eyes searching hers as she brought her face closer to his. She licked her lips and he did the same, confusion swirling through both of their heads. Hermione stopped with her lips just inches from his, waiting for him to promise her he wouldn't do it.
She saw the change in his eyes, saw the determination in them as he closed the gap between them and pressed his lips against hers, making her eyes fluttered closed. The kiss was brief but beautiful, that familiar warmth spreading through Hermione's body as she pulled back and looked into his eyes.
And finally, she recognized that feeling. It was love.
"I won't do it, Hermione," he whispered. "You're right."
She gave him a watery smile and hugged him as hard as she could, burying her face into his shoulder as she did so.
Harry then whispered, "When you're released, will you go out with me?"
"That would be lovely," Hermione whispered in response, feeling sleep begin to wash over her.
She knew the road to recovery for both of them would be a long and bumpy one, but as long as they stuck by each other and encouraged each other along the way, they would eventually get there.
And then, once they had recovered they would enter the adventure known as life together, ready for whatever it had to throw their way.