Prolog - The Girl Who Died
In a room at St Jude's on the pediatric cancer ward a young girl closed her eyes as the nurse went about her routine, checking her vital signs, monitors and refreshing her fluids in her IV. It didn't take a nurse to know that the girl was very sick. A headcloth hid her bald head. Blankets covered her shrunken body. Her makeup on her face didn't hide the pallor of her skin, and nothing could conceal her eyes that held weariness beyond her sixteen years.
"Are you tired, Harper?" her nurse asked.
Yes, so very, very tired. However, the girl forced a smile. "Just a little bit."
"We'll let you get some rest soon." Her nurse straightened and faced the gathered family. "Visiting hours are almost over. Harper needs her rest. You should start leaving now."
While Harper felt relief at hearing those words, she hid it. She smiled from her hospital bed. "It was so good of all you to come and see me."
A parade of gentle hugs started as aunts and uncles, cousins, Grandma and Grandpa came by one by one to gently hug her and say good-bye. They all gave her the same lies and platitudes: sleep well, see you soon, keep your strength up, and you're such a fighter. She saw through their tears and fears they were all trying to hide. The words weren't really important anyway. What was important was what beneath them, their love and concern. So she gave it back telling them to take care, that she'd keep fighting, and that she loved them in return. She kept the smile in place and the hurt inside. It was almost over. Nobody said it, but they wouldn't have all come if it wasn't almost over. The tears and the crying said it all. They were saying good-bye. She tried to give each of them what they needed. Even Uncle Norm when he rubbed her bald head and said they'd have to give her a new wig as soon as she got out.
She wasn't ever leaving this hospital.
Harper had known that for a long time and made peace with it. Even death wasn't scary once you stared it in the face long enough. Now death was a friend that would take her away. She hoped for a better place, but even oblivion would be welcome. Few people understood that. Her mother, Mary, being one of the worst. Her mother still hoped and prayed for a miracle. It just wasn't in her to give up on her daughter. Harper watched as her mother cornered the ward nurse and begged to stay just a little while longer.
Harper expected the nurse to say no. The rules were usually enforced even on mothers. However, this time the nurse met her eyes and Harper knew she was being asked for permission. With all her family coming to visit, this request to stay made sense. It matched what she felt in her aching bones. She wasn't going to last much longer, maybe not even this night. Of course, she gave permission. "Can Mom stay, please?"
"For a little bit longer, but you need your rest. I'll check back in on you later."
Her mother fussed for a while, straightening pillows that didn't need straightening before sitting in a chair by her side. "Would you like to watch a movie? I've got your favorite. How about Harry Potter?"
She forced a smile. She had liked the movies and the books when she'd been younger, before the cancer and chemo had stolen her hair, her strength and her youth. How could she not have been intrigued? A twist of fate had given her almost the same name: Harper Potts / Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling had taught her to read and when she'd gotten cancer she'd used to dream of the boy who lived and magical cures. That had been before… denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. Despite all the years, despite prognosis, remission and recurrence, somehow her mother had never reached acceptance. "Sure Mom, let's have a Harry Potter marathon."
As her mother busied herself with putting the DVD into the player, Harper hit the pain relief button. Delivered intravenously the medicine took effect quickly and took the edge off her pain for a while. Although she'd suggested a marathon she knew she'd never make through even the first movie. Given the way everyone was acting she might not ever wake up again. As much as she'd told herself that she was ready was still a bit scary. That also meant there was something she needed to say — just in case.
"Mom, you know I love you."
Her mother looked over her tearing up. "Of course, and I love you so much sweetheart."
"Good, you know you really should find someone instead of spending all your time with me, but I'm glad you're here."
"Of course, I'll be here until you kick this thing. Shh, movie starting." She turned away hiding her tears.
Harper worried about her mother. Since Dad picked up and left she'd turned into a mother hen, always around. If love was powerful enough to stop cancer, Harper had no doubt she'd be cured by now. She hoped that when she was gone that her mother wouldn't cry too much and would move on. She wouldn't be alone. She'd have Grandma and Grandpa.
She turned from those thoughts and tried to relax and drift into the familiar story. She still loved the story for all its flaws. The first movie had really captured the wonder of a magical world. Maybe her mother needed it more than she did. Her mother needed to believe in miracles, and the story of a boy living through a deadly curse and living to be a hero was a miracle.
Her strength was fading and she started to drift off to sleep. As Hagrid gave his famous line, "You're a wizard, Harry," her eyes closed for the last time. It really was a good story. So flawed, though. Dumbledore was almost as bad as Voldemort. Ron was a fair-weather friend. Hermione so deserved better. Not to mention the 'redemption' of Snape. If she'd been Harry, she would have done it all differently…