A simple word had so many meanings.
“Tomorrow is the day.”
Hermione drew a shuddering breath, then let it out in a puff.
“I don’t know if I can do it.”
“Nonsense,” Ginny said, snickering from behind her. “Of course you can do it. I’ve done it, and I turned out quite all right, didn’t I?” The red-head wriggled her left-hand fingers, displaying to Hermione the two bands symbolizing engagement and marriage.
Hermione was sure she was going to faint, and she couldn’t even blame the corset which deprived her of the ability to breathe, seeing that she wasn’t wearing it at the moment.
Obviously growing bored and impatient with the situation, Ginny reached over Hermione’s lap, wrenched the car door open and gave Hermione a shove in the back, pushing her out of the safety of the car and onto the scene where her wedding would take place the following day.
Hermione and Ron had chosen an outside wedding. Hermione had dragged her fiance all across Great Britain to look at cottages, parks, gardens, mansions, fields, beaches and every other setting imaginable for their bonding. Out of nowhere, having gotten a whiff of the wedding and evidently feeling the need to make himself an important part of it, Ernie MacMillan had offered to lend them his family’s medieval castle on the Scottish highland.
“Beautiful courtyard,” Ernie had boasted, “Big enough to fit a thousand people, and a cake the size of a muggle car.”
He hadn’t been lying about the former, Hermione thought, as she was pushed out of the car and into the applause which sounded like the one which had used to follow each of Dumbledore’s speeches in the Great Hall. Hermione blinked against the bright sunlight, once, twice, her eyes adjusting to the sight of what seemed to be everyone she and Ron had ever known.
‘Calm down,’ She told herself, or at least she tried to tell herself. It seemed she wouldn’t listen to her own words of wisdom. ‘Calm. Down. This is not the real thing. This is just the rehearsal. Just the rehearsal... You’re not getting married quite yet.’
Tomorrow was her big day. Her dream-come-true. Because this was what she wanted... right?
‘Ideal timing for second thoughts. Really great.’
She swallowed once more, and lifted her gaze to the altar which was located directly vis-a-vis where the limousine had dropped off her and Ginny. It was a beautiful, white arch, elevated a few feet from the surrounding garden by a pedestal. A small, petal-strewn staircase led up to where Ron was standing, in the shadow of the whitewashed, wooden arch, evidently almost as nervous as she was. His deep, blue eyes were fixed upon her and a smile lit his features, and Hermione became suddenly unaware of the million other eyes fixed at her. All she saw was Ron’s blue eyes and his nervous smile shining through the darkness.
Hermione’s heart melted.
Her knees gave away.
“She’s fainting!” a hysterical voice Hermione recognized as Auntie Muriel’s squealed.
Before she had even recognized what was happening, Ron had stormed down from the altar and down by her side. He scooped her deadweight frame into his strong arms and rocked her back and forth as though she were an oversized baby.
Hermione looked up and saw his worried face; his one thousand freckles, his ocean-blue eyes, his bright red hair. They were all melting together, swirling, until they resembled the artwork of a three-year-old graciously supplied with fingerpaint.
“Hermione,” she heard, though her eyes were falling shut. “It’s time to wake up.”
June 2, 1999
Mrs. Granger was breathing fast. In fact, she was almost hyperventilating as she snaked her way through the busy streets of London with a firm grip on her youngest daughter’s sleeve. Mr. Granger was scurrying along by his wife's side, with a morose and slightly anxious expression on his wrinkled, yet kind, face.
“Let-me-go!” the five-year old screamed as she attempted to wrench her sleeve away from her mother. Some bypassing stranger stopped and smiled at the little girl, who displayed typical childish behavior as she stubbornly set her heels to the cobblestones. She had red roses in her cheeks, and her brown hair flew waywardly in all directions. “What are we doing here, anyway? What’s the rush? What- Ouch!”
The trio rounded a corner, cutting through the city on their way. Everything about the parents, from their strained expressions to their quick pace, suggested that they were determined of their destination and not in the mood for arguments. The little girl scowled at them, but fell silent nonetheless as she consented herself to trotting alongside them.
‘Could it really be true?’ Mrs. Granger mused and she met her husband’s hazel eyes. They asked her the same question as she had just asked herself; ‘Was it really true this time?’
It had been eight years since the accident; eight long, mournful years for the Grangers. Hermione had only been eleven when the incident had occurred, and Mr. and Mrs. Granger had watched her grow in silence; they had watched as her features matured while her pale face lay upon her pillow; watched as she slowly turned into a young woman they did not recognize anymore. It was painstaking to see her growing up, and knowing that she might never wake again.
That was the very reason the Grangers had been so startled that morning, when their doctor had called to announce that Hermione was slurring in her sleep. This was the reason why they were now practically sprinting through London with wide eyes and beating hearts.
Hermione’s five-year old sister, who might never have been born if it hadn’t been for her parents’ despair over losing their eldest daughter, knew nothing about Hermione. Her parents had neglected to mention the coma-induced teenager they paid to keep at a hospital in the center of the city, in fear that the little girl wouldn’t understand. “She’s only five!” Mrs. Granger had shouted at her husband when they had discussed it, even though they both were on the same side of the argument. They had had a lot of moral duscussions of the sort since the accident.
Ophelia was about to continue down the street when her mother held her back, and the little girl followed her gaze up to a hospital sign.
“Here it is...” Mrs. Granger mouthed, and she felt Mr. Granger’s hand grab hers and give it a small, reassuring squeeze. It was warm and comforting, yet more frightening than anything else she had experienced that day. It signified that it was time.
What if she wasn’t awake after all? Another false alarm? God only knew that this wouldn’t be the first time they had scurried to London to find their daughter just as unconscious as they had left her eight years earlier.
“We’re so sorry. She really did move!” the doctor had explained to them, although his apologetic words had not been enough to console the parents. Dejected, they had returned, time after time, to their little home in the south of England, and continued to challenge their imaginations with questions such as ‘What if?’ and ‘What would have been?’.
The three Grangers walked through the familiar, musty corridors of St. Mary’s Hospital. It was not by any means a new institution; it had been founded by nuns sometime during the 1890’s, and although it had been refurnished several times, and the paint had been covered afresh, it still smelled like sickness and death. But it was the best they could afford, long-term. And besides, the doctors seemed friendly and the nurses were sweeter than sugar.
The little family approached room number 337, and they could hear voices inside. Mr. Granger grabbed his wife’s hand again and the pair exchanged looks when they heard a horrifying scream coming from within. Ophelia attempted to turn and run, although Mrs. Granger caught her before she could follow her natural instincts.
“I want you to listen to me. We have something important to tell you, Ophelia,” Janice Granger announced to her daughter as she squatted down until she was the same height as the little girl. The girl stared back at her with big, blue and innocent eyes.
The girl in room 337 let out another painstaking howl.
Mrs. Granger hesitated. Was she really going to burden this child with all the drama and trauma that came with the situation? But after all, what other option did she have?
“Ophelia...” she said softly, soothingly. “You have... a sister. Her name is Hermione, and she is nineteen years old.”
The girl inside the room screamed a third time and Ophelia shivered. She had gone as pale as snow, and her eyes were the size of saucers. “I don’t understand-”
“Mr. Granger,” a nervous voice said; the door to 337 had swung open. A man, known to the Grangers as Doctor Silver, stood in the door with a look of mingled horror and delight upon his face. He was a jittery man, old for his age, and with his skinny frame and nervous habits he looked as though a stressful situation was enough to take him out. “Mrs. Granger, how very nice to see you. And you brought your youngest one as well, I see. Very pretty,” He beamed down at Ophelia, who looked away shyly.
“Thank you,” Mrs. Granger said distractedly, looking over Dr. Silver’s shoulder in a vain attempt to catch a glimpse of something that she didn’t know if she even wanted to see.
The Grangers had, naturally, omitted to bring Ophelia to their monthly meeting with Hermione. It seemed clear now, however, that they should have introduced the sisters at a younger age. Little Ophelia had just started to become a realist, like her sister before her, and it seemed obvious that the news were too much for the girl to handle.
“As you can hear,” Mr. Silver said, and shrank slightly at Hermione’s fourth scream and the sobs that followed. “Your daughter is very much awake. Naturally she is very confused; she keeps on rambling about pig warts, magic, and she has several times asked to see a ‘Ronald Weasley’. Does that name sound familiar to you?”
Both Mr. and Mrs. Granger shook their heads wordlessly.
“I didn’t think so,” said Dr. Silver gravely, and he looked over his shoulder and into the room before directing his wide gaze back at the Grangers. “It is normal, of course, for patients that have been in a coma to dream. Scientific researchers have experimented with it, taken heart-rates and brain-scans and all sorts of things... Yet typically the patients aren’t able to remember a thing when they wake up. Your daughter is evidently an exception.”
The Gangers exchanged meaningful looks. They had never expected the day of Hermione’s return to come, but whenever they had dared to fantasize about it, ramblings of a dreamworld that lasted for eight years had definitely not been a part of their dream.
Ophelia appeared to have regained her usual, curious behavior as she tried to look around Dr. Silver’s legs to catch a glimpse of the person that kept sobbing and rambling in a constricted voice from within 337.
Dr. Silver looked at the little girl fondly before returning his gaze to her parents. “So, do you want to see her?”
Mr. and Mrs. Granger made no reply; their facial expressions suggested that they were too overwhelmed for speech, but they followed obediently as Dr. Silver led the way into Hermione’s room.
It was the very same room as they had visited Hermione in countless times before, although it appeared slightly different now that it was brimful with nurses and doctors. Usually it was only Hermione’s parents, and sometimes Dr. Silver, who visited Hermione, the large apparatus that kept her alive, the stand beside her bed that pumped fluids into her body to help her be nurtured and the lacy curtains that allowed specs of sunlight into the small room.
Today, far from being still and dead-looking, Hermione was sitting in her bed with her arms wrapped around her knees. She looked like the epitome of vulnerability; her slight shoulders shaking in sobs. Both her hands were injected with needles that the doctors had taped around her palms for reasons best known to them. Her hair was messy and sweaty, and as she lifted her tearstained face to greet the approaching footsteps, her visage betrayed neither surprise, nor glee, at the sight of her parents. She looked more skeptical than anything as she considered Mr. and Mrs. Granger carefully through her tears.
“Hermione, darling?” Mrs. Granger said in a shaky voice after a moment’s silence. It was clear that she was on the verge of tears, although nothing less was expected by a woman who was being reunited with her daughter after eight years apart.
Ophelia chose this moment to rush past her parents and run into the room, looking around at the nurses and doctors for a second before she raised a finger to point at Hermione. “Is that her?” she said loudly to no one in particular, and her blue eyes were bulging. “Is that my sister?”
“S-sister?” Hermione repeated in a shrill tone; her voice was shaking as well. She looked from the child and back to her parents, and a frown formed on her pale, flawless forehead. “What’s going on? Is this a joke? Mum, dad, please, tell them I’m not crazy! Or better yet, just take me home.”
To hear her eldest’s voice, so mature from the last time she had heard it, seemed too much for Mrs. Granger. She broke down in sobs; a display Ophelia turned and stared at with eyes wide by shock. She had never seen her mother cry before.
Mr. Granger put an arm around his wife, and he stared at Hermione for a moment before a smile broke out on his lips. His daughter had recognized them both, and used his name.
The doctors had on several occasions warned the Grangers that there was a huge possibility that the long period of induced sleep would most likely cause brain damage to Hermione, meaning that if she, against all odds, ever did wake up, chances were slim that she would be able to talk, and much less recognize people.
“Yes,” Mr. Granger said, and his brown eyes sparkled with tears of happiness. “We’ll finally take you home.”
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