Disclaimer: Unfortunately, I don't own Harry Potter. Otherwise there would be a few large changes in the books and I wouldn't be living on cereal and PBJs at college. Since I am, I obviously am not Ms. Rowling.

A/N: So, this is my first one-shot outside of my multi-chapter story, Fulfilling Obligations. Which you should totally check out if you haven't already. However, this has been flitting around in my brain for a while, so I decided to write it before I post the next update of my other story. In fact, this one-shot is partially a prequel to Fulfilling Obligations. While they certainly don't depend on each other, some aspects of this story may be brought into F.O. in future chapters. Anyway, I know it's not the longest, but I hope you enjoy it anyway! Please review!

The Letter

It truly is amazing what can be achieved through the written word.

With a series of tiny lines and curves and dots, an unfathomable number of emotions can be elicited from the human heart.

Fear from the hate-filled words of a vile antagonist.

Hope in the triumphs of the beloved hero.

Happiness in the minimal joys enjoyed by a less-than-privileged child.

Sorrow for the death of the ever-present and loyal friend.

Realization in the profound utterances of the wise.

And, perhaps most astonishing, the ability of the human heart to simply go haywire – or practically stop functioning altogether – through the means of one of the shortest sentences in the English language…

Three short words that somehow portray more meaning in their hushed unpretentiousness than entire volumes of books have been able to convey throughout history.

At the very least, this (and much more) is what Hermione had always come to view as the power of words. Unfortunately, not everyone else felt similarly towards the subject. This was usually the group of individuals who preferred to be swayed not by written words, but by spoken words.

There is of course some credence to the human voice's expression of words – Hermione certainly could not deny that. After all, there were countless occasions of heartfelt speeches rallying hundreds, even thousands of people to action. Whether to bitter ends after fruitless efforts or to the brilliance of ever-changing revolutions, there was no doubt that the human voice could be an effective tool in bringing others to your way of thinking.

However, Hermione did feel there was a limitation to all this. The human voice, after all, fades into silence promptly upon its deliverance to the air, and more often than not is either not heard or just as promptly forgotten by the ears the voice falls upon. Unlike the concreteness of written words, spoken words are only remembered as long as the audience, whether hundreds of thousands of people or a single individual, truly and decisively listens.

But, dependent upon the circumstances, people can sometimes be made to listen.

Although these exact thoughts did not flood through Hermione's head quite as fluently as this, a small semblance of their meaning still trickled though her mind as she anxiously held a single piece of paper in her clenched fists. The paper, which was already quite crinkled from being repeatedly folded and unfolded, was becoming even more tattered underneath her shaking hands.

She had possessed this note for many months now, altering it and rereading it whenever it crossed her thoughts, but for the most part it had remained tucked within the safe confines of her Ancient Runes textbook, out of sight but never quite out of mind. However, after everything that had happened that night in the Department of Mysteries, there was a new urgency to the letter that Hermione simply couldn't ignore. Ever since she'd become coherent enough to realize that she was in the hospital wing due to that scumbag Dolohov's spell, she had thought relentlessly about this stupid scrap of paper. These thoughts were only magnified about ten-fold when she'd heard about what had transpired at the Ministry in the short time following her becoming unconscious.

Her eyes tentatively wandered across the wing as these thoughts pervaded her mind. A patch of moonlight was all that lit the hospital wing, but it was just enough for Hermione to make out Harry's dark silhouette in the bed directly across from hers. His softer breathing could barely be heard over Ron's snoring from one of the other beds; they were calm, measured breaths, just as you would expect from someone sleeping, but Hermione knew it was only as a result of the Dreamless Sleeping Draught that Madame Pomfrey had given him for three nights now. Otherwise, Hermione suspected his rest wouldn't be quite so peaceful; rather, she very much thought he would be thrashing about, entangling himself in his sheets and breaking out in cold sweats at regular and predictable intervals.

She suspected this because this was what he was wont to do in the midst of one of his numerous nightmares, and Hermione knew that out of any other period of his life, now would be the time when he would be most susceptible to reliving the horrors he had undergone. Harry, more so than others, had always been especially vulnerable in his sleep, and Hermione was glad that he was able to escape such helplessness, at least for the time being.

Too soon he would be cruelly thrown back into the world to fend for himself. She had always loathed the end of the school year, at first merely because it meant the temporary interruption of learning, and more recently because she simply hated having to abandon Harry for so long. She had often wondered how extensive his misery truly was under his relatives' roof.

How lonely he was, if his nightmares got worse, how much he missed Hogwarts, how much he missed her.

Hermione pushed herself up in her bed with difficulty, wincing as pain shot through her.

She really didn't know exactly what she felt for him. If it wasn't love, it was certainly the closest thing she'd ever felt to it. And what was more, if it truly was love, she didn't know exactly when that transition had taken place. It was one of the few things that she knew couldn't be boiled down to one moment in time, a single answer. But, unlike most things she didn't know or couldn't understand, she didn't care – she reveled in this chaos of uncertainty.

So what if she didn't know?

Hermione's hands steadied slightly as she glanced down once more at her note.

Even if she didn't know for certain what she was feeling, she knew she had to get this off her chest. She could easily have died that night…Harry could have easily died. More so than ever before, she knew that this path Harry, and therefore herself, was on would only become more and more dangerous in the coming days. Life was too short, especially for them, for her to keep these things held so tightly to her heart.

So Hermione, finally steeling herself to her task, slid her legs slowly from her bed and placed them on the floor with a grimace. Her side hurt terribly, but she knew if she didn't do this now she would lose her resolve and possibly never do it.

Who knows, she thought, breathing in sharply as she fully pushed herself from the bed. Maybe next time I can tell him when he's not in a magically induced coma.

Alright, so perhaps this wasn't the most exceptional act of courage. In fact, Hermione had to fight a blush from blooming on her face at the thought of anyone actually finding out about it.

But she liked to think that her reading to him in his sleep was less an act of cowardice and more of an act of self-control…of unselfishness towards Harry and what he ultimately needed to do.

The last thing Harry needed was for his best friend to unload such a giant revelation on him, especially one as opaque as the one she had in mind. He had just lost the closest person he had ever had to a father, and Hermione knew that, probably sooner than later, one of the most powerful wizards of all time would confront him yet again. And she had a strong feeling that the next time this happened would be the last. Harry certainly didn't need to be distracted by what could possibly be, however unlikely, a simple schoolgirl crush that may or may not fade within a year.

So she would tell him while he slept, and hopefully, somehow, he would realize how she felt and, perhaps, realize feelings of his own in the process.

Hermione knew it was farfetched, but a girl could hope, couldn't she?

Determination was rampant in her heart as she staggered weakly across the room, her letter clutched as tightly in her fist as her resolve was held in her heart.

When she finally reached his side, she collapsed into one of the chairs that sat on the left side of his bed. Her breathing was heavy, and she was unsure if it was a result of the crumpled letter now in her lap or the tax of the physical journey across the hospital wing. She was fairly certain it was both.

Once her breathing had returned to a semblance of normalcy, she scooted her chair closer to Harry's side, so close that she was almost pressed against his mattress. Then, calling all the courage she could muster, she placed the letter on the bed and carefully smoothed it out. She surveyed his face anxiously before she began, looking for any sign of waking that would give her permission to scurry back to her bed.

However, Madame Pomfrey's sleeping draught was as effective as always, and Harry didn't move the slightest bit under Hermione's hopeful gaze.

Come on, Granger, she thought to herself furiously, fretfully straightening the letter again. It's just a letter. A note, really. All you're doing is reading. You love to read! And he's asleep – he won't know you spoke to him at all. If anything, he would only remember it subconsciously, which is obviously the point of all this. See, you're just trying to teach him something – nothing new there.

Hermione strongly considered arguing back to these stray thoughts, but for once restrained from the challenge. There was logic to these thoughts (unsurprising, since they were hers), but even if they were rubbish she knew she had to go through with it. She knew she was at a breaking point, and if she didn't get it off her chest soon, she knew she would explode from the burden of it.

"Alright," she sighed, averting her gaze from Harry's closed eyes. "Here I go."

She allowed herself a moment to clear her throat and adjusted the letter into the patch of moonlight crossing Harry's blankets. She had originally begun the letter with a traditional "Dear Harry," but she omitted this in an attempt to sound less foolish than she already felt she would seem.

"I…I really don't even know where to start, Harry," she said, her voice already trembling slightly. "You know I hate seeing you like this. You've probably taken a year off my life just from me worrying about all of your stupid injuries… I'm pretty sure Madam Pomfrey's on the verge of designating a permanent bed for you in here."

She tried to say this lightly, but then she sighed and ran her hand through her hair.

"I'm sorry, I don't know why I'm acting like this. I'm trying too hard. I've never had a problem talking to you before. But right when I start talking about anything more personal than we've already discussed, I start to clam up." She laughed slightly as she glanced at his sleeping form. "And the most ridiculous part is, you're not even awake."

She shook her head at her own absurdity and looked once more at her letter.

"'It's just that this time it wasn't some stupid Quidditch injury. I know you weren't hurt too badly, at least physically, but you still could've died. You could've died so many times. And it just got me thinking, you know? What if something did happen to you, and I never got to…'"

She paused, swallowing, and then laced her quivering hands in her lap.

"'I know this may not seem like the most Gryffindor-like gesture, but I've always been able to portray my thoughts better on paper, so I wrote my feelings down so I could read them to you. Which also has the added plus of eliminating embarrassing eye contact…at least on my part,'" she added with a small smile.

But her face quickly turned serious once more.

"I just – I want to let you in on a secret," she said, her eyes set firmly on her neat handwriting. "I'm not exactly who you think I am. You've been my best friend since I was twelve, and you'll always be my best friend. But lately I've thought that perhaps we could be something more…something so much more. I'm actually surprised you haven't suspected something before, haven't seen right through me. Or perhaps you have. If that's the case, your disguise is much better than mine."

Hermione licked her dry lips as she paused, knowing she was delving deeper and deeper into her closely bound feelings.

"You have no idea what it felt like for me to see the way you would look at Cho these last two years…I think that's what first made me realize I may feel more for you than just friendship. When you looked at her, I couldn't help but hope that you would look at me that way."

Her voice quivered as the words on the parchment blurred through a veil of tears.

"I-I might be the girl of your dreams, just masquerading as your best friend until you realize it. I want to tell you, sometimes so badly that I'm surprised I can keep myself from practically shouting it at you, but I know I can't. You have too much you have to do, and I want to be there with you every step of the way, whether you want me there or not. But there's a part of me that's terrified you'll get scared and push me away, and I couldn't stand that.'"

Hermione wiped furiously at the tears that trailed down her cheeks as she shook her head.

"This is so much easier when you're unconscious," she mused softly, laying a hand gingerly on his. But his fingers twitched very slightly, and she quickly removed it to re-clasp the letter so she could continue to read.

"'I'd rather have you as a friend than not have you at all, so I decided that it's better to temporarily live with a lie than expose whatever other feelings I have for you. I hope that one day I can tell you. Hopefully it will be under better circumstances than these... But, more than anything, when and if that day comes, I hope you feel the same way. I hope that by then you haven't given your heart to someone else. But until that day comes, and hopefully long after, I'll still be here for you. Always. Regardless of whatever happens."

Her voice cracked as she said this, and she bowed her head.

Who was she kidding? She was completely and hopelessly in love with the boy lying before her, and she would follow him to the ends of the earth and back without blinking an eye.

"I don't care how long it takes, but maybe one day you'll finally look at me the way I look at you and see me as more than just your know-it-all friend who always has the answer. Because I feel like this is the answer. I'm willing to give this a chance, whether it be in a year or ten years…because I think you're worth the wait."

Hermione didn't know exactly what she expected as the final words left her mouth, as she slowly lifted her eyes to peer closely into Harry's face. Fireworks? Fanfare? For him to suddenly open his eyes and instantly declare his own hidden feelings?

No – this wasn't some silly movie. She couldn't honestly expect Harry's eyelids to flutter as her words fluttered through his subconscious, couldn't really believe he'd somehow comprehend her speech and quietly whisper her name as his dreams directed him towards what she hoped had been lingering there all along.

How cliché would that be?

Nevertheless, she continued to gaze anxiously into Harry's face, unrealistically waiting for some sign of acknowledgement, approval, her ears pricked for the slightest fluctuation in his breathing.

However, just as she suspected would happen, he didn't budge an inch beyond the steady rise and fall of his chest.

Tentatively, she reached out her palm and placed it very lightly on the side of his face. She was strangely grateful when his lashes fluttered and his breathing faltered the slightest bit, almost imperceptibly. It made her feel better to know that this wasn't all some dream on her part.

But despite his movement, Hermione knew he wouldn't wake…at least not for a while.

Her fingers bent to brush his dark hair away from his forehead. The thumb of her other hand grazed her already forgotten note absently.

She wasn't quite sure how long she sat like this, but the sky was just beginning to lighten as she carefully pushed back her chair and slowly crossed the room to her own bed.

As she pulled her blankets back over herself and settled her head once more into her pillow, she cast one last appraising glance at the young man in the opposite bed and a surprising warmth filled her. She closed her eyes and was soon asleep, her letter held closely to her chest.

Harry may have been asleep in more ways than one, but just as he would open his eyes to the light of the morning sun, he would also wake up and see her as well. It was just a matter of time, really. And, as she'd already told him, she was more than willing to wait.