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imagine anything so bright

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Prologue: Henry

For the fifth time that morning, there is a knock on Henry's bedroom door. “Henry…”

Henry folds his arms, facing the closed door and raising his voice. “I’m not going!”

“Oh, yes you are,” Regina calls through to him, sounding annoyed now. “Now come downstairs.”

“I don’t want to!”

The bedroom door rattles again, useless now that he’s wedged his desk chair underneath the handle. Smiling grimly, Henry glances at his alarm clock; it’s the Mickey Mouse one with the ears that light up, he got it when they went to Disney last summer, mom had promised him and Roland a present each – no, Regina had got him a stupid clock, and that stupid clock says its ten past seven already, and soon enough he’ll have missed the stupid school bus and this will all be over. Excellent.

“Henry, come on, I made your special breakfast!”

“I’m not hungry,” Henry says loudly, stamping his foot when his stomach gives a contradictory rumble. “I don’t want any stupid breakfast, I’m not going to any stupid school, and I look stupid!”

“I’m sure that’s not true…” Regina says, sounding like she’s about to laugh; hot tears roll don Henry's cheeks, and he brushes them away angrily.

“Yes it is,” he shouts, kicking the chair out of the way and throwing his bedroom door open.

His mom – Regina jumps back from where she’s been leaning against the door, giving him an upbeat smile and running a hand through her hair. “There,” she says, reaching out to fix his collar. “You look lovely.”

Henry brushes her hand away, messing up his collar again on purpose and glaring at his reflection in the hallway mirror. He looks stupid, he does, in this stupid white shirt and this stupid blue cardigan with stupid Storybrooke Elementary School’s stupid logo stitched over the pocket.

“I look like Harry Potter,” he mutters, avoiding catching her eye in the mirror and stomping downstairs so he doesn’t have to keep looking at her hurt face. So what if he’s being rude? She isn’t the one being packed off to school.

Once he gets down to the kitchen, though, Henry doesn’t know what to do next. Breakfast is set on the table, a stack of fluffy pancakes with a fruit face arranged on top, blueberry eyes, a strawberry nose and a banana smile decorated with chocolate chips for hair. It smells good, it smells like birthday breakfasts, and he can feel his stomach rumbling under the stupid shirt again.

“Harry Potter made his best friends on his first day,” she says, coming downstairs and catching Henry with his fork hovering over the pancakes. “And you are hungry!”

Henry jumps up, dropping the fork and snatching up his dragon mug instead. “I’m not,” he insists, taking a huge gulp of chocolate milk and glaring at her over the rim of the mug. “And I hate pancakes.”

She folds her arms, looking like she’s about to laugh again. “Since when?”

“Since always.

“Okay, well…” The chiming of the old bird clock in the hall makes them both jump; its seven fifteen. She pinches the bridge of her nose, and then smiles at him. “You have to eat something before your bus. How about some cereal?”

“How about I go back to bed, and you stop talking about stupid school?”

“Henry, we’ve discussed this plenty of times.”

“I don’t want to!”

“I know, sweetheart, but –“

“I don’t!” Henry slams his mug down again, chocolate milk spilling over the kitchen table. She raises her eyebrows at him, folding her arms, but he doesn’t do anything about it, just glares back at her. “And I don’t want any stinky pancakes, and I don’t want to get on any stinky school bus, and I don’t, I don’t want to go to school!”

She doesn’t say anything to that, just watches him stand there with hot cheeks and shaking hands, clenched into fists at his sides. She doesn’t even say anything when he edges past her out of the kitchen, stomping slowly and loudly down the hall towards the staircase. Henry makes it all the way to the bottom of the stairs before he stops, feeling small and stupid in the eerie quiet.

“One semester,” she says then, quietly enough that he has to turn around to face her. “Give it one semester, like you promised me and Marian and Roland.”

Henry presses his lips tightly together, furious that she’s bringing up their friends – baby Roland, who is going to start pre-school soon and wants a bus buddy, Marian said it would be a big help if Henry could show him how to take the school bus.

He doesn’t even know if that’s true, or if mom has made it up just to get him to agree to school – if Regina has told another lie, because she just wants him to be at school where she doesn’t have to bother with him all day.

Regina is still watching him with a hopeful, knowing little smile, and Henry shakes his head furiously. “Roland is a little kid, I don’t care about going on some stupid bus, I’m ten.

“Don’t you want to get to know some of the other children?” she asks quickly, taking a few steps towards him; Henry folds his arms pointedly, and she stops halfway down the hall. “Make some friends your age?”

“No,” Henry tells her, and when she raises her eyebrows at him he looks away. “I don’t care.”

“Yes, you do,” she says, with a small smile that Henry feels against his cheek even though he still won’t really look at her. “You care so much, sweetheart, I know you do.”

“No you don’t,” Henry says angrily. “You don’t know anything about me.”

Enough, Henry,” Mom says then, sounding kind of mad for the first time, and Henry feels his shoulders hunch up. “You’re going to be on that bus with or without breakfast, now are you going to stand there for the next half hour or are you going to come and eat some pancakes?” Henry doesn’t look at her, and she shrugs. “Alright, guess I’ll throw them in the trash...”

Henry shrugs, even though he can feel his stomach twisting angrily at him, even though the whole hall still smells like pancakes and they smell really good, even though mom gives him a sad look before turning around and heading back towards the kitchen –

“Fine,” Henry says loudly, making her stop halfway back to the kitchen table and running after her to slide into his chair and grab his plate. “I’m still not going to school.”

“Give it a try,” his mom says quietly, sitting down opposite him and stealing a chocolate chip; when he glares up at her, she just smiles, like nothing’s wrong, and Henry feels his resolve crumble.

“What if they don’t like me?” he asks, stabbing at a piece of banana and staring hard down at his plate; he sounds stupid, he doesn’t even sound mad anymore when he is, he’s still the maddest he’s ever been and he’s never, ever going to forgive her –

But he has to ask, because it’s nearly seven thirty now, and somehow, Henry knows that he’s going to be on the school bus soon no matter what he says now. And he has to know, because now that he’s eaten something he feels sick and scared again, his stomach turning over and over, what if they don’t like him?

“Then they’re idiots,” his mom says firmly, and Henry smiles down at his fruit face pancakes. “I love you, and anyone who doesn’t – “

“No, you don’t,” Henry says, his insides turning cold in an instant. Regina falls silent, and for a horrible next few minutes there’s only the ticking of the bird clock, counting down the time to his first day of school.