Harry awoke from the most fantastic dream. He’d lived a whole life, found friends, he was a hero prophesied to save the world from an evil wizard. It had been painful and wonderful and while he kept his eyes tightly shut he could still picture the faces of Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, the people who had loved him most in the world.
But Harry Potter wasn’t a hero or beloved or anything special. He was freshly eleven, ripped from his routine by his uncle in fear of letters that wouldn’t stop coming. The pounding that had awoken him echoed through the cabin again as Harry tried to keep his eyes closed, holding onto that wonderful illusion that had felt so real.
Any second now his uncle would be shouting at him to open the door and the last remaining strain of his happy life would be gone. Dudley had awoken and as he scrambled from the couch his foot landed squarely on Harry’s chest, knocking the air out of him and forcing him to open his eyes.
Wincing and out of air, Harry struggled to sit up, his back to the door as with a final loud bang the door gave way, crashing to the ground and the cold, wet air of the storm washed over Harry’s back. Harry was in too much pain to turn around and look at the newcomer and listened vaguely as the door was replaced and a giant came into view.
"Couldn't make us a cup o' tea, could yeh? It's not been an easy journey..."
Harry whipped around, jumping to his feet as fresh tears came to his eyes, stunned at the sight before him. “Hagrid?” Harry gasped despite himself as a warm sensation flooded him at the sight of his friend.
Thankfully he was not overheard by the sounds of the storm as Hagrid came to sit before Harry on the lumpy couch, his beetle eyes assessing him with a warm smile. And it all began again here, with Hagrid, bringing him his first Birthday cake of memory and the promise to whisk him away from the nightmarish home that he’d been raised in and back to the world he’d fought so hard for.
He was too excited to sleep, wired with memories. He knew he should be exhausted. Since Ginny had died he’s hardly slept a night, but his young again body didn’t begrudge him. In the dim firelight, he examined himself. Tiny in Dudley’s hand me downs, it was hard to gauge his body. Indeed he was skinny but in the end, they’d all been dangerously thin. The old aches and pains he’d learned to ignore were gone and even sleeping on the dusty floor was hardly painful, particularly now that he was warm under Hagrid’s massive jacket.
In the morning there would be an owl, perhaps he could use it to send a note to Hermione, no Ron, he decided knowing that it would be less suspicious for him to receive a letter. Tomorrow he would rejoin the world that he’d slowly watched dissolve. And in only a few short weeks he would again be with his friends, the people he loved most in the world and they would have a chance to right everything that had gone wrong.
He’d been careful to linger at the station, waiting for the Weasleys to make their appearance so his entrance into their fold would be seamless. He was giddy with the prospect of seeing not only Ron but all of the family he’d so recently mourned, lest of all Ginny. She would be young again, carefree, not the hopeless soldier he’d cradled in his arms as she’d taken her last breath.
In his anticipation, he’d almost missed them and spotted Ron just before he disappeared through the barrier, his hand held by Mr. Weasley. Alarmed at the sight of the senior Weasley, Harry raced over to them.
“Excuse me,” he said to Mrs. Weasley who looked more harassed than usual.
“Hello dear,” She looked at him critically for a moment and then gave her familiar warm smile. “First time at Hogwarts? Not to worry, just watch my son Fred, he’ll show you how to get on the platform.”
Once on the platform, he lost track of them almost at once in the steam clouding his vision. Assisted by Fred and George who too looked more worn than thirteen-year-olds should strictly be, he managed to get the trunk stowed in the compartment as he considered how exactly to bring up their youngest brother. But before he could think of a proper way to inquire about his best mate he was stunned as the twins spotted his scar.
"What's that?" asked Fred, or at least Harry was pretty sure it was Fred, pointing to the scar on his forehead.
"Blimey," said the other twin. "Are you?”
"He is," said the first twin. "Aren't you?" he added to Harry.
"What?" said Harry.
"Harry Potter, " chorused the twins.
"Oh, him," said Harry. "I mean, yes, I am."
The two boys gawked at him, and Harry felt himself turning red. But before he could recover from the shock of being regarded not as a familiar but as a celebrity, Mrs. Weasley’s voice floated from the platform, calling them to her.
Harry made to follow and he scarcely peeked his head back out to determine where the Weasley’s were gathered when he was interrupted by a mass of brown hair flying at him.
“Hermione!” he shouted, nearly knocked off balance as she launched herself at him.
“Oh Harry,” she half sobbed, “I’ve missed you. I was so worried.”
He grinned, squeezing her and painfully aware of how small she was compared to the woman he’d spent the last months sleeping beside. Her hair was long and wild and he looked at her fondly as he set her down.
“Have you seen Ron?” she asked eagerly, peering into the cabin.
“I saw him with Mr. Weasley getting onto the platform,” he told her, grabbing her hand and pulling her from the train. “Which was odd, because he wasn’t here last time.”
“Oh,” Hermione mused, following him and they ignored the whispers already starting as his identity was spread through the platform. They peered around through the steam for a moment before Hermione pointed, nearly dancing on the spot. “There they are!”
Indeed standing twenty feet away was the gaggle of redheads. Percy, already changed and with his Prefect badge predominately displayed on his chest, was striding towards his family. Harry and Hermione crept behind him cautiously.
“Something’s wrong,” Hermione whispered when they were still too far away to hear what Percy was saying.
Harry, unsure of what she meant, looked more carefully. Ginny was standing several feet away, examining a cat another student had in a cage and talking to her. The twins were teasing Percy now about something as Mr. Weasley looked at them but oddest of all was Ron, holding now onto his mother’s hand and gazing around the platform with a dazed expression.
Unnoticed by the family Harry and Hermione slid over, looking hesitantly at Ron who still hadn’t spotted them.
“Ron?” Hermione asked quietly, gripping Harry’s arm painfully.
His reaction was immediate, snapping to look at her with full attention.
“Hermione,” he said, relief flooding his face. “Oh blimey I thought-“
His eyes were wet but whatever he’d been thinking escaped him as he looked up fearfully at his mother.
“What’s going on?” Harry asked him in a low voice.
Ron’s eyes snapped to him, “Something’s wrong,” he whispered, tugging at his arm to free it from his mother’s grip. “Hermione I-“
“Oh hello dears,” Mrs. Weasley said, turning and smiling at them as she tightened her grip on Ron’s wrist. “Can I help you with something?”
She had a warm smile but like the rest of her family looked rather worried about something. Ron looked at them helplessly.
“What’s wrong with Ron?” Harry burst out without thinking.
“How do you know Ronnie?” she asked suspiciously, drawing him closer to her side.
“We just,” Harry faltered, looking between her and Ron and then to Hermione who was staring at Ron in horror as he seemed to lose interest in the conversation and was again looking around the station as if he’d never seen it before. “Ron.”
At his name, he snapped back to attention and resumed trying to free himself from his mother. “We’re owl-pals mum,” Ron explained. “Remember, those letters I got?”
“Oh,” Mrs. Weasley said, her expression clearing and she finally loosened her grip long enough for Ron to make his escape. “I’m very sorry to say dears but Ronnie won’t be going to Hogwarts this year.”
“Ron?” Harry asked in a quiet voice, looking to Hermione who was now biting at her bottom lip. “What’s going on?”
Ron’s face was full of desperation as he stepped closer to them, speaking in a voice so low Harry could barely hear him. “I don’t know what’s happened, but I can’t seem to stay, stay-“
He trailed off, his face morphing again and looked at Harry as if he was a stranger.
“Ron,” Hermione whispered, tugging at his arm and he snapped to attention once more. “Focused.”
He considered her for a moment before nodding. “Yeah, that must be it.”
For the longest time yet he looked at them desperately but Harry couldn’t think of a single intelligent thing to say. Mrs. Weasley interrupted them once more, walking over and she gripped Ron’s shoulder. “We’re hoping Ron can start at Hogwarts next year, isn’t that right dear?”
“Yeah,” he nodded eagerly, giving a backward glance at his mother. “Hopefully we’ll be able to sort this out by next term, I’ve already improved loads.”
Harry and Hermione shared a look, conveying the same thought. If this was improved, only able to focus for a few seconds at a time, how bad had he been?
“I’m going to try and keep up with classes,” Ron said brightly, wary of the look on their faces. “That way I can start first thing as soon as this is sorted out.”
“What do they think is wrong?” Hermione asked in the same low voice.
Ron glanced up at his mother who was looking critically at her husband who was in conversation with Mrs. Longbottom and oblivious to Ginny trying to sneak on the train with her brothers. With a sigh directed at him, she turned and Ron spoke hurriedly to them.
“They’ve no idea. When I woke up, it was like a picture was playing, you know like that time we went to the cin-a-ma? Only, I couldn’t look away from it.”
“A movie?” Hermione asked critically.
Ron made a noise of frustration.
“A movie of what?” Harry asked.
“Of what happened before,” Ron said in a horrified voice. “Everything, all at once. It doesn’t make any sense and unless I try really hard it doesn’t stop. It’s like there's all these voices inside my head, it’s so loud and-“
Overwhelmed he stopped and after a moment had a serene sort of look on his face, staring off into the distance.
“Ron,” Harry said softly, reaching out to grip his arm.
Ron came back to them, his eyes wet and gave another frustrated sigh. “It was all real, wasn’t it?”
“Yes,” Hermione assured him quickly. “It was real.”
For a moment, nothing else seemed real aside from the two of them, standing beside him and he gripped at Ron’s arm tighter as Hermione’s hand found his and Ron’s at the same time. He stared at the both of them, memories of everything they’d endured washing over them. Hermione seemed to be having her own battle as she stared miserably at Ron.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered to him and he gave her a smile that made him look much older.
“It’s not your fault Hermione,” he told her firmly. “We would have died if we’d stayed there.”
“But-“ she tried and he shook his head.
“You two are alright, yeah?” he asked of her and she nodded. “Harry’s alright.”
And though he was standing right beside them, touching them, Harry felt as if he was eavesdropping on a private conversation.
“I’ll figure out a way to fix this,” she told him fervently. “As soon as we get back to the castle, I’ll start working. With the library then I’ll be able to re-write the spell and we can try again.”
For a moment Ron looked hopeful and then he shook his head decisively. “This is bigger than me Hermione, bigger than us. Don’t worry about me and focus on what we came here to do, find a way to end this.” For the first time, he glanced over at Harry and said to her in a serious voice. “You know what our job is.”
“We can’t do this without you,” Harry cut in. “It’s like you said, it has to be the three of us.”
Ron gave him a grateful smile, looking at him hard. Mrs. Weasley was coming back with Ginny in tow and Ron glanced over his shoulder nervously, stepping away from them both and their hands fell back to their sides.
“Send me your homework will you?” Ron said in a louder voice as his mother was clearly trying to listen in on them again as she approached. “I’m going to try and keep up with classes.”
“Ronald Weasley,” Hermione snapped, her hands flying to her hips. “I would never do such a thing, it’ll do you some good to try and learn something.”
Harry avoided Ron’s eye as Hermione looked more like her eleven-year-old self than she had all morning.
“Worth a shot.” He grinned, allowing his mother to take his hand again. His smile faded after a moment as he got a far off look.
“Ron,” Harry muttered, not knowing quite what to say.
“Save it, no need to get emotional,” Ron said seriously. “Just, write to me won’t you? I’m sure Hogwarts is going to be much more fun then whoever I’ll be stuck doing.”
“Not likely,” Harry said quickly as Hermione sniffled. “I’ll have to do all my homework and everything without you around.”
Ron grinned at him. “Don’t forget, it’s levi-o-sa, not levi-o-sa. And don’t try and go after any trolls or anything.”
Hermione looked at him, her eyes swimming and he yanked away his hand to hug her. “Keep him safe. Don’t either of you go sneaking off alone.”
“I’m serious,” Ron continued as he let go of Hermione and put his arms around Harry. “If you don’t keep your eye on her then she’ll run off and battle fluffy on the first night.”
In his mind’s eye he could picture all too clearly waking up one morning to find Hermione with a triumphant smile and the stone gripped in her hand. The train whistle caused them to break apart and they all stared at each other as around them students called their goodbyes and rushed off onto the train.
“We’ll write to you, we promise,” Hermione told him as he gestured them towards the train.
“I’ll write to you,” Harry agreed. “Hermione promises.”
They all chuckled as Ron gave them both a shove and they jogged over to the train. “See you soon!” he called, waving as his mother gripped his hand once more, preventing him from following them.
It seemed impossible to board the train and watch from the window as Ron raced away from them, tears running unashamedly down his face. With a tightness in his throat, Harry settled into his seat, thinking on his last words. A year wouldn’t be so impossible after everything they’d been through, and after all, their first year was surprisingly adventure-filled.