Pairings/Characters: Harry, Ron, Hermione
Warnings: None, it's gen! *grins*
Length: 2475 words
Summary: Perhaps he and Harry are merely placeholders in the same pattern, are merely the frames of an endless, looping film.
Author notes: Gigantic hugs to my fantastic (as always) beta stephanometra for her suggestions, comments, and general wonderfulness in beating this thing into shape.
[Anamnesis, n] : Platonism. recollection of the ideas which the soul had known in a previous existence.
The sensation of rocking back and forth is the first clue Ron has that he is dreaming. Ron is aware, somehow, that that last place he was laying was a cold stone floor; stone floors are not generally known for their tendency to sway.
As he drifts aimlessly in space, Ron is gradually aware of mass and shape coming into being around him, of the sudden coalescence of atoms into solids. He sees ("Am I seeing?" He thinks to himself. "How do I know I'm really dreaming, anyway?") the sliver glint of afternoon light on a metal railing, the thick wash of vermilion red on a velvet drape. With a start, he realizes that he is on the Hogwarts Express; it's not quite the same as he remembers, but he feels inexplicably certain, as only a dreamer can.
Ron turns to where the windows are rapidly forming and his eyes widen; the scenery rushing past his eyes is a vibrant green and brown, the sloping hills and forests of his childhood. He presses his face to the cold glass as the train rushes forward, greedily taking in the images. The mountains that the Express whips heedlessly around no longer have the smooth, sloping valleys and patches of wildflowers he sees before him. The fields and ravines are choked with life, a teeming morass of greens and browns. Here, a fox darts into the underbrush, brown eyes glinting as it vanishes with the flick of a tail; in the distance, a few scattered Carneddau ponies grazing for grass are nothing more than white specks on the horizon. All this he sees in an instant, a Polaroid snapshot of a memory.
Ron understands (in that part of him that knows he is dreaming) that the towns and hamlets he sees before him have been reduced to burnt-out shells and smoking ruin; in his dream they are full of people, tiny dots bustling with life as they go about their daily errands. Ron hasn't realized until this moment how severe and destructive the changes of the past five years have been. In his acceptance of the war's creeping normalcy, he has forgotten even the memory of landscape, epitomized by the broad valley and sharp hill that rush into his view, painted in wide, ever-moving swathes of celadon and russet Somehow England has grayed itself out day by day, the chroma losing strength just as the resistance has. It is as if the war has leached all the color from the land itself. Here, in this dream, Ron's vision is saturated with color, the hues overwhelming his senses.
Ron presses a hand up against the cold glass and starts; this, too, is not the hand he remembers. Ron's hands (at this moment in actual time, at this moment where somewhere, his body is sleeping next to Harry and Hermione on the floor of that burnt-out house) are full of cuts and burns from the night's raid, crusted with blood where he sliced his thumbs on a razor-sharp shard of glass. But the hand he has just flattened on the windowpane is small and pale, with grubby nails and red freckles standing out starkly against his skin. It is undeniably his hand from when he was a small boy, and a quick glance down at himself confirms his suspicions. He is wearing his old trainers with the hole in the toe from when Bill pushed him down that steep hill near the Burrow, the shoe laces untied and fraying towards the end. His trousers are made of patched corduroy and look almost comical on his stubby 8-year-old legs, and his jumper is of the homemade variety. A quick glance to his side provides him with a glimpse of a half-eaten corned beef sandwich and a carefully folded robe. Ron knows, suddenly and which a sense of relief, that this is a dream of his very first trip to Hogwarts on the train. This is a dream of something that has already happened.
But even with that reassurance, it's not quite right. Something is a bit off, and that oddness goes beyond the fact that the real Hogwarts Express was red, not blue, (wasn't it?) and the seats were khaki, not brown. Weren't they?
And something one else is missing—Harry.
Ron tries, with little success to think back to his real memories, but it is as if a heavy fog is clouding his brain. He thinks he was on the train with his brothers, until he found Harry's empty compartment. But now the roles are reversed; Ron is sitting in his own empty compartment, waiting for Harry.
The door to the compartment slides open slowly, to reveal a small face dwarfed by large, round-framed glasses"Anyone sitting there?" Harry asks, pointing to the seat opposite Ron. "Everywhere else is full."
The rush of emotions running through Ron as he stares at the face of 11-year-old Harry cannot be characterized by anything as simple as relief or regret or excitement. Ron feels a pang as he notices Harry's thin frame and slightly-sunken cheeks; he has forgotten how malnourished Harry had looked when he first met him, or perhaps he never noticed at all. Ron had been more concerned with finding out his house assignment and hoping he didn't get beaten up than with worrying about his new friend's health, but the Ron who is dreaming cannot help but want to cry out at the obvious neglect of his friend. Ron understands, belatedly, his mother's reactions earlier that day; her worried frowns and "Poor dear—no wonder he was alone" and stern admonishment to Ron to "make sure and share your lunch with him, if you meet him." The small boy peering at him from the corridor is quite literally so thin his clothing is hanging off of him.
Dream-Ron also realizes, with a pang of guilt, how much grown-up Harry (that is, the Harry that is tossing and turning restlessly next to him on the cold stone floor, whose cheeks are thin even in the gray light of predawn and who is shivering from the chill) looks like his younger dream-self. It's as if the intervening years at Hogwarts have ceased to exist; this young boy simply grew taller and thinner to produce the Harry that Ron fought with and bandaged up earlier in the evening. Dream-Ron resolves that when he wakes up he will give Harry his portion for breakfast; Ron's ribs are also sticking out from his sides, but the sudden juxtaposition of the two Harrys—one a memory, one reality—makes it clear that Harry still needs someone to watch out for him.
As Ron stares at Harry, his hand frozen in the act of pointing to the seat he has the unsettling feeling that perhaps he and Harry are merely placeholders in the same pattern, are merely the frames of an endless, looping film. Who is to say which is real?
Ron shakes his head, coming back to the scene before him with effort.
"'Course," Ron hears himself say, the words coming out high and odd-sounding to his ears, the voice of an eleven year old whose more pressing concerns are what the House-Elves will be serving for the feast. "S'more n' enough room in here. D'you need help with your trunk?"
"No, I've got it." Harry struggles awkwardly with the large piece of luggage, managing to drag it into the middle of the compartment and leaning it against the seats. He sits down cautiously, still eyeing Ron for signs of enmity. Had Harry really been this cautious, this untrusting? Ron wants to say something, anything, to reassure this haunted-looking boy but Harry evidently decides that Ron is safe and holds out his hand with a decided nod of the head.
"I'm Harry," he says plainly. No embellishment, no "I'm Harry Potter," just the simple voice of a quiet boy. Harry holds out his hand perfunctorily, in the way that only small boys can; in the way that says as clear as day that he doesn't quite understand why he's supposed to shake hands with people, only that some adult has told him to and that he should follow their instructions or risk getting punished. "What's your name?"
Again, a long pause, a slip in the shifting fabric of dream-time. Ron can see the hand stretched out in front of him, fingernails bitten to the quick and a burn healing on the back of Harry's hand. There is a lump in his throat and he doesn't know whether to cry or laugh, or hug Harry as hard as he can or to turn and run far, far away.
Ron understands, now, why he is having this dream, why he is on the Hogwarts Express again, grubby shoes and all. He doesn't know if this is magic or memory or both, but Ron knows that he must choose all over again. He will not be thrown into the compartment as before, running from rowdy brothers who have effectively shoved him and Harry together; this time, it will be his decision and his alone.
The scene before his eyes recedes as Ron is overwhelmed by memories, past and present. The fog is suddenly lifted, and Ron is more and more uncertain that this may not be a dream, that it may instead be magic. If it magic guiding this, he knows must choose carefully; the wrong decision and he may wake up into an unfamiliar and utterly alien world. Who is he to say what is memory and what is reality, caught inexorably as he is in this scheme?
The world turns and shifts, and the images cycle rapidly, slamming themselves into his vision with the force of a blow and then receding as quickly as they appeared.
(...The statue of a knight on a never-ending, life-size board of Wizard's Chess towering above him, and the sick certainty in his heart that he, Ron Weasley, is about to die at twelve years old, that he will never get to fly on a Nimbus 2000 or see a real dragon or visit Egypt with his brother Bill, the sensation of his bitten lip between his teeth and then his astonishment as his own hand reaches out anyway, to grasp the side of the statue and begin to climb aboard to play the most dangerous game he has ever played...)
Who is he, Ron, to sacrifice himself for someone?
(...The clenching in his gut and the sheer anger at the sight of Harry slinking up to the front of the Great Hall, the feeling of abandonment as Dumbledore rushes past Harry and the Hall fills with murmurs and Ron is furious: who does he think he is to go and leave Ron behind like that, to pretend like he isn't going to enter and then steal all the glory for himself?...)
Why should Ron consent to being forgotten, yet again?
(...The similar clenching in his gut when his vision suddenly narrows to the sight of a body falling off a broom from an impossible height, his throat closing up and all Ron wants to do is yell and run and bloody jump off the stands if it will do anything to break Harry's fall, or prevent the sight of that broken body lying motionless on the Quidditch pitch...)
What right does anyone have to make Ron care so much?
(...the sight of himself in the mirror in his Holiday Ball robes, and the hidden laughter in Harry's voice as he clapped Ron on the shoulder and told him he looked brilliant, and later, Ron's satisfaction buried deep beneath all his resentment that even if he had to look bloody stupid and Hermione was off dancing with that [blank] Viktor Krum at least Harry was still sitting, loyally, beside him...)
Who is Ron to throw that all away?
The memories are almost more than Ron can take at once and with a gasp he surfaces, back into his dream and Harry's hand awkwardly outstretched between them and Ron suddenly knows somewhere inside that it was all worth it, that all the bloody Death Eaters in the world wouldn't stop him from defending Harry again and again, that
Harry is the best friend that Ron will ever have.
Ron is absolutely certain in this moment that Harry's friendship will make up for all of the events that will jerk into momentum the minute they arrive at the steps of that great castle, the minute Harry brushes off Malfoy's calculated admiration in favor of a scrappy red-head that showed him how to properly eat a chocolate frog and blithely ignored the stigma and fame associated with his scar. And Ron knows that Harry will choose him, again and again, eventually almost at the cost of his own life, and that is all the excuse and validation Ron needs to reach out his own small hand and grab the one being offered.
"Ron Weasley," he says offhandedly, the almost-forgotten words rolling off of his tongue. Something clicks into place as 11-year-old Harry smiles cautiously back at him, something unspoken. Something real.
The door opens suddenly, and Ron catches a tangle of bushy hair in his vision before Hermione Granger pops into view. "Has anyone seen a toad? Neville's lost one."
"We've already told him we haven't seen it," Ron says, slipping easily into the role that he played so long ago, the role that it seems he has always been meant to play. He hasn't seen Neville's toad in this dream, just as he hadn't seen it then, and Ron is less and less sure that this is a dream. Didn't he see his mother just this afternoon on the train?
Hermione stares intently at the wand in his hand. "Oh, are you doing magic? Let's see it then." She crosses her arms over her chest and Ron smiles to himself as he looks at her, vision stretching from here and now to where she is sleeping beside him on the floor of their safe-house, hair matted with dirt and leaves but jaw still set in determination, even in sleep.
Eleven-year-old Ron closes his eyes and turns to Scabbers-that-will-be-Peter-Pettigrew on his lap, feeling last memories of his future life slip into the distance. His stomach growls, and he looks sadly at his corned beef sandwich. But he has an odd premonition that somehow, this new boy might have a soft spot for candy when the trolley comes round. He shrugs off the strange idea—he's only just met Harry, after all—and raises his wand.
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