That was the one thought running through Harry Potters' mind, as he sat in his compartment on the Hogwarts Express.
Finally, my life can begin.
It was August, just a couple of months after the battle at Hogwarts, and yet to Harry it felt like years had already passed. After those precious moments alone in Dumbledore's office, where he, Ron and Hermione had decided the fate of the Deathly Hallows, Harry had stepped back into a world divided by joy and grief. Even though the entire wizarding population, minus a few Slytherins, were celebrating the death of Voldemort, there was an immeasurable grief underlining everything that preceded that evening's battle.
There had been numerous funerals, a lot of tears and turmoil in that first month of May, but eventually things began to calm down, and the world, both wizarding and Muggle, began to resume some form of normality.
For Harry, this normality began with a choice that he had to make.
It had been around mid July, when the question of 'What next?' came up. They were all at the Burrow, Harry was staying there whilst the Ministry checked, and rechecked, and checked again, at Grimmauld Place for any sign of remaining Dark magic. The rest of the Weasleys had gone to Diagon Alley, to pick up Ginny's school supplies early, as too not get bogged down in the back to school rush. Harry, Ron and Hermione had taken this opportunity to spend some time alone together, something that was rather rare in the aftermath of the war.
'So,' Hermione had started, as they sat in the garden, basking in the late afternoon sun.
'So?' Harry replied, amused at the unfinished sentence.
'What next? I mean what are you both going to do now?'
This question startled both Harry and Ron. It sounded as if Hermione expected them to separate, to go down different paths. Harry knew he wasn't ready to let go of his two best friends just yet, and so he sat up straight, turned around so his back was to the sun, and hit them with the news he had received the previous week.
'Last Tuesday, I got a letter from Professor, rather Headmistress, McGonagall. Apparently our entire year is being offered the chance to come back to Hogwarts and finish our education.'
This statement certainly caught their attention. As they stood to confront Harry about his choice to conceal this information from them, he turned and walked back inside. Once they were all once again seated, this time on the floor in the living room, Harry retrieved the letter from his trouser pocket, and gave it to Hermione to read. Silently, she scanned through the letter, her mind visibly plotting the best course of action. With her bottom lip between her teeth, she passed the letter to Ron, who took it gently from her hand and began to read it himself.
Too agitated to sit still, Harry started pacing the room, a clear sign to his friends that he was troubled.
They all knew why.
The decision to go back to Hogwarts was one that they had to make with very careful consideration. For the past six years of their lives, Hogwarts had been much more then just a school, especially to Harry who saw the school as a home and sanctuary. However, this past year had changed many of their perspectives. They had been away from school the entire year, and when they finally got back, so many of their friends and family had been lost and the devastation had been almost too much to bear. Now along with all their blissful memories of the school, there were the memories of Dumbledore, broken at the bottom of the astronomy tower, of Fred Weasley, dead with a smile frozen on his face, and for Harry there were the memories of being hit with the killing curse, and the cries of anguish from those who thought him to be dead.
Perhaps it was just too much. Perhaps they could never go back to the way they were.
'How come Ron and I didn't receive letters?' Hermione's practical question brought Harry back to reality; he turned and faced his best friends again.
'I don't know.' He stated. 'I assumed you would, otherwise I would have told you sooner, but McGonagall must have thought that I would tell you and so she didn't need to send you any letters.' Harry theorised, this seemed like the most plausible solution to Ron and Hermione's lack of post.
'But that doesn't make sense. Don't we need letters to get out book lists and supply stuff?'
'Ronald didn't you read the letter?' Hermione chastised her tone so familiar it
couldn't help but bring a smile to Harry's face.
'Er, yeah sure I did.' Ron stammered, but under Hermiones' glare he finally gave up the truth and confessed that his mind had wondered off, thinking about what was for dinner, and that he hadn't actually taken in what the letter had said.
'The letter said, Ron that all our book and supplies would be purchased by the school and will be waiting for us if we choose to accept the offer to return.'
'And,' Harry picked up, 'we don't need to buy uniform or anything like that, because as we are all over seventeen already, we are officially adults in the Wizarding world, and will therefore be treated like them.'
'Meaning….?' Ron left the question hanging hoping that someone may explain things to him in a language that he could understand.
'Meaning, we wouldn't need to wear uniform, we wouldn't have a curfew and we wouldn't be restricted from anywhere in the castle or the grounds; not that being restricted has stopped us in the past mind you.' Hermione clarified.
'Well that sounds bloody brilliant!' Rons' face lit up at the thought of being able to just get up and go to class in his pyjamas if he wanted to.
'Yeah Ron, it does. But there are downsides to this treatment as well.' Harry said in a rather crestfallen tone. 'For example, no one from our year will be allowed to join any competitive clubs or activities, so that rules Quidditch out. We also wouldn't be prefects or heads, and although the rules that apply to the younger students don't apply to us, our year would still contribute to our houses effort to win the house cup.'
'So we may be able to stay up as long as we like…' Hermione started.
'But if we are seen out of bed, points will still be taken away.' Ron finished her sentence, earning him a rather haughty look from Hermione.
'Yeah.' Harry sighed, and flopped back down on the floor, so that he was laying
completely on his back, with his hands covering his face in despair.
'For the first time in my whole Wizarding experience I do NOT have a plan.'
'Harry,' Hermione said gently, stroking his hair out of his eyes. 'You know that whatever you decide Ron and I will be right there with you, wont we Ron?'
Ron nodded his head enthusiastically, even though Harry wasn't looking, he was too busy groaning inwardly at Hermione's statement.
'That doesn't make this decision any easier Hermione, now instead of just deciding for myself, I'm now deciding for you and Ron as well. I don't know how to make decisions like this Hermione; I still need someone to tell me what to do.'
'I think you just came up with your decision there mate.' Ron whispered seriously.
Hermione nodded her agreement, and Harry sat up to assess whether his friends really knew what they were all getting themselves into.
'I don't think we're quite ready to say goodbye to Hogwarts just yet.' Hermione concluded, and with that they all knew that their decision had been made.
Riding once again on the Hogwarts Express, Harry knew that their choice had been the right one. He also realised, as he stared out the window at a landscape that was at once so alien and yet so familiar, that his life was finally beginning.
However, someone else was making their way to Hogwarts that night. A stranger, who was so closely tied to Harry, that everyone's lives, especially his, were not only beginning, but were also going to be immeasurably changed.