Strangely enough, this was triggered by an Avengers story and started out with Tony (the story is Titanium Shell, by Inked_Quill on Archive of our Own, and it's amazing).

Not even a minute after I'd started outlining it inside my head, it had turned into Harry Potter and totally deviated from my intitial thought. I don't care. It fits even better.

Harry is five when he realizes heroes don't exist.

It isn't the fact that during recess he's always picked to play the bad guy that makes it click. It isn't that in all the stories the teacher reads out to them, the hero is always tall and blonde and secretly a prince and never a little boy who's an imposition on his hard-working and generous relatives. It isn't the fact that no one could possibly want to save a little boy who's more trouble than he's worth.

It's the fact that no matter how much he wishes, whenever the door to his cupboard opens it's always Uncle Vernon or Aunt Petunia standing there.

Heroes don't exist.

If he wants to be saved, he'll have to save himself.

He's eleven and he's just saved a girl from a huge, smelly troll.

He's half-dizzy with adrenaline and giddy because he now has not one friend but two, and he and Ron are grinning at each other like loons and he fleetingly wonders if this is what it feels like to be a hero.

He's twelve and there's a freckled face grinning at him through the bars on his window (his tower) and his heart is beating wildly and suddenly he knows he was wrong, heroes do exist, and they're twelve too and gangly and red-haired and he's never loved anyone more in his life.

He's thirteen and his mother's screams are ringing inside his head.

Ron passes him a chocolate frog and tells him about the time Fred charmed his hair purple.

He's fourteen and he's just watched a classmate die (he could have been a friend and Cedric, more than anyone else he knows, looked the part of a prince).

Ron's quiet, steadfast presence at his side is a rock and a shield both. He is just tall enough that Harry can comfortably rest his head on his friend's shoulder, and the hollow of his collarbone is just the right size for his head.

He's fifteen and the scars on Ron's arms match the ones on his own hand and arm, and he guiltily thinks (wishes) that in a twisted kind of way, it makes them brothers.

He's sixteen and tired and too old to believe in fairytales anymore, but Ron still sits by him at the funeral, holding Hermione's hand and his eyes on Harry, waiting, trusting, waiting for the next move.

He's seventeen and his best friend drags him out of the frozen pond, hauling him up out of the icy water and dumping him onto the snow-covered ground. He's shaking with the cold, and the wetness on his face isn't just from the pond, either, but he clings to Ron because he came, he cared, he always did and Harry knows he always will.