Alliances, Part Two: O.W.L.s
: Please note that the next few chapters of this story will take place exclusively within the Potterverse, as there is a lot to establish before Cordelia's arrival. Also, as stated before, I am taking exception with the canonical O.W.L. scores of the Golden Trio. This isn't a caprice; it will be relevant to the story. Harry's class standing will be explained in a later chapter.* * * * *
Harry blew through the pub and nodded a hello to Tom, the barkeep, before exiting the back and tapping the pattern of bricks which would open the portal into the Alley.
He could sense Tonks behind him and resisted the impulse to turn around and wave at her again. He gathered there were other Aurors already stationed throughout the shopping district, and Harry decided to make a game out of recognizing them and, if possible, making them work hard for their galleons.
He immediately set off for Gringotts Wizarding Bank, which shone like a beacon in the middle of the Alley.
He strode toward it with purpose and hoped his short legs pumped hard enough that Tonks had to struggle to keep up with him. He then felt malicious and guilty for attempting to put the Auror through her paces. It wasn’t as if Tonks had ever done anything to him, but he now found himself questioning how much of her friendly attitude toward him was genuine and how much was orchestrated by Dumbledore to compel him to trust her. Not that he didn’t distrust Tonks necessarily, but Harry understood that her loyalty to the Headmaster superseded whatever affection she might have felt for him.
He threw open the door to the bank and nervously looked around. This was the first time he had come to Gringotts on his own to withdraw from his vault, as he usually had either a faculty member or one of the Weasleys with him, or else Dumbledore had arranged for a transfer. Now, however, Harry was determined to understand his finances and to plan accordingly.
He turned to his left and a huge smile overtook his face as he caught sight of Bill Weasley strolling toward him. Harry allowed himself to fantasize just for a moment. Bill’s gloriously wavy copper hair tied back into a neat ponytail; the obligatory snake fang earring which, as far as Harry was concerned, was the epitome of coolness; the tall, lithe body in snug clothes overlaid with an open robe which hinted at well-defined pectoral muscles and...
“Are you okay, Harry?,” Bill asked, concern etched on his face. Seeing the flush, he brought a hand to the boy’s forehead, wincing when Harry shivered. “Are you well?”
“Oh!,” Harry squeaked. “Er, yeah, I’m fine. It’s getting warm outside, you know.”
Bill nodded, but didn’t appear quite convinced. “I was surprised to receive your letter last night.” He decided to refrain from informing Harry that Dobby had interrupted he and Fleur at a most unwelcome moment. “Have you seen the twins yet?”
Harry shook his head. “No, but I’ll probably pop over after I’m done here.” He hesitated a moment and then dropped his eyes. “How are Ron and Ginny?”
“Worried,” Bill admitted. “Especially Ron." He sighed. "Harry, I know you’re not trying to be cruel, but it’s been weeks since the end of last term, and neither Ron nor Hermione have heard anything from you. They’re desperately afraid that you’re going to do something...unhealthy. Ginny keeps advising them to leave you alone and allow you time, but...”
Harry sighed. “I know. And no, I’m not trying to be cruel.” He blinked furiously. “I just...I need time to get my head together, to figure out how I’m going to move forward.”
Bill gave him an inscrutable gaze before offering a brief nod. “I think you’re coping remarkably well. It’s always surprised me how easily others dismiss you despite all you’ve done. Don’t worry, Harry. I won’t say anything to Ron or Ginny.”
“Thank you,” Harry whispered. He cleared his throat. “And Fleur? How is she?”
It was then Bill’s turn to blush and for Harry to smirk. “She’s well.”
“Your parents? And, er, Charlie?”
Bill kept his face a blank as he finally recognized Harry’s blush for what it was.
So, Charlie, was it? Well, he wasn’t that surprised. The dragon thing seemed to fascinate everyone. It should certainly prove interesting if anything developed, given their age difference. In fact, Bill could hardly wait for his mother to offer her opinion on the matter, which she would do loudly and frequently. Finally, something which might deflect her attention from he and Fleur.
“All fine. Now, what can we help you with today?”
Harry launched into his list of requests.* * * * *
Hermione danced around her room, clutching her scores in her hand and terrified of opening them. What if they were good? What if they were bad? What if they were significantly better than those of Harry and Ron? Would they act differently around her? Despise her? She thought she might prefer that to quiet, seething hostility.
No. Rubbish. She knew both were proud of her grades and would continue to be. She was more nervous that Harry had done better than Ron, for Harry was the one person over whom Ron was continually jealous. For all their sakes, she hoped Ron had done well. Squaring her shoulders and hitching her breath, Hermione tore open the envelope and began to read.Ordinary Wizarding Level ResultsHermione Jane Granger has received:Ancient Runes
... (O/O)Care of Magical Creatures
... (O/O)Defense Against the Dark Arts
... (O/O)History of Magic
... (O)Muggle Studies
... (O/O)Total O.W.L.s Earned: 19Please note that there are varying determining factors in computing the final scores, not limited to but including raw magical power, strength of performance, length of spellcasting, and others. Those course which have both Theory and Practical portions have been assigned a score for each.Special Notes:Congratulations, Miss Granger! You have received perfect scores and more O.W.L.s than any previous witch or wizard at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, save Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, and you are hereby awarded the Governors’ Award for Academic Excellence for your meritorious achievements! Information regarding the award ceremony will be delivered by owl at a later date.Class Standings:
1. Hermione Granger (Gryffindor)
2. Padma Patil (Ravenclaw)
3. Harry Potter (Gryffindor)
4. Draco Malfoy (Slytherin)
5. Blaise Zabini (Slytherin)
6. Neville Longbottom (Gryffindor)
7. Ronald Weasley (Gryffindor)
8. Justin Finch-Fletchley (Hufflepuff)
9. Lisa Turpin (Ravenclaw)
10. Susan Bones (Hufflepuff)* * * * *
Hermione collapsed on the edge of her bed, staring dumbly at the parchment in her hand. Nineteen O.W.L.s. More than anyone in the history of the school except Dumbledore. Governor’s Award. First in the class.
She suddenly realized she wasn’t breathing and forced her lungs to inhale steadily until her respirations began to even. She then reread the letter.
Merlin! Harry was third
in the class! Ron
was seventh! This was wonderful! Even Ron could find no fault with these rankings.
Padma was a given. Malfoy was, unfortunately, not a surprise; whatever else the ferret might be, stupid was not among them. Zabini was somewhat startling, but Hermione reasoned that this was most likely because no one outside of Slytherin House knew very much about him.
She was inordinately pleased by Neville’s standing; she hoped it would serve further his developing confidence and would hopefully get his overbearing grandmother off his back. She also thought it lovely that Susan Bones had made the cut so that all four Houses would be almost equally represented, even if Gryffindor had an edge; if the girl was anything like her imposing aunt, Hermione could well believe Susan had earned those scores.
She then began to panic.
She was already openly shunned by many of her fellow students, albeit not those in Gryffindor House, but most were hostile toward her because of her high grades. She knew that once the number of O.W.L.s she had received, more than any other student in the school’s history save one, was made known, the scorn would be even worse.
Of course, that disdain stemmed mostly from Ravenclaws and boys from all houses, all of whom thought they should be at the top of the heap. Still, Hermione had enough to sense to know that there was no purpose in concealing her abilities. She was proud of them and she wasn’t about to surrender them simply because they made others spiteful, specifically Draco Malfoy.
She was slightly insecure, however, because she knew that her record could easily be beaten this coming year by Luna Lovegood, depending on which courses the girl undertook. The only reason Luna hadn’t before met or surpassed Hermione as the best student in the school was simply because Luna was uncaring about her academic performance and took less classes than Hermione herself.
While Hermione had to work hard for her grades, magic, both theory and practical, came quite easily to Luna, and Hermione suspected this was the true cause of most of her resentment toward the younger girl. She knew it was childish and petty, but she was unable to move beyond it, which left her feeling frustrated and guilty.
Too, Hermione knew that Harry had the ability to move beyond both she and Luna when it came to scores. She was so proud of him for ranking third in the class, but she knew he could do better. She knew he could have beaten her, and the only reason he hadn’t was because he had slacked off in classes for years
and his revisions weren’t very comprehensive. Not that he didn’t have mitigating circumstances for slacking off, of course, but still.
The reason so many people insisted Harry Potter was the most powerful wizard in Britain was because it was true. She had seen enough of it that it could not be dismissed as either rumor or propaganda. However, when it came to schoolwork, Harry simply couldn’t be bothered to apply himself, only doing the minimum amount of work to scrape by. She constantly harped on him about it, and didn’t apologize when he accused her of being like Snape, for this was one issue on which Hermione firmly sided with the Potions professor. There truly was no limit to what Harry could accomplish if he put his mind to it.
He would excel brilliantly in Arithmancy and Ancient Runes, for Harry was incredibly logical and, once the rules were explained, he could put pieces together faster than anyone, including herself. On the one hand, anyone not living up to their potential annoyed her greatly; but on the other, in a deep part of her subconscious of which she was ashamed, she secretly delighted that she was able to beat Harry at something. It troubled because it meant she was no better than Ron when it came to competing with Harry, even though Harry remained in the dark about what sometimes motivated Hermione to push herself so hard in her studies.
She often wondered why Harry held back so much. Sometimes, she attributed it to his fear of failure or being indirectly responsible for hurting someone for whom he cared. At other times, she believed that he restrained himself so that those around him could find their own personal success.
After the years he spent as the Dursleys’ slave gardener, Harry was only slightly less talented in Herbology than Neville Longbottom, and Professor Sprout liked Harry immensely; still, he shied away and let Neville shine, because Harry understood Neville needed it more than he.
Hermione had been frankly astonished when Ron was made Prefect, and later she endlessly wondered if it was because Harry had turned it down. Harry had denied her accusations fervently, but she had sensed he was holding something back. She wouldn’t have put it past Dumbledore to give Ron something to call his own.
And then there was Quidditch last year. Harry had pushed for Ron to be given a spot on the team, and Ron had turned out to be a dreadful player until Harry was banned from the sport. Once free from Harry’s shadow, Ron crawled out from beneath it and carved a niche for himself. Harry had said nothing, but Hermione had seen his emerald eyes ringed with pride and sadness. Harry never spoke of Ron’s jealousy of him, but she knew it wounded him deeply. Harry had long ago decided that Ron’s happiness was more important than his own. And that made Hermione very, very angry.
And then there were the times that Hermione believed Harry was terrified he would
succeed and defeat Voldemort. What would become of the Boy Who Lived to Triumph? And how many lives would be lost or irrevocably altered in the process?
She had to pack. She had to get to Ron so they could start planning on how to deal with their best friend.* * * * *
Almost three hours later, Harry had left the bank and a shell-shocked and furious Bill Weasley, and tried to begin processing all that he had learned. He finally decided to wait and unpack it later, as well as plan how much he would reveal and to whom he would entrust this information, even piecemeal. Especially Ron and Hermione.
He wandered about Diagon Alley to clear his head and considered it with newfound eyes. He hadn’t explored the majority of the stores; he didn’t even know most of their wares. He threw a surreptitious glance toward Knockturn Alley before dismissing it. He couldn’t justify his curiosity, and if he ever found reason to venture down it’s dark path, he would wait for an escort. Of course, he was sure that had he made for the path, Tonks or another Auror would have stood in his way. He sighed.
He then halted, breathed deeply, and tried to remember his first visit here, with Hagrid, when the wizarding world had been just revealed to him, heralding an unimaginable future and the belief that he might soon have a life which ceased to suck. Hagrid had given him Hedwig, his first ever birthday present, and that day Harry had made two new friends. He had caught the train, met Ron and, unfortunately, Draco Malfoy.
Harry began moving again, but his mind was firmly clamped around the vision of an eleven-year-old silvery blond, who now arrested his thoughts. Sometimes Harry wondered what his life would have become if he had taken Malfoy’s hand that day in Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions. Would he have been able to maintain his friendship with Ron while forging something new with Draco?
Harry supposed the answer was no, for he had come to know both boys too well. Ron would never have stayed at his side had Harry made any attempt to befriend Draco, for the blond’s cutting insults and vicious behavior were more than almost anyone, other than a Slytherin, could bear. As for Draco, Harry knew how his rival reveled in the power of manipulation. He would have subtly, but constantly, discouraged Harry’s friendships with Ron and Hermione, and isolated him to the point where he would have had no one but Draco on whom to rely. He shuddered at the thought.
Still, at other times, Harry honestly felt sorry for Draco. As far as he could discern, the little ferret had been given a raw deal in the parental department. Lucius was nothing but a bastard, and Narcissa, though Harry had only met her once, briefly, seemed more concerned about appearances than with her child. He wondered which was worse: having no parents, or having Draco’s parents. He thought about that as he made a circuitous route around Diagon Alley, window shopping all the while.
That notion soon segued into another: was Draco his miserable self because of conditioning or because he was just inherently an insufferable brat? How much of his behavior was his attempt at becoming a carbon copy of Lucius, and how much was Draco simply following instinct? There were times where Harry was positive he saw Draco thinking hard about the consequences of his actions, but taking the expected route anyway. Were that true, Draco was weaker than Harry had previously considered.
He had spent a lot of the past six years thinking about Draco Malfoy. Some of his friends considered it an obsession, but his and Draco’s adversarial relationship couldn’t be so easily qualified. It was difficult not
to consider someone who made it their personal mission to destroy you. Every time Harry turned around, Draco was in his face, making snide comments about his appearance, his parents, and his friends, particularly Hermione. Harry understood that part of the vitriol Draco reserved for Hermione was because she bested him in every class, and Draco was nothing if not proud of his intelligence.
Harry snickered. “If only he’d use his powers for Good."
Still, did Draco have any more viable choices in his life than Harry himself had? Draco was raised to be a Death Eater and a proud Slytherin. He was bred to be cunning, cold, and calculating; by all accounts, he had succeeded brilliantly. He believed himself better than everyone because he had been told from birth that it was true, so it was partially understandable that when confronted with someone like Hermione, who clearly was
smarter, Draco would become enraged.
And then there was Draco’s relationship with Ron. It would be comical if it wasn’t so violent. While Harry didn’t have a problem defending himself either verbally or physically, Ron always reduced his every interaction with Draco to fisticuffs. Ron had grown considerably since first year, and now towered over both Harry and Draco; years of Quidditch training with his brothers and then making the house team had lent solid muscles to Ron’s once lanky frame.
“Don’t think about Ron’s muscles!,” he chastised himself. “Don’t think about anyone’s
Ron had grown into a young man who was very physically intimidating and, while Ron had yet to fully assimilate that fact, he nevertheless resorted to brawling when he or his were threatened. It scared Draco, because the boy knew he would be helpless in a fight against Ron. Hell, Draco nearly wet his pants and sobbed when Hermione had slugged him, a punch with Harry and Ron had quickly deemed ‘The Slap Felt Round the World’.
Hermione and Ron, just by the virtue of being themselves, had deepened the hatred Draco felt for them, which had blossomed simply because of their connection to Harry. It was stupid and selfish and immature, but Draco Malfoy was all those things. Harry questioned what would happen to Draco when and if he was confronted with the decision of being his father’s man, or his own. Either way, he had yet another reason to dread the start of the coming term.* * * * *
Hermione sat alone on her parent’s sofa - she no longer felt as if her childhood home was truly hers - waiting for her escort and contemplating things. She was both excited by and tremulous at her impending reunion with Ron, and soon with Harry, and her guts twisted in a knot at being confronted with Molly Weasley’s open hostility, which was only marginally better than Ginny’s passive-aggressive stance on All Things and People Concerned with Harry Potter.
She had already completed all of her summer homework, and there was little to do until the Weasleys took all of them to Diagon Alley for their new books and supplies. Therefore, she was looking not so forward to six weeks of uncomfortable chatter mixed with equally uncomfortable silences.
Hermione had determined, however, that once she arrived at the Burrow, she was going to make a beeline toward Ron and settle things once and for all: her feelings for him, his for her, and their feelings for Harry. As the latter wasn’t due to arrive for almost a month, Hermione figured she had a good couple of hours to confront and then settle Ron on the important issues, hopefully skirting Molly’s iciness, Ginny’s stares, and the twins’ pranks. Then she would have several weeks to break down Ron's defenses.
The real question was how was she to approach Ron so that he didn’t immediately blow his top or didn’t retreat inside his mind and withdraw? Sometimes Hermione wondered if Ron had learned that little tactic from Harry.
Harry. She saw his green eyes materialize before her.
How could anything that startling shade of green exist in nature? Hermione felt silly, sitting there daydreaming about Harry’s eyes, knowing that everyone fawned over said eyes, while Harry himself thought they were nothing special.
Because they were his mother’s eyes.
That’s what everyone in the wizarding world had told Harry; he looked exactly like his father, except for his eyes, which were the legacy of his mother, Lily. Poor Harry. How could he hope to become his own person when his mere presence reminded people of his long-dead parents?
Harry was like a living, breathing echo of two of the wizarding world’s most beloved heroes, and all of the adoration and affection and expectation once ascribed to James and Lily Potter had been foisted onto their only child. And Harry was
still a child, despite all of his accomplishments and the hormones running amok amongst all of them.
The rest of Harry appeared in her mind. A jaw so strong and defined that she was sure it could shatter buildings; lips thin, yet preposterously voluptuous; hair that was so wild, it grew in tufts rather than centimeters.
She had touched that hair a few times, accidentally, and allowed her fingers to hesitate just a fraction longer than necessary. She was amazed at how soft it was, at its thickness, and all she wanted to do was run her fingers lazily through it until he, she, or both of them purred with contentment.
Harry was still ridiculously thin and, while he had a few growth spurts since she had known him, he was quite short compared to their classmates. Hermione suspected this had more to do with Harry enduring malnutrition at the hands of his vulture relatives than any genetic predisposition. It wasn’t enough for them to starve his soul, they also had starved his body. She wondered if he would ever attain the stature he was owed. Five years of Quidditch had transformed Harry’s scrawny frame into one which was wiry and roped with muscle, but still quite slight.
Hermione barely stopped herself from drooling at the thought of Harry’s powerful thighs, about the way they gripped a broom, perhaps indicating how they might grip a woman. She shuddered and exhaled deeply.
Still, Harry exuded more presence than people much taller than he. When Harry walked into a room, people stopped to notice. It wasn’t just the legend of the Boy Who Lived, or that he was the Potter heir; it was something inherent about him, something magnetic which drew people’s attention like moths to flame. He was arresting.
Ron was just as potent, but in different ways. He had the height for which Harry longed, having sprouted to over six feet last year. He was also thin, but unlike Harry, Ron was slender and not slight. His blue eyes were just as remarkable as Harry’s green, especially with that shock of carroty red hair which adorned his head.
While Harry sought to hide himself from his throng of fans, Ron tried desperately to free himself from the reality of his family. He wanted to be Ron
, not simply another Weasley. Not that Ron was ashamed of his family, of course, just that he wanted to carve out his own identity. Only too late Ron had realized that he had emerged from one shadow only to step into that of one which loomed far greater.
Still, Hermione realized, that was a choice Ron had made, and he must obviously have felt a great deal toward Harry to have stayed at his side these past six years, so she didn’t waste time feeling sorry for him.
The only person other than she who seemed to have such effect on Ron and Harry was Draco Malfoy.
Unlike the two former, the latter was all too aware of his beauty. Hermione was not so far gone that she was unable to admit, albeit grudgingly, that Malfoy was better looking than he had a right to be. However, he was not without his flaws. Hermione had offered, and her female friends had agreed, that Malfoy’s chin was too pointed and his face too pinched, lending him that skeevy inbred look all too common amongst many Purebloods.
Yet Malfoy’s silky platinum hair managed to soften his otherwise sharp features, lending him an almost elfin quality. Hermione posited that this was due to his Veela heritage, however slight. Although, whereas Veela tended to engender sexual desire in all those who cross their paths, Malfoy was instead gifted with a bizarre charisma which made people take notice of him.
At times, Hermione believed that Malfoy and Harry fought each other a little too much. Everyone had their rivalries, but the two boys had an unnatural - and rather unsettling - need to interfere with each other as much as possible. If Malfoy wasn’t keeping tabs on Harry through his sycophants, than Harry was - via his Invisibility Cloak - obsessively stalking Malfoy, desperately trying to catch the boy in some convoluted scheme. It was as if they simply couldn’t separate themselves. It was all rather unnerving.
It was tiring even to watch them. Hermione could only imagine the energy such a poisonous relationship had on its occupants.
Suddenly, an old Muggle phrase popped into her head: there’s a thin line between love and hate.
She managed not to vomit, though it took considerable effort.* * * * *
“You know,” Ginny began, “the more you stare at it, the longer you’re going to continue freaking out.”
“I’m not freaking out,” Ron squealed, his baritone suddenly a tenor.
“Of course you’re not,” she sneered, patting his hand.
Molly kept a watchful eye on the two from the kitchen, a small smile on her face. She was just as anxious as Ron, but she would wait until he was ready to read his scores. She knew he was desperately worried that he was going to let down both she and his father, as well as being resigned to his belief that he would never do as well as his brothers. Percy’s record spoke for itself, and both Charlie and Bill, who had become Head Boy, had done exceeded even their own expectations.
Many people would have been surprised at how well the twins at done, but Molly hadn’t been; she knew they were brilliant but merely had a different focus than their siblings. She had no doubt that Ginny would do brilliantly next year; she was already ranked high in her class.
Molly understood that it was hardest for Ron, who had grown up in his brothers’ shadows before finally receiving his letter, only to then become eclipsed by Harry. Still, she knew that was a choice Ron had made and if he regretted it, which she doubted he did, he had only himself to blame. She was quite sure Harry had done well, but knew both them would be outshone by Hermione, which frankly was how it should be; the girl worked hard for her success.
“Oh, for goodness sake,” Ginny exclaimed, “if you don’t open them, I will!”
Ron sighed and passed her the envelope. She plucked it out of his fingers, gave him a quick look, and then ripped it open. She then proceeded to blank her face and draw out the suspense, making the occasional clucking sounds and raising her brows.
“Well?,” he demanded.
Ginny said nothing, wanting to make him suffer. It was her duty as his only sister.
“Ginny!,” he roared.
“Hermione is ranked first in your class.”
“Well of course she is,” Ron said, inclining his head.
“Harry is third.”
At this, Ron quirked an eyebrow. “Huh. I have to admit I’m somewhat surprised, but not too much. Harry always manages to pull it out at the last minute.”
“Are you okay?,” she quietly asked, trying to keep her annoyance in check. If her brother was going to be jealous of Harry, she had no time for it.
He looked at her. “I really am. I’m happy for him. Harry’s...suffered. I don’t begrudge him good marks, and if he could pull those off after what happened in the Department of Mysteries, he’s earned them." He suddenly became overly defensive. "Besides, Harry Potter is not stupid.”
Molly beamed with pride.
Ginny cleared her throat. “Well, it seems there’s a new record in the Weasley family.”
Ron groaned. “For what? Most classes failed? Least O.W.L.s earned?”
“No,” she said smugly. “Most O.W.L.s earned.”
Ron blinked. “What?"
“You beat Percy, Ron. You got one more than him! Sixteen O.W.L.s, Ronniekins!,” she screeched, standing up and throwing herself into her brothers arms. “Sixteen!”
“You can’t be serious!,” he sputtered.
“Oh, I’m quite serious,” she said nonchalantly, releasing him with little fanfare. “You also got the highest score on the practical for Divination. The highest score ever
. In the history of the school. You’re getting an award!”
He grabbed the parchment from her hand and began reading.Ordinary Wizarding Level ResultsRonald Bilius Weasley has received:Astronomy
... (A/A)Care of Magical Creatures
... (A/E)Defense Against the Dark Arts
... (E/E)History of Magic
... (E/E)Total O.W.L.s Earned: 16Please note that there are varying determining factors in computing the final scores, not limited to but including raw magical power, strength of performance, length of spellcasting, and others. Those course which have both Theory and Practical portions have been assigned a score for each.Special Notes:Congratulations, Mister Weasley! Your exceptional score on the Divination practical portion of the O.W.L. exam is the highest in Hogwarts History, and we are pleased to inform you that you have received the Eye of the Oracle, which has not been awarded for the past two centuries. Information regarding the award ceremony will be delivered by owl at a later date.Class Standings:
1. Hermione Granger (Gryffindor)
2. Padma Patil (Ravenclaw)
3. Harry Potter (Gryffindor)
4. Draco Malfoy (Slytherin)
5. Blaise Zabini (Slytherin)
6. Neville Longbottom (Gryffindor)
7. Ronald Weasley (Gryffindor)
8. Justin Finch-Fletchley (Hufflepuff)
9. Lisa Turpin (Ravenclaw)
10. Susan Bones (Hufflepuff)* * * * *
“Not very many Os,” Ron said quietly.
“So what?,” Ginny exploded. “You got sixteen O.W.L.s! You’re getting an award! You’re seventh in your class, Ron! Who cares about bloody Os? Stop being ignorant!”
“Well, my Potions score means I won’t be able to become an Auror.” He struggled with a curious mixture of disappointment and relief.
Tell me, Ron, how much of you wanting to be an Auror is about actually wanting to be one, and how much is about you wanting to be with Harry?”
Ron’s blush merely confirmed everything she had suspected, about the Auror thing and so much more and, in an instant, she understood what five years of subtle hints had never been able to accomplish: Harry Potter had never been hers. She had thought that giving him his space and dating other boys to make him jealous would make him see that she was the girl for him, but now she knew that had been fantasy.
If he did indeed want a girl, it wasn’t her, and if he wanted a Weasley, it was Ron. She suppressed a sigh. Truthfully, she had always known Harry would end up with either Ron or Hermione; she just hadn’t wanted to admit it.
Molly also raised an eyebrow at the nonverbal admission and stifled a sigh, realizing that the Trio was bound by just more than an impossibly strong friendship. Part of her was worried, of course, but it was tempered by an even greater and puzzling sense of peace. She gathered she could toss the preliminary wedding plans she had made for Harry and Ginny.
She then smirked. Or perhaps she could cross out her daughter’s name and substitute that of her son. Either way, a Potter-Weasley wedding would be welcome.
“Maybe Harry doesn’t even want to be an Auror anymore,” Ginny said softly. “That night in the Ministry probably changed a lot of things for him.”
“What do you mean?”
Molly stilled her movements and craned her neck, anxious for whatever insight Ginny was about to afford. If she was going to help Harry, she needed whatever information she could get her hands on, and Ginny had always been observant. Sometimes, too much so.
“Ron, Sirius was an Auror, and a good one. He didn’t even have a trial. Where was the loyalty?," she demanded.
"Yes," she continued, "the Aurors catch bad wizards, but they’re ultimately under the control of the Minister, despite whatever other allegiances they might have, like Tonks to Dumbledore. We all saw how Fudge manipulated his employees, the press, and the whole wizarding world to suit his whims. Why would Harry want to be a part of that? Because his father and Sirius were Aurors?"
She shook her head. "I think Harry wanted to be an Auror because he believed he should, as if it was expected of him because of who he is. Well, bollocks to that! Harry’s mother wasn’t one, Hermione won’t be one, and you know how much it bothers Harry that the Ministry treats Dad so poorly. I doubt he’s going to be rushing to join up any time soon.”
He frowned in thought. “You think so?”
“I do, but the bottom line is that you’ve done incredibly well, Ron. It never mattered what Bill or Charlie or Percy got on their exams. You’re not them, and no one wants or expects you to be.” She hugged him again. “I’m so proud of you,” she whispered fiercely, kissing the top of his head.
Ron felt a lump form in his throat as he awkwardly embraced his sister. “Thanks, Gin,” he warbled.
He was unsurprised when he felt another hand on his shoulder, and threw back his head and looked up to find his mother smiling down at him.* * * * *
Harry clutched his newly-filled money pouch in his sweaty hand and hesitantly walked into Madam Malkin’s.
He had been surprised and secretly pleased when he had donned a robe last night only to discover that he had grown slightly. Not much, to be sure, but two inches for Harry Potter was almost a foot for anyone else.
He supposed he should resign himself to the fact that he would never be as tall as his friends, and that when he finally reached seventh year, those who didn’t know him would assume he was still in his fourth. Still, he figured there were worse things than being small for one’s age. He was in general good health, he had good friends, and he was alive.
He flashed again on Sirius and Cedric, but refused to cry. He wanted to move forward, though he knew he could never stop looking back. He guessed he had to settle for moving sideways. Some direction was better than none, and retreat had never been an option.
Right. So he needed new robes. Hopefully, he wouldn’t be running into anyone he knew. He carefully opened the door to the shop, wincing at the loud bell which signaled his arrival, but he was relieved when he saw no other customers. A harried woman rushed out from the back of the store, a tape measure hung over her shoulders and pulling pins out of her cuffs.
“Oh! Mister Potter. I haven’t see you for quite some time. How have you been?”
“Very well, Madam, thank you, and you?”
Delighted by his manners, she proceeded to prattle on about events and people of which he had no idea, but he nodded in the appropriate places and offered small smiles. Placated, she rushed on and asked what she could help him with today.
“Er, actually,” Harry began, “I could use some of everything, but you only sell robes, correct?”
She blinked. “I specialize in robes, but I can easily throw together a new wardrobe should you require one.”
“I’ve grown!,” he chirped, before blushing.
She gave him a gentle smile. “I can tell.” She chuckled as his flush became deeper. “All right, then, shall we begin? Do you have any preferences for colors?”
“I have no idea,” he said ruefully. “Fashion is not exactly my, er, thing.”
She raised an eyebrow. “I see. Well, why don’t you leave everything to me? After we’re done, we can,” she paused as she surveyed with disdain the clothes he was wearing, “incendio
your current ensemble.”