"I wouldn't be surprised if you turned out better than Charlie Weasley, and he could have played for England if he hadn't gone off chasing dragons." -Oliver Wood, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
The head of Gryffindor House lifted her head and eyed him icily. "Ah, Mr. Weasley. Come in. So glad you could join me."
Charlie flipped his sweaty hair out of his eyes. "Sorry, Professor. Practice ran late." He grinned at her, knowing her weak spots.
"Hmm." She shuffled papers. "Well. You've read the pamphlets, I take it?"
Charlie made a noncommittal noise. He hadn't, actually. He hadn't seen the point. He'd always known what he wanted.
There was a trace of impatience in her voice when she asked, "Well? Was there anything that caught your interest? Did you get an idea of what you might want to do with yourself?"
"I know what I want to do with myself. I want to study dragons."
Professor McGonagall stopped shuffling and looked at him for several moments. "There--er--wasn't a pamphlet for that, Weasley."
"I know," he said. "But that's what I want to do." It always had been, since back before he could remember. His friends went through three different career choices in an hour, but for Charlie it was always dragons.
"There's a place for it, isn't there?" he asked. "In--Eastern Europe. Somewhere. I'll apply to work there."
She nodded slowly. "Yes. The Draconis Institute, in Romania."
Romania, that was it. He could never remember all the names of those countries. "Yeah, there. D'you have application forms?"
She cleared her throat. "Ah. Yes." She turned away and rummaged in a drawer. "It's buried, I'm afraid. We haven't had any student express an interest in the Draconis Institute for quite three years."
"S'all right," he said, stretching his feet out in front of him.
She came out with a yellowing packet. "Their requirements are quite stringent."
"I'm really good at Care of Magical Creatures," he said easily.
"Yes," she acknowledged, spreading the papers out on her desk. "But--it's not only Care of Magical Creatures, you know."
His brows drew together. "What else is there?"
She sighed. "N.E.W.T.s are required in--" she settled her glasses on her nose. "Care of Magical Creatures, Defense Against the Dark Arts, Potions, Charms, and Herbology."
Charlie felt his stomach turn into one long icicle and slide to his toes.
"And on top of this, you must demonstrate fluency in Romanian. Bulgarian helps as well. Wizards from all over the world are located at the Draconis Institute, but the lingua franca is Romanian."
"The what?" he asked weakly.
"The common language," she translated.
She looked at him over her glasses. "Weasley," she said kindly. "Why don't we make another appointment? Say in a week or so. You can have another look at those pamphlets. See what might spark your interest. Muggle Liaison, perhaps."
"But I--I want to study dragons," he said. "It's all I've ever wanted."
She set the Draconis Institute's application packet down and folded her hands over it. "I don't like to say this to any student," she said. "But your chances are stunningly slim."
He leaned forward, bracing his hands on the edge of her desk in his desperation. "But you said nobody ever applies there anymore. They're probably glad to get anyone, no matter--"
"I don't think you understand," she said sharply. "The DI does not make their acceptances based on a quota system. If they get fifty applicants, they may accept only one--or they may accept all fifty, provided they are suitable. You are not competing with anyone but their standards."
Charlie's stomach trembled. "But--"
"And trust me, their standards will always come out the winner when the opponent is someone who thinks studying for Potions is finding out which ingredients produce the biggest explosion."
He flinched. "But I--"
"You will either have to make near-miraculous progress in your studies before the O.W.L.s or you will pick another career to aim for, do you understand me?"
"Yes, Professor," he said through cold lips.
"Very well." She settled back in her chair and sighed. For a moment, she looked almost old. "I am sorry," she said more gently. "But it's better to realize these things now, before you start, than to be more cruelly disappointed down the line."
He nodded, unable to form words.
"I'll give you a few pamphlets to read through." She put a few glossy career pamphlets on the desk in front of him. The top one said, So You Want to Be A Zookeeper!
Charlie wanted to rip it into confetti.