1. He first met Draco Malfoy when he was six.
He was in Twilfit and Tattings with his father, who was showing Mr. Twilfit samples of the Merino. He had been bored, and when the tall, silver-haired man came in with the little boy about his own age, he'd thought maybe they could play together while the adults did their business. He'd not been all that disappointed when he couldn't because they boy was the one getting the clothes and had to be measured, but he wandered over to watch anyway, because he'd never seen a child with robes that nice. He'd been curious, and the man and the boy - Draco, he said his name was - had even let him feel the soft, beautiful fabric, but there'd been a funny smile on the man's face, and when he left, he could hear him tell Draco in a voice that was meant for Ernie to hear, "Remember that boy, Draco. There's a difference between people with money and people of quality." The man looked at his Pa's spellotaped sample case and Ernie's own hand-me-down trousers when he said it, and although it took a few years to really understand, he got the gist of it instantly, and it hurt.
2. He knew Justin and Hannah would be his best friends within five minutes.
They were the only ones in the compartment, like himself, openly hoping for Hufflepuff, and they banded together at first from sheer necessity of keeping one another's backs against the taunting that came from the would-be Slytherins and Gryffindors over expressing such a wish. In hindsight, they all realized that such instant loyalty was probably a sign that they would get their wish, but it lasted a lot longer than the train ride itself. They were very different people, from very different worlds, but they all had a love of the outdoors in one way or another - Hannah's love of plants and flowers, his own farming background, Justin's horses - and even beyond that, something just clicked. Something wordless and inexplicable, but it was right, and by the time they started getting teased about mimicking another trio that had formed in the same year but rather more famously, all were quick to point out that actually, they'd been first.
3. He couldn't really read until he was eight, and it was never easy.
It wasn't that he was stupid. Once he could make the words make sense, he understood them perfectly well and retained the information easily enough. And if someone read to him, he did just fine. But no matter how many times he went over it, no matter how many little tricks his mother and tutor tried to show him, all he could think was that that part of him must be very stupid, because other people said they saw the letters one way, and he saw them another. Well, really, he was lucky if he saw them the same way twice the way they seemed to flip and scramble on the page. His only hope, and even then it took a lot longer than it should have, was to plant a finger on the line of text and follow it letter by letter.
4. He practiced for hours in private to try and subdue his burr before he went to Hogwarts.
Ernie was never ashamed of being Scottish, but he was ashamed of being so country. He wanted to come off as someone that people respected, not just as a man to be reckoned with, like the shopkeepers that even his father - who could buy and sell them twice over without touching Gringotts - treated deferentially. So he smoothed his r's as he fetched water, enunciated can-not instead of cannae while he graded hair, and listened to the announcers on the WWN long after he should have been asleep. When the lady at Kings Cross asked him if he was Scottish and called him "Mr. Macmillan" instead of "wee Ernie," he nearly shouted in very ungentlemanly triumph, but instead just managed to nod and say "Yes (not 'aye') ma'am, I'm from near (not nigh aboos) Inverness. I'm going (not 'gyine') to (not 'tae') Hogwarts this year."
5. He saw no reason for mushrooms to exist, and even less for people to eat them.
Slimy when cooked, mushy and rubbery when raw, they tasted to Ernie like the mouthful of mud you somehow always wound up with when you played Quidditch in the rain. Knowing how they were grown did not help, and although he'd tried gamely to make a go of a dozen varieties prepared an equal number of supposedly enticing ways, they still ranked firmly as the foulest substance commonly accepted as food. He considered it the greatest act of love he had ever performed for Susan that he not only made it through the entire omelette she had made for him the morning after their wedding, but that he did so smilingly and managed to tell her afterwards without hurting her feelings.
6. He changed so much over third year that his own mother didn't recognize him at first.
Puberty wasn't something that he hit, it was something that hit him with all the force of being run over by a herd of Hungarian Horntails. In one year, he went from five feet tall and rather chubby - although that he'd suddenly plumped up out of nowhere the year before should have been a clue that his body was getting ready to do something significant - to five ten and nearly two hundred pounds of broad-shouldered, narrow-waisted muscle. His voice plummeted, the hair that had been mouse-brown and straight became a pile of straw-blonde ringlets, and his cheekbones and jawline seemed to erupt. Fiona Macmillan had put a little boy on the train in September, and he spent both the Christmas and Easter holidays with Justin, so when a strapping young man approached her on the platform at the end of June, it was honestly only his resemblance to his father that convinced her that it wasn't some kind of prank, even though he'd written home to get money for new uniforms three times.
7. He never intended to play Quidditch
The sport hadn't really appealed to him. It seemed rather silly, just riding around on a broomstick throwing balls around, and he couldn't see where the athleticism came into it after the sports he knew among the workmen in the Highlands. When Cedric Diggory approached him in the spring of third year, asking if he'd be willing to take the place of their injured Chaser, he'd been stunned and hadn't imagined what could have prompted the choice. One practice, however, had taught him that catching and throwing a seven-pound solid rubber ball moving at that kind of speed and doing so with precision for hours at a time, not to mention clinging to and controlling a high-powered broomstick with your legs alone while holding your balance through turns and spins, rapid climbs and plummeting dives, all the while avoiding getting the crap knocked out of you by two small cannonballs...yeah, that was a sport. And it made sense why Diggory had wanted a kid who could propel said seven-pound ball from one set of hoops to the other in a single explosive pitch.
8. He didn't believe in love until he was in it.
It seemed ridiculous in stories, in songs, when other boys mooned around the common room declaring themselves hopelessly besotted with one witch or another. He was too sensible for that, too practical. He'd had crushes, sure, and there had been some powerful - if volitile and not alltogether healthy - chemistry with Morag in sixth year, but he knew he just wasn't the type to get sappy over anything. Much less a girl. Much less a tiny slip of a thing who drew flowers on her notebook and wore pale pink ribbons in her hair and liked to read sentimental stories about animals that made her cry in the common room. But when it happened, it was like a force of nature, and maybe it was fate's implacable sense of irony, but within twenty-four hours of their first kiss, he knew he was head over heels.
9. He never forgave Harry for not telling them about Cedric.
Really, he'd never much liked Potter. He understood completely that there was no controlling something that happened when you were a year old, as well as that the kid hadn't known he was a wizard until just before coming to Hogwarts, but it was the attitude he didn't like. If Potter had embraced and reveled in his celebrity, it would have been a little nauseating, true, but it would have made more sense than this constant air of martyrdom. He was different, same as if he'd been born deaf or with something wrong in his head that made the words spin on the page. He needed to deal with it, buckle down, and just do what needed to be done without moping around so bloody much, and the way he handled Cedric's death was the most breathtakingly selfish thing Ernie had ever seen. Yeah, it must have been hard on him, but didn't he realize Cedric had been a human being, someone with friends and Housemates and family? That he'd deny them the basic closure of knowing how he'd died for his own angst, and then turn around and tell it to a tabloid newspaper before breathing a word to the people who'd been asking, begging to know, but who he still expected to follow him...
10. He was a little afraid of his own strength, and very afraid of his own temper.
He hadn't realized exactly what he was capable of until he had gone back to the dorms that awful evening after Cedric's dead body had appeared in the middle of triumph in the arena. He'd been so angry, so scared, so struck with the wrongness, the unfairness of it that he'd barely been able to see through the tears, his whole body tight and shaking and feeling like he was about to throw up at any moment. He'd not known how to handle it, never felt anything like it before, this urge to hit, to hurt, Merlin help him, to kill, and he lashed out at his own bed in what was just supposed to be something to relieve some of the tension. The post was five inches wide, solid carved oak, and it splintered off like a rotten twig, breaking two fingers and embedding dagger-like splinters deep into his knuckles. He stared at it in shock for almost a full minute before he even heard Zach saying they had to get him to hospital wing, and he never, never forgot.
11. He was terrified of spiders.
It didn't matter if they were teeny ones. It didn't matter if he knew a dozen spells that could obliterate them without getting anywhere near the nasty, creepy, crawling, hideous things. If he saw one, all rational decision-making about size ratio and harmlessness and even that they supposedly ate all kinds of other bad bugs flew right out the proverbial window. If his pride was lucky, or the situation important enough, he would just freeze up and turn approximately the color of a dead fish. If his pride was unlucky, he screamed like a girl and ran for it. He didn't know why this was, he had never - until they were under attack by Acromantula at the final battle, and then, ironically, it was all too mental to even care - had a bad experience with them. They were just scary.
12. He had never even thought about marriage before Susan.
The idea of getting married always seemed like something that would be a long way off. He was only eighteen, there was school to finish, then he wanted to go on to some more advanced levels in Care of Magical Creatures, take some business courses, see if he could get his father to make some changes on the farm, go on a good long gap-year break with Hannah and Justin. At some point, eventually, he knew he'd meet a girl, that they'd date a while, that he'd probably propose, but this was always somewhere in the vagueries of the far-distant future known as "in my twenties or so." And yes, if he hadn't thought they were going to die, he'd have waited with Susan, but he saw no point in kidding himself. By the time he was down on one knee offering the most beautiful girl in the world a the biggest, most heartfelt ring he'd been able to find, he knew he was only jumping the gun by a matter of months.
13. He'd gotten his nose broken for a girl. Twice.
Weren't the Gryffindors supposed to be the ones with the brainlessly chivalrous streak? True, Ernie knew that no one actually fit completely into the charicteristics of one House, but despite being fully and proudly Hufflepuff, he knew he had an occasionally unhealthy streak of thoughtless bravery. This first became something he really considered in hospital wing after intercepting a Bludger that had been going straight for Lynn Fawcett's blind side. With his face. The second time he was in hospital wing, this time for taking a face full of blast-ended skrewt for Padma Patil, it was just ridiculous. Justin called them Gryffinpuff moments.
14. He wished his father could understand the difference between quality and excess.
Yes, he knew about the famed Scottish thrift. Yes, he knew that his father's childhood had been lived on the proud edge between poverty and working-class until his grandfather had the brilliant idea of importing Demiguise. But they were wealthy now, very wealthy, and while he didn't want to be wasteful, Ernie couldn't abide everything being covered in Spellotape and thrice magically mended, clothing being passed back and forth until it was falling to pieces, then used for other things, eating off tin plates dented into what was approaching abstract art. In half a dozen fights that grew more bitter through his teens, his father accused him of wanting to be shamefully exorbitant, but he thought it was a lot more shameful to have shirts more often turned and mended than Ron Weasley's when Draco was sneering from across the Great Hall with new, custom-tailored Italian shirts and half his worth at Gringotts.
15. They gave up on trying to change each other after sixth year.
When Ernie came of age, he also came into the first part of his inheritance. True, it would all be his as the only child when his parents died, but eight million Galleons was nothing to sneeze at. Half of that still remained untouched at Gringotts, but he had invested most of the other half, something he did not see as 'fool gambling,' and certainly not when he was already seeing such returns from Weasleys Wizard Wheezes alone, and some of the choices Justin had suggested on the Muggle markets were doing quite nicely as well, although he had no idea what half of them were, nor why anyone would sell stock in mechanical apples. A very small amount of it went to himself, and he bought a proper wardrobe, a good broom, some quality luggage, and a few nicities for his room. Looking back, he wouldn't have done it any differently, but he hates that it was clearly more of a painful blow to his father when he came home in new clothes than when he came home a year later with a wife they'd never met.
16. He couldn't hold half the alcohol he thought he should.
People expected a bloke raised rough in the Scottish Highlands, to be able to drink just about anyone under the table. True, he could out-drink most people, but that was just sheer body mass...by seventh year he was just shy of six feet and sixteen stone. But put him with someone of comparable size, and he was shown up quickly for the lightweight he really was. This wouldn't have been a big deal, he didn't really like to go drinking, nor the feeling of being wasted, but there was the small, niggling fact that his best friend, his practically brother, his top mate in all the world had a tolerance for the stuff like a bloody drafthorse.
17. He took N.E.W.T. potions entirely to spite Snape.
Potions wasn't generally anyone's favorite class who wasn't in Slytherin, but it was particular hell for Ernie. Snape's bias against Potter and Longbottom in the Gryffindor/Slytherin classes was legendary, but in the Hufflepuff/Ravenclaw sessions, it was Ernie who proved his favorite target. There was so much emphasis on quick, precise reading, and half the directions weren't even in the books at all, but scrawled on the board in Snape's tiny, angular handwriting which meant they might as well be in Chinese. He knew it wasn't fair, but he was damned if he'd beg sympathy from that Professor, so he lowered his head and barrelled through with raw hard work and determination. It took him hours longer than any other class, with Quidditch practice and the D.A. the potions O.W.L.s nearly killed him with sleep deprevation, but he memorized every possible instruction and variation, brewed the potions on his own in the common room, had Justin and Hannah record the books and class notes so he could listen to them time and again. He wound up with an O, and although he was roundly disappointed that Snape wouldn't be their N.E.W.T. teacher, he was satisfied enough with the look on his face when he passed him on the way to the dungeon classroom in sixth year, and he even felt cheek enough to blow his old teacher a kiss and thank him.
18. He was completely tone-deaf.
He loved music, he loved to listen to music, he would have loved to play an instrument. Unfortunately, musical talent was something that fate had not seen fit to bestow upon Ernest Ian Macmillan. He knew that he had a pleasant enough voice, but he couldn't carry a tune with a Permanent Sticking Charm. Justin had a lovely voice and had sung with the choir at his old school, and he tried a few times to teach Ernie how to find a key and stay there, but eventually, friendship meant declaring him hopeless. Privately, he still liked to sing, but it wasn't embarrassment as much as not wanting to inflict it on others. Hannah and Justin were the only ones he'd sing in front of while sober...well, and Susan. But somehow, when he was singing lullabies to his daughter, it didn't seem half as awkward.
19. His moment of greatest fear was holding Colin's life in his hands.
The boy's neck was almost as slender as Susan's, and even though he was only two years younger, he looked like a little child there, his face slack and strangely peaceful, his eyelashes fanned gold across his parchment-white cheeks in the dim light of the basement, his lips just barely parted and horribly blue-purple. The wand seemed like a spear by contrast, thick and heavy and pulsing ominously warm, and he could feel the eyes of the others on him like a weight that pressed the air from his lungs. One wrong move, off by as little as a fraction of an inch, and he'd stab what little life was left from the boy they were all depending on so much, flood his lungs with the blood that could have saved him. When the razor-sharp tip pierced the skin, Colin jerked, and he almost lost his nerve right there, but Neville nodded him to go on, and all he could do was tighten his hand to keep it from shaking, force himself to feel the faint distinction of the arterial wall, and just hope, oh, Merlin, please, just hope that he was doing it right as he slid it in and allowed the blood to begin its flow. When nothing disasterous happened, when he felt the fluttering pulse start to strengthen, saw the lips begin to pink again, he almost sobbed with relief, but he couldn't allow it to really break loose until it was all over and he'd done everything he needed to settle things at Gretna Green. But when he was at last in the arms of the woman he'd barely realized was now his wife, it took an hour before he could breathe enough to speak.
20. He watched over his daughter every day of her life.
He had thought he'd be taken from them forever, been fully willing to sacrifice that, and in a way he did. He could never touch the child's soft, rosy cheeks, couldn't hold her hand when she started trying to stagger upright on chubby little legs, couldn't hold her the first time a boy broke her heart, couldn't walk her down the aisle to slip her delicate hands - so like her mother's - into Neville Smith's hand, couldn't toss his grandchildren laughing into the air while she covered her eyes. But he could still be there, still look on and let her feel his silent presence, even long after she grew too old to see him or hear him properly. He could watch her grow, watch her live, watch her learn and love and even sometimes lose, and for every moment of her long, long life before he finally passed on to whatever had been waiting for him for nearly ninety years, he knew it had been more than worth it. He hadn't lived a life without regrets, but he never regretted how it ended.