An 'Acceptable' in Astronomy. An 'Exceeds Expectations' in Care of Magical Creatures, Charms, Herbology, Potions and Transfigurations. An 'Outstanding' in D.A.D.A. A 'Dreadful' in History of Magic and a 'Poor' in Divination.
They were as good as Harry could have hoped for. He felt just one tiny twinge of regret as this was the end of his ambition to become an Auror. He had not secured the required Potions grade. He had known all along that he wouldn't, but he still felt a sinking in his stomach as he looked again at that small black E where they should've been an O.
Ron's results were almost identical to Harry's except there wasn't a single 'Outstanding', but that did not temper Mrs. Weasley's joy.
"Well done!" she said proudly, ruffling Ron's hair. "Seven O. , that's more than Fred and George got together!"
"Hermione?" said Ginny tentatively. "How did you do?"
"I – not bad," said Hermione in a small voice.
"Oh, come off it," said Ron, striding over to her and whipping her results out of her hand. "Yep…ten 'Outstanding's and one 'Exceeds Expectations' at Defense Against the Dark Arts." He looked at her, half-amused, half-exasperated. "You're actually disappointed, aren't you?"
Hermione shook her head, but Harry laughed.
"Well, we're N.E.W.T students now!" grinned Ron. "Mum, are there any more sausages?"
Their O.W.L results came in that morning and they finally looked upon the outcome from long hours of studying and five years of schooling.
Some left happier than others at said results.
To try and take Hermione's mind off her marks, and to help distract Ginny before she strangled Fleur, or Phlegm as she so affectionately liked to call her, the quartet gathered outside in the summer sun. Where Harry was set to follow through on some repeated advice.
"Dumbledore's going to be giving me private lessons this year," said Harry conversationally. "I don't know exactly why he's going to be giving me lessons, but I think it must be because of the prophecy." No one said a word and he continued, "You know, the one they were trying to steal at the Ministry."
"Nobody knows what it said, though," said Hermione quickly. "Buffy destroyed it."
"Although the Prophet said…" began Ron, but Hermione quickly shushed him.
"The Prophet's got it right," said Harry, looking up at them with a great effort. Hermione seemed frightened, Ron amazed and Ginny was intrigued. "That glass ball that got smashed wasn't the only record of the prophecy. I heard the whole thing in Dumbledore's office, he was the one the prophecy was made to, so he could tell me. From what it said," Harry took a deep breath, "it looks like I'm the one who's got to finish off Voldemort…At least, it said neither of us could live while the other survives."
"So that means you have to…" Ginny began and Harry nodded silently at her assumption.
"We wondered, after we got back from the Ministry," said Hermione. "Obviously, we didn't want to say anything to you, but from what Lucius Malfoy said about the prophecy, how it was about you and Voldemort, well, we thought it might be something like this…"
"Are you all right?" asked Ginny.
He wasn't at first, but things were different now. The battle in Sunnydale changed him, changed all of them. It hardened them just a little bit more. It made them see everything in a new light. Especially when they knew that their own battle against evil was no longer a question but a definitive fact that was closing in.
"There's not much I can do, is there? It seems as though I always knew I'd have to face him in the end…"
"Well, we're here for you, mate," said Ron patting Harry on the back. "We've learned to become handy in a fight. Got the scars to prove it, don't we?"
Harry smiled. Yes, they all definitely had the scars, no matter how minor.
"Have you told Buffy?" Ginny asked. "Because as far prophecies go…"
"Yeah. I did."
"What'd she say?"
He couldn't help but quirk a smile as he recalled her advice.
"She said I was going to hate it. A lot. She said it was going to be hard and painful. And that I'm going to want to give up. That I'm going to think I won't be strong enough. That I can't win."
"Doesn't pull any punches, does she?" said Ron.
Harry ignored him and felt a swell in his chest as he remembered her final words.
"But she said I was going to be wrong. She said I was going to beat him. That I am going to win."
Ginny smiled proudly. "Nope, definitely doesn't pull any punches."
It shouldn't come as a surprise, but Ron was still left a little amazed at Buffy's unwavering faith of Harry. Guess Buffy was turning out to be an all right girl after all.
"Did she say anything else?" asked Hermione, and she glanced at him long enough to see him shake his head before she lost herself in thought.
"She's got that look on her face," said Ron.
"Look?" Ginny asked.
"Like she's trying solve the biggest riddle in the world," he answered and then paused as he mulled over a certain word. "Riddle. Rid-dle. That words never gonna be the same again, is it?"
"Probably not," replied Harry. "What is it, Hermione?"
The wheels were churning, as they often did inside the mind of Hermione Granger, and as with most enigmas, sometimes it helped hearing those wheels chug aloud.
"Into every generation…one girl in all the world…"
Ron sighed. "Oh, here we go."
But Hermione ignored him. "It goes against everything in the Slayer's origin. Against its very essence. There's not supposed to be two."
The three around her glanced at each other, confused.
"Okay," said Ginny.
"Buffy died and was then revived somehow. She cheated death." She finally focused on them, her face bright with inquisitiveness. "What if her death was prophesized? And if it was, then she found a way around it. She cheated the prophecy as well."
They stared at her blankly.
"I feel like you're trying to tell us something," said Ron.
"Not tell, but…if Buffy found a way around her prophecy maybe there's a way around yours, Harry. Maybe you won't have to defeat You – V-Voldemort on your own."
It was a lovely thought. And Hermione seemed very excited by the idea. But Harry knew there was no way around it. Even Dumbledore held no hope for an alternative. And if Buffy did, she would've said something when he revealed the contents of the prophecy to her.
But Buffy had cheated death, apparently more than once, so the rules didn't always seem to apply…so maybe…
"But we don't know the details about how Buffy died," said Ginny. "She didn't even tell us when visited her a few days ago."
"A few days go?" asked Harry.
They were going to ease it into conversation. At least that was the plan. Now the news had sprung a leak…or Ginny might've stabbed a hole into it, whatever.
"Yeah," said Ron and cleared his throat. "Yeah, we, er, we…i-it wasn't anything really, we just…"
"We went to Sunnydale. Before you got here," Ginny admitted gently.
A stone settled into Harry's stomach and he suddenly felt very far away from them, despite the fact that he hadn't moved at all.
"All of you?"
"No, not all, just me, mum, dad, Ron, and Hermione," she said. "It was sort of last minute since dad had been given a bit of time off from work before he started his new job. But Bill couldn't go 'cause Gringotts wouldn't budge, and Phlegm did not vant to leave 'er Bill all alone," she said in her best Fleur impression.
Pangs of alienation hit Harry like spikes. And those spikes began to burn a fire that lit Harry's eyes. A burning light that they all began to see.
"That's great. Thanks a lot for the invitation," he spat.
They knew he wasn't going to like it, hence the whole wanting to ease the news into a conversation plan that didn't work out like it was supposed to. Good job, Ginny.
"Harry," Hermione said gently, very well acquainted with Harry's temper. "Everyone wanted you to come. We did. Sirius had repeatedly asked Dumbledore about it, but he said it wouldn't be safe for you."
"We weren't sure about telling you, because…" Ron tried to explain.
"No, no I'm glad you did." But he didn't sound glad at all. By the expression on his face, it was evident Harry wasn't glad about any of this.
"You know we didn't do it on purpose, Harry," Ginny said firmly. "If there was a way to take you we would have. Remus even suggested taking Aurors if it meant you could go, but Dumbledore was adamant. But we did try."
Harry could still feel the roar in his chest, the burn in his eyes that didn't want to hear reason, but it managed to sneak in and Ginny was right. They weren't trying to hurt him – alienate him on purpose. He knew why Dumbledore didn't want him to go. Why Harry needed to stay in his aunt's house for protection. As unfair as it was. Harry was told the truth about everything, not like last year when the Order, when Dumbledore, shielded him from the whole lot with no explanation. Harry now knew better than to give into immaturity, he just needed to keep telling himself that before he unreasonably lashed outght. They weren' was adamant." S_ and estranged himself from his friends even more than he already felt.
"How long were you there?" he asked, his voice low but at least he didn't sound angry.
"A week," Hermione replied. "We only just returned."
Harry nodded, to show he was listening and asked, "How was it?"
"Hot." Was the first thing that came to Ron's mind. "But, yea, it was pretty cool."
He wanted to keep it light. He wanted to forget, even just a little, how much it hurt that he wasn't there. So Harry kept to simple questions until he could tolerate all the happy, carefree days they had spent in California while he was stuck in that wretched, suffocating – light, remember light.
"How'd Sirius look?" Harry asked.
"Happy. Tanned," said Ginny.
"And healthy. He's put on a bit of weight," said Hermione.
"Buffy called it happy weight," added Ginny. "Though I'm sure he wasn't happy when Buffy poked him in the stomach as she said it."
That was good. Better than good, it was great. Hearing that Sirius was happy and healthy was the kind of news that helped to alleviate Harry's spirits. He just needed to hold on to that feeling and maybe he could enjoy hearing about their trip instead of resenting them for it.
They had exchanged letters, as promised, but Harry would still like to know how she was doing. Have some witnesses to prove she hadn't been eaten up by the Mouth of Hell…and preferably very far away from ex-boyfriends who happened to be vampires, because, you know, they're dangerous, those vampires.
"Happy. Tanned," repeated Ginny and Harry cracked a little smile at that. "She's good. And very much taken with her environment."
"What do you mean?"
"She's almost like a different person," she said. "Like Slayer-Buffy as opposed to the witch-Buffy we've call come to know and love."
"It's true," agreed Ron. "Would've never thought it was the same girl if I hadn't seen it myself."
It was more than just clothes and tans, it was Buffy's attitude, her confidence. She seemed in constant alert of her surroundings. And above all, she was like an actual normal teenage girl. A normal teenage girl who was a Vampire Slayer, a witch and lived in a town that constantly tried to kill her so evil can take over the world, but there's no need to get into semantics here.
"So what's Slayer-Buffy like?" Harry asked, more than a little curious.
"Filled with more energy than I could've imagined," Hermione answered. "She patrolled nightly and still managed to entertain us every afternoon."
"On very little sleep," Ginny added.
"Didn't look like she needed it," Ron said.
The scorching envy was creeping up again and Harry pushed it down.
"How about everyone else? How were Buffy's friends?"
"They were great. A lot of fun," replied Ginny. "The town itself was pretty friendly, you know, if you overlook the large demon population that creeps out at night and always keeps trying to kill people."
Harry had only been to Sunnydale once, a little too busy with not dying to go sightseeing, but he could imagine the town in his head. He could see all of them walking around (without him), having fun (without him), and even fighting off a few vampires (without him), and thinking of that last part begged the question: "Did you go slaying?"
Ginny and Ron looked behind them toward the house. Even if Mrs. Weasley was way out of earshot, one could never be too careful. Especially around Molly Weasley, who had raised Fred and George, and was the only one to put real fear into their little black hearts.
Ron nodded in response with a mischievous glint in his eye.
"Really? How often?"
"Only twice, but it was very exciting," said Hermione, surprisingly.
"Kill any demons?"
Ginny pouted. "No. The demon population was pretty low while we were there."
"Just a couple of vampires," said Ron, disappointed.
"And Buffy and Faith made quick work of them," Hermione tacked on. "According to Mr. Giles, the Hellmouth draws very low activity around the summer months…but is oddly high during the school year."
"Just like Hogwarts," Ginny uttered, curiously.
They pondered on how true those statements were. It was almost like some sort of conspiracy, as if someone planned the high evil activity for the sake of suspense and entertainment…interesting…
"Still…sounds like everyone had a good time."
It was hard not to notice that Harry's mood hadn't completely alleviated. Or eased at all. His posture and tone of voice noted his disappointment. And they had to admit that as much fun as they had, they couldn't deny the hollowness that was felt in Harry's absence.
The atmosphere turned quiet and awkward and Harry knew it was because of him. He didn't mean to, but…
"Anything else happen?" he asked.
"Well," said Ginny with a teasing grin, "we've discovered that Ron really is his father's son."
Her brother rolled his eyes, even as his cheeks pinked a little.
"Will you let that go already?" pleaded Ron.
Harry looked to Ginny, whose smile hadn't gone, and at his questioning eyes she elaborated.
"My dear brother has found himself in love with Muggle living."
Harry smiled, amused. "Really?"
"I did not fall in love!"
"It was more with Muggle technology," Hermione clarified.
"Let me guess," Harry said and turned to Ron, "television?"
It was a common weakness for Muggles, especially bored Muggles with nothing better to do. And it was only natural that Ron, King of Procrastinators, would gravitate towards the interesting little electronic box that turned one's brain to mush.
"He became obsessed with it," Ginny replied.
"I did not!"
Me thinks Ronald Weasley doth protest too much. The girls were clearly enjoying their taunting, much to the dismay of the scarlet-faced Ron, and Harry, who felt a little bad for his friend at the teasing, couldn't help but enjoy it, which lead to him releasing his green-eyed monster for the moment.
"And not just television, oh no, he become enamored with that program…that one about teenagers…ugh, what was it...?"
"Beverly Hills 90210," Hermione answered.
"I was not!"
"Yes, oh my – he just couldn't stop watching it."
"Yes I could!"
"So you admit to watching it?" teased Ginny.
Ron reddened even more. He had been backed into a very embarrassed corner with no way to escape. So he waved the white flag and turned sheepishly to Harry.
"You watch television don't ya?"
"Sometimes," Harry answered warily.
Ron ignored the muffled giggles of his sister and Hermione, and asked, "Ever see it?"
"Don't think that I have."
And the door had been opened. Pride took to the backseat and Ron's excitement had taken the wheel. He couldn't help it. It was as if he had discovered this great secret he wanted to share with the world, a secret about rich teenagers in perfectly styled outfits and overly dramatic storylines.
"Oh, mate, you should," he said enthusiastically, eager to talk about it. "It's amazing what they go through. I mean…you think we have problems."
"They're not real people, Ron," said Ginny as she rolled her eyes.
"I know that!" he shot back, and turned back to an indifferent Harry. "But it pulls you in, you know? Like all the – hey, you know what's strange? How much their high school looks very much like Buffy's old high school. You think they've noticed that?"
Ginny shook her head and rolled her eyes again, refusing to believe that this fanatical boy was her brother.