A MOUSE NO MORE
Many students hadn't had enough time to study for the exams, Fern included. Not only had she been incapacitated in the Hospital Wing, in the arms of an unexpected individual and with many things going through her mind, she knew she was going to fail miserably.
The first exam was History of Magic. In a way she was glad; she wasn't the most practically-minded person and dreaded what would happen in any subject that involved using a wand.
Many of her classmates usually dozed off in those lessons or wrote notes, made them into paper aeroplanes and threw them across the room to each other. Professor Binns wasn't the most observant teacher, so anything the students did in his classes just went completely over his head – literally.
The History of Magic exam paper, requested students to write three essays on the International Warlock Convention of 1289, Goblin Rights and a 'brief' history of Hogwarts itself from its beginnings in 982 A.D. to present day. Fern wasn't so sure about the last one – a millennium was very hard to cover in only three feet of parchment.
The Herbology exam had the students potting mandrakes, which Fern wasn't the best at. She had missed that lesson, having been knocked out by the troll, but she tried her best, despite wishing she was deaf to drown out their screams.
A few days had passed without exams, to allow the students to get any last-minute revision in. Defence Against the Dark Arts was a bit of a joke, she heard some Slytherins say after the test. The test was just as ridiculous as the teacher. No one had really liked Professor Quirrell, even Fern, considering nearly being killed a few weeks before by the now deceased wizard in question.
Charms and Transfiguration, she was surprised by. She didn't seem to have much of an issue with her wand-work as she'd expected and everything seemed to flow.
Astronomy, as her favourite subject, she had no problem whatsoever with. Essays were involved where students were asked to discuss how they can tell the age of certain stars, supernovae and nebulae. A star chart was also involved, where they would have to distinguish between different constellations.
The last exam was Potions, which she was really not looking forward to.
Professor Snape had gone so far as to compliment her on her ability. She certainly didn't want to disappoint him and shame herself in the process.
For the exam, the students had to produce a swelling solution and write a foot-long essay on its uses and dangers. Still, she tried as hard as she could and that, at least, had to count for something.
After the exams were all finished, which Fern was glad of, all second-year students were handed a list of elective subjects for the next term. They had to choose a minimum of two and Fern didn't really know what to do. She eventually decided, though, by process of elimination.
Having been raised in that world, she thought Muggle Studies was pretty pointless. She knew how electricity worked, how Muggles fixed leaking pipes, how they used to burn individuals suspected of witchcraft at the stake. She didn't really want any reminders of the world she left behind when Professor McGonagall took her from the Dursleys.
She wasn't too sure of Divination. Considering recent occurrences in the castle, she wasn't sure she wanted to know what the future held.
Arithmancy was a problem. She liked numbers, but the fact that they could be used to predict the future made her feel uneasy, so she had two choices.
She did like the sound of Ancient Runes, however, and after reading what the class offered, she returned to the thought of Arithmancy. Maybe the two subjects were somehow linked, so it was probably a good idea to do both. She ticked them on the list.
She was happy to see Care of Magical Creatures on the list, for she loved animals in general. It would certainly be interesting to learn more about them; the biology, what they contribute...
Having her three desired subjects, she handed her form to Professor Sprout and decided to take some of her free time to practice her French horn.
She had been doing well with the flute and was close to going for her Grade Four examination. Her violin skills weren't too bad, though the finger positions were very precise and it did take her a while to recognise the specific amount of pressure required for each string – the thicker the string, the more weight with the bow.
So she opted to try and up her brass skills, though not without difficulty.
The French horn was said to be the hardest instrument to learn. With such a small mouthpiece and the harmonics very close together, she certainly thought it a challenge.
The best way for her to practice, she had decided, was with her scales and arpeggios.
She played in a deserted third-floor classroom.
For half an hour she was alone, until she received a rather unexpected visitor.
"You're good," the boy said, nervously, causing Fern to nearly drop her instrument. She was just glad she had some support with her hand in the bell that she didn't drop it.
"Neville, you startled me," Fern gasped, almost jumping a foot in the air.
"Sorry. I came to apologise for avoiding you." Shame filled his voice.
"You don't have to apologise to me; it's my fault. I acted in haste and I admit I shouldn't have done it, but I've apologised to Professor Snape now. It's all water under the bridge and if I could, I wouldn't even want to change the past. It's amazing how things can really pan out," she added, dreamily, her eyes very thoughtful.
Neville turned slightly pink. "W-Well… er… erm… yeah," he stuttered, awkwardly.
Fern, meanwhile, snapped herself from her thoughts. "I understand, Neville. I know he isn't the easiest person to get along with, but he's really quite nice when you get to know him. Trust me, I know."
Quite frankly, Neville didn't want to know what had happened; he was scared stiff of the Potions Master and knew he probably always would be.
"I could put in a good word for you, Neville; he won't bother you. With your talent in herbology, I'm sure he'd welcome you."
"There's a big difference between pruning a bush and stirring a cauldron," Neville replied, growing evermore nervous by the second. Something about his Hufflepuff friend made him want to run in the opposite direction.
"And suppose that bush ended up in the cauldron? When you think about it, those two subjects go well together… like we do. I'm hopeless with plants, but you're brilliant; I can mix and alright potion and you just need a bit of training. Neville, I'll help you with potions if you help me with Herbology?"
Tucking her French horn under her left arm, she held out her right to make a deal.
Warily, Neville looked at her offered hand, before tentatively shaking, as though afraid she was a ticking time bomb ready to explode if he held onto her for too long.
"Don't worry about Professor Snape, Neville; he's a pussycat really. Please don't tell Professor McGonagall I said that. She'll have my guts for garters," she giggled.
That giggle caused the boy to snatch his hand from hers, wiping the smile off her face.
"I'm sorry," Fern said, taken aback.
"It's not you," Neville said, rather hastily.
Sighing a heavy sigh, he spoke again. "Do you mind if I call you Alice?"
That puzzled her to no end. "Why?"
"Well, my Mum's called Alice. I don't really know that much about her myself, but from what I've been told, she was a lot like you are. I just can't help but be think about her when I talk to you."
"Okay. Call me what you will; I don't mind." Her smile had returned.
"A-A-Alice it is then," he said, apprehensively. True, Fern may be a lot like his mother used to be, but, if he was perfectly honest, he found her far more scary than even You-Know-Who, which was certainly saying something.
A few days later, and everybody was getting ready to go home for the summer holidays.
Where many would start packing at the last minute, as in the morning of the trip home, Fern spent her afternoon packing her things, before the Leaving Feast was to take place.
She made sure to leave some clothes out for the morning and, considering that the barrier led to King's Cross, made sure they were muggle clothes. She didn't want to look to conspicuous and leave the other world wondering what she was playing at. It was just a simple long-sleeved purple t-shirt and a pair of denim dungarees. She decided to opt for pigtails in the morning, so left out two purple ribbons. So what, if she looked like a hillbilly?
Soon enough, it was time to attend the Leaving Feast and, as if there weren't enough people not talking to her now, there certainly would be when the event was over, though, at the time, she wasn't to know that.
Fern sat, pushing her dinner around her plate. Her housemates were too busy gossiping about her to their friends to pay any attention to how she may have felt and the only person who was actually talking to her was at another table. So, all in all, Fern had a very quiet dinner.
Once all the tables had been cleared of empty plates (and one remarkably full one from the Hufflepuff table) Dumbledore rose to make an announcement.
Fern knew from the banners above the house tables that Slytherin had won the house cup before he spoke. It seemed, however, no one else had, for they were all too busy talking to their friends to pay any attention to their surroundings.
"It is time now for the house cup to be awarded," the Headmaster said, as the sounds of students were quieted. "The points are as follows. In fourth place, Hufflepuff with two-hundred-and-ninety-three points."
Unfortunately for Fern, the eyes of her house table were all glaring at her, as if to say "It's your fault."
"In third place," Dumbledore continued, "Gryffindor with three-hundred-and-twelve points. Ravenclaw in second place with four-hundred-and-twenty-six points and so that leaves the house cup to Slytherin, with four-hundred-and-seventy-two points."
Loud cheers erupted from the table in question, much to an uproar from the other three, though Fern stayed silent.
"Yes, yes. Well done Slytherin, well done Slytherin. However," he added, after a short pause, "recent events must be taken into account."
Professor Snape looked very interested at this.
"And so I must award, for such noble traits as selflessness, courage, heart and logic, two-hundred points to Miss Fernanda Potter."
The Great Hall fell deadly silent and Fern suddenly felt very sick.
"Assuming that my calculations are correct, I believe a change of decoration is in order." That said, Dumbledore clapped his hands and the green and silver Slytherin banners changed to the badger-embroidered yellow and black of Hufflepuff. "Hufflepuff wins the house cup!" he shouted, jovially.
The Slytherins all looked very put-out and were glaring daggers at the girl, who wanted the ground to swallow her hole.
The Hufflepuffs, meanwhile, were now cheering and hugging each other with no thought to the girl who had given them their glory.
Slowly, Fern rose from her seat and, with her own footsteps pounding in her ears, approached the teachers' table.
"Congratulations, dear girl," Dumbledore praised. "The first time Hufflepuff has won since 1917, as I am acutely aware of. I was there. You've done your several-times great-Grandmother proud."
Fern didn't know she was related to the wonderful Helga Hufflepuff, but she didn't have time to think on it.
"I can't accept the house cup, Professor." She spoke so quietly, but the Great Hall, yet again, fell silent. "I broke the rules. I defied you for the glory."
"We both know that isn't true, dear girl." Dumbledore's tone was soft and kind. "You were simply trying to stop many innocent people dying unnecessarily. That isn't selfishness."
"But I don't deserve anything for breaking the rules," Fern said, with defiance. This was a side he Headmaster hadn't been aware of. "Slytherin played the game fair and square. I think it only right they should receive the house cup. I cheated and I want to withdraw those points you've just given me."
The individual most in shock was Professor Snape. He never expected that. Even Lily would never have done that.
"I don't care what people think of me now, Professor. I'm past caring, but it's only fair and just that the cup goes to the most deserving house." Then, turning to face her schoolmates, she shouted across the hall, "Slytherin wins the house cup!"
It didn't really matter anyway. It was just a lump of metal with a name and year engraved on it.
The Hufflepuffs' glares returned to Fern and all began to shout things out at her.
"Sling your hook!"
Once at the foot of the Great Hall, just before she opened the door to leave, she spoke once more.
"I'm going to bed," and she left.
Professor Snape had to force back a smile. She was certainly changing from the frightened little girl he once knew. She was, dare he say it, getting more like her mother. Lily never let anyone bother her and he was glad it was rubbing off on her daughter.
He knew she'd stay kind and generous and really hoped she would continue to give such nonchalant, devil-may-care information as she just had done. 'Thank Merlin for puberty', he thought. He'd just made friends with her a few weeks earlier and was surprisingly looking forward to having playful arguments.
Neville Longbottom, meanwhile, was grinning stupidly. His eyes never left her person. "I love you, Alice," he said.
Fern really didn't care what people thought of her anymore. She'd cared too long and, after what had happened down in that chamber, nothing and no one surprised her anymore.
"I don't think many people will be talking to me in September," she said to herself as she wended her way to her common room. "But I don't care."
A/N: Really sorry for the late update. There are of course two legitimate reasons:
1) Writer's block
2) I've been in and out of hospital. I've been poked, prodded and penetrated.
That may even be a good saying to use a little later on.
I am hoping updates will become more frequent and also hope I can get up another chapter of "Luck of the Draw" once I've gotten over my writer's block.