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Figurehead by ad astra
Chapter 2: Two
“I don’t understand how you can be neutral,” Oliver said frustratedly.
“Would you prefer ‘undecided’?”
“You must be leaning one way or another. I know you, you have an opinion on everything.”
“My mum believes Dumbledore,” I offered instead.
“Without any proof.”
“The Ministry doesn’t have any proof either. It’s like trying to prove the existence of God.”
“And what do you think about God?” Oliver asked, seizing upon a chance to prove his point.
Oliver rolled his eyes, throwing himself across the bench he was sitting on and exhaling loudly, causing his blond fringe to dance in the air for a moment before flopping into his eyes.
“You need a haircut.”
“I’m trying a new look. The messy intellectual.”
“That would require you to be an intellectual.”
“Charming as ever, Amelia.”
I noticed he didn’t fall back on his ‘Well isn’t it funny that the Sorting Hat deemed me worthy of Ravenclaw and you not,’ retort, which meant there was something else on his mind. I waited for it.
“Heard much about the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher?” he asked conversationally.
“Not a lot.”
“She’s from the Ministry of Magic.”
“Sounds like a barrel of laughs.”
“She’ll be sticking to the curriculum, at least. I thought about dropping Defence Against the Dark Arts this year, we’ve only had one decent teacher the entire time we’ve been here. Figured I might as well give her a chance.”
“You can always drop it if she turns out to be crap,” I pointed out. “We’re allowed one subject drop if ‘balancing our Head Prefect duties with a full load of courses proves too difficult.’”
“Yeah, maybe. You’re taking DADA, right?”
“Yeah, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be using my course drop for History of Magic.”
“I don’t even know why you took it last year, you hate History of Magic.”
“You know perfectly well why I took it,” I muttered.
In our fifth year, around the time we were choosing our subjects for NEWTs, Oliver and I were debating which of us was the more intelligent. He told me it was easy to appear intelligent at Hogwarts by getting high marks in subjects using applied magic, like Charms and Transfiguration, but that didn’t prove anything unless I could back it up with high marks in academic subjects where I ‘couldn’t fall back on my ability to wave a wand.’ So I took History of Magic to prove him wrong, but of course he cared about the subject and I didn’t, and he ended up top of class with a smirk smug enough to rouse the Fat Friar to anger.
It was a common misconception that Ravenclaws were the ones who got top of every subject and applied themselves diligently to their work, but in reality they were the most annoying and disruptive in a lot of my classes. Particularly in subjects like Charms, they decided that plain spells were beneath their intellectual capacity and sat at the back of the classroom alternating between annoying Flitwick and flourishing their Ancient Runes textbooks and Arithmancy equations at everyone, loudly discussing translations and theories.
Oliver was a less extreme example. He was still capable of academic snobbery (You got an O in Transfiguration? Well I’m sure you’re very proud, I can only imagine how it would feel if I got an O in Ancient Runes, but of course those are much harder to come by…) but he at least pretended to focus in his other classes, and didn’t sulk when he got a spell wrong. He dated a girl last year, Diana Lattimore, who threw a tantrum in DADA because somebody caught her mouthing her non-verbal spells. She’d thrown a hedgehog at the girl who had called her out on it, hexed George Weasley when he turned said hedgehog into a Pygmy Puff mid-air, and stood there shaking with rage until Oliver steered her out of the classroom and broke up with her. We could hear her screaming profanities all down the hallway.
“What are you laughing at?” Oliver asked as I giggled at the memory.
Oliver cringed. “Don’t remind me.”
“And Sarah Abernethy.”
“Hey, there was nothing wrong with her.”
“No,” I agreed. “Except she was twelve.”
“Fourteen, actually. And I was sixteen, there’s nothing wrong with that.”
“You were seventeen.”
“She was a third year.”
“When you took her to Madam Puddifoot’s it was her first time to Hogsmeade.”
“I didn’t use deceit to go out with anyone though.”
I rolled my eyes. “That was in fourth year. And only because you dared me to.”
“No. Correction. You were saying how house divisions didn’t matter. I told you to befriend a Gryffindor to prove it. I didn’t say ‘Pretend to be in Ravenclaw and go out with Lee Jordan.’”
“Except he broke up with you when he found out you were in Slytherin.”
“It wasn’t working out. I figured it was easier than actually breaking up with him.”
Oliver merely shook his head, and I used the break in conversation as an excuse to seek out the food trolley. It didn’t come to the Prefect Carriage – usually by this time all the Prefects had dispersed to their friends’ carriages and it wasn’t worth coming down on the off chance there might be someone in there. I suppose it said something about Oliver and I that we didn’t have any other friends to spend time with – we had our classmates, sure, and we were widely respected by our peers, otherwise we wouldn’t have ended up Head Prefects – but when it came to people we would willingly spend several hours with on a train, it was just us.
I handed several Sickles over to the lady at the trolley in return for a couple of bottles of Butterbeer, a liquorice wand and Chocolate Frog myself, and a Cauldron Cake for Oliver.
“You’re feeling generous,” Oliver noted, eagerly taking the Cauldron Cake. “Dad send you money for your birthday?”
I snorted with laughter, choking on the Butterbeer I just opened. “Yeah, that’d be the day.”
“Stranger things have happened.”
“He remembered it this year though,” I continued in a tone of mock reverence. “Imagine that. He sent me a card – one of those crappy ones you get in supermarkets. Sweet sixteen themed.”
Oliver wrinkled his nose. “He got the day right, but not the year?”
“Apparently. It arrived two days late, but it said ‘Happy birthday for the fourteenth of July’ so points to him for that I suppose. Then when Mum sent him a letter saying he got my age wrong he replied with ‘At least I didn’t miss her eighteenth.’”
“Eighteenth?” Oliver repeated, puzzled. “What’s so special about your eighteenth?”
“Muggle equivalent of seventeen. Would be excusable if Mum hadn’t told him that seventeen’s the big deal for wizards. Multiple times.”
“Your dad’s a bit useless.”
“Thanks, I hadn’t noticed.” I opened my Chocolate Frog, peered at the card – it was of Bathilda Bagshot – and passed it on to Oliver. “So what did you get up to these holidays?”
“Oh, thanks,” Oliver said cheerfully. “I’ve been looking for her for years…And as for my summer, I would tell you, but you’d just tell me I’m a pretentious nerd.”
“Which you are, so you should take no offence to me pointing it out. I know you went to Germany, your birthday letter was sent from Munich. If it was anything less than one of those joint UK-Europe magical history field trips, I will be disappointed in you.”
Oliver stared at his feet for a long time. “It was an archaeological tour. Runes. Translating inscriptions in the field. It was the most amazing—”
“Okay,” I interrupted, seeing he was moving from the sheepish oh-god-my-holiday-was-geeky tone to the oh-god-that-was-the-best-thing-of-my-life-you-wouldn’t-even-believe tone, and I had no desire to listen to him geek out about ancient runes for the next three hours. At the same time, I had asked, so I felt obligated to ask him for the more tolerable details.
“So was it organised by the Ministry or…”
“Yeah. I applied for it at the end of sixth year and got my letter a couple of weeks later. It was three weeks’ long, got back in early August.”
“Why didn’t you tell me you were going for it?”
He twisted his hands in his lap. “Well, I knew that you’d be working over summer, and I didn’t really want to sit there and boast about going abroad when you were stuck in Hogsmeade…”
“You felt sorry for me.” It was a statement, not a question. It was the only reason he didn’t tell me things like this – the same thing happened when his dad took him to the States over Christmas in fifth year. I didn’t mind Oliver’s pity so much – he was the only one I could stand to take it from. Oliver and I were equals in every sense. He could feel sorry for me if he wanted to, but at the end of the day we were both as successful as the other, and he knew it.
“I would have taken you with me—”
“Shut up, I hate runes. You don’t need to justify your trip.”
“Right, yeah.” He cracked open his Butterbeer. “So what are your plans after leaving Hogwarts?”
“Oh, you know. Fight Voldemort.”
Oliver flinched at my cavalier use of the name and scowled at my deliberately winding him up, and I grinned. I’d never been as sensitive about the name as my peers, mainly because I had grown up in the Muggle world. That was hardly a heritage I was proud of, but despite my best efforts I couldn’t bring myself to be afraid of a name that had never meant anything to me.
“Don’t let the rest of the school hear you joke about that,” was all Oliver said in response.