I was out of sorts for the rest of that Sunday as well the following Monday morning. I spent the rest of Sunday afternoon alone, avoiding Glen, Rose, Lily, and anyone else who might want to talk to me. True, Rose was the only one who actually knew what had happened, but I was as easy to read as a book. Glen and Lily would know right away that something was bothering me. I wish I could say that right after my conversation with James I found the courage and confidence to go talk to Connie, but the truth was I didn't talk to her either. I was too ashamed to face anyone. I contemplated writing an apology letter to Mum and Dad, but knew that would be cowardly. I was supposed to be helping myself, after all. I wasn't supposed to be digging myself into holes I likely didn't have the ability to climb out of. It wasn't until we were heading to lunch on Monday that Glen and I finally interacted.
“What's up with you?” he asked right away when he came to my side. “I barely saw you yesterday, and you never came down for breakfast today.”
I didn't answer, as I had no way to defend myself against those statements. I had done my best to avoid everyone, and Glen in particular. I pained me to look at him as I kept thinking about how I had torn down my own parents when Glen's father had been abusive.
“Hugo!” Glen continued to press, putting a hand on my shoulder. We stopped walking and faced one another. “You've been really quiet, too.”
“I'm always quiet,” I countered, shrugging slightly.
“No,” Glen corrected. “You're being weird quiet. And, I don't like it.” He rumpled his yellow hair. “If there's something going on...”
“It's nothing,” I lied, even though I really meant there was nothing Glen could do about it. I had messed things up. This was my battle. But, he was going to need some of answer.
“I just sort of fought with my parents.”
“You fought with them?” Glen asked, looking shocked. He was going to insist for details, it was just his nature, but we both turned at the same time and noticed someone standing at the end of the corridor. We both froze.
Standing there, looking probably as awkward as I did the day I attempted to tryout for Quidditch, was Dad. He towered over the students who were scurrying past him.
My insides squirmed. I still didn't know what I should say to him. We stared at each other, standing still while the mass of students continued milling around us.
“I'll see you later, mate,” Glen said, recognizing Dad and disappearing from my side instantly.
Dad finally managed to shoulder his way through the crowd and then he was standing next to me. If emotional tension could kill someone, I would have been keeled out on the floor. I couldn't even greet him normally.
It was clear that Dad was struggling as well. In fact, I've never seen him look more uncomfortable. His hands were shoved deep in his pockets and his facial expression was twisted with embarrassment and shame. The guilt that I had been attempting to suppress sprang to life once more. I wanted to tell him how sorry I was. I wanted to tell him that he was a great Dad. But, my voice was still absent, so I just stood there gaping at him, letting the awkwardness fester.
Dad was the one who managed to talk first.
“Come with me,” he instructed quietly and, because I had no idea what else to do or say, I followed him.
Most of the students were heading for lunch, but we walked against the crowd heading towards the library. For a moment, I thought we were going to go inside, but we passed the double doors of the library and continued down the corridor to the left. I didn't look over at him, even though I wanted to. I wanted to try and read the expression on his face to see if it was angry or not. However, I kept my eyes forward and tried to stay calm. My mind was racing to try and formally construct the apology I had subconsciously been working on ever since my meltdown in the Three Broomsticks. I would just have to tell him that I was sorry, that was all. I would have to tell him that I was sorry for what I said and that I'd do everything I could to pay him back for the broomstick I'd just given away. The truth was, I had forgotten about how much the action of giving away my broom would hurt Dad.
We finally seemed to reach our destination, though it didn't help me feel less confused. We entered what appeared to be nothing more than an abandoned classroom. It was obviously not being used anymore as all the desks were pushed up against the wall and the chairs were stacked and had been moved aside as well. There was dust on everything. I tried to understand. It did make sense that Dad would want to speak somewhere privately, but that still didn't explain why he had passed by six perfectly useable classrooms when we made our way here. No, there was something special about this room, but I sure couldn't tell what it was. Dad closed the door behind us, and it suddenly felt like we were the only two people in the school. We were shut away. Something was about to happen.
The silence that pressed in around us was sizzling. I was reminded of the moment right before Glen told me about his father; how heavy and thick the silence had been. Dad was looking ashamed of himself and that really made me feel as though my heart was being strangled. I had never seen such an expression on his face before. I'd seen him irritated. I'd seen him frustrated. I'd seen him moody. I'd never seen him looking this way. I didn't want him feeling ashamed. He didn't deserve to feel that way. I tried to break the silence.
“Dad, I'm really, really...”
He put his hand up, and the simple gesture caused the words to die in my throat. He could tell that I was about to apologize and that fact seemed to make his expression look even more distraught. This was killing me.
Finally, even though he looked tremendously uncomfortable doing it, Dad started to talk.
“It was hard having so many brothers,” he began softly and goosebumps erupted all over my arms. “Part of having a big family was great; there was never a dull moment and always something to do. Some other parts were hard. See, your Grandmother really wanted to have a daughter, but obviously that didn't happen until Aunt Ginny came along. Right about the time I started at Hogwarts, I started being aware of that fact; that my Mum really wanted a girl. Whether it made any sense or not, that idea made me feel as though I had been something of a mistake or a disappointment. I decided that when I went to Hogwarts, I'd shine like my brothers did. That way my parents wouldn't regret having another boy.”
I wished that all the desks weren't stacked as I'd have liked to sit down. Dad kept going.
“I met Harry right away and he had everything that I thought I wanted. He was instantly popular, he had money to spend any way he liked, and he became a Quidditch star right away in his first year. The worst part of it was that he was always humble about everything that happened to him. He never flaunted his skills in any way, and yet I still managed to be jealous of him.”
Dad looked around the room as if seeing something that wasn't there.
“One night during our first year, Harry and I came to this classroom in the middle of the night. Harry had been here the night before, and he told me that he had found an enchanted mirror that he could see his parents and family in.”
My heart broke for Uncle Harry. He went through so much.
“However, when I got to the room, I couldn't see his family at all. Inside the mirror, I saw myself as being Head Boy and winning the Quidditch Cup.” Dad looked more uncomfortably than ever. “The mirror showed us the thing we wanted most in the world. At the time, I thought seeing myself like that was the coolest thing ever. I hoped that the mirror was predicting the future. It wasn't until I was older, and we all started losing friends and family in the war, that I really remembered the mirror and I felt terrible about the things I thought were so important.”
“Dad...” I started, but he waved me down. I just wanted to tell him that he had been young at the time, that he had been a good friend, and that we all want selfish things once and again.
“I pushed you into Quidditch,” he went on, putting a hand through his hair. “Because it made me so happy when I was in school. It finally made me feel important. I thought it might do the same for you. Since you were so quiet, I guess I always worried that you were unhappy.”
He took a shuddering breath, and I finally said the words that had been plaguing me for years.
“I know I'm not what you expected for a son,” I whispered. The words were so important to me, I could almost see them hanging in between us.
“No,” Dad agreed, shaking his head. “You're not even close.”
“I guess I thought that as my son you'd be a little clone of me. I thought we'd act the same way and have the same sorts of interests. But, I thought about it all last night, and I am so glad that is not the case.”
“What?” I stammered, figuring I had heard wrong.
Dad looked at me, amazed.
“You really don't see it? You gave away your broomstick and put hours and days of your time into a play, and you just did those things because you wanted to help other people. I don't really do those sorts of things now, let alone when I was fifteen. You continue to be the most patient and unselfish person I know. You're confident in who you are, and I know that was not the case when I was your age; I wanted to be anything other than what I was.”
Our eyes locked.
“I don't want you to be like me. I want you to be you. Because if one thing has always been clear it's the fact that you've always been the better man, Hugh.”
My insides melted. All the worry, guilt, and confusion that had built up over the years washed away. I went over and hugged him. We hadn't hugged in ages. We had become much more used to shaking hands occasional pat on the back. It felt nice, even though my face was smashed against his shoulder.
He wanted me just the way I was.
I had never felt better.
One Week Later
My examiner, a Professor Agnes Bray, arched one of her heavily plucked eyebrows at me. I gulped and prepared myself to cast my charm. The practical portions of our O.W.Ls took place in the Great Hall, and, since my last name starts with “W”, most of the other students had already completed their exams. This meant, the other examiners, who now had no one else to test, were also watching me closely. I took a deep breath. Sure, I hadn't managed to cast a full-fledged Patronus while we were learning the charm in class months ago, but that didn't mean I couldn't do it now. Right after the war, learning the Patronus charm in Defense Against the Dark Arts became quite commonplace, not only in Hogwarts but in other wizarding schools as well. I closed my eyes and raised my wand. I was so close. This was my last exam. I had someone to meet afterwards. She was waiting for me down by the lake. Something inside me told me that this particular thought would be enough.
I spoke the incantation, for some reason feeling no need to shout the words as so many others did.
A small, silver mouse shot out of the tip of my wand and raced around the Great Hall. It was easy to follow as it was so bright. Professor Bray watched it as well and the corners of her mouth turned upwards ever so slightly, and I broke into a smile, though a bigger one, as well. There was something very comforting about seeing that glowing mouse darting around the room. Though, I suppose that's the point of a patronus. Professor Bray finished jotting down my marks on her pad, gave me a curt nod, and told me that I was dismissed.
The weighted pressure of the O.W.Ls was finally lifted. It was all over at last. All the studying and ridiculous amount of worry didn't really matter anymore. What would be, would be. All in all, there weren't any exams that I felt like I had tanked on. I ran out of time on a few of the written portions as my handwriting, while extremely neat, is created very slowly. For the Charms practical I was supposed to make a pineapple do handsprings. Mine only did one before it fell over and refused to move any more. The practical portion for Potions went a lot better than I ever would have imagined, and I knew I had to just have gotten some extra points for casting a corporeal patronus. In short, it could have been a lot worse. I was proud. I had done the best I could do.
The day wasn't as nice as I hoped it would be. The way I was feeling, I expected the sun to be shining and for the grounds to be dotted with groups of students enjoying the fresh air and the last few days we had at Hogwarts for the year. However, the sky was thick with clouds and the smell of coming rain hung in the air. I didn't mind. I didn't mind in the slightest. A raging tornado could be swirling outside and my mood wouldn't be shattered. Well...maybe not a tornado. Just because I was happy, it didn't mean that I couldn't still be afraid of tornadoes.
I had to walk around the lake a bit to get to our spot. There's a really nice tree right near the lake that's a lot closer to the castle, but that one always was taken. Students always seemed to be hanging around that one, and considering its size and its ability to make really stellar shade, I could see why. But, we had decided on a smaller tree, further away and smaller, but good all the same. Thunder rolled in the distance. I pulled my robes tighter around my neck. The past few days had been very hot, but it seemed like the coming storm was going to bring a cold front with it.
Connie was there waiting for me. She was sitting on the ground with her legs crossed and her back against the trunk of the tree. A book was open in her lap. She was so invested in what she was reading, that she didn't realize my presence until I was standing right in front of her. Connie's face lit up and she marked her page before putting the book back in her bag. My heart soared and I settled myself on the ground next to her, loving the way our shoulders were pressed together.
“Hi!” she exclaimed, reaching and taking one of my hands in hers. “How did it go?”
I stared at our intertwined fingers; Connie's nails had sparkles on them.
“Not bad,” I answered, shrugging my shoulders slightly. “I managed to cast a Patronus at the end.”
“Wow!” Connie praised, her thumb tracing patterns across the back on my hand. “I didn't even come close last year when I tried.”
“Well,” I continued, my face getting hot as it always did before trying to be romantic. “I had something nice, really happy, to think about right before.” Connie looked over at me, grinning.
“Care to share?” she asked, as the wind picked up. I admired the way her hair, while a bit wilder in the wind, still looked amazing.
“You already know,” I answered, smiling back. Connie laughed softly, and placed her head on my shoulder. There was silence, apart from the thunder. The storm could only be minutes away. I was about to suggest going inside before we both got soaked, but Connie spoke first.
“So...” she murmured softly. “Summer.”
My heart twinged. Yes, we had both decided that we would write each other often and hopefully manage a few visits, but the thought still bothered me. We had just found each other. We were finally on the same page.
“Yeah...” I answered brilliantly, feeling nervous. Despite my new found confidence, a small part of me still found it remarkable that Connie would want to be with me. What if she found someone else during the summer? What if she got bored with me? I wasn't exactly a dashing prince. I turned to look at her. It was time for more truth.
“Do you remember that time we kissed under the mistletoe?” I asked her, and she nodded.
“How could I forget?” Connie answered. “It was adorable.” She tapped her finger on the tip of my nose. I tried to keep my blushing down.
“The point is,” I went on. “When it comes to this sort of...stuff, I'm just as lost as I was that day. The truth is, I don't really have a clue what I'm doing.” It was true. My knowledge of girls and relationships was ranking somewhere in the negatives. I was a rookie being called out to play Seeker when I didn't even know how to mount a broom. Connie narrowed her green eyes at me.
“No,” she said simply.
“No, what?” I asked, not really seeing a point that was up for arguing.
“You're wrong,” Connie insisted. There was lightning in the distance.
“Um...” I tried, but Connie used both of her hands, grasped my collar, and pulled me close. I could feel her breath against my lips. My chest screamed at me to take a deep breath, but I found that I could not. I was frozen in this moment.
“Kiss me,” Connie said softly. “I've just realized that I've always been the one kissing you. I want you to kiss me.”
I battled away all the thoughts that started swirling in my mind about technique and the fact that James had probably been a very good kisser. It didn't matter. I was here now, and Connie Bishop wanted me to kiss her. I closed my eyes and gently touched my lips to hers.
We didn't break apart until a particularly loud clap of thunder startled us.
“See?” Connie said breathlessly, as she looked at the dark clouds looming above. “Something tells me, when it comes to Summer, we have nothing to worry about. Hugo Weasley, you know exactly what you're doing.”
She scrambled to her feet as the rain began to fall and extended a hand to me. I took it and she pulled me up. I was still feeling lightheaded from the kiss, so I was grateful for the assistance.
We kept holding hands as we sprinted through the rain and the mud back to the castle. We didn't stop until we were back in the Entrance Hall, completely soaked and coated in mud. I looked at my filthy hands and the old spring of anxiety shot up in my mind. Connie must have noticed that familiar flicker of discomfort in my eyes, because she took one of my dirty hands in her own and asked,
“You going to be alright?”
Everything was dirty. My shoes. My pants. My shirt. My robes. Probably my socks.
But, I found that I didn't much care. She helped me let go.
“Yes,” I said softly. “Though “alright” doesn't even begin to describe how I'm feeling.”
Connie slipped her arms around my waist, and I held her close, a strange, squelching sound was made as our soaked bodies pressed together. I kissed her forehead.
She was my answer.
“Another solid, fourth place,” Glen said moodily a few days later as we took our seats for the final feast of the year.
“Seven years and running,” I said with a shrug. By now, it was just expected for Hufflepuff to take last place. The Great Hall was decked out in banners for Ravenclaw as they had won the House Cup this year, narrowly defeating Gryffindor by only fifteen points. Slytherin had about fifty points less. I wasn't even sure exactly how many points Hufflepuff was behind, but our hourglass had been looking frightfully low. I knew our Quidditch team wasn't very good, but that only contributed to some of the points. We had some very smart students and definitely the ability to win. It seemed as though we had just sort of given up any real hope.
Connie winked at me from over at the Ravenclaw table. Glen noticed as he took his seat next to me. He patted me on the back.
“Things still going well, I trust?” he asked, looking terribly pleased.
“Nah,” I answered with a grin. “She probably just likes winking at random Hufflepuffs.” Glen laughed, and thumped me on the back even harder.
“Wow, a girlfriend and sarcasm,” he complimented. “You've really come a long way, haven't you?”
Wasn't that the truth?
Glen waved at Lily who was just settling herself nearby Charlie at the Gryffindor table. She returned the wave to Glen and smiled brightly at me.
“So...” I said, nudging Glen with my shoulder. “What about you and Lily?” Glen shrugged.
“Nothing to report, though she does seem far less pissed at me.”
“Well, I suppose that's something,” I answered kindly. Some part of me really hoped that they would give it another go. They would be terrible for each other, but really good for each other at the same time.
“Who knows, mate?” Glen said, still watching Lily. “There's always next year.”
Chatter ceased in a wave as Headmaster Nolan stood up to address us.
“Good evening,” he said, his voice calm and ringing as usual. I knew right away he'd make a great narrator for our show. “Though I am sure you are all ready and eager to being your summer holiday, it is also important to look back and remember. This year, for me, has been one that was full of new ideas and very surprising. I hope you all found it as rewarding as I have.”
Headmaster Nolan turned slightly so he was facing the the Ravenclaw table.
“Of course, before we proceed with the feast, we must award the House cup.” He ushered to the silver cup sitting at the end of the staff table. The Ravenclaws could barely contain their excitement; it had been a few years since they had won.
“As of this moment,” Headmaster Nolan continued. “Huffepuff is in fourth place with 412 points. Slytherin is in third place with 482 points. Gryffindor is in second place with 532 points. And, finally, Ravenclaw is in first place with 547 points.”
The Ravenclaws hooted and hollered their approval. We clapped politely. A few Hufflepuffs hung their heads, and I heard a prefect nearby mutter something that sounded like,
Once quiet was restored to the hall once more, Headmaster Nolan continued to speak.
“I am very proud of you all,” he said gently and, shockingly looked slightly nervous. “But, I am now aware of information that may alter our results slightly.”
Every student turned to exchange a confused look with someone. Glen pretended to look confused, but there was something knowing in his smile. Was Glen about to be awarded points for something?
“Please,” Headmaster Nolan said, his arms outstretched. “I know this is quite unorthodox, and you must trust me that I would not do such a thing if the circumstances did not absolutely call for it.” He paused, and we all waited to hear him out. I knew that the Headmaster was a very fair man and that he played by the rules. If he wanted to assign extra points, he had a very good reason.
“There are still some points that need to be awarded. Points that a certain individual, without a doubt, earned. It was not my idea alone to give this student points for his actions. I was approached by no less than eight different people that told me stories of this person's unselfishness and kindness.”
Strange tingles were starting to go through my body.
“What struck me the most was that those eight people who approached me were all from different houses and even different years. This fact proved to me that this individual's kindness was not restricted to those of his own house, or those he interacted with on a daily basis. No, he bestowed his good nature on everyone he could.”
The tingles got stronger. No, it was ridiculous.
“I find that its often easy to forget that acts of kindness have a profound effect in the world, despite their size. So, I only found it fitting to give this individual 80 points, ten for each person that came to see me about him.”
And then, he was looking at me. Though it was hard to tell, as I was rather far away, I could just sense that his eyes were on me. Headmaster Nolan was talking about me? Those 80 points couldn't be mine, could they?
“Those 80 points are awarded to Hugo Weasley.”
It was as though I had forgotten how to blink. Everybody was looking, no staring, at me. I looked back, just as wide-eyed. It was dead silent. No fainting, no fainting.
There were a few more seconds of silence as everyone tried to do fast math in their heads. Glen suddenly stood up on the bench next to me, a delighted grin on his face.
“YEAH!” he yelled loudly, his voice echoing in the quiet hall. “THIRD PLACE!”
And then, our table exploded. Everyone else at the Hufflepuff table jumped to their feet and started cheering and clapping loudly. It was the first time in years we weren't finishing in last. Glen yanked me to my feet so I was standing next to him. Everyone who was in reach at the Hufflepuff table leaned over to shake my hand or pat me on the back. And for so long, I had been sure they didn't know who I was.
Lily, Charlie, and even James were clapping for me over at the Gryffindor table, and even though they were now in fourth place, Al and Scorpius were clapping and whistling as well. Headmaster Nolan was smiling and applauding and Professor Ramsay was doing the same a few chairs down. Connie blew me a kiss from where she was standing.
The Hufflepuffs kept cheering long after the food appeared on our plates. It might as well have been first place.
All I knew was that I had yet another memory to use if I had to cast a Patronus. Dementors beware.
This year really had been something incredible.
I finally understood that I didn't have to be less like myself.
I knew there were people who wanted me just the way I was.
And, one of those people was me.
And that pretty accurately sums up my fifth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
AN: I was looking at the date that I originally published this story and received a proper shock; August of 2009. Its almost been three years since I started this project. That fact is unbelievable to me. So much of me and my life has changed within those three years, but it feels like I just started writing this yesterday. I'm proud of this story. Even though it sometimes embarrasses me, I still leave my very old stories up on the site (ones that I wrote back in middle school even). The writing on those isn't very good, but I leave them as a reminder to myself of how far I've come. This story has been a great comfort to me over the last three years, and I will definitely miss Hugo, Glen, and all the rest. They often surprised me as characters, and I always felt like they did most of the work for me.
I feel like this story is the most grown-up of all of them, and its one that sends a message that is very important to me. No one I know would ever describe me as shy or quiet, but I still feel like there is a small part inside me that is very much Hugo. I think we all tend to fear that we are inadequate, and that we are going to disappoint those closest to us. We're great, just the way we are.
I would like to thank crimsonemeralds of the Dark Arts once more for the truly spectacular banner. I could not have imagined anything that better captured the mood of this story. Its a beautiful thing, and I feel so lucky that they were the one who picked up my request. Real talent.
When it comes to future HPFF projects, I can't say much for certain at this moment. A few people have inquired about a sequel for this story and, while I can't say “no” for sure, there just aren't enough plot bunnies in my head at the moment to justify writing a sequel. Its not impossible, and I am very fond of these characters. Honestly, as far as my next story goes, I'm not sure what the idea is going to be. Though I was lying in bed one night and got the idea for “Outcast” so inspiration can really strike at any time. I've been writing on this site since 2004, and there's no way I'm going to stop now.
So, here comes your thank you. A big, deserved, with all my heart, thank you. I am convinced that I have the best readers on this site, and you guys proved it again and again with every chapter. Not only were you patient, putting up with me for three years, your reviews went beyond just being kind; they were inspiring and often very insightful. I really want you to understand that if you contributed a review or a read on this story (well, I suppose you must have if you're here!) I appreciate it with everything that I am.
I recently decided to abandon my original career choice (I was miserable) and pursue writing. I just finished my own, original novel and am in the process of editing and figuring out the whole publishing thing. So far, its been rocky. A lot of cluelessness. A lot of rejection. That little part of me that is Hugo, and terrified about disappointing people, is really active lately. I'm telling you this because if I ever manage to make it and get a book published, its going to be because of you. Your words have been so comforting and have really kept me going when it feels like giving up would solve everything. There is no nicer place in the world to come and write and try new things. You guys make it that way. You guys keep my spirit up and encourage me to be the writer that I am.
As far as I can see, you all may as well have received my name taped to your forehead. Mission accomplished, by the way.
All my love,
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