A/N: Thank you, Hollow Godric, for beta reading the first three chapters. Take a bow, in fact; take three bows since I neglected you in the first two installments. I'll try to mend my ways.
Waking early as usual on the morning of his sixteenth birthday, Harry was greeted by not one, not two, but count them, fifteen owls. There were owls on his desk and owls on top of the clothes cupboard. Owls lined the end of his bed. Hedwig was stationed at his head as if to keep the other owls in line and keep them from waking up Harry.
'This can't just be my birthday. Do I know this many people well enough to get a birthday card from them?' Harry thought, sitting up and shaking his head to wake up a little bit better. It had rained the night before which cooled the temperature down from the scorching heat they'd had this July. As Harry sat up, the owls began to circle him, some dropping their letters and packages in his lap and some extending their legs to request that Harry untie their burdens.
As the stream of owls was leaving, Harry conjured himself a cup of morning tea and began to open things. Letters first, he chose the biggest and fattest letter because it had the Hogwarts seal. "O.W.L. Results Enclosed" was written above the seal. He decided to set that aside. 'Birthday first, then O.W.L. results - just in case they are really bad news... Oh, who am I kidding?' He tore open the Hogwarts envelope. 'Nine O.W.L.s. Brilliant.' Four Outstanding O.W.L.s on the Practicals in Potions, Charms, Transfigurations and Defense Against the Dark Arts. Exceeds Expectations on most of the theory tests. Even his History of Magic, Divination and Astronomy scores were all Acceptable. Harry had no clue how he passed his Divination tests. He didn't feel like he knew anything about the subject. 'Maybe there isn't anything to know,' he thought briefly. Great birthday present - now he knew he could take N.EW.T. Potions to become an Auror.
The first three letters he opened were addressed with handwriting that he did not recognize. These were letters from D.A. members. They didn't mention his birthday, just thanked Harry for helping them pass their Defense Against the Dark Arts O.W.L. Ernie Macmillan, Hannah Abbott and Dean Thomas had all earned Exceeds Expectations on their D.A.D.A. O.W.L. thanks to Harry teaching them what he knew in their Room of Requirement meetings.
Next Harry found the letter from Hermione. It was written in her flowery script.
How exciting! OWL results have arrived at last. Twelve OWLS! I can't believe it. I've been so worried about the Astronomy O.W.L. After watching Hagrid and then Professor McGonagall being attacked, I don't think I filled out any of that star chart. Now that I passed, I'm glad I took the Muggle Studies O.W.L. even though I stopped taking the class after third year!
Happy Birthday, Harry! I hope my package got there OK. I had Flourish and Blotts send it to you directly. We can never be too ready.
Hope the Dursleys are being decent. See you soon. Summer is going so fast!
Harry grabbed the biggest, heaviest package. Ripping open the paper he found Hermione's gift, High Scoring NEWTS: Preparing for the Nastiest Tests Ever Invented. 'Typical Hermione. Just her way of looking out for me,' Harry thought. Hermione's first few letters of the summer had been full of helpful suggestions for Harry's grieving process. He had finally convinced her he had things under control, or at least he had convinced her to stop trying to "fix" him.
He fished through the others letters to find Ron's childlike print.
Happy Birthday, mate! Sorry I can't tell you that in person. Hope you are having a good day anyway. Hope you like your presents. There is no such thing as too much Chudley Cannon memorabilia. Could be worth something someday.
Summer is going by slowly. The most exciting event has been Fred and George moving to London to live above their store. Mum won't let me visit although Fred and George have sworn to take good care of me and even offered to let me work in the store. I could use the money, but Mum still says no.
Ginny is in the same boat. She isn't allowed to go anywhere and Mum wants her doing her homework. This will be her O.W.L. year so I guess that is a good thing. She hasn't heard much from Dean. Some boyfriend he is turning out to be.
Wow, my O.W.L. results came while I was writing you this letter. What are the odds? You will never guess so I will tell you. I got eight O.W.L.s! All of them are Exceeds Expectations except my Astronomy O.W.L. which was an Acceptable. The only O.W.L. I didn't pass was Divination. Big surprise. Eight O.W.L.s is still almost three times as many O.W.L.s as Fred and George earned. Thanks for all your D.A.D.A. help! I'll be thanking Hermione for all the rest.
Can't wait to show Mum.
See you soon,
Ron's package held a bright orange Chudley Cannons jersey that said "Quidditch Rules" across the chest. As he pulled it out of the box, a few packages of Chocolate Frogs fell out. 'Classic Ron,' Harry thought.
Fred and George sent him a box of assorted pranks. 'Nothing unusual there,' thought Harry, feeling proud of himself for being brave enough to open their gift at all. As a financial backer for Fred and George's joke business, he hoped that they would refrain from practicing their pranks on him. 'Maybe they just feel sorry for me because of Sirius,' Harry wondered, then quickly banished the thought. 'No self pity on my birthday. I am lucky to have so many people who care enough to send me something.'
Ginny had sent a framed drawing she'd done of Harry wearing his Quidditch outfit plus a cheery birthday card telling him that she was glad he would be back to playing Seeker for Gryffindor. He hoped she would be willing to play Chaser now that he was to be the Captain.
The rest of the notes were mostly more thank you's from D.A. members. The only real surprise was a letter from Cho. Recognizing her writing, he couldn't help but be curious. She'd been in the D.A., but she passed her O.W.L.s the year before.
First, let me say Happy Birthday! Hope you get lots of presents and have a fun party or maybe go out somewhere.
How has your summer gone? Are you enjoying your time off?
My summer has been much better than last year. My family rented a cottage by the ocean. We ate shellfish and lazed around in the sun for almost a month!
I've been thinking about you. First let me apologize for what happened with Marietta. Maybe I shouldn't have stuck up for her since she betrayed us all to Umbridge, but she is my friend and she needed me. I know Hermione is your friend, but I do think she could have at least told us all that we were signing a hexed piece of paper. Maybe Marietta would have kept her mouth shut if she'd known.
Anyway, that isn't why I'm writing to you. I just wanted to explain better. Last year was a rough time for me. I didn't know what to think or how to feel for most of the time. I like you a lot, Harry. I just always seem to say or do the wrong thing around you. I'm sorry that things didn't work out between us.
Things haven't worked out with Michael Corner either. He was just there to comfort me after we lost the Quidditch Cup. I never liked him the way I like you.
I won't expect a letter or any response from you, Harry. Thanks for reading my letter (I'm assuming you haven't burned this yet). We'll see each other next fall at Hogwarts.
Harry couldn't believe it. 'If I live forever, I'll never understand girls,' he thought. How could Cho still like him when they did nothing but disagree? Beyond noticing that she was a very pretty girl, Harry had never found out much about her. She obviously knew nothing about him if she thought he might be having a birthday party or an outing at the Dursleys.
Mr. Weasley had once said that boys should never go just for looks. Harry wondered if maybe that's where he went wrong with Cho. 'Do I want to get back together with Cho?' he thought. Unless she was standing right in front of him, he hadn't thought about her in months. Even the thought of her lazing around in the sun did nothing for him. 'So, I'm over the crush,' he reflected. 'Maybe I wasn't fair about her friend Marietta, but I just can't explain everything about myself to Cho. There's just so much she can't ever know. So, no girlfriend for you, Potter.' The thought made him sad. He couldn't put a name to it, but what he wanted more than anything was someone to love.