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In 'The Chamber of Secrets' novel, Ron says that Tom Riddle might have gotten the Award for Special Services for a variety of odd reasons

‘Could’ve been anything,’ said Ron. ‘Maybe he got thirty O.W.Ls or saved a teacher from the giant squid. Maybe he murdered Myrtle, that would’ve done everyone a favour …

But is this actually possible? Has JKR given any history on this?

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There are only 12 OWL subjects mentioned in the text. Ron was clearly using hyperbole. – Valorum Jan 23 at 18:35
@Richard Ah, of course. The trio does that. – cst1992 Jan 23 at 19:07
I seem to recall the theory and practical sections were given separate tests, which are averaged for the OWL grade for the subject. It may be, then, the number got doubled conversationally to emphasize his proficiency... All O's might mean one each theory and practical for 12 subjects, and the leap from "24 O's" to "30 OWLs" is a lot more manageable for an exaggeration... and might be something honestly misheard with just three more classes. – Megha Jan 24 at 6:48
O and OWL is different. To secure an OWL, you need the pass grade, i.e A, E or O. O is the highest grade of the three. – cst1992 Jan 24 at 7:02
up vote 12 down vote accepted

This seems to be a case of Ron using hyperbole. We know from elsewhere in the texts that there are only 12 OWLS taught at Hogwarts. While it's theoretically possible that there were more subjects in the past (or that there are vastly more OWLs than those that are normally taught), the reality is that he was almost certainly exaggerating for effect.

For the record, we also know that the giant squid is actually quite pleasant and doesn't really need anyone saving from it.

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Very misunderstood fella the giant squid. – ATB Jan 23 at 20:23

Ron is being his usual self here, a.k.a. exaggerating. The twelve possible O.W.Ls are:

  • Charms
  • Transfiguration
  • Herbology
  • DADA
  • Ancient Runes (though only Hermione does this out of the trio)
  • Potions
  • Care of Magical Creatures
  • Astronomy
  • Divination
  • Arithmancy
  • History of Magic
  • Muggle Studies

Riddle could have gained, at max, 12 - not thirty. It's also entirely possible that Ron was trying to be sarcastically scathing and not entirely getting it - another very Ron-like practice.

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This also means that anyone getting 12 OWLs was using Time-Turners too, as Hermione was in her third year. – cst1992 Jan 24 at 7:04
@cst1992 - Not necessarily. As I pointed out in another answer, Hermione needs a time-turner because her lessons conflict with each other. It may be that other students who got 12 OWLS just had a schedule that didn't conflict that year. – Valorum Jan 25 at 1:07

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