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Fall On your Knees

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She always was a big girl. When she was born she had been the biggest baby around; nearly thirteen pounds and twenty-four inches long. Her father always said that Millicent’s mother never fully recovered from that birth, as if Millicent had taken something from her that couldn’t be replaced, she had been greedy, taking up more than her mother was prepared to give, as if, even in utero, she had stolen her mother’s strength, reached up and pulled on her mother’s heart to make herself stronger.

From her very first years she looked older than she was. At age two adults she met were surprised that she couldn’t read, they remarked to her mother that she must be having an awfully hard time in school, that she was quite immature for her age. At age three she could threaten the neighbourhood boys with a squashing and this meant something. She was strong and fast and she loved to run with her arms stretched out. No one could catch her, no one could even keep up. When she was older, her favourite dreams were ones where she ran, where she was chased, because she knew she could always outrun anyone.

She was five the first time a stranger looked at her and called her fat to her face. She was mortified. In her head, she was a strong girl, she was equal to the boys, she was fast and powerful and important. Fat. It just took all of her, the space she occupied, her height, the width of her stocky torso, her strong shoulders, the muscle in her tanned arms, and turned her into something useless, like a jellyfish on the beach. It was an older boy, one of her friend’s brothers, back from boarding school.

"Move over, fatty," he said, as she sat on a bench in the park, watching the girls on the swings. She just looked at him, all smug and handsome, his perfect eyelashes on his perfectly freckled face, the boy the girls giggled over, the one whose pictures the hid in their pockets, his challenging stare, his thin little arms and lean, straight legs, and then Millicent looked down, seeing her thighs press against the edges of her shorts, spreading into impossibly large proportions against the wood. She saw the bulge where her skin touched the bench, her thick calves, her dirty fingernails. Suddenly the waistband on her shorts felt altogether too tight. She never looked at herself quite the same way again.

When she was six, things got even worse. There had been a long train of squibs in her family, and when she didn’t appear to have any particular magical abilities, her mother and father presumed that she was simply the long-expected squib. Her brothers and sisters, all much older, were magical; two were at Hogwarts at the time, one had already finished school and was working as an administrative assistant at the Chocolate Frog factory. (Her mother had put a stop to the bags of Chocolate Frogs Millicent used to get as occasional gifts when she outgrew her new overalls in two months.) It was expected that she, the last child in the Bulstrode family, the large, eager, entirely plain-looking accidental child, probably would be the family squib. As all the other children in the neighbourhood went off to Wizarding nursery schools, she did not join them.

"Fat squib!" they shouted, donning their pretty new school things and heading off to school to play with rubber wands and broomsticks and make simple potions that would turn their hair green for a day. "Fatty fat squib!"

Millicent’s parents talked to a few people in the know and sent her to what they were told was a lovely private elementary school for Muggles. There was simply no other way; the Wizarding schools wouldn’t accept her, and her mother, very tired now since Millicent’s birth, sickly and weak and needing lots of sleep and medicine, did not have the energy to home school her. They bought her a set of traditional Muggle clothes, the school uniform; a white blouse, a grey tartan kilt, a smart navy jacket, and grey knee socks. No one in her family had ever had to wear a kilt before, and the mechanics of it had baffled even her father. When Millicent ran for the school bus the vague pinning they had inserted around her waist buckled and the grey wool collapsed around her feet.

It had been suggested that when she go to school, they put a protection charm on her. Not to protect her from the Muggles, but to make sure she didn’t reveal anything to them that she shouldn’t. The charm was cast over her head every morning; it prevented her from saying anything that could lead any teacher, student, or passerby to learn anything about witches or wizards. Every evening the charm was lifted, and Millicent would play with her friends. After a few weeks, her friends became disinterested in her; after the first few conversations about Muggle school, they preferred to play with their own kind. Sometimes her mother would be too tired to remove the charm, and she would sleep those nights and dream only of Muggles, with their light switches and motor cars and pictures that didn’t move. She stayed at the Muggle school for three years.

At first the Muggle school was fun. They finger painted and played with blocks and swings and had blankets for their naps after lunch. The girls swapped little minature candy bars for Millicent’s (now dormant) chocolate frogs, and her teacher thought she was very advanced in her reader for her age. But no matter how hard Millicent tried, the little girls, the pretty, cute, tiny girls, all made friends with each other, the boys bullied each other and made faces and pulled on the pigtails of the cute little girls, and Millicent could never invite anyone home.

In her third year she went into the girls washroom at lunchtime one day and saw Prudence Davenport lean toward Lindsay Weston and Emily Green and say proudly, "Milly Bulstrode is so fat it looks like she’s pregnant!" They laughed. Millicent bit her lip and walked away.

Prudence Davenport was the tiniest little girl in Millicent’s year. She was so tiny and so pretty and so sweet to the teachers they all thought she was a delight. They put bows in her hair and chalk on her nose and tittered. She was a model in a department store catalogue; she won a local talent competition with her singing. She sang the solo in ‘O Holy Night’ at the Christmas pageant and everyone thought she was wonderful. But Prudence Davenport was secretly evil, and only Millicent knew it.

At recess every day Prudence came up with plans to taunt Millicent and prompted her friends to enact them. They would tug on her kilt, put pencils in her shoes, spit at her, throw clumps of dirt at her, pour their juice boxes down her front. Prudence would gather up the boys and have them sing rude songs about her. They asked her how many boys she had to sleep with in order to get so very big and pregnant, and Millicent fumed.

That year, Millicent had slugged one of the boys for calling her fat. She hated that word so much it made her boil over with anger. ("Hey, Milly! Are you hiding someone else in your coat, or are you just that fat?") They thought it was funny. She slugged the boy, hard, and got pulled into the principal’s office for breaking his jaw.

"This is not ladylike behaviour, Ms. Bulstrode," the principal said, looking at her distastefully. What Millicent heard was, only fat girls hit boys. Small, cute, pretty girls just giggle and blush. "One more such incident out of you and you’ll be expelled. Do you understand?" She nodded dumbly.

Three months later her mother died. "There was nothing to be done," they said. "She just didn’t have the strength." Millicent looked at her hands.

One day on an errand from her teacher she climbed up the stairs to the fourth floor. It was lunchtime, but raining, which meant there was no hiding from Prudence and her vile friends. Somehow Prudence managed to make her even taunting look benign and cute when in the presence of adults, and Millicent dreaded rain. The school was simply not big enough to contain both of them; Millicent’s body loomed too large, and Prudence’s meanness loomed larger. So Millicent was relieved when her teacher asked to be a dear and drop off a teaching thermometer to the first year class. She held it gently in her hands, looking at its painted surface, walking slowly up the stairs, enjoying her solitude. The thermometer was a large, friendly-looking thing with bright shiny numbers on it; it had a painting of the sun at the top and the moon at the bottom. The face on the moon looked sad and fat; its cheeks were puffed out and its eyes half-closed.

"Milly." It was a cold voice, Prudence, hiding with her little friends on the landing between the third and the fourth floor. They had their lunch boxes neatly arranged in front of the stairs like a barrier, forbidding access to the private territory of Prudence with pink, orange, and yellow. "How lovely to see you, you piggish thing. Are you here to steal our lunches?" The other girls laughed.

"Stuff it, Prudence," Milly hissed. She tried to walk past, but three little girls blocked her way.

"You’re too big to get through here, Milly," Prudence said. "You’ll have to use the freight elevator." More tittering.

Something inside Millicent broke. Ever since her mother died Prudence’s teasing had hurt more. Always about her size; she was like a boy, punching people, she was a giantess, she was going to be a weightlifter when she grew up, she was probably a lesbian. Millicent heard them and felt the muscles in her arms and thought of her mother. She curled her lip, narrowed her eyes at Prudence and threw the thermometer onto the floor. It crashed into the steps, shattering into tiny bits of glass and a puddle of mercury that landed squarely on Prudence’s shoe. She screamed.

"How dare you!" Prudence cried. "How dare you ruin my shoes! You’ll be expelled, you horrid thing! I bet you killed your mother, you big, fat, slut! You blubbery mons—" Prudence did not manage to say another word. Millicent was staring at the mercury, her brain swimming with anger, thinking about Prudence’s voice. Thinking about how it stung her, how it was so pretty to everyone else and so ugly to her. How she wanted to pull that voice out of Prudence and grind it under her heel. She stared at the mercury and willed it to silence Prudence once and for all.

She heard screams from the other girls and looked up. Prudence was holding her throat, her eyes unnaturally wide. She had collapsed onto her knees on the floor, onto the glass, blood dripping onto the linoleum. There was mercury dripping from her lip.

They said that it was an accident. The Ministry arrived and performed memory charms; they questioned Millicent and her father. The protection charm they had been using on Millicent all these years had backfired, they said. Millicent was a witch, not a squib, and years of stifling spells had made her magic erupt in a random moment, probably, they surmised, from the shock of the thermometer breaking, the loss of her mother, and the low air pressure. "It happens sometimes," they said. "You really shouldn’t have put such a charm on the girl for so long."

There was no punishment; Millicent was never considered at fault. She did not explain how much she hated Prudence, she did not tell anyone that she wanted Prudence to die that day. She did not tell them that she knew, at that moment, that she was a witch. She did not tell them that she had wanted to fill Prudence’s lungs with mercury.

A funeral service was held for her, that great talent, that beautiful little girl, and a picture from the catalogue was blown up and erected at the front of the chapel. Prudence sat there on a carpeted set wearing a pretty little baby doll dress, twice as large as life. Heart failure, they said it was. Millicent attended, eyes burning, looking at her hands during the heartfelt speeches, avoiding her classmates, who looked at her blankly when she walked past them. The fat girl, once the largest object on their horizon, now forgotten with the wave of a wand.

The following year she was enrolled at Hogwarts. No one calls her Milly anymore. She hates little tiny girls, and rain.