~ Second Year ~
It happened three days after the debacle that was dueling club. The entire school had turned on him, and Harry was caught between anger and shame as he tried to avoid the eyes of his classmates in the halls of Hogwarts. Hermione was, as always, a solid presence by his side – worried but confident that while he might be going insane he wasn’t evil. Ron, well Ron was being Ron. Why he’d ever expected his best friend to actually understand what he was going through – Ron had yet to really grasp sympathy – he’d at least thought Ron would have stopped talking about Quidditch long enough to show a little concern.
That was uncharitable, Harry chided himself. Ron was always less mature than Hermione or himself. It was just the way it was. It still hurt though.
But that was when IT happened. Harry, feeling slightly aggravated at Ron, and hostel to the world in general, wasn’t paying that much attention to his surroundings. Most everyone had left for the holidays, just a few stragglers left that were leaving in the morning via some other sort of route than the train, and he felt safe wandering the parts of the castle he still hadn’t gotten fully acquainted with. Perhaps it was unwise to go so near the Slytherin dungeons, but with only a handful of the snakes staying behind he’d figured no one would be around. And he was less than concerned about the “monster”, at least as far as his own safety was concerned. Whatever it was, he’d been close by when it attacked before and it hadn’t bothered him.
Millicent Bulstrode took him by surprise as he rounded a corner and for a moment, just a moment, Harry felt a little bit afraid. The girl was big, bigger even than Crabbe or Goyle, if only by a hair. She was practically adult sized, and according to Hermione rather fast on her feet. But instead of the typical Slytherin sneer at the sight of him, she stopped and regarded him for a moment. Harry dared not move, lest he provoke her, and slowly she came towards him, her eyes racking over him in careful assessment. When she was just a few feet away she stopped.
“You aren’t alone, Potter.” She said it so softly he had to strain to hear it. “Just… just remember that. No matter what they say, it doesn’t make you evil.”
It wasn’t until she’d already turned and left, disappearing down a side hallway, that Harry realized it wasn’t English she’d been speaking.
His first inclination was to run and tell Ron and Hermione. After all, they planned to use the Polyjuice potion in just a few days and if Bulstrode was a Parselmouth, then that meant she might be the heir… Why he’d not considered that the heir could be a girl he didn’t know. Hermione would likely hit him if he confessed that…. But the closer he got to the tower the less sure of the situation he got.
He was a parselmouth and he wasn’t opening the Chamber. Just because Bulstrode was a little scary in general, and could also talk to snakes, that didn’t make her evil automatically did it? Sure, she was in Slytherin and while Harry didn’t particularly like the House he was pretty sure the entire thing couldn’t be evil, at least not killing-innocent-people evil. Cheating at Quidditch – sure. Bullying people in the hallway – absolutely. Stealing someone’s homework and turning it in as theirs – in a heartbeat. But kill people? The entire house couldn’t be murderers, despite their horrible reputation. If they were, then just getting sorted into it would have meant prison.
No, he couldn’t tell Ron or Hermione. Ron would jump to conclusions and Hermione would… he wasn’t sure what Hermione would do. There’d been a point, in first year, that she and Bulstrode had been on slight speaking terms. Not friends, surely, but at least able to partner together in classes without fighting. Hermione was logical, and not one to jump to conclusions, so maybe she’d be calm about it. But no way could he tell Hermione without telling Ron. And no matter how much Harry distrusted Slytherins he didn’t want anyone else to be going through what he was. And if her secret got out, Bulstrode would be ostracized.
The next day he watched her during the meals in the Great Hall. The other Slytherins seemed to ignore her at best, bully her at the worst. Or at least they tried to, some of the older ones. But the large girl held her own and didn’t react. Soon they tired of their victim not responding and moved on to torment the first years that had stayed. Word came that the carriage that was supposed to take her and two others had been delayed by a storm and he watched her face fall. She’d be staying after all. Bulstrode ate her meals quietly, alone, and when she left the hall no one went with her. In fact, as Harry took to trailing her around the school it became apparent that no body, in any house, wanted anything to do with her – or the other two students whose carriage had been canceled. It was like the three of them were all considered less, and even avoided each other as if to band together would somehow make it worse.
Her only company, as far as Harry could see, was her cat.
He knew what being that alone felt like.
After the failed attempt at getting information out of Malfoy, Harry made sure Hermione was okay in the hospital wing and then made an escape. He didn’t have much, just the plum cake from Mrs. Weasley, but it was something and he suspected, after watching the way they treated her in the Hall, she probably hadn’t gotten anything from her year-mates.
Harry found her in the far Greenhouse after asking the Friar’s ghost if he’d seen her. Luckily he had, and Harry wrapped his cloak tightly as he fought his way through the snow and darkness to the small glass building. A heating charm kept it warm in there and he found Bulstrode huddled with her cat in the back corner, stroking the leaves of a Mandrake plant. There was a slight happy gurgle coming from the pot.
“What do you want, Potter?” She asked bitterly without looking up.
Harry sat down slowly keeping a good distance between them. “I wanted to see if you’d like to share my cake with me.” He held out the small plum cake. “Mrs. Weasley sent it and she’s really good with cake.”
Bulstrode looked up and frowned. “Why would you share it with me?”
Harry set the plate down between them. The large black cat sniffed the air but didn’t move from its perch on her lap. “Because I know what it’s like not to have friends at Christmas. And you took a big risk the other day…saying what you did – how you did.” Harry blushed slightly and looked away. “I want to thank you for that. You had no reason to trust me.”
Bulstrode leaned forward and sliced off a piece of cake before nudging the plate back towards him. “I had no reason not to either. Aren’t exactly a lot of us around, Potter. I figured… it might help to know you weren’t alone.”
“Thanks.” Harry smiled and took his own slice. “It does actually. I mean, I’m rather used to being a freak but when I came here, well, I thought maybe I’d be normal for once.” He snorted bitterly. “That obviously wasn’t the case.”
“I just want to get through it.” Bulstrode grumbled taking a bite of the cake and nodding approvingly at the taste. “Hogwarts is like a long painful rite of passage that my family must endure every generation. Like a seven-year prison sentence.”
“Is it that bad in Slytherin?” Harry asked, confused.
“It’s not my House, Potter.” Bulstrode stretched and her cat got up with a glare. She mollified it with a corner of the cake. “I mean, look at me. It’s pretty obviously what I am.”
“ah…” Harry scrunched his forehead in confusion. “A girl?”
Bulstrode laughed. “You mean you don’t know?”
She pulled her knees up to her chest and hugged them. “I guess that’s why you were willing to be nice. You don’t know.”
“Whatever it is can’t be that bad.” Harry said, squinting for a closer look. “I mean, we both talk to snakes. What’s worse than that?”
“Parseltongue is dead useful.” Bulstrode corrected glumly. “Being less than human is just… inconvenient.”
“Oh.” Harry looked at her a little more closely. “You mean, one of your parents isn’t….”
“My dad’s half giant like Hagrid.” Bulstrode admitted quietly. “And my mum is a quarter goblin. And her mum was a muggleborn.”
Harry shrugged. “That must make family dinner rather an adventure.”
She looked up at him and eyed him critically. “No jokes about the less than halfblood in Slytherin?”
“I don’t see how you are less than half.” Harry scratched his head and took another bite of cake. “I mean, giants and goblins have magic right? So what difference would it make even to a Slytherin? I couldn’t care less either way.”
“You don’t know any better. You were obviously raised in a barn.”
“Broom cupboard actually.” Harry confessed softly.
That earned a genuine laugh from the girl. “Well, if I looked hard enough there’s probably a house-elf in our woodpile too, if it makes you feel better. My family… well, we’ve been outside the norm for a long time. Once you have a kid with a non-human….” She looked down and away. “We aren’t welcome in most places. I know that carriage wasn’t delayed by a storm. They just, they just didn’t want to carry three half breeds home to the village, not even for Yule, and not even with the headmaster paying for it. Nobody goes to ¬¬¬¬¬¬Anhaeddiannol if they don’t have to.”
Harry moved closer so he was sitting shoulder to shoulder with her. The black cat came up and nudged his knee and he reached down and scratched its ears. The creature purred and rubbed its face against him. “I don’t think you’re less than me, Millicent.” He held out another piece of cake. “In fact, you’re more than I am by at least two feet.”
“I can’t help that I’m tall.” She huffed and grabbed at the cake, glaring. “I take after my father.”
“I didn’t say it was a bad thing, did I?” Harry asked, smirking. “At least you don’t have to worry about Crabbe sitting on you and crushing you. If I got any smaller I’d have to borrow Flitwick’s stepping stool.”
That made her smile. “You are terribly short, Potter. Even my mum is taller than you.”
“Makes me a better seeker.”
“Whatever you need to believe to make it through the day, Boy-Who-Lived. Whatever you need.”
Harry wasn’t a fool. He couldn’t exactly spend time in the hallways with his new friend conversing in their secret language. But Millicent was right – Parseltongue did have its uses. It didn’t take much to bribe a small snake into delivering messages back and forth. While far from popular, Millicent wasn’t willing to do anything to make life harder on herself in her House, so they kept their face-to-face meetings secret.
At first it was hard to keep something like that from Ron and Hermione but it was nice, for once, to have something that was just for him. And Millicent didn’t care if he showed up sweaty from practice or if he got his homework done on time. She just appreciated having someone to talk to, someone who didn’t mind if she shared stories about her rather unorthodox family and the village of not-quite-entirely-humans they lived in. And she had a ton of stories, some funny, some sad. But most importantly it was obvious how much her parents loved her, and how much she cared for them.
But there was something wrong. Harry could tell. As the end of the school year neared he finally asked, “Millicent, why don’t you want to go home?”
“Is it that obvious?” She asked softly, petting her cat slowly.
“To me.” Harry sighed. “I know why I hate going back to the Dursleys, but from all your stories it sounds like you’ve got a wonderful family. I’d trade you in second.”
“I had a wonderful family.” Millicent curled up, clutching her knees. “Harry, I know you lost your parents, but you were a baby. Have you ever lost anyone you can remember?”
“No.” Harry confessed softly. “I can’t remember them at all. And until I got to Hogwarts there wasn’t anybody I cared about enough to miss if they did go away.”
“Mum’s dying.” Millicent confessed softly, not meeting Harry’s eyes. “She has a congenital condition, only goblins and part goblins have it and St. Mungos won’t treat her. They don’t treat mixed species unless someone like Dumbledore makes them and we don’t have the connections to force them to. Dad does what he can, but the treatments are expensive in Knockturn Alley and… I hate to see her in so much pain.”
Harry reached out and took his friend’s hand. “Can’t the goblin’s help?”
Millicent brushed a tear off her face. “Harry, they don’t like us any more than the Purebloods do. Nobody likes a mixed breed.”
Harry frowned. “That’s not right. None of this is right.” He took her hand and held it tightly. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
Millicent looked down and blinked hard, trying to keep her tears back. “Some things not even the Boy Who Lived can fix, Harry.”