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Guilt of the Innocent



It was a Tuesday when Millicent awoke and everything seemed different. Her dormitory looked different, though she was certain that nothing perceivable had changed, and she felt different; she felt light, serene… content—sensations she rarely felt at all, much less all at once. As she lay in the slight darkness of the morning, she puzzled over this—how one could change so much overnight without any prior warning. There were many normal things that befuddled her, and so this abnormality was ever more confusing.

And then she happened to glance, as she wondered, at the four-poster bed across the room. The green hangings had been gathered to one side, as if someone had forgotten to close them or simply had not bothered; all the same, it revealed the bed’s occupant, Pansy Parkinson, spread out in sleep, limbs tangled in the blankets that had otherwise managed to fall away from her body. One arm, slender and pale, hung loosely from the side of the bed, and her pink nightdress—already too short, even for spring—had bunched up around her while she dozed, so that Millicent could see her legs in their entirety.

Pansy’s mouth hung open in a nearly inappropriate manner—as though, Millicent reflected, she had been snoring. Yet it seemed to suit her, somehow; she almost looked pretty because of it, especially since her expression was softened by the locks of hair that fell gently upon her face.

Millicent’s heart, amidst its steady pattern of beats, gave two rapid flutters. Aghast, she squeezed her eyes shut, wondering why this occurrence felt so acceptable on this different Tuesday morning.

-o0o-


It was on Wednesday that Millicent took to following Pansy through the corridors. She reassured herself that it was not quite the same as stalking, as their schedules were almost identical—and besides, the places where Pansy liked to go were places that Millicent herself did not mind visiting. Although, of course, Millicent never fully followed Pansy to these places, since she had no desire to be seen—and it was difficult enough to be discreet when she was such a large person; in fact, it was something near miraculous that she still had yet to be discovered.

Millicent did not know precisely why she was following Pansy or peering around corners to steal glances at her, except perhaps that Pansy roused that light, blissful sense within her every time Millicent looked upon her. That feeling was addictive. And now, having adjusted to the newness of it all, she sought it out with more and more vigor as the day wore on.

-o0o-


It was not until Thursday, however, that an explanation for her feelings and behavior began to form in her mind. It crept upon her slowly that afternoon as she stood in silence, pressed against the warm stone column that allowed her to stare into the castle courtyard unhindered.

At first she frowned, finding the idea nonsensical, and then shook her head violently as if to physically force it from her thoughts.

Satisfied after that, she returned her attention to the courtyard, wherein Pansy lounged, talking and brushing her hair. Millicent could not see who she was with, nor did she care to find out. All that mattered was that Pansy was there, oblivious, for Millicent to view.

But as she reveled in this fact, the nonsensical idea returned to her, this time armed with an overwhelming amount of sense.

And again, Millicent ignored it, instead opting to smile at the way in which the almost-summer sunlight had suddenly caught in Pansy’s hair—giving it an unearthly sheen that sent another flutter through Millicent’s already erratically-beating heart.

Still, the idea persisted until no amount of sunlight could have drawn her away from it. What she was feeling, she realized, and had been feeling for the first half of that week, was the way that most girls felt about boys—the precise sort of feelings, in fact, that Millicent had never harbored for a boy before. Previously, she had never understood when her roommates had discussed such things late at night when nothing else was on their minds.

But now it was annoyingly reasonable, explaining why someone her age, someone who was nearly an adult, had never looked twice at a boy, yet had spent hours upon hours thinking about a girl.

It was all because she fancied Pansy… and perhaps even preferred girls to boys. Millicent sagged against the column, breathing in and out as she attempted to process her realization.

-o0o-


By Friday, there were whispers, and then it was she who was being followed: followed by glances and hushed tones, fingers that pointed after her even when she was looking. Boys laughed—a cruel, obnoxious sound—and girls avoided meeting her gaze. It was as if she had contracted something contagious that everyone was terrified to catch.

Everyone was afraid of her, and they had forgotten that she had once frightened them for an entirely different reason.

To escape, Millicent once more turned to following. She had believed herself to be lucky, for Pansy had taken that morning to wander throughout the dungeons alone. And though this solitude was peculiar, Millicent did not question it; indeed, she relished it, a finally-guiltless pleasure.

With quiet, shallow breaths she watched as Pansy absently ran her fingers through her short hair and paused to examine something Millicent could not quite discern. Sadly, she had never possessed a particularly active imagination, and so she could not pretend that it was her own hair which Pansy touched.

To Millicent, Pansy was beautiful: a perfect Pureblood, a perfect Slytherin—the perfect girl. And Slytherins, after all, desired only perfection, only the best the world had to offer. Millicent had always admired her, especially when Pansy put the Gryffindors in their place—Gryffindors like Granger, whom most everyone, for some reason or another, seemed to adore, and whom Millicent despised for that precise reason. And though Pansy rarely spoke to her directly, Millicent considered her to be as close to a friend as Millicent could ever really hope to have—a friend that was not forced upon her, one who could have hated her but did not.

What could it truly hurt, then, to fancy her?

But because Millicent had never loved nor fancied, and had never been as such in return, she did not know that one’s own justification was never enough.

Never.

After some time, she suddenly felt a cold hand grip her shoulder, thin fingers squeezing her bone.

You,” said a voice.

Millicent turned, almost startled, to find Malfoy standing behind her. She dwarfed him, for he was small and lithe—a Seeker—and she was hulking and awkward; yet the look of revulsion and mocking upon his face, the sneer which curled at his lips, and the poison in his voice seemed to set their roles in reverse. For once, she was glad that she had never shown much expression.

“You’ve been following her all week, haven’t you, Bulstrode?” he accused.

Millicent did not speak; as a rule, Slytherins did not admit to guilt.

“What, didn’t you think anyone would notice?” Malfoy laughed. “It’s not as if you’re difficult to spot, you know. Or haven’t you figured that out yet?”

She only looked at him, shrinking into a person, a thing, that was impossibly small.

God, you’re stupid. She’s never going to care about you, can’t you see that? Not that anyone ever would, since you look like such a troll.”

Smaller and smaller…

Malfoy shoved at her shoulder roughly. “So just stay the hell away from her. She doesn’t need filthy perverts like you bothering her.”

Instinct, for Millicent, had always been stronger than rational thoughts and feelings. And so when Draco began to saunter past her, toward Pansy, her fist flew at him of its own volition, clipping the side of his head. He crumpled to the ground, hair mussed and mouth rounded wide. Millicent stood over him, blinking, as if she could not quite process what she had done.

When Pansy’s scream came, Millicent’s balled hands shook.

“What did you do?” Pansy shrieked.

Millicent looked slowly, sluggishly, from Malfoy’s unconscious form to Pansy’s eyes. After finding sheer horror in the latter, she stumbled over her own feet, thundering blindly away.

-o0o-


When Millicent was young, a child who still believed in innocence, her mother had told her that she was beautiful, and Millicent had believed her. Perhaps she had been right at the time, for dark hair, dark eyes, and a sturdy face softened by a smile could easily be seen as traits of beauty. But Millicent knew that now—with coarse hair, small eyes, and a sullen, static expression—she was ugly.

This made Saturday the worst day. Saturday was the day that Millicent locked the door to her dormitory, holing herself inside and barring everyone else from entering. It was the day she curled her hands once more into fists and smashed every mirror that she could find, no matter how large or small, until the shards that were scattered upon the floor were edged with blood.

This was the day that the walls rattled and she screamed herself hoarse—low, guttural screams like those of a troll.

Outside, the Slytherins believed her mind to have broken; yet in those tormented hours, Millicent saw only with perfect clarity the reality of things. Malfoy was right, her mother was wrong, and she could do nothing to change that. She could only scream and wallow and destroy.

-o0o-


The early light of Sunday’s dawn touched Millicent’s skin as she lay breathing deeply in slumber upon the ground. Her dark, matted hair stretched out about her head, encircling her now peaceful face. Pieces of glass pressed into her back, but the sensation was dull enough that it did not wake her.

The dormitory appeared as if a tempest had torn through it, battering its very core. In the course of one day, the room had been wrought with utter destruction; the floor could not be stepped upon without causing harm to whomever wished to cross it, and hangings had been torn down, resting now in undignified piles.

A figure gingerly picked her way into the room, closing the door that had only just been wrenched open. For a moment she regarded Millicent thoughtfully, uncertainly biting her naturally-pouting lip. After glancing at the state of all the furniture, she decided to remain standing near Millicent’s side.

“Bulstrode,” she said quietly. She nudged Millicent first with her foot and then with her hand.

Several attempts later, Millicent opened her eyes—and she was aware of how different everything seemed to be. The dormitory looked different, of course, but Millicent also felt different. Light.

For a brief second, she was unburdened…

…Until she looked up, her vision focused, and she realized that Pansy Parkinson was looming awkwardly above her.

She started, her pallid cheeks growing red. With shame and embarrassment, she rolled to one side to avoid the judgment in Pansy’s gaze.

Pansy gave a small, dainty cough. “The other girls want their dorm back, and of course, so do I—I don’t want to sleep in the common room like some sort of wretched outcast.” She wrinkled her nose. “Anyway, I’m supposed to tell you that you’re to come out at once, or we’ll call Professor Snape, and—”

“Sorry,” Millicent mumbled, her voice raspy.

“What?” Pansy snapped.

“Sorry to’ve made you feel… like an outcast. Didn’t mean to.”

Pansy furrowed her brow. “Okay…”

“I’ll go, ‘f that’s what you want.”

“Well, obviously, the girls and I—”

“Don’t care about them. What d’you want me to do?”

Pansy sighed, looking uncomfortable. “Oh. Oh… this is about… that.”

“Sorry,” Millicent repeated morosely. With great effort, she pulled herself into a sitting position and drew her knees—now decorated with thin, hair-like cuts—to her chest. She did not face Pansy.

“So it’s true, then?” Pansy demanded. “You really do—you do fancy girls, then.”

“No.”

“Well then—”

“Just you. Never fancied girls before you.”

There was no retort for that, at least none that Pansy could easily call to mind. Eventually, she merely stammered, “But you can’t. You’re supposed to—I don’t know—go off and make little brats with Crabbe, or something.”

Millicent shrugged. “Dunno. Doesn’t make sense, really, but that’s how it is.”

“But—but why?”

Millicent paused, and then answered blatantly, “You’re perfect.”

Pansy took an unconscious step backward. “Excuse me?”

Yet Millicent simply shrugged.

“But—” Pansy stuttered.

“I can go now, ‘f that’s what you want. You prob’ly want your things back, too. Don’t want to get in your way. I’ll go. Nothing left to say.”

Millicent lugged herself to her feet and began to lumber unceremoniously from the room. However, before she could fully do so, Pansy stamped her foot.

“Wait!” she cried. “You’re just leaving now, is that it?” She placed her hands upon her hips.

“Nothing left to say,” Millicent told her helplessly.

“But—”

“Sorry.”

Millicent shuffled quickly away, hoping to find a place within the castle that was large enough to hide her.

Pansy, gobsmacked and left behind, only stared after her, her fingers twitching almost as if she wished to reach out and bring Millicent back.

Almost.

-o0o-


It was not until Tuesday that Pansy awoke and found that everything seemed different…



The End

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