Dreams of Cold Fusion
Cold, biting cold — he’d forgotten how he’d ended up here, remembering faintly his relief that his friends were cleanly away, but that relief had been subsumed by the cold and the darkness. He’d always wondered if the prophecy meant that he couldn’t be killed by anyone other than Voldemort. Ron had joked about it once, saying that he should try it out with a double-decker bus, but then Hermione had characteristically pointed out that while it might be true that only Voldemort could kill him, being maimed or crippled was not ruled out by the express terms of the prophecy. He was so tired. It was so cold.
How many hours before dawn?
The body was discovered quite by accident, stiff and cold, with barely a pulse detectable. The senior of the pair realized how valuable he could be, and ordered that he be taken back to their lair for safekeeping. A number of things had to be arranged if they were to capitalize on their good fortune, including finding a Dreamweaver and convincing her to cooperate in the little experiment that was forming in his very orderly mind. He knew where to begin — contacts were contacts.
When he opened his eyes he was sitting in a comfortable seat in a large auditorium, listening to a stately wizard speaking with an accent — American, Canadian? Something like that. Everyone was wearing Muggle clothing, not robes, which was different, but given the fact that almost everyone had a wand, it was certainly a magical gathering.
"Good afternoon, I’m Coordinator Duquesne and I’d like to welcome the 2001 entering class to the North American Auror Academy. We have students from the tribes and provinces and forty-seven of the fifty states , as well as students from Europe and Asia. Quite a few of you have already made a name for yourselves, and I look forward to getting to know you over the next three years," the man stated, before droning on with announcements. He then called roll, alphabetically, asking each student to stand and state their area of concentration and where they’d taken their secondary education. Although "Baker, Cassandra," was a strikingly beautiful girl from the Salem Witches' Institute who reminded him distantly of Fleur, he’d zoned out again, until he heard Duquesne call out "Bulstrode, Millicent," and a familiar dark-haired girl stood up across the hall, announcing that she was from Hogwarts and looked forward to studying forensics. She caught his eye before she sat down, giving him a wink. He then tried to pay attention to "Carmody, Miguel" but found his mind wandering again. After an interminable time listening to other announcements, the class was dismissed. He waited for the room to thin out a bit before pushing up from his chair, heading towards the door.
"Earth to Harry," a familiar English voice rang out beside him. He turned.
"I don’t know if you remember me or not, but I’m really glad to see an Englishman here," she said, extending her hand. "I’m Millicent Bulstrode and you are the last person I expected to see here."
He took her hand, noting her firm, pleasant grip. "I remember you, Millicent," he said.
"I hope you won’t hold it against me," she said hopefully. "Being a half-blood in Slytherin was hell, I’ll have you know."
"Actions have consequences, Millicent," he said coolly, letting his hand drop from hers.
"Are you proud of all of the decisions you made between the ages of eleven and seventeen, every one of them?" Millicent asked defiantly.
His attention slipped away as the cold returned and he was half a world away, in another lifetime.
"I want to go with you," Ginny said.
"I need you to be safe," he protested.
"Where’s that, Harry?" Ginny asked plaintively.
"Have you taken a good long look at Mum’s clock — all the hands are at â€˜Mortal Peril'," she said softly, her eyes beginning to well up with unshed tears.
How he bitterly regretted that day — regretted not staying longer, regretted not giving in, or at least letting her tag along for the rest of the summer.
No, he’d left her at the Burrow, where she’d be safe, idling away the last two weeks of August, including the last fateful night of August when Molly and Ginny were trapped inside the hastily erected wards surrounding the Burrow as it burned down.
His attention slipped back again.
"I guess not," he said. He extended his hand. "Harry Potter, glad to meet you, Miss Bulstrode, it’s good to see an Englishwoman on this side of the pond."
Millicent gave his hand a firm shake, her eyes showing some amusement at this repeated ritual.
"Have you moved in yet?" she asked.
"I dropped by the flat the student office suggested — but I thought I’d let the rats breed in peace there, so I’ll have to find something else — I just got in this morning," Harry replied.
"There’s a flat in the building next to mine — if you don’t mind a window that looks down onto a swimming pool, it’s not too bad," Millicent volunteered.
"Lead on," Harry said.
The first month of classes was a blur. The academic portion of Auror training was worse than N.E.W.T. level classes, with massive assigned reading loads for every class, and a truly fiendishly difficult Practicum at the end of the week. To his relief, he recognized the booby-trap guarding the locked room — it was a variant of the charms protecting the Riddle mansion. He escaped with a slightly numb hand and a word of grudging praise from the instructor, a terse, dark-haired Wizard from the Tribal Guardians in Saskatchewan. He collected his satchel and sat on the steps outside the training centre, soaking up the rays of sunshine. The sun felt good on his cold, numb hand.
"So, how did it go?" a familiar voice asked, bringing him to the here and now. It was Millicent.
"Not too bad," he said.
"I hear you were the only one to pass the Practicum," Millicent said.
"I was lucky — I’d seen that before," Harry said quietly.
"Luck had nothing to do with it — you’re a natural," Millicent said.
"How’s it with you?" Harry asked politely.
"I can’t believe the reading load — my flatmate says that I should just take my pillow to the library and save time," Millicent said, snorting at the suggestion.
"Yeah, I hear you. You eaten yet?" he asked.
"My flatmate is taking me out for sushi — celebrating surviving our first month," she said. "Why do you ask?"
"I just wondered if you’d like to go eat somewhere, for dinner or something," Harry said, hoping that his face wasn’t showing the warmth he felt.
"Are you asking me out for a date, Harry Potter?" Millicent asked, a bright smile lighting up her face.
"Yeah, I guess," he replied.
"I’m free Saturday — how about 6:00? Pick me up at my place?"
"Yeah, that’d be great," Harry said, pushing up from the steps. He didn’t know what possessed him to ask — on one hand she wasn’t the most attractive woman on the planet, but on the other hand, he’d not exactly bowled over the female members of his class, most of whom regarded him as competition, and he missed the simple pleasures of eating and talking with someone who wasn’t trying to memorize the vulnerable portions of the human nervous system.
Saturday morning was spent processing laundry and laying in basic foodstuffs for his rather Spartan kitchenette. He’d half-way paid attention to a couple of his classmates’ rambling discussions, rating the eateries that catered to students on this side of the town, so he had a notion of where he’d take her, although he hadn’t the foggiest notion of what normal people did on -- dates. At least it wasn’t Madame Puddifoot’s.
He felt a flutter of uncertainty in his stomach when he arrived. He remembered vaguely where her flat was in the building, having walked her home from the training centre once. He heard a soft tinkling of music on the other side of the door. He rapped on it lightly with his knuckles. The door opened, disclosing a short woman with close-cropped hair. He’d seen her before at the training centre, but not among the Aurors.
She smiled broadly, motioning that he should come in. "Milly, your date’s here!" she called over her shoulder. Turning back to Harry, she confided, "I love embarrassing her — she’s the sister I never had."
Millicent pushed the bathroom door open, blotting her lipstick with a tissue. Her hair was nicely arranged in a French knot. "Don’t scare him away, Esther. Good to see you, Harry, you cleaned up nicely," she said.
"I have to say the same for you," he said, trying to figure out exactly what was different about her.
"I’m not wearing Hogwarts robes, for one thing," she said, guessing his train of thought. "Plus, I’ve lost about a stone since I got away from the all-the-carbohydrates-you-can-eat diet I was on at school."
She was dressed simply in a long-sleeved linen tunic with matching slacks. The outfit was dressed up with a jade necklace with matching earrings.
"Behave yourself, Esther," she called as she walked out the door.
Once the door was closed, she turned to face him.
"I’ll understand if you want to cancel, here and now," she said, trying to look brave.
"Who would I eat dinner with if I did that?" Harry asked sincerely.
"I have a hard time believing that you’d lack for company, here in the city," Millicent said, placing her hand in the crook of his elbow. The familiarity took him by surprise, but it was good, in a way, comforting, perhaps. "Relax, Harry, I don’t bite — not on the first date at least."
Harry stiffened a bit.
"It’s just dinner with an acquaintance from school, Harry," Millicent said. "You haven’t done this much, have you?"
Harry shook his head in reply.
"Well, let me give you an outline: we’re going to have dinner, we’re going to talk, we’ll either run out of things to talk about, which would be awkward, and we’ll call it quits as soon as humanly possible, or we’ll find something to talk about. If things are going well, I’ll probably suggest that we go for a walk on the river front, and then you’ll walk me home," Millicent explained.
Harry relaxed as he processed this script of coming events. "Thanks, that helps. I’m not sure what real people do," he said.
"Like Pinocchio?" Millicent said, flashing a smile.
"Yeah, I’ve been wondering what it’s like to be a real boy for years," he said.
"War has a way of doing that," Millicent sighed. "By the way, thanks — for what you did — we all owe you."
"Sure, you’re welcome," Harry said, a blush crawling up the back of his neck.
"So, how did you end up here?" Millicent asked, readjusting her grip on his arm as they crossed the street.
Harry explained the convoluted story of how he’d been accepted into the English Auror Training Programme, without ever applying for it, and how he’d ended up being transferred into the Canadian programme as the result of behind-the-scenes manoeuvring.
They’d arrived at the restaurant, had their orders taken, and were receiving their salads when Millicent summarized his story.
"So after the war, Scrimgeour shuffles you off to Toronto to keep you out of the clutches of the British press, because you think he’s an idiot?" Millicent asked.
"Well, it’s a little more nuanced than that, but yeah, Scrimgeour wanted me to throw my support behind his government, and lacking that, he figured he could either frame me and put me in gaol, or shuffle me off to the new world," Harry said, picking through his salad, lifting bits of onions out of it.
"You don’t care for onions?" Millicent asked.
"Not particularly — cooked onions are all right, but raw onions have some unpleasant side effects," he explained.
"Say no more, Da was the same way," she replied, growing suddenly quiet.
"When did you lose your dad?" he asked.
"End of fifth year," she replied quickly, breathing in deeply through her nose, holding her breath for a moment before exhaling. "It made me re-examine my involvement with Malfoy’s clique."
"So, how’d you get mixed up with him in the first place?" Harry asked.
"Because you seem like such a normal, non-monstrous person?" Millicent asked rhetorically. "Summer after fifth year I spent a lot of time thinking out the answer to that question." Millicent speared a forkful of salad and chewed.
"When I started at Hogwarts, I was five foot, eight inches tall, a clear head taller than any of my classmates, boys or girls, and flat as a board. Puberty hit with a vengeance right after I started school — I grew three inches in three months and by the Christmas hols I was shopping for new underwear. I was an eleven year old, wearing a C-cup bra, which brought me a lot of attention, most of which I never wanted," Millicent explained, spearing another forkful of salad. "Shortly before the end of first year, one of the sixth-year students, a Slytherin tutor, tried to rape me. Looking back with hind-sight it was pathetically funny in a black humour sort of way. I had a bit of a crush on the berk, and if he’d been a bit more gentle I’d have gladly given him what he wanted, but instead we got into an old-fashioned fight; fists and wands. By the end of the fight, my virtue was intact, but my jaw was broken. I told Madam Pomfrey I fell in the dungeons, which was believable enough — I was a bit of a klutz that year."
"So, who was the tutor?" Harry asked.
"Edgar Nott — Teddy’s cousin," Millicent replied, finally bringing the fork of salad to her mouth.
"What happened to him?" he asked.
"Not much," she replied. "He spread the story that I was a twisted, not-so-little slag who liked it rough. That was probably the cruellest thing he ever did to me. I started dressing as ugly as I could; I packed on a stone or more in weight, trying to look like a blob, not a girl. I turned to Malfoy’s gang for protection. They used me as an enforcer, and the randy sixth and seventh-year Slytherins left me alone. It was a decent arrangement that let a half-blood like me keep a fairly low profile in Slytherin. Everyone assumed that if I were in Malfoy’s clique, that I must be a pure-blood, stars-above, I even got onto Umbridge’s Inquisitorial Squad! We all have our own blind spots. I never got a chance to apologize to Granger — which is one of the things I regret from school."
"What happened between you and Hermione that you were always at each other’s throats?" he asked.
"We were in Arithmancy in second year together — both of us were taking the class a year early because of our advanced standing — I thought I was entitled to shine in at least one class, but Granger just blew me away. It was galling to always come in second to her marks, no matter how hard I tried. Not very mature of me, I know, but I wasn’t very mature then," Millicent explained. She looked down for a moment and then began to eat her salad with dispatch.
Harry broke the silence as the waiter took their now-empty salad plates away. "You’re a lot prettier than you were in school," he said quietly. "You’re a lot nicer too."
Millicent looked up, catching his eyes directly. "I’ll choose to take that as a compliment, Harry. I was pretty screwed up in school, and I’m still unwinding some of that stuff. A big part of me still feels really ugly inside," she said.
"You’re not ugly," Harry said reassuringly.
"You used to think that I looked like a Hag," Millicent retorted.
"Yeah, well, evidently you were working hard on that look at the time," Harry countered.
"Yeah, I was, wasn’t I?" Millicent said, calming a bit. "So, let’s change the subject — whatever happened to the rest of the Golden Trio?"
"Ron and Hermione?" Harry asked.
"Yeah, â€˜black, red and frizz’ was one of the less-objectionable tags we developed over the years," Millicent said.
"Well, Red and Frizz finally sorted themselves out the summer after sixth year, after Dumbledore died," Harry began. "That was another reason I accepted Scrimgeour’s offer — I thought they needed some time to work things out without having me underfoot. They married just before I left — Ron’s working for the Ministry, regulating the Quidditch League, and Hermione’s doing something with a Charms mastery — I wouldn’t be surprised if she replaces Flitwick some day. They’re about the only thing I miss in England."
"What about the Weasley girl?" Millicent asked. "Weren’t you two an item?"
"She was a casualty in the war," Harry said quietly.
Millicent twisted up her napkin and bit it, obviously embarrassed. "Blimey, I’m sorry — do you just want to hit me now and we can call this night a loss?"
"Actually, I’m not into hitting girls, Millicent. As difficult as this may be to believe, I’ve been enjoying your company, until now, and I’m still hungry," Harry answered, the corners of his eyes crinkling as he smiled.
"Well, by all means, let’s finish dinner then," Millicent said, untwisting her napkin and placing it in her lap again.
The rest of the evening progressed pleasantly. Harry was pleasantly surprised by Millicent’s ready wit. She was a good story-teller, and an attentive listener, pulling him out of his usual moody, brooding silence. They talked about their respective course loads, the more flamboyant personalities among the students and staff, and their hopes for a normal life beyond school. Although Millicent was enrolled in the Forensic programme, her heart was really set on getting into the Healer programme afterwards. Harry admitted that he had little stomach for returning to England as an Auror, but might consider taking a job in one of the western provinces, assuming that he ever finished the programme.
"So, you’re not going back?" Millicent asked.
"To England?" Harry replied. "Maybe — to visit, I guess. I’d like to see Ron and Hermione again, but no, I’m not terribly eager to live there."
"Pudding?" she asked, looking at the tray the waiter had just deposited at the table next to theirs.
"Nothing looks very good," he said, disappointment evident in his voice.
"Do you fancy some ice-cream and then a walk to settle our digestion?" she asked. There’s a really nice shop about a block from here."
The ice-cream rivalled Florean Fortescue’s at his best, bringing a smile to Harry’s face. They took their cones into the now dark streets, winding their way to the river-walk, meandering for an hour or more, talking about everything and nothing.
"Can I walk you home?" he asked.
"I’d be miffed if you didn’t," Millicent replied.
"Well, I wouldn’t want to displease a lady," Harry said gallantly.
They left the river-walk and wound their way through various districts, returning to the district where they both had flats.
"Your brief didn’t say what happened at the end of the date," Harry said.
"A slovenly oversight on my part, I’m sure," Millicent replied with a smile. "Well, if the evening has gone well, the lady usually lets the gentleman know that she wouldn’t mind a kiss goodnight."
"Oh, and how does the lady manage to communicate this?" Harry asked.
"You really don’t get out much, do you?" Millicent said.
"Nope," Harry replied. "Pretend that I was raised by Trolls, it’s not far from the truth."
"Well, if the lady’s been comfortable with the gentleman, and seems to be enjoying herself, that’s a good sign," Millicent began.
"Go on," he said.
"And there’s been lots of laughing, and the lady hasn’t manufactured any crises to bail out of the date, and still has her hand in the crook of the gentleman’s arm at the end of the evening, that’s a good sign too," Millicent said.
Harry looked down at his own elbow, where Millicent’s hand had been since she’d dispatched her ice-cream cone.
"You’re not supposed to look down," Millicent chided.
"Oh, okay," Harry said with a grin.
"And if the gentleman is really thick and isn’t picking up on any of the other signs, the lady may just stop in front of her door," Millicent said, backing up until her bum was resting against the door, "and place her arms on the gentleman’s shoulders and say â€˜I had a really nice time,’ which is a devious, secret girly code for â€˜one kiss, no tongues.’"
Harry, not being totally obtuse, rose up on his toes to kiss Millicent. As kisses go, it was nice. The second kiss was even nicer. When they broke to catch their breath, Harry smirked and said "I thought you said no tongues."
"Well," Millicent drawled, "that’s the problem with these devious codes, Harry, they’re so easy to misinterpret," she concluded, giving him a wink. "I really did enjoy the evening." She fiddled with the doorknob, cursing under her breath when she found it locked.
Harry opened it with magic, wandlessly and silently while she was fumbling with her purse.
"Thanks, you’re handy to have around," she said, darting inside and closing the door in one smooth motion.
Harry stared at the now-closed door. He hadn’t planned on the evening going like this; in fact, he hadn’t planned on asking Millicent out to dinner in the first place. But having done so, he was glad that he had.
As he walked back to his own flat, he was whistling a tune from another life.
Copyright © 2007 — J. Cornell
Nothing, I repeat, nothing is as it seems in this story — bear with me a few more chapters, it will become more and less clear.
As always, thanks to Runsamok and Gardengirl for betawork, and to the usual suspects from my LJ.
Disclaimer? I don't need no stinking disclaimer - this is a non-profit writing exercise, protected under the Fair Use Doctrine of American Copyright Law.