FIC: "Dull as Dirt, Brilliant as the Stars" for odogoddess Recipient:psyfic Author: ??? Title: Dull as Dirt, Brilliant as the Stars Rating: PG-13 (for a few words) Pairings: Gregory Goyle/Millicent Bulstrode, past Vincent Crabbe/Millicent Bulstrode Word Count: 4,343 words Medium: fic Warnings/Content Information (Highlight to View): *mention of canon character death*. Summary: Greg is lost without Vince, but he somehow manages to find Millicent. Author's Notes: I apologize for the state of this fic. It was going to be rather grander in scope and backstory, but my computer crashed, and I lost it. This is what I managed to come up with (and I appreciate atdelphi’s patience with me!). There might be just the slightest creative flexing of canon, but it should be nearly imperceptible.
Millicent Bulstrode’s wards gave her enough advanced warning to cast a Concealment Charm over her work and fish out a Muggle camera from her pocket. Her workrobes already had a permanent Glamour Charm woven into the fabric to give the illusion of Muggle clothing without all the inconvenience of chafing and restricted motion.
The disruption galled her, but there was nothing to be done about it (at least, not if she wanted to remain in her apprenticeship). Muggle tourist attractions, however obscure, could not be hidden from view even temporarily, per the Cardiff Wizard-Muggle Accord of 1902.
She needn’t have bothered with the dissimulation, however. The figure trudging up the gravel path was wearing grey robes. Without the alert from her wards, she might not have noticed him until he was upon her. Grey robes, grey stones, a grey evening sky just beginning to bleed into pink--they all blurred together in the failing light, so that she couldn’t see his face well enough to recognize him until he stopped right in front of her.
The camera fell from her hands, bouncing off one of the stones of the burial cairn with a resounding crack, but Millicent paid it no mind. She had retreated to the edge of wizarding Britain, yet here was Greg Goyle, standing stolidly in front of her as though they were back at Hogwarts waiting for Potions class to begin.
“You bastard!” Her right hook landed shortly after her words.
She relished the dull smack of flesh on flesh, and, in her ensuing flurry of punches, it took longer than it should have to realise that he wasn’t hitting back. He had more of an even temper than Draco, but he’d never retreated from a fight, and he’d certainly never had any qualms about hitting a girl. Now, though, he wasn’t even defending himself. His broad face stared back at her dully, not even twitching under the rivulet of blood streaming from his split lip.
“Merlin! You’ve been Kissed!”
Millicent recoiled from the horror of touching a soulless body. With her usually phlegmatic demeanour already having been rattled by Greg’s arrival, she panicked. The central stone stood tall behind her, and she reached blindly for it, all the while trying not to lose contact with his small, lifeless eyes. Her foot sank into a dip in the uneven ground, her balance faltered, teetered, and then she pitched backwards. The back of her head found the stone her questing hands could not in a teeth-rattling clunk, a flash of light (or was that pain?), and then darkness.
The pain returned, not in a flash of light, but in a large, throbbing patch that spread slowly over the back of Millicent’s head as she returned to consciousness. The ground wasn’t nearly as uncomfortable as she’d been expecting, besides the way her right arm was twisted painfully beneath her back, nor was it as wet and cold. As she attempted to wriggle into a less disagreeable position, her scrabbling hands met with fabric instead of rock and moss.
She was on her bed.
She was on her bed, and there was loud breathing in her ear.
Her suddenly stilled hands crept to the sides of her robes and tugged on them as surreptitiously as she could manage without opening her eyes. They seemed intact and covering everything they usually covered.
A heavy hand settled on her arm and shook it insistently. There was no advantage to be gained by feigning continued unconsciousness, so Millicent opened her eyes halfway. She was indeed on her bed, fully clothed, with Greg kneeling beside her and breathing on her shoulder.
“I ain’t been kissing no one. Promise.” He was distraught, looking at her as if he could force her to believe him by sheer strength of will. His mouth still hung with that peculiar slackness, but he had spoken, and she was pretty sure that people who had been Kissed couldn’t speak. (Unless she was thinking of Inferi? Defence Against the Dark Arts had never been her thing.)
She had known him for years--had lived in the same House with him for the last seven--but she’d never claim to have really known him. It had been easy enough to ignore Greg, who rarely spoke and never interrupted, and who had enough consideration to turn his vacuous gaze to the fire whenever she fancied a snog with Vince.
The embers of her previous fury flared up. This last year, she had hidden away and dealt with her loss and focused on surviving because there was no other fucking option, but now it was Greg who was here and Vince was not and never would be. . . .
Her headache evaporated, and she sprang off the bed.
“Out. Now!” Her arm shook as she stabbed her finger in the direction of the door.
Millicent had never had a reason to study Greg’s face, but now it was the only constant in her unexpectedly wavering vision. A startled flinch at her sudden vehemence, then bewilderment, then consternation as he slowly processed her meaning--it was a bit like watching the giant squid cycle through its colour changes.
After what seemed an age, he countered quietly, “But I can cook.” His words were calm and certain of their persuasive power.
“Can’t we leave him here this once?”
Vince’s brow wrinkled with his frown. “No,” he said flatly. “We’re friends. I look after you,” He slung his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. “An’ I look after ‘im.”
Millicent shivered in the ghost of the remembered embrace.
Greg had been important to Vince (and she tried not to dwell on the knowledge that she had always been second in Vince’s affection, as the Killing Curse was so very simple and so very Unforgivable). She couldn’t turn him out.
The headache, which had only been on temporary hiatus, returned with stomach-wrenching nausea in tow.
“Fine,” she groaned and stumbled back to her bed, swigging a pain-reducing potion on the way. “Make supper.”
He blinked. He blinked again. Then he asked, “You got a freshbox?”
Millicent indicated the corner where it sat. It had been made by her great-grandfather--a solid, rough-hewn wooden chest that she’d not fully resized after relocating here to the Isle of Lewis. Greg’s large hands pressed eagerly along the grain of the lid, caressed the dovetailed corners, and delighted in the heavy iron hasp. Appreciation for the craftsmanship lit up his solemn face.
Then the potion reached her bloodstream. She squinched her eyes closed against the rising tide of pain that preceded its relief.
“Knife?” Greg had amassed an armful of vegetables topped precariously by an enormous swede and was looking dubiously around the room.
Millicent rolled her eyes. “Use your wand.”
He clutched the vegetables closer to his chest. She remembered with a pang that this was Greg. Vince had never been a model scholar, but he’d managed to master basic wandwork with a bit of extra tutoring from Draco, herself, and anyone else he could press into service through threats, bribes, or blackmail. Greg had not been so successful. He was hopelessly incompetent at anything involving a wand or a cauldron and had survived his day-to-day classes only because Vince wrote extra copies of his assignments for him and muttered answers and directions in his ear. (Every year, it had completely mystified everyone but Vince--and Greg himself, she supposed, although it was hard to tell--when he was passed into the next year.)
On second thought, she didn’t want anything damaged by an inept Severing Charm.
She transfigured a pin into a close approximation of the large knife she remembered from her grandmother’s kitchen. The blade was rippled and angled a bit to the left, but it was sharp. As an afterthought, a scrap of parchment became a passable cutting board.
Once she had assured herself that he wasn’t going to do himself a mischief with the knife, Millicent returned to her bed with a hand-copied excerpt from Diodorus Siculus’ Bibliotheca historica and a Greek dictionary, which absorbed her for the next several hours.
When she finally crawled out from the cocoon of her duvet with a working translation of the passage, she found that Greg had used her best (and, luckily, cleanest) copper cauldron to prepare a vegetable stew. It smelled far better than the boiled cabbage and potato she had planned on making, and its pleasantly piquant flavour made her stomach long for the Hogwarts’ kitchen again.
Millicent hadn’t attempted any conversation over supper, nor had Greg ventured any words besides asking where she kept the salt. However, he didn’t seem inclined to make his departure once the meal was over, so she said he was welcome to bed down by the fire. The dirt floor was hard-packed, with a charm to settle the worst of the dust, but he stretched out in front of the hearth without complaint, pillowing his head in the crook of his arm and tucking his threadbare robes carefully away from the fire.
Millicent was shaken awake the next morning just as the sun pricked the horizon through her enchanted window. Greg was kneeling by her bed once more, looking rumpled but earnest and all too awake for the time of day.
“They snapped my wand,” he explained as though she were still reproaching him for wanting a knife. “I was only really good at one thing with it--” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Not much of a loss, I guess.”
Her words emerged in a sleep-muddled gargle and didn’t sound nearly as much like “Piss off!” as they did in her head. Their intent, however, was communicated, and Millicent was allowed to drift back into sleep that was eventually not so much interrupted as pleasantly suspended by the tantalizing smell of bacon and toast.
That afternoon, Greg disappeared for an hour or so and returned with a rabbit, which he proceeded to carefully skin, gut, and joint on the small table he had appropriated for food preparation. Millicent had been watching with fascination (as that certainly hadn’t been covered in their Care of Magical Creatures curriculum) when she noticed that he had stopped with his knife poised just below the ribcage. As the seconds slipped away, she began to wonder if he had forgotten what he was doing. She cleared her throat--once, and then again, a bit louder.
“Sorry.” He shook his head slightly and continued working. “Thinking.”
The incredulous words were out of her mouth before they even registered in her brain. “You? Think?”
“I--” He contemplated the long blade in his hand, canting it slightly back and forth and watching the reflection shift. After an interminable half-minute, he sighed. “Never mind. It don’t come out right in words. Never does.”
The knife returned to its task, and they ate rabbit pie that evening.
“Pansy might stop by today,” Millicent announced after five days of settling in to their odd living arrangement.
Greg raised an eyebrow.
“She negotiated an apprenticeship for me, but I have to complete a trial project here first, and she comes out every week or so to check how I’m coming along.” She sighed. “And she’ll carry on like a harpy that I’m no closer to figuring out the proper alignment of my astroliths and shieldstones than I was last week, or the week before that, or the week before that.”
“Arselifts?” Greg’s eyebrows nearly reached his low hairline.
Millicent snorted. Professor Vector had always said that trying to teach someone else was the best way to really understand your subject. Trying to explain to Greg should surely deepen her understanding.
Or give her apoplexy.
She was nearly an hour into her attempted explanation, and Greg seemed to be no more enlightened than when she had begun. Millicent had dragged out a couple of the smaller stones, rolled up her sleeves, and was now on her knees tracing diagrams on the dirt floor. Her face grew ruddy as she gesticulated and tried her hardest to communicate the intricacies of the project she was working on in simple, yet accurate, terms.
Greg’s own colour was rising, as well. He finally cut in with a gruff, “Sorry.” He shrugged apologetically. “I get that you’re trying to put up some small stones by them big ones to work some magic, but that’s about it.”
A momentary flash of anger and frustration was suppressed not by Millicent’s good manners (which were nearly non-existent) but by the sudden realisation that she now understood the importance of the orientation of the shieldstones. She’d been trying to align them with various constellations, but, unlike the astroliths, they had nothing to do with stars and everything to do with the cardinal directions.
It was a cold, drizzly day, so she might get in an hour of work uninterrupted by Muggle tourists. Greg followed her out like a large lamb and watched her work until it was time to begin preparing supper.
Pansy never did show up, which was a pity, since Millicent had actually made significant progress for the first time in weeks.
The next morning, Millicent opened the door with a rare smile and the smug boast of her insight ready on her tongue. The smile withered and the words were forgotten at the sight of--not Pansy’s sour face--but two grim men in Aurors’ robes.
“It’s been reported that you’ve been harbouring a fugitive--Gregory Goyle, who violated Azkaban prison’s protocol and then absconded from his holding cell during the investigation into his activities. Turn him over to us.”
Millicent weighed her options quickly in her mind. She could be rid of Greg. Perhaps she could claim he’d forced his way in; it was a long shot, but maybe she could even finagle a reward.
The other Auror shifted impatiently, trying get a glimpse into the relative darkness of her living quarters. “Look, it’s against the law to aid or abet the escape of a suspected criminal. Let us in to find him.”
Her spine stiffened, and her hackles rose. No one pushed her around, particularly not any of the Ministry of Magic’s lackeys. “Do you have a warrant?”
The first Auror looked confused. “No, but--”
“Then fuck off!” Millicent slammed the door in their faces and shot the bolt home.
“I’ll go.” Greg unfroze from his position near the hearth and hastily stood.
“No,” she growled. “You will not.”
Obediently, he returned to the smoking remains of their breakfast, dumped them onto his table, and began slicing a new tomato with careful strokes.
Millicent looked at him appraisingly. “What did you do?”
The knife paused and then continued its rhythmic rise and fall.
They ate their fried tomatoes and kippers in silence.
“After they broke my wand, they gave me a choice.” Millicent had been rising from her seat, but she sat back down as Greg explained. “I could work at Azkaban or get locked in a cell. So I worked. I scrubbed floors, washed robes, emptied slops.” He raised his disconsolate gaze from the bones on his plate to somewhere in the vicinity of her forehead. “My dad was shivering, so I gave him a blanket. They yelled at me an’ locked me up. Said I was aiding an’ bedding the enemy.” His face twisted. “But he’s my dad. An’ he don’t like the cold.”
The oily fish seemed to swim in her stomach as Millicent’s revulsion for the Ministry of Magic rose a notch or two. Greg’s father had been Kissed during the upheaval of the Ministry’s overthrow. That they had put his son to tending him . . . . Millicent swallowed hard and turned her mind to the work of the day.
Pansy made her appearance the next day, and blurted out, “He’s still here?” upon seeing Greg making bread at the table.
Millicent made her understand in no uncertain terms (her fists had never been uncertain, and Pansy had always been easy to physically intimidate) that Pansy was not welcome to meddle in her personal life. Grudgingly, Pansy promised to recant her report to the Aurors and then Disapparated before Millicent had the chance to share the news of her revelation.
“He loved you, you know.”
Millicent glared at her star charts. The rising of Altair? The Pleiades? Equinoctial sunsets or moonrises? She could calculate any of these things in their historical context, but how was she to know which one the ancient wizards deemed important enough to incorporate into the design of the Callanais site?
Then Greg’s words sifted down through the considerations she was weighing. “What?”
He continued placidly kneading his dough.
“I was jealous.”
Millicent jerked her head up from her work. She’d never been the object of jealousy before, so she said snidely, “I never took you for a poof.”
He shook his head emphatically, but no verbal denial followed.
By the time Greg interrupted her again, Millicent had settled on determining the rising of Altair as the easiest option to calculate. “You loved him.” He didn’t have the instinct for self-preservation to look away, and, in that unguarded moment, she saw a fervent longing that she had never suspected in all their years of association.
The star charts, parchment, and quill fell unnoticed to the floor. Millicent advanced on Greg, her wand in hand with no recollection of how it appeared there.
“And you thought you could come here and take his place? You’re not interchangeable!”
A jumbled stream of hexes and invectives spewed from her mouth, and a yellowish spellcloud exploded in the vicinity of his face. This time, he obeyed her command to leave without hesitation.
The fire in the hearth had starved itself to embers when Millicent awoke early the next morning to silence, unpunctuated by Greg’s soft snores. She didn’t need to be up yet, but, inexplicably, she swathed herself in an old cloak and padded to the door.
She found him leaning against the rock beside her doorway, dew-drenched and shivering, his face recognizable only by its attachment to his body, so disfigured was it by massive boils and oozing pustules. After a few quiet countercurses, enough of its now-familiar surface returned that she could see his bewilderment as he tentatively felt it over.
“We wasn’t into--, inchange--, innerchangeable. We was different!” He heaved himself stiffly to his feet. “Vince was smarter than me, an’ he hated carrots, which I never understood, ‘cause they’re crunchy an’ sorta sweet. He could read real books, an’ his hair’s longer than mine, an’ he gets angry faster than me, an’ my head only comes up to his shoulder . . . .”
As he solemnly enumerated the differences between Vince and him (sliding from the past into present tense as though the last year had vanished into a bad dream), he held up thick fingers one by one, concentrating on them so he didn’t forget any of his painstakingly prepared speech.
Millicent’s stomach lurched as Vince’s image flickered in her mind’s eye, conjured by Greg’s rambling better than by any necromancer. She slammed the door in his face and crawled back into bed, curling on her side and pulling the covers over her head.
She awoke a second time to breakfast and a quiet apology.
That afternoon, as a roundabout peace offering, Millicent asked Greg why he’d never had these delayed conversations in school.
She had been driven indoors by a mooning couple that had set out a blanket on the grass and seemed to be deliberately trying to disgust her with their audible moans and lip-smacking snogging. In the meantime, she could occupy herself with the more cerebral part of her task. Now that she knew he would eventually answer, the silent gaps in their discourse no longer tried her patience, and she continued with her own work without even checking to see if he had heard. She’d tried figuring Altair into her stone arrangement that morning, and it had wreaked havoc on the shieldstone placement. The Pleiades had been a better fit, but something still was off.
Greg’s answer came in due course. “I did. Vince understood my problem with words.” He paused to consider. “Who else woulda listened?”
He had a point, and Millicent let her line of questioning lapse as she resumed sketching potential stone configurations to test. Half an hour later, she glanced up to see that Greg had not relinquished the matter so easily. He had taken a leek in his hands and was wringing it, so that the poor bedraggled vegetable’s leaves hung limply from his lumpish fists. His gaze was fixed on her face with startling intensity.
“I-- ‘s’important to me you understand.” He was breathing heavily, as though labouring at some monumental task.
Millicent asked with curiosity, “Is it really so hard for you to speak?”
Red blotches bloomed on his cheeks, and he looked down at the leek in silence.
The cock-a-leekie soup was delicious (and Millicent discovered that her squeamishness about prunes in soup was completely unfounded). While they polished off the last of the treacle tart, Greg floundered through his response.
“Yeah.” His face was an unbecoming shade of Gryffindor red again, and his voice little more than a hoarse whisper. “Sometimes. Most of the time.” He hunched his shoulders and murmured, “I miss talking to Vince.”
Millicent felt her eyes prickle. It was a repugnant feeling, but it was shamefully easy to deflect her anger away from herself and towards Greg. “It’s your fault he’s not here.”
Greg jumped to his feet. “I wish I--” His mouth flopped open and shut, cording the muscles in his neck and raising the vein in his forehead, but whatever it was that he wished refused to manifest itself.
Mililcent stood, as well, ready for a set-to and hoping for distraction. “I wish I would’ve been there. I would have saved his neck as well as my own.”
Greg looked horrified.
“Or,” she continued vindictively, desperately needing to hurt something or someone, “at least I would’ve stayed with him.”
She could see her words being slowly processed, and she knew the exact moment Greg unravelled their import.
Millicent remembered why she had never liked Greg very much. It wasn’t his stupidity or his lack of conversational skills or Vince’s stubborn devotion to him.
Not often, and not when he was in pain (which was almost--almost--understandable to her), but he cried over things like cracking his grandfather’s wand, a dead knarl, breaking Vince’s nose with a misdirected Bludger, his father’s imprisonment and eventual desouling.
He was crying now, tears spilling freely over his cheeks and his nose already beginning to stream as he snuffled and gasped and whimpered like an injured Crup.
He was crying now, and making no attempt to hide it.
“I--” His chest heaved with a rattling indrawn breath. “I’m--” No further words would come, and he buried his face in his hands.
Millicent turned her back on him and went to bed, burrowing under the covers without even removing her shoes. She had successfully staved off the eye-prickling, but now she was burdened with a feeling even more abhorrent.
Pansy had been only too willing to recount Draco’s narrative of Vince’s last hours. Millicent had been sick (unapologetically into Pansy’s discarded cloak) when the near-gleeful account reached the crackling, howling flames that devoured everything in their path.
Greg had been there, and she’d made him relive that, as well as attacking him with a barrage of words when she knew that he couldn’t fight back in kind. Guilt rose, bitter and choking in the back of her throat, but she couldn’t vomit it away.
For the first time since she was an infant, Millicent Bulstrode cried.
When the last wracking sob shuddered away, Millicent slept.
She awoke in darkness and an oppressive emptiness that sent her searching for Greg before she even apprehended what she was doing. She found him outside contemplating the stars. He jumped when she came to stand quietly by him.
“I’m sorry. Shouldn’ta come.” He tugged at his earlobe and scuffed his heel into the spongy ground. “I just didn’t know where else . . . . But it was stupid--”
“No.” Millicent cut him off forcefully. “I’m the one who should apologize. I--” She made herself look him in the eyes. “You’re welcome to stay as long as you like.”
The gap-toothed grin that raised his cheeks so far as to eclipse his eyes was a better reply than any words.
Greg returned his gaze to the stars, and Millicent felt at peace for the first time in a great while.
The peace didn’t last very long. Something glowing caught her eye in the dim twilight, and Millicent stared open-mouthed at the scene within the megalithic circle.
“What the hell did you do with my stones?”
Greg’s joy evaporated. His panicked eyes darted around, as if searching for a rock big enough to hide behind.
She had already stormed up the rise to where she had left her work. It had been rearranged. The astroliths were still aligned with the Pleiades, although in a tighter grouping than she had left them in. The shieldstones, however, were tipped on their sides and wedged in between the astroliths, which were emitting pulsating beams of light to the stones that towered around them.
Millicent dropped to her knees beside her stones. Sparks of magic leapt and crackled in time with the light, and a curious, bubbling warmth seemed to issue from the ground around them. She looked wonderingly back up at Greg.
He shrugged uncomfortably. “Dunno. I just saw it. It’s like cooking. I can’t follow a recipe, but I just sorta,” he waved his hands, “see how everything should go.”
He was brilliant. Like the stones themselves that did not give up their secrets easily, he, too, shone more brightly than she ever could have imagined.