Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction based on J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter characters and universe. No money is being made and no copyright infringement is intended. Originally written for the 2003 While We Tell Of Yuletide Treasure challenge.
Gregory Goyle was a young man of few interests. He liked Quidditch, as did nearly every other school-age wizard. He enjoyed eating - especially sweets, but he wouldn't say no to a nice, juicy turkey leg, or a plate of sausages, or, in fact, just about anything that wasn't still moving or likely to eat him first. And, as of a month ago, he was fascinated with Millicent Bulstrode.
Explaining things was not Goyle's strong suit, and he probably would not have been able to articulate just what he found so riveting about Millicent. He had known her for years, and had always been impressed with the way she casually bullied other girls, but he had never realized she was a girl herself until recently. Nor was he sure how the realization had come to him. It seemed to have arrived in his head the way most knowledge did: by seeping in gradually over time.
No, he couldn't say why he liked her. He just did, that was all. Girls like Pansy Parkinson and her group of friends held no attraction for him; they were too quick and sharp and brittle, always rushing around and conferring in harsh, hissing whispers. But Millicent - Millicent had a thick, slow, suety calmness about her, even when she was hitting someone. Goyle found it enormously soothing. He felt that he and Millicent would understand each other. He had visions of them sitting at a table in Florean Fortescue's ice cream shop with a Reticulated Ripple sundae apiece, making plans to pound all the people who annoyed them.
Of course, before his visions could become reality, he would have to actually get around to speaking to her. Thus far, all he had done was stare at her whenever he got the chance, which was usually in lessons - Draco kept him pretty busy the rest of the time. He didn't think she'd seen him looking. He wasn't sure what he would do if she did. Maybe a friendly punch in the shoulder would be better than talking, he thought. But what if she took it the wrong way? He didn't want to have to fight her, not least because he might not win.
Such thoughts were unfamiliar and disturbing for Goyle. A few days before Christmas, he found himself alone with them. Draco had already gone home for the holiday; with his father in the clink, his mother wanted him around more than ever, and had sent a Portkey rather than waiting for him to arrive by train. Crabbe was serving a detention he had earned for trying to eat cream puffs in Herbology - he had done a good job of stuffing the puffs into his mouth when Professor Sprout's back was turned, but the white smears on his chin had given him away.
With both his usual companions missing in action, Goyle had an unexpected block of free time. Since he didn't know what else to do with it, he plodded in the direction of his dormitory like a large, flightless homing pigeon.
This year, the Slytherin common room was decorated with a large fir tree, around which a garland of gold and silver snakes writhed in lifelike fashion. Their eyes glittered with crimson lights that cast dancing shadows across the walls. Unfortunately, all this beauty was lost on Goyle, as most beauty usually was. His gaze shot straight to the hearth, and the heavy shape seated there.
Millicent's muscular legs were stretched out in front of her and propped up on a stack of textbooks that looked as if they'd never been opened. She'd found a live mouse somewhere, and was dangling it by its tail, squeaking and squirming, for her cat Sheba to bat at. When she heard Goyle's footsteps, she raised her head and gave him an unfriendly look from under her thick, dark fringe, but said nothing.
Goyle flopped down in a nearby armchair. He suspected, dimly, that he ought to do something to make it look as if he weren't staring at her. Nothing came to mind, so he just stared.
The mouse escaped from Millicent's hand and scampered across the green Turkish carpet (rumored to be a flying one if you could work out the right incantation), heading toward a crack at the base of the wall. Just before it got there, Sheba pounced. She held it fast between her front paws and sniffed experimentally, then let go and watched it wriggle into the crack, where it disappeared.
"She didn't eat it," blurted Goyle, who couldn't imagine why anyone, human or feline, would turn down a chance at a snack.
"She couldn't," Millicent said. "It's a sham one. Enchanted. I got it from those carrot-top twins last year, before they ran off."
This was the most Millicent had ever said to Goyle at one time. He thought it was a good sign - or at least, he thought so until she went on.
"Look here, Goyle. I've seen you staring at me in lessons. I don't like it. Leave off or I'll send a Lethifold to sit on your face while you're sleeping."
Goyle stared. It was probably the wrong thing to do, given what she had just said, but he was in staring mode and couldn't seem to break out of it.
Millicent glowered at him.
"I said stop staring," she said. "What're you always doing that for, anyway?"
"Unh," said Goyle, thoroughly confused. "I. Er. Like you?"
At that, a truly astounded expression appeared on Millicent's square-jawed face. It didn't exactly make her look vulnerable - nothing could have done that - but it did soften the glower a bit.
"You like me?" she repeated.
"Yeah," said Goyle. "I thought maybe we could, you know -"
"Well, we can't," said Millicent. "Forget it."
"Why?" Goyle asked. He felt irritated and rather hurt that she was rejecting him so flatly. How would they ever end up at Florean Fortescue's if she kept on this way?
Millicent sighed and swiped lank locks of hair behind one ear. "All right," she said, "it's like this. You're big and ugly."
"So are you," Goyle said. For him, this was a snappy comeback, and he was proud of it.
"I know that," said Millicent. "And I'd like to know where you get off thinking that just because we're both big and ugly, I've got to be your girlfriend. Reckoned I'd be too grateful for the attention to turn you down, did you?""No," said Goyle truthfully.
"You know what people would say if we started going around together?" demanded Millicent. "They'd say we didn't have any choice. They'd say no one else would have either of us. See what I mean?"
Goyle almost did. He knew that certain things were expected of big, ugly, not-too-bright people - for example, that they would work for people who were cleverer than they were. Goyle Senior made a living that way, and Goyle Junior was on the road to doing the same, but he had never seen any reason to be ashamed of it. Nor did he see any reason to stop liking a girl just because someone might expect him to. He scratched at the bristly top of his head, trying to work out how to tell Millicent this.
"That's stupid," he began, and stopped short as Millicent's glower came back in full force. "I mean, it doesn't matter, does it? If I really like you, who cares what people say?"
"Do you really, then?" she asked. An odd, almost shy note crept into her husky voice. "Why?"
"Well," said Goyle, "You can eat like anything - I saw you finish off that whole roast at dinner last night. Most girls go around starving all the time."
"Yeah," agreed Millicent.
"And you're good at hexing," Goyle continued, warming to the topic. "And you're strong. When you shoved Granger into the wall in Professor Umbridge's office, that was great."
Millicent smiled wickedly and rubbed Sheba's ears.
"It was pretty good, wasn't it?" she said.
"It was brilliant," said Goyle. He felt he was beginning to win some points at last.
"Hmm," said Millicent. "All right, so you like me. But I don't know if I like you yet. Convince me."
At the last two words, Goyle's enthusiasm evaporated, and he shifted uncomfortably in his seat. This was surely the right time to try kissing her. He wanted to do it - but Millicent just didn't seem to be the sort of person you could kiss. Her mouth was like the rest of her face: hard and forbidding and oddly immobile, as if it had been carved out of a dead stump. For lack of anything better to do, he stared at her and breathed heavily.
"Oh, for Salazar's sake," she said. "Come on." Pushing the cat off her lap, she seized him by the hand, hauled him out of his chair with one powerful heave, and began pulling him toward the passage that led to the girls' dormitories.
"Uh!" said Goyle by way of protest. He might not be the fastest thinker, but he could easily imagine what Pansy Parkinson would do if he suddenly appeared in her room, and he did not care to experience it.
"Everyone who's still at school is out Christmas shopping," said Millicent, panting slightly with the effort of moving Goyle's bulk. "We won't be bothered. Come on, I said."
An hour later, Goyle returned to the still-empty common room with Millicent's knickers in his pocket and a pleasantly weak feeling around his knees.
People could say whatever they wanted about being ugly, he thought. He was here to tell them that there was nothing - not one thing - wrong with being big.
Grinning, he went off to find Crabbe and tell him the news.