Chapter 3 - - Hogwarts, First Year

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But things at Hogwarts didn't go as well as Millicent had expected. It wasn't much different from day school, except that she now had to be with Pansy and Daphne and Vince and the rest of them all the time instead of just during school hours.

They'd all been Sorted into Slytherin, of course, and while Millicent didn't really mind being in her papa's house, she'd wanted Hogwarts to be. . .well, something else.

Something more exciting. Something worth all those years of waiting. All the grown-ups had made it sound like Hogwarts was the greatest thing since Merlin, but when you came right down to it, it was just more school with the kids she'd known since infancy.

Yes, they got to learn magic, but it was just baby magic. Who really needed to know how to float feathers around the room or make needles out of matchsticks? If you were lost in the wilderness or something, you'd be more likely to need a match than a needle anyway. You might as well just keep the matchstick the way it was.

The only class that Millicent really liked during her first term was Herbology. Puttering around with plants reminded her of the days she'd spent with Granny H, learning about roses and weeds and how to trim a box hedge. Only, the magical plants were even more fun.

The teacher, Professor Sprout, reminded Millicent of Granny. They didn't look anything alike - - Professor Sprout was short and pudgy, while Granny was tall and looked more like Professor McGonagall from Gryffindor, only not so mean. But Sprout was cheerful like Granny, and they both liked to laugh, and then Professor Sprout was always telling the class to "Think! Come on, dears, you can figure it out!" - - which was like Granny, too.

So when Professor Sprout asked their joint class of Slytherins and Ravenclaws who would like to come to the greenhouses after lessons and help her prune the wrestling bindweed, Millicent found herself raising her hand.

"Excellent!" Professor Sprout said, beaming at her. "Miss Bulstrode, if you'll meet me behind Greenhouse Two at four o'clock, we'll be joined by Mr Longbottom of Gryffindor, and it will be a rollicking good time, you'll see!"

On her way back to the castle after class, Millicent felt something poke her in the back. It was Pansy.

"So what's all this about volunteering, Bulstrode?" she demanded. "Trying to be teacher's pet or something?"

"I like plants, all right? What do you care?"

"Oh, I don't care in the least," Pansy said airily, waving a dismissive hand. "It's nothing to me if you want to hang around with the biggest Gryffindor loser of all time, not to mention Sprout the hopeless Hufflepuff."

"You should be so hopeless," Millicent said. "She's nice."

"Oh, please. She's a Hufflepuff, and you know that's just another word for 'boring.' And the woman reeks of dragon dung. Positively reeks."

"Well, at least she doesn't smell like somebody who stole a whole bottle of her mother's 'Magical Temptress' perfume and put it all on at once," Millicent retorted, wishing she could just knock Pansy down, the way she had when they were kids.

"Ooooh, I think our ickle Millicent's got a wittle cwush-cwush on Professor Spwout-Spwout, don't you, Daph?" Pansy said, linking arms with Daphne Greengrass.

Typical, Millicent thought. That was always Pansy's way, to pull other girls into her orbit and then urge them to gang up on somebody else. "Do shut up, Parkinson," she said. "If I was as ignorant as you, I wouldn't let on."

Daphne giggled, and Millicent felt better. She pushed past the other girls and entered the castle first, pleased with herself. Pansy needn't think she could run everything. She probably wouldn't last a single minute with wrestling bindweed.

- / - / -

In the event, Millicent didn't find the bindweed to be a walk in the park, either.

She and Longbottom both showed up at Greenhouse Two at four o'clock on the dot. They nodded at each other and then stood around a bit awkwardly. Millicent was never good at small talk, and besides, what did one say to Gryffindors? They weren't to be trusted even if they were pure-bloods, and anyway, after all her years with Granny H, Millicent no longer put much stock in pure-bloodedness. Being pure-blood hadn't seemed to do much for people like Auntie Enna or Pansy, and as best Millicent could tell from the grown-up gossip she managed to overhear, her distant pure-blood cousin Sirius Black was even a murderer. So there you were.

As for Longbottom, he just stood looking at the ground and then turning beet red when he accidentally caught her eye. Luckily, just then Professor Sprout came bustling up.

"Hullo, dears, are you ready for a little exercise?" she shouted as she strode up the path. "There's nothing like a good tussle with wrestling bindweed to bring out the roses in your cheeks, that's what I always say."

She was out breath by the time she reached them. "Oh, mercy," she gasped, patting her chest and shaking grey hair out of her eyes. "That hill gets steeper every year. That's why I need young hands to help me. The bindweed won't stand a chance against the three of us. Come on."

She led them to a hedge behind Greenhouse Two, and Millicent hoped they were going to be asked to prune it. She thought she wouldn't mind showing Professor Sprout just how good a hedge-trimmer she was.

But the problem turned out to be that the wrestling bindweed was threatening to take over the hedge; they needed to root out the invasive vines so that the hedge could breathe, Professor Sprout said.

"It's only baby bindweed," she explained, "which is why I asked you first-years to volunteer. It's not strong enough yet to hurt you even if it does end up wrestling you to the ground, but it's a useful thing to know about for the future, that is, if you're interested in herbology?" She cocked a quizzical eye at them.

"I am," said Millicent, and Longbottom gave a nervous nod.

Professor Sprout beamed and brushed some loose soil off the front of her robes. "I thought so. It never fails, you see: whichever first-years volunteer to help me are the students who turn out to have a knack for herbology. I do it every year, and so far, it's been a foolproof plan."

She rubbed her hands together. "Now, then, Millicent Bulstrode of Slytherin and Neville Longbottom of Gryffindor. Take strong hold of a bindweed vine and pull, pull, pull. Put your backs into it. Let's see what you're made of."

Millicent grinned. She was the strongest girl she knew; this was going to be a cinch. She grabbed a strand of weed and gave it a good, tough yank.

The plant yanked right back, sending Millicent sprawling. She lay still for a moment, first shocked, then furious.

Longbottom, meanwhile, gave his strand a timid little tug; Millicent could have sworn she heard the plant chuckle. Or maybe that was Professor Sprout.

Whatever, it didn't matter. All Millicent knew was that no plant was going to make a sissy out of Millicent Bulstrode. Scrambling to her feet, she seized the vines, hitched them over her shouder, turned her back on the hedge, and ran up the hillside.

"WRRRRAAAAAAAWW!" she roared as she ran, as if the sheer volume of sound could separate the weeds from the hedge. There was a horrible moment when she thought she might be flung to the ground again - - then, with a sound like a scream, the bindweed tore free from the ground.

Professor Sprout was laughing and clapping. "Oh, well done, Miss Bulstrode, well done, indeed! Ten points to Slytherin. Now wind it round your hands, quickly; don't let it stay on the ground, or it will try to flip and pin you. Good job, my dear."

Feeling slightly dazed, Millicent began to coil the bindweed around one hand. She'd done it! On (almost) the first try, she'd shown that weed who was boss and earned her House ten points in the bargain.

And Professor Sprout had said, "well done."

So proud did Millicent feel that she'd almost forgotten Neville until the professor said, "Now you, Mr Longbottom. See what you can do."

Longbottom's shoulders slumped, and Millicent thought he might be about to cry. "Will it hurt?" he said. "I mean. . .the plant, it screamed. Will it be hurt?"

"No, dear, don't you worry about that," Professor Sprout said. "It doesn't have a brain. But over the ages, it's learnt how to protect itself. Natural selection, you know."

"Oh, okay," Neville said. "It's just. . .I'm hopeless when it comes to hurting things."

Still flush with her triumph, Millicent felt magnanimous towards everyone in the world, even the Gryffindors. "Buck up, Longbottom," she said. "If you have to be hopeless at something, that's not a bad thing to be hopeless at."

Professor Sprout gave her a sharp glance. "Quite so, Miss Bulstrode. A good way to look at it. All right, now, Mr Longbottom. Shall we try again? Once more, with feeling."

It actually took Longbottom several more tries, but eventually, he managed to pull out quite a hefty sample of wrestling bindweed. He seemed pleased with himself despite the fact that the weed was able to flip and pin him three times.

Millicent only got pinned once.