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Wilted Flower by Roots in Water
Chapter 12: Diagon Alley
Diagon Alley was cleaner than her last visit—without the piles of slush decorating the stones she didn’t have to cast quite as strong a charm in order to keep the contaminants of the street off her robes—and less crowded. She would have to remember this time—in the middle of the workday in the middle of the workweek Diagon Alley was almost pleasant.
She walked down the street at a leisurely pace—today she had time to spare. She was in no hurry and would not rush to complete this task. Remembering that she was here to repair the damage that had been done to the Parkinson reputation she took care to smile at every person that passed by her and respond to those who greeted her. By the time she reached Magical Menagerie her jaw was aching and she was feeling ridiculous—surely no one smiled that much on a regular basis?
It was almost with relief that she stepped into the shop for inside there weren’t nearly as many people she would be required to smile at. The store was warmer than she remembered, but the smell was the same unappealing combination of animal fur and waste. However, this time she was slightly more prepared—there was a charm that she had found in her third year Charms textbook that lessened the sensitivity of the nose. She had thought it useless when reading it (just as she had thought it useless back in her third year) but it appeared that it had a use after all, no matter how odd.
A faint smile appeared on her face as the stench of the shop noticeably lessened after the spell took effect.
She began to weave through the shelves of the shop towards the area where they kept all the food supplies, which she had spotted the last time she was there while looking for the pugs. She schooled her face into a pleasant (but not too welcoming) expression and resolved to buy some special facial cream on her way home. Not too expensive, though.
She believed that she just might be getting the hang of her reduced financial status.
Pansy passed by rows of wooden cages and glass tanks, which were ready and waiting to house someone’s beloved pet. She walked past baskets of ropes and squeaky toys meant to please dogs and swinging trapezes and gnarled tree branches meant for the amusement of birds. A small one, a brilliant blue sphere with little braids of rope hanging from it, caught her eye and she could picture Astor wrestling with it in the main hall, the little strands whipping back and forth, pushing him further into his frenzy. Tempted, she picked it up and placed it in her pocket for later purchase.
She continued on her way before any other toys caught her attention and soon found herself in the middle of an aisle devoted entirely to food where she began to scan the shelves for the familiar package of Nelson’s Nibblets. Astor adored it and it had pulled through on its promise to deliver “shining white teeth and a healthy coat”.
Astor looked magnificent.
“Do you need help?” Pansy turned, expecting to find the helpful face of an employee, and found herself facing a man who was quite noticeably not wearing their ugly uniform. Remembering that she needed to be polite, she gave a small smile (her previous one had lapsed once she had thought herself alone) and asked him why he thought she was in need of aid.
“You looked as though you were having trouble finding what you wanted—I can probably help you. I’ve visited this shop so often that I could probably work here myself.” The man chuckled and ran his hand through his hair. Pansy tilted her head—with the smile on his face he looked familiar. But where had she seen him before? She was certain that he wasn’t a part of the pureblood circles of England—those names had long been drilled in her mind and she doubted that she would have trouble recalling their faces.
She shook herself mentally—now was not the time to get lost in her thoughts. She didn’t want society to think that she was a half-wit.
She paused before accepting his offer of aid—she thought that she would be able to find Astor’s food, given enough time, but she didn’t want anyone to think that she was rude or prejudiced by refusing the man’s help—and then decided to allow him to help her. It could only help her cause.
Besides, having him approach her (no matter how odd it may seem) meant that she didn’t have to start a conversation with anyone else, so long as this conversation went well. Her civic duty would be done for the day.
Taking a deep breath, Pansy nodded her head and said, “I’m looking for Nelson’s Nibblets. I know what it looks like but my house elves are usually the ones that purchase it so I don’t know exactly where it is.”
She winced at her mention of house elves and cursed her sudden loss of control of her tongue. She hadn’t had this much trouble back at Hogwarts—at Hogwarts, she had been the one in command of the situation; she had been the one that others feared and respected.
She had fallen a long way from that position and felt that she was sliding further each time she opened her mouth. Thankfully, though, the man didn’t react at her mention of house elves, though they were something that only traditional purebloods and large institutions used nowadays and even the institutions had started to phase out their use.
They did so because of the mudbloods’ interference in the Ministry. Granger’s campaign for creature rights had been the focus of the Daily Prophet for the past several months and Pansy had been tempted to stop her subscription to the paper. They were only supporting the changes that would destroy the life wizards had lived for centuries, a way of living that had kept them safe and in control.
Granger was leading them on a path of destruction and Weasley and Potter were following in her wake. The only people who realized the danger of her ways were marginalized in society, their voices hushed and their complaints dismissed.
“What type of dog do you have?” The sound of the man’s voice brought her away from her thoughts and she wondered, briefly, where her self-control had gone. Perhaps it had run away with society’s dignity.
Pansy met the man’s dark eyes, saying, “I have a pug.” She reminded herself that she needed to watch her words—she couldn’t allow herself to alienate a member of society, no matter how strange or odd their behaviour—and kept carefully to the lighter, less controversial topics.
“What a coincidence—so do I!” His eyes were sparkling with enthusiasm and Pansy wondered where he got all his energy from. She didn’t remember ever responding with such joy to a simple answer (Well, except for the time in fourth year when Draco had agreed to accompany her to Hogsmeade—though not Madame Puddifoot’s, never Madame Puddifoot’s—after she had summoned the courage to ask him. It hadn’t been a date—not quite. Draco had been too distant, too distracted for it to be called that.).
Then the man’s face turned thoughtful and the corners of his lips tipped downwards—Pansy wasn’t quite sure that she wanted to hear what the man would say next as he was certainly about to object to something about her. “Though if you have a pug, I’m not sure that you should be feeding him—her?” The man paused, a question in his eyes, and Pansy told him that her dog was male. “I’m not sure that you should be feeding him Nelson’s Nibblets.” Perhaps seeing that she was about to object (how dare he question her choice?), he hurried to continue. “While it’s wonderful for the upkeep of appearances, it doesn’t tend to the health of their insides as well as is needed.”
“What do you mean?” Though Pansy had instructed her house elves to thoroughly clean the ears and folds of skin on Astor’s face she hadn’t done much beyond that to ensure his continued health and she hoped that she hadn’t harmed him. She wasn’t quite sure how she would react if she was told that Astor was dangerously ill.
“I’m sure that the person who sold you your dog told you that pugs can have numerous health problems if they aren’t properly taken care of–they must have. It’s regulation. I’m sure that you don’t want the whole speech right now but I know that there are several pamphlets near the register here that talk about these issues.”
Pansy nodded her head sharply and resolved to look for them on her way out. It would be a welcome break from her studying and well worth the time if it would save Astor from future complications.
She was shocked when the man took her arm and started to lead her down the aisle, for physical touch was not something lightly done in pureblood society. There, every touch had a meaning and every meaning had its purpose in life. In order to be successful you needed to know what each touch meant and its effect on everyone. She didn’t know what the meaning behind this touch was, though, and the man let go before she found one.
At least his hands were clean.
He had brought her to the very end of the aisle and he was now gesturing to a large package on the ground shelf with the picture of a smiling, black-furred pug that looked remarkably like Astor (though not nearly as handsome) on its front.
“This is Pug’s Perfection, specially designed for pugs.” Pansy was already looking at the package in a curious light, for she knew that specialty products tended to be higher quality—and if it would keep Astor healthy…
The man continued, “It’s what I feed to my pug, Anna—she loves it.” Pansy was aware that saying that Astor had better taste than the average pug could be taken as offensive (even if it was a fact) and so bit her tongue. Once again she reminded herself that she needed to come across as pleasant and caring, even if she was feeling the opposite inside.
“It’s supposed to clean her digestive tract and provide her with all the nutrients she needs—I haven’t seen any evidence to refute their claims.” The man’s smile grew and Pansy smiled awkwardly back at him. What was it with this man and his enthusiasm?
She glanced down at the package and sighed. It wasn’t too expensive and (she double-checked the slogans boldly printed over the plastic) it seconded the man’s words. Furthermore, it was certainly closer at hand than Nelson’s Nibblets and purchasing it would save her the embarrassment (and potential social harm) of asking to see a different product.
“It truly does all that?” She was already bending over, hand reaching for the bag, and she didn’t wait to hear the man’s eager ‘yes’ before curling her fingers over the hard-edged rim of the bag. It wasn’t as heavy as she had been expecting and she almost stumbled backwards as she pulled with too much force. She caught herself, though, before her feet had moved more than a few centimeters, successfully negating the need for the man’s help in righting herself.
“I’m fine,” she said, waving away his fluttering hands. Then, to her dismay, he followed her as she began to weave her way through the store towards the cashier.
“What are you doing?” The man’s behaviour was unusually odd, in her opinion, for in her experience you only paid such attention to a person when you wanted something from them or when you cared a lot for them. Since she hadn’t met him before (though she still felt that his face was vaguely familiar), she could only assume that he stood to gain something from this interaction.
Social manners had to be put aside—she needed to know that the man wouldn’t harm her goal. At least she could reassure herself with the truth that she hadn’t said anything damaging—except for the line about house elves. Damn it!
“I’m helping you.” The man spoke as though this was an obvious answer and he was puzzled as to why she had even asked.
“But why are you doing it?”
The man paused before smiling. “I’m doing it because I have nothing better to do—I’m waiting.”
“You’re waiting?” She was skeptical and it showed in her voice.
His smile widened. “I’m waiting for something to happen and I think that it’s going to happen here.”
“Here?” Pansy suspected that he was being purposefully vague and continued to push, wanting a satisfactory answer.
“It’s the best place to collect stories—you can’t find them cooped up in your house.”
His answer made her pause and he took the opportunity to step closer to her, invading her space in a way that made her step away from him (but only just enough that he would understand that she didn’t want him quite so near to him).
“Stories?” Her parroting of his words was making her uncomfortable but she didn’t understand what he was trying to say. ‘Collecting stories’ – was he an author? A journalist? Lonely?
“Yes stories—I find human behaviour fascinating and love to record interesting incidents.” Pansy had resumed walking and he once again had to point her in the correct direction as she made to head to the room where the dogs were kept, the exact opposite direction of the cashier.
“I knew that!” she said, her shoes clacking on the hard floor of the store. The sounds of birds chirping, dogs barking and cats meowing was growing steadily louder and Pansy wondered what could have possessed the architects or whoever had made the store plan to put the cashier in the heart of animal territory. It didn’t induce people to buy more animals; it just gave them a headache.
“Just taking a scenic route, were you?” His eyes were sparkling and Pansy snapped “Exactly” at him.
Finally, after what seemed like rows upon rows of tanks occupied by all manner of reptiles, Pansy found herself in front of the cashier, the man right behind her. She started to heave the package of dog food onto the counter and found that the man’s hands were quick to assist her.
“Is that all?” the pimply cashier asked before Pansy had finished placing the bag on the counter and Pansy wanted to snap at him and tell him to wait until she was finished unloading her purchases before asking such an asinine question. She also wanted to snap at the man that the bag wasn’t nearly as heavy as he was making it appear and that she could handle placing it on the counter, thank you very much. She resisted the temptation, however, feeling what seemed to be the eyes of all society boring into her back, and instead calmly answered ‘no’ before drawing the blue toy from her pocket and placing it on the counter.
The cashier was quick to ring up her purchases, Pansy would give him that, and soon Astor’s new toy was tucked safely back in her pocket and his new brand of food was in her arms, being carried out of the shop. The man followed her outside the shop, where Pansy paused, thinking that he needed some sort of conclusion in order to be able to leave her alone.
“Thanks,” Pansy said, clutching the bag of food to her chest, though she still didn’t quite understand the concept of thanking someone for help that they had offered.
“You’re quite welcome! I’m glad that I was able to be of assistance.” The man’s smile was infectious, to Pansy’s ire, and she found her own smile increasing in size. She started to turn, wanting to continue on her way and return home, and found that the man continued to stay at her side.
She increased her stride and the man joked about her wanting to get rid of him (she winced inside—that was not a favourable impression). She slowed down and he offered to carry the bag of food. She wasn’t quite sure what to do—it was very strange and she wasn’t used to people who were more stubborn than her.
Their journey continued in silence and Pansy was just about to ask him (again) what he wanted from her when he touched her arm, stopping their progress down the street, and pointed. When she looked in the direction he was pointing she saw a large crowd forming outside the entrance of Knockturn Alley, glittering banners forming above their wands. She squinted and was able to make out ‘No Dark Arts, No Danger’ in silvery font.
Beside her, the man’s face was stretching into a smile and he said, “I do believe that’s what I’ve been waiting for,” before disappearing from her side. She watched, slightly stunned, as he conjured a quill and writing pad before integrating himself in the throng of angry witches and wizards.
It felt slightly odd to have his presence ripped so suddenly from her side but she was glad, in a way, that he had left before she had been forced to tell him that she wanted to be alone. No—not necessarily alone, not necessarily wanted—she felt as though she needed to return home (she certainly had nothing else to do in Diagon Alley and she didn’t feel comfortable loitering in the streets—not after her reception weeks ago) and she certainly wasn’t about to bring him there.
She passed by the crowd, ignoring and being ignored by them, and reached the apparition spot.
Awkwardly pushing the door of the manor open (she still had the bag of food in her hands), she was relieved to be back at home. She snapped her fingers for a house elf to come and collect the Pug's Perfection bag that was becoming heavy in her hands and started to search through the manor for Astor. She was very excited to see his reaction to his new toy—he had already mangled his last rope toy beyond magical repair and she was still surprised by his exuberance each time she tossed a ball for him to fetch.
Pansy ran her fingers down her robe, smoothing out the stray wrinkles she found. All in all, she thought that her trip had gone pretty well—she hadn’t made any grievous social blunders and she hadn’t chased away the man who had approached her.
It was a start.