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Wilted Flower by Roots in Water
Chapter 14: Reflection
The weather grew colder again, the vibrant green grass fading to a dull yellow and the warm colours of the leaves decorating the grounds. Pansy watched with some sadness as the flowers in the gardens wilted and died—her mother had once again put in the effort to add colour and life to the manor and her work was fading without anyone but herself, Pansy and the house elves having seen it.
Inside the manor Pansy delighted in the warmth that greeted her fingertips every time she touched the walls—they soaked up the air’s heat without complaint and it was a welcome change from the frigid stone walls of Hogwarts.
Unfortunately, the cold weather also meant the approach of her N.E.W.T. exams and she had never before felt less prepared for something in her life. Before, exams had just been an obstacle in her path to her enjoyment of summer but now they represented the path to a better future. She needed to do well on these exams. The fact that she had largely ignored the required information before (then having to cram almost frantically a few weeks before the exams) was really coming back to bite her.
If she had a chance to throttle her younger self, she just might have taken it. It would save her so much grief now.
Even with the breaks she was taking she still felt as though her head was swimming in facts and there had been several occasions where she could have sworn that there was writing on the walls of the house, even though she knew that in reality there wasn’t. Astor had continued to be a helpful presence (she was sure that there was no one else who could possibly be more thankful for a drunken decision than she was) and her mother had once again returned to her position as a wallflower in her life.
Having made her way through all of her textbooks Pansy had owled Madame Marchbanks and requested copies of old N.E.W.T. exams. She wasn’t given them (it apparently wasn’t allowed) but she had been sent several practice exams that were distributed to the students each year. The letter had assured her that they were very similar to the real thing and Pansy had decided to be content with them.
She had already gone through the majority of them and had found the beginning questions rather simple. It was the later questions that were giving her difficulty—she had absolutely no idea where to begin with the essay portions and some of the long-answer questions were trying as well (every time she saw the phrase ‘compare and contrast’ or ‘explain your answer using specific examples’ she swore that her heart skipped a beat). The worst part about the whole experience was that she had no one to turn to for help.
She had tried asking the house elves to quiz her but had quickly become frustrated and dismissed them—they didn’t have a better grasp of magical theory than she did and so they were useless when it came to telling her if she had the right idea with her answer.
She couldn’t turn to her mother—she would be worse than the house elves—and Astor was no help in this situation. There wasn’t enough money for her to hire a tutor (not that she wanted it to seem like she needed the help—even though she knew that she did, even if it was just a small amount) and so it was with a reluctant mind that Pansy turned to her reflection. Hopefully, since the information was in her head somewhere, her reflection would also know it.
However, since her reflection had been rather scarce since Pansy had brought Astor home (she had only spotted her briefly several times when she was changing in the early mornings or late evenings and even then their conversations had been brief—Pansy had had things to do or had been too tired to stay awake for long), Pansy knew she might have difficulty catching her attention.
With this in mind, Pansy collected her textbooks and practice exams from the library and carried them to her room, where she set them down in a circle around her. It was there that she studied for the next few days, leaving her room only for meals and to play with Astor, looking for all the world as though her attention was focused on the books in front of her instead of on the mirror behind her.
It was with some relief that Pansy greeted her reflection once she finally appeared, eyebrows crossed and arms folded, on the third day.
She didn’t ask questions about where she had been, about why she had disappeared. Instead she was just grateful that she had once again graced her mirror.
And her reflection hadn’t given her any trouble when she asked her to help her study for N.E.W.T.s, only giving a small sigh before turning her gaze to the pages Pansy had laid out on the table under the mirror. The bold, neat font of the practice exams created a sharp contrast with her personal notes, which were written in a curved fashion. It was easy to see the marks of her day-to-day work as her notes became more tired (almost sloppy, though Pansy would bite off her tongue before she admitted that – her ts no longer looked like perfect crosses and the dots on her is often missed the mark) as they progressed before regressing to the clean font she had been proud of since her tutor had first pronounced it “acceptable”.
The first time they had studied together, before a routine had been established, Pansy had waited for her reflection to speak, while her reflection’s gaze had been stubbornly fixed on the papers before her. There was a long silence, while both waited for the other to make the first move and Pansy worried that her reflection had misunderstood her duties as the questioner. Eventually, though, her reflection’s eyes had flicked upwards and her fingers had motioned for her to turn around.
When Pansy hadn’t immediately reacted (for how did her reflection expect her to understand when she only used vague gestures that could mean anything?), her reflection’s mouth opened to spill out words that stung Pansy with their unflinching rigidness.
“Go on — turn around. I’m not going to ask you anything until you do.”
Twisting awkwardly on the chair so that she faced away from the mirror and bending over to smooth the wrinkles that the move had created in her robes, Pansy was glad that the change in direction hid the burning on her face from her reflection. Did her reflection actually think that she would jeopardize her studying by cheating?
But she remembered the temptation she had felt each time she had struggled to answer a question in the library and knew that she would have been tempted to look if the notes had been sitting so openly in front of her. Her reflection had been right – she knew her too well – but as Pansy reached to fiercely pin a stray hair back into her bun she realized that she was still upset by the assumption.
If her reflection could assume that she would cheat, that she would deem herself above the rules that governed the Wizarding society (which was true but still, there were appearances to keep up), what would there be to say that the rest of the population wouldn’t assume the same? And yet, that was what she was hoping to disprove, what she had to refute if she hoped to regain Wizarding society’s respect for her family.
“Begin.” Her voice was stiff but her reflection didn’t give any indication that she heard the anger in her voice. Instead her reflection’s voice was smooth, flowing through the question as though she had been asking them all of her existence.
“Name and explain the differences between the role of lovage in the Confusing and Befuddlement draughts.”
And Pansy was swept away in a confusing muddle of magical theory and practical application, where confusing wording was common and examples were always requested. Her reflection gave her no pause – it seemed at times as though she was just as thoroughly invested in the outcome of the N.E.W.T.s as Pansy was – and Pansy found her time with Astor dwindling as her time was once again taken up by her reflection. Her visits to Diagon Alley also diminished in number as she felt the pressure to do well on her exams growing.
But just as her contact with the outside world was shrinking her confidence in her ability to do well on her N.E.W.T.s was growing. She found it easier to draw links between separate subjects and the words ‘compare and contrast’ were no longer quite so frightening. Transfiguration still caused her trouble and her wandwork wasn’t as good as it could be, but she was progressing and it was enough to sooth Pansy’s worries.
There were some moments, however, where she seemed to lose her reflection’s attention, where the silence from behind her as she struggled to answer a question felt empty rather than patient. She would turn and see her reflection’s eyes not focused on her or on the question sheet or her notes but instead on the closed door, her head cocked to the side as though she was straining to hear a sound that wasn’t there.
The first few times Pansy noticed this, her reflection recovered quickly enough that she didn’t think much of the incident. However, as the empty silences became more regular, Pansy noticed that her reflection always carried a slight smirk as she turned her concentration back to Pansy’s studying, the beginnings of a spiteful gleam in her eyes.
Pansy wouldn’t have brought it up – she didn’t feel the need to, for what trouble could her reflection make when she was trapped in a world of glass? – but one day, as the snow curled in gentle patterns past her window and she was snug and warm in one of her thick comfortable robes, she spent too long listening to the stillness behind her and her reflection picked up on her awareness.
The silence changed, becoming sharper, more dangerous, and Pansy felt her shoulders stiffen involuntarily. She rolled her shoulders, trying to ease them out of their nervous position carefully, casually, and turned to face her reflection. She started to stutter out an answer to the N.E.W.T. question she had been struggling with, stringing words together in poorly made sentences, but she was cut off.
“Where is your dog?”
Her reflection’s voice was soft and it contrasted sharply with the harsh lines of her face. Pansy paused before answering, her thoughts racing in circles as she tried to find a reason for the question. What did it matter where Astor was? He wasn’t interrupting their study sessions; she had made sure of that. And since he had seemed to make her reflection ill at ease (though she had no idea why her reflection seemed ready to flee whenever Astor reminded them of his presence in the manor), Pansy had made sure that he was occupied during the daytime.
It caused the house elves no trouble to watch him and they had even grown to like him, which Pansy grudgingly admitted was a good thing – one of the pamphlets she had picked up at the Magical Menagerie said that a pug’s health was negatively affected if it was surrounded by a depressing atmosphere.
And though it perhaps shouldn’t have, it bothered her that her reflection hadn’t bothered to refer to Astor as Astor, as though she was unaware of his name, as though he wasn’t worth a name. So when she opened her mouth to respond, she didn’t give the answer her reflection wanted. Instead she said, somewhat defiantly, “Do you mean Astor?”
Her reflection’s mouth grew more pursed, narrowing as she ground out “Yes” as though it pained her to do so.
“He’s—,” Pansy emphasized Astor’s gender, as though it made him more human, more worthy of recognition, “being watched by the house elves. I think he’s on a walk with one of them right now.”
“Ah.” And her reflection seemed satisfied by her answer, though Pansy could see no reason for her to be.
“Why do you want to know?” Pansy felt defensive, protective of an answer that shouldn’t have needed to be guarded. Her reflection’s face grew closed for a second, all traces of emotion disappearing, before her eyes suddenly blinked back open and she answered, “For no reason you need to be concerned with. I was just curious.”
But her smile was back and Pansy felt strangely unsettled.
“Do you have your answer?”
With her question Pansy was guided away from her thoughts and concerns about Astor, and her reflection and back into her stressed thoughts about the looming exams. The manner of her reflection’s odd behaviour regarding her pug left her mind and stayed away, as her reflection seemed to take greater care with hiding her opinion of Astor – Pansy, at least, didn’t notice any empty silences.
And eventually, as she forgot that Astor’s absence during the day had been done on purpose, she began to want to include Astor in her study sessions. After all, Astor had been great before, when she was panicking by herself in the library. His presence was a stress reliever, calming her down and providing an easy distraction when her doubts and worries became overwhelming.
His fur, though short, was soft and his nose was always cold – Pansy still hadn’t figured out how that happened and had accepted it as nice quirk. Pansy enjoyed the warm, pleasant feeling that developed in her stomach and spread throughout her body when his small body pressed affectionately against her legs, pushing for attention.
The desire to have him sit beside her continued to develop as the days passed and she watched him being taken away by a house elf after having sat beside her during breakfast. She was only stopped from ordering the house elves to leave him next to her by a niggling thought that she had arranged his absences for a specific reason.
Sometimes his pleading black eyes shifted to become disdainful brown ones, with an all-too-human feel to them.
But the thoughts that caused her to hesitate were worn away when no reason surfaced to support them and finally Pansy could see no good reason to stop her from bringing him to her room.
“Stop,” she ordered one day, her fingers curved in a spidery grasp on the wooden chair’s arm as she looked down at the house elf that had just pop-ed into the room, “He will stay with me today.”
The house elf let out a timid squeak, its huge head bobbing its understanding before it disappeared from her sight with a sharp crack. Pansy stood, the chair scritch-ing across the wooden floor, and bent over to scoop Astor into her arms. “Come along, honey. Today we’re going to be learning about Transfiguration. Won’t that be fun? Won’t it?”
Astor was a comfortable weight in her arms and he yipped excitedly as he zipped through the corridors at a different height than usual. Pansy was smiling as she opened the door to her chambers and passed through to her bedroom, where her reflection had yet to appear.
The sight of her empty mirror wasn’t unusual for her reflection usually materialized only after Pansy was ready to go. As the minutes passed, however, Pansy grew concerned as her reflection still failed to show. She placed Astor on the ground, petting him once before letting him go, and bent close to the mirror. She knocked once but aside from the mirror almost falling from the wall nothing happened. Calling for her reflection didn’t help either.
Her reflection didn’t appear. Pansy waited for her, glancing through her notes and watching Astor chase his tail to pass the time.
Minutes turned to hours and any concern Pansy might have been feeling for her reflection turned to anger. How dare she stand her up? What could possibly be more important than the work she was doing with Pansy? Did she not realize how important her studying was? Did she not understand the consequences if Pansy failed?
Eventually she gave up and, at the house elf’s announcement that lunch was ready to be served, Pansy retreated to the dining room. Her mother didn’t join her for the meal – apparently she had discovered a new craft store that sold unusual high quality wool. After hearing this Pansy resolved to send a letter off to Tebak – she hoped that her mother hadn’t dipped too far into their savings but was aware that her mother didn’t practice restraint in her shopping. If she wanted something, she purchased it.
Pansy’s father had always allowed it.
After the dirty cutlery and dishes had been cleared away Pansy allowed Astor to be taken away by Milly – he needed his walk and she needed to study for her exams and the two weren’t mutually compatible. She was prepared to spend a silent afternoon in her room and so was startled to find her reflection gazing out of the mirror at her when she walked into her bedroom.
She opened her mouth to speak but was beaten by her reflection, who said, “You’re here at last – there’s no time to waste, so we must get started.” Her eyes flicked down to the sheets that covered the desk and then to the chair before returning to Pansy, who remained frozen in the doorway.
“Wh-where were you this morning?”
“This morning?” Her reflection seemed confused and Pansy didn’t have a strong enough grasp of the situation to desire clearer answers from her (her reflection also seemed eager to start asking her questions), so she let the topic drop.
The session flowed smoothly, without any empty silences or sharp glances, as did the sessions in the days following, but her reflection always disappeared when Astor visited (or even when Astor’s barking could be heard) and Pansy had to content herself with quizzing herself, since her reflection refused to answer her calls.
It was odd, but Pansy didn’t know how to reconcile her reflection to her pug’s presence since her reflection disappeared whenever Pansy tried to discuss the problem and was left to try to keep the two main players in her life separate.
Sadly, it was easier than she had originally thought it would be.
And the start date of her N.E.W.T.s loomed closer and closer until there was no more time left to study and only possibilities to imagine.
It was dark, pitch black, and Pansy couldn’t see a thing. The air was musty, as though the place she was in was old and had been abandoned for a long time.
She was cold and her feet burned from their contact with the freezing floor. She wondered where her shoes were and, as her fingers brushed against her clothes, why she was wearing such a poorly-crafted robe. It was making her skin itch but she entertained the thought of shedding it for only a moment. Nudity, especially in foreign circumstances, was not befitting a Parkinson.
Pansy hugged her arms around herself, nervous and unsure, and tentatively toed the floor around her.
Slightly to her left she found a crack in the floor and, just past it, the same cold, smooth surface she was standing on. She pulled her foot back to the crack and traced it gently, careful not to put too much pressure on it. She followed the crack until it broke into three separate paths and, confident enough to press her toe more firmly into the crack now, she took the right path, following it in front of and to the side of her body until she discovered that she was standing on a square. A stone square, if she wasn’t mistaken. Even more confident now, Pansy opened her arms, stretching them out before her so as to protect herself from unknown dangers (and from losing her balance, though a Parkinson would never be so clumsy as to do so), and stepped off the small square.
But instead of her feet meeting with cold stone, they were greeted with soft carpet. The room was no longer dark but was instead lit by the grey skies that lay just outside of the windows that lined the outer wall. Pansy blinked, her eyes watering at the sudden exposure to light, and was startled to find that she was in her library, with no stone square in sight.
Scraps of parchment littered the floor, all decorated with frantic scribbling.
Ever curious, and not so frightened now that she was in a familiar place, Pansy knelt and picked up one of the scraps, wondering why the house elves hadn’t cleaned up the mess yet.
Holding the parchment carefully between her fingers so as to not dirty her hands with the still wet ink, Pansy was startled to realize that she recognized the writing—it was undeniably hers.
But she didn’t remember ever writing the words.
To secure the future – what did it mean? What was the purpose behind the message?
There was the sound of rustling fabric behind her and she turned, immediately suspicious of another person in the library, to see… herself.
Pansy barely noticed that the piece of parchment had left the grasp of her fingers and was fluttering to the floor for she was too caught up staring at this person who looked so much like herself she had to have been polyjuiced.
Her twin was dressed in her finest robes – Pansy glanced down in anger at the ugly robe she was wearing—as though she was about to accept a marriage proposal, and she appeared not to have noticed that Pansy was in the room. Her hair had been elegantly twisted to frame her face – Pansy’s own knotted locks suddenly felt heavier and more irritating as they lay, sweaty, on her neck and she wondered why she should be in such a disarray when this other girl looked so pristine, looked exactly like Pansy had pictured herself on her wedding day.
Pansy started angrily towards the girl, her feet sinking soundlessly into the carpet save for when she trod over a scrap of parchment. The girl never so much as looked up, instead reaching inside a hidden pocket to pull out a vial filled with a potion that looked so familiar… But its name and its purpose escaped Pansy, who was steadily drawing nearer and nearer to the girl.
The girl uncorked the vial and tipped its contents back into her throat in one smooth gesture just before Pansy reached her…
… And the dream shattered, startling Pansy awake. She was breathing hard and her room was as dark as the dream had initially been – she couldn’t see a thing. She stretched one arm out blindly, grasping frantically for her wand, and flicked on her nightlight.
Then, under its comforting green glow, Pansy went back to sleep, knowing that she needed to be well-rested for her N.E.W.T.s the next day.