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Chapter 15: N.E.W.T.s
Pansy could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times she had visited the Ministry before it became the location of her N.E.W.T. tests and this visit wasn’t going to require her to use two of her hands. Her father hadn’t considered the Ministry a suitable location for his daughter—he didn’t need her for his work and she would probably have been more of a hindrance than a help. She, aware of these reasons, had never asked to visit her father at the Ministry. For her, the gatherings her mother had organized with the other pureblood mothers in their circle had been enough; once upon a time she had relished the thought of having Draco’s company for several hours. The Ministry had simply been the place where her father disappeared to during the day, along with the fathers of her playmates.
It hadn’t interested her, which had suited her father just fine at that point in time.
Her father had only taken her once, when she was young, to show her the “glory of their past and the birth of their future”. She remembered how he had whispered to her, kneeling beside her and balancing with his strong grip on her shoulders, and pointed towards the statue that dominated the atrium. His words had given her tales of incompetent fools that he had manipulated to his benefit, of unfortunate changes to the laws that he had stopped from being passed, of the positive modifications that he had made to the Ministry.
After that day she had been proud to say that her father worked at the Ministry, though she hadn’t been any more interested in visiting it – she had noticed that there were more adults hurrying places that she wasn’t allowed to go than there had been other children for her to play with. She didn’t envy Draco in the slightest whenever he had bragged that his father had taken him to the Ministry the previous day; she had just wondered how he had entertained himself without her by his side.
She had only noticed years later that he had avoided saying anything that overtly promoted the Dark Lord’s (and their) beliefs, that he had had a less dominating presence than the one he wore in the sanctuary of their manor, that he hadn’t greeted anyone that had passed them with a smile, only a nod. Even though her father had been a proud man, he hadn’t been a stupid one (something she could not say about others in their circle)—one did not openly advertise their beliefs if they were against popular opinion if one meant to stay in a position of power.
Pansy was using that lesson that her father had taught her all those years ago, though she had to regain the position of power before she could even think about keeping it.
The first thing that Pansy noticed after she stepped into the atrium of the Ministry was the statue that occupied its centre. It had changed from the one her father had deemed appropriate all those years ago to one that she knew he wouldn’t have approved of. Gone were the witch and the wizard with the circle of beasts lying in worship around them. In its place were witches and wizards and all manner of creatures, some so ridiculously large that they dwarfed the humans while others were so small that they simply hung between the hands of the figures on either side of them, feet dangling almost a metre off the floor. They were arranged in a large, spiraling circle that Pansy supposed was meant to indicate unity or solidarity between species but instead came across as a messy crowd. It was something that Pansy could imagine sprouting from Granger’s mind—it certainly lacked any sense of artistic merit.
Walking around it, Pansy watched carefully for any signs indicating the path she should take to find the office of Wizarding Examinations Authority. Though Madame Marchbanks (or one of her staff, though Pansy wasn’t eager to think that writing to her had been a task delegated to underlings) had owled her earlier that month for a confirmation of the dates of her N.E.W.T.s, Pansy had forgotten, in her moment of anxiety about the nearness of her exams, to ask for directions to the office in her reply. Madame Marchbanks hadn’t supplied a map in her letter and Pansy had been too proud to owl her asking for one. It was their own fault for forgetting to give her one, Pansy had grumbled to herself over the days leading to her exams and had convinced herself that if she got lost it would be the office’s fault.
She had only started to regret her decision when she had arrived at the Ministry several minutes ago with no idea of where she should go. She held her confirmation letter in her hand and was constantly flattening it whenever she thought it had gotten crinkled. Tucked into the pocket of her robes was a silver badge that stated her name and “N.E.W.T.s testing” that had popped out of a weird machine that Pansy didn’t recognize during her descent down the “Visitors’ Entrance”.
It hadn’t pleased Pansy to take that entrance because it had required her to interact with the Muggle world, if only for a few seconds, but it had been her only method of entry. She had tried to use the floo system but she hadn’t known the password and apparently the Ministry had set wards around itself– a person could only apparate through the wards if they worked at the Ministry. Someone had raised the Ministry’s security levels and it had hindered her access to the Ministry.
Needless to say, Pansy wasn’t feeling overly confident about her N.E.W.T. exams—she had even started to worry that she might be late for them. She took out the letter again and ran her fingers over it, smoothing out non-existent wrinkles.
And she still hadn’t found out which floor the Wizarding Examinations Authority office was located on.
While she was trying to figure out the best manner in which to reach her destination, she continued to pace around the Ministry’s atrium. She didn’t want to look like a fool and becoming lost in the Wizarding society’s center of business was sure to garner unwanted attention. She knew (hoped) that she could figure out a path to take her to the N.E.W.T.s examination room if given enough time.
As much as she didn’t want to admit it, Pansy couldn’t remember much of the mechanics of her visit with her father. She couldn’t remember how they had gone from the atrium to his office and she wished desperately that she did.
Luckily for her, the other people in the room were in just as much of a hurry to reach their intended destination as she was, though they seemed to have a much better idea of where they were going. On several occasions Pansy was tempted to stop one of them and ask for directions but she always bit her tongue before she did. As much as she didn’t want to admit it to herself, she was afraid that they would openly reject her, insulting her and the Parkinson name.
Her hands continued to flatten the letter as she grew more nervous. Not only was she getting dangerously close to being late for her first exam but she was also becoming irritated by the constant stream of people passing by her. She wasn’t used to being around so many people at once for though she had continued with her visits to Diagon Alley she had always timed them so that they didn’t occur at the busiest times of the day. As such, while she had been walking down streets occupied by other witches and wizards, the crowd had been nowhere near as big as the one she currently found herself in.
Noticing that her breathing was starting to pick up, Pansy forced herself to slow down her pace. She would not make a fool of herself in front of all of these people, she would not! She glanced around hurriedly, hoping that she hadn’t caught anyone’s attention with her continuous loops around the atrium.
As the clock ticked closer to the time Pansy was supposed to arrive at the examination room, Pansy once again thought about asking someone for help. The Ministry had stupidly forgotten to place a map of the building in its atrium (she would have to write them a letter telling them to address the problem), thus leaving her without another manner of fixing her problem herself. She certainly wasn’t eager to guess at a path and accidently wander in the wrong direction – Parkinsons didn’t make fools of themselves in public. They didn’t make fools of themselves at all, not if they could help it.
However, Pansy was saved the potential humiliation of asking someone for help when a man called her name.
Turning suspiciously (for who did she know who would willingly draw attention to himself and his relationship to her? She hadn’t fixed the Parkinson reputation, not yet), Pansy was forced to stumble out of the way of a woman rushing past her. Angry though she was at almost being knocked over, she didn’t yell at the woman or subtly cast a spell as retribution – she was in public and she was going to behave like a Parkinson, even if no one treated her as one.
She stiffened when she felt a man’s hand on her arm and quickly turned to face him as he asked, “Are you alright? I saw the lady push past you – I suppose she didn’t see you stopping in time.”
Now that she was face-to-face with the man, Pansy recognized him and was able to give him a name, something she hadn’t been able to do the first two times she had encountered him.
“Mr Bennett, I am perfectly alright. Might I ask why you called out my name?” The fact that she was able give him a name was no large comfort to her for she also knew his occupation. She had no idea why a reporter for the Daily Prophet would stop her at all and could only suspect that they were going to try and pin something on her.
“You looked lost.”
At that, Pansy froze, though she resisted the temptation to glance around the atrium to see who else had noticed her circling. That would only confirm his words, something she didn’t want to do.
“I most certainly am not!” Unfortunately, she realized only after the words had left her mouth that she had probably denied his statement too quickly and with too much fever. She sighed and decided that she was out of practice, since one rarely practiced lying to themselves. Looking at the dark-haired man Pansy thought her mistake was safe from being revealed – the man didn’t look as though he wanted to humiliate her.
“Alright.” The man was far too agreeable for Pansy and she was immediately suspicious of his intentions. “Well, we’d best be moving along – we don’t want to block anyone in the atrium! There are plenty of busy people here, hurrying to get to their destinations.” He looked at her, then, his eyes twinkling with something Pansy decided was amusement and, though she was still wary of his intentions, she did realize that they were only drawing attention to themselves by standing in the middle of the atrium.
She followed him, subtly glancing at the walls for any hints of the location of the N.E.W.T.s examination room and noticed that he weaved through the crowd like he did it on a regular basis.
It didn’t take too long for them to reach a small hollow guarded by a short man in security robes, set just enough off from the rest of the atrium that the guard’s desk and weighing scale didn’t interfere with the access to the wide corridor behind the hollow, which was lined with lifts on both sides. Pansy watched as many witches and wizards walked past the guard, flashing their identification cards, towards the row of lifts. She was slightly irritated at herself for not noticing where the stream of people had been focused before – it would have saved her a lot of time.
Her irritation increased when she saw that Adri only had to flash his Daily Prophet identification and say “archives” before he was allowed past the desk while the guard relieved her of her wand and asked for the visitor’s badge she had been given by the Ministry.
“Sitting your N.E.W.T.s , are you?” The man was plump and, though the man was probably just trying to be kind, his inquisitive manner annoyed Pansy. It wasn’t her fault if the man felt bored by his job; she didn’t have to entertain him with her life. Pansy glimpsed Adri’s grinning face and resisted her desire to just grab her badge from the man’s fingers and be on her way – in whatever direction that was. She was in public – she had to keep up appearances. She couldn’t ruin her plan before she had even gotten started – she wouldn’t allow herself to do this.
So she stood, somewhat patiently, as the man weighed her wand and nodded curtly whenever the man’s speech required her to do so.
“Ah- I’ve seen quite a few people just like yourself, all heading down to sit their N.E.W.T.s just like you are.” The last sentence caught her attention – perhaps she could figure out how to reach the examinations room without even having to ask. “Couldn’t sit them because of the war.” Pansy already knew this – she had lived it, in fact—and so just nodded.
“The war was a scary thing, now wasn’t it?” Pansy wondered how the man had survived the war, or if he had even been in the country during it. No one she had interacted with since its end had talked about it so lightly.
He paused in his speech and gave her a strange look. “You’re a straggler, though, aren’t you? Most of the people who missed the year already sat them or went back to Hogwarts. Mind you, I think I would have done just the same as you are – anything to avoid school, eh?”
The man’s babbling was irritating Pansy and so she smiled and said, “I know exactly what you mean. Unfortunately, I have to go since I don’t want to be late…” There: nice and polite.
The man gave her back her badge and, leaning over as though they shared a secret, said, “Madame Marchbanks sure is one for punctuality, I know. You’d better hurry on down.” He chuckled. “Luckily for you the examination room is on Level 2 – you only have a floor to go!”
Pansy thanked him and hurriedly brushed past the desk, only vaguely noticing that Adri had waited for her. Unfortunately, Adri didn’t allow himself to be easily forgotten. As she pushed the button on the nearest lift, he spoke.
“Lovely man, that Richards is. He’s quite friendly and always ready to spread the latest news, if you’ve got the time to listen to him.” Yes, Pansy could easily imagine the man gossiping at his post and she could see why this would be a useful person for Adri to know. “You can learn a lot from him; for instance, I had been wondering why you were in the Ministry and now I know!”
He looked down at his watch and his eyes widened. “It’s two minutes to ten and I have some reading to do in the archives that’s calling my name! The stairs will probably be faster at this rate. Good luck!”
The man nearly sprinted away, leaving Pansy of the opening lift door with a slightly confused look on her face.
Why did Adri Bennett keep approaching her? Was there something he wanted? She didn't think so—the time between his appearances in her life was too long for him to be able to gain a foothold in her life.
Pansy shook her head as she stepped out of the lift and walked towards the clearly marked examination room at the end of the corridor (now was when they chose to use signs?) – she needed to focus on her N.E.W.T.s now, not on a reporter from the Daily Prophet.
The room she was shown into was almost blindingly white. Only a single desk and chair occupied the room and there were no windows. There was nothing to distract her save for her own thoughts and, as Pansy sat in the stiff wooden chair with an anti-cheating quill in her hands, she thought that they might succeed.
Her worries about her marks on the N.E.W.T.s, about how she performed today would affect the rest of her life, were pressing on her and she found it hard to focus on the stern woman who stood in front of her.
“You have precisely two hours, starting the moment I leave this room, to write the theoretical portion of your transfiguration exam. A bell will sound at the hour and hour and a half marks to let you know how much time is remaining for your exam.
“As you have already been informed, you will have an hour long break after finishing this exam before you will have to sit the practical portion of your transfiguration exam. This schedule will be the same for your other exams and you are expected to be punctual in your arrivals.” The woman looked down at Pansy, her face almost a glare. “If you are late, you will not be allowed to sit your exam. No exceptions.
“Finally, this room was designed with the purpose of writing important documents. There. Will. Be. No. Cheating. If we catch you trying, you will receive a mark of zero on your exam and not be allowed to sit your others.” The woman paused, her eyes looking away from Pansy for the first time since they had both stepped into that room.
“That is all.” The woman swept from the room, her robes making a slight swish sound, and as the door shut behind her Pansy heard the buzzer signaling the start of the exam sound.
She flipped the booklet over, taking a moment to glance over the first page.
Then she wrote.
The N.E.W.T.s had not been, Pansy reflected afterwards, nearly as difficult as generations of wizards had led her to believe. Rather, aside from a few questions that had had her stumped completely, she felt that she had done reasonably well. Perhaps her results would not be the sort to be published in the Daily Prophet but they would do no harm to the Parkinson reputation and that was Pansy’s main priority.
Now she only had to wait until her marks were recorded, a process Madame Marchbanks had assured her would take only days instead of the customary month and a half seventh years usually had to wait, before she could continue on with the next phase of her plan: getting a job.
In her mind, the obtainment of work was like using one niffler to find two pots of gold; work would not only provide her with a steady source of income but also with a means of commencing the reparation of the Parkinson reputation on a larger scale.
She didn’t think it would be overly hard to find work, even though she had heard people remark that the economy was going through a rough period—due to the war, they’d whispered before quieting as she walked past them. Sometimes she heard them, after they thought she was past earshot, saying ‘Due to people like her’. They weren’t quite as clever as they thought and Pansy had learned through practice to let the comments slide off her like water. After all, they were beneath her and troubling herself with their thoughts would only harm her mission. They would see, later, just how mistaken they were; they would realize just how powerful the Parkinson family was.
Then, they would be sorry.
Pansy tucked an errant strand of hair behind her ear and smiled, her hands resting on the balcony that overlooked the gardens. She knew her cheeks were red, raw from the wind that rushed over the grounds, and she was constantly tucking her robe tighter around her body. Warming charms kept her fingers and toes from freezing and the joy of the sight of the unspoiled, white snow that layered the grounds kept a smile on her face.
She was excited and anticipation ran through her body like a coil that was about to spring. There were so many paths ahead of her, so many possibilities for her to choose and the options thrilled her. At last the restoration of the Parkinson reputation seemed possible.
She was aware, distantly, that her excitement would not last, that it would soon fade and be replaced by the weight of the responsibility she had chosen for herself. Yes, she had many options but with those options came many possible futures and not every one held the success she wished for. She would have to weigh those possibilities carefully, try and predict which one would lead her to her goal the quickest.
Still, those worries were for the future, not for the present, and Pansy was content in the afterglow of her accomplishment. In the distance she could hear the sound of Astor’s barking, bouncing off the walls as he raced down the corridors, and she knew that a house elf would soon disturb her to announce that dinner was ready. Even the concept of spending another silent meal with her mother for company was not enough to dampen her mood and who knew? Perhaps she would decide to share her progress with her mother.
After all, her mother was a Parkinson, though a weak one at that, and as such deserved to be kept abreast of the more innocent doings of her family.
All that remained of her mother’s garden was dead flowers, but as Pansy looked down upon the unblemished ground all she could see was an exciting new world of which she was the engineer.