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Chapter 17: Rejection
Her lack of experience with the working world combined with the remaining influence of a time when the Parkinson name would have opened doors instead of shut them led her to send out only five copies of her resume (small though it was). In fact, she only knew about resumes due to a pamphlet Professor Snape had handed out during her fifth year, and had ordered everyone who was holding one to read it. He wouldn’t, he had said, have any Slytherin be made the fool of by being ignorant of such common knowledge. Angry as she had been then at essentially being called an ignoramus, she was now pleased that he had prepared them as he had.
She almost hadn’t even send the last one—it was with a heavy heart (and quite some reluctance) that she attached the fifth letter to a speckled, small owl and told it that its destination was the “Quibbler Office”.
She wasn't aware that businesses often didn’t communicate with those whose applications they had rejected and was surprised (and somewhat disappointed, though she wouldn’t verbalize the thought) that she had received no word of her success. She extended her breakfasts and dinners, spending extra minutes that crept into hours alone at the table, hoping to hear the tell-tale whoosh of an owl’s wings. She kept Astor by her side, eager for some form of company, but wasn’t able to interact with him due to her nerves.
Sometimes, while sitting at the table, the plates long since cleared away, and resisting the temptation to tap her nails on the wood (she had been raised better than that), she heard her father’s voice in her ear, telling her that Parkinsons were never worried, that they always got their way. She would worry about his thoughts towards her actions, towards her possible failures, before reassuring herself that no failure could be worse than landing yourself in Azkaban for the rest of your life.
Sometimes her reassurances made her feel worse than her original worries.
Even as the days dragged on without a single word from the businesses she had owled and her confidence began to flag, she refused to resend her applications, or to owl other businesses in search of a job. She refused to believe that her initial endeavors had failed and stubbornly continued to at the table, even though her mother questioned her reasons (she wasn’t very persistent—after listening to Pansy’s silence for a few moments she left the room to explore new knitting techniques without the presence of her “troublesome daughter” – even though Pansy had been no more stubborn than usual) and Astor grew bored.
Though it was certainly possible for her to continue on with her daily life, Pansy kept with her vigil at the table. If anyone had cared to ask her why, she would have said that she didn’t want owls flying all through the house, what with the possibility of ruined wood and cloth from an owl’s sharp claws and uncivilized manner of emptying its bowels. And true as that answer would be, it presented only half of the problem—Pansy didn’t have any day-to-day activities to perform.
The N.E.W.T. studies that she had occupied her time with for the past several months were no longer needed and Pansy found that she had worked her way through the majority of the material she found interesting in the library during her isolation from Wizarding society. Furthermore, Pansy still found the trips into Diagon Alley and other social areas more draining than fun. She felt as strongly as ever on the issues of blood purity and Wizarding tradition and she felt more and more alienated from society each time she left the manor.
She rarely saw other purebloods during her excursions and those that she did avoided eye contact with her—they both knew that any communication witnessed between the them could (and would) be construed as evidence of a pureblood rebellion, a threat to the newfound peace of the Wizarding world.
Therefore, it was possible to say that Pansy was prepared and waiting for the owl on the cold, snowy January morning that it appeared, though the slight widening of her eyes and the tension in her fingers indicated otherwise.
She most assuredly wasn’t, however, expecting the disappointment that came with it.
As the large barn owl flew through the window she had left open (though she had asked the house elves to charm it so that no cold air or snowy drifts passed through) and came to land on the back of her chair, Pansy followed each billow of its wings with sharp eyes, desperately hoping that it wouldn’t disappear.
Her eyes focused on the string tying the letter to the owl’s leg—that was where she had to place her hands in order to get the letter off the owl as quickly as possible. However, she noticed that its colouring was off—it wasn’t the usual white rope that Wizards used, which was made of strong spider’s silk so that it wouldn’t tear on long journeys or when the owl flew through harsh weather; instead it was an odd yellowish-green colour that put her in mind of the coloured writing of the nature and creature-obsessed wizards.
The sight of it made her uneasy and it took her a slight moment to react after the owl had landed on the armrest of her chair. It fluffed its feathers and, lifting its leg towards Pansy, offered her the letter which she took with shaking hands.
Her name decorated the outside of the folded letter in a swirling font, but there was no obvious business seal, which puzzled Pansy. To the best of her knowledge, everyone sealed their official letters with their crest, whether it be their business crest or their family crest. For it to be lacking was to show disregard for the contents of the letter and, in some cases, to the recipient of the letter. However, as Pansy lifted the letter closer to her eyes, she noticed a faint impression in the corner that shimmered each time it caught the light.
It was an old and very gnarled tree, its branches dragging along the ground next to the its trunk and with only a few solitary leaves clinging to the wood. Pansy didn’t recognize the crest, though she spent several moments holding it up to the light and adjusting the amount of rays that touched it.
With her fingers now steady and under her control, Pansy unfolded the letter and began to read.
The crest, she learned, was from the Quibbler.
Dear Miss Parkinson,
Though your application was good, we at the Quibbler must deny you a position at our publication. We cannot accept anyone who would upset the presence of the Blibbering Humdingers—as I’m sure you’re aware, it’s their mating season and we’re hoping to witness a birth, which can only be achieved in perfectly peaceful conditions.
Thank you for your understanding,
It was short and to the point (or maybe not so to the point—it depended on what you considered pertinent information) and Pansy felt like ripping it. She refrained, however, her mother’s soft voice echoing in her head about the proper conduct of a pureblood lady, and instead walked slowly over to the fire that was lit in the main hall. There she bent down and placed the letter gently in the fire, nudging it carefully so that it was completely in the flames.
Then she stayed there, the heat washing over her and the red and gold flames of the fire dying her face a brilliant crimson, until the black words of the letter had been consumed by the fire.
Her first rejection had come (she couldn’t count the unanswered applications as rejections for she wasn’t aware that they were, in fact, rejections).
She wished she could sue for discrimination (Blibbering Humdingers—as if they actually existed!) but she was all too conscious of the fact that her family history would put her at an extreme disadvantage. In all likelihood the majority of England’s Wizarding society would side with the Quibbler, being the hypocrites that they were.
Still feeling upset Pansy returned to the dining room to find that the owl had already left. She could see faint scratches in the armrest where it had been perched and called for Milly, whom she instructed to bill the Quibbler for personal property damage.
There was a public image to maintain, yes, but there was also personal pride and Pansy wasn’t feeling very generous towards the Quibbler. If she had had a subscription to the subpar newspaper, she would have cancelled it.
Feeling somewhat appeased by the dent her bill would put in the Quibbler’s finances, Pansy returned to her room where she collapsed on her bed.
She didn’t know how she would proceed if she wasn’t accepted by any of the businesses she had applied to—she still shrank from the possibility of owling out more applications for, as her father had often said, a Parkinson didn’t fail.
It was her first true set-back and Pansy was at a loss for what to do.
It was about this point that her reflection came back into her life and, after a few sharp words that her reflection took surprisingly well, Pansy welcomed her presence.
She enjoyed the comfort that her reflection provided just by being there and, though she had Astor, it was nice to be able to have conversations with a person. With the reflection, she didn’t have to watch her words in case she reported them to the Daily Prophet. She didn’t have to worry that her reflection would be offended, for her views were shared.
Within the confines of her room they could talk without Pansy having to wear a mask like she did every time she ventured into the public’s eye. She could smile (and it felt slightly awkward to do so—she had not truly smiled in months. Smiles towards Astor didn’t count—he was a dog and thus signs of affections didn’t have the same significance in society) without being uneasy about its appropriateness. She could frown and shut her eyes and clench her jaw without fear of betrayal, though she still practiced some restraint in her expression because it never did to allow a person to see everything about you.
In essence, she was safe, safe in a way she had not felt in a long time.
And when, a few days later, she stormed up to her room, strands of hair winding their way from her coiled bun to lay on her neck, it was her reflection that appeared to comfort her.
There was silence at first, as her reflection watched Pansy yank her bun out and fiercely twist it back in place, making sure to catch all the stray pieces and pinning them into submission. Her hands flashed, quickly but surely, well practiced from years of doing her own hair.
There had been no house elves at Hogwarts to help her. There had been no special treatment. Pansy, though she hadn’t liked the idea of doing her own hair (Milly was so good at it), had had to get used to it and eventually had started to find the process calming. Being able to do her own hair made her feel capable and at times she was even proud of her ability—she still thought that the arrangement of her hair for the Yule Ball was beautiful.
Today, though, her hair was just an annoyance.
Once she was done twisting her hair, however, her hands fell uselessly, limply, onto the wooden table before the mirror and Pansy’s head followed them down. She still felt agitated, as though her emotions were tumbling inside her head and confusing her thoughts.
“What happened?” The strong voice of her reflection broke through her confusion to catch her attention. Pansy raised her head and was struck by the warm gaze that greeted her. She couldn’t remember the last time someone had looked at her in that manner, if anyone ever had.
The thought made her curl into herself more.
Eventually, though, Pansy raised her head, encouraged by her reflection’s caring and uplifting words. She looked at her reflection and saw that her hand was touching the lowest part of the mirror’s frame, as though the reflection wanted to reach through the glass and comfort her with touch. Unfortunately, words would have to do.
Recalling the slight the Quibbler had paid her, Pansy straightened, her every move tightly controlled. She would not allow those… those cretins to force her to make a fool of herself! She was bigger than that! She was better than that!
“What happened?” Her reflection’s voice once again broke through her thoughts and reminded Pansy that her reflection was unaware of what had happened and, thus, was unable to advise her on the proper course of action.
Calmly, coolly, Pansy opened her mouth to speak. “As you know, the Parkinson finances are in such a state as to force me to obtain work to support the manor and our lifestyle. In order to do such a thing, I’ve had to send out applications for various jobs, all suitable of course.” Her reflection nodded, her expression calculating. “So far only one has replied – the Quibbler. I would have taken no offense – believe me, I know that they cannot accept everyone.” Her reflection continued to look sympathetic, though Pansy thought that the warmth in her eyes might have dulled just a bit.
“However, however, they refused me in a very rude and libelous manner!” Pansy’s back was straighter than ever and her hands twisted angrily in her lap. “They wrote to me that they couldn’t give me a position because I “disturbed the Blubbering Humflingers” or some nonsense like that. Everyone knows that those creatures don’t exist and that the Quibbler publishes false information!” Pansy’s face was flushed and she looked angrily at her reflection, though she wasn’t angry with her. “They should have been honoured to accept me on their staff!”
Pansy’s reflection nodded and said, “Perhaps it is for the best, then, that you weren’t given the position. If they are truly as foolish as you say – and I believe your words—” She held up a hand to stop Pansy’s protests at the supposed questioning of her story “—then you are better off without them. In time you will find a better position, one that will suit your purposes to a greater degree.
“After all—” And here her reflection smiled “a position at a stupid magazine would damage your reputation more than it would repair it, now wouldn’t it?”
Pansy’s hands froze in her lap. “Yes—yes—yes! You’re quite correct! More than correct!” Then, realizing that she was losing control of herself, that she was becoming overexcited, Pansy blinked once, twice and focused on her breathing.
She felt ashamed of her outburst, ashamed that she had allowed her emotions to rule her actions and not her thoughts. In doing so she had disobeyed what she had been taught was appropriate for a Parkinson and what was appropriate for a Slytherin. At least, she consoled herself, it occurred in the privacy of my own home, with no audience save for my reflection. She cannot betray me.
Moments later, feeling stronger and more content than she had been when she had entered the room, Pansy opened her eyes and nodded towards her reflection. This time when she spoke her voice was calm and collected.
“Thank you for pointing out the error of my thoughts. I’m grateful for your assistance.” She paused briefly before hesitantly saying, “I… suppose I ought to return to the dining room. I wouldn’t want a letter to come in my absence.”
She stood up, her robes swishing around her legs, and walked towards the door. Though she had somewhat moved on from the humiliation of the Quibbler’s rejection, thanks to her reflection, she still needed to find work and thus had to risk another refusal.
But, even as her mind started to spin even more plans from the four job possibilities she still had, her thoughts returned to the mirror that had hung empty on more occasions now that Pansy spent her time elsewhere.
She turned, words of friendship and thanks on the tip of her tongue, to see a blank mirror.
A sudden lump appeared in her throat and Pansy, fingering her throat gently as she wondered at its appearance, hurried to the dining room.
Pansy remained at her post in the dining room for three more days, growing more desperate each day for word from the Daily Prophet or the three other magazines that she had sent her resume to. Thoughts of what might have happened to her resumes en route plagued her and often she found that she couldn’t resist the temptation to pace in the dining room. Astor seemed to like it when she moved around for he followed her, swiping his paws at the flowing fabric of her robes and yapping his delight to her.
Unfortunately, he gave her more headaches than pleasure with his presence at those moments and so she, however regretfully, found herself handing him off to Milly.
The dining room was always quieter without him, and this seemed to irritate her as well. She could find no peace with herself and the hours dragged on longer than they should have. She didn’t want to leave the dining room for fear of missing the arrival of a letter but hated remaining inside its walls. She recognized, somewhere in her mind, that she was being unreasonable but she didn’t know how to fix her behaviour.
While pacing she declared that the room was too hot for her tastes but after a house elf opened a pane of the window to allow the cold, crisp winter wind to sweep into the room –“It be refreshing, Mistress Parkinson”—she snapped that she didn’t want to die of the common cold and demanded that the window be shut immediately.
Once she could have sworn that she saw her reflection appear in one of the panes of the window and smile at her but, if she had been there at all, she graced the glass for only a few moments.
It was after breakfast on the third day, after her mother had avoided her eyes at the table and Astor had settled further from her chair than he normally did to watch her eat breakfast, that she decided that the places she had sent her resume to had been too slow in answering her.
She lifted Astor, holding him securely beneath his front legs, and held him at eye level. They were alone in the dining room, her mother having left as soon as she was able to return to her own chambers, and Pansy felt no shame as she spoke to him.
“It’s time, I think, my love,” she whispered, looking into his watery black eyes. “They’ve missed their chance, don’t you think?” Astor wagged his tail and started to twist his body, eager to be put be on the solid floor. Pansy sighed. “Alright, down you go.”
After she had let him go he immediately began chasing his tail and Pansy watched in amusement. Sometimes she wished that she could be so content with herself and her life, free from worries about reputation or money, caring only about the appearance of her next meal or the caress of somebody’s hand. A dog’s life was simple, pleasurable.
Her life wasn’t.
At least, not currently. She did have a goal, something that drove her onwards, but she had few people she could confide her plans to and only one of them could answer her. Her father would have called this a lucky stroke, for she was forced to rely on herself and there was less chance of betrayal from someone she thought was a friend, though Slytherins rarely had true friends due to the nature of their upbringing. Everyone was taught to get ahead by any means necessary and everyone knew that everyone else had had the same training.
Outside of their family, they were taught to trust no one for no one had the same goals, the same things to gain as they did.
Pansy had never thought to disagree with this line of thinking for the only one she had ever thought of trusting outside of her family was someone she hoped to marry. It was only now, when she truly had no one, that she began to wish for someone else to share her thoughts with. Her reflection was brilliant at assuaging her desire for company but now, as she looked to forge her way into a new world, she wished that she had someone there to bring another perspective to her situation. She was lost when it came to starting a bond – a true bond, without the manipulation that often accompanied her relationships – her family and her time in Slytherin had not helped her to create any skills in that department.
She was lonely and she didn’t know how to reach out and trust someone. She knew that it would take time before she could accept someone enough to share her plans but she wanted a person, a friend, now.
Pansy shook her head, trying to rid herself of the foreign wish. She knew well enough that her situation was not conducive to new friendships, though she would have to broach that topic soon if she wanted to gain the trust of society. But for now she had to focus on getting the job that would allow her to form the basis from which she would improve the Parkinson reputation.
She had only hesitated at sending her resume to the archives before because she had hoped to obtain a more active role through the publishing of news.
“It’s their loss,” Pansy said to Astor as she snapped for Milly. Astor didn’t give any sign of having heard her, too busy rolling around at her feet in his continued attempts to seize his tail, and Pansy quickly ordered Milly to fetch her the Parkinson insignia from her room. There was already parchment and a quill in the dining room for Pansy had tried to be prepared to reply the moment she received word from the businesses and she swiftly put it to use.
She barely thought as she wrote her resume and then her letter to the archives, concentrating instead on ensuring that her letters were perfectly formed and that she made no spelling or grammatical errors. She would not give them an easy reason to dismiss her application – she didn’t know where she would apply if she wasn’t accepted there.
In her letter she described her thirst to become a reputable citizen of the British Wizarding society, how she spent many hours of her day in her library and how she was familiar with its method of organization. She knew that the letter was her best chance at convincing them to accept her and so she was careful with her phrasing, twisting her words so that while she never outright lied she gave them what she thought they wanted to hear.
It was nearing lunchtime when she finally set down her quill and checked over her parchment, making sure that she hadn’t let any ink blotches form and that her letter was organized in a logical manner. Her tutoring as a child had long made her abhor rambling in professional writing and she hoped that this trait pleased those whom she hoped to be her future employers. It had certainly come in handy at Hogwarts as she wrote her essays – though they had not always been very well researched, they had never been sloppy and Pansy suspected that that it had been one of the things that helped to keep her from failing her classes.
Snapping her fingers, she ordered Milly to bring her an owl. While she waited, she blew gently on the ink to ensure that it was dry before carefully folding the letter in thirds and sealing it with the Parkinson crest.
This was it. She was holding in her fingers the letter that could shape her future.
It was with steady hands that she attached the letter tightly around the owl’s leg and she looked it firmly in the eyes as she told it its destination. The bird could make no mistakes and Pansy was reassured by the thought that this was a Parkinson owl she was using – no mistakes had been made before.
She finished verbalizing her instructions and nodded to show the owl that she was finished. It hooted and took flight, flying through the large glass pane that Milly had opened.
Its wings made the only noise in the room as they flapped and, as the bird flew farther and farther away, Pansy was left in silence, staring after the black dot until it disappeared from her sight altogether.