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Wilted Flower by Roots in Water
Chapter 18: Craddle
When the owl arrived with a letter from the archives attached to its claw (Pansy’s owl having returned without any parchment the day before), Pansy was once again in her now customary position in the dining room. She wasn’t worried or even particularly anxious before she saw the bird for it had only been a day and she had had to wait much longer before for word from the businesses. However, after she first saw the wide shadow cast by the spread of the owl’s wings, the tinges of nervousness and slight panic were quick to creep into her to play havoc with her nerves.
The memory of the last letter she had received played in her mind as she watched the owl’s approach – she wasn’t certain what she would do if it carried news of rejection. She needed this job. The other businesses she had contacted hadn’t replied to her owl and she was now sure that they were ignoring her – it simply wasn’t polite to not even send a simple note to assure the sender that they had had indeed received their letter.
The owl that carried the makings of her future was nondescript, its wings coloured a pale, muddy brown that was unremarkable in comparison with the brilliant birds that were sold in the Magical Menagerie. Its size wasn’t impressive either – it wasn’t small enough to be considered an oddity nor was it big enough to be considered a “giant” of its kind. It was average in every way but Pansy couldn’t take her eyes off it. To her it stood out as it flew through the sky for no other owl carried news as important.
Her mother entered the room just as Pansy was removing the letter from the owl, her hands shaking in her attempts to rid the bird of its cargo.
“Something special, dear?” Pansy froze at the sound of her mother’s voice, her hands falling away from the letter. The owl hooted and jumped closer to Pansy, holding out its foot for her to take the letter. Her hands went automatically to the tie around the owl’s leg but they didn’t move to unknot it.
Her mother moved from her place near her seat around the table towards Pansy and Pansy had to stop herself from backing away.
“It’s nothing, Mother.” She kept her eyes on her mother’s progress while her fingers frantically worked to untie the string. Luckily her mother wasn’t moving quickly and she was able to release the letter from the owl’s leg just before her mother reached her. She slipped it behind her back, her fingers gripping the smooth parchment tightly. The owl hooted and flew away, without waiting for Pansy to read the letter and formulate a reply. She hoped that was a good sign.
“I’m sure it’s not nothing if it’s got you so flustered. What is it? Is it news from the Ministry about your father? It looked like an owl from the Ministry…” Her mother trailed off, momentarily lost in thought. Though Pansy was unable to see her mother’s eyes, she knew that they would look sad and slightly desperate.
Keeping the letter hidden behind her back, Pansy moved to reassure her mother and shift her attention away from what she had just seen.
“It’s not from the Ministry,” Pansy lied, knowing that her mother would never stop hoping for her husband’s situation to improve if she thought that the Ministry still had an interest in their family. “It’s from a friend.”
“Oh.” Her mother’s voice was quiet and filled with disappointment. Her hand, which had been reaching out for the letter, dropped back to her side and she turned to walk back around the table to her seat. “It’s truly not about him?” She raised her eyes just enough to meet Pansy’s gaze and her head fell when Pansy shook her head.
“I think I’ll take my lunch in my rooms, if you don’t mind. I’m at a very complicated part in my sweater and I don’t want to risk the stitches falling out.” Pansy nodded again, her excitement and nervousness building as she waited for her mother to leave the room. Her eyes glanced over her mother’s face, which was paler and slightly thinner than usual, without noticing the differences. She could only focus on the news she was about to read.
As soon as her mother had exited the room she whipped the letter around to hold it in front of her. She spent a moment just looking at the seal, which confirmed her thoughts that it was a letter from the Ministry. Then, using a knife from the table (no one was there to see the slight breach in protocol and Pansy was in too much of a hurry to call a house elf to fetch her the proper wax-removal tool), Pansy peeled the wax away from the letter and carefully unfolded the parchment.
She did not expect its contents.
All it said was “Arrive at the archives tomorrow morning promptly at nine o’clock for a meeting with Mr Anthony Craddle, director of the Ministry archives. If you are in need of directions, please direct your owl to Ms Potts.”
Smiling, Pansy reached for a piece of parchment and a quill. She had gotten what she required and she wouldn’t risk her success with by being late or by being rude to her future co-workers. Every action she made now would have to work with her plan to restore the Parkinson reputation.
The lights flickered in the corridor as Pansy walked towards the office, as though this part of the Ministry was older and much less travelled than everywhere else and thus was in less need of light. Pansy had several scornful thoughts on this matter but she held her tongue and made sure that her opinions weren’t visible on her face.
The office of Mr Anthony Craddle wasn’t far from the exit of the lift, the letter from Ms Potts had said, and he had a nameplate on the door – she wrote that it would be near impossible to enter the wrong room.
She was right, Pansy noted as she saw the door. It was the first one she had come across since she had left the lift, though she could see another one further down the corridor, at its end. She was just able to make out the bold, black words of “Entrance restricted. Must be either Archive employee or have valid ID” written on it.
She paused in front of the door to gather her nerves before knocking.
Immediately a distinctly masculine voice answered, commanding her to enter. Biting her tongue to keep herself from making any inappropriate comments, Pansy did as he said.
Whatever she had expected Mr Craddle to look like, it wasn’t what she saw before her. In the middle of a sparsely decorated room – save for two chairs, a desk whose surface was overflowing with paper and a large filing cabinet in the corner, it was empty—sat a man she would have expected to be found in a bar or gambling room, had she lowered herself enough to enter such a place.
His dark hair glinted in the light of the office and Pansy hoped that it did so because he had used a gel to style his hair instead of it being because it was greasy. Greasy hair indicated poor hygiene, a trait she disliked intensely, though she could forgive the trait for those whose profession made it difficult to properly maintain their cleanliness. However, she didn’t think that sitting in an office sorting through papers put any stress on hair.
“Mr Craddle,” she said, hoping to turn his attention away from the papers he was flipping so intently in front of him. There was a slight pause before he glanced up at her and gestured for her to sit in the chair in front of him. There was barely a pause in the papers he was flipping and, as Pansy gingerly sat down on the chair, he let out a quiet, victorious cry of “Aha!” before extracting several pieces of paper and placing them off to the side of his desk. His hands weren’t idle for long, though—soon enough he had busied himself with yet another stack of paper.
“Hello Miss Parkinson. I trust that your journey to my office was pleasant and, if not so, then at least smooth and trouble-free?” He flashed her a smile and the sound of the flipping papers slowed as he finally turned his attention to her. Pansy smiled back, though it felt forced on her face (and she hoped he couldn’t notice such a thing), and hoped that he wasn’t making a reference to her troubles finding the N.E.W.T.s examination room a month ago.
She didn’t think that he could be aware of such a thing, but she wasn’t aware of the extent of the archives information-gathering system. Someone could have noted her troubles and absently marked it down as a possible reference for a future event.
Anything was possible – she didn’t know what to expect or what was expected of her.
“You realize that this is unorthodox, Miss Parkinson.” The man actually completely stopped flipping through the pages on his desk, though his thumb was poised to flick another paper the moment she acknowledged his statement. She nodded, though she actually didn’t – what had she done wrong?—and watched as the papers resumed their rapid movement.
A hint of her confusion must have been written on her face for once again his thumb slowed and the blur of white returned to individual pages. Eyeing her gravely, he abandoned the papers on the desk and clasped his hands in front of her. She was surprised (though she did think that it was about time that he paid full attention to her) that he had stopped moving to address her – his hands had only slowed once since she had entered his office.
Knowing that this meeting was crucial to her future, she tried to ignore the elements of the office that didn’t meet with her satisfaction: the slight itchiness of the chair she was sitting on, the way Mr Craddle’s hair was slicked away from his face as though he couldn’t have been bothered to spend the time to fix his hair properly (which was unfortunately a match for his poor hygiene), the fact that the seat of her chair was lower than his, so that it was inevitable that she appeared shorter.
“Usually we look for at least three references before we allow a person to work for us but I’m well aware of the current state of the Wizarding world—” The man smiled as though he’d made a joke, though Pansy didn’t understand what could be amusing about his words “—and I’m supposing that it’s very hard for you to find people who would willingly recommend you. I’m supposing that that’s why you didn’t include any references with your application.”
Pansy nodded, throat dry and shaking fingers well hidden in the folds of her robes – she hadn’t known that she would need references and she hoped that the man would not look harshly upon her application or reject it outright; she hoped that his words so far were an indication that he would accept her as an employee for the archives. For he was right—there was no one for her to owl with a request to be her reference, much less three.
The man leaned forwards in his chair and his robes stretched taut around his shoulders and chest. Though he wasn’t fat Pansy noted that his lack of attention to his hair carried onto the rest of his body. The larger build suited him, though, in a way Pansy thought that absolute fitness wouldn’t. Still—most purebloods took good care of their appearance, aware of the fact that looks did affect society’s opinion of a person, and only allowed themselves to be less strict on themselves after they had attained a position where letting go wouldn’t have a negative effect. She wondered, then, if Mr. Craddle didn’t intend to advance further in the Ministry. If not, it might better explain his appearance.
She quickly returned her focus to the man’s words as he continued to speak. She couldn’t prove herself to be incompetent now. “It’s lucky for you that I’m a man who thinks that everyone deserves a fair chance and I think that the world isn’t giving you very much of one. They aren’t giving you any chance to get back on your feet, to prove that you’re different from your father.” He leaned even closer towards her, as though he had a secret to share.
“It’s lucky for you that I’m always one for second chances.” Suddenly he pulled away from her, leaving Pansy slightly startled at the abruptness of his motion. He returned to flipping through his papers, his hands quickly adapting to the familiar rhythm. There was a moment of silence, save for the sound of flipping pages, before his hands stopped and he pulled a single sheet from the stack and handed it to her. She looked down to see that it was her letter, still as smooth as the day she’d written it, save for the folds she’d made when she tied it to the owl. She looked back up at him, wondering if this was a dismissal from the office.
He wasn’t looking at her, focusing his attention instead on trying to open a drawer in his desk. He soon gave up, however, and turned back towards her, smiling in a manner that seemed to say ‘what can you do?’. If that was the question, Pansy was sure the answer was not to make a fool of oneself in front of one’s future employee.
“I really should ask one of the Ministry repair crews to fix that drawer – it’s more stubborn than Alohomora.” Pansy tried smiling at him when she saw that his smile was fading and was pleased to see it widen. “Ah good—you have a sense of humour. I was hoping you’d show signs of having one—the archives can be too dull if we don’t make our own lives interesting.” Pansy’s smile widened as she thought about the wording of his sentence – it made it seem as though she had already been accepted to the archives!
“Anyway—” He adjusted himself in his chair and the fabric of his robe was pulled even tighter across his right shoulder “—I believe that you have the capacity to do well at the archives. From your letter it appears that you’ve recently taken it upon yourself to apply yourself to your studies and I understand perfectly well that years of work or, shall I say, unwork, cannot be undone in a short period of time. However, I think that your new attitude will fit in just fine at the archives and, if it stands the test of time, that you will do well as a permanent employee.” He shrugged and smiled at her. “The archives aren’t the most popular place in the Ministry, for reasons I’m sure you can guess, and we receive few applications. It’s too bad, really – the archives are a brilliant place to work and I can assure you that I’m not biased.”
He reached over the desk to take back her letter and replaced it carefully in the same spot he had taken it from. “Here in the archives we are meticulously neat – our job demands that we be – and as such I’ve developed certain habits. I’m sure you will as well. One of mine is that I like to keep every application, successful or otherwise, that comes my way.”
He rolled one shoulder in the direction of the misfit drawer and said, “Locked away in that drawer are the files we usually hand out to every new employee, detailing their responsibilities and the way we run things around here – essentially, all the necessary information about their new job. However –” He shrugged. “—it’s been a long time since we’ve needed access into the drawer and so I’ve neglected getting it fixed. It didn’t interfere with the daily doings of my job, after all. I suppose that, instead of giving you a file, I’ll instead lend you one of my employees to show you the ropes. I think Isabella would be a good choice – she’s been working here for several years and she knows her stuff.”
He immediately began searching for a piece of parchment and a quill in another one of his drawers, not waiting for her answer. Pansy didn’t bother responding – she could see that it would be a waste of her time. Besides—it seemed as though she had gotten the job and she couldn’t complain about that.
“Would you be alright to start working tomorrow?” He was looking at her expectantly and Pansy hurriedly nodded. Her schedule hadn’t been full at all and, after all, the sooner she started working the sooner she would be paid. And she needed the money.
“Great! I’ll have Theresa meet you at the doors tomorrow at nine – she’ll give you a short tour of the archives and will be available to answer any of your questions.”
It seemed that the meeting was at an end and Pansy, remembering the manners her tutors had drilled into her from a young age, stiffly said, “It was a pleasure meeting you and I look forward to working with you.”
“Yes, yes, you too.” The man waved her out of his office and Pansy was left to brave the dark corridor to the lift by herself. But even the dimly lit corridor looked brighter in the wake of the news she had received.
She had just gotten a job.