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Chapter 26: Loneliness
It was the high, screechy voice of a house elf that woke her the next morning and Pansy groaned deeply as her head pounded with enough intensity to make the simple task of thinking beyond her abilities. Why, why had she forgotten that she had taken the earliest shift today? Why in the whiteness of a unicorn foal had she allowed herself to become so lax with her regulation of her alcohol intake? Had she wanted to make her life miserable?
She groaned into her pillow—there was only a house elf as a witness and she could be sure that it wouldn’t ever breathe a word of the expression of her emotions. She was certain that she didn’t have any hangover potions in the manor since she had not had a drink of alcohol in many months. There probably wasn’t even any alcohol in the manor.
She allowed herself to groan once more before she forced herself out of bed, shielding her eyes from the bright light that was pouring in through her window. She snapped at the house elf to close the curtains and shuffled her way over to the loo. Perhaps one of her co-workers would have the presence of mind to bring a hangover potion to work.
Who was she kidding? They’d probably thought only of themselves and there would be no potion waiting for her at work.
Looking at herself in the mirror, she decided to take a quick bath – there was no way she would ever step into work with her hair less than pristine. The rats’ nest it was now most certainly didn’t qualify under her standards.
The warmth of the water almost lulled her to sleep before she jerked up, frightened to alertness. The sudden movement made her head pound and her eyes cross and she had to bite her tongue as she stepped out. No matter how irritated her headache was making her, she wouldn’t revert back to her habit of cursing. Last night’s looseness had been enough of a mistake.
Almost forty minutes later, hair curled tightly into a bun and fingers clenched tightly in the folds of her robe as though the act would make her feel better, Pansy flooed to work.
Stepping out of the green flames she was immediately assaulted by the sounds of the atrium, which suddenly seemed much louder than usual. Muffling a yawn that would have turned into a groan, Pansy pasted a smile on her face – the most forced one in quite some time – and nodded at people as she passed. She nearly tripped over her own feet at one point, though luckily no one saw and she was careful to walk more slowly from then on.
By the time she reached Mr Richards at his typical desk her head was pounding like and she cursed herself for not having any potions around the manor. Even the reminders that she didn’t have the money to buy them willy-nilly without any reason to believe that she would need them soon didn’t help to ease her pain. She directed a small smile at Mr Richards and winced at the brightness of the one he had on his face.
Her hands tightened and twisted in her pocket when she realized that Mr Richards was in one of his talkative moods and that there was no line behind her to hurry him along.
“Hello Miss Parkinson!” he said in a volume that was much too loud to be proper inside a building, but Pansy restrained herself from pointing that out. She only needed him to glance at her card and send her along and she couldn’t offend him, not when he met almost everyone in the building everyday.
But though she had handed him her card he had yet to return it and so she was stuck listening to him prattle on about his gossip.
“I see that you’re a little worse for the wear – are you sick? I heard that there’s something going around… I’ve been meaning to stock up ever since I heard that but you know how it is when you work all day and then go home to the family…” He trailed off for a moment as he remembered just who he was talking with but he quickly resumed his pace as though speed could erase the remark from her memory. “… Anyway, if I was sick, I’m not sure that I would come into work—you must be really dedicated to your work! Is there something special about the Archives that you haven’t told me yet? Eh? Eh?” He reached across as though he would nudge her and Pansy longed to steal the card from his hands and run to the Archives. Her hands tangled themselves even more with her robe as she forced herself to stay still.
Just a few more moments, just a few more moments, she chanted to herself. Just a few more moments and then I shall be free.
The pounding sensation in her head increased and she just wanted to close her eyes and sleep.
“You know, I don’t know if it’s just bad feelings about the first of April – some people just don’t have a sense of humour, you know – or I don’t know what but there seems to be a lot of personal troubles happening at the moment. Did you hear that Anna from the Improper Use of Magic committee is on the outs with George from the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures unit?” Pansy nodded her head like a puppet, barely aware of what she was doing. She could only barely get the gist of what Mr Richards was saying.
“There’s breakups galore! Many of them weren’t that serious to begin with, like Todd and Sarah –” Pansy nodded once again as though she knew exactly who he was talking about (she was very glad he hadn’t noticed her inattentiveness yet) “—but I suppose you’ve heard about the one in your department? The impending divorce of that fellow Terrance and his wife – ah, that’s news! No one knows quite what happened – they’ve been married for six years and they’ve always looked happy. But I guess you never can tell… People put on fronts and it makes it mighty hard to understand them.” The man paused, as though he had had an epiphany, but Pansy didn’t notice.
“You wouldn’t happen to know anything about it, now would you? I understand if it’s private – who am I to intrude? – but…”
Pansy, overtired and feeling sick, wanting to only crawl back into her bed and be safe in the dark, wanted Mr Richards to stop talking. Her father's voice was a blur in her mind, a buzzing annoyance. She ignored him and watched Mr Richards blurrily. When it looked like he was about to continue talking she opened her mouth.
“She cheated on him with Samuel… He kicked her out.”
She was pleased with the shocked look on Mr Richards’ face and hurriedly swept the card from the table where it had fallen from his hand.
It was only later, when she was crouched in front of the loo near the Archives that she wondered if the sick feeling in her stomach wasn’t caused by the remnants of alcohol.
But then she had to return to her desk and so she smoothed out her robes and checked her hair in the mirror and pushed any ill thoughts out of her mind. Thinking about being sick would make oneself sick, she knew very well.
When her shift finally finished Pansy was glad to floo home and sink herself into the soft comfort of her bed.
She didn’t hear about the disastrous news until Monday.
Pansy had the second shift on Monday and so she enjoyed a leisurely morning where she dined at the table for half-an-hour instead of her typical ten minutes (and still didn’t see her mother once). She left the manor with just enough time to spare that she was able to walk through the cobble stone roads of Diagon Alley before apparating into the Ministry.
She felt refreshed and peaceful; for the first time in a long time she felt as though the world was working with her, not against. The skies were a shade of blue that reminded her of the colour of her second-favourite set of robes and the air felt crisp and clean against her skin.
Even when the outdoors vanished into the strong stone walls of the Ministry the feeling persisted and Pansy walked towards Mr Richards, who occupied his habitual post by the lifts, with a true smile on her lips. Today was going to go well, she just knew.
The ten o’clock start of her shift meant that the atrium was empty of almost all of its employees and Pansy met with no resistance on her path.
When she reached his desk Mr Richards greeted her with a smile that was slightly shakier than usual, a feature that Pansy failed to notice. Mr Richards barely chatted with her as he routinely checked her identification (though at this point he would have let her through without it) and Pansy was surprised by his reluctance to converse. However, when she prompted him, he nervously began and soon was filling the atrium with his chatter. Relieved by the sound, Pansy was the one who had to break herself away from the conversation so that she could reach the Archives before the start of her shift.
The corridor leading to the Archives was one of those out-of-the-way places in buildings that almost no one uses and when it is used it seems slightly creepy for its solitariness. Even the fact that it was well lit could overpower the eeriness of hearing one’s footsteps echo up and down the corridor and Pansy had developed the habit of hurrying through it.
She reached the door of the Archives at one minute before ten and she quickly let herself in. The quietness of the Archives that greeted her was friendlier than the silence outside the door and Pansy looked around the room with a smile ready on her lips. But no one looked up.
Deciding that they were just busy with their work (and burying the thought that no one should ever be too busy for her), she walked over to her desk and sat down. She assured herself that there had been days like this, where everyone preferred to work by themselves instead of tossing bits of conversation around the room. They just hadn’t happened that often and she was disappointed by the silence of the room.
The pile of documents on her desk was larger than usual but Pansy was grateful for the work to do. The steadiness of her work soon lulled her into an efficient pattern and she almost missed the small paper note that was sent aloft from Nicola’s desk to Theresa’s by means of a spell. She watched discreetly as Theresa’s face crumpled as she read the note, even though she gave a tiny nod to Nicola, who looked satisfied. Nicola then cast a glance at Pansy, who quickly ducked her head back into her papers.
The morning continued on in silence and slowly bled into early afternoon. Pansy managed to pull herself from her work every so often to peek at Nicola, who had been steadily ignoring Pansy. She had exchanged several more paper messages with Theresa whenever it looked like Theresa was beginning to doubt herself and Pansy continued to be unaware of the contents of the messages. It irked her but she reassured herself with the thought that she would discuss Nicola’s actions with her during lunch.
However, when the time came for Nicola to leave for a lunch that would mark the end of her shift, she didn’t wait at the door for Pansy to notice, as was their custom. Instead she gathered her things and left, without sparing a glance for Pansy.
Pansy was almost swept away by the enormous feeling of wrongness that swept through her in that moment and she forced her eyes to stay on the documents in front of her.
Soon after Nicola’s departure Theresa packed her notes away in her handbag and left with one quick, torn look in Pansy’s direction. Her red hair quickly disappeared behind the closing door, though, and Pansy was left to wonder and hurt in the silence of the Archives.
No one spoke to her that day.
The rest of the week and the week after that continued much in the same fashion, leaving Pansy to contemplate the weight of silence when a person knew that it was directed as a tool against them. She had never before realized that there was a difference in quality between a solitary silence and an enforced silence and she tried to convince herself that at least she was being gifted with the more powerful form; that she could use the silence to strengthen herself. I have gone too long without open adversity, she told herself, they are only trying to help me.
She ignored her father’s voice whispering in the back of her head that Parkinsons did not blind themselves to the obvious. What did he know, locked away in a stone prison, far from society? What did he know?
But the silence wore at her mind and even Astor’s joyful yips in the evening couldn’t soothe her. After experiencing something close to friendship (she didn’t want to push herself or give herself more cause to feel pity for herself by calling it true friendship), the corridors of the manor seemed emptier than before. Her footsteps echoed in the corridors, though the carpet should have muffled all sound, and as she passed her ancestors’ paintings she could have sworn that she heard grumblings and complaints, though no mouths moved.
She continued to press on, completing the stacks of papers that increased in size each day when she appeared for a new shift. Eventually she resorted to discretely asking Mr Craddle for the evening shift so that she could stay longer into the evening if she hadn’t finished her stack before her shift ended. At least, she thought, alone with only the light of a candle on her desk to guide her work, darkness pressing in around her, no one else is here to see me.
It was on a day just two weeks after she made the mistake that had ruined all of the careful progress she had made that the loneliness grew to be too much for Pansy. Though she had refused to leave the Archives before her desk was free from parchment, her eyes were aching for many minutes before she could finally only see a gleaming wooden surface. Shadows had played tricks on her from the corners of her eyes and several times she had called out into the depths of the Archives, inquiring if there was another person there. Each time no one had answered and Pansy had shushed herself furiously.
When she left the Archives the corridors leading to the floos were darker than the room behind her had been and she quickly pulled out her wand to cast lumos. The shadows that had been haunting her in the Archives followed her along the walls, leaping from flicker to flicker with unnatural ease. Pansy subtly increased her speed and then winced as the clacking of her shoes on the tile floor resounded off the walls. She bit her lip before she could release a curse—Parkinsons were never so undignified as to curse.
However, Parkinsons were allowed to feel relief when they reached safe ground and Pansy softened and slowed her stride when the floos came into sight at last. She passed Mr Richards abandoned post quickly and passed through the atrium with a speed she never would have reached if there had been witnesses to her late night dash.
When Pansy arrived at the manor in a blaze of green flames, she immediately called for a house elf to remove her outer set of robes and tried to shake away her nerves. For the first time she could remember the welcoming room seemed oppressive and she hurried into the corridor, hoping that her mood would change once she reached it.
The usual array of torches lined the walls of the corridor and their familiar light gave Pansy warmth. Walking forward, Pansy followed twists and turns that led her not to her chambers but rather to an area of the manor that she had rarely visited. Her parents’ wing of the manor had never been strictly forbidden but Pansy had understood that there were some areas that she had best avoid.
However it was with strong and sure footsteps that she approached the door that now only protected her mother. She paused just before it and told herself that she was only admiring the delicate patterns that adorned it before pushing it gently open. She peered into the darkness beyond the door, telling herself firmly that she would only take a quick glance before leaving. It was late, after all, and she was tired.
But for some reason she felt no desire to sleep; everything was pushing her to be exactly where she was.
“Mother?” she called out softly, so softly that it was barely more than a breath.
The light from the corridor provided Pansy with just enough light to make out the still form of her mother slumped over a low wooden table. Pansy pushed the door open even further and the light spread to pool around her mother’s body. It highlighted her light hair and seemed to sink into the dark robes she was wearing. There were no fantastically ugly knitting creations within easy reach of the light—Pansy saw the traces of only one on the floor. A horrid shade of purple, it stained the beautiful wood floor and when Pansy reached it, she kicked it under the desk.
She reached one hand tentatively out before her, unsure of her intention. Did she want to touch her mother? Should she leave? Suddenly she felt very tired and her steps began to slow.
She faltered just a few steps from her mother and let her arm drop. Her mother was obviously sleeping- why should she disturb her? It would be better if she left her well alone.
Reasoning settled, Pansy turned and padded out of the room, quietly closing the door behind her. Her mother never stirred.
Outside the door she only paused long enough to order a house elf to ensure that her mother was comfortable before she hurried towards her chambers.
It was long past the time when she should have fallen asleep.
Upon arrival she extinguished the light in her room and pressed her eyelids tight together, fervently ignoring the shadows that wanted to dance along their insides.