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Wilted Flower by Roots in Water

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Format: Novel
Chapters: 30
Word Count: 96,508
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Mild Language, Mild Violence, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Contains Slash (Same-Sex Pairing), Substance Use or Abuse, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme

Genres: Drama, Horror/Dark, Angst
Characters: Draco, Pansy, OC, OtherCanon
Pairings: Draco/Pansy, Other Pairing

First Published: 01/22/2012
Last Chapter: 08/19/2013
Last Updated: 01/12/2014

Summary:
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Nothing was the same for Pansy. Nothing ever would be.

Winner of Keckers 2012 "Best Drama" Award 
 


Chapter 1: War
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“But he’s there! Potter’s there! Someone grab him!” *

The moment she said it, the moment those words left her mouth, she knew that she had miscalculated. She had thought that the Ravenclaws more intelligent than they were. She had imagined the Hufflepuffs to be weaker, more cowardly than their actions proved them to be.

Didn’t they know that they were going to lose? Weren’t they aware that the Dark Lord had amassed huge armies, that all manner of creatures waited outside those doors to kill those so foolish as to stand in their way? Harry Potter was nothing, merely scrawny boy that had gotten lucky in the past. He was nothing more than an obstacle in the Dark Lord’s path. So why were they wasting their time, their lives defending him?

When one by two by three they turned against her, creating a barrier behind which Harry stood, she felt annoyed. She knew that she wasn’t skilled enough to match everyone, to take down Harry herself. She had been counting on the crowd mentality to push Harry outside, where the Dark Lord was waiting. There she would have accepted his reward as the person who had succeeded in bringing him Harry Potter.

But that plan was gone now, flushed further down the toilet than Moaning Myrtle could follow.

When McGonagall had ordered Professor Slughorn to take her and the rest of her House out and away from the battle she was only mildly annoyed. Away from the battle, though safer, less life-risking, also meant away from Draco, whom Pansy was sure would come to fight alongside the Dark Lord. She hadn’t seen him in such a long time, not since he hadn’t returned at the beginning of the school year.

He had owled her shortly before she had returned to Hogwarts, stating that he would be busy performing the Dark Lord’s tasks. The Dark Lord, from what Pansy had been able to gather from vague hints in his letters and careless conversations she had eavesdropped on in the common room, had been living in the Malfoy manor. Her Draco had been in a prime position to insinuate himself firmly into the ranks of the Dark Lord.

She knew that he would have made the most of it.

So, while she wasn’t pleased at missing out on an opportunity to be reunited with Draco, she didn’t struggle or behave in an undignified manner as she was escorted out of the Great Hall. She wasn’t worried at the outcome of the battle—she knew that soon the Dark Lord’s reign would be without obstacles and the Wizarding world would finally be able to start the process of eradicating the muggles of the planet.

When Professor Slughorn didn’t allow them to visit the Slytherin dorms to gather their belongings she wasn’t pleased but she knew that she wouldn’t be separated from her possessions for long. What was a paltry, ragtag group of untrained students and teachers against the large force that was the Death Eaters?

She would be basking in the glory of the Dark Lord’s reign before bed.

*

The moonlight was soft on her face as she and her Housemates walked down the path to Hogsmeade. The air was quiet and still and aside from the murmurings of the younger students, quickly hushed by the older students, there was no noise. Pansy felt as though the land was preparing for something, something big and life-changing, world-changing, and knew that she was walking away from the place where it would all happen.

She peered into the shadows, tried in vain to find and look between the trees of the Forbidden Forest, but she couldn’t find her father. She could see no bodies moving, hear no animals grunting. She was aware that those still within the castle’s walls would be shivering with fear and anticipation if they were in her place, but she felt safe. She felt secure in her knowledge that the Dark Lord’s army wouldn’t move to attack them because what would he stand to gain from endangering the lives of his followers’ children? The very same people who supported his ideals and would one day support him openly?

The pathway soon widened into a metal gate that Professor Slughorn cast easily open, leading them through to Hogsmeade. She could feel the ease of the ancient wards as she left their protection and moved closer to her Head of House as he gathered them near the wall of a house. From behind the small protection of the stones she could see down the street to the turn-off for Madam Puddifoot’s, where she had spent several romantic Valentine’s Days with Draco.

Professor Slughorn looked weary, looked as though he was making the most important decision of his life. Pansy saw the glances he cast at the castle they had left behind, had seen him march quickly away from it, as if something he had been running from was just now catching up with him. She watched him now, as he took in a deep breath and looked out at the crowd of silver and green that had gathered before him.

“You must all leave and return to your homes.” His voice was the only noise in the area. Though Pansy strained her ears, she could hear nothing but the sound of his voice. No cries. No shouts of horror, bloodlust, anger. The battle had not yet begun.

“Further down the street Madame Rosmerta is waiting at the Three Broomsticks. For those of you not yet able to apparate, her floo is open. For those who can, you are allowed to apparate away. We are beyond the wards of Hogwarts now.” So he had decided to leave them, then. He had decided to return to Hogwarts, to fight in the battle. Pansy was surprised. She had thought that he would take this opportunity to run, to save his skin and live another day.

For those without strong loyalties to tie them to a side, this battle was dangerous. They might hesitate, flounder in doubt at a crucial, and end up dead. They were only dangers to themselves when everyone around them was merciless.

Pansy watched as his eyes searched through the crowd, passing over the younger students, and locked on hers. They held a pleading quality, as though whatever she acquiesced to do would be a great favour to him. She wouldn’t look away, for no self-respecting witch would break eye contact during a negotiation, but a small part of her wished that she could. She didn’t know what he wanted of her and she wouldn’t know until he announced it before everyone—by then it would be too late to refuse.

She watched with trepidation as he came to a decision, bobbing his head as the unusually cool May breeze swirled through Hogsmeade.

“Miss Parkinson will guide you to the Three Broomsticks and wait there until all of you have gone.” Pansy noted that he hadn’t specified where they had to disappear to—he knew that he wasn’t able to force them to go home, not when such an integral part of their lives was at risk.

The chilly wind whipped through the group and Pansy felt strands of her hair move, dancing over her cheek bones and into her eyes. Annoyed at that her hair was mussed, she flicked her wand to restore it to its former pristine condition. Tucking her wand back into her sleeve she watched Professor Slughorn chance a glance back up the path they had walked. Bright lights were beginning the colour the night sky and he fidgeted.

“You are dismissed.”

Pansy immediately took charge as the group turned as one to her for guidance, not caring to see where their Head of House disappeared to. Professor Slughorn hadn’t asked of her anything more than she was already willing to give—Pansy was charged with the protection of Britain’s pureblood youth, a job she would carry out well. She didn’t want to imagine the Dark Lord’s reaction if one of their precious youth was lost or hurt under her care and angled them towards Madame Rosmerta’s and the waiting floo.

The village felt abandoned, though the sensation of being watched spoke to the contrary. She could feel the weight of the fearful gazes of the villagers, hidden behind locked doors, and hear the crackling of the wards as their power was increased. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed Daphne Greengrass guiding a younger Slytherin with a similar facial structure. That would be Astoria, she thought, remembering a comment Daphne had dropped years ago about her sister coming to Hogwarts. She didn’t know why Daphne hadn’t already apparated them home but she wasn’t about to ask.

There were many other purebloods for her to watch over—she could spare the one.

Waving the door to the Three Broomsticks open, Pansy fell behind and allowed the crowd of green and silver to enter the bar before her. She didn’t mind—the evening wasn’t too chilly as she was still wearing the thicker Hogwarts robes and her position outside the door ensured that there would be no forgotten stragglers. The smell of warm Butterbeer wafted through the door and Pansy was struck with memories of previous visits to Hogsmeade. Though the Three Broomsticks wasn’t the cleanest or classiest store in Hogsmeade, it did have the reputation of the best Butterbeer in Wizarding England. Her friends had been very happy to gorge themselves on the traditional Wizarding drink after walking through blistering wind and cold drifts of snow.

Now, however, this store was providing them with the path to sanctuary.

Though her robes had protected her from the wind, she was still relieved to walk through the door as the Three Broomsticks’ sturdy walls prevented her from seeing the deadly spells that were being cast further up the hill. They did not, however, protect her from the curdling, pained cries and the shouts of hate and so she was impatient for the store to empty. She could only hope that Draco wasn’t suffering, that Draco hadn’t died. He was barely out of his boyhood; he had his whole life to live with her! She barely acknowledged Madame Rosmerta, focusing her attention on the swirling fires that flamed green every time a student left for their home.

When it was finally her turn to exit, she nodded stiffly at Madame Rosmerta, who had stood patiently by the fireplace the entire time they had been in her store, holding a small bowl of floo powder, and ducked into the fire.

A muttered “Parkinson Manor” and Pansy was being whisked away, past entrances to other Wizarding dwellings and through Wizarding space, to the place that she called home.

*

The room flared a brilliant green as the house welcomed back its heiress, the colour mixing with the natural colours of the walls to create a medieval look. When Pansy finally stepped through and onto the customary mat placed before the fireplace for floo-ers in Wizarding homes the room was dark. There wasn’t any windows for the moon and stars to shine through as the room was located in the center of the grand house and was used for little else than flooing. A little settee sat across from the fireplace, allowing the owners of the house to wait in comfort for their guests. No one sat there now, however.

There was a small frown on Pansy’s face as she surveyed the room and snapped sharply. Almost immediately a house elf appeared in the room, its crack echoing across the unadorned walls. A small, spindly hand curled its fingers around the robes Pansy was holding over her arm and disappeared. Moments later it returned, holding a lighter robe high enough off the ground that its hem didn’t threaten to drag on the stone. Pansy almost sighed in relief as the soft fabric settled on her shoulders—her Hogwarts robes, while helpful when on a walk, were too hot and heavy for her house.

“Can Milly be helping Mistress Parkinson with anything else?” The house elf’s hands were playing with the hem of its pillowcase and its eyes were wide and earnest. Pansy watched Milly’s hands intently until the house elf let them fall back to its side.

“I am going to my room to rest. You will tell me immediately once you have received news of the outcome of the war. Don’t be afraid to wake me, Milly—this is really important.” The house elf bobbed its head and Pansy left, not waiting to hear its crack. It would do as she asked.

The route to her room seemed longer than usual, though Pansy was aware that it was only her fatigue and worries about Draco that made the walk seem so long. Usually she didn’t mind walking through the grand corridors of her home because they displayed the majesty of her heritage. On the walls hung hundreds of family portraits and at a glance Pansy was able to identify their names and their historical significance. It was a skill that had long since been drilled into her—knowing your family history was a must for every young pureblood.

Other than the portraits, the corridors of the Manor weren’t lavishly decorated. Instead her ancestors had allowed their money to increase in Gringotts, preferring the ability to purchase little things that they found valuable and interesting whenever they wanted to purchasing what society had deemed worthy and important at the time. Pansy agreed with this sentiment—her own choice in clothing was much more comfortable and classy than the fake satin that was all the rage at the moment.

She didn’t encounter her mother walking through the corridors but she hadn’t really expected to—her mother never stayed up late, preferring to retire early in the evening to her chambers.

Soon Pansy herself was following her mother’s example, ignoring the worries swirling through her mind about Draco dueling.

Her last thought as she fell asleep was that she would awake to a new world.

*Page 490, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Chapter 2: Despair
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The sun had barely started to rise when she was startled awake by a loud crack and the warmth of her bed made a convincing argument to close her eyes and just sleep. She had been in the middle of dream where she had finally been reunited with Draco. She had joined him just as the Dark Lord triumphed over Harry Potter and he had kissed her—the first time he had done so in over a year. And then, with his parents looking on with approval, he had proposed! Pansy started to smile as she remembered her exuberant ‘Yes!’ as the sounds of celebration washed over them. The Dark Lord had even congratulated them, saying that they were ushering in a new era of pureblood supremacy.

It had been a good dream but unfortunately that was all it was.

The thought that Draco might not be sound asleep in his own bed at that moment gave her pause and she reluctantly pushed her covers back and made to get out of bed. Just before her feet touched her bedside rug her thick slippers appeared and she willingly slipped her feet into the warmth they provided.

“Mistress Parkinson be wanting light?” Pansy could hear the quiver in its voice and immediately wished that she had succumbed to the call of sleep—it didn’t sound like Draco was at home. In fact, it sounded as though he might be in trouble. As though the Dark Lord might have lost, as impossible as that was.

“No thanks.” It was not wise to irritate your source of information and Pansy wasn’t stupid. “I want information. What has happened?” Dark as it was, she was just able to make out the shine of the house elf’s eyes, watery as they were.

“It is not being good news, Mistress Parkinson. Milly is so sorry.” There was the faint ruffle of paper and then Pansy felt the rough quality of the Daily Prophet as it was placed in her hands. For it to be at their manor so early, a special edition must have been printed. Whispering lumos, a small ball of light appeared above her head. It was an old enchantment from her childhood that her parents had set in place to help her overcome her fear of the dark, one they had never removed.

It was useful in moments such as this, though there would never be another moment that reflected the feelings of absolute panic and shock that radiated through her body as she read the headline:

Boy-Who-Lived Becomes Man-Who-Saved-Us-All: He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is Dead!

The impossible had happened—the champion of pureblood rights had been murdered. Their cause was lost.

Everything was ruined.

Pansy barely heard the soft pop as Milly apparated away; she was too caught up in her pain. Was there word of Draco in those pages? Of her father?

Each headline seemed worse than the last, each one ripping through her foolish expectations.

Death Eaters Rounded Up by Aurors; Awaiting Trial –

What did that mean for her family? What did that mean for Draco? Was her father one of the captured? Would he be convicted, sentenced to Azkaban? Never before had Pansy felt this alone, as though her entire world had been ripped from under her feet. Her family, her friends’ families—everything was changed for them.

Death Toll High; Hospitals Overflowing –

They would be hated by society, even more so than they were now. They would be blamed for every bad thing that had ever occurred, every death and injury. There would be no such thing as normal now, not for them.

Pansy felt tears pricking at the corners of her eyes and blinked furiously. She could not show any weakness, not a time like this. You had to set the standard now, so that you would live up to it later, her father’s words echoed in her head. She had to stay strong for the sake of her family and their reputation. They must not be allowed to find any fault in her armour.

If the half-bloods and mudbloods could see her now they wouldn’t waste any time in mocking her pain, her despair. They would rejoice in her suffering as she would have rejoiced in theirs if the battle had ended differently.

She cursed them and Harry Potter as her eyes frantically scanned the thin words on the pages, searching for hints regarding the fates of her father and Draco.

In a magnificent display of magical talent Harry Potter dueled You-Know-Who in full view of…

She didn’t need to know the details; she refused to read praise about Harry Potter. She skipped several lines, her nails almost puncturing the page as she underlined the words.

Aurors have arrested all the Death Eaters that fought at the battle and have posted guards on those with life-threatening injuries so as to ensure that they do not escape.

A list. She needed a list. Flipping quickly through the Daily Prophet, she was unable to find one. As she was about to fling the paper across the room her eyes were caught by a small headline on one of the inner pages. Her fingertips slowly traced the words, her mind struggling to understand.

Guilty by Association

The article referred to her. It talked about her mother.

Those who are closely related to known Death Eaters have been placed under house arrest at their present location. They are unable to leave the boundaries of that property and will remain there until they have been investigated by Aurors. Nothing will be left to chance or fortune—they will not escape justice this time.

They suspected her. They had trapped her. She was stuck here, stuck in her family home, with no method of escape.

But she wouldn’t just accept it.

Slippers padding soundlessly on the floor, Pansy walked determinedly to the room she had flooed into late last night. It was the only one in the manor with floo access—the other fires were just fires. She ignored the muttering of the portraits that swelled in her wake, commenting on her state of undress. They didn’t matter in this moment—they were dead and it was her life that was ruined if the article was true.

The heavy door swung open before her, the manor helping her in her task. She would have thanked it but she was too worried about what she would do if she learned for certain that the Ministry had blocked the exits from the manor.

Her hand trembled lightly as she grabbed the gritty floo powder from the pouch next to the fireplace. She fell to her knees before the dark, empty fireplace and muttered a curse—the fire wasn’t lit.

Sharply, she summoned a house elf and commanded it to light the fire, quickly if it didn’t want to be punished.

Soon, red and orange flames were flickering before her face and she took a deep, calming breath. She needed to decide where to floo—she couldn’t show her face just anywhere in her nightgown. Even in this time of crisis, she couldn’t disgrace her family.

Especially not now.

She settled on flooing to Malfoy Manor, certain in the knowledge that they would be understanding, if they were home at all. All the occupants of the manor would have fought in the battle at Hogwarts—with all likelihood they were captured, awaiting sentencing.

Pansy swallowed hard—it was hard to imagine the proud Narcissa Malfoy being forced to wait in the dingy, dirty cells at the Ministry. It was hard to imagine any of her acquaintances squatting in those awful cells; not those gorgeous people who had not too long ago been waltzing in fancy robes at balls and setting the standards for the rest of the Wizarding world to aspire for.

She leaned forward, throwing the powder into the flames and muttering her destination, and stopped. The red brilliance of the flames hadn’t turned green—if she had leaned any closer her face would have been scorched.

Denying the thoughts that were swirling through her mind, her arm reached up and groped for the pouch containing the floo powder. Grabbing a larger handful (perhaps she had simply needed more for it to work), she once again threw the powder in the flames and called “Malfoy Manor”, her voice deeper with urgency.

Nothing. Pansy thought that the flames might even be a darker red than before, as though the Ministry was taunting her from afar.

Unwilling to admit defeat (after all, they might only have blocked the floo), she snapped out Milly’s name and held out her arm impatiently for Milly to touch.

“I need to get out of this house.”

“Where would Mistress Parkinson be liking to go?” Pansy felt Milly’s fingers curl around her arm and struggled not to wince. The fingers felt so different from those of a human, more delicate.

“I do not care. Just get me out.” And she truly didn’t. Whatever damage that would be done by appearing in a nightgown could be repaired at a later date. At that moment she just needed to know that she had the ability to leave, that she wasn’t going to be trapped in her own home.

They couldn’t take away her liberty, her independence. If they took away what she had always prided herself on controlling… Pansy was afraid of how she would react.

Pansy was prepared for the twisting sensation that was associated with apparation of all kinds. She was prepared to feel nausea, pain, even bone-twisting. She wasn’t, however, prepared to slam into a physical barrier.

It was like being thrown headfirst into a solid stone wall. It hurt. She closed her eyes and cradled her head between her legs. Maybe if she waited long enough the room would stop spinning. Maybe if she waited long enough the pain would stop.

“Oh Milly is so sorry. Milly has failed to do her Mistress’ request and must punish herself.” Pansy faintly heard the sound of the house elf banging its head into the wall and tried to close her ears to the sound.

She only stopped the elf when its thuds made her headache worse. The silence of the room, after the house elf left, was soothing and slowly her body stopped protesting every movement that she made. Hesitantly she allowed her mind to focus on what she could no longer deny. Reluctantly she began to consider the consequences of house arrest.

She was no longer allowed to wander the world at will, should she have desired to do so. Her body was confined within the ancient walls of her ancestral home. She was required to depend on her house elves for her daily needs and if Granger had had her way she would not even have had them.

The Ministry controlled her movements, decided her fate. Without their agreement, she would never again see a robe before it was bought or be allowed to dine at the finest restaurants. Without the Aurors examining every aspect of her life, no matter how private, she would live the rest of her life in one place, without freedom.

She couldn’t protest without making her circumstances worse. She imagined that the Ministry would gladly take any complaint she made as a sign of rebellion against them and place her in the waiting cells next to the Death Eaters.

The only thing that she was able to do was wait. Wait until the heavy atmosphere of the war had dissipated, wait until she had been deemed a non-threat, wait until she was released from her home turned prison.

She heard soft footsteps pad into the room and sighed. It seemed that her mother was awake and had come looking for her. Briefly, she wondered if a house elf had informed her of her reasons for returning, of the situation at Hogwarts. Of the situation that had been at Hogwarts.

“What are you doing, dear?” Her mother’s soft voice echoed in the room that suddenly felt too small. “It’s too early to go out and you’re not properly dressed.”

She glared up at her mother from under the curtain of her hair and stood up numbly, absently brushing soot from her robes. Her mother, then, didn’t know.

“Mother, we’re trapped.”

“Whatever do you mean Pansy? Of course we’re not trapped—I’m going out for lunch today with your father.”

“He won’t be able to attend, Mother. Didn’t you hear what I said?” Inside, she winced at her sharp tones. That was not how she usually spoke to her mother. “We’re trapped. The Dark Lord lost, father is captured and awaiting trial and we’re stuck in this hippogriff-haven of a house.”

“Are you sure?” Her mother’s voice was timid, as though she were hesitant to speak. “I had plans-”

“It’s the Ministry’s doing and we can’t get around it. I’ve already tried. They’ve blocked all the exits in our manor—we can’t get through and only they can take down the enchantments.”

Pansy felt like throwing a hissy fit like she used to do when she was younger, before she had seen the childishness of it. She longed to throw her body on the floor and roll around screaming at the top of her lungs. Her fists were clenched to keep her from slapping something and her feet were firmly planted on the floor to stop them from swinging in the direction of the useless, non-flooing fireplace.

“Are you sure?” Her mother didn’t want to believe her and Pansy understood why, though she was in no mood to convince another person that their way of life was forever changed. Not when she was having trouble accepting it herself.

“Of course I’m sure! Check the newspaper if you don’t believe me—it’s all there.”

“Oh.”

They stood there, unsure of what to say, unwilling to break the silence. In this room there was no reminder of the troubles of the outside world save the fireplace and even there it was easy enough to ignore the link. The room was filled with memories of the past, not all of them being hers. Pansy could remember her father proudly telling her that the manor had been altered very little over the centuries, so fine was the original architecture. This room had not been changed at all.

Many generations of Parkinsons had received news in this room before her, not all of it joyful. Pansy could imagine her father waiting for his father to return from a discussion about the union of their two families with her mother’s father. Had he been excited? Anxious? Had he been worried that the Maudlines would refuse his offer of courtship or confident in his success?

Pansy suddenly felt as though there was a vast distance separating her from her father, one that couldn’t be crossed. She sneaked a glance at her mother and found that she was staring at her, a curious look on her face. Pansy didn’t know what she was thinking and felt a sudden longing to.

Their stay in the room might have gone on for hours had the silence not been broken as a house elf apparated between them. It looked between them, as if contemplating who to address, before positioning itself so that it could see them both. Their eyes followed its progress.

“Mistresses Parkinson, breakfast is being ready now.” The house elf nodded and, finished with its announcement, disapparated.

Their eyes meet once again and Pansy cleared her throat. “I suppose we shall…” She gestured at the open doorway and silently cursed her inability to find the correct words. Her mother nodded and followed her out through the door and into the house that was now their prison.

Chapter 3: Alone
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The days passed by slowly, the minutes stretching into hours as the lack of communication with the outer world began to feel more and more like a death sentence. Pansy hadn’t been able to find Draco’s name in the Daily Prophet, only his father’s, and they hadn’t yet published a list of the captured Death Eaters. The articles focused on the glory of the Dark Lord’s fall and the adjustments that were being made to the laws that had governed the Wizarding world for centuries; there were rumours that the Ministry would be changing the laws about the inheritance of Wizengamot seats in the old pureblood families to ensure that all blood statuses would be represented in the highest power in the justice system. Pansy thought it was, to put it commonly, utter crap.

When the walls of her room threatened to drive her mad, she would wander the corridors and touch the portraits of her ancestors. They would never have allowed this to happen, she was sure. But though her feet took her through every part of her home, she avoided her mother’s wing. Sometimes, in the aching silence of the house, she could hear the faint sounds of weeping coming from her mother’s chambers. Each time, she would bury herself in the newspaper or her spell books or in whatever task she was indulging herself in—if she ignored her mother’s weakness, she could pretend it did not exist.

Sometimes, though, her mother made it achingly apparent that she was suffering. When the aurors had arrived at their manor, ignoring proper etiquette and entering before their house elves had had the chance to escort them in, her mother had followed them through their home like a servant, hovering anxiously as they ruthlessly riffled through their belongings.

Her fingers would flutter like butterflies as they carelessly handled priceless china and she would rush to fix their positions on the mantels or in the cabinets once they were replaced.

Pansy preferred to ignore the aurors, as if by refusing to acknowledge their existence they would leave their home and never return. She didn’t know what they were hoping to find; anything that could be strewed as incriminating was hidden away in places that could not be found without prior knowledge.

Once though, drifting through the manor on her way to the library, she witnessed her mother standing closer than necessary to the aurors as they prepared to leave, as though she wanted to stop them. Pansy stopped, her hand gently placed on the banister, and stared at her mother, wishing that she could control her with her eyes. Instead though, in the silence of their greeting hall, she heard her mother breath out and whisper, “Where’s my husband?”

The aurors didn’t pay her any attention, but Pansy saw, from her position above them, the way the dark-haired one had darted his eyes towards his partner. Her mother breathed again, stronger this time, and asked, “Where is he? Please, I want to know.”

Pansy wanted to close her eyes and crawl away in mortification at the brokenness, the weakness of her mother, but she couldn’t leave. Not when they might hear her and see her listening. Not when they might accuse her of spying, a black trait she must have learned at her father’s knee. Her mother had never been strong before but she had been strengthened by her father and hadn’t shamed their family.

“Can’t you tell me anything?” Her arm moved forward, her hand clawing at the air, as though she was going to make a drastic move for the auror’s arm. “Is he at the Ministry? Has he been captured?”

“Miss-” There was a heart-breaking pause before the dark-haired auror continued, “Mrs Parkinson, your husband is awaiting his trial before the Wizengamot. He has been accused of aiding You-Know-Who.”

He didn’t say anything more and her mother’s arm fell back to her side. Before anything more could be said, before her mother could pester the aurors any further, they were gone, the manor’s heavy door closely softly in their wake.

His words weren’t much and he hadn’t said anything that they hadn’t already thought about but he had confirmed those beliefs. There was now no hope that her father had managed to escape the Death Eater round-up, nothing to allow Pansy to believe that the Parkinson name wasn’t irrevocably intertwined with that of Death Eater.

Pansy turned to head back to her room—she didn’t feel like reading anymore.

*

It was one of those days where everything felt awfully boring. The thought of writing Draco letters didn’t appeal to her and even if she had written the letter she would not have received a reply for she was still not allowed to communicate with the outside world.

She didn’t want to read the newspaper or listen to the radio for she didn’t want the reminders that her life was stagnant, that the outside world was moving on without her.

After she had dragged breakfast on for an hour longer than usual Pansy had decided to be useful. Her Hogwarts trunk was still unpacked and sitting in a corner of her room where the house elves had left it, after the Ministry had allowed it to be sent to her. She had ignored it when it had first arrived for it held nothing of value to her and, as she was aware of the entirety of its contents, invoked no sense of curiosity.

Today, however, she saw that the Ministry had found her belongings interesting enough that they had riffled through it, inspecting each object for hints of dark magic, before they had returned it to her. Her books were more neatly stacked than she had left them, her clothes more neatly folded. She found that she didn’t mind, though, for they hadn’t removed anything from her possession.

What would she have been able to do even if she had found their arrogance offensive? Her words held no weight in society, not anymore.

She took her clothing out of her trunk and spread the collection on the bed. They had occupied the majority of the trunk’s space and without them in it the trunk seemed rather empty. Pansy sighed as she fingered the hem of her “relaxation robe”—its fabric was soft and comfortable yet it was stylish enough that she could wear it in company without being ashamed of her appearance. A year’s worth of outfits, a year’s worth of memories.

They were still in good enough condition that Pansy couldn’t allow herself to throw them away. She didn’t even know if she would be able to replace them, so keeping them would be the wiser path. Sighing, Pansy began the long process of finding each robe its own spot in her wardrobe. Clothing always lasted longer if you treated them with respect.

Her wardrobe much fuller than it had been that morning, Pansy once again returned to her trunk. She ignored the broken quill stubs and scraps of parchment that littered the floor and concentrated her attention on the thick textbooks. There was probably an empty shelf in the library where she could put them, near where she had stored the textbooks of the previous years. If not, room could be made.

The corridors were deathly silent as Pansy walked through them, levitating the books carefully behind her. It was a boring task, coupled with the long walk to the library, but at least it gave her something to do. The house elves could have accomplished it easily and in a fraction of the time she needed but it would have defeated the purpose.

It gave her a reason to use magic, something that she hadn’t needed to use when everything was done for her by the house elves, and feel good about it. The spells she read in the books she took from the library were complex and beyond her ability to achieve without the aid of a skilled teacher, a fact that Pansy found irritating. She had hundreds of spells at her fingertips but she was unable to practice them. She couldn’t even ask her mother for help because she hadn’t been very skilled at the practical portion of magic either. Pansy was determined to do something though, and she didn’t give up easily. There wasn’t much else that she could spend her time on anyways.

The Latin tutors her father had paid for during her childhood helped with her pronunciation as she stumbled over the ancient words and she obstinately practiced the wand movements in an empty room close to her chambers. The scorched walls and torn curtains were a testament to her stubbornness and it was rare that she performed a spell adequately. Once she had, though, she repeated the spell over and over until she thought she’d become permanently dizzy.

All those hours of practice wouldn’t be wasted when she sat her N.E.W.T.s!

The realization that she hadn’t sat her N.E.W.T.s came to her quite suddenly as she neared the library, and she nearly spilled her books before recovering.
She had been only a month away from writing them when the war had come to Hogwarts and she had had to leave. The Ministry hadn’t offered her the opportunity to write them since her house arrest had begun and she didn’t think that they would.

It didn’t matter at the moment, but it might in the future. While N.E.W.T. marks wouldn’t do anything for her while she was trapped in this house, she wouldn’t be able to do much without them outside of it. She didn’t think that Draco would mind, though, and it eased her mind.

She gently opened the door to the library and walked inside. The library was an enormous room, filled with shelves upon shelves of books that her ancestors had collected over the years. Though their collection wasn’t as grand as that of the Malfoys’ or Bones’ it was still a source of pride for their family. Many layers of wards had been placed over this room, protecting it from fire, thievery and water damage. The house elves cared for the books, polishing them and protecting them from the changing levels of moisture in the air.

They were determined that the books would stand the test of time.
Pansy wandered through the rows of shelves, heading towards the corner of the library the furthest from the door. It was darker there, for the light that streamed in from the large windows adorning the walls didn’t quite reach the area, but the books stored there weren’t as valuable.

As she neared the isolated shelves Pansy could see the worn edges of the books that lined them. She visited this area rarely, only once a year for the past six years, for this was where her family stored their old school textbooks. Though their curriculum was outdated, the books showed the changing beliefs and advancements of the Wizarding world over time. The oldest books covered Darker material and were well-thumbed while the newer books for Charms and Potions were thinner, as the theories and methods behind the subjects grew refined.

Her own textbooks were housed on the lowest shelves and she directed the books to shelve themselves. As she watched their slow march onto the wooden ledges, her old Potions textbook caught her eye.

That had been one of the last classes she had taken with Draco, for that had been the year he had pushed himself harder while she had fallen behind. She had barely qualified to take the course and she didn’t enjoy Potions but, because it was one of the few courses she could take with Draco as a classmate, she had chosen to sit in the cold, dry dungeons for hours listening to theories that she didn’t understand.

One potion, though, had caught her attention from the very first day of class. Though it wasn’t taught in the course and Pansy was sure that Professor Slughorn had only mentioned it to impress them, Amortentia had fascinated her. It was one of the few potions restricted by the Ministry that didn’t have an obvious Dark aspect like Drink of Despair and Moonseed Poison.

No, its effects were subtler and much more twisted. It could make a person forget about everything else and force them to submit to a single person, all in the name of love.

She could still remember the moment she had stepped into the classroom that no longer belonged to Professor Snape. It was the first time that the smells emanating from the classroom had been pleasant and she had eagerly walked to the front of the classroom. Draco’s unique scent had been strongest there, though there had also been hints of the Weird Sister’s signature Love is in the Air perfume and freshly washed sheets. She had listened half-heartedly to the descriptions of the contents of the other cauldrons in the room and had been bored by Granger’s explanation of the lovely potion, content to sniff the room.

Granger’s own smells had been uninteresting; freshly mown grass and new parchment were so plebeian. Fortunately she had stopped before boring them to death with her third love.

Interest caught and books shelved, Pansy walked back up the aisles towards one of the more accessible and well-used sections of the library. Located near a tall window that caught the afternoon sun beautifully, the Potions section was full with shelves and shelves full to the brim with texts detailing the proper usage of moonshine, how to ensnare your enemy and thousands of methods to cause the painful death of rivals without ever needing to come within three meters of them.

She hadn’t spent much time in this section, having preferred the lighter texts about useful and simple charms and the interesting novels about ill-fated romances that her female ancestors had collected, and called a house elf for aid.

“I want a book about love potions, specifically Amortentia. Find it for me.” The house elf nodded and used some of its kind’s magic to summon it to its hands. The book that it had called was slimmer than the majority that Pansy could see shelved and she breathed a sigh of relief. Perhaps the instructions to make Amortentia would be easier than she had thought.

They weren’t. There were multiple steps and detailed that had to be followed down to the second to ensure that the potion wouldn’t become sludge in the cauldron. Pansy closed the book and, being sure to remember where she put it for future reference, re-shelved it.

She left the library and wandered through the corridors, occasionally stopping to converse with the portraits, before she decided to reread some of the older copies of Witch Weekly. They were easier to read than those old, thick textbooks and certainly much more interesting. With any luck, they would occupy the rest of her afternoon.

After all, there were only a few more hours before dinner and afterwards she could take a long bath.

There was some skill involved in living by yourself—you got used to entertaining yourself.

Chapter 4: Draco
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It was several more days before the idea took root in her mind and became unshakeable. Its goal was aided by the loneliness that had become a part of her life. As she didn’t agree with her mother’s reactions to the house arrest and didn’t think that house elves were suitable companions, she was rather lacking in people to talk to. Eventually she couldn’t resist the temptation—at least with Amortentia Draco would once more become a part of her daily life.

She took her time, writing notes on the instructions for her to memorize and researching tips to make the process simpler. She didn’t want to believe that the potion had worked, only to be met with disappointment.

She sent the house elves out to gather the required ingredients and spent hours slicing dandelion roots into perfect strips of equal length and width, her eyes growing sore and her back aching as she bent over the table. Her nails grew dirty from the days it took to carefully peal the fairy wings and lacewings apart—they were very delicate and if you rushed you were liable to tear them, making them useless for the potion. She counted bundles of rose thorns and lovage seeds, sorting them into the doses as they would be required to be put in the potion.

When she was finally ready she found a secluded room where she set up her cauldron and carefully started a fire beneath it. She carefully lined up her ingredients in the time it took for the cauldron to heat and then nervously started to create the potion.

It was difficult and several times Pansy almost missed her cues to drop ingredients into the cauldron or almost forgot to stir at the correct moment but she managed. After several hours of hard work and near failures Pansy was relieved to be able to wave her wand and turn the fire off, only to frantically conjure another flame. She had forgotten that the potion needed to stew for another hour after the last ingredient had been added to strengthen its aroma. Had she forgotten that step, the potion would have been useless to her. She sat in a corner of the room, determined to watch the potion until completion to make sure that nothing else would go wrong. The room was hot though, and her robes were sticking to her body—it wasn’t a pleasant feeling.

She was glad when the hour was up and she was able to finally declare the potion finished. However, she had forgotten one crucial element—storage. Though she now had a cauldron full of Amortentia, she had nowhere to store the potion. She knew enough about potions to know that if left long enough after it had finished brewing, the pewter in the cauldron would begin to influence the effects of the potion—she didn’t want to risk any unknown side-effects from something that she could prevent.

She hurriedly summoned a house elf and sent it out to purchase small flasks, the kind that she had used in Hogwarts’ Potions classes. After it returned she carefully filled each flask to the brim and sealed it with wax.

She wasn’t quite sure how to transport them to her room—she didn’t want to drop them—but eventually conjured a small wooden trunk lined with soft cushions in which she firmly wedged the flasks.

She didn’t think that she had ever covered the distance between the library and her room as quickly as she did that day. She resisted the urge to run—even without an audience she was still a proper pureblood lady—but it was difficult. She was holding in her hands her link to Draco, her method of easing the loneliness that had surrounded her.

She was sure that a lesser person would have broken down and run.

But eventually her feet walked through her doorway and into her chambers. Unsure of where to store the flasks she placed the trunk on her nightstand and sat on her bed.

The mattress curved around her and suddenly she was tired, very tired. Her pillow looked so soft and her eyes felt heavy. The potion-making had taken more out of her than she had thought and she wasn’t required to attend dinner. Even though they were prisoners, they didn’t have guards.

However, Pansy couldn’t fall asleep without opening one of the flasks and smelling Draco. His scent had started to spread throughout her makeshift potions lab but it had disappeared as quickly as she had filled the flasks. She longed to have a physical reminder of him.

It had been so long since she had last seen him, touched him. Her last year at Hogwarts hadn’t been kind to their relationship and they had only been able to meet during the annual Malfoy ball that had to be held to avoid any more suspicion from the Ministry—the Malfoy ball was well known in the higher levels of society and was one of the highly anticipated social events of the season. Pansy didn’t know what had become of it this year—she had read in the newspaper that Lucius hadn’t escaped Azkaban. Narcissa and Draco had both been placed under a stricter house arrest than she had been—they had only escaped Azkaban because of Potter’s defense.

Draco.

She unsealed one of the flasks and brought its opening to her nose. One sniff had her smiling. Yes—she had bottled Draco’s scent. She had a part of him available to her at any time she pleased. But she was still so very tired… Curious, she tipped the flask and watched as the potion dribbled over her pillow. Once the flask was empty, she hesitantly brought the pillow to her nose and inhaled. It had worked—Draco’s scent had transferred to the pillow.

Reluctantly, she released the pillow and looked towards the trunk. She placed the empty flask on the nightstand for future use—she suspected that she would soon be making the potion again and she didn’t fancy buying flasks each time. She would have a house elf clean it in the morning—right now she didn’t want to be disturbed.

She slipped the rest of the flasks in the drawer of her nightstand and carefully warded them. Fortunately the aurors had already completed their search of her room several times over and so there was no chance that they would accidentally stumble upon the potion.

Besides, the love potion was precious only to her because of what it allowed her to do. If the aurors happened to become interested in the new wards, they would only be able to accuse her of being a love-sick teenager.

Even the Dark Lord hadn’t been able to figure out how to lie under Veritaserum.

Pansy lay down on her bed, holding her pillow against her nose. She sniffed and started to cry. That was Draco’s scent on her pillow, on her bed. With her eyes covered by the pillow she could believe that Draco was beside her in the bed, that he had come to see her and stayed for the night.

She curled around the pillow and pulled her covers over her head. Draco’s scent was trapped and the added heat of the blanket augmented the illusion of another body in the bed.

She refused to open her eyes, refused to wreck her fantasy. Draco was sleeping beside her, he was.

She fell asleep with a content smile on her face.

*

Each night she went to sleep with her nose full of Draco’s scent and her mind full of dreams about their future together and woke each morning to disappointment, when she couldn’t deny the emptiness of her bed, when she couldn’t deny that she alone slept on her pure white sheets.

Her ability to improved drastically with practice and soon she was able to have several cauldrons going at once. The time between brewing periods grew from every few weeks to every few months, further solidifying her delusion that their relationship was real. She came to dread the sound of glass rattling on wood for it meant that it would soon be time to brew the potion again. It marked the time where she was faced with the undeniable evidence that her relationship with Draco was a farce.

She relished Draco’s daily presence in her life. She and her mother were living separate lives and the house elves were mere ghosts. Though her daily tasks were boring and predictable, she found that she didn’t mind the monotony for it allowed her to ignore the growing disaster that was the Wizarding world.

In the Daily Prophet she saw a swiftly changing society, a society that was trying to wipe its history under a rug and forget it. It was abandoning time-honoured traditions and labeling those that still followed them “pureblood supremacists”. The tables had been turned and purebloods were now the ones that were looked down upon and insulted.

This new situation was even more dangerous than the previous for now the majority of Wizarding society believed its problems to be fixed—with Voldemort long dead, killed by their saviour Harry Potter, and the purist laws rescinded, they believed their world to be without problems. Those mudbloods and half-bloods didn’t realize that they were doing the same thing that had been done to them, only in reverse.

There was no one to stick up for their traditions, no one who believed they should be saved, for everyone who followed them was without influence in this new society. Pansy forced herself to read, disgustingly fascinated, as the Wizengamot declared it illegal to “selectively breed” your offspring, to push your child in the direction of a particular witch or wizard, to “muggle bait” and show superiority over muggles, traditions that purebloods had engaged in for centuries. It made the law against discrimination based on blood status seem almost trivial in comparison.

Her mother didn’t read the paper, preferring to live blissfully without the knowledge. Pansy supposed that knowing that her husband was in Azkaban for life was unpleasant enough without the added outrage of the changing laws. Pansy herself only read the Daily Prophet because her father had told her never to be unprepared, for being unprepared was like walking into a dragon’s nest blindfolded and smelling of meat.

The Aurors rarely interrupted their lives anymore—Pansy supposed that the Minister or Head Auror had reluctantly decided that they couldn’t paint them as guilty, though it wasn’t for lack of trying. They had combed every room in the house numerous times and had, on many occasions, made “surprise visits” to the manor, trying to catch them in the act. Pansy didn’t know why they thought that they would so absolutely stupid as to commit “Dark” acts while under house arrest—no one purposely tries to get sent to Azkaban and whatever they were labeled as, Pansy didn’t think that the Death Eaters had been stupid. The rare one, yes, but on the whole they had been intelligent.

The other side had just been lucky.

*

Pansy didn’t know the exact moment that her reflection had become so chatty, but she appreciated the company. It was refreshing to be able to chat with someone with similar thoughts and intelligent opinions. With her reflection Pansy didn’t have to worry about associating with inferior blood (no matter what Wizarding society thought, she would always have her standards) or disgracing her family reputation for nothing that she said in confidence would be spread from ear to ear as a traded commodity. Many afternoons passed quickly as Pansy conversed with her reflection, exchanging thoughts on whatever had caught her interest that morning.

One topic of conversation frequently reappeared, though all its possible areas of discussion had been exhausted. Pansy was unwilling to let it go and on one late spring afternoon, as the hot sun scorched the ground outside Pansy’s window, she brought it up again.

She had abandoned the small chair that sat in front of the mirror in her room and was pacing back and forth, though always within the view of her reflection. Her hair was unusually messy with strands limply framing her face as though she had tugged them loose and her hands were squeezing the air desperately.

“I mean, what if he doesn’t love me anymore? He hasn’t sent me any letters and it’s been months!” Pansy paused to glance hopefully at her reflection for reassurance, with her reflection pleasantly gave, as she had many times before.

“He still loves you—you haven’t sent him any letters either, if you recall.”

“I haven’t been able to!” Pansy cried indignantly, throwing her hands in the air and resuming her pacing. “The Ministry won’t allow me… I’ve tried! You know I have!”

“I know you have,” her reflection said soothingly, “And what’s to say that Draco hasn’t either? He’s under house arrest as well.”

“That is true… But I still wish that we were able to communicate—it would make this so much easier!” Pansy fell into the chair and looked into the mirror imploringly. “I haven’t seen him in what seems like years—you know that the last time I saw him was at his family’s ball, five months before the Dark Lord’s defeat.” Her reflection nodded patiently, having heard this many times before.

“I can’t remember if he ever said that he loved me. Though it was implied—he did show it in his actions, I’m positive that I didn’t imagine his feelings for me—I would feel so much better if I knew for certain that he loved—loves—me.”

“I’m sure he does—what could he not love about you?” Her reflection smiled widely and Pansy couldn’t help but return it. Her reflection was a blessing during the house arrest and amazing for the self-esteem.

“I love him so much, you know. I love him more than anything else in my life. I’ve loved him for years and I know I’ll love him for the rest of my life.” Pansy fiddled with the roses the house elves had arranged in a vase on her desk, imagining that Draco had sent them.

Her reflection smiled fondly down at her. “I know you do. It shows in your every action, your every word-” Pansy smiled upon hearing this—she was glad that her affections for Draco were obvious. “-and you’ll be able to share your love with him once you’re released from house arrest. It won’t be long now—you just have to stay strong.”

“I know. It’s just difficult, sometimes.” But Pansy was still smiling when she looked at her reflection. “You know what ridiculous thing Mother did this morning? She actually asked the house elves, politely even, to switch her goblet when they mixed up her drink! It wasn’t even as if she wanted something new—she still drinks that awful orange juice!” She exchanged a commiserating glance with her reflection. “If Father was here, the mistake wouldn’t have been made in the first place! I’m telling you, everything is disintegrating in quality…”

She was so glad that someone understood her, even if it was someone that most people would say didn’t exist.

Chapter 5: Letters
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It was on a quiet August morning that the letter from the Ministry arrived, announcing the end of their house arrest. The house elves had been quite startled by the owl’s arrival because no mail had been sent to their manor in over a year and had tied up the owl once it had passed through the wards. Once they had determined that the animal was safe, it and the letter appeared at the dining table just as Pansy was buttering her toast.

Pansy’s mother had let out a high-pitched squeak and dropped her goblet, spilling orange juice on their white table cloth. Even though a house elf immediately popped in to remove the stain, Pansy glared witheringly at her. No matter how frightened or shocked you were, you did not behave in such an undignified manner! Her mother’s behaviour truly had diminished since her father had disappeared from their daily lives. His influence did not stretch all the way from Azkaban, unfortunately.

With a pointed glance at her mother, Pansy calmly untied the letter from the owl but paused before opening it. The official Ministry sign sealed the scroll—did that mean…?

It did.

*

Dear Madams Parkinson,

The Ministry has searched your Manor thoroughly and has found nothing to indicate that you were anything but innocent of wrongdoing during the war. Thus, the order of house arrest has been lifted and you are free to leave the boundaries of your Manor. You are no longer under Ministry surveillance but beware: this letter is by no means permission to commit any crimes against society. Any future transgressions will be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

Sincerely,

Kingsley Shacklebolt

Minister of Magic


*

As the contents of the letter became visible Pansy grew still. She didn’t know what this meant for her— yes, the Ministry no longer had free access to her house; yes, she was free to leave the manor now; yes, she was free to do as she wished, so long as it didn’t break the new Ministry laws, but she didn’t know if she wanted to. The sudden freedom felt wrong and Pansy felt vulnerable, as though someone had crushed her protective shell.

Inside the manor she was safe, protected from the world. Outside, she was alone, no longer powerful or a part of the reigning class.

“What did it say?” Pansy felt her heart jump as she realized that her mother had left her seat and come around behind her. Her voice faint and feeling as though her heart was lodged permanently in her throat, Pansy attempted to answer her mother.

“I have—I mean, it says that we have been released from house arrest.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful news, dear! This is so exciting! I can finally visit your father—it’s been so lonely without him.”

“Yes, Mother.” Pansy watched as her mother began a running list of all the things she couldn’t wait to do and wondered if something was wrong with her—why else wouldn’t she be excited about her release from house arrest?

“This means that you can visit Draco!” For the second time that breakfast, Pansy felt herself still. Her mother knew about her feelings? Pansy felt stupid—how could she have not? She hadn’t been subtle before the war’s end; there had been no need to be. Of course her mother would have picked up on it; Pansy was expected to marry well and romantic feelings would have been an important factor while negotiating marriages between their families.

Those negotiations had been stopped, unfortunately, with the imprisonment of her father.

Pansy hadn’t thought that she was now able to visit Draco—but was he allowed visitors? This matter would require more thought; she didn’t know if she felt ready to see him. She nodded absently and her mother seemed satisfied, bustling out of the room. Pansy could hear her commanding a house elf to bring her purse to her —she was going shopping!

Still feeling a little hungry, Pansy decided to finish her breakfast before she made any other decisions. Another advantage of staying in the manor was the good cooking…

*

After she finished breakfast, Pansy sat on her bed for a long time, trying to make sense of her whirling thoughts. She hadn’t expected the Ministry to rescind the house arrest though logically she knew that they would have had to do that eventually if they were unable to find the necessary evidence to arrest them.

At least they had had the decency to inform them via letter—Pansy could still remember the shame she had felt when she had learned the results of her father’s trial before the Wizengamot from the front page article of the Daily Prophet. That was the day that Britain’s Wizarding society had had their reasons to hate her family confirmed by the highest branch of justice in their government. That day Pansy had been almost glad that the Ministry had forbidden any and all communication with the outer world for Pansy knew that it was only their wards that had protected her and her mother from an onslaught of hate mail.

At the moment, though, Pansy wasn’t thinking about society’s reaction. She was still trying to figure out her own.

She wasn’t ready; she felt unprepared to face Wizarding society. She knew that it would be very different from the one she had lived in before her confinement to her manor. On the other hand, this was her chance to see Draco, after months of separation. This was her chance to confess her feelings, for him to confess his. It was the perfect moment—what if she messed it up?

“You’re acting like an airhead. You’re finally given the chance to leave your manor after how long and instead you’re lying on your bed, like you’ve done for the past fifteen months.” Pansy was roughly torn out of her thoughts by her reflection, who was staring at her with a look of disgust. “It doesn’t matter if you go to see Draco today or not, but for the love of Merlin, you must get out of the manor today. If you don’t show your face, you’ll be painted as a coward.”

Pansy wanted to object that perhaps the public wasn’t aware of her freedom yet but her reflection overrode her. “Are you actually the kind of person who could be so influenced by the public’s opinion? Have you changed so much within the past year? The girl I saw in the mirror each day at Hogwarts would have taken the hippogriff by the feathers without flinching. Are you too weak now? Too scared?”

“It’s not them that I’m worried about. I just don’t feel…” But Pansy wasn’t quite sure what she felt. “I don’t feel ready.”

“No one ever truly believes that they are—you just have to keep on going. Pansy, I can honestly tell you that there is no better opportunity to regain your place in society. If you don’t go today, I don’t know if you ever will. You’ll probably keep convincing yourself that ‘You don’t feel ready’ or that ‘It’s not a good time’. It’s never a good time—you’ll just have to make the best of it.”

Pansy studied her reflection, looking for signs of deception. Unable to find any, she glanced towards her wardrobe where the large box filled with her letters to Draco was stored. “I suppose… And I could always use some new robes…”

At least the manor would only be an apparation away if things went sour.

*

The sun was brighter than it ever was inside the manor, having been filtered through old, thick windows and past protective wards. The air was thick with warmth and humidity and Pansy cast a cooling charm on herself. The charm didn’t roll off her tongue and Pansy struggled to remember it for it had been so long since she had had cause to use it. The temperature of the manor was monitored and changed daily to ensure that it was comfortable and at Hogwarts the only problem had been with the coldness inside the stone walls—the fire had only ever raised the temperature to tolerable levels. She had only ever had to use the charm during the summers when she was outside, a place she hadn’t been able to visit in over a year.

Pansy smiled briefly as she remembered Draco’s constant complaints during the heart of the winter—he hated to wear layers of clothing as he said it made him appear bulky and it was unflattering. Unfortunately his complaints had never resulted in a remarkable improvement in the castle’s temperature and they had had to continue to suffer the cold.

About halfway down the path that led to the gate that separated her family from the rest of the world Pansy remembered that she could have used the floo. Cursing, Pansy turned around to return to the manor (after all, floo was an easier method of reaching Diagon Alley) before deciding the return trip wasn’t worth the effort and continuing down the gravelly path.

Her shoe caught a pebble and sent it skittering down the path ahead of her. Pansy grimaced and stooped to inspect her shoe for damage. Luckily for the house elves its condition was still as pristine as when she had stepped out of the house just twenty minutes before.
Though her yard had never before seemed so large, Pansy eventually reached the gate where the anti-apparition wards would end. Her hand, however, didn’t immediately reach to unlock the gate. If she opened the gate and stepped through, she would once again be entering the swirling mass that was Wizarding society. This time, though, she would not have the protection of her status. She would be, to everyone else, a commoner, just like them.

She would be one of them.

The gate had never seemed so forbidding before, nor had the rolling green meadows just beyond it seemed so sinister. Were there reporters hidden in the grass, just waiting to pounce and feed on her humiliation?

But she steeled herself and walked through the gates, knowing that if her father was in her place he wouldn’t have hesitated at all. He would have been out there as soon as he was able, repairing their station in society. He would have been a one-man force. However, he wasn’t available to fulfill that role, locked away in Azkaban as he was. The least she could do for him was purchase new robes.

Certain in her thoughts, Pansy pictured the Diagon Alley of her youth and apparated.

After so many years of side-along apparition, the nausea that was a common side-effect hardly bothered her and she was prepared to start her day in the Alley very soon after landing. The place she opened her eyes to was different than what she remembered and it threw her for a loop.

Though it had been over a year since the end of the war several stores were still boarded up and abandoned, their owners either dead or unable to pay the large amount of money necessary to repair it. Even those that were open looked worse for wear, as though they still hadn’t been able to shake the atmosphere of the war.

The people who wandered the streets were different as well. Pansy took note of their rushed pace—very few people were walking leisurely—and the way their eyes still scanned the shadows for danger. They looked to be very methodical, entering a store to purchase only what was on their list before leaving, sights already set on the next shop. They didn’t interact with others, like Pansy remembered from her childhood, and the Alley wasn’t as bright and cheerful as it had been in years past.

The brightest spot in the Alley was still Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes, though, and children’s laughter echoed from beyond its open doors. Still as resilient as ever, Pansy thought nastily as she passed their shop, Those who deserve to be punished always are. So happy, while my father is locked away for the rest of his life.

The Weasel and Weaslette, as Draco had affectionately called them, had adorned the pages of the Daily Prophet for months after the final battle. They had been praised and gifted with credit for the success of the “Light” side, alongside Potter and the Mudblood. They hadn’t suffered, they hadn’t died.

Pansy shifted her gaze and her thoughts towards her destination, Golden Stitches. It was a high-class robe shop that catered specifically to witches. Their fabrics were the finest in England and their tailoring skills beyond compare. No one had ever complained about a crooked stitch or a needle jab during their fitting sessions. All the pureblood ladies Pansy had met had called it their favourite store and her mother had been going there for years. She hoped that its quality hadn’t been tainted by the changes after the war.

It was as she neared the shop that she noticed the attention being paid to her. Somehow, at some point during her journey through the Alley, someone had recognized her. They knew that she was Pansy Parkinson, pureblood, with a Death Eater for a father. This normally wouldn’t have bothered her (after all, before she hadn’t had to worry about the reversal in societal status) but the interest wasn’t friendly.

She could feel eyes watching her, scrutinizing her movement for something that they could twist and sell to the papers. She had seen the articles in the Daily Prophet about the blood supremacists who had accidentally forgotten their new place in society and called the mudbloods mudbloods—their names had been immediately dragged through the mud and in the majority of the cases the poor fools had been sentenced to Azkaban. The purebloods were society’s newest favourite scapegoat.

Their gazes weren’t friendly but Pansy ignored them, confident in the knowledge that she had just as much right, if not more, to be there in the Alley alongside them. Their opinions of her didn’t matter at the moment; Pansy was sure that their opinions didn’t matter at all.

It was only when they started muttering-

Pureblood scum.

-and started to hurl words at her that Pansy remembered her uncertainty.

You belong in a cell next to your father!

The world opened up in front of her, a large cruel space filled with angry and ugly strangers who hated her and all that she stood for. Pansy wished that she was back within the safety of her manor, where she was still respected, where no one dared to insult her. It was pleasant there.

Muck of society. Scraped the bottom of the barrel for her, they did.

Pansy felt her desire to visit Golden Stitches crumbling with each dirty glare, with each muttered slur. Some even dared to shove her and trip her and there was no one there who would come to her aid. They all hated her.

Ugly. Should have died.

It was the final straw when she turned the corner onto a mostly empty alley (how she sighed internally at the sight) to see that Golden Stitches had a sign on its window stating that it was closed for renovations. Looking through the glass Pansy was able to see that there was newer merchandise on the hangers and there were several needles and an arrangement of thread on the counter. Pansy was unable to glean what they were renovating but the fact remained that they were closed. The sign didn’t say when the store would reopen.

When she apparated back to her manor in defeat she was sure that she could hear the mocking laughter of the strangers in Diagon Alley.

She hadn’t truly wanted a new robe anyhow.


A/N: I'd like to thank you for reading and reviewing this far. I just wanted to let you know that I'll be very busy in the upcoming weeks and won't have as much time to write, meaning that there may be a longer time between updates.

Chapter 6: Distraught
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No one visited her and she visited no one.

No one flooed to the manor or owled her, asking to talk. All of her old friends had disappeared, moving on with their lives as she had been suffering through hers.

Blaise was no longer in England, having moved to a different country a long time ago when the war had started to become heated. His mother had had no desire to risk her fortune and Blaise was no risk-taker—they had both found it safer and easier to remain neutral, far away from the battle lines. He hadn’t told her where he was going—it was typical of him and in agreement with the atmosphere during the war: the less a person knew of you, the less able they were to betray you. He hadn’t owled her after the end of the war and she wasn’t concerned. She didn’t know what she would do if he started communicating with her now—she would probably ignore the owls.

Daphne, too, had exited from her life. She was content with the company of males and deep in the pureblood rituals of courtship. She had no time now for Pansy and since they hadn’t been too close at Hogwarts anyways, Pansy wasn’t troubled when Daphne didn’t floo her to tell her of her successes in with her suitors. She didn’t think that she would have been able to stomach the romantic triumphs of another when her own love life was so pitiful.

Though she wrote him long letters and owled him gifts, Draco never responded and the packages returned unopened. If she had to guess, she would say that he never opened the letters either, but she didn’t want to guess.

After attempting to reach Draco through the floo at Malfoy Manor several times, Narcissa kindly told her that perhaps it would be better if she didn’t try again.

She didn’t stop with her attempts, though.

She just stopped flooing.

Pansy didn’t leave the manor often anymore, even though she was now allowed to. Instead, she preferred to spend her time drafting letters, watching the letters flow from her fancy peacock quill onto the thick parchment. She only ever stopped when the tip of her quill broke, and then it was to send a house elf out to purchase more.

The house elves did the rest of the purchases for the manor as well. Pansy didn’t think that she would react well to the sight of half-bloods, mudbloods and blood-traitors going about their business as if their lives had never been threatened by the greatest Dark Lord of all time. Her last visit had been disastrous enough without any more provoking behaviour being heaped upon her.

She wanted to bit her tongue in half when her mind whispered that he wasn’t so great if he was able to be beaten by a seventeen-year-old, muggle-raised boy.

Her mother left her own, preferring to arrange visits to with Pansy’s father in Azkaban and visit craft stores. She had told Pansy giddily over dinner one evening that she once again had taken up knitting, a craft that she had enjoyed as child. Pansy had sneered without saying a word and her mother had blushed.

She hadn’t broached the topic with her again and Pansy could only be thankful that she hadn’t tried to gift her with any of her creations, like she knew Molly Weasley had once done with her own children.

But though weeks and months and years passed, Pansy felt no need to find her new place in Wizarding society, a world that felt alien to her. She was dedicated, plodding along slowly, trying desperately to cling to the remnants of her past.

It was one such part of her old life that kick-started her new one.

*

Pansy was startled when the house elf apparated into the library with a loud crack and her quill made a jagged journey across the parchment. She cursed, before cursing again upon realizing what words had slipped through her lips. Apparently cursing had become a habit without her knowledge or consent. Lacking the constant companionship she had grown used to during her years at Hogwarts, she hadn’t felt the need to check her vocabulary—a fact her father wouldn’t be pleased about. Cursing was for the peasants; for those without a rich enough vocabulary to learn alternate words.

“Mistress Parkinson, a Mister Draco Malfoy requests to see you.” The house elf fidgeted—this was an unusual occurrence and it wasn’t sure what reaction to expect.

Pansy closed her eyes and breathed deeply—if her eyes were open they would surely fall onto the letter she had been writing to Draco, pleading with him to talk to her. It was undignified and she knew that it would be burned to allow for no possibility for it to fall into the wrong hands, but it still pained her that she could be so dependent on another person. That was not how a Parkinson should act.

Touching the edge of the parchment with her wand, she vaporized the letter before turning towards the elf. It was unfamiliar but bore the familiar Parkinson crest on a crisp corner of its pillowcase.

“Please inform Draco-” she was pleased that her voice didn’t waver over his name, “that I will be down shortly to meet him.”

Her actions overly formal, she rose stiffly and walked past the elf towards her room. If her long-absent Draco was here, she needed to be wearing something better than the old robes she had put on that morning.

She was startled and slightly ashamed that her wardrobe’s contents were several years out of fashion. Pansy decided that she would visit the shops soon, but there was no time at the moment to send out for a new robe. She settled finally on an old green robe that Draco had complemented on numerous occasions. It was a little tight, but she doubted Draco would notice.

She paused before her mirror. “What do you think?”

“I think that he’s waiting for you and that you should go to him—good luck!” Pansy smiled at her reflection and took a deep breath, smoothing her robe, before walking towards the flooing room and Draco.

She was pleased that the elves had guided Draco to their parlour just a short distance from the flooing room. They, at least, weren’t too out of practice with the concept of guests.

His back was to her when she entered but he quickly turned at the sound of her entrance. He had been looking out the window at their gardens coated with freshly fallen snow, not yet tainted with human footsteps, and the pale sunlight of winter haloed his hair. The rest of him, however, was less angelic.

Draco’s smile was pained, his skin pulled tight around the corners of his mouth, and shadows gathered under his eyes as though he had been losing sleep. Pansy didn’t know of anything that would be troubling him; the newspapers had been quiet of late and her mother had communicated no trouble. Indeed, her mother had said that he was doing better of late, though she cast odd glances at Pansy when she thought her daughter wasn’t looking.

She gestured faintly at the chairs spread tastefully throughout the room and felt slightly ill when he waited until after she had chosen her seat to sit himself and then sat opposite her instead of beside her on the couch. She had chosen the couch so that he would be able to sit next her… For him to ignore that option meant something that she hadn’t wanted to consider.

He didn’t like her anymore.

“Pansy,” his voice was strong but practiced, as though he had rehearsed before a mirror before coming here. Pansy felt protests bubbling in her throat; she wanted to ask him to stop, to leave, so that she didn’t have to hear the words that would break her. A single, strange sound emerged from her throat and Draco looked at her oddly before continuing.

“Pansy, I think that you have some false perceptions of our- relationship- that I would like to relieve you of.” Pansy wanted to shake her head, plead with him not to continue, but Draco plowed on. “I harbor no romantic feelings for you. I haven’t for years. I’m sorry if you believed otherwise but I have tried not to lead you on.”

Pansy felt like crying but she wouldn’t. It would only make it worse for herself and more awkward for Draco, since she had never before cried in his presence. She rapidly blinked but his next words caused her heart to stop.

“Pansy, I’m in love with someone else. I’ve proposed to her and I’m going to marry her.”

“I’m no fool, Draco, I know what proposing means.” Her heart was hammering now, so fast and loud that she was sure Draco could hear it from his seat across from her. She didn’t know quite what she was feeling at that moment, only that her feelings were swirling, crashing together into one big mess. She felt flashes of anger towards Draco, spurts of shame at her own actions over the past few years (writing him letters almost daily—how embarrassing!) but no emotion dominated. She just wanted him to leave so that she would have time to sort out her emotions.

“She’s Daphne’s sister. Astoria Greengrass.”

Pansy didn’t know what he was hoping to accomplish with that statement but her temper flared. Little Astoria, Daphne’s precious little sister, had stolen Draco’s heart! She wanted to blurt out crass words; she wanted to call Draco a cold, unfeeling person and Astoria a man-stealer but she restrained herself. She would not further shame her family with her actions.

She looked down at her hands, folded primly in the puddle of her robes between her thighs, and calmly asked Draco to leave. She didn’t watch as he left the room and found his way back to the flooing room.

She needed time to think.

*

She decided, after careful deliberation, that she would allow herself one night to wallow in her misery before she proved, to both herself and Draco, that she didn’t need him in her life.

In preparation for her evening of despair she asked the house elves for a bottle of red wine—the colour of love, of blood, of anger—and triple-checked herself for spying spells that the Ministry or the reporters that still haunted the edges of her property might have cast on her. It would be the cherry on top of her cake of misery if the papers displayed her failure on its front page. She avoided food so that her ability to become thoroughly drunk would not be hindered and, once night fell, hid herself away in her chambers.

It was only after she had locked the door and warded her room against entry that she uncorked the bottle and poured it in the tall glass that the house elves had left for her. The wine curled into the glass, spinning and bubbling as it failed to escape the boundaries of the deceptively clear cup. Pansy sympathized with its plight.

It was awful to be trapped unknowingly for the shock was even worse when you learned that you couldn’t escape. Pansy had felt that deep-seated panic for the first time the day after Harry Potter had ended the war, when she had been unable to leave her manor at will. She had successfully avoided experiencing those emotions again by refusing to leave the manor even after her house arrest had been lifted.

If she expected nothing, then she couldn’t be disappointed.
But now it had found her again, where she had thought she would be safe. It had crept up behind her and bite into the strongest thing she had ever felt, killing it instantly. Draco had allowed no room to maneuver, given her no chance to plead her case. He was engaged, he did not return her feelings and there was nothing she could do about it.

Pansy sipped the wine, savouring its taste as she played with it, coating every corner of her mouth with it. It slipped smoothly, easily, down her throat and she smiled before taking another drink.

It wasn’t too long before she was questioning Draco’s choice in women. She didn’t know why Draco had chosen Astoria instead of Daphne, instead of her. When had he met her? When had he had the time to fall in love with her?

A part of her whispered that it could have occurred while she had refused to leave the manor but it was small enough that Pansy could easily ignore it.

“I sent him letters, didn’t I? I gave him gifts!” Pansy didn’t know who she was arguing with but she felt the need to convince them of her side of the story. Her reflection had yet to make an appearance that evening. “He was the one who didn’t make the effort…”

There was a pause as Pansy struggled to find the next point in her argument.

“She’s not even that pretty.” To emphasize her point she waved her glass, absently admiring the way her ball of light altered the look of the red wine. The deeper red resembled the colours of the robe she had worn to the Yule ball that she had attended with Draco.

Another sip.

“I mean, Draco never said that I was ugly or anything and he used to say that those insults I heard stemmed from jealousy…” Another sip. “I don’t have a nose like a pug. I don’t.”

Pansy felt a tear slide down her nose and blinked rapidly. He wasn’t worth crying over, he wasn’t. But a small part of her that she hoped stemmed from the alcohol disagreed and said that there was no shame in crying.

Pansy knew that Draco wasn’t alone, crying in his chamber behind locked doors. “Most likely with Astoria. Pffft.” Her wine glass wobbled as her attention focused on the depressing direction of her thoughts and tipped, spilling the crimson liquid on her nightgown.

“Blood of a horse’s feather!” She tried to mop up the spill with her sleeve but only succeeded in spreading the stain to other parts of her nightgown—she had forgotten that she still held her wine in her hands and had spilt even more of the liquid. She didn’t want to risk using her wand—she was mentally aware enough to realize that she did not have the proper mental capabilities to safely cast spells. She would probably cast fire to herself in her current state.

Finally she decided to purchase a new nightgown. It was past time that she updated her wardrobe anyways.

“Who needs him anyways?” Pansy imagined that the person across from her was nodding their head in agreement. Another sip. “I mean, I went how long without contact from him?” The person tactfully didn’t mention that Pansy had spent that time writing him letters and sending him gifts. Pansy smiled, grateful.

There was a long moment of silence as Pansy struggled to regain the thread of the conversation. The longs shadows cast by intriguing ball of light that was floating above her head were intriguing. They were intense and Pansy watched as they merged into shapes similar to the human body and joined her person in sitting across from her.

Pansy liked having an audience.

“You know who else I haven’t seen in a while?” Her voice was twisting in unfamiliar ways, dipping in pitch before rising just as suddenly. She didn’t like the way it was trying to confuse her. “My father. I bet he would like a visit from me.” Her wine glass clinked her on the head and she took a brief moment to scold it.

“My father would like a visit from me, I know it!” Pansy could see that her audience was in agreement with her statement. “He could help me with my problem!”

Pansy wasn’t quite certain what her problem was, exactly, anymore.
“What do you think?” As Pansy listened to their opinions she drank her wine. She wasn’t quite certain why one of the shadowy figures, the short one, made a comment about the handsomeness of pugs but she appreciated it.

Pugs were magnificent creatures, she was sure of it. It was too bad she hadn’t ever met one… The more she thought about it, the more she was thought it would be a fantastic idea to own pug, whatever it turned out to be. Maybe it was a smashing new dress. She could always use another one of those. She would ask her mother for one in the morning.

All too soon there was no more wine left in the bottle for her to fill her glass with so Pansy reluctantly said goodbye to her shadows and the person whose name she didn’t know and climbed into bed.

She went to sleep that night with two certainties:

She would visit Azkaban tomorrow and she was buying herself a pug.

Chapter 7: Azkaban
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Pansy was waiting for the house elf to reappear with her travelling cloak when her mother found her, a look of excitement on her face. Though a hangover potion had gotten rid of the raging headache she had woken up with, she wasn’t in the mood to deal with her mother.

“Oh Pansy, dear, I heard that a certain person has visited the Manor recently—do you have anything to announce?” Her mother was not so subtly eyeing Pansy’s bare hand, which Pansy hid in the folds of her robes. Her every action said that she believed herself to be “in” on a juicy secret—the joyous twinkle in her eyes, the forward lean of her body and the shuffling from foot to foot. Pansy thought that at that moment her mother was playing the part of a pubescent teenager better than she was.

“No, Mother, I do not.” Pansy wished that the house elf would hurry up and return with her travelling cloak. She had no desire to continue this conversation with her mother. Luckily, her mother hadn’t had time to decide whether Pansy was lying to her or her beliefs were wrong before Pansy’s cloak arrived. Unfortunately it provided a new topic of conversation, one that her mother immediately seized.

“Where are you going, dear?” Her mother watched Pansy allow the house elf to secure the cloak as though she had never seen it occur before.

“I’m visiting Father in Azkaban.” Pansy’s response was brief, as she was anxious to leave this house and her mother behind. She was worried that if she allowed herself to dally at the manor long enough her nerve would fail. She slipped past her mother, hoping that the hint would be obvious to her, and moved towards the door leading to the outside world. She wondered how much had changed during her imprisonment and self-imposed isolation in the manor—a visit to Diagon Alley was another thing that she needed to do.

“We should go together!” Her mother looked excited at the thought of a mother-daughter trip to Azkaban but Pansy never looked back. She pulled open the heavy door and stepped outside, marveling in the feel of the wind on her face. Unfortunately the sun was too weak for her to feel its heat on her skin but she was aware of its brightness. She didn’t know when the last time she had experienced its light without a glass barrier between them was, but it didn’t matter. What mattered now was the present.

*

Though she had never visited Azkaban before she had been well informed of its atmosphere. Dark and oppressive, it sucked all the positivity from your mind the moment you stepped foot on the island. It was the prison all criminals dreaded, for it was there that you went insane and forgot your reasons for living, your goals in life.

It was the prison that broke you into tiny pieces to ensure that you would no longer be a threat to Wizarding society.

It was the place that housed her father, alongside the other Death Eaters from the war. And though no one openly disagreed with the statement that they were inhuman creatures that deserved no mercy, the Dementors had been one of the first changes the new Minister had made after the Dark Lord’s downfall.

He had argued that the Dementors had escaped from the Ministry’s control before and allowed dozens of previously imprisoned Death Eaters to escape, that there was no certainty that they would be able to control the beasts now. His only opposition had come from traditionalists, who could see no other way to guard the prisoners, but they hadn’t held much sway in the after-war atmosphere.

His biggest setback had been in figuring out a new method for ensuring the security of the Britain’s Wizarding prison and once he had ironed out that wrinkle the path to revolutionizing Azkaban had been smooth.

The end result hadn’t been too different, though. The powerful anti-magic wards that the Department of Mysteries had created blocked a wizard or witch’s access to their magic unless they were keyed into the wards, which very few were. And witches and wizards, as a rule, didn’t like being separated from their magic. It was an integral part of their being and when it was missing it felt as though they were lacking an arm or a leg. They could feel its absence with every beat of their heart, with every thought in their brain. Those who visited Azkaban dreaded doing so because Ministry procedure did not allow them to be keyed into the wards. Those who were prisoners in Azkaban were slowly driven insane by their magic’s absence.

Her father didn’t look the same. In fact, if the guard who had accompanied her through Azkaban hadn’t told her, without any room for doubt, that this shell of a man before her was her father, Pansy would have believed that she had walked into the wrong cell.

The man before her was ungroomed, something that her father had never failed to be. He was far from clean-shaven, something that he said that every respectable man was. She had never seen him with facial hair and she didn’t like the look of the bristly, jagged spikes of hair that his beard was composed of. It conjured up images of dirty, homeless men, of filthy muggles and wizards filled with unclean blood, the bitter opposites of the man her father used to be.

His cell was in a similar state of squalor—there was little protection from the elements in Azkaban and the snow that had seemed so fresh and pure in her gardens had turned to muddy slush that soaked through her father’s robes. The splendor of the soft furniture he had once enjoyed was replaced by loneliness of a single metal bed topped by a parchment-thin mattress—Pansy could see bruises on his body that she assumed were caused by the unforgiving nature of his sleeping circumstances.

There were no windows and even if there were they would only show other prisoners in their cells. Her father’s cell was hidden deep within the compound—all the “dangerous” criminals were held there so as to make escape more difficult on the off chance that they were break out of their cell. On her way there she had passed the shadows of the men who had once frequented her families’ balls and she had found it difficult to reconcile their present images with their past.

Her father deserved much better than to be treated like a commoner but she was in no position to demand anything from the Ministry. Not with the current state of her family’s reputation.

“Father,” she began and had to stop. She glanced behind her, towards the guard, and was relieved to see that he had his back to them. She had the semblance of privacy, at the very least.

“Father, I wish to speak with you.” Pansy had never spoken with her mother regarding her visits to Azkaban but she had assumed that her father had communicated with her. Why else would her mother have continued to visit her husband? An unresponsive man, no better than a shell, was not a person Pansy would fancy spending long periods of time with and yet her mother had continued to return to Azkaban, her visits extending for hours. Was her father angry that she hadn’t visited him before this? She hoped not, for she was not in possession of a suitable explanation for her actions.

“It is important.” Her father’s eyes showed no recognition and his fingers didn’t stop picking at the hem of his uniform. Pansy couldn’t help thinking that her father would never have played with his clothing before this—he would have considered it beneath him, a commoner’s habit. He had always looked down on those who couldn’t control themselves in front of others, telling her that if you weren’t capable of respecting the expectations of society then you weren’t fit to participate in it.

“I am going to restore our reputation, Father. I am going to make us respected again. I had hoped that you would impart some words of wisdom.” Pansy paused, hoping that her father would respond to her statement, even if it was just a blink of his eye. Something to show that he was listening, something to show that her visit here hadn’t been in vain.

“I can see that this isn’t a convenient time for you. Very well, I shall try to come back later, when you aren’t as busy.” Pansy knew, though, that she wouldn’t be returning. Her father couldn’t offer her anything, not in the state he was in. She was going to have to rely on herself.

“Goodbye, Father. Until we meet again.” She stood from where she had been crouching close to the shell that was her father and brushed her robes, even though she was certain that they hadn’t been dirtied by the filth of Azkaban.

“I’m ready to go.” She didn’t know the guard’s name; he hadn’t offered it and she hadn’t asked. To ask would have put her at a disadvantage during the short time they had been together and it was a fact that she was able to do without.

He nodded and she followed him back through the labyrinth that was Azkaban, certain that she would have been lost without his presence. She ignored the reminders that still littered the path back to gate of the lost cause, even though the war had ended years earlier.

It wasn’t too long before they reached the exit and she was reunited with her wand. She clutched it, grateful to once again hold it in her hand, and curtly thanked the guard. He nodded and gave her a small smile that she returned.

She apparated home, already making plans for the weeks to come.

It was most likely too late for her father but it wasn’t too late for her and her mother. Not yet. And if Pansy had anything to do with it, not ever.

The Parkinsons would once again be held in high esteem in Wizarding society, even if it killed her to make it so.

*

The first thing Pansy did after shaking herself out of the Azkaban-induced misery, was decide that she needed to figure out what the second step in her plan should be. Though her father, having been unable to produce a male heir, had tutored her in the skills required of his successor they had both expected that she would marry a man who would carry out those duties for her. There was, however, no suitable male candidate on the horizon at the moment so she was on her own.

She knew that if her father was in her position he would have immediately inspected their finances since he was already aware of their social position. As much as the poor like to deny it, money went hand in hand with power and status in civilized societies and, though anyone well-versed in politics would be loath to admit, wealth was a key component in popularity campaigns.

With her father in jail there was no one monitoring their investments or the flow of money to and from their vault, save for the goblins. Pansy was well aware that the beasts, though they claimed they were neutral in all Wizarding affairs, were quite capable of holding a grudge and didn’t trust them to manage their accounts without bias. Perhaps one day they might simply neglect to inform them of an important change made to their account and if Pansy wasn’t watching they could be financially ruined.

She wouldn’t allow that to happen.

Taking a sheet of parchment from the stack in the library Pansy carefully penned a letter to their vault manager at Gringotts, an old goblin by the name of Tebak. He had been managing their vault since her grandfather’s days but Pansy’s father hadn’t deemed him trustworthy and so she wouldn’t as well. If anything, his great age meant that he would soon die and be replaced by a younger and even more foolish goblin.

Words flowed smoothly onto the parchment and Pansy’s practiced hand didn’t need to be reminded to hold the quill in such a manner that it barely skimmed the page or to form her letters uniformly. Years of practice had rendered her writing even and beautiful (if you can describe calligraphy in such a way) in ways that the writing those without the proper training weren’t. Pansy had seen the scrawl some people called writing and had had to refrain from sneering at the poor quality.

It wasn’t long before Pansy was watching the letter disappear into the sunset and being summoned by Milly to eat dinner.

Her mother was quiet during dinner and, to Pansy’s surprise and great relief, abstained from annoying Pansy with questions about her trip to Azkaban. The dinner was quiet, the only sound coming from the scrape of cutlery on plate, and Pansy was soon free to leave to the welcome solitude in her bedroom.

She was close to half-way up the stairway when her mother’s voice made her pause.

“Di-did he talk to you?” Her mother’s face was hidden in the shadows but her hands were visible and Pansy watched as her fingers twisted worriedly.

“No.” The word seemed to echo in the large hall and Pansy saw her mother flinch. She looked as though she was going to say something more, perhaps ask another question, but her nerve failed her. The hand that she had begun to raise fell back to her side and hung there limply.

Pansy watched her mother carefully, looking for signs that her mother would speak again, but failed to find any. Still, she thought it would be rude for her to leave her mother standing there at the foot of the stairs and resigned herself to waiting, hoping that her mother would soon understand that she was not wanted.

As her mother stood there, timid as a mouse, Pansy admired the contrast between her pale hand and the polished, dark wood of the staircase. She could remember the many times her father had proudly displayed this staircase, using it as a conversation starter while his guests’ coats were being taken by the house elves.

“Do you see the way the light gleams when it touches the wood? It will never show a single crack—this staircase has been in my family for generations and it has never needed to be repaired. Not a single scratch—that’s quality.”

From the dining room Pansy could hear the faint clinking sounds as the elves cleared away the dishes. She knew that if she was to return to the room the table would once again be pristine, an emblem of the properness of pureblood society. It was too bad that that decorum and politeness was now frowned upon, that the furniture that had stood proudly in pureblood manors for centuries was being sold for half of its value.

The sounds seemed to jolt her mother from her thoughts and Pansy looked on as her mother tried to put herself back together from whatever swirling mud her mind had sunk into. She allowed herself to continue to climb the staircase when her mother decided to do so as well, following the same path her daughter had taken minutes earlier.

Not another word was exchanged and they silently turned in opposite directions at the top of the staircase, heading to their separate chambers in the manor.

They wouldn’t see another being until the next morning at breakfast, isolated as they were.

She didn’t open the drawer of her bedside table that night and in her drunken state of mind had forgotten to the night before. It was hard to sleep without the scent she had long associated with security and comfort but she managed. The next morning she ordered a house elf to ward it against entry and breathed a little easier with the knowledge that the flasks were beyond her reach.

If Draco had chosen someone else, then it was his loss. She had a new goal, something that she could focus her all attention on.

Her family’s reputation wasn’t something to toy with and she was determined to repair the damage the war had done to it. Nothing would stand in her way and when she was done the name ‘Parkinson’ wouldn’t be immediately associated with pureblood scum.

The contents of the drawer eventually faded from her mind as time passed and other things occupied her attention. She slowly forgot what it was like to fall asleep with her nose and mind filled with Draco’s scent and stopped relating each of her possessions back to Draco. Her days were spent figuring out methods by which to achieve her goals and then carrying out those steps.

In short, she had more important things on her mind than Draco and she grew to like that.

A/N: Sorry for the longer wait between updates- real life was taking up a lot of my time for a while there and I didn't have as much time to write. Thanks for your patience!

Chapter 8: Preparations
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Her owl returned from Gringotts early the next morning, interrupting Pansy as she prepared for the day. It swooped in through the window a house elf had opened that morning (”The morning breeze be pleasing, Mistress Parkinson”) and settled itself on her bedpost. Pansy winced as she saw its sharp claws dig into the old wood and decided that she would have a strict word with the house elves about allowing owls to fly willy-nilly around the manor—who knows what other damage it may have caused before it found its way to her?

She was tempted to hex the owl, upset as she was that yet another thing from her past had been damaged, unable to return to its former glory, but refrained, knowing that the owl would have further use in the future.

She paused in dressing herself, knowing that the contents of the letter the owl carried could change all her plans for that day and consequently her choice in clothing.

Fingers sure and strong Pansy peeled the Gringotts seal away and unfolded the letter. Its contents were everything she had hoped they would be.

*

Dear Miss Pansy Parkinson,

Your request to see the financial statements for the Parkinson family vault has been approved with the consideration that since the current Head of House has been convicted of crimes to society and sentenced to Azkaban you have been named heiress and given full access to the financial matters of your House.

In light of your request a meeting has been scheduled for two o’clock this afternoon. You must bring identification and be prepared to submit your wand for examination.

May your vaults always shine with gold,

Tebak


*

Her breath felt stuck in her throat as she let the letter float down onto her blankets. She had hoped Gringotts would respond quickly but she hadn’t expected them to so soon. It stunned her to think that by as early as twenty past two this afternoon she would have the information she needed to properly plan her future and with it, the future of the entire Parkinson legacy.

Would there be money to spare or would the coffers be almost bare? Pansy tried to calculate the sums of money the house elves had spent on food, the amounts her mother had spent on frivolous pastimes, but math had never been her strong suit. Draco had always said—

Pansy stopped her thoughts before they centered on the many moments she had shared with Draco and called for a house elf to bring her parchment and a quill. Though there was usually a spare sheet of parchment in her room Pansy had taken to storing all her writing supplies in the library in a bid to ensure that she would at least leave her chambers, if not the manor.

It wasn’t long before Pansy was at her desk, trying to compose a response to Gringotts calmly, but it was impossible. Her hands shook and her frustration grew as it affected her writing. The jagged creases that interrupted the usually smooth course of her letters were obvious to her, however minute they were in reality, but she was unable to stop her hand’s trembling.

She crumpled the letter, the not-yet dry ink staining her hands, and threw it on the floor. Even as she incinerated it she wished for her father’s patience. She had never known him to become frantic or rushed—it had appeared to her that he was prepared for everything that the world could throw at him.

Everything, it seemed, except for the Dark Lord’s demise.

Pansy sighed and, brushing a stray strand of hair from her face, once again called for a house elf to fetch parchment. This time as she wrote she focused solely on the contrast of the black ink on the beige parchment, the curl of the p leading smoothly into slender loop of the l. She ignored all thoughts of the significance of the letter, choosing instead to concentrate on her wording. Her tutor’s voice echoed in her head, reminding her to dot all her is and cross all her ts.

It was in this slow way that Pansy wrote the letter to her satisfaction and signed her name with a flourish. It had taken more time than usual, though, and Pansy wondered briefly if this slow and limiting method of doing things was how Hufflepuffs usually did their work. It would certainly explain why it took them so long to do things.

Blowing air across the lines of ink, Pansy waited for the letter to dry before folding it in three and sealing it with the Parkinson crest. She gestured sharply for the owl, which had stayed remarkably quiet throughout the whole process, and it flew quickly over to her, hovering in the air as she tied the letter around its ankle.

“There will be no response—return to the Owlery after you’ve delivered the letter.” Without waiting to see if the owl had understood Pansy stood and grimaced at the black ink staining her fingers. She couldn’t leave her hands dirty—how would she get anything done?—so she walked the short distance between her desk and the loo. She wasn’t concerned about anyone catching her in her state of undress as no one had access to her rooms and the house elves only entered at her command.

She rejoiced in the sight of the muddied water swirling down the drain and dried her newly pristine hands on the white towel hanging beside the sink. Walking back into her bedroom Pansy began her preparations for her new plan.

First on the list was choosing an outfit—she couldn’t very well visit Gringotts (or even step outside her rooms) while still wearing her nightgown. No—this occasion required class.

As Pansy turned back to her wardrobe, intent on changing into an outfit more appropriate for a visit to Gringotts, a swirl of colour at the edge of her vision caught her eye.

“Going out to buy a puppy, are we?”

Twisting slightly Pansy saw the familiar face of her reflection smirking at her from the mirror. With the owl gone from the room Pansy didn’t bother to cover herself as she walked towards her reflection. “Whatever do you mean?”

She didn’t have a clue what she was talking about—why in Merlin’s name would she be interested in a puppy of all things?

“You did say that you were going to buy one and one should never break one’s word.” Her reflection was looking entirely too smug for Pansy’s comfort and Pansy wondered for the first time if it was a bad thing for her reflection to be so similar to her.

“I don’t know what you mean.” Pansy hoped that her reflection was toying with her—this wasn’t exactly the most convenient of times to try to embarrass her. She had a very appointment in several hours, one that would decide her future course of action.

“Oh surely you remember—you were very impassioned about it several nights ago.” Her reflection’s tone was mocking and her smile was self-assured. “You declared that you would buy a pug if it was the last thing you did.”

All of a sudden Pansy became aware of what had happened. Somehow, in the midst of her drunken ramblings about Draco, she had fallen onto the topic of pugs. Pugs. Through her blurry memories of that night she remembered her bold declarations. But wait just one moment— how did her reflection know that?

“I don’t remember you being there,” she accused. “Why weren’t you there?”

Perhaps, inside, she was a little hurt that her reflection—the one person she could count on to back her to the end—hadn’t held her hand and spurred her insults that night. She had had an audience, that was true, but she would have felt so much more vindicated if her reflection had been there to point out Draco’s other flaws.

She knew that her reflection would have been splendid at tearing Draco verbally to shreds, just like she had been brilliant in her reassurances and confidence-boosting comments before Draco’s startling announcements.

“I was tired,” her reflection said and Pansy looked carefully at her face. She didn’t see any shadows under her eyes or any other indication of sleep deprivation—in fact, her reflection looked perfectly alert and ready to debate.

“Reflections get tired?” she asked suspiciously—perhaps her reflection had simply tired of her and had chosen to ignore her suffering. It was what she would have done in her reflection’s position…

“Of course, though not nearly as often as you. I was almost asleep, too, when your voice kept me awake. You were very loud.” Her reflection looked stern and Pansy was almost tempted to apologize. However, it was her room and she had just had a big shock (she also had been slightly drunk). She felt that her actions were justified and quietly muffled any desire to admit wrongdoing.

Suddenly her reflection smiled, a very friendly and seemingly genuine smile, and it was such a complete change of emotion that Pansy felt very confused. Her reflection opened her mouth to speak and her tone put Pansy in mind of their previous conversations, before she had even though her reflection might attempt to manipulate her.

“What colour are you thinking about getting? I’m partial to those with a black coat—they look so sleek and elegant!” Her reflection’s eyes were pleasant and open, friendly.

Startled by the sudden return to the original topic of conversation, Pansy tried to set herself once again on firm ground. She wouldn’t let anyone push her into a decision she didn’t want to make. To do so would be insulting to the Parkinson name and a step in the wrong direction.

“I hadn’t given it much thought,” Pansy said, a touch haughtily, “but you can rest assured that I will pick one suitable to belong to a Parkinson.”

“I don’t think that those with the lighter coloured fur would look very nice with the manor—it would seem as though we were trying to imitate the Malfoys, something the Parkinsons are definitely better than.”

“That we are, that we are.”

Pansy turned back to her wardrobe in a much better mood. She had known that her reflection would be on her side.

*

Just before leaving the bedroom Pansy paused before her mirror and asked a question, quite seriously. It had been puzzling her throughout the conversation and now that she intended to purchase one, she needed to know.

“Are you sure that you know what a pug is?” Perhaps she could trick the answer out of her reflection.

But the twinkle in her reflection’s eye returned as soon as the last word left her mouth and Pansy knew that she had lost. She just hoped that her reflection wouldn’t tease her about it for too long—she didn’t want to ruin their relationship.

“Of course I know what a pug is. Why—don’t you?” Her reflection’s smile was most definitely a smirk and Pansy tried desperately to save herself.

“Of course! I was just making sure that you did too, so that we were on the same page.”

Her reflection’s smile grew and Pansy knew that she wasn’t going to help her. However, just as she was about to walk through the door, her reflection threw her a bone.

Perhaps she did it because they shared the same goals and the further humiliation of the Parkinson name was not among them. Perhaps she did it because she was kind (hah!). But whatever the reason, Pansy was grateful.

“Have fun at Magical Menagerie!”

*

It was shortly before two o’clock that Pansy left her house to walk down the path separating her manor from rest of the world. Her warm breath created misty clouds in the cold air and Pansy pulled the edges of her cloak tighter around herself. Even with several warming charms and a thick cloak the wintery air managed to slip its cold fingers past her protection and make her shiver.

Pansy had never been fond of winter, preferring instead the heat of summer. Winter meant layers of clothing to reach a fraction of the warmth she possessed easily in the summer; winter meant school and all the work that accompanied it.

Though the unspoiled, snow-covered grounds were pretty they were also colourless and desolate, dull in comparison to the fertile earth they became once the snow melted.

Summer meant relaxation and luxury. No one paid to visit ice-covered islands—their attention was instead brought to sun-warmed sand and the pleasant open waters of the sea.

Draco had been firmly in agreement with her.

Perhaps winter wasn’t so bad after all.

She reached the end of the path and looked at the gates that protected her from the rest of the world. This time she didn’t hesitate before opening the latch and stepping through them—there could be no fear during the restoration of her family’s good name.

Picturing the apparation spot closest to Gringotts (she didn’t want to have to walk longer in the cold than she absolutely had to), she felt her body contort and shrink as it was pulled through space. She landed gracefully and moved out of the way as soon as she felt able—she didn’t want to be accidently trampled by incoming Apparators.

She had rarely visited Diagon Alley during the winter for before Hogwarts her parents had felt that she was too young and during Hogwarts—well, she had been at Hogwarts. It didn’t look too different from how it was during the warmer seasons, save for the dirty snow that coated the streets. Pansy cast a quick charm on her cloak to protect it from the filthy slush.

Locating the shining walls of Gringotts Pansy hurried in its direction, ignoring the small nods of greeting others sent her way. The fantastical shops that lined her path blurred in her vision, so eager (so afraid) was she to get off the street and learn her fate.

She briefly heard the squawk of an owl as the door of the Magical Menagerie opened before the tall frame of a wizard blocked her path.
A hand shot out to grasp her shoulder, stopping her from tumbling backwards into the street. Pansy quickly straightened and shrugged the hand off her shoulder. She wouldn’t have needed any help if the man hadn’t gotten in her way.

“I’m sorry—I didn’t see you,” the man apologized and Pansy wanted to snort. She might even have if they hadn’t been on a public street.

“Obviously not.” Pansy barely glanced at him before trying to get around him. It was getting dangerously close to two o’clock and she really didn’t want to be late for her meeting with Tebak. She didn’t want to give him any reason to believe her irresponsible or ignorant.

“I can see that you’re in a hurry—I’ll just let you go.” The man stepped smoothly to the side, showing Pansy a free path to Gringotts. “I am sorry, though. I had just stopped to get food for my dog, you see—”

But Pansy didn’t see, for she was already climbing the stairs to the entrance of Gringotts. The man sighed and continued on his way, his encounter with Pansy lingering in his thoughts.

Chapter 9: Gringotts
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The first thing Pansy noticed when she stepped through the large doors of Gringotts was the gentle heat of the giant hall. She relished it gratefully and paused for a moment to unwrap her scarf from around her neck and tuck her gloves back into the small bag she had brought along.

Once she had stripped herself of enough of her layers that she wouldn’t melt in the warmth of Gringotts she strode over to the nearest goblin teller and waited impatiently for it to notice her.

The goblin paused in the scritch scritch of its quill across parchment and slowly dropped the tip of the quill into the ink well that stood at the edge of its desk. It then sat forwards, its chest leaning dangerously close to the wet parchment, and watched her closely.

“Yes?” Its tone was gravelly but Pansy had expected it from previous visits with her father.

“I have an appointment with goblin Tebak.” Her voice was strong, but her eyes watched anxiously as the goblin sat back and opened a large binder.

“Name?”

“Pansy Parkinson.” She became stronger, more self-assured, as she spoke her name, for it reminded her once again of why she had come. She was a Parkinson and worth more than all of these beasts together. Her hand didn’t shake as she handed her small identification card to the goblin, careful to avoid its touch.

Its beady black eyes slowly scanned the pages, lifting up scrolls to seek further clarification (or, perhaps more likely in Pansy’s opinion, to slow the process and annoy her) and Pansy watched as its curved fingernail tapped a hole in the wooden desk. It held her identification up to the light, as though it was fake and someone would dare to impersonate her.

She didn’t know anyone who would pretend to be her.

“Ah yes.” The goblin leant even further back in its chair and one of the goblins who had been standing against the wall several meters behind the desk came forward. Her teller whispered something to it in its language that sounds like rocks being crunched against each other, its eyes flickering briefly to her. The goblin nodded and disappeared through the seemingly solid wall.

It seemed that they hadn’t needed her wand after all—Pansy was glad. Her wand was hers, a symbol of her status in the world. Without it she would lose her power, would become, for all purposes, a muggle. She didn’t let anyone touch it if she could help it.

“Please wait.” Pansy wanted to say that she didn’t feel like waiting but was wise enough to simply nod. She stepped back so that she wasn’t quite as close to the goblin and let her eyes wander around the hall. Behind her she could hear the steady scritch scritch of the quill as the goblin resumed its work once again.

There were no signs of damage, no long cracks that climbed the marble walls like vines. The sheets of glass that lined the ceiling, lending a golden light to the floor far below, were whole, without blemishes. There was nothing to suggest that the arrogant Potter along with his tagalongs Weasley and Granger had burst out on the back of a dragon, paying no heed to the rules that had governed the bank for centuries.

It was just like a Gryffindor to believe he was above everyone else.

The wooden desks flowed seamlessly from one end of the hall to the other and Pansy felt a tingling of admiration for all that they had accomplished without magic. The talent of the craftsmanship coupled with its sheer size made the seemingly ordinary and necessary objects valuable. It was too bad that the goblins didn’t them as such—Pansy winced as she heard the goblin’s nail collide with and splinter the wood.

Gringotts was quite busy for a mid-afternoon in winter. At almost every desk there were people asking questions and making transactions, interacting without hesitation with the goblins. Her eyes paused on a woman slightly older than herself who was struggling to control an excitable toddler and widened when the woman thanked the goblin for its time.

Thanked—as though the goblin had been doing her favour instead of doing its job.

There was a pause in the quill’s movement across the parchment and Pansy turned around sharply as she heard the goblin announcing that Tebak would see her now.

I would hope so, Pansy thought as she followed the goblin she had previously seen disappear through the stone (though luckily Pansy wasn’t expected to also know this trick—they walked through a narrow door and into the cramped passage beyond), It would have been quite rude if it had cancelled our plans at such a late time.

The dimness of the corridor put her at a distinct disadvantage as Pansy watched the goblin nimbly navigate it. Its smaller stature and better night vision were probably the cause Pansy reassured herself as she tripped over a crack in the stone floor. The darkness was where the goblins lived, nasty creatures that they were, and as such it was one of the few advantages they had over humans.

The goblin paused suddenly and Pansy almost stumbled over it. Biting her tongue to keep herself from cursing out loud (though nothing could stop her from doing so mentally—she was sure her father wouldn’t have put up with this), she watched as the tip of the goblin’s nail slipped into the stone.

A crack of light appeared abruptly, temporarily blinding Pansy whose eyes had become accustomed to the darkness, as a section of the stone wall slide away, revealing the office that she remembered from her childhood.

It wasn’t large (owning large amounts of space was a human thing, her father had told her when she had asked him, that first time she had come here), and it wasn’t much brighter than the corridor. Luckily there were several torches lining the walls, providing warmth and a light that the goblins could tolerate and that gave humans enough visibility to not be at a disadvantage.

A happy medium, some might say.

Pansy was not one of those people. She hated it when things weren’t set to her satisfaction, when things weren’t made to her standards. The lumpy chair (she knew that the goblins had done that on purpose, to put their customers at a disadvantage once again—it was difficult to have the necessary concentration when your back and legs were aching), the dim lighting, the slight smirk on Tebak’s face—those things were not to her satisfaction.

But she could do something about it, without coming across as rude, she remembered, and slipped her wand from its case.

Making her voice as light as possible, she said, “Hello Tebak. I hope that you are feeling well-” not really, but social pleasantries were necessary, no matter how distasteful “- and I thank you for making time for me in your busy schedule at such short notice.” She noticed with delight that Tebak’s attention was focused on the movement of her wand as she held it loosely at her side.

“No thanks are necessary, Madam Parkinson. It is always a pleasure to meet with the Parkinsons.” Tebak was smirking, obviously well aware of the Parkinson’s current social status. He was the one holding the power in this room—Pansy had nothing with which to negotiate except memories of power and hopes for the future.

If Tebak didn’t treat her with respect now then Pansy would be sure to remember that in the future when she was the one in charge.

“Would it be possible for me to transfigure the chair? I’m afraid that I’m very particular about where I place myself.” She waited a moment, watching as Tebak deliberated. In the past the agreement would have been instant.

But in the past her father would have been here and everything would have been okay. In the past she would still have been able to depend on Draco’s presence in her life. In the past Tebak wouldn’t have had quite so many wrinkles lining his face nor quite so many hairs drooping from his ears, making it difficult to look at him for long periods of time.
This, most unfortunately, was not the past.

“I don’t see why not,” Tebak finally said, and Pansy took her time transfiguring an elegant and comfortable chair before settling herself in (and no, she didn’t find it difficult to transfigure). She could see the muffled envy in Tebak’s eyes at her casual handling of her wand—her father had told her that Tebak, as did most goblins, longed to own one. The Ministry, quite rightly, still refused them the right.

They stared at each other for a moment before Tebak broke the eye contact to reach for something underneath his desk. Pansy felt a small tingle of delight as he did so—he had broken first.

Tebak reappeared quickly, dragging a large folder after him. It landed with a small noise on his desk and Pansy’s nose wrinkled as small particles of dust swirled around the room. There was no dust in her manor—another category in which humans were superior to goblins.

They were cleaner.

“Where would you like to start?” Tebak asked and Pansy paused, turning the question over in her mind. Was this some sort of trick question, a test to see if she was fit to handle finances? She only wanted to see how much money they had left, if any (Merlin, that was a horrible thought—no money!). But then she remembered her father telling her that there were many categories of money, just as there were many sections in a clothing store.

“I want to see my expenses,” she said, and Tebak nodded. The large folder was opened and thick stack of papers extracted. Tebak placed it in front of her and pointed at the first column with a gnarled fingernail.

“As you can see here, your house elves have been spending…”

And Pansy was swept away in a giant wave of taxes, stocks and other monetary issues. Tebak was relentless with his speed and Pansy struggled to keep up. She didn’t want to show any weakness, wanted to live up to her father’s name, but her mind found the math boggling. Yes, her father had taught her about balancing the flow of money but she couldn’t remember any talk of the risks involved with finances.

Each new cost frustrated Pansy as she watched the money in their account dwindle. She wanted to say ‘no’, that it couldn’t be possible, that salmon freshly caught from the sea couldn’t possibly cost that much, but the columns ignored her.

In black and white they laid out the terms, showing Pansy that if she wanted to save her family’s fortune she needed to find some manner of gaining money. Pansy had expected that their bank account would have grown smaller in the years since her father’s arrest but she hadn’t thought it would have shrunk to such an extent.

She would have to speak with her mother about her spending habits. No longer could her mother buy the most expensive wool in the store… She, unfortunately, would have to learn how to limit herself.

In less than three hours she had learned the information she needed to shape her future plans.

She left Tebak’s company shortly before five, after allowing him to accompany her through the corridors back to the main hall.

Pansy stepped outside of Gringotts and shivered as she felt a frigid breeze touch her cheeks. She tugged her cloak even tighter around herself and walked down the stairs to rejoin Diagon Alley. Before she had left the protection of Gringotts she had reapplied the charms that would keep her warm and the slush off her cloak but she still longed to return home and plan.

They had no manner of income, but they would continue to spend money. Even if they cut themselves off from everything except the bare necessities they would still eventually run out.

The answer was clear, though Pansy found it distasteful.

Her mother could not work—manual labour had long since been bred out of her. Herself, on the other hand… She was able to work and she could not see a future for herself where she would not have to. There weren’t any pureblood men lining up at the gate of Parkinson manor to speak to her or applying to visit Azkaban so that they could speak to her father.

In order for the Parkinson fortune to increase, Pansy would need to get a job. Work. Work alongside the mudbloods, the half-bloods and the purebloods alike, without complaint.

She knew it wouldn’t be pleasant but she also knew that she had to do it to rescue her family’s reputation from the low place it had fallen to.

First, though, she would need to complete her N.E.W.T.s.

A/N: Sorry this chapter is shorter than usual but the next scene is quite long and I couldn't find an appropriate spot to break it. I hope that you enjoyed Pansy's trip to Gringotts!

Chapter 10: Pug
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Pansy had almost reached the apparation point when her reflection’s smug face appeared in her mind. She couldn’t leave without purchasing her pug, whatever sort of creature that was. It didn’t really matter, though—she was sure that her house elves were more than up to the task of caring for it.

Still, it was with reluctance that she turned in the direction of the Magical Menagerie. She had been so close to apparating back to the warmth of her manor, so close to feeling the comfort of warm water against her skin, so close to leaving the constant reminder of her fallen status.

Pansy hurried through the wet streets and was once again faced with the towering magnificence of Gringotts. She shook her head at the sight and focused her attention on finding the small shop. She had never really had cause to enter Magical Menagerie as the house elves were charged with the purchase of the owl supplies and she had no other pets.

But it wasn’t as though the shop was out of her way; in fact, it was probably only the cold wind that had made the journey from the apparation point to the shop seem long. It was only a few minutes at most before she heard the tinkling of the bell as she stepped through the door.

A blast of warm, awfully humid air hit her and Pansy quickly cancelled the warming charm. She knew that if she had left it on it wouldn’t have been long before her clothes would have been ruined by the dampness and she just hoped that there weren’t any materials in the store that would stain or rip her clothing.

The lack of light in the store was another problem, though it didn’t keep Pansy from hearing the sounds of numerous animals, and Pansy had to pause just inside in order to allow her eyes time to adjust to the dimness of the store. Soon, though, her eyes were able to see what her ears had heard.

The store was crowded and, at first glance, exceedingly messy. However, the longer Pansy stood at the front of the store, the more an order (however loosely that term applied) seemed to appear. Smaller animals were housed separately in tanks while the larger ones were kept in larger enclosures with others of its kind. Some were even allowed to roam the store freely. Pansy grimaced as an orange-coloured kneazle with matted hair rubbed against her robes and shook her leg to shoo it away. She hoped to Merlin that “pug” wasn’t a slang term for kneazle.

Along one wall ran glass tanks filled with snakes of varying colours and sizes. She didn’t think that she would mind too much if a pug turned out to be a snake, especially if it was a small one—snakes were the emblem of Slytherin, after all, and as such were very much respected. However, snakes were also feared—one could never be sure when they would strike.

And everyone in Slytherin knew that when a snake strikes, it strikes to kill.

This was probably the closest she had ever been to a snake, excluding the time in her second year when Draco had conjured up a snake—but no!—she cut the thought off midway. She no longer thought about Draco, no longer wasted her precious time with him. He was no longer a part of her life.

The air also carried the pungent smell of animal feces mixed with their various methods of claiming territory and Pansy wondered why this store was so highly recommended by people. It was an absolute pig-sty!

The bell rang behind her and Pansy had to quickly step aside. She glared at the newly entered man’s back for daring to rush her. She could take all the time she wanted… But he reminded her that she had come here with a mission and that it would be best to get it over with so that she could return to her manor, free to plan and study for her N.E.W.T.s…

Unfortunately, she didn’t know where to look to find the ideal pug and so decided to wander the aisles. Perhaps the cages would have labels and she would be able to figure it out that way.

It didn’t take her long to realize that the store apparently didn’t agree with the practice of labeling your products, leaving Pansy to wander the aisles aimlessly, trying desperately to seem as though she knew what she was doing. Embarrassing herself in a pet shop would not be the best start to restoring the Parkinson reputation.

Eventually an employee wandered over to her to offer his help, which Pansy accepted as haughtily as possible. He was wearing robes appeared to be too small, stretched tight across his chest as they were, and Magical Menagerie’s silly slogan adorned his upper right breast. Pansy forcefully subdued her sneer—had he never heard of personal tailoring?

“Do you know what you’re looking for?” His smile seemed to be a little too wide to be genuine and Pansy felt a sting of irritation. Who was he to feel dismay at serving her? He had chosen to work here—

And it was there that she stopped her thought as she remembered that soon, all too soon, she too would have to work, whether she liked it or not. Who knew what sort of troubles he was going through or what his financial burden was. Perhaps he, too, was looking for ways to improve his status in society, to become better than a simple store attendant. But that feeling of empathy, of a shared burden, disappeared as quickly as it had come as she refocused on the task at hand as well as the ridiculous question he had just asked.

“Of course I know what I’m looking for. Do I look like I’m stupid?”

“No, Miss, not at all. What would you like me to help you with?”

“I don’t wish you to help me with anything. You offered your services and I accepted.” Pansy was slightly offended that he had thought that she would stoop to asking for help.

It was possible that the employee had rolled his eyes at that moment but she chose to overlook his crudeness. Perhaps that would show the world that the Parkinsons could be adaptable, that they could once again conform to the highest of society’s standards.

“Very well Miss.” Pansy saw in that short phrase the ghost of an illustrious past, when the poor were subservient to the rich, a time that she, unfortunately, had not been born into. “What can I do for you?”

The subtle rephrasing of his original question pleased Pansy and her voice was a touch warmer when she said, “You can point me towards your finest pugs!”

The employee’s smile was more genuine now as he led her through the maze of a store, past the hissing cats and under the cages of hooting owls. Pansy discreetly added a repelling charm to the spells layering her robes—she didn’t trust the bottoms of the cages to protect her from owl droppings. She was glad to find that the spell still flowed smoothly from her mouth, even after months of disuse in the spotless manor. It was a charm that she had used often at Hogwarts where each corridor was filled with the contaminants of hundreds of students. Without it she was sure that she would have had to replace her wardrobe every few months.

As they headed further into the depths of the store the sounds of the other animals were gradually overshadowed by high-pitched barking and an odd snuffing sound. The sound only increased when the employee bent forwards slightly to tap a doorknob with his wand and the door swung open.

Inside was a room filled with a swirling mass of dogs of all shapes and sizes, their coats shining in the generous sunlight provided by the windows lining the walls. It seemed that the dogs had not yet noticed their presence, concerned as they were about the ownership of a raggedy piece of rope.

“We have all sorts of dogs in here, including pugs,” the employee said, stepping further into the room. Pansy followed him, eyes carefully watching the dogs, trying to pick out the pugs and winced as she stepped on a small, teeth-marked toy that let out a squeak, causing many of the dogs to stop, suddenly aware of their presence.

A small, black dog with large, floppy ears yelped and charged at her foot, viewing the toy that it had only moments ago discovered as a prize. Pansy stumbled backwards and watched as the dog happily tottered away with the squeaky toy in its mouth only to be jumped by a larger brown dog.

Outside of the main tangle of canines there were several lounging in the sunlight or lapping at water in the corner. Everything about the room suggested that the dogs were housed there on a regular basis—Pansy could even see little slots where food could be poured through to feed them.

“Why do you keep them here?”

“We have to keep them separated from the rest of the store—they tend to agitate the other animals with their barking.”

“But why behind closed doors?” Pansy was certain that hiding the merchandise was not conducive to selling it; in fact, she thought it would have the opposite effect.

The employee paused for a moment before answering and when he spoke his words had a lilting quality that made it seem as though he was carefully phrasing each sentence in his head before he spoke.

“Wizards and witches tend to prefer the more overtly magical or practical breeds. Owls can carry post; cats often have kneazle blood in them. Snakes are associated with one of the most famous wizards of all time and toads are thought to have magical properties.”

Pansy paused—surely some dog breeds were magical? She could have sworn that some of the more monstrous species had been mentioned in the dangerous book the half-giant had made them purchase in third year, including a particularly vicious looking three-headed breed commonly used for guard duty.

But it didn’t matter that there were tainted dogs in here for she was looking for a pug, not some common, everyday mongrel.

She scanned the room again but was unable to pick out a dog that radiated an air of pugness. Sighing, she turned once again to the employee only to see that he had taken his attention away from her and was instead watching a pair of mismatched dogs wrestling near a water bowl. She didn’t allow him any more observation of the canines before she regained his attention –she had places to be and things to do. She didn’t want to spend the rest of her afternoon in this hovel.

“Well?” Pansy arched her eyebrow at him, before lowering it when she remembered that it had been a favourite expression of Draco’s, though she now realized that his face had been too young to properly pull the gesture off.

Unfortunately the employee seemed to be gifted with a slow memory for he didn’t immediately lead her to the pugs. Instead he stared at her, confused, before hesitantly asking, “Yes?”

Disappointed at level of service she was being given, Pansy snapped, “Where are your pugs? I told you I wanted to see them!”

The employee’s face quickly cleared and he whistled, a long and smooth sound emerging from his mouth. It dipped and bent, causing all the canines in the room to come to a halt. Pansy watched, puzzled, as all of the larger dogs and many of the smaller ones began to play again without a visible signal.

Five small dogs, all with faces that looked as though they had collided with the walls a few too many times and tails that curled over the edge of their bum onto their backs, separated themselves from the mad scramble of the pack and trotted towards them, black nails clicking on the floor.

They were all different shades of colour, sporting fur that varied from a dark black to a white that rivaled newly fallen snow. Pansy watched as they collected themselves around the feet of the employee, who then pointed them towards her. Soon enough she was surrounded by the little beasts and, uncomfortable as she was, she bent down.

She could feel the employee’s gaze on her, watching her every move. She wanted to hiss at him that she wouldn’t harm his precious dogs, but carefully restrained herself. Once again, it was not a good idea for her to shatter her family’s reputation before she had had a chance to build it up again. Therefore, aware of his gaze, Pansy strove to ignore him and focused instead on the dogs huddled around her feet.

So these ugly creatures are pugs, Pansy marveled, carefully tracing the folds of skin that lined the dark furred pug’s face. It yipped as her finger came close to its mouth and licked her finger. Pansy refrained from grimacing openly but managed to mumble a cleansing charm. She would not allow saliva to remain on her person, especially that belonging to an animal. It was beneath a Parkinson. Merlin, it was beneath a Weasley, if they would ever bother with common decency.

She allowed her finger to travel the length of its spine, feeling the crisp and silky feel of its fur and its trembling as it struggled to stay still. It’s not ugly, Pansy amended her earlier thought, just underappreciated.

Pansy could sympathize with its plight—the less conventional your beauty was, the harder it was for someone to properly appreciate you. “You’re a good dog, aren’t you?” she murmured to it and watched as it shook itself. “I wonder how many times you’ve been passed over by ungrateful people, how many times you’ve been left alone.” Her voice wavered as it yipped again and stretched for her hand. “And you know a good thing when you see it, just like a Parkinson.”

Her moment with the pug was broken harshly when the employee chose to speak. He had an odd expression on his face as though Pansy was defying all of his preconceptions.

“They’re not the type of pet a wizard typically looks for.”

Pansy stiffened as she heard the implication. Muggles bred these dogs. These dogs were bred, purchased and owned by Muggles.

She sensed her father behind her, telling her to leave the store and forget that she had ever considered purchasing a pug.

But while looking at the black pug under her hands Pansy didn’t see the taint of Muggles but rather a smaller, blacker version of herself. In this little dog she saw not a part of the non-magical world that was attempting to destroy hers but rather a companion who wouldn’t judge her, who wasn’t capable of judging her.

This little dog who was nudging her hand with its cold nose, eager for her touch, for her attention, wasn’t bad. In fact, this little black pug was the very opposite of the word. In less than five minutes the dog had succeeded in gaining and keeping her interest, a skill that would make any Parkinson proud.

Perhaps her father would understand, if she explained it properly to him. But until that moment came she was the one in the public’s eye, the one who was charged with the family decisions. She wasn’t the one locked away in Azkaban and she liked this puppy.

She glanced over her shoulder at the employee, her eyes filled with scorn and her fingers curling protectively around the pug.

“At least they have some taste then.” She sniffed.

The majority of the visit after that passed in silence. The little black pug continued to capture her attention and the four other pugs eventually returned to the hustle of the middle of the room.

“By the way, is it male or female?”

“Male.”

And then, with her ownership papers fixed firmly inside of her robes and Astor clutched tightly in her arms, Pansy once again braved the cold and dirty streets of Diagon Alley. She would have to send Milly to purchase the necessary supplies for Astor after she arrived at the manor, with strict instructions to select only the best products.

A frown on her face, Pansy amended that her previous statement: only the best products within their financial means. It wouldn’t do for her to bankrupt herself, not before she had the chance to reestablish the Parkinson reputation.

But until she reached her manor she amused herself by imagining her reflection’s reaction—she couldn’t wait to see her face when she saw that she had, indeed, bought a pug.

A/N: Sorry for the long wait between updates- I'm busier than usual at the moment and it's eaten up my writing time.

Chapter 11: Studying
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It seemed that once something became necessary it also became distasteful and boring to do. Though Pansy had spent many hours throughout her year-long isolation reading novels and textbooks the sight of them now filled her with dismay and a strong urge to visit Golden Stitches. Sometimes, as the words blurred before her eyes and she struggled to understand the theories she hadn’t bothered to understand years before, the only thing that stopped her from a shopping spree was the sad state of their finances.

She had stuck a written reminder of this fact to the backside of her chamber door, positioning it such that only she and the house elves that tended to her rooms would see it. She didn’t want to risk her mother becoming aware of their financial situation and the note was the only way in which she would become so as her mother had never shown any inclination to manage their finances. Pansy could already imagine her reaction.

“Why, whatever do you mean my dear?” she would say. “Your father wouldn’t have left us with nothing. He was a very thoughtful and hard-working man.”

Her mother would be unable to understand the concept of money running out when there was nothing there to continue its supply.

Pansy hadn’t yet told her mother that she planned to gain employment, though she had mentioned one night at dinner that she was sitting her N.E.W.T.s. Her mother’s reaction had been mild; beyond the simple question of ‘why’, to which Pansy had answered ‘for credibility in society’, her mother hadn’t had any further concerns. She hadn’t offered her help, for she had been about as academically gifted as Pansy.

In the weeks since she had first brought Astor home to the manor Pansy had found her days growing less lonely. Though she wasn’t constantly around the pug, Astor sought out her company frequently enough that she had grown close to him. Their relationship was helped by the fact that Astor was hyperactive enough for the both of them, filling the empty halls with his yapping, but was strangely aware of the times when she required silence. She was also fortunate in that her house elves were capable of repairing the damage the pug’s nails caused to the hardwood floors and carpets, of clearing his fur from the furniture and of training him.

Pansy had sat in on several of his training sessions and had joined in on praising him when he obeyed simple instructions such as ‘sit’ or ‘stay’ and when he learned, finally, to wait to go pee until after he was let outdoors. She was convinced that she had purchased the cleverest pug in the store and had she had anyone to brag to, she would have.

Her mother continued to hover around the peripheries of her life and had barely reacted beyond a small ‘Do keep him away from the good china’, which Pansy had roughly assured her she would.

The sudden glare of the sun through the library window brought Pansy sharply back to the present. Her eyes once again focused on the second-year Transfiguration text-book open in front of her and began to scan the words, though they might have been in German for all she understood them.

She had had to start her studying from the very beginning for she had found while doing the practice exams the Ministry released that her knowledge was very scattered. While she could remember the theory behind forcing a pineapple to tap dance (it had been an amusing charm to cast on inanimate objects in lieu of studying) she had forgotten how to transfigure a matchstick into a needle. The gaps in her memory had led her to reread all the textbooks she had purchased during her seven years at Hogwarts, an overwhelming task to say the very least.

Her reflection hadn’t been much help either; Pansy hadn’t seen her in days. In fact, her reflection had been missing ever since Astor had shown a fondness for glass of all types, mirrors included and Pansy hadn’t been inclined to stop him from examining the mirror in her chamber.

He had just looked so cute pawing at his own reflection in the mirror.

Unfortunately Astor wasn’t with her at the moment; Pansy had handed him off to Milly several hours ago for training and he wouldn’t be returning for at least another thirty minutes. Sighing, she resigned herself to another long stretch of boredom, punctured by frustrating struggles to understand the most basic of concepts.

Such was the level of her frustration that she had thought about hiring the services of a tutor to teach her the material but she was stopped from pursuing this course of action by the low levels of her bank account and the knowledge that the majority of the public would be reluctant to be seen in her service.

Needless to say, she hadn’t yet gotten far in improving the Parkinson reputation in society—her correspondence had so far been limited to communication with the office of Wizarding Examinations Authority at the Ministry of Magic in an attempt to learn if and when she could sit her N.E.W.T.s. Luckily for her, her situation was not unusual, though her request had come much later than the others.

Madame Marchbanks had suggested that she sit her N.E.W.T.s with the current seventh year at Hogwarts at the end of June but Pansy had refused. Not only did she feel that June was much too soon for her to take her exams and still be successful enough to gain employment with her grades (though she wasn’t holding out much hope no matter how long she studied for), but she had no desire to return to Hogwarts. Though it might become necessary for her to make amends for her actions during the period when Professor Snape had been Headmaster of Hogwarts at some point in the future, Pansy felt no inclination to do so at the moment and knew that her presence would not be gladly received by the staff and students.

Fortunately Madame Marchbanks had been accommodating and had allowed Pansy to set a date further in the year. She had chosen December, a date close enough that it wouldn’t slow her down overly much in her desire to restore her family’s reputation but still far enough away that she felt that it would give her a sufficient amount of time to study the material.

Pansy realized that she had once again become distracted and decided to put her books away. Perhaps she could coax her reflection out of hiding and, if she failed at that, she could always track down Astor.

At least he was never boring (though she doubted that anything could be worse than transfiguration).

*

Time passed and Pansy’s head began to swim with useless charms. Her hands, no matter how many times she washed them, stubbornly smelled of burnt daisy roots and spilled leech juice from potion mishaps (even after all her practice with Amortentia, she still wasn’t any better at making potions). She had managed to progress to her fourth-year textbooks and had found that turning a hedgehog into a pincushion was just as difficult as she remembered.

She had gifted her surprised mother with an exceedingly ugly purple version of a pincushion –she hadn’t yet mastered the expluso charm and felt too exhausted to even attempt to incinerate it. She hadn’t waited to hear her mother’s quiet ‘Thanks’ before retreating to her chambers.

It had gotten to the point where she found almost any book that didn’t cover material in the Hogwarts curriculum interesting and she spent the majority of her time in the library. In fact, Pansy suspected that if it wasn’t for Astor she would have spent all of her time there.

In her opinion, if she failed to pass her N.E.W.T.s, she would have to give up the restoration of the Parkinson reputation, something that she absolutely would not let happen. Thus, Pansy found herself concentrating on schoolwork for the first time in her life.

However, old habits were hard to break and she often found her gaze looking longingly at the shelves of books around her or, even worse, found herself doing small chores around the house, trying to avoid the library.

To prevent this from happening, Pansy allowed herself small breaks (that sometimes turned into larger ones). It was during one of these breaks that she stumbled across the potion that was currently entrancing her.

Its recipe had been hidden in an old copy of Witch Weekly that she had found stashed behind volumes two to five of Ancient Egyptian Wizarding society, its pages curled and yellowing. With bold font, the Alluring elixir promised to highlight all desirable features while minimizing the traces of undesirable ones in the eyes of the subject, once a lock of the object’s hair had been added to the potion.

Pansy found it fascinating because it was essentially a reverse Amortentia and, though she could see no way to utilize the potion at the moment, saw the possibilities. With a dose of this potion one could trick oneself into believing the best of someone else and no one else would be able to find fault with your act because you would really believe it. It would be useful at times when appearance was everything.

But it held no relevance in her N.E.W.T. studies, which she really ought to return to, and so she sighed and added the magazine to her pile of Witch Weekly issues.

It was always fun to glance through old magazines and mock the models for the outrageous fashion trends of the season. Who in Merlin’s name had thought it would be a good idea to wear a hat that weighed more than your head?

*

Pansy’s temper worsened as the weeks passed at an achingly slow pace until even Astor’s visits failed to amuse her and she snapped when he yipped, chasing him out of the library. She had never been one for academics and it was only her pride and devotion to the Parkinson name that kept her going.

At Hogwarts she had occupied her time with Dra—with her year mates, filling the long hours of class with passed notes and smothered giggles, mourning the quick passing of the time outside of class. She had never found the material covered in class worth her time and even now, wading through the information with a new sense of purpose, found half the spells worthless for practical use.

The paper in the textbooks wasn’t smooth enough—its roughness irritated her hands and its sharp edges sliced her fingertips. The sunlight spilling through the window was too bright—it bothered her eyes—and when the curtains were drawn she had no light by which to see the words, giving her a headache.

Transfiguration was confusing, Potions difficult, Charms annoying. Hour by hour, day by day, words merged into a useless mass of slime in her mind, their definitions blurred beyond recognition and their uses blended until nothing was where it belonged.

Her drive to restore the Parkinson reputation at all costs was driving her mad and she was close to giving up.

Perhaps, she reasoned on a day when the sunlight was particularly bright, it was time for a different tack. Perhaps she could permit herself a day’s break from studying (or maybe even a week)—time to allow herself to cool down and restore her motivation to see her project through.

It was while she was laying on her bed, relishing the feel of the soft fabric on her skin and the knowledge that she didn’t have anything to do that day, that she realized that she could use her day off to improve society’s opinion of her, to show them that she had reformed (as if). It would further her plan and ease the guilt she felt at ignoring her mission (this was one of the rare times she had felt it and she didn’t like it). An image of her father crossed her mind, telling her that he had never taken any breaks, not when there was work to do.
She only needed a task, something that would take her out into the heart of Wizarding society.

Pansy sat up in the bed and left her chambers to wander through the corridors of the manor, hoping that inspiration would strike her. The sunlight highlighted the golden frames that surrounded her ancestors and she shielded her eyes and headed towards the darker areas of the manor, where natural light struggled to reach and she would be left in peace.

Her feet sinking into the soft carpet and her robe trailing on the ground (over-long robes were the latest trend in high Wizarding society, or so Witch Weekly told her and Pansy found herself agreeing with the style for once—the extra fabric provided further protection for her feet from the cold), she struggled to find the perfect cover. Whatever she decided to use as her pretext would have to be a trivial task—she couldn’t allow the public to suspect her true intentions—but not so trivial that it was obviously beneath her.

She couldn’t lose the respect of the other pureblood families in her quest to gain the approval of the half-bloods and mudbloods.

She thought about asking the house elves for a grocery list and buying the food from the store—that would certainly give the impression that she wasn’t above the common populace. However, there were several problems with the idea, the most prominent of which was the fact that she would have to lower herself to asking the house elves for something. Another flaw was that she didn’t know where she would even go to purchase the food—the elves had always taken care of that task. Making a fool of herself wasn’t in the plan and Pansy dismissed the grocery idea once it became obvious that her humiliation was an unavoidable aspect of it.

The darkness of the corridor was soothing for her eyes but its location disturbed her. She had somehow, in the midst of her thoughts, wandered into territory dangerously close to the servants’ quarters. In fact, if she strained her ears, she was able to hear the low stream of their chatter. Their high-pitched voices annoyed her and she was about to retreat from (sorry—leave) the area when the sound of an even higher pitched yip reached her ears and planted an idea in her mind.

She had Astor, who was a dog. All dogs needed food. She could buy food for Astor, a task which would show her caring for another being (an animal, to boot!) and create a bond between her and other animal owners. Even better, she had already been to the Magical Menagerie once and knew where to find the food—she could complete this task without humiliating herself.

She turned to immediately start on her task before realizing that she was without money and shoes and changed her direction to return to her chamber. She would brave the harsh sunlight to purchase food for her dog, taking a break from her N.E.W.T. studies to do so. She could only hope that the selflessness of her task penetrated through the dull minds of Wizarding society.

Black boots slipped firmly on and a soft scarf wrapped around her head to protect her eyes from the glare of the sun, Pansy stepped out of her chambers and began the walk down to the front gate. She felt so light, so free—she had a purpose but even better she was escaping the weight of studying for a day.

She was surprised by the state of the grounds she saw after she closed the door of the manor behind her—the landscape had changed since her last visit outdoors weeks ago. No longer were the piles of melting snow apparent, turning the expansive land into mud. Instead meters of green grass lay stretched out before her and tiny buds were blooming into leaves on the trees that outlined the property.

She briefly wondered how long it would take her mother to realize that spring had arrived and come out to shape a new year’s worth of growth. Gardening was one of the few things in which her mother was halfway competent and even then her feminine delicacies prevented her from dirtying her hands in the ground; instead she supervised house elves as they transplanted, pruned and watered the flowers that decorated the grounds. Still, she admitted as her boots continued to hit the stone path, moving her steadily further from the manor, some of the floral arrangements had been pretty.

Pansy realized only as she neared the gate, which was glittering brutally in the sunlight, that she hadn’t told anyone of her trip. The house elves probably thought that she was cloistered in the library again and, well, it didn’t matter what her mother thought she was doing. They only saw each other at the table during meals—their lives were completely separate and Pansy didn’t care to learn the details of her mother’s life so long as she wasn’t out spending what was left of the family fortune.

If she started to, however, Pansy would have to interfere.

As her fingers touched the gate the image of a house elf popping frantically into Magical Menagerie looking for her crossed her mind and she paused before deciding to send one of floating airplanes that Draco had been so fond of in Hogwarts. The only problem was that she didn’t have any paper from which to form a plane.

She sighed and decided that the potential humiliation from a hysterical house elf was worse than the wasted time it would take to walk back up that path and warn the house elves of her departure. She started back up the path before realizing that she could just order Milly to come here, which she then proceeded to do. Today was just not her day.

With a sharp pop, Milly appeared and eagerly carried her words back to the house elves’ quarters, leaving Pansy finally able to return to the gate and unlock it. She apparated away with the image of the corner near Ollivander’s fixed firmly in her mind.

A/N: Sorry for the longer wait between chapters but hopefully I'll have more free time on my hands now that I can use to write. As always, I look forward to reading your thoughts on the chapter!
 


Chapter 12: Diagon Alley
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Diagon Alley was cleaner than her last visit—without the piles of slush decorating the stones she didn’t have to cast quite as strong a charm in order to keep the contaminants of the street off her robes—and less crowded. She would have to remember this time—in the middle of the workday in the middle of the workweek Diagon Alley was almost pleasant.

She walked down the street at a leisurely pace—today she had time to spare. She was in no hurry and would not rush to complete this task. Remembering that she was here to repair the damage that had been done to the Parkinson reputation she took care to smile at every person that passed by her and respond to those who greeted her. By the time she reached Magical Menagerie her jaw was aching and she was feeling ridiculous—surely no one smiled that much on a regular basis?

It was almost with relief that she stepped into the shop for inside there weren’t nearly as many people she would be required to smile at. The store was warmer than she remembered, but the smell was the same unappealing combination of animal fur and waste. However, this time she was slightly more prepared—there was a charm that she had found in her third year Charms textbook that lessened the sensitivity of the nose. She had thought it useless when reading it (just as she had thought it useless back in her third year) but it appeared that it had a use after all, no matter how odd.

A faint smile appeared on her face as the stench of the shop noticeably lessened after the spell took effect.

She began to weave through the shelves of the shop towards the area where they kept all the food supplies, which she had spotted the last time she was there while looking for the pugs. She schooled her face into a pleasant (but not too welcoming) expression and resolved to buy some special facial cream on her way home. Not too expensive, though.

She believed that she just might be getting the hang of her reduced financial status.

Pansy passed by rows of wooden cages and glass tanks, which were ready and waiting to house someone’s beloved pet. She walked past baskets of ropes and squeaky toys meant to please dogs and swinging trapezes and gnarled tree branches meant for the amusement of birds. A small one, a brilliant blue sphere with little braids of rope hanging from it, caught her eye and she could picture Astor wrestling with it in the main hall, the little strands whipping back and forth, pushing him further into his frenzy. Tempted, she picked it up and placed it in her pocket for later purchase.

She continued on her way before any other toys caught her attention and soon found herself in the middle of an aisle devoted entirely to food where she began to scan the shelves for the familiar package of Nelson’s Nibblets. Astor adored it and it had pulled through on its promise to deliver “shining white teeth and a healthy coat”.

Astor looked magnificent.

“Do you need help?” Pansy turned, expecting to find the helpful face of an employee, and found herself facing a man who was quite noticeably not wearing their ugly uniform. Remembering that she needed to be polite, she gave a small smile (her previous one had lapsed once she had thought herself alone) and asked him why he thought she was in need of aid.

“You looked as though you were having trouble finding what you wanted—I can probably help you. I’ve visited this shop so often that I could probably work here myself.” The man chuckled and ran his hand through his hair. Pansy tilted her head—with the smile on his face he looked familiar. But where had she seen him before? She was certain that he wasn’t a part of the pureblood circles of England—those names had long been drilled in her mind and she doubted that she would have trouble recalling their faces.

She shook herself mentally—now was not the time to get lost in her thoughts. She didn’t want society to think that she was a half-wit.
She paused before accepting his offer of aid—she thought that she would be able to find Astor’s food, given enough time, but she didn’t want anyone to think that she was rude or prejudiced by refusing the man’s help—and then decided to allow him to help her. It could only help her cause.

Besides, having him approach her (no matter how odd it may seem) meant that she didn’t have to start a conversation with anyone else, so long as this conversation went well. Her civic duty would be done for the day.

Taking a deep breath, Pansy nodded her head and said, “I’m looking for Nelson’s Nibblets. I know what it looks like but my house elves are usually the ones that purchase it so I don’t know exactly where it is.”

She winced at her mention of house elves and cursed her sudden loss of control of her tongue. She hadn’t had this much trouble back at Hogwarts—at Hogwarts, she had been the one in command of the situation; she had been the one that others feared and respected.

She had fallen a long way from that position and felt that she was sliding further each time she opened her mouth. Thankfully, though, the man didn’t react at her mention of house elves, though they were something that only traditional purebloods and large institutions used nowadays and even the institutions had started to phase out their use.

They did so because of the mudbloods’ interference in the Ministry. Granger’s campaign for creature rights had been the focus of the Daily Prophet for the past several months and Pansy had been tempted to stop her subscription to the paper. They were only supporting the changes that would destroy the life wizards had lived for centuries, a way of living that had kept them safe and in control.

Granger was leading them on a path of destruction and Weasley and Potter were following in her wake. The only people who realized the danger of her ways were marginalized in society, their voices hushed and their complaints dismissed.

“What type of dog do you have?” The sound of the man’s voice brought her away from her thoughts and she wondered, briefly, where her self-control had gone. Perhaps it had run away with society’s dignity.

Pansy met the man’s dark eyes, saying, “I have a pug.” She reminded herself that she needed to watch her words—she couldn’t allow herself to alienate a member of society, no matter how strange or odd their behaviour—and kept carefully to the lighter, less controversial topics.

“What a coincidence—so do I!” His eyes were sparkling with enthusiasm and Pansy wondered where he got all his energy from. She didn’t remember ever responding with such joy to a simple answer (Well, except for the time in fourth year when Draco had agreed to accompany her to Hogsmeade—though not Madame Puddifoot’s, never Madame Puddifoot’s—after she had summoned the courage to ask him. It hadn’t been a date—not quite. Draco had been too distant, too distracted for it to be called that.).

Then the man’s face turned thoughtful and the corners of his lips tipped downwards—Pansy wasn’t quite sure that she wanted to hear what the man would say next as he was certainly about to object to something about her. “Though if you have a pug, I’m not sure that you should be feeding him—her?” The man paused, a question in his eyes, and Pansy told him that her dog was male. “I’m not sure that you should be feeding him Nelson’s Nibblets.” Perhaps seeing that she was about to object (how dare he question her choice?), he hurried to continue. “While it’s wonderful for the upkeep of appearances, it doesn’t tend to the health of their insides as well as is needed.”

“What do you mean?” Though Pansy had instructed her house elves to thoroughly clean the ears and folds of skin on Astor’s face she hadn’t done much beyond that to ensure his continued health and she hoped that she hadn’t harmed him. She wasn’t quite sure how she would react if she was told that Astor was dangerously ill.

“I’m sure that the person who sold you your dog told you that pugs can have numerous health problems if they aren’t properly taken care of–they must have. It’s regulation. I’m sure that you don’t want the whole speech right now but I know that there are several pamphlets near the register here that talk about these issues.”

Pansy nodded her head sharply and resolved to look for them on her way out. It would be a welcome break from her studying and well worth the time if it would save Astor from future complications.

She was shocked when the man took her arm and started to lead her down the aisle, for physical touch was not something lightly done in pureblood society. There, every touch had a meaning and every meaning had its purpose in life. In order to be successful you needed to know what each touch meant and its effect on everyone. She didn’t know what the meaning behind this touch was, though, and the man let go before she found one.

At least his hands were clean.

He had brought her to the very end of the aisle and he was now gesturing to a large package on the ground shelf with the picture of a smiling, black-furred pug that looked remarkably like Astor (though not nearly as handsome) on its front.

“This is Pug’s Perfection, specially designed for pugs.” Pansy was already looking at the package in a curious light, for she knew that specialty products tended to be higher quality—and if it would keep Astor healthy…

The man continued, “It’s what I feed to my pug, Anna—she loves it.” Pansy was aware that saying that Astor had better taste than the average pug could be taken as offensive (even if it was a fact) and so bit her tongue. Once again she reminded herself that she needed to come across as pleasant and caring, even if she was feeling the opposite inside.

“It’s supposed to clean her digestive tract and provide her with all the nutrients she needs—I haven’t seen any evidence to refute their claims.” The man’s smile grew and Pansy smiled awkwardly back at him. What was it with this man and his enthusiasm?

She glanced down at the package and sighed. It wasn’t too expensive and (she double-checked the slogans boldly printed over the plastic) it seconded the man’s words. Furthermore, it was certainly closer at hand than Nelson’s Nibblets and purchasing it would save her the embarrassment (and potential social harm) of asking to see a different product.

“It truly does all that?” She was already bending over, hand reaching for the bag, and she didn’t wait to hear the man’s eager ‘yes’ before curling her fingers over the hard-edged rim of the bag. It wasn’t as heavy as she had been expecting and she almost stumbled backwards as she pulled with too much force. She caught herself, though, before her feet had moved more than a few centimeters, successfully negating the need for the man’s help in righting herself.

“I’m fine,” she said, waving away his fluttering hands. Then, to her dismay, he followed her as she began to weave her way through the store towards the cashier.

“What are you doing?” The man’s behaviour was unusually odd, in her opinion, for in her experience you only paid such attention to a person when you wanted something from them or when you cared a lot for them. Since she hadn’t met him before (though she still felt that his face was vaguely familiar), she could only assume that he stood to gain something from this interaction.

Social manners had to be put aside—she needed to know that the man wouldn’t harm her goal. At least she could reassure herself with the truth that she hadn’t said anything damaging—except for the line about house elves. Damn it!

“I’m helping you.” The man spoke as though this was an obvious answer and he was puzzled as to why she had even asked.

“But why are you doing it?”

The man paused before smiling. “I’m doing it because I have nothing better to do—I’m waiting.”

“You’re waiting?” She was skeptical and it showed in her voice.
His smile widened. “I’m waiting for something to happen and I think that it’s going to happen here.”

“Here?” Pansy suspected that he was being purposefully vague and continued to push, wanting a satisfactory answer.

“It’s the best place to collect stories—you can’t find them cooped up in your house.”

His answer made her pause and he took the opportunity to step closer to her, invading her space in a way that made her step away from him (but only just enough that he would understand that she didn’t want him quite so near to him).

“Stories?” Her parroting of his words was making her uncomfortable but she didn’t understand what he was trying to say. ‘Collecting stories’ – was he an author? A journalist? Lonely?

“Yes stories—I find human behaviour fascinating and love to record interesting incidents.” Pansy had resumed walking and he once again had to point her in the correct direction as she made to head to the room where the dogs were kept, the exact opposite direction of the cashier.

“I knew that!” she said, her shoes clacking on the hard floor of the store. The sounds of birds chirping, dogs barking and cats meowing was growing steadily louder and Pansy wondered what could have possessed the architects or whoever had made the store plan to put the cashier in the heart of animal territory. It didn’t induce people to buy more animals; it just gave them a headache.

“Just taking a scenic route, were you?” His eyes were sparkling and Pansy snapped “Exactly” at him.

Finally, after what seemed like rows upon rows of tanks occupied by all manner of reptiles, Pansy found herself in front of the cashier, the man right behind her. She started to heave the package of dog food onto the counter and found that the man’s hands were quick to assist her.

“Is that all?” the pimply cashier asked before Pansy had finished placing the bag on the counter and Pansy wanted to snap at him and tell him to wait until she was finished unloading her purchases before asking such an asinine question. She also wanted to snap at the man that the bag wasn’t nearly as heavy as he was making it appear and that she could handle placing it on the counter, thank you very much. She resisted the temptation, however, feeling what seemed to be the eyes of all society boring into her back, and instead calmly answered ‘no’ before drawing the blue toy from her pocket and placing it on the counter.

The cashier was quick to ring up her purchases, Pansy would give him that, and soon Astor’s new toy was tucked safely back in her pocket and his new brand of food was in her arms, being carried out of the shop. The man followed her outside the shop, where Pansy paused, thinking that he needed some sort of conclusion in order to be able to leave her alone.

“Thanks,” Pansy said, clutching the bag of food to her chest, though she still didn’t quite understand the concept of thanking someone for help that they had offered.

“You’re quite welcome! I’m glad that I was able to be of assistance.” The man’s smile was infectious, to Pansy’s ire, and she found her own smile increasing in size. She started to turn, wanting to continue on her way and return home, and found that the man continued to stay at her side.

She increased her stride and the man joked about her wanting to get rid of him (she winced inside—that was not a favourable impression). She slowed down and he offered to carry the bag of food. She wasn’t quite sure what to do—it was very strange and she wasn’t used to people who were more stubborn than her.

Their journey continued in silence and Pansy was just about to ask him (again) what he wanted from her when he touched her arm, stopping their progress down the street, and pointed. When she looked in the direction he was pointing she saw a large crowd forming outside the entrance of Knockturn Alley, glittering banners forming above their wands. She squinted and was able to make out ‘No Dark Arts, No Danger’ in silvery font.

Beside her, the man’s face was stretching into a smile and he said, “I do believe that’s what I’ve been waiting for,” before disappearing from her side. She watched, slightly stunned, as he conjured a quill and writing pad before integrating himself in the throng of angry witches and wizards.

It felt slightly odd to have his presence ripped so suddenly from her side but she was glad, in a way, that he had left before she had been forced to tell him that she wanted to be alone. No—not necessarily alone, not necessarily wanted—she felt as though she needed to return home (she certainly had nothing else to do in Diagon Alley and she didn’t feel comfortable loitering in the streets—not after her reception weeks ago) and she certainly wasn’t about to bring him there.

She passed by the crowd, ignoring and being ignored by them, and reached the apparition spot.

Awkwardly pushing the door of the manor open (she still had the bag of food in her hands), she was relieved to be back at home. She snapped her fingers for a house elf to come and collect the Pug's Perfection bag that was becoming heavy in her hands and started to search through the manor for Astor. She was very excited to see his reaction to his new toy—he had already mangled his last rope toy beyond magical repair and she was still surprised by his exuberance each time she tossed a ball for him to fetch.

Pansy ran her fingers down her robe, smoothing out the stray wrinkles she found. All in all, she thought that her trip had gone pretty well—she hadn’t made any grievous social blunders and she hadn’t chased away the man who had approached her.

It was a start.

Chapter 13: Revelations
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After her first successful visit to Diagon Alley, Pansy rearranged her schedule so that she wasn’t consistently spending all of her time in the library. Instead, she would take small, regular breaks to play with Astor or wander through the streets of Diagon Alley. She’d stumbled across many useful artifacts in the shops as she tried to project her newly minted social attitude, even though she rarely purchased them due to her tight budget, and had taken to writing down the product’s name in the hope that perhaps, once her fortune had turned around again, she would still be interested in purchasing it.

She wasn’t well-liked, not yet, but as she hadn’t caused any incidents nor given them any new reasons to dislike her (save for her stinginess with her money), she was tolerated. No one was openly scornful of her presence, a welcome difference from the open hatred she had faced months before.

Still, it was a rare occasion when anyone approached her to start a conversation and she found that, now that she was back in the company of wizards and witches, she missed the social interaction. She sometimes found herself looking in the crowds or among the rows of shelves of Magical Menagerie for the man who had spoken to her that day, but she hadn’t encountered him again.

She was curious to know of his identity, but thoughts about him were fleeting as her mind centered once again on the various magical subjects she was sitting her N.E.W.T.s on. She found that she progressed more easily through the heavy magical theory when she gave herself breaks from learning but she still struggled with the practical portion.

She had twice now turned her dark hair a vibrant shade of purple when she failed to hold the swish of her wand long enough (human transfiguration was hard) and had almost lost all feeling in her hands when she tried to transfigure her nails blue – she had thought it would save her from needing to use nail polish but it had turned out to be more of a bother than it was worth.

Sometimes, when she was struggling to fall asleep or feeling particularly frustrated at her failed attempts to learn a spell, the thought crossed her mind that she would fail, that she wouldn’t pass her N.E.W.T.s and that the Parkinson name would be stained from the fall of the Dark Lord or, even worse, fade from history altogether.

And sometimes those thoughts would linger, taking root in her mind and casting doubt over everything she did. The restoration of the Parkinson reputation rested solely on her shoulders—her father was locked away in Azkaban for the rest of his life, his mind destroyed by their wards, and her mother was too weak to be able to shoulder the necessary responsibility. What would happen if she failed? Though it was unlikely that anyone else would take notice of her failure, she would be very much aware of it and she knew that the knowledge of her lack of success would drive her mad.

Parkinsons didn’t fail. Not with something this important (she ruthlessly squashed the tiny voice inside her head that whispered that her father had thought the Dark Lord’s cause of the utmost importance and that it had failed—then, her father had not been the leader of the cause, like she was this time; she also suppressed the thought that she was better than the Dark Lord… but then, she was alive and he was dead).

Each time the thoughts threatened to grasp control of her actions, she would dive even further into her efforts to restore their reputation, spending an hour combing through the library looking for tips to help her with her spell work or contemplating various topics of conversation with which she could reasonably approach a witch or wizard with that would never stray into dangerous, controversial areas.

In further attempts to regain her lost social position, Pansy continually scanned the pages of the Daily Prophet, determined to keep abreast of any news that might affect her plans for the future. Unfortunately, the nature of some of the articles made her despair of ever being able to hold her tongue in public (for how could she keep silent when they were discussing the abolishment of all official blood statuses, trying to make it illegal for anyone for anyone to state, with or without pride, their magical background or when they suggested that they rework the entire Ministerial structure to make it prejudiced against purebloods?).

It was on one of the more depressing news days that Pansy caught sight of something that cheered her up immensely.

Suddenly she was glad that she had decided against cancelling her subscription to the newspaper for there, before her eyes, next to the curl of her finger, was the picture of the man who had approached her in Magical Menagerie. He looked very serious in the photograph, intently writing with a quill across a writing pad that looked very similar to the one he had conjured that day for the protest—Pansy now looked at the headline and saw that it was inspired by the protest.

And his slant was very much to her liking, though she was surprised that the Daily Prophet had allowed it to be printed—they usually tried to avoid controversy and tried to take the reins on popular opinions. His article against the banning of the Dark Arts was unusual; perhaps the newspaper was once again trying to spark interesting news, provoke a conflict. Wizarding society in and of itself had been calm as of late, Pansy realized, a state that was not helpful for those whose job it was to write about it. People didn’t want to read about the mundane—they lived it. Peace, while good for the Ministry, had the opposite effect on journalism.

Banning the Dark Arts will do no good, he wrote, for it will simply push the knowledge into the shadows where it will be allowed to fester. The knowledge won’t vanish; it won’t disappear from our world. It will simply find other ways of bringing itself back into the spotlight. Darkness will attract darkness. In the past we tried to bury these spells but the forbidden fruit always tastes sweeter than the one whose flesh is easily obtained and they weren’t lost but rather hidden like precious treasure.

We ignored the dangers of this technique because we believed our methods to be faultless and it is through this false notion that You-Know-Who and Grindlewald were able to gain much of their power. If we had monitored their use, if the dark techniques had been brought out into the open , then it is likely that they would have been caught long before they rose to power, that we would have had the means by which to stop them without having to resort to years of war.

Banning the Dark Arts is useless,
he concluded, unless we take the proper precautions to educate every single person about their dangers.

Pansy carefully folded the paper after she finished reading, though she didn’t intend to keep the issue. It didn’t matter to her, in that moment, that the article was possibly a publicity stunt. It didn’t matter to her that the man might not have meant a single word of what he wrote. What mattered to her was that not everyone was set on opposing her style of life.

She gave a brief smile, though no one was there to see it as she was sitting alone at the dining room table, the crumbs of breakfast long since swept away by the house elves, and it widened when she thought of the name under the man’s picture: Adri Bennett.

She now had a name to match with the face and though she hadn’t found the information from a source she expected, the Daily Prophet wasn’t the most unusual place to find it. The Daily Prophet, after all, found ways to report the most mundane of things.

She just wondered what a journalist had been trying to accomplish, talking to her in public and was now more grateful than ever that she hadn’t made a fuss at the register or snapped at the man to leave her alone—she could only imagine the disaster that would have done to her family’s reputation (she could see the words ‘Death Eater Traits Inheritable!’ written in the bold, black font of the Daily Prophet’s headlines—she had seen similar titles far too often for it to be a stretch of the imagination).

With a sign, Pansy left the table, leaving the troublesome newspaper behind. The house elves would attend to it (she could already hear the tell-tale signs of house-elf apparition). She knew that there was nothing she could do at the moment—she hadn’t seen the man since that day in the shop, though she had returned to it several times, and she could only hope that he hadn’t discovered something about her in their interaction that would be harmful for her.

The proper use of the human transfiguration spell was a much more present and pressing concern and Pansy reluctantly turned in the direction of the library.

Who knew—perhaps she would never see him again anyways.

*

The pleasant spring breezes soon gave way to the heat of summer and Pansy found reminders of lost traditions everywhere she turned. As heavy rainfalls turned the grounds of the manor to mud, she remembered moments from the beginning of her childhood: of dancing soaking wet with other pureblood children while their parents socialized in the safety of the dry manor (she was certain that it was one of the few occasions that her parents had allowed her to break the usually strict rules of pureblood society—the rain, her parents always told her, symbolized renewal and the continual cycle of life, though that didn’t make it any less miserable a state of weather), of hours spent struggling not to fidget in uncomfortable robes while listening to her mother gossip (though she had found the information interesting, the childish wish to be in constant movement had been present in her—she hadn’t even been allowed to swing her feet!) and, as she grew older, of balls where ladies swished by in elegant and colourful robes while their husbands congregated in the corners, attempting to look too busy to dance.

The memories were bittersweet and gave Pansy an even greater desire to succeed in her set task—with her family’s reputation in shambles she had received no invitations to the summer balls nor to any other social gathering. It was exactly like every year had been for her since the Final Battle at Hogwarts, except this time her isolation wasn’t Ministry-imposed but imposed on her by society.

In a sad way, she supposed that she ought to be grateful—the lack of invitations left her with no good excuse to neglect her studying, which she sank into with less enthusiasm each day.

She had grown so used to her isolation and the silence that accompanied it (except for the rare occasion when the employee of a shop approached her, no one spoke to her; house elves didn’t count—they were servants), that when her mother spoke to her one morning at breakfast the jam slipped off her knife and onto her robe.

“Mfhmm,” she said, muffling the curse that jumped to her lips and dropping the knife with a clang onto her plate and dabbing at the spilled jam with a napkin until she remembered that she had brought her wand down with her to the table and used it to clear her dress of the spill. However, the colour of the jam hadn’t vanished to her satisfaction and she made a mental note to tell Milly to pay special attention to the spot when she gave it to her for cleaning.

She glanced at her mother, wand still clenched tightly in her hand, and realized that her mother hadn’t said a word or moved at all during Pansy’s struggle. Instead she looked small, sitting as she was with her hands grasped in her lap and her hair piled into a bun so tight and placed such that it was impossible to see it when looking at her from the front. She looked as though her skin had only seen the sun through the glass of the windows, for her skin was very pale. Her eyes, though, her eyes: they weren’t wide with shock but rather in careful observation, and Pansy realized that her mother had been watching her.

They stayed that way for several moments, eyes locked, daughter watching mother with concern and slight confusion—why, after all these months of silence between them, had her mother chosen to speak? What could she possibly have to say?

Then, finally, her mother broke the silence, her soft voice filling the empty room.

“I’ve noticed that you’ve been spending a lot of your time in the library.” She let the comment dangle in the air, her question unspoken but understood.

“I’m studying for N.E.W.T.s,” Pansy said, “I’ve told you this before.” Her voice felt somewhat stiff and she cleared her throat. The noise felt unnaturally loud and she wished she hadn’t.

“It’s unlike you.” Her mother kept her eyes on her as she spoke, watching in her quiet way for Pansy’s reaction. Weak as she may be, she was still a Slytherin and they knew that if one relied only on verbal comments then they were missing the majority of the conversation.

“How would you know?” How she spent her free time at Hogwarts had not been something she had written home about (no, those letters would have been bland to an adult, filled as they were with the gossip of the Slytherin common room and the basic knowledge from the classroom) and her mother hadn’t had a great presence in her schooling before that.

Her mother’s hand came up from below the table and began to fidget with the neck of her glass. Her eyes glanced towards the head of the table, as though checking to see if her husband was there, before she slowly stopped playing with the glass and put it down. Pansy waited for her next question, her defensive statement that she did know, that she had been paying attention.

But it never came. Instead they sat in silence, the sound of their breathing filling the room, until Pansy decided that the conversation was over and started to move. At the first screech of her chair, however, her mother’s eyes flicked towards her again and she began to speak.

“I’ve noticed that the salmon your father loves isn’t being served anymore.” Her voice was quiet but her eyes were hard and Pansy noticed the tenseness in her arms. “Why?”

Pansy swallowed with some difficulty for there seemed to be a lump in her throat. “I asked them not to.”

“It’s your father’s favourite dish.” Pansy saw that her mother was clinging to this argument like a drowning man would clutch a piece of drift wood but didn’t comment. They couldn’t afford to eat fancy dishes, no matter that they once had.

Her mother just wasn’t aware of it.

“He’s not here to eat it.” Her mother’s fingers clenched at her words.

“It’s your father’s favourite dish.” The words that tumbled from her mouth had a harsher edge this time and Pansy’s grip on the edges of her wooden chair tightened. She wouldn’t let her mother become aware of their financial state but she didn’t know what to do if her mother kept pressing her on this topic.

“He’s in Azkaban. He. Can’t. Eat. It.” Her words now had a bite to them as well and she was leaning closer to the table.

Her mother flinched at the words and Pansy wondered for a brief moment if she should feel guilty at the movement. She didn’t though, and continued to stare at her mother. It was her turn to speak, after all.

Her mother blinked her eyes slowly, once, twice, and Pansy could see the beginnings of tears collecting in them. Her mother had never been one for arguments; she had always stood quietly by her father’s side as he made the decisions and announced them to the world. Pansy had never heard her exchange a heated word with anyone, had never heard her yell in anger—it was always tense silence and fragile tears with her— and wondered if today would be the day she raised her voice.

She saw her mother take a deep breath before releasing it bit by bit and waited. She knew that soon her mother would speak.

When finally she did, her voice held no signs of weakness and the tears that Pansy had seen in her eyes were gone.

“It’s my favourite dish.” Her dark eyes (so similar to Pansy’s) met hers, almost daring her to contradict her words. Pansy, though she didn’t know exactly which dish her mother favoured, knew that it wasn’t the salmon—she always took smaller than usual portions of the fish when it was served—was unsure of how to react. Did she want to challenge her mother? Say that she was lying?

Her mother continued to stare at her as she thought. She tried to appear defiant but Pansy could see the slight tremors that were running up and down her mother’s arms and knew that her mother was feeling desperate.

She paused to make a slight mental calculation before she opened her mouth and said calmly, as though she wasn’t giving in to her mother’s desires, “I’ll speak to them about putting it back into the rotation.”

“Thank you.”

Her voice had returned to its soft state and her eyes had lit up at her words. At the sight of her mother’s joy Pansy felt something in her stomach squirm. She allowed her hands to loosen from their grip on the wooden handles of the chair and she nodded to her mother as she stood.

“Is there anything else you wish to discuss?” Pansy knew that her mother would say no—she was too happy to request anything else from her—and barely waited for her answer before sweeping out of the dining room.

They didn’t speak that night, or for many weeks after that, and Pansy was content with the return to the regular routine, though she sometimes got a funny feeling in her stomach when she watched her mother silently from across the table.

Her mother didn’t comment a few weeks later when Pansy slipped the expensive cuts of beef from the menu (less expensive than the salmon but also less popular at the manor) and lessened the serving size and Pansy breathed a sigh of relief.

Their pocketbook would survive until she passed her N.E.W.T.s and was able to get a job.

This would work.

It had to.

A/N: Sorry it's been so long since the last update- I've been really busy with work. However, now that it's summer, I should have more time to write and hopefully the updates will come at a more regular pace. Thank you for continuing to read and review- I appreciate your comments!

Chapter 14: Reflection
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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.

Chapter 15: N.E.W.T.s
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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.

Chapter 16: Decisions
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It was harder than Pansy had thought to decide on a career. It was made even more difficult by her family’s looming financial disaster. Though they weren’t about to go broke by any means, soon they wouldn’t have enough money left in Gringotts to continue with their lavish lifestyle. Though Pansy had already cut back on some of their expenses, she hadn’t been able to do much since her mother kept interfering with her efforts. For every three things Pansy replaced with cheaper things (Pansy still shuddered when she thought about the shoddy quality of several things she had ordered the house elves to buy—disguised, of course. She didn’t want the news of the poor state of her finances to spread), her mother noticed a change and pestered her to return it back to its normal state. Pansy often acquiesced to her requests because she found that, finally, her mother had a stubborn streak when it came to the things she wanted to do the rest of the Parkinsons proud. With their reputation already trashed Pansy didn’t want to live in a world where their monetary worth was just as repugnant. She didn’t want to be like the Weasleys, proper pedigree in hand but without the necessary money to support it.

Still, Pansy refused to apply for a job that was beneath her, a characteristic that unfortunately applied to the majority of the jobs in the Wizarding world. Her choices were further limited by her dismal grades which were, while acceptable, not impressive enough to force employers to look at her while there were others with the same marks who didn’t carry the same stigma against them.

Sometimes, when her indignation burned bright at the thought of being inferior to those of a lesser breeding, she comforted herself with the thought that she had always expected to fulfill the typical pureblood wife’s role and nowhere in its description was it expected of her to have obtained Outstandings in her N.E.W.T.s.

At times she cursed Draco, not for having not loved her but rather for denying her the position as his wife. It had been what she had long envisioned her future to be and when that dream had shattered beyond repair Pansy had not thought of pursuing a different man.

Instead she had chosen to become an independent woman, one who had taken her future into her own hands.

Besides – the questions on the exams had been pointless and confusing and the coldness of the room, so unlike the Great Hall of Hogwarts where she had written the majority of her exams, had made her slightly uncomfortable. As much as it now ashamed her to think of it, she could remember her constant fidgeting in the room: tugging the sleeves of her robes down before rolling them back up when they annoyed her, biting the tip of the quill before pulling it from her mouth in disgust at the action, tapping her feet and twisting strands of her hair. Though she always tried to remain neat, she knew that her appearance was always slightly messy when she left the room at the end of each exam and her mood had always been dangerously black.

Several times she had had to stop herself from snarling and curling protectively over her exam when the woman opened the door to collect it; other times she had barely contained her absolute joy at getting rid of the over-long papers.

Luckily for her there had been a washroom towards the end of the corridor where she had been able to wash her face, rid her hands of the ink stains the quill had left on them, smooth out her robe and ensure that she looked presentable enough to walk in public without humiliating her family. Her stomach still twisted when she thought of the lady who had supervised all of her exams – she hoped that she wasn’t the gossiping type – and she cursed herself for losing control.

At least at home when her mood turned sour she was able to prevent it from affecting anyone and anything that could affect her future plans.
At least the N.E.W.T.s, stressful and exhausting as they were, were behind her now. A whole new challenge lay before her and she hoped that she was capable of performing it.

A smaller list of jobs in hand, Pansy turned her sights to the Ministry but there her ancestry put her at a disadvantage. No one wanted to hire the daughter of a Death Eater because they all feared the public backlash if they did. The lineage that she had always placed such pride in prevented her from being considered for any jobs in the public sector, though Pansy hadn’t been eager in the least sense of the word at the opportunity to serve other people, especially in the tasks that were usually relegated to her house elves.

A career as an Auror was much too dangerous—why in Merlin’s name would she want to risk her life for the pathetic people who had placed themselves in trouble?—and she didn’t have the necessary writing skills to be a journalist for the Daily Prophet. Even Professor Snape, who had always been biased towards those of his House, had been unable to ignore her awful structure and her essays had often been returned more red than black.

She had tossed off her Career Advice sessions in fifth year, believing them to be unnecessary, and Professor Snape had allowed her to, loath as he was to do so. During her first session she had admitted to having no grander ambitions than to be Mrs Draco Malfoy (though look how that had turned out for her, she thought bitterly, stuck in the memory of her momentary failure) and Professor Snape had been unable to convince her to turn her attention towards her studies. He had ended their sessions after just the one, stating that they were a waste of both her time and his. She had eagerly agreed—she wished now that she hadn’t.

She had no idea of what to do, no direction in which to shape her life. She knew the end goal but without the path to get there she was lost. The sensation of being slowly sucked under the water level was frightening and inescapable. The small voice at the back of her head whispered to her that it had known that this would happen but offered no further comments when she asked it for help.

Alone, Pansy wasted her days scouring through the Daily Prophet for ideas, flicking through her pile of Witch Weekly and wandering through Diagon Alley in search of possible careers. As the time since she received her N.E.W.T.s results grew larger her motivation grew smaller and she was pushed onwards because a Parkinson never gave up on an idea. Not when it was a good one and Pansy logically knew that getting a job was necessary. Still, when there was only need, not desire, behind an idea it was easier to get off track and she occasionally found herself wasting her time on idle pursuits instead of staying focused on her task.

She spent an afternoon crafting the Alluring elixir, the potion that had caught her attention all those weeks ago. She still found the notion of capturing love—or the closest imitation of love they could produce—in a bottle fascinating and sporadically she found her eyes wandering towards the drawer where her vials of Amortentia were contained. This potion was easier to create than Amortentia had been; it was less time consuming and the ingredients were more common. Pansy thought that the only reason it wasn’t more popular was because it didn’t force someone else to love you but rather you to love someone else and no one enjoyed having something foreign control their behaviour.

After she had finished brewing the potion she tucked it away in flasks sealed with wax at the bottom of her closet. She had no use for the potion at the moment but her lesser fortune (of the moment) had taught her to never waste something that cost money. Perhaps it would come of use in the future... The footnotes of the magazine had said that nothing dangerous would result from a long-term storage of the potion; its affect would only strengthen as time passed.

She also spent more time with Astor, enjoying the way his tail would wag when he was excited, finding the sight of his paws sinking into the carpet that covered the manor’s floors comical and laughing at the way he would push around the house elves when he grew overanxious or energized. The more time she spent with him, the less she communicated with her reflection—and she didn’t notice this imperfect balance of time.

It was while she was watching Milly walk Astor that an appropriate career came to her. She was inside, looking at the small house elf chase after the small dog through the dining room window, for the weather was brutally cold that day. It was still early in the morning, though she had already eaten breakfast and the table had been cleared, and she often had to shield her eyes from the glare of the sun reflecting off the snow. It was during one of these moments where she had to glance away from the grounds that a black speck in the sky caught her attention. It was becoming larger as it drew nearer and Pansy was eventually able to see that it was an owl. She flicked open the top pane of the window, high enough above her that she was less likely to feel the cold wind as it whistled past the manor, but still providing the owl with a way inside to her.

Dangling from its claws was the Daily Prophet, late in its arrival. However, from the bedraggled state of the owl as it glided inside the manor, Pansy knew that the owl had been flying for a long time and had probably been waylaid by the snow storm from the previous night. She sighed and decided that owling the Daily Prophet about its tardiness would come off as her being spoiled rather than her seeking righteous justice.

The owl landed behind her on the back of a wooden chair and Pansy turned around to see it offering its leg to her. She reached over and untied the newspaper, ready to see what had happened recently in the Wizarding world.

She sniffed as the front page story turned out to be an article about Harry Potter’s latest and greatest capture – he obviously still had his compulsive need for attention. The fact that he was an auror without having ever completed his schooling annoyed her—why should he be allowed to skip the rules that everyone else had to follow? Why should he be considered special? Him, a half-blood, while those with purer breeding were held to the same regulations as mudbloods.

She turned the page and noted that this issue of the Daily Prophet was obviously centered on crime in society. They had an entire page dedicated to Auror statistics: how many they had employed, how many criminals they had captured, the success rate of their missions. Though her father would have scoffed at the notion of being so blatant about their defense, Pansy knew that Wizarding society was still obsessed with stamping out any and all traces of the Dark Arts and these statistics helped them to feel as though they were living in a safe society, as though they were helping to keep it safe.

The Daily Prophet, though it claimed to be a newspaper, catered to the masses. It held very few controversial articles and—Pansy flipped quickly through the pages to find Adri Bennett’s name—those that it did were small. She smiled as she read Adri Bennett’s article; he had obviously chosen today’s topic in a bid to counter the anti-Dark Arts statistics from the first few pages and hid it under the guise of cultural knowledge. His article covered the topic of keeping society safe, just like the rest of the issue did, but he wrote about it from the angle of being an informed citizen, one with the knowledge of how to use the Dark Arts. Durmstrang, he argued, taught its pupils some of the Darker Arts and exposed them to even more. It didn’t shy away from Magic’s darker side. He remarked that if one looked at the Auror statistics of Norway one would find that they had a higher success rate than the department in Britain and had been troubled by fewer Dark Lords. It was, he concluded, simply a matter of knowing the consequences of one’s actions and if the Dark Arts were hidden away they would become that much more enticing. Once again it was time to state that that which was forbidden became that much more tempting.

Pansy sometimes wondered how he was still employed at the Daily Prophet, for his articles always went against the grain. She had once wondered if his articles were publicity stunts but the continuous articles advocating the same angle had convinced her that he truly believed in what he was writing. Now, she supposed that his articles provided the much needed second opinion on Wizarding politics that the intelligent people of Wizarding society wanted, and that was the only reason he still retained his job.

Pansy placed the newspaper on the table, where the house elves would later collect it, and was about to return to the window when a breeze from the open window pane ruffled the pages of the paper. She whipped out her wand and shut the window pane but the damage had been done: the newspaper was no longer neatly folded. Instead, its sheets littered the room. Pansy was about to leave the mess for the house elves to clean when a lone sheet on the table caught her eye or, rather, the small, italicized words at the bottom of the page caught her eye.

Statistics collected from the Ministry of Magic archives.

The archives… She was furious at herself for a few moments for not thinking of this opportunity sooner – hadn’t Adri Bennett mentioned that he was going there when he had stopped her in the Ministry? Why hadn’t she remembered about the archives sooner?

But her thoughts soon turned to more practical matters – she knew that she had to obtain a job soon if she was to continue to be able to support herself and her mother. The archives would provide a suitable work place – why didn’t she apply there? Or, for that matter, why didn’t she apply for a job at the newspaper? The Daily Prophet had employed Rita Skeeter, who had a worse reputation than she did. There were also the less-known magazines that she could apply to. Hidden behind the written word—she could always write behind a pen name—she would be safe from the current animosity society bore towards her family. And, after the public had grown to love her articles, she could reveal that was her, Pansy Parkinson, who had written them. After that point, the Parkinson’s old reputation would no longer matter as society would embrace her once again.

And at the archives she would have access to all the information of the Ministry of Magic. She would be in a position of power without being in the eyes of society. No one, save for her employer, would have to know that she worked there and as such she would once again be safe from the society’s hostility. From there, she could work herself into the trust and friendship of her co-workers and, by following the rules of the archive, gradually earn the trust of society, for society always trusted those who didn’t abuse their power or, at least, didn’t appear to.

Yes—that decided it. She would send out her applications to the magazines, to the archives and to the Daily Prophet. She could decide later, after they had accepted her, which one would best suit her needs.

Pansy smiled and snapped her fingers, summoning a house elf to clean the mess of newspaper sheets. When one appeared, she told it to get rid of all of them, save for the one with the quote about the archives. That one she would keep.

Chapter 17: Rejection
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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,

The Quibbler


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.

Chapter 18: Craddle
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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.

Every one.

*

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.

Chapter 19: Archives
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It was a cool, brisk morning when Pansy stepped outside the manor doors at half-past eight, her hair done up tightly in a bun and her cheeks hidden behind a thick scarf. Though the grounds were still covered in snow, it was no longer a pristine white due to the rain that had fallen in sheets the night before. Instead the snow had hardened into ice at some parts, causing Pansy to be careful where she placed her feet, and traces of mud marred the whiteness.

Normally the imperfectness of the grounds would have irritated her but today Pansy refused to let it. She had bigger things to worry about and one of those things included leaving the grounds promptly so as to ensure that she would reach her destination by nine o’clock.

The wind curled around her body, teasing the edges of her robes in a manner that made Pansy clutch them all the more tight around her body. She hated the cold fingers that wanted to rid her of her warmth by snaking under her robes and wished that she didn’t have to brave the outdoors. Unfortunately, since no one had thought to provide her with the floo password even though she was now working at the Ministry, she could still only access the Ministry through the visitor’s entrance.

Still, as she reached the gates that marked the end of the Parkinson grounds and pushed past them to an area where she would finally be able to apparate, she thought longingly of the warm fire that the house elves had raging in the visiting room. It would have been so easy to simply take the floo…

She would see to the oversight today but for now she was resigned to once again taking the visitor’s entrance.

The atrium of the Ministry was even busier than the time she had spent in it before taking her N.E.W.T.s, filled with people rushing to get to their jobs on time. She was briefly distracted by the constantly flaring floos that lined the sides of the Ministry but she soon concentrated on reaching her destination. At least this time she knew where she had to go.

She cut a straight path through the throng of witches and wizards bustling through the atrium, heading towards the lifts, and was dismayed to see that the plump wizard from before was once again in charge of the desk guarding the lifts. Adri Bennett had mentioned his name, before he had abruptly ran away from her—what was it?

She shook her head—the man’s name wasn’t important.

There was a short line before his desk as he examined everyone’s badges and Pansy knew that it would have moved along faster if he stopped gossiping with everyone who entered his line of sight. She was dreading the moment that she reached the front of the line, even though she was aware of each second that ticked by.

When she did reach the front, she thrust her badge into his waiting hands and gazed around the rest of the atrium, hoping that if he couldn’t see her face he wouldn’t talk to her. Unfortunately, she had forgotten that her name was on the badge and hadn’t known that the man—Mr Richard?—had a very good memory.

As soon as he read her badge, he was talking to her.

“Miss Parkinson!” he said, lifting her badge closer to his face as though the news on it was the only interesting thing he had read that day, “I remember you!”

Pansy nodded and hoped that he would leave the conversation at that. However, the man seemed unconscious of her desires.

“How did you do on your N.E.W.T.s? Did you reach the examination room in time? If I remember correctly, it would have been a tight squeeze!” The man laughed and Pansy felt irritation bubble inside of her. She was not in the mood to banter with the man, not when she could still feel the coldness in her fingers. The warming charm she had cast hadn’t had much of an effect.

“And look at you now!” The man peered at her as though she was a strange, new creature. “If I’ve read this badge correctly—and my wife is always telling me that I need glasses!—it seems that you’ve gotten yourself a job! And with the Archives, no less. Not many people seek a job there.”

The man leaned closer to her, as though they were conspiring together. Pansy made no move to close the distance between them. If the man wanted to look foolish, it was his choice, but he wouldn’t drag her down as well.

“There’s been rumours that the place is so dull that people have fallen asleep at their desks.” The man laughed at the expression on her face and Pansy felt her irritation increase. “You should see the look on your face! No, it’s no secret that the Archives are a boring place. Let’s hope that you don’t get sucked into its pool of dreariness.”

The man looked as though he would say more and Pansy prepared herself for more inanities. She just wanted her badge to be returned to her so that she could be on her way. If she was late, what could she say? I was held up by the idiot guard by the lifts who doesn’t know how to keep to himself?

“Move along Richards!” a man called from behind her, “Let the poor girl go! Some of us have jobs to get to!”

Pansy felt her face flush as the stranger rescued her from Richards—she should have been able to save herself. But she didn’t allow any of her frustration with the situation show on her face and just accepted the badge from Richards with a stilted nod. Richards had taken the comment with grace, beaming at the man and waving her past him easily with a parting comment.

“You ought to get a real badge, Miss Parkinson. They’re so much better—impossible to fake!”

She hoped that the man wouldn’t be so talkative every day, though he was right about her needing to obtain the proper badge. She refused to come into work every day with a badge that was obviously from the visitor’s entrance that said “Pansy Parkinson: Archives Worker”. She wanted an official badge—it would just be one more thing that helped to prove that the Ministry did trust her, at least a little. If she continued to work with a visitor’s badge, she was sure to gain scorn and ridicule for being unable to secure a proper badge.

She would have to remedy its absence immediately.

Luckily, the lifts were prompt in their arrival and no one delayed her, though a few people did gaze askance at her as she walked past them. She hadn’t given any sign that she’d seen their disbelief or mistrust—she’d just continued walking, firm in the knowledge that she had the right to be where she was.

Besides, she had known that not everyone would be accepting of her position in the beginning—her family’s reputation preceded itself. The only reason that more people weren’t watching her suspiciously was that not many people recognized her. She had, after all, spent just over two years alone in her manor and she couldn’t expect all of the Britain’s Wizarding population to be at Diagon Alley at the same times she was – she had even planned some of the visits so that she wouldn’t be visiting when many people were in the Alley.

Even though people had recognized her for who and what she was in the Alley, the people in the Ministry had the benefit of being absorbed in their own tasks. Unlike in the Alley, wasting time here could end with one being sacked. Most people simply didn’t have the time to notice her.

Pansy soon found herself in the dim corridor that led to the Ministry Archives and almost immediately spotted the figure of the woman she assumed to be Theresa standing outside of the door Pansy had noticed the previous day.

She looked to be shorter than Pansy but she was wearing heels that lifted her up. Pansy noted that she was wearing the formal sort of robes that she would expect of a working person – black, with sleeves and a long skirt. Pansy found herself comparing her robes to those she herself wore – since it was her first day at the Archives she hadn’t yet purchased the business-woman robes for she hadn’t been certain of the level of professionalism that was expected of her. Seeing Mr. Craddle yesterday certainly hadn’t helped to sway her in one direction or another.

As a compromise with herself, she had worn her basic black robes, which weren’t as eye-catching as some of the robes in her wardrobe and yet had enough of a presence to suit her. While they weren’t a recent purchase, the basic style of robes never went out of fashion and they were of high quality.

They would do, Pansy had told herself and had sworn that as soon as she had enough information to properly choose her work-wear, she would go out and purchase it, no matter the price. After all, the robes she bought would help her to slip smoothly into the workings of the Archives and back into the upper levels of society.

She could spare a little money to accomplish that goal.

As Pansy watched and hurried towards her, the woman flipped open her pocket watch to check the time and then opened the satchel hanging by her side to fiddle with something inside it. The woman quickly glanced up and snapped her satchel closed, however, when she heard the sound of Pansy’s footsteps.

Running a quick hand over her hair to ensure that it was still in its tight bun (though Pansy noted that she must have had a harder time restraining it, since little strands were already escaping from the band tying them together), the woman smiled and introduced herself. Pansy could see that the smile was slightly forced and knew that the woman wished to be elsewhere, doing things other than escorting her around the Archives.

But since the lady—Theresa—seemed to want to keep up the appearance that she was perfectly fine in helping Pansy, Pansy wouldn’t draw any attention to her disinterest.

“Anthony told me to help you get settled into your position in the Archives,” she said and Pansy felt a pang of her irritation race through her—who was she to refer to her employer by his first name? It was unprofessional and Pansy hoped that the Archives weren’t run in such a messy manner – it would eventually reflect poorly on her.

Pansy let the anger fade away as quickly as it had appeared. She had thought that her anger would have disappeared after she had left the presence of Mr. Richards and had been happy at the thought—she didn’t want to spend her day at work angry. It would make it easier for her to lose control—not that Parkinsons ever lost control without first giving themselves permission to do so—and she couldn’t afford to make any mistakes.

A single one could ruin all of her plans.

Theresa turned and placed her hand flat on the door, waiting a moment before pushing it open. Turning to face Pansy as she held the door open, she said, “It registers your identity. Your handprint will be logged into its memory today, so that tomorrow and for the rest of the time that you work here, however long that will be, you can enter this room without problem. Anyone else who wishes to enter this room, no matter what permission they may have, must wait for an Archives employee to let them in.”

Theresa smiled, as though she enjoyed having this power over others, before continuing. “The manner in which the door works is very similar to a muggle device, though you don’t need to know the specifics.” Pansy nodded—she had no desire to learn about Muggle machinery—and was struck by Theresa’s resemblance to the Weasleys. With her red hair and her apparent knowledge about Muggles (Pansy had heard the rumours about the elder Weasley’s fascination with everything Muggle—how pathetic a thing to spend your attention on), Theresa could easily be a member of their family.

She really didn’t want to work alongside a Weasley, particularly one whose position in the Archives seemed to be higher than her own. However, she caught herself before she opened her mouth to ask for Theresa’s last name – the Weasleys were known for being firmly on the Light side and if she could befriend one of them, it would go a long way in solidifying her change in the eyes of society—and bit her tongue. She would keep quiet about Theresa’s possible parentage, since it didn’t harm her efforts and because it would only look strange if she asked.

She wouldn’t alienate a co-worker so soon into her job. She wouldn’t.

Instead she followed Theresa around as she showed her the desks that were placed in rows just after the door, forming a barricade to protect the enormous bookshelves that continued until the room’s end some distance away. The bookshelves spanned wall to wall, with only a small pathway down the center of the room so that a person could reach the ones behind the first bookshelf, and went from floor to ceiling.

They were massive and Pansy felt small standing near to them.

Theresa stood beside her, a quiet pride shining in her eyes. She swept her arms out to encompass the portion of the room that contained the bookshelves and said, “These bookshelves contain all of the documents that anyone at the Ministry might require. They carry copies of all legal proceedings as well as clippings from most of the newspapers and magazines.” Pansy wondered how anyone could be so proud to work here, could be so proud of documents.

She shared a sharp glance with Pansy before saying, “We don’t carry the trash some people like to sell as news. You won’t find any issues of Witch Weekly or Sorcerer’s Fancy here and no one who actually should be here would come asking for them.” Pansy stopped herself from biting back that Witch Weekly wasn’t trash – starting an argument about a magazine, no matter how good the magazine was, was not something that would go over well on the first day of a new job. Especially not when the person she was arguing with held an unknown position in the workplace.

“Everything here is organized by subject and then by the first letter of the first word of their title. I trust that you are familiar with how this works?” Theresa looked at Pansy as though a negative answer would result in the immediate cancellation of her position at the Archives and Pansy answered “Yes” in a tone that made it quite clear that she was insulted that Theresa had even thought to ask such a silly question.

Theresa’s next smile didn’t seem quite so forced.

“Now special wards have been placed in this room so that nothing can be Accio-ed – it’s a precaution to prevent the documents from being easily stolen.” Pansy nodded her understanding and made a mental note to learn more about those wards – they could be useful in the future, if she ever wanted to ensure that something would be difficult to find. However, the use of the wards in this particular case could make finding certain documents hard, for certainly there were documents that fit under numerous categories.

Theresa’s answer to this was simple and, Pansy was happy to find, easy. Though the wards disallowed Accio from working, there was nothing in the room to prevent the Point-me spell from being used and, in fact, its use was encouraged by Anthony (there was another flash of irritation when Theresa mentioned his name and Pansy was unhappy in the knowledge that it took much longer to disappear this time) so that the time of those who had come to the Archives seeking information wouldn’t have to wait for very long before the required documents were in their hands.

She would simply have to remember to look the spell up later in her manor and practice it so that she didn’t look like a fool when she couldn’t perform it.

Theresa was momentarily derailed from her speech about the inner workings of the Archives by the sound of a soft cling as the door opened to admit a person. Turning around, Pansy found that the employee base of the Archives was even broader than she had previously imagined for entering the room was the type of person one would expect to find at a library: elderly, with a full head of grey hair and a thin frame that spoke more of a lack of desire to eat than starvation. He was holding a cane in his hand, which he used to support himself as he walked towards a desk. Pansy thought it would have fit better if the man was actually visiting for a document but knew that he had to work there. He wouldn’t have been able to get in by himself, otherwise.

“Hello Jonathon,” Theresa said, watching as the man made his way slowly across the stone floor (carpeting would soak up moisture and ruin the documents, Theresa had explained), making no move to help him. Pansy felt no urge to go to his aid as she once again heard the sound of his cane clicking against the floor—Theresa hadn’t and Pansy thought that there must be a reason for her inactivity.

But then doubt began to creep into her mind—what if this was just a test? What if Theresa was just waiting to see how Pansy would react to Jonathon? Perhaps in refusing to go to the old man’s aid she was actually sealing her reputation in the Archives as a heartless person.

Deciding that there was more reason to move than to remain immobile, Pansy started to walk towards Jonathon, who was steadily nearing the desk closest to the bookshelves, and was relieved when a moment later Theresa motioned with her hand to stop.

“That’s Jonathon,” she hissed, as though Pansy was too stupid to place the name she had said earlier to the person she had been talking to. “He likes to be independent.” She shrugged, as though to say “What can you do?” Pansy noted that she had become friendlier now—perhaps Theresa viewed speaking about the Archives as a bonding experience.

It would certainly make her life easier if she did.

“He also has bloody good hearing,” the man said loudly, startling the both of them and causing Theresa to blush. Pansy thought that her reddened face clashed horribly with her hair and hoped that she wasn’t one to embarrass easily. It would be hard to work with her if she constantly had to see such a horrible mixing of colours.

She didn’t say any of this aloud, though, preferring to watch as Theresa recovered. The blush was quickly fading away and she soon returned to her stiffer posture.

“Jonathon, it’s fifteen minutes after nine o’clock, the time at which you were supposed to be here.” Theresa’s voice had regained its strictness, though Pansy could see that she didn’t really want to punish Jonathon about his lateness. In fact, from Jonathon’s blossoming grin, Pansy assumed that this scolding was an ordinary ritual.

“I abide by no rules!” the man declared, sitting with a thump on his chair. “They just try to contain and restrain me and I won’t let them succeed!”

Theresa smiled, as though she once again sensed the weakness in his argument. “But Jonathon, you work in a place that thrives on rules and organization. The Archives would be a mess without the rules that guide us every day.”

“Pah!” Jonathon spat onto the stone floor, though he banished the stain on the floor just as quickly as he had placed it there – Pansy could see Theresa relaxing after he did that. She herself was slightly disgusted – she had never actually seen a man who was loose enough with his manners to actually spit on the floor. She controlled her expression, though, knowing that she was the outsider in this situation and that Jonathon, no matter how repulsive he might be after that last action, currently had the stronger relationships with their co-workers.

And it seemed that Jonathon wasn’t done with his anti-organization declaration. “How do you know I haven’t been sorting the potions articles under charms or slipping the latest issue of Witch Weekly onto the shelves?”

“Jonathon!” Seeing that Theresa’s face was turning as red as her hair, Pansy stepped back from Theresa’s side, deciding to remove herself, at least physically, from the ridiculousness of the people she would be working with. For the first time, she seriously wondered if the Archives were the ideal place to base the reparation of her family’s reputation.

Then she blinked and shook herself quickly, aware that the focus of her co-workers was only on each other – Theresa was scandalized that Jonathon would even think of ruining the careful organization of the Archives (though Pansy wondered why she cared as much as she did) and Jonathon was chuckling to himself in glee. She had to work here, she had chosen to work here because it was the first place to have accepted her. She had no choice if she wanted to continue with her restoration plan now… She had received no other job offers.

Resolving herself once more to stand firm in the face of all adversity, Pansy turned her attention back to the intense discussion between Theresa and Jonathon. However the discussion seemed to be nearing an end—Jonathon was reassuring Theresa that he hadn’t done anything to mess with the proper places of the documents.

“Are you sure?” Theresa’s face had returned to its previous paleness and she was slowly regaining the stiffness of posture that her anger had robbed her of. “If I see anything out of place, I’ll know who to blame.” She left the threat to hang in the air and turned around to face Pansy.

Pansy glanced one final time at Jonathon, who nodded at her with a wide smile, before watching Theresa. She didn’t want to risk Theresa’s wrath, for even though it seemed to burn quickly before disappearing she didn’t want to chance that that might only be the case in long-term relationships. She had known Theresa for mere minutes and that wasn’t enough time to build the relationship that would permit her to be careless around her without worry.

She didn’t know if she would ever build that relationship but she would try.

She would try and she would succeed.

Chapter 20: Meeting
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The Archives, Pansy found, were simple to use—all that was required of her was that she properly filed the documents that were placed on her desk (and she understood the filing system that the Archives used—it was the same system the library in her manor was organized by. It was a good system) and that she retrieved the desired documents for those who visited with the proper identification. Theresa had reminded her several times to ensure that she only distributed documents to those who had the authority to borrow them and, if they wanted to take them from the Archives, that she had them sign the proper documents that would record the borrowing as well as the magical signature of the person doing the borrowing. Later, after she had become accustomed to those responsibilities, she would also be required to examine the documents to ensure that they weren’t out-dated or contained false information.

She could see why Jonathon was still capable of retaining his job at the Archives – there was no physical stamina involved, only mental.

She had also learned that the Archives were open longer than almost any other department in the Ministry – to allow for the necessary availability of information, Theresa had said proudly, as she walked among the bookshelves – and thus that she did have more than just Theresa and Jonathon as her co-workers.

One more person had joined them as Theresa showed Pansy around the Archives, who was in a much friendlier mood now that she was able to discuss the Archives without much interruption. Pansy had been careful to portray only an attentive air as Theresa had babbled on about things too inane for others to care about and had welcomed the brief distraction that the newcomer had provided.

And it was brief – Theresa did no more than say hello to the woman, who looked scared and was in constant motion, who hunched over as though to hide her height, and introduce her to Pansy. Then she had let the woman, Felicity Bolhorn, proceed to her desk where she had immediately dove into the stack of documents on the edge of her desk. She looked determined to ignore everyone in the room, from the way she never glanced up from the parchment and used her long, brown hair as a curtain to shield herself.

Pansy had been glad that Felicity hadn’t extended her hand to be shaken – Pansy thought that she was too open in her fear. Her father had always told her to never show her emotions, her weaknesses like that in public where anyone might see them and use them against her.

She had also been slightly puzzled by the fact that Theresa hadn’t scolded the woman for being late as she had done to Jonathon – after all, the woman had arrived just under three hours after Jonathon had.
Seeing her puzzled look, though, Theresa had quickly erased her confusion.

“The employees of the Archives work on a staggered schedule – we don’t all work at once, for that would leave us all with extremely long days. Instead, we work in shifts that overlap as the day goes on. Anthony arrives first, but he also leaves the earliest. After that, the timing of the shifts rotates on a weekly basis.

“However, you can request a certain time slot, so long as no one else objects. I prefer to be here in the mornings, when everything is quieter, because I find it easier to analyze the documents then. Other people, like Nicola, Lesley and Clive, prefer to take the shifts in the late afternoon and early evening so that they can help and talk with the reporters that come here searching for facts for their articles. Of course, the Aurors can come in here at all times, looking for information on their cases, but that slot tends to be the most populated of all of them. Jonathon likes to request that slot but someone always objects-” Theresa raised her voice at this point, slipping a glance over her shoulder at Jonathon’s desk “-since we all know that he likes to annoy the Daily Prophet reporters. Whenever the opportunity arises, he’s slow to let them in and even slower to help them find their documents, often claiming that he’s hard of hearing. We’ve had complaints that we ought to sack him.”

“They’re all parasites!” Jonathon called back, without looking up from the document he was reading. Theresa flushed red and muttered something about not properly respecting the people who wanted and needed information.

“Anyway,” she said, turning sharply back towards the conversation, “due to this staggered schedule, it may be some time before you see the rest of the employees of the Archives. But you can rest assured that everyone here is perfectly able to complete the tasks set to them, even though for some of them it may not seem like it.” Pansy assumed that the jab was directed at Jonathon and wondered if they were always this intense in their arguments. Jonathon seemed to take delight in antagonizing Theresa and she was quick to return his comments.

“You haven’t been assigned a specific rotation yet. Today you’ll do the first shift, which starts at nine and not 9:15,-” Another pointed glance “-tomorrow you’ll be placed on the second shift, which starts at noon, and you will continue like this until you have worked on all of the shifts.” Pansy nodded—this routine would allow her to meet all of the employees without it seeming strange. “After that point, you’ll be free to place your request as to which shift you’d prefer to be placed on, though you should be aware that any requests made are not set in stone—you can still bounce around on the shift schedule.”

Pansy almost raised her eyebrow at the idea that her request would be denied or put aside but remembered just in time that she couldn’t show any indications that she still considered herself better than everyone else in the room.

Theresa smiled. “Everyone bounced around a little in the beginning before they settled in—don’t worry about it. Soon enough you’ll find your perfect slot.”

Pansy nodded again and realized that the bouncing around on the schedule didn’t have to be a negative thing—it would give her an easy way to be in constant contact with all of the employees. Once she settled into a spot, she would have less access to certain people unless she requested a different shift or they did. And she couldn’t request a different shift without a legitimate reason – she didn’t want to offend anyone.

It was soon after Lesley’s entrance that Pansy was finally shown to a desk and given a stack of documents that was noticeably smaller than the ones on the other desks. She wasn’t offended, though – it meant less work for her and she was the newest employee.

Theresa still took it upon herself to explain Pansy’s new task; she seemed to have completely dropped her annoyed attitude from earlier in the morning.

“This is a really easy,” she said in a reassuring tone, and Pansy gritted her teeth minutely at the tone – she wasn’t stupid. “All you have to do is read the titles of the documents, and sometimes the contents as well, and file them in the appropriate section.” She patted the documents once, as though she was assuring herself that they were safe and whole, and, seeing Pansy’s fixed smile, left her to her work.

Pansy slowly picked up the first of the documents in front of her and examined it. The words “Improvement of Ancient Runes Ritual a Success” ran across the top in bold, black text and were accompanied underneath by the author’s name—a Patricia Lonslew. The name didn’t sound familiar and Pansy wondered briefly if she should make note of the name – the witch was an employee of the Daily Prophet and might be useful in the future—before deciding that she needn’t spread herself too thinly this early in the game. She would only allow Lonslew to occupy her thoughts if she proved to be a noteworthy journalist, something that this article didn’t reflect.

However, the title of this article made it easy to sort and Pansy moved to stand. She would place the articles into their proper places one at a time so that it would be less likely that she would make a mistake (not that Parkinsons did, though thoughts swirled in Pansy’s head reminding her of several actions she had done that could be classified as mistakes – Pansy hushed them, pushing them to the back of her mind).

As she stood, gripping the parchment lightly in her hand so that she would not wrinkle it, she noticed Theresa’s eyes on her. She smiled lightly, though she found her muscles reluctant to move into the position, and Theresa returned it, wider and brighter than hers had been, before ducking her head and returning to her own business.

Pansy moved smoothly around her desk and walked straight into the corridor of bookshelves, hesitating and stopping her walk only after she had disappeared far enough into the corridor that she was beyond the sight of her co-workers. It was only then that she allowed her confusion to surface and gave herself leave to search among the shelves for the relevant category.

Though she knew the organization of her library back at home quite well, the Archives didn’t organize their subjects in exactly the same manner and she found the Ancient Runes not in the middle of the row of bookshelves like they were at the manor but rather towards the back. Pansy wondered idly as she returned to her desk if the subjects were ordered in the bookshelves based on relevance and popularity – the Dark Arts and Auror shelves were nearer to the front, with potions close behind them, while the shelves on the discoveries of the Ancient Egyptian wizards were near the end of the row.

She sat down and began to read the next document – this one was harder to classify, for it walked a fine balance between a discussion on regular curses and the Dark Arts.

It was quiet work and Pansy felt herself slipping smoothly into a rhythm, barely looking up when Theresa slipped more documents onto her desk – the latest clippings from the Daily Prophet, Pansy noted when she finally saw them.

It was also easy work and Pansy found that she also had moments to think and plan during the day – she would move slowly, until she had a better knowledge of the personalities of her co-workers. She only had today with them, before she was moved to a different set tomorrow. At least they shared lunch – she had not brought her own and planned to join one or more of them if they left, if they would accept her.

And at least she was only with them for a short period of the day – her shift finished at three, after which time she was free to leave.

And free to plan.

*

The days after that passed quickly as Pansy strove to make connections with each of her new co-workers.

By the end of the fourth day she had met everyone that Theresa had mentioned on her first day and everyone that she hadn’t. There were none that she had formed an immediate bond with and she had been careful to avoid learning about their blood status. If she didn’t know, she thought, it would be easier for her to prevent any unpopular opinions from leaking through to show on her face and body gestures. She did, however, expect that she was working with those of mixed blood and knew that a day would most likely come when she did learn of their statuses. If and when it came, she was determined to stop any outward reaction – the blood statuses of her co-workers were something that she could and would use to her advantage – how could they fail to recognize her change when she forged friendships with those of pure and non-pure blood alike?

And she was careful to never let her inner thoughts through to her outer expressions as she listened to them prattle on about silly things that happened to them, though most of the time they were talking to a wider audience than just her. She hadn’t been accepted enough yet to become anyone’s sympathetic ear, something that she considered a mixed blessing.

While listening, she commented and nodded as though she was paying the utmost attention to them and continued to complete her work in a diligent fashion. Even if she wasn’t one of the fastest workers in the Archives, she would give them no easy reason to fire her.

And she stored the information they told her, repeating it in her mind until she had an opportunity to write it down. She was starting a collection at home of notes on her co-workers. It would help her to remember them and to gain their trust more easily.

She didn’t have much information yet—the basic information wasn’t talked about much and so, even if it was necessary to form friendships, it was the hardest to get. Instead she learned that Terrance, a thin, sandy-haired man who looked as though a strong breeze would easily be able to fly off with him (and Pansy did not smile at the image of him flailing in the wind—she didn’t), was having trouble with his marriage, though she didn’t know exactly what the trouble was. Nicola had just said that Terrance had temporarily moved in with his friend, a suitcase in tow.

Pansy wondered why he had been the one to be removed from the house.

Pansy hadn’t learned anything interesting about Nicola, either from her speaking or from conversations with her other co-workers. From her shifts that she shared with the witch, Pansy had discovered that Nicola was loud—loud in voice and loud in opinion. Her physical appearance bolstered this loudness, allowing her to dominate the room she was in.

Pansy had sniffed at this discovery but refrained from commenting. Privately, though, she wished that she was just as free and able to declare her opinions to the world as Nicola was and sometimes it was with an envy-tinged gaze that she watched Nicola expound her latest problem to the listening ears of Lesley. Her black hair would hang in a busy cloud around her head, shaking as Nicola nodded vigorously to underline her points, and her whole body would move in time to the emotion she was currently swept away with.

Lesley herself would be nodding her head, her large brown eyes almost covered by her brown bangs. Pansy found her to be the most friendly of any of her new co-workers, now that Theresa had fulfilled her duty to Mr Craddle (Pansy made a point of calling him that, even in her mind – Theresa’s casualness with his first name still bothered her, though no one else had commented on it) and had returned to being primarily occupied with reading documents and ensuring that the rules of the Archives were enforced.

Lesley was tall, though she wasn’t as tall as Felicity—a fact that had taken Pansy several shifts to figure out since Lesley had always arrived before her and remained sitting whenever Pansy’s attention wandered to her. She seemed to prefer sitting, something that Pansy reluctantly included in her notes on her co-workers. One never knew when a fact might come in handy.

However, beyond her introductions and her minimal participation in their conversations, Pansy hadn’t made any progress with forming a connection with her co-workers. Part of the problem was that she didn’t know how and had no one to turn to for help.

Even her reflection hadn’t answered her calls for aid.

Instead she had had to seek comfort from Astor, who had become even more active than usual when she paid more attention to him. The sight of him bouncing up and down at her approach, tugging and almost choking himself to get beyond the range of Milly’s spell and into her arms, had made her feel guilty and now she took him with her wherever she went in the manor. It seemed to make Astor happier and her mother wasn’t there to criticize or worry.

After her initial bounce through the schedule was over, Pansy requested the same slot as Nicola, Lesley and Clive in the “outgoing” shift, though she knew she was unlikely to gain a permanent spot there over the people who had worked in the Archives longer.

It hadn’t hurt to apply, though, and Pansy had done so after forcing herself to talk with Lesley about applying there. The witch had nodded her head excitedly and had started to regale Pansy with tales of strange people she had met while working on that shift. Though Pansy had been anxious to return to her work (she didn’t feel that she could be caught slacking off from the organization of documents), she had remained in place, listening to Lesley’s tales of a man who had come in wanting information on walruses and their relationship with the turning of the tides and hadn’t listened when she had said that they didn’t have any documents on that.

It was a move in the right direction, Pansy thought and gave a small laugh that sounded fake to her ears, though Lesley didn’t seem to notice.

Lesley had been the only overtly friendly person, the only person to initiate a conversation with her or continue it beyond the range of the beginning question. She seemed to be completely unaware of Pansy’s family history, something that Pansy didn’t think was possible. Everyone who lived in Britain had been affected by the war and Lesley didn’t have the accent of someone who had recently moved to the island.

On the other hand, Pansy had been shown no overt hostility. In fact, the only person who showed signs of being angry and irritated with her was Cyril Joist, a stocky redhead whose hair hung over his ears and whose freckles dotted their way across his face.

When he had barged in to join Felicity in the second shift of the day, he hadn’t acknowledged Theresa’s introduction of Pansy with anything more than a squawk that “she had better not be suited with a desk near his because he wouldn’t stand for it!”. Luckily for him, his desk was closer to the front of the room than Pansy’s was – Pansy didn’t think that her other co-workers would have been pleased to be forced to switch desks just to suit Cyril.

Unfortunately, she also suspected that they probably would have blamed her for the move.

Her time in the company of Slytherins had prepared her for the ever-shifting politics of human relationships, though Slytherins tended to be more reserved in their emotions and thoughts.

She felt as though she was climbing a never-ending set of stairs, trying desperately to reach the top and claim that glory that lay there.

And there were still many ways in which she was as knowledgeable as a toddler, as much as it pained her to recognize the fact.

She learned that a friendship of the kind that she wanted, needed, could not be built through a single glance or even a single conversation. It took time and effort, more than she had realized. She would need to do more than just pretend to listen, though her notes served her well. She would have to participate, to seek them out instead of the other way around.

She would have to initiate and persist and follow, something that she had never felt the need to do before, something that she had never had to do before (except, a voice whispered in her head, where your blond friend was concerned—a voice that Pansy ignored).

And there was the ever-present fear that, somehow, someday, the stairs would start to crumble under her feet and she would fall, in the same way as her father and the Dark Lord he followed.

She feared that she would fail and it was that thought that gave her nightmares, that gave her sleepless nights where she could only stare at the ceiling above her (she dared not spend the money on sleeping potions, not when they were still so short on money and when the purchase could cause rumours to spread and attention called to her problems).

But there was nothing she could do, but continue and so continue she did.
Parkinsons didn’t fail and she was a Parkinson in every way.

A/N: I'm posting this chapter early because I'll be on vacation for the next few weeks and I won't have much access to the Internet. Hopefully I'll be able to post another chapter in a week's time and, if not, I'll definitely have one ready in two week's time. Thanks for reading and please leave your thoughts in the form of a review!

Chapter 21: Curiosity
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It was on her fourth rotation on the “outgoing” shift (as those at the Archives called the late afternoon/early evening shift) that Pansy once again saw Adri Bennett.

His dark hair was slightly messy, as though he had run down the stairs to reach the Archives, and though his robes were smarter, crisper than they had been when he had approached her in Diagon Alley all those months ago, Pansy still thought that they were too casual for work.

She didn’t have to look down at her own robes to know that they were without wrinkles and long in the sleeves and skirt, just like Theresa’s. Even if Pansy thought that Theresa was too fanatical about her job, she had decided that she could do worse than imitate her style (though of course she had added the Parkinson flair to it).

After all, Theresa was well-known in the Archives for being a great researcher—one of the rumours that had made it to Pansy’s ears while she was eating lunch with Lesley and Nicola had said that the Unspeakables had been interested in recruiting her. She had denied their offer because her uncle had also worked in the Archives (though he was now retired) and she had grown to love the Archives through his stories and his passion for it in her childhood.

“The possibilities that the Unspeakables could provide couldn’t compare to the Archives” was apparently her rationale. Pansy thought that her reasoning on this matter was ridiculous (to be an Unspeakable!) but had been careful to keep her opinions to herself. She reminded herself that in choosing to work at the Archives, Theresa had given Pansy a co-worker who was easy to understand and thus sway to her side.

And Pansy had learned to understand her, or at least she believed she had. During the shifts she had shared with her, she had watched Theresa become absorbed with a document time and time again. It was an odd thing to watch, for she would look to be entranced by the parchment, sitting as still as a statue in her chair, before suddenly jolting and moving rapidly, almost in a panicked way, to find and compare a different document.

Pansy had several times found herself jumping in reaction to Theresa’s sudden movements and then had scolded herself for making such an obvious blunder in her observations. She didn’t want to be found just watching her co-workers—it was too strange and her slowness of work would become evident.

Theresa valued knowledge and the documents that carried that knowledge. In order to stay on her good side and befriend her, all Pansy had to do was visibly show that she wasn’t treating the Archives poorly and that she was properly handling the documents.

Pansy was sometimes reminded of the librarian at Hogwarts – a Miss Pince? – and the way she had had to tread carefully around her so that she had been able to use the books.

Her other co-workers were slightly trickier.

There was no one on her shifts who was willing to go out to eat with her when it was appropriate to break for lunch save for Nicola and Lesley – she had buried the brief flashes of hurt and irritation at this realization under the weight of her observations of the personalities of her co-workers. Some of them just weren’t the type to enjoy eating out.

Unfortunately, that made connecting with them that much harder. Her notes, though they helped her to gain an understanding with them, were no help in the formation of connections, relationships. Jonathon was still as odd as he had been during her first day at the Archives—though appearing to be too slow physically to still work, he had a quickness of tongue and a mischievous spirit that put Pansy in mind of those awful Weasley twins. At least he was too old to pull off some of the tricks they had during her time at Hogwarts.

Pansy found herself unwilling to reach out to him, for she didn’t know how to unless it was through partnering up to tease Theresa (something that she couldn’t risk doing, since it could alienate Theresa) or irritating her other co-workers with silly – and sometimes stinging – comments. While her co-workers didn’t pay much attention to his words anymore (aside from when he threatened the documents, or the rules that protected the Archives, within Theresa’s range of hearing), Pansy didn’t think that they would be so forgiving with her.

Even worse (and Pansy cringed internally when this thought pushed itself to the forefront of her mind) Pansy didn’t think that she could replicate the intent of his words along with his speed and she didn’t want to try. She feared that she would be too cutting, too mean, or that she would stumble over her words. She could hear her father saying that the Parkinsons weren’t poor at anything.

And then she could hear the gravelly sound of the goblin’s voice as it told her that she was poor in the plainest meaning of the word as though it was standing next to her and pushed both voices out of her head.
She would depend on herself and no one else.

Felicity, who was the fourth person Pansy had meet at the Archives, continued to be as shy as ever – she rarely spoke and used her hair as a shield to keep her from interacting with anyone. She hadn’t improved since they had met, either, and though Pansy continued to be polite with her, she hadn’t made any efforts to overcome her social inadequacies and befriend her.

She couldn’t see the benefit in becoming her friend and so she would keep their acquaintance neutral until the tide turned in one direction or another.

And though Pansy continued to write down every fact, every bit of information she came across in her notes and tried to put them into practice, she felt as though she was participating in a dance in which she had no knowledge of the steps.

The atmosphere of the office was very different from the one she had grown up with, though she continued to tell herself that they were both formal and thus the same rules applied. After all, the pureblood rules and traditions had allowed the Ministry (and her ancestors) to thrive for centuries – why would they stop working now?

And then she would see Jonathon working up the saliva to spit properly (as though there was a proper way to spit – Pansy shuddered at the thought of the vile action) or Felicity hiding behind her curtain of hair and remember that this most certainly wasn’t the atmosphere her ancestors had dealt with. It was much more difficult, and disturbing.

Even worse, she was expected to adapt to it, she needed to adapt to it.

And so, after watching Nicola break the rules of politeness and distance that she had learned as a child, after watching her co-workers display their emotions in a very public, very weak way, she decided to speak with Terrance about the rumours of his crumbling marriage.

It had not gone over well. Terrance had shown emotion, yes, but it was anger instead of the sadness and gratefulness about having someone to talk to about the matter she had expected. Her notes had not indicated that he possessed a quick temper and she had not considered the fact that perhaps he was tired of thinking about it, that he had been hoping to find solace at work, and that even if he was in the mood for discussing it he probably wouldn’t consider her as a conversation partner—she was too new, too strange, to include in discussions of the heart.

Pansy had quickly retreated when it became apparent that Terrance didn’t appreciate her overtures (though she didn’t call it a retreat in her mind—only a strategic decision that worked best with the circumstances) and was grateful that she had chosen a time when she was alone on the shift with him. Not many people were required to man the late-night shift and Pansy had been temporarily placed on it until Jonathon had switched onto it (apparently he wanted to test out what pranks he could pull at night… though he only told Pansy this. It wasn’t exactly the line of thinking that would convince Theresa to put him on that shift). She had chosen a lonely, solitary time because she had noticed that it was unusual for people to desire large displays of their sadness, even among mudbloods and half-bloods.

Evidently some people were a lot more solitary in their emotions than others.

That night she had gone home and modified her notes on Terrance. The next day she was returned to the “outgoing” shift.

Pansy wasn’t the one to open the door for Adri—Clive was, since his desk was the closest to the door. And Pansy probably wouldn’t have moved if her desk was closer to the front—she was determined to not intrude in the lives of her co-workers for a while. There had obviously been mistakes in her notes and she needed to find them and correct them.

If there was one there could be more and she could not risk making the same mistake again. Parkinsons didn’t act in so stupid a manner.
Pansy had been given the only free desk – it was the farthest from the door and closest to the beginning of the rows of shelves. It was an advantage or a disadvantage based on which shift she had been placed on and what she wanted to do during that shift.

At the moment Pansy found Adri to be more interesting than the documents in front of her and so she watched carefully from behind the pages of an article as he entered.

She noticed that he seemed to be very familiar with the process of entering the Archives, which led her to think that he had been a reporter for a least a year since most articles didn’t require trips down to the Archives and it usually took a few visits before they fell into the sway of things. It most likely wasn’t useful information but her father had said that in order to be successful one had to know both their enemies and their allies well and since Pansy didn’t know which category he fell in, she listened carefully to all the clues she heard about him.

Even though she hadn’t been an employee of the Archives for a long time yet, she had already witnessed (and been irritated by) several people who were quite obviously new to the Archives try and extract information. They hadn’t waited at the door, identification in hand, like the Archives’ policies required and had seemed surprised that Clive had wanted it. Then they had proceeded to waste even more of Clive’s time because they weren’t specific enough in their search for information.

“Uh… I want, er, information on Potions” wasn’t a sufficient enough guideline for Clive (or, indeed, just about anybody Pansy could think of) and it had taken several prompts before he had gotten the information that he needed to help them.

The people they hired at the Daily Prophet… Pansy shook her head.

At least it had provided her with an opportunity to sympathize with Clive—for all Theresa said that he liked to be on the “outgoing” shift, Pansy found that he didn’t chat much while he worked.

He was, however, almost always the first to answer the door and help the person standing beyond it.

And this time that person was Adri Bennett.

After examining his papers (though not very thoroughly – perhaps Adri had been to the Archives often enough that Clive trusted that he was who he said he was), Clive stepped aside to let him enter the room.

“Clive—” though he may have run to the Archives, his voice didn’t betray it “—have you gotten any new documents?” Clive opened his mouth to respond but Adri didn’t give him enough of a pause to do so.

“Of course you have—what a silly question to ask. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that I get by as a journalist. What I meant to say is: ‘Do you have any interesting new things?’” Adri nodded, seeming much more satisfied with his question now.

“Same as it always is,” Clive answered. “Now what is it you came for?”

Pansy frowned a little at this—she found it odd that though he was always among the first to help the people at the door, he wasn’t very communicative with them. She didn’t understand why he wanted to help when it looked like he felt ill at ease doing so.

And he received no answer to his question, for Adri was looking around the Archives as though he could see all of the new documents put away on their shelves just by looking. Pansy knew the moment he saw her, though she made it seem as though she was intently reading the article in front of her – his eyes widened slightly and his smile stretched even further across his face.

“Clive—it’s not same old, same old here! You’ve gone and hired somebody new!” Clive muttered something about it not being his choice who they hired but Adri had turned his attention towards Pansy and missed his comment.

“Pansy Parkinson…” he said in a hushed tone, as though he was trying to figure something out. “How has she been doing? Does she fit in here?” Adri seemed to have slipped into his reporter mindset—Pansy had seen it before when he had seen the protestors in Diagon Alley. It looked as though an idea for a new article was forming in his head – Pansy knew that the questions couldn’t be for his current article because he couldn’t have known that she was here.

She wondered what the sight of her could have inspired and realized that the pair had forgotten that she was in the room – perhaps her lack of reaction to Adri’s previous comments had contributed to the effect. Clive was answering his questions with what Pansy presumed was complete honesty – his emotions passed freely over his face. This was perfectly agreeable to Pansy—it would allow her an outside opinion on her progress.

“Miss Parkinson?” Clive’s tone was questioning, as though he couldn’t understand why Adri was wondering about her. “She’s only been working here for a little while—just over two weeks, I think. It’s hard to know exactly because of the shift schedule we follow. I don’t know exactly when she started. But she seems to be doing just fine – she hasn’t had any troubles shelving the materials, or at least none that I know of.”

“And she hasn’t experienced any prejudice?” Pansy’s breath seemed to stop short at that moment and she forced herself to continue looking at the documents in front of her. Why would Adri be asking something like that? She couldn’t stop herself from quickly glancing at Clive, though.

To her relief, his expression seemed slightly puzzled before it smoothed out.

But his words raised her worry again.

“Prejudice? Why would she experience prejudice? She’s not a muggleborn… Or, at least, I don’t think she is.” Irritation swept quickly through her at the thought that Clive could even think that she was a mudblood. She noticed Adri’s eyes quickly flit over to her and suppressed any outward reaction to Clive’s answer. She should be counting herself lucky that at least one person didn’t hold her ancestry against her, even though it was because he obviously wasn’t following current news.

And then Pansy found that a strange lump had appeared in her throat and she had to resist the urge to touch her skin to make sure it didn’t show to the others in the room. She swallowed and found that she didn’t have trouble doing so, though the lump felt large enough to permanently block access from her mouth to her lungs.

She swallowed again and refused to give any outward indication of her problem. Parkinsons were strong—they didn’t show anyone their weaknesses—and if this was her way to go then she would be brave about it. She certainly didn’t trust Adri or Clive to care enough to help her now. How could she be sure that they just wouldn’t turn around and laugh? Or, even worse, ignore her plight entirely?

Why had the lump appeared when she realized that it was over two years since the last time her family had found its name in the Daily Prophet?

The lump seemed to grow bigger with her growing anxiety and Pansy fought down a rising wave of panic to listen to the conversation. She couldn’t miss anything they said—it could prove to be vital information later. Adri’s voice soon cut through her panic and as Pansy focused her attention on a new target she didn’t notice the lump subsiding.

“So everyone’s been perfectly friendly to her?” Adri seemed determined to press the issue and Pansy wondered once again why he wanted the information. What possible use could he have for it? She couldn’t imagine a possible subject that fit in with the theme of his previous articles.

Clive’s puzzlement grew alongside Pansy’s and his answer was very disjointed as he struggled to find a good reply. “Um… I think so. I don’t know… I don’t work on all of the shifts, you see.” Adri was nodding his head, his eyes fixed intently on Clive’s face. “I don’t know.” With that, he seemed to be finished with his willingness to discuss Pansy. Pansy found his attempt to change conversation topics very clumsy – her tutors would have stung her with comments of scorn if she had attempted that with them.

“But I do know how to find whatever it is that you came here for, Adri.” Clive looked at Adri expectantly, though Pansy thought that he didn’t expect the wide smile Adri bestowed upon him nor the light smack on the shoulder he gave him.

“That sounds lovely, Clive, but I think Miss Parkinson would be more of a help to me today.” Clive’s face barely had time to fall before Adri continued, trying to appease him. “I have a few questions I’d like to ask her—for an article – and I don’t think that it would be very fair to waste your time in the Archives—yours or hers.”

Clive nodded his head and Pansy, who had not yet managed to grasp the strange twist in the conversation, barely managed to conceal her shock at Adri’s appearance before her desk. “Yes?” she asked him, looking for all the world as though she was quite busy with her reading of the article in front of her (it was the second article now that she was “reading”—she’d have to come back to them later because she hadn’t a clue what their subjects were).

“I’ve come to ask you if you can escort me in my quest for information?” His smile seemed even wider than the one he had given Clive and his eyes twinkled as he watched Pansy.

Pansy paused for a moment as she collected her thoughts before finally putting down the article on the desk and raising her head to look at Adri. “Of course I am able and willing to help you.” She couldn’t say anything else – her job was too new, her position too shaky, and there was nothing to gain by refusing his request.

And so, with Clive’s disappointed face watching them, she slipped out from behind her desk and started to lead Adri to the shelves. It was just before the shelves that she realized that she didn’t know what subject Adri was looking for and so she stopped abruptly and turned, trying to make it appear as though this was a usual occurrence for her.

She turned to find Adri watching her with curious eyes. Behind him she could see that Clive had returned to sit at his desk, though he did glance over at them every few moments. She wondered if he would continue to do so after they had vanished into the corridor of shelves and why he paid such attention to Adri. She hadn’t noticed him doing so with the other witches and wizards who had come searching for information. Did he have an interest in the Dark Arts as well? She made a mental note to include this in her notes on him.

Slightly pleased at having gathered more information on her co-worker (her file on Clive was sadly small) she concentrated her attention on Adri once again. Upon seeing that Adri had opened his mouth to speak already (and she could hardly cut him off now by speaking herself—that would be rude), she scolded herself. She shouldn’t have let her attention wander far enough away from the present concern that he was able to gain an advantage, even if he didn’t realize he had done so. She consoled herself with the fact that it didn’t look like Adri had thought her momentary silence as anything other than a great opportunity to speak.

“How are you finding the Archives?” Pansy blinked before quickly regaining focus. She hadn’t been expecting him to restart on that line of thinking, especially not with her. Hadn’t the conversation with Clive been enough to satisfy his curiosity?

But Pansy couldn’t refuse to give him an answer—that would seem too suspicious, as though she had something to hide, some secret that needed guarding—so she instead gave him a very plain answer, one that would give her no trouble later.

She hadn’t counted on Adri giving her trouble about it now, though, and resolved to change the conversation in a direction better suited to her needs as soon as she finished answering his second question.

“I have been met with no trouble. Everyone has been very kind to me and helped me to become settled into my new job. I’m very grateful to have found such a welcoming community.” Though this speech felt disgusting as it spilled out of her mouth, she had been too well trained to let her thoughts show. And then quickly, before Adri could form a response to her answer, she said, “And what help can I give you today?”

The question made her sound servile and though she hated it she knew that it was necessary. She comforted herself with the knowledge that other purebloods had operated under disguises before and that she had a noble cause, a worthy cause, and that this pretending, this mask, would allow her to reach it.

And with the question Pansy had once again regained control of the conversation. She had reminded him that they weren’t out on the street and that she had a job that she needed to do—and that he wouldn’t stand in her way. She didn’t like his curiosity about her life because she didn’t understand why he wanted to know about it and thus prevented his questions through reminders that the Archives were supposed to be quiet (never mind the fact that at the point she said that they were far enough into the shelves that normal conversational tones wouldn’t make their way back to Clive’s ears) and questions that asked for more detail about the topic he was searching for.

It wasn’t very long before they were both back at Pansy’s desk, a thick (though not dusty—the Archives were too well maintained for a book to be dusty) book clutched in Adri’s hands. Pansy moved smoothly around the desk and reached for the documents that would record Adri’s name and magical signature, allowing him to take the large tome out of the Archives.

He stood patiently as she readied everything and took the quill when she offered it, dipping it into the ink well that Pansy had moved so that it was closer to him (she couldn’t have ink dripping all over her desk, now could she?). Pansy was required to watch carefully as he wrote his signature as a preventative measure over someone faking their name and, thus, their magical signature, and so couldn’t help noticing that Adri wrote his letters in the same style of those who had had pureblood tutors.

It could mean nothing (Pansy knew that there were half-bloods whose parents had attempted to give them more class by hiring the same tutors as the pureblood families used) but it could also mean that the purebloods had someone with public influence who was on their side no matter what. After all, blood was of the utmost importance and only idiots betrayed it.

She gave him a smile that was slightly wider than the one she usually gave, ignoring the hard looks Clive was sending their way. However, any good will she had towards him melted away when he once again tried to pry into her personal life.

“How is your dog doing? Does he like the food?” Pansy’s smile hardened and slowly slipped into nothing. She would not discuss Astor with him, not if he was going to use him as fodder for an article like she thought he was. Astor wasn’t to be used like that—he was hers, and he was going to remain solely hers.

“Yes—he finds it perfectly lovely,” she said stiffly before pointedly shuffling the papers on her desk and starting to read the article again—this time for real.

Luckily Adri took the hint and walked out of the Archives, pausing only to say goodbye to Clive, who waved at him with a large, goofy smile on his face. Pansy didn’t know what he was smiling about and didn’t think it of enough consequence to try and figure it out.

Instead she made a mental note to start a file on Adri Bennett that night.

A/N: I'm sorry that it took so long for this chapter to be uploaded but I was distracted with a new story that I just posted. It's called While You Were Sleeping and explores Moody's missing year. Thank you for your reviews!

Chapter 22: Interactions
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Her family’s re-admittance to the upper crust of society wasn’t as quick or smooth as Pansy had hoped (though she tried to tell herself that she hadn’t been expecting anything, that it was alright to have experience delays… that her father wouldn’t think any less of her for having them). Her workplace was filled with social outcasts just like herself and those who visited the archives never stayed for long.

She had observed her co-workers for a month now and she was frustrated to find that she was no closer to understanding them than when she had begun. She had managed to glean, from hours spent listening to Lesley and Nicola gossip during lunch, that Nicola had a large family that she spent almost all of her time outside of work with – they were unavoidable, she said. But Pansy had detected a fondness in her voice as she spoke, one that she was certain Nicola hadn’t tried to conceal.

Nicola loved her family—Pansy could understand that. And yet she stopped herself from talking about her family, her mother and father, with that same fondness because she was supposed to be a changed person. And a changed person could not love her Death Eater father.

Pansy sometimes found that abominable lump appearing in her throat as she acted with a cool disdain for her heritage, her ancestry, but she would swallow and continue on. She could not let anything get in her way, not with this.

Lesley didn’t speak of her family as often as Nicola and Pansy learned that she had moved out of her parents’ house over two years to rent a flat. Instead her tales were more centered on the antics between her owl and her cat. While listening to her stories Pansy often wondered why she didn’t get rid of one or the other – ripped furniture, spilled food and unfortunate accidents on the carpeting were more than enough provocation in her eyes – or why she didn’t simply separate the two.

But Lesley thought that their battles were amusing and when Pansy asked why she didn’t simply keep her owl in a cage or put it in the owlery she replied that “they were far too precious to be locked away”.

Pansy had put aside her suggestions then and simply listened—there was no use in thinking about solutions if Lesley refused to listen to good sense.

And, though it was unhelpful right now, Pansy understood that her co-workers were united in a dance she couldn’t grasp. Though their personalities clashed on occasion, there were few enough of them that they felt close to each other. It wasn’t necessarily the closeness of friends or family but rather of those stranded together with no way out. They depended on each other for amusement during the long shifts because Theresa appeared to be the only one who truly enjoyed the sorting of the articles and documents.

Pansy sometimes wondered how many people had landed jobs here as a last resort and kept them so that they could pay the bills. No one discussed why they had chosen the Archives to work, though Pansy could see that some had chosen it for its easiness, its lack of stress; others had chosen it because of its lighter workload – so long as their workload for the shift was completed, they could occupy themselves as they wished (though one couldn’t do this if they shared the shift with Theresa—she was always ready with more tasks to work on). She knew that some desks had decks of cards hidden in them and that books were regularly smuggled into the department.

She had once caught Jonathon fiddling with a long, thick strand of silver wire that was coiled around a tube and hadn’t said anything, even after he had winked at her. She didn’t know what it would be used for and she didn’t want to gain his ire by telling anyone what he was doing (and she didn’t even know if anyone would care—Theresa, the only one who certainly would, had left to discuss something with Mr Craddle).

Later, after Theresa had reappeared, one of her drawers kept opening without her say-so and she had become increasingly frustrated with it as even locking spells couldn’t keep it closed until she was practically slamming it back into place. Pansy suspected that Jonathon’s wire coil had something to do with the drawer’s difficulty that day—there really was nothing to smile about in the articles they sorted.

Pansy had come across this closeness, had come against it. Somehow Nicola had learned of her conversation with Terrance and thought that she had been trying to irritate and “mess with him”. She had been given the cold shoulder for several days and Cyril, whose shifts unfortunately overlapped with hers, had taken the opportunity to voice his thoughts.

“It’s about time everyone realized the truth”, “I knew that she wasn’t to be trusted” and “Ancestry shows through” had been frequent markers during her time at work. Clive had sent her several glances when he thought she wouldn’t notice and Pansy knew that he had learned of her heritage. He didn’t engage in any outright hostility, though he remained more distant from her than before. Felicity’s curtain of hair never moved and Pansy didn’t know what to think about that so she didn’t think about it at all.

Pansy felt glacial during those days as she fought not to let her anger at the situation show – how could one fumble have gone so wrong? Was the mistake a fatal one to her plan?

And then, after hearing Cyril say “Scum never changes” and seeing Nicola’s refusal to return her glances, Pansy decided that she would do something that they obviously never expected that she would even consider. After all, they had obviously decided to pay attention to her ancestry now and thought that Dark families never apologized for their actions. Sorrow and regret were “Light” emotions, ones that weren’t felt by those who didn’t favour the Light.

They had forgotten—or perhaps never known—that Dark pureblood families served their own ends before all others and would lower themselves to apologize when it would aid them. And so, even though Pansy didn’t believe that she was at fault in her encounter with Terrance—poor information and a quick temper were—she would send a letter to Terrance with one of her family’s owls.

Her family came before her pride.

And—though she tucked this realization away deep in her mind, so deeply that it was as if she had never thought it in the first place—she didn’t like being ignored or treated in such an ugly fashion by her co-workers (she excluded Cyril from this realization). She wanted to be on the inside of this closeness, instead of being on the outside of the solid barrier.

The day after she sent the letter to Terrance she was greeted by warm, friendly grins when she went to work and Theresa, whose shift was about to end, dropped the stack of documents that were hers to work on for that shift less loudly than she had before.

Pansy found no apologies in their eyes for the way she had been treated but they acted as though there had never been a break between them in the first place. She was once again welcome to join in the lunchtime gossip and dining with Lesley and Nicola and Clive didn’t act so edgy around her. Cyril, though, continued to be a problem but Pansy ignored him and felt satisfied that her relationships had been restored with the rest of her co-workers. She would have to be even more careful from then on with her actions but she had more than survived her first trial in the workplace.

*

Though she was still pleased to be working there (the money was helping to keep her life afloat), she wished for an opportunity to truly start the return of the glory era of her family’s reputation. She was more careful now than ever with her relationships in the workplace but she hadn’t yet seen an opportunity to strengthen her relationships with them outside of eating lunch with them. If she worked on the same shift as a person she didn’t want to intrude on their after-work life without a sign that they wanted her there (she wasn’t making the same mistake as she had with Terrance about overstepping her boundaries) and there was no opportunity at all if they didn’t work on the same shift as her.

There were moments where she thought she was making progress, like when Theresa showed her a spell to protect her hands from paper cuts, but they were just moments. She didn’t know how to tell if she had a strong relationship with them, how to determine if it wouldn’t fall apart if she had an altercation with one of them.

She hoped that she had the beginnings of a friendship with Lesley and Nicola, but she could hardly ask them what they would classify their relationship as (that would be revealing ignorance, a weakness) and she didn’t have her reflection to talk with. Astor, as comforting as he was, wasn’t much of a help in this area. Her feelings for him were uncomplicated and without motive, and she was more thinking than feeling in her attitude towards her co-workers.

She was comforted when Nicola told Cyril to “shut up” one afternoon after he made another rude comment about her family but she didn’t know if Nicola had made that comment to protect her or to save herself from listening to Cyril’s annoying commentary on Pansy’s work. She had said ‘Thanks’, though, to be on the safe side and Nicola had given her a large, warm smile.

But Nicola was usually smiling, Pansy reminded herself before she could read too much into the gesture.

And there were moments where Pansy thought that everything was going to fall apart and she wouldn’t be able to do anything to stop it. This feeling came most often when information was required for legal cases and the Aurors came down to the Archives to collect it. Even though she knew that she had never been convicted of everything she couldn’t forget that these witches and wizards were responsible for putting her father in Azkaban and that they could put her there as well if she annoyed or angered them.

Merlin knew that the Ministry wasn’t corruption-free and that one needed a sterling reputation before most would think twice about their arrest. If they decided that she deserved to be put away – now, before she was able to restore her family’s (and her own) reputation – she probably would be. They would probably place her in a cell near her father – perhaps even in it, so that they could really get a laugh out of how far her family had fallen—and her family truly would crumble then. Her mother certainly wouldn’t be any help and would probably find herself out on the streets, without a home and without sympathy.

Anger burned in her at the knowledge that they had so much power over her, but she let none of it leak through her mask to show on her face or in her movements.

Whenever the Aurors came she kept all of her attention focused on her work and didn’t look up to watch them, not even when she heard their cloaks swish past her desk. She was determined that they would find no reason to arrest her.

Unfortunately, her plan to avoid their attention had one fatal flaw: it would only work if there was another Archives employee in the room to help them. She had thought that she would be safe that day for she had been moved to the early shift and thus would be working with Theresa, who didn’t take any personal breaks during her shift. From this she had assumed that Theresa would be there to handle any person who came in seeking help.

However, a few hours into her shift Theresa left, saying that she needed to speak with Anthony (Mr Craddle, Pansy’s thoughts replaced instantly) urgently—apparently she had spotted an error in the documentation of several important legal documents that she needed to report. Pansy nodded her head absently – she was concentrating on the article she was reading. It was a confusing one to categorize, mostly because it used jargon that she didn’t understand. If she didn’t figure it out soon she would slip it into Theresa’s pile – even if she noticed the addition, she probably wouldn’t comment.

It was a few minutes later, when she was just about to give up, that she heard the knocks on the door to the Archives. Glancing quickly around the room to make sure that she was truly the only one in it, she stood slowly and walked towards the door.

The knocks came again as Pansy was pushing the frustrating article into the bottom of Theresa’s pile (if she had to move once, she might as well accomplish as much as she could in the one run) and she frowned slightly at the door – who were they to hurry her? And yet she still picked up the pace as she approached the door—she couldn’t risk a poor review on her service reaching its way to Mr Craddle. As forgiving as he was, she didn’t think that he’d let anyone get away with lowering the reputation of the department (she wouldn’t, if she was in his place).

Upon reaching the door she opened it just enough to see the person standing beyond the door. She already knew that it wouldn’t be Theresa, because she would have been able to let herself back in, and she was hoping that she would see a reporter, already holding out their badge for her to see. Instead, her thoughts began to spin rapidly around in her mind.

The person on the other side of the door had looked over immediately as the door began to open, allowing Pansy to see his face. The rest of his solid and tall body followed quickly, allowing Pansy to see his robes—not that she hadn’t been able to identify them from the side. She had certainly seen enough of those robes as they scoured her manor and, later, as they came into the Archives for information. The man, whose hair was as dark as his skin, was wearing Auror robes.

Straightening her back (because as much as she had wanted to avoid their attention, she couldn’t avoid it at the moment and so she would face it with the pride of a Parkinson), she asked, “Identification?”

The man nodded and reached into a deep pocket on his robes. He pulled out the required identification and Pansy reluctantly opened the door to admit him. He strode in confidently, looking immediately towards the back, and the shelves. Pansy closed the door behind him.

“I’m looking for information on the Wizengamot cases George Henlay has been a part of. You can find that for me, can’t you?” The man looked down at her with what Pansy interpreted as condescension. She nodded sharply, not wanting to risk speaking, and gestured for him to follow her. Walking briskly (perhaps he would leave sooner if she found the proper documents quickly), she went straight into the shelves, towards the legal section.

She found herself walking faster than she usually did in order to stay ahead of the Auror, who had a large stride, and she wondered if he recognized her. One part of her hoped that he did, because she didn’t want anyone to think that her family was forgettable, but the larger part, the more dominant part, hoped that she was no longer considered necessary to watch.

However, it seemed that he did recognize her, though he made no verbal mention of it.

As she paused in front of the shelf that contained the most recent Wizengamot trials she was acutely aware of his gaze on her. A quick flick of her eyes to the side told her that he was standing almost right behind her, as though he didn’t trust her to give her everything that he needed.

Anger rose in her like a tidal wave, sweeping through her every limb and thundering through her thoughts. How dare he? Had she given him any indication that she would fail to give him everything that he required? She had done nothing but satisfactory work since she had obtained her job here and she wouldn’t risk it for the likes of him!

Restraining her anger behind a tight mask Pansy straightened abruptly from where she had bent over to better see the records. She turned and practically shoved the papers she was holding into his hands. The man had to fumble for a second before he was properly able to hold them, so sudden were her actions.

“Now I do hope that that’s everything, sir,” Pansy said, forcing the ‘sir’ through her lips. She wanted there to be nothing reproachable in her manner, nothing that he would be able to complain to Mr Craddle about. “Or are there other records that you require?”

She smiled a sickly smile, one that managed to look scary while still being able to be mistaken for a sign of being scared. The man took it to mean that she was frightened of him, of the situation, and smiled coldly at her.

“No, I do believe this to be quite satisfactory. Thank you for your help.” And then he walked sweepingly away, forcing Pansy to hurry so that she would reach the door before him and be able to let him out. He knew as well as she did that she couldn’t leave him there to wait while she sauntered up casually, as much as she might want to do just that. That would be a sign of bad service and she could be reported for it.

As she rushed past her desk she picked up the papers he had to sign as well as a quill with which he could do so. Her anger flared again at having been reduced to such a menial task but she knew (and, more importantly, she knew that he knew) that she couldn’t order him to return to her desk. The papers would have to be signed at the door.

Afterwards, Pansy held the door open for him, watching as he walked away with the confidence of a man who thought he knew everything and believed himself to be absolutely correct in every matter (a trait that Pansy thought was dangerously common in the Auror department). It was only after he had passed the corner at the end of the corridor that she released the door from her hand, hearing it slam with glee. It was the only form of anger that she would allow herself at the moment. Then she went back to her desk, sat down, and started reading the article at the top of her stack.

When Theresa came in several minutes later, she found Pansy deeply involved in a long article with nothing amiss in the picture.

Chapter 23: Confrontations
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After almost two months of working in the Archives Pansy had fallen into a comfortable routine. No matter which shift she was working that day (she had yet to settle into a permanent shift, though she was placed on the “outgoing” shift more often than the others) she started her day at seven-thirty.

If she was on the early shift it gave her just enough time to ready herself before flooing to the Ministry (she had obtained the password from Theresa and was very grateful for the direct route it provided her to work. Though her shift didn’t start until nine o’clock she liked to be there by eight thirty so that she could talk briefly with Mr Richards without angering anyone in line behind her. She still didn’t like Mr Richards very much but she didn’t find him as irritating when he wasn’t keeping her in the line against her will and Adri had been right in that he was an excellent source of information.

He was the easiest way she had found to stay current in the conflicts and atmosphere of the Ministry—not everything was revealed in the Daily Prophet, after all. And if she had to reveal a few “secrets” of her own, well, she had always known that nothing came free in the world.

If she was working one of the later shifts she often took to the streets after finishing her breakfast, sometimes even tugging Astor along. He was always very excited about these outings and Pansy would watch him fondly (though she pretended not to, in case others were watching her) as he danced about at the end of his leash, always straining to sniff something that was just beyond his grasp.

He was a benefit when it came to creating favourable impressions of her, though she sometimes wished that he didn’t appear so adorable to others. If he didn’t then she wouldn’t be required to deal with the same sort of witch that always seemed to stop because “he’s just so cute!”. But she allowed them to pet him and coo at him and agreed with them when they complimented him, in the hopes that they would form favourable impressions of her and carry them to others.

She would spend her free hours wandering through the streets, sometimes entering the shops that she came across. She rarely, if ever, purchased something though, and she hoped that it wasn’t another mark against her in the eyes of the shop-keepers. She tried to be polite and kind in her interactions with them and the other customers (which meant no nose tilted towards the ceiling, no expecting that someone would get out of her way, even if they really ought to, and benign words instead of the cutting words she was often tempted to utter) and she hoped that they carried those impressions with them further than the fact that she hadn’t bought anything.

If she didn’t have Astor with her she brought along the latest copy of the Daily Prophet and opened it in a restaurant or bar as she slowly sipped the tea she bought there. She had learned the art of nursing a single cup of tea for minutes after minutes and often her stops at the restaurants or bars could stretch to an hour-long visit. To keep the waitresses and owners from becoming angry with her (after all, a single cup of tea could be quite inexpensive if one chose the correct brand and Parkinsons had great taste) Pansy was careful to leave when enough customers had entered the building that they would need to use her booth. She also left a rather generous tip (when compared with the total of what she had purchased), hoping that it would sweeten their thoughts of her.

She rarely visited the same place close together, instead preferring to cast her net further.

Everywhere she went she was sure to be kind and courteous and she dropped her name whenever she could, so that the person she was conversing with would know who they were talking to.

She didn’t know if her idea of making everyone aware of her “changed” self was working but she didn’t know how else to do it. She didn’t want to wait until her relationships with her co-workers were strong enough that she could use them to spread her message—now that she was more familiar with how friendships were formed she knew that they took a long time to reach the level of strength she was looking for.

But while she had a comfortable routine outside of her manor, her one inside wasn’t quite so stable. Pansy hadn’t really noticed that she was eating by herself at the table more often than not and, when the thought crossed her mind that she hadn’t seen her mother in days, she brushed it away, confident in the belief that her mother was knitting away in her chambers.

Now that she was more used to the hustle and bustle of working with people and being around even more she sometimes found her manor lonely, but she never desired her mother’s company.

It turned out that her mother didn’t feel exactly the same way that she did.

When Pansy entered the dining room on the morning of what would be her two-month anniversary of working at the Archives (not that Pansy considered an anniversary worth celebrating) she found her mother already there, standing behind her chair.

She paused briefly and in that moment an awkward, tense silence spread between them, which was broken in the next instant when Pansy said, “Hello, Mother. Why don’t you have a seat?”

She gestured one hand loosely at the seat her mother was standing behind and moved to go around the table, towards her own seat. She reached it and sat, before looking up and realizing that her mother was still standing. She quickly stood, reaching out with her fingers to grip the folded napkin beside her plate.

Another silence stretched between them and Pansy could hear the ticking of the grandfather clock that rested in the corridor as though it was in the room beside her. Tick, it told her, tick. You’re going to be late for work. This time it was her mother who broke the silence and tore Pansy’s attention away from the clock’s sound.

“I don’t see you at home anymore.” Her mother’s voice was quiet and her words wavered. “I don’t see you.” Pansy wondered when her mother had become so weak—she was clinging desperately to the back of the chair, as though she would fall over if she chanced to release it.

“I’m just busy, Mother.” Pansy turned slightly away from her mother, so that she wasn’t looking directly into her face. She ignored the twinges of what might have been guilt, pushing them down and away. Why should she feel guilty? She was doing everything that she could to restore the Parkinson reputation.

There was no room in her life for her mother’s problems.

And yet Pansy could still feel her mother’s eyes looking at her. They didn’t hold the strength that they used to, though her mother had never been very strong. Her father had always carried the burden for the both of them and now Pansy was left with an even bigger one.

She didn’t even know if she could lift it yet.

“I—” Her mother hesitated, her fingers clamping down even harder on the back of the chair as though she was about to reveal a great weakness of hers. “I worry for you.”

There was silence after that, as her mother failed to continue speaking after her declaration and Pansy waited to see if there was something else.

Her family had never been overt in their feelings for one another, though Pansy had known that they loved her in the way a person knew that they were standing on Earth. It wasn’t consciously thought about, or consciously displayed. It was, instead, a fact that Pansy believed in even if there was no proof to support it.

Her mother’s declaration had left her shaken. How was she to respond to such a statement? She couldn’t respond in kind—she had never worried about her mother, not when her father was alive and certainly not now, when she knew that her mother never strayed from the manor. There was nowhere for her mother to find a dangerous situation.

And yet to leave the statement unanswered… Pansy turned back from the portion of the wall she had been watching to meet her mother’s gaze.

“Don’t.” Pansy had softened her voice until it was almost a whisper. “I am in no danger.”

Her mother’s shoulders slumped and she turned her eyes away from Pansy, as though her last hope had just been crushed. Pansy felt oddly wooden as she watched her mother, but she didn’t know what to do, or even what she wanted to do. She could only watch as her mother sat down, defeated, in her chair and slowly began eating.

She didn’t change her expression during the meal and left as soon as it was over, quickly and quietly.

*

That day at work Pansy felt shaken and found that she couldn’t control her feelings as well as she needed to. Several times she saw her hands shaking and placed them under the desk. It might make reading more difficult but it was much better than having a weakness on display.

She had the second shift of the day and had tried to clear her mind before going to work, but the cup of tea and Astor’s company hadn’t worked. The encounter with her mother had unsettled her and she didn’t know why, nor what she could do to make the fidgety feeling she was experiencing go away.

When she joined Lesley and Nicola for lunch that day she didn’t participate in the conversation because she didn’t trust herself not voice a comment that would ruin everything. She still wanted to eat with them because she wasn’t certain of her relationship with them—so far it had mainly been based on their eating lunch together.

She knew that she probably should have stayed home but that would have made the day feel like a waste and it would have meant that she would have missed a day of work… Something that she did not want to happen. Missing a day of work for something that she didn’t consider to be a good reason – and that Mr Craddle probably wouldn’t either—would only create trouble for her.

So she ate in silence, listening to their conversation, and responded snappishly when Lesley asked if she was alright. Luckily they seemed to assume that she was just having a bad day and left her alone. Pansy was pleased—she didn’t want her mother and these uncomfortable feelings to have ruined everything that she was working for.

She just wanted to go home and stay in her rooms, alone. Perhaps then, in privacy, she could work out the strangeness she was feeling. Perhaps her reflection would finally return and help her.

But she still had several hours left of her shift.

And in those hours something happened that made Pansy wish that she had just given it at lunchtime and gone home, made her certain that she had ruined any chance she had of restoring her family’s reputation.

It wasn’t my fault, Pansy wanted to scream after Cyril had stormed out of the Archives and papers littered the floor, but she didn’t because she had already destroyed enough of the decorum her father had instilled in her for the day—for a lifetime. It was him—all him!

She looked at the faces watching her and wanted to flee but she wouldn’t permit herself to do that. It would make her look guilty and ashamed of her actions (which she was, but that was a private emotion that she had no desire to share with everyone in the office). Did they consider the fight between them her fault?

How could it be my fault when he was the one to “accidentally” knock all of my papers onto the floor? Pansy wanted to say but instead she bent over and started to pick up the papers. Her fingers started to tremble but she forced them to stop—she had had enough of her weaknesses for one day. She would permit herself no more.

She collected the papers clumsily in a pile on the floor (oh, how Theresa would despair if she learned what had become of the documents that she treated so carefully) and was surprised to see the papers that still remained on the floor rise as if picked up by a breeze and carried over to the pile where they landed carefully on its top.

Pansy looked up from where she was kneeling on the floor to see Nicola offering her a hand. Swallowing at the lump that had once again appeared in her throat, Pansy accepted her offer and rose, gripping the strong hand.

She wanted to look at the ground so that she wouldn’t have to see the faces of her co-workers, which were sure to be wearing expressions of disgust, of anger and of prejudice, but she wouldn’t allow herself the sign of weakness.

She looked up, wearing a mask of contrition that covered and attempted to control the mix of defiance and shame that danced inside of her. It wasn’t my fault. What have I done? But it wasn’t me. Have I ruined everything?

She warred between hating Cyril, a feeling that she knew was justified, a feeling that swept through her unstoppably (not that she felt like stopping it), and struggling to keep her thoughts towards him neutral. He was still a co-worker and she needed everyone that she could befriend to help sway the public’s opinion of her. If she could change his mind… Well, Pansy thought, Parkinsons never admit defeat.

And then her mask dropped when she met the eyes of Lesley and Clive, her face showing her absolute shock at the emotions she found there. Warmth. Sympathy. Reassurance.

Was it possible that she hadn’t completely ruined her chances at restoring her family’s reputation?

Nicola’s hand was at her back, guiding her towards and out the door. Pansy let her – Nicola wasn’t the worst person she could have touching her robes and she didn’t want to do anything that would wreck the sudden support she had in her.

“Don’t worry,” Nicola said, her voice low but still filled with the power it always held, “I’ll explain it to Mr Craddle and we’ll handle your papers. Just go home and rest—and forget what Joist said. He’s not worth it.”

Pansy nodded dumbly and allowed Nicola to guide her through the Ministry (A sign of weakness, a voice that sounded like her father’s whispered, but she argued, A sign of undeniable support). She didn’t register the route that they took, or the faces that they passed, but she was very aware of the feeling of Nicola’s warm hand on her back, even though the pressure she exerted shouldn’t have been enough to feel through the layers of cloth.

Eventually they reached the floos and Pansy absently reached her hand into the floo powder pot that hung beside the fireplace closest to the lifts. With an unnecessary (but gentle) push from Nicola Pansy called out the name of her manor and stepped into the flames.

That night she had her first drink of alcohol since her rejection from Draco and she didn’t know if it was in sorrow or celebration.

A/N: Sorry for the long gap between updates- I'm currently very busy with work. However I'll try to update as regularly as I can. Thank you for continuing to read and review!

Chapter 24: Surprise
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The next morning when she awoke she disrupted the flow of her usual routine to send an owl to Mr Craddle requesting a meeting as soon as he could fit it in. It wasn’t until she had already finished eating breakfast (steadfastly ignoring the empty chair where her mother would have sat—she hadn’t noticed it before yesterday and so she wouldn’t notice it now) and was just about to step out onto the grounds of the manor that she received Mr Craddle’s reply. In the letter he said that meeting with her was “no trouble at all” and suggested that she come into work an hour before her shift started.

Nodding satisfactorily to herself, she slipped the letter into one of the pockets of her robes and stepped out into the brisk April air. It had rained the day before and though the grounds looked muddy the air felt fresh and crisp. She would enjoy the walk down to the gates and then she would enjoy the tea she would buy at the newest shop to open in Diagon Alley, which, according to reviews, was a less pink version of Madame Puddifoot’s.

There were two hours before she wanted to be at the Ministry and they slipped easily away from her as she walked through Diagon Alley once again, reminding herself to voice every positive comment she thought of. Those who looked askance at her when she did this were just confused at seeing her exhibit such kind behaviour, she told herself, and she pulled her face into a smile. She was finding it easier to do so and it no longer hurt to smile for long periods of time.

Sometimes she caught herself doing it without her having had to think about it and she wondered if it was progress or not.

Purebloods often chose blank faces over fake smiles.

At ten thirty she exited from the tea shop where she had been engaging the waitress in a conversation about an article in the latest issue of Witch Weekly (she supposed that she couldn’t be angry at the type of riffraff that also read the magazine—there weren’t enough people of her caliber to keep the magazine in business if only people like her read it) and apparated to the Ministry. It was much easier to reach the Ministry now that she was also keyed into the apparation wards and it allowed her to wander the streets for longer periods of time.

The atrium was empty when she arrived, save for a few people who quickly crossed it on journeys to other departments, and she was able to talk with Mr Richards uninterrupted for almost a half hour. The wizard seemed to be very happy to see her and eagerly spilled information on a conflict that had just burst in the Office for the Detection and Confiscation of Counterfeit Defensive Spells and Protective Objects and rumours of the latest doings of the Department of Mysteries. She mostly ignored the latter part of the discussion – she had no use for the mysterious department since it kept mostly to itself and didn’t influence the public’s opinion.

She walked slowly through the corridors of the Ministry and decided to take the stairs instead of the lifts to reach the Archives. As long as she didn’t walk down them too quickly nothing should happen that would disturb her appearance and it might make her appear to be flexible and less uptight.

But she didn’t meet anyone on the stairs and so her detour proved to be unnecessary. Her mood darkened as she stopped at the landing of the stairs to straighten her robes (the angle of the stairs had made them lie funnily on her) and her mind filled with the disastrous possibilities that awaited her in Mr Craddle’s office. He had said that he was more than willing to give second chances to people but who knew what his opinion was on third or fourth ones.

Cyril had certainly owled him as well—it was what Pansy would have done, to ensure that her (and the correct) version was heard by the proper people. She would be arguing against a person who had been in the Archives for longer than she had been, someone who had surely built a relationship with his employer.

She walked slowly through the corridor leading to his office (and, further along, the Archives). She could see the Archives door and fingered her identification badge that she had placed in her pocket after showing it to Mr Richards (an action that was more formality than anything else, now—she had been at the Ministry for long enough now that he recognized her without any problems). She shook her head slightly before reaching out to knock on Mr Craddle’s door – who knew if she would still be working there when she left?

A cheery “Come on in!” greeted her knock and Pansy was surprised at the greeting. He had to know who she was – who else could he have invited to his office at eleven?—and she had briefly explained her reason for coming in the letter.

Hesitantly Pansy opened the door and saw that Mr Craddle was once again flipping through paperwork. If anything, he looked to be going faster than he had the last time she was in here.

“Come along, come along. Please do have a seat.”

Pansy walked into the room and sat, using the stiffness her heritage had given her to hide her anxiety. Once seated she watched Mr Craddle, waiting for a sign that she could begin to tell her side of the story, in detail. She didn’t want to interrupt him at his work (an action that could prove to be a mark against her) but parts of her sadness changed easily into anger when he didn’t immediately stop with his paperwork to listen to her. She might be just about to lose her job but she was still a Parkinson, in Merlin’s name!

Finally, just before Pansy felt that she would finally reach out and push his shuffling papers down, the noise of moving parchment slowed and came to a stop. After placing the papers off to one side of his desk (an action that pleased Pansy for it meant that they would be harder to reach and search through), Mr Craddle leaned forwards. Pansy noted that his robes were still strained across his shoulders and chest and wished that he had had them refitted in the time since she had last seen him. Surely he realized that appearance was very important?

“I hear that there were problems in the Archives yesterday, Miss Parkinson.” His words pleased Pansy—he hadn’t immediately accused her of being the source of the trouble. He was allowing her to explain the problems in her own words. Pansy felt her mood lighten at her thoughts – perhaps she had a chance! Perhaps she wasn’t losing her chance of restoring her family’s reputation!

Slowly, calmly (she couldn’t ruin this—she couldn’t), she spoke. “Yes, you would be correct. Yesterday there was an argument between myself and Cyril Joist; one that ended with his departure from the Archives.” There, Pansy nodded to herself satisfactorily. She had given him the barest essence of the story without outright blaming anybody. If Mr Craddle picked up on it, he would most likely be grateful that she hadn’t started a he said, she said blame game. Now all that remained was to fill in the details through the questions he would ask her.

And he would ask the questions that would help him to figure out the guilty party, Pansy was sure.

“I was informed that Mister Joist started the altercation and provoked you. Do you agree with this information?” Mr Craddle peered at her face, his small eyes searching her face for any signs of hesitancy or desire to give false information.

Pansy, however, was quick to say that it did match her version, though she had almost said that it was false. She hadn’t expected the question to be phrased in such a way—just who had given Mr Craddle his information? If Cyril had explained the situation he would surely not have said that he had started the argument – that would have placed the majority of the blame on himself.

“What exactly did he do?” Mr Craddle’s gaze was still searching, though he was now smiling softly, and Pansy knew that he had asked the question to see if her version matched with the one he had received. But though she knew what the intent of the question was, she was still worried about her answer. She knew that her version would relate exactly what had happened the past day but she didn’t know who had given Mr Craddle his knowledge and thus didn’t know what information it said. Did it include everything that had happened or did it leave out events?

She decided to explain everything that had happened so that he couldn’t accuse her of leaving anything out or manipulating the situation. Her tale would match exactly with her memories of the event, should he consider the matter important enough to ask for memory proof.

“Yesterday Cyril—that would be Mr Joist—” Mr Craddle nodded and motioned for her to continue “—walked by my desk as I was working on an article about the various magical plants that Britain imports and knocked my entire stack of documents onto the floor.” Pansy paused and Mr Craddle jumped in.

“Was that all he did? Had you had any interactions earlier that day?”

“No, we hadn’t really interacted at all that day. However, we hadn’t been on the best of terms before this, though we never got into arguments.”
“What do you mean “not the best of terms”?” Mr Craddle asked, his posture intent. His forehead was furrowed and he appeared to Pansy to be squinting at something near her.

Pansy decided to be as plain and clear as possible in her description of Cyril; after all, she hadn’t done anything to provoke him while working at the Archives. “He took offense to my ancestry, I believe. He stated on my first shift with him that he didn’t want to be anywhere near me and since then he’s said that I’m a traitor, that I should be in Azkaban—” He had also added ‘along with your dirty father’ but Pansy wasn’t keen to remind Mr Craddle that her father was in Azkaban – and a lump didn’t appear in her throat at that moment, it didn’t “—and such things.” Pansy stopped again when it looked like Mr Craddle wanted to interrupt.

“And you didn’t report this? No one reported this?” Pansy blinked—she hadn’t even thought of reporting it. She hadn’t wanted to create any trouble for herself and she hadn’t thought that anyone would take her side in any matter—at least not yet. She still didn’t think that there was a good chance that anyone would side with her over a “Light”-side witch or wizard.

“No, sir.”

“And how did his knocking of the documents off the desk start the fight?”
Pansy fought the desire to fidget with something, to distract herself from the intense gaze of Mr Craddle. Her parents had raised her better than this! Where had her poise, her control gone?

“He muttered several comments before and after knocking them off, sir.”

“And they were?”

Pansy felt her cheeks begin to redden. The insults he had uttered hadn’t been anything worse than his usual taunts, than the words she still sometimes heard as she walked around Diagon Alley. But for some reason yesterday she had snapped, had lost control. Yesterday she had shamed her family.

“I’d rather not say.”

Mr Craddle looked sympathetically at her. “Unfortunately, I have to demand that you give me an answer. I need to be able to fill in an incident report with all of the details, so that anyone who looks into the incident will be satisfied with the analysis of the situation and the decision I will reach.”

“He said that I was the scum of the Wizarding world, with the dirtiest of blood flowing through my veins.” Pansy’s voice shook roughly as she said this, and she clenched her hands firmly in her lap. She could feel them ache, feel them want to shake and tremble, and denied them it.

“Ah.” There was a moment of silence, a moment where everything in the office seemed to stop moving altogether. Then: “Did you say anything back?” Mr Craddle’s voice sounded as though it came from a throat that was uncomfortably dry.

Pansy refused to allow her voice to give any indication that she was not as in control of her emotions as she wanted to be. “I defended my family.”
Mr Craddle’s face softened. “Miss Parkinson, I told you when you came for your interview that I believed in giving people second chances. That belief has not changed, though I wish to inform you of another principle of mine: I don’t fault people for defending themselves or a worthy cause. But I do fault them if they act in such a manner that is unjustifiably dangerous to others. So, I must ask you how you defended your family.”

“I spoke. I… yelled.” Pansy allowed shame to fill her words as she spoke, for she was ashamed of the uncontrolled way in which she had handled herself yesterday.

“But you did not cast any spells? You do not retaliate physically to his insults?” Mr Craddle’s voice sounded less pinched than it had been before, as though if she answered ‘yes’ a good many things would become easier for him.

And she wasn’t lying when she answered, “Yes.”

Mr Craddle nodded and watched her for a long moment. Pansy sat quietly in her chair, waiting for the next question or for his dismissal. She had already told him her version of yesterday’s events; she had answered his questions mostly to her satisfaction. Worry was not a strong presence amongst her swirling emotions.

Mr Craddle’s voice broke through the trance she had allowed herself to fall into and she quickly refocused on the situation at hand. Her employer looked to be troubled and she felt a spark of panic run through her. Was she wrong? Had she gravely misinterpreted how he had taken her answers?

“Miss Parkinson, I hope that you’re aware that the Ministry doesn’t tolerate any forms of prejudice now.” Pansy nodded her head, wondering why he was mentioning the policy. She was well aware of it—in fact, when she had first seen it make headlines in the Daily Prophet she had mourned the legal restriction of her beliefs.

Had he held something back during their discussion? Had someone accused her of discriminating against them? Another wave of anger rose in her—their stupid, foolish actions could ruin everything for her. Everything.

Watching Mr Craddle Pansy clamped furiously down on the violent emotion and pushed it away. She couldn’t appear angry or defensive—she needed to be calm for this meeting. If she was dismissed from the Archives, then she could make something shake and explode.

Mr Craddle’s hands were clasped in front of him and he leaned intently towards her. Pansy met his gaze with a firm stance—she would not act like she was in the wrong. Mr Craddle sighed and fell back into the cushioned support of his chair. Pansy could see his fingers twitching as though they longed to be sorting through more papers but he didn’t release them from their position in front of him.

“Miss Parkinson, if you’re experiencing any form of prejudice you must report it to either myself or another department head. I feel that it would be wiser to hand in the report to me, but I also know that you might have a stronger relationship with a different person and feel that they would serve you better.” Mr Craddle took a breath and the nail of his pinky finger tapped a quick rhythm on the wooden desk. Pansy cringed at the outward display of fidgetiness, of distraction.

“We do not tolerate any kind of discrimination. Do you understand?” Pansy nodded, though she wasn’t quite sure that she did understand. What was Mr Craddle’s meaning? He wasn’t accusing her of being prejudiced… But was he actually offering her a method of protecting herself from those who would penalize her for her heritage?

She smiled at Mr Craddle without really thinking that she should and he smiled back.

“I think that is all that we have to discuss today, Miss Parkinson. I hope to see you under more pleasant circumstances in the future.” Pansy nodded and said the same.

She got up from the chair and made her way quickly out of the room, where she stood in the corridor.

She wouldn’t actually use the method Mr Craddle had just offered her—at least, not yet. She wanted to work things out for herself, because a Parkinson didn’t have to rely on external methods. Things weren’t so terrible in the Archives that she needed to use the method and since by using the method she would only attract attention to herself at a time when her reputation still wasn’t the best (had barely improved, a voice in her head whispered, and Pansy shook her head brusquely) it wasn’t wise to go that route.

Then, since she had nowhere else to go and no one else to see, Pansy walked away from the lifts and stairs and entered the Archives. Perhaps the extra half-hour’s work would show to her advantage.

It was only several weeks later that she realized how pathetic entering early to work must have made her seem.

*

By the following day Mr Craddle had announced his decision. Pansy didn’t know if Cyril had spoken to him (even though she suspected he had, since she didn’t think that he was foolish enough to allow his opinion to go unheard), but Mr Craddle’s decision favoured her more than it did him.

This knowledge had given her shivers of pleasure, though she had tried to conceal the movements with her work robes. The knowledge had pushed her to take Astor out for a long walk the moment she returned to the manor after work because she hadn’t been able to even consider simply sitting in her chambers or in the library after receiving such joyful news.

The pleasurable satisfaction that the knowledge had given her had only risen when she realized that only Cyril, out of all of her colleagues at the Archives, was disappointed and angry by the decision. The others supported her and gathered around her. They were more unguarded in their conversations around her and included her more openly in their actions and friendships.

Pansy felt as though she was walking on the most fragile glass in the world and spent her evenings studying and revising her notes and thinking about the proper ways to interact with them. She found that the notes were not always helpful in her conversations for they did not cover every topic that they came across, but she never even considered the possibility that they weren’t needed.

Mr Craddle had ruled that she and Cyril were never to be on overlapping shifts so that there would be no need for interaction and that, since she was the victim in the situation (and Pansy had allowed herself to be considered the ‘victim’ because it worked to her advantage here, not because Parkinsons were weak), she would have the first choice of shifts. Cyril would have to accommodate her choices.

Furthermore, the notice pinned to the inside of the Archives door said that any further dispute would have consequences far more severe than the current ones.

Pansy was quite satisfied with the current consequences and had no desire to provoke anyone into an argument with her. Further disagreements would work more against her than they would work for her and she couldn’t afford to harm her chances in any way.

And so the next several weeks passed in a comfortable and steady pattern. Pansy continued to eat and gossip with Nicola and Lesley at lunch, adding more of her thoughts to the conversation now that she was comfortable and certain enough of their thoughts about her to do so. She spoke more often with Clive when she was on shift with him and volunteered more to open the door when visitors came to the Archives. She was calmer when the Aurors came down for information and even helped a few when she didn’t necessarily have to, though she was very careful in her actions and words when she was around them.
Though some of them acted stiffly and coldly towards her, many more were neutral in their consideration of her and Pansy pushed herself to be content with this.

She still didn’t interact much with Terrance, though his anger towards her seemed to have melted away completely. She heard from Nicola one day that he had started legal proceedings with his wife so that they could be divorced and that was one of the few conversations that she didn’t lend her thoughts to. Divorce was uncommon among purebloods and was a largely unwelcome act.

But her father had never given her his opinions on the matter, since it wasn’t an often discussed topic, and so she wasn’t anything more than uncomfortable with the notion.

Felicity continued to move silently about her work and Pansy continued to let her be. Perhaps one day they would find reason to interact, but that day had not yet come.

Pansy grew more effective in her work: she found it easier to pick out the proper filing of an article within its first few lines and her feet walked the paths through the bookshelves without need for her to consciously think of the correct route. She moved more quickly through the stacks of documents on her desk, giving herself more time to interact with her colleagues. Theresa did increase the number of documents she was given to sort through in a day but she didn’t do it so drastically that Pansy had a hard time working her way through them.

Her work life was improving, moving her constantly towards her goal of the restoration of the Parkinson reputation. Pansy found that she actually didn’t mind going to work so much now, for it gave her one of the few periods of her day where she wasn’t lonely.

It was during the hours before and after work that Pansy was plagued with a strange, nagging feeling that she was alone, that she had nobody to share her life with. No amount of conversations with witches and wizards while she wandered through Diagon Alley and other Wizarding districts allowed her to forget that she was the one initiating the conversations (she had long ago recognized that if she wanted people to talk with her, she would have to be the one to start the interactions, and she consoled herself with the facts that she was doing this for a worthy cause and that even the mightiest of witches and wizards were not always approached).

And while Astor eased the loneliness at home, the long corridors felt empty and unwelcoming. The high ceilings seemed to serve only to remind her that she was one of two people in the manor (and could she even really count her mother among its inhabitants, since she never saw her?).

So when Nicola stopped her one day when she was leaving after her shift had finished and asked her if she would like to accompany them out to a pub that evening, Pansy didn’t hesitate to say yes.

Chapter 25: Pub
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The wind whipped coolly around her robes as Pansy appeared in front of the pub that Nicola had described to her earlier that day and Pansy tugged her robes even tighter around herself, using the motion to prevent her hands from trembling.

She had arrived ten minutes before the time when they were supposed to be meeting, for Pansy didn’t want anyone to be able to accuse her of lateness. Also, a voice whispered in her head, you didn’t like sitting alone in your manor. Admit it. Pansy shook her head furiously, allowing herself to show her frustration so openly because she was the only one on the street.

She wished for a moment that she had chosen to look up the critiques of the pub that Nicola had suggested, so that she would know if it was an establishment worthy of her visit. The dark buildings that hugged the sides of the street didn’t lend themselves to the possibility that this was a popular part of town. She reassured herself with the thought that even if it didn’t have the best of reputations it would help her in her cause because it would give the impression that Pansy didn’t consider herself above the other members of society.

She was grateful for the glow that the light glancing through the windows of the pub provided for the night was darker than it was cold even though it wasn’t quite seven o’clock in the evening. She stamped her feet, which were hidden under the hem of her robes, trying to warm them from the near frozen state they had lapsed into and watched the cloud of her breath disappear.

She had just cast her fourth warming charm (for some reason they just didn’t seem to be having their usual effect) when she heard several cracks. She turned, releasing her hands from the warmth they had sought inside her robes, and forced her frozen lips into a smile.

“Hey! I’m so glad that you actually came!” Lesley’s cheeks were a brilliant red and she was heavily bundled under a thick scarf and warm gloves that looked to be home-knit. Pansy’s thoughts went to her mother for an instant and she wondered where all of the items her mother knit had gone – surely she would have seen at least one of her mother’s creations by now.

“I did promise that I would come.” Pansy’s voice was less crisp than it could have been and Lesley accepted her words with a large smile. She hooked her arm around Pansy’s and Pansy found herself being tugged into the pub. Stumbling slightly as she tried to regain her balance, Pansy forced a light laugh from her throat.

Everyone else was talking and laughing and she didn’t want to seem out of place.

Pansy felt some of her tension leave her body when Lesley pulled her through the tight doorway of the pub (and honestly, shouldn’t they have a larger doorway?) and into its warmth. The inside of the building was filled with a welcoming light and the fireplaces that were placed at intervals around the room seemed to burn with friendlier flames than any she had seen before. Instead of the more traditional restaurant-style seating she had expected, the room was filled with groupings of plump couches and chairs crowded around low tables.

A bar ran across the length of one of the walls and was manned by two younger men who handled the many customers who called to them with ease. Pansy could see several other staff circulating in the crowd and felt satisfied that the pub she had been brought to was not an embarrassment to her standards. There was a good number of people in the pub—enough that the staff was busy but not so much that there were no seats for her and her co-workers.

Pansy fell into line after Clive and Nicola as they picked their way through the seats to an empty grouping in the corner furthest from the door. Nicola fell into the nearest chair with a prominent ‘thump’ and Pansy heard the chair whoosh under her weight.

She followed Lesley’s tugging as Lesley pulled her into the middle of the circle of chairs and towards the only couch in the grouping. Freeing herself at the last moment from her grasp, Pansy sat down smoothly and swiftly, wincing slightly as Lesley almost flopped down beside her. She sat primly on the edge of the couch as she had been taught, even though everyone else was leaning comfortably back in their chairs.

“Who else is coming?” she asked, looking towards the entrance of the pub, and noticing that one of the waitresses was making her way to them. She almost sneered in disgust at the crude cut of her uniform (had the woman no respect for herself and for their culture?) but instead eased her face into the smile she had greeted her co-workers with just a few minutes before and turned her attention to the answer to her question.

“It’s just the four of us for now,” Lesley said, half-closing her eyes in a manner that made Pansy wonder if she was going to fall asleep right then and there. “Theresa said that she had important work to attend to, though she did say that she would try and make time to pop by for a minute or two (she didn’t say when that would be exactly…), Terrance also had a few things he had to get done before he could join us, Jonathon-”

“-lives by his own rules, he likes to say,” Nicola added, cutting off Lesley, who huffed. “And he won’t show up until he feels good and ready to. Likes to keep us in suspense, he says.”

“Yes, I was just about to say that,” Lesley snapped, glaring at Nicola, who just smiled in return, before continuing in her run-through of the employees of the Archives. “Felicity isn’t really the social type and we didn’t invite Cyril.”

She said the last part in a cool voice and Pansy nodded. She didn’t know what she had been expecting when she had been invited along but she hadn’t been aware that all of her co-workers remained in contact with each other outside of work hours. She knew that her father had tended to keep his distance from his fellow politicians outside of the Ministry, so that he would give them no reason to look into his business, and she had expected the same to be true of the Archives.

If they were all friends, though, it would certainly explain their close bond and it would most definitely make it easier to turn them all to her side.

“We used to invite Anthony before he was promoted,” Clive added, interrupting her thoughts, and before Pansy could remember the direction she had been heading with them the waitress arrived and thoroughly distracted her companions.

She listened as they ordered drinks that had names that were unfamiliar to her and she knew that she would not be ordering the same thing. The waitress had given them no menus nor had she rattled off any names of the drinks they served – perhaps her colleagues came here often enough that they had no need for those things. The manner in which they quickly ordered their drinks lent proof to this observation.

Then the waitress turned to look expectantly at her and it suddenly seemed as though everyone’s eyes were on her. Pansy abruptly felt absolutely sure that her robes were wrinkled and she let her hands fall to smooth them out.

The waitress’ hair is absurd, she thought as she looked at the waitress. What self-respecting witch has blue hair? And done up in that fashion?

She flushed when she heard Lesley’s gentle ‘Pansy?” and Nicola’s not-so-gentle ‘Have we lost you already?’ and asked for the first wine that came to mind.

The waitress looked slightly startled at her choice, as though no one had ever ordered red wine from her before, but Pansy didn’t care. She would not order the same things that everyone else did, because she didn’t recognize them from any of the pureblood events she had attended. If she hadn’t seen them there, then they were obviously common and thus beneath her.

“Were you entranced with her?” Nicola asked after the waitress had gone beyond earshot, a fact that Pansy was grateful for. “I will say that she did have very pretty eyes and…”

“I was looking at her blue hair,” Pansy said quickly, before Nicola could take her statement any further.

“I dyed my hair red once,” Clive said, and Nicola laughed.

“Oh, I can just imagine that! How it must have clashed with your skin!” Lesley smiled beside Pansy, murmuring a comment too softly for her to hear.

And then Clive’s hair turned an awfully putrid shade of green that made Pansy’s stomach roll and caused Nicola’s laugh to rise above the noise of the pub.

“What? What?” Clive asked, looking between Lesley’s face-splitting grin and Nicola’s red face with confusion. “Is there something on my face? I know I had spaghetti before I left but I swear that I checked in the mirror!”

His statement didn’t do anything to help Nicola calm down and Pansy was afraid that they would soon be kicked out of the pub for being too loud. She hoped that if they were it wouldn’t be seen as too negative an action… It might even boost her reputation as she would be seen as having shared experiences commonly associated with ‘regular’ and ‘lower-class’ citizens.

And so she sat calmly on the coach even though her insides were squirming at the thought of being called ‘common’.

It was as Nicola’s laugh began to die off that she realized that she wasn’t the only one laughing—there was a quieter, more mischievous laugh accompanying hers. Pansy turned her head to try to find its source and found a likely candidate in the grey-haired head that lay just above the back of Clive’s chair.

Lesley appeared to have also heard him, though her eyes were still almost closed, for she said, “You’d better move before your creaky old bag of bones gets stuck there.”

Clive immediately whipped his head around, trying to find who Lesley was talking to, and Pansy’s lips curved into a more natural smile at the sight of his head wagging back and forth. He’s such a fool, she thought, and found that she didn’t mean it maliciously.

Clive turned his shaking head into a jump that took his clear off the seat of his chair when Jonathon appeared, popping up suddenly from behind his chair, and whispered ‘Boo’ in his ear.

“Don’t do that!” he shouted, and Pansy was surprised to see that his cry didn’t bring the attention of the restaurant down on them.

“A scraggily old man can do want he wants,” Jonathon said, pushing himself up and away from Clive’s chair to fall sideways into the plumply-cushioned chair beside it. “After all, what good is it to be old if you haven’t earned the right to do as you please?”

Pansy widened her smile at his words, finding them true enough, though she rather thought that it was ability and accomplishments that earned one the right to do as they pleased rather than simple old age. Anyone could become old but it was the extraordinary who made something of themselves and commanded respect.

And then Jonathon turned his attention to her. “Ah, Pansy, darling. Such unexpected company! If I’d known that you were coming, well,” He looked down at himself, “I wouldn’t have changed a thing. I missed you at work today—did you cause any mischief?”

Pansy shook her head no, as she always did when he asked that question. She wondered if it was uncomfortable to sit the way that he was, legs thrown over one of the arms of the chair and his head barely resting on the opposite corner of the back—it certainly wasn’t proper.

“Ah,” he sighed. “Not even a little tormenting?” He didn’t pause to hear her answer before continuing on. “I suppose that I’ll have to double my efforts then, since I’m going at it alone.”

“Oh-ho, Theresa won’t like the sound of that,” Nicola chortled, the red flush that had left her face after the end of Clive’s incident (though his hair was still as brilliantly green as it had been when first changed) creeping back.

“Who said that we had to tell her?” Jonathon asked, blinking his eyes prettily at her. “It could be our little secret.”

Pansy saw her chance and dove in before she could re-think it. “But wouldn’t it be so much more fun to see how she reacts when we do tell her?”

As she uttered the words she was reminded of the more vicious games of the Slytherin common room, where people revealed the secrets of others in subtle, unidentifiable ways just to see the consequences. It had been a learning game of sorts, because it forced everyone to guard their secrets and weaknesses fiercely, and Pansy had regarded it as good practice for the real world.

A thought flitted through her mind, whispering that this was the first time she had actually used the game in reality… And that it was only in jest.
She could see from Clive’s face that he was surprised by her comment, but more of her attention was directed at Jonathon, whose reaction pleased her in a way she hadn’t expected.

“Aha—so you do have a sinister side! I was beginning to fear that it would never show!” He didn’t seem at all concerned by the fact that her scheme would have negative consequences for him; in fact, she seemed to have made his day.

She wasn’t quite sure how she felt about that.

“Oh no, look at the mess you’ve made,” Nicola said, and that was all that she could say before they were interrupted by the arrival of their drinks. Pansy carefully grasped her wine glass by its throat, admiring the way the red liquid swirled within the glass, almost free but not quite. The swirls are quite pretty, she thought, before hiding a smile as she watched Jonathon complain about having been left out of a drink before Nicola snapped at him to ‘just bloody well go over there and order himself one’.

The wine slipped smoothly down her throat, though it didn’t disappear quite as quickly as Nicola’s drink, or Clive’s. Lesley was sipping hers at a fairly quick rate as well, and Pansy wondered if they aimed to make themselves drunk before the first half-hour had passed. She certainly didn’t—she wouldn’t make herself that vulnerable before anyone but herself.

Jonathon soon returned with a drink of his own in his hands and Pansy found the conversation getting louder and louder, even though no one joined them. Her co-workers talked of all manner of things and burst into laughter seemingly at random. Pansy didn’t understand the leaps in logic and thought that they made but she tried to keep up as best as she could.

Eventually, though, she just gave in and shrank away from conscious thought. Her mind felt foggy, and it felt comfortable not to focus so much on their words. Instead she listened to the sound of their words floating past her ear and added her thoughts whenever she made enough sense of the conversation to do so.

Terrance had joined them at some point and the way in which the dim light of the pub reflected off his sandy-coloured hair had fascinated Pansy for a time. He talked a lot more with his hands than Pansy would have thought from her interactions with him at the Archives and several times she saw beer go splashing over the rim of his mug as he gestured. She knew that she made an expression of disgust when she saw that and found that she didn’t quite care at the moment—Lesley’s warmth from where she was leaning on her side was too comfortable for such worries to appear.

And then Lesley jolted, shocking Pansy out of the stupor she had fallen into, and burst out, “What did I just hear? Was it what I thought I heard?”

“Well, that all depends on what you think that you heard,” Nicola responded with a sly smile. “If you’re thinking that Jonathan has turned into a giant banana, then you are sorely mistaken.” She then quickly dodged out of reach of the ineffectual swat Jonathan directed her way.

“Bah,” he said, sinking further into the chair he had acquired for himself and sipping his beer. “Old men get no respect anymore.”

Everyone ignored him and Lesley continued on as though he hadn’t spoken at all. “Terrance—did I just hear that your wife cheated on you with Samuel?” Her lips were curled in disgust and she almost hissed the last word as though she couldn’t believe what she was saying.

Pansy straightened subtly and rapidly blinked, trying to reorient herself. Since when had a single glass of wine shaken her so much? But when Pansy tried to remember, to pull the events of the evening to the forefront of her mind, she found that they were blurry and unclear, with jumps from one moment to the next that seemed random and jagged.

The thinking was giving her a headache so she decided that she would ignore it for the moment. The mystery of the moment was much more pleasing. Who was Samuel and why did Lesley not like him? Was he perhaps a past lover? Images of the sheets of paper she had stored in her desk drawer floated through her mind and she brushed them away furiously, not wanting to miss a moment of the here and now conversation.

Terrance, when Pansy looked from Lesley towards him, had slumped slightly and appeared defeated. She wondered if it was the wine that made her feel sympathy for him instead of the scorn she usually would have felt at his outward betrayal of his weaknesses. She went to take another sip of her wine only to find that the glass was empty, and she looked down in disappointment.

Nicola, catching the look, called out to the waitress with the blue locks to bring her another glass of red wine and Pansy smiled gratefully at her.

Terrance sighed and the sigh seemed to contain the sadness of three lives. He seemed to have gone beyond the point of feeling anger at his wife’s betrayal and merely regretted the sorry affair with all of his heart. Lesley appeared to accept the sigh for the answer that it was, but was soon given a more detailed response.

It was Clive, though, that delivered it and he was indignant enough for the both of them. “Yeah, it was, disgusting, home-wrecking piece of slime that he is. I don’t know why he ever made it into the Aurors – probably bribed the examiners.” He shook his head at the injustice of it all and Pansy found it to be an opportune time to interject.

“Aurors the-these days are awful.” She was pleased to see that everywhere heads were nodding at her statement and leaned back, feeling accomplished.

Clive soon picked up where he had left off the tale, after taking another gulp of his beer and calling for another. “Apparently he’s been trying to get with my ol’ buddy’s wife for years now—” he clumsily patted Terrance’s shoulder and missed, his hand falling onto his leg instead, “and she g-gave in a few m-months ago. I don’t k-know the number but it’s more than enough. It’s a-plenty. Even a single instant is more than ever—ever needed to happen. Ever should have happened.” Clive paused and after several moments of silence Pansy wondered if that was the end of the story.

She felt awfully sorry and her eyelids were feeling heavy… But a pointed cough from Nicola brought back both her attention and Clive’s words.
“L-luckily T-terrance discovered it through her post—she got careless and st-stupid.” Clive gestured broadly with his bottle and Pansy stared, fascinated, as the beer that spilled over the edges disappeared before it had a chance to soak into the cushions of the chair. “He didn’t n-need to see them doing—you-k-know-what.” Another sweeping movement brought the story to a close and he drank from his bottle with contentment.

“And that’s when you kicked her out, right?” Lesley leaned so far forwards that Pansy was afraid that she would fall off the couch and she grabbed her arm. Lesley eased backwards at her touch and Pansy released her.

Somewhere, at the back of her mind, she registered that she didn’t feel any desire to wipe her hands. She wasn’t sure why she should even feel that wish and she easily brushed away the thought. Lesley was a pleasant warmth against her side—there could be nothing wrong with that.

Terrance nodded and drank his beer, slumping even further into his seat. Pansy thought she could hear angry mutterings being hidden by the liquid but she wasn’t sure. Lesley looked disappointed that Terrance wasn’t willing to say anything more on the subject but Jonathan interjected with a rude and diverting comment before she could prod Terrance any further.

Pansy allowed herself to lean back against the couch and relax – why had she ever thought that relaxing was a bad thing to do? Lesley seemed more interested in the current conversation than she was in Pansy but Pansy found that perfectly alright. She herself was fascinated by the shadows that whirled and posed behind the shoulders of her co-workers and at one point she peered around the pub, absolutely certain that she had heard Astor’s bark.

The others seemed content to allow her to sit there and aside from a few attempts to drag her into the conversation they let her be.

The pub slowly emptied until all that was left were the determined few who wanted to close it down. Their blue-haired waitress had long ago been replaced by a waiter with spikes for hair (Pansy had giggled—giggled—when she saw him) and he approached them now to announce that it was closing time and they had to leave the pub now. He spoke slowly, as though he thought that they would have difficulties understanding him, and Pansy had to bit her tongue to keep from telling him off.

She wasn’t sure if her face didn’t turn red in her effort to keep herself from speaking.

It was as she struggled to tie her robes around herself (since when had knotting a silly sash become so difficult?) that she noticed that Clive was watching her. She gave him a weak smile that quickly melted into a frustrated frown – her fingers felt thicker and clumsier than they ever had before. And since when had the shadowy figures moved so close to her?

She waved her hand in annoyance at them and she heard Nicola snort from somewhere in front of her. “It’s a good thing we’re flooing home or I don’t think she’d make it.”

Lesley was reaching over to help her with her belt when Pansy let out a victorious cry – she had finally succeeded! Jonathon directed a very kind smile at her and congratulated her on her great victory.

Pansy thanked him and walked as best she could (she would not allow herself to wobble, she would not! She could remember that much) over to the lineup in front of the floo.

It was there that Clive spoke and there was no escape for Pansy; not from the question that she didn’t know how to answer.

“Why d-do you always w-watch us?” She dipped her head at Clive’s question and felt her cheeks burn. Suddenly standing in the line seemed much harder than it had before and she longed for the warmth and comfort of her bed in the manor. There would be no one there to ask such questions of her, no one at all.

The others weren’t paying much attention to their (brief, it would be brief) conversation and for that Pansy was thankful. Clive was much less like a bloodhound in his quest for answers than either Nicola or Lesley was and hopefully she could please him with a shallow answer that seemed personal.

“I find you interesting.” She held her breath then and swayed slightly on the spot (she swayed because she was bored, not because she was having trouble keeping her balance) as Clive assessed her answer.

He looked at her and the manner in which his shaggy hair covered his eyebrows made Pansy want to rearrange it. She stared at his hair, ignoring the faint yapping of a dog that she could hear, until he said, eyes strangely intense, “W-we’re n-not that interesting.”

“A hare is always interesting to a hawk.” Pansy remembered her father saying this to her after she had uttered a complaint about the dinner guests they had had that night and she had nodded even though she hadn’t understood exactly what he meant at the time. She still wasn’t quite sure about its meaning (she felt as though she had known it several hours ago but it eluded her grasp now) but it sounded impressive and so she said it.

“N-none of-of us are animals,” Clive said, eyes squinting and Pansy found herself shaking her head.

“No, no, no. You’ve got it wrong, all wrong. I was using a—using a—” Pansy frantically searched for the correct word—she knew what it was, she knew it—until she remembered and screeched it out triumphantly, “metaphor!” She shook her head again and wished that Clive understood things as well as Astor did. It was truly a pity that he didn’t.

Clive was nodding now as though he understood, even though Pansy was sure he didn’t, and he let their conversation collapse into silence until it was their turn to use the floo. Then he turned and nodded quite gravely to her before grabbing a handful of floo powder and stepping into the green flames.

Pansy quickly did the same—she could feel herself tottering and exhaustion had settled into her bones like winter settles into a land—and was soon back in the familiarity of her manor.

As she collapsed into bed (after changing into her nightgown, of course) her last thought was of why the manor had seemed so much darker than usual.

I'm so sorry for the delay in updates but I've been really busy. Hopefully the next chapter will be posted in a much more timely fashion than this one was.

Chapter 26: Loneliness
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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.

Chapter 27: The Funeral: Part 1
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When Pansy finally realized what happened, when a trembling house elf woke her in the early hours of the morning where light was just beginning to grace her walls, she didn’t know quite what to feel.

A lump appeared in her throat, but it was small and easily ignorable.

She and her mother had been living very separate lives for two people living in the same house and it had been obvious that for some time now that her mother was fading.

Or, at least, it could have, it should have, been obvious. Pansy just hadn’t seen it. Had brushed it off. Had told herself that her mother was always that weak, that… passive.

Her mother had been quiet in her pain, a fact that had enabled her departure to slip past her notice. Pansy had been assured by the house elves that they had made her last days very comfortable, for she had no way of knowing these details herself. Perhaps her mother had known, and had not wanted to trouble her daughter. A scene flashed in her mind: her mother, gripping the back of a chair anxiously— Perhaps her mother had welcomed death, had not seen life as something worth living for. A dark house, lonely every hour of every day—Perhaps… perhaps their relationship could have been different, given time. But “perhaps” was for the idle, the emotionally-obsessed, and Pansy neither of those. So Pansy put her emotions away and operated as a Parkinson would.

Pansy had sent a letter through the Auror offices to inform her father in Azkaban that his wife had died (normal owling services would not have worked, since the wards at Azkaban blocked all foreign methods of communication), but she hadn’t bribed anyone to ensure that it reached its destination nor had she considered making the journey herself to Azkaban – she had worked too hard and for too long to have her family’s reputation further tarnished by the reminder of the deeds her father had committed to land himself in the heavily guarded prison for life.

She was a Parkinson and a Parkinson worked with the circumstances. Unforgivably, unflinchingly.

The employees at the Ministry, when they had heard the news, had not had any strong reactions. Her co-workers, those who she was closest to, those who had been most strident in ignoring her, tried to offer kind words and some form of comfort, to which Pansy replied with a strong face, with a hint of a trembling smile. No one trusted a person if they thought the person was unfeeling and Pansy needed to gain and keep their trust.

Her stomach clenched slightly at those thoughts and Pansy smiled through the strange feeling. There were no feelings to be felt.

Those with whom she hadn’t interacted much only gave her sad smiles.

None of them came to her mother’s funeral.

*

On the day of the funeral clouds swirled menacingly above the manor but no rain dared to fall. Pansy thought she wouldn’t have minded if the sky had opened upon her—her concerns were greater than the simple matter of rain falling on the funeral.

Like the lack of guests.

Rage burned through Pansy like fire in a dry forest, consuming anything and everything. Did no one care, at all?

She glared down at the wooden casket that now contained her mother and her fingers clenched furiously at her sides. She was momentarily able to express the ghosts of emotion that she allowed herself to feel—the little few that had come to her mother’s funeral had left, waiting outside the room in order to give her the customary privacy.

Did it not matter, all of the work she had done at the archives? Was the Parkinson name still so disliked that no one cared if a tragedy befell her family? Had she so damaged her position at work with her careless and stupid words?

Pansy slowly stretched out her fingers and held them open, stiff and straight. With one last glance at her mother’s coffin, she swept out of the room to inform those waiting that it was ready to be buried.

She watched, just barely hiding the anger in her eyes, as the people crowded into the long reception hall – Pansy could remember her mother insisting that they all stood there to receive their guests whenever they hosted a ball, ever the proper hostess. Her flat expression contorted slightly as she remembered this tendency which had, unfortunately forced Pansy to shake hands with everyone, even those who had sweaty hands. It had been a testament to her training that she hadn’t ever openly articulated her disgust, even as a young five-year-old.

The people surrounded her mother’s coffin, the small crowd looking ridiculous in the grandeur of the hall, and in unison raised their wands and cast the spell to lift the coffin. They carried it past Pansy and down the short corridor that separated the reception hall from the door and one of them flicked the door open with their wand; there was a slight dip in the height of the coffin as the person momentarily took their power away from the combined spells.

As a blood relative of the deceased, Pansy was exempt from casting the spell and so was free to watch as the petals from the flowers that decorated the coffin feel and littered the floor. They hadn’t been overly expensive flowers (she hadn’t been able to afford it on her budget and she hadn’t known or cared enough about flowers to try and guess which ones were considered “best” by those who occupied themselves with dirt—she had sent a house elf in her stead to purchase them), nor even flowers from her mother’s garden (for her mother hadn’t felt well enough to plant flowers or tend to their upkeep for the entire growing season), but they had been flowers all the same and now they were broken, lying in pieces on the floor.

She knew that they would eventually be cleaned by the house elves but she had ordered them to stay clear of the funeral – no creature would ruin the funeral of a Parkinson – and until she released them from their quarters, the petals would stay.

Pansy swallowed nothing, her throat suddenly feeling dry, and followed the procession, careful not to step on the petals.

Her mother’s coffin was carried past the empty gardens she had tended, past the long shadow of the manor, towards the family tomb which lay at the edge of the property.

The large stone structure was backed by the beginnings of a wild forest, one that Pansy had not been allowed to roam in as a child for her parents had said that it wasn’t ladylike to “play the savage beast—they had enough of that with the magical creatures”. Secretly Pansy had been pleased with their decision for in truth the long shadows and magical beasts that filled the woods had frightened her. One house elf, Tully, who had been her nanny of sorts when she was younger, had often regaled Pansy with tales of horses that breathed fire and ate human flesh, of birds capable of producing such annoying sounds that they often drove people insane, of lions and tigers and panthers whose very flesh and fur repelled the magic of witches and wizards, leaving them defenseless against their sharp claws and teeth.

Pansy hadn’t been able to look normally at a kneazle for weeks after she had been told that last tale. Her father had noticed her strange behaviour and, after questioning her, that had been the end of both Tully’s tales and Pansy’s paranoid behaviour. But she had still avoided the woods at the end of the Parkinson property, deciding it was better to be safe than sorry.

The tomb itself was solid, white and weathered. It was asymmetrical for many generations of Parkinsons had made it their final home, many more so than the original builders had accounted for (a fact that always gave Pansy pause, for who could not have predicted the grandeur of the family?), and so new wings had had to be tastefully added as necessary. It could be called a thing of beauty, grim though its duty was, for Parkinsons would never have created an ugly monument for themselves.

And though it was large in size, its door was narrow in frame, so as to guard against the entrance of threats to the coffins of her ancestors and the exit of death. Pansy could remember her father telling her, one evening as the setting sun danced across the stones of the tomb, that one of the surest ways to avoid death was to never invite it in. Those who obsessed over death, he had said to her, are the ones who have lived the least for even if they have spent longer on this Earth in numbers, they have lived less than most for they have forgotten to enjoy life as it came.

She knew that if she asked him about her determination to restore the Parkinson reputation to its former glory, he would not say that she was obsessing or even forgetting to savour life; instead he would say that she had found one of the highlights of living: pursuing that which one is passionate about. It helped to boost her confidence, which had flagged during the obstacles that continued to weigh her down, to know that her father would not only have supported her mission from an honour perspective but also from the point of view of the enjoyment of life.

The crowd stopped at its entrance and turned to look expectantly at Pansy. Her eyes swept over them, searching for one person in particular.

Everyone there knew what she sought and waited patiently, for everyone there was a pureblood and thus well versed in the traditional Wizarding funeral practices. Pansy had noted somewhat grimly after she had made the required announcement in the Daily Prophet that no half-bloods or mudbloods had replied to it in a positive manner – she had even received several rude letters from the more fanatic “Light” followers.

Perhaps they did not even know where to look for funeral arrangements. Perhaps they expected a personal invitation. Her mouth began to twist again in disgust but Pansy soon froze her face back into its bland expression.

It seemed to her that she had made no visible progress in ameliorating the Parkinson reputation during her months at the archives and, as her eyes met with Draco’s (the only person she was disappointed had accepted the announcement of the funeral), decided that she needed to change her plan. She was going too slowly, too cautiously, for it to work.

She pointed at Draco, indicating that it was him that she wanted to accompany her into the tomb, and he nodded, accepting it for the honour that it was. She walked towards the narrow door of the tomb and cast a ball of light into it to light their way. She had been practicing that spell for several days, in order to ensure that she didn’t embarrass herself or the family name in front of others.

As the ball of light glided into the tomb, highlighting the cavernous walls of the tomb along with the beginnings of the spidery web of corridors that led to all of the individual rooms for the coffins, the crowd averted their eyes as the ancestral tomb of a pureblood family was highly valued. It was tradition that only those descended from the line could enter the tomb, along with the select few that they invited.

Those who were invited into the tomb only did so because of the power required to lift the coffins. Unfortunately, their line had not always been plentiful and the remaining relatives had sometimes found themselves incapable of lifting the coffin, requiring them to ask the aid of outsiders. To be invited into an ancestral tomb was considered to be an act of trust or, in times of war, a peace offering. In any circumstance, it was an honour and a great gift to be allowed into the tomb of another.

Draco Malfoy had not been her ideal choice but Pansy did not have the magical aptitude to lift her mother’s coffin by herself. Furthermore, fewer had responded to her invitation to attend her mother’s funeral than Pansy had expected and thus her pool from which she could select had been slim. She had not felt close to any of the older pureblood generation and of her pureblood generation few remained in the country.

Her mother had not been so greatly loved, nor would be so greatly missed, that many felt that her death required a visit across borders.
Deciding that there was no use in hesitating, Pansy entered the tomb – one of the only places on the Parkinson property that she had never been inside. A tomb was, as could be expected, only to be entered upon a death and none of her family members had died since her birth. Not until her mother.

After she had passed into the dimly lit tomb, she turned and released the ball of light. She couldn’t hold both the spell for the ball of light as well as the spell to lift her mother’s coffin at the same time and, if what she had read in her family’s rituals book was correct, the ball would keep on shining until the counter spell was cast.

She desperately hoped that the book’s words weren’t an old family prank, though she doubted that any Parkinson would play a trick that placed shame on another Parkinson – it simply wasn’t done.

She was relieved when the tomb continued to be lit.

Turning her attention now to the coffin, she cast the spell to lift it, doing so before Draco as he was only an invited in this situation. If her father had been here, he would have been the first, and she the second. She bit her tongue slightly in concentration as she struggled to lift the coffin – it was heavier than she had expected it to be. She was relieved, though she was careful not to let it show on her face, when Draco’s magic joined hers.

Together they lifted the coffin and started towards the newest addition to the tomb, which was the farthest back from the entrance. Though it was called “new” Pansy’s father had commenced its construction years ago after it had become apparent that the tomb was almost full.

This way it is done to my satisfaction,” Pansy had overheard him telling her mother, when she had asked why he was building his home after death already. “I lived through one war and I saw many men die before their time.” His voice had softened, ever so slightly, as he spoke the words. “Their families weren’t ready for their deaths. I’m just ensuring that we’re ready for mine.” A pause, then: “I’m not dying yet but we Parkinsons are always prepared.”

But he still wasn’t dead; he had lived through another war and, instead of finding death, which he had prepared for, he had found a lifetime sentence in the worst prison Wizarding society had ever known. He hadn’t been prepared for that, nor had his family. And now it was his wife who was first to use the addition he had built.

To be continued...

A/N: I'm sorry it's taken me so long to post this update. I know it's not the longest chapter I've written but part 2 should be up soon- I've pretty much finished writing it already. It was just too long to post as one long chapter. Thank you for continuing to read and I'd love to hear your thoughts on this chapter! I promise, something large will happen in Part 2. :)

Chapter 28: The Funeral: Part 2
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Pansy continued to bite her tongue as she carried the coffin through the tomb. She had never been so aware before that this was where her ancestors had been buried, that she was surrounded by dead people. Her eyes were darting every which way as she strove to find control over herself in the darkness of the tomb. In a way, though, she was grateful for the darkness because it prevented Draco from seeing her loss of control.

She found her panic receding after she stumbled – quietly (and she was inwardly grateful that Draco hadn’t noticed her moment of clumsiness) – over a loose stone, thinking that she really needed to send a house elf into the tomb to clean it up. Almost immediately after that, she scolded herself, for a house elf couldn’t be sent in here, not when it was just a house elf. It could never, after all, be blood-related to her family nor would she stoop to gifting it with the honour of being an invited. Her family would just have to get along with the occasional loose stone.

Less afraid now, Pansy started to subtly watch Draco. They were walking slightly apart from each other and, shielded now from the sharp gazes of the other purebloods, Pansy had the opportunity to exercise her curiosity. She hadn’t seen him in over a year, not since he had broken her disillusions about their relationship, and he had changed.

The mental picture she had had of him, tainted by his poor appearance at their last meeting and blurry from her attempts to repress all of her memories of Draco, was very different from the man she was walking beside now. He had grown, causing him to tower over her more than ever as they walked, and he no longer seemed to be sleep-deprived. He had filled out a little, though Pansy didn’t know if that was because of his job or a result of a personal decision to increase his fitness. She didn’t know much about him now, wasn’t aware of his life to the degree that she had once been.

She didn’t even know what his job was, having chosen to ignore all information about him.

But due to the attachment she had once felt for him, she couldn’t stop herself from trying to catch a glimpse of his left hand. Had he married? It was possible, after all, that she had missed the announcement in the newspaper. Or was he still engaged? The thought crossed her mind that perhaps he and Astoria had even broken their engagement, however unusual an affair that was for purebloods.

Even if that was the case, Pansy told herself that she no longer viewed Draco as a possible suitor because she knew that doing so would irreparably destroy the Parkinson reputation. The Malfoys had the greater history, the greater reputation for supporting the Dark Arts and, no matter what steps Draco and Narcissa took now, their dark past would not be soon forgotten. To marry him would be to hinder her cause, something that Pansy was not willing to do.

The dim light cast by the ball was not the best guide in her search but Pansy eventually was able to catch a glimpse of the fingers of his left hand in the light. He was only wearing one ring—he had not yet married Astoria. An odd feeling swept through her, one that Pansy was reluctant to identify as relief. Why would she be relieved that Draco was not yet married? That part of her life was over. Her crush on him was gone.

Her arm shaking slightly with the strain of holding the spell (and her mother’s coffin) and their footsteps echoing off the walls of the tomb, Pansy decided that it was too boring to simply wander through the corridors of the tomb without communicating at all with the only other living person. After a moment’s deliberation, she decided that speaking to Draco wouldn’t be considered disrespectful to her ancestors, and so broke her silence.

It was an awkward topic to broach, considering their personal relations over the past year and a bit, and Pansy struggled to find a suitable way to start. Finally, though, Pansy gave in, noticing that there were getting very close to their destination and not wanting to lose the opportunity to talk with Draco. She was sure that their walk back to the exit of the tomb would pass much quicker, since they wouldn’t have a coffin to support.

“Draco—” she paused as Draco turned to glance sharply at her before continuing to forge ahead, “—are you married?” She already knew the answer to that, of course, but she wanted to gauge Draco’s willingness to participate in the conversation.

It appeared that he wasn’t interested in conversing – he simply waved his left hand, the solitary ring glinting in the light.

“You could have taken your engagement ring off – I read in Witch Weekly that many young witches nowadays are following this path so that they can protect the ring from the wear and tear of daily life.” Pansy continued to plunge onwards with the conversation and, as the words left her mouth, began to feel like she was once again at Hogwarts, desperate to catch Draco’s attention. If she could read anything in Draco’s smirk, it was that he thought so as well.

Her anger bloomed at the thought that he thought that she was no better than a school girl. She had grown just as much as he had, perhaps even more, since the day the Dark Lord had been defeated. She had sat her N.E.W.T.s, she had obtained a job – she was surviving in the adult world. It hadn’t swallowed her up, not yet. And, what’s more, she was doing so without the aid of her parents.

Draco still had Narcissa to support him every step of the way.

Feeling nasty, Pansy asked, “Why aren’t you married yet? Did Astoria decide she was better than you and the engagement just hasn’t been cut off yet?”

The look Draco shot her was one full of pity and it made her anger burn even hotter. She didn’t need his pity. She didn’t need his anything. Why, in Merlin’s name, had she thought it would be a good idea to invite Draco, of all people? Why couldn’t she have just gone with a safer pureblood, one that she didn’t have such a troubled past with? However, unfortunate as it was, she had chosen Draco and now that they were both in the tomb she could not send him away if for no other reason than the fact that she wasn’t capable of supporting the coffin on her own.

Draco’s tone when he responded to her comment led her to believe that he was only responding because he was an invited and her mother had just died. There was no sharpness behind the words, no trace of condescension.

Just simply: “She was two years behind us at Hogwarts. She wanted to stay in school and sit her N.E.W.T.s.”

“And you couldn’t be married during the summer?”

“It was better this way.”

Draco’s tone signaled that he wanted his words to be the end of the conversation but Pansy was reluctant to stop the conversation. Ignoring the way he was purposefully looking away from her, she plowed onwards.

“Have you planned your marriage?”

Draco was even more direct about his wishes this time; he responded, “I don’t wish to talk about this with you.”

Slightly hurt, Pansy lowered her eyes and allowed them to walk in silence for the rest of the way to her mother’s resting place.

However, after hearing the slight clink as her mother’s coffin came into contact with the floor and rubbing the wood of the coffin for the last time (Draco had already left the room), Pansy decided to try one last time to start a discussion with him. Draco had played too large a role in her life before for her to completely ignore his presence when he was the only other living person near her.

So, with the ball of light guiding their steps and the sound of their footsteps echoing softly off the walls, Pansy cleared her throat. Draco glanced briefly at her before slightly increasing his speed.

“Draco,” she started, and then Draco had to slow down or risk being outright rude, “what are you doing now?”

“Doing?” His eyes were sharp and his body betrayed his annoyance, though Pansy suspected that he wasn’t trying very hard to hide it. “Why, I’m walking in this tomb, on my way out of it. What did you think I was doing?”

Draco was speaking in a mocking tone that he had rarely directed at her at Hogwarts and Pansy felt the anger that had subsided in their previous silence once again rise to the surface. Who was he to speak to her in such a manner? She was a woman in her own right and he- he—did he even have a job?

When she spoke, her voice was cold. “You know perfectly well what I meant and you really shouldn’t be rude to me. Society doesn’t view those who attack others in a very kind light.”

“Oh, they don’t, do they? I hadn’t noticed. Thanks for pointing out that vital piece of information – I shall use it wisely in my future interactions.” Draco’s tone had become crueler and Pansy tried to hide her trembling hands in the folds of her robes.

Controlling her voice, she said, “It is no concern to me how you behave yourself in the social situations you find yourself in. I only wish that you treat me with respect, not with scorn.” She was pleased with herself for those words.

The tomb was growing brighter as they approached its exit and, just before they passed through the arch, Draco swept one last glance at her.
“I see some things have indeed not changed since Hogwarts. Don’t contact me again.”

Then he walked arrogantly out of the door and into the light. Pansy was behind him, having paused at his blatant insult. She didn’t know exactly what he was trying to convey with his “change” comment but she bristled at his command. Parkinsons didn’t follow the commands of others, unless they had willingly submitted to their authority. Pansy had never openly admitted to seeing Draco as her superior and definitely did not see herself below the boy now. If she didn’t contact him again, it was because she didn’t want to talk with him either.

With his attitude, he wouldn’t survive in today’s society and she knew that the best way to show him that he should have treated her better was to prove that she knew how to manipulate a situation to suit her needs and come out with a better position than the one Draco possessed.

If nothing else, Pansy was more determined than ever to repair her family’s reputation in society.

*

After dismissing her guests, Pansy slowly made the trek up to her chambers. She paused briefly after entering the house and seeing the petals that still littered the floor, snapping her fingers to call Milly to her. She tersely ordered Milly to tell the other house elves that they were released from their quarters and to start cleaning the manor. She didn’t want to see those petals again.

She was aware that Astor was still with the house elves but she didn’t feel up to his company at the moment. She felt that his barking and excited behaviour would only serve as distractions and she needed to plan.

She retreated to her chambers, locking herself behind the door. She knew that the house elves wouldn’t bother her – her family had never encouraged them to inform them of their every move – and she was the only human in the manor. She was quite alone – except for one thing.

Pansy was undressing herself, for she had no desire to remain in her funeral clothes for longer than necessary, when she heard rather than saw her reflection.

“I heard that you spoke with Draco today.” Pansy ignored her reflection’s comment and focused instead on the feel of her robes slipping off her arms and down her body. She stepped out of the cloth pooling at her feet and hung it back in the closet before pulling out and putting on a more casual robe.

Draco didn’t mean anything to her, not anymore. She glanced briefly at the warded drawer, remembering the many nights she had fallen asleep with his scent in her nose. A momentary desire to break through the wards and break the flasks burned inside her but she resisted. A Parkinson didn’t give into temptation, into needless destruction, unless they were secure in their victory or had fallen so low as their actions didn’t matter. Pansy was at neither of those stages – she was only at the beginning of her rise to glory and so she could not risk failure.
Besides – the house elves had warded the drawer and she was loath to be disturbed by them at all, no matter how quick they could be at their tasks.

“You don’t talk with me anymore.” Pansy paused and turned to face the mirror. She was surprised by what she saw – her reflection looked harried and little wisps of her hair escaped from her bun to create a static-y halo around her head.

“You don’t come anymore,” Pansy countered. Her reflection had never appeared when Pansy was in her room, though it was not often anymore that she spent hours there. No longer were her chambers where she spent the majority of her time – now she had her work, her plan, and Astor to spend time on. However, she always spent the later part of her evenings there, preparing for the night, and she always slept in her bed. Never had her reflection approached her.

“You don’t need me.” The words were spoken so very softly that Pansy would not have heard them had she not moved close to the mirror.

“What do you mean?” Pansy spoke sharply, her nerves frayed by her unpleasant with Draco. “I don’t have to need you for you to talk with me.” She had missed talking with her reflection, though their conversations had not always been pleasant.

Her reflection had always been the one person who could not betray her, who Pansy could rely on to share her opinions. Astor, as fine a companion as he was, could not speak and Pansy wouldn’t share her thoughts with anyone else.

She couldn’t trust anyone else.

It had been odd, in the beginning, spending her days without communication from her reflection. Her reflection had been with her for years, had supported her whenever she felt frustrated. No one else had done that for her. Those who she had once filled her time with had left Pansy behind, had gone off to find their own lives. She had been left alone, and her reflection had been her companion. A better companion than any of them had ever been, Pansy thought bitterly as she stared at the person who had reappeared in her life after months without contact.

Today was apparently a day for re-connections, however unwanted.

Her reflection stared at her, her eyes cooler than her position in the situation would recommend.

“But I do.” The answer was short and Pansy could feel an argument brewing—what kind of a response was that? Pansy could remember evenings where she had been completely exhausted at having to act as a different person all day, at having to hide herself. There had been no one for her to talk with where there could have been one. Didn’t that count as need?

But she bit back the words that she wanted to say – she was tired and she didn’t want another confrontation. Not in her room where she should be safe from conflict.

She moved away from the mirror, weary of standing but not willing to sit directly in front of her reflection – she didn’t want to give her reflection that much access to herself. Instead she walked slowly, her feet sinking into the carpet that lined her floor, to sit gingerly on the side of her bed.

Silence took over the room, and stillness. Her reflection didn’t move from her position in the mirror, her eyes staying focused on Pansy’s form. It was as though she was waiting for something and, eventually, Pansy gave it to her.

Her thoughts had not calmed during the moments she sat on the bed – if anything, they had raced harder and faster than ever as though to compensate for her body’s inaction. They collided; half-formed plans were abandoned before Pansy even recognized that she had thought of them. And though they were all varied, they shared one thing in common: Pansy needed to increase her tactics against Wizarding society.

In one fluid movement Pansy erupted from the bed, her robes rippling behind her body as she paced. She couldn’t keep still.

Her reflection’s eyes followed her every movement.

“It’s not working. It’s just not working. Not quickly enough. I don’t understand why not – are they too stupid to see? I’ve spent months with them – months! I’ve devoted my time – my time!—to their work, to becoming their friend.” Pansy spat the word, her hands twisting angrily in the empty air. “I’ve hidden my true opinions of their lives, of their values! There is nothing – nothing!—to indicate that I am not what I appear to be! And yet—and yet…”

Pansy slumped slightly, her arms falling as though they were too heavy to hold up. “And yet nothing has changed. They greet me with smiles, yes, but they show me no sympathy. No true kindness.”

Not one of her co-workers had come to the funeral, even though it was custom, it was tradition, that if one knew the person, or one of their family members, that they would go to their funeral, to support them in their time of grief. It appeared that the muggle world was colder, crueler, than the Wizarding world in their traditions, and this coldness had crept into the Wizarding world.

Pansy fiercely brushed aside murmurs of how she had hurt them, had betrayed a secret of one of her colleagues. What did that matter, in the face of death?

It was yet another reason why the purebloods were superior, but they were too small a number. The only way to survive was to adapt to the new society, to become powerful in it, and Pansy was failing to do so. No one believed that she had changed, even though she had months of evidence to the contrary.

“I need to go in deeper.” The speed of her pacing increased as Pansy grew excited. This, this, was how she would succeed! This, this, would not allow her to fail! “I need to make it completely clear that I have changed – I need to do something that they cannot refute!”

She glanced over at her reflection, as though seeking her approval, and saw her nodding.

“But what will you do? You’ve already taken a job among half-bloods and mudbloods. You’ve kept your true values to yourself, sharing only what society would want to hear.”

Pansy’s eyes blazed with determination. She stood, staring at her reflection, and said, “I’m going to marry one of them.”

Saying the words almost made her gag. For her to not marry a pureblood was to ruin thousands of years of pure ancestry. It was to go against all that she believed in, all that she had been taught. For her, and for all purebloods, the purity of their family was of the utmost importance.

But for her to marry a pureblood would be to ruin all of the work she had done to get this far, all of the hopes she had had of restoring the Parkinson reputation to its former glory. The small steps she had taken had not worked, had not made a difference in the way society viewed her family. It would take a large gesture to push her change into their attention and marriage to someone of lesser blood would not – could not – fail to change the way society thought of the Parkinsons.

For the Parkinsons, family trumped all.

“You would do this?” Her reflection was peering at her, as though she was a new person. “You would sacrifice so much?”

The unwavering gaze of Pansy’s eyes was all the answer she got, and all the answer she needed.

The Parkinson name would rise again.

Chapter 29: Searching
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The funeral had taken place on a Friday, since none of the people who had responded to her notice in the Daily Prophet held jobs with required hours and Mr Craddle had been very sympathetic towards her. She suspected that it was not often that he had to deal with a personal crisis for one of his employees and he was eager to be allowed back to the simplicity of his paperwork.

This arrangement had allowed her the weekend to put herself in order; to decide how she would accomplish her task and burying her feelings so that they would not interfere.

On the Monday she breezed into work a full quarter-hour early for her shift, something that she had not done in the weeks since her mistake. She had not wanted to spend more time in the imposed silence than she had to without admitting defeat (since to show up late would be tantamount of such an admittance) but now her early arrival allowed her to begin to weed through her work pile early while also giving her more time to look over her co-workers.

Over the weekend she had looked over the notes she had taken on her colleagues and had found them to be lacking in one crucial area: their blood status. Though she knew why she had avoided the knowledge in the past, she now needed it so that her plan would work. Accidentally marrying a pureblood would not help her cause, as much as it would ease her mind.

Theresa was the only one working when Pansy entered the Archives and she did nothing more than nod at Pansy’s arrival. Pansy noted that the stack of documents was already on her desk, waiting for her to start. Dutifully, she sat and began to sort through them.

It was a few minutes past nine when the Archives door opened to reveal Lesley, who quickly walked over to her desk. Theresa looked up, ready to scold Lesley for being late, and then, eyes flickering in Pansy’s direction, closed her mouth and continued with her work.

Pansy told herself that she was used to the silence, to the avoided comments and aborted conversations, and sternly told herself that the lump in her throat didn’t exist. It couldn’t, not for something so little.

There was nothing that Pansy could observe from her desk that could reveal to her their blood statuses, though she did try. It was with a disappointed but unsurprised air that she came to the conclusion that she would once again have to open the lines of communication with her colleagues.

She was prepared for days, possibly weeks, of subtle warming until they reached the point where they could exchange words, but it was at lunch the next day when Nicola asked her, sharply but verbally, where she had been on Friday.

“I was at my mother’s funeral,” Pansy replied primly, and waited to see what her response would be.

“Ah,” she said, a strange look running across her face. “May the Light ease your sorrows in this time of darkness.” It was odd, hearing this Light courtesy directed at her, but Pansy simply nodded and went to leave the room.

“You—you can eat with us, you know. We’re sorry,” Nicola’s voice broke after her. She looked hesitant, though her eyes seemed to be pleading for Pansy to accept her apology. Her tone was that of a weak, uncertain voice masquerading as strong and Pansy paused before the door, tilting her head in consideration. She could feel Lesley’s desperate gaze on her shoulder.

Quietly, barely looking at Nicola, Pansy explained her denial. “I haven’t brought any food with me—I’d have nothing to eat.” And then she walked through the door, feeling somewhat relieved that she wouldn’t be eating with them that day.

She walked down the corridor towards the stairs, listening to the click clack of her shoes against the floor. The sound was comforting, for though it reminded her that she was alone it tore through the heavy silence of the manor.

She was not alone—she had her job, her family’s reputation and now her mission.

She was waiting by the entry to the lifts when another presence disturbed her thoughts. The hissing sound of the doors of the lift opening gave her a moment’s warning, though, before a familiar voice greeted her in casual familiarity.

“Hello Pansy.” The sound of Adri Bennett’s voice caused her to look up from her process of shuffling to the side to allow the occupants of the lift to exit. His warm eyes watched her movements and Pansy saw sadness in them. “How are you?”

“Just fine.” And that was the truth, as far as she would allow herself to feel it. There was no need to wallow in unnecessary emotions that no one beside her reflection would care about.

“Are you—” The man seemed to catch himself and turned his thoughts in a different direction. “I do hope that you are just finishing your shift, not walking out of your job at the Archives. I did so enjoy seeing you around the Ministry. I was, in fact, just headed towards the Archives. I’m in need, you see, of some research for my next piece.”

Pansy nodded. She could have told him that she had guessed his destination—there were no other departments on this floor, after all—but she didn’t want to. In some flash of intuition, she knew that he would be hurt by that comment, though he would try and play it off as a joke on his part, and she didn’t want to hurt him.

Instead, she stepped forward and indicated that she wanted to step onto the lift. She was lucky that it hadn’t already tried to close, though it probably hadn’t been able to due to Adri’s presence in its doorway. Realizing her intention, Adri hurriedly stepped away from the lift and fumbled slightly with his identification card. “Oops—sorry, haha. I guess I forgot where I was standing.”

Smiling from her place inside the lift, Pansy said, “That’s alright. No harm was done.” She felt oddly gratified by the beaming smile Adri gave her at her comment.

She was still looking at his smile when the lift doors closed.

*

Her days and weeks after her mother’s funeral were occupied by slowly discovering the blood statuses of those with whom she was acquainted. Through carefully placed comments and sly questions, she was able to gather her co-workers’ histories.

Nicola was from a long line of Greek witches and wizards. Her family had immigrated to England shortly before the Second Wizarding War and hadn’t had the means to leave the country when it broke out. Older than Pansy by several years, she had been past Hogwarts age when she had arrived. She had followed her family here not because was legally bound to them but because she didn’t want to be one of the forces that separated her family. Pansy understood.

Felicity was a Mud-Muggleborn, who had been several years ahead of Pansy at Hogwarts. She never mentioned, and Pansy never ventured to ask about, her experiences during the war. Pansy strongly felt that she didn’t want to know why she was so fidgety.

Theresa and Lesley were both half-bloods with similar pasts. Lesley’s parents had retreated to the quiet of the country during the turbulent years and Theresa had faded into the structure of the Ministry.

Terrance she avoided, knowing that information about his blood status would do her no good. He was still in the throes of his marriage troubles (it had taken Pansy several days and many strained silences to learn that vague piece of information) and she knew that any relationship she started with him would have to take place many months down the road. To attempt to start one now with him would only lead to rumours and scandal, for everyone would suspect her of using Dark charms and potions to “charm him away”. The relationship would cause both him and her only trouble and thus was better to be left as a passing thought in her mind.

Clive… Clive, as a half-blood, was a possibility, though Pansy was hesitant to settle on him. He certainly wouldn’t be hard to fool but he was so timid, so stupidly frightened around her.

Cyril, she was happy to note later, from a conversation with Nicola and Lesley during lunch, was a pureblood. Even though he was from the “Light” side, his status was enough to push him out of the running.

Astor was given an extra treat that night.

Pansy refused to rush the decision that would affect her life and her family’s reputation for as long as she lived and so she spent time away from the Archives as well, looking for possible spouses. While she sipped her tea in cafés and restaurants, she watched the witches and wizards around her for clues as to their blood status. A small phrase, a quick gesture: they were the hints that allowed her to see the world in levels.

She often left the manor without a lunch, so that she had reason to visit the Ministry’s dining hall. Some of the cruder workers were tossing around an obviously Muggle title – “cafeteria” –when discussing the food they planned to purchase in the hall. Pansy, however, preferred to squeeze her eyes tightly enough that the hall could almost be seen as a fancy restaurant. The thin, hard-backed and hard-seated chairs were transformed from drab furniture fit to be tossed into the nearest fire into chairs constructed of shining wood and elegantly contrasting padding. Long tables fit for cramming more people than was suitable around them were replaced with intimate settings for two, though several larger tables were sprinkled throughout for those who bumbled around with their friends. Though she couldn’t bring the transformation into actuality, the oasis her mind provided her was enough.

No one joined her when she sat at a table, though occasionally sympathetic glances were sent her way, and the solitude of sitting at a large table alone wore away at her. The noise of the dining hall grated at her ears and the food it offered was below even that of the bar she had visited (even though she couldn’t really remember eating anything). Once, in desperation, she had Milly make her food invisible so that she could sneak better quality food into the dining hall… But she had trouble reversing the spell and had had to creep into the nearest alcove and summon her to return her food to rights. She knew that she must have looked like a right fool, walking in and then walking back out after fumbling with an invisible package, and she didn’t try to re-enter the hall with her food fully exposed.

Pansy hadn’t found anyone to suit her needs during the month and a half she had been actively looking. Outside of her colleagues (and Mr Richards, but she refused to include him), no one knew her or particularly cared about getting to know her. Though she had tried to approach several prospects, they had all viewed the attention as strange and had fumbled their way out of the conversation as soon as they could. Some had managed to do so more politely than others.

Pansy withheld a wince as she remembered the youth who had flat-out told her that he didn’t want to talk with her, that he wanted her to get as far away as possible from him. That incident had marked the end of her searching for that day and she had consoled herself in front of her mirror with the thought that he looked far too much like a certain blond from her past to be worth anything.

She would soon have to resign herself to pursuing Clive as a spouse, she knew, but she still held out hope that – miraculously—a better prospect would find their way into her life.

She was steeling herself for another half-hour spent within the confines of the dining hall when she felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned to find a broadly grinning Adri standing behind her and found herself returning the smile without a thought.

“Hello,” he said, and Pansy didn’t have to look at his feet to know that he was bouncing on the balls of them. “I hope you don’t mind my interruption. You see, I saw you leave the lift and I decided to follow you. I had been, after all, going down to the Archives to see you.” He said all of this with an eager expression, eyes wide and dancing. Pansy was too startled to respond immediately—almost no one had ever sought her out specifically—and when she finally managed something, it was only “Pardon? You wanted to see me?”

“Of course I did! Do. I wanted to ask you if it would be alright to ask you some questions.”

“Questions? On what?” Pansy found herself starting to curl inwards and forced herself to continue to stand straight. Adri had never shown any signs of wanting to judge her for her past or her blood and she had done nothing to warrant bad publicity.

Nothing except exist, of course.

She hushed the voice and watched Adri expectantly. Her question seemed to have gotten him excited about a new subject and for a moment she admired the brightness of his eyes.

“I wanted to ask for your thoughts on the stricter regulations on house elf treatment that Hermione Granger is trying to push by the Wizengamot.” When he saw that she wasn’t trying to leave the conversation, he pressed on, giving her some sample questions. “I wanted to know how the new laws would affect your life, since you’re a pureblood and the elves have been such an integral part of your lifestyle for years.”

“Granger’s trying to push more restrictions through?” Pansy was shocked—she had thought that the Mudblood was finished with those thoughts; that she had moved on to other injustices. Surely the laws against mistreatment were satisfactory enough? How had she missed this news in the Daily Prophet?

Adri was talking with the excitement of someone who loved controversy and Pansy tuned back into the middle of an elaborate description of the new regulations she wanted passed. Apparently Granger had now decided that house elves were to be paid, of all things…

And then something occurred to her. “Adri,” she said and the sound of his name immediately stopped his rather one-sided discussion. “Why would you need my thoughts?”

“Well, I’ve already interviewed Miss Granger and I really want someone on the other side of the issue. Perhaps there’s something Miss Granger’s not seeing.” His eyes twinkled with glee. “And you’re the first person who came to mind.”

“Because I’m a pureblood?” Pansy asked and Adri nodded.

“I don’t have the same experience as you do, so I can’t use my own thoughts on this matter.”

Several things seemed to click into place in Pansy’s mind at that moment and she looked at Adri with new eyes. He was—he was—

“So—are you willing to answer some questions? I really do hope so. If you say ‘yes’, I promise that I’ll take you out to a nice restaurant for lunch while I ask the questions. My treat. You won’t have to eat lunch in the dining hall.”

She looked at him, looked at his height and his warm eyes and his vibrant passion, and said ‘yes’.

*

Pansy didn’t eat in the dining hall that day.

Instead, after making plans with Adri to meet the following day for a light, early evening supper, she flooed home. She knew that she would have to return to the Ministry to complete her shift at the Archives but at that moment there were several things that she had to set in order.

She arrived at the manor in what felt like a blaze of glory, flames wreathing her hair and framing her robes. Milly met her before she had taken more than a few steps from the fireplace, asking if she wanted lunch in her piping voice. Pansy barely paused to nod her head before she was rushing down the corridor to her chambers.

She paused briefly in front of the mirror – were her robes still free of wrinkles? Had her hair fallen out of place? – before reaching for the few sheets of parchment paper she kept in her room. Her hand fell to the first of the drawers in her bedside table and her arm jerked roughly when it wouldn’t open. She spent a moment more tugging at the drawer before the thought that it was the warded one penetrated the excited haze of her mind. She dropped her hand lower, until it reached the correct drawer, and, reaching in, she pulled out several thick folders.

She opened the third folder down and, after dipping her quill fiercely in the ink well, carved one word onto the page.

Half-blood.

She had found her best prospect.

She blew gently on the ink before carefully setting the folder aside. Pulling one of the loose sheets of paper towards her, she marked the top very carefully before setting it aside too and going to eat.

As she left the room, her reflection appeared and, catching sight of the parchment, smiled.

The Rules to Engagement was all it said.

A/N: So now the story has taken a slightly different direction... What do you think of it?

Chapter 30: The First
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That afternoon she didn’t answer when Nicola asked why she was smiling so much.

That evening the manor didn’t seem as lonely as she tossed a blue ball for Astor to play with.

The next day she didn’t eat with Nicola and Lesley, or in the dining hall of the Ministry. Instead, she went home and read the notes she had collected on Adri. There wasn’t much.

That afternoon she didn’t stay long after work, hurrying back to the manor instead to ready herself for her outing with Adri.

That evening, she went out to dinner.

*

Upon entering the restaurant Adri had suggested the previous day Pansy was gladly impressed by its careful and tasteful decorations. Though its ceilings were lower than the one in her dining room, and its walls farther apart, it managed to convey a sense of intimacy through the setting of its tables. There were balls of light floating above the tables and just enough space between tables to make each table feel private.

She was greeted at the door by a waiter wearing a smartly trimmed black robe, who nodded and bowed when Pansy informed him that she had a reservation under the name of “Bennett”.

“Certainly, Madame,” he said, and then she was conveyed to a small table in the left corner of the restaurant. Adri was already there, waiting for her, and he stood when he saw her arriving.

He made to move towards the chair but the waiter pulled back the chair to allow Pansy to sit with practiced movements. Pansy thanked him and assured him that she wanted nothing more than water to drink.

She would be making no fool of herself tonight.

Adri smiled at her and she smiled back, momentarily watching the way his fingers fiddled with the stem of his wine glass. Inwardly, Pansy was relieved that Adri had promised to pay for the meal for though it was the sort of restaurant her family would have frequented before the war, it was beyond her means now.

She did wonder, however, why he had chosen this particular restaurant over a less expensive one, but she wouldn’t ask him. She could just imagine the faintly horrified look on her mother’s face if she had told her she was doing that. Manners had been one of the few things her mother had been adamant about.

Pansy touched her throat before looking expectantly at Adri, who was, to her surprise, watching her.

A brief moment of silence passed before Adri spoke, quickly regaining his typical eagerness and vigor. “Hello, Pansy. How are you today? I didn’t get a chance to speak with you at the Ministry today but I knew that we were going to be speaking tonight so it wasn’t a big deal.”

Pansy nodded and strengthened her smile. She knew that she ought to respond in the detail he was hoping for but what could she say? I spent my day preparing for this meal? That would sound ridiculous!

Instead, she fell back on the simplest of phrases and only said, “It was fine. And yours?”

Though Adri looked disappointed at the answer, he concealed it well enough and went into a story about a colleague that didn’t know when to quit while pursuing a story, leading them to be involved with an angry witch threatening to sue him for interference in her and her husband’s life. He told it well, and Pansy found herself laughing at several points.

“Well, I certainly expect that you won’t be pestering me to such an extent,” she told him when the story had reached its conclusion and he smiled.

“Of course not,” he said. “I would never dream of it.” And then he reached into his pocket and drew out a small pad of paper and a quill. “I hope you don’t mind if I take notes while we talk, do you?” Pansy shook her head and he started with his questions.

“How many elves do you have?”

His questions covered a broad range of areas, from her upbringing to the roles house elves played in her life to how she would feel if she was forced to release them. His eyes never left hers and the scritch scritch of his quill was a constant in their conversation. He managed to direct the interview like a conversation instead of an interrogation and when they were interrupted by the arrival of their meals he continued it at a pace that allowed Pansy to eat without feeling the need to rush through her mouthfuls.

He must have ordered the food before she arrived for she hadn’t spoken to the waiter after her seating. If she was being honest with herself, she had forgotten that they had yet to order, involved as deeply in their conversation as she was. Nevertheless, he had ordered an acceptable dish.

When the waiter set the bowl filled with small, bite-sized noodles, a dark tomato sauce and small green pieces that Pansy recognized as green peppers when she finally bit into one, she glanced questioningly at Adri. He smiled and tilted his head at the dish, saying “I hope you don’t mind. I ordered the same for the both of us—it’s a dish that I’ve found goes well with just about every drink that a person could order, works for just about every set of taste buds a person could have and –this one’s the key—it fits in well during an interview. Doesn’t take long to chew and swallow.” He demonstrated swiftly and Pansy watched the smooth flow of the fork from the bowl to his mouth.

Looking back at her, his face fell when he saw that she hadn’t yet touched her food. “I do hope that I haven’t accidentally stumbled upon allergies. My apologies if I have.” He glanced about the restaurant as though he was going to summon their waiter back to the table and she hastened to reassure him.

“It’s fine,” she said, picking up her fork and then a noodle, which she gingerly placed in her mouth. “It’s good. You made a good choice.” She was relieved to see his face shift back into its normal content expression as he moved to resume their conversation.

As they ate his quill kept rhythm on the parchment. Pansy glanced over curiously several times, interested to see what he was marking down, and saw only small summaries of her comments. She was relieved to see that there was no indication that she would experience the horror of being quoted in a piece by Rita Skeeter.

It was towards the end of the meal that he finally reached the question he had originally wanted to ask her.

“How do you feel about the new laws Miss Hermione Granger is attempting to get approved?”

Pansy paused briefly before answering. She was acutely aware that this answer, out of all the ones she had given over the course of the evening, was the most likely to appear in the article. She had to be careful with her words; this was one of her largest opportunities yet to show the Wizarding world that she had changed but her body balked at the thought of fully supporting a campaign that would ruin the manner in which her family and her kind had lived for centuries.

So, choosing each word with care, Pansy spoke. “The information that I have on this topic is limited to what you have told me. However, I believe that it is enough for me to be able to fairly and firmly say that I disagree with her desire to pay house elves with money. Over my years at Hogwarts and living in my home I have encountered only one elf who has expressed any wish to be paid.” Pansy remembered the tales Draco had engaged the common room with on particularly dreary nights. Dobby had always sounded like he was madder than most house elves were. “I imagine that if you were to offer payment to a house elf they would see it as an odd form of punishment or, even worse in their eyes, release from their duties. Let us pay the creatures that wish to be paid and not force our money upon the undesiring.”

There. Pansy felt satisfied that she had not described house elves in any manner Granger could take offense to and, from the gleam in Adri’s eyes, she imagined that her answer was the one he had been looking for.

His quill scratched out one more word onto the parchment before he set it down on the table and left the ink to dry. His gaze was heavy on her and she was glad when he broke the silence.

“I suppose we’re done here, then. I must say that I had a very enjoyable evening today and I hope that you had a similar experience?” He paused, waiting for her nod, before continuing. “Now, I don’t know if you’re like most people, but if you are interested in reading your words in print I can send you a complimentary issue of the Daily Prophet on the day this article appears.”

“That’s quite alright—I already have a subscription.”

“Oh.” Adri sounded as though he was intrigued and he leaned closer to her. “Can I ask if you read my articles?”

Pansy saw no harm in telling him that she did, and she added that she always found them very well thought-out. His smile widened at her words and Pansy barely saw him raise his hand to summon the waiter over to them.

“I’d like to have the bill,” he said, and promptly paid for their dinner.
With nothing left to do but leave, Pansy stood regretfully from the table, trying frantically to think of a method to continue her contact with Adri in the future. The sporadic encounters in the Ministry would not be enough for her plan to work.

Adri’s voice broke through her thoughts and she was relieved to hear his suggestion that they walk to the restaurant’s floo together.

“You know,” Pansy said, after they had arrived and just before one of them would have to be the first to floo away, “I wouldn’t mind being a part of your future articles. I do, after all, come from a Dark family.” The reminder was a risk, yes, but it was one Pansy was willing to make since it would increase the likelihood they would meet in the future.

“That would be lovely,” Adri said, “I’ll contact you as soon as the next story arrives.” Then he tossed powder into the fire and stepped into the flames.

Pansy was left alone for a moment before she too allowed herself to be swept away by the flames, into the solitude of her manor.

*

Adri didn’t contact her until three days after their evening at the restaurant. During those three days Pansy had done her best to let him make the next move. She had occupied herself with her work at the Archives, and with Astor at the manor. Her beautiful little pug was yipping more than usual, a mournful sound that was making Pansy worried.

After she finished work two days after her evening with Adri, she stopped at the Magical Menagerie on her way home. The shop still had its distinct smell that made her nose flare in distaste and the noise its occupants made gave her a headache. However, she continued to stride purposefully towards the counter, lifting her robes to avoid stray droppings on the floor and being careful to keep away from the cages.

The counter was occupied this time by a young woman whose height while seated was barely enough to allow her to see over the counter’s edge, instead of the young man who had helped her last time. She was looking at something below the counter as Pansy approached and failed to hear the sound of Pansy’s shoes against the hard floor until she was quite close. When she did finally look up, she flushed and sprung to her feet from where she had been sitting on a stool.

“Hello Madame! How can I help you today?” She had an eager look on her young face and Pansy wondered absently how old she had been during the War. She certainly hadn’t recognized Pansy, a refreshing feeling that made Pansy all the more eager to repair her family’s reputation so that she could be treated with at least this modicum of respect on a daily basis.

“How good are you with dogs?” Fresh-faced, golden-haired and likable the girl might be, but if she couldn’t help her with Astor, Pansy had other places to be. She didn’t want to waste a moment in finding help for Astor – she didn’t want to run the risk that he had a life-threatening illness that could only have been cured if she’d been that much faster.

However, it seemed that for once in her life she was in luck. At her question the girl’s face lit up with enthusiasm and her voice seemed to warble up and down several pitches. “Oooh! I just love dogs! I think that they’re so much better than cats! Do you have a dog? What type do you have? I have several at my house—they’re just so friendly, don’t you think? They always—”

Pansy cut her story short. Though the girl’s voice was not unpleasant, she had other things to be doing with her life than listening to the girl’s life story. But she made sure that she was smiling and that her tone was gentle when she spoke. “I have a pug.” She knew that many people considered short sentences to be a sign of unfriendliness, so she quickly followed the statement with more details about her dog. Surprisingly, she didn’t find it hard to gush about Astor, even if it was to a total stranger. Perhaps it was easy because she knew that the girl would appreciate Astor properly for his magnificence…

“He’s such a small thing, with such a loud set of cords that he can be heard from several rooms away when he starts to bark.” Pansy was pleased to see the girl’s smile widen as she listened to her description of Astor. “His fur is a very handsome midnight colour. However, just recently he’s started barking more often than usual. Whenever I try to leave the room he starts to yip, but I can’t be with him all of the time.” Pansy wanted this girl to understand that she did love her dog but that she also had other things that required her to leave his presence. “I have a job and… my friends occasionally want to see me as well.” She was hesitant to place Adri under the “friend” label but she didn’t want to announce him as her future spouse yet. Especially since she couldn’t, because they hadn’t yet gone out on an official date. As much as she had pinned on this man, she wouldn’t embarrass herself like she had with Draco.

She was a grown woman, and a grown woman wouldn’t write their name linked with a man’s on parchment paper. That practice would have to wait until their engagement was announced.

Furthermore, Pansy still had to silence all of the thoughts inside her head that warned her that Adri was a half-blood, that reproducing with him would taint the purity of her family’s blood, that marrying him would damage the family’s reputation irreparably. Her upbringing was warring with her knowledge of the current time and she had yet to make peace with either side.

She was brought back to the most pressing issue of the moment when the girl said, “I understand.” She looked thoughtfully at Pansy. “Have you been busy recently? I don’t mean to accuse you of leaving him alone but, uh, he might be feeling lonely.” She was biting her lip as she said this and Pansy imagined that previous customers had practically burst themselves with indignation at the presumed slight to their care. They had probably not been pureblood. She was determined to carry herself appropriately; after all, the girl was only trying to help her.

“I… have been rather busy with outside affairs. My—my mother died recently, you see, and I’ve had to occupy myself with the arrangements on top of everything else.” The girl’s face was filled with sympathy and pity. The expression made Pansy feel odd, though the imparting of the information hadn’t—she had put the announcement into the Daily Prophet herself. Why would this girl, whom she had never before seen, express more emotion over her mother’s death than the few who had attended her funeral? She drew her robe in tighter around her, as though to ward of the feelings of confusion and sorrow that threatened her. “What do you suggest I do? I do not like to hear him in pain.”

The girl disappeared in thought for a moment before her eyes lit up with an idea. “Have you given him time to interact with other dogs recently? I know that you’re busy but there are some pretty amazing places where you can drop off your dog for a few hours and they can play with other dogs. Here—” She rummaged under the counter for a moment, before drawing out a small pamphlet. “—I can give you a list of local doggy day-cares.” Pansy wrinkled her nose slightly at the undignified name and the girl let off a twinkling laugh. “I know—the name is odd but that’s what most people call them.” She looked at Pansy, her eyes earnest and wide. “Did you want the list?”

Seeing Pansy’s hesitation she went on to provide another suggestion. “I know that it helps if you own more than one dog. I myself have two, and they chase each other silly. It’s quite funny to watch.” She paused, then opened her mouth again. “Do you want a moment—”

Pansy broke through her sentence, shaking her head slowly. “No, no, it’s fine. Thank you for your help.” She reached forward and gently wrapped her fingers around the offered pamphlet. She turned to leave but paused, before turning around to say “Thank you” once more.
Her walk out of the store was much slower than her journey to its centre had been. At some point during the conversation, she had stopped noticing the smell of the shop and the noise of the animals had simply become a part of the background of the store. She had gained two things in this visit: a way to help Astor and a reason to contact Adri should he fail to contact her within the next few days.

But until the time that they met again, she would spend time with Astor.

A/N: I'm so sorry for the extended delay in posting this chapter, but hopefully I'll be able to post more regularly from now on.

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