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?”
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.