Chapter 23 : Confrontations
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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!
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