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Wilted Flower by Roots in Water
Chapter 24 : Surprise
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 2


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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.


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