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Wilted Flower by Roots in Water
Chapter 25 : Pub
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 2


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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.


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