Chapter 29 : Searching
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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.
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?
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