Chapter 30 : The First
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That evening the manor didn’t seem as lonely as she tossed a blue ball for Astor to play with.
The next day she didn’t eat with Nicola and Lesley, or in the dining hall of the Ministry. Instead, she went home and read the notes she had collected on Adri. There wasn’t much.
That afternoon she didn’t stay long after work, hurrying back to the manor instead to ready herself for her outing with Adri.
That evening, she went out to dinner.
Upon entering the restaurant Adri had suggested the previous day Pansy was gladly impressed by its careful and tasteful decorations. Though its ceilings were lower than the one in her dining room, and its walls farther apart, it managed to convey a sense of intimacy through the setting of its tables. There were balls of light floating above the tables and just enough space between tables to make each table feel private.
She was greeted at the door by a waiter wearing a smartly trimmed black robe, who nodded and bowed when Pansy informed him that she had a reservation under the name of “Bennett”.
“Certainly, Madame,” he said, and then she was conveyed to a small table in the left corner of the restaurant. Adri was already there, waiting for her, and he stood when he saw her arriving.
He made to move towards the chair but the waiter pulled back the chair to allow Pansy to sit with practiced movements. Pansy thanked him and assured him that she wanted nothing more than water to drink.
She would be making no fool of herself tonight.
Adri smiled at her and she smiled back, momentarily watching the way his fingers fiddled with the stem of his wine glass. Inwardly, Pansy was relieved that Adri had promised to pay for the meal for though it was the sort of restaurant her family would have frequented before the war, it was beyond her means now.
She did wonder, however, why he had chosen this particular restaurant over a less expensive one, but she wouldn’t ask him. She could just imagine the faintly horrified look on her mother’s face if she had told her she was doing that. Manners had been one of the few things her mother had been adamant about.
Pansy touched her throat before looking expectantly at Adri, who was, to her surprise, watching her.
A brief moment of silence passed before Adri spoke, quickly regaining his typical eagerness and vigor. “Hello, Pansy. How are you today? I didn’t get a chance to speak with you at the Ministry today but I knew that we were going to be speaking tonight so it wasn’t a big deal.”
Pansy nodded and strengthened her smile. She knew that she ought to respond in the detail he was hoping for but what could she say? I spent my day preparing for this meal? That would sound ridiculous!
Instead, she fell back on the simplest of phrases and only said, “It was fine. And yours?”
Though Adri looked disappointed at the answer, he concealed it well enough and went into a story about a colleague that didn’t know when to quit while pursuing a story, leading them to be involved with an angry witch threatening to sue him for interference in her and her husband’s life. He told it well, and Pansy found herself laughing at several points.
“Well, I certainly expect that you won’t be pestering me to such an extent,” she told him when the story had reached its conclusion and he smiled.
“Of course not,” he said. “I would never dream of it.” And then he reached into his pocket and drew out a small pad of paper and a quill. “I hope you don’t mind if I take notes while we talk, do you?” Pansy shook her head and he started with his questions.
“How many elves do you have?”
His questions covered a broad range of areas, from her upbringing to the roles house elves played in her life to how she would feel if she was forced to release them. His eyes never left hers and the scritch scritch of his quill was a constant in their conversation. He managed to direct the interview like a conversation instead of an interrogation and when they were interrupted by the arrival of their meals he continued it at a pace that allowed Pansy to eat without feeling the need to rush through her mouthfuls.
He must have ordered the food before she arrived for she hadn’t spoken to the waiter after her seating. If she was being honest with herself, she had forgotten that they had yet to order, involved as deeply in their conversation as she was. Nevertheless, he had ordered an acceptable dish.
When the waiter set the bowl filled with small, bite-sized noodles, a dark tomato sauce and small green pieces that Pansy recognized as green peppers when she finally bit into one, she glanced questioningly at Adri. He smiled and tilted his head at the dish, saying “I hope you don’t mind. I ordered the same for the both of us—it’s a dish that I’ve found goes well with just about every drink that a person could order, works for just about every set of taste buds a person could have and –this one’s the key—it fits in well during an interview. Doesn’t take long to chew and swallow.” He demonstrated swiftly and Pansy watched the smooth flow of the fork from the bowl to his mouth.
Looking back at her, his face fell when he saw that she hadn’t yet touched her food. “I do hope that I haven’t accidentally stumbled upon allergies. My apologies if I have.” He glanced about the restaurant as though he was going to summon their waiter back to the table and she hastened to reassure him.
“It’s fine,” she said, picking up her fork and then a noodle, which she gingerly placed in her mouth. “It’s good. You made a good choice.” She was relieved to see his face shift back into its normal content expression as he moved to resume their conversation.
As they ate his quill kept rhythm on the parchment. Pansy glanced over curiously several times, interested to see what he was marking down, and saw only small summaries of her comments. She was relieved to see that there was no indication that she would experience the horror of being quoted in a piece by Rita Skeeter.
It was towards the end of the meal that he finally reached the question he had originally wanted to ask her.
“How do you feel about the new laws Miss Hermione Granger is attempting to get approved?”
Pansy paused briefly before answering. She was acutely aware that this answer, out of all the ones she had given over the course of the evening, was the most likely to appear in the article. She had to be careful with her words; this was one of her largest opportunities yet to show the Wizarding world that she had changed but her body balked at the thought of fully supporting a campaign that would ruin the manner in which her family and her kind had lived for centuries.
So, choosing each word with care, Pansy spoke. “The information that I have on this topic is limited to what you have told me. However, I believe that it is enough for me to be able to fairly and firmly say that I disagree with her desire to pay house elves with money. Over my years at Hogwarts and living in my home I have encountered only one elf who has expressed any wish to be paid.” Pansy remembered the tales Draco had engaged the common room with on particularly dreary nights. Dobby had always sounded like he was madder than most house elves were. “I imagine that if you were to offer payment to a house elf they would see it as an odd form of punishment or, even worse in their eyes, release from their duties. Let us pay the creatures that wish to be paid and not force our money upon the undesiring.”
There. Pansy felt satisfied that she had not described house elves in any manner Granger could take offense to and, from the gleam in Adri’s eyes, she imagined that her answer was the one he had been looking for.
His quill scratched out one more word onto the parchment before he set it down on the table and left the ink to dry. His gaze was heavy on her and she was glad when he broke the silence.
“I suppose we’re done here, then. I must say that I had a very enjoyable evening today and I hope that you had a similar experience?” He paused, waiting for her nod, before continuing. “Now, I don’t know if you’re like most people, but if you are interested in reading your words in print I can send you a complimentary issue of the Daily Prophet on the day this article appears.”
“That’s quite alright—I already have a subscription.”
“Oh.” Adri sounded as though he was intrigued and he leaned closer to her. “Can I ask if you read my articles?”
Pansy saw no harm in telling him that she did, and she added that she always found them very well thought-out. His smile widened at her words and Pansy barely saw him raise his hand to summon the waiter over to them.
“I’d like to have the bill,” he said, and promptly paid for their dinner.
With nothing left to do but leave, Pansy stood regretfully from the table, trying frantically to think of a method to continue her contact with Adri in the future. The sporadic encounters in the Ministry would not be enough for her plan to work.
Adri’s voice broke through her thoughts and she was relieved to hear his suggestion that they walk to the restaurant’s floo together.
“You know,” Pansy said, after they had arrived and just before one of them would have to be the first to floo away, “I wouldn’t mind being a part of your future articles. I do, after all, come from a Dark family.” The reminder was a risk, yes, but it was one Pansy was willing to make since it would increase the likelihood they would meet in the future.
“That would be lovely,” Adri said, “I’ll contact you as soon as the next story arrives.” Then he tossed powder into the fire and stepped into the flames.
Pansy was left alone for a moment before she too allowed herself to be swept away by the flames, into the solitude of her manor.
Adri didn’t contact her until three days after their evening at the restaurant. During those three days Pansy had done her best to let him make the next move. She had occupied herself with her work at the Archives, and with Astor at the manor. Her beautiful little pug was yipping more than usual, a mournful sound that was making Pansy worried.
After she finished work two days after her evening with Adri, she stopped at the Magical Menagerie on her way home. The shop still had its distinct smell that made her nose flare in distaste and the noise its occupants made gave her a headache. However, she continued to stride purposefully towards the counter, lifting her robes to avoid stray droppings on the floor and being careful to keep away from the cages.
The counter was occupied this time by a young woman whose height while seated was barely enough to allow her to see over the counter’s edge, instead of the young man who had helped her last time. She was looking at something below the counter as Pansy approached and failed to hear the sound of Pansy’s shoes against the hard floor until she was quite close. When she did finally look up, she flushed and sprung to her feet from where she had been sitting on a stool.
“Hello Madame! How can I help you today?” She had an eager look on her young face and Pansy wondered absently how old she had been during the War. She certainly hadn’t recognized Pansy, a refreshing feeling that made Pansy all the more eager to repair her family’s reputation so that she could be treated with at least this modicum of respect on a daily basis.
“How good are you with dogs?” Fresh-faced, golden-haired and likable the girl might be, but if she couldn’t help her with Astor, Pansy had other places to be. She didn’t want to waste a moment in finding help for Astor – she didn’t want to run the risk that he had a life-threatening illness that could only have been cured if she’d been that much faster.
However, it seemed that for once in her life she was in luck. At her question the girl’s face lit up with enthusiasm and her voice seemed to warble up and down several pitches. “Oooh! I just love dogs! I think that they’re so much better than cats! Do you have a dog? What type do you have? I have several at my house—they’re just so friendly, don’t you think? They always—”
Pansy cut her story short. Though the girl’s voice was not unpleasant, she had other things to be doing with her life than listening to the girl’s life story. But she made sure that she was smiling and that her tone was gentle when she spoke. “I have a pug.” She knew that many people considered short sentences to be a sign of unfriendliness, so she quickly followed the statement with more details about her dog. Surprisingly, she didn’t find it hard to gush about Astor, even if it was to a total stranger. Perhaps it was easy because she knew that the girl would appreciate Astor properly for his magnificence…
“He’s such a small thing, with such a loud set of cords that he can be heard from several rooms away when he starts to bark.” Pansy was pleased to see the girl’s smile widen as she listened to her description of Astor. “His fur is a very handsome midnight colour. However, just recently he’s started barking more often than usual. Whenever I try to leave the room he starts to yip, but I can’t be with him all of the time.” Pansy wanted this girl to understand that she did love her dog but that she also had other things that required her to leave his presence. “I have a job and… my friends occasionally want to see me as well.” She was hesitant to place Adri under the “friend” label but she didn’t want to announce him as her future spouse yet. Especially since she couldn’t, because they hadn’t yet gone out on an official date. As much as she had pinned on this man, she wouldn’t embarrass herself like she had with Draco.
She was a grown woman, and a grown woman wouldn’t write their name linked with a man’s on parchment paper. That practice would have to wait until their engagement was announced.
Furthermore, Pansy still had to silence all of the thoughts inside her head that warned her that Adri was a half-blood, that reproducing with him would taint the purity of her family’s blood, that marrying him would damage the family’s reputation irreparably. Her upbringing was warring with her knowledge of the current time and she had yet to make peace with either side.
She was brought back to the most pressing issue of the moment when the girl said, “I understand.” She looked thoughtfully at Pansy. “Have you been busy recently? I don’t mean to accuse you of leaving him alone but, uh, he might be feeling lonely.” She was biting her lip as she said this and Pansy imagined that previous customers had practically burst themselves with indignation at the presumed slight to their care. They had probably not been pureblood. She was determined to carry herself appropriately; after all, the girl was only trying to help her.
“I… have been rather busy with outside affairs. My—my mother died recently, you see, and I’ve had to occupy myself with the arrangements on top of everything else.” The girl’s face was filled with sympathy and pity. The expression made Pansy feel odd, though the imparting of the information hadn’t—she had put the announcement into the Daily Prophet herself. Why would this girl, whom she had never before seen, express more emotion over her mother’s death than the few who had attended her funeral? She drew her robe in tighter around her, as though to ward of the feelings of confusion and sorrow that threatened her. “What do you suggest I do? I do not like to hear him in pain.”
The girl disappeared in thought for a moment before her eyes lit up with an idea. “Have you given him time to interact with other dogs recently? I know that you’re busy but there are some pretty amazing places where you can drop off your dog for a few hours and they can play with other dogs. Here—” She rummaged under the counter for a moment, before drawing out a small pamphlet. “—I can give you a list of local doggy day-cares.” Pansy wrinkled her nose slightly at the undignified name and the girl let off a twinkling laugh. “I know—the name is odd but that’s what most people call them.” She looked at Pansy, her eyes earnest and wide. “Did you want the list?”
Seeing Pansy’s hesitation she went on to provide another suggestion. “I know that it helps if you own more than one dog. I myself have two, and they chase each other silly. It’s quite funny to watch.” She paused, then opened her mouth again. “Do you want a moment—”
Pansy broke through her sentence, shaking her head slowly. “No, no, it’s fine. Thank you for your help.” She reached forward and gently wrapped her fingers around the offered pamphlet. She turned to leave but paused, before turning around to say “Thank you” once more.
Her walk out of the store was much slower than her journey to its centre had been. At some point during the conversation, she had stopped noticing the smell of the shop and the noise of the animals had simply become a part of the background of the store. She had gained two things in this visit: a way to help Astor and a reason to contact Adri should he fail to contact her within the next few days.
But until the time that they met again, she would spend time with Astor.
A/N: I'm so sorry for the extended delay in posting this chapter, but hopefully I'll be able to post more regularly from now on.
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