A sweeping black line over one eyelid, angled gently at the end. No hesitation, no mistakes; a practiced movement. The same for the other. Mascara—but not too much, only for the top lashes. Lip liner, stain, stick. It’s a vaguely peachy pink colour. The label calls it ‘innocent’. She touches up the foundation in the hollow of her cheek, where it’s a little too thin. A final comb through her hair, just to make sure her bob’s behaving itself. A light spritz of perfume. She pouts, admiring her handiwork, before turning her back on the mirror. She puts on a handsome black cloak over her robes, picks up her handbag and leaves through the front door of her apartment.
Halfway down the stairwell she looks forward, looks back. Empty. With a whirl of her cloak and a faint pop she disappears into nothingness...
...And reappears in a side alley. She strides to the main street at the end and follows it a while, then enters a somewhat shabby but otherwise unremarkable pub. She goes straight through it into the back courtyard, taps thrice on the brick third up and second across from the bin with a long stick, and steps through the archway that has grown in the wall into the winding street beyond. She walks down it, boots making a smart click-click-click against the cobblestones (it’s just after the morning rush and a little too cold for window shopping, though thankfully still far too early in the year for snow). Past shops with the most unusual names—Eeylops, Fortescue’s, Flourish and Blotts, Madame Malkin’s, a little further still—and then a sharp left down a dingy side alley, past Gargyl’s, Church and Rhodes, click-click-click, right to the very end, where the thin street and bad lighting give the illusion of a gloomy twilight rather than a somewhat overcast mid-morning. She steps into Borgin and Burkes.
“Pansy... again, as an employee you are perfectly welcome to use the fireplace as transport,” says the only person in the shop, a reedy-looking man standing behind the counter, without looking up from the fobwatch he’s examining under a magnifying glass.
Pansy sniffs. “My skin is intolerant to floo powder. You know this.” Which is a lie. The truth is it wreaks absolute havoc with her hair.
“I’m sure you’ll do as you see fit. You’re out in the field today,” he says, squinting into the magnifying glass. “Itinerary’s in the top draw of my desk. Time to pay another visit to Seymour.”
“Maybe this time he’ll finally be convinced to part with that infernal clock,” Pansy says, unlocking a door at the back of the shop and walking through.
“We can but hope.”
She climbs up a creaky flight of steps, unlocks the door at the top with another key, and in the office beyond unlocks the top draw of the oak bureau with yet another key. She picks up only thing within it, a roll of parchment, slips it into her cloak and reverses her steps.
“Goodbye, Pansy,” Borgin says as she walks out, back onto the street.
“Goodbye, Mr Borgin.”
A half-hour later she stands on the doorstep of a mansion, dour grey in colour, turrets and gargoyles and all. The countryside rolls out in every direction, broken only by the occasional tree or sheep. It’s always reminded her more than a little of her schooldays, to tell the truth.
She takes a deep breath in and lets it out slowly, tucks a stray strand of hair behind her ear. And then she raps smartly on the door.
She stands there waiting for several minutes, as still as a tableau, never slackening her posture.
“Who goes there?”calls a suspicious voice from within.
“Hello, Warlock Seymour,” she says as warmly as she can muster.
“Pansy! Do come in, come in!” says the voice, and the door is flung open. Warlock Seymour is a stooped old fellow, completely bald, wearing a deep blue rope embroidered with minute gold and silver stars, though it’s frayed a little at the ankles and sleeves. He leans on a cane of wood so polished it almost looks like it’s glowing. He smiles as his milky eyes find Pansy’s face, and then he grabs her by the arm and drags her through several rooms and corridors until they reach a living area. Pansy doesn’t protest; she is well versed in the peculiarities of her clients.
The room is spartan, though the sofa and chairs are clearly exquisitely made. A still-life taller than Pansy hangs on one wall, and there are several books on the coffee table, so well-used that the covers have fallen off. A great grandfather clock made of perfect ebony engraved with elaborate patterns slices up the hours on another wall.
“How is the greenhouse?” she enquires, a steaming cup of tea in hand.
“Very well, very well!” Seymour replies happily, crunching down on a gingernut.
“Are the icebergs still giving you trouble?”
“Oh, they were—but I’ve sorted out a cunning charm for them. You take the old traditional jivah enchantment but inverse the last two wand movements, and voila! Extended lifetime!”
“How clever of you. I’ve told you this many times before, but I do wish I had a knack for gardening.”
“Oh, it’s a wonderful hobby.”
“And how are Rachel and Diomedes and the grandchildren? I trust that they’re well?” She tries not to let her feelings on Rachel show—with Rachel being a muggleborn, the Seymour bloodline is reduced to a mere quarter of true magical blood.
“Quite well—I visited them last week, as it happens, and I simply must tell you of what Claire and Louis did while I was there, I’m sure you’ll find it very amusing. I arrived around lunchtime, and Louis came out to meet me as he always does...” Seymour broke into a long, winding story of the antics of his grandchildren, which Pansy forced herself to actually listen to for future reference. “...Anyhow, what of mine have Mr Borgin and Mr Burke got their eye on this time?”
“Does there have to be anything? Perhaps I am simply here for the pleasure of your company,” Pansy says, very charmingly even if she says so herself.
“It’s the clock again, isn’t it? Tell him that I’m not giving it to him for a knut under five thousand.”
“I haven’t even told you his offer yet; I’m sure you’ll find it worthy of your consideration.”
“Go on, then.”
“A sum of 2,500 galleons, which considering the fault in design in the lower left foot—“
“Absolutely not. You’re a pleasure, as always, Pansy, but please politely tell Borgin to stuff it until he’s ready to be serious.”
The day goes steadily downhill from there. Madame Edwards deigns to part with a few petty baubles (a pair of earrings, a bangle, a ballerina figurine) but they’re lean takings. When visiting Huffman, her last job of the day, one of his shady lockets explodes when Pansy’s looking down on it and singes off a few locks of hair and a chunk of her eyebrows. The worst part is that, being imbued with dark magic, they refuse to be spelled back, and she’ll have to wait for them to grow on their own. The only silver lining is that due to her useless clients she’s running ahead of schedule, so has time to kill before she meets Draco that evening. She drops into Borgin and Burkes to sign out and drop off the measly trinkets, then makes her way through Diagon Alley and out the other side, planning to dawdle on her way to the Snake and Arrow. Though a magical pub, it was located on the Muggle side of the city, below a popular cinema, and therefore a bit of a walk away. Pansy thought she could do with a walk to clear her head.
It starts raining, dark heavy drops soaking London to the bone. Her cloak passes well as an ordinary Muggle winter coat so she has no fears about blending in, but it isn’t rainproof. She’s drenched in an instant. She takes refuge in the nearest shop, hurrying in and slamming the door behind her.
“Hello,” says the shopgirl.
She’s up a ladder, putting away a book. She finishes and jumps down.
She looks... well, nice is the best way to put it, however an inadequate word it might be. She’s tall, maybe four or five inches taller than pansy. She’s got curly strawberry blonde hair fighting to break free of a bun and winning, and freckles like flecks of gold dusting her face. She’s wearing a checked shirt (it’s warm in here, Pansy can already feel it) and trousers. There’s something black that looks like it might be a tattoo on her left forearm.
It dawns on Pansy what a sight she must look, simultaneously singed and soaking wet. She swears she can feel mascara running down her cheeks, blots in her foundation, her hair clumping together. But it’s not just that. Standing next to this girl she is strangely, excruciatingly, acutely aware of her still slightly puglike nose, her 5’6 frame, the vague chubbiness of her belly, her hips, her thighs. She’s suddenly glad they’re beneath her winter clothes, hidden away from the world. She feels dumpy, and ugly, and awkward. In short she feels fifteen again, and it’s seven years too late for that, and she hates it, and for the love of Merlin, this is just a Muggle shopgirl .
“Got caught out in the rain?” The girl asks sympathetically. She’s wearing a nametag. It says ‘Lydia’ on it.
“Obviously,” Pansy sneers.
“Is there anything in particular I could help you with?” says Lydia, a harder edge to her voice.
“No.” Pansy says, pretending to look at a display on some great Muggle philosopher or other.
It’s one of those poky little second-hand bookshops that go farther up than they go out, with dodgy lighting and no helpful signs pointing to different sections.
“Well, tell me if you need anything,” Lydia says, sitting behind the counter and glaring at Pansy.
Pansy stays another few minutes or so, though she doesn’t want to. She can feel the girl’s eyes boring into her back as she feigns an interest in Muggle fantasy. Then she scurries out.
It’s a quiet night in the Snake and Arrow. She sits down at their usual table, though she’s early so of course Draco isn’t there yet. She can hear a faint crooning coming from the wireless in the corner. It’s relaxing; she leans back and closes her eyes briefly, savouring these few precious moments to herself. It’s been a bit of a day. She’s glad can tell Draco about it.
It’s not that she doesn’t have friends who aren’t Draco, exactly. It’s just that they’re more ‘friends’. She meets up with them sometimes, usually once a month, always Slytherin girls from the years around her at Hogwarts. They giggle and discuss the superficial details of their lives and then go home and bitch and gossip about each other to their boyfriends and husbands and secret lovers and sisters and acquaintances and parents. Draco isn’t like that, for some reason.
“What happened to you?” says Draco with a shout of laughter, sitting down across from her.
“Oh, shut up,” Pansy snarls. She’s way too tired for this. She’d tidied up her makeup in the ladies and performed a drying charm, but it was a small improvement. She never was very good at household charms, and she still feels soggy all over.
“Yes, but what happened? You look like a drowned rat with no eyebrows!”
Pansy stands up, grabbing her coat from the back of her chair.
“Oh sit down, come on. Please. It’s not that bad. I was just poking a little fun. Come on, please stay. Your eyebrows are mostly there, I was exaggerating. At most you look like a slightly soggy and damp rat.”
“If I stay, you’re buying me a drink.”
“Done. What would you like?”
“Merlin. You’d better tell me about it.”
So he buys them both a pint (and then another, and then another,) and she tells him an increasingly hysterical account of her day—up until the Muggle bookshop girl, where Pansy falters. She can feel the alcohol (sweet, sweet nectar of the gods) dripping over her tongue, down her throat.
“Then what?” Draco asks, maybe not for the first time. Pansy shakes her head in a futile attempt to clear it.
“And then a Muggle shopgirl was rude to me for no reason at all. And then I came here.”
Draco’s silent for a moment at this anticlimactic ending, though not sober enough to question it.
“Heh. Still can’t believe your eyebrows.”
“Do shut up,” she says, but there’s no bite to it. She feels light, free. There’s nothing more cathartic than a good vent.
“Still living in that Muggle flat?” Draco says suddenly.
“Still living in your parents’ house?” Pansy retorts.
“Hold your fire, I was just asking because I’ve decided to get rid of those mirrors—you know the ones with the clawed gold feet—and I was wondering if you might like them. But of course it would be difficult getting them into a Muggle building without magic.”
“Finally realised how ugly they are? No, I don’t want them. And before you ask, Borgin won’t be interested either. They’re too mundane.”
“I thought so. I might ask Amelia on Saturday, anyway.”
“What are you doing on Saturday?”
“That dastardly Ministry ball,” says Draco, surprised. “You’re telling me your parents aren’t making you go?”
Damn. Now that she’s thinking about it, she does hazily remember some gilded invitation or other, and her mother’s voice saying that only on her deathbed would Pansy not be going to this one, something about her father’s career, blah blah blah.
“Oh, yes. Of course.”
Time for another pint, surely.
The door tinkles and lets in a gust of cold wind.
“I wanted to apologise for being rude the other day,” Pansy says, slightly breathlessly. It must be from the wind outside. Yes, that has to be it. She smoothes a strand of hair down behind her ear; this time she’s not soaked, or singed, and her make-up looks good, and she spent half an hour this morning working out how to make eyebrow pencil take the exact colour and consistency to cover up the bald bits, and she washed her hair and even used a little dollop of Sleekeazy’s. She is in control.
“Oh. Er, thanks for apologising,” says Lydia, genuine but surprised. “It wasn’t such a big deal.”
She’d forgotten how tall this woman was next to her. She feels like a dwarf.
This is awkward, them both standing there, saying nothing. What happens now?
“I was wondering, if, ahh, you could recommend me a book?” What the hell is she doing? She doesn’t want anything to read. She’s still working through that silly book about vampires Draco got her last Christmas. She doesn’t overly like reading.
“Yes, of course. That’s my job. That’s why I’m here. What do you have in mind?”
“I was wondering about something involving... magic.” She could disapparate out of here, Statute of Secrecy be damned. Anything to stop this hole she’s digging herself.
“Starting at the start—I guess you’ve already made your way through most of Tolkien?”
“I, er, I haven’t ever read any toll-kin.” Whatever that is.
“Oooh!” says Lydia. “You haven’t read Lord of the Rings?”
“It’s not, um, my usual genre.” Lord of the what?
She has to pay with a galleon, but Lydia doesn’t seem to mind.
“Sorry, I, um, I don’t have anything else on me at the moment, and I work in... antiques.”
“Oh wow,” Lydia breathes, examining the coin a few mere inches from her face, twisting it so it hits the light.
“It’s real gold. You can get it tested if you want.”
“It’s beautiful. What it is? Did it used to be currency?”
“It’s called a galleon. It’s a type of commemorative coin. Maybe I could tell you more about it later?” Why is she doing this to herself? Why?
“Sure,” says Lydia. She gives Pansy a look that she can’t even begin to read. Thoughtful, maybe. Assessing. “I’d love to know what you think of the book, as well—my name’s Lydia, by the way. Just so you know.”
“Pansy,” Lydia repeats, apparently to herself. “That’s so unusual.”
And five minutes later she’s back into the blustery street, an exceedingly heavy book under one arm that she is definitely never going to read.
“Pansy!” Says Draco, raising an elegant flute of something bubbly in greeting.
“Draco, darling,” she says, swooping in to give him a gentle hug and a kiss on the cheek (more of an air kiss, really, because she’s gone for her favourite plum colour on her lips tonight. She looks great in it and doesn’t care at all that she can feel her mother glaring at her from half a room away).
“Here,” he says, procuring another full glass out of, apparently, thin air. It’s something of a talent of his. “You’ll be needing this.”
“Thanks,” she says, downing half of it in one great glug. There truly are some benefits to being friends with Draco Malfoy.
“You look... acceptable,” he says, eyes briefly passing over her deep black dress. She loves it, it’s her favourite, siding on just the wrong side of formalwear. Just a little too short, too low-cut, too dark. If she has to be here, she’ll do it on her terms.
“I look fantastic and you know it.” It’s true; even the missing patches in her eyebrows have started growing back, and with makeup it’s as if the past week never happened. “You, however, are another matter. Did mummy pick those dress robes out for you?”
“Very funny. I chose the colours and patterns, if you really want to know. Though Narcissa did, as a matter of fact, go and get them made up.”
“Thought as much. It’s a pretty hall, isn’t it? Thank Merlin’s balls that the Macnairs actually put in a modicum of effort this year.”
It is, too. The ballroom is perfectly round, with wooden floorboards so polished they can practically be used as mirrors, and gaudy embellished gilded things that Pansy doesn’t know the names of all over the walls. This year the theme is clearly ‘enchanted forest’ or something equally twee because all around the edges of the hall are twelve trees. They have no visible roots, seemingly coming through the floor itself, and grow unnaturally straight and uniform for about twelve feet or so before branching out and weaving with each other in incredibly elaborate twisting designs. The entwined branches form a high dome of a ceiling so thick and interlaced that barely a patch of the real ceiling is visible through the cracks, save in the middle, where thin branches curve in a smooth circle around a gargantuan chandelier. Throughout the trees, from base to tip, are tiny twinkling lights of palest yellow and white. On the floor directly underneath the chandelier is a multi-level fountain, water trickling from the mouth of an eerily lifelike wolf carved from dark wood. Even the smaller details are following the woodland theme—Pansy and Draco’s flutes are a dark translucent green colour, and she can see the people at the next table eating their way through a hyper-decorated chocolate log cake.
“I suppose it looks decent,” Draco says, twirling his glass between his thin fingers. The bubbles fizz as they hit the surface. “Anyhow, what have you been up to since I last saw you?”
“Oh, the usual.”
“Sold anything interesting that once belonged to Pythagoras or Washington?”
“No, it’s been a dreadfully dull week at work. I’ve pretty much just been behind the counter. Believe me, I’ve seen nothing more dangerous than a fox fur coat that has a tendency to nip if it isn’t being taken proper care of. Between you and me, I think Griselda Marchbanks has bitten off a bit more than she can chew with that one.” Draco looks disappointed at this—he prefers the gory stories of severed fingers and malcontent grimoires. Most people do. “I would ask how work’s been for you, but you’re perpetually unemployed, aren’t you?” Pansy says so sweetly she can practically feel the honey oozing off her tongue.
Draco shrugs. “I prefer to think of myself as being a gentleman of leisure.”
“I am well aware of how you prefer to think of yourself, my dear.”
“And I am well aware of how you prefer to think yourself as a plucky debonair belle, intrepid and fiercely independent.”
There are also, of course, downsides to being friends with Draco Malfoy.
“Actually, you’ll find this funny, but do you remember that Muggle shopgirl girl who was rude to me last week?” Pansy says, in a way she hopes someone might describe as ‘gaily and naturally’.
“Why should I care about her?”
“Well, the cheek of it, I went back to give her the chance to apologise (it never does to show bad manners in the face of bad manners, you know), and she thrust on me a book to read!”
“Hmmm,” says Draco, scrutinising her. “Am I supposed to believe you’re... disappointed in this outcome?”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”
“How much have you read of it?”
“What are you talking about,” Pansy says, trying for her famous poker face, but she knows she’s falling short. “Of course I threw it away immediately.”
“More or less than halfway?”
“If you must know, I was stuck on the Knight Bus for several hours yesterday and it being the only book in my vicinity I tried a few pages and it turns out to be quite enjoyable.”
“I’m going to refresh my makeup,” Pansy says, and abruptly makes a beeline for the loos.
She calms down a little once she’s out of sight of Draco. He does so love to wind her up, and he’s good at it, too: she gets het up over anything and everything when he’s teasing, he knows all her weak spots. That’s the only reason she’s so flustered right now. The trouble with old school friends...
By the time she’s pushing open the door to the ladies’ room she’s feeling quite a bit more composed.
“What a beautiful hairstyle,” Pansy says to the lady standing before the sinks. She doesn’t look at her face in the reflection, just a quick glance at her caramel-coloured hair elegantly twisted and braided on top of her head. Flattery costs nothing, and you never know who you’ll meet at these events.
“Thank you,” says the woman, surprised, turning around. And Pansy knows instantly who she is—it’s really true, you never know who you’ll meet at these events.
“Good evening, Hermione Granger.”
“Good evening, Pansy Parkinson,” says Granger, politely but cautiously.
She’s accidentally said something pleasant to Granger, what to do? Does she twist it around and say something catty to offset it? No, they’re not in high school anymore, that would be childish. Merlin, she’s going to have to pretend she intended to be nice all along. Yes, it’s the only option. Civil small talk, she’s good at that.
“Are you here with Ron Weasley?” It’s a bit of a chancy start—there’s been rumours for years about Granger and Harry Potter and she’s not sure how true they are, but considering the dearth of other options she has to work with it’ll have to do.
“Broadly speaking yes, but actually I was invited in my own right. I work for magical law enforcement now.” Well, thank Merlin.
“Very impressive. I’m sure you’re wonderful at it.”
“Thank you. What about you? Are you here with Malfoy?”
“I’m, er... sorry to hear it.”
“Huh?” Says Pansy, puzzled. Then understanding comes. “Oh! We were never a couple.”
“Funny, I always thought you were. All the way through Hogwarts. Didn’t you go to the Yule Ball together?”
“Yes, as friends. We’re still friends in fact. We’re quite close.”
“That’s nice. So are you here for work, too? I haven’t seen you about at the Ministry.”
“I’m here because of my parents. I’m supposed to show up at all these function things, but I usually don’t stay for very long. Fifteen minute rule, all the way.”
“I’ve never spotted you. You must be very good at it.”
A short silence reigns. Pansy can see herself in the mirror behind Hermione. Her eyeshadow looks fantastic in this lighting.
“We meet up every Tuesday and Thursday, actually, Draco and I,” says Pansy, to fill in the empty air. “You should come along, we could all catch up. Seven o’clock this Tuesday at the Snake and Arrow, you know that place? Does that suit?” She doesn’t know what she’s doing, just that she’s started down this road and now she needs to commit. Catch up about what? Her brain yells at her. All those fond memories of hating each other? Those catty things you said to Rita Skeeter about her? You idiot, Parkinson. But the deed is done.
“Well, I guess I’ll see you then,” says Pansy.
“Hello,” she calls out as the shop bell tinkles.
“Hello again!” says Lydia, looking up from behind the counter. “How did you get on with old John Ronald Reuel?”
Pansy’s off-kilter for a second, before she connects the dots.
“I liked it; it was hard going at the start, but everything livened up when the fighting started in the last book. What was the point of Tom Bombadil?”
“You read the whole thing?! Wow, I’m impressed. It’s only been like, a week.”
“I’ve got a few questions, though. For one, how come the elves at Mirkwood and the elves from the—“
“Wait, wait, hold on, Pansy,” Lydia says with a laugh, “I’m a bit busy right now.” For the first time Pansy notices the large stack of books and coloured stickers in front of her. “We’re cataloguing and reshelving everything before the new year,” she explains, “which means we’ve been at it since August, practically, and it’s not like we ever get it done on time anyway, but I digress. I’m going to give you this,” she says, hunting around for a piece of paper and scrawling something on it, “it’s my mobile number—text me, yeah? If you want, I mean. You don’t have to if you don’t. Obviously. Or phone me, if you like that, but I’m better at texts.”
“I don’t kn—yes, sure,” Pansy says, taking it and putting it in her purse.
Pansy starts walking one way down the street, a vague idea forming in her mind. Then she thinks it through properly, abruptly turns around and walks in the other direction. Everything in the world can be found in Diagon Alley—or at least, the means to everything in the world.
“I need something that can ‘teckst’ a ‘mobile’,” says Pansy without preamble to the man behind the counter. She thinks she’s chosen the right kind of place, her only guide being hazy memories of Muggles with tiny gleaming boxes pressed against an ear or in their hands.
The man looks a little bemused. “A mobile phone?”
“I think so. I mean, yes. That is what I want.”
It turns out that it’s all a bit more complicated than she’d given it credit for. There are many, many varieties of what essentially boils down to a tiny black rectangle with one glass side. If you click buttons the glass side lights up and does things. You can even take photographs with some of them!
“Which one’s the best,” Pansy wants to know, partly because she’s still a Slytherin at heart and partly because being in close proximity with multiple Muggles talking enthusiastically about oranges and something about a web while she understands none of it is wearing on her.
She ends up with one that she can’t even tell from all the others.
“That’ll be three hundred and ninety-se—“
“Here,” she says brusquely, handing across a bunch of the weird Muggle paper money without bothering to count it. Hopefully it’ll be enough; it’s nearly 100 galleons’ worth. She dipped into the family vault, but that’s alright because she’ll tell her father it was for a few dresses from Twilfitt and Tatting's in order to be ready for the ball season, sorry she got a little carried away, and her mother will probably get a little teary-eyed that her Pansy’s finally getting into the kind of fashions that befit her blood status instead of those dreadful dark lipsticks and short hems.
She gets a lot of it back.
Once she’s home there’s some messing about with a white wire thing that came with the phone and she finally finds out what those weird boxes with holes on the walls are for, and then she has to do something with a code and numbers and credit that she doesn’t really understand but muddles through on sheer force of will, and after all that it takes her another good hour to work out what to do with the number Lydia gave her. She tries taking a photo of it (at least the camera’s reassuringly familiar) but eventually she thinks she’s worked it out. But then there’s yet another hurdle, in that to ‘text’ one doesn’t write into the box but has to tap a button for each of the letters. They’re not even arranged alphabetically!
hEllo. She types in, very slowly, and clicks the ‘send’ button.
She's mildly surprised the phone’s working so well in such close proximity to her magic, but she supposes that being in a largely Muggle environment overall has something to do with it. To think she’d thought she’d never be thankful for living in such an overwhelmingly Muggle neighbourhood!
This is pansy, she sends a few laborious minutes later. Is she doing this right?
She’s still playing around and clicking all the buttons on her new toy a few hours later when it beeps loudly and vibrates in her hand and she nearly drops it. It’s a text from Lydia.
hi! so what do you want to know about the mirkwood elves?
“You invited who?!” Draco nearly spits his drink everywhere. It’s highly unbecoming, but quite amusing.
“You heard me perfectly clearly.”
“But—Granger—why?!” Good question, she thinks to herself. I wish I knew the answer.
“Because, Draco, I’ve discovered that—“
“Have you forgotten that time she punched me in the face?!” Draco says, deaf to anything but his mounting horror.
“I’m starting to think she had the right idea. Now see here, Draco. We’ve been out of Hogwarts for, what, nearly a decade now—“
“Five years is hardly a decade—“
“And I think it’s high time we put petty schoolyard rivalries behind us and looked towards the future. I bumped into Hermione at the annual ministry ball last Saturday and I suggested we catch up.”
“When’s she coming?”
“Oh, in about—what’s the time?”
Draco automatically pulls out his fobwatch. “Five past seven.”
“Roughly five minutes ago, then.”
“NOW?! Right now?!”
But Draco doesn’t have a chance to get any further, because a timid-looking Hermione Granger has come through the door and Pansy’s waving her over.
“Good evening,” says Pansy, half-standing up to kiss her on the cheek. Whatever she’s doing, she’s going to do it well. Even if she’s not entirely sure what it is yet. “I’m glad you made it.”
Pansy kicks Draco’s leg under the table. “Hello,” says Draco, wincing slightly.
“Hello,” says Hermione, sitting down.
“Can I buy you anything?
“Oh. Um. I’m fine, thanks.”
“No, I suggested this, what would you like?”
“That’s kind of you. In that case... a cider?”
“Draco, would you be a dear? A Blishen’s for me, please.” Pansy says.
Draco almost quite literally jumps to the task, glad for any excuse. She hopes he doesn’t disapparate home as soon as he’s out of her line of sight.
“How are you?” Says Hermione.
“I’m fine, thanks. What about you?”
Her head is as blank as new parchment. She can hear the babble of the tables around them, snatches of conversations about work and quidditch and Christmas holidays. What next?
Pansy doesn’t like smoking, per se, but the aesthetic effect is worth putting up with it. The whole point of smoking isn’t to like it, but that other people can see you do it: this is why she always keeps a packet of Naiads and a long cigarette holder at the bottom of her handbag. Now feels like exactly the kind of occasion that she reserves them for.
“So,” she says, illuminating the end with the tip of her wand, “I know you said you’re working for the Department of Law Enforcement, but what exactly are you up to?” She takes a drag.
“Mainly I specialise in inter-species conflict, which I’m happy about because I worked in Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures for a few years. We’ve really made a lot of progress in terms of equality for magical creatures. I’m particularly proud of my work with werewolves. What about you? Do you work?”
Pansy’s ready to be a little bit offended. But then she remembers that actually it’s common knowledge that Draco Malfoy, who she happens to be by her own admission close friends with, is a lazy unemployed toerag living off his parents. So it isn’t so stupid a question, she supposes.
“Yes, at Borgin and Burkes.”
“Borgin and Burkes!? But didn’t Voldemort work there?” The words tumble from Hermione’s lips before she can stop them; she claps her hands over her mouth. Funnily enough, when Pansy had first told her mother about her new job her mother had said that too, nearly word-for-word, but it was clear she thought it was a good thing.
“For your information, they underwent an intense prolonged Ministry investigation after the second war against You-Know-Who and were deemed fit to remain open.”
Before Hermione has a chance to answer Draco arrives back, placing a drink in front of her and one in front of Hermione; Hermione thanks him. Just then she feels her mobile vibrate in her bag, and then play a short tune that she definitely hasn’t programmed it to do. Must be the effect of the magic in the atmosphere. She automatically pulls it out—it’s become a new habit. It says she’s got a text, but she can’t see it because when she unlocks her phone all the apps are sliding up and down and around the screen and run away from her touch. Magic can be a pain, sometimes. She makes a mental note to check again once she’s out of pub.
“You have a phone?” Hermione asks incredulously.
“What of it?” Pansy snaps. She’s feeling a bit defensive. This is turning into a disaster. Why shouldn’t she have a phone? “I’ll text you if you want me to prove it.”
“I just—I thought you wouldn’t be so keen on, you know, Muggle technology.”
“I’m not the person I was in Hogwarts.” Never mind that she didn’t know what an app was last week.
“Sorry,” says Hermione. “This is all just a bit surreal right now. You’re telling me that you, Pansy Parkinson, own an iPhone?”
“You own a what?” asks Draco.
“It’s a box that Muggles carry around and they use it to contact each other instead of owling,” says Pansy.
“What do you need that for?”
“I have Muggle friends!”
“What, that shopgirl you’ve got a crush on even though you’ve only met her twice?”
She blows her smoke in his face.
“Sorry,” she says carelessly, as he splutters into his drink.
“Well, I’m happily surprised,” says Hermione, taking a sip of her cider. “Good for you.” And she sounds like she genuinely means it.
“I’ve heard you’ve been doing a lot of good work at the Ministry lately,” says Draco in a surprisingly civil manner. This is the first time she’s ever heard Draco speak to a Gryffindor without a sneer, she thinks. “Fixing loopholes in laws and fighting to improve inter-species relations. Noble causes.”
“Yes, I’ve recently been campaigning to re-write a large segment of the inheritance laws as they apply to goblin-made objects. You see, in 1764 when the law was originally suggested, goblin-human relations within Britain were unhappy, which lead to...” Hermione bangs on again, but Draco, surprisingly enough, is listening to every word.
“You certainly paid attention in History of Magic,” Draco says.
“Actually, that’s another problem. The History of Magic curriculum as a whole does not accurately reflect many affairs as they were, but has a strong human, and especially pureblood, bias. I’ve long been considering having a word with Education.”
“I know what you mean,” says Draco. “I was recently holidaying in Apia, and while lunching with the magical prime minister he mentioned that misrepresentation in European history books on Pacific merpeoples from as far back as 1900 still had a negative impact on Samoa’s international relations.”
“That’s fascinating,” says Hermione. It really is, Pansy agrees. Since when does Draco care about inter-species relations? At least the copious amounts of tropical holidays he takes have shown they’re good for something. Sort of. “I wish I knew more about that subject area, although of course, as I specialise in European creatures and beings I’ve never had cause to learn it.”
Just like that, everything is fine, and the frisson of tension between them all relaxes somewhat. Hermione talks at length about the various clever things she’s planning on doing at the Ministry, none of which Pansy understands very well. Draco tells them about the rest of that island holiday, about Tonga and Fiji, which Pansy’s heard about before but Hermione obviously hasn’t. She herself tells a few stories, about her parents and what various Slytherins are up to, and the dangerous stuff people bring into the shop. She goes home and realises that she actually kind of enjoyed it.
I nearly got fined £20 for bringing a book back an hour late. can you believe it?
that’s ridiculous. when I was in boarding school the librarian would ban people for life if they didn’t bring books back to her liking
serious? that’s cruel but an appealing idea.I cant wait for today to be over. what are you doing?
lunch break with quiche and coffee
lucky. and i’m still stuck in this drizzly hallway.
goood luck with your exam btw : )
thanks. I need it. hope you sell something interesting this afternoon!
She and Lydia have been texting a lot recently. She’s slowly getting faster at it. It’s nice. They just chatted about Lord of the Rings at first, but now they talk about everything: whatever Lydia’s up to (Rígsþula and the diets of squid: she’s doing something at university involving marine biology and old Norse, whatever any of that means). Pansy tells her (highly edited) stories of weird objects people bring into the shop, and the dumb shit her unemployed friend she met in boarding school who’s still living off his rich parents gets up to. It’s a bit weird, telling all of this to someone she’s only briefly met, but it’s good as well. It feels nice to have someone to talk to who isn’t Draco, who she does love dearly, but can be an irritating prick at times.
you haven’t watched any of the lotr movies, have you? Lydia asks one day.
No, says Pansy, because she doesn’t know what that means, so hopefully that means she hasn’t.
not even a little bit of one?
I don’t think so, Pansy writes.
do you want to marathon them with me tomorrow night? says Lydia.
She doesn’t know what that means either and she hopes it doesn’t involve running in the dark or watching people run in the dark, which sounds boring, but seeing Lydia again doesn’t sound boring so she says yes.
Pansy turns up at Lydia’s apartment building at a few minutes past eight, double-checking the number against the text Lydia sent her. She presses the button next to 3/3.
“Hello,” comes Lydia’s voice through the grill, staticky but recognisable. “Pansy?” she asks.
“Hi,” Pansy says, pressing down on the button. She thanks Merlin that her Muggle landlord had insisted on telling her in great detail exactly how an intercom worked when she’d first moved in.
“Hold on, I’ll buzz you up. Open the door quickly, it only stays unlocked for about half a second.”
There’s a beep and she pulls on the heavy door as fast as she can, and goes up the stairs to the third floor, where Lydia's waiting in her doorway.
It’s weird finally seeing her again in the flesh, after all their text conversations. Her eyes are very blue. She wonders if she’s noticed that before.
“Hey,” says Lydia, letting Pansy through and closing the door after her. “How are you? How was work?”
“Well and deathly dull; I was behind the counter today, which means I didn’t get to meet our more eccentric clients and nothing interesting happened at all whatsoever. What about you? How’s the translation going?”
Lydia makes a face, her freckles scrunching into one another. “It’s not. I’d rather not talk about it. I have no idea what I’m doing anymore.”
“Urgh,” says Pansy in sympathy.
“Urgh indeed. My room’s through here—I’ve hauled the tv through, because I have no idea where my flatmate is or what time she’s coming back and I don’t want her interrupting an important scene. You know, the tv came with the flat and originally I wasn’t keen on having to pay for it every month, but it beats watching things on my tiny laptop.”
Lydia’s room is cramped and vaguely messy but clean. There’s a bed against the left wall, and a tiny desk under the window, jammed between the bed and the right wall. The desk is piled high with textbooks, novels, pens, gluesticks, power cords, bottles of nail polish, several teacups. The rest of the right wall has a chest of drawers—the bottom stuffed with clothing and the top crammed with miscellany, poking out and trying to escape where someone’s valiantly tried to shut it in. Every available bit of wall space is covered—art prints, charts full of weird symbols (must be the old Norse), photographs...
“Sorry it’s a bit of a mess,” says Lydia.
“It’s fine,” says Pansy, thinking of the state of her own flat. She can’t even remember the last time she cleaned the bathroom.
And then it’s very late Friday night, or technically very early Saturday morning, and she’s sitting on a cushion on the floor with her back up against Lydia’s bed with Lydia beside her and a faded duvet that’s slightly bobbly with age over them, and it’s fantastic. It’s raining out, softly, a shimmery background noise diluting the city night-time noises, and there’s something called a ‘heater’ on by her foot that does exactly what it sounds like it does. It feels to Pansy like they’re both in a private cocoon of warmth and pale light, like maybe they’re the only two people who are really alive in the entire world.
Thankfully, it’s turned out that no running at all is involved in a 'lotr marathon'. Apparently something Muggles do for their entertainment is look at boxes with moving pictures on them that make noise. It’s kind of like a play, but better because there’s no-one’s head to look over or children crying while their parents stubbornly refuse to take them out. Also, it seems that wizards work on movies, because she’s sure Muggles by themselves can’t do half those things that are going on. The ‘magic’ is still laughable (but it does occur to Pansy that perhaps Tolkien was a real wizard putting Muggles on the wrong path—she’ll have to look it up later) yet the characters in the box are doing things that you’d need a wand to do.
Pansy stuffs another crisp in her mouth as she keeps her eyes fixed on the screen, where Frodo is falling down. Again. “I can’t remember Frodo falling down this much in the book,” she says.
Lydia laughs. “You can actually make a drinking game out of it. It’s pretty fun, but we’ll have to do it another time. This is too important for that.”
Lydia spends more time watching Pansy’s reactions than actually watching the tv. It’s kind of a bit distracting, actually. “You don’t watch a lot of movies, do you?” she says, when Pansy jumps at something that happens on screen.
“Not many, no,” Pansy says, never moving her eyes away.
The flatmate does come back with some friends at who knows what hour, clearly plastered and clanging around the kitchen and arguing about the amount of yeast needed for the perfect pizza. Lydia goes through to say hi and ask them if they can keep it down a little.
“Why, you’re always up at this time anyway. Are Loki and Odin being difficult to translate? Is that what’s making you grouchy?”
“First of all mythology is not even remotely close to what I’m working on right now, second of all—“
“Maybe she finally bought a girl home,” someone says, to a chorus of oooohs and giggling.
“Shut up, Callum,” says Lydia.
“Haha, you’re blushing!” says someone else, who promptly falls over with a thump.
To their credit they do make an effort to quieten down some as they rummage about for bowls and a rolling pin and flour and cheese and salami, though it’s that kind of drunk-person person quiet that’s full of fumbling and stumbling and giggling and loud shushing and things being dropped. Lydia briefly goes out to supervise while they’re using the oven to make sure no-one does themselves an injury. And a while later they knock on the door to offer some slightly charred bacon and mozzarella pizza, though Pansy reckons that’s more because they want an excuse to look inside and catch a glimpse of whoever Lydia’s got in there. But it’s hard to turn it down all the same when they’re clearly all very proud of their inebriated creation. It’s fairly edible, too, if a little crunchy. Still, Pansy’s happy when they finally go out again (Merlin only knows where to).
“Why have you got the word ‘auxiliary’ tattooed on your arm in capital letters?” Pansy asks drowsily during the credits of Return of the King. She’s slunkered down and kind of snuggled into Lydia’s side, and she can see the inside of her forearm as she reaches up to take out her thick red ponytail. It’s extremely comfortable like this. She hopes she’s not going to have to move soon.
“What?” Says Lydia. She follows Pansy’s line of sight. “Oh! That’s not a tattoo. It’s just permanent marker. I sometimes write important things on my wrists so I don’t forget them.”
“Hmm,” Pansy hums, smushing her face into Lydia’s neck, which isn’t that much of a stretch from what she was doing before. It’s nice in there. “What time is it?”
“Maybe six or seven, I don’t know for sure. It won’t get light for a while yet I don’t think. You’re welcome to sleep here if you’d like to. I’m actually supposed to be in the lab for quarter to eight this morning because it’s my turn to check on the samples. The wild life of a bio major. But I’ll be back around midday, probably.”
Lydia’s bed is comfy, though only about half the width of Pansy’s bed at home so she has to remind herself to not roll over. It smells of clean linen and faintly, puzzlingly, of freshly-mown grass. Pansy drifts off to dismal grey clouds and cold rain out the window and dreams about Hogwarts in spring.
She invites Hermione by owl to come along to her and Draco’s meeting next Tuesday as well. And after that she starts coming along all the time, though usually only on the Thursday. It’s not as unpleasant as one might imagine, actually. She never would have thought that Draco and Hermione could have anything to talk about in conversation together, never mind week after week, but life is nothing if not full of surprises. Come to it, she never thought that she herself would be able to sit in a room with Hermione Granger for any length of time without the glare of teacher supervision and not end up hexing her, but here she is. Pansy wonders if she was always like this, and tells herself that it was probably something that came as an adult to assuage the guilt in her gut. It’s weird, but she just feels like someone you can trust. Pansy enjoys her company. She might even go so far as to say that she considers her a friend.
“Hello Hermione!” says a pompous yet friendly voice from behind Pansy, on a Thursday maybe six weeks after Hermione joined in with their little meetings. The voice is familiar, though she can’t quite place it. She turns around in her chair.
“Justin!” says Hermione. “My gosh, it’s been such a long time! Come sit with us,” she says, and Justin does.
“Justin, this is Pansy Parkinson and Draco Malfoy—I’m sure you remember them from Hogwarts, they were in our year but in Slytherin. Pansy, Draco, this is Justin Finch-Fletchley, who you might remember was a Hufflepuff in our year.”
Pansy does remember him, as a plump and snobby but earnest boy who spoke through a mouthful of marbles. He was part of that student army of Potter’s, she remembers. He’s changed since Hogwarts. She wouldn’t have recognised his face in a crowd, but after being told who he is she can see how he’s turned into this man. He’s filled out, become much broader, especially in the shoulder and neck. He’s not wearing robes but a Muggle suit, so it’s easier to see. His face has grown up: his jaw less weak, his eyes not so watery. He’s got a proper haircut now, too. Only that plummy voice has stayed exactly the same. He looks like an adult, which Pansy reminds herself, he is. She wonders if he’s looking at her and noticing the same. No, she decides. She must have stayed more constant to her teenaged self. She’d have noticed, otherwise.
“My, how things change,” Justin says, looking at Pansy. “You look so different, I didn’t recognise you there! Last I remember of you was when you told Rita Skeeter all those dreadful lies about Hermione and they were published in Witch Weekly—you two were always at each other’s throats, back in the day.”
“Yes,” says Pansy. “How things have changed.”
“Do you work in the Muggle world?” Says Hermione to Justin, clearly noticing the suit. He doesn’t stick out at all here, actually—the Snake and Arrow’s in such a busy part of town that everyone’s either in very low-key robes, or outright inMuggle clothing. It’s all about blending in.
“Yes,” says Justin, “I’m a teacher.”
“I wouldn’t have expected that,” says Hermione, questioningly.
“No, I’m sure you expected me to follow in my father’s footsteps.” Hermione cheeks go pink. “But it never held any appeal for me. After Hogwarts I went on to study history at Oxford. I’d had a good grounding in the basics as a child, and though the material of Binns’ lectures wasn’t directly applicable, the skills were. History is all the same, at its core. My father did want me to take over his business, but considering my lack of applicable skills and interest in the venture I decided to go into Muggle primary teaching instead. I’ve just come from my first parent-teacher evening ever, actually.”
“I never knew you were keen on History of Magic,” says Hermione.
“Oh yes,” says Justin, taking a mouthful of his butterbeer. “You always bet me out for the top spot, of course, but I always did rather well in it. Once you get past the monotone, Binns is probably the foremost magical historian working in this country. Although it must be said that when I asked him for a reference, after eight years of being his student, he did consistently refer to me as Fischbein in it.”
“I’m convinced he does it on purpose, mucking up student names,” says Draco.
“Still a little sore about Draco Mallary, are you?” says Pansy.
“He thought my last name was Grant,” says Hermione.
“Pansy Pearce,” says Pansy.
They all smile fondly at the memory, except for Draco, who scowls.
“I don’t remember seeing you when I went back to do my final year,” Hermione frowns. “There were only three of us in his class, I’d have noticed.”
“I didn’t expect to go back for a final year, after the Carrow nightmare. I ended up taking what you might call a gap year, though I didn’t think of it like that at the time. I needed some time to work out what I wanted to do next. I came to realise that after everything that had happened in the wizarding world that I wanted to live a primarily Muggle lifestyle as an adult, and then that if I wanted to go through with it I would need to be in as full control as my magical abilities as possible, and another year at Hogwarts would be beneficial considering my botched seventh year. I contacted Professor McGonagall, who was very supportive of my decision, and I started my final year of Hogwarts that September. I wasn’t the only one. Hannah Abbott did it with me.”
“I always liked Hannah,” says Hermione. That makes one of us, a snide, slimy voice inside of Pansy whispers. Shut up, she scolds it.
“Do you keep in contact?”
“Somewhat. Not as much as I would like. But, you know what they say, Wizarding Britain is small... Well, I say that, yet I haven’t seen hide nor hair of the lot of you for years. Though I am a bit out of the loop, as it were. I’m trying to get back into things a bit more.”
“You can come get back into the loop with us if you want,” says Hermione. “We’re usually here Tuesdays and Thursdays at seven.” Pansy is sometimes viscerally reminded why she spent her teenage years hating Hermione Granger.
“Thank you, I might just do that. Do you still keep in contact with Harry Potter?” he says to Hermione.
“We both live together with Ron Weasley, so I should hope so!”
“You three were inseparable at school. It’s good to know you’re all still getting along.”
“Well, I mean, after all that happened,“ says Hermione.
“Oh, I quite understand where you’re coming from. I read all about your elongated camping trip, but I can’t imagine what it must have been like to have been there.” Pansy and Draco share an uncomfortable look. She wishes Justin would stop banging on about events that she’s spent the past five years trying to forget.
“Yes, well,” says Hermione, knocking back a good third of her drink. “It’s not really something we talk about much.”
“Hermione,” Pansy says, just for something to change the subject. “Before I forget, I must ask you something about Muggle electronics. I was with Lydia and— ”
“You and your secret Muggle girlfriend,” says Draco.
“You know she’s not my girlfriend,” says Pansy.
“Yes, but you’d like her to be.”
“We aren’t talking about this,” she says.
“Why don’t you ask her on a date?” asks Justin.
“What! No! I can’t do that!”
“She’s not your girlfriend but you want her to be your girlfriend: ask her out,” says Justin, as if it’s simple.
“No! I mean,” Pansy says desperately, trying to explain herself, “she’s really pretty—”
“Please stop fishing for compliments, it’s tiring. You know you’re gorgeous,” says Draco.
“You kind of are,” Hermione chimes in, matter-of-factly. “And your makeup always looks really good.”
“I agree. You always did have a bit of a pug nose back in the day, though it’s much less noticeable now,” says Justin.
Pansy doesn’t know what to say to that.
“Don’t be such a pansy,” says Draco Malfoy, the epitome of wit.
“I’m not, I just don’t even know what we’d do—“ Pansy tries again to explain why she cannot do this.
“You’ll work it out. It’s easy, just do something Muggle together,” says Draco, as if it truly is easy. “What do Muggles do for fun? Hermione, what do you do for fun?”
“I’ve always enjoyed going to the opera,” says Justin, even though he wasn’t asking him.
“I do too,” says Hermione. “My dad often gets us tickets for my mum’s birthday.”
“That’s like a sort play, right?” Pansy asks.
“It’s like a play with singing in it,” Hermione says.
“I can get you to La Traviata for a Friday or Saturday, if you’d like,” Justin says.
“Would you?” asks Pansy. “I—thank you, that would be amazing. Would you really?”
“One of my cousins is in it, so it’s not a problem.” Justin checks his watch, and does a double-take. “I really must get going,” he says, standing up. “It’s my turn to watch over Alice tonight.”
“You’ve got kids?” Pansy finds herself asking.
“A daughter. Alice.” He says, taking out his wallet and opens it up to show a picture of a baby, no more than four or five months old, with a mass of fluffy red hair. The photo doesn’t move. “I think she takes after Susan more than me.”
“Susan... Bones?” Hermione asks.
“Yes, she’s my wife.”
“Congratulations!” she and Hermione say together.
“Thank you, we’re very happy. Anyway, I must be off. Pansy—If I mail through the tickets, addressed to you, to the Parkinson Manor, will they reach you?”
“Yes. Thanks again,” Pansy says.
“I’ll probably see you all around again,” says Justin. “Tuesdays and Thursdays, is it?”
“Yes,” Pansy says.
“Well, I’ll probably bump into you soon, then. Goodbye,” he says, before he’s gone.
“Married? With a kid?!” Draco says with the same kind of panic that Pansy is feeling inside of her right now.
She’s at Lydia’s, lying on her bed and flicking through a book she found lying about. (She’s always at Lydia’s, she doesn’t know how she’d explain away the obvious magicalness of her flat. Lydia doesn’t seem to mind.) It’s drawings of extinct animals; though there’s a mistake in it, because of course the diricawl isn’t extinct. But then, the Muggles don’t know that. Lydia’s sitting on the floor leaning up against the bed, a stack of journals to her right and her laptop in her lap, trying to finish off a report on deep-sea oxygen levels and an essay on the runic future tense at the same time. One of them was due yesterday. Occasionally Pansy leans the book over the bed to show Lydia and says things like “were the duck’s heads really that bright pink?” and “look, it’s a pig-footed rat, isn’t it amazing?” and Lydia says “yes, as far as I know” and “it’s a bandicoot, actually, not a rat”.
“Hey,” Pansy says. Courage. “Do you want to, I mean, would you like to go out with me to see the opera on Saturday?” Justin’s tickets had come through only a few days after him turning up at the Snake and Arrow. Very punctual.
“The opera?” Says Lydia, sliding her computer to the floor so she can turn around and look at Pansy. She sounds so surprised that it suddenly occurs to Pansy that Hermione Granger used to read textbooks for fun as a teenager and Justin Finch-Fletchley is possibly as posh as Muggles can get, and overall neither of them can possibly know what they’re talking about when it comes to normal Muggle things and she cannot believe she ever thought taking their advice on anything would be a good idea. “Is this—? Are you asking me on a, well... on a date?”
“Not if you don’t want to,” Pansy says quickly.
“No, I’d love to go with you—what are we going to see?”
“Okay,” she says, smiling. “Then it’s a date.”
Hermione takes her shopping in the Muggle world for something to wear. (“Come on, Madame Malkin would never get anything done in time and besides, there’s a much wider selection on the other side of the Leaky Cauldron. Trust me.”)
So here she is, in the changing room of some haughty Muggle shop, several dresses hung up on the door.
The thing is, Pansy doesn’t necessarily like the way her body looks. She doesn’t like the gently convex curve of her stomach, the flab on her arms, her thick, pale thighs and indelicate ankles and short stature. She’s knows she must be twisting things, blowing herself up dramatically under the intensity of her self-loathing. She actually quite likes the way she looks, sometimes—often, even—when she’s covered in the right kind of clothes, smoothing harsh angles here and creating an illusion of depth there. But in this changing room there’s nowhere to hide, she’s just Pansy, just herself, and this royal blue dress is doing her no favours at all, and she hates it and she kind of hates herself a little, too.
Her phone beeps, a welcome distraction from her maudlin thoughts.
what are you doing rn? do you want to come over? says Lydia.
can’t. Pansy types back. I’m shopping for clothes with a friend.
cool. what kind of clothes?
a dress for a party. Which is really only partly a lie, because she has every intention of turning up to the Malfoy’s New Year party wearing whatever she chooses now. It’s not as if anyone she knows is going to be at the opera. There’s always reason to be pragmatic.
send me a selfie!
“Hermione, I need your help. What’s a ‘selfie’?” She says, doing quotemarks in the air around the unfamiliar word.
“It’s when you take a picture of yourself,” says Hermione. “Why?”
So they keep looking, black and dark blue and deep purple, silk and lace and velvet. Nothing’s quite right.
It’s Hermione who sees it first, just at the point when Pansy’s about to suggest she can just wear her favourite black dress and fuck it if it’s a bit too formal.
“It’s just so... Gryffindor,” says Pansy.
“Perhaps it’s time to put old rivalries in the past,” says Hermione. “Red’s a good colour on you.”
She hates to admit it, but Hermione’s right. The dress clings where it’s supposed to cling, it lets her be where it doesn’t. It’s floor-length but amazingly not too long on her, despite the fact that she’s short. And it’s red, bright blood red—Gryffindor red.
In a minute she’ll step out of the changing room and Hermione will agree that it’s perfect, but before that she has something to do. She takes her phone out and switches the camera to front view, angling it just so her face, her neck, and a bit of the dress are in view, and takes a shot. It doesn’t do to put all your cards on the table at once.
They go to Hermione’s afterwards so they can take a proper wizarding photograph of Pansy in her dress to commemorate how great she looks in it. It’s a nice place, much nicer than Pansy’s. Roomy. High ceilings. Peaceful. Though she does share it with both Ron and Harry, and considering that two of them are fairly high up in the ministry and the last is a professional quidditch player, they can afford it.
Harry’s at a practice and Ron’s heading out the door when they come in. He kisses Hermione, nods and Pansy and then he’s already disapparated.
“Ronald,” Hermione mutters to the now-empty air under her breath, shaking her head but smiling despite herself. “Don’t mind him, he apparently never learnt any manners.”
Hermione’s quite a good photographer, as it happens. She’ll send one of the photos to her parents, she thinks. They won’t approve, but so what. And she’ll keep one carefully tucked away somewhere so she can whip it out in fifty years time and bore people at parties about how she “was quite the beauty back then, you know.”
Afterwards she goes into the bathroom to get changed back into her normal clothes, and as she’s walking back down the hallway to the living room afterwards she hears the sound of the key in the front door. She freezes, even though she’s not doing anything wrong. It’s either Weasley or Potter, and it’s probably Potter. She’s not sure if she’s up to this. She slips into a cupboard in the hallway just as the door swings open, leaving only a sliver open to see out of. It might be cowardly, but she’s really not feeling up to this. Her belly feels like it’s full of snakes at the thought of meeting him again.
“Hey,” Potter calls out. He hasn’t changed since Pansy saw him last—tall and gangly, kind of pinched looking, hair in all directions, owly glasses. That scar, plain as day on his forehead. He’s even carrying a broomstick and covered in mud. It’s exactly as Pansy remembers him.
“Hello,” says Hermione, now in the hallway. Pansy can’t see her. “What happened to you? I thought they fixed the showers?”
“No, they said they’d contracted someone in, but the water’s still below five degrees, can you believe it? Anyway, I’m going to go clean up,” he says wearily, making a move towards the bathroom.
“Oh—use the en suite, Pansy’s getting changed in there.”
“I mean I know you’re on friendlier terms lately, but this is all a bit... chummy.”
“You,” says Hermione sternly and quietly, and she’s now kind of in Pansy’s line of sight, so she can see she’s pointing a finger into Potter’s chest, “are going to be very polite to her in a minute when you come and say hello. This isn’t Hogwarts anymore. Go take a shower,” she says, and now they’re standing in exactly the right spot for Pansy to have an unimpeded view of them through her crack. Which means she has a front-row seat to watch as Potter leans downs and Hermione leans up and they share a kiss. It’s quick, chaste, over in a second. Pansy’s a bit disappointed, in a way—she feels like something as momentous as what this means deserves a bit of tongue or passion or something—but in another way this is worse by far. It’s so normal, practiced, routine. And then the second is over and Hermione watches Potter as he walks down the hallway, dripping mud and rainwater onto the floorboards.
“So the rumours are true then?” Pansy says once Potter’s gone, sliding out of the cupboard.
Hermione jumps. “What were you doing in there?!”
“You’re two-timing Weasley with Potter?” Says Pansy, ignoring the question.
“It’s not like that,” says Hermione uncomfortably. “You don’t understand.”
“I think I do understand. How is it not like that?” Says Pansy. “Look, it’s not as if I’m going to tell anybody. We’re friends, and everyone suspects it already. You must know that. ”
Hermione mumbles something indistinct.
“What?” Says Pansy.
“It’s not really—it’s not really two-timing because—because we’re all—no-one’s cheating, not what we’re doing—it’s not like—“
And it all clicks for Pansy.
“You? And Weasley? And Potter? All at once?” Pansy says, and she’ll insist until the day she dies that it is not a shriek.
“Well it was just—you know, after everything we’d been through—It was the only thing that felt right—I know it’s a little unconventional—”
“Don’t be so silly, I think it’s highly pragmatic of you.”
Hermione breaks into a relieved smile. “You really can’t tell anyone though,” she says anxiously. “Pansy, I’m serious. Ron and I would both lose our jobs if this got out, you know how old-fashioned the Ministry is. Harry’s got nothing to lose if it does, thank god. One less thing for me to worry about. Still, it’s not as if he needs any additional publicity. Just—please be discreet.”
“I think you’ve forgotten where I work,” says Pansy. “You’ve no idea how good I am at keeping secrets.”
It’s cold out, maybe below freezing. Pansy can see her breath in front of herself. She remembers how when they were children she and Millicent Bulstrode used to puff out the freezing air and pretend to be dragons. Despite the hour it’s not dark. Christmas is finally around the corner, and bright lights deck the streets, strings of illuminated stars and candy canes dripping from street lamps and bright displays twinkling from shop windows and creating pools of light on the pavement. She could have apparated closer to the opera house, but she likes this time of year, and she cast a warming charm on her cloak before she left home.
It’s much warmer inside the opera house, maybe the result of a mix of Muggle heating and excited people milling about. She takes her cloak off.
“Good to see young people dressing up for the opera,” says a wizened old lady approvingly, nodding at Pansy’s dress. “You see them here in all sorts these days. Jeans, even. It’s just unacceptable. But you look lovely, dear.”
“Thanks,” says Pansy, disconcerted. The old lady disappears. She had a glass of wine to soothe her nerves before coming out and she can feel it now, warm and electric in her veins, bubbly and nervous. There are so many people in here, where is Lydia? Has she not turned up yet? She should have been here five minutes ago. Maybe she’s missed her in the crowd?
“Hello,” says Lydia from behind her. She spins around.
She looks nice. She is wearing jeans, as it happens, but they’re black and well-fitted and probably her best pair. Her top’s pretty, long-sleeved and floaty and peach-coloured. She might even be wearing makeup, which would be a first in all the time she’s known her. Her hair’s actually sticking in a bun, Pansy doesn’t care if that nosy old woman wouldn’t approve—she, Pansy, does approve. Very much.
“You look lovely,” Pansy says.
“I hope what I’m wearing’s okay,” Lydia says anxiously. “I didn’t exactly know what to wear but one of my bio friend’s friend is a music student and she said—anyway, that doesn’t matter. You look amazing.” She’s nervous, Pansy realises, and that somehow makes her feel better, the fact that they’re in the same boat.
“I’ve never been to the opera before.”
“I haven’t either,” Pansy says. She takes her hand. It must be the wine, making her so bold. “Let’s learn together, shall we?”
So they show their tickets and take their seats and the show starts. She’s not following it, not really, even though there’s a big screen giving an English translation of the Italian. Something about a lady called Violetta who spends far too long warbling in the high registers and needs to sort out her priorities. What she is paying a lot of attention to where her left hand is brushing Lydia’s arm, and the fact that Lydia is riveted, her face perfectly concentrating on whatever the old man now on stage is going on about. He’s supposed to be someone’s father, she thinks. She can’t remember, too distracted by a stubborn golden curl silhouetted against the light.
Lydia tries to explain her the intricacies of the first two acts during the second break but Pansy honestly isn’t taking much of it in. She’s focusing on Lydia’s hands, her neck, her mouth, and there’s a glass of champagne involved somewhere which complicates matters even more.
And all too soon Freddo (or whatever his name is) and Violetta have their resolution and the lady dies and the opera ends they’re all bowing and everyone’s clapping, even though Pansy still doesn’t understand exactly what the bit with the gambling was all about. Then it’s over and they’re all spilling out onto the street, back out into the cold.
“Well, that was fun,” says Lydia. They’re on the steps outside the opera house, which is almost empty. She seems to be anticipating something, but Pansy doesn’t know what.
“It was,” says Pansy.
“I, um, I have something for you, actually,” says Lydia.
“Do you?” says Pansy, curious.
“Yeah. Shit, where’s it gone. Hold this,” she says, hunting through her bag, handing Pansy a purse and a waterbottle.
“What is it?”
“You’ll just have to wait and—aha!” says Lydia, pulling out a plastic box proclaiming to contain earphones. “Wait,” she says, opening it and pulling something out loosely wrapped in kitchen towel. She unwraps it carefully, cupping it in the palm of her hand.
It’s a flower. A pansy to be more precise, velvety and delicate, dark purple in the centre fading out into royal blue tendrils at the edges, slightly squashed despite Lydia’s clearly painstaking efforts. It’s sitting in what looks like a test tube of water with a cap on it, which has got a little hole in the middle for the stem to fit through.
“For you.” she says, presenting it with a flourish. “I nicked it from the greenhouse, you can’t get them anywhere else this time of year. I know pansies aren’t quite traditional, but I couldn’t pass it up because well, they come from the same family as violets, and I’m a sucker for symbolism.”
“It’s beautiful,” says Pansy, because it is.
Lydia kisses her.
It feels like being at Hogwarts after exams have finished for the year, long days outdoors in the grounds—lying in the grass and reading magazines or talking to Draco and whoever else about nothing much, dipping her feet in the cool water of the lake, her breath sweet with pumpkin juice and impending summer. She remembers the brief, perfect half-hour following afternoon and before sunset, when the sun dipped just low enough in the western sky to fall through the branches of the trees of the outer edge of the forest, and how the entire world seemed to turn golden like a glimmering star.
She kisses her back, alcohol on her lips, her palms cradled around her flower so it doesn’t get hurt. She kisses her then kisses her again, slightly unbalanced by having to stand on her tiptoes, but Lydia brings an arm around her waist to steady her before she topples over.
“Do you want to come back with me?” Lydia asks, breathlessly. Her hand is very warm on Pansy’s exposed neck.
“I—“ Yes, Pansy thinks. No, Pansy thinks. I don’t know.
Lydia sees her hesitating. “Maybe next time.”
“Maybe you can come to mine soon.”
“But not right now?”
“No,” says Pansy with a shake of her head, thinking of how she left the laundry cleaning itself before she left.
“Okay,” says Lydia, kissing her once more, softly.
“I’ll talk to you soon,” Pansy says.
“Goodnight,” she says, turning to go.
“Goodnight Lydia,” says Pansy, watching her walk away down the road before herself going down the little alley next to the opera and disapparating with a quiet ‘pop’.
She will talk to her soon, and in the future, she’s just decided, she’ll talk to her about magic and wands and Hogwarts and the war and thestrals and a thousand other things besides, and maybe Lydia will still want to kiss her. But tonight is not the night for melancholy rumination. Tonight is a good night.
When she gets home she digs around at the back of her wardrobe for her old Hogwarts textbooks, finally glad that Bathilda Bagshot was such a prolific writer. She sets the pansy between two sheets of parchment on top of Numerology and Grammatica, and lets Adalbert Waffling and Miranda Goshawk press the flower into a memory.