Pansy allowed herself a small grimace. Her mother had forced her on several dates recently, each seemingly worse than the last. And now, she was insisting Pansy go on an outing with the Lestrange Heir. Pansy understood why: however unpleasant the Lestrange Heir was, the Lestrange name was still impressive.
The note from Lestrange, when it came, was short.
Are you available for lunch tomorrow at one o’clock at La Serene?
Short note, lunch instead of dinner, and lunch after the lunch crowd at noon. Clearly he had as little interest in this outing as she did. On one hand, it was a relief that he wasn’t harboring some tendre for her after meeting her at the Gala; on the other, the suggested time and place was hardly useful for her mother’s scheming. At least the food at La Serene might make up for the company.
She sent an owl back, just as short.
It would be my pleasure to have lunch with you tomorrow at one o’clock.
She was too exhausted from managing Draco to try maneuvering Lestrange into a more advantageous time. Her mother would have to settle.
The hostess led her to the back of the restaurant where Lestrange sat in what looked like the booth farthest from the windows. Who was he hiding from?
“Miss Parkinson,” Lestrange said brusquely. He looked bored.
“Mr. Lestrange,” she simpered, “please call me Pansy.”
He looked disgusted and gritted out, “Caelum.”
“Caelum, it’s wonderful to see you again.”
“Again?” For a moment he seemed surprised, then his eyes narrowed. “Oh, you mean at the Gala? I forgot you were friends with that Rigel character,” he hissed.
The rest of the lunch was just as painful. Why had he invited her at all? He clearly didn’t even want to try.
She was relieved when the bill finally arrived, and Lestrange carefully counted out the Galleons to pay it. His expression momentarily lightened as he put the remaining coins back into his robes. Curious. Had the Lestranges fallen on hard times? She hadn’t heard anything about it.
She was surprised when he decided to walk her to the Floo at the Leaky Cauldron. Even though they walked in silence and he made no effort to match her pace, it was still more effort than he’d expended during their entire lunch.
Then he turned into Tate’s apothecary instead. Ah. That made more sense than him suddenly developing manners. He walked in with nary a glance at her, letting the door swing closed, the bell jingling. Should she follow? He clearly had no intention of continuing their date, but now Pansy was curious.
Squaring her shoulders, she walked in purposefully. The man at the counter looked up as the bell jingled but made no attempt to greet her. Good. Easier for her to go unnoticed by Lestrange.
Her nose wrinkled. Merlin, that smell. It suddenly reminded her of the last time she’d been in an apothecary. It felt bittersweet to remember going to the Hogsmeade apothecary, Rigel so focused on the ingredients that he would’ve completely missed Sousa’s blatant coughing if Pansy hadn’t been there.
She impatiently shook off the memory. That wasn’t why she was here. She was here to investigate Lestrange’s strange behavior. She peered around the dimly-lit shop. Where was Lestrange?
Then she heard his voice. “Long time no see, Halfblood,” he sneered, sounding more alive than he had during their entire date.
“Lestrange,” a girl - presumably halfblooded - answered, sounding annoyed. Then, in a more friendly tone, “Caelum.”
Pansy walked down an aisle, following the sound of their conversation. Who was he talking to? What halfbloods could Lestrange possibly know?
As she turned the corner, she saw them facing each other. Lestrange had a strange look on his face, almost as though he was pleading for something. The girl was staring back at him, looking torn. Her eyes were a brilliant green, even behind her glasses.
Green… What had she said once? Eyes as green as a serpent’s finely polished scales? This must be Harriet Potter, appearance now changed as Aldon had said. Although Miss Potter had not been ugly before, she was absolutely captivating now. It was as though she had shed a mask she had tired of wearing.
During all this musing, the pair had still not noticed Pansy. “I was on the cover of the newest edition of Potions Quarterly... Did you read it?” Lestrange asked. His voice cracked embarrassingly in the middle, as if he’d tried to boast but had deflated halfway through.
Pansy could see Harriet’s jaw clench, then slowly unclench. “Yes,” she said. “Your thesis piece.”
Lestrange stepped towards Harriet, “What did you think?”
“Lots of good ideas… some of them even yours.” It looked like it cost a lot for Harriet to say so.
Lestrange didn’t seem to notice the concession, his face suddenly twisting. “I didn’t steal anything,” he snarled. “I suppose you’re angry with me now that I’ve mastered your technique - and bettered it. So much for all your talk of Menesthes and Zosimos,” he spat out.
Harriet recoiled. In that moment, Pansy felt herself acting on instinct. “Oh, Harriet, there you are!” she called out, pasting on a smile and striding forward. “I’ve been looking for you.” She turned towards Caelum and raised her eyebrow, “I didn’t know you were friends with Harriet.”
Caelum’s already wrathful face twisted further. He abruptly turned around and walked away. The bell chimed as he left.
“You didn’t have to do that,” Harriet said.
“I know,” she said lightly. “But, what else are friends for?”
“Are we friends?” Harriet’s face was blank.
“Well, I consider you a friend. In fact, if we’re going by the number of letters I’ve sent you, I think you may be my best friend.”
“One invitation to a Gala isn’t many letters,” Harriet said, testing.
“Oh, so you never got them. I wasn’t sure if it was you who was sending them back unopened,” Pansy said with poorly feigned indifference.
Harriet’s expression softened. “My dad has been turning away owls. Lots of people have been unhappy with the ruse and Rigel.”
An opening. “You haven’t been able to get anyone’s owls?” Pansy gasped. “How barbarian!”
“No, no, my dad will let some of them through.” Harriet coughed awkwardly. “He probably thought you were angry about Rigel and that’s why you were writing.”
“None of us are angry about Rigel,” Pansy started. Harry looked incredulous. Pansy made a small moue of distaste. “Fine, besides Draco’s temporary stupidity, none of us are angry about Rigel.” Pansy looked down, catching sight of Harriet’s shoes. Ugly brewing boots similar to Rigel’s favored footwear. Why did everything remind her of Rigel these days?
Harriet shifted uncomfortably. “Well, I’m sure he’d be glad to hear that.”
Right. Back to the letters. Pansy looked up again, letting some vulnerability shine through. “Obviously, you and Rigel are separate people, but you remind me so much of him and he clearly admired and loved you. I thought it would help both of us to find friendship in each other.” She tore her gaze from Harriet’s mesmerizing eyes, biting her lip. “Is that silly?”
“Of course not, Pansy,” Harriet rushed to reassure her. “I’ll tell my father that we’re friends,” she said wryly.
Miss Parkinson -
I talked to my dad. He said your letters should go through now. Just so you know, I’m pretty sure my mail’s still being watched, though. Don’t go around divulging your darkest secrets to me by letter.
Is it strange that I still think of you as Harriet? Rigel always called you Harry, so I don’t know why Harriet sticks in my head. In any case, please call me Pansy. You did the other day.
If I can’t divulge my darkest secrets to you, what good are you as a friend? We simply must meet up again in person instead. I’ve heard from Aldon that you know the best restaurants.