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"Do not speak to anyone unless they speak to you-not to children, not to adults. Do not draw attention to yourself. Do not ask questions unless you have to. If you do anything that gets you in trouble, do not involve me." Granger was pacing up and down in the living room of the house they shared. "Is that clear?"
"It's all so confusing," Pansy almost said. She stopped herself, afraid that Granger would just repeat everything, but slower. That was what Pansy would have done. Instead, Pansy just nodded.
"All right," Granger said. "Let's go." She picked up her bag and Pansy picked up hers and they went out.
It was a clear spring day, but Pansy and Granger were dressed in sober colors, Pansy in green and Granger in black. This was apparently a blending thing where they were going to , Granger had clearly made an effort with her appearance. Her hair was back in a bun and her clothes were immaculate. She looked serene. It made Pansy nervous. She made no attempt at conversation as they travelled, and Granger didn't either.
They took a train and Pansy managed to pay her fare without Granger's help. Their place of employment was in a semi-rural area. Pansy wasn't good at judging Muggle houses, but the ones in the area of the school were larger and cleaner than the ones she had seen in the town where they were staying. They got off the train at a station that was nothing more than a platform and a ticket machine and walked for a few minutes along a meandering road.
Most of the time they were marching, it was along wrought iron fencing with imposing yellow stone buildings behind them. When they came to a gate in the fence, Granger led Pansy through them and up a gravel drive. This, then, was St. Cecilia's College for Girls.
It was bigger than Pansy had expected, a set of five rectangular buildings arranged symmetrically. All had the same yellow stone with white accents and the same tall windows. To the right of the buildings, in the direction opposite the train station, were two areas of bright, lush green. Pansy supposed they were connected with sporting events. No people were to be seen anywhere.
The doors of the central building were locked. Granger stood back and looked expectantly at Pansy, who had half a mind to try a wandless Alohamora, even if it did end up magically exhausting her. Instead she examined the door for clues. There was a small button. Pansy pressed it. Silence for a minute, and then a high buzz in the air. Tentatively, Pansy grasped the door handle and pulled. It opened. She couldn't help her small sigh of relief.
Passing through a foyer and a hallway, they came to a kind of office, filled with devices Pansy recognised from Granger's teaching. Behind a desk sat a small redheaded woman in an acid green top and bright pink lipstick. So much for wearing black to match the other staff. The woman showed her teeth in a smile as they entered. "Family visit?"
Granger returned the woman's smile. "Actually, we're Hermione Granger and Pansy Parkinson. We're here to work in the library."
"Oh! Yes! I hope you found the school all right? Nice weather for your first day, hm?" The woman gave them directions to the library with a series of jerky, stop-motion hand movements. Granger was civil throughout, though it was beyond Pansy to see how. The whole process and its flourishes took much longer than necessary, given that the instructions seemed to boil down to, "Go to the second floor and take a left."
The woman (Miss Dimmson, a plaque on her desk said) eyed them with obvious interest and seemed inclined to be chatty even after she'd given directions. "Do you have any experience working in libraries? I mean no offense of course, but you don't look quite the type."
She seemed to be directing this at Pansy, who was well aware that her green velvet wasn't what Granger had meant when she had given dress code advice, and who snorted. "No," she said, "No, I've never worked in a library before."
"But we're quick learners," Granger said with an edge to her voice. "Thank you for the directions."
The halls were shiny and new and the tile echoed with their footsteps. It was still oddly silent. Pansy tried to look through the windows of some of the doors they passed, but only caught a glimpse of a young black woman standing and talking in one and an old man in another. She gave up after a while and just looked around her at the building. It was big, but not like Hogwarts. It felt much more sterile, almost like St. Mungo's, and it smelled faintly of rubber for some reason. The non-magical lighting was cold and unpleasant. Pansy couldn't say she liked the overall effect.
Granger hadn't told her much about the school, though Pansy understood the difference between public and state schools and knew that this one was public. "Posh," Granger had called it. Pansy found it funny to imagine the status distinctions among Muggles. It made her think of a story her mother had liked to tell, about a community of rats who fought over the kingship.
"You have to behave," Granger said in a low voice as they drew level with the doors marked LIBRARY. "I can't necessarily stop you from getting fired if you don't, and you can't possibly pass if that happens." Pansy looked at her, surprised by the concern in Granger's voice, and then Granger pushed the door open.
Sam Mitchell, evidently the librarian, was a tall man in his mid-thirties. His hair was well styled and his eyes were clear and steady. His accent sounded like Draco's. Granger shook his hand firmly and he smiled warmly at her.
Pansy's awareness of the situation felt razor-sharp until he started giving her instructions, at which point her mind went blank and she stared at him gormlessly. Something about the combination of Granger's confidence in this environment and the librarian's indifference to who Pansy was made those first few minutes more overwhelming than anything else had been.
In the end, the librarian actually took Pansy by the elbow, led her over to a cart of books, and pointed at things as he directed her to them. After what felt like an eternity for her and must have felt even longer for him, all while Granger watched in silence, Pansy understood that she was supposed to be reshelving books. That wasn't so bad.
It was bad. The books were not in alphabetical order, but organised some other way altogether. Pansy stared uncomprehendingly at the book in her hand while Sam was showing Granger to her workspace in a corner, which had a computer and boxes and boxes of what looked like paper. When he was done, he went back behind the main desk of the library without noticing that Pansy was still lost. She wasn't sure if she was glad of that or not. She didn't want him to think she was totally useless, which he was in a fair way to thinking, she was sure. The idea of a Muggle thinking that was not a pleasant one.
Granger didn't seem to have any problem. She set her bag down beside her chair, brushed a curl out of her face, and started fiddling with the computer. Pansy watched her. She had never seen a computer in use before. There was the mouse, and there was the keyboard. The screen glowed faintly. Electricity again.
Granger pulled a piece of paper out of one of the boxes and started typing. She seemed totally at ease with the technology she was using. Her hands moved quickly and surely over the materials, and her face was calm. Meanwhile Pansy was holding a book, just a book, and she couldn't figure where among the other totally normal books it went. For the first time, she wondered what it would be like to know the Muggle world and the magical one as well. She almost envied Granger that.
As she laid the piece of paper aside, Granger glanced over at Pansy, who jerked her eyes away awkwardly. When she looked back, Granger nodded her head at one of the shelves. Pansy looked at it and saw a set of numbers and letters written on it. It took her a minute to work it out, but the organisational system was clear enough when you looked at the codes for a bit. Pansy refused to look back at Granger to acknowledge her help.
For the most part, the rest of the day was monotonous. Pansy reshelved, which got dull after the first five minutes. Granger typed. Pansy couldn't tell whether that was interesting or not. The only thing that drew Pansy's attention was the entry of students. They came in periodically alone, or in groups of twos or threes. All day they trickled in and out. It was rare that there were none of them in the library.
All of them wore the same uniform of starched white shirt and navy skirt, but beyond that there was little similarity between most of them. Pansy had, quite honestly, been expecting whole troops of girls with the shabby look she associated with Weasleys and Longbottoms, but many of these girls were made up. Some had taken care that their uniforms were clean and neat and some didn't seem to notice the mud on their socks or the red sauce on their collars. One had a poorly hidden tattoo behind her ear. One young girl was wearing a ring of dark eyeliner all the way around her eyes. Her mouth was set in a grim line. She got the book she wanted and got out, while other girls lingered to chat and giggle. Those who stayed to converse got an indulgent look from Sam Mitchell, with a mild reprimand for some of the louder ones. To Pansy's amusement, Granger pursed her lips and shook her head irritably whenever there was a particularly loud group of students.
Even with the new books being added to her pile as girls returned books, Pansy finished all her pile for reshelving by mid-afternoon. Sam immediately set her to sticking address labels on mail from a list. It was almost all couples. Pansy presumed they were the parents of pupils. The work took a bit more attention than the reshelving, and Pansy didn't notice when students stopped coming in. Sam's voice announcing that it was four o'clock startled her.
He came over to take the mail that she'd written and stopped. "Are they all like this?" He held one of the letters up and Pansy looked at it in puzzlement.
"Christ. Listen, Pansy, the addresses go here, all right?" He pointed to the center of the envelopes. "These will all have to be redone tomorrow."
Pansy's cheeks went hot. "If you wanted them done a certain way, maybe you should have said."
Sam stared at her. "Are you joking?"
"Ah-" Granger interrupted. Her eyes were wide. "I'm so sorry about that. Pansy's parents were a bit unusual. She doesn't have much experience with the post."
"I see." Sam stared at Pansy, his eyes narrowed. "It'll still have to be done over. And the next time, if you don't know how to do something, please ask me first before you muck it up. There's not much use to me in having a library assistant if she doesn't assist."
Pansy opened her mouth to retort, but out of the corner of her eye she saw that Granger was giving her a significant glare. "I'm sorry," she said. "It won't happen again."
Sam turned away without another word. Pansy had a mental image of him cowering before her wand. How dare he?
Granger's hand on Pansy's wrist snapped her out of it. Pansy felt herself almost dragged off the grounds. When they were outside the grounds, she said, "Don't start, Granger."
"I cannot believe you. I say, 'don't get yourself fired,' and what is the first thing you do? Try to get yourself fired. I knew you weren't bright, Pansy, but I had no idea you were this bloody stupid."
"Sod off, Granger." Pansy shook her arm free of Granger's grip and stalked off toward the train station. They stood in silence on the train platform and sat in different seats on the train. Pansy thought she concealed rather well the fact that she had to watch Granger to see when they were getting off.
When they were back at the house, Granger said, "Nine points."
Pansy stood in the door of her room and turned on Granger in righteous indignation. "You dare call me stupid when we're in my world, Granger, but you have no idea what I'm capable of in mine. You dare judge me by their standards? You dare tell me because I don't know their fucking postal system that I'm less then they are?" She didn't wait for a response, but as she slammed the door she heard Granger laugh. "Sod off, Granger," she mumbled to herself.
It was much later that night, as Pansy lay awake with her stomach grumbling because she hadn't been willing to come out for dinner, that Pansy understood why Granger had laughed. She lay staring up at the ceiling in the dark and willed the knowledge away, but it wouldn't go.