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Title: This Woman's Work
Pairing: Justin Finch-Fletchley/Pansy Parkinson
Rating: PG
Word Count: 1000
Summary: "Pansy knows she's fallen far, and after the day she's had, it shows."
Author's Notes: Title from Maxwell. First in a series of thirteen prompts from [livejournal.com profile] rarepair_shorts, and part of an ongoing effort to get my headcanon for these two down on paper once and for all. Really, anything that gets me writing is a good thing, right? :)

Mondays are one of the busiest days to be working at the Leaky Cauldron, and Pansy always has her work cut out for her. There are tables to attend to, drinks to make, and all the while she has to keep her tongue in check whenever one of the patrons makes some snide allusion as to where her "loyalties lie."

Lately, these comments are less tear-inducing and more grating on her nerves. If she could, she'd not only quit, but hex the eyebrows off of every customer who questioned her motives right before she went. But she needs this job, no matter what she tells Draco or her mother or herself, so when Hannah asks her to do something -- "Justin's just over in the corner, Pansy, could you take him his dinner?" -- Pansy does as she's asked and picks up the plate from the window to the kitchen. No use in delaying the inevitable -- she's learned that the hard way.

When she first sees him, she thinks of the interview he and Penelope Clearwater gave in The Daily Prophet not long after the prisoners from Azkaban had been released; she thinks of the photographs that accompanied the lengthy article of a pair of near-skeletons, their eyes unnaturally large in their sockets, their skin stretched tight across their bones. She remembers passing him in the halls of Hogwarts and the way he looks now makes her heart stop. Four months after Azkaban, even after the treatments he undoubtedly went through at St. Mungo's, Justin Finch-Fletchley is still unbelievably thin. He is only eighteen, but there is already grey streaking through his curly hair and lines on his face that would be commonplace on a man ten years older.

She coughs when she stops at his table, trying to get his attention, and he doesn't look up as he begins shuffling some of his textbooks off to the side. Pansy sets down the plate, watching as he tries to neaten up his booth so that he can eat without getting crumbs all over his paperwork. The tabletop is an absolute mess: a number of papers are scattered everywhere and a half dozen books are open both on the table and the empty seat next to him. There are notes and annotations scrawled into the margins of everything and it makes Pansy think of the dreadful week she spent in fifth year preparing for her OWLs.

When his eyes finally flick up to meet hers, he seems surprised. Pansy knows she's fallen far, and after the day she's had, she knows it shows. Her hair is falling out of the bun she'd pulled it into that morning and she is suddenly hyperaware of how dirty she is: the burn marks on her apron, the coffee stain on her blouse. She can already feel the residue of the day settling into her skin.

"Homework?" she asks, trying to be polite, and he shrugs.

"No, my, um...my placement exams are tomorrow," Justin confesses, gesturing toward the clutter around him like it explains everything. "I needed to go someplace where I could think without getting distracted."

"And a noisy pub makes for a perfect studying environment."

If he's offended by her cheek, Justin doesn't let it show. "It's better than my place, at any rate. Ernie's just discovered the magic of surround-sound stereo and won't stop blasting his music. I really, really regret getting him that Queen CD for his birthday, because I honestly think if I have to hear 'Don't Stop Me Now' one more time I'm probably going to lose my mind."

It's like gibberish, almost, or as if he switched from English to Hungarian mid-sentence. Pansy has no idea what a "Queen CD" is or who "Surround-Sound Stereo" might be, but she nods her head as if she does and hopes that Justin won't say anything further. He doesn't, and goes on to curse the complexity of one of the sample cases he's studying from.

"How can you think that's hard?" she asks incredulously. "It's a simple matter of property ownership -- van Nortwick spells it out very clearly, look, I'll show you..."

As she leans over to point out the proper paragraph in his textbook, Justin gives her a disbelieving look and asks, "How do you know that?"

She blushes, suddenly uncomfortable with the attention he is paying her. "My aunt, she was an Advocate. She, um. She got certified when I was little, and I spent the whole summer reviewing with her. I guess some of it got stuck in my head, you know?"

"Oh," he says, accompanied by a little shake of his head. He picks up his sandwich from the plate. "Thanks, Pansy."

"Anything else I can get for you?"

"No thanks," Justin takes a bite and swallows. "But would you be up for sticking around for a bit? Maybe help me study?"

The invitation is obviously not planned, and even he looks shocked by it; there's a moment where worry flickers in his eyes, fear that she might actually say yes. Pansy can't blame him: there's a split-second where she actually considers taking the empty seat across from Justin and spending the rest of her evening with him, but then her father's disapproving frown swims behind her eyes and she remembers where she is, who she is. The noise beyond the booth grows louder.

"Sorry, I can't. Hannah needs me on the floor."

Pansy rushes away before he can say anything else, anxiously brushing her hands on her apron as she ducks back behind the bar. Another customer asks her to pour him another drink and as she refills his mug of mead, she glances back toward the corner where Justin is sitting. His head is once again bent over his books and he is not looking anywhere near her direction.

He doesn't matter, she thinks, He's a Muggleborn, he doesn't matter.

A hollow feeling fills her chest. The realization doesn't hurt, but it doesn't feel good, either.

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