Hannah promised her time and half for helping out at the last minute and honestly, Pansy has to admit that the evening hasn’t been so bad; Potter and his Auror pals spare her sharp glances and glares when they think she isn’t looking, but for the most part all the partygoers are leaving her be. It’s like any other night, exhausting and hilarious in equal turns, and by the time the birthday boy puts an official stop to the shots of Vipertooth Vodka most of the Gryffindors and Ravenclaws have gone home. It’s just the Hufflepuffs left at her corner of the bar, Justin surrounded by Hannah and Ernie and Susan Bones, the four of them wrapped up in a friendly conversation that Pansy tries not to eavesdrop on. She generally keeps her distance from Ernie and Susan if she can help it, and at least tonight it wasn’t hard; Ernie kept flexing his biceps for pretty witches he caught waiting for drinks, while Susan – who is still dressed in her Auror finest and in dire need of a Sobritatius charm – flashed the knotty scar winding around her neck at nearly anyone who would pay her the slightest bit of attention.
Justin signals for a refill and Hannah’s ears have passed through five different shades of pink in the minute it takes Pansy to finish wiping down the counter and get the bottle of Draíochta off the shelf. Susan’s bragging about her arrest record again: seven months in the Aurors and you’d think she was Alastor Moody reincarnated from the way she goes on about Incarcerous spells and interrogation techniques. Pansy pours a few fingers of bourbon into the glass and her fingers brush against Justin’s when he reaches out to take it from her, the grin he gives her in thanks making her stomach flip unexpectedly. It’s the conversation she’s walked in on, she’s sure of it: Susan Bones slurring on about Marcus Flint’s petition to enter the Auror Corps, and isn't that just a travesty?
“Why would he even bother?” Susan asks no one in particular. “Remember what a hulking lout he was at school? Always swaggering around like the troll he is? There’s no point in him trying to slither his way into the department, honestly! I mean, even if he did make it in, it’s not like anyone will ever trust him!”
Hannah says something sweet about the nature of old loyalties, giving Pansy an apologetic smile, and Justin nods along. “I agree,” he starts to say, and Susan rolls her eyes.
Susan slides forward on her elbows, trying to look exaggeratedly interested but only succeeding in knocking over her glass of firewhiskey. Ice cubes scatter around Pansy’s feet but she catches the glass before it falls, and Hannah vanishes the amber liquid spilling over the counter with her wand. Ernie and Hannah are doing their best to be polite, ignoring Susan pointedly but not trying to stop her; Hannah starts to help with the cleaning and Ernie actually has the gall to get up and leave, sliding off his barstool in the middle of Susan’s little speech and wandering over to where the last of the Ravenclaw girls are huddled in the corner booth. Only Justin is still watching it all unfold, his gaze a neutral counterpoint to the laser-focus Susan’s fixed on everything Pansy is doing. Pansy flexes her fingers self-consciously before she picks up the bottle of Ogden’s; she’s shaking, just slightly, and doesn’t want to drop it.
Hannah comes around the bar and starts shutting down the till, her elbow grazing Pansy’s as she moves into her space, trying to angle herself so that Pansy is blocked from Susan’s view. Susan sits with her chin propped on her palm and her eyes still on Pansy as Justin leans over to whisper something in her ear; he rests a tentative hand on her shoulder and she swats him off like an irksome fly.
Hannah visibly flinches and Justin closes his eyes, leans back in his chair. Susan is still staring at Pansy, a smirk turning up the corner of her mouth as Pansy’s heartbeat speeds up to a hummingbird pace inside her chest. Pansy has an idea, but she isn’t a good enough Legilimens to know what Susan is thinking; she pours the witch another glass of firewhiskey and thinks of how the last time the two of them were alone together for an extended period of time, Susan was marked by the Carrows for detention and Pansy was the one assigned to Cruciate her. Everyone knows how terrible it is to be tortured; no one ever thinks about what it was like to be on the other side of the wand.
Susan’s eyes narrow, her mouth twists, but Justin closes his hand over Susan’s wrist on top of the bar, staying her wand hand. Susan turns to glare at him and Hannah apologizes in her stead and Pansy just shrugs brusquely as she puts the Ogden’s back on the shelf, rubbing at her temples under the guise of pushing her hair behind her ears. She spells the empty glasses along the bar into the sink and undoes the knot in her apron, tossing it under the till.
Pansy makes it halfway down the hall before she realizes she’s run out of floor to walk on: she’d planned on going outside for a breath of fresh air, a minute to get her head together, but Susan had rattled her up so much she went in the exact wrong direction, ending up staring at the kitchen pantry with nowhere else to turn to. She ducks inside anyway, pulling the chain on the overhead light as she slams the door behind her, kicking at a bag of flour and pressing her clenched fists over her eyes. Everything, everything, is so screwed up for her, now, and Pansy has been clawing and scratching her way up the social ladder since she was nine years old and none of it – none of it! – not a single minute of plotting or scheming or planning every minute detail of her life can help her anymore. All that hard work, all that wasted time, and there’s not a single thing left to show for it except this terrible job, this terrible place, Susan Bones and her bloody thrice-damned mouth.
The door creaks when it opens and Pansy’s head snaps up to see Justin shuffling through the doorway. He looks guilty, looks drunk, and he leans against a barrel of ale just across from her without saying anything. Pansy lowers her hands, staring at the chipping glitter polish flaking off into her palm, the half-moon indents her nails left in the heels of her hands. They don’t talk for a solid five minutes; she’s been listening to his records, but this is the first time they’ve been alone together in weeks.
Pansy crosses her arms over her chest, not in the mood for niceties. “She’s a bitch.”
“So were you.” He smirks at her. “Don’t think I don’t remember.”
“None of this is fair,” he replies, and he’s infuriatingly right: it isn’t. “I didn’t say she wasn’t out of line. She was.”
“You could still try and be nice,” he says, “It’s my birthday,” and Pansy wishes him a happy one. She hasn’t gotten him anything, and she realizes now that she probably should have.
“I’ll tell Hannah you’re done for the night.” Pansy is already at the door when he says this, hand on the knob, and she pauses to look at him. Justin tries for a smile, adding, “I mean, you’ve done enough already. It’ll be your birthday gift to me – putting up with my friends for a night. Imagine what your crowd would say, eh?”
So is Justin.