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Chapter 14: Oh, Bludger!
14. OH, BLUDGER!
Albus had become somewhat of a connoisseur of awkward moments.
Anjali stood in front of the northernmost window of the common room, hands clasped behind her back. In early autumn, when the lake’s waters were low and the light danced across the panes, the glass could almost be mistaken for an emerald. Like a pearl crown, the bordering archway stood a magnificent twenty feet tall, a fitting frame for Salazar’s opulent flair.
But it was a paltry replacement for the sun.
A chill lived in the Slytherin dungeons. It seeped in from the walls and into her robes. The bracelet that hung from her wrist, a present from Scorpius, never seemed to shed its steel touch no matter how long she wore it. Cold rooms did not make cold people, but it certainly did not help that she slept in the cold, breathed it in. Her seven young years here were too precious to spend underneath a swamp but, like too many things in life, there wasn't much of a choice.
She felt a tug on her sleeve. A girl had approached asking for directions to Professor Ferther's classroom. Anjali smiled and asked for her name—Cecilia, first year—as she drew a map in the air with her wand. The girl took note and thanked her shyly, before promptly rushing out of the common room.
Cecilia, like so many others, would only know her as a prefect, future Head Girl, top of the class—not an accomplice to late-night events. They would never believe it, regardless, not when it clashed so greatly with their first and strongest impression of her.
Movement caught her eye. Scorpius had stepped into the spot beside her. His head was tilted back, staring up at a swimming grindylow.
Her finger slipped through the loop of her bracelet, tracing the chain. She had found it on her pillow last night. "You didn't have to."
"I thought it suited you. You still like emeralds?"
"I do. Thank you."
After a moment, he said, "He's snooping you out."
There was no question who 'he' was. Fred Weasley had been quite the amusing plaything—a Kneazle with his nose caught in a mousetrap. She had lost interest in him, which only seemed to pique his.
"He doesn't concern me," she said.
"You're just going to let him? He knows your family's going under."
"Everyone will know soon enough." Three professors had taken her aside, asking her if she was all right. The girls in her year had found out earlier in the week and were planning a special surprise for her that evening. Twenty aunts from India had sent their condolences. The pity parade had long begun, and it was beginning to look like a funeral.
Her lips smoothed into a toneless line. This was just small talk. "What are you here for?"
"At the Ravenclaw-Gryffindor game, I'll be, uh, occupied." A quick smile flashed across his face and he scratched the bridge of his nose. "Hooch's closet has something we want."
"Bea needs it for her invention."
Anjali scoffed. So that was where he had been the past few days.
"Still not a fan, I see," he said with a touch of humor.
Without hesitation, she replied, "You choose to believe in her over me."
Another long silence followed. Scorpius was an idealist at heart, the fatal flaw that he never outgrew. It was only a matter of time before it manifest itself into something tangible, but even she never expected it to be in a venture as doomed as Bea's Muggle-Magic converter. It went against the fundamental constant of Wizarding culture: tradition.
"Are you expecting me to help you?" she asked, glancing over his expression. He was surprisingly inscrutable.
"No, just the opposite."
"Good. I am a prefect. I wouldn't approve of trouble."
"So it's come to this, eh?" he chuckled lightly. "Do I even get a head start?"
Her smirk curved upwards. "Half an hour after the first whistle."
"And then you'll tattle?"
"Please," she snorted. "I'll handle you myself."
A grin crept up his face, and Anjali had to admit that she had missed it. "Looking forward to it, darling."
Few understood the nature of their push and pull. As much as she fought the tether between them, she could not imagine that one day their paths would diverge and she would not find him following behind her.
Scorpius brushed her hair away with his thumb and gave her a parting kiss on her cheek, leaving her skin tingling like a bright burst of sun. She turned from the window after his steps faded away.
The morning mist had yet to lift, hanging thick and heavy over the Hogwarts grounds like swaths of webbing. Albus wobbled as he unstuck one foot from the rain-soaked earth. Hagrid would always call him to help after the worst weather. "Tha' be when the critters come outta their holes," he'd say, omitting the part about how they would also be at their most irritated and dangerous, but Albus didn't like to be reminded about the incident with the Doxies and the spoons.
He and Bea were only hunting for toads that day. Just the regular flavor, no poisonous or exploding or princely ones. Hagrid needed them for class, but his shipment never arrived. Somewhere in Bulgaria, there was a very confused Muggle with a ribbiting crate on his doorstep.
Two black beady eyes poked out of a nearby puddle. Albus positioned himself to strike. Dangerous or not, toads were tricky, but he had picked up a few tricks of his own as the only person who ever paid attention in Care for Magical Creatures.
"Albus!" Bea called, just as he was about to launch himself forward. The momentum had already taken hold, and he belly flopped into the mud. There was another splotch sound, followed by a sudden weight on his head and a ribbit.
It was going to be another one of those days.
Bea ran up to him, splashing through the puddles. She scooped the toad off his head and plopped it into his bucket as he stood back up.
"You've got a little, um—" She gestured at her face with a finger, then with her whole hand. "—a lot of mud."
Looking down, Albus saw little difference between him and those boxes of chocolate Merlins.
"But Rose says it's good for complexion, so don't worry!" she continued cheerfully, flicking a lump of grass off his nose. She wiped her finger on her sleeve and handed him his bucket. "Anyhow, I just wanted to catch you up on the invention. Lots of, um, exciting things have happened."
"Really? I want to see. But Peets scheduled another practice today." Not like he was going to get on a broom anyway, he thought with a sigh. Reserve for reserves. They let the towel boy play more than him.
"Oh, that's too bad—but you know how I need to find a runespoor egg? Turns out they're illegal." She sucked in a deep breath but still had a large grin, and Albus wasn't sure if this was a point of dismay. "But you can find them in old Bludgers! Imagine that, right?"
"They're pretty hard to find on the market actually, so Scorpius has this plan to st—borrow one from the Quidditch closets. It's not like anyone misses those old things. We'll be cleaning it up for Hooch." Bea took another deep breath, kicking at the grass anxiously. "But uh, well, we're going to have to sneak down there without being seen..."
"You want to use my cloak," Albus said, stopping her short.
She pleaded with her hands clasp together. "Please? You know I wouldn't ask if I weren't desperate."
Of course he'd say yes. James used to joke that a Kneazle kitten would die every time someone stood in the way of fun, and a tiny part of Albus still believed it.
But sometimes he wished that she didn't already know he'd say yes. That was why he interrupted her before they wasted the next five minutes beating around the bush, going through cycles of 'it's not a big deal' and 'I'll let you think it over' and puppy eyes and ten thousand lip quivers. If only he could tuck the cloak away in a little corner and pretend Dad never gave it to him, even if it was the one thing that made him feel more special than James.
Bea must have seen his reluctance as she was wringing her fingers. "You can say no."
"Are you going to do the lip thing if I do?"
On cue, her lower lip shook. She covered it up with a hand, but even behind it, Albus could see her pout. "It's involuntary."
He laughed and her nose wrinkled. With a slight sigh, he said, "Well, I guess you could borrow—"
Bea threw her arms around his middle and squeezed him tight, not minding the mud in the slightest. "Thank you."
She soon left to study for Transfiguration, and Albus only then recalled how unusually eager she had been to help him at Hagrid's that morning, especially at such an atrocious hour. Never a good deed without an ulterior motive, he thought, shaking his head. Sometimes ol' Ringleward had a point: Young'uns these days.
Albus stuck around until he filled another bucket. He gently declined Hagrid's plate of scones (something was definitely moving in the jam) and rushed off toward the castle, hoping he hadn't missed the Exploding Snap tournament yet. A fellow Hufflepuff was hosting it this year and it had been advertised as 'Better than Azkaban!' and 'Probably exciting!'
As he passed the courtyard, buzzing with post-breakfast activity, he noted that one of the bushes was quite oddly shaped. It almost looked as if Fred were hiding in it.
He did a double-take. Fred was hiding in it. Had Albus not been a frequent observer of Hogwarts shrubbery, he would have completely missed his cousin, who was sitting with his back turned, stiller than a bird.
Fred jolted, spinning around to face him. "Bloody—Al, you scared me."
Fred had a whirring pair of Nosy Noculars in his hand and it was not difficult to discern what was going on, but Albus still had to ask: "What are you doing?"
"Nothing." Fred scanned the area briefly before yanking him into the hollow of the bush. He frowned, looking at Albus up and down. "What'd you been up to? Swimming on land?"
"Sort of. Are you watching Anjali?" She was standing with some friends beside the main path. They were chatting and doing otherwise daily activities that did not require being watched. Even though Albus hadn't heard anything but stories, Fred's latest fixation was nothing short of bloody obvious.
"I—yes," Fred stammered, rubbing his eyes. "You can't tell anyone, it's—"
He glared sternly underneath his fingers. "Easy to misinterpret."
"Because it looks like you're stalking her."
"Yeah. But for good reason. She's out to get me. I'm taking preventive measures." He stuck the lens out of the bush and gestured at it like it was proof.
Albus nodded, mostly because he had no other response. Sometimes it was wise not to speak.
Then he spoke anyway: "Is she really out to get you or is that your excuse to justify the fact that you're stalking—"
"Watching," Fred huffed, lowering the Noculars.
Fred shoved Albus out of the bush, shooing him away. "You ask too many questions. I should've just silenced you."
"James told me to keep you away from mysterious girls," Albus said apologetically. But he did shuffle out of the way. "You get too tangled up trying to figure them out. Or you know, save them."
"Did James tell everyone to keep me away from girls?"
He nodded. "Yeah, a little bit. A couple of us had a seminar at the end of last year. He passed out pamphlets. We called it Fredwatch, but that sort of watching is a lot less creepy. James said, 'You get restless without distractions and channel it into unhealthy pursuits.' His words, not mine."
Fred appeared beyond baffled, his mouth forming half-syllables as he searched for an appropriate response. "I—wha—" He squinted at Albus. "I don't have a problem. I can stop any time."
"James said you'd say that."
"If you say so. But I guess I'll go now."
Albus shook his head sadly and he turned around toward the castle, legs pumping into a jog as the clock struck nine.
Hogwarts didn't truly burst into life until the first Quidditch match of the year. Drunk on competition and spirit, every student and professor was out there cheering for a team, whether their favored House was playing or not.
It was this very spectacle that made it a good day for burglary.
Three snuck out from the revelry. Bea was not pleased at missing Fred's first match of the season, but neither did she trust Scorpius with the cloak alone. Albus insisted he'd follow for the sake of his cloak, but she didn't trust Scorpius with Albus either. Scorpius said it was as easy as breaking in and breaking out. The faster they got it over with, the faster they could return to the stands.
The three sat huddled together like peas in an invisible pod, barely out of plain sight in a corner of the Quidditch complex. They listened for the pre-match announcements. Or rather, Albus listened while the other two bickered.
"I don't care if you understand it or not," Bea hissed sharply. "Just stop calling it psychics."
Somehow, in the cramped space available underneath the cloak, Scorpius found space for his exaggerated hand gestures. "Sure, okay, physics. Are you sure they're not the same thing? They sound equally implausible."
"You did not just call man's most elegant explanation of the world as we know it implausible."
"Would you trust Trelawney?"
Bea buried her face in her hands.
A distant screech of a whistle prompted the the muffled roar above them to grow a little louder. "Oi, guys," said Albus, peeking around the corner.
Neither Bea nor Scorpius were paying attention. "Phy-sics," Bea said. "Is it so hard to understand?"
"Actually, yes, completely so. Explain to me the cat that's dead and not dead again?"
Albus tugged Bea's sleeve. "Bea. Scorpius. Let's go."
"There's a geiger counter and this poison inside a box—"
"Are you even listening to yourself?"
"—and a cat named Scorpius Malfoy—"
Albus slapped a hand over their mouths, and both still attempted to talk past that until he mushed their lips closed. They glared at him.
"The match started a minute ago," he said.
Bea and Scorpius exchanged a look and reluctantly bottled up their argument, storing it for later.
With Scorpius as lead, they shuffled down the corridor. The sound of the spectators was more than enough to muffle their footsteps. They passed the lockers and the main storage closets and finally reached the second-to-last door: Hooch's office.
Scorpius motioned them to stay back as he squinted inside the locking mechanism. He shook his head. "Spell's not going to work." Reaching inside his pocket, he retrieved a thin box of magical lock picks.
Bea and Albus made themselves comfortable on the floor as Scorpius fiddled with the doorknob. Albus had gone on enough adventures to know that the majority of them were actually quite boring, sans the occasional socremlin surprise. All he could do now was twiddle his thumbs and keep a tight grip on his cloak.
Bea rested her arms on her knees, and on top of that, her head. "So, what's the plan for when I finish this thing? Do I have to meet with your parents?"
Scorpius stopped fiddling with the pick and stared down at her. "Why do you have to meet them?"
She shrugged. "It's their company, isn't it?"
Something passed over his expression, almost like relief, and he resumed twisting the tiny rod of metal. "Ah, that. You should look at our arrangement as a... personal project. In ten years, it'll be me at the head of Malfoy & Co. and I'll have to be ready. There are a lot of qualities to a great leader, but the best are the ones who can see potential before someone else grabs it first."
"That's me, then?" she said brightly.
Scorpius pressed his ear against the door. "Unfortunately."
A soft click could barely be heard over the raucous cheers for Ravenclaw, who seemed to have scored the first goal. Scorpius tapped the door and it squeaked open, and he gave a thumbs-up.
As he put away his tools, Bea hummed. "I can't wait. I mean, I know I bothered you a lot about compensation, but just the thought of seeing my invention out there." She peered a bit closer at him. "Do you really think it can change the world?"
Scorpius snapped the box closed, slipping it in his inside pocket. "What?"
"You know..." She ruffled the back of her hair, unsure of how to explain without embarrassing herself. She imagined so much for such a little device. "Like what you said about Muggleborn families once. It's hard to keep in contact with your non-magical family when your lives become so different. But they don't have to be so different."
"You say that because of your d—?" Scorpius stopped short, but the sliver of a syllable already left his mouth.
"My dad?" She frowned.
He shut his eyes, cursing under his breath. "A letter was on your desk. I didn't mean to read—well, I tried very hard not to read it, but I was, ahem, curious."
Scorpius waited with one hand on the doorknob, clearly bracing for some sort of retaliation, and even Albus was shirking for him.
Bea rolled her eyes. "It's not a big deal—I mean, yes, don't touch my stuff, but I can talk about my dad, if that's what you're worried about." She glanced back at Albus and frowned until he quickly changed his expression. He knew she didn't like it when people reacted so touchily to her family, reiterating every time—it wasn't a big deal.
Scorpius cleared his throat. "So um, he's—"
"He's a Muggle," she said quickly, turning back to him. She answered the standard questions. "A very brilliant one. Engineer. He's working overseas for the government. Going to Australia in a few months, I hear. And yes, he's a bit of an inspiration for my inventions."
Scorpius glanced at Albus, who knew that wincing look very well: the confusion as to how to react to Bea's blithe response. "I guessed at it before. You didn't take his name—"
"Muggle names are unlucky," she said, more quickly than ever. "At least that's what my grandparents say."
A very quiet "Oh," left his mouth.
Albus squeezed his eyes shut, afraid of how this was going to end. He hadn't asked about her dad in ages, and she had never said it out loud as bluntly as that before. Even then, it was masked with a euphemism.
Unlucky was a nicer way of saying tainting the bloodline.
No one was meeting anyone else in the eyes, and even though the door was open, they had not moved from their uncomfortable half-squat for the past thirty seconds. The maddening tension was squeezing Albus too tight, and he'd even take angry screeching arguments over this.
He opened his mouth and blurted, "My dad died."
Bea and Scorpius gaped at him, but before they could utter a word, he continued, "Well, he did. Once." His mind and mouth moved rapidly in an attempt to explain. "It was getting awkward and I just wanted to say something about my dad too, and... I'm just making things more awkward aren't I?" He coughed, plastering on a crooked smile. "So, how 'bout them Gryffindors, eh?"
There was a snorting sound from Scorpius, holding back a laugh, and Bea couldn't help but giggle along. Albus slowly turned redder and redder—why was it that he only came through when he was embarrassing himself?
But they seemed to relax. "Gryffs haven't got brains or subtlety," said Scorpius as he pushed the door open fully and waved them in. "But damn if they don't have the fittiest girls."
Bea walked in first while Albus grinned at him, hoping he wasn't pushing his luck. "Are you implying things about my sister, Malfoy?" he said as mock-threateningly as he could.
They all laughed this time, a little less at him and more with him, and he felt a fluttery spark of camaraderie ignite.
"What if I am, Potterpuff? You gonna duel me?"
Albus puffed out his chest. "I'll write you a strongly worded message."
Scorpius shook his head, still snickering. "Gods, Potter. I'd say don't make me laugh, but too late for that." He shut the door and pulled the cloak off.
Already, Scorpius' certain flair set him apart from Albus' adventure with Fred. The Slytherin strutted into the room, the line of Quidditch gear chests serving as the edge of his runway. Snatching a spyglass from Hooch's desk, he whipped around, his magnified eye glittering mischief.
"Now let's see what we have here."
A/N I am a terrible author who splits her chapters. Sooo. Bamf!Albus actually comes in next chapter, but he gets all of the spotlight this chapter too, what with being the brill tension-breaker (He needs a cape. I think Capers needs more capes). I have also finally answered the mystery of Bea's name; I used to get asked about that all the time.
♥ The reception I've been getting just makes me want to gush and die happy. Thank you for all your reviews! :3 Capers passed its first anniversary recently!
Coming up: Albus proves why he's the best, the truth comes out, and all the feels.
"No, don't listen to her. She's—you can't—" Scorpius panted, but the pull of Anjali's words was too strong for Bea to look away.
"I assure you, there's no chance of your invention will ever reach a single person." The prefect took to her feet again and her slow, deliberate pace around the room seemed to almost mock Bea. She played with her wand like a dagger, poised to stab someone's back. "In fact, his father doesn't even know about it."
"Anjali." Scorpius' voice coated with such desperation that Bea could almost feel his hope warp and sink. "Please don't do this."