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And Capers Ensue by justonemorefic

Format: Novel
Chapters: 27
Word Count: 102,382
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong violence, Scenes of a mild sexual nature, Substance abuse, Sensitive topic/issue/theme

Genres: Humor, Action/Adventure, Young Adult
Characters: Cho, Draco, Fred, George, Albus, James (II), Rose, Scorpius, OC, OtherCanon
Pairings: Other Pairing, OC/OC

First Published: 01/20/2011
Last Chapter: 07/12/2013
Last Updated: 12/05/2015

Summary:



"The power of friendship isn't an actual form of energy, Al."

Armed with spunk, sugar and a blatant disregard for the laws of physics (or laws in general), inventor Bea Chang is determined to finish her electricity-to-magic device, even if she has to drag in half of Fred's extended family for her ragtag heists. That smarmy entrepreneurial Malfoy, on the other hand, can shove off.

—2011 Dobby Winner, TGS Story of the Year—


Chapter 1: Begin with a Bang
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HELLO, PROSPECTIVE READER!

This fic is a little bit of everything I love. It's a coming-of-age heist story, chock full of characters and baked goods. I wanted to write a next gen that captured the spirit of Hogwarts as JKR does, as a place that's seen all kinds of hope and darkness. The major players are Beatrice Chang, Scorpius Malfoy, Fred Weasley, Anjali Patil-Davies, and Albus Potter. The PoVs rotate; don't get dizzy.

I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I've enjoyed writing it ♥

Love to Margravine for adoring this since August, GubraithianFire for the spazzing, Inti for the title, Ellerina for the casting, & foundriapenguin for the general fangirling, and everyone else for putting up with the crazy.




ACT I: THE IDEA



1. BEGIN WITH A BANG
Bea didn't have occupational hazards. She was the occupational hazard.


It wasn't supposed to explode.

Bea had measured the lionroot essence twice to make sure she didn't put in too much. Fred measured it a third time, going on and on about how Filch nearly caught them the last time they borrowed an empty classroom for brewing. It said something about wizarding vitality when they had to mind a hundred-who-knows-year-old breathing corpse hobbling at top speed toward suspicious smoke.

It was fine, Bea insisted. Potions with unicorn hair were tricky, but she had worked with them before. The worst it could do was fizzle, maybe cause a few sparks.

After adding in two spoonfuls of lionroot, as directed by the recipe, the potion turned to the target blue color. She then gave her 'I-told-you-so-you-owe-me-a-butterbeer' smirk to Fred, who replied with his 'You-got-lucky-buy-it-yourself' eye roll.

Except they both probably should have been paying attention to the gurgling sound and Fred's eye roll only got to 'You-got-lucky-buy' before a classroom-shattering boom threw them backwards.

It happened in slow-motion, complete with bodies arcing gracefully, hair fanning back, and potion droplets settling like dew on their skin. It would have been very pretty if it weren't equally painful. Bea had plenty of time to consider exactly what went wrong in that interval between being blinded by the black smoke and the cruel slap of the floor underneath her cheek.

...was it lionroot essence or lionroot powder?

The two lay on the floor, coughing up a fit as the dust settled. Fred tugged her up, one hand on her collar, the other pushing up on the edge of the nearest desk. "What the bloody—"

Bea leapt to the cauldron, her sooty finger circling the air. "Powder!" she cried. "Two spoonfuls of powder!"

"Oh, for Fawkes sake."

The saddest bit was that Fred didn't appear the least bit surprised. After two years of their escapades, he knew how often head-shakingly simple mistakes blew up in their face. It was the third time he singed his eyebrows that month.

The woes of innovators.

Bea scooped a spoonful into the vial—Fred winced at her slapdash measuring—and dumped it into their reserve batch. Fred immediately ducked under the table.

"I'm not going to mess up twice," she said, stirring the mixture until it glowed blue like the previous attempt.

"You said the same thing when we were trying to replicate my dad's Portable Swamp."

"That was just that one time." His head turned and she could feel him glaring through the table. Bea scowled. "Fine, one-point-five. Ahem, you're being ridiculous. Come look; it's safe."

"Tell that to my eyebrows."

Bea thrust a sample vial under the table, shaking it for good measure. "There. One completely inert sensory enhancer concentrate. Happy now?"

He swabbed the rim with a finger and dabbed it on the side of his nose. "Ugh." Every musty, molding stink from underneath the table filled his nostrils. "Well, it works."

And so they began mopping up the mess and returning the supplies to the proper cupboards. The explosion seemed to have gone unnoticed by the rest of the castle—Fred's famously strong Silencing Charms had held—but there was no need to stick around longer than necessary. Stealing from the ingredients' cupboard wasn't about to give points to Ravenclaw, especially if Filch knew they were being raided for making the newest Weasley's Wizard Wheezes product: an ointment that would made the user's lips tingle if they touched any food laced with love potion.

After the previous year's drugged chocolates trend, when over a dozen blokes fell victim to lovesick girls (and one house elf), Fred realized the potential market for a preventive measure. Star Keeper Deric Kingsworth didn't let a forkful of food near his mouth for a week after Valentine's Day.

Bea was attempting to levitate all twenty vials back into the cupboard at once, until Fred glared at her and she grudgingly levitated them one at a time. "When are we going to work on my transistor?"

A hint of dismay crinkled his eyes. "Don't tell me you're still on that thing. I'm telling you: it's a lost cause."

"You have a severe lack of faith. Would I work on it for so long if it were going nowhere?"

"Yes."

Bea opened her mouth before shutting it up with a pout. She heaved a sigh. "Fine..."

Fred shook his head. "Can you at least focus on this project until we're done?" He might not have inherited the inventor's mind from his dad, but he kept the progress steady from blueprint to store shelf. If the chaos better known as Beatrice Chang went unpruned, the Ravenclaw common room would be swimming in prototypes, all half-finished.

"It's called multitasking." She shut the cupboard after the last of the supplies floated in. "What about names? 'Beloved Begone Balm'? 'Deception Detector Dab'? 'Save-Me-from-the-Stalkers Salve'?"

"We've alliterated better." From his robe's hidden pocket, Fred drew out the Marauder's Map, bequeathed by James after he finished seventh year, and tapped it with his wand. "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good." Ink spread across the page, outlining the rooms and hallways of the basement.

Bea stuck her head on top of Fred's shoulder. "The kitchens aren't too far a detour. Catch a late dinner? Biscuit run like the old days?" She ended on a hopeful lilt.

"Nah, essay for Herbology due tomorrow."

Her smile drooped. A lazy finger reached up and prodded his cheek. "Freddie, you used to be more fun than this."

He smacked her head with the map. "We don't have James' charisma to help us out this year if we get caught. Come on. I'll give you half my treacle tart when we get back."

With the potion tucked safely in Bea's book bag, the two scampered toward the closest stairwell. They made haste; there was still a prefect patrolling the dungeons.

Fred had one hand on the banister, looking upwards to the ground floor, when a thought struck him. "Did you stop the vial of lionroot essence after you were done with it?"

"Er... maybe?" said Bea. The answer was actually no, now that she remembered, but she wasn't about to go all the way back just to settle Fred's neat-freak twitch. "There weren't enough corks to go around."

He sighed, his feet already walking back. "Essence isn't like powder. It travels through air if you leave it long enough. By morning it'll all leak out and—"

Their eyes met with the same dread.

"Oh no," Bea breathed.

"Tell me you didn't put it in the same cupboard as the unicorn—"

The second boom of the night shuddered through the, castle and they turned around in time to see the classroom door blast off from its hinges.

"Run!"






"Blowing up my classroom... Merlin's beard, never in my days..." Professor Ringleward shuffled back and forth in his slippers, shaking his head at the ground. "I can only imagine how you two are going to explain yourselves..."

Fred dragged a hand down his face. He could only imagine as well. He was never too good at explaining—that was James' forte. Fred preferred simply not getting caught. Prevention before cure.

Bea stood stock-still next to him, goldfish-mouthing ever since the professor caught them skidding past his office. "It... wasn't us?"

Professor Ringleward stopped pacing and squinted at her. It might have been intimidating, but he was still in his pajamas and the fluffy end of a sleeping cap was swinging in front of his nose. His gaze dropped to Bea's bag. She gulped, and her grip tightened over the potion hidden inside.

"It wasn't us," Fred repeated urgently, diverting the professor's attention. He adjusted his collar, trying to remember what James always did to win over everyone he met. "We... saw some second years run out, and we wanted to check what they were up to.”

"And before we knew it"—Bea clutched at the air and broke apart her hands—"brrrrfffooom!"

"What she said."

Professor Ringleward lowered his glasses, each wrinkle on his brow adding another increment of skepticism. "And what were you two doing up after curfew in the first place?"

Fred and Bea glanced at each other.

"Forgot my quill at the library—"

"—got lost coming back from the loo."

They glanced at each other again.

"Then we found my quill in the loo—"

"—ended up at the library."

Fred sucked in a sigh and prayed for James to swoop out of the shadows and save them. James could talk his way into getting praised for blowing up a classroom.

Suddenly, came a voice: "They were snogging."

If that was James, he sounded awfully like a girl.

A tall brunette stepped between Fred and Bea. Her approach was so quiet that neither had noticed her presence until then, but now her fingers rested atop Fred's shoulder.

"They're too embarrassed to admit that I caught them snogging in the hallway earlier," she said.

Bea coughed violently, choking on her eruption of giggles, while Fred let himself die a little inside. Surely people thought he had better taste than that. He glanced up at the girl's face, framed in candlelight. Anjali Patil-Davies, Slytherin Prefect. She was one year below Fred—the same as Bea—and she'd always struck him as one of those girls, the kind who didn't give a rat's arse about anyone but herself. Why was she intervening?

Professor Ringleward had softened. "Miss Davies! Did you see what happened?"

"A couple boys ran out of the room—short, second or third years, I would say. These two were just at the wrong place at the wrong time." There was an air about her. Authoritative. Intimidating. Maybe it was the legs that went on forever or the sharp line of her jaw. It made Fred’s stomach do circus tricks. He didn't like it.

Ringleward shook a finger first at Bea and then to Fred. "Well, then. You two are very lucky Miss Davies can back you up. Let this be a lesson to keep this late-night canoodling out of Hogwarts. The portraits see all! Don't disgrace the eyes of our dear departed with your shameless baby-making!"

Fred withered.

“Sorry I couldn’t find you the real culprits,“ Anjali began, before Professor Ringleward waved a wrinkled hand.

"There's no need to apologize, my girl. You can't control the little... heathens running around the grounds these days with distracting Muggle whim-whams up the wazoo. Rubbish parenting... it's pandemic!"

"I couldn't agree more." She smiled, all pearly-white teeth and dimpled cheeks. Her fingers rested on Fred and Bea’s shoulders, rings winking in the light. “At least let me escort these two back to their common room for you."

"Thank you kindly, my dear." Professor Ringleward fumbled with the glasses on his nose and squinted at Bea and Fred, who forced out a smile as they followed Anjali's signal to start walking.

Her humility may have been fooling Ringleward, but not Fred. Anjali had the glint of a plan shining in those teeth, the same glint Bea wore when she was hankering for custard creams and the kitchen was within smelling distance.

As soon as the professor shuffled back into his office, Bea turned to their savior with a wide grin. "That was brilliant!"

"Child's play." Anjali's eyes flicked to Fred's. "Couldn't do it yourself, Weasley? I expected more from Potter's old wingman. I'm disappointed."

The words cut into him, unexpectedly sharp and sudden. She hardly knew him!

But he had been the famed James Potter's wingman until James left school and they'd gotten into stickier situations before—may he never remember the horror of slipping in the owlery. Fred should have known how to handle a mundane hallway interrogation.

He sniffed at Anjali, pulling at the knot of his tie. "Please, you hardly know me."

Bea punched him on the shoulder. "Don't be a snippy bippy. You weren't the one who got us out of there." She cleared her throat and turned to Anjali. "He means thanks, Anj."

The glare Anjali sent turned the hallway arctic. "Don't call me that."

Deflated, Bea retreated into herself and hugged her book bag, sending sulky glowers to the both of them. "Two snippy bippies. I don't even know why we're taking the long way back."

Fred's next step froze in mid-air. He had been so engrossed with his winnowing self-esteem that he completely missed the fact that they were, at this point, walking away from Ravenclaw tower.

He pulled Bea's robe to hold her in place, lest she follow the Slytherin girl to who-knew-where. "She's not taking us back at all."

"Your powers of observation astound me." Anjali spun on her heel, lips curving into a smirk. "Consider it a detour." Charmingly infuriating. Just like James.

She continued walking down the hallway and Bea tore out of his grasp to follow.

"Bea!" Fred shouted after. "We should at least think about—"

Bea stopped only to grab his sleeve. "Don't tell me you aren't curious."

It was times like these that Fred wondered if he was too old to be running around school with the most explosion-prone girl of Hogwarts. Though he had grown fond of Bea's world of blueprints and prototypes and spontaneous custard creams, it was life in the present. As a responsible seventh year, he needed to think about life in the future, which shouldn't involve excessive sugar intake and definitely no following suspicious leggy Slytherins into torchlit darkness.

Unfortunately, he was curious. Curiosity killed the Kneazle and while it had eight other lives to spare, he didn't. But he was smarter than some silly feline, right? Though he never could figure out how the old Kneazle Mr. Welly always outfoxed him to the treat tin.

Counter-argument aside, Bea was already pulling him forward, and he knew that she was going to go, with or without him. He sighed, fixed his tie, and started walking.




2/27 edit: spliced together ch 1 & 2.

A/N Since I get asked this a lot, I'll clarify: Bea is Cho Chang's daughter, and there's a reason why her last name is Chang and not her father's name.

Coming up: Smarmy!Scorpius, endless biscuits, and the biggest upset since Snape vs. Dumbledore

Chapter 2: A Biscuit a Day Keeps the Slytherin Away
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2. A BISCUIT A DAY KEEPS THE SLYTHERIN AWAY
Hogwarts was desperately lacking in information kiosks.


Not a hallway's length later, Fred began muttering about 'bad ideas' under his breath. He'd consider it a marked improvement; usually he only took half that time to enter a full-length speech comparing the pros and cons (mostly cons) of Bea's latest escapade involving inventions and biscuits (mostly biscuits).

He was extraordinarily easy to peer pressure, something Bea never failed to take full advantage of. She said it was in his best interest; she couldn't function on an empty stomach, and next season's pranks weren't going to make themselves. His dad had tried self-building pranks once. It turned out that when magic was left to its own devices, it was even better at procrastination than humans.

Following Anjali was just for fun, Bea had said during their walk. Fun for her, of course. People who were smarter than Fred made him uncomfortable, and that was free entertainment.

"Can't believe I'm doing this," Fred muttered under his breath. His fingers dug into the silk at his throat, twisting it around with every grouse. "No time to study with Pete anymore. Had to let myself get dragged out here... 'Let's start on that stalker salve!' she says. Let's fuddle up my records is more like it."

"You’re going to choke yourself." Bea slapped his hand away from his tie and yanked the knot down. Which only caused him to actually choke.

The whiplash caught him mid-whinge as he sputtered, "Oh God, not this again." He clawed at the tight noose, wincing as he heard threads tear. Upon regaining control of his windpipe, Fred shot her an indignant glare and slid the knot into its original position.

"If you keep mumbling like that," she said, "you're going to end up like old Ring-ding-dongleward—senile before seventy."

The thought stopped his fiddling long enough to allow a gulp to go down.

"Oi, you two halves of a half-wit, keep up!" snapped Anjali. She disappeared around the corner with a quick twist of her steps.

It was obvious now that their destination was the Slytherin dungeons, the only part of the castle located that far on the west end. The route was notoriously complicated, forking and looping like a Gordian knot gone wrong. Every first week of school, a new kid would go missing for a whole day only to stagger out of the maze in the dead of night, gasping for food and water.

Anjali stopped at a wall and pressed a stone, whispering a password. It didn't help those poor first years that the entrance to the common room was a nondescript dead end. Functionality was never high on the list for Hogwarts; the mysterious castle atmosphere, however, was. The wall scraped apart. Bea and Fred hesitantly stepped in after her, unsure of what to expect. A pit of snakes? Plans for world domination? Dark Lords running amok?

The truth was rather anti-climatic. The Slytherin common room looked no different than any other common room nearing the midnight hour. That is, practically empty. There were still a few students up and about, studying and chatting. They turned their heads toward the entrance, but their attention didn't linger... except for a single grey-eyed gaze peering over the latest issue of Magical Market.

Scorpius folded his magazine together. "Back already?"

Anjali glided behind the sofa where he lounged, sliding her fingers through his hair as she passed. "Always underestimating me."

Scorpius reached for her hand, but she slipped away, taking a seat on a nearby armchair.

"I still think you're out of your mind," she said, eyes flicking to the two Ravenclaws in the doorway. "Putting your faith and allowance in them?"

He craned his head, holding an arm out toward her though she stayed out of range. "Brilliance and insanity are close cousins, darling."

Fred cleared his throat, already impatient with the banter between Hogwarts' hottest on-and-off couple. Unresolved sexual tension shortened his fuse. "Sorry, but what are we doing here?"

"Guests! Where are my manners?" Scorpius leapt to his feet, smiling broadly. "Take a seat." He gestured toward the sofa behind him and then to the pastries assortment on the table. "If you're hungry."

"I—"

"STRAWBERRY CAULDRON CAKE!" Bea barreled past Fred and bounded onto the green cushions, sooty hand searching for the largest slice.

Scorpius flashed a triumphant grin. "See, she's got the right idea."

Sixth year girls and their uncanny ability in dragging him around. Fred sighed and took a seat on the opposite armchair, ignoring the platter of food that was rapidly disappearing into Bea's stomach. "Now can you explain?"

"We got you out of a month of scrubbing cauldrons and not even a thank you?" Scorpius sat back down, easy charm oozing with every wave of his hand, and poured a cup of cocoa for himself and Anjali. "I get it. The point man wants to get to the point. Expected and appropriate." He raised a finger. "But also very boring."

"Boring, he's got you on that," said Bea in between chews. She handed Fred a plate of Jammie Dodgers. "Come on, eat. It's already past curfew anyway. It's not like we can get in any more trouble."

Scorpius nodded and reached over to take one for himself. "It's like you're completely in sync with me. Beautiful friendship in the making." On cue, he and Bea knocked their biscuits together.

Loyalty, thy name is Bea.

Reluctantly, Fred took a biscuit, sniffing it for poison. Someone had to be the "boring" one. He liked to think his role as the suit-and-tie point man rather than active troublemaker was a noble sacrifice, but honestly, he didn't mind much. It put his conscience at ease to know his friends were safe and not being taken advantage of by offers of free biscuits.

Plus, he looked bloody good in a suit.

When the aura of Fred's chagrin grew too much to ignore, Scorpius set his food down on his saucer. "All right, let's get to it. It's very simple. I want to work with you two on your current product."

"The salve?" blinked Fred.

"No, your other one. The transistor, the er Muggle-Magic Converter."

Fred sat up straighter. Bea’s eyes went as round as the cookie in her hand. It was their long-term project, but only because Bea was so insistent. Otherwise, it’d have gone in the rubbish pile on day one. The Muggle-Magic Converter was an attachment that would allow Muggle tech to be powered by magic. Problems with interference had long prevented any electronics to gain ground in the magical community. It was a revolutionary idea but more concept than reality and it was likely to stay that way.

"I heard Bea chat about it in Potions. Got my interest quick. I figure, why wait until my parents retire? I might as well get started on this business thing early, which leads me to... buying your prototype."

"Mrfggh?" Bea sputtered out crumbs. Fred handed her a napkin, no less surprised himself.

They were used to making products on the scale of Weasley's Wizard Wheezes, a small-time joke shop. The Malfoys were on the complete opposite of the spectrum. They turned the Greengrass empire into a household name. What began as a tiny two-way mirror shop in Diagon Alley skyrocketed into a sixteen country franchise with bestselling products every season. Filthy rich didn't even begin to describe it.

"Now, we can negotiate prices," continued Scorpius, in an irritatingly posh voice that made Fred cringe, "and I assure you, no price is too high. It'll be better than whatever share your dad's giving you for these things. All I'm asking for is for you to finish it by February in time for our company's expo."

Despite his cool front, Fred could tell he was rushing things. There was more up his sleeve, though the taste of money was already on his tongue. "February? That's too soon. It's not as simple as our Wheezes products. She's—we've been working for months and we still haven't got a testable prototype.”

Scorpius raised a second finger. "Haven't got to the best part of my offer yet. Full financial backing to cover all the costs of the materials, tools, explosion insurance..." He trailed off, glancing at Bea, whose hair looked like it was trying to breed soot bunnies. "And Anjali here can get you out of trouble in no time flat. Anything to get it by that deadline."

It was good. Too good. "Why are you so interested?"

"I see a lot of potential. I had some photos taken."

"You've been watching us?"

"Well, I have to practice my corporate espionage skills too." With a smirk, he tossed Fred the folder. "But no worries, it was recon, not poaching. You have a potential hit on your hands there. The communications market is stagnant. Find a way to make laptops and mobiles work in high-magic areas, and it'll be the biggest thing since the Boy Who Lived."

Fred sifted through the snapshots but most of them were dark and blurry. "These photos are awful."

"Eh!" cried a shrill voice. On the other side of the room, twelve-year-old Louis was shaking his camera in the air indignantly. "They are avant-garde!"

"You took these?" Fred waved around the photos in his grip as Louis squeaked with every new crease. "You don't go doing that to family, mate!"

"Family who do not understand my artiste are no family of mine!" He turned around in a huff before Fred could respond. Damned Veelas. One-sixteenth, my arse.

"Nice kid," said Scorpius, glancing back. He took up his saucer, replacing the empty space on the table with one foot then the other. "I can see that you're not convinced about the proposal yet. Take your time." He raised a finger. "But not too much. Deals like these don't stay on the table for long."

"And let me guess, the next time, it might not be just recon," Fred murmured, pinching the folder closed.

Scorpius made no attempt to hide his sneer. "I suppose you're not a point man for nothing." Next to him, Anjali's cool stare continued its silent intimidation, unchanged during the entire conversation. Godric, she was a scary one.

They were toying with him and they wanted to make sure he knew it.

A loud gulp broke the tension and Fred turned to see Bea licking stray crumbs off her fingers. Noticing his gaze, Bea blinked. "Oh, are you asking me what I think?"

"Ah, Beatrice!" Scorpius slid down the sofa, slinging an arm over her shoulder. "Maybe you can convince Fred to decide faster." He handed her a wafer, and she lazily dunked it into his cocoa.

"Well, it's not like he decides for the both of us. This is a partnership.” She stuffed the wafer in her mouth whole, entering a deep state of sugar-zen.

Scorpius nodded in full agreement. "I concur. Here, take the whole plate."

"Thanks.” She stuffed another wafer in her mouth just for the fun of it. "Though I suppose it doesn't really matter what he wants because, let's face it: I do most of the work. No offense, Freddie."

"Offense taken," muttered Fred. What did he need to do to be appreciated? Roll around in sugar? Perhaps this could have all been avoided if he had just gone on a biscuit run like she wanted.

"You know Bea, I like your type." Scorpius squeezed her shoulder. "Far more agreeable than your partner here. No fun at all, getting all suspicious already. But you, on the other hand, why don't we talk prices—"

"Prices?" Bea dissolved into giggles. "I never said I would work with you."

His grin froze. "Sorry?"

She shoved him playfully; who was deceiving who? "Are you kidding me? You can't pay me enough to agree to this."

Scorpius' plastered good-naturedness cracked into a halting chuckle. "I—I don't think you understand what I'm offering you."

"You mean money? That's not worth selling my soul."

"I didn't say—"

"Please." Her nose wrinkled. "Corporations are the Horcrux-makers of this generation: killing people's creative visions in the quest for profit maximization." She whipped around to Fred, clapping her hands. "Clever isn't it, I've been waiting to use that line—ooh are those Pickled Plumfish?" Bea hauled the entire jar of sweets from the table onto her lap.

Fred sat in open-mouthed silence. It wasn't as if he had never seen Bea make a sensible decision, but sensible decisions and a sugar-hungry stomach never mixed. She would jump off the astronomy tower for far less than the decadence laid out on the coffee table.

Scorpius yanked her prize away from her, leaving her empty fingers hanging in the air. "Focus, you're missing out on the deal a lifetime."

"Well, it certainly doesn't help if you insist on being a snippy bippy, too," she said, reaching for the open top of the jar, but Scorpius pulled it even further away from her.

"What's the problem? I'll fix it," he said with every effort at civility.

"Rich people and their fragile egos." Bea rolled her eyes. "Just before, you were threatening Freddie every other sentence. An entire conversation with your eyes. Glare, glower, glare—get a room."

"This is a complete misunderstanding—"

"Yes, you're misunderstanding that you don't have a chance."

"I get the feeling that you just don't like me."

"That too."

"I fed you."

"Your bribes were delicious and unsuccessful."

Bea took another piece of cauldron cake, frowning at baffled silence. "What is so surprising about this? I'm not Vixen McSexylegs like her"—she pointed to Anjali, whose jaw dropped, scandalized, her facade finally broken—"but just because I'm a bit nutty doesn't make me stupid. I know how this works. I've done this inventing business for long enough. Don't think this hasn't happened to me before. You're going to take advantage of us, and Fred might be afraid of you but I'm not."

The priceless silence continued.

"Fred, Freddie, look," said Bea, bouncing excitedly. "Anj looks ready to murder me."

McSexylegs snarled, nostrils flaring.

On that note, Fred snapped into action, pushing himself up from the armchair. "Er, let's get out of here while we're still ahead, yeah?"

"Right, you still owe me a treacle tart!" Bea leapt to her feet and waved to Scorpius, who was too stunned to protest. "Thanks for the food!" She pulled Fred by the wrist, leading him out with a skip.

When Fred looked back, Scorpius was looking right at him. "Remember," said Scorpius, who had regained a modicum of composure, "a lot of money to you is nothing for me. You know it's a good deal."

That was the last Fred saw and heard before the entrance sealed shut. Bea shook her head. "The nerve of some people," she scoffed. "Already acts like he owns us, dragging us in, spouting all that grease. Though I’ll admit, he has good taste in pastry selections."

Fred smiled lightly, patting her atop her head for a job well done, but he could not unhear the echo of Scorpius' last words.



A/N: last edit 3/25/12, formerly chapter 3
I wanted to show this side of Bea as a bit of surprise :) Airheaded as she may seem, there is quite a lot going on in her noggin. Alas, it looks like our Fred and Bea have got some divided opinions!

Coming up: The Good, the Bad, and the Rose; Albus the Hufflepuff; Scorpius the Smarmy

"Snoopy boopy is what you are," Bea muttered. Taking his sugary bribe from her table, she thrust it back at him. "Mind your own business, Malfoy. I mean that in two ways."

"What, dropped the ditzy act already?" He tossed the cake from hand to hand. "Fine. Don't take my presents. Can't say I won't cause some trouble instead."

Chapter 3: Sweet, Sweet Revenge
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3. SWEET, SWEET REVENGE
She had her revenge and ate it too.


After three attempts at the knocker's riddle (the recent trend in sarcastic questions had made answering them quite difficult), Bea and Fred stumbled into the empty common room. Bea, in the dreaded middle stages of a sugar crash, collided onto the sofa face first. Fred sat down in what little space was left.

He rummaged through her bag and took out the vial, sloshing it back and forth. "Think we can finish this soon?"

Bea lifted her head, stringy hair clinging to her cheeks from the staticky greeting with the sofa's upholstery. "Probably. Got to mix it with the flobberworm something and red whatsamacallit." She waved a lazy hand. "I've got it written down somewhere on my desk."

In all honesty, the best finder in Hufflepuff couldn't unearth anything in the trash heap known as her desk. It was, at one point, the reason for thirteen out of Hogwarts' fifteen health violations.

"So." Fred cleared his throat, folding his hands together. "Malfoy's offer..."

"He's always like this, s'not surprising in the least." Bea rolled over, her hair in no better shape than before. From far away, one might have mistaken her for an upturned sheepdog. "Two classes with him again this year, did I tell you? I thought I got rid of him after O.W.L.S. too! They say—don't quote me on this—but they say that his dad bribed the proctor for O's."

"Right."

There was something off about Fred's expression, though it might have been the blood rushing to her head or because his face was upside down. She rolled over. "Fred?"

"Hmm?"

"You seem quiet."

"Ah—no." He rubbed the back of his neck. "Just, er, thinking about things. You know, uh." His mouth shaped vague words. "Things."

Bea nodded airily. "Speaking about things, about that tart..." She held out her cupped hands.

Fred patted her on the head. "Tomorrow. I'm tired."

She frowned as he leapt off the sofa. "But you promised."

"Come on, you're already full with what Malfoy fed you." It was at that moment that his pace picked up.

Bea called after him, "You don't have one, do you?" but he was already gone. Crossing her arms, she huffed to herself. Treacle tart was a serious matter.

After languishing on the sofa for another dessert-deficient minute, Bea tromped up the stairs to her room. She had long lost track of time, only certain that it was late enough for another scolding from Rose. Sounds of muffled chatter filtered through the door to her dorm as she approached. Just as her fingers brushed the knob, it swung open, assaulting her with the sight of Rose in her pink paisley nightgown, staring down at her.

Behind was Lucy, popping her head out of the bathroom, beard of foam hanging from her chin. "See," she mumbled through her toothbrush, "told youf she washn't deadth."

"Where have you been?" Rose barked.

Bea squeezed past. "You know, studying... reading... things."

Before Bea could reach her desk, Rose intercepted her and fluffed her hair, where a telltale cloud of grey soot escaped. Rose gasped, "You caused that explosion!"

While Rose was better at trying to intimidate than actually intimidating, she sometimes managed a wild look that would make Moody himself proud—eyes bulging from their sockets, two degrees from igniting in flames. It was scarier than Ringleward's detentions and Anjali's legs combined.

Bea shrank into herself until Lucy came over and herded her cousin to the other side of the room. "It's too late for super prefect mode," Lucy muttered, trying to get Rose to stay put. Rose was like a meerkat, perched at the edge of her bed. "And don't be so surprised. Who else could it have been? What matters is, did anyone find out?"

"Yeah, Ringleward." Bea tried to find a safe place to store the potion. Her desk, with its wobbly leg and precarious slant—the consequence of piling five times its weight in junk on one side—looked like it was about to keel over and die. The only clear spot on the table was... well, there really was no clear spot on the table.

"Well, then? Tell us what happened."

"Oh, nothing much." You know, breaking into classrooms, nicking things, glaring property damage. The usual. Rose would have a fit if she knew the extent of it. "Anj told Ringleward we didn't do it," she added as an afterthought while she dislodged her potions rack from the mess.

Rose ground her teeth. "That bitch?"

"That bitch" was Rose's nickname for Anjali. Other known variations were 'that Slytherin bitch', 'that skinny bitch', or Lucy's favorite, 'that my-dad's-an-international-Quidditch-star and my-mom's-the-heiress-for-the-biggest-potion-exporter-in-India woop-de-fucking-doo bitch'. According to Rose, Anjali abused her authority like no other prefect; that night was just further proof. Coupled with the staff's complete adoration of her, she more than grated on Rose's nerves.

Lucy rolled her eyes. "If you're going to keep looking like a gargoyle every time something or someone you hate gets mentioned, you should count yourself lucky he hasn't met you in person yet."

Verona Wood, who had been comfortably asleep, lifted the edge of a blindfold with a weary groan. "Are we talking about Colin still? Bloody hell, Rose, you're worse than Lucinda and her crushes." Colin was the pen pal Rose had acquired over the summer, a student of the Arthurian Academy of Magic, and the mere mention of his name reduced Rose to a stuttering loon.

Rose fussed with the ruffles of her nightgown. "N-no, of course not. Lucy's being stupid. It's not like I like him or anything," she said as convincingly as Voldemort teaching Muggle Studies.

The bunch of them had been talking about him all night, every night for the past week. How someone could dissect possible implications from each word of a letter—the context, the connotations, the handwriting—was beyond Bea's comprehension, and she knew quantum theory.

Now, where was that flobberworm juice?

"Please," said Verona, "the denial's getting sad. You're starting a whole organization for him."

"He supports a good cause!" Rose crossed her arms. "Cecilia and Maisie already joined up, and Lucy helped me name it. Students for Underrepresented Creature Kind and Squibs."

"That spells S-U-C-K-S."

There was a long silence, punctuated by Lucy's stifled laughter, in which Rose ran the name through her head again. "Oh well, n-no, you forgot the 'for' and 'and'..."

"Right," Verona drawled. "S-F-U-C-K-A-S. Much better."

Rose gave an indignant cry and whipped around to her cousin. "You knew about this!"

"Of course I knew about it," she giggled. "I'm still rather fond of your other choice, 'Students of Hogwarts Institution for Teenage Squibs'."

"Well, only because it's about all minority rights, not just Squibs—" Rose stopped suddenly. "Lucy Weasley, does that spell S-H-I-T-S?"

Another peal of giggles erupted from Lucy until Rose lunged at her with a pillow and started suffocating her. Bea was quite accustomed to working in a din of quarreling; it was a requirement for living with diametric cousins and a grouchy Quidditch captain. What Bea never understood was why anyone would think she was the strange one when everyone else was so much worse.

"I AM NOT LETTING GO OF THIS PILLOW UNTIL YOUR HAIR TURNS BLUE FROM ASPHYXIATION!"

Bea hummed a tune as she continued her search. She brushed away the metal bits scattered over her desk—pieces from the transistor shell construction. At the center of the mess was the prototype itself, with all its wires exposed, glowing blue like an arachnid nightmare come alive. Placing her prototype back in its box, she dug through her sock drawer, surprised that the sock gremlins haven't stolen any that year yet (they were not just a fairy tale, as she once vehemently defended from the giggles of the common room). A bottle rolled out from the back. There was little Flobberworm juice left, just enough for a single batch.

"C..." Lucy clawed at the pillow, muffled syllables barely audible in her gasps. "C-Colin wouldn't want to date a murderer!"

"AZKABAN HAS A ONE LETTER PER MONTH POLICY, WE CAN MANAGE!"

"Actually, it's two months," Bea chirped, looking back, but Rose didn't seem to hear her and Lucy was too busy turning blue.

Meanwhile, Verona, who typically brought out popcorn to watch these fights, began prodding Rose with the end of her broomstick. "Could you two, I dunno, settle this in a quieter fashion? Poison her breakfast or something? Quidditch practice is too early for this."

"Fine." Rose threw her pillow aside and continued glaring as Lucy crawled her way back to her bed. "I hope I caused permanent damage."

Verona burrowed into her quilt. "Bea, don't you have class early? Shouldn't you sleep?"

Bea perked up at the mention of her name. "Erm, yeah..." Now that Verona mentioned it, she was quite tired. She was also in desperate need of a shower, not that anyone expected her to be hygienic. Well, she wouldn't want to disappoint expectations. The shower could wait until morning.

She changed out of her robes and, as the last one out of bed, snuffed out the candles. The room drooped into sleep and darkness, lit by only the moon and the soft glow of her prototype.






"Beeea! We're going to be late!"

Bea shot up from her bed at Lucy's screech, coughing; the soot settled on her pillow had swept up again and took residence in her windpipe. She stumbled out of bed, a lucky flail of the arms keeping her from tripping over her blankets. Rubbing the dusts off her cheeks, she followed the fluffy trail of carpet until she reached the bathroom.

This was prior to opening her eyes. The actual act of opening her eyes was an entire effort in itself. She felt along the counter for the sink, twisting both temperature knobs until the tap was at full force and splashed her face with water.

Then came the hard part. With a heave, she cracked open an eyelid...

"Gah!"

...and promptly regretted standing in the only spot in the bathroom where the sunlight bounced off the mirror and into her retina.

"Beeeeea! Hurry up!"

"Burning... everything is burning..." Bea whimpered as she tottered around, spots circling her vision. Somewhere in the filing cabinets of her mind, she dug out the list of morning duties and crossed them off.

Clean teeth, scrub face, wash hair—

Wash hair.

In the milliseconds before she made her next move, she calculated the likely amount of time she had before class started. If Lucy, who usually referred to sleeping well past breakfast as "early", then her wails to hurry up meant she was really, really late.

Sink shower it was.

She stuck her head under the tap and felt around the counter until she found her shampoo. It was only after working it into her hair that the choking fragrance reached her nostrils. A glance at the bottle told her everything she feared.

Madame Luxury's Sparkling Scented Shampoomph
(now with extra Oomph)


It was Rose's shampoo, the one marketed as smelling like fairies which apparently meant concentrated sugarplum syrup, a level of sweetness too much for even Bea. Holding her breath, she shouldered on. Her first class was Potions, and she did not need to get on Ringleward's bad side.

With sopping wet hair, Bea and Lucy scrambled across the castle and burst into the classroom just as students were setting up their cauldrons. Ringleward was nowhere in sight. Lucy trotted off to her partner Reggie, while Bea found Albus in the back and slumped onto a stool next to him.

"Sorry, about that," she panted. "Woke up late and... where's Ringleward?"

At that moment, the white-haired professor emerged from the back room carrying a box of shrivelfigs, beady eyes peering at Bea. She held her breath as he made his way toward the demonstration cauldron.

"The potion of interest today will be the Euphoria, page two hundred sixty," he said. "Not in the syllabus, but over the weekend, some rascal whippersnappers got my classroom 'wasted' as you youngins like to say..." He muttered something about leashing children.

Albus nudged Bea. "I heard that was you and Fred," he whispered. "Also, you're shiny today."

"Wrong shampoo." Bea flipped through her edition of Advanced Potions-Making. "And it was me and Fred, but Anj vouched."

"Anj? Anjali? That Anjali?"

Bea glanced to her left where Albus was pointing. At the adjacent table was the aforementioned prefect and Scorpius in all his smarmy glory. The former looked as bored as ever, while the latter saluted her with a cheeky wave.

"Nutcase! Good to see you."

Bea gawked. Albus waved back until she slapped his hand away.

"I didn't know you were friends with them," Albus chirped.

"I'm not—"

Bea was shut up by another pointed glare from Professor Ringleward. "Five points from Ravenclaw for idle chatter, Miss Chang."

The other Ravenclaws grumbled. Across, a duo of Slytherins sniggered to themselves until Ringleward steeled his gaze on them as well. He cleared his throat. "Now where was I—ah! And so, further studies on the Draught of Peace must be rescheduled for next week. The Euphoria Elixir is a very potent happiness inducer..."

Scorpius leaned close, resting an elbow on their table. "You know, if you had agreed to our deal, we could probably find some way to get those points back."

Bea resisted looking up, lest she draw Ringleward's attention again. The nerve of him! It was no coincidence that he and Anjali were sitting there, no indeed. Scorpius returned to his seat, and at the corner of her eye, Bea saw that he had left a present in the form of a wrapped mini cauldron cake. She looked away, salivating.

When Professor Ringleward finally let the assignment commence, Albus dove for the stirring spoon. Bea slapped his hand away again.

"Not even this time?" Albus sighed.

"Never ever means not this time, too."

Albus had taken charge of making the potion base exactly once in their two-year potion partnership, which resulted in a catastrophic cauldron tsunami and pink hair for a week. He was only scraping by because James had asked Bea to help him. Albus insisted on the torture; he had it in his mind that he absolutely needed a N.E.W.T. in Potions to get a decent job, despite having well enough connections to make up for his shortcomings.

Bea threw in a handful of fish bones into the cauldron, and scanned for the next step in the instructions. "Oh, and Albus? Remember to crush those beans three at a time. And then do the red ones, too."

A different voice butt in. "Merlin, you're pushy."

She lifted her eyes from the book. Scorpius was leaning against the table, a finger on his chin. "Or is it shushy pushy? Bossy flossy?"

"Snoopy boopy is what you are," Bea muttered. Taking his sugary bribe from her table, she thrust it back at him. "Mind your own business, Malfoy. I mean that in two ways."

"What, dropped the ditzy act already?" He tossed the cake from hand to hand. "Fine. Don't take my presents. Can't say I won't cause some trouble instead."

"I'll report you."

"For what? I'm not the one filching from the cupboards."

She stiffened.

"Is it Fred?" Scorpius mused, stroking his chin. "Is that why you're so irritated? He likes my offer, maybe?"

"Fred would never want to work with someone as... as smarmy as you." Sticking out her tongue, Bea shoved him back to his own table and jabbed a thumb over her shoulder. "Stay away from those types, Albus. Think they own the world."

"Kind of do, though. I hear the Malfoys have their own private theme park." Albus' eyes lit up. "Did he offer you a job? 'cause you should take it—"

"Al! Not helping! Beans!"

He sighed and pounded his pestle. Bea stirred the mixture counterclockwise three times and then frowned at the book. "These editions still don't fix the side-effects." Many mistook breaking into song as an intentional side-effect of the Euphoria, but it was in truth a poor measuring of wormwood. It was how Hogwarts' now-annual flash mob had started. Bea racked her brain. Mint ought to fix it. She tossed a sprig into the cauldron.

Albus glanced at his book. "That's not what this says—"

"Ah ah ah!" Bea shook the spoon at him. "Golden Rule?"

He deflated. "Beatrice is always correct."

"And?"

He bowed his head further. "Beatrice will receive one chocolate frog every week for being so benevolent, gracing me with her presence and wisdom."

Bea held out her hand, and he fumbled through his pockets, quickly producing a chocolate frog box. She beamed and lifted the cover. Her stomach had been growling ever since she gave up that cake. "Beatrice will allow you to take the spoon while she—" She stared at the headless chocolate frog knocking against the sides sightlessly. "Albus, this is half-eaten."

"I got hungry," he said, lowering his head so far that it touched the desk.

"What is it with your family and promised food? Always eaten, defeats the purpose..." she muttered, plucking the frog between her fingers and dropping it into her mouth.

Albus cringed, gaze trailing from her sticky hands to the preparation table. "That's... unsanitary."

"Well I'm not going to let it suffer!" she retorted, tongue thick with chocolate. "It was out of pity." He didn't stop staring, so she pointed at his workstation. "Beans!"

He slouched. "I've been mashing them for ages. Aren't they done?"

"Fine, put them in carefully—" She frowned. The cauldron was bubbling, There wasn't anything in the Euphoria potion that caused bubbling. "What did you add in here?"

"I didn't add anything. You would't let me." He peered closer at the mixture, prodding at it with the spoon.

Bea shuffled him away while the churning intensified. "Don't do that! At least go douse the fire. And Fred thinks I'm not safe." She clamped on the lid.

Albus sat, wringing his hands. "Erm, it's getting louder—"

"I know thaaaat—" She shut her mouth with a squeak.

He blinked. "Did you just sing?"

"Bloody wormwood in the chocolaaaate!" But her off-key warble was drowned out by the rumbling underneath her hand. In an violent hiccup that caused no small number of shrieks from nearby brewers, the cauldron spit out a sickening ochre mixture onto the surrounding floor and onto the feet of Professor Ringleward, who unfortunately chose that moment to walk past.

The professor lowered his glasses. "Quite an affinity for attracting explosions lately, I see."

"I didn't—it waaaasn't—"

"I expect you two to stay after class to clean this."

Bea nodded weakly while the amusement from onlookers crescendoed in the background, culminating in a jeer from Phillip Goyle, who was hardly one to talk with black-as-tar mixture, "Oi, you make potion inside the cauldron!"

Whirling to Albus, Bea hissed—or rather, belted out dramatically, "Whaaat haaaappened?"

But she didn't need to be a Potions expert to put two and two together when she turned back around and saw the offending bottle still in Scorpius' hand. Wheezes' patented Fizzpoppers.

Scorpius grinned broadly. "These are quite well-made. Your design?"

She pointed at him, extending her arm to full-length for maximum effect. "Youuuuu!"

He held up his hands. "I warned you I'd cause trouble. No one says no. That'd be bad for business." He nudged Anjali. "Ruthlessness is rather becoming for me, isn't it?"

"You do have the most delectable smirk when your plans go well," she replied mildly, attention stuck to the cauldron.

He moved closer, trying to break her indifference. "You're always delectable."

A small smile escaped. "Charmer."

Bea nearly threw up.

As Scorpius reached for the Shivelfig juice, his gaze still on Anjali, Bea saw an opening. Moving on vengeful instinct, she switched the vial from underneath his hand. He emptied the wrong vial into the mixture with a flair matching his sweet talk.

The cauldron immediately burst into purple flames, splashing potion everywhere. Anjali shrieked. Scorpius scrambled to find the lid, but it was too late; the damage was done.

"What the Bloody Baron was that?" he cried.

Professor Ringleward, who was quite tired of bustling across the room, plucked the vial from his hand and tapped at the label. "Adding flammable wraughtwort tends to have that effect, Mr. Malfoy. Any first year can tell you such. Have fun joining Miss Chang and Mr. Potter after class."

"But, but..." Scorpius stared at the vial. "That wasn't..."

Ringleward gave Anjali a sympathetic nod while she siphoned the goop off her skirt. "You have such patience with our less skilled brewers."

She plastered on a smile until he left to observe the next set of cauldrons, at which point she practically threw her textbook at Scorpius.

"You added wraughtworts?"

"I didn't even have wraughtworts out!"

"Have you lost your reading comprehension along with your mind? Because that bottle clearly said wraughtworts!"

Bea sat in her stool, licking frosting from her upper lip. She wasn’t sure which she was enjoying more: watching the spat in front of her or the cauldron cake she had snatched back during the ruckus.

In the end, it was no contest. Revenge tasted sweeter than sugarplums.




A/N: formerly chapter 4

Coming up: Adorable!Albus, Bull-headed!Bea, and Shirtless!Scorpius

Chapter 4: A Perpetual Mess
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4. A PERPETUAL MESS
It was only a matter of time before someone took off their shirt.


Professor Ringleward collected Bea, Albus, and Scorpius' wands. They stood before him in varying degrees of sulk and slouch as he conjured buckets and brushes from the closet and filled the rusty tin tubs with soapy water.

Scorpius picked up a brush, dropping it with a yelp when a family of spiders crawled out. His face twisted in horror. "You've got to be kidding me."

"I do not jest, Mr. Malfoy," Ringleward sniffed. "You younguns need to learn the value of elbow grease!" With a flick of his wand, Scorpius' sleeves rolled up. Pleased, Ringleward dug his fingers under his collar and tottered to the back room. "Now where are those pufferfish parts..."

In the room's silence, Bea took initiative and shuffled Albus toward the gunk, lugging a bucket behind her. She pointed at Scorpius, who was holding the brush at arms' length. “Doesn't even know which end is up."

Scorpius glowered and threw the brush emphatically into the bucket as if he was trying to prove something; mostly he got his trouser leg wet.

Snickering, Bea dug into the depths of her bag and pulled out a half-filled canister labeled, Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes Elbow Grease. She already knew the value of Elbow Grease; it was about six sickles. Scraping out a handful of the milky gel, she passed it to Albus with a wink. Albus slathered it onto his brush and scrubbed the cauldron rim; the gummy potion slipped off with ease.

"Bloody brilliant!"

"I know.” Bea grinned. She had helped Uncle George make it.

She high-brush-fived Albus and got to work, humming a bright as sunshine tune. It had been proven that productivity increased threefold with song, though sometimes all you got were deer and bluebirds.

It didn't last long when Scorpius slunk next to her. "So," he said, eye glittering charm, "care sharing some of that brilliance? I've got some sugar quills."

The seconds ticked by, each stretching longer than the last, as Bea glowered at him. Was it the humming? The bubbly giggling she was prone to during Potions? She could, reluctantly, understand why she seemed like a ditzy girl, easily bribed by sweets—which she very much resented, thank you very much—but did Scorpius really think she couldn't remember the gitface who threw Fizzpoppers in her cauldron half an hour ago?

Smiling impishly, Bea held out the canister, and with eager eyes, Scorpius reached in.

She clamped the lid down hard.

"Get lost," Bea hissed, whirling away as the Slytherin twitched, mouth frozen in a high-pitched scream.

Albus gulped and edged a little farther away. "Sooo... need any help with your inventing lately?” He suddenly had that too-eager tone of his, always the begging child wanting to play with the older kids, never mind that he was older than Bea by a few months. "I’ve been practicing my charms. I can unlock doors without breaking the whole handle now!"

Bea swung back up to get more water and the blood rushed down her veins like a march of ants. "It’s... not really..." She hated being the person who said no; it was such a Fred thing to do. But this happened every time she had a new project. Albus had always been interested in the famed escapades of his older brother, harboring a not-so-secret wish to continue the legacy himself. There were dreams and then there were pure fantasies, and Albus was average at best and awkward always, i.e. more trouble than he was worth.

She patted his hand. "Maybe next time."

Albus wilted and flopped down to the floor, but he didn't argue. After reapplying the Elbow Grease, he looked behind him and then tugged on her sleeve.

"Bea? Maybe you were an eensy harsh with him..."

Bea extracted herself from the mouth of the cauldron and put a sudsy hand on her hip, a vehement refusal about to leave her lips. Glancing at Scorpius, however, she couldn't quite find the heart to say it.

His brushing hadn't cleaned at all; in fact, it seemed only to dirty him up rather than clean anything. Up to his shoulders in grime, perfectly pressed clothes stained, perfectly groomed hair limp—he was a sight more pitiful than a kitten stuck in a fishbowl.

With a heavy sigh, she took the canister of Elbow Grease out of her pocket and slid it over to Scorpius. "Don't get used to it." She dove back into the cauldron without waiting for a response.

Albus wiggled in to scrub the opposite end. "That wasn't so bad.”

Bea resisted rolling her eyes. Albus had tried this stunt many times before in his crusade to forge impossible friendships. "I know you have all these good intentions in mind, but really, you should stop trying."

"Oh Bea," he said. She immediately winced; it was one of his rare moments of overconfidence, always with misguided intentions. "What's wrong with making a friend?"

A third head joined them. "Yeah, what's wrong with making a friend?"

Bea yelped, shooting up at the sight of blond hair. She knocked into Scorpius, and in turn, he knocked into Albus.

"Augh!"

"Ow..."

"Merlin," Scorpius staggered back, holding a hand to his temple. "You're literally thickheaded?"

An indignant noise escaped her mouth. "What were you doing?"

He put his hands in his pocket, as if being blasé would make her forget that he had just rammed her in the head. "Looked like a cozy friendship session going on, so I thought I'd join."

Soap flew through the air as Bea shook her brush at him. "People who are as greasy as this cauldron are not welcome."

"That was uncalled for!" Albus exclaimed, snapping out of his canary-circling daze. “Don’t hurt his feelings!”

Scorpius let out a stifled snort that turned into raucous laughter as he practically rolled on the floor. He gathered himself enough to choke out, "Oh yes, my feelings."

Albus wasn’t sure if Scorpius was being serious and the ambiguity was sending him into a mild panic attack. Bea handed him her brush. "Scrub," she ordered. And so he did.

Before Scorpius could open his mouth, Bea twisted his ear first, hissing, "Don't toy with Albus that way. He didn't do anything to you."

"Ah, ah! Oi!" He pulled away, stumbling into another cauldron. "What are you taking everything so seriously for? I thought you were the fun one, nutcase."

"I don't think 'fun' means what you think it means, Smarmy McSmarmypants."

"You're more like your partner than I thought. Taking a page from Killjoy Weasley?"

Albus burst in. "Are we doing nicknames? I love nicknames—!"

Bea shoved a finger in his face and pointed downward at the floor. "Failbus. Scrub."

Sighing, he did.

"And you." She directed her finger to Scorpius' nose. Forget tricksy; he was plain annoying. "If you want to get back on my good side, I'll accept a set of sugar quills, raspberry jelly slugs, or Fizzing Whizzbees."

Scorpius blinked. "I can buy your friendship but not your business?"

"I told you I'm not interested in any business, and I won't ever be. If I'm not selling an invention to Uncle George, I intend to distribute it myself."

An eyebrow shot up. "Really now?" His grin shone teeth that could've been from the big, bad wolf. "Do you really think you can do it? Starting up from scratch, getting the proper exposure, not to mention you haven't even finished making the transistor, have you?"

"My business none of your business," she sniffed, unruffled. Turning her back to him, she crouched next to Albus to help him scrub the floor.

But Scorpius was too right; the transistor was dreadfully incomplete and the components she demanded were well beyond her price range. If only she could make up for her lack of supplies with sheer moxie.

Twelve strands of the thinnest of unicorn hair for wiring... the shell of a runespoor egg for a focus... a pinch of powdered dragon horn for an inhibitor...

It was wiring that might work with both Muggle circuits and magical energy, a focus that might be powerful enough to act as both a battery and a converter, and an inhibitor that might be able to stop the whole thing from blowing up. It was too many mights for her wallet. If it fizzled in the end, she'd have no prototype and a very long bill.

Scorpius had the money, and didn’t he know it, with the Malfoy company monopolizing the market one small-business bankruptcy at a time. Scorpius was here for profit, which meant cutting corners and adulterating products with "market-friendly" options, like fancy color charms. So instead of a converter that worked well, she’d end up with one that sparked and smoked, but at least it matched her shoes.

It was only after the third time Bea swished her brush around in the bucket that she realized that Scorpius made no further attempt to pester her with his witticisms. No, he hadn't even made a sound.

Glancing up, she saw him—and lunged.

"That's my bag!"

Scorpius had it sitting on his knee, drawstring loosened. "I should think so. It says 'Bea Chang' right here on the tag." In his grasp was the empty vial she used yesterday for the sensory enhancer. It still had a few blue drops at the bottom.

He let her take the bag but kept the vial out of her way. "So tell me, aren't these supposed to be green or something? This is just sensory potion, isn't it?"

"It's—" Bea swung for it and missed again. "It's augmented. You don't drink it, you apply it."

"You can do that?" He held it at arm's distance, blocking her reach with his other hand. "How?"

"If you want to steal my ideas, you can be a little more subtle."

Scorpius snorted, throwing the vial to his other hand when Bea went around him. "I could just open a textbook and—"

"You won't find it in a textbook; they don't teach these sorts of things in there. You've got to fully understand the properties of the ingredients to—" Why was she wasting her breath? "Give it!"

"I'm not interested in stealing it. Call it curiosity."

"Be curious elsewhere!" Bea ran around him, but every grab was unsuccessful. She didn't need the vial but it was hers and he had it. Panting, she huffed, "The price for my good favor is now two sets of sugar quills."

"Two sets? Now that's just preposterous." He grinned, dabbing the last bit of potion on his nose. "Phew! This is strong stuff." He sniffed around. "Your hair smells like sugarplums."

Another lunge and a miss. Stupid shampoomph.

"Did you know I can tell the color of your knickers by the smell of your hair?"

Stupid Scorpius.

She heard Albus' voice behind her. "Bea, could you move for a sec?"

Stupid scrubbing.

But when she turned around, she didn't see scrubbing. Instead, Albus was struggling to hold a full bucket of water over his head. Her bag plummeted, contents scattering across the floor. "What—"

With a crash, the bucket came down.

The fallout: water, water everywhere, and not a drop was clean. Bea's trouser leg was drenched up to her knees but it was nothing compared to the full-body soak that Scorpius received. Hair and fabric clung to his skin, and his white shirt had turned a muddy see-through green.

Bea stared at Albus, and Albus stared at Scorpius, and Scorpius stared at himself.

Albus said quietly, "He wasn't being a very good friend."

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Scorpius gasped through chattering teeth, "Truce."

Bea wrest her vial back and gave Albus a pat on the back. "You did good."

Albus beamed. The Slytherin, now reduced to a shivering harmless mess, was a concern no more. A wet kitten in a fishbowl, indeed—and she wasn't fishing him out this time.

Bea then remembered that her bag was still on the floor and likely getting wetter by the second. She shuffled her nearby belongings back inside and ran around retrieving the rest of her things. The worst was finding her Remembrall, which had rolled clear across the room. She had nearly forgotten that it was in her bag, which would have been quite unfortunate.

When she was satisfied that everything was accounted for, she ambled back to the cauldron, but one look at Scorpius made her stop.

Without his wand, Scorpius had resolved to drying himself off the tedious way. He had peeled off his shirt and wrung it out. Now draped over his shoulder, water dripped down his muscled torso. His lack of a shirt that wasn't important, however. What was important was that he was reading a letter. A letter that had slid out of her bag.

Scorpius saw her charging toward him too late to dodge, and Bea crashed into him, tearing the paper from him. She landed on top in a tangle, clutching a fragment. The sharp point of her elbow jammed down on his upper arm as she snatched the other half.

She didn't need both parts to know what was written on it. Bea had received it two nights ago and had stuffed it in the bottom of her bag to be forgotten.

Bea,
Mum's been overworking herself, so I told her to cut off your allowance. I'm already doing overtime at the Prophet, so the least you can do to help is not spend any more on that 'project'. N.E.W.T.S. is coming up, yeah? Get on it.

— Sasha


"What the hell?" Scorpius groaned, swatting at the buckets that surrounded his head. "You don't have the money but—"

"But what? But I refuse your money?" She tried to move off, but she couldn't find a footing against the slick floor and fell a second time against his shoulder.

He pushed her up. "I can help you!"

"You mean you can help yourself." She tore up the paper, smaller and smaller, and flung the pieces in his face.

"You don't even know if I'd cheat you!"

"I'm not going to let you try first!"

"What's all this ruckus—ah my eyes!" At the storage room entrance, Professor Ringleward was shielding his face. "Less canoodling, more cleaning! You are tainting the sanctity of my classroom!"

Bea scrambled, kicking from the Slytherin pinned underneath her. Albus pulled her to her feet and extended another hand to Scorpius, who shoved it away and stood up on his own.

Ringleward waved his wand, drying up the flooded floor and returning supplies to their upright position. "Younguns, can't leave them alone for even a minute... bah! Shoo, shoo!" He thrust their wands back into their hands. "More trouble than you're worth, you lot..."

They hastily retrieved their books and bags. As soon as Bea slung hers over her shoulder, she grabbed Albus' wrist. "Come on."

"Where are we going?"

"I've changed my mind. I need your help."





"Water, water everywhere..." is adapted from Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Coleridge.

A/N last edit 3/25/12, formerly chapter 5

Coming up

Anjali reached for her glass, taking small sips as her gaze continued to bore into Fred. She looked as if she could devour him any time she wanted to; she certainly had the resources. Prefect, Quidditch captain, and a powerful family to back it up. "As much as I hate to share an opinion with your little girlfriend, you really are no fun."

"Bea's not my girlfriend," Fred declared for the umpteenth time and sipped his glass as well.

"Good on you. That makes the fact that you're clearly attracted to me a lot less inappropriate."

Chapter 5: Wingman (or Woman) Knows Best
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5. WINGMAN (OR WOMAN) KNOWS BEST
The deadliest weapons in the world were a pair of long legs.


Fred smoothed out his copy of the Daily Prophet. He had waited so long for Bea that he had read it all the way through. Besides a Muggle stumbling into the Ministry looking for the loo, not much was new.

Scorpius' offer and his irritating mannerisms were still stuck in his head, and it might have led to Fred working out the costs and profit margins that morning... and convincing himself that it'd be enough to sway Bea. The transistor was too expensive without outside help and she wouldn't refute numbers, right?

Bea would understand more if it were her wallet hurting. She paid for most of the supplies, but ever since her family hit trouble, she'd been borrowing more and more of the Wheezes money, not to mention Fred's time. His family might have been well off, but it was getting pretty darned irritating.

Scanning the Great Hall for a third time, he sighed. Definitely no Bea. He wouldn't miss her frizzy hair in any crowd.

Anjali caught his eye as she strode in through the west entrance alone. She was always with Scorpius, so where was the odd-blazered boy?

His stare lingered a second too long and now Anjali was staring back. Merlin's beard. Fred dove into his food, trying to look preoccupied, but she started toward him. A shudder ran through his body. The Great Hall was big enough to literally hold the skies—it was drizzly today, making the candles flicker—but he was as good as cornered.

She slid into the seat across from him, hands clasp together, eyebrow raised. "You were looking at me?"

"I was looking... behind you."

Fred wasn't usually so nervous, but he was ill-prepared for ambushes. That was the point of ambushes. He cleared his throat, trying to jostle himself into the proper mindset. Think clean lines, a well-tuned piano. Be suave and sharp, Fred Weasley. As long as he didn't have to open his mouth again.

Anjali took a plate from the stack, which immediately conjured up a small salad.

Oh Fawkes. She was staying.

"I suppose you're wondering why I'm here." When she glanced up, Fred couldn't help but notice how long her lashes were. Pretty girls were always the most lethal, with their slender black widow legs and hazy perfume. Being pretty was certainly useful if they were in the profession of entrapping poor blokes who had something they wanted.

Oh Fawkes.

"Well, are you or are you not?" Anjali set her fork down and rested her chin on the back of her hands. "Or are you going to keep staring at me?"

As much as Fred was about to do the latter, he managed to answer, "I'm not interested in what you're offering."

"Circe, it's like you're on repeat," she said, fingers drumming against bored lips. "What, not the least bit curious?"

Oh no, he was plenty curious and likely plenty interested in whatever offer she had—that was the problem. All he wanted was a simple deal with Scorpius to get some funds for Bea's transistor project. No need to throw in twisty femme fatales plots into the mix. "I'm not interested in trouble."

Anjali reached for her glass, taking small sips as her gaze continued to bore into Fred. She looked as if she could devour him any time she wanted to; she certainly had the resources. Prefect, Quidditch captain, and a powerful family to back it up. "As much as I hate to share an opinion with your little girlfriend, you really are no fun."

"Bea's not my girlfriend," Fred declared for the umpteenth time and sipped his glass as well.

"Good on you. That makes the fact that you're clearly attracted to me a lot less inappropriate."

He sputtered out pumpkin juice. "What—no!" His mind betrayed him, however, as it filled with legs and lashes and perfume. Clean lines bent askew. The piano played cacophonous jazz that sounded like cats in heat, or whatever Louis called post-modern expressionism.

Fred found a tenuous rope to shore as his fingers smoothed up the comforting silk of his tie. "Miss Davies, whatever you're trying to pull, I can assure you it will not work. Intimidation is yesterday's game. Try something new."

"Yesterday, hmm?" Her finger slid down her cheek and under her lips. "But why waste new tricks when the old ones still work so well?"

Gulp.

Anjali leaned back. A finger twirled around her hair, like an aimless puppeteer winding her string. "I suppose I'll get to the point. All I want to know is how I can help convince your little friend to work with Scorpius. You didn't look like you had qualms about this deal."

"It's not about qualms." Fred tried to get his breathing back to a normal pace. "I don't have much of a choice. I can't keep paying to replace everything she explodes all the time."

A chuckle rang in her breath. "Practical man. I like that. But I don't think you understand the power that families like mine and Scorpius have. You're still thinking small. With his backing, her inventions could go global."

It was yesterday's speech all over again, but she was convincing the wrong person. "Bea's never thought about that." Bea never looked beyond her own little sphere. "I'm already trying to tell her this, anyway. She's a lot more stubborn than you think."

Anjali stopped him with a hand. "I've dealt with Scorpius my whole life. Don't talk to me about stubborn."

"Interesting verb choice for your boyfriend."

"Not my boyfriend."

"If you say so." Fred supposed she meant they were on the off section of their on-and-off relationship. Technicality.

Awaiting some artful comeback, he was unprepared when it came in the form of her leg brushing against his, tracing up to his knee.

"Not. My. Boyfriend," she repeated. Her voice lowered to a whisper. "Makes this a lot less inappropriate, too."

His mouth was suddenly searing hot and too dry to reply as it hung agape. A single conversation and she already had him wrapped up in her web. If he could have a coherent thought, it would be on what a shoddy job he was doing as point man, but all he could do was stare from the deep brown of her eyes to the arc of her neck, down the gold chain of her ruby locket nestled between her...

"Oi really, Fred? She's way out of your league."

Roxanne's voice cut across his trance. Fred turned his head and groaned. Sure enough, there was his sister, chewing her Gobble Gum. She blew out another pygmy puff bubble that wriggled in the air before it popped on a candle.

"Shut it, Rocks," Fred muttered, scratching his leg. The tingle hadn't left yet. Anjali had resumed picking at her salad, her expression covered by her fork.

Roxanne slouched to her side, ever the petulant adolescent. "Hmph, I will if you stop calling me that."

"Then stop being dumber than them."

"Oi." Her face scrunched up. "I'm going to stay now just 'cause you said that."

She sat herself down, leaning forward so much that she was nearly laying on the table. Roxanne liked being annoying for the sake of being annoying. It was, according to her, a 'sibling obligation'. But Fred was at least thankful that his sister's idiocy had cut the tension cleanly in half.

"So Anjali, how are you? My brother boring you?"

"Not at all." Anjali uncloaked her smile. "He's quite charming."

"Nah, you're obligated to say that. Prefect rules or something, am I right? It's okay, I won't tell anyone if you insult him."

"No, I do think he's very sweet." Anjali's lashes danced up and down at him, not quite winking, and Fred's palms begin to sweat again.

Roxanne didn't notice and simply sighed, smacking the gum between her jaws. "You're so nice." She turned to him. "She's so nice."

"That's one way to put it," he muttered. The clock struck noon, and Fred took the opportunity between his desperate hands. He rose from his seat, keeping his eyes on the table. It was all right until he opened his mouth. "Well, lunch has been great, but I've got to hurry and sultry—study!" He flushed red. "I've got to study," he repeated in a mortified breath.

Hastily picking up his books, Fred let the house elf whisk his plate away and shoved Roxanne's head down as she giggled.

"Have fun, Weasley," came the voice floating behind him.

He'd take Scorpius' wheedling overtures over this girl any day.






Scorpius pulled his towel tight around his middle as he walked toward his bed where he laid out his new clothes. After buckling the belt around his trousers, he heard a soft knock. The door opened slowly, delicate fingers smoothing down the side of the frame. In swept Anjali, who shut the door behind her. Her brow lowered disdainfully, but she said nothing as she sat herself on the end of his bed, fingers curling idly around a bedpost.

"Hey," said Scorpius, shrugging on his shirt. He cleared his throat. "Sorry about the skirt. Found out for myself it's not fun getting doused in potion."

"It's nothing."

Anjali smoothed over the rough bumps of emotion so cleanly like a fresh wash of paint. She drew near and her fingers crept up his chest, buttoning his shirt. "What happened? You smell like a toad."

He frowned, sniffing. "Still?"

That made her smile. "A little bit."

"Maybe if you kiss me, I'll smell like a prince."

But she placed a hand over his lips. "What did I say?"

"Every time you say it's over..." he murmured.

"Scorpius."

He shut his eyes. She was so calm—not even a jump or a flush of heat. Perhaps that was the sole source of his discontent. For all their history, she certainly never showed much of it.

Anjali finished buttoning his shirt and then slipped out of his reach, wandering the room. "I was thinking I should go after Fred. He listens to reason. It'll be easier to convince him."

Scorpius shook his head. "It doesn't matter. I'm done with it."

"Done?"

"Done."

She crossed her arms. "I think an explanation is in order. Considering."

Considering that he had been so insistent about the whole idea in the first place. The time he took to orchestrate it, his father’s wishes...

"Bea's never going to agree to it," Scorpius muttered. "Nothing's going to convince her. And I don't even know why. It's her fault I smell like a toad—her and Potterpuff. Dumped a bucket of cleaning water on me."

"As charming as you think you are, I'm going to guess that it was actually your fault."

"...I might have been looking through her things."

"You need to apologize."

"She won't care. Besides," he said, gesturing toward his soiled shirt draped over the rubbish bin, "I don't think I should be the one apologizing."

"You have twenty of those. And how do you know if she'll care or not? You just don't want to do it."

Scorpius flung the towel at his chest of drawers. "Do you know that she's broke? Family's completely broke and she still doesn't give in at all. Am I that bad?"

"She has pride."

So did he. "Her pride can go to hell."

"And you threatened Fred."

"Intimidated. You know, like marking territory."

Anjali's eyes lifted skyward. "Apologize. Or if not, focus on Fred and leave the girl."

He shook his head. Anjali was the most clever girl of their year, and perhaps that was why she saw the appeal in sensible Fred Weasley. "He's just the sidekick. What's a Watson without a Sherlock? Crazy or not, Bea's where the money's at."

"Watson still knows some of Sherlock's secrets." Her hands were on her hips, waiting for a better retaliation. "You're putting all your bets on one girl. One girl who doesn't even like you."

"When you find an idea like hers—" His voice softened. Though he knew the boys were at lunch, his eyes flicked around the room anyway, self-conscious of his sudden turn in seriousness. "When you find someone crazy enough to even attempt a Muggle-magic converter... I know so many people are going to brush it off as nothing more than a bundle of wires. But this..." The photos that Louis took were the winds that swept the excitement from the pit of his stomach. He hadn't expected to see the actual prototype—he hadn't thought it was possible.

"So apologize." Anjali pulled him to his feet and began fixing his cuffs, turning them straight. "Do what you have to now so you don't regret it later. Give her a cake or something." She stood on her tiptoes, oh-so-close to meeting his lips. "And I'll take care of my end."

Scorpius leaned in but she turned away, heels toward the exit.

"Tease," he called.

When the door shut, he was left to himself once more. His gaze wandered to the Elbow Grease sitting on the nightstand and he picked it up, twisting it open. The product debuted last winter, marketed as an easy-fix cauldron scrubber and trophy polisher. His mate Xavier bought a whole box on the first day. Bea had said that making these sorts of things couldn't be learned from a book but she had to have learned it from somewhere. It was such a small thing, and yet so marvelous—the same vein of innovation that Malfoy Co. needed.

He raked his hands through his hair and calculated his odds. He was up against an erratic, hotheaded, sweets-loving, money-hating nutcase and all he had were... galleons.

Time for a new plan.



Sherlock + Watson are of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's creation
A/N last edit 3/25/12, formerly chapter 6 part 1
Oh, this dastardly duo, whatever are they up to? Julia compares them to Team Rocket, which I approve of highly.

Coming Soon: Ridiculous plans. Less ridiculous plans. Ridiculous Rose (but when is she not?)

He should have known the promising direction of his mood was indeed too good to be true. "We're not robbing Gringotts."

"They just make it seem hard. I've got a great plan -- we don't even have to break into the vaults!" Albus gave a squeak as Bea wrenched him by the sleeve and pushed back his fringe. "Just draw on a scar, call him Harry, and we can walk right in!"


Chapter 6: Two Plans Too Many
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6. TWO PLANS TOO MANY
Robbing Gringotts was still easier than getting Weird Sister reunion tour tickets.


When Fred finally found Bea in the common room later that evening, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to ask why she was sitting on top of Albus and attacking him with a quill.


It must have been going on for quite some time, as a smattering of people had gathered to watch. Verona had a bowl of popcorn.

"Come on, it won't hurt—stay still!" Bea grit as she wrestled past Albus' arms, both of which were shielding his forehead.

"I still don't want a tattoo," came the muffled whine underneath her.

"It'll wash off urf!"

"No means no!"

"Not in Portuguese!"

"What's going on?" Fred whispered to Verona, taking a handful of popcorn.

She shrugged. "Don't know. She's trying to draw a scar on him or something. How're your dives coming along?"

"Can we keep the Quidditch talk to the pitch?" Not even three sentences into the conversation and Verona Wood already made it about practice.

"Freddie, is that you?" The wild mat of hair on the floor swung upwards, revealing Bea's puffy face, so eager that Fred nearly stumbled backwards. "Freddie! Perfect! Al, get up."

The muttering crowd dispersed. Verona left with her popcorn, shaking a finger at Fred. "See you at practice."

"Freddie, I've got an idea!" Bea had her hands firm in bargaining position as soon as she leapt up.

Fred stared at his harassed cousin to the weaponized quill in Bea's hand, and then finally to her brightly shining eyes. "Do tell."

"So I was thinking, since Malfoy brought it up, we don’t have a lot of funds after all, and we’re going to need money."

Fred stood a little straighter, scratching his head. "Actually I was thinking the same thing." He scrabbled for the sheet of arithmetic from his pocket. "This morning I was calculating our budget. We ended up using less than projected for the balm-thing—"

"Stalker Salve," Bea amended. "Won't be enough, not if we want to replace my old set of tools. And since you're leaving this year, we'll need to finish this soon." As soon as Albus staggered to his feet, she grabbed him around the shoulders. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

Fred went through his triangle of staring again, this time focusing a bit longer at the splotches of ink on Albus' cheek and his best guess was no, but he tried anyway. "We should take up Scorpius' offer?"

"—we should rob Gringotts!" Bea declared at the same time.

Fred groaned. Bea sighed.

"Freddie, we've got to get better at speaking collaboratively."

He should have known better than to be grateful too soon. "We're not robbing Gringotts."

"They just make it seem hard! I've got a great plan—we don't even have to break into the vaults!" Albus gave a squeak as Bea wrenched him by the sleeve and pushed back his fringe. "Just draw on a scar, call him Harry, and we can walk right in!"

"Look, all joking aside—"

"I'm not joking." Bea was still stubbornly holding Albus down. "What part looks like I'm joking?"

"...all joking aside," Fred said slowly, "I was hoping you'd be open to taking Scorpius' offer."

The pout from the night before reappeared, and she released Albus with a thud. He waved his arms weakly at passing students for help.

"You're serious?" Bea's face crumpled into pug-wrinkles.

Fred swallowed hard. "Come on, you know the numbers now. This is for your own good," he said hopelessly. She had proved, in an infamous week-long fit, that her stubbornness grew exponentially the longer she stayed in a tantrum. "You've been working on the transistor for months and getting supplies have been rough. Scorpius' backing would help."

"I don't want to work with him," she snapped, spinning away.

Fred followed after. Only stubborn could fight stubborn. "Sometimes we have to work with people we don't exactly agree with or like. But think about the bigger picture. We'll have the money to get all those missing components you need."

Bea threw her quill into a nearby ink pot. "I don't trust him."

"You can't just say that. You have to give me a reason why."

"Blokes with that kind of abdominal definition should never be trusted."

“Er.”

"Never mind. Look, there are some things you just don't trust people with," she said huffily. "I wouldn't tell Lucy a secret or give Rose a carving knife. I certainly won't hand over my intellectual property to Scorpius. But!" She raised a finger, chin up. "I had a back-up plan just in case you turned down the Gringotts one."

Fred couldn’t wait to hear this one. Kidnap and ransom Headmaster Flitwick? Perhaps she was making use of James Potter’s Patented Procedures. Tip #27, offer an obscenely ridiculous solution first on purpose so the next will seem less so. She had always been a faithful pupil to his old partner.

Albus had only just gotten to his feet when Bea slung her arm around him again. "Al's still part of a rich family. He can ask for money. We could just borrow some."

Albus frowned. "That would just be taking advantage of me."

"I'm not taking advantage of you," she reassured. "You're just helping me. Helping a friend."

"Oh, okay." Not a breath later, he exclaimed, "Wait a second!"

Albus then rambled on about how this was indeed taking advantage him and not friendship-related while Bea drummed her fingers against his shoulder, grumbling.

"I'm not saying that I won't help you," Albus said, now a little abashed. "But I'd just like something in return is all. You know how I've always wanted to join you guys on all your fun, so I was hoping..."

Bea looked to Fred for confirmation.

Fred massaged his temples. Oh gods, she was dragging the whole clan in. "So Malfoy's money is no good, but my family's money is a-okay? And Scorpius also has a lot that Albus can't offer," he continued, remembering Anjali's words. "He can make this go beyond my dad's shop in Hogsmeade."

"Malfoy's all about profit and I can't let it be about that." There was a resoluteness to her that made her seem bigger than her small frame. "I thought you knew how important it is to me. It's bigger than just us; it's going to be a revolution."

"Revolutions are all very nice on paper, but they're quite expensive to pull off."

"Has there ever been a cheap one?" Bea shot back. "Paid in lives, broken families—"

"It's a transistor, not a government overthrow."

He could see her mutter, "But the metaphor fits."

She was cracking though. The idea had planted in her mind and she was searching for excuses—he knew the look.

"Obviously you have some issues with people who are a little rich or have a little power," Fred said gently, "but not everyone is out to get you."

Her eyes suddenly narrowed. "Why are you so insistent?"

The lingering memory of Anjali's flirtations left Fred momentarily blank and Bea's stare hardened. Pulling his jaw up to stop any drool, he tried to focus on the matter at hand. "Look, I like helping you out, I really do, but it's nice if I know that it's going toward something that actually... works."

Bea sighed and crossed her arms in a fidget of rebellion. "I guess you wouldn't understand."

"No, I do," he countered weakly, though he had heard the tone a million times before. She never said it out loud, but he knew what she wanted to say: You don't make this stuff, Freddie. He was the sidekick, not the star, even in his dad's shop, where he worked the backroom while James worked the till.

Bea snorted. "Do you know how it feels like when someone like takes your idea and massacres it beyond recognition? Because that's what people like Malfoy would do. Ideas aren't just ideas. They're like—like my babies!" She leant forward with renewed zeal. "Do you want to be a baby-killer, Freddie? Huh, do you?"

With her intense scrutiny, he nearly believed that he was a baby-killer and shook his head to regain some sense. "Let's be reasonable. Dignity's not going to pay. As much as you like your self-business, it's not realistic—"

"Oh ho ho, there you go high and mighty again." With a harrumph, she stuck her nose up. "Next you're going to tell me you haven't really got that treacle tart you promised."

It was at that moment Fred remembered that after lunch, he had eaten the promised tart during Charms. In his frozen silence, Bea's tantrum dissolved and her lip now quivered with a tremor reserved only for the gravest of tragedies.

Fred hid his wince behind a hand. "Come on, it's just one tart—"

"But you promised."

"I'll fetch you one tomorrow."

"You said you had a treacle—"

"I forgot I ate it during—"

"But you said —"

"I know I said—"

"So you lied—"

"—but—"

"—a tart of lies."

Bea's eyes pleaded, even watered. She leaned forward pouting, and Fred leaned backwards to avoid her.

"Look, Bea—" He glanced away from her puppy-stare. "Bea, can you forget about your stomach and take this seriously? Truth is, we can't keep this up. It's only a matter of time before someone catches us nicking things from the teacher's cupboards."

Her shoulders slumped in acquiescence, but she remained silent. Fred got up and paced backwards toward the dorm staircase. "We can talk about it tomorrow. It's been a long day."

Albus waved but Bea didn't reply, choosing instead to pick at the scab by her knuckle. Only after Fred was halfway up the stairs did she pull her head up and call, "Good night!" A hint of gloom painted her voice, always late to jump on the forgiveness train.

Fred stepped a few paces down. "Treacle tart tomorrow for sure, yeah?"

Biting her lip, she nodded. "We can share," she offered.

He smiled lightly before plodding up the steps again. Bea meant well, as she always did. He could only hope it was enough.








After Albus left, Bea flopped down across the entire length of the sofa. Fred had a point, but they were supposed to be the plucky underdogs! The duo that charged through thick and thin, thwarting the evil plans of the smarmy, monocled capitalists! Whatever they were. Couldn't Fred show a hint of optimism?

Besides, she had told him from the very beginning that it was more than just any old invention; it was going to pull wizards out of their silly traditionalism. Wizarding culture was falling fast behind against the tech age of the Muggles, and all they needed to do was figure out a way to get magic to work with some circuitry. If they could cure the common cold, surely they could do this much.

But wizards were wizards. There were still so many who snubbed their noses at primitive devices, and no one would hear the growing clamor for tellies and laptops and mobiles—Fred included. He didn't live in both worlds like she did. For one, his definition of instant messaging was that the owls flew a lot faster. He didn't see how big this would be.

She sighed. There was so much she needed, not only money but access to a proper workplace. A prefect on their side wasn't half-bad, either.

On cue, Ravenclaw's red-headed terror loomed over like a phantom.

"Bea? Could I borrow you for a sec?"

"Er—" But before Bea could properly respond, Rose dragged her up and out of her seat. She didn't fight, for while Rose was skittishly harmless, she was also a lunatic.

Rose towed Bea to a quieter corner of the common room, obscured by the back of a shelf.

"Are you all right?" asked Bea. Her temper dampened quickly as she watched Rose pace around, wringing her hands.

"No, I'm not all right! I am in a crisis—!" Rose let out a long breath. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snap. I—I'm just at the end of my wits. I don't know what to do..." Her words devolved into despairing squeaks.

Bea certainly didn't know what to do, whatever it was. It was times like these that she wished Rose had a larger group of friends to consult; few people other than Lucy or Verona could stand her, which was only a result of living with her for so long (the violent tendencies were endearing, even). But Verona wouldn't care to listen and Lucy would only laugh in her face. That left Bea, and it was a sad state of affairs when your local nutter was the go-to girl for advice.

"...so I was wondering if I could maybe help," finished Rose.

"Help?" repeated Bea, blinking. She wasn't the greatest listener, either.

"With your trap-sitter thing. It can make mobiles and laptops and intertubes work in Hogwarts right?"

"It's transistor, and yeah, it can do all that, but it's a little more complicated—"

"I know, I have to sign up for some Muggle service. Right now, I just need to know if this thing you're working on will let me ring people."

"Theoretically..." Bea wasn't sure if Rose understood she might not get reception in the Scottish moors, especially in a place that didn't exactly exist to phone companies. Rose seemed to have been doing quite a lot of research, however. "What's this all about?"

Rose bit her lip. The hand-wringing resumed. "You've... you've got to keep this secret, okay?" Bea nodded. "You know Colin, the boy I've been getting letters from? The one I'm making that Squib rights group for? Well..." Her eyes squeezed shut. "He is the squib."

"Oh, Rose."

The Wizarding community had made great strides in anti-discrimination since the last war, but if news broke out that Rose Weasley was in love with a squib, it would make her an absolute laughingstock.

"I lied about him going to the Arthurian Academy," she whimpered. "He just goes to Muggle school and he has Muggle things and he wants to talk to me the Muggle way and I don't know what to do, Bea. I don't know what to do!"

She flung herself at Bea, sobbing hysterically, while the diminutive girl stood stock-still with her hands up. Cautiously, she pat Rose on the back.

Bea knew how it felt to be cut off from the Muggle world. Last summer, after she, Mum, and Sasha moved in with her grandparents after the divorce, she had to bid goodbye to her electronics; there was too much magical interference at home for them to work properly. She missed all the crazy gadgets that did things that wizards couldn't even dream of.

That was what she admired about Muggles like Dad; they had such imagination. It was no wonder they never needed magic.

Eventually, Rose calmed down to a coherent babble. "Colin has a point. He wants to grow up like a Muggle and if that's the case, it's not right to keep him tied to this world. He already owls me, but I want to hear his voice and see him... Muggles have that two-way mirror thing—"

"Video chat."

"Yeah, that, and maybe he'll like me, maybe he'll really like me and not hate me like everyone else and oh my god my life is a wreck—" Rose's voice climbed toward a dangerous shrill.

"No one hates you! You're um... you're just a little intimidating sometimes—"

"EVERYONE HATES ME!"

"Shh, shh!" Bea looked around wildly. Nearby Snap players stared. "I don't hate you. And... you know what? I am going to let you help me with the transistor." A prefect did come in handy...

Rose brightened, almost to the point where she wouldn't scare away first years on sight. "You are? I'm a fair brewer. Charms, too—"

"Actually, I was wondering if you'd be willing to, er, bend a few rules..."

All of Rose's nervous habits threatened to break loose as the question flashed before her eyes. Her beloved rule book or her beloved boy?

"Do it for Colin," pressed Bea. It was terrible to take advantage of an emotionally distraught girl, but surely it was in Rose's best interest. After all, who knew when she would ever be able to find another bloke she liked so much and didn't run away from her screaming?

At last, trembling, Rose nodded. Bea smiled widely, forgetting herself for a moment, before hastily conjuring a handkerchief.

Who needed Malfoy, anyway?





A/N last edit 3/25/12, formerly chapter 6 part 2
:D THE TEAM IS ASSEMBLED. Sort of. Kind of against their will and/or bribed.

Coming Soon: A FIGHT D: Girl banter. Cupcakes.

And so the first domino tipped over. She had been waiting for this moment, ever since the train ride at the beginning of the school year, where the carriage felt more empty than ever before. Some people were able to keep in touch with friends despite having different schedules, living in different houses, or leaving Hogwarts, but neither she nor Fred were like that. Without James, they were drifting apart.

Chapter 7: Apologetics Anonymous
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7. APOLOGETICS ANONYMOUS
If war conference talks were settled with cupcakes, world peace would arrive a lot sooner.



"Straight to Dad, Tugwing."

Albus unlatched the window and the his owl flew out of the Ravenclaw girls' dorm, her snowy white feathers melting into the night. "There." He turned to Bea, who was pulling supplies from underneath her bed. "Asked for an advance allowance for new Quidditch gear. Dad’ll like that. I have galleons saved up too if it's not enough."

Bea flashed him a smile as she carried a box over to her desk. "Thanks. Really, you don't know how much I need this."

In the quiet evening, with her work before her, she was in a rare moment of sobriety. On her desk was a freshly crumpled note from home, delivered by one of the castle owls an hour ago. It was 'polite rubbish', as Bea liked to put it, another reminder of her first and foremost responsibility to focus on her studies.

Albus scampered over as she unpacked, bringing out vials and other trinkets he could only faintly recognize. The Weasley family Kneazle Mr. Welly jumped up on her chair, sniffing at Bea's hand before she shooed him away. Affronted, he nosed into her robe pocket, the one hanging off her chair, in search for stray biscuits.

Bea wiped her hands on her shirt and then moved to lift the transistor from her shelf, careful to not tangle the loose wiring. "Well, it’s what I've got now." She blew the day's dust off and held it before Albus. "You can touch it if you want. It's pretty sturdy."

It was like a welder's puzzle: a metal amalgamation of scrap parts fused and forced into a rectangular shape. The color and texture didn't match all the way around; brass melted into bronze melting into pewter. On either side, two large tubes protruded, encasing a knot of thread-like wires. Albus felt along the ribbed top. It was cool and dull as expected, but there was a kick under his finger that warned of hidden magic.

"I know it looks small but"—Bea flipped a latch on its side, separating it into a cover and a hollow body that held the inner components—"there's a lot inside."

At the center of the tangle was what captivated Albus the most: a blue glowing ball that seemed to breathe and blur color. He rubbed his eyes.

"The core has to be switched out with a runespoor egg. Thought plain rockspoor ones would work, but they're a tad too unfriendly with electrical currents." Bea paused, considering Albus' glassy-eyed stupor. "Jibber jabber, I know. Don't worry, Freddie doesn't know half of this stuff either. You probably know some of the magical stuff. The physics takes a bit more time to understand. Merlin, imagine explaining electrons to you! Little floating particles everywhere; you'd call it magic—figuratively, of course."

Albus blinked.

Bea sighed. "Wizards."

From the bundle of instruments laid out on a dirty rag, she picked up a pair of tweezers and detached the threads from core. A less-skilled hand might have torn the delicate filaments that wove around it but Bea was too familiar, too devoted to the device for such a careless mistake.

The blue glow waned and when it was at last a dull grey, she extracted the egg from its metal shell, and Albus took in every action with marvel.

The quiet ended when Lucy and Rose arrived in a storm of bickering. In Lucy's arms was what appeared to be a pot with a stick of gnarled wood in the middle.

"You are not keeping that thing in our room!" Rose snapped.

"She's not a thing." Lucy coaxed and cooed at the bonsai's leaves, if they could even be called such in their wrinkled raisin state. "Her name is Maple."

"It's a tree!"

"Earned your gold stars in herbology, eh? She's more than just a tree; she has a soul."

"Ugh, artists. You're worse than Louis."

"Excuse me, I am an artist. Louis is an artiste, which is French for deranged. He stalks people and takes their photos. Maple is a victimless installation. She sits on the windowsill and photosynthesizes."

Rose gave a huff that all but communicated her distaste of being related to her. "And what of this mating season again?"

"Just don't get too close on that one day of the month, and her seeds won't try to implant themselves in your leg."

A strangled squeak escaped from Rose's throat. She began sorting the books on her desk into alphabetical order—her makeshift anger management activity—all the way from Ancient Runes and Scripts to Zodiac: Life Decided For You. One more snarky quip and she'd launch herself at her cousin, this time with something sharper than a pillow.

After setting Maple down beside her nightstand, Lucy skipped across the room to the inventor. "Bea! Is it true? Is Rose really helping you?"

“A prefect's a handy person to have, I figure.” Bea lifted one lens of her Magnify-o Goggles.

"I don't know what was going on in your little head when you asked, but it's my duty to advise against it. There's no reason to spend any more time than necessary with my cousin."

Rose cleared her throat. "Excuse me."

"Maybe you think it won't be so bad," Lucy continued, "that crazy gets along with crazy. But there are different levels of crazy, Bea. You? You're a lovable crazy. Kind of kooky. Rose, on the other hand, is more of an axe-murderer."

"I'm right here." Rose reached for her hairbrush; the bristles were sharp enough to draw blood, if she tried hard enough.

The door swung open and Verona tromped in with Fred, fresh from Quidditch practice. Verona dropped her duffel to the floor with a grateful sigh. “Hello, Weasleys one through three and Bea." She took a step and grimaced. "That rhymed a lot more than I'm comfortable with."

Fred padded toward the inventor, shoes springy with his pair of Feminine Feet Soles. Its combination of sparkly enchantments and neon pink color made a bold fashion statement and, as an added bonus, tricked the staircase's male-detection system.

"How are the Salve tests coming along?" Fred asked.

Bea put the transistor down and her probe behind her ear. "Haven't checked them but they should be done. Let me just..." She wrest her potions rack from the back of her desk and shoved it in front of Fred. "Hold this."

He stared into the glassy necks of the vials, each holding goop of various hues that almost looked like taffy. Lucy tried to get a finger in and swipe a taste.

"Have you been working on the transistor all this time?" asked Fred.

"Well, I figure if we're going make use of Rose and Albus, we should get this done quick. No need to keep them longer than necessary," she said. Fred might have been right about her exploiting his family, but she did try to be polite about it.

"Appreciate the thought, but I need to talk to you about that." He beckoned her outside.

Bea puffed her cheeks out and let it deflate in a long sigh, before dragging her feet outside. Albus was shooed along as Verona flapped a towel.

"I need to shower, Potter!"

Albus sputtered a hasty apology as he shielded his eyes (though she was fully clothed) and scampered out with Bea. He shut the door in the midst of Verona's mutterings.

Fred paced around the landing. "So," he said, leaning back against the wall. "I was hoping you thought about this more."

Bea crossed her arms. "If you mean getting your cousins to help with this transistor project instead of Malfoy, I don't see anything wrong with this."

"This is more for you than me. Please, just take a look at the opportunity you're giving up."

"What I don't understand is how everyone seems to see all these opportunities," Bea grumbled. "If you like these opportunities so much, you go get them yourself. Malfoy's giving them away like hotcakes, isn't he? Money, fame, leggy girls. Opportunity hotcakes with extra syrup! Tastes delicious until you start choking on the lies and get backstabbed with a butter knife!"

Fred somehow found himself at the end of her probe, whipped out from behind her ear and pointed threateningly in his face. He had retreated a full six feet away while Albus hid behind him. "I think you've been living with Rose too long."

She glanced at her hand and then at the boys again. Clearing her throat, she primly nestled the instrument back in its place. Kneading her cheeks up and down like a stress ball, she tried to find the right words. James had so many tricks to explaining and persuasion but she could barely get past square one. "I want to make my own decisions, Freddie. Make my own mistakes. I don't want to rely on anyone."

Fred's brow crinkled. Bea could see that he was trying to understand and she wanted to appreciate it, but he didn't understand—not in the way she wanted him to. She couldn't escape his first impression of her: little Bea Chang, the sugar-minded third year that followed him and James around for chocolate bars. But where James saw promise, Fred saw a naive liability. Even after all these years, that never changed.

"If you want to do this your way, I guess I can't stop you. It's your invention," he said, rubbing the back of his neck. "But I have other things to do. I have N.E.W.T.S., Quidditch..."

And so the first domino tipped over. She had been waiting for this moment, ever since the train ride at the beginning of the school year, or even before that. It was one of those thoughts that came paired with guilt and buried until it demanded notice. Some people were able to keep in touch with friends despite having different schedules, living in different houses, or leaving Hogwarts, but neither she nor Fred were like that. Without James, they were drifting apart. Next September, there would be no Fred at all, and their time together would only exist in memories.

Her shoulders sank lower. "Well... I guess I have Rose and Albus."

In that moment, when the hurt flashed across his face, she knew she had said the wrong thing.

“So, just like that, huh?"

The note of surprise didn’t escape her ears. The same thought had occurred to him, but unlike Bea, who was resigned to the inevitable, he hadn't. "Freddie, it's not that I don't appreciate your help," she said quickly. "I don't mean it that way at all."

“Fred—?” Albus reached for him but Fred shook his head, turning toward the staircase.

"Never mind, let's just drop it.”

She couldn't see his creased frown but she felt it was there, a splotch of hanging clouds over his head. "I don't understand. What's wrong?"

"It's fine. I—" He sighed. "I'm getting too old for this, is all. I'll come by for the Salves tomorrow." With that, he disappeared around the turn until his shadow folded into the dark.

Frustration burned in her cheeks. Merlin, this was exactly the problem! How was she supposed to fix anything when he wasn't even telling her what was wrong? She whirled around in a huff, flung the door open and slammed it behind her.

After taking a step, she remembered Albus and sheepishly let him in. "Sorry. Forgot you were there."

When Rose and Lucy asked what happened outside, Bea responded with a vague excuse about business disagreements. She took her seat at her desk. Albus hovered by her side, quieter than usual.

She needed a distraction but didn't have much to tinker with—not without a new core. The highly illegal runespoor egg was enough of a problem, not including all the details like finding wiring strong enough to carry its energy.

Bea settled on organizing her potion rack, making sure no sock gremlins scampered off with her vials, which were currently insulated by her old knee-highs. Meanwhile, Lucy snored in the background, having meant to take a short nap, but would invariably end up sleeping until the next morning. Rose and Verona were at their desks, quills swishing.

Albus broke the silence. "Are you and Fred going to be okay?"

Bea pressed her lips tight together as she switched two vials. "I don't know."

"He doesn't hold grudges."

"I do."

"He... he means well. Even if you don't agree with him"—he paused in alarm when her gaze flashed to his—"he just wants to help."

As many times as Fred had explained himself that way, it sounded different from Albus. Maybe because she never tried to rebel against Albus. Bea sighed. "I know."

"If you don't mind me asking, why are you so against a deal with Scorpius? I thought Fred made some good points yesterday."

Bea shook her head. Albus really wasn't going to let it go. "Scorpius is bored. Wants to throw some money around. It's like we're the underdogs and he's the bad guy, and you don't let the bad guy win."

"I know he wasn't being a very good friend before but I... I think he means well, too." Albus prodded her in the side, unwilling to be ignored. "Hey, I'm a 'Puff. We're experts at these things, friends and finding and finding friends. You should listen. And..." His fingers twisted against each other, fidgeting on a thought. “...it’s not worth disagreeing over something so silly if you and Fred stop talking because of it.”

Bea couldn't help but smile back and squeezed his hand. "I appreciate it, Al."

Life was a lot simpler back when inventing was just for fun and she only received desserts in return. If only it were as easy as pie.






The following night, Bea met Rose and Albus outside the common room for a supply restocking expedition. Finding black market eggs was a tad more difficult than filching a few everyday ingredients, and it didn't hurt to put them on the bunny slope first.

Rose was to patrol, stalling or stopping any approaching professors, prefects, or poltergeists. They had to be extra careful this time without the Marauder's Map handy. Crazy eyes at bay, she held up surprisingly well; her stuttering excuses became more assertive after chatting up her third prefect. When the coast was clear, Bea and Albus sped through the maze of hallways, heart jumping at every echo and shadow. Hogwarts at night was a completely different place.

The ghosts had their poker nights. Prefects, thinking that they were alone, were always up to odd things—picking their nose, talking to themselves, breaking out into interpretive dance.

Finally they reached their target: a former Potions classroom on the third floor. Bea forced open the door with a handy 'Alohomora' and a good shove. She assured Albus, "These classrooms are so old, no one ever misses anything in here."

The night painted the room in an eerie moonlight, washing over the desks in tides of blue. At the corner, nestled between an overturned desk and a rusted owl cage, was a massive oaken cabinet. Bea felt along its sides, giving it a gentle knock every few inches, and then pulled one of its gold rungs. The door didn't budge. She held her wand out. "Nothing another Alohomora won't fix."

"I wouldn't do that," said a voice behind her.

Bea and Albus jumped. It was Fred. He was making his way through the rows of desks, collar and tie close and crisp, his stride purposeful—the point man swooping in to do the job right.

"That thing's probably jinxed." Fred tapped his wand against the door and muttered an incantation under his breath. The cabinet shuddered, coughing off its top film of dust, and swung open.

There were rows and rows of supplies and Bea was so consumed by the plunder, shoving jars at Albus, that she nearly forgot thank him. She spun around. "Freddie—"

He was staring off, sullen, with hardly a trace of the same excitement.

Bea frowned. "Are you still mad?"

"No," he said dully.

"You're still mad."

"I'm just tired." He managed a forced smile. "I can't quite let you run off with my cousins and get you all killed, can I?"

A drop of guilt rippled through Bea. It was disheartening to see him so reluctant to be there when he should have been having fun. She knew she made things difficult for him, but she had never seen it so visibly.

By the time Rose peeked her head in to fuss about hurrying up (Filch's army of cats was bearing down on them and no amount of small talk was going to stop them), they had amassed a haul. Fred took out the Marauder's Map and spread it across a table, pointing out the best routes. They were to double back after escorting Albus to his common room and remembering last time, he warned of the moving staircases.

When Bea blinked, it was almost like business as usual.

Almost.






The more eventful nights were, the slower days went.

The entire Charms class was knocked out halfway into the guest enchanter Aldrich Pintswitch's speech. He had one of the most brilliant minds in all of Wizarding history and a monotone to rival Binns’.

Bea was leaning on her arm, fluttering in and out of her daydream where it was All-You-Can-Eat Day at Honeydukes, and she was kicked out after clearing aisle five. When she felt something wet tickle her arm and saw a cupcake by her elbow, she didn't think much of her extremely vivid dream, but an insistent hiss followed.

"Psst. Bea."

She then noticed the two fingers pushing the cupcake closer. Her eyes traveled up the arm and sure enough, there was Scorpius, who had apparently displaced whoever was previously sitting to her left. She frowned, nose flaring. For treacle's sake, did 'No' not exist in his vocabulary? The fact that she had already refused twice in the face of desserts should have sent a message!

Exasperated, Bea grabbed the cupcake in haste, crushing the bottom and causing the frosting to overflow onto her hands.

"What are you—no!" Scorpius waved wildly, distraught. Clutching the side of her desk, he leaned in. "It's not a bribe cupcake. It's a... it's an apology one."

For a second, she very nearly fell for it. She frowned deeper. "As if you mean it!" she hissed.

"Gee, thanks," he scoffed.

“Don’t you dare pretend to be hurt.”

“Of course. Me. Feelings.” He sat back and crossed his arms. "You're right, I don't mean it. Anjali made me do it."

"Think I'm so easy..."

"Can't believe I spent two hours baking that."

"You baked it?" Bea stared at the cupcake again, which was now flowing down the back of her hand in a mix of cream and sprinkles.

He reddened slightly. "I can bake, so what?"

It wasn't that he could bake, although she found the image of Scorpius in a flowery apron highly amusing. It was the fact that he baked it in the first place, the glaring anomaly in all of his actions. Baking took effort. He could buy her the best dessert in all of Britain, but instead, he sweated over an oven in the kitchens, jostling elbows with House Elves.

Baking was the sign of a guilty subconscious.

The matter of his guilt was already dropped—he said he wasn't sorry. Bea didn't have bring it up again or even talk to Scorpius if she didn't want to. It would only create an opportunity for the snotty nuisance to return. But the thought itched in her throat until finally she asked, "...do you mean it?"

"I already said I don't," he grumbled. "Not that it matters. It's not going to change your mind if I do."

The memory of her unsuccessful apology to Fred suddenly transplanted itself into her thoughts. Was this what her stubbornness caused? "It might!" she retorted.

"Are you sure about that?" Scorpius leaned out of his chair and onto her desk again. "Because if I said I hate pumpkin juice, I bet you'd think it's some conspiracy of mine to exploit you."

Bea regretted her decision immediately. He wasn't taking this seriously in the slightest. "That's not—"

"Then what if I said that I always admired your work and never wanted to cheat you, that all I wanted was to give your bloody invention a fighting chance to make it to market, and that"—he licked his lips and swallowed—"that maybe I am sorry! What would you say then, huh?"

Bea shrunk back. Even Scorpius looked surprised at himself. The pressure bore down on her back to say something, anything. All she could do was stare back at his eyes, so vividly clear and grey, and then at the heartlessly murdered cake in her hand.

There was only one course of action: panic.

Which equated to cramming the entire cupcake in her mouth.

Bea wasn't sure what she was thinking at the time—she likely wasn't thinking—but eliminating the source of her sudden guilt seemed sensible. The result was... less so. Even more unfortunately, it didn't fix anything. Now they were staring at each other and she had frosting smeared across her face.

Slowly, the corners of Scorpius' mouth lifted and out escaped a snicker. Bea glared but she couldn't suppress the betraying start of a smile and the giggle that leaked. Somehow, it made everything all right.

A few heads turned in the classroom, but most were too asleep to notice the pair in the back of the room.

"I guess I'm sorry too," said Bea slowly. "For, erm, attacking you." She reached for the Truce Tart she had been carrying in her bag all day for Fred and placed it in his hand.

Scorpius closed his fingers around it. There followed a long, poignant silence, the kind that meant mutual understanding and mending bridges—or as best as could be managed by a pair of sixth years, one who lived by fast talk and the other, sugar.





A/N for any offended French artistes, artiste does not actually mean deranged. It means artist. -cough- This chapter is the first bit of seriousness, and I'd like to know what you think. I'm still a little iffy about the pacing, but I'm working on it. Any reviews would be lovely!

Coming up: a whole chapter dedicated to explosive adventuretimes and banter 8D

"Don't get us both caught," he whispered harshly. "I just saved your arse."

After another unruly thrash, Bea slackened.

"Are you going to yell when I let go?"

She swallowed and then shook her head. With a grimace, Scorpius dropped his arms.


Chapter 8: Just a Little Breaking and Entering
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ACT II: THE FIRST CAPER

8. JUST A LITTLE BREAKING AND ENTERING
The biggest threats to Hogwarts were students with too much free time on their hands.


Bea had wanted to find unicorn hair by Thursday, but instead, she was stuck ironing out the kinks in the Stalker Salve. Attempting to 'compromise' was not as fun as Albus had made it sound.

"You said there'd be kittens." Bea pouted as she slumped into the common room armchair.

"I said compromise is like a kitten. Treat him well, see it through until it grows, and you'll be happier in the long run," said Albus as he strained to lift Mr. Welly into his lap. The Kneazle refused to budge. "Fred, conditions?"

Fred was standing idly, flipping his pocket watch open and closed. "Get the Salve ready for the last tests and you can drag me around on whatever you want," he said. "If you want to stop making Wheezes products to focus on your transistor, that's fine, but we should finish what we start."

Bea nodded. She had nothing against making Wheezes products, but side projects divided her attention and the transistor was no simple concept. Fred was giving her the better end of the deal. It was a nice sort of post-reconciliation gesture, not that there was a reconciliation phase before it.

They weren't feelings people; they danced around issues more awkwardly than chaperoned teens at a dance, but like Albus had said, Fred didn't hold grudges. Truthfully, neither did she—it wasn't worth it. She trusted too few people in the world and fewer could put up with her. Fred was reliable and, without notice, would forgive her. And she would always forgive Fred.

For once, they had good timing; she finished the salve at the same time Fred got a literal itch for adventure. "I'll be needing unicorn tail hairs," she said, snapping the prototype open. The sudden burst of static shock sent her hair into a crackling frizz. "Cores too, but I can still wait on that." Common-grade unicorn hair, which was plucked from the mane, wasn't good enough.

That evening, Fred brought Bea, Albus, and Rose to the common room to explain the logistics.

"It's rather simple, if we're lucky," Fred said, holding out the parchment containing the details. Albus and Rose stared as it unrolled all the way to the floor.

"That's simple?" squeaked Rose.

"He was much worse last year," said Bea, unfazed. "Once, he had six of those. One of them was what to do if there was a hurricane."

Fred tried to shoo away Mr. Welly, who was using his master plans as a clawing post. "It was storm season. It was very possible."

"A hurricane of venomous toads."

"You never know what the moors will throw at you. Anyhow..."

Pulling off a Hogwarts heist was an art. Fred went over destinations, main routes, alternate routes, escape routes, precautions, and postcautions.

"Al, you're our supply guy. Take this." Fred draped a utility belt over Albus' shoulder. "There's fragile stuff in there. Goggles, enchanted lock picks, silencing bombs, emergency biscuits, lots of things. Keep it all together."

Albus fastened it around his waist. "So... I'm a pack mule."

"Supply guy," Fred repeated, flipping Albus' bent collar. Albus had dressed for the occasion by imitating Fred's shirt-and-tie combo, but he ended up looking more like a kid in his dad’s work clothes. "The most important thing is to follow close behind. Bea'll take up the rear but watch your back anyway. Now, repeat the signals I taught you."

Meanwhile, Rose edged closer to Bea. "This seems complicated," Rose whispered.

"Nah, the only person who pays attention to all these rules is Fred." Bea laced up her black salamander skin boots, a birthday present from James. It had footstep-silencing enchantments, and it never hurt to go in style. "Just patrol and do what you did last time, when it was just me and Al."

"That was a fluke! I didn't know what I was doing then either. I just talked to people to distract them, but that can't work forever. I stutter and I'm boring and I scare people away."

"Rose, I scare people away." Bea tied the last knot and brushed off her hands. "Really, it's not a big deal; this is Hogwarts, not the Ministry. We're patrolled by a bunch of sixteen-year-olds. People who are just like you."

Rose creased her brow, eyes shifting around the common room. One of the prefects, Edgar Frittleson, was fast asleep and two third years were taking turns launching earwax-flavored jellybeans at his mouth. "...good Godric, we do have rubbish security, don't we?"

"Exactly. Now just relax."

Rose did anything but, her shoulders tightly wound back and her teeth chewing on her lip. A thousand scenarios rained down her head like poison toads.

"Well, I guess that's it," said Fred, clapping Albus on the shoulder. "We can head out in an hour. Ringleward should be asleep then." He took a brief survey of the area, checking to make sure he hadn't dropped any supplies, and headed toward the stairs.

"But what about me?" Rose called after him. "Don't you have some... super secret prefecting tips for me?"

"Aw, you don't need it, Rose; you're a natural. You've got the Weasley genes." Fred smiled brightly. It was only after these prep sessions that he was so eerily easygoing.

"Weasley genes," she repeated under her breath, never mind that Albus had the same genes, too. "Right-o, of course."






Appropriately, the mission began with an explosion.

An explosive belch, to be precise.

Fred, Bea, and Albus were tiptoeing down to the dungeons in perfect synchronized silence until Albus let out the equivalent of a dragon's roar, smoke rings and all.

Fred swiveled around. "What was that?"

Albus coughed up a few burping aftershocks. The stench of fizzy pop hung in the air. "Sorry, we'd been experimenting."

While Bea and Albus were killing time in the hour prior, she had convinced Albus to drink an unmarked potion that had rolled behind her desk. She had an inkling it was the lost vial of anti-hiccup potion she had brewed last year, which had the unfortunate side-effect of gastric flamebrosis. From the looks of it, she had been correct.

Fred craned his head to judge the glow emanating from next hallway. "Well, try to hold it in. I think Rose stopped someone ahead. I don't see her lantern moving."

Albus twiddled his thumbs. "...I need to use the loo. I drank a lot of fizzy pop."

"Hold that in, too." Fred straightened his tie, trying to uphold some semblance of professionalism in the mission. Cautiously, he approached the corner until he could hear the murmurs.

"Those arm muscles are so... muscley!"

Judging from the high pitch, that was Rose. Fred shuddered. Rose's flirting was like Hog's Head Open Mic Nights—painful to hear, likely to require some form of brain bleach afterwards, but too morbidly intriguing to pass up.

He peeked around. Rose was currently feeling up a Slytherin prefect, Orion Something-or-other. Tall, tan, and a bit of a blithering numbskull.

Bea popped up beside him. "What's she doing?"

"I think she's trying to flirt," said Albus, who wriggled underneath Bea to get a look. They were like three sideways gophers, peering at the train wreck to come.

Except it wasn't a train wreck. Rose was twirling her hair and Orion was perfectly enthralled, as if he had never seen a girl with hair before.

"I think he actually likes her," said Bea. "I don't get it. Is he that desperate?"

Fred and Albus exchanged glances. "Well," Albus began, "it's cause she's, well, she's..."

"She's pretty," Fred finished.

Bea squinted at them and then at Orion, who was staring down at Rose with a giddy smile. "...it's 'cause she's got huge knockers, isn't it?"

"Yep."

"Pretty much."

"Weasley genes, my arse."

Rose finally managed to get Orion to follow her by draping herself over his arm, doing every hair flip, coy giggle, wink trick ever discovered and then some. The three were about to emerge from hiding when Albus hiccuped.

Orion stopped Rose. "What was that?"

"Oh no," Albus squeaked, pressing his lips tight together until his cheeks grew puffy and red, but it couldn't stop his thunderous belch.

Fred yanked Albus and Bea back. Spinning toward the staircase, he saw another light approaching. "Ah, shit."

Orion's footsteps approached, as did Rose's frantic babbling. They had seconds. Fred dove into the pocket of Albus' utility belt for a Ceiling Claw and pressed the button on its side. The claw shot up and hit stone with a clang.

"Hold tight." He pressed the button again.

"What—" Albus began before Fred kicked him in the face as he rappelled upwards. Bea grabbed Albus by the collar at the last second and the three of them escaped into the safety of the shadows.

Bea held her breath. Don't look up.

Underneath, Orion swung his beefy legs around as he inspected the hallway's nooks. Rose tried to coax him to her with little success. The other light had gone away, thankfully.

At last, Orion passed into the next hallway.

Fred lowered them down. “Are you okay, Al?”

“My mouth tastes like rubber and blood,” he whimpered.

“Sorry, we'll have to patch it up later. There's another prefect on this floor, and Rose won't be back for awhile."

They raced toward the Potions classroom. Fred set up a string of Silencing Charms along the way. When they arrived at the door however, instead of the standard classroom knob, the handle was pointed like a wolf's snout.

Fred jiggled the handle and it snapped into life, growling at his hand with a full set of teeth. He jumped back. "Guard Knob. I don't know how to get past one of these, not without losing a finger." Fred scratched his chin as he studied it closer. "Plus, I have a feeling this isn't the only new security Ringleward put up since our little explosion."

"Does that mean game over already?" Albus slid to the floor. The adventure had barely begun.

"Unless you want to try and figure out where the central storage is. Only Advanced Potions uses unicorn tail hair."

"We can do that instead! We have all night!" Albus nodded eagerly. "...what’s the central storage?"

Fred shook his head. "The central storage is like the Holy Grail. All of the school’s supplies pass through that room. James and I searched for five years and came up with nothing. It’s not that easy."

"What about Professor Aurelia?" said Bea, feeding the knob a biscuit; it quickly decimated it into crumbs. "Didn't she have that demo the other day with unicorn hair, the one she does every year for P.A.R.E.?" Potions Abuse Resistance Education was a program set up by the Ministry to counter misuse of ingredients and unauthorized potions making. She had to attend sessions after getting caught brewing in the loo.

"It's not a sure bet, but better than nothing," Fred muttered, flipping open his timepiece. "Well, we do have all night. Let's go."

The destination was now two floors up. They found Rose again by the staircase and explained the new plan. She was glad enough to hear that she wouldn't run into Orion again.

As they were about to climb up, Bea caught a whiff of the ovens. "Hmm,” she said, “a little biscuit break?"

"That's all the way back there.” Fred had just prepped himself with a mental soundtrack that called for dashing down corridors, flashy diversion tactics and fancy point man acrobatics, not sugar. “Besides, we have the emergency biscuits."

"But there are better biscuits. I'll be real quick." She skipped away before he could say no. "Meet you at Aurelia's. Take Albus to the loo or something while you wait."

"Bea..." Fred glared pointedly. "At least watch out for Prefects!"

“Yeah, ‘course!”

Bea shook her head as she turned the corner. Fred was too paranoid.

At the fruit bowl painting, she tickled the pear. A blast of spicy warmth enveloped her as she entered the kitchen. Weaving between the stools and pots and bustling House-Elves, she joined a couple of Hufflepuffs in raiding the snack cupboards.

She bagged some jammy dodgers for Fred, custard creams for Albus, and Bourbons for herself, and then stopped by the cooling racks for freshly baked cookies. Spying the tops of muffins in the ovens, Scorpius' apology cupcake sprang to mind. It suddenly struck her that Scorpius could have very easily lied about baking it. How could she have missed this? It must have been her empty stomach.

There was one way to check.

She tapped an idle House-Elf on the shoulder, who glared at her with his one good eye. "Erm, sorry to bother," she said, "but did you see a Scorpius Malfoy in here about a week ago? About yea high, blond, always in a suit, probably thinks he's better than you?"

He curled his crusty lip and turned away. "Never seen 'im before."

Scorpius had lied after all! What a weaselly snake, hitting her right in her weak spot and making up that whole apology speech with a straight face. Two hours baking a cupcake—who spent two hours baking a single cupcake?

But before she could get riled up, another House-Elf marched over to the elf that answered her question. "Xeeny! Xeeny can't say someone don't exist just a'cause Xeeny don't like them," he chided.

The surly House-Elf spat on the floor. "Xeeny do what Xeeny wants. Xeeny don't like him, he don't exist. If Mibben keep scoldin' Xeeny, mebbe Mibbin don't exist either."

The second elf, apparently named Mibben, sighed and glanced up at Bea. "Terribly sorry, Missus. Mr. Malfoy was in here last week."

"...really?" Reluctantly, Bea gulped down her wrath. She supposed there was no good resurrecting bygone issues, but she had been rather excited at having something to hold over Scorpius. That and the prospect of shouting J'accuse! at him.

"Wouldn't forget someone like Mr. Malfoy. Made a terrific mess."

"There ain't nothing terrific about it," Xeeny grumbled.

Mibben shook his head, twisting his foot about. "Xeeny's still sore about Mr. Malfoy's behavior. Don't like it when instructions aren't followed exactly."

"Twat used the wrong kind of eggs!" Xeeny brandished a spoon, knocking it against a line of pots. "Duck eggs! Supposed to be a chick'uns!"

"Now Xeeny, Mr. Malfoy did the proper baking conversions. One duck egg for two chicken eggs."

"You can't convert a duck to two chick'uns! It's just not right, 'else we'd all stop raising chick'uns and raise ducks and then convert them like Fancy Boy!"

The squabbling continued as Bea crept outside; House-elf fights lasted forever.

So Fancy Boy really did bake. That opened a whole other can of flobberworms. Maybe it was a hobby. Bea threatened to erupt in another bout of giggle-snorts. Maybe—maybe if she went on enough biscuit runs, maybe she would run into him dressed like that cooking celebrity, Julia Cauldron.

She must convince Fred next time.

A loud creak echoed down the hallway and Bea paled, all thoughts of frilly-aproned Scorpius slipping from her mind. Her fears were confirmed when she saw the empty space where the staircase had been. It had moved.

Cursing, she rapped the side of her head with a fist, trying to remember the fastest way to the second floor. There were secret passageways, but she didn't remember where without the Marauders Map. She'd have to take the long way. Tiptoeing up a stairwell, she hovered by the wall, close enough to hide in the shadows, but not enough for the buckles of her bag to scrape against the sleeping portraits.

A prefect walked by an adjoining archway. Bea held her breath. He didn't turn.

She headed toward the south end of the castle, but as she was about to round the corner, the bright glare of a lantern flashed against a mirror, reflecting the shadowed visage of Professor Hiddlebum, the Runes teacher. A startled gasp leapt out of her throat before she could push it down, and her feet tangled backwards in retreat.

"Who's there?" he wheezed.

Bea scanned the hallway she had just traversed, blood freezing. There was nowhere to hide. The glow was growing brighter and her legs stretched to flee. Suddenly, a hand clawed at her shirt, yanking her backwards. Another hand closed over her mouth, silencing her impulse to yelp.

Her cheek scraped against carpet—had she fallen on the floor? But her back slammed against someone warm, not cold stone, and she was enclosed in silk and velvet. On instinct, she swung her elbow back, getting in one good hit before an arm wrapped around her middle.

"Shh, shh! Stop squirming, nutcase!"

The shock stunned her like a Stupefy. Scorpius.

The footsteps neared and an outline of a rectangle lit up the dark space to her left. Scorpius must have pulled her behind a tapestry. She should have known it was him; no one else was showy enough to own a velvet blazer.

The light lingered, one second, two seconds. Even the faint exhale by her ear echoed loudly in the cramped chamber. Finally, the footsteps walked away, and the light left with it.

Bea tried to charge out of his grasp, wriggling an arm out, but Scorpius caught her again and held her even tighter.

"Don't get us both caught," he whispered harshly. "I just saved your arse."

After another unruly thrash, she slackened.

"Are you going to yell when I let go?"

She shook her head. Scorpius dropped his arms. Bea bolted to the other wall. They both drew their wands—his cast Lumos, hers was at his neck.

"Why are you following me?" she hissed.

He rolled his eyes and tried to brush aside her wand, but it only dug deeper into his throat. "Put that down. I drew first anyway. If I had any intention of harming you, I would have done it already. I'm not here for... whatever you think I'm here for."

"So you were following me." Bea circled around him in hopes of snatching his wand, but he held it out of reach.

"For your own good. Now put your wand down." Scorpius seized her wrist and wrenched it away. Bea tumbled back against the tapestry and would have fallen out if he hadn't held on.

She braced her feet, wand reluctantly at her side. "What do you want?"

"I assume you're not interested whether or not I explain myself." A hint of irritation pricked his brow.

"As if one cupcake would change my mind about you. You're a—" She was about to say smarmy git, but he hadn't really been one lately. He hadn't been much of anything lately, except being in a hypothetical apron. "I don't know, but I still don't trust you."

"What if I say I'm here to help you and you're not obligated to do anything in return?"

There was always a catch. "Why?"

"Because I can." He advanced a step so that the light from his wand could catch both of their faces. "Because I like your spunk and your invention and let me tell you: it's a lost cause without someone like me. With Killjoy, Potterpuff, and Mad-Eye Weasley? You couldn't even get past the Guard Knob."

"As if you can."

"My father installed them all around the manor. I could tame and disassemble one by the time I was eight. But"—the wheedling gleam reignited—"that's small stuff."

"For the last time, I don't want your money."

"Even for free?"

"There's no such thing," Bea snapped. "Maybe I don't know the cost yet but it's there. It might start out dandy, but one day, you'll buy me some fancy supplies and when I run out, then what? Then you suddenly have a bargaining chip, and you can pull out whatever you're hiding up your sleeve."

He held up his hands, empty sans the wand tucked between his fingers. "I'd swear there's nothing, but it was poker night and I still have my deck of aces in there." It was startling how the steely grey of his eyes resisted the warm lighting, and how much that made him the perfect picture of his famed father. "I don't like needing to prove myself, but if I have to, I will. What if I said I know where the central storage is?"

A shiver of anticipation numbed her feet. Her gut told her he wasn't lying and yet—"I'd say you're a liar."

"Would you? Well, I might be heading over right now. You're welcome to join."

His eyes flitted to the right and Bea had only just noticed that they weren't in an alcove, but an entire passageway. Scorpius took two steps toward the looming unknown, and then glanced back. He was waiting for her.

She followed.




J'accuse means 'I accuse'; 'P.A.R.E. is adapted from the D.A.R.E. program, and Julia Cauldron is inspired by Julia Child
A/N I originally planned for this entire adventure to take up one chapter. That... did not happen. Anyhow, it's a bit of a reprieve from the melodramatic conflicts. Do tell me what you think!

Coming soon: The adventure continues! Sock gremlins, fight scenes...

Another stun whizzed past and she felt her right arm free, but a fresh mob of the greedy gremlins pounced onto her stomach. Bea was quite fortunate that her reflexes were slow; she was about to raise her head to push them off when the second figure landed beside her and knocked the socremlins off with a sweeping circle kick only inches from her face. She sucked in a sharp breath and caught a whiff of strangely familiar perfume.



Chapter 9: Hogwarts, A Mystery
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9. HOGWARTS, A MYSTERY
Naturally, everything blew up in their faces at the last minute.


Bea never liked passageways.

She wasn't afraid of them. No, passageways were boring. They were dark. Dark, dark, dark. Also stony and occasionally cold.

But mostly dark.

She wasn't afraid of the dark either, but darkness wasn't good for morale. You could even get sick from living in the constant dark. Their wands didn't help. The light was swallowed whole, a pitiful adversary against the inky black.

Scorpius had told her they heading toward some midway point to meet up with Anjali, who was in charge of bringing in Fred, Rose, and Albus, but that was forever ago. "Are you sure you know where you're going?" Bea grumbled, feet aching as they stumbled over the cracks.

Scorpius shook his head as if it were the silliest question in the world. "Of course! These passages are hundreds of years old; they're not changing anytime soon."

Petulant, Bea kicked a stone, except she ended up kicking some fallen pillar instead, one she swore wasn't there a second ago, and now her whole ankle throbbed. "...it's a magical castle. It can do whatever it wants."

A flicker of orange up ahead sparked hope. As they approached, a terrible stink assaulted their senses, so much that Bea's eyes began to water. She pinched her nose. "Are you absolutely sure—"

But she was silenced by the sheer absurdity of what awaited them.

The light was still too dim to make out the size of the room. The inky gloom seemed to penetrate forever into the ceiling, and all the way up were piles of socks in every color and material imaginable.

Scorpius craned his head. "What the bloody..."

"Socremlins."

The awe was interrupted with Scorpius' snort. "Sock gremlins? What's next, nargles?"

Bea shot him a look. Moving staircases, secret passageways, pillars appearing out of nowhere. How was this any stranger? There were sock piles for gremlins of every taste—clean socks, dirty socks, red socks, even windsocks for the punny types. In the corner was a dark pit that, if she had to guess, led to the underground ravines where the House Elves did laundry.

"I've seen socremlins before, but I never thought they had a home," she said, wonderstruck.

"Yeah, you've seen them, and I'm the Queen on a unicycle." Scorpius peered down the pit, kicking a stone in. A splash echoed back. "It's just a story. My nanny told me that so I'd learn to fold my own clothes—"

Patter. Patter. Bea whipped to the right.

"—and fat chance that worked. I—"

"Shh!"

He rolled his eyes. "Don't shush me. What, the socremlins coming to take me away?"

Bea pressed a finger to her lips, but the stupid git ignored her, striding forward and spreading his arms wide instead. "Okay, come get me socremlins! I've got fancy socks, too! Very nice quality—imported. Made of silk and—hup!"

And just like that, Scorpius disappeared.

Or rather, he fell on the floor, which Bea noticed after a second of panic. Two green liver-skinned creatures were at his feet, trying to pry off his shoes. Despite having the wind knocked out of him, Scorpius found the voice to yell, "Oi! Those are my fancy socks!"

Seeing that his wand had rolled out of reach, Bea leapt to action, but she quickly fell to the same fate as clammy hands wrapped around her ankles and dragged her down. Kicking, she raised her wand. As she was about cast a Stunning spell, the torches blew out. More pattering feet approached, matched with pig-like squeals of delight. Bea managed one good stomp on something's face. She'd aim elsewhere but surely these things couldn't get any uglier. Still, there were too many.

A flash of light fell from the ceiling like a shooting star. Two solid thuds hit the ground. Bea tried to twist toward the sound, but the socremlins had restrained her too well.

"Incendio!"

A large sconce burst back into flames, offering scant lighting. The new figures dodged the horde, jumping from shadow to shadow, robes flapping behind them.

"Stupefy!"

"Fred?" Bea called, recognizing the voice.

Another stun whizzed past and she felt her right arm free, but a fresh mob of the greedy gremlins pounced onto her stomach. Bea was quite fortunate that her reflexes were slow; she was about to raise her head when the second figure landed beside her and knocked the socremlins off with a sweeping circle kick only inches from her face. She sucked in a sharp breath and caught a whiff of familiar perfume.

Now able to sit up, Bea wrenched her wand arm out of the scrabbling grasps and blasted the remaining gremlins at her feet into a sock pile. The last of them scampered away.

Scorpius had managed to stand, but was one sock down. A determined socremlin was hanging off his other foot, wheezing 'Silky, silk, silk!' He nearly fell over backwards trying to kick it off but was caught before he hit the floor.

"Thank you, darling," Scorpius breathed in relief, hugging the arms that encircled him.

A deep ahem interrupted his reverie and Scorpius looked up to see Fred arching an amused brow. "I'm not your darling."

"Oh Fawkes—"

His darling, Anjali, was helping Bea up, who was also a right frazzled mess, though not nearly as bad as Scorpius. The socremlins had practically torn his shirt apart trying to get at the buttons. Why was every midget creature attracted to shiny things?

Fred and Anjali exchanged positions, and Fred took Bea aside. "You're lucky I had the Marauders Map on me," he said.

Bea tossed a sock off her head and glanced at the two Slytherins, who were also conspiring in whispers. "Did she see it?"

"I don’t think so. But they’d been following us." Fred dabbed at the sweat on his neck. Bea almost thought she could smell a faint perfume on him. "She claims they want to help. Says she knows where the central storage is. When you went missing, she came along—looking for him, I suppose." He gestured to Scorpius.

Bea nodded. "That's pretty much what he said, too. Trust them?"

"Not a bit."

"But you're curious."

"Very."

Fizzlesticks. "Why are we so easy, Freddie? Give in to a few pastries, pretty girls, and now curiosity. At this rate, they'll nick everything they need by the end of the week. I bet they're doing all this just to lie in wait. They definitely have a plan. Gaining our trust, it's Evil Villainy 101." She would not easily forget the Wheezes fiasco five years ago, when a subsidiary of Malfoy & Co. copied a potion coloring concept that Uncle George had made up. Uncle George hadn't gone after them—said it was too insignificant—but she personally never let it go.

Anjali interrupted with a snap of her fingers. "Oi, you two! We still have a central storage to find. Let's get this done tonight, shall we?" She waved her hand at a makeshift sock-staircase. A large stone archway outlined the wall at the top.

While Bea and Fred trudged up after her and Scorpius, Bea couldn't help but notice Fred's utter entrancement by Anjali's swaying hips. Oh Freddie. She nudged him with an elbow, and he turned to her with a stutter, blinking and only barely attentive.

"You got down here with the Ceiling Claw," she said impishly.

Fred scratched at the side of his neck, tugging his collar. "So?"

"So there's only one. How did Miss Patil-Leggies get down here?"

He swallowed, tongue thick. He remembered Anjali's sly wink when she circled her arms around his neck to hold on. Even if she liked to flaunt her charm, did she really have to slink her leg up his like that? Slow and methodical and just a little too high to be decent? He had nearly lost his grip on the Ceiling Claw, which would have been terrible for both parties.

The memory was doing no favors for his current state either, and he would have fallen face first into a wad of old Christmas stockings if it weren't for Bea catching his shoulder.

"I'm just teasing." Bea grinned, punching his arm. "Really, though. If you let her get to you, I'll have to... mangle one of your suits or something. James told me to keep an eye on girls like that 'cause Merlin knows once they bat their eyelashes, you're a goner."

Fred didn't argue.

They passed under the arch and into a torch-lit tunnel. Fred said that Albus and Rose were waiting nearby. Sure enough, the sound of munching led straight to the resting pair sitting on the floor, surrounded by a circle of crumbs left over from the emergency biscuits.

Rose was the first to notice the returning four and with a grand leap, threw her arms around Bea and clutched her to the point of strangulation. "There you are! I thought you died!"

"Mffrph." And if strangulation didn't soon follow, then surely suffocation would come in the form of being crushed between Rose's knockers.

Rose released her to squint at the other new arrival. "Oh, who's this? Malfoy?"

Scorpius bowed with an exaggerated flourish. "The one and only. It's been awhile."

"Not long enough." Rose glared at him and then wrinkled a repugnant nose at Anjali. When he turned around, she whispered to Bea, "Troublemakers, both of them. She was always snogging him on duty last year. One day I'll catch them doing something I can really report … well, besides today." A flash of anxiety turned into a flood. "Circe, today. I broke so many rules today..."

While Bea rubbed Rose's back soothingly, Albus bounded up. "Good to see you in one piece. What happened?"

Anjali slipped a parchment out of Scorpius' blazer pocket to his protest. "I believe someone took a wrong turn? Maybe someone else should hold onto the directions next time. Someone who knows left from right."

"Very funny, darling." He caught her wrist, but she shrugged him off and patted his cheek.

"I'm not your darling."

With Anjali as their impromptu leader, they set out once again. Another maze of passages awaited them, but they had six wands providing light this time, and the darkness stayed well away.

"So does that mean we're abandoning the other plan with Aurelia's classroom?" asked Albus as he trudged alongside Bea.

Scorpius was the one to reply. "Why go for a Quaffle when you can go for a Snitch? Come on, Potterpuff, now is the time for thinking big." He spread his arms wide to express said point. Bea very much hoped his sleeve would catch fire from a wall sconce. "The central storage! It'll be the heist of the century."

"I'll believe when I see it," Fred muttered.

"Skeptical, Weasley?"

"Plenty have tried before you."

"Ah, but have they ever shared fine wine with their favorite professor and accidentally slipped them a little something extra?"

Rose nearly choked. "Y-you're not talking about Veritaserum?"

The smirk on Scorpius' lips only grew. "I never said anything like that. But you can fill in the details."

Anjali turned around, eyes glinting under her lashes. "Flitwick is such a lightweight."

Rose gasped. "That's illegal!"

"Thanks for the refresher. I'll keep that in mind for when I care."

"Oh—you!"

"Don't get in a strop," Bea whispered, patting Rose's hunched shoulders. "They're not worth it. What's done is done." And if what's done was going to get her unicorn hair and then some, she couldn't have Rose ruining it.

As the incline took a steep turn downwards, the floor began to crunch with loose cobbles. Sticky webs hung too close, and water dripped faintly from some faraway puddle. It was a back way, according to Anjali. Fred was fairly certain that they were in the Unplottable regions now, the treasured nooks of Hogwarts that often went unseen for decades.

Anjali held a hand up and they shuffled to a stop. "It should be here..." she muttered, holding a wand close to the walls. Flitwick had divulged the area, but a House-Elf gave her the directions, and she had her reservations about trusting an elf who kept raving about butterbeer as if his lifeblood depended on it.

At the corner of her eye, she spotted a brick jutting out of place. Tugging and pushing had no effect. She tapped her wand against it. "Alohomora?" No audible click responded.

The others caught on. Fred pulled back his sleeve. "Aperilapis!"

"Aperijanus?" Bea was just mashing together Latin.

"Defodio!" tried Scorpius. The spell dug a hole in the wall.

"Open sesame!" Albus shouted. It didn't work either.

Anjali paced around with a deep frown. The tunnel didn't go on for much longer and the general region matched Flitwick's description as well. A detail was missing. If only that damned House-Elf had stopped babbling about —

"Butterbeer."

The only warning was a crack of light on the floor before it broke apart completely, a blinding maw engulfing them. The fall only lasted as long as a shriek before they hit ground.

Bea was the first to recover, opening an eye to face the burning brightness. The ceiling had closed up again, seamless, and she could see no trace of where they fell from. Other than an aching bum, she was all right, having landed on something soft. "Is everyone okay?" she said, coughing.

"No," said a weak voice underneath her. That 'something soft' was Albus. Bea quickly clambered off him and into Rose, who was brushing the dust from her blouse.

"Holy hippogriffs," Fred whispered, looking around in awe.

The central storage.

It lived up to every bit of its myth, a library of the world captured in a storeroom. Boxes and jars lined every inch of the wall, so thickly clustered that one couldn't see the stone behind it. Bronze labels marked each ingredient in neat bold caps.

As they scrambled to their feet, Fred felt a surge of apprehension. It was so perfect; he was afraid of setting a single jar askew, as if it would tip the precariously ordered balance and send all the glass crashing to the floor. But before he could say 'Wait a second', Bea's incantation left her lips.

"Accio unicorn tail hair!" A bottle flew out of a top shelf and neatly into her free hand. Inside were three shining strands curled in a circle. She grinned, "Well, that was easy."

Nothing had exploded. Fred let go of a breath he didn't realize he had been holding. He placed a Silencing charm over the room, making sure that no one was outside the single door of the room. They seemed to be in some sort of old faculty lounge area.

"There's crocodile eggs here! I can never find these!" Rose held up a pickle jar. "Witch Weekly suggests putting it in your hair once a week for maximum shine." She unscrewed the lid.

Fred winced. "Hey, be careful, you don't just—" Didn't anyone read the old tales? Treasure always came with a price.

As Bea reached for a bowl of glittery stones, Scorpius slid into her view. He was a bit neater than before, even somewhat sophisticated, despite missing a combination of six buttons from his shirt and blazer. "Called me a liar, if I recall correctly?"

"Sorry," she mumbled, and then pushed past him.

"That's it?"

"What do you want?" Bea crossed her arms. She ought to be grateful, but she couldn't help being more suspicious than before.

He chuckled, and it reminded her why she associated him and Anjali as a pair. They had the same ring of condescension underneath their laugh. "Well, I just wanted to show you how I can help."

"Thank you, but don't," she snapped a little too briskly. The frown that flashed across his face was strangely genuine, not smeared on like grease, and guiltily, her thoughts flashed to the Scorpius who had given her the cupcake.

Albus stood at the door, which was cracked open just enough for a peek. "Er, guys... should we worry?" Outside, four furry cotton balls were bumbling their way.

Rose squealed. "They're adorable!"

"Scared of puffskeins, Potter?" Scorpius snorted. Bea blinked and the frown was long gone.

"No... but why are they down here?"

Rose clicked her tongue to beckon one closer. "Some professor probably forgot to leash—"

Fred's eyes grew wide. "Those are alarm puffskeins. Don't touch it!"

"Alarm—?" Her hand fell on the fur. The puffskein let out a great yowl, followed by a chorus of mewls from the others. Panicked, Rose tried to clamp its mouth shut but it hissed and mewled louder, and down the vacant hall, there was the sound of a door unlocking.

Fred shoved her through the door. "Run!"

Like a statue come to life, Rose sprint forward, mouth aghast as the puffskein bared its fangs. Outside was a single carpeted hall leading out of a lounge. Fred had Bea by the wrist, and she had Albus. Scorpius and Anjali took the lead. Rose ran just behind them, arms floundering.

"Alarm puffskeins?! Really?"

"They look harmless so you let your guard down—" Fred panted. He pulled the train toward the double doors opposite from the direction of the puffskeins; whoever they were alerting, he did not want to meet them. "Look, we got what we came for, so we just have to get out!"

They burst through the doors, and a new decision was thrust upon them as the flickering passageway extended in both directions.

"These are the dungeons. I know them," said Anjali, leaving left, no-nonsense. This was her reputation was on the line.

Bea lost her grip on Albus. She could still hear his feet behind her, but when they turned a corner, he was no longer there, nor Rose.

"We have to keep moving," Fred said, noticing the same. "If they're caught, they're caught. Nothing we can do now."

Reluctantly, Bea kept running. She tripped over a step and felt something loose in her pocket—the unicorn hair! Gasping, she clambered for it as it flew out, but it was too late.

She felt for her wand but couldn't find it. Infernal multi-pocketed robes! Her feet did a full turn. She knew it was stupid—one is not supposed to go toward the light—but this was her one chance, the success of the night, rolling down the hallway.

"Bea, where are you—"

Fred had skidded to a stop, and so had Anjali and Scorpius.

"She's lost the—for Fawkes' sake!" Scorpius cried. No heist went perfectly, but did it all have to unravel at the end?

No one was quite prepared, least of all himself, when Scorpius snatched the Ceiling Claw from Fred's belt and dashed after her. He mashed everything that looked like a button. "How does this thing work?"

At last, he managed to extend the claw and it hit the ceiling with a clang just before he reached Bea and she reached the bottle. He swooped her up, but whatever he latched onto wasn't stable enough to hold them. Like fingers scraping across wood, the claw screeched loose, and Scorpius and Bea collided with the floor, coming to a rest in a heap and Scorpius barely held himself up from crushing Bea.

He groaned, "We really have to stop getting into these situations."

Running from authority? Crashing to the ground in unfortunate positions? Bea blanched as she saw Ringleward behind Scorpius, hovering over them and tapping his foot.

"For once, Smarmy," she said, lolling her head back on the ground, "I agree with you."




A/N Loffs to Gubby for editing this for me. I owe socremlins to a very old conversation with my fellow authors. Also, I've established that Scorpius cannot go two chapters without tearing his clothes somehow. Even the socremlins want him.

Please leave a review if you have time!

Coming up: DUN DUN DUN with the Headmaster, Professor Sexy Lupin -- I mean, Teddy Lupin, and bonding time!

He raised a finger. "One last attempt for your prototype. If you say no, I'll give up for good."

Chapter 10: Take a Chance on Me; Initial Here
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10. TAKE A CHANCE ON ME; INITIAL HERE
Scorpius had a heart after all. He still didn't have any fashion sense.


Professor Ringleward took Scorpius and Bea by the scruff of their necks, pulling them down the corridor. Bea knew the path they were on too well. They were headed toward the Headmaster's Office.

"In all my years... stealing from the storage rooms!" he wheezed with a shuddering shake of his head.

"But we weren't!"

A tempestuous snort. "Then Mr. Malfoy, what were you two doing?"

"Ah..."

Bea turned back after checking for Fred and Anjali; they were long out of sight. "...snogging?" she said.

"Mr. Weasley and now Mr. Malfoy, eh?" Ringleward clucked his tongue. "Kids these days with their 'getting freaky'. It's love that saved us all from Voldemort, not half-hour fun times on the hallway floor with a new boy every week!"

All suspicions seemed to disappear with the rant, which made Scorpius choking on his own tongue worth it. He shot her a glare as if to say, Really? That's the best you could think of? She puckered her lips into a kissy-face. He swung a foot at her.

"Don't make me take off more points." Ringleward held them apart by the robes. "Today, it's footsie! Tomorrow, it's crumping!"

They arrived at the office and with a knock, they were inside. Professor Flitwick sat at the high desk atop a pile of books, reading a list of centaur grievances that stretched from one side of the room to the other.

Flitwick wasn't much of a disciplinarian. He was one of the jolliest headmasters in centuries and certainly the first to have a troupe of dancing charmed cupcakes living in his cabinet. Still, the idea of standing before the headmaster was nerve-wracking, even if he did look like a garden gnome.

The real worry was that Flitwick was rather fond of sending letters to parents. He thought they ought to stay informed, which invariably meant a letter in return. Bea could deal with detention, but Grandma's letters were plain embarrassing, especially those translated by her Chinese-to-English Quill. There were thirty-seven ways to say 'failure' in Chinese, two of which involved cow dung, and the quill always seemed to favor those.

Flitwick laid down the parchment and greeted with a warm smile, "Awake from your beauty sleep already, Jasper?"

"Cleansing the halls can't wait for the morning." Professor Ringleward shoved Bea and Scorpius to the front of Flitwick's desk. "The puffskeins woke me up to these two snooping through the storage."

"We were nowhere near—" Scorpius licked his lips. And so began the fibbing game. "We don't even know what that is."

"Lying will be another 10 points off!" Ringleward snapped. "The door was wide open. Don't try to hide it."

Flitwick held up a hand. "Calm down. Getting riled up won't be good for your heart. Let's hear their side."

Bea felt a little more at ease under the headmaster's amicable smile. "We got a little lost. That's all."

"At this hour? I'm afraid I must ask: doing what?"

Bea glanced at Scorpius, who responded, "...snogging?"

Flitwick let out a throaty chuckle. "Ah, young love. Seems like only a hundred years ago when I myself... I was quite the charmer in school." He puffed out his chest slightly.

"I should have handled this myself," Ringleward grumbled. His leery gaze traveled from Bea to Scorpius. "This is your last chance to fess up! If I find that either of you took anything, I'll have you both expelled! Hogwarts has zero tolerance for sticky hands."

Bea swallowed, trying her best not to look down where her stolen treasure hid. The bottle of unicorn hair in her bag pressed against her thigh. Her hand that rested on top fluttered nervously.

Ringleward's grin turned into a toothy ah-ha! as he reached for her. "If you're innocent, then I don't suppose you'd object to a search?"

She took a step back and swung her bag behind her on instinct. If she got expelled, she was as good as dead.

At the sound of shuffling velvet, Bea went rigid. Scorpius went from standing by her side to right behind her. "I object!"

For a second, Bea thought she was thrust in a fairy tale scenario: Prince Smarmy swooping in to save her like he had tried to do in the hallway. But only silence followed and the professors' perplexed stares doubled the awkwardness.

Scorpius cleared his throat, shifting from one foot to the other. "I'll, uh, have my lawyers on you! You can't conduct random searches! It's... Educational Law number seven hundred..."

There was a click of a clasp, and Bea felt his hand reach into her bag. She didn't know what he was doing, but since he was practically grabbing her bum, it better have been useful. Ringleward hadn't seemed to notice; he was more preoccupied with trying to figure out whether Scorpius was bluffing or not.

"...thirty-two, subsection D, which states that all students are allowed to refuse searches by staff and Prefects, unless mandated by the Headmaster." He stepped back and nodded to Flitwick. "Sir."

All eyes turned from Scorpius to Flitwick.

"A search is reasonable," said the Headmaster.

Ringleward pried her bag from her fingers and shook it upside down over the desk. Out slid two books, a Remembrall, her bag of biscuits, and one deck of playing cards. Bea nearly sank to the floor with relief.

Ringleward raised a brow at the cards. "All aces?"

So Scorpius hadn't been joking about poker night. "Just, er, a specially made deck," she said, wiping the sweat rolling down her hairline.

The pockets were emptied one by one, until even the lint was scraped clean. Flitwick put a hand on Ringleward's shoulder. "Jasper, there's nothing there. You must have been mistaken."

Ringleward's gaze bore into Bea as he gave the bag a last good shake. "Perhaps," he said, seething with reluctance, "but they'll still have to serve detention for wandering in forbidden corridors."

That, Flitwick agreed with. "A few days helping Professor Lupin ought to be reasonable."

Ringleward grumbled at the lax sentence, but he had lost enough beauty sleep already. Bea retrieved her belongings, and she and Scorpius shuffled outside of the office as Flitwick sought Prefects to escort them back to their common room.







The hallway was dreadfully dark and soundless. Scorpius expected some sort of gratitude for his sleight of hand, but Bea was silent. Maybe she was perpetually angry. She always scrunched up some part of her face, whether at her brows or in a pout or a wrinkled nose.

Currently it was a combination of all three, but there was an out-of-place shyness when she turned toward him and bit her lip.

"Thank you." Bea stuck out her hand. "For saving me today... twice."

"Yeah, well, just remember that next time you see me." Scorpius rolled the bottle of unicorn hair out of his sleeve and gave it to her. She stared at it for a moment, perplexed, and he only then realized she had meant to shake his hand. Too late now—she hastily stuck the bottle in her pocket.

"I probably won't," she chirped. "Cerebral efficiency."

"What?"

"Short attention span."

He snorted. "At least remember the nice things I do."

"I think you're confusing meddling for a nice thing." Though her voice was calm, it was not without accusation. "So why'd you really help me? All of tonight, I mean."

"Can't I just do a good deed for my fellow man? Woman?"

Her face started wrinkling into a raisin again. "I'll give you a hint: I don't like people who keep up a stupid act, expecting that I'd fall for it eventually. You're not doing this for me; you're doing this for yourself. So tell me the truth: why'd you help me?"

The retort Scorpius had ready died on his lips. No, Bea wouldn't take much more bull from him, but he almost wanted to laugh at how little she would understand the answer she sought—that he was helping her because of a stubborn argument with his father. Maybe that had been his plan all along. His father, admittedly, wasn't the best at fathering, and he raised a son as best as he could for someone who didn't know how. Scorpius supposed his father just gave up, because he figured he didn't make a difference anyway, but oh, he could still make his son rebel, and here Scorpius was.

"I have to protect my investments, all right?" Scorpius finally said, and in the back of his mind was the faint echo, I rebuilt our family name from nothing but ashes. You want to taint that name with this—this joke of yours?

"You're still that confident that I'll sell my prototype to you?"

"What can I say? I've an ego that dragon tamers can't rein in."

Echoing footsteps neared and a Hufflepuff Prefect beckoned from down the corridor. It was Bea's cue to leave. Pulling her bag strap snug against her shoulder, she turned away from Scorpius.

A few steps later, she glanced over her shoulder. "Really, though. Thanks."






By his second year as the Transfiguration professor, Teddy Lupin was no stranger to the antics of Beatrice Chang.

During a lesson on conjuring plants last week, her flower pot, meant for a daisy or bluebell or two, sprouted an entire rose bush and a flock of butterflies to match. He had scolded her for conjuring living creatures for fun. As a sixth year, she should have known that they would die in a matter of hours, just like the flowers.

He had to admit that they were beautiful while they lasted. It was a testament to her talent that she could go above and beyond with difficult spells. Of course, mishaps were similarly frequent and accounted for the stories in the staff room about mysteriously exploding classrooms.

Teddy reacted with complete lack of surprise at Flitwick's notice that Bea was serving detention with him—she and Scorpius Malfoy. The pair slogged into his classroom midway through lunch, bickering about some prototype.

"You two came in at just the right time," Teddy said, and both snapped their mouths shut. "I'm cleaning out the storeroom." He gestured at the boxes on the floor. "I need you to fix the supplies that are broken or still partly transfigured."

Scorpius swept an arm ahead. With a huff, Bea stomped past him. She first stopped by the demonstration table where Teddy sat, resting her head on top of a stack of essays.

"How many days did Flitwick say we have to serve?"

"Four."

She grimaced. "Four days? Just for being up after hours?"

"That's what you get for being a repeat offender." Teddy took an essay from underneath her chin and grinned. "What'll James think if he knew you were running around with Mr. Malfoy here all night, hmm?"

"It isn't like that!" Bea's eyes went directly toward the boy in question, who was well within earshot but doing a good job of acting blasé. She puffed out her cheeks. "You can't go around saying things like that. It's not professional."

Teddy chuckled. "Then maybe you need to start calling me Professor Lupin."

"Har har, Teddy." She relinquished her position as paperweight and joined Scorpius on the floor.

The girl attended one dinner at the Burrow, and then suddenly all formalities went out the window. Admittedly, seeing her professor belt out 'Here We Come A-Wassailing' while tipsily playing the piano was probably not the best way to establish authority.

The beginning of the hour was quiet, punctured only by the clink of sorting porcelain, an occasional spell to remove lizard tails, and the scratch of a quill. It was half past when the conversation began, prompted by a rather unremarkable statement from Scorpius.

"Toss me that cup."

Somehow, that single phrase led to a spat about chocolate biscuits versus vanilla biscuits and whether businessmen were immune to dementors because they didn't have a soul.

Teddy concluded that they simply could argue about anything, which, if nothing else, at least made for good eavesdropping on his lunch hour.






On her way out of the greenhouse, Bea called after Albus. "Oi, oi! I've been looking for you. Where've you been? I learned about your dad today. Mostly about how to keep your glasses on in battle."

Albus ducked under Bea's hand. "Sorry, practice's been rough. Made it in as reserve, but I really want to get off the bench."

"How's that going?" She swung into step with him and waved at Lucy, who passed by in the opposite direction.

"I can safely say that Bludgers hurt as much as they did last year."

"Bruises build character." Bea gave him a hearty pat, nearly toppling him over. "Anyhow, I've been meaning to ask you what happened that night. I tried to ask Rose, but she was kind of... Rose-ish."

Which was to say Rose was hiding under her bed covers—her sanctum of moral recovery after a night of wickedness—like a mother beaver in a den. Anyone nearby was treated to a hiss and rabid foaming of the mouth.

"Er, what do you mean, what happened?" Albus had a twitch when he was hiding something, like he was stricken with an attack of static shock.

"I mean, you sort of disappeared on us. You got away, didn't you?"

"Yes, I, uh, suppose you want to know how. It was"—his gaze scattered across the hallway, looking at faces and fliers tacked on the wall for inspiration—"nothing. I-I can't say. It was nothing, just a... lucky hallway."

"Aw, Al, come on!"

"Lucky hallway, please Bea." Albus may not have been good at lying, but he could guilt like no one else. Puppy eyes should not have worked so well on someone nearly a head taller than her, but she bit her tongue on the subject.

"Fine, although it won't be the last you hear of it."

Albus wasn't one to keep secrets; the ones he had were bound to be worth discovering. But he also had a habit of making a big deal out of nothing, and she wouldn't be surprised if he was only embarrassed at ending up in the girls' loo, which had happened more than enough times already. The first time was in their second year, when James convinced him that the girls' sign was a Scotsman in a kilt. The second time, he just wasn't paying attention when he walked in. The third time... Albus never could explain the third time.

Regardless, there were more important matters. "I was thinking we'd go back to the storage again once Fred figures out a surefire way to make it in and out," said Bea. "Still need some King's toadstool, rotberry... I made a list this time."

Albus perked up. "You really want me to tag along after what a mess it was? I slowed you guys down."

"It's a mess either way. The nature of these things." She gave him another pat on the shoulder as she stopped at Teddy's classroom. At the same time, Scorpius was walking by from the opposite end with some members of the Slytherin Quidditch team.

"You should've seen Potter pass the Quaffle," one snickered.

"'Puffs are desperate this year if they let him on the pitch."

The chatter subsided as they caught sight of Bea's glare and Albus' sheepish shuffling.

"Nice friends," Bea muttered, opening the door into Scorpius' quickly fading smile.

He sucked in a breath, understanding that his accumulated brownie points had spoiled. "Excuse them. The Quidditch lot is brutish, but they're very easy to persuade. You never know when you'll need to strong-arm someone."

"Whatever you say..."

Teddy was hidden behind that day's Daily Prophet. 'SWARM OF HINKYPUNKS CRASH WEDDING RECEPTION' the headline declared. A hand stuck out over the paper to greet them and then pointed to the floor where six boxes of peacock statues waited.

Bea sat down and went straight to work. Tapping her wand against a half-transfigured statue, the stray feathers promptly turned back into stone.

After ten minutes, she was already beginning to tire. She swore they were made of dark matter instead of lead and each seemed heavier than the last. Scorpius was worse off, sweating profusely from that silly velvet eyesore he was wearing.

Bea never understood how rich types could commit such fashion faux pas. Scorpius could buy any jacket in the world, but he chose an indigo blazer with embroidery that looked like it belonged in the fifteenth century and most of all, was fuzzy. It wasn't trendsetting; it was an affront to humanity and she just wanted to watch it burn, fiber by fiber.

"Do you always keep that blazer on?"

Scorpius tugged the end of his collar. "Not worth the sacrifice of style. Suit makes the man."

Bea reigned in her snort as best as she could; he was quite serious about this. "What man? Look at what Teddy's wearing. That's style." The aforementioned professor was wearing a brown double-breasted vest and was puffing on a pipe, like an advertisement for Gladrag's Gentlemen.

Scorpius smirked. "You’re one of those girls who sit in the front row just to ogle him, right?"

"I don't ogle him!" Bea shot back, adding a very quiet, "Not when he's within earshot."

When he continued snickering, she sniffed, "At least he doesn't look like he belongs in Vegas like you do."

"With the showgirls?" He smoothed his suit down. "I'm fine with that."

"No, with the magicians. The crack-pot squibs."

"I am a hundred percent wizard—"

She flicked a gold button and giggled. "Have you looked in the mirror? You're fuzzy!"

Bea's imagination was never kind to Scorpius, and he popped up in her mind unexpectedly wearing a pink velvet apron. The giggled turned into a cackle.

His cheeks burned and he tugged at the label on the back of his collar. "I'll have you know that this is one of a kind. Hand-stitched by a tailor who lives on the slopes of the Himalayas—" Bea was practically doubled over now. "Oi, my clothes are more worldly than you'll ever be!"

Tears streamed down her cheeks. In a fit, Scorpius threw off the blazer, which only prompted more laughter. She nearly knocked over her line of peacock statues as her feet kicked in the air. Even Teddy was chuckling behind his paper.

"All right, you two, settle down," Teddy said in his best stern voice.

Bea pressed a hand to her mouth, her grin wide, as Scorpius pushed up his sleeves and went back to work with a scowl. He was a lot more fun to be around after being cut down a few notches.

"Oh Smarmy, I don't know how I ever felt threatened by you."






"No blazer today?"

"It's hot."

"You get touchy about the littlest things."

On their third day of detention, they were to polish salt shakers. Bea sat on a desk, swinging her legs, while Scorpius crouched on his usual spot on the floor.

Bea rather liked his lack of a blazer. He looked like any other student now: no-frills uniform, hair like he didn't bother to wake up properly, a touch woe-is-me all around. Without his posh bravado, he actually seemed somewhat approachable. She breezed into conversation. "Charms was exhausting. Two essays on levitation theory."

Scorpius nodded absently as he held a shaker up to the light. "You can say that again."

Bea discovered that he was quite terse when it came to conversation topics that did not involve him or something he could brag about. It was amusing, in a pathetic sort of way, and she made it a goal to pester him until he cracked again.

"Flitwick used to teach it, you know, and he never gave out as many as Professor Willoway," she continued, watching him shake salt on his hand. "I hate it when professors just give out grunt work."

He nodded again.

"Going to interrupt your poker night?"

"What?" Scorpius only just looked up, barely aware of her attempt to have a chat. He still looked a little irritated from the blazer kerfluffle.

"Poker night," Bea repeated. "You mentioned it before."

"Er, yeah, with the boys—and Anjali."

Bea imagined a smoky room filled with cigars and monocles and haughty chortling. Anjali would be the lady in red and the cards up her sleeve, even though her dress didn't have sleeves. Galleons would be small fry—'I raise you two mansions and a yacht,' they would say.

She giggled out of nowhere, and Scorpius sent her an odd look before moving on to the next set of shakers.

Bea cleared her throat, settling herself down. "You and Anj are always together."

"We've known each other for a long time."

She glanced over at Teddy, who seemed to have fallen asleep. "Couldn't she have gotten you and I out of detention?"

He looked up a second time, gaze wary. "Anjali doesn't like to involve herself more than necessary."

"Why?"

"Reputation—what's with the questions?"

"Just getting to know you." Bea grinned. "I realized: you're harmless. I'm stuck with you for awhile, so I'm making the most of it."

A long silence followed. Scorpius lowered a brow. "You're not secretly trying to kill me, are you?"

"Of course not." She took two pieces of Gobble Gum from her pocket and unwrapped one, offering the other to Scorpius.

He stared at it and then eyed the unwrapped piece meant for herself. He took that one instead. Bea rolled her eyes, unwrapped the remaining one, and popped it into her mouth.

Scorpius worked the gum around with his jaw slowly. "Probably shouldn't start yapping about business, huh?" he asked.

"Nope. You're on my good side right now."

"Why?"

She shrugged. "Selective memory's remembering all the good bits, like you wanted. Saving me, apology cupcakes, you in an apron..."

"Me in a what?"

"Never mind," Bea amended quickly. She picked up a salt shaker and began fussing over it. An extra swish nearly transformed it into a small rabbit.

"...you're very strange," he said after some consideration.

She glanced down at Scorpius. After a longer pause, she responded, "...yes."

Scorpius chuckled—he always chuckled in these awkward situations, and it always seemed like he was laughing at her. Bea couldn't help but look like a deer caught in a Petrificus Totalus; if she wasn't viciously standing her ground or lunging at a pastry, she bobbed around like a pigeon, gawky and not entirely mindful of her surroundings.

Thankfully, Scorpius was neither a deer nor a pigeon, and he knew how to move on. "Anyway." He shook his head. "Anjali and I have known each other since before Hogwarts. She's used to cleaning up my messes..."

As he rambled, Bea learned a mess of empty details—anecdotes she had no context for and names and places she didn't care about. But it was remarkable enough considering the circumstances. He didn't stop rambling, and the rambles became a conversation, and she became dimly aware that this was the beginning of her most unlikely friendship yet.

For someone who strut around like Hogwarts adored him and had Quidditch players, photographers, and Prefects at his disposal, Scorpius didn't seem to know many of them well. He talked about Anjali often, and sometimes fellow Slytherin Xavier Nott. The rest were nameless: the boys, the Quidditch lot, and so on. Come to think of it, he had been rather desperate to join their adventure that night, like he'd been lonely. Businessmen always seemed so lonely in Muggle movies. She supposed they had to be in a job where the goal was to make as much money as possible—half the work was removing competition.

How many people did Scorpius actually call friend?

Could he count them on one hand?






Bea hauled the last box into the storeroom and dusted off her hands.

"Good job," said Teddy, clapping her on the shoulder. "You two are free to go now."

She and Scorpius let out a collective heave of relief. After four days, their arms were fit to fall off. Bea trudged to the desk where she had left her bag.

Scorpius ambled beside her, flipping a sickle. "Hey, nutcase. Hear me out for a minute?" He asked very nicely, not at all puffed-up.

"All right."

He raised a finger. "One last attempt for your prototype. If you say no, I'll give up for good." He drew out a parchment tied with a gold ribbon and gave it to her. "This is an Unbreakable Contract. You know how these work, right?"

"Um, no."

He frowned. "I thought you said you knew these things."

"Er..." Bea didn't like to admit she actually a lot less informed about business dealings than she spouted on about. She mostly just heard horror stories from the wireless or the Sunday Prophet.

Scorpius shook his head. "Anyway, it works like this. You write down the conditions and once both parties sign it, it can't be edited anymore. If you break it, you get bad luck for seven years, and it can only be voided if both parties agree. 99% loophole proof and Imperius-resistant."

All of a sudden, it felt a lot heavier. Bea loosened the silk knot and unrolled it, holding her breath at what might have been written inside.

"...it's blank."

"Write what you want, because obviously, I don't know what that is. I don't think you do, either."

"I do know—!"

"Just name your price and conditions. All I need is the assurance that Malfoy & Co. is allowed to sell your invention when it's finished. If you want to write down that I can't run off with your prototype or any knock-off of it, you can."

Bea blinked. "Really?" With something solid in her hands, vellum she could touch, it felt more momentous than ever before. Swallowing, she remembered all the times she lashed out without hesitation—how she nearly lashed out now—and how childish it seemed. "What if... I ask for too much?"

"Then I just won't sign it. But I think you'd be surprised at what I'm willing to pay."

"Why? Why all this effort?"

"You might do this for fun or whatever, but this invention—people are going to want this. Lots of people." He stood straight and purposeful, not like a student but a real businessman, and for a moment, Bea supposed he could even pull off a velvet blazer. "Do you know that the highest case of depression occurs amongst Muggleborns because they get cut off from their old family? How floo-related burglaries have been on the rise? This can change everything. And if that's the case, I need to be a part of it."

The corners of her mouth twitched. "That's funny. You know, I used to tell Freddie, 'It's going to be a revolution... just you wait.'"

"Then it's best you start treating it like one." Throwing his jacket over his shoulder, Scorpius left her with the contract in her hands.




A/N I think I’m just going to hang my head and succumb to really long chapters. Also, I realized that their entire night’s adventure is probably best read all at once, and I apologize for readers who follow from chapter to chapter for my bad updating -hangs head again-

But eeee! Some of you nominated Capers for the Dobbys in Next Gen, OC, and Quote! Thank you so much, Snapdragons, TheGoldenKneazle, thegirllikeme, MagicPhoenix, JamesPotterLivesOn, Sarah, Hattie, Ash, and everyone else! :) It makes me flail so much, it should be illegal.

Also, loffs to Witnesstoitall for the Daily Prophet headline! Tis her cleverness that brought out the hinkypunks.

Please leave a review; any comments would be wonderful! :)

Coming up: Contract discussion, Bea's lofty dream, and the subsequent massacre of said dream.

Chapter 11: How Do You Solve a Problem Like Beatrice?
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11. HOW DO YOU SOLVE A PROBLEM LIKE BEATRICE?
By crushing every one of her hopes and dreams and stomping them to the ground.


Bea decided to tell Fred, Albus and Rose about the contract at once. They were all involved at this point, and it was bound to cause commotion. No need to have anyone running down the tower yelling, 'Bea's filthy rich!' before she knew if she even wanted to sign the contract.

She arranged a meeting in the common room, cleaning out a table. Approaching fourth years were promptly shooed away ("There are more important matters at hand!"), and she stopped any further attempts for her table by spreading her arms across the surface like a beached whale until the others arrived.

First came Fred, then Rose, and finally, Albus who brought along Lucy. They each took a chair or, in the case of Albus, who was still in his glaringly out-of-place Hufflepuff yellow Quidditch gear, flopped face-first down on the table.

Lucy reached over the table, patting her bruised cousin on the head. "You made the team at least!"

"As the reserve for the reserves," he mumbled into the wood.

"Yeah, well..." Lucy sat back down, turning to Bea with a sigh. "So what's this all about, then? You guys have been having fun without me, especially Rosie here—"

"I don't want to hear about it," Rose grit. Her countenance had improved a smidgen since their heist, but not much more.

It was a particular point of worry for Albus, whom Bea overheard telling Lucy to watch Rose and make sure she didn't do anything rash. Rose was bearable for the most part, but all she needed was a trigger.

Last year, it was Rose's quest to be the best Prefect ever—a quest that had arguably yet to end. After she had read the entire Hogwarts rule book, she had gone on a discipline spree and even tried to stop the annual flash mob from collaborating, citing section 12, sub-order 109. With a snooty nose in the air, she had declared, "No unchaperoned dancing in the Great Hall." Until Flitwick dashed her tour de force by zapping the rule out of the book, saying that it was "out-of-date rubbish" and ended up leading that year's flash mob with his dancing cupcake troupe.

Albus' top concern was Rose turning herself in, fearing "she'll get it confiscated," and Bea was then stricken with sudden worry for her transistor. If Ringleward knew how many of the castle's scorch marks were caused by her prototype testing, he wouldn't hesitate to lock it up in his drawer of doomed contraband.

So many frets, so few fixes. Maybe this was why Bea was giving Scorpius a chance. Desperation. The last biscuit in the tin.

She was suddenly mindful of the four pairs of staring eyes, waiting for her.

"Right, um." Bea tapped the table with force, stubbing her finger. Orator, she was not.

With her finger in her mouth, she began in earnest this time. "The gist is, Scorpius gave me another offer, but it's different now. He's not so... so..." She extracted her hand, wiggling her digits in the air. Explaining what had happened during detention sounded easier in her head. "...smarmy? I mean, he seemed nicer this time—er, that's not the right way to say it. He's not nice as much as..."

After complaining so much about Scorpius, now there was no inching past the Cerberus in the room. She'd have to admit that she had been a touch overdramatic in her negotiations with him, flinging excessive accusations just as much as he proffered his opportunities-of-a-lifetime. Bea winced just thinking about it.

Fred cleared his throat as the silence went from suspenseful to awkward. "So, what's the offer?"

"Oh! That!" She latched onto her second chance to make her big announcement. "That is very interesting. Very, very... sort of complicated, actually."

It was as uncomplicated as it could get, in truth; it was a blank parchment. But every time she looked at it, it seemed to get emptier, and her stomach churned in a nauseous buzz of hope and fear.

Scorpius certainly knew how to make a deal. She couldn't argue with that any longer. Fighting the man was nice in theory, but how could she scoff at something that was supposed to be too good to be true, and yet there it was, sitting in her hand?

"Bea, some of us have lives," Rose said, yawning. "Get to the point."

"All right, all right!" Bea thrust the parchment in full view. "It's this. It's—"

"Blank?"

"He's giving me the choice to write my own contract. An Unbreakable contract. I can ask for anything as long as he gets the rights to the invention."

A slow second passed as a goggling gape spread to each face.

Fred took it from Bea and felt the material between his fingers. A faint scent of oak bookshelves curled toward his nose, a standard quality of such contracts. "How did you manage—? Has Malfoy gone mental?"

"Imagine all the things..." Lucy began.

Bea raised a finger. "I actually haven't decided if—"

"Private theme park," Albus breathed, de-plastering his face from the table.

"Are we forgetting the biggest issue?" Rose glanced from person to person. "We have to repay damages. The unicorn hair, the biscuits, not to mention emotional damages. If I have to go to therapy over last week's adventure, I say Malfoy pays."

"Even he isn't rich enough to pay for all the therapy you'll need," said Lucy.

Bea cleared her throat loudly. "First of all," she said, folding her hands together, "there is no theme park. And second of all, I'm going to consider this very carefully and maturely."

Lucy tapped her chin. "But you could ask for a thousand cupcakes."

"I—well." Bea's fingers drummed hungrily, and her stomach growled in agreement. "I will take that into consideration. Thank you, Lucy. But I think I know what I want." Excitement began to bubble, spreading across her smile. She had only just got the idea, but it was perfect. "I want to buy a shop in Hogsmeade."

A murmur of interest swept through the group.

"Like Uncle George!" exclaimed Albus, crawling closer to the contract. "And then we can visit you and get free swag!"

"Sounds like a plan." Fred turned to Bea, and she could see the swell of pride easing into his features. "I've been worried your inventing had no place to go after Hogwarts, but this is perfect."

"My own shop. I can decide everything, and no middleman." Bea could already see the storefront, twinkling with new gizmos. The awning said 'Name Pending' and the curtains were changing colors every few seconds—er, it was a work in progress. Good dreams took time to build.

"So, are you going to write down that he has to pay for it when you need it? I figure you could ask for a set amount of money, in case you change your mind and want something else, but real estate prices are going up. It might not be enough in a few years."

"Few years?" she blinked. "I was thinking this summer."

A hint of confusion knit Fred's brows. "I thought you meant that you'd want the shop when you're older."

But there was no point in waiting. "Uncle George started his own in his Seventh Year."

"Uncle George left Hogwarts," Rose interjected. "It's not the same."

Bea frowned at the dimming excitement. "It can’t be that hard. I have you guys."

"We can only help so much." Fred hunched forward, laying out the groundwork in front of him like one of their adventures plans. "You're going to need a shopkeeper while you're in school and make sure you have stock and materials and have your accounting in order. Once you get a shop, you can't leave it alone. It'll be your life."

"How will I know if don't try?" A whine dipped into her voice. They were thrilled about it just moments ago. "You've seen how much time I spend on my projects. I'm going to give it my all. This is what I want to do."

"You've still got your whole life ahead of you. Things change. There's no harm in waiting a few years."

Easy for Fred to say. The minute it'd come time for her to leave Hogwarts, she'd lose her subsidized room and board and have to work for every sickle she'd use, at least if she wanted to get out of her grandparent's home. Time was precious; she had to start early.

"It's practically work now, and it's been fine," she reasoned. Might as well prove to her sister Sasha that she wasn't only fooling around. "Albus? Lucy? Don't you think so? You know I've got lots of little ideas prepared."

Albus squirmed in his seat. "They do sort of have a point. It's a lot for N.E.W.T.S year."

Rose shook her head at Bea. "If you're not going to listen to us, just do what you want. That's what Lucy does, and she'll probably amount to nothing."

"We will all amount to nothing one day as the sands of time cover our tombs and we are forgotten in chaos of history," Lucy declared, unfazed.

Rose rolled her eyes. "How deep."

"Thank you. I stole it from a fortune cookie."

"But I want your opinions." Bea picked up the parchment, clutching it tight. Perhaps she shouldn't have been pushing the idea so much but she couldn't backtrack now without seeming unsure of herself. "What if I wait until after seventh year?"

"It's still very soon." Fred adjusted his seat to address Bea more directly. "Don't you want to explore your options? I'm applying for shadow positions in the Ministry, but also an apprenticeship in France. I don't think I'll get it, but you never know. I'm sure you could get hired for a lot of Charms work."

"But—"

"Running a shop takes more than making the products for it." He was talking just fast enough so that Bea couldn't get another word in. "I think it's a great idea for when you're more experienced. I'm sure my dad would let you help him if you've got no place to go."

"But—"

"You have to have enough money to upkeep it, too." Fred shot her a flinty look as she pouted. It was a battle of persistence. "Unless you want to ask for extra money in the contract, but that's quite a lot. I don't know how valuable your prototype is to him, but you'd be pushing it."

When she was certain that Fred had finished, she opened her mouth to speak. A lengthy sigh from Rose drowned her out.

"Give it up, Fred. She's not going to listen."

Bea redirected her retort to the cross-armed redhead. "I will, but—"

"No, you won't, because you've obviously already made your decision. You want your shop and that’s it. I don't think you ever listen to us except when we agree with you." Rose's head bobbed in a flounce. "There, I said it."

"But I do!"

Rose harrumphed. "I’ve been meaning to say this. I know I offered to help you on your little adventures, but I'm having second thoughts. You only ever care if we help you or not, and Rose Weasley will not be used like a tissue!"

A thick fog of awkwardness settled over their corner of the common room. "But, but," Bea squeaked.

Bea had awoken the dragon—or perhaps the Gorgon, considering how Rose's glare had now petrified her in place—and she wasn't quite sure why. She was being difficult, but surely it didn't merit this. "I just figured this is a lot more important for me than for you, so you don't understand how much I really want a place of my own. To sell my inventions myself."

Her fingers dug through her hair, trying to find the right explanation. Bea Chang was never known for responsibility, but that was exactly what she needed. She wanted to see her inventions through every step of the way, and if she made a mistake while creating or selling it, it would be her fault. Even if she couldn't make her inventions the biggest things in the world by herself, at least she didn't owe anyone afterwards.

Albus and Lucy were trying to placate Rose. Lucy rested a hand on Rose's arm. "You know how you can be overdramatic sometimes? This, my dear, this is being overdramatic. Can't you see the dreams being crushed all over that sad little face over there? Look at what you did." She reached up and pinched Bea's cheeks.

"Oh, shush." Rose jerked away. "I can't possibly be the only one who feels this way. Bea, you're very... very cute, but you can't lark about your whole life and expect us to help you all the time. You're always asking for so much!"

The spotlight wheeled to Bea again, garishly harsh. This was eerily reminiscent of her argument with Fred, but instead of a surge of indigence, she wanted nothing more than to retreat into a coil of blankets.

Rose was right, wasn't she? At least a little bit.

Meanwhile, Lucy was still attempting to undermine Rose. "All in favor of ignoring Rose?" She raised her hand, and thumping the table for support. "Come on, democracy doesn't work if the people don't speak up."

Rose paid no heed. "Fred, you know what I'm talking about, don't you? She's always taking advantage of your time."

"Er—" Fred was caught between the crazy-eyed prefect and crazy-haired inventor. Bea's obvious panic garnered some sympathy from him. He explained gently, "I think what Rose means is that we want a little more gratitude sometimes."

"But I have lots of gratitude!" Bea burst out. "Lots!"

The fourth years she had shooed away earlier stared at her from the sofa. One declared shrilly, "If I get a bad mark on this exam, a pox on your house!" to which, another responded, "She's in our house."

Bea crouched closer to the desk, avoiding eyes. Perhaps prime study hours weren't the best time for this conversation. "Ahem, as I was saying, I have lots of gratitude. Are you saying I don't?"

This time, everyone paused and exchanged glances, holding their breath in as if they didn't want to say anything. Albus was actually holding his breath and appeared increasingly uncomfortable as the silence dragged on.

Rose was the first to speak. "Well, sometimes—"

Then the floodgates opened.

"I have a life outside of Wheezes."

"Verona and I always have to clean up the soot you leave behind."

"You didn't even consider the theme park idea."

"Sometimes, I prefer not feeling like a maelstrom will erupt whenever you're around."

"Sharing dessert doesn't mean you get to lick all the icing off."

"I can't keep making excuses for the smoke coming from our tower. How many balcony barbecues can we have in a year?"

The clamor grew and grew and Bea turned beet red. She wanted to stomp her foot and cry foul at all the things they had done. As if Lucy were a saint. Fred never took the time to understand. Albus was clingy, and Rose had every screw loose. But she couldn't get a word in, and the pang in her heart sank lower.

Her lower lip began to wobble. Unfamiliar with the guilt sitting at the pit of her chest, she was shutting down. If she were a pilot, there would be 'Mayday! Mayday!' screaming through her pupils with extra exclamation points. In a matter of seconds, her thoughts had gone from 'They might have a point' to 'I know I'm a terrible friend but can't we just ignore that detail?' to 'Beatrice Chang, you nearly got all of your friends killed—or worse, expelled—without so much of a cupcake in their honor. It's a wonder they put up with you.'

Rose was right. Fred was right. They all were right.

"I'd like more appreciation for our patience," Rose rattled off, now counting on her eighth finger, "and then there's that puppy-eyed, I'm-about-to-cry-if-I-don't-get-what-I-want—"

"Rose!" Fred hissed and Rose shut her mouth with a sheepish peep when she looked up.

As hard as Bea tried to keep it in, her eyes had become unmistakably dotted with real tears.

The flurry of worry spread to Albus and Lucy—especially Lucy, who leapt from her chair to squish Bea's cheeks together. "Oh no, look at what we've done. She's in shock! The conversation's gotten too serious, hasn't it? Bea, think of puppies! I'll go get the emergency biscuits!"

Lucy rushed off to the stairs before Bea could stop her. Rose's temper had done a complete one-eighty as she attempted her own consolation.

"There, there, we know you don't mean it," said Rose, patting Bea's shoulder awkwardly.

Little did they know, their words had done their deed and the saccharine sympathy Bea once would have gladly welcomed now tasted as bitter as cough syrup. She didn't deserve this! They were right! A girl like her with a goat Patronus needed the truth as bluntly as possible to get through her thick skull. She couldn't let herself be coddled.

But as she glanced around at Fred, Albus, and Rose, their faces filled with overwhelming concern, she could only nod weakly.

They were trying so hard to push past it. Albus was even attempting a joke, and he almost never told jokes, as he forgot the punchlines. This time was no exception. Fred laughed anyway, flashing a hopeful smile in her direction, and that nearly did make her cry.

She had such wonderful friends.

Bea swallowed up her regret as best as she could. She had brought them there so that she could finally prove she was growing up. There were very few instances where she was truly proud of herself—the kind of pride that permeated through every vein in her body. When she got the contract all on her own, she was proud. Scorpius had taken her seriously and everything. But how could she have expected that of him when she couldn't even manage an honest conversation without throwing a tantrum?

Lucy returned with three different kinds of biscuits and the topic changed to Quidditch. Aside from the occasional concerned glance, the entire preceding conversation seemed to vanish into thin air.

Bea nibbled at her custard cream, giving her best effort at a smile whenever someone looked her way. The crumbs tasted stale and salty.






Bea knew she had it right the first time: business was bad news.

From the brainstorming session gone awry to the doubts about her future, the contract had thrown her problems in the air like confetti but without the fun.

With her friends' accusations fresh on her mind, the last thing she needed was to continue proving them right. Every little act went on her radar. She worked outside the dorm, double-checked her trail of soot, and even stopped pestering for biscuit runs.

But the little inconveniences didn't compare to the worst of all feelings born from the contract: hope.

Aspirations were fine as long as she kept a pocket of pessimism rooted in her bones. Anything is possible, but it's all right if it's not. Her dreams were too far-fetched to seriously consider: becoming a world-famous inventor, living in a big workshop with no neighbors to complain about smoke, for her family to stop nagging. Brief fancies.

Slowly, the details were filling in. She could see her invention stacked in bright tin boxes at Wizard accessory stores across the major thoroughfares. One of those stores would be her own, stocked to the ceiling with her creations. She'd make more money than her sister, and Mum would be proud, but mostly the former.

The more she thought about it, the more she wanted it. It was the perfect set-up for disappointment.

In her heart of hearts, she knew she probably couldn't manage a shop, but she couldn't see herself elsewhere either. Flitwick liked to say there was plenty of time for upper years to explore post-Hogwarts options, but October was turning bronze and another year threatened to go by too soon. Why did it feel like just the opposite?






It must have been a slow news week for The Daily Prophet if James made the front page.

As Fred stirred his cereal, he smiled at the tiny photo of his cousin at front of the Quidditch Cup pitch. Barely a rookie and already attracting half of Britain's cameras. It wasn't particularly novel; someone from Dad's side of the family ended up in column one at least once a week. His cousins could sit in an empty room and something newsworthy would still occur.

He flipped the page to the editorial section. Albus passed by and gave a chipper wave and smile. Something about Hufflepuffs made them impervious to the effects of morning grogginess.

On the other hand, there was Bea, who trudged into the hall at half-past, looking like she had stumbled out of a lobotomy. She clambered into a seat across from him and collapsed wherever there was space, knocking over a salt shaker and napkin holder. She seemed so peaceful as she laid there, her elbow on a waffle. Fred prodded her arm.

Three seconds later, she twitched and swung her head up. A swath of jam warpaint was smeared on her cheek. "Morning, Freddie. I didn't see you there."

He held in his chuckle. "Long night?"

She nodded—or at least, her chin slumped all the way down to the table. "Yeah. Kept having to move classrooms. They just don't stock 'em like they used to."

"You were out?" He didn't recall her mentioning anything about another caper.

"Mmhmm."

"All alone?"

Her chin scraped against the wood to indicate another affirmation. "Just working on the prototype. Verona was asleep, so I moved camp to the Charms corridor. Got a lot done." She beamed with pride, wobbling to the left as if the sheer effort to keep her head upright was too much for her. "Sunrises are really pretty, did you know that? Better than in movies."

"I'm sure they are." Fred reached over to move the cutlery away from either side of her and she landed cheek-side down. "Well, if you needed help, you could've asked me. Or company, even."

She flapped a hand. "It's all right. You're busy, aren't you?"

"Not really. Assessments finished. Transfiguration exam got extended." Besides, those things never stopped her before.

"No, no, it's no big deal. I should get used to it 'cause I won't always have a Freddie—"

A mammoth yawn barged in mid-sentence. Fred glanced at his pocket watch and ate another spoonful of cereal while he waited for her to recover.

Smacking her lips, Bea regained a shade of consciousness, doubly renewed at the discovery of the leftover waffle smashed on her arm. When Fred looked up, he found her attempting advanced yoga to get her tongue and elbow to meet.

"You know," she said as she struggled, "sometimes I think humans are supposed to be nocturnal and my body is just trying to go back to its natural state. Why else is it so hard to wake up in the morning—why is my elbow so far away?"

She only gave up when Fred pushed the dented stack of waffles in front of her. Knife and fork wielded to dig in, she suddenly stopped and turned around, nose pointed in the air. "Actually, is Scorpius at the Slytherin table right now? I told him I'd give him my answer today."

"For the contract?"

"Yeah, I—" Her voice quieted sheepishly. "I'm going to ask for the shop. And all that can't-steal-my-prototype stuff, of course, but yeah... a shop." She couldn't quite meet his eyes, shifting between a glance over her shoulder and staring at her food.

It reminded Fred of how strangely she had been acting all week, her solo expedition included. The contract had clearly been weighing on her mind, even though she hadn't brought it up since she first mentioned it.

"Bea, it's all right if you want a shop." Fred waited for her to glance up. "I know I was against it, but when it comes down to it, I think you should do what's best. It's your decision and your invention."

"But you think I can't do it," she muttered, more resigned than hostile.

"I think if you really wanted it, you could run a great shop. I just tell you these things to make sure that you're making decisions you won't regret. Make sure you've thought things through."

She smiled a little. "You have to put up with this all the time, don't you?"

"James was worse." Fred ruffled her hair, flicking off the flecks of jam. "And sometimes I forget that you're not James and you'll take some things harder than I realize."

She stuck out her tongue. "I am not a delicate flower," she said and then sighed. "Bother, you're probably right. You're always right."

"I'm not fishing for validation."

"Freddie is always right," Bea sang, spearing a waffle segment. After her second bite, she leaned forward, never mind that there was no one sitting nearby. "Honestly, between you and me, I—" She was inching into the conversation as if she didn't know whether she wanted to desperately avoid the topic or talk about it. "I might be having second thoughts about the idea. I just... don't know what else I'd want."

"Why not just ask for money and figure out where to use it later?"

"Because..." Her nose wrinkled. "My mum or grandma would probably tell me to save it up for something useful. If I already have a shop, I can still sell back the lease, but it'll be easier to convince them to let me keep it."

"You've been thinking about this a lot."

"Yeah..." She leaned into her hand, the comfort of her palm lulling her back to sleep.

Fred flattened the creases on the newspaper he had abandoned since Bea's arrival. "You know, I don't say it enough, but when it comes down to it, whatever you choose, you should be proud of yourself. It's a big deal."

His offhand comment had her practically glowing. "Aw, Freddie." She ducked under the table.

"Bea, what are you—?"

It was a statement deserving of a hug, and in her half-lucid state, must-give-Fred-hug became her singular goal. A few thunderous thumps later, Bea emerged from the underside. She dusted herself off and promptly wrapped her arms around his middle, crushing her cheek against his arm. "Thanks."

He smiled. "No problem."

Her warmth began baking his side. Fred cleared his throat.

"I am most definitely not using you as a pillow," came the muffled reply.

It was nearly ten o' clock and time for class. Fred stood up and ruffled her hair once more. "You'll figure it out."

He took his books and folded up his copy of The Daily Prophet. A headline caught his eye at the last second. He frowned.

Love or Merger? Speculations on —

"Freddie? Something wrong?"

He crumpled the paper on reflex as his head shot up. "Er—no. Just going to be late if I don't hurry up."

Bea waved goodbye as Fred turned away. He tucked the scrunched wad into his textbook. He couldn't have possibly read the next words correctly.

The Engagement of Scorpius Hyperion Malfoy and Anjali Patil-Davies.




Title adapted from the song 'How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?' from the Rogders & Hammerstein musical, The Sound of Music.

'you nearly got all of your friends killed—or worse, expelled' line adapted from the Sorcerer's Stone movie


A/N SO. SO. How about that? Hehehe.

Also, eee, Capers won a Best Quote Dobby! asdf, every time I see the little box on my story page, I flail like a jellyfish at a disco. Thank you so much again, all of the nominators and voters and all my readers for sticking by! :)

Coming up: Poker night, a visit to Hogsmeade, and not everything is as it seems...


Chapter 12: Fishing for Wishy-Washy Wishing
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12. FISHING FOR WISHY-WASHING WISHING
Even after twelve chapters, no one listened to Fred.


The clack of heels echoed down the steps to the enclave of the boys' rooms. A head would roll tonight.

If Scorpius's head was even screwed on in the first place.

It was never Anjali's job to keep Scorpius in line. She was his confidante and occasional girlfriend—not his mother. Still, a certain amount of tolerance was expected and after knowing him for over a decade, his tendency for rash decision-making no longer fazed her.

Or so she thought.

There were three doors in this area of the Slytherin dormitories, sectioning off the fifth, sixth, and seventh years. Anyone glancing into the middle room would see the most tedious part of poker night: setting up. It would have been much easier to simply wave a few wands, but it was just as easy to "accidentally" enchant the deck in the process. So no wands.

Scorpius was helping Xavier Nott lift the massive oak table to the center of the room. Norman and Westley were hauling in extra chairs from the third year dorms, which inevitably devolved to chair-leg fencing upon making eye contact.

Anjali kept her smile sweet as leaned against the side of the door, one foot on the frame. "Scorpius," she cooed. "I need to borrow you for a second."

The sound of her voice was enough to make his eyes light up. "Darling! Be right there." He dropped the table with a thud and sprinted out.

"Oi!" Xavier cried, "At least finish helping—"

"Sorry, mate. The lady calls!"

Anjali stood aside as a grinning Scorpius slammed the door behind him, barely in time to shield himself from the shower of chips Xavier threw at him.

"That's what he gets," Scorpius laughed. "Left me without a partner at D.A.D.A. today and then I got stuck with this dolt—" He sobered with a cough, gulping at her cold glare. "Er..."

"You gave her a contract."

He blinked, smoothing down the front of his shirt. "What?"

"You gave. Bea. A contract."

"Yes... I did?" She could see his gears turning. "Something wrong with that? That is the point of all this trouble, no?"

"No!"

He jumped backwards from the sharp edge of her scold. A deep crease furrowed his brows. "Darling, you were the one who told me to make nice."

"So that you don't burn bridges," Anjali snapped, brushing away the single strand of hair that had come undone. "I thought you just wanted to keep her on tab for the future, but to give her a contract now? Have you lost your mind?"

He shrugged. "It's the natural next step—"

"The natural next step is to wait and see if that prototype even has a chance of working. You don't know anything about it other than hearsay and—and a couple of grainy photos."

"I've seen her blueprints. They're promising, and I think it's a risk worth taking. It definitely won't get done if I don't finance it."

"And working with her?"

"Bea? I like her enough. She's got spunk."

"Of course you would. Probably reminds you of yourself, hmm? Doesn't listen to anyone but herself, pursues everything without looking two steps forward—"

The tiny smile that he had been holding onto faded into a sour chuckle. As soon as it became clear that this conversation was purely business not pleasure, his patience thinned faster than Ringleward's hair. "Look, I get it: you don't like my decisions. Don't help me if you don't want to." He shook his head. "But why are you mentioning this now? Why didn't you say anything the first night that you brought them in?"

"I assumed you were just luring them. Inflating your promises, getting them interested, not actually giving them something concrete." His businessman spiel had the subtlety of a broom insurance agent; how was she supposed to know he had been serious?

"I haven't offered anything too unreasonable yet."

"Our time is valuable. Covering her expenses might not be much, but it's your father's money, and if he found out—"

"He won't," Scorpius grit.

"What about when it's done? What then?" She circled him slowly, finger trailing from his chin to his back, digging into his shoulder. "I know you want to—what's the word she always uses?—revolutionize Malfoy & Co. when you take over. A million ways to do it, and you choose the one thing your father will never approve of?"

He couldn't hide his nervous swallow fast enough. "He'll come around. Muggle convictions or not, he won't give up the potential money if her converter works."

"Forgive me for not being the cheeriest apple in the bunch, but your father is as reasonable as my mother."

"I know what I'm doing," he muttered, barely meeting her eyes. "I'd appreciate a bit of faith."

Faith in someone who gave a dotty biscuit-pusher a blank contract? Anjali could barely bite back her retort.

First, no one looked more unreliable than Beatrice Chang. Add the fact that Scorpius liked to run all his next-big-things into the ground. Last year, the EZ-Essay Agency he had co-founded with Xavier never got past the planning stage, but boy, had he planned. He had made business cards and sent out surveys, despite his aversion to forms (His aunt at the Malfoy & Co. Quality Assurance offices used to babysit him. Just thinking about checkboxes gave his hand cramps).

Scorpius had worked out every detail until he had loved it, but it had only taken a dozen customers to make that vanish. Infatuated with ideas, allergic to work—that was how he functioned, and reality was unkind to lazy dreamers.

"Fine," Anjali sighed, giving up. No point in truncating poker night any longer.

Scorpius visibly relaxed. As she brushed past him to get to the door, he eased an arm around her shoulder, stopping her hand when she turned the knob.

His fingers traced up and down her knuckles. "Your mum. Is she still...?"

"If you turn page twenty-three in today's issue of The Daily Prophet, you'll see the lovely article on our so-called engagement that no doubt she planted." The words had stewed bitterly in her mind, but she couldn't quite bring herself to spit it out with the same venom.

"People will treat it as just another rumor," he said softly.

"I still don't like it."

"Is it honestly that bad?"

Maybe she could have loved him if power and money hadn't spoiled their courtship from the start, if Mum didn't constantly remind her how fortuitous it was to know the Malfoys and have their young heir interested in her.

With the family skirting bankruptcy, her future marriage was more pertinent than ever. For all intents and purposes, Scorpius was good enough, but love was not for the half-hearted and wedding bells were not supposed to sound like the ring of a till.

She lifted his hand from her own. "You saw right now why we don't work," she said, turning the knob. "Thinking that you're still in love with me will only make our parents press the idea more. So, please, stop."

She pushed the door open, a smile greeting the waiting players, along with a thorough apology for taking so long. Scorpius lingered outside until Xavier yelled at him to hurry up. He took the seat across from her.

Xavier shuffled the deck, raising a brow at him. "Gods, what's wrong mate? You look like you already lost."

"It's nothing," Scorpius muttered. Anjali could feel him watching her as she counted her chips.

Poker face on, she threw in her ante.






Bea managed to weasel two extra days to think the contract over. Scorpius was none too pleased about it, but he had been looking sadder than a sack of lumpy mandrakes lately anyway. She didn't hesitate to point this out during Potions.

After graciously allowing Albus control of the stirring spoon, she leaned across the gap between her and Scorpius' table. "You look sadder than a sack of lumpy mandrakes," she said.

Scorpius was not cheered.

Bea didn't inquire further. She had her own problems; namely, what she wanted from him. Getting her own shop sounded great before, but the dreamy colors had waned. She couldn't bear to admit that it might have been a fleeting fancy after all—at least, not without a better idea.

While the Befuddlement Drought was boiling, she asked Albus for input.

Albus shrugged. "I don't know, get a thousand cupcakes?"

"No, be serious. Something that'll be good for me."

He took a step back, spoon wielded semi-threateningly. "Who are you? What have you done with Bea? Cupcakes are good for the soul."

Bea rolled her eyes, snatching the utensil and thwacking him on the noggin. "It's not that I don't want them. I should, you know, think about the future. Besides, what'll Malfoy say? He'll probably grumble to his minions, 'I can't believe she's asking me for a thousand cupcakes. What does she think I am, a bakery?'" A village of white-frosted cupcake tops emerged in her mind. "...I shouldn't ask for a bakery, huh?"

"What about the theme—"

"Yeah, you're right, never mind."

Albus scratched his brow with a new spoon. "You could ask him to fund your inventing for a few years?"

"And have to ask him every time I need something?" She stuck out her tongue. "Circe, how long do I have to rely on him?" As if one invention wasn't already too much.

Sighing, Bea shoved a fistful of skullworts into his hand. "Let's just finish this potion before Ringle-ding-Dongleward comes back around."

They barely received a satisfactory mark for the drought. Albus had mucked up the stirring portion, having forgotten his clockwise from his counter-clockwise. Bea took away his spoon privileges for a month.

After class, she saw Fred outside, standing close to the wall as if he didn't want to be seen. He beckoned her as soon as they made eye contact and started walking in the opposite direction. She scrambled to catch up.

He tossed her a paper bag. "Eat your lunch on the way. Impromptu Hogsmeade trip."

"For what?"

"It's a surprise."

Bea squinted at the bag. She was always wary of Fred's surprises and could never tell if he was being sarcastic and actually meant something like, 'Surprise! I'm busy today' or 'Surprise! I can't let you have fun because you'll probably get yourself killed.' But he did pack her a treacle tart so she gave him the benefit of the doubt.

After entering the secret passage on the third floor and emerging in Honeydukes, Fred hustled Bea outside before she could get distracted by the glittering sweets. He said that the surprise was 'better than Honeydukes,' and if it was better than Honeydukes, it was either a unicorn or two Honeydukes. With half a sandwich in her mouth, she could only wave to the confused cashier as they stumbled out onto the streets.

She was a little disappointed when they ended up in front of Weasley's Wizard Wheezes.

Bea loved Wheezes like a home (the Hogsmeade branch was, in fact, Fred's home) but it wasn't exactly surprise-level material. It was filled from floor to ceiling with the most amazing creations and the proprietor was one of her favorite people in the world, but she had seen both roughly a dozen million times. If Fred wanted to show her what his dad was working on, she could've waited until an official Hogsmeade trip. It was enough of a hassle to walk there, even without all the secret passage skulking.

The door jingled and out walked a tall red-headed man. "Took you two long enough. Your Gram could've walked here sooner."

"Uncle George!"

After kicking the doorstep into place, George clapped a hand around her shoulders. "Heard you were coming today. How's seventh year been treating you?"

"It's still sixth year for me," Bea giggled. He never remembered.

"Bea, you go on ahead," said Fred, who turned back toward the street. "I've got to go pick up something, but I'll be back in a bit."

"Er, all right."

George shook his head with an exaggerated dismay. "Look at him. Goes to such great lengths to avoid seeing his own dad." He called out to Fred, holding out a thermos, "Here, take this while it's fresh. Your mum brewed you your favorite."

Fred grabbed it and ducked before George could catch him in a headlock. "If you didn't keep trying to use me as a test subject, maybe I'd visit more often."

Fred left down the street with a grinning salute, after which George gave Bea a conspiratorial nod. "Spiked it with my latest potion."

While George went to the counter, Bea stood on her tiptoes to keep watching the tiny figure of Fred walking away, trying to figure out what street he was heading toward. Maybe this was just a distraction for the real surprise.

"How's your mum?"

"Hmm?" Bea swiveled around. George had brought out a tray of snacks, and she remembered the other reason why she loved Wheezes so much. She brushed past the displays to reach the counter, nearly knocking over a tower of Everlasting Confetti boxes. It was one of her products from last year. The punch line was the clean-up which, even by magical means, was never very thorough. It consequently made her Single-Use Anti-Confetti a best-seller, and George had given her bonus pay for such cleverness.

"Oh, my mum. She's fine. Really busy these days though," she said, taking a seat and a crisp.

"That's good. Isn't there that, uh, that big Nessie show coming down from Scotland at the museum she curates?" George drew a shape in the air that Bea figured was either Nessie or Scotland. His other hand was busy pouring tea for the both of them, and he had the amazing knack to never let it overflow, even when he wasn't looking. "Pops would probably get a kick out of it. Maybe I'll take him."

"Yes, Uncle George," she sighed. "I can get you the employee discount."

"Atta girl." He ruffled her hair with his free hand and then set a cup in front of her. "So I take it Fred's told me that you've got quite a proposition right now."

"What? Oh. Oh." She slumped onto the counter. In the midst of cozy tea and suspiciously colored crisps, she had forgotten all about the contract. "Yeah, I don't know what to do. You'd think that it'd be easy, being able to ask for anything."

"Ah, but it only makes it harder to choose. Especially if you don't know what you want."

"Exactly." Trust a fellow inventor to understand. "I thought I wanted a shop, but honestly, I know I can't handle one." She spread her arms. "Not all this. I don't even know if I really want it, or if it's just that you make running Wheezes look so fun."

"I'm definitely lucky." He grinned. "Not everyone can pursue their passion, get paid for it, and have such rugged good looks."

The door jingled and a pair of boys ran in, pointing and marveling at the jumbo Aviatomobile. George went around the counter to set the car down, and the boys clambered inside, fighting to press all the buttons at once.

"I'll tell you now: it takes a lot work," George said, keeping watch. "People usually don't like being told that, because then they can't blame fate; they have to blame themselves. But I think you can do it." He winked. "You'll be stiff competition for sure."

She smiled sheepishly. "To be honest, I just can't imagine what else I'd do."

"Fred's not much different." George leaned against the glass display and tossed a crisp into his mouth in a manner that seemed to defy all laws of gravity. "He doesn't know what he wants either, so he's been shadowing his aunt. He has time, but you know him. Puts all this pressure on himself—gets it from Angie, I say. You've got a lucky starting point here. You don't often find someone willing to take this sort of risk without seeing some sort of a finished product. I'd wager that Malfoy's about as nutty as you are."

That much was true. Secret baking and velvet blazers? And when she said she was going to start a revolution, he didn't laugh; he practically agreed.

Bea picked up a Whirlytop from a tray of sickle-priced items and spun it around idly. She had been reluctant to let the fact peel from her tongue, but yes, without Scorpius' sudden interest, the prototype probably would have gone to the rubbish bin within a month due to costs.

If Scorpius were the inventor, he wouldn't even have this problem.

"It's not fair." Her lips twisted into sulky shapes behind her hand. "If I could, I wouldn't sell my prototype at all. I'd just finish it on my own. Why do I have to end up relying on him?"

"It is what it is. Take your contract as luck, not a crux. Or a redistribution of wealth—that's what the Ministers call it. You can't afford to think—blimey!"

George had forgotten to flip on the child-safe locks on the Aviatomobile, which was currently wreaking havoc on aisle two, and he fled to regain control of it.

Meanwhile, Bea stared off toward the ceiling, where her Whirlytop had flown. Last week seemed so long ago. She had forgotten that she once only wanted to finish making her prototype and have a tin of biscuits at her side. No driving herself crazy, building dreams on top of dreams, convincing herself and everyone around her that it was all she wanted. Now she had both a future to prepare for and the present to live, yet she was still letting a touch of pride stall her way.

The answer was so simple, it almost hurt.

"Thank you, Uncle George," she said when he returned considerably more smudged with grease. "I think I know what to do."






Striding down High Street, Fred did not have a plan as much as a mindset. He had run through a few scenarios in his head, and scenarios branching from those scenarios. They steeled him for the lion's cage. Nothing could faze him. Not the crunch of leaves underfoot, nor the itch by his collar, nor the faint suspicion that Dad drugged his thermos again.

And definitely not any seductive Slytherin lounging by the pond.

Hogsmeade was particularly picturesque on its outskirts, and the frame of sunlight and shimmering waters only made beauty more lethal. Anjali glanced up as he neared, taking her time to stand up and tousle her hair. "When I get a note to meet, I expect the host to show up first."

"Sorry, I had to take a detour."

She responded to his confidence with an arch of her brow. "So what's this about?" she said, twisting the locket around her neck. "Make it quick."

He took out his old copy of The Daily Prophet from inside his jacket. "Fascinating news. The engagement of a Miss Patil-Davies."

Anjali's eyes widened for a startled moment when her face turned irreconcilably ugly. She snatched the paper from his hands and hissed, "You shouldn't go prying into personal matters."

"You shouldn't be toying with me if you're engaged."

Each crunch of the paper echoed through the clearing, silencing the birdsong. Fred would have been all right with anger, but her expression remained eerily stable as she balled up the article. "Scorpius and I are far from engaged. Last I checked, we're not even together. I can't help the few overzealous reports of our relationship."

He looked away briefly, following the flight of the crushed ball as she threw it over her shoulder. "True or not, the demand is the same. I don't play cat and mouse. I'd appreciate it if you stay out of my way."

"Very well." Her gaze dropped from his, as if the matter wasn't even important. Prepared as he was, Fred could not ignore the sudden swath of curiosity taking over. There was something not quite right. Any crack in her twenty-four hour cool demeanor was glaringly large. Maybe the article had something else.

He glanced at the discarded paper. "I'm sorry if I crossed a line." When she didn't respond, he asked, "Are you all right?"

Her sharpness returned. "Why would I not be all right?"

"You don't seem all right."

Anjali stared at him for a long moment. For the first time, Fred noticed that her features were more delicate than sensual. Perhaps her confident strut and crimson lipstick had deluded him more than he had thought; she was still only a girl.

Then she let out a jarring snort.

"What?" He frowned. "I'm serious."

"I—" Her lips pressed together, and she shook her head, trying her best to avoid a full laugh. "I'd love to take you seriously, but I think your nose hair needs trimming."

Fred felt the tickle on his lip as soon as she said it. Heart sinking, he looked down, where thick hair was sprouting from his nostrils at an alarming rate.

He groaned, remembering the thermos in his pocket. Damn it, Dad. And he had been doing so well.

Fred fumbled for his wand to reverse the atrocity, and just as he was able to get his nostril hairs to their proper length, he was interrupted by a pair of fingers cupping his chin. Anjali was mere inches from him, and he had to admit the point man shell was still a bit weak against close combat seduction.

"Freddie. I appreciate the sentiment that you think there is more to me than meets the eye. Some girls might even find it sweet..."

She came so close, whispering with her red, red lips, that Fred might almost admit to a flutter of his eyelids.

"...but you are not going to find that here."

Smirking, she released him and left him lingering by the pond, heart constricted. Fred knew better than to run after her; it was foolish to chase after tricks.

He picked up the wadded article and smoothed it out. It was strange to say the least; the writing seemed more concerned with their parents' respective companies than their supposed engagement, and it was littered with overbearing quotes.

Fred shook his head, scolding himself again. It was foolish to chase. He tucked the article into his pocket, and headed home.






"Why did you want to meet in the Restricted Section?"

"Atmosphere. Now where is it?"

Bea huffed, taking the contract from under her arm and handing it over to Scorpius. If this didn't prove that businessmen were silly geese, she didn't know what would. The cramped space between the shelves was dusty, poorly-lit, and smelled of Pince's ointment. A hungry book had slobbered all over her sleeve. Whatever about this place that screamed contract signing, she didn't know.

Scorpius sat down on a ladder. "Let's see here... I may buy your invention if I cover your expenses, no unauthorized blah de blah," he mumbled as he skimmed through the document. He stopped suddenly, clearing his throat. "If you dare steal even a snippet of an idea from me, I will personally hunt you down and hex you until you're Hippogriff feed and all the lawyers in the world won't be able to help you then. Crude, but it works, I suppose. Ah! here's the good stuff."

A sudden wave of apprehension washed over her. He wasn't going to laugh was he? Was it too much? Or what if she sold herself short?

"A silk tie—gift for Fred, I assume. A trunk of Witchella nail polish—"

"For the girls," she said.

"A dozen Chocolate Frogs—"

"For Albus."

"If you say so." He scratched the scruff on his cheek. He had grown it out recently as a companion to his grumpy attitude. "And last but not least, fund your inventing for two years after you leave Hogwarts."

Her feet danced fretfully as the silence stretched on. Hopefully, she wouldn't regret taking advice from Albus. So she'd have to keep Scorpius on call for a few years longer than she had intended and force herself to work her arse off. It was just a matter of taking a bit of responsibility for once, and she could do that much without spiraling into a dark pit of self-reflection again, right?

"Seems reasonable enough," said Scorpius. He added a few lines of his own at the end and then signed his name at the bottom of the page, ending with a large flourish. "Just a few details. Read it over and sign."

"That's it?"

"Sorry, I forgot the part where I'm going to steal all your ideas and fly off to Cairo with my sacks of money," he drawled, giving her the quill. "But yes, that's it. You help me on my business, and I help you get started on yours. Seems like a fair trade."

He didn't laugh, Bea thought with a dumbstruck blink.

After she signed, he folded up the contract. With a flourish, he presented her a tiny pink-frosted cake that she swore he pulled out of his sleeve. "Have a complementary cupcake."

"Where'd you—?"

"I thought you were going to ask for one, so I brought it just in case. House-Elves made these."

Bea puffed her cheeks. She didn't appreciate having her behavior predicted—very inaccurately, she might add!

She took another look at the cake; it had sprinkles.

"Thank you,” she said hesitantly, taking it. “Want half?"

"If I wanted half, I'd have told the elves to make two." Scorpius ambled out of the aisle, looking both ways before heading back toward the main section of the library.

"I was just asking."

Scorpius paused long enough for her to catch up. He rolled his eyes and sighed, "Give it here."

Bea split the cupcake down the middle, handing him the smaller piece.

It was as official as a handshake.




A/N PHEW. I’ve wanted to bring in Scorpius and Anjali’s backstory for a very long time, and at last, I get to! Also hee, I quite love "Uncle" George and his cameo here. I still can't thank all of you enough for putting up with me and my terrible updates ♥

Coming up: a heated fight, and everything goes down the loo.

Scorpius blinked, glancing from Bea to Albus to Bea again. "That's cute. Not to be the bad guy here, but you know this is why people make fun of him, right? Someone has to say it."

Albus tapped her shoulders lightly. "It's all right. I can handle this. I'm—" He mustered all his courage into his lungs. "I'm the son of the Boy-Who-Lived!"

"Yeah, yeah, and I'm the daughter of the girl who rejected him." Bea brushed him away. "You—" She jabbed Scorpius' chest. This was personal. "You've been acting like you own the place. Well, you don't. This is my room, my rules."

Chapter 13: Destination Downhill
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ACT III: THE SECOND CAPER



13. DESTINATION DOWNHILL
Their agreement definitely sounded a lot better on paper.


Bea never imagined that she would one day be inviting Scorpius Malfoy into her dorm.

While she knew that she would be working with him, she didn't think she'd be working with him. Scorpius insisted that he wanted to be "involved in the process", i.e. in the way. Not two steps into her room and he was already hovering over her shoulder.

Verona Wood appeared from behind a wardrobe door, plainly judging the entourage Bea was leading. First came Scorpius, who was gracing Hogwarts with yet another creatively designed blazer (this time, plaid), followed by Albus stumbling over air. Shaking her head, Verona resumed stuffing Quidditch gear into her duffel, prepping for a strategy session with her twin brother Vincent. Typical co-captains divided the work; the Wood twins doubled the pain.

Scorpius peeled off his pair of Feminine Feet Soles. "No, I mean it, why make these pink?" He had been complaining about the color the whole trek up.

Albus knocked into him as he hopped around on one foot, trying to remove his own pair, and was barely able to avoid a pile-up. "What's wrong with pink? I like it; it's festive."

"For a My Little Centaur tea party, maybe. Gods, Potter, have a little taste."

Both girls gave Scorpius and his blazer a long hard stare.

Bea's section of the room faintly smelled of rot and Scorpius surveyed it with a noticeable grimace. The Ravenclaw girls had learned to live with Bea's messes long ago. After all, they each had their follies—Rose's mood swings, Lucy's absurdities, Verona's indifference (she had more empathy for her Quaffle). The smell was almost quaint in comparison. Swampy, with a tinge of buttery crumbs.

He peered into the portable cauldron on her desk, recoiling with a shudder as the fermenting stink of yesterday's strengthening potion burned his eyes. "Bloody Baron, nutcase, ever hear of a cleaning spell?" Scorpius pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and covered his face. Picking up the cleanest probe he could find on her desk, he prodded through the reagents on her desk.

"Aiya! Don't—" Bea grabbed for the instrument, but he flicked it out of reach. "There are very delicate things here! You can't just poke around willy-nilly. If you want to find something, just ask."

With his handkerchief, he picked up a vial from the table. "Relax, I'll be careful—" Something clattered. "Whoops, what was that?"

She shoved him to the side, eyes darting around her desk. "What was—"

"Kidding."

Scorpius grinned at her glower and handed her the probe, which Bea immediately held to his nose.

"I will hurt you with this," she said as ominously as she could.

Shooing him away, she began cleaning up the mess from yesterday's enchanting session. A swish of her wand patched up the singe marks dotting the wall. Albus sidled up to help, rolling leftover walrus tusk pellets into a pouch.

Verona stared at the activity surrounding Bea's desk, curling her lip as she paused by the door. "Bea, Please don't explode anything while I'm gone. I know the rule is that someone needs to be in the room with you, but these two don't exactly count."

Albus had accidentally tipped over a vial of potion while Scorpius had gotten a hold of her welding torch, waving it around as if he'd never seen fire before.

"I never expected that you'd be this popular with the boys. Just make sure they don't burn down the tower."

When the door clicked shut, Bea wrenched the torch from Scorpius' hand, threatening him with the hot end. "You lay one more finger on anything—"

"Aw, ease up." He pushed her hand down, slipping past her and taking residence in her chair. "Remember: I'm going to pay for all your stuff. Least you can do is let me look around at what I'm working with here."

The oak creaked underneath him as he shifted his weight. He muttered something about buying a chair that spun and then tipped backwards to rest his feet on her desk.

So Scorpius was going to play that card. With his newly clean-shaven smirk, he had returned to his old ways, and Bea scolded herself for getting soft.

"I've made a list of things I need," she said testily. "We could ransack the storage whenever you're free—"

"Storage?" Scorpius snorted. "I love a bit of vandalism as much as the next kid, but after what happened last time, I say we get whatever you need through mail-order rush."

That's right: Scorpius was paying. She could have anything she wanted at the snap of her fingers now. No more cutting corners, no unnecessary risk, no —

"See, nutcase? Everything would've been easier if you just signed the deal in the first place."

Her fingers clenched and unclenched as she held back from strangling him.

Truthfully, the idea of no-risk was rather uncomfortable. Bea could always place the value of her inventions in terms of time and work spent, but for the prototype, the price tag was already set: two years of funding. Too much or too little—she wouldn't know until later.

"Guess that means no more adventures," sighed Albus.

Bea patted him on the shoulder. She had never been more thankful for Albus' presence, if only to mitigate her ballooning vexation for the other person in the room. "Who said that? It just means we'll have more time to raid the kitchen, and we don't have to worry about getting expelled."

"That's true. Rose could've gotten her Prefect badge taken away, if it weren't for the invisibility cloak—"

He clamped both hands over his mouth, eyes huge.

"Invisibility cloak?" Then it clicked. The subject he kept dodging—how he and Rose had escaped that night when they made the raid. They were hiding under an invisibility cloak!

Scorpius' feet slammed back on the ground. "Potterpuff has an invisibility cloak?"

"W-well," Albus inched away from his keen eyes. "It's not for play. Dad gave it to me. He knew I'd be responsible with it."

"It would've been nice to know you had one," Bea huffed, crossing her arms. Did he not trust her? Well, she was a bit forgetful about returning his quills (sugar quills were never returned), and was awfully close to catapulting his Kneazle off the Astronomy tower before that one Easter holiday...

Bea's grumbles winnowed down. "Oh, fine. I probably would've gotten it confiscated in a day. It's probably for the best if I pretend that I never heard you."

"You give up too easily." Scorpius was practically twirling a mustache. "Come on, Potter. You're honestly going to let an invisibility cloak rot in your wardrobe? Imagine what you could do with it. The world is your oyster now."

"But... I don't like oysters," Albus whimpered.

Bea glared at Scorpius. "Leave him alone."

"Come on, don't tell me you aren't imagining all the biscuit runs you're missing out on." Scorpius winked and stood up, arm out to give Albus a hearty good-ol'-mate pat on the back.

Bea slapped his hand away before it could make contact. "No, stop picking on him."

Scorpius blinked, glancing from Bea to Albus to Bea again. "That's cute. Not to be the bad guy here, but you know this is why people make fun of him, right? Someone has to say it."

Albus tapped her shoulder. "It's all right. I can handle this. I'm—" He mustered all his courage into his lungs. "I'm the son of the Boy-Who-Lived!"

Bea brushed him off. "Yeah, yeah, and I'm the daughter of the girl who rejected him. You—" She jabbed Scorpius' chest. This was personal. "You've been acting like you own the place. Well, you don't. My room, my rules. Take your bravado somewhere else."

Scorpius stared down at her finger for a long moment until he began chuckling. "All right, I'll tone it down. I just didn't want to get too friendly." He leaned away from her, waving his hand around in a circle as if it were supposed to make him seem important. "Knowing how... tenacious you are, I thought it'd be appropriate to establish some lines of authority early, now that we're working together. Sometimes, your rules won't fly. It’s my contract, after all. I'll have rules, too."

"Our contract, and if you ever try to pressure Al like that again, consider it void."

He was unimpressed. "You know, without my consent, that means seven years bad luck for you."

"Call my bluff," she said, steely. "And you won't ever get your hands on my invention."

The spark in his eyes fizzled. If nothing else, at least he had stopped having fun at her expense. A sliver of a smile survived on his lips, his last pretense of indifference. "Fine. I'll leave him alone. A little tiff's not worth it."

She only then felt a flash of fear. Oh no, the risks were greater than ever; it was pride and principles and personal space at stake.

Bea drew herself to her full height again, which wasn't much, even on her tiptoes. "And while we're at it, let me tell you some other things." She squeezed past him and flounced into her seat. "This is my chair, my desk. Keep your feet off of it."

Scorpius was already rolling his eyes, but she paid no mind.

"You want me to work efficiently? Don't touch anything." She cleared out a semi-circle of space in front of her and took her prototype's box from her shelf. "Tool rack on the left. Reference books over there. They're library copies, so keep them clean. Vials in the drawers." She pulled one out. "Stay away from the bottom ones; you'll turn yourself into a Niffler. You got all that?"

His stare still seemed to question whether she was serious. The Bloody Baron's bloomers, she was!

His next words were out of place amongst his earlier cajoles but his tone was not tamed, only quiet, and a harsh edge cut from his first word to the last. "Where do I sit?"

"There's a stool." She pointed behind Albus. As soon as he reached for it, she continued, "It's Al's. He brought it up here, so it's his."

Albus, who had been dawdling nervously, quickly took a seat.

"If you want to sit, bring your own chair."

Scorpius' gaze slowly returned to her, jaw clenched. Good, she thought. Let him be angry.

"I have a better idea." His grip on the side of the desk had gone white-knuckled. "I think you ought to listen closely."

Turning, the tails of his jacket flew sharply upwards as he stormed out. His exit concluded with a slam that shook the tower to its foundations.

The glass seemed to rattle forever in the silence. "Spoiled brat," Bea muttered after she was certain Scorpius wasn't returning. She glanced at Albus, who didn't look confident about anything at the moment as he hugged the curtains for comfort.

The dreams of yesterday fluttered briefly through her mind—a shop with blue awning and her name in gold letters. The prize too much to give up. They were only going to tumble downhill, and from the looks of it, they weren't going to stop until they hit the very bottom.






Noise was at an all-time low in the library, save for the occasional 'shush!' from Madame Pince. Ever since the Dance club tried to hold their annual flash mob there, anything that remotely sounded like a harmonic note was quickly quashed.

Fred wove through the stacks until he found the periodicals corner, two towering shelves of identically-bound books. Each volume held a year's worth of the Daily Prophet, and the whole archive dated centuries back. His point of interest was the podium in front that displayed the current year's issues.

He flipped through it, page by page. He had a name in mind, fuzzy but tangible. Had he seen it last week or the week before?

Familiar photos called for his attention. James was laughing with the Cannons again. A few pages later, Fred spotted Uncle Percy accepting an award. Directly underneath was an advertisement for Wheezes and their new Color-Changing Mood Robes, which declared in bold lettering to "dress better than the sucker you see above."

Just as Fred was about to give up, he found the name, buried in the middle of an article: Niharika Patil. He glanced at the headline: POTION GIANT POX-B-GON FILING FOR BANKRUPTCY.

A catch in his breath gave him pause. He knew, with a twinge of guilt, that he was indeed prying into matters not meant for him.

The article was short; it seemed as if the bankruptcy had been a long time coming. Declining sales and fierce competition had worn the company down, despite its large presence in Britain. They weren't out of business yet, but it was only a matter of time. The article on Scorpius and Anjali's supposed engagement did seem to insinuate a merger.

Fred shook his head. What was he doing, making wild guesses? He'd only wanted to stop Anjali damned teasing. Ever since she had marked him as Potter's old wingman, she'd made him her toy and turned their banter into a game. He had grown out of such idle pursuits, or so he hoped.

Closing his eyes, he stepped back from the podium. Walk away, Fred. This was none of your concern.

While he did so, he spotted the back of a familiar blond head at a nearby shelf. It was his stance that was truly unmistakable—head cocked to one side, one foot resting on a heel and tapping to an imaginary beat, all too antsy to escape the quiet. Malfoy's sort did not belong in libraries.

Fred hadn't had a chance to speak with him since he finalized his contract with Bea. Fred strolled over to the spot beside him, pulled a random tome from the shelf, and pretended to read. If Scorpius had noticed his presence before then, he did not make it known.

"Malfoy."

"Weasley."

Fred glanced over, lowering his voice when he caught sight of Madam Pince's frown. "Studying... Rare Avian Creatures of Great Britain? Didn't think you were a birdbrain."

"Expanding the mind is always a noble pursuit." Scorpius raised a brow. "Wart Growing for Beginners?"

Fred shut his book and noticed the title for the first time. "It's, uh, it's for a friend."

"Right." Scorpius returned his attention to his reading. "I understand you don't like runarounds. So let's cut the chit-chat."

And so died the pretenses. As a man of efficiency, Fred could hardly complain.

He chose his words carefully, piecing them together as he slid his book back where he had found it. "Even though I approve of this arrangement you have with Bea—encouraged it, in fact—I don't want you to get the wrong idea. I'm keeping an eye on you."

"Noted. Ruthless world out there. Trust no one." Underneath his more flamboyant behavior, Scorpius was rather grim. He turned a page, still not looking up. "Do I get to ask something in return?"

The question caught Fred off-guard. After a moment, he said, "All right."

"Now that James is gone, why do you stick around with Bea? Never pegged you two as close."

Fred frowned. The actual question was even stranger. "Well... we are. We're used to each other, I guess. Why do you ask?"

"Just curious. You're a very loyal man, Weasley. Especially toward a girl who tends to be more trouble than she's worth." He snapped the book shut and tucked it under his arm. "I'm learning that right now."

Scorpius nodded a good-bye and left in the direction where Fred had come from, pausing briefly by the periodicals.

It wasn't until Fred left the library that he remembered the book on the podium. It was still open to the article he had been reading.






Bea had no idea what the Founders were thinking putting the entrance to a seven-story tower on the fifth floor of a castle. She resumed her trek after taking a breather on the staircase. It was her second rest stop on her way home from Hagrid's hut. Albus had dragged her there to see the new brood of salamanders. She had never seen anyone so excited at the prospect of burned pinkies before.

As her feet shuffled over the open doorway of her room, she could almost feel her pillow under her cheek. Instead, she was greeted by Rose and a tub of vials, the ones she had borrowed to distill the Stalker Salve two weeks ago. The clean-up was an on-going effort.

Rose shoved the tub into Bea's arms. "You said you'd clear these out last week."

She had. And since that day, she had also been playing the 'how-long-until-Rose-remembers' game. Sighing, Bea marched herself to the sink.

Once elbow deep in suds, her mind wandered off. Her sister sent her a letter this morning, scolding her for not writing to Mum sooner. How did Sasha know? Mum had already received a notice from Flitwick explaining her trouble with being up after hours with Scorpius. At the mere mention of a boy, she had thought her daughter was pregnant with triplets.

Bea found letter-writing terribly laborious. It wasn't as if her family took interest in her inventing. Certainly, they tried and Mum was quite proud of her talents, but she didn't understand. Dad... didn't needed to be reminded of magic.

A shrill scream interrupted, and Bea dropped the last vial in the tub. Rose? Wide-eyed, she dashed outside.

Lucy and Rose were staring at the doorway. There stood Scorpius with a pained wince, his hands pressed against the side of his head in an attempt to salvage his eardrums. "Oh yeah, I forgot Mad-Eye Weasley lives here, too," he muttered, lowering his arms.

"What are you doing here?" Rose cried.

Quickly, Bea ran back to the sink and rinsed off the soap. "Rose, I already told you. I'm working with him now." She then muttered, "Although I thought he stormed out of here for good."

When Bea came back out, Rose was in the final stages of acceptance. "Fine," the prefect said. "I suppose it can't be helped. But I will not hide my distaste of your presence, Malfoy."

"Nor will I hide my apathy toward your opinion," Scorpius quipped cheerily as he strode over to Bea. As soon as they met midway, his smile dropped. He had a book in his grasp and he held it up, pointing to a tiny paragraph. "You asked for Runespoor eggs. Well, they're illegal. Banned since 1903."

"Yeah, so? It's not like illegal means unobtainable."

His frown turned into complete disbelief. "You knew? I can't release a product that needs this in it! How do you expect me to produce them?"

She hadn't thought about that. "Well... I can find an alternate. But it'd be easier—much easier—if I had one to work with first."

"How do you know that?"

"I just do, all right?" She wrinkled her nose. "I just have to... well, there's some things..."

"I think you have no idea what you're doing." Scorpius shook his head. "You probably don't even know how your own invention's supposed to work, and you're expecting me to go out on a limb to—"

"Oi!" She stomped her foot, instantly fuming. If he wanted her to prove herself, he should have asked. And he wasn't going to understand a lick of it!

"In theory," she began, hands on her hips, "any magical energy directed at the Muggle device with the transistor would be neutralized or converted into energy it can handle. You know the special binding spell they use for curse wards—oh wait, no you don't. That's beyond N.E.W.T. level. Brushed up on my physics over summer to deal with the Muggle end, too. Circuits, conductors, and batteries. I'm sure you know what those are like though."

Scorpius had shrunk back as she advanced, and he suddenly looked very uncomfortable and out of place.

"Muggles make up so much rubbish to explain magical things." She waved her hand around, mocking that idiotic gesture of his. "The Many-Worlds theory, string theory, lots of theories. Sometimes I wish I could break the Statute of Secrecy to fix their physics textbooks. Dad would be proud at least. They haven't even heard of the Confounding Polaris effect. Not many wizards have either, but it's a really dry subject. Sorry, did I lose you?"

His gaping mouth slowly closed. In the background, Lucy whispered loudly, "Ooh, burn."

"It's just science, Smarmy." Bea flipped her hair—she'd always wanted to do that. It mostly got in her face. "Even Al can pretend like he knows what I'm talking about."

Scorpius licked his lips. Finally, he croaked out some words: "Are you like a secret genius or something?"

She brushed away her hair, blinking. "What?"

Scorpius looked genuinely stunned, and he wasn't so much as gawking at her, like she first thought, as much as admiring her. "I knew you were smart, but is this what you're like when you're not hopped up on sugar?"

Bea blushed faintly, feeling very silly all of a sudden. "Er, thanks? I'm really not a genius. I just... I don't know, connect the dots differently—and oi! I happen to enjoy being hopped up on sugar."

"Grand," he chuckled, shaking his head. "Look, I—never mind, I guess."

Now they were both standing awkwardly in the middle of the room, neither knowing where to go from there. They hadn't technically resolved anything, but their fighting felt rather ridiculous all of a sudden.

Scorpius scanned his book again, scratching his head. "Well, there is one way we could get a Runespoor egg, I suppose."

He glanced at Rose, who was studying with her noiseless earmuffs on. Lucy waved from her bed, mouthing, 'Don't mind me.'

"Well, prior to that," he said, pointing to another passage, "They were mainly used in Bludgers. And guess what Hogwarts has?"

For once, Bea shared the same devious glint as he did. "...some really old Bludgers?"

"Hooch never cleans out the closets."

"How are we supposed to sneak in?"

Scorpius shut the book slowly. "For that... we're going to need a little something from Potterpuff."




My Little Centaur is a riff on My Little Pony, which I believe I do not own. Also I finally got to break out the very first aiyaaa, which is just a sound for a very Chinese flail of worry

A/N Hah! I updated in under three weeks! And for a fairly hefty chapter at that. I shall give myself a pat on the shoulder. A review would be lovely, like always!

Coming soon: Potterpuff is our king. Fred is a stalker. More bickering.

Chapter 14: Oh, Bludger!
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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 the Slytherin dungeons, when the lake’s waters were low, the windows glimmered green and the common room could be mistaken for the inside of an emerald. The archways stood a magnificent twenty feet tall like a pearl crown, 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.

"Happy birthday."

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."

"We?"

"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?"

“Huh!”

"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?"

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—"

"Creepy?"

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.

"—watching her?"

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."

"I can!"

"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."


Chapter 15: Choose Wisely
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15. CHOOSE WISELY
Take-backs were non-redeemable.


The room was once large, but certainly not now, when it was crowded with towers of boxes and impossible amounts of parchment. The shelves extended two stories up and paper fluttered down every time the room shook from the outside stands. It was baffling that anything stayed in place at all.

Bea ran her fingers across the plaques on the wall, and looked for Mum's name to no avail. Amongst the awards, the name Diggory stuck out (something about being dead or undead) as well as James Potter. It wasn't the one she knew, however; the date underneath clearly read May 1975. It was astounding that Hogwarts ever survived one of them, let alone two.

Hogwarts had also survived her. So far.

Breaking into Hooch's office was heist number thirty-three of her Hogwarts career, excluding any biscuit runs, and she had a grand total of twenty-seven and a half explosions (the half was for accidentally popping all of Rose's birthday balloons once). Adding in her extraordinary ability to set things aflame—three times to her hair and twice to Fred's eyebrows—the castle deserved a medal for not burning down yet.

Fred had always been there to cancel out both her and James. It felt a tad wrong that Scorpius was here in his stead. Scorpius was in the process of opening every container in the room for fun, chronic Touching-Everything-in-Sightus at its worst.

Bea put a hand on her hip. "I thought we were going to be quick about this."

"Yeah but have a look around. It's not every day you get to break into a professor's office." He grinned as he picked the lock on a chest. Even if Scorpius acted like he owned the place, at least he didn't make a half-bad point man.

Inside the chest was the standard set of Quidditch equipment. Scorpius took the Snitch from its casing and let its wings unfold.

Albus gasped and ran up, snatching it just as it was about to take flight. "Don't touch those! Hooch'll know. They've got flesh memory."

"Ah, don't worry, it's an old one." Scorpius squinted at it. "I think. Anyway, she's got like, what, twenty chests of these lying around?"

Bea took the Bludger from the chest and turned it over in her hand. The grade of lead marked this one as a newer model with a mechanical core, not the kind they were looking for. The metal underneath her fingertips spun a whole history. Sometime in 1902, in a dingy old room like her own, a frenzied team of enchanters had been arguing over what charms to make these cores The looming ban on Runespoor hunting would cripple the Quidditch industry if they didn't work fast enough.

"They still haven't been able to match the strength of the old ones," she said when Albus crouched next to her. "Runespoor eggs can harness and expel an extraordinary force when enchanted correctly. That's why they made such good Bludger cores. They must've drove themselves crazy enough trying to figure out how to mimic the right movements and calibrate the speed."

Albus patted the Bludger on its crown, nodding with awe. Scorpius, however, was not impressed. "Nah, how hard could it be? Simple Reflecting charm or something."

"Easy when it's already invented for you," she said snippily.

He already had his hands up to defend himself. "I don't mean to put down what you do. I just think Bludger cores..." He shrugged. "Meh."

She'll meh him. Bea put the Bludger back and slammed the lid down, Albus yelping as his fingertips were barely able to escape execution.

"Oi!" Scorpius jumped back. "I mean it, don't get all spunky and offended!"

"Spunky and offended?"

"You know, your nose gets all crinkly"—she let out a small gasp as her fingers darted to her nose, ridged with wrinkles—"and you've got all this pride and, you can only get away with that because you pull out your I'm-so-disadvantaged card."

"I'd never use being poor as an excuse!"

"No, but you like to blame me for not being poor, don't you?"

Bea glanced over at Albus, who made a sort-of gesture with his hand, and she acquiesced though her glare lingered.

With a clear of his throat, Scorpius slapped Albus' back, pushing him toward the far end of the room. "We should get to what we came here for, I suppose," he said, at least wise enough to move on. He jiggled the handle of a worn door that was practically unnoticeable beside the towering bookcase.

"Finally, an easy one." Scorpius took out his wand. "Alohomora."

A click sounded. Hogwarts security at its finest.

But when he turned the knob, it didn't budge, even after he slammed his shoulder against the door.

"A little help here?"

Bea and Albus shrugged at each other and the two ran against it, one thump following the other.

Scorpius rolled his eyes. "Collaboratively, shall we? On the count of three. One... two... three!"

Squashing against each other, they threw themselves against the door. With a loud crack, it swung open.

They stepped into the dusty gap of darkness. "Lumos," said Scorpius. The few candle stubs in the chandelier sprang to life, lighting the room with a paltry glow.

The piles of rubbish were so thick that it was impossible to discern any one object. Bea could make out a few overturned trunks and discarded team banners jutting out from underneath a large wooden statue or possibly some furniture child of a table and a wardrobe.

The room seemed to have everything imaginable except organization, as if Hooch only ever opened the door to throw something in. Searching for a Bludger was going to be finding a needle in a needlestack.

"Accio Bludger!" Bea shouted.

A scrape sounded from her left. Something atop a stack of tables shifted forward. The whole structure creaked, teetering a bit too much for Bea to be comfortable with casting that spell again.

Moving closer, she peered up as dust settled on her face and saw the edge of a chest. "Well, there must be some in there."

She pushed off an overturned bucket for the closest handhold, but the flimsy wood promptly broke underneath her. Albus yelped and Scorpius followed with a loud snickering snort. On the ground, she had stirred up a century's worth of filth and she could barely make out the latter's hand.

"Are you all right?" Scorpius pulled her to her feet. "Lay off the desserts, nutcase."

Coughing, Bea flattened her gaze. "Don't you—"

"Joking." Scorpius moved to help Albus haul in a proper chair. "I didn't think you were the type to care about that."

"Well, I don't but—" Bea grumbled, secretly pinching the side of her waist. Curse her morning waffles. "How would you feel if I said your—your hair looked funny?"

He paused, on foot on the chair. "What's wrong with my hair?"

She opened her mouth, prepared to reply, but truth of the matter was that Scorpius had very nice hair. It was like a plush golden field of grass and was probably fun to run her fingers through, not that she ever thought about such things.

"Fine, that was a bad example."

He brushed back his locks. "Damn straight." Pushing off his other foot, Scorpius gave the chair a good stomp and began his precarious climb.

Bea and Albus cleared the area as Scorpius pushed off the excess junk and yanked the trunk out. It fell to the floor with a splintering crash, Quaffles and Bludgers rolling everywhere.

Scorpius jumped down, stealing a sack from the second shelf. "Find Bludgers and toss them in. We'll check to see if they're old enough outside where there's proper lighting."

Albus saluted, flopped down on the floor, and got to work. Bea and Scorpius each took a seat on the other ends of the chest.

A few minutes into the sorting, Bea felt a looming presence to her right, and sure enough, it was Scorpius scooting closer. He probably thought he was being clever, having a small pile of balls in front of him to make it look like he was working when he wasn't.

"So, nutcase. Potterpuff. How goes it?"

"Missing more of Fred's game by the second, thank you very much." Though Bea could hear muffled cheering from the main section of Hooch's office, the small closet was void of sound except for themselves and the settling dust.

Scorpius raised a finger. "That reminds me. Tell ol' Freddie to keep his eyes off my girl. I'm not being overprotective or anything." He narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. "I'm pretty sure he's stalking her."

"Yeah, he is." Albus nodded.

Bea threw another Quaffle over her shoulder. "If I knew how, I would have a long time ago." Of all the Achilles Heels Fred could have chosen, he had to choose the leggiest.

"It can't be that hard," said Scorpius. "You practically already have him on a leash."

"What?"

"Come on. You know what I'm talking about." Scorpius had that nudging sort of tone. "He follows you wherever you go."

It didn't take a genius to know where he was going with this. "We're just friends," Bea stated firmly. "Our interests just happen to collide. I mostly just help Uncle George."

"But it's not always like that. This prototype—that's not for his dad. He has better things to do than to be at your beck and call." He winked. "Friends don't deal with, no offense, trouble like you."

"Excuse me?" she sputtered.

"You ever take a look at what you ask of him sometimes? I'd never do that for anyone," he said, his smug expression practically dripping off his face. "You don't realize 'cause he spoils you."

"Oi, I would do just as much for him," she retorted. "Or for Albus. Or Lucy. Or even Rose. Just because you don't have real friends—"

The words left her mouth before she could stop them, and she shut up as fast as she could, but she had already careened across the line.

The shock on Scorpius' face was but a flash, a shadow of surprise that melted into a wide-eyed chuckle. "Well. Talk about defensive."

Her cheeks throbbed with heat. "Sorry, I didn't mean—"

"So what did you mean?"

Jovial as his tone was, the sudden grimness at the corners of his mouth told her he was quite serious. The few times she was privy to this side of him, she'd remember those days in detention with him in Teddy's classroom, removed from the rest of the castle, where Scorpius had been just a lonely boy in a blazer.

Albus spoke up hesitantly. "Well, I think what Bea means is—"

"What I mean is," Bea interrupted before she lost her chance. The words felt awkward on her tongue as they spilled out in fragments. "You've got shiny clothes and big words. But I wonder—I wonder if that's just you trying to convince yourself that maybe if people pay attention to you, it's enough. It's not, is it?"

Not a moment after she finished speaking, she shut her eyes and berated herself. She didn't even know him; what was she saying? "Never mind. Just ignore me—"

"You're not wrong," said Scorpius.

The lines on his face that usually held up his grin were no longer taut, and his whole body seemed to have sighed and lost its confident rigidity. Despite the conversation's bitter flavor, a slight smile remained. It almost felt as if it were something Bea was not supposed to see, like she had intruded upon a side of Scorpius meant for someone else. She wanted to shield her eyes, apologize some more, escape the unhinging sensation on her skin that seemed to crumple her from the outside in.

Guilt. She had forgotten that he could be hurt.

"You've got friends. You've got us," Albus said, a cheery spring in his shoulders as he made two tiny fist pumps in the air. "Right, Bea?"

"Yeah," she whispered, looking away at last. Her hands, anxious to move, held up the half-filled sack. "Albus, why don't we uh—why don't we just—" She gestured to continue sorting the Bludgers, never finishing the sentence.

It was her curse. She was too used to being silly, little Bea, not a care in the world; no one took her seriously enough to be offended, and she could always shove what she didn't like under a carpet and pretend the bumps weren't there. Even if she wanted to straighten it out, she didn't know how, and it was only a matter of time before she tripped.

She wasn't like Albus, who had stumbled so many times that getting up and brushing himself off was routine. She wasn't like Fred, who watched where he walked so he wouldn't stumble in the first place. She was the one who, when she fell, sunk as far as she could into the thick of the fibers and hope no one noticed.

It was what people expected of her, anyhow. Except for a few hiccups like the contract discussion, her friends didn't complain much. That was the perk of expectations; they already knew what was coming. Then here was Scorpius. He had done such a fine job of meeting her expectations until then.

A murmuring in the background eased her out of her rumination. Albus was saying something about Bludgers.

"Sorry, what?" she asked, waving a hand at him. Perhaps he was talking to the Bludger in his hand instead; he was certainly staring at it intently.

"I said that they've been cooped up in here too long, lost their spirit." Albus held the Bludger to the light and one of the dents almost looked like a frown. "It's not right. Quaffles get by, but not Bludgers. They're meant to be played with. It's cruel to stick them in a dusty closet."

Bea nodded half-heartedly as she dug underneath the chest. Albus had gone through a phase where he treated every object as if it were a kitten. It was a result of Lucy's influence—her neo-Buddhism lectures, to be precise. Suddenly, everything had a soul and Albus would see expressions in the woodwork. When he tripped, he'd say 'Excuse me' to the ground. It was just a phase but old habits died hard. It was probably for the best that he had forgotten why she needed a Bludger in the first place.

"Look. Look, Bea." Albus was still trying to shove the thing in her face a minute later. "It wants to be your friend."

And she was going to gut it like a fish. "It's a ball," she said, taking it and throwing it in the sack.

He picked up another one. "Inside every one of these, there's an egg. A soul," Albus said, with a vehemence that made Bea cringe. "If you listen, you can hear it. They're restless, don't you see?" As he jiggled it like an eight-ball, it slipped out of his grip and rolled into a nearby pile.

"Ah, bloody—" Albus felt for his wand. "Accio Bludger!" It returned to his hands.

At the same time, a strange rumbling grew from underneath them, far too strong to have come from the Quidditch match. It was almost as if a parade were marching past the room, but Hogwarts hadn't had one since one of the first years got stuck in their fly-trap tuba.

Bea frowned. The Bludger in her hands had started vibrating on its own accord. "Uh..."

A sudden whump interrupted her, followed by another loud crash.

Scorpius bolted to his feet, wand out. "What the bloody—?"

A Bludger knocked straight into his chest, throwing him back on the floor with a thud. Bea dropped the one in her hands and ducked, arms flailing above her head as another hurtled toward her.

The sack stretched this way and that. The room was suddenly filled with active Bludgers by the dozens, ricocheting against the walls like animals rattling their cages.

With a hand clutching the bruised spot, Scorpius staggered upwards. "What did you do, Potterpuff?"

"I don't—I—" Albus whimpered and stared at the wand in his hand. "I must've been thinking about too many of them when I cast that."

"This still isn't normal!"

"I don't know! They must have heard me, thought I'm setting them free!"

"What are you, a Bludger whisperer?!"

The towers of junk shuddered dangerously under the onslaught. Even Bea's refuge behind the chest wasn't safe anymore. She crawled out of her hiding space just as Scorpius raised his arm and shouted, "Immobulus!" One Bludger fell from the air, but the rest continued on their destructive path.

Scorpius pushed Albus toward the glaring light of the open door. "Go, go, go!" He turned around, doing a double take when he caught sight of her cowering on the ground. "Hurry up, Bea!"

Heart pounding, Bea knew the only way she'd make it across the room was if she didn't think about running into direct fire. Glass shattered somewhere above her and she felt the cold trickle of glass down her shirt. The shelf behind her groaned, an ominous creak heralding its fall. With a hard swallow, she pushed off and ran. Cold lead grazed her ear. Any moment now, she would be struck in her head. Her legs would buckle. She wouldn't make it.

A hand wrapped around her wrist; Scorpius was pulling her forward. Together, they dashed out of the room as the walls of junk caved in behind them. Albus slammed the door shut as soon as they were out.

Dizzy and hyper-aware all at once, Bea barely caught sight of an escaped Bludger at the edge of her vision. It skidded across a shelf, knocking down boxes and a Snitch off its perch. The golden wings sprouted just before the it hit the ground.

"Watch out!" she called, lunging toward Albus, who leapt out of the way as a box of files crashed down.

Scorpius' grip held her back. Whirling around, she found his eyes round with panic. A second passed before he let go, leaving behind three red welts where his fingers had dug into her skin.

Albus spread his arms, running in the Bludger's direction. "I've got it!" He nearly toppled over Hooch's desk as the hurtling ball slammed him backwards.

"There, there," Albus whispered. He cradled the Bludger tight in his arms until it quieted.

A golden streak whizzed past Bea, and she grasped at the air. "The Snitch!"

It went right past Scorpius' nose and then swooped in an arc around the room. Albus' arm shot out and caught it with one clean snatch.

"Phew," he panted. "That could've been very bad."

Bea and Scorpius' jaws dropped at the same time. "Holy—" Scorpius glanced quickly at Bea as if to confirm that they had seen the same thing. "How did you—? What position do you play?"

Albus blinked. "...reserve reserve Chaser?"

Before Bea could have her face meet palm, she heard a loud creak of wood and paled. The door to the closet was bulging at its frame and the sound of the Bludgers had yet to stop; if anything, it seemed to have gotten louder.

Scorpius ran up and held it closed. "Shit. Shit."

Bea and Albus joined him. Even with three of them standing against the door, it was a losing battle. Bea clutched her wand tightly, whispering spells under her breath to find anything that could possibly calm the Bludgers down. Immobulus. Petrificus. Impedimenta.

When she searched Scorpius' face for a little bit of hope, she came up with nothing. Turning to her left, she found the same dread in Albus. Behind Albus—

"Anj?"

At the doorway stood the perfect dichotomy to the chaos. Wand out, Anjali was as calm as a salt desert, taking in the scene with a wry smile.

"Anj—?" Scorpius cursed under his breath. "You said half an hour!"

Anjali cocked her head to the side. "I lied."

"What's going on?" Bea glanced between them. "She’s going to help us, right?"

"Not exactly," he muttered.

Anjali took one step into the room. "It's time I make a little offer of my own."

Scorpius began slipping across the floor as he struggled to keep a firm hold. "A bit busy here, darling. Can this wait?" He chuckled, each note tense and sour.

"I've made my decision. It's time for yours. Walk away from this right now and no one needs to know about this. Don't, and I'll call the professors down and when the letters get sent home, you can deal with daddy instead."

His shoulder blade scraped against the hard grain of the wood and he winced. "It's kind of already too late, darling, with the contract and all."

"Ninety-nine percent loophole proof contract. Of course." Anjali walked closer, giving a sidelong look at the mess on the floor, before training her eyes on them again. Bea could sense the room closing in with her every step, and she finally understood what Fred meant when he described her as predatory.

"She's so out of Fred's league," Albus whispered.

Bea would've laughed if she wasn't overcome with a sense of foreboding, and not only from the clamor behind their back. There was something wrong about the prefect's presence. It was as if Anjali and Scorpius were having a completely separate conversation between the lines.

Anjali slid onto Hooch's desk, crossing one leg over the other. "Ninety-nine percent. Very confident number. But you know well enough to find that one percent before you sign it. In fact, your father's fairly notorious for that, isn't he?"

Bea furrowed her brows, heart pounding faster than ever. Did that mean—? But why would she say that?

"I don't know what she's talking about," Scorpius said hastily. "I really don't."

The door jumped out of its frame, and Bea and Albus nearly toppled to the floor. Scorpius slammed it closed a split-second later, holding the entire span of his arms against the wall.

Meanwhile, Anjali smirked from her perch. No matter the mayhem, even her tiniest action demanded notice. "Of course he knows what I'm talking about. And I think you deserve to know the truth, Bea."

At the mention of her name, Bea turned to face her, lips parted in question.

"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 that 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 mock them. She played with her wand like a dagger. "His father doesn't even know about it."

"Anjali." Bea could almost feel his hope warp and sink. "Please don't do this."

"His father despises it. Would probably destroy it on sight."

"I—it's not what it looks like," he gritted. "I've got things to explain, but really, this is not the time."

"Selling your invention to a Muggle-hater. What could you expect?"

Bea stared at him, barely able to grasp the conversation. "Is it true?"

From the flash of regret that crossed Scorpius' face, she knew that it was, and all the blood in her veins stopped cold at once. He shut his eyes, nothing to say.

"Well, well." Anjali's voice cut through again, but this time, Bea didn't tear her gaze away to look at her. "I don't think there's any reason for either of you to uphold the contract at this point. May as well void it. You're welcome."

Bea let Anjali's words fade in the background. Scorpius was too resigned, too dumbfounded himself to be the villain—something she would have never noticed before. The wisp of vulnerability she had seen was unfurled across his face. His greatest weakness was sitting in the room.

"If your father doesn't want it, then what's this all about?" Bea whispered.

Perhaps it was all in her head, but there followed a moment of pure deafening silence. Albus' labored breathing behind her quieted and even the Bludgers seemed to stop moving. It was as if her question had given Scorpius a second of hope.

"Look," he said, sweat dripping down his brow. "You know how I said it was a 'personal project'? I might have taken that to an extreme."

Her mind was working on a feverish overdrive, connecting the pieces. "It's not for your father; it's for you."

Scorpius nodded with the closest thing to a smile he could have at a moment like this. "Your invention's the best idea I've ever seen, even if he doesn't think so. He's passing up something brilliant."

"Empty words. If he lied about this, how much has he lied about?" Anjali's voice interposed, but her confidence seemed lacking.

“And Anjali’s not a fan of my plans.”

The past month zipped through Bea's mind, and Scorpius strut right through with his persistence and wheedling. He had offered her so much to—what? Impress her? He had been so busy acting the part of the assertive businessman that he never bothered to consider that he had been going about it all wrong.

Bea was almost inclined to turn around and hit her head on the door. "Scorpius, you're an idiot!"

"What?"

"I mean, I don't care about the money, if that's what you thought." She only hoped she hadn't completely misinterpreted him. "If you mean what you say, then we can still do this. We can sell it on our own. You want to prove your father wrong, don't you?"

Before Scorpius could answer, Anjali cut in, "Remember, darling: me or the invention. You can't have both."

A lump grew in Bea's throat, and the newfound awe in Scorpius' eyes turned dark. His gaze traveled from Bea to Anjali. "You already know my answer."

Scorpius was choosing Anjali. Of course, how could she even think—? But Bea couldn't believe it when she saw disappointment in Anjali's frown instead.

"I'm sorry," Scorpius murmured.

"Don't apologize to me. You're digging your own grave," Anjali sneered, raising her wand arm. "Petrificus Totalus!"

A thread of light shot toward the three at the door and before Bea could so much as gasp, Scorpius shoved her and Albus to the floor.

Without their barricade, the door burst open. Bea scraped her cheek from the ground. She could hardly tell which way was up as the Bludger swarm blackened the ceiling. Anjali had staggered backwards, face painted with surprise, her shield spell full of holes. She ran for the door.

As the spots in Bea's vision cleared, she saw Scorpius hovering over her, the folds of his blazer draping on either side of her head.

"Why?" she rasped, as he pulled her to her feet.

He coughed—or was it a chuckle? "It's complicated."

With Scorpius here with her instead of Anjali and her arm wrapped around his to steady herself, this was not how Bea imagined their 'quick fifteen-minute heist' would end. What surprised her most of all was the utter lack of regret in his expression.

"Where's Albus?" she cried. He had been right next to her.

"I don't know." Scorpius scanned around, skirting to the right to dodge another Bludger. "But we need to go." He started toward the entrance.

"I'm not leaving without him. Albus!"

A muffled shout responded, "Don't worry about me!"

Suddenly, the missing boy flew out of the closet on a broomstick, leading a pack of Bludgers behind him. "For the Bludgers!" Albus whooped, thrusting a Quaffle in the air.

Like bees to honey, the whizzing balls in the room curved toward him. Bea and Scorpius ducked in the nick of time as they swarmed overhead.

Albus straightened his path toward the door where Anjali stood with the most baffled expression of all. Shrieking, she dodged out of the way as Albus led the throng out, hollering another war cry, "They can take my lunch hour but they cannot take our freeeedooom!"

Even as the Bludgers continued to pelt through the door, Bea and Scorpius could hardly do anything but stare.

"...that is one helluva Hufflepuff you've got there."

"He's special, for sure."

With the room emptying, the tiny office door had become a bottleneck. Bea and Scorpius were only a few feet away from the entrance when Anjali slid into view—and slammed the door closed. The onslaught of Bludgers rebounded, and Scorpius yanked Bea out of the way and they tumbled against the wall. The door shone with the bright flare of a spell.

"No!" Scorpius scrambled to pull the handle.

Bea peered around him, limbs weak. "Are we—?"

"Anjali!" He banged the door and kicked it, then once more with frustrated grunt. "She's charmed it shut." He muttered spells under his breath, but the door did not flash again.

Don't panic, Bea told herself as the remaining Bludgers zipped across the room. Don't panic, because they were only going to be expelled for breaking and trashing a Professor's office, if they don't die first by a renegade Bludger. It could have been worse; they could have been locked in the room that was incriminating them.

Oh, wait.

But she was not alone. When Scorpius circled around to face her, she knew that the stakes had changed and their shared resolve now bound them together more than any contract could. A new-found courage bloomed in her chest. They had chosen each other, and by Merlin, they were going to bust out of there together.

Bea spun on her heel, eyes locking on an open window at the top of the office. She pointed. "Up there."

Assessing the strewn boxes on the floor, she stacked them up, one by one, pushing them against the wall. Scorpius had gone into the closet to find anything that could help. But what about the drop down outside? Bea's heart sank as she looked up at the window. It was at least twenty feet off the ground.

Scorpius ran out of the closet holding up a broom, grinning like a maniac. "I've got it."

She blanched. Unlike Albus' Cleansweep, this broom must have come from the Dark Ages. It was as skinny as a twig and was missing half its tail. She wouldn't trust it to clean the floor, let alone challenge gravity.

"You're kidding me," she said as he put one leg over it.

"I'm not." He extended a hand to her, and Bea was a bit perturbed at how genuinely eager he was to try an idea that led to certain demise. "Come on, just trust me."

"No!" She stared between Scorpius and the broom and then to his hand. "I mean, I do, but waaah—!"

Without waiting for her to finish, Scorpius grabbed her and she flopped over the broom, her upper half dangling over the side.

"I suggest you sit properly before we take flight," he called over his shoulder.

Before Bea could let out an indignant huff, the floor began moving away and she squawked as she found a handhold. Tossing her hair back, she pushed herself up to a sitting position. The broom lurched forward, and she flung her two flailing arms around Scorpius as she held on for dear life.

"Do you know how to control this thing?" she shrieked.

"Not a clue!"

Their mouths opened wide, yelling as loudly as the cheers outside, as they hurtled toward the tiny opening in the wall. A bright sunlight blinded Bea's eyes, and for a split second, she thought she was heading down the last tunnel of life until her lungs filled with fresh air and she could hear the clear boom of Creevey's announcing.

"And Ravenclaw scores—blimey, are those Bludgers?"




Albus' freedom warcry adapted from the famous line in Braveheart.

A/N Things that I've been finally able to do: ALBUS GETS HIS TRIUMPH AND BOY DOES HE GET IT :D Silly reserve reserve Chaser. Woobie Scorpius bb. Alll the entanglements. ALL THE FEELS.

So yesterday, when I wrote the latter half of this chapter. I was freaking out. I was like homg this is such an important chapter, I cannot screw this up. What if this doesn't make sense? What if I forget something? But I think I'm happy with it now. Please tell me what you think ^__^ It gets really tough to get feedback at this point of the story, so I'd really appreciate it. Thank you, everyone who's stuck around with the story for so long; it's really kept me going. Snapdragons, ToujourPadfoots, forsakenphoenix, Witnesstoitall, PetrificusTotalus, DetectiveMenace, peppersweet, hdawg, TallestTower, aiedail, Loony_Scorpy, Rumbleroar goes roar, prettywishes, and everyone else (sorry if I missed you! you can prod me xD).

Coming up: the erm, epic? conclusion to the adventure!
"Hold on—" Scorpius' yell stopped short as all four of her limbs latched on like a Kneazle to a post. "Nevermindletgoletgo!" he sputtered, grasping at the arm choking his neck.

The broom refused to angle upwards, and the height she had been so concerned about was rapidly plummeting. Glancing over the top of the blond's head, she spied the fast-incoming thatch of Hagrid's hut. "Watch out!"

Chapter 16: Dreams Don't Come Easy, Darling
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16. DREAMS DON'T COME EASY, DARLING
The best broom flying lessons were the impromptu ones.


As the bright flash cleared from her teary eyes, Bea could barely make out the Quidditch flags amid the blurs. The specks of players were markedly missing from the sky, and she realized that they had the fortune of escaping out the back of the pitch. The crowd, preoccupied with another spectacle, had yet to notice them.

Speckled with static, Creevey's voice bellowed out, "A flight of the Bludgers—ladies and gents, I've never seen anything like it!"

His announcements were further this time and still without mention of either her or Scorpius—nor their missing third partner-in-crime, for that matter. Somehow, some way, they were in the clear.

Now they just had to land. Scorpius was attempting to steer or slow them down or something, but the broom was gaining speed and whether he was making any difference was, well, up in the air.

"Stop this thing!"

"I'm trying!"

The next bump resulted in an up-close and personal encounter between her face and Scorpius' shoulder blade. She clamped a hand over her throbbing nose. "Try harder!"

They swooped toward the forest, and she wasn't sure if it was by choice. A tiny cream dot in the grass caught her eye. "Ooh, did someone drop a biscuit—?"

Her sudden shift in weight jerked the broom to the side and the head dipped toward their vertigo doom. Scorpius righted them not a moment too soon.

"Really, nutcase?" he sputtered, throwing her a glare as she sniffed sheepishly.

"Sorry, it's lunch time."

"How did you see that? It's not even shiny!"

As she was about to retort, she became acutely aware of how dizzying forty feet could be, especially on such a wobbly piece of wood. Her single-handed grip on Scorpius' blazer turned vice-like.

"Merlin's beard, we're really high up," Bea squeaked, following with a high-pitched wail as she lost all coherency. Too numb to grab on with her other hand, she was ill-prepared for a second lurch that sent both of them hurtling forward.

"Hold on—" Scorpius' yell stopped short as all four of her limbs latched on like a Kneazle to a post. "Nevermindletgoletgo!" he sputtered, grasping at the arm choking his neck.

The broom refused to angle upwards, and the height she had been so concerned about was rapidly plummeting. Glancing over the top of the blond's head, she spied the fast-incoming thatch of Hagrid's hut. "Watch out!"

"Let go!"

At the second of impact, Scorpius rammed his foot down and they skidded across the flat of the roof, catching enough straw in their trouser legs to make a scarecrow. The edge of the hut arrived too quickly to re-maneuver and he pushed off what little footing he had. The broom swooped another puttering length downwards, staying afloat just long enough to sail them over the fence posts.

Snap. The flimsy wood fell away and Bea could scarcely get her bearings before she landed cheek-first. Tumbling twice over, her fingers scraped soil deep into the beds of her nails, until she rolled to a halt on the flat of her back.

What followed was pure, paralyzed quiet.

Cracking open a dirt-crusted lid, Bea stared up at the stationary sky, not a single ache or breath left in her body. The blue was almost too crisp and incomprehensibly tall to be real; how could they have fallen from there? Perhaps she was dead and this was heaven.

No, there would be togas, she reasoned, and the mud would be made of chocolate.

She heard Scorpius groan somewhere. Everything seemed so distant. The pain came swiftly marching back as soon as she tried to lift an arm, protesting until she let it drop.

She licked the corners of her mouth, tasting earth and blood. "Scorpius?" Bea croaked. Already, she couldn't remember which direction the sound had come from.

The inhale that rasped from her left was so sharp, it almost made her wince herself. "Yeah?"

"Can we just... lay here and appreciate the fragility of life?"

"I'm okay with that."

As momentous as this day had been—and it was barely a third of the way through—it was but a blip in the greater world. Ruffled birds resumed chirping and a whole audience was cheering somewhere, unaware of their escapade.

"So why'd you do it?" Bea let the question slide off her tongue. How had she become his impossible choice?

Scorpius' breathing turned halting like a laugh. "You must think I love Anjali. And I do. But..." He paused here and when he spoke again, he was much softer. "We want different things. She's—she's boxed in by her family; it's not her fault. But I thought she'd understand." He was talking to himself at this point. "She's right, I had to choose. But I wish—I wish—"

He trailed off, clearing his throat as if he realized he hardly answered her question. "I discovered today that no one believes in me. Not my father. Not Anjali. But you know what's funny? You do."

A chill crept up her arms and neck like the damp seeping into her collar. Was that all it took? She knew how it felt to be standing up alone—her friends' disheartening intervention came to mind—but they supported her in the end anyway or at least tried, even when she didn't deserve their encouragement.

They certainly never barged into Hooch's office and tried to petrify her.

When Bea lolled her head to the side, she found Scorpius already looking back. "You believed in me first," she said.

"Our world needs more risk-takers and I know determination when I see it." He spoke so plainly but she could sense an admiration, a hopeful thread unraveling from his tongue. It felt so natural like it always been there, invisible to her and perhaps even to him.

"Thank you."

"It was just something I had to do."

"Still."

Somewhere in the grey of his eyes, Bea could see her dream shop's awnings once again, crisp and blue like the boundless sky.

Then the squelch of a puddle spun her back to reality. A massive trail of vandalism still lay in their wake. Oh Merlin, how were they were going to explain themselves this time?

Bea grasped her speck of hope like a treasure and lifted her head toward the sound. A set of ownerless footprints plodded toward them, one squeaky impression in the mud at a time.

She released her breath in a laugh and heard Scorpius utter, "Thank the Bloody Baron."

The footsteps stopped a few meters away. Albus pulled his cloak off, beaming ear to ear as he held up a Bludger.






"Blimey, never seen anything like it," a boy near Fred whispered.

Thirty holes pitted the lawn from the pitch to the forest and skid marks scratched up everything in between. Creevey hadn't been kidding about those Bludgers mid-game. Fred recalled seeing something resembling a flock of crows, but mostly he remembered a single Bludger—the one he bat into Harris Lipwitz while he and everyone else were distracted.

A handful of students had gathered around, awaiting an explanation for the incident, but the professors couldn't make sense of it either. Hooch had reported a break-in and Hagrid was now trudging back from his hut.

"Tore up my roof, they did," the giant muttered, scratching his head. "Blighters went far. Musta flew off into the forest."

Fred heard the scuffing of approaching shoes from his right. "Crazy, huh?" Albus' voice floated in. "Congrats on the win by the way."

Fred raised a brow when he spotted his cousin, who sported a freshly washed mop of hair atop his head. "Thanks, uh, did you just come from the showers?"

Panic froze Albus' eyes before disappearing under a blink. "No." The water continued to drip as he rocked back and forth on his trainers, and he had an awfully suspicious air about him, but Fred didn't have time to consider it before Anjali's entrance to the crime scene stole his notice.

She made her way through to the front of the crowd, knee-length skirt swishing, and already Fred's traitorous heart sped up by a beat. But the gulp he heard was not his.

Instead it came from Albus who, when Fred glanced over, was overcome with an attack of fidgets.

That witch. "Blooming hell, not you too," Fred breathed.

Albus' wide eyes circled to his. "What?"

"Anjali's ensnared you. With her devil's snare trap... thing." Fred motioned with wiggling fingers, not entirely sure what they were supposed to represent. Perhaps they were the ropes that noosed around Albus' poor Hufflepuff heart, dragging him into the hot tub of dastardly Slytherin seduction; rumor had it, the snakes had a jacuzzi in their common room where they plotted world domination. It would explain the wet hair.

Albus blinked slowly. "Fred, you're projecting."

His fingers froze somewhere between a rock concert sign and an obscene gesture. "I am not."

Fred dropped his hands. Who was he kidding? He was so bloody restless these days, it was no wonder that he spent his time chasing some mysterious girl. Quidditch had been a mild reprieve to his madness, but what he needed was a good, solid hobby. He never had anything like Bea's inventing or even Lucy's rotating obsessions (this week's involved polka and custard pie and Fred hadn't inquired further).

His mate Samuel suggested joining the Dueling Club, but frankly it was a joke ever since Harrison took over and turned it into a 413-page-rulebook borefest. Whoever replaced all their wands with trick wands was Fred's idol. He could never forget the image of old Harrison's face when he cast 'Stupe—SQUAWK' and the rubber chicken started pecking at his head.

At the moment, Anjali was chatting with the girl next to her, also a Slytherin, and she was pointing at the few Bludgers embedded in the ground and then to the professors. Her long mane of hair twisted as she turned around, and Fred quickly lowered his gaze before she could catch him staring.

Albus had little appreciation for subtlety, however. "Staring again?" he said. "You ought to be her friend. It'd make your stalking less weird."

Fred couldn't hold in his snort soon enough, but Albus remained solemn. "Everyone needs a friend, Fred. Even Bludgers." Bludgers?

A few teammates were nearby and Verona wouldn't let him hear the end of it knowing how much she despised the Slytherin Captain. "Look, I don't feel that way about Anjali. I just want to know what's going on with her. Not because of her but because I need to know." He liked knowing things. And challenges. And legs. Damned legs.

Albus shrugged, making way for a group heading back to the castle. "Those aren't mutually exclusive," he said. "It's a shame that caring isn't cool anymore. That we can't approach someone else without being a creep or lame or foolish."

Fred had something to respond with but the words escaped out of his ears. That was his single fear, wasn't it? To be taken for a sap, gullible enough to care about a woman who was all deception.

When he saw his cousin's face, what he usually considered Albus' naivety almost seemed wise, as if he suddenly sprouted a philosopher's beard. "That's... actually quite compelling."

"Thanks."

"You've got a bit of drool right here."

Albus slapped at his cheek, smearing the spit off like a fly. As soon as his attention returned to the Bludgers, he jolted. "Er, excuse me for a moment."

Before Fred could bid farewell, Albus broke away from the thinning crowd, dashing across the mire of dirt toward the group of professors and—in proper Albus form—stumbling over his feet.

Coincidentally, Anjali was headed the same way.






"Listen to me—Scorpius, listen. I rebuilt our name from ashes. I fought for our survival. I did things I'm not proud of so you wouldn't have to. You want to taint that with this—this joke of yours?"

"Father, it's not a joke." How brightly optimistic he'd been; what had led him to be foolish enough to tell his father? The hope of something to make him proud? He had failed so many times before, another try would be a sand grain. "I thought you said we can't afford letting petty beliefs stand in the way."

His father's desk seemed taller than ever as if it belonged at the Wizengamot courts instead of his office. "My beliefs are not petty," he spat. "The Pureblood families who invest in us—their beliefs are not petty. Who do you think endorses our company?"

"They were how you got off the ground. But that was ages ago. We're not tied to them." The sinking lurch in Scorpius' chest knew the argument was already over and yet he gave one more push. "Haven't you seen the papers? They say—"

"Technological revolution," his father said brusquely. "My question is why the Prophet lets Clearwater report on backwards trash. I've tolerated enough compromise with Mudbloods, even Muggles, to last a lifetime, but encouraging the use of Muggle contraptions—it's irresponsible. This is the last I want to hear of it."


Shaking his head clear of the memory, Scorpius quickened his steps to catch up with the slender silhouette gliding down the corridor windows. While he was no weakling for long legs like Fred Weasley, they were quite frustrating when they carried Anjali so far in front of him.

Norman strolled down the opposite side of the hallway and gave a wave that Scorpius nearly missed. "Didn't catch you at the game, mate."

"Oh, uh—" Scorpius had told Xavier about his whereabouts but had omitted the detail to Norman and Westley; the fact that he was mucking about with Hogwarts' resident nutcase and the forgotten Potter would have been a little more than strange to most. He pointed a finger at Anjali. "I've got to—"

Norman nodded, catching the hint. "What's going on?"

"Judgment," Scorpius said grimly and jogged ahead as the point of her heel disappeared around the corner.

Anjali did not turn to look at Scorpius, but with her lengthening strides, she had to be aware of his presence. He caught up to her between classroom nine and ten, seizing her wrist, at which point she stopped but still did not turn.

The blustery wind outside was no match for the chill in her single word. "Yes?"

His arm went rigid as if she were the one with the grip on him, and here Scorpius had thought he was prepared. "How much trouble are we in?"

Anjali tilted her head just far enough for him to see the tips of her lashes. "Like I said, I'll handle you myself." Reclaiming her arm, she continued walking.

Scorpius swallowed hard—could it be? History counted for something after all.

His feet were light on the stairs as he followed her, rolling his stiff and scratched shoulders backwards. "You didn't tell the professors."

"Don't think too much of it."

"You could have but you didn't," he persisted, grabbing her fingertips as they were about to leave the banister. Beat by beat, his heart pulsed in his palm as he circled in front of her. "You didn't tell."

Scorpius waited for the chagrin in her smirk to soften, but instead her mask only seemed to freeze in place, not a single hairline crack for him to study. Shut out completely, an echo of Bea's accusation of loneliness struck him in the gut.

"You got lucky," Anjali said, plucking his fingers off one by one.

"I don't understand."

"Potter confessed. Took the heat for everything. I'm not going to get my hands dirty against the professors' sweetheart, so—you're lucky."

He could barely breath out a response. "He what?" The last time Scorpius saw Potterpuff was when they had split up to their respective common rooms after sneaking into the castle. They could do little but await their inescapable summons, which should have been any time now.

"I see it has to sink in." Her laugh was more of a scoff. "Enjoy your new chums. Be sure to send me a Christmas card."

Scorpius did not move as she brushed past him. "So this is really it," he murmured.

Anjali swiveled on her heel. "If locking you into Hooch's office didn't make it clear enough: yes, we're quite through."

His heart fought against its bottled enclosure—or maybe it was simple desperation—but the words leapt out of his throat before he knew what he was saying.

"I would have married you."

She went still.

"So you don't love me like I loved you"—Scorpius remembered to use past tense just in time—"but if it put the pressure off you, if it kept your family afloat, I would have married you as soon as I could."

"Do you want me to be grateful?" Her jolting tone shook them both. The piqued slant of her brows softened, but there was no hiding spite. "Of course you can say that. It's so easy for you to say that. You can do whatever the hell you want, like this morning's stunt. You're not the family's last chance at staying in society because Mum's stuck in her party years and Dad's washed-up, and damn what I might give up for that."

She hugged her arms, her gaze stuck on the stones of the walls. "And you know what, Scorpius? Marriage isn't so bad. It's just paper. Honestly, with you, it'd have been all right. I'd have said yes."

Scorpius had to smile a little, however bitter, at the least romantic proposal of the century. "I prefer a little less belligerence, darling."

The two former lovers stood motionless at the bottom of the staircase, wrapped in their quiet. Anjali took a deep breath, slow and shaking. "I'm not waiting around. If this whole invention thing works out, consider yourself lucky. Or maybe not, because then you still won't have learned that shit like this won't always work. And if you insist on never listening to anyone but yourself, then I am not going stand by and watch."

Her words melded into the ones in his memory, words spoken by a harsher, unsparing mouth.

"Listen to me, son. I've known a far crueler world. You may be nearly of age, but you're young in history and foolish. This is... my fault. But if you refuse to listen, I will not be here for you when you turn up a failure."

"You're right," Scorpius whispered.

"Excuse me?"

For all he knew, he'd end up a failure but maybe it was already too late. Maybe his sanity escaped out the window that morning or shattered when he struck the ground—but what did it matter now? If no one believed in him, then he had nothing to lose.

Scorpius felt the reckless laugh burst out, practically in a roar, before he shut it behind his teeth. Had Anjali been a fainter soul, he wouldn't have been surprised if she took a step back. "You're right."

She stared at him, brows furrowing. "Well, good."

"You're right," he said for a third time, spinning back toward the staircase. "I need to go my own way, starting with right now."

He had to be mad, truly mad, or else Anjali wouldn't have sputtered her next words, "Where are you going?"

Scorpius shrugged off his blazer and threw it over his shoulder. "I've got a date."




A/N So I tried cramming more scenes in here but it was going to be way too long. But it kind of works out nicely, because most of the next chapter is going to be the whole celebratory Quidditch party where much lulz will be had and James will make his cameo. This chapter wraps up most of the windfall, and oh Merlin, the extent to which Albus weasels his way into everyone's lives is quite hilarious simply because he somehow turned himself from a minor to a major character. That scrapper.

So many thanks to Ellerina and hdawg for helping me come up with that bit on Harrison and the dueling club :3 I can't stop giggling over it.

Reviews are lovely like the fragility of life ♥

Chapter 17: The Art of Hanging Over
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17. THE ART OF HANGING OVER
When in doubt, party.


"Maybe—maybe Anjali's just playing hard to get."

Bea looked up from the sawed-open Bludger to squint at the Slytherin draped across his velvet-upholstered chair. She had Silenced him ten minutes ago, but the charm had worn off.

Scorpius tapped his fingers twice on her desk with one hand and then twice on his chin with the other. "I mean, she's always playing hard to get. That's her thing. She likes it. I like it. Works out all around. Not that I want to get back with her, but—Fawkes, how do I explain this?"

Silently, Bea thought. Earlier that afternoon, Scorpius knocked on her door, his gaudy chair in tow. Remembering her rule about getting his own seat cleared up the chair-related confusion, but that didn't explain why he was there in the first place.

Nor why he was making a slumber party of it.

"You just get used to things. Habits and such. You know what I mean, right?" Scorpius glanced expectantly at her. Bea's stare continued to break world records in indifference. "Probably not. Uh, how about like this. She's like your biscuit fix—"

"Why are you telling me this?"

He blinked. In the conversation's pause, Rose could be heard wailing in the background, something along the lines of 'He hates me! He hates me!' as she had been for the past two hours with negligible variation. She had been wallowing into her pillow about her Squib beau Colin's lack of correspondence, using her bed sheets as one giant tissue.

"Who else would I tell?"

"I don't know; your friends?" Bea twirled her wand at the edge of the egg-fossil core. A flick of the wrist and a Loosening Charm would get it out safely, she thought. She had promised Albus to take care of the Bludger and patch it up afterwards, so that it could last another few joyous decades beaning people in the face.

"I've got no friends, right?" When she shot Scorpius a flattened glare, he shrugged, rather satisfied for his self-proclaimed friendlessness. "You're the one who said it, not me."

"What about Xavier?"

"Xavier isn't the sharpest quill in the well when it comes to girls."

As she touched the wand to the base of the egg core, Scorpius fell quiet and the only sounds in the room were Rose's sniffling and the hiss of metal meeting magic. He peered closer at her desk-turned-operating-table, angling his head until it touched the wood surface. "What are you doing there?"

"Warming it up." She drew a vibrant orange outline. "Makes it less likely to break."

"Huh. So a little like that thing they do to alchemy rods."

"Yeah, a little bit."

"Most boring chapter ever. Thirty pages about rocks." He took a deep breath, and Bea could hear the tangent coming a mile away. "Better than the lesson on wand safety. Don't stick it up your nose. Can't believe they still have to tell us that after six years—"

"Scorpius."

"What?"

Bea lowered her wand, trying to resist the very sharp 'Shut up' about to leave her mouth; he was breaking her concentration.

She had been patient, if only because Scorpius had come into the room with that sadder-than-a-lumpy-mandrake look, but he had no concept of personal space, he kept poking through her shelves, and his face was contorting into the most absurd expressions. While she found his ooh and ahhing of her inventing endearing, she was trying to work and he was gunning for the title of number-one distraction.

She dove back into the core extraction with only a huff as a response. Her concentration lasted all of thirty seconds before she shot up again.

"Scorpius."

He peeled his face from the desk, hands a-waving. "I didn't do anything—"

"Just your presence..." She shut her eyes, rubbing the side of her brow. "...bothers me."

Scorpius' mouth hung open before zipping up tight as he bent his head down. "I'll leave."

"You don't have to—"

He was already out of his seat, which was quite a feat considering the height of its armrests; lesser men would not have vaulted them. "It's not personal. I know."

"Scorpius."

"Though with that tone, I am doubting myself."

She twisted around, grabbing the top of her chair. "No, really—"

"What's wrong then?" Scorpius stopped with his hands shrugging in his pockets, half of his smile still hanging on to his face. "You've been... snippy."

Yesterday, that would have been a ridiculous question. Of course Bea was snippy; she had always been snippy to him. But they nearly died together seven hours ago and it must have changed something or else she wouldn't have felt quite so abashed as she stared back.

She bit her lip. "This is kind of weird, you have to admit."

Where it was kind of weird before, it was definitely weird now, as if pointing it out turned the weirdness into a real-life embodiment of weird that attached to them like a third wheel.

A sudden crash downstairs absolved them from the silence. Both ducked on reflex, expecting another barrage of Bludgers.

"Bloody hell, not now," Rose moaned. She flopped her arms, causing the billowy mass of blankets around her to puff like a marshmallow. "They're playing pool again. I keep telling them that we put that thing in storage for a reason; it doesn't want to be disturbed!"

"You 'Claws have a pool table?" Scorpius looked at Rose with interest.

"Portuguese import. The pockets tried to eat my hand," she seethed. "The boys probably want it out for the party."

"You 'Claws have a party? Right now?"

"We did win the match today. What do you think we do, write essays to celebrate?"

Scorpius blankly pondered the level of sarcasm in Rose's comment before a grin lit up, the kind that made Bea's hairs stand on end. Oh no, it was his idea face.

"Maybe what we need is to relax," he said. "Y'know, take a load off, do something fun together. That's it!"

It was a one-man decision. Before Bea could respond, he was already yanking her out of her seat.

"But the Bludger—"

"Leave it. What's it gonna do, bleed out?" The party plan had hooked him wholly and unfortunately hooked Bea by proxy, due to him forcibly linking elbows. "C'mon nutcase, a party downstairs, and you're not going?"

The fresh bruises on her arm throbbed. Bea almost preferred the weirdness to this manhandling. "I have work to do! And oi, this is your investment!"

"I agree, you should get out more."

"That's not close to what I said!"

Bea dragged her feet on spite. Chaotic as her life was, parties simply weren't her thing. She always clung to Fred because she had better luck reciting a hundred digits of pi than making small talk.

She struggled for four flights of stairs, until the traffic of people slowed them down. Underneath her feet, she could feel the bass thumping from the old phonographs. When Scorpius' grip slackened, Bea wasted no time in freeing herself.

He turned around at that moment, his words almost a plead. "Just... humor me."

Bea frowned. "Are you—?"

"I'm fine."

She saw it in his smile, all hope and no substance, and he knew that she saw it. It was in his half-kidding jokes and the way he held on too tightly. He was here because he had nowhere else to go.

Scorpius offered her a hand, which she took with only a slight hesitation, and they continued downstairs.

The party was in its infancy. Most of the crowd was packed into the corners, swirling their white cups with no idea as to what was happening. Lucy and her friends were attempting to get a pool game started. There seemed to be a fuss about whether wands were legal cue sticks. At the center of the room, the Quidditch team was well into celebrating their victory with a toast, and Bea spotted Fred and Verona.

A colony of bats flew into the room as Vincent Wood opened the window. They lugged three crates, each bearing the logo for Andre's Stuffed pies.

"Who's hungry?" Vincent called out, prying the crates open as Edgar paid the bill to the lead bat. "We've got blackbird, two newt tongues, the works—"

The no-holds barred rush commenced to the refreshments table; three first years were harmed in the process. Mr. Welly the Kneazle was up and about as well, and as soon as the pies were laid out, he claimed the closest box as his bed.

Bea and Scorpius wandered out onto the floor. Remembering her hand, Bea quickly reclaimed it from his, rubbing her tingling palm on the side of her jeans. Scorpius didn't notice as he was preoccupied with greeting Wick, whom she often saw hanging about the Slytherin lot. So much for lonely. The two boys high-fived on something about broomsticks—what was it about boys and broomsticks? At least Scorpius could feign interest in a topic, whereas Bea was left gawking on her own, muttering things like, 'Broomsticks? Oh, they're um, brown... and sticky.'

A raucous roar erupted by the hearth and she abandoned her companion, ambling closer to the noise. The Quidditch team was holding someone down.

"What's the Gryff doing here?" someone crowed.

Fred was on the outside of the crowd, laughing as he tried to get in, "It's okay guys, he's with me."

Then Bea heard him.

"I was your Head Boy! A little respect is in order!"

She could only see the top of his head, but the voice was enough to make her heart beat faster. There were only so many ex-head boys whose mirth was so striking and infectious. Since she last saw him in the Daily Prophet, he had gotten a haircut. Since she last saw him at the train station, he had gotten two. He was the perpetual man of the hour, the left hand to Fred's right, the one who swept her into the mayhem of Weasley Wizard Wheezes and biscuit runs.

He was also currently a coat rack. Verona came up behind him, topping his head with a floppy sunhat. "Emphasis on the 'was', pretty boy."

"Tough crowd. A year of service to the community and this is what I get for it." When he lifted the hat, his eyes locked on Bea's.

She couldn't contain herself. In less than a second, Bea ran over and threw her arms around his neck. "James!"

"Kiddo! Oof, you've grown!" James swung her around (another two first years were harmed) until she was practically breathless by the time he set her down.

The rest of the team left to join the refreshments line as the old trio reunited. Fred offered her a plate of the funny-shaped cheese she liked, and she popped one in her mouth as she hung off James' arm.

"How've you been? Cannons and everything? I saw you in the papers."

"Same ol', same ol'. Practice everyday. Just sounds a lot more exciting when you've got a journalist describing it." James ruffled her hair. "How have you been? I saw you got in some trouble today. The—ah, what shall we call it—Bludger Breakout?"

"Keeping up traditions," Bea grinned and craned her head behind her. "Sorry for missing the match, Freddie. I would've told you, but I didn't think it'd be so complicated. And about Anjali—"

"I heard. I knew she was bad news." Fred turned away almost immediately, and Bea was sure she heard a dreamy sigh.

"It just makes her more interesting to you, doesn't it?" What was so special about that snippy bippy? Bea had heard her name quite enough that day. So what if she was tall and mysterious? So were yetis.

James laughed. "I see things haven't changed with Fred and the ladies."

Fred punched him on the arm. "I hugely resent Fredwatch. I can take care of myself."

"Until you're too preoccupied with taking care of that damsel in distress, am I right?" James tossed two crisps in the air and caught both despite being punched in the arm again. "You'll thank us once you start running into the gold diggers. Word of advice: if a girl's feeling you up, she's actually figuring out what your jacket's made of."

As Fred scowled, James hunched over to meet Bea at eye level, and the fuzzy feather on his hat bobbed between them. "Speaking of which, we've got our own little digger rubbing jackets."

Bea stiffened. "Eh?"

"Malfoy with the terrible blazers. You're working with him now?"

"Yes, but it's not—don't say it like that, James!" Cheeks reddening, she scanned the throngs of party-goers. Where was that git, anyway?

"If you're looking for him, he's right behind you."

Indeed, a new weight settled on her shoulder as Scorpius rested his arm right on a bruise. "Did someone say blazers?" he asked, straightening his navy blue lapel, which wouldn't have been so bad if it didn't completely clash with his lime tie. Everything clashed with lime.

When he met Bea's twitching eye, he drew back. "What did I do now?"

James' brow started its upward crawl, something between 'hmm' and 'a-ha'. Bea shrugged the arm off. "It's not like that. I'm his pity date," she said, sharpening her glare to a fine point.

"Harsh, nutters."

"Would you like me to tell them how you spent this afternoon wallowing about Anj, eating Rose's spare gallon of ice cream, whinging—"

"She's my pity date," Scorpius affirmed. He nodded at Fred and stuck out a hand out to James. "Good to see an old alum."

"Good to see you helping our Bea. You're still alive, so you're on the right track." After shaking his hand, James pat him on the back, bringing him a little closer into the circle. "Anyway, we were just discussing Fred's poor choice in women. You were with that Anjali girl then, if what I heard was correct?"

Fred began to stutter like a man afraid of complete sentences.

"Yeah, I was," Scorpius said slowly.

"Wait, is she that heiress? For Pox-B-Gon Potions. I remember her name." James nudged Fred in the side, eye practically boinging off his face. "Never mind. Keep at her. Feel her skirts or something—er, you know what I mean. Find out what they're made of. We're well-off, but not like that."

"James, don't joke. They barely broke up," Fred muttered. He was like a limp tomato on the vine, turning redder and redder.

"It's fine." Scorpius shrugged. "Me and Anjali break up all the time."

Bea shot him a look. "Do you have a relationship with anyone that's healthy?"

"I'm pretty good with my owl. He stopped trying to eat my fingers. And I suppose we're not too bad."

"We—me and you?"

"At least you didn't lock me in a room and try to get me expelled." Scorpius rocked back and forth on his heel.

While James and Fred were preoccupied with a slap fight—Fred jammed his fist into James' mouth right as the ex-Head Boy shouted something about ‘stalking girls from bushes’—Bea rocked back and forth along with him.

"You really are desperate," she said, laughing in spite of the subject.

Scorpius took one of the funny-shaped cheese on her plate. "Don't sell yourself short. You're good company."

She stuck out her tongue. "Can't say the same for you."

"Oh right, sorry for ditching you earlier." He rubbed the back of his neck. "I forgot you were there."

Bea wasn't sure if that was supposed to make her feel better—what was she, chopped liverwort? But then his grey gaze rested on hers with something like a smile.

Close enough, she supposed.






The party eased into its first hour with dimmed lights and pulsing music courtesy of DJ Creevey at the phonograph station. Ravenclaws-gone-wild packed the makeshift dance floor to capacity, while those less inclined for sweaty writhing stationed themselves by the armchairs and pool table.

The seventh years had smuggled in a case of firewhiskey at the half hour mark, and the buzz began to kick in across the crowd. Rose had come downstairs at some point and was surprisingly receptive to the drinking, to the relief of everyone else. Lucy was even teaching her how to drown in her sorrows, snatching Bea along for the ride.

Scorpius nursed his own bottle as he leaned against the back of the sofa. He remembered parties being more fun than this. Maybe it was because of Anjali, but he was inclined to think that it was all that nutter's fault. If Bea hadn't pointed out his grumbling dissatisfaction, Scorpius would have never put a name to it. He had been fine with Anjali's indifference, his father's disapproval, his circle of friends who never looked past the stagnant present except for the next broom model. He had been fine because he hadn't dwelled on such things.

At the corner of his eye, he watched Fred and James, joined by Albus and Mr. Welly, chatting by the hearth. A peculiar expression crossed Albus' face when he caught Scorpius' wandering stare, and the boy leapt to his feet.

"I don't need another pity date," Scorpius said as he neared, but Albus insisted on perching on the sofa beside him.

"It's not pity. I—"

"You want to bond, braid each other's hair, fly into the sunset with a flock of Bludgers." Scorpius crumpled the rest of the greeting. "Yeah, I appreciate the effort, but I'm not the biggest fan of cheery speeches."

Albus closed his open mouth, eager shoulders dropping.

Scorpius took another swig from his bottle. "Uh, thanks though," he said, glancing over and suddenly somber. "For taking the heat earlier, too. How bad is it?"

"Two weeks of scrubbing lockers." He was extra chipper, as if to compensate for his interrupted speech. "Told the professors that I wanted to give the Bludgers some exercise. Hooch understands."

Strange as Potterpuff was, Scorpius owed him all the gratitude in the world and then some. He understood the rules of give-and-take but such selflessness was the thing of storybooks. It was... humbling.

"Look, if there's anything you want, now or in the future, don't hesitate to ask," said Scorpius.

"It's no problem. I have a good record. Better than you and Bea getting suspended or worse."

"We used your cloak and you didn't even need to be there. Seriously, anything you want."

"Er..." Albus became very quiet. "Theme park?"

He furrowed his brows. "Did you say theme park?"

"Never mind." Albus ducked his head. Then Scorpius heard him mutter, "Darn, I was so sure."

After a few more revolutions of the strobe-light chandelier, the scrawny boy pushed himself off the sofa. "You can come sit with us, you know." He gestured toward Fred and James chatting on the rug.

There were multiple ways Scorpius imagined responding to Albus' offer, but in the end, he didn't respond at all and wordlessly followed Albus to the fireside.

The crowded area required some finesse to get through without spilling any drinks. They had the fortune of catching the conga line, which had become the unofficial method of transport around the room.

"—going bankrupt, as a matter of fact."

Scorpius caught the end of Fred's sentence before Fred shut up at the sight of him.

"Don't change the subject on account of me." Scorpius sat himself atop an armrest behind James. "'sides, I knew you knew about Pox-B-Gon's bankruptcy. You really aren't subtle with the library research, Weasley."

Fred coughed. "About that..."

"I don't care. Do whatever you want." Scorpius shook the half-empty bottle in his hand and took one long gulp. He mostly didn't mind because Fred wasn't Anjali's type. Fred was more like the yarn Mr. Welly was batting around—easy to unwind and tangle, and always left in a state of mess.

Fred nodded, sipping from his glass. At least they didn't need many words to get their points across.

James, however, waggled his brows. "So what is Anjali's story then?"

"Trouble," Scorpius said with a smirk. It was what James wanted to hear and there was no point in describing what they wouldn't understand, anyhow.

He and Anjali's social strata had its unspoken rules, and they were bred to be someone from the day they were born. The only child, Anjali carried the responsibility of maintaining her family's status by any means necessary. She may have unlocked every treasure—brains, beauty, and the nerve to wield them with a razor-edged virtuosity—but even she would not escape her place.

Family before self, and duty above all. He lived it, too.

"But she's got a nice side, I bet," said Albus, pulling Mr. Welly into his lap. "I told Fred he should make friends. Get to know her the non-stalking way."

Scorpius snorted. "Good luck. That's probably worse, actually. At least if you're hiding in a bush, she's less likely to find you and eat you alive."

"Ah, but uh—" Albus stammered.

"Don't do your little thing where you pair up everyone as friends. It's not going to work sometimes."

"But," Albus uttered one last dejected word, "friendship."

James knuckled him in the side of his head and then peered in the direction of the entryway. "Hey, isn't that her?"

Fred, Albus, and Scorpius swiveled toward the door. Even after half a day of getting over her, when Scorpius saw her dressed for a party and hair tied up exactly the way he liked it, his resolve unwound like yarn. Their eyes met and damn if his heart didn't skip a beat.

"She's coming this way."

Fred froze up like a rabbit, grabbed a pillow from the sofa, and blocked his head. "I need to hide. Where's my bush?"

"No more bushes! Stand up!" James pushed Fred up by the elbows and when he didn't budge, tickled his side. "Bloody hell, we were just talking about how you need to seize the day. Now seize it!" He held up a finger. "No, don't just seize it. Squeeze the very life out of it, pulp and all. That's how you make it sweet."

"We still talking about seizing the day or orange juice?" Fred mumbled as he straightened his jacket.

"Both. Both are very good things."

Scorpius kept his eyes on Anjali who was obviously looking at him. Out of pity, he stood up and tapped Fred on the shoulder. "Sorry to disappoint, but I think she's here for me."

Fred met his eyes with a glint. They stood straighter, glancing expectantly as the woman of interest strode closer. One after the other, Fred and Scorpius stepped forward, each waiting for Anjali's lashes to lift as she walked past.

Ignoring both of them, she bent down and crushed a vice-like grip underneath Albus' chin and plucked him up off the ground.

"Er—"

"Ah—"

The remaining boys stood agape in various states of gesturing as she hauled the flapping Hufflepuff out the door, which closed with a slam. Their heads tilted to the side. James whistled.

“Hm.”

Swinging away from the group, Scorpius tipped his drink backward and a single drop of firewhiskey slid onto his lips, burning as it touched. Hadn't he grown out of hope yet? He stared at the bottom of the empty bottle until someone nudged him.

"Need another?"

Bea tottered at his side, holding up an uncorked bottle. She must have escaped her roommates a few drinks early, as Scorpius looked past her to find Rose dancing atop the pool table to the rowdy cheers of the other prefects.

Scorpius uncorked the bottle and slid the fire down his throat. "It's not fair," he said, wiping his lips. "She always waltzes in and out like that."

"To hell with her," Bea harrumphed. "Why do people care about her so much anyway? Anjali this, Anjali that."

Her face was screwed into a knot and a strange thought entered Scorpius' mind. "...are you jealous?" Something between a gasp and a guffaw came from his throat. "Are you jealous Fred pays more attention to her?"

"Oi! For the last time, we are not like that."

"You're blushing."

She rubbed her red-tinged cheeks. "Lucy gave me a lot to drink. It's your bloody fault for putting that idea in my mind..."

"That he fancies you?"

"He does not. And I don't fancy him. I fancy—" She stopped short just in time.

"A-ha, you fancy someone then," Scorpius grinned.

"It was a long time ago!" she snapped, before blushing even more.

Alcohol-addled, Scorpius might not have figured it out, but Bea slipped a glance toward the fireside. "You fancy James!"

"Shh!" Bea practically climbed up on him just to clamp her hand over his mouth, scanning around furiously. "Just because you like to yap on about your love life does not mean I do."

"You could tell him," he said when she let go.

"I did. Before he left last year. He didn't take me seriously." Bea grumbled into her cup. "No one takes me seriously."

His grin fell sharply, and he suddenly wanted nothing more than to breathe his words back in.

A moment later, however, she lifted her eyes from the ground as if in awe. "Merlin, I'm a depressing drunk."

"Makes two of us."

Giggling, she raised her glass. "Cheers to that."

The inevitable result of their shared wallowing, of course, was that by the time the party was winding down, they ended up under the pool table slumped against each other, surrounded half a dozen empty bottles, and having what barely passed for a conversation.

"I've got a splendid-ill-iferous joke. Give me a moment here," Scorpius slurred, kicking a bottle over. He yanked his tie down for an extra gasp of air. "So a wizard, a centaur, and a goblin walk into a pub—"

"Ha!" Bea cackled, slapping her thigh. The sock on her head swung around and how or why it was there would remain a mystery forever, as well as how she was still wearing two socks, which meant that one of them did not belong. Probably the lime one. It looked kind of familiar.

"Wait, wait, wait, that's—" Scorpius started laughing too, and it took him a moment to remember, "Wait, that's not the joke."

"But it's so funny." Bea pouted, staring up at him with her best bloodshot puppy-eyed blink.

"Fine then," he said, rather laboriously, "that's the joke."

Pleased, the girl lodged underneath his arm erupted into another fit of giggles, flailing legs and all. She plastered a hand to her mouth and only succeeded in sounding like clogged engine. "Tell me another."

"I haven't got another."

"Tell a story then. How'd you Malfoys get rich, eh? Lend a poor girl some secrets."

He snorted, but the question surfaced from the alcohol, uncomfortably sober. "My father... is a very powerful man," he said, first stating the obvious. "And there are very few good ways to get that sort of power."

Bea shifted forward, looking into his face with new acuteness. The sock fell from her head.

"He does it for me." Scorpius hiccuped, and the echo of his father's voice faded into tales of war. "So I don't have to go through what he did, but that's another story. I'll have to, one day. I'll inherit his troubles, too—that's what being a Malfoy's about." Shutting his eyes, he chuckled bitterly, remembering where he was and who he was talking to. "Rich people problems, hmm?"

Scorpius circled the rim of the bottle one more time and a warmth blanketed his hand. He looked up, but Bea hadn't moved and whether it was just his imagination, he wasn't sure. She lifted her hand now and it came to rest on the crook of his arm, a quiet comfort to join her words, spoken with the earnestness only found in a stupor.

"Hey now... you're not your father."

Then she suddenly giggled, attacked afresh by alcohol, and it subsided into a quiet snore, exhausting the last of her energy. Scorpius watched her breathe in and out, gladness squeezing his heart.

"Thank you."

She burrowed into his shoulder like a Kneazle finding a warm spot, hands curling into the pockets of his blazer. Slowly, the thrumming bass lulled him to sleep, too.






After the party was over, Fred walked James back to the Headmaster's office, where he was to floo back, and told him to visit again soon but not too soon. Then, Fred helped the remaining sober Ravenclaws clean up the mess. The house elves would scrub up, but it was best not to make them grumble. They cooked their dinners, after all.

The last thing—or rather, person—he picked up was underneath the table, squashed against Scorpius. They looked so peaceful, but it probably wouldn't bode well in the morning.

Bea's eyes fluttered open and closed as Fred tried to put her arm around his shoulders, but she stumbled out of his reach. "James, I'm not a kid anymore." When he caught her again, she clung to the front of his shirt with sticky fingers. "Hey, James..." she slurred, "you changed your hair. And your clothes. And your face."

He peeled her off. "I think you've had a little too much to drink."

"I think you haven't had enough."

After two minutes of struggle, Fred managed to get Bea on track to the staircase. She insisted on walking on her own, though it was more like a crawl. She recognized him now, at least.

"Freddie, why do you put up with me?" she asked, swaying like a capsizing boat as she staggered to the next step.

He hadn't fully answered that question himself, but he liked to think it was for the benefit of the world. "For your sake and humanity's sake." Better than constantly worrying. Everyone had been telling him to stop worrying lately (mostly James, but James had to count for at least three people). He was a good wingman but too good, James had said. He didn't think about himself enough.

As Fred pressed Bea onward, she fell face first onto the stairs and did not move. He turned her over, and she seemed all right, except for a carpet burn across her nose.

She hiccuped. "Scorpius says it's 'cause you fancy me."

He raised a brow. "Well, Scorpius is piss drunk."

"But you dress fancy."

Fred snorted and then lifted Bea up and carried her in his arms. "Believe it or not, you aren't that much of a hassle. You just need to learn your limits. Firewhiskey included."

"Is that what growing up feels like?"

"Yeah, I suppose so."

"Kinda feels like I fell on my face."

The sixth floor of the tower approached. Fred set Bea back on the ground and knocked on the dorm door. "Lots of people put up with you. We want to. That's what we do. Now, Lucy is going to put up with you."

On cue, his cousin opened the door with an open bottle of firewhiskey in her hand. Rose was springing from bed to bed, raving about some bloke named Colin.

"Another lightweight?" Lucy chirped brightly, hustling the semi-conscious Bea into the room.

Fred nodded. "Thanks."

"No problem!" She seemed as sober as she was at the start of the party, which was probably not very sober, knowing Lucy. "How are you? Haven't chatted in a while. You look like a man in need of direction."

"Wha?"

Lucy peered into his face, rubbing her chin and exhaling a strong whiff of alcohol. He thought it was one of her cryptic artistic messages again, and it probably was, but something about her next words struck him.

"Be a little selfish, Freddie."

Before he could inquire further, Lucy spun around and waved, shouting, "Make orange juice!" and shut the door.

Fred blinked in the darkness of the landing. Somehow, he wasn't surprised James put her up to this.

He jogged down the stairs. They sort of had a point. Maybe it was time to hang up the point man-persona. Bea seemed to be doing well, despite forgetting how to walk in a straight line, or walk at all.

He could say he was busy next time Bea asked for help, even if he wasn't busy. He could stop staying after practices to run drills with the reserves because no other Chaser would. If he saw Anjali, he could walk by without trying to de-mystify her and that single crack of vulnerability he never found after that day in Hogsmeade.

It was starting to sound pretty good.

As he crossed the common room toward the boys' staircase, Fred heard a rapid knocking at the door. Someone was too drunk to answer the riddle, most likely. Glancing around at the deadness of the room's other drunkards and the apathy of those who had reclaimed the room for studying, Fred sighed and ran back to open it.

Instead, he found Albus, whom he had forgotten about. Despite his cousin's beaming, something about the way his eyes lit up made Fred's hair stand on end.

"Guess what, Fred? Anjali made me her new assistant!"

Bother.




A/N Remember how I freaked out about writing 6000+ word chapters two chapters ago? Heh. This chapter is somehow it's like how I planned and not like how I planned at the same time. So much bonding and bromance~ and romance! Because I have said the last third of the story is all action and romance, and that is finally sneaking in.

It was so fun to write James :3 If you like him, you might be interested in a short story that features this same James as a 6th year, Love, Damned Love, and Statistics. Cameos by Fred and friends. It's where I initially thought up my headcanon for next gen .

Thank you for reading! ♥

Coming up: Scorpius and Fred teach Albus to be a man, a.k.a. not get eaten alive and Very Serious Things (so serious they merit capitals)

Bea could hear her breaths heave in and out, and she made a mental note to never make fun of Fred's fear of her (though she still highly questioned his taste). It was not the cutting insults that made Anjali scary, but the fact that she was right. Scorpius had no concept of hard work or consequences, and when it came down to it, Bea didn't know anything about him.

Chapter 18: For Better or Worse
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18. FOR BETTER OR WORSE
Keep calm and carry bon-bons.


As October drew to a close and November flung open its windows, a string of bad days snuck in with the breeze.

It began when Edgar Frittleson approached Rose in the common room.

"Erm, Rose, is this yours?" The shuffling fifth year handed her a tattered letter. "It's got your name on it."

Rose scanned the parchment and furrowed her brow. "Why, yes. Yes, where'd you get this?"

It turned out that none of the letters she had been sending to Colin the Squib in the past month had made it to its destination, and her particular owl was lacking in the return-to-sender department. Rose found twelve more such letters in a dark corner of the owlery, eleven of them from her own hand, and one from Colin.

When she read Colin's letter, the last of her mental bits snapped. According to Lucy—who had asked Daisy, who had overheard from Clarissa, the sister of Harris, who had been innocently sending a letter to his mum at the time wishing her a happy birthday—Rose had ripped her cardigan apart in a rage and ran through the halls, stark raving mad. Harris relayed the story after some calming drought and minor counseling.

"After all we've been through!" Rose paced the girls' dorm, still clad in the cardigan, which was now distinctly buttonless. "Embarrassed by a few owls coming around when his friends are over! Can't keep making excuses, he says! What bollocks!"

"It'll be all right." Bea flicked her welding torch on and off, antsy to get back to soldering the prototype frame. Rose had been whinging for minutes; she was awful tired of it.

"I've had enough! I finally understand wizards being backwards. I mean, owls! Whose bright idea was it to send post with owls? Just give me my magic box and video chat and my stupid Squib boyfriend who can go rot in hell now!"

Bea preferred if Rose didn't trivialize her invention revolution as a relationship fix, but there was a time and place to correct Rose while she was on a rampage, and that was never.

"Enough with boys. Enough with Squibs!" The reddening redhead threw both of her hands in the air. "Lucy! I've decided. We are having a girls' afternoon out!"

A dusty Lucy rolled out from underneath her bed. "Finally! I'll bring the firewhiskey!" She pulled a cardboard box at the head of where she lay, and scrawled along its side was a fading 'nothing illegal in here, MOVE ALONG'. Inside was a pitcher where she had emptied all the half-finished bottles from the party last week, waiting for an occasion like this.

No one realized, however, that with the Rose and Lucy's departure, Bea was left alone in the room, breaking the dorm's cardinal rule: inventing must always be supervised.

As Bea had promised Scorpius, she was fashioning a new prototype core that could mimic the illegal runespoor egg they had snatched. She chose a foundation of rockspoor scales and acromantula silk. Rockspoors were in the same family as runespoors, and their scales emanated a similar but weaker magical energy. Some silk and her concoction of enchantments would amend that, and hopefully it'd work as expected. She certainly didn't expect the core to shoot out of her hand mid-Shrinking charm, set a stray Whizbang flying into Rose's canopy, and light it on fire.

Luckily, the seventh-year girls upstairs heard her yell and rushed down to help, dousing the room with enough water to hose down a dragon.

"What did you do?" one cried.

"Um..." Bea glanced around at the blackened spots on the wall and Rose's very soppy and very toasty canopy. "Broke the first law of thermodynamics?"

Less luckily and not surprisingly, when Rose and Lucy returned, all of her inventing-related activities were summarily banned from the room. Bea relocated to her now-permanent workplace of classroom fourteen, part of a forgotten nook on the third floor. A former Potions classroom, it still had some leftover equipment. Most importantly, no one minded the empty rooms, as long as she didn't cause another incident.

Scorpius became her new assistant while Albus was busy being Anjali's assistant. No one knew what Albus was doing with the mysterious prefect, and when asked, Albus would only smile and say he was 'helping out.'

"You don't have to worry too much," said Scorpius, taking the vial Bea handed him (she didn't trust much of anyone with her supplies, but he couldn't possibly screw up being a shelf). "Anjali won't hurt him without reason; it's not her style."

"But why make him an pre-prefect in the first place?" It wasn't even a real position, which she tried to tell Albus, but he was particularly stubborn about his friendship crusade after Scorpius and Fred's lack of support.

"He's just a bargaining chip. Her foot in the door, if you will." Scorpius juggled the stoppered potions until Bea glowered at him. "Low investment in keeping him around, and if she ever needs to threaten us, he'll be right there to use."

"Forgive me if I think everything you Slytherins do seems shifty but it's 'cause of stuff like this," she muttered, and Scorpius made an offended noise. Then as she reached into her box of materials and saw the single thread of unicorn hair in the bottle, she winced at how ill-timed her remark was.

"I need more unicorn hair. I, erm, burned up the last bit I got. Please and thank you?"

"Again?" The lines on his face hardened as he frowned. "That's the third time! Can't you transfigure a rock into a unicorn by now?"

"You know it doesn't work like that. Sorry."

He put down the vials, sighing heavily before sinking into his crossed arms. "Whatever, it's fine. I signed a contract."

"You don't have to be so down about it. It's long—"

"Long nights, lots of failures. You've given me this spiel before. Look, I'm already getting you the stuff," he said gruffly, glaring at her from the side. "What more do you want?"

She wasn't sure. He had professed his admiration for her trade and swung by classroom fourteen every time she needed him, and when she didn't, he'd show up unannounced, bringing his sheets of his company's assets with him to study. He may have been a nuisance but he was a charming nuisance—overly eager when she least wanted him there and eye-rollingly grouchy otherwise—and she maybe-sort-of hoped he actually liked helping her.

But Scorpius always did say a lot of rubbish.

Smarmy must have found someone else to bother, Bea thought on the first evening where he didn't show. She took out her new tools and still-wrapped shipment of unicorn hair and lay them across her three-desk workspace. As she opened the prototype's container, she heard a whoosh and immediately pointed her nose in the air, searching the darkness for a ghost's shadow. Had Peeves come skulking?

But it was only her breath; she had been hunching too close to the desk again.

She never noticed how still it was without Scorpius' constant chit-chat. The candles, undisturbed by conversation, burned tall and straight, and the only sound was the groan of ancient magic settling in the castle walls.

As much as she would ask for quiet, she didn't want this kind; it was cold, even a little scary, and what she wouldn't do for a laugh to warm her shoulder. Scorpius told the lamest jokes, even when he was sober. Especially when he was sober.

Why did the Aurors hire the Tutshill Seeker? he had asked, pausing to no one's suspense. Because he always caught the snitch!

Bea snorted so loudly, she was almost glad he wasn't around to hear it. Shaking her head, she went to work on her prototype, and the space of yesterday's memory filled with silence.

It wasn't as if she missed him.






"We ought to go see Potterpuff or something, down in the lockers." Scorpius scratched the back of his neck. "Since he's scrubbing them for us."

Bea stopped taking out her tools and stared at him. He had an issue of Magical Market tucked under one arm and a tartan jacket over his shoulder—there was no doubt he was Scorpius Malfoy—but there was a time when he wouldn't have even thought of Albus, and if he did, he would have been too proud to admit it. Who was this?

"If Hooch is there, we should try to get him to reserve Seeker, if not Seeker," Bea said on their way outside. She squinted up at the bright clouds, imagining them surrounded by Quidditch players. "I hear the current one doesn't want to play much anyway."

Scorpius was rather impassive. "Potterpuff loose on the pitch. What a terrible idea." Then in the same breath, he said, "Let's do it."

But it was easier said than done.

"What do you mean, no?"

The two stood before Madame Hooch's refurbished desk, startled by her swift rejection.

"I mean: no." Hooch folded her hands, and Bea shrunk back from her hawk eye. A Ravenclaw and Slytherin advocating for their opponent; she must have suspected this was sabotage. "As talented as you say Mr. Potter is, he has been suspended from Quidditch for the time being."

"What?" Bea cried. Albus hadn't uttered a word about this. "He's not even reserve reserve Chaser?"

Hooch frowned. "There's no such thing."

A quiet 'Oh' left her lips. Now that she thought about it, Bea wouldn't be surprised if the Hufflepuff Captain made up something to appease everyone who tried out. That gave Albus two made-up titles.

"But why—" Scorpius began, before dragging a hand down his face. "Not because of that thing with the Bludgers."

"Mr. Potter's heart was in the right place, but we still must hold him accountable. Students freeing Bludgers willy-nilly would be absolute havoc. It was havoc enough for one game."

It was her fault, Bea thought, frozen in place. She needed the runespoor egg. There was no denying the gnawing guilt at her feet. It crept up to her knees and elbows, until her fists clamped and she squeezed her eyes shut and could no longer stand it. The time had come to pay her debt.

"It was us," she said.

Scorpius turned suddenly to her, brow raised. What are you doing? he seemed to ask.

The right thing.

Hooch cleared her throat, drawing their attention to the tap of her fingers. "I know you would like to help him, but—"

"No, really, it was us." Despite her shaking ankles, Bea stepped forward, her hands firm on the desk. "We set the Bludgers free. And—and he didn't want us to get in trouble."

Lips pressed thin, she glanced over her shoulder, and Scorpius nodded, "Yeah, she's telling the truth."

After a long hesitation, the coach sighed. "I will not take this lightly. If you insist, you understand what this will mean? Two weeks scrubbing lockers, and letters home."

Bea gulped as Hooch steeled her gaze on both of them, waiting for one to break, but they both nodded.

"Very well. I'll speak to Headmaster Flitwick tonight. Please tell Mr. Potter to come see me—and take the cleaning supplies from the cupboard. Might as well get started." Hooch gestured to the battered door behind her desk. Bea had a hunch that Hooch still didn't believe them and wanted to settle the matter as quickly as possible.

As Scorpius dug through the cupboard for brushes, Bea stood beside him holding the buckets, whistling 'The Muffin Man' in hopes the silence wasn't as awkward as her gut had sensed.

"Um," she said. "Sorry about that. Probably should have—"

A loud clang interrupted her as Scorpius threw a brush into each bucket. "Asked me first? Yeah. Thanks in advance for pissing off my father. Can't wait for that Howler."

Bea kept the defensive rise from bubbling out. "We had to tell her the truth."

"No, we didn't." He leaned an elbow against the wall, and she had forgotten how piercing his eyes could be when she least wanted to look into them. "We should. And I would've. But warn me next time if you're going to fess up for the both of us."

"Would it have made a difference?" she muttered, as he turned back to the pile.

"It's the thought that counts."

He didn't say any more on the subject, but she almost wished he did. Instead, she was subjected to the edge of his grimace as he plucked a bucket from her hand and trudged out of the office.

No need to make such a big deal out of it, she thought with a huff. But it was the same problem she had with Fred, or with anyone. A thought. She had so many thoughts. Equations and spells and vivid dreams. Why did she always forget the tiny things, and why did such tiny things lead to such big problems?

Fix one wrong, and break two rights. She couldn't win.






Fred had better things to do than to look after his little cousin.

He actually did, this time. Ever since James' orange juice speech and Lucy's 'Be-a-little-selfish', he thought of everything he had wanted to do but made excuses to avoid, like learning more than fifteen words in French or checking the mail to see if his applications ever got to France, because he was oh-so-excited at the prospect of—he shuddered—accounting. Well, they were the steadiest jobs out of Hogwarts.

Then Albus had to get himself involved with the one person Fred needed to avoid. The universe was practically throwing excuses at him to st—watch Anjali.

No one knew exactly what Albus was doing with her. Albus would describe it as odd jobs: keeping her schedule, picking up books from the library, following her on patrol, and so on. There had to be more to it. There was always more to it.

Fred warned Anjali one afternoon in the Great Hall, "Don't try any tricks."

When she responded with nothing but a cool smirk, he began to sweat.

"Please, just don't... break him," he blurted in desperation. Albus might have been dopey and weird, but he was nice, and they simply didn't make his brand of niceness in the world anymore.

"I don't know what you're talking about." She lifted her issue of the Witching Hour, blocking her face from view.

The direct approach having sputtered to failure, Fred had to prepare Albus to protect himself against Anjali and, lacking that skill set himself, asked the only person who knew anything about her.

Fred shook Scorpius' hand when he arrived on the pitch. "Sorry for the trouble."

"No trouble at all," said Scorpius, rolling up his sleeves to let's-get-to-business height. "'sides I love giving advice. It's mostly talking about myself." He gave Albus, who was distracted by a butterfly, a once over. "Bludger whisperer or not, we're gonna have a lot of work to do."

"Eh?" Albus perked up as the butterfly fluttered away. "Er, I still don't know what's going on."

"We are here to teach you how to be man," Scorpius declared, throwing an arm around his shoulder.

Albus grunted under the new weight. "But I am a man."

"No, you're a boy. You're fish food. Food for fish food."

"We want to make sure Anjali won't take advantage of you," Fred translated, wondering if this wasn't such a good idea after all.

"Actually, she's pretty okay," said Albus, wincing as Scorpius' grip became more of a headlock.

"And it's that kind of attitude that'll get you in trouble." Scorpius released him to pick up the blazing-orange blazer on the ground. "Consider this part of what I owe you. Have to make sure you don't get killed by my ex-girl."

"But you really don't—"

"I insist. Now put this on." He tossed him the blazer.

Scorpius and Albus were roughly the same build. Albus still struggled to fit his arms through the sleeves until he realized he had the jacket on upside down.

"Is this really necessary?" Fred muttered as his cousin tried to button the cuffs by twisting his hand around.

"Come on, Weasley, you know that you are what you wear." Scorpius thumped Fred on the chest twice, where the sleek lapel of his sports coat met his shirt. "People see class, they respect class."

"I see a tangerine."

While Scorpius could, on occasion, pull off the wacky fashions living in his closet, Albus had no hope of the same. The sleeves flopped around as Albus held up his arms, stiff as a scarecrow. "Yeah, maybe I can just be myself?"

"Absolutely not," Scorpius declared. "Anjali will run circles around you. She's all about getting in your head, and if you start being as suave as me—or you know, fifty percent there—then at the very least, she'll be confused and won't know what to make of you."

Fred had been a hundred and fifty percent as suave at times and it didn't help, but he thought it best to not announce his failures.

After fixing his cuffs for him, Scorpius circled Albus, nodding in approval, and then mussed the boy's hair as a finishing touch. "Now that we've got the styling done, what do you know about acting?"

Albus scratched the non-existent scruff on his chin. "Umm, we did a play about the last Wizarding war in History."

"Let me guess. You played your dad."

"...Nagini."

"Close enough. First—"

The clatter of a door drew their attention as Bea came out of the locker room entrance, one hand holding a sudsy rag and the other on her hip. Fred thought he heard Scorpius curse under his breath.

"What are you guys doing here?" Bea called.

"Hey Bea, we're just, um," Fred stared at Albus. What was a verb for doomed-to-fail?

"...is that a blazer?"

"Scorpius is training me," Albus said proudly.

"To blind people—wait, Scorpius?" Her eyes narrowed sharply at the boy backing away from the pitch. "Oi Smarmy, I thought you were sick! You haven't been in to scrub for days. I've had to cover for you!"

Scorpius coughed twice but fooled no one. Raising a finger as if about to speak, he then darted in the opposite direction.

"Oi!"

Before Fred could ask what was going on, Bea fumbled for her wand and shot a sideways Petrifying spell. By sheer dumb luck, Scorpius ran right into it, and he fell down, straight as a plank.

She stomped over. "Get in the lockers!"

"Kind of just prevented any chance of me doing that," he mumbled into the ground. Bea had never been very good at the dueling arts, however, and within a matter of moments, Scorpius was struggling to his feet. "Don't worry, Hooch doesn't even check."

She threw the rag at his muddy shirt when he turned around. "What if she does? And I'm always there—"

"Because if you suffer, I have to suffer, obviously." Whatever good-naturedness left in Scorpius turned sneeringly sour.

"We both got punished!" Bea retorted.

"And whose fault is that?"

With escalating tempers and contorting faces to match, not to mention Albus curling up like a pillbug every time they raised their voice, Fred wedged himself in-between them before it could get any worse. "Hey, knock it off!" He sent them both glares. "I thought you two had been getting along. What happened?"

Bea crossed her arms, placing herself neatly in front of Fred. "Well, we would if Malfoy was a little more useful than a doorstop."

"Doorstops buy everything you need, I'm guessing?" Scorpius drawled behind her. "She even treats me like her free assistant."

Her mass of hair whipped around. "Oh, you're hardly assisting—"

"Exactly! You don't even want me around."

"I didn't say that!"

"You practically did!"

Before Fred could raise his voice once more—he was getting pretty irked himself in this atmosphere, and if it were socially acceptable, they both needed a 'Shut up' and a slap to the face—Albus drowned out the lot of them with a high-pitched whine.

Everyone stopped and stared at the orange-blazered boy rocking back and forth in the fetal position.

"Great," Fred groaned. "You guys broke Albus."

The anger melted off of Bea's face. "Oh no, Al..."

As she squat beside Albus, fretting, Scorpius rubbed his temple, looking ten times wearier than he was when he arrived. He watched Bea with an inscrutable frown, and it would have been strange if not for the fact that Fred had been watching Scorpius for just as long. Finally, Scorpius turned to Fred, and Fred looked away (how did he always end up on the creepy end of staring?).

"Weasley, I'm heading back. You understand, I hope," he said, and Fred nodded. With one last glance, he added, "And Potter can keep that blazer. I've got three."

Bea and Albus didn't seem to notice much of Scorpius' departure until Fred crouched beside them. Bea had stuck a lolly in Albus' mouth, hoping it might help. The whine had at least stopped.

A heavy weight settled into Fred's side, nearly toppling him over; she was using him as a pillow. "Sorry, it's been a rough week," she mumbled.

"So I've heard."

She gazed over her shoulder at the figure in the distance. "How mad do you think he is?"

No complaining? No 'Freddie, it's all his fault'? "Not too much."

"Git. Left me all the work again." She looked up at Fred, smiling for a fleeting second. "We were never that bad."

Fred chuckled, ruffling the hair on top of her head. "That's because I have the patience of my nan."

Bea pinched Albus' cheeks, stretched and stood upwards. "Well, should get back to it." She picked up her tattered rag and waved goodbye.

With Bea and Scorpius gone and his still-unprepared cousin left cuckoo on the ground, perhaps it was time to call it a day and get to that French. But well... he did have a job to do. And giving advice was just talking about himself, right?

Fred kicked at the soles of Albus' shoes. "Hey, get up. Let's keep at it."

Maybe it was the extra jolt of enthusiasm in his voice, but Albus sprang right to his feet, patting the grass off his knees. "Aye, aye."

Looking him up and down, Fred had to smile. Dopey and weird he may be, but he was staggeringly resistant. There was hope yet.

"First step: take off that blazer."






The worst of the days were done and gone, like a broken fever, but the end of the week had one more hurdle: Friday Double Potions.

By no design of their own, Bea and Albus and Scorpius and Anjali were once again at adjacent cauldrons. Scorpius and Anjali had remained partners even after their break-up, and how they managed was beyond Bea's comprehension. But if there was anything she had learned about them, it was that they were very good at pretending.

Anyone who didn't look closely would think that the two Slytherins were hunky-dory, and maybe they were on other days, but not today.

"How is it my fault?" Bea heard Scorpius growl while she opened her textbook.

Anjali scoffed, "Can't trust you with a simple task."

"You never told me— "

The squabbling continued until Bea could see the veins practically pop off their faces. Did I look like that when I was mad? Bea pondered. It was such an ugly face, lines digging into all the wrong places. No wonder Albus hated it so.

All of a sudden, Anjali raised her hand. "Professor! I'd like to switch partners, please."

Ringleward shuffled over. "Is he giving you trouble, Miss Davies?" He sniffed at Scorpius, who wasn't even trying to seem respectable as he slouched. "I'm so sorry. Perhaps if you asked earlier, but the class has already paired up."

While Anjali was sweetly persisting, Scorpius rolled his eyes, until they met Bea's. They went elsewhere, so quickly that she knew it couldn't have been anything but on purpose.

He was avoiding her.

She had known, of course—she was avoiding him, too—but it wasn't like when they crossed paths in the halls, when it was easy to brush off their missing greeting. I didn't see him, Bea would tell herself, just like he didn't see me. But this one glimpse marked the unavoidable truth: he had seen her and she had seen him, and at some point, they had both decided they were better off if they hadn't.

"Professor Ringleward! We can switch partners!" called a voice behind her.

Scorpius' bewildered stare met hers again, startling Bea so much that it took a second for her to realize the voice belonged to Albus.

She swiveled around. "Albus! What are you doing?"

Albus sported a cheeky grin, the kind that could only be learned from Slytherins. "Think about it. Me and Anjali can work together and you and Scorpius could work together."

She wasn't the least bit apprehensive about crushing Albus' 'Isn't this perfect?' face. "You know Scorpius and I had a fight!"

"Then you'll make up!"

"No! No, we won't! It doesn't work like that!"

Professor Ringleward cleared his throat. He was standing in front of their cauldron. "Mr. Potter?"

"Yes, we'll switch with them," said Albus before Bea could get a word in.

"Good, then you can pair up with Mr. Malfoy. Miss Chang, head over to Miss Davies."

Four sets of eyes bulged out of their sockets. "Ah, but ah—" Albus sputtered, but the professor had already turned his back to help another pair of students.

Bea didn't even need to see Anjali to feel her withering ire burn into the side of her head. "...this is much better."

After packing up her things, Bea brushed past Scorpius as they exchanged places, and plunked down on her new seat.

"I didn't ask for this," said Bea, giving Anjali a sidelong glance.

"Hello to you, too."

Bea opened her textbook and took a deep breath. Work was work. Anjali was a top brewer who wanted good marks, and so was she. As long as they followed the instructions, they could get through this. "Induced Memory Potion..."

The problem was that Bea stopped following instructions as soon as they got boring.

Bea drummed her fingers, trying not to scowl as Anjali stirred counterclockwise. "I know it says four counterclockwise turns, but I really think seven clockwise would be better..." Seeing no reaction, she waved her hand in front of the other girl's face. "Hello?"

Meanwhile, the mixture turned a milky lavender and Professor Ringleward nodded as he walked past. "Very good, very good."

Anjali smirked, and without looking at Bea, handed her more root stalks to chop. So this was what it was like to be refused the spoon.

"I'm glad we can work together," Anjali said, turning the page.

"I'm not." Bea kept her eyes on the chopping board.

"You're already a better potions partner than Scorpius. Terribly lazy, expects the work to finish itself."

The burnt unicorn hair. The detention debacle. The flicker of recognition must have shown on Bea's face as Anjali then laughed.

"Ah—you've seen it, haven't you? You know what I'm talking about then."

The back of her neck began to prickle; Bea didn't like her tone. "I don't know what you mean."

"Don't you? As soon as there's the slightest bit of trouble, he complains and it's not long before he gives up entirely. Sound familiar?"

She pressed the knife so hard, it was turning the root into dust. "No, not at all."

"Please then, enlighten me on how he's changed, because I can tell you that the last three of Scorpius' little business ventures went nowhere." Scarlet-painted nails walked forward on the table as Anjali leaned in. Indeed, there was something foreboding about her words, like the hiss of a snake. "Or do yourself a favor and stop fighting the obvious: you regret ever talking to him."

Like the sound of sabotage.

"You're wrong." Bea's voice began to shake; she didn't know why.

But she should have known that this was Anjali's plan all along. "Because?" Anjali's eyes glimmered and danced. When Bea did not answer, she laughed again. "You don't know the first thing about him. Forgive me for thinking you were ignorant; you're just foolish."

Bea clenched a fist. "Shut up."

Unimpressed, Anjali cocked her head to the side, and Bea made a mental note to never make fun of Fred again. It was not the insults that made the slyly smirking girl before her scary, but the fact that she was right and flaunted it with a cutting glare. Their contract was a mess, Scorpius had no concept of hard work or consequences, and when it came down to it, Bea didn't know anything about him.

But at the same time—"I know him better than you."

Bea's sharp words surprised them both. Slowly but surely, more found their way out of her throat. "We fight. We... don't understand each other. But we'll get there."

Chin up, fists balled at her waist, her speech was spilling out half-blind. But it was all she had, and while she could bear Scorpius giving up on her, she could not bear giving in to such a witch. "So what if he complains and we argue? He's kept his word, and he's doing more than you are. He believes in me, and I believe—" She licked her lips. "I believe in him."

The girl in rags glowered determinedly at the girl who had everything, whose stony expression had begun to chip. "You know, in my line of work, it's long nights and lots of failure, and it's easy to give up, but guess what? We haven't. I don't care if he's given up three, five, or twenty times before in whatever business he's done! This time, he's got me, and you clearly don't know the first thing about me: I don't give up."

A surge of pride filled her chest, dampened only by the plummeting realization that the rest of the class had become as quiet as Anjali, and out of all of them, one mouth was gaping open.

Scorpius had heard the whole thing. He didn't speak, nor move to speak, but just stared, frozen like her.

Professor Ringleward lowered his glasses. "Miss Chang, is there something you'd like to tell the class?"

The silver-hot gaze seared into her mind, and as much as she wanted to wait for him to say something, she couldn't bear it. With her breath coiled tightly in her chest, she croaked, "No. Sorry."

Tearing her eyes away, she picked up her knife and another root. Anjali, expressionless, stirred the cauldron. Neither said another word for the rest of the class.






In the lonely dark of classroom fourteen, Bea grumbled as she tested her fashioned core over and over. It should have started glowing as soon as she enchanted it, but no matter her efforts, it remained a dead hunk of metal. With her prototype under her arm, she took a secret passage to the back of the library in search of a new spell, hopefully one that would jump-start the natural magical energies locked in the rockspoor scale.

Quietly lifting the chain, Bea ducked into the Restricted Section. She had walked through these shelves many times before when it was past curfew and she could sit by herself. She had found remarkable, even shocking ideas amongst the inventors of the past. Nikola Tesla was one, went straight to the loony bin after trying to distill a time turner. Nearly ended up with a death ray. Fortunately, before that, he had written down his life's work in Magical Observations on Physics, which was exactly what she needed.

Bea climbed the rickety bookcase's ladder, but she had not placed it close enough to the book and it remained out of reach. Pulling along the shelves only made the rusted wheels screech.

"Need some help?"

Her hands went rigid, clamped around the ladder rungs. "Um, yes," she said, glancing down at the dark figure below. She could only see the messy outline of his hair and one side of his face, cast with the pale blue of moonlight, not enough to make out an expression.

He climbed up before she could get down, and even though he stood two steps below her, Bea could feel him brush against her back as he reached for the book and placed it in her hand.

She sat on the floor and opened the book, and Scorpius sat beside her in the cramped space between the shelves, lounging his leg behind her. He handed her some truce bon-bons he had brought, and she would tell him he didn't need to bring sweets every time they argued, but well, it didn't hurt.

"Thanks," he said quietly, rubbing the back of his neck. "For earlier."

Bea looked up briefly as she turned the page. "I had to."

"Anjali's right, though. I can't be trusted to see anything through. Couldn't keep the essay-writing business going with Xavier. I've said I'd try out for Quidditch for six years now."

"You've changed since then," she said, and his smile curved a little less bitterly.

It never struck her so potently how strange their partnership was until then. If everything he had just said was true, then something set her apart, and that made her a little bit special, didn't it? She remembered what Scorpius said about Fred: "You ever take a look at what you ask of him sometimes? I'd never do that for anyone." And yet here he was.

Shaking her head, Bea scolded herself. She was thinking so fancifully.

After finding the enchantment, she spiraled her wand around the rockspoor core, muttering the incantation. The air around seemed to vibrate with color as wisps of yellow sizzled in the air.

"A little time to let it soak in, but hopefully, it'll work," she said with bated breath.

In the silence, Scorpius bent closer to get a better look, looming right by her nose, and then frowned as he peered into her face. "What's wrong?"

"Er, nothing?"

"Come on, just tell me." He nudged her with his knee, which had come to rest by the small of her back.

Persistent bugger, she frowned; she had no idea what he was talking about. But then a little thought revealed itself, the one that had been nagging since last week, and perhaps it was more apparent than she had realized.

"Do you actually want to be here?" Bea asked, chewing her lip. "You don't have to stay, you know, if it's boring."

He furrowed his brows into a strange squint. "Are you kidding?"

"...are you?"

Scorpius laughed so loudly, it echoed through the shelves. "No, I think this is amazing."

She stared at him. "I still don't know if you're kidding."

"For the love of—" Scorpius reached for her prototype, but stopped just before he touched it. "Could I—?"

Bea hesitated before retracting her fingers. As he lifted it up, Bea could spot the old scrapes on his knuckles from their broom flight.

"This... it's not about the invention," he said, marveling every edge as he traced the metal. "Ideas are a dime a dozen nowadays. Trust me, I know that firsthand. But going through with that idea, giving it your all—that takes resolve, and I envy that. So yeah, you're amazing."

Her cheeks flared hotly. "You mean 'it'. It's amazing."

Scorpius caught his mistake as he was handing the prototype back to her. "Oh, right."

They stared at each other, hands frozen in midair—hers around his, his cradling her prototype—as if waiting for the other to speak, but Bea was too dumbstruck. No, I couldn't possibly...

A light appeared between them, suspending her thought.

The core had begun to glow.



Albus' high-pitched whine is inspired by Abed's high-pitched whine from the most awesome show Community. Tesla was a real-life inventor. He was kind of like a wizard.

A/N Hello this is your author speaking. Please fasten your seatbelts for the angst and feels. 6.5k of it, apparently. This was... a really long chapter. I kept questioning whether I wanted to split it, but it fit together all too well. And ps, I drew the end scene! :D

I really liked writing everyone this time. Dear Freddie came through to de-angst mid chapter, and Albus just tries so darned hard *pinches cheeks*. I want to ask a million questions to know what you guys think, because there's a lot going on this chapter, but like, lots of little things. I know there are quite a few shippers out there who have been amazingly patient, too, heh. Hopefully, you all enjoyed it, and if you could, please leave a review! ♥

Coming up: Finishing an invention is the easy part, but making sure it doesn't break the school...

Chapter 19: That's How the Biscuit Breaks
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19. THAT'S HOW THE BISCUIT BREAKS
And how the castle crumbles.


With a fully functional core, Bea could hook up the wiring, and from there, begin fashioning the Muggle adaptor parts. Magic wasn't finicky but the batteries inside Muggle gadgets were like old back-alley tomcats and the tiniest bit of magical interference made electrical currents crackle like fur standing on end. It was possible to power them purely by magic, but that was the key: pure magic. One energy or the other. No one except eccentric tinkerers like Fred's granddad ever bothered to modify electronics for magical use. It was tedious, difficult, and dangerous to boot.

But soon the whole Wizarding World would know about the tellies and computer boxes and mobiles they had been missing out on, and they would only need her transistor attachment to make them work, no conversion necessary.

The testing had only begun that day, but Scorpius was already bragging about it to others, even when she explicitly told him not to.

The classroom door creaked open. "...it's like magic, but it's not," she heard Scorpius say. "You've got to see—Bea! This is Xavier. Xavier, Bea."

She looked up from her three-desk workspace and waved at the tall, dark-skinned boy following Scorpius. She had spoken to Xavier a few times before in fourth- and fifth- year Charms, most notably when she helped him to the Hospital Wing after he managed to get a teacup stuck up his nose (tea included).

"She's got this whole box of ol' contraptions like these." Scorpius pointed to the device she was taking apart. "This is an um, spinnybob."

"Electric whisk." Bea aimed a screwdriver at the side panel to pry it open. Scorpius swiped the whisk a second before impact, and she ended up jamming the metal end straight into the desk.

"Yeah, it doesn't look too interesting right now, but it becomes this whirling deathtrap when you get it going." Scorpius waved the whisk-end of said deathtrap in front of Xavier's nose. Ever since she brought out her box, the idiot had been proclaiming himself the world's foremost expert on Muggle technology.

Xavier only snickered. "It beats eggs, mate. Mum has one. I know."

"This'll also beat you if you don't stop touching things," Bea snapped as she yanked it back from Scorpius.

Scorpius' grin soured, triggering another laugh from his companion.

"I get it now," said Xavier, as he set his winking eyes on Bea, and her cheeks tingled with red.

No surprise that Scorpius the charmer made friends with other charmers, and Xavier was the sort of bloke who could make a girl feel giddy to her toes with the right smile, especially when he didn't have a fist-sized piece of porcelain bulging from his nostrils. "Get what?"

"Why he chose you."

Before Bea could utter so much as an 'Eh?' Scorpius smacked Xavier over the head and hustled him to the next desk over. "Oi, shut up. Don't distract her."

She stared dumbly at the back of the blond mop of hair. Those fanciful thoughts were crawling over the wall again. Ever since she started noticing things she couldn't stop noticing things.

Bea took up her screwdriver once more, trying not to glance at them, and trying harder not to panic when she did and saw everything-can-be-juggled Malfoy lift the glowing prototype to show Xavier. It was perfectly visible on the table, why did he have to—but she had stopped trying to make sense of his whims a long time ago.

"Galloping gargoyles, you weren't kidding." Xavier crouched at eye-level around the core. "So this'll work for mobiles too then? I'd kill for some Annoyed Birds in Binns' lectures."

"Bloody brilliant, innit? Told you she's like this secret genius. Just as long as you don't mind the explosions."

Heat prickled up her neck. "There's only been two!" she retorted. "...this week."

"I've got complete and utter faith in you, nutcase." Scorpius winked. "But just in case, I've got my fireproof trousers on."

She scowled. A few chattery minutes later, Scorpius went around the desks to watch her take apart the whisk. He stood too closely, even though it was perfectly visible without breathing down her collar or even across the desks where Xavier stood. He ruffled her hair at the very top of her head as she swatted him away and imprinted a grin that she felt right to her toes.

And all the while—and for some time after he left—Bea tried to recover every skipped beat in her heart until she lost count.






Lucy and her friends poked around on Tuesday, and Fred and Albus visited every few days. The room filled up on the weekend. It became a sort of a lounge for the lot of them after Fred added some long-term soundproofing charms.

Albus sat on the floor in front of her oscillating fan while Mr. Welly pawed at the high and low buttons. The fan used to be a regular Muggle one, and over the summer, Bea had converted it for magical use. By the window, Scorpius claimed to be studying, but unless he was absorbing information with his face, he was more likely taking a nap underneath his copy of Effortless Apparition.

Bea handed Fred her final Stalker Salve specifications. After last week's tests, niffler incident not withstanding, it was finally ready to hit the Weasley Wheezes shelves.

"I'll show Dad next weekend. Thanks." Fred slid the papers into his bag.

Tucking her pliers behind her ear, she took the enchanted rod from between her teeth and fit it into the whisk's old battery. "Could you also ask er, if I might be able to work over the summer?"

"Of course. You know he's always happy to have company in the workroom."

"I was thinking actually, if I might be able to help out with the accounting? Your old job?" she asked rather sheepishly. "It's just, well, if I'm going to run a shop one day, I have to know more than just inventing, so..."

Fred stared at her for a moment before smiling. "Yeah. Yeah, sure. It's good you're thinking of it."

She had been thinking about a lot of things, too many things for a single head to hold. Summer felt like an eternity ago, when she had only half-hearted dreams and a shell of a invention. Those dreams were now the sweat upon her brow.

Hearing a racket behind her, she glanced over her shoulder. Scorpius had woken up and was clearing a seat next to Albus. He prodded at the fan's metal cage as it slowly rotated toward his side. "What's this?"

"Voice machine," Albus answered with full confidence. He opened his mouth wide. "Aaaaaaa."

Bea giggled as both heads bobbed from side to side trying to follow the path of the wind, and a strange feeling bubbled in her throat.

She turned to Fred. "Do you think... Scorpius reminds you of James?"

"Hmm?" Fred stopped trying to lure Mr. Welly with his pocket watch.

She wiggled her fingers. "You know..." Their incessant mischief and idiocy, the way they talked and sweet-talked and never took no for an answer, how they rolled out of bed with great hair and unfairly attractive arms...

Actually, maybe it was best to not ask. "Never mind."

By evening, Bea was alone again. Beyond the fogged windowpanes, the stars had risen, dull like stickers in the sky. She used to wait for one to fall, but there was no more need for wishing; she was so terribly close now.

The door creaked open and Scorpius walked in with two plates in hand. He set them down, sliding a bowl of soup in front of her along with two slices of bread wrapped in a napkin. "You skipped lunch, too, didn't you?"

"But I'm almost done." She squinted at the wire ends she held, trying to figure out which one she was supposed to switch.

"You've said that for hours. Eat."

And so, the clinking of tools became the clinking of spoons, and the quiet filled with chitchat.

Bea tore her piece of toast into strips and dipped one end into her soup. "Dad went into research for awhile, after me and Sasha were born. Mum said he liked magic back then—a lot. It was like finding a whole new branch of science, but better."

Muggle rules were hard-coded by formulas and physical limits, but magic was breathable. It made up its own rules when it was bored and filled in the gaps of science, an axiom here, a miracle there.

"He wanted to talk about it with his team. They could make some big strides in the research community, if only they knew what could be explained by magic. But obviously he couldn't, else he'd be breaking the Statue of Secrecy."

Scorpius swallowed his gulp of cider. "You mean Statute of Secrecy?"

Bea stopped nibbling on her toast. "...oh, that does make more sense," she whispered in sudden clarity. That explained the funny look Professor Hiddlebum had given her when she had asked how they rebuilt it all the time.

Wiping her mouth on her sleeve, Bea continued, "Er, anyway, Dad was always trying to find loopholes in the Wizarding law until the Ministry outright told him that he'd be Obliviated if he kept it up. Kinda ruined magic for him. Said there was so much backwards thinking. I think... I dunno, I think that's why he left."

They fell into silence, the part that she dreaded most. What could anyone say in response to that? I'm sorry? How terrible?

But as much as Scorpius talked, he knew exactly when to say nothing at all. Instead, he shook a crumbly biscuit out of his sleeve, broke it in two, and passed half to her.

Biscuits, after all, were the answers to everything.

After clearing the food, Bea brought the prototype between them. "So, what do you plan to do, once it's done?"

Scorpius swung his feet onto the table with minor regard to the stray bolts nearby. "I've probably got one more chance to pitch this to my father. As long as I'm prepared, it'll be fine."

"And if he still doesn't like it?"

"Then I'll save it for when he's got no say. I'll be running the company my own way sooner or later."

My own way. Bea could feel the weight behind these words, a hopeful beat in his otherwise cool speech.

He had told her once that to do business solely by numbers was too cold, the one folly he wanted to avoid, and worth was better measured in things less tangible than Goblin gold. Somehow, it had led him here, to the girl who fancied revolutions and had no idea how to achieve them. When she wanted more—a shop of her own and the freedom to build as she pleased without worry or fuss—money had been the problem, and now she knew to be thankful that money had been the only problem.

"I couldn't have finished this without you," said Bea.

Scorpius glanced down at the prototype, and a smile lifted at the corner of his mouth. "You could have. It would have just taken longer."

Bea watched his thumb skim over the metal rim around the core, fascinated as if he were seeing it for the first time. They would never know if she truly could have, but this timeline struck her like fate, if she believed in it.

"Maybe," she murmured.






Then finally, the next day:

"It works," Bea gasped.

Every head in the room turned toward the lit light bulb in front of her.

"It works?" Scorpius clambered over the rows of desks.

Albus was the first to crowd in, followed by Scorpius, Fred, and then Lucy. His eyes followed the trail of wires from the prototype to the glowing glass before his nose.

"It works!" Albus cheered, raising his arms in a V for victory.

"It's still got some ways to go," said Bea, heart thumping at hummingbird speeds. "Light bulb's the first one but I've got to try the other spinnybobs, and I have to see how it shrinks down but it shouldn't be hard." Her grin could out-blind the bulb's bright filament and the expressions around her mirrored the same. "Right, I need to keep going. I need that whisk—"

"Is it supposed to be smoldering like that?"

"Eh?" Bea paused her celebration to squint at the wisp of smoke trailing from where Fred pointed, at the join between the lamp's battery and the prototype's clamp. "I... better safe than lose an eyebrow. Let me just—ow!"

As soon as she reached for the clamp, a bright blue spark leapt out, shocking her. Scorpius caught Bea's hand as it recoiled.

"Are you all right?" he asked, turning her hand palm up.

Bea shot out of his grip and elbowed into her box of Muggle gadgets. "It's—it's fine. I should be more careful." Her fingers tingled, sure to blister soon. The clamp wasn't supposed to be conductive, but maybe magic muddled with the physics more than she had thought. "I need to disconnect this."

"Lemme give it a go." Scorpius rolled up his sleeves.

"I've got gloves, idiot." Bea opened her toolbox and reached for the bottom compartment.

Suddenly, in another surge of sparks, the bulb burst. Shouts of surprise rang out, and Bea shielded her face just in time from the shower of glass. Knocking over her seat, Albus pulled her to a safer distance. The lamp was still alight—in flame.

"Lu!" Fred rushed to his fallen cousin on the ground.

Lucy opened one eye. "What? Sorry, was being dramatic." She pushed herself up, brushing off the stray glass. "Oh my god! Malfoy's on fire!"

Scorpius dropped the pair of gloves and looked down where orange flames were creeping up his trousers. "Augh!" He swatted at it wildly. "These are supposed to be fireproof! The clerk said they're inflammable!"

"That means flammable!"

Bea grabbed her wand off the desk. Fred was quicker. "Aguamenti!" he shouted, but the tip of his wand, where a torrent of water should have been, sputtered only a few measly drops. "Aguamenti?" he cast again, but this time, there was nothing at all.

Scorpius was dancing with all limbs flailing like a chicken—a roast chicken. "Put it out, put it out—ack!" Fred started walloping Scorpius' legs with his jacket. "How's that supposed to help?"

"I'm smothering it!"

"You're attacking me!"

In their frantic yelling, the boys stumbled into the table, bumping the lamp and prototype to the floor. Finally, the flames on his trousers died. At the same time, Albus ran up and dumped a bucket of water over Scorpius' head for the second time that year.

Parting his sopping hair from his face, Scorpius muttered, "Thanks."

The group stood around the singed desk like a ring of caution tape.

"I don't get it." Fred waved his wand around. "I can't cast."

Bea tried a spell, too. She could feel the magic run down her arm, but it stopped in her fist as if it were corked. They each in turn stared at the prototype on the floor. It was the only possible explanation, but... how?

Albus hauled another bucket of water and was ready to extinguish the lamp's flickering flame when Bea blocked him. "Wait, no! It might make it worse." She hastily pulled on her gloves.

"But what's going on?"

"I think I mixed some wires..." But the truth was she had no idea. A million and one things could go wrong when mixing magic and electricity at the molecular level, and one could only prevent so much. Could she have possibly gone too far and created an—

The prototype continued to crackle, electric streaks arcing further by the second, and everyone took a step back. A loud grinding sound reverberated from the floor.

Lucy bit the back of her fist. "That—what was that? That's not us. That wasn't us, right—blimey!"

Underneath the glowing half-sphere, a dark fracture split across grout and stone, spreading through the room like a web.

"Oh no. That's us." Fred pushed her toward the door. "Everyone out!"

The answer hit Bea hard and fast. "It's absorbing magic. The prototype's absorbing magic from the castle!"

Scorpius leaned over the desk for a look. "How could that little—" Then another crack sounded, and his feet slid like a spider on skates as the whole room sunk an inch. In a blink, the crevice had gone from small to alarmingly drafty.

Fred pulled him up. "Little things turn into big problems!"

Bea's glare didn't miss a beat. "Oi, was that a jab at me?"

"Not the time! Let's go!"

Fred waved his wand, but no matter what spell he shouted, it fizzled into nothing. Finally, he gave up and ran, but even as the room began slanting downwards, Bea didn't follow. Instead, she turned back and crunched through the glass.

"Do you not see the bloody floor collapsing?" Scorpius shouted from the doorway.

"But the prototype!" Bea slid to where it lay. She had to unhook it from the lamp, but the surrounding electricity proved too thick.

Fred had come back to her side. "It's not worth it. This room could cave!" He pulled her sleeve. Rubble scraped her arm, but she let it be. The whole world could cave, but she was not about to let months of work crumble into dust, not when she was so close.

Bea thrust her hand into the thick of blue and grabbed the lamp. Even through her gloves, the shock burned her fingertips, and she bit down hard on her lip to stop herself from crying. She pulled the clamp, too dizzy to squeeze, but it held fast.

Someone grabbed her around the waist. "Stop, I have to—!" she cried, but her arms had gone too numb to fight, and she was lifted off the ground.

With the lamp in hand, the connected prototype dangled behind her. It bounced off the desks until it caught between two chair legs, and her carrier lurched to a halt. Bea recognized the cuff of Scorpius' blazer as one arm tightened around her shoulders. With a swift yank, he pulled her and the tangled mess forward, chair and all, as the floor gave out underneath it.

The chair proved to be a tougher fight, and strength failing, Bea's hold slackened. A clang resounded against stone, and she knew it had fallen. "No!"

It wasn't until they passed under the doorway that she found the strength to break free and stuck out her hands, singed and numb from her recklessness. Though dimly aware of the hubbub around her—of Albus asking her if she was all right, of a booming crash and a gaggle of students rushing toward them—all she could see was that the lamp wasn't there. There was nothing in her hand.

A rough grip took her by the shoulders and whirled her around, and she was face to face with a livid Scorpius, his cheek bleeding and his hair matted with dust. "Are you crazy?" he growled. "You could've gotten us killed!"

If she only had one more second to squeeze the clamp—"I didn't ask for you to come after me!"

She didn't need to fight him; Scorpius shoved her away. "Gee, you're welcome."

Before Bea could react, Lucy beckoned them to where she, Fred, and the other onlookers stood. "Duckies, we've got a bit of a pressing issue."

Bea's mouth ran dry as she peered through the classroom door—if it even had any classroom left behind it. The billowing dust had cleared, revealing a gaping hole where they had been standing ten seconds ago, looking into the floor below.

"I... think we broke Hogwarts."






When Flitwick called for 'those students who broke a thousand years of magic', Bea stepped into the Headmaster's office alone. It was her invention; no one else was to speak for it.

She began blabbering as soon as the door closed. "I'm sorry, Professor. I had no idea it would—I'll clean it up myself. Just—"

Flitwick held up his calloused hand. "Why don't you have a seat first, Beatrice?"

The velvet chair drew itself out and she sat down. Her fingers, now bandaged, flit stiffly on the armrests.

Flitwick smiled warmly. "A fan of Tesla?" he asked as he wiped his glasses on his robe.

"Er, y-yes?" she stammered.

"He was a brilliant mind, wise enough not to mix certain things. Vodka and Pepperup potion for one, but ah, that one's not important." He placed his glasses back on his nose. "Did you read his notes to the end? Of what happens to electrified equine hair?"

The notes came flooding back; unfortunately, this would have been more useful an hour ago. "Unstable transfer of magical energy, possible repulsion resulting in an anti-magic field," she said sheepishly.

"Precisely!" Flitwick said in the same tone he would use for awarding five points. "Though Tesla's field wasn't nearly as big. You used enough unicorn hair to make a wig for a bald foal." He chucked then quickly sobered, standing from his desk. "Ah, here it is."

Bea glanced over her shoulder. A house elf had arrived with a cloth bundle. After handing it to Flitwick and bowing, the elf disapparated.

Flitwick brought the bundle to a pedestal on the other end of the office and set it on the marble pillar. He unwrapped it and covered it with a glass lid.

When he walked away, Bea gasped. Twisted and blackened, she almost couldn't recognize the object inside, but the flicker of blue gave it away. "My invention!" She practically flew out of her seat. "It survived?"

The Headmaster wagged a finger. "Yes, rockspoor scales are quite sturdy. Keeps things strong, and—little tip—makes a fine breath freshener in a fix!"

Bea pressed her hand against the glass, expression lighting up in her reflection. It not only survived, it could still work. "If I get a second look, I can probably figure out what went wrong, and maybe..." She trailed off when Flitwick's somber smile did not change. "I'm not going to get a second look, am I?"

He rested a hand on her shoulder. "I'll be owling the Ministry to send someone over and pick it up. I'm sorry, Beatrice. I'm certain you'll go on to make great things, but right now, I must think of you and your fellow students' safety."

But it was there. Her prototype was sitting right there.

Swallowing hard, Bea shut her eyes. "I understand, Professor."

She kept her gaze lowered until Flitwick finished his lecture. He seemed thankful enough that no one was hurt and only docked twenty points, but ended quite gravely, stating that her inventing could not be done under Hogwarts' roofs anymore. Dazed, she nodded, barely hearing him.

When she left the room, Fred was waiting for her outside. He laid his hand on her shoulder like Flitwick had. "It'll be all right. You'll have more chances elsewhere," he said.

"Yeah," she mumbled. When Fred offered her an arm, she shook her head. "You go ahead. Erm, need to use the loo."

He nodded, though worry creased his brow before he turned around. When he was gone, she walked down the opposite direction hall, past the loo, and up the stairs.

The professors had yet to seal off the classroom. The few curious eyes that had come to see the destruction departed after a few minutes, leaving Bea standing in the splintered door frame alone. Peering in, her gut reeled, but she forced herself to look.

She had worked in this room for weeks, yet could barely recognize anything in the rubble. She spotted her toolbox first from the bright red rag wrapped around its handle. It was the only part that peeked out from the jagged mounds of rock crushing it.

That could have been her.

Her eyes adjusted to the dust as she searched. Fred's jacket lay torn across something like a bucket, and a few of Scorpius' textbooks were buried in the debris.

Bea gulped. That could have been everyone.

Fingers trembling, she dropped to her knees. Finally, she cried.






It was over. There was no point in I-told-you-sos, no victory in rubbing it in—a disappointment, truly. What a whimper of an end.

Flitwick made an announcement over dinner to not fret about the wee accident in the old Potions classroom and to stay away from the area while they repaired it. No, there wasn't a secret troll roaming the halls, nor had the castle decided to "take a break from castle-ing" as one hand-waving boy asked. Doubtful students from walked back to their common rooms with their arms shielding their heads.

Albus had known what to keep to himself, but now with Bea and Scorpius' contract dissolved, he was a chatterbox through and through, and she didn't even have to ask for him to talk. The word 'anti-magic' pricked her ears; perhaps she had misjudged the invention's not-quite-end.

Draco Malfoy arrived midweek, wrapped in a solid black cloak, drifting down the hallway like a shadow. He was a private figure, and his hatred of the school was well-known; only the gravest matter would have brought him here in the flesh.

Father and son stood side by side in the courtyard in the brief moment when she paused by the archway. Unlike his son, the elder Malfoy didn't fancy himself a man of words, but brevity was its own form of cruelty; it didn't take much to drill the brutal reminder of responsibilities into a head.

And she knew this time it would hurt the most. She had seen a spark of hope in the one time that Scorpius met her gaze since the incident. He had been so close.

But Scorpius had his chance. Now, it was hers.

When she spied the cloak's shadow walking toward the Headmaster's office, she followed behind. Her steps echoed dully, barely loud enough to register a presence. Even the slightest details in her actions were critical—haste was suspicious, but so was prowling too quietly. She only had one chance to make an impression.

Her lips curved at the irony; she had always been better at business than her dear darling.

"Mr. Malfoy," Anjali called, when his hand lifted to knock on the Headmaster's door. The silver-haired head turned. "If I may have a moment of your time."



Annoyed Birds would be a riff on Angry Birds, natch.
A/N And so ends the second part of Capers! Half of me is really really excited, 'cause the next few chapters are going to be a doozy, and the other half is biting my fingernails, because it's a very crazy chapter and possibly the saddest. I want to thank everyone; I've gotten such an amazing response in the last chapter, especially in the past few days. Oodles of love and noodles for Sarah, for looking this mess over, and Jo if she's still peeking around. It was the fact that she liked my tagline about breaking Hogwarts that Capers ever got written in the first place, and it is finally relevant.

Two-thirds in, but this is just the beginning ♥ a review would be brill!

Coming up: Scorpius bakes in an apron, Things, and a disappearance.

Chapter 20: And So It Begins Again
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ACT IV: THE THIRD CAPER



20. AND SO IT BEGINS AGAIN
One more time, with feelings.


Fred strode out of the Quidditch changing rooms, flapping his shirt by the collar. The sticking damp froze like mint to his skin. He pulled down his sweater sleeves, minding the stubby patch of pink protruding from his left arm—his one reminder of the since-dubbed collapsing classroom incident.

It felt so long ago, despite being a mere five days past. Time seemed to have spun backwards, dropping the whole lot of them at the beginning of seventh year, before any of this prototype business had come about. With Bea's inventing on indefinite hiatus, she had taken to aimless moping, scuffing about the common room and charging up static electricity to unleash on unsuspecting nappers. Fred hadn't seen Malfoy and had only met with Albus once to practice Quidditch and tell him about Uncle Charlie's homecoming. Anjali was still keeping his gangly cousin in service, but otherwise, they were all returning to the lives they had once lived.

Their very not-boring lives, Fred told himself with a fretful adjustment to his collar. He wasn't going down that restless path again.

So what if he couldn't forget that racing hum in his veins when the room collapsed? His friends barely missed serious injury; there was nothing exciting about that. And he didn't even like explosions, especially not what they did to his eyebrows.

He didn’t have an adrenaline addiction.

Shaking his head, Fred followed his teammates, who drifted past in pairs, speculating loudly about the Slytherin-Hufflepuff match. Verona Wood came out of the lockers last, ponytail swinging and sporting shorts like it was still summer, and he remembered he needed to discuss that gravity-defying feint she had suggested during practice (really, it was gravity-breaking, something straight out of Bea's book).

"Ah, Verona—"

But before Fred could say another word, she thrust her broomstick a hair's width from his nose, and he was suddenly the subject of her interrogative squint.

"Word is, you're helping Potter get Seeker," she snapped. "Is that true?"

Oh Fawkes. "N-no."

"Gained a stutter recently, Weasley?"

Fred could never lie when it came in handy, especially not when he suspected those scary-limpid pools of hers were filled with Veritaserum. "Look, he's my cousin. He needed a break. And it's Al. So what if he gets Seeker?"

The broomstick wedged into one of his nostrils. "He may not seem like much, but I heard you lot talk. He was flying with those Bludgers during our last match. He's no normal boy." Couldn't argue with that. "If the 'Puffs win the Snitch in our match, it is on you."

His held breath squeaked out like a whistling kettle when she finally lowered her broom, but not before a friendly smack on the shoulder with the bristly end. "Onto other business then. Want to go to Hogsmeade?"

Fred remained frozen, sans a blink. "W-what?"

"Hogsmeade," Verona repeated, loosening her ponytail. "Get your hearing checked with that stutter."

"Like... a... date?"

"Yeah, you got a problem with that?"

"No, but ah, er..." Though he rather liked Verona on better days, Fred questioned the wisdom of pursuing another girl with no qualms about stringing his arse on a goal post. "I'll think about it."

Rolling her eyes—she had seen right through his camouflaged 'No'—Verona hit him with her broom again to get him moving.

"If you're hung up on Davies still, I'd check your noggin," she said on the path back to the castle, and Fred began sweating anew. Verona and Anjali's cutthroat rivalry went back to first year, even before they made captain (fostered by their fathers, according to rumor). "I almost feel bad for her. I assume you've heard—she's as broke as china in a minotaur shop—but moneyheads always find a way. I guarantee you'll never see her serving fish and chips in a hairnet."

"Well, her life's none of our business," Fred said quickly, before the hypocrisy could catch up to him. "About that feint..."

The change of subject stuck, thankfully, until they split at the Great Hall. Fred headed toward the north-end stairwell, after the one he usually frequented went on holiday to a nearby castle. He wasn't aware that staircases even had relatives. "Cut from the same quarry," according to Flitwick, who had announced quite enough architecture-related surprises in the past week.

Upon passing the open door of the Transfiguration classroom, he caught sight of a frizzy mop of hair he hadn't seen outside of the tower in days.

"Bea?"

Indeed, it was her in the middle of the room, surrounded by crates. Three green lizards flew out of her hair when she turned. "Fred! Just in time!"

He swung his legs over the desks, arranged in a circle from the previous class, as Bea continued babbling, "So a couple of these lizards didn't un-transfigure all the way, and um, nature happened, and now Teddy's got a bunch of little lizard-thimbles loose in the storeroom. I've got to check them and send these to Hagrid's."

"You're helping Teddy?" Considering what Lucy had told him about Bea being inconsolably despondent in her room, burrowing herself in a "blanket Bea-rrito" the entire time, corralling lizards didn't seem like the type of activity to herald her return to the outside world.

"He's making me help." Bea stuck out her tongue. "A tyrant, isn't he?"

"A tyrant," called a deep voice, "who offered to supervise her so she could continue her rampant destruction."

She flushed hotly as Teddy stepped out of the storeroom. "Yeah, that too," she muttered. "Flitwick says I can do my inventing stuff if it's supervised."

That explained that. Fred waved at Teddy, who nodded back before disappearing once more into the dusty shelves.

"Told you you'd get more chances," said Fred. Bea had her backed turned, and only answered with an 'Mmhmm'. "They're taking the prototype in tomorrow, huh?"

"Yep, I think I might be able to get it back later if I fill out some paperwork." Her hair bobbed up and down as she moved from crate to crate. "But you know the Ministry. It has to go through a bunch of hands, get approved... and it's low-priority me..."

"I've been meaning to ask, ah..." Glancing toward the storeroom, Fred lowered his voice to a whisper. "Since Flitwick's pretty careless with his locks, if you want, we could slip in, no one the wiser."

"Nah, it's okay."

"It's not too much trouble—"

"No."

The adventurous shred of his soul wilted slightly; if Bea wouldn't be his enabler, who would? "Well... offer's on the table."

Fred was about to excuse himself but couldn't shake the feeling that something was off about her. He scratched his chin, giving one last go. "Verona asked me out. Weird, huh?"

Oddly enough, that got Bea's attention. "She did? Just like that?" She whirled around, flinging a lizard smack across his face. "Urgh, how is it so easy for her?"

The lizard went meep as he plucked it off. He didn't understand Bea's scowl until—"Wait, you want to ask someone?"

"No!" She froze. "No, of course not. We haven't even spoken since..."

At last, her shoulders heaved in a weighty sigh. She dropped the two lizards dangling from her fingers and sat next to Fred, drawing her knees up to her chin. Bea picked at her scabs, built from scars upon scars and years of bruised shins. "I was so stupid," she mumbled into her leg. "Why do I do these things, Freddie? I could've killed you all."

"Is that what you're hung up on? No one's mad." From her lack of budging, she was unconvinced. "You didn't know that would happen."

"I knew it was dangerous. Everything I make is, one way or another. I thought, nothing too bad's happened before so why would anything happen this time? And I didn't think about it again. And I should've, and there's just—so—much—thinking." She wrapped her arms around her head, burrowing herself in until she was no more than a blob of hair. "I'm fine working on my own. I listen only to myself, I don't owe anyone, I don't hurt anyone. But it's not like that, is it?"

"No, I suppose not."

"And... I don't think I want it to be either."

Fred furrowed his brows, finally understanding. "You know we'll always be here for you."

"I know." Bea sniffled once. "It's nice to hear it, though."

The room went silent, sans the sound of Teddy moving books.

"I've got to go apologize to someone," she said suddenly.

She slid off the table, and Fred started and stopped half-utterances to hearten her, but her eyes were surprisingly bright when she looked up.

"You're the best at listening. You know that, right, Freddie?" Bea hiccuped mid-giggle. Her wide smile, the one that had gone missing, spread across her face. "We might not see eye-to-eye all the time, and you might be naggy and a killjoy and easily manipulated by pretty girls—"

"Er."

"—but don't ever change."






The oven expelled one last odious cloud, peppering the kitchen with soot and flour. Bea stared hard at the muffin tin on the counter. She was making red velvet, so why did her cupcakes come out black?

Brewing was a piece of cake, and baking was the same thing but with literal cake. It should have been easy—as pie! How badly could it have gone wrong?

Sure, the kitchens had run out of buttermilk, but she had melted a bit of butter into the milk and stirred it extra-well. She also couldn't find the beetroot preserves, but it was just for coloring, and tomatoes were red too, so it was the same in theory. And she might have hexed the mix when the lumps wouldn't go away...

With a huff, Bea flipped the tin over. Cupcakes were too finicky.

Then, after glaring for sulky minute, she unflipped the tin, chucked the burnt cakes into the rubbish, and brought out a new mixing set from the cupboard.

"Do you plan on blowing up more of the castle?"

His voice sent the bowl and spoon flying. Bea grabbed at the spoon once—twice—thrice before snatching it between her fingers. The bowl clattered on the counter. Red as velvet, she whirled to Scorpius, who was leaning again the door frame and doing a cruddy job of hiding his smirk.

"How long have you been there?"

The intruder only crossed his arms, and she didn't know if he looked more surly or amused; the tired lines under his eyes could have gone either way. "Do you think glaring at them helps them bake? You might have overdone it."

Her face twitched. Of all the people and of all the places—of course she'd end up meeting Scorpius in a tiny flour-bombed kitchen. She had been avoiding everyone and their overgenerous sympathy, but mostly, she had been avoiding him and for a very different reason: he was mad.

"What are you doing here?" she said.

"Can't I stop by?" He was unnervingly quiet and calm. "Not like you have."

A lump formed in her throat. Remembering that she was supposed to be apologizing, Bea grabbed the one good cupcake on the counter, the one Mibben the House Elf had made as an example, and shoved it at Scorpius. "Just... take this," she mumbled, keeping her eyes down. "It's an apology cupcake."

Scorpius sniffed. "That's not good enough."

"It's not poison."

"Arguable. But no, you have to say the words."

"What's the difference?"

"So I know you mean it."

Of course she did—he had saved her life and she had yelled at him for it—but the words couldn't come out of her mouth; she had put off saying them for too long.

"I do, I just—" She shuffled restlessly. "We've made a big fuss of it, so it's weird!"

"That's your fault." Expression unchanged, Scorpius took out his pocket watch and tapped a finger against its glass face. "I haven't got all day."

Her brain was spinning into mush; why was he making this so hard? But when Bea finally looked him in the eye, Scorpius didn't seem half as grouchy as before, and she couldn't help but smile when she dared to say the thought on her mind.

"You're not mad at me."

The side of Scorpius' mouth twitched, and it was now him glancing away. "...that's not the point."

A cloud of flour billowed as she charged forth, fists balled. At the same time, she heard him laugh. "You arse! I was—you were—!" Sticking out her tongue, Bea practically gagged out the words, "I'm sorry, happy?"

"Now was that so hard?" He left his post at the doorway and sauntered around the counter, sticking his grin in her face.

"Entirely, smarmy-git-troll—"

"Aw come on, nutcase, you missed me."

Despite her wrinkled brow and angry pout, her voice went quiet. "Well, yeah. I did."

The twinkling mirth faded.

"W-well, not like that." Bea waved her hands frantically, inching away until she hit a rack, and fumbled for the pot that fell. "You know, just like missing treacle tart. I can live without it." Actually, a world without treacle tart was pretty dark. "Obviously, I can live without you, but you're not awful—" She groaned, hiding in the pot headfirst. That sounded awful.

When Bea peeked out, an unfazed Scorpius was tying a pink apron around his waist.

"What are you doing?"

"Baking," he said, as if he'd miraculously gone deaf while she raved. But then he took the bowl and spoon and tapped her on the nose, winking. "Geez, nutcase, missed you too, but I don't have such a hard time with it."

Scorpius flicked a bag of sugar open with his wand and started whistling 'The Muffin Man'. Slowly, Bea put the pot back over her head until her red face couldn't be seen.

She had a bad feeling about this, and not just because she was hiding in a two-quart pot. The exact reason escaped her, but it was some combination of Scorpius' blithe reaction and his taking charge, not to mention that baking meant he would be constantly there and touchy and totally oblivious to the fact that he was being those two things.

In fact, it was already happening.

"Hand me that—" Scorpius tried to reach around her back but came up short, and then tried from the front.

Her eyes widened into the pink fabric as her face made a personal greeting with his chest. Heart constricting like it was trying to choke the very life out of her, Bea had to wonder how anyone could ever like this feeling. She thought she could breathe easier when he had all his tools and ingredients in front of him—it resembled her inventing workstation in a way—but then Scorpius started the preparation. Bea once overheard a few of the younger female professors mention that a good cook was devastatingly attractive, and to her great misfortune, they were completely right.

A few House Elves peeked in. "Ach, that fancy blond boy again? What's he gon' use this time? Ostrich eggs?"

Whatever eggs Scorpius used, he juggled three, cracking them into the bowl with acrobatic ease, and tossed the mix into the air without spilling one crumb. Bea crumpled into a ball. This was so unfair.

Scorpius glanced over, his lips twisted as if he wasn't sure to frown or laugh. "You okay?"

No. Absolutely not. Stop baking right now. "Yes." It sounded more like a squeak.

Laughing, he wiped his hands on a rag and picked up a bottle of red food coloring. "But I mean, you're okay?" he asked again, his voice oddly soft.

"Oh." She cleared her throat, pulling herself up. "Erm, yeah."

"Honestly?"

Sometimes when it was too quiet, the prototype would be falling out of her hands all over again, and she would remember the long drop of her heart in Flitwick's office when he had told her that she couldn't have it back.

"...it's getting better."

When Scorpius finished mixing, he poured the batter into the tins and put them into the oven, setting the timer for twenty minutes.

"My father stopped by yesterday," he said as he took off his apron.

"I heard." Waving her wand, Bea floated the dirty utensils into the sink.

"He asked about you. Not you you, but who made the prototype. I didn't tell him it was you, but I mentioned the other things you've made. He likes a lot of them, especially those Feminine Feet Soles—"

The utensils dropped at once, splashing water everywhere. "So what?" She frowned. "He still doesn't like me, does he?"

"Well, not really—"

"Then why do you want to impress him?"

He gave her a curious look. Grumbling, Bea tried to find the right words to explain. "You're always trying to impress someone. It's fancy blazers and playing cool for your friends, and so much of this business stuff's just to show off to your father even though he doesn't like my Muggle-Magic converter. You never do something just because you want to."

Scorpius' stare lingering until she slunk to the sink with a nervous cough. The clink of silverware filled the silence.

But after a moment, he lit up. "Actually, I got an idea recently. Since our last contract didn't exactly work as planned, I was thinking of a new one. I want to start my own business. Not Malfoy and Co.; I'll never be able to run it how I want to. I don't know why I didn't come up with it earlier, but think about it: you want to sell your inventions, and I want to support inventors."

"You want me to work for you?"

"I want you to work with me. A real partnership."

It took a second for her breath to catch in her throat, for his words to sink in fully. "After—after I nearly blew us up?" Bea stammered, trying to hold back from smiling too wide and too soon.

"Mistakes happen. I've made tons. What matters is that you can get back on your feet."

"But your father cut off your allowance. And if he finds out you're working with me again..."

"I've got savings." Scorpius shrugged. "And if he doesn't like you, he can piss off."

Bea blushed faintly. It was funny; there was a coldness to the Malfoy name, deadened by years of war (corporate or otherwise), that many assumed would last for generations to come. She had once seen a photo of Scorpius with his father in the Prophet, and it was eerie how similar they looked, but now she knew better. For though grey eyes matched grey eyes, the gaze of the boy before her held a warmth, like sun-lit spidersilk, and he looked nothing like his father.

"I can't promise this project will be the one, but I've got a good feeling," Scorpius continued. His formerly composed gestures were flung about wildly. "You've got the brains. I know some people who specialize in packaging and mass charms from my venture with Xavier, and I've got names for owl services. We could start there, then get move to a real brick-and-mortar—" He broke into a chuckle, and it was the first time she had seen him so nervous. "I'm getting ahead of myself. I haven't even asked if you're interested. So Bea, would you—?"

She flung her arms around his neck before he could finish the question. He grunted in surprise and upon regaining his footing, Scorpius laughed. "Is that a yes?"

He wrapped his arms around her too, tighter than she expected, until her feet left the ground.

Dizzy and breathless, she buried her grin into his shoulder. "Yes."






Scorpius strolled toward Flitwick's office with a tray of cupcakes, whistling 'The Muffin Man'. Anjali had been quite clear where she stood with his ideas, and without her help, Scorpius would have to start buttering up the staff himself. A few additions to Flitwick's dancing cupcake troupe ought to improve the Headmaster's inclination to forgive and forget at least another month's worth of trouble. Who'd have thought that two months down the line, he'd be partnering with Beatrice Chang to start his next great venture?

As Scorpius turned the corner, he spotted a man coming out of Flitwick's office, carrying the glass-encased prototype. He frowned. Wasn't the Ministry coming tomorrow?

He foot froze; something was wrong about this person's stance, and Scorpius doubled back behind the corner and peeked around. Something was definitely off. Though the man wore the standard robes and badge of many Ministry officials, he didn't carry himself like one, and the dull, bronze glint of his badge didn't shine right.

Another man stepped out of the office. When Scorpius saw his face and his scarred chin, a name leapt onto his tongue—Cato. It was not this man's first name, but more likely his middle, and it was rough and stern like the name was often uttered in his father's voice.

Scorpius swallowed hard. He knew these men. They were his father's men.

Father had told him just yesterday that it was a good thing that piece of Muggle filth was being taken away, but now he wanted it so badly that he'd get his lackeys to impersonate Ministry officials? If Bea saw —

The office door closed and the men started walking down the adjoining corridor. Scorpius gripped his wand. He couldn't risk an incident—not yet—but he couldn't let them just steal it away. Not without knowing why.

Taking a deep breath, he silenced his steps and followed them.




A/N WOW I AM REALLY LATE. Apology cupcakes all around? ;A; (It's actually funny, because I didn't realize that I actually do apology cakes in real life, because when it gets awkward, I usually shove food or something in front of people and hope it makes it all better. Like 'HERE, HAVE THINGS. ARE YOU HAPPY NOW? NO? HAVE MORE THINGS.')

Ahem, anyway. A few notes. One, in case anyone who's read Game missed the Easter Egg, Verona = Rona and Oliver's daughter and if you recall, Anjali = Roger's daughter. They spawned badasses. Two, I have got to stop making castle-architecture-related jokes. Three, the 'UM' picture I drew for this chapter doesn't match up anymore, because I made it more happy than awkward, but oh well. Four, DUN DUN DUN. It is cliffhangers just about all the way to the end now 8D

All I'm going to say about them is: we're not going to be in Hogwarts for awhile.

♥ thoughts/reviews? ^__^

Chapter 21: Missing!
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21. MISSING!
Who misplaced Malfoy?


Bea smoothed her fingers down her skirt, fiddling with the pale lace at the hem, but the more she tried to calm herself, the more jitters shook her knees. Lucy had said it was like a polite request, no different than asking to pass the salt. Even Rose had asked someone out before, and if Rose could do it, so could she.

Having snuck into the Slytherin common room, the hardest part was already over. That poor boy at the entrance had suffered the most; she had caused quite the fright zooming past him after he answered the password, and he seemed rather jumpy already like he suspected someone was following him from the shadows—that someone being a small Chinese girl fixing the buttons on the most flattering blouse she owned, because she had missed the bottom button again.

She had gone through the arch to the girls' section first, stumbled into a loo, inched along the wall to the boy's side, stumbled into another loo, and emerged beet-red and too enlightened, wondering when she had traded luck with Albus.

But she did eventually find the door to the sixth year's boys dorm—the intimidatingly tall door she was currently standing in front of, made of solid oak. A single knock would be enough for anyone to hear. Probably.

She didn't know for sure. She hadn't knocked yet.

Raising her arm, her fingers closed into a fist and she took a deep breath. No fear! Beatrice Chang charged toward her goals! This was no exception!

Her fist came down and... stopped before it hit the door, but the rush of wind against the wood made a sound exactly like a knock anyway. A creaking wail left her throat as she scurried backwards. She wasn't ready. Why did she think she was ready and come here and knock, and now Scorpius was going to walk out and find her panicking over asking him out of all the stupid things —

A finger tapped her shoulder. "Excuse—"

"WillyougotoHogsmeade?!" she blurted, flapping her arms. "...with...me?" The last words fell out limply upon turning and meeting the twinkling, opal eyes of Xavier Nott.

"Hogsmeade?"

"O-oh no, not you." Of all the blokes that turned out to be not-Scorpius, it had to be his best friend: the tall, dark, tousle-haired ladies' man with a permanent Jelly-Legs Jinx in his gaze. Made grass swoon. "I mean, not to say I wouldn't. I think you're gorgeous—nice. Nice." She backed up and it only took two steps before she was against the door, but Xavier leaned in closer. "Very nice, but it's just that I wasn't, uh." A lot closer. "...um."

"Bea, right?"

She gulped and nodded, his cologne having stolen what was left of her breath. His nose was right there, close enough to poke with her own, and his mouth spread into a glittering grin.

"What are you doing in front of my room, Bea?"

"I-I—"

There was the squeak of a door—it finally opened, with her leaning against it—and then her very own squeak as she fell, hands a-flailing, until someone caught her around the shoulders.

"Xavier, stop scaring her." The voice, which also did not belong to Scorpius, rumbled from the back of her head.

Bea had prepared for many scenarios in her quest for her first date, but none of those involved being sandwiched between Scorpius' roommates. Xavier pulled her to her feet, and she glanced over her shoulder to find that her cushion was Norman Jones, still in his pyjamas.

"I was just flirting," Xavier grinned, walking into the room.

Norman knuckled him in the head. "Stop that, too. You're gay."

"He's what?" She managed to turn even redder. But it was now or never, and Bea had no time to dwell on such thoughts. "Er, hey Norman, is Scorpius here?"

The sleepy boy's brow twitched, knitting together. "I... thought he was with you."

"No? Haven't seen him today, why?"

"I assumed when he was out that he was doing stuff for you." His frown deepened at a worrying pace. "He wasn't here last night and didn't show in the morning, so I thought—shit. Xavier!" Norman twisted around. "I told you. He's missing."

Missing?

Xavier came back, his joviality dimmed considerably. "You haven't seen him?"

"Not since yesterday evening." Bea's heart beat a different kind of fast as Norman bolted to his wardrobe and pulled on a jumper. She had to be mistaken. He couldn't mean missing as in... vanished. Like those alerts on the Wizarding Wireless, but they were never about a place nearby, let alone about anyone she knew. How could Scorpius be missing? Where could he go? "Should I be worried?"

"I don't know, but I am. Bloody knew something was off when he didn't show for poker..." Norman grabbed his wand and robes, mumbling an additional explanation, "We were going to hustle the fifth years."

Even the perpetually cool Xavier, who would sip tea in the midst of a food fight, was getting antsy. "Left his blazer and pocket watch and everything, too."

Norman hopped past Bea, jamming a shoe onto his right foot. "We're gonna notify Flitwick. Wanna come?"

Bea had been standing, paling, more confused than ever. "Yeah, 'course." The boys were already jogging up the stairs when the words peeled from her dry tongue.

By the time they reached the ground floor, her confusion had fully given way to fear. She had to be overreacting. It was absurd. Last she saw Scorpius, he had an armful of cupcakes and icing on his nose, and now he could be in danger, even dead? No, not dead, she told herself. Stop thinking the worst.

But every passing second was another drop of doubt, another wild thought, and another moment longer where she had no idea what the answer was.

They found Flitwick's door open, and upon entering, she caught sight of a flash of green smoke from his fireplace. Two robed figures had just left via floo, and Flitwick was adding more powder to the canister when he greeted them.

They took a moment to catch their breaths. Bea's eyes roved to the pedestal where her invention had been. "The Ministry came to pick it up already?"

"Hmm? Ah yes, yesterday."

"Yesterday?" The word hit her in the gut, and her voice turned quiet. "I thought—oh, must've been mistaken... the men in the floo looked like Ministry officials."

"The Ministry had a mix-up. Sent people twice." Flitwick smiled. "Is there something you need?"

While Norman and Xavier went to talk to him, Bea stood by the stone archway, staring at empty pedestal.

Yesterday. Flitwick had said her prototype had been taken yesterday, but it was scheduled to be taken today. Bea had asked and made sure; she had wanted to say good-bye. The Ministry had mix-ups more often than not, but how strange that this mix-up coincided with Scorpius' disappearance.

"Are you certain?" she heard Flitwick murmur.

"We didn't see him at all last night, and he left his things..."

She kept staring at the pedestal until the marble seemed to throb. She saw Scorpius last after he walked her back to her room, and he mentioned taking the extra cupcakes to Flitwick's office, where her prototype would have been...

Xavier's shadow snapped her out of her trance. "Flitwick's sweeping the school with a charm. Gonna see if he can find him," he said, walking out of the office. "He'll notify the Ministry if it need be. Scorp's still got the trace on him. Merlin, if he's only drunk on the roof..."

"I hope that's all," Norman muttered. "Let's find Westley. See if he's seen him."

Xavier patted Bea on the shoulder—something consoling, she supposed, in recognition of their mutual worry. Then the two boys left, leaving her alone beside the gargoyle statue.

Her legs refused to walk. She couldn't just stand around when Scorpius was missing, but where would she even start looking? She could only hope that within an hour's time, a professor would be dragging him out by the collar, unharmed except for the U-shaped mark on his cheek, and she would have laughed off how she overreacted—thinking he was dead, for Fawkes' sake—when he only fell asleep in a broom closet.

The gargoyle nudged Bea aside as Flitwick left his office in a rush, and something told her that his charm had failed, and she could feel nothing at all behind her ribs.

When the Headmaster's footsteps faded away, she forced herself to move, cranking one knee after the other like a rusted toy soldier until it became a determined stomp. She was going to find Scorpius. She was going to find him and make him beg forgiveness for jumbling up her insides this entire morning with fear and feelings, and then she was going to ask him out, because it couldn't be scarier than this very moment.

She stomped all the way down the hall and around the corner until her foot slid on a slippery section of the floor. Lifting her heel revealed a streak of pink-yellow icing, smeared from a lump of crumbs.

A smashed cupcake.






Fred was in the middle of capturing Edgar's pawn when Bea fell face-first into the common room.

She appeared to have been running very quickly, which would explain the thundering steps outside. When the door opened, he heard her shout of "Freddie!" and turned in time to see her foot trip over the threshold, propelling her headfirst into the room, skirt ballooned like a parachute.

He scrambled out of his seat. "Bea! Are you—"

She sprang up, nearly head-butting two students who had bent down to help her. "I'm fine. I'm—Freddie! I have been looking all over for you!"

"I just came downstairs—sorry, excuse me." Fred leaped over an Exploding Snap game set up on the floor. The common room was over capacity that weekend, and he couldn't walk without fear of crushing fingers. "What's going on?" He brushed a fluff of lint off Bea's shoulder.

"This is going to sound weird, but I am completely serious and it's a matter of life or death." Her jaw was staunchly set, determined expression frozen as she awaited his answer.

By default, he assumed anything coming out of Bea's mouth was going to sound weird; that she had to prelude with a warning made him a tad suspicious. "O...kay."

"I need you to stalk Scorpius."

He blinked. "Come again?"

She blew a stray strand of hair out of her face, gesturing anew with her hands. "I need you to stalk—like, you know, what you do to Anjali—"

"Bit quieter would be nice, Bea."

"—'cause right now Scorpius is missing." Her voice trembled, and Fred noticed that the wild look in her eyes was not eagerness as much as desperation. "And I don't know who else to turn to. I need you to find him."

Fred sat her down and she explained the situation. He had never seen Bea so scared out of her wits, nor see her try to hide it so much. When she arrived at the events of this morning, the Head Boy came in, alerting everyone of Scorpius' disappearance, and the common room's tolerable din exploded into burbling speculation, heads turning to one another for answers.

"My god, he's really gone," Fred murmured as one of Lucy's friends accosted Bea, asking if she knew anything. If the Ministry couldn't track Scorpius, that meant he was utterly off-the-grid, not in Hogwarts or near any magic that would set off the underage Trace. The Malfoy heir, vanished—this would be national news.

When Bea finally shook off Lucy's friend, Bea tugged Fred's hand, her foot itching to move. "We haven't got time. Let's go outside."

Fred could feel every last bit of hope in her tight grip. Bea had been putting such faith in him lately, but it was one thing to scamper around the castle and another to find an untraceable boy. "Look, we all want to find him, but what makes you think that I'll be able to—"

"I found a trail."

He walked faster so she no longer needed to drag him. "What sort?"

"Icing."

She led him to the third floor, just around the corner of the Headmaster’s office, to the crime scene of crumbs. Fred crouched down to peer closer.

Bea had calmed to the point where she stopped talking at mach speeds, and instead, began apologizing profusely. "Sorry, this must be ridiculous. You probably can't do anything either. I was just—I didn't know what to do, and you always know what to do, so I got you out here to... look... at a cupcake." She dragged her hands down her cheeks.

"It's all right. More than happy to help." Fred actually wanted to thank her; his restless itch had been driving him bonkers and Scorpius' disappearance was exactly the mystery he needed. Not that he wanted Scorpius to disappear, but he was... grateful for its timing.

"Freddie, there's one other thing." She bit her lip. "My prototype... the Ministry took it yesterday. And Scorpius disappeared yesterday, too. But the Ministry were scheduled to come today. You don't suppose that maybe they were—maybe Scorpius had something to do with—"

"Ministry Officials have badges," Fred said, sensing her line of thought. "Flitwick would have checked if they're frauds."

There was a pause. "...right. Of course."

"And Scorpius..." It had been a rough few months, but he had seen the way Malfoy looked at her. "I don't think he would do that to you."

"No, I know, but—" The word hung in the air until she bowed her head with a sheepish cough. "You're right. Um, so... there's a bit more frosting here. Doesn't go very far though." She directed him in the office's direction.

He followed the trail, crouching with his hands on his knees. The thin, pink smudges formed the unmistakable outline of a shoe. "No, it does. You just have to look."

The prints had been trampled by other students, but with the help of a spell Fred had learned from Dad as a parlor trick, he enchanted the icing to glow and spots of pink could be seen the entire length down the hall.

They ended up in a square niche, where six suits of armor stood guard beside a gallery of dusty, unoccupied portraits. "It stops here. Why does it stop here?" Fred muttered.

He inspected the perpendicular hallway, while Bea tapped on portraits. "Hello, hello, anyone in? Anyone see a blonde git about this tall? Worst dresser in school, can't miss him."

Fred circled back to the end of the trail, brows knitted with sweat from thinking—an under-appreciated skill in his point man repertoire. Scorpius was standing here. What would make the trail end so suddenly? His eyes roved from left to right, and then slowly, they went up.

The fourth floor landing. "A staircase could've been here yesterday."

They ran to the next closest staircase, to a passing prefect's scolding. Fred switched on his mental soundtrack: the hunt was underway.

He cast the glow spell again when they reached the landing, and lo and behold, another smattering of pink spots led them up to the fifth floor. The trail was so faint, he couldn't see the gleam unless he was glued to the ground.

Bea ran up to a tapestry of Dumbledore. "Look." She pointed underneath. Another cupcake.

"What does he do," Fred joked, "keep cupcakes in his sleeve?"

"...kind of."

He shook his head and then squatted beside the new clue. This cupcake was also stale, about a day old. It had rolled here—possibly kicked—while it was still fresh; had it been moved later, the icing would have already hardened on the cupcake and left mostly flakes. "Looks like from the trajectory of the smear, he went in this direction, up the stairs. Thought so. He's going to the top of the castle."

Bea stared with an awestruck blink. "Holy hippogriffs, you're like Trelawney. See something in everything."

"Sherlock. The preferred metaphor is Sherlock." Rubbing his chin, Fred squinted at the stairs. A thinking pipe would suit him well at the moment; he could probably even pull off a deerstalker. "Actually, I think the cupcake was flung." He crept closer. The banister had a scorch mark that he didn't recall seeing before. "There might have been a struggle and—"

He bit down on his tongue when he found the splotch of brown, not pink, on the third step.

"Freddie?"

"That's blood."

His mental music fizzled off. When he turned around, the girl in front of him was not a girl but a ghost, mouth trembling to form the word. "B-blood?"

"Bea..." he began, but she held her hand up with surprising speed.

"No, keep looking. We have to find him."

Hesitantly, Fred resumed treading up the stairs. "There's still a trail..." he said, smoothing his tie and clutching the end so tightly he threatened to choke himself. He didn't know how to tell her that the blood wasn't the worst part. "These little specks right here. He kept walking. But it's as if..."

Earlier, he had noticed that the trail zigzagged. Scorpius had stopped behind corners, walking on the edges of halls instead of the middle, like he was hiding from someone. But all of a sudden, the trail turned straight. Too straight.

"As if what?"

"As if... he were being forced to walk. As if someone cast the Imperius curse on him."

A sharp breath sounded behind him, and he was definitely going to tell her to go back to her room this time. Find Lucy and Albus and tear through a stash of emergency biscuits. She didn't need to be here and suffer the search herself.

But she wouldn't stand for being anywhere else. "Go on," she said.

And so they followed the specks of icing and blood that grew fainter with every meter, until his eyes and neck hurt from staring at the floor so long, and he had begun seeing faces in the stone. Outside the arched windows, the noon sun was lost behind clouds.

When they reached the seventh floor, and he saw one final glowing fleck in that direction, Fred nodded. "I think I know where he went."

They strode down the left corridor, and he found the door opposite Barnabas the Barmy's tapestry. He had never needed the Room of Requirement enough that it would appear for him, but even before they arrived, he could see the dark outline in the wall, waiting.

"You do it," said Fred.

Bea squeezed her eyes shut and walked past the door three times. He pulled on the handle and it opened with a groaning creak.

He saw the blackened walls first, stretching higher than he could have ever believed. Pulling away more of the door revealed an almost empty room the size of the Great Hall, with floors that were scorched once upon a time. Its only inhabitant was an oaken cabinet at its center.

Their steps echoed as they approached. The cabinet was as tall as a half-giant, and could hold about half of a half-giant. An inscription was written along the crown, too faded to be legible.

Fred told Bea to stand back and tapped against the wood with his wand, and when he was certain it wasn't hexed, he opened it.

It was empty.

He groaned. Another dead end? He racked his brain. All right, what did this mean? How did this lead to Scorpius? Did Bea just need to refurnish her room?

"Freddie." Bea tugged on his sleeve, but her stare was fixed on the cabinet. "If Scorpius was Imperiused, that means whoever cast it... would be really dangerous."

He frowned. Her tone was too calm. "Yeah. That's the general line of thinking."

"They could—they could kill us if we found them."

"Quite likely."

She nodded, and took a deep breath. Then, she stepped inside the wood enclosure, and turned to face him, straight as a statue. "Have you ever heard of vanishing cabinets?"

Oh gods. "Bea... not the time to be a big, damn hero."

"Close it, Freddie."

"You're not going alone." He wedged himself into the space next to her. Bea shut her side of the door, while Fred still gripped his, wondering whether he should ask her if she was certain about this. He had numbed himself to the prospect of heading into certain danger—and indeed, even felt a certain thrill—but he swore he could hear her heart beat, feel it shake the wood. Yet he knew from the expression firm on her face that asking for confirmation would simply be wasting time.

Fred shut them in, and as soon as the latch clicked, there was a shift in the air, like the vacuum from a bubble that popped a second too soon, scarcely odd enough to catch his notice. The outlines of light around the edges glimmered out of sight and they were cast into true darkness.

He drew in a breath. The air was hot and stuffy—definitely not the same air he breathed a second ago. Then, he pushed the doors open.





Sherlock, again, belongs to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

A/N I am kind of proud of turning cupcakes and Fred's stalking into legitimate plot points. The next chapter should actually be fairly short (I intended it to be part of this chapter, but I didn't expect to include so much build up), so I would like to get it up very soon. Like, late next week or so soon. ...maybe. The most difficult part was making suspenseful AND seem like Capers at the same time, and thus, er, cupcake forensics. It was also pretty darned hard figuring out how Scorpius wouldn't be traced. And I found out afterwards that the Headmaster's office is on the seventh floor, but I thought it was on the third (and apparently, sometimes it is?), so let's just say that it moves. I have established that the castle likes to move things around very much.

A review would be muchly appreciated ♥ The site has slowed a bit, and it's become a rarer treat, so I'd love to know what you think!

Chapter 22: Dead End
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21. DEAD END
A grifter and a granny walk into a pub.


Dust choked Fred like a mouth of fabric and the blurry edges of the room formed a skyline of trunks and boxes, outlined by a gauzy yellow glow. A sound—nothing more than a click of teeth—broke past his thudding heartbeat, and he gripped his wand so tightly that he feared it would squeeze out of his fingers like goo.

But it was only a mouse.

And it was just a storage room.

The wood creaked as Fred and Bea stepped down from the cabinet. He pressed a finger to his lips and Bea treaded forward with care, while he checked over his shoulder for a potential ambush. The oily windows spaced along the wall were bright enough to save him a 'Lumos'—one less spell to mark their location.

They seemed to be alone, but he could hear a distant murmur buzzing like a market square. His eyes trailed beyond a block of shipping crates to a blue-grey crack of sky, where an open door beckoned.

"Bea," he hissed, pointing. She was peering up a staircase when she turned and her hair swept up a spider's home.

As Bea went around, Fred squeezed though a gap between two crates, face cheeks and other cheeks bulging with effort by the time he freed himself on the other side. Brushing off his trousers, he hobbled to the door and peered over Bea's head. The exit led to an empty lane branching from a street of dark storefronts. The handful of people around were cloaked from the drizzle.

Vague warehouses, shrouded figures, poor lighting conditions—Fred appreciated the area's dedication to atmosphere, but this was rather unhelpful.

Then at last, he spotted it above the roofs: the tip of a clock tower. It stood tall in his memories, framed by the third-story window of his father's shop in Diagon Alley. He used to climb onto the ledge because it was the only way he could see the whole clock face, giving Mum a heart attack every time he wanted to know if Miss Polly's Children Hour was on.

But from this angle —

"This is Knockturn Alley." Fred pulled Bea back in. Of all the places for a cupcake trail to lead.

"Knockturn Alley..." Bea scratched her head, frowning at the family of crushed spiders under her hand. "If anyone casts magic near Scorpius, they should be able to trace him."

"He might be long gone now though." Her face crumpled, and Fred hastily added, "Er, but we know someone's come through. Chain's broken." He nudged the padlock on the ground; a residual anti-theft charm sizzled pink. "Must be recent if the owners haven't noticed yet. Maybe we should get out of here before they do."

They slipped outside, and the splashing puddles drew the attention of at least one passerby, who sported more scars than teeth and flashed a smile fit for a jackal.

Fred stared the man down until he left. "We need to blend in if we're going to stay," he said, grimacing at their school uniforms. "How good is your transfiguration?" His aunts had been complaining about the Ministry's lenient underage surveillance; might as well test their luck.

"Lucy's better at the fashion stuff, but I can try." Bea raised her wand. Fred spread out his arms, but she paused mid-flick. "Erm, I can't do it if you're watching."

"Bea—"

"Freddie."

"Fine." Fred covered his eyes. "Just be quick. I don't like my senses blocked. What if we get ambushed?"

He could feel her wand swish through the air and his robes become heavy. "You've got to stop worrying about ambushes. You'd think the forks would up and attack us at lunch." Bea muttered another spell. His sleeves tightened and a leather collar bloomed around his neck. "All right, jacket should be fine. Maybe I can also adjust—"

R-i-i-i-p, came from below, and his heart plummeted.

"Bea." There was wind about his legs where there hadn't been wind before. Upon separating his fingers, Bea clamped her hand over his eyes.

"I can fix it!" she sputtered. Quiet mumbling followed. "Right, so, circle swish is for shortening. If it's circle swish-flick for shorts, then it's swish-swish-flick for trousers—"

Fred flushed red. "Bea, did you give me hot pants?"

"Just give me a moment! You sort of pull it off, if it makes you feel any better—"

"It doesn't!"

She blurt out another spell and fabric wrapped around his legs so tightly that Fred thought he was stuck between the crates again, until another stream of magic prickled down the seams and slackened it two sizes. Bea took away her hand, and he was relieved to find himself wearing normal-length trousers and a spiffin' leather jacket. Without a tie to pull, he tugged on his high collar, which promptly tore off.

"Don't!" Bea closed the loose threads. "The stitches... never knew how to do 'em right." She shuffled behind a rubbish bin and transfigured her own robe and skirt into a hooded shawl and floor-length diviner's gown, similar to the ones Trelawney wore.

Fred had to snicker. It was like little Granny Bea. "Not going for the femme fatale look?"

"Overrated," Bea sniffed, dying her hair white. "'sides, my po-po is the scariest woman I've met. I know what I'm doing."

The two took to the streets with, as hoped, little fanfare. Now they had to find witnesses who wouldn't mug them. The streets were mostly empty (the first rule of Knockturn Alley was to keep walking), and those few who plodded past were... colorful, if color meant varying shades of grey.

Bea's hand tightened around the crook of his elbow, and Fred could feel the unuttered questions tapping in her fingers. We'll find him, right? He'll be okay, right? As much as habit wanted to treat this outing like another caper about the castle, this was no unicorn hair heist; they were searching for a flesh-and-blood prize.

They passed a beard trimmer's and a mortuary. Further down the street was a pub with three wizards out in front, the closest thing Knockturn had to a crowd. Fred and Bea approached carefully.

"Maybe you should stay outside," Fred whispered and Bea puffed her cheeks. But when an old chap walked out with a bottle in both hands and a boa constrictor around his neck and hissed at them—the man, not the snake—Bea was quick to back down from the steps. Fred pushed through the doors.

The dingy interior clanged with a fair bit of activity, full of the types one would expect to get hammered at the crack of noon. Everything from the chairs to the tables to the bartender was missing a leg, but it wasn't as bad as Fred expected. He could see the travel section now: The Hooved Haggis is Wizarding Britain's cozy heart for newly released criminals...

Fred swaggered to closest table, where a patch-eyed brute sat, and hocked up a thick accent made mostly of spit. "I'm lookin' for Scor—a laddie. Rich-looking hair, fancy odd clothes, don't belong here. Have you seen him? Blighter stiffed me and ran off."

The giant didn't respond and took another swig from his flagon, which had distinct bite marks on it. Fred moved on. Looking around, he caught the watching eye of a stocky man sitting on the last stool of the bar.

"You, uh, you know something 'bout this lad?" Fred slid onto the adjacent seat.

"Depends." His voice was gravely.

It took a moment for Fred to catch the cue, but luckily gritty crime serials had prepared him well. He palmed one of the galleons from his jingling pocket and slipped it to the man, who kept staring. With a sigh, Fred handed him the remaining money. There went his hypothetical deerstalker.

"What're lookin' fer him fer?"

"Sold 'im some lucky potions. Never paid."

The grizzly stare narrowed and Fred froze, gulp halfway up his throat. Were his jacket and accent that thin?

But when a fresh glass of whiskey arrived, the scarred man answered, "Saw him near the street to Diagon."

Fred swallowed and nodded. "Thanks." It was a start.

As he neared the exit, a racket outside was growing louder, and Fred quickened his steps. Oh Fawkes, Bea.

He burst through the double doors, ready to make his heroic swoop, when he found Bea wielding a tree branch as big as his arm and two wizards backing off.

"You think you can steal from me? In China, I dealt with robbers before you 'er born!" she crowed and advanced upon the men. Her white hair was flung about her face and if Fred didn't know better, she really was a little old—scary—granny. "And in China, we can-not afford wands, so we used sticks. Want to see stick magic?"

Shawl billowing, she spun and clobbered a third wizard creeping up behind her on the nose. The fall to the floor knocked him out cold. The other two rushed forward, but then Bea gave the branch a warning rattle, and they looked at each other and decided to search for an easier mark.

"Respect your elders!" she screeched as they fled. Brushing off her hands, Bea skipped to Fred and dropped the accent. She was unsmiling. "Get anywhere?"

"Er, yeah, but how'd you—"

She raised her branch. "Do you want to see my po-po's stick trick again?"

"I'm good," he said quickly. "Let's just get to Diagon Alley."

As the clock tower struck one, they doubled back the streets they had come from. The tension had eased, but disguises and sticks could only ward off so much danger, and Fred's fear wisely tapped his shoulder to remind him that it was there.

It struck him again how utterly real Knockturn Alley felt in comparison to Hogwarts. Not that Hogwarts was fake, but it did lend a certain false security. He had an obsession with preparing himself for the real world for ages now, but as many summers he spent helping his aunts in the Ministry, he could not shake the artificiality of his scheduled life. It would cycle from summer to school for seven years, from one classroom box to another, and while it was all in preparation of the real world, it wasn't it.

The illusions of independence were multiplied tenfold in Knockturn's bleakness. There was no tether to safety—no James, no professors, no magically repairing castle—just himself. He was certain one of the men in the earlier scuffle had been on a wanted ad for robbery; if Bea weren't so lucky with her trick, there could have been an instant tragedy. On his hands.

Two blocks from the pub, Fred felt a shadow. He thought it might be the rain or a tree, but trees didn't turn the corner when they did. No, for every step they took, something matched with their own behind them, and when Fred sped up—Bea was beginning to notice his unease—it came even closer.

They were being followed.

He didn't turn and make it real, not yet. There was a time to strike, and too often, people were impatient. He counted his steps and the slimming meters between him and their light-footed pursuer.

When he saw the flutter of a cloak leap out, he whirled around and caught a wrist. Bea gasped and raised her wand a second later.

The hand that he caught had been poised to strike, five sharp nails in the air. His heart already knew to beat quicker before the robed figure drew back her hood and a cascade of wavy locks fell to her waist.

"Oops." Anjali's red lips were curved into a smirk. "You caught me."

Fred didn't know if he was relieved or more afraid than ever. He unclenched his grip and her arm slid free, gliding down his palm the whole way.

"What are you doing here?" Bea snapped.

Her eyes lowered to the white mop of hair. "You're a granny. Cute."

"Answer the question."

"I'm looking for Scorpius, too."

Tongue untied, Fred joined the interrogation. "How do you know he's here? That we're here?"

"More than one of us can play detective, Weasley. It's not exactly a prime date location; I can do a little process of elimination." Anjali checked her nails, running her thumb along them. "Now, are you going to let me join your search party or what?"

Fred had been prepared to fight and to run, but he wasn't—nor had he ever been—prepared for Anjali. But he knew the answer immediately: in an hour that didn't allow for a single margin of error, he couldn't risk such an unpredictable presence, and Bea, who had lowered her wand only to hold her stick tighter, seemed to agree. "I don't think we can trust you," he said.

"I thought this might happen," Anjali sighed, "so I brought a permission slip. Albus!"

"Al—?" Oh bloody gods.

Bounding out of a side street was the one person who shouldn't let a single hair into Knockturn Alley. "Fred! Bea!" Fred's old jacket flapped behind Albus as he ran into them for a hug, sporting a grin that overfilled the area's eagerness quota ten times over.

"You brought him?" Fred sputtered.

"Yes, he's quite versatile. A very solid investment and, I'll admit, even fascinating." Anjali smiled, turning so a bare leg flashed out of her robes for an unmissable second. "I'll be over here while you have your reunion party. Albus, if you could please talk to them?"

"Sure thing, Anj."

"You let him—she lets you call her Anj?" Fred hissed, as Albus pulled him and Bea into a team circle. "But she hates that."

"Only because that's what her nanny used to use, but she's getting used to the idea again. Amazing how much a person opens up once you become their friend." Albus nudged a jaw-dropped Fred with a wink. Here Fred had been trying to decipher Anjali, and his cousin, who wasn't even trying—who was more like her footstool—got answers on a platter? "Now, I swear that Anjali's not fooling you."

"Yeah, she's not," Bea muttered, who at least shared Fred's incredulity. She struggled to keep her arms up in the ring. "She's fooling you. Al, how can you trust her?"

"You've just seen the tip of the anthill—"

"Iceberg," Fred corrected.

"No, anthill." Albus pinched his fingers together. "You see a bit of her on the surface, but there a lot underneath her scariness, going in twisty directions that make your head hurt, and you get lost and you forget why you were thinking about anthills in the first place."

"Al, if you're sure we can trust her..." Fred just wanted to get his long-winded cousin off his back, but one glance at Bea told him which one of them needed the convincing.

"I know she's tried to break up your partnership with Scorpius, but she does it 'cause she cares," Albus told Bea, who made a scoffing noise. "Really! Well, not about you so much. Just Scorpius."

She rolled her eyes, deadpanning, "So she trapped us in Hooch's office because she cares about Scorpius."

"Er, well, try to understand." Albus was attempting to twiddle his thumbs, except his arms were around the other two, so his thumbs rotated apart and individually instead. "From her point of view, she doesn't feel you're the best influence on him, that's all."

"And from my point of view, she nearly got us expelled!" Albus shirked from her shout. Bea broke from the circle and pulled Fred's sleeve. "We haven't got time for this. I say we—"

"Why do you think no one ever went into classroom fourteen?" Albus shot back desperately.

Fred frowned. The classroom that Bea used for her inventing?

"What do you mean?"

"No one ever questioned you, right?" Albus glanced over his shoulder to where Anjali was waiting. "The whole two, three weeks you were there. You think that was a lucky coincidence?"

Bea looked toward Fred, who shrugged. "I figured no one cared about those classrooms," he said.

"No, they do," said Albus. "but Anjali has a way of convincing people otherwise."

Bea's voice was quiet. "She... did that?"

"She won't admit it, but I think so." Albus shuffled in place. "She knows she can't change Scorpius' mind, but she'll help him anyway. Like what Fred does for you sometimes."

"A faithful wingwoman," Fred whispered. When he and Bea exchanged a glance, he half-expected Bea to scoff again but instead saw a mute reflection of the year's bumps creep across her face. He had to commend Albus on his friendship-spreading skills; he had never seen empathy land on someone's face so quickly.

"Okay. She cares. I still don't like her," Bea grumbled. "But... whatever. Fine."

They called Anjali back.

"Good, you made the right choice," she said. Bea mimicked her words with duck lips.

Coughing, Fred pointed to the sign marking Knockturn's exit. "Let's get to it then. Someone said they saw him go into Diagon Alley..."

Anjali swiveled on her heel. "And I bet you paid whoever told you that. You've been duped. I know where he really is."

"You—" In less than a second, Bea had bolted through a wave of puddles and skid in front of Anjali. "Where?"

"Why didn't you tell us earlier?" Fred frowned.

"Not so fast." Her eyes flicked from Fred to Bea, who stood rooted to the pavement with her fists clenched. "If I tell you, you let me lead."

"Tell us where he is," Bea grit. It was a demand, not a concession.

"There's an apothecary at the end of this street, Slug & Jiggers, owned by the Malfoy company," Anjali said slowly, and though Fred had become accustomed to her expert coolness, she seemed to drink up the suspense with a sick delight. "I've been watching it. Sign says closed, but there are two men in there who barely leave."

Albus nodded. "I was there. It's true. You could hear 'em."

"I recognize them," Anjali continued. "They're his father's hired men. I think they mean to ransom Scorpius."

Bea narrowed her eyes. "You seem to know a lot."

"Aren't you glad that I'm here then?"

Fred swiftly inserted himself in between the two hot- and cold-headed extremes and beckoned Albus to do the same. "Well, if you're sure, we should tell the Ministry where Scorpius is. Let them handle it." Something wasn't right. She did know too much.

"Again, getting ahead of yourself." Anjali pressed Fred to the side and held off Albus with the flat of her hand. Her gaze did not leave Bea's. "They also have your invention."

"They—" Like the realization had to sink in twice, Bea's face morphed from anger to shock. "They took it? The men who took Scorpius? Does Scorpius know?"

"You tell me. But if the Ministry finds out that goonies for the Malfoys stole an anti-magic generator from a protected institution—impersonating Ministry officials no less—the Malfoys are going to be investigated, stocks are going to tank, and they'll be ruined. And that wouldn't be very fun for your cupcake boy, hmm?" Anjali plucked Bea's chin and gave it a twist. "Now, are we done with the explanations, because I'd like to find Scorpius before they escape again."

It broke Fred's heart to see Bea's determination quiver so visibly when it had bore the brunt of so much before. Bea lowered her eyes and slid limply to Albus' side.

"Weasley, I hear you've got a knack for plans." Her voice held no disdain nor flirtations nor disdainful flirtations, only the terrifying efficiency of business as she turned to him. "If I show you the building, would you be able to devise a way to get him out?"

She had requested the lead only to hand it back to him; flaunting dominance was enough for her, and she already knew how to trip him up.

"Er, yeah. I mean, we'd have to scout the area and see where they're holding him, but... yeah I could do that," Fred said, glancing at Bea who whispered, "Let's just find him, Freddie."

"We'll get only one shot to catch them." Anjali drew her hood over her head. "If we fail, they'll flee to who knows where."

Grim as he was, Fred couldn't help but smirk. "One chance is all we need."






Whenever he was asked about how he became such a good point man, Fred generally attributed it to the same thing: practice.

He had plenty of practice even long before Hogwarts, but back then he only knew it as growing up as a Weasley. His mum's side was decently normal, but wasn't enough to balance out his dad's side, who harbored an odd bunch in every family (Uncle Bill and Aunt Fleur almost hit the jackpot with two well-adjusted daughters, but broke the streak on their third artiste of a son).

Fred's first mistakes as a point man were with one hand in the biscuit tin. Contrary to what Bea thought, she was not the biggest biscuit addict that he had known. That title had gone to four-year-old Lily Potter, who was fourteen years old now and was going through a phase where she banned herself from eating anything with flavor. But four-year-old Lily Potter was a different story, and her demanding sweet tooth was the reason why, at the age of seven, Fred and James had become notorious throughout the family for grand theft of custard creams.

Through the years, he found that there wasn't much of a difference in nicking biscuits and nicking potion ingredients, or even finding a kidnapped friend. The point man role boiled down to common sense and good preparation. Research was essential. It never hurt to know more before acting.

Slug & Jiggers was at the end of the street, separated from the rest of Knockturn Alley by a burned down building that still hadn't been repaired. It was a prime spot to hide. There were three entryways—the front, the back, and a west-facing side door—and Fred operated on the assumption that they were all magically locked. It wouldn't matter; the captors were going to let him in themselves.

Anjali, Albus, and Bea had taken their places. Fred, with a deep breath, walked to the front of the store and knocked on the glass. Ten seconds later, he knocked again. The third time would be the charm.

A plastic-faced man in a grey suit answered the door. Fred had learned all about him from Anjali when they were staked outside.

"See that man walking in? He's Emeric. The James of the two, if you will. Pretty politician smile gets him anywhere they want. Except a chair in the Ministry, but that's why he slums it for Draco. He's a coward in a fight; you don't have to worry on that end. Cato's the one you've got to watch out for. He's their brawn. Merciless if he wants to be."

"Sorry, we're closed," said the man named Emeric, but Fred pushed the door open.

"Oh no, you're mistaken." The memorized lines rolled off his tongue. "Are you the new master? I'm the apprentice here."

"I'm—"

"I'll be really quick, sorry." Fred walked in and Emeric seemed ready to block him but decided against it. Good. "I need some books, but my key wasn't working. I want to get the growth potion right by this weekend. Finally fixed the locking spells, then?"

"...yes."

Fred could feel Emeric follow closely behind as he made a beeline to the nearest shelf. He couldn't get a good look at the apothecary, but he did spy a hatch on the floor near the main cauldron. Most shops in and around Diagon Alley area had cellars leading up to the main floor, as he learned from his time in his dad's shop. Another point for good research.

"What's your name again?" Emeric asked.

"James."

The door jingled behind Fred and a second man entered the apothecary. When Fred turned his head, he saw the scarred man from the bar standing at the entrance, who recognized him at the same time. "Hey—!"

Now came the fun.

Plans were somewhat of an oxymoron, as no plans ever went as planned, and the only solution was to have low expectations and plenty of backups. In this case: strike first and fast.

As the shout left the man's lips, Fred drove his fist into Emeric's face, and crony number one fell backwards, blood spurting from his nose. The other man, probably Cato, had already put up a shield spell and sent a hex that Fred barely dodged, more due to luck than timing. With the ingredients table as cover, Fred dropped to the ground.

But there was no point in a fantastic first strike if the second one was subpar.

The second strike came in the form of Bea and Albus zooming through the open door and leaping onto Cato, because while shield spells were excellent at deflecting spells, they were less effective at blocking projectile humans. It was risky and stupid and wasn't part of the plan, but it sent Cato's next spell awry and gave Anjali enough time to break through the side door.

"Expelliarmus!" Anjali shouted, disarming Cato from behind. The shield spell broke.

Fred scrambled to his feet. "Stupefy!" It hit towering man square on the forehead, and he slammed against the shelves, crushing Bea and Albus. Bea unstuck her arm and jammed her wand into Cato's neck, stunning him again. He slumped to the ground.

"Make sure he's knocked out." Anjali walked briskly to where Emeric was still conscious.

Meanwhile, Fred slid to the hatch on the ground. "I'll check here." Feeling along the wood, he began to untangle its protection charms.

"It's the pretty birdie..." he heard Emeric wheeze, almost like a chuckle.

There was a grisly crack as Anjali's heel crushed the man's fingers and then went to his windpipe. "Where is he?"

"Anjali!" Albus gasped, eyes round. Even Fred was aghast.

"Ack—grah—" Emeric stuttered. His eyes threatened to roll back. "Draco will hear about—"

"He will hear that you kidnapped his son."

Fred frowned. She had told them that Emeric and Cato frequented Malfoy Manor quite a lot in during one summer she spent there, and that was how she knew about them, but there was something too habitual about their exchange, like they had spoken recently.

"D-doesn't matter. He's d-d—" Emeric made a grab for her foot and Anjali kicked him across the face. His body went limp.

She scowled. "Weakling."

Fred swung the hatch open. "You didn't have to do that." The question repeated itself in his mind: Hear about what?

He descended the ladder into the freezing cellar, lighting a candle on the way. Scorpius' frame was lying on a floor pallet, unconscious and a mess, but the relief was bubbling out of Fred's throat at just finding him. "Finally."

He often wondered when his grand adventures with James would finally feel small in comparison to the hypothetical bigger and better and realer adventures he was having in the present. He could not let the greatest years of his life be in the past, and this heroic rescue finally beat the rest.

In the past months, Fred had watched Bea grow up with the intrusion of a strange Slytherin's strange proposition, offered his wisdom to Albus—known in private circles as "a lost cause"—and said lost cause had become cheekily assertive, wearing clothes that fit him, and even charmed an unattainable woman. Then there was him: bored, directionless Freddie, stagnant as a puddle under the sink, yearning for olden days. What would it take to wake him up from the routine?

When Fred knelt beside the pale boy and grabbed his wrist, he nearly dropped it from the shock of cold. His stomach lurched.

Would it be his first tragedy?




po-po is a Chinese (at least, Cantonese) for grandmother on the mom's side.

A/N And now the chapter title makes sense!

Heh, this is not a short chapter. This chapter is even longer than the last one. It's been a very long time since I've updated within two weeks. I wanted to update in one, but I hope no one really believes that, because I've yet to fulfill an update promise. That's me: terrible at keeping promises and secrets.

I didn't expect so many people to pop in last chapter! I'm glad you guys are still around for these chapters, because it's what I've been wanting to get to for ages. Of course, when they're finally here, I'm more like grahhh this is so hard. I think I... like? this? I've been meaning give Fred a proper good kick in the character development instead of second-hand stuff, so I wanted to write it right. And I am totally not avoiding commenting on the end, cough.



Chapter 23: Another One Down
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23. ANOTHER ONE DOWN
Dead bodies were a bit of a mood killer.


Hovering a hand above Scorpius' mouth, Fred found no breath. He pressed a hand to his neck. No pulse.

A gasp. Fred turned to see Bea shaking her head—shaking all over—blood drained from her face. She had been the first one down the ladder.

"No."

"Al." Fred turned to the boy climbing down. "Get back to the school. Tell Flitwick we found him."

"Aye, aye!" Oblivious, Albus saluted and darted out.

"Be careful!" Then his lips shut tightly. He couldn't do this. "Bea..."

"No, no, he can't be." She shied away, as if his outstretched hand held the terrible truth.

"When the healers—"

"Do what? He's dead, isn't he?" Her voice broke at the terrible word.

"He's not..." His other hand lay over the torn lapel where Scorpius' heart was supposed to beat, so still and cold and far from flesh. "He's not dead."

"Freddie, tell me the truth. Please."

Fred scarcely believed it himself. He had never seen a dead body, being too young to remember his great-uncle's funeral. The boy under his hand toted dreams bigger than him and all of that was just... gone?

The shape of his answer formed on his lips but seeing the ghostly girl before him, crumbling in pieces of plastered hope, he could only shake his head.

A single sob cracked the silence.

Fred gathered Bea up before her knees buckled. "It'll be all right," he heard himself say, holding her tight as if pressing the thought in. His grieving would have to wait; they weren't out of danger yet. But he could spare a moment to close his eyes and let a few tears fall, owing to Anjali, who was standing guard over the ground floor for them.

Something jabbed his elbow. Fred brushed Bea's matted curls from his arm where it spilled over in a thick curtain until his knuckles struck something metal. Feeling along the surface, he pinched the end of a wire and glanced down.

"Bea, is that... your invention?"

"It was behind the counter." She spoke in small chokes, fist clutched blindly on his sleeve. "I can't believe I-I thought he ran off with it, Freddie. Before you told me Scorpius was Imperiused and taken—I thought he stole it and didn't even think that maybe he was getting it back."

"Hey now, it's not your fault." Fred squeezed her shoulder, trying to get Bea to look up, but instead her gaze strayed to the crumpled boy.

"It is. I made this. If I didn't..." She wiped her eyes and brought her charred prototype in between them. "I can't believe I thought..."

"Hey—hey, don't do this to yourself."

Bea lifted Fred's hand away and knelt beside Scorpius, carefully tucking her skirts underneath her. Her darkening hair shone silvery-bronze under the sparse light as her disguise faded, but her face bore new wrinkles, weary and mournful.

Fred left her alone and climbed the ladder to the main floor, where Anjali was disarming the two fallen men, first Emeric's wand and then Cato's. She placed both on the counter. The crunch of glass under his foot drew her attention. Her lashes glistened, but there was no sign of crying.

"He can't be dead," she said, as Fred stepped around the shattered vials.

"He's cold."

"It doesn't make sense. Draco's men aren't killers. And if they wanted to ransom him, they wouldn't..." Anjali faltered, lips pursed without finishing the sentence.

She was like him—holding in the shock—but she was too practiced and all Fred wanted was a little sign of lament. After all, hadn't Anjali been closer to Scorpius than any of the rest of them?

Questions resurging, one finally snaked between his teeth. "How did you know where to go after they announced he was missing?"

She turned sharply.

"Bea and I started looking for Scorpius as soon as they made the announcement. You couldn't have beat us here unless you knew where you were going." The image of that ashen skin and Bea's expression was boiling his calm. "You knew exactly where he was. You know the men who took him."

Fred slid his elbow down the counter, closer to her, but she looked away almost immediately. "I know how it seems, but I don't have a part in this," she said. No bite. No taunt.

"I feel like I have enough part in this by not finding him an hour earlier. Bea's bawling her eyes out thinking this is her fault, and god knows how Albus is going to react when he comes back. He's dead, Anjali. Have the decency to look guilty."

When she didn't speak, Fred shook his head and left to the other end of the room to inspect Cato, thinking of anything but death.

The corner stank of alcohol and medicine. Cato remained frightfully intimidating whilst unconscious. Disarming him meant little; his bare hands could probably break Fred's neck, and his grimace warned of vengeance once he woke up. He and Emeric were the types that no one would ever hope to meet—the real-life bogeymen that whisked away children and killed sons for gold.

But looking into the man's scar-stitched visage, Fred felt no fear, just a bitter sting. Indeed, what if he had arrived sooner?

Anjali had yet to move from her spot when Fred glanced over his shoulder. Ready to scoff, he spied her fingers at the hem of her robes, twisting a loose thread around and around. She wasn't one for restless habits.

"Anjali?"

She yanked out the thread and then spoke quickly. "I told Draco about the invention. Cato and Emeric were getting it. I knew they were coming through the Room of Requirement." A deep breath. "It was supposed to be an in-and-out job. Scorpius doesn't even know. He shouldn't be here."

"You—the entire time—" He should have been angry, like how he should have been afraid, but regret took its place again; like rust, it grew. It was in Anjali's eyes, too. "I thought his father wasn't interested in Bea's invention."

"Not in a Muggle-magic converter, but an anti-magic field strong enough to take down part of a castle?"

Dear god, they wanted a weapon. "So Scorpius really was trying to stop them," Fred murmured.

"Was he?" Anjali chuckled softly, gaze on the floor, already in remembrance. "He would. Of course he would. He loves her."

"He—?"

But the question choked as Cato's hand shot out and seized Fred's foot.

Time slowed to heartbeats. There were shouts to his right and bouncing off the walls as his back slammed onto the floor. Cato dragged himself from the rubble holding Fred by the neck, his other hand in a fist aimed squarely for his nose, and Fred tried to jerk away only to choke on his collar. He squeezed his eyes shut for impact.

"Stupefy!"

Anjali's stun knocked Cato off-balance, freeing Fred. He gasped for breath.

There was a cry. Emeric had leapt up and yanked Anjali by her hair. He grabbed the two wands on the counter and threw one to Cato before she could intercept.

They had been lying in wait.

Staggering to his feet, Fred pushed Cato back with a shield spell, and he heard Emeric growl, "Get her!" pointing to the cellar opening, where Bea had emerged.

He would not lose another today. Fred flung himself in front of Cato. "Go!"

As spells arced overhead, Bea broke out in run through the mist of potion and glass and raced outside behind Fred's second shield spell. Anjali wrest herself from Emeric and turned on the spot, vanishing feet-first into a ribbon of black hair, and then that too disappeared with a pop.

The last one left, Fred stumbled down the entrance steps, pushed back by a fizzled hex. He just needed one—good—counter and then he could turn back and make a getaway.

A jinx nicked his hand and his fingers turned slippery, sending his wand flying forward. Cato snapped it in midair.

"Youse one of them Weasleys, huh? One of youse owe me a finger." And then Fred noticed that Cato's pinky gleamed gold and that his grin was even more terrifying. "Let's settle it eye for an eye."

Or he just needed to run.

Fred sprinted down the street the way only a dead man could and Cato's ground-shaking stomps followed fast. He didn't believe in any real chance of escaping, but his legs couldn't know what he knew in his mind. He was going to die, stunned on the street or cornered behind one of the buildings blurring past. His life was going to flash before his eyes and he would see, too late, the things he held most dear.

In defiance, his mind presented the most banal thoughts. Mr. Welly. The dinner menu. Did he have clean socks left?

But then he saw Mum, Dad, and Roxanne's pout. Dad's twin stood next to him—Fred the first, who had the luck of alliteration. He had given his life to the war, for his friends. Holding on to that thought, Fred ran all the way to Borgins and Burkes and into the alleyway where he and Bea had come from. The side door was already open and he skidded in, but Cato caught up at last and shoved him against a shipping container.

Heaving a mouth of blood and spit, Cato bore his sizzling wand toward Fred's eye. Every muscle heaved to escape but Cato's single arm was stronger than his body combined. He couldn't die—not now, when he could see the exit behind him.

Where there's no winning, there's always cheating. With all his might, Fred jerked his shoulder down. His sleeves tore—damn, it was new, too—and Fred wrest his arms free, leaving Cato holding his jacket. Fred leapt atop a crate and, with the boxes and trunks as stepping stones, bolted down the final stretch.

Cato's hex raced him. Fred launched himself off the last trunk and into the vanishing cabinet, flattening himself against the back panel. The hex burst yellow as it struck the closed doors and the light inside changed and his lungs seemed to collapse—oh gods, this thing was going to blow him into a void.

The space stretched his skin, pulling him to another elsewhere. With one final gasp of magic, the cabinet hurled Fred out in a shower of splinters and he tumbled across a black floor.

"Fred!"

Hearing Albus, he nearly cried from relief. It was followed by a stampede of footsteps—people rushing into the room, from professors and prefects and curious eyes wedged in between. They were led by the galloping boy, who now came to Fred's aid.

Wincing from his splintered hand, Fred steadied himself on Albus' shoulder and looked through the worried crowd his cousin brought. Amongst them, he saw Flitwick, Professor Longbottom, Teddy, and Rose.

They dispersed, some to inspect the cabinet, while others corralled students outside, but there was one person missing. Fred searched the faces a second time—then a third and a fourth, until they muddled together dizzily.

Teddy caught him as he stumbled forward. "You all right? What happened?"

Coughing, he tried to hold back this bloody headache throbbing away at his temples. She had to be here. She was ahead of him. Heart spiraling downwards, he pushed himself to think—he had seen her running, hadn't he?

"Fred?"

"Where's Bea?" he rasped.






The floorboard's loose nail dug into her ribs as Bea strained against the charm. The threads were weakening; she could almost move her arm.

When the full-body bind had snaked around her outside of Borgins and Burkes, she had fallen like a plank and thought it was all over. Emeric had taken the prototype and brought her back to the apothecary. Then Cato had come back—Fred had escaped, thank Merlin—but there was still the matter of her, their new prisoner.

Now locked in the darkness of the cellar, she could only hope that Aurors would arrive before the men finished whatever they had planned.

The ceiling rattled as they moved from one room to another. "Have you got... good. Watch the clock. Let it set for six minutes. No less or we'll end up a mile over the Atlantic."

The square outline of light around the hatch, cracked open two fingers' width around the faulty lock, was just wide enough for her to discern their words. They were making a portkey.

Her dad had told her that if she were kidnapped—and she remembered groaning, 'Dad, who would want to kidnap me, except Grandma?' but he stressed just in case—that it was better to risk yelling for help while she could, regardless of threats, than to be whisked away to some unknown location that Merlin's left nostril couldn't sniff out. There was the possibility of help in the former. Not so much in the latter. But in her case, it was lose-lose; unregistered portkey use was completely untraceable and yelling in Knockturn Alley would probably only bring co-conspirators.

The men hadn't hurt her—yet. She shuddered. Their first victim was still lying a few feet away. She hadn't looked at Scorpius since Emeric had thrown her down here; she had been too scared to cry, and there was no point in finding reasons to start.

While Bea kept working at wriggling her fingers, there was a pop from above and then a shout, followed by a flurry of spellwork. Emeric yelled for Cato, and then Bea heard a woman's voice and fought against the binds more than ever. Please let it be someone coming to save her.

Glass fell through the opening and she shielded her face, having freed her left arm. The spells slowed, culminating in the ding of a metal bucket. Then cease fire.

Emeric spoke first, addressing the newcomer. "Alone? Daring."

"You know better than to patronize me."

Bea gasped, and then coughed a fit of dust. Was that Anjali?

"I also thought Draco would have the sense to hire cronies smart enough not to kidnap his son."

It was her. Why did Anjali come back? Gripping a ladder rung, Bea pulled herself up to a sitting position; though her muscles protested, they had fully shaken off the charm.

"Ah... but how much does an heir go for these days?"

"Do you honestly think you can ransom him? You've worked for him for, what, nearly a decade now? You know Draco Malfoy doesn't negotiate. He'll have you hunted down." The ceiling creaked as Anjali paced about. She was getting closer to Bea, but another set of footsteps cut in front of her path and the light around the hatch disappeared. Someone was standing in front of it.

"Haven't you heard? He's dead."

"He's not."

"Yes, well, some do say that the power of belief—"

"He's not. I don't know what you did, but you wouldn't need him if he were dead."

Bea's heart pounded in her palm. Anjali sounded so sure and as much as Bea disliked her, Anjali was actually correct most of the time, even if she had nasty ways of showing it. As the murmurs continued overhead, Bea looked toward Scorpius' pallet. He lay exactly as she had left him, arms by his side and shirt smoothed down. Maybe the body was polyjuiced or it was a shapeshifter or—

She sniffled. Or face it, he was dead.

But one last stubborn holdout asked again: Or... what if...?

There were times when she acted on the pretense that there was nothing to lose, when in fact, there were many things to be lost but they merely belonged to other people. Time, patience, biscuits—the trinity. But this was a rare moment where there was truly nothing to lose. Scorpius was dead and she was likely to follow, and if anything could change that, now was the time to figure out what it was.

Bea saw the potions rack in the shadows behind Scorpius for the first time. A second later, she was on her feet, rubbing the tears from her cheeks.

Of course! They were in an apothecary!

Gingerly, she stepped over Scorpius' body, holding her breath. He might not have been dead, but he still looked very dead, and that churned her stomach enough. "I can pay the ransom," Bea heard Anjali say. She didn't know that Bea was there too, nor that she was scanning the potions rack desperately, hoping that her theory was right.

She had learned about the Draught of Living Death last year. The effects mimicked death exactly. The antidote was something with salamander's blood and honeywater. Wolfsbane, too. It would be green from the blood. What was the name for it? Wiggenweld?

Emeric's laugh rumbled through the floorboards. "Pay? Your family's in the hole. Don't think I don't know that." His sigh feigned pity, and she never thought there'd be someone whose tone was more grating than Ringleward's. "Ah, but I do appreciate your deal with Draco. Without you, we wouldn't be here."

Bea held her breath again. They were talking about her prototype, and Anjali was involved. Bea had been right about her, how dare she belittle her when she had been right

Shaking her head, Bea picked up another potion. No, forget about it. Keep looking.

"I'll offer something even better than the boy," Emeric continued. "How about you cover our future business in Moscow when we start selling this and we'll cut you a share? We'll be needing papers, a few good men."

Anjali's response was surprisingly heartwarming: "Fuck off." A warning spell whistled through the air. "Now give him to me."

"Tut, tut. I don't believe you're in a place to bargain, birdie. You're stalling until help comes. I can see that."

"You're stalling, too."

Six minutes until the portkey was done. How many had passed? Bea ran her fingers through the next row of vials, turning their names forward. Memory potion. Invigoration boost. All-purpose anti-venom.

"On the contrary, we'll be leaving now. It was lovely to catch up with you, Miss Davies. Sorry we can't stay longer."

"Emeric—"

"Cato, get them."

Hands shaking, Bea dropped the Hair-Growth tonic as she put it back. It fizzled red on the floor. The pounding steps neared and the hatch creaked open, filling the cellar with blinding light. Then at the corner of her eye, she saw green—and a 'W'.

Thinking was for two seconds ago; she pulled the vial from the slot and skid to her knees, uncorking and emptying the contents into Scorpius' mouth in the same motion. It dribbled down his chin as she moved his throat up and down. "C'mon, swallow—no!"

Cato hauled her up by the ankles and dragged her over his shoulder as she clawed for the ground. His other hand had Scorpius by the collar. She beat her fists against his back, as fruitless as striking a cliff face.

Emerging from the cellar, she heard Anjali say, "Bea?" She was the slender figure not too far from the door holding her wand extended. "Let her go."

"Sorry, negotiation's over."

"She's not involved!"

"But she's the one who made this, isn't she?" Emeric raised her invention in his hand. "The boy mentioned a Bea. How lucky we found her. We'll be needing her to fix it up."

Bea let out a cry and reached for it, but he hid it away, leaving only a sneer.

"You're sick," Anjali spat, inching closer. "And loons if you think you can get away with this. You better hope that the Aurors get you first. Draco'll have your head."

Her heart pounded with rising panic. Just a little more time, and the Aurors would come and Scorpius would wake up. Wake up, please. A candlestick on the counter glowed blue. "Anjali—portkey!"

Noticing, Anjali switched targets. "Confringo!"

But Cato was quicker to the draw and put up a silent shield, and the blasting charm rebounded. Emeric's grin glittered as he grabbed the candlestick, all too prepared for this moment.

"My dear, I've tried to tell you three times. Draco is dead."

A dozen Aurors poured into the room, apparating in and breaking through the doors, as Anjali stared at the man in horror. Scorpius' eyes snapped open, and before Bea had time to gasp, the portkey pulled them through.




A/N This was probably the most difficult chapter to write almost ever. The whole world's probably heard my loud whinging over angst and all action and dead people why did i make this plot decision. There's a Schrodinger's cat joke in there.

Funny story, I actually grossly sobbed into my shower in order to write the beginning because I had no idea how to write the dialogue, so I... pretended to cry and then wrote that down. I clearly have no experience in hysterical grieving, finding dead bodies, being a kidnapper or being kidnapped. Please do not use me as an example.

Scorpius isn't dead! Draco might be?! Where have they gone? Why am I yelling at you? There's only 4 chapters to go! ♥ do leave a review!

Chapter 24: The Great Escape
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24. THE GREAT ESCAPE
The last caper.


Beneath the clouds, the land blurred into strokes of paint, marred by the odd rooftop. Frost coated her lashes white, and she couldn't blink, only watch, as her abductors pulled her across Britain. On the other side of Cato, Scorpius' body twisted like a rag-doll, but she had seen him wake up...

Bea opened her eyes again and it was black.

Lying on her side, shivering and cramps clamoring, the ground didn't feel quite real, and with all the yanking around in the past hour, she wouldn't be surprised if it weren't.

As her breathing slowed, she heard a second presence behind her; a stifled cough, then a shifting of fabric. The pressure around her wrists wasn't Cato's grip but rope and it tightened. On instinct, she jerked forward, not the best idea without arms to balance as she began to tip over. Oh, the ground was there now. It was about to hit her face.

The other person then steadied her just before impact. "Sorry. Hold still." It was Scorpius. "Invisible knots take a while to—I said, hold still."

Cans clattered by her feet. With her arms bound, her impulsive flail transferred to her knees. "Scorp—" Bea began to say but her throat was bone dry.

His heel pressed into her back, and she felt his fingers wriggle through the loop around her wrist. Scorpius gave one last yank and the ropes fell. "There—careful!"

Hands and limbs banging into box corners, Bea nearly toppled them both over as she twisted around and hugged him, crushing her face into his collar.

"You're alive."

She could hear the rumble of his chest, feel its warmth as it thawed. With a breathy laugh, he smoothed back her curls, palms pressed against her cheeks. She could see him now. A nose and crinkled eyes and the tips of his hair. Come back from the dead, he was a marvel.

He shook his head almost reproachfully. "Why are you even here?"

"I could ask the same for you."

"They took—"

"My invention, I know." The tears had come gushing out again. Bea wiped her eyes, brushing against his thumb as he tried to do the same. "And then they took you. What was I supposed to do? I thought you were dead."

His lips twisted oddly. "Did you cry for me?"

She went rigid as his gaze twinkled. She only struck up a search with Fred, combed Knockturn Alley, confronted his captors, only to fall to pieces when she thought the worst. Scorpius didn't know that, but she did, and now he could see it as she sputtered, "Nooo... I—I didn't—my eyes were... malfunctioning."

Scorpius nosed nearer with a great big grin and Bea scrunched up into a ball, like how Lucy's gerbil did whenever a hand reached into its cage. He was teasing her again. Just about everyone did when it came to matters of her heart.

It was the dark side of being adorable. No one took you seriously.

Scorpius knew her itty-bitty crush from the day she started hitting her head repeatedly with her toolbox trying to kill it. He knew that she knew that he knew, and if he fancied her back, he would have kissed her by now, so he obviously didn't. Probably. She ought to just snog him right then and there like there was no tomorrow, because there likely wasn't going to be one at this rate.

And so, Beatrice Chang—champion of impossible inventions, intrepid speeches, and running headfirst into vanishing cabinets—grabbed him by the collar and did exactly that.

"Mmmph!"

Surprised was an understatement, never mind that Scorpius had been inches away and was looking straight at her. He floundered. Pepper shakers fell from the shelves.

Then, his fingers tangled in her hair. He smiled on her scowl as she tried to figure out the logistics and she hit him when he started snickering. But when she pulled away, his hand found the small of her back and pressed her to stay, and he kissed her lightly three times, each one a little different and longer than the last.

Tickled warm from her head to her soles, Bea had barely enough mind to not forget about their uncertain fate. "We should"—she reluctantly finished her sentence after he kissed her a fourth time—"find out where we are."

Scorpius sucked in a breath. "Right. Um." He blinked slowly, dazed. In the few seconds of pause, his lips somehow gravitated back to hers and she gave in without a second thought, because all of her thoughts had suddenly and mysteriously disappeared.

They were doomed.

Being rather small, logistics dictated the necessity of climbing, Bea ended up in his lap some minutes later surrounded by boxes of tea knocked down from above. Scorpius' shirt had gone totally rumpled and slightly unbuttoned. It was an accident, she'd swear.

Eventually, he pulled away slightly and held Bea back as she tried to follow. "But we really should..."

Bea retracted her hands from his collar, deliciously tingly and woozy. "Right. Escaping."

Both quite flustered, they combed the room, bumping into each other every way imaginable, and ended up finding little more than food, which wasn't unwelcome as Bea's stomach growled. They nibbled on stale digestives and then Scorpius rebound their ropes; no point in letting on that they had the means to free themselves. The process involved much conversation that did not need repeating out of context ("You can tie me up tighter than that") as well as Bea falling flat on her face. Scorpius' hands were already tied, so he couldn't catch her if he tried and she simply ended up befriending the floor. It was stony.

When Emeric and Cato came to check on them, they had only a few footsteps' worth of warning and the fear that had dissipated returned full-force. The door opened, light blinding, and Bea couldn't see the hand that hauled her outside. Scorpius' muffled shouts did little but shake the walls. They hauled her past the flickering kitchen, no more than a sink and a stove, into a lounge that was many times larger. This next room had a thick green carpet and a cozy triangle of upholstered seats—like a home, not a hideaway. Bea half-expected to see their granny bringing out the tea tray.

Cato left her wrist red and burned when he let go and Emeric came to her side. He pressed his spindly fingers into her back toward the long worktable set up in the center of the room, where her prototype lay, dull and rusty. She wouldn't have wished to see it again if she knew it would be like this. Professor Flitwick should have left it in the rubble or, she thought with a twist of guilt, she shouldn't have made it in the first place.

While she stood at its front, Emeric droned about her invention's new purpose in the ranks of private armies, each utterance more dreadful than the last. "Fortunately, I commend cleverness," he drawled with a chortle. "If you're any good, I'll recommend you to my associates."

From the other side of the table, Cato threw down a wand. It was a pale willow, springier than hers when Bea picked it up, and chipped at its tip—Scorpius' wand, she realized with a gasp.

"Cato will be supervising." Emeric nodded to his accomplice, who clenched his fist around his own wand, and then flicked his gaze back to Bea. "Make it work. You have three days."

He left to the kitchen area, hands clasp and crackling above his tailcoat. Bea listened for the pantry door's creak and then strained to make sense of the muffled conversation until Cato grunted, eyes narrowed. Gulping, she went to work.

It was not a difficult task—quite the opposite, in fact. The blueprint was so clear in her mind that she wished it wasn't, for she would be placing a weapon into the hands of people who would do nothing good with it, if good could be done with such things at all. But she didn't want to find out what happened after three days.

She glanced at the clock. It was a quarter past four. Seventy-two hours to stall.

Bea worked quickly, almost too quickly. If she didn't take every chance to make mistakes whenever Cato looked away—and he often did, usually accompanied by an angry mutter as Emeric called for him—she could have finished in that first day. Her back hunched closer to the table as her fingers grew stiff, and she almost didn't notice the signal to stop at the stroke of midnight. Cato had slapped down a bowl of porridge and she barely scooped three mouthfuls worth before he dragged her back to the pantry and threw her in.

One day gone. As soon as the door shut, she started crying.

Scorpius crawled closer and began to untie her new bindings. Eyes unadjusted, Bea blubbered into the darkness. "I don't know what to do. I don't want to die!"

The grip around her wrist tightened, more nervous than comforting, slashing out any assurance that everything was going to be okay. "Darling, you sound like Rose."

Of course he was calm. He knew these people and exactly what they were capable of. He wasn't cursed with her task. "I'm sore and hungry. That big one stands guard—he didn't leave!—and I never know if he's going to just lunge—" Her brow furrowed. "Don't call me darling."

"What instead? Cupcake?"

"I mean it." The ropes fell and she turned around to meet him. "You call Anjali that and I don't like—oh."

His face was splotched with purple bruises that even the darkness couldn't hide, and his stuck-on smirk wavered under the weight of her stare. "Don't. It doesn't hurt."

He always did this, she thought, chewing her lip and holding the rest of her tears in her stuffed nose. Said that he was okay thinking that it was what people wanted to hear, like it was a matter of politeness. "Emeric?"

"He nicked a few brawn potions before taking us here." Scorpius hacked a cough, one she knew he'd been suppressing. "He, um, was pleased to see how much I've grown to look like my father and—what are you doing?"

Bea had clambered to her knees. She searched the shelves for a honey jar and found one with the comb still inside. "My mum makes this salve. Disinfects and all that."

"You don't need to—"

"Shut up. You're bleeding."

Bea made him sit against the wall, hands flat on the ground so he wouldn't interfere while she dabbed the honey along the cut under his eye.

His smirk had gone lopsided, cheeks dimpling even under the puffy bruises. "Are we going to be like this now?"

"We're kidnapped," Bea sniffed. "I think I'm allowed to fret."

"And cover me in sugar?"

"Just dabs."

"But sugar? Won't be tempted to lick it all off, will you?"

Her nostrils flared and she hit him in the chest, coating her fingers in sticky velvet fuzz. "I hope you get ants."

Setting the jar on the floor, she screwed the amber-crusted lid back on, wiped the honey on her skirt, and licked the leftovers. Scorpius had gone quiet. She should have known something was wrong. He had been a far too happy hostage but their brush with death had spurred a lot of interesting behavior.

"They killed my father."

She knocked the jar sideways and her pinky dropped from her mouth.

Scorpius kept his gaze level on hers as if her reaction would be the one to define his. "Emeric proved it. He has his ring."

They had decided that Emeric's parting words to Anjali couldn't be trusted or that they could have drugged Scorpius' father like they had done to Scorpius. Anjali had said they weren't killers. Scorpius asserted the same, at least for Emeric who was merely an opportunist. Emeric would reverse Scorpius' search for her invention into a double kidnapping, but he didn't have the nerve to split his own soul.

Mechanically, Bea uprighted the honey jar and pushed it onto the shelves. "Could the ring be a... I don't know, a—"

"A fake? No."

"Or stolen, maybe..."

"You know the phrase 'from my cold, dead hands?'" His mouth twitched grimly. "Funny thing is, they never meant to kill him."

"...oh?" Her voice was tinny.

"When they went to demand ransom, they botched the job. My father got angry, and why not? But they weren't prepared. They struck too hard of a first blow, and he just... crumpled. They thought he was a bigger man than that."

"Emeric said this?"

"Emeric gloated."

At last she heard the edge, seethed through Scorpius' teeth, and she had a feeling this story had accompanied his beating, blow by blow. She didn't know much of about what fueled the pale man's bitterness against the Malfoys, but many reasons had come from other mouths. Scorpius often said that his father was a stingy man; he did not pay with money when intimidation would suffice, and Scorpius had been waiting for the day when it would come up short.

And what could she say? A pithy "I'm sorry," the replacement words for when she had none? Instead, when her tongue unstuck, Bea asked what Mum had first asked Grandma when Grandpa passed away. "Are you all right?"

There was a shudder to his breath, neither fear nor sorrow, but thick with thoughts untangling. "Yeah." It seemed to sink in for him now. "I can't believe it but—and we weren't close, I just... wish I had time to understand him."

Bea made a space for herself next to his side, tucking her knees to her chin.

"We talked but I—there are some things that I was afraid—" Scorpius licked his lips. "He's got this air. That shuts you up. But I was his son. I could've tried harder. He spent so much time building up a name he was ashamed of. What was the point, you know?"

"Yeah," she said and took his hand, even though she didn't really know.

"And now that name is on me. I take over automatically—everything—when I'm of age. In a week." He ran his other hand through his hair, wincing as he struck a bruise. "That's the other thing. Emeric wants to strike a deal. An Unbreakable Vow. He'll set us free in return for immunity. If anyone tries to take them in for these crimes, I have to demand that they be dropped. And he wants the invention, of course. And money." He rattled these off, one by one by one.

"How... much?"

"Everything in our vaults. Everything short of a name."

Her pursed lips fell open. "Is he mad?"

"It's only money." She found his eyes wide, certain, and—for once—fearful, when they turned to her. "They killed my father. They're already wanted men. I don't know what they're willing to do anymore."

"But you can't—!" Shadows crossed the sliver of light lining the doorway and Bea quieted. The door was thick but she still had to mind her words, especially if they sounded like they were colluding. "There's got to be a better way," she whispered.

"That'll guarantee we'll make it out of here alive?" The lines on his face softened and Scorpius curled an arm around her shoulders, even as she was shaking her head. "I'd love to take a swing at them and fly out of here on a sack of sugar a la Potterpuff, but some things are better without trying tricks. Think of your family and friends, all right?"

She chewed on her tongue wondering, vainly and guiltily, if he was only doing this because she was here, too. "And what about you?"

"I'll be fine. I'm an excellent narcissist." He managed a smile that threatened to squeeze her heart to bits but he was not the one who was supposed to be doing the comforting. "Hopefully, Mother won't be too mad. But I can start over. We Malfoys, we're good at that."

He pressed a kiss to her forehead, and she couldn't bear to tell him about the dilemma that had been plaguing her mind, that she didn't want to fix the invention at all. It had already been decided for her: everything was going to be okay after he paid and she finished her task, because they would be alive and that was more important than anything else.

But Scorpius had lost a father and now a fortune, and she could already imagine the faceless hundreds that would be exploited by an invention that came from her hand, while Emeric and Cato would escape unscathed.

No matter how she spun it, it wasn't okay at all.






A clang broke her sleep. Bea peeled her face from Scorpius' blazer, rubbing her eyes, and caught sight of movement under the door. She shook Scorpius awake and gathered the ropes.

The second day was much of the same. Cato fetched her and she worked while he glared in the corner. Her borrowed wand started acting up. She had to scold it before it cast—a rather appropriate trait considering its owner—and still it resisted, zapping the table instead of the unicorn hair like she wanted it to.

It knew she hadn't decided.

Her hands wanted to smash her invention on the ground, but her mind held back. Scorpius' fate was tied to hers, and she couldn't endanger him. She had to think of Mum and Dad, too, and Freddie and Albus who had spent so much time saving her. Besides, weapons were being developed every hour of every day. What would make her one deed any worse, especially when her life was on the line?

Bea repeated these thoughts until she almost believed that it wasn't just because she was scared to die.

Freddie wouldn't stand for it. He would find a way. He would steal back the invention and bring everyone home safe.

Then she remembered that Fred had barely made it out alive himself.

The wall clock struck six, and a kettle in the kitchen began to whistle. She wondered briefly if it was morning or night, and her gaze traveled down the sconces lighting the room in a neat row like yellow teeth.

There were no windows.

So they were underground. When Cato returned her to the pantry, she found that Scorpius had come to an even exacter conclusion.

Specifically, Scorpius greeted her with a blue tea tin. She first looked for fresh bruises, as she had seen Emeric enter the pantry some hours ago, but thankfully found none. Finally glancing down at the tin's label, she read 'Limon-Lion' under the oval portrait of a well-dressed cat sipping tea, never mind that it lacked opposable thumbs.

"I thought it was strange when I found my grandmother's favorite brand here," Scorpius explained. "Nasty stuff, no one drinks it but her. Then, another thing: I was wondering why Emeric blindfolded me before letting me out to the loo"—which wasn't a loo as much as an extra cupboard with a bucket in it—"He was afraid I'd recognize this place."

"Do you?"

"I snuck a look. It's—those bastards. I don't know how they know about it." He shook his head. "We have an old safehouse underneath the manor. I was there once, when I was very young. Mother told me that if anything happened, to go down the secret stairs past the drawing room and there's these catacombs. It's a huge maze and—well, the point is, it leads down here eventually. This place is Untraceable, anti-Apparition, all the fun stuff. Perfect spot to hide out until a real plan. I might still know the way out."

In that moment, she decided: "Then let's make a run for it."

He frowned. "Bea—"

"I can't give them my invention, not like this. Not a weapon." She stood up, limbs locked, so that she had the higher ground before she lost courage. "We can probably make it. They're not killers, you said. Your father's death was an accident."

Scorpius stared at her, agape. Afraid that he was angry, she hastened to add, "It's not fair to you, when you offered everything to save us, and I'm sorry. Thinking about them getting away when I have a chance to run out of here—I have to take that chance." It seemed so selfish either way. "I don't know if you can save yourself, cut a different deal with Emeric and not let on about my plans..."

It was hard holding his gaze when she only wanted to look away and make her decision quietly, but it wasn't only hers to make. Scorpius stood up now, and the lump at his throat bobbed up and down as if he were swallowing and weighing each word.

"You know I won't leave without you."

She did know, in the back of her mind, and that sunk her heart the most. "You don't have to. The invention's my responsibility."

"Ours. We're partners, remember? We signed a contract."

A smile flickered to life. No one could say Scorpius wasn't a man of his word. To think she had met a smarmy-headed heir in September and a few months down the line, he would offer to give up the fattest vault in London for their lives, and he would risk his life for her. She would do—had done—the same for him.

Moving from her spot at last, she wrapped her arms around Scorpius and buried her face into the folds of his shirt. "If we had more time..." She never finished her sentence.

The shadows of the small pantry grew darker, and they lingered in the moment, knowing that it might be all they would have left.






She was clever, daring and a touch nutty, as most good inventors were; it was pretty much a requirement if you wanted to rip the very magic from the air. She hadn't intended that with her invention, but she had built it just the same, and she was the only witch in all of Britain who knew how to fix it.

But the two men who kidnapped her only saw a small, frightened girl.

Which wasn't untrue. She barely topped five feet and had cried more in those three days than she ever had in her life. But it was misleading, like calling the Head Auror a man with a head injury and no fashion sense. There were a few important details missing. The men didn't see her cleverness nor her daring.

On the third day, after she cast the final charm on her invention and lifted it up, she felt the tell-tale pull of magic vanishing into the vacuum between her hands. Cato had his back turned, looking into the other room and was discussing something with Emeric in their native tongue. Clutching her invention tight, she took in one breath.

They wanted an anti-magic weapon? She'd show them one.

Her feet sprang across the carpet. Emeric's shout came two steps in, almost too soon. She skidded down the turn and slid under Cato's arm to throw herself through the kitchen archway. She slammed the flat side of her invention against the pantry door, she prayed she was right about it using lock enchantments and grabbed the knob. It turned.

From the archway, Cato extended his wand. "Stupefy!"

The spell was aimed straight between Scorpius' eyes as he dashed out, but it fizzled into nothing inches ahead. He hurled a fistful of flour into Cato's face, grabbed Bea's hand, and ran.

Seconds of confusion were all they had. Knocking down chairs and vases down in their wake, they reached the painted door as a livid roar erupted behind them. Scorpius wrenched it open and they faced a stone wall.

Her heart sunk to its depths. "Oh no—"

But he ran straight through. She shut her eyes as he pulled her along, body melding through the surface like a ghost, and not once did her legs stop moving.

When she opened her eyes, they were running through the catacombs.

Over her shoulder, Bea saw the jagged quartz that made up the wall where the opening had been—and then two figures that charged out.

"Where's my wand?"

She pulled it from her pocket, careful to not let it nor her invention drop, and thrust it into his hand.

Torches blurred past alongside heavy stone carvings, pillars circled with marbled snakes. They tumbled into walls as they couldn't slow the turns and pushed off in the next direction. The path had forked twice, and stone turned to dirt. Where were the stairs?

The men were quickly gaining ground. Their spells hissed into the walls, nicking their sleeves and ankles as the device in her hand gave them the barest shield.

Bea pumped her legs to their limit. "Are you sure it's this way?"

"Not really!"

They had gone down the path that lead further underground. Empty-socketed skulls stared at her from the walls; this was why he called it the catacombs.

Up ahead, the path turned to rubble and a gorge cleaved the path in two, and its darkness roared from underneath. The other side was too far to jump.

"Break it now!" Scorpius stretched his arm as far back as he could and shot a spell behind him.

She had memorized the movement; she couldn't hesitate like when she had lost her invention the first time, and she was more than ready when Scorpius freed her hand. Tearing out the wires in one pull, she then twisted the center shell until it hissed and dulled.

Scorpius grabbed her hand again. "Don't let go!"

They were running too fast to stop. The cliff was coming up rapidly and so were Cato's pounding footsteps and she swore she felt him swipe at her back as her feet reached the edge and she was looking straight into the churning waters of a river.

"Don't—let—go!"

Their fingers twined as Scorpius pushed off and in their last brush with the ground, his feet turned on the spot and his arm swung in around her. There was a crack, like thunder on bone, and they were falling still. There was no hold to any surface, not underneath her nor to her skin as her organs suspended in weightlessness, and if it were not for Scorpius' grip, she would think she had ceased to exist. She grasped his shirt and mouthed his name but his eyes were half-lidded and vacant.

Then the splash exploded behind her head like glass.




A/N I AM LATE AGAIN BUT HERE IT IS. TWO MORE CHAPTERS + EPILOGUE TO GO~ So I got halfway done with the chapter, and then I totally got burnt out because school ramped up. But now there's lots of things! Scorbeaus! Confirmed death! More running! I have ended the last three chapters with some form of magical transportation. ALSO I almost forgot to say, ♥ to Julia for the 'We (Almost) Killed Scorpius' bakewell tart.

Sidestory: I got the idea for changing the ending (in the original one, Draco didn't die and they didn't have this elaborate kidnapping because I had something else planned that was kind of eh) when I had Emeric say "He's d-d -- " in ch 22, and 'he' is ambiguous and I thought to myself, 'Ha it sounds like Draco died.' .... 'oh my god why didn't I think of that?'

BUT YES. MORE UNCERTAIN FATES. Because I love tugging them around so ♥ please do leave a review! I'll try to respond to them as promptly as I can, but I may be leaving some off until the weekends!

Chapter 25: Bittersweet
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FINALE



25. BITTERSWEET
A raincheck for someday.



Fred slammed the door to the Transfiguration classroom just as the camera flashed and the jamb caught the tail of the pursuing woman's quill. Through the crack, a shutter whirred. He turned the lock.

"I'll settle for a quote! A reference!" The door banged twice. "Mr. Weasley!"

She was the fifth reporter since morning and the closest yet to catching him. He didn't think this Miss Galloway of the Salem Star Gazette was much of a runner in her pencil skirt and heels but boy, could she hustle. And her runty photographer, wearing his weight's worth in equipment as a turtle shell, hobbled valiantly behind her.

Teddy was at his desk, hidden by an opened issue of the Daily Prophet decorated in a bold and black headline: "FALL OF THE MALFOY EMPIRE?" The top half of the paper dropped down, and Teddy greeted Fred with a curt smile.

"I see the foreign press has arrived."

"They've been arriving." Fred wiped his forehead and stepped from the door, which was possessed with more rattling, followed with mutters of, 'What kind locks do they use here—no, I won't give up, Grizzald won't accept the story without—Mr. Fred Weasley! Open up!'

The kidnappings had hit—nay, exploded across international newsstands hours after the Prophet's initial publishing and that was three days ago. Everyone in school knew that Scorpius Malfoy was a Very Important Person, but Fred was thinking that his title was short about five Verys. It never truly sunk in that the bloke who went around wearing tangerine-colored blazers was the sole heir, soon-to-be-head of a multi-million galleon company. Earlier, when Roxanne delivered lunch from Mum, Fred overheard her chatting with Lily, "He controls like, five percent of the economy now, or something ridiculous like that. Could bankrupt Britain with a sneeze."

The questions had come pouring, as Fred had gained some notice himself, being a member of the ragtag rescue mission. There's a rumor going around that Anjali's involved with the murder—but that's bollocks. Right? Did you really duel both wizards singlehandedly? Weren't you afraid? Curious eyes would surround him at lunch; it was the largest audience he ever had for eating a sandwich. He was pretty chuffed at the attention to be honest.

Until fast-walking tabloid writers like Miss Galloway came looking for exposés. When the door's rattling stopped, Fred asked Teddy, "Is there another way out of here? I don't think she's actually gone." He swore he heard a Silencio outside.

"There's a side entrance in there if you move some boxes." Teddy pointed toward the storage room. "Where are you headed?"

"Hospital wing."

"Ah, are they awake?" There was the sound of a drawer's scrape and Teddy extended an card-sized envelope to Fred as he jogged up to the front of the classroom.

"Yeah—er, Albus says Bea is." Fred eyed the ornate seal before taking it. The paper smelled of sweetbriar.

"For Victoire." Teddy's mouth twitched. "Pass it along, will you?"

"Shouldn't you give this to her yourself?"

"I generally don't want to be in the presence of people reading my poetry." He shook out the newspaper and retreated back into its tent.

Whatever professorial authority Teddy built up never lasted long, not just due to the large number of students who were near-family, but also because he could never resist turning them into his personal cleaning and courier service. "Amends for the lack of tenure," he liked to say. Fred tucked the envelope into his pocket.

He snuck out of the side entrance, found behind a tower of Professor Longbottom's excess flower pots. The squeaky hinges wound up tipping off Miss Galloway anyway, and he was back to a mad dash until reaching the hospital wing.

"Can you—Mr. Weasley, can you tell me something about the inventor girl? Why was she taken? Mr. Fred!"

Hogwarts was better prepared for these things than him. Professor Pym had placed a temporary ward around the wing to prevent unauthorized access, and upon reaching the infirmary's double doors, Fred turned around to see Miss Galloway's face whump into the invisible wall like a bird to a window. Her spare quill feathers fluttered to the floor, on which her photographer slipped. He subsequently crashed into an expensive heap of former camera parts.

Neither roused. Glancing around and seeing no one, Fred cleared his throat and scooted into the room.

It was quiet today, in comparison to the hullabaloo twenty-four hours ago when Bea and Scorpius were scooped from the Black Lake. Madam Pomfrey finally managed to shoo out the Aurors, and the families had gone home. Fred first passed off Teddy's envelope to Victoire, who was draining bedpans. She pinched his cheek in thanks as he stood cringing and he spent the walk to the two occupied beds scouring the skin against his shoulder.

He'd been holding his breath since he came in, even though Albus had already seen them and said they were recovering fine. He could only remember the moment, eyes cracked open from four cups of caffeine, when Flitwick's tracking spells had gone haywire and the Slytherin Quidditch team—practicing at the time—ran into the hall, shouting that a boy and a girl popped into the sky and fell into the water. He had held his breath then, even though they had to be alive. Tracking spells didn't work on the dead.

It'd always been Bea with the attitude that if she wanted something enough, worked for it enough, it would come true eventually, even though it never turned out that way. But it was a nice thought, which was better than something not-so-nice, like dwelling on the ooze in their hair when they were dragged from the water and wondering whether it was slime or blood.

"Mostly slime," an Auror would tell him later.

They were absolutely-most-definitely alive. And recovering fine, Fred reminded himself. He could see the rise and fall of their chests, too slow to rustle the sheets. Sitting by Bea's bedside, Fred waited for a sound and heard a thin wheeze from her nose, a far cry from the whale calls she blared in the times he found her slumped over her work. The sugar-beast tamed.

Bea stirred and her eyes fluttered to him, lashes stuck together.

"Hey," he said, smiling.

She squinted—slowly, like it was an effort. She often had this look during early breakfasts, but the silence lasted a beat too long and Fred found himself holding his breath again.

Her voice was raspy. "Who... are you?"

Fred choked on his own spit. "Bea, i-it's me—"

Panicked, he forgot his own name. He clenched his fist over his mouth, running through what he knew of amnesia, and managed to sputter, "It's Zuh—Ge—Fred," just as Victoire sailed by with a bundle of linen.

"Oh Freddie dear, I gave her some night potion. She's bat-blind right now." The healer-in-training swat Fred off the bed and folded down Bea's blanket, rolling it up with an efficiency to rival Pomfrey's. She tucked Bea in with a fresh blanket, smoothing out the girl's curls. "It wouldn't be a problem if she were asleep, like she's supposed to be."

Pinched in her palm was Teddy's card. When she saw Fred looking at it, her eyebrows danced. "Did you peek at it? He rhymed 'suture' with 'future.' Adorable, how he tries." She laughed and then turned around to change Scorpius' sheets. Victoire was very good at the cousinly camaraderie. As James once said, she knew exactly when to mock someone for their shortcomings.

"Freddie?" Bea's head swiveled from side to side, apparently blind.

"It's me." Hearing his name was enough for relief. He crouched down, clasping her hand that search the air for him. "How's the past day been?"

Bea yawned, mouth stretched like an abyss, and smacked her lips. "Mum came. You just missed her. And... they fed me some awful syrup." Each word was accompanied by a long drawn breath. "I don't suggest you... ever get kidnapped. It's... not really fun."

How blithely she talked about kidnappings and near-death. It lightened his heart, even though the bit aware of their mortality recoiled at the same thought. Fred had seen her grow somber from one failure to the next, and while he had a liking for practical cynics, the truth of it was that some people never recovered and only got sadder.

Bea yawned again. "How's Scorpius?" Her blank, drooping eyes turned toward the neighboring bed, and Fred glanced over as well.

A blazer hung from the post and a shock of blond hair peeked out of the covers, the only two details telling of its occupant. There wasn't a single sound coming from Scorpius, just a trembling above the sheets where his lungs were.

"He's... sleeping. I think the potion's getting to you. You should sleep, too."

The quick change of subject missed her, if only because he was right; the night potion was quickly wearing her down. "But you've just arrived and I've slept so long and I'm not... tired..."

Bea began snoring. Fred slipped his hand from under her fingers. Before leaving, he lingered in-between the beds. Two tragedies avoided for now.

There was a person outside when Fred opened the double doors. Technically, there were three people, but two of them were still lying on the ground. The upright person—a skinny but sturdy man, no older than Teddy—looked up from the bodies and walked over to him.

"Are you Fred? Harvey Fairgrieve." The man shook his hand vigorously. "Assistin' Auror." A badge glinted from his jacket.

"Um, they ran into ward spell. It wasn't me—"

"Nah, no, don't worry about—" Harvey shook a thumb at the sprawled, unconscious Miss Galloway. Her photographer was being swept to the side by a House Elf dusting portraits. "We get a lot of those. Nah, I wanted to extend a personal thank you from me an' Auror Auburn. He's finishing the report for the case. Got every detail of your efforts in there, don't worry. Heard you faced both blokes on your own."

Fred recognized him now. Harvey had been in the room, far in the back taking notes, when they were questioning him and Anjali. "Ah, right." He rubbed his neck, sheepish when he realized what the Auror had said. "No need for thanks. It was mostly running."

"Ran out of a shattering vanishing cabinet. Bludgers of lead there, lad. Have you considered doing this full time?"

There was a glint in Harvey's eye and Fred wondered if there was some joke he wasn't a part of. "Eh?"

"You can't mean you never thought of being an Auror?"

"An Auro—me?" Fred snorted. "You don't—I'm not—" The idea blazed past every deterrent and a potential future flashed before his eyes. Danger! Excitement! A damn fine title! His Auror uncles used to tell the most incredible stories of traveling the world catching dark wizards, the stuff that only happened in papers, to the kind of people who appeared in papers. Aurors were fearless, cool, take-charge, and he...

He could be those things.

"We could always use more of you clever, reckless types. High turnover, you see." Harvey grinned. "You're a seventh year, aren't you? Think about it."

He clapped Fred on the shoulder, slipped a business card into his hand and went on his way, and Fred realized that he had just been recruited. Clever, indeed.

Shaking his head—though he could feel the adrenaline sloshing around his brain from the conversation—Fred put Harvey's card in his pocket and took out his watch. Half past one. Albus might still be at lunch. He'd get a kick out of this.

Flipping the gold lid open and closed, Fred ambled toward the Hall. "Auror Weasley. Auror Fred Weasley. Fred Weasley, Auror. Head Auror Fred Weasley..."






She knew how it felt to drown in air, to have her throat scalded by cauldron fumes as thick as liquid; water was sweet in comparison. It hushed her mouth after another minute's thrashing and the weight carried her down into the depths as gentle as a bed. The surface lights dimmed, winking out like stars.

He was there, only by the fingertips. The words squeezed into her palm flared awake—don't let go!


Bea forgot the rest in the blinks between then and now. Bare ceilings had a way of dulling senses; it was making her restless. The infirmary ought to have a magazine rack or at least windows that didn't fog up so easily. She couldn't even walk around. The Skele-Gro wouldn't set for another twelve hours and under Pomfrey's watchful eye, she was to stay in bed and not scratch her leg.

Scorpius wasn't awake yet, either. Victoire had told her multiple times (Bea had asked multiple times) that he was going to be all right, that he had a nasty but recoverable splinch and he was in a deep sleep for his own good, but Bea would believe it when he sat up. Nurses had a crafty niceness that you had to look out for; they had needles and probes up their sleeves, and they knew exactly how to coax you into taking anything, never mind that black goop of an elixir was moving.

Late in the afternoon, Albus brought her readings and homework, sporting a bright turquoise right eyebrow from some accident with mandrake juice, having commandeered his own cauldron for Potions. Lucy arrived soon after, wheeling in Maple the bonsai.

"Maple's a he now," said Lucy, patting the leaves. She was leaving it—him—on the nightstand for company. "He turned into a boy last week. Plants do that sometimes."

She also brought the last few issues of the Daily Prophet and a few witches' magazines. Fred had warned Bea that she was pretty famous now, and she didn't believe it until she saw the crowd gathered outside the infirmary. The cameras frantically clicked when the doors opened, snapping shots of her gawking face, soon to grace covers nationwide.

Reading the articles made her huffy. A Witching Hour blurb bore the title 'Bee Chang Making a Buzz,' and characterized her based off the observations of a fifth-year she never even talked to. Yes, it was true that she was "rather odd and made the sofas sooty," but it was in the pursuit of magical advancement! Bah, what did the papers know, when they couldn't even spell her name right?

Scorpius was the only reason that any of this was making the front page. No surprise, they only cared about her because of him, and about him because of his father, and his father for his company. The opening paragraph would begin with the terrible tragedies and then everything devolved into a circling debate over the fate of Malfoy & Co. Investors were fleeing by the droves. They were saying that seventeen was too young to be taking over. It was too soon, too sudden after Draco. Scorpius wasn't even out of school.

Scorpius wasn't even conscious! she wanted to shout. People ought to get their priorities in order.

Yet with the hubbub, not many had come for him by the time visiting hours were over. There was Norman and Xavier and her friends, she supposed, but where was his family? His mum? Her own mum had flooed in thrice, toting portable cauldrons of Grandma's all-healing herbal broth. Bea had been, for the lack of a better term, drowning in the recent attention.

She went to sleep worrying over everything she read; that was all there was to do in the infirmary: sleep and worry. The next morning, after Pomfrey checked her leg and gave her the okay, Bea shoved her papers together and tiptoed across the icy floor, wobbling on her new bone, and continued reading by Scorpius' bedside. Whenever it got too quiet, she laid a hand on his chest and waited for a heartbeat, and it would knock on her fingers, as if in greeting. He wouldn't dare die again. If he died again, she'd kill him herself.

The day was much of the same until dinner. The elves brought an extra-large helping of tomato soup straight from the kitchen. Bea remembered to feed Maple half a glass of water and definitely heard him burp.

She was scraping the last portion of soup from her bowl when a loud snort sounded from her left and she saw Scorpius' eyes peel apart just above his covers. She was out of her bed with her arms flung around him before her spoon clattered on the tray, and she stayed there until he was conscious enough to realize what was going on.

"Never, ever do that again."

There was a muffled laugh, slightly pained. "Go into a coma?"

"Yes, that. Comas aren't allowed."

Bea helped him sit up. He had splinched his side and though his bandages were clean, the healing still had a ways to go on the inside. Victoire brought an extra tray of soup and bread, plus medicine. Scorpius offered Bea his biscuit but she declined; he needed one more than she did. She only took it when he insisted that he was full and even then, she stressed, "Only half," until the half turned out to be awfully good and the whole thing mysteriously disappeared into her stomach. Scorpius did a double take, and Bea found herself explaining, "I meant... half of two."

They sat shoulder-to-shoulder as Bea caught him up with past few days. She had felt the pressure keenly while reading the papers and even more so when she repeated the stories to him. He had so much to do and he was barely an hour awake.

"Did your father have advisors?" Bea swung her feet off the side of the bed. "Business partners? What about your aunts and uncles—oh, you have none on that side. Other relatives?"

Each question was met with a shaking head. "It's just me."

"Can you can do it alone?"

He moved his food tray to the bedside table, pushing over a pile of get-well cards. "I know more than you think."

"But the time and the stress. Spring's when all the work ramps up. How are you going to take classes and—"

Meeting his eyes, Bea stopped short and saw that Scorpius had long resigned on something, perhaps as far back as during their abduction. He had known, more than the papers, what was waiting for him.

"I'm leaving Hogwarts."

She didn't gape nor cry. She could hear the unspoken 'sorry' at the end of his tongue, even though he had nothing to apologize for, and she might have guessed herself that it would come to this. His father was dead. Cato and Emeric would go on trial, not just for their crimes but also investigations on the company, which was teetering enough without further burden. Turning of age was supposed to be a celebration; Scorpius was inheriting a mess.

Bea bit her lip. "When will you come back?"

He didn't look away, but he wasn't quite looking at her either. "I don't know."

It could be never, she thought. Hogwarts didn't have much for him.

They talked about anything but the future until the moon rose high. Minutes were precious and drowsy. She didn't ask what would become of them, but she had an answer in the way his hand loosely twined with hers, beside his knee.

"On the bright side, this is my chance to start fresh." Scorpius kept his voice to a whisper, now that Pomfrey had gone to sleep and they were supposed to be sleeping, too. His fingers danced above the blue scar on her palm, where she had held onto her prototype too long. "And... I meant it when I said I wanted you to be a part of this. Working with me, I mean."

Bea was leant against him, drawing shapes in the sheets. In the tiny floury kitchen when he first asked, there'd been nothing else she wanted more, but that was before. "You have enough on your shoulders without another promise," she said.

There was a pause and then he nodded, and she knew it wasn't the answer he wanted. Maybe one day, it would be their time again.

Their words dwindled to quiet. There was one clock in the infirmary which, if Bea listened for it, emitted a click whenever its watch hands lined up exactly. They met now, both pointing to twelve, and for a frame of a second, it was tomorrow before it turned into today. The breath beside her sieved from his mouth with a lightness, as if a thread unwinding for seventeen years had finally been freed from its spool; with a sigh, the Trace had been dissolved.

"Happy birthday, Scorpius."



A/N I've been squeezing out paragraphs as slowly as the last toothpaste in the tube but I GOT THIS BIT DONE NOW, and I'm immediately starting on the next chapter which has a considerable amount of mini sections done. They sort of conclude each character bit by bit. Next chapter will have a bit of Anjali and Albus. I'm pretty happy with how I've concluded Fred's end, and if any of you long time readers remember, I had the worst time writing him in the beginning, but these last few chapters, I think he's really shined c: (oh, to add to the sad: he was about to say George's name when he thought Bea had amnesia).

Aah, what else what else - you might notice the new header at the top that declares ~finale~ which I've added to the top of some chapters as a divide for the story, because I figured out Capers works better as episodes. This is also the chapter that pushes the wordcount to over 100k!

Again, massive apologies for the wait ;A; you've all been so lovely with the waiting. I really wanted to finish it in May. Please do tell me what you think so far - the ending continues next chapter! And then an epilogue!

Chapter 26: Open at the Close
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26. OPEN AT THE CLOSE
Goodbye, farewell.


The Slytherin-Hufflepuff match would have been eclipsed by the recent excitement, had it not been for Hufflepuff's replacement Seeker.

During the press rush over the Malfoys, a photographer for the Prophet had snapped a few candids of a certain gangly boy flying with a Snitch. It took a few seconds for the casual purveyor to notice anything odd, and then they would realize that Snitches were generally not purposed for flying toward Seekers.

Albus knocked James out of the sports column and became Hogwarts' first star player since his father to garner such interest without ever playing. He kept mum about it though, only showing the trick to his team and a few in the common room to rouse up good faith. Hufflepuffs were the best cheerers and spread-the-worders, and on the morning of the match, when he emerged from the lockers during the warm-up, all of his housemates stomped their feet and whooped in unison.

The booths had filled quickly; dozens were camped out on the best seats, saving extra spots with scarves and mittens. Younger students ran laughing through the frost with enchanted rocks, boasting about how they would try out next year.

Albus hopped on his broom. He flew past the Ravenclaws and waved to Fred, Lucy, Rose, and Bea. The next booth was decked in yellow, and his house had rounded up the loudest girls to sit at the front to cheer for him—which they did, to the misfortune of others. In the neighboring booth, a black-blazered Scorpius had his hands jammed into his ears.

Eyes and nostrils wide, Scorpius muttered to Xavier, "How long was I out?"

When Albus flew up to them, Scorpius managed to reform his mouth into a grin. He looked quite a bit older since Albus last saw him, especially in a color so dour. "Well, look at you now, reserve reserve Chaser," he said.

Albus grinned back. "I'm glad you're well enough to make it."

Upon noticing him, the other Slytherins in the booth jeered. Scorpius cupped his hand to his mouth and beckoned Albus closer. "Hey, don't tell anyone, but I'm rooting for you. And also—I got you something." Scorpius brought out a wrapped parcel and threw it to him. "Don't open it until you go down."

Albus squished it around in his hands. "Is it a blazer?"

"Better."

It probably wasn't the deed to a theme park, but Albus held onto a faint hope. His captain rallied the team into the lockers for one last meeting and he could hardly listen for all the excitement abuzz in his ears. At last, while waiting for Creevey's introductions, he untied the parcel.

He laughed. It was a cape. A grand, gold cape fluttering as light as a Snitch, with a 'P' emblazoned in the middle.

Donning it over his uniform, he joined the rest of his team at the lineup as Creevey announced his name, with excessive lisping: introducing Albust Severith Potter! The Hufflepuff girls screeched his name and the whole booth stomped. Some even waved sparklers. Hooch gave them a funny look, and then released the two Bludgers. Albus scanned the waving dots of green and yellow. Somewhere the Snitch was already hiding. He could almost hear it hum and he pressed his lips together to respond...

Anjali and Damien were facing off over the Quaffle and Albus could swear Anjali's eyes flicked to him for a second, long enough to smirk, before returning forward. Hooch blew the whistle and flung the ball skyward. Fourteen flyers followed a whirl of robes and dust.

If one looked closely, they might've spotted a streak of gold flying into the dust.

"Anjali's got firsth posshession, passith it to Wyatt and—"

But the match was over before Creevey could finish his first sentence. The cloud cleared, revealing a boy hovering a few feet from the ground, cape fluttering, holding a little gold ball. He blew the dust from its wings, and it sneezed with a juddering whirr and nestled happily into his palm.

The Snitch had flown straight into Albus' hand.

Everyone had gone quiet and the other players stopped flying and looked down. A mid-flight Bludger hurled into one of the Chasers.

"It looksth like... Potter's got the Snitch?" There was frantic signaling between Creevey and Hooch, with the latter throwing up her hands and finally nodding. Creevey grabbed the microphone. "Aaaand Hufflepuff wins! I think!"

The stands burst out cheering. The opposing Seeker burst out in objection.

Albus beamed, holding his prize high. He wasn't sure what to do now, as everyone was looking at him and he ended the match awful quickly; he didn't even sweat enough to merit a shower. Lacking other ideas, he started to holler an acceptance speech, "I'd like to thank my dad for the new gear, and my friends, because without them—"

The rest of his team hoisted him off his broom, and he yelled the rest while being paraded around the pitch. In a roll of thunderous drumming, feet and hands rallying, the Hufflepuff girls led the crowd in their chant.

"Pot-ter-puff! Pot-ter-puff!"






She knew she'd regret allowing the last-minute switch, Anjali mused. If she hadn't spoken up for the boy, Hooch would have agreed with the other captains in preventing him from playing. But there was no rule against befriending Quidditch gear, as ludicrous as it was, and unless there was an official amendment, Albus technically wasn't doing anything wrong.

Striding out of the lockers, she took the long route around the pitch to spy at the lake, where Slytherins were setting up for their annual Swim-Off. She passed the spot marked by five knots in the supports, lined up like fingerprints, where Scorpius used to meet her before her first match of the year. He'd wish her good luck with a kiss, rekindle their romance for another tumultuous six months, until the reasons she loved him didn't turn out to be as true as she had thought. He hadn't come this year.

A few straggling spectators were hiking back to the castle when she arrived on the main path. Fred Weasley, ever predictable, stood waiting wrapped in three layers of scarf.

"You let Albus play," he said as she passed him.

"I was repaying a debt." She kept walking.

"For his servitude? I never understood—never mind." Footsteps crunched beside her and his face appeared in her peripheral. "Look, I haven't been able to talk to you at all since, you know. I gave a good word in. If it weren't for you, we could have lost more than Draco."

The courts were letting her off due to her circumstances and good-standing, provided that she give a testimony. Mum was trying to twist the publicity into something positive. The last thing she needed was another silver lining to accidental murder. "Don't sing praises, Weasley. I caused this."

"You went back for Bea and Scorpius, after you were already safe. Not many would do that."

"I said don't." Glare honed, Anjali stopped abruptly as Fred was about to overtake her. He was ready for it, watching her like an Occulmens, eyes unmoving; he'd gotten better with practice.

She'd catch him staring sometimes in this same way, fascinated and wanting like so many boys before him. But he didn't want her. He wanted her swiftness, her resolve—lusted for the confidence painted to her skin. He was jealous of her, wasn't that funny? If only he knew how jealous she was of him sometimes.

"Do you know why I brought Albus to Knockturn Alley that day? He was a back up, if the kidnappers wanted to trade. I'd have given him for Scorpius." Her lashes fluttered from Fred and settled closed. "Even I think it's cruel."

Swallowing disbelief, Fred was yet undeterred. "You wouldn't have done it. Not when it came down to it." She laughed into her collar, but he shook his head. "If you don't believe it, I will. I'm like you—I know. You'd do anything for your friends. You made a mistake, that's all."

He meant it. It was in his voice and his straight stare—the hope and faith borrowed from his beloved friends. It was the most foolish thing she had ever heard.

And sweetest, she supposed. "No wonder my best mate fancies you."

His brow furrowed and she could see him count through the possibilities. When their feet resumed its brisk pace, he let her go without protest; perhaps he had seen the smile on her face.

"Take care of them next year," he called after her. "They'll need someone."






The dorms filled with the sounds of trunk hinges and shirts folding. Stacks of clothes slid into luggage bellies for the holidays, alongside gifts and snoozing Kneazles. When packing was done, Scorpius' side of the room was left bare.

The Hogwarts Express chugged into King's Cross Station early the next morning. Bea ran down the platform to meet Scorpius before he left. His House Elf Finny was there to pick him up, looking quite dapper in his violet butler's suit. Though long ago freed, he was fond enough of his young master Malfoy to stick around, having taught him everything he knew about cooking and fashion, which explained a rather lot.

She waited, foot tapping, as Scorpius lifted the last of his trunks onto the trolley. She threw her arms around him as soon as he turned. "We're gonna miss you here. Hogwarts won't be the same."

"Less color, hmm? And less opportunities floating about. But you'll be blowing up some great things, I'm sure." He swung her up, so her toes skimmed the brick and her stomach flipped, and then she was on the ground again. "Never really thanked you for coming to save me and everything and... being there. So thanks."

"Well, that's what friends are for." She rushed through the clumsy 'friends' but only made it stick out more.

Scorpius took a deep breath, as if to say something further, but looked behind him to see his mum arriving, nose up to her brow as Finny tried to strike up a conversation. "So..."

He drew out the word and as much as Bea wanted to stall too, a gang of reporters was closing in led by that stubborn Miss Galloway in a leg splint, and it was probably best if she left before causing unnecessary gossip. Besides, Lucy had told her that her non-relationship with Scorpius was doomed anyway because "Beatrice is a granny's name and rhymes with his for Fawkes' sake" and thus would make a comical declaration of love at best.

She bit her lip and took the first step. "So I guess this is goodbye."

"That quick to get rid of me still?" Scorpius tutted, feigning heartbreak, which he was altogether too good at.

Bea braced to object but only managed to utter, "Oi—" before he caught her chin in his hand and kissed her.

Her knees nearly went in all ways, but she had the fortune of mostly falling into him. Kisses of this sort had a way of stopping time—though it probably only lasted a second or two—and she had forgotten where she was until a camera flashed in her face.

She wobbled upright, her startled eyes not quite back in their sockets. There were reporters ready to surround them and the clanging sounds of the station slowly drifted in, punctuated by Lucy's wolf-whistle as she hung out of a train window.

"Goodbye, Bea," Scorpius said, grinning.

And so they parted—an inch, a foot, glancing over their shoulders every so often, until they were lost in separate crowds. The next time they might next say, "Hello," they would be older, maybe different, Bea thought sadly. But even if it were a long while until then, there was an awful lot to do in the meantime.

Bea found her mum and sister Sasha a few signposts down. After flooing home, she levitated her trunk up the stairs to her room, dark and dusty like how she had left it. The clutter was just the same, too; she had bodily thrown herself in front of her desk to defend it from Mum's cleaning.

She unpacked her toolbox first and then dug out a small case, no bigger than a ring box, jammed between her clothes. Inside was a piece of her old Muggle-Magic converter.

The Aurors had taken the rest for evidence but she had nicked a dangling quartz shard, still wrapped in unicorn hair, when they showed it to her one last time. That strand of hair had been one of the original pieces, taken from the central storage on that first encounter with Scorpius.

She held it up to the light. What a small, stubborn thing. Her invention was a far cry from being a success, but failure wasn't the right word for it either, not when it lived through explosions and kidnappings.

It was important, Bea finally decided.

A thought sparked as the gold and crystal glinted against each other. Perhaps—perhaps there was another way to go about a Muggle-Magic converter. One that didn't handle quite so much energy, threatening to become a force of its own. Perhaps, instead of a converter, Muggle and magic could be sorted out—a detangler. Co-existing in parallel, rather than bouncing between two opposites.

The idea hummed, louder and vivider, until it was real in her mind, waiting to made. She would have to ask Fred to fetch her some black beetle eyes when she got back, but a mixed substitute might work for the time being.

She set the piece back in its case and rolled up her sleeves. Then, she opened her toolbox and went to work.





A/N It's come full circle! Only an epilogue to go! I'll save my final comments for then, but this is essentially the last chapter in the style of Capers and the last chapter set in Hogwarts, and it's sort of a goodbye for everyone. The epilogue is set five years later—the hello, if you will ;)

♥ reviews are much appreciated!

Chapter 27: Epilogue
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EPILOGUE
And capers ensue.


There was a shop on Hogsmeade's High Street with a glittering grid of windows and blue scalloped awnings, formerly owned by George Weasley and before him, Blarney Zonkos. It had been a novelty store, although less ostentatious than its Diagon counterpart, since the property doubled as a family residence.

George sold it once his youngest, Roxanne, finished Hogwarts and went to seek her fortune in London. His son had just stepped out of Auror training and wasn't likely coming back to a place as sleepy as Hogsmeade; if he played his cards right—and Weasleys were excellent at cards—Fred was heading all over the world in the International Unit. George wanted to travel, too, but with less curse dodging and more lobster buffets, so he and his wife packed their swimwear and sailed off on a multi-year cruise from Australia to Atlantis.

The new store owner was familiar to locals. She had worked at the old Wheezes for two years prior and some summers before that, and had been a student at the nearby Hogwarts school. Some recognized her from the papers, though she had been more baby-faced then. She had grown into a lovely young lady, as mothers and aunts would say, with the only oddities being the smoke clouds that sometimes bloomed from her steps and her skirt hems that were more often singed than not. But inventors were that way; a clean inventor was an unproductive one.

She tinkered with greyer and cracklier gadgets than George Weasley had. Most had Muggle origins—no Muggleborn would enter the store without pointing that out. You could see their faces alight with pride and nostalgia, picking up Candle Bulbs and Spellophones. "Much handier than sticking your head in a fire, I'll say." Each item in the shop had a cylindrical Detangler at its heart—the key, she would say, to bridging the gap between the two worlds.

After the initial hype, minding the store became a relatively quiet trade, barring the occasional explosion or five in the back-room workshop.

One day, the door jingled.

Bea was tallying shipments by the till. She didn't typically rush to look up. It might fluster the customer, when they only wanted to take a peek without fuss. If she did look up, she might have seen the man fiddle with his indigo sleeve and smooth back a strand of his sleek-combed hair. There was a muffled crinkle—the plastic around a bouquet, arriving two years late for her shop's grand opening—followed by a wet plop and a curse.

She looked up, heart in throat. Scorpius was staring at a cupcake on the floor and then at his sleeve where the offending pastry fell from.

He frowned. "That wasn't supposed to happen."

Five years ago, Bea would have been across the room faster than a pin drop, but she was older now, more prudent, and didn't fall into new fancies as easily. Scorpius was different, too; the years had worn him with lines and sags, but he bore them with pride.

But he expected to waltz in like nothing had changed? Bea set down her quill and put a hand on her hip. No, it had been five years gone, and she wouldn't let him forget it.

"You. Haven't. Written."

"Sorry, I got your post, but ah, I've been busy." Scorpius gulped, holding out the bouquet, then started backing away as she stomped toward him. "Honestly!" He pulled at his collar. "Haven't you read the papers? The new line of Muggle tech unveiled last week—"

"Of course I read the papers; how else would I know if you're dead or alive? By the letters you're not sending?"

At the rate she was advancing, Bea would steamroll right over him, but she couldn't keep up the ruse. The boyish glint in his eyes broke through her glare, which was only there so he could charm it away. It was her laugh that betrayed her at last, and the bouquet fell forgotten beside the cupcake as Scorpius scooped her up, swinging her around like they were in school again.

And for a moment, they were, and the five years that had been an eternity became but a speck in reminiscence.

Bea asked mock-scornfully if he was too busy for tea, and he looked at his pocket watch in a way that said, "Yes," but followed her to the counter anyway and pulled up a stool. He told her of his company's expansion into the Muggle market. The Manor's renovation included a new workshop in preparation, outfitted with the latest sound- and fire-proofing charms, but he was still in need of a Chief Engineer to occupy it. There was good pay available, the best baked goods house elves had to offer, and a rather handsome employer for those discerning.

She scoffed and swatted at his grin, berating him for visiting only for business. The counter was none too big, crowded with empty plates and racks of wand attachments. Their hands had run into one another more than once.

When the tea ran dry, Bea put another kettle on. Old dreams roused awake with its whistle—abandoned and unattainable wishes, seeking a second chance. They curled into the room like mist, next to the odd couple: the inventor and the former heir, as not-impossible as rocket ships and broomsticks and captured lightning.

She would consider his offer. They both knew what her answer would be, but she'd like to at least keep up the pretense of bargaining. She'd have to find someone to watch the shop. The food had better be as top notch as he made it sound. Would said handsome employer nose through all her things and pester her as she hovered at the brink of a breakthrough?

Scorpius had slid off the stool and was padding through the aisles, poking through shelves for something to juggle. He waved a hand behind him as if to say, "Whatever you'd like," as he settled on a trio of Candle Bulbs.

The pestering, she supposed, was non-negotiable.




A/N I wanted to be composed, but mostly I want to smash the keyboard—IT'S DONESKJHFAFHLA!!! 2.5 years, with uncountable bouts of late nights, edit-fests, hair-tearing and love. It's not quite a goodbye for me. I know a lot more about what happens to these characters later, and what happened in between, and I wish I could tell all the stories. I might still tell a few (I did make a banner for a short story collection and if I ever write James' novella, most Capers' characters will make a cameo). Two things I will say that I omitted from the epilogue:

- Albus decides not go into professional Quidditch (there were new rules in place, anyway, but he won the the cup for Hufflepuff twice before they were made official). He trains as a dragonkeeper instead, under his Uncle Charlie, and helps run a nursery and a Snidget sanctuary.
- Anjali goes into Auror training too, hem hem.

This is the second novel I've finished. I started it about seven months after I began writing in earnest. I knew it would be a two-year commitment at least—really boggling at the time, but I knew I could do it. But I owe it to so many people. Friends who put up with my flailing plot ideas and reviewers who keep reading after atrocious hiatuses, people who offer critique and have beta'd—I've learned so much in these hundred-thousand words. In the future, I might whinge about things I could have done better, but I wouldn't be able to write better without writing this fic in the first place anyway. It's the foundation for a lot of future writing to come.

Thank you for reading and for loving these characters as much as I do. ♥


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