Bertie Bott liked to think that he had perfected the art of asking questions.
Out loud, he specialized in questions that got professors rambling, convinced they had a curious student on their hands when in reality the prompts were pure time-wasters. Bertie knew which questions each teacher fell for, and how to disguise them as good, thoughtful points. He posed questions that lay right on the boundary between rhetorical and answerable, thinking of out-of-this world ideas to pose at just the right moment.
Bertie was nearly as revered as the class clown, but few ever suspected he had more than a diversion bubbling beneath the surface. Not even his closest friends ever realized that his useless questions were just ways to get a few of his thoughts out in a more innocent way, and masking the depth that lay within. People thought he was a Ravenclaw because he got good grades, but any Ravenclaw can tell you that's far from the truth.
Bertie just had bigger fish to fry.
He spent the long hours of class debating internally, easily acing quizzes while asking himself questions others didn't usually bother to voice. Another common misconception of the other houses was that Ravenclaws liked class. But Bertie thought that the word “boring” should have a picture of a classroom next to to its dictionary definition. He especially liked asking himself “what if” questions while other Ravenclaws all but fell asleep next to him.
What if the world was capable of reaching higher heights, and deliberately held themselves back?
What if, even as the world decided they knew everything, the human race had figured out nothing about the spectacular universe surrounding them?
What if you lay in bed an extra second after your alarm went off? Could that split second in time drastically change the course of your day?
While Bertie cheerfully struggled with his own questions, his classmates congratulated him on making a dull class the slightest bit more interesting. Nonetheless, Bertie always felt vaguely dissatisfied. Perhaps it was because he had no solid answers to his questions, only opinions formed and wavering ideas on how to shove a few of them into physical reality. Perhaps it was because, with all the question marks bouncing around in his head, Bertie was never quite involved in the bustling world around him. If there was so much to figure out internally, when would he ever make time to decipher the millions of external questions? And those were just a select few of the billion internal ideas other individuals struggled with. At times it felt overwhelming.
It was only when Bertie bounced into a sobbing young girl clutching shattered glasses to her face that he was shaken out of this most recent deliberation.
“Myrtle?” Bertie frowned. He bent over to retrieve the dented, empty frames he'd knocked out of her hands. “What happened?”
Myrtle looked up at Bertie through eyes magnified by tears. “Nothing,” she mumbled, breaking their gaze as soon as she'd met his eyes.
Bertie searched his mind for visuals of the last few minutes spent deep in thought, and realized a cackling second year had run past him just before he knocked into Myrtle. “Was it Olive Hornby again?”
“Has the whole school heard about her?” Myrtle wailed, fresh tears sliding down her cheeks.
“I'm a Ravenclaw. It's my job to know what goes on in my own house,” Bertie replied gently. “Look,” he added, bending down so that he was level with the second year, “what if today was different? What if, today, you don't let Olive get to you?”
“What do you mean?” Myrtle sniffed.
“What if you ignore her? Just this one time? Forget anything ever happened,” Bertie said earnestly. “Pretend Olive is sick in the infirmary, far from any of your classes. You broke your glasses because I knocked into you carelessly, then fixed them.” With a wave of his wand, Bertie made the latter part of his story come true. Myrtle still stared at him blankly through swimming eyes, but Bernie was just finding his stride.
“Myrtle, this is your chance! If you say the teasing never happened, it never happened. If it didn't affect you, it didn't mean anything! D'you see?”
“Maybe,” Myrtle gulped.
“Look,” Bertie said, “Go to your next class, and don't listen to a thing anyone says. Myrtle, your glasses were never broken.” And with a wink, Bertie rose and glided off. He could feel Myrtle's gaze on his back, considering his words and trying them on for size.
But it was just a few hours later when all hell broke loose.
Bertie was too far off in his own world to respond to the rumors, but he heard enough about monsters and Olive Hornby and a friendly kid named Rubeus Hagrid to get the gist of it.
Olive Hornby was dead. Killed by a creature Hagrid had been raising in the castle, unbeknownst to anyone. The news of Hagrid came out just after Olive's climactic death.
In a flash that surely must've extended over a few days, Hagrid was expelled and Olive mourned by the whole school. Hogwarts was flustered and anxious, unsure of anything and everything. An uproar was roused when Dumbledore spoke on Hagrid's behalf and announced he would stay on as the school caretaker, but no one dared speak out against the motion. It sent Bertie's mind spinning, and once more he was plagued by questions that lasted through the rest of the school year and into his summer break.
What if Hagrid was the good guy?
What if there were still more monsters lurking around? What if they weren't all creatures?
What if the insecurity of the school in the last year was due to something far more sinister?
What if Olive had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time?
“Myrtle, do you want to come to Hogsmeade with me?”
Myrtle blushed from the roots of her hair down to the bit of neck left exposed above her scarf. “What?”
“Look, third years don't generally go on dates with fifth years. I just want to show you something.” Bertie responded quickly.
“Oh, ok,” Myrtle smiled up at him, and Bertie realized he'd never seen her with truly dry eyes before. “This is my first time going to Hogsmeade, ever,” Myrtle admitted. “I've never really felt like going before today.”
“Are you kidding?” Bertie said, shoving away thoughts of the young girl too afraid to of potential teasers to dare entering the town. It sounded terrible, but she had been better since Olive's death last year. Bertie quickly shut this thought down; it aroused too many questions. “It's so much fun! I've never missed a weekend and I still can't get enough of it. Just wait until you see Honeydukes.”
Myrtle's face lit up, and Bertie entertained her with descriptions of the sweet shop all the way into the village. “The shop is always packed with people, not to mention the sweets themselves...”
“Oh...” Myrtle's mouth dropped open as Bertie pulled open the door to Honeydukes for her, a tangle of bells jangling in a welcoming way. They were blasted with warm air as they departed the chilly, snow laden lane and tucked themselves into the shop.
“Take a good look,” Bertie instructed gently, and let Myrtle gaze longingly at the stuffed shelves. Flashy wrappers leapt at the eye, enticing aromas attacked the onlooker, and some of the packages were even moving. There was a cage for the chocolate frogs in case they tried to hop out of their wrappers and tumbled to the floor.
Myrtle stood rooted below a case packed with only different flavors of exploding bon-bons. She fingered a silvery wrapper advertising “volcanoes of orange creamsicle on the tongue!”
“Here,” Bertie said, taking a handful of the sweets from the shelf, “my treat.”
“Oh no, you don't― I have my own money―”
“My treat,” Bertie repeated gently, holding the chocolate behind his back. “Believe me, you can repay me in a minute, if you really want.” He marched up to the counter and paid a Galleon and eight Sickles for the treats, Myrtle hovering by his elbow with her eyes still glued to the products surrounding them.
“It's really something, isn't it?” Bertie said, handing Myrtle a brown paper bag with “Honeydukes” inscribed on it in flowing letters that looked remarkably like they were made of sugar crystals. “C'mon, I have something in the back I want to show you.”
“You're allowed in the back?” Myrtle asked, eyes growing even wider.
“I've been working on this project for awhile,” Bertie said, leading the way behind the counter, nodding to the saleswoman. “Once I proved myself to Duke, the owner, he let me use the back for my storage and even try out a few experiments. He has some really interesting tools, and manufactures a few products unique to Honeydukes itself right here.
“He's got a basement, almost entirely for storage,” Bertie continued, using his wand to unlock a tarnished golden lock on the door behind the counter. “And he lives above the shop. But he's got this magically enlarged room that nearly no one knows about; he tells all his employees that this door just leads back outside, and he doesn't want people breaking in. But it's a whole lot more than that.”
Bertie fished around in his cloak pocket and dug out an old brass key, larger than Myrtle's whole hand. He inserted it in a second lock and twisted, then nudged Myrtle and in a blink they had both slipped in, unnoticed by any of the customers bustling behind them.
“And he lets you in here? You must be really special,” Myrtle murmured, cloaked in darkness, then Bertie's wand glowed to life. It threw her face into sharp contrast, but while Bertie would have assumed to see a face even more exaggeratedly pinched and tired, it made Myrtle look innocent, almost carefree as she gazed around the room's revealed contents.
It was surprisingly large, with counters ringing all four walls and a spectacular number of instruments decorating them. A large golden bowl rotated continuously, a four-pronged device hovering above it slowly mixing the contents which appeared to be a sickly pink. Something that looked like a large wooden spider had sugar crystals creeping up the legs, and a spool-like thing rolled strings of purple chocolate into the belly of a puffing golden box.
“Not special, no,” Bertie said, answering the question Myrtle had probably forgotten asking, “just potential in the business.” He swept a sheet off a box in the far corner of the room, and beckoned Myrtle over.
“In here is my future,” said Bertie solemnly, “if I can figure everything out.” He pulled the magically sealed lid off the box, expelling a gust of cold, contained air smelling faintly of popcorn. The bitter wind was like knives on their faces after the sugary warmth of Honeydukes. But Myrtle just shivered and leaned over farther.
Nestled in their own individual boxes lay roughly fifty jelly beans, each a different color. The whole rainbow lay inside the box. Some of the sweets were speckled, or a variety of colors, but each was unique, and sat in its tiny box like a king. And that was just the top layer.
“My future enterprise,” Bertie said. “I've been planning it for a while now, and finally got down to producing the jelly beans over the summer. I plan to make all the possible flavors out there, good and bad. No one will be able to rival it.”
“I'm speechless,” Myrtle admitted, glancing up from Bertie's pride and joy. She knotted her fingers together and grinned weakly. “I don't know anyone who's got it all figured out, who has a dream, who's taking that first step towards it...”
“Plenty of people do,” Bertie said. “You probably just don't hear about it until they make it big.”
“By why are you showing me this?” Myrtle asked. She gestured around to the fantastic room around them, created specifically for cooking up ideas. “What did I do to deserve this?”
“Alright,” Bertie said, “fair question. I knew you'd ask sooner or later. I'll reply with another: why do you think you were teased, Myrtle? And yes, I'm using the past tense, because with Olive... gone, I've noticed it's died down considerably. Soon enough it will peter out altogether. But you were teased, see, because you cared. Sure, you have glasses and acne. So? I do too. But really, you care, Myrtle. I can see it. You care so much about the world, about growing up and doing something. You're set on being a good person, and that's something most snobby, spoiled, or otherwise uncaring kids despise. They hate you for your all around goodness, for the fact that you will so obviously succeed in life. You're a Ravenclaw, and that's already a good start.
“I'm a Ravenclaw, and I also care. But I'm quiet about it. In class, I'm cheerful and I annoy the teachers, which is what kids like to see. But inside, I ask myself. It's crazy inside my head, Myrtle, because I'm worried about the world we're going to inherit. I care too much about it to let it fall to waste. So you and me, we're essentially the same person. I see something in you that is unquestionably residing in me too. There's something in the way you take in everything around you, just in the way you stand in the corridors, that reminds me of me.
“Merlin, this is turning into a speech. I just wanted to say that I see inside you, Myrtle, maybe not all the way down but far enough below the surface that I like what I see. And I wanted to ask you to be my partner, in this business in jelly beans.”
With the spiel over abruptly, Bertie took a deep breath and stuffed his hands into his pockets. This question voiced aloud, the first true idea of his ever put to another living soul, felt like a weight lifted off his shoulders. The girl in front of him looked young, ever so young, but Bertie was observant. He'd seen her around the school for two full years, had seen her put through hell, and he'd meant every word he said. Myrtle, arms crossed, gaze stuck to her scuffed shoes, blinked slowly.
“Of course I'll be your partner,” Myrtle said suddenly, looking up. A beam of startling brilliance transformed her face into one of beauty and hope, and Bertie let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. Somehow, in all his years of asking questions, he'd forgotten that sometimes the answer can be equally as important. As I look upon my wife, I see a radiance that pulls me through the day, a beauty that is unmatched by any other person or object in the the universe. I see strength, and kindness. I see the one person that can help me pulls strings of question marks together into a completed necklace, and turn that jewelry to a better cause. She claims I saved her, but only certain questions can change the world. I'm lucky I've chosen the right ones.
A/N: Bertie Bott is truly only a few years apart in age from Myrtle, but in canon he's a few years younger. When I stumbled upon this piece of news I twisted it a little bit to make it fit in with the flash of inspiration I had. Next, I do not own this quote from HBP, page 244 of the US edition: “The bitter wind was like knives on their faces after the sugary warmth of Honeydukes.” And finally, the lyrics in the chapter summary are from the song “The Candy Man” by Sammy Davis Jr.