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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."
"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."
"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."
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