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