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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."
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."
"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.
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.
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.
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