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..."
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—"
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.
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.
"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."
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."
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.
"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."
"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 —
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.
"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."
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