Chapter 11 : How Do You Solve a Problem Like Beatrice?
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11. HOW DO YOU SOLVE A PROBLEM LIKE BEATRICE?
By crushing every one of her hopes and dreams and stomping them to the ground.
Bea decided to tell Fred, Albus and Rose about the contract at once. They were all involved at this point, and it was bound to cause commotion. No need to have anyone running down the tower yelling, 'Bea's filthy rich!' before she knew if she even wanted to sign the contract.
She arranged a meeting in the common room, cleaning out a table. Approaching fourth years were promptly shooed away ("There are more important matters at hand!"), and she stopped any further attempts for her table by spreading her arms across the surface like a beached whale until the others arrived.
First came Fred, then Rose, and finally, Albus who brought along Lucy. They each took a chair or, in the case of Albus, who was still in his glaringly out-of-place Hufflepuff yellow Quidditch gear, flopped face-first down on the table.
Lucy reached over the table, patting her bruised cousin on the head. "You made the team at least!"
"As the reserve for the reserves," he mumbled into the wood.
"Yeah, well..." Lucy sat back down, turning to Bea with a sigh. "So what's this all about, then? You guys have been having fun without me, especially Rosie here—"
"I don't want to hear about it," Rose grit. Her countenance had improved a smidgen since their heist, but not much more.
It was a particular point of worry for Albus, whom Bea overheard telling Lucy to watch Rose and make sure she didn't do anything rash. Rose was bearable for the most part, but all she needed was a trigger.
Last year, it was Rose's quest to be the best Prefect ever—a quest that had arguably yet to end. After she had read the entire Hogwarts rule book, she had gone on a discipline spree and even tried to stop the annual flash mob from collaborating, citing section 12, sub-order 109. With a snooty nose in the air, she had declared, "No unchaperoned dancing in the Great Hall." Until Flitwick dashed her tour de force by zapping the rule out of the book, saying that it was "out-of-date rubbish" and ended up leading that year's flash mob with his dancing cupcake troupe.
Albus' top concern was Rose turning herself in, fearing "she'll get it confiscated," and Bea was then stricken with sudden worry for her transistor. If Ringleward knew how many of the castle's scorch marks were caused by her prototype testing, he wouldn't hesitate to lock it up in his drawer of doomed contraband.
So many frets, so few fixes. Maybe this was why Bea was giving Scorpius a chance. Desperation. The last biscuit in the tin.
She was suddenly mindful of the four pairs of staring eyes, waiting for her.
"Right, um." Bea tapped the table with force, stubbing her finger. Orator, she was not.
With her finger in her mouth, she began in earnest this time. "The gist is, Scorpius gave me another offer, but it's different now. He's not so... so..." She extracted her hand, wiggling her digits in the air. Explaining what had happened during detention sounded easier in her head. "...smarmy? I mean, he seemed nicer this time—er, that's not the right way to say it. He's not nice as much as..."
After complaining so much about Scorpius, now there was no inching past the Cerberus in the room. She'd have to admit that she had been a touch overdramatic in her negotiations with him, flinging excessive accusations just as much as he proffered his opportunities-of-a-lifetime. Bea winced just thinking about it.
Fred cleared his throat as the silence went from suspenseful to awkward. "So, what's the offer?"
"Oh! That!" She latched onto her second chance to make her big announcement. "That is very interesting. Very, very... sort of complicated, actually."
It was as uncomplicated as it could get, in truth; it was a blank parchment. But every time she looked at it, it seemed to get emptier, and her stomach churned in a nauseous buzz of hope and fear.
Scorpius certainly knew how to make a deal. She couldn't argue with that any longer. Fighting the man was nice in theory, but how could she scoff at something that was supposed to be too good to be true, and yet there it was, sitting in her hand?
"Bea, some of us have lives," Rose said, yawning. "Get to the point."
"All right, all right!" Bea thrust the parchment in full view. "It's this. It's—"
"He's giving me the choice to write my own contract. An Unbreakable contract. I can ask for anything as long as he gets the rights to the invention."
A slow second passed as a goggling gape spread to each face.
Fred took it from Bea and felt the material between his fingers. A faint scent of oak bookshelves curled toward his nose, a standard quality of such contracts. "How did you manage—? Has Malfoy gone mental?"
"Imagine all the things..." Lucy began.
Bea raised a finger. "I actually haven't decided if—"
"Private theme park," Albus breathed, de-plastering his face from the table.
"Are we forgetting the biggest issue?" Rose glanced from person to person. "We have to repay damages. The unicorn hair, the biscuits, not to mention emotional damages. If I have to go to therapy over last week's adventure, I say Malfoy pays."
"Even he isn't rich enough to pay for all the therapy you'll need," said Lucy.
Bea cleared her throat loudly. "First of all," she said, folding her hands together, "there is no theme park. And second of all, I'm going to consider this very carefully and maturely."
Lucy tapped her chin. "But you could ask for a thousand cupcakes."
"I—well." Bea's fingers drummed hungrily, and her stomach growled in agreement. "I will take that into consideration. Thank you, Lucy. But I think I know what I want." Excitement began to bubble, spreading across her smile. She had only just got the idea, but it was perfect. "I want to buy a shop in Hogsmeade."
A murmur of interest swept through the group.
"Like Uncle George!" exclaimed Albus, crawling closer to the contract. "And then we can visit you and get free swag!"
"Sounds like a plan." Fred turned to Bea, and she could see the swell of pride easing into his features. "I've been worried your inventing had no place to go after Hogwarts, but this is perfect."
"My own shop. I can decide everything, and no middleman." Bea could already see the storefront, twinkling with new gizmos. The awning said 'Name Pending' and the curtains were changing colors every few seconds—er, it was a work in progress. Good dreams took time to build.
"So, are you going to write down that he has to pay for it when you need it? I figure you could ask for a set amount of money, in case you change your mind and want something else, but real estate prices are going up. It might not be enough in a few years."
"Few years?" she blinked. "I was thinking this summer."
A hint of confusion knit Fred's brows. "I thought you meant that you'd want the shop when you're older."
But there was no point in waiting. "Uncle George started his own in his Seventh Year."
"Uncle George left Hogwarts," Rose interjected. "It's not the same."
Bea frowned at the dimming excitement. "It can’t be that hard. I have you guys."
"We can only help so much." Fred hunched forward, laying out the groundwork in front of him like one of their adventures plans. "You're going to need a shopkeeper while you're in school and make sure you have stock and materials and have your accounting in order. Once you get a shop, you can't leave it alone. It'll be your life."
"How will I know if don't try?" A whine dipped into her voice. They were thrilled about it just moments ago. "You've seen how much time I spend on my projects. I'm going to give it my all. This is what I want to do."
"You've still got your whole life ahead of you. Things change. There's no harm in waiting a few years."
Easy for Fred to say. The minute it'd come time for her to leave Hogwarts, she'd lose her subsidized room and board and have to work for every sickle she'd use, at least if she wanted to get out of her grandparent's home. Time was precious; she had to start early.
"It's practically work now, and it's been fine," she reasoned. Might as well prove to her sister Sasha that she wasn't only fooling around. "Albus? Lucy? Don't you think so? You know I've got lots of little ideas prepared."
Albus squirmed in his seat. "They do sort of have a point. It's a lot for N.E.W.T.S year."
Rose shook her head at Bea. "If you're not going to listen to us, just do what you want. That's what Lucy does, and she'll probably amount to nothing."
"We will all amount to nothing one day as the sands of time cover our tombs and we are forgotten in chaos of history," Lucy declared, unfazed.
Rose rolled her eyes. "How deep."
"Thank you. I stole it from a fortune cookie."
"But I want your opinions." Bea picked up the parchment, clutching it tight. Perhaps she shouldn't have been pushing the idea so much but she couldn't backtrack now without seeming unsure of herself. "What if I wait until after seventh year?"
"It's still very soon." Fred adjusted his seat to address Bea more directly. "Don't you want to explore your options? I'm applying for shadow positions in the Ministry, but also an apprenticeship in France. I don't think I'll get it, but you never know. I'm sure you could get hired for a lot of Charms work."
"Running a shop takes more than making the products for it." He was talking just fast enough so that Bea couldn't get another word in. "I think it's a great idea for when you're more experienced. I'm sure my dad would let you help him if you've got no place to go."
"You have to have enough money to upkeep it, too." Fred shot her a flinty look as she pouted. It was a battle of persistence. "Unless you want to ask for extra money in the contract, but that's quite a lot. I don't know how valuable your prototype is to him, but you'd be pushing it."
When she was certain that Fred had finished, she opened her mouth to speak. A lengthy sigh from Rose drowned her out.
"Give it up, Fred. She's not going to listen."
Bea redirected her retort to the cross-armed redhead. "I will, but—"
"No, you won't, because you've obviously already made your decision. You want your shop and that’s it. I don't think you ever listen to us except when we agree with you." Rose's head bobbed in a flounce. "There, I said it."
"But I do!"
Rose harrumphed. "I’ve been meaning to say this. I know I offered to help you on your little adventures, but I'm having second thoughts. You only ever care if we help you or not, and Rose Weasley will not be used like a tissue!"
A thick fog of awkwardness settled over their corner of the common room. "But, but," Bea squeaked.
Bea had awoken the dragon—or perhaps the Gorgon, considering how Rose's glare had now petrified her in place—and she wasn't quite sure why. She was being difficult, but surely it didn't merit this. "I just figured this is a lot more important for me than for you, so you don't understand how much I really want a place of my own. To sell my inventions myself."
Her fingers dug through her hair, trying to find the right explanation. Bea Chang was never known for responsibility, but that was exactly what she needed. She wanted to see her inventions through every step of the way, and if she made a mistake while creating or selling it, it would be her fault. Even if she couldn't make her inventions the biggest things in the world by herself, at least she didn't owe anyone afterwards.
Albus and Lucy were trying to placate Rose. Lucy rested a hand on Rose's arm. "You know how you can be overdramatic sometimes? This, my dear, this is being overdramatic. Can't you see the dreams being crushed all over that sad little face over there? Look at what you did." She reached up and pinched Bea's cheeks.
"Oh, shush." Rose jerked away. "I can't possibly be the only one who feels this way. Bea, you're very... very cute, but you can't lark about your whole life and expect us to help you all the time. You're always asking for so much!"
The spotlight wheeled to Bea again, garishly harsh. This was eerily reminiscent of her argument with Fred, but instead of a surge of indigence, she wanted nothing more than to retreat into a coil of blankets.
Rose was right, wasn't she? At least a little bit.
Meanwhile, Lucy was still attempting to undermine Rose. "All in favor of ignoring Rose?" She raised her hand, and thumping the table for support. "Come on, democracy doesn't work if the people don't speak up."
Rose paid no heed. "Fred, you know what I'm talking about, don't you? She's always taking advantage of your time."
"Er—" Fred was caught between the crazy-eyed prefect and crazy-haired inventor. Bea's obvious panic garnered some sympathy from him. He explained gently, "I think what Rose means is that we want a little more gratitude sometimes."
"But I have lots of gratitude!" Bea burst out. "Lots!"
The fourth years she had shooed away earlier stared at her from the sofa. One declared shrilly, "If I get a bad mark on this exam, a pox on your house!" to which, another responded, "She's in our house."
Bea crouched closer to the desk, avoiding eyes. Perhaps prime study hours weren't the best time for this conversation. "Ahem, as I was saying, I have lots of gratitude. Are you saying I don't?"
This time, everyone paused and exchanged glances, holding their breath in as if they didn't want to say anything. Albus was actually holding his breath and appeared increasingly uncomfortable as the silence dragged on.
Rose was the first to speak. "Well, sometimes—"
Then the floodgates opened.
"I have a life outside of Wheezes."
"Verona and I always have to clean up the soot you leave behind."
"You didn't even consider the theme park idea."
"Sometimes, I prefer not feeling like a maelstrom will erupt whenever you're around."
"Sharing dessert doesn't mean you get to lick all the icing off."
"I can't keep making excuses for the smoke coming from our tower. How many balcony barbecues can we have in a year?"
The clamor grew and grew and Bea turned beet red. She wanted to stomp her foot and cry foul at all the things they had done. As if Lucy were a saint. Fred never took the time to understand. Albus was clingy, and Rose had every screw loose. But she couldn't get a word in, and the pang in her heart sank lower.
Her lower lip began to wobble. Unfamiliar with the guilt sitting at the pit of her chest, she was shutting down. If she were a pilot, there would be 'Mayday! Mayday!' screaming through her pupils with extra exclamation points. In a matter of seconds, her thoughts had gone from 'They might have a point' to 'I know I'm a terrible friend but can't we just ignore that detail?' to 'Beatrice Chang, you nearly got all of your friends killed—or worse, expelled—without so much of a cupcake in their honor. It's a wonder they put up with you.'
Rose was right. Fred was right. They all were right.
"I'd like more appreciation for our patience," Rose rattled off, now counting on her eighth finger, "and then there's that puppy-eyed, I'm-about-to-cry-if-I-don't-get-what-I-want—"
"Rose!" Fred hissed and Rose shut her mouth with a sheepish peep when she looked up.
As hard as Bea tried to keep it in, her eyes had become unmistakably dotted with real tears.
The flurry of worry spread to Albus and Lucy—especially Lucy, who leapt from her chair to squish Bea's cheeks together. "Oh no, look at what we've done. She's in shock! The conversation's gotten too serious, hasn't it? Bea, think of puppies! I'll go get the emergency biscuits!"
Lucy rushed off to the stairs before Bea could stop her. Rose's temper had done a complete one-eighty as she attempted her own consolation.
"There, there, we know you don't mean it," said Rose, patting Bea's shoulder awkwardly.
Little did they know, their words had done their deed and the saccharine sympathy Bea once would have gladly welcomed now tasted as bitter as cough syrup. She didn't deserve this! They were right! A girl like her with a goat Patronus needed the truth as bluntly as possible to get through her thick skull. She couldn't let herself be coddled.
But as she glanced around at Fred, Albus, and Rose, their faces filled with overwhelming concern, she could only nod weakly.
They were trying so hard to push past it. Albus was even attempting a joke, and he almost never told jokes, as he forgot the punchlines. This time was no exception. Fred laughed anyway, flashing a hopeful smile in her direction, and that nearly did make her cry.
She had such wonderful friends.
Bea swallowed up her regret as best as she could. She had brought them there so that she could finally prove she was growing up. There were very few instances where she was truly proud of herself—the kind of pride that permeated through every vein in her body. When she got the contract all on her own, she was proud. Scorpius had taken her seriously and everything. But how could she have expected that of him when she couldn't even manage an honest conversation without throwing a tantrum?
Lucy returned with three different kinds of biscuits and the topic changed to Quidditch. Aside from the occasional concerned glance, the entire preceding conversation seemed to vanish into thin air.
Bea nibbled at her custard cream, giving her best effort at a smile whenever someone looked her way. The crumbs tasted stale and salty.
Bea knew she had it right the first time: business was bad news.
From the brainstorming session gone awry to the doubts about her future, the contract had thrown her problems in the air like confetti but without the fun.
With her friends' accusations fresh on her mind, the last thing she needed was to continue proving them right. Every little act went on her radar. She worked outside the dorm, double-checked her trail of soot, and even stopped pestering for biscuit runs.
But the little inconveniences didn't compare to the worst of all feelings born from the contract: hope.
Aspirations were fine as long as she kept a pocket of pessimism rooted in her bones. Anything is possible, but it's all right if it's not. Her dreams were too far-fetched to seriously consider: becoming a world-famous inventor, living in a big workshop with no neighbors to complain about smoke, for her family to stop nagging. Brief fancies.
Slowly, the details were filling in. She could see her invention stacked in bright tin boxes at Wizard accessory stores across the major thoroughfares. One of those stores would be her own, stocked to the ceiling with her creations. She'd make more money than her sister, and Mum would be proud, but mostly the former.
The more she thought about it, the more she wanted it. It was the perfect set-up for disappointment.
In her heart of hearts, she knew she probably couldn't manage a shop, but she couldn't see herself elsewhere either. Flitwick liked to say there was plenty of time for upper years to explore post-Hogwarts options, but October was turning bronze and another year threatened to go by too soon. Why did it feel like just the opposite?
It must have been a slow news week for The Daily Prophet if James made the front page.
As Fred stirred his cereal, he smiled at the tiny photo of his cousin at front of the Quidditch Cup pitch. Barely a rookie and already attracting half of Britain's cameras. It wasn't particularly novel; someone from Dad's side of the family ended up in column one at least once a week. His cousins could sit in an empty room and something newsworthy would still occur.
He flipped the page to the editorial section. Albus passed by and gave a chipper wave and smile. Something about Hufflepuffs made them impervious to the effects of morning grogginess.
On the other hand, there was Bea, who trudged into the hall at half-past, looking like she had stumbled out of a lobotomy. She clambered into a seat across from him and collapsed wherever there was space, knocking over a salt shaker and napkin holder. She seemed so peaceful as she laid there, her elbow on a waffle. Fred prodded her arm.
Three seconds later, she twitched and swung her head up. A swath of jam warpaint was smeared on her cheek. "Morning, Freddie. I didn't see you there."
He held in his chuckle. "Long night?"
She nodded—or at least, her chin slumped all the way down to the table. "Yeah. Kept having to move classrooms. They just don't stock 'em like they used to."
"You were out?" He didn't recall her mentioning anything about another caper.
Her chin scraped against the wood to indicate another affirmation. "Just working on the prototype. Verona was asleep, so I moved camp to the Charms corridor. Got a lot done." She beamed with pride, wobbling to the left as if the sheer effort to keep her head upright was too much for her. "Sunrises are really pretty, did you know that? Better than in movies."
"I'm sure they are." Fred reached over to move the cutlery away from either side of her and she landed cheek-side down. "Well, if you needed help, you could've asked me. Or company, even."
She flapped a hand. "It's all right. You're busy, aren't you?"
"Not really. Assessments finished. Transfiguration exam got extended." Besides, those things never stopped her before.
"No, no, it's no big deal. I should get used to it 'cause I won't always have a Freddie—"
A mammoth yawn barged in mid-sentence. Fred glanced at his pocket watch and ate another spoonful of cereal while he waited for her to recover.
Smacking her lips, Bea regained a shade of consciousness, doubly renewed at the discovery of the leftover waffle smashed on her arm. When Fred looked up, he found her attempting advanced yoga to get her tongue and elbow to meet.
"You know," she said as she struggled, "sometimes I think humans are supposed to be nocturnal and my body is just trying to go back to its natural state. Why else is it so hard to wake up in the morning—why is my elbow so far away?"
She only gave up when Fred pushed the dented stack of waffles in front of her. Knife and fork wielded to dig in, she suddenly stopped and turned around, nose pointed in the air. "Actually, is Scorpius at the Slytherin table right now? I told him I'd give him my answer today."
"For the contract?"
"Yeah, I—" Her voice quieted sheepishly. "I'm going to ask for the shop. And all that can't-steal-my-prototype stuff, of course, but yeah... a shop." She couldn't quite meet his eyes, shifting between a glance over her shoulder and staring at her food.
It reminded Fred of how strangely she had been acting all week, her solo expedition included. The contract had clearly been weighing on her mind, even though she hadn't brought it up since she first mentioned it.
"Bea, it's all right if you want a shop." Fred waited for her to glance up. "I know I was against it, but when it comes down to it, I think you should do what's best. It's your decision and your invention."
"But you think I can't do it," she muttered, more resigned than hostile.
"I think if you really wanted it, you could run a great shop. I just tell you these things to make sure that you're making decisions you won't regret. Make sure you've thought things through."
She smiled a little. "You have to put up with this all the time, don't you?"
"James was worse." Fred ruffled her hair, flicking off the flecks of jam. "And sometimes I forget that you're not James and you'll take some things harder than I realize."
She stuck out her tongue. "I am not a delicate flower," she said and then sighed. "Bother, you're probably right. You're always right."
"I'm not fishing for validation."
"Freddie is always right," Bea sang, spearing a waffle segment. After her second bite, she leaned forward, never mind that there was no one sitting nearby. "Honestly, between you and me, I—" She was inching into the conversation as if she didn't know whether she wanted to desperately avoid the topic or talk about it. "I might be having second thoughts about the idea. I just... don't know what else I'd want."
"Why not just ask for money and figure out where to use it later?"
"Because..." Her nose wrinkled. "My mum or grandma would probably tell me to save it up for something useful. If I already have a shop, I can still sell back the lease, but it'll be easier to convince them to let me keep it."
"You've been thinking about this a lot."
"Yeah..." She leaned into her hand, the comfort of her palm lulling her back to sleep.
Fred flattened the creases on the newspaper he had abandoned since Bea's arrival. "You know, I don't say it enough, but when it comes down to it, whatever you choose, you should be proud of yourself. It's a big deal."
His offhand comment had her practically glowing. "Aw, Freddie." She ducked under the table.
"Bea, what are you—?"
It was a statement deserving of a hug, and in her half-lucid state, must-give-Fred-hug became her singular goal. A few thunderous thumps later, Bea emerged from the underside. She dusted herself off and promptly wrapped her arms around his middle, crushing her cheek against his arm. "Thanks."
He smiled. "No problem."
Her warmth began baking his side. Fred cleared his throat.
"I am most definitely not using you as a pillow," came the muffled reply.
It was nearly ten o' clock and time for class. Fred stood up and ruffled her hair once more. "You'll figure it out."
He took his books and folded up his copy of The Daily Prophet. A headline caught his eye at the last second. He frowned.
Love or Merger? Speculations on —
"Freddie? Something wrong?"
He crumpled the paper on reflex as his head shot up. "Er—no. Just going to be late if I don't hurry up."
Bea waved goodbye as Fred turned away. He tucked the scrunched wad into his textbook. He couldn't have possibly read the next words correctly.
The Engagement of Scorpius Hyperion Malfoy and Anjali Patil-Davies.
Title adapted from the song 'How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?' from the Rogders & Hammerstein musical, The Sound of Music.
'you nearly got all of your friends killed—or worse, expelled' line adapted from the Sorcerer's Stone movie
A/N SO. SO. How about that? Hehehe.
Also, eee, Capers won a Best Quote Dobby! asdf, every time I see the little box on my story page, I flail like a jellyfish at a disco. Thank you so much again, all of the nominators and voters and all my readers for sticking by! :)
Coming up: Poker night, a visit to Hogsmeade, and not everything is as it seems...
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