16. DREAMS DON'T COME EASY, DARLING
The best broom flying lessons were the impromptu ones.
As the bright flash cleared from her teary eyes, Bea could barely make out the Quidditch flags amid the blurs. The specks of players were markedly missing from the sky, and she realized that they had the fortune of escaping out the back of the pitch. The crowd, preoccupied with another spectacle, had yet to notice them.
Speckled with static, Creevey's voice bellowed out, "A flight of the Bludgers — ladies and gents, I've never seen anything like it!
His announcements were further this time and still without mention of either her or Scorpius — nor their missing third partner-in-crime, for that matter. Somehow, someway, they were in the clear.
Now they just had to land. Scorpius was attempting to steer or slow them down or something
, but the broom was gaining speed and whether he was making any difference was, well, up in the air
"Stop this thing!" Bea hissed.
The next bump resulted in an up-close and personal encounter between her face and Scorpius' shoulder blade. She clamped a hand over her throbbing nose. "Try harder!"
They swooped toward the forest, and she wasn't sure if it was by choice. A tiny cream dot in the grass caught her eye. "Ooh, did someone drop a biscuit — ?"
Her sudden shift in weight jerked the broom to the side and the head dipped toward their vertigo doom. Scorpius righted them not a moment too soon.
"Really, nutcase?" he sputtered, throwing her a glare as she sniffed sheepishly.
"Sorry, it's lunch time."
"How did you see that? It's not even shiny!
As she was about to retort, she became acutely aware of how dizzying forty feet could be, especially on such a wobbly piece of wood. Her single-handed grip on Scorpius' blazer turned vice-like.
"Merlin's beard, we're really high up," Bea squeaked, following with a high-pitched wail as she lost all coherency. Too numb to grab on with her other hand, she was ill-prepared for a second lurch that sent both of them hurtling forward.
"Hold on — " Scorpius' yell stopped short as all four of her limbs latched on like a Kneazle to a post. "Nevermindletgoletgo!
" he sputtered, grasping at the arm choking his neck.
The broom refused to angle upwards, and the height she had been so concerned about was rapidly plummeting. Glancing over the top of the blond's head, she spied the fast-incoming thatch of Hagrid's hut. "Watch out!
At the second of impact, Scorpius rammed his foot down and they skidded across the flat of the roof, catching enough straw in their trouser legs to make a scarecrow. The edge of the hut arrived too quickly to re-maneuver and he pushed off what little footing he had. The broom swooped another puttering length downwards, staying afloat just long enough to sail them over the fence posts.
The flimsy wood fell away and Bea could scarcely get her bearings before she landed cheek-first. Tumbling twice over, her fingers scraped soil deep into the beds of her nails, until she rolled to a halt on the flat of her back.
What followed was pure, paralyzed quiet.
Cracking open a dirt-crusted lid, Bea stared up at the stationary sky, not a single ache or breath left in her body. The blue was almost too crisp and incomprehensibly tall to be real; how could they have fallen from there? Perhaps she was dead and this was heaven.
No, there would be togas, she reasoned, and the mud would be made of chocolate.
She heard Scorpius groan somewhere. Everything seemed so distant. The pain came swiftly marching back as soon as she tried to lift an arm, protesting until she let it drop.
She licked the corners of her mouth, tasting earth and blood. "Scorpius?" Bea croaked. Already, she couldn't remember which direction the sound had come from.
The inhale that rasped from her left was so sharp, it almost made her wince herself. "Yeah?"
"Can we just... lay here and appreciate the fragility of life?"
"...I'm okay with that."
As momentous as this day had been — and it was barely a third of the way through — it was but a blip in the greater world. Ruffled birds resumed chirping and a whole audience was cheering somewhere, unaware of their escapade.
It was too unreal.
"So why'd you do it?" Bea let the question slide off her tongue. How had she become his impossible choice?
Scorpius' breathing turned halting like a laugh. "You must think I love Anjali. And I do. But..." He paused here and when he spoke again, he was much softer. "We want different things. She's — she's boxed in by her family; it's not her fault. But I thought she'd understand." Bea wondered if he was just talking to himself at this point. "She's right, I had to choose. But I wish — I wish — "
He trailed off, clearing his throat as if he only just realized he had hardly answered her question. "I discovered today that no one believes in me. Not my father. Not Anjali. But you know what's funny? You do."
A chill crept up her arms and neck like the damp seeping into her collar. Was that all it took? She knew how it felt to be standing up alone — her friends' disheartening intervention came to mind — but they supported her in the end anyway or at least tried, even when she didn't deserve their encouragement.
They certainly never barged into Hooch's office and tried to petrify her.
When Bea lolled her head to the side, she found Scorpius already looking back. "You believed in me first," she said.
"Our world needs more risk-takers and I know determination when I see it." He spoke so plainly but she could sense an admiration, a hopeful thread unraveling from his tongue. It felt so natural like it always been there, invisible to her and perhaps even to him.
The side of his mouth quirked up. "It was just something I had to do."
Somewhere in the grey of his eyes, Bea could see her dream shop's awnings once again, crisp and blue like the boundless sky.
Then the squelch of a puddle spun her back to reality. A massive trail of vandalism still lay in their wake. Oh Merlin, how were they were going to explain themselves this time?
Bea grasped her speck of hope like a treasure and lifted her head toward the sound. A set of ownerless footprints plodded toward them, one squeaky impression in the mud at a time.
She released her breath in a laugh and heard Scorpius utter, "Thank the Bloody Baron.
The footsteps stopped a few meters away. Albus pulled his cloak off, beaming ear to ear as he held up a Bludger.
"Blimey, never seen anything like it," a boy near Fred whispered.
Thirty holes pitted the lawn from the pitch to the forest and skid marks scratched up everything in between. Creevey hadn't been kidding about those Bludgers mid-game. Fred recalled seeing something resembling a flock of crows, but mostly he remembered a single Bludger — the one he bat into Harris Lipwitz while he and everyone else were distracted.
A handful of students had gathered around, awaiting an explanation for the incident, but the professors couldn't make sense of it either. Hooch had reported a break-in and Hagrid was now trudging back from his hut.
"Tore up my roof, they did," the giant muttered, scratching his head. "Blighters went far. Musta flew off into the forest."
Fred heard the scuffing of approaching shoes from his right. "Crazy, huh?" Albus' voice floated in. "Congrats on the win by the way."
Fred raised a brow when he spotted his cousin, who sported a freshly washed mop of hair atop his head. "Thanks, uh, did you just come from the showers?"
Panic froze Albus' eyes before disappearing under a blink. "No." The water continued to drip as he rocked back and forth on his trainers, and he had an awfully suspicious air about him, but Fred didn't have time to consider it before Anjali's entrance to the crime scene stole his notice.
She made her way through to the front of the crowd, knee-length skirt swishing, and already Fred's traitorous heart sped up by a beat.
But the gulp he heard was not his.
Instead it came from Albus who, when Fred glanced over, was overcome with an attack of fidgets.
. "Blooming hell, not you too," Fred breathed.
Albus' wide eyes circled to his. "What?"
"Anjali's ensnared you. With her devil's snare trap... thing." Fred motioned with wiggling fingers, not entirely sure what they were supposed to represent. Perhaps they were the ropes that noosed around Albus' poor Hufflepuff heart, dragging him into the hot tub of dastardly Slytherin seduction; rumor had it, the snakes had a jacuzzi in their common room where they plotted world domination. It would explain the wet hair.
Albus blinked slowly. "Fred, you're projecting."
His fingers froze somewhere between a rock concert sign and an obscene gesture. "I am not."
Groaning, Fred dropped his hands. Who was he kidding? He was so bloody restless these days, it was no wonder that he spent his time chasing some mysterious girl.
Quidditch had been a mild reprieve to his madness, but what he needed was a good, solid hobby. He never had anything like Bea's inventing or even Lucy's rotating obsessions (this week's involved polka and custard pie and Fred hadn't inquired further).
His mate Samuel suggested joining the Dueling Club, but frankly it was a joke ever since Harrison took over and turned it into a 413-page-rulebook borefest. Whoever replaced all their wands with trick wands was Fred's idol. He could never forget the image of old Harrison's face when he cast 'Stupe — SQUAWK
' and the rubber chicken started pecking at his head.
At the moment, Anjali was chatting with the girl next to her, also a Slytherin, and she was pointing at the few Bludgers embedded in the ground and then to the professors. Her long mane of hair twisted as she turned around, and Fred quickly lowered his gaze before she could catch him staring.
Albus had little appreciation for subtlety, however. "Staring again?" he said. "You ought to be her friend. It'd make your stalking less weird."
Fred couldn't hold in his snort soon enough, but Albus remained solemn. "Everyone needs a friend, Fred. Even Bludgers." Bludgers?
Fred shook his head and then lowered his voice. A few teammates were nearby and Verona wouldn't let him hear the end of it knowing how much she despised the Slytherin Captain. "Look, I don't feel that way about Anjali. I just want to know what's going on with her. Not because of her but because I need to know." He liked knowing things. And challenges. And legs. Damned legs.
Albus shrugged, making way for a group heading back to the castle. "Those aren't mutually exclusive," he said. "It's a shame that caring isn't cool anymore. That we can't approach someone else without being a creep or lame or foolish."
Fred had something to respond with but the words escaped out of his ears. That was his single fear, wasn't it? To be taken for a sap, gullible enough to care about a woman who was all deception — except for her one slip when she saw him holding up the article.
When he saw his cousin's face, what he usually considered Albus' naivety almost seemed wise, as if he suddenly sprouted a philosopher's beard. "That's... actually quite compelling."
"You've got a bit of drool right here."
Albus slapped at his cheek, smearing the spit off like a fly. As soon as his attention returned to the Bludgers, he jolted. "Er, excuse me for a moment."
Before Fred could bid farewell, Albus broke away from the thinning crowd, dashing across the mire of dirt toward the group of professors and — in proper Albus form — stumbling over his feet.
Coincidentally, Anjali was headed the same way.
"Listen to me — Scorpius, listen. I rebuilt our name from ashes. I fought for our survival. I did things I'm not proud of so you wouldn't have to. You want to taint that with this — this joke of yours?"
"Father, it's not a joke.' How brightly optimistic he'd been; what had led him to be that foolish to tell his father? The hope of something to make him proud? He had failed so many times before, another try would be a sand grain. "I thought you said we can't afford letting petty beliefs stand in the way."
His father's desk seemed taller than ever as if it belonged at the Wizengamot courts instead of his office. "My beliefs are not petty," he spat. "The Pureblood families who invest in us — their beliefs are not petty. Who do you think endorses our company?"
"I know. They were how you got off the ground. But that was ages ago. We're not tied to them." The sinking lurch in Scorpius' chest knew the argument was already over and yet he gave one more push. "Haven't you seen the papers? They say — "
"Technological revolution," his father said brusquely. "My question is why the Prophet lets Clearwater report on backwards trash. I've tolerated enough compromise with Mudbloods, even Muggles, to last a lifetime, but encouraging the use of Muggle contraptions — it's irresponsible. This is the last I want to hear of it."
The memory lay stagnant in Scorpius' mind, and however old it was. Shaking his head, he quickened his steps to catch up with the slender silhouette gliding down the corridor windows. While Scorpius was no weakling for long legs like Fred Weasley, they were quite frustrating when they carried Anjali so far in front of him.
Norman strolled down the opposite side of the hallway and gave a wave that Scorpius nearly missed. "Didn't catch you at the game, mate."
"Oh, uh — " Scorpius had told Xavier about his whereabouts but had omitted the detail to Norman and Westley; the fact that he was mucking about with Hogwarts' resident nutcase and the forgotten Potter would have been a little more than strange to most. He pointed a finger at Anjali. "I've got to — "
Norman nodded, catching the hint. "What's going on?"
"Judgment," Scorpius said grimly and jogged ahead as the point of her heel disappeared around the corner.
Anjali did not turn to look at Scorpius, but with her lengthening strides, she had to be aware of his presence. He caught up to her between classroom nine and ten, seizing her wrist, at which point she stopped but still did not turn.
The blustery wind outside was no match for the chill in her single word. "Yes?"
His arm went rigid as if she were the one with the grip on him, and here Scorpius had thought he was prepared. "How much trouble are we in?"
Anjali tilted her head just far enough for him to see the tips of her lashes. "Like I said, I'll handle you myself." Reclaiming her arm, she continued walking.
Scorpius swallowed hard — could it be? History counted for something after all.
His feet were light on the stairs as he followed her, rolling his stiff and scratched shoulders backwards. "You didn't tell the professors."
"Don't think too much of it."
"You could have but you didn't," he persisted, grabbing her fingertips as they were about to leave the banister. Beat by beat, his heart pulsed in his palm as he circled in front of her. "You didn't tell."
Scorpius waited for the chagrin in her smirk to soften, but instead her mask only seemed to freeze in place, not a single hairline crack for him to study. Shut out completely, an echo of Bea's accusation of loneliness struck him in the gut.
"You got lucky," Anjali said, plucking his fingers off one by one. Her smile perplexed him, all at once filled with resent and pity.
"I don't understand."
"Potter confessed. Took the heat for everything. I'm not going to get my hands dirty against the professors' sweetheart, so — you're lucky."
He could barely breath out a response. "He what?" The last time Scorpius saw Potterpuff was when they had split up to their respective common rooms after sneaking into the castle. They could do little but await their inescapable summons, which should have been any time now.
"I see it has to sink in." Her laugh was more of a scoff. "Enjoy your new chums. Be sure to send me a Christmas card."
Scorpius did not move as she brushed past him, not that another grab for her would be welcome in any case.
"So this is really it," he murmured.
Anjali swiveled on her heel. "If locking you into Hooch's office didn't make it clear enough: yes, we're quite through."
His heart fought against its bottled enclosure — or maybe it was simple desperation — but the words leapt out of his throat before he knew what he was saying.
"I would have married you."
And then she went still.
"So you don't love me like I loved you — " Scorpius remembered to use past tense just in time " — but if it put the pressure off you, if it kept your family afloat, I would have married you as soon as I could."
"Do you want me to be grateful?" Her jolting tone shook them both. The piqued slant of her brows softened, but there was no hiding spite. "Of course you can say that. It's so easy for you to say that. You can do whatever the hell you want, like this morning's stunt. You're not the one who's the family's last chance at staying in society because Mum's stuck in her party years and Dad's washed-up, and damn what I might give up for that."
She hugged her arms, her gaze stuck on the stones of the walls. "And you know what, Scorpius? Marriage isn't so bad. It's just paper. Honestly, with you, it'd have been all right. I'd have said yes."
Scorpius had to smile a little, however bitter, at the least romantic proposal of the century. "I prefer a little less belligerence, darling."
The two former lovers stood motionless at the bottom of the staircase, wrapped in their quiet. Anjali took a deep breath, slow and shaking. "I'm not waiting around. If this whole invention thing works out, consider yourself lucky. Or maybe not, because then you still won't have learned that shit like this won't always work. And if you insist on never listening to anyone but yourself, then I am not going stand by and watch."
Her words melded into the ones in his memory, words spoken by a harsher, unsparing mouth.
"Listen to me, son. I've known a far crueler world. You may be nearly of age, but you're young in history and foolish. This is... my fault. But if you refuse to listen, I will not be here for you when you turn up a failure."
"You're right," Scorpius whispered.
For all he knew, he'd end up a failure but maybe it was already too late. Maybe his sanity escaped out the window that morning or shattered when he struck the ground — but what did it matter now? If no one believed in him, then he had nothing to lose.
Scorpius felt the reckless laugh burst out, practically in a roar, before he shut it behind his teeth. Had Anjali been a fainter soul, he wouldn't have been surprised if she took a step back. "You're right."
She stared at him, brows furrowing. "Well, good."
"You're right," he said for a third time, spinning back toward the staircase. "I need to go my own way, starting with right now."
He had to be mad, truly mad, or else Anjali wouldn't have looked so surprised, and she wouldn't have sputtered her next words, "Where are you going?"
Scorpius shrugged off his blazer and threw it over his shoulder. "I've got a date."
So I tried cramming more scenes in here but it was going to be way too long. But it kind of works out nicely, because most of the next chapter is going to be the whole celebratory Quidditch party where much lulz will be had and James will make his cameo. This chapter wraps up most of the windfall, and oh Merlin, the extent to which Albus weasels his way into everyone's lives is quite hilarious simply because he somehow turned himself from a minor to a major character. That scrapper.
So many thanks to Ellerina and hdawg for helping me come up with that bit on Harrison and the dueling club :3 I can't stop giggling over it.
Reviews are lovely like the fragility of life ♥