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And Capers Ensue by justonemorefic
Chapter 17 : The Art of Hanging Over
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 18


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17. THE ART OF HANGING OVER
When in doubt, party.


"Maybe—maybe Anjali's just playing hard to get."

Bea looked up from the sawed-open Bludger to squint at the lazy Slytherin draped across his chair. She had Silenced him ten minutes ago, but the charm had worn off.

Scorpius tapped his fingers twice on her desk with one hand and then twice on his chin with the other. "I mean, she's always playing hard to get. That's her thing. She likes it. I like it. Works out all around. Not that I want to get back with her, but—Fawkes, how do I explain this?"

Silently, Bea thought. Earlier that afternoon, Scorpius knocked on her door, velvet-upholstered chair in tow. Remembering her rule about getting his own seat cleared up the chair-related confusion, but that didn't explain why he was there in the first place.

Nor why he was making a slumber party of it.

"You just get used to things. Habits and such. You know what I mean, right?" Scorpius glanced expectantly at her. Bea's half-hearted stare continued to break world records in indifference. "Probably not. Uh, how about like this. She's like your biscuit fix—"

"Why are you telling me this?"

He blinked. In the conversation's pause, Rose could be heard wailing in the background, something along the lines of 'He hates me! He hates me!' as she had been for the past two hours with negligible variation. She had been wallowing into her pillow about her Squib beau Colin's lack of correspondence, using her bed sheets as one giant tissue.

Clearing his throat, Scorpius spoke over Rose, "Who else would I tell?"

"I don't know; your friends?" Bea twirled her wand at the edge of the egg-fossil core. A flick of the wrist and a Loosening Charm would get it out safely, she thought. She had promised Albus to take care of the Bludger and patch it up afterwards, so that it could last another few joyous decades beaning people in the face.

"I've got no friends, right?" When she shot Scorpius a flattened glare, he shrugged, rather satisfied for his self-proclaimed friendlessness. "You're the one who said it, not me."

"What about Xavier?"

"Xavier isn't the sharpest quill in the well when it comes to girls."

As she touched the wand to the base of the egg core, Scorpius fell quiet and the only sounds in the room were Rose's sniffling and the hiss of metal meeting magic. He peered closer at her desk-turned-operating-table, angling his head until it touched the wood surface. "What are you doing there?"

"Warming it up." She drew a vibrant orange outline. "Makes it less likely to break."

"Huh. So a little like that thing they do to alchemy rods."

"Yeah, a little bit."

"Most boring chapter ever. Thirty pages about rocks." He took a deep breath, and Bea could hear the tangent coming a mile away. "Better than the lesson on wand safety. Don't stick it up your nose. Can't believe they still have to tell us that after six years—"

"Scorpius."

"What?"

Bea lowered her wand, trying to resist the very sharp 'Shut up' about to leave her mouth; he was breaking her concentration.

She had been very patient, if only because Scorpius had initially come into the room with that sadder-than-a-lumpy-mandrake look, but he had no concept of personal space, he kept poking through her shelves, and his face kept contorting into the most absurd expressions.

While she found his ooh and ahhing of her inventing endearing, she was trying to work and he was gunning for the title of number-one distraction. How could she even begin to answer his single innocuous question?

She dove back into the core extraction with only a huff as a response. Her concentration lasted all of thirty seconds before she shot up again.

"Scorpius."

He peeled his face from the desk, hands a-waving. "I didn't do anything—"

"Just your presence..." She shut her eyes, rubbing the side of her brow. "...bothers me."

Scorpius' mouth hung open before zipping up tight as he bent his head down. "I'll leave."

"You don't have to—"

He was already out of his seat, which was quite a feat considering the height of its armrests; lesser men would not have vaulted them. "It's not personal. I know."

"Scorpius."

"Though with that tone, I am doubting myself."

She twisted around, grabbing the top of her chair. "No, really—"

"What's wrong then?" Scorpius stopped with his hands shrugging in his pockets, half of his smile still hanging on to his face. "You've been... snippy."

Yesterday, that would have been a ridiculous question. Of course Bea was snippy; she had always been snippy to him. But they nearly died together seven hours ago and it must have changed something or else she wouldn't have felt quite so abashed as she stared back.

She bit her lip. "This is kind of weird, you have to admit."

Where it was kind of weird before, it was definitely weird now, as if pointing it out turned the weirdness into a real-life embodiment of weird that attached to them like a third wheel.

A sudden crash downstairs absolved them from the silence. Both ducked on reflex, expecting another barrage of Bludgers.

"Bloody hell, not now," Rose moaned. She flopped her arms, causing the billowy mass of blankets around her to puff like a marshmallow. "They're playing pool again. I keep telling them that we put that thing in storage for a reason; it doesn't want to be disturbed!"

"You 'Claws have a pool table?" Scorpius looked at Rose with interest.

"Portuguese import. The pockets tried to eat my hand," she seethed. "The boys probably want it out for the party."

"You 'Claws have a party? Right now?"

"We did win the match today. What do you think we do, write essays to celebrate?"

Scorpius blankly pondered the level of sarcasm in Rose's comment before a grin lit up, the kind that made Bea's hairs stand on end. Oh no, it was his idea face.

"Maybe what we need is to relax," he said. "Y'know, take a load off, do something fun together. That's it!"

It was a one-man decision. Before Bea could respond, he was already yanking her out of her seat.

"But the Bludger—"

"Leave it. What's it gonna do, bleed out?" The party plan had hooked him wholly and unfortunately hooked Bea by proxy, due to him forcibly linking elbows. "C'mon nutcase, a party downstairs, and you're not going?"

The fresh bruises on her arm throbbed. Bea almost preferred the weirdness to this manhandling. "I have work to do! And oi, this is your investment!"

"I agree, you should get out more."

"That's not close to what I said!"

Bea dragged her feet on spite. Chaotic as her life was, parties simply weren't her thing. She always had to cling to Fred because she had better luck reciting a hundred digits of pi than conversing with a stranger. It reminded her that she was unavoidably eccentric and that after six years at Hogwarts, she still didn't know how to talk to most students in her own house.

She struggled for four flights of stairs, until the traffic of people slowed them down. Underneath their feet, she could feel the bass thumping from the old phonographs. When Scorpius' grip slackened, Bea wasted no time in freeing herself. He turned around at that moment, his words almost like a plead. "Just... humor me."

Bea frowned. "Are you—?"

"I'm fine."

She saw it in his smile, all hope and no substance, and he knew that she saw it. It was in his half-kidding jokes and the way he held on too tightly. He was here because he had nowhere else to go.

Scorpius offered her a hand, which she took with only a slight hesitation, and they continued downstairs.

The party was in its infancy. Most of the crowd was packed into the corners, swirling their white cups with no idea as to what was happening. Lucy and her friends were attempting to get a pool game started. There seemed to be a fuss about whether wands were legal cue sticks. At the center of the room, the team was well into celebrating their victory with a toast, and Bea spotted Fred and Verona.

A colony of bats flew into the room as Vincent Wood opened the window. They lugged three crates, each bearing the logo for Andre's Stuffed pies.

"Who's hungry?" Vincent called out, prying the crates open as Edgar paid the bill to the lead bat. "We've got blackbird, two newt tongues, the works—"

The no-holds barred rush commenced to the refreshments table; three first years were harmed in the process. Mr. Welly the Kneazle was up and about as well, and as soon as the pies were laid out, he promptly claimed the closest box as his bed.

Bea and Scorpius wandered out onto the floor. Remembering her hand, Bea quickly reclaimed it from his, rubbing her tingling palm on the side of her jeans. Scorpius didn't seem to notice as he was preoccupied with greeting Wick, whom she often saw hanging about the Slytherin lot. So much for lonely. The two boys high-fived on something about broomsticks—what was it about boys and broomsticks? At least Scorpius could feign interest in a topic, whereas Bea was left gawking on her own, muttering things like, 'Broomsticks? Oh, they're um, brown... and sticky.'

A raucous roar erupted from by the hearth and she abandoned her companion, ambling closer to the noise. The Quidditch team seemed to be holding someone down.

"What's the Gryff doing here?" the tiny but hyper Petie whooped.

Fred was on the outside of the crowd, laughing as he tried to get in, "It's okay guys, he's with me."

Then Bea heard him.

"I was your Head Boy! A little respect is in order!"

She could only see the top of his head, but the voice was enough to make her heart beat faster. There were only so many ex-head boys whose mirth was so striking and infectious. Since she last saw him in the Daily Prophet, he had gotten a haircut. Since she last saw him at the train station, he had gotten two. He was the perpetual man of the hour, the left hand to Fred's right, the one who swept her into the mayhem of Weasley Wizard Wheezes and biscuit runs.

He was also currently a coat rack. Verona came up behind him, topping his head with a pink floppy sunhat. "Emphasis on the 'was', pretty boy."

"Tough crowd. A year of service to the community and this is what I get for it." When he lifted the hat, his eyes locked on Bea's.

She couldn't contain herself. In less than a second, Bea ran over and threw her arms around his neck. "James!"

"Kiddo! Oof, you've grown!" James swung her around (another two first years were harmed) until she was practically breathless by the time he set her down.

The rest of the team left to join the refreshments line as the old trio reunited. Fred offered her a plate of the funny-shaped cheese she liked, and she popped one in her mouth as she hung off James' arm.

"How've you been? Cannons and everything? I saw you in the papers."

"Same ol', same ol'. Practice everyday. Just sounds a lot more exciting when you've got a journalist describing it." James ruffled her hair. "How have you been? I saw you got in some trouble today. The—ah, what shall we call it—Bludger Breakout?"

"Keeping up traditions," Bea grinned and craned her head behind her. "Sorry for missing the match, Freddie. I would've told you, but I didn't think it'd be so complicated. And about Anjali—"

"I heard. I knew she was bad news." Fred turned away almost immediately, and Bea was sure she heard a dreamy sigh.

"It just makes her more interesting to you, doesn't it?" What was so special about that snippy bippy? Bea had heard her name quite enough that day. So what if she was tall and mysterious? So were yetis.

James laughed. "I see things haven't changed with Fred and the ladies."

Fred punched him on the arm. "I hugely resent Fredwatch. I can take care of myself."

"Until you're too preoccupied with taking care of that damsel in distress, am I right?" James tossed two crisps in the air and caught both despite being punched in the arm again. "You'll thank us once you start running into the gold diggers. Word of advice: if a girl's feeling you up, she's actually figuring out what your jacket's made of."

As Fred scowled, James hunched over to meet Bea at eye level, and the fuzzy feather on his hat bobbed between them. "Speaking of which, we've got our own little digger rubbing jackets."

Bea stiffened. "Eh?"

"Malfoy with the terrible blazers. You're working with him now?"

"Yes, but it's not—don't say it like that, James!" Cheeks reddening, she scanned the throngs of party-goers. Where was that git, anyway?

"If you're looking for him, he's right behind you."

Indeed, a new weight settled on her shoulder as Scorpius rested his arm right on a bruise. "Did someone say blazers?" he asked, straightening his navy blue lapel, which wouldn't have been so bad if it didn't completely clash with his lime tie. Everything clashed with lime.

When he met Bea's twitching eye, he drew back. "What did I do now?"

James' brow started its upward crawl, something between 'hmm' and 'a-ha'. Bea shrugged the arm off. "It's not like that. I'm his pity date," she said, sharpening her glare to a fine point.

"Harsh, nutters."

"Would you like me to tell them how you spent this afternoon wallowing about Anj, eating Rose's spare gallon of ice cream, whinging—"

"She's my pity date," Scorpius affirmed. He nodded at Fred and stuck out a hand out to James. "Good to see an old alum."

"Good to see you helping our Bea. You're still alive, so you're on the right track." After shaking his hand, James pat him on the back, bringing him a little closer into the circle. "Anyway, we were just discussing Fred's poor choice in women. You were with that Anjali girl then, if what I heard was correct?"

Fred began to stutter like a man afraid of complete sentences.

"Yeah, I was," Scorpius said slowly.

"Wait, is she that heiress? For Pox-B-Gon Potions. I remember her name." James nudged Fred in the side, eye practically boinging off his face. "Never mind. Keep at her. Feel up her skirts or something—er, you know what I mean. Find out what they're made of. We're well-off, but not like that."

"James, don't joke. They barely broke up," Fred muttered. He was like a limp tomato on the vine, turning redder and redder.

"It's fine." Scorpius shrugged. "Me and Anjali break up all the time."

Bea shot him a look. "Do you have a relationship with anyone that's healthy?"

"I'm pretty good with my owl. He stopped trying to eat my fingers. And I suppose we're not too bad."

"We—me and you?"

"At least you didn't lock me in a room and try to get me expelled." Scorpius rocked back and forth on his heel, swinging in perpendicular motion against the scuttling crowd behind him. He was out of place no matter what.

While James and Fred were preoccupied with a slap fight—Fred jammed his fist into James' mouth right as the ex-Head Boy shouted something about ‘stalking girls from bushes’—Bea rocked back and forth along with him.

"You really are desperate," she murmured, laughing in spite of the subject.

Scorpius took one of the funny-shaped cheese on her plate. "Don't sell yourself short. You're good company."

She stuck out her tongue. "Can't say the same for you."

"Oh right, sorry for ditching you earlier." He rubbed the back of his neck. "I forgot you were there."

Bea wasn't sure if that was supposed to make her feel better—what was she, chopped liverwort? But then his grey gaze rested on hers with something like a smile.

Close enough, she supposed.






The party eased into its first hour with dimmed lights and pulsing music courtesy of DJ Creevey at the phonograph station. Ravenclaws-gone-wild packed the makeshift dance floor to capacity, while those less inclined for sweaty writhing stationed themselves by the armchairs and pool table.

The seventh years had smuggled in a case of firewhiskey at the half hour mark, and the buzz began to kick in across the crowd. Rose had come downstairs at some point and was surprisingly receptive to the drinking, to the relief of everyone else. Lucy was even teaching her how to drown in her sorrows, snatching Bea along for the ride.

Scorpius nursed his own bottle as he leaned against the back of the sofa. He remembered parties being more fun than this. Maybe it was because of Anjali, but he was inclined to think that it was all that nutter's fault. If Bea hadn't pointed out his grumbling dissatisfaction, Scorpius would have never put a name to it. He had been fine with Anjali's indifference, his father's disapproval, his circle of friends who never looked past the stagnant present except for the next broom model. He had been fine because he hadn't dwelled on such things.

At the corner of his eye, he watched Fred and James, joined by Albus and Mr. Welly, chatting by the hearth. A peculiar expression crossed Albus' face when he caught Scorpius' wandering stare, and the boy leapt to his feet.

"I don't need another pity date," Scorpius said as he neared, but Albus insisted on perching on the sofa beside him.

"It's not pity. I—"

"You want to bond, braid each other's hair, fly into the sunset with a flock of Bludgers." Scorpius crumpled the rest of the greeting. "Yeah, I appreciate the effort, but I'm not the biggest fan of cheery speeches."

Albus closed his open mouth, eager shoulders dropping.

Scorpius took another swig from his bottle. "Uh, thanks though," he said, glancing over and suddenly somber. "For taking the heat earlier, too. How bad is it?"

"Two weeks of scrubbing lockers." He was extra chipper, as if to compensate for his interrupted speech. "Told the professors that I wanted to give the Bludgers some exercise. Hooch understands."

Strange as Potterpuff was, Scorpius owed him all the gratitude in the world and then some. He understood the rules of give-and-take but such selflessness was the thing of storybooks. It was... humbling.

"Look, if there's anything you want, now or in the future, don't hesitate to ask," said Scorpius.

"It's no problem. I have a good record. Better than you and Bea getting suspended or worse."

"We used your cloak and you didn't even need to be there. Seriously, anything you want."

"Er..." Albus turned very quiet, "Theme park?"

He furrowed his brows. "Did you say theme park?"

"Never mind." Albus ducked his head. Then Scorpius heard him mutter, "...darn, I was so sure."

After a few more revolutions of the strobe-light chandelier, the scrawny boy pushed himself off the sofa. "You can come sit with us, you know." He gestured toward Fred and James, who were chatting on the rug.

There were multiple ways Scorpius imagined responding to Albus' offer, but in the end, he didn't respond at all and wordlessly followed Albus to the fireside.

The crowded area required some finesse to get through without spilling any drinks. They had the fortune of catching the conga line, which had become the unofficial method of transport around the room.

"—going bankrupt, as a matter of fact."

Scorpius caught the end of Fred's sentence before Fred shut up at the sight of him.

"Don't change the subject on account of me." Scorpius sat himself atop an armrest behind James. "'sides, I knew you knew about Pox-B-Gon's bankruptcy. You really aren't subtle with the library research, Weasley."

Fred coughed. "About that..."

"I don't care. Do whatever you want." Scorpius shook the half-empty bottle in his hand and took one long gulp. He mostly didn't mind because Fred wasn't Anjali's type. Fred was more like the yarn Mr. Welly was batting around—easy to unwind and tangle, and always left in a state of mess.

Fred nodded, sipping from his glass. At least they didn't need many words to get their points across.

James was more persistent, however, and waggled his brows. "So what is Anjali's story then?"

"Trouble," Scorpius said with a smirk. It was what James wanted to hear and there was no point in describing what they wouldn't understand, anyhow.

He and Anjali's social strata had its unspoken rules, and they were bred to be someone from the day they were born. The only child, Anjali carried the responsibility of maintaining her family's status by any means necessary. She may have unlocked every treasure—brains, beauty, and the nerve to wield them with a razor-edged virtuosity—but even she would not escape her place. She had ambitions like the rest of them, but they were as unattainable even with the world at her fingertips.

Family before self, and duty above all. He lived it, too.

Thank Merlin for firewhiskey.

"But she's got a nice side, I bet," said Albus, pulling Mr. Welly into his lap. "I told Fred he should make friends. Get to know her the non-stalking way."

Scorpius snorted. "Good luck. That's probably worse, actually. At least if you're hiding in a bush, she's less likely to find you and eat you alive."

"Ah, but uh—" Albus stammered.

"Don't do your little thing where you pair up everyone as friends. It's just not going to work sometimes."

"But," Albus uttered one last dejected word, "friendship."

James knuckled him in the side of his head and then peered in the direction of the entryway. "Hey, isn't that her?"

Fred, Albus, and Scorpius swiveled toward the door. Even after half a day of getting over her, when Scorpius saw her dressed for a party and hair tied up exactly the way he liked it, his resolve unwound like yarn. Their eyes met and damn if his heart didn't skip a beat.

"She's coming this way."

Fred froze up like a rabbit, grabbed a pillow from the sofa, and blocked his head. "I need to hide. Where's my bush?"

"No more bushes! Stand up!" James pushed Fred up by the elbows and when he didn't budge, tickled his side. "Bloody hell, we were just talking about how you need to seize the day. Now seize it!" He held up a finger. "No, don't just seize it. Squeeze the very life out of it, pulp and all. That's how you make it sweet."

"We still talking about seizing the day or orange juice?" Fred mumbled as he straightened his jacket.

"Both. Both are very good things."

Scorpius kept his eyes on Anjali who was obviously looking at him. Out of pity, he stood up and tapped Fred on the shoulder. "Sorry to disappoint, but I think she's here for me."

Fred met his eyes with a glint. They stood straighter, glancing expectantly as the woman of interest strode closer. One after the other, Fred and Scorpius stepped forward, each waiting for Anjali's lashes to lift as she walked past.

Ignoring both of them, she bent down and crushed a vice-like grip underneath a wide-eyed Albus' chin and plucked him up off the ground.

"Er—"

"Ah—"

The remaining boys stood agape in various states of gesturing as she hauled the flapping Hufflepuff out the door, which closed with a slam. Their heads tilted to the side. James whistled.

“Hm.”

Swinging away from the group, Scorpius tipped his drink backward and a single drop of firewhiskey slid onto his lips, burning as it touched. Hadn't he grown out of hope yet? He stared at the bottom of the empty bottle until someone nudged him.

"Need another?"

Bea tottered at his side, holding up an uncorked bottle. She must have escaped her roommates a few drinks early, as Scorpius looked past her to find Rose dancing atop the pool table to the rowdy cheers of the other prefects.

Scorpius uncorked the bottle and slid the fire down his throat. "It's not fair," he said, wiping his lips. "She just always waltzes in and out like that."

"To hell with her," Bea harrumphed, eyes narrowing into a squint. "Why do people care about her so much anyway? Anjali this, Anjali that."

Her face was screwed into a knot and a strange thought entered Scorpius' mind. "...are you jealous?" Something between a gasp and a guffaw came from his throat. "Are you jealous Fred pays more attention to her?"

"Oi! For the last time, we are not like that."

"You're blushing."

She rubbed her red-tinged cheeks. "Lucy gave me a lot to drink. It's your bloody fault for putting that idea in my mind..."

"That he fancies you?"

"He does not. And I don't fancy him. I fancy—" She stopped short just in time.

"A-ha, you fancy someone then," Scorpius grinned. She was too easy to fluster sometimes.

"It was a long time ago!" she snapped, before blushing even more.

Alcohol-addled, Scorpius might not have figured it out, but Bea slipped a glance toward the fireside. "You fancy James!"

"Shh!" Bea practically climbed up on him just to clamp her hand over his mouth, scanning around furiously. "Just because you like to yap on about your love life does not mean I do."

"You could tell him," he said when she let go.

"I did. Before he left last year. He didn't take me seriously." Bea grumbled into her cup. "No one takes me seriously."

His grin fell sharply, and he suddenly wanted nothing more than to breathe his words back in.

A moment later, however, she lifted her eyes from the ground as if in awe. "Merlin, I'm a depressing drunk."

"Makes two of us."

Giggling, she raised her glass. "Cheers to that."

The inevitable result of their shared wallowing, of course, was that by the time the party was winding down, they ended up under the pool table slumped against each other, surrounded half a dozen empty bottles, and having what barely passed for a conversation.

"I've got a splendid-ill-iferous joke. Give me a moment here," Scorpius slurred, kicking a bottle over. He yanked his tie down for an extra gasp of air. "So a wizard, a centaur, and a goblin walk into a pub—"

"Ha!" Bea cackled, slapping her thigh. The sock on her head swung around and how or why it was there would remain a mystery forever, as well as how she was still wearing two socks, which meant that one of them did not belong. Probably the lime one. It looked kind of familiar.

"Wait, wait, wait, that's—" Scorpius started laughing too, and it took him a moment to remember, "Wait, that's not the joke."

"But it's so funny." Bea pouted, staring up at him with her best bloodshot puppy-eyed blink.

"Fine then," he said, rather laboriously, "that's the joke."

Pleased, the inebriated girl lodged underneath his arm erupted into another fit of giggles, flailing legs and all. She plastered a hand to her mouth and only succeeded in sounding like clogged engine. "Tell me another."

"I haven't got another."

"Tell a story then. How'd you Malfoys get rich, eh? Lend a poor girl some secrets."

He snorted, but the question surfaced from the alcohol, uncomfortably sober. "My father... is a very powerful man," he said, first stating the obvious. "And there are very few good ways to get that sort of power."

Bea shifted forward, looking into his face with new acuteness. The sock fell from her head.

"He does it for me." Scorpius hiccuped, and the echo of his father's voice faded into tales of war. "So I don't have to go through what he did, but that's another story. I'll have to, one day. I'll inherit his troubles, too—that's what being a Malfoy's about." Shutting his eyes, he chuckled bitterly, remembering where he was and who he was talking to. "Rich people problems, hmm?"

Scorpius circled the rim of the bottle one more time and a warmth blanketed his hand. He looked up, but Bea hadn't moved and whether it was just his imagination, he wasn't sure. She lifted her hand now and it came to rest on the crook of his arm, a quiet comfort to join her words, spoken with the earnestness only found in a stupor.

"Hey now... you're not your father."

Then she suddenly giggled, attacked afresh by alcohol, and it subsided into a quiet snore, exhausting the last of her energy. Scorpius watched her breathe in and out, gladness squeezing his heart.

"Thank you," he murmured.

She burrowed into his shoulder like a Kneazle finding a warm spot, hands curling into the pockets of his blazer. Slowly, the thrumming bass lulled him to sleep, too.






After the party was over, Fred walked James back to the Headmaster's office, where he was to floo back, and told him to visit again soon but not too soon. Then, Fred helped the remaining sober Ravenclaws clean up the mess. The house elves would scrub up, but it was best not to make them grumble. They cooked their dinners, after all.

The last thing—or rather, person—he picked up was underneath the table, squashed against Scorpius. They looked so peaceful, but it probably wouldn't bode well in the morning.

Bea's eyes fluttered open and closed as Fred tried to put her arm around his shoulders, but she stumbled out of his reach. "James, I'm not a kid anymore." When he caught her again, she clung to the front of his shirt with sticky fingers. "Hey, James..." she slurred, "you changed your hair. And your clothes. And your face."

He peeled her off. "I think you've had a little too much to drink."

"I think you haven't had enough."

After two minutes of struggle, Fred managed to get Bea on track to the staircase. She insisted on walking on her own, though it was more like a crawl. She recognized him now, at least.

"Freddie, why do you put up with me?" she asked, swaying like a capsizing boat as she staggered to the next step.

He hadn't fully answered that question himself, but he liked to think it was for the benefit of the world. "For your sake and humanity's sake." Better than constantly worrying. Everyone had been telling him to stop worrying lately (mostly James, but James had to count for at least three people). He was a good wingman but too good, James had said. He didn't think about himself enough.

As Fred pressed Bea onwards, she fell face first onto the stairs and did not move. He turned her over, and she seemed all right, except for a carpet burn across her nose.

She hiccuped. "Scorpius says it's 'cause you fancy me."

He raised a brow. "Well, Scorpius is piss drunk."

"But you dress fancy."

Fred snorted and then lifted Bea up and carried her in his arms. "Believe it or not, you aren't that much of a hassle. You just need to learn your limits. Firewhiskey included."

"Is that what growing up feels like?"

"Yeah, I suppose so."

"Kinda feels like I fell on my face."

The sixth floor of the tower approached. Fred set Bea back on the ground and knocked on the dorm door. "Lots of people put up with you. We want to. That's what we do. Now, Lucy is going to put up with you."

On cue, his cousin opened the door with an open bottle of firewhiskey in her hand. Rose was springing from bed to bed, raving about some bloke named Colin.

"Another lightweight?" Lucy chirped brightly, hustling the semi-conscious Bea into the room.

Fred nodded. "Thanks."

"No problem!" She seemed as sober as she was at the start of the party, which was probably not very sober, knowing Lucy. "How are you? Haven't chatted in a while. You look like a man in need of direction."

"Wha?"

Lucy peered into his face, rubbing her chin and exhaling a strong whiff of alcohol. He thought it was one of her cryptic artistic messages again, and it probably was, but something about her next words struck him.

"Be a little selfish, Freddie."

Before he could inquire further, Lucy spun around and waved, shouting, "Make orange juice!" and shut the door.

Fred blinked in the darkness of the landing. Somehow, he wasn't surprised James put her up to this.

Jogging down the stairs, Fred tried to get the cricks out of his neck. They sort of had a point. Maybe it was time to hang up the point man-persona. Bea seemed to be doing well, despite forgetting how to walk in a straight line, or walk at all.

He could say he was busy next time Bea asked for help, even if he wasn't busy. He could stop staying after practices to run drills with the reserves because no other Chaser would. If he saw Anjali, he could walk by without trying to de-mystify her and that single crack of vulnerability he never found after that day in Hogsmeade. It was starting to sound pretty good.

As he crossed the common room toward the boys' staircase, Fred heard a rapid knocking at the door. Someone was too drunk to answer the riddle, most likely. Glancing around at the deadness of the room's other drunkards and the apathy of those who had reclaimed the room for studying, Fred sighed and ran back to open it.

Instead, he found Albus, whom he had nearly forgotten about. Despite his cousin's beaming, something about the way his eyes lit up made Fred's bad-idea senses tingle.

"Guess what, Fred? Anjali made me her new assistant!"

Bother.




A/N Remember how I freaked out about writing 6000+ word chapters two chapters ago? Heh. This chapter is somehow it's like how I planned and not like how I planned at the same time. So much bonding and bromance~ and romance! Because I have said the last third of the story is all action and romance, and that is finally sneaking in.

It was so fun to write James :3 If you like him, you might be interested in a short story that features this same James as a 6th year, Love, Damned Love, and Statistics. Cameos by Fred and friends. It's where I initially thought up my headcanon for next gen .

Thank you for reading! ♥

Coming up: Scorpius and Fred teach Albus to be a man, a.k.a. not get eaten alive and Very Serious Things (so serious they merit capitals)

Bea could hear her breaths heave in and out, and she made a mental note to never make fun of Fred's fear of her (though she still highly questioned his taste). It was not the cutting insults that made Anjali scary, but the fact that she was right. Scorpius had no concept of hard work or consequences, and when it came down to it, Bea didn't know anything about him.


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