Chapter 18 : For Better or Worse
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18. FOR BETTER OR WORSE
Keep calm and carry bon-bons.
As October drew to a close and November flung open its windows, a string of bad days snuck in with the breeze.
It began when Edgar Frittleson approached Rose in the common room.
"Erm, Rose, is this yours?" The shuffling fifth year handed her a tattered letter. "It's got your name on it."
Rose scanned the parchment and furrowed her brow. "Why, yes. Yes, where'd you get this?"
It turned out that none of the letters she had been sending to Colin the Squib in the past month had made it to its destination, and her particular owl was lacking in the return-to-sender department. Rose found twelve more such letters in a dark corner of the owlery, eleven of them from her own hand, and one from Colin.
When she read Colin's letter, the last of her mental bits snapped. According to Lucy—who had asked Daisy, who had overheard from Clarissa, the sister of Harris, who had been innocently sending a letter to his mum at the time wishing her a happy birthday—Rose had ripped her cardigan apart in a rage and ran through the halls, stark raving mad. Harris relayed the story after some calming drought and minor counseling.
"After all we've been through!" Rose paced the girls' dorm, still clad in the cardigan, which was now distinctly buttonless. "Embarrassed by a few owls coming around when his friends are over! Can't keep making excuses, he says! What bollocks!"
"It'll be all right." Bea flicked her welding torch on and off, antsy to get back to soldering the prototype frame. Rose had been whinging for minutes; she was awful tired of it.
"I've had enough! I finally understand wizards being backwards. I mean, owls! Whose bright idea was it to send post with owls? Just give me my magic box and video chat and my stupid Squib boyfriend who can go rot in hell now!"
Bea preferred if Rose didn't trivialize her invention revolution as a relationship fix, but there was a time and place to correct Rose while she was on a rampage, and that was never.
"Enough with boys. Enough with Squibs!" The reddening redhead threw both of her hands in the air. "Lucy! I've decided. We are having a girls' afternoon out!"
A dusty Lucy rolled out from underneath her bed. "Finally! I'll bring the firewhiskey!" She pulled a cardboard box at the head of where she lay, and scrawled along its side was a fading 'nothing illegal in here, MOVE ALONG'. Inside was a pitcher where she had emptied all the half-finished bottles from the party last week, waiting for an occasion like this.
No one realized, however, that with the Rose and Lucy's departure, Bea was left alone in the room, breaking the dorm's cardinal rule: inventing must always be supervised.
As Bea had promised Scorpius, she was fashioning a new prototype core that could mimic the illegal runespoor egg they had snatched. She chose a foundation of rockspoor scales and acromantula silk. Rockspoors were in the same family as runespoors, and their scales emanated a similar but weaker magical energy. Some silk and her concoction of enchantments would amend that, and hopefully it'd work as expected. She certainly didn't expect the core to shoot out of her hand mid-Shrinking charm, set a stray Whizbang flying into Rose's canopy, and light it on fire.
Luckily, the seventh-year girls upstairs heard her yell and rushed down to help, dousing the room with enough water to hose down a dragon.
"What did you do?" one cried.
"Um..." Bea glanced around at the blackened spots on the wall and Rose's very soppy and very toasty canopy. "Broke the first law of thermodynamics?"
Less luckily and not surprisingly, when Rose and Lucy returned, all of her inventing-related activities were summarily banned from the room. Bea relocated to her now-permanent workplace of classroom fourteen, part of a forgotten nook on the third floor. A former Potions classroom, it still had some leftover equipment. Most importantly, no one minded the empty rooms, as long as she didn't cause another incident.
Scorpius became her new assistant while Albus was busy being Anjali's assistant. No one knew what Albus was doing with the mysterious prefect, and when asked, Albus would only smile and say he was 'helping out.'
"You don't have to worry too much," said Scorpius, taking the vial Bea handed him (she didn't trust much of anyone with her supplies, but he couldn't possibly screw up being a shelf). "Anjali won't hurt him without reason; it's not her style."
"But why make him an pre-prefect in the first place?" It wasn't even a real position, which she tried to tell Albus, but he was particularly stubborn about his friendship crusade after Scorpius and Fred's lack of support.
"He's just a bargaining chip. Her foot in the door, if you will." Scorpius juggled the stoppered potions until Bea glowered at him. "Low investment in keeping him around, and if she ever needs to threaten us, he'll be right there to use."
"Forgive me if I think everything you Slytherins do seems shifty but it's 'cause of stuff like this," she muttered, and Scorpius made an offended noise. Then as she reached into her box of materials and saw the single thread of unicorn hair in the bottle, she winced at how ill-timed her remark was.
"I need more unicorn hair. I, erm, burned up the last bit I got. Please and thank you?"
"Again?" The lines on his face hardened as he frowned. "That's the third time! Can't you transfigure a rock into a unicorn by now?"
"You know it doesn't work like that. Sorry."
He put down the vials, sighing heavily before sinking into his crossed arms. "Whatever, it's fine. I signed a contract."
"You don't have to be so down about it. It's long—"
"Long nights, lots of failures. You've given me this spiel before. Look, I'm already getting you the stuff," he said gruffly, glaring at her from the side. "What more do you want?"
She wasn't sure. He had professed his admiration for her trade and swung by classroom fourteen every time she needed him, and when she didn't, he'd show up unannounced, bringing his sheets of his company's assets with him to study. He may have been a nuisance but he was a charming nuisance—overly eager when she least wanted him there and eye-rollingly grouchy otherwise—and she maybe-sort-of hoped he actually liked helping her.
But Scorpius always did say a lot of rubbish.
Smarmy must have found someone else to bother, Bea thought on the first evening where he didn't show. She took out her new tools and still-wrapped shipment of unicorn hair and lay them across her three-desk workspace. As she opened the prototype's container, she heard a whoosh and immediately pointed her nose in the air, searching the darkness for a ghost's shadow. Had Peeves come skulking?
But it was only her breath; she had been hunching too close to the desk again.
She never noticed how still it was without Scorpius' constant chit-chat. The candles, undisturbed by conversation, burned tall and straight, and the only sound was the groan of ancient magic settling in the castle walls.
As much as she would ask for quiet, she didn't want this kind; it was cold, even a little scary, and what she wouldn't do for a laugh to warm her shoulder. Scorpius told the lamest jokes, even when he was sober. Especially when he was sober.
Why did the Aurors hire the Tutshill Seeker? he had asked, pausing to no one's suspense. Because he always caught the snitch!
Bea snorted so loudly, she was almost glad he wasn't around to hear it. Shaking her head, she went to work on her prototype, and the space of yesterday's memory filled with silence.
It wasn't as if she missed him.
"We ought to go see Potterpuff or something, down in the lockers." Scorpius scratched the back of his neck. "Since he's scrubbing them for us."
Bea stopped taking out her tools and stared at him. He had an issue of Magical Market tucked under one arm and a tartan jacket over his shoulder—there was no doubt he was Scorpius Malfoy—but there was a time when he wouldn't have even thought of Albus, and if he did, he would have been too proud to admit it. Who was this?
"If Hooch is there, we should try to get him to reserve Seeker, if not Seeker," Bea said on their way outside. She squinted up at the bright clouds, imagining them surrounded by Quidditch players. "I hear the current one doesn't want to play much anyway."
Scorpius was rather impassive. "Potterpuff loose on the pitch. What a terrible idea." Then in the same breath, he said, "Let's do it."
But it was easier said than done.
"What do you mean, no?"
The two stood before Madame Hooch's refurbished desk, startled by her swift rejection.
"I mean: no." Hooch folded her hands, and Bea shrunk back from her hawk eye. A Ravenclaw and Slytherin advocating for their opponent; she must have suspected this was sabotage. "As talented as you say Mr. Potter is, he has been suspended from Quidditch for the time being."
"What?" Bea cried. Albus hadn't uttered a word about this. "He's not even reserve reserve Chaser?"
Hooch frowned. "There's no such thing."
A quiet 'Oh' left her lips. Now that she thought about it, Bea wouldn't be surprised if the Hufflepuff Captain made up something to appease everyone who tried out. That gave Albus two made-up titles.
"But why—" Scorpius began, before dragging a hand down his face. "Not because of that thing with the Bludgers."
"Mr. Potter's heart was in the right place, but we still must hold him accountable. Students freeing Bludgers willy-nilly would be absolute havoc. It was havoc enough for one game."
It was her fault, Bea thought, frozen in place. She needed the runespoor egg. There was no denying the gnawing guilt at her feet. It crept up to her knees and elbows, until her fists clamped and she squeezed her eyes shut and could no longer stand it. The time had come to pay her debt.
"It was us," she said.
Scorpius turned suddenly to her, brow raised. What are you doing? he seemed to ask.
The right thing.
Hooch cleared her throat, drawing their attention to the tap of her fingers. "I know you would like to help him, but—"
"No, really, it was us." Despite her shaking ankles, Bea stepped forward, her hands firm on the desk. "We set the Bludgers free. And—and he didn't want us to get in trouble."
Lips pressed thin, she glanced over her shoulder, and Scorpius nodded, "Yeah, she's telling the truth."
After a long hesitation, the coach sighed. "I will not take this lightly. If you insist, you understand what this will mean? Two weeks scrubbing lockers, and letters home."
Bea gulped as Hooch steeled her gaze on both of them, waiting for one to break, but they both nodded.
"Very well. I'll speak to Headmaster Flitwick tonight. Please tell Mr. Potter to come see me—and take the cleaning supplies from the cupboard. Might as well get started." Hooch gestured to the battered door behind her desk. Bea had a hunch that Hooch still didn't believe them and wanted to settle the matter as quickly as possible.
As Scorpius dug through the cupboard for brushes, Bea stood beside him holding the buckets, whistling 'The Muffin Man' in hopes the silence wasn't as awkward as her gut had sensed.
"Um," she said. "Sorry about that. Probably should have—"
A loud clang interrupted her as Scorpius threw a brush into each bucket. "Asked me first? Yeah. Thanks in advance for pissing off my father. Can't wait for that Howler."
Bea kept the defensive rise from bubbling out. "We had to tell her the truth."
"No, we didn't." He leaned an elbow against the wall, and she had forgotten how piercing his eyes could be when she least wanted to look into them. "We should. And I would've. But warn me next time if you're going to fess up for the both of us."
"Would it have made a difference?" she muttered, as he turned back to the pile.
"It's the thought that counts."
He didn't say any more on the subject, but she almost wished he did. Instead, she was subjected to the edge of his grimace as he plucked a bucket from her hand and trudged out of the office.
No need to make such a big deal out of it, she thought with a huff. But it was the same problem she had with Fred, or with anyone. A thought. She had so many thoughts. Equations and spells and vivid dreams. Why did she always forget the tiny things, and why did such tiny things lead to such big problems?
Fix one wrong, and break two rights. She couldn't win.
Fred had better things to do than to look after his little cousin.
He actually did, this time. Ever since James' orange juice speech and Lucy's 'Be-a-little-selfish', he thought of everything he had wanted to do but made excuses to avoid, like learning more than fifteen words in French or checking the mail to see if his applications ever got to France, because he was oh-so-excited at the prospect of—he shuddered—accounting. Well, they were the steadiest jobs out of Hogwarts.
Then Albus had to get himself involved with the one person Fred needed to avoid. The universe was practically throwing excuses at him to st—watch Anjali.
No one knew exactly what Albus was doing with her. Albus would describe it as odd jobs: keeping her schedule, picking up books from the library, following her on patrol, and so on. There had to be more to it. There was always more to it.
Fred warned Anjali one afternoon in the Great Hall, "Don't try any tricks."
When she responded with nothing but a cool smirk, he began to sweat.
"Please, just don't... break him," he blurted in desperation. Albus might have been dopey and weird, but he was nice, and they simply didn't make his brand of niceness in the world anymore.
"I don't know what you're talking about." She lifted her issue of the Witching Hour, blocking her face from view.
The direct approach having sputtered to failure, Fred had to prepare Albus to protect himself against Anjali and, lacking that skill set himself, asked the only person who knew anything about her.
Fred shook Scorpius' hand when he arrived on the pitch. "Sorry for the trouble."
"No trouble at all," said Scorpius, rolling up his sleeves to let's-get-to-business height. "'sides I love giving advice. It's mostly talking about myself." He gave Albus, who was distracted by a butterfly, a once over. "Bludger whisperer or not, we're gonna have a lot of work to do."
"Eh?" Albus perked up as the butterfly fluttered away. "Er, I still don't know what's going on."
"We are here to teach you how to be man," Scorpius declared, throwing an arm around his shoulder.
Albus grunted under the new weight. "But I am a man."
"No, you're a boy. You're fish food. Food for fish food."
"We want to make sure Anjali won't take advantage of you," Fred translated, wondering if this wasn't such a good idea after all.
"Actually, she's pretty okay," said Albus, wincing as Scorpius' grip became more of a headlock.
"And it's that kind of attitude that'll get you in trouble." Scorpius released him to pick up the blazing-orange blazer on the ground. "Consider this part of what I owe you. Have to make sure you don't get killed by my ex-girl."
"But you really don't—"
"I insist. Now put this on." He tossed him the blazer.
Scorpius and Albus were roughly the same build. Albus still struggled to fit his arms through the sleeves until he realized he had the jacket on upside down.
"Is this really necessary?" Fred muttered as his cousin tried to button the cuffs by twisting his hand around.
"Come on, Weasley, you know that you are what you wear." Scorpius thumped Fred on the chest twice, where the sleek lapel of his sports coat met his shirt. "People see class, they respect class."
"I see a tangerine."
While Scorpius could, on occasion, pull off the wacky fashions living in his closet, Albus had no hope of the same. The sleeves flopped around as Albus held up his arms, stiff as a scarecrow. "Yeah, maybe I can just be myself?"
"Absolutely not," Scorpius declared. "Anjali will run circles around you. She's all about getting in your head, and if you start being as suave as me—or you know, fifty percent there—then at the very least, she'll be confused and won't know what to make of you."
Fred had been a hundred and fifty percent as suave at times and it didn't help, but he thought it best to not announce his failures.
After fixing his cuffs for him, Scorpius circled Albus, nodding in approval, and then mussed the boy's hair as a finishing touch. "Now that we've got the styling done, what do you know about acting?"
Albus scratched the non-existent scruff on his chin. "Umm, we did a play about the last Wizarding war in History."
"Let me guess. You played your dad."
"Close enough. First—"
The clatter of a door drew their attention as Bea came out of the locker room entrance, one hand holding a sudsy rag and the other on her hip. Fred thought he heard Scorpius curse under his breath.
"What are you guys doing here?" Bea called.
"Hey Bea, we're just, um," Fred stared at Albus. What was a verb for doomed-to-fail?
"...is that a blazer?"
"Scorpius is training me," Albus said proudly.
"To blind people—wait, Scorpius?" Her eyes narrowed sharply at the boy backing away from the pitch. "Oi Smarmy, I thought you were sick! You haven't been in to scrub for days. I've had to cover for you!"
Scorpius coughed twice but fooled no one. Raising a finger as if about to speak, he then darted in the opposite direction.
Before Fred could ask what was going on, Bea fumbled for her wand and shot a sideways Petrifying spell. By sheer dumb luck, Scorpius ran right into it, and he fell down, straight as a plank.
She stomped over. "Get in the lockers!"
"Kind of just prevented any chance of me doing that," he mumbled into the ground. Bea had never been very good at the dueling arts, however, and within a matter of moments, Scorpius was struggling to his feet. "Don't worry, Hooch doesn't even check."
She threw the rag at his muddy shirt when he turned around. "What if she does? And I'm always there—"
"Because if you suffer, I have to suffer, obviously." Whatever good-naturedness left in Scorpius turned sneeringly sour.
"We both got punished!" Bea retorted.
"And whose fault is that?"
With escalating tempers and contorting faces to match, not to mention Albus curling up like a pillbug every time they raised their voice, Fred wedged himself in-between them before it could get any worse. "Hey, knock it off!" He sent them both glares. "I thought you two had been getting along. What happened?"
Bea crossed her arms, placing herself neatly in front of Fred. "Well, we would if Malfoy was a little more useful than a doorstop."
"Doorstops buy everything you need, I'm guessing?" Scorpius drawled behind her. "She even treats me like her free assistant."
Her mass of hair whipped around. "Oh, you're hardly assisting—"
"Exactly! You don't even want me around."
"I didn't say that!"
"You practically did!"
Before Fred could raise his voice once more—he was getting pretty irked himself in this atmosphere, and if it were socially acceptable, they both needed a 'Shut up' and a slap to the face—Albus drowned out the lot of them with a high-pitched whine.
Everyone stopped and stared at the orange-blazered boy rocking back and forth in the fetal position.
"Great," Fred groaned. "You guys broke Albus."
The anger melted off of Bea's face. "Oh no, Al..."
As she squat beside Albus, fretting, Scorpius rubbed his temple, looking ten times wearier than he was when he arrived. He watched Bea with an inscrutable frown, and it would have been strange if not for the fact that Fred had been watching Scorpius for just as long. Finally, Scorpius turned to Fred, and Fred looked away (how did he always end up on the creepy end of staring?).
"Weasley, I'm heading back. You understand, I hope," he said, and Fred nodded. With one last glance, he added, "And Potter can keep that blazer. I've got three."
Bea and Albus didn't seem to notice much of Scorpius' departure until Fred crouched beside them. Bea had stuck a lolly in Albus' mouth, hoping it might help. The whine had at least stopped.
A heavy weight settled into Fred's side, nearly toppling him over; she was using him as a pillow. "Sorry, it's been a rough week," she mumbled.
"So I've heard."
She gazed over her shoulder at the figure in the distance. "How mad do you think he is?"
No complaining? No 'Freddie, it's all his fault'? "Not too much."
"Git. Left me all the work again." She looked up at Fred, smiling for a fleeting second. "We were never that bad."
Fred chuckled, ruffling the hair on top of her head. "That's because I have the patience of my nan."
Bea pinched Albus' cheeks, stretched and stood upwards. "Well, should get back to it." She picked up her tattered rag and waved goodbye.
With Bea and Scorpius gone and his still-unprepared cousin left cuckoo on the ground, perhaps it was time to call it a day and get to that French. But well... he did have a job to do. And giving advice was just talking about himself, right?
Fred kicked at the soles of Albus' shoes. "Hey, get up. Let's keep at it."
Maybe it was the extra jolt of enthusiasm in his voice, but Albus sprang right to his feet, patting the grass off his knees. "Aye, aye."
Looking him up and down, Fred had to smile. Dopey and weird he may be, but he was staggeringly resistant. There was hope yet.
"First step: take off that blazer."
The worst of the days were done and gone, like a broken fever, but the end of the week had one more hurdle: Friday Double Potions.
By no design of their own, Bea and Albus and Scorpius and Anjali were once again at adjacent cauldrons. Scorpius and Anjali had remained partners even after their break-up, and how they managed was beyond Bea's comprehension. But if there was anything she had learned about them, it was that they were very good at pretending.
Anyone who didn't look closely would think that the two Slytherins were hunky-dory, and maybe they were on other days, but not today.
"How is it my fault?" Bea heard Scorpius growl while she opened her textbook.
Anjali scoffed, "Can't trust you with a simple task."
"You never told me— "
The squabbling continued until Bea could see the veins practically pop off their faces. Did I look like that when I was mad? Bea pondered. It was such an ugly face, lines digging into all the wrong places. No wonder Albus hated it so.
All of a sudden, Anjali raised her hand. "Professor! I'd like to switch partners, please."
Ringleward shuffled over. "Is he giving you trouble, Miss Davies?" He sniffed at Scorpius, who wasn't even trying to seem respectable as he slouched. "I'm so sorry. Perhaps if you asked earlier, but the class has already paired up."
While Anjali was sweetly persisting, Scorpius rolled his eyes, until they met Bea's. They went elsewhere, so quickly that she knew it couldn't have been anything but on purpose.
He was avoiding her.
She had known, of course—she was avoiding him, too—but it wasn't like when they crossed paths in the halls, when it was easy to brush off their missing greeting. I didn't see him, Bea would tell herself, just like he didn't see me. But this one glimpse marked the unavoidable truth: he had seen her and she had seen him, and at some point, they had both decided they were better off if they hadn't.
"Professor Ringleward! We can switch partners!" called a voice behind her.
Scorpius' bewildered stare met hers again, startling Bea so much that it took a second for her to realize the voice belonged to Albus.
She swiveled around. "Albus! What are you doing?"
Albus sported a cheeky grin, the kind that could only be learned from Slytherins. "Think about it. Me and Anjali can work together and you and Scorpius could work together."
She wasn't the least bit apprehensive about crushing Albus' 'Isn't this perfect?' face. "You know Scorpius and I had a fight!"
"Then you'll make up!"
"No! No, we won't! It doesn't work like that!"
Professor Ringleward cleared his throat. He was standing in front of their cauldron. "Mr. Potter?"
"Yes, we'll switch with them," said Albus before Bea could get a word in.
"Good, then you can pair up with Mr. Malfoy. Miss Chang, head over to Miss Davies."
Four sets of eyes bulged out of their sockets. "Ah, but ah—" Albus sputtered, but the professor had already turned his back to help another pair of students.
Bea didn't even need to see Anjali to feel her withering ire burn into the side of her head. "...this is much better."
After packing up her things, Bea brushed past Scorpius as they exchanged places, and plunked down on her new seat.
"I didn't ask for this," said Bea, giving Anjali a sidelong glance.
"Hello to you, too."
Bea opened her textbook and took a deep breath. Work was work. Anjali was a top brewer who wanted good marks, and so was she. As long as they followed the instructions, they could get through this. "Induced Memory Potion..."
The problem was that Bea stopped following instructions as soon as they got boring.
Bea drummed her fingers, trying not to scowl as Anjali stirred counterclockwise. "I know it says four counterclockwise turns, but I really think seven clockwise would be better..." Seeing no reaction, she waved her hand in front of the other girl's face. "Hello?"
Meanwhile, the mixture turned a milky lavender and Professor Ringleward nodded as he walked past. "Very good, very good."
Anjali smirked, and without looking at Bea, handed her more root stalks to chop. So this was what it was like to be refused the spoon.
"I'm glad we can work together," Anjali said, turning the page.
"I'm not." Bea kept her eyes on the chopping board.
"You're already a better potions partner than Scorpius. Terribly lazy, expects the work to finish itself."
The burnt unicorn hair. The detention debacle. The flicker of recognition must have shown on Bea's face as Anjali then laughed.
"Ah—you've seen it, haven't you? You know what I'm talking about then."
The back of her neck began to prickle; Bea didn't like her tone. "I don't know what you mean."
"Don't you? As soon as there's the slightest bit of trouble, he complains and it's not long before he gives up entirely. Sound familiar?"
She pressed the knife so hard, it was turning the root into dust. "No, not at all."
"Please then, enlighten me on how he's changed, because I can tell you that the last three of Scorpius' little business ventures went nowhere." Scarlet-painted nails walked forward on the table as Anjali leaned in. Indeed, there was something foreboding about her words, like the hiss of a snake. "Or do yourself a favor and stop fighting the obvious: you regret ever talking to him."
Like the sound of sabotage.
"You're wrong." Bea's voice began to shake; she didn't know why.
But she should have known that this was Anjali's plan all along. "Because?" Anjali's eyes glimmered and danced. When Bea did not answer, she laughed again. "You don't know the first thing about him. Forgive me for thinking you were ignorant; you're just foolish."
Bea clenched a fist. "Shut up."
Unimpressed, Anjali cocked her head to the side, and Bea made a mental note to never make fun of Fred again. It was not the insults that made the slyly smirking girl before her scary, but the fact that she was right and flaunted it with a cutting glare. Their contract was a mess, Scorpius had no concept of hard work or consequences, and when it came down to it, Bea didn't know anything about him.
But at the same time—"I know him better than you."
Bea's sharp words surprised them both. Slowly but surely, more found their way out of her throat. "We fight. We... don't understand each other. But we'll get there."
Chin up, fists balled at her waist, her speech was spilling out half-blind. But it was all she had, and while she could bear Scorpius giving up on her, she could not bear giving in to such a witch. "So what if he complains and we argue? He's kept his word, and he's doing more than you are. He believes in me, and I believe—" She licked her lips. "I believe in him."
The girl in rags glowered determinedly at the girl who had everything, whose stony expression had begun to chip. "You know, in my line of work, it's long nights and lots of failure, and it's easy to give up, but guess what? We haven't. I don't care if he's given up three, five, or twenty times before in whatever business he's done! This time, he's got me, and you clearly don't know the first thing about me: I don't give up."
A surge of pride filled her chest, dampened only by the plummeting realization that the rest of the class had become as quiet as Anjali, and out of all of them, one mouth was gaping open.
Scorpius had heard the whole thing. He didn't speak, nor move to speak, but just stared, frozen like her.
Professor Ringleward lowered his glasses. "Miss Chang, is there something you'd like to tell the class?"
The silver-hot gaze seared into her mind, and as much as she wanted to wait for him to say something, she couldn't bear it. With her breath coiled tightly in her chest, she croaked, "No. Sorry."
Tearing her eyes away, she picked up her knife and another root. Anjali, expressionless, stirred the cauldron. Neither said another word for the rest of the class.
In the lonely dark of classroom fourteen, Bea grumbled as she tested her fashioned core over and over. It should have started glowing as soon as she enchanted it, but no matter her efforts, it remained a dead hunk of metal. With her prototype under her arm, she took a secret passage to the back of the library in search of a new spell, hopefully one that would jump-start the natural magical energies locked in the rockspoor scale.
Quietly lifting the chain, Bea ducked into the Restricted Section. She had walked through these shelves many times before when it was past curfew and she could sit by herself. She had found remarkable, even shocking ideas amongst the inventors of the past. Nikola Tesla was one, went straight to the loony bin after trying to distill a time turner. Nearly ended up with a death ray. Fortunately, before that, he had written down his life's work in Magical Observations on Physics, which was exactly what she needed.
Bea climbed the rickety bookcase's ladder, but she had not placed it close enough to the book and it remained out of reach. Pulling along the shelves only made the rusted wheels screech.
"Need some help?"
Her hands went rigid, clamped around the ladder rungs. "Um, yes," she said, glancing down at the dark figure below. She could only see the messy outline of his hair and one side of his face, cast with the pale blue of moonlight, not enough to make out an expression.
He climbed up before she could get down, and even though he stood two steps below her, Bea could feel him brush against her back as he reached for the book and placed it in her hand.
She sat on the floor and opened the book, and Scorpius sat beside her in the cramped space between the shelves, lounging his leg behind her. He handed her some truce bon-bons he had brought, and she would tell him he didn't need to bring sweets every time they argued, but well, it didn't hurt.
"Thanks," he said quietly, rubbing the back of his neck. "For earlier."
Bea looked up briefly as she turned the page. "I had to."
"Anjali's right, though. I can't be trusted to see anything through. Couldn't keep the essay-writing business going with Xavier. I've said I'd try out for Quidditch for six years now."
"You've changed since then," she said, and his smile curved a little less bitterly.
It never struck her so potently how strange their partnership was until then. If everything he had just said was true, then something set her apart, and that made her a little bit special, didn't it? She remembered what Scorpius said about Fred: "You ever take a look at what you ask of him sometimes? I'd never do that for anyone." And yet here he was.
Shaking her head, Bea scolded herself. She was thinking so fancifully.
After finding the enchantment, she spiraled her wand around the rockspoor core, muttering the incantation. The air around seemed to vibrate with color as wisps of yellow sizzled in the air.
"A little time to let it soak in, but hopefully, it'll work," she said with bated breath.
In the silence, Scorpius bent closer to get a better look, looming right by her nose, and then frowned as he peered into her face. "What's wrong?"
"Come on, just tell me." He nudged her with his knee, which had come to rest by the small of her back.
Persistent bugger, she frowned; she had no idea what he was talking about. But then a little thought revealed itself, the one that had been nagging since last week, and perhaps it was more apparent than she had realized.
"Do you actually want to be here?" Bea asked, chewing her lip. "You don't have to stay, you know, if it's boring."
He furrowed his brows into a strange squint. "Are you kidding?"
Scorpius laughed so loudly, it echoed through the shelves. "No, I think this is amazing."
She stared at him. "I still don't know if you're kidding."
"For the love of—" Scorpius reached for her prototype, but stopped just before he touched it. "Could I—?"
Bea hesitated before retracting her fingers. As he lifted it up, Bea could spot the old scrapes on his knuckles from their broom flight.
"This... it's not about the invention," he said, marveling every edge as he traced the metal. "Ideas are a dime a dozen nowadays. Trust me, I know that firsthand. But going through with that idea, giving it your all—that takes resolve, and I envy that. So yeah, you're amazing."
Her cheeks flared hotly. "You mean 'it'. It's amazing."
Scorpius caught his mistake as he was handing the prototype back to her. "Oh, right."
They stared at each other, hands frozen in midair—hers around his, his cradling her prototype—as if waiting for the other to speak, but Bea was too dumbstruck. No, I couldn't possibly...
A light appeared between them, suspending her thought.
The core had begun to glow.
Albus' high-pitched whine is inspired by Abed's high-pitched whine from the most awesome show Community. Tesla was a real-life inventor. He was kind of like a wizard.
A/N Hello this is your author speaking. Please fasten your seatbelts for the angst and feels. 6.5k of it, apparently. This was... a really long chapter. I kept questioning whether I wanted to split it, but it fit together all too well. And ps, I drew the end scene! :D
I really liked writing everyone this time. Dear Freddie came through to de-angst mid chapter, and Albus just tries so darned hard *pinches cheeks*. I want to ask a million questions to know what you guys think, because there's a lot going on this chapter, but like, lots of little things. I know there are quite a few shippers out there who have been amazingly patient, too, heh. Hopefully, you all enjoyed it, and if you could, please leave a review! ♥
Coming up: Finishing an invention is the easy part, but making sure it doesn't break the school...
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