Chapter 19 : That's How the Biscuit Breaks
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19. THAT'S HOW THE BISCUIT BREAKS
And how the castle crumbles.
With a fully functional core, Bea could hook up the wiring, and from there, begin fashioning the Muggle adaptor parts. Magic wasn't finicky but the batteries inside Muggle gadgets were like old back-alley tomcats and the tiniest bit of magical interference made electrical currents crackle like fur standing on end. It was possible to power them purely by magic, but that was the key: pure magic. One energy or the other. No one except eccentric tinkerers like Fred's granddad ever bothered to modify electronics for magical use. It was tedious, difficult, and dangerous to boot.
But soon the whole Wizarding World would know about the tellies and computer boxes and mobiles they had been missing out on, and they would only need her transistor attachment to make them work, no conversion necessary.
The testing had only begun that day, but Scorpius was already bragging about it to others, even when she explicitly told him not to.
The classroom door creaked open. "...it's like magic, but it's not," she heard Scorpius say. "You've got to see—Bea! This is Xavier. Xavier, Bea."
She looked up from her three-desk workspace and waved at the tall, dark-skinned boy following Scorpius. She had spoken to Xavier a few times before in fourth- and fifth- year Charms, most notably when she helped him to the Hospital Wing after he managed to get a teacup stuck up his nose (tea included).
"She's got this whole box of ol' contraptions like these." Scorpius pointed to the device she was taking apart. "This is an um, spinnybob."
"Electric whisk." Bea aimed a screwdriver at the side panel to pry it open. Scorpius swiped the whisk a second before impact, and she ended up jamming the metal end straight into the desk.
"Yeah, it doesn't look too interesting right now, but it becomes this whirling deathtrap when you get it going." Scorpius waved the whisk-end of said deathtrap in front of Xavier's nose. Ever since she brought out her box, the idiot had been proclaiming himself the world's foremost expert on Muggle technology.
Xavier only snickered. "It beats eggs, mate. Mum has one. I know."
"This'll also beat you if you don't stop touching things," Bea snapped as she yanked it back from Scorpius.
Scorpius' grin soured, triggering another laugh from his companion.
"I get it now," said Xavier, as he set his winking eyes on Bea, and her cheeks tingled with red.
No surprise that Scorpius the charmer made friends with other charmers, and Xavier was the sort of bloke who could make a girl feel giddy to her toes with the right smile, especially when he didn't have a fist-sized piece of porcelain bulging from his nostrils. "Get what?"
"Why he chose you."
Before Bea could utter so much as an 'Eh?' Scorpius smacked Xavier over the head and hustled him to the next desk over. "Oi, shut up. Don't distract her."
She stared dumbly at the back of the blond mop of hair. Those fanciful thoughts were crawling over the wall again. Ever since she started noticing things she couldn't stop noticing things.
Bea took up her screwdriver once more, trying not to glance at them, and trying harder not to panic when she did and saw everything-can-be-juggled Malfoy lift the glowing prototype to show Xavier. It was perfectly visible on the table, why did he have to—but she had stopped trying to make sense of his whims a long time ago.
"Galloping gargoyles, you weren't kidding." Xavier crouched at eye-level around the core. "So this'll work for mobiles too then? I'd kill for some Annoyed Birds in Binns' lectures."
"Bloody brilliant, innit? Told you she's like this secret genius. Just as long as you don't mind the explosions."
Heat prickled up her neck. "There's only been two!" she retorted. "...this week."
"I've got complete and utter faith in you, nutcase." Scorpius winked. "But just in case, I've got my fireproof trousers on."
She scowled. A few chattery minutes later, Scorpius went around the desks to watch her take apart the whisk. He stood too closely, even though it was perfectly visible without breathing down her collar or even across the desks where Xavier stood. He ruffled her hair at the very top of her head as she swatted him away and imprinted a grin that she felt right to her toes.
And all the while—and for some time after he left—Bea tried to recover every skipped beat in her heart until she lost count.
Lucy and her friends poked around on Tuesday, and Fred and Albus visited every few days. The room filled up on the weekend. It became a sort of a lounge for the lot of them after Fred added some long-term soundproofing charms.
Albus sat on the floor in front of her oscillating fan while Mr. Welly pawed at the high and low buttons. The fan used to be a regular Muggle one, and over the summer, Bea had converted it for magical use. By the window, Scorpius claimed to be studying, but unless he was absorbing information with his face, he was more likely taking a nap underneath his copy of Effortless Apparition.
Bea handed Fred her final Stalker Salve specifications. After last week's tests, niffler incident not withstanding, it was finally ready to hit the Weasley Wheezes shelves.
"I'll show Dad next weekend. Thanks." Fred slid the papers into his bag.
Tucking her pliers behind her ear, she took the enchanted rod from between her teeth and fit it into the whisk's old battery. "Could you also ask er, if I might be able to work over the summer?"
"Of course. You know he's always happy to have company in the workroom."
"I was thinking actually, if I might be able to help out with the accounting? Your old job?" she asked rather sheepishly. "It's just, well, if I'm going to run a shop one day, I have to know more than just inventing, so..."
Fred stared at her for a moment before smiling. "Yeah. Yeah, sure. It's good you're thinking of it."
She had been thinking about a lot of things, too many things for a single head to hold. Summer felt like an eternity ago, when she had only half-hearted dreams and a shell of a invention. Those dreams were now the sweat upon her brow.
Hearing a racket behind her, she glanced over her shoulder. Scorpius had woken up and was clearing a seat next to Albus. He prodded at the fan's metal cage as it slowly rotated toward his side. "What's this?"
"Voice machine," Albus answered with full confidence. He opened his mouth wide. "Aaaaaaa."
Bea giggled as both heads bobbed from side to side trying to follow the path of the wind, and a strange feeling bubbled in her throat.
She turned to Fred. "Do you think... Scorpius reminds you of James?"
"Hmm?" Fred stopped trying to lure Mr. Welly with his pocket watch.
She wiggled her fingers. "You know..." Their incessant mischief and idiocy, the way they talked and sweet-talked and never took no for an answer, how they rolled out of bed with great hair and unfairly attractive arms...
Actually, maybe it was best to not ask. "Never mind."
By evening, Bea was alone again. Beyond the fogged windowpanes, the stars had risen, dull like stickers in the sky. She used to wait for one to fall, but there was no more need for wishing; she was so terribly close now.
The door creaked open and Scorpius walked in with two plates in hand. He set them down, sliding a bowl of soup in front of her along with two slices of bread wrapped in a napkin. "You skipped lunch, too, didn't you?"
"But I'm almost done." She squinted at the wire ends she held, trying to figure out which one she was supposed to switch.
"You've said that for hours. Eat."
And so, the clinking of tools became the clinking of spoons, and the quiet filled with chitchat.
Bea tore her piece of toast into strips and dipped one end into her soup. "Dad went into research for awhile, after me and Sasha were born. Mum said he liked magic back then—a lot. It was like finding a whole new branch of science, but better."
Muggle rules were hard-coded by formulas and physical limits, but magic was breathable. It made up its own rules when it was bored and filled in the gaps of science, an axiom here, a miracle there.
"He wanted to talk about it with his team. They could make some big strides in the research community, if only they knew what could be explained by magic. But obviously he couldn't, else he'd be breaking the Statue of Secrecy."
Scorpius swallowed his gulp of cider. "You mean Statute of Secrecy?"
Bea stopped nibbling on her toast. "...oh, that does make more sense," she whispered in sudden clarity. That explained the funny look Professor Hiddlebum had given her when she had asked how they rebuilt it all the time.
Wiping her mouth on her sleeve, Bea continued, "Er, anyway, Dad was always trying to find loopholes in the Wizarding law until the Ministry outright told him that he'd be Obliviated if he kept it up. Kinda ruined magic for him. Said there was so much backwards thinking. I think... I dunno, I think that's why he left."
They fell into silence, the part that she dreaded most. What could anyone say in response to that? I'm sorry? How terrible?
But as much as Scorpius talked, he knew exactly when to say nothing at all. Instead, he shook a crumbly biscuit out of his sleeve, broke it in two, and passed half to her.
Biscuits, after all, were the answers to everything.
After clearing the food, Bea brought the prototype between them. "So, what do you plan to do, once it's done?"
Scorpius swung his feet onto the table with minor regard to the stray bolts nearby. "I've probably got one more chance to pitch this to my father. As long as I'm prepared, it'll be fine."
"And if he still doesn't like it?"
"Then I'll save it for when he's got no say. I'll be running the company my own way sooner or later."
My own way. Bea could feel the weight behind these words, a hopeful beat in his otherwise cool speech.
He had told her once that to do business solely by numbers was too cold, the one folly he wanted to avoid, and worth was better measured in things less tangible than Goblin gold. Somehow, it had led him here, to the girl who fancied revolutions and had no idea how to achieve them. When she wanted more—a shop of her own and the freedom to build as she pleased without worry or fuss—money had been the problem, and now she knew to be thankful that money had been the only problem.
"I couldn't have finished this without you," said Bea.
Scorpius glanced down at the prototype, and a smile lifted at the corner of his mouth. "You could have. It would have just taken longer."
Bea watched his thumb skim over the metal rim around the core, fascinated as if he were seeing it for the first time. They would never know if she truly could have, but this timeline struck her like fate, if she believed in it.
"Maybe," she murmured.
Then finally, the next day:
"It works," Bea gasped.
Every head in the room turned toward the lit light bulb in front of her.
"It works?" Scorpius clambered over the rows of desks.
Albus was the first to crowd in, followed by Scorpius, Fred, and then Lucy. His eyes followed the trail of wires from the prototype to the glowing glass before his nose.
"It works!" Albus cheered, raising his arms in a V for victory.
"It's still got some ways to go," said Bea, heart thumping at hummingbird speeds. "Light bulb's the first one but I've got to try the other spinnybobs, and I have to see how it shrinks down but it shouldn't be hard." Her grin could out-blind the bulb's bright filament and the expressions around her mirrored the same. "Right, I need to keep going. I need that whisk—"
"Is it supposed to be smoldering like that?"
"Eh?" Bea paused her celebration to squint at the wisp of smoke trailing from where Fred pointed, at the join between the lamp's battery and the prototype's clamp. "I... better safe than lose an eyebrow. Let me just—ow!"
As soon as she reached for the clamp, a bright blue spark leapt out, shocking her. Scorpius caught Bea's hand as it recoiled.
"Are you all right?" he asked, turning her hand palm up.
Bea shot out of his grip and elbowed into her box of Muggle gadgets. "It's—it's fine. I should be more careful." Her fingers tingled, sure to blister soon. The clamp wasn't supposed to be conductive, but maybe magic muddled with the physics more than she had thought. "I need to disconnect this."
"Lemme give it a go." Scorpius rolled up his sleeves.
"I've got gloves, idiot." Bea opened her toolbox and reached for the bottom compartment.
Suddenly, in another surge of sparks, the bulb burst. Shouts of surprise rang out, and Bea shielded her face just in time from the shower of glass. Knocking over her seat, Albus pulled her to a safer distance. The lamp was still alight—in flame.
"Lu!" Fred rushed to his fallen cousin on the ground.
Lucy opened one eye. "What? Sorry, was being dramatic." She pushed herself up, brushing off the stray glass. "Oh my god! Malfoy's on fire!"
Scorpius dropped the pair of gloves and looked down where orange flames were creeping up his trousers. "Augh!" He swatted at it wildly. "These are supposed to be fireproof! The clerk said they're inflammable!"
"That means flammable!"
Bea grabbed her wand off the desk. Fred was quicker. "Aguamenti!" he shouted, but the tip of his wand, where a torrent of water should have been, sputtered only a few measly drops. "Aguamenti?" he cast again, but this time, there was nothing at all.
Scorpius was dancing with all limbs flailing like a chicken—a roast chicken. "Put it out, put it out—ack!" Fred started walloping Scorpius' legs with his jacket. "How's that supposed to help?"
"I'm smothering it!"
"You're attacking me!"
In their frantic yelling, the boys stumbled into the table, bumping the lamp and prototype to the floor. Finally, the flames on his trousers died. At the same time, Albus ran up and dumped a bucket of water over Scorpius' head for the second time that year.
Parting his sopping hair from his face, Scorpius muttered, "Thanks."
The group stood around the singed desk like a ring of caution tape.
"I don't get it." Fred waved his wand around. "I can't cast."
Bea tried a spell, too. She could feel the magic run down her arm, but it stopped in her fist as if it were corked. They each in turn stared at the prototype on the floor. It was the only possible explanation, but... how?
Albus hauled another bucket of water and was ready to extinguish the lamp's flickering flame when Bea blocked him. "Wait, no! It might make it worse." She hastily pulled on her gloves.
"But what's going on?"
"I think I mixed some wires..." But the truth was she had no idea. A million and one things could go wrong when mixing magic and electricity at the molecular level, and one could only prevent so much. Could she have possibly gone too far and created an—
The prototype continued to crackle, electric streaks arcing further by the second, and everyone took a step back. A loud grinding sound reverberated from the floor.
Lucy bit the back of her fist. "That—what was that? That's not us. That wasn't us, right—blimey!"
Underneath the glowing half-sphere, a dark fracture split across grout and stone, spreading through the room like a web.
"Oh no. That's us." Fred pushed her toward the door. "Everyone out!"
The answer hit Bea hard and fast. "It's absorbing magic. The prototype's absorbing magic from the castle!"
Scorpius leaned over the desk for a look. "How could that little—" Then another crack sounded, and his feet slid like a spider on skates as the whole room sunk an inch. In a blink, the crevice had gone from small to alarmingly drafty.
Fred pulled him up. "Little things turn into big problems!"
Bea's glare didn't miss a beat. "Oi, was that a jab at me?"
"Not the time! Let's go!"
Fred waved his wand, but no matter what spell he shouted, it fizzled into nothing. Finally, he gave up and ran, but even as the room began slanting downwards, Bea didn't follow. Instead, she turned back and crunched through the glass.
"Do you not see the bloody floor collapsing?" Scorpius shouted from the doorway.
"But the prototype!" Bea slid to where it lay. She had to unhook it from the lamp, but the surrounding electricity proved too thick.
Fred had come back to her side. "It's not worth it. This room could cave!" He pulled her sleeve. Rubble scraped her arm, but she let it be. The whole world could cave, but she was not about to let months of work crumble into dust, not when she was so close.
Bea thrust her hand into the thick of blue and grabbed the lamp. Even through her gloves, the shock burned her fingertips, and she bit down hard on her lip to stop herself from crying. She pulled the clamp, too dizzy to squeeze, but it held fast.
Someone grabbed her around the waist. "Stop, I have to—!" she cried, but her arms had gone too numb to fight, and she was lifted off the ground.
With the lamp in hand, the connected prototype dangled behind her. It bounced off the desks until it caught between two chair legs, and her carrier lurched to a halt. Bea recognized the cuff of Scorpius' blazer as one arm tightened around her shoulders. With a swift yank, he pulled her and the tangled mess forward, chair and all, as the floor gave out underneath it.
The chair proved to be a tougher fight, and strength failing, Bea's hold slackened. A clang resounded against stone, and she knew it had fallen. "No!"
It wasn't until they passed under the doorway that she found the strength to break free and stuck out her hands, singed and numb from her recklessness. Though dimly aware of the hubbub around her—of Albus asking her if she was all right, of a booming crash and a gaggle of students rushing toward them—all she could see was that the lamp wasn't there. There was nothing in her hand.
A rough grip took her by the shoulders and whirled her around, and she was face to face with a livid Scorpius, his cheek bleeding and his hair matted with dust. "Are you crazy?" he growled. "You could've gotten us killed!"
If she only had one more second to squeeze the clamp—"I didn't ask for you to come after me!"
She didn't need to fight him; Scorpius shoved her away. "Gee, you're welcome."
Before Bea could react, Lucy beckoned them to where she, Fred, and the other onlookers stood. "Duckies, we've got a bit of a pressing issue."
Bea's mouth ran dry as she peered through the classroom door—if it even had any classroom left behind it. The billowing dust had cleared, revealing a gaping hole where they had been standing ten seconds ago, looking into the floor below.
"I... think we broke Hogwarts."
When Flitwick called for 'those students who broke a thousand years of magic', Bea stepped into the Headmaster's office alone. It was her invention; no one else was to speak for it.
She began blabbering as soon as the door closed. "I'm sorry, Professor. I had no idea it would—I'll clean it up myself. Just—"
Flitwick held up his calloused hand. "Why don't you have a seat first, Beatrice?"
The velvet chair drew itself out and she sat down. Her fingers, now bandaged, flit stiffly on the armrests.
Flitwick smiled warmly. "A fan of Tesla?" he asked as he wiped his glasses on his robe.
"Er, y-yes?" she stammered.
"He was a brilliant mind, wise enough not to mix certain things. Vodka and Pepperup potion for one, but ah, that one's not important." He placed his glasses back on his nose. "Did you read his notes to the end? Of what happens to electrified equine hair?"
The notes came flooding back; unfortunately, this would have been more useful an hour ago. "Unstable transfer of magical energy, possible repulsion resulting in an anti-magic field," she said sheepishly.
"Precisely!" Flitwick said in the same tone he would use for awarding five points. "Though Tesla's field wasn't nearly as big. You used enough unicorn hair to make a wig for a bald foal." He chucked then quickly sobered, standing from his desk. "Ah, here it is."
Bea glanced over her shoulder. A house elf had arrived with a cloth bundle. After handing it to Flitwick and bowing, the elf disapparated.
Flitwick brought the bundle to a pedestal on the other end of the office and set it on the marble pillar. He unwrapped it and covered it with a glass lid.
When he walked away, Bea gasped. Twisted and blackened, she almost couldn't recognize the object inside, but the flicker of blue gave it away. "My invention!" She practically flew out of her seat. "It survived?"
The Headmaster wagged a finger. "Yes, rockspoor scales are quite sturdy. Keeps things strong, and—little tip—makes a fine breath freshener in a fix!"
Bea pressed her hand against the glass, expression lighting up in her reflection. It not only survived, it could still work. "If I get a second look, I can probably figure out what went wrong, and maybe..." She trailed off when Flitwick's somber smile did not change. "I'm not going to get a second look, am I?"
He rested a hand on her shoulder. "I'll be owling the Ministry to send someone over and pick it up. I'm sorry, Beatrice. I'm certain you'll go on to make great things, but right now, I must think of you and your fellow students' safety."
But it was there. Her prototype was sitting right there.
Swallowing hard, Bea shut her eyes. "I understand, Professor."
She kept her gaze lowered until Flitwick finished his lecture. He seemed thankful enough that no one was hurt and only docked twenty points, but ended quite gravely, stating that her inventing could not be done under Hogwarts' roofs anymore. Dazed, she nodded, barely hearing him.
When she left the room, Fred was waiting for her outside. He laid his hand on her shoulder like Flitwick had. "It'll be all right. You'll have more chances elsewhere," he said.
"Yeah," she mumbled. When Fred offered her an arm, she shook her head. "You go ahead. Erm, need to use the loo."
He nodded, though worry creased his brow before he turned around. When he was gone, she walked down the opposite direction hall, past the loo, and up the stairs.
The professors had yet to seal off the classroom. The few curious eyes that had come to see the destruction departed after a few minutes, leaving Bea standing in the splintered door frame alone. Peering in, her gut reeled, but she forced herself to look.
She had worked in this room for weeks, yet could barely recognize anything in the rubble. She spotted her toolbox first from the bright red rag wrapped around its handle. It was the only part that peeked out from the jagged mounds of rock crushing it.
That could have been her.
Her eyes adjusted to the dust as she searched. Fred's jacket lay torn across something like a bucket, and a few of Scorpius' textbooks were buried in the debris.
Bea gulped. That could have been everyone.
Fingers trembling, she dropped to her knees. Finally, she cried.
It was over. There was no point in I-told-you-sos, no victory in rubbing it in—a disappointment, truly. What a whimper of an end.
Flitwick made an announcement over dinner to not fret about the wee accident in the old Potions classroom and to stay away from the area while they repaired it. No, there wasn't a secret troll roaming the halls, nor had the castle decided to "take a break from castle-ing" as one hand-waving boy asked. Doubtful students from walked back to their common rooms with their arms shielding their heads.
Albus had known what to keep to himself, but now with Bea and Scorpius' contract dissolved, he was a chatterbox through and through, and she didn't even have to ask for him to talk. The word 'anti-magic' pricked her ears; perhaps she had misjudged the invention's not-quite-end.
Draco Malfoy arrived midweek, wrapped in a solid black cloak, drifting down the hallway like a shadow. He was a private figure, and his hatred of the school was well-known; only the gravest matter would have brought him here in the flesh.
Father and son stood side by side in the courtyard in the brief moment when she paused by the archway. Unlike his son, the elder Malfoy didn't fancy himself a man of words, but brevity was its own form of cruelty; it didn't take much to drill the brutal reminder of responsibilities into a head.
And she knew this time it would hurt the most. She had seen a spark of hope in the one time that Scorpius met her gaze since the incident. He had been so close.
But Scorpius had his chance. Now, it was hers.
When she spied the cloak's shadow walking toward the Headmaster's office, she followed behind. Her steps echoed dully, barely loud enough to register a presence. Even the slightest details in her actions were critical—haste was suspicious, but so was prowling too quietly. She only had one chance to make an impression.
Her lips curved at the irony; she had always been better at business than her dear darling.
"Mr. Malfoy," Anjali called, when his hand lifted to knock on the Headmaster's door. The silver-haired head turned. "If I may have a moment of your time."
Annoyed Birds would be a riff on Angry Birds, natch.
A/N And so ends the second part of Capers! Half of me is really really excited, 'cause the next few chapters are going to be a doozy, and the other half is biting my fingernails, because it's a very crazy chapter and possibly the saddest. I want to thank everyone; I've gotten such an amazing response in the last chapter, especially in the past few days. Oodles of love and noodles for Sarah, for looking this mess over, and Jo if she's still peeking around. It was the fact that she liked my tagline about breaking Hogwarts that Capers ever got written in the first place, and it is finally relevant.
Two-thirds in, but this is just the beginning ♥ a review would be brill!
Coming up: Scorpius bakes in an apron, Things, and a disappearance.
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