Chapter 20 : And So It Begins Again
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ACT IV: THE THIRD CAPER
20. AND SO IT BEGINS AGAIN
One more time, with feelings.
Fred strode out of the Quidditch changing rooms, flapping his shirt by the collar. The sticking damp froze like mint to his skin. He pulled down his sweater sleeves, minding the stubby patch of pink protruding from his left arm—his one reminder of the since-dubbed collapsing classroom incident.
It felt so long ago, despite being a mere five days past. Time seemed to have spun backwards, dropping the whole lot of them at the beginning of seventh year, before any of this prototype business had come about. With Bea's inventing on indefinite hiatus, she had taken to aimless moping, scuffing about the common room and charging up static electricity to unleash on unsuspecting nappers. Fred hadn't seen Malfoy and had only met with Albus once to practice Quidditch and tell him about Uncle Charlie's homecoming. Anjali was still keeping his gangly cousin in service, but otherwise, they were all returning to the lives they had once lived.
Their very not-boring lives, Fred told himself with a fretful adjustment to his collar. He wasn't going down that restless path again.
So what if he couldn't forget that racing hum in his veins when the room collapsed? His friends barely missed serious injury; there was nothing exciting about that. And he didn't even like explosions, especially not what they did to his eyebrows.
He didn’t have an adrenaline addiction.
Shaking his head, Fred followed his teammates, who drifted past in pairs, speculating loudly about the Slytherin-Hufflepuff match. Verona Wood came out of the lockers last, ponytail swinging and sporting shorts like it was still summer, and he remembered he needed to discuss that gravity-defying feint she had suggested during practice (really, it was gravity-breaking, something straight out of Bea's book).
But before Fred could say another word, she thrust her broomstick a hair's width from his nose, and he was suddenly the subject of her interrogative squint.
"Word is, you're helping Potter get Seeker," she snapped. "Is that true?"
Oh Fawkes. "N-no."
"Gained a stutter recently, Weasley?"
Fred could never lie when it came in handy, especially not when he suspected those scary-limpid pools of hers were filled with Veritaserum. "Look, he's my cousin. He needed a break. And it's Al. So what if he gets Seeker?"
The broomstick wedged into one of his nostrils. "He may not seem like much, but I heard you lot talk. He was flying with those Bludgers during our last match. He's no normal boy." Couldn't argue with that. "If the 'Puffs win the Snitch in our match, it is on you."
His held breath squeaked out like a whistling kettle when she finally lowered her broom, but not before a friendly smack on the shoulder with the bristly end. "Onto other business then. Want to go to Hogsmeade?"
Fred remained frozen, sans a blink. "W-what?"
"Hogsmeade," Verona repeated, loosening her ponytail. "Get your hearing checked with that stutter."
"Like... a... date?"
"Yeah, you got a problem with that?"
"No, but ah, er..." Though he rather liked Verona on better days, Fred questioned the wisdom of pursuing another girl with no qualms about stringing his arse on a goal post. "I'll think about it."
Rolling her eyes—she had seen right through his camouflaged 'No'—Verona hit him with her broom again to get him moving.
"If you're hung up on Davies still, I'd check your noggin," she said on the path back to the castle, and Fred began sweating anew. Verona and Anjali's cutthroat rivalry went back to first year, even before they made captain (fostered by their fathers, according to rumor). "I almost feel bad for her. I assume you've heard—she's as broke as china in a minotaur shop—but moneyheads always find a way. I guarantee you'll never see her serving fish and chips in a hairnet."
"Well, her life's none of our business," Fred said quickly, before the hypocrisy could catch up to him. "About that feint..."
The change of subject stuck, thankfully, until they split at the Great Hall. Fred headed toward the north-end stairwell, after the one he usually frequented went on holiday to a nearby castle. He wasn't aware that staircases even had relatives. "Cut from the same quarry," according to Flitwick, who had announced quite enough architecture-related surprises in the past week.
Upon passing the open door of the Transfiguration classroom, he caught sight of a frizzy mop of hair he hadn't seen outside of the tower in days.
Indeed, it was her in the middle of the room, surrounded by crates. Three green lizards flew out of her hair when she turned. "Fred! Just in time!"
He swung his legs over the desks, arranged in a circle from the previous class, as Bea continued babbling, "So a couple of these lizards didn't un-transfigure all the way, and um, nature happened, and now Teddy's got a bunch of little lizard-thimbles loose in the storeroom. I've got to check them and send these to Hagrid's."
"You're helping Teddy?" Considering what Lucy had told him about Bea being inconsolably despondent in her room, burrowing herself in a "blanket Bea-rrito" the entire time, corralling lizards didn't seem like the type of activity to herald her return to the outside world.
"He's making me help." Bea stuck out her tongue. "A tyrant, isn't he?"
"A tyrant," called a deep voice, "who offered to supervise her so she could continue her rampant destruction."
She flushed hotly as Teddy stepped out of the storeroom. "Yeah, that too," she muttered. "Flitwick says I can do my inventing stuff if it's supervised."
That explained that. Fred waved at Teddy, who nodded back before disappearing once more into the dusty shelves.
"Told you you'd get more chances," said Fred. Bea had her backed turned, and only answered with an 'Mmhmm'. "They're taking the prototype in tomorrow, huh?"
"Yep, I think I might be able to get it back later if I fill out some paperwork." Her hair bobbed up and down as she moved from crate to crate. "But you know the Ministry. It has to go through a bunch of hands, get approved... and it's low-priority me..."
"I've been meaning to ask, ah..." Glancing toward the storeroom, Fred lowered his voice to a whisper. "Since Flitwick's pretty careless with his locks, if you want, we could slip in, no one the wiser."
"Nah, it's okay."
"It's not too much trouble—"
The adventurous shred of his soul wilted slightly; if Bea wouldn't be his enabler, who would? "Well... offer's on the table."
Fred was about to excuse himself but couldn't shake the feeling that something was off about her. He scratched his chin, giving one last go. "Verona asked me out. Weird, huh?"
Oddly enough, that got Bea's attention. "She did? Just like that?" She whirled around, flinging a lizard smack across his face. "Urgh, how is it so easy for her?"
The lizard went meep as he plucked it off. He didn't understand Bea's scowl until—"Wait, you want to ask someone?"
"No!" She froze. "No, of course not. We haven't even spoken since..."
At last, her shoulders heaved in a weighty sigh. She dropped the two lizards dangling from her fingers and sat next to Fred, drawing her knees up to her chin. Bea picked at her scabs, built from scars upon scars and years of bruised shins. "I was so stupid," she mumbled into her leg. "Why do I do these things, Freddie? I could've killed you all."
"Is that what you're hung up on? No one's mad." From her lack of budging, she was unconvinced. "You didn't know that would happen."
"I knew it was dangerous. Everything I make is, one way or another. I thought, nothing too bad's happened before so why would anything happen this time? And I didn't think about it again. And I should've, and there's just—so—much—thinking." She wrapped her arms around her head, burrowing herself in until she was no more than a blob of hair. "I'm fine working on my own. I listen only to myself, I don't owe anyone, I don't hurt anyone. But it's not like that, is it?"
"No, I suppose not."
"And... I don't think I want it to be either."
Fred furrowed his brows, finally understanding. "You know we'll always be here for you."
"I know." Bea sniffled once. "It's nice to hear it, though."
The room went silent, sans the sound of Teddy moving books.
"I've got to go apologize to someone," she said suddenly.
She slid off the table, and Fred started and stopped half-utterances to hearten her, but her eyes were surprisingly bright when she looked up.
"You're the best at listening. You know that, right, Freddie?" Bea hiccuped mid-giggle. Her wide smile, the one that had gone missing, spread across her face. "We might not see eye-to-eye all the time, and you might be naggy and a killjoy and easily manipulated by pretty girls—"
"—but don't ever change."
The oven expelled one last odious cloud, peppering the kitchen with soot and flour. Bea stared hard at the muffin tin on the counter. She was making red velvet, so why did her cupcakes come out black?
Brewing was a piece of cake, and baking was the same thing but with literal cake. It should have been easy—as pie! How badly could it have gone wrong?
Sure, the kitchens had run out of buttermilk, but she had melted a bit of butter into the milk and stirred it extra-well. She also couldn't find the beetroot preserves, but it was just for coloring, and tomatoes were red too, so it was the same in theory. And she might have hexed the mix when the lumps wouldn't go away...
With a huff, Bea flipped the tin over. Cupcakes were too finicky.
Then, after glaring for sulky minute, she unflipped the tin, chucked the burnt cakes into the rubbish, and brought out a new mixing set from the cupboard.
"Do you plan on blowing up more of the castle?"
His voice sent the bowl and spoon flying. Bea grabbed at the spoon once—twice—thrice before snatching it between her fingers. The bowl clattered on the counter. Red as velvet, she whirled to Scorpius, who was leaning again the door frame and doing a cruddy job of hiding his smirk.
"How long have you been there?"
The intruder only crossed his arms, and she didn't know if he looked more surly or amused; the tired lines under his eyes could have gone either way. "Do you think glaring at them helps them bake? You might have overdone it."
Her face twitched. Of all the people and of all the places—of course she'd end up meeting Scorpius in a tiny flour-bombed kitchen. She had been avoiding everyone and their overgenerous sympathy, but mostly, she had been avoiding him and for a very different reason: he was mad.
"What are you doing here?" she said.
"Can't I stop by?" He was unnervingly quiet and calm. "Not like you have."
A lump formed in her throat. Remembering that she was supposed to be apologizing, Bea grabbed the one good cupcake on the counter, the one Mibben the House Elf had made as an example, and shoved it at Scorpius. "Just... take this," she mumbled, keeping her eyes down. "It's an apology cupcake."
Scorpius sniffed. "That's not good enough."
"It's not poison."
"Arguable. But no, you have to say the words."
"What's the difference?"
"So I know you mean it."
Of course she did—he had saved her life and she had yelled at him for it—but the words couldn't come out of her mouth; she had put off saying them for too long.
"I do, I just—" She shuffled restlessly. "We've made a big fuss of it, so it's weird!"
"That's your fault." Expression unchanged, Scorpius took out his pocket watch and tapped a finger against its glass face. "I haven't got all day."
Her brain was spinning into mush; why was he making this so hard? But when Bea finally looked him in the eye, Scorpius didn't seem half as grouchy as before, and she couldn't help but smile when she dared to say the thought on her mind.
"You're not mad at me."
The side of Scorpius' mouth twitched, and it was now him glancing away. "...that's not the point."
A cloud of flour billowed as she charged forth, fists balled. At the same time, she heard him laugh. "You arse! I was—you were—!" Sticking out her tongue, Bea practically gagged out the words, "I'm sorry, happy?"
"Now was that so hard?" He left his post at the doorway and sauntered around the counter, sticking his grin in her face.
"Aw come on, nutcase, you missed me."
Despite her wrinkled brow and angry pout, her voice went quiet. "Well, yeah. I did."
The twinkling mirth faded.
"W-well, not like that." Bea waved her hands frantically, inching away until she hit a rack, and fumbled for the pot that fell. "You know, just like missing treacle tart. I can live without it." Actually, a world without treacle tart was pretty dark. "Obviously, I can live without you, but you're not awful—" She groaned, hiding in the pot headfirst. That sounded awful.
When Bea peeked out, an unfazed Scorpius was tying a pink apron around his waist.
"What are you doing?"
"Baking," he said, as if he'd miraculously gone deaf while she raved. But then he took the bowl and spoon and tapped her on the nose, winking. "Geez, nutcase, missed you too, but I don't have such a hard time with it."
Scorpius flicked a bag of sugar open with his wand and started whistling 'The Muffin Man'. Slowly, Bea put the pot back over her head until her red face couldn't be seen.
She had a bad feeling about this, and not just because she was hiding in a two-quart pot. The exact reason escaped her, but it was some combination of Scorpius' blithe reaction and his taking charge, not to mention that baking meant he would be constantly there and touchy and totally oblivious to the fact that he was being those two things.
In fact, it was already happening.
"Hand me that—" Scorpius tried to reach around her back but came up short, and then tried from the front.
Her eyes widened into the pink fabric as her face made a personal greeting with his chest. Heart constricting like it was trying to choke the very life out of her, Bea had to wonder how anyone could ever like this feeling. She thought she could breathe easier when he had all his tools and ingredients in front of him—it resembled her inventing workstation in a way—but then Scorpius started the preparation. Bea once overheard a few of the younger female professors mention that a good cook was devastatingly attractive, and to her great misfortune, they were completely right.
A few House Elves peeked in. "Ach, that fancy blond boy again? What's he gon' use this time? Ostrich eggs?"
Whatever eggs Scorpius used, he juggled three, cracking them into the bowl with acrobatic ease, and tossed the mix into the air without spilling one crumb. Bea crumpled into a ball. This was so unfair.
Scorpius glanced over, his lips twisted as if he wasn't sure to frown or laugh. "You okay?"
No. Absolutely not. Stop baking right now. "Yes." It sounded more like a squeak.
Laughing, he wiped his hands on a rag and picked up a bottle of red food coloring. "But I mean, you're okay?" he asked again, his voice oddly soft.
"Oh." She cleared her throat, pulling herself up. "Erm, yeah."
Sometimes when it was too quiet, the prototype would be falling out of her hands all over again, and she would remember the long drop of her heart in Flitwick's office when he had told her that she couldn't have it back.
"...it's getting better."
When Scorpius finished mixing, he poured the batter into the tins and put them into the oven, setting the timer for twenty minutes.
"My father stopped by yesterday," he said as he took off his apron.
"I heard." Waving her wand, Bea floated the dirty utensils into the sink.
"He asked about you. Not you you, but who made the prototype. I didn't tell him it was you, but I mentioned the other things you've made. He likes a lot of them, especially those Feminine Feet Soles—"
The utensils dropped at once, splashing water everywhere. "So what?" She frowned. "He still doesn't like me, does he?"
"Well, not really—"
"Then why do you want to impress him?"
He gave her a curious look. Grumbling, Bea tried to find the right words to explain. "You're always trying to impress someone. It's fancy blazers and playing cool for your friends, and so much of this business stuff's just to show off to your father even though he doesn't like my Muggle-Magic converter. You never do something just because you want to."
Scorpius' stare lingering until she slunk to the sink with a nervous cough. The clink of silverware filled the silence.
But after a moment, he lit up. "Actually, I got an idea recently. Since our last contract didn't exactly work as planned, I was thinking of a new one. I want to start my own business. Not Malfoy and Co.; I'll never be able to run it how I want to. I don't know why I didn't come up with it earlier, but think about it: you want to sell your inventions, and I want to support inventors."
"You want me to work for you?"
"I want you to work with me. A real partnership."
It took a second for her breath to catch in her throat, for his words to sink in fully. "After—after I nearly blew us up?" Bea stammered, trying to hold back from smiling too wide and too soon.
"Mistakes happen. I've made tons. What matters is that you can get back on your feet."
"But your father cut off your allowance. And if he finds out you're working with me again..."
"I've got savings." Scorpius shrugged. "And if he doesn't like you, he can piss off."
Bea blushed faintly. It was funny; there was a coldness to the Malfoy name, deadened by years of war (corporate or otherwise), that many assumed would last for generations to come. She had once seen a photo of Scorpius with his father in the Prophet, and it was eerie how similar they looked, but now she knew better. For though grey eyes matched grey eyes, the gaze of the boy before her held a warmth, like sun-lit spidersilk, and he looked nothing like his father.
"I can't promise this project will be the one, but I've got a good feeling," Scorpius continued. His formerly composed gestures were flung about wildly. "You've got the brains. I know some people who specialize in packaging and mass charms from my venture with Xavier, and I've got names for owl services. We could start there, then get move to a real brick-and-mortar—" He broke into a chuckle, and it was the first time she had seen him so nervous. "I'm getting ahead of myself. I haven't even asked if you're interested. So Bea, would you—?"
She flung her arms around his neck before he could finish the question. He grunted in surprise and upon regaining his footing, Scorpius laughed. "Is that a yes?"
He wrapped his arms around her too, tighter than she expected, until her feet left the ground.
Dizzy and breathless, she buried her grin into his shoulder. "Yes."
Scorpius strolled toward Flitwick's office with a tray of cupcakes, whistling 'The Muffin Man'. Anjali had been quite clear where she stood with his ideas, and without her help, Scorpius would have to start buttering up the staff himself. A few additions to Flitwick's dancing cupcake troupe ought to improve the Headmaster's inclination to forgive and forget at least another month's worth of trouble. Who'd have thought that two months down the line, he'd be partnering with Beatrice Chang to start his next great venture?
As Scorpius turned the corner, he spotted a man coming out of Flitwick's office, carrying the glass-encased prototype. He frowned. Wasn't the Ministry coming tomorrow?
He foot froze; something was wrong about this person's stance, and Scorpius doubled back behind the corner and peeked around. Something was definitely off. Though the man wore the standard robes and badge of many Ministry officials, he didn't carry himself like one, and the dull, bronze glint of his badge didn't shine right.
Another man stepped out of the office. When Scorpius saw his face and his scarred chin, a name leapt onto his tongue—Cato. It was not this man's first name, but more likely his middle, and it was rough and stern like the name was often uttered in his father's voice.
Scorpius swallowed hard. He knew these men. They were his father's men.
Father had told him just yesterday that it was a good thing that piece of Muggle filth was being taken away, but now he wanted it so badly that he'd get his lackeys to impersonate Ministry officials? If Bea saw —
The office door closed and the men started walking down the adjoining corridor. Scorpius gripped his wand. He couldn't risk an incident—not yet—but he couldn't let them just steal it away. Not without knowing why.
Taking a deep breath, he silenced his steps and followed them.
A/N WOW I AM REALLY LATE. Apology cupcakes all around? ;A; (It's actually funny, because I didn't realize that I actually do apology cakes in real life, because when it gets awkward, I usually shove food or something in front of people and hope it makes it all better. Like 'HERE, HAVE THINGS. ARE YOU HAPPY NOW? NO? HAVE MORE THINGS.')
Ahem, anyway. A few notes. One, in case anyone who's read Game missed the Easter Egg, Verona = Rona and Oliver's daughter and if you recall, Anjali = Roger's daughter. They spawned badasses. Two, I have got to stop making castle-architecture-related jokes. Three, the 'UM' picture I drew for this chapter doesn't match up anymore, because I made it more happy than awkward, but oh well. Four, DUN DUN DUN. It is cliffhangers just about all the way to the end now 8D
All I'm going to say about them is: we're not going to be in Hogwarts for awhile.
♥ thoughts/reviews? ^__^
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