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Chapter 25 : Bittersweet
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A raincheck for someday.
Fred slammed the door to the Transfiguration classroom just as the camera flashed and the jamb caught the tail of the pursuing woman's quill. Through the crack, a shutter whirred. He turned the lock.
"I'll settle for a quote! A reference!" The door banged twice. "Mr. Weasley!"
She was the fifth reporter since morning and the closest yet to catching him. He didn't think this Miss Galloway of the Salem Star Gazette was much of a runner in her pencil skirt and heels but boy, could she hustle. And her runty photographer, wearing his weight's worth in equipment as a turtle shell, hobbled valiantly behind her.
Teddy was at his desk, hidden by an opened issue of the Daily Prophet decorated in a bold and black headline: "FALL OF THE MALFOY EMPIRE?" The top half of the paper dropped down, and Teddy greeted Fred with a curt smile.
"I see the foreign press has arrived."
"They've been arriving." Fred wiped his forehead and stepped from the door, which was possessed with more rattling, followed with mutters of, 'What kind locks do they use here—no, I won't give up, Grizzald won't accept the story without—Mr. Fred Weasley! Open up!'
The kidnappings had hit—nay, exploded across international newsstands hours after the Prophet's initial publishing and that was three days ago. Everyone in school knew that Scorpius Malfoy was a Very Important Person, but Fred was thinking that his title was short about five Verys. It never truly sunk in that the bloke who went around wearing tangerine-colored blazers was the sole heir, soon-to-be-head of a multi-million galleon company. Earlier, when Roxanne delivered lunch from Mum, Fred overheard her chatting with Lily, "He controls like, five percent of the economy now, or something ridiculous like that. Could bankrupt Britain with a sneeze."
The questions had come pouring, as Fred had gained some notice himself, being a member of the ragtag rescue mission. There's a rumor going around that Anjali's involved with the murder—but that's bollocks. Right? Did you really duel both wizards singlehandedly? Weren't you afraid? Curious eyes would surround him at lunch; it was the largest audience he ever had for eating a sandwich. He was pretty chuffed at the attention to be honest.
Until fast-walking tabloid writers like Miss Galloway came looking for exposés. When the door's rattling stopped, Fred asked Teddy, "Is there another way out of here? I don't think she's actually gone." He swore he heard a Silencio outside.
"There's a side entrance in there if you move some boxes." Teddy pointed toward the storage room. "Where are you headed?"
"Ah, are they awake?" There was the sound of a drawer's scrape and Teddy extended an card-sized envelope to Fred as he jogged up to the front of the classroom.
"Yeah—er, Albus says Bea is." Fred eyed the ornate seal before taking it. The paper smelled of sweetbriar.
"For Victoire." Teddy's mouth twitched. "Pass it along, will you?"
"Shouldn't you give this to her yourself?"
"I generally don't want to be in the presence of people reading my poetry." He shook out the newspaper and retreated back into its tent.
Whatever professorial authority Teddy built up never lasted long, not just due to the large number of students who were near-family, but also because he could never resist turning them into his personal cleaning and courier service. "Amends for the lack of tenure," he liked to say. Fred tucked the envelope into his pocket.
He snuck out of the side entrance, found behind a tower of Professor Longbottom's excess flower pots. The squeaky hinges wound up tipping off Miss Galloway anyway, and he was back to a mad dash until reaching the hospital wing.
"Can you—Mr. Weasley, can you tell me something about the inventor girl? Why was she taken? Mr. Fred!"
Hogwarts was better prepared for these things than him. Professor Pym had placed a temporary ward around the wing to prevent unauthorized access, and upon reaching the infirmary's double doors, Fred turned around to see Miss Galloway's face whump into the invisible wall like a bird to a window. Her spare quill feathers fluttered to the floor, on which her photographer slipped. He subsequently crashed into an expensive heap of former camera parts.
Neither roused. Glancing around and seeing no one, Fred cleared his throat and scooted into the room.
It was quiet today, in comparison to the hullabaloo twenty-four hours ago when Bea and Scorpius were scooped from the Black Lake. Madam Pomfrey finally managed to shoo out the Aurors, and the families had gone home. Fred first passed off Teddy's envelope to Victoire, who was draining bedpans. She pinched his cheek in thanks as he stood cringing and he spent the walk to the two occupied beds scouring the skin against his shoulder.
He'd been holding his breath since he came in, even though Albus had already seen them and said they were recovering fine. He could only remember the moment, eyes cracked open from four cups of caffeine, when Flitwick's tracking spells had gone haywire and the Slytherin Quidditch team—practicing at the time—ran into the hall, shouting that a boy and a girl popped into the sky and fell into the water. He had held his breath then, even though they had to be alive. Tracking spells didn't work on the dead.
It'd always been Bea with the attitude that if she wanted something enough, worked for it enough, it would come true eventually, even though it never turned out that way. But it was a nice thought, which was better than something not-so-nice, like dwelling on the ooze in their hair when they were dragged from the water and wondering whether it was slime or blood.
"Mostly slime," an Auror would tell him later.
They were absolutely-most-definitely alive. And recovering fine, Fred reminded himself. He could see the rise and fall of their chests, too slow to rustle the sheets. Sitting by Bea's bedside, Fred waited for a sound and heard a thin wheeze from her nose, a far cry from the whale calls she blared in the times he found her slumped over her work. The sugar-beast tamed.
Bea stirred and her eyes fluttered to him, lashes stuck together.
"Hey," he said, smiling.
She squinted—slowly, like it was an effort. She often had this look during early breakfasts, but the silence lasted a beat too long and Fred found himself holding his breath again.
Her voice was raspy. "Who... are you?"
Fred choked on his own spit. "Bea, i-it's me—"
Panicked, he forgot his own name. He clenched his fist over his mouth, running through what he knew of amnesia, and managed to sputter, "It's Zuh—Ge—Fred," just as Victoire sailed by with a bundle of linen.
"Oh Freddie dear, I gave her some night potion. She's bat-blind right now." The healer-in-training swat Fred off the bed and folded down Bea's blanket, rolling it up with an efficiency to rival Pomfrey's. She tucked Bea in with a fresh blanket, smoothing out the girl's curls. "It wouldn't be a problem if she were asleep, like she's supposed to be."
Pinched in her palm was Teddy's card. When she saw Fred looking at it, her eyebrows danced. "Did you peek at it? He rhymed 'suture' with 'future.' Adorable, how he tries." She laughed and then turned around to change Scorpius' sheets. Victoire was very good at the cousinly camaraderie. As James once said, she knew exactly when to mock someone for their shortcomings.
"Freddie?" Bea's head swiveled from side to side, apparently blind.
"It's me." Hearing his name was enough for relief. He crouched down, clasping her hand that search the air for him. "How's the past day been?"
Bea yawned, mouth stretched like an abyss, and smacked her lips. "Mum came. You just missed her. And... they fed me some awful syrup." Each word was accompanied by a long drawn breath. "I don't suggest you... ever get kidnapped. It's... not really fun."
How blithely she talked about kidnappings and near-death. It lightened his heart, even though the bit aware of their mortality recoiled at the same thought. Fred had seen her grow somber from one failure to the next, and while he had a liking for practical cynics, the truth of it was that some people never recovered and only got sadder.
Bea yawned again. "How's Scorpius?" Her blank, drooping eyes turned toward the neighboring bed, and Fred glanced over as well.
A blazer hung from the post and a shock of blond hair peeked out of the covers, the only two details telling of its occupant. There wasn't a single sound coming from Scorpius, just a trembling above the sheets where his lungs were.
"He's... sleeping. I think the potion's getting to you. You should sleep, too."
The quick change of subject missed her, if only because he was right; the night potion was quickly wearing her down. "But you've just arrived and I've slept so long and I'm not... tired..."
Bea began snoring. Fred slipped his hand from under her fingers. Before leaving, he lingered in-between the beds. Two tragedies avoided for now.
There was a person outside when Fred opened the double doors. Technically, there were three people, but two of them were still lying on the ground. The upright person—a skinny but sturdy man, no older than Teddy—looked up from the bodies and walked over to him.
"Are you Fred? Harvey Fairgrieve." The man shook his hand vigorously. "Assistin' Auror." A badge glinted from his jacket.
"Um, they ran into ward spell. It wasn't me—"
"Nah, no, don't worry about—" Harvey shook a thumb at the sprawled, unconscious Miss Galloway. Her photographer was being swept to the side by a House Elf dusting portraits. "We get a lot of those. Nah, I wanted to extend a personal thank you from me an' Auror Auburn. He's finishing the report for the case. Got every detail of your efforts in there, don't worry. Heard you faced both blokes on your own."
Fred recognized him now. Harvey had been in the room, far in the back taking notes, when they were questioning him and Anjali. "Ah, right." He rubbed his neck, sheepish when he realized what the Auror had said. "No need for thanks. It was mostly running."
"Ran out of a shattering vanishing cabinet. Bludgers of lead there, lad. Have you considered doing this full time?"
There was a glint in Harvey's eye and Fred wondered if there was some joke he wasn't a part of. "Eh?"
"You can't mean you never thought of being an Auror?"
"An Auro—me?" Fred snorted. "You don't—I'm not—" The idea blazed past every deterrent and a potential future flashed before his eyes. Danger! Excitement! A damn fine title! His Auror uncles used to tell the most incredible stories of traveling the world catching dark wizards, the stuff that only happened in papers, to the kind of people who appeared in papers. Aurors were fearless, cool, take-charge, and he...
He could be those things.
"We could always use more of you clever, reckless types. High turnover, you see." Harvey grinned. "You're a seventh year, aren't you? Think about it."
He clapped Fred on the shoulder, slipped a business card into his hand and went on his way, and Fred realized that he had just been recruited. Clever, indeed.
Shaking his head—though he could feel the adrenaline sloshing around his brain from the conversation—Fred put Harvey's card in his pocket and took out his watch. Half past one. Albus might still be at lunch. He'd get a kick out of this.
Flipping the gold lid open and closed, Fred ambled toward the Hall. "Auror Weasley. Auror Fred Weasley. Fred Weasley, Auror. Head Auror Fred Weasley..."
She knew how it felt to drown in air, to have her throat scalded by cauldron fumes as thick as liquid; water was sweet in comparison. It hushed her mouth after another minute's thrashing and the weight carried her down into the depths as gentle as a bed. The surface lights dimmed, winking out like stars.
He was there, only by the fingertips. The words squeezed into her palm flared awake—don't let go!
Bea forgot the rest in the blinks between then and now. Bare ceilings had a way of dulling senses; it was making her restless. The infirmary ought to have a magazine rack or at least windows that didn't fog up so easily. She couldn't even walk around. The Skele-Gro wouldn't set for another twelve hours and under Pomfrey's watchful eye, she was to stay in bed and not scratch her leg.
Scorpius wasn't awake yet, either. Victoire had told her multiple times (Bea had asked multiple times) that he was going to be all right, that he had a nasty but recoverable splinch and he was in a deep sleep for his own good, but Bea would believe it when he sat up. Nurses had a crafty niceness that you had to look out for; they had needles and probes up their sleeves, and they knew exactly how to coax you into taking anything, never mind that black goop of an elixir was moving.
Late in the afternoon, Albus brought her readings and homework, sporting a bright turquoise right eyebrow from some accident with mandrake juice, having commandeered his own cauldron for Potions. Lucy arrived soon after, wheeling in Maple the bonsai.
"Maple's a he now," said Lucy, patting the leaves. She was leaving it—him—on the nightstand for company. "He turned into a boy last week. Plants do that sometimes."
She also brought the last few issues of the Daily Prophet and a few witches' magazines. Fred had warned Bea that she was pretty famous now, and she didn't believe it until she saw the crowd gathered outside the infirmary. The cameras frantically clicked when the doors opened, snapping shots of her gawking face, soon to grace covers nationwide.
Reading the articles made her huffy. A Witching Hour blurb bore the title 'Bee Chang Making a Buzz,' and characterized her based off the observations of a fifth-year she never even talked to. Yes, it was true that she was "rather odd and made the sofas sooty," but it was in the pursuit of magical advancement! Bah, what did the papers know, when they couldn't even spell her name right?
Scorpius was the only reason that any of this was making the front page. No surprise, they only cared about her because of him, and about him because of his father, and his father for his company. The opening paragraph would begin with the terrible tragedies and then everything devolved into a circling debate over the fate of Malfoy & Co. Investors were fleeing by the droves. They were saying that seventeen was too young to be taking over. It was too soon, too sudden after Draco. Scorpius wasn't even out of school.
Scorpius wasn't even conscious! she wanted to shout. People ought to get their priorities in order.
Yet with the hubbub, not many had come for him by the time visiting hours were over. There was Norman and Xavier and her friends, she supposed, but where was his family? His mum? Her own mum had flooed in thrice, toting portable cauldrons of Grandma's all-healing herbal broth. Bea had been, for the lack of a better term, drowning in the recent attention.
She went to sleep worrying over everything she read; that was all there was to do in the infirmary: sleep and worry. The next morning, after Pomfrey checked her leg and gave her the okay, Bea shoved her papers together and tiptoed across the icy floor, wobbling on her new bone, and continued reading by Scorpius' bedside. Whenever it got too quiet, she laid a hand on his chest and waited for a heartbeat, and it would knock on her fingers, as if in greeting. He wouldn't dare die again. If he died again, she'd kill him herself.
The day was much of the same until dinner. The elves brought an extra-large helping of tomato soup straight from the kitchen. Bea remembered to feed Maple half a glass of water and definitely heard him burp.
She was scraping the last portion of soup from her bowl when a loud snort sounded from her left and she saw Scorpius' eyes peel apart just above his covers. She was out of her bed with her arms flung around him before her spoon clattered on the tray, and she stayed there until he was conscious enough to realize what was going on.
"Never, ever do that again."
There was a muffled laugh, slightly pained. "Go into a coma?"
"Yes, that. Comas aren't allowed."
Bea helped him sit up. He had splinched his side and though his bandages were clean, the healing still had a ways to go on the inside. Victoire brought an extra tray of soup and bread, plus medicine. Scorpius offered Bea his biscuit but she declined; he needed one more than she did. She only took it when he insisted that he was full and even then, she stressed, "Only half," until the half turned out to be awfully good and the whole thing mysteriously disappeared into her stomach. Scorpius did a double take, and Bea found herself explaining, "I meant... half of two."
They sat shoulder-to-shoulder as Bea caught him up with past few days. She had felt the pressure keenly while reading the papers and even more so when she repeated the stories to him. He had so much to do and he was barely an hour awake.
"Did your father have advisors?" Bea swung her feet off the side of the bed. "Business partners? What about your aunts and uncles—oh, you have none on that side. Other relatives?"
Each question was met with a shaking head. "It's just me."
"Can you can do it alone?"
He moved his food tray to the bedside table, pushing over a pile of get-well cards. "I know more than you think."
"But the time and the stress. Spring's when all the work ramps up. How are you going to take classes and—"
Meeting his eyes, Bea stopped short and saw that Scorpius had long resigned on something, perhaps as far back as during their abduction. He had known, more than the papers, what was waiting for him.
"I'm leaving Hogwarts."
She didn't gape nor cry. She could hear the unspoken 'sorry' at the end of his tongue, even though he had nothing to apologize for, and she might have guessed herself that it would come to this. His father was dead. Cato and Emeric would go on trial, not just for their crimes but also investigations on the company, which was teetering enough without further burden. Turning of age was supposed to be a celebration; Scorpius was inheriting a mess.
Bea bit her lip. "When will you come back?"
He didn't look away, but he wasn't quite looking at her either. "I don't know."
It could be never, she thought. Hogwarts didn't have much for him.
They talked about anything but the future until the moon rose high. Minutes were precious and drowsy. She didn't ask what would become of them, but she had an answer in the way his hand loosely twined with hers, beside his knee.
"On the bright side, this is my chance to start fresh." Scorpius kept his voice to a whisper, now that Pomfrey had gone to sleep and they were supposed to be sleeping, too. His fingers danced above the blue scar on her palm, where she had held onto her prototype too long. "And... I meant it when I said I wanted you to be a part of this. Working with me, I mean."
Bea was leant against him, drawing shapes in the sheets. In the tiny floury kitchen when he first asked, there'd been nothing else she wanted more, but that was before. "You have enough on your shoulders without another promise," she said.
There was a pause and then he nodded, and she knew it wasn't the answer he wanted. Maybe one day, it would be their time again.
Their words dwindled to quiet. There was one clock in the infirmary which, if Bea listened for it, emitted a click whenever its watch hands lined up exactly. They met now, both pointing to twelve, and for a frame of a second, it was tomorrow before it turned into today. The breath beside her sieved from his mouth with a lightness, as if a thread unwinding for seventeen years had finally been freed from its spool; with a sigh, the Trace had been dissolved.
"Happy birthday, Scorpius."
A/N I've been squeezing out paragraphs as slowly as the last toothpaste in the tube but I GOT THIS BIT DONE NOW, and I'm immediately starting on the next chapter which has a considerable amount of mini sections done. They sort of conclude each character bit by bit. Next chapter will have a bit of Anjali and Albus. I'm pretty happy with how I've concluded Fred's end, and if any of you long time readers remember, I had the worst time writing him in the beginning, but these last few chapters, I think he's really shined c: (oh, to add to the sad: he was about to say George's name when he thought Bea had amnesia).
Aah, what else what else - you might notice the new header at the top that declares ~finale~ which I've added to the top of some chapters as a divide for the story, because I figured out Capers works better as episodes. This is also the chapter that pushes the wordcount to over 100k!
Again, massive apologies for the wait ;A; you've all been so lovely with the waiting. I really wanted to finish it in May. Please do tell me what you think so far - the ending continues next chapter! And then an epilogue!
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