Chapter 26 : Open at the Close
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26. OPEN AT THE CLOSE
The Slytherin-Hufflepuff match would have been eclipsed by the recent excitement, had it not been for Hufflepuff's replacement Seeker.
During the press rush over the Malfoys, a photographer for the Prophet had snapped a few candids of a certain gangly boy flying with a Snitch. It took a few seconds for the casual purveyor to notice anything odd, and then they would realize that Snitches were generally not purposed for flying toward Seekers.
Albus knocked James out of the sports column and became Hogwarts' first star player since his father to garner such interest without ever playing.
He'd shown a little trick to his team and a few in the common room to rouse up good faith. Hufflepuffs were the best cheerers and spread-the-worders, and when he emerged from the lockers during the warm up, all of his housemates stomped their feet and whooped in unison.
The booths had filled quickly; dozens were camped out on the best seats, saving extra spots with scarves and mittens. Younger students ran laughing through the frost with enchanted rocks, boasting about how they would try out next year.
He flew past the Ravenclaws and waved to Fred, Lucy, Rose, and Bea. The next booth was decked in yellow, and his house had rounded up the loudest girls to sit at the front to cheer for him—which they did, to the misfortune of others.
In the neighboring booth, a black-blazered Scorpius had his hands jammed into his ears. Eyes and nostrils wide, he muttered to Xavier, "How long was I out?"
When Albus flew up to them, Scorpius managed to reform his mouth into a grin. He looked quite a bit older since Albus last saw him, especially in a color so dour. "Well, look at you now, reserve reserve Chaser."
Albus grinned back. "I'm glad you're well enough to make it."
Upon noticing him, the other Slytherins in the booth jeered. Scorpius cupped his hand to his mouth and beckoned Albus closer. "Hey, don't tell anyone, but I'm rooting for you. And also—I got you something." Scorpius brought out a wrapped parcel and threw it to him. "Don't open it until you go down."
Albus squished it around in his hands. "Is it a blazer?"
It probably wasn't the deed to a theme park, but Albus held onto a faint hope. His captain rallied the team into the lockers for one last meeting and he could hardly listen for all the excitement abuzz in his ears. At last, while waiting for Creevey's introductions, he had time to untie the parcel.
He laughed aloud. It was a cape. A grand, gold cape fluttering as light as a Snitch, with a 'P' emblazoned in the middle.
Donning it over his uniform, he joined the rest of his team at the lineup as Creevey announced his name, with excessive lisping: introducing Albust Severith Potter! The Hufflepuff girls screeched his name and the whole booth stomped. Some even waved sparklers.
Hooch gave them a funny look, and then released the two Bludgers. Albus scanned the waving dots of green and yellow. Somewhere the Snitch was already hiding. He could almost hear it hum and he pressed his lips together to respond...
Anjali and Damien were facing off over the Quaffle and Albus could swear Anjali's eyes flicked to him for a second, long enough to smirk, before returning forward. Hooch blew the whistle and flung the ball skyward. Fourteen flyers followed a whirl of robes and dust.
If one looked closely, they might've spotted a streak of gold flying into the dust.
"Anjali's got first possession, passes it to Wyatt and—"
But the match was over before Creevey could finish his first sentence. The cloud cleared, revealing a boy hovering a few feet from the ground, cape fluttering, holding a little gold ball. He blew the dust from its wings, and it sneezed with a juddering whirr and nestled happily into his palm.
The Snitch had flown straight into Albus' hand.
Everyone had gone quiet and the other players stopped flying and looked down. A mid-flight Bludger hurled into one of the Chasers.
"It looks like... Potter's got the Snitch?" There was frantic signaling between Creevey and Hooch, with the latter throwing up her hands and finally nodding. Creevey grabbed the microphone. "Aaaand Hufflepuff wins! I think!"
The stands burst out cheering. The opposing Seeker burst out in objection.
Albus beamed, holding his prize high. He wasn't sure what to do now, as everyone was looking at him and he ended the match awful quickly; he didn't even sweat enough to merit a shower. Lacking other ideas, he started to holler an acceptance speech, "I'd like to thank my dad for the new gear, and my friends, because without them—"
The rest of his team hoisted him off his broom, and he yelled the rest while being paraded around the pitch. In a roll of thunderous drumming, feet and hands rallying, the Hufflepuff girls led the crowd in their chant.
She knew she'd regret allowing the last-minute switch, Anjali mused. If she hadn't spoken up for the boy, Hooch would have agreed with the other captains in preventing him from playing. But there was no rule against befriending Quidditch gear, as ludicrous as it was, and unless there was an official amendment, Albus technically wasn't doing anything wrong.
Striding out of the lockers, she took the long route around the pitch to spy at the lake, where Slytherins were setting up for their annual Swim-Off. She passed the spot marked by knots in the supports—five lined up like fingerprints—where Scorpius used to meet her before her first match of the year. He'd wish her good luck with a kiss, rekindle their romance for another tumultuous six months, until the reasons she loved him didn't turn out to be as true as she had thought. He hadn't come this year.
A few straggling spectators were hiking back to the castle when she arrived on the main path. Fred Weasley, ever predictable, stood waiting wrapped in three layers of scarf.
"You let Albus play," he said as she passed him.
"I was repaying a debt." She kept walking.
"For his servitude? I never understood—never mind." Footsteps crunched beside her and his face appeared in her peripheral. "Look, I haven't been able to talk to you at all since, you know. I gave a good word in. If it weren't for you, we could have lost more than Draco."
The courts were letting her off due to her circumstances and good-standing, provided that she give a testimony. Mum was trying to twist the publicity into something positive. The last thing she needed was another silver lining to accidental murder. "Don't sing praises, Weasley. I caused this."
"You went back for Bea and Scorpius, after you were already safe. Not many would do that."
"I said don't." Glare honed, Anjali stopped abruptly as Fred was about to overtake her. He was ready for it, watching her like an Occulmens, eyes unmoving; he'd gotten better with practice.
She'd catch him staring sometimes in this same way, fascinated and wanting like so many boys before him. But he didn't want her. He wanted her swiftness, her resolve—lusted for the confidence painted to her skin. He was jealous of her, wasn't that funny? If only he knew how jealous she was of him sometimes.
"Do you know why I brought Albus to Knockturn Alley that day? He was a back up, if the kidnappers wanted to trade. I'd have given him for Scorpius." Her lashes fluttered from Fred and settled closed. "Even I think it's cruel."
Swallowing disbelief, Fred was yet undeterred. "You wouldn't have done it. Not when it came down to it." She laughed into her collar, but he shook his head. "If you don't believe it, I will. I'm like you—I know. You'd do anything for your friends. You made a mistake, that's all."
He meant it. It was in his voice and his straight stare—the hope and faith borrowed from his beloved friends. It was the most foolish thing she had ever heard.
And sweetest, she supposed. "No wonder my housemate fancies you."
His brow furrowed and she could see him count through the possibilities. When their feet resumed its brisk pace, he let her go without protest; perhaps he had seen the smile on her face.
"Take care of them next year," he called after her. "They'll need someone."
The dorms filled with the sounds of trunk hinges and shirts folding. Stacks of clothes slid into luggage bellies for the holidays, alongside gifts and snoozing Kneazles. When packing was done, Scorpius' side of the room was left bare.
The Hogwarts Express chugged into King's Cross Station early the next morning. Bea ran down the platform to meet Scorpius before he left. His House Elf Finny was there to pick him up, looking quite dapper in his violet butler's suit. Though long ago freed, he was fond enough of his young master Malfoy to stick around, having taught him everything he knew about cooking and fashion, which explained a rather lot.
She waited, foot tapping, as Scorpius lifted the last of his trunks onto the trolley. She threw her arms around him as soon as he turned. "We're gonna miss you here. Hogwarts won't be the same."
"Less color, hmm? And less opportunities floating about. But you'll be blowing up some great things, I'm sure." He swung her up, so her toes skimmed the brick and her stomach flipped, and then she was on the ground again. "Never really thanked you for coming to save me and everything and... being there. So thanks."
"Well, that's what friends are for." She rushed through the clumsy 'friends' but only made it stick out more.
Scorpius took a deep breath, as if to say something further, but looked behind him to see his mum arriving, nose up to her brow as Finny tried to strike up a conversation. "So..."
He drew out the word and as much as Bea wanted to stall too, a gang of reporters was closing in led by that stubborn Miss Galloway in a leg splint, and it was probably best if she left before causing unnecessary gossip. Besides, Lucy had told her that her non-relationship with Scorpius was doomed anyway because "Beatrice is a granny's name and rhymes with his for Fawkes' sake" and thus would make a comical declaration of love at best.
She bit her lip and took the first step. "So I guess this is goodbye."
"That quick to get rid of me still?" Scorpius tutted, feigning heartbreak, which he was altogether too good at.
Bea braced to object but only managed to utter, "Oi—" before he caught her chin in his hand and kissed her.
Her knees nearly went in all ways, but she had the fortune of mostly falling into him. Kisses of this sort had a way of stopping time—though it probably only lasted a second or two—and she had forgotten where she was until a camera flashed in her face.
She wobbled upright, her startled eyes not quite back in their sockets. There were reporters ready to surround them and the clanging sounds of the station slowly drifted in, punctuated by Lucy's wolf-whistle as she hung out of a train window.
"Goodbye, Bea," Scorpius said, grinning.
And so they parted—an inch, a foot, glancing over their shoulders every so often, until they were lost in separate crowds. The next time they might next say, "Hello," they would be older, maybe different, Bea thought sadly. But even if it were a long while until then, there was an awful lot to do in the meantime.
Bea found her mum and sister Sasha a few signposts down. After flooing home, she levitated her trunk up the stairs to her room, dark and dusty like how she had left it. The clutter was just the same, too; she had bodily thrown herself in front of her desk to defend it from Mum's cleaning.
She unpacked her toolbox first and then dug out a small case, no bigger than a ring box, jammed between her clothes. Inside was a piece of her old Muggle-Magic converter.
The Aurors had taken the rest for evidence but she had nicked a dangling quartz shard, still wrapped in unicorn hair, when they showed it to her one last time. That strand of hair had been one of the original pieces, taken from the central storage on that first encounter with Scorpius.
She held it up to the light. What a small, stubborn thing. Her invention was a far cry from being a success, but failure wasn't the right word for it either, not when it lived through explosions and kidnappings.
It was important, Bea finally decided.
A thought sparked as the gold and crystal glinted against each other. Perhaps—perhaps there was another way to go about a Muggle-Magic converter. One that didn't handle quite so much energy, threatening to become a force of its own. Perhaps, instead of a converter, Muggle and magic could be sorted out—a detangler. Co-existing in parallel, rather than bouncing between two opposites.
The idea hummed, louder and vivider, until it was real in her mind, waiting to made. She would have to ask Fred to fetch her some black beetle eyes when she got back, but a mixed substitute might work for the time being.
She set the piece back in its case and rolled up her sleeves. Then, she opened her toolbox and went to work.
A/N It's come full circle! Only an epilogue to go! I'll save my final comments for then, but this is essentially the last chapter in the style of Capers and the last chapter set in Hogwarts, and it's sort of a goodbye for everyone. The epilogue is set five years later—the hello, if you will ;)
♥ reviews are much appreciated!
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