12. FISHING FOR WISHY-WASHING WISHING
Even after twelve chapters, no one listened to Fred.
The clack of heels echoed down the steps to the enclave of the boys' rooms. A head would roll tonight.
If Scorpius's head was even screwed on in the first place.
It was never Anjali's job
to keep Scorpius in line. She was his confidante and occasional girlfriend not his mother. Still, a certain amount of tolerance was expected and after knowing him for over a decade, his tendency for rash decision-making no longer fazed her.
Or so she thought.
There were three doors in this area of the Slytherin dormitories, sectioning off the fifth, sixth, and seventh years. Anyone glancing into the middle room would see the most tedious part of poker night: setting up. It would have been much easier to simply wave a few wands, but it was just as easy to "accidentally" enchant the deck in the process. So no wands.
Scorpius was helping Xavier Nott lift the massive oak table to the center of the room. Norman and Westley were hauling in extra chairs from the third year dorms, which inevitably devolved to chair-leg fencing upon making eye contact.
Anjali kept her smile sweet as leaned against the side of the door, one foot on the frame. "Scorpius," she cooed. "I need to borrow you for a second."
The sound of her voice was enough to make his eyes light up. "Darling! Be right there." He dropped the table with a thud and sprinted out.
"Oi!" Xavier cried, "At least finish helping "
"Sorry, mate. The lady calls!"
Anjali stood aside as a grinning Scorpius slammed the door behind him, barely in time to shield himself from the shower of chips Xavier threw at him.
"That's what he gets," Scorpius laughed. "Left me without a partner at D.A.D.A. today and then I got stuck with this dolt " He sobered with a cough, gulping at her cold glare. "Er..."
"You gave her a contract."
He blinked, smoothing down the front of his shirt. "What?"
"You gave. Bea. A contract."
"Yes... I did?" She could see his gears turning. "Something wrong with that? That is the point of all this trouble, no?"
He jumped backwards from the sharp edge of her scold. A deep crease furrowed his brows. "Darling, you were the one who told me to make nice."
"So that you don't burn bridges," Anjali snapped, brushing away the single strand of hair that had come undone. "I thought you just wanted to keep her on tab for the future, but to give her a contract now?
Have you lost your mind?"
He shrugged. "It's the natural next step "
"The natural next step
is to wait and see if that prototype even has a chance of working. You don't know anything about it other than hearsay and and a couple of grainy photos."
"I've seen her blueprints. They're promising, and I think it's a risk worth taking. It definitely won't get done if I don't finance it."
"And working with her?"
"Bea? I like her enough. She's got spunk."
"Of course you would. Probably reminds you of yourself, hmm? Doesn't listen to anyone but herself, pursues everything without looking two steps forward "
The tiny smile that he had been holding onto faded into a sour chuckle. As soon as it became clear that this conversation was purely business not pleasure, his patience thinned faster than Ringleward's hair. "Look, I get it: you don't like my decisions. Don't help me if you don't want to." He shook his head. "But why are you mentioning this now? Why didn't you say anything the first night that you brought them in?"
you were just luring them. Inflating your promises, getting them interested, not actually give them something concrete." His businessman spiel had the subtlety of a broom insurance agent; how was she supposed to know he had been serious?
"I haven't offered anything too unreasonable yet."
"Our time is valuable. Covering her expenses might not be much, but it's your father's
money, and if he found out "
"He won't," Scorpius grit.
"What about when it's done? What then?" She circled him slowly, finger trailing from his chin to his back, digging into his shoulder. "I know you want to what's the word she always uses? revolutionize
Malfoy & Co. when you take over. A million ways to do it, and you choose the one thing your father will never approve of?"
He couldn't hide his nervous swallow fast enough. "He'll come around. Muggle convictions or not, he won't give up the potential money if her converter works."
"Forgive me for not being the cheeriest apple in the bunch, but your father is as reasonable as my mother
"I know what I'm doing," he muttered, barely meeting her eyes. "I'd appreciate a bit of faith."
Faith in someone who gave a dotty biscuit-pusher a blank contract? Anjali could barely bite back her retort.
First, no one looked more unreliable than Beatrice Chang. Add the fact that Scorpius liked to run all his next-big-things
into the ground. Last year, the EZ-Essay Agency he had co-founded with Xavier never got past the planning stage, but boy, had he planned. He had made business cards and sent out surveys, despite his aversion to forms (His aunt at the Malfoy & Co. Quality Assurance offices used to babysit him. Just thinking about checkboxes gave his hand cramps).
Scorpius had worked out every detail until he had loved it, but it had only taken a dozen customers to make that vanish. Infatuated with ideas, allergic to work that was how he functioned, and reality was unkind to lazy dreamers.
"Fine," Anjali sighed, giving up. No point in truncating poker night any longer.
Scorpius visibly relaxed. As she brushed past him to get to the door, he eased an arm around her shoulder, stopping her hand when she turned the knob.
His fingers traced up and down her knuckles. "Your mum. Is she still...?"
"If you turn page twenty-three in today's issue of The Daily Prophet
, you'll see the lovely article on our so-called engagement that no doubt she planted." The words had stewed bitterly in her mind, but she couldn't quite bring herself to spit it out with the same venom.
"People will treat it as just another rumor," he said softly.
"I still don't like it."
"Is it honestly that bad?"
Maybe she could have loved him if power and money hadn't spoiled their courtship from the start, if Mum didn't constantly remind her how fortuitous it was to know the Malfoys and have their young heir interested in her.
With the family skirting bankruptcy, her future marriage was more pertinent than ever. For all intents and purposes, Scorpius was good enough
, but love was not for the half-hearted and wedding bells were not supposed to sound like the ring of a till.
She lifted his hand from her own. "You saw right now why we don't work," she said, turning the knob. "Thinking that you're still in love with me will only make our parents press the idea more. So, please, stop."
She pushed the door open, a smile greeting the waiting players, along with a thorough apology for taking so long. Scorpius lingered outside until Xavier yelled at him to hurry up. He took the seat across from her.
Xavier shuffled the deck, raising a brow at him. "Gods, what's wrong mate? You look like you already lost."
"It's nothing," Scorpius muttered. Anjali could feel him watching her as she counted her chips.
Poker face on, she threw in her ante.
Bea managed to weasel two extra days to think the contract over. Scorpius was none too pleased about it, but he had been looking sadder than a sack of lumpy mandrakes lately anyway. She didn't hesitate to point this out during Potions.
After graciously allowing Albus control of the stirring spoon, she leaned across the gap between her and Scorpius' table. "You look sadder than a sack of lumpy mandrakes," she said.
Scorpius was not cheered.
Bea didn't inquire further. She had her own problems namely, what she wanted from him. Getting her own shop sounded great before, but the dreamy colors had waned. She couldn't bear to admit that it might have been a fleeting fancy after all at least, not without a better idea.
While the Befuddlement Drought was boiling, she asked Albus for input. Albus shrugged. "I don't know, get a thousand cupcakes?"
"No, be serious. Something that'll be good for me."
He took a step back, spoon wielded semi-threateningly. "Who are you? What have you done with Bea? Cupcakes are good for the soul.
Bea rolled her eyes, snatching the utensil and thwacking him with it on the noggin. "It's not that I don't want them. I should, you know, think about the future. Besides, what'll Malfoy say? He'll probably grumble to his minions, 'I can't believe she's asking me for a thousand cupcakes. What does she think I am, a bakery?'" A village of white-frosted cupcake tops emerged in her mind. "...I shouldn't ask for a bakery, huh?"
"What about the theme "
"Yeah, you're right, never mind."
Albus scratched his brow with a new spoon. "You could ask him to fund your inventing for a few years?"
"And have to ask him every time I need something?" She stuck out her tongue. "Circe, how long do I have to rely on him?" As if one
invention wasn't already too much.
Sighing, Bea shoved a fistful of skullworts into his hand. "Let's just finish this potion before Ringle-ding-Dongleward comes back around."
They ended up getting a barely satisfactory mark for the drought. Albus had mucked up the stirring portion, having forgotten his clockwise from his counter-clockwise. Bea took away his spoon privileges for a month.
After class, she saw Fred outside, standing close to the wall as if he didn't want to be seen. He beckoned her as soon as they made eye contact and started walking in the opposite direction. She scrambled to catch up.
He tossed her a paper bag. "Eat your lunch on the way. Impromptu Hogsmeade trip."
"It's a surprise."
Bea squinted at the bag. She was always wary of Fred's surprises and could never tell if he was being sarcastic and actually meant something like, 'Surprise!
I'm busy today' or 'Surprise!
I can't let you have fun because you'll probably get yourself killed.' But he did pack her a treacle tart so she gave him the benefit of the doubt.
After entering the secret passage on the third floor and emerging in Honeydukes, Fred hustled Bea outside before she could get distracted by the glittering sweets. He said that the surprise was 'better than Honeydukes,' and if it was better than Honeydukes, it was either a unicorn or two Honeydukes. With half a sandwich in her mouth, she could only wave to the confused cashier as they stumbled out to the streets.
She was a little disappointed when they ended up in front of Weasley's Wizard Wheezes.
Bea loved Wheezes like a home (the Hogsmeade branch was, in fact, Fred's home) but it wasn't exactly surprise-level material. Yes, it was filled from floor to ceiling with some of the most amazing things she had ever seen, and yes, the proprietor was one of her favorite people in the world, but she had seen both roughly a dozen million times. If Fred wanted to show her what his dad was working on, she could've waited until an official Hogsmeade trip. It was enough of a hassle to walk there, even without all the secret passage skulking.
The door jingled and out walked a tall red-headed man. "Took you two long enough. Your Gram could've walked here sooner."
After kicking the doorstep into place, George clapped a hand around her shoulders. "Heard you were coming today. How's seventh year been treating you?"
"It's still sixth year for me," Bea giggled. He never remembered.
"Bea, you go on ahead," said Fred, who turned back toward the street. "I've got to go pick up something, but I'll be back in a bit."
"Er, all right."
George shook his head with an exaggerated dismay. "Look at him. Goes to such great lengths to avoid seeing his own dad." He called out to Fred, holding out a thermos, "Here, take this while it's fresh. Your mum brewed you your favorite."
Fred grabbed it and ducked before George could catch him in a headlock. "If you didn't keep trying to use me as a test subject, maybe I'd visit more often."
Fred left down the street with a grinning salute, after which George gave Bea a conspiratorial nod. "Spiked it with my latest potion."
While George went to the counter, Bea stood on her tiptoes to keep watching the tiny figure of Fred walking away, trying to figure out what street he was heading toward. Maybe this was just a distraction for the real
"How's your mum?"
"Hmm?" Bea swiveled around. George had brought out a tray of snacks, and she remembered the other reason why she loved Wheezes so much. She brushed past the displays to reach the counter, nearly knocking over a tower of Everlasting Confetti boxes. It was one of her products from last year. The punch line was the clean-up which, even by magical means, was never very thorough. It consequently made her Single-Use Anti-Confetti a best-seller, and George had given her bonus pay for such cleverness.
"Oh, my mum. She's fine. Really busy these days though," she said, taking a seat and a crisp.
"That's good. Isn't there that, uh, that big Nessie show coming down from Scotland at the museum she curates?" George drew a shape in the air that Bea figured was either Nessie or Scotland. His other hand was busy pouring tea for the both of them, and he had the amazing knack to never let it overflow, even when he wasn't looking. "Pops would probably get a kick out of it. Maybe I'll take him."
"Yes, Uncle George," she sighed, half-smiling. "I can get you the employee discount."
"Atta girl." He ruffled her hair with his free hand and then set a cup in front of her. "So I take it Fred's told me
that you've got quite a proposition right now."
"What? Oh. Oh.
" She slumped onto the counter. In the midst of cozy tea and suspiciously colored crisps, she had forgotten all about the contract. "Yeah, I don't know what to do. You'd think that it'd be easy, being able to ask for anything."
"Ah, but it only makes it harder to choose. Especially if you don't know what you want."
" Trust a fellow inventor to understand. "I thought I wanted a shop, but honestly, I know I can't handle one." She spread her arms. "Not all this. I don't even know if I really want it, or if it's just that you make running Wheezes look so fun."
"I'm definitely lucky." He grinned. "Not everyone can pursue their passion, get paid for it, and
have such rugged good looks."
The door jingled and a pair of boys ran in, pointing and marveling at the jumbo Aviatomobile. George went around the counter to set the car down, and the boys clambered inside, fighting to press all the buttons at once.
"I'll tell you now: it takes a lot work," George said, keeping watch. "People usually don't like being told that, because then they can't blame fate; they have to blame themselves. But I think you can do it." He winked. "You'll be stiff competition for sure."
She smiled sheepishly. "To be honest, I just can't imagine what else I'd do."
"Fred's not much different." George leaned against the glass display and tossed a crisp into his mouth in a manner that seemed to defy all laws of gravity. "He doesn't know what he wants either, so he's been shadowing his aunt. He has time, but you know him. Puts all this pressure on himself gets it from Angie, I say. You've got a lucky starting point here. You don't often find someone willing to take this sort of risk without seeing some sort of a finished product. I'd wager that Malfoy's about as nutty as you are."
That much was true. Secret baking and velvet blazers? And when she said she was going to start a revolution, he didn't laugh; he practically agreed.
Bea picked up a Whirlytop from a tray of sickle-priced items and spun it around idly. She had been reluctant to let the fact peel from her tongue, but yes, without Scorpius' sudden interest, the prototype probably would have gone to the rubbish bin within a month due to costs.
If Scorpius were the inventor, he wouldn't even have this problem.
"It's not fair." Her lips twisted into sulky shapes behind her hand. "If I could, I wouldn't sell my prototype at all. I'd just finish it on my own. Why do I have to end up relying on him?"
"It is what it is. Take your contract as luck, not a crux. Or a redistribution of wealth that's what the Ministers call it. You can't afford to think blimey!
George had forgotten to flip on the child-safe locks on the Aviatomobile, which was currently wreaking havoc on aisle two, and he fled to regain control of it.
Meanwhile, Bea stared off toward the ceiling, where her Whirlytop had flown. Last week seemed so long ago. She had forgotten that she once only wanted to finish making her prototype and have a tin of biscuits at her side. No driving herself crazy, building dreams on top of dreams, convincing herself and everyone around her that it was all she wanted. Now she had both a future to prepare for and the present to live, yet she was still letting a touch of pride stall her way.
The answer was so simple, it almost hurt.
"Thank you, Uncle George," she said when he returned, now considerably more smudged with grease. "I think I know what to do."
A point man was striding down High Street.
Fred did not have a plan as much as a mindset. He had run through a few scenarios in his head, and a few scenarios branching from those scenarios. They never worked out as he imagined, but that wasn't the point. They steeled him for the lion's cage. Nothing could faze him. Not the crunch of leaves underfoot, nor the itch by his collar, nor the faint suspicion that Dad drugged his thermos again.
And definitely not any seductive Slytherin lounging by the pond.
Hogsmeade was particularly picturesque on its outskirts, and the frame of sunlight and shimmering waters only made beauty more lethal. Anjali glanced up as he neared, taking her time to stand up and tousle her hair. "When I get a note to meet, I expect the host to show up first."
"Sorry, I had to take a detour."
She responded to his confidence with an arch of her brow. "So what's this about?" she said, twisting the locket around her neck. "Make it quick."
He took out his old copy of The Daily Prophet
from inside his jacket. "Fascinating news. The engagement of a Miss Patil-Davies."
Anjali's eyes widened for a startled moment where her face turned irreconcilably ugly. She snatched the paper from his hands and hissed, "You shouldn't go prying into personal matters."
"You shouldn't be toying with me if you're engaged."
Each crunch of the paper echoed through the clearing, silencing the birdsong. Fred would have been all right with anger, but her expression remained eerily stable as she balled up the article. "Scorpius and I are far from engaged. Last I checked, we're not even together. I can't help the few overzealous
reports of our relationship."
He looked away briefly, following the flight of the crushed ball as she threw it over her shoulder. "True or not, the demand is the same. I don't play cat and mouse. I'd appreciate it if you stay out of my way."
A short chuckle escaped. "Very well."
Her gaze dropped from his, as if the matter wasn't even important. Prepared as he was, Fred could not ignore the sudden swath of curiosity taking over. There was something not quite right. Any crack in her twenty-four hour cool demeanor was glaringly large.
Maybe the article had something else. He glanced at the discarded paper. "I'm sorry if I crossed a line." When she didn't respond, he asked, "Are you all right?"
Her sharpness returned. "Why would I not be all right?"
"You don't seem all right."
It was times like these that he regretted being a gentleman, and that any duress he caused weighed heavily on his mind, no matter how small it was.
Anjali stared at him for a long moment. For the first time, Fred noticed that her features were more delicate than sensual. Perhaps her confident strut and crimson lipstick had deluded him more than he had thought; she was still only a girl.
Then she let out a jarring snort.
"What?" He frowned. "I'm serious."
"I " Her lips pressed together, and she shook her head, trying her best to avoid a full laugh. "I'd love to take you seriously, but I think your nose hair needs trimming."
Fred felt the tickle on his lip as soon as she said it. Heart sinking, he looked down, where thick hair was sprouting from his nostrils at an alarming rate.
He groaned, remembering the thermos in his pocket. Damn it, Dad
. And he had been doing so well.
Fred fumbled for his wand to reverse the atrocity, and just as he was able to get his nostril hairs to their proper length, he was interrupted by a pair of fingers cupping his chin. Anjali was mere inches from him, and he had to admit the point man shell was still a bit weak against close combat seduction.
"Freddie. I appreciate the sentiment that you think there is more to me than meets the eye. Some girls might even find it sweet..."
She came so close, whispering with her red, red lips, that Fred might almost admit to a flutter of his eyelids.
"...but you are not going to find that here.
Smirking, she released him and left him lingering by the pond, heart constricted. Fred knew better than to run after her; it was foolish to chase after tricks.
He picked up the wadded article and smoothed it out. It was strange to say the least; the writing seemed more concerned with their parents' respective companies than their supposed engagement, and it was littered with overbearing quotes.
Fred shook his head, scolding himself again. It was foolish to chase.
He tucked the article into his pocket, and headed back home.
"Why did you want to meet in the Restricted Section?"
"Atmosphere. Now where is it?"
Bea huffed, taking the contract from under her arm and handing it over to Scorpius. If this didn't prove that businessmen were silly geese, she didn't know what would. The cramped space between the shelves was dusty, poorly-lit, and smelled of Pince's ointment. A hungry book had slobbered all over her sleeve. Whatever about this place that screamed contract signing
, she didn't know.
Scorpius sat down on a ladder. "Let's see here... I may buy your invention if I cover your expenses, no unauthorized blah de blah
," he mumbled as he skimmed through the document. He stopped suddenly, clearing his throat. "If you dare steal even a snippet of an idea from me, I will personally hunt you down and hex you until you're Hippogriff feed and all the lawyers in the world won't be able to help you then.
Crude, but it works, I suppose. Ah! here's the good stuff."
A sudden wave of apprehension washed over her. He wasn't going to laugh was he? Was it too much? Or what if she sold herself short?
"A silk tie gift for Fred, I assume. A trunk of Witchella nail polish "
"For the girls," she said.
"A dozen Chocolate Frogs "
"If you say so." He scanned the paragraph to find where he had left off and scratched the scruff on his cheek (he had grown it out recently as a companion to his grumpy attitude). "And last but not least, fund your inventing for two years after you leave Hogwarts."
Her feet danced fretfully as the silence stretched on. Hopefully, she wouldn't regret taking advice from Albus. So she'd have to keep Scorpius on call for a few years longer than she intended to and force herself to work her arse off. It was just a matter of taking a bit of responsibility for once, and she could do that much without spiraling into a dark pit of self-reflection again, right?
"Seems reasonable enough," said Scorpius. He added a few lines of his own at the end and then signed his name at the bottom of the page, ending with a large flourish. "Just a few details. Read it over and sign."
"Sorry, I forgot the part where I'm going to steal all your ideas and fly off to Cairo with my sacks of money," he drawled, giving her the quill. "But yes, that's it. You help me on my business, and I help you get started on yours. Seems like a fair trade."
He didn't laugh, Bea thought with a dumbstruck blink.
After she signed, he folded up the contract. With a flourish, he presented her a tiny pink-frosted cake that she swore he pulled out of his sleeve. "Have a complementary cupcake."
"Where'd you ?"
"I thought you were going to ask for one, so I brought it just in case. House-Elves made these."
Bea puffed her cheeks. She didn't appreciate having her behavior predicted very inaccurately, she might add!
She took another look at the cake; it had sprinkles.
"Thank you, she said hesitantly, taking it. Want half?"
"If I wanted half, I'd have told the elves to make two." Scorpius ambled out of the aisle, looking both ways before heading back toward the main section of the library.
"I was just asking."
Scorpius paused long enough for her to catch up. He rolled his eyes and sighed, "Give it here."
Bea split the cupcake down the middle, handing him the smaller piece.
It was as official as a handshake.
PHEW. Ive wanted to bring in Scorpius and Anjalis backstory for a very long time, and at last, I get to! Also hee, I quite love "Uncle" George and his cameo here. I still can't thank all of you enough for putting up with me and my terrible updates ♥
Coming up: a heated fight, and everything goes down the loo.
Scorpius blinked, glancing from Bea to Albus to Bea again. "That's cute. Not to be the bad guy here, but you know this is why people make fun of him, right? Someone has to say it."
Albus tapped her shoulders lightly. "It's all right. I can handle this. I'm " He mustered all his courage into his lungs. "I'm the son of the Boy-Who-Lived!"
"Yeah, yeah, and I'm the daughter of the girl who rejected him." Bea brushed him away. "You " She jabbed Scorpius' chest. This was personal. "You've been acting like you own the place. Well, you don't. This is my room, my rules."