Chapter Twelve: Scherzando
Scully and Percy's first stop after the wand shop was Madame Malkin's Robes for all Occasions, where Scully was fitted for a lovely navy blue robe that would be perfect for just about any occasion. The damage to her funds was far less than she had expected, although she knew the robes were nothing like those she'd seen in the window of Poinsettia's Period Pieces. Scully was pleased that Madame Malkin's tape measure was less high-strung than Mr. Olivander's. However, she flatly refused to let Madame Malkin transfigure her suit jacket into a cape, no matter how much the other woman wheedled. She knew she'd feel pretty silly sweeping into the Brisbin Institute the next day wearing a cloak over her sensible attire. She felt keenly disappointed by this thought, knowing that the incredible evening would be coming to an end. She hoped Mulder had managed to keep himself entertained with something other than the late night shows on the Discovery Channel. The robe would be finished at eleven; enough time to finish shopping and get some supper.
As they strolled out into the crowded Alley once more, Scully noticed a large crowd gathered outside Flourish and Blotts, a bookstore Percy had pointed out to her on their circuitous walk to Gringott's.
"What's going on over there?"
"I assume there's an author book-signing. I haven't seen a crowd this large since Gilderoy Lockhart came to town." Percy addressed a flustered-looking lady whose flowered hat was flopping wildly as she jumped up and down to get a better view of the proceedings. "Excuse me madam, would you be so kind as to relate to me the cause of this particular fracas?"
She looked mildly affronted at first, but broke into a giddy smile when she had deciphered his question. "Harry Potter is in Flourish and Blotts buying books like a regular person, bless his heart. Can you believe our luck?"
Another lady with gray hair and a straw hat joined her. "Agnes, I just heard that he's actually looking through Kennilworthy Whisp's new book on modern seeking techniques, the dear thing."
"Oooh, I'd buy any magazine with that picture on the cover! Harry Potter reading a book on seekers!"
The two ladies tittered at one another and began enthusiastically elbowing their way closer to the store.
Scully raised her eyebrows at Percy. "Pardon my ignorance, cousin, but who is Harry Potter?" Dumbledore had only just mentioned him.
Percy looked scandalized. "Nobody told you about Harry Potter? I can't believe that any discussion of recent modern magical history omitted Harry's story."
"We didn't really discuss any recent history."
He shook his head. "This isn't the best place to go into it. If we ever get into the store, which is looking doubtful at this point, pick up a copy of My Friend Harry by Neville Longbottom. I think it's still somewhere on the bestseller list. I admit, it's a little on the mawkish side in places, but it's by far the most complete account of the student's efforts during the war. It's also a harrowing read. We who were at school with him never knew Longbottom had a book like that in him."
Percy looked like he was about to continue, but a magically amplified voice boomed over the crowd. "YOUR ATTENTION EVERYONE! HARRY POTTER HAS LEFT THE STORE. I REPEAT, HARRY POTTER HAS LEFT FLOURISH AND BLOTTS."
A disappointed groan rose from the crowd, but very few people actually left.
"Maybe he forgot to get a receipt!" exclaimed a young girl, hopefully.
An older gentleman with only one eyebrow squinted at the store suspiciously. "I got the feelin' deep in my bones that he's still in there." He paused dramatically. "Buyin' books in secret."
One young man burst from the store waving what appeared to be a handful of instant photographs. "I got pictures of Harry!" he yelled. "Only ten galleons apiece. A lovely memento of the time you saw Harry Potter at Flourish and Blotts! Ten galleons! Do I have any takers?"
Scully was a little disappointed that Percy wouldn't let her test out her new wand on the shameless photo seller, but the disappointment evaporated once they managed to muscle their way into the store. Wall-to-wall books on every magical subject she could imagine: it was heaven!
With Percy's help, she quickly located the latest edition of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in the student section for Mulder. But she soon found herself seated on a stool in the quiet History of Magic section skimming through a large stack of books, her quest for Harry Potter forgotten. Each book was more fascinating than the next. There were books on every type of magic; selected magic for specific tasks, current research, theoretical magic, even history of nonhuman magical societies. This one she took the time to skim, since she was quite curious how goblins ended up in charge of magical financial institutions. Several of the books on Muggle studies and history were unintentionally funny, and she made a mental note to ask Percy about the Muggle Relations department's role in the Ministry.
As engaging as she found the books, it was impossible to focus on a single one for very long. A footnote about Goblin Rebellions in An Overview of Inter-Species Relations led her to a section in A History of Magic summarizing the 1563 peace accords between Wizards and Goblins. A reference to the part a famous Mediwitch had played in a key 1945 battle prompted her to consult Advances in Modern Magical Medicine for how Wizards treated inflammatory reactions. She was pleased to note Magical treatments for pain were decades ahead of their Muggle counterparts. While flipping through Curse Cures! Scully idly wondered if the cardiac regularity induced by a combination of adder's tongue and creeping toadflax would suppress the unpleasant side effects that occurred when fexofenadine and antibiotics were combined. The potential for hybrid Magical-Muggle treatments was more than she could fathom.
Admittedly, it wasn't her field, but the during the previous pollen season her mother had suffered moderate respiratory distress when she couldn't take both Allegra and the antibiotic prescribed for a skin infection simultaneously. In layman's terms, she was incapacitated for three weeks; scratching, sneezing and wheezing miserably throughout the entire convalescence. It was either that or possibly send her heart into spasms. She shuddered at the memory of her self-reliant, nurturing mother's uncanny resemblance to a rabid wolverine when confined to her bed. It was the only time she had ever considered giving anyone cardiac arrhythmia as a show of mercy.
Her mind turned an assortment of familiar chronic complaints that these books claimed could be cured by magical means; Mulder's color-blindness, her Aunt's arthritis, cousin Iphigenia's lumbago, her brother Bill's horrible temper.... She smiled, picturing herself force-feeding Bill Mellowing Mixture at the next family reunion. Perhaps it would be prudent to commit that recipe to memory. She'd seen it in Potions for Common Ailments. Or was is from Barely Legal Mood Altering Potions? Drat! Where was the reference section?
She became so engrossed in Index Infusia (and memorizing a simple bruise- healing balm recipe for the souvenir left by the airline drink cart), that she jumped when Percy tapped her on the shoulder and handed her a small bowl of... something.
"We should probably find eat presently, since it's nearly ten. I got some ice cream from Fortescue's to hold us over until we can find something more substantial."
Ten o'clock? Her cheeks reddened. She's been in Flourish and Blotts for nearly two hours. Talk about being a cheap date. Just lead her to a bookstore. Scully reluctantly took the ice cream, noting the rather unusual color, or lack thereof. "Aren't you afraid it'll spoil our supper?"
"Consider it an apéritif. I hope you don't mind that I took the liberty of choosing a flavor for you." He took a bite from his own (it looked like chocolate).
She took an experimental nibble from the translucent mass in her bowl. Odd, it tasted like oranges. Oranges and something else. Whatever it was, it was definitely tasty. "What is this?"
"Cointreau. I almost got you a sidecar sundae, but they were out of fresh lemon. I can't abide by bottled lemon in an ice cream, so I brought the unadorned Cointreau instead. Do you like it?"
Scully smiled at this. Her brother Charlie had once left a family gathering to procure a fresh lemon for his drink. "Very much so, thank you. I take it that yours is not the plain chocolate it appears to be?"
Percy jabbed his finger in the air like a game show host. "Ten points to the American De Winters. It's a grasshopper. It's one of the few mixed drinks they make as a single ice cream flavor. Would you care to try?"
"After such a generous dollop of points to my family, how could I refuse?" She opened her mouth to accommodate the rather large spoonful of ice cream Percy held out for her with a decidedly wicked gleam in his eye. Having slid her lip across the bowl of the spoon to dislodge as much of the sweet chocolate and mint as her mouth could hold, her eyes widened. Percy's ice cream was definitely more alcoholic than hers. "It has a bit of a kick, doesn't it?"
"I had to catch up with your one-point-two buttergins and tonic, after all."
"Would you care for a bite of mine? I don't think I can finish it without my stomach protesting the dearth of proper food."
"Wizard ice cream doesn't melt as quickly as Muggle ice cream, so you may save it for later, if you wish. But I couldn't think of declining your generous offer."
Wishing to pay him back for his over-large spoonful, Scully scooped up as much ice cream as gravity would allow her to fit on a single spoon. She set the rest of the bowl down on a bookshelf and held her hand protectively underneath the spoon so as to catch any that decided to fall. "Open wide, cousin."
Open wide he did, but it still wasn't enough. Ice cream smeared the edges of Percy's mouth, and another large glob fell into Scully's waiting hand. She expertly stifled the giggle that she felt rising in her breast. "Well Percy, I hope you remembered to bring a serviette or two." She turned to deposit the ice cream, which was soft but not yet melting in her hand, into her own bowl. He caught her wrist.
"Allow me." He brought her hand to his lips.
Having her hand kissed, though not a frequent occurrence, was not something that normally made Scully's breath catch in her throat. Quite the contrary. Normally she took umbrage at the type of man who would kiss her hand instead of shaking it. Often it was a misguided, local officer who had never interacted with a woman in a work environment, much less a young, attractive woman. Or else an arrogant rural investigator who used the action to remind her of her "place," both as an outside investigator and a woman. It made her seethe. This kiss, however, did not make her seethe in the least. She mentally ticked off the reasons it was different: it was on her palm instead of the back of the hand. It was from someone who she knew respected her. Someone whose company she enjoyed. It wasn't a calculated gesture intended for any other purpose other than getting the ice cream off her hand. But the cold of the ice cream contrasted deliciously with heat from his lips -God! Was that his tongue? She hardly had time to process that tidbit of information before Percy released her hand and cleared his throat.
"We'd better get these ice creams out of the store before we dribble on something. I mean, so we don't get ice cream on the books. Of course, most of the books are magically stain-protected...." He trailed off, red-faced.
Scully quickly gathered the three books she allowed herself (not including Mulder's, of course) and made her way to the main counter. Next to the counter was a large display of books featuring a shyly smiling young man with a nasty-looking scar on his forehead. Bold print proclaimed it My Friend Harry. Justifying it as a business expense, she added it to her pile of books. The sharp-eyed clerk behind the counter took inventory of her purchases, shaking his head slightly at My Friend Harry.
"Did you have trouble finding anything today, ma'am?"
"No, although I had difficulty extricating myself from the History of Magic section."
He smiled. "It does rather resemble a literary quagmire, doesn't it? That'll be eighteen, six and four."
She dug through her bag for correct change. "I take it that My Friend Harry isn't at the top of your favorites list."
"It's not that I didn't enjoy the book. Frankly, I had no idea that Longbottom had a book like this in him. But I wonder if it would have garnered as much attention if Longbottom hadn't died."
Oh. Scully wasn't aware that it was posthumously published. "Were you at school with them?"
"Same year, different house. I was in Ravenclaw." He said the house name as if it should have some special significance.
She settled for an ambiguous response. "I see."
Percy chose this moment to save her from a potentially awkward situation. "All ready to go, Daphne?"
"Yes, thank you, cousin."
The clerk looked appraisingly at the two of them, then smiled. "A Weasley. The hair should have tipped me off."
"Good to see you, Boot. I take it you're no longer in Magical Games and Sports?"
"No, I left last month. I'm working on a degree at Tregaron, and the Ministry couldn't take me part-time."
"Jolly good, Boot. Tregaron is a fine school."
"So you're showing your cousin the sights? You've stopped by Fred and George's next door, I'm sure."
"Er, not yet. Well, it was good to see you, Boot. Best of luck, and all that." Ignoring Scully's probing look, Percy hurried her out of the store.
She turned to him when they were across the street. "What was that all about?"
"What was what all about?"
"The next door business." She looked behind her. Flourish and Blotts was flanked by a pet store of some kind and store whose identity was proclaimed by a sign containing three interlinked red Ws. There were nearly as many people clustering around its windows as there had been around Flourish and Blotts during the Harry Potter sighting. "Percy, what's the store with the Ws?"
"Just a joke store," he said in a falsely airy tone. "I much prefer Gambol and Japes down the street. They sell much more attractive nose-biting teacups. But I can't imagine you'd be much interested in a place like-"
Before he could finish his sentence, a red haired someone slammed into him and enveloped him in a bone-crushing bear hug.
Percy sighed as best as he could without being able to inhale. "Hullo, George."
"Perce, you great sod, when was the last time you came to visit us? Even Mum complains that you spend too much time working for that old-" he cut off abruptly when he noticed Scully. "Well, well, well, Percival Alexander, what have we here? Could it be a DATE?" He released Percy and made a deep bow to Scully. "Mysterious lady, whoever you are, I humbly thank you and offer to kiss your ten tiny toes. You've just won me twenty galleons." He tore off into the crowd.
Percy looked miserably at Scully. "Weasley's Wizard Wheezes. If we don't take care of this now I'll never live it down. Come on." He fixed his glasses that had been knocked askew by George's exuberant greeting, and trudged toward the store. When they reached the door, Percy whispered in her ear with sudden intensity. "Don't eat or drink anything they give you, don't open anything that's closed, and follow my lead. George is the one with the scar on his right earlobe."
Scully soon saw the reason for Percy's last statement when two identical faces grinned greedily at them as the entered the crowded store. Before she had a chance to wonder at how such pleasant faces as the twins' could so closely resemble the Gringott's goblins', she was distracted by several loud pops. A giant canary, a confused-looking gorilla, and a lady whose skin had gone a fantastic shade of purple were clustered around a tray filled with sumptuous looking sweets labeled "Free Samples." Everyone in the store burst into laughter.
Scully raised her eyebrows at Percy. "Is this a common occurrence?"
"They carry traditional wizarding pranks, but their business is built on trick candies and cookies. They've also added a selection of 'adult' humor in the back room, which has done very well."
George hollered over the din. "All of our improved Transfiguration Treat line can now be calibrated by the joker to last from one to forty-five minutes!"
His brother added, "Eggplant Surprise, the newest addition to our Rainbow Raisinettes can be purchased alone or in assortment packages of seven colors!"
After the announcement, George gestured for Percy and Scully to come up to the counter and elbowed his brother. "What did I tell you, Fred? Does it or does it not seem to you that our beloved brother is on a date?"
Fred gave Percy an anguished look. "Say it ain't so, Perce."
"It ain't -- I mean, isn't so. Miss De Winter is new in town and I'm showing her around the Alley, that's all."
George gave Scully a conspiratorial wink. "Now don't let him say that to get out of buying you dinner."
Fred looked suspiciously at his elder brother. "How did you meet?"
"She's a new division head at the Ministry."
George's face fell and Fred laughed aloud. "Sorry George, it looks like you're out of luck."
"For tonight, anyway. Well, Perce, since you didn't win me twenty Galleons tonight, the least you can do is be a sport and try one of our new products."
Percy's eyebrows shot up. "Absolutely not! This is a professional outing and I refuse to do anything that would-"
"We know that. We promise nothing horrible will happen. Don't you trust us?" Fred had already gone to the "Free Samples" tray and selected a milk chocolate morsel decorated with a marzipan lemon. He held it tantalizingly in front of Percy's face.
Both twins put their right hands over their hearts. "We solemnly swear that this delectable morsel will not transform you physically or mentally, and may quite possibly give this lovely lady a higher opinion of you." George murmured something about liking poetry that Scully couldn't quite hear.
A small crowd had gathered around to watch.
"I said no."
"Come on then, let's see what it does!" The purple lady was fading to her original color. A murmur of assent rose from the watchers, and the rest of the people in the store looked over to see what was going on.
"Come on, Percy old pal. It even tastes good."
Percy was not convinced. "You promise that this thing will not impede my ability to converse intelligibly, change my appearance, or have any delayed effect producing either of the aforementioned effects?"
"Eat the blasted thing! You've had more of a guarantee than anyone else who tries the 'Free Samples' tray. What's your problem?" The former gorilla hadn't lost all the hair on his arms, though his face was nearly back to normal. Voices from the back chorused their agreement.
Scully felt a pang of sympathy for Percy, who looked even more ill than he had at the top of the grand staircase in the Du Bonnay Club. Whatever happened, she promised herself that she wouldn't laugh at him.
He popped the sweet into his mouth and braced himself for whatever was to happen. Nothing did. He cautiously opened an eye, then both. He glanced at his reflection in the glass door behind the register and sighed in relief. Fred and George were obviously stifling laughter.
Fred recovered first. "Told you nothing horrible would happen, Percy!"
"Shame on you for not trusting your own brothers," George added.
Percy smiled at Scully.
"My twin brothers Georgie and Fred
Are good fellows, though let it be said
That pranks done in haste
Are in very poor taste.
If they played one on me, they'd be dead."
His eyes widened in horror and he slapped a hand over his mouth.
Uproarious laughter came from all sides. Fred and George were in their element.
"Limerick Lemons, new this week at Weasley's Wizard Wheezes!" shouted George.
"And for more mature gatherings, try Lubricious Limerick Lemons, whose resultant limericks all begin with 'There once was a man from Nantucket!'" Fred gestured toward the small door that apparently led into the back room.
Percy was glaring daggers at his brothers, who were ringing up box after box of the Lemon candies. George finally noticed.
"Smile, Perce. When was the last time you impressed a lady with your literary prowess?"
"This is so much tamer than the Pun Peppermint prototypes we gave Bill. He had to spend the week in his room because nobody could stand all the horrible jokes. Of course, our skills have improved significantly since then." Fred clarified for Scully.
"The limerick's callous and crude,
and often distressingly lewd;
They're not worth the writing
Or even reciting.
Except by the vulgar and rude."
Percy spat the last line like it tasted bad. He pursed his lips together and drew a small notebook and quill from his pocket and wrote, How long until this wears off?
"An hour or two."
Percy's face couldn't have been a darker shade of purple if he'd eaten a bag of Eggplant Surprises.
"Really, Percy, it's not like they can throw you out of a restaurant for speaking in limericks. You'll be able to communicate anything you need to, it'll just be in rhyming meter. You must appreciate the delicate process it took to produce lines than scanned."
Percy had calmed himself considerably, but shook his head angrily as if to say something along the lines of "Bugger your delicate process."
George looked hurt. "It's philistine reactions like that that almost make it more bother than it's worth to play pranks on you."
"Almost," Fred added.
"Almost," George agreed.
<*> <*> <*> <*> <*> <*> <*>
Dinner would have been far more enjoyable if Percy had just reconciled himself to speaking in limericks instead of communicating by quill and parchment. The restaurant was intimate, and the smells that emanated from the kitchen area made her mouth water. After ordering for both, Scully reminded Percy to tell her more about the recent conflict. Percy nodded and began scribbling furiously on his notepad. She privately thought that hearing about war in rhyme would be far preferable to reading it in hurried script. As it was, the "conversation" was agonizingly slow, and she finally insisted that they talk about something else. She assured him that she'd look through My Friend Harry and the book on magical social policy that she'd purchased.
He shrugged noncommittally, not wanting to address what had prompted her to abandon the previous discussion. He wrote. So, tell me about yourself.
Such an innocent question. When was the last time anyone had asked? Scully was a little uncomfortable sharing her life story at first, though Percy was an excellent listener. She talked about a few of her stranger cases with the FBI, anecdotes about her partner, and a bit about her family. She left out most of the grisly details; her sister's death, her experiences with cancer, and shadowy international conspiracies.
When the food arrived, Scully was surprised to see that the waiter brought three plates.
"Your brother owled his us his order and asked that we tell you he'll be joining you presently," he explained before disappearing into the kitchen again.
"Your brother?" Scully raised her eyebrows at Percy. "You didn't invite Fred and George to join us?"
He shook his head vehemently.
"I hope you both realize the trouble I went through to join you."
They both spun to look at the sour-faced young man who stood before them. His bright red hair wanted trimming and he was dressed entirely in black.
Astonished, Percy spoke without thinking.
"Ron what are you doing here?
If you get caught here I fear
You'll soon be explaining
Why you left your training
And then be tossed out on your ear."
"As touching as I find your rhyming display of filial devotion, it should be patently obvious to you, Weasley, that I am merely disguised as your overgrown brother."
The color drained from Percy's face as he realized to whom he had just revealed his odd affliction.
Scully was unfazed. After goblin bank tellers and transfiguration treats, very little, even Severus Snape looking like a seventeen-year old boy, surprised her. "Severus, how good of you to join us. Won't you sit down? Are you well? I daresay you've never looked better."
Percy sniggered behind his hand.
The young man's ears turned red and he ground his teeth into a ghastly semblance of a smile. "I see you have embraced your role as a Weasley, Miss De Winter, judging by the battered binoculars case you are using as a purse."
Percy glared at him, but remained silent. Scully was far less bothered by the insult than he was. Besides, as far as sneers from Severus went, this one seemed half-hearted. Snape couldn't be embarrassed, could he? She had promised herself not to laugh at Percy's rhyming. The least she could do for Severus was not tease him about his current appearance. Or his regular appearance, for that matter. Ok. Diplomacy.
"To what do we owe the honor of your presence this evening, Severus?"
Severus sat down awkwardly. "Albus instructed me to take inventory of all the magical items and accessories you've purchased this evening as well as the people you've talked to while posing as Percy's cousin."
"And you couldn't have done this at another time?"
Severus shrugged. "I quickly tired of Lucius's company. I devote enough of my time at the Brisbin Institute kowtowing to him. There's no reason I should waste my leisure time doing the same. Besides, I assumed that it was best to speak to you now, before you forget any significant details."
"Why the elaborate disguise?"
"You saw how closely we were watched at the Du Bonnay Club. The sight of Severus Snape exchanging pleasantries with one or more Weasleys in any setting is suspicious. Alas, one of the more unfortunate aspects of your cover story."
Percy snorted again, and Severus rounded on him.
"You're mercifully silent tonight, Weasley." His gaze flicked to Scully. "Cat got your tongue?"
"We had a run-in with Percy's twin brothers in their joke shop."
Severus smiled nastily at Percy. "So they succeeded in making the limerick sweet, as well as the more difficult task of convincing you to eat it. I can't say I'm surprised. There are few people more tenacious than your brothers in pursuit of the perfect prank. I don't always admire their methods, but I can't argue with their results."
Percy looked torn between annoyance and shock that his brothers had been on the receiving end of a compliment from Snape. How did you know about the limerick sweet? Fred and George claimed it was new.
"You don't honestly think they do all of their own potions research, do you? As if those two would have ever thought to try ground Blarney Stone as a substrate for the yak hair."
Percy goggled at Snape. Scully saw this as an excellent opportunity to change the subject.
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