The Magic Bean
Author's Note: Our writing group drew names for Secret Santa story gifts, and this was mine to St. Margarets. Thank you, St. Mags, for asking for minor character fluff. I never would have written a story about Bertie Bott otherwise! And big thanks to MrFlyingFingers who was key help early on,Suburban House Elf, my wonderful beta, and to HelenH and Eudora Hawkins for their wonderful writing support. Happy Valentine's Day!
Bertie Bott stood up from his massive mahogany desk and took the several steps to the large window which looked out over his factory. He sighed. Over the years he'd walked from his desk to the window and back again, what...thousands of times? Proof of that could be seen in the wearing of the shiny wood floor along his little path. He always felt proud to look at that dull, worn part of the floor. It meant he was involved. Looking out onto his factory, he'd invariably notice something he wanted to see more closely, or someone he wanted to address personally. And then his little walk to the window would extend down the staircase and into the heart of the factory. He was headily immersed in the inner workings. Or at least he used to be. He looked at the floor again. Where was that dull patch? The warm wood gleamed. It was all shiny. The factory elves must be doing their job. And he was not, he thought with a frown.
Lately, it seemed all he did was attend board meetings and presentations, inspect summaries of the company's performance and prospectives for the next quarter. It was all so incredibly dull...and all about gold. It didn't used to be that way. He remembered with fondness those long nights working in his small laboratory, trying to find just the right tastes, textures and smells for his candy; candy he had not yet even sold. He had been an amateur. He had known nothing of the complexities of the chemistry involved, and very little of the spells and potion-brewing involved. He had used foods, plants, liquids he had around the house, to make his product. They tasted nice. They smelled good. But they didn't sell. And then came the fateful day; the day he had accidentally dropped a pair of dirty socks into the bubbling pot. Out had come jelly beans which smelled and tasted just like dirty socks. The kids loved it. He tried a few other unique flavors - ear wax, grass, dirt. And hence was born Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans. It had been magical in those early days.
Now he looked around the factory. Giant cauldrons boiled and bubbled. Conveyor belts of all sizes carried a rainbow assortment of beans through all of the steps of production. Factory workers stood at their posts in their multihued uniforms with wands out, each one attending to his small part, working together in a magical synergy.
He murmured to himself, "Everything seems to be humming along just fine."
He placed the flat of his hand briefly against the glass. As he stared out, he caught his reflection. He sighed again. Fifty years old. Bean counter. And then he turned back to his desk to go through the next stack of papers awaiting him. A picture framed in brushed nickel stood next to his stack. For a moment, he watched the blonde woman who was smiling and holding her two older children around the shoulders while the youngest leaned against her front. The kids looked at each other and then back at the camera with open, friendly smiles. A beautiful family. His beautiful family. What was it he was seeing in is wife's eyes, in the relaxed expression in her face? She knew her place in the world. There, with her children, she was home. He threw the papers onto his desk and stood up. Enough of this. He wanted to be home, too.
He Apparated there with a pop, ending up in the grand foyer of his mansion. The Every Flavor Beans had done well for him. He had a beautiful house, lush and colorful gardens, a farmhouse in the country for weekend getaways. It was all he could hope for, really.
He followed the enticing scent of meat roasting and turned towards the kitchen, hoping to sneak up on his wife and wrap his arms around her from behind. He saw her before she saw him, and he stopped for a moment to take her in, admiring her curves and the fit of her red slacks and cream sweater.
"Bertie?" She called, a flurry of movement as she speedily wiped up a spill on the counter and gave a quick stir to a pan on the stove. "Is that you?" She turned and saw him standing there. Her blue eyes widened in surprise. "Oh! I didn't see you! Everything's ready for you and the kids. I have to run to my meeting." She glanced up at the clock. "Oh dear, I'm late! Must dash. Be back around ten o'clock." And she grabbed her purse off the counter and swept out of the room, pecking him on the cheek as she passed.
"Margaret...wait..." He reached for her as she left, then abruptly dropped his hand to his side. He'd wanted to talk to her, feel her closeness, smell her perfume, if only for the time it took for a real greeting - a hug and a kiss. He crossed his arms and looked around the room as a vague loneliness crept upon him.
"What meeting was she going to, anyway?" He grumbled to himself, as he poured a glass of wine and then took a sip. He looked up at the wall calendar. That's when another date jumped out at him. February 14. Valentine's Day. It would be here in two weeks. Twenty-five Valentine's Days with the same woman. That could be considered quite a milestone. His thoughts began to drift back.
He continued to drink his wine as he walked to the staircase and called the kids down for dinner. Memories flashed across his mind - fragments of sights, sounds, scents...of Margaret. First, young and shy, her long blond hair, her tentative laughter, the softness of her hand as he held it, the delicate flower scent of her perfume. Those were the new, exciting days, where he felt always on his toes, trying to impress, trying to win her affections. It had happened, slowly but surely. And then came the exquisite day he'd always remember. They were eating at Giancarlo's, an upscale Italian restaurant in the next town. The light was low, a gentle flickering of candlelight muted by the deep red of the table cloth and the burnished mahogany walls. It softly caressed her features, playing with the blue of her eyes and the shine of her hair. They'd shared a bottle of Chianti, and Margaret had ordered a pasta dish...what was it? The flavors were earthy and strong. Mushroom and Asiago cheese...that was it! With garlic. Lots of garlic. For a moment he was lost in its heady scent, remembering the cheese melting into little strings as she twirled the spaghetti onto her fork, and the sauce glistening on her lips as she brought it to her mouth. She'd offered him some pasta then. Off of her fork. Her eyes had boldly caught his, unblinking, challenging, inviting. He'd felt the wine quite strongly by then, and his own courage rose, surprising in its intensity. The soft, lilting mandolin music was all he heard as he had slowly leaned his head towards hers, and kissed her for the first time...
"Dad! Where are you?"
Bertie looked up from the table as his children pulled out their chairs and sat for dinner.
Edward, his eldest, looked at him quizzically. "You were a million miles away, Dad. Rough day?"
Bertie smiled. "No. It was fine. I was just remembering something."
"Did you think of another flavored bean?"
He laughed. "No." He thought of the ear wax and grass and dirt flavored beans he'd created. Too bad he couldn't create a bean that tasted like...well...like that wonderful kiss. Wait! That's it! He would create a new bean...the pinnacle of his achievement as a candy maker...and a Valentine's Day present for his wife...a bean that brought back the taste and scent and feeling of love's first kiss. He didn't have much time. And this would be complicated. So much more than mere flavor or scent. This would be of feelings and memories as well...in the heart just as much as the mouth. He felt a renewed energy and excitement...and a sense of purpose. It felt like those early days. He couldn't wait to get started.
* * * *
Two weeks and visits to several alchemists and potions masters later, Bertie Bott was beginning to become discouraged. He had heard the same story again and again.
"The magic is too complex."
"One cannot mix flavor with feelings. It's unheard of!"
And so on and so on. He had even tried the Potions Master at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, whom Bertie had thought would be helpful, having expertise in both potion making and Legilimency. The visit had been a disaster, however. That angry, sallow professor must have never experienced the wonder of a kiss himself, for the man had practically thrown Bertie out on his rump. But Bertie Bott was a man with a mission, and no greasy haired, potion making recluse would discourage him from successful completion. He worked long into the night at home, after returning from the factory. He hardly saw Margaret and the children. He hardly allowed time for meals. He was driven. But he was also realistic. Some things might be impossible, no matter how hard he tried.
He decided to scale down his efforts and resort to a more specific bean...one that would be special only for him and Margaret.
So here he found himself, in his home laboratory, surrounded by bottles of Chianti (he had even tracked down the vintage they'd most likely drunk that night), mushrooms, cheese, garlic, spaghetti, the scent of the rose in the bud vase on the table, Margaret's perfume, and whatever else he could remember from that moment. He stirred various combinations of them into a bubbling cauldron, trying to hit the right balance, trying to replicate that perfect mix just once more. He'd even resorted to stirring with his wand, rather than a spoon, hoping for something magical to happen. It was early in the morning of the fourteenth of February. He was almost out of time.
He stared into the pot with glassy eyes. It was well after midnight and he'd been working for hours straight. He didn't even hear the creak of the door, or the tentative steps down the staircase to where he was working. But he heard her voice.
He turned. Margaret stood there in her nightgown.
"Bertie...I'm worried about you. Are you all right? Are you hungry?"
She was standing there in the dim light, her hair down in soft waves, her face free of make up and full of loving concern. He saw the Margaret of his youth.
"I'm all right. Please don't worry."
"Bertie, what is it? What is keeping you down here for all of these days? I miss you."
For the first time since his idea took hold, he felt like it might, indeed, be truly impossible. He wasn't going to be able to make this gift for his wife. His new, exciting idea for the bean was silly and impractical and a failure. He dropped his head. She stepped closer. She placed a hand on his arm...the arm that was stirring.
"Bertie, please. Let it go for now. Come with me to bed. Enough for tonight."
He sighed. "But this was supposed to be a surprise for you. It was to be something...special."
"Yes. For Valentine's Day. But it's not working. I've tried and tried but I just can't get it right." He turned to her. "I'm sorry."
"Oh Bertie. Don't be sorry." She was still holding his arm, and she was beginning to caress it softly. She whispered, "I have all I want. You've given me all that I want."
He felt something then. Deep inside. Warming him. He closed his eyes and leaned his head to hers. They kissed. And during that kiss that wave of warmth became tingly and hot and traveled down his arm through his wand. He could feel it course through him. Magic. He opened his eyes and turned to the strange sensation in his arm. Something in the cauldron caught his eye. It looked different this time. There was a wonderful glowing swirl of cream and gold, and a marbling to the colors in this mixture, rather than the dull, flat brown colors he'd been getting each time before. His heart began to pound. He continued to stir. Margaret was still holding his arm. Suddenly he knew it was time to stop. He knew it was right. He poured the mixture into the molding trays and left it to harden, walking up the stairs and back into his home with his wife.
Later that morning, Bertie found the beans as perfectly formed, colored and smooth as he could possibly want. He popped one into his mouth. He was transported. It was perfect. He quickly placed some in a small velvet box with a short note, and tied a large ribbon around it. He ran up the stairs and found Margaret at the breakfast table, drinking her tea. Still without make-up, and in her robe, she looked every bit as ravishing as he remembered from last night. He sat down next to her and handed her the box. She raised her brows, her lips parted gently with anticipation. She opened it and read the note.
I'll never forget that evening. You are the love of my life.
She carefully took a bean and looked at him questioningly. He nodded to her to try it. She placed it in her mouth. Immediately her eyes closed and she tilted her head with a smile. She remained perfectly still for a few moments, then licked her bottom lip ever so slightly, and slowly opened her eyes.
She whispered one word, "Giancarlo's" and reached for his hand.
Love is magic, Bertie Bott thought to himself as they gently embraced. And he was a fortunate man, indeed.