Chapter 4 : Preemptive Agreement
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Minerva had not spoken to Grimm since their altercation in the library. It was not surprising how she found new and interesting ways of avoiding him, taking exceedingly long shortcuts so that they would never cross paths or, if they happened to meet, walking past him as though she did not see him at all. Grimm had no concrete idea for why she was acting in such a manner. He had certainly treated her as he always had, but it had bothered her more and more with each passing year. He longed for the old days in which she would laugh at his jokes or make an effort to sit near him in class. Somehow, he’d managed to alienate her completely without even knowing it.
Hands in pockets, he ambled down the corridor, glancing at the portraits and statues. A simple nod to others as he passed them by was the only greeting he gave. What Tiberius Grimm needed was time to think, preferably alone. But where in Merlin’s name could you find a lonely sort of place in Hogwarts Castle, a place teeming with annoyingly curious people?
Ah yes, the potions room may be free at this time. Sluggy hated early morning classes, which was ideal for Grimm, who hated Sluggy. He let a smile find its way onto his face and began to think of what sort of potion he should brew himself. Something that would be on the final exam, perhaps? No, it was too bloody early for the exam. Not even Minerva would be starting to study yet. At least another month for her, somewhere in November.
Amortentia. That would be interesting to try....
The smile broadened to a grin.
His footsteps were light by the time he approached the silent potions classroom. He gave a not-so-cold nod to a pair of passing Slytherins and entered the room. It was his favourite in the school, at least as long as Slughorn wasn’t gracing its stone floor. The professor’s desk at the front of the room was well-stained with acid and ink. The windows let in beams of autumn sun through the thick metal bars. But it was the scent of the room that gave the greatest pleasure to his senses: a sharp sulphurous smell laced with all the various potions that had been spilled over the years. If he put his mind to it, he could match a potion to each smell.
Funny that he was thinking about smells while coming to brew Amortentia. Well, he hadn’t exactly decided upon that. She would never forgive him for slipping her some. How would he, anyways, if she never came near enough to him? Bribing the other Gryffindors to help would never work – they stuck together like fleas on a cat.
It all depended on what was available in the stores, then he would decide. Perhaps a simple headache relief potion would do. He would need enough to last him the whole Hallow’s Eve party.
The door opened with a whispered word that not many knew. Slughorn himself often forgot it and would send a poor first year searching for someone else who did. Grimm, however, had made sure that no one knew that he knew. Safer that way.
Bottles clanged together when his sleeve brushed too hard against them. It was like a symphony of sour bells, none of them in tune. His eyes measured the levels in each bottle, calculating how much he could get away with using without anyone taking notice. Dumbledore would have noticed, for sure, but it was not as though he came down here all that often.
He placed the bottles he chose and lined them up on a desk in order of when he would require them. To the desk he added the spare scales and rummaged up an old textbook, much scribbled in. The cauldron fire lit with a silent wave of his wand, and Grimm settled in to produce himself a most practical potion.
Minutes, not yet an hour, had passed when he bothered to realise that someone was standing at the door. A first year, perhaps second year, with unruly black locks falling over her shoulders was staring at him from the doorway. Slytherin.
“Yes, what is it?” he asked, holding the stir-rod in mid-stir.
The girl stepped forward, her long, pale face looking white against the dark corridor behind her. “Professor Dumbledore is looking for you.” Her voice was soft and low, but she was no Cordelia. Yes, that was her name, Prince. Certainly not a princess, not with eyebrows like that.
“Is he now?” Not Dumbldore. Anyone but him.
Her brows seemed to fall over her eyes. “He said you’d be difficult.”
Damn the man. He should not blame the girl for Dumbledore’s misgivings.
Grimm sighed. “Of course, I’ll come. Thank you, Prince.”
A bit prettier when she smiled, but still lacking that of the other dark-haired girl on his mind.
“You’re to go to the Headmaster’s office,” she added before turning back into the corridor.
The potion was not yet finished, but he’d have to forsake it this time, or did he? It would take at least another quarter hour to complete the boiling process, then another five to let it cool. Leaving it alone was not an option, and he doubted that he’d be allowed another twenty minutes before someone else came to call him out.
He sighed again and put the fire out.
Five-and-a-half minutes later, he arrived at the gargoyle, holding in his panting breath. Dumbledore was waiting for him, humming a songless tune under his breath as he polished his half-moon spectacles.
“Ah, Tiberius. You are the first to arrive, which some would call a little miracle.”
Grimm inwardly glared and outwardly put on a wan smile. The first to arrive of whom?
“Guess it shows that miracles are possible, sir.”
The laughing eyes met his, he refused to look away.
Minerva turned the corridor at that moment, her footsteps slowing before she reached where the two wizards stood. Her facial expressions altered in rapid succession, then smoothed.
“What is the problem, Professor?” She made no acknowledgement of Grimm’s presence.
“Headmaster Dippet would like to speak with you both.” Vague as always, Grimm thought when Dumbledore did not continue to elaborate.
Finally, Minerva glanced over at Grimm, her eyes shooting poison darts in his direction.
“I cannot understand why,” she said, her tone opposing her words.
The gargoyle door opened to reveal another coming down the stairs from the Headmaster’s office. Thin and spare, Tom Riddle carefully stepped around the three of them, turning up his nose as though something was smelling very bad. Grimm did not like how the prefect stood two whole inches taller than himself.
Riddle nodded once at Dumbledore, then turned to Minerva, his eyes widening with the semblance of a smile.
She nodded graciously. “Tom.”
Grimm straightened his spine, his throat closing in a low growl.
Riddle strolled off, delicate hands held at his sides, probably desiring to toss some nasty curses at them.
The three of them went up the stairs, Dumbledore in front.
“What was that about?” Grimm hissed at Minerva, trying to walk beside her.
She rushed upwards a step. “We must be judicious towards the prefects.”
“That was a little more than judicious.”
She pulled ahead of him, leaving him to speak to the hem of her robes.
Dumbledore ushered them both through to the Headmaster’s desk, where Dippet sat perched upon a high chair, wielding a quill like he was fighting for his life. Grimm was last to reach the desk, allowing his eyes to roam around the room and take in the portraits’ curious faces, the rows and rows of tempting books, and the ratty sorting hat, high on a shelf. He was still looking about when Minerva’s elbow made contact with his kidney. A flash of pain blinded his senses. Grimm held his breath as well as the curse words he wanted to send Minerva’s way.
“Thank you for coming,” Dippet was saying, scratching behind his ear. “Rather important business we have here to discuss. Very important.” He paused, shaking his quill at Grimm and Minerva. “Albus, please explain.”
“Of course.” Dumbledore nodded his head and turned to the two students. “It has been noticed by many, student and professor alike, that there seems to be some... problems between you, and as Head Boy and Girl, your behaviour must remain exemplary, with little, if any, fault.”
Minerva snorted. Grimm crossed his arms.
“Of course, sir,” she said.
“The problem isn't of consequence, sir,” he said.
Dumbledore held back a smile from his lips, his eyes not able to hide his amusement.
“Whatever it is happens to be affecting your duties.” Dippet placed his hands flat upon the top of the desk. “And that cannot be permitted to happen.”
Grimm closed his eyes. He could guess how this would turn out.
“Thus the situation must alter, or both of you will lose your positions. There must be no animosity between Heads.” Dippet stressed the message so hard that he nearly fell off his chair.
Minerva seemed to freeze in place, her face stiffening, but from beside her, Grimm could hear her sharp intake of breath. He knew that she would not complain, that she would take the professors’ advice. The only person in that room who would end up with the punishment would be himself. It was inevitable, so he might as well invite it.
“There’s no need for you to go that far, Headmaster.” He kept his voice firm, his eyes staring ahead at Dippet. “Minerva shouldn’t be blamed for my misgivings.”
It was a nice word, misgivings. He should use it more.
Dippet’s eyebrows would have made it to his hairline if he’d had any hairline to speak of.
“You would take the blame for this behaviour, Grimm?”
“Yes, sir. I bother her, it’s not the other way around.”
Damn right it was, though in an entirely different way that he wouldn’t dare try to explain. Just standing beside her for so long made the air hard to breathe. If he’d made the Amortentia, how much would it have smelled like her?
She was looking at him now, her eyes narrowed.
“You realise, Grimm, that if anything further were to occur, you would lose your position.”
Was Dippet trying to catch him out or something? Question his honour?
Grimm nodded, half-shrugging. “My parents wouldn’t be too pleased, but I wouldn’t go back on my word, sir.”
Dumbledore was watching him with interest, but Grimm kept his gaze upon the wizened headmaster. Who knew what sorts of things Dumbledore could see in his expression? Just how long had Dumbledore known of this “problem” between Grimm and Minerva? How much was he trying to capitalise on it?
Too many questions. Grimm let out a breath. He should have finished that headache potion.
“Then that is settled,” Dippet said, his voice rising in pitch. “Grimm, you will be under probation until further notice.”
“Or until this problem is settled,” Dumbledore added, removing his spectacles to wipe them on a corner of his robes. Was he smiling?
“Yes, quite.” Dippet waved the quill in the air to emphasise his point.
There was no question as to who was in control of Hogwarts.
Grimm left the office first, for once speeding up his footsteps so that he could escape the hand grasping at his sleeve. What a fool. What a damned, cursed, bloody fool! Had he honestly and truly placed himself in probation for her sake? What in Merlin’s name would his parents say if they found out? They must never. Not ever. They would rant and rave and wonder if he had finally lost his senses from all the potion fumes he inhaled.
He stopped to look at her. Was she really worth it?
A curl of her black hair fell over one ear. Her lips were moving in the syllables of his name. How did she remember it? She hadn’t spoken it in so long.
“Tiberius, why did you do that?”
Her hand was still on his arm, her eyes were boring into his, half-worried, half-exasperated.
All words turned to sawdust in his mouth. He worked his jaw for a moment, the thoughts muddling in his head before they reached his tongue.
“I don’t know.”
He stared back at her, eyes large.
“Thank you, anyhow,” she said, her voice softer than he’d ever heard before. “It’s something that you put yourself on the line like that–” She stopped, biting her lip.
Grimm could hear her unspoken words: “for me.”
Perhaps, more now than ever, the question of friendship stood between them. It was in the hand she hadn’t yet removed from his arm. It was in the words she couldn’t say. It was in the words he couldn’t put together right in his mind. It was in the way that he couldn’t pull his eyes from hers, maybe even in the way that she didn’t look away from him.
Now that the moment had come, he wanted it to be over as quickly as possible. Grimm could not understand himself, why he had lost his senses and nearly given up the Head Boy position – something he’d worked all those years for, if just to finally please his parents – just for this girl who seemed to hate him, but didn’t really, did she?
“Can this be over?” He hoped that she could decode his question.
“This... problem?” Should have been a Ravenclaw. She could read minds.
Her nod was barely perceptible. “We must pretend it never happened.”
Eyes hard in her face, no smile for him, no pity, nothing. Why had she become this way? Why build a wall between them? Things had always been strange with her – annoyed by his presence, never wanting to admit that he was just as good at things as she. Some people dared to call her a snob, but they said the same about him, too, with his family like it was. His father was in the Muggle government, a go-between for the Ministry of Magic with a fancy title. Her father was a Scottish wool merchant, careful to keep all his books balanced and his family well-provided for.
Did she hate him for the ease in which he could do whatever he wanted? Did she hate that it took her greater effort to make a name for herself, to build and preserve a reputation as the greatest witch of her year? Or was it that she disliked how he shrugged off his background, acting “far below his station” as they would tell him, chastising his lack of noble nature.
Something in the way she treated had never been right, and even now, as she stood so close to him, not able to be grateful for the risk he’d taken on her behalf, the risk of losing the things that he’d worked for. She hadn’t been the only one to put effort into building a reputation at Hogwarts, why couldn’t she see that?
She dropped her gaze, pulling back her hand.
“I don’t want to argue with you, Tiberius.”
“That’s a novel idea.” He dusted off his sleeve where her hand had been.
Her lips tightened closed. “You’re making it worse.”
“Isn’t that what I do best, Minerva?”
She could have cursed him then. He wouldn’t have blamed her. But instead, she sighed and shifted her feet, still not meeting his eye.
“We can’t even talk with each other without it going wrong.”
He crossed his arms. “It would help if you spoke to me more often. Mastery comes with practice, you know.”
Her entire form stiffened, from the hairs poking out of her bun to the laces on her boots. Perhaps he rather liked it when she glared at him like that, her black eyes like holes through which he could see her mind, maybe her heart.
“Well,” he said, clipping his accent in the way he knew bothered her. “We should make a deal. I promise not to raise the question of... friendship and you promise to speak to me in a judicious manner.”
Spitting her own word back again. She would speak to Riddle before him.
“That is not a fair deal.”
He dropped all pretense of high class. “Why the bloody hell not?”
One of her eyes twitched. How... different. Then there was a spasm in the muscle of one cheek. The stiffness was cracking, like a slowly shattering mirror. But what image would appear behind the glass? The twitch became a sparkle in her eyes. The spasm transformed into a smile. Her body shook with ill-concealed laughter.
“You try too hard, Tiberius.”
He was not amused. When was the last time he’d managed to make her laugh? It never happened when he wanted it to.
“How is that even funny?” he asked, keeping his face straight. He blinked, once.
She closed her eyes, raising a hand to her face to hide her laughter. “It was the way you said it, how your voice changed so quickly.” She took a gasp of air. “And the expression on your face!”
A random thought, or rather set of thoughts, poked through his consciousness. His eyes felt opened to details of her face and form that he’d never taken in quite so closely before. Her laughter was genuine – it sounded that way – and she had relaxed, another few strands of hair loosening from the tight knot at the base of her neck. If he reached for her now, would she let him? If he wanted to kiss her, could he?
No, it would be too much, too fast. She knew better, and he should have too. Hate. Love. Hate. Love. The definitions altering as their moods changed, neither’s emotion matching those of the other. Dammit she was right. They ought to just forget it all. But forget what? The love or the hate? Or both?
She was waiting, her amusement becoming expectation.
Before it came to all the other things, he would have to get through this single moment, making it so that they’d never regret, never look back wondering what it could have been like the other way. He may have made a stupid decision to put himself on probation, but he had done it for her, and she knew it. She owed him, and now he would let her pay it back.
He held out his hand. Minerva stared at it, a more serious look coming into her eyes.
“Pax?” The Romance languages were most often used to impress the ladies, but he preferred Latin, personally. She did as well.
She put out her hand with hesitation, her eyes fixated upon his. Grimm could have sworn that her breathing had become ragged, less assured. When her fingers touched his, he started at their lack of warmth. She would feel the perspiration in his palm, perhaps it would make her wonder or perhaps it would sicken her. He should have wiped his hand on his robes before putting it out for her to touch.
“Pax.” He didn’t notice that she’d spoken until he saw her mouth close.
She pulled her hand away too quickly, her skin sliding against his. A rush of nerves travelled up his spine. He took in a breath. Had he forgotten to breathe? Now that was going too far, stopping to breathe because she was near. Madame Nuttcombe would jinx him if he even came near the Hospital Wing, dying or not.
“So that’s settled.” He tried a smile. It wasn’t a successful action.
Minerva nodded. “Yes.”
Not the most earth-shattering of replies, but it would have to do.
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