Author's Note: this chapter has given me immense trouble, and I'm not proud with it in the least. However, it does move the plot forward in the way I wanted, and with that, I must be satisfied.
A frightened squeak emerged from the connecting corridor. Minerva rounded the corner, wand in hand, but stopped abruptly at the sight of a mousy-haired girl in glasses cowering against the wall.
“Myrtle?” Minerva squinted down at the other girl. “What are you doing?”
Grimm rounded the corner, stuffing his wand back in a pocket. “Myrtle, are you alright?” He looked from Minerva’s wand to Myrtle’s terrified face, his breath heavy. It had to be from the kiss. Minerva’s skin still burned, her nerves tingling at all the points they had touched.
“My notebook!” He rushed forward to snatch it from Myrtle’s hands. “How did you–”
Minerva barred his way with an outstretched arm. “Tiberius. Wait.”
She put her wand away and stepped back, pulling Grimm with her. “Myrtle, please do explain yourself. This is a very... unfortunate situation.” Unfortunate was a poor choice of word. Scandalous may have been a more suitable choice.
Minerva set that thought aside. She would deal with it – and Grimm – later.
Myrtle bit her lip, refusing to meet their eyes. “I found it... in the second floor toilets.”
“In a stall?” Grimm asked. He was frowning even more deeply than usual, his brain trying to work out all the strangeness of this development.
For Myrtle to have found his notebook in the girl’s lavatory would suggest that a girl had taken it. Not impossible, seeing that girls could easily enter the boy’s dormitories. It didn’t help that Myrtle did not seem to be telling the truth. There was something wrong about the way she’d told them where the notebook had been. But Grimm trusted her in his own way. What had he said about her once – she was like a younger sister?
Myrtle was nodding. “Yes, the second one in. It wasn’t in the toilet, though, or else I wouldn’t have touched it.” She tried a little smile, only managing to look more terrified. “I recognized it as yours, Tibbs.”
She looked at Grimm, eyes huge behind her glasses. Unlike Minerva’s small glasses, only meant for reading, Myrtle’s were bottle-bottom lenses: thick, heavy, and wide. They warped Myrtle’s face in a way that served to increase her luckless appearance.
Grimm swallowed, hands twitching in impatience.
“Thanks, Myrtle. I appreciate it. Now if you don’t mind–”
“Oh, yes.” Myrtle coloured, extending her arm toward Grimm.
Their fingers touched during the exchange, but Grimm did not take notice. Meanwhile, Myrtle turned an even brighter shade of pink, looking away too quickly.
Minerva struggled to find something to say, feeling even more awkward than before. The blush on Myrtle’s face said so much...
“I’ll get to class, then.” Myrtle sniffled, then reached into her pockets, searching for her handkerchief. Her forehead puckered in frustration.
“Is something wrong?” Minerva moved toward her while Grimm flipped through his notebook, utterly unobservant.
Myrtle just wouldn’t look at Minerva. She stared at the floor.
“My handkerchief. Must have lost it.”
Grimm finally bothered himself to pay attention. “Again? Myrtle, take mine.” He handed over his own, very much unused. “And tell Olive to bugger off next time she goes through your things. Really, it’s despicable.”
Myrtle muttered a thanks, then ran off, pigtails bouncing against her head.
“You’re really no help, Grimm. The poor girl was terrified.” Minerva crossed her arms, feeling the anger bubbling up again, this time against him. He kept doing this, being perfectly companionable one moment, then an absolute prat the next.
Grimm looked up, blinking. “What?”
She glared at him. “You keep brushing her off without doing anything about Olive Hornby. If you could convince Myrtle to report her–”
He looked puzzled at her anger, brows creased. “She’s reported Olive three times in the past few years, and it only gets worse. She has to stand up for herself.”
Minerva pointed to where Myrtle had disappeared down the corridor. “I fail to see any improvement by not doing anything, either.”
“Then you should talk to Olive. You are Head Girl, after all,” he snapped, cheeks flushing. “Glare at her like you usually do at me, and maybe you’ll be successful.” His shoulders were tensed, and the fingers that clutched his notebook were white-knuckled.
Taking a breath, Minerva realised where this conversation was going. Was it necessary for them to argue, over Myrtle, of all people? She had seen him helping the girl so many times, yet now he was refusing, as though he knew something she did not, that he had seen something in Myrtle’s eyes other than open admiration for him.
Did he possibly think that Myrtle had stolen his book? But that would mean–
“Myrtle wouldn’t have done this, Tiberius. Don’t punish her.” She hated the plea in her voice. It made her sound so weak, when really she was furious at his behaviour, at his lack of caring for someone who obviously cared so much about him.
“You actually believe I would think such a thing?” Was there a note of pain in his voice? Was she hurting him by pursuing this argument?
But if he didn’t blame Myrtle, then why was he so dismissive of her? It was so unlike him to verge on cruelty. She watched him, taking in the details of his appearance, so familiar, but at the moment, also alien. He was rarely ever this put out by anything; he was always the calm one, while she had the temper. But if he was upset by having been interrupted by Myrtle’s presence, he wouldn’t be acting like this, would he?
The memory of their kiss was already fading. Minerva didn’t even try to hold onto it.
“Then why were you such a prig to her? She didn’t deserve it, Grimm. Or does that stupid notebook mean more to you than anything else?” She shouldn’t have been saying these things. It was the frustration she still felt at having been threatened, it had to be.
Grimm looked at her as though he’d never seen her before. “I–” He paused, opening and shutting his mouth, but unable to speak.
“I thought so. You didn’t even notice the way she looked at you.” Her hands clenched. “What, were you too busy thinking about snogging me again? Because you can dream all you want, Grimm. It isn’t going to happen.”
Had she just said that? She had lost her temper, but this wasn’t the way she wanted to lash out. She had promised to save it for Defence Against the Dark Arts that afternoon, using it on hexes and jinxes, not insulting Grimm. He did deserve it, almost, but not quite. Oh Merlin, she wasn’t even thinking anymore, just blurting out whatever came to mind.
He was staring at her, mouth hanging open. The flush was still on his cheeks, but he was at a loss for the right response. Perhaps she’d spoken too much of the truth, and he could not fault her for it. Or, worse, she had said too much.
The silence between them loomed, then at last he stopped playing at statue. Straightening his spine, he did his best to look down on her, lips folding into a sneer.
“Good. It was too much of a damned distraction, anyway.”
Yes, a distraction. That was indeed the perfect word. She had been thinking it herself when he had kissed her on the stairs. He had only done it to distract her, to take her mind away from the mutilated portrait. Damn him.
She made sure that she was the first to turn away, not even bothering to respond to his words. They were the truth, that was all. There was nothing in there to harm her, no insult, no hidden meaning. They made no impact upon her, leaving her to walk off toward Gryffindor Tower without looking back.
Only in her room did she stop to think, the scarlet haze lifting from her eyes. It was not replaced with tears; those were for useless, brainless girls. But she did feel the pain, so sudden, so jarring. Clutching at her heart, she sat on the bed, eyes staring blankly out the window. What had she told him in the midst of a caress? They were not a lie, not something that had been spoken lightly.
“Did you think I would abandon you, Tiberius?”
And that is exactly what she had done.
As quickly as they had been brought together, they were being torn apart.
Minerva left for her Transfiguration class soon after, the picture of her still in the pocket of her robes. She felt as though a heavy weight rested on her shoulders, but it had nothing to do with the picture. It didn’t seem to matter anymore.
Oh don’t be stupid, Minerva, she told herself. Of course it mattered. Someone had threatened her, mutilated her image in a way that could not be taken lightly. She would report it to Dumbledore, who would know what to do. The only problem was that Grimm was still in possession of the picture, her only evidence. Damn and blast, she would have to get it from him first. It didn’t surprise her that he would make things as difficult as possible.
She arrived at the entrance to Ravenclaw Tower, doomed to be late for Transfiguration. It wouldn’t do her well to go, not in her present state of mind. She glanced down at her trembling hands.
It was Featherby, looking incredibly awkward, all legs and arms, as he came out of Ravenclaw Tower.
“You looking for Grimm?”
That would mean she wanted to speak with him, which was impossible. He was probably off somewhere, moping.
But she thought of an alternative answer: asking another question.
“Do you know where he is?”
Featherby looked down at her, one of the few males in the school who could claim that privilege. She wondered how much he could sense of her discomposure.
“Went down to see Flitwick about something or other. He was put out, though that’s nothing new for him lately.” He paused, then tapped his finger against the books he held. “Are you off to Transfiguration, then? I can walk with you.”
Minerva was not pleased with such a prospect. She’d rather be racing down the corridor in pursuit of Grimm. Wait, no, that did not sound very appropriate. In pursuit of the picture, not of Grimm himself. That was a path she could not take again.
Her hand absently rubbed her temple. Still fatigued from Quidditch practice, she was only becoming more exhausted by the minute.
“A headache?” Featherby asked. There must have been some Ravenclaw rule about asking as many annoying questions as possible. “You do so much around the school that I’m not surprised. It’s amazing how you manage to keep up with everything.”
Until recently, keeping up had been so easy. Minerva longed for simpler times once more, not the mystery-ridden drama her life had become.
The ghost of Grimm’s kiss still pressed against her lips, his touch against her skin.
She blushed at the unbidden tingle of her nerves.
“Just a headache, yes.” She rushed through the words, wishing that she kept her hair down so that it could cover her guilty face. “The wind was particularly brisk this morning.”
Featherby shrugged, remaining blissfully silent until they entered Dumbledore’s classroom. She half-expected to see Grimm lounging around the doorway, the picture folded in his hands, a welcoming smile on his face. A forgiving smile. Of course you didn’t mean that, darling. It’s quite fine, really.
His absence from the scene was a knife in her side. She wanted him there, wanted his forgiveness, but why? She had said the right thing. He had been beastly to Myrtle, ignoring her in the same way that everyone else seemed to. And yet she could remember him gently speaking with Myrtle, so kind toward the younger girl. Why the change? Had he changed, perhaps because of Minerva? Did selfishness come with love?
She could not ask these things now. There was no love, only Grimm’s bitter sneer, the last expression she had seen on his face before walking away. It haunted her, warping his image in her memory. Did he think that she was betraying him again? Perhaps that feeling had never completely left his consciousness, festering within until the breaking point was reached.
Some of the other girls greeted Minerva, but she passed them by with only a sallow smile. She sat at the back of the classroom, far from her usual seat. Anything to keep out of Dumbledore’s prying gaze. She saw him look for her amongst the class and ducked down as though scribbling something in the margin of her textbook.
Oh stop it, Minerva. She caught herself in such dismal thoughts. It was very much unlike her to wallow in defeat, particularly when there was work to be done. Not only Transfiguration – Dumbledore was starting the lesson now, it seemed to be on Animagi – but this mystery with the thief. Tom Riddle was mixed up in things, but she still could not imagine him breaking into Ravenclaw Tower just to steal Grimm’s things. It was too beneath Riddle.
Other students were speaking out. Dumbledore must have asked a question that everyone had to answer. Minerva blinked, trying to understand what that question may have been. She heard someone mention an owl, followed by a Hufflepuff exclaiming “a horse!”
“And you, Minerva? What do you think your Animagus form would be?”
He had repeated the question on purpose. She was sure of that.
“A cat, sir.” The answer came out unbidden. There were cats on her family farm, but she had never been particularly close to them. They were practical.
Was that all that she was? Practical Minerva?
But also clever and agile. Perhaps the form suited her, after all.
Dumbledore moved on to another student, but he was smiling in a way that bespoke of held back laughter.
It should have been an interesting class, but Minerva couldn’t concentrate in the least. She managed to get a few notes down, but if she wanted this material to mean anything, she would need further research. Back to hiding out in the library, hoping that Grimm would fail to appear. Bloody brilliant.
Anger and frustration were resurfacing, filling in the holes left by his sudden absence.
Yes, he had meant something to her, and she had been too late to admit it.
All that time after they had kissed on the train, she had done nothing to alter their relationship, their friendship. She had been too afraid to, longing for him while fearing what this new closeness could bring. She preferred the comfort of friendship to the strangeness of love, to this horrible pain she was made to feel in its wake. The only thing she wanted now was his friendship, his respect, nothing more. It only brought with it the jealousy, the sweeping moments that took her breath away, the rising addiction for his touch.
And if he wanted nothing more to do with her, then she would not complain. Dolores would be happy to take him back.
Minerva smiled at that thought.
Dumbledore’s voice crept back into her consciousness.
“A wand is not necessary to transform in and out of Animagus form, though it does help when you are first attempting the transformation. These first attempts can take some time to perfect, with some individuals making it only partway between one form and the next....”
While taking down these facts in her notes, Minerva couldn’t help thinking about Riddle, of all people. However easily thoughts of him could be associated with thoughts of Grimm, there was still something about Riddle that required investigation. That thing he had done to her mind was disturbing, violating. It would take considerable power and will to undertake such a thing. Did that make Riddle a Legilimens? Was that even possible at his age?
“Now, can anyone tell me if an Animagus be forced back into human form?”
A Slytherin girl got the answer, gaining five points for her house. Minerva knew she could have answered it, if not so distracted.
But if Riddle had only been trying to get rid of her and Grimm, then he was only using his Legilimency for convenience. It partially explained why he had so many followers. How many of them had been “convinced” by Riddle’s power? The younger ones would be easy to brainwash, particularly when they were already fed stories about purebloods from the cradle.
Why would he need followers in the first place? And why convince them? He was already handsome, intelligent, talented, using Legilimency to gain friends wasn’t even necessary. She herself had been friendly toward him because she thought him deserving of the attention.
Yet even that could have been a product of his thoughts invading her mind.
She shivered. All she could feel was the cold.
Dumbledore dismissed the class soon after, but Minerva did not rush away. It felt as though she spoke to Dumbledore whenever the slightest problem arose, but it was always necessary. It was something she had done since her first year. A habit of sorts.
She took a breath and walked toward the front of the room.
He was already waiting.
~ * * * ~
“This is indeed serious,” Professor Dippet said, squinting down at the piece of paper. He had been puzzled by the use of paper instead of parchment, until Grimm had explained his Muggle notebook.
Grimm stood now near the window, with Dumbledore and Flitwick between himself and Minerva. She did not look in his direction and he did not look in hers. The last time they had been in the Headmaster’s office, they had been equally divided. The subtle differences in experience did not alter the enmity between them.
“And you say that Miss Myers found the rest of your... notebook in the second floor lavatory?” Dippet looked over the edge of the paper, glasses slipping down his nose.
“Yes, Professor,” Grimm replied, eyes drilling through the Headmaster’s desk.
Dippet set down the paper. “I will need to see her as well.” He glanced toward Flitwick, who nodded and exited the office, his bouncing footsteps echoing in the silent room.
“Miss McGonagall, have you done anything to warrant such a threat?”
Minerva stiffened at the sudden address. Her brain was working so slowly, preventing her from grasping onto the best answer. Yes, she had warranted it, if Riddle was behind it, but she had dismissed him from the list of suspects. That left... no one.
“I’m not aware of anything that could warrant this, Headmaster.”
He nodded, his expression fixedly vacant. He did not appear the least bit concerned about the mutilated portrait, something that had nearly made Flitwick faint and made Dumbledore turn pale with fury. Was Dippet putting this down to some practical joke?
“The thievery is also worrisome,” Dippet continued. Minerva noted his use of worrisome instead of worrying. An annoyance, then, and nothing more.
She glanced up at Dumbledore, wondering (not for the first time) why he wasn’t Headmaster instead. Dippet was useless, a mere figurehead but for what?
“Professor Flitwick has sworn to look into the situation, Armando.” Dumbledore’s voice was strangely soothing. “But Tiberius and Minerva wished to inform you of the situation as well, so that you would be aware of the issue.”
Dippet waved a hand. “Yes, yes, as long as it is dealt with.” He was already looking down at another parchment of figures.
Dumbledore led Grimm and Minerva from the room.
“Going to the Headmaster, ha! What a waste of time,” Grimm muttered, his arms crossed. He still had not looked in Minerva’s direction. “Staying in History of Magic would have been a better idea.”
Dumbledore raised an eyebrow. “Official measures still needed to be taken, Tiberius. I was sure you would appreciate that.”
Minerva felt herself go pale. If Dumbledore caught on to the problem between herself and Grimm, the result would not be good. He had advised her to be so careful with Grimm, and yet she could not seem to restrain her sharp tongue. Neither, it seemed, could Grimm.
A slight flush suffused Grimm’s cheeks. “I understand, Professor, but Dippet–”
Grimm let out a long breath, tapping a finger against his other arm. “Yes, him. He obviously isn’t taking this seriously. It was pointless going to him, with all due respect, Professor.” There was a slight note of sarcasm in his voice.
Minerva closed her eyes, trying to hold in her rising fury. Grimm was out of line, lashing out at everyone around him, knowing that, at the centre of it all, he was the problem. Had he tried harder to find the identity of the thief after Halloween, it would not have happened a second time, not in this way. It was easier to think that he knew of his faults already, that he did not need to be told of them every five minutes.
“Pointless, but necessary, Tiberius,” she said, her voice low. “Now, no one can say that we didn’t handle this matter properly, above board. Whoever it is whose responsible can be expelled, if necessary. Am I not right, Professor?” She turned to Dumbledore, avoiding Grimm’s piercing gaze.
“Yes, most definitely,” Dumbledore replied, but he did not smile. “You must remember, however, that it will now be dangerous for you to take measures of your own.” He glanced pointedly at Grimm, whose lips were tightly pressed together in silent rebellion. “I expect that you will take care with your actions.”
He looked to Minerva, who nodded, looking away too quickly, then Grimm, who glared back without any sign of acquiescence. It was Minerva whom he turned back to.
“I am sorry for this outcome. I did expect more of a reaction from the Headmaster.”
“It’s like someone else had already spoken to him.” Grimm’s voice rang out, no longer a petulant mutter. “Convinced him that there were no problems in the school.” At last he glanced in Minerva’s direction, eyes hard, but seeking agreement anyway.
Bastard, Minerva thought, realising that he had trapped her, forcing her to talk about that episode with Riddle on the train. It was preposterous to even think that Riddle was influencing Dippet. Surely Dumbledore would have noticed something–
But he had, hadn’t he? I did expect more of a reaction....
“Legilimecy. Dippet being controlled by someone else.” She could hardly get the words out. It was chilling. Impossible, but chilling. There had to be something else, some other reason. Perhaps Dippet simply didn’t care.
Dumbledore narrowed his eyes, the fingers of one hand twitching.
“It would be safer than attempting the Imperious Curse, but to make such an accusation would be fatal, Tiberius.” He reached up to touch his beard. “There would be no evidence, nothing to prove that your accusation was just.”
And Grimm would be risking everything for nothing. Minerva would not allow that, for her sake as much as his.
“There is no reason why Riddle–” She broke off, swallowing. “Why he would do such a thing, Tiberius. He gains nothing by stealing from you and then by trying to cover it up.”
“As you’ve said before.” His lips twisted in distaste.
They both fell silent. Minerva didn’t even waste her energy on a glare in his direction. It would not have made the least bit of a difference. Had he not once told her that he enjoyed those glares? The urge to hex him began to consume her.
Running to History of Magic was becoming a very good idea.
“We have done what we could for the moment.” Dumbledore mercifully broke the silence, clapping his hands together. Grimm startled at the sound. “Both of you should be in with Professor Binns. You may not be so lucky to borrow the notes of your classmates. I am sure that, by now, they are already asleep.”
His words stole a smile from Minerva, but earned a scowl from Grimm.
He would have followed after Dumbledore if Minerva had not grabbed his sleeve, her fingers tight around his arm.
“You’re not going anywhere, Grimm.”
His face was scrunched with pain and annoyance and Merlin knew what else.
“I have to get to class, McGonagall. Bloody well let me go now.”
It took considerable will power to shove him against the wall beside an unusually elaborate suit of armour. She could see the tarnish spots on the back where the house elves had not bothered to reach.
“What is wrong with you?” she hissed, her fingers like claws digging into the flesh. “First with Myrtle and now with the Headmaster? Have you gone mad, Grimm?” She noticed a sudden flicker in his eyes. “For Merlin’s sake, Grimm, tell me.”
He held his lips shut, but she could see the tremble in his lower lip.
She could not, would not, let go of him. Her breath came in ragged gasps; her eyes verged on hateful, desperate tears. His silence was terrifying, so stupidly stubborn, just like him, but also so much unlike him. How could he be like this? So different from the Grimm he had been that morning, struggling to comfort her, struggling to make them a team, not two separate entities working toward the same goal.
“One would think that you were the one who’d been possessed by Riddle.”
She pulled away from him, dusting off her robes and checking that her bun was still in place. Far from perfect, but holding up. Rather like herself.
He maintained his position against the wall, watching her. It was not with his assessing glance or the one where he looked her up and down, admiration in his face. He watched her warily, as though fearful that she would strike again.
“You were, perhaps, right, Minerva.” When he did speak, it was in a finely clipped accent, the one that gave him the greatest advantage. “About Myrtle. It was something I had not figured into my calculations.”
Of course not. He had only seen Myrtle as a younger sister. It was ridiculous how many of the girls were smitten with him. Umbridge, smitten with his money. Myrtle, smitten with his kindness. And her, Minerva. What was it that attracted her?
For the first time, Minerva experienced a twinge of jealousy.
But it did give her an idea.
“Are you willing to admit that this... threat toward me has nothing to do with Riddle? That it is an isolated incident?” She moved toward him, hands clasped together, white-knuckled. “If Myrtle saw us together, then anyone could. Grimm, you have to admit it.”
At the sound of that single word, she looked away, shoulders slumping.
“Then it was right of me to walk away.” She had no strength left. Every breath added to the fatigue. “You’re blinded by your arrogance, your own stupid pride.”
She took one step, then another, before picking up speed. If he called her back– But he didn’t, he wouldn’t. He had already decided that Riddle was the cause of all his problems, behind every single setback. It was too late for him to admit otherwise; he’d wagered his whole peace of mind, and lost.
And she’d actually believed that she could change his mind, save him from himself.
“Goodbye, Tiberius,” she whispered, too far away for him to hear.
Now, more than ever, those words were final.