It was an odd feeling, and had anyone asked her, Minerva would not have been able to explain why she felt it at that precise moment. In fact, it terrified her that, at hearing such news, she could possibly feel triumphant. An impending sense of doom would be far more appropriate to the situation.
Perhaps it was that she felt years older than before, as though something within her had suddenly transformed. It was not a case of innocence lost, but experience gained, and that was her triumph.
She did not think it wise to seek out Grimm quite yet. His guilt would be raging, and the last thing she wanted was for him to lash out at her once again. In times like these, she did not, could not, know him. He was a different person, someone she didn’t very much like. He would probably run off for the mountains, a regular Manfred on the cliffs, facing the wind with dejected dignity, his face wet with tears.
It was not a difficult image to raise because she had seen it before, some time ago. She had nearly forgotten....
“Grimm, you’ll catch your death out there.” The snow cut into her face.
“Go away, Minerva.” He was staring down the mountain, ignoring her hand clutching his arm, her nails surely giving him pain.
“You’ll catch your death, too.”
“Fine. But it’ll be your fault.” She let him go, then, and waited.
He had looked at her then, his fourteen-year-old face just starting to lose its childish softness, the adult trying to escape from within, but failing, always failing. It failed him now, the crack of a smile invading his mouth.
“You know me too well, Min.”
“Bloody well wish I didn’t.”
But this was not the time nor the place for reminiscence. That she did it in the first place said a lot about her current state of mind, or rather the current state of her heart. She knew that, for the rest of the day, perhaps the rest of her life, she would stop mid-action and remember something that had happened between her and Grimm. She had spent too long evading the issue, denying the truth, rejecting the memories that piled up in his wake.
She had too much to do, her mind buzzing, heart racing as she thought of all the things that she would have to do before Hogwarts closed, and finding Grimm was near the bottom of her list, right above going to class.
For the first time in her life, she would play truant, though under the circumstances, she doubted that Professor Binns would notice her absence.
Grimm wasn’t the only one who had changed overnight.
The Headmaster would address the school in the Great Hall at lunch. By then, everyone would know exactly what had happened, probably with greater detail than Dippet believed appropriate, certainly in more detail than he himself knew. She would talk to Moody at lunch and enlist his assistance; he was always rock-solid and oddly loyal to Grimm.
First, she had to talk to the prefects.
They gathered together in one of the ground floor classrooms, listening to the chink and clink of plates and cutlery in the Great Hall as they waited for Minerva to speak. She took deep breaths, barely successful at keeping her eyes away from Riddle, who, of course, sat directly in front of her, as though goading her on with perfectly innocent eyes.
“Where’s Tibbs?” Umbridge looked more disappointed than anything. These meetings were rarer than they should have been, though that was Grimm’s preference.
Minerva let out a long breath before responding. “I’m sure you all know the events of last night.” If not all the events, the little voice in her head added with relish. “One of the fourth-years was found dead in the second floor lavatory, the victim of an unfortun–”
“So it was an accident?”
“Is it true that Tibbs found her?”
“Who was it?”
“How did it happen?”
Holding up her hands, Minerva otherwise remained very still, like a jar of pottery tottering on the edge of a shelf, uncertain of when she would lose her balance and shatter upon the ground.
“Please be quiet. There is a lot that I cannot tell you–”
“So you know?”
“Not everything. Anything,” she blurted, feeling the flush of anger flaring across her throat. “And if I tell you, I can be certain that the whole school will know before dinnertime, so I will not say more than I must.”
“How do you know, McGonagall?”
It was the first time that Riddle had spoken. His intonation on the word “do” would only sound sarcastic to the others, but to Minerva, whose mind could not reject all of Grimm’s accusations, as paranoid and ridiculous as they often seemed, Riddle’s words were oddly menacing. Again, she was in the library, his mouth hovering over hers, his body too close....
“I don’t,” she was able to say with enough authority to shut them all up. “Your job is to make sure that no one panics, that anyone who does is immediately taken to the Hospital Wing, and that no one is in danger.”
Minerva could hear the sounds of eating quiet in the Great Hall.
“Hurry. The Headmaster will be starting to speak.”
As they left, some of the prefects huddled together, their eyes sneaking back at Minerva, who did not move from the front of the room, watching them go.
“That’s obvious, but what?”
“I think it’s Grimm. Her and Grimm. It has to be.”
“I heard it was that Myrtle girl who snuffed it.”
“Grimm was always partial to her.”
“Maybe him being with McGonagall was enough to–”
“Shush, she’ll hear!”
She hadn’t, of course. She had been too busy watching Tom Riddle leave the room on the edge of the crowd, his ears eagerly taking in the prefects’ words while his eyes lingered on Minerva’s now-clenched hands and fevered cheeks. He looked amused at the sight of her, and once again, the smell of the dungeons lingered in her nose.
That smell. It should have signalled something for her, but she felt dim, a candle too near the end of its wick.
Once they were gone, she let out another breath and felt somewhat calmer. She had to watch herself more closely next time. They were all still young and always thirsty for gossip, not that she cared anymore what they thought of her and Grimm. It was becoming normal to hear those whispers about their relationship. Last night–
Her eyes turned to the window, seeking distraction. The flush was rising again, though for an entirely different reason.
It had begun to rain, the fog coming down from the mountains. She knew this weather well, what affect it had on the land and on one’s boots, the way that it made one forget the right path, obscuring landmarks and driving one toward the cliffs–
Her mind’s eye saw a body dropping onto the stones below.
When she blinked, there was nothing but the fog.
She stepped out of the room, hearing Dippet droning on, and looked into the Great Hall, her eyes roving up and down the long tables. Davies and Fotherby were there, still saving a place for Grimm at the end of the table. All faces were toward Dippet, and Minerva escaped before Dumbledore’s sharp gaze could find her.
Her feet took her to the empty Hospital Wing, then to the entrance of Ravenclaw Tower, where she hesitated before approaching the brass doorknocker. She was, after all, the Head Girl. She had access to all of the houses, if she wanted.
The knocker came to life, his bored voice scratching out another dusty riddle. “What is found at the end of the rainbow?”
She sighed. How poetic it was being today.
“Nothing. A rainbow has no end.”
The door creaked open, and she rushed through, taking the steps two, even three, at a time in order to reach the Head Boy’s lonely room. What would happen when she burst in, she did not know, did not even think of it. There they would be, the rest of the school far, far below, otherwise occupied, and she and Grimm would be–
Not there at all.
The door was already open, a hurricane of his belongings covering every surface, but he himself was absent. There was an envelope on the counterpane, but it had been too violently torn open to discern whom had sent it.
She threw it down again and stared out the window.
There were countless places within the castle where he could hide for days, even years, before anyone would find him, but she knew that he would not confine himself within stone walls. For all that he was a child of the city, he hated imprisonment, any sort of commitment, far too much to allow himself to hide within something. No, he would much prefer to hide without.
She ran back down toward Gryffindor Tower, grabbing her mac and flying down the staircase as she donned it, slowing only before the doors of the Great Hall. Time had passed, but still Dippet spoke, assuring the students of the safety of the building and his own certainty that it was all a very tragic accident and nothing more.
She hoped that it were true.
The doors were heavy, but soon she was through. The ground was saturated, making every step precarious, and soon, she could hardly see the castle among the growing mist. However, she knew exactly where she was going, keeping her eyes on the ground as she walked swiftly past the empty groundskeeper’s hut and into the mountains.
It was a very stupid thing, to be going after him when she could have been doing so much at the school. While everyone was in the Great Hall, she would have had the perfect opportunity to investigate every known corner, prying into the lives of her fellow students without shame. She could, for instance, have looked into Myrtle’s things in order to find all the little keepsakes she had from Grimm, things given without thought of sentiment or things taken when he wasn’t looking, was thinking of someone else. If only Minerva had looked into Myrtle’s trunk. She would have also found there a little diary of cheap paper in which all of Myrtle’s secrets found a home, including those that would have answered many, many questions.
But those things would be taken away soon by the girl’s bereaved parents, taken away, perhaps to be burned, tossed away, ignored in an attic space for generations to come.
There were some questions that, by chance, could never be answered.
The only answer Minerva cared for now was the one that rang out with each beat of her heart, each step her feet made on the stone, careful not to slip into the muddied earth. Her duties fell behind her, tumbling down into the lake, far below. Her experience made her less, not more responsible, but she felt nothing like a child as she scaled the heights to find Grimm.
She knew that she neared the place where he had stood before, those years ago in the middle of a blizzard, almost the death of them both. The weather may be different, but he was still the same Grimm. Wild, dramatic, intolerable. A fear gripped her heart, making it harder and harder to breathe the higher she climbed. Her heart had always been weak. For him, it was his mind, definitely touched by madness if he thought this to be a suitable hiding place.
“Grimm!” she called into the mist.
There was no wind. She could hear her words echo against the stones.
She stopped, knowing the feel of the ground, remembering that rock over there, still covered in the same moss.
They could have heard her down at the castle had anyone been outside to listen.
She looked around, thinking that she had heard something in reply, something that had not been just an echo, that dreadful nymph hollowly returning her cries. There were some footsteps coming from behind her, but she did not move, half afraid, of what, she did not know.
When she turned, he was there beside her, and it took little effort for her to throw her arms around him, setting them both out of balance, but thankfully, it was in the right direction.
“Thank Merlin you’re alright,” she whispered in his ear.
“Why wouldn’t I be?” A strange question to ask when he held her as tightly as she held him, as though he had been as worried for her as she had for him.
She pulled back to look at his face, their bodies still pressed together. “I remember this place, when I found you here in that blizzard....”
His eyes drifted across her features. “Do you? Remember, that is?”
“I thought that maybe–”
“I would... be inconsolable?”
Her brow creased. “That’s a bit of an understatement.”
He was the first to pull away, going over to lean on an outcropping of rock, larger than the rest, maintaining possession of her hand so that she stood beside him, looking over the precipice, their shoulders pressed together.
“I needed time to think.”
She glanced sideways at him. “And have you had enough time?”
He kept his eyes on the ground, heavily lidded. “I don’t know.”
“I spoke with the prefects,” she said after a long pause between them.
He did not move. “And?”
She squinted into the mist, only remembering now that she’d forgotten her spectacles.
“I think you’re right.”
Now he looked at her, again searching her face, though not to catalogue, but to read.
She frowned. “Yes. You’ve come up with a lot of terrible schemes in all the time that I’ve known you, but never have–”
He cut her off with an eager kiss, his fingers under her chin, sliding up her jaw to press against the back of her neck, but she pressed her palms against his chest. “Grimm,” she murmured against his lips, unable – or was it unwilling? – to elude him entirely.
She tried again when he took a breath. “Tiberius.”
“What? Don’t you–”
“You are entirely nonsensical.”
She pried his hands away. “One minute you absolutely despise me, running up into the hills to do Merlin knows what–”
“I told you: thinking.”
“Then the next, you can’t keep your hands off of me.”
One of those looks came into his eyes, the kind of look that struck fear into her heart.
“That’s not entirely my fault, darling.”
She let out a breath and straightened her spine. “Even a wizard psychologist would have you down for multiple personality disorder at the rate you’ve been going.” More than a little accent was poking into her speech, but she didn’t care. “I can’t understand you when you’re like this, and I don’t know which version of you I dislike more.”
“Please don’t say that it’s the second one.”
“Oh, stop it.”
She turned away, stepping around him, ensuring that she kept a safe distance from his wandering hands. Her fingers reached up to rub at her left temple, the thin air bothering her far more than usual.
“You’re not any better, you know.”
Normally, this would be the signal for his return to his preferred grim mood, but although his words were peevish, his voice was too light, and when she looked over at him, he was smiling. She half expected him to be standing there with open arms, waiting for her to return to him, and it took most of her will power – even with this cursed migraine – to stand her ground.
“That’s beside the point.”
He continued to watch her, looking disgustingly bemused.
“Come, Minerva. Let’s sit and think together.” He laughed a little, but it died too quickly, as though the echo it made frightened him. It certainly gave her chills. “Two heads are better than one, as they say.”
He took a seat on the rock, leaving a little room for her, and sat there, silent.
Damn him, he was right. He was as confusing as a sphinx, but that must have come from being a Ravenclaw, talking in riddles every minute of their lives, being logical to such an extreme that they no longer made sense. But he was right. She wasn’t any different from him. Back and forth, back and forth, she was a ball being tossed against the wall, her mood changing with the wind.
She went to him and sat down. “I can’t believe that we’re only seventeen.”
He looked up, blinking. “What’s that?”
“Nothing.” She felt herself colour.
Stop fighting, she told herself over and over. Stop fighting what’s true, what’s inevitable, that he’s as much a part of you as you are of him. It wasn’t the silly Romeo and Juliet problem of being unable to live without the other. It was far less exciting than that. It was an awful game of denial that she’d been playing for far too long.
“I just can’t believe that we’re as young as we are, that’s all.” It came spilling out of her and he blinked again, a frown upsetting his features. “We’re growing up too fast.”
“What choice do we have?” he asked after a respectful silence. “The way that things are out in the world and now here as well, we can’t escape it.”
His arm was around her and she felt herself leaning into him, having crumbled at the slightest touch, hiding her throbbing head against his shoulder, his fingers reassuringly gripping her waist.
“I want to be away from here. Far away.”
He touched her hair with his free hand, his fingers coming to rest at the nape of her neck.
“Yes, dearest. Soon.”
She shifted to look up at him. “What did you call me?”
He coloured, releasing her, but said nothing.
They sat, looking out into the mist of an unusually wet June day. Time passed, but they did not move. They could not see the sun, but it would not set for some time yet, the days already long again, even if the summer refused to come, frightened away by the distant hum of aeroplanes and smashing bombs and rumbling U-boats.
“What will we do about Riddle?”
When he did not answer after a long moment, Minerva was afraid that she had spoken too quietly, her voice unable to penetrate the noise of his rushing thoughts.
“He has to be made to look guilty. He’ll never confess, and no one will ever believe us.”
She looked down at her hands. “Dippet said it was just an accident, nothing more.”
Grimm snorted. “He would. He knows what will happen, otherwise.”
It was only then that she remembered what Dumbledore had told her in his office. It all seemed so long ago, so far away.
“Dumbledore said that Hogwarts may have to close.”
The news bounced off of Grimm, who only managed a shrug. “It’s a bad business.”
She fought the urge to hit him. “Is that all you can say?”
He looked at her with puzzlement lining his eyes. “What now?”
“You sound like some American detective.”
She rolled her eyes and moved closer so that he could not see her face, could not see that, now, she was fighting off a smile.
“It sounds crude.”
“Certainly lacking in hygiene.”
Her body began to shake as laughter took hold, a combination of mirth and lack of sleep – her mind tossing and turning throughout the night, mist and shadows playing before her eyes, nightmare after nightmare – and that dreadfully feminine state of hysteria which she so derided in other girls and, more often than not, in Grimm.
He knew better than to make comment, which showed how much he was improving, even in the space of a single, albeit significant, day. Not even a complete day.
She hid her face against his shoulder until he looked up at the approaching darkness.
“It’s getting late. They might be looking for us.”
“Let them,” she muttered, but still she raised her head, only peripherally aware of his arm dropping as she straightened. She was surprised to see how the mist had lifted, if only a little.
“We hardly even talked about the... problem.” He leaned back against the rock, as though preparing to perch himself there for the night.
Minerva stood, brushing the moss off her robes, feeling his eyes upon her.
“We can talk on the way back down.”
She grabbed his hand and pulled him upright. He was pleased to stumble against her, not that she budged an inch, her iron muscles preventing them both from plummeting over the precipice. Her hands on his shoulders, she wondered whether he would kiss her again. Maybe she wanted it, though receiving something too often lessened its power, addiction taking root. But all he did was steady her.
“Yes, we will.”
With a flash of a smile and a pat on her arm, he turned and started off.
Something in that smile...
Minerva followed him at a run. “Grimm!”
He stopped and looked at her in a way that made her wonder how she had not seen it in his eyes before. It was more than a hint of something off, something that went above and beyond the issue of Myrtle’s death and whomever was responsible. This wasn’t guilt or shame or regret.
He shook his head. “One thing at a time. The case, then... the other thing.”
She sighed and wondered whether she should fight this. It wasn’t very long ago that she’d have fought him off without thinking first, wrenching her arm away and subduing him under the sharp blade of her tongue. That had gone on for far too long. She could not forget the look in his eyes during the night, before he left Dumbledore’s office, and even now. He was haunted, aged, and it made her wonder whether she would never see him smile again.
When he relaxed, seeming to think that she would not peruse that particular line of inquiry, she tackled him in true Quidditch form, hand slipping into the pocket of his robes in a way that, had someone been observing them, would be perceived as scandalous. She was too fast for him, and he was too shocked to prevent her success.
“Don’t try. To. Stop. Me.”
Drawing back, shoving aside his scrambling hands as she moved to sit on the rock once more, she held in her hands a letter. From the feel of its paper, it was a partner to the envelope she had found in his room. High quality material with an unrecognizable watermark. It was the usual kind of paper his father used at the office, not the flimsier notepaper of his mother.
“Please, Min. It’s best if you–”
“I’ll judge that for myself.”
A pause. She pulled apart the folds.
He set himself down beside her, hard, arms crossed. If he hadn’t been so upset, he would have pouted like a petulant toddler. Instead, he had gone white, his lips tightly pressed together.
She looked down at the sloping words, the ink applied too thickly, blurring the letters.
You are aware that your mother and I have been pressuring you to accept the offer of admission from McGill University for a future career in the magical sciences. However, we did so without knowledge that the war would continue in its present manner. Although I have exerted my influence at the office, they find it curious that I would resist allowing my own son to join the army when so many of England’s sons have already given the ultimate sacrifice. There is no question of how suitable you would be as a soldier; you have no physical or mental deficiencies for which I can use as an excuse, nor do I see the need to excuse you from what is your duty as an Englishman.
Once you have completed your studies at Hogwarts, you will go directly to the War Office for your assignment. Your mother can only hope that you are not sent to the Continent and I must join her in this hope. They are always in need of code breakers and agents abroad in the colonies. I have not been informed what assignment you will receive, and thus you must be prepared for anything.
She could not read any further.
“This is terrible! Tiberius–”
He was staring off into the distance. “What choice do I have?”
“You’re a wizard! You don’t have to join the Muggle army.”
“It’s his Muggle colleagues that are questioning his influence. Not that the Ministry would do better for us, not with Grindlewald controlling things across the Channel.” He sounded hollow, tired.
“The Ministry could at least protect you.” She didn’t believe it herself, though. They hadn’t saved her brother.
His lips pulled back in a sneer. “Protect a half-blood? Not bloody likely, even if my Dad’s in the Liaison Office, even if Uncle stepped in.” He slumped forward, head in his hands. “It’s none of their faults. It’s this stupid war.”
She placed a hand on his shoulder. “It is their fault. I doubt that most of the Slytherins will have to go.”
“Not unless it’s to fight on Grindelwald’s side.”
She took in a sharp breath, but had to agree. Even so, she did not think that Riddle would go at all. He was not the type to fight anyone else’s war.
But that was something she could never tell Grimm, especially not now.
“So you’ll go.” Her hand moved along his arm.
He shivered. “Yes.”
After a moment, she spoke again. “How does this change...” Their relationship? No, she did not want to go there quite yet. “...Myrtle’s death? Do you still want to–”
“Do you think it’s a lost cause?” He looked again at the cliff edge.
She dug her fingers into his robes. “No. We have to do something.”
“So it changes very little.” He put a hand on hers, but he did not smile. She foolishly wished that he would.
“The war won’t last forever.” It was ridiculous and cliched; she knew it as soon as the words emerged from her lips.
He raised his eyebrows and took back the letter, folding it back into his pocket before rising, brushing off his robes with brusque hands. When he turned back to face her, he was a different person, someone she did not altogether think she liked.
“Nothing lasts forever, Min. We of all people should know that.”