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Chapter 3: A Hint of Scandal
Neither of them spoke of that incident in the corridor. Of either incident, actually, even though no one knew of the second except for them. Minerva would think of it and smile from time to time, quickly erasing the smile if someone chanced to notice. And notice they did. There were now moments when she would stare off into space, only to be caught out by an annoyingly curious Dumbledore or an unwitting Flitwick. The other Gryffindor girls caught on, as they always did when there were suspicious goings on between a girl and a boy. Minerva scowled at them when they tried to ask her what the matter was.
“There is no matter! I don’t know where you’re getting these ideas from.”
One girl laughed. “You’d be surprised, Min. We see him watching you with googly eyes.”
The others all giggled at this. Minerva felt her face burn red.
“You must be mistaken.”
More laughter. Minerva went to hide in the library.
Not that it was any better there. People, particularly those in the upper years, looked at her with knowing smiles and whispers behind cupped hands. Rumours of her convenient “fall” into Grimm’s arms had spread like wildfire, and now the rumours had been blown entirely out of proportion. How had she missed it for the past few days?
She had been too busy reading his notebook, that’s why. However much she wanted to, tried to, deny that Tiberius Grimm would ever stare after her at meal times in such an obvious way that others noticed, the writings in the notebook, not to mention the drawing, fulfilled all her fears. Yet she was not upset with him. It wasn’t his fault, right? It couldn’t be, not when they were of that age and had known each other long enough....
With a barely suppressed shudder at her straying thoughts, Minerva made a beeline for her regular desk by the window. She needed a long period of isolation, and Christmas hols were still months away. How could she ever think that Grimm was a regular adolescent boy with silly romantic feelings toward a friend, even if that friend was her? He wasn’t human enough for that, and she certainly wasn’t interested in his personal life. Sitting at her desk for a few hours with a good book would calm her nerves, make her ready to approach him after dinner. Then she would see that everyone else in the school was being utterly foolish and things could go back to normal....
Then it got worse. It was, she supposed, inevitable.
Her table in the corner was already taken. Not that such a thing was the worst possible incident of her life. Rather it was the person sitting at her desk that was the problem. Perhaps the rumours were true, if he was sitting at her desk that no one else in the school would dare use knowing that it was hers. She watched him for a moment, the all legs and elbows look he had about him, even though he was barely an inch taller than she. What sort of doe-eyed expression could someone like Grimm have? Comforting and sweet or more-than-mildly disturbing?
As if he had felt her presence behind him, Grimm turned around. There was a bit of surprise in his expression. One eyebrow lifted in a fluid, well-practised, motion.
He looked back at the desk. “I took your usual seat. Sorry.”
She blinked. “No need. There are many others.”
After a moment, he said, “You haven’t moved.”
“Would you like to share the desk? It is large enough, I think.”
He frowned. “Why not? I won’t cheat.”
She shook her head quickly. “No, no, it isn’t you. It is... them.”
His eyes narrowed. “Who?”
The pressure was building up inside of her, but she refused to let it out.
He lifted his eyes to meet hers. He must have known.
“It would not be right for me to be seen working with you,” she said, struggling to keep her voice under control.
“No?” The frown deepened. “You shouldn’t care so much about what other people say, Minerva. It never used to bother you.” His gaze became assessing, boring into her, and she could not prevent it. Surely he could see what bothered her?
Her hand was shaking. “I should go.”
“Please, don’t.” He threw his books into a pile. “I will. It wasn’t right for me to–” He started to rise.
“No!” She put her hand on his arm. How had she gotten to be standing so close to him? “I mean... I can find another place.” Was her hand glued fast to him? She could not remove it. “Please, Tiberius. I am sorry for disturbing you.”
His shoulders had stiffened under her touch. Whether it was from surprise or distaste, she could not tell until he placed his hand over hers. She could feel the sweat on his palm and it made her wonder even more. What had he to be nervous about?
“They are saying things about us now, aren’t they?”
Her hand must have shifted in response because he squeezed it gently. “I’m so sorry. They should, at least, leave you alone, Minerva.”
She swallowed, trying to find her voice. “We are friends, that’s all. I can’t understand why they have to see it being something else.”
When he looked up at her, she could not but help to see the unsuppressed joy in his eyes. “Friends, yes?” She thought that she could lose herself in the swirling depths of his eyes. “Can we be just friends, Minerva?”
She caught the arrangement of words in his last question. She turned her face away so that he could not see her weakness. How long would it take Madam Pince to hear the beating of Minerva’s heart, echoing up and down the aisles?
“You look faint. Here, sit down.” Still possessing her hand, he rose and sat her on the chair in his place. “Did I say something wrong?”
“Why do you do this to me?” The words trickled from her lips. She could not stop them.
His hand on hers tightened. “Do what?” Was that hope in his voice? Whatever could he be hopeful for?
She threw his hand off hers. “Everything. Nothing.” She paused, her arms felt heavy. “Gods, Tiberius. I wish I knew.”
He touched her face. Lightly, but she could feel the caress within it.
“I don’t think we can be just friends, Minerva. Not if we can’t even talk without....” His voice trailed off as his hand trailed down her neck. She shivered under his touch, but could not, would not, pull away. It seemed right... it had to be right....
But it wasn’t. How could he do this to her? They were colleagues, and would have to treat each other as such. No touching, no whispered words, no beating hearts or losses of breath, none of these things that made her feel like putty in his hands that he could mould and shape to his will, then throw her away when he was done.
She pulled away from his hand, her eyes snapping with rage.
“If we cannot be friends, then I am afraid that we will not be able to work together.”
He stepped back into the nearest shelf. The expression on his face, especially in his eyes, wrought her to the core, but she did not falter. She would not let him make her weak again, even if it meant hurting him. She rose from the chair and smoothed the creases in her robes. Before she left, however, he regained control over his face.
“It’s most unfortunate you see it that way, Minerva.” The voice had become that of the impenetrable English aristocrat. Whenever she heard it, she was amazed that his parents should ever think him unworthy of his heritage. “I think we would have been happy together.”
She stopped, her back still to him. That last statement... how could he...? Her eyes closed and she took a deep breath. Perhaps she should not reply. It would be better just to walk away, to ignore his throwing down of the gauntlet. The sooner she was away from him, the easier it would be for them both. The temptation, the softness... she oughtn’t even think about it.
His footsteps drew near. He must have had a total lack of respect for her, as he had for her wishes. Why couldn’t he just go away?
“I will hand in my resignation to the Headmaster in the morning,” she told him, feeling his presence close behind her. If he did something, would she change her mind? “This is getting too difficult for us to manage. One of us has to go.”
She walked away before anything could happen. At her tiny writing table up in Gryffindor Tower, she constructed her letter to Professor Dippet, tears streaming down her face. Never, ever, would she forgive Tiberius Grimm for this. Sleep would not come to her, she knew that before curfew came. She would have to go on her rounds, perhaps taking as long as she could so that she could escape sight, pretend that the rest of the world did not exist.
The last thing she would admit was that, in the darkness, all she would think of would be the soft touch of his fingers upon her face.
It was easier than either of them had imagined to stay away from one another. From an outsider’s view, it appeared as though they timed their walks in the corridor so that they would never be in the same place a the same time, save classes and meals. And then they sat well enough away from each other so that it was like they did not know one another.
Speculation had it that they’d been in a terrible fight and she had wounded his pride.
Is it not strange how often speculation could be true?
Grimm spent most of his time in a grim mood, keeping his eyes averted every time Minerva entered the room he was in. He wanted her to look towards him, to see the melancholia written across his face, but would she even care? He knew that the resignation letter would still be sitting on her desk, unsigned and undated. She would keep that over his head until his spirit was broken, as though she were training a dragon instead of him.
Should he speak with her, though? Would cornering her in that spot in the library and making her see reason be successful?
He frowned and sat back in his chair, letting Binns drone on about the history of such-and-such again. Grimm knew all these things already – he couldn’t remember just why he had bothered to take History of Magic, other than the fact that it would be an easy mark. She was there, in the font row by the window, but he looked the other way, towards the door. Right now, he even wished for Dumbledore to come and get him out of his room. Anything, anything, to be somewhere else.
The class ended after what seemed like hours upon hours of torture. Grimm hurried towards Ravenclaw Tower, taking the back stairway with invisible stairs in random places. Seven years had taught Grimm most of the stairway’s tricks, but he still managed to slip once or twice, barely catching himself on a higher step as one foot dangled into nothingness. His third-favourite quill fell during one of these moments. Why did he even have a third-favourite quill? It wasn’t as though he lined them up in a row on his writing table. Or did he? He couldn’t remember.
So this was the type of state Tiberius Grimm was in when he exited the staircase and found himself staring into a big pink bow. He swallowed the temptation to ask whether she had lost the direction back to her pond in the dungeons. Dolores tended to smell like dankness beneath the layers upon layers of floral scent. Thank the gods flowers didn’t actually smell like that.
Why couldn’t he just run into Minerva? At least her glares wouldn’t make him want to regurgitate. Anyway, they were endearing... somehow....
“Tibbs! I’ve been looking for you everywhere! Why on earth would you take this stairway?”
Grimm shuddered. This would do nothing for his mood. “A shortcut, obviously. I have a lot of work to do before my rounds.”
He moved to the left. She moved to her right, blocking his path.
“Oh, but Tibbs, I’ve wanted to talk with you for so long!”
Pushing her down the stairs was becoming an option.
“Forgive me, Dolores, but I’m busy.”
Her face darkened without warning. Grimm could have sworn she had pulled on a mask. No one could change their expression so suddenly, unless they didn’t feel the emotions they were expressing. He blinked, listing the ways that Dolores Umbridge was not human, but a reptilian. The description was very suiting.
“What? Are you pushing me aside to go after her? She’s as stiff as a board.”
His eyes widened with revelation. “You should not say such things, Dolores.” Keeping his voice in monotone was more of a chore than he expected. Binns had somehow managed it for decades, but Grimm couldn’t understand how.
“You never talk to me anymore, Tibbs, and it’s all because of her.”
He wondered if she was slipping potions from Slughorn's classroom again. “No. I never talked with you very much.”
She looked as though she were about to either burst into tears, or jinx him. He hoped for the latter. Far easier to respond to.
With a choke, she wailed, “I know! That’s the problem!”
He looked for a possible route of escape that did not include murder. “I see.”
She threw herself upon him, the pink bow covering his mouth and nose. Perhaps this was an alternate method of suffocation. Should he be flashing back to all the significant moments of his life just now?
“You’re far nicer than that stupid Tom Riddle. He’s not even a pureblood! Can you imagine that, Tibbs?!” Her voice was muffled, buried as it was in his robes.
“And he’s always so cruel! Can you believe that everyone in the school loves him?”
“Well, not every–”
“And to be prefect with him is absolutely wretched! If only I’d been a year older, then it could have been you and me together.”
All he needed now was for Minerva to appear, and the party would be complete.
He extricated himself from Dolores’ clinging hands. “I’m very sorry for you, Dolores. Riddle is certainly not the best of people to be paired with, but he is good at what he does.” He hesitated, trying to think up the best way of explaining. “The younger students admire him very much.” And so did Dippet, because Riddle had a knack for charming the right people, but Grimm left that out. “I’m surprised that you don’t after all these years.” She was a Slytherin, and didn’t all the Slytherins stand behind their handsome, smooth-tongued leader?
But most of them didn’t know everything about Riddle’s background. He bit his tongue from asking Dolores just how she had heard of it.
“I absolutely hate him!” She paused for effect. “He refused to come with me to Sluggy’s Hallow’s Eve party!” Her lower lip quivered, making the bow perched on her head shake. “I can’t understand why he’d ever do that, me being the most popular girl in all of Slytherin!”
Grimm could have told her otherwise, but a lightbulb went off in his mind. The Hallow’s Eve party.... He was invited, of course, being Head Boy and because of his parents. Minerva would be there as well, however much she despised such gatherings, because of Dumbledore’s presence. If Grimm were to make her jealous of him, what possible sort of outcome would arise? He imagined the scene: Minerva standing by the window, drink in hand, silently regarding the rest of the room through her stern, insatiable eyes. Enter Grimm, with Dolores hanging off his arm (sans bow, he was stubborn on that point), his eyes meeting those of Minerva across the room. He watches her heart break as he escorts Dolores to the punch table and....
“Why aren’t you saying anything, Tibbs? Are you going to laugh at me like he did?”
He smiled at her, a real, honest, smile. “I would love to go with you, Dolores.”
Her eyes opened wide, so did her mouth. It was not a pleasant sight, but Grimm held the smile fast on his face.
He nodded with too much enthusiasm. “Oh yes, it would be splendid, don’t you think?”
Just in time, he stepped aside before she threw her arms around him again. Her squeal of delight echoed down the corridor. Probably, hopefully, the whole school would hear it. It was a half-decent deal for both of them. Dolores would have her date, and Grimm would have.... Well, he wasn’t entirely sure what he would get out of the deal.
Grimm’s smile washed away. “Best be off now. See you then!” Sliding away from her, rather like a snake, sprinted for the Ravenclaw Tower entrance, not stopping until he had safely closed the door of his chamber behind him.
His gaze moved towards the window facing Gryffindor Tower, but there was no light there. She must have gone to the library after class, so his thoughts went on another track. Riddle. The name suited the sixth year’s character. He was surrounded by followers, but had no definite friends, just peers who lapped at his every word and action, adoring and adorning him with all they could give. Few of them, if any, knew of his Muggle father, even Grimm had only heard by chance.
Riddle’s power grew each year, and though he was only fifteen, he appeared far older and wiser, as though he knew things that no one else could comprehend. He had always been singled out by every professor except Dumbledore, who kept him at a distance. As much as Grimm distrusted Dumbledore, he trusted his judgement on Riddle. There was something wrong about that boy. The more Riddle acted normal, the less normal he actually was. The spells Grimm had heard Riddle could perform were ones taught only to Aurors-in-training. Slughorn spent most of the seventh-year potions class praising young Riddle, who could brew potions like none of the seventh years. That is, except for Grimm, but only just.
He leaned back in his chair, still gazing out of the window with much on his mind. The thoughts of Riddle floated through, to be replaced by his imaginings of the Hallow’s Eve party and all the wondrous things that would happen there. The “what ifs” began to attack him with their uncertainties of whether Minerva would even go to the party, or if she managed to find her own date, or if something went completely wrong that would make her hate him more than she already did. Even the remembrance of that look on her face when he had said they could never be “just friends” could not remove these uncertainties from his brain. Some hours later, when the light went on in the facing tower, Grimm knew it was time to begin his rounds.