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Chapter 5: A Bit of Bedlam
Days had passed since that very unusual peace agreement had been made, but still she simply couldn’t understand him. Part of her wanted to; the rest feared what sort of problems would come from understanding someone like Grimm. Minerva wandered on her own into the grounds, her mind on various things as it tried to rid itself of all thoughts of the annoying Tiberius Grimm. There were tests to study for, a rather long essay, a Quidditch match to prepare for – all that above and beyond her usual Head Girl duties and regular social time. Yet her weeks’s constancy had been broken by the meeting in the Headmaster’s office and its even stranger aftermath.
He had given her a gift that she had never wanted, yet could not refuse.
It bothered her that he had placed his reputation almost into her very hands. The very idea of it could not make any sense to her, not when, at the very base of things, she was the cause of his problems, his human follies. The mildly amusing, but always distant and cold in mind Grimm of the previous year had been replaced by an anxious, distracted, bumbling young man who was too far gone to save from his own restless heart. His popularity with others had not changed, nor would his enemies hate him less. It seemed that the only person he acted different to was her, and that was the most bothersome thing of all.
Stupid Grimm. He was becoming more of an idiot than ever. She still had not forgiven him for that last joke he had played on her. But now, the joke was on him.
She had heard, of course, of his unexpected action of asking Dolores Umbridge to accompany him to Slughorn’s party. It was utter madness of him, but Minerva could guess at his motives – they were as clear as crystal and as petty as a child’s.
“McGonagall!” The low burr was sadly recognisable.
She turned, tightening her lips in a mixture of disapproval and self-control. However much Alastor Moody was the courageous hero, dashing about like a knight in armour, his manner was hardly endearing. He could have fit the part without talking – tall, strongly-built, dark waves of hair settling over his forehead, a nose like the prow of a ship, and the kind of dark brown eyes that ought to set a witch's heart aflutter. But this Lancelot held little interest for this particular Guinevere.
“Hello, Alastor. Any problems?” She stopped to let him catch up.
“Aye. I’m looking for Grimm. Seen him?”
Did they offer lessons on how to speak like a pirate? She would have to tell Grimm, he might be interested in such a class.
“Yes, I have, but not for some time now.”
A growl emitted from Moody’s throat, but it was not from anger, simply his manner of thinking. “D’you know where he’s gone?”
Since when had she become Grimm’s keeper?
“No, should I?” She kept her voice even, even bored-sounding.
Confusion passed over Moody’s face, but it was soon replaced by amusement.
“Oh, I see. Bit of a tiff between you now, is there?” He laughed, sounding like he’d been at the butterbeer again, or had he graduated to firewhiskey by now? “Well, you don’t have to give me the details,” he continued with a wink. “I’m sure he’s about in some corner, licking his wounds.”
Once he’d gone, Minerva’s primary thought was that at least Moody had seen her as the victor in the imaginary tiff between herself and Grimm. It was the closest prognosis to what had really gone on. If someone like Moody was believing the rumours – he who followed a mantra of constant observation and caution – then she wondered if she ought to start believing them herself. There had been that expression in Grimm’s eyes, rather like a sick puppy. It was pathetic to her logical mind, but it revealed his wounds, as Moody called them.
Had she wounded him?
He was not the type to be wounded.
With that thought, she started on her way once again. The corridors were long, and thankfully devoid of too many annoyances. The fifth years snogging behind the statue of the one-eyed witch were an easy catch, as were the pranksters teasing the portraits on the third floor. But she was not paying close attention to any of these things. Even as she chastised both of the aforementioned parties, Minerva was still deep in thought.
Her feet were sure upon the floor-stones, her eyes tracing the mortar-lines. At the intersection of two corridors, her ears pricked up at the sound of familiar voices.
“You put a bee in her bonnet, that’s for sure. Cold as a fish, like they say.” It was Moody again, exaggerating the lowness of his accent for his own entertainment.
“We actually made a sort of peace agreement, if you must know.” The clipped syllables could only mean one speaker.
Moody burst into laughter. “Signed and witnessed?”
“No, we’re not at war, Alastor.”
“Sure sounds like it to me.”
Minerva could imagine Grimm crossing his arms at this point. She hovered behind the corner of the wall.
“Why were you looking for me, anyway? Any news?”
Moody shuffled his feet. “There’s word of strange dealings at the school, but nothing specific enough to work with.”
Grimm let out a troubled sigh. “Nothing, still? But he’s been acting like the bloody King of England, with the way he carries himself. And his followers only increase in number.”
He? Who was he? What sort of conversation had she come upon?
“It’ll only get worse. You’ll see.”
After a short silence, Grimm responded. “I don’t need to see it to believe it. You can feel it in the air, his anger, his power.” He paused. “Does Dumbledore know?”
“He must have ears in every toilet if he does.”
The nervous laugh could only be Grimm’s. “Then you can be sure he does. You’ll get the report in to the right person?”
“Aye, you doubt me, Grimm?”
“That place your uncle’s offered is a good one. I’m glad for it.”
Minerva’s hand slipped against the wall, her grandmother’s ring grating against the stone.
“You hear that?”
Her eyes widened at their approaching footsteps. Must do something. She blinked.
Grimm rounded the corner with no set expectation of who could have been listening in on his conversation with Moody. Perhaps a younger student, daring to see what two seventh years could be talking about. Or a pesky Slytherin, out for himself. Or... anything but the sight that greeted him of a kneeling on hands-and-knees witch whose backside was turned towards him. It was not an unwelcome sight, especially seeing that he very much recognised the well-molded figure.
He leaned closer, knowing that she must have heard him approach. Not like her at all to not turn about and berate him right off for staring at her so. But if she wasn’t about to protest, he really wouldn’t complain....
Moody looked over his shoulder. “Not a bad one, eh?” came the whisper in his ear.
“Shut up,” he hissed back, his boot kicking against something metallic as he pulled away.
She had heard the sounds, if not the words, and turned, falling onto that alluring figure with an outset of breath.
That was not the sort of response he had expected. If she had started glaring at him, now that would have been more like it. He bent to pick up the object at his toe, his eyes not leaving hers. The sea of moths rising in his stomach did not prevent him from seeing the lie in her eyes before her lips even moved to form the words.
“I dropped my ring. Is that it there, Tiberius?” She nodded to the object in his hand: a small gold band, crowned with a red stone.
Her hand reached out for the ring. He made sure to drop it, not place it, in her palm, his eyes narrowing as hers avoided his gaze.
“Alastor was looking for you,” she said, attending to the replacement of the ring on her finger.
Grimm frowned. “I know. He’s right beside me, Minerva.”
The flush that blotched up her throat and cheeks caused the moths in his stomach to flutter a little faster. “Oh, I didn’t see you there, Alastor.”
Moody did not reply, hardly able to trust himself with a straight face. His giant hand covered most of his face, but the shaking of his body he could not so easily control.
Biting her lip, Minerva rose. “Well, thank you. It would be a tragedy to lose it.”
“Indeed, a ring is a special token.” His voice was soft.
Her eyes leapt to meet his. “Of course. This one was my grandmother’s.”
“An engagement ring?”
She stepped back, head tilting as she watched him. “How did you guess?”
A sideways smile pulled at his mouth. “I never guess.”
The spell was broken. Her lips pursing with impatience, she rolled her eyes and glared at him. Ah yes, now everything was right with the world.
“You always have to be right, don’t you, Tiberius.” The hand with the ring was closed in a tight fist, knuckles white. “Some would call you pretentious.”
There was a great intensity in her eyes that he wanted to capture forever, but no photograph nor painting would ever be able to reproduce the glitter of blackness deep in her gaze. Magic was nothing compared to that light.
“And what, my dear, would you call it?” His light drawl was only a mask, but one she could not see beyond.
The flush of being caught was becoming one of fury. She opened her mouth.
A moment of unfamiliar courage filled the silence where insult would have been born. Grimm moved towards her and placed a finger over her lips, the warmth of her so close near him almost stopping his breath. Her eyes widened, but she froze in place, her mouth not quite closed, but definitely silent.
Moody could only watch.
“We made an agreement, remember?” Grimm barely spoke above a whisper. “There will be peace between us, Minerva, no matter how it will be achieved. But I will have it.”
She finally pulled away, taking out a handkerchief to wipe her mouth where he’d touched her.
“If I cannot go half a day without finding cause to criticise you, Tiberius, how can you believe that?” Her breath was unsteady, her chest heaving.
He blinked. It was a question he could not answer... unless he told the truth. Even before Moody he would do it, saying those words which could tear apart a nation or tear apart the fabric of a life at peace. By saying those words, he could change everything between them. Either she would hate him more and forever, knowing that he was a victim in her grasp, or she too would change, at last coming to the realisation that some stroke of lucky fate had brought them together for this glorious moment, and for all eternity.
“I believe it because....” No, no, he had to say it. But no, how would she take it? What if she threw it in his face while on the arm of some other man one day? “Because I think I....” Think? Think? He damn well knew how he felt. Or did he?
“Out with it, Grimm.” Moody’s grumble shook him from his anxiety.
Merlin, had he been about to proclaim his love for her?
“Oh, yes of course.” Grimm smiled rakishly, forcing out the words while his heart still raced. Her eyes were upon him, probing, searching for an answer that would not disturb her for life. “It’s because I like you for your critical attitudes. Very alluring, I’d say.” He felt his voice rising an octave towards silly ass mode. Yes, this was going terribly.
Minerva stared at him, somewhat open-mouthed. It was really a noble pose, her neck holding up her proud chin with the bearing of a swan; arms crossed tightly over her chest; the skirts of her robes sweeping from hips to ground. He must have gotten some expression in his eyes, because her own eyes narrowed with suspicion.
“If I’m not mistaken,” she said, each syllable spoken in a crystal clear voice. “I would think that you were going soft, Tiberius. Why are you looking at me like that?”
Moody, who had until this time been standing behind Grimm, stepped forward.
“What look is it? He’s got a fair few.”
Her lips twisted upwards. “Like a man in the desert who has just seen the oasis.”
A nod of agreement came from Moody. “Aye. Like a man who’s just found what he desires most.” His eyes widened as he realised the alternate meaning of his words.
Minerva took in a breath and held it, meeting Moody’s raised eyebrows.
“Indeed? Are you thirsty, Tiberius?”
Grimm thought he had heard the slightly twinge in her voice. He swallowed. “Only if you can offer a good stiff drink, my dear. Do you keep some in your skirts? They’re certainly large enough for it and more.” He hoped that the shudder in his own voice was inaudible.
Her jaw tightened. “I’m afraid not. One must set a good example for the younger students.”
This was the sort of duel he had never fought. Grimm’s mind traced over the various stages of this verbal skirmish, from discovery of the spy to an outright war of wit. Was this what it would be like if Lord Byron had met Jane Austen? Now that would have been a sight to see. If only Moody wasn’t there. He certainly wasn’t being much help – bloody turncoat.
“Right, and shouldn’t we be setting that example right now by being in the Great Hall like everyone else for dinner?” Food always settled things. All the good battles had to be finished by the dinner hour for posterity’s sake.
Moody brought out his ancient watch. “Too late. We missed it.” He laughed. “Well, looks like there’ll be new rumours about how the Head Boy and Girl were off together during dinner. A good laugh that’ll be.”
“Maybe for you, Alastor.” Queenly, that was a nice adjective for her at that moment.
Grimm sighed. “If only it were true.”
The other two turned to stare and glare, respectively.
The one thing he could not do well was look completely innocent. “Just giving my opinion.”
A silence fell over them. Neither moved, nor did they look at each other again. Minerva twisted the ring around her finger again and again. Moody glanced out the window and busied himself with the contents of his pockets. Grimm looked at the wall. He was surprised that they hadn’t left him yet. Everything he said just made the conversation turn in another direction, always in the opposite direction that he wished it to go. He should just give up now and get some dinner before all the first year pigs gobbled it up. Not that he thought of them as pigs. That would have been very wrong.
Was he only thinking that because she was looking at him like she could read his thoughts?
“If that’s all, I’ll be off,” he said with a pitchy laugh. “A nasty bit of homework awaits me.”
He turned to scuttle out of there before anything else could go dreadfully wrong. But at least he had gotten a nice look at Minerva McGonagall’s backside. And a very pretty one is was too. With a nod to a still-amused Moody, Grimm took himself off before Minerva could object. He did not look back at her; he did not trust himself if he did. Sluggy’s party was in three days, and he had asked to go with him the girl Minerva despised the most.
Her footsteps followed him. It took a swift step to keep up with his pace, but that was no trouble for the witch from the highlands, used to chasing the neighbour’s sheep.
He did not stop. “What more do you want from me, Minerva?”
“What possessed you to ask her, of all people?”
They turned a corner, moving at hyper-speed for the staircase. Maybe there he could lose her; surely she could not climb two steps at a time.
“It took you a long time for you to find out. That was weeks ago when I asked her.”
She stopped, and although he continued on, it did not prevent her words from following him.
“Did you think I would be jealous? Of her?”
Grimm closed his eyes, his steps slowing. When they came to a halt, he turned.
“Jealous of her with me was the plan.”
She still appeared sceptical.
“And you believed it would work?”
Now he must have started to look sheepish. He certainly felt that way. She knew just the right things to say, all the things that would stop him in his tracks and keep his brain from thinking the right way. How in Merlin’s name did he ever expect to make her jealous? What sort of Ravenclaw was he if he couldn’t even make a half-decent plan? Umbridge would have come up with a better one. In fact, she had – she’d gotten him.
“Yes, I did at the time.” He sighed and shook his head. “Now can you see how desperate I’ve become?”
She managed to raise an eyebrow in a delicate swoop.
“Oh indeed. If there’s anyone who dislikes her more than I, it’s you.”
The answering expression on his face made her laugh.
“You’ll get out of it, Tiberius. You always do.” She paused, thinking about something, then added, “Professor Slughorn keeps a special bottle in his potions cupboard. It’s in the back, I think you will know which one it is.”
Grimm frowned, translating her statement, then nodded sombrely. “A special bottle? To keep the agony off?”
Poor pathetic Grimm, that’s what she’d be thinking of him now. No anger, no impatience, just humanity in a semi-amused way. She was pitying him and his silly ideas and plans that came to no successful end. It was not a wonder his parents didn’t know what to do with him, not when utter failure was written across his very forehead.
“Yes, it should help.” She was smiling at him, a soft expression that brightened her eyes.
He tried to smile back. “Thank you.”
She didn’t move, and he wouldn’t until she had gone. There was still something on his mind, and supposedly it was the same thing that was bothering her.
“What– whatever you heard back there between Moody and myself, you shouldn’t worry about, Minerva.” He swallowed, wondering how she would react.
Her eyes narrowed slightly. “It’s a secret, then?”
When he nodded, she added, “I’ll put it from my head. Sorry for barging in on it.”
She walked towards him, picking up the hem of her robes to properly climb the stair. He caught a glance of stockinged ankle and neat boot.
“I trust you,” he whispered as she passed him. Her head turned, but he looked away before she could see his face.
~ * * * ~
He made sure the letter was written before he turned to any of his books and school parchments. Cramped over the small desk in his tower room, Grimm carefully inscribed the letter with his name and the date, making sure that each letter was legible. His usual handwriting would do no good for a letter such as this. It was his first report back to his uncle, Augustus Horne of the Department of Mysteries, and although there was not much to say, the letter still deserved all the reverence Grimm could spare.