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Chapter 6: A Disastrous Affair
The night of the All Hallow’s Eve party came too soon, even for Grimm, who bitterly waited for it to be over. He was extremely displeased with his pleasant lot and wanted to go hide in the Forbidden Forest – only if necessary – until November could bother itself to start. He stood in front of the mirror in his room, staring at the deep blue robes his mother had said went splendidly with the colour of his eyes.
His eyes weren’t even blue, but oh well. It was the thought that counted, right?
Patting down another stray hair – where were they popping up from? – he scowled once again into the mirror and left the room, making sure to firmly shut the door behind him. There were whispers in the Common Room as he passed through, also some ill-concealed giggles. If he wasn’t the one heading for death row, he’d probably be laughing along with them, but such was not the case.
He tactfully chose the corridor which led away from Gryffindor Tower, although he’d invited Moody as his guest – Dolores already having an invitation of her own, Grimm was still allowed to bring a guest. It was Moody’s job to bring the drinks; not wise, but necessary under the cirumstances.
The plan was for Dolores to meet him down the corridor from Sluggy’s office. Grimm was damned if he’d tramp all the way down to the dungeons and back just to collect her. She stood there, waiting for him, dressed in shimmery pink silk that caught the light far too much and covered up her skin far too little. Grimm kept his eyes focussed on her face, baring his teeth in the poor imitation of a smile.
“Good evening, Dolores.”
She clasped onto his arm, lobster-style. “Hellloooo, Tibbs. I’m so looking forward to this, aren’t you?”
He didn’t respond, instead silently counting to three.
“Everyone should be here and just look who I get to come with!” She kept going, possibly for the next hour if nothing distracted her attention. “Positively jealous is what they’ll be, because how many girls get to go to one of Professor Slughorn’s parties? Only one and that’s me. How splendid, how ravishing!”
Grimm wondered if she was implying anything with that last word.
“And just think of how brilliant it will be to have all the dancing and the food and the decorations and the connections we can make and show off alike! Oh Merlin, this is going to be just fantastic!”
She pointed her grin in his general direction and dragged him into the party.
There was already a good few people there, though the number of good people there was few. Grimm surveyed the room, ignoring to the best of his ability the gaudy decorations and equally, if not more gaudy costumes of those in the crowd. Sluggy had brought along his vampire for effect; it was a helpful to have one around, especially if you were stuck with a poor dance partner. Vampires came in handy that way.
Obediently, Grimm did the social rounds, saying hello to the right people and giving warm greetings to the wrong people, making Dolores laugh with his witticisms, however much they were meant to insult her. He was at last released from his self-inflicted obligations and made a beeline for the beverage table, near which stood Moody.
“Thank Godric you’re here,” Grimm muttered, pouring himself a liberal drink. He offered Flitwick a smile and a nod as the professor passed by. “This sort of thing is torture, Moody.”
A snort was his reply. “I thought you went for this sort of thing, Grimm.”
“No, though it helps to keep the appearance of it.” Grimm gestured to the crowd. “They’re all vultures, out for more blood than that vampire could even handle.”
Moody shrugged, tipping back another drink. “Their family coffers must be getting low.”
“That’s what scares me.” Grimm let out a breath, smoothing back his hair with one hand. “The Muggle world progresses, their society and technology putting them further ahead of us by the minute, and all they” – he gestured towards a group of gossiping witches, Dolores among them – “can think of is who they’d be best to marry. It’s no better than an Austen novel.”
“In what way?” Moody was frowning. Knowledge of Muggle literature wasn’t a high priority on his list.
“Money.” Grimm replied, pausing to take another sip. “All we can think about is money. Who has it, who doesn’t, who should, who shouldn’t.”
Moody’s eyes were narrowed as he looked over the crowd. Professors and students alike mingled throughout the enlarged office, talking of all sorts of things, excepting the war, which no one dared mention. A band was tuning at one end – there’d more than likely be dancing that night – while house elves hurried to set up a table of food.
“At least they’ve enough money to actually think of.”
Grimm put down his drink suddenly. “Sorry. I–”
A wave of Moody’s hand stopped him. “Nah, it’s nothing. Mum and me are happy how we are. We don’t need them.” He pointed his nose towards the crowd. “Vultures is the right word for them, that’s for sure.”
But Grimm was distracted by another’s entrance into the room. Others were glancing in the direction of the door, as though they were mildly surprised at the appearance of the new arrival. According to Grimm, they had every right to be surprised; he was too. She didn’t look the way in which he had been expecting, but then again, he wasn’t sure just what he had been expecting.
By the time she came into full view, the others had looked back into their social bubbles, leaving Grimm her only observer. She was not looking at him, but she had to know his gaze was upon her. He could see as she drew nearer the slight flush on her cheekbones and the splotches of colour on her bare arms and throat. Her robes were of a plain fabric, but the type of cut which more than made up for it by accentuating her form. While her school robes hid the fact that she was as thin and straight-cut as a rod, these dress robes transformed her into a Greek sculpture.
Grimm blinked and looked down at his drink. What was this stuff, anyway?
He put down the glass, unfinished, and stepped into a soft, and probably very pink, body.
“Tibbs! I was looking for you!” Dolores pulled on his arm. “The band’s getting ready.”
Hint, hint. Grimm lost sight of Minerva in the throng and gave Dolores a wan smile.
“Would you care to dance, then, as soon as they are ready?”
Her grin was so wide her eyes closed. Not even the most contented cat could look as pleased as Dolores Umbridge was at that moment. Grimm would, however, draw the line if she asked him to marry her. He did have principles. Not to mention that his parents would find fault with his choice of such a girl as Dolores.
Parading in her wake like a stupid puppy, Grimm followed her onto the cramped area set up for dancing. He remained entirely formal in his manner, and perhaps would have been accused of coldness if any looked closely at the way he held himself. This was the sort of thing his parents had told him of – even warned him of – so at least he knew the rules. Had his partner been of a different sort, however....
The dance was a simple one; the song a popular one of the time, particularly with the soldiers on leave, and Grimm’s feet did the best that they could with it. Dolores observed the proprieties as well as he did, for once, which prevented the experience from becoming too intolerable.
“Where in Merlin’s name did you learn to dance, Tibbs? You have such a graceful step!”
Grimm let out a breath. “Well, it’s just one of those things...”
“Oh, then you’re a natural! How brilliant! Not that it’s a surprise with you, being so talented as you are with things.” She batted her eyelashes, pink bow bobbing on her head.
The conversation, now that was the thing he could have done without.
“That’s very kind of you, Dolores.”
His words fell flat upon his own ears. He had no desire to make a joke or try to be funny because she would laugh, but not understand at all the meaning behind it. She found him “droll” but nothing more, and that infuriated him the most. He might have even been able to get used to the pink bow and her strange obsession for kittens, but it was the lack of something in her head that bothered him. In the place of wit was cunning – her ambition and where it might lead was more than a potential problem.
When he looked down upon her, carefully avoiding the “v” of her dress, he began to wonder just how many of her words and actions towards him were an act, a role she had taken on for the purpose of attaining his attentions and, even better, his money.
Yes, it was there in her eyes. A slight gleam which did not tell of affection, only desire, partially physical but more material in nature. There was a hunger there that could only be cured with power.
He should have let her attend the party with Tom Riddle instead; they would have made such a brilliant pair, in mind if not in body. The very thought repulsed him. As soon as he led her through the final swirl, he let her go, his arms pulling back as though he had touched an electric wire, or a poisonous serpent.
With a bow, he turned from her, his eyes glazing with an indifference which masked the fear beneath. His own plan had turned upon him with a snapping of fatal jaws, the plain toad changing into something far, far more deadly.
One dreadful thing piling on top of another, Grimm came face-to-face with a bemused Minerva, who had been standing near the dance floor. She blinked as he came into focus. The glaze in his eyes was no match for her, and she saw a semblance of the fear in his eyes. Without a glance towards Dolores, whose lip had turned up in distaste, Minerva gave Grimm a questioning look.
“Well, Tiberius, are you going to ask me to dance?”
He took in the words, his eyes widening. “But... you... me... what?”
Victory was too evident in her eyes as she placed her hand on his. “I’ll take that as a yes.”
The next song the band played was no more exciting in nature than the last, and Grimm fell into the steps without needing to think. However, he paid close attention to his feet during the first few minutes. Minerva let him take the lead, disguising any mistakes without apology. He kept enough of his senses to manoeuver themselves as far away from Dolores as possible.
“How did you know?” he asked, keeping his voice low.
The dimple on the side of her mouth twitched. “It was rather obvious.”
Grimm concentrated once again on his feet.
Another minute passed.
“You could at least thank me.” Her eyebrow arched upwards, her eyes intent on his face.
He was beginning to flush, his still-hairless cheeks burning crimson.
“I’m eternally grateful to you, Minerva.” Still he did not raise his eyes.
She laughed out loud, causing others to look towards them with curiosity. There was a story there, more fodder for the rumour mills which clacked away in the Great Hall and Common Rooms.
“And so the revolution arrived to claim the very ones who begot it,” she said quietly, her eyes laughing at him. Of course she would not miss the irony of how she found it necessary to rescue him from his own genius plans.
Grimm mockingly rolled his eyes, trying to appear light-hearted. “This isn’t quite as serious as the French Revolution.”
“Sometimes I wonder. You would make a stunning Robespierre.”
They drew too near the band for speech, the noise of the instruments nearly drowning out Minerva’s last words and preventing any other words from passing between them. Grimm found it awkward to dance with her, their similar heights causing strain on his arms and his self-control. It would not have taken much for him to lean forward and place his lips upon hers. The consequences of such an action, however... he did not want to ponder their painful nature.
The music came to an end not a moment too soon.
Minerva leaned towards him, her lips by his ear.
“Now we are even,” she whispered before pulling away again.
Dancers reorganizing for the next song divided him from Minerva before he could speak with her again. She vanished into the groups of others, but Grimm supposed that she’d be heading in the direction of Dumbledore’s tall hat, which was just visible over the heads of some prominent Hufflepuffs. He could still feel the impression of her hand in his and the way she had held her skirts with her free hand instead of draping it around his neck as Dolores had. A little change like that meant something.
But what had she meant with those parting words? He remembered how... how remarkable her breath had felt upon his flesh. So soft, but not fleeting, as everyone tended to say. No, he could still feel it now, a tingling of his nerves, a chill through his veins. His senses had near overpowered his hearing – the experience came to memory before her words.
What were they even for? Had he done something which she thought it necessary to repay him for? Something surprisingly positive that would lead her to snatching him out of Dolores Umbridge’s clinging arms? Perhaps there was, but he could not think of it now.
Having wandered through the crowd, deep in thought, he unconscious made his way back to the drinks table, still supervised by a vigilant Moody.
“Have fun?” the aforementioned asked.
Grimm let him pour a liberal amount of the mysterious liquid. “Not particularly. I lost my wind back there.”
Moody nodded. “Happens to the best of us.”
“Ah, young Grimm, there you are! See here, Hodgkins, this is my finest potions student.”
Grimm closed his eyes as though in pain while Moody averted his eyes with a smile. After the briefest second, Grimm spun to greet whoever Sluggy had brought for an introduction.
“Pleasure to meet you, sir,” he said, offering Hodgkins a handshake.
“Same, same,” came the other wizard’s reply. He was some inches taller than Grimm, staring down at him through a very thick monocle. “So you are interested in the fine art of potions, young man?” His accent was somewhat marked by a period spent in France, Grimm speculated.
Hodgkins adjusted his monocle, peering through it at Grimm. “My university is always looking for students like you. Science is the way of the future, as they say.”
Slughorn nodded vigorously. “Dr. Hodgkins is visiting us from McGill university, Grimm. Perhaps it’s something you can look forward too, going further with your work.” He turned to address Hodgkins. “Young Grimm gets into the experiments with far more interest than all my other students, you see. Not often that you get one who cares so much about the work”
“Indeed, indeed,” Hodgkins responded studiously.
So not France specifically, but Montreal. Grimm found his curiosity growing about this possibility. University, now that was something his father would understand, and there was no chance of him being able to go to any place on the Continent, not with the war going on. But Canada had potential, especially the very university where Rutherford had first scattered the nucleus of an atom. The more Grimm thought about it, the better it sounded. A career, a lifestyle, a future....
Except Montreal was a very long distance away.
He fell quiet as Slughorn led the other professor away. Staring down into his glass, he wondered at the strange feeling in his stomach. It was illogical to be nervous about such a proposition as Hodgkins had offered him, yet he was not entirely comfortable. His feelings could, of course, be related merely to the situation of the party, the volume of which increased by the minute. Another crush of people loomed on Grimm’s left, pushing closer to where he stood.
The heat of the room also increased. Grimm took another sip of drink, then cradled the empty glass in his hand, watching. Moody was nowhere to be seen, but that was not too much of a surprise. If there was anyone entirely unsuited to such a social situation as this, it was Moody. He’d probably returned to the Gryffindor Common Room, or run off after the vampire with a wooden stake. The latter was far easier to imagine.
Grimm listened to fractions of conversations.
“But you know my cousin, I’m sure....”
“Did you hear about....?”
“Yes! How in Merlin’s name did you...”
“...it’s really hard to say, though.”
“...of course that’s how it is! What else were you expecting?”
None of which interested him in the least.
~ * * * ~
The door was not difficult to force. Its occupant had not thought to lock it tightly, only to shut it firmly, for who among his fellow house-mates would aspire to petty thievery? And to think that anyone else in the school could enter the tower, much less the dormitories, was beyond his imagination. In times like these, however, such precautions ought to have been taken.
The house-breaker laughed softly, a hollow sound.
The room was both neat and well-used, some items organized while others, those which were more beloved, it seemed, were not prescribed to the same amount of tidiness. For if Grimm did not use it, or like it, the item would never have the opportunity of being put out of place. It was a form of reverse logic that the house-breaker did not pay much attention to.
What was of more interest was the writing desk, upon Grimm kept his piles of parchments and letters. Neat white hands rifled through these, putting each back where it had been taken from, secretly yearning to make the piles more orderly. That was not possible, not if this mission was to be successful, that is, undetected.
Letter after letter was searched through, even the rolled parchments were not spared the house-breaker’s inquiring eyes. Next were the books, whose pages were scanned for ciphers or hidden documents. Again, nothing but the banal, the meaningless, was found.
Failure. There must have been another place, more secure, but there was no time.
~ * * * ~
Turning his face away when Dolores passed by, Grimm found himself with a clear view of the dance floor. He swore he saw two familiar black-haired heads together, but his vision was obstructed by a large pink bow. So she had seen him. Damn.
“Tibbs! I’ve been looking all over for you! Where on earth did you disappear to?” She clapped her hands together, trying to appear melodramatic.
Grimm blinked, thinking over his answer. After a moment, he smiled.
“Sorry, darling. I needed a drink. Pretty dry in here, don’t you think?”
She positively simpered at his having called her darling, but Grimm caught the momentary glint in her eye, a serpent’s glint. Wasn’t she related to that family, the Selwyns? A strange lot, they were, very well-known for their allegiances with the bad side of Wizarding politics – the side inevitably attached to what was going on across the Channel. There were too many things going on with the war and the alliance between Grindelwald and the German Muggles. It made no sense to Grimm’s way of thinking, particularly when one of the shining belles of the purebloods was openly batting her eyelashes at him. A sacrificial lamb with a will of its own, perhaps?
He grimaced at the idea. Lamb she was not.
“Oh yes, that’s very true, Tibbsy. Would you pour me a little one, please?”
Grimm reached for the pumpkin juice and filled a glass. She snatched it from his hand with a glittering smile, her eyes not leaving his, even as she took a sip.
“Thank you, dearest. I am so glad that I came here with you!” The pink bow bobbed on her head. “That other one I wanted to bring would never have been such a gentleman as you! It’s so obvious that you’re well bred.”
The very word “bred” caused Grimm’s stomach to drop. It was very true that no one quite knew who Tom Riddle’s father was, or how the Riddle family could have remained both pureblooded and unknown. Riddle’s constant claim that he was indeed pureblooded was more than a bit difficult for some to believe, including some of those in his own Slytherin crowd.
But it was not for his father’s family that they followed him – it was for his power, his charm, his ability to make people follow his lead without question and without conscience.
“Is something wrong, Tibbs? You look a bit pale?”
This time, he could not even muster a fake smile. He felt as though a great weight had settled upon his brain, pulling him towards the floor. He hadn’t thought he’d drunk quite that much of Moody’s special liquid, whatever it was. His eyes blinking slowly, Grimm thought that he should ask Moody just what kind of stuff it was. Had a nice taste to it. A little nip on the tongue.
“Tibbs? Are you alright?”
There was genuine worry in her voice. This would not look good if he were to keel over from drunkenness. There was a funny smell coming from his glass.
But he was not listening to her. His eyes were glued upon the dance floor.
“Answer me, Tibbs!”
The black-haired pair was now more visible to where he stood. Yes, they were indeed very familiar – one was well-hated, the other too well-loved. It was her hair, her face, her dress, her smile. The wizard was actually a bit taller than she, and he suited her well, with his chiselled perfection masking all the darkness beneath.
“What’s over there? What are you looking at?”
His hand tightened around the empty glass he held. Its contents had already long affected his brain, making each emotion stronger, more overpowering. He felt as green as the Slytherin crest – the serpent rose in his breast, eating away at any logic and humour he may have retained in all his sufferings of love.
There was a roaring in his ears, as though the Hogwarts Express itself had been diverted through the party. He could not look away from the scene upon the dance floor.
Minerva McGonagall was dancing with Tom Riddle, and seeming to enjoy it very much.
The glass could not withstand anymore pressure. It burst in his hand, shards flying in all directions. The sound caused all around him to stop in mid-speech and gaze at him with open mouths. The silence spread across the room, until even the band stopped and the dancers glared around to see from which corner the disturbance had arisen.
Dolores backed away, screaming of the glass in her hair.
Grimm stared down at his hand, now sensible of the blood dripping from the palm of his hand onto the floor. His eyes rolled upwards. Blood. He hated blood. Blood drawn from violence, from malevolence, from hatred, from jealousy.
Someone pushed through the crowd, not caring who should stumble or fall as she passed. Coming upon Dolores, she shoved the still-crying girl aside and reached Grimm just before his legs collapsed beneath him. His eyes were still open, but were helpless to prevent his weakness from being betrayed.
“Oh Grimm, you fool!” Minerva whispered just before he lost consciousness and slumped in her arms.
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