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Chapter 8: The Purloined Letter
It was the perfect opportunity to enter his room. The tower was empty except for those precious few with too little wit to notice anything beyond themselves. He was safely away, bound by his foolishness to the girl he loved who loved Quidditch above everything. He would not return in the next hour, leaving his room at the mercy of the intruder. His attendance at the last game had been an unprepared for surprise, and that opportunity had thus been wasted, but now... now was the intruder’s chance.
Books, papers, clothes, trunk, beneath the mattress and nearly everything and everywhere was searched for the desired object. He’d written that letter, and sent it too – the intruder had watched him go up to the Owlery – and a reply should have been returned soon after. Yet where? There was no hearth, only candles and a single lantern, but those things showed no evidence of having been used to burn paper. Nothing at all seemed out of pl–
The letter, much crumpled from being stuffed beneath the pillows, still read clearly, the inked lines revealing all that the intruder knew would earn them much praise when it was delivered into the right hands. But for now, must take care! The final throws of the Quidditch game echoed even through the thick stone walls, and the intruder slipped out. Elation filled the intruder’s mind, and thus the door did not close completely. A clue left behind for an unwitting detective.
~ * * * ~
That first Quidditch match and the subsequent one he was forced to attend only continued to remind him why he found the sport intolerable. He made a list in his mind during each match while trying not to wince each time a bludger passed too near a player. Minerva only played in the first game against Slytherin, but she managed to drag him along to watch the second. He had slouched in the seat beside her, vaguely hearing the commentary over the sounds of the fans. Minerva had a louder voice than he ever could have imagined.
“It’s your move,” she said now, impatience leaking into her words.
He looked back at the chess board. She played this game rather the same way she had her Gryffindors play theirs: without mercy. The white king was well hidden, quite beyond the reach of his pieces. Instead, he took another of her pawns. At least that way, if he did succeed in trapping one of her more important pieces, she would have difficulty resurrecting it.
“It was unfortunate that Ravenclaw lost the game.”
She was trying far too hard with this conversation thing. It was new, and disturbing. But if she could try and make him feel uncomfortable by continuously talking about Quidditch....
“That’s likely because you weren’t on the team, darling.” He drawled out the final word, making it impossible for her to ignore it.
In an effortless move, she ordered her knight to slay his bishop. Once the sound of the battle died away, she said, “Your attempts to flatter me fall on deaf ears.” Her words also fell, but in a particularly flat way. “You are terrible at this game for a Ravenclaw.”
Games in general weren’t his sort of thing, but she knew that. The statement had only been made to distract him.
“And, like the perfect Gryffindor, you enjoy winning too much.” War was war, after all.
That seemed to sort things for the moment, though Grimm could still detect some animosity on her side. What was it that he had managed to do now? Or was it merely that, again – and as always – he failed to live up to her standards, whatever they happened to be? She was so changeable, one moment laughing and the next ready to throttle him. He forbid himself from blaming it on her femininity, as her role of Chaser was anything but feminine and her love of Wizards Chess emphasized that point further. What sort of girl was she, anyway?
After his verbal comment, she continued to murder his players one by one, taking out both knights in a matter of minutes, then following with one rook, his remaining bishop, and very nearly his queen. They kept silent as the game drew closer to an end – her moves becoming more vicious while he struggled to keep what players he still had, however menial they may have been.
His queen was gone and his king in danger by the time he thought it wise to speak up.
“Is something that matter, Minerva? You seem rather... not yourself.” It sounded idiotic to his ears, and probably to hers as well.
Another pawn was smashed to bits before she answered.
“There was another problem with Olive Hornby and your friend Myrtle.” She swooped her queen in position to check his king.
He got himself out of that one, if only just. “Again?”
“Yes, I’m surprised you hadn’t already heard about it.”
A rebuke, but a deserved one.
“How bad was it? Myrtle can’t handle all that much on her own.”
She glared at him over her spectacles. “You would be surprised. She turned Olive’s hair bright green, now I wonder where she would have learned that trick.”
The use of the word trick was key.
“Transfiguration is more your line, I think.” He got another of her rooks. “And, if you must know, I applaud her ability to finally stand up for herself. Hornby is a bully, nothing more, and she deserves whatever she gets.”
Her lips tightened into a firmer line. “Not an appropriate thing for the Head Boy to say. You are supposed to observe the rules at all costs.”
Grimm felt the colour rising in his cheeks. Another argument. “Yes, and also the course of justice. Dippet should have long ago enforced the rules far better than he has been these last few years.” His hands waved about. “Bullies like Hornby and brutes like Rosier should have been dealt with from the beginning, not allowed to run free because he’s afraid of their fathers’ reactions.”
She watched him as one watches an experiment that was going far differently than one expected. “Some would accuse you of being a Bolshevik, Tiberius. It's their fathers and names that have created our world.”
The flush of anger began fading to shame. “And you believe that? You, who are ignored and laughed at because you’re not English like them, you’re not rich like them, you’re not as entitled as them?”
Her eyes flashed, but she remained silent. Perhaps it was a silence of acquiescence, but he could not have been sure.
“Checkmate,” she said, eyes on the board as his king was devoured by her knight.
Dammit, she’d gotten him again. Another loss for the record books, already weighing heavily in her favour. It had to be because of the distraction she caused him. Either that or she had some diabolical (to Napoleonic standards) brilliance in tactical matters that he lacked.
She cleared away the chess set, closing the board on the shattered pieces and remaining players, nearly all white. From her manner, Grimm supposed that he no longer existed in her consciousness. Definitely time to leave. There was that wretched essay waiting for him, only half-completed so far. It was due the following day, which was worse luck. He imagined that hers must be lying all polished and perfect on her desk. Procrastination was simply not a word in her vocabulary.
“Better go then, that essay, you know,” he mumbled, shoving back his chair. It squealed in protest, which was to be the sole reaction his words obtained. “Good night, then.”
They had been the only ones in the Great Hall that late in the evening, so late that the ceiling glittered with all the stars and galaxies to be, and not to be, seen in the sky above Hogwarts. The sight of those glittering beings should have led to something more romantic than embittered silence. There should have been something in those stars that drew out her compassion, her longing.
When she finally looked up, he was not far from the door.
“I never would have taken you for an idealist, Tiberius.” After a short pause, in which Grimm was scraping his jaw off the floor, she added. “Good night.”
She was standing at the table, chess board in hand, her eyes filled with more of that something than he’d seen before. Fragments of understanding and forgiveness were rooted there, tossing away his guilt at ruining the day, the perfect feeling of her closeness at the Quidditch match, the way, at one moment, that she had leaned into him (if only to better view a chaser’s technique).
Should he say something in return? Yes, yes of course. Had she not given up her day in favour of him, allowing the match to lead into a walk then into this disastrous chess game?
“It was a nice day, thank you.”
Feeble, but stolidly traditional.
There was a crinkle in the skin around her eyes. “Yes, it was.”
He was stunned for the entire duration of his journey to Ravenclaw Tower, his head spinning through the conversation and its various twists and turns. How had it managed to end so... so... peacefully? Friendly, some would say. But Grimm was not yet that optimistic – too many other issues still lay in that path. Perhaps she truly believed herself successful in converting him to a Quidditch fan.
The heightened thoughts of this hopeful Casanova were cut short by a very strange circumstance: the open nature of his dormitory door. Moonlight issued from the opening, catching his eye from the corner of the stair. While it was true that he had left the place in a rush, he could hear the snap of it closing firmly behind him. Locks were unnecessary, not here. However curious Ravenclaws were, it was not about the belongings of others. So why this? The perfect ruination to what could have been a perfect day.
He halted his mind from continuing in that direction. Look first, leap later. If he had left his window open, then the door could have been pushed open by the air currents. But no, he felt no breeze; the window was locked. It had been too cold that morning. One of his year-mates needing to borrow something? Not impossible, but surely not convenient, not when there were four other male seventh-year Ravenclaws to borrow from, all of which resided in the same dormitory. It had to be something else.
The sudden fear gripped him in a serpent’s vice. Pillows thrown aside, feathers dancing in the air, no letter. Of course not – it would be the first thing gone from the room if anything was to be taken at all.
It would have been so easy to burn, to watch the flames slowly consume the fragile paper fibres, but he had not. He had failed.
Nerves shuddering, he sat upon the bed. The walls and windows were blank in his dazed eyes. The words of the letter passed through his vision, burning against the parchment. He should have known better than to believe that hiding it would be enough. There was too much risk involved. He had assured his uncle that he was worthy of the job, that he was capable of such a responsibility, even against what his parents constantly said of him. Just to prove them wrong would have been enough. Instead, he had given them more evidence of his irresponsibility. Going to a bloody Quidditch game just to please a girl, and look what comes out of it?
The longer he sat and pondered his sorry fate, the more Grimm’s reason began to turn to the more important question of who. In every mystery, it was one of, if not the, most important question one could ask. Who did this? Who had the opportunity? Who should he suspect? It couldn’t just be anyone who’d walk into Ravenclaw Tower (having somehow figured out how to gain entrance), proceed to his rooms, and steal a certain secreted article. The list was limited to people he should have been able to trust. Or was it?
Another wave of desperation hit, nearly bowling him over.
Both irrational and rational. Going for help from the professor he’d rather not ask help from, but who was the only person who could possibly understand his predicament. If anything, Dumbledore was perhaps the only person he could trust with this. Even Minerva.... His hesitation was curious. She above all people should be trusted, yet still he wanted to go to Dumbledore, not her, for help.
His feet took him quickly down the stairs – he remembered to lock the door this time, taking no chances – leaving the tower without any word to his housemates. If they saw his face, they would assume that he was off after the Head Girl again. That, at least, was a safe bet. Out the door, down the hall, down the stairs six floors, down another hall, stop in front of the office door. Stare.
Did he want to do this?
“Come in, Tiberius.”
The voice was heard through the door. The old man was a mind reader too, then? Or did he just have good ears?
Dumbledore sat behind his desk, a long-neglected cup of tea at his left hand, a bottle of ink at his left. Interested blue eyes looked up at Grimm, welcoming and entrancing the younger wizard, who felt his flesh creep under the power of that gaze.
“Is there a problem?” A voice too mild for eyes so intense.
Grimm took a breath. His knees shook. “May I sit down, sir?”
“Of course.” He waved to the chair. “Tell me.”
The simple order was all that was necessary. “Someone has been in my room.”
Dumbledore leaned forward, half-moon glasses catching the light. “Unbeknownst to you?”
“During the Quidditch match, or sometime around then, sir.” The last word was belated, but Dumbledore did not appear to notice Grimm’s hesitation. “They left my door open on their way out.”
The blue eyes sharpened. “And did they take anything, Tiberius?”
Grimm tightened his lips. Should he? Shouldn’t he? He looked down at his hands, then at the floor, at the desk, at his feet – not at the professor. He needed to think, to decide, to weigh the possibilities, to force himself to have greater confidence in Dumbledore’s abilities.
There was a lesson here. He was humbled before the enemy, or at least, a rival of sorts. Or was it all in his head? Was this wizard just another inspiring teacher who had captured the admiration of a student? But that was not the question here.
He took a breath. “A letter from my uncle.”
An imperceptible nod. The blue eyes glittered. “A letter of worth.” He didn’t even need to phrase it as a question.
“Yes, sir. Taken from its hiding place, probably during the Quidditch match.”
Dumbledore folded his hands on the desk, waiting.
Grimm swallowed. “I don’t know who to trust or who to suspect, sir. That is why I came to you.” He paused, tasting the words. “I need your help.”
~ * * * ~
The Common Room was at last quiet, silence filling the cracks between the whispers that still tripped down the stairs from the dormitories. Minerva stared into the Gryffindor hearth, eyes vacant as they saw not flames, but many other, sometimes unwelcome, things. Well, mostly unwelcome. The face of Grimm appeared in the flickering light, a constant reminder of him even when he wasn’t around to constantly remind her of his presence. The haunting – he was her ghost. The longing – he could have been her lov–
No. Not now. Not when there was something to look forward to.
The scout who had attended the last Gryffindor match had finally written back with a tentative invitation to join the Harpies. It was perfection, the ultimate goal she had hoped for these many years since she’d first witnessed her brother at Quidditch. He may have died far away in France, but she could still play the game he had loved, and she had come to love. Her fingers clenched around the scroll, but her eyes did not leave the flames. They beckoned, they tempted her mind to take root in new directions, to think of new paths for her life to take.
A path with him?
He was a bastard.
You try too hard to hate him.
Was it as simple as that? Were her feelings so biased against him without explanation? He had managed a surprising amount of charm during this last match, actually paying attention as she described the game to him in layman’s terms. Or had he not cared about the players at all, but was only enthralled by the sound of her voice? What was the purpose of listening to anyone speak if you couldn’t even attend to their words?
She shook her head free from whatever it was that polluted her brain. Quidditch, yes. Grimm, no. A simple equation that defied all of his logic and suited her stubbornness best. It was about time that she began doing things for herself and not for others, slaving away at their needs while her own lay unsatisfied and forgotten. How many of them forgot that she, too, could possess ambitions and desires of her own?
And certainly the last thing she would be was tied down with a family before she’d even found the time to live her life. That was the reason she gave for setting Grimm aside in her thoughts, and it was, indeed, a very good reason, but for one flaw.
Grimm was stubborn, too.
The portrait-hole door opened silently. She did not turn to spy upon the late arrival, but remained still, listening. This late, it could only have been a seventh year according to the rules. Not that Gryffindors were much into following the rules, except for Minerva.
Footsteps sounded across the room, rather louder than one would expect from a fully-human being. Someone unsuspecting of being spied upon, then. Acting normal, but why did Minerva feel the hair on the back of her neck rise in anticipation. It was as though something in the air had triggered at this person’s arrival. She took a breath, calling upon her strength to confront this person and discern just what it was that bothered her so in their presence.
She turned to watch the shadowy figure move toward the dormitory stairs. As he passed by the window, Minerva recognized the large build and shaggy hair.
Rubeus Hagrid, the third-year half-giant, stopped in mid-step, face giving away a slight flush as he looked to where she sat.
“Oh, ‘ullo there, Miz McGonagall. ‘Nother late nigh’?”
She rose from the sofa. “No, just thinking. You’re back late.”
The flush spread further across his cheeks. “Yeah, ‘nuther detention.” He mumbled out the words, mashing the syllables together, but the near intelligibility did not deter Minerva’s ears.
“I’m sorry. Another creature?”
Hagrid nodded slowly, a tear dripping down to his chin. “Took it ‘way, back to the forest.”
She would not bother to give him the lecture that the creature was better off in the Forbidden Forest; he’d have heard it already from Dippet and the caretaker. What to say, then, to improve his spirits? This was, what? the fourth creature he’d smuggled into the school since his first year? Sooner or later, Dippet would have enough and lay down the rules in a far harsher way than Dumbledore was currently advising. One day, Dumbledore might not be able to exert his full control over Dippet – someone else could take that position without much exertion, particularly if Dumbledore was distracted by other issues, such as the war. Like that week, the year before, when he had gone off to the Continent, some claimed to meet with Grindlewald himself. When it came to rumours about Dumbledore, Minerva was never sure what to believe.
“Good nigh’ then, Miz McGonagall.”
How long had she been silently thinking as he stood there, awkwardly?
“Good night, Hagrid.” After some hesitation, she added, “Don’t worry about things. Professor Dumbledore will help you, I know he will.”
Hagrid grinned, making the hairs on his chin sprout out at even wilder angles.
“Yeah, ‘e’s a great man, Dumbledore is.”
She blinked at the words, heart skipping across a beat. The was not the word she had meant, but it was everything Dumbledore was.
“Yes. Yes, of course.”
Her words were too soft for his hearing; she had not meant them to be heard, anyway. The fire was out now, a spark or two rising from the ashes, nothing more. She let the silence of the castle surround her, closing her eyes in the growing darkness. Even the torches were dimming, leading her into sleep....
It may have been hours, or only minutes before a hand touched her shoulder, shaking her from the depths of dreams.
She rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand and looked up at the figure leaning over her.
“Professor?” The half-moon glasses caught in the light of the moon.
He nodded once. “Come with me.”
Gathering her wits and robes about her, Minerva rose to follow Dumbledore from the Tower. They had slipped past the snoring Fat Lady and were far down the corridor before he spoke.
“There has been a breach of trust that requires your assistance, Minerva.” He did not look at her while he paused. “You are one of the few, if the only, person who can be of help, having a perfect alibi for the times in question.”
Minerva frowned, confusion mounting in her sleep-ridden brain. “Has there been a crime, Professor?” The word crime emerged as a fearful whisper. It was a word one did not speak too loudly, not during these times. Crime was something for the Continent, for those dying terrible deaths at the hands of Grindlewald’s armies.
“Yes. A letter of substance has been taken.”
It was unlike him to be so silent on any subject, except for one.
“From who? How did it happen?”
This time, Dumbledore shook his head. “That is not for me to tell.”
She could not ask more, as he pulled ahead to lead her down the back staircase, careful to skip the missing step. He kept in front of her, not once glancing back, a classic case in avoidance.
But why? What was he not telling her? Sleep now dispelled, she felt about ready to burst with curiosity and impatience to the point that her foot slipped against the missing stair, sending fragments of stone falling to the distant floor. He had only chosen to take this route to keep her quiet, not for any other convenience, she thought with a scowl.
The scowl was still on her face when she followed Dumbledore into his office. Fawkes was there on his usual perch, face hidden under a wing. Books lined the walls and strange objects filled the gaps, and sitting with his back to the door was a slumped-shouldered Grimm, looking as though he were about to nod off.
“I hope that the wait was not too long, Tiberius.” The amusement was evident in Dumbledore’s voice. He seemed to take mirth from having woken both Head Boy and Girl in such a short span of time. “Minerva has kindly assented to assist you.”
She stopped in the doorway, meeting Grimm’s startled eyes.
“You? Stolen from you?”
He turned away first. “Some of us have all the luck.”
A twinkle momentarily appeared in Dumbledore’s eye. “Do you realise, Tiberius, that Minerva is the only person who you had in your sight the entire day? You must rely on her if you indeed want any assistance in this matter.”
Grimm bit his lip, then nodded a moment later. “Yes, sorry, Professor. I guess you want me to tell her about it?”
Where did this version of Grimm come from? Such submission to Dumbledore was entirely out of character. Whatever had been stolen must have been of great value to him. Minerva took the seat beside Grimm, examining him from beneath veiled eyelids. He was looking meeker than usual, face in a perpetual frown and hopelessness in his eyes. A snatch of pity warmed her heart.
Dumbledore remained standing by the window, curtains drawn back. “Everything as you related it to me.”
When Grimm did start to speak, he did so while staring hard and fast at Dumbledore’s desk leg. Was it a night for not looking her in the eye? Was she so hideously glaring again, as he liked to put it?
“I returned from our chess game to my room to find that it had been searched.” He did glance up at her noise of surprise. “Yes, searched. Sometime that day, I don’t know exactly when, probably during the Quidditch match.” He took a breath. “Anyway, whoever it was had been looking for a certain letter I had from my uncle–”
“Your Uncle Augustus?”
He actually appeared relieved at her guess. “Yes, he asked me to do some... tasks for him while I was here, and this letter contained instructions for the next one, but.... whoever took it knew it would be there, knew what I was doing and wanted to find out about it for themselves, or for someone else.” The words came out in a rush, his hands clenching together in his lap.
He looked expectantly at Dumbledore, or rather, at Dumbledore’s back. “I don’t want to think it was one of the Ravenclaws.”
Dumbledore let out an exasperated, though quiet, sigh. They had obviously gone over this before Minerva had arrived. “It is very unlikely that anyone from the other houses could have found their way into Ravenclaw tower.”
“Unless they had assistance... sir.”
Before Dumbledore could respond, Minerva spoke. “That would still mean one of the Ravenclaws has betrayed you, Tiberius.”
He looked down again, silenced. She could not blame him for this silence, he was confused, even hurt by the potential guilt of one of his housemates, most of whom he’d known for years. Perhaps he’d never been betrayed before, never felt the bitter taste of suspicion in his mouth when thinking of those he may have called “friend”.
Minerva turned to Dumbledore. “But what can we do, Professor? If each of them were interviewed about this, the guilty one would only discover that we know something has happened.”
Dumbledore suddenly faced her, eyes gaining a new intensity. “So you propose that we pretend no knowledge of this crime? That we instead watch and wait for a new development to arise, letting the culprit believe that they have gotten away with it?”
She chanced a sideways glance at Grimm. He was sitting up straighter, the mechanics of his brain slowly shifting into movement with this new plan. Perhaps she should have been sorted into Ravenclaw, after all.
“Yes, sir, just that. Do you think it would work?” She leaned forward in her chair, almost conspiratorially. Grimm did the same, now watching her with curious grey eyes. “If whoever did this was smart enough to get the letter, then they may not be fooled by this plan.”
“But they might, that’s the thing,” Grimm said. “I’m willing to take that risk.”
They both looked toward Dumbledore. Suddenly they were three conspirators, allies against an unknown enemy, a traitor with an unknown purpose. The rivalries, imagined or real, between them fell away with this new plan of entrapment. This unknown enemy stood no chance against such a triumvirate.
With a grin, Grimm broke the momentary silence. “When shall we three meet again?”
Minerva rolled her eyes as Dumbledore stifled a laugh. He was definitely feeling better.
A/N: yes, Grimm did quote Shakespeare's "Scottish Play", knowing that it would annoy Minerva. Thank you to everyone who has reviewed and favourite-ed so far - I really appreciate it! =)