Chapter 1 : Ghosts of You
| ||Rating: 15+||Chapter Reviews: 25|
Background: Font color:
“And so I welcome you back to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for another term, and I am sure for other things, as winter concludes and spring blossoms.” Some of the students laughed at this either in devious giggles or loud chuckles depending what meaning they ascribed to those ‘other things.’
Professor Dumbledore continued with his short January speech and the number of intent listeners decreased exponentially, including those among the staff table. At the Headmaster’s right hand sat the newly appointed Transfiguration professor, listening to each word he said so that, the following year, she would not need to. Minerva McGonagall shifted in her seat, eyes roaming across the tables filled with students.. Her gaze fell on Gryffindor table and the very spot where she once sat for every meal, now taken by a pair of grinning gingers. She wasn’t quite sure what to make of it all.
“As you all know,” Dumbledore said, his voice cutting through the students’ whispers and mutters. “Headmaster Dippet chose to retire rather suddenly due to an illness, so a new Transfiguration professor was needed to take my place. Please give warm greetings to Professor McGonagall.”
Minerva put on a smile and stood, offering no more than a curt nod to the students.
“She will also be Head of Gryffindor house, so perhaps this year that house will have better luck at winning the House Cup.” Many of the Gryffindors laughed, raising their glasses with a cheer as she took her seat.
At last it was over, and Minerva realised that she hadn’t listened to much of the speech at all. From the looks of it, the students hadn’t either. Food appeared on the tables and the hall erupted in a din the likes of which Minerva hadn’t heard since Victory was announced, all of London pouring into the streets.
She glanced toward the pleasantly chattering staff on Dumbledore’s other side, biting one corner of her lip at the prospect of sitting between Dumbledore and nothingness for the remainder of the meal. Dumbledore, of course, radiated with the sort of intensity that simultaneously pulls one in and makes one feel sadly inadequate. There was a place set on her right, but it seemed unlikely that a professor would arrive so late for the first meal of the term.
Minerva swallowed and took a drink. Pumpkin juice, alas, but at least it gave her something to do.
Just think of it like the Quidditch final... but she shook her head. At least in Quidditch she could be up in the air, flying after Quaffles. Here she was little more than a fish in a glass bowl, helplessly watched by all.
Minerva picked at her meal of the same food as it had been thirteen years before. She hadn’t enjoyed it much then either, the food to English in style for her taste. Many would say little in favour of Scottish cooking, but she would never be one of them. If only she had taken the time to learn the art of it for herself, but no, she had chosen to rebel against what she’d seen as the feminine arts. They ought to have been called the practical arts, as she’d learnt soon enough, hungry and holed-stockinged in a cold-water flat. The English really had no clue about food....
The staff entrance door creaked open to reveal a wizard in brown robes hurrying in with his head down. He flung himself into the chair next to Minerva with such a forced that she jumped, turning to stare at him, blinking to clear her vision.
“Bloody hell,” he muttered in a painfully familiar voice. “Still pumpkin juice after a term of torture?”
The newcomer placed the goblet back on the table with such force that the cutlery rattled. He glared at the plate of food, and picked up the fork and knife to begin eating. As he sawed through the meat, one of the peas flew through the air, hitting Minerva in the cheek.
“Excuse me.” The words emerged with greater vehemence than she’d intended. “But you ought to–”
“I’m sorry if I offended you, but really, those house elves should make better meals than this,” the wizard said, not bothering to look up. “You’d think that, being magical creatures, they wouldn’t overcook the fillets.”
It was still the same voice with its lilting tones touched with sarcasm. Minerva set down her fork and knife, her stomach arranging itself in knots. They were sitting so close, yet he hadn’t noticed her nor recognized her voice, even after what she had been to him and he to her. Typical Grimm, too engrossed in himself to see the world around him.
She swallowed, twisting her napkin in her hands. “You were attacking it with unnecessary violence, Professor. Blaming the house elves is quite childish.”
His knife clattered onto his plate. The muscle stretching up his throat went taunt.
“Is there a problem, Professor Grimm?” Dumbledore asked, leaning forward to see across Minerva. “You look as though you have seen a ghost.”
Was that a twinkle in his eye, the villain? Of course he had known, but he had never said a thing. No one had bothered to warn her. She took a deep breath to slow the beating of her heart.
Tiberius Grimm was coughing into his napkin. “I don’t know about seeing a ghost, Headmaster, but I’ve certainly heard one.” For the first time, he looked over at Minerva, studying her face. “You could have told me who the new professor was.”
“Would that have made any difference?” Dumbledore asked, sitting back in his chair before the other wizard could answer.
“Damn him,” Grimm said under his breath.
Minerva picked up her goblet, but did not drink. “I would have appreciated some warning myself.”
Grimm stiffened. “It does create an awkward situation.”
“Now that is the greatest understatement I have heard this year.”
He narrowed his eyes. “No need to be testy, Minerva.”
“I have good reason to be when I’m speaking with you.” She went back to moving her dinner around the plate.
“So attempting to make conversation with you would be a mistake?”
“Indeed.” Her tone was as immovable as she was.
He sighed. “Of all the people to get stuck sitting beside–”
“I get the very last person on earth I wanted to see,” Minerva finished for him. “If we were not in front of the students, Tiberius, I would–”
“What? Kiss me?”
He rolled his eyes. “One can always hope.”
“You lost that chance.”
“And you weren’t too sorry about it at the time, were you?”
Her jaw tightened, as did her hand around the handle of the knife. “I suppose I can be grateful that I never ended up marrying an immature, stubborn wizard who cares for nothing but himself.”
“I didn’t realise that you’d been seeing someone else at the time.” Although his voice maintained a certain degree of levity, his eyes were trained on the glimmer of light against the blade of the knife in her hand.
“I meant you, Tiberius.”
“Oh.” He paused. “I see.”
He picked up his knife again and return to his dinner with the enthusiasm of a child after a long day of play. Minerva clenched her utensils and stared so hard at Grimm that she could have bore a hole through his skull, and perhaps also the castle wall. No one in the Hall appeared to take notice of her white knuckled hands and flushed cheeks, and if they had, they must have put it down to a spot of anxiety.
If she had closed her eyes, she would have seen it all again, lived it, breathed it. The mistakes, the victories. The flash of a smile on Tom Riddle’s face, the dead girl’s ivory hand, the wrenching sobs of Hagrid as he clutched his wand. There were others too, a great blur of books and corridors and the press of lips against hers–
An even greater din rose as the students leapt to escape the watchful eyes of the staff, but Minerva remained motionless, breath catching in her throat. The platters had vanished and, however overstuffed, the students were not in the least regretting that last peppermint humbug. She glanced at Grimm only to turn her head away as soon as he tried to catch her eye, the flush refusing to fade. When she pushed back her chair, he touched her arm, and she nearly... she couldn’t... but then she was away, sweeping through the door and up the stairs, two at a time, as though her rooms were the hoops and the castle a pitch.
With the shutting of her door, her chest heaving, she shut out the memories of their last meeting, thirteen years before. What had she expected then? A promise, then marriage, and what then? Children? A home? A life together, despite their differences? But there had only been a girl in her nightdress, staring out the great doors of the castle, a breeze wafting against her face. He had disappeared in the war and into, she assumed, an early grave.
Thirteen years of struggling to forget had been dashed to pieces in a moment. Why did he have to be at Hogwarts? Why hadn’t she known? Why hadn’t he–? But he wouldn’t. He must hae been as eager for freedom as she had. As she had once been.
She leaned against the door, feeling her hands shake as one question rose to the top of her muddled brain.
Hogwarts again. Him again. Professors instead of Heads. Older. Heady dreams of the future long turned to dust.
Once there had been something. She remembered the blissful silence of the castle as they had walked together on their rounds, united Heads at last. Sometimes they had talked of their studies, while at others, they hadn’t needed to speak at all. Then there were the times, as their seventh year came to a close, that the silences had been of a very different sort....
Minerva drew in a ragged breath and went to fix herself a cup of tea, well-dosed with the proper restoratives.
She could not lose herself to him again. Older, yes, and wiser too.
By the time she had poured the steaming water into a teapot, the silver sphere bobbing against the side, she decided that the last thing she wanted to do was sit alone in her rooms, her mind in the past. She had to talk to him, even just once, to mend the tear between them, if not to restore their lives to what they could have been.
She was not entirely sure about the way to the Arithmancy professor’s rooms, nor could she see why he had taken that, of all positions. He ought to have been buried in some arcane laboratory, playing with his potions, creating new worlds in a drop of water. But was it not the same for Dumbledore? For herself? They were running away, only to find themselves in the very place they had begun.
With trepidation she knocked against the ancient wood, listening for the quiet squeak of chair wheels and even softer footsteps as he approached the door. It opened on oiled hinges, and she met his curious grey eyes, aware of the heat in her cheeks and the state of her hair. She opened her mouth to speak, but he beat her to it, stepping aside to bid her entrace.
“Come in, then.”
He had changed from the monkish robes he’d worn at dinner into black robes that shone with wear at the cuffs and elbows. The top buttons of the robes had been left undone, revealing a triangle of flesh where his throat met the tangle of hair on his chest.
She looked away too quickly to examine his room, which was crowded with books and other strange objects. For a moment, she could not see him, but only felt his presence behind her, eyes shutting at the smell of dust and acid that lingered around him.
“Take a seat,” he said, as though none of it affected him. “I was just reading.”
“I am sorry to disturb you.”.
He came up beside her and motioned to a chair near the desk. “Not at all. I... Well, I was waiting.” His face turned away.
There was a lightness in her head as she sat and waited for him to resettle himself in the chair behind the desk. She was unable to look at him for long, her eyes scanning the objects on his desk and on the wall behind him and anywhere else. The words she had thought to say, reciting to herself in the corridor all the way here, had fled just when she needed them. Useless. Meaningless.
“Would you like something to drink, Minerva?” He was playing the perfect host to an imperfect guest. “My predecessor left some very nice Italian wine, pre-1914.” When she shook her head, he shrugged. “I hope you don’t mind if I help myself.”
He went to a locked cabinet that seemed to be filled with a combination of potions and liquor bottles that were arranged in order of size. Her eyes followed him as he removed the stopper from a tall, narrow bottle without a label. How did he know the difference between his potions and his wine? Mistaking one for the other could have too easily been arranged, which made her glad that she had refused his offer of a drink. She would rather not take her chances with one of Grimm’s potions.
Placing a well-filled glass on his desk, Grimm sat down and once more looked at Minerva. He did not need to say anything now. If she could find the courage to speak, then he should have the wisdom to listen. He took a long drink, eyes never leaving her face.
“I was surprised to find you teaching, Tiberius,” Minerva at last said. Every muscle in her body was tense, just like she had felt before a Quidditch match. “Especially Arithmancy.”
“It wasn’t my best subject, was it?” he mused, and while he leaned back in his chair, she observed a certain tightness in his shoulders. “But apparently old Sluggy isn’t ready to retire quite yet, so I’m willing to bide my time until he does.”
She shifted in the chair. “Oh yes. Of course. You would have asked for Potions first.”
He nodded, swirling the wine in his glass.
After a couple of minutes, Grimm sighed. “While I do appreciate your company after all this time, it would be nice if you said what’s on your mind.”
There was a near upheaval in her stomach, though she had hardly eaten anything.
“I haven’t seen or heard from you in thirteen years, Tiberius. What could I possibly have been waiting for so long to say that could not have been said in a letter?”
He smiled. “You would not have even known where to send it.”
Minerva half-rose from the chair, her fists clenched. “How correct of you to mention that. You up and left without a word, without a bloody goodbye, and now you sit there with your wine and your smiles thinking that I’m just being the foolish witch who never got over you.”
He put down the wine glass, his expression transforming, shaping, melting into that which once had the power to melt her heart. “I’d never think you foolish, Minerva. Your name was well-chosen.”
She slid back into her chair. Their eyes met, and this time she could not bear to look away. It would reveal weakness, fear, everything she did not want him to see. It would be cliche to say that his eyes were the colour of clouds, but she couldn’t think of a more appropriate comparison. He differed little from the clouds of late autumn that threatened snow and ice, of the fog that polluted each spring, and the churning clouds of a summer’s storm. Yet she could see the changes, the collection of lines around every feature, the hardening of his skin, the lean, hungry hollows in his cheeks. It was, and was not, familiar. The face of an uncanny stranger looking back at her with the eyes of the one she had–
It was Grimm who finally spoke. “It wouldn’t be right to say that you haven’t changed.”
“A lot has happened,” she replied, looking down at her hands.
“Yes.” He managed a wan smile. “A stint with the Harpies as Keeper, then... what was it after that? Something else during the war? Then some time in the Ministry, certainly not the steady life anyone expected of you.”
“There is only one person who can be blamed for that.” Her lips twisted around the words.
He let out a snort, half-laugh, half-scoff. “So I’m the cause of all your troubles. How convenient for you.” He took another drink, swishing the liquid over his tongue before he swallowed.
Minerva clenched her hands on the arms of her chair.“You cannot even understand what I’ve been through, Tiberius.”
Grimm placed the glass down on his desk too quickly, some droplets of wine splattered onto his rolls of parchment.
“And you think it was any better for me? Fighting that war, killing those men, no different from me, no less deserving of life? Do you think that was easy?” His voice broke, a shudder running through his body.
But she could not be quiet. The stopper was released, the bottle overflowing.
“No easier than feeling death inside of you, nor of being a young, unmarried woman such a condition–”
“What the hell are you talking about?” He brought his fist down on the desk.
Minerva took a breath. “I was pregnant, you fool, and I lost it.” Just as I thought I’d lost you. She could not say that too. It was too much. If only she’d been more careful. If only she’d not taken every report so seriously. If only she’d remembered how good he was at running away, just when everyone needed him.
She watched him as the words hit home.
His chair grated upon the floor and there was a swish of the curtain as he shoved it back. He turned so that she could not see his face.
“I suppose that you fell off your broom, and that’s how you found out.”
“The rest of the team merely believed that I was under the weather, after... after the latest reports from the Continent” She unclenched her hands as she watched him, though her voice could not lose its bitter taint. “I lost my balance at practice. Apparently it was enough.”
His back tensed. “And you said nothing, told no one....”
Her chair screeched as it was pushed back across the floor. She stood in the centre of his office, face flushed with the shame, the anger, and the pain.
“What was I supposed to say?” Her voice came out louder than she had meant it. “Oh, by the way, dearest, I miscarried our child during the last match. That would have made a cheerful owl. It might have helped if I hadn’t believed you dead by then.”
Grimm turned to face her, throwing light upon the spider web of creases at the corners of his mouth and eyes.“The regiment... when I was in Dieppe... I had to go back when I heard....” His face turned ashen. “But if I had known, I would have gone to you...”
“It would have been an insult.” The words emerged before she could stop herself.
Her logic was pulling at the corners of her mind. There was a story here, far different from her own, or was it? Blood and fear. The agony of loss, betrayal. And death. There was always death. His regiment had been massacred, and he had not been there to die with them. Her child had died, unborn. He had not been there either. His life bought by another’s.
And then she looked at him. It was as though he was aging before her eyes. Years of rage and resentment faded as he watched him break. She felt the urge to touch him, to feel his skin under her fingers, to feel him reacting to her caress, to feel his lips casually brush across hers the way they once had, to see his silly smile and hear him whisper her name.
What good would it do now? The longing, the distractions, they had taken far more than they had ever offered.
He stood at the window, eyes on the ground, shoulders slumped. She saw the silver hairs at his temples. What had he done in those years after the war? Where had he gone? Why had he left her behind? Perhaps he would tell her, one day – if there was a ‘one day’ to be had. She was awake to his every move, to the ragged breath he drew into his lungs and the hand he rubbed across his eyes. He had crumbled beneath her words, beneath her spite, without putting up any defences, without throwing her rage back into her face. Was it grief that now stained his face? Remorse that shook his nerves?
One step, then another. She reached out to him, one hand against his cheek. A hand touched her arm, running down from shoulder to hand. Their fingers intertwined and thirteen years fell away. His breath on her cheek sent a shiver down her spine. His lips touched her forehead, her cheeks, her eyes, her nose, then found her mouth. His touch was light and fleeting. She smiled against his lips, recognising the only situation in which he had a lack of certainty.
“Am I doing that badly?” He pulled her closer, eyes searching her face.
She rested her forehead against his. “As bad as always.”
His laughter was felt moreso than heard. The hand resting at the nape of her neck moved to her shoulder.
“Merlin, I missed you.”
He said the words so quietly that the words would not have carried beyond her ears.
“It was foolish, stupid of me to leave you behind.” His jaw tensed. “I went all over, anywhere I could, and found nothing. There were people and spells and books and potions, but none of them were ones I really wanted.” He finally pulled away. His feet shuffled on the floor, his shoulders were once again hunched. “But what good would it have done if I’d stayed, Minerva? We were eighteen! How could we have–”
When he broke off, Minerva said nothing, watching every movement of his hands as they passed over the objects on his desk, vainly searching for any distraction. He seemed on the defensive, waiting for whatever blow she could deal him next. She had appeared when he had least expected, then cast upon him all her guilt, and the past flying into his face before he guard himself against it.
“We have to make the best of this,” she said after a long silence. “Neither of us can afford to resign, and neither of us can fully manage the presence of the other....”
“Manage what?” His voice nearly broke, but he pressed on. “Manage knowing what I did to you, or manage knowing what I’d like to do right now?”
Her knees weakened.
“They’re still here, are they not?” When his gaze turned sharp, she waved at the room around them. “The ghosts of what we were, haunting our every living moment, reminding us of the past that wasn’t right and the future that won’t ever happen.” She rested her hand on her heart, feeling its unsteady beat.
His hand stopped at a picture that rested in its frame upon the desk. His fingers curled around it as he brought it closer to his face for inspection. He closed his eyes and placed the frame back on the desk face down.
“I felt them as soon as I realised who you were.” His brow furrowed. “Your voice, your face, they’re different, yet the same. I look at you and see a stranger, but also the witch I thought I’d–”
Minerva’s heartbeat echoed in her ears.
“Forgive me,” Grimm finally said, giving up on his previous sentence. His eyes rose, meeting hers, causing her breath to catch once more in her throat. She thought for a moment that he would come to her, but he remained behind his desk, turned to stone.
Silence filled every corner of the room. It seemed that the entire world had fallen away. Minerva forced her legs to hold her weight. Like before, she stepped forward, once, twice, but then she stopped. She felt frozen in place, and only had to look at him once to make him understand. He nodded, as though in reply to a question, and approached her, hands slipping easily around her waist, their lips meeting somewhere in the middle. Thirteen years of pent up frustration, guilt, and loneliness expended itself in that moment that seemed to last forever.
His touch was still soft, but contained an urgency that Minerva returned at every place their bodies met. But when his fingers brushed against the fastenings of her robes, she pulled his hand away. Their eyes met.
“We shouldn’t. It’s too late.” She brought his hand to her lips, then dropped it as she turned away, keeping her face hidden.
“Too late for what?” He ran a hand through his hair. “Too late because you’ve already thrown away the ring, or too late because it’s past curfew?”
“You make it sound as though we’re students again, hiding in empty classrooms in case a professor passes by.” She may have been smiling, but Grimm could not be sure. “We are the professors now, Tiberius. We just can’t carry on like we used to.”
Grimm approached her, his feet making no sound on the rug. “We’d be better at hiding it now, don’t you think?”
“All it would take is one look, one touch, noticed by a student, and then what would happen?” Her back was ramrod straight, impervious to his presence. “Would parents want their children attending a school where two of the professors were... together? I’m surprised that it hasn’t happened in the past.” She turned, suddenly, and faced him, her eyes moist with unwanted tears.
“I want to forgive you, Tiberius, but I cannot forget what happened.”
Grimm said nothing. His eyes held no pity, not even regret. He had fallen inside of himself, sorting through memories, searching for the one that was the foggiest, the one he had turned over in his mind again and again, yet could not make clear sense of what it contained. She wondered at his thoughts, at the things he remembered and whether he saw them, felt them, as she did, clearly. Too clearly.
Their last night at Hogwarts, wandering through the corridors, neither wanting to make the climb to their rooms in separate towers, on opposite sides of the school. The midnight chimes boomed when he had reached for her hand and brought it to his lips, letting it linger at his mouth. Even in the moonlight, he could see the flush rising up her throat and cheeks, the remonstrance already on the tip of her tongue. With a grin, he had reached behind her ear with his free hand and when his hand returned to her line of sight, it had held a small gold ring. She had kissed him then, like she had never done so before, knowing he would go, knowing it would end, but loving him all the same.
Then the last good night, torchlight catching on the ring on her finger as she turned away, suddenly a rope around their necks. Two eighteen year olds rushing into matrimony, then parenthood, then whatever came afterwards. They would need a house, money, and all the things needed to become just another wizarding family. “Just another family” was the last thing he wanted for himself, for her, all their talents gone to waste.
He had run away, again and again. Only to complete the circle in the end, to return to the place where it had all fallen apart.
“I don’t want your forgiveness.” He moved behind his desk, the one wall of Jericho not yet fallen.. “It’s all my fault, I already know that, Minerva.” His voice trembled. “Remember to shut the door after you leave.” He lowered himself into his chair, his eyes focussed on the back of the photograph on his desk.
Minerva pulled at a gold chain hanging around her throat. “I suppose I deserve that. The last person you expected and the last person you wanted to see, yet I barge in here and tear you to pieces. It is best if I go.” Once the chain was lose, she unclasped it and placed a gold ring upon his desk. “I’m sure that this could be used for better purposes.”
Grimm stared at the ring. The candlelight flickered upon its shiny surface.
She was at the door, her hand on the latch.
“You will come back for tea tomorrow?” His voice, though strained, was level, the words a white flag of surrender.
When she turned, he was holding the ring between his thumb and forefinger, observing the reflections of candlelight. It seemed too strange that he should give way so soon.
“If not, then I really do not know what to do with this.” Grimm tossed the ring into the air and caught it with the same hand. “Even if I sell it, it’ll just be melted down and remade for another ungrateful bastard to give to his ladylove.” He held it in his fist, feeling it impress upon his palm.
His eyes were now upon her face. It was not an apology – an impossibility if there was ever one – but it was a thing with more meaning than any kiss, any attempt at human touch, any endless night.
“Yes, I will.” It was all she could do.
His shoulders straightened, and his eyes brightened. “Until then.” He smiled, then tossed the ring across the room.
Minerva caught it. The metal was warmed by his hand, and, once replaced on its chain, it hung against her chest like the memory of a curious finger. She barely suppressed a shiver.
“Good night, Tiberius.”
“Good night, my–”
She shut the door behind her.
Other Similar Stories
Down the Bur...
A Life Almos...