“If you stare up at the ceiling any longer, you can say goodbye to a decent grade on that essay.” Her voice invaded Grimm’s mind, sending all his thoughts collapsing into a heap.
He grimaced and turned back to his History of Magic textbook. It was the usual dry material with the same potential that was quickly drowned out by Binns’s drone. The parchment in front of him only contained a few inches of scribbled text; the essay was meant to be much, much longer.
“Too much on my mind,” he muttered, uselessly flipping a page.
Minerva was not going to let this pass. “It was stupid of your uncle to get you involved in this. Seventh year is difficult enough without chasing shadows in your spare time.”
His grimace deepened into a scowl. “I wasn’t aware we had any free time.”
“Now you understand the seriousness of this?” When he didn’t look at her, she grabbed his arm, nails making impressions in his skin. “Tiberius, don’t waste your future on this. It isn’t worth the trouble.”
He glanced at her parchment. Nearly finished. Bloody brilliant.
After a sigh, she let go and dipped her quill in the ink. He watched as she tapped it gently against the side of the opening before adding another sentence to her essay.
“And staring at me like that won’t make your essay write itself.”
He went back to work, his brain moving in two directions at once. Letting the right side work through the difficulties of writing suitable prose for the essay, Grimm focussed on the workings of the left side of his brain. The clues he had so far collected were all in order, waiting on him to find the pattern between them. All the places Riddle had been seen. All the people he had been seen with. All the things they had been heard discussing.
While his essay grew more incoherent, the clues became more and more circumstantial. Like Minerva had told him, there was nothing to suggest that Riddle was up to something more than social manoeuvring, trying to place himself on more equal ground with his housemates. He was charismatic, intensely clever, and ruthless, none of which were a crime.
So what was it that his uncle was suspicious of in the first place?
Riddle had been Grimm’s choice of suspect, though, and that was the problem. Uncle Augustus had never named anyone in particular; he’d only said that he wanted someone to watch the Slytherins during the year because of Grindelwald. Was the German wizard trying to recruit from Hogwarts?
Grindelwald, a name whispered in the corridors, but never one that inspired awe, even among the Slytherins. They feared him just as much as anyone else after hearing those rumours. His name and Riddle’s were never mentioned in the same breath.
There was, in other words, nothing for him to bother with at Hogwarts. He could tell his uncle that nothing suspicious was occurring and go back to his studies in peace.
Except that “nothing suspicious” was a lie. There was something suspicious, but it had nothing to do with Grindelwald and everything to do with Riddle.
“I must have missed Binns’s instruction to write the essay in poorly translated Latin.”
She was looking over his shoulder, a smile playing around her lips, yet he could not miss the worry in her eyes. Her own essay was completed now, rolled and sealed atop of her closed textbook. He wanted to be jealous of her efficiency, but found it too difficult to manage. She’d always been better than him in that regard; there was no reason for him to be jealous.
“My mind is elsewhere.”
It was better to be honest.
Minerva’s response was an unladylike snort. “It seems as though your brain is too.”
He glared at her. She was going to drive him completely and utterly insane. Then he looked down at what he had written last. Oh. That’s just... bad. His eyes rose to meet hers.
“I see what you mean.”
Instead of laughing, as he expected, her lips turned downwards, her brow furrowed. Her eyes focussed too intently on his face and he needed to look away. She would read the truth from him, he could feel it. He could hide nothing from her, nothing at all. What power did she have to read him so easily? It was downright disturbing that anyone should know him so well.
And yet, if he had to choose anyone to have that power over him, it’d be her.
“You don’t have to say it.”
“Don’t interrupt me.”
If she ever chose to become a professor, she’d be downright terrifying.
Grimm leaned back in his chair, hands behind his head, legs stretching out in front of him. Damn the essay to hell. He should never have taken History of Magic in the first place; the class was entirely unsuitable for him. He’d only taken it in the first place because he knew that Minerva would also be in that class. It made up for not being inTransfiguration.
“You should think more about your future, Tiberius.”
His stubborn chin set itself more firmly.
“So I’m told.”
Minerva shook her head and packed away her things, looking at anything but him.
“I have to go to Quidditch practise,” she said, her voice bland. “Get that essay done.”
Those were her parting words.
So this was how it was going to be. He never stopped being a disappointment to everyone. Yes, he could be Head Boy, getting good grades and displaying skill in the right subjects, but he was too flawed. Too human. No one liked that sort of thing these days. It was all about heroes and great people who could do great things. Well, Tiberius Grimm was no great person, and he certainly wasn’t going off to do great things anytime soon.
He had never really thought of what he wanted to be “when he grew up,” as the saying always went. The time after finishing school was a giant mass of emptiness. The only thing that had ever come to mind was marriage. To Minerva, of course. But she had made clear her lack of intention to marry, and it was unlikely she would change her mind.
Or would she now?
Things had changed between them since that... moment on the train. They didn’t argue as much, for one, and she was nicer to him, though that wasn’t quite the right word. A nice person wouldn’t have stalked off without a goodbye.
Maybe the kiss had been an accident, after all. A fluke. Nothing of consequence.
Thoroughly depressed, Grimm rewrote his essay.
~ * * * ~
There was nothing in his room of interest this time. Grimm must have stopped writing to this Augustus Horne of the Department of Mysteries. A most unfortunate occurrence. This would not bode well for the thief, who had gained well from the Master – no one else called him that, but it amused the thief – and was beginning to want more.
Greed was a difficult monster to quiet.
Nothing. Nothing at all here.
But the thief refused to leave empty-handed.
There were books, many books. Not unexpected for a Ravenclaw, particularly one of Grimm’s reputation. Even more parchments, all scattered about in no apparent order, but all covered in writing from top to bottom, no spaces. The thief flipped through the Potions textbook, taking note of each scribbled-in margin, the alterations to the lists of ingredients and the instructions. The workings of a genius.
If one wanted to go that far.
The Master would not be pleased to hear Grimm referred to as a genius. In his opinion, there was only one genius within the walls of Hogwarts.
The thief was inclined to agree, if only for the sake of greed.
There it was. The perfect thing. A notebook.
It looked shabby, torn, stained, battered. But inside was a gold mine. Notes everywhere, little sketches of inventions and potions. Poorly drawn picture of a girl, McGonagall, yes. More notes, lists of something. The writing was too small in the dim light, too untidy to read what those notes were of, but The Master would like them. Yes. Very much.
The thief remembered to shut the door with a firm click. Grimm would not know until it was too late. The later, the better.
~ * * * ~
The Gryffindor team was practising daily in preparation for the upcoming match against Hufflepuff, the second place team. Ravenclaw was long out of the running for the house cup, though Slytherin was an up-and-coming rival. Not that Grimm actually paid attention to these sorts of things. They were only the topic of conversation at every breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the Ravenclaws bemoaning their lack of acceptable players. Grimm would usually receive glares from up and down the table at that point, and he would conveniently leave for the library.
Just because he was Head Boy and friends with a Quidditch prodigy didn’t mean that he had to like the sport himself. Not that anyone else agreed.
One Friday morning, he went out to watch the practise, knowing that he was only doing it to watch her. It was a cloudy day, but there was no precipitation (yet), only a fine mist that chilled the bones and made Grimm yearn for a good shot of Firewhiskey (of which his mother would disapprove). He held a magical fire in his mittened hands, blue scarf wrapped up to his nose. He hoped that Minerva would reward him for this suffering on her behalf.
After fifteen minutes, he gave up applauding when she blocked the Quaffle, and not only be because she did it so often. The blue flames in his hands kept going out on him.
He started thinking about Riddle again.
There were times in the last few days he’d noticed Riddle spending an unusual amount of time on the second floor. It was possible he was brown-nosing Dippet again, volunteering to dust the old Headmasters’ portraits. He could also have been speaking with Professor Merrythought about various Dark Arts-related subjects. It was his specialty, after all.
“You don’t have to sit out here, Tiberius.”
Minerva had landed on the stands beside him to observe the Chasers’ new formation.
Grimm managed a bland smile.
“I like the fresh air.”
She sat close to him, more with the intention of keeping warm than anything else. “I doubt it. You’re already turning blue.”
“Are you sure it’s not my scarf? If you wore your spectacles–” She’d definitely get angry at him for that. He knew how much she disliked referring to her hyperopic disability.
And indeed, she responded with a silent glare before settling in to watch the Chasers.
Back and forth, back and forth. Grimm wondered how watching this could be remotely interesting. Why had he even come out here? It was an entirely illogical thing to do, however much he wanted to spend time with her.
Not that any time spent with her ever led anywhere. Still no sequel to that kiss, yet.
“Why do you come out to watch, Tiberius?” She was looking at him again, the Chasers having set off to warm their frozen bodies. “It may demonstrate your undying affections, but it isn’t at all necessary, not if you take ill because of it.”
He increased the hunch in his shoulders for dramatic effect. “I’m testing the ‘undying’ nature of that affection, darling.”
She rolled her eyes and stood, stretching the cramps from her legs.
“I do appreciate your support for the team.”
He remained seated, hands collapsed tightly, already missing her warmth.
“You know that it’s not the team I come out for.”
As soon as the words were out, he regretted them. Stupid, stupid, revealing too much, setting himself up for more ridicule at her hands. He hadn’t progressed at all from the beginning of term. If anything, he’d regressed, becoming more sensitive to everything, more desperate for any sign that she wanted him as much as he wanted her.
Want? What did it mean to want someone?
In the silence, he realised that Minerva was staring at him, not quite open-mouthed, but she was approaching that state. She swallowed and took a breath before speaking.
“And I thought that you had actually started to like the game.”
Had it been warmer he would have laughed. Instead, he smiled again, probably looking like the dumbstruck idiot he felt he was.
He probably would have smiled at her all day, but a voice called Minerva over to the locker rooms. “Got to reschedule the next practice!” It was one of the Beaters, his voice echoing across the pitch. “Those damned ‘puffs have stolen tomorrow!”
A frown crossed her face, impatience showing through the cracks of her mask.
“See you inside, Tiberius. This is a serious emergency.”
She turned away and stalked off across the pitch. At least this time she’d bothered a sort of good-bye. The Quidditch season had definitely placed her in a dour mood. The Gryffindors were in first place, there was no need for her to get so anal about every little detail.
Grimm headed up toward the school, still not understanding a bit of her obsession. It was just a game, after all, nothing very important.
In the Entrance Hall, he stripped off his mittens and cloak, bundling them under his arm on his way into the Great Hall. Breakfast was just being served and the early rises were gathering over hot tea and heaping plates.
The Ravenclaws were easily the most prominent among the early risers. There was something about an approaching weekend that made Ravenclaws eager for getting their homework out of the way, leaving time for extracurricular reading (Grimm had his own volume of Agrippa waiting up in his dormitory). A couple of the seventh-years at the far end of the table hailed Grimm. His boots squelched on the floor as he went to join them. Now, if only they were careful not to mention Quidditch, then he’d be safe to enjoy his breakfast.
He should have known better. One of them was the Captain of the Ravenclaw team.
“How’s the weather, Grimm?” Iggy Featherby asked, his large ears seeming to wiggle with each syllable. “Any more snow coming, you think?”
Grimm shook his head, any words he would have spoken swallowed up by the next speaker, Bertie Davies. Tall, dark and muscular, Davies could pass for a Greek demigod even at the worst of times. That is, when he wasn’t eating everything in sight.
“What you should ask is how the Gryffs are doing,” Davies muttered between strips of bacon. “Any new things they’re trying out?”
Taking a gulp of scalding tea, Grimm waited until setting his cup down before replying.
“You damn well know I’m a fool at the game, Davies. Couldn’t tell you a new thing if I saw it myself.” He took another bite of whatever it was that had appeared on his plate. Had his taste buds frozen on him too?
“Not if he was too busy making eyes at the Gryffindor captain, Davies.” Featherby batted his eyelashes over his cup. “She is a fine one, Grimm. Don’t know what you did to reel her in.”
Grimm turned around to see Minerva entering the Great Hall with her teammates. She gave the youngest member a pat on the shoulder before looking straight at Grimm. He felt his face flush under that rock-hard gaze. Dammit, she seemed to see right through him.
Abandoning her house, she threaded around the Hufflepuff table to stand beside him. Her movements were stiff, but he knew she hadn’t been injured during the practice.
“You should choose your spies better, Davies. This one wouldn’t know a Bludger from the Snitch.” She placed her hand on Grimm’s shoulder, but her attention was on Davies, who nearly choked on his toast.
Grimm hunched further over the table, nervous under her touch. “I know what a Bludger looks like.”
Minerva laughed, but she still watched Davies from beneath her half-closed eyelids. “Of course. But does the Snitch still elude you?” Her voice was too harsh, biting.
Davies’s jaw hung open, his half-chewed food showing too plainly. Grimm looked toward Featherby, who gave him a big wink.
“Was that a lewd gesture, Featherby?” Grimm asked, thinking that now he could gain the upper hand. “I could dock points for that, you know.”
Featherby sat back, arms crossed. “You wouldn’t, Tibbs. Not from your own housemate. You want the cup as bad as the rest of us, even if our team’s a failure.”
“Not my fault,” Davies grumbled, his mouth finally shutting properly.
“Of course not, Davies. You just lack a proper selection of players.” Minerva gave a little smile, but it was not genuine. Grimm could see that, though he doubted the other two would. They hardly knew her.
She was tense beside him; the hand on touched his shoulder was trembling. Thinking back on her laughter, it had seemed off-colour, forced. It had been hardly twenty minutes since they’d parted on the stands. Something in that time had disturbed her, and it took her considerable will to control her emotion.
He glanced at her face and met her eyes. Dark, smoldering. Furious.
No wonder she had stared through him; she’d been trying her hand at burning a message into his mind. She turned to him, her voice oddly formal.
“Do you have study period this morning, Grimm?”
She damn well knew he did. “Yes, during Transfiguration.”
Davies and Featherby watched them both with unabashed interest. Grimm felt as though he was on stage, acting out a poorly written role.
“Is there anything you’d like me to look up for you?” His eyes drifted toward their audience. “From the library.”
She reached into her pocket and pulled out a folded parchment, rather larger than would be necessary to record a few titles. “That would be very kind of you, Grimm.”
He shrugged, taking the parchment from her fingers. “Of course, darling.”
It was wonderful to see her bristle, her fury rearing its elegant head. Just when it seemed that she would say something in reply, she turned and whisked off. Grimm looked back at his housemates, a smug smile on his face as he tucked the parchment into his robes.
“A fine girl, Featherby? Is that what you called her?” He picked up a slice of toast, smothered in butter. “I don’t think that ‘fine’ is quite the right word. Fierce might be more appropriate.”
The others made their escape soon after, Davies to bawl out the Ravenclaw team and Featherby to attend to his Arithmancy homework. That left no one in Grimm’s immediate vicinity. Safe to see whatever it was she had given him. A love note? A ridiculous idea, not that he would have minded such a thing. No, this was something of a serious nature. Minerva was not an excitable witch by any means.
One look at the parchment and he refolded it, mouth in a thin line.
He was going to be ill.
Rising too quickly from the bench, he almost tripped over the hem of his cloak. Some of the younger Ravenclaws gave him puzzled looks, too polite to comment or even ask if anything was the matter. Before he was fully aware of what he was doing, he was standing beside Gryffindor table, facing Minerva.
“Excuse me, McGonagall.” It felt awkward to use her surname, but it helped him to maintain a stoic demeanour.
The pair of Gryffindor girls sitting across from Minerva grinned, glancing at each other in anticipation for a most romantic moment.
Minerva turned her head, brows creased. “What is it, Grimm?”
She must have expected him to leave the Great Hall without speaking to her, taking the parchment with him for whatever purpose. To report it? That would be pointless without her presence. He had no idea how she would have come into possession of it.
“This list.” He paused, glancing toward their eager audience before meeting hers once again. “I’m afraid I need your direction as to some of the titles. They are unfamiliar to me.”
He had thought at first to say that they were illegible, but that would be impossible. Her handwriting was the neatest script this side of a typewriter.
Her frown subsided to a small degree. “If you think it necessary.” She drained her teacup and began to rise. “We can discuss it on my way to class.”
Grimm stepped aside and followed her out of the Great Hall. He half expected her to round on him and tell him straight away, but she continued on to the stairs, hand gripping the banister with more force than necessary.
“Where did you find it?” He leapt up two steps at a time to catch up with her steady pace.
“Among my things after practise.” Her lips barely moved as she spoke.
He held up the paper, not daring to unfold it again, his heart beginning to hammer in his chest, and not just because of the exertion of stair-climbing. It was the drawing he had made of Minerva on the train. Ripped from his own notebook. The book that should have been in his room, unseen, untouched.
But that was not the worst of it.
The drawing had been mutilated. Punched full of holes and stained with something red. Not blood, but some sort of food. Much of the face had been scratched out.
Grimm wanted to crumple it up and toss it into the nearest fire, but the parchment could not be destroyed. Someone else needed to see it first. Dumbledore. Dippet. Anyone with some measure of authority.
“Tiberius, I don’t believe that Tom did this.”
He stopped, staring at the parchment. “No?”
She was shaking her head. “He torments, but does not destroy. You must have seen how painfully neat he is all the time. If you look–” She kept her own eyes averted from the parchment, and swallowed. “You can see how deep the gouges are. This is hatred.”
Grimm touched her hand, but she pulled it away, balling it into a fist.
“I do not require coddling.”
He let out a breath. “Do you regard this as a threat?”
She stopped and faced him. “Yes. I do.”
In any other circumstance, he would have thrilled to hear her speak those words, but now, they chilled the blood in his veins. It was bad enough knowing that Riddle was perfectly willing to cause them harm. This could have still been him, Grimm reasoned, or one of his followers, looking to stir up more trouble. Riddle could have changed tactics after that incident on the train.
If these things were true, it meant there was a Ravenclaw involved, someone closer to Grimm than he had anticipated. He should have done more after the letter had been stolen, taken further measures against it ever happening again. He had been watching his fellow Ravenclaws, but to no avail. It was too impossible that any of them should be involved. Riddle was not their mortal enemy, but he was a Slytherin, one who threatened their reputation as the most intelligent in the school.
But these were things he would not say to her, not yet. Instead, he asked, “Was the locker room left open during practise?”
“There has never been a reason to secure the lock.”
He poked at the parchment with a finger. “Until now.”
“It’s not as though I was alone in there at any time. I would not have been attacked.” She crossed her arms, as though he had disparaged her duelling abilities.
Folding the parchment away again, not even liking to touch it, Grimm continued on up the stairs. “I’ll start with Flitwick. He needs to know that there’s a thief in the house. I assume that you’ll let Dumbledore know.”
She kept up with his faster pace, lifting the hem of her robes with one hand. “Yes. We will likely meet at the Headmaster’s office afterwards.” A few steps later, she added, “I do not like being threatened, particularly after Quidditch.”
The corner of Grimm’s mouth twitched. “Put you off your breakfast, did it?”
“You had better watch out in Defence Against the Dark Arts this afternoon. Cursing someone would greatly improve my mood.” She attempted a light voice, but only managed to sound vicious.
He wanted to reach out for her, give her some reassurance, but she wasn’t the damsel in distress type of girl. She’d throw him off again, claiming that he was encroaching on her independence. Even being threatened didn’t make her cry; her only reaction was anger, absolute fury that someone would dare threaten her.
“Be sure to partner with Moody, then.” Grimm slowed to a stop. They had reached the seventh floor. “He can take those things far better than me.”
The statue of Lachlan the Lanky loomed beside them, and there was no one in sight. They had passed a number of students on the stairs, all too sleepy-eyed and dozy-eared to be a danger to the Heads’ conversation. Only now were most students consuming their breakfasts.
She was still tense, jaw set firmly and eyes smoldering. Facing him, she seemed to come to some sort of resolution.
“This has become too much, Tiberius. Perhaps it is best if we–”
He could not let her say what he believed was on her mind. Taking her hands in his, he stepped forward before she could react and planted his mouth upon hers. She gasped against his lips, hands immediately trying to pull away, all her muscles working against him. Knowing he would not be able to overpower her for long, he let go of her left hand to twine his arm around her waist. He half-expected her hand to slap him across the face, her right hand still trapped, unable to reach her wand. But she did not.
Her lips moved away from his only to whisper, “I was not going to propose any drastic separation.” She took a heavy breath. “Only that we should take action.”
They kissed again, and as much as he wanted to ask her what sort of action she intended, he could not bear to let the moment pass. Silence could sometimes be a more preferable option. He could feel her anger receding, its energy funnelled into all the places their bodies touched. Grimm was the first to let go, leaning his forehead briefly against hers.
“I thought you meant–”
“Did you think I would abandon you, Tiberius?” Her hand slid off his arm. “We are together in this, perhaps now more than ever.”
When she stepped away, he noticed how flushed her skin had become.
“How, though? Now we have two mysteries to solve.” He felt his voice waver.
There was a hiccup from the corridor behind him. Minerva heard it first; she had her wand in hand before Grimm even thought about grabbing his own.
“Who’s that?” he asked the empty air where she had been a moment before.
“Quiet!” Minerva hurried forward, turning the corner ahead of Grimm.
All that time, someone had been watching them. Grimm raced to follow, all the exaltation of the kiss vanishing. Yes, he had finally gotten what he wanted, but, as with all things, it had come with a price. How dear that price would be, he would soon find out.