Author's Note: This is a very late entry to the Staff Challenge #4. It was supposed to be a much shorter, much simpler story, and supposed to have been written much faster, but as per usual, nothing ever turns out as I planned. This story contains two plots and is told from four separate points of view, and I hope that it makes sense.
Temporally, this story takes place between parts II and III of "ad memoriam" though it's not a perfect fit. It also alludes to the yet-unwritten ending of "This Longing," so my apologies for the spoilers.
Finally, thanks to Elesphyl for being my cheerleader and giving suggestions for this story as I went along (at a snail's pace). She always thinks of great ideas, and I'm much indebted to her for them.
Good Night, Dr. Jekyll
Pre-Mortem – 24 hours
"Now cracks a noble heart. Good-night, sweet prince;
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."
Hamlet V.ii - W. S.
It was a potion like any other he had made these past few months. They were generally boring things, ordered by St. Mungo’s or various private Healers who required specialty potions. Sometimes he swore that if he ever had to make another mourning sickness cordial or spot-removal cream, he’d–
No, perhaps not that far. They were dreadfully boring to make, but they were a livelihood, something to occupy the mind.
He did not leave the house often. Sometimes for a walk. He left the shopping to Tweedy, who, though old, was still fully capable of taking care of the both of them. At least, that is what she assured him of, even when she confused the salt for sugar and ashes for pepper. But it was too much trouble to be rid of her, not where there was no available replacement (he would not admit to himself some degree of attachment to the poor creature).
It had not been easy since leaving his post at Hogwarts. Arithmancy professor was a laughable position, but it had been something.
Something to keep him sane.
Pursing his lips, he turned to the boiling cauldron. The fumes emitting from the scarlet liquid reminded him of rotting vegetables with a tinge of apple cider vinegar. He stepped away, eyes watering, cursing himself for having to experiment with something new just because he was absolutely and completely bored.
Boredom. It was his punishment. For many things.
A scowl overtook his face and he shuddered from deep within. Best not to think of such things, those old things, the things of the past. Not that he hadn’t thought of illegally using a timeturner to change it all, but one simply didn’t do such things.
He went to the shelf for the next ingredient. It should have been already out and measured on the table, and it bothered him more than slightly that he had forgotten it. Slipping, that was it. He was slipping. It paused his movements, made him hesitate before picking out the jar of crushed Belladonna leaves. They were fresh, just purchased from Diagon Alley the previous week.
Shaking a few flakes into the cauldron, he watched for the expected reaction. The resultant puff of smoke was slightly pinkish. His scowl deepened. Not good, not the deeper red it should have been. Yet the colour of the potion itself was correct.
He leaned over the cauldron and took a whiff. Slightly better, more musty, dusty.
His vision swam, foggy memories obscuring the view, turning the cellar into an office, the cauldron into a tall, tense witch with severely pinned back hair. He could feel that hair between his fingers, coarse and thick. But she pulled away, deservedly. Forgiveness was not within her power.
He did not see the potion darken, the thick, sticky bubbles popping upwards.
It was strange to think of her again. Some time had passed since he’d last thought of her, ex-girlfriend, ex-fiancé, ex-lover, ex-friend, and ex-colleague. A whole wondrous line of exes that encapsulated his relationship with Minerva McGonagall.
He stepped away from the potion, his back turned.
Although it would be easy to blame himself for his reduced position in her favour, he refused to take all of the blame. That would, after all, be selfish, greedy. Two of the sins he sought to escape, hiding from the world, the war, the dreadful state of all things.
The potion flared orange, then faded to scarlet, calm, the bubbles gone.
His eyes turned back upon it, his creation. A little smile appeared on his face at the sight of it. Just as it was meant to be, no mistakes this time. The art of potion-making was the only thing he had control over, his only talent. To see this particular potion turn out correctly brought lightness to his heart, raised his languishing spirits. It was perhaps the most complex of potions to create, and yet he could make it. Him! Yes, him.
And now for the test.
Dipper in hand, he filled it with the brew – so smooth! so perfect! – and lifted it to his lips, eyes gazing into the bloody liquid with all the hunger of a vampire at the kill.
He took a single, lingering sip.
A single set of footsteps coming down the corridor altered Professor McGonagall to the Auror’s arrival. Step, stump. Step, stump. Alastor Moody did not need to announce himself. McGonagall had hoped it would be he on this case, not that there was much of a case to begin with. The death was easily explainable, the circumstances unsurprising.
Yet there was still a mystery to it all.
She did not look up when he came to stand beside her.
“Not the usual business, this. Not lately.”
There was a strangeness to investigating an accidental death in the midst of a war.
“It will provide you with some diversion, Moody.”
Her voice was as tight as the lines around her mouth. A certain suppressed emotion suffused her features, exaggerating their already-harsh lines.
Moody’s magical eye stared through her. He frowned.
“It’s not amusement I’ll be needing, McGonagall. It’s closure.”
She raised her eyebrows, something that reminded them both too much of the deceased. As though someone had spoken his name, had recalled his spirit into being, McGonagall and Moody turned to the closed door. It broke the monotony of the white wall with its steely sheen. It was the door one always tried to avoid at St. Mungo’s. It was a door with no label, no sign to say where it led or what purpose it had. From its polished surface to its imposing presence, this was the door to the room of death.
“He made a mistake, like he always did.”
Moody looked at her once again, his frown deepening. To respond to such a comment would be too dangerous, particularly with McGonagall’s present state. All that stoicism was surface; every nerve, every muscle, was tense, waiting, ready to snap at any moment.
“When did you last see him?”
McGonagall raised her eyes, hand clenching in a fist.
It was all there, the images too vivid in her mind.
Pre-Mortem – 13 hours
The tapping on the glass startled her out of a poorly-written assignment. It was not an unwelcome interruption, but all the same, her brain was still swimming with hanging gerunds and incorrect tenses as she opened the window. The owl flitted in, chirping loudly, black feathers sticking out in all directions.
A disgruntled owl meant a disgruntled wizard.
She sent the owl off to the Owlery and sat back in her chair, breaking the letter’s seal with her thumb. It was his, of course. No doubting that, even though the seal was off-centre and the wax allowed to dry too long before he’d set his ring into it. Even the way he’d written her name on the front wasn’t his usual style. It was lopsided, much too messy, even for him.
Hesitation took over her senses. Not right. No, something was not right.
The thought of it made her heart pound weakly. All those old troubles coming back.
It was a time when things going wrong was part of everyday life, but not with Grimm. He kept himself away from the war, even resigning from Hogwarts to hide himself away in the cellar of his London house. Hidden in his laboratory, a lonely Jekyll in a world of Hydes.
The letter itself was simple: Hog’s Head at three, even if not possible. V. important. Must see you.
Even if not possible. His demanding tone, but with a hint of desperation that was too much to bear.
Minerva glanced down at the assignment that bled with her corrections, red ink overpowering the student’s black. It could, and would, wait. She had not seen Grimm in five months, two weeks, and three days – she drew the line at counting off the hours.
Their last parting words rang through her mind before she had the chance to suppress them, burying them in bitter memory. For him to ask – demand – a meeting, even after those words had been spoken, still so fresh a wound... it had to be important. V. important, indeed. A gripping worry took root and she watched the clock with unwavering eyes. Fists clenched and lips tight, she left the castle, long-legged strides taking her to the village an hour early.
He was also early, a half-empty pint glass in his hand.
She could see it in his eyes. Death.
“What would you like, Minerva?”
His voice was different. Lower. Distant. Already given up.
“A lime and soda will suffice.” She sounded the same as ever, impeccably formal, unable to abandon her Hogwarts mask, even now.
Perhaps because of now.
He placed the glass in front of her, taking care to sit across the table. The lighting was poor on that side. She could not as clearly see the shadows beneath his eyes, the way that his cheeks were sunken in, or the dryness of his lips.
He wet them before speaking again.
“I made a mistake.”
She took a sip of her drink, frowning at the tart flavour of the lime. Too much.
“That is nothing new, Tiberius. You have always been making mistakes.”
He let out a harsh breath. “This is different, Minerva. I won’t say worse because I know you’ll have something clever to say about that, but it’s certainly more final this time. There’s no going back.”
Minerva blinked, realising only too late that her mouth was hanging open.
He reached over to take her free hand, clammy fingers enclosing her wrist. She looked across at him, her pretence of formality ebbing away with the tide.
“I’m dying, Minerva. By tomorrow, I’ll be gone.”
It was suddenly repulsive to have his hand upon her arm, to be sitting at the same table as him, to even be in the same room, the same building. That he should come all this way to merely present her with this cruel ultimatum.
But she was already out of the Hog’s Head, the wintry chill piercing her flesh.
She fell silent suddenly. Too suddenly. Guilt radiated from every fibre of her being.
There was no more to be gotten out of her, of that he was sure. Grimm had revealed nothing to her about the nature of his illness, if it was that at all. The Healers were still working on an exact cause of death, though poison was at the top of their list.
With that information, Moody found it wise to explore Grimm’s laboratory. Filled to the brim with poisons, it must be. A certain place to find the cause of all this trouble.
He paused in the lobby of St. Mungo’s. He had left McGonagall standing outside the silver door, her eyes blankly staring at her lifeless reflection. It was beyond his scope to provide her with comfort or sympathy – Aurors were not grief counsellors by any means — yet he could not deny the displeasure he felt at leaving her to herself, completely alone.
Just as Grimm had died. Alone.
Limping, steps coming to a halt. No time. Time gone. Nothing left, no energy to take another step, to hold himself up, to think beyond the most simple and animal of ideas. Move. Sit. Rest the weary head, the weary body. So tired.
He felt rather than saw the chair, its leather cold under his fevered skin. Like fire, burning, burning from within. The world danced around him, spinning backwards and forwards and sideways and in all directions at once. He fought against it, hunching down in the chair and trying to forget what was happening now for the sake of all the things that had happened long ago. He wanted to die with memories passing before his eyes. Not this illness, not this poison that ran through his veins, consuming him whole.
Heart beating too quickly, thumping wildly like the bursting heart of a rabbit before the headlights. Yes, it was another symptom.
With shaking fingers he counted them off to himself.
Eyes shut, unable to glance at the window: sensitivity to light.
Loss of balance, staggering about like a drunk. He hadn’t even finished that pint (and it hadn’t been that good either, the bitter taste of Minerva’s rejection tainting his tongue).
The fevered flushing of an embarrassed schoolgirl.
And now add tachycardia, his heart unable to stop its blinding pace.
He knew what they all added up to, could trace the lines of his final hour, and still unsatisfied with the world, he would exit, the player dragged off stage before his last bow.
Her rejection hurt most of all, biting into every cell, every single fibre of his being.
And he deserved it, of all things. Deserved her hatred, her condescension, her inability to forgive the crimes of many years of abandonment, neglect, cruelty, and cold-heartedness. Once he had thought it best that she never forgave, but now... now when it was too late to ask, to beg, to desire that last touch of her fingers, of her lips upon his skin, knowing that she perhaps might have loved him.
Failure. Only a failure. Always a failure.
Soon he would expect to have convulsions, his body ripping itself free of his mind, his soul, desiring its earthen hole.
Hallucinations were also among the possible symptoms. His eyes tried to see around him, to see if any of it was real at all, but he could see nothing clearly, the library never coming into focus. To look upon his books one last time, not the greatest last sight, but better than this nothingness, the same nothingness he would have to look on for all eternity.
He had never believed in Dumbledore’s brilliant description of what came after death. It seemed too peaceful, too cloying, a temptation meant to comfort, lacking substance.
If he could not find absolution in his life, he should not expect it to be offered so freely in the next.
His head fell back, no longer supported by bone and muscle, all weakening.
No, he did not want her here to see this. He thought of the horrible platitude of her remembering him as he was, not as he has become, the ugly mass of flesh and bone that destroys itself with each passing second.
It is a comfort to his loneliness, his utter and complete lack of anything beyond himself, and even that is too quickly vanishing. Himself will be gone within a minute.
Strange to be counting down the seconds, but it keeps his mind fresh, out of hallucination and within reality.
His breath slowed.
His heart still raced. Too fast, too fast. No breath could satiate that pace.
A sound from far away, a knocking ringing knocking ringing, further and further away now, growing more distant, distant now, no longer to be heard in the growing, raging silence that is nothing and everything.
It all stops.
Pre-Mortem – 10 hours
She had walked for some time before stopping, fury fading with each step she was further from him. To think of him actually dying, it had to be a joke. What sort of person came up to one in a pub and admitted that he was going to be dead by the end of the day? Certainly not a sane person, to be sure. One never knew when death was coming, right?
The answer to that question did not make an immediate appearance, leaving her to stare out over the lake, far below, wondering what the world was coming to.
Don’t let it be true. Merlin, please, don’t let it be true.
But the fury was still there, though much faded, and she did not budge an inch, did not run back down the hill or apparate (because that would be easier) back to where he was, waiting, left to himself to die. What would he be thinking? Not just at her rejection, her silent abandonment, but at the whole circumstance, of knowing that he was going to die very soon, before there was time to finish living, to tie up all those loose ends....
She could not imagine herself in that same predicament. There is something in the finality of death that the imagination cannot recreate, cannot remotely fathom.
And she had said nothing to him, nothing at all to relieve his suffering.
A winter gust tore through her cloak and pulled at her hair.
She remembered Grimm’s hands, the fingers combing through her loose hair, an impossible smile upon his face as he lowered it to hers, hesitating for the briefest moment before kissing her, consuming her. That was not very long ago. Not at all. A few years, perhaps, but not yet a decade.
He had left Hogwarts on a whim, choosing to hide himself away rather than openly ally himself to Dumbledore and the Order. Or was it even that? He had said that he’d tired of Hogwrats, teaching students too distracted by the war and their hormones to care for his subject, one that he himself hardly cared about. He had never explained his true motives, and his silence had been a painful rejection, a sure sign that he could no longer trust her. Her! The only one who knew him, yet hardly new him at all.
She was not free of blame, and she knew it. She hadn’t even tried to stop him from leaving Hogwarts, from leaving her. How selfish it was to think of it in that way, but it was the truth. She thought of it selfishly, she thought of him not a possession, but a part of her. An utterly ridiculous romantic notion.
It was his legacy, his influence.
What was she doing here? Another gust of wind blew through her and she shivered.
Had she remained with him, she would not be so cold.
It was the same lesson that he must have learned because, every time he left, he had always come back, always returned to her, to stay with her.
The next gust of wind met with an empty hillside.
Moody held the jar of belladonna, his underling looking on with wide eyes.
“If it’s tainted, sir, then even the jar could be contaminated. It’ll need to be tested right away.” The boy stuttered a bit. Too fresh. Still wet behind the ears.
Moody’s eye swivelled in the boy’s direction (he shuddered), and one corner of Moody’s lips twitched in response.
“Send it to Higgins. He’ll know what to do. Anything else?”
The boy snapped to attention (he had already been standing straighter than a rod).
“No, sir. This was the only suspicious item that he had used recently.”
Moody gave a cut nod and the boy hurried up the stairs. His footsteps were heard hurrying across the kitchen, then vanished when he apparated, leaving Moody very much to himself. Except for the house elf, that is. He would have to interview her next, not that he looked forward to it. Strange creatures, they were.
The cauldron was empty. Grimm must have vanished the liquid as soon as he realised what it had become. Too late, of course. The dipper still held a few drops, but not enough for any tests. The liquid was scarlet, like blood.
Moody hardly suppressed his own shudder.
Now for the house elf.
Tweedy was her name. She had her face buried in a yellow napkin, loud sobs making her body shake uncontrollably. She muttered to herself, berating herself for Grimm’s death in that house-elfish fashion, taking the blame for the mistakes of her master. Legs swinging over the edge of a chair, she looked about ready to leap off and slam herself into the wall multiple times. Had her master been in attendance, he would have not recognized her.
Moody sat across from her, crossing his arms. He didn’t need a notebook; his head was good enough for the purpose.
“Tell me what happened.”
The house elf’s giant eyes opened, foggy with cataracts.
“Master, he came up from his place, yes. Yes, he came up. Unpleasant face. Unpleasant eyes. Unpleasant voice.” Her own voice was strangely low and throaty for one of her kind. “Said it tasted awful, he did, yes.”
Moody leaned forward, his glass eye swivelling to stare through Tweedy.
“What tasted awful? What was it?”
Her eyes remained wide, her face vacant of understanding. “It, sir. He said it.”
Damn these creatures! No brains at all.
Pre-Mortem – 23 hours
It was a disgusting brew. There was no probable way that he could improve the flavour of it, and thus no probable way that any Healers would use this potion on their patients. Magical patients were always more picky; Skele-Grow was the worst of them, and that was how they wanted it to stay. But this stuff... he wanted to scrub his tongue with steel wool to get the vile, vile flavour off.
Running up the stairs two at a time – more energy than he had exhausted this last decade – he entered the kitchen, muttering something to Tweedy about the flavour of it. It being the potion, of course. She stared at him, though he knew she couldn’t see much these days, if anything at all. It would explain why she had served him up spaghetti with curry sauce instead of tomato. One jar was the same as another.
He could have used the curry sauce just then. Ugh.
He wanted to throw up, to get rid of it, to purge it from his system.
If only he had.
The light seemed too bright today, although it was overcast skies. No sun at all, hadn’t been for days. It seemed to get brighter as he moved about the house, first pouring a half-bottle of wine down his throat (it helped, but only a little), checking his receipt for the belladonna (all correct, as it should be), and sitting himself down in the library, staring into the empty fire (the drapes pulled shut).
His head was pounding by then, damn it all.
A nap, yes, that was what he needed. He could not remember the last time he had slept. Too long ago, he was sure. Typical of him, she would say, Minerva. Typical to not be like everyone else, to keep the strangest of hours and working himself to death.
Yes, very typical.
Frank Longbottom stood behind Moody’s chair.
“The reports on the Grimm case are in, sir.”
Moody tossed aside his quill and reached for the file in Longbottom’s hand. Without a word, he flipped through the parchment, crinkling the edges, putting the pages in disarray. Longbottom watched for half a minute before wandering off. No thanks. No, one never got thanks, not from Mad-Eye.
He wasn’t that mad after all, but no one would agree with him, even Alice.
From across the room, he awaited Moody’s reaction. The case had been one of great interest to the old Auror, who people were already saying was at the end of his line, the edge of his sanity. Sometimes, one could see it in the way he spoke or the speed at which he eye revolved. Yet this case...
It had been different. Perhaps Moody shouldn’t have been allowed to investigate the death of someone he’d known, however long ago it’d been.
There was a grumble, a rustling of parchments.
Frank waited, counted to ten.
“Longbottom! Over here!”
It was the sort of command that should have made Frank smile.
But not in these circumstances.
“Yes, sir?” He maintained a relaxed position. Deep breath. Again.
Moody pointed at the parchment, his finger digging into the page and all those beneath. They were all disorganized now, all over the place, not at all straight.
“You made sure they did these tests twice?”
“And they’re sure that they’re right?”
First they – the herbologists. Second they – the tests.
“Yes, sir. I especially asked them to try a third time, just in case.”
A kind response, as they went.
“It was the belladonna, then.”
There was something off about Moody’s voice. Slightly quieter, less gruff and more like that of a normal person. Someone who could feel.
“Yes, sir. It’s already been pulled from the shelves and the producer has been notified of the issue.” There was something else... but Longbottom hesitated. It wasn’t the sort of thing one spoke about with Moody, really.
Take another breath, can’t hurt to try. “The producer said that they would–”
Moody waved his arm. “No need for any of that. There’s no family, no one to complain.”
Moody turned to glare at him, glass eye taking in every detail of Longbottom’s face.
“Case closed, Longbottom. Accidental death. Damn fool for playing with poisons in the first place.”
He shut the file.
Pre-Mortem – 16 hours
He knew for certain now. The pain in his abdomen was not natural, not even illness. It was that Potion, that dreadful nasty thing he had created. Shouldn’t have been so careless, so utterly stupid. She would chide him for it. Tell him that he’s a fool that shouldn’t have been testing his own potions, for Merlin’s sake. Who does such things?
And how he was... he was... he wa–
To think of it made it to real. To say it... He shuddered.
It hadn’t even been the first time that he’d made this potion. It should have been easy, should have been done without a mistake, but somehow, somehow he had done something wrong. The effects of the belladonna were supposed to be nullified by the rest of the ingredients, all of which combined to make a cure, not a cause of death.
Death. Dying. Destruction. His own. His own–
He could see his own death, imagine all its vile details and feel the bile rising up his throat. It would be unpleasant. Ha! That was an understatement. It would be painful, full of suffering as his body rapidly declined, the poison taking over each muscle, each nerve, until the heart itself could no longer bear it.
And yet, he could feel nothing. No emotion. No fear, none of that sort of thing. Perhaps some regret, yes. That was all.
He stared into the empty hearth. The ashes were stale; he could smell their bitterness, tainting the air. The smell of the leatherbound books and leatherbound chair could not oppress the scent, could not take away that tinge of death, decay.
He would smell like that soon.
Head in hands, stomach churning again, head pounding some more. He feared to see his face in the mirror. Would he see Death behind his eyes? The skull beneath the skin? The light would fade ever slowly. It would not be a quick death.
It was only then that he thought of saying goodbye. Death was final. An end to all things, no matter what some people said about it and waking up after the darkness snatched you away. One could not wake after death. It was not scientific; it could not be measured or experimented with. It happened, and that was it.
The chair creaked when he rose. It was as tired as he. Old and worn. A piece of parchment was on the desk, dust-covered and curling at the edges, but managing well enough to lie flat. The ink was more than half dry, but still it shaped his words, giving them substance.
He would see her one last time. Minerva. He had to tell her about this, had to let her know that goodbye would be goodbye this time. There would be no coming back with an apology and a kiss, no winning her over again and again, cracking the rockhard surface of her heart, each time harder than the next. How she would react this time, he could not foresee; he could only hope.
Hope. He could hope to live, too, and see how far that would get him.
The fear came now, chilling his veins, stilling the blood.
He did not want to die alone.
It had taken her too long to arrive, too long second guessing herself and not being able to make a solid decision. It was entirely unlike her to be so... so weak-willed, so unable to make an unwavering choice. But she had made it eventually, and part of her already knew that it was too late. She could feel it, the slightest palpitation, the knowledge that something was happening, was going to happen, had perhaps already happened.
What if she had missed him? What if he was already–?
Failure. Only a failure. Always a failure.
She swallowed down the word, the thought, the very idea of it. Preposterous. One could not tell the exact moment when death would come. Twenty-four hours, not likely at all. It would come when it came and that was that.
He had always had a flair for the dramatic, however absurdly scientific his mind was.
Her footsteps made no sound on the pavement. The silence of the street was broken only by the distant sound of passing traffic and the whisper of a breeze in the air. It was as though no other life existed, as though everything had been stolen by Death, taken into his dark universe, away from sunlight, from air, from hope.
From love, too, she had almost said, but that had already been stolen away. Long ago.
The history between them could fill many volumes. It was not an epic thing with a grand comic or tragic ending. The ending was here, in this street, in his house where he had to be now, waiting her arrival.
Or waiting for death.
...counting down the seconds...
She thought of all the things that had and had not been, all the things he had been to her and she to him, each ending and each beginning, slower and more uncertain than the one before. He had loved her first, pursuing her in that dreadful boyish way, desiring her body and her soul, in that order. She had played the chilly rock, unbreakable, but still he had chipped it away, her resistance fading. Back and forth and back again, all the ways of adolescent love.
When he had proposed (the first time, not the second, much later. That she had refused without question, and he had understood) and she had succumbed, no rationality, no low, crude reason could deny that she loved him.
The emotion did not wane. Not the next morning, when she had woken cold and alone, his trunk and all his things already gone. Not the decade later, when he had returned and could not apologise. Even still. Some things never changed. He did.
His breath slowed.
In front of the house, she stood. His house. Up the stairs to stop before the door.
She reached for the doorbell, her finger halting part-way.
The seconds pass one by one.
She pressed the doorbell.
She knocked. And knew.
It all stops.