Chapter 7 : The Holiday in Between
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She had found him irritating and insufferable before, but now that annoyance had sparked up into a resigned feeling of simmering anger every time she saw his sharp features. Twice, he’d tried to give her healing potions and she’d had to force herself to turn them down, instead continuing to milk her injury for a whole week to score more potions.
Then, in the second week of December she’d been forced to begin planning her second heist – alone, this time. It had felt much worse sneaking through the corridors alone, but the second raid of the Hospital Wing had been much more successful. She’d taken more potion than last time as, due to her carelessness last time, they were already aware there was a thief and therefore there’d no doubt be a strict count every morning to make sure no more had been taken. On balance, she thought it was better to damn herself utterly and take as many she could fit in her suitcase, as soon she’d be catching the train home for the Christmas holidays. She was to visit Peter and the Andersons for a few days before travelling back up to Scotland, so she would be able to deliver them by hand. Providing they didn’t start bag checks, then there wouldn’t be a problem and Peter would be set for months.
Minerva had already cast numerous concealment charms around her trunk, which she doubted anyone but the likes of Dumbledore, Riddle and maybe some of the more adept Professors would be able to break through. Any bag checks would surely be basic charms cast by the care taker, which she was confident her own spells would triumph easily.
Minerva had almost taken a horrible risk and climbed through the window into the Infirmary to check if Walter was okay, but Minerva wasn’t quite as stupid (or sentimental) as that and she’d managed to reign herself in easily enough. A good job too, because at Slughorn’s Christmas party (the worst yet, in Minerva’s opinion), she’d heard a whisper that Walter’s third year sister had snuck into the infirmary to visit her brother and had accidentally set off the series of alarms designed to keep out intruders and potential potion thieves. Dumbledore had seen to it that she hadn’t been questioned about the potions and Minerva thought that, although she was good, she didn’t think she was good enough to hide pockets full of potions from Albus Dumbledore.
Anyone who managed to fool Albus Dumbledore about anything had to be truly remarkable themselves. Tom Riddle, with all his gritty edges and his near-psychopathic tendencies was bad news – but even he, and he really was brilliant, couldn’t fool Dumbledore with his oozing charm and personas. As someone who’d trust Dumbledore’s judgement to the ends of the earth, she likewise did not trust Riddle – maybe that was why he barely tried to be charming with her. Or maybe he knew that a lack of charm, to her, was much more engaging.
The second, or third depending on how you counted (to Minerva, it was definitely the third but she often preferred cats to real people and most were ignoring the incident with poor Miranda’s cat), attack came four days before the end of term. It had been a first year Hufflepuff that Minerva had never spoken to or really knew existed, but she had known the poor girls sister; a fifth year Gryffindor, an outspoken advocate for muggle equality and a Prefect. Minerva, who was used to having to chastise the girl for being too loud in the Common Room and not setting an example as a Prefect, was startled by the sudden change in the girl. She was deathly quiet, pale and still seemed surprised by the whole course of events.
That attack seemed to have more of an effect on the general atmosphere in the castle; the attack on Walter had been shocking, but Walter seemed like a much more solid target than a first year Hufflepuff who, it seemed, had been lovely to everyone and generally a bit of dormouse. Now, the Heir of Slytherin was not a singular attack. Rumours were travelling round the castle, fear was brewing in the corridors and uncertainty was rife and catching.
The Heir of Slytherin was ruthless.
“Minnie,” Tristan spat, his fingers twisting around Minerva’s wrists as he pulled her to the side of the train, mid-patrol of the Hogwarts Express. Minerva detested him even more than Tom Riddle, especially as he continued to blame her for Walter’s state and Gryffindor’s spectacular Quidditch defeat (she could claim some credit for the latter, but maintained that it was Walter’s choice to talk about his blood status in front of large numbers of prejudice Slytherins and the Heir of Slytherin’s fault for even caring in the first place). Minerva shook her wrist out of his grip and narrowed her eyes at him.
“It’s Minerva,” She countered, coolly.
“I’m taking a sample of your potion home,” He said, face twisting into an uncomfortable sneer to rival any of Tom’s, “My mother works for an apothecary. She’ll identify it and then, Minnie, we’ll see just how much trouble you’re in.”
“Didn’t realise you were so dependent on your mother, Peakes.”
“Oh sure,” Tristan muttered, eyebrows raised, “You defend yourself with your sharp tongue but, Minnie, I’m the one with the power and you’re just another desperate little girl.”
“Don’t make me bring feminism into this,” Minerva countered sharply.” Discussing gender roles with you makes me feel like this is a historical re-enactment.”
“If this is about Quidditch, I think I proved you can’t play Quidditch.”
“You can’t play beater, either. All you’ve proved is that you’re a manipulative small minded little man who’s so attached to his idea of masculinity that you can’t see past your own archaic prejudice. You’re a contradiction, Peakes. You accuse me of somehow indirectly causing Walter’s attack and spend the entirety of Slughorn’s party mouthing off about prejudiced scum who can’t see beyond blood purity – no doubt because you want to perpetuate your brave reputation and remain safe in the knowledge that you’re a pureblood, or near enough – yet you have the same small, pathetic attitudes as they do. You think you’re better than me, Peakes, and you’ve never been so wrong.”
“Found out who’s behind the attacks yet?” Tristan asked, still smilingly – completely apathetic to Minerva’s passionate insults. “When you do,” Tristan said, lips twisting into a smile, “’ll flush that potion down the drain and you can get back to your illusions of power and the moral high ground.”
“I’ll leave you to your illusions of superiority right now,” Minerva said starkly, “Farewell, Peakes.”
“Have a merry Christmas!” Tristan called after her, with an almost sarcastic wave. “Don’t ruin yourself too thoroughly with that muggle of yours!”
“What was that about?” Francesca asked when Minerva had stormed back to her carriage to find that her friends had purposefully left the compartment door open to catch snatches of their conversation.
“Tristan Peakes being himself.” Minerva muttered, pulling ‘Hogwarts: a history’ from her bag and opening it to the well-thumbed chapter about the elusive chamber of secrets.
“And I suppose you got mad?” Francesca suggested. “I was hoping for something a little more exciting – what with you and your men.”
Minerva cleared her throat quite pointedly at that, although the intended message that Francesca should stop right now was somehow translated into a prompt for Francesca to continue talking. “You know… there’s Walter Davis, Tom Riddle and our favourite muggle Peter Anderson... Really, Minnie, you’re magnetic.”
“How is Lockhart? Recovered from the excitement of you agreeing to a second date, yet?”
“Tristan would be a nice addition to the list. Aesthetically, you’ve covered all bases quite spectacularly.”
“Jane,” Minerva said lightly, “do make Francesca shut up.”
“Riddle is the favourite, obviously,” Francesca continued, “Plus, he’s practically your personal shadow at the moment.”
“I have something the wants,” Minerva said, lowering her book slightly, “I do not intend to give it to him.”
“What is it?” Francesca asked, “And where do I get some?”
“Information.” Minerva said, placing the open book on the seat next to her as she retrieved several things from her trunk.
“You shouldn’t argue too much with Tristan.” Jane said, “He’s not that bad if you know how to deal with him.”
Minerva very much doubted that.
“What information?” Francesca asked, tilting her head slightly. Minerva pulled out her quill, ink and parchment, using the seat next to her to rest on and began ‘Dear Bathilda Bagshot’ carefully, thinking of the women whom she’d met at one of Slughorn’s parties months ago – she would, it seemed, finally be making use of one of the vast network of contacts Slughorn had produced for her.
“About the chamber of secrets?” Francesca asked, leaning forwards to try and read Minerva’s letter, but only glancing that title of the page in ‘Hogwarts: a history’ that was laid open. “You’ve got proof that it’s real? You know where it is?”
“Not yet.” Minerva said grimly.
She decided it was better for the health of all those involved if she pretended not to hear Francesca’s suggestions that she was avenging Walter Davis; the more Minnie protested, the more likely it would be for Francesca to profess that Minerva was a sex symbol, or something perverse and ridiculous of that calibre.
The second train ride of the day was much quieter than the first. Without Jane and Francesca to fill the spaces with blithe conversation, Minerva spent the journey attempting to read her book (a book on transfiguration that Dumbledore had suggested, disguised to look like an Austen novel).
It might have been easier to apparate (now that she was finally allowed to do so), but Peter’s parents had enough trouble comprehending Minera’s unusual schooling without her materialising instantaneously in the place she used to call home. Mrs Anderson had expressed a desire to meet Minerva off her train and she was more than happy to oblige. Besides, Minerva liked trains and the longer she journey stretched out the more she was finding it hard to deny that she was excited.
Her parents had allowed her three days with Peter and the Andersons. It had taken a series of persuasive letters and Minerva reminding them that, as teenagers went, she was very undemanding before they had agreed. It helped that the worry of the attacks going on at Hogwarts was enough to wake them out of their stupor and remind them of what Minerva actually wanted. She would apparate back to Scotland after the few days were over and then she would, categorically, stop complaining about their relocation to Scotland.
Minerva pulled out the piece of parchment slipped between the pages of her book, and scanned over the contents once more.
My mother is very excited to have you stay, Scottish Girl. She isn’t entirely sure how, but she is sure that the speed my wound is healing has something to do with you. Do not be surprise if she attempts to prevent you leaving us.
Minerva smiled, glancing out the window and taking in a little of the countryside they were passing through. The Andersons were much warmer than her own parents, who had a tendency to be slightly colder and more distant with their affections, but not in the same way as Francesca’s or Jane’s parents were warm. In some ways, she’d considered the Andersons’ house every bit as much as her home as her own house.
We have a surprise for you. I know you dislike surprises, Minnie, but I promise that you will like this one.
From anyone else, the prospect of a ‘surprise’ would have made her nervous, but she trusted Peter.
For the duration of your visit I am prohibiting any talk of the attacks at your school or the war. We both deserve a few days untainted by the outside world, Minnie.
Francesca and Jane had mocked her excitement over the few days she’d be spending with her muggle best friend, but she’d hardly found herself caring. Between the attacks, Tristan’s blackmail and avoiding Tom Riddle she felt, like Peter, she deserved a short respite before it continued.
In answer to your question, you do not have to buy any of us Christmas presents. We are all merely thrilled that you will be able to join us for a few days.
Minerva distractedly shook her head and slipped the parchment between the pages of her book, stowing it away in her bag and returning to watching the countryside fly past her. By her estimations, she’d be arriving in under fifteen minutes and she was too distracted by the thought of Peter to concentrate on transfiguration any further.
It was nice to push the multitude of things she was worried about. Between the worry of Tristan finding out about the healing potions, Walter not returning to full health, Riddle’s dogged attempts to find out what she knew about the chamber of secrets (which was not nearly as much as she would like to know about the chamber), the potions not being able to heal Peter and being caught breaking the rules, Minerva felt like she was being slowly suffocating. Peter was the only one who received every single story and the prospect of burying herself in their easy friendship for just a few days made it possible to breathe.
Minerva glanced up, startled, as the train began to slow. Her grasp on the time must have been slightly off, because already they were rolling into the station; the town in view.
She pulled her trunk from under the seat, hand self-consciously checking that her tartan ribbon was in place, before stepping out of the compartment and into the corridor.
Mrs Anderson and Jimmy would be waiting for her on the platform.
Minerva stepped off the train and the excitement died in her throat, only to be eclipsed by sheer relief; Peter Anderson was propped up between his mother and his little brother, shaky but miraculously on his feet, beaming at her.
He could walk.
“As surprises go…” Peter said, grinning as his shoulder bumped against Minerva’s arm, “not the worst?”
“No,” Minerva agreed, smiling slightly.
The Anderson’s cat pressed his nose into Minerva’s shins, obstructed by the wall on which they were both sitting.
“You’ve been distracted since that letter arrived this morning,” Peter said, glancing behind him at Minerva’s old house and smiling slightly. Minerva’s barely repressed Joy over finding that her potion’s theft had been worth it had put all other thoughts out of her mind until the letter arrived.
She couldn’t blame herself for the distraction; her best friend could walk. He needed support from another person and could only manage short distances before he needed to sit down, but last time she’d seen him he hadn’t been able to put any weight on his leg at all. Her shot nerves and lack of sleep seemed a small price to pay for someone to be able to walk again, especially since that someone was Peter. After the moment she had seen him on the platform, the stress and the worry of everything else seemed to evaporate.
And then the letter had arrived.
“Who was it from?”
“Bathilda Bagshot,” Minerva answered, leaning down and brushing a hand over the cat’s head, “she’s a notable historian. I wrote to her about the Chamber.”
“What did she say?”
“I thought you didn’t want to talk about the Chamber or the war,” Minerva said, her voice terse. The letter had bought the tranquillity of the past few days crashing around her, reminding Minerva that Tristan had no doubt discovered she was stealing Healing Potions by now and that, still, there was a fanatic attacking children and pets at her school. She felt guilty for stealing a few days of happiness in the middle of a bloody war.
“I didn’t want you to think about them,” Peter said, his familiar voice smoothing over the words in a way that made it impossible for Minerva to be truly frustrated with him, “but, if you can’t manage that, I’d prefer you to keep me updated.”
“She wrote a book about the history of my school,” Minerva said, “she has a section on the history of the Chamber of Secrets, but she didn’t have any more information. It’s sketchy at best. It’s a legend from hundreds of years ago, Peter,”
“You said it could only be opened by the Heir of Slytherin?”
“Theoretically,” Minerva said, distastefully. She disliked believing things on fanciful ideas and notions. She liked to have proof about things, but she largely considered Dumbledore’s word as proof. Besides, the blood-writing on the wall seemed to add up exactly with the whimsical legend; there was a monster and there were muggleborn witches and wizards being attacked. “Except, to my knowledge, there is no Heir of Slytherin at Hogwarts. Historians have attempted to track back the bloodline over history, but it disappears. Any notorious Slytherin family would have made the claim if they had a chance to. And if the Chamber exists, why wouldn’t an heir have attempted to open it a hundred years ago? If Salazar Slytherin’s blood line continues, there should be continual records of the Chamber opening every generation, or every other generation.”
“Maybe,” Peter said, “it’s a copycat.”
“There is nothing to copy,” Minerva said, sharply. She scooped that cat up onto her lap and focused her attention on stroking his glossy forehead. “It has occurred to me, but how else would a creature that is capable of petrifying students enter the castle? I’m sorry,” Minerva said, turning to face Peter with a frown, “it doesn’t matter.”
“You want answers,”
“I want Tristan off my back,” Minerva said, her fingers clenching in frustration, “I have had enough of his comments about Walter and Quidditch.”
“I still can’t imagine you riding a broomstick,” Peter said, smiling slightly, “I might need to see that in practice at some point, too,”
“You’ll have to visit in Scotland,” Minerva said, sharply, “I don’t think there’s much room for flying here.”
“No,” Peter said, thoughtfully, “Minnie… have you thought, perhaps, that Tristan had a point with the comments about Walter?” Minerva turned her gaze towards him immediately, the jerkiness of the movement sending the Anderson’s cat stalking off irritably. Peter smiled. “Walter Davis didn’t want you to accompany him to the village because of the potions, Minnie,”
Normally, Minerva would have chastised Peter for the nickname, but she had a bad habit of letting Peter take liberties that she usually would not have allowed. There was something about his solid presence in her life that made it a little too easy to forget the things that usually irked her.
“I don’t like what you’re implying,” Minerva said, lips thinning slightly.
“You’re clueless, Scottish girl.”
“I am not,” Minerva said, eyes narrowing at him as he glared.
“He was very keen to help,” Peter countered, eyebrows raised slightly.
“Perhaps, he is just a good person,”
“Perhaps,” Peter granted, his tone indicative that he was merely humouring her, “Perhaps this Tom Riddle has innocent intentions, too. Perhaps Walter Davis simply wanted to help you. Perhaps I’m simply reading too much into things,” Peter said, brown eyes fixed upon her, “but you’re still clueless, Minerva,”
The usual boundaries of personal space barely applied between the pair of them thanks to the years of being childhood friends and the fact that, at current, Peter wasn’t able to walk without resting against Minerva’s arm, but he seemed closer than normal. Too close, maybe.
She could feel his breath on her skin, the warmth of his presence.
“Perhaps, I’m simply jealous,”
And then Peter reached closed the rest of the distance and kissed her.
Officially took forever to update, for which I am VERY sorry and have no excuse. Forgive me?