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The Harder They Fall by victoria_anne

Format: Novel
Chapters: 13
Word Count: 57,745
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Contains profanity, Strong violence, Scenes of a sexual nature, Substance abuse, Sensitive topic/issue/theme

Genres: Drama, Horror/Dark, Romance
Characters: Voldemort, Grindelwald , OC, OtherCanon
Pairings: OC/OC

First Published: 06/06/2016
Last Chapter: 06/20/2017
Last Updated: 06/20/2017

Summary:






When Finlay Blishwick returns to Hogwarts for his sixth year, he expects his entitled life alongside Tom Riddle to continue as it always has. They are even tasked with finding Henry Potter's illegitimate child for Grindelwald. What Finn doesn't expect, however, is how short the fall from grace really is, and that it leads straight into the arms of dynamic Hufflepuff Brindley McCroy.

contains Hero spoilers | banner by floralprint @ tda


Chapter 1: Left Behind
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Fate whispers to the warrior,
"You cannot withstand the storm."
And the warrior whispers back,
"I am the storm."


Author unknown

*


His name was Finlay Blishwick, and he didn’t want to go back to Hogwarts.

The train ticket felt stiff and heavy as it dangled from the tips of his fingers, ready for the following morning. He tapped it lightly against his leg, leaning against the cool upper story window, his breath misting the pane as he sighed. The Finn in the glass looked blurry and distorted, the rain that lashed against the window falling across his reflected face like tears. The night was too dark to see outside, but he could hear the wind howling through the trees and the occasional boom of thunder. He wondered what would happen if he hung the ticket outside the window and let it slip into the storm. His grip tightened on it involuntarily. He wouldn’t do that, of course. Sixth year was important, despite his indifference. Or so he’d been told.

A flash of lightning lit his bedroom. He looked away from the window as the room returned to darkness. His last candle was burning low; he had to squint as he glanced down at his watch. The battered gold heirloom told him it was five minutes until September first. The watch had first belonged to his great grandfather, passed down the Blishwick line from son to son until it found Finn’s wrist. Instead of numbers, the face used runes.

He sat on the bed and ran a thumb fondly across the cracked clock face. Ancient Runes was the only subject he actually enjoyed, and was the only one he received an Outstanding in last year (he even had a birthmark shaped like an uruz rune on his hip). He barely scraped through the rest of his subjects with an Acceptable, and for most of those, he had received help in the form of his father. Between exemption letters and a generous donation to the school from one Jameson Blishwick, Finn was able to return for his sixth year, weighed down with promises to study hard enough to make up for the time lost.

Finn leaned forward, gazing down at the ticket in his hands. The gold trim winked in the dim light as if it were treasure. He traced the words Hogwarts Express with his finger.

What was the point?

He didn’t need exceptional grades to prove his worth - his family name already did that. Besides, Hero had always been the smart one. Finn swallowed the lump in his throat at the thought of his twin sister, dead just nine months ago. A spider bite. An allergic reaction. Preventable. But Finn hadn’t been there, hadn’t been able to protect her as a brother should.

Now he wasn’t a brother at all.

It seemed a reasonable punishment.

He leaned back against the navy blue pillows and tossed the ticket carelessly on the floor, remembering that night in December. Some parts were clear, some blurry, the ache in his heart the only constant. He remembered Tom Riddle, his pale face a mask of shock, crossing the room to whisper urgently in Jameson’s ear before his father flew out of the room. He remembered how Hero looked as though she were sleeping, despite her swollen red mouth and throat. He remembered how Jameson had locked himself away for nearly a month, only to emerge again with a fervent, slightly demented, look in his Blishwick blue eyes.

Gellert Grindelwald and his supporters, the Besmurten, might have been sympathetic, but they were not patient. Less than two months after Hero died, they were back on the doorstep of Blishwick Manor, more determined than ever to bring Grindelwald’s cause to Britain. Jameson - and consequently Finn and his mother Halcyon - were to open their home for them to use as headquarters, an honor Jameson was all too pleased to accept. Finn was expected to assist the Besmurten in any way they required, but nothing had been asked of him yet. He didn’t know what he’d be able to do from Hogwarts, either.

The grandfather clock down the hall dully chimed midnight. By the time Finn passed the barrier onto the platform, his Blishwick smile would be in place. An inherited trait, the smile could hide even the most dangerous of lies, the most darkest of secrets, the most damaged of emotions. So when people asked him, “How was your summer?” his smile would say, “It was fine, thank you”.

His heart would say, “It was the worst I’ve ever had.”

Thunder rumbled distantly overhead. The candle flickered once and died, so that he was sitting in complete darkness. There would be only his trunk to take to King’s Cross tomorrow. Only him saying goodbye to their parents. Only him boarding the Hogwarts Express.

Only him, only him, only him.

***

“There’s no ‘o’ in Imperius, Mr Blishwick,” said Professor Merrythought from behind him.

Finn paused mid-sentence, grip tightening on his quill for a second, before nodding shortly and crossing the letter out. He heard giggling, and glared across the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom at two Ravenclaw girls, who were looking at him with identical amused expressions. Finn showed them his middle finger from under the desk, and they turned away with looks of offense.

As she continued patrolling the classroom with her lesson, Professor Merrythought’s voice became no more than a nasal hum. Finn poked Radbourne Lestrange, who was sitting beside him, in the ribs.

“What?” Radbourne hissed without looking up, rubbing his side.

“Did you see how much weight Chelsey Jackson gained over the summer?”

Radbourne wrote a note on his parchment. “I am trying to listen,” he replied out of the corner of his mouth.

“Listening is for fat-heads,” Finn muttered, but he picked up his quill. He wrote a sentence on the wand movement of the Imperius Curse before looking behind his shoulder at where Benedict Avery and Tom Riddle were sitting. Tom’s dark head was bent as he wrote, his hand moving fluently across his book. Beside him was Benedict, chewing on something with his mouth open. When Finn caught his eye, he lolled his clipped head comically to one side and feigned drooping eyelids. Finn snickered and turned back to the front.

Weak sunlight streamed through the dark clouds outside and into the classroom, lighting the blackboard on which the three Unforgivable Curses were written. Finn was above the theory; he’d had first hand practice for two of them. Well, he’d once Imperiused a first year to upturn a goblet of pumpkin juice over the head of a Prefect, and tortured a rat for a second before it squeaked once and ran off. It was nothing like what Tom could do.

He absentmindedly drew the symbol of the Besmurten - the triangular rune of the Deathly Hallows - in the corner of his book. He wouldn’t be surprised to know if Tom was doing it all for Grindelwald. Finn knew the closing of the Chamber of Secrets had upset Tom, even though the other boy would never let it show. He hadn’t even shown emotion when Hero died. Tom needed something to keep him busy now that he had to leave the Basilisk in the Chamber, and The Greater Good was it.

Finn had caught a glimpse of Grindelwald once, at Blishwick manor. A tall, fair man, he had winked one bright eye at Finn as he passed him in the hall, flanked on either side by wizards in black and red robes with Grindelwald’s symbol gleaming on their chests. Finn had wanted to follow them into Jameson’s office, feeling as excited as a child at Christmas, but Halcyon had come up behind him and slipped her hand into his. Until he could follow, Finn would learn all he could with (and from) Tom, so that when he was asked, he was ready.

There was no ‘o’ in Imperius, but there was one in power.

***

Finn didn’t understand why they were called free periods if they weren’t going to be free.

He was in the library with Benedict and Tom, and already the place was full of sixth years. Some, like Ben, poured over parchment, their hands a blur of fingers, feather and ink. Some, like Finn, were slumped in their seats, reading the same sentence ten times. Some, like Tom, were looking at unrelated books altogether.

Finn rubbed his nose wearily and gazed around the library. A few tables down sat a group of four Slytherin girls, who all cast admiring glances in his direction. This was nothing new to him. However - and he hated to admit it - the appreciative glances and whispers among girls had increased since Tom caught the “Heir of Slytherin” a few months ago, when the Mudblood girl had died. That oaf Rubeus Hagrid was expelled, the school returned to a place of safety, and Finn stopped catching sympathetic looks and hushed whispers that followed him around the castle. He’d been glad the other students found something else to be sad about - he was beginning to appear approachable and weak after the death of his sister. Finn recognized the regal face of Lucretia Black among the girls at the table, her dark eyes catching his. His hand went automatically to his hair, well aware of how the movement tightened his robes over the muscle of his bicep. The girls giggled and turned back, faces pink. Lucretia was the last to look away, so his wink was just for her.

“Finn,” Tom said warningly without looking up from his book.

Finn swiveled back in his seat and picked up his book again. As he flipped idly through the pages the sound of high, loud laughter, followed by a snort, made him look up. Brindley McCroy, a Hufflepuff in his year, was seated at the desk beside them with that weird wide-eyed friend of hers, Saffron Worley. McCroy’s thick, dark red hair was pulled back from her freckled face with a wide yellow headband that made his eyes hurt from where he sat. Benedict’s brother, Patrick Avery, was leaning casually against the desk as he spoke to her, looking amused, his blue Head Boy badge on full display.

Benedict noticed him too. “Hey Rick,” he said loudly, and both Patrick and McCroy looked over at them. “I thought Ravenclaws were meant to be smart,” he drawled. “Or is it that the girls are too smart to date you and that’s why you gotta lower yourself to Hufflepuffs now?”

Patrick drew himself up straight and glared at his younger brother. They shared the same broad shoulders and square jaw.

“Why don’t you go shine your badge some more?” Finn added. “I think you missed a spot.”

“Grow up, you two,” Patrick said, a red flush beginning to creep up his neck.

“Yeah, don’t be so rude,” McCroy said.

Finn blinked in surprise. How dare a Hufflepuff girl talk back to him?

“Didn’t anyone ever tell you too much sun is bad for you?” Benedict sneered at her.

McCroy’s eyes darted to him and she raised an eyebrow. “Oh, a freckle joke? How utterly brilliant of you.”

“Don’t mind my brother,” Patrick said darkly. “He’s just bitter because our father finally noticed him over the summer, only it was something he didn’t want to be noticed for.”

Benedict was still for a long while. Finn didn’t know what Patrick was referring to - and by the crease in his brow, neither did Tom - but he could feel the tension from Benedict, saw veins standing out on his arm. Finn risked a cautious glance at him; Ben’s hazel eyes were locked with Patrick’s brown ones. After a strained moment, Ben stood up, sending his chair flying back with a crash, and swept all of his belongings from the desk into his bag in a singular violent movement. Finn stood up as well, but Benedict stormed out of the library amid a mixture of astonished and irritated stares. Patrick looked guilty, and raised his eyes to the ceiling before following his brother out.

Finn lowered himself back into his seat, thinking better of following. Tom’s head was back in his book. At the next table, McCroy started coughing. At first, Finn thought she was laughing, and he looked over at her irritably. Her cheeks were so flushed under the hand covering her mouth that her freckles almost disappeared. As her body began to shake with the effort, he snapped, “If you’re going to die, can you do it quietly?”

Her eyes watered and leaked out of the corners. She quickly shoved her belongings into her tattered bag and dashed from the library. Worley glared at him with her huge green eyes. “How can you be so cruel?” she asked in her childish voice. “She can’t help it.”

“What do I care? It’s annoying.” Finn was beyond irritated. McCroy and Worley were two Hufflepuffs too many for one day.

Worley stood up and waved her hands at him in a bizarre movement that made the numerous leather and beaded bracelets around her wrists clack together. Finn blinked in surprise and drew back, but quickly regained his composure. “You putting some weird voodoo curse on me?”

Worley turned away to pick up her bag, her frizzy hair falling over her face. “Maybe.” She left without another word, hurrying to catch up with McCroy.

The library was finally quiet, and Finn slumped back in his seat. As Tom closed one old black book and opened another, Finn fiddled with his watch. He couldn’t concentrate. With a murmured assurance to Tom that he’d see him later, Finn left the library, which had considerably less sixth years than before.

***

Instead of heading to the common room after dinner, Finn veered right down the corridor toward a portrait depicting Dana Burke - an ancestor on his mother’s side - holding iron chains wrapped around the throats of giants. She winked at him as he approached. Finn pushed her portrait aside, revealing the small wooden door to the antechamber he, Tom, Radbourne and Benedict had claimed as their own. A small fire in the grate was burning, as were all the lanterns; he wasn’t the first to arrive. Sure enough, Tom was seated on one of the large grey chairs, his dark head visible over the back of it. He looked relaxed, hands rested on either arm, but one or two of his fingers were tapping restlessly against the leather. Finn sat down beside him. There was no acknowledgment from Tom, but this wasn’t unusual; Tom was often lost in thought. There was a ring on his right middle finger; a large black stone set into a gold band, winking in the firelight.

“That new?” Finn asked with a nod at Tom’s hand.

Something stirred behind Tom’s eyes as he twirled the ring around his finger. “Yes,” he said. “I acquired it over the summer, after the previous owner no longer had need of it. I am the owner now.”

Finn looked at it again, and thought it rather an ugly thing. But by the way Tom ran a finger over it lovingly, like he would do the head of a snake, you would think it was the most precious of treasure.

The door to the antechamber swung inward, and Benedict and Radbourne entered, the latter laughing loudly at something the former was saying. They were followed - to Finn’s surprise - by Abraxas Malfoy, a blonde haired, haughty faced boy from the year below them. He tugged at the sleeve of his neatly pressed green robes as he cast his grey eyes around the room with interest.

Finn lowered his voice, “Er, what is he doing here?” It was no secret that the Malfoys were a powerful and respected family. Jameson, at the dinner table brandishing his fork as if it were his wand, would say the Malfoys may have a lot of Galleons, but each one had two faces and was dipped in poison. Watching Abraxas, Finn was inclined to disagree. This little Malfoy didn’t look like much.

Tom ignored Finn, watching the boys as they settled themselves around him by the fire. Benedict and Radbourne were still talking as they took their seats. Malfoy looked irritatingly at ease as he sat opposite Finn; not at all like the others looked when Tom requested an audience.

Once the boys had settled into silence, Tom inclined his head politely towards Malfoy. “Welcome, Abraxas. I’m pleased to have you join us this evening.”

Malfoy was equally polite. “It’s an honor to be here.”

Finn held back a snort. What a git.

“There are several things,” Tom began, speaking to all of them now, “that I require from each of you this year. Finn and Benedict, I want you to place yourselves in Slughorn’s good graces, have him notice you. I believe it will be in our favor to have him close to us. You will become a part of his meetings with Radbourne and myself.”

Benedict tilted his head back and groaned. “What’s old Sluggy got to do with anything? His class is too hard, I only just got an O.W.L. for Potions in the first place.”

“You will do it.” Tom’s voice left no room for further argument.

“There’s food,” Radbourne said helpfully.

Benedict’s face brightened at this, though he remained slouched in his seat with his arms crossed. Tom looked to Finn, who nodded his agreement; he knew better than to ask questions.

Tom twirled the ring around his finger again. “Hogwarts is continuing its duelling club this year,” he said mildly.

“What’s the point in that?” Finn said, pulling at a patch of torn leather and exposing the softer fabric underneath. “It was only on last year ‘cause of the Basilisk, and that obviously won’t be around anymore.”

Immediately Finn knew he’d said the wrong thing, and he bit down on his lip as if he could take back his words. He thought he even heard Radbourne suck in a breath. Tom’s face hardened and his dark eyes flashed dangerously. His fingers twitched in the direction of the pocket of his robes where he kept his wand, and Finn shrunk back into the chair, bracing himself.

But nothing came. Finn thought he saw Radbourne and Ben exchange glances, but Tom’s long fingers relaxed and he continued as if Finn hadn’t said anything. “This time,” he said. “I want us all to be a part of it. Finn,” - Finn glanced hesitantly at him out of the corner of his eye - “this is particularly in your interest.”

He sat up a little straighter. “Why?”

Tom turned away. “The five of us will sign up as a group.”

Radbourne looked excited. “What should we call ourselves?”

Benedict put a hand in his lap and made a hand movement. “The Wand Polishers?”

Finn burst out laughing, the corner of Abraxas’ mouth twitched and Radbourne grinned. “Longer than Your Boyfriend’s Wand?” the latter suggested.

Raising a fair eyebrow, Benedict said, “Don’t you have the shortest wand out of all of us?”

“Now, Ben,” Radbourne said mock-stern, “it’s not about the length, it’s the technique that matters.”

“The name isn’t important,” Tom snapped over their laughter. The room fell silent. Even the fire seemed to cease popping and crackling. “Be sure you sign up. I’ll be choosing the name. You may all go.”

The boys rose, still sniggering under their breath, when Tom said, “Abraxas, stay a moment?”

Malfoy nodded and lowered himself back in the chair. Behind Tom’s back, he threw a smug look at Finn. Finn glared back, his hands balling into fists at his sides.

Maybe his father was right.

A hand - probably Radbourne’s by the genialness of it - squeezed his shoulder in warning. Finn glanced once more at Tom, who nodded, before he left the room.

The three boys lingered in the corridor, the flickering lanterns throwing their shadows across the stone wall, the dark shapes of Radbourne and Ben much longer than Finn. Dana Burke’s open portrait muttered to herself. Finn stared at the closed wooden door. “What were you doing with him, anyway?” he asked the other two.

Radbourne shrugged. “Tom asked us to bring him.”

“He didn’t tell you why?”

“Does he ever?” said Ben. He yawned, stretching his arms above his head. “Right, well I’m turning in early if I’m to actually study for Potions now.”

Labor omnia vincit,” Radbourne said, taking his gold spectacles out of his pocket and pushing them up his nose, “and it’s not that hard; we have plenty of free study periods this year.”

“Yeah, but that wasn’t what I wanted to use them for,” Ben grumbled under his breath.

***

Finn couldn’t sleep that night.

As he lay listening to the regular breathing of the other boys, he had to admit it was good to be back in his bed in the dungeons. It was especially nice to not have his mother poking her head in the door every hour to check on him, as she did over the summer.

Fletcher Nott muttered in his sleep and Finn sighed; that was one thing he hadn’t missed. Quietly, he pushed the covers back and padded to the bathroom. He closed the door and leaned back against it, closing his eyes. The snoring of the other boys could still be heard, but they were muffled. Finn opened his eyes and was met directly with his own reflection. In the soft blue glow of the constantly burning oil lamp, he was two dark eyes in a pale face underneath a shock of black hair. Finn approached the mirror and gripped the sink with both hands as he stared at himself.

Even in the poor light, Finn recognized his own eyes as Hero’s. So was his nose. So was his chin. But for all it looked like his twin, Finn hated his reflection. You have to live for the both of you now, he’d been told on more than one occasion. But he couldn’t do that, not when they’d been so different. He touched the glass.

She was everything he wanted to be.

He was everything she feared to become.

Finn turned on the tap and ran his fingers under the cool water. Not for the first time, he wondered what, if anything, he could have done differently that night. What would have happened if, after she’d poked her head into the ballroom looking distressed, he had followed her? What if he’d searched the house beforehand for any trace of the spider, or kept an antidote to the venom on him at all times? What if he’d been nicer to her that year - especially after the car accident with that Muggle - would it have made any difference?

But he didn’t do any of those things, and now she was gone.

It was only him.

And he was no hero.

***

Author Note

Hello and welcome to a brand new shiny story! Thank you for reading, it's very much appreciated. I have the usual suspects to thank for not just this chapter, but the story as a whole. Jill (dreamgazer220), Renee (MuggleMaybe) (who I have to thank for the wand jokes), Chiara (Felpata Lupin), Ysh (princesslily_36) and Julie (banshee) (who also beta'd this chapter for me) ♥

Hope to see you back soon, dear reader!

Labor omnia vincit means Work conquers all in Latin.

Chapter 2: Stand and Deliver
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We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.

Author unknown

*


Finn’s stomach was growling.

Sitting on his bed, he thought longingly of dinner in the Great Hall. He looked to the ceiling of the dormitory as if he could see through the smooth stone to the piles of tarts and pies on the tables. To the goblets of pumpkin juice and butterbeer. A loud thump startled him out of his daydreaming. Tom had just dropped three large books onto his own bed. Finn quickly looked back down at the book in his lap, the page open on the Disillusionment Charm. It had been two days since he and Tom had been tasked with finding Henry Potter’s illegitimate child for Grindelwald and made plans to steal the student records from the Headmaster’s office. Finn still hadn’t gotten the hang of making himself invisible with this particular charm.

The wand movement was hard when your arms were short.

He was meant to wiggle his wand around his head, reciting the incantation (nonverbally, at Tom’s request). After a number of failed efforts, he didn’t understand why Tom couldn’t just do it for him, when Finn knew he was more than capable. Finn had even praised him about it, but he’d still refused.

“You need to learn,” Tom had said last night in the antechamber, as the lanterns burned low and the room turned cold. “If we’re to make it to the Ministry, we need to impress Grindelwald. If you’re not up to the task, don’t do it.”

Don’t do it. Something in the casual way he said it made Finn feel like a sulking child.

Tom had continued, “I will rise in his ranks, with or without you.”

“What, you gonna rule by his side?” Finn had asked half-jokingly.

“Not by his side,” Tom had replied. “But I will rule.”

Finn watched as Tom began thumbing through the flimsy pages of the thickest book. It was a charm he was looking for - the Protean Charm, if Finn recalled correctly, but couldn’t remember to what end. It wasn’t in this year’s curriculum as far as he knew. Before Finn could muse on it further, the door of the dormitory flew open and Benedict and Radbourne walked in. Benedict belched loudly, coming to stand beside Finn. “What’re you doing?” he asked, reading over Finn’s shoulder. The smell of garlic and gravy mingled with his aftershave and made Finn’s stomach rumble louder.

He shut the book and rubbed his eyes. “Just a bit of extra Charms homework.”

“Why, Finlay James, I believe you are a swot.”

“Why, Benedict Malcolm, I believe you are rude.”

Radbourne sat on his bed and began tightening the laces on his shoes. “The first duelling club meeting starts in an hour.”

Finn brightened at this. He pushed the book to one side, hiding it from view behind his body. Finally, something exciting at Hogwarts. Something useful that didn’t require a book. He pulled his jumper over his head and bent to retrieve his own shoes from where he had kicked them off behind his trunk.

“I wonder if we can use human targets,” Ben mused, leaning against one of the posts of Finn’s bed.

Finn didn’t need to ask who Ben had in mind. Reminded of the other day in the library, he asked, “What was Patrick talking about, that happened over the summer?”

Ben stopped in the middle of rolling up his sleeves, jaw working as if he was grinding his teeth. “See you down there,” he said, and turned on his heel, slamming the door of the dormitory behind him.

***

Finn, Tom, and Radbourne stepped into the Great Hall right at eight o’clock thanks to Tom ushering them out the door even though Finn only had one sock on. The room had been transformed: the four long tables gone, creating a large area in which a few dozen students were milling. They filled the Hall with the sound of excited chatter, an incoherent hum that reminded Finn uncomfortably of a swarm of bees. Tall dummies were set up in a number of rows down the room, red targets painted on their wooden chests.

Looking past these, Finn found Ben toward the front of the Hall, talking with Corbin Rosier. Beside them was Lucretia and her cousins - or whatever they were - Walburga and Alphard Black. Finn caught her eye and winked, pleased when she blushed and turned away, a smile playing at the corner of her mouth. As he passed, he made sure to brush his arm against hers. It had been a while since he’d spent time with Lucretia.

Ben appeared to be back to normal; he was laughing with Rosier, running a hand over his cropped hair. When the boys reached them, Rosier grinned at Finn and Tom, and clapped Radbourne on the back. “Alright, mates?”

As more students filed into the Hall, Finn shifted his weight from foot to foot, eager to start. He’d never duelled before (he wasn’t going to count shooting random hexes at Hero and first years). The boys hadn’t joined the duelling club last year; not only because they hadn’t needed to, but because they didn’t want to be seen as scared, like the other students were. It was still a concern to risk coming off as another fearful student in need of protection, but if Tom wanted them here, they didn’t have a choice.

As the boys spoke loudly around him, Finn was imagining finding Potter’s child. He hoped they’d have to duel. The situation played over and over in his mind. Finn confronting him or her, pulling out his wand with threats to come quietly or else - as he had once seen his father do. Would the kid put up a fight? Doubtful. They would never be able to match Finn anyway. Grindelwald would be impressed and have no doubt in recruiting Finn into the Besmurten. He patted the pocket that held his wand.

“Can I have some quiet, please?” a familiar voice rang out through the Hall. A hush fell over the room. Finn’s stomach clenched with anticipation. Patrick and the Head Girl, a short fiery-haired Gryffindor, were standing at the front of the room where the staff table usually was. It had been removed for tonight, leaving Patrick and the Head Girl with a clear view, wands to their throats to augment their voices. Out of the corner of his eye, Finn caught Ben cracking his knuckles, eyes on Patrick. His curiosity over what was going on between the Avery brothers grew.

Patrick ran his eyes over the Hall. “Thank you. Now, welcome to this first duelling club meeting of the year! It’s great to see so many people return. We just have a few rules to lay down before we begin.” Patrick looked to the Head Girl, who began to explain the basics of how to work the dummy (which recorded points according to spell hits), the one offensive spell they were allowed to use (Impedimenta) and the two defensive spells (Expelliarmus and Repellum). They were to have teams of six with two people to a dummy. Finn wished she’d shut up so they could start.

“And yes,” Patrick said, “I’ll be taking team names once you have them, and a point system set up, but keep it appropriate, okay? Alright, pair up and grab a dummy!”

Benedict turned to Rosier, and Tom to Radbourne, leaving Finn and Malfoy eyeing each other appraisingly. Finn exhaled through his nose. He jerked his chin. “Let’s do this then.”

Malfoy inclined his blonde head politely - everything so politely - and drew his wand from his robes. They followed the other boys to a line of dummies in the middle of the room. Finn didn’t mind being in the center like this, he’d probably be an inspiration to the other students. Malfoy went first, and aimed at the dummy’s chest. His spell hit the rounded edge, far from the target. Finn held back a smirk as the dummy spun fast on the spot a few times. Then it was Finn’s turn. He retrieved his own wand out from his pocket and took aim. It vibrated softly in his hand, it’s excitement (or was it his own?) traveling up Finn’s arm, making his veins hum with anticipation. He was filled with a sudden feeling that this was what he was born to do; what his wand had been waiting for. The blackthorn wood became an extension of his own arm.

He threw an Impediment Jinx at the target. It hit the bullseye, and he looked at Malfoy smugly. Malfoy just said, “Well done,” and raised his wand once more. They went this way for a few minutes, from offensive to defensive and back again. While he waited for his turn on the offense, Finn let his gaze wander around the room. Patrick was by a pair of Gryffindor girls, showing one of them how to position their fingers. Finn didn’t think the hand on the girl’s back was necessary, but that was none of his business. Beside him, Radbourne had his wand arm raised and sweat glistening along his hairline. Tom looked bored as he changed the settings on the dummy, which was as tall as he. Although Radbourne’s head was facing the target, his eyes kept darting in Tom’s direction. Finn was frowning at the way Radbourne’s hand was shaking, when a searing pain shot across the back of his own fingers. He let out an exclamation as warm blood ran down his wrist. A splinter of wood had come loose after being hit by Malfoy’s spell.

Finn glared at him. “You did that on purpose!”

Malfoy looked aggrieved. “I did not! I’m sorry!”

“Sorry you’re a rubbish shot!” Holding his throbbing hand to his chest, Finn raised his wand in the other and threw a jinx at Malfoy. Malfoy blocked it - and the next one - nimbly, and shot one back. Finn ducked out of the way and the spell hit the dummy, sending it flying backwards into the wall with a loud crash.

“Stop!” cried Patrick, hurrying over to them from the Gryffindor girls.

Finn threw another spell blindly at Malfoy. A sudden force flung him backward and he fell painfully on his side, leaving a smear of blood on the floor. Finn lifted his head, panting, preparing to cast again when he saw Malfoy in the same position on the other side of the room. Patrick was between them, wand out; the one who had forced them apart.

“That’s enough,” he said, eyes flashing angrily. He raised his voice to be heard over the cheering crowd of spectators that had gathered, drawn by the scent of conflict. “That’ll do for tonight everybody. But well done! The next meeting is on Thursday, same time. Blishwick.” He approached Finn, who quickly got up off the floor, still clutching his hand, though the bleeding was already beginning to slow. “Watch your anger. You’re getting too old for petty disputes like this. Now, go to the infirmary to get that cleaned up.”

It was a good thing Finn’s other middle finger still worked, because he showed it to Patrick’s back as the older boy walked away. He searched the room for his friends, and saw Tom and Malfoy in the crowd of students by the door. Their heads were bent close together. Finn watched them disappear with a sting that didn’t come from his hand. Radbourne appeared behind him. “Remember when we first met Tom?” he asked quietly over Finn’s shoulder, following his gaze. “You felt threatened by his intelligence in class at first, determined to not like him because you thought he was cleverer than you. Now look at the two of you.”

Finn made a noncommittal noise.

Radbourne clapped him on the back. “Until you decided that studying wasn’t something you wanted to do, that is. Come on, let’s get your hand cleaned. Sleep calls to me.”

***

If owls didn’t use their wings for something useful, Finn would probably hate them too.

Even so, if one flew too close he would duck in an overstated manner - often to the sniggering of Benedict and Radbourne - and the sound of their feathers rustling gave him the shivers. He could hear them now, mingled with sleepy hoots, as he ascended the stone steps of the Owlery two at a time with a slight tightening of his stomach. He folded and unfolded the letter in his hands, his breath appearing as white mist in front of him in the unusually crisp September morning air. The letter was for his father: a list of the times Finn and Tom could use the Floo Network in the Head of Slytherin’s office. It had been all too easy to organize them. Slughorn was a man of habit.

He folded the letter closed for the one hundredth time as he turned the corner into the Owlery. His shin collided with something solid and warm. Stumbling, Finn let out an exclamation his mother forbade him from using, and narrowly missed hitting his face on one of the nesting boxes by throwing his hands out in front of him. There was the sound of smashing glass. Whatever he had tripped over released a similar high-pitched exclamation. Finn’s mouth almost fell open to hear such a word spoken in a girl’s voice.

It was McCroy. She sat on the floor, surrounded by tiny glass fragments, a dazed look on her face. “Ouch,” she said.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Finn demanded, waiting for his heart to slow from the fright. “Why are you on the floor?”

McCroy examined her hands - covered by crocheted fingerless gloves - and plucked a shard of glass from the brown wool. She dropped it to the stone floor with a tinkling sound. “I wasn’t to start off with. What are you doing stomping around knocking people over?”

“I do not stomp.”

McCroy just stared at him with her eyebrows raised. If she was expecting him to reach down a hand to help her up, she was going to be sorely disappointed. But McCroy didn’t even look at him as she gingerly rose from the ground. She flicked her wand, and the hundreds of shards flew back together and became a jar next to the letter he dropped in his haste to save his face.

“What are you doing here so early?” He stooped quickly at the same time she did, afraid she was going for this letter, but her hands closed around the jar.

“Enough with all the questions,” she said, straightening. “Last time I checked, the Blishwicks didn’t own the Owlery.” She shook the glass jar. “I’m looking for the daisy moth. I’m pretty sure you can find it up here, the owls won’t eat it.”

Finn blinked in surprise. It was barely eight o’clock. She was determined, he’d give her that. All he’d been planning to do was wander around the grounds later for whatever bugs he could find. He stepped around her. “Whatever you say, swot.”

McCroy turned back to the window. “I just really need this Ministry opportunity.”

“Why?” Finn asked, his eyes raised to the rafters, searching for his large white owl.

“I just do, okay?”

Finn held his hands up. “Alright, alright.” He spotted Adonis - snowy white feathers with a black spot on his head - and whistled at him to come down. Finn couldn’t help but scan the brown owls for Villain, but, of course, she was at home. There was no need for her to be at Hogwarts anymore. While he waited, he glanced down at McCroy’s chart, cocking his head to one side to read it better. Her designated half of winged monstrosities was already complete, and notes were scrawled in the beetle section.

“Hey!” he said belligerently, pointing to the parchment. “You’re doing my bit. I said I’d do it.”

McCroy threw a glance at him over her shoulder. “And have you?”

He lowered his hand. “Well, no, but -”

She turned back away, dark red hair covering her face. “I rest my case.”

Finn gritted his teeth, feeling irritated as he stretched out his arm for Adonis. He’d never known a girl to be this aggravating or obsessed with school work. He needed the Ministry opportunity, too. What made her so damn special? Adonis landed on Finn’s shoulder and obediently held out a foot. As he attached the letter, Finn thought on the small part of himself that was tempted to let her do all the work. He had more important things to focus on, after all. How would studying insects help him to help Grindelwald? He took Adonis to the window next to McCroy, who was back on the floor flipping through the pages of a book. The larger part of Finn - an impressive combination of good looks, pride and self-satisfaction - wasn’t going to stand by while a Hufflepuff insulted his intelligence. He leant against the cold stone and watched Adonis grow smaller against the horizon before he cast his gaze downward. The book open by McCroy wasn’t one he recognized for any of their subjects.

Annoyed she had an advantage, he asked, “What’s that?”

McCroy turned another page to a picture of a long human-shaped shadow on a mountain, a rainbow halo of light around its head. “The Brocken spectre,” she said, shrugging. “It’s one of Saffron’s dad’s books, I must have picked it up accidentally when I stayed with her over the summer.”

Finn came to stand next to her. “That doesn’t look anything like a spectre.”

“I know,” she said. “It’s a phenomenon on the mountain. Witches dance with demons up there.” She looked up at him, amused. “You know, Walpurgis Night and all that.”

“And who was he?”

She let out one of her ridiculous loud snorts. “No, night. As in that thing that happens when the sun goes down.”

Finn glared at her. “I’m not an idiot.”

McCroy stood up and brushed her stockings. “Her dad’s German. It’s a German thing. I think it would be fun, dancing at the top of a mountain.”

“It sounds stupid.”

She slipped the book back in her bag and picked up the glass jar. “You’re stupid.”

“Excuse me?”

She met his eyes. “You judge everything straight away by what you see. Life is too short to live that way, you know.”

“What are you, an expert?”

McCroy looked out the window, a blush traveling up her neck.

“An actual knight would be better,” Finn said.

She turned back to him and snorted again. “Is that what your little Slytherin group is? Knights to King Riddle?”

Finn narrowed his eyes, but heat crept up his own neck. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You know what it means. You all follow him and do everything he says.”

Finn bit back the other word his mother had forbade him to use, and it took every ounce of his will to keep his fingers away from his wand. McCroy didn’t notice his struggle. Instead, she let out a sudden exclamation and brought the glass down on the stone bottom of the window with such force that Finn was surprised it didn’t shatter again. “Gotcha,” she said triumphantly, peering into the glass. A small black moth with yellow spots crawled up the inside of the jar. He watched it with half a mind, too distracted for the creeps, McCroy’s words drumming in his mind.

Finn Blishwick didn’t belong to anyone.

Without a word to McCroy, he left the Owlery and headed back to the castle. He strode purposefully toward the Entrance Hall, to the giant blackboard that displayed the duelling team points. The boys were all part of the team, why did the name have to be up to Tom? Finn grabbed a stick of chalk and scanned the board, finding their names under a team of Ravenclaws (Aquilae Volantis), the space for their title still fortunately empty. Resisting the urge to add a rude drawing beside Malfoy’s name, Finn scrawled The Knights of Walpurgis, because he and the boys were a gathering of demons if ever he saw one.

He stepped back to admire his handiwork - and their number of points - pleased to have done something with dignity before he went to hunt bugs.

***

It was late by the time Finn returned to the common room with a chart splotched with ink and hands covered in dirt to show for his hard work. It was later still when he and Tom left for Professor Dippet’s office to take the student records. Anxiety over what they were about to do threatened to overcome him, but Finn fought the feeling down to seem as collected as Tom, with only sweaty palms and a tendency to touch the rune-face of his watch to suggest he felt otherwise. At the end of the Headmaster’s corridor, they stopped, hidden in the shadows. Tom turned to Finn, who immediately performed the Disillusionment Charm - successfully on the first try.

The gargoyle in front of Dippet’s office sat on all fours, wings tucked behind dark stone body. Its already grotesque face twisted in an expression that was anything but impressed as Tom (and Finn) approached it. Tom drew himself up straight. “Dragon scale,” he said. There was something so commanding in his voice that Finn was almost surprised that the gargoyle didn’t immediately jump out of the way. Instead, it flicked its eyes in Finn’s direction. By the time Finn blinked, they were on Tom again. As Finn tried to calm his nerves with deep silent breaths, he reassured himself it must have been a trick of the light. After a few agonizing seconds, the gargoyle nodded and moved aside to reveal a wooden door. Tom knocked on it. Finn’s skin prickled in anticipation. He couldn’t help but glance down at himself every few seconds, but his charm was infallible; there was nothing but a faint waver to the stone floor where Finn’s body should be.

“You have five minutes,” Tom murmured to him.

Instead of the invitation to enter that Finn had been hoping for, there was the faint sound of footsteps, then the rattling of the doorknob, before the door opened and Professor Dippet appeared, light from the office flooding where Finn and Tom stood. Finn quickly stepped into the shadows, lest the light somehow betray his presence.

“Ah, Mr Riddle,” Professor Dippet said amiably, his thin body blocking the door. “What can I do for you?”

“Good evening, sir,” Tom said, taking the smallest of steps away from Dippet. “I hope I’m not disturbing you?” He spoke quietly; even Finn was straining to catch the words. He wondered what Tom was playing at, when Dippet took a step further into the corridor.

“I’m sorry Mr Riddle, you’ll have to speak up.” The old man waved a hand vaguely around his ears.

The office was visible behind Dippet now, Finn caught a glimpse of the patterned carpet and the glinting spherical objects that covered the surface of a desk; Tom was drawing him out. Dippet shuffled further forward to catch Tom’s next words. Another step and Finn could slip past him into the office. Adrenaline was making his heart beat so loud that, were Dippet not hard of hearing, he feared it would give his position away. Finn took a step closer, but stopped when he heard voices drifting toward them down the corridor. He threw a panicked glance at Tom, and while the other boy’s eyes darted once in the direction of the voices, he didn’t seem perturbed by them. Finn relaxed slightly, and took another step when one of the voices said his name. Curiosity overcame him, and with a glance at Tom and Dippet, he slipped around the corner - this would only take a second, he just wanted to see who it was. Peering around the corner - as if he weren’t already invisible - he saw two darkened female figures, and recognized McCroy’s voice and the clacking of Worley’s bracelets.

“… worse than Blishwick,” McCroy was saying. She leant back against the railing, arms crossed over her chest.

“I dunno about that,” Worley said, bent to tie a shoelace. “I know how you feel about commitment but you’re allowed to look, B. Even you can’t deny he’s very handsome.”

“Oh, yes I can,” McCroy replied. “That attractiveness is skin deep, trust me.”

Worley straightened. “What are you doing about the assignment then?”

Finn inched closer, straining his ears to hear. She didn’t think he was good-looking?

“I’ll just do it myself,” McCroy said. “I’ve nearly completed it as it is. I doubt he’d be any help anyway, he’s just going to drag me down.”

Her words caused an old memory to stir in his brain. Suddenly he was eleven again, and his parents held his and Hero’s end of year exam results in their hands. The hand that held Hero’s perfect scores was gazed down at in pride. The hand that held Finn’s was met with disappointment.

Why can’t you be more like your sister, Finlay?

His parents hadn’t realised how hard he’d tried. Hadn’t understood that sometimes it was difficult for him to concentrate. He and Hero may have been twins, but they were not the same person, and he’d spent the rest of his life showing them just how different they were. He was startled from his reminiscing by a racking cough; McCroy’s silhouette was bent double, Worley thumping her back. “It’s getting worse, isn’t it?” Worley said over the sound, her voice grim. “Didn’t you just take the potion?”

McCroy straightened. “I’m fine.” Her voice was quiet but terse.

“Have you asked your aunt about the St Mungo’s treatment?”

McCroy laughed bitterly as she continued walking down the corridor. “You know Aunt Maia; she hates anything to do with magic. Besides, you remember what the Healers said…”

Finn didn’t hear the rest of her sentence; her voice faded as they turned the corner and were gone. By the time he returned to Tom, Tom was nodding and thanking Dippet, and the old man disappeared back into his office. Finn’s heart sank; he’d missed his chance. He waited until he heard the lock click, then drew his wand from his invisible trouser pocket to reverse the spell. On the third try, he reappeared, and Tom turned on his heel and began walking swiftly down the corridor, leaving Finn to jog to catch up.

“I want you to get some crystallized pineapple,” Tom said once Finn drew even with him.

This was so far from what Finn expected that his heart felt lighter again. If Tom expected him to be the one to go through the records, perhaps he had time to try for them again. “Got a sudden craving, do we?”

Tom looked affronted, their footsteps echoing in the quiet corridor. “It’s Slughorn’s favorite treat.”

“How do you - oh.” Legilimency. Finn scratched his head. “Er, sure. I could go to Hogsmeade this weekend, I suppose.”

Tom nodded once. When they neared the entrance to the Slytherin common room, he said, “Give me the records.”

Finn swallowed. “I - er - I don’t have them.”

Tom stopped in his tracks. With a great amount of reluctance, Finn stopped as well, staring at his shoes. When Tom didn’t speak or move, Finn slowly raised his eyes to his face.

He never understood why people thought disappointment was worse than anger.

Tom’s face was livid, his shoulders taut and his eyes wide. “You’ve cost us time,” he said, his voice remaining as even as always. “Not to mention opportunity. Old as he may be, Dippet is no fool.”

“We can’t - can’t try again later?”

Tom’s eyes narrowed fractionally. White hot agony shot through Finn from the inside out. He fell to his knees, could feel every blood cell traveling through his veins because every one was on fire. He arched his back against it, muscles spasming and opened his mouth to yell, but no sound came out. Tom stood over him. “I said no. I should have known you weren’t up to this. You’re becoming a disappointment, Blishwick. And I know it was you who selected the duelling club name,” he said, and a fresh wave of pain crashed through Finn. “Never make the mistake of thinking you can disobey me again.”

Finn tried to reply, but again, only an incoherent noise came out, the apology lodged in his throat. But it didn’t matter; Tom had already disappeared down the corridor with a swish of his robes, leaving Finn curled up and shaking on the floor.

***

A/N: I have the usual (and most wonderful) suspects to thank for this chapter. Julie, Chiara, Jill and Ysh - thank you, my darlings ♥

Aquilae Volantis means Soaring Eagles in Latin.

Chapter 3: A New Day
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Chapter image by the wonderful StarFeather


Everyone is a moon and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.

Mark Twain

*


Rough hands shook Finn’s shoulders and he jerked awake, blinking sleepily. He’d been dreaming, a whirlwind of runes and knights and fire that left him feeling more tired than when he had finally came out of the bathroom the night before. In bed, he had tossed and turned for what felt like hours before finally falling asleep.

“Rise and shine, Blishwick.” Ben’s face grinned down at him, almost nose to nose.

Finn closed his eyes again and swiped languidly at Ben’s face, but Ben had already pulled back, laughing. Rolling over and pulling the covers up to his chin, Finn cracked one eye open to watch the other boys get ready for class. Fletcher Nott’s curly blonde head was bent as he tied a shoelace. Radbourne carefully slid books into his bag. Ben walked around the dormitory, not bothering to make his footsteps quiet, mussing Radbourne’s neatly made bed to the other boy’s annoyed remarks. Tom was nowhere to be seen.

Finn sunk further under the warmth of the blanket, attempting to block out the noise of the other boys. He must have dozed off again, because he was roused once more by the sound of his name.

“Finn,” came Radbourne’s exasperated voice from the doorway, “at least wait until the second week before you start missing classes. Come on, carpe diem.”

“Yep,” Finn mumbled, rolling over again. He heard Radbourne tsk under his breath, before his footsteps retreated and silence fell over the dormitory. Closing his eyes, he fell back asleep within seconds.

He didn’t dream.

***

Finn’s feet sunk in the mud as he walked across the grounds, his shiny black shoes soon caked in it. The sun was warm on the back of his neck as the Forest came into view, the birds that whizzed past him sung an irritatingly cheerful song. The Slytherins and Hufflepuffs were already gathered in a circle around Professor Kettleburn - whose arm was bound in a thick sling once again - on the large grassy clearing before the Forest. Finn slipped in between Fletcher and Dalton Mulciber with a whispered greeting, clapping the latter on the back. Despite his attempts at stealth, Professor Kettleburn spotted him.

“Nice of you to finally join us, Mr Blishwick. Five points from Slytherin.”

Finn opened his mouth to persuade the man with what was sure to be a convincing argument when the sound of running footsteps cut him off. Brindley McCroy joined the class, panting, her cheeks high with colour and dark red hair wild around her face. She approached Kettleburn. “Sorry I’m late, sir,” she said, handing him a small folded piece of parchment. Kettleburn opened it, his small eyes a blur as he scanned it. He looked up to smile warmly at McCroy. “Not to worry, my dear,” he said.

“What?” cried Finn indignantly. “She’s late. Why don’t you take points from her?”

Kettleburn looked at him with reproach. “Because Miss McCroy has a legitimate medical reason,” he said, folding the note. “Until you can provide one for yourself, Mr Blishwick, I’m afraid your house points will suffer.”

“Limited brain cells isn’t a medical reason,” Finn said, “or all Hufflepuffs would be late.”

A few of the Slytherins snickered, hushed remarks came from the Hufflepuffs and McCroy narrowed her eyes at him.

“I hope for your sake that isn’t true about Hufflepuffs,” Kettleburn said coolly, “because Miss McCroy here is your partner for your next assignment.”

“What?!” Finn and McCroy exclaimed in unison.

“Now, now.” Kettleburn raised his uninjured hand like he was trying to calm a skittish animal. Merlin knew he’d had enough practice. “The both of you were late and I’m afraid partners were already chosen before you came down. The both of you worked… reasonably well together last year, I hope I can expect more of the same.”

Finn glanced at McCroy; her expression was the same as his. It said: Not bloody likely.

“Right, so!” Kettleburn clapped his hands in an awkward maneuver that made him wince as the movement jarred his bound arm. “Your assignment for the next few weeks is to complete this chart -” He held up one of the pieces of parchment from the pile on the table next to him. “- of insects around Hogwarts. Many of them are found only in particular places around the castle and grounds. The first pair to complete their chart will receive the opportunity to spend a day at the Ministry in a department of their choice.”

Finn yawned, already missing his bed back in the dungeons. McCroy straightened beside him, eyes fixed on Professor Kettleburn.

“You can use today to get started. There are at least two species of beetle and one of butterfly in this clearing alone. Grab a sheet and don’t forget to use your textbooks! Off you go!”

The students collected the worksheet before shuffling off in their pairs. Finn scanned the parchment in his hand, wrinkling his nose. If it had more than two legs, he didn’t like it. A low wolf whistle made him look up. Across the clearing, Dalton was looking at him while trying to stick his tongue in Fletcher’s ear, despite the other boy’s best efforts to push him off with a grimace. Even Radbourne looked amused, grinning pointedly between Finn and McCroy. Finn turned away with a scowl.

McCroy was kneeling on the grass, rifling through her satchel, which sported one or two military patches - Finn remembered vaguely her grandfather died in the Muggle war last year - and an assortment of mismatched buttons that were sewn along the strap.

Finn looked down at her. “Take your cough syrup today, McCroy?”

“As a matter of fact, I did,” she replied, pulling out a copy of Insects with Wings and Other Things with a triumphant flourish. “Not that it’s any of your concern, Blishwick.”

“It is if it’s going to stop me from concentrating.”

He caught her eye roll as she stood. She muttered, “God forbid.”

They headed to a cluster of bright red, blue and purple flowers along the fence line of the clearing, around which three of four large butterflies fluttered. Finn sat beside a clump and stretched his legs out before him on the grass, enjoying the warmth of the sun. He could hear the beat of the butterflies’ wings as they hit the flowers. It made him feel uneasy. McCroy opened her textbook and was looking between it and the butterflies, slowly turning pages. “A verastina,” he thought he heard her say.

A butterfly landed on one of the flowers by his knee. It was about five or six inches long, which was one or two inches too long for a flying bug. It was white in the body with grey wings, a thick orange stripe across each one. Finn leaned forward to poke at it with his wand, and it left the flower to hover around his face. He batted it away with an exclamation.

“Hey!” McCroy said indignantly. She knelt beside him and cupped her hands protectively around it.

“Get that away from me. I hate them.”

“What?” she exclaimed. She peered through her closed hands. “But they’re so pretty.”

“It’s the pretty things that are dangerous,” he muttered under his breath.

She heard him. McCroy raised her eyes slowly, and they locked with his own. Something sparked in her eyes for a second, like the sun glinting off the water of the lake. There were flecks of gold in the brown of her eyes. The butterfly crawled out of her hands and flitted across her wrist. She let out a loud giggle, snorting as she did so.

Finn blinked, then looked at her with distaste. “That’s disgusting,” he said. “Ladies shouldn’t snort.”

McCroy stopped laughing, but the amusement lingered on her face. “Good thing I’m not a lady then,” she retorted.

Too right. He eyed the evil insect - which she was now crooning to - gave a final shudder and turned to the book, which McCroy had carelessly set down before hastily reaching for the butterfly. He froze at the picture it was open on.

It was there, on the page. Staring up at him with eight black eyes, a stark white stripe down its back.

The mastilio spider.

Finn shut the book with a snap, breathing rapidly through his nose.

“What’s the matter?” McCroy asked, leaning to peer at the book. Her hair, plaited in a long braid, fell forward over her shoulder and tickled his arm. She’d released the butterfly from her hands.

Finn swallowed and shoved the book across the grass, rubbing at the scar on his wrist, where a Doxy had bitten him years ago. “Nothing.”

McCroy snatched at the book. He made a grab for it at the same time but missed, his hand grasping empty air.

She thumbed through the thick pages, past headings of ‘common’, ‘uncommon’ and ‘invisible’ until the book fell open to the middle, coming to a stop on ‘rare’, where the mastilio spider was listed first.

Finn felt the weight of her gaze and refused to meet it, tearing grass out savagely from the ground instead. McCroy laid a hand gently on his arm. “I’m sorry,” she said softly.

He jerked his hand away, mortified to think she thought he needed sympathy. He set his jaw, still refusing to look at her. No one could know how much his heart was damaged, that his twin had taken half with her when she died. Broken hearts were weak.

Blishwicks were not weak.

The bell rang loud and clear across the grounds and the both of them jumped. McCroy rose and brushed bits of grass and dirt from her stockings. “So how should we do this?”

Startled, he asked, “Do what?”

“The assignment,” she said with a hint of exasperation in her voice.

“Oh.” The sun shone directly behind her; he had to squint as he looked up. The rays highlighted the flyaway strands of hair around her head. He picked up the assignment. "You do this side -" He gestured to butterflies, dragonflies, moths. "- and I'll do this side." Beetles, ants, spiders. He glanced at it again. "Actually, you better do spiders too."

“Fine.” She tucked her own sheet into her tattered bag. “We’ll combine them on one sheet at the end. But how do I know you’re actually going to do the work?”

Finn stood. Through his Blishwick smile, he replied, “You’re just going to have to trust me.”

McCroy put her hands on her hips. “You are such a brat.”

Finn dropped the smile. He searched her face, but there was no hint of the usual captivation that girls responded to his charm with.

Well, that was a first.

He squared his shoulders instead. “Oh, and I suppose you’re just such an angel?”

Her expression turned smug and she batted her eyelashes. “Well, now that you mention it…”

Radbourne called out to him from the path to the castle, Dalton and Fletcher already heading up. Finn sidestepped McCroy, her glare fixed on his face. “Look,” he said. “I’ll do the beetles and ants. Alright?”

She narrowed her eyes. “Fine. But stay out of my way.”

He started jogging over to Radbourne. “Gladly,” he called to her over his shoulder.

***

After lunch was a free period, and Finn was glad he wouldn’t be spending it in the castle. He descended the stairs of the dormitory, pulling a black sweater over his head without bothering to smooth down his hair, and met Tom in the common room. Together they headed for Hogsmeade, where Jameson had asked to meet them. The permission slip Finn presented to the caretaker from his father was triple checked for evidence of forgery before they were finally granted leave. You’d think forging a permission slip for unscheduled visits was something he and Tom did all the time (when really, it was only eight or nine times last year; Fletcher was an excellent writer).

Finn’s skin prickled with anticipation the whole way to Hogsmeade, as if the wind that blew his hair back from his forehead was made of tiny needles. His heart pumped the words through his veins: This is it, this is it, this is it. Finally, the chance to associate with the Besmurten, to make a difference - for surely this was why Jameson wanted to meet with them. Tom, beside him, was cool as ever as they passed through the bustling street toward The Hog’s Head.

The pub smelt of beer, smoke and metal, Finn wrinkled his nose against it as he stepped inside. There were a couple of wizards in dirty robes hunched over the bar that looked up as they entered. Finn’s gaze wandered over their heads, quickly finding his father in a booth in the corner.

“Hello boys,” Jameson said, standing up and grinning. His light hair and royal blue robes looked out of place in the dimness of the pub, like a will o’ the wisp in a troll cave. He shook Tom’s hand in greeting, and Finn was dismayed to find they were nearly the same height, a couple of inches taller than him.

Jameson ordered butterbeers for them, and they exchanged pleasantries until their drinks arrived. Once the barman had left their table, Jameson lowered his voice. “He has a special task for the two of you,” he said, leaning forward on his arms, not needing to explain who he was. “He requires something that is currently in the possession of Henry Potter - have you heard of him?” When both boys shook their heads, he continued, “No matter. Potter has an illegitimate child. Your age, give or take a year, and most likely a student at Hogwarts. Grindelwald wants this child.”

“I don’t know of any Potters at Hogwarts,” Finn said, taking a sip of his butterbeer. He turned to Tom and added thoughtfully, “Was there one that graduated a year or two ago?”

“They won’t be a Potter if they’re illegitimate,” Tom said, as if it were obvious.

Jameson gave Finn a look which meant it was, and the back of Finn's neck grew hot. “Tom is right; they’ll have a different surname. I know it’s vague, but all I can tell you is that they’re half-blood and were raised by Muggles, because that’s all we know. But find them - school records, ask around, whatever - then contact me.”

“Yes, Father. But… what does he want them for?”

Jameson looked at Finn sternly. For a moment, Finn thought he was going to be scolded for asking questions, and bit his lip as he remembered how often Hero was chided for the same thing. But Jameson only tapped his fingers lightly on the wooden tabletop and said, “Grindelwald believes the child is the key to Potter handing over what he desires. A linchpin, if you will.”

Finn opened his mouth to ask what it was that Grindelwald wanted when Tom said, “We’ll find them.” His tone sure.

“I knew I was right in suggesting you,” Jameson said proudly, looking between the two of them. “Now,” he continued, all business once more, “Garson connected the fireplace in the Head of Slytherin’s office to Blishwick Manor. He’s taken the monitoring off, you can use it at will. If you find out the times Slughorn will be away from his office, we can organize for you to come home, to fill us in on your progress.”

Finn nodded. Garson Blishwick was one of Finn’s uncles, and worked for the Floo Network. But last Finn had heard, he was an assistant, not a Regulator. Jameson stood up. The boys followed suit, Finn draining the last of his butterbeer as he did so. Tom’s drink remained untouched on the table.

“Finn, a word before you go?” Jameson stepped out of the booth and came around the table.

Finn looked at Tom, who nodded. After shaking hands once more with Jameson, he crossed the pub, lifting the collar of his coat before he stepped outside. Finn turned to Jameson once the door closed behind Tom. “Yeah?”

“How are your classes so far?”

Finn raised one shoulder in a shrug. “Alright. Had Care of Magical Creatures this morning. We’ve got an assignment that gets you into the Ministry if you do it first, but -”

Jameson interrupted him, his eyes brightening with excitement. “Gets you in for what?” he asked.

“Er, a day in whatever department you want, I think. Like a careers thing.”

Jameson was slowly nodding without looking at him, comprehension dawning on his face. Finn could almost see his brain turning with whatever idea was forming. “Be the one to complete that assignment first, Finn.”

Finn couldn’t keep the whine out of his voice. “But I don’t like my partner. Or the assignment.”

But Jameson didn’t seem to have heard him. “You’re just kids,” he breathed, almost to himself. “They’ll tell you anything without suspicion. Yes, yes this is perfect.”

“I’m not a kid,” Finn said indignantly, drawing himself up straighter.

Jameson blinked and finally met Finn’s eyes. “Of course not. But Finlay, I need you to win that day in the Ministry. I think we can use it to our advantage.”

Finn pressed his lips together against further argument and nodded. The only thing allowing him to push back the feeling of bitterness over school work was interest in what Jameson wanted with the Ministry, and no small amount of entitlement. Tom hadn’t been chosen for this.

Never mind that he wasn’t actually in the class.

His father’s face softened. “I know you won’t let me down, son.”

“’Course not.”

“And you know I’ll keep you safe, no matter what happens?”

Finn’s stomach did a back flip. “Safe from what?”

“We’re doing this as a family,” Jameson said, placing a hand on Finn’s shoulder. “We need to work together, especially since - well, your sister -” He broke off, mouth tight.

Finn swallowed. “I understand.”

He clapped Finn on the back. “I will do whatever it takes to make our family great. The Blishwicks will rise, starting with you. My son and heir.”

“Yes, Father.”

They stepped outside, blinking against the sunlight, which was dazzling after the dimness of the pub. Finn watched Jameson Apparate before heading over to Tom, who was leaning casually against a tree, fingers softly running up and down his wand. As they headed back through the main street of Hogwarts, Tom had a slight frown between his brows.

“What is it?” Finn asked.

Tom blinked quickly a few times, as if Finn had brought him out of a trance. “It’s nothing. Only, I rather thought your father was going to tell us about something else.”

Finn shouldered his way through a group of women, brown wrapped parcels tucked under their arms. “Like what?”

Tom’s voice was quiet, but Finn still caught every word over the shouts of shop owners selling their wares. “We know Grindelwald plans to attack the British Ministry; I hoped Jameson would be telling us about that, consenting us to join when the time comes.”

As the shops thinned and trees took their place, Finn thought of whatever his father planned to have him do in the Ministry, and his stomach twisted. If he went to the Ministry, was he supposed to retrieve information? Help Grindelwald take over? It was what the Blishwicks wanted, of course, but Finn never thought he would have such an individual responsibility so soon. Twirling his watch around his wrist, he was torn between feelings of privilege and guilt. Did people get injured in coups? He didn’t want the lives of others on his shoulders, not when he would fail to protect them.

Like he’d failed Hero.

Finn opened his mouth to reply when an irritatingly familiar snort made him shut it again. Just off the winding path that led back up to the castle, McCroy and Ben’s brother Patrick stood talking under a tree. As Finn and Tom drew even with them, Patrick - after a murmured word to McCroy - crossed the path at a jog.

“Riddle, I need a word.”

It was an infinitesimal movement, but Finn saw Tom stiffen at being spoken to in this way. Commands were something Tom gave, not received. But he was nothing but courteous as he inclined his head toward Patrick. “Of course.”

As they disappeared further down the path and out of ear shot, Finn leaned against a tree on the other side of the path and pulled a cigarette from his pocket. The Muggles got one thing right, at least. He lit it with the tip of his wand while he waited, inhaling deeply.

McCroy glared at him. “Can you not do that?”

Finn flicked his eyes lazily over her, remembering the day before in the library. “What are you, asthmatic or something?”

McCroy coughed, reaching for a handkerchief in her pocket. “No. I mean, yes.”

Finn raised an eyebrow. “Well, until you make up your mind…” He blew smoke in her direction.

She coughed again and drew out her wand. The cigarette turned to ashes that fell into his mouth and down his chin. It was his turn to cough as he inhaled them in surprise.
“You bitch!” he spluttered, eyes watering. “And that was my last one!”

“Good,” she said. “Have some respect.”

Finn brushed ash from his clothes and raised his own wand. She couldn’t insult a Blishwick and get away with it.
Patrick came into view, looking between McCroy and Finn. “What’s going on?”

Tom stepped out from behind him, his thin frame still managed to look imposing beside Patrick’s burly one. “Finn, put your wand away.”

“But she -”

“Stop behaving like a child,” Tom said shortly.

Finn felt heat rise from the back of his neck to his cheeks. He lowered his wand, refusing to look at McCroy, though he could sense her amused expression like a light that was shining directly into his eyes. He stared determinedly at the ground as he and Tom headed back toward the castle until McCroy and Patrick were behind them, then he glanced at Tom out of the corner of his eye.

“What did Patrick want?”

A faint frown crossed Tom’s face. “He doesn’t want Benedict associating with me.”

Finn snorted. “What a prick. He couldn’t say it to Ben’s face?” Not that it would have made a difference. It was no secret that the Avery brothers did not get along, and Finn couldn’t say he blamed Ben. Patrick was actively against the Dark Arts, and since their parents were always away for their work - whatever it was that they did, sometimes Finn thought even Ben wasn’t sure - Patrick had assumed a suffocating father-like role.

When Tom didn’t reply, Finn asked, “Did you ask him what happened with Ben over the summer?”

They reached the front steps of the castle and began to climb them. Tom's eyebrows furrowed. “Why should I?”

Finn shrugged. In truth, it could have been anything; it didn’t take much from Patrick to get that kind of response out of Ben as he had done in the library. Finn doubted Tom would let Ben leave the group, even if Ben wanted to. Tom made those decisions, not Patrick, not anyone.

Finn recognized brotherly concern, but he also recognized a wasted effort.

***

For someone who didn’t like libraries, Finn sure seemed to spend a lot of time in one.

There was too many people, it was too quiet, he got into trouble for breaking things.

He arrived before Tom, and chose a table in the corner, one half concealed by a bookcase. He threw himself into a chair, dropping his bag to the floor. Propping his feet on the table, he looked around the library. His younger cousin Sebastian sat on his own by the floor-to-ceiling window, his little dark head inches from the page of his book. At Finn’s whistle, he looked up returned his grin with a small smile. Finn sighed heavily as Sebastian turned back to his book. Last year, the poor boy had been accidentally attacked by the basilisk. His parents had then been forced to reveal the truth about his parentage: Sebastian was an adopted Muggleborn.

And then he’d been disowned by Finn’s father.

Finn reached for the copy of The Daily Prophet that was lying on the desk and flipped through the pages while he waited for Tom. Second page was a report of Grindelwald’s most recent attack on the German Ministry of Magic as he continued his revolution across Europe. Further down the page, a name caught his eye. The Prophet welcomed Finn’s aunt, Megan Blishwick, as the new editor. First Garson, now Megan.

So it had begun.

“You’re up late little Mudblood,” a voice drawled.

Finn looked up from the newspaper. Alden Walker, a fat, sandy haired boy in Sebastian’s year, stood in front of Sebastian’s desk, leaning so far forward they were nearly nose to nose. Finn wrapped his fingers around his wand as he watched Walker make a grab for the rectangular black case beside Sebastian’s bag. He waved it tauntingly above his head. Sebastian’s flute.

“Embracing your Muggle heritage, are we?” Walker said, the flute case nearly slipping from his grasp.

Sebastian’s eyes widened and he stood up, holding out his hand. “Give it back.”

“What are you going to do if I don’t? Whistle, instead?” Walker shook the case, Finn could hear the flute rattle from where he sat. “Come on, Blishwick. Or do you just go by Mudblood now?”

BANG.

Walker flew backwards and hit the wall with a nasty thump. He fell forward, his chin colliding with the back of a chair. Rolling over on all fours, he groaned and looked up to see Finn standing nearby, wand still raised.

“Bloody hell, Blishwick,” Walker said, holding his jaw, which was beginning to swell and turn purple.

“Just what is going on?” came the shrill voice of Madam Chambers from the direction of her office around the corner.

Before she came into view, Finn pointed his wand threateningly at Walker, and saw his throat bob as he swallowed. By the time Madam Chambers saw them, Finn was looking up at the scene from his desk with mild curiosity, quill posed over his parchment, Walker looked guilty - as he should - and Sebastian was back in his seat, studiously turning the pages of his textbook. Finn could see his eyes dart between him and Walker.

“Sorry Madam Chambers,” Walker said, his chest visibly rising and falling, still clutching his cheek. “I tripped over a chair.”

Sebastian was now looking wide eyed between them, but quickly ducked his head again as Madam Chambers rounded on him. Her gaze went from Sebastian, to Walker, to the upturned chair then back to Walker. Her nostrils flared. “You have ten minutes before I close this library.” She disappeared back into her office. After one last glare at Finn, Walker left too.

Finn approached Sebastian and leaned against the desk, grinning down at him. “You’re welcome.”

“I don’t need your help,” Sebastian said, standing up. “I don’t need anything from you.”

“Hey,” Finn said angrily. “Where is all this coming from? I’m on your side, remember?”

A muscle twitched in Sebastian’s jaw. He began to pack away his things into his bag, not meeting Finn’s eye. “No you’re not,” he said. “None of you are anymore.”

“We’re still family, Bash.”

Sebastian threw his bag over his shoulder and held his flute case close to his chest. “Are we?” he asked quietly.

Finn didn’t know what to say, but it didn’t matter; Sebastian was already walking away. At the library doors, he almost ran into Tom, who was coming in. Tom glanced down at Sebastian, his face expressionless.

“Bash -” Finn began to call out, but Sebastian had already disappeared.

Finn sighed and ran a hand through his hair as Tom came to sit opposite him. “What are we gonna do about this kid, then?”

Tom’s dark eyes were narrowed and tapped a finger thoughtfully against his mouth. “The school’s student records will list the parents and guardians of everyone. They’re our first move.”

“How are we going to get them? They’re in the Headmaster’s office.”

“You will take them from the Headmaster’s office,” Tom said, enunciating each word as if he were talking to a child.

Finn licked his lips. Before he could reply, Madam Chambers came back into view, her shoes clicking on the wooden floor. “Out now, boys. The library is closed now.”

Tom leaned forward. “Please, Madam Chambers,” he said. “Sixth year is just so much pressure and we’re both trying to do well. It’s so important to us. Please, may we stay just ten more minutes?” He flashed her a smile.

Madam Chambers looked at him and her mouth softened. “Well… alright. Just ten minutes, mind.” She disappeared again.

Finn rubbed his face. Great. He stole often, but from other students, not the Headmaster. How was he going to do it without getting caught? When he voiced this thought aloud, Tom looked exasperated. “There are spells to make you invisible.”

“Like what?”

Tom flicked his eyes to the nearest bookcase, and three large books flew out to land in front of Finn. “Find one. You have nine minutes.”

Finn exhaled as he flipped the book open. He hated libraries.

***

A/N: Carpe diem means Seize the day in Latin.


Chapter 4: Under the Helmet
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

The prettiest smiles hide the deepest secrets, the prettiest eyes have cried the most tears, and the kindest hearts have felt the most pain.

Author unknown

*


Something odd was happening to Finn.

He lay in bed, hands folded over his stomach, listening to the soft sounds of the boys around him. Late as it was, sleep was avoiding him, or maybe he was avoiding it. He was instead overcome by a sensation gnawing at his insides, something strange and unfamiliar.

He wanted to do homework.

This feeling went against his nature (Finns were not studious creatures) but he couldn’t deny it had been playing on him recently. There was the fact that his Potions essay was due soon, and Tom had said to stay in Slughorn’s favor. Since his muscles were still stiff from Tom’s attack a few days ago, he was inclined to oblige to his wishes.

Unable to ignore the sensation any longer, Finn threw the covers back with the intention of rifling through Radbourne’s bag to copy his essay, when he remembered Radbourne mentioning he hadn’t made a start on it. Neither had Ben. Finn mentally cursed his friends. What had they been doing in the library all this time if not studying? He sat up slowly, moving quietly to go through his bag - and then through Fletcher’s - but the book he needed for the essay wasn’t there. Which meant it must be in the library. Which meant Finn would have to walk down there to get it. He sighed quietly, took Radbourne’s after-hours library pass from his bag and headed downstairs.

The common room wasn’t empty. Sebastian was asleep in the corner, curled up on the armchair like a cat, and Malfoy was on the larger sofa, reading by the dim glow of the fire. His forehead was furrowed in a slight frown, but he looked up as Finn entered. “Can’t sleep either?”

Finn shrugged. Malfoy sat cross legged on the sofa, green dressing gown wrapped around himself. There were a couple of books beside him. Finn nodded at them. “Any of those Advanced Potion Making?”

Malfoy shook his head. “Sorry. That’s a N.E.W.T. level book, anyway; I’m fifth year, remember?”

Finn rolled his eyes. “Right.”

He held up the letter in his hands. “Did you hear about French Ministry? Grindelwald overthrew it yesterday.”

Finn snorted, drawing himself up importantly. “Obviously I know that. Grindelwald holds my family in the highest esteem, you know.”

Malfoy inclined his head. “Of course he does.” His voice held just a hint of dubiety, and Finn clenched his teeth.

I’ve been chosen especially for a mission. I don’t see the Malfoys given any such responsibility.”

“Congratulations.”

Finn shook his head and stepped through the portrait hole. He didn’t have to waste his time with Malfoy; that kid didn’t understand the honor he’d been given. Distracted as he was, Finn nearly collided with Briony, his cousin, in the dungeon corridor. She wore blue silk pajamas, and had her arms full of various cakes and pastries. He raised an eyebrow. “What are you doing with all that?”

She shrugged. “Fancied a snack if it’s alright with you, cousin mine.”

Finn eyed her armful. “Seems a lot for one person. You must have taken your time; Sebastian’s fallen asleep.”

She looked puzzled. “What? Oh, right, Sebastian. Guess I’ll be eating all this by myself then.”

Finn adjusted his bag on his shoulder and stepped aside to let her pass. “Better watch your weight.”

“Better watch your mouth.” She stalked past him into the portrait hole with her load, blonde hair swinging. Finn began walking away. “Watch out, there’s a loose Malfoy in there,” he called over his shoulder.

“I’ll take my chances,” she called back dryly, before the portrait closed behind her.

The corridors were quiet and dark, his way to the library unbarred. Not that this mattered; Radbourne’s pass allowed him access into the library. Tom always had these passes - and got them for Radbourne as well - but Finn never found out where or who from, because he never bothered. If the library was closed, why disturb the natural order of things? Finn had had one once, but it expired before he ever used it. Even though students were limited to a certain number each year, Tom always seemed to have access. The librarian loved Tom. Everyone loved Tom.

Finn was twirling the pass in his hands as he reached the door, and the date on it caught his eye. September 14th. Finn gave an irritable sigh; the day before yesterday. But the door already stood slightly ajar, which meant another student was up late. They’d better leave him alone. When he entered the library, he breathed in dust and ink; a scent that was becoming increasingly familiar. By the dim light, he saw the other student, sitting at one of the tables in the middle of the room; a head of thick dark red hair leaning on arms dotted with freckles.

McCroy.

Finn groaned inwardly. Was tonight a night for insufferable people? She lifted her head, enough for him to see she wore round black spectacles, before she ducked her head again. He ignored her as well, running his finger across the spines of the books in the Potions section, but Advanced Potion Making wasn’t there. It was an insufferable night in general, then. Finn looked around the library, wondering if he should just give up and go to bed, when his eyes fell on the book McCroy was reading.

Of course.

He stood in front of her desk. She didn’t look up. “I need that book,” he said bluntly.

Her eyes didn’t move from the page as she said, “Well I’m using it.”

“You’ve had it for long enough.”

At this, she did look up, her expression exasperated behind her glasses. “Are you being serious right now?”

“Yes.” Was she stupid?

McCroy looked back down at the book and shook her head. “You’re unbelievable.”

He chose to take that as a compliment. Since he still needed the book, he lingered while she continued reading. No one said no to him for long; she was bound to give in soon.

“You know, I’m happy to share if you ask nicely,” she said.

A million responses ran through his mind, but none of them were about ‘ask’ and ‘nicely’. He threw himself into the chair, letting the legs scrape nosily, and dropped his bag to the floor. McCroy pushed the book toward him. Her hair added a sweeter scent to the library; like cinnamon - with something sharper underlying it. Some kind of weird herb? “I don’t want that page.”

“Yes, you do. It’s what the essay is on.”

Finn gave her his best impression of a Tom Riddle glare, but she didn’t even flinch. He pulled out parchment, quill and ink and started writing. They worked in silence for half an hour before McCroy cleared her throat, then did it twice more. Finn grit his teeth. “What is it?” he said irritably.

She pulled a white handkerchief out from her pocket. “Sorry -” she began, but broke off with a racking cough. Bringing the handkerchief up her mouth, she muffled the sound, but her shoulders shook with effort. She pulled her hand away from her mouth, the handkerchief full of something black; thicker and darker than blood. Finn looked at her in alarm. “What -”

“It’s fine.” She quickly tucked the handkerchief away.

Finn looked at her disbelievingly. “That is not fine.”

The door to the library banged open, shuffling footsteps drew louder and the caretaker, Bruno Howard, wheezed into view. “I thought I heard somethin’,” he said. “You two got passes to be in here?”

“Ah shit,” Finn whispered. “Mine’s expired.”

McCroy handed hers over with a smile and said, “He’s with me, Mr Howard.”

Howard squinted down at it, then looked between them, scrutinizing. Finn tried to look like he wasn’t surprised by the lie and really did want to be here with a Hufflepuff. The caretaker returned her pass. “In future you need your own, Blishwick.”

“Yes, sir.”

After Howard left the library, McCroy picked up her quill again without another word. Finn didn’t say one either. After a few minutes, she coughed again. It was quiet, still annoying, but there was no more black stuff. Finn rubbed his own chest subconsciously; it had looked almost as bad as the feeling of wanting to do homework. Seeing that she wasn’t about to drop dead, Finn brushed the feather of his quill around the table, growing bored. “How’s your boyfriend?”

Her eyebrows furrowed. “Boyfriend?”

“Avery,” Finn said. “You know the one. Tall, brown hair, face like a goblin that got trampled by a centaur and then hit by the Knight Bus.”

“Oh,” McCroy said flatly. “He’s not my boyfriend. We went on one date.”

Finn thought of Patrick with the Gryffindor girls at the duelling club; maybe she had more sense than he thought. He glanced at her sidelong. She was actually rather attractive, even with the freckles and the glasses; he’d never looked long enough to notice before.

She caught his eye. “Is that what he’s been telling everyone? That we’re going steady?”

Finn shrugged. “I just assumed.”

“Ah, there you go again. Judging instantly by what you see.”

“There you go again,” Finn said angrily. “What makes you think you know me?”

“I only know what you choose to show.”

“Well you don’t know shit.” He pulled the book out of her grasp.

McCroy stared at him, eyes a dark brown in the dim light. “Honestly, Blishwick, sometimes you don’t even act like a human being.”

Her words made him stop short, hand hovering over the page, his chest suddenly tight with memory. Hero had said something similar to him once, when he’d scared her last year with fake dead roosters. It was after Tom had made the school’s real roosters kill themselves, lest they harm the Basilisk. Finn, Radbourne and Ben had found the girls’ fearful reactions funny. Finn swallowed. Hero never deserved his nastiness, and he wished with all his heart he could take it back.

McCroy had a point; the hard and unfeeling outside he let the world see might be inhuman, but it was a hell of a lot more civilized than what he hid inside.

She must have sensed she’d said something, and her face softened. “Sorry. That was mean. I’m going to bed, the book is all yours.” She gently pushed it in his direction, then left the library. He stared at it for a long time, until the words began to blur into furry black lines. Then he left too, loudly knocking every chair over on the way.

***

Finn had mixed feelings about going home. On the one hand, it was headquarters for Grindelwald and the Besmurten in Britain. A great honor, and Finn never tired of seeing those red robes with the triangular rune, dreaming of when he would get to wear them too. On the other hand, the house was smothering (or rather, his mother’s presence was). It was also full of memories that had now taken on that painful turn that recollections do when one of the people who shared them was dead. So it was with a combination of dread, nerves and excitement that he and Tom poked their heads around the corner; the corridor to Slughorn’s office empty.

“Tom, Mr Blishwick! Just the boys I wanted to see.”

Finn’s heart leapt into his mouth as he whirled around. Had he gotten the time wrong? Were they caught already? Slughorn came into view, smoothing down his golden hair, looking unconcerned at Finn and Tom hanging around his office. “Yes sir?”

Slughorn shook Tom’s hand warmly when he reached them before turning to Finn. “I just wanted to congratulate you on your family’s recent achievements. I’ve noticed more and more Blishwicks working their way up the Ministry ranks - very ambitious indeed. I didn’t realize how many of you there were!”

Finn raised one half of his mouth in a smile. “We’re everywhere, sir.”

Slughorn chortled. “Indeed! I also heard tell of your skills as a duelist.”

Finn shrugged like it was no big deal, because it wasn’t. Of course he was good.

“Apart from that little scuffle with Mr Malfoy, of course,” Slughorn chuckled, “but, boys will be boys.” He rocked back on his heels. “Say, Finlay, m’boy. How would like to come along to one of my get togethers one night this week? We have a jolly evening, don’t we Tom?”

“Sur - I mean, I would be honored, sir.”

“Excellent! Watch for my owl! And bring Avery with you, the four of you make a promising team.”

Finn smiled and nodded. When Slughorn disappeared from view, Finn let out all the air in his lungs. “That was close.”

With a glance behind him, Tom approached the office and unlocked it with his wand. It was only a small room, with a bookcase, a desk, a couple of small chairs, and a large assortment of trinkets and objects. The fireplace on the far wall seemed too large for such a tiny space, but it was one of the few fireplaces in the castle registered to the network.

“Ready?” Finn grabbed a handful of Floo and threw it into the fire. Once the flames were glowing emerald, they stepped inside. Finn opened his mouth, but Tom said it first: “Blishwick Manor.”

The trip wasn’t a long one, and it only took Finn a few seconds to compose himself once they stopped spinning and stepped into the huge living room of his house. He brushed ash from his robes, stepping aside to let Tom out.

“That you, boys?” came Jameson’s voice from the kitchen. “I’ll be there in a minute.”

Finn and Tom sunk themselves into the large white sofas to wait. Finn dropped ash on the couch and hastily covered it with his robe. Tom looked around curiously as if he’d never been in the house before, though he’d spent quite some time here over the years. Finn watched him pick up one of the photos from the side table, the dark ring large on his thin finger. It was a photo of Hero with one of her Mudblood friends, laughing as they sat on the steps of Blishwick Manor. He wondered what Tom felt when he saw her. He’d never spoken to Tom of his grief. Finn had never spoken of it to anyone. He turned away from the photo in Tom’s hand. A copy of today’s Daily Prophet sat on the oak coffee table. The headline read, ‘WANTED FUGITIVE STILL AT LARGE.’ A picture of a man with graying hair, looking harried as he walked through the Ministry, was on the front. Finn reached for the paper and read:

Henry Potter, once a respected Ministry official, is now wanted for crimes involving Muggles, writes Megan Blishwick, editor of The Daily Prophet. Mr Potter, 47, of Godric’s Hollow, has been evading Aurors after being involved in an incident that killed one Muggle and injured four more.

Blah, blah, blah. He frowned down at the photograph. There was something familiar about Henry Potter’s face. Something in the way his chin was rounded and his nose turned up slightly that Finn thought he’d seen before. But of course, if his child really was at the school, they would be a student Finn passed in the corridors everyday, bearing resemblance. No wonder if they seemed familiar.

The realization gave him a peculiar shiver.

Jameson appeared from the kitchen, but not alone. He was joined by a tall man in Besmurten robes. The two men sat opposite the two boys. If Finn didn’t know his father so well, he probably wouldn’t have noticed the tiny beads of sweat on his brow, or the way his little finger drummed against his knee. Jameson was nervous, and this made Finn nervous.

“This is Andor Bence,” Jameson said, “one of the captains of the Besmurten.”

Andor Bence was only a short man - perhaps the same height as Finn - but there was something in the breadth of his shoulders and the way he looked at them down his wide nose made him seem much bigger. “Tell me of your progress,” he said without preamble, his voice deep and foreign.

“We made an attempt for the student records,” Tom said, as coolly as if it were Radbourne sitting opposite them, and not a Dark wizard, “but we ran into some… complications.”

Finn shifted in his seat.

“You vill try again,” Andor Bence said. His voice was equally calm, yet left no room for argument. “Ve know for certain now that they are at Hogwarts. Records of payments made to the school ‘ave been found, as well as regular conversions from Galleons to Muggle money, for at least fourteen years, though it may very well be longer. Ve are not sure yet.”

Fourteen. So the child was Sebastian’s age or older.

“Your aunt has done vell.” Andor Bence nodded at the paper, then raised his little dark eyes to Finn. “I can only ‘ope her nephew and his little friend do just as successfully.”

Finn felt Tom stiffen beside him at being referred to as ‘little friend’, and could almost hear his nostrils flare. Finn felt his own knuckles crack without realizing he was doing so. This man may have position among Grindelwald’s ranks, but Finn was a Blishwick, and this was his territory.

Andor Bence’s eyes were back on the paper. “Ve vill find him in no time, but he will not be guaranteed to let go of the Cloak without some… persuasion.” He blinked, eyes boring into Finn’s once more. Finn waited, but Andor Bence said no more. He didn’t need to, Finn could hear the threat from where he sat.

Jameson cleared his throat. “Now Finn,” he said. “That assignment - the one for the Ministry? - when you complete it, ask to go to the Department of Law Enforcement. Uncle Harrison will have instructions for you, but I’ll send Villain with more details next week.” He hesitated, glancing at Andor Bence. Finn noticed how bloodshot his father’s eyes were. “Son, if I could just have a word -”

With a swish of red robes, Andor Bence left the couch and headed back toward the kitchen. “The boys know what needs to be done, Blishwick. Come, ve have work of our own.”

Jameson looked helplessly after him, and something stirred in Finn’s stomach. His father seemed… weak. “You’d best leave in a minute if you’re to remain undetected,” he said, standing to shake Tom’s hand and squeeze Finn’s shoulder. “We’ll talk soon.” With a final nod, he followed Andor Bence.

Tom rose from his chair and started down the hallway that led to the Blishwick’s library.

“Where are you going?” Finn asked.

In a steady tone, Tom replied, “Where does it look like I’m going?”

“Yeah, but what for?”

“I want more books.”

Finn sighed quietly. More fucking reading. He followed him in, but while Tom headed straight for the far shelf, where the Dark magic section was, Finn lingered by the doorway. A small desk was set up here, where he and Hero would study or read as children. It was a corner that displayed certificates and trophies for various achievements, though hardly any belonged to Finn. Halcyon had insisted on keeping the drawings he had done as a child; there was a dragon or two, but most of the ink blotched or colour changing scribbles were of various runes. Finn traced the one in a frame closest to him; uruz, like the birthmark on his hip. A rune that meant power. At the time, he’d told his parents the runic sentences translated into things like ‘I love you’ and ‘My name is Finlay James Blishwick’, when in reality they were dirty jokes and rude words.

“Finn?”

He sighed, dropping his hand, and turned to the woman in the doorway. “Hey, Mum.”

Halcyon Blishwick stepped tentatively into the library. She had always been a small woman, but after Hero’s death she’d become thinner, colorless, like a light had been switched off under her skin. She reached out to smooth down his hair, which was as black as hers; a habit she seemed to do on a subconscious level. Normally he would push her off, but the tired lines around her eyes and mouth made him stay still and let her fingertips run through his hair. He glanced over at Tom, glad the other boy had his back to them. Sometimes Finn envied Tom’s motherless status.

“I had the house elves make these up for you.” She pushed a paper bag into his hands, its contents warm and savory smelling.

“Cheers.”

“How’s school?” she asked softly.

Finn shrugged. “Alright. I joined the duelling club. I’m actually pretty good at it.”

Her smile came on a second too late. “Of course you are. It’s a good skill to have.” She placed a hand on his cheek. He fought against the urge to take a step back, and let her grey eyes look him over. Since last year, it was like she couldn’t be convinced he was real unless she was touching him. “My clever boy. Finn, you know you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to?”

Somehow, Finn didn’t think they were talking about extra-curricular activities anymore. “I know that, Mum. I make my own decisions,” he said low voiced, unable to keep his eyes from darting to Tom, who was approaching them with dark books tucked under his arm.

“You don’t mind if I borrow these, do you, Mrs Blishwick?”

Halcyon’s hand left Finn’s face to briefly touch Tom’s cheek. “Of course not, Tom. You know you’re welcome to anything in this house.”

“Thank you.”

“’Kay we gotta go now, Mum.”

Halcyon nodded sadly. “Write me soon, my baby.”

Finn clenched his teeth at being called a baby in front of Tom, but he nodded. “I will.”

They’d missed dinner by the time they returned to Hogwarts, and while Tom declined the offer, Finn was glad for the food his mother had given him. He unwrapped one of the pastries as they ascended the dormitory steps, but almost choked on it as they opened he door. “What the -?” Finn’s bed, made somewhat neatly that morning, had all but been turned upside down. The pillows were on the floor, the covers pulled back and crumbled. His bedside drawers were open, contents pushed aside, papers scattered on the floor.

“What is this?” Tom asked sharply.

Finn had no answer. Someone had clearly been searching for something. But what?

And did they find it?

***

Shifting uncomfortably in his seat, Finn glanced at Slughorn’s little gold clock; it was nearly eleven. He stifled a yawn, but didn’t speak up. Tom had said this meeting was important, and that there would be consequences if any of the boys caused a predicament. Finn reached around to subtly rub his lower back; his seat was hard, nothing like Slughorn’s little mauve pouffe. Finn didn’t see what was so significant about this particular Slug Club meeting. It was the first he had attended and so far it had just been Slughorn eating crystallized pineapple from Tom (when it was actually Finn who bought it from Hogsmeade), and all but worshipping him, telling him how he could be Minister of Magic one day. It was much like a regular Potions lesson. But something clearly rode on tonight, so Finn fought the urge to roll his eyes. He pulled at his school scarf, itchy around his neck, and let his gaze wander over the room.

There were half a dozen of them; the four boys, two Ravenclaw girls and a couple of boys from Gryffindor. These other students were there because of whatever potential Slughorn saw him them, but Finn had pointedly not listened. Ben was picking at his teeth. Radbourne couldn’t keep his eyes off Tom, who was asking questions about Professor Merrythought.

The clock struck eleven, and Slughorn finally stirred. “Good gracious, is it that time already? You’d better get going boys, or we’ll all be in trouble.”

Ben and Radbourne murmured their apologies for the Potions essay they still hadn’t completed, and followed Finn out of the room. Outside the office, the boys lingered, waiting for the other students to disperse. The Ravenclaw girls giggled as they passed, casting shy glances at them. Finn looked behind him. “Hey, where’s Tom?’’

Radbourne followed his gaze, eyebrows furrowed. “I’m not sure. Didn’t he mention there was something he needed to ask Slughorn?”

“I’ve gotta say, Finn,” Ben said, leaning against the stone wall. “Choosing the duelling club name was risky, but it’s pretty cool.” He flexed his arms. “‘Benedict Avery and Finlay Blishwick, Knights of Walpurgis.’”

Radbourne crossed his arms. “And what about me?”

Ben ruffled his hair. “You’re the princess we rescue.”

“Thanks…”

Tom clearly wasn’t going to be finished with Slughorn anytime soon, so the boys returned to the common room. Radbourne and Ben headed up the stairs to the dormitory, but Finn lingered. Lucretia was on one of the couches, surrounded by books. Ben, at the top of the stairs, threw a knowing glance down and Finn winked by way of reply.

“You’re up late, Lu,” he said, coming to sit beside her and loosening his scarf.

Lucretia put down her quill and rubbed her eyes. “Well, when you get to seventh year, let’s see how many hours of sleep you get.”

Finn watched her as she ran her fingers absentmindedly through her long dark hair, eyes on her book. He shifted closer, then reached out to gently pull a strand over her shoulder, his hand brushing her breast. He let it linger. “Need a study break?” he murmured.

Lucretia pushed his hand away, her tongue darting out to lick her lips. “No, Finn. I seriously need to get this done.”

Finn inched closer still, looking at her through lowered lashes - the way he knew no girl could resist - and ran a hand softly down her ribs. “They say exercise improves brain activity, you know.”

She twitched an eyebrow, amused. Her breath was warm on his face as she said, “No wonder you’re not very smart.”

He stuck his lower lip out in an exaggerated pout, feigning hurt feelings. Lucretia laughed and tossed her hair back. It looked like a casual gesture, but it left her neck bare. Classic Lu; she never said no to him for long. He placed a hand on her knee, her stockings silky under his fingertips. Good; he liked these much better than the knee high socks Annabell Humphrey and a few of the other girls wore. His hand crept higher, Lucretia’s lips parted, and Finn’s heart began to race. She really did have a nice neck; long and soft, and as he pressed his lips to it, he caught the faint scent of her sweet perfume. She tilted her head with a sigh and let him ease her back into the cushions of the couch, books scattering to the floor. As he pulled the top of her cardigan down to kiss her collarbone, her hands reached up to tangle in his hair, and a groan escaped his throat when her legs wrapped themselves around his hips, bringing him closer. He slipped a hand under her shirt, trailing a path to her mouth with his lips.

“Let’s… go… upstairs,” he said between kisses.

“I can’t,” she said breathlessly, gasping as he moved his hand. “Remember how much trouble we got into last time?”

Finn nipped her bottom lip. “I like trouble.”

“You are trouble.” Lucretia arched her back against him, hands splayed under his own shirt, her fingernails sending shivers across his skin.

“I’ve missed you, you know.” Merlin, brassieres were a nuisance. Emily Hammond hardly wore one, but then her breasts were too small to justify the use of one, so Finn supposed he shouldn’t complain that Lucretia had to wear them. He shifted until his body lay over hers, grinding his hips slowly until she moaned. It worked; she led him quietly up the stairs. He stepped over the floorboard in the dormitory that he knew creaked and fell onto her bed. Lucretia pulled the curtains closed and Finn cast Muffliato - a spell he was getting quite good at.

Sometime later, Lucretia was curled in the crook of Finn’s arm. Finn stared at the ceiling, thinking about the state of his room last night. “Stay with me this time, Finn,” she murmured sleepily.

“Of course,” he said.

He was gone before morning.

***

A/N: Thank you to my wonderful beta Julie ♥

Slughorn's dialogue of: Good gracious, is it that time already? You’d better get going boys, or we’ll all be in trouble is borrowed from JK Rowling's Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, page 496.


Chapter 5: The Ministry
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Two things define you: Your patience when you have nothing and your attitude when you have everything.

Author unknown

*


It was a beautiful day outside. The sky was royal blue and cloudless, the sun warm and inviting, and a slight breeze blew through the leaves of the forest. It was perfect weather for basking under the shade of the trees and checking out the girls who deemed it warm enough to take off their cardigans and stockings.

That’s why Finn was so depressed to be spending it in the antechamber in the dungeons.

His breath stirred the page of the book he was leaning his cheek on as he sighed, trying to block out the sounds around him. The sixth years were given access to the smallest of the Potions classrooms to study or practice, and the room was filled with loud chatter, liquids sizzling, and the occasional loud bang. The four boys weren’t in front of a cauldron, but rather on a desk, surrounded by books, parchment and ink. Finn was finding it more difficult than usual to concentrate on school work, but not because of the noise; October was rapidly approaching and the identity of the young Potter still remained a mystery.

“What’s the answer to question six?” Ben asked, frowning down at his parchment.

Finn lifted his face, the page sticking slightly to his cheek, and pushed the thought of his father’s anxious expression from his mind. He yawned, looking down at his own parchment. The bug sheet was nearly finished, thank Merlin.

Ben cracked his knuckles absentmindedly, still staring down at his work. “Tom, have you done number six?”

Tom sat on the other side of Finn, dark head inches away from one of the big books he took from Blishwick Manor, resting against the black diary he carried everywhere with him but hardly used. “I’ve completed the assignment.”

“Well, can I see?” Ben reached for the diary.

Tom’s hand shot out faster than a Snitch. “Don’t touch that!”

Finn blinked at the collision of flesh in front of his face. “The fuck you writing in there?”

Tom continued glaring at Ben as he tucked the diary into the pocket of his robes. Radbourne, who wasn’t wearing his glasses, rubbed his bloodshot eyes and looked between them curiously. Tom looked at each of them thoughtfully, but he was obviously going to remain silent on this one. He shook his head, wearing a slightly amused expression, as if Finn’s question had been funny. He looked back down at the book in front of him.

Finn exchanged a look with Ben. “What’s that you’re reading, then?”

Tom gave an irritated sigh. “I’m looking for curses that worsen over time. Imagine, to use just one spell, have the receiver go away, suffering without knowing what’s wrong until it’s too late.” He looked up again, a gleam in his eyes. “Surely there must be such a thing. If not, it cannot be too difficult to mix two or three together. Or a potion, perhaps…” he trailed off, mumbling to himself, flipping through the pages.

Finn was wondering whether Grindelwald would know of such a spell (if he didn’t, would he be impressed that Tom - and Finn - did, and ask them to teach him, too?) when Malfoy walked past, a small, familiar gold book tucked clutched in his hand. Finn’s breath caught in his throat. A week after Finn and Tom had returned from Blishwick manor to find Finn’s belongings ransacked, he was still no closer to finding out who did it or what they were looking for. Finn went through his things that night, but couldn’t find anything missing. At the time, he’d had a moment of panic over the parchment on which the times Slughorn’s office was free were written down. But they were there, and to an outsider they would just look like times jotted down at random. Now that Malfoy was closer, Finn could see that the little gold rune dictionary he had, that seemed at first to be Finn’s, was different to his; newer, shinier, used less.

Finn let a breath out through his teeth. “It was that blonde prick that went through my stuff, I’m sure of it.”

A loud laugh cut across the chatter of the students in the room, followed by a snort and a fit of coughing. Finn closed his eyes briefly, rubbing his temples against the headache that was coming on. “That fucking noise.”

Ben lowered his voice, grin as sharp as a Grindylow’s tooth. “I’ll give her something to cough about.”

He pulled out his wand and caused thick, dark grey smoke to furl from it, which spread quickly throughout the room. The acrid smell soon burnt Finn’s nostrils and made his eyes water. He couldn’t see McCroy - could hardly see his book in front of him - but he could hear her; her cough sounded wet and rattled among the drier noises of the few students who were making a fuss. Ben looked at him expectantly, and Finn laughed in response, but he remembered the black stuff she coughed up in the library last week, and he couldn’t help his own lungs from burning in sympathy. The other students were whooping with delight as the smoke obscured their vision, no doubt rejoicing the possible need to evacuate, thus giving them the afternoon to work on something else. Like their tans.

“Ben!” Radbourne exclaimed, his face half obscured from smoke. “Stop that, can’t you hear that girl’s sick?”

“Calm down, Lestrange, you’re not a Healer. It’s just a bit of fun. Finn agrees, don’t you Finn?”

“Don’t be such a girl, Lestrange.”

Radbourne narrowed his eyes. “I take Healing very seriously.”

“Oh please,” Ben scoffed. “Don’t think your parents are just going to approve of you refusing to join the Wizangamot to become a Healer.”

Radbourne’s mouth twisted into a ugly shape, but before he could reply, Tom cut across him. “Avery, stop that at once.”

With a jerk of Ben’s wand, the dark smoke dispersed. Waving his hand in front of his face, Finn saw that half the students had indeed left, McCroy included.

“Radbourne,” Tom continued, “get a copy of Moste Potente Potions and bring it to me.”

At first, Radbourne looked startled by the order, and now looked bemused. “But that’s in the library,” he said. “On the other side of the castle.”

“Yes, it is, and I want it before my Prefect duties start.”

“But -”

Tom looked up at him. There was nothing hostile about his expression. In fact, it was mildly pleasantly, as if he were waiting to hear what type of biscuit Radbourne wanted with his tea. But even Finn could see his face dared a challenge. Radbourne rose from his chair with his bag over his shoulder and left the antechamber, shoulders drooped. Finn turned back to the assignment in front of him. He only had one section to go - the diet of the spurtwurt beetle - but he’d left his textbook in the dormitory. After tapping his quill against the edge of the parchment a few times, leaving small ink blotches, he finally wrote smaller bugs. That’s probably what they ate. Carnivorous little beasts.

“Right,” he said, rolling the parchment up. “I’ll catch you later, yeah?”

Tom didn’t reply, but Ben said, “Don’t forget about the money for Apparition lessons.”

Finn nodded his acknowledgment before he turned to leave. Of course he wasn’t going to forget.

Learning how to make a hasty escape was something he was rather interested in.

***

As Finn made his way through the viaduct entrance, taking care to walk through every patch of sunlight streaming through the windows, he wondered where McCroy would have gone. It can’t have been far; whereabouts in the castle did one find a Hufflepuff?

He rounded the corner to the first floor corridor and stopped short. Ben’s brother Patrick had a girl pressed against the wall and under his hands. Not just any girl, he saw as Patrick moved his head to kiss her neck, but McCroy. Obviously, she’d found a cure for her cough. Finn pushed his hair out of his eyes. So she didn’t find him attractive but she’d throw herself at the feet of Patrick Avery? He shook his head; he was going to need a Memory Charm after this. As he turned away, he heard her say, “Wait. Patrick, stop -”

It might have been the way McCroy’s voice sounded like it could have been one of his cousins’, or maybe it was that Patrick still had his greasy hands on a girl saying ‘no’. Whatever the reason, Finn was stepping out into the corridor and shouting, “Hey!” before he could stop himself.

Patrick jumped back, his light brown hair disheveled. “What do you want, Blishwick?”

“For you to get out of my sight.” He drew himself up. “Why don’t you go annoy someone who actually wants to be with you? If you can find one, that is, and good luck to you.”

Patrick approached until he was standing right in front of him, and Finn found himself once more mentally cursing the genes that made him short. “How’s Ben’s Muggle?”

Finn looked up sharply. “What are you talking about?”

“Oh, you don’t know?” Patrick said in mock surprise. “Well, it’s not my secret to tell.” He smirked and pushed past Finn without another word, straightening his blue Head Boy badge as he went with the briefest of glances at McCroy.

Finn watched him leave with distaste, then turned to McCroy. “You’re welcome.”

Her face was flushed and her breathing heavy as she stared at him, hands balling into fists at her sides. If Finn didn’t know girls any better, he’d say she was angry. Through gritted teeth, she said, “I do not - need - saving.”

Yeah, she was angry. “And I’m no white knight,” he replied. He thrust the assignment into her hands. “Look, I finished it. We’re going to the Ministry. Congratulations.”

Her furious expression transformed into astonishment as she examined the parchment. “You finished it?”

Finn picked at his nails on one hand. “Sure did.”

She looked up, excitement lighting up her face. “Super!” She rummaged through her bag with her other hand, pulling out her matching assignment. With her wand, she copied his beetles and ants sections onto hers. “Come on, let’s go to Professor Kettleburn before anyone else does.”

Finn highly doubted anyone had done the assignment faster than them, but his father’s voice in his mind made him follow her down the corridor toward the staff room. Their footsteps echoed on the stone as they passed rows of suits of armor. “So we’ll be going to the Law Enforcement department.”

McCroy stopped in her tracks. “No way.”

Finn stopped as well, glancing back at her. “Yes way.”

“That’s not where I want to go.”

He regarded her, humored that she thought he wouldn’t get his way. “What’s your choice, then?”

She folded her arms across her chest. “Department of Magical Creatures.”

“Oh, Merlin, no.”

She came forward to stand in front of him. They were almost the same height. “You wouldn’t understand,” she said. “I want this more than you!”

“How would you know?” Finn shot back. “You don’t know the first thing about me!”

McCroy pursed her lips in an exaggerated pout and made her voice gruff. “I’m Finlay Blishwick, I’m a little pure blood with bullies for friends, I don’t know how to be nice and I think I rule the school -”

“Excuse me,” he said coolly, “this is actually what my parents want for me.”

“Well this is what I want for me.” She ran a hand agitatedly through her hair, making it stick out more than it usually did. “You don’t want to be an Auror. You’re the type of person Aurors try to catch.”

“Well that’s just rude.”

She clenched her jaw. “Please. It’s really important to me.”

Finn raised an eyebrow, an image of blood red robes at the forefront of his mind. “No.”

“You arrogant spoiled arse!”

Finn’s body tensed. How dare she talk to him like that, and after she had scolded him for judging by appearances? “You bitch!”

They were nose to nose, breathing heavily, when a tentative voice cut through them. “Er, Finn?”

Finn exhaled through his nose and took a step back. “What is it, Callum?” he asked, turning to the young boy who was staring at his shuffling feet.

Callum Cowell, second year Slytherin, looked nervously between him and McCroy. “I’m sorry to - to interrupt, but I have that… thing.” He threw a glance at McCroy, who had her eyes narrowed. “You know, that you asked for.”

“It’s fine. I’ll take it now.”

Callum handed the small booklet to him. “Tell my Lord that I’m sorry it took so long,” he said timidly. “My grandfather had trouble with the printing and -”

Finn waved a hand vaguely. “Whatever, Callum.”

Callum gave a jerky nod and ran out of sight. Finn scanned the front page of latest issue of The Greater Good, excitement making his heart pick up its pace, before tucking it into the inside pocket of his robes. He looked at McCroy, daring her to say something.

She shook her head. “I’m not even going to ask.”

“Good.” They continued walking down the corridor. “I wouldn’t expect you to understand anyway.”

McCroy snorted. “You’re right. Idiots Anonymous isn’t my first choice of subscription, but I respect that you’re trying.”

No cursing in the corridor, no cursing in the corridor…

They reached the staff room. Finn raised his fist and knocked loudly on the door a few more times than necessary. Their Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Merrythought, answered, her wrinkled face furrowed in agitation.

Finn asked, “Kettleburn in?”

Merrythought frowned at him. “Professor Kettleburn is busy at the moment, Mr Blishwick. I suggest you come back later.”

McCroy stepped forward. “Please, Professor Merrythought, we have something for him, if it’s not too much trouble.”

Merrythought blinked in surprise at her appearance, her face softening. “Miss McCroy! How are you feeling, dear?”

“Much better, thank you.”

“I’m so glad. I think Professor Kettleburn might actually be nearly finished, let me just see.” She disappeared into the room, returning a few seconds later with Kettleburn. He beamed as his eyes scanned the parchment McCroy handed over. “Congratulations, you two. I knew you could do it! Which department do you choose?”

Finn said, “Magical Law Enforcement” at the same time McCroy said, “Magical Creatures.” They glared at each other.

Kettleburn looked between the two of them. “Er, well I’m afraid I can only send you to one. You’ll have to decide amongst yourselves. Let me know by the end of the day.” He closed the door, leaving Finn and McCroy looking at each other through narrowed eyes and over crossed arms.

“Look,” McCroy said with a sigh. “I can’t tell you why I want this so badly, just know that I do -”

Finn held up a hand. “Save the sorry life story; I don’t care. I don’t see why this should be about you and not me.”

“Because you’re a Blishwick,” she said. “You get an automatic head start in life. Your father could probably buy you whatever job you want. Us little people need all the help we can get.”

“That must be hard,” he replied in an indifferent tone.

She adjusted the strap of her bag over her shoulder. “Come and find me when you stop acting like such a bastard.”

“You’ll be waiting a long time.”

McCroy threw her arms in the air with a frustrated exclamation before she turned on her heel and stormed away. Finn waited until she disappeared around the corner before knocking on the staff room door again.

“We’ve decided, sir,” he said, once Kettleburn answered. “Law Enforcement.”

Kettleburn looked at him approvingly. “Have ambitions of becoming an Auror do we?”

“Something like that.”

“And Miss McCroy agrees?”

Finn flashed a Blishwick smile. “It was her idea, sir.”

Kettleburn gave him a fixed look, then smiled. “Very well, you and Miss McCroy will meet in the Entrance Hall at ten o’clock on Tuesday. Bring your manners, please, Mr Blishwick.”

Finn nodded and headed back toward the Slytherin common room, unable to keep the smug smile from his lips.

Blishwicks always won.

***

Tuesday morning started dark and cloudy, much like Finn’s optimism. A small part of him swelled with pride that he had been chose for this task, but the larger part was riddled with doubt. What if he did it wrong, whatever ‘it’ was? What if he missed his chance, or was caught? What if he got his father into trouble? He’d never forgive himself. So it was in silence that he walked to the front gates of the castle, lost in his own thoughts, only half aware of McCroy’s equally silent company. Jameson had said his uncle would be waiting for him with further instructions, and Finn’s mind was spinning with what they might be.

It wasn’t until they had arrived at the Ministry, bid goodbye to Kettleburn, and were in the lift that Finn finally glanced at McCroy. She was wearing a cardigan under her robes; her breasts were larger than he thought, the knitted material pulled tight across her chest. He quickly looked away. No way was he having these thoughts about her, of all people. Having a nice body didn’t change the fact she was annoying. He twirled his watch around his wrist, tapping the face repetitively with a nail as he anxiously watched the owls above them ruffle their feathers, memos attached to their legs.

“Can you stop that?” McCroy said. “You’re making me nervous and I don’t even want to be here.”

Tck tck tck. “Well that’s gratitude for you.”

She turned her head away. “Don’t, okay? Just don’t.”

Thank Merlin the lift moved fast. He stopped tapping but continued twirling the watch, the skin on the back of his neck prickling with the knowledge that there were at least four pairs of wings above them. The lift doors opened onto a wide hallway littered with harried looking witches and wizards going to and fro. Finn’s uncle, Harrison Blishwick, was waiting for them beside a short, round man with thick glasses who introduced himself as Bob Ogden.

“Ah, Finlay Blishwick,” Ogden said as he warmly shook his hand, his eyes tiny specks behind the lens of his glasses. “Horace Slughorn speaks highly of you.” He turned to shake McCroy’s hand. “But I haven’t had the pleasure, my dear…?”

“Brindley McCroy, sir.”

As Ogden continued speaking to McCroy, Harrison pulled Finn aside. His Blishwick blue eyes were dull, his cheekbones more prominent than usual. “They don’t trust me up here,” Harrison said in a low voice, eyes flickering to either side of them, though the hallway had gone quiet. “Usually don’t let me anywhere near. They keep watch on my family, you know. But not you or your father yet,” he added, as Finn looked up in trepidation. “Your father is good at keeping secrets.” He threw an anxious look over his shoulder before pressing a piece of parchment into Finn’s hands. “Slip this onto the Head Auror’s desk. It’s a summons for the Minister.”

“Okay…” Finn quickly slipped it into his trouser pocket.

“They know He has support from within Britain, but I don’t know whose, if any, names they have down. Find out. If we’re on there, get rid of us, I don’t care how. If the Malfoys are on it…” He grinned darkly. “Leave them.”

“Right!” Ogden said loudly from behind them, clapping his hands together and making Harrison jump. “Let’s begin, shall we?”

Harrison gave Finn one last look before squeezing his shoulder in farewell. Finn and McCroy followed Ogden down the hallway and around the corner, through large oak doors. Finn glanced side-long at McCroy, expecting to see her looking sulky, but instead she was beaming, eyes bright with excitement.

“I thought you hated this,” Finn whispered to her, as they walked through the doors and into a huge room, lined row upon row with open cubicles.

“Well, since I’m here, might as well enjoy it,” she whispered back.

A couple of witches and wizards sat at their desks in the cubicles, murmuring quietly to their neighbors or scribbling notes. As Finn and McCroy trailed behind Ogden, who was chattering excitedly away about the work, Finn examined the walls. They were covered in an assortment of pictures of wanted witches and wizards, maps, newspaper clippings, scrawled notes and arrows. Finn listened to Ogden with half an ear, and as they passed an office, the door wide open, he stopped short. A familiar face had caught his eye: Gellert Grindelwald.

“Ah,” Ogden said softly at Finn’s shoulder, making him jump. “Been following the reports, have you? Terrible. Simply terrible.” He stepped inside the office. “Come, have a look. This is Albert Fisher’s office.”

The room was small and circular, but a cluttered desk, bookcase and filing cabinet fit comfortably inside. A large map of Europe lined half of the room, dotted with colored pins. A red circle was around both Germany and France, and articles and photographs of Grindelwald were mounted alongside it. Finn studied the map from beside the desk.

“It’s a lovely office, sir,” McCroy said, looking eagerly around the room.

Ogden’s reply was no more than a rumble to Finn’s ears; he had spotted something that made him freeze. Amongst the stacks of parchment on Fisher’s desk, half obscured by another, was a file, “-ishwick” stamped in black ink.

Finn glanced behind him at Ogden and McCroy, wishing he knew how to distract them. He wanted that file.

He let out an audible breath of as he weighed his chances of grabbing it without Ogden noticing. He started as he noticed McCroy watching him, her brown eyes curious. He quickly averted his eyes - an unavoidable habit when your friend was a skilled Legilimens - and when he looked again, she winked at him. Finn furrowed his eyebrows; had she finally realised that flirting with him was an unavoidable urge? Now was really not the time. Suddenly, she started asking Ogden about a particular object in the bookcase, compelling him to turn his back on Finn.

Finn didn’t have the chance to be surprised. He grabbed the file that read ‘Blishwick’ and replaced it with the letter from Harrison, because Fisher was the Head Auror, wasn't he? He moved so quickly that by the time Ogden turned back around, Finn was smiling pleasantly with his hands clasped in front of him, the file tucked into his trousers and covered by his robe, pretending he’d been listening all along.

The tour of the department - which included the Improper Use of Magic office and the Wizengamot Administrations Services, where Finn exchanged pleasantries with Radbourne’s parents - took them through to lunch. Finn and McCroy sat together in the cafeteria for lack of other company, and he swapped his chocolate pudding for her coconut one, because she didn’t like the flavor, and he did.

After lunch, Ogden took them to a tiny room, cramped with filing cabinets. Loose sheets of parchment covered every inch of every surface. “If you two want to be Aurors -” Ogden said as they stood in the doorway, missing the wry glance between Finn and McCroy. “- you should get to experience all sides to it. This paperwork needs sorting. We’ve, er, fallen a little behind.”

Finn stared dismally across the room; it was as if a Niffler had been set loose to dig through every sheet of parchment. There were stacks as tall as Finn (though, granted, this was not very tall) and teetering precariously. It was cold, smelt musty, and Finn breathed in a lungful of dust; McCroy must have done the same, because she coughed. Ogden whispered something as he shut the door that sounded suspiciously like, “Good luck,” with only vague instructions about the filing system. Finn and McCroy cleared a space in the middle of the room and sat cross legged in what felt like a paper version of the blanket forts he and Hero used to make as children. What he wouldn’t give to be in one now, even if it was with a Muggle-born-or-whatever-she-was from Hufflepuff. As she sat, McCroy’s skirt rode up, and he caught a glimpse of skin under her robes. Even her thighs were freckled. He forced himself to concentrate, and didn’t realize she’d spoken to him until she cleared her throat pointedly.

He swallowed, quickly moving his eyes to her face. “What?”

“I said, do you think this Seer is short?” she asked, gesturing to a poster of a wanted witch dated three years prior.

“What are you talking about?”

McCroy waved the photo, a playful glint in her eye. “A short fortune teller who escapes from prison is a small medium at large.”

It took him a few seconds, but when he understood the joke, he burst out laughing before he could stop himself. “That was terrible, McCroy.”

She grinned; it was actually pretty when it wasn’t accompanied by her outrageous laugh. “Thanks.”

They continued in silence, sorting records of wizard fingerprints from goblin fingerprints, and broomstick infringements from magical carpet infringements. McCroy pulled out her black glasses and muttered to herself occasionally as she read. His family’s file was a heavy weight against his hip, but he didn’t dare read it in front of her. Finn moved a particularly large stack of parchment closer toward him, and a small black spider scuttled out from under it. He fell backwards with a small cry and picked up a heavy book, ready to smash the thing. McCroy’s hand grabbed his wrist. “What are you doing? That’s a mastilio!”

“Exactly!”

“They’re rare. It’s not going to harm you.”

“But why take a chance?” Finn said, book still held aloft, too preoccupied watching the spider’s movements to be bothered by the fact her hand was still on his arm.

“Seriously, Blishwick, it’s probably one of the safest spiders.”

Finn blinked at her, thinking of Hero. “What?”

“They won’t just bite at random because you got too close.” McCroy seemed to have noticed they were still touching, because she quickly removed her hand. “You’d have to seriously poke at it before it pokes back. They’re actually quite passive creatures.”

Finn looked dumbly back down at the spider. His thoughts felt sluggish, as if they were moving through Polyjuice Potion. It didn’t make sense. If the mastilio spider needed to be provoked for it to bite, how did Hero end up with the venom in her veins? There was no way in hell she would get anywhere near enough to even consider aggravating it; she’d run screaming from anything with eight legs. He lowered the book.

Again, McCroy’s hand was on his. “Are you okay?”

Again, he let her keep it there. “I just - Fine.” He cleared his throat and met her eyes for a second before jerking his arm away from hers.

Prolonged silence fell between them again as they worked, broken only by McCroy’s coughing. As Finn sighed loudly, she pulled a tiny vial of purple liquid out from her robes, and swallowed it with a grimace. He was curious, but didn’t ask, not wanting to give her the impression that he cared. He sighed again.

This was boring.

Finn looked around him, wondering if there were misuse of magic reports from names he recognized to tease students about later, when his eye caught the label on one of the filing cabinets: Runic Records. With some delicate maneuvering, Finn reached the cabinet and pulled open one of the drawers. Already, he could see they’d been sorted wrong; the fehu rune mistaken for the ansuz, for starters. He clucked his tongue at such a simple mistake, and got to work organizing them.

“Ah, fuck,” McCroy said from where she was sorting reports highlighted extensively in orange.

Finn glanced down at her over his shoulder. “Didn’t your mother teach you how fucking rude it is to swear?”

McCroy glared at him. “She died when I was born.”

“Your father, then.”

“I never knew him.”

Finn faltered, but she had already turned away, picking up the next report. He pulled the entire drawer out and sat back down, rifling through it loudly. He held up a flyer advertising cave real estate for trolls. “Want a house?”

McCroy shrugged without looking up, missing the joke. “There’s no point,” she said quietly.

Finn lowered the flyer. “No point to owning a house?”

“Just leave it,” she snapped, still not meeting his eyes.

“Alright.” Finn shrugged and dropped it back into the drawer.

She sighed irritably. “This is useless. How is anyone supposed to sort this? The dates are runes.”

“Yeah, it’s an old system,” Finn said vaguely, reading through a list of the Loch Ness monster sightings. “The Wizards’ Council used them before that became the Ministry, and they still use them as tradition or whatever in some areas. I think the Department of Mysteries is one of them.”

When he didn’t hear a reply, he looked up. McCroy was staring from him to the newly-organized drawer, a look of surprise on her face.

“Take a picture,” he snapped. “I’ll even sign it for you.”

“You’re good at runes,” she said.

“Yeah.”

She looked impressed. “I wouldn’t have expected it from someone like you.”

He smirked. “What, incredibly handsome?”

McCroy matched his smug grin. “Someone who’s never handed in an assignment on time.”

“Thanks,” he said dryly.

The door opened behind Finn, a rush of warm air from outside rustling some of the paper. Ogden stepped into the room, accompanied by Kettleburn, who blanched at the state of the room.

“Ah,” Ogden said proudly, thumbs tucked into his large trousers. “You two will make fine Aurors one day.”

Finn turned back to McCroy and pulled a face that Kettleburn and Ogden couldn’t see. She giggled.

Once back at Hogwarts, they bid goodbye to Kettleburn in the Entrance Hall, who disappeared back out into the grounds, presumably to add another animal-induced injury to his list. They stood there for a few seconds before Finn awkwardly gestured to the dungeons, and McCroy waved an equally lame hand toward the kitchens. He was about to take a step when McCroy said, “So, today was actually kind of fun.”

He shrugged. “Yeah, it was alright.”

McCroy looked at her feet. “And, um, about the other day. With Patrick? I’m sorry I lashed out at you. I really do appreciate what you did.”

Finn rubbed the back of his neck. “It’s fine.”

She smiled widely; her teeth were straight. “See you around, Finn.”

Finn stood, feet grounded to the floor, and watched her dash down the corridor. “Yeah, see you… Brindley.”

***

A/N: A million and one thanks to Julie ♥

Chapter 6: Poison
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The trust of the innocent is the liar’s most useful tool.
- Stephen King

*


On the first day of November, the Great Hall was crowded and loud with the excitement of that day’s Quidditch match. Shouts and taunts were called out over the tables between Slytherin and Ravenclaw, with the occasional Gryffindor and Hufflepuff joining in on the jeers.

Finn was the only one uninterested in the first Quidditch game of the season. He instead had his eye on the morning’s Daily Prophet, his insides turning to water. The night before an assassination attempt had been made on the Minister of Magic, and it had failed. Finn picked at his fingernails as he stared at the black bold headline, at the picture of Hugh Rutherfold, the would-be killer, flanked on either side by Aurors. Finn stared so hard at Rutherfold’s scared expression, so unlike the usual haughty face he’d seen once or twice at Blishwick Manor, that he jumped when Adonis swooped over the Slytherin table. Finn dropped the newspaper with a shaking hand and accepted the letter from the owl, already aware of what it carried. He tucked it into his pocket after scanning it quickly.

While the other students poured out the castle and down to the Quidditch pitch, Finn made his way down to the dormitory. Slughorn would also be attending the match, leaving his office - and therefore his fireplace - free. Sitting on his bed while he waited, Finn reached into the bottom of his trunk, pulling out the file he had taken from the Ministry. It felt heavy in his hands, and though he had read it hundreds of times since getting it, each time he pulled it out felt like the first.

Certificate of Adoption
Sebastian Thomas Blishwick


There were, in fact, two.

The most recent one had the names of Finn’s aunt and uncle. The second was dated less than a month prior to the first, when Sebastian had first been adopted by a couple, the O’Connells, from his biological parents, Jill and Henry Walker. Finn couldn’t stop staring at the father’s name.

Henry.

He couldn’t be Henry Potter.

Could he?

Were the O’Connells, who had Sebastian for only a month, Muggles? Was Walker a fake name? Finn’s hands were sweating so much he was afraid of smudging the ink, though it was years old now. He put it back, but the words were still stamped in his vision. Jameson said the illegitimate child was adopted by Muggles, but he never said for how long. What if it had only been for a few weeks, and Sebastian had been adopted a second time without many people knowing? It wouldn’t surprise Finn if no one knew about Sebastian becoming a Blishwick.

Blishwicks were secretive.

He glanced at his watch, stomach feeling as though it were made of snakes that twisted inside him. It was time to go home. Quickly and quietly, he walked to Slughorn’s office. He’d never traveled by Floo powder as much in his life as he had the past few months. As he spun through the cool green flames, Finn wished he was still in bed, curled up under the covers.

The thickness of the tension in the air was noticeable as soon as he stepped out of the fireplace. A dozen men in blood red robes stood in a semi circle around the room. Jameson and Halcyon were on opposites sides to each other, both pale and nervous. In the middle of it all, lounged low in an armchair as if he were at the theatre, was Gellert Grindelwald. His eyes had a slightly amused look as they watched Finn dust off his sweater.

“Good evening, young Finlay. You’re just in time.”

Finn nodded once and hurried to stand by his mother beside one of the white sofas that had been moved to accommodate for all the bodies in the room. Finn cast his gaze downward and swept over the room through his lashes. Amongst the Besmurten were half a dozen men Finn recognized, including Abraxas’ father. Rutherfold wasn’t there. Finn couldn’t decide if he was glad for it or not.

Grindelwald remained seated as he addressed them all. The glow of the fire, orange once more, lit one side of his face. “Yesterday, you had a chance to remove Minister Spencer-Moon from his position, and you failed,” he said. “It was a simple mistake, one that makes me all the more disappointed. Albert Fisher intercepted the summons for the Minister and went straight to the Head of the Auror Department.”

Finn’s stomach fell down into his knees. Albert Fisher’s desk had been the wrong one to leave the letter. This was his fault. But Grindelwald’s eyes never once looked in his direction. He didn’t know. Finn let out a shaky but silent breath.

Grindelwald looked straight at Jameson as he continued, “You have failed me, and raised suspicion. We have lost any element of surprise, now they will be looking directly within Britain for my supporters.”

He stood, and approached Jameson. Jameson’s eyes were wide, Finn could see the whites of them from where he stood.

Crucio.”

Jameson arched his back, mouth open seconds before he made any noise. Finn closed his eyes, but he couldn’t close his ears to his father’s screams. The guilt rose in him like bile, to mix with actual bile. Was he cursed to hurt everyone he loved? Doomed to destroy the lives of his family? Fated to stand helplessly and watch?

He couldn’t protect anyone.

Grindelwald flicked his wand once more, and Jameson, curled up on the floor, quieted, though his breathing was still loud. Grindelwald stood over him. “Do not fail me again.” To the rest of the room he said, “Come, we must discuss our next move, and quickly.”

Finn felt his own shoulders droop, the tension leaving him as the Besmurten did, filing out into the next room.

A small hand enclosed over Finn’s wrist. “Go,” his mother said quietly.

“Father-”

“I’ll take care of him.”

“But Mum, it was me -”

She pressed a finger to his lips. “Ssh. Leave now. I love you.”

Finn kissed her on the cheek before stepping back into the fireplace, his mind already spinning with questions to ask about Sebastian the next time he came home. Back at Hogwarts, Finn stepped out of the fireplace with renewed determination. He would find out the truth about Sebastian’s parentage. If his father’s torture was because of his mistake, he would be the one to make this right.

***

“Tom, you coming?”

The common room was a buzz of activity for a Saturday night, but it wasn’t enough for the boys. A couple of girls were giggling in the corner, glancing at them. Radbourne was shyly looking back, hand flattening his dark hair. Ben was ignoring them completely, feet dangling on the arm of the chair as he snickered at Radbourne. Finn was concentrating his energy on Tom, even ignoring Abraxas who was speaking animatedly to his friend in the nearby corner.

“I am not, and I suggest you stay in the castle,” Tom said without looking up from the parchment in his hands, his voice sounding as though this was more of an order than a suggestion. “We do not need attention brought upon us. Not when I am beginning my plans.”

Finn knew better than to ask. He also knew better than to argue. The boys left Tom in the common room with his reading and trooped up to the dormitory. Fletcher was sitting cross legged on his bed, already in his pajamas, scribbling furiously into a book. It was a familiar sight, down to the black ink smudged into the tips of his curly blond hair.

“Think fast, Nott.” Ben picked up a pillow from the closest bed and hurled it at Fletcher.

Fletcher looked up, startled, as the pillow bounced off his head, the chocolate wrappers that were scattered around him fluttered to the floor.

“You coming out for a drink?” Finn asked. “Ben’s seventeen.”

Fletcher’s eyes - one blue and one brown - blinked slowly at them. “Yes, I know. I’ve heard it at least one hundred times today.”

Finn sat on the bed bedside him, peering down at his book. He pointed to where Fletcher had written The prince picked up his wand. “Is this me?”

“No. That’s you.” Fletcher pointed to the troll.

Ben snatched the quill from Fletcher’s hand and circled The princess clapped with delight. “And that’s Radbourne.”

Fletcher glared between Finn and Ben, spots of colour forming in his cheeks.

“You look like you need a drink,” Ben said seriously.

Finn clapped Fletcher on the shoulder. “Get dressed, my friend.”

Fletcher sighed. “I hate you.”

“We love you, too.”

Ten minutes later, the boys stood by the dormitory door in a line. Finn cast the Disillusionment Charm on them one by one, feeling rather like a captain addressing his soldiers. The charm was perfect, and Finn took a moment to silently congratulate himself on it. Downstairs, Tom was still in the corner, his back to the common room entrance. The boys slipped out easily into the stone passageway and into the dungeons.

There was a tunnel that Radbourne and Ben found last year, behind the tapestry of three dragons on the second floor, and it was through here they emerged into a cold and quiet area. Finn gathered his bearings as the others clambered out from the tunnel; a hole in the ground hidden by a fake rock. They were behind a row of shops, the backs of which were tall and dark. Peering down an alleyway, Finn could see the lights of the main street. Music drifted faintly from one of the pubs.

Once Fletcher clambered out, Radbourne replaced the fake rock over the entrance. It looked as though it was moving on its own, since Radbourne was all but invisible.

“Right, lads,” Ben said, clapping his hands together.

They cut through the alleyway, Finn wrinkling his nose against the smell of rubbish, and then they were out on the main street. Though it was still November, the shops were strung with Christmas lights. Finn grimaced at them, but Fletcher’s eyes were as bright as the light up reindeer on top of Scrivenshaft’s. They pressed themselves against the wall of The Hog’s Head. The inn was a fairly new addition to Hogsmeade, and wasn’t yet fitted with the latest spell detectors. Sure, Ben was seventeen, but why use money when an Invisibility Charm was so perfect? The place was crowded and rowdy that nobody noticed a few bottles of drink leaving the shelves seemingly on their own.

The boys sat at the top of a hill, the firewhiskey warming their insides where their coats didn’t quite warm their outsides. The lights of Hogsmeade were below them, leading up to the castle like a trail. Finn watched the stars instead, leaning back on his hands, the grass scratchy and cold. The loud conversation of the boys became no more than a buzz in the background as they laughed and shared a cigarette, the charm finally faded.

“I need to piss,” Fletcher said, rising and brushing the dirt from his trousers.

“Me too,” Radbourne said.

Once they’d disappeared, Finn turned to Ben. “I’m going to ask you something and you’re going to give me a serious answer.”

Ben swallowed his mouthful of drink. “I don’t have to give you shit, Blishwick.”

Finn stared at him. “I can wait until Fletch and Rad come back, if that’s what you want.”

He took the cigarette from Finn’s fingers. “Fine.”

“Did you see a Muggle over the summer?”

Ben clenched his jaw, still staring straight ahead into the town. “I did.”

“Like… snog?”

“Once or twice.”

“Fuck?”

Ben glanced at him sharply. “No. It was just… we met, got along…”

“But your father found you?”

Ben sighed. “Yeah.”

“Why does it matter? I didn’t think your dad cared about anything you did.”

“Because…”

Fletcher and Radbourne returned, talking loudly. Ben cast a quick glance at them, and said nothing more.

When the stars disappeared and the sky lightened to a pale blue along the horizon, the boys finally returned to the castle. They didn’t bother to keep their voices down as they walked through the tunnel; laughing loudly and shoving one against the rocky walls, still warm from drinking. As they neared the end, Radbourne, ahead of the group, stopped without warning, and the rest of them bumped into him. One by one they stumbled back comically, and Finn would have laughed had he not seen the reason for Radbourne’s sudden halt. The tapestry that covered the exit was pulled back and someone was waiting for them. Someone with a Prefect badge attached to their green robes, skin so pale it almost glowed in the dark of the tunnel.

Tom.

His hair was disheveled, and arms crossed as he looked at them with an unreadable expression. “Did I not tell you not to go?”

“Have some fun for once, Tom,” said Ben.

Finn glanced quickly at Ben. What was he doing? He was going to make Tom angrier.

“Get out of there.”

They didn’t move for a few seconds, then Radbourne stepped closer to Tom. He stood behind him, facing the tunnel entrance with his head down.

“Rad, what are you doing?”

Radbourne didn’t meet their eyes. “Tom’s right. It was stupid of us.”

Fletcher shuffled his feet. Ben’s knuckles cracked.

“Teach them a lesson,” Tom said.

Radbourne glanced up sharply. “What?”

“You heard me. Show them what happens when they disobey me.”

Radbourne’s olive skin turned white as he looked between Finn, Ben, Fletcher and Tom. Finn’s stomach tightened, and his fingers twitched toward his wand.

“Radbourne.” Ben’s voice was calm, but held the hint of a message Finn didn’t understand. It was like a plea.

With a shaking hand, Radbourne pulled out his wand, and before any of them had the chance to react, there was a flash of light and tremendous crash. Finn, Fletcher and Ben dove out of the tunnel as the ceiling collapsed in a shower of rocks. Finn landed on his stomach, hand twisting painfully under him. Through ringing ears, he heard the coughs from the other two that told him they were okay. When the dust cleared, Tom and Radbourne were nowhere to be seen.

Ben rolled over, white dust on his face, to look up at the now-blocked entrance. He said, “You know, future generations are going to hate him for that.”

***

Snow began to swirl gently over the castle in the early morning. Finn knew this because he was awake to watch it. It was cold on the window sill of the first floor corridor, his breath was visible as faint white mist, but he didn’t mind, only pulled his robes tighter over his pajamas. He continued staring out the window at the flakes that fell like feathers against the navy blue sky, and he shivered.

His eyes itched with tiredness, but trying to sleep was useless. He felt sick. On top of that, his hand still throbbed painfully. He hadn’t gone to the hospital wing initially, in case it became obvious he was involved in the collapse of the tunnel, and hadn’t wanted to ask for Tom’s help in brewing a potion. But perhaps it was safe enough now. He checked his watch; reading five twenty on the gold runes through the cracked face. He rose from the steps; even if it was early, he was sure Madam Flint wouldn’t mind if he took something for his hand without her noticing.

Walking into the large white room, he was surprised to find it wasn’t empty; the matron was bustling around a small, lone figure sitting with her back to him on the far bed. Madam Flint spotted him and handed something to the redheaded girl before approaching him. He showed her his hand, and she applied a salve that soothed it within seconds.

Rubbing his hand, he nodded at the girl on the bed and whispered, “Is that Brindley McCroy?”

“Yes.” Madam Flint followed his gaze, her face grim. “Her grandmother passed away the other day. It made her condition worse.”

“Condition?”

Madam Flint didn’t elaborate, packing up the bottles and creams on a tray before carrying them into her office.

Finn took a deep breath, swaying on the spot as he deliberated going to Brindley. He found himself walking over without seeming to control his feet, and sat beside her on the bed. He blamed it on the day. She didn’t look up - only continued staring at her hands in her lap - but she rolled toward him slightly as his weight sunk the bed, until their arms were touching. Neither of them spoke for a long time, her breathing hoarse and rattled. He wanted to know about her condition - a virus? a defect? - but for once he stayed silent. She sniffed, wiping her face on her sleeve. After a moment’s hesitation, and since there was no one around to see, he took her hand in his.

“I’m sorry about your grandmother,” he said softly.

She sniffed again, louder, her voice brittle as she said, “Thank you.”

“Hero died a year ago today.”

He didn’t know what made him say it; he had never been one for sharing. He had tried so hard not to let himself think about it, even though his stomach had been churning all night. Something about her aura of grief, one he knew well, compelled him to share.

“Oh, Finn,” she whispered, and rested her head on his shoulder. After a while, he lay his cheek on her hair, hoping it was thick enough that she wouldn’t feel the tears that fell.

***

The school day passed in blur. Finn didn’t speak to anyone, and no one spoke to him. The boys knew better, or maybe Tom had spoken to them. Either way, Finn didn’t mind being left alone. He was tired from staying up all night, and in Potions, mixed up his beetle’s eyes with peppercorns and melted the bottom of his cauldron. It wasn’t until he entered their antechamber at the end of the day that he finally spoke. Tom was sitting in one of the gray armchairs, a snake curled up in his lap like a cat. It even raised its head and hissed at him as he entered.

Finn jumped back in alarm. “What the fuck is that?”

Tom ignored him. It needed no explanation, after all, except for what the hell it was doing in his possession. He stroked the head of the snake with a finger; it lowered its head.

“I have a Muggleborn student from Hufflepuff,” Tom said. “I just have a few questions for them. They might know something.”

A Hufflepuff student? There was a whimper and Finn looked around, finally noticing the young boy on the floor. He hadn’t realised the tightness in his chest until it relaxed; it wasn’t Brindley McCroy.

Finn blinked. Had he really been worried it was her? He mentally shook himself. He was stressed, that’s all, and had seen her similarly vulnerable. The boy in front of him was pale and shaking. Tom said something in Parseltongue; that eerie hissing that still sent a shiver down Finn’s spine whenever he heard it. The snake slithered from his lap onto the floor, circling the boy like a shark.

Tom rose from the chair just as sleekly and stood in front of the boy, who was watching the snake with terrified eyes.

“Do you know of an adopted Muggleborn in your house?” Tom said softly.

“I-I don’t think so,” the boy said, voice shaking, eyes still on the snake.

“I said, is there an adopted Muggleborn in Hufflepuff?” Tom’s voice was calm.

Finn swallowed. “Tom -”

The snake hissed loudly and struck out towards Finn, who took a hasty step back and fell silent. He knew he should speak up, to stop the boy from being tortured, but then Sebastian might be in his place, and Finn couldn’t let that happen.

Tom said something to the snake. Finn didn’t shut his eyes in time. The snake darted out and bit the boy’s arm, who let out a cry of pain. Immediately, his arm began to swell and grow red and then purple, slowly spreading up his arm. The boy’s whimpering was cut off into a ragged gasp, and he clutched at his throat with his other arm, his breathing reminding Finn of Brindley. Finn rushed forward and lifted the boy under the armpits. Tom sighed irritably, but let Finn drag the boy out to the hospital wing, missing the glare Finn threw at him.

Though it was late when Finn returned, Tom was still awake, pacing the room, but stopped when Finn entered.

“Well?”

Finn rubbed his face tiredly. “Madam Flint says he’ll be okay, once they figure -”

“No, no, no,” Tom said agitatedly. “What did the venom do? Is he suffering?”

The manic gleam in his eye made Finn swallow. “Um… well, yeah.”

A terrible smile broke out on Tom’s face. “I think I can use the venom,” he said, beginning to pace. “In a potion. Though I don’t want it to work so fast. On some things, maybe. But for a potion, something slower…”

Finn didn’t think his legs would hold him up much longer, but instead of falling into one of the chairs, he cut across Tom’s muttering with an excuse. Tom waved a distracted hand in permission. Finn left the dungeons without knowing where he was going. All he knew was that he had to leave the cold. He walked slowly through a corridor toward the Great Hall when a hand shot out of nowhere to grab his collar. He found himself yanked into a broom closest, nose to nose with Brindley. Her face was pale in the light of her wand, her freckles standing out stark. Finn shot an alarmed look through the gap in the door, in case anyone had seen. Did she think this was okay now? Why did he have to crack and show weakness?

“Look, McCroy,” he drawled, “I know you fancy me, but broom closets are uncomfortable. Take my word for it.”

“Ew, you wish” she said. “I need a favor.”

“I repeat: uncomfortable.”

She punched his arm, but since there wasn’t enough room for her to draw her hand back it was more of a nudge. In fact, they were so close Finn would only have to take a deep breath for their chests to touch. “Not that kind of favor. I need you to translate something for me.”

“What?”

She held up something in her hand. “This. My aunt found it while she was packing up some of Grandma’s things. It belonged to my mother.”

It was a small book. Finn took it from her, squinting to examine it in the wand-light. It was a thick, worn journal, with spare bits of paper that had been shoved carelessly in, sticking out in all directions. He opened it carefully. It was written almost entirely in a runic language, even the notes scrawled in the margins. His heart swelled with excitement, but he concealed the feeling from her with a bored expression.

“Well?” she asked. “Can you read it?”

“Yes.”

Brindley’s voice was full of excitement. “Will you translate?”

“And why would I want to do that?”

Brindley raised an eyebrow slyly. “Because if you don’t, I’ll tell Professor Dippet that you stole what was possibly a classified file from the Ministry. That’s probably illegal, you know.”

Finn’s stomach lurched like he had missed a step. He fought to look unconcerned. “Did you let me take it just so you could use it against me?”

“No, this is just a happy coincidence. I can’t blame you; if it were my family, I’d want to know too. But I don’t think the Auror department will be happy.” She stroked her chin in mock-thought. “What do they think they’ll do with you if they find out?”

She was evil. He stared at her in the way that even intimidated seventh years, but she looked like she meant it. He groaned. “Fine. But don’t you dare tell anyone I’m doing this for you.”

She beamed, triumphant. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone you’re doing something nice for once. Your precious bad boy reputation will remain intact.”

He smirked. “You think I’m a bad boy?”

She stepped out of the broom closet, and now that she had the room, she punched his arm hard. “You wish.”

***

A/N: All the thanks in the world to my beta Julie, and to you for reading. I don't say it enough but it means the world to me ♥


Chapter 7: Casablanca
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People are so quick to judge others faults, but never quick to point out their own.

- Author unknown

*


Finn was so excited about that night’s duelling club that he almost didn’t notice Brindley missing from Transfiguration.

Almost.

If he was being honest with himself (and he usually was), he was more than okay with it. Still embarrassed from the moment they shared in the hospital, and already regretting his agreement to help her translate that book, Finn couldn’t help but wonder what it was about her that got under his skin. The fact she wasn’t scared of him? That a Muggleborn Hufflepuff thought she was his equal? Whatever the reason, the less he saw of her the better.

Stepping into the Great Hall to the buzz of excited students, all thoughts of Brindley McCroy vanished from his mind. The hall was more crowded than he’d ever seen it on a Thursday night. More students joined the duelling club every week. To Finn, it was more people to perform in front of. He wondered how many had joined because they’d heard of his skill. After the humiliating incident of the first duelling club night, Finn had thrown all of his energy into the rest of them, and had improved greatly. He scanned the room for his friends, and spotted Sebastian instead. He was one of the latest, and Finn was glad for it, since he couldn’t always be there to hex bullies himself. Sebastian had seen him as well, and walked over. Finn clapped him on the shoulder by way of greeting, but Sebastian’s forehead was creased.

“Do you know what Ilvermorny looks like?” he asked without preamble.

The question took Finn by surprise. “What? Of course I don’t.”

“Exactly. Neither do I, yet our cousin has been going there for years.”

Finn raised an eyebrow. His cousin Scout had been attending Ilvermorny on an extended exchange program, while her sister Briony remained at Hogwarts. Sure, Finn hadn’t heard much about her experiences, but he never spoke to her about his time at Hogwarts, either. “What is this about, Sebastian?”

Sebastian hesitated, brown eyes bright. “I don’t think she really goes there. I think they’re hiding something.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“Is it?” Sebastian said. “Because whenever I ask her about it, I get the vaguest responses. Same with Briony.”

“I’m sure it’s nothing. Maybe it’s just boring as shit.” He spotted his friends in the far corner.

“But -”

Finn ran a hand through his hair. “Look,” he said impatiently, “I don’t know, Bash, okay? You’re over thinking things again.”

“I am not. Don’t you think it’s strange?”

“Yeah, I guess. I dunno.”

“I just -”

“Sebastian! I don’t have time for this right now. Go away.”

“Fine,” he said quietly. He walked away with his head bent, shoulders drooping.

Finn felt bad as he watched Sebastian rejoin his friend, wondering what that had been all about, and sighed heavily as Grindelwald flashed across his mind. Who knew for sure that the Potter child was raised by Muggles, anyway? It could easily be somebody else. He studied his face, trying to determine if it held any similarities with Henry Potter, but without a photo to compare, it was impossible.

Finn shook his head to clear his thoughts. Between Brindley and Sebastian, he’d never had so much to think about before. He made his way over to the boys, passing Malfoy, who nodded. Finn ignored him. The two of them hadn’t become partners again, and neither complained. Instead, Finn paired himself with Corbin Rosier, the only other one (apart from Tom) to have moved on from the dummies to a real opponent.

The evening passed without incident, filled with the usual shouts and bangs that Finn could work unfazed by. But toward the end of the hour, a loud eruption startled him out of his concentration. One of the dummies on the other side of the room had exploded in a shower of wood chips. The dust cleared, and the people nearby stepped away coughing. And there was Sebastian, standing just in front of what remained of the dummy. His wand arm was still raised, and even from the other side of the hall Finn could see how his chest rose and fell heavily as he stared at the spot where the dummy had been.

Finn was no longer worried about the bullies. He was worried for them.

***

After the duelling club ended, it was all too easy to slip away from the others with the commotion Sebastian had caused. On the second floor corridor, Finn placed a hand on the door to the empty classroom and sighed.

It’s not too late to back out.

But it was. Finn didn’t doubt for a moment that Brindley would go straight to Professor Dippet as she threatened. He knew Hufflepuffs were honest, but weren’t they supposed to use their powers for good? So he opened it. She was sitting at a desk, hair pulled loosely back, coughing quietly into a handkerchief. He gritted his teeth and approached her. A few hours of that sound and he’d hex his own ears off.

“Couldn’t you just get a book and do it yourself?” he grumbled by way of greeting, dropping his bag to the floor.

She shook her head. “It’d take me too long, I’m useless at runes. It’s why I dropped the class. But you’re good.” Her voice was husky, as if she had a sore throat.

Finn straightened in his chair. Obviously he was good. Brindley slid the fat journal toward him. He couldn’t help but marvel at it; some of the pages were yellowed, some stained or smudged, all covered in delicate runes. His heart swelled with the prospect of losing himself in the language. He turned it over in his hand. “Where did you get this again?”

“It was my mother’s,” she replied, watching him handle the journal.

Finn pulled out a letter and scanned it. “Is this her here? Mara?”

Brindley leaned closer to read. Softly, she said, “Yeah, that was her name.”

Finn glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. “What happened?”

Brindley spoke to her hands folded in her lap. “She was killed by a Dark wizard.”

“Why?”

“That’s what I want to try and figure out.”

He pulled out another letter. “No one knows?”

Brindley sat back in the chair with a sigh. “No. Well, not that I know of, anyway. Mum travelled around a lot for her work without any means of regular contact, so she and my grandparents hardly spoke to each other. And then one day the Ministry turned up on their doorstep with newly-born me, explaining the wizarding world. When I was ten I found a letter stashed away from my father, sent a few days after I was born, saying he’d come to get me. But the years kept passing, and when I turned thirteen I stopped waiting. If my grandparents knew anything else they never told me.”

Finn cleared his throat. “Where do you want me to start?”

Brindley pulled the book back toward her and flipped open the cover. “These letters are the same handwriting, but some are in runes and some in English.” She frowned as she looked between them. “Only… there’s some things in the ones I can read that don’t make sense. I was hoping there was something important in the others, and that’s why they’re coded.”

“And what are you going to do?”

She picked up a quill and brandished it dramatically. “Scribe. I’ll write down what you read.”

They went this way for an hour. Mara McCroy had been a Muggle archaeologist, but this much Brindley already knew. Mara’s notes in English were just that: notes. They detailed various finds at historical sites, all of which bored Finn to death. A broken piece of pottery here, a coin there. Even the ones written in runes were boring, something Finn never thought he’d admit.

“Wait a second,” Brindley said, reading over her notes with a slight furrow between her brows. “These ones are about wizarding artifacts.”

Finn glanced down at her translations. She was right. He hadn’t even noticed them being strange, having grown up in the wizarding world as he had. There were mentions of flying carpets and wand splinters.

She was still frowning at her parchment. “I wonder what that’s about,” she muttered quietly. “A secret mission, maybe?”

“I think you’ve been reading too many novels.”

She ignored him. “They’re all from a Harry. And hey, look at the date. January 1927.”

“So?”

“I was born that August,” Brindley said. “Which means Mum was pregnant while she wrote these. Do you think… do you think maybe this man was my father?”

“What are you asking me for? They’re your genes.”

She frowned at him. “I’m just asking for your opinion. You do have your own thoughts, don’t you?”

“I’m having one right now, but you won’t like it.”

Brindley rolled her eyes. Going back over the letters, and this time looking at them with a fresh point of view, it became clear that Mara and Harry were talking about one object in particular, but it was only ever referred to as ‘It’. Well, technically, the runes read ‘Ic’, but the other letters also had the occasional mistake, so Finn made the assumption. After a few more minutes of looking for any other mention of what the item might be, and why it needed to be coded, they were no closer. Brindley rubbed her eyes tiredly, then leaned over to read Finn’s watch. “Whoops, I should get ready.” She grabbed her bag and dashed out of the classroom.

Finn stared after her, wondering if she was coming back. He continued to flip through the book, studying the sketches of various items in the margins. After a moment, the click click of shoes and a fresh wave of perfume made him look up. Brindley was back, wearing a dark blue skirt that started just above her waist and reached down to her calves. A scarf of the same colour was wrapped around her neck, and red lipstick made her lips appear fuller than they already were.

“Whoa, you look -” He quickly cleared his throat.

She let her mouth drop open in mock surprise. “Could there possibly have been a compliment in there?”

“Almost, but I stopped it just in time.”

She stuck her tongue out at him. “Thank goodness.”

Curiosity got the better of him. “Where are you going?”

“A few of us are going to see a film,” she said, fixing up her hair in the dim glass reflection of one the windows. “We do it every month.”

“Is that one of those Muggle things? The big photograph?”

Brindley laughed. “Yes, but it has sound and tells a story. Want to come?”

Taken by surprise, Finn immediately replied with, “No.”

“Scared?”

No.” Another immediate response.

She was grinning. “Come on, then.”

He followed her out of the classroom. Oh Merlin, what was he doing? He could just imagine his father. He could also imagine Hero, who was probably grinning slyly at him from wherever she was. Curse that Muggle-lover. Curse his own pride.

There were four students waiting in the Entrance Hall, Saffron Worley among them. Their voices were hushed, but the joy and excitement was apparent. They quieted the instant Finn and Brindley came down the stairs. One boy with glasses that Finn recognized as Will Martin stepped forward, eyes narrowed accusingly.

“What is he doing here?”

“We knew you were crazy, B,” one of the girls said. “But this is taking it a little too far, don’t you think?”

“We’ve allowed the occasional Ravenclaw and Gryffindor through, but a Slytherin? And Finlay Blishwick at that?” Will said.

They weren’t scared of him. This little dirty bunch of Hufflepuffs were all looking at him defiantly and with suspicion. Finn opened his mouth to respond when Brindley caught his eye. She didn’t look away from his face as she said, “I trust him.”

Finn closed his mouth.

Will threw up his hands in defeat and stalked past them, the others not far behind. Brindley smiled at Finn before she followed them, and she never turned around to see if he was behind.

But he was.

They walked back toward the kitchens, and when Finn had caught up to Brindley, he whispered, “So where is this thing then?”

“Dufftown,” she replied. “We leave through a tunnel near our common room.”

Finn held back a grimace. He’d had enough of tunnels. “I didn’t know there was a secret entrance down here.”

“And why should you?” Brindley said. “Only Hufflepuffs know about it. It’s a bit of an urban legend, actually. We tell the new students on their first night.” Barrels lined the kitchen corridor on either side, and Finn watched as Will counted the fourth one on the right and removed the lid. One by one, they disappeared into the barrel, which was only a short drop onto a soft, earthy floor. This tunnel was smaller and warmer than the one the boys had used, and smelled of dirt, but not entirely unpleasantly. It had thin roots hanging from the ceiling and thicker ones beneath their feet that Finn narrowly avoided stumbling over. The others were so used to this path that they stepped over the roots Finn was seeing too late, and his going was slow. Will kept throwing dirty looks over his shoulder at the two of them, so Finn pulled the finger at him.

Brindley stayed behind the group with him, and continued, “The story goes that long ago, there were two Hufflepuff students who were best friends, and learned to become Animagi, and they both took the form of badgers. They were often transformed, much to the delight of the other students. But one night, there was a siege at the castle. Dark wizards held everyone trapped inside. The two friends dug this tunnel so the students could escape, and finished it just as the wizards broke into the school. The friends stayed behind to fight, and to make sure no one could follow the students into the tunnel. But they were killed.” She gestured to two humped shapes on either side of them just ahead. “They still guard the tunnel to this very day.”

On closer inspection, the shapes proved to be two rocks that looked like sleeping badgers, heads resting on their paws like dogs.

“Huh.”

“Does Slytherin have any stories like that?”

Finn eyed the ‘badgers’ warily as he passed them. “Not really. Mostly great purebloods of the past or Bloody Baron theories.”

She snorted. “Go on, tell me one.”

Finn ran a hand through his hair. “Ah, okay. There’s one that goes…” and he launched into the tale, not bothering to keep his voice down despite the language and graphic descriptions. He even did the actions, which involved a lot of arm waving, as well as the occasional sound effect. “…and that’s how he got the name,” he finally finished.

Brindley didn’t look squeamish like the first years usually did. Instead, she looked at him sardonically. “That’s one of yours, isn’t it?”

Finn grinned proudly. “Sure is.”

“That’s disgusting!” someone called from up ahead, and Finn and Brindley laughed.

***

The passage ended with roots that formed a ladder for them to climb out. Finn was short enough that he hadn’t had to crouch as much as the others, and as he waited for them to stretch their backs, he looked around him, rubbing his arms against the chill. The mountains that surrounded Hogwarts were clearly visible by the light of the full moon, and the pinpricks of light from the castle glittered in the distance. When everyone was ready, they walked only a short distance before signs of life could be seen and heard. They were in a wide, flat area, where row upon row of automobiles were lined up in front of what looked like a large piece of parchment. Men in fedoras and women in flowery dresses with coats stood just outside their cars, or leaned into others. Finn breathed in deeply; the smells were a mixture of popcorn and sausages. It was delicious, even with the harsher smell of the cars.

Brindley quietly informed Finn that the brothers of one of the girls, Clarissa, brought both their cars to the movie every month so that the Hufflepuffs could use one. She pointed to the pale yellow car with no roof towards the side of the field. As they walked toward it all Finn saw was the blue Morris Hero had almost died in. He swallowed against his nausea and climbed in; the big picture could still be seen clearly. Since there six of them instead of the usual five, it was a tight fit in the back. Finn and Brindley were squashed together, and Saffron was practically on the other boy’s lap, kissing, much to Finn’s disgust.

Finn yawned loudly throughout the beginning of the movie until there were mentions of the war. At first he thought it was because it reminded him of the situation with Grindelwald. But Brindley had leaned forward, her mouth slightly open as she hung onto every word, and to distract himself from the fact that their legs were touching, he tried to pay attention to the movie. He was surprised by how much he enjoyed it. At one point he even caught himself leaning forward like Brindley, but didn’t think anyone saw it.

The field cleared quickly once the movie was over, and Finn managed to escape the car as soon as it was. Before long it was just the Hogwarts students discussing the movie, or - like two of them - making out in the bushes nearby. When Clarissa and Will crossed the field to talk to Clarissa’s brothers, Brindley inclined her head toward the car beside them.

“Want to drive it?”

Finn blinked. “What?”

Brindley was already jumping back into the car. “Come on!”

Oh, Merlin. Was this how he died? Acting like a Muggle, and just because he didn’t want to seem like a coward in front of a girl? He tried to conjure up his father’s voice, Muggles are beneath you, but Brindley patted the driver’s seat with her cheeks high with colour and her smile bright. Against all common sense - which was only a small part anyway - Finn got into the car and shut the door before he could change his mind.

He put his hand on the clutch, and she placed hers over the top.

“Like this,” she said, and guided his hand into what she called a gear. The car shuddered into life beneath them.

It was jerky, but he soon got the hang of it, driving up and down the field with more confidence and speed each time. The wind blew through his hair and made his eyes water. He could almost forget he was a pureblood, a Blishwick. In the car, his troubles flew away as the ground did, and he was just Finlay. It was invigorating, freeing. He could have been a Muggle right now, and he didn’t even think he’d care. As they circled around and behind the movie screen, Brindley’s scarf blew off and disappeared over the back of the car. She let out an amused whoop and told him to stop.

Once the car was still, he turned to her and asked, “Want me to go backwards?”

“That’s okay. I’ll just go grab it.” She went to open the door.

“Wait,” he said suddenly. Ignoring her quizzical look, this just Finn got out of the car and walked around to the passenger’s side. He opened the door and offered a hand. “M’lady.”

Brindley giggled, but raised her nose in mock haughtiness as she took it. She stepped out of the car, and Finn noticed the dark bruises that were spread over most of her chest, covered before by her scarf. He took an unconscious step forward, right onto her foot. She lost her balance and stumbled, grabbing his arm as Finn tightened his grip on her hand to keep her from falling. They laughed breathlessly, noses inches from each other.

“There you are!”

They jumped apart just as Will appeared from around the corner of the screen. He looked relieved. “Come on, we’re going. It’s nearly dawn.”

Once goodbyes and thank yous had been exchanged with Clarissa’s brothers (of which Finn took no part), and Saffron had been retrieved, the six students made their way back toward the passage to the castle. At the back of the group once more, Brindley linked her fingers with Finn’s, and he forgot all about asking her about the bruises.

***

A/N: Muchos graditude and muchos love to Julie ♥

Chapter title borrowed from the 1942 Warner Bros film of the same name.

Chapter 8: A Snake in the Den
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

When people ask what I see in you, I just smile and look away because I’m afraid if they knew they’d fall in love with you too.
- Author unknown

*




“And that’s the ehwaz rune, right?”

Finn leaned in to peer at the book. “No, that’s mannaz.”

Brindley blew out a breath, stirring the hair that had fallen across her face. “Damn. Thought I had that one down.”

“You are getting better, though.”

They were back in the empty classroom. A few weeks had passed since they first started their translations, and they had pieced together a glimpse into a few months of Mara’s life, which, Brindley had noticed with a face void of colour, turned out to be the last of them. Each letter counted down to the date of Brindley’s birth, which meant Mara’s death. Finn looked over the few remaining letters to translate with tired eyes, aware of how close her thin wrist was to his own. There were a lot of things about Brindley he’d been growing aware of lately.

Mara documented a lot in the English parts of her journal, which meant nearly all of it was Muggle related, and therefore tedious to Finn. Brindley had been able to make more meaning of it than him.

“So, to summarize,” she said, steepling her fingers under her chin, “it sounds like Mum was also looking into this wizarding dig thing. A kind of side project, I guess. This Harry is - or was - a wizarding archaeologist, and has something of value that a dangerous wizard wants. Though, how she got involved with magic, I have no idea. Perhaps Harry just swept her off her feet.” She grimaced, and Finn grinned. At first, this idea of a whirlwind romance thrilled Brindley, but then it became apparent that Harry was already married with a son. She flipped back through the notes and added, “But in these last ones Harry tells her to be careful of this man, who they just call ‘G’.”

“Maybe he’s a rival archaeologist,” Finn suggested.

“Maybe,” she said, but she didn’t look convinced. She traced her mother’s signature with a finger. “But he’s more than that. What about all those times Harry tells Mum to stay safe? And then she dies just a few weeks later? That sounds like more than just trying to add to his collection.”

She coughed again, and Finn remembered what Madam Flint had said about Brindley having a condition.

“Does this have anything to do with… you know.” He raised an eyebrow pointedly.

“I think it might,” she said quietly.

Tonight looked to be the last night of their translating, as only three letters remained. Brindley had already reached the end of the journal, where she found newspaper clippings from wizarding newspapers as well as Muggle ones. And there, tucked away in the back, was a letter in English from Harry with a list of baby names. Brindley’s eyes had welled with tears as she realised Harry was her father, and Finn had turned away, pretending not to notice.

With one of the last letters in front of them, Finn said, “You might be able to find him, you know.”

“Who, Harry?”

“Yeah. Look here.” He picked one up and translated, ‘Monty is safe at Hogwarts, and the Hollow secured also. It’s not used, and I can protect you better there. Stop being so stubborn.’ Hm, so that’s where you get it from.”

Brindley ignored his comment. “So if Monty is his son,” she said slowly. “He’s my… brother. There must be records of him here, or maybe one of the older teachers know of him. This was only sixteen years ago. Maybe they even know of the Dark wizards active at that time. But what’s the Hollow?”

“I have no idea.”

“How are we meant to figure this out if nothing makes sense!” She banged her fist on the table.

“Alright, calm down. There’s still the rest of this one and two more.”

The letters were brief. This letter was messier than the others, as if it had been written in a hurry. It was smudged in places, and they’d left it until last for this reason. Finn held it carefully, though the ink was long dry, as he read aloud.

“'He has bound' - no, ‘found me. I won’t give’, wait, or is that ‘tell’?”

“Same thing,” Brindley said. “Keep going!”

“Um, ‘I won’t give him the information. I will meet you at the Hollow’.”

Brindley said quietly, “But she never made it.”

“And that’s the last letter,” Finn said.

“So Mum was killed by a Dark Wizard known as ‘G’, because he was looking for something Harry had?” Brindley frowned. “Is that right?”

Finn looked at her. The room was suddenly very cold. If it weren’t for the ticking of his watch, he would have believed time had stopped. To have it spoken aloud was to have the pieces fall into place. It all made sense, and he couldn’t believe it had taken him this long to realize. ‘Ic’ was correct, after all. Invisibility Cloak.

Brindley was Henry Potter’s illegitimate child.

Brindley was speaking, but she sounded very far away. “Are you okay? You’ve gone awfully pale.”

“I’m -” His voice came out hoarse. He cleared his throat and tried again. “I’m fine.”

It wasn’t Sebastian, but Brindley, of all people. How could this be possible? What was he supposed to do now? She was the one he and Tom were supposed to take to Grindelwald, the one to become a prisoner to force her father to hand over the Cloak. His mind was working at a hundred miles an hour, and he was forced to put his head between his knees. Brindley was saying something in an alarmed tone, and had a hand on his back, but he hardly noticed. He was too busy willing himself not to faint.

“I’ve got to go,” he said, and left the room without further explanation.

Finn concentrated on steadying his breathing as he walked quickly to the nearest bathroom. Splashing his face with cold water from the sink, he tried to think of what his next move should be, but drew up blank. He gripped the side of the basin with both hands, and raised his dripping face to the mirror. His eyes were wide in his pale face, but they didn’t look confused. They looked determined.

He couldn’t protect Hero from the spider, or his father from the Elder Wand, but he could protect Brindley from Grindelwald.

***

At the last duelling club before Christmas break, there was a new student.

Brindley stepped into the Great Hall just after eight. Finn was surprised to see her. Just the other night, when he had blasted two chairs away in their empty classroom, she’d said how learning to duel was a waste of time and energy.

She took her place by the dummies where the other students at beginner level were. Finn mumbled to Corbin about wanting to practice his aim, and moved to stand in front of the dummy next to Brindley. They didn’t make eye contact, and spoke to each other out of the corner of their mouths.

“I’m sorry about the other night,” he murmured. “I had a… stomach ache.”

“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “Are you alright now?”

“Yeah. What changed your mind?”

“If that Dark wizard killed my mother and is still out there,” she said, “I want to find him, and I want to be ready.”

Finn forced back the sickening thought of Brindley facing Grindelwald as he glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. But with her chin raised and a determined glint in her eye, he couldn’t help but smile to himself as he raised his wand. Finn lost himself in the joy of duelling, hardly paying attention to even how Brindley was doing, until the sound of his name broke his concentration.

“Steady, Blishwick!”

He looked around, but it wasn’t him being addressed. It was Sebastian. Patrick stood beside him as he aimed his wand at a dummy on the other side of the room.

“I’ve been meaning to ask you,” Brindley said quietly, also watching Sebastian. “If your cousin is Muggleborn, what is it that makes him a Slytherin?”

Finn watched as Sebastian cast a spell. It burst from his wand in a blinding flash of light, and with an explosion, he turned another dummy into nothing.

“I think we’ll find out soon enough,” he said.

Halfway through the evening, Finn became aware of the looks he was receiving from his friends. Had they been noticing his late night absences? Would they guess? He didn’t want to raise suspicion, and had lingered long enough. But just as he rejoined them, there was a commotion behind him. Brindley had fallen to her knees, arms clutching her stomach as she coughed. He made to run to her, but other students were faster, which meant he had time to check himself. What would everyone think, Finn Blishwick running to the aid of a Hufflepuff girl? He quickly looked around, but everybody’s attention was on Brindley.

Except Tom’s.

Tom was watching him, his dark eyes narrowed slightly. Finn’s gut twisted together. He swallowed and looked away as Tom approached him.

“Concentrate, Finn,” Tom said. “The coup is less than a fortnight away.”

Of course, the coup. A date had been set for when the Besmurten and some of their British supporters, the Blishwicks included, would attack the Ministry. Finn reminded himself that that was his goal, not Brindley.

He couldn’t afford to be distracted.

***

Finn’s last class before Christmas break was Care of Magical Creatures, and it couldn’t go fast enough for him. He couldn’t help but notice Brindley’s absence, and this disturbed him. Less by the fact that she was missing and more by the fact that he noticed she was missing. But after her coughing fit the night before, he couldn’t dismiss the dread in his stomach.

He eyed the porlock he was brushing. They were supposed to be gaining their trust in this lesson, and though it had finally stopped shifting nervously from cloven hoof to cloven hoof, Finn needed an excuse to go to the infirmary. He put down the brush, glanced around him - no one was paying him attention, and for once this was a good thing - and yanked the porlock’s tail. He expected it to kick him; those little hooves would be enough to bruise him, but not do any serious damage. Instead, the porlock whirled around and bit his hand.

“Ouch! You little bastard!”

“Is there a problem, Mr Blishwick?” Kettleburn said.

His porlock had run at his exclamation, and was now hiding under a nearby bush. Finn glared at it before holding up his hand to Kettleburn.

As he made his way to the hospital wing, Finn wondered what the hell he was doing, aside from healing his throbbing finger. Why was Brindley’s wellbeing so important? He wouldn’t go as far to say that he cared exactly, but there was definitely something stirring inside him. In fact, it reminded him of a time when he was eight, and he had split his lip open after falling from a tree. He’d been trying to build a tree house without magic, and his mother had said if he was going to behave like a Muggle, he would heal like one. For days he’d kept prodding his lip with his tongue, even though it hurt every time he did it. Thinking of Brindley was like that. It was painful, and it was irritating, but he couldn’t stop.

In the infirmary corridor, he rounded a corner, and quickly ducked back behind it when he saw Brindley and Saffron Worley standing outside the hospital. They were both in their robes, and for the first time, Finn noticed just how pale and thin Brindley looked in them compared to Worley. He strained his ears to listen.

“Will your aunt seriously do nothing about it?” Worley said. “You say she hates magic, but this is your life we’re talking about.”

Brindley sighed. “Sometimes,” she said quietly, “I don’t see the point. There’s nothing anyone can do.”

“You can’t talk like that, B.”

“I’m taking one day at a time, okay, Saffy? Don’t worry about it.”

So caught up in eavesdropping as he was, Finn didn’t realize their voices were growing closer until the they appeared around the corner. The three of them jumped in fright.

“Merlin’s beard!” Worley exclaimed. “What the heck are you skulking around for?”

“I’m not skulking. I hurt my hand.” He held it up as proof, and blood dribbled down his wrist.

“Oh, you poor thing!” Brindley exclaimed, while Worley laughed shortly under her breath. “One of the porlocks, was it? They’re usually quite peaceful.”

“Er… yeah.”

“Well, good luck with it,” she said, as Worley tugged at her arm. “See you ‘round, Finn!”

Before he entered the infirmary, he looked back at the same time as Brindley. She smiled widely, and waved, and looked like the Brindley he knew. He still couldn’t help wondering what she was hiding behind that smile.

***

It was a good thing Finn was too lazy to pack his bag on time, because at the last minute Adonis arrived for him. The letter from his parents explained that more Besmurten members were staying over Christmas, and they wanted to use his bedroom as sleeping arrangements, and he’d be one more mouth to feed, anyway. Finn rather thought it was just his mother wanting him to stay away. Whatever the reason, Christmas Eve found him standing in the center of the common room, downing a bottle of Dragon’s Breath in one, to the cheers of his fellow Slytherins.

Tossing the bottle aside, he cast his gaze around the room, glad to find most eyes were on him. He was taken by surprise to find a particular pair of deep brown eyes he was starting to believe he’d recognize anywhere, peering from the food table. He blinked in surprise - this was the Slytherin common room, after all - but quickly recovered. He sidled over to Brindley, pretending to examine the Christmas pudding so that he could talk to her out of the corner of his mouth.

“Gate crashing, are we?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.

She raised a finger to her lips and winked before disappearing into the crowd.

Finn shook his head, smiling to himself. He stopped quickly when it made the room spin. He gripped the table to steady himself, his arm brushing with someone familiar.

“Sorry, Bash,” Finn said, grabbing his shoulder, half in greeting and half to steady himself.

Sebastian looked unimpressed.

“Oh, cheer up!” Finn said. “It’s Christmas! No homework, no parents, the coup coming up…”

“What coup?”

Finn quickly shut his mouth, but it was more due to the fact that Malfoy had appeared on the other side of the table. “Er, nothing. Catch you later!”

There was a call for more food, and Finn left to a chorus of whistles to steal more snacks from the kitchen. The house elves were in a particularly jolly mood, and let him take whatever he wanted. He hadn’t quite made it to the end of the kitchen corridor when footsteps approached. Finn shoved the rest of the pastries into his mouth, but it was only Brindley. He swallowed his mouthful and brushed the crumbs from his shirt, watching her approach. There was no one else around, so he smiled. “Hey.”

She was right in front of him now, and threw her arms around his neck, smacking the side of his face as she did so.

“Ouch! Brindley, what -?”

“I really like you, Finn,” she whispered loudly. Her breath hit his face in a wave of alcohol and orange.

Finn wrinkled his nose. “Have you been drinking?”

She collapsed against him in a fit of giggles. Every cell in his body was screaming at him to wrap his arms around her, to pull her close and never let her go. But his muscles were stiff, ready to push her away if someone were to come around the corner.

“You’re like a vampire moth, though,” she said, sighing, “showing you its beautiful wings right before it bites you.”

He looked down at her helplessly, but was saved from replying when she abruptly added, “I’m lost.”

He snorted. “Right,” he said. “Well, you’re close to your lair. Come on, then.”

They walked slowly toward where he knew the Hufflepuff common room was, Brindley refusing to remove her arm from around his shoulders, and Finn refusing to acknowledge how the contact made his heart beat out of time. When they reached the barrels that hid the tunnel, Finn stopped.

“Where’s the entrance, B?”

She blinked, looking around. “I have never been here in my life.”

Finn closed his eyes briefly, forcing patience. “This is your common room. How do we get in? Is it in one of these barrels?”

She squinted, cocking her head to one side. She pointed to one of the larger ones. “Yes, that one. You need a password.”

“What is it?”

She finally took her arm away, tapping her finger against her bottom lip with an exaggerated, “Hmm…”

Finn grit his teeth. “Brindley, what’s the password?”

She whispered, “Gingerbread,” in his ear. Her breath sent a shiver down his back.

He tried it, but the barrel did nothing.

She laughed loudly, watching his efforts. “I’m only joking, there is no password. Look at you talking to a barrel!”

After swearing under his breath, and asking her again in various levels of frustration, she finally revealed how to get in through a portrait. The Hufflepuff common room was warm and round. Everything glowed orange, as if the sun was setting across the windows, though it was nearly midnight. The Hufflepuffs were having a Christmas party of their own, and it was so crowded and disorderly that nobody glanced at him twice. Brindley was holding onto Finn again, and this time he slipped an arm around her waist to prevent her from falling over. Finn was relieved to see Worley by a bookcase in the corner, something he never thought he’d be. She spotted them, put down her drink, and rushed over.

“Oh flobberworm balls!” she exclaimed. “What the heck did you do?”

“I didn’t do anything,” Finn said, offended. “She’s drunk. I’m just making sure she gets to bed safe.”

“How noble,” Worley said wryly. She pointed to the tunnel behind her. “Through there, fourth door on the right.” She glared at him. “Come straight back out.”

Finn nodded and followed her directions. With the arm not supporting Brindley, he pushed the door open to reveal a circular - everything was bloody circular - room. There were two single beds on either side, one half adorned with Muggle dreamcatchers and beaded cushions. Worley’s, Finn thought with an eye roll. He half carried half dragged Brindley to the other bed, which was surrounded by pictures of her and animals. Finn took a moment to examine the photos. Not all of them were moving. Brindley on a horse, grinning broadly. Brindley dressed up and dancing with Worley, Brindley at the beach. Young Brindley surrounded by fluffy ducklings, and though this one was still, she was clearly laughing in delight. He smiled at the photos, then eased her gently on the bed, ignoring her incoherent grumbling. He straightened to leave, but her fingers hooked themselves into the waistband of his trousers and yanked. Taken by surprise, he lost his balance and fell on top of her. She wrapped her legs around his hips, holding him in place.

“Brindley -!”

Merlin, she was strong. Her arms were around his neck, pulling him toward her but he fought against it. Not like this, not when she was drunk and the door wide open. It took every ounce of will he possessed to pull himself off her. When he finally did, it was with such an effort that he fell off the bed, taking the blanket with him. It fluttered down over his head. Brindley giggled before sliding down beside him.

“Good idea!” she said. “Let’s build a fort!”

Finn dug himself out of the blanket to stare at her as she pulled the pillows down from her bed, her face wearing a wide grin. “Are you serious?”

“Of course. You want in?”

Finn glanced uneasily at the open door, but the party sounded very far away. His pureblood Slytherin life sounded very far away.

Fuck it.

“Yeah, why not?” he said.

She grinned and waved her wand - a little unsteadily - and her blanket, as well as Worley’s draped over one another in the air, hovering just over their heads, enclosing them. Finn and Brindley sat facing each other cross legged, their knees touching. It was warm in their cave, lit from the outside, and it only grew warmer as he looked at her.

Time didn’t seem to be moving under the blanket.

Her skin looked soft in the glow, her eyes bright from drink and excitement, the colour high in her cheeks. She was staring at him with the same intensity, her giggly nature gone, and he wondered if her heart was beating as fast as his.

“You look like you have a halo,” he said. As soon as the words left his mouth, he mentally cringed. Never before had he felt the need to fill a silence when he was with a girl, especially with something so lame. In fact, he usually preferred it. Why was his stomach in knots?

She laughed. “Appropriate. You have one too.”

“Ironic.”

He must have moved closer to her without realizing, because suddenly he could see the gold flecks in her eyes, and the little freckle on her bottom lip. It was full and looked soft, that bottom lip, and it parted slightly as he moved even closer…

He kissed her. She kissed him back.

They were kissing.

It felt different from all the other times, so much so that it set mental alarm bells ringing. He was aware of the voice screaming warnings in his head, but these were easily silenced when her hand reached to touch his cheek. His own hand moved without his permission to cup the back of her neck, drawing her even closer. Her mouth opened, and he ran his tongue over hers.

After a long while, Finn pulled back for breath. Brindley smiled at him dreamily, eyelids drooping, and leaned forward. Finn thought she was going in for a hug, but she slumped against him and started gently snoring. Finn laughed softly, and once again lifted her onto her bed, her hair spread wildly across the pillow. He plucked her blanket from the air and draped it over her. Finn sighed, watching her chest rise and fall. He bent to kiss her forehead, smelling alcohol and something floral, and winced at the sound of her ragged breathing.

After leaving Hufflepuff’s common room, Finn walked back to his own common room, skin tingling. He rubbed at his arms irritably. It was only a kiss, why was his heart beating so fast? He felt charged, as if his blood had turned to some weird magical energy. His shirt felt too tight, and his lips felt swollen and hot with the memory of Brindley’s mouth.

What was this feeling?

A wave of noise and heat washed over him as he stepped into the common room. The party was still in full swing, but it had become dull to his ears.

I really like you, Finn. Her words replayed in his head.

He needed a distraction, and spotted Lucretia almost straight away, laughing in a corner with two of her friends. He marched over to her, grabbed her hand, and pulled her from the room without a word. Outside one of the antechambers, he stopped.

“Okay, Finn, not that I don’t like spontaneity, but -” Her sentence was cut short when he pressed his lips to hers. She responded immediately, her mouth tasting sharply of alcohol. He pressed her against the wall, and ran his hands up her ribs. But it wasn’t the same. Not the same as her…

Brindley.

Lucretia pushed him off with both hands against his chest, a look of insult on her face. He realized he’d spoken Brindley’s name aloud.

He ran a hand over his face. “Shit, Lu -”

“Whatever, Finn.”

“I’m sorry -”

She shouldered past him, and disappeared back into the common room, leaving Finn feeling lonelier than he ever had in his life.

***

A/N: Extra big thank yous for your patience during the break between chapters, and apologies for said break. Thank you Julie (banshee) so much for always being such a great (and patient) help. And thank you to everyone for your support! ♥


Chapter 9: The Beginning of the End
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You may have to lose who you were to find out who you are.
- Anonymous

*


On the night of the coup, Finn was horrified to find he had doubts. He and Tom were two underage Hogwarts students about to join a powerful group of wizards as they attempted to overthrow the Ministry. What were they thinking? So many things could go wrong. But he didn’t dare voice this aloud to Tom.

Tom didn’t want to disguise himself, as Finn had suggested. In their success, Tom had said, he wanted to be recognized. So Finn was forced to bite his tongue. But even a part of Finn allowed itself to be swept away by the thought of glory. He rather hoped that by the time they arrived, it would be too late to send them away. And that when they were victorious, no one would care.

Of course, it was a vain hope.

For a few minutes it was easy. The adrenaline in Finn’s veins turned the night into a blur of light and noise and the harsh accent of Andor Bence as he lead the fifty or so witches and wizards into the Ministry. There was duelling, and the nights spent practicing in the Great Hall were paying off as Finn successfully stunned his opponent. But the euphoria was short lived when their party was stopped in their tracks by the arrival of one person.

Albus Dumbledore.

Well, fuck.

Finn and Tom went to retreat into the Besmurten, hoping they would dissolve into the commotion of so many jostling bodies and run to the nearest fireplace to Floo back to Hogwarts before anyone saw them. But a rough hand grabbed Finn by the back of his collar, and by the sound of the indignant yell beside him, the same had happened to Tom. Before Finn could even draw breath, he was being Apparated. The tight sensation was more unpleasant than usual since he wasn’t expecting it. When Finn arrived at the new location he stumbled onto the carpeted floor, gasping for breath. It took him a few seconds to realize where he was.

Home. He was home.

Somehow, the familiarity was no comfort.

Finn kept his face pressed into the carpet as the pop of the other wizards arriving sounded around him. With much effort, Finn pushed himself up and on his feet. There was no use running now. So he stood, and waited, and wondered how Tom could look so calm in this situation.

Shortly after they arrived, most of the Besmurten retreated into the next room. At the very least, Finn was glad there wouldn’t be an audience for whatever was coming next. Jameson was in the middle of the room, biting his fingernails as he muttered something to the floor. Andor Bence was pacing back and forth in front of Finn and Tom, and despite being shorter than even Finn, it felt as though he took up all the space of the room.

“I don’t know vot you were doing there,” he said, shooting a glare at Jameson, “but you may have ruined everything. Did Dumbledore see you leave?”

“No, we -”

“And I notice you are still no closer to finding Potter’s child. Is it too easy for you, perhaps? Is that vy you choose to ignore it?”

“No, sir -” Finn stammered.

In fact, he had been planning to drag out the search, to throw Tom off the trail of Brindley. In the safety of the castle, this plan had seemed simple, even easy. Standing in front of Bence was a different story.

“I’ll give you something more to your standards, as you prefer,” Bence said. “I vant you to kill Dumbledore.”

“But -”

Bence rounded on him with such ferocity that Finn immediately shut his mouth. Then he turned to a blonde man in the corner. “Malfoy, I vant your son on the case immediately. Grindelvald grows impatient.”

“Yes, sir.”

Finn looked helplessly at the ground until Jameson pulled him aside, his usually neat hair sticking up in every direction, and his eyes bloodshot.

“Father, he can’t be serious -”

“Kill Dumbledore,” Jameson said, “or he will kill me, and then he will kill you.”

“But -”

The grip on Finn’s shoulder tightened. “And I know about your filthy habit,” he spat. “You’re as bad as your sister. No, you’re worse, because you saw what associating with Muggles did. She could have died in that contraption, and you go into one willingly anyway? You think your mother could bear to lose you too?”

Finn’s stomach lurched. “I just -”

“Get out of my sight.”

He didn’t argue that one, and followed Tom to the other side of the room. In the fireplace, Finn’s mind spun as fast as his body. How did his father know about the movie with the Muggleborns?

Stepping into Slughorn’s office, empty in the lateness of the hour, Finn wanted nothing more than to curl up into his bed in the dormitories. To forget everything about tonight, even if just for a few hours. But without looking at him, Tom said in a flat voice, “Ante-chamber,” and Finn’s dreams of ending the night were crushed.

Benedict and Fletcher were there; Ben burning his name into the wood of the table with his wand, and Fletcher scribbling away in a notebook. Both looked up in astonishment as Tom blew in, Finn trailing behind.

“The fuck -?” Ben began.

“Get out,” Tom said, so sharply you could cut yourself on the words.

Ben and Fletcher didn’t need telling twice; they rose straight away and slipped through the door. But when Finn went to follow, still daring to feel hopeful, Tom said, “Not you.”

Feeling sick to his stomach, Finn slowly turned back around. He waited as Tom went from standing, to sitting, to pacing, and back again. The sound of Finn’s watch was deafening in the silence of the room. As the seconds passed, each tick felt like a nail being driven through his body, he was so on edge. But Finn didn’t dare open his mouth. Finally, Tom stopped his pacing.

“Come here, and give me your arm.”

Finn stood in front of Tom, dread making him feel as though he’d swallowed a Bludger, and held out his left arm. Tom grabbed his wrist and pulled the sleeve back so that Finn’s inner forearm was exposed, and pressed the tip of his wand to the skin. Finn flinched, since it was rarely a comfortable thing to have someone’s wand pointed at you, but Tom’s grip was vice-like; there was no escape for whatever was coming, and judging by the intensity of Tom’s black eyes, it wasn’t going to be good. Tom began to trace an invisible, complicated pattern, and if the magic required a spell, Tom was performing it non-verbally.

Tick, tick, tick went Finn’s watch.

Then the pain started. A tightening as if his arm were being squeezed by a hundred tiny hands, then a prickle, until finally an agonizing burning. A black mark was forming where Tom’s wand touched his skin. Finn clenched his teeth, but soon the pain became unbearable and he fell to his knees with a cry. Still, Tom held his wrist.

The world was spinning. Tom threw Finn’s arm down as Finn’s head touched the floor, and he watched through half closed eyelids as Tom left the room. He must have passed out, because when he opened his eyes again, the fire had burned to nothing, and he was freezing. The second thing he noticed was a pair of concerned grey eyes set into a pale, pointed face, inches from his own.

Abraxas Malfoy.

Finn jerked backward, inhaling sharply through his teeth as the movement sent a fresh wave of pain through his arm. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“Looking for you.”

Slowly, Finn sat up, pushing Malfoy’s hand from his shoulder once he was upright. Seeing the younger boy brought back the events of the night in a wave that threatened to drown him. But he cast his mind further back. Because seeing Malfoy now with the knowledge that he would be looking for Brindley was making the pieces fall into place. Finn had said something at the party… He shook his head; it was all such a blur now. The memory at the forefront of his mind was kissing Brindley under the blankets. That stood out like the sun when compared to small, insignificant stars.

Finn leaned back against the chair, feeling stiff all over. His arm was throbbing painfully. Malfoy tried to fuss over him, but Finn jerked his arm away. There was a long, splotchy dark mark that looked like spilled ink. Malfoy’s eyes widened, and Finn remembered; he’d let the coup slip to Sebastian, and Malfoy had been standing right there. He must have heard. How could Finn have been so stupid? Then there was the time someone searched through Finn’s possessions - Malfoy could easily enter the dormitory - and though he wasn’t sure how Malfoy knew about Muggleborn activities, if he was trying to take Finn’s place as a Knight of Walpurgis, he could easily have had Finn watched.

“This is what you wanted, isn’t it?” he said through clenched teeth. “You told Dumbledore.”

Malfoy balanced on his heels. “I did no such thing.”

Finn ignored this. “And now you’re after Potter’s child.”

His eyes flickered to Finn’s face. “So I’ve been told. Look, I’m not here to talk about that. Dinner is about to start.”

Finn ran a hand through his hair. “What’s the big deal?”

“You clearly need to eat something,” Malfoy said, “but also, you’ll be under close watch. News has already spread about the coup. You know the Ministry has suspicions on your family. You have to pretend everything is normal, and not being at the feast is going to be a really big give away.”

Finn stared at him. “Why are you doing this?”

Malfoy hesitated, keeping his eyes to the floor. “Malfoys and Blishwicks aren’t mortal enemies, you know.”

Obviously, they were.

Finn grabbed his robes from the dormitory before following Malfoy to the Great Hall, just in time. Tom was already there, and didn’t look at Finn as Finn sat down opposite.

Malfoy was right. Before the feast began, Professor Dippet stood up and, after announcing the date of the first Quidditch match of the year, he sighed heavily.

“You may have heard by now that there was an attempted overthrow of the Ministry last night,” he said. “It is to my knowledge that two Hogwarts students were involved. This saddens me greatly. I am embarrassed and disappointed to hear it. We will find them and they will be punished accordingly.”

Finn swallowed and did his best to look mildly curious. He didn’t look at Tom, but he did glance over at Malfoy, who was sitting with Finn’s cousin Briony. In fact, the two of them were so close that their legs were touching.

Not mortal enemies, indeed.

But it didn’t change the fact that Malfoy had ruined everything for Finn, and now Brindley was in real danger.

***

After a week, the mark on Finn’s forearm was fading from black to red; it looked like an angry bruise. Nothing had come from it yet, so Finn was beginning to relax. Perhaps it was an experiment that didn't work, or Tom had wanted to inflict physical pain in his frustration over the coup. Either way, the pain was passing, and with it, Finn’s thoughts on it. He rubbed at it under his coat as he waited for the boys to get ready for Hogsmeade.

Part of Finn wanted to lie low, the part that had him sulking in the common room for the last few days. But others were beginning to sense something was wrong, and not just his friends. Especially not his friends, who were, because of Tom, avoiding him by default. Since he never missed a Hogsmeade trip, he followed the more rational part of his brain that told him to keep up appearances, whether he liked it or not. So, along with Fletcher, Ben, Radbourne, and Dalton, Finn went to Hogsmeade despite the cold wind bringing in a storm.

The boys sought warmth in Scrivenshaft’s Quill Shop. Finn was by the window, fiddling idly with a peregrine falcon feather quill on the display, when Brindley walked past outside. Her head was bent, but the hair under her scarf was unmistakable. Finn’s grip involuntarily tightened on the quill. The delicate tip snapped between his fingers but he barely noticed, eyes trailing on Brindley. He hadn't spoken or even seen her since they kissed on Christmas Eve.

Without a word to the boys, who were busy with using up the test ink on rude drawings anyway, he pulled his beanie back down over his ears and stepped outside.

She was standing outside Tomes and Scrolls, looking at something in the window. Her sweater was a size too big and hung loose around her small frame.

“Hey,” Finn said. The word came out as a puff of mist that the wind immediately stole.

“Hey.” The tip of her nose was pink from cold, but the rest of her face soon turned the same colour. Despite how thin she was, she still looked healthier than he had seen her of late.

He scuffed the ground with his shoe. He didn't actually know what he wanted to say to her, just that he wanted to say something, and to hear her voice say something back.

“Want to get a coffee?” she asked.

Finn hesitated, glancing behind him. The boys were still in the shop, and were unlikely to notice him missing, anyway. Somehow, this thought was liberating.

“Sure.”

He followed her into the cafe, and into a table in the corner. They both ordered coffee, and Finn paid.

“You don’t have to do that,” Brindley said.

Finn shoved the change into his pocket. “It’s no big deal.”

As she sat down in a booth in the corner, Brindley scoffed, “Sure, money is no big deal for a Blishwick.”

Finn slid in beside her, pulling off his beanie. “That’s not what I meant.”

She sighed. “I know, I’m sorry. My chest hurts, and it puts me on edge a little bit.”

“It’s okay.”

The waitress dropped off their coffees, but neither of them reached for it straight away. Instead, Brindley lifted a hand to smooth down his hair. The feel of her fingers against his scalp was enough to make his insides somersault.

“We didn’t come from money, you know,” he said quietly. “Not originally, anyway. My grandfather came into it, and dad, as the eldest, remembers what it’s like to live with nothing. He makes sure it never happens again.”

He didn’t know why he felt the need to share this. Not even his closest friends knew. Brindley’s touch had an uncanny ability to make him say things he would never normally dream of saying. He continued, “Dad would tell me about it. Man to man chats, you know.” He smiled briefly. “I don’t think Hero ever knew.”

“She was a lovely person. We had quite a few classes together. I don’t know if you ever knew, but she was there for me when I had one of my attacks.” Her smile faded. “Actually, Finn, there’s something I should tell you.”

Finn waited for her to speak, but a minute passed and she was still staring at her untouched coffee.

“What is it?” he prompted. “Santa Claus isn’t real? I already knew that one. I’ve known for a whole year.”

She allowed a tiny smile to flicker across her face, but when Finn blinked it was gone.

“I’m dying,” she said.

Finn stopped mid-reach for his cup.

His first thought was that it was a joke, because what sixteen year old said something like that over coffee? But then he thought of the bruises, of the overheard conversations, of the coughing, of the way his stomach seemed to have disappeared at her words.

Brindley, slowly stirring her coffee, saved him the trouble of answering. “This cough? It’s a curse on my lungs. I’ve always known it was Dark magic, and that mum was killed by a Dark wizard, but no one ever knew quite how it got there. But now, with mum’s letters, I know the truth.”

Finn nodded, chest tight. The truth.

The truth was that the same wizard who killed Brindley’s mother was now after Brindley, and she had no idea. The truth was that Finn was supposed to give this girl to Grindelwald. The truth was that he didn’t want to.

The truth felt like a dangerous weapon that had been thrust into his hands, and he had no idea how to wield it.

“Healers can’t cure it,” Brindley continued. “A potion helps the effects, but it’s only temporary.”

“How long?”

She met his eyes and gave a small shrug. “They don’t know. Could be ten months, could be ten years. That’s why I try to do as much as I can, in case…” She broke off, swallowing.

He cleared his throat. “I, er… I overheard you talking to your friend once. About a treatment?”

“Oh, that,” she sighed. “The Healers at St Mungo’s have developed a potion they think will break down the stuff on my lungs. But it has a very low success rate, and it’s really expensive.”

“And your aunt?”

Brindley laughed shortly. “Mum’s sister - a Muggle. She’s always hated the idea of magic. I guess she knew the circumstances of Mum’s death. Anyway, she doesn’t think the new treatment is worth a try.”

“How can she say that?” Finn asked angrily, forgetting to keep his voice down.

“It’s not like that,” Brindley said quickly. “I agree with her. The treatment is lengthy, and sounded painful; I would have spent most of it in the hospital, and life’s an adventure I don’t intend to miss.”

“But…” Finn said weakly.

Brindley’s mouth lifted in half a smile. “It’s okay, Finn. I’ve come to terms with it.”

The words slipped out of his mouth, hoarse and raw, before he could stop them. “I haven’t.”

She didn’t say anything, just placed a hand over his, stroking the scar on his wrist. He wondered how many times she’d comforted others in this situation. It hardly seemed right, but he didn’t know what to do.

He used his other hand to rub his forehead. “God, here I was talking about how my dad didn’t have money…”

“It’s fine,” she said, smiling. “Pain is relative, you know? There’s no use in comparing problems.”

Finn managed to lift half his mouth in what he hoped was a reassuring smile, but he couldn’t get a thought out of his mind: Grindelwald was already killing her.

***

The sixth years were hit with homework as soon as term started back. Even Finn and Ben, who had less classes than the others, found themselves spending more time at a desk than usual. Tom was in their ante-chamber with Malfoy, so the boys were more inclined to pay attention to Finn.

Ben was having trouble concentrating; he kept fidgeting and looking around him, particularly at the table across the room where Radbourne and Fletcher were sitting. Finally, he said, “Have you ever fallen for the wrong person?”

Finn looked over at Brindley, who was talking with Worley, hands waving animatedly. “Yes.”

Ben sighed. “This is a shit feeling. Where’s a Mudblood? That’ll make me feel better.” He craned his neck around the classroom, stopping when he faced Brindley’s direction. Finn’s stomach did a backflip. “Perfect,” Ben said.

Smoke furled from his wand, just as it had on one of their first days back, and began creeping throughout the room.

“Stop it,” Finn said quietly.

Ben ignored him, Brindley started to cough, and Ben’s laugh scratched Finn’s ears. Finn burst out of his chair and grabbed Benedict’s wrist. “I… said… stop it.”

Ben was looking at him in astonishment. He slowly rose from the chair until he was full height, which was, unfortunately, over a head taller than Finn.

“What was that, Blishwick?”

“I’m… trying to study. You’re distracting me.”

“Since when do you care?”

Finn couldn’t stop his eyes from flickering in Brindley’s direction. “Since now.”

Ben yanked his arm out of Finn’s grasp, and sat back down, but Finn was too wound up to stay in the library. He needed to get to the antechamber.

He was stopping this once and for all.

Barely pausing to throw his belongings into his bag, Finn ran to the dungeons. Tom and Malfoy had their heads bent together, pouring over the student records. They had acquired them earlier in the week, almost straight after Malfoy had been given the task. Since Tom wasn’t speaking to him, Finn didn’t know how, nor how Tom had gotten through the protective enchantments on them.

But Finn had been doing some research of his own.

He’d been using the younger students he could still control to do some asking around, to see if it were possible for there to be another adopted Muggleborn student, apart from Sebastian. And, by some miracle, it seemed there was.

“Can I help?” Finn said, nodding at the records. “It’ll take ages to search through that with just the two of you.”

Tom narrowed his eyes. “If this is some sort of trick -”

“No trick,” Finn said quickly. “I just want to help. What if you take A to G, I do H to M, and Malfoy search the rest?”

Malfoy glanced at Tom, who was watching Finn thoughtfully. Finn looked away, trying his best to clear his mind in case Tom was using Legilimency. He hid his sweaty palms behind his back.

“Fine,” Tom said. He levitated a dozen scrolls toward Finn, who couldn’t possibly catch them all. They fell to the ground, and Finn was forced to gather them up. He hardly cared; he sat on the floor where he was, instinctively pushing the M students behind his back, and picking up the H.

Alenya Hills was a fourth year Ravenclaw Finn had seen with Sebastian once or twice, round-faced, and hair as fine as a baby’s.

She was also an adopted Muggleborn.

He stared down at her details in his hand. His heart pounded harder in his chest as each second passed in his deliberation. Pretending Hills was Henry Potter’s child wouldn’t protect Brindley forever, but it would at least buy Finn time.

But could he do it?

***

A/N: Thank you Julie for having the patience to go over this chapter for me ♥


Chapter 10: No Rest for the Wicked
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We were together. I forget the rest.

- Walt Whitman

*


Finn deliberated for days.

His life wasn’t made for hard decisions. Never before had he faced a choice like this one. He feasibly had a case of life or death on his hands; he very much doubted Grindelwald would let Alenya Hills go back about her business once he realized she wasn’t the daughter he was looking for.

Brindley was.

The longer he put off telling Tom and Malfoy about the Hills girl, the more he increased the risk of them finding Brindley, but could he leave an innocent girl to Grindelwald? Would he just let her go with a Memory Charm once he found out the truth? Would he know Finn was behind it?

It was enough for him to rub his scalp raw.

He spent most nights now sitting by himself in the common room. The first night, students gave him a wide berth, especially the young ones. But this was nothing new. A few more nights passed and the older students ignored him too. Soon enough, it was like he was just another piece of furniture. His friends, Ben and Fletcher especially, would sometimes make to come over, but if Tom was in the room, they didn’t. Finn was spending a lot of time on his own. Usually he enjoyed his own company - and really, who wouldn’t - but when the sky darkened and the moon rose, its cold light filtered into the lake as he sat by the window, leaving him feeling very much alone.

On one such night, he was in the arm chair that now had a Finn-shaped hollow in it. He was idly picking at a thread on his sleeve when he became slowly aware of the noise in the common room, which grew as the minutes passed. He shook himself into the present. The common room had indeed filled with students while he’d been lost in his own thoughts, chattering excitedly in one big group. It didn’t take him long to find the source; it was standing on a chair in the middle of the room.

Tom.

“… need your help, no matter how small,” he was saying.

Finn’s arm prickled painfully just looking at him. Malfoy was on the ground beside Tom, looking nowhere near as confident, holding a small pouch that some students were now dropping coins into. Raising funds for Grindelwald, Finn thought bitterly. He pushed himself up out of the armchair and headed up to the dormitory, hoping to be asleep before Tom came up. The room wasn’t empty as he’d expected; Ben was lying on his bed with his shoes still on, reading a book. Finn did a double take at this new academic version of Ben, then he noticed the book was upside down. Just as well, Finn needed normalcy right now.

“Hey, man,” Ben said.

“Hey.” Finn pulled off his robes and cardigan so that he was left in his white shirt and tie, which he loosened. He settled himself on his own bed opposite with a sigh, staring up at the canopy.

Ben shut the book he had been pretending to read with a snap. “Look, Finn, I’m sorry about -”

Finn held up a hand, careful to make sure it was the one without the fading red mark. “It’s fine, man. Don’t worry about it.”

“No, I…”

There was something so unsure in Ben’s voice that Finn sat up so he could see him. His head was bent, staring at the book in his hands. “I hate that we’ve been forced to choose sides. But I’m not doing it for Tom. I’m doing it for Radbourne.”

“Radbourne?”

“I… I worry about him. You know, with Tom.”

Finn started undoing the laces of his shoes. “Why? What’s been happening?”

“It’s just, er… Well, I-I like him.”

“We all like him.”

“No, I -” Ben rubbed his head, frustrated. “Never mind.”

“Wait. Do you mean…?”

Ben finally met his eyes. He may have been on the other side of the room, but Finn could still see the longing for understanding in them. “You know that thing Patrick’s been an asshole over? About my dad getting angry about the Muggle I saw over the summer?”

“Yeah,” Finn said slowly.

“It wasn’t the fact they were a Muggle. It was the fact he was a boy.”

“Oh.” Finn stared at Ben, realization dawning. “Oh.”

Ben looked away, savagely ripping at the pages of the book. His shoulder were tense, like he was waiting for judgment. Judgment that Finn wasn’t going to give him.

He lay back down on the bed. “Your dad’s the asshole for getting angry over it. It doesn’t matter to anyone else who you love, Avery. ”

There was a pause.

“It’s that Hufflepuff girl, isn’t it?”

Finn turned his head sharply.

Ben held up his hands in mock surrender. “Doesn’t matter to anyone else who you love, Blishwick.”

Finn rubbed his face with his hands. He didn’t want to think about Brindley, so he kept the conversation about Ben. “What are you going to do about Rad, then? Does he know?”

“Kind of. We… well, we’ve talked about. He’s a bit unsure. It’s just Tom, you know?”

Finn nodded.

It was always Tom.

***

Finn’s first class the next morning was Transfiguration with the Hufflepuffs. The students were crowded around the entrance to the classroom, showing themselves in even though Professor Dumbledore hadn’t arrived yet. Brindley was squeezing her way through the students toward him. He watched her; his eyes were always managing to find her these days. Without a word, she pushed a small piece of parchment into his hand, and continued into the classroom. Finn was about to follow her in when -

“Blishwick.”

Finn froze at the voice. He quickly shoved Brindley’s note into his pocket as Tom came around to stand in front of him. He, too, pushed something into Finn’s hands, like it was a day for gift giving. But Finn didn’t think he’d like whatever Tom had to give him nearly as much as Brindley’s.

“What’s this?” Finn said blankly.

“Your orders,” Tom said as if it were obvious. “For Dumbledore. They’re laced with the venom from my snake.”

Finn looked down at the box of poisoned chocolates and then back up at Tom. “Why are you helping me?”

“This isn’t about you,” Tom snapped. “Having Dumbledore gone benefits me as well as Grindelwald.” Through clenched teeth he added, “I can scarcely move about the castle without the old fool breathing down my neck. Imperiuse someone else to give them to him.”

“But it’s been ages since I last used the Imperius Curse,” Finn said weakly. “I don’t think I -”

With an impatient scoff, Tom snatched the box back from Finn and glanced left and right, but the students had already gone inside the classroom. Radbourne appeared from around the corner, walking briskly, unusually late for class. He was too busy adjusting the sleeve of his robes to notice Finn and Tom in the middle of the corridor at first, but when he did, he faltered for a second before continuing over.

“Hey,” he said, taking his glasses out of his pocket and placing them on his nose. “What’s going on?”

Tom thrust the box in his direction. “You will give these to Dumbledore.”

Radbourne slowly, hesitantly, took the box. He opened his mouth, obviously thought better of whatever he was going to say, and shut it again.

“Good morning, gentlemen.”

The three of them whirled around at Dumbledore’s voice. The aging professor regarded them curiously, his hands clasped in front of his emerald green robes.

Tom cleared his throat, and Radbourne stumbled forward. He may not have known exactly what he was holding in his hands, but he knew Tom, and that was enough to drain the colour from Radbourne’s face.

“I - I just wanted to give these to you, Professor.”

It pained Finn to see his friend like this. Maybe it would have been better if Radbourne was Imperiused after all.

“Whatever for?”

“Er, to thank you for all your help this term.”

“Ah, Mr Lestrange! That is so very kind of you. But I’m afraid I am allergic to this particular brand of chocolate.”

“What?” Tom said sharply.

Dumbledore nodded gravely. “Nasty reaction, involves a lot of itching and swelling. I won’t bore you with the details. Now do come in. Mr Blishwick, Mr Riddle, you too, please.”

Tom snatched the box from Radbourne and placed it into his own bag. Finn made a mental note not to accept anything edible from Tom before he took his usual seat at the back of the classroom. Brindley was in hers beside Worley up the front; she turned around to catch his eye briefly before Dumbledore began his lesson. They were starting human transfiguration, but Finn was behind on the theory. He was behind on the homework, too. He was behind in every class. Finn sank down in his seat, ignoring Tom beside him. Well, being ignored. He reached into his pocket and felt the note from Brindley.

“We’ll be starting small,” Dumbledore said from the front of the classroom. “Creating webs between fingers and gradually working up to transfiguring your hand to resemble a frog’s. Human transfiguration is powerful magic, but, of course, not the most powerful.” He winked at two girls up the front.

“What is, sir?” Tom asked eagerly.

Dumbledore gave him a small smile. “Love, Tom.”

“Oh,” Tom said flatly, then he scoffed. “That’s not true, sir. Love doesn’t have the power to harm, to kill, to start or end wars.”

“Ah,” said Dumbledore. “I think you will find that it does, Tom.”

Finn tuned the argument out and pulled the note from his pocket. Hiding it under the desk, he unfolded it. All it said was:

Greenhouse 2, before lunch.

***

A few weeks ago, if someone told Finn that a Muggle-born Hufflepuff girl would be his only company when the rest of friends didn’t spend time with him, he would have cursed that someone into next week for being so ridiculous.

But a few weeks ago he was the old Finn, and he wasn’t the old Finn anymore.

So he walked under a cloudy sky to the greenhouse to meet Brindley, despite the cold, despite his complaining stomach over a missing lunch, despite the pounding of his heart.

She was there when he pushed open the door and peered in, crouched beside something on the other side. It was comfortably warm inside the greenhouse, and he loosened his scarf as he crossed the room to crouch beside her. There was a large pot in front of them holding only one plant. At first glance it looked like a Venus Flytrap; two leaves, each about the size of his hand, pressed together like lips on a mouth. But when he looked again he noticed the absence of the teeth-like spikes and that the edges of the leaves were curling slightly.

“What’s this?” he said.

She pressed a finger to her lips, and with her other hand softly stroked the top of the leaf. It shuddered and opened, much like a Venus Flytrap, but inside lay a small, sleeping creature. It looked like a mouse, but instead of hair, its body was the same green as the leaf it was lying on, and with a small jolt, Finn realized that leaf was its tail, fanned out to create a cocoon. As they watched, the creature opened its tiny mouth in a yawn.

“Wow,” Finn whispered. “Weird.”

Brindley gave a small smile. She stood up, and he did the same. She wore no scarf, and her neck looked thin and vulnerable. He lifted a hand to tuck the wavy hair behind her ear but she took a step back. “No, please -”

He dropped his hand. “What’s wrong?”

She took a deep breath, eyes to the ground. “I won’t do this to you,” she said quietly. “There’s just no point to… you know, us. You don’t owe me anything, there’s no reason for you to hang around and - and wait -” Her voice wavered and she stopped, swallowing.

She was pushing him away? After everything they’d shared? After everything he was going through? Lately, Finn felt as though he had no control over his life, but at least in this, he was allowed to have a say.

He took the necessary step to close the gap between them. With a finger under her chin, he lifted her face, her eyes glistening with tears as she finally looked at him. “There’s every reason,” he whispered, and bent his head to kiss her. He was gentle, slow, cautious.

After a moment, she pulled away to whisper against his mouth, “Please, Finn.”

He cupped her face and kissed her again. It was already warm in the greenhouse, but now there was fire bursting through his veins, so fierce he thought it was a wonder steam wasn’t rising from him.

Too soon, she broke the kiss again. “No. We can’t. It’s not fair on you.”

“Brindley.”

She looked up reluctantly.

“I’d rather spend a few days with you,” he said quietly, “than years with anyone else.”

The tears in her eyes welled until they spilled over, wetting his own cheeks as he bent his head to kiss her again. This time, her arms wrapped themselves around him, and he leaned into her, his chin fitting perfectly onto her shoulder.

They stayed like that for a long time, only pulling apart for Finn to ask, “What the hell is that?”

A growling coming from the little leafy mouse creature was slowly increasing in volume, and it was now steadily turning from green to red.

“Ah,” said Brindley. “It doesn’t like company too much. We’d better go, or it’ll whip us with its roots soon.”

Finn turned back to raise an eyebrow at her. “Didn’t I say pretty things were dangerous?”

She touched his cheek. “Pretty things aren’t dangerous,” she said softly, “they’re just misunderstood.”

He followed her out of the greenhouse. As they walked back up to the castle, so close their hands almost touched, the sun came out from behind the clouds for the first time that day.

***

Brindley’s note wasn’t the only note Finn received that day.

Never before had he been dreading going home; taking a last longing glance around Slughorn’s office, seeing past it and into the rest of the castle before he stepped into the fireplace. Never before had Finn truly appreciated the safety of Hogwarts. He had always liked it that little bit better than home; where he could do what he wanted without his parents knowing, where he could be with his friends, and bully the younger students. He ruled Slytherin House, if not the entire school.

But that was the old Finn.

Grindelwald was there, sitting in the armchair by the empty fire grate as if Blishwick Manor was his house; if Finn hadn’t been feeling sick before, he definitely was now. Only a few Besmurten were with him; the blood red robes now made the bile rise in Finn’s throat. How could he have ever wanted to be one? To be part of a group that scared him, part of a group who wanted the girl he cared about? To harm her family?

Finn’s parents weren’t there; they were presumably in the next room. Finn stood on his own in front of Grindelwald, twirling the watch around his wrist, the gold heirloom ticking feebly beneath his hand.

Grindelwald leaned forward. “You were at the Ministry.”

It didn’t sound like a question, so Finn didn’t answer. He continued twirling his watch, the runes on the face winking with each revolution as they caught the surrounding candlelight.

“You were not supposed to be at the Ministry,” Grindelwald continued, “and Dumbledore should not have known a thing about it. Yet, as soon as soon as two of his students arrive, so does he.”

Finn swallowed.

Grindelwald stood up, and Finn took a step back. “Were you followed? Did he see you leave?”

“N-no, sir -”

“Have you no idea of his capabilities? His ability to ruin everything for me? You, Blishwick, could have ruined everything for me.”

“I’m sorry -”

Grindelwald raised his wand. “Crucio.”

It was worse than the pain Tom had caused him outside Dippet’s office. Worse than any pain he’d received in his life. The room disappeared around him. It was just him, and the cold, hard floor, and the millions of tiny knives stabbing and slicing under his skin. He thought, I’m going to die, I’m going to die right here on the floor, like Hero, this is it, when the pain stopped as quickly as it had started. He rolled over onto all fours, his body continued to shake, muscles twitching. Sweat rolled from his hairline and down his cheeks like tears, or maybe they were tears.

Grindelwald was standing over him. “Have you nothing to say for yourself?”

Finn, panting, wiped his bleeding nose with the back of his sleeve. “I do, sir,” he said. He tried to raise his head but it hurt too much. “I found Henry Potter’s illegitimate child.”

***

A/N: Thank you, Julie ♥

Chapter 11: Immortal
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Unable are the loved to die. For love is immortality.
Emily Dickinson

*


There was a song Finn’s mother sang to him and Hero as children, and though he couldn’t remember the lyrics, he could still easily recall the haunting melodic tune of his mother’s voice. The song itself, though a nursery rhyme, was actually quite gruesome; a woman singing about the death of her lover. As Finn and Hero grew, he would sometimes hear her humming it to herself, and it would always make him gag. The thought of love usually did.

Nowadays, not so much.

Brindley occupied his every thought. Hers was the first face he looked for when walking into the Great Hall or entering a classroom he knew she would be in. They became secret glances in the classroom. Sharing a desk in the library where underneath the table one’s foot would rest against the other’s. Stolen kisses late at night. Conversations over bowls of ice cream in the kitchens from the house elves who adored Brindley. But as the days passed, her condition worsened. He began sneaking in to spend time with her in the hospital after visiting hours were over. The thought of her dying made his heart ache. He’d offered to pay for her treatment, but she’d said no. That there was no point. Always she thought there was no point.

This is why the song of his childhood had been replaying in his head during the past few days. He wondered, would love always end in a broken heart?

Never before had he felt as though maybe he wasn’t so immortal. That life was not perfect, that his family’s wealth and name couldn’t fix everything. That he had condemned an innocent girl to danger to save someone else. More than once he wondered if he should tell Brindley about everything, but he knew she would probably walk straight to Grindelwald herself. How she would say that she was going to die in the very near future anyway. Finn wanted to do something special for her. He needed to show her that she was safe with him, even if she had no idea she was in danger in the first place.

He was doing the right thing.

***

His family name might not have been able to fix everything, but it certainly had its advantages. All it took was an owl to one of his uncles, a Floo trip to his house, and a couple of broomsticks. His uncle worked in conservation of places of magical significance, and it was with his help and an temporary undetectable charm that Finn was able to take Brindley up to one of the mountains in Scotland.

It was freezing on the mountaintop, but at least there was no snow. It meant the tent he had borrowed from his uncle sat dry and flat where he had set it up. The sun provided a little warmth, but it would soon be gone. For now, it was enough to see the green forest stretched out below, and a tiny village in the distance.

“Where are we?” Brindley asked as she dismounted the broom.

“Buachaille Etive Mòr,” Finn said slowly, proud he remembered how to pronounce the words.

Brindley nodded. “Oh, of course.” She hugged her elbows as a shiver passed through her despite her stockings and grey knitted jumper. “Do we have permission to be up here?”

He wrapped his arms around her, and she rested her head against his shoulder with a small sigh. “My uncle organized it.”

“Being a Blishwick has its perks after all,” she said, poking him in the ribs.

“Like our good looks.”

“I heard that skips generations.”

He pulled back so that she could experience the full force of his unamused expression.

She snorted and patted his arm. “Not you, honey. You’re handsome.”

“I know.”

The back of her head rubbed against his shoulder as she looked left and right. “So what is this about? My birthday isn’t until August.”

“Well… It’s not Brocken Mountain,” he began apologetically. “There’s no spectre, it’s not April thirtieth, and there’s no demons - that I know of anyway. But there’s plenty of room for you to dance.”

Brindley didn’t say anything for a long time, looking out over the mountain. Her silence made Finn’s stomach twist into knots. She hated it, of course she hated it, why was he such a fool? When Brindley finally turned around to look at him, there were tears in her eyes. “You remembered,” she whispered.

His insides untwisted themselves. “Yeah,” he said softly. “How could I forget? You called me stupid for judging everything so early.”

She laughed. “It was true! You were arrogant and annoying.”

“And now?”

“Well, you’re not annoying anymore at least.”

Finn snorted, then sat himself down on a rock and lit a fire with his wand. He made a wide gesture with his arm. “This is all yours. Your chance to dance on top of a mountain.” He waved his wand at the radio, and an upbeat tune drifted out of it.

She grinned, then giggled, raised her arms and twirled. Her head was tilted back to face to sky, eyes closed, smile wide. With the sunset dancing orange on her skin and snow that was now beginning to fall softly in her hair, she was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. Brindley stopped, laughing breathlessly, and reached for his hand. “Dance with me.”

She didn’t give him a chance to refuse; she pulled him unceremoniously to his feet and dragged him into the open area. With his hands in hers, she spun them around until they were dizzy and laughing. He twirled her around a few times, arm over her head, and she even taught him a type of Muggle dance called swing. When the sun had disappeared under the mountain, he placed his hands on her waist and held her close. A slow song from the radio floated around them. Finn pulled her closer. They swayed on the spot, forehead resting on forehead, as if the two of them were normal teenagers.

As if they were the only two people in the world.

As if one of them wasn’t going to die soon.

“Are you happy?” he asked.

“Yes,” she sighed. “Are you?”

“Yes,” he whispered, and closed the space between them by pressing his lips to hers. She wrapped her hands around his neck, but after a few minutes, she was shivering; now that the sun was gone, the heat from the small fire wasn’t enough to warm them. With an arm under her knees, he lifted her into his arms - to which she let out a whoop of delight - and carried her into the tent. They collapsed awkwardly into the small space, twisting until they both fit. There was a rock jutting out on one side; Finn could feel it digging into his ribs. None of it mattered, though; he moved to hover over her, and they were kissing again. Her fingers ran through his hair, the touch of every fingertip like a spark from the fire. His hands gripped her waist, pushing her shirt up just enough to feel the smooth skin of her stomach. She was trembling under his hands; it sent a thrill through him. He pulled her upright and onto his lap, her legs on either side of his hips. He nuzzled his face against her neck, the smell of cinnamon and her medicine - the smell of her - was enough to send a dizzying wave of want over him. Her breath came out in a sigh that vibrated against his lips where they were pressed to her throat.

“Finn…”

It wasn’t cold anymore.

He moved his mouth up to hers, hyper-aware of every inch where their skin touched. They were both breathing fast, the sound of it filling the tent, almost drowning out the melancholy music that was still playing outside. Her skirt had lifted slightly when she straddled his hips, and he let his fingers trail up and down the skin of her thighs, pleased when she shuddered. Her hands were doing some exploring of their own; they slipped under his shirt to dance lightly across his chest until he pulled it off, throwing it into the corner. Taking hold of the edge of her shirt, he paused, raising his eyes to search her face. Brindley placed her hands over Finn’s, helping him lift it. Her shirt came off, discarded into the corner of the tent just as his was, and she bent to kiss his neck, rocking her hips back and forth slowly across his lap until he groaned. As if this were a sign she’d been waiting for, she started to eagerly unbuckle his belt. They'd never gone this far before, and he pulled back. “Wait, Brindley -”

“What is it?” she asked breathlessly, her voice so hoarse it made him want to wince. “Don’t you want me?”

Finn tightened his grip on her waist. “Of course I do! I want this - I want you - more than anything.” He swallowed. “It’s just… Are you sure? What about your breathing?”

Her fingers curled around the hair at the nape of his neck, bringing his face closer until their foreheads touched. “I am not going to break, Finn.”

With a heavy exhale, he eased her back down, propping himself up on one elbow to gaze at her bare skin. Freckles did dot her stomach - he’d wondered. She stretched her arms behind her back, wiggling a little bit, until the clasp of her brassiere came free, and that too was thrown away. His breath caught in his throat.

“You’re beautiful,” he said.

She ran her hands up his arms and whispered, “So are you.”

He bent to kiss her collarbone when a small, shiny patch of skin caught his eye. He laughed softly.

She immediately pulled back. “What? What is it?”

“This.” He touched the mark.

“It’s a scar,” she said defensively.

“It’s not that,” he said. “It’s shaped like a perthro rune.”

She snorted. “Trust you to notice that.”

He traced it slowly, making her shiver. He lowered his voice. “It means chance, fate. Knowledge that is hidden.”

She quirked an eyebrow. “I always knew I was mysterious.”

He maneuvered to show her the birthmark on his hip. “I have one, too.”

She touched it gently with a fingertip. “And what does it mean?”

Finn looked down at it himself, and entwined her fingers with his. “Strength,” he said quietly. “But sometimes I…” He broke off, swallowing.

“You are strong, Finn.”

He hovered over again and placed a gentle finger on the bruises that dotted her ribs almost as much as the freckles did. Another finger gently touched her chest, where her lungs made her breathing raspy. He hated that there was nothing he could do about the curse; that her pain was on the inside, and nothing he could physically touch.

“For now,” he said.

“For always. I know there’s been something on your mind lately; I see it in your face. You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to,” she added as he quickly pulled back. “I know you're scared, Finn, but you're stronger than you know.”

He met her eyes, and knew in that moment that he was doing the right thing in keeping her safe. That he would never do anything to hurt her. When he voiced this last thought aloud, her small hands came down from his shoulders to cover his. “I know,” she whispered, and brought his hands to her breasts. He closed his eyes, a groan sounding in the back of his throat. Her skin was soft, nipples hard against his palms. When she arched her back so that the bare skin of their stomachs touched, he came undone, leaning in to kiss her, hot and wet, hands cupping her breasts. He let her remove his belt, and his trousers, until there was nothing between them but his shorts and her panties, and it wasn't long before those were gone too. Her legs wrapped around his waist; he could feel her. It was nothing but skin on skin, nothing but him and her.

“Stay with me, Finn,” she whispered.

“Always.”

This time, he wasn’t gone by morning.

***

They were back at Hogwarts before the sun had risen. Despite spending the entire night on the mountain, neither of them had gotten much sleep. But after parting kisses in front of the fireplace in Slughorn’s office, Finn found he wasn’t tired once he reached his dormitory, after all. He had no desire to stay among the softly snoring boys, so Finn grabbed a coat before he headed outside.

It was early, but not so early that the castle wasn’t beginning to rouse. The front door was unlocked to allow the Ravenclaw Quidditch team access to the pitch for practice. Finn slipped out after them, veering in the opposite direction from the little cluster of blue. He followed the castle as it curved around, and soon the loud laughing and talking of the Ravenclaws disappeared, and the grounds were quiet and still. He fidgeted as he walked, something not right. Finn glanced down at his sleeves and realised he’d grabbed Tom’s coat. Though one or two sizes larger, it was warm, and that was what mattered. He continued making his way down to the small garden tucked away on one side of the castle, his shoes squeaking on the dew-covered grass.

The flowers in the little garden that was his destination were still asleep; their normally bright faces and perky leaves were closed and drooping, and some of them were even snoring. Finn paid them no mind; his eyes fixed on the two identical small stone plaques nestled in the garden. The one on the left read Myrtle Warren.

He shoved his hands into the pockets of Tom’s coat as he stared numbly down, and something cold touched his fingers. Frowning, he pulled it out. It was the ring Tom wore most days; gold with a little black stone set into it. Finn hadn’t known Tom to ever take it off. He returned his hand to the pocket, turning the ring over idly in his fingers. He closed his eyes, but the name on the other stone plaque was still etched behind his eyelids.

Hero Blishwick.

In this darkness, Finn could recall her face clearly. Her short honey blonde hair. Her eyes so similar to his own. Even her voice -

“Hey, twin.”

Finn’s eyes flew open. Standing before him was Hero, a playful grin on her face, wearing the clothes she had died in; a white dress that made her look royal, even angelic. She was more solid than a ghost, but her edges flickered like she was a mirage, a dream. She might as well have been.

Finn swallowed. “Hey, twin.” The words slipped out despite his shock, hoarse and automatic. His bottom lip trembled. Some small part of him was horrified that tears jumped straight to his eyes, threatening to fall without his permission. The larger part didn’t care at all. The ghost - or whatever she was - of his sister was here.

“You’ve grown,” she said, running her eyes over him.

He glanced down at himself, then back at her. It was true; where they once stood eye-to-eye, Finn was now tilting his head down to look at her. It didn’t seem fair that life was still moving around him but it had stopped for her.

“And so handsome,” she added.

Finn let out a breath of noise halfway between a laugh and a sob. “You didn’t think I was handsome before?”

The corner of her mouth quirked. “Of course I did.”

He took the hand not holding the ring out of the pocket and lifted it as if to touch her, but stopped just short of her arm, letting it fall again. She watched the hand longingly, then looked up at him sadly.

“Why are you here?” he whispered.

Hero glanced up at the castle, then down at her plaque in the garden. She was silent, almost contemplative. Finn couldn’t take his eyes off her. It felt as if he were in a dream, for dreams were the only place he saw her now. “I don’t know,” she finally said. Her voice wavered slightly, ethereal. “I don’t… I don’t remember much.”

Finn gripped the ring in his sweating palm. In the eighteen months since she’d died, he’d thought of a million things to say to her. A new spell he’d learned, a joke she would have liked, how good Sebastian was getting on his flute. Brindley. But now that his chance was here, he couldn’t think of any of them.

So he said, “I miss you.”

Hero smiled. A cold breath of wind made him shiver, but not a hair on her head moved. “I miss you, too.” Then something like comprehension crossed her face, and she looked up suddenly, her eyes wide. “Finn,” she said urgently. “Don’t trust Tom. He -”

“Hey, Finn.”

He jumped, letting go of the ring as he pulled both hands from his pocket. He turned around to see Brindley walking toward him, still in her clothes from last night. When he turned back, Hero was gone. Was she ever there, or had he imagined the whole thing?

Brindley was right behind him now, and she wrapped her arms around him. “Couldn’t sleep either, huh? Are you okay?”

“I, uh -” His mouth was dry.

“Finn?”

He swallowed, voice husky as he said, “I'm fine.”

She came around to stand in front of him, but not before she noticed where they were. Her face softened as she returned her gaze from the plaques to him. “Are you sure you’re all right?”

Finn could only open and close his mouth silently, but he was saved by answering when she placed her head against his chest and slipped her hands into the pockets of his coat for warmth. He rested his cheek against her hair, unable to take his eyes from the spot Hero had stood just moments before.

“What’s this?” Brindley withdrew her hands from the pockets of the coat. She was holding the ring.

“It’s Tom’s,” he said. “This is actually his coat. I grabbed it by accident.”

Brindley squinted at the little black stone. “Look, it has a rune on it. Do you know what it means?”

Finn took the ring from her and peered at the stone. It did indeed have a rune etched into its black surface; triangular with a circle in the middle and a line crossed through it. Ancient and familiar.

The symbol of the Besmurten.

Finn’s blood turned cold. Had Grindelwald given Tom this ring? No, that couldn't be right. Tom didn't accept things that were given to him; he took what he wanted. Besides, Tom had the ring long before they'd met Grindelwald. Hero’s words echoed back to him.

Don’t trust Tom.

Well, after recent events, he knew that much for himself. But what had she been about to say? What did Hero know?

Brindley ran her fingers across his jawline, and he was dimly aware of the rasp from his stubble. “Finn, you’re really pale. Let’s go inside, you need sleep.”

He let her pull him back toward the castle. Brindley was chatting away, but he hardly heard her. His mind was a blur of thoughts, whirling around to the point he felt dizzy and sick. Brindley’s voice and the castle grounds fell away as he rearranged all the information he had on Tom. Was it him behind everything after all, and not Abraxas?

Don’t trust Tom.

But it wouldn’t have been Tom who went through his things months ago. If Tom wanted something from Finn, he demanded it of him. Tom wouldn’t know about the Muggle movie. He would have mentioned it to Finn by now. And Tom definitely wouldn’t have been involved with Dumbledore finding out about the coup. As far as Finn knew, Tom and Hero’s relationship had been nothing out of the ordinary, so Finn was at a loss for what Hero tried to say to him just now. Finn felt as though something bigger was at work here, something he was missing. Although it was an obvious, at least he knew one thing for certain.

Don’t trust Tom.

***

The last week of February passed in a blur of classes. Finn was sleeping early and waking late, but always he was tired. Over and over, he replayed his last meeting with Hero, and when he wasn’t thinking of her, he was thinking of Brindley. The two most important girls in his life. One he had already lost. The other was only a matter of time. Sometimes, when Saffron was out at a movie with the other Muggleborns, Brindley would sneak him into the Hufflepuff common room where they could be alone. He relished in those nights where he could have Brindley under his hands, covering every inch of her skin with kisses. Warm, safe, alive, his.

On Thursday, Finn walked into the dormitory straight after dinner. He was looking forward to it being empty, since there was a duelling club meeting on. Finn couldn’t bring himself to go down; his bed was all he wanted. He’d heard Sebastian was now at the top of the class. For the past few weeks Finn had been trying to spend time with his younger cousin, but Sebastian was always busy with a project he was working on. As it turned out, it wasn’t just Finn he was avoiding; Briony had approached Finn earlier, worried about Sebastian. Finn didn’t think there was too much cause. Maybe, despite his dueling skills, he was still being bullied, and Finn made a mental note to curse the little pricks later.

To his dismay, the dormitory was not empty. Tom was on his bed, propped up straight-backed against a pillow. Seeing him brought a wave of emotion over Finn. That ring somehow played a part in Hero’s appearance. Finn was sure of it. He had to be sure of it because it gave him the chance of seeing Hero again. Finn wanted to know what she knew. He wanted - he had - to see her again. He ached with the wanting. Tom must have put some kind of spell on it through the rune, or bought it from somewhere. Did it raise ghosts? Did he want to see his parents?

Runes held power, and though Finn knew a lot about runes, there were still some things that were a mystery to him. Since he always associated that particular one with Grindelwald, he never really thought to look any further into it. Obviously it had to mean more, and held powers of its own.

Tom completely ignored him as Finn crossed the room; he didn’t look up from the small black journal he was writing in with slow, determined quill strokes. Finn sat down on his own bed, taking off his shoes. Suddenly, he wasn't so tired anymore. He bit his lip as he deliberated his next words. He had to say them. He had to know.

“Can I… can I borrow that ring?”

Tom didn't look up from his writing. “What ring?”

Finn closed his eyes briefly. He should have known this wasn't going to be easy. “The ring you've been wearing recently. The one with the black stone.”

Tom finally looked up, his eyes narrowed. “Why?”

“Because I think it will go with my outfit.”

Tom blinked at him.

Finn sighed. “I know what it can do.”

“I don't know what you're talking about.”

“I think you do.”

Tom snapped the book shut. “I don't have it. It's serving a greater purpose now.”

Finn was silent for a moment, wondering what this meant. He concentrated on his tie as he slowly undid it, his heart sinking as hope left him. “Where did you get it?”

“I told you. The previous owner no longer had need of it.”

There was something new in Tom’s eyes now. They were feverish, bright; whatever memory he was recalling made him excited. Finn had a feeling there was something Tom was bursting to share, but Finn would have to ask. Tom never turned down an opportunity to share his achievements. So even though Finn knew he’d regret it, he said, “Whose was it?”

Tom was silent for a moment, stroking the finger on which he used to wear the ring as if it were still there. Quietly, he said, “My uncle’s.”

Finn had not been expecting this answer, and his breath audibly hitched in his throat. “You found him? How?”

There had been a time last year that Tom had been searching for his parents, but Finn had quite forgotten all about it. Despite Tom’s efforts proving futile, Finn should have known he wouldn’t give up that easily.

Tom nodded shortly. “In Little Hangleton.”

Finn’s stomach lurched; he lived in Great Hangleton. How strange it was to think that Tom’s family - unknown for his entire life - had been down the road from Finn the whole time.

Morfin.” Tom spat the word as if it were a bad taste in his mouth. “He told me where to find them, in a big house on a hill, forcing everyone to look up to them. I had to be rid of them, those filthy Muggles, and I am. I am.” He exhaled as if in relief.

Finn’s throat was dry. If Tom was saying what Finn thought he was saying, Tom was dangerous. Truly dangerous. A murderer. Tom was relentless. He would find Brindley, especially after it became clear Alenya Hills would not help Grindelwald find the Invisibility Cloak. Finn couldn’t let Tom win. He needed to keep him away from Brindley.

And he knew just how to do it.

***

A/N: As always, Julie beta'd this chapter because she is wonderful and lovely and generous ♥

Chapter 12: Hollow
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Three things you should never break: trust, promises and someone’s heart.
Author unknown

*


“Found you.”

His finger hovered over the little red dot on the map labeled Godric’s Hollow. Without moving his finger, he craned his neck to read back over Henry Potter’s last letter, where Potter mentioned a safe place called the Hollow.

It was easy for him to get hold of the old journal that used to belong to Brindley’s mother. Brindley carried it with her everywhere, and it was just a matter of slipping it from her bag into his while she was distracted. He'd been going through them again over the past few days, desperate for clues, hoping that what he planned to do was going to work.

Finn knew he was right, anyway, because as soon as he saw ‘the Hollow’ again it sparked a memory. He’d gone over newspapers from months ago, finding the one his aunt had written. It said Henry Potter was from Godric’s Hollow. What if he was still there? What if he wasn't? Maybe someone was who could help him.

Finn, cross legged on his bed, tapped his finger on the map. It hadn’t actually been hard to find; Godric’s Hollow was a large magical community.

He hoped he was right, and would find something useful, if not the Cloak itself. The pain of Grindelwald’s Cruciatus Curse was still fresh in both his mind and his muscles. He bought himself time with the Hills girl, and now he needed to use it.

But Grindelwald had to know about Henry Potter’s son; Fleamont bore the Potter name and was a legitimate child. Which meant he was protected somehow, if Grindelwald didn’t go after him. Or maybe he thought a child raised by Muggles made an easier target.

Finn took a deep breath as he hopped off his bed, tidying away the newspaper, maps, and letters into his trunk. He Disillusioned himself as he left the castle, the afternoon sun warm on his skin even though he was invisible. Once he reached Hogsmeade, he Apparated.

The village of Godric’s Hollow was small; a handful of shops, a church, and rows of small houses his mother would describe as quaint, to which his father would reply that quaint was another way of saying poor. Witches and wizards in various colors and styles of robes were walking leisurely up and down the street. He stopped in front of a house that looked abandoned. The windows were boarded up and the grass on the lawn overgrown. Somehow, Finn knew this was Henry’s Potter’s house. He hoped looks were deceiving, and that it wasn’t empty.

Finn stood on the doorstep. He took a deep breath, then raised his hand to knock.

A man opened it. He was middle aged, with messy brown hair and a long face. With a pang, Finn recognized something of Brindley in his face, especially in the colour and shape of his eyes behind his glasses. He wore a blue checkered shirt and trousers, his hand in one of the pockets.

“Hi. Er - I’m Finn Blishwick.” Too late, Finn realized he should have used a fake name, but there was no recognition in the man’s face. Instead, he looked confused, but took his hand out of his pocket to shake Finn’s.

“Fleamont Potter,” he said.

Finn let out a shaky breath of relief. He was at the right place. He glanced nervously over his shoulder. “Do you mind if we talk inside?”

“Er… sure, come on in.”

The house was inches deep in dust and smelled old, though not entirely unpleasantly. There were white sheets over most of the furniture, and cardboard boxes stacked neatly against a wall. A large grandfather clock ticked loud, each second an echoing thunk. Finn subtly glanced around for any place the Cloak might be hidden. Fleamont was watching him.

“Tea?” he said.

“No. Thanks,” Finn remembered to add, thinking of how Brindley would elbow him for being rude.

Fleamont sat opposite Finn at the small kitchen table, folding his hands together. “What is this about? Are you selling something?”

Finn exhaled slowly as he considered his words. “I know a lot of this is going to sound crazy, but you have to believe me. Your dad, he had a daughter.”

Fleamont’s face turned cold. “No, he didn’t.”

“He did,” Finn insisted. “On his travels abroad, he met a Muggle woman named Mara McCroy -”

“That’s ridiculous. Dad never cheated on Mum.”

“Please, this girl’s life is in danger. I just need the Invisibility Cloak -”

Fleamont laughed shortly. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. And even if I did, do you really think I would give something so powerful to someone like Gellert Grindelwald?”

Finn’s heart stopped. “I didn’t -”

“Please,” Fleamont said shortly. “You need a powerful object to save a girl’s life. Who else would lower themselves to using blackmail like that to get their way? Besides, Grindelwald’s been after the Cloak for years. I’ve heard of his movements in Britain, he must be staying somewhere, and for you to know this… Well, you’ve got rich written all over you.”

Finn huffed. “Why doesn't he come after you, then?”

“He and his followers wouldn’t dare. I’m under the protection of the Ministry, who I would alert straight away if Grindelwald was here. In fact, I’m more than a little surprised you found me.”

“I had letters,” Finn said, “that your dad and Mara exchanged while they were abroad.”

Fleamont’s face went smooth and blank again. This mask unnerved Finn; not only because he couldn’t see what Fleamont was thinking, but because Brindley did the same thing.

“What about Henry Potter?” Finn said. “Is he here? If I could just speak to him -”

“Dad’s dead,” Fleamont said flatly.

The words hit Finn like a punch in the gut. “What?”

Fleamont nodded. “Last year. Left this place to me, but I'm just here in between work.”

Finn thought instantly of Brindley, who never knew her mother and would now never have the chance to know her father. He swallowed.

“Do you know where the Cloak is? Do you have it? Because -” The faded mark on Finn’s arm that Tom had left suddenly flared in a surge of pain. He let out a yell, clutching at his arm, when a sudden explosion turned the front door in a shower of splinters. There were three identical pops in quick succession behind him. Tom, Dalton, and Radbourne appeared.

Fleamont was on his feet, his mouth open in astonishment. “What is going on -?”

Dalton and Radbourne had their wands on Fleamont. Radbourne was as wide-eyed as Fleamont. The corner of Dalton’s mouth was turned up as if something he’d been looking forward to was about to happen.

Tom had his eyes on Finn. “Well done, Blishwick.”

Fleamont turned to Finn. “You -?”

He didn't have time to finish his sentence before Tom cried, “Stupefy!”

Fleamont went limp. Radbourne caught him before he hit the ground, staggering under his weight.

“Did you find it?” Tom asked Finn.

Finn shook his head, mouth dry as he said, “Not here. Potter’s dead.”

Tom’s nostrils flared. “I see. Who is this?” He nodded at Fleamont’s stunned body.

“His son.”

Tom turned to Radbourne and Dalton. “Bring him. Let's go, Blishwick.”

Finn gestured vaguely to the kitchen. “I'll just grab my bag.”

As soon as the boys and Fleamont were gone, Finn sprang into action. He skidded in front of the fireplace, remembering just in time to take his jumper off before he shoved his arm up the chimney, sending a shower of ash down on himself.

Because just before Fleamont was hit with the stunning spell, Finn watched the older man’s face, and saw his eyes dart to this fireplace before they closed into unconsciousness. Finn felt around frantically for a hole, a button, anything, then got out his wand and started poking randomly. Something came loose under his fingers, and fell to the floor with a soft whump, sending up a fresh puff of ash.

The Invisibility Cloak.

He found it. It didn't look like much. It felt much like a regular cloak; rough and worn, covered in a layer of ash and dirt so thick it was impossible to tell its real colour. Finn pulled out his wand and tapped the cloak. “Reducio,” he whispered, even though there was no one around the hear.

He shoved the now tiny cloak into his pocket and pulled his jumper back over his head, covering the majority of his ash covered clothes.

He Apparated back to Hogsmeade, and made the walk back to Hogwarts as the sun set behind the mountains.

***

Finn had the dormitory to himself once he returned to the castle. The last period of the day would finish in a few minutes, and Radbourne, Dalton and Tom weren't back from wherever they'd taken Fleamont. Presumably to Blishwick Manor. Finn wondered what his father would make of his absence.

Finn ran the shower, taking a moment to hide his ash covered clothes before Tom had a chance to ask why he had been playing in Fleamont’s fireplace. The hot water burned his arm. He hid the Cloak at the bottom of his trunk, the spell already worn off and back to its normal size.

Finn threw on clean trousers and a deep green jumper. With his hair still damp, he made his way down to the Great Hall, throwing his bag over his shoulder because he was meeting Brindley in the library afterward. He felt oddly calm, a sense of triumph washing over him. He’d done it; he had the Cloak. He could end this. Though he worried for Fleamont, Brindley’s half brother, Finn hoped he was right in thinking Grindelwald wouldn't hurt him. Not straight away at least, and Finn would have the Cloak to him before then.

Only Fletcher and Ben were at the Slytherin table when he walked in. As Finn made his way over, he scanned the Ravenclaw table like he’d been doing almost every day, looking for Alenya Hills even though he wasn’t entirely sure what she looked like. His eyes fell on the next table over, where Brindley was sitting, her thick hair pulled back into a ponytail. She smiled at him, and he returned it.

Finn slid into the seat beside Fletcher, pinching one of the sausages from his plate. Ben was deep in conversation with Clarence Trosper. Finn inched closer to Fletcher.

“I need your help, Fletch,” he murmured.

Fletcher raised a blonde eyebrow warily. “This isn't like the incident on Halloween two years ago, is it? Because it took me weeks to - ”

“It’s nothing like that,” Finn said hastily.

“What is it then?”

“I need you write something for me. It needs to be anonymous, and you’d make it sound so much better.”

Fletcher still looked doubtful, but he agreed. They left dinner early and headed for the library. Fletcher chatted happily about the new story he was writing, but Finn was listening with half an ear; he was deciding what to put in the letter.

Fletcher’s writing was neat; no one would ever suspect it was Finn’s. Finn decided long ago he wanted to be anonymous. The thought of being praised for this made him feel sick. He just wanted the Cloak handed over, Grindelwald to be content, to not have to go after Alenya Hills - or Brindley, for that matter - and to leave Finn alone. Fleamont would be saying he didn’t have it, and once that proved true, he could go. Finn hoped.

Fletcher wrote down everything Finn told him; Henry Potter’s death, that the Cloak could be sent to wherever Grindelwald desired it, that the illegitimate child was useless to him now. With each word, Fletcher’s mouth tightened, but he said nothing. When it was finished, Fletcher folded the letter and handed it to Finn.

“Thanks, Fletch. I owe you.” He ruffled his hair. Fletcher pushed him off with a small smile, gathering his things and returning them to his bag. He bid Finn farewell just as Brindley came into the library.

Finn shoved the note into the bottom of his bag; he’d send it by owl later that night.

***

The library was warm. Too warm for Finn’s jumper, but he didn't dare take it off. Since the mark on Finn’s arm flared up at Godric’s Hollow it hadn’t yet faded back to red; instead it remained an ugly black mark. Finn shifted in his seat, pulling at the neck of his jumper with his left hand as he continued writing his essay with his right.

Brindley looked up from her own parchment. “Aren’t you hot?” she asked.

“You haven’t noticed yet?”

She gave him an exasperated look. “I mean in your robes.”

Finn shook his head. Brindley shrugged and rolled up the sleeves of her own robes to her elbows, her arms thin and bony underneath.

They worked in silence for a few minutes until there was a snapping sound, and Brindley let out a frustrated exclamation. “My quill just broke. Can I borrow one of yours?”

Finn didn’t look up from his parchment as he said, “Sure. In my bag.”

Brindley bent to rifle through his satchel. After a few moments the rifling went silent. She was so still for so long that Finn finally looked up. When he saw what was in her hands he felt as though he might throw up.

“What is this?” Her voice was deadly quiet.

She was holding the letter he intended to give to Grindelwald. It was open. He swallowed, focusing on her face and hoped the room would stop spinning. “I don’t know.” His voice sounded hoarse.

“Don’t lie to me Finlay Blishwick!” she shouted. Tears welled in her eyes.

“I -”

She shook the letter in his face, her own slowly turning red. “Tell me this is a joke.”

The pain in her voice broke his heart. He opened his mouth, but she spoke across him, even though her voice was barely more than a whisper. “Tell me this isn’t real.”

Tears were building behind his own eyes. “Brindley…”

“You promised you would never hurt me,” she said, tears rolling down her cheeks in earnest. “You promised.”

“I know. I’m sorry.” A tear leaked out from the corner of his eye. “I meant it - I still do - If you’ll just let me explain -”

“You don’t deserve that chance.” Brindley stood up, yanking her bag out from under the table.

He stood up and reached for her, but she pulled back savagely. “Don’t touch me.” Her breathing had become ragged again, and when moments ago she’d been red in the face, she was now as white as a sheet.

“You knew my father was dead, and you didn’t tell me. You’ve been working for Grindelwald all this time, even though you knew what he did to me and my mother. Was this all hilarious for you?”

“God no, of course not -”

“You’re disgusting. Don’t ever talk to me again. I never want to see you again.”

His bottom lip trembled against his will. His voice cracked as he said, “I did it to protect you.”

Brindley just shook her head and left. Finn sat back down since his shaking legs weren’t going to hold him up for much longer. Oh God, what had he done? He’d lost Brindley. Brindley, who all he wanted was to keep safe and from pain, and now he was the cause of it. Always he was the cause of someone’s pain.

Running footsteps made Finn sit up and quickly wipe his face. It was Radbourne, glasses askew, panting.

“What is it?” Finn asked.

“I came to find you. We’ve been called to our common rooms.”

Finn wiped his nose on the back of his sleeve. “What for?”

“I don’t know.” Radbourne’s expression was pained. “But it’s nothing good.”

***

The castle was unusually quiet as Finn and Radbourne made their way to the Slytherin common room. Even the Great Hall, where students should still have been eating dessert, was dark and empty. Finn didn’t have enough room in his mind to wonder about it. All he could see was Brindley’s heartbroken face. He’d hurt her. How Hero would hate him. How Brindley did hate him. How he hated himself. He felt like some vile creature in a cage he couldn't escape from.

The common room was packed; students took up every available surface as they made a circle around Slughorn, who was standing in the center of the room. Finn and Radbourne squeezed in just as Slughorn began talking.

“Alenya Hills from Ravenclaw went missing last night,” he said, “and was found dead this morning. Aurors are addressing it now. In the meantime, classes are canceled for tomorrow, and anyone who needs counseling, we have professionals coming in…”

Finn didn’t hear the rest. Blood rushed to his ears in a roar that drowned out all other sounds. Slowly, sluggishly, silently, he made his way to the dormitory. It was empty and dark. Finn stepped into the bathroom, locking the door. He knelt by the toilet and vomited, and even when his stomach was empty he still felt sick. So, so sick. He leaned back against the wall, turning his flushed cheek onto the cool tile.

Then he cried.

Chest heaving, shoulder shaking sobs.

He’d never let himself believe any of this could be real. How easy it was to just say a name from the safety of the castle and then go back to Brindley’s arms.

That girl - Finn had killed her. He was a murderer. This was all his fault. He banged the back of his head violently against the wall.

It could have been Brindley, he told himself. It could have been Brindley.

It still could be Brindley, since Grindelwald didn’t have the Cloak. Finn did. And Finn hadn’t sent the letter; Grindelwald didn’t know Henry Potter was dead. Did Tom have anything to do with Hills?

Thinking of Tom made Finn realize he hadn’t seen him since earlier that afternoon in Godric’s Hollow. For once, Tom’s absence, not his presence, made Finn nervous. He pulled the sleeve of his jumper back; the black, indecipherable mark was stark against his skin. Somehow, Tom must have used the mark to find him. That fucking bastard.

Finn pulled his sleeve down again and allowed himself a few more minutes on the floor. He allowed one more tear to slide down his cheek. Then he raised his head, got to his feet, and straightened his clothes. He splashed cold water on his face before going back down to the common room.

It had mostly emptied. Ben and Radbourne were sharing a lounge, heads bent as they spoke in low voices. Finn didn’t have enough emotion left in him to be pleased at the closeness between his two friends.

“Have you seen Tom?” he asked without preamble.

Ben and Radbourne grimly shook their heads. Their eyes were wide and identical in their concern, but Finn didn't explain before he left without another word. The library, then. Finn couldn’t find Tom anywhere; maybe he never returned to the castle after all.

Finn had to find Brindley instead. He had to explain. She would have gone to her common room like everyone else, and now she knew about Hills. He would tell her it was his fault. She was going to hate him even more, but at least she would know the truth.

He stopped outside their common room. He knew how to get it in; Brindley sneaked him many times, but she’d gone in to check the room was empty first. He’d never been in by himself before. What if their common room was full? But Brindley was more important than how he looked to others, so he steeled himself and went inside.

There weren’t many people in the room, and those that were there didn’t look up as he stuck his head inside. They were staring at the ground, looking mostly in shock, but some had tears running down their faces. Finn’s chest grew too tight to breathe.

His fault, his fault, his fault.

Thankfully, Saffron Worley was one of the students among them, and she noticed him. Her eyes widened. She sprang to her feet, coming over to meet him.

“Have you seen Brindley?” he asked her in a low voice.

“No,” Saffron whispered uncertainly, folding her arms over her robes. “I was going to ask you the same thing.”

“What?”

“I haven’t seen her since she said she was going to study with you.”

“Oh. Okay, thanks.” Finn withdrew his head again.

Shit. Where could she be? In a bathroom? His heart contracted at the thought of her crying as much as he had, and knowing he was the cause.

He sat on the steps in the Entrance Hall, running his hands through his hair. It was silent except for the occasional squeaking of the suits of armor down the corridor. Finn laughed without humor as he thought of how the boys once called their group knights. Thinking of Tom again, he was struck with a sudden, horrible revelation.

What if Tom knew the truth about Brindley?

Finn rubbed his face. He didn’t know how Tom would know, but now that the thought crossed his mind, he knew without a doubt - though he wished he had one - that Tom had taken her. Finn hadn’t protected her after all. How could he have been so utterly stupid to think that he could? He couldn't protect anyone.

A suit of armor creaked again, echoing through the hall.

But Finn had what Grindelwald wanted. Finn had the Cloak, the thing that started this whole fucking thing in the first place. He stood up. He still had a chance to be a hero.

He went to get the Cloak.

***

The first thing Finn saw as he stepped into the corridor of the dungeons was Sebastian’s large brown eyes peering out from the antechamber.

Finn stopped. “Sebastian? What are you doing in there?”

“Can you come in here, please?”

Finn followed him in. The room was empty, and dark and cold without the fire lit; only one lantern by the corner. Sebastian locked the door; Finn heard it click. Sebastian whipped out his wand so quickly Finn didn’t have time to react.

Incarcerous!”

Ropes shot out from Sebastian’s wand and wrapped themselves around Finn’s arms and legs. With a startled yell, Finn fell backwards. He hit the wall, sliding down it until he was sitting on the floor, pain shooting up his spine where he landed on his tail bone. He couldn’t reach his wand; he couldn’t move at all.

Finn looked up at Sebastian. “Bash, what the fuck?”

Sebastian still had his own wand pointed at Finn, but his hand trembled. “Shut up! I’m the one with the wand.”

Finn took in Sebastian’s appearance; he looked terrible, even in the dim room. His brown hair was disheveled and there were bags under his eyes. A tiny part of Finn felt sad that his little cousin looked like hell, but the larger part of him - the part that was tied up by said little cousin - was angry. Then Finn noticed the mark on Sebastian’s arm, the exact size and position of his own, black and indecipherable. “Did Tom tell you to do this?”

Sebastian followed his gaze and hesitated. “No.”

“You can’t trust him, Bash. He’s done awful things, he -”

“This has nothing to do with Tom,” Sebastian said. “I’m capable of doing things, too, you know. No one ever seems to notice.”

Finn briefly closed his eyes. Of course.

The wave of realization hit Finn so hard it made him dizzy, and he was glad he was already sitting down. Sebastian had access to Finn’s dormitory, he knew about the coup; Finn himself let it slip over Christmas. Somehow he must have gotten word to a Dumbledore. And as a Muggleborn himself, Sebastian would know about the Muggleborn activities, and know Finn went to the movie. The person who had been trying to sabotage Finn this year was his own cousin.

“It was you. Why, Sebastian?”

Sebastian’s eyes flashed in a way Finn had never seen before. “Are you really asking me that?” he said.

Finn swallowed, past events flashing before him one by one. The disinheritance, the bullying, the withdrawing…

“Your perfect little family isn’t so perfect, you know,” Sebastian said.

Yes, Finn did know that.

“I tried to tell you,” Sebastian continued. “I was right. About Scout going to Ilvermorny? It's b-bullshit. She's a Squib. She goes to a Muggle school.”

Finn stopped struggling.

Sebastian looked grimly satisfied. “I bet your dad doesn't know that. After all, Scout hasn't been disowned.”

No, Finn didn’t think Jameson did know that.

“You're all so ashamed to be anything you're not. Even all your stuff with Grindelwald. He’s anti-Muggle and Muggleborn, and you still follow him, support him? Don’t you know how that makes me feel?”

“It’s not like that anymore -”

“I know,” Sebastian said. “It’s changing now. Tom’s helping me get my family back.”

“You never lost us, Sebastian,” Finn said, rising with difficulty to his knees. “And you know Tom supports Grindelwald, too?”

Sebastian faltered. Tom must have conveniently forgotten to mention that to him. “Oh…” he said faintly. “I gave him…” He trailed off.

“You gave him what, Sebastian?”

Sebastian looked at the floor. “The Hufflepuff girl.”

Finn thought he had been about to say the Cloak, but this was so much worse.

You told Tom about Brindley?!” Finn growled. “Sebastian, what have you done? Grindelwald will kill her!”

“N-no,” Sebastian said, and his hand trembled again. “I have the Cloak, too.”

Finn clenched his jaw. “How did you get that?”

“It was in your room.”

Finn struggled against the ropes, but they wouldn't loosen. “You've been through my things before, haven't you, Sebastian? What were you looking for the first time?”

“Anything,” said Sebastian. “You've always been the golden child, the chosen one. I knew you were up to something. I found a list of times in your dormitory but I didn’t know what they meant, so I followed you…”

Bloody hell, Sebastian.

“… and I know you’ve been using Professor Slughorn’s fireplace. You and Tom.” He hesitated. “Is he really working for Grindelwald?”

“Yes. He’s been using you. That’s what he does.”

“But… will they stop now? Grindelwald has what he wants.”

“It won’t stop him,” Finn said. “He’s dangerous. Please, just let me go.”

“I can’t,” Sebastian said. Finn saw the doubt behind his eyes. “This is about proving myself. I'm more than just Muggleborn.”

“I know that, Sebastian…”

Sebastian shook his head. “No, you don't. No one does. Or if they do, they quickly forget.”

“Sebastian, please. Brindley knows nothing about this. Any of this. She didn’t even know Henry Potter was her father until recently. Grindelwald hates Potter. He’ll kill her out of spite because that’s what he does. Let me go!”

“I can't.” Sebastian’s voice wobbled.

Finn was really starting to panic. Each second that ticked away was a second further Finn spent away from Brindley. Brindley, who was in the hands of both Tom and Grindelwald. Grindelwald had already killed one innocent girl, it was only a matter of time before he did it again.

“Sebastian.” The desperation in Finn’s voice was evident to his own ears. “Please. I’ve seen you duel, you’re even better than me. No one thinks you’re useless. Those other kids are just bullies.” Finn’s chest ached at the fact that he was one of those people. “And you’re so good on your flute. Don’t be like Tom, Bash. You’re a good person.”

Sebastian’s bottom lip wobbled. Then he lowered his wand, and the ropes around Finn’s wrists and ankles slackened enough for him to pull them off. Finn jumped to his feet and shoved Sebastian against the wall. Not hard enough to hurt him, but enough to scare him at least. But Finn found his anger disappeared as quickly as it had flared up. He let Sebastian go. “We’ll talk about this later, okay?”

Sebastian nodded, still looking like he was about to cry. Finn grabbed him and pulled him into a tight hug. He kissed the top of his head. Sebastian’s shoulders started shaking.

“I’m sorry,” Finn said. “I’m sorry you feel like this. But you’ve done a really shitty thing, Bash, and I have to go and fix it.”

Sebastian nodded against Finn’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, too,” he whispered.

Completely empty handed, Finn traveled home.

***

A/N: Thanks to Julie for looking over this (second to last!) chapter for me!

Chapter 13: Deeper Than Oceans
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Sometimes we must choose between what is right and what is easy.
- J.K. Rowling

*


When Finn stepped out of the fireplace and into his living room, he was met with silence. He poked his head into the kitchen and the entryway, but there was no sign of anyone, until he heard lowered voices coming from the library. The large double doors were open a crack. He didn’t even dare to breathe as he peered inside.

Grindelwald was there, his robes blacker than night. He was pacing, coming in and out of Finn’s vision. Tom was there as well, standing by a bookshelf, his white shirt neat. Finn inched around, trying to see in from a better angle.

His heart stopped.

Brindley was sitting on a chair, her hands clasped in front of her. She wasn’t physically bound, but by the way she was subtly shifting, it was obvious she was restrained by magic. His hands curled into fists at his side. What had they done to her? Her eyes were rimmed with red, and she was pale, her hair loose from the ponytail it had been in when he’d seen her last. It fell across her face as her chest heaved with the effort to breathe without coughing. She must have been coughing at some point though; there was a small bubble of the black substance that was in her lungs at the corner of her mouth. There was a similar black mark on her shoulder, as if she’d used it to wipe at her mouth. That was Brindley; refusing to let anyone see her pain.

Finn inched forward, but a hand on his arm stopped him, making him jump and nearly cry out.

His mother pressed a finger to his mouth. She looked as neat as always, but there were dark circles under her eyes, which were wide as she searched his face. “Do you know that girl in there?” she whispered.

Finn swallowed the lump in his throat. Hoarsely, all he could say was, “Yeah.”

She cupped his face. “Be careful, my baby.”

Finn nodded, and kissed her cheek. He went to open the door when his mother stopped him again.

“You know the red and white vase?” she said, her eyes darting to the library door. “The one with the owls on it?”

Finn nodded; he knew the one, it sat on the desk by the window. Without any further explanation, his mother squeezed his arm and left. Finn blinked after her, but he didn’t have time to wonder what his mother meant about the vase as he pushed on the doors.

Neither Grindelwald or Tom looked surprised to see him walk in. Finn couldn't look at Brindley, couldn't face the contempt he was sure to see in her face. His eyes flickered to Tom. There was no emotion in the other boy’s face at Finn’s appearance. He remained standing, looking at Finn as if he’d been in the room the whole time.

“Ah, Finn,” Grindelwald said. “Well done. Tom tells me it was you who found Miss Potter here in the first place. And took very good care of her, I hear.” His eyes glinted with amusement.

Finn clenched his jaw.

Grindelwald reached into his robes, and Finn took a step back, thinking Grindelwald was about to pull out his wand. But Grindelwald’s hand emerged with something small on a thin chain. He dropped it into Finn’s palm. It was a Hallow rune, just like the Besmurten wore.

“Well done, Finlay.”

Finn looked down at it. How could he ever have wanted something so small and insignificant? He’d dreamed of this, wanted it more than anything in the world, and now that it was in his hand, it looked pitiful. In fact, it was ugly. For a moment, he imagined himself closing his fist around it, accepting it. He imagined donning blood red robes. He imagined becoming a soldier, someone strong and tough and brave.

But he had already become that.

Finn snapped the rune in half, throwing both pieces on the floor. Grindelwald regarded him coldly.

“Put him in with Potter,” he said to Tom.

Tom didn't need restraints or magic to make him move. Finn knew what he could do, and he started walking without a word.

He finally looked at Brindley before he left the room. Her mouth was a tight line as she struggled in her seat. Finn realised she was trying to speak, but couldn't. The bastards had gagged her as well. He wished he could say something to her, but he was already gone.

Finn was led to the basement in his own home like a prisoner. Tom didn’t take his wand; he was probably that confident of his abilities outmatching Finn’s, and he’d be right. Finn’s hands were shaking with anger, and he curled them into fists. As they descended the stairs to the basement, Finn contented himself with shouting insults at Tom in his head, well aware of Tom’s Legilimency skills. Let him hear.

The basement was actually once a comfortable place; before Finn and Hero started at Hogwarts, they'd played down here. But that had been years ago, and now it was dark and dusty and cold. Old furniture and broomsticks were scattered among the shadows and memories.

Fleamont was there, sitting against a lounge. One of the lens of his glasses was cracked. His feet were tied together, as were his hands behind his back. Much like Finn had been earlier and much like Finn was now. If this was going to become a habit, Finn was going to have to ask for silk ties to save his skin. He glared at Tom all the while, and when he was gone, Finn rested his head on his knees. The basement was silent for a long time.

“What is she like?” Fleamont finally asked, so quiet Finn almost missed it.

Finn lifted his head. “Brindley?”

Fleamont nodded. “I saw her up there. She looks just like my grandmother did at her age. I think I believe you now.”

“She’s… beautiful. And kind, funny, and smart. She loves animals, you know. Wants to work with them in the f-future.” His voice caught on the word.

No. Brindley would have a future, one that went beyond being tied up in this house. Finn struggled against his bonds, using the very tips of his fingers to inch his wand from his pocket, one painful centimeter at a time, until it finally clattered to the floor.

“How do you have that?” Fleamont’s eyes were wide.

Finn shrugged. “No one took it from me.”

Finn wracked his brains for a spell that might help. He tried spells that severed and burned, but without his hand around it, his wand was unresponsive. Finn concentrated so hard sweat began sliding down his temple. “Come on, wand,” he muttered. “I never ask you for anything. Just do this one thing for me.”

He stared hard at his wand, lying just out of reach of his fingertips. He imagined it shooting a spell to cut through his ties. He thought of Brindley, and how much he wanted to run up to the library and take her away. To his astonishment, his wand started to wiggle, as if the floor were shaking beneath it. Finn watched, open-mouthed, as his wand swiveled to the ties around his ankles as if it were metal attracted by a magnet, and shot a thin stream of light that sliced through the ties. Finn let out a triumphant cry. The wand turned and freed his hands. Fleamont look impressed as Finn rose to his feet and undid his own bonds.

The door to the basement above them opened, sending a beam of light down over the stairs.

“Make him regret it,” Fleamont said.

Finn nodded, gripping his wand in his sweating hand.

Tom descended the stairs to find Finn and Fleamont on their feet, but he didn’t look surprised. He chuckled without humor as he looked at Finn’s wand, which was pointed at his chest. “You know you can’t win against me with that.”

“You’re right,” Finn said. He transferred his wand into his left hand, and with his right, punched Tom in the nose.

Tom stumbled backward, finally taken by surprise. When he straightened, blood was trickling from his nose. Finn didn't think he’d ever seen Tom bleed before. He'd almost wondered if he was capable. Tom wiped at his nose with his sleeve, staining his white shirt with red, his eyes so intense Finn could almost see flames in them.

Pain shot through Finn. He fell to the ground, wand rolling away from him. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so intense that Finn couldn’t hear everything Tom was saying.

“Pathetic,” Tom said, smoothing his hair back. “Just like your sister.”

Finn growled and tried to stand, but without even lifting a finger, Tom had him curling up with spasms again.

“Actually,” Tom said, raising his voice to be heard over Finn’s yelling, “you're more pathetic. At least she put up more of a fight.”

“W-what?” Finn croaked as the pain stopped again, his forehead on the cool stone of the ground.

“She was smarter than you, too,” Tom continued. “At least, smarter than you thought she was. Did you really think Hero was stupid enough to get herself bitten by a spider she was deathly allergic to?”

Finn’s stomach rolled with nausea, but it had nothing to do with the pain of the curse. “What are you saying?”

“What do you think I’m saying?” Tom said. “You and I, Blishwick, we possessed the same goals. You served my desires. But Hero? She threatened me. She would have spoiled everything. I wouldn’t risk that, so I didn’t.”

Finn didn’t want to make sense of what Tom was saying. He didn’t want to believe him. But Hero’s words floated back to him, and Finn thought he finally knew what Hero had been trying to tell him.

“Fuck you.” Finn tried to stand, wanting to charge at Tom, magic or no magic. A fresh wave of pain sent him rolling on the floor again, wanting to peel his own skin off.

As quickly as it started, it stopped, and Finn raised his head. Tom was on the ground again, Fleamont standing over him, massaging his knuckles. Tom’s eyes were closed, but his chest was rising and falling.

“That's not going to hold him for long,” Finn said, still on all fours. It was taking a lot of effort to rise to his feet again.

“It doesn't have to,” Fleamont panted. “Grab Brindley and get out of here.”

“What about the Cloak?” Finn said. “Is it up there?”

Fleamont smiled grimly. “Don’t worry about that,” he said. “The one you took from my fireplace? It’s a fake.”

“What?” Finn croaked.

“The real one is my vault at Gringott’s. I couldn’t risk someone else finding it. The one Grindelwald has right now has a powerful Disillusionment Charm on it, but that will fade with time.”

Finn nodded once as he shakily got to his feet, picking up his wand. Relief and satisfaction made his knees wobble. Grindelwald hadn’t won. Finn looked down at Tom, anger boiling and bubbling in his gut like an overheating potion. He raised his wand.

Fleamont stopped him with a gentle but firm hand on his arm. “You don’t have time right now. He’ll pay for whatever he did to your sister.”

A sob shook Finn’s chest, so unexpected it even took him by surprise. “He killed her!” he choked out.

Fleamont’s mouth tightened, but he forced Finn’s hand to lower. “You can still save Brindley.”

Finn took a shaky breath, forcing his grief back down. He stepped over Tom, kicking him slightly, and ran up the stairs.

Grindelwald was still in the library, but now he was joined by both Finn’s parents, and Andor Bence, who was holding Brindley’s arms behind her back by the window. Brindley may have been taller than Bence, but he was twice her width. Her eyes widened as Finn came in, but he couldn't read her expression. This time, everyone was surprised to see Finn crash in.

“Stop this,” he said. “She doesn't know anything. Henry Potter is dead, and you have the Cloak. Brindley isn’t any use to you.”

Grindelwald twirled his wand between his fingers, looking much like a cat whose tail twitched as it watched a bird from the window. “What do you make of this, Blishwick?” Grindelwald said, referring to Jameson.

Finn’s eyes flickered to his father. He looked truly terrible; his face hollow, eyes sunken as if he hadn’t slept in days. His voice was hoarse as he said, “I am very disappointed in my son. In fact, I don’t believe he is my son anymore.”

Finn faltered. He bit down on his bottom lip and raised his chin. His mother’s eyes were wide and filled with tears, but they didn’t fall. Finn looked away from his father and back at Grindelwald. “Please,” he said.

“I remember this girl’s mother,” Grindelwald said casually.

Brindley’s eyes widened as she looked at him.

“She loved history, did Mara. So passionate. So strong, for a time. Running from me despite her pregnancy. You must be strong as well,” he said to Brindley, “to have survived my curse for so long.” He was pacing in front of her in little half-circles. “Your mother didn’t die instantly, did you know that? It’s probably how they managed to get you out alive.” Brindley looked like she was about to spit in his face. Bence’s hands tightened around her arms, and Finn felt a small surge of pride that she was facing Grindelwald with so little fear. “I can still hear her screams, you know,” Grindelwald continued. “It was the first time I’d used this curse. I invented it myself; I’m glad it worked so well, so slowly. On her, at least. I doubt you’ll survive it a second time.”

“Please,” Finn said again. “Let Brindley go.”

Grindelwald stopped his pacing and came to stand beside Finn. Finn tried to stare at him with the same ferocity that Brindley had, but it was hard not to look away, not to anger him. Grindelwald regarded Finn for a long time. “You love her, don’t you?” he finally said in a flat voice.

“Yeah,” Finn said. “I do.”

Brindley made a noise like a sob, and he dared a glance over at her. Tears were running down her face, but at least she didn’t look angry or scared anymore.

Grindelwald nodded once. Finn foolishly dared to believe Grindelwald was going to say he understood, that Finn and Brindley would be free to go. But that was a dream, an empty wish. Life didn’t work like that. Out of the corner of his vision, Finn saw Bence step away from Brindley. Without taking his eyes from Finn’s face, Grindelwald raised his wand and aimed it at Brindley. A spell shot from its tip, but not in the regular flash of light. It looked like a ball of smoke, like something dark and evil and alive, and hit Brindley directly in the chest. Brindley didn’t even have the time to look surprised as her head tilted back, her eyes closed, and she crumpled to the floor.

“NO!”

Finn ran to her, falling to his knees beside her. As he slid his arm under her head, his watch, the old, golden Blishwick heirloom, caught on an uneven floorboard and the band snapped. He threw it angrily away where he dimly heard it smash against the wall. Brindley was still, her head lolling against his arm. Finn pushed her hair back from her face, hardly aware of how much his hand was shaking as it fluttered around her head.

“Brindley? B?”

She looked so tiny and felt so frail in his arms, but still he clutched her tightly, shaking her. She would wake up. She had to wake up. Something warm and salty was running into his mouth, his vision blurred as he looked up at his parents. Why were they just standing there? Why weren’t they helping her? He blinked his tears back just in time to his mother’s eyes dart to the desk beside him.

Finn glanced up at the red and white vase she mentioned earlier. Was it his imagination or was it glowing blue?

Grindelwald took a step toward him, just as Tom burst through the door, blood running from a cut on his forehead. Finn kept a hold on Brindley as he reached for the vase. His fingers closed around the neck just as Grindelwald raised his wand a second time.

Everything disappeared.

***

Finn could smell salt.

He’d squeezed his eyes shut when he touched the vase, and now he slowly opened them. He was on a beach, sitting in the wet sand, Brindley’s limp body across his lap. The waves of the ocean were grey as they crashed against the shore, coming close to him, but not quite reaching.

He looked over his shoulder, suspicions confirmed. He was at his family’s holiday home in Cornwall. A Portkey. His mother created a Portkey. The object in question now lay in pieces beside him, shards of red and white in the grey sand.

Finn pulled Brindley closer, hooking his arm under her knees and resting her head in the crook of his other elbow, like he was holding a child. He didn’t know any healing spells. Why hadn’t he listened to Radbourne? What difference would it make, anyway? Brindley was past healing. Her heart wasn’t beating.

She was gone.

Finn wasn’t crying anymore; he didn’t think there were any tears left. Instead, Finn simply looked out over the ocean, watching the waves, the body of the girl he loved in his arms. The beach was drained of all colour, the sun hidden behind a thick layer of clouds so it was impossible to tell the time. Late afternoon, perhaps. The swell was strong, as if a storm was blowing in, the waves loud as they crashed against the rocks of the nearby cliff. Finn didn’t hear them. He didn’t hear anything. Why was everything around him still moving when Brindley wasn’t?

He felt empty.

He felt nothing.

Was that the same thing?

What was he supposed to do now? Could he stay on the beach with Brindley forever? Surely he had to; he didn’t have the energy to do anything else. Finn looked back down at her. Gently, he kissed her nose, her cheek, her chin, her eyelids. She was still so warm, and her skin flushed. He lowered his forehead onto hers. It turned out he hadn’t run out of tears after all, and they fell silently down his cheeks and onto her face.

Maybe if he closed his eyes, he could pretend she was alive, just for a moment longer. A moment to say he was sorry. A moment to say goodbye. A moment to tell her he loved her, like he should have done earlier. If he closed his eyes, he could almost feel her heart beating against him, her chest rising and falling, her -

He froze. She was breathing.

Finn pulled back, his own heart hammering in his chest. She was definitely breathing. He touched her cheek. “Brindley?”

Brindley’s eyelids fluttered, then they opened, squinting up at the sky before they focused on Finn’s face. “Finn?”

Finn made a choked noise. “Oh, my God.”

Brindley turned her head, still in the crook of his elbow. “What happened?” She sounded drowsy, as if she’d just woken up from sleep, not death.

Finn crushed her to his chest, holding her tightly. “Oh, my God, Brindley. You died. You -”

She pushed against his shoulder. “Finn, I can’t breathe.”

“Sorry.” He quickly let her go.

With his help, she sat upright. Her movements were sluggish. She looked down at her hands, as if she’d never seen them before. She raised her head, looking around the beach, eyebrows furrowed in confusion. Her thick hair blew over her face, messy from where he’d been running his hands through it, and grains of sand were dotted through the red strands. Her eyes were on him again, and the sight of them open was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen in his life.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“Actually, I feel… better than okay.” She took in a couple of deep breaths. “Finn, my chest -”

“What is it?” His hands were fluttering helplessly around her again. “Does it hurt? Should I -”

“No,” Brindley said, and a smile crept onto her face. “It’s gone. The pain is gone.”

“What?” Finn breathed.

Brindley looked as though she hardly believed it herself. She pulled her shirt down slightly, and where there had been dark splotches over her lungs just hours before, there was only healthy pink - if rather freckled - skin. She looked back up at him, her face split into a huge, dazed grin. He matched it, feeling giddy with happiness.

“Grindelwald’s curse,” Finn said. “It must have been the same one he used on your mum, and had a reverse effect on you. Like snake venom.”

Brindley reached up a hand to run a thumb over his cheek, rough where it was covered in sand. He didn’t realize he was crying again. He cupped her own face, pushing her hair back with one hand, making sure she actually was alive and healthy and this wasn’t some cruel trick. Brindley laughed shakily and sniffed back her own tears, leaning forward to kiss him. He kissed her back as if he were a drowning man desperate for air. It was a clash of lips and tongue and teeth, nails digging into necks and shoulders as if they couldn’t be close enough to one another. It was the best kiss he'd ever had.

After a while she pulled back to look at him sternly. “You owe me an explanation.”

Finn winced. He gestured to the house above them. “Let’s go inside.”

***

The house was much as Finn remembered it. Simply furnished with old furniture from the Manor, pictures of his family sitting in frames in the dark. He passed one of him and Hero, and he stopped, heart cracking again. His twin… murdered. Finn swallowed the lump in his throat. Tom would pay, but Finn would think about it later.

While Brindley went upstairs in search of clean clothes, Finn lit the fire by hand, not wanting to risk detection by using his wand in case Grindelwald or his father were searching for him. It only took him five attempts. He supposed Brindley could use hers, if it hadn't been taken from her. As far as anyone knew, she was dead.

His parents’ room was downstairs, and he threw on one of his dad’s old shirts and a pair of cotton shorts. There was still sand in his hair; he brushed it out with his fingers as best he could. He made tea while he waited for Brindley. It was stale from being years old, but at least it was hot. As he carried the cups into the living room, Brindley returned. Her hair was wet, presumably sand-free, falling past her breasts. She was in a plain blue shirt that belonged to Finn years ago, and fell to her mid-thigh. Her legs were bare underneath, glowing in the light of the fire, but he forced himself not to look as he handed her a cup of tea. Not until she’d heard him speak, and decided how she felt about him.

A storm had indeed rolled in off the coast. Rain lashed at the windows and thunder rumbled over the house, occasionally making the walls rattle. Though the sun was long gone, they didn’t bother lighting any more candles; the fire was enough. They dragged every blanket and cushion they could find onto the floor in front of the hearth. Neither of them spoke.

Brindley pulled two dining chairs together and draped a blanket over them like a tent. Like a fort. It was so reminiscent of their first kiss that Finn dared to take this as a good sign. They sat opposite one another under the blanket, holding but not drinking their tea. Finn rather thought the both of them were just grateful for something warm to hold. He could smell the shampoo she’d used; one of Hero’s old ones, like vanilla. The nostalgia was so strong he had to breathe through his mouth.

Finally, she said, “Tell me.”

With a deep breath, Finn told her everything: his mission given by Grindelwald and his father at the beginning of the year; how he wanted the Ministry opportunity because they told him to; how he knew almost instantly from her mother’s letters who Brindley was, and what Grindelwald had done to Mara; finding Fleamont. He even told her about Sebastian, and showed her the mark on his arm. Brindley was silent the whole time, twirling the mug in her hands, until Finn told her about what he had done to Alenya Hills, and Brindley’s bottom lip wobbled, a tear sliding down her cheek.

When Finn was done with his story, leaning back against the pillows, suddenly exhausted, Brindley was quiet for a long time. His stomach was twisting itself into a tight coil. Every second was agony. He was so sure she was about to stand up and walk both out of the house and out of his life. Just when he was about to say something, like ask whether she hated him, Brindley put down her mug and crawled into his lap. He exhaled in relief, wrapping his arms around her, resting his chin on the top of her head.

They spent a long time entwined like that, listening to the storm howl outside, Finn planting tiny kisses on her temple, and Brindley curling the hair at the base of his neck around her fingers.

“I love you,” he whispered.

Brindley kissed his jaw. He lowered his head to meet her lips in a lingering, tender kiss. She murmured against his mouth, “I love you, too.”

***

Two weeks later.

“It’s so pretty,” Brindley said.

“Not as pretty as me though, right?” Finn said.

Brindley snorted. “Talk to me when your flower boxes are blooming like those ones.”

They were standing outside Fleamont’s house in Godric’s Hollow. The door had been repaired after Tom blew it up, and Fleamont had cleaned the house from top to bottom and inside out.

“It’s not much,” Fleamont said apologetically, rubbing the back of his neck as he stood beside Finn and Brindley. “But it’ll do until you find something more permanent.”

“It’s beautiful,” Brindley said. “Thank you so much.”

They smiled shyly at each other. Once Fleamont escaped Blishwick Manor, he’d told them, he went through his father’s old things, and found the separate account Henry had set up for Brindley. He even found a baby picture, and it wasn't of Fleamont. Now, the half siblings endeavored to be in each others’ lives more, and Fleamont had even given them the house.

Finn was grateful. After spending the last two weeks with Brindley’s grumpy Muggle aunt, Finn rather thought he would have been happier staying in the Owlery than spend one more day with her. Aunt Maia, Mara’s sister, wouldn’t allow them to be within ten inches of each other at any time, and was always muttering under her breath about Finn. Something about, “a face like that only means trouble,” and Finn would just give her a lazy Blishwick smile.

But Finn turned seventeen during those weeks, and when Aunt Maia had toddled off to bed with a glass of red wine, Brindley would sneak into his room. The door had no lock, but Finn locked it magically, casting Muffliato for good measure. And so they could be as loud as they liked.

Brindley linked her fingers with his, and he looked away from the house and at her. She’d put on weight since her curse had been lifted; she was no longer the pale skeleton she’d once been. The Healers at St Mungo’s had been astonished at her sudden turn; they confirmed her lungs were completely healthy. They said it was nothing short of a miracle.

Fleamont bid them farewell, and they went inside. Fleamont had cleared away the boxes and dust, and even stocked the pantry. The curtains were thrown open, the breeze from outside making them flutter as they brought in the scent of the flowers in the boxes.

It wasn't Blishwick Manor, but it felt like home. It had to.

Finn was disowned. He wasn't surprised by it, not after what his father had said in the library or how he looked at Finn, but Finn didn't think it would hurt so much. His mother still sent him letters, still wanting to see him. He hadn't yet; he wasn't ready. Because the next time he saw his mother, the woman who had saved him and Brindley, he was going to tell her the truth about Hero’s death.

Brindley set about making tea, looking so at home as she bustled around the kitchen. “Are you okay?” she asked.

He smiled at her. “I will be.”

She looked down at the spoons as they made lazy circles in the cups on their own. “It doesn't seem fair that I should gain family and you lose it.”

“You’re my family now,” Finn said. “I’ve learned blood only gets you so far. And who knows, maybe I could turn my Blishwick name into something new. We could be a family of dragon tamers, or detectives, or…”

Brindley handed him his cup. “Ooh, we could be insect keepers. Fill the backyard with butterflies and moths.”

Finn shuddered. “That's not funny.”

The corner of Brindley’s mouth turned up as she took a sip of her own tea. Brindley had been offered a scholarship to train at the Wizarding Wildlife Park in England, after receiving such good grades from Hogwarts. She didn't have to go back for her seventh year, and Finn made the choice not to go back himself. Fleamont worked with historical artifacts like Henry, and found Finn a job translating runes and cracking any runic codes they came across.

It was perfect.

Finn reached over and took Brindley’s hand in his own. For a brief moment, looking at the girl in front of him who was very much alive, he felt like a hero. It wasn't only him anymore.

He would find Tom. They would remember Alenya Hills. But for now, all of that could wait.

Today was for the living.

***

A/N: There aren't enough words in the world to express the gratitude that I feel to everyone who helped with this story. I didn't want to expect people to read a whole other story before they read this one, so it was sort of written for me and anyone who read Hero and took a liking to Finn. I've been blown away by the amount of support and awards it has received (which I'm still in shock about) and I thank all of you from the bottom of my heart.

And Julie, who has been an amazing beta and an even more amazing friend, myself, this story, and my writing in general would be nowhere without you.

♥ Bianca

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