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Chapter 9 : Players in the Game
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With a sigh, Finn stretched out his leg until he could kick the book back toward him. The Black cousins - or whatever the hell they were - could think what they liked. Finn was a Blishwick, and the Blishwicks were about to rise above every other pureblood family. Finn leaned forward to pick the book up, and flipped through the dog-eared pages to the section on the Stinging Jinx. He squinted at the words, actually wanting to learn, but it still felt like homework. Finn blinked, willing himself to concentrate. How else would he become good enough to join his parents, to join Grindelwald? This year and the next, his father had said, their family would shine, chosen to support Grindelwald from inside Britain. For Finn, Tom and, to some extent, Radbourne and Benedict, it was a few curses, a bit of duelling practice. What harm was in it, really?
The common room door swung open and Tom walked in, immediately drawing the attention of the sixth year girls, their faces changing from affronted to admiring. Finn held back an eyeroll at this predictable behaviour, threw the book to the side and checked his watch. Tom was back from the Slug Club Halloween party much later than Finn expected.
Tom glanced at Finn before he approached Walburga and Lucretia. Finn couldn’t see his face, but knew exactly how it looked as he leant down to the Black girls’ eye level and said in a soft tone, “Leave us, please.”
The girls exchanged glances, but, not to Finn’s surprise, they left. He and Tom were alone.
Finn watched as Tom took a seat opposite him and rested his elbows on his knees, staring into the fire. Tom’s face was expressionless, but Finn had known him long enough to notice that the muscle twitching in his jaw and the rigid set of his arms indicated something was the matter.
Finn slouched lower and propped his feet up on the arm of the chair. “That bad?”
Tom didn’t move for a long time. Finn was about to ask again, afraid he hadn’t been heard the first time, when Tom abruptly rose from his chair and began pacing in front of the fire. There was something stiff in the way he held himself, a dangerous energy crackling around him like the fire in the grate; Finn had to resist the urge to recoil. Tom was angry.
He stopped pacing to look coldly down at him, and this time Finn really did shrink into the chair. “Sebastian Blishwick is a Muggle-born.”
Before he could stop himself, Finn started to laugh; what Tom said was simply absurd. Tom’s eyes - empty of amusement - flashed dangerously, and he drew his wand from his dress robes. Finn quickly shut his mouth, his stomach knotting in apprehension. “W-what?”
Tom’s shoulders relaxed fractionally, but he didn’t withdraw his wand. “He was attacked tonight, but petrified. Like the others have been.” He was staring at Finn, but Finn was too dazed to remember to look away. The common room was spinning around him. Sebastian wasn’t a Muggle-born. It was impossible; Uncle Kagan and Aunt Amata were both purebloods. Tom began pacing again, the lamps lighting the tips of his hair in green.
“Why?” he hissed to himself, for which Finn was glad, since he was only listening with half an ear. “Why are the Muggle-borns not dying? What am I doing wrong?”
Finn swallowed, but his mouth remained dry.
Tom stopped in front of him. “Did you know?”
Tom clucked his tongue in agitation. “About Sebastian.”
“Of course not!” Finn felt suddenly cold. He stood up, passing Tom to stand before the fire. The skin on the back of his neck prickled with the knowledge that he had his back to Tom when the other boy’s wand was in his hand, but he ignored it.
“So, the Blishwicks are not pure,” Tom mused quietly, as if he were merely trying to solve an Arithmancy equation.
Finn whirled away from the fireplace to face him, hands curling into fists at his side. “We are too! There - there must be some mistake. The Basilisk maybe, you just said -”
A vase on the mahogany table beside the fire shattered in an explosion of glass and water. Finn raised his hands to his head instinctively, the sweet smell of white lilies hitting his nostrils as they landed in a soppy mess by his feet.
“I am the Heir of Slytherin!” Tom said, resuming his pacing. His knuckles were even whiter than usual around his wand as he waved it irritably and the vase mended itself. “It is no fault of the basilisk that they are not dying. It is doing as I command. There must be something I'm missing.”
“I don’t know ‘bout all that, but we’re a pureblood family,” Finn said firmly. “My father saw to that years ago, I told you. There’ll be some explanation.”
“I hope that’s true,” Tom said. “Or my plans will come to nothing.”
“Speaking of,” Finn said, moving to sit back on the couch. He rifled under the cushions for where he had carelessly left the letter from his parents. Pulling it out from where it had slipped down the side of the couch, he handed it to Tom. “This came today.”
As Tom read the letter, Finn watched his face. He could tell by his facial expression which parts of the letter he was reading. Pleased where he saw the name Gellert Grindelwald, disappointed where it became clear Grindelwald would not actually be there, satisfied where the purpose of the party was written.
Tom nodded, eyes fixed on the letter. “Will Hero be attending?”
Finn pulled a face. He wasn’t as repulsed as he thought he would be at his best friend and sister going steady, but it was still odd to think. He was glad Tom rarely spoke about her. “Depends.”
Finn shrugged. “Whether mother and father reckon she’ll behave or not.” This was true enough. Their father wanted them in this as a family, but - for reasons only Merlin knew - Hero sympathised with Muggles and Muggle-borns.
“Oh, she’ll behave,” Tom said, looking up from the letter, “I’ll make sure of that.”
At breakfast the next morning, Finn sat at the Slytherin table opposite Tom, vaguely listening to Radbourne and Benedict talk about a Halloween party they snuck out to attend in Hogsmeade. As they chatted animatedly over their toast, Finn couldn’t stop himself from glancing over his shoulder at Brindley McCroy at the Hufflepuff table. She was laughing with her friend, the one Benedict might have snogged once on a dare - Saffron or something equally stupid - and tossing her thick dark red hair over her shoulder. Finn wondered what it would feel like to bury his hands in that hair…
He quickly turned back, face burning, and was met directly with Tom’s gaze. His expression was relaxed, with a hint of something that might have been amusement, but something cold went through Finn all the same. He quickly looked down at his plate, knowing this guilty behaviour probably incriminated him further. He also knew, where the others didn’t, of Tom practicing legilimency; Finn didn’t want to repeat the experience of being test subject.
Tom smiled mildly at Finn. “I want to practice a spell this afternoon. Will you join me?”
Finn nodded, still avoiding his gaze, and spooned cereal into his mouth.
Care of Magical Creatures had become Finn’s favourite class. He wasn’t particularly interested in magical creatures - apart from the Basilisk, of course - and had only chosen the subject because the other class options were either boring or dumb. But Care of Magical Creatures was with the Hufflepuffs, and that meant seeing Brindley.
Finn inwardly shook himself for feeling like this. They had been randomly paired to study Thestrals, much to Finn’s initial disgust, but Brindley had soon proved to be a valuable partner, especially since he couldn’t be bothered to do the work. She was passionate about magical creatures, expressing her desire to become a magizoologist, gesturing wildly with her hands all the while. She possessed an air of confidence that surprised him. It rivaled his own, but Finn was born to it, entitled. Brindley wasn’t. Whoever heard of an influential Hufflepuff?
As Finn watched how her face lit up as she read the textbook, he was increasingly glad Tom was not in this class.
“...just fascinating, isn’t it?” she was saying, trailing a finger down the textbook. Her long lashes swept downward as she read and she impatiently swept back the long strand of dark red hair that had come loose from its ponytail. She glanced up at him and he quickly looked away. “Is everything okay?” she asked.
Finn cleared his throat. “Er, fine,” he said, picking up his quill and pretended to concentrate on the list of questions in front of them. “What do I write for question two?”
Brindley leant forward to look, and Finn caught a whiff of her sweet vanilla perfume. “The properties of Thestral hair? Finn, you know the answer to that.”
“No, I don’t.” He ignored the thrill that went through him at the sound of his name on her lips.
“Yes, you do,” she said airily, looking back at her book.
Finn stared stubbornly at the parchment, but when it became obvious Brindley wasn’t going to say any more, he grudgingly wrote the answer down.
“They’re beautiful,” she said softly, looking toward the trees of the forest.
“They’re creepy as fuck,” Finn said, suppressing a shiver. Brindley was the only student in the class who could see the Thestrals. He wondered vaguely if Hero could see them now too. He didn’t know if she had actually seen the Muggle die, and he hadn’t cared enough at the time to ask details. Finn hadn’t even cared at first who Brindley had seen die; he had just been pleased that they had an advantage on their assignment. But today, as he watched her glance up occasionally to smile at something that wasn’t there, curiousity got the better of him.
“Whose death did you see?”
Brindley looked up at him, her eyes a warm chocolate brown. “My grandfather.”
“How’d he die?”
She furrowed an eyebrow. Finn was half expecting her to scold him for the blunt tone he was using, but nothing of the sort came.
“He was injured in the Blitz,” she said quietly. “I held his hand as he passed.”
“In the what?” he asked blankly.
“The bombings over the country last year? In the Muggle war?”
“He was a Muggle?” Finn said, watching Brindley’s mouth. She had very full lips, dotted with one or two of the freckles that covered her face.
“Both my grandparents are,” Brindley replied, picking up her quill again, “on my mother’s side. She was one as well.”
“Was? She dead too?”
Brindley ignored him. Finn began plucking at the feathers of his own quill. “And your dad? Are you Muggle-born?” His chest felt tight as he waited for an answer.
Brindley sighed. “I don’t know. I never knew my father. I could be, for all I know.”
Finn doodled on the edge of his parchment, unable to stop himself from thinking that if Brindley wasn’t careful, the answer would be known sooner rather than later.
That evening, before dinner, Tom caught Finn as he was heading to the Great Hall.
“Follow me,” he said, and begun walking through the Entrance Hall doors without checking if Finn was behind him. He didn’t need to.
Tom led Finn out onto the grounds. Dusk had fallen; a handful of stars dusted the violet sky, and their breath was just visible as a puff of white mist. They headed to a clump of bushes at the bottom of a hill, where they had a clear view of the courtyard, flaming torches lighting the way to the castle. They ducked behind the bushes, and peered through the wide spaces of the leaves up at the castle.
“Tom, what -?”
Finn fell silent, watching the entrance, his heart beating faster as the seconds ticked by. When the two girls they were obviously waiting for came into view, his blood turned to ice.
Brindley was laughing with Saffron, the sound warming his heart despite the feeling of cold realisation that was beginning to wash over him. He could feel Tom’s eyes on him, waiting for his reaction, so Finn forced himself to adopt a neutral expression. Tom was baiting him, Finn knew it. So for Brindley’s safety, and for his own, Finn tried for an air of curiosity.
Slowly and deliberately, Tom pulled out his wand and aimed it at the girls. The blood was pounding in Finn’s ears, but he stood his ground, determined to not look at Tom and betray his feelings.
Tom’s stunning spell hit Brindley’s friend in the chest with a jet of red light. She fell, and Brindley turned to her with a look of alarm, but this quickly relaxed, her face taking on a mildly dreamy expression. Finn furrowed his brows at this odd behaviour, until he saw Tom still had his wand pointed in her direction, a look of intense concentration on his face. The Imperius Curse, Finn realised with a jolt. He had Imperiused Brindley. Anger coiled itself around Finn’s stomach; this was his fault. What did he have to go and like Brindley for? Why couldn’t he have just stayed with Kenna? Hero was right: breasts, Slytherin - what more did he need? But Finn had been a fool, had allowed Brindley to chip at his walls until cracks formed.
Tom made Brindley walk toward one of the torches that lined the wall, stopping her when she was standing right in front of it, the orange glow dancing across her face. It made her skin look smooth as porcelain in the soft light, and Finn’s breathing quickened in both longing and fear.
He watched in dread as Brindley raised a hand and placed it in the fire. Her beautiful face remained expressionless, so different without the laughter that was constantly etched on her freckled features. She kept her hand there, the flames licking across it, as rage bubbled in Finn’s stomach. Her expression remained that eerie calm, even when her hand turned red and blistered. Finn felt sick, nausea rising in him so strongly he closed his eyes against it.
Just as Finn couldn’t stand it any longer, Tom relaxed his wand and the spell was broken. Brindley’s scream pierced the air, but Tom turned to Finn and murmured, “Excellent.” Finn didn’t know if he was referring to the effectiveness of the spell or Finn’s resistance. Tom rose from his position and approached Brindley, the calm Prefect voice he adopted drifting back to Finn where he remained hidden behind the bushes. He wiped the sweat from his brow with a shaking hand, listening to Brindley’s sobs grow faint as Tom walked her away to the hospital.
Finn stood unsteadily and brushed at the dirt on his robes. He headed back to the castle, barking at a little Gryffindor girl to “Fuck off,” as he crossed the courtyard because she walked past too close.
Tom was more interested in the Dark Arts than Finn originally thought. It was more than a desire to learn; it was a force that was consuming Tom’s every waking hour. It had been a game to Finn at first; finally something he was actually interested in studying, something to make him worthy of supporting and eventually joining Grindelwald. But there were no rules to this game, and now that Brindley was a piece on the board, Finn didn’t think he wanted to play anymore.
A/N: Bit of an experimental chapter here. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it! Thank you to my beta Julie for getting it off the ground and for all her support.
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