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The Harder They Fall by victoria_anne
Chapter 4 : Under the Helmet
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 3


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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.


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