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The Harder They Fall by victoria_anne
Chapter 6 : Poison
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 5


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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 ♥


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