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Chapter 7 : Casablanca
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- Author unknown
Finn was so excited about that night’s duelling club that he almost didn’t notice Brindley missing from Transfiguration.
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.”
“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.
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.
“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.
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