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Chapter 8 : A Snake in the Den
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- 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.”
“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.
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.
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.”
“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…”
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.
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.
“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.”
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…
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 -”
“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! ♥
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