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The Harder They Fall by victoria_anne
Chapter 9 : The Beginning of the End
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 6


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You may have to lose who you were to find out who you are.
- Anonymous

*


On the night of the coup, Finn was horrified to find he had doubts. He and Tom were two underage Hogwarts students about to join a powerful group of wizards as they attempted to overthrow the Ministry. What were they thinking? So many things could go wrong. But he didn’t dare voice this aloud to Tom.

Tom didn’t want to disguise himself, as Finn had suggested. In their success, Tom had said, he wanted to be recognized. So Finn was forced to bite his tongue. But even a part of Finn allowed itself to be swept away by the thought of glory. He rather hoped that by the time they arrived, it would be too late to send them away. And that when they were victorious, no one would care.

Of course, it was a vain hope.

For a few minutes it was easy. The adrenaline in Finn’s veins turned the night into a blur of light and noise and the harsh accent of Andor Bence as he lead the fifty or so witches and wizards into the Ministry. There was duelling, and the nights spent practicing in the Great Hall were paying off as Finn successfully stunned his opponent. But the euphoria was short lived when their party was stopped in their tracks by the arrival of one person.

Albus Dumbledore.

Well, fuck.

Finn and Tom went to retreat into the Besmurten, hoping they would dissolve into the commotion of so many jostling bodies and run to the nearest fireplace to Floo back to Hogwarts before anyone saw them. But a rough hand grabbed Finn by the back of his collar, and by the sound of the indignant yell beside him, the same had happened to Tom. Before Finn could even draw breath, he was being Apparated. The tight sensation was more unpleasant than usual since he wasn’t expecting it. When Finn arrived at the new location he stumbled onto the carpeted floor, gasping for breath. It took him a few seconds to realize where he was.

Home. He was home.

Somehow, the familiarity was no comfort.

Finn kept his face pressed into the carpet as the pop of the other wizards arriving sounded around him. With much effort, Finn pushed himself up and on his feet. There was no use running now. So he stood, and waited, and wondered how Tom could look so calm in this situation.

Shortly after they arrived, most of the Besmurten retreated into the next room. At the very least, Finn was glad there wouldn’t be an audience for whatever was coming next. Jameson was in the middle of the room, biting his fingernails as he muttered something to the floor. Andor Bence was pacing back and forth in front of Finn and Tom, and despite being shorter than even Finn, it felt as though he took up all the space of the room.

“I don’t know vot you were doing there,” he said, shooting a glare at Jameson, “but you may have ruined everything. Did Dumbledore see you leave?”

“No, we -”

“And I notice you are still no closer to finding Potter’s child. Is it too easy for you, perhaps? Is that vy you choose to ignore it?”

“No, sir -” Finn stammered.

In fact, he had been planning to drag out the search, to throw Tom off the trail of Brindley. In the safety of the castle, this plan had seemed simple, even easy. Standing in front of Bence was a different story.

“I’ll give you something more to your standards, as you prefer,” Bence said. “I vant you to kill Dumbledore.”

“But -”

Bence rounded on him with such ferocity that Finn immediately shut his mouth. Then he turned to a blonde man in the corner. “Malfoy, I vant your son on the case immediately. Grindelvald grows impatient.”

“Yes, sir.”

Finn looked helplessly at the ground until Jameson pulled him aside, his usually neat hair sticking up in every direction, and his eyes bloodshot.

“Father, he can’t be serious -”

“Kill Dumbledore,” Jameson said, “or he will kill me, and then he will kill you.”

“But -”

The grip on Finn’s shoulder tightened. “And I know about your filthy habit,” he spat. “You’re as bad as your sister. No, you’re worse, because you saw what associating with Muggles did. She could have died in that contraption, and you go into one willingly anyway? You think your mother could bear to lose you too?”

Finn’s stomach lurched. “I just -”

“Get out of my sight.”

He didn’t argue that one, and followed Tom to the other side of the room. In the fireplace, Finn’s mind spun as fast as his body. How did his father know about the movie with the Muggleborns?

Stepping into Slughorn’s office, empty in the lateness of the hour, Finn wanted nothing more than to curl up into his bed in the dormitories. To forget everything about tonight, even if just for a few hours. But without looking at him, Tom said in a flat voice, “Ante-chamber,” and Finn’s dreams of ending the night were crushed.

Benedict and Fletcher were there; Ben burning his name into the wood of the table with his wand, and Fletcher scribbling away in a notebook. Both looked up in astonishment as Tom blew in, Finn trailing behind.

“The fuck -?” Ben began.

“Get out,” Tom said, so sharply you could cut yourself on the words.

Ben and Fletcher didn’t need telling twice; they rose straight away and slipped through the door. But when Finn went to follow, still daring to feel hopeful, Tom said, “Not you.”

Feeling sick to his stomach, Finn slowly turned back around. He waited as Tom went from standing, to sitting, to pacing, and back again. The sound of Finn’s watch was deafening in the silence of the room. As the seconds passed, each tick felt like a nail being driven through his body, he was so on edge. But Finn didn’t dare open his mouth. Finally, Tom stopped his pacing.

“Come here, and give me your arm.”

Finn stood in front of Tom, dread making him feel as though he’d swallowed a Bludger, and held out his left arm. Tom grabbed his wrist and pulled the sleeve back so that Finn’s inner forearm was exposed, and pressed the tip of his wand to the skin. Finn flinched, since it was rarely a comfortable thing to have someone’s wand pointed at you, but Tom’s grip was vice-like; there was no escape for whatever was coming, and judging by the intensity of Tom’s black eyes, it wasn’t going to be good. Tom began to trace an invisible, complicated pattern, and if the magic required a spell, Tom was performing it non-verbally.

Tick, tick, tick went Finn’s watch.

Then the pain started. A tightening as if his arm were being squeezed by a hundred tiny hands, then a prickle, until finally an agonizing burning. A black mark was forming where Tom’s wand touched his skin. Finn clenched his teeth, but soon the pain became unbearable and he fell to his knees with a cry. Still, Tom held his wrist.

The world was spinning. Tom threw Finn’s arm down as Finn’s head touched the floor, and he watched through half closed eyelids as Tom left the room. He must have passed out, because when he opened his eyes again, the fire had burned to nothing, and he was freezing. The second thing he noticed was a pair of concerned grey eyes set into a pale, pointed face, inches from his own.

Abraxas Malfoy.

Finn jerked backward, inhaling sharply through his teeth as the movement sent a fresh wave of pain through his arm. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“Looking for you.”

Slowly, Finn sat up, pushing Malfoy’s hand from his shoulder once he was upright. Seeing the younger boy brought back the events of the night in a wave that threatened to drown him. But he cast his mind further back. Because seeing Malfoy now with the knowledge that he would be looking for Brindley was making the pieces fall into place. Finn had said something at the party… He shook his head; it was all such a blur now. The memory at the forefront of his mind was kissing Brindley under the blankets. That stood out like the sun when compared to small, insignificant stars.

Finn leaned back against the chair, feeling stiff all over. His arm was throbbing painfully. Malfoy tried to fuss over him, but Finn jerked his arm away. There was a long, splotchy dark mark that looked like spilled ink. Malfoy’s eyes widened, and Finn remembered; he’d let the coup slip to Sebastian, and Malfoy had been standing right there. He must have heard. How could Finn have been so stupid? Then there was the time someone searched through Finn’s possessions - Malfoy could easily enter the dormitory - and though he wasn’t sure how Malfoy knew about Muggleborn activities, if he was trying to take Finn’s place as a Knight of Walpurgis, he could easily have had Finn watched.

“This is what you wanted, isn’t it?” he said through clenched teeth. “You told Dumbledore.”

Malfoy balanced on his heels. “I did no such thing.”

Finn ignored this. “And now you’re after Potter’s child.”

His eyes flickered to Finn’s face. “So I’ve been told. Look, I’m not here to talk about that. Dinner is about to start.”

Finn ran a hand through his hair. “What’s the big deal?”

“You clearly need to eat something,” Malfoy said, “but also, you’ll be under close watch. News has already spread about the coup. You know the Ministry has suspicions on your family. You have to pretend everything is normal, and not being at the feast is going to be a really big give away.”

Finn stared at him. “Why are you doing this?”

Malfoy hesitated, keeping his eyes to the floor. “Malfoys and Blishwicks aren’t mortal enemies, you know.”

Obviously, they were.

Finn grabbed his robes from the dormitory before following Malfoy to the Great Hall, just in time. Tom was already there, and didn’t look at Finn as Finn sat down opposite.

Malfoy was right. Before the feast began, Professor Dippet stood up and, after announcing the date of the first Quidditch match of the year, he sighed heavily.

“You may have heard by now that there was an attempted overthrow of the Ministry last night,” he said. “It is to my knowledge that two Hogwarts students were involved. This saddens me greatly. I am embarrassed and disappointed to hear it. We will find them and they will be punished accordingly.”

Finn swallowed and did his best to look mildly curious. He didn’t look at Tom, but he did glance over at Malfoy, who was sitting with Finn’s cousin Briony. In fact, the two of them were so close that their legs were touching.

Not mortal enemies, indeed.

But it didn’t change the fact that Malfoy had ruined everything for Finn, and now Brindley was in real danger.

***

After a week, the mark on Finn’s forearm was fading from black to red; it looked like an angry bruise. Nothing had come from it yet, so Finn was beginning to relax. Perhaps it was an experiment that didn't work, or Tom had wanted to inflict physical pain in his frustration over the coup. Either way, the pain was passing, and with it, Finn’s thoughts on it. He rubbed at it under his coat as he waited for the boys to get ready for Hogsmeade.

Part of Finn wanted to lie low, the part that had him sulking in the common room for the last few days. But others were beginning to sense something was wrong, and not just his friends. Especially not his friends, who were, because of Tom, avoiding him by default. Since he never missed a Hogsmeade trip, he followed the more rational part of his brain that told him to keep up appearances, whether he liked it or not. So, along with Fletcher, Ben, Radbourne, and Dalton, Finn went to Hogsmeade despite the cold wind bringing in a storm.

The boys sought warmth in Scrivenshaft’s Quill Shop. Finn was by the window, fiddling idly with a peregrine falcon feather quill on the display, when Brindley walked past outside. Her head was bent, but the hair under her scarf was unmistakable. Finn’s grip involuntarily tightened on the quill. The delicate tip snapped between his fingers but he barely noticed, eyes trailing on Brindley. He hadn't spoken or even seen her since they kissed on Christmas Eve.

Without a word to the boys, who were busy with using up the test ink on rude drawings anyway, he pulled his beanie back down over his ears and stepped outside.

She was standing outside Tomes and Scrolls, looking at something in the window. Her sweater was a size too big and hung loose around her small frame.

“Hey,” Finn said. The word came out as a puff of mist that the wind immediately stole.

“Hey.” The tip of her nose was pink from cold, but the rest of her face soon turned the same colour. Despite how thin she was, she still looked healthier than he had seen her of late.

He scuffed the ground with his shoe. He didn't actually know what he wanted to say to her, just that he wanted to say something, and to hear her voice say something back.

“Want to get a coffee?” she asked.

Finn hesitated, glancing behind him. The boys were still in the shop, and were unlikely to notice him missing, anyway. Somehow, this thought was liberating.

“Sure.”

He followed her into the cafe, and into a table in the corner. They both ordered coffee, and Finn paid.

“You don’t have to do that,” Brindley said.

Finn shoved the change into his pocket. “It’s no big deal.”

As she sat down in a booth in the corner, Brindley scoffed, “Sure, money is no big deal for a Blishwick.”

Finn slid in beside her, pulling off his beanie. “That’s not what I meant.”

She sighed. “I know, I’m sorry. My chest hurts, and it puts me on edge a little bit.”

“It’s okay.”

The waitress dropped off their coffees, but neither of them reached for it straight away. Instead, Brindley lifted a hand to smooth down his hair. The feel of her fingers against his scalp was enough to make his insides somersault.

“We didn’t come from money, you know,” he said quietly. “Not originally, anyway. My grandfather came into it, and dad, as the eldest, remembers what it’s like to live with nothing. He makes sure it never happens again.”

He didn’t know why he felt the need to share this. Not even his closest friends knew. Brindley’s touch had an uncanny ability to make him say things he would never normally dream of saying. He continued, “Dad would tell me about it. Man to man chats, you know.” He smiled briefly. “I don’t think Hero ever knew.”

“She was a lovely person. We had quite a few classes together. I don’t know if you ever knew, but she was there for me when I had one of my attacks.” Her smile faded. “Actually, Finn, there’s something I should tell you.”

Finn waited for her to speak, but a minute passed and she was still staring at her untouched coffee.

“What is it?” he prompted. “Santa Claus isn’t real? I already knew that one. I’ve known for a whole year.”

She allowed a tiny smile to flicker across her face, but when Finn blinked it was gone.

“I’m dying,” she said.

Finn stopped mid-reach for his cup.

His first thought was that it was a joke, because what sixteen year old said something like that over coffee? But then he thought of the bruises, of the overheard conversations, of the coughing, of the way his stomach seemed to have disappeared at her words.

Brindley, slowly stirring her coffee, saved him the trouble of answering. “This cough? It’s a curse on my lungs. I’ve always known it was Dark magic, and that mum was killed by a Dark wizard, but no one ever knew quite how it got there. But now, with mum’s letters, I know the truth.”

Finn nodded, chest tight. The truth.

The truth was that the same wizard who killed Brindley’s mother was now after Brindley, and she had no idea. The truth was that Finn was supposed to give this girl to Grindelwald. The truth was that he didn’t want to.

The truth felt like a dangerous weapon that had been thrust into his hands, and he had no idea how to wield it.

“Healers can’t cure it,” Brindley continued. “A potion helps the effects, but it’s only temporary.”

“How long?”

She met his eyes and gave a small shrug. “They don’t know. Could be ten months, could be ten years. That’s why I try to do as much as I can, in case…” She broke off, swallowing.

He cleared his throat. “I, er… I overheard you talking to your friend once. About a treatment?”

“Oh, that,” she sighed. “The Healers at St Mungo’s have developed a potion they think will break down the stuff on my lungs. But it has a very low success rate, and it’s really expensive.”

“And your aunt?”

Brindley laughed shortly. “Mum’s sister - a Muggle. She’s always hated the idea of magic. I guess she knew the circumstances of Mum’s death. Anyway, she doesn’t think the new treatment is worth a try.”

“How can she say that?” Finn asked angrily, forgetting to keep his voice down.

“It’s not like that,” Brindley said quickly. “I agree with her. The treatment is lengthy, and sounded painful; I would have spent most of it in the hospital, and life’s an adventure I don’t intend to miss.”

“But…” Finn said weakly.

Brindley’s mouth lifted in half a smile. “It’s okay, Finn. I’ve come to terms with it.”

The words slipped out of his mouth, hoarse and raw, before he could stop them. “I haven’t.”

She didn’t say anything, just placed a hand over his, stroking the scar on his wrist. He wondered how many times she’d comforted others in this situation. It hardly seemed right, but he didn’t know what to do.

He used his other hand to rub his forehead. “God, here I was talking about how my dad didn’t have money…”

“It’s fine,” she said, smiling. “Pain is relative, you know? There’s no use in comparing problems.”

Finn managed to lift half his mouth in what he hoped was a reassuring smile, but he couldn’t get a thought out of his mind: Grindelwald was already killing her.

***

The sixth years were hit with homework as soon as term started back. Even Finn and Ben, who had less classes than the others, found themselves spending more time at a desk than usual. Tom was in their ante-chamber with Malfoy, so the boys were more inclined to pay attention to Finn.

Ben was having trouble concentrating; he kept fidgeting and looking around him, particularly at the table across the room where Radbourne and Fletcher were sitting. Finally, he said, “Have you ever fallen for the wrong person?”

Finn looked over at Brindley, who was talking with Worley, hands waving animatedly. “Yes.”

Ben sighed. “This is a shit feeling. Where’s a Mudblood? That’ll make me feel better.” He craned his neck around the classroom, stopping when he faced Brindley’s direction. Finn’s stomach did a backflip. “Perfect,” Ben said.

Smoke furled from his wand, just as it had on one of their first days back, and began creeping throughout the room.

“Stop it,” Finn said quietly.

Ben ignored him, Brindley started to cough, and Ben’s laugh scratched Finn’s ears. Finn burst out of his chair and grabbed Benedict’s wrist. “I… said… stop it.”

Ben was looking at him in astonishment. He slowly rose from the chair until he was full height, which was, unfortunately, over a head taller than Finn.

“What was that, Blishwick?”

“I’m… trying to study. You’re distracting me.”

“Since when do you care?”

Finn couldn’t stop his eyes from flickering in Brindley’s direction. “Since now.”

Ben yanked his arm out of Finn’s grasp, and sat back down, but Finn was too wound up to stay in the library. He needed to get to the antechamber.

He was stopping this once and for all.

Barely pausing to throw his belongings into his bag, Finn ran to the dungeons. Tom and Malfoy had their heads bent together, pouring over the student records. They had acquired them earlier in the week, almost straight after Malfoy had been given the task. Since Tom wasn’t speaking to him, Finn didn’t know how, nor how Tom had gotten through the protective enchantments on them.

But Finn had been doing some research of his own.

He’d been using the younger students he could still control to do some asking around, to see if it were possible for there to be another adopted Muggleborn student, apart from Sebastian. And, by some miracle, it seemed there was.

“Can I help?” Finn said, nodding at the records. “It’ll take ages to search through that with just the two of you.”

Tom narrowed his eyes. “If this is some sort of trick -”

“No trick,” Finn said quickly. “I just want to help. What if you take A to G, I do H to M, and Malfoy search the rest?”

Malfoy glanced at Tom, who was watching Finn thoughtfully. Finn looked away, trying his best to clear his mind in case Tom was using Legilimency. He hid his sweaty palms behind his back.

“Fine,” Tom said. He levitated a dozen scrolls toward Finn, who couldn’t possibly catch them all. They fell to the ground, and Finn was forced to gather them up. He hardly cared; he sat on the floor where he was, instinctively pushing the M students behind his back, and picking up the H.

Alenya Hills was a fourth year Ravenclaw Finn had seen with Sebastian once or twice, round-faced, and hair as fine as a baby’s.

She was also an adopted Muggleborn.

He stared down at her details in his hand. His heart pounded harder in his chest as each second passed in his deliberation. Pretending Hills was Henry Potter’s child wouldn’t protect Brindley forever, but it would at least buy Finn time.

But could he do it?

***

A/N: Thank you Julie for having the patience to go over this chapter for me ♥


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