Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Forsaken :: 03 :: Switch

03 • Switch

He was breathless with excitement. Later that day would come an influx of young people to the estate. He wanted to bounce around like a child, but that would be highly undignified. And in a few weeks would unfold the beginning of their plan. The current Defense teacher would be removed in an arranged accident after the capture of their target teacher, and the current Minister of Magic would make certain recommendations as to his replacement.

He roamed the third floor restlessly until it was near time to assemble, then went back to his room to dress in his ceremonial robes and mask. He would be presented in a similar manner as before, then left to make what he would of the young men and women brought for his and his father’s approval. His opinion counted for much in this, as some would become part of his personal inner circle.

Dressed and ready, he marched off to the garden with a purposeful air. As it turned out, it was remarkably similar to the previous instance, though this time it was the younger set who expressed shock and shot curious and appraising glances his way.

He enjoyed himself immensely after his father gave leave and swept off, setting his new companions at ease with jokes and calculatedly affable behavior. Granted, he knew many of them by sight if not by true nature, so he held the upper hand in more ways than one.

Many of them were too facile to be trusted with any true depth of trust, though they would serve well enough for the outer circles of minions. A few, however, were proving at present to be quite interesting, the most surprising of which was Pansy Parkinson. She was nothing like what he’d seen at school and apparently had quite a set of brains. He was far less surprised by Draco Malfoy and Blaise Zabini. He’d known those two were intelligent.

He spent quite a bit more time with that trio than any of the others, causing no end of chagrin on the part of the less favored. That was their problem though, not his. They would either fit in and strive to prove themselves, or be cast aside to the lowest ranks, if at all. He mentally shrugged and refocused on the people sitting with him.

“So, let’s get down to business. Why don’t each of you tell me why you’re here?” he drawled smoothly, flipping his hair back in a practiced gesture and arching one brow.

Blaise immediately spoke up. “To see if you find us worthy, and compatible. To see if we can contribute of ourselves something of value, my lord.”

Brand nodded and favored him with a small smile. “You could put it that way, Blaise,” he remarked amiably, “but I would suggest you give further answers a little more detail and weight.” He glanced at Pansy and Draco.

“Because I wish to be of more use to our world than pushing papers in a meaningless job or wasting my life away in idle pursuits of the rich, my lord,” offered Pansy.

“Your answer is more than a little self-serving, my dear,” he replied as he shot her a dark, intense look that caused her to blush in discomfort. “And if service to the Dark Lord requires you to push papers around in order to gather intelligence for our cause?”

“Then that is what I would do, my lord. But at least it would be for a higher purpose and have meaning in that instance. It would be worth the effort, despite the circumstances.” She bit her lip, then straightened proudly in her seat.

“Much better, Pansy. I suggest you think before you speak next time, lest you embarrass yourself again. I can tell you’re quite a bit more intelligent than you generally let on, so please do try to show this in my presence. I will not always be so kind if you persist in that kind of foolishness.”

“Yes, my lord.”

He turned his attention to Draco and angled his head slightly to the side.

“To do what I may to aid you and your father, my lord. While I may not always agree with some of the things that have been done in the past, I see the overall necessity of the actions. There are too many corrupt individuals in positions of power, people that harm everyone indiscriminately, regardless of affiliation. Fudge, for example, was a hindrance to both sides, and friend to none.”

Brand arched his brow again. “Interesting answer, Draco. Very interesting indeed. I see you were paying attention. Well, in any case, I notice none of you mentioned the matter of trust.”

He leaned forward and placed his elbows on the table, steepling his fingers under his chin. “You see, you will have to earn my trust and you will have to prove your abilities. You will have the same opportunities as everyone here, or more, depending on how you fare. I expect you will all do your utmost to be worthy of the honor bestowed upon you by being allowed here in the first place.”

He smiled sweetly at them, softening his words in a beguiling manner, then stood. Clapping his hands in a sharp report, he caught the attention of all the young people in the garden. “If you will allow me, I will show you to your rooms. Please follow me.”

Brand turned and headed inside, not bothering to see if he was obeyed, and climbed up the main staircase. On reaching the third floor he paused and looked back saying, “It’s just a little further.” He started upward again only to stop at a questioning voice behind him.

“What’s on this floor? Can we look around?”

“There’s nothing on this floor that concerns you,” he drawled. As he lifted his foot to continue on he was stopped yet again by the sound of a body slamming against the wall. He sighed and turned, a look of exasperation on his face. “Honestly.”

He snapped his fingers quickly and addressed the elf that appeared. “Maer, please remove this idiot. Have him healed and returned to his parents. He is not to be allowed into the estate again, and you will inform my father of these events and my decision. Now go.”

He turned back to the stairs and continued up to the fourth floor.

*

Over the past few weeks it had become obvious who held little value and who should be retained with an eye toward inclusion into the ranks of Death Eaters, and more specifically into Brand’s inner circle. Those of the least ability were segregated out gently and sent home, relegated to tasks that held little risk of exposure.

Voldemort kept a light link active during the sessions Brand took with the remaining teens so that he could give over a portion of his attention to observation. He discussed them over dinner each night with his son and was both pleased and gratified at the measure of insightfulness his son possessed when it came to each individual, even occasionally presenting one in such a way as to force him to realize an attribute he had not previously recognized.

He participated in one session for the express purpose of showing the youths that his son was indeed a force to be reckoned with. He himself could not magically or physically harm his son, not even with the killing curse, but this was not something they revealed. As he had long since come to implicitly trust Brand, he wasted no concern over the matter.

He had stood on hand merely as a safeguard as the students gave everything they had toward the goal of temporarily incapacitating his son, and all of them failed miserably. It became obvious before long that Brand had gained the devotion and trust of his companions. He never lied to them, and told them when he could not answer some question posed of him.

They came to realize that over the weeks, and to trust that when Brand told them something it was for good reason, and disobeying was not the wisest of choices. However, they had little reason to object, given the measure of trust and honesty they had been extended, and it became clear to Voldemort that his son’s methods would gain them a circle of unfailing allies who would do as commanded, even if there was no time to explain why they were to do what was being asked of them. That particular accomplishment was beyond price.

The last week before they were sent home, as they must be so that Brand could turn to his role for the next year, he spent a great deal of time laughing as he remotely observed the turn of events designed to teach the teens to preserve their masks at any cost.

Brand had taken to surprising them randomly with outrageous actions, even going so far at one point as to begin undressing in front of them. Each failure to fail to react was met with a stinging, though ultimately harmless, punishment. It was, however, extremely unpleasant and got across quite well the point. No matter what happens, do not react, unless it was required of you in the assigned role. Anything else could result in the loss of life.

Before they were let go they were informed that Draco, Pansy, and Blaise were to be their contacts within the school. To no one else, even amongst themselves, were they to discuss any matters pertaining to the Dark Lord. Only to one of those three could they report. Above all else, anything of importance would be protected by silencing charms.

Those three were held back for a few hours before being released to return to their homes and taught a particular signal that would allow them to learn of their only trusted contact within the school, and what method to use in order to initiate a report, and then what would happen when they did.

*

It had not escaped Brand during the final week that two people in particular had reacted quite favorably to some of his antics, betraying more than mere surprise. He tucked that realization into a corner of his mind to mull over later and transformed himself into the guise of Aldren Archer, the man he had observed for several months straight. Archer had been chosen for his utter lack of family, his qualifications, and his tendency to rarely venture out. For a person like him, the position of Defense teacher at Hogwarts would seem like a dream come true given the security of the castle.

Rolling his eyes at his new appearance, he held up the vial of blood from the man he resembled and performed a ritual of incantations and potions that had taken months of research to create and test, one that overlaid his real identity with that of the target in such a way as to be undetectable. Convenient, at that. The real Archer was languishing in a room on the third floor, victim of the dementor’s kiss, another necessary casualty now watched over by a rotation of house-elves to assure that he remained alive.

Brand stopped by his father’s study long enough to inform him of his departure, then took up residence in Archer’s home and waited for the notice to appear in the Daily Prophet that would spur him to action.

A week later found him sitting in Dumbledore’s office sipping tea and noshing on assorted biscuits while chatting cordially with the headmaster about the open position. He wasn’t particularly worried even if the old fool wasn’t taken in. If his own father couldn’t touch him, neither could anyone else, and the only person who had access to his mind was Voldemort, and only by his allowance.

Two weeks later found him back at the castle in his new quarters. He spent several delightful hours redecorating, choosing colours which complemented his appearance, using warm browns and creams, accented here and there by pale yellow. The time until the students arrived for the new year was spent in meeting his fellow professors and going over the past several years of Defense classes to determine exactly what he should be teaching for each set of students, and what schedule he would be following.

He sat at the head table in high good humor as the students filed in noisily and went to their house tables. In an odd sort of way, it was very pleasant to be back at Hogwarts. Luckily, Archer was known to be quite genial when he felt secure, so Brand was able to express his feelings openly, despite the dampening effect that Dumbledore provoked by his mere presence.

He gazed out at the sea of faces, snorting inwardly on seeing Pansy draping herself over Draco. Would the girl never learn that particular lesson? Or was it an act tailored to deceive? He never had asked, since she hadn’t done it over the summer. A mental shrug had him moving on to the next table, then the next, until he had taken a quick look at everyone present.

It was then that the first years were led in by Minerva, looking as nervous as he had felt when he’d first entered the Great Hall as an eleven year old. He grinned more to himself than anything else, keeping a close eye on the children as they reacted to the sorting hat’s poetic speech and then faced the sorting process itself.

Eventually everyone was seated at their new tables and Dumbledore stood, causing the hall to fall into silence.

“Welcome to a new year at Hogwarts! I have a few start of term announcements for you all. Let me remind all students that the Dark Forest is forbidden for good reason.” He paused long enough to shoot a few measuring glances at certain students.

“Mr Filch has posted an updated list of all banned items on his door, so please drop by long enough to acquaint yourselves with the changes. Also, I am pleased to welcome a new teacher to our ranks.”

Dumbledore turned slightly and gestured toward Brand.

“Professor Archer has been kind enough to take on the Defense Against the Dark Arts post this year.”

A round of applause sounded from the professors with some halting participation by the students. Brand reasoned that the students were getting a bit jaded about the whole thing considering how many people had filled the position of late, but he gave them a cheerful smile and a jaunty little wave nonetheless.

As silence returned Dumbledore remarked, “So! Let the feast begin!” With a clap of his hands, the serving dishes filled with food and drink, and everyone started in.

*

The first time he had a class with the seventh year Gryffindors was difficult. He clamped down and allowed the Archer mask to prevail; he could not afford to let anything show. Still, it was hard watching them file into the class and seeing the drawn looks on the faces of Ron and Hermione.

He was able to let through a genuine smile in his guise on seeing that Neville also looked awful. Apparently the death of Harry had hit him hard as well, even after all this time. However, he wasn’t here for an internal party over the fact that his friends mourned him. He was here to teach a class.

“Good afternoon, everyone,” he said amiably from his position seated on the corner of his desk.

“Now that you’re settled, who here can tell me what the patronus charm is used for?” Not surprisingly, several hands shot up, most of which belonged to students who had been part of the DA.

“Miss Brown?”

“Its use manifests in a type of guardian, driven by a very strong good memory, used against dementors.”

“Five points to Gryffindor. Does anyone else know what a patronus is useful against? Mr Zabini?”

“It can also be used repel lethifolds, though as the target is usually asleep at the time it can often be a moot point.”

“Five points to Slytherin. Is anyone here familiar enough with the charm to demonstrate?” The membership from the DA raised their hands.

Brand slipped off his desk and moved behind it. “Miss Granger. Please come up to the front and demonstrate.”

She got up and walked forward, then faced the class and raised her wand. “Expecto Patronum!” Mist shot forth from her wand and resolved into a silvery otter, which proceeded to prance around in circles for a handful of breaths before dissipating.

“Excellent, Miss Granger. Ten points to Gryffindor. You may remain standing for the moment. I’d like the rest of you to stand as well and you can all use this class period to practice.”

Once everyone was up, he pushed the desks against the walls with a wave of his wand, and set about coaching students individually, those that were having difficulty with the charm.

*

He waited a month before he acted, time enough to settle into the routine of the school and become well established in his persona. Not once had he detected any kind of suspicion. It also gave him plenty of time to submerge himself in Archer’s memories, placed into a pensieve prior to his being kissed. In point of fact, it was the only item that Archer had not actually owned. Everything else Brand had brought with him for this position was purloined from the man’s home, or purchased at Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade.

In that month he had made it clear he was perfectly neutral to house politics, taking and giving points on a completely fair basis. No one could fault his performance either. The students responded warmly to his genial demeanor, but were well aware by then that fooling about in his classes would bring down his wrath.

It was near the end of a class of NEWT-level Defense for seventh years that he signaled, and was pleased to note that not one of the three knowledgeable students so much as batted an eye. All three signaled back unobtrusively, letting him know they wished to report. Within the next few days he expected to see some form of hijinks occur.

Sure enough, it was two days later when an incident occurred. In a very subtle move, Blaise managed to be in exactly the right position to trip an incoming Gryffindor, making him slide across the floor in a disorganized, and very embarrassed, sprawl.

To add to the ‘accident’ was the sight of all three Slytherin contacts laughing like maniacs and pointing at the unfortunate soul. Brand immediately took points and assigned all three a detention for the next evening, stating in a voice dripping with disdain that they were far too old to find amusement at someone else’s expense.

He contacted Voldemort briefly that evening to check in, focusing his thoughts in a tight beam.

:Father?:

:What is it, son?:

:A report is forthcoming, tomorrow evening.:

:I will be waiting.:

The next evening he greeted his erring students with a frown and ordered them to sit, then assigned an essay on magical methods of defense against physical attacks. It was mostly for show, but on the other hand it might teach them something in the process and set a few cogs to spinning.

“When you’ve completed your essay, kindly bring it to me. Then you may leave.”

As they wrote he marked homework he had waiting in a pile. He waited a half hour before he slipped into Draco’s mind and ghosted through his surface thoughts. He contemplated what he’d absorbed for a while, continuing to mark essays, and then repeated the process with Pansy and Blaise.

When all three had finished and left he skipped up the steps to his room and closed the door behind him, then went about his normal nighttime routine before slipping into bed. After closing his eyes, he contacted his father, once more focusing his thoughts into a tight beam.

:Father?:

:I’m ready.:

:Discreet methods of surveillance have been established within the group on a rotational basis. Inhabitants continue to bemoan the loss of their savior, and in fact, a grave was placed on the grounds, which I find inordinately amusing. Several Slytherins have been discovered as spies and are being carefully watched. Contacts here stand ready for any disinformation you wish to have placed via those means. And, from what I can tell, there is no suspicion whatsoever of the plan.:

:Hmmm. Keep an eye on the paper. I’ll have to think about this first.:

:So be it.:

:Good night, son:

:Good night, father.:

*

As Halloween drew near Dumbledore called a meeting of all teachers in the staff room.

“Thank you for coming. Halloween has traditionally been, over the last few years, a peculiar time with various odd occurrences—that is to say, beyond the norm for this time of the year. Most of you know of what I refer to. Aldren, one of the others can fill you in if necessary. What I’m asking you to do is keep a watchful eye out on the students and the grounds, and when this Hogsmeade weekend just prior comes, to take it in turns to go down while the students are out.”

Murmurs of assent went around, though Severus in particular was sporting a nasty scowl. After a short time of wrangling a schedule was worked out and everyone was dismissed. Brand didn’t mind, but it did provide an interesting opportunity for mischief just to keep up with new traditions. Shrugging, he caught up with Minerva to see if she was game for a round of chess. Strategy was always a plus, and gaming was one way to see how the minds of your opponents worked.

A few days later Brand was sitting at the Three Broomsticks enjoying a butterbeer. It wouldn’t do for students to see a professor of theirs getting drunk on a day off. He really wanted to purchase a snake, but that wouldn’t do either. The old fool had too many ears around the school.

He watched his trio of contacts saunter in and take seats at an empty table. Pansy was hanging all over Draco again and getting pushed off, causing Brand to smile despite his irritation at the scene. Maybe it was all an act, but he’d have to check with his father to see if anything had been arranged between them.

Before he had a chance to slide into Draco’s surface thoughts he was brought up short by screams outside the building and immediately stood, shooting a quelling glance at the trio before rushing outside. Death Eaters, but no dementors. His father wouldn’t send dementors anyway, since a single Patronus would scream of deception, and Brand wasn’t about to harm one of their allies unless forced to.

Brand leapt into the fray, driving the dark minions back away from the crowded streets with carefully restrained spellwork. Just as it seemed that he might completely overcome them a blinding light erupted throughout the area, darkening his vision and causing him to stumble to the ground.

Within moments he was surrounded by a crowd of shoppers and pulled to his feet, then strong hands guided him back to the Three Broomsticks and to a chair. He heard more chairs being scooted across the floor and the sound of several people seating themselves.

“All right, who do I have for company?”

“Just us, professor,” came a slightly shrill female voice.

“We’ll stay with you until your vision returns, sir,” came a silky male voice.

“They may be gone, but it’s probably best we stay in here for the moment anyway, sir.”

Brand nodded and ruffled his hair. Play along, play along. “I’m not quite sure what they pulled on me, but it isn’t pleasant.”

“Looked like a flash bomb, sir, from what little I saw. Enough distraction to escape, anyway.”

The staccato click of heels signaled the arrival of Rosmerta, followed by the clink of bottles being placed on the table. Brand started to slide his hand over the surface of the table when his wrist was caught gently and he felt his fingers being wrapped around cool glass.

“Here, professor,” came Draco’s voice.

“Thank you, Mr Malfoy. Better than me knocking one over I suppose.” He chuckled. He needed to have a little talk with his father over this one later. A headache was starting to form, throbbing in time to the sparkles of light that were chasing around in his still impaired vision. He stifled a groan, or tried to.

“Are you all right, professor?” came Pansy’s breathless query.

“I’ll be fine. One of you check quickly to see if everything is clear outside and come back immediately.” He flapped his free hand for a moment, then carefully guided his bottle up and tipped it against his mouth to let the fluid flow and give him something else to think about for a few seconds.

He heard Draco speak from what must be a standing position, “It’s clear, sir. There’s a troop of aurors out there right now.”

“Fine. I’d appreciate if you three could assist me back up to the castle and into the infirmary. I’m not sure how long before my sight will return and I’ve got a horrendous headache now.”

Willing hands plucked the bottle from his grip, then helped him to rise to his feet. The two young men guided him out and up to the castle, while Pansy walked in front.