Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Forsaken :: 08 :: An Exchange of Thoughts

08 • An Exchange of Thoughts

Dinner was over. It was the next evening, and Brand was circulating among the guests, speaking to the many people who made up his father’s followers. Most of them were in good spirits; a few of the younger people were uncertain and nervous. Unlike the day when Brand had been introduced as Voldemort’s heir, everyone in each family had been invited, regardless of age. The very young were being watched over by a cadre of house-elves, their elder siblings gathered in clusters around the ballroom giggling and speaking in hushed tones. Adults of varying ages were either dancing or talking, and all seemed to be having a good time.

Brand was in the process of speaking with Clarkson Williams when a nervous titter caught his attention. Even as he continued his discussion with the man, he began to keep one ear open to the conversation behind him. One voice was strident, one slightly shrill; both voices were low, not much far above a whisper.

“Oh, really, I don’t think so,” said one of the men.

“Don’t be a fool. Of course he is. He’s nothing but a snot-nosed, wet-behind-the-ears pup, and I resent very much having him thrust among us.”

“I really don’t think you should be saying that.”

The second man scoffed. “You’re pathetic. As pathetic as he is.”

Brand, by now, was getting extremely curious about the identity of the person they spoke of. He heard another nervous laugh. “I don’t think—”

“No, you don’t,” said the second man disdainfully. “Just you wait. The next thing we’ll see is Lord Brand giving tea parties and decorating the mansion with flowers. He’s a bloody poofter!” he hissed. “He’s probably so busy rutting with that little blond toy of his that he hasn’t any time to be of use to our lord.”

Brand stiffened slightly, the smile on his face curdling into a soundless snarl. “Excuse me,” he murmured to Williams, then turned. He watched at a slight angle as a rather short, pudgy man of middle years flushed and attempted to produce a polite smile. A second later the man’s eyes widened as he realized exactly who stood there watching and took a step back.

His companion asked in irritation, “What’s the matter with you? Spineless fool,” as the first man continued to step back, slowly, a look of growing fear and horror on his face. “What in Merlin’s name is your problem?”

Brand turned fully and brought his hand to rest of the shoulder of the man before him, tightening his grip and forcing him to pivot. “Yes, pray tell, what is your problem?” he asked silkily.

“Ah, my lord, I did not see you there.” Brand recognized him as Stirling, a member of one of the outer circles. “I trust you are well.” He bore a smug twist to his lips and his carriage was proudly erect. He was, to all appearances, a man who feared no one, least of all Brand.

“I have been. I would, however, like you to repeat what you said a moment ago so I may be sure I heard you aright.”

“Which, my lord? I fear I have said many things.” Heads were beginning to turn, caught by the strange exchange.

“Oh, any of the things you have just said of me to your departed companion,” he said easily, with no hint of tension.

“Let me think. Ah, yes. If I recall correctly, I called you a bloody poofter, my lord.”

“You dare show disrespect to me? To my father?” Brand asked with deceptive casualness.

“My lord, you are an honest man, are you not? You respect that as you respect truth. Why then”—he paused to flash an oily grin—“would I be less than honest, to hide what I think behind polite social lies?”

Brand released his shoulder and took a single step back, smiling. “Indeed I am. Then you shall not be unduly surprised when I express my own thoughts, dear fellow.” He ducked his head for a moment, almost as if experiencing a momentary bout of shyness—Stirling’s mouth twisted into a smirk—then looked him dead in the eye and laughed lightly, betraying nothing of his actual feelings.

“Crucio,” he whispered, pointing his finger directly at the man’s chest. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed the house-elves ushering their very young charges out of the room and closing the doors behind them.

Stirling arched backward, flinging his arms out behind him, and his mouth opened to emit a tortured groan of pain as he toppled to the floor and began to writhe in agony. Brand watched impassively as spasms racked the man’s form, only peripherally aware when Draco appeared at his side. By then he had the attention of every person in the room.

He half expected Draco to stop him, though it did not happen. On reflection he realized that was a silly thought; Draco would not do such a thing. After a full minute passed—the ballroom was deathly silent but for the screams torn from Stirling’s mouth—Brand lifted the curse. Palm outward, he cast a second spell, this time to immobilize. His next saw Stirling’s wand in his hand, which he promptly snapped.

“As I said, dear fellow, I do not believe it to be wise to show disrespect, especially to my face.” Though Stirling was no longer being tortured, his mouth gaped unattractively wide, and his eyes showed the first signs of fear. Brand let his gaze sweep the watching crowd, his eyes cold, ruthless, and merciless.

“I find it interesting,” he said quietly, though with enough projection behind his words to have no doubt that every set of ears heard him, “that there are people among us so abysmally stupid as to cast aspersions on me in public, and by proxy, my father. Perhaps this man is nothing more than that. It was certainly foolish of him to believe what he was saying. You can all see the immediate results of his folly.”

Brand glanced back down at Stirling and brutally rifled through his mind. “Yes, stupid, and yet cunning and sly enough to have lived this long.” After a moment he arched his brow and his gaze snapped back up to sweep the crowd again. “You, boy. Come here,” he commanded, pointing a finger at a pale-faced youth of about ten. When the boy simply stood there trembling, Brand repeated, “Come here,” in a tone that brooked no argument.

Wordlessly the child approached on shaky legs, stopping a foot away and ducking his head. Brand said so softly that only Draco and the boy could hear, “Is this man your father?”

“Yes, my lord,” came a whisper.

Brand was much gentler in accessing the child’s mind, ghosting until he found what he needed. Without turning away he sent a compressed burst of images to his father.

“Boy, come to me,” commanded Voldemort instantly, and was rewarded by immediate compliance. Brand watched long enough to see the youth seated near his father, then turned back to Stirling.

“So, let me see,” he said, once again for the benefit of the crowd. “Narrow-minded, prejudiced, and stupid enough to lack fear. These things I might be able to forgive. However, you’ve crossed several very serious lines. I find your lack of faith in our lord most disturbing, Stirling, and to have the presumption to openly deride that which our lord has found acceptable at one of his gatherings is intolerable. Add to that your unforgivable treatment of your own flesh and blood. I’m afraid, dear fellow, that this is simply not your day. And I am the instrument by which you will learn a very dear lesson.”

Brand glanced over his shoulder to give his father a very pointed look, letting his eyes flick to the boy briefly. A moment later the child’s eyes took on a dreamy, glazed quality that reassured him.

“I want all of you to stand witness, for it is possible that some of you share this poor fool’s misguided thinking.” Brand extended his hand, palm up, and felt the surge of magic flow through his fingertips. He watched impassively as cuts began to appear on Stirling’s exposed skin, cuts that bled and tore open wider. Immobilized, the only thing the man could do was to make noises in the back of his throat—noises of pain and pleading.

Ignoring the increasingly bloody display, Brand looked up and said, “Well and so. A man lays dying, denied even the faint hope of begging. How terribly cruel of me.” As he gave a shark-like grin he noticed several of the younger people push their way through the crowd to the edges of the room, where they quietly emptied the contents of their stomachs. They were even polite enough to vanish the results afterward.

“Mark me well, those of you gathered here. I am not a man to be trifled with, nor will I be mocked. While I may not wish to instill an active fear of me in any of you, know that should I come across in one of you another of his ilk, I will act. And Merlin help you if I do, for these actions are nothing compared to what I am prepared to do. You’d best pray on whatever you hold dear I do not find you, for you will not like experiencing what the depths of my displeasure can produce.”

Brand rested his gaze on Stirling once more, no sign of mercy on his handsome face. And then, as a thought occurred to him, he smiled beatifically. The entire crowd took a step back in haste. Without attempting word or gesture, Brand reached out with his magic and stopped the man’s furiously beating heart. Stirling went utterly silent, staring sightlessly at the ceiling. Brand clapped his hands briskly and the body disappeared, along with the pools of blood.

“You are all,” he said conversationally, “dismissed.” The ballroom cleared immediately, leaving him alone with his father and the still unaware boy. Brand sank to the floor and let his head drop as through weary. After a long silence he lifted his head and said, “I’m sorry, father. I think I may have overreacted to his foul mouthings.”

Voldemort said nothing, instead crooking one finger in an unmistakable gesture of summoning. So Brand got to his feet and walked to his father, knelt before him, and bowed his head to rest against Voldemort’s knee. He heard his father shift slightly, then felt strong fingers comb through his hair.

“I happen to disagree with you.”

“What do you mean?” Brand asked, his voice muffled by his position.

“My very dear son, you said part of it yourself.” He could feel Voldemort’s fingers sliding down under his chin, raising his head gently so that he might look in his father’s eyes. “We cannot afford people so stupidly bold as to insult us, in public or otherwise. That you found out he was abusive to his own is a matter I shall see to, for I cannot say I approve. But, Brand, you must understand that up until now many of our people have seen you as exactly the person you have presented. Genial, intelligent, and worthy of trust and respect. They have not seen—nor been allowed to see—all that is you. Today they learned that you can be just as ruthless and merciless as I have been, and that will add a new layer of respect in time. For the moment they may feel only fear because of your actions, but in time they will come to realize it for what it was and is, and respect your initiative, your power, and your actions. I am”—Voldemort smiled—“very proud of you, my son.”

Brand felt relief spreading through his body like warm sunshine, and gratitude—not only was his father proud of him, but he had understood and answered his confusion. He angled his head and kissed his father’s palm in response.

“Now, about this child,” said Voldemort, rubbing his thumb along Brand’s cheek.

“Joshua,” supplied Brand.

“I believe I shall call in Lucius and Severus. The one to find out his previous and current situation, and the other to watch over the child until we decide what to do with him.” Voldemort gave him one last caress and gently withdrew his hand. Brand stood as his father summoned a house-elf and instructed it. Together, they waited in silence for the men to arrive.

“Ah, very good,” Voldemort said as they stepped in and approached, then made their usual obeisance. “Lucius, I want a report on Stirling, and this child, Joshua.” The rest remained unsaid; Lucius would know he was expected to provide every detail.

“Yes, my lord.”

“Severus, I want you to take charge of Joshua for the time being. You have always had a way with the children of our own house, so I expect he will present you with no great difficulty. Any information you can get out of him is a plus, though I wonder if you might need a supply of calming draughts.”

“As you wish, my lord.”

Voldemort spared a glance for the boy, who was coming out of his unfocused state and starting to look around warily. “That will be all, gentlemen.”

Each bowed. Lucius left immediately, while Severus pulled the boy to his feet and guided him out, murmuring all the while.

“And you, my son, should probably rest a bit. I think I may do a little investigating of my own.”

“Yes, father.” Brand rubbed his forehead—a headache was starting to settle in—then dropped a kiss on his father’s head. As he left the room and walked slowly down the corridor, Draco appeared at his side again. Until they gained the privacy of their joined suites, neither said a word. And, once inside, Draco immediately steered him to sit on a couch, dropped down behind him, and started massaging his temples and scalp.

Several more minutes passed in near silence, the only sounds to be heard those of Brand’s pleasure at his growing relief from pain. Draco’s fingers slipped down to Brand’s neck and shoulders, producing quiet groans and small, inarticulate grunts.

When someone finally did speak, it was Draco. “Feeling a bit better?” he asked softly.

Brand sighed and reversed his position. “Yes,” he admitted. “Thank you.”

“It’s the least I can do. I’m quite proud of you, by the way. You were magnificent.” His face reflected his words quite clearly.

“You think so?” At Draco’s nod he said, “Father thinks so. I was afraid I’d displeased him by overreacting. I’m not sure I could bear it if I had.”

Draco smiled like the sun rising in the depths of winter. “Let me guess. He told you something along the lines of how this will make people understand that you aren’t just another pretty face, and have the qualities that make it abundantly clear that you are your father’s son. Hmm?”

Brand couldn’t help but smile back. “Something like that, yes.”

“It’s all very simple, Brand. And it doesn’t make you a bad person, or untrue to yourself. Any organization must have order. You’ve just proven you will provide it and enforce it. Though, I’m not entirely sure what got you all riled up aside from on that boy’s behalf.” He tilted his head to the side and rested a hand on Brand’s knee.

Brand’s smile morphed into a frown as he explained what he had overheard, matching the one that formed on Draco’s face. When he detailed what he gained from Stirling’s mind and that of the boy, it deepened.

“That unbelievable bastard,” said Draco roughly. “He deserved what he got, and a nice little object lesson for everyone in the bargain.” He paused, then asked, “What is to become of the boy?”

“I’m not sure yet. Father is having it looked into.” He sighed and said, “I could really use a drink.”

“Oh, no. Absolutely not. Alcohol is no kind of answer,” objected Draco.

“Ordering me around now, are you?” He narrowed his eyes at the blond, pretending to be annoyed.

“You’re damn right I am,” retorted Draco with a stern expression. “If you’re going to spout nonsense like that, I’m going to make sure you don’t do something foolish. I can’t have everyone gossiping that my mate is a lush,” he finished indignantly.

Brand chuckled and stared at his hands for a moment. “All right, but then I really want to get out of here for a while. You have muggle clothes, don’t you?”

Draco affected surprise. “Why, yes, of course. But why do you ask?”

“Then put on something casual. We’re going to the cinema.”

“What on earth for?”

“I’ve never seen a film before. Have you?”

“Er. . . .”

“Right, then. Go get dressed.”

After changing and Brand getting his hands on a good supply of muggle money, they left, apparating to London. Together they picked a film to see and bought a selection of sweets—none of which Draco had ever tasted—and found seats in the theatre halfway down and toward the center.

As neither of them were quite sure what to expect, both were equally enchanted and delighted, enjoying the wonder of it all almost as much as the film itself. Brand had of course seen television before, but it was nothing in comparison. When they finally arrived home, Brand was in an excellent mood and felt much relaxed—enough so that he invited Draco into his bedroom for the night to sleep at his side.

After long minutes spent undressing each other, they spent even more time lying there exploring each other’s mouths and delighting in the sounds they made each other produce, before extinguishing the lights and curling up together. Draco was almost asleep when Brand abruptly stiffened, causing him to sit up in concern. “Brand?”

“I just realized something,” came the soft reply. “Remember how I was worried I might not be able to kill the old man from a distance?”

“Yes, go on.”

“I can. I did it today with Stirling—stopped his heart. I can do it.”

“So that’s why—all right. That is very good news,” Draco said as he relaxed back onto the bed and snuggled closer.

“I’ll tell father tomorrow. Sorry I startled you.”

Draco kissed him softly and said, “Now go to sleep.”