Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Forsaken :: 18 :: Just Dinner

18 • Just Dinner

“You heard me,” Brand said casually, inspecting his fingernails for show.

“Do I . . . even want to know?”

“Hmm?” Brand looked up and smiled faintly. “You know, I really should go talk to Joshua. Though, I think father would get upset if he found out I’d left my rooms today.”

Remus eyed him carefully, then snorted. “Don’t change the subject.”

“Why don’t you just ask what it is you want to know, Moony.”

“This happened before Draco?” Remus asked.

“Of course, what do you take me for?” Brand plastered an injured expression on his face and looked at Remus mournfully. “My goodness, I knew you were concerned about me, but not that concerned.” He paused and added, “Or, is your interest in someone else?”

Remus cleared his throat and looked at him sternly. “Don’t be foolish. Of course I’m going to be curious when you say things like that out of left field.”

“I see.” Brand nodded and pursed his lips. “Well, nothing to worry about. It was ages ago.”

“Mmmhmm. Why did you kiss?”

Brand gave Remus a wide-eyed look and said, “Why? I was trying to convince him to defect back to us and used homosexuality as an example of the freedoms we here have. He decided to test my words by kissing me, that’s all. Really, Moony, if I didn’t know better, I’d think you were interested in Severus for yourself.”

Remus sat up straight, giving him an intense stare, then lifted his chin and said, “Would you like me to bring Joshua here?”

Brand smirked and replied, “Sure, but I’ll have to adjust the wards for him to even come on to the third floor, never mind this suite. So, why don’t you help poor little me out so I can take care of that, then make sure I find my way back here safe and sound, hm?”

*

When Joshua was escorted in his eyes were wide and uncertain, and even more so when he saw who was waiting for him. Brand nodded at Remus, then gestured at a chair for the boy, who hesitantly sat down as Remus ducked back out and closed the door.

“Hello, Joshua,” Brand said gently. “I wanted to see for myself how you’ve been getting on. Is everything all right?”

“Um, yes, my lord.”

Brand had to strain to hear the child’s response. “There’s no need to be frightened, Joshua. You aren’t here because you’re in trouble or anything like that. It’s just that you’re still kind of at loose ends. Your father was a bad man,” he said bluntly, though softly, “and I’m not sorry I took care of him. However, that leaves you without a clear guardian. What I’d like to know is if you’re getting on with Professor Snape, or if you would prefer someone else to watch over you.”

Joshua’s face took on a worried aspect as he shook his head violently. “I like Professor Snape, my lord.”

“All right. So you’d like to stay under his care?”

Joshua nodded several times.

“Have you ever told him that?”

Joshua shrank back slightly in his chair.

“He can be hard to approach, huh?” Brand arched a brow and smiled, an invitation to share in his amusement. “That’s all right. I think he’s somewhat fond of you, actually.” He paused, then said, “Is it that you’re afraid because of the way your father treated you? That maybe Professor Snape won’t wish to be bothered?”

Joshua just stared at him with wide eyes.

“Would you like me to talk to Professor Snape for you? I will, you know. And I don’t mean that I’d order him. I’m not like that.” He tilted his head slightly. “I don’t like when people are forced into anything.”

“What if he doesn’t. . . ?”

“I don’t really think that’s cause for concern,” Brand said casually. “But, even if it were, we’d find something you were happy with. I am responsible for what happened, so I intend to do everything in my power to make sure you aren’t suffering further because of it. For reference, is there anyone else you like?”

“Mr Lupin is very kind, my lord,” Joshua offered quietly.

Brand nodded. “He’s a very gentle, kind man. I’ll see what I can do. And, Joshua? I know that you’re not very comfortable around me, especially after what I did, but I want you to know you can always talk to me if you need to, or want to. All you need to—” He broke off as the connecting door opened and Draco stepped into the room. “Well, it looks as if we’re done for the moment,” he said, then faced his mate. “Draco, would you do me a favor and escort Joshua back to an unrestricted level, please?”

“Of course, my lord,” was the ready reply. “Joshua, if you would please follow me?” Several minutes later Draco had returned and flopped into a chair. “What was all that about?” he asked.

“Just checking to see if the boy was happy with Severus. He’s pretty skittish around me, but I guess that’s understandable.” Brand shrugged and continued, “I had Moony bring him up since I told father I’d stay put today.”

“And is he?”

“Sure, but I think Moony might be right in that the child is afraid of being rejected. He was very vague, and seemed quite scared of the idea of telling Severus how he felt.”

“Rejected, or beaten?”

Brand shrugged. “There’s no way to tell, I suppose, unless Joshua opens up some more. It’s a miracle that Severus got him to spill what he did in the first place. Still, considering that he did, and the child seems to like him, I don’t think he’s worried about more abuse at his hands. Well, verbal abuse, maybe. Severus hasn’t quite left that part of himself behind. Then again, most of the children are used to him. I think Joshua would take it badly, but I imagine that Severus isn’t that unaware.”

“Have you even read those reports yet?” Draco asked in a somewhat accusing manner.

“Yes. I skimmed them while I was alone. I didn’t find anything of massive interest, either.”

Draco arched a brow and nodded. “Do you want me to get Severus, then?”

Brand shook his head. “Why should you go running around?” He snapped his fingers, and when Maer appeared, said, “Would you please ask Severus to come here, Maer?”

“Certainly, master,” said the little creature, then popped out.

“But I do think you should join me on the couch. I might get cold.” Brand fluttered his lashes at Draco and tried to look forlorn.

Draco snorted and heaved himself up. “Right,” he drawled as he moved over to sit beside him, then spent the next ten minutes making sure his mate couldn’t possibly be in any discomfort or distress. It was only when a knock at the door sounded that Draco gently disengaged himself from a flushed Brand and sat back with a satisfied little smile on his face.

Brand cleared his throat and called out, “Enter!”

The door opened to reveal exactly who they were expecting, Severus Snape. Brand waved him in and to a chair, then said, “It’s about Joshua,” pausing when Draco nudged him in the ribs. After scowling at his mate he said, “Good afternoon, Severus.”

“Brand.” Severus inclined his head. “Draco. What about the boy?”

“Are you comfortable continuing to keep an eye on him? Happy?”

Severus arched a brow. “Yes, I am.”

“Would you be willing to take him on in a more permanent sense?” Brand asked curiously.

After a decided pause Severus said evenly, “Yes.”

Brand broke out into a smile. “I’m pretty sure that’s what Joshua would like, but I think he’s afraid to ask.”

“I have been very careful of my demeanor around the boy,” Severus stated. “Though,” he added, “I am unsure as to his reaction were he to see me in my more customary role. Probably not well.”

Brand waved a hand negligently. “And who is to say he needs to see that? Considering that it generally only comes out at this point away from the estate, does it matter?”

“And after the summer?”

“Remus can always school him, here on the estate,” supplied Brand.

Severus arched a brow again. “I see. Remus has expressed interest?”

“Sure. I asked him earlier what role he’d like to take on in the new order. He seems to have been happy enough teaching, and I know that Joshua finds Remus to be a kind person.”

“Do you . . . object?” asked Draco.

Severus shook his head. “To Remus, no. However, if I were to take on permanent guardianship of the boy, how will he feel when I then turn around and return to the school so quickly?”

“He wouldn’t be in much different circumstances as most children, Severus,” Brand pointed out. “They leave their families to go to Hogwarts. This is just flipped. And in any case, I can hope that it will be for only a year at worst. We will not start out as such a large community as to require a boarding school setup. Day students would make more sense, don’t you think? If you really would prefer that he go to Hogwarts this year, we can arrange it, but it would create paperwork issues at the ministry. I don’t think Dumbledore would react well to finding out that you had custody of a child. He would become far too inquisitive for my tastes, and I think yours.”

“You have a point,” Severus admitted with a slight frown. “Albus has called for a meeting a little later on today, prior to this evening’s activities.”

Brand frowned. “I think I’ll just have to loan you a manticore-skin outfit I have laying around somewhere. I’m still concerned about your cover. I don’t want anyone getting in a lucky stunner before you have a chance to use that portkey if it comes to it.”

“As you wish. On another note, I’m going to need samples from you shortly.”

*

“Haven’t you let this go on long enough?” asked Draco. “Why haven’t you gone to see the twins?”

Brand ran a hand through his hair, ostensibly ignoring his mate’s obvious frustration with him. “Draco, it’s only been a week. Wouldn’t you have wanted time to think things through? If I manage to snag Hermione this evening, then perhaps she could come with me when I go to see them. Heaven knows that if I show up again with another ‘safe’ person, they’re going to start wondering.”

Draco sat back and relaxed marginally. “I suppose so.”

“Look, do you want to come with me? You can always lurk invisibly in the corner. I can’t imagine that an interview will be much to watch, though.”

“No, I’m more interested in this evening.”

“Then why are you so fidgety?” In truth, he really didn’t understand why Draco was acting so oddly.

Draco looked up and grimaced. “I just don’t want you to get hurt, all right? She might reject you.”

“Yes, I know. I won’t lie and say that hasn’t crossed my mind repeatedly. But, Draco, if she does . . . that’s just the way it is. I’ll be hurt, but I’m not going to die because of it. I made the decision a long time ago to separate and distance myself. This is an opportunity for something more, but I won’t kid myself and say that everything will be all right. You can’t protect me from everything that might happen,” he said gently.

“That doesn’t mean I can’t try!”

Brand smiled and gave him a lingering kiss. “Thank you. Now push off so I can get ready. I’ll only be gone for a few hours.”

*

Brand had spent the last two hours listening politely to her answers to the standard questions asked of anyone applying, succeeding in not rolling his eyes at some of the things she said, or how she said them. Part of him wanted to smile at her fondly, or indulgently, but he restrained himself admirably. It would have confused her for one thing.

When she finally wound down he did smile. Despite everything that they had gone through together, she was still rather naïve, and prone to the belief that intelligence and knowledge exhaustively displayed was a good thing. “Well, Miss Granger, you are quite impressive. While I will have to discuss things with my supervisor, I think I can safely say that we’ll be welcoming you aboard shortly. With that in mind, I was wondering if you’d like to meet your potential colleagues in an informal setting.”

“Informal setting?”

Brand nodded. “We had already planned a get together this evening after work for dinner. It has occurred to me that it might be a good chance for you to meet everyone and get to know them a little.”

“But I’m not even hired yet, sir. They might resent the intrusion.”

Brand waved his hand and said, “A technicality, I assure you. As I said, your records and your answers here today have been quite impressive. I have very little doubt that by the time dinner rolls around that I’ll be able to tell you the good news.”

“In that case, thank you, sir. I would love to come.”

“Splendid! Would you prefer an escort or a portkey?”

“Sir?”

Brand couldn’t decide if she was confused or wary by the choice. “My spouse would never forgive me if I simply handed over instructions,” he said with an engaging smile. “Times are uncertain, as I’m sure you know. If you would prefer a portkey I will arrange for one. Otherwise, you can return here at seven and I’ll escort you the remainder of the way.”

“Yes, you’re right. I will return at seven if that’s all right, sir.”

“I’ll look forward to seeing you then.” He smiled again as she stood, and stood as well to shake her hand, then sat back and pretended to shuffle papers as she exited the room. The moment the door closed Bentley appeared and gave him a bow. “I trust you’ll get on fine with her,” Brand said mildly.

“Yes, my lord. She is, as you say, impressive.”

“I’ll let you have your office back for now, then. I’ll return shortly before seven, so please be ready.”

“Yes, my lord.”

Brand switched his appearance in a heartbeat and slid into invisibility, then left to hunt down the minister. After gaining his assurance that the girl’s new job was secure he returned to the estate and rounded up his people for a quick meeting in his suite. After briefing them on what had happened after the interview he said, “I’ll lead her into one of the dining rooms once we arrive.”

“Are you having the halls cleared for this?” asked Remus.

Brand shook his head. “She’ll see what I want her to see. The room I’ve chosen will be secured, not only the doors but with several suppressant fields. She won’t be apparating out on us and from what I could tell, she hasn’t an animagus form to worry about, though I’ll prevent that as well.”

“So when you arrive, we’ll be in disguise.”

“To begin with, yes. Once everything is ready, they can be dropped and we can get started. For reference, it’s the dining room in the east wing, first floor.”

“Conveniently near the travel room,” said Draco with a slight smirk.

“Imagine that.”

*

He could tell she was nervous but determined to make a good impression. If he were to voice his own thoughts he would have to admit to being nervous himself, despite the calm and collected face he’d presented to his mate and friends. He really didn’t want to have to obliviate her and construct a fantasy of some sort to replace what actually happened. So he led her, a friendly smile on his face, toward the dining room.

“Will your wife be joining us?” she asked.

Brand held back a cough and said noncommittally, “Our department is like one big happy family.” With a repressed sigh of relief he paused in front of the doors to open one, then waved her through. A moment later he was inside, the door shut behind him and locked with a variety of spells. He made several gestures as he turned, then nodded at his companions and stepped up beside Hermione.

“I think it’s time for introductions,” he said cheerfully. “Miss Granger, I’m afraid that you’re here under false pretenses, though I can say that you have been hired.”

She stepped back, one hand moving toward where Brand assumed her wand was hidden. “What do you mean?”

Brand let his appearance melt back to his usual, then tossed back his auburn hair. “Let me introduce myself. My name is Brand Riddle.”

“Riddle!?”

“Yes. I’m quite sure you remember something that seriously alarms you at this point. I am the son and heir of Lord Voldemort. And, if you’ll consider calming down for a moment, I will explain why you’re here this evening.”

“You’re mad.”

Brand rolled his eyes and glanced at his companions. “Why do people keep saying that to me?” he asked them rhetorically. “Gentlemen, if you would?”

Every disguise in the room dropped abruptly, and Remus stepped forward. “Hermione?”

“Remus?” She stepped back further, her head jerking slightly as she hit the wall. “You’re supposed to be dead.”

“I am not,” he replied. “And I know you can prove that to your own satisfaction, so why don’t you go ahead? You can assure yourself of the identity of everyone here, for that matter.”

As she considered, Brand took a seat at the table and snapped his fingers. When Maer appeared he said, “Maer, would you please serve?”

“Yes, master.” Maer popped out immediately.

Hermione finally produced her wand and cast at Remus, her eyes widening in shock as she must have realized he was who he claimed to be. A moment later she turned and cast on each person in turn, then slumped slightly against the wall.

“Would you care to take a seat?” Brand said. “I wasn’t kidding about dinner.”

She shook her head and stared at him. “Why am I here? What do you intend to do?”

“Eat, for one thing,” he said cheerfully as food appeared at every chair but one. “You were brought here so that certain truths could be revealed to you by various people. If you choose not to believe, then you’ll be sent home, unharmed. And, naturally, quite forgetful of what actually happened here.”

“You expect me to believe that?” she asked as the others took their places. And, finally realizing that she did know how to apparate, she tried, only to fail miserably. “Well, it looks like I don’t have a choice, do I. You’ve trapped me here quite neatly.” With a show of bravado that Brand found quite endearing, she marched over to one of the remaining empty seats and took it.

“Yes, you are trapped,” he admitted. “Then again, that’s only to ensure that you listen. I think I know you well enough to believe that you will hear us out and honestly consider the evidence we present.”