Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Forsaken :: 20 :: Talking

20 • Talking

“It’s too easy to slip up,” he said. “All it takes is one mistake. So let me take care of that now.”

When he removed his hand she said, “What exactly does that mean?”

“Two things. First, a coercion to prevent you from calling me Harry, or speaking of it except with me. Remus, Draco, and Severus are all similarly affected. You see, only five people know who I was. Well, six if you count me. Second, a more encompassing protection, one that literally locks away your knowledge from those who might attempt to wrest it from you. All that means is that things like veritaserum and the imperius curse can’t force you to reveal what you know. And, you won’t be plagued by inadvertent slips of the tongue. Everyone here with any idea of what’s going on is protected.”

“Does it hurt?”

Brand grinned. “Only me!” When she frowned he explained further. “No, it doesn’t hurt. As for me, all that happens is I get a bit wiped out. Don’t worry, honestly.”

“Speaking of which,” said Remus as he snapped his fingers. “Clip, would you be kind enough to bring up some refreshments for us, please?”

“Yes, Master Remus. Right away.” Clip popped out and was back in moments with a large selection of drinks. After a bobbed bow, he was gone.

“Not you, too,” Hermione accused.

Remus raised his hands in a gesture of submission. “Sorry, Hermione. But, one thing you’ll learn here is that everyone is very kind to house-elves. They are bonded, but their situation doesn’t differ all that much from Dobby’s.”

She huffed and sat back, seemingly reassured for the moment. “All right.”

“Let’s get started, then,” Brand said, then began running conditions through his mind as an incandescent sphere formed in his palm. When he was ready he flicked it at her, almost smiling at the look of surprise on her face as it impacted. “That was the easy one,” he commented, then set about fully protecting her.

A butterbeer was shoved into his hands fifteen minutes later and he gratefully sank back and drank, waving off Hermione’s obvious concern. “I’m fine,” he said between gulps, then drained the bottle and reached for a second. “There’s a lot to cover. Who wants to start?”

And so it went for the next several hours. Hermione was, to his eyes, trying her best to consider both sides given what she was hearing and how radical some of it must appear to her. “Hermione, is isn’t like anyone would ask you to never see your parents again,” he protested. “It isn’t even that anyone would ask you to move with us. I mean, we would, but no one would expect you to just drop everything and sever all contact.”

“But, to send away all squibs?”

“I ask that you be logical about this, and think about things long term. Right now, there are very few people, wizarding or muggle, who can coexist peacefully if they know about each other. Tell me, do you think that muggle scientists would be able to hold back from examining you? Picking you apart to see how it is you can do magic? The military? Do you think that most wizarding folk could look on muggles, or squibs, with much more than disdain, or worse, pity?”

“Do you think,” added Remus, “that it’s kinder or more cruel to let squibs grow up in the muggle world, knowing that they can never do magic?”

“You’re proposing to kidnap all magical children as well,” she protested.

Brand shrugged. “That’s the other side of the same coin. Look at father. His own father walked away and let his mother die, let his own son be placed in an orphanage that abused him, simply because they were magical. The Dursleys did their best to squash the magic out of me as well. You are so lucky, Hermione, to have parents who love you and support you.”

She shook her head violently. “No, I can’t accept that. If you had said you meant to take only children who were abused, then maybe.”

“A compromise? I’ll talk to father about it.”

She didn’t look entirely satisfied with that. “So, um, why were we targeted?”

Brand grinned immediately. “Because we had no intention of hurting you.”

“I’m sure that will make sense once you explain.”

“Of course. If you think back to the memories I shared, Remus needed something to take back, right?”

“That’s right,” she said, placing one finger to her lower lip. “It was just for show. But what about the others? I don’t entirely understand the motive behind what you did to Percy, either.”

“Percy was originally slated to be killed,” Remus said, ignoring her soft gasp to continue, “however, considering that we have every intention of stealing people from Dumbledore, that sounded like a pretty stupid thing to do. Brand erased several years from his memory, that’s all, and we left behind something which will cast a little doubt on him. Since he can’t answer any questions about it, it’s more or less harmless.”

“Harmless? You stole part of his life!”

“Did we?” asked Brand. “Right now there’s every chance his family will take him back without much trouble. Trouble that originally manifested because of me. He won’t remember the argument he had with Arthur, which is another huge sticking point, and I think Arthur realizes that even if Molly is having hysterics. Of course, we have no idea of the reactions of his siblings.”

Hermione darted a glance at Severus, who nodded, then looked back to Brand. “Ron doesn’t know if he should be happy or not. You know how he is. There’s a lot of pent up anger in him over what happened.”

Brand nodded, then said, “Forgive me if this sounds cruel, but Ron often can’t see past his own character flaws. He is very passionate, but he’s also quick to anger, to feel jealousy, and be driven to suspicion. One may or may not claim that he has a knack for strategy based on chess, but if you step beyond that, his personality tends to make that more or less incidental. If he can’t think straight, strategy is worthless. But, to bring this back around to Percy, my first guess would be that Ron might perceive the advantage, and yet still wish to punish his brother for his transgressions, despite him not being able to remember.”

“You aren’t planning on contacting him, are you.”

“Unless you can think of an excellent reason why we should,” said Severus, “no.”

“It’s rather funny.” Brand tapped the side of his face with one finger. “Ron has had almost everything I longed for—a family who loved him being the foremost—and now he no longer has Harry’s shadow to obscure him. And yet, I can imagine a scenario where one of his desires was answered, such as winning a large sum of money, and him becoming unhappy because he still did not have as much as others might.”

“You are cruel,” Hermione stated.

“Yes, but honest. I lied to you far too often in school, Hermione. I will not do so now, even to spare feelings.”

She looked off to the side and sighed. “You have no need to, now.”

“Nope,” he said cheerfully. “Well, I do, just not in the same sense. I can’t very well strut down Diagon Alley as Harry, now can I.”

She gave him a weak smile and said, “Semantics. And the others?”

“We think the twins might fit in real nice. Maybe Tonks. Possibly the older Weasley children. Past that, we’re still considering. It’s just easier to start with people we all know.”

“Brand, despite what . . . your father . . . said, I am still muggle-born. How is it possible that the people under his control could possibly accept me as one of their own?”

“Well, if they can’t, they aren’t going to fit into the spiffy little utopia we have planned, are they? It isn’t like anyone has kicked up a fuss over Moony. Still, that’s the difference between being in charge and being part of the complement. Father listens to whatever his people have to say, but that doesn’t mean he agrees with everything, and it doesn’t mean he won’t deal out punishment as he sees fit.”

“Or you, for that matter,” interjected Draco with a slight smirk.

Hermione narrowed her eyes and gave him a look that was just shy of demanding, causing Brand to sigh and look at Remus. “A pensieve, please?” After one was handed over Brand extracted his memory of the Joshua incident and dropped it in, then handed the device to Hermione. When she was back he retrieved it and waited patiently.

“I’m not sure how to react,” she said after a minute.

“Hermione, it would be so much easier if I could just play my memories for you like a film. Memories of so many things, large and small, that would help you to understand. I think everyone here, in this room, can tell you of the number of times I’ve sat down and questioned what I’m doing. I’m not always certain I’m steering clear of the shoals, but they help to keep things steady. Believe me when I say that morality plays a large part in my life. But, there comes a time when you have to look down from that fence of neutrality and make decisions, and decide how much you can bear in the name of something better, and at which point you’ve crossed the line into delusional self-appeasement and gratuitous action. You’re protected now, nothing will change that. And knowing that, I can let you walk away if that’s what you truly wish.”

She was silent for a long time, absently preparing a cup of tea and taking several sips. “Conventional morality has no place here.”

“It doesn’t,” Brand agreed. “And, let us be honest. Conventional is a concept which differs from culture to culture. Quite frankly, it sickens me to know that in some cultures it is considered perfectly acceptable for a father to take his daughter’s virginity before handing her off to her new husband.”

“Let me ask you something, then. Let’s say, for the sake of theory, that you and your father find a new place to settle everyone. Are you really going to trust every single person to keep the secret? You’re either going to have to place coercions on everyone or restrict movement.”

Brand blinked and exchanged a look with Remus.

“If you restrict movement, you’d potentially have a lot of disgruntled people on your hands. Placing apparation wards might prevent that method, but it would also prevent your people being able to learn the skill as well. Unless, that is, you know of some way to make them such that you can apparate within, but not through.”

She had another sip of her tea, then said, “I suppose it would be possible—again, in theory—to construct something that planted or reinforced a coercion whenever a person left the limits of the . . . settlement. After all, I’d never read anything about them and yet you can do it, so I suppose it depends a great deal on just what you’re capable of.”

“Well,” Brand said slowly, “as far as the secret goes, I think location should be denied. I don’t think the name matters.”

She nodded. “You’d want word to spread, wouldn’t you? You might gain more people that way.”

“If you’re interested, Pansy has brought me a great deal of information on wizarding families. We were hoping to solve the puzzle of why squibs are born.”

She brightened at that, but kept to the previous subject. “And what about immigrants? How would you handle that?”

“There are plenty of things to be worked out yet, so if you feel like working up some ideas on those things, I’d be happy to see what you come up with,” Brand responded. “Would you be interested in visiting the twins with me tomorrow?”

“Don’t you think that might make them believe I could be the next to disappear?”

“That’s possible,” he agreed, “but you won’t. And when you don’t, their suspicions will be eased.”

“Perhaps. We’ll just have to see, won’t we?”

Brand smiled and nodded.

“I am feeling a bit tired.”

“I’ll show you to a room, then.” Brand rose, waiting until she did, then showed her to one of the empty rooms along the corridor outside. After a quick consultation with Maer, Rigas was assigned to help Hermione if she needed anything, then Brand returned to his own suite. “I think that went well.”

Nods erupted around the room, then Severus and Remus both stood and said their good-byes for the evening and left. Brand turned and pinned Draco with a look.

Draco heaved a sigh. “All right, all right.” He pulled the empty pensieve over and deposited a memory, then sat back with a petulant expression on his face.

Draco was pacing. His suite looked almost unlived in. Draco was pacing, muttering under his breath.

Brand moved in closer, hoping to hear what was being said.

“Damn stupid idiot. Why doesn’t he get it? I keep trying to show him, but he’s blind to everything.” Draco ran rough hands through his hair, completely disheveling his normally immaculately coifed hair.

“You would think,” he said, pausing to kick a chair, “that pointing out the things that would make him happy would clue him in, but no! Does he honestly think I would suggest plans to garner support from people like Granger if I thought it would make him unhappy? If I didn’t think it would be in his best interests?”

Draco sighed and dropped into a chair, brushing the nap back and forth. “He should know by now that I find it hard to say the words. Didn’t I accept his godfather? Didn’t I—” He broke off and tilted his head back to stare at the ceiling. “Is it that he thinks I do these things only out of obligation? Duty? Honestly. I always knew he was oblivious, but this is ridiculous. It had to be those stupid muggles. How I wish I could drag the lot of them here to be tortured for their sins. He’s never once talked of retribution.”

He rose and started pacing again, pausing as he caught sight of his reflection in a mirror. “Dear Merlin, I can’t let anyone see me looking like this.”

Brand emerged with a laugh. “I’m quite sure you meant it in an affectionate way when you called me an idiot,” he said to Draco as the man snatched the pensieve away from him and took back his memory.

“It wasn’t like I ever expected you to see that,” Draco replied with a sniff. “Speaking of which, why haven’t you ever mentioned retribution against the Dursleys?”

Brand blinked. “Why? Because it would only serve to prove their point.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“And you call me oblivious? Draco, if I were to have them brought here for torture, do you honestly think it would serve any purpose other than to cause them pain? It wouldn’t change their opinions. It would serve to make them believe they always had been right. We’re all freaks, remember? The only thing that would change is that they would finally have to face the fact that I’m old enough, and powerful enough, to not be scared of them, and to deal out some treatment in kind. I lived through it. I survived. Their deaths would be nothing more than petty revenge. They don’t deserve to die for being prejudiced twits.”

Draco gave him a cool look, then said, “And this differs from Dumbledore, how?”

“Ignorance differs. The Dursleys are afraid of what they don’t understand, and they’ll resist any attempts to be shown the truth. Dumbledore knew better. He also believed that he had enough power over me that I would not, could not, resist him. His ignorance will be his downfall. He aided and abetted my relatives, either by turning a blind eye or because he never bothered to check on me. Which, I don’t know. But he did know I did not have it easy, and that made things simpler for him, my personal savior. He was far too sure that I would do what was required of me because I had no other choice, no one else to turn to. Obviously, he was wrong.”

“I’m still not sure I understand.”

“Let me try it this way, then. Let’s just suppose that Harry Potter defeated Voldemort. He would, in theory, be free forever of the Dursleys. That alone would have been worth it. I don’t want to see them again. They make my skin crawl. Frankly, I would bet that even now when anything goes wrong they blame me. They can never escape me, Draco. They are probably still quite pathetic, unable to move past the time when I was forced on them. But what of Harry Potter? He defeats the evil Dark Lord, and what happens then? Is he left alone to find out what it really means to live? I think not. He’s probably feted endlessly, stalked by reporters, pushed around by Dumbledore, and Merlin knows what else. Even, possibly, dead, engineered by Dumbledore’s hand now that his purpose is served, and so that he cannot one day awaken to his circumstances and decide to push back.”

Draco frowned thoughtfully.

“The fact is that I did wake up. I’ve occasionally wondered, you know, if Dumbledore was a Slytherin. Still, if he was, he wasn’t enough of one. If he had had any sense whatsoever, he would have waited, and kept watching me to see if I would act on my nature. Instead he was blunt, even more so than he had been at the end of the previous year. It’s not wise to tell your pet that you don’t trust it. If he’d had any sense he would have obliviated me of those events so that I would have been left wondering who had chained me. He would have hidden the bracelet from my eyes. He would have pretended to be searching for a way to help me.”

“You woke up with a vengeance.” Draco flashed him a smile and nodded. “All right, and I suppose you’re right. I don’t think Potter would have had a moment to himself. And, considering what he’s done to others under his command, I guess you may have ended up dead after all was said and done. Though, perhaps he was a Ravenclaw? That might explain, to some degree, his lack of understanding of others.”

Brand shrugged. “Maybe someday I’ll bother to find out for sure. Such as, after he’s dead.”

Draco stretched out his legs and crossed his ankles, then said, “Do you think the real ghosts of Hogwarts could find a way to interfere in your plans?”

Brand blinked and pushed himself upright. “That’s an excellent question.”

*

“Ready?” he asked in a low voice.

“Absolutely,” she replied, a slightly nervous smile on her face.

“Now, I mean no offense, but I know that you aren’t at your best when it comes to spur of the moment things, so just stick to the plan, okay?” Brand gave her an affectionate smile and a slight wink.

Hermione gave him an affronted look as she switched her bag from Flourish & Blotts to her other hand, then nodded. “Beast.”

He smirked and said, “Don’t fight it. I know my charm is hard to resist, dear lady. Now, think happy thoughts about your new job, and let us go in.” Brand took a moment to disable the door mechanism, then glided in after Hermione, a faint smile gracing his lips.

Almost immediately the twins looked up and over, their forms stiffening slightly as they realized that once again their customers had not been pranked, and that they recognized both of them. “Hermione!” they called out in unison.

Playing her part passing well, Hermione strode over quickly with a beaming smile. “I just got the best news!”

The twins smiled, possibly because she was in such good spirits, but it did not escape Brand’s notice that they looked on him with some suspicion.

“I’ve been hired at the ministry,” she said brightly. “The interview went very well, I think. It must have, since I’m now employed.” Then she paused, bit her lip, and said, “I’m sorry. You two know Brand, right?”

“We’ve met,” they said with identical nods.

“That reminds me. Have any of you heard from Remus?” Brand asked with innocent concern.

Hermione let out a fairly believable gasp and turned. “I’m so sorry. I can’t believe I didn’t tell you.”

“Tell me what?” Brand glanced from her to the twins, then back.

“He’s gone missing, believed dead,” she admitted, turning away slowly as though she could not bear to see his reaction.

“Dead,” Brand repeated in a flat tone. “Please tell me you don’t think he finally gave up. He was fine the last time I saw him.”

The twins exchanged a look, then said, “When was that?”

“Here, actually. I know he was tired and depressed, but I really thought he was okay.” Brand flicked his hair behind his shoulder and stared at Hermione’s back for a moment. When she remained facing away he turned his inquiring gaze on the twins.

“That was also the last time we saw him, though he did send us an owl the day he disappeared,” they offered, now more confused than suspicious of him.

“So he’s missing? Hasn’t anyone even tried to use locating spells?” he asked.

“They did try,” said Hermione softly. “There was no trace of him.”

Brand smirked inwardly, thinking of the warding at the estate. “Well unless I see a body, I refuse to believe he’s dead,” he stated. “For all we know he’s locked up somewhere by someone who—” He stopped, growled softly, then said, “Hermione, sorry, but I need to go think about this. I’ll let you know if I find anything.” After nodding at the twins, Brand swept off, once again avoiding the trap on the door.

What the twins didn’t know was that he was back within seconds with a completely different look. After laughing heartily on recovering from being turned into a man-sized canary, he wandered off among the aisles of goods, slipping an extendible ear out of his pocket so he could listen in unobtrusively.

“Who is that guy?” Fred demanded.

“Brand? I’ve known him for a while. Remus introduced us.”

‘Not quite truth, not quite a lie. Very good, Hermione,’ Brand thought.

“Why? Is there something wrong?” she asked.

“We don’t know,” said George. “The only other time we saw him was when he came in with Remus. He seemed quite supportive, actually.”

“That hardly surprises me. I think they were very close, and we all know that Remus was devastated when. . . .” She shook her head. “In any case, he’s always been very nice to me.”

“He’s not . . . part of the old crowd?” asked Fred.

Hermione snorted, causing the twins to give her an odd look. “Sorry. From what I understand, Brand doesn’t feel that, er, the head of that crowd is all that trustworthy, though he never said why in my hearing. Of course, everyone has a right to their opinion.”

The twins exchanged another look. After a moment George said, “We overheard something the day they were here. Apparently, Remus and Sirius were together.”

Hermione played dumb and said, “Of course they were. They were best friends.”

“Hermione,” Fred hissed, “I meant as in lovers.”

“Oh,” she replied mildly. “Now that you mention it, I suppose I can see the signs if I think back.”

Brand almost laughed as the twins exchanged a third look and ducked his head briefly, ostensibly to examine the contents of the shelf he stood in front of.

“That doesn’t bother you?” asked George.

“Why should it? After all—” She stopped and narrowed her eyes. “Don’t tell me you two believe that rubbish about it being unnatural. I swear, the wizarding world is mired in antiquity when it comes to certain things.”

Before she had a chance to head full steam into a rant Fred headed her off with a sharp motion of his hand. “That’s not it. Neither of us cares.”

She deflated, then cast an odd look at them. “What? You don’t think what Brand said might have some accuracy do you? That he gave up?”

“No, we don’t. Look, why don’t you stop by for lunch tomorrow and we’ll talk. You can tell us all about your new job.”

“Oh, I’d love to,” she said with girlish enthusiasm. “It’s so exciting! But don’t think I’ll forget about what you just said.” She gave them both a quick wave, then turned and left.

The twins did not bother to see if the mechanism went off. “Is it me, or is she acting a bit oddly?” asked Fred.

“She was, but maybe we can get something out of her tomorrow, without that other fellow around. Do you think we should have Tonks come as well?”

Fred nodded. “I think there’s a very good chance that, knowing how her mind works, she’ll be as upset as we are, and very likely feel betrayed. What I’m not sure of is whether or not she would run straight to the old man to have it out with him.”

“Then we’ll just have to be delicate, won’t we. Look, I’m going to owl Tonks.”

Several minutes later Brand stepped up to the counter and placed a selection of items down for purchase.

*

“I told you, don’t worry. My protections cannot be subverted. They are going to try to get you to talk about me, though. You do not have permission to admit to knowing my last name, by the way, but if you like, you can say I’m something of a riddle to you.”

It took a moment for the look of anger to subside, but when it did, Hermione laughed outright. “Something of a riddle?”

“They plan on trying to ease into explaining about the letter that was left behind. Thanks, by the way, for handing over that extendible ear. It was very useful. You should also expect Tonks to be present. If I’m reading things rightly, they’re on the verge of breaking from Dumbledore. I trust you to do what you need in order to find out exactly what they have planned.”

“And what if they are willing? I can’t very well invite them for afternoon tea at the estate.”

Brand chuckled. “Well, no. Not yet, anyway. Which reminds me, I need to get Bentley to send you an owl about when you’ll be starting. That is, if you really would like to take that position. He was present during your interview and was quite impressed.”

“Even if I had denied what you were telling me,” she stated.

“Of course. You wanted the job, and either way, you’re under my protection. And”—he gave her a look of mingled affection and annoyance—“I really hope you aren’t going to give me a lecture about using my influence for personal gain.”

Her eyes widened, her mouth opened, then snapped shut. After a moment she said, “Please be nice. I’m still trying to come to terms with things. The fact that it’s you makes things that much easier, and that much harder to cope.”

“Of course I’ll be nice. Besides, I know you’re dying to get your hands on that data Pansy brought over. I would be thrilled beyond words if you, or you and a team, could figure out how to prevent squibs. My father also mentioned that you might be interested in helping with the effort toward finding a new home for all of us.”

Hermione narrowed her eyes at him. “Are you quite certain I’m not in a coma at St Mungo’s having especially peculiar dreams?”

“Ever heard of the term lucid dreaming?” he countered.

“Yes, I—oh. I’ll have to think about that.”

“Do you have any idea why you weren’t invited to join the Order?”

She shook her head. “It’s never come up. After . . . Harry died, I admit I wasn’t in any shape to be thinking about it, either. After a while, I just stuck with my studies.”

“Then I’ll need to ask Severus for details, or Remus. If there’s any chance you might be approached, I’ll need to know in advance whether you should accept or decline the offer.” After seeing her expression he said, “Well, if there’s anything which could betray you, I think it’d be best to decline, don’t you? I’m not arbitrarily making decisions for you, Hermione. I’m not Dumbledore. I am going to do what I can to make sure you remain safe. If you would prefer you can ask one of them personally what was involved in joining. If they aren’t able to explain, they should at least be able to say if it’s wise or not should you be approached.”

She nodded. “That’s reasonable. Now, I need to go see my parents. They’re probably worried by now. I’ll come back sometime after lunch tomorrow to let you know how things went, all right?”

“Call for Rigas when you arrive so he can inform me. I’ll come get you. For the moment I don’t want everyone to know about you as you’ve not been announced to the general complement. I’ll have to work up something with a focus that will tie into the estate wards to keep your identity concealed until we’re ready for that. The last thing I want is another Stirling to pop up behind my back.”