Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Forsaken :: 21 :: A Slight Problem

21 • A Slight Problem

Brand did, in fact, spend several hours that evening working on an innocuous piece of jewelry for Hermione that would function only within the wards of the estate to conceal her identity. To keep suspicion off, the item itself wasn’t exactly magical. It was more of a case that the wards would recognize it and respond with the desired results.

It was generally at times like this that Brand speculated as to how he was able to do certain things, but as was his custom, he quickly shrugged off the mystery, preferring to simply accept. However, he did acknowledge that it would be nice if he could teach others to do some of what he could. Unfortunately, he knew that even with the library of rare and ancient texts his father had, not everyone could make use of them.

The next morning was spent on breakfast with his father, in which they briefly discussed Hermione’s objections, and then with the students, mainly drilling and testing the contacts on the contracted code. He had informed his friends in an aside that his father had told him just that morning that recruiters had tentatively recommended a score of names to be initiated into the Death Eater ranks, something that he would have to look into being the only one who could easily and unnoticeably filter through their minds for their real thoughts on the matter.

Lunch was a fairly quiet affair, and Brand saw fit afterward to lounge near the travel room to await Hermione’s coming, preferring to be very close by so as to cut down on the chances that anyone would realize she was there before her identity could be concealed. He was inside the travel room within a minute of Rigas telling him of her arrival, his hand holding out the necklace he had made.

“Try this on. If it works. . . .”

She gave him a curious look, but took it and fastened it around her neck. Brand immediately smiled broadly and conjured up a mirror, and she appeared quite startled at a glimpse of herself.

“Now, that should work only on the estate. Just to be safe, though, when you do leave, go someplace quiet and check. If it’s not working properly, remove it, obviously, and use it again for your next visit. I’ll figure out what went wrong then. Otherwise, simply keep it on. Even if checked, no one should notice anything odd about it. It’s simply a necklace.”

After she nodded, he guided her out and up to his rooms. “So,” he said once she was seated, “how did it go? Good?”

“I think it went just fine. But do you want the others here first?” She removed the necklace temporarily and set it on the table.

“Now that you’ve confirmed my suspicions, yes, but I would have called them either way.” A snap brought Maer to the room. “Maer, if you would please, could you ask Severus, Remus, and Draco to come here?”

“Of course, master.” Maer popped out a second later.

While they were waiting he asked, “Would you object to sharing your memory of the event? That way we could all see and make our own interpretations.”

“No, that’s all right. I assume you have a pensieve.” She glanced around the room, then let her gaze settle back on him.

Brand rose and moved to one of the cupboards, returning shortly thereafter with one of the devices, which he placed on the table. “You’re okay, though.”

Hermione looked slightly confused, but answered anyway. “Of course. It was just lunch, though it did run long. Is there something wrong?”

Brand shrugged and shifted. “Well, I was worried about Moony, too, when he wanted to go talk to the twins. I was worried that they might hurt him. But I was able to go with him. I know you can take care of yourself, but still.”

She started to speak, stopped, and rolled her eyes. “Brand. I really need to get used to that. Brand, that’s very sweet of you. You know, this is getting to be a very strange family.”

He gave her a startled look, then laughed. A knock sounded so he waved his hand at the door, opening it, then smiled as Remus and Severus arrived. “No Draco?”

“Lucius dropped by, so he might be delayed for a few minutes,” Severus explained.

“Oh.” Brand pursed his lips. “Don’t suppose you know if it was about, er. . . .”

Severus arched a brow and nodded slightly as Remus clasped his hands under his chin and cooed.

Brand shot his godfather a dark look. “Good news?”

“Actually, Brand, it’s as good as your own, surprisingly enough.”

Hermione cleared her throat loudly and crossed her arms.

“Sorry. We’re, er, talking about. . . .” Brand worried his lower lip between his teeth.

“Babies!” squealed Remus.

Brand coughed. “Perhaps we can discuss this later,” he said firmly, knowing full well that Hermione would not rest until she had the details—all of them.

Draco chose to breeze in that point with a faint smirk. “Hello, everyone. I hope I didn’t keep you waiting for too long.”

“Perfect timing! Now that you’re here we can get started, I hope.”

*

Hermione breezed into the shop, pausing only momentarily once inside to wait in annoyance for the feathers she had sprouted to shed, then walked up to the twins. “Nice. I suppose for most people, that sort of greeting would be welcome.”

The twins smirked. “It’s always a good thing to lighten your day,” Fred said cheerfully as George gestured toward the back room. “How about that lunch, then? We hope you don’t mind, but we invited Tonks as well.”

Hermione nodded as George went to lock the front door and flip the sign. “I don’t mind, though I’m not sure how exciting it will be for her to hear about my new job.”

Fred cast her a slightly shifty look before he headed for the back room, one that Hermione did not appear to have noticed. Once inside Fred began to produce food for all of them, with George to help him when he arrived and had shut the door.

“I know some of this is boring,” Hermione said as her memory self exchanged greetings with Tonks and everyone settled down to eat, “but I figured it was best to start at the beginning.”

“And who can resist seeing you as a canary?” Brand quipped, edging away from her quickly.

“So, wow, a job at the ministry,” Tonks said with somewhat overdone enthusiasm. “I bet you’re feeling really excited!”

“Oh, yes! Perhaps now I can actually get somewhere on house-elf rights,” Hermione replied in a stereotypical fashion.

Meaningless chatter occupied a good half of lunch before someone finally decided to be brave, that person being George. “Hermione, we were wondering when you first met Brand.”

She looked up and tilted her head consideringly. “I don’t know, a while back. Remus introduced us, as I said before.” A moment later, after having received blank looks she said, “I know what you lot must think of me, but it isn’t as though even I can recall the precise moment.”

Brand snickered loudly.

“Right, Remus,” said Fred. “Where was that?”

Hermione narrowed her eyes slightly. “At his house, where else?”

“Oh, nice one. Technically, the manor is my home.” Remus saluted Hermione impishly.

“You’ve visited him?”

She blinked, then nodded. “Why wouldn’t I? I’ve looked up to him since third year. Is there some particular reason you’re asking?”

The three cohorts exchanged looks, then Tonks said, “What do you think of Dumbledore? Do you have faith that he’s leading our side in the right direction?”

“Oh yes, that was the height of subtlety,” commented Draco.

Hermione gave her a long look, then said, “I, or anyone else, would have to be willfully blind to accept a person’s leadership on total faith. You know me. If it can be researched or approached from another angle, I will. Many things changed after Harry died. I still don’t understand how we could have been captured. I mean, shouldn’t there have been people on duty when Harry was outside the castle? I didn’t question it then, but I’m no longer the child I was. Having said that, why don’t you all tell me what’s really going on here? Forgive me for saying so, but either I’m excessively paranoid of late, or you three have an ulterior motive.”

Another round of looks was exchanged. “All right,” said George. “We have reason to believe that Dumbledore isn’t as, er, saintly as he appears to be. We’ve recently come to question quite a lot about him.”

“Then I would have to assume you either overheard something or have some kind of evidence to make you feel that way,” she said reasonably.

Fred reached under the table to retrieve a parchment and a book, then handed them over. Some time later Hermione looked up with a faintly disgusted expression and nodded. “I see. Then my own suspicions are not unfounded if these are to be believed. Of course, I can’t see that Remus would lie in his own journal, so this is either the truth, or a delusion based on his own warped perceptions through grief. The parchment, though, is most likely accurate. I cannot conceive of a reason for Voldemort to be so openly condescending and amused otherwise. Truth is a very powerful weapon if wielded wisely. However, if the letter is true, it supports the veracity of the journal. The logical conclusion is that Dumbledore isn’t to be trusted with the life of anyone except himself.”

“That’s sort of the conclusion we reached,” Tonks offered. “But we aren’t sure what to do.”

“Given that you still have these, I assume you didn’t show them to the headmaster?” she asked. “Or are these copies?”

Tonks shook her head. “We found them the day Remus disappeared. Or maybe the day after, I’m not sure. He’d invited us over to talk about something, perhaps what we found in the journal, but when we arrived he wasn’t there and it looked as though he’d been interrogated. The letter and journal were in plain sight.”

“We thought,” said George, “that out of everyone, you might be open to analyzing the situation before making a decision or running off half cocked.”

“What, like Ron?” Hermione inquired archly, then shook her head. “Never mind, that wasn’t a nice thing to say.”

“But true,” said Fred. “Ron may be our brother, but that doesn’t mean we can’t see his nature.”

Hermione shook her head again. “This isn’t about Ron.”

“Getting back to Brand. . . . You said he doesn’t trust Dumbledore. Do you think he can be trusted?”

Hermione smiled without reserve. “Mm, yes, I do.”

“On what basis?”

“Well, from what I’ve seen he’s the type to remain silent rather than lie, though I know he would lie if the situation absolutely called for it—rather like you not reporting these documents to Dumbledore, I’d say. He’s quite open and truthful. If he doesn’t want to answer something, he doesn’t, though.”

“You honestly think he had nothing to do with Remus’s disappearance?”

Hermione smiled again. “Do you think Remus would have introduced me to someone on the wrong side? Someone who would have gained his trust only to capture or kill him? I don’t believe that, not for a moment.”

“Well, technically, you did come willingly,” said Brand to Remus, “and I wasn’t the one who captured you originally.”

Hermione smiled smugly.

“Okay,” said Tonks, “and have you ever even seen Brand outside of Remus’s home or here at the shop?”

“Of course. I’ve been to his house and had dinner, actually. Rather a lot of his family was there as well. It was all very interesting and stimulating. Such a pleasure to find bright minds to have discourse with.”

She paused, looked at them each, then said, “If you’re that interested, I can always ask if he would invite you all to lunch or dinner one day. For the moment, though, I really need to get going. I have shopping to do. I don’t have nearly enough of the right clothing for my new job.”

“That might be nice. We’ll get back to you on that.”

*

When they emerged Brand was filled with amusement. “You did a wonderful job of being honest without telling the whole truth, sis.”

“Well,” she said modestly, “I tried to think of how you might answer.”

He chuckled and gave her a swift hug, then dropped onto the couch. “Then hopefully they’ll express interest in coming here.”

“About that. . . . Is it wise? I mean, do you think your floo address would sound suspicious?” she asked. “And a portkey would be problematic, since they’re supposed to be ministry approved.”

Severus shook his head. “Should they inquire, simply tell them that Brand is quite enamored of potions. As ashwinders lay eggs of use in them, it should suffice long enough to get them here.”

“Yes, quite enamored, so long as it’s not me making them,” Brand drawled.

“To the relief of all,” Severus rejoined with a smirk.

“Oh, hush.” To everyone he said, “Now, if they do agree to come, I shan’t be able to use glamours to hide their appearances en route to the dining room, so I’ll have to order that section cleared for a bit. It wasn’t so much of a problem with you, sis, because I hid you almost the second you arrived.”

“There are no other floo-enabled fireplaces on the estate? In order to clear the area, you’d have to tell every single person not to apparate or floo in during that period,” objected Remus.

“Er, okay. That’s a good point. I know father has one in his public study, but that’s quite a ways from either the dining room or here. It isn’t as though we could use his study on this floor since I can’t alter the wards for them without them being here, so they could never come through that way.”

“Yes, but it would be easier to clear a path from the downstairs study than to cut off all access to the travel room. And even that would be easier than having them arrive at the front door and clearing a path from there,” said Draco.

“I’ll just have to ask father’s permission to use his study briefly. I’m sure we can work something out as far as—”

“That’s great,” interrupted Hermione, “and as fascinating as this surely is, I think you really ought to move on to explaining about . . . babies?”

*

In the end they had decided to have their little meeting in Brand’s rooms. He had already locked up the outside entrance to Draco’s rooms, and his mate, Severus, and Remus were waiting there. Hermione was already seated when Brand arrived with the trio—he had paused to point out some of the architecture as he surreptitiously adjusted the wards for them—but rose immediately to greet them as Brand locked and warded the door.

“Very nice place you have, Brand,” commented Fred as he looked around the sitting room.

“Thank you. Please make yourselves comfortable while I invite in the others who will be joining us.”

“Your family?”

Brand smiled and crossed to the door to Draco’s suite, then knocked once softly and returned to settle on the couch as the door opened. “I think you know everyone,” he said mildly as startled gasps emerged from the trio.

“Remus!”

Hermione leaned over across the arm of her chair and whispered, “Are you going to ghost them this time?”

He gave a tiny nod, then smirked as Severus and Draco emerged into the room, causing more expressions of surprise.

“I don’t understand,” said Tonks, glancing at Draco, then back at Remus. “Why—?”

Remus gestured toward the available seating. “That’s very simple. And by the way, glad to see you all again. As you can see, I’m very much alive. Sorry for the subterfuge, and the grief I caused you all, but it was necessary. Had you reacted differently than you did, this meeting would not have happened. If you’d given those documents to Albus, I would have stayed dead. Since you didn’t, and you indicated to Hermione that you were willing to see another viewpoint, well . . . here you are.”

Three expressions of suspicion set in.

“I told you Brand didn’t trust Dumbledore,” Hermione pointed out. “I just didn’t admit I knew why.”

“You lied to us?”

“Of course I did. If any of you three were as blind as I used to be, why would I help you out with information like that and risk you telling the headmaster?” she countered. “You might be interested to know that Moody was the headmaster’s executioner. Remus would have been dead if he’d done as the headmaster asked, by his order.”

“Who the hell are you?” demanded George of Brand.

“Gosh, do you lot have strong hearts? I’m not sure I should say,” he said coyly. “As it happens, my name is Brand Riddle, if that means anything to you. Yes, that Riddle. Lord Voldemort is my father. And before you all go crazy and start shooting off hexes, I suggest you sit back down and listen. You already have good reason to distrust Dumbledore. We intend to convince you.”

Surprisingly, or not, it was the twins who took seats first, to either side of Remus. “If Hermione is in on this, there has to be something worth listening to,” they declared.

“Splendid! Now, if you would like to be seated, Tonks?” Brand nodded at the remaining chair and smiled. “And after we’ve all become smashingly good friends, perhaps we can have that dinner I promised.”

He was really quite pleased that Hermione’s reputation was serving them so well. Once Tonks had seated herself he said, “Then let us begin.”

Remus went first, but only after he had enjoined the three to assure themselves of his identity, as well as everyone else’s. While the others were talking Brand kept a mental eye on the thoughts of the three, making sure that they weren’t planning any heroics, and to see what they really thought of what they were hearing. Pensieves were summoned as necessary as well.

All in all, it went much like it had with Hermione, minus the veritaserum. However, as they were already disposed to distrust the mighty Dumbledore, it went much more smoothly. Smoothly enough that Brand was willing to remove the wards on his door as quietly as he had placed them.

They continued to talk through dinner and even after, right up until Hermione gave him a very pointed look and crossed her arms over her chest. Brand gave a slight sigh and reached for a pensieve, then paused. “I suppose,” he said slowly, “that I should come clean. It’s not like I’d ever get any peace if I didn’t. But before I do that, are you all in agreement?”

Fred, George, and Tonks looked bewildered. Everyone else, aside from Hermione, considered, then nodded. “So be it.” Brand dropped several memories into the pensieve and placed it back on the table. “You three might be extremely interested in these.”

He was saying, “You know, sis, you can be downright pushy at times,” as they emerged, and the comment went almost unnoticed in light of their new knowledge. The second one of them opened their mouth to speak he held up a quelling hand. “Don’t. Don’t call me that.” He lowered his hand and continued, “Now, you know the whole truth. And no matter what happens from this point, there is something I must do.”

“It won’t hurt,” piped in Hermione helpfully.

Brand glanced at her and smiled affectionately, then swiftly set coercions on all three of them, tailored to not only prevent them from referring to him by his birth name, but also to block off access to the entire evening. Whether he protected their minds with permission or not was a different matter.

“So, what’ll it be?” he prompted.

“What happens if we said this was a mistake?” asked Tonks.

“Then I obliviate you lot and send you home believing we had a mournful discussion about Remus. End of story. You’re left wondering about what happened to him, who I really am, and so forth. I hope you realize even if you were to disagree with what I’ve done that I would not hurt you.”

“And if we agreed that your way is better?”

Brand shrugged. “That’s up to you to a large degree. Obviously, Remus made his own choice, as did Hermione, but he can’t be seen in public. The old man already tried once to have him killed.”

“I plan on being a teacher,” Remus said quietly. “You, Tonks, would be at risk most being in the Order, but less so than Severus is. I’m not saying you’d have to turn spy or anything, mind you.” As an afterthought he pushed back his sleeves. “As you can see, it’s not like I was marked or anything.”

“Yes, all right, but—” Tonks paused and frowned. “I suppose that doesn’t matter either if Remus and Hermione are both here.”

“What, blood issues? Hardly. And as far as Dark Marks go, I expect that will have little meaning after a while. At the moment it’s still extremely convenient for signaling our people. I’d have to ask father about it, though, to see if they’ll be removed once we’ve furthered our goals to a certain point.”

Fred turned to Hermione and said, “Sis?”

She laughed and looked at Brand. “May I?”

He rolled his eyes. “If you must.”

She grinned and pulled over a pensieve to drop a memory into it. “Some of this is embarrassing, I admit, but it’ll explain in a far more interesting fashion than I could otherwise. It’s when I first came here for dinner.” She pushed the device toward them.

All three were grinning when they came back, at her, Brand, and Draco. Fred looked at George, then said, “Could we three have a few minutes alone to discuss this?”

“Sure,” Brand agreed. “Through that door, if you will. We’ll be waiting right here.” Once they had shuffled into Draco’s suite he said quietly, “I didn’t see a damn thing that would make me believe they’d turn against us. I expect them to come back out and agree that even if they don’t agree with everything I and father represent that Dumbledore is not to be trusted. So, completely neutral at worst, and that’s not a very bad worst.”

“I tend to agree,” said Draco, “and I was going on body language. It doesn’t help Dumbledore’s case that he’s unwilling to see their actual talents. But then, I’ve already said that, haven’t I.”

Brand made a face at him.

“And protection?” asked Severus, ever the paranoiac.

“Once they come back out. They’re not getting away from here without it whether they be neutral or supporters.”

A second later the door opened and the trio came back in. “Snape,” said Tonks, “I think I should tell you that Albus is getting suspicious of you. You knew nothing of Moody’s disappearance, or Remus’s. He’s beginning to think that either Voldemort knows you’re a traitor, or you’re deliberately holding back.”

Severus scowled and stood up to begin pacing.

“Then we’ll simply have to take care of that,” said Draco with a meaningful look at Brand.

“Yes,” he said thoughtfully. “I need to tell father, though.” He pinned the trio with a look and said, “Well?”

“We’re in, but not as marked supporters.”

“That’s fine. Excellent, in fact.” Brand snapped and ordered another round of drinks when Maer appeared, then said, “In that case, let us proceed with the protection of your minds.”

“Didn’t you already?”

“Only part way. What I did before protects this evening, but that won’t suffice in the long run. I need to make sure none of you can spill any secrets, either willingly or against your will.”

“This doesn’t hurt either,” provided Hermione.

“How did you know we wouldn’t just portkey away once we were in the other room?” asked Fred.

Brand smirked. “Because I made very sure you couldn’t before you came this evening, nor apparate, nor use the hallway door. Now, about that protection. . . .”

*

:Father?:

:Yes, son.:

:Would you like to come to my rooms? We have a slight problem.: