Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Forsaken :: 22 :: Solutions & Problems

22 • Solutions & Problems

Voldemort swept in after a brief knock of politeness, closing the door behind him with a wave of his hand as he moved forward to take a seat in the chair vacated by Severus. “Good evening, everyone. What seems to be the problem, Brand?”

“According to Tonks, the old man is getting suspicious of Severus. Apparently we were mistaken when we thought the status quo would suffice. Not being able to provide information about either Moody or Remus is working against him. I’m worried that the old man will try to have him taken out.”

Voldemort nodded and turned his attention to Severus. “What are your thoughts on this?”

“I think it might be time for me to die, my lord,” Severus said, ignoring the gasps from the newcomers to continue, “Lord Brand has already broached the subject with me as you know, and I think with careful consideration that we can come up with a plan to forward one of our heretofore unworkable ideas at the same time.”

“Ah, yes, that one. Very well, Severus. But, which would you prefer? That the old man believes you died because you were found out, or because it was an act of a desperate man?”

“My lord, I think I would prefer to die a martyr. Either way, I would need time to clear out anything of value from my home and bring it here before proceeding. I have already established a new vault under an alias and managed to do quite a bit of creative maneuvering with my finances.”

“As you wish, though I am certainly willing to compensate you for the loss of your name and position, Severus.”

“I am grateful, my lord.”

“As soon as you give me the details of your new identity I will make sure our people in the ministry insert the appropriate records to support it. Any ideas, then?”

Brand said first, “Tonks, twins, we’re talking about the destruction of where Sirius grew up. After all, he hated the place. I’m quite sure he wouldn’t mind.”

“What of the innocents in the surrounding area?” asked Hermione. “If whatever you come up with isn’t limited strictly to that place. . . .”

“Well, it is true that if Severus wants to die as a so-called good guy, it makes things more difficult,” said Remus. “There has to be a way that civilians, so to speak, could be evacuated prior to anything we did. And, if I may point out, we don’t have to use magic directly. Isn’t it true that the ministry encourages muggles to think that it was always a mundane problem? Anarchists, problems with the sewers, and so on?”

“I can think of two things immediately.” Everyone turned their gaze on Hermione. “A leak from one of the gas mains, or a blackout. That would force muggle authorities to call for an evacuation of the area, especially for the former, but the latter would mean it would be unlikely that workers were in the immediate area to get in the way.”

“True, but workers could be dealt with fairly easily. It is August, though, so there’s a good chance people would voluntarily leave due to lack of relief from the heat. Even so, with either idea, I have to point out that some people would categorically refuse to evacuate. It’s a fairly old neighborhood, as well, and for all we know, some people have generators, or even gas masks left over from World War II.”

“If we only take out the one residence, then I would say a blackout,” said Voldemort. “However, to do it that way would mean Dumbledore would know it was more than coincidence, as very few people can enter. With a leak, we could conceivably blow up part of the area and take the building out at the same time.”

“And destroy all those people’s homes, sir?” Hermione objected. “Their belongings? Yes, most would likely have insurance, but . . . some things just can’t be replaced.”

“Including lives, Miss Granger, but I see your point,” he replied pensively.

“Speaking of which, whatever happened to my cloak?” Brand asked. “And Hedwig? I know it says some horrible things about me that I’m only now asking, but. . . .”

“The, er, Order uses it,” supplied Tonks. “But, I think it could be conveniently lost on a mission if you could arrange something.”

“Ginny has Hedwig,” said George. “Everyone seemed to have the idea she ought to, for reasons which I find vastly amusing at this point.”

Brand sighed and tipped his head back. “All right. I guess as long as she’s being treated well. Photo album?”

“I’m sorry, Brand, but I have that. I forgot. I’ll make sure you get it as soon as I can figure out which box it’s in,” Remus said in embarrassment.

“Father, there seems to be two issues here. How Severus dies, and the other plan. The first is as easy as leaving a seeming body in his manor with another of those delightfully nasty notes, but that doesn’t help with the house. I very much doubt Severus is any more susceptible to the imperius curse than I am, and even if he was, it would be pointless as no one would be there to witness his supposed destruction of the building to report back to the old man. He could show up looking like he’s at death’s door and implore whoever was there to get Dumbledore, then conveniently die in the meantime, but again, it would look odd if the building went up when he was supposedly alone.”

“The location isn’t really that big of a deal,” Fred said. “All anyone would have to do is follow Order members around and wait until they start seeing them disappear into thin air with no signs of apparation or spell casting, right? Now, if you were to do something really sneaky like purchase the properties surrounding it. . . . Well, you could actually blow the place up without any loss of life, and have Snape’s body appear at his manor with that note you mentioned.”

Brand blinked, then grinned.

“Very interesting, Mr Weasley. I think with some discreet investigation and a generous application of wealth that your idea could work nicely.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“I agree. It’s certainly possible that we’ve been spying on the area for some time, and this would fit in with our current tactics, father.”

“Then that is what we will do. Severus, I’m sure you can write another of those delightfully nasty notes, as Brand puts it, for me to look over. You will let me know once you’ve retrieved what you need from your manor. Brand, I want you to talk with Remus about muggle housing issues as he owned one himself, and see about the purchase of those properties. Since we can communicate directly, you can negotiate with me aware of the process. Just make sure that you check on trends in the area and such, though stubborn people would require more incentive.

“We need to move quickly on these issues as we are almost into the new school year. Frankly, I would like to put Dumbledore into the position of having to scramble to find a replacement for Severus, and I don’t think he would wait very long before finding a way to arrange your death anyway, or a trip to Azkaban. He may have waited with Remus, but I do not want to take the risk that he will hesitate a second time. The destruction of the house isn’t quite as urgent.”

Voldemort paused, then turned his gaze on the twins. “I realize that you two are primarily tricksters, but I’m quite sure after all that I’ve heard that you can be a great deal more than that. Even if you cannot actually do something you suggest, the more individual and unique viewpoints we have, the more of a possibility we can devise a way to do something. After all, you saw something none of us had considered and it should have been obvious.”

He turned to Tonks and said, “I will not demand that you return Order information to us, but if you would be so kind, that would be of great assistance. As it is, no one seems to have access to Dumbledore’s plans. Not even Moody did, so whatever you can pass on. . . .” Voldemort shrugged slightly.

“Sir, what about our identities?” asked George.

“That is up to you. If you would prefer to remain under an alias while here that can be arranged. Brand has devised and tested a method by which a person can be disguised automatically on arrival at this estate. If you would prefer that, you would be introduced by whatever names you wished, as necessary.”

“It works wonderfully,” said Hermione, then demonstrated by getting her necklace. “I don’t have to wear it properly for it to work as you can see, and if I’m off the estate I look like myself.”

“Let Brand know your decision. I have some things to do before I retire, so I’ll take my leave,” he said as he rose. “Good evening, everyone. Son, please meet me for breakfast.” Then he departed.

“Wow,” said Tonks. “He was so . . . nice.”

“I’ll be sure to tell father you thought so,” Brand said playfully. “Just a note in case you aren’t entirely sure. Whenever father is around, be polite and call him sir. He’d be furious at the lack of respect otherwise, especially if there are others around. Generally speaking, I’m called my lord or Lord Brand, but it really depends on who you are. Moony can get away with calling me Brand simply because I’ve named him my godfather, but. . . . Well, let’s just say that you should probably say sir around others lest people start getting suspicious as to who I really am. The only people who know are father, obviously, and those in this room.”

“And the Death Eaters think he found you under a cabbage leaf?” asked George.

Brand snickered. “The point is, father doesn’t punish people without a reason, and a lack of respect is one of those things. Look at it this way. You might not like have liked Fudge, but to his face you would have called him sir or minister, right? In any case, Death Eaters can wonder all they like about where I came from, but their curiosity won’t be satisfied. It might not undermine father’s authority seeing as how it would be considered quite a coup, but he knows I really don’t want that kind of attention.”

“Yes, yes, we get the point. We’ll be all proper and such.” Fred flapped his hand dismissively. “I think that we—”

“—should go by aliases,” finished George as Fred nodded.

“If you do that during meetings, everyone will know who you are,” said Brand with a smirk. “You need to tell me what you want for a key, so to speak, or provide something, and some kind of description for your fake appearances.” He gave them a steady look and added, “Not twins.”

They sighed dramatically. “You think that would be too obvious?” teased Fred. “Seriously, though, that’s fine. I guess it doesn’t really matter what it is, so long as it can be easily hidden. It wouldn’t take much to figure things out if Forge and I were walking around outside with custom work cloak pins that people would recognize.”

“Obviously,” said Brand dryly. “Might I suggest a navel piercing?”

George gasped in mock horror and said, “And defile our perfect bodies? Never!”

“Besides, mum would go spare if she ever saw them. You know how she gets over Bill.”

“Mm. Well, I doubt you two are the type for anklets. So, armbands, neck chains. . . .”

The twins exchanged a mischievous look. “Actually, we each wear a toe band. You could use those. I sincerely doubt we’d walk around here barefoot any time soon.”

Brand wrinkled his nose consideringly. “They’re not magical in any way?”

“Nope. Bought them in a muggle shop.”

“That sounds fine, then. You’ll have to give them up for at least a day. It takes me a little while to get the wards to recognize something and provide the glamour in response. Until I know they’re functioning properly you’ll have to floo in via father’s study, but after that, and you’ve been introduced, I can show you the travel room.”

He turned to Tonks and said, “You’ve been awfully quiet.”

“I’m sorry, I think I’m still surprised at how nice he was. It’s just so . . . strange.” She shook her head as though clearing it. “Disguise, please, but I can handle that aspect myself. Still, if it’s a glamour, couldn’t anyone here spell past it?”

Brand shook his head lazily. “The estate wards are quite peculiar. I suppose the easiest way to explain it would be to say that glamours are automatically canceled when someone enters it’s boundaries, so what I’m doing is keying in very specific exceptions. No one ever checks for them, since it’s well known and tested that glamours can’t be used here.”

He paused, then said, “Well, that’s not entirely accurate. Father and I can get past that since we control the wards, but no one else. If someone did try to check, nothing would happen because the wards hold control of the glamour, such as I’ve already arranged for Hermione. Now, if someone who didn’t know how to get here got hold of one of the items, it would be pretty useless except as jewelry, and if they altered the item in any way, it would be totally useless. On the other hand, it has the drawback that each item would work for anyone who had it on them. I could bond them to you, but then they’d be obviously magical and I’m not sure I want that.”

“All right. Then how do you know if people are trying to sneak into the estate, like Remus?”

“Two things. The wards do alert security if someone unmarked enters the boundaries. Border patrols are messaged and they investigate, which is how Remus was caught originally. The travel room, however, is handled a bit differently, since that’s how most people arrive, and often that includes children and other unmarked people, such as spouses. There are guards watching that room constantly. If the people entering are known, like Remus, they’re ignored. I’ve had to bypass that briefly when Hermione has come in.”

“Polyjuice?”

Brand grinned. “That, actually, was a fairly recent change. Once Moony explained how the Marauder’s Map worked, we set the guard room up with a very specific version of one. Prior to that, well . . . I believe they used identity spells before the door was released. On a related note, since you three floo’d in using father’s study, the guards were alerted, but had no idea who you were. And since I had already told them to expect three unknowns, they did not send anyone to investigate on my word and order.”

Fred and George grinned, but Tonks looked confused. “Map?”

Remus started to rise, but Brand waved him back down and forced his own map into the visible spectrum for everyone else. “This kind of map, except the one the Marauders made was on parchment. As you can see, this shows everyone at Hogwarts, though my version can do a few tricks.”

Once the twins finished babbling Brand added, “Obviously, I’m going to have to do something about the one the guards use. The map doesn’t lie, but we can force it to make exceptions as well, or fool it. Otherwise, father might start to get annoyed if we take over his public study for floo purposes and keep annoying the guards with requests to stand down. Though”—he furrowed his brow—“I think I can make the wards see the items as akin to a Dark Mark so the guards wouldn’t get pinged. But that wouldn’t solve the problem of a bored guard watching the map they have and spotting something they shouldn’t. It’s bad enough I’ve already forced the guards several times to turn a blind eye to a certain arrival and departure. I expect they’re damn curious at this point.”

Remus cleared his throat. “I don’t think tweaking the map will be all that difficult, but you have to remember that if we four could make one back at sixteen or seventeen, anyone could figure it out and make their own. There’s still going to be the chance that secret identities could be revealed.”

Brand sighed and nodded. “It’s so like you to complicate things further. Well, all right. I’ll simply have to ask permission for you lot to use a different floo or to set up a restricted travel room. Either way, you’ll still need to wear something, Tonks, simply for that purpose.”

“I know we opted for disguises, but if people’s minds are protected, why bother?” asked George.

Draco let out a groan and covered his eyes.

“Because despite the fact that 99.9% of father’s people are fully on board, there’s always the odd one out who throws a wrench into the works. About a year after I was presented as father’s heir I ran across one such twit at a social gathering here. He was quite happily telling a rather nervous chap all about how I was, er, revolting for being homosexual. In my hearing, that is. Silly fool didn’t even realize I was standing behind him,” Brand explained.

“He’s dead, isn’t he,” stated Fred.

Brand gave a curt nod. “The fact that Hermione is a muggle-born might cause another one like that to rise up and become a nuisance. It is true that no one has openly questioned the fact that Remus is here, though.”

“And when was the last time you did any ghosting?” asked Severus.

“I try to do so once a week, often more frequently, but it does get tiring. Sometimes I get so sick of all this. I hate being dishonest, but I can’t let any of you get hurt, either, and I can’t go killing everyone who disagrees with unity despite origin. Why the hell people have to be so damned bigoted—!”

Draco sat up quickly and said, “Brand, I think it might be nice if you went and drew a bath for yourself. I’m quite sure one of us can answer any remaining questions in your stead.” He placed a soothing hand on Brand’s knee and tilted his head.

Brand leveled a narrow look at him in response, then stood and moved to his bedroom door. “You’re probably right. I trust all four of you with this, though I would prefer you joined me, Draco. Fred, George, even if you can’t decide on an appearance tonight, don’t worry. I can visit you at the shop. I’m really glad you all came, and that you understand and are with me, but I am feeling rather poorly at the moment. If you’d like to stay the night, Remus or Severus can make arrangements and explain about this floor. Good night.” He turned and stepped through without waiting for any kind of a response.

As Draco stepped through behind him he heard a hushed, “What the hell was that all about?” Then Draco closed the door and dragged him off toward the bathroom.

*

“Now tell me, son, why was I sensing such odd things last night?” Voldemort asked as Brand took a seat.

He bit his lip and sighed. “I just got a little frustrated. One of the twins asked why the need for disguises and it set me off a bit. Not at them, but at the need for it at all. I suppose possibly also because I was tired from setting up the protections. Draco, in his infinite wisdom, practically pushed me into the bedroom at that point, probably afraid I’d do something silly. That’s on top of all the hijinks I’m going to have to do to keep their identities a secret in the first place. I can’t very well keep ordering the guards to look the other way when one of them needs to visit.”

“And your solution?”

“Several things. I can alter the wards to see those disguise items as Dark Marks so the guards aren’t alerted. I’ll also add certain exceptions to the travel room map, but that can be gotten around if people make a new copy. Now, those items could be a huge liability if someone else got their hands on one, so I think it’s best if they always enter the estate using your public study or for me to create a restricted travel room.”

After taking a deep breath he continued, “The problem with your study is that it would inconvenience you, and we’d have to leave it open, which isn’t such a thrilling idea, even though it’s normally password-protected.”

“I must say I agree with that assessment. You have permission to set up a restricted travel room, but I expect that one of you will always keep an eye on it, the location is protected by coercion or other means, and whatever else you can think of. If it’s on the third floor, that’s fine, just preferably not near my rooms.”

“Of course, father, and thank you.” Brand abandoned his breakfast and moved to kneel by his father. “I feel kind of bad, actually. I haven’t spent much time with you lately. I feel like I’ve been neglecting you.”

Voldemort shifted and smiled fondly, reaching out to run his fingers through Brand’s hair. “Perhaps we should set up a regular time for us, then. I admit, I miss our time together. That is, time not spent on making decisions and having meetings.”

“It’s just, family is so important, and now there are so many of you, and. . . .”

“I understand, son,” Voldemort said gently, “and I know it must be difficult with so many choices where once you had none.”

Brand dropped his head onto his father’s leg and mumbled, “I’m sorry,” even as he knew his father would probably roll his eyes in response. Still, he really did feel rather wretched about being torn in several directions at times.

He heard a soft chuckle, then, “I can see why Draco urged you out of the room last night. I think he’s good for you. You chose wisely.”

Brand lifted his head and aimed a faintly sheepish look at his father. “Yes. He’s quite good, especially at forcing me to see certain things, and in making sure I don’t act stupidly.”

“Not that you were especially prone to it to begin with after you came here, but I would still agree. Brand, if you keep this up, I’m going to think I need to cuddle you on my lap before you’ll continue eating,” Voldemort teased.

Brand jerked back and grimaced, though secretly the idea didn’t entirely repulse him. It might be rather interesting, at that, and most likely an entirely different feeling from cuddling with Draco. “Perhaps, father. After all, it’s not like I was ever able to when I was younger. But you’re right, I am hungry.” He stuck out his tongue childishly and stood, then reclaimed his seat and his silverware.

Voldemort smirked insolently. “So, what’s the latest gossip on our two moths?”

Brand laughed softly and said, “Moths, huh? More like hedgehogs, I’d say. I’m fairly certain Remus is interested, but it’s so hard to tell with Severus. He’s really lightened up, though, and seems to spend quite a bit of time in his company. I think he’s even more clueless than I usually am, and that’s saying a lot.”

*

“No, they were told that you would have to be the one to explain in detail if you chose to. None of them felt it was right to reveal without your permission that you specifically killed that man.”

Brand nodded. “All right. Did they spend the night?”

“Yes, but they’ve already gone. The twins left their rings behind, and Tonks said she’d provide something shortly. Hermione will be an issue with the wards until you can handle it, though. Now, are you feeling better? You’d already left by the time I awoke.”

“I’m sorry, but you were sleeping quite peacefully, so I didn’t wake you when I went to have breakfast with father. He cheered me up quite nicely. Father has also begun arranging for a golem to serve as Sev’s corpse, so that’s on track. As soon as he’s ready and that note is approved, we can move ahead.”

“Wonderful. And, as most of the students are leaving today, perhaps we can take a break from all this scheming and work and enjoy the day outside?”

Brand wrinkled his nose, though not because he was adverse to the idea. “I’m going to feel guilty if I don’t spend some time talking with Remus regarding a crash course on real estate. Maybe we could invite him outside for a chat for at least a bit? I promise that tomorrow you’ll have me all to yourself if you like. But Monday we have to deal with the contact—”

“Oh dear.”

“Yes, that rather sums it up, doesn’t it. They aren’t going to be very useful with no one to report to.” Brand flopped onto the couch and buried his face in his hands. “Someone please stop the world, I’d like to get off this ride for a while.”

“Is this another one of those muggle things?” Draco asked in a suspicious voice.

“Something like that. Well, there’s not much hope for it. It’s too late for anyone to be trained to take Sev’s place and have a hope of being the one hired in his place. They’re simply going to have to write letters to their parents in code. Hang on.”

:Father?:

:Brand?:

:If Severus isn’t at the school, the contacts have no one to report to.: He was quite sure his weary tone came through clearly. :Letters in code to their parents?:

:It would be less suspicious. I will speak to their parents, you deal with the contacts. Unfortunately, I do not have a spare Potions Master hidden up my voluminous sleeves. Now, go enjoy your day.:

:Yes, father.:

Brand rolled his eyes slightly and grabbed Draco by the hand. “Let’s go bug Remus.”

“All right, but are we making wagers on how long before Severus just happens to stumble over us unexpectedly?”