Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Forsaken :: 24 :: Neo

24 • Neo

Brand went off to speak with the contact students over lunch in the gardens, then returned to his suite. Draco was nowhere to be seen so he wrote out a brief note and left it on the table, then contacted his father to let him know he would be going out for a bit.

A short time later he was striding down Diagon Alley, headed toward the twins’ shop. As always he disabled the door mechanism before entering, then went straight to browsing the shelves on seeing a number of customers wandering around the shop. It wasn’t long, however, before one of the twins sidled up.

“Is there anything I can help you find?”

Brand flashed him a smile. “That depends. How’s business, by the way?”

Fred, judged so by the pattern of freckles on his nose, said, “Fine, though we get a lot less traffic during the school year. We’ve been considering hiring on help so that we have more time to work in the back.”

“You don’t do that during the summer?”

Fred nodded. “The number of students who came through here the first year was staggering, but it’s dropped off a bit since then. Still, we do have to get people in temporarily.”

Brand made a casual sweep of the shop with his eyes. “Are you two free for lunch, perhaps?”

Fred glanced over at George unerringly, then back at Brand. “I don’t see why not. We can afford to take an hour off.”

Shortly thereafter the shop was closed up and they were sitting in the work room; George had dashed out long enough to bring back something to eat. “So what’s up?” Fred asked.

“First, your rings.” Brand reached into his pocket and removed two boxes, handing one to each of them. “I have another item, but I’m not sure if I should leave it here or arrange something else.” He furrowed his brow and gave the room a thorough going-over, checking for any surprises. On finding none, he nodded, then said, “I’m really hoping that I’ll be able to speak with Tonks soon. Within the next few days, that is.”

“Did something happen?” asked George.

“You might say that. I admit, I’m not really comfortable talking about things here. Nothing bad happened. Look, if you happen to see Tonks, let her know I’m interested in the views of the elderly. And, hopefully within the next couple of days I’ll be able to invite you over again. I just need to get a few things finalized. Once I have I’ll be able to drop off a portkey.”

“I think we can manage to contain our curiosity until then,” Fred said with a grin. “But”—his expression turned accusatory—“just what the hell are you doing to our front door every time you decide to visit?”

Brand chuckled and shook his head. “You don’t really think I want to get hit by one of your pranks, do you? Besides, it annoys you, and that alone makes it worth doing.”

George rolled his eyes. “Be that way. Considering the thing has never once misfired since we set it up, we’ll always know it’s you, then.”

“Perhaps. Look, I need to go track down sis. I’ll be back in touch by Wednesday, I hope, possibly tomorrow.”

When he did eventually arrive back at the estate, Draco was sprawled on the sofa in his suite reading a book, but looked up sharply at his entrance. “I’m glad to see you’ve returned. That note of yours wasn’t very forthcoming, you know.”

Brand shrugged his outer robe off and tossed it over the back of a chair before saying, “I suppose. I dropped off the twins’ rings, gave Hermione back her necklace.”

“Remus was in here earlier. Seems he’s been keeping an eye on his map to see where everyone scurries at the school. Based on what he’s been seeing, I think we can safely expect a meeting will be in progress by this evening at the latest. If they head out, though, obviously we won’t know anything unless Tonks can fill us in.”

Brand nodded and slumped into a chair, lazily throwing one leg over an arm. “Are you up to helping me with the restricted travel room in a bit?”

*

Brand ushered everyone down the hall and into his suite, then gratefully dropped onto the couch next to Draco. “I’m really going to have to get used to you lot looking so different.” At least he could finally tell the twins apart easily; one of them sported dirty blond hair while the other had more of a caramel colour.

Tonks actually looked like a normal person for once, her hair being a colour that was actually found in nature rather than something mixed up in the laboratory of a blind person, though her eyes were a stunning shade of violet. Brand shook his head in bemusement and said, “Right, I just want to test out those disguises first, then we’ll all head down for lunch and a chat with father.”

He nodded at Draco, who proceeded to cast at each of them to assure that the disguises would hold up, both the glamours and the identities. Once Draco was satisfied, Brand rose and headed for the meeting room after alerting his father they were on their way.

Severus and Remus arrived almost on their heels, and Voldemort appeared a minute later, taking his customary seat at the head of the table. Once lunch had been delivered and everyone was set for food, Voldemort opened the meeting.

“Tonks, is there anything you are able to pass on to us? I presume that Dumbledore has called at least one meeting since Monday.”

“Yes, sir, he did. Albus is extremely agitated over the kidnapping and seems to have reversed his earlier opinion about Sn—“ She stopped and huffed, then turned to Severus. “You know, calling you Snape at this point just seems wrong.”

Severus arched a brow. “Then by all means, call me by my given name.”

Brand’s private reaction was to be nearly astonished. Severus really was lightening up of late.

She nodded and turned back to Voldemort. “Sorry. Albus has reversed his opinion on Severus being your spy, especially considering that whoever took him down used an Unforgivable to do it. Of course, with Severus gone, that means he has no spies at all, but I did not hear him say anything about sending someone out as he did with Remus.”

Voldemort nodded and glanced at Brand.

“So, there was no talk about the Death Eaters specifically?” Brand asked casually.

“I’m not sure what you mean,” she responded. “Those involved said there were at least two near the train, and a number off to the other side which seemed to be the main attacking force.”

Brand smirked slightly and said, “All right. For your information, aside from the two near the train and myself, those weren’t Death Eaters, they were illusions. It seems the plan worked out as good as I’d hoped it would.”

“If that is the case, we should be able to further my supposed death without issue, my lords,” said Severus.

“Have you made any progress on purchasing those properties, son?”

Brand shook his head. “Not really, aside from getting a much better idea of how to go about things. However, as the students are now gone and we have very little planned right at the moment, I can go out in person. I was going to ask if you would prefer I do everything aboveboard, and possibly end up paying outrageous amounts of your money, or ease things along with a bit of cheating. So long as I know what the properties are actually worth, I could offer each owner twice that amount along with a bit of mental persuasion to hurry things along.”

Hermione narrowed her eyes at him, but remained silent on whatever it was she was thinking.

“Try without first, and if they prove to be difficult, then yes. If we are to do this without loss of life or personal property, they will need to be nudged. I realize that even with such incentive, it will still take some time for them to actually leave the area, and that in itself presents some problems for us. If the Order is paying attention, they may begin to wonder just what is going on.”

“Well, I could always clear out their homes for them and make them forget how it was managed. So long as they had a key to wherever I stored things, that should be all right, wouldn’t it? That way, the Order would never realize offhand that anything had changed.”

Voldemort nodded his approval.

“If I may ask, what exactly is going to happen insofar as . . . this death . . . is concerned, sir?” asked Hermione.

“Severus will appear to have died at the hands of a werewolf. Remus, in fact, who will also show up as dead, having taken his own life in response to the murder he was forced to commit. A letter will thoughtfully be sent to the Order so that they may go collect the bodies.”

“Oh.”

“Did anything else of interest happen to come up at this latest meeting?” Voldemort asked Tonks.

She furrowed her brow, though whether in thought or confusion Brand could not tell. That is, until she said, “Well, I could be mistaken, sir, but Albus brought up Neville Longbottom several times, so I’m wondering if maybe he’s beginning to think that Harry Potter was a mistake all along.”

Brand blinked, then laughed. “I think the old man is becoming senile, father. Mind you, I’m not saying that Neville is a complete loss, because I know very well that he isn’t, but I certainly don’t ever recall you stopping by to have a chat with him, never mind leaving any marks behind of any sort. Sounds to me like Dumbledore is considering scrambling for a new figurehead to get people to rally behind.”

Voldemort snorted softly and said, “We shall have to see where he goes with that, I suppose, if anywhere at all.”

*

By the time the full moon rolled around, Brand and Voldemort had spent some time laughing over reports of Dumbledore frantically trying to find a replacement for Severus on such short notice. Eventually he had imported a fellow from France, which had made Severus snort in derision. It was his opinion that the man was little more than a poser, despite the fact that he was certified as a Potions Master. Brand, for his part, had visions of a bygone day in which Lockhart had played a starring role as the cause of his frequent frustration and embarrassment.

Dumbledore had also requested the use of aurors to guard the Hogwarts Express, both for each station and again on the train itself. The Minister of Magic was happy enough to acquiesce, and Brand thought it was a late and futile gesture on the old man’s part. After all, fear itself was a potent weapon, and killing off a mass of children was hardly going to accomplish anything of value.

In point of fact, had he wished to think in that direction, or his father, it would have made more sense to go on a killing spree of adults such that the children would no longer have adults to watch over them. Were that the case, a program of sly kindness and selective conditioning would likely result in having a huge number of children being indoctrinated into their way of thinking.

However, that was far too complicated to even bother with, and would have rankled on Brand’s policy of honesty and his thoughts on the value of life.

Voldemort had completed the two golems, as well, and the one of Severus had been placed in the room which Remus would be using for his transformation, and Remus had reiterated his intention to pretend it was actually Peter in the room with him. Brand found that once again to be inordinately amusing and badly wanted to ask his godfather if it had anything at all to do with his unspoken feelings about Severus in particular, and not Peter.

Two days before the full moon saw them all gathered in another meeting, this time with the inner circle also present, with chairs added to accommodate the additional personnel. Remus, sitting to one side of Brand, looked particularly haggard.

Voldemort opened the meeting by saying, “As you can see, we have new people with us. Like Remus, they are not an official part of our established hierarchy, and report to Brand directly. With that out of the way, this meeting is to bring all of you up to date on our current progress and plans.

“First, we will be staging the deaths of Severus and Remus in two days time. Once Dumbledore’s people are led to discover the bodies, they will no doubt confirm their conclusion that Severus was discovered as a spy for them and dealt with appropriately.

“Second, we are presently in the middle of working out the details for the destruction of Order headquarters. This will understandably take longer to finalize. Other items. . . .”

Voldemort went on to mention the squib team and the relocation team, as well as briefly touch on plans for Dumbledore’s death, and various other issues of note. As soon as everyone had been brought up to date, and any and all discussion was out of the way, he dismissed everyone, though he requested that Brand remain behind.

“What is it, father?”

Voldemort shrugged slightly and said, “Nothing of importance insofar as business goes. I’d like you to join me in my rooms so we can spend some time together, that’s all.”

Brand brightened and nodded, then followed his father up to his suite. He disdained a chair in favor of sitting on the floor next to the chair his father chose and rested his head on Voldemort’s leg, smiling directly he felt fingers thread into his hair. “I continue to be amused, father. Our hedgehogs are constantly staring at each other when the other isn’t looking, and Severus is forever showing up wherever Remus is like clockwork. As much as I wish one of them would finally make a move, I must allow that watching this circling is a great deal of fun all on its own.”

Voldemort chuckled softly. “Should I assume you have restrained yourself from interfering?”

“Of course, though it’s been very difficult. Draco keeps going off into fits of silent laughter around them. He’s had to turn away or hide his face so often that it’s a wonder neither of them have noticed that, either.”

“Not to delve too deeply,” said Voldemort, “but I did want to tell you how proud I am of your command of the situation during the kidnapping.”

“Thank you, father. You know how much your approval means to me,” he said as he wrapped an arm loosely around Voldemort’s leg.

“Brand, why do you so often sit on the floor like that with me?”

He lifted his head and twisted to glance up briefly. “I just do. It makes me feel good to be so close. I mean, I think I’m a bit old to be sitting in your lap, so this is a good compromise, don’t you think? And besides, it feels terribly nice when you play with my hair like that. Maybe I crave your affection as much as I crave your approval.” He shrugged and laid his head back down.

“Even with Draco I don’t feel like I can completely let go. There’s always that sense of needing to remain in control because of our positions. With you I never feel that way. I know that Draco would probably not think any less of me, but still. . . .” He toyed with the hem of Voldemort’s robe. “And he knows that, despite everything, I have the final say in things.”

After a bit of a pause Voldemort said, “In some ways, the relationship dynamic you describe is much like our own, except you are hardly submissive.”

“Well, no. But it would have to be something extraordinary to cause me to openly defy you. Of course, I wouldn’t exactly say that Draco is submissive, though naturally he defers to me.”

Voldemort shifted slightly, then said, “I still think you have no real understanding of what you mean to me, Brand.”

“I’m not sure I ever will. That doesn’t make you love me any less, though, does it?”

Voldemort chuckled again. “No. I do not think that possible. I will love you for eternity.”

*

Early on the morning after the full moon saw two golems being quietly delivered to the entrance hall of Severus’s manor house. The Severus golem was ripped to shreds; no part of the body had been spared, and Severus himself had donated rather a lot of blood in order to make things a bit more realistic. The Remus golem was somewhat different, however.

Remus himself had directed how that was to be handled, though he watched rather than participated, being too worn out to exert himself if not necessary. He had advocated the simple expedient of making it appear as though he had used his human fingernails and teeth to ravage his own wrists, and also provided blood himself.

Naturally, Severus had had to do a bit of work for both of them in the lab in order to bolster those quantities into amounts that made sense, doing some fancy tinkering with that taken from livestock (which ended up in the kitchens afterward for dinner at some point).

Once things were set to their satisfaction a raven was sent off to Dumbledore, timed to arrive during breakfast. The only unfortunate part was knowing that none of them could spy on the reaction there, though Brand did conceal himself at the manor, along with Draco, in order to see who would show up to investigate.

The sound of the front doors being thrown open had him and Draco stop their quiet muggle card game and cautiously glance down around the columns they were hiding behind on the first floor to see Dumbledore himself appear flanked by Tonks and Shacklebolt. She immediately clapped a hand over her mouth and looked away as Albus strode forward, stopping as he reached the cage and sighing.

“It seems I have made a grave mistake in judgment,” Dumbledore said, his voice echoing slightly as it drifted up to where they were positioned.

Kingsley stepped to his side and shook his head regretfully. “I’ve heard the stories. This had to be the worst possible thing they could have done to him, and to Remus.”

“It’s barbaric,” said Tonks crisply, apparently having recovered from her bout of squeamishness. “Dear Merlin, it looks as though Remus chewed through—ugh.”

“Neither of them has any remaining family, so it falls to us to take care of them,” said Dumbledore. “We will need to get them out of there and see to finding a decent place for them to take their final rest. We shall also have to find out if either of them left a will.”

Tonks and Shacklebolt forced open the cage door and levitated the bodies out, then draped them with sheets found in one of the rooms off to the side of the entrance hall. Brand supposed that much of the furniture was covered to keep the dust off during Severus’s extended absences, especially since there had never been any mention of house-elves in his service.

They beat a hasty retreat, however, once it became apparent that the old man had every intention of having a look around and began to ascend the main stair, gathering up the cards and using the portkeys they had waiting. On arrival in their suite at the estate they exchanged similar grins, then crossed the hall. Brand knocked on Remus’s door, then entered once he heard permission and flopped into a chair cheerfully.

Remus gave them both a tired smile and said, “So?”

“The old man showed up,” said Draco as he took a chair as well, “with Tonks and Shacklebolt. They acted exactly as we expected.” He continued on as Brand contacted Voldemort instead.

:Father?:

:Yes.:

:We’ve just got back. Let me send you my memory.: After he had done that he waited.

:Splendid. I’m feeling a bit of vindictive pleasure at the moment. Hearing Dumbledore admit a mistake is very appealing, I must say.:

Brand chuckled and responded, :I think we all are, though I’ve yet to show Remus and Severus what we saw. Draco has been explaining to Moony, though.:

:That’s another thing off our list, then. As soon as Remus is feeling recovered we will move ahead with the identity changes to ensure their protection off the estate.:

:Tomorrow I will start on the first of the people on our list to get moved, then, father. The sooner I’ve got that done, the better I will feel.:

*

Remus, in point of fact, became Rhys Varian Blake officially, and Severus took on his alias of Siorus Korbin Verdi. Brand had given Severus an amused look over the choice of a surname, but had not commented. Even so, they were still referred to by their originally given names by everyone, so it was not as though there was much confusion as a result of the changes.

In truth, it was really only to add an extra layer of protection should they leave the estate for any length of time. While it was true that there were spells which could prevent those of a location nature from finding them, it was deemed better in the long run to have an identity which was more than simply an affectation, and it was no trouble at all to have them confirmed within the ministry itself.

What was even more amusing for Brand was witnessing a determined-looking Remus (after the naming ceremonies) marching up to Severus and thrusting out one hand, then saying, “Hello, my name is Rhys Blake. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

Severus, after sporting a bemused look for several seconds, had clasped the outstretched hand and given it a firm shake, then replied, “Siorus Verdi. Likewise.”

Remus had smiled slightly and said, “What do you say we go get to know one another better? Any friend of Brand’s is a friend of mine, after all. He’s my godson, did you know?”

At that point, the two had wandered off, and it was all Brand could do to not follow them surreptitiously to see exactly what was to transpire.

*

Brand was sprawled on his couch reading a book when a knock came at the door, causing him to look up and call, “Come in,” then watch curiously as it opened to reveal Tonks. He waved her in, and to a seat, then asked, “What’s up? I wasn’t expecting you.”

“Something’s been on my mind lately and I really thought I ought to talk to you about it before I did anything potentially rash.”

Brand raised his brows, then marked his book and set it down, swinging his legs around so he could sit up properly. “Go on.”

“You know that . . . Narcissa is my aunt. Draco knows, obviously, and I’m happy that I can finally talk to my cousin without it erupting into a fight, but I can’t help but think it might be nice to reconcile with her as well, and I’d like to think that she’d be discreet—even Lucius—but I don’t know.”

“Breathing is good,” Brand said teasingly and smirked. “Look, why don’t I get Draco in here first. I should think he would know best how his parents would react to this knowledge. If he doesn’t think it’s a good idea. . . .”

When Draco arrived and had been filled in, his first comment was, “Don’t tell anyone I said this, but mother is a complete pussycat if she’s away from father.” He shot each of them a quick look, then said, “I don’t think they’d react badly at all, though I think, if you wanted to go ahead with this, that it would be better for me to invite them here for dinner one evening.

“In one of the cozier dining rooms, perhaps. You could join us for a family meal. And I’m fairly certain that the second father was out the door, mother would start cooing over you and smothering you with welcoming hugs and all that rot. If you’d prefer, though, I could just invite mother for lunch, and worry about father later on. It’s up to you.”

“You know, I think that’d be nice, Draco. And forgive me for saying so, but your father is a wee bit intimidating. I’d probably end up flinging food all over the place out of nervousness. Could we start with lunch, then?”

Draco nodded and flashed her a smile. “All you need to do is pick a day and I’ll set things up.”

*

Brand, having successfully taken care of the issue of housing with Draco’s able assistance—there was certainly something to be said for the sheer amount of charm his mate was able to produce—he informed his father that they could move ahead at any time regarding Order headquarters.

“Aside from the obvious,” he said, “I also made sure that the normal routine—visible, that is—is being kept. By that I mean the lights come on in those homes at the normal hours, the curtains are drawn, and all manner of fiddly things that may or may not be noticed.”

“Excellent work, son. Then all we need do is arrange a very muggle accident that will take out that entire area. I would suggest that we plant a few seeming bodies, much as we did when we handled the issue of Severus and Remus. That way, the muggle authorities and news people will not be reporting on the coincidental oddity that no one seemed to be home at the time.”

Brand nodded. “Of course, father. The less suspicion there is, the better. The old man will be wondering who he pissed off to be receiving such bad luck of late. At any rate, the twins got their hands on schematics of the systems in that area—gas, electric, and so on. Considering that it’s appallingly easy to get down into the tunnels under the city, I don’t see why we can’t make it seem as though a leak occurred, and some nameless person inadvertently set off an explosion.”

“Wouldn’t that take out rather more than we were after, traveling outward along the lines?”

“Not necessarily. There are safety cutoff valves that are supposed to confine damage to smaller areas. Whether or not they work properly is another matter, but I can go down and make sure of it.”

Voldemort nodded. “Then whenever you’re ready, execute the plan.”