Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Forsaken :: 26 :: Divergence

26 • Divergence

She did not arrive until the next evening. Brand had been on his way to his suite when he sensed an alarm going off, and smoothly diverted to the restricted travel room and stepped inside. “Hello, Tonks. Have you eaten yet?”

She shook her head. “No. Actually, I was hoping I could scrounge a meal while I was here. After all, it certainly beats cooking for myself.”

Brand grinned and nodded. “It’s just about dinnertime anyway, so that’s fine. How about we go to my rooms, and afterward we can talk business.”

It was only a short walk and they were ensconced at Brand’s small table within a couple of minutes, at which Draco joined them. Once food had been delivered, Brand exchanged a look with his mate, then turned his gaze on Tonks. “Something a bit odd happened to me yesterday, Tonks, and strangely enough, it also concerns you.”

She gave him a slightly wary look and set her silverware down.

“It’s nothing bad,” he assured her, “and you may or may not be surprised by this. To make a long story short, Lucius is aware of your identity.”

Tonks slumped a bit and let out a gusty sigh. “I just get too nervous around him.”

“Perhaps. In any case, it came up when he apparently came to some sort of a decision about me. As it turns out, he’s figured out who I used to be, and your identity was one of the things that helped him arrive at that conclusion.”

She gave him a wide-eyed look, though whether it was fear or mere surprise he couldn’t tell. “It’s all right,” he said. “I may not be all that happy about this, but as father put it, even if I had obliviated him, Lucius would likely have managed to figure it out a second time. I just hope more don’t follow his reasoning, or even notice anything out of the ordinary. In any case, I didn’t think it would be very fair if I neglected to let you know.”

“Does that mean Aunt Narcissa knows, too?” she asked, then retrieved her utensils and started to eat.

Brand shook his head as Draco said, “No. Father didn’t speak of his suspicions to anyone. If you want, I’ll include him in that lunch we have scheduled already, but otherwise I’ll hold off until you’re ready to see both of them together. As I said before, mother is a pussycat when she’s not doing the whole routine.”

Tonks heaved another sigh and set down her fork long enough to scratch her forehead. “I think,” she said slowly, “that just your mother at first is better. She can talk to Lucius if she likes and see how he reacts. It would still be simpler to see her here, though, since I don’t fancy the idea of heading to Malfoy Manor, even in disguise, or even meeting her in public. While I’m not sure of how many people are watching your family, Draco, I’d rather not take any chances.”

“That’s fine.”

The remainder of dinner was taken up with inconsequential talk—certainly nothing to do with business matters—though Brand did relent long enough to mention that his father had finally decided on a place to relocate to. It was only once they had all sat back in replete satisfaction that the subject of the last Order meeting was broached.

Tonks immediately pulled a small vial from her robes and placed it on the table. “I stored a copy of my memory, just in case.”

Brand smiled in surprise. “I was going to ask if you thought a memory would be better, but you’ve anticipated me.”

“I think you’ll find parts of it interesting,” she said with a nod. “Though, as much as I hate to say it, I do actually need to get going. It’s my night for Order duty. Albus is still concerned that the Grangers will be attacked.”

“Why is that?”

She made a slight face and shrugged. “He seems to think now that the attack has been called off, it would be the perfect time for Voldemort’s forces to actually do it anyway, possibly thinking that the Order would have relaxed their guard and they’d be easy prey.”

“Heh. Well, all right. I hope you have a book handy, then,” Brand said teasingly.

Once she was safely on her way Brand contacted Voldemort. :Father, Tonks dropped off a memory of the last Order meeting for us to look at. I don’t know who you’d like to be present, though obviously, I am slightly concerned with blowing her cover here, as very few of the inner circle know who she is.:

:Yes, Brand, I am well aware of that.:

:Well, let it not be said that I am not exceptionally good at stating the obvious.:

A sense of amusement came, then, :I will limit this to those who know. It will be a few minutes before Lucius can respond to a summons, so go ahead and inform Severus and Remus, and assemble in the meeting room.:

:As you wish, father.: Brand swept the vial off the table and retrieved a pensieve from one of the cupboards, then snapped his fingers. “Maer, please let Severus and Remus know to come to the meeting room.” Then he turned to Draco and said, “Let’s go.”

*

“Everyone, please settle down. I would like to get started,” Albus said in a gently commanding voice. A minute later he nodded and said, “Now, a report, please, on the destruction of headquarters.”

Hestia Jones straightened and cleared her throat, then said, “It appears to be coincidence, Albus. I spent quite some time lurking about, listening to the emergency workers, and investigating on my own. A minimum of twelve people were killed in the explosion, which was caused by a leak in one of the gas mains in that area. In fact, it did not take long before the muggles discovered what looked to be an encampment in one of the tunnels under the city.”

“Yes, what about it?”

“It appears that someone was using the tunnels as a shelter based on the evidence uncovered by the fire brigade’s investigators. Pieces of badly rusted pipe were recovered, and it was clear that whoever had decided to live down there had set up some kind of campfire. Obviously a bad decision given the results.”

“And why is it that only that area was affected?”

“Muggles have safety devices down there to prevent the spread of this sort of thing.”

Albus nodded and stroked his beard absently. “So you saw nothing which would lead you to believe that this was somehow a plan of Voldemort’s?”

“I’m sorry, but no. I suppose it is possible that it was, but there was nothing to suggest it, and it would mean that Voldemort has stepped beyond his prior tactics and has started to look at muggles ways in a slightly different light. At any rate, I’m not sure I see how he could have known where headquarters was in order to target it.”

Albus’s brow creased in thought for a moment before he shook his head. “The same way we figured out where their headquarters is, Hestia. Or at least what we presume is their headquarters. And while it may be that that property is merely a transfer point, Remus was able to bring back word from there, so I suppose it could be both.”

“And what about that?” asked Dedalus. “What stops us from spying that place out from a reasonable distance and figuring out how to destroy it?”

“For one thing, we do not know what a reasonable distance is,” Albus said patiently. “Remus was not anywhere that he thought was dangerous at the time he overheard the plans to attack the Grangers, and yet, they obviously must have realized he had been there. There is no other reason I can think of why they would have tracked down where he lived in order to capture and interrogate him.”

Albus paused and played with his beard again, seemingly lost in thought. “We will continue our surveillance of the Granger property,” he eventually said. “I am not convinced they are no longer in danger. We should not relax our guard simply because the attack did not occur as scheduled. It may be that Voldemort believes we will turn to other matters and use that opportunity to strike when we are not expecting it.”

He paused again, this time to glance up and down the table, then said, “Kingsley, you will take watch this evening. Tonks, you will tomorrow evening. I will work out a schedule shortly and alert those of you concerned. In the meantime, we need to be on the lookout for another place to call home. While it may be true that the current Minister of Magic is nothing like the late Cornelius Fudge, I would prefer to keep Hogwarts out of this conflict as much as possible.”

“Albus, what are we to do now that Snape is dead?” Arthur asked. “Our only spy has been killed.”

Albus peered at Arthur over the rims of his spectacles, then said, “That is a very good question, Arthur. However, the answer is not so easy, nor is finding a replacement. You are aware that Severus came to me of his own free will. I somehow doubt that I shall be entertaining Lucius Malfoy in my office next week on the exact same matter.”

“Yes, but—”

“But? If you know of any Death Eaters who are wavering in their views, Arthur, I would like to believe you would have told me by now. As it is, I also somehow doubt that you will be volunteering for the job, nor offering any of your children for the task.”

“Albus!” exclaimed a rather shocked Molly.

“Forgive me, Molly. I am merely trying to make a point. Voldemort would surely kill anyone who attempted such a feat, being far more cautious now with the advent of Severus’s death. I am quite certain that he screens recruits into his ranks with extreme care at this point, and I would not be surprised if he has begun interrogations of his existing people to assure himself that there are no others likely to betray him. In converse, I also would be wary were a Death Eater to approach me and profess a desire to atone for their sins at present.

“Severus survived due to his mastery of Occlumency, his cunning, and his sheer determination to endure anything in order to bring us back whatever information he could. Unless something extremely fortuitous happens, I do not foresee another like him gracing our doorstep. And at that, in order for it to be a member high enough up to do us any real good, it would likely take a miracle. Nevertheless, you may be sure that should it happen, the person in question would be subjected to intense questioning under veritaserum.”

“Why can’t we use Snape’s place? He don’t need it no longer.”

Albus cast a somewhat reproachful look down the table at Dung. “Do you not think it unwise to use a property that Voldemort is very much aware of, and might miss were it to suddenly vanish into thin air?”

“I’m jest saying,” Dung continued callously. “S’not like he left a will, an’ them muggle repelling charms’ll keep that lot away from it. It’s jest gonna go to waste like it is, an’ I can’t see ole snake face caring ‘bout it.”

“I do not believe it to be a wise choice,” Albus said firmly. “We shall look elsewhere.”

“Bastard prob’ly stripped it of anythin’ decent before we ever got there,” Dung muttered, then whipped out a knife and began cleaning under his nails with it.

Albus’s jaw tightened for a split second, but he otherwise did not react. “Let us move on.”

Unfortunately, the remainder of the meeting was quite boring, not to mention lacking in anything of substance. Brand turned to Severus and said, “Are they always like that? I honestly don’t see how they get anything done.”

“Dumbledore is not a man who easily shares power, my lord, or information. In any case, that was not atypical for an Order meeting.”

Brand cast a quick look at Remus, who shrugged slightly and nodded, then sat down and gazed at his father.

“Son, given the apparent success of that particular plan, you might wish to consider handing out the odd reward,” Voldemort said with a brief arch of his brow.

Brand thought about that for a second, then nodded. He couldn’t imagine offhand what either of the twins might like, but he could always ask, he supposed. And for that matter, he could also ask Hermione and Tonks.

“Severus, Remus, what are your thoughts on the fate of the Order once Dumbledore is dead?”

“Aside from chaos, my lord? It is my opinion that Minerva would be tapped to take over, though I expect she would lean heavily on Arthur and Kingsley, and I have serious doubts as to her overall effectiveness.”

“I tend to agree, sir,” said Remus. “Though Moody might have been the most likely successor, as Albus at least shared some of his plans with him.”

“I could wish that we had a way to know beyond question what the old man’s plans are, but I do not see offhand a way to accomplish that,” Voldemort stated.

“Well, father, that assumes he actually has any, or does more than think of them to himself. It is possible that once he’s dead, efforts against us will completely collapse, and we can sit back for a short holiday, then focus on relocating and whatnot. Personally, it seems to me that since we killed his only sure hope of victory that he’s not done much of anything except look venerable. Well, aside from arranging for the odd person or two to be killed.

“If the prophecy I was shown was real, then his chatter about Neville is complete tripe. And while people may like to believe that you’re afraid of the old man, we know that to be as ridiculous as the idea of me taking up underwater basket weaving as a hobby. What is he hoping for? Another prophecy to suddenly erupt from that old bat’s mouth?”

Remus looked at him sharply, then said, “Perhaps your little friend might be able to help?”

Brand blinked at him. Little friend? “Dobby?”

Remus shrugged. “He did rather adore Harry Potter.”

“Setting that aside for the moment,” Voldemort interjected, “when was the last time you winnowed through the minds of our people, son?”

Brand did a slight double take, then said, “A few days ago, father. Are you concerned about what the old man said?”

Voldemort snorted softly. “Not exactly, though it never hurts to have an eye out for such thoughts. It simply brought to mind that you should, perhaps, expand your focus to also test the prevailing sentiments regarding some of your more radical ideas. As I do not necessarily expect it to be much longer before we do, in fact, move ahead with the old man’s death, it would be wise to know before we begin to build just who may need to be set aside based on their unsuitability.”

Brand nodded in understanding and drummed the table surface with his fingers. “Then I would request another gathering be held for all. I might not end up being much of a host, though, father, but I could check all of them that way rather than waiting for times when they arrive for other reasons, or going out to track them down individually.”

“So be it. Now, getting back to the earlier topic. . . . This house-elf mentioned?”

Brand looked at Lucius for a few seconds, then turned his gaze back to his father and said, “Given Dobby’s devotion and adoration for Harry Potter, he might prove to be useful. Obviously, I do not know who takes care of Dumbledore’s office and private quarters, but the possibility exists that he may be able to assist us in some way, though that assumes someone can figure out a reasonable way to approach him. Also, he is a free elf and I openly admit that I understand very little of. . . .”

He rubbed his face with both hands, then folded them on table. “He is beholden to no one, and if he were to be approached, and decided that we were evil, it may well be that he would go straight to Dumbledore. I know of no way offhand to contain a house-elf against his will. Not a free one, anyway.”

Remus reached over to touch his arm gently, then said, “And what of the fact that Dobby knew, somehow, how to find you originally? Is it possible that he knows, er, the truth?”

Brand shook his head and raised a hand to massage his temples. “Look. Everyone in this room knows who I used to be. Please just. . . .”

“Is it possible that Dobby knows you aren’t dead?” Remus rephrased, then added, “And if it is, and he does know that, isn’t it interesting that it appears he’s never told anyone?”

:Brand? Do we need to adjourn for now?:

:I’m sorry, father. This is just very awkward under the circumstances. Please be patient with me.:

:If you’re sure. We’ll continue, then.:

Brand swept his hand back and through his hair, leaving it to rest on his neck. “I don’t know. And I’m not sure—“ He closed his eyes for a moment, then looked toward Remus and Severus. “A stupid question, perhaps, but, to your knowledge, did Dumbledore ever reveal the prophecy?”

“No, my lord.”

“Then why is he still at this? What possible hope does he have? Is what I was shown somehow a fake? Altered in some way? I know that woman can actually speak prophecy. I’ve witnessed it firsthand. If I’d had half a brain that night I would never have—” He cut off and shook his head. “I suppose that’s beside the point.” He looked up at his father and sent, :Am I seeing intrigue where there is none? I simply do not understand.:

Voldemort arched a brow, then smiled faintly. :It is possible that the old man believes exactly that, Brand, that I am afraid of him.: Out loud he said, “I see no reason not to consider the idea of getting this Dobby to assist. I am quite sure if one of you comes up with an idea of how to make an approach a reasonable reality, you will inform either myself or Brand. At the moment, however, it appears that the Order remains largely ineffective given this intelligence, so we will adjourn for now. You may all go.”

Still, Voldemort’s eyes lingered on Brand, so when everyone else rose to leave, he remained seated. “Son, perhaps you would like to join me in my rooms.”

“Certainly, father.” Several minutes later found Brand sitting on the floor and leaning against his father’s leg, idly playing with the hem of Voldemort’s robes.

“It is possible, son, that Dumbledore believes such nonsense. It would be one explanation for why the man seems to be so stubbornly unyielding. I would not be surprised if he clings to his previous victory over a dark lord like a banner to hold high as righteous proof of his wisdom and power. Given your earlier question, and the answer, if Dumbledore in fact revealed that prophecy to no one but you, Brand, he may have decided that it does not mean what he thought. Prophecy can be . . . ambiguous.”

After a short time of silence Voldemort said very softly, “He that is already corrupt is naturally suspicious, and he that becomes suspicious will quickly be corrupt.”

Brand twisted around to give his father an odd look, partly of confusion and partly of wariness.

“One of the more interesting aspects of your character is that you try to see the best in others. Granted, that is not always possible. I would not like to see you obsess over this matter and lose perspective. If we can find a way to learn more of what is on the old man’s mind, so be it. Otherwise, we will continue to keep our ears in circulation, and move ahead with what plans we have.

“Aside from the rather interesting suggestion of that house-elf, I see no other alternative beyond you getting near enough to the man personally to sift his mind. And, while I have no doubt that is within the realm of possibility, I have seen nothing to suggest that we need to take such a measure. Rather, there is nothing to say you cannot do that just prior to your debut as a ghost.

“At any rate, should information come to light in the interim which suggests that as a wise course of action, I do not see why you could not take the place of one of our own Slytherin children at the castle for the space of a meal.”

Brand nodded and turned back. “I’m sorry, father, you’re right. Maybe I am just looking for trouble where none exists.” He felt strong fingers begin to glide through his hair a moment later and closed his eyes.

“I must wonder if Lucius will trouble you further on the matter of your former identity. Though, given your rather impassioned speech, I have my doubts.”

“Frankly, I hope he doesn’t, though I will honor my word if he does. I find myself not exactly thrilled with the idea of explaining myself again.”

“If his main concern was for Draco, he may not bother.”

“Well, that and preferring to come to me before I saw it in his mind.”

“And what of our hedgehogs?”

Brand chuckled, immediately feeling a bit better. “If Moony is to be believed, nothing has happened yet. Yes, I finally gave in to temptation and teased him about the whole situation. On the other hand, that is confirmation of a sort. He called me a pest.”

Voldemort laughed softly before saying, “Somehow I have no trouble imagining you in that light when it comes to your godfather.”

*

Hermione was, in fact, quite pleased to know that her concerns about the whole venture had been listened to and taken into consideration. Brand suspected that, much as with Remus, she was happy to not be brushed aside for one reason or another, however idiotic the rationalization for such a thing might be. It also served to drive home the point that Voldemort was, more or less, quite a reasonable man and willing to be persuaded to consider alternatives, or at least to change his plans to some degree, regardless of where they originated.

She did express some interest in the idea of teaching, but quickly enough moved on to other topics at hand, no doubt thinking that without the proper infrastructure in place, there was little point in gearing up for a totally new profession so soon.

“I think,” she said, “that given my current position, I could be fairly obvious about things.”

“How do you mean?”

“I do work with house-elves. What if I’m curious about the real differences between free and bonded elves? I know only of two elves who are free. And by that I mean not waiting to be bonded, though I have my doubts about Winky. I suppose it would not be unreasonable for me to visit with Dobby to discuss his view on house-elf rights and how his life is in comparison to those who are bonded.”

“A typical course of action, in other words.” Brand nodded rubbed his face.

“I assume you wouldn’t do something potentially silly like trying to convince Dobby that he ought to be campaigning in the kitchens for more elves to seek freedom,” Remus said.

Hermione let out a soft snort and shook her head. “While that might be an interesting endeavor, no. Little miss analytical would want to know just how good or bad the average house-elf fares, and Dobby would be one measure to judge by, don’t you think? I could always send a letter to Dumbledore explaining what I’m after and ask for permission to go visit him at the school.”

Brand grinned at her less than flattering description of herself. “Your reputation is useful in more ways than one, sis. If you think you can pull it off, I have no objection. After the initial encounter, it’s more of a question of finding out Dobby’s views on certain things, preferably away from the castle itself, and then seeing if he might be willing to help us out should the need arise.”

“I’m sure if I just sit on the idea for a bit and think about possible questions and reactions that might arise, I would do fine.”

“I don’t doubt that one bit, sis. You did exceptionally well at that lunch, after all.”

Hermione smiled at him, then all turned their heads as a knock came at the door. “Come in,” called Remus.

The door opened to reveal Draco and Severus, who quickly entered and moved toward seats at Remus’s nod. “I was wondering where you were hiding, Brand, but since you didn’t leave a note. . . .”

“Well, here I am. What’s up?”

Severus decided to answer after a nod of his head in greeting. “It is in regards to Joshua. Given my new identity I would like to know when my guardianship of the boy can be formalized.”

Brand half covered his face with one hand and sighed. “I’m sorry, Severus. That totally slipped my mind. We can take care of it today if you like. It’s up to you if you’d prefer I summon one of our applicable people in the ministry here to the estate, or go there in person.”

Severus nodded and said, “My preference is for doing so here. The less fuss, the better. This way, the official can simply return there and file the paperwork quietly.”

“So be it. I’ll drop by the ministry in a bit to let one know what we need and we can take care of this after dinner. The paperwork should go in first thing in the morning.”

Hermione shifted in her chair, a curious expression overtaking her face. “You know, I’ve never actually met this boy.”

“Is that a hint, sis?”

She wrinkled her nose at him, then nodded. “I think it might be nice. Besides, I doubt he has very many female role models around here. This organization is primarily male in nature, after all, and I sincerely doubt that Lestrange is the sort of person most people would want around their children for any length of time. That is”—she shot a look at Severus—“if you don’t object.”

“No, I do not. And as I have come to understand that you might be persuaded at some point to take on a teaching role, it might be as well for Joshua to become familiar with you simply for that reason.”

“Thank you. Unfortunately, I must be getting back. Lunch is just about over and I shouldn’t like to be late. I’ll be running my thoughts on Dobby through my head and let you know once I’m ready to approach him, Brand.” She rose and dropped a few hugs around the room, then strode out.

By that evening the paperwork had been filled out and duly witnessed, and Joshua was sporting a huge smile that left no doubt in anyone’s mind as to his feelings on the matter. He even had a smile for Brand, which was quite heartening in his opinion. It did cross his mind to wonder if Severus would ever take things a step further and adopt the child.

Brand retired to his suite with Draco well pleased, though not without a sense of irony. At least the man who had taken Joshua for his own was not the one who had killed his parents, or more specifically, his father.

Lunch the next day apparently went well if Draco’s behavior was anything to go by once he sought out Brand. He appeared to be highly amused, in fact, and gladly explained to his mate all about how his mother had done exactly as expected and quite nearly smothered Tonks in affection.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen Tonks quite that surprised before,” was Draco’s comment, “and I did warn her.”

Hermione dropped by again shortly thereafter and went off with Remus to spend some time getting to know Joshua. Brand expected that Severus would also have appeared at that meeting, but left them to it. However, what might have turned into a relaxed afternoon with Draco was interrupted unexpectedly.

:Son.:

:Yes, father.:

:I have just received reports of Death Eater activity that I did not order.:

:What? What kind of activity?:

:Come to my private study. We’ll discuss this.:

Brand rose to his feet and looked back down at Draco’s puzzled expression. “I’m sorry, but I need to go speak with father. Something’s come up. I’ll tell you what I can later on.” Then he left and quickly headed to the study, stepping in a minute or so later and taking a seat. “What’s going on?”

“Reports have come in of Death Eaters going on killing sprees, Brand. You and I both know nothing of the sort has been ordered. Either we have rogue people, or someone else, some other organization, is using our reputation to wreak their own havoc.”

“Have you already ordered another gathering?”

“Yes, for this coming Friday evening.”

Brand nodded. “If you think it can wait, I’ll check for signs of rebellion then. Really, though, father, I cannot imagine it is our people. I’ve caught nothing of that nature in my sweeps so far. I’d also hate to think that there are people out there using this as a way to catch our attention. If there are, it merely points out that they aren’t very sensitive to the current climate or are quite stupid.”

“Or there is a faction that believes our current tactics are far too lenient and seeks to rise in our place.”

Brand sighed and played with his hair, then gave his father an assessing look. “Or perhaps Dumbledore is tired of having nothing to visibly struggle against. If I find nothing among our people, perhaps it would be wise for me to slip in, as you said, as one of the students and do some sampling.”

“What of that other idea? Has anyone come forward with plans to approach the elf?”

“Yes, actually. Hermione might be good for that in her position. She suggested it and will be thinking about it. I’m not sure how long before she’ll get back to me on it, though. Father, if you want to arrange for an inner circle dinner mid week, I can check them again then. I do think that we ought to have people keeping tabs on whoever decides not to appear Friday so I can hunt them down and check, not to mention find out why they declined the invitation. I think if we stretch dinner out I can manage it, though I might not be able to stay the entire evening.”

“I understand. If you and Draco should disappear after the meal, I will know why. And yes, I will call the inner circle here for dinner. Wednesday. Here,” Voldemort said, then pushed a folder across the desk. “The current reports. No, I do not mind if your particular circle here knows of this.”

Brand pulled it closer and picked it up. “All right. After I go over this I’ll check the current security shift. I’ll get the others as they come on duty.”

“That is acceptable. I suggest you ask Maer to wake you.” Voldemort flashed him a brief smirk. “Merlin forbid your activities this evening should cause problems for you awaking in a timely manner tomorrow morning.”

“Very amusing, father. Since you decided to bring it up, I’ll simply have to make sure I do something to deserve such a remark.” Brand rose to his feet and circled the desk so he could drop a kiss on his father’s head, then returned to his suite.