Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Forsaken :: 27 :: An Old Friend

27 • An Old Friend

The moment Brand returned to his suite he threw himself onto the couch and flipped open the folder. The reports showed that at least six supposed Death Eater attacks had been made in various parts of the country, all of them against muggle towns, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of people. The most interesting aspect of the intelligence revealed that the targets formed a rough circle around the estate.

“This can’t be coincidence,” he muttered, then passed the summary sheet over to Draco, who had remained utterly silent. “Get Severus and Remus in here. We may need to call the others in.” While Draco summoned Maer he read through the next sheet, which detailed the known information on one of the specific targets.

He looked up as a knock sounded at the door and opened it with a gesture, then waved both men to a seat. “In short, it appears that we have a problem, though how serious it is I don’t yet know. Draco, are you done with that?”

“Yes,” Draco said absently, then handed it over to Severus, who shared it with Remus.

Once they looked back up Brand said, “Obviously, this is not us. Father is just as surprised by this information. For the moment, this is not to go beyond us, though I may need to include sis, Tonks, and the twins. You three go over this while I do a sweep of the current guard shift. While father and I have already gone over certain suspicions we may have, I’ll want to hear your thoughts as well.”

It took him an hour to ghost the minds of the shift watching the travel room and handling general security coordination, and the various patrol teams. By the time he returned to his suite he was feeling slightly irritable. After snatching a butterbeer from the drinks tray that had appeared in his absence, and seeing that he had their full attention, he said, “The current shift is clear. As I told father, I’ll check the next two as they each come in. Mid-week I’ll check over the inner circle, and then everyone else I haven’t managed to get during the gathering on Friday. I honestly expect to find nothing.”

“I agree,” Severus stated. “It is my opinion that the most likely culprit here is Albus.”

Draco and Remus nodded as Brand said, “All right. I also happen to think it’s Dumbledore. I find that far more likely than a third party looking to capture our attention, or protest our lack of cruelty of late, especially given the target locations in relation to this estate.”

“What are the odds that he goes after the Grangers, then?” asked Draco.

Brand clenched his jaw and closed his eyes, then opened them with a sigh. “I don’t know, but I would not be surprised if he killed them in our name to stir the pot. The problem is, if he is thinking along those lines, who else might he target? The Weasley family? Other members of the Order he doesn’t much care for? And, of course, how is he managing this? I cannot believe he’s persuaded members of the Order to go on these sprees, or placed them under imperius. I suppose I will have to borrow the guise of a student temporarily and see exactly what’s on the old man’s mind.”

“That’s probably wise,” said Remus, “but what of the safety of Hermione’s family in the interim? Is it possible for you to place a set of wards up that would prevent anyone aside from certain people entering that home? Or even getting near it?”

Brand furrowed his brow. “It would have to be something extremely subtle. We can’t turn away wizards and muggles alike. The Order guards would surely notice something was wrong and report it back to Dumbledore. I’ll have to check, but it’s possible that one of father’s books has something on wards that can repel or redirect violence.”

He rose and fetched some supplies, then sat back down to scratch out several copies of the same coded message. While they had not been able to fully indoctrinate Tonks, the twins, or Hermione in that respect, they had been taught several phrases as a start, and they would recognize this as a request to come to the estate as soon as humanly possible.

After he folded the notes and thought about it for several moments, though, he looked up and said, “Remus, I’m going to show you father’s library. Severus, Draco, you can assist if you wish. I’m going to see if I can catch the others directly or if I need to send out owls. And, after the shift change at four, I’ll have to do another sweep to make sure we aren’t harboring any rogues, but then I can join you and see how far you’ve managed to get, all right?”

Heads nodded all around, so Brand rose and gestured, then led them to the library, sending out a quick message to his father to update him on what was presently taking place. Shortly thereafter he was striding into the twins’ shop, only somewhat annoyed that there were a plethora of customers browsing the goods.

It took some time before George wandered over to see what he was up to, giving him a cheerful smile and greeting. Brand returned it, surreptitiously passing over one of the notes as he shook George’s hand. George gave a faint start of surprise, then tried to talk him into purchasing a Deflagration Deluxe box, which Brand laughingly declined.

“Do you happen to know where sis and my cousin are today?” he asked a moment later.

George appeared to consider that, then shook his head. “Neither of them said anything the last time we ran into them.” After a short pause he said, “Listen, we’ve got something you might be interested in. Want to see?”

“Sure,” Brand replied and followed George into the back room. As soon as they were away from potentially prying public eyes he nodded at George’s hand, and once the man looked up from reading the note he said, “Dinner tonight? Or whenever you two close up shop for the evening?”

“Yes. I don’t know where sis is, but you can use our owl. Can’t you find your cousin by dropping in on work and checking the schedule? Or don’t you have any friends there?”

Brand shifted and combed his hair back with one hand. “Not exactly, but I should get her to give me a schedule, shouldn’t I. I’m just now realizing how very awkward it is to get in contact with certain members of my family. Yes, please, if I can borrow your owl, that would be great.”

George went off to fetch it so Brand sealed the note and wrote Hermione’s name on the front, then handed it over once his friend returned. “I’ll go make another visit, then, and see what I can find out. I’ll see you later on.” He was escorted back out to the sales floor and left, though not without a slight wave to Fred, and as he walked down Diagon Alley he contacted his father.

:Father?:

:Yes, son.:

:Would you do me a favor and send Maer to Remus? They need to be alert in case Hermione arrives while I’m still out, and they’re presently in research mode.: It was then that he noticed a very familiar form passing by across the street and casually changed direction and came up beside Tonks, walking in step with her.

:Certainly. I trust you’ll return soon?:

“Hello,” he said quietly. :Yes, father. I just stumbled over Tonks.:

“I was just headed to see some friends,” she replied, “but now I don’t need to.”

:Maer has been sent.:

:Thank you, father.: Brand smiled faintly and nodded. “I’m having some friends over, the usual crowd, and was hoping you were free.”

“As a matter of fact, I am.”

“I’d love it if you’d stop by, then. I’ll even feed you.”

“That’s a deal sealer,” she said, then laughed. “I’ll drop by shortly, so be prepared.”

“Excellent.” As he passed by Ollivander’s for the third time that afternoon Brand snorted softly. “I’m heading home, then. Don’t forget to bring your appetite.”

Shortly thereafter he was welcoming her at the estate, quickly leading her away toward his father’s library. No sooner was she settled into a chair did his alarm go off, signaling the arrival of Hermione. Maer was sent off to fetch her, and then to get the folder still in Brand’s suite.

“Right. We have a potentially serious problem on our hands. You two, read through this. Talk to the others. I need to go check this new shift. Guys, keep an eye on the map for the twins and fill them in if they arrive before I return. I’ll be another hour or so.”

Several minutes later he was in his father’s private study to check in personally. “You know, this is very annoying. I was all set to have a nice, quiet, relaxing afternoon and evening. At any rate, I’m just waiting on the twins to arrive, though I’m not sure I expect them before I check over this latest bunch.”

“Given what I’ve been sensing, I imagine you will be sensible enough to remind your circle that your temper may not be at its best.”

“Yes, that would be the wise thing to do. You don’t really suspect any of our people, do you.”

Voldemort shook his head. “But it would be foolish to take that assumption as fact. What do you wish to do?”

“Immediately? I’ve got them researching in your library for ways to protect the Granger and Weasley homes unobtrusively. I might have to extend that idea to wherever it is Hermione’s parents actually work. The second thing that comes to mind is your own idea, taking the place of one of our contact students for the space of a meal.”

Voldemort nodded. “We will expand on that idea soon, then. Go ahead and check the current shift. And, son? If you do happen to oversleep tomorrow, I shall be kind and not give you grief over it for once.”

Brand broke out into a fond smile and got to his feet so he could drop a kiss on his Voldemort’s head. “I love you too, father,” he said, then stalked out gracefully.

*

“All right. Tonks, it would make me very happy if you could pass on a copy of your work schedule. That’s not something I can ask for at the ministry without raising suspicions. Aside from that, where are we?”

“I think we’ve tracked down something of use insofar as warding goes,” said Remus. “We’ve set those books aside for the moment as we didn’t want to remove anything from your father’s library.”

Brand nodded. “Fine. Sis, twins, are you all right with this? I don’t want to believe that Dumbledore would do such a thing, but I’d rather be prepared with an eye on the safety of your families.”

All three of them nodded, but it was Hermione who spoke. “Brand, I want you to know that I don’t attach any blame here. It has occurred to me that Dumbledore might have taken your original fake plans for his own idea and may decide to push them further, but that’s the beauty of hindsight. So long as we can come up with a way, or ways, to adequately protect them, I’m fine.”

He started to say that had never been his intent, but thought better of it. He knew she understood, that she wasn’t just paying lip service to the idea. “Well, I hope you can be as instrumental as any of us in averting potential disaster. As soon as we’re done with dinner, we can head back to the library and go over that material. Since I doubt that your parents could be convinced to drop everything for an extended holiday, we’ll just have to be sneaky. Still, I tend to think that the Weasley family is in less danger. After all, half the family is part of the Order, and Percy has already been attacked, sort of.”

“You know, mate, the least you could have done was fiddle with his brains a bit more and give him a sweeter personality,” complained Fred jokingly.

Brand arched a brow and replied, “I’m sorry, but a sense of humor is something you have to be born with. As I keep telling people, even I can’t work miracles. Either way, we can ward the Granger home and business, plus the Burrow and wherever you two are living these days. And on a related note, how much time are any of you spending around Ron?”

Hermione and the twins passed a glance around for a few seconds, then George said, “Not a lot, though we see him when we have dinner once a week at the Burrow. The thing is, he’s not been able to find work. We had been considering offering him a job at the shop, but now we’re not so sure.”

“Okay, we’ll come back to that. Hermione?”

“About the same, really. Once or twice a week. I think he’s a bit upset that I found work, to be honest.”

Brand furrowed his brow and turned back to the twins. “Hasn’t found, or hasn’t bothered looking?”

The twins shrugged. “Oh, he’s looked,” said George, “but with his OWLs and NEWTs. . . .”

“Why aren’t you sure about giving him a job?”

“He might see it as charity for one thing. Second, we aren’t sure how much trouble that would cause us considering what’s happened lately. And third, you might not like it.”

Brand blinked in surprise and frowned. “What do I have to do with anything?”

Fred shot him a patient look. “You seem to be forgetting that you are one of the founders of our shop. And, may I say, your original investment has been netting you quite a bit of profit. We’ve kept track.”

Brand was freshly surprised. “I didn’t invest,” he protested, “I gave you that money outright. And why on earth would you bother to keep track when Harry ended up dead?”

“Habit,” George said blithely. “So really, when it comes down to a question of whether or not we should hire Ron, we thought you ought to have some input.”

“No, I don’t care. And as far as I’m concerned, whatever profits I supposedly have can go to a fund for orphans, or new brooms for Gryffindor, or . . . whatever.”

Fred looked at George and said, “Ron’s pay?”

“I’m more concerned that you’d do something overly helpful like let him move in with you. That could be extremely awkward. As it is, I’ll have to choose a new face to wear around the shop if you do bring him in. I’d rather he didn’t know what I looked like, even if he has no real clue who I am.”

“Then might I suggest,” Severus interjected, “that your name in that instance be Mark?”

Remus began laughing softly and shaking his head. “Definitely. Must keep up with tradition!”

Brand smirked, then noticed the puzzled faces ringing the table and felt moved to explain as he once had to Moony about why he’d chosen the name he had.

“Then I would suggest a surname of Rebus,” offered Hermione with a straight face.

Back in the library after the meal was over, they went over the aforementioned reference material until it was quite late, prompting another call for Hermione to send a note off with Maer to her parents so that they wouldn’t worry. She did not, however, stay the night, and hastened off just before ten, but not without a collection of emergency portkeys, and not without having given Brand the address of her parents’ practice.

He had every intention of placing wards there as quickly as possible, though their home would have to wait a few days until Tonks was back up on duty. That way, at least, they would not be forced to subdue some other Order member and plant false memories of that evening’s events. The home of the twins was no issue, but the Burrow might also prove to be problematic. If Arthur wasn’t home, Molly usually was, and of course, Ron.

To that, however, the twins shook their heads. “We’ll just take them out for a pleasant afternoon or evening. Depending on how long it takes to construct the wards. . . .”

Still, given that those locations were not exactly muggle in nature, Brand felt they were safer to some degree. The twins opted to stay the night, so Brand went off as it neared midnight. A quick mental touch had told him his father was still awake, so he headed for Voldemort’s rooms, letting himself in quietly, and found him tucked into bed reading.

Voldemort looked up, unsurprised, and smiled briefly.

Brand took a seat at the foot of the bed. “I’ll go check the last shift in a little while, and the team has found what looks like a viable method of protection. I’ll get started in on that shortly.”

“I assume you’ll have, at the least, your three here helping you?”

“Yes. They can always be disguised. Hermione has already made the connection between what we wanted to fake and what the old man might do based off that. She’s not upset with us, though. Anyway, I think we’ll have to arrange to slip me in as one of the students. I don’t see how we can avoid it at this point.”

“Assuming you are fine the morning after this gathering, perhaps then,” Voldemort said. “It would likely be far easier to get one of them to a quiet spot outside, or even in town, to change places. And, given that I know you drilled the contact students relentlessly in more than just code, I have no doubt that you could switch back with little fuss. Dumbledore may be able to see through invisibility, but portraits are a different matter entirely.”

“As you say, father. Do you want me to contact their parents, or. . . ?”

Voldemort shook his head. “If you cannot clear them within the next couple of days, no. It would be more prudent to send each of the students mail alerting them to a meeting in Hogsmeade with you. Arrange a swap with one of the males, have your meal—the other two contacts should be able to cover you—then arrange a swap back.”

“I suppose I could always drift past one of the secret passages out of the school to make sure the old man hasn’t done anything to tag it for use, then make sure our people know about it so we can change back. Otherwise, I’d have to say a swap somewhere on the grounds where portraits cannot possibly spy. Whatever works.”

“You know I have faith in you, and your damnable luck,” Voldemort said with a smirk.

“You wouldn’t have cut me loose otherwise, and you certainly wouldn’t trust me to work off only sketchy plans.”

“Well, as you pointed out just the other day, people keep poking huge holes in our plans, so why get uptight about measuring every last dimension and plotting every footstep?”

Brand grinned. “You’re better than tea, father. I can always count on you to lift my mood. I suppose I should go check this last shift, then. If you’re not going to be awake much longer, I’ll just wait until the morning to tell you the results, or have Maer leave a note for you to see when you wake up.”

“Whichever, son. I’m sure if you did find something alarming you would not wait to tell me, even if meant waking me up to do so.”

“That’s true.” Brand got to his feet and drew close enough to drop a kiss on his father’s head, then left to track down the latest security shift members.

*

By the time Wednesday evening arrived Brand had checked out every person who normally resided on the estate and those who worked there. Voldemort knew he had been just as thorough with Draco and the others as anyone else, and he was satisfied. Dinner with the inner circle started out as any other, though once Brand had had a chance to check everyone, and had given his father the all clear, it abruptly switched focus into a discussion of the supposed Death Eater attacks accompanied by an admonition to keep an eye open for odd behavior from subordinates.

When Friday rolled around Brand and his team had already managed to ward the practice of Hermione’s parents, their home, and the twins’ home against ill intent. Anyone with a mind to do something unkind, destructive, or lethal was diverted, muggle and wizard alike. The Burrow, with Molly nearly always present was more of a challenge.

The attendance of his own people was optional, though all of them came, and as before, choice of seating was left up to those present. Brand was amused to note that Tonks ended up with Narcissa and Lucius at the head table. Had anyone been dared question it, they might have been moved to wonder over the fact that Voldemort and Brand had the company of several people none of them recognized.

Brand spent his time eating and appearing to converse while winnowing his way through the minds of those present, starting with the tables closest to his own. Draco could check in with security later as to who, exactly, had not come in response to the summons. For the time being he was being rather rude, though surreptitiously, by way of keeping track of each person Brand checked on a ledger on his lap under the normal line of sight.

Brand left the moment he was able to, exhausted, though he and Draco had found it necessary to unobtrusively shadow a number of people around the ballroom given that he had been unable to complete his checks by the time the dinner portion of the evening finished. He never even got a chance to dance with his mate, a cause for definite disappointment, though he had spotted Hermione dancing with one of the twins.

The next day saw him having lunch with his father and Draco.

“Draco has already reported to me those missing,” Voldemort said as they were finishing up. “Some of those were unable due to conflicts I expect.”

“I can track down the ministry workers easily enough, father, though their families would be more of an issue. Whatever excuse works, I suppose. Oh, and I was also looking for subversion on a different scale.” Brand turned to Draco and said, “Anyone I had you mark with an M is against muggle-borns, H was for half-bloods, and S for sexuality. The numbers are a scale, higher being worse.”

Looking back at his father he said, “If any of those people are important, I’m not sure how you want to handle it.”

“That depends. If they can be gainfully employed to our advantage at the ministry, so be it. They can continue to be our eyes and ears even if they would not be allowed to move with us. We can establish a kind of liaison office within the British community as well.”

“Then I won’t borrow trouble and wonder about those who might be hopeless,” Brand replied.

Voldemort nodded. “Draco, compile a preliminary report for me based on your findings of last night. If you need assistance with where they fit into the hierarchy, request your father’s presence. I realize you shan’t be able to begin until later today, so don’t think you need to have it ready within the hour. Tomorrow is acceptable.”

“Yes, my lord.”

“Then I expect you two should get ready,” Voldemort said as he carelessly folded his napkin and placed it on the table, then stood. After squeezing Brand’s shoulder gently and bestowing a smile on them both, he left quietly.

Draco sighed slightly and said, “There are times when I wish my father would smile like that.”

“Perhaps someday he will. Stranger things have happened.”

A short time later they were in a small house in Hogsmeade, one that Voldemort happened to have access to even if it wasn’t his name on the deed. The contact students arrived in due time and were shown to seats in the lounge, but before a word was said Brand checked them over for anything odd, such as monitoring spells put in place by Dumbledore.

“Right. This is a bit unorthodox, but necessary,” Brand said. “One of you, either Carey or Makai, needs to stay here for the time being. The other, plus you, Aesica, shall accompany me back up to the school shortly. You will keep the curious off my back during the duration of this deception. Once I have finished my investigation we’ll swap back. That will either be courtesy of one of the secret passages into the school, or somewhere private on the grounds. I’ll have to check to make sure what I have in mind isn’t being watched.”

He was pleased that they simply nodded and did not pester him with questions. “Which of you wants to volunteer to be temporarily replaced?”

Carey and Makai exchanged a glance. “I will, my lord,” Makai said. “Carey is the more loquacious of us, so it would probably be better for it to be me.”

“So be it. Draco can keep you company while we’re gone. Now, let’s see about making me look like you.”

Brand felt decidedly uncomfortable by the time he slid into a spot at the Slytherin table, but he suspected he would feel just as odd wearing his true form, having become so accustomed the one he had chosen freely. He let his mates subtly point out what Makai would normally have chosen from the selection of food and filled his plate, then set about eating, appearing to listen to the conversation around him as he carefully sent his mind questing into that of Dumbledore, who sat at the head table in all his genial glory.

What he found was not entirely a surprise, and he was exceptionally gentle in his search, absently likening it to strolling through a minefield without a map. After dinner, when Brand was feeling pleasantly full, the three of them went off on a walk, casually wending their way up to the third floor and along the corridors at a decorous pace. While the trophy room was sometimes interesting to browse, or even the armor gallery, it was more to the point that their choice of paths took them past the statue of the humpbacked witch.

A few unvoiced spells made it clear that someone had placed additional enchantments on the area which meant that Makai would not be getting back inside through Honeydukes. The three continued their stroll, this time heading back downward and to the outside. On ascertaining that nothing had changed insofar as the Whomping Willow was concerned, Brand decided to use that instead, and after telling his companions to wait, sent a small stone at the tree with enough force to hit the knot that stilled its movement.

As soon as he was inside he checked again and found no evidence of tampering by Dumbledore, then motioned Carey and Aesica inside and began the trip to the Shrieking Shack.

:Father.:

:What do you need?:

:Please send Maer to Draco with a message? Have him bring Makai to the Shrieking Shack immediately. We’ll meet them there, inside.:

:Consider it done.:

They did not have to wait very long. Brand melted back to his normal appearance and fixed his clothing, then led them all back down the tunnel to the entrance. Once he was satisfied that no one was lurking about he stilled the tree a second time and ushered the students out so that they might return to their usual pursuits, but not without a stern warning to remain silent about their activities, though the fact that their minds were protected made it more or less redundant.

He and Draco were walking back up the tunnel when a faint pop had them both freeze in place for a split second, then turn, wands suddenly in their hands. Brand took a closer look, squinting because of the low light and his disbelief at what he was seeing, then shook his head.

“Dobby was wondering if sir would return,” said the elf calmly, though his ears were upright with excitement.

“Return?”

“Sir was being a student earlier and sir was being Professor Archer.”

“I see.”

“Is Harry Potter no longer being Dobby’s friend?” Dobby asked, one ear drooping slightly.

Brand lowered his wand and sheathed it, prompting Draco to do the same. “This isn’t a very nice place to talk. Would you care to come with us to the Shrieking Shack?”

“Dobby is being happy to.”

Brand nodded and motioned for Draco to continue on, then waited for Dobby to also move forward before heading up the rear. :Father, the most bizarre thing just happened. Dobby just popped in to say hello.:

:I’m sorry?:

:Remus was right it seems. He’s been aware of me the whole time, even as Archer. You might want to keep an eye on this so I don’t need to relay.:

:I will do so.:

Back inside the shack Brand dropped into a dusty chair and shot a curious look at the elf. Several privacy spells were thrown up before he asked, “Why now? And should I assume you’ve said nothing to the headmaster?”

Dobby look surprised for a moment, then shook his head violently. “Dobby is not betraying his friend. Dobby was curious. Dobby was not being certain before that Professor Archer is Harry Potter, but now he is. Sir coming back was enough, and Dobby is paying very close attention this time.”

:Have you ever attempted to ghost a house-elf?: Voldemort asked.

Brand blinked and looked off to the side. “Dobby, are you going to be offended if I attempt to, for my own peace of mind, take a little look into your mind?”

“Dobby trusts Harry Potter.”

:I have no idea if this will work,: he shot back. :Nothing says their minds are anything like our own, but I’ll try.:

Less than thirty seconds later he smiled. “Would anyone miss you if you were to visit with me for a while?”

Dobby shook his head. “Silly wizards is saying we all look alike.”

Brand laughed softly and nodded. :Father, what do you think? Ask him back to the estate for a chat?:

:That’s fine.:

“I’m not really comfortable talking here, Dobby. Would you be willing to visit with me at my home? Say, in about ten minutes time?”

“Dobby is willing.”

“All right. I hope you won’t mind if Draco is present.”

Dobby cast an opaque look at Draco. “Dobby isn’t minding.”

“Then we’ll see you in ten minutes. I doubt you’ll have any trouble finding me.”

*

“I’ll be damned. So much for needing Hermione to go looking for him,” Brand said as he flopped onto his sofa.

Draco shook his head slowly as he sat down next to him. “He must trust you a lot if he’s not raising a fuss over me being present. After all, my father wasn’t exactly nice to him.”

“If what I’ve seen is any indication, I think Dobby can take care of himself. He certainly defended Harry against Lucius without a trace of fear once he was free.” Brand snapped his fingers to summon Maer, but ended up with two elves popping into the room. After exchanging a guarded look with each other, both turned attentively toward Brand.

“Maer, if you would, please bring up some refreshments?”

“Yes, master.”

Once Maer had popped back out Brand turned to Dobby and said, “You’re welcome to sit down if you’d like. I won’t argue if you’re more comfortable standing. Whichever you prefer.”

Maer popped back in long enough to place a tray on the table, then disappeared, so Brand made himself a cup of tea, saying, “If you’re thirsty, feel free.”

Dobby opted for a small glass of water and a chair, and without any of the wailing he might have done in the past, which caused Brand a certain amount of surprise.

Eventually Brand said, “I don’t understand. You suspected all along that Harry Potter wasn’t dead, but you’ve never done anything about it, or mentioned it to anyone. Why?”

“Dobby is a free elf, and Dobby’s friend is being more important than any master.”

“All because I managed to get you freed? And by the way, my name is Brand these days.”

Dobby shook his head. “Harry Potter is being special. Dobby has done nothing because Dobby is not knowing what sir is up to, but now Dobby is too curious to not be asking.”

“Will you keep that secret, that Harry Potter is actually alive?”

“Dobby will.” Then he looked at Draco and said, “Dobby is not sorry he threatened his former master.”

Draco laughed. “I’m not going to argue that point.”

“We were going to try contacting you,” Brand said slowly, “but. . . .”

Dobby’s ears perked up.

“I’m not sure you’ll be very happy with how things have turned out.”

“What is sir meaning?”

“Please call me Brand, Dobby, and I mean—remember when you originally came to find me? You tried to prevent me from going back to Hogwarts because of what Lucius was going to do?” When the elf nodded he continued, “Well, if you’ve not figured it out, I’m not on Dumbledore’s side any longer. That man is evil. He’s tried to have Remus killed, and he’s seriously considering having Hermione and her parents killed.”

“You confirmed it?” Draco interjected.

“Yes, it’s as sis supposed. He took the fake plan we made and is using it for his own agenda. He’s trying to show that his suspicions are not unfounded by making them a reality.”

“Dobby can be helping. Miss Hermione should not be in danger,” Dobby offered.

“I’m sorry, help?”

“Wizards is forgetting much about elves in the centuries they have kept them bound. Elves is being able to do many things. Dobby can help protect Miss Hermione without wizards being aware of it.”

Brand considered that for a few moments, then said, “All right, but would you have to be nearby, or are you talking about something like wards you could put in place?”

“Dobby is meaning wards.”

After a minute of further consideration he said, “Perhaps we can talk to her about it tomorrow. But, speaking of wards, do you know of any way to prevent ghosts from entering the Great Hall at Hogwarts for a space of time?”

“Dobby does, but it would not be lasting for very long.”

:This could be very useful,: Voldemort commented. :You wouldn’t be bringing this up if you doubted Dobby’s loyalty.:

:He seems to be quite focused on me even now. I’m probably the only person he’ll take real orders from, actually, though I don’t think he’d take too well to the idea of being bonded. At that, Dobby has already proven that you can’t stop even a bonded house-elf from trying to spill secrets if it’s important enough to them.:

:Yes, but from what you’ve said, he was extremely oblique about it.:

:True.: Out loud he said, “If you’d be willing to help with that a bit later on, I’d be grateful.”

“Dobby is wondering why.”

Brand considered the best way to approach the issue before speaking. “Dumbledore is not a nice man. I can read people’s thoughts at will, Dobby, and I did so this evening with him, just like I did with you. I think you can understand that I’m slow to trust people these days. Dumbledore planned on killing me once I had defeated Voldemort, to make sure I couldn’t give him any trouble. He tried to arrange Remus’s death, he planned to arrange for Severus’s death, and he plans on trying to kill the Grangers.”

Dobby nodded, but otherwise didn’t comment.

“I plan to end this insanity, Dobby.”

“Brand is planning to kill Dumbledore,” Dobby stated.

“Yes, I am, but not before making sure any number of people hear about the kinds of things he did to me or allowed to happen. He shouldn’t die a martyr for a cause he’s deliberately prolonging, or to people he kills when they’re no longer of any use to him.”

Dobby remained silent for a minute, then nodded. “Is Brand being on the other side?”

“If you want to call it that, yes. There’s something very wrong with Dumbledore in my opinion. I don’t intend to let him get away with what he’s done, to gain more power over the wizarding world, and become a dark lord in his own right. That’s the worst kind, you know. A man who is thought to be at the pinnacle of Light greatness, who rules by underhanded methods, using guilt and manipulation to persuade, or death if that doesn’t work. One who masquerades behind a pleasant face while he hires mercenaries to terrorize the countryside so that his side has something to make noise about since we aren’t doing those things to people.”

“Dobby is not being very happy working for the man who is being bad. But who is Brand working for?”

“Working for?” Brand chuckled. “More like working with. I’m no one’s pawn, Dobby. If you want to be technical, though, I’ll say I’m the right-hand man of Lord Voldemort.”

One of Dobby’s ears perked up while the other drooped.

“He’s not a bad man, Dobby, and he’s my father now. I ran from Dumbledore because he’s evil. Do you believe I’d be where I am now if Voldemort was also evil?”

“Dobby doesn’t believe Brand is being evil.”

“I can assure you I’m not, and I can assure you that my father is not, though it would be up to you to make your own decision on that score. Even so, would you be willing to help me, and to refrain from speaking to anyone about it? I really do want to make sure that Hermione and my other friends remain safe. I’d also like to know that the ghosts at Hogwarts can’t interfere with what I plan to do. After all, once that has been taken care of, we can all sit back and work on more interesting things, like a new home.”

Dobby’s droopy ear came up slowly and he refilled his water glass.

Brand gave him an intense look. “If you want, I’m sure Maer would be happy to spend some time talking to you, or even Clip or Rigas. You can stay the night if you wish, if you think no one at Hogwarts would notice you missing for that length of time. Even if you decide not to help, I would hope you’ll decide not to discuss this with anyone else.”

“Dobby is not betraying his friend,” the elf repeated. “But Dobby is wanting to meet Brand’s father and see for himself.”

:I do not mind.:

:All right, father, but I shall do things the proper way,: Brand sent, then snapped his fingers. When Maer appeared he smiled and said, “Would you please ask my father to join me here?”

“Certainly, master.” Maer popped out immediately.

While they were waiting Brand said, “Would you mind if I let Hermione know you’ve visited us? If you decide to stay the night, perhaps we could talk to her tomorrow about helping to protect her and her family.”

“If Dobby stays the night, then Dobby is not minding.”

Brand nodded. “Then I’ll wait, of course.”

Dobby nodded as a soft double knock came at the door. A moment later it opened and Voldemort stepped in, then closed it behind him.

“My lord,” said Draco.

Voldemort moved forward to take a seat and said, “Son, Draco.” Then he turned to gaze to the elf. “And you must be Dobby. I would like to say Brand has spoken highly of you, but in truth, he has said little of your past together. However, I have seen his memories, and know he would should he choose to.”

Dobby angled an ear in Voldemort’s direction. “You is being the master of Dobby’s former master?”

“He has sworn fealty to me, yes.”

“And to Brand?”

“Yes, he has,” answered Voldemort. “Brand’s voice is as mine among our people.”

“You is speaking truth,” Dobby said simply, then looked back at Brand. “Dobby is helping you, but Dobby is wanting something in return.”

Brand blinked and leaned forward. “What would you like?”

“Dobby is not liking working for the bad man, so you is letting Dobby work for you.”

“When did you become a Slytherin, Dobby?” Brand asked with some amusement. “All right. We’ll have to discuss pay, then, and days off. But . . . you would need to remain at Hogwarts until Dumbledore is gone.”

“Dobby understands that.”

“Perhaps I should have Hermione negotiate a salary with you,” Brand said with a slight smirk. “Though, I rather think she would try to get you to accept far more than you do now.”

Dobby turned his head slightly and gave Brand a sidelong look. “Dobby is being able to hold his own against Miss Hermione.”

“I don’t doubt that one bit,” he said with a laugh.