Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Forsaken :: 28 :: In Between Days

28 • In Between Days

“Thank you for saving me from having to think too hard.”

Brand glanced at his sister curiously, then said, “Is that even possible for you? It isn’t as though your head has exploded yet, or even threatened to.”

She glowered at him and said, “I’m just saying your little excursion has made things a great deal simpler and has saved us a lot of time. Besides, if what Dobby says is accurate, I can feel a hundred times better about things.”

“I don’t think Dobby would lie, sis. He might edge around the truth, but I don’t think he’d deliberately try to mislead me.”

“I know.” After a sip of tea she looked up with an odd expression, one that conveyed curiosity and calculation. “He’s . . . different. Somewhere along the way he changed from being what we all tend to think of as semi-normal behavior for a house-elf into an independent being that displays a great deal of common sense and intelligence.”

“Well—” Brand barely got the word out when she interrupted.

“No. I don’t want you to misunderstand what I’m saying. Dobby already had those qualities. We know that from when he originally sought you out, how he tried so hard to get around the restrictions he was under in order to warn and help you. Granted, perhaps he didn’t choose the best methods, but his heart was in the right place. But now . . . he’s had time to consider things, on his own, and think through what he might do in response to certain events. Quite frankly, I’m amazed.”

Brand nodded. “I know you mean that in a complimentary sense, in that there’s a wealth of untapped resources if only people would bother to look past their own sense of superiority.”

Hermione smiled brightly. “Along those lines, yes. But it does make me wonder about the house-elves here, Brand. I know, some of them did come to help you kidnap Severus, but how much more could they do, willingly, if given the chance? I’m not saying that Maer and such are unhappy. I do wonder how much more a relationship could become symbiotic, to whatever degree, based on friendship, not servitude.”

“I can see that. However, how many house-elves would fall apart like Winky?”

She made a face at him, presumably for bringing up a logical point of contention. “I’ll just have to spend more time talking with them.” Then she flashed him another bright smile and changed the subject. “So, about this heir of yours. . . .”

Brand groaned softly and shook his head.

“You don’t have some idiotic notion that you’d be alone in this, do you? And I’m not excluding Draco in that, by the way. Still, I expect you wouldn’t mind some help along the way. I’m going to be an aunt, right?”

“I will be grateful for any help you can give me. Us. I would not in the least doubt that once Draco’s brother is born that he’ll come to us to be raised along with my own child, as siblings. But really, I don’t want to talk about this. I’m not ready.”

She sighed and focused a patient gaze on him. “You have to deal with it at some point. If not with me to begin with, then with Draco. You can’t keep sticking your head in the sand and hoping it will go away until you’re forced to acknowledge reality when presented with your child.”

“I know, I know. I just. . . . Honestly, there were times I never thought I’d live long enough to have children. I never thought, beyond that, that I could find a person who respected and liked me, not the images. Every time father has brought the subject up I’ve told him how I felt, and he’s accepted what I’ve had to say. After all, I did agree to this, but I’ve rarely taken the time to stop and think about it. At times I’m barely past internalizing that I’m bonded to Draco.”

“Brand, how do you think Voldemort felt when you asked him to adopt you? Maybe it was difficult for him, too? Especially given the circumstances. But he obviously loves you and you’ve made a huge difference in his life. Perhaps you should try thinking about things that way, and how your own child could mean as much to you.”

Brand closed his eyes and frowned slightly, then gave her an opaque look. “I’ll try. Now, how did your talk with Dobby actually go.”

Hermione narrowed her eyes at him, but obviously thought better of pressing further. “He’s a wily one, Dobby. We haggled for an hour before I finally managed to get him to accept three galleons more than the old man was paying him.”

“That much?” he asked in surprise.

She shrugged. “Pish. I started high. Besides, I think he was enjoying it. He managed to undercut me quite a bit when he insisted that warding my parents counted as part of his normal duties and wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. I think he’s worked himself into the idea that these odd assignments are trifling issues that don’t deserve special consideration.”

Brand chuckled and said, “Sis, he was already willing to do that warding before he ever decided I or father were safe allies. I expect he would have done it regardless once he knew you were in danger. Don’t take that choice away from him.”

She gave him a peculiar look. “I don’t understand what you mean.”

“Should I be paying you for offering to be my child’s aunt? For doing all the things you’ve done simply out of friendship through the years? Should I have been paid for saving the stone, or Ginny, or us for Sirius?”

Hermione looked quite startled for a moment, then nodded. “You’re right, I’m sorry. It would almost be a slap in the face to insist on paying him for things of that nature. I guess I get a little too narrow in focus at times.”

Brand grinned and wisely refrained from commenting.

*

“Let’s open this meeting with a discussion on Albus Dumbledore,” Voldemort said. “He has decided, in his infinite wisdom, that we as an organization are not living up to our past reputation and has decided to correct that little problem by using mercenaries to pose as Death Eaters and terrorize the countryside.”

Everyone present glanced at Brand for a moment, then turned their attention back to Voldemort.

“Yes, this information comes directly from Dumbledore’s mind, as gleaned by Brand. I am open to suggestions as to our response to this outrage.”

Remus was obviously feeling a bit irritated when he immediately suggested, “We could always bomb his home, sir.”

Brand blinked at his godfather and mentally cringed at the expected reaction from his sister.

“Please elaborate,” Voldemort said calmly.

Remus got a slightly feral look on his face before saying, “Well, sir, this isn’t much different from before, correct? He tried to use me against you, so you used that against him. He’s presently using your reputation against you, so why not turn it right back and have the Death Eaters retaliate in a very personal way? Surely we can find out, if we don’t already know, exactly where he lives. After all, does anyone here honestly believe that Albus isn’t expecting some kind of response to his antics?”

“Point,” said Hermione somewhat stiffly. After Voldemort nodded at her she said, “I agree that Dumbledore must be expecting something in return, sir. He cannot possibly believe that you would ignore attacks you never ordered. However, what if his household consists of more than just himself?”

House-elves. Then again, she might also be referring to family members, which made Brand wonder if Dumbledore actually had any other than Aberforth. A look around the table showed divided opinions; some of the inner circle looked rather excited about the idea, such as Dolohov.

Lucius chose that moment to speak up. “My lord, such an action, while serving to make very plain to Dumbledore your opinion of his theft, might also serve as an excuse for the minister and entourage to visit the school, thereby allowing Lord Brand to enact his plan.”

Voldemort arched a brow in consideration, then looked back to Remus.

“Ah . . . yes. It is true that innocents might be harmed. That is, if we failed to check beforehand exactly what the situation is there.”

Hermione sat back, satisfied for the moment that her objection had been acknowledged and not dismissed out of hand.

“Suggestion noted,” said Voldemort smoothly. “Until we have further information on that, let us move on. Any other ideas?”

Aside from the somewhat plausible suggestion of attacking towns where family of Dumbledore was known to live, there wasn’t much to be dredged up from the inner circle’s collective pool. And at that, it was rightfully pointed out that unless a lot of wanton death and destruction was involved, Dumbledore might find such a response to be oddly toothless.

“That may be true,” Brand stated. “However, it could also be seen, after the fact, as a feint. Suppose for a moment that we directly attack Dumbledore’s home. It isn’t outside the bounds of reason to have Death Eater teams flitting about in those towns, assuming there are any to bother with, to alarm people and have them alert the aurors as to possible dark activity. They would have something to do that’s harmless while the last team takes care of our real objective.

“Of course, some of our people might find that to be pointless, but it could be worked so that they appear to be gearing up for something truly heinous and melt away at the first sign of ministry forces.”

“To note,” Severus said, “that would require a great deal of coordination, my lord, though it is not unworkable. Teams would need to be on standby, ready to move at a moment’s notice.”

There was silence for a time, then Voldemort spoke. “All right. First we must determine what the old man’s household consists of, and the locations of any family members we might harass. Then we can determine if this plan is feasible. I should also note that we must decide on a date to take care of Dumbledore once and for all.” He paused to look at Brand. “If we use this as a prelude to that event. . . .”

“I was thinking of Halloween, father.”

Half the table smirked.

“What an interesting choice, my son. Fine. Then let us set in motion the gathering of information.”

*

Hermione jittered around nervously until Brand grabbed her by the arm and pushed her gently into a chair. “There’s no sense in being like this until we’ve more information,” he admonished softly.

“I know.”

“Come on. Forget about having lunch in here,” he said, then snapped his fingers. “Maer, I would like several things, please. First, check with Remus, Severus, and Draco to see if they’d like to join Hermione and me for a picnic out by the oak. If Joshua wants to come along, that’s fine. And if the twins and Tonks are still on the estate, invite them as well. Then, once you know how many, have the kitchens prepare a basket for us and drop it off.”

“Certainly, master.”

“Thank you, Maer.” He turned as the elf popped out and extended a hand to Hermione. “It’s a beautiful day out, so we may as well take advantage of it.”

A short time later they were sitting on a blanket in the shade of the oak, and their friends and associates slowly trickled in to join them. Judging by the size of the basket Maer had dropped off, nearly everyone was still lurking on the estate.

Brand had already delved into the contents and was happily tearing into a selection of fried chicken, completely ignoring Hermione’s insistence on waiting for the others, when Remus and Severus strolled over and took seats rather close to one another. Other than quirking an eyebrow at such behavior, Brand did not react, much as he might be tempted to tease Remus. It would simply have to wait until a more opportune time.

“Well, go on. There’s more than enough, I’m sure. We can all at least have a good meal before we scatter in every direction to get this next bit sorted out,” he said, then reached into the basket to pull out a container of mashed potatoes and gravy to add to his selection.

“Halloween?” Severus asked dryly, reaching out himself to the basket.

Brand shook back his hair and gave Severus a half-lidded stare. “I think father would be absolutely heartbroken if I ignored family traditions, don’t you think? Just crushed.”

Severus snorted as Remus started chuckling in amusement. “Only you could get away with such a statement.”

Brand grinned, then gave a slight wave as Draco, the twins, and Tonks approached. “Joshua didn’t want to come?”

Severus shook his head. “He is amusing himself with some of the visiting children. I daresay he would not find it nearly so interesting to sit with us, all adults.”

“All right,” he said equitably, “I just didn’t want him to feel left out.” Then he sighed and glanced at Hermione. “I’m still worried about you and your parents.”

“How so?”

“Dumbledore has plans to attack in our name. We know that now. What’s going to happen when he sets that in motion and finds out his people cannot even get close?”

Hermione looked a bit lost on hearing that. Brand hated even bringing it up, but it simply would not rest easy in his mind. “I know, you have those emergency portkeys I supplied you with, but. . . .”

Remus cleared his throat. “You didn’t get any sense of when?”

Brand shook his head. “No, I’m sorry. I could go back and check again. There were so many things I wanted to verify that I’m afraid I let us down on that point.”

“Brand, I know you would never purposely overlook information that would help keep us all safe,” Hermione said. “You are not a god, you make mistakes, and have oversights. You’re right, though, we need to look into that. I’m not so much worried about the Weasleys—they can all defend themselves, apparate, and so on, but my parents are next to helpless. If Dumbledore realizes that they’ve been protected from his efforts. . . .”

“How much of what we located in our lord’s library could be found elsewhere?” Severus asked. “How much could Granger have found on her own?” he added, ignoring the look on her face at the use of her last name.

Brand wrinkled his brow in thought. “I don’t know, Severus. Much of what father has is jealousy guarded and kept secret. The fact that you’re even asking makes me think it’s very unlikely.”

“And it’s not as though you would have access to the libraries of us evil people,” Draco said with a nod to Hermione.

“I can go back. I’ll just have to let father know first. The contact children will cooperate without asking any questions. Severus, you know which books were involved. Send out some discreet feelers. If it’s possible that Hermione could have gotten her hands on any of that, we’ll make it so, even if it does mean fiddling with memories of certain people. We can also keep in mind, I suppose, that once Dobby knew of the danger to sis, he would probably have helped her anyway. Should Dumbledore manage to figure out a house-elf was involved, I think he could convincingly stretch the truth.”

*

And so he did, once again impersonating Makai for an evening, though he came away with nothing more than nebulosity. Oh, the old man planned to attack, but he seemed rather caught up in having his mercenaries stir the pot as far as things went, and hadn’t quite worked himself up to deciding on a date for the Grangers.

If nothing else, it was both heartening and disturbing. Brand could only hope that they would be able to move ahead prior to that point in time when the old man did shake off his vagueness and strike. Granted, it would fail, but it would also raise questions they did not wish to be raised, and he did not want to place Hermione in a position where she would have to walk away from her parents in order to keep them safe. The thing was, she just might if it came to it.

As it turned out, Dobby was quite a knowledgeable creature when it came to certain things, and had obviously been eavesdropping. That didn’t particularly upset Brand, especially considering it had been the reason the elf had originally come to his attention. Dobby also didn’t scruple to stick to the rules, which Brand found rather endearing. He was beginning to really like the little elf—this elf that acted like he had a right to his own mind, and his own form of magic, and refused to act like a cowering, submissive creature just waiting for the next blow to be given.

In point of fact, Dobby had opted to do a bit of reconnaissance on his own, only bothering to mention it once he had returned. Brand was only mildly startled when the elf popped in without warning.

“Hello, Dobby.”

Dobby stared at him for a moment, then flopped onto a chair. “Dobby has been investigating.”

Brand arched a brow and nodded. “All right. There is something I ought to know?”

“Dobby is confirming his suspicions. The bad man is not having his own house-elves. He is borrowing them from Hogwarts when he is being home.”

Brand blinked and rubbed the back of his neck. “Can he do that? I thought the Hogwarts elves were bound to the school and not there for the personal use of the staff.”

Dobby shrugged slightly. “Brand is knowing as well as Dobby that most house-elves is being very . . . obliging.”

He snorted softly and glanced off to the side. “So there isn’t anyone at his home during term?”

“That is being correct.”

“Hm. Well, that will appease Hermione, then.”

“Dobby is being aware of that.”

Brand looked back over to see a barely there smirk on the elf’s face and chuckled. “You are such a Slytherin, Dobby. This is very good news. Obviously the headmaster won’t be at his home for some time so we can go ahead fairly quickly with our plans, and then finish all this.”

Dobby left not long after so Brand went off to find his father and update him. “Hello, father,” he said just before pressing a kiss to Voldemort’s cheek. He sat down on the edge of the desk and tilted his head to one side. “Dobby has done some exploring,” he said, then took a few moments to pass along the new information.

“So we only need wait on the information regarding any possible family members still living aside from his brother.”

“Yes. Unfortunately, as you know, I could not get a definite schedule from the old man’s mind on the Grangers. I suppose if the worst happens and an attempt is made on their lives, we could arrange to hide them until we’ve taken care of Dumbledore. They probably wouldn’t like that one bit, but I won’t play fast and loose with their lives.”

Voldemort shrugged. “Until we know more, or something happens, there is not much to be done. Likewise, the other teams are well into their schedules for our other projects.”

“Such as home?”

“Yes. The first team has already set up the initial barriers and will shortly be moving on to encompassing a much wider perimeter. For now, that does mean the other teams have been able to begin their own work.” Then he went silent and gave Brand an assessing look. “I wonder . . . at what point did I more or less hand over control of so much to you?”

Brand blinked slowly and smiled. “After you decided I could be trusted to handle it? After all, what’s the sense in having an heir if they can barely tie their own shoes, father?”

Voldemort chuckled and shook his head.

“Besides, you have absolute final say in everything, and I know that. Just because I cannot recall you ever telling me no does not mean you wouldn’t. Maybe I’m just too well behaved?”

Voldemort snorted softly. “Enough of business. What of our hedgehogs?”

Brand rolled his eyes expansively. “Remus hasn’t told me a thing and he did promise to confide, so I must believe nothing much interesting has happened. Severus hasn’t said anything, either, though I’m not sure if he would. Then again, I did confide in him after that talk with you about Draco, so he might? They were sitting terribly close to each other at our last picnic, though.”

“I’m sure you’d have told me by now if Lucius had approached you.”

“He hasn’t. And if he hasn’t by now, I suppose he won’t. Do you think he would move with us? While I know he’s still a wanted man, I have a hard time imagining him giving up his estate. It’s been in the family for centuries, after all.”

“Nothing says he has to give it up. There will come a time, sooner or later, when all will be forgiven, as they say. It’s not like the minister would gainsay my orders and have the aurors actively searching for him or try to haul him back to Azkaban.” Voldemort gave his son an amused smile. “In any case, Lucius must find it humbling, which is not necessarily a bad thing.”