Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Forsaken :: 29 :: Seeing Ahead

29 :• Seeing Ahead

“I’m glad you could all make it,” Brand said as he swept his gaze up and down the conference table. “You have been chosen because I know each of you is loyal, you trust me, and I can trust you.”

Several of them looked almost pleased with themselves, but Brand repressed the smile that threatened to erupt. “I have a mission for you. I cannot explain why some things must be, but I trust that you will know I have my reasons. So, if any of you cannot contain your curiosity, say so now and I will release you from this particular duty.”

He waited at least a minute, then continued when no one spoke up. “Very good. You will be guarding a family, two locations. I expect this to be a very boring assignment, but do not make the mistake of seeing it as any kind of punishment or cruelty on my part. This is extremely important to me. . . .”

*

He was glad he had made quiet preparations. Brand was going over plans in his father’s public study when Maer popped in. “Master, Wilson is being here to see you. He is saying it’s urgent.”

Brand nodded. “Send him here immediately, then keep watch on that room. You know what to do.”

Maer popped out and a knock sounded a few minutes later, so Brand opened the door with a wave of his hand. Wilson stepped in and knelt briefly, then rose. Brand closed the door before gesturing toward a chair. “Report.”

“My lord, Hutchins and I were on watch duty when at least a score of unidentified assailants appeared. They immediately—”

Dobby popped in, cutting the man off in his surprise, and looked to Brand.

“Please take a seat. I will be with you in just a few moments,” Brand said to the elf, then turned back to Wilson. “Continue.”

“They immediately tried to attack, my lord. I signaled our backup and waited for them to arrive before coming here to inform you. We took down five of them before that happened. I do not think they were expecting any kind of resistance.”

Brand paused for a moment, sensing an arrival, then nodded. “Return, then, and make sure no one got too enthusiastic. I need at least one of them alive. You may go, quickly.”

Wilson leapt to his feet and bowed, then rushed back out of the room. Brand turned his attention to the elf and asked, “What is it?”

“Dobby is thinking Brand might want to be knowing that his Wheezy was attacked.”

“What!?”

“Wheezy is being alive. Dobby is knowing that Wheezy made it to his brothers, and they is bringing him to St Mungo’s.”

“Why on Earth would he be attacked? I never sensed anything like that in Dumbledore’s mind,” Brand protested.

“Perhaps Brand is not thinking to look for it,” Dobby replied. “Miss Hermione has been in danger. Perhaps it is not being so strange that Brand’s Wheezy has been too.”

“Well, they were both Harry’s best friends,” Brand agreed, still confused over how he could have missed such a plan. Though perhaps Dobby was correct; maybe he never saw it because he never looked for it. “All right, thank you for telling me. I’m sure the twins will be contacting me once they can, and I know you’ll tell me anything else that comes up you think I ought to know.”

“Dobby will,” said the elf, smiled toothily, then popped out.

Brand ran a rough hand through his hair and stood, swept the plans into a drawer and locked it, then headed to the second floor. Maer had done as asked and kept his guests sequestered in an antechamber. They were sitting when he swept in, obviously agitated and nervous.

“Mr and Mrs Granger,” he said, “I wish we could be meeting under more cordial circumstances. My name is Brand Riddle and I’m a close friend of your daughter’s.” He didn’t mention the fact that he was ghosting their minds enough to assure himself of their identities.

The father shot to his feet and said, “Where are we? And what happened? I thought Hermione was just being cautious when she insisted we take those portkeys.”

Brand inclined his head slightly to the side. “I will explain as best I can. However, I would be a poor host if I did not see to your comfort. Would you care for refreshments?”

Mr Granger looked at him blankly. Brand gestured back at the seat the man had vacated and called Maer in. “Maer, I would appreciate if you brought us some refreshments, please, and then I need for you to arrange a discreet note for Hermione.”

“Master is wishing Miss Hermione to come?”

“Yes, as soon as she can without raising suspicion.”

In the time it took for Brand to take a seat Maer had returned with a tray containing tea and other drinks, along with a small selection of biscuits. Brand poured himself a cup of tea and said, “Please help yourselves.”

The father shook his head abruptly as his wife poured her own cup of tea. “You said you would explain.”

Brand nodded and sighed. “I had hoped it would not come to this. But given the circumstances, I am offering you sanctuary for the duration, though I’m really not sure how this will affect your business. We’ll worry about that later, I suppose. To get down to the bare bones, you have been targeted for death by a madman.”

“That Voldemort person?” Mrs Granger asked quietly.

Brand shook his head. “No, actually.” Inside he felt a renewed glow of happiness that his sister had kept her secrets. Granted, she couldn’t help but keep them, but still. . . . “Voldemort is the last person who would seek your deaths, odd as that may sound. It is true, however, that your family is a target simply because your daughter was a very close friend of Harry Potter. If this man were to succeed, your deaths would be more symbolic than anything else. Of course, I’ve done everything I can to make sure none of you so much as get scratched.”

“But Harry Potter is dead.”

“Yes, he is. Ron Weasley, Potter’s best male friend, was also attacked today. He managed to get to at least two of his brothers and they took him to hospital. I’m waiting on more information on him. At any rate, where you are is simple. This is my home, and you are presently in no danger whatsoever, though you cannot roam freely or even leave for the time being. Until I know whether you are presumed dead or merely missing, I won’t know how to proceed. I can, however, set you up in a suite of rooms with a balcony and guarantee that you won’t be disturbed by anyone other than a trusted few.”

Hermione burst in at that moment, breathless and a bit wild looking. “Mum! Dad! Oh, thank Merlin you’re all right. You are all right? Brand?”

Brand chuckled and pulled her over into a quick hug. “They’re fine, as you can see. If you need a calming potion, there’s some in that cupboard back there.”

She took a deep breath and shook her head. “No, I’m fine.” After giving both her parents a heartfelt hug she sat down and poured her own cup of tea, then cradled it with both hands. “How long ago?”

“Perhaps a half hour,” Brand supplied. “As I was saying before you arrived, I am going to have to wait on a decision here. If the old man thinks your parents are dead, they’re going to have to stay here until he’s taken care of. Otherwise, they can probably go back home. Well, with a new set of portkeys, that is.”

“What exactly happened?” Hermione demanded.

He gave her a fond look. “I’ve had people watching on rotation, sis, two at a time. When your parents were attacked, backup was summoned and one came here to report before being sent back. I’m waiting for one of the team to give me a final report, and bring me back a gift.” His smile was a bit feral.

Hermione glanced at her parents, then frowned at him. “A gift?”

“Sure,” he said with a shrug. “I want some answers, and if I can arrange the gift’s memory to our advantage, why not?” And then to distract her from any protests she might dream up he added, “Ron was also attacked.”

She puffed up like an irritated cat.

“He’s at St Mungo’s. I’m sure I’ll be hearing about that shortly as well,” Brand said, hiding his amusement. “Now, it will probably be to our advantage for you, Mr and Mrs Granger, to appear either dead or gravely injured, at least to the old man, for the time being. Given that, I think you, Hermione, ought to go spread a family emergency story a bit later on, once I have more information. You can close down the practice for the duration.”

“But—”

“Yes?”

Hermione sighed and shook her head. “No, all right. That’s probably for the best.”

“Then let me show you to a suite.”

*

Voldemort watched in silence as his son expertly questioned the mercenary, both verbally and by use of ghosting, then carefully altered the man’s memories. Brand had already taken care of the captured Order members, assuring that what he had planned to plant in the mind of the man before him was not contradicted. The Grangers would be presumed dead for the duration, but without actual proof to back up that belief.

The other mercenaries had been killed outright by the team his son had sent, with one exception, their men not questioning their lord’s orders, and he idly wondered what sort of effect it would have on Dumbledore, finding out that some of his dogs had lost their lives that day. A mental shrug. It held every likelihood that the old man would not care. After all, he would think one goal had been accomplished, so why bother to worry about the deaths of his tools? One could always find more people to hire from the dregs of society.

That in itself was an oddity. A mercenary was looked down upon because they fought for money, not loyalty, but they were often as loyal or more so if they were properly paid. At least they would fight, unlike the majority of the wizarding population. They sat snug in their homes, or frightened, knowing or hoping that someone else would be there to pick up the slack and take care of the problems that threatened their society.

In that sense, muggles were often better. Many of them willingly joined the armed forces, knowing what they might be called upon to do, and knowing they might die of it. But wizards? No, it was far easier to play the sheep, bleating at every startling occurrence, large or small. He sighed, then smiled faintly as his son packed the mercenary off with a house-elf. The man looked as though he’d been severely beaten, and most likely remembered being so.

Brand looked over at him and smiled sweetly, and Voldemort felt his chest tighten as it always did when his son looked at him that way. He wondered at times about the concept of soul mates, and if that extended to other types of family. Perhaps it was so that Brand coming to him was something on the order of a miracle of chance. Not foreordained, just happenstance. Something that might be, and had become. Rather like how not every prophecy spoken would be fulfilled. Not something to be explored in depth, but more for idle speculation as fancy struck him.

“Are you all right, father?”

“Yes. I trust you will be verifying the results of your machinations.”

“Certainly,” Brand said with an impish smile. “And I’m terribly sorry, father, that I keep piling more new relations on you.”

Voldemort snorted. As if that were true, and as if he could possibly resist that face and those eyes. “And their minds?”

Brand furrowed his brow in thought. “I’ve never tried it on a muggle. I suppose it would work? If that’s what you wish, I’ll try, though I hadn’t planned on letting them loose until it was safe to do so.”

“I do wish.”

“I am happy to obey,” Brand replied, a smirk hovering at his mouth.

Voldemort rolled his eyes openly. “As well you should, son.” It always made him twinge inside to hear things like that, and he had never quite managed to decide why. “I could make your life a living hell if you disobeyed me,” he said teasingly.

Brand slid off his chair and knelt before him, folding his hands under his chin in a prayer-like style. His eyes were wide and laughingly innocent as he said, “Please, father, never that. I would be devastated.”

And he would be, Voldemort well knew. Despite just how much Brand had grown, how commanding and confident he was, an honestly meant wrong word from him would see his son crushed. He reached out to run a hand through his son’s hair, then said, “Get up. You look ridiculous like that. Just imagine what would happen if a Death Eater walked in on us.”

Brand laughed and got to his feet, retaking his chair. “I imagine they’d get entirely the wrong idea. I doubt, however, that one would be so bold as to enter without at least knocking first. At any rate, I expect that Hermione can shortly close down her parents’ practice for the duration and I should get word soon about Ron Weasley. I think I will be very happy when this is over.”

“I expect we all will.”

Brand tilted his head to the side and pursed his lips briefly. “You know, I had the wildest urge not long ago to be not entirely truthful during my confrontation of Dumbledore.”

“How do you mean?” Voldemort asked with an arch of his brow.

“Well. . . . I don’t know, really. It’s just, Dumbledore was so keen on the idea of me never being able to act on my nature, to tell anyone anything. It popped into my head one day that if he took things a step further, he could have arranged a far more nasty and sickening way to assure I would not be spending my time in anyone’s bed for quite a long stretch.”

Voldemort gazed at his son suspiciously. “I don’t think I like that train of thought.”

Brand shrugged. “I could almost see him having found someone, or forced someone, to, er, rape me, possibly repeatedly. It would have been one way to dissuade me from acting against his wishes. I’m sure in his twisted bog of a mind it would have made a certain kind of sense. And then I considered using that possible outcome as a strike against him. But then, it would be a lie, and it would only expose what I didn’t want exposed in the first place, so I more or less discarded the idea.”

He pondered that for a while, also being able to see how Dumbledore might have taken such an action if it meant his son would be too traumatized to ever think of having consensual relations with another man, and glad that it was only speculation on the man’s ruthlessness. And on top of that, he could also almost see the man doing such a thing, then using it as blackmail material to ensure that his pawn would behave himself no matter what.

Voldemort shook his head slowly. “Don’t lie, Brand. Just the truth, and if that isn’t enough to sink his reputation, it really won’t matter all that much in the end. He will be dead and you will have the satisfaction of finally being able to say what you’ve wanted to say to his face, in front of witnesses.”

Brand gave a vague sort of nod. “And then we can work on everything else.” He looked up, his eyes sparkling, and said, “I can’t wait to see us a few years from now.”

“Oh?”

“Absolutely, father. I’m starting to look forward to the idea of a toddler or two crawling all over you and demanding their grandfather’s attention.”

Voldemort groaned a second later, images of babies gumming his clothing flashing through his head, or spitting up on his shoulder. He had no doubt his son would make damn sure he was involved with those babies. “You’re not too old for me to toss over my knee and paddle, young man,” he retorted.

“Ooo, kinky. I’ll have to mention that to Draco and see how he reacts.”

Voldemort dropped his face into his hands and sighed. He simply could not win. “Go on, you wretched imp. Go see to your duties.”

“As you command,” Brand replied impudently.

*

It had taken some time, but they did finally track down any possible members of Dumbledore’s family. Well before then Brand had heard more on Ron’s condition from the twins and had been assured that their brother was recovering nicely. Their mother, however, had put her foot down and insisted that Ron remain at the Burrow for the foreseeable future, and was trying to convince him he could not leave the house without at least one other person to guard his back.

Ron was reportedly not taking things well.

Brand had made a third trip to Hogwarts to assess the results of their recent activities. He was almost beginning to feel sorry for poor Makai having to give up so many dinners with his friends, though he expected that Draco was decent enough company. There was barely a difference in ages, after all, though there was the added awkwardness of Draco being in the elevated position he was by virtue of the bonding.

Hermione, after having heard through more normal channels about the attacks, had both visited Ron at St Mungo’s and gone through the motions of closing her parents’ practice for an indefinite period of time. The few employees weren’t told much information that was truthful, and anyone else was given the strong impression that Hermione refused to believe her parents could be dead.

Brand and Draco returned from their trip feeling satisfied. “He thinks they’re dead,” Brand said as he flopped onto his couch, being careful to echo things to his father so he wouldn’t need to repeat himself. “He’s also a bit disappointed that Ron and Hermione managed to live.”

“I get the feeling he doesn’t have any idea that Hermione was never attacked,” Draco said.

Brand felt assent from his father at those words. “He doesn’t, which is a bit strange, but that’s all right. He thinks she was extremely lucky, that’s all. Luckier than Ron, certainly. If I weren’t such a nice guy I’d propose killing every family member he has. But you know, I have to wonder if he gives more than a passing damn about any of them. Honestly, I think I walk away from these encounters with more questions than I managed to answer.”

Draco snorted softly. “I can’t imagine you’d want to spend long enough rooting around in his head for all your questions to come to mind and you to get answers for. You’re not going to kill them, so it really doesn’t matter. I would like to believe that once the old man is dead you can perhaps go back in once or twice to check the minds of people like McGonagall to see if there’s anything we should be aware or wary of, and that would be more or less it. Followup work, basically.”

:I agree.:

So Brand nodded.

“What about his dead?”

“He doesn’t care.” Brand made a face and continued, “They did their jobs, and he’s happy he doesn’t have to pay them now. He got work for free, essentially, and there’s always more roaming about willing to take on jobs for money, even if they are less than honorable.”

For some reason that made Draco laugh. “Oh, now that is rich. I find that hilarious, actually. You ghosted every last mind here, every last Death Eater, and the children, and there’s been what—one traitor out of everyone? All our lord’s people serve out of loyalty, not for money. I’m not trying to make this into a superiority contest, but it’s obvious who actually can fill the role of leader, and it isn’t Dumbledore.”

:I’ll have to give him a pay rise,: Voldemort commented into Brand’s head.

Brand bit his lip, then nodded at Draco. :Oh? But we don’t get paid. Unless you count me kissing him, that is. Should I kiss him more often, father? After all, if I take very good care of him, he’d never become disloyal.:

He felt a twinge of pain between his brows a second later as his father hit him with the equivalent of a mental hex. :Son, behave. If you kiss him into insensibility too often, he won’t be of much use to us, now will he.:

:Yes, father,: he sent as contritely as he could, despite the urge to laugh. To Draco he said, “I had a funny thought the other day. I was telling father about how I could just imagine him being swarmed over by toddlers.” Almost instantly he could feel a withdrawal from his mind that left behind a faint sense of mock disgust.

Draco looked shocked, then amused. “I don’t even want to think about how a child that young could mangle our lord’s name.”

Brand did laugh then, uproariously.

*

“We have four targets,” Voldemort said. All his key people were gathered at the conference table, listening with all their attention. “I want three decoy team leaders from you. Brand will head up the final group. So, volunteers?”

Remus was conspicuously silent, making Brand think he wanted to be on his team. He had, after all, been the one to make the suggestion. Severus was also silent.

Lucius cleared his throat softly. “I will lead one, my lord.”

“Excellent.”

Dolohov volunteered next, a look of gleeful anticipation on his face. Brand made a mental note to discuss the man with his father, though he really doubted Antonin would disobey his orders once they were laid out. Still, he was one of the more sadistic of his father’s followers and advisors. And surprisingly, Draco volunteered. After a few moments of thought Brand decided that his mate wanted to prove, to himself and others, that he could handle being a mission leader, and this was one that wasn’t horribly taxing, but could still run into problems. It was more or less a good starting point.

Voldemort seemed pleased with that and nodded, then said, “Very well. Now, aside from those people Brand chooses for his team, you will all take squads and cause some general mayhem to further confuse things. Pick your target locations at random, though I do expect you will coordinate so there will be no overlaps in the actual execution.”

Hermione shifted in her seat almost unnoticed. Brand spared a glance in her direction, wondering if she had already made her own set of choices and was wanting to divvy them up instead of the second string decoys having to waste time on it. He already knew she would not consent to go out on a mission, so it made sense for her to take on coordination if possible. He immediately passed on that thought to his father, getting a slight nod in return.

Voldemort produced three folders and handed one to each of the decoy team leaders. “Your targets. Go over these, then pick a squad of men to accompany you and make sure they are adequately briefed.” He then turned his gaze on Hermione and said, “Blaze.”

She started slightly in her chair. “Yes, sir?”

“You will serve as general coordinator for the remaining teams and will be responsible for keeping track of target locations, and possibly assigning them if there are problems choosing. You will continue to report directly to Brand.”

“Understood, sir.”

Voldemort nodded and produced another folder, which he slid down to the table to her, then looked at Brand. :Choose those you wish from this bunch first, before I wrap this meeting up.:

Brand nodded and smiled. “Remus and Severus, you’re with me. Ember, Flare, Flash—that decision is yours.”

Tonks and the twins exchanged a three-way look, then Tonks spoke first. “If I may, sir, I will go with Draco.”

Brand glanced at Draco, who nodded. “Fine.”

“We would prefer to accompany you, sir,” Fred said, his eyes sparkling a bit.

“Certainly.” Of course they would. They probably had some interesting new toys to test out. “Father?”

“Primary decoys, you may go. Questions and problems to me or Brand,” Voldemort said, then waited for them to gather up their things and depart. “Son, you may use my study if you wish to discuss this with your team. Blaze, I will leave you and the others the conference room to hash things out.” After giving a final nod to those remaining, Voldemort stood and swept out, but not before handing Brand the final folder.

Brand rose and moved to one side, gesturing at Hermione to join him. “All right,” he whispered once she was at his side. “If you want us to stay, we will, and we’ll huddle around one end of the table while you take the other. Otherwise, I’m going to bring my team up to my suite. I just don’t know how you feel about being alone with this lot.”

She looked uncertain for a moment, then shook her head. “I’ll try it on my own. I can call Rigas if I need you.”

Brand gave her an affectionate smile in lieu of a hug and nodded. “All right. I will remind him to call you Miss Blaze, then, should the need arise.” He turned and grabbed his things, motioned for his people to follow, then headed out.

Once in the safety of his suite he called for Rigas, instructed him, then dismissed him and called Maer to bring refreshments. “All right. You lot would have to be idiots to not know we get the pleasure of blowing Dumbledore’s house sky high. So, thoughts?”

*

Their approach was cautious, with all of them busily checking for warding around the property. The other teams had gone out in waves, starting with the second string decoys in thirds, and finally the primaries. They should already be causing enough commotion to completely distract the aurors from their own activities.

Brand was not at all surprised to note that Dumbledore had excellent wards surrounding his property. A huddled, whispered conference ensued so they could share their findings, then Brand set about delicately finessing the first of the wards, one that would alert Dumbledore to anyone crossing the outer boundary. His team kept eyes out in all directions as he worked, ready to order a retreat should something go wrong.

A half hour later Brand had defused the first hurdle and was considering what else he needed to take down or alter before they could head in to set up their incendiary devices. He had, actually, been presented with an extra mercenary from the raid on the Grangers, and had a little something extra in mind for that one, just in case, and simply to add a new layer of obfuscation to everything. It might not even be touched upon, but neither would it hurt.

It took another two hours and repeated checks by everyone before Brand was satisfied, and they skulked toward the house like phantasms, drifting to a stop outside a set of French doors. Brand made a series of gestures, nodded, then pointed, watching as Remus and Severus went one way along the building perimeter and the twins went the other.

He focused on what was right in front of him, checking for alarms and whatnot, before eventually easing the doors open and stepping into Dumbledore’s home. A sneer escaped as he took in the decor, the sunny yellow colours making him feel slightly ill, almost as though he was trapped inside a sherbet lemon. Brand made it halfway through the house before he was rejoined by his team, and they were sent off with another set of gestures to begin planting more of their collection of toys in the areas he had already checked out.

He continued on scanning for additional traps, directing his people wordlessly as they appeared, until finally they had finished with the house itself, and after a last look around, Brand motioned and led his people back outside and a safe distance away. It was only then that someone spoke.

“Start a small fire,” Remus urged in a whisper, causing Brand no small amount of confusion.

“Whatever for?”

Remus smirked nastily and reached into his robes, then pulled out a clear plastic bag. “I brought the marshmallows!”

Brand slapped a hand over his mouth hastily, but could not prevent a snort of laughter when he noticed the confusion Severus managed to convey despite his mask. He nodded his approval, still not trusting himself to speak, and the twins searched out some sticks and created a small fire behind an outcropping of rock.

Remus hummed to himself as he snapped some thin branches off a nearby tree, then set about sticking the sweets on the ends and handing them around to everyone. He was more than happy to show Severus what to do.

Brand snickered and looked at the twins. “All right. Whenever you’re ready, boys,” he whispered, then perched his own stick over the fire to toast his treat.

A few seconds later they had an odd box out, one that strongly resembled the controls of a muggle radio controlled vehicle. It had not taken them long to figure out a way to get certain devices to work even in areas that were heavily saturated with magic, and had chosen it as the best way to trigger the explosions.

They exchanged a glance, then each extended a finger to press a big red button (another thing that made Brand want to laugh), then looked up sharply as the structure before them went up in a huge fiery ball of flame, pieces of the house being blown up and out in all directions. Just to be safe Brand erected a variety of shields around their little enclave, then settled back to enjoy.