Original Upload: 07 April 2006
Last Edited: 02 January 2009

Notes: Minor edits, consistency issues. (Thanks to Bats for suggesting the topic of conversation at the Full Moon. The epilogue has been restored.)

— 30: Puppet Master —

Brand paced back and forth in front of his father's desk restlessly. The last thing he wanted to be doing was reporting on their mission, or hearing the results of the decoy teams. He finally sat down when Voldemort stared at him mercilessly, though he couldn't quite prevent his leg from jittering.

"I'm told it was quite a sight. They had a good portion of the villagers tied up spread eagled and naked in the center of town with a huge bonfire going," Voldemort was saying with a certain amount of amusement. "Naturally, the children had all been made to sleep, so it's not like they saw anything harmful to their delicate psyches. I'm quite sure the aurors got an eyeful when they finally arrived, not to mention the obliviators."

"That's wonderful, father," Brand said tersely.

"They were making threats of putting the muggles through the same things we were forced into during the burnings," Voldemort continued, then smirked.

"So things went well."

"Very well. And, I assume you can tell me the same."

"Yes, father. In short, I disabled any wards that would betray our presence or harm us, though I didn't actually remove them, then we moved in. I continued on through the house looking for anything nasty while the others worked the outside, then they came in and set things up inside. After that we retreated to a safe distance and the twins blew the house. Quite frankly, it was a spectacular explosion. I also made arrangements for the second mercenary." He stood up and started pacing again.

Voldemort nodded, a smirk still hovering about his mouth. "Then I would appreciate you providing me with a copy of the evening, or leaving that memory easily accessible, so I can look at my leisure."

"Yes, all right, I'll leave the memory accessible. May I please go?"

Voldemort spoke again, though he did not immediately give permission. "If we hear nothing within the next day or so, we'll have to make sure that mercenary is located by the right people."

"Of course. I made sure he won't go anywhere or get into trouble."

"You know, son, with the way you're acting, I might be persuaded to believe you don't find my company pleasing," Voldemort said casually.

Brand stopped dead and looked his father in the eye, scowling a bit at his barely concealed expression of mirth at his discomfort. "Father, please?"

Voldemort waved his hand. "Go on, then."

He flashed his father a smile and strode out quickly, thankful that they had been speaking in the private study on the third floor. Brand was inside his suite in mere minutes and stepping into his bedroom, closing the door with a sharp backward push of his foot. Draco was waiting for him, sprawled naked on the bed in an indolent pose.

Brand growled and began ripping off his clothing, not caring one whit for the damage he was causing, then crawled up Draco's body, nearly slithering like a snake, and latched onto his mate's mouth in a savage kiss.


Two days later, on Halloween morning, a highly intoxicated and indiscriminately chatty mercenary turned up at the ministry after a minor floo 'accident' and was quickly taken into custody once people made sense of his somewhat incoherent and all too free speech. That, of course, gave the Minister of Magic the perfect excuse to visit Hogwarts with an entourage in tow.

And naturally, Brand was a part of it.

Dobby, being the amiable sort of fellow he was, had warded the Great Hall for all he was worth. If a real ghost managed to enter, it would not be for lack of effort on the house elf's part. Brand had absolute faith in his friend, but also knew he should not let things drag out if possible, even though a few other elves in his family's service had chipped in to assist once Dobby had talked them into it.

He followed the minister into the Great Hall, their arrival causing a definite disturbance; it was surely not every day that this sort of thing would happen. Dumbledore hid his surprise well, appearing as sage and knowing as always, though other professors were not quite so well schooled in that respect. Brand found it amusing that McGonagall seemed particularly flustered and speculated wildly in the privacy of his mind about her quick, darting glances at the minister.

Then again, perhaps not so private. :You're making me ill with these speculations, son.:

Brand refrained from rolling his eyes. :Well, it is all rather peculiar, don't you think? She keeps eyeing him like catnip or something.: He gazed about the room as though keeping an eye out for insurgents or snipers, ostensibly ignoring the greeting going on between the minister and Dumbledore.

:Do you suppose we should send her some for Christmas?:

:If you're going to be that thoughtful, daddy dearest, you should make a plush minister doll and fill that up. I'm sure she'd love it.: He nodded sharply when the minister gestured, then took up position behind him, along with his comrades, after the man took a seat at the head table.

Brand waited until everyone settled down and stopping staring, then waited some more, still pretending to ignore the hushed conversation going on in front of him. And then, he acted.

There was a strikingly soft sound made, one that somehow carried throughout the hall, drawing attention to the doors, which perfectly framed the ghostly form that floated into view. Silvery spectacles refracted light from the candles overhead in an oddly compelling display as the figure floated forward, an expression of deep and abiding pain on its bruised and bleeding face.

Dumbledore broke off his conversation and stared along with everyone else, and Brand briefly regretted not being able to see the man's face. It wouldn't matter, after all, but it would have been nice; his position simply would not allow for it.

The figure continued up the main aisle, finally drifting to a stop not far from the dais. Brand chose that moment to cast a few subtle spells over the headmaster, like a net of softest silk, barely felt or noticed.

"How could you?" asked the ghost of Harry Potter. "Sir, what did I do that was so terrible that you would do that? How wretched was I and undeserving to have suffered so much when you could have stepped in? Please tell me."

Harry paused, gazing searchingly at the headmaster, then shook his head regretfully. "I see. I guess you say nothing because you can't think of a nice way to divert my attention this time, to distract me. Maybe it doesn't matter. I'm just a ghost, right? I don't need to know anything."

The ghost sat in midair, for all the world looking like a chastised or bewildered schoolboy, his hands folded awkwardly in his lap and twisting occasionally.

"Maybe they need to know. Did you know? I just can't decide. Maybe not, but maybe you did. I kept trying to tell you, and you just didn't listen, or you didn't want to. Maybe it is because you knew all along. Who sends out the letters, professor? Do they see the addresses? Shouldn't someone have noticed mine was addressed to the cupboard under the stairs?"

Gasps rang out from various students, and still Dumbledore did not speak. No one needed to know he could not. No one needed to be aware of the fact that Brand was having an extra bit of fun by glamouring the man's face to display exactly what he wanted seen.

"Is that normal, sir? Please tell me. Is it normal to not know your name until you're five years old and must attend school? How many children here thought their name was 'boy' or 'freak' as they were growing up?" Harry glanced around the room before resting his gaze back on Dumbledore, whose expression presently appeared to be a bit steely.

"Is it normal to live in a cupboard until you're eleven? Why did you never check on me, sir? Did you agree with those people, my family, that I was a freak? I guess I could understand if you did. I survived the killing curse that once, so maybe I was a freak, something to be hidden away and not talked about. I didn't do so well the second time, did I."

Harry laughed bitterly and ducked his head as though ashamed. "I think now I was a fool that year. Should it have been that incredibly easy for three first years to win through to the philosopher's stone, sir? Looking back on it, I almost think you meant for it to happen that way. You were conveniently called away the very same night Voldemort went after it. It was placed into an object you knew I was aware of the nature of, because you were the one to explain about it to me. Another coincidence, I guess.

"And I saved it, only to hear that you destroyed it, the only known stone in existence. Or did you? Will you tell me this, then? How did you not know that Quirrell was possessed by Voldemort, sir, when you have every portrait in the castle reporting to you anything of interest? Or . . . did you?" Harry sighed audibly when Dumbledore didn't respond, as Brand carefully eyed his audience; everyone seemed to be spellbound, barely breathing for fear of not hearing properly.

"You never really did answer my questions then, just like you aren't now." The ghostly form shrugged and twisted his hands in his lap. "I knew for sure you never checked up on me when I got back to my aunt and uncle. How many children are chucked in a room with bars on the windows to prevent it being used, with seven locks on the outside of the door to keep them in, and a cat flap through which cold tins of soup are pushed every so often as meals? Hedwig nearly starved to death because of it.

"If you were keeping an eye on things, you would have known and done something, wouldn't you, sir? I had to be rescued by friends. It wasn't until much later on that I found out you did have a spy in my neighborhood. So how come you didn't help me? I looked up to you, trusted you completely, and you never came for me."

Dumbledore's expression changed to one of mild chagrin, causing a number of students to frown in consternation as they worked out the implications. McGonagall laid a hand on the headmaster's arm, but he made no move to acknowledge it.

"I guess most of my second year is beside the point. The only really important thing was saving Ginny, sir, right? Of course, that was helpful because it meant the school didn't need to close down. It's hard to be a headmaster with no students, huh? And it's the same thing there, too. How could you miss that a student was being possessed? How could you let that happen?

"For that matter, how could you let my godfather go to Azkaban without trial, sir? You've been the head of the Wizengamot for how long? Why did I have to find out the truth in a dirty shack? And, why did you encourage me to break the law that night? I could have been sent to Azkaban if I'd been found out."

Brand changed Dumbledore's expression to one of vague irritation and watched as student faces displayed disbelief in response. A movement from overhead caught his attention, and he noticed Dobby peering down at him. Ten fingers were briefly displayed; he would have to hurry things along.

Harry heaved a huge sigh as his eyes became a bit watery. "And then you hire a Death Eater to teach Defense? Honestly, sir, at times I look back and wonder if you really were trying to get me killed in your enthusiasm to prepare me for what was ahead. Oh, yes, let's not forget about my fifth year," he said, voice rising a bit and becoming edgy.

"You treated me like a leper, sir. You ordered me to learn Occlumency, but never bothered to tell me why. Never told me the dangers I could be facing, dangers you suspected," he said, voice rising higher and distinctly accusatory in tone. "You never told me Voldemort could possess me!" he screamed.

"You kept me so far in the dark I nearly died that night, my friends nearly died!" A tear escaped, leaving a glistening trail down Harry's silvery cheek. "My godfather did die!" he shrieked. "Was I such a bad child, such a disappointment to you, that you simply didn't care about any of us!? And then, worst of all, your two points of staggering neglect. You, the man who finally put guards on my home. You who let that drunken thief be one. The one time I actually needed you, feared for my life while not at school, you weren't there, sir!"

Harry reached up with his hands and gripped his hair wildly, making it even more of a mess. Dumbledore's expression was gradually changing to something Brand might have expected the man would be feeling, red-faced inarticulate rage at being questioned by a thing, a tool, a pawn, a child. It was slowly having an effect on the breathlessly watching student body.

"Tell me, sir, tell me! All those guards, and I was captured in Hogsmeade? Was that drunken sod on duty again, was that it? Did he go off to make another shady deal for smuggled goods? Why didn't you come!? You were like a grandfather to me, and you abandoned me! Every other time you made it before it was too late, and this time I—"

There was a pregnant pause before Harry whispered brokenly, "I died," then he stood swiftly and screamed, "I will never forgive you, sir, never!" The ghost began to cry silent tears as it spun in place and fled toward the doors of the Great Hall. It was the first and last time anyone magical would ever see Harry Potter cry.

Brand, some of his power returned to him on having released the fake specter, unleashed two spells in anticipation of his final actions. The first scrambled Dumbledore's brains like eggs in a searing frying pan. The second was quite simple, a wordlessly cast imperius. Dumbledore's expression rearranged itself into one of chagrined remorse as Brand caused him to shake off McGonagall's hand and rise, extending one trembling arm toward the nearly disappeared ghost.

"Harry," he said, "child, you will never know just how much I h—" Dumbledore broke off, his arm swiftly moving back to clutch at his chest as the doors slammed shut seemingly of their own accord.

The student body was becoming horribly restless, the whispers starting amongst them and increasing in volume, with both speculative and accusing looks being shot up at the head table. Brand waited, praying one of them would give him the opening he wanted, and then it happened. Though, for all he knew, Dobby might have interfered on his behalf.

Dennis Creevey pushed to his feet at the Gryffindor table and yelled out, "Yes, how could you, sir? He was our savior, our hero!"

And that was all Brand needed to be persuaded to reach out with his power and stop Dumbledore's heart. Even if they somehow managed to get him breathing again, his mind was a wasteland. He released his curse and watched with internalized glee as the headmaster toppled over slowly, everyone too surprised at events to bother to attempt to catch him.

It made for a satisfying thud as the man hit the floor.

Brand and his compatriots instantly surged forward and yanked the minister from his chair, surrounding him for protection, and dragging him back away from the table, closer to the side door at the back of the dais.

For a few precious seconds the inhabitants of the hall were frozen in shared shock, then the screaming began, a Hufflepuff losing her head completely and expressing her fear in a piercing way. That set off others, and the professors were hard pressed between deciding to bring order to the room or rushing to investigate Dumbledore's health.

Brand touched the minister's shoulder fleetingly, saying in a soft, even voice, "Sir, you may wish to consider taking charge of this mess. The deputy looks like she's about to pass out."

The minister looked back over his shoulder, paused for a heartbeat, then said, "Move to the front of the dais and keep the students back, two thirds facing forward, one third back. You"—he nodded at Brand—"stay with me."

As the bodyguards spread out to follow their orders the minister cast Sonorous and addressed the room at large. "Silence! All prefects will immediately escort their houses back to their common rooms and dormitories. Head boy and girl will remain here for the moment in case they're needed." The man waited a moment, until he saw evidence that his orders were being carried out, then nodded and tucked his wand away.

A short time later they were gathered up in the infirmary; Dumbledore was irrevocably dead, much to Brand's delight (and thanks to his continued efforts to ensure he could not be revived). He made a mental note to get with the contact students as soon as possible and retrieve memories from each of them so he and everyone else who had not been able to be present could see things properly as they'd unfolded.

It was not much of a shock when Arthur Weasley rushed into the ward, red-faced and panting from exertion. The minister did not comment, though he could be seen casting the occasional quizzical look in that direction. Brand was pleased that he was reacting as he ought to be, not forgetting his role in this particular farce.

He was beginning to get bored by the time a half hour or so had passed, though it did finally come out to some degree why the minister had chosen to make a visit, having previously been speaking to Dumbledore too softly to be overheard by others at the table. But the minister brushed it off as an unimportant issue given the gravity of their current situation.

Poppy finally took pity on Minerva and sedated her, tucking her away in a private room and delegating temporary control of the school into the hands of Sprout and Flitwick. Shortly thereafter the minister made his apologies and left, and Brand went so far as to escort the man all the way to his home, whereupon he smoothly dropped the act.

"Minister, well done. I know my father will likewise appreciate your steadfast loyalty and cool head."

"Thank you, my lord. I am happy to be of service," the minister said with a slight bow.

Brand smiled charmingly and nodded. "Well, it's been a delightful evening, but I think I'll be heading home now. Until next time," he said, then hastened off cheerfully.

Five Years Later—Serpens, Ophiuchus

Brand strode into the bar, pausing on the threshold, then surged forward as he spotted his godfather sitting in one of the booths fiddling with a glass. Patrons bowed respectfully as he passed them, and he nodded absently in response before sliding onto a padded bench. "Why here?"

Remus smiled softly and tilted his head. "Why not here? It was too tempting, Brand—a place called the Full Moon?"

"Yes, but is the food any good?"

"I have no idea, and we don't have time in any case."

"Sorry I'm late. I was talking with father and lost track of the time. I'll probably be late to see Draco, as well."

Remus shook his head as a server appeared, slid a drink onto the table and murmured, "My lord," then fled.

Brand rolled his eyes and sighed, causing Remus to chuckle softly. "And how exactly is it that people know what I drink?"

"Gossip, my dear godson. Did you bring it?"

"Oh, yes." Brand reached into his robes and withdrew a velvet box, then laid it squarely on the table in front of Remus. "It's perfect."

A gentle smile lit Remus's face as he reached forward to open the box, then broadened into a full-fledged grin. "Yes, perfect. If Severus doesn't love this I'll be completely floored."

"Maybe he'll be completely floored that one of you finally worked up the courage to ask. Speaking of which, when do you plan to?"

Remus checked the time and grimaced. "Er, in about twenty minutes, actually."

"Not here, surely," Brand said, then knocked back half his drink.

"No, no. I don't think he'd appreciate that." Remus closed the box and scooped it up, tucking it into his robes. "I've got to go," he said and rose, preparing to pay for the drinks.

"Don't, it's on me. You can repay me by promising to spill every last detail later on, okay?" Brand drank down the remainder in his glass, then stood to engulf his godfather in a hug and kiss him on the cheek. "Go get him, Moony."

Remus squeezed back, then detached himself and strode out, a man with a purpose. Brand grinned and shook his head, dropping a couple of galleons on the table, then left as well, heading for the park. The 'sky' overhead was hazy due to the barriers keeping back the sea, and one was far more likely to see marine life swimming by than clouds, but it was lovely in its own way.

He suffered in silence the repeated bowing he got from passersby and eventually entered the park, instantly spotting his quarry. Hermione was flat on her back being tickled mercilessly by Callidus and Pavonis, and apparently enjoying every second judging by her shrieks of laughter. He strode over quickly and dropped down onto the grass next to them, only to be pushed over as the boys promptly abandoned their victim and pounced on him instead.

It was a beautiful day to be alive.

— The End —