Chapter 44: Maneuvering

Things began to settle into a routine, and Brie discovered that having people know his secret wasn't all bad.

McGongall continued to treat him as she always had during the school day, but he also occasionally received offers of hospitality. Once in a while, he even took her up on the offer of tea and spent a little time learning about his birth parents. He justified it as courting an ally in Dumbledore's circle, though he found himself liking the old battle-ax more than he had originally intended.

His interactions with Black were more complicated. Black really, really missed everything that "Harry Potter" represented, and he couldn't always disguise it. The naked longing that Brie could sometimes see in the man's face made him deeply uncomfortable and, more often than not, led to him avoiding Black.

This, he learned, just made Black try harder.

One day, almost two weeks after their London adventure, Black cornered him after class. Brie stood in the emptying classroom, back rigid as he fought the urge to fidget.

"Do you want me to wait?" Neville asked, pausing at the door as the last sixth year left.

"He'll be a few minutes," Black answered for him.

Neville surprised him a little by continuing to wait for his response. For the first time, Brie truly let himself appreciate how nice it was to have friends here. Neville was providing him with an out, and all he had to do was ask him to stick around for a minute.

"Go to class," Black said dismissively. "I'll write a pass for him, but you're on your own."

And still Neville waited.

"I'll see you at lunch," Brie told his friend. Neville nodded and let the door close behind him. Brie stared at Black, face impassive.

"Sit down," Black invited, voice friendly.

"I am fine," said Brie, jerking his chin up in an effort to hide his discomfort.

Black paused for a split second, then settled on the edge of the dueling platform. "You've been avoiding me," he said. He sounded hurt.

Brie paused, then decided to let his silence stand as an answer. He had been avoiding Black.

"How do you feel about the recent Daily Prophet articles?" asked Black after the silence had grown too uncomfortable for him. Brie wasn't sure what the question was meant to accomplish. He raised an eyebrow.

The Daily Prophet had been publishing increasingly fevered articles about the "Harry Potter Conspiracy." They ran the gamut from "Harry Potter is a dark wizard and the one perpetrating all the recent attacks" to "Harry Potter is a myth created by Albus Dumbledore to hide the truth."

How were they supposed to make Brie feel? He had to acknowledge that they were a sound move on Voldemort's part. If he ever decided to out himself as Harry Potter, he would not have the immediate support of Britain's wizarding population. He'd probably still be able to win them over, but it was an increasingly chancy proposition. Still, why would that make Brie emotional?

"Right," Black said after another beat of silence, "you don't want people to know you have feelings. Sorry, I forget. As a baby you…" he swallowed whatever he was going to say, probably recognizing by Brie's expression that it was not going to be a welcome walk down memory lane.

"So," he said, voice turning cheery, "how are you doing today?"

"I am well, sir," Brie said immediately, "and you?"

"Well, Gabriel, I've had better days." He looked expectantly at Brie.

Brie stared stoically back. He knew it would be easiest to go with it and just satisfy Black's need for connection. "Sorry to hear it, sir," he said flatly.

"Still," said Black in that same forced cheer, "I've had worse days. You know what I mean?"

"Yes, sir," said Brie.

"You know what always makes me feel better?"

"No, sir," said Brie, biting back the smart-aleck response. Then he changed his mind. Black wanted to get to know him, so giving a hint of personality might get this torture over faster. "But you're about to tell me, aren't you."

Black's grin told him he'd made the right choice.

"Damn right, Gabriel," he said, hopping off the stage. "I give gifts," he said, holding out a brown paper bag.

Brie blinked. He hadn't expected it, and he wasn't sure why he hadn't. He had several relatives who were not above using gifts and favors as a way of buying friendship or forgiveness.

He took the bag. He stood there awkwardly, not sure what to do next.

"Open it," said Black.

"Sir," he began.

"And for Merlin's sake, stop calling me 'sir.' I get that you don't see me the same way that I see you, but you can at least call me Sirius."

Brie didn't say anything, just started to open the crumpled bag. Black leaned forward, anticipation clear on his face.

He looked into the opening of the bag. It looked like it held silvery liquid, though the bag did not appear to be enchanted to be water-proof.

"It was your father's," Black said, unable to control his own excitement. "We got into tons of mischief with it. When you were born, your mother made him swear not to give it to you while you were at school. He distracted her before she could make me swear, too."

Deciding that it was probably not going to hurt him, he stuck his hand into the bag. The material was cool and slippery. Where his hand buried under the fabric, it disappeared. He drew the invisibility cloak out of the bag, staring at the garment in surprised admiration.

He glanced at Black, who was nearly quivering with delight. "I want you to have something of your dad's," he said, meeting Brie's eyes. "I hope you use it to get into mischief."

"Thank you," replied Brie. "Sirius," he added, because it seemed like an appropriate way to show his honest appreciation. An invisibility cloak was a princely gift.

After that day, Brie tried to steer their interactions in useful directions. Black, having found an "in," began looking for ways to entice Brie into spending time with him. He showed Brie a number of secret passages and rooms that Brie doubted he would've discovered on his own. Some of them might even prove useful someday, like the room that turned into whatever you wanted.

He never quite came to enjoy the time they spent together, but it was noticeably less awkward as time went on. After a month or so, he even started to think of the man as "Sirius" instead of "Black."

Brie stared into the fire, ignoring the low hum of voices that filled the common room. The morning's copy of the Daily Prophet sat on the couch beside him, front page featuring a smarmy looking man with Lucius Malfoy standing behind him under the headlines: "HARRY POTTER: DARK LORD OR MYTH? WHY IT DOESN'T MATTER!"

He wanted this over and done with. Although his mind was his own now, he still sometimes got headaches or flashes of emotion that clearly did not belong to him. Shay wanted to wait, to continue to marshal resources and maneuver for position. Brie just wanted the bastard dead, preferably now.

There was no way that they were going to be able to avoid some kind of face-to-face confrontation, he and Voldemort, and Brie had to admit that the odds were not nearly as good as he would prefer. They were definitely better than Voldemort thought they would be, what with the rapidly dwindling number of Horcruxes out there, but there was nothing that he could do about the last Horcrux; to Brie's knowledge, that stupid snake never left Voldemort's side. There was also the fact that Voldemort was a skilled dark wizard who had decades more training and practice than Brie.

Not to mention the inconvenient prophecy. Prophecies were tricky business. The events that shaped his early life were overwhelmingly wrought, not by the prophecy itself, but by knowledge of the prophecy. Voldemort had attacked the Potters because of the prophecy. Because of the prophecy, he had been passed off to his relatives instead of a wizarding family. Hell, the prophecy had affected Mama's choice of adoption rituals. If he were being completely honest, he'd even chosen Hogwarts, ultimately, because of the prophecy.

And it wasn't just his life that had been altered. Dumbledore had pinned all his hope on the prophecy, and now was unsure of how to proceed with the war. It had only taken a few weeks of helping an increasingly stressed Neville learn fighting techniques to find out that Dumbledore, not knowing that "the chosen one" was in fact already trained and on the job, was now asking the impossible of the other boy born to defiant parents at the end of July.

Voldemort had chosen to be present at the death of the Potters because of the prophecy. He had given the prophecy power. Like Dumbledore, he was diverting major resources toward the problem posed by the existence of Harry Potter.

Brie was pretty sure that, if no one had heard the prophecy, they wouldn't be in the current messy political situation.

He stared into the fire, wishing it had all the answers. He needed to talk out the realities of the situation; he was not a cerebral strategist. He was an adaptive commander who was excellent at reading a battlefield and directing his troops to victory. Shay put together the real strategy. Shay saw the big picture and made sure that Brie and his cavalry were in the right place at the right time with the right goals. Someday Brie hoped to be able to do what his uncle did, but for now…

He needed someone to talk to. He sighed quietly, letting his head drop to the back of the couch.

"Hey Gabriel, are you interested in a game?" Ron asked hopefully.

Brie glanced over. The common room was comfortably full of students doing their homework. Ron sat with Hermione, their study table littered with books. Hermione's head was bent over her essay, but she'd looked up when Ron spoke. Her eyes met Brie's, then fell back to her parchment. He wasn't sure how to fix whatever had soured between them; people skills had never been his forte. Still, he found himself wishing…

"I have a better idea," he told Ron, standing. "Come."

Ron had always been uncomfortably aware that he was the least impressive of his siblings. His own special gift, if it could be called that, was a silly game. It was a game he loved, of course, but as his mother was quick to point out, it wasn't going to do him any good in the real world. As a kid he'd dreamed of someday being best friends with Harry Potter and having his chess skills come miraculously in handy during some adventure. Reality rarely lived up to one's imagination.

So it was odd that he found himself sitting in a secret room with Gabriel mal Thea, a chess board carved directly into the table between them.

"What's this about?" Ron asked, arms crossed. If all Gabriel wanted was a chess match, they'd still be in the common room.

Gabriel's face was set in the blank mask that Ron had grown accustomed to over the last seven months. It no longer gave him the chills, nor did it seem quite so impenetrable as it had once appeared.

Gabriel sighed. "I think best when I talk."

"Yeah? So you usually don't think?"

Gabriel cracked a tiny smile. "It's a more complicated problem than school work. I'd like your help."

Ron snorted. Gabriel? Asking for his help? It was about as likely as Fred and George becoming Head Boy and Girl.

"Why?" Ron tried not to be too skeptical, but the two of them had never been particularly close. "We aren't exactly friends." Hell, he didn't even have permission to call the other boy by his nickname.

"Because I don't want to die," Gabriel said, sounding a little bored with the whole thing. "And I think you can help me with that. But I am not accustomed to trusting those who are not family."

Ron noticed his accent becoming more pronounced. It had happened a few other times over the last month, always during a moment of stress.

"Defayne hasn't been around as much," Ron mused, watching his chess-partner-but-not-friend carefully. "Your uncle is still getting some good press, but you haven't been going off on your training weekends. Why are you in danger, Gabriel? What does your family have to do with it?"

"I need fresh perspective," he replied, leaning back in the chair.

"That doesn't answer either of my questions," said Ron, uncrossing his arms and leaning forward slightly.

"You are a gifted strategist." As Gabriel spoke, chess pieces materialized on the board between them.

"I play chess," Ron said, shrugging. "You do, too. In fact, you win at least a third of the time."

"Yes," said Gabriel, sounding a little frustrated. "But I was trained to."

Ron shrugged. He still wasn't sure where Gabriel was going with this.

"Let's play," Gabriel suggested.

"Alright." Ron was officially lost. If Gabriel knew where this conversation was going, he certainly wasn't making it easy.

Gabriel opened the game aggressively and immediately started pushing. Ron, finally sure of himself in this bizarre situation, pushed right back. It wasn't until they were twenty minutes in that Gabriel started talking again.

"In war," he said, offering up a sacrificial pawn, "this would be a person."

Ron considered whether or not he should take the bait. The words made him leery, but the move was solid. He took the pawn.

"That would've been a civilian," Gabriel said, pressing his attack forward into the opening Ron had left. "Or maybe a student, someone in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Ron tried to ignore him as he set up his counter-attack.

"Of course, in war, there's more than one side." As he spoke, the board suddenly filled with extra pieces. Ron swore as everything shifted. Gabriel reached out and picked up one of the new pieces, moving it to capture Ron's bishop.

"You can't do that," Ron protested. "That wasn't your piece!"

"Wasn't it?" asked Gabriel, shrugging slightly. On the board, the piece changed from a neutral brown to jet black.

"That's not fair," Ron pressed, face heating. "If you can move some random piece, then what's the point of rules? What's to stop me from using your rook to capture your king?"

Gabriel grinned. It wasn't a nice smile.

Ron pushed back from the game board and stared at it for a long moment. Finally he shook his head. "I'm not sure what you're driving at, Gabriel."

"What if I told you that the only piece that could capture the king was a pawn. But not just any pawn. That one." He pointed to a pawn that had already been captured and was now off to the side of the board. It turned red.

"I'd say this isn't chess anymore."

"Well, yes," Gabriel waved his hand dismissively. "Except, just because the rules changed doesn't mean you don't still want to win."

It was true. The more Ron looked at the strangely complicated board, the more he desperately wanted to see how this game could play out. Experimentally, he took one of the new pieces and used it to capture Gabriel's knight. As his hand left the piece, it turned white.

Gabriel nodded in approval, and they both returned to the game. Sometimes the pieces moved on their own. Sometimes they switched color. Finally Ron shook his head. It was obvious to him that without a clear set of rules, neither of them could win.

"What was the point of this?" he asked.

Gabriel sighed and sat back, resting his hands on the edge of the table. "The Dark Lord is getting on my nerves," he said. "My uncle wants to put off a confrontation until he finishes his maneuvering, but every day we wait, Voldemort gets stronger too."

Ron flinched backward at the forbidden name. He stared at Gabriel, open mouthed.

"I'm as ready as I'll ever be. I just need to figure out a way to draw him out into the open, sooner than later."

"The red pawn makes sense," Ron mumbled. "You need Harry Potter, but he's already off the board."

"For now," Gabriel said with a little shrug. "I'm not opposed to changing that."

"Wait, what?" Ron shook his head as though the action would help clear it and make this conversation less confusing.

"Do you think revealing Harry Potter would draw out the Dark Lord? It's crossed my mind, but he's done an entirely too thorough job of sowing confusion around the Potter issue. I'm not sure it would be as useful as I'd hoped."

"No," Ron said, shaking his head again. "It would probably still draw him out. I mean, if what you're saying is true, and You-Know-Who is responsible for all those Potter articles, it seems to me that he's actually admitting a vulnerability."

Gabriel nodded slowly. "That still doesn't guarantee a face-to-face. Even if he's admitting a vulnerability, he's still not going to want to face Potter publicly."

"Does the confrontation have to be public?" Ron asked, warming to the theoretical (it was theoretical, right?) problem. "I mean, what's to stop Harry Potter from seeking You-Know-Who out and avoiding the public?"

"Mmm," Gabriel shook his head. "Public attention is what limits the Dark Lord's actions. If Potter is isolated, even just by anonymity, it allows Voldemort greater freedom."

"So the problem is to draw him out while making Potter a more sympathetic character than he currently is. The best move may be revealing that Potter is still on the board, but keeping him protected." Ron illustrated by switching the red pawn for his castled king. "Let people get used to him being around and have him start a rallying cry that will force You-Know-Who's hand."

Gabriel stared at the board for a long minute. "What kind of rallying cry?"

Ron shrugged. "I dunno. I mean, I always imagined Harry Potter as this heroic figure who just… inspired people. And, you know, rode dragons and saved damsels. That's the problem with being the stuff of bedtime stories, I guess."

"I can't say I ever rode a dragon," Gabriel said with a grin, "and I'm definitely not inspirational. But I have been known to save a damsel."