Truth Amid the Lies
By Anne B. Walsh
Disclaimer: That which is J.K. Rowling's is not mine. And if she finishes book seven before I finish graduate school, I shall adore her greatly.
Cold water falling onto his face awakened him. His head hurt, as did the rest of his body. The water actually felt good on his forehead, but it was making the rest of him more uncomfortable. After careful consideration, he decided that moving would be the most intelligent course of action.
He opened his eyes and rolled onto his side, in preparation for sitting up. To his amazement, he could see dimly, though one eye’s vision was clouded and covered in cracks. Broke my glasses. Not a surprise, after...
After what? He didn’t know, or rather didn’t want to know. The knowledge had been pushed to the back of his mind, to be considered further after he attended to his more immediate needs. What he did remember at the moment suggested that he had better get himself as comfortable as possible before he examined what had happened to him in detail, because he was unlikely to be able to do much of anything for himself for some time afterwards.
Comfortable. I remember that. Warm, dry, not hurting.
Warm he couldn’t do much about, likewise not hurting, but dry he might be able to manage, or at least not actively getting wetter. He sat up, carefully, so as not to make his headache worse, and looked around him, squinting through the one broken lens.
It was dark, but he could make out that he was sitting in the middle of what had once been a cozy living room. The fireplace listed obscenely to one side, toadstools grew on the blackened carpet, and no portion of the walls higher than his head survived. Beyond the walls, he could see an ankle-deep sea of dead grass, and beyond that a solid wooden fence, at least six or seven feet high.
This was my house. Memory supplied a picture of the living room as it had been, a fire crackling in the fireplace, chairs and sofa in their proper places, and in one of the chairs...
A scream and a crashing thud interrupted his memories. He was on his feet before he knew what was happening, running toward the source of the sound. He knew the voice that had screamed, and it had power to move him like nothing else. The rain no longer mattered. Neither did the destruction of the house. Nothing mattered except finding her.
It wasn’t difficult. She lay over a heap of wooden rubble in what had been the parlor, grotesquely sprawled, eyes closed, hair splayed out like blood. He was beside her in an instant, snatching up her wrist, feeling at her neck, praying...
She moaned weakly and turned her head, and his heart beat again, speeding up, as it always did, when she opened her eyes and looked at him, and smiled. Her hand curved around and took the one of his that was still holding her wrist, and squeezed it lightly.
"Are you—?" He was interrupted by a painful bout of coughing, and he had to try again twice before he got the words out in recognizable fashion. "Are you hurt?"
"I don’t think so." She shut her eyes again and flexed her feet and knees, shifted her hips and shoulders, opened and closed each hand. "What am I lying on?"
"Wood, I think. But it’s old." He kicked at it, and it gave under his foot. "Rotten."
"That’s what I thought. It gave when I landed on it. I’ll have bruises, but I’ll live." She smiled again. "Funny thing to say. â€˜I’ll live.’ I’m already dead."
"What?" Fear closed in around him again. "What do you mean, already dead?"
"He killed me. I jumped in front of the Killing Curse. I’m dead." She lifted an arm to block the water falling on her face. "I didn’t think it rained when you were dead."
"I don’t think we’re dead." He looked around the ruined room. "But I do think we have to get out of here. Can you walk?"
"I don’t know."
With his help, she sat up, then stood and took a few tentative steps. "Everything seems to be working." She looked around the room and frowned. "How did I get downstairs?"
She looked up and gasped. "The roof... the first floor..."
Her eyes met his, disbelief and sorrow warring for place. Silently, she mouthed their son’s name.
He turned away from her to the pile of wreckage which had broken her fall and picked up one of the topmost pieces, holding it out to her. She took it from him, turning it over in her hands, staring at it and running her fingers up and down it. "No," she whispered. "It can’t be..."
He closed his hand over hers, feeling the carvings beneath his fingers where his hand was larger and stronger. "We have to get out of here," he said. "We have to go."
She pulled away. "No. Not without my baby."
"He’s gone." Saying the words didn’t make them any easier to believe. "He’s dead. He’s been dead for years."
"Years, what do you mean, years? I held him in my arms not five minutes ago!"
"That was five years ago. We’ve been cursed. Thrown through time. Look at this place. There’s no way all this could have happened in a few minutes. This is years of damage. Feel this." He picked up another piece of wood and squeezed it. It crumbled into splinters in his hand. "It’s been exposed to wind and rain for years. Five years."
She stared down at the elaborately carved bar in her hand, and her face began to change, moving from disbelief, to anger, to grief. He couldn’t be sure if the water running down her cheeks was raindrops or tears. He knew about his own.
"We have to go," he repeated. "He could come back any second. He knew when we’d show up here — he ought to, he did it himself — and that’s the last thing we need, is to end up with him..."
"He took my ring." He could barely understand her. "He took it before he cursed me. He said he’d keep it as a souvenir..."
He looked down at his left hand, blinking hard to clear his eyes. His own ring was missing. "He took mine too," he said. "He must have done it when I wasn’t paying attention."
Her head came up, and she drew a deep breath. "We’ll need wands," she said. Her hand tucked the bar into an inside pocket of her robes. "We’ll need wands, and a place to stay, and new clothes. But wands first. Do you have yours?"
He shook his head. "He disarmed me. But it might still be near where I was. I should check."
"Mine will be here if it’s anywhere. Help me look?"
He nodded. "Once we have yours, we can Summon mine."
They set to work turning over the piles of debris, looking for one small wooden rod. Occasionally, she would murmur a word or two under her breath. Every second weighed on his heart and worried him — was their enemy waiting beyond that fence? Was he lurking in the darkness, watching them and laughing silently? Why did he not come?
She cried out in pleasure as a light arose near her hand. "Here it is!" Laughing like a girl, she spun in a circle, shining light on all their surroundings, then on him. "And there you are! Reparo!"
The cracks in his vision melded together and disappeared, making him only more aware of how smeared his glasses were. He took them off and rubbed them on his shirt, feeling a need to do something even though he knew from experience this would only smear them more.
"Here," she said, handing him something. "Try this."
Warmth hummed through his bones as his fingers closed around his own wand. Quickly, he tapped his lenses with it. "Scourgify." Putting the glasses back on, he sighed with pleasure. "I can see again."
"Can you see it’s stopped raining?" She peered up towards the rapidly clearing clouds. "We should go."
"Diagon Alley, I’d think. There’s a night window at Gringotts, I know, so we can get enough out for a few nights at the Leaky Cauldron, and we can conjure dressing gowns and things for tonight and get new in the morning."
He shook his head. "How are you doing this?"
"Thinking of all this. Being able to remember these things. I still can’t believe this is happening."
"I still don’t know what’s happening, and I don’t want to." She was walking around the room, touching things here and there, the corner of a shelf, the edge of a wall. "Don’t tell me anything else until we’re somewhere we can stop for at least twenty-four hours if we have to." She came to his side, laying her head on his shoulder for a moment. "I’ll be fine as long as we keep moving," she said quietly. "Just don’t let me stop yet."
"I won’t," he promised, putting an arm around her waist. "Let’s go."
They had taken some money from their Gringotts vault at the magical all-night window and checked into the Leaky Cauldron under false names, wearing hooded cloaks so that Tom wouldn’t see their faces too clearly — they’d work out proper disguises in the morning. Now, as she finished in the bathroom, he unfolded the copy of the Daily Prophet he’d picked up from a stand along the way.
Might as well see what’s going on in the Wizarding world.
The headline that met his eyes nearly stopped his heart.
HARRY POTTER: WHERE IS HE NOW?
A nation remembers its missing boy hero
Official search over, but some still hold out hope
"What’s wrong?" She had just come out of the bathroom, her hair loose around her shoulders. "What is it?"
Hands shaking, he turned the paper around so that she could see the headline.
She went parchment-white. A look of incredulous joy started in her eyes — those marvelous green eyes that she had given to their son — and spread quickly over her whole face. "He’s alive," she whispered. "Our son is alive."
The words were sheer music. He closed his eyes the better to savor them, and their meaning. Their child — the boy with the most infectious giggle ever heard and the crawl that was somehow faster than his father’s run — he was alive. He would be five years older, yes, but even that would only make him six. A six-year-old would be fun to have around. What would their boy be like, six years old? He probably never stopped talking, or sat down for more than a few seconds in the same place...
"Read it," she commanded, breaking his concentration.
"Read it. The article. It said he was missing, that they were searching for him. I want to know everything they know." She came over and sat on the end of the bed. "Read it. Now."
Quickly, he folded the paper back and began. "Five years ago tonight, Harry Potter became known as The Boy Who Lived, defeating He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and ending a war of eleven years’ duration."
"Defeating?" Lily Potter repeated, her eyes widening again. "Harry defeated Voldemort? How?"
"I don’t know." James Potter had his head in the newspaper. "It might be farther down... here. Next sentence. Although no one knows how it was accomplished, the mere fact is self-evident, since the boy was found alive, and no sign of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named has been seen since that day."
"Harry lived," Lily breathed, staring out the window at the rain, which had resumed. "Harry lived, and Voldemort died..."
"Listen to this. However, the joy of the Wizarding world was to be short-lived. Not six months after Harry Potter’s sudden rise to fame, his name was in the newspapers again, this time for a grimmer reason. The boy hero was missing, kidnapped from his Muggle relatives’ home..."
"Ow!" James clapped his hands over his ears. "You don’t have to shout!"
"Oh yes I do! What do you mean, his Muggle relatives’ home? What was Harry doing with my sister? What happened to Sirius? Didn’t he promise us — yes, he did, he promised us he’d take care of Harry if anything happened!"
"Lily, please." James put the newspaper aside and got up to calm his wife. "Lily..."
"Don’t Lily me. I’m mad."
"No, I never would have guessed." James took her shoulders and turned her to face him. "Lily, listen to me. We both want to know what’s been happening. This article’s our best chance to find out. But we won’t find out anything if you keep yelling after every sentence, so do you think you can settle down a little and just let me read it?"
Lily grumbled under her breath. "Fine," she said after a moment. "But don’t leave anything out. Just read the whole thing as it comes."
"All right." James returned to the bed. Lily sank into a chair in the opposite corner of the room. "Let me see. ...kidnapped from his Muggle relatives’ home, where many said he should never have gone in the first place."
"Many, including me," Lily muttered. James let it pass.
"The vast majority of people assumed that recently escaped prisoner Sirius Black..." James stopped reading. "Prisoner?" he said in a stunned tone. "Prisoner?"
"Now you’re doing it," said Lily impatiently. "For heaven’s sake, go on."
James didn’t respond. Rolling her eyes, Lily stalked over to the bed and removed the newspaper from his hands. "...recently escaped prisoner Sirius Black had kidnapped the boy, his godson, but for the first time, this reporter can confidently state that it was not so," she read aloud. "Although the story of Harry Potter’s kidnapping did not reach magical ears until after that of Sirius Black’s escape from Azkaban..."
"Azkaban," muttered James like a man in a dream.
"I’m starting to see what you mean," said Lily, lowering the newspaper. "This could be really annoying. James?" She waved her hand in front of his eyes. "James? Hello?" There was no response. "Time for drastic measures, I think." She drew her wand. "Aguamenti!"
James yelped as a blast of cold water hit him in the face. "Oi! What was that for?"
"Responding again. Good." Lily dried him with another two waves of her wand. "Yes, it seems that for some as of yet unexplained reason, Sirius was in Azkaban. Operative word, was. He is apparently no longer there."
"He’d better not be! Why would he be there anyway? What could he possibly have done—"
Lily rattled the newspaper.
"Oh. Right." James settled back on the bed. "Yeah. Go on."
Lily rolled her eyes again and cleared her throat. "...Sirius Black’s escape from Azkaban, where he had been sent for his vicious murders of thirteen people, including his childhood friend Peter Pettigrew..."
"Ah-ha!" James exploded. "That’s it!"
Lily was right behind him. "For his betrayal," she said. "That would have been like Sirius." She frowned. "But he seems to have got a lot of other people mixed up in it as well."
James shook his head. "That’s not like him," he said. "That was never his way. He’d be careless and sloppy right up to the point where other people were depending on him, and then he was a perfectionist. He never played fast and loose with my life, or anyone else’s. Something’s not right here."
"Let’s keep reading. Maybe we can figure it out. Let me see." Lily ran her finger along lines of text. "...childhood friend Peter Pettigrew, Harry Potter was in fact kidnapped before Sirius Black made his break for freedom. This reporter can therefore state with certainty that the kidnapping was performed by some third party. But why?" Lily interrupted herself. "Why do they assume they’re related at all? I mean, it makes sense that if Sirius broke out of prison, he’d go to Harry right away. But if someone else kidnapped Harry before Sirius got out..."
James could see the fear rising in Lily’s eyes again. "Let me read for a little while," he said, taking the newspaper back. "Hmm, third party, third party. There. A logical choice for this position seems to be Black’s other childhood friend, Remus Lupin."
Lily smiled. "Dear Remus. I wonder how he’s doing. We owe him an apology, for thinking he was the spy..."
James read to the end of the paragraph and felt his eyes bulge. "Er... Lily. Lupin has not been seen or heard of in circles Wizarding or Muggle since a date a few weeks before Black’s escape and Harry Potter’s kidnapping. The house at his last known address is currently occupied by a family of Muggles who have never heard of him. Its close proximity to the home of Potter’s Muggle relatives would have made Lupin an ideal cats-paw, and Black’s demonstrated indifference to prior ties of affection makes Lupin’s probable fate a grim one."
"That’s ridiculous!" Lily cried. "Sirius would never hurt Remus! He only killed Peter because Peter betrayed us! Why didn’t he tell people that?"
"Who would believe him?" The pattern of his friend’s fate had suddenly woven itself clear in front of James’ eyes. "Who knew about the change in Secret-Keepers, Lily? Only us. Only us four. You and me, and Sirius, and Peter. And with us dead, or whatever happened to us, and Peter dead as well — and especially if Sirius had made the kind of mess of it that he seems to have made — why would they listen to anything he said? In their minds, he was our Secret-Keeper. And we were obviously betrayed by our Secret-Keeper. Thus..."
Lily stared at the wall. "They saw a guilty man murdering an innocent," she whispered. "A man with blood on his hands, our blood, shedding more of it, for no reason at all."
"They probably think he was the spy right along." James could have kicked himself. By trusting the wrong man, how many lives had he blighted, and how many ended altogether? "That he was just turning back to the way Blacks always are, pureblood and proud."
"Read," Lily said, looking back at him. "Read. We have to know more."
James found his place. "Right. Some readers may wonder why this reporter believes the kidnapping and the escape to be related, if the latter could not have caused the former."
"Nice to know we’re â€˜some readers,’" Lily commented.
"These readers are obviously unaware of what has come to be known as the â€˜Diagon Alley sighting,’ which took place slightly over a year after the two events already mentioned. A man and a small boy eating ice cream at Florian Fortescue’s were suddenly revealed, by an event or person unknown, to be Sirius Black and Harry Potter. Upon realizing his disguise had been breached, Black snatched up the child and Disapparated. Aurors’ efforts to trace his Apparition were fruitless, leading only to a blank alleyway nearby."
James dropped the newspaper. A joyous refrain was beating in his mind.
Sirius has Harry. Sirius has Harry. Sirius has Harry, and they’re living at least semi-normal lives.
"You’re thinking what I’m thinking, aren’t you?" said Lily. James looked up to see the mischievous look on her face that he so loved.
"Well, I don’t know. What are you thinking?"
"I’m thinking that a cold-hearted murderer generally wouldn’t take a little boy out to get ice cream."
"That is close to what I was thinking."
A few seconds later, they were holding each other, laughing, crying, and talking through both phenomena.
"He’s all right — they’re both all right..."
"Sirius would never have hurt Remus, it must be a mistake..."
"There has to be something we can do, some way to find them..."
"We can get back to the way things used to be..."
This one stopped them both. They pulled away and looked at each other soberly.
"No, we can’t," said Lily finally. "We can’t get back to the way things used to be. But we can make a new way things are, and make it the best we can."
"Sounds good." James picked up the newspaper again. "And the first step is getting informed."
They finished the article, reading turn and turn about, though the useful information was mostly finished, and what was left was guesswork. Afterwards, they went on to the other articles in the newspaper. It seemed the Daily Prophet had decided to do a retrospective on this special day. Every major piece of news from the last five years was included.
Talk about luck.
The news item that gave both Potters the most wicked pleasure was the article on the fall of the house of Malfoy. James had crossed wands with Lucius Malfoy once or twice on the field of battle, and met him occasionally at work — James’ work, that was. Malfoy didn’t work. Malfoy strolled about the Ministry, bothering people. That was James’ view, at least.
Sirius, being Narcissa Black Malfoy’s cousin, had provided most of the Potters’ knowledge about her. "He didn’t like her much," said James. "Thought she was perfectly named — self-centered and spoiled rotten, baby of the family and all. Strange how the middle sister there turned out all right, but the oldest and the youngest went bad."
Bad or not, it seemed Narcissa was dead, having poisoned herself with a time-delay potion shortly before she turned herself in to the Ministry, providing a full list of her own crimes and her husband’s. He’d been arrested, convicted, and sentenced to Azkaban. "And that was two years ago," said James regretfully. "Wish I could have been there."
"But this is odd," said Lily. "About their son. He was about the same age as Harry, you remember."
"I remember how proud Malfoy was when the kid was born." James made a face. "â€˜My line continues, my name will live another generation...’ Gaahhh!"
"You’re not listening. The boy wasn’t at the house when the Aurors showed up to arrest Malfoy. No one could find him. And all his mother would say was that she’d â€˜provided for’ him."
"What about the house-elf? Malfoys are bound to have had one..."
"Someone had freed it. It couldn’t be found."
James winced. "Either someone freed it... or the line died out, and it had nothing to be bound to anymore." He had no real affection for the Malfoys’ child, of course, but something in him rebelled at the thought of a child dead, especially one so close in age to his own son.
Lily shook her head. "That can’t be it. Lucius isn’t dead, he’s just imprisoned. The elf would still be bound, even if Draco was dead."
"Draco? Is that the kid’s name?" James looked up at the ceiling. "Thank you, Mum and Dad," he said fervently. "For giving me a normal name."
"A normal first name," said Lily, her eyes dancing. "They went pureblood on the middle one."
James moaned. "Don’t remind me. And then that awful Muggle television program..."
Lily bristled. "Star Trek was not awful!"
"It was so. The captain had my name! Both of them!"
"Poor James," said Lily in a sing-song tone. "Poor James Tiberius..."
The clock on the wall caught James’ eye, waving its hand around until he looked at it, then pointing steadily at Past time for bed. "The clock’s right," he said, directing Lily’s eyes to it. "It is past time for bed. We can keep thinking tomorrow."
Lily nodded. "Harry’s alive," she said, smiling all over her face. "Harry’s alive..."
"I know." James pulled her closer to him on the bed. "I know."
"I know where we can start," she murmured a few moments later.
"Me too. Right here." James pressed his lips to a part of her anatomy.
Lily squealed. "I didn’t mean that!"
"What, don’t you like it?"
"No, I like it... oh, I like that even more, do that again... no, I mean start looking for Harry. And Sirius..." She gasped as James changed tactics.
"What’s your plan?" he asked when his mouth was free.
"Where were you thinking of starting to look for them?"
"You know, that’s not fair." She looked up at him and pouted. "Bait and switch. You’re mean."
"I’ll make it up to you."
James hit himself on the forehead and nearly fell on top of Lily, since he needed that hand for leaning on. "Of course. Aletha. She’d know where they are if anyone would." Aletha Freeman, tall, broad-shouldered, and dark-skinned, a good friend of Lily’s despite the year between them, Sirius’ fellow Beater on the Quidditch team for five years — she would be a magnificent woman now, he reflected. "She would have been the first person Sirius contacted — well, maybe second, I don’t know if he’d have gone to Remus first or not..."
"We can always find out." Lily licked her lips and began to retaliate for James’ earlier tricks. "In the morning."
"Yes. In the morning."
And then all their attention went to rediscovering their lives, and each other, and it was very good.
In a house somewhere else in England, a woman sat awake, wrapped in a soft, warm dressing gown, watching her family sleep. One hand held a parchment scroll loosely.
If prize of life you wish to win,
Reach out and bring the strangers in,
For three long-gone have come once more,
And troublemakers now are four —
And if these numbers multiply,
You’ll know your number by and by,
Although, if truth we still would seek,
The minimum is all we speak...