Truth Amid the Lies
By Anne B. Walsh
The next morning, over breakfast, James opened the newspaper.
INTERNATIONAL CONFEDERATION OF WIZARDS CONVENES TODAY IN BRUSSELS
New Supreme Mugwump to be elected at this meeting
Britain’s own Albus Dumbledore the odds-on favorite
He groaned aloud. "I am an idiot."
"You say that like it’s something new," said Lily, looking up from her eggs. "What is it?"
"Dumbledore." He handed her the paper. "We could have gone to him — he’d believe us if anyone would — but now he’s in Brussels..."
"He’d probably already left last night," Lily pointed out, scanning the article. "And it says here he’ll be there for a month or so. We’ll just have to do this ourselves."
"But Dumbledore might have been able to help us..."
"If Harry were in trouble and Dumbledore knew something, he would have acted already," said Lily with a confidence James wished he could match. "So we can assume there’s no danger threatening him at the moment."
"LAST ONE IN THIS KITCHEN GETS NO BREAKFAST!"
There was a sound like a hundred disenchanted Bludgers falling down the stairs. The woman known to her family as Danger smiled. "Thought that’d get them."
"One of these days, they’re going to figure out you’re bluffing," said her husband, sipping his tea.
"I just poured that. Isn’t it too hot?"
"I blew on it," said Remus Lupin dryly. "So you had another dream last night."
"Yes. You’ve seen the poem. Any ideas?"
"None that want to come where I can see them. Maybe after work."
"â€˜Troublemakers now are four’ could always be referring to us, or to the cubs," suggested the woman at the other end of the table, folding the newspaper she was reading. "Except that there’s been four of them for a good two years now, and us for even longer. This sounds like something that’s just happened."
The four children she was referring to had swarmed into the kitchen while she was speaking, and were now sitting decorously at their places. The last inhabitant of the house stopped in the doorway, looking sad. "Do I not get anything, then?"
"I think I’ll let you off today," said Danger, waving him to a chair. "But don’t let it happen again."
"Yes, ma’am." He saluted her. "Is that today’s paper, Letha?" he asked his wife.
"No, it’s yesterday’s. Remus has today’s. I was just rereading the article about you. It’s almost as good as what they came up with the day they found out you were gone..."
"How did you know it had been five years?" Lily asked, buttering a piece of toast lavishly. "You knew before we’d seen the newspaper, before anything. How?"
"Do you really want to know?"
James stared at his plate, at the homely remains of eggs and sausages. "Voldemort told me."
Lily dropped the toast onto her lap. "He told you?"
"He told me." The memory was entirely fresh in James’ mind. Five years might have passed for the rest of the world, but for him, that night was yesterday. "He disarmed me and stuck me against the wall, and told me that when I next opened my eyes, it would be five years later, Harry would be dead, and he would be waiting for us. That no one would look for us or rescue us, because everyone would believe we were dead. That was if he didn’t control the world already. He let me go, I tried to tackle him, he hit me with the spell, and the next thing I remember is lying in what used to be our living room in the rain."
Lily shook her head. "It’s hard to believe," she said, picking up the toast and wiping off her robes with her napkin. "Five years gone, in the blink of an eye. What will everyone look like now? What will they be like?"
"We’ll find out," said James. "After breakfast."
"Draco Regulus Black, get back here! You do not leave your dishes on the table for your sisters to clean up!"
"Why aren’t you yelling at Harry?" asked Draco with a bit of a whine in his tone as he collected his plate and bowl and brought them to the sink.
"Because Harry brought me his dishes, that’s why. Neenie should not be bringing me yours."
"She said she wanted to."
"I did not!" shouted Hermione Granger from the next room.
Danger chuckled. That’s my sister. "No great harm done, fox," she said, ruffling Draco’s hair as he passed. "Just do it yourself next time."
Draco stuck out his tongue at her, then hugged her hard around the waist before running out of the kitchen.
After a quick visit to Madam Malkin’s for some new robes, the Potters headed for the Ministry, Apparating to the street that held the visitor’s entrance in the telephone box. The badges they pinned to their robes bore the names of Harold and Cecilia Clay.
Not the most inventive I’ve ever been, James thought, twiddling his wand between his fingers as Lily’s was weighed, but it’ll do.
After passing inspection, James made for the lift, but Lily caught his sleeve. "Over here," she said, and towed him to a small book on a stand. "I think I remember where she works, but she could have changed jobs since we’ve been away."
She flipped the book open, and James realized what it was — the Ministry’s employee roster, kept carefully up to date, with employees’ names listed both alphabetically and by department. Lily had gone straight to the F’s, and was paging through them.
Let’s just hope she still works here.
"Freeman, Freeman," Lily murmured. "Here she is. Aletha Freeman. Hogwarts/Ministry Liaison, Bureau of Magical Education. Seems she has changed jobs."
James frowned. "I didn’t even know there was a Bureau of Magical Education."
"It must have been formed recently." Lily looked at the book again. "Her office is on level four."
James snorted. "So they bunged Education in with Magical Creatures, did they?"
"It makes about as much sense as having the Maternity Ward at St. Mungo’s on the Creature-Induced Injuries floor." Lily snickered at James’ blush as they headed for the lift.
Aletha looked up at the sound of whispering outside her door. Odd. Most people come right in.
She considered calling out, but decided against it. All that would do is embarrass them, whoever they are. She returned instead to the document she’d been reading, which had to do with a gift to the fund at Hogwarts that helped the poorer students buy books and robes.
A few moments later, someone knocked on the doorframe.
A man and a woman entered the office. The man was fairly tall and thin, and his brown hair was rather messy, reminding Aletha a bit of Harry. The woman had long, blonde hair, and her blue eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses were large and expressive. Both of them wore plain, black robes, very crisp and new-looking, and visitor’s badges pinned to them. "Madam Freeman?" the man said. "I’m Harold Clay. This is my wife, Cecilia."
"How do you do." Aletha shook hands with both of them.
"If you’re busy, we can come back," Mrs. Clay said. "This isn’t urgent, and I’m sure you have a lot to do."
Your words say it’s not urgent, but your body language says it is. Something’s odd here. "No, I’m not really busy. In fact, I’m almost never busy. You can shut the door if you like, Mr. Clay, I’d rather my co-workers not hear this."
Mr. Clay complied, then joined his wife in front of Aletha’s desk, where she was already sitting in one of the chairs placed there for visitors. "You don’t have much to do?"
Aletha shook her head, smiling. "Hardly anything I do is really necessary. How much do you know about Albus Dumbledore?"
"Quite a bit."
"Then you know he could run Hogwarts without a wand and with one hand tied behind his back, with no help from anyone, certainly not me or the Ministry. Cornelius Fudge was hoping to get one of his sycophants in at Hogwarts with this position when he created it, but Dumbledore insisted on choosing the actual Liaison. I was just lucky that he chose me."
"Dumbledore chose you himself?" said Mrs. Clay.
"So he says. I was very flattered. Not to mention happy with the salary increase. I used to be a secretary for Amelia Bones, back when she was just second assistant Head of the Department up in Magical Law Enforcement. But this pays better, and I can always get some time off when I want to spend it at home."
"Yes, I’d noticed you had some pictures on your desk," said Mr. Clay. "And you wear a ring..."
"And you don’t," Aletha said, smiling. "This isn’t a wedding ring. I wear it to remember a dear friend." Casually, she twisted her ring to turn the sapphire inward. "But I do have a daughter. Adopted. Another perk of knowing Headmaster Dumbledore well — he was willing to keep an eye on the book of names for me, and let me know if any Muggleborn magical children were orphaned. I got lucky three years ago." She turned Meghan’s picture around, and the little girl waved and smiled at the Clays. "This is Meghan. My little Pearl, I call her."
"My goodness, she’s beautiful," said Mrs. Clay. "And she’s adopted? She looks just like you..."
"I transfigured her," said Aletha airily. The Clays looked at her, and she chuckled. "No, not really. As I said, I was lucky."
"She has beautiful eyes," said Mr. Clay, picking up the picture to look at it more closely. "How much do you know about her birth parents?"
Aletha frowned, a little disturbed. "Not much. I don’t think you’ve told me yet why you’re here."
"Oh. Right." Mr. Clay set the picture back on the desk. "Well, I’m afraid we’re a bit nervous about it. We’ve never done anything like this before."
"We were inspired by the retrospective in the Daily Prophet yesterday," said Mrs. Clay. "We were hoping you could tell us a little more about Sirius Black than was mentioned there."
Aletha’s mind froze for an instant. "Why would you think I’d know about Sirius Black?" she said lightly when it started working again.
Mr. Clay looked nonplussed. "You were dating him," he said as if that fact were common knowledge. "He wanted to marry you."
The frozen feeling moved down to Aletha’s gut. "I don’t know who you’ve been talking to," she said quietly, "but I can’t tell you anything more about Sirius Black."
"We don’t want trouble," said Mrs. Clay quickly. "We won’t tell anyone what you tell us."
"You’re right, you won’t. Because I won’t tell you anything. Because there is nothing to tell. I don’t know any more about Sirius Black than the average witch on the street."
"You’re lying," said Mr. Clay angrily, standing up. "For Merlin’s sake, you’re wearing his ring! You must know something!"
Aletha shot to her feet. "Get out of my office," she said, pointing at the door. "Now. Before I call Ministry Security."
"Go ahead, call them. And I’ll tell them a new place to look for Sirius Black."
"They’ve searched my house before, trust me. They won’t find anything."
"Maybe that’s because they’re looking in the wrong places."
Aletha and Mr. Clay both looked around. Mrs. Clay had risen from her chair as well. "Stop it now, both of you," she said, her face very pale. "We’re sorry to have bothered you, Madam Freeman. We’ll be going now."
Mr. Clay opened his mouth to say something else, but Mrs. Clay quelled him with one freezing look, then took firm hold of his sleeve and towed him out the door.
Aletha frowned. The Clays reminded her of someone, but she couldn’t think of who...
An owl fluttered in the door which Mrs. Clay left open behind her and landed on Aletha’s desk. "Hello, Maya," she said, recognizing her own screech owl. She stroked Maya’s head feathers for a moment, then tore open the note the owl had brought, which was addressed in Sirius’ handwriting.
Is there any way you can get away for the rest of the day? I feel terrible, and the cubs are running me ragged.
Aletha looked at her in-tray and smiled. There wasn’t much in it, and as she’d told the Clays, almost everything she did was unnecessary anyway. She could finish this lot in about ten minutes, then write a quick note explaining where she’d gone and head home.
She loaded her quill and wrote an answer on the same sheet of parchment.
Be there in fifteen minutes or less. Love you.
"Return, please," she told Maya, who took her note and flapped away.
"It’s just a cold," Aletha told Sirius at home. "I’ll give you some Pepperup, and you’ll be fine."
"I sure hope so." Sirius blew his nose. "I can’t smell a thing. It feels really weird."
"Let me go get it for you right now. And then I’ll deal with whatever’s going on over there." There were indeed some interesting thumping and shrieking noises coming from the cubs’ room.
"I can get the potion. As long as I know what to get."
"You could have figured it out for yourself. It’s not like no one else in this house has ever had a cold before."
"I didn’t want to have to think about it."
"You don’t want to have to think about anything."
"Why should I, when you’re so good at it?"
Aletha shook her head and went to check on the cubs. They had pulled the mattresses off their beds and made a fort out of them, and were playing Order of the Phoenix and Death Eaters, with Meghan and Hermione as the beleaguered Order and Harry and Draco as the evil invaders. Harry was killed twice as she watched, each time dying in agony, then jumping up immediately afterward to resume play as, she assumed, someone else. "Clean up when you’re done," she told them, and went back to her own side of the house.
"Quick, get it!" hissed Draco. "Now’s our chance!"
Hermione climbed nimbly up the bookshelf and tossed a small, sealed vial down to Harry, who caught it easily. "Pearl, it’s all you," he told her, tucking the vial into his pocket.
Meghan grinned and nodded, then ran out the door.
Sirius was about to drink the potion when he was hit in the legs by a small cannonball. "Dadfoot!" Meghan crowed. "Dadfoot, Dadfoot, Dadfoot!"
Sirius put the potion down quickly so as not to spill it. "Hi, sweetie," he said, picking up his daughter. "What brought this on?"
"Hug." Meghan wrapped her arms around him and squeezed. "Mama Letha too."
"If I must, I must," said Aletha, chuckling. She joined the hug, sighing happily as Sirius got one arm around her. Meghan had an arm around each of their necks.
The light footsteps behind them went unheard.
When the hug was finally finished, Sirius picked up his potion again and downed it. He winced as it burned its way down, and shook his head against the strange feeling of having steam shoot from his ears.
Strange. It’s supposed to work right away, but I don’t feel any better...
Meghan squealed, jumping up and down. "Harry, it worked, it worked!"
"Why, you little sneak," said Aletha, hands on her hips. "That was a distraction, wasn’t it?"
Meghan nodded gleefully as the other three cubs appeared in the doorway, took one look at Sirius, and started laughing.
"What’d they do to it?" asked Sirius unhappily. "What happened?"
Aletha pointed him to the mirror which hung on one wall of the room. Sirius turned and yelped. "I look like a Weasley!" He sniffled. "And the potion didn’t work. I still feel nasty."
"Whatever Harry put in there probably altered it enough to stop it working." Aletha gave their Pack-son a searching glare. "I don’t think he’ll do that again. Will you?"
Harry sat up from where he’d been rolling on the ground laughing. "Am I in trouble?"
"Don’t be too hard on him, Letha," Sirius put in. After the first shock had worn off, he rather liked himself with red hair. "It was well done. And I didn’t catch him, so I deserve it. How long does it take to wear off, Harry?"
"A week." Harry frowned. "How do you know you look like a Weasley?"
"Weasleys are famous for red hair," said Aletha, running her wand slowly up Sirius’ side. "And I hope you like that cold, Sirius. I can’t do anything else for it until this potion wears off, or I might make it worse. You’ll have to live with it, like Muggles do."
Sirius scowled. "On second thought, I’ve changed my mind about punishments," he said. "Throw the book at him."
Harry led a general retreat.
"Brilliant work, James," said Lily stormily back in their room at the Leaky Cauldron. "Bloody brilliant. You frightened her, antagonized her, and ended up with her ordering us out. Could you possibly have done any better?"
"I didn’t notice you coming up with any genius ploys to get her to tell us what she knows! And whose idea was it to go in there in disguise?"
"You think she would have responded better to our real faces? She would have thought it was some kind of practical joke and called Security!"
James sat on the bed and watched Lily striding around the room. "You know, I don’t see what the big deal is here with the disguises," he said. "Why can’t we tell people who we are?"
"You think we should just go to the Ministry and say, â€˜Hi, we’re the Potters, you thought we were dead but we’re not, and we’d like our lives back now’?"
"No..." But for all Lily’s biting sarcasm, she had a point, James had to admit. It was better to tread carefully until they were sure of the ground under their feet.
"And Sirius might hear about this, decide it’s some kind of trick, and take Harry and run. We have to talk to him in person before we do anything else." Lily stood up. "I’m going to Letha’s house."
"I know where she lives, I’ve been there. It’s in London, not too far from here. I know the name of the nearest Underground station, and I have some Muggle money. Are you coming or not?"
James started to protest, then realized it was useless. Lily in this mood was difficult verging on impossible to stop from doing anything. "I’ll come," he said. "But not like this. We’ll need Muggle clothes."
Lily scowled, but acquiesced.
It took only about half an hour to reach a store, buy some decent-looking Muggle clothing, and change into it, but Lily fumed all the way there. Only when they were on the Underground again, headed for the station near Aletha’s house, did she relax.
"We’ll see him soon," she whispered, resting her head on James’ shoulder.
"Yes, we will." James carefully pushed his glasses up his nose, making it look like he was scratching there, since he’d charmed them invisible that morning. In truth, he wasn’t at all sure they’d see Harry soon. Would Aletha really have him living with her? It would be rather difficult to explain... unless she’d adopted him as she had her daughter...
But that little girl can’t have been adopted. She looks too much like Letha. Except those eyes. Those look more like...
James’ thoughts shattered as the name of the station they wanted blared through the train. Lily sat straight up. "This is it," she said tautly. "Let’s go."
Finding the house proved fairly easy. Finding out that a little boy lived there, even easier. The unexpected snag came in the form of what might have been considered a bonus.
"Two," said James in bemusement, staring across the street at the shaking branches of the tree in the front yard of the white semi-detached. "There’s two of them in there."
"Yes, but which one is Harry?" Lily wasn’t sure she was getting through to James. He loved Harry, she knew that, but she didn’t know if he understood the pounding urge in her blood, the wish, the need to hold her child in her arms again and see for herself that yes, time had passed, but he was alive and unhurt and happy.
He won’t remember me. That hurt when she thought about it. He won’t know who I am. Maybe he’ll recognize me from pictures, but he won’t run to me and hold up his arms for a hug the way he used to. She sniffled, feeling tears well up in her eyes.
"We have to keep moving," James murmured to her. "We’re too conspicuous if we just stand here."
And so they moved, walking around the block and coming back to watch the two boys in the tree, again and again. One of them was standing under it instead on their third time around, and Lily noticed with a pang that he had black hair. But he wasn’t her son. His face was the wrong shape, and his eyes too narrow, too suspicious. He wasn’t Harry.
On their sixth or seventh time around (she’d lost count), the other boy was on the ground instead, and Lily’s hand tightened on James’ arm. He looked so like Harry, like Harry as she’d dreamed he’d look when he grew older. His hair was the wrong color, though, a sort of honey blond...
But that could be from a charm. That would make sense. They couldn’t possibly let him stay as he was, everyone must know what he looks like now, they’d all be looking for him. He’d be disguised. That must be him!
Full of excitement, she pulled her hand away from James and started across the street at a run, dashing between the two cars parked at the curb. In a few seconds, she’d have her baby in her arms again...
Too late, she saw the blue truck coming down the street straight at her, saw the driver’s terrified face as he tried to swerve to miss her, heard people screaming, the squeal of brakes, and above it all, James shrieking her name —
Remus turned off the truck and catapulted out of the driver’s seat. Danger was already bending over the blonde woman, with two fingers on her neck — a brown-haired man stood nearby, shaking — Harry and Draco were venturing off the lawn to come see what had happened —
"Inside," he snapped at them. "Now. One of you get Letha. Move!" They took off running towards the Den.
"She’s alive," Danger said without looking up. "But she’s unconscious, and there could be other things wrong. Set up some kind of warning for other cars — we shouldn’t move her yet, but my getting run over wouldn’t help anything."
Remus glanced up and down the street. No one was in sight except the other man, and he’d probably put down anything unusual he saw right now to shock. Remus drew his wand and conjured warning triangles at each end of their little section of street.
Aletha came running out of the house, Sirius beside her in dog form, or at least Remus assumed it was Sirius.
Either that, or we’ve somehow acquired a mutant Irish Setter.
"Good Lord," said Aletha in what sounded like exasperation. "You again." She drew her wand and started running it over the woman’s body.
"Letha — should you be doing that?" Remus asked, glancing at the man.
"They’re magical. They were in my office today. Go firecall St. Mungo’s, we’re going to need an emergency Healer here. I don’t think she’ll die, but she’s not in good shape."
"I’ll go," said Danger, jumping up. "You help him." She indicated the man, who seemed about to collapse. "And you come inside and watch the cubs," she said over her shoulder to Sirius as she ran for the house.
Good idea. Yes. Remus took a deep breath, collecting himself, and walked over to the man. "Sir? Are you all right?"
"Is she going to die?" It was a hoarse whisper.
"I don’t think so. Why don’t you sit down?" Remus helped the man sit on the curb, then sat down himself. "I’m so sorry," he said. "I tried to stop, but she ran right out in front of me. What’s your name?"
"Name?" The man rubbed at his eyes, bringing his hands close to his cheeks and moving them up instead of going straight in. "Name? I — my name is..."
"Clay," said Aletha from where she knelt. "Harold Clay. His wife is Cecilia."
"Yes. Clay." The man nodded. "That’s right. Clay. Harold Clay."
"Harold," Remus repeated. "May I call you that?"
"I’m John, John White. My wife is Kelly, she’s gone to get a Healer, and Aletha Freeman I think you already know."
Harold nodded again. "We went to talk to her today," he said, still staring at his wife. "I think I was rude. I probably shouldn’t have been. Now she won’t help us find what we lost."
Aletha glanced at Remus and shrugged quickly. Her face was baffled.
"What is it you lost?" Remus asked. "Maybe I can help you."
"You?" Harold looked at him, and Remus had the uncomfortable feeling the man was looking past the glamour charm and the glasses to see the real him. "Maybe you could... maybe you could help me..."
Danger burst out the door, closely followed by a woman in Healer green, whom Remus recognized with a small shock as Sirius’ cousin Andromeda, and Harold’s attention was immediately diverted to them.
Andy made a quick examination of the woman — Cecilia, Remus reminded himself — muttered two spells over her and got a potion into her, then pronounced that she would indeed live, and that it was safe to move her a short distance. "I’d like her at the hospital, but I wouldn’t recommend Flooing with her," she said. "Or Apparition, or any other kind of magical transport. Or Muggle, for that matter. She’s taken some damage to her internal organs, and the best thing for her would be to lie flat and move as little as possible for the next few days. Mr. Clay, where do you live?"
"Live?" Harold rubbed his eyes again, with that curious in-and-under-something motion. "We don’t live anywhere... a room at the Leaky Cauldron is all... we were hoping to find a new place soon..."
"They can stay here," said Danger. Aletha and Remus both stared at her. Trust me, said her hands as she kept talking. "We have some guest bedrooms, or one of the downstairs rooms could be converted for a week or so. One of us is almost always home to watch the children. They can stay with us."
"It’s the least we can do," said Remus. "I did hit her."
"Fine by me," said Aletha, although her tone suggested she had some serious reservations. "We can use my music room. The fewer stairs, the better, right, Andy?"
"Right." Andromeda had two potion bottles beside her, and was using her wand to transfer them into Cecilia. "Let me know when you’re ready. I think she ought to be moved all in one go, so we won’t bring her in until you’re all set up."
Remus hurried inside. He knew there was a fold-out bed inside the sofa in the music room, and a camp bed in the attic for Harold until Cecilia healed enough that they could use the same bed. Danger was behind him, her mind full of bedlinens and towels.
Why the music room, I wonder? she asked as she made up the fold-out bed.
So the cubs have somewhere to go that’s definitely in-den, and somewhere that’s not. Remus pulled the flat sheet on the camp bed tight. Our side for in-den, Letha’s for out.
Ah-ha. Danger sighed. You know, I should have thought of that.
Yes, you should. Why in the name of all four Founders did you offer the Den?
"If prize of life you wish to win, reach out and bring the strangers in." They’re strangers to me, and they seem to need a place to stay. And "prize of life" sounds pretty good.
It had better be. Remus folded a blanket at the foot of the bed. I think we’re ready.
I think so too.
Andy had already conjured a stretcher. Now, she carefully levitated Cecilia onto it and brought her indoors. Danger had turned down the sheets, so that Andy could simply lay the stretcher down on the bed and vanish it.
"And you’re very lucky in one regard," she said to Harold. "Through some miracle, she didn’t lose the baby."
Harold’s eyes widened. "Baby? W-what baby?"
"You didn’t know?"
Harold shook his head, sinking onto the camp bed.
"Well, then, congratulations." Andy smiled at him. "Your wife is about six weeks pregnant."