Truth Amid the Lies
By Anne B. Walsh
Andromeda had headed back to St. Mungo’s, promising to check back the next morning, and leaving an array of potions for Cecilia Clay to take, with written instructions entrusted to Aletha. Harold Clay had fallen asleep, or possibly passed out, shortly after Andy’s announcement, which Andy said wasn’t uncommon for people in shock. "He’ll probably sleep a lot of tomorrow as well," she said. "He may be confused when he wakes up, but I doubt he’ll have any serious side effects."
Remus and Sirius had undertaken to teach the cubs the new rules about the Den. Letha’s side was now out-of-den territory, with the doors between the two sides locked and the archway between den and music rooms blocked up. The cubs would have to skip piano practice for as long as the Clays were here, unless someone could conjure a piano in another part of the house.
And I get to explain to a rather annoyed woman why I just endangered us all for a pair of total strangers.
"You think they’re the strangers your dream was talking about?" asked Aletha, rearranging refrigerator magnets. "I’ll buy that, but couldn’t you have asked me? It is my side of the house they’re using."
"You volunteered it, not me."
"Because it makes sense — the cubs’ room is on your side, and we can’t let them see the cubs unglamoured for obvious reasons, so of course they’d have to use my side, unless we move the cubs’ room, and then we’d have to explain to them why your children sleep on my side of the house..."
Danger frowned. "Letha, what’s wrong with you?"
"What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with you? Shouldn’t you be a bit more worked up? You’re the one who was just involved in a traffic accident. Your husband hit that woman, not mine." Aletha’s fists were clenched, her eyes closed tightly. "He couldn’t stop in time, could he? He tried to stop, or swerve and miss her, but he couldn’t — the truck hit her and she went flying, with her husband watching..."
"Letha, stop it!" Danger was out of her chair and across the room, closing her hands around her friend’s. "Stop it, you’re making a fuss over nothing, she’s going to be all right!"
"I am not making a fuss over nothing. She could have been killed! And then we would have had to deal with that, and everything would have come undone here..."
"It didn’t happen." Danger put as much calm into her voice as she could.
Aletha seemed not even to notice. "And now we have strangers in the Den, and they’re going to notice that something’s not right in pretty short order, and this whole bloody web of lies we live in is going to come crashing down and destroy us all..."
"Stop," said Danger firmly. "Please. Before you set me off too."
Aletha shut her mouth abruptly, in mid-word, and leaned her head against the refrigerator.
Danger gently pulled her friend over to the table and helped her into a chair. "Letha, there’s no reason for them to know anything unusual happens around here at all. The cubs and Sirius will stay on our side of the house. We’ll even keep Meghan over there most of the time, so she’s not underfoot. I’ll help you with what needs to be done — I can get time off work easily..."
"So can I." Aletha rested her hands on the table, palms down. "Danger, I’m sorry. I don’t know what set me off... well, yes, I do. It’s them. The Clays. They make me feel so odd. When they walked into my office this morning, I almost felt like jumping up and hugging them. And when we started to talk, it was as if someone had switched my conversation meter to â€˜babble.’ It was like talking to another member of the Pack. I was so comfortable with them. But then he started asking questions about Sirius, and that scared me..."
"He asked about Sirius?"
"They both acted like they knew something, or like they knew that I knew something. Him more than her. He brought up that we’d been dating in the later years of the war. And he..." Aletha stopped, staring down at her hand. "He recognized my ring," she said. "Mr. Clay. He specifically said, â€˜You’re wearing his ring.’ Meaning Sirius. But how could he know that?"
"He probably didn’t," said Danger, squeezing Aletha’s hand comfortingly. "He was bluffing, trying to get information out of you. It’s a common tactic — assume one thing, and sometimes a person’s denial tells you what you want to know. If you’d said, â€˜It’s not Sirius Black’s ring, it’s my husband’s, Fred Grinklesnitz,’ for instance."
Aletha looked at Danger incredulously. "Fred Grinklesnitz?"
"Give me a break, I was coming up with a name on the fly here."
"It doesn’t mean anything."
"Yes, it does! It means you think I’m so dumb..." Aletha was laughing now, taking mock-swipes at Danger, who dodged them. "... that I’d marry a man called Fred Grinklesnitz!"
On the other side of the house, the men of the Pack sat listening to their women laughing.
"Glad they’re feeling good," said Remus, who was rather white. "I don’t know how Danger’s doing it..."
"She wasn’t driving." Sirius had been rummaging in the coat closet, and had now emerged with a bottle of Ogden’s Old Firewhiskey. "Here." He handed it to Remus, drew his wand, and conjured two glasses. "Trade."
"What, you don’t trust me to pour?"
"With the way your hands are shaking, no."
"Good point." Remus surrendered the bottle and held out one glass, watching in dull fascination as its top described little circles in the air.
Sirius carefully closed his free hand around Remus’, steadying the glass, before he poured a measure of the amber liquid into it. "Drink that," he said, pouring one for himself. "All of it."
Remus stared dubiously at the liquid before gulping it quickly down. A spasm crossed his face, and he exhaled rather noisily, gasped in air, and started to cough. "Wow," he said weakly when he could speak again. "It has been a while."
Sirius sipped at his drink. "Feeling better?"
"Apart from my throat and stomach... yes, actually."
"That’ll pass. I’ll get you a chaser in a second."
Remus lay back on the couch, closing his eyes. "She ran right out in front of me," he said, his voice already steadier. "I tried to stop, but she was too close for me to do anything."
"That’s not true. If you hadn’t braked, you might have killed her, or hit her so hard she lost her baby. As it is, you heard Andy — she’s going to be all right as long as she stays fairly quiet for a few days." Sirius set his glass aside and got up.
"But that’s the other thing, Sirius. I’ve brought danger to us all."
"Yes, you have, but that was years ago, and some of us are profoundly grateful for it," said Sirius, and went into the kitchen to give Remus a moment to sort it out.
"Har har," said Remus when Sirius returned with a glass of pumpkin juice. "Will you still be laughing if these people realize who you are?"
"Come on, Moony, how could they do that? Not only am I a dog, I’m a different color than I usually am." Sirius handed the glass to Remus and sniffed experimentally. "Maybe I should drink firewhiskey more often. I think it’s clearing out my sinuses."
"One of them is bound to notice the dog has a cold. Dogs don’t get colds."
"So I’ll stay over here with the cubs. Not a big deal." Sirius folded his legs under him. "Remus, look, they can’t figure us out if they never see us. As far as they know, this is a normal semi-detached, housing two normal families. I see no reason to let them know it’s anything different. They stay their few days until she’s better, then they go on their way, and we get back to our lives. Sound good?"
"Sure." Remus took a drink of his pumpkin juice. "Sounds good."
Remus looked up from his book. Yes?
I was wondering if you could give me a hand. I’m on the stairs, and my knees don’t seem to want to cooperate.
Remus was out the door before she had even finished the sentence.
Danger was sitting on the stairs, smiling shakily at him. "It’s ridiculous," she said, lifting her hand and watching it tremble. "Delayed shock, I suppose. I can’t even stand up properly..."
"Don’t try." Remus lifted her into his arms and carried her up the rest of the stairs.
"You could have used your wand, you know."
"I know. But I like holding you."
Well, what’s a girl supposed to say to something like that?
I don’t know what a girl is supposed to say, but you could always try saying something like this... Remus made a detailed suggestion.
Danger gasped in astonishment. I’d never say something like that! It’s... it’s...
Awful! She smiled as he set her down on their bed. But, yes, tempting too.
So I think that sounds like it takes a while and we shouldn’t do anything too crazy before dinner. Let’s just cuddle. But later tonight...
Remus lay down beside her, parted her hair, and kissed the back of her neck. I’m holding you to your word, mind.
I’ll remember that.
James woke up with a start, completely confused. The bed under him was too hard and narrow to be his bed at home —
No, his home was gone, five years destroyed, he lived at the Leaky Cauldron now, but he wasn’t there either —
We went to Letha’s house — we were looking for Harry — the truck coming down the street — Lily!
Emitting a panicked noise, he sat up and looked wildly around. His eyes fell on a larger bed beside his own, with blonde hair spread over the pillows, and the form in the bed breathing slowly and regularly —
He breathed again himself. Of course, she was going to be all right. The Healer had said so. She’d need to stay where she was for a few days, but that nice woman with the frizzy brown hair had said that would be all right, and Letha had agreed. He recalled vaguely that Letha had rented a semi-detached in London. She must have bought it at some point over the intervening years and be renting out the half where she didn’t live, to have the final word that way.
A noise behind him made him whirl around, hand going to his wand pocket. A girl of about six stared at him from the door. Her right thumb was in her mouth, and her eyes were wide and solemn. Her hair was as bushy as that of the woman who had suggested he and Lily stay. Must be her daughter. Probably has the run of the house, her and those two boys we were watching — they must all belong to that family who live in the other half...
"Hello," he said quietly. "My name is Mr. Clay. What’s yours?"
The girl took her thumb out of her mouth and dried it on her blouse. "Jane," she said quietly. "But everybody except Daddy calls me Neenie."
"Why doesn’t your daddy call you Neenie?"
The girl smiled shyly. "’Cause he calls me Kitten instead."
"Well, can I call you Neenie?"
She nodded. "Is she going to be all right?" she asked, looking over towards Lily. "My daddy didn’t mean to hit her with his truck. It was an accident."
"I know. And she knows. Or she will, when she wakes up. The Healer did say she was going to be all right."
"What are your brothers’ names, Neenie?"
"They’re not my brothers. Not both of them. Reggie is our cousin. He came to live with us two years ago after his parents died in a car accident." Neenie sounded as if she were reciting a lesson she’d been taught.
Probably something her parents taught her to say when people asked, so no one got the wrong idea from half-answers or mistakes. "Well, then, what’s your brother’s—"
"Neenie!" said a woman’s voice from behind her. Neenie jumped and turned guiltily around. "What are you doing over here?"
"Sorry’s not an answer, Jane. Why are you here?"
"I just wanted to say hello and see if they were all right."
"That was naughty of you. You get home right away."
"Bye," Neenie said over her shoulder before she scurried away down the hall.
"I’m sorry about that," said the woman, stepping into the doorway in Neenie’s place. "We’ll try to keep them from bothering you."
"Oh, she wasn’t bothering me. On the contrary. I love children."
"That’s a dangerous thing to say to me," said the woman, laughing a little. "I have three of them to look after. You might find yourself saddled with a babysitting job." She held out her hand. "Kelly White."
"Harold Clay." James shook her hand. "Thank you for letting us stay here — it was you who suggested it, if my memory’s not playing tricks on me?"
"That was me."
"Thank you." He looked at Lily, lying so still in the bed. "I don’t know what I’d have done if you hadn’t offered. She’s everything to me, more so than ever right now, and seeing her hurt like that, I just couldn’t cope. I’ve always tried to keep her from getting hurt, put myself in the way instead, and there was just no time here..."
It flashed before his eyes again, half in real time, half in grotesque slow motion. Lily pulling away from him, starting to run across the street — the truck’s brakes squealing as she stopped in horror, directly in its path — his own voice screaming her name as the bumper struck her, sending her flying — wanting to run to her side, but feeling his legs locked in place, unable to move —
"Sit down," said Kelly gently, coming into the room. "Please, before you fall."
James obeyed, sinking back down to the cot. "It’s just, we’ve lost everything else," he said dully. "Our home, our friends, our son..."
"Yes, our little boy. He’d be about your Neenie’s age now."
"Oh, I’m so sorry."
"No, no, he’s not dead. At least we don’t think so. It’s just that we don’t know where to find him..." James stopped talking suddenly, aware of how close he’d been to blurting out his real name and purpose to this woman. And she could be anyone. Magical, Muggle... but no, Letha used a wand openly in front of her, and she went to call the Healer, which means she can use the Floo, and Muggles can’t...
"I’m still very sorry to hear that," said Kelly. "I don’t know what I’d do if any of our three were missing, or even Letha’s Meghan. We’ve really come to think of them all as ours over the years, living in close quarters the way we do. If there’s anything we can do to help, please tell me."
Do you know where we can find a man called Sirius Black? But James knew better than to ask that question. The newspaper article he’d read the night before had made it quite clear that Sirius was currently considered only slightly better than Voldemort in most respects. She’d want to know why he wanted to know, and he didn’t want to lie, but he didn’t dare tell the truth...
"I hate to ask, when you’re already putting us up, but I’m awfully hungry. I think I must have missed at least one meal while I was asleep."
"Did you eat any lunch?"
"No, we were going to eat after we... were done with what we were doing," James finished rather lamely. "But it must be at least dinnertime by now."
Kelly smiled. "Better than that — it’s tomorrow morning. Breakfast time."
James blinked, impressed. "I did sleep a long time."
"The Healer said shock often does that." Kelly looked at him oddly. "Did you sleep on your pillow wrong? There’s a line on your face, right there." She pointed.
James lifted his hand and found the temple-piece of his invisible glasses under his fingers, pressing into his skin. "I must have," he said mendaciously, rubbing it. "It’ll go away."
"And you do need something to eat. The Healer left nutrition potions for your wife, and Letha gave her one before she left for work — she had some Healing training during the war, so she knows how to do that."
"You do?" Kelly seemed interested. "Do you know Letha from somewhere, then?"
"Only through stories," James said quickly. "We had... mutual friends. You?"
"Oh, she and I were best friends when we were little. But then she went off to a special school." Kelly chuckled, leading James out of the dark room and into a short hallway. "I never realized how special until we ran into each other again, when the twins were about two. She listened to my stories about them, insisted on coming home to meet them, let them play with her wand, and a few seconds later, John and I were being informed that magic actually exists." She turned right and went through a door where sun lay on the floor in long stripes. "The kitchen’s just in here."
"Excuse me a moment," said James, spying porcelain fixtures on the other side of the hall from the kitchen. "I’ll be right there."
When he finished and walked into the kitchen, Kelly had her head in the refrigerator. "Is there anything you don’t eat? There’s some cold sausage from this morning, and peppers and onions, I can make you a fry-up with some eggs if you’d like."
"That sounds wonderful," James said sincerely, sitting down at the table. "What did you do after you found out your children were magical?"
"Well, we wanted to be near someone who could help them if they ever got really out of hand, and since I already knew Letha, it seemed like a good idea to move closer to her. It was just luck that the man who owned this place was willing to sell to her, and that she was willing to rent to us. John and I found work in this area, and we’ve been here ever since."
"And the other boy, Reggie, I think Neenie called him — she said he was a cousin, he’d come to live with you when his parents died in a car wreck..."
"That’s right, my sister and her husband. Kind of funny, how we both married colors — John’s a White, and her husband was a Gray." Kelly cracked two eggs into a bowl. "Like I said, Reggie’s really become one of us now. It’s hard for us to remember what life was like without him. But enough about me, I’m boring. What about you? Where did you come from?"
"A little town," said James, trying to think of ways to turn the conversation elsewhere. "Just a village like any other, not very interesting. I—" He yawned, and had a brainstorm. "If you don’t mind, I’m very tired still."
"Oh, I’m so sorry." Kelly sounded chagrined. "Me and my big mouth, chatter chatter all day, and never realize other people might get tired of it. I’ll just finish this up and let you eat, and then you go right back to bed if you want. Or if you want a shower, it’s right upstairs — this is Letha’s side of the house, and she never uses her second bathroom, she’s in the master bedroom and it has its own, so anything you find in there feel free to use..."
James let the flow of words wash over him, making appropriate noises at the right times and supporting his head with one hand. He actually was still tired, as silly as that seemed after sleeping half of yesterday and all last night.
There are some things here that don’t add up. She’s talking like she’s a Muggle, but she can’t be, if I was right about her using the Floo to get a Healer for Lily. And she doesn’t seem at all sad when she talks about her sister dying.
"Where is your husband this morning?" he asked as Kelly set the plate on the table. "Thank you."
"You’re welcome. He’s at work, and so’s Letha. â€˜Fraid you’re stuck with me for most of today. And I’ll have to be mostly over on my own side, keeping an eye on the children."
"That’s all right," said James. "I was thinking of going back to bed, or sitting with... Cecilia, after I was done here."
He picked up the fork and poked at the eggs for a moment before slicing off a bite-sized piece. Something in the back of his head was insisting that he should talk to John White again, that all the little things that were bothering him would come clear if he could discuss them with another man.
I wish I’d got a better look at him. His memories of the man were blurred by shock and worry. All he could remember was blondish hair, glasses, and a polite voice, soothing and somehow familiar.
But I never knew anyone named White. I knew Blacks, but no Whites. He grinned at his own feeble joke, and ate another bite of Kelly’s fry-up. "This is very good," he said around it.
"Men," said Kelly, shaking her head. "This is not one of the cultures where talking with your mouth full is considered a compliment to the chef!" But she was smiling. "Thank you. I’ve always enjoyed cooking. And now Jamie’s starting to get interested in it, I’m so happy."
James nearly choked on his mouthful. "I’m sorry, who?" he said when he’d swallowed.
"Jamie. My son. The other half of the twins. I’m sorry, I must not have told you his name — there I go again, chattering away, and leaving out all the most important things. Yes, the twins are James and Jane — not the most original of names, but they’ll wear better than Taylor or Rainbow or some of the things people are naming children these days... oh, I’m sorry, I hope I haven’t offended you..."
James shook his head. "No. No, not at all."
It’s a coincidence, he told himself firmly, starting to eat again. I was just saying last night how happy I was to have a normal name. It doesn’t mean anything, that her little boy is named James.
But he’s Harry’s age. He’s living very near Aletha. And he looked enough like Harry to make Lily run across the road after him.
His head was spinning. He didn’t want to have to think about it any more right now.
And I certainly don’t want to get into a fight about it. Which he would, if he brought up his suspicions to Kelly. Whether he was right or wrong, she would be angry and shocked at what he thought she was doing, and want to know what right he had to ask her about it, and he had no good answer for her, only the truth.
Which is a little hard to believe, when you come right down to it.
Twice he opened his mouth to ask Kelly if her family or Aletha owned a dog, but closed it again. He’d seen their dog himself, the day before, running outside after Aletha, then following Kelly back in. It was big enough to be Sirius, but it was a funny sort of orange-red, not properly black.
So maybe he dyed his fur. Maybe that’s part of his disguise too.
But why would Sirius bother to dye his fur, since no one had known he was an Animagus anyway? The questions just kept piling up, and James couldn’t come to any proper conclusion, not with the way the room kept tilting around him...
Kelly turned around from the sink and got a good look at him. "Back to bed," she said peremptorily, "right now. You look like you’re going to fall out of that chair."
James accepted her help back down the hall and dropped gratefully onto the cot. His eyes closed of their own accord, and his last thought was regret that once again, he hadn’t thought to take his glasses off...
Danger stood in the doorway, looking from man to woman.
He had a strong reaction to Harry’s false name. He wouldn’t tell me anything about himself, or where he was from. And he said something about missing a little boy, about Neenie’s age...
She shook her head. It can’t be what I think it is. That’s just impossible. James and Lily Potter are dead. They were buried. People saw their bodies, touched them. There is no way they can have come back to life.
But she couldn’t help remembering the scream she thought she’d heard as Remus braked frantically the day before. She might be mistaken, she might have conjured it up in the panic of the moment, but it had sounded a lot like the name "Lily"...
"Missing a little boy about Neenie’s age," repeated Remus. "And he had a strong reaction to hearing that our son was named James."
Sirius blew his nose. "Dammit," he said in deep disgust. "If I could just smell properly, we could get this settled tonight."
"But you can’t," said Aletha. "And that would be invading their privacy in any case. If they are James and Lily, as insane as that seems, then they must have a reason for staying in disguise. And if they’re not, then there’s no reason to bother them."
"But what if their reason is that they just don’t know what’s going on?" suggested Danger. "Imagine they’ve been away somehow, incommunicado. They would have gone looking for Harry right away, as soon as they got back, wouldn’t they? And gone to you first, Letha, since you’re the only one of their old friends still available."
"And that would be why you felt like you knew them," said Sirius. "Because you did — you do. And why they were asking about me — they’re looking for Harry."
"And he was out in the front yard with Draco when the accident happened." Aletha teased at a tangle in her hair. "Doesn’t it sound just like Lily to run across the street towards Harry without noticing that there’s a truck coming?"
"I hate to be the party pooper," said Remus, "but all of this is based on one rather improbable assumption. That Lily and James have somehow come back to life."
"It’s not impossible," said Sirius. "Maybe they weren’t ever really dead."
Remus shook his head. "I was at their funeral, Sirius. I saw their bodies. Someone asked me if I wanted their wedding rings, to remember them by, and I said yes." He stroked his own ring. "Maybe it was wrong of me, but I couldn’t bear to think of symbols of a love that deep being buried. I suppose I was hoping I could someday give them to Harry."
"And you did," said Danger. "He has them now."
"And that’s another thing to think about. Harry." Aletha looked towards the music room. "If those people in there really are James and Lily, Harry belongs to them, not to us. We’d miss him terribly, but he is theirs."
"They wouldn’t take him away," said Sirius. "Not away, away. I don’t think they’d want to live here with us, but they wouldn’t go far. We’d still see him all the time. But it wouldn’t be the same as living in the same house, would it?"
Above, on the balcony, the cubs withdrew noiselessly.
"Do you think?" whispered Neenie, her eyes very big. "Could they really be your parents?"
"Would you go away with them?" Draco asked.
Meghan’s face wrinkled, preparatory to crying. Both her brothers immediately clapped hands over her mouth and hustled her down the corridor with their other hands. Neenie ran ahead to open the door.
"I don’t want Harry to go away!" was Meghan’s cry when it finally escaped her, safely behind the closed door of their room.
"I know," said Harry, sitting down on the bed. "I don’t want to go away. I like being Pack. But maybe my mum and dad could be Pack too."
"And we’ll still be Pack even if we don’t live in the same house," said Neenie. "Pack is forever."
"I just thought of something," said Draco. "Your mum and dad knew about Wormtail, right?"
Harry nodded. "Course they did. They were the ones under the Fidelius."
"So if they really are back, maybe they can go to the Ministry and tell them about Padfoot and Wormtail."
Meghan brightened up. "And then Dadfoot be free!"
"And then we could live anywhere we wanted," said Neenie. "Maybe there could be three houses close together."
"Three?" asked Draco.
"One for Harry’s parents, one for Moony and Danger, one for Padfoot and Letha."
"But where would I live? I belong to all the Pack."
"Maybe you could switch," suggested Harry. "Sleep in one house one night, another house the other."
Neenie frowned. "But we still don’t know if those people really are Harry’s parents."
Harry shrugged. "So? I’ll go ask them."
"They asleep," said Meghan.
"Not now, silly. Tomorrow. Tomorrow morning."
"How?" asked Draco.
Harry grinned. "Same way we got Neenie in this morning. The cabinets over the sinks."
"But I barely fit," protested Neenie. "You wouldn’t at all."
"We can take all the shelves out," said Harry. "I’ll manage."
None of the other cubs doubted that.