Truth Amid the Lies
By Anne B. Walsh
In the middle of a discussion about the lessons the children received, Aletha looked at the clock on the wall and swore under her breath. "I have to get ready for work," she said. "Are you working today, Remus?"
"Only this afternoon, and Danger not at all. We should be fine."
"Good." Aletha bent over to hug Lily. "It’s wonderful to have you here," she said. "I still can’t believe you’re back."
"I still can’t believe I’m pregnant." Lily yawned. "Good heavens, I just woke up, what’s wrong with me?"
"You’re recovering from being hit by a car," said Aletha with a trace of acidity in her voice. "And from having a number of shocks — pleasant ones, but still shocks. If you can sleep, do."
"I think I can." Lily yawned again. "But I shouldn’t... I should be excited, awake..."
"It’s just manifesting differently right now. You’ve worn yourself out for the moment. You’ll be excited and awake in a little while. Go to sleep, Lily." Behind her back, Aletha crooked a beckoning finger at James.
"Love you, sweetheart," he said after he’d kissed her. "And the baby. We’ll have to think about names..."
"We have months to do that, you silly." Lily smiled sleepily at him. "We don’t even know boy or girl yet..."
James watched her eyes drift shut. "Is she really all right?" he asked Aletha worriedly.
"She’s fine." Aletha smiled conspiratorially. "I spiked that potion I gave her with a slow-acting sleeping draught."
"Still thinks she knows what’s best for the world," Sirius put in from his seat on the piano bench.
"I knew what was best for you, didn’t I?"
"Do I have to answer that question?"
"We’ll put it off until I get home. I won’t be long." Aletha blew a kiss to Sirius, waved at Remus, and was out the door to the hall.
James sat down on the end of Lily’s bed. "I think I need to apologize," he said. "For blowing up that way about the Malfoy boy, or whatever his name is now."
"Draco Black," said Remus. "Accepted."
"Oh, come on, at least let me finish." James stuck a mock-contrite look on his face. "I’ve been thinking about this ever since I got my foot out of my mouth."
"Go for it," said Sirius, leaning back. His fingers flickered towards Remus, but James caught the gist. This should be good. Choosing to ignore it with dignity, he went on.
"I had no right to judge Draco by his father like I did. I was being as stupid as all the purebloods who’re so damn sure that Muggleborns are worthless just because of who their parents were. You’re my friends, and you obviously care about this kid. So I should get to know him and see what he’s like before I decide anything about him."
Sirius whistled. "Very impressive," he said. "Are you sure you’re the same James Potter I used to know? That bloke would rather have eaten his own broomstick than admit he was wrong."
Remus gave Sirius a barely tolerant look. "There’s no need to rub it in, Sirius," he said. "Thank you, James. But there’s someone else’s opinion of Draco I think you might trust even more than ours."
Remus stood up. "Come over here."
James followed his friend around the bottom of the cot he’d slept on and to the blank stretch of wall that separated the two halves of the house. Remus tapped his wand against the wall three times, then stroked a place along it and nodded in satisfaction.
James frowned. Nothing had changed that he could see. "What is this, Diagon Alley?"
"Something like that," said Sirius from behind him. "Go on." A hand in the middle of his back propelled James forward into the wall —
And through it.
The woman he’d called Kelly, who had reintroduced herself as Danger, looked up in surprise, as did the four children situated on and around her, apparently listening to a story she’d been reading. Meghan had her lap, Neenie was snuggled beside her, and entwined on the floor, in a pose that suggested they’d been wrestling as much as listening, were two boys, one with dark hair, the other with silver-blond.
Harry wiggled around to where he could see James. "Hi!" he said enthusiastically. "You gonna listen too? Draco, come’n meet my dad." He disentangled himself and helped the blond boy up. "This is Prongs. Prongs, this’s Draco. He’s my brother."
James quickly knelt down to put himself more nearly on the boys’ level. "Hello, Draco," he said, holding out his hand.
"Hi." The boy’s face and hair were reminiscent of Lucius Malfoy, but the expression and demeanor were worlds away. In fact, if he hadn’t known who the boy was, James might have had a hard time placing him. The shy but friendly smile made the Malfoy features quite pleasant.
And Harry likes him. Hell, Harry said right out the kid’s his brother! How can I argue with that?
"Actually, I think I would like to listen," he said, rearranging himself to sit cross-legged. "What are we reading?"
"It’s a great book," said Neenie, her face alight with enthusiasm. "It’s called Long Journey Home. It’s about a man and a woman who get caught in a war and taken far, far away, and everyone at home thinks they’re dead, but they’re not, and it takes them a long time to get home and—"
"Ah, ah," said Danger warningly. "No giving away the ending."
"Dadfoot w’ote it," said Meghan, beaming. "Dadfoot a good w’iter."
James froze, ignoring the sudden extra weight on his legs. What?
Danger chuckled at the look on his face. "I suppose they feel that since you’ve been accepted as Pack, you should be inducted into all our secrets," she said. "Though I don’t think Sirius really wanted you to know that quite yet."
James turned around. The back of a red head was just disappearing through the wall. Remus stood off to one side, looking rather amused. "He’s been writing since Danger taught him how to type, back when we first came together," he said. "Several short stories and two novels, with a third one in the works. Under a pen name, of course. It gives him something to do, earns a little money — not that we’re not freeloading off the Black fortune anyway, but he feels better bringing home some gold."
"Hang on," James said, shaking his head. "Back up the broom. Too much all at once. Sirius writes?"
"Yes, Sirius writes. And what’s more, he writes well, and stuff we can read to this lot. Not children’s books specifically, but they don’t have anything graphic that we’d have to take out. And they adore hearing what Padfoot wrote, usually more than once. This is our second time through this one."
"Would you like a chair before I go on?" Danger offered. "It’ll be easier on your back, especially with those hooligans on you."
James looked down. Harry and Draco looked up at him. "Hello," he said a bit bemusedly. "What are you doing?"
"Sitting," said Harry. "Read, Danger."
"Please," added Draco quickly.
"Just a second," said Remus, sitting down in one of the armchairs in the corner of the room. "Draco, come here. Two of you on the same lap is an embarrassment of riches."
James watched as Draco settled himself next to Remus, leaning comfortably on the man, who smiled and put an arm around him. Ah-ha. So that’s how the wind blows there.
He looked down at Harry and felt a slight stab of guilt. If Draco was Remus’ boy, then Harry would have been Sirius’, right up until today...
"Go on without us?" he said, gently nudging Harry off his lap as he stood up. "Harry, would you come with me?"
Harry nodded, and took James’ hand as they walked back through the false wall — James reached up to find the contours of an archway, obviously masked by illusion — into the room where Lily lay sleeping.
"She’s pretty," Harry said, looking at his mother.
"I’m glad you agree with me." James bent and scooped up his son, accustoming himself to this new size of boy. Harry tensed for a second, then relaxed. "I’ve always thought she was very beautiful myself. Harry, do you know where Padfoot went?"
Harry shrugged. "Might be up in his writing room."
"Can you show me where that is?"
"Upstairs." Harry directed James down the hall into the front room, up the stairs, and to the door of what looked like it had once been a guest bedroom. James shifted his son’s weight to his left arm and knocked.
"What?" called Sirius’ voice from within.
"I need to talk to you."
A moment of silence. "Fine. Come in."
An electric typewriter held pride of place in this room. The walls were lined with bookshelves and tables holding piles of paper, most of which had boxes under them, filled with envelopes and manila folders. Sirius sat behind the typewriter, a box of tissues to hand, looking rather sulky. "Go on," he said before James could speak. "Get it over with."
"This." Sirius waved a hand around. "Just... tease me about it and be done with it, all right?"
"No." James set Harry down. "I’m not here to tease you."
"Great. That means you’ll do it some other time."
"Probably. But I do need to talk to you."
"I owe you an apology," said James, shifting a pile of papers to the floor to sit in the chair they’d been occupying. Harry was riffling through the rubbish bin. "For going off like that downstairs."
"You already apologized, you don’t need to do it again." Sirius shooed Harry away from the bin. "Get out of there, that’s full of germs. Go get something from your room to play with."
"That’s what I need to apologize for," said James, watching as Harry trotted out of the room. "For acting like being Harry’s father gave me some God-given right to drag him away from you. Lily’s right. That would be cruel, to him and to you. You’ve been taking care of him all these years — he’s been yours in everything but name — and here I come and act like you haven’t done a good enough job before I know anything about it at all. I really put my foot in it, Sirius. I’m sorry."
Sirius stared at him. "I am really getting suspicious here," he said. "You never used to apologize for anything."
"Maybe I should have more, then." James rubbed his legs, trying to think of how to say what he was thinking. It was clear in his mind, but getting it into words was another matter.
"You’re in hiding," he said finally. "These kids have to wear glamours whenever they go out, lie about their names, they can’t trust anyone except you. It would be so easy for you to turn that into making them miserable. But you haven’t. They’re happy. I can see that, anyone could see it. They were never really afraid of us, just careful, even when they didn’t know us. And when they found out who we are, they started treating us just like they treat you. I had both boys on my lap downstairs, and they’ve never seen me before yesterday, at least not to remember it..."
Sirius was watching him silently.
"I guess what I’m trying to say is, you and Remus and Letha and Danger have done a bang-up job with these kids, and I... I want in. Me and Lily, and this baby. I want part of whatever it is you have here. But I don’t want to cut you out of what you already have with Harry. That wouldn’t be fair to anyone." James stopped. "That made no sense, did it."
"Made sense to me," said Sirius, a little hoarsely. "Prongs... God, I still can’t believe you’re really back — all you ever had to do was ask..."
James coughed into his hand, trying to keep his voice from fogging up. "Well, I’m asking."
Sirius cracked a smile. "No."
James scowled at him and told him what he thought of best friends who played stupid games with words. It wasn’t until he was winding up his second paragraph that he noticed Harry standing in the doorway, looking very interested.
"Harry," said Sirius quickly, "you didn’t hear any of that, all right?"
Harry nodded. "What does it mean?" he asked.
"Nothing," said James and Sirius in chorus.
"Oh. Can I go listen to Danger read again?"
"Sure, go on," said Sirius.
Harry took off running. "He’s fast," James said, listening to the footsteps recede.
"And sneaky. He’ll probably be telling Lily about what he caught you saying as soon as she wakes up. They play us off each other, you know. We have to have secret meetings when they’re asleep to make sure we don’t fall for anything." Sirius stood up and turned around, rummaging in a box under a table. "You may regret joining up with us."
"Doubt it. What’re you after?"
Sirius straightened up with a manila folder in his hand. "This," he said. "Just put the latest installment in the other day." He presented the folder ceremoniously to James, though his eyes were oddly bright. "Never thought I’d actually be giving them to you, but it was something I needed to do."
James flipped open the folder and looked at the top sheet of paper. It was a letter in Sirius’ handwriting, dated 31 July 1982, and addressed to...
To me. Me and Lily.
Quickly, he flipped to the next. It was dated Halloween of that year. The next was 14 February 1983, and the next 31 July...
Like that retrospective in the Prophet, but better. That was just about plain old news. This is about people I love.
"Enjoy," Sirius said roughly, and James looked up through blurry eyes to see him headed for the door.
"Hold it, you bastard," he said, hearing his own voice coming out croaky. "You can’t leave yet."
Sirius turned back. "Why not?"
James grabbed his friend and pulled him into the tightest hug of his life.
Because I need to know everything’s going to be all right.
"I was so scared, when I read that newspaper," he got out. "I thought I’d ruined your life."
"Don’t worry about it. You can keep trying now you’re back."
James punched Sirius in the back. Sirius scrubbed his hand along James’ shoulder, causing carpet burns from his shirt.
Now I know. Five years or not, some things never change.
"Come on downstairs when you’re done," Sirius said when they finally let go. "We’ll be there."
James nodded, then sat down to catch up with what he’d missed.
Lily awoke with the sensation that she was being watched. She opened her eyes to see four children neatly lined up on the cot beside her bed, all regarding her with great interest.
"Hello," she said.
"Hello," the bigger girl said back.
Silence fell again. Lily looked at the children, and they looked at her.
I suppose they don’t know what to say. I wish I did.
"Are you feeling better?" the blond boy asked.
"Yes, thank you."
More silence. Slowly, Lily began to smile. I wonder if they know how adorable they are, sitting all in a row like that?
Her smile began to be mirrored on the four small faces before her, and suddenly the entire situation struck her as unbelievably funny. She started to giggle, and so did they, and before long all five of them were helplessly laughing.
To her surprise and pleasure, her stomach didn’t hurt when she finally managed to catch her breath. She assumed the potions and rest she’d been having were finally catching up to her.
"C’n I come on your bed, please?" said Meghan.
"I don’t see why not."
"Me too?" said Harry.
"Of course. And you two," Lily added to the other children, deciding to cut things short. "Everybody up, come on."
The children tucked themselves around her as if they were quite used to sharing beds with adults. "You know any stories?" asked the bigger girl.
"Some. But I think you know ones I’d like to hear better. I’m not even sure I know all your names."
The children were more than happy to rectify that. In the process, Lily learned how each of them had come to live with the group they called the Pack. Meghan seemed very proud of being a born cub, and Draco’s story was highly enlightening, since it meshed the account from the newspaper and the somewhat disjointed idea Lily had got from Remus’ explanation earlier. Hermione, or Neenie as the others all called her, provided background about the earliest days of the Pack, and spoke with great affection about Moony.
How lovely for Remus, to have found not only a woman who loves him, but the next best thing to a daughter as well... and a son, too, from the way he was defending Draco to James...
Then Harry took his turn, and Lily nearly undid all the Healer’s work by jumping out of her bed, Apparating directly to wherever her sister was at the moment, and beating her about the head very hard indeed.
A cupboard. A blasted cupboard. As if he were an unwanted present, that they could shove onto a shelf and forget...
"Moony and Danger cursed them after they took me," Harry told her happily, diffusing her anger before it could reach a critical point. "They put a curse on them so nothing they do goes right ever again. Then they brought me home to the Den, except they didn’t call it the Den yet, â€˜cause Padfoot named it and he wasn’t here then. He didn’t come until the day after I did."
"Do you want to hear about that?" Neenie asked.
"Yes, I do." Lily cautiously pushed herself up in the bed to a semi-sitting position, then to sitting upright. "I want to hear all your stories. But in a moment."
"You need something?" Draco asked.
Lily chuckled slightly. "I’m not sure if you can help me with it, but yes. I need to find a bathroom."
"It’s right through there," said Neenie, pointing. "Are you all right to walk?"
"I don’t know. Is anyone else home?"
Four heads nodded. "I get Dadfoot," said Meghan, climbing off the bed.
"No, sweetheart, don’t bother your daddy — can you get Prongs for me instead?"
"P’ongs. Okay." Meghan scampered off.
"Do you like us to call you Mrs. Tiger?" Draco asked shyly. "Harry said you didn’t like it."
Lily sighed, shaking her head. "I don’t know, Draco. I suppose it’s all right. Unless you can think of something better..."
"Tigermum?" Harry said hopefully.
Lily laughed aloud. "I think I do like that better. Why don’t you all call me that, then. Tigermum."
"Tigermum," said Neenie experimentally.
"Tigermum," said Draco.
"Tigermum and Prongs," said Harry as Meghan led James into the room.
"Tigermum and Prongs?" James repeated.
"We’ve been experimenting with names. Now if you don’t mind, I need some help to get to the smallest room in the house."
"All right. When you’re done, I have something I want you to read." James helped her to her feet, his smile bright if a little shaky. "You’ll love them."
Lily looked over her shoulder at the four children on the bed. "I already do," she said softly.
As lunchtime approached, Lily’s stomach began to growl, so she was quite happy to see the tray James carried in for her.
"It’s pretty bland," he warned her, setting it down on her lap. "Just some soup and juice. But it’s food, and Sirius and Remus both swear Danger’s a great cook."
Lily sniffed the steam rising from the bowl appreciatively. "It certainly smells good. Are you eating?"
"Oh, I’ll get something later..."
"You’ll get something now. I know how you behave when you’re hungry. Go and eat, I can handle myself alone for a while."
"Lily, I don’t want to abandon you..."
"You’ll be in the next room. That’s hardly abandoning me. Shoo." Lily waved her spoon at her husband. "Go on."
He went. Lily applied herself to the food. Despite what James had claimed, it tasted delicious. She felt she could have eaten and drunk the same amount again and not had too much.
Someone knocked on the doorframe. "May I come in?" asked Danger’s voice.
The woman stepped into the room. "You look like you could use a refill."
"Is it that obvious?" Lily asked.
"Not terribly so, but I’ve learned a few tricks tending to hungry boys. And girls. I’ll be right back." She collected the tray and headed for the kitchen, returning a moment later with bowl and cup both refilled. "How’s this?"
"Wonderful. Thank you." But Lily hesitated before picking up her spoon. "Danger?"
"What do you think of me?" The question sounded stilted and foolish to her even as she said it, but it was the only way she could think to open the conversation.
"I don’t quite understand."
"Do you... dislike me?"
Danger looked worried. "Have I given you that impression somehow? I certainly hope I haven’t, it isn’t true..."
"No, no, it’s nothing you’ve done. It’s only..." Lily shook her head. "I’ve been thinking, ever since I realized what had happened to us. Ever since James told me. Five years gone, in the blink of an eye. And there’s really no way we can pick up where we left off. Harry’s not ours anymore. He’s yours. I almost feel as if the honest thing for us to do would be to leave, go away from here, make a new life somewhere else and not try to intrude on yours..."
"No." Danger shook her head, sitting down on the edge of the bed. "Absolutely not. We’ve always known we were just a second-best for Harry, and now the best thing comes along all of a sudden, but it wants to disqualify itself? You may want to leave, but we’re not about to let you." Her chuckle was as warm and rich as the soup. "The Pack doesn’t let go that easy."
"But that’s part of the trouble. You’ve made this family of yourselves, this Pack, and we don’t know how to fit in. Or I don’t. James will have no trouble, he and Sirius and Remus never did, and I can’t think a few years passing will make much of a difference to them, but I don’t know if I can do the same with Letha. She’s a mother now herself, with more experience than I have. And I’ve only just met you, and the children..." Lily bunched her hand in the bedcovers. "They’re beautiful, I love them already, but I have no idea what to do with them."
"No, you have a very good idea what to do with them. You said it yourself." Danger stroked flat a lump in the afghan. "Love them. Love them all. To tell the truth, that’s my only worry with having you and James here, is that you might favor Harry without meaning to — and that’s perfectly understandable, he’s the only one actually related to you — but it’s not how we’ve come to do things." She stopped, looking chagrined. "I’m so sorry, please forgive me for preaching at you..."
"No, please." Lily stretched out an appealing hand. "I need the guidance. This is your home. Tell me how you do things."
"All right." Danger caught the hand in her own and squeezed it gently. "It’s just as I said. We love them all. I won’t say there aren’t divisions of sorts, the children have worked out among themselves who belongs specially to whom, but we make no distinctions among them. Did you know that one of Dumbledore’s reasons for sending Harry to your sister was so that he wouldn’t grow up a pampered little prince?"
Lily laughed aloud. "He had reason. I’m sure you’ve heard stories of how James used to behave in school."
"Constantly." Danger chuckled. "So we’ve done our best to make sure that Harry will grow up loved, but not spoiled. The other children help us tremendously with that."
"I’d noticed they don’t seem to do anything alone. Or if they do, they come back to check on each other frequently. They’re always aware of one another."
"They are, very much. And I think that has made it hard, if not impossible, for Harry to build up any inflated sense of self-importance. He thinks of himself primarily as Hermione and Draco and Meghan’s brother, not as The Boy Who Lived." Danger boomed out the last four words in a mock-baritone, making Lily laugh. "He’s their ringleader, he orchestrates their pranks, but he doesn’t think of himself as different from them. So that would be the one thing I would ask of you. Don’t make him feel different. Don’t single him out too much."
"Do you think it would make him unhappy if we did?"
Danger nodded. "These children only come as a package deal. Love one, love them all."
"Then love them all it will be," said Lily firmly.
"Including the new one? Congratulations, by the way." Danger’s smile was tinged with sadness. "Harry will be over the moon. He thought Meghan was fascinating, and he was still almost a baby himself when she was born."
An idea began to form in Lily’s mind. "You like children," she said. "Don’t you?"
"I had to learn to like children," said Danger dryly. "After I managed to get myself saddled with four of them, even with three other adults around to help. Yes."
"Forgive me if this is prying, but do you ever wish you could have your own?"
"It’s not prying. We’ll get to know each other inside and out soon enough." Danger’s eyes were far away. "Yes. I can’t tell Remus about it, obviously — he’d feel guilty, as if it were somehow his fault — well, it is, but it isn’t. I mean, it’s him, but it’s not anything he chose, anything he wants, he’d be rid of it if he could..."
"Do you know what I used to do for a living? What I probably will do again?"
Danger frowned. "I should. I think I do. You were — you are — a specialist Healer of some sort..."
"Midwife," Lily supplied. "With a side specialty in potions dealing with problems relating to that facet of life. And seeing how much Remus adored Harry had me thinking along those lines already. Don’t set your heart on anything, but I did have one or two promising brews..."
She smiled at Danger’s look of dawning hope.