Truth Amid the Lies
By Anne B. Walsh
Severus Snape was browsing at the Apothecary when a voice caught his ear.
"...out of turtle toenails? Oh, thank you, that’s excellent — no, only an ounce — yes, half an ounce of blue butterfly scales and fifteen fairy cocoons, and what I have here, and that’s all."
Severus turned until he could see the woman at the counter. Her back was to him, so that all he could see was her cloak — not surprising for the beginning of December — and the ash blonde hair spilling down her back.
A chance vocal resemblance, nothing more. I should not pry. He returned to his browsing, thinking about the party planned for tonight, celebrating Dumbledore’s return from Brussels and his appointment to the position of Supreme Mugwump. Still, the voice continued to find its way into his ears, and from there into his brain.
"Mid-June, but you know babies, they come when they want to come... I’ve seen quite a few, it’s my business... yes, I know, I won’t be doing the brewing myself, this is for a friend. No, thank you. I’ll be sure to."
Severus watched the woman leave the shop. From the side, she was obviously pregnant, if only just showing. As she turned her head, their eyes met for a moment.
He jerked back and collided with the shelf of ingredients behind him, sending several jars of hog bristle extract crashing to the floor. She gasped, then whipped around and hurried out the door, vanishing in the thickly blowing snow.
Severus stared after her for a few moments, then automatically cleaned up the mess with his wand and started for the counter to pay for what he’d broken. His mind was revolving around two contradictory facts.
Lily Evans lying in her coffin over five years ago, her beautiful eyes closed forever in death.
Lily Evans standing in this shop not five minutes ago, alive and buying potions ingredients.
And she saw me, and recognized me...
It was not possible. It could not be. She was dead, dead in defense of her son. No spell could reawaken the dead.
But no other woman had ever had such eyes. The child Harry had them, but he was dead now himself, dead at the hands of Sirius Black, or alive but being taught to love the Dark Lord. What would Lily do if she knew that? Was it possible that a mother’s love could reach so far, even from beyond the grave...?
No. I am being foolish and sentimental. It is not possible, and neither is her presence here. I will forget her, and forget what I saw, and continue with my day.
But his mind refused to forget her. How could another woman so perfectly counterfeit both Lily Evans’ voice and face? And why would any woman do so? Perhaps she was some relation of Lily’s — Severus recalled vaguely the existence of a sister — but no, Lily’s sister was much older than she, and a Muggle as well. No Muggle would be buying potions ingredients.
He was still worrying at the problem when he left the Apothecary with his load and started for the Leaky Cauldron, from there to return to Hogwarts. Although he was levitating the bags, saving himself the trouble of carrying them, the footing was still uncertain, and he reached the Leaky Cauldron with relief. "Mulled mead, please," he said to Tom, sinking onto a bar stool. There was no need to hurry back to the school. He could rest for a few moments.
He looked around the room, but to his disappointment, the mysterious woman was nowhere to be seen.
"Mulled mead, Professor," said Tom, pushing it across the counter to him.
Severus cupped his hands around the drink and allowed it to warm him. "Has a blonde woman been through here today?" he asked casually. "Pregnant and just starting to show?"
"Hmm." Tom tipped his head to one side. "Well, now, one like that blew in about ten minutes ago, and ran straight for the fireplace." He gave Severus a toothless grin. "Looking for her?"
"I might be."
"I’m not allowed to say where she went, mind. Not legal. But I can tell you who else I’ve heard use that firecall, that’s no real trouble at all..." Tom drummed his fingers lightly on the countertop.
Severus fished in his pocket, found a Galleon, and slid it across the bar.
Tom made it vanish adeptly. "She used the same call as Aletha Freeman always does — you’d know her, she’s the Hogwarts/Ministry Liaison."
"Yes," Severus said, looking into his goblet. "Yes, I do know her."
And I have been suspecting that she was not what she seemed for quite some time.
Meghan was tucked into her favorite corner in the front room of Mama Letha’s side of the house, playing hide. She knew the normal form of the game was hide-and-seek, but no one wanted to seek, so she was playing by herself. When a grown-up came by, she would jump out and shout "Boo," and the grown-up would provide the obligatory shout of surprise.
The front door creaked. Meghan held her breath. This was her big chance. She drew her legs under her, stealthily moving into a crouch, and peered over the seat of the big chair Prongs liked to sit in, to see who had come in —
But nobody was there.
Meghan’s eyes grew very round as the front door closed all by itself. She knew people could be invisible by magic, but nobody Pack would sneak into the Den invisible. This had to be a bad person, somebody who wasn’t Pack, and that meant they shouldn’t be here.
She took a deep breath, preparing to scream —
And the world wasn’t there anymore.
Severus exhaled in relief. He hadn’t seen the child until almost too late.
And not even a Gryffindor would leave a three-year-old home alone. Ergo, someone adult is here.
I must move cautiously.
He paused only long enough to lift the girl onto the sofa and arrange her so that she appeared to be napping. He had used a mild (and therefore invisible) Stunning Spell, since the full-power form might have harmed her, and contrary to popular opinion, he did not enjoy hurting children. She would awaken in a few hours, and the only likely side effect would be a mild headache.
"Meghan?" called a man’s voice from the back of the house. "Me-ghan!"
Severus moved quickly into the corner the girl had been occupying, in case the voice’s owner decided to come into the room. He might be invisible, but intangible was a bit beyond even the capabilities of magic.
"Meghan Lily, where are you?"
The voice suddenly registered with Severus. No. It cannot be. Not even he would be so audaciously stupid as to hide here...
"Your Dadfoot’s coming to find you!"
Perhaps he would, at that.
"And he’s not alone," said another voice, also a man’s. This one flirted with familiarity, but defied recognition. "He’s got his helper, Mr. Prongsie..."
Severus lost the rest of this sentence in simple shock, which quickly burned into rage.
They dare. They dare to be here — he dares to be alive —
The world cannot do this to me!
It had been his great consolation, his great justification for doing as he did. He had beaten the odds and survived, finding himself on the right side at last, and his self-righteous enemies had fallen in their different ways, one a heroic martyr for his family, the other turning to the darkness from which he had escaped —
Severus pressed his teeth together so hard that his jaw muscles cramped. There must be some way to destroy them. Or not destroy them, but cause them hardship. Unearth their perfect little lives — for he had no doubt to whom the child on the couch belonged. He’d had no doubt from the moment he’d seen her wide gray eyes.
And then the perfect plan hit him. Simple, elegant, comprehensive. Black was still wanted, still a fugitive from justice. One anonymous tip and the Aurors would swarm this house. In a few seconds, he could be on his way to the Ministry —
A realization stopped him cold. Potter was here, alive, apparently friendly with Black. He must know what Black had done, what Black had been hoping —
Unless — were the Potters in league with the Dark Lord as well?
The thought was tempting. What if Black had managed to corrupt his friend, rather than Potter redeeming his? What if the act of the two great Auror-trainees was just that, an act?
But Lily would never have stood for it. Unless she never knew.
Or is this Potter a fake, some farfetched attempt to clear Black’s name?
There were too many possibilities for Severus to comprehend all at once. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply for a few moments, clearing his mind and returning to the first impossible thing he had seen. Lily Evans — he refused to use her married name to himself — alive. Pregnant. Living in, or at least using, the home of Aletha Freeman.
Who has obviously coupled at least once with the man who betrayed Lily and Potter. And then had the effrontery to name their offspring after Lily...
Slowly, a puzzle was coming together in Severus’ mind. He did his best not to look at the overall picture yet, simply placing the small pieces where they belonged.
The plaque which was sent to me. Could it have been Black and Potter?
But who addressed it? Lily’s handwriting I would have known...
And whatever is going on in this house, Albus Dumbledore and Minerva McGonagall know about it.
That was the odd piece out in this puzzle, Severus thought, turning it over in his mind. Whatever his differences of opinion with the Headmaster and Deputy Headmistress, imagining them as Dark was beyond his power. While for them to condone what seemed to be going on here...
There is, there must be, something I do not yet know.
But it would have to wait. Footsteps in the hall alerted him to people entering. Potter and Black, it must be —
Black was ahead, Potter behind, as they entered the room. Severus took careful aim. If he could get Potter without alerting Black —
Black half-turned just as the spell struck Potter, and Severus cursed under his breath and dived out of the way of a far too carefully aimed return spell. Children’s screams from overhead and a loud slam from the back of the house registered in his ears but did not interfere with his dropping Black with another Stunner. There. Now to the Ministry, and let them sort this out.
"Take that!" shouted a boy’s voice, and a small object fell from the balcony overlooking the room, to burst with a powerful stench at Severus’ feet. Two more followed the first, with shrill shouts speeding them on, and three after that, until Dungbombs were raining down all around. Severus covered his nose and mouth, coughing from the smell, and tried through streaming eyes to locate the door —
His wand flew from his hand, and the Disillusionment he’d used to mask himself ended.
"Stand still," said the voice he’d heard in Diagon Alley, the voice which had started all of this. "Evanesco." The air in the room cleared, and Severus drew a grateful breath.
"Tigermum, it’s Professor Grumpy," said a small voice from above him.
Severus turned to fix the speaker with a glare. I beg your pardon?
"What?" the dark-haired boy demanded, hoisting himself up on the balcony railing to fix disconcertingly green eyes on Severus. "Padfoot says it all the time."
"Prongs thought it was really funny too," put in the girl, tossing her curly hair.
"And Moony," said the other boy, at the sight of whom Severus’ eyes widened. He couldn’t be...
"That’s enough," Lily said quietly. "Back to your room, all of you."
"Awww," said the three children in unison.
Grudgingly, Harry Potter let his feet fall to the floor and started back along the hallway. The girl followed him, and Draco Malfoy took three steps away from the balcony, then darted back and blew a loud raspberry at Severus before disappearing down the hall.
"Hello, Severus," said Lily, drawing all his attention to her. Her hair was properly red again, spilling freely over her shoulders. Her face was unchanged from the last time he’d seen her —
Dead in her coffin.
"How?" he whispered, surprising himself — he had thought he was using his normal voice until the word emerged.
"I was never dead, Severus. Neither of us were." Lily stepped over her husband, her wand still trained on Severus’ chest. "Voldemort didn’t kill us. He threw us forward in time by five years."
"But your body... I saw it..."
"Transfigured rubbish, we assume. We can’t know for sure without opening the graves, and we were waiting until Dumbledore came back from Brussels to do anything. Any more questions?"
"Yes." Millions. "Why Black?" He looked at the man with loathing. "Why are you here with him, when he betrayed you?"
"He betrayed no one, Severus." Lily eyed him carefully. "If I have your promise not to try anything else rash, I think we can take this to a more casual setting. I was in an accident a month or so ago, and with that and my condition, I’m still not comfortable standing for long periods of time."
"You have my word. As long as you can answer a question."
"Prudent as ever."
Severus ignored her light sarcasm. "What did I write in my regrets note when you invited me to your wedding?"
Lily smiled. "You said that you sincerely hoped I would be happy, and that I was more than James, or any man, deserved."
Severus nodded, a strange feeling creeping onto his face. It was as if — no, not as if. He was.
"I see you haven’t forgotten how to smile," Lily said, her own widening. "It was one of the things I always liked about you."
One of the things? There were multiple things you liked about me? "I’m flattered," he said in his driest tone. "Though I don’t suggest telling your husband."
"Don’t worry about James. He knows what I think of you, and I know what he thinks of you, and neither of us has ever managed to convince the other at all." One hand on her hip, she beckoned him to follow her. "Though I don’t think breaking into Aletha’s house and Stunning him and Sirius will raise his opinion of you any."
Severus stepped carefully over the two men, resisting the urge to kick them. "May I inquire about the children?" he asked as he entered the kitchen.
"You probably mean Draco."
"Yes. Harry I can understand, Freeman’s daughter likewise — especially if her eyes are a true indication of her parentage — and I am sure there is a perfectly good explanation for the other girl..."
"Remus’ wife’s sister."
"Lupin as well?" Severus pulled out a chair for Lily, then sat down himself. "I suppose I should have known. But none of that explains the presence of Lucius Malfoy’s son."
"Short form, they were kidnapped by Lucius and released by Narcissa, with the proviso that they take Draco with them and bring him up with the other children. He’s a darling, Severus. If it weren’t for his face, you’d never guess who his father was. Oh, and watch me forget my manners. Something to drink?"
"Just water, thank you, and I can get it myself if you will tell me where the glasses are kept."
"To the left of the sink, second shelf — yes, there."
Severus filled a glass at the tap, watching Lily from the corner of his eye. There was no good way to broach the subject he was most interested in... or was there?
"Do you happen to know exactly why Narcissa asked that..." He waved his hand vaguely around the house. "...these people take her son?"
"Because she’d had enough of him being near his father. She wanted him to have choices about his life, not to be trapped on a one-way carpet to Dark magic."
"But to entrust him to Sirius Black..."
"Ah, that’s why you’re here, isn’t it?"
"No." Severus examined his water as if it were a first year’s potion. "I came... because of you."
"Me?" Lily’s voice changed subtly. "Severus, I hope you’re not getting ideas — we’ve missed some years, but James and I are still very much together..."
"No." He heard his voice come out harsh, and repeated the word more gently. "No. I merely wanted to know if the woman I had seen was you. To know if by some impossibility, some miracle, you lived. I will interfere in your life no more than I did before." Even seeing you at a distance is seeing you. Seeing you alive, and happy, even with him...
He looked up. "Are you familiar with the story of the lady and the tiger?"
"I don’t know... wait, yes. The princess whose lover was condemned to the trial in the arena." Green eyes lit with understanding. "So you’re saying..."
"For me, the question was answered the day you died. Or seemed to die. I would have chosen the lady. The gentleman, in your case." Severus looked back down at the tabletop. "No man who truly loves would choose otherwise."
A small hand laid itself on top of his, still clenched around his water glass. "Then I know you are my true friend," Lily said. "And I value my friends higher than I value anything."
A moment of silence ensued, stretched, threatened to become overpowering —
"I ought to explain about Sirius," Lily said, taking her hand away.
Severus met her eyes and smiled wryly. "Yes, this I simply must hear. What has happened to restore your trust in him? Are you unaware of what he did?"
"No, you’re unaware of what he didn’t do. And James and I have been kicking ourselves ever since we got here. We thought we were making everyone safer, and in fact we played directly into Voldemort’s hands..."
Severus suppressed a shudder and kept listening.
Some time later, a chiming noise rang out through the house. "That’s the Floo," Lily said. "They have it charmed to alert them if someone firecalls or comes in..."
"Hello?" called the voice of Albus Dumbledore.
"Perhaps I should meet him," Severus said.
Lily frowned. "I don’t know. He doesn’t expect to see you here."
"He doesn’t expect to see you at all."
"Point taken." Lily gestured gracefully to the doorway. "To your left."
Severus stepped into the hallway just in time to intercept Dumbledore. "Headmaster," he said, suddenly very aware of the two Stunned men lying behind him in the front room.
Dumbledore did not quite jump, but his eyes widened, taking in the details of the scene. "Severus. I must confess I was not expecting you."
"Were you expecting Sirius Black?"
"To be quite honest, yes."
"I acted without knowing the circumstances." Severus nodded over his shoulder. "He is unhurt."
"And do you now know the circumstances?"
"I believe that I do. Perhaps more fully than you..."
"Professor Dumbledore!" shouted three small voices, and a small whirlwind passed by Severus, coalescing into three child shapes in front of Dumbledore, who smiled and bent down to listen to what the children were saying.
"—my mum and dad, they’re here—"
"—we’re going to have a new cub in the Pack—"
"—we threw Dungbombs at Professor Grumpy—"
"Just a moment," said Dumbledore, raising a hand. "One at a time. Draco, you first."
"We threw Dungbombs at Professor Grumpy!" said the blond boy, bouncing up and down. "And we’re not even in trouble!"
"Not yet," Severus heard Lily murmur from the kitchen.
"I doubt your parents would like you to use such a name for Professor Snape," said Dumbledore, his tone serious but the twinkle in his eyes going full-force. "It is very impolite."
"Oh." Draco turned and looked up at Severus. "Sorry."
"Sorry," echoed the other children.
"Neenie, what were you saying?" Dumbledore asked.
"There’s going to be a new cub in the Pack! Tigermum’s pregnant, and this time she hopes it’s a little girl with her hair and Prongs’ eyes!"
Dumbledore became very still. Severus knew this meant either great shock or very deep thought, possibly both. "Repeat those names?" he said quietly.
"Tigermum and Prongs," said the little girl. "Harry’s mum and dad."
"They’re alive, Professor!" Harry burst out. "They weren’t ever really dead, Voldemort didn’t kill them, he just pushed them forward in time, they’re alive, and they’re here! Tigermum’s in the kitchen right now!"
Like a man in a dream, Dumbledore rose and started for the kitchen door. Severus stepped out of his way, then looked at the children, who seemed likely to follow. He cleared his throat, getting their attention. "Perhaps you should take yourselves elsewhere," he suggested.
Three sets of skeptical eyes bored into his forehead.
Severus dredged up a memory of his own childhood, and one of his mother’s tactics. "Please?"
The girl — Neenie, Hermione, whatever her name was — looked up the hall to the front room. "Will you wake up Padfoot and Prongs?" she asked.
"I doubt they would take kindly to it."
"You can stand in here and do the spell," said Harry. "We’ll keep them busy so they don’t see you."
"We’ll tell them we took one of their wands to try it," Draco said.
Severus felt another smile coming to his face. Are they... I believe they are... yes, they are covering for me. Me, of all people...
"Sorry about the Dungbombs," Draco added. "We were sort of scared."
"How’d you get invisible?" Neenie wanted to know. "Was it Disillusionment, or a potion, or do you have an Invisibility Cloak?"
"’Course he doesn’t," said Harry scornfully. "It has to’ve been a spell or a potion, you saw Tigermum cancel it. If it was a Cloak, she’d’ve had to Summon it."
"Well, how do you know she didn’t?"
"Because we would have seen it flying if she did?"
"Not if it was invisible."
"The Cloaks aren’t invisible when they’re not on a person," Draco interjected smoothly, sliding between the other children and looking at Severus. "Professor?"
"I was using a Disillusionment Charm," Snape admitted, impressed in spite of himself. "Now, do you want... Padfoot and Prongs awakened or not?"
"Yes, please," said Neenie, running into the front room. Both boys nodded before following her.
Severus cast two careful Ennervates, then retreated into the back room, whose two main features were a piano and a fireplace.
I should go. I am neither useful nor ornamental here.
But something about the house seemed friendly, welcoming. It was not a feeling Severus was used to. His quarters at Hogwarts were comfortable to him, but very few other places were. In fact, he had trouble thinking of anywhere, other than Hogwarts, where he had ever felt at home.
I have no reason to feel at home here. The people who live here are my enemies, rivals from of old. They have no reason to offer me hospitality, nor should I accept it. I should be on my way.
And yet... and yet...
The children of the house bore no malice toward him. What they had done, they had been taught to do. And when that was over, they had treated him as Severus suspected they treated any adult they could trust. The reasons behind Aletha Freeman’s companions on her frequent visits to Hogwarts were becoming clear, as were vague smiles on Dumbledore’s face after holidays, guffaws from Hagrid at post time in the morning, and a piece of childish artwork he had once seen on Minerva McGonagall’s desk and disregarded as a present from a nephew or niece.
And they are intelligent, each in his or her own way. The girl is obviously very knowledgeable — if she knows this much at the age of six, what will she be like when she arrives at Hogwarts? Harry has a quick eye, and a quick mind to match. And Draco, as strange as it seems for the son of Lucius Malfoy, obviously dislikes fighting, and has gained skill in preventing it...
And even Black’s daughter noticed my entrance very quickly, and might have alerted everyone sooner if I had not seen her.
But he still had no right here. No right to be in this house.
This house has no right to exist, insisted one part of his mind, the part that had not yet fully assimilated Lily’s story, or rather the part that did not want to assimilate it. His earlier thoughts had been closer to the truth than he had known. Black has no right to happiness...
Then how much less of a right have you? sneered another portion of his mind. Black was a bully and a fool, but his crimes pale next to yours, now that you know who truly betrayed the Potters. You liked that, didn’t you? You liked that James Potter’s best friend handed him over to death. It took some of the burden off you, for telling the Dark Lord that prophecy...
He rose and crossed swiftly to the fireplace, lit a fire with a flick of his wand, and threw in a pinch of Floo Powder from the vase on the mantelpiece. "Severus Snape’s office, Hogwarts," he said quietly, and stepped into the green flames.
The last thing he heard as he disappeared from the house was a child’s delighted laughter from the hallway.
"So a grand reappearance, do you think?" said James, holding onto Harry’s knees as the boy dangled head-down from his father’s lap. "Walk into the Ministry and demand to be recognized?"
"Something like this must have happened before," Lily put in. "Someone missing for many years, who was declared dead, perhaps. How are these things handled?"
"The fact that Harry was your only heir will make your affairs much simpler," said Dumbledore, "especially because his money has not, to my knowledge, been touched in these five years."
"Why bother?" Sirius said. "More fun spending mine, especially when Mum was still alive. I’m sure she had right royal fits over my daring to take money from the sacred Black family vault, but it was my signature on the forms, so the goblins didn’t care."
"As they did not care when you signed for gold from your vault, I assume?" Dumbledore asked James and Lily.
"We haven’t been bothered," said James, flipping Harry upright and setting him on his feet. "So I assume it’s all right."
"Things seem easier for people coming back from the dead in the magical world," Danger observed, leaning out of the way of Draco as he chased Neenie through the room. Harry joined in the chase gleefully. "In the Muggle world, your access to the account would have been closed down long ago, and you’d have to go through probably twenty levels of paperwork before you could prove who you are."
"While in the magical world, there are only nineteen levels of paperwork to go through," Dumbledore quipped. "But things will be easier when the graves are opened and the bodies revealed to be false. Do you plan to continue living here for the near future?"
"It’s not as if we have anywhere else to go," Lily said sadly. "Our house in Godric’s Hollow is ruined. And your parents’ house was sold, wasn’t it, James?"
James nodded. "Dad always said I could live there if I wanted, but I didn’t want to. Too far out from everything, too big and drafty..."
Too many memories, went unsaid.
"But we’ll get out from underfoot as soon as we have things under control," James finished.
"And what if we like having you underfoot?" Aletha said. "Or perhaps not underfoot, but nearby?"
"Well, then, I suppose we’ll just all have to move." James leaned back in his chair. "Doubt we could find a house big enough for all of us..."
"Are you sure?" Remus said, intercepting Draco as he ran through again. "Hold on a second, fox, there’s something on your shirt."
"It’s called a button."
"I mean beside it." Remus tapped the stain with his wand. "There. Go on."
Draco rolled his eyes at parental concerns and nearly ran Meghan over in the doorway. "Sorry, Pearl," he said, steadying her. "Want a piggyback?"
"Yeah! Piggyback!" Meghan clambered eagerly onto Draco’s back. "Giddyup, horsy! Go, go, faster, faster!"
The adults all broke into laughter as Draco galloped out of sight. "What were we talking about again?" said Sirius when they had settled down.
"Housing," said Aletha. "Remus was telling James not to be sure about something... about a house big enough for all of us? Not going to find one around here."
"I know that look," said Danger, surveying Remus. "You have something up your sleeve, and we’re all going to be angry with ourselves for not thinking of it, aren’t we?"
"Perhaps." Remus allowed himself a small smile at the exasperated look Sirius and James shared. "I suppose in some ways it might be unethical, but we are the legal guardians of the house’s owner, and it’s hardly an improper use of the house to live in it."
Lily’s eyes widened, and she laughed aloud. "You cannot possibly mean what I think you mean," she said.
"No, I think I can." Remus looked smug. "Cleaning and redecorating may take a while, but I’m sure we’ll manage."