Truth Amid the Lies
By Anne B. Walsh
James slumped over the table, fighting the urge to squirm on the wooden chair. He’d worn robes for most of his life, but never before today had he gone commando, and the coarse fabric was chafing him in places he didn’t want to think about.
Couldn’t we just have stayed hidden? he wondered. It seemed to be working for Padfoot and Moony...
But as the episode with Malfoy showed, the safety of the Pack was precarious. Better to come out into the public eye, live with their nine-days’-wonder status, and then get back to life when it was over.
Though they are suspicious little twits around here. Trying to start the New Year off properly, I suppose. The officials in charge of determining James and Lily’s real identities had insisted they surrender all their possessions, including their clothes, to be examined while they themselves were questioned. James had had to do some fast talking so they’d let him keep his glasses.
And this is with Dumbledore’s help behind the scenes. I don’t even want to think about what they’d be doing to us otherwise.
He hadn’t seen Lily since she’d waved at him over her shoulder, her hair vivid against the off-white robe, as they led her away down a corridor. He wondered if her day had been like his, confined in a small room with nothing to look at and nothing to do except listen to nasal-voiced bureaucrats ask skeptical questions.
When this is over, I’m taking her out to a nice restaurant, and then we’re going home, locking everyone out of our bedroom, and sleeping for twelve hours... eventually.
A discreet knock at the door startled him out of his thoughts. "Come in!"
A brunette witch in lime-green Healer’s robes stepped through the door, a warm smile lighting her face. "Hello, James," she said.
"Andy!" James got to his feet quickly to take her hand. "How are you?"
"Fine, thank you. It’s good to see you as yourself. How have they been treating you?"
"I’ve had better," James admitted, flushing a little as he noticed where Andy was looking.
"I can imagine. I have some good news for you — as long as my examination checks you out, you and Lily will both be officially alive and free to go."
James raised his hands towards the ceiling in celebration. "Finally!"
"Don’t be too hard on them," Andy said, taking out her wand. "It’s not every day that people come back from the dead. Especially not famous people."
"That I’m still having trouble with. The famous part." James held still as Andy’s wand tip traced over his body. "I always dreamed about being famous, but I thought it would be for something amazing I did. Not because of Harry."
"Are you jealous?" Andy asked, a hint of laughter in her voice.
"Not really. But I think I’d rather skip the fame and have those five years back." James stared at the wall. "I wake up sometimes in the night, wondering if there was anything else I could have done, anything I could have changed, to make it come out differently. I know that sounds terrible, like I’m not grateful for what I have, and I am. I am grateful. But I still wish..."
"You wish for the moon, just like all human beings always have." Andy’s tone was matter-of-fact. "Well, for being dead five years — or suspended in time, what have you — you’re surprisingly healthy. Lily as well, and the baby’s developing normally."
"Good. If he’d done anything to her... to either of them..." James wasn’t surprised to hear his voice falling into a growl.
"I know," Andy said quietly, taking a potion out of her bag. "I feel the same way about Ted and Dora. Drink this for me? It doesn’t taste too horrible."
James looked at the red-brown mixture dubiously, but gulped it down, then went into a fit of coughing. "Not... bad," he wheezed after a moment. "Has a kick... sort of like firewhiskey..."
"That’s one of the ingredients, actually." Andy swirled her wand around his head twice, then tapped him with it.
James caught his breath and swallowed the last of the aftertaste with a grimace. "What’re the others?"
"You don’t want to know." Andy flicked her wand, dismissing the image she’d been looking at, and smiled. "James Potter, you are officially alive. Allow me to be the first to officially congratulate you."
She held out her hand again, and James shook it. "Thanks," he said. "It’s good to be back."
"Why’re we cleaning out closets and under beds?" Neenie asked, dumping an armload of books into a box.
"Because we might be moving," Danger said patiently, straightening the books. "This house was all right for a Pack of just eight, but now we have ten, and next summer we’ll have eleven, and maybe more. We’d be too crowded if we stayed here."
"Where’re we moving to?" Harry asked from the top shelf in the closet, which he was cleaning off by the simple expedient of throwing everything down onto the beds.
"We’ll talk about that later."
"Why not now?"
"Because I say not now."
Harry jumped down himself, just missing a pile of artwork. "But I want to know!"
"Me too!" added Neenie.
Danger crossed her arms. "You get nothing for making a fuss," she said firmly. "You can find out at the same time everyone else does, or you can let Draco and Meghan find out early and you two have to wait."
Neenie pouted. "Not fair."
"No, it isn’t. More books, please."
Remus found Draco in the den room, lying on the floor, doodling on a pad. "Hello, fox," he said. "Do you want to hear a story?"
Draco was on the couch looking expectant within seconds. Remus smiled and sat down beside him. "That looks like a yes to me." He slid an arm around Draco, and the little boy snuggled close to him. "This will be like a den-night story, but different. Den-night stories are just about the past. This is about the past, and the present, and what we hope for the future. Once upon a time there was a little boy named Draco who lived in a bad place."
"That’s right, the manor. And one day, everything changed for him. His mother gave him to another family, a family who loved him."
"Pack," Draco corrected.
"You’re quite right. A Pack who loved him. And the Pack took that little boy away from the manor, and promised him that he would never have to go back again. But one day, things changed for the Pack. No one left them, or was taken away," Remus said quickly, feeling Draco begin to stiffen beside him. "The opposite — they got more people to care about."
Draco relaxed. "Prongs and Tigermum, and the baby."
"That’s right. But now that the Pack had so many people in it, they needed a bigger place to live. A bigger Den. So they started to think. Where could they find a big house to make into a Den?"
Draco’s eyes grew very big as he put the clues together. "Will the manor be our new Den?" he blurted.
"Only if you say it can be," Remus told his Pack-son. "Did you know it belonged to you now?"
Draco shook his head. "What about him?" he asked timidly. "Lucius?"
"He’s nothing to do with it," Remus said firmly. "He hasn’t been there since the night we brought you home. He has no right to be there anymore. The manor belongs to you, and you can do what you like with it."
Draco looked up at him. "Anything I like?"
"Within reason," Remus said quickly. "But yes. If you say no, if you don’t want us to make the manor our new Den, then we won’t. But if you say yes, we will take that manor and we will clean it up and make it just as nice as this Den here. You and Harry and Neenie and Meghan can pick any room you like to be yours. And if I remember right, there’s a big open hall with plenty of space for indoor flying..."
Aletha wobbled out of the fireplace, grabbed for the handgrip, missed, and would have fallen had Lily not held out a quick hand. "Letha, are you all right?"
"Fine." Aletha shut her eyes and concentrated on breathing. "I’m fine. I was just in wait mode for a little too long. Did you just get in?"
"Yes, we must have shunted you off, I’m so sorry." Lily guided Aletha to a chair. "Well. We are now officially alive, Harry’s legal guardians once again, and Sirius has his good name restored."
"What there is of it," James said from across the room.
"He does stupid things, not evil ones," Aletha said, opening her eyes. "Even sending Snape to the Whomping Willow was stupid, but not evil. He claims he was half-drunk when he did that."
"More than likely." James had his feet up on the couch. "We spent most of sixth and seventh years inside a bottle. You remember."
"Don’t I just," said Lily. "I think the only nights you were sober were the ones we spent together, because I told you I wouldn’t go out with a sot."
"Hey, I can’t help it if I learn best with a little booze in me. Speaking of which, where do you keep it?"
"Second cabinet to the left of the refrigerator in Remus and Danger’s kitchen. Tap your wand against the back and say, â€˜In vino veritas.’"
James disappeared through the wall.
"Bring two glasses," Aletha called after him.
Sirius bounded through Aletha’s front room, barking and scattering cubs every which way, then screeched to a halt as something on the bookshelf caught his eye. Changing back to human, he stood up, casually arching his back and peering towards the shelf out of the corner of his eye.
"Padfoot, what’re you looking at?" Neenie asked, running back into the room from the hall.
Sirius put a finger to his lips, then beckoned Neenie closer. "It’s a secret," he whispered. "But I’ll tell you if you’ll run to the kitchen and get me a jar with a lid."
The Pack enjoyed a rousing game of monkey in the middle that night.
Rita Skeeter arrived at St. Mungo’s Hospital the next morning with a severe case of motion sickness.
James Scriven, a staff reporter for the Daily Prophet, got the first interviews with the resurrected Potters and the exonerated Sirius Black by the simple means of owling them and asking politely if he might interview them. His questions were polite and direct, and everyone was pleased with the results.
Draco’s adoption contract was found to be magically binding, and thus legally valid, and it was confirmed that he was the current legal owner of Malfoy Manor. On the 10th of January, he sought out Remus. "Will the whole Pack stay together if we change our Den?" he asked, swinging his legs under the kitchen chair he was perched on.
"That’s our plan for right now, fox. We might do something different in a few years, when you and Harry and Neenie are off to Hogwarts. But for the moment, we’re happy together."
"What about you and Prongs?"
Remus sighed internally. Trust Draco to notice we’re not entirely easy around each other yet... "We’re happy too, Draco. It’s just that I’ve changed a lot since Prongs last knew me. He’s not used to the new me yet. It would be like if you went to sleep when Meghan was a little baby, the way she was when you first came, and when you woke up she was the young lady she is now."
"How were you different?"
Remus sat down beside Draco. "We had something very like a Pack when we were at Hogwarts," he said. "We didn’t call it that, but that’s what it was, and Prongs was our alpha. He was always the leader, in everything we did, so it’s hard for him to see me as a leader now."
"Does he still want to be the alpha?"
Remus sighed. "Truthfully, fox, I don’t know."
"Nor do I," said James from the door.
Draco yipped in surprise. Remus put a hand on the boy’s shoulder to calm him. "How long have you been standing there?" he asked without looking at James.
Draco pushed back from the table and ran out of the kitchen. James watched him go, then came in and took Draco’s chair. "Have I been trying to take over?" he asked, leaning down and craning his neck outrageously until he was looking Remus in the eye. "Come on, Moony, â€˜fess up. I’ve been trying to be the big boss again, haven’t I?"
"Sometimes," Remus admitted, sitting up. "Prongs, it’s great to have you back, but..."
"But I’m still twenty-two, and you’re not." James planted his elbows on the table and set his chin in his hands. "Lily and I had this conversation already, or one enough like it to make no difference. You went and grew up on me, Remus. You used to be all about the background, about not making waves, and now you’re the head of the family, and you’re good at it. What changed?"
Remus rubbed his wedding ring. "I was always afraid in school," he said instead of answering. "Afraid that you’d stop being my friend if I told you what I really thought of some of the things you did. You and Sirius and Peter were the first friends I’d ever had. I couldn’t risk losing you. So I kept my mouth shut."
James stared at him. "I never knew that."
"I know. It doesn’t matter now." Mentally, Remus leaned back into the other mind within his own, and felt a warm pulse answer his touch. "Now I have someone who I know will care about me, no matter what happens. I don’t want to lose my friends, but now I can take that risk, because I know Danger will still be there for me." He smiled suddenly. "Besides, I wasn’t about to let Sirius lead. Can you imagine?"
"I don’t even want to." James shook his head. "Merlin, Moony, I’m sorry you thought that about me. I wouldn’t have, you know. I don’t walk out on my friends."
"I know that. I knew it then, rationally. But it wasn’t the sort of thing it’s easy to be rational about." Remus stretched out his left hand and regarded it. "I’m the alpha because I was the best man for the job available at the time. If you’re the best for the job now, I’ll give it to you."
There. It had hurt to say, and Remus wasn’t even entirely sure he was sincere, but he had to make the offer.
"What are you, nuts?" James reached over and slapped him on the arm. "I took a five-year nap, remember? I’m more than a little behind the times, and there’s a lot to catch up on. Ask me again in a year, maybe I’ll say something different, but not today, thanks. It’s all yours."
Remus exhaled silently, then looked up at his friend. "Lily told you what to say, didn’t she?"
James scowled. "Why does everyone assume Lily tells me everything?"
"Because she does?"
James made a rude suggestion.
"You first," Remus said, and leapt out of his chair as James tried to tackle him.
"It’s official," Aletha announced to the cubs on 13 January. "As soon as Tigermum’s potion is done, we’re moving."
"Why do we have to wait for that?" asked Harry.
"Because now that she’s started it, she can’t move it, or it will be no good."
"When it be done?" Meghan asked.
"The middle of February. Which will probably not even be enough time for us to pack up all our things and get ready to go."
"But where are we going?" Hermione wanted to know. "Where are we moving to?"
Aletha nodded to Draco, who lifted his head proudly. "We’re going to the manor," he said. "We’re going to clean it out and turn it into a good place to be our new Den. And go flying in the house."
Harry grinned. "I like flying in the house."
"I know you do," said Aletha. "At the manor, you’ll be able to do it without smashing into the walls."
"I only did that once!"
"Twice," said Hermione.
"One and a half. That little one on the stairs doesn’t count all the way."
"Yes, it does," said Draco. "You ran into the wall. How much doesn’t matter."
Aletha chuckled to herself and slipped away as the cubs continued to bicker.
The Pack took out an advert in the Daily Prophet and got several replies, eventually selling the Den to an older couple whose son had just married a Muggle woman. "She’s still a little uneasy with magic, but she doesn’t want him to know about it," the older witch told Aletha and Lily. "This way, I’m nearby when she needs me, but I’m not breathing down her neck if she wants to give it a go on her own."
"Not to mention, you’ll be close by when grandchildren start coming," said Lily.
The witch smiled. "Don’t think I haven’t thought of that."
Rufus Scrimgeour, Head of the Auror Office since Alastor Moody’s recent retirement, sent James and Sirius both an invitation to return. Sirius sent back his polite regrets. James asked when he could retake his qualifying tests.
And on the 15th of February, the day after Sirius’ birthday, Lily ceremoniously presented Remus with a goblet half full of thick, grey potion. "It won’t kill you or make you horrendously sick," she said. "More than that, I can’t promise."
Remus took a drink and nearly gagged. "No, it just tastes like it will," he said. "What did you use in here, Sirius’ toenail clippings?"
"All right, now I’m going to be sick," said Danger. "Thank you for that marvelous image."
Remus made a face at her and took another drink.
The augmented Pack took possession of their new Den on 20 February, a cold and overcast Saturday. Draco stared up at the ceiling as he walked into the main hall. "It’s not as big as I remember," he said.
"You’re bigger than you were when you were here last," Lily told him, bending a little awkwardly to kiss the top of his head. "Go on, Harry’s beating you."
Draco raced away, headed for the top of the stairs, where Harry was just pushing off on the banister, whooping aloud. The noise echoed around the hall, along with Hermione’s laughter and Meghan’s loud insistence that she go next, and made the place suddenly alive.
Sirius looked around. "Not too bad," he said. "Reminds me a little of Grimmauld Place. Do all pureblood families decorate alike?"
"Maybe the Slytherin-devoted ones do," James said, starting to unload his pockets, which were full of shrunken boxes. "But we can do what we like with the place now."
Lily laughed. "What would Lucius Malfoy say if he could see us now? Three Muggleborns, a half-blood werewolf, and two blood traitors in his precious house."
"Four Muggleborns," Danger corrected, pointing at Neenie as the girl dropped neatly on her feet at the end of the banister. "And three blood traitors, and wouldn’t he be livid to see the third one?"
"Oh, yes," said Aletha, waving her wand at the floor near the bottom of the banister to soften it some. "And a pair of half-blood brats, no real breeding at all, should never have been born."
"Three half-blood brats," Lily corrected in her turn, patting her belly. "And possibly more to come."
"So we hope," said Remus.
"So we do," said Aletha, wiggling her eyebrows at Sirius.
"We do? I mean, we do. Of course we do."
"Of course we do," said Danger, spreading her arms wide and spinning in a circle. "The more, the merrier, in our big beautiful new Den!"
"Well, big and new I’ll give you," said James. "Beautiful... not yet. The snakes have got to go, for one thing. And all the black and green."
"We’re not redoing the whole place in red and gold lions," Lily warned.
"Of course not, but a couple here and there..." James looked around. "Say, I only see Neenie and Meghan."
"Great," said Sirius, putting down a re-enlarged box with a thump. "Five minutes in the house, and they’re lost."
"They not lost," Meghan said, holding tightly to the banister as she descended. "They go to find something."
"What did they go to find, Pearl?" Aletha asked.
Draco dashed into view at the top of the staircase, his hands up in a catching position. Something small flew at him, and he caught it and threw it to Hermione, who squealed happily. "Moony, catch!" she cried.
Remus snagged the small item she tossed over the balcony to him and looked at it. Four little socks all knotted together, dusty enough to make his eyes water. He smiled and held it up for the other adults to see.
"We should have known we’d come back," he said. "If only to get these."
The redecoration of the Manor Den (as it was soon christened) took months, even with every adult of the Pack working on it. James’ spare time was limited, since he’d taken his tests at the beginning of March and was back on the force three days later; Sirius had been hit by a storm of creativity and was holed up with his typewriter seven hours a day; Aletha still had her work to do, though she took full advantage of her flexible schedule; Lily was starting to have a hard time staying on her feet for long periods; and Danger fell in love with the kitchen and its magically adjustable equipment, able to be used by either humans or house-elves.
"And I get left holding the baby," Remus sighed one day in April, waving his wand to remove the chipping green paint from the wall of one room. "As usual."
His mind wandered. Holding the baby. I remember holding Meghan. God, she was so cute, so tiny, so helpless. And Harry was just the same. Sirius fell in love the instant he saw them, both of them, you could see it in his eyes. Probably see it in my eyes too.
Draco was born in this house. Maybe we could find Narcissa’s old room, that’s probably where it happened, but it doesn’t really matter. Where was Hermione born? Remus touched Danger’s memories gently. That’s right, in Scotland. Her mum refused to stay home from the family vacation, even though she was out to here. Wouldn’t you know it, she went into labor on a ferryboat, and the captain had to turn around to get her to hospital...
I wish I could have held them too, but it doesn’t matter. They’re just as much mine now.
And maybe someday soon I’ll be holding a baby of my own. A daughter, or a son, of mine and of Danger’s.
He had always kept it quiet that he wished he could have children of his own. He hated people who whinged endlessly about things that couldn’t be changed and refused to become one; thus, none of the other Marauders, nor Lily or Aletha, had ever known that what Remus hated most about his lycanthropy was not the physical pain it caused him, nor his outcast status, but the fact that he would never be a father.
Biological father, that is. I seem to have the instincts for it, if I say so myself... well, James said so himself, and he’s not one to praise where praise isn’t due. I love the cubs all dearly, there’s nothing wrong with them, but I can’t help wishing...
And now, now there’s a chance. Just a chance, but a real chance.
He lost himself in imagining the baby that Lily’s grey potion, which he’d taken two more doses of, might make possible. A little girl, he decided, a daughter, born with a head full of hair which would frizz out and turn brown as it dried, and eyes which would never change from their baby blue, except maybe to deepen and become more intelligent...
Intelligent, Merlin, she won’t be able to help it, not with Danger for a mother and me for a father. And Hermione and Draco for big sister and brother, come to that. And she’ll be into mischief as soon as she can crawl... count on Harry and James and Meghan and Sirius to help her with that... and Aletha and Lily will teach her how to manage forty things at once... she’ll be running the house before she’s two, won’t she? Have us all trained, to hop when she says frog...
"Frog," said a voice behind him.
Remus couldn’t help it. He hopped.
Danger came into the room, chuckling. "I didn’t know that would actually work."
"You’re spying on my thoughts," Remus accused half-heartedly.
"You’re thinking so loud I can hear you halfway across the house," Danger shot back. "And it’s not a small house."
"No, it really isn’t." Remus swept the paint shavings into a pile with his wand. "We have a wing for each of us, and the cubs have one all to themselves... we could live in this place for years and never run into each other."
"I think it was built that way on purpose," Danger said thoughtfully. "So that the man of the house, the lady, the heir, and the spare could all have their private space."
"Heir and a spare." Remus scoffed. "The Blacks went that route, and look what happened to them."
"Their heir ran off, and their spare got himself killed. I like our way much better." Danger sneezed.
"What’s our way?" Remus asked, handing her a tissue.
Danger blew her nose. "Get together a load of children with practically no relationship to one another, give them a reason to become close, then loose them on the world and watch the fireworks."
"You know, speaking of the world, now that we’re not hiding any more, we might want to think about getting them some playmates other than themselves," Remus said, Vanishing the shavings. "We can ask Dumbledore to give us some of the names for their future yearmates. None of the snobby purebloods, and there’s no way we can unleash them on a Muggle household, but there have to be some half-bloods out there, or some purebloods who don’t make such a big deal of it."
"We can only hope." Danger blotted her eyes. "And what I actually came in here to tell you, since you were thinking so loud that you couldn’t hear me, is that dinner is ready."
"Hmm, dinner." Remus put his wand away. "I think I’ll just have the cook." He swept Danger into his arms and nibbled lightly on her neck. "Delicious."
"Eeewwww," moaned a four-part chorus from down the hall.
Remus lifted his head and sighed. "I thought they’d stop doing that once they had enough room that they didn’t have to watch us anymore."
"No, you’ve missed the point." Danger nestled into Remus’ arms.
"It’s fun to spy on us and make noises, you see. We do things when they make noises. That way, they can laugh at us."
"So you’re saying we should ignore them."
Remus smiled. "I can do that."
The cubs decided after a few moments that dinner took precedence over watching Moony and Danger snog.
A rare quiet moment fell during the meal, and everyone looked at everyone else, until Sirius broke the silence with a sigh. "This is almost too good," he said. "I keep wondering what’s going to go wrong."
"Oh, don’t!" Danger threw a small piece of roll at him, prompting a similar barrage from James and the cubs. "Don’t, Sirius, please! Don’t tempt fate like that!"
"I’m not tempting fate," Sirius protested, holding up a hand to shield himself from bread-balls. "It’s just that, I feel like we’re missing something. Something that should have happened and didn’t, something we ought to be able to figure out..."
Over a ruined and abandoned house in Godric’s Hollow, something happened.
The air rippled and wavered, making patterns that would have made a watcher ill, if anyone had been there to watch. A hole opened in the middle of it, and a hand emerged, a long-fingered hand that waved feebly about for a moment before being sucked back in as the hole closed.
On some occasions, fate needs no temptation.
Freaking plot bunnies! Go away! Where’s a plot ferret when you need one?
Oh well, looks like we’re in for a few more chapters of this. I hope you can stand it.