Truth Amid the Lies
By Anne B. Walsh
Aletha looked at herself in the mirror and made a face. "I don’t believe we’re doing this," she muttered. "Why don’t we just get out? Run and let him show up at an empty house?"
"Because, as strange as it sounds, this is actually safer," Lily said from behind her. "If we run, he’ll have free range of the house. He’ll learn who lives here now, and he might be able to find us magically, or even call us to him, using our possessions and the pieces of ourselves we’ve left behind."
"So instead we’re staying and letting him do what he wants with us?" Aletha retorted, turning to face Lily.
"You know exactly why you’re staying. You listened to me. Why didn’t you say something then if you’re so worried?"
"Because I know perfectly well that you have a good point, but I’m also terrified. If someone makes a mistakeâ€”if I make a mistakeâ€”"
"You won’t make a mistake," Lily said, coming into the room to hug Aletha. "How could you? You’ll barely be visible to him. You’re just like the furniture, there but not important. Remember that."
"Thanks." Aletha allowed herself a tiny smile. "I’d feel so much better if Severus hadn’t told us that Voldemort likes hexing chairs."
"Oh, do stop it. I’d trade with you if I could, if that’s any consolation."
"Some. And thank you." Aletha tightened her arms once more around Lily, then let go. "Take good care of them all."
"Don’t worry, I will." Lily stepped back and straightened Aletha’s neat maid’s uniform. "There," she said. "Just right."
"I hope everyone else agrees with you." Aletha laughed once, nervously. "Including Voldemort."
He approached the house, observing the darkness in most of it. Only one or two lights were kindled. Perhaps Lucius was not home.
If not, I shall remove one of his feet, to remind him not to wander when it is possible his Master might need him.
His stepping onto the front walk should have announced his presence to those within the house. Even now, a servant should be running to the door, to open it and welcome back the future ruler of all the world...
The door opened, and a light above it ignited. A woman stood in the doorway, a servant by her dress and bearing. "Who is it?" she called fearfully.
He stepped into the light, to let her see him.
Her hand flew to her chest. She gasped for air twice, then screamed and fled inside, not bothering to close the door.
He smiled, the first smile he’d felt on his face in years.
Perhaps there are compensations to this weakness.
"What in Merlin’s name are you howling about, woman?" demanded a well-known voice from within the house.
And my luck is most assuredly turning, with Severus here. He advanced towards the open door.
"My lord, a monsterâ€”a beast like a great snake on two legsâ€”it’s come here, it’s followed me, itâ€”" The woman’s hysterical babble broke off short as she turned to see him again. He savored the naked fear on her faintly familiar face for a moment before turning his eyes to Severus, who seemed surprised but was quickly regaining his aplomb.
As he always does.
"What’s happening out there, Severus?" called Lucius Malfoy’s drawl from farther up the hall. "A visitor?"
"Master," Severus said, hurrying forward to him. "Go back to your kitchen," he told the woman over his shoulder. "This is none of your concern."
The woman fled, casting one final look of terror back at him as she ran.
"Yes, a visitor," Severus called out, raising his voice even as he drew his wand to shut the door. "One I think you should greet yourself."
"Very well." Lucius emerged from a door halfway up the hall and stopped in his tracks. "My lord," he said, a trace of disbelief in his voice. "My lordâ€”it is you?"
"Who else?" Lord Voldemort inquired dryly in the hoarse tones which were all that was left of his once-persuasive voice.
Five years and more wasted. My body and mind tortured, pushed nearly to madness. Someone will pay dearly for this.
"My house is at your disposal, my lord," Lucius said, bending his knee. "As always. What do you require?"
"Food and drink. And information."
Lucius and Severus exchanged a look. "Pardon me for a moment, then, my lord," said Lucius. "I will send for the first two, while Severus provides the third."
"As you like." Lord Voldemort let his eyes follow Lucius through the door by which the woman had fled. "He had a house-elf..." he said slowly.
"Freed by an accidental action of his son," Severus said. "He was most displeased. But rather than pay for another, or become indebted to some other family for giving him one, he took what he had and made the most of it." A small smile. "I have no doubt you will find his acts of two years past most satisfying, my lord. And the woman is a part of that."
Remus slumped against the wall, panting. Can you hear my heart? he asked silently.
I can feel your heart. From here. Are you going to be all right?
Do I have a choice? Remus looked up and smiled wanly as James, Invisibility Cloak in his hands, and Aletha, in her uniform, appeared at the end of the passage. We’ll make it. He looks terrible, there’s no way he can stay awake for long.
Especially not once he hears the story we came up with. Danger chuckled nervously. He’ll be so busy gloating that he’ll never even notice what Aletha slips into his drink...
Remus swallowed. We hope.
"Good work," Aletha whispered, hugging him quickly. "Don’t stay away too long, though, he’ll get suspicious."
"I’ll be right there with you," said James, shaking out the Cloak and draping it around himself. "Have I mentioned you look strange with that hair?"
"And the rest of it doesn’t make any difference?" Remus asked. "I know what I look like. And it’s nothing I wanted."
"And you’re both wasting time." Aletha turned Remus with a hand on his shoulder, then pushed him a little. "Get back out there. Make sure your story and Severus’ stay straight. One inconsistency and we’re all dead."
"Nice pep talk," said a patch of empty air.
"Both of you, be quiet," Remus snapped, falling back into character and raising his voice for the last words. "Go on, woman, bring it. You won’t have to look at him."
Aletha let a whimper escape her as she raced away towards the kitchens.
"My apologies for the wait, my lord," Remus said smoothly as he stepped back into the hall. "My serving girl occasionally needs some...attention to keep her from becoming either lazy or too smart for her own good. I believe Severus has been telling you from whence she came?"
Voldemort smiled. "Yes, he told me of your coup," he said raspily. "I thought I had recognized her. Black’s woman."
"She was," Remus said, letting his eyelids half-drop. "When Black was in any state to have a woman."
A painful but still chilling laugh. "A most fitting fate for him. Is he here, perhaps?"
"He is, my lord. Would you care to see him?"
"I would. And I understand Narcissa is well."
"She is, and will be as pleased as I am to see you again, my lord."
Very nice. You’re not even lying.
Are you sure you can do this? Remus asked, stepping forward to offer Voldemort his arm, allowing Danger to gulp and shudder for him so that his body remained perfectly indifferent. You can plead a headache and go to bed if you want.
No. He’d seldom heard so flat a negative from anyone. If Voldemort’s in my house, I want him where I can see him. End of story.
Our house. All of ours. Not his, not anymore. He felt her shake her head. What are they going to do with him? He can’t stand trial, not with the entire country still terrified of his name...
Why don’t we deal with that after we’re sure it’ll actually happen? Remus suggested, starting down the hall and trying hard not to think about the person he was supporting on one side and Severus on the other.
And since when have I used that name for him?
I suppose I’m just thinking in character.
Danger sent an image of one brown eyebrow arching high but declined other comment.
Narcissa rose from the low chair by the hearth as Lord Voldemort entered the room. "My lord," she said, sweeping a curtsey. "My heart breaks to see you in ill health."
"I have no doubt I shall soon be restored by your generous hospitality," Lord Voldemort said, looking with interest at the great black dog Narcissa had been stroking. "So this is your new plaything..."
Narcissa laughed softly. "My cousin makes a better figure of a beast than he did a man, my lord."
The dog, anger in its gray eyes, growled as Severus and Lucius helped Lord Voldemort to a chair. "Hush," Narcissa scolded, striking the dog on the head with her open hand. "Learn to know your master."
The dog remained tense for another moment, until Narcissa raised her hand again, and Lord Voldemort saw the bracelet of a controlling collar around her wrist, and the collar itself around the dog’s neck. The animal abased itself before her, whining.
"Better." Narcissa lifted one dainty foot and pushed the dog gently away. "I shall see what is keeping the maidâ€”likely she has what was required but is lingering in the hall from fear..."
Nothing has changed here but for the better. Lord Voldemort sighed in content as the warmth from the fire began to reach him. "You may sit down," he told Severus and Lucius. "There is no need for formality as yet."
"As my lord wishes," Lucius murmured, pulling up a chair for himself. Severus sat without comment.
"One particular of Severus’ story I was most happy to hear," Lord Voldemort said as Narcissa reentered the room with a small tray, which she set beside him on a carved table. "You have Harry Potter, Lucius?"
"I do, my lord." Lucius smiled triumphantly. "And though it required some time to accomplish, I have remade him in the image I like best. He thinks of me as a father and obeys me in all things. I have no doubt that he will obey you as I would."
"Then bring him, so that I may see it." Lord Voldemort reached out to the tray and picked up the goblet of wine he had noticed there. "Let me see the spawn of the Potters bow before me and call me lord." His hand tightened about the glass. "Before I kill him."
Severus stiffened slightly, and Narcissa drew in a breath.
"My lord, I beg of you, wait only until the morning," Lucius said coolly. "As he has come to call me father, so he calls my Draco brother, and they share a bedroom, so that I could not easily take one of them without wakening the other, unless I used magic, which I am loathe to doâ€”I am out of practice with such spells, and a child is so easily scarred. Harry Potter will not disappear in the night. And you, my lord, will enjoy your triumph much better when you are rested and somewhat recovered."
Lord Voldemort hissed between his teeth and hurled his wine into the fireplace, startling Narcissa. "Very well," he said, watching the momentary flare of the fire as the alcohol in the wine caught the flames. "I shall wait."
"I will bring more wine," Narcissa said, rising to her feet. "It shall only be a moment, my lord."
"Bring the bottle," Lord Voldemort told her.
Narcissa inclined her head and hurried out. The dog followed her.
"The bottle, my lord?" Severus asked delicately.
"However cowed Lucius’ serving woman may be, she has a daily reminder of what she once was before her eyes. I will take no chances." Not even with my life protected as it isâ€”I have suffered enough pain over these last years, and though that pain might have ended long since if I were not protected, it would have ended only in death...
The thought of death overwhelmed him suddenly, the darkness and silence of the grave, the chill and the stink of rot and the stillness. Warring with it was the insanity with which he had been bombarded the last five years, an endless journey by Portkey, no part of the chaotic turmoil of sound and color ever holding still long enough to make rational sense. Which is worse, his mind bleated, which is worse, which is the worse punishment...
His hands gripped the ends of the armrests, his breath came in short gasps. "My lord," Severus’ voice rang out from far away, "my lord, are you ill? May we help you?"
"Remain here," Lord Voldemort ordered in a hoarse whisper of a voice. "Do not leave me."
"We will not go," said Lucius calmly, as though he were soothing one of his sons after a nightmare. "Narcissa is coming, my lord. She will bring wine."
Narcissa herself stepped through the door on the heels of Lucius’ words, her face tense and strained, bearing a bottle in her arm and a glass in her free hand. The dog was close behind her, its tail held low and its human eyes full of impotent hatred as it slunk to its place by the fire.
I have power, Lord Voldemort reminded himself as Narcissa poured wine into the glass Lucius held for her, and power will hold me safe. His eyes returned to the dog. You have no power now. Your power was in your friends, and they turned against you. All except your woman, and your love could not save you from Lucius.
He accepted the wine and drank deeply, letting its warmth clear his mind.
Your day is over. And mine begins anew.
"What of Potter’s parents?" he said aloud, setting the wine aside and turning to the tray of food.
Severus drew his wand and levitated the tray to hover over his master’s lap. "Potter’s parents, my lord?" he asked. "They are dead, are they not?"
"Has there been any news of them?" Lord Voldemort countered.
"Some nearly a year old," Severus said indifferently, "but not of them, precisely. Of a mad couple, claiming to be James and Lily Potter, who invaded the Ministry and harassed several officials before they were taken into custody. They were a nine days’ wonder, since they or some other had taken considerable time and trouble to recreate them in the look of the Potters, but it was easily proven that they were nothing of the sort. I would assume they are still being treated, or cared for if their insanity proved incurable, at St. Mungo’s."
Lord Voldemort laughed aloud.
This world, it seems to me, is no bad place.
Aletha slipped through the door into the hall. "How’s it going?" she said in a low voice.
A hand touched her shoulder gently, to tell her James was right beside her. "Not so well," his voice answered in the same tones. "He smashed the wine into the fire for some reasonâ€”I think he was pissed when Remus told him he couldn’t have Harry until morningâ€”so he didn’t get the sleeping potion you put in there."
"Danger told me as much when she came to get the bottle. We’ll have to improvise. Anything since then?"
"Not really. Snape just fed him the story that everyone thought Lily and I were mad, and he liked it. He’s eating, they’re sitting...not a lot happening."
"If we’re lucky, he’ll keep drinking," Aletha said. "He’s weak, he’s thin, it shouldn’t take much to put him out."
"He’s not entirely human. Maybe he doesn’t get drunk like everyone else."
Aletha squeezed James’ invisible hand reassuringly. "Alcohol has the same effect on animals it does on us."
"What about on demons?" James muttered.
In a hastily rented room at the Leaky Cauldron, Harry twisted at the carpet. "Why can’t we be there?" he said for the twenty-fourth time. "We can fight."
"I know you can." Tigermum was lying on the bed, and her voice was quiet, as though it hurt her to talk. "But fighting isn’t what they’re doing there right now. They’re acting. Pretending."
"We can pretend," said Neenie. "We could pretend we belong there, like Letha and Moony and Danger are doing."
"It’s too dangerous."
"But we should be there!" Harry argued. "The Pack always stays together!"
"Except when it’s safer to be apart," said Tigermum in a tone that brooked no disagreement. "We are not going anywhere, and that is final."
Meghan scowled at the bed. "Tigermum mean," she said under her breath.
"Tigermum doesn’t care," that lady answered. "Tigermum would rather have you calling her mean than see you get hurt."
"He wouldn’t hurt me," Draco said quietly. "He doesn’t want me hurt."
"I’ve already said the subject is closed. Now, hush." Tigermum closed her eyes.
The cubs looked at each other, then scooted closer in so they could still talk. "Why not?" Meghan asked Draco in a small voice.
"He thinks I belong there. He thinks I’ll grow up and be like my father, follow him and do what he says." Draco made a face indicating how likely that was. "But as long as he thinks Moony really is my father, he wouldn’t hurt me."
"And he thinks we lived at the manor together, not with the Pack," Harry said. "So maybe he wouldn’t hurt me at first either. And if he tried, the Pack-parents would stop him."
"Meghan and I could pretend we’re servants," said Neenie, glancing quickly at Tigermum. "Like Letha is. And we know all the places to run and hide in now, so if he did try to hurt us, we could run away."
"But how can we get there?" Draco asked. "Tigermum’ll hear us if we try to go out."
"I do it," Meghan said, and stood up.
"Meghan, no!" Neenie whispered.
Ignoring this, Meghan marched to the bed and laid a hand on Tigermum’s. "You hurt?" she asked. "Where?"
"It’s nothing you should worry about, little one," Tigermum said, opening her eyes to smile at Meghan. "I’m just worried about Prongs, and about all the Pack."
"They be all right," Meghan said firmly.
"From your mouth to heaven’s ears," Tigermum murmured, pausing in the middle of the phrase for a yawn and closing her eyes again. "Suddenly I’m so sleepy..."
Meghan put her other hand on Tigermum’s cheek. "You go sleep," she said. "We be good." Over her shoulder, she grinned at the other cubs and nodded towards the door. "We be very good."
His meal finished and the tray removed by the servant woman, Lord Voldemort had pulled his chair closer to the fire. One hand held a half-finished glass of wine, his third. Narcissa had commanded her dog to lie at his feet, and Severus and Lucius sat nearby waiting on his pleasure.
These three deserve some reward for being so ready and so eager to serve me in my time of need. I believe I shall remit them some of the pain they deserve. Some, but not allâ€”they obviously denied me, or they would not be here...
But by that same token, had they not denied me, I would have had a cold welcome here, and my recovery would have been slower and far more painful. He sipped at his wine. I must consider it carefully.
At his feet, the dog which had once been Sirius Black shifted. Lord Voldemort looked down and smiled. One of the thorns in my side, plucked out and ground underfoot. Another, Potter, first torn from his child and his friends, then with his wife condemned and treated as mad.
"Tell me of the Order of the Phoenix," he commanded. "What became of the fools who stood against me?"
"Dumbledore lives and remains Headmaster," Severus said. "He spoke for me after your disappearance, my lord, believing me his faithful spy rather than yours." There was satisfaction in his tone. "He gave me work. I teach Potions at Hogwarts, and live there. And he trusts me with information such as the password to his office."
"How useful," Lord Voldemort said. "What of Alastor Moody?"
"He lives as well, though less whole than before, thanks to a few of our colleagues," said Lucius. "He is no longer active in the Auror Office, though, and lives at home."
"That is well. And Potter and Black’s lupine friend, with his singularly apt name?"
"Dead, my lord," said Lucius, a sardonic smile on his lips. "Dead in the same coup that brought me this." He nodded at the dog. "I am only sorry you were not present to witness his end. It was so terribly touching."
The dog whined in its throat.
"Touching? How so?"
"He met a Muggle woman," Lucius said, "one who was unaware of the existence of magic or of werewolves, and found a way to explain his periodic disappearances and his subsequent ravaging. She felt sorry for him. Apparently, sorry enough to marry him."
"I see." Lord Voldemort sipped his wine again, savoring the taste. "So you simply allowed them to be together, as they obviously desired to be."
"I sometimes have trouble deciding which I enjoyed more," Lucius said, looking into the fire. "His halting explanations of what he was before the moon rose, her screaming as he changed before her eyes and tore her to pieces, or his wailing in the morning when he saw what he had done."
Lord Voldemort spent a few moments savoring the images Lucius had given him. "How did he die?" he asked.
"At his own hands, or rather claws, during the next full moon, after a month of weeping and raving." Lucius sniffed. "It grew rather tiresome near the end. If he had not killed himself, I would have done it."
The dog moaned aloud. "Hush," snapped Narcissa, fingers on her bracelet. "Keep quiet."
We could almost be a family, Lord Voldemort mused, smiling to himself. Here together in the night, eating and drinking and discussing old acquaintances, bound together by ties that go beyond anything outsiders understand...
The door creaked. Severus, Lucius, Narcissa, and the dog turned to see who was there.
"Father?" said a small voice. "We heard noises."
Ahhh. Lord Voldemort lifted his wine in a silent toast and drank it off. A family indeed, with the arrival of the most important parts of any family.
I need not wait until morning after all.
"You should not be here," said the blond man angrily, rising from his seat. "What are you doing out of bed?"
Draco’s stomach churned. He knew this man was Moony, but he looked and sounded just like Draco’s father, and all the instincts that had almost disappeared over two years with the Pack were back in full force, telling him to run, to hide, to apologizeâ€”
Apologize. He seized on that, and on Harry’s straight back next to him and the sound of Neenie and Meghan breathing behind him. "We’re sorry, Father," he said quietly, bowing as Padfoot had taught them, then straightening. Harry copied him a beat behind. "But we wanted to know what was going on."
"You are never to leave your room alone at night, Draco. Nor you, Harry. Have you not learned that yet?" Moony was moving closer to them step by step, scowling down at them. Motherâ€”no, Dangerâ€”was still staring at them, looking more frightened by the second. "And being with one another does not mean you are not alone. Nor does bringing your girls with you."
"Their girls?" asked a cold, high-pitched voice from a chair facing the fire. Harry stiffened, and it was Draco’s turn to hold himself erect and hope his brother caught on. It scares me too, but we have to be warriors... we have to be brave...
"Black and his woman had a daughter before I caught up with them, my lord," Moony said, looking back towards the fire. "And Lupin’s wife had a child she claimed was her sister. Harry was attached to them, and with my house-elf gone, it was easier simply to keep them and bind them into service to my sons. One is Muggle-born, the other half-blood. Neither has significant magic."
"Obviously," said the voice, sounding bored.
Neenie hissed under her breath, and Draco reached back towards her to shush her. She grabbed his hand and held it, and he didn’t try to pull away. Beside him, Meghan had her hand in Harry’s, and his shoulders had gone down and his head come up.
"But now that your sons have wakened on their own, Lucius," the voice went on, "your earlier objection no longer holds, and I can be about my work with no further delay."
"Your work, my lord?" asked Professor Snape, his tone cool and level.
"The work I was unable to finish nearly six years ago. The removal of the last credible threat to my greatness."
The two sets of clasped hands met in the center of the space between the four cubs and clung together.
"Bring me Harry Potter."
I’ll try not to make you wait four months for the next piece of this. Of course, with the way my life’s going, I can’t make any promises. Thanks for reading, as always!