James shuffled anxiously as he waited impatiently for one of the Creeveys to answer their door. He’d never been next door before without Lily —or at the very least, one or both of the boys — but considering the day’s events, he was the only one who could make this visit…
“James!” Carla opened the door with a broad smile. “I wasn’t expecting, you. Do you want to come in?”
James allowed her to beckon him into her entrance hall, and close the door behind him—so soon after his encounter with Wormtail, he’d felt uncomfortably exposed on the front stoop.
“I was just about to put a kettle on. Would you like a cuppa?”
James hesitated. Sitting down for a cup of tea would probably lead to opportunities to get the Secret out less awkwardly than what he had planned, but he didn’t trust his ability to make small talk with Muggles, without Lily to chaperone. Best stick to the plan that they had worked out.
Step one: get both elder Creeveys in the same room.
“No thanks, this won't take long,” he insisted. “Is Melg around? I was hoping to talk to both of you...”
Carla frowned in consternation, but left to retrieve her husband, without question. The Potters had been on edge, ever since that awful man had escaped from prison, and James looked so tense. Had something happened?
“Is something wrong?” Melg asked, for them both.
James smiled sheepishly, ignoring the question.
Step two: get the Secret out, no matter how odd it might sound.
“I just wanted to let you know that we that we seem to be having a bit of a rat problem, next door at number five, Cherry Road, where I live with my wife Lily, our son Harry, our foster-son Neville, and our daughter Heather.”
The most important details dealt with James paused, before adding, “Also, I’m pretty sure that I saw one escape into your garden this morning, so you might want to invest in some rat traps.” Wormtail wasn’t likely to get himself caught in a Muggle rat-trap, but they might dissuade him from hanging around the Creeveys’ garden, in the future.
James struggled not to fidget in the moment of uncomfortable silence which followed his statement, the Creeveys no doubt wondering at his odd phrasing, and the fact that he’d insisted on having both of them present for something so trivial. The Muggles had found him odd almost from day one, so what was a little more...?
Telling both adults at once had been critical, and neither he, nor Lily had been able to come up with a better way of phrasing the Secret for their Muggle neighbours –most of their other ideas had sounded even odder.
Time for step three: get both Muggleborn boys away from their parents, so he could candidly tell them the Secret in a slightly more conventional manner.
“Also...Harry and Neville were hoping that maybe Colin and Dennis could come over to play...”
“I’m sure they’d love to.” Carla’s confused frown — that had definitely not been what she had been expecting — blossomed into a smile, at the thought of a child-free afternoon. “I’ll be right back.”
The awkward silence, that followed her leaving the two men alone, was broken a moment later by a squealing Dennis, barrelling into the entrance in excitement. He wasn’t often included in play-dates with the older boys, and wasn’t about to risk his mum changing her mind.
Colin trailed several paces behind him, his down-turned face hiding a scowl. Why was Mum making him bring is tag-along brother next door with him? Dennis was no fun!
“Ready to go?”
James! Colin looked up from his feet, and managed a half-smile at the sight of who had come to collect them. James wasn't often home when he went next door, but he always made things more fun than… Huh? Oddly he couldn't remember who… Who else lived next door that was less fun than James? There was Neville and…?
Colin made a mental list of everyone he knew: his parents, Dennis, his grandparents, his aunts, uncles and cousins, Hermione, her parents, James, Lily, Harry, Neville, Neville's Gran, Heather, Sirius, Remus… His parents and Dennis lived with him; his extended family all lived out of town; Hermione and her parents had just moved away. Who lived next door other than James and Neville? Not Sirius or Remus, or Neville's Gran, though they were sometimes there too. Try as he might, the answer kept slipping away.
Giving up, Colin hurried to catch up with James, who was walking quickly and had made it to the end of the walk while he’d been lost in his thoughts. They'd be next door soon enough, and then he wouldn't need to remember anymore, because then he would see for himself.
But instead of leading them straight into the house, James stopped them both on the front stoop, and asked very seriously, "Do you know who lives here?"
"You and Neville," Dennis answered without hesitation, but Colin groaned. He knew that there was something more that he couldn’t remember. Was that why James was asking? Was he mad because he'd read Colin's thoughts and knew that Colin couldn't remember the answer?
"That’s right." James smiled. Maybe he wasn’t mad. "But does anyone else live here?"
Colin felt a rush of relief as a look of confusion crossed his brother's face, at the question. If Dennis didn't know either, maybe he wasn't going crazy.
After a moment, satisfied that the Fidelius was working properly, James spoke the answer that was eluding both boys, "My wife Lily, our son Harry and our daughter Heather, also live here at number five, Cherry Road."
Oh yeah! Colin felt a fog lift from his mind, accompanied by a flood of shame. How had he forgotten that Lily, Harry and Heather lived next door? He hadn't forgotten that they existed…
James smiled at him reassuringly. "Do you remember when you first met Harry and Neville, Colin?"
Colin nodded, shame multiplying at the reminder. "I couldn’t see Neville ‘cause of magic, so I thought that he wasn’t real." Even now, two years later, he felt bad about ever thinking that Neville was imaginary.
"That’s right." James didn't seem mad. "The reason that you couldn't remember that Lily, Harry and Heather live here is because I cast the same magic on them, to protect them."
Oh! Colin's frown faded, as understanding seeped in his mind. It wasn't his fault that he'd forgotten who lived next door. James had made him forget.
"But you mustn't tell your parents, either of you," warned James as he reached for the door handle. The boys nodded solemnly in response, but James didn’t have very high hopes of them keeping their promise. Colin was really bad at keeping secrets from his parents. Fortunately, he also had quite the imagination, so his parents didn’t believe most of fantastical things that he told them…
Lily met them just inside the door, and ushered the boys up to Harry and Neville’s room, watching them pensively as they thundered up the stairs. Hopefully, they’d be able to distract the older two from their recent close call.
Only once they were out of view did she turn her attention back to her husband. “How’d it go?”
James managed a self-depreciating half-smile. “As well as can be expected, I suppose. They definitely think I’m a few Knuts short of a Galleon now, if they didn’t already…”
Lily laughed. “Saying things like that in front of them doesn’t exactly help your case.”
“Never mind, dear, you can’t help the fact that you’re a clueless pureblood.” She gave him a peck on the cheek.
“The others won’t think you’re crazy. Best get on with it…” she shooed him from the entrance into the living room.
Bracing himself, James stepped up to the fireplace, took some Floo powder from the mantle, and threw it into the fire, taking advantage of his standing invitation to visit the Longbottom ancestral home. He didn’t have long to wait before, alerted by the wards on her Floo, the Longbottom matriarch joined him in the sitting room which housed the incoming Floo.
A brief flash of concern crossed her face, as she recognized her visitor — it wasn’t like James to call on her in the middle of a weekday — but she buried it. It did her no good to jump to unfortunate conclusions.
"Take a seat, please,” she offered, lowering herself into one of the armchairs facing the fire, and gesturing to the one across from it, “Would you like something to drink?"
James took a seat but declined the offered refreshments. "I'm not planning on staying long."
Augusta didn’t insist. "You have news of Pettigrew, then?" she asked, taking a guess at the reason for his mid-afternoon visit.
James nodded somberly, "But not what you're probably hoping to hear."
Concern flashed across her face, once more.
"No one was hurt," James added quickly, before she could jump to the wrong conclusion. "He didn't even make it through the wards. But… he did try to breach them today. So Lily and I decided… that is… I've taken the step of placing the rest of my family under a Fidelius Charm."
Augusta frowned as she realized that, indeed, she couldn't remember the location of the family in question. She knew where James lived, and she knew that she had entrusted Neville into his and Lily's care. But, every time she tried to draw a conclusion based on those two facts, the location slipped from her mind. Was this how it felt for people who hadn’t been let in on Neville’s Secret? How thoroughly disconcerting…
Fortunately, James didn't leave her hanging long. "Lily, Harry and Heather Potter, live at number five, Cherry Road." Then, after a moment, he added, "I understand if you want to relocate Neville for the time being, given the confirmation that our home is Pettigrew's target."
Her protective instincts roaring to the surface, Augusta seriously considered taking him up on the offer—but, no. Neville needed stability, not just safety. Uprooting him after nearly five years of living with the Potters was not in his best interests, much as her deep-rooted fears told her it was. "No need for that. I trust that you will do everything to protect your family –including my grandson. "
"Your trust is not misplaced, I promise." James smiled gratefully, and stood to leave, thankful that she wasn’t trying to separate the boys, now when Harry needed Neville most. "Can I use your Floo? I've got a few more stops to make today, but I'll keep you updated if there are any more developments."
"Yes, of course."
With a nod of thanks, James helped himself to some Floo powder, and called out, "Padfoot's Pad."
The last couple of stops on his list should be much easier than the first two…
A/N: Many thanks to my beta, Arnel, for her help on this chapter.