Terrible, or necessary, it had still been a lie.
A lie told by a Gryffindor and passed as the truth well over seventeen years ago. And because that Gryffindor always had a tendency to speak their mind honestly their words were never taken as anything but the truth.
So a lie was told to conceal a secret, and every day that secret grew bigger, the lies had to also. But the liar was versatile and clever, and was able to adapt. It grew into the ultimate secret, and all the more terrible as the liar knew that people in the future would die because of it.
And it would have remained the ultimate secret if it were not for an ill-timed prophesy and a certain old wizard being expertly skilled in the art of Legilimency…
I – Fire With Fire
The sounds of distant sirens never seemed to waver or fade. The neighbourhood windows flickered with reflections of blue flashing lights, three fire engines remained at full pump, arcs of water still spraying up at bedroom windows, forcing back the flames still belching smoke into a choked, murky grey sky.
The crowds were of people either wailing or staring in silent horror as they watched their neighbourhood burn. The atmosphere was so grief stricken nobody could spare a second thought for a scruffy teenage boy, loitering silently nearby, the emotion etched on his face something other than grief and shock.
The flames were never ceasing, however much water the firefighters pumped the fires continued to burn as intense as ever. The crews were rapidly becoming exhausted. The boy continued to watch, unmoving and eerily still, the flames reflecting in his emerald green eyes. He watched until the rooves collapsed and the very house walls themselves began to crumble and fall inward on themselves. Yells of alarm rang out as an entire section of terrace wall suddenly toppled and crumpled forwards into the street, bricks exploding everywhere.
Then, almost as if this action had completely exhausted the blaze, the flames began to shrink back and the firefighters were suddenly winning the battle. As the first hissing of extinguished flames sounded, the crowd nearby let out a few weary cheers.
But again, just as nobody had heeded the oddly dressed teenager stood back against a yard wall for the duration of the blaze, neither did they notice him slip quietly away, or the significance of the fact that he had been obscuring a dirty old street sign that read "Spinners End."
He dreamt fitfully that night. Snatches of images, visions, colours and voices drifted through his subconscious thoughts, always slipping just out of reach whenever he tried to dwell on them.
And then, as he neared waking, a single thread of story broke free, and he found himself looking on as a white bearded old wizard stared sternly down at a younger man kneeling before him. The man was scruffy haired and unkempt, and by his stooping shoulders appeared to be in some state of grief.
"Forgive me," whispered the younger man brokenly.
Harry felt himself move forward, as if viewing the memory from a pensieve. He felt a terrible anxiousness, as if it was desperately important that he identify this man.
He moved a few more paces and then stopped dead. This man looked just like him. No - he had different eyes, it was James Potter - it was his father...
The old wizard appeared to age rapidly then, as if time had suddenly caught up with him, his hand reaching out to the man who looked like James. Opening his mouth to speak, his voice came as a bare rasp.
"No my child, forgive me."
As the other man shakingly reached up and grabbed his hand tightly something seemed to go wrong, the old wizard gave a sharp cry, his shoulders buckling; his hand was beginning to shrivel and turn black...
Heart clenching in horror Harry moved forward, and that was when the scruffy man appeared to hear him and turn - his familiar features physically altering, narrowing, until they resembled features that were familiar in a different way, and much less welcome.
The teenager could do nothing but look on shocked as recognition stilled the empty black eyes, and the old sneer began to curl...
Harry gasped aloud and sat bolt upright to nothing but darkness. Taking several deep breaths he attempted to calm himself down. It was a dream...all a dream...
And then, with one horrible shudder everything he had seen in Dumbledore's pensieve last week came back to him.
No - it wasn't...not completely.
He had to do something about this. He had to try again…
A bleary-eyed Ron walked downstairs to an unusually sombre Weasley breakfast table. His father was buried in a copy of the morning's Prophet, he could still hear his mother clanking about in the kitchen. Hermione was already seated at the table, a mug of tea cradled in her hands. She looked up, weeks of pressure and grief betrayed by the grey circles under her eyes.
Just then, Molly bustled through with a fresh plateful of toast. She cast a hurried look in her son's direction.
"Is Harry still in bed?"
Ron frowned, "Er, no. I thought I heard him get up and go downstairs..."
Ginny's eyes shot up to meet her brothers. "But I've been down here since six – I couldn't sleep. Mum's been down here since five, we haven't seen him. I thought he was still in bed..."
Her eye then travelled up to the Weasley clock, to notice the newly added tenth hand, Harry's, was indeed pointed to "travelling." Her voice became more on-edge.
"I thought you swore to keep an eye on him Ron!"
Ron's jaw dropped at the accusation. "Like you were keeping an eye on him! Did you see him go either? No!"
"Okay, that's quite enough, Ginny, Ron," cut in Arthur swifly. He folded the paper up and met their alarmed glances. "We must stay calm, that's the most important thing. Now, think back, did Harry tell anyone any more about what happened on his sudden visit to Hogwarts last week?"
His question was met by silence and several shakes of heads. Molly wrung her hands nervously.
Hermione raised her head slightly. "Only that Professor McGonagall needed an urgent word about something in Dumble... I mean her office. He refused to tell me anything else."
Ginny lowered her head. "He's been so quiet…"
Molly looked over each of the teenagers in turn, frowning impatiently. "Could he have gone back to Hogwarts? Or maybe London? One of you must have heard him say something!"
Suddenly, Ron turned and kicked the wall in anger, startling them all.
"Let's face it, we don't have a bloody clue where he's gone! He's run away without telling people before, now he's bloody gone and done it again! I thought we swore to stick together!"
Ginny stood abruptly, frustrated fire kindling in her eyes. "Yes Ron, but kicking the wall and being stupid isn't going to help, is it?"
"Well no!" shot back Ron furiously. "But it makes me feel bloody better, doesn't it!"
"Will you two stop bickering!" Shrilled Molly over the noise. "Arthur, tell them!"
But Arthur had already picked up his paper again and was ignoring the conversation.
"Arthur Weasley, are you listening to me!"
The paper moved nonchalantly. "No; I can't say I am, dear."
Ron's retort died on his lips. The entire table instinctively tensed in preparation for one of Molly's blistering replies. But no such outburst came. Instead there was a pause and then a soft gasp. Mrs Weasley put a hand to her mouth and hurried across the room, straight toward her husband hiding behind the outstretched newspaper. In one swift movement she had snatched it clean from his hands. Ron and Ginny's eyes widened in alarm, but then she folded the paper roughly and turned to the light.
Arthur sat back rigidly and paled. "What is it dear?"
But she ignored him. As her eyes scanned the page she silently mouthed a few of the words, the rest of the room looked on, being too stunned to do anything else.
Being quite unsure of what else to do, Arthur stood and repeated his enquiry. Molly looked up, slightly dazed.
"I knew this would happen."
"What dear?" replied Arthur quietly.
"The attacks. Now they've burned down Sarah and Julius's house." She whispered.
Arthur frowned. "Sarah and Julius?"
Molly shook her head numbly, and leant against the dresser for support. "You know, the Sarah I went to school with? That proud Ravenclaw who married that well-to-do wizard from Yorkshire?"
Here she turned the paper over, so that the animated photograph of a largish country house could be seen, its roof completely engulfed in flames.
"This was their home. They escaped with their lives, but still…"
The breakfast table all stared at the picture, then back at Molly Weasley, slightly confused, until Arthur broke the silence.
"Ah. You know he always seems a lot older than his years, that Julius." He frowned. "Anyhow, I can't really see how that could be connected with last week's attacks."
"I do," she replied softly, wringing her hands again. "I used to owl Sarah regularly for a few years after Hogwarts. Julius Prince is -"
"Snape's uncle, and probably his last living relative," cut in Hermione, her eyes widening in alarm. She shot a panicked look at Ron, mouth open. "The newspaper cuttings in the library- oh Merlin-"
There was a sound of chairlegs scooting simultaneously back from the table.
II - The First Confrontation
The charred shell of the large-windowed house stood like a jagged black shadow against the night skies. Everything was still, but still the teenager waited. He waited until the small hours and the moonlight, until the sounds of the cattle in nearby fields had quietened and the barking of foxes sounded.
Turning as a movement caught his eye, Harry blinked and almost started as his eyes made out a form drifting in front of the house, their pale robes seeming almost ethereal in the moonlight.
It seemed impossible, but it had to be...
His heart quickening with all the horror, fear and fury churning inside, Harry checked the visibility cloak was still wrapped tightly around him, and then set forward to challenge the visitor.
He moved silently over the smooth brick driveway, picking his way past charred debris and furniture, his eyes only ever briefly leaving his target, who from the outline appeared to be a woman, motionless, her light-coloured cloak rippling in the breeze. He continued forward until he was barely ten feet away, and then - right hand gripping around his wand - he spoke out as boldly as he could.
"I'd hoped this would bring you here. I am alone."
The woman didn't even start, almost as if she had been expecting the challenge. Instead she turned slowly, lowering her hood to reveal a pale-haired head. Her dark eyes caught the moonlight, reflecting strangely. The fixedness of her gaze was such that an uneasy tingle ran down Harry's spine.
"How very stupidly Gryffindor of you," she replied in a voice deathly soft. "Remember to mention this as a mitigating circumstance when the house owners charge you with arson."
A cold ball of horror grew in the pit of Harry's stomach at the intonation of these words. It was too dark to see clearly, but he was convinced they had been spoken with a slight curl of the lip.
His knuckles white from gripping on to his wand Harry stepped forward shakily, hate and fear still throbbing in taught muscles, the pensieve memories whirling furious around his mind like some sort of cruel nightmare. He could still run, still avoid this, run away from it all - but if he did he would always be running, always have something to become furious about, and if anything he was no coward. What was more, it was Dumbledore's bidding, and the respect and the love the old Headmaster had kindled in his youngest protege was too much for the Gryffindor to ever ignore or deny.
Slowly, fingers trembling, Harry unveiled an arm from his invisibility cloak and held a small bottle aloft.
"Take this and watch it. If not for my honour then-"
There was a dry, unfamiliar laugh from the woman. "For Dumbledore's Potter..? For the old man who so foolishly-"
"No - for my Mother's honour!" Hissed Harry through clenched teeth. "And for yours -if you have any left!"
The woman's body stiffened, her voice taking on a deadly whisper. "How dare-"
"No - please - there are lies, huge old lies, secrets. Things have been hidden from even you...from us...I swear on my-"
A distant pop sounded through the air then. A far-off gunshot, or more likely the sound of a wizard apparating.
Harry's voice cut in his throat, in one movement of panic he had thown the bottle, and the woman shot out a hand to catch it.
"Here - just take this - don't ever, ever let anyone else see -"
And with a sudden crack Harry disapperated, leaving the slightly stunned woman quite alone. But not for very long - the proximity wards set up all around warned her of anothers' approach. She turned slowly as the footsteps approached, another robed woman, this one with very dark features and a very cruel twist to her lips. She essayed a mocking curtsey and looked over the other with her heavy-lidded eyes. It was Bellatrix Lestrange.
"When you are quite finished moping over your hated relative's house, He requests to see you in the chamber." When the woman failed to reply to this Bella smirked slightly and her tone became more cutting and cruel.
"And a word of advice, woman to woman; that dress just does not become you...Severus..."