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Dark Sacrifice by Hippothestrowl
Chapter 8 : Devotion to Duty
 
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Time To Prepare


"This is is more time consuming than Corbin's" groaned Harry, studying the library book he had borrowed. "Look at all the ingredients needed."

"Yes but you can get most of them from the pharmacy and at least you don't have to learn it and teach it to the class without notes. You only need to follow it carefully and make it." replied Ron.

There was a pause. They stood in an old unused storage room off the dungeon corridor. It contained only antiquated equipment but it would suffice. Ingredients were not kept here but there were a great many cupboards they could safely hide them in later. They knew they could rely on Neville Longbottom who had been given special access to the greenhouses for his extra herbology studies this year.

They already had the most difficult ingredient: living pumice. This was a most peculiar soft stone foam substance that grew from inside and crumbled away on the outside. It was said to feed from some other magical source internally. This gave the material its effects on the mind of those who ingested it.

Harry had very politely asked the Sorrowful Seamstress to act as sentry for them in the tapestry corridor while they obtained a tiny sample of the rock. Although she often seemed to be keeping watch anyway, this ghost was actually not an ideal lookout. She was rather absorbed in her own misery. The Seamstress generally stood with a faraway look in her eyes which the boys mistook for alertness. However, the pair were lucky and were not disturbed during their attempt.

"Ron, I'm not going to have time. I'm doomed. Doomed unless..." Harry tailed off.

"What?"

"Ron, you have to make this for me. I'm serious. I really need this. It's not technically too difficult. It's just the time gathering the ingredients, sneaking cauldron time and so on. Likely it will take several attempts. I can't get down in the daytime and I have detention every evening. Then there's ... something else..."

"It's Laura isn't it?" smirked Ron.

"It's not what you think..."

"No, you're just curious, I know." said Ron with a big silly grin. Harry didn't challenge Ron's assumption any further. He suddenly recalled he had promised Laura he wouldn't talk about her intuitive powers or anything related to them.

You will owe me huge you know that." answered Ron, pondering the possibilities.

"Anything." said Harry.

"I'll certainly be stuck for anything to do while you are in detention. ... I'll do it. But remember your promise."

"What was that? - Just joking. Of course. Yes. I owe you big." smiled Harry with relief.

"Not 'big', 'huge'" said Ron.

"'huge' - right." confirmed Harry. "You will be careful won't you?" he added anxiously.

"Hm? Wassat? Me? Sure thing. Probably." Ron winked.

Harry thanked the seamstress as they left and got a wan smile in return. Being always pre-occupied she rarely received any attention at all.


~~~~~~~~~~~~



Devotion to Duty


Harry wrapped his invisibility cloak more carefully around himself again and waited. He heard it starting to rain outside but otherwise all was silent in the Hogwarts' entrance hall. He didn't have to wait long. Two minutes to midnight and he heard footsteps coming closer. "It will be interesting to see how they get past the main door." he thought to himself.

It was so dark that Harry struggled to see much at all. He heard footsteps and two faint outline shapes, the nearest with lanky hair passed him so closely he could smell Godber's stinking hair oil. Harry followed carefully at a distance towards an alcove to one side of the main door, near the corner. A hand was placed on the head of a statuette on a stand.

"Exitus" Harry heard it very faintly but distinctly in the silence. Then nothing. They seemed to be lost in shadows. The main door remained firmly closed.

Carefully holding his cloak in place, Harry went quietly over to the corner to try to see better. They were gone. Godber's stink still hung in the air for a while but slowly faded. Solid stone walls stood unmoving. He went into the alcove. He reached out to the statuette and placed one hand on its head. "Exitus" he said firmly. Nothing obvious happened so Harry began searching, feeling all around the walls in the alcove.

After many frustrating minutes he tried the statue again. He repeated this several times but he could not find the exit. "They must have used some special wand movement I couldn't see or some other magical effect as well as 'Exitus'" thought Harry. "What do I do now?"

Harry did not want to have to tell Laura that he had so quickly failed before even leaving Hogwarts. He felt a strong urge to find out where they had gone anyway. Harry could only think of one way but there was not enough time to catch up to the pair. Finally, after thinking hard, he realized a solution. He wouldn't need his cloak. His broomstick was all he needed.

Ten minutes later he was flying as swiftly as he dared on his broomstick through the passage below the one-eyed witch statue which he had used before to go to Hogsmeade. Before him he held his wand, brightly lighting the way.

Once inside Honeydukes he wondered how he was going to get out because it was closed for the night. He could hear the rain falling more heavily now, pattering on a side window, so he went to investigate. It was not difficult to open the window from the inside and slip through then he closed the window behind him. He hid his broom behind a pile of barrels and crates so it would be available when he returned.

He had made such good time it was certain he was ahead of Godber and Brisking so he walked back along the street towards Hogwarts knowing that the pair couldn't get past him. He was past the Three Broomsticks and walking towards the train station when he saw them ahead coming towards him. Harry slipped into the darker shadow of the Broomsticks and waited.

He let them pass then followed at a distance for some way. He thought he saw them turn opposite Zonko's and they went out of sight. He was about to increase his speed when he sensed another movement nearby. Harry stopped, completely motionless. Although he was in dark shadow, he wished now he had brought his cloak. There was someone in a side alley. He could see nothing but he felt he could hear something faintly. Perhaps it was a footstep. Perhaps it was someone breathing. There was definitely someone nearby. He crouched and pulled back into deeper shadow.

Harry smiled grimly. He knew that now there would always be an auror or two patrolling Hogsmeade twenty-four hours a day. It was raining so hard he could see where there was an invisible figure outlined by shining water droplets splashing off it. Dare he take the chance to reveal himself?

"Tonks?" he spoke quietly to the night.

"It's Sephany." came a voice, "and I might as well undo this disillusionment spell. She suddenly appeared and walked over to Harry.

"On your own tonight?" asked Harry.

"There is a big raid taking place tonight so they can't spare anyone else and anyway, who would be crazy enough to attack on a night like this?" she replied with a wry smile. "But you shouldn't be out on your own. What are you up to?"

"Probably nothing really. A couple of Hogwarts students sneaked out..."

"Yes, I saw them."

"... and I wanted to find out where they were going to. But I think I've lost them already."

She conjured up a shield above their heads to keep off the rain and they talked as they made their way along the street towards Zonko's. A silhouetted figure far ahead of them raised an arm at a strange angle.

Sephany stopped instantly. "I don't like this." said Sephany Dell, looking around anxiously. She took out a coin and tapped it with her wand.

"Aren't you over-reacting?" answered Harry, "He's..." he stopped as another figure appeared to join the other one ahead.

"Take my arm quickly now!" the loud whisper came from Sephany. "Better I over-react than stand over your body!"

Harry grabbed onto her but nothing happened. The shadowy figures were approaching slowly. He looked at the young woman's face and saw the concern. "Anti-apparition shields are stopping us. RUN!"

The mud splashed into Harry's face spotting his glasses and half-blinding him as they ran through the puddled streets away from the figures only to see more of them appearing in front.

"Down here!" They ran swiftly up a side alley but found themselves in Flaye Court with nowhere to go. They could hear the sound of many running feet not far behind them.

"There's no way out!" the loud whisper came from Harry in the farthest shadow, turning back to look at Sephany. He was horrified to see she was pointing her wand directly towards him. Before he could react he heard her cry "Stasis Dectum!" Astonished, Harry felt the world fade to dark grey. "I didn't see that one coming." he thought, "I didn't see that one coming." Over and over in his head it repeated then, "Is this the end? - slain by a friend?" The rhyme repeated itself over and over in his mind, "Is this the end? - slain by a friend?"

Through a haze he saw Sephany. A wondrous dove of light came forth from her wand and grew, spreading its wing protectively. Beyond her, a dozen death eaters were running towards them, slowing, slowing, now frozen, unmoving, silent. The dove hovered, its wings completely still. Even the rain had stopped falling. It hung there, millions of tiny droplets suspended in lantern and torchlight. Was he dead? He could feel no bodily sensation and even his thinking and feeling seemed strangely ... nothing. The view before him was broad and clear now as if his muddy glasses had fallen off yet his vision was sharply focused.

Gradually movement began again in the runners and he could hear their heavy footsteps and the sound of the rain once more. A barrage of curses were heading towards Sephany. Her patronus absorbed them all but then fell, wings fluttering feebly, and faded away.

"Where is he?" it was Bellatrix Lestrange sending a heavy curse towards Sephany. She made no effort to avoid it and was knocked down and carried back as if by some invisible battering ram. "Tell us now. There's no place to hide so we'll find him eventually. Tell us to save yourself a lot of pain."

Sephany lay where she had fallen, eyes open, quietly awaiting the inevitable.

"So be it - Crucio!" shrieked Bellatrix, and Sephany contorted in agony, her lips tight shut, holding back the screams that fought to utter themselves. The other death eaters fanned out, searching around the little courtyard. Harry didn't care if they discovered him in the dark. He felt only overwhelming compassion for poor Sephany writhing on the wet cobbles.

Somehow the death eaters could not find Harry. There was little cover in the empty courtyard and light from their wands easily penetrated the dark shadows but they seemed to look right through him.

Now they were attacking in a fury at Sephany's slender form. Harry could only look on at the ragdoll on the floor, helpless to even think of helping. He was actually unable to even think in any normal sense of that word. He was aware. He could observe. He had certain feelings of a higher kind. But there was no fear nor concern even in his interest in Sephany's welfare. His will was at rest. He had no desire.

"Crucio!" another death eater took over. Now screams did ring out loud and clear in the night. Courage seemed broken at last. One could sense residents nearby trembling behind their curtains. No dogs howled. No cats screeched. All was silent but for the terrible continuous screams and the quiet rain.

One death eater was speaking to Bellatrix and gesturing towards Harry. Understanding seemed to dawn on the dark witch's face. She held up a hand to the death eater who was inflicting the ultimate pain on his victim and he stopped. She crouched over the figure on the ground.

"Does the wicky little baby want her mommy? ... I'm your mommy. I can stop it hurting baby; kiss it better. I'll undo the nasty anti-appawition for baby. Then baby can give mommy her little potty. Is that all right baby? While mommy fixes potty, icky baby goes away from the hurting. Or mommy has to punish baby so she'll be good."

There was some movement as the anti-apparition spells were undone. Sephany still lay there, unmoving, clearly conscious, but she made no motion; made no sound. Her body was cut, distorted, twisted. Blood was visibly flowing. Her face was now an ugly mask of unbearable pain awaiting more. The cold, wet stone pressed hard against her. Dirty puddle water mixed with tears in her eyes. Long golden hair was now matted and streaked with filth and gore.

"Why delay?" shrieked Bellatrix. "If you enjoy suffering so much we shall oblige you!" Her yell of "Crucio!" echoed around the courtyard as did Sephany's ensuing screams for a short time. And then there was silence as she lay completely still, not writhing anymore. "Why delay?" Bellatrix repeated her previous statement aloud to herself, thwarted and puzzled.

Suddenly a great movement of air was being pushed aside. Twenty, thirty, forty aurors, order members, and others appeared, surrounding the group and almost simultaneously the air was filled with dreadful merciless spells - but Bellatrix was gone. The evil witch had abandoned her company without a word. The remaining death eaters lay cut down where they had stood, some stunned, some bound, some dead.

Dumbledore and McGonagall were there with Madam Pomfrey who moved quickly forward and crouched next to Sephany Dell's body. Her magical senses taking in her immediate impressions she looked up and around at the group, grim-mouthed, shaking her head. She called forth more charms and investigative spells. There was a strange look on her face. "I have been looking for the wrong signs. " she said.

"Signs of what?" asked McGonagall.

Pomfrey stood aside from the prone figure and moved to the inquirers and spoke very quietly. "Signs of Life. I have been looking for the wrong type of life. I don't know what she is but she is not fully human." There were gasps and cries from the crowd of aurors, especially Moody. "Impossible!"

"Her human life did die. But whatever else she is ... it is somehow reviving her humanity."

Madam Pomfrey went back to the girl and cast various spells. She drew her wand over many of the wounds while chanting softly to herself.

Sephany's eyes did not open but her lips moved slightly and there was a faint whisper, "Is Harry? ..."

"I'm sorry. They must have take him earlier. We were too late."

"No, no. Look. Look carefully." was barely audible.

Dumbledore, bending over the weak figure caught the whisper. He looked around. He raised his arms and uttered something quietly. "There's something here. Over here."

Moody moved forward scouring the area indicated by Dumbledore's outstretched arms. "Merlin's... There IS something!"

Another whisper from the ground and Madam Pomfrey shook her head. "You are too weak. You must rest until we can move you." Again a feeble whisper in the night air. Pomfrey sighed and tried to place her wand in the tiny, broken, bloody hand of the young woman. As gently as she could she forced it between crushed fingers. The girl whimpered. She could not lift the wand but uttered something very, very softly. Then the wand fell.

There was a rush, a sense of release, and Harry Potter dropped to a crouch in view of everyone. He slowly stood up looking towards the figure on the ground.

"Harry! Are you alright" cried Lupin.

"I'm fine! But Sephy..." He moved forward and knelt down beside her. Soon, great silent dry sobs wracked and shook his body. All of the unexpressed passion and deep emotion of the last few minutes released in one flow. There seemed to be nothing he could say; nothing that could convey his awe and agony over her supreme, visible sacrifice.

Moody bent low, just to let his protegee know he was there. His head was slowly shaking from side to side. Perhaps Sephany misunderstood it for disapproval. "You said at any cost, sir. I'm sorry."

Moody's gruff voice croaked something like "talk later." as he turned aside. If he had been able to cry he would have.



~~~~~~~~~~~~



Perilous Portals



"Harry, how did you come to be in Hogsmeade?" asked Professor Dumbledore.

"I saw Godber and Brisking. They've been ... doing something in the basement ... and sneaking out to Hogsmeade. I wanted to be sure it wasn't just some innocent prank before I said anything. I think they turned opposite Zonko's." said Harry, shaking from his experience. They were back in Hogwarts' infirmary but he was still wet and confused.

"Alastor, would you check the basement with me please and send someone to investigate the buildings opposite Zonko's?" Dumbledore said firmly. "Urgently." he added, then, "Harry, come with me." Moody had already thrust his head into the green flames in the small infirmary fireplace and was shouting orders. He then jumped up and followed Dumbledore out of the door.



"What is this?" asked Moody. He was staring at a strange stone and metal device in the middle of an unused room in the basement. It had a small platform large enough for one person to stand upon. From one side of this a stone pillar arose to waist height. It was very ornately carved with many complicated projections and intricate gaps. On its upper surface, a tapering metal rod topped by fine filigree metalwork was positioned horizontally. Around it was a circular brass disk with graded markings dividing its perimeter.

"Fetch Professor Sinistra please Minerva." said Dumbledore quietly.

"She'll be ... yes of course." said McGonagall and strode back upstairs quickly.

Moody was pointing his wand at the old stone basement fireplace. "Incendio!" Flames appeared then turned green. Moody was instantly down on his knees. "Anything?" his head was again in the flames.

"Harry, did you see them use this apparatus?" asked Dumbledore.

"No sir, I never came down here." said Harry.

"Then ... how they get out of Hogwarts?"

"There's an exit in an alcove near the main door in the entrance hall." said Harry.

"Harry, I'm sure there is no such exit." said Dumbledore quietly.

"But I saw them go through..."

"Did you? Are you sure?" asked Dumbledore quizzically.

Harry thought for a while then answered, "No. They used a spell ... then I couldn't see them in the dark. I went over and they had gone." replied Harry.

"And did you ... Did you find the exit?" asked the headmaster.

"No sir."

The headmaster looked carefully at Harry but for some reason he did not ask how Harry had managed to get outside.

"Harry, I think you were tricked. I think they knew you were watching them but did not want you to find this device. I think they pretended to exit in the entrance hall but instead used an unspoken disillusionment spell and slipped away to come down here to this device."

Harry stared. He wondered if they had stood there grinning while he had futilely been grasping the statuette's head and saying 'Exitus.'"

While they waited, Dumbledore continue to study the device. Soon McGonagall hurried in followed by Sinistra still in her dressing gown.

"Aurora, do you have any idea what this is?" asked Dumbledore without any preamble, indicating the device. He stood back from it.

Professor Sinistra bent close and began to study the device both visually and with her wand. "It looks similar to many things but..." she paused. "This is new magic. It is unknown to me. Not only is the device itself very complex, it is charmed by the most complicated web of spells I have ever seen. It will need a lot of time and effort to investigate it. Clearly a pointing device is included. It will need other specialist wizards to uncover its secrets, I can only..."

"Can you determine the astral alignment of that pointer? As precisely as possible if you please." asked Dumbledore.

"Certainly headmaster." Professor Aurora Sinistra held up a device something like an astrolabe but spherical, and shining with an inner pulsing, magenta glow. McGonagall had obviously prepared her.

"It's the same!" declared Moody, pulling his face out of the flames. "There is a device in a building in Hogsmeade and it's the same as this one from the description."

Moody came over. "They trapped those lads in a small building near the post office. Those cowards put up almost no resistance when threatened by the eight aurors I sent in; the cringing little..."

"May I remind you they are Hogwarts' students, Alastor? They are just children." said Dumbledore.

"Children or not, the little rats have another device like this one in Hogsmeade." shouted Moody. "Clearly some kind of double portkey or transport of some kind. If someone has found a way past Hogwarts' defences without even causing an alert then we are in serious trouble. Nowhere will be safe: the ministry, auror headquarters..." Moody was shaking his head.

"Alastor, would you then escort Professor Sinistra to Hogsmeade please?" turning to Sinistra, he said, "Aurora, would you go with Alastor. There is a similar device I would like you to look at. Please let me know the alignment of that one as well."

"Headmaster, I have detected even more spells here. We need to determine what is at work here. It is beyond anything I know."

"It's beyond anything anyone knows I think. I'll put some investigators on it right away." said Moody.

"No matter how long it takes, keep at it until we know." responded Dumbledore.

"Of course." Moody guided Sinistra to the fireplace. "It's tiny but I think there's just room to squeeze through."

"Right now? I'm not even dressed..." protested Professor Sinistra, pulling her dressing gown more tightly around her.

Moody was practically pushing her down into the flames "Yes, yes. In you go." He quickly followed.



~~~~~~~~~~~~



Doubt and Trust



Sephany Dell was rather embarrassed at the gathering of people around her bed in St. Mungos. She was sitting up now and apart from a long scar near her throat and one crushed hand still encased in a holding spell while the bones regrew, she was physically recovered. Mentally she still felt rather fragile but being a tough character she was ignoring that and anxious to get back on duty.

Moody had been here before twice but was back with Dumbledore and McGonagall to pay his respects. Tonks was there most of her free time, usually chatting endlessly with Seph but now stood back near the door to give the others a chance to talk to the patient.

Harry and Ginny were there. Ginny gave Sephany a long sustained but gentle hug. "Bless you Sephy!" she whispered so nobody else could hear.

There were heaps of get well cards, flowers and so on. Tonks had bought her a giant teddy bear that was waving at the group while it read a copy of the Daily Prophet. The newspaper contained a prepared statement about the incident in which Sephany Dell was attacked by death eaters, fought them off valiantly, and was already back at work. There was no mention of Harry. There were piles of books for the young woman to read while recuperating and not many hours when someone was not visiting her so she wouldn't get too bored.

After fifteen or twenty minutes, Moody and Dumbledore had drifted away to talk by themselves and Harry glanced at Ginny who then murmured "I'll be back in a few minutes." and she went over to Tonks for a chat.

Alone with Sephany, Harry said, "Sephy, there are no words I know that can ever be enough to thank you..."

Sephany smiled at Harry, "It's my job. I should not really have let you get into that situation anyway. Pretty good spell though huh?"

"It was brilliant!" said Harry, "but I'd rather have been fighting by your side... Look, if there's anything I can do, anything at all..."

"Then we'd both be..." Sephany broke off then continued, "Yes, listen, I've been trying to get one of those peaked, back-sloping hats that some of the aurors wear - you know, to keep off the rain. It ruined my hair. What on earth did I look like? But I can't find navy blue anywhere..."

Harry stared in disbelief then, realizing she was just mischievously breaking the tension, he laughed aloud, drawing funny looks from the others in the room who had been expecting tears. "You crazy lady! I'll get you one. I'll get you the best damn hat Diagon Alley can provide." Then they were both laughing and chatting like before the incident.

Hearing the laughter, Moody and Dumbledore glanced across at Harry and Sephany, then Dumbledore continued what he had been about to say. They were talking in loud whispers turned away from the others.

"Alastor, I have to ask you..."

"You don't need to Albus. No matter what, I trust Dell absolutely. Her integrity has been always been of the highest standard, impeccable, perfect."

"Does that not seem strange? Almost too good to be true. But I'm not too concerned about her loyalty. She had Harry at her mercy. No greater prize; no higher assignment to override that if she working covertly for Voldemort. No, but if she's not fully human then I'm thinking more of some other agenda that might compromise..."

"She is the genuine article I tell you. I have worked with her for years. There is no question. Now you mention it yes, it is extraordinary. She is extraordinary. You know our tests. We even test the tester to make sure there is no deception. I've even asked others to test me for illusion tricks! She is for real. No, she is not perfect in all ways. She is learning; she makes mistakes like everyone does especially when young. But her instinct for trouble is incredible. Harry said he saw only an arm raised on a distant shadowy figure and Dell reacted - over-reacted Harry thought. But Dell knew. I don't know how but she knew."

"But perhaps..."

"No," Moody instantly understood Dumbledore's coming objection, "it was not a setup. Her reactions really were that good throughout training. Tests she could not possibly know except through a higher magical sense. There is nobody I would rather have at my right side in the field - at least, once she is more experienced. That said, she should never have been left on her own. We failed her. It could not have been helped I guess but if there had been two plus Harry, the three of them might have held off the enemy long enough and Miss Dell would not have had to endure..."

"Albus," he continued, "she was still very naive when she joined us after leaving Hogwarts. Too innocent to have any other devious agenda of her own. I could tell her heart was to serve the cause only."

"I accept your judgement, Alastor. I just had to be sure."

Moody paused in deep thought.

"Something else?" asked Dumbledore.

"Yes, those devices we found - the pointers are aligned precisely together. Those boys, those Slytherin boys, Godber and Brisking. They would say nothing. After many hours we began to use legilimency. They fought well. We got almost nothing. Their training is astonishing. They must have been trained continuously since they were small."

"What did you find out?" asked Dumbledore.

"Only that the devices do indeed seem to work like portkeys in tandem but without any means of detecting them. They transfer one person at a time right through any magical wards without alerting anyone. They could send fifty death eaters into Hogwarts without anyone knowing."

"Seems impossible." said Dumbledore. "Has anyone actually got them to work yet?"

"No, Albus. They are so complex we cannot yet even see how to operate them let alone how they work. We cannot create new counter-spells and wards until we know how the devices work."

"If they have made those they can make a hundred more. We shall have to be vigilant." said Dumbledore.







Author's Notes


My original chapters were too short so I'm now merging future ones in threes and fours to form larger chapters with sub-headings so it might look odd here and there but it will speed things up hopefully.

As ever, your comments and reviews are welcome even if you don't like the story I'd like to learn from your feedback. Thanks.
:)

- Hippothestrowl



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