Duty

By: Lena (Airelle Vilka)

Professor of Illusions

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

London, May 1996

          The moon shone amid many glittering stars, full and bright in a cloudless sky.  Trees swayed gently in the May breeze, their low branches caressing the cemetery's serene, gray headstones.  The night seemed reserved for the dead alone, peaceful and sorrowful, not wanting intrusion.

          And yet, on this most unexpected night, the cemetery would receive a visitor.

          Airelle Vilka knew she was taking a great risk by coming here, with only a cloak and her faith as protection.  But tonight was an anniversary, and an unearthly power had called her to this place, a singing voice from long ago, promising her she would not be seen.

          And she trusted it.  She had disobeyed every order the Order of the Phoenix had given her, stole away in the night from the safety of Ollivander's Wand Shop, placed herself in grave danger.  After all, she was dead to the wizarding world, murdered in April by Lord Voldemort; and if the truth were revealed, she'd jeopardize everything—the carefully laid plans, the idea for the Aging Potion, which had not been perfected yet…

          Nevertheless, she had come.

          The graves were dark, their inscriptions blurry, but Airelle did not need a light or marker to find her way.  Slowly, her robes brushing the tall grass, she ascended a sloping hill laced with roots, and stood before a solitary grave.  Tucked away underneath a planetree for years, it had been visited by few during the day, fewer still at night.

          Gently, the former Auror sank to her knees and touched the ground beneath her.

          "It's been another year, Elsa," she said quietly.

          The headstone was silent, and Airelle removed her hood.  Her long white hair spilled over her back, revealing her identity to anyone who may have been watching—but she could not bear to keep her face covered.  She'd never hide from the dead.

          "So much has happened," she murmured, her thoughts drifting back to the past year, when she'd stood at this spot in daytime.  "So much, Elsa, you'd never believe it if I told you."

          But then again, you already know.

          Airelle's heart clenched as she forced herself to raise her eyes to the inscription.  Every year, she'd hoped that she would not see it; but the cruelty of fate granted her no such release.  There, carved forever in stone, were the words that agonized her soul every time she read them.

          Elsa Marie Gibbons.

          Death was inevitable, Airelle knew; but for Elsa, it had come too early.  And it was my fault…

          She had come here for many years, and nothing changed.  The other Aurors had found closure long ago.  Omar Fauks, Airelle's best friend in the Ministry, had held her the day of Elsa's funeral.  He'd comforted her, told her she was not responsible.  Airelle wanted to take his advice that day, and with all her might, she tried.

          But the advice had never reached the part of her soul that hurt, still hurt so badly.  At that time, fellow Aurors had cast disapproving looks upon her, and she'd known why.  They were right… Airelle was their leader, and she had failed.  Because of it, one of their own had fallen prey to the worst fate imaginable.

          Elsa's face, her terrified pleas and mutterings moments before her death, haunted Airelle.  Years after the event, they lived on in her nightmares along with the laughter of Lord Voldemort, mocking her—the self-proclaimed hero.  Who was she to think she could save another?

          And so, for her sanity, she'd tried to ignore the visions, drinking countless dream potions to sleep, to forget everything she had seen as an Auror… but on the anniversary of Elsa's death, Airelle's masochistic side reminded her of her deeds, deeds she would one day answer for.  And every year, she'd obeyed the inexorable pull to return, to try and forgive herself.

          But she'd always failed.

          How could she forgive something so terrible…

St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies, 1981

"Dear God," said the nurse upon lifting the sheet.  "Someone, get me the strongest Sleeping Potion you can find."

          Airelle stood in the doorway, pale and gaunt, her fingers still clutching the wand that had killed many tonight.  Her black eyes, glassy and unblinking, stared at the scene in front of her.  She'd seen the victims of Death Eater torture before, but never… never like this.

          People walked past her into the room, saw what was happening, and left quickly, nausea painted on their faces.  Airelle made no move to comfort them, nor they her.  This situation had gone past comfort long ago.

          Elsa Gibbons lay on the floating stretcher, her fingers clutching maniacally at its edges as if trying to grip reality itself.  Her nails were bloody and torn, her hands bruised from fighting back.

          She had fought back.

          Airelle did not realize that her legs were moving until she found herself beside the young Auror.  The nurse tried to lead her away gently.

          "Please, Airelle, you can't be here—"

          She also did not realize she had spoken until the hollow, dry echo of her voice reverberated through the room. 

"Let go of me."

          The nurse knew better than to interfere.  She took one last look at the patient, and withdrew.  No one else came inside, and Airelle was alone.  Truly alone now, for the person looking up at her was no longer human.

            Elsa's glasses were missing, along with her wand.  She stared dully into Airelle's face, not squinting as she usually did.

          "Mother… help me."

          Airelle bowed her head.  No Sleeping Potion would cure this.  Nothing would.  Elsa Gibbons was gone.

          The girl's slim body shivered under the white linen sheet.  Her arms were bent at unnatural angles, and tears carved pathways in her cheeks, flowing continuously in thick drops.  But her mouth curved in the humorless, vacant smile of the hopeless, the dead who still breathed.

          Airelle gripped Elsa's hand to keep herself from shrinking away.  She wanted to burn this image into her memory, and recall it when she stood, triumphant, over the body of Lord Voldemort.

          The bastard.  She'd killed his followers, one by one, but HE still lived.  He lived, while Elsa died.  A young girl who'd risked her life to save another's… a girl with a family who loved her, and who'd never see her again.

          "I was too late," she said softly.  "I'm sorry… I'm so sorry."

          The dying Auror's nails dug in.  Airelle closed her eyes, and cried silently as blood trickled through her fingers.

         

A few minutes later, the other Aurors had gathered in a circle around the stretcher.  Airelle's wand still emitted soft, green sparks as she placed it inside her robes.  Then, she kissed Elsa's forehead, and lifted the sheet over it.

          "Rest now," she said.  "You will be remembered as the hero you were.  And I swear, you will be avenged."

          Airelle opened her eyes, and realized that she'd nestled close to the headstone, her head leaning against the inscription.  A grim smile crossed her features.

          "I will have my own grave, too, you know," she murmured.  "There will be no body in it, but I'm as good as dead.  I've joined the Order… and it will send me to my doom.  I still have a way out, though--- I can refuse… I can leave, forever.  No one has to know.  Dumbledore can let me go, let me start a new life, away from this madness, this circle of death."

          I have a choice.

          And then again…

          Airelle rose, and looked heavenward.  At certain times in her life, there was nothing she desired more than to join the stars in the sky, to leave the pain of a brutal world behind.  But this wasn't one of those times.

          Maybe she'd come here for a different reason than before.  Maybe tonight, she hadn't come to make peace with herself.  Nothing could save her from guilt; perhaps she should not have hidden from it for so long.

          "You had a choice, too," she told the grave.  "But you were also an Auror."

          How could Airelle leave now, when the Order needed her most?  Regardless of her fear…

          I'm sorry, Elsa, she thought.  I wish I could go after Voldemort in search of fulfilling my desire for vengeance.  But I can't fulfill it, nor avoid the blame I've placed on myself.  It will always exist in my mind… and if I rely on it, I won't succeed.  I can't do this for your sake… not yours, not Snape's, not anyone else's. 

I've learned a lesson from you.  You never acted for anyone's sake but your own…  but most importantly, you didn't abstain from acting, even when you knew it would hurt you.  You acted because you had something I've forgotten.

          "You were an Auror," she repeated, the smile not fading now.  "You had a duty.  And now, so do I."

          Voldemort will fall, I promise.  And maybe then, I will find peace…  but until that time, I have a job that I cannot abandon.  You've taught me that much, Elsa, with your life… and with your death.  And for that, I thank you.

          Airelle turned on her heel, and walked out of the cemetery, intending to write to Dumbledore.  Oh yes, she would accept the offer, and everything that came with it.  The time had finally come to do what she was meant to do all along.

It turned out, in the end, that some responsibilities outweighed emotions.  And perhaps Airelle was the better for it.

~*FINIS*~

A/N: Short vignette, I know, written at two in the morning.  But I felt like writing it because I've been doing some thinking about this "duty" thing… like the dharma concept in Hinduism.  Interesting, really… maybe doing your duty will help you out more than you know… as, I'm sure, Airelle will discover soon…