Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter.

Grey Maiden V: Sacrifice

WARNINGS:Violence, Gore, Dark Themes, Multiple Character Deaths, Some Language

Summary: After 13 years, Lord Voldemort has risen again, and set his sights on conquering the Wizarding world. All that may stand in his way is Harry Potter, who must heal, train, and learn the lessons of life on the fly, while friendship, romance, alliances, and his own life hang in the balance. On top of all of this, Harry must cope with the consequences of his guardian's inevitable fall into Darkness, and a Ministry determined to bury the truth.

Prologue: Vengeance

On a moonless night in a sparsely populated, run-down neighborhood in London, the shadows seemed to take upon a life of their own. Every small movement, every sharp noise, every flicker from the poorly-maintained streetlights set one's pulse racing. There was no sign of life on the streets; the windows of the few battered and derelict houses were dark. But one still feared the dangers that might lurk unseen in the alleyways, ready to ambush any unsuspecting passerby.

With a soft 'pop' of displaced air, a solitary figure appeared on a deserted street corner. He wore hooded black robes, clothing quite unusual for a normal traveler in the heart of Muggle London. But this man was far from normal.

Despite his plain clothing, he was quite wealthy. His family owned one of the largest accounts in Gringotts Wizarding Bank. His face was not unknown, and his picture appeared in the Daily Prophet from time to time beside an article about the man's generous donations to various good causes, from St. Mungo's to the Foreign Wizards Education Fund. To all appearances, Thomas Wagner Avery, a middle-aged man considered one of the most influential and powerful purebloods in Wizarding Britain, was a model citizen, a well-intentioned philanthropist, and a man as loyal to the order and stability represented by Cornelius Fudge's Ministry of Magic as any that could be found.

But this well-built man of fair complexion and thinning brown hair, with blue eyes that could make him appear as harmless and benevolent as a loving grandfather, and as sharp and dangerous as the most discerning politician, was, in fact, a trained and practiced killer.

Following in the footsteps of his father, at seventeen Thomas Avery had sworn allegiance to the most powerful Dark Wizard of modern times. A man whom had been in the midst of a slow and steady rise to power when he had received the loyalty and services of Avery: Lord Voldemort had welcomed him into the growing ranks of his hooded and masked followers: The Death Eaters. The young man had been Marked with the sign of this new Lord, a blackened impression of a serpent emerging from the mouth of a skull that was permanently seared into his very flesh. Thomas Avery had served Lord Voldemort with distinction for over a decade, all while maintaining the public image of a determined and intelligent young man who flawlessly took over his family after the tragic death of his father. That the man had been killed in a botched kidnapping of a foreign dignitary remained mostly unknown. Lord Voldemort's tendrils of power and influence extended throughout the world, and he easily arranged for the body to be 'lost' before it could be positively identified.

Thomas Avery was no benevolent grandfather once he donned the jet black robes and white mask of the Death Eaters. He was a ruthless and skilled assassin, torturer, and interrogator. His skill lay not in raw ability or superior reflexes, but rigorous self-discipline and a creative mind that could turn a spell as harmless as the Bubble-Head Charm into a cruel, merciless, and untraceable form of execution.

But on this night, the man was forced to calm the rapid beating of his heart and he frantically searched for the comrade that was supposed to have been waiting for him. He did not know the identity of his contact, only that he or she had been sent from the Dark Lord with special instructions for one of his most trusted Death Eaters. He came only because he had taken steps to determine the authenticity of his 'comrade.' He or she possessed a Dark Mark, and there were no live traitors in the Dark Lord's forces. There were many dead ones.

Finally, as thoughts of leaving and reconfirming the meeting's time and place entered his mind, he heard a faint sound, and a figure materialized on the opposite side of the street. It was a woman, tall, her features hidden by the hood of her robes. Thomas stepped forward expectantly.

"I bring greetings from the Dark Lord, Avery," the woman spoke. The voice was strangely familiar, but he simply could not place it. It was no matter. The Dark Lord had hundreds of servants, and many of them did not live in England. Some were Marked, others were not, and their loyalty was ensured by the near-endless supplies of gold that his Master had access to. That he did not immediately recognize the woman was not any reason to panic.

Avery tried to meet her eyes, but they were invisible beneath the cowl of the woman's robes. She moved forward confidently, though slightly tense. Avery was no Legilimens, and had no way of knowing if the woman's intent was malicious or not. I can always Apparate away if I am uncertain. If I am mistaken, I can simply explain that I have a great deal to lose if captured by an undercover Auror.

"May he rule over the land and reap vengeance upon his enemies," Avery replied with the standard greeting. "May he triumph always."

"Indeed," the woman replied. Avery pulled down the hood of his cloak, in the hope that she might do the same. She did not, and, in fact, stiffened almost imperceptibly at the sight of his face. Perhaps my reputation precedes me.

"What news have you brought me?" Avery asked. He supposed he was being a bit forward, but this impromptu meeting on this deserted street in a poor part of Muggle London unsettled him.

"Only this," she said, taking an abrupt step forward, a cold-blooded rage entering her voice, a tone that sent shivers down Avery's spine. But that was nothing compared to the content of the message. "He fears that he regret the loss of your services."

Before Avery could react to her statement, the woman was in motion. Her wand was in her hand in the flick of a wrist, and as she moved, she shrugged back the hood of her robes. The face that met the eyes of the hardened Death Eater chilled his blood. It was a face well-known to Avery; he had played a role in carving the two vicious scars that marred her face. One from the right side of her forehead, through her right eye, down to her cheek. Another starting on the left side of her chin and vanishing beneath her robes, though Avery knew that his partially deflected Slicing Curse had nearly cut her left breast open.

Shoulder-length honey-blonde hair. Normally dulled grey-green eyes that appeared darkened by the malevolent hatred directed at her adversary. A slender frame that moved faster and with more precision that the human body was supposed to be capable of. A mahogany wand that appeared black as it reflected the streetlights above.

Avery had few nightmares about the First War, which he mostly attributed to an unperturbed conscience. He killed for a reason, an ideal he was dedicated to. Those he killed deserved nothing less.

But the one image that would occasionally disturb his slumber was the enraged woman of twenty-one, fiery energy swarming around her, setting the very walls aflame, wandlessly casting the obscenely powerful Flesh-Shredding Curse that reduced Evan Rosier to something one would expect to see when a human was fed into a particularly malicious meat-grinder. His blood, brains, stomach fluids –everything – spattered the walls and his fellow Death Eaters. Avery remembered all too clearly his horrific shriek as his throat was ripped apart, his skin and muscle shredded and torn from his bones, which themselves were reduced to white chunks at a glance indistinguishable from pieces of chipped concrete.

Kathleen Travers, at the time a raw and wide-eyed recruit and the younger sister of the Travers now imprisoned in Azkaban, had it easy. An Incineration Curse to the face, leaving only a flaming pile of ash, was nothing compared to the carnage and gore that had once been Voldemort's most feared and powerful Death Eater. The Severing Curse than took off the head of another rookie Death Eater, Derek Whitecheek was similarly quick and merciful compared with the fate that befell their leader.

And so that woman that haunted his nightmares dropped into a battle crouch, her lips twisted into a predatory grin.

Daphne Artemis Dressler.

Avery didn't have time to run before the Grey Maiden's Crucio struck him in the midsection. Perhaps he should have expected this; it was only a matter of time. Not a man or woman remained alive who had participated in the attack on the O'Connor Sanctuary, which had turned from a simple assassination of a powerful and influential Light Family into an infamous bloodbath, at the sight of which hardened and experienced Aurors vomited or broke down in tears.

Little did we know what monster we'd had unleashed that day.

He hit the ground hard, but felt nothing of the impact. His nervous system was overloaded by the malicious pulses of magical energy. He opened his mouth and unleashed a shriek of pain, but no sound came. Daphne had Silenced him, ensuring that she could avenge her husband in relative peace.

Avery writhed. Images, some of nonsensical things, appeared in his mind's eye before shattering into nothingness. Millions of white-hot needles penetrated every inch of his skin, causing supreme agony. His blood boiled, his bones chilled. His nerves were burned out, and simply stopped functioning in places, so that he felt nothing. But the pain soon penetrated to the very core of his being, and the dead spots became irrelevant. His mind buckled under the pressure, fighting to keep its capacity for reasoned thought. It was a losing battle. When the pain vanished, Thomas's first thoughts were of how beautiful that dirty… what's it called…was. He lay on his back staring at the strange lights in the dark heavens, and then something blocked his view.

He didn't recognize the woman that now towered over his downed form. She raised something…a stick? Then she said two words, neither of which made any sense to his tattered and tormented mind. "Avada Kedavra."

Thomas marveled how bright the strange bolt of green light that appeared from her stick was before it struck his chest…then he saw no more. He felt no more. His soul was set adrift, and began its slow descent into the bowels of the earth.

High above him, standing on the pavement, unrelenting eyes staring down at the corpse, Daphne repeated an occasionally altered mantra that had been running through her head from the night she'd lost her husband.

Seven down. One to go.

Her thoughts turned to Harry, and guilt threatened to overwhelm her. She'd assured him that she had changed, knowing full well that she could never change. Her life was over, had been the night that she had taken Harry from his mother's arms. It had taken her fourteen years to realize this. She lived on only to give Harry the love and support he deserved, and to train him to meet his destiny. A destiny she doubted she would live to see fulfilled. She was a walking corpse, a woman deprived of her soul to a degree that Dementors could not hope to match. If Harry were to die, she'd probably give out, the life force leaving her as she failed her last mission. Well, besides avenging Edmond. But I cannot survive on hatred. I need Harry's love.

My personal revenge is not of his concern. This is my secret, my burden. Unless I deem it necessary, I will not speak of it again…though, perhaps when Antonin also lies dead, I will tell him.

Settled, she felt the urge to return to Lily's son. With a soft 'pop', she was gone.

Had she been more aware, less consumed by her own thoughts, she might have noticed the man that stepped out of concealment in the shadows of an alleyway, a man who had arrived silently just in time to see Daphne wipe the life from his old friend. The blond-haired man was somewhat shocked, but realized just how lucky he was that it hadn't been him. He'd come with a message from the Dark Lord…a message that had apparently been intercepted by the opportunistic Grey Maiden. Lucius Malfoy's anger simmered beneath his normally placid features.

She will pay for this. After all, an upstanding citizen such as myself can hardly allow Daphne Dressler, the unbalanced guardian of the Boy-Who-Lived, to get away with the senseless murder of Thomas Avery, old family friend of Ministry favorite Lucius Malfoy, now can he?

Lucius sneered at the empty street. A Vow of Vengeance, Daphne? I will relish your brat's tears as the Aurors take you to the Dementors.

Vengeance is sweet.

But he would bide his time, allowing time for a private investigation into Avery's death that was, of course, entirely needless. Then, he would be the right hand of justice, coming down to sever the Grey Maiden's head.

He Apparated away, though as he did, he was struck by a strange emotion. He would not mourn Avery's passing, but he had to admit that he would miss his old friend.

Just one more notch in that woman's belt. And it shall be the last one.

So swore Lucius Abraxas Malfoy.

A/N: I actually wrote this over a year ago, and have sort of been working up to it. Daphne's fallen this far, and I needed to guide her along that path.

While this intstallment isn't going to differ greatly from canon in terms of the major events, this is one of many sub-plots which are going to make it considerably different.

Explanations for how Daphne pulled this off are going to have to wait another two chapters.

The next chapter is a sort of experiment. Rather than describing the first part of the summer in a narrative, I've written it in letter format. A lot of letters. Hopefully you'll get a little insight in the characters who are ostensibly writing them. There are some new developments, as well as just banter between Harry and Ginny, etc. I hope you like it. If not, I won't do it again.

Thanks for all of the reviews of the last part of the series. I really need your feedback to keep this thing moving along, and to keep you interested.