Disclaimer: I know, I know, I don't really need one of these, but I like to cover my ass anyway.

Some of my monsters have been borrowed from Garth Nix and his brilliant Abhorsen series as well from Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. A bit of Shakespeare has also been re-appropriated. Most elements of Half-Blood Prince will not be used as I felt the book to be too constrictive for where I wanted to go with this story. Seventh book? What seventh book?

If you recognize any of the material used here and I haven't cited or referenced an outside source, please let me know. I've read so much over years that I sometimes struggle to remember who or where I've drawn my inspiration. I would like to give credit where credit is due.

Brief trigger warning just to be courteous: CR deals with disturbing and upsetting topics. There will be scenes including, but not limited to: gore, torture, rape, murder, PTSD, addiction, cannibalism, and brief mentions of necrophilia.

It's a long way down the rabbit hole.

Author's Notes: Everything up to chapter fifteen has either been rewritten or heavily edited. I've gone through, weeded out all of the extraneous clichés and then lampshaded the rest. Who knows? Maybe I can breathe some new life into old tropes.

A thank you goes to all of the crazy fuckers at DLP who have inspired me to do better than my initial efforts. Cheers, people. An exceptionally big thank-you-for-saving-my-sorry-ass goes to Andro for all of his sweat, blood and tears that went into editing this behemoth. Thanks man, I'd have been lost without your wit and encouragement. A shout-out also goes to: Oz, my Grammar God and beta, Voice of the Nephilim, for being a sounding board when the creativity has run dry, and thank you, thank you 13thadaption for your years long dedication to this story. You are a gift.

Last, but not least, thank you members of In Medias Res. You are all gentlemen and scholars.

Circular Reasoning


Dogs of War

At the bottom, you see, we are not Homo-sapiens at all. Our core is madness. The prime directive is murder. What Darwin was too polite to say, my friends, is that we came to rule the earth not because we were the smartest, or even the meanest, but because we have always been the craziest, most murderous motherfuckers in the jungle. -Stephen King

Jan 9, 2008

T: 1359 hours

Harry hit the warehouse door running.

His feet pounded the pavement, thighs burning with exertion. Blood ran down the side of his face from the gash on his head. His ribs were broken too, teeth sawblade-sharp nipping at his lungs. Spellfire splashed off of the burnt out ruins of what was once a department store, the triumphant howl of the Death Eaters rising in volume.

Black robes fluttered in his peripherals.

Harry cursed under his breath.

Half-melted rebar lay twisted amongst the broken concrete – a cage of metal bones, waiting to catch the unwary in its grasp. Harry staggered over the debris, slip-sliding through the slick pools of oil and waste hidden beneath. Concrete bit at his shins through his armour. His foot plunged through a puddle, deeper than he first thought. Caught on a hidden length of jagged steel, momentum carried him downward and Harry went sprawling across the pavement, his right knee striking the rubble with a gunshot-loud crack.

The Death Eaters jeered, mocking his flight from them.

Raucous laughter rang in his ears.

He lay panting against the ground, the coppery tang of blood sitting thick and salty on the back of his tongue.

Breath short; pain cutting off his air; cutting off his ability to think –

Darkness swept over him. The voices of his pursuers rattled in his skull, far too close for comfort and a reedy thread of panic shrilled within him. Harry clawed his way back to consciousness.

Green light struck the ground behind him.

"Move!" he snarled at himself, rage and fear warring for dominance.

Harry hauled himself to his feet, leaving a deep smear of blood on the tarmac beneath him, leg almost giving way under his weight. He stumbled over a pile of broken marble and glass, the expensive remains of a long vandalized Muggle law firm crunching under his boots. Spots danced in his vision as the street swirled out of focus. A blur-bright blasting curse streaked past him and hit the ruins towering overhead. Chips of stone struck the ground, the rumble of falling concrete vibrating underfoot.

He bared bloodstained teeth, spitting out a runny streak of red. Harry aimed his wand at one of the crumbling buildings. Steel screamed on glass in protest as the animation twisted itself into a hulking monster. Shining claws of steel and thick glass spread and curled as Harry's warped creation crouched low to the ground, violet fire burning in its eyes, its form animated by an unholy hunger for destruction.

The sounds of pain and fear followed Harry down the alleyway as the creature pounced on the unsuspecting Death Eaters.

"Surprise, surprise," said Harry, voice sandpaper rough from the dust in the air. He laughed, limping away from the growing carnage.

There are a thousand different ways in which things could have gone wrong. And each one of them hinge upon the summer after his fifth year. Oddly enough, it's the smallest fucking details that change things.

Harry's not stupid. Lazy, maybe, and unmotivated to succeed in his classes, especially when he couldn't see the fucking usefulness of transfiguring a beetle into a button, but definitely not stupid. He understands the idea of alternative time-lines and the 'what ifs' of alternate universes. Because really, when he thinks about it, the possibilities are endless. A thousand different choices for a thousand different situations in a thousand different realities – his over-active imagination often leads him to escapism. But it doesn't necessarily mean they're any better than reality.

In one version, Dumbledore dies at the end of Harry's sixth year. Snape kills him. Grand conspiracies all around. Voldemort and his posse of Death Eaters invade the castle, the Order barely holding them off. Harry spends his seventh year tromping around the countryside with his friends looking for artefacts that can kill Voldemort. They do. Good triumphs over evil with a healthy dose of luck. Happy endings for everyone. Harry marries his best mate's little sister, becomes Head of the Auror Department, has two point five kids, and spends the rest of his life as a glorified housewife. But this isn't what happens.

In another, Voldemort is quicker on the draw. He seizes Harry in the beginning of his sixth year along with a handful of his friends. Harry watches them get tortured to death. Sanity is a tentative thing at this point. A chancy combination of luck and opportunity later, Harry steals a wand and takes Voldemort out along with himself. Neither live after the other dies. Lucius Malfoy rises to power as the new Dark Lord. But this isn't what happens.

Another time-line has Harry performing numerous rituals of dubious quality. He gains power, becoming a Light Lord in opposition to Voldemort. The ministry encourages this. He becomes their poster boy. Scrimgeour is pleased. Hundreds flock to Harry's call. Dumbledore doesn't agree with this course of action and Harry wrests control of the Order from him. Dumbledore is killed a week later, taking most of Voldemort's inner circle with him. Harry fights Voldemort and wins. The first order of action he takes as presiding Light Lord of England is demanding that the Ministry execute all Death Eaters, Death Eater families, and Death Eater sympathisers. They do. The mob wants blood. Slytherin House is emptied. A reign of McCarthyism like none other sweeps the country. No one is safe. England is a miserable place to be. But this isn't what happens.

Or: Voldemort makes him an offer. Tom Riddle was a never stupid man and he recognizes early on the futility of continuing the war. Harry's life, his friends' lives and everyone else's in exchange for Harry's loyalty. He takes it. Voldemort reigns unopposed. Oddly enough, the wizarding world flourishes. Well, the pureblood population does. Harry becomes Voldemort's most devoted, most vicious Death Eater. Sixteen years, five hundred and forty-eight wizards, two hundred and six Muggles, and eighty-nine magical creatures later, his best friend fires a killing curse at his back. Funny, he hadn't thought Hermione was that angry over being banished to the Muggle world. For her, it's a bit like putting down a rabid dog. Her tears dried up a long time beforehand. But this isn't what happens.

In one particularly morbid version, the war never ensues. In this daydream, Harry is cut off from everyone else for most of the summer. No friends to talk to as it's again, too much of a security risk. No Dursley's to talk to because Harry may be desperate, but he's not masochistic. The isolation on top of Sirius' death and the pressure from the prophecy takes its toll. And a few weeks into the school year, Harry gives up. He's a kid. Voldemort is not. There is no feasible way for Harry to defeat the most powerful dark lord of the century, not with luck and wishful thinking – which aren't much better options than the power of love shtick Dumbledore keeps shoving down his throat. The way Harry figures it: he's been living on borrowed time all along. Let the wizarding world clean up their own messes for once.

The next morning, Ron Weasley finds his best friend sprawled in the bottom of the shower stalls. A tiny crystal vial clenched in hand, bead of poison still clinging to the wry curl of Harry's mouth; that mocking Mona Lisa smile will be plastered all over every wizarding publication in the UK. Voldemort's takeover four months later is swift and silent and for the next three hundred years, he rules with an iron fist over the wizarding world.

But this isn't what happens.

Reality is far different than anything he could have imagined.

There is no warning. No frogs falling from the sky, no sheets of fire raining down, no water turning to blood. The sky doesn't darken. People don't chant the name of the Beast. Hell doesn't give any sign that it's come to earth.

This is what happens: slowly and surely, Harry gets in way over his head.

And then things snowball.

The summer after his fifth year, he embraces the cry for blood. Retaliation is too kind of a description. Vengeance, bloody and excessive, is a little closer to the truth.

It starts out small, him listening in on Order conversations and Auror tips. He picks off the stragglers; Death Eaters from the lower fringes of Voldemort's enclave. Harry is addicted almost immediately. The power is too much. He spends most of his sixth year in a haze of red, wandering dazedly to his classes like a junkie in need of a fix. That is, when he remembers to attend them.

The siren call of dark magic stirs something deep in his blood. It's difficult to resist. He finds himself compelled to kill in order to satisfy the bloodlust. The craving goes bone-deep and his hands shake if he tries to go more than twenty-four hours without a kill.

Voldemort notices. Dumbledore notices. The Ministry notices.

Harry sends Voldemort's emissary back with his intestines wrapped around his neck. He snubs Dumbledore's attempts at reconciliation. He can't, however, ignore the Ministry. They make him an offer too: join us or join the ranks of Azkaban. It's a long awaited wake-up call.

At the age of seventeen, Harry is recruited by a heavily militarised division of the Department of Mysteries after a yearlong bender on the darkside. Shorner, the man in charge of the program, strips away the mindset of a serial-killer and replaces it with that of a soldier. Harry becomes a glorified one-man assassination team; the golden boy of the DoM's Special Forces with the Ministry holding the other end of his leash. Shorner says this is an improvement, gives him some bullshit about having direction in his life now. Harry never bothers to tell Shorner that the conditioning didn't take as well as he hoped. Harry the Murderer is never far from the surface of Harry the Soldier. They overlap enough that his killer instinct is content to subordinate itself to orders.

Harry never finishes his seventh year at Hogwarts. The war picks up momentum too fast. Truth be told though, he was involved long before the age of seventeen. It doesn't prepare him any better for what's to come.

He isn't bothered by his incomplete education. Instead his time is taken up raking up a steadily rising headcount. Sure, it's murder – it's what he's good at. Harry gains a reputation as one of the most powerful sorcerers of dark magic England has produced in the last one hundred years. The Ministry doesn't have a problem with this so long as Harry is in their pocket. And Harry doesn't have a problem with the Ministry holding the reins right up until Scrimgeour goes mad.

The ex-Head of the Auror Department and recently elected Minister declares a state of emergency and pushes a bill through the Wizengamot that makes his word absolute. See, Scrimgeour has a little problem with power too. He gets paranoid when it gets threatened. And apparently, publicly protesting the restriction and registration of those buying wands is enough to make being Muggleborn a criminal offence.

Three years after Scrimgeour gains his position, Harry loses Hermione to the Muggleborn concentration camps at the age of nineteen.

Understandably, he goes a little crazy.

It takes Scrimgeour hours to die. Harry covers his tracks carefully and when announced, the official cause of death is drowning. Harry finds this funny. Scrimgeour did drown. Scrimgeour drowned in his own blood. It's got to be the first time the Ministry has ever told something even vaguely related to the truth. Nobody can connect him to the murder, but everyone knows he's behind it.

The Ministry isn't very happy with him being off his leash, but it's too late now. Four months after Harry kills Scrimgeour, the Ministry falls to Voldemort. The Muggle government collapses hours afterwards. In a roundabout sort of way, Harry could be single-handedly blamed for the demise of both.

Ironically, this facilitates Harry's reunion with Dumbledore as a mentor. For a brief period of time, Harry is at peace despite the utter chaos of the world around him. Hogwarts becomes the last bastion of Britain against Voldemort. Those that can, flee from the UK. They join the exodus from Europe, as war is plaguing the mainland as well. The world feels a lot emptier to Harry.

When Harry is twenty-years-old, a Death Eater slips into Hogwarts under the guise of a student and murders Dumbledore in front of seven hundred other witnesses in the Great Hall. Before Harry can take him down, the Death Eater blows his own head off, that manic smile erupting in a shower of teeth. On the night of Dumbledore's death, Voldemort and his entire army storms Hogwarts. The old castle falls. Less than forty people make it out alive, Harry himself included. After that, the slope downhill gets steeper.

One of Voldemort's old allies, a high necromancer from the wizarding slums of Brazil, gives Harry almost more trouble than Voldemort ever will. Inferi counts rise by the hundreds. It's a little difficult to destroy the Inferi considering that most of them are friends and family. It's the most demoralizing tactic Voldemort can think of and it works. Spectacularly.

A few months after Harry turns twenty-one, Voldemort and a French wizard creatively titling himself 'La Croix' take over most of France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Seeing this, Ron, one of Harry's last surviving friends, does the stupidest thing he can think of: He gathers a rag-tag army of ex-Aurors, hit-wizards, bright-eyed idealists, and other pathetic individuals to fight Voldemort back. Ron and his band of merry men line up on foreign soil to fight for the light and the oppressed. Ron is not as much of a chessmaster as he would like to believe. Ron misjudges Voldemort's tactics. It's a massacre on both sides. From what Harry hears of it, the fields ran red with blood.

Sadly, this is Ron's last hurrah; the youngest Weasley male himself takes out Lucius Malfoy and a number of his French relatives before being struck in the back of his head by a stray curse. On the upside, this solidifies Draco's position on the side opposing Voldemort.

During Normandy's Folly, Harry is in Japan finishing off the council of Dark wizards terrorizing the chains of Asian Islands dotting the Pacific. He has no knowledge of the happenings of Northern Europe. Upon his return to England, Harry receives the news of Ron's death and an oath of loyalty from the many-times-reformed Draco Malfoy.

Harry kills the necromancer's apprentice at twenty-two. It doesn't make him feel any better. Harry kills off most of Voldemort's inner circle and nearly La Croix himself. It's a temporary improvement on the situation.

The Muggle and Magical Ministries of Great Britain are only the first to collapse.

One morning when Harry is twenty-five, he wakes up and there is no wizarding world. Globally. It's a sobering reminder of just how fucked everything has become.

The Order of the Phoenix is hamstrung after the death of Dumbledore. With all that Harry has been involved in, the Order is little inclined to make him a member let alone listen to his suggestions. As such, the resistance is without a competent leader until Amelia Bones takes over and brings with her the last of the Aurors and Ministry Intelligence. A semblance of order is restored and Harry is drafted into being part of a collective leadership. For someone who was almost convicted of over forty-seven cases of premeditated murder, it's a big step up. With Madam Bones in charge, the gathered resistance and its refugees move underground.

The funny thing is that for all of his efforts, he never gets a chance to kill Bellatrix Lestrange – the one who inadvertently drove him down this path in the first place. She dies in an Auror-led ambush four weeks after the anniversary of Dumbledore's death when Harry is twenty-six.

London is a ghost town. The rest of England isn't much better. At almost twenty-eight years old, this is not where he had imagined himself ending up.

Jan 9, 2008

T: 0800 hours

There were no sunrises this far below ground.

The bunker was a relic from WWII. Modern amenities had been added to it along with medical facilities, housing, a refectory, and a school. Harry had thought about nicknaming the place Fort Kaboom in fit of morbid parody, but decided it was a little too glib in the face of so many other people's pain and loss. Others had tried to make the place into a tiny model of the wizarding world, shops in the narrow corridors bartering food, drugs and scavenged goods from topside, little communities springing up alongside the shops. But as the death toll grew higher, there became no disguising what the bunker really was – a box made of concrete and steel and if it ever got out that this was the last stronghold of the wizarding world, it would serve just as well as a tomb.

The bunker was just the bunker and it was home to the remnants of England's Wizarding inhabitants.

Harry prowled down the corridor off of his bunk, letting the heavy steel door slam behind him. The corridor was so narrow that at the widest part Harry could place his palms on both walls of the tiny hallway and exert enough pressure to lift his weight from the ground. Lights mounted high over his head buzzed erratically, concrete marred with lurid graffiti flickering in and out of view.

The lights looked like shit and washed everything out with a pale, greenish glow, but they were there and Harry couldn't complain too much about them without feeling guilty. Electricity was a luxury these days; most of it having been routed to London from a heavily warded plant in Leeds before it was destroyed last year in a Death Eater raid. Now, the only source of energy left came from the generator room adjacent to Wing B, the steady lub-lub of their motors thrumming underfoot.

Harry never minded the noise from the generator room. The walls were solid and thick and the hum of the machines was a thousand times preferable to the sound of gunfire or mortar rounds or the explosions from enemy spells.

He wasn't the only one stationed in Wing B, or at least, he wasn't always the only one. Simple doorways ran along the length of the hallway. Rooms bare of occupants and belongings, they looked like deep-set eyes, bruised, hollow, and hungry. Four years ago, these rooms had been full; now, the only ones here were Harry and Harry's memories and the cold, dank scent of mould. The silence had manifested its own presence, a stillness that lingered and reached out for the unwary, provoking nightmares that left him sweating the sheets translucent and screaming his way back to wakefulness.

Harry emerged from the narrow corridor into the refectory. It was unusually crowded this morning; despite better efforts to promote cleanliness, the place still stank of burnt food and ammonia. Cleaning charms were no substitute for good, old-fashioned soap and water – especially not when most of the Muggles hiding here still flinched whenever a wand was pointed their direction.

Fear was not the most appetizing scent in the morning.

Long tables stretched from one end of the refectory to the other, looking like a rather paltry imitation of Hogwarts' Great Hall. There was a bunch of haggard Muggle survivors clustered together in the far corner of the refectory away from their Wizarding counterparts. Seemingly as one, they looked up and followed Harry with their gazes. It was like watching pack behaviour in a group of wild animals.

Harry knew that he made them uncomfortable. To them, Harry was the right hand of the Devil himself. Voldemort may have been the one to start the war in the first place, but he was just another villain darting through the shadows, a story told to naughty children to make them behave.

They'd witnessed firsthand Harry dragging bloody and half-dead Death Eaters into the vacant rooms lining Wing B. Heard the screams, the curses, the pleadings for mercy, and watched Harry drag bloody and fully-dead corpses back out.

People looked at him differently after that. Muttered harsh things in the corridors, whispering to each other: why hadn't Harry gone after Voldemort yet? Did he think this war was just a game?

Harry hated to disappoint, but Tom Riddle wasn't even in Great Britain and hadn't been for almost two years. By the time he'd found out, it was too late to go after Voldemort and a nigh impenetrable magical blockade had been erected around the U.K. Apparently the European wizards hoped that all of Great Britain's problems would simply starve and die off. Nothing got in and nothing got out – as if that could actually contain the war that seemed to spread like a disease amongst the wizarding world. The war had become a blood agent; corroding the veins the heart pumped it through, making as many return trips as necessary before withering everything into a devastated husk.

He elbowed his way into the crush of dirty people at the counter and snagged a bowl of the same hot mush they'd been serving for the past three weeks. Harry stirred the unappetizing slop with his spoon and watched as it dripped off the utensil in sticky grey lumps.

He ate it anyway.

Food went to mouth, then chew, swallow, and repeat until bowl was empty.

Just another fucking day in paradise.

Jan 9, 2008

T: 0943 hours

Roofing tar burned like dry firewood in the middle of the Sahara. Somewhere up ahead, there was a series of gutted office buildings with their upper floors burning like mammoth-sized matches. Smoke hung in the air, hazy and stinking of petroleum, burnt plastic, industrial chemicals, and other dead decomposing shit.

In early 2004, the tension building between Muggles and wizards snapped spectacularly. Some lunatic nutjob had found the remnants of the Wizarding Ministry and had decided to blow the place to kingdom come. Well, what they thought were the remains of the Wizarding Ministry – not like anybody could find the damn thing anymore, not after the Ministry fell, but Harry had to give credit where credit was due. One small step for man, one wholesale slaughter for mankind. London burned like a tinderbox. Bodies piled up in the streets. And between the Muggles and the wizards, most of southern England was destroyed.

Harry never would have chosen London to make a stand; too many buildings, too many people, and far too much that could go wrong. But wizards had stupidly herded the conflict further and further south until nobody had room to move.

Misty rainfall cut the ash from the cold morning air, the chill bite of sleet in the air hinting at a further drop in temperature. Soggy trash squished beneath Harry's boots as he waved his team forward.

They fanned outward, dark, wet figures leapfrogging the shadows of the ruins, a wary, nervous tension agitating the air around them.

Increased Death Eater activity had been reported in this area, which was odd, because this sector was run by a rather fanatical group of Muggle extremists. A self-formed militia, these were probably the very same people responsible for the fires that burned out of control. Not every Muggle was amenable to magical help during an apocalypse, especially when it was magic that created it in the first place. Global warming never stood a chance when all the wizarding world had to do was fart and then the world as everyone knew it was over. The conspiracy theorists never saw it coming.

"We've picked up a tail," Neil muttered beside Harry, rainwater dripping from his chin, face smeared in the same heavy black and grey greasepaint as Harry's.

"I know. Been behind us for the last fifteen minutes." Harry glanced at the ex-Auror out of the corner of his eye. "Do you want to take point or shall I?"

Neil grimaced as he stepped over someone's pitiful attempt at a barrier made of cement blocks, a pile of old shopping trolleys and a burnt out police vehicle. "I'll take point. This next sector is a dead zone and they like jumping us from behind. Better for you to take them on than me."

"Your concern for my welfare is touching, but misplaced," Harry drawled, not bothering to hide his amusement. Faint movement in the darkened innards of the building behind them told Harry that there was more than one person following them.

An uncomfortable smile flickered across Neil's face before the ex-Auror moved up ahead. Too many times of Harry being the only survivor made people leery of him. Or at least, leery of being around him. It was a constant: fire was hot, Weasleys had red hair, and being around Harry killed faster than a suicide wish or a Killing Curse.

Harry's team slipped to the left of an extensive pile-up, passing each other in short jumps as they moved point to point behind abandoned cars and sooty building rubble. Cooled metal formed a puddle around the wheels of the wreckage, a red-orange glow from under the engine telling Harry that its insides were still hot. Up ahead, the tarmac crumbled into pieces, large slabs of road buckled and broken, slip sliding on each other like puzzle pieces. Almost every inch of available surface was covered in garbage and graffiti.

Slogans in bright orange declared hatred to the world while obscene pictures in lime green, putrid purple, piss yellow and dirty white showed images of oversized phalluses, distorted women, and rude gestures. Names and gang symbols were splattered beside quoted scripture about sin and Hell and the nature of man and war.

There was a new addition since Harry had last patrolled here. Sprayed in giant red letters across the side of a building were the words:

The whore and gambler, by the state

Licensed, build that nation's fate.

The harlot's cry from street to street

Shall weave old England's winding-sheet.

The winner's shout, the loser's curse,

Dance before dead England's hearse.

"You know, I always liked Shakespearean soliloquies better than Blake's condescending bullshit," Harper, Harry's second-in-command, mused idly as he closed in behind him. "At least Shakespeare was upfront about being a pretentious prick."

Caleb Harper was the exception to the rule. Short and whipcord lean with dark wispy hair and pale silver eyes, Harper was as crazy as they came. Luna's four times removed cousin had taken to following Harry around like a little deranged puppy after the fall of Hogwarts and the collapse of the Ministry. Something about being half-carried, half-dragged out of a burning building turned Harper from a stand-offish Slytherin into a close friend of Harry's and a bat-shit insane disciple of the Tao of Kill 'Em All And Let God Sort Out The Rest. His unwavering faith was a morbid comfort to Harry.

"What would you have said instead?" Harry murmured, noting that there were now three people following them. Muggles might not have magical signatures, but they sure as hell showed up bright and clear on Harry's personal radar. Felt like bugs crawling over his skin – irritating and hard to ignore.

Harper chuckled under his breath. "How about… Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste death but once. Of all the wonders that I have yet heard, it seems to me most strange that men should fear, seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it come."

"Fascinating," Harry replied, loosening his swords in their sheaths, making sure that the chilly rain hadn't seeped in and frozen within their lacquered scabbards belted to his waist.

Sturdy and made of high-grade steel, the longsword and wakizashi were trophies he'd taken off a dead dark wizard in the Asian Islands. They weren't his first choice of weapons, but they were well-made to endure most any type of hell Harry put them through.

They were also one of the few artefacts in the world that could kill undead flesh as easily as they cleaved living meat from bone. Harry always appreciated an exceptionally useful tool.

There was a tickle of energy in the area that stank of rotting meat to Harry's senses. Besides the three Muggles stalking them, someone had let loose an Inferi nearby. "You would embrace death with open arms then?" Harry continued. "Seems to me like you've spent most of this time running from it."

Harper's eyes flicked over the crumbling buildings. "And you haven't?"

Harry smiled. It wasn't a nice one. "Oh that this too, too solid flesh would melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a dew, or that the Almighty had not fixed His canon 'gainst self-slaughter…"

"Hamlet." Harper made a soft, rude sound of disgust. "That's unusually passive-aggressive for you."

The static bite of a dead zone loomed up ahead. "That's called being realistic." Harry whistled sharply and caught Neil's eye. The man nodded and the rest of Harry's team melted into the ruins of the neighbouring buildings. Harry followed Harper up a teetering pile of block and steel until they were about level with the building's second floor and hid themselves in the rubble. Everyone on his team had smeared thick stripes of grey and black greasepaint across any exposed skin; combined with their dark robes, black BDUs, and thick dragonhide armour, it was hard to pick them out of their surroundings – even up close.

Harper stretched out against a flat slab of stone, a rapidly assembled Black Arrow perched in front of him. "Okay Potter, what am I shooting at?"

Harry pulled out a pair of binoculars from his pack and peered past the badly hidden Muggles. "Inferi at ten o'clock coming around that brick building to your left."

"Which brick building to my left, there's three of them," Harper muttered irritably. "And three Muggles for that matter. Where the fuck did they come from?"

The side of Harry's mouth quirked into a crooked smile. "Go for the flat with the troll-sized dick painted on it."

Harper snorted. "Again I ask which bloody building?"

The younger man adjusted the settings on his scope. "Found your zombie… wait… oh shit!" he breathed. Harper jerked back, blinking in disbelief. "… You might want to take a look at this."

Harry peered once more through the binoculars, nearly biting his tongue in shock as he belatedly recognized Cornelius Fudge's pallid, decaying features. The corpse staggered slack-jawed through the trash in the streets, eyes white and filmy, blood and other unmentionable things streaked over his naked flesh.

"Well would you look at that," Harper said, as he squinted through the optic sights on the sniper rifle. "Fudge fudged himself."

Harry, who had a better view of the ex-Minister's flabby, shit-smeared buttocks than he ever wanted, nodded sagely. "That fudging fudger."

Harper's sound of amusement was lost against the chuff of the Black Arrow's silencer. The ex-Minister's head exploded like an over-ripe melon, bits of brain matter and brackish blood spraying the street, headless body jerking erratically on the ground.

"One down, three to go," Harry muttered, shifting his position.

The younger man sighed and began disassembling the sniper rifle. "Let's not kill the Muggles until we know whether or not they're just making up bogeymen for us."

"And if there really are Death Eaters in the area?" Harry replied calmly as he tucked away his binoculars. "You want to take the chance that they're stalking the Muggles for more Inferi fodder?"

"No," Harper said slowly, giving Harry a wary look. "We need facts and I hate to admit it, but the Muggles hold all of the cards here. Corpses can't answer questions, Harry."

Harry raised an eyebrow at Harper's sudden about-face on killing. "Be easier to just gank them now, than to worry about the possibilities later," he replied as he signalled to the rest of the team and slipped from his hiding place.

"If that happens, then I guess I'll get a chance to shoot a lot more than just Muggles," Harper said, following him through the rubble as they reconvened with the rest of the team. "Besides, you'll sense the Death Eaters long before they'll get here. That's enough of a warning for me."

Harry smiled. "It's creepy how well you know me."

The three Muggles had joined up with four more and this started to feel more like a badly planned trap than a routine patrol. Harry's team hid in the shadows of what was formerly a tall office building. "If I remember correctly, there is an open exit on the other side of this building," Harry murmured to Neil. "I want you to take half and go round the other side; I have a hunch that they're going to pin us in against the dead zone. If you get there first, we can drive them into the dead zone – most of them are helpless in there. But be careful, there are downed wires on the other street."

Neil nodded, never questioning Harry's judgement. "Will do."

"And if you see Death Eaters, scatter and hide. Do not engage them," Harry finished. "Fenrir's come back to London. I wouldn't put it past him to start preying on our patrols again."

Neil saluted and Harry had to smile at the ingrained habit. The ex-Auror grinned and hustled his half of the team through the building's debris and out of sight, boot steps splashing in the rainwater flooding through the wrecked carport. Harry hoped like hell that it wouldn't be the last he saw of them.

Harry's second-in-command snorted in disgust. "You know what I don't get? Inferi don't like dead zones. There's no magic, no food, no draw for them to be here. Dead zones are like the anti-magic equivalent of zombie roach motels," Harper said as he followed Harry and the three remaining teammates back out into the rain.

"Your point being?" Harry replied.

Magic liked to fritz out in dead zones, which was probably why Muggles liked them so much – it tended to even the odds a bit. This close to a dead zone meant that magic had a fifty-fifty chance of fucking up. But if anybody could find a way around that, it'd be Jonesy.

Harry nodded to Jake Jones, Lee Jordon's older half-brother who clocked in at 6'7" and well over fifteen stone. Jones was their heavy hitter, their ace in the hole. The man had learned magic at the knee of his Jamaican grandmother and his bag of tricks held several very nasty surprises. Not to mention that at his size, he could just as easily overwhelm his opponents physically as he could magically.

Jones grinned, a flash of white teeth against his deep skin, and jokingly saluted Harry. He scattered a handful of red dust into the air, ruby flakes settling to the ground in a semi-circle. It glittered amongst the trash for a moment then vanished like a snake slithering through tall grass.

It didn't work. Shit.

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but magic was unreliable.

"Someone deliberately released Fudge here." Harper knelt behind a high pile of rubble and swept the Mossberg from his shoulder, the wood on its pump-action grip dull and worn from constant use; it was probably some poor, long-dead bastard's duck hunting gun liberated for more desperate uses. He braced the stock over his knee and began to load the Mossberg, then turned to look at Harry. There was a light dawning in Harper's eyes that Harry didn't like the look of. "But you already knew that, didn't you?"

Harper shook his head and continued packing rounds into the barrel. "Might help if you shared these things with us from time to time. Cut down on how many people end up dead, you know what I'm saying?"

Jones turned his head around slowly to stare at Harper, his features emptying of mirth. "The hell are you talking about?" he said, glancing back at Harry. "What the hell are you talking about?" he repeated.

Harry cut in before Jones could continue that particular train of thought. "Last time I checked, Harp, you didn't mind the body-count. In fact, I seem to remember you egging me on more often than not," Harry replied, irritation bleeding through his words despite the tight hold he had on his temper. "Or did you decide to conveniently forget that little detail?"

The last two members of Harry's team were of average power and skill. He hadn't even bothered to learn their names – they'd end up dead soon enough. Harry directed the smaller of the two towards the building behind them. The stairs were still intact and if he could get his back-up to pick off stragglers from overhead, it would greatly even the odds.

"I'm not complaining about the body-count on their side," said Harper flatly. "However, I am more than a little concerned about the one on our side. How long was that Inferi following us? I mean, were you ever going to share that with the rest of the team if it hadn't been convenient for you?"

Dead zones had this wonderful effect of balancing the scales. Magic didn't work inside them and neither did technology. In fact, opponents were pretty limited in their artillery – fighting with sticks and stones tended to have a humbling effect on people.

And if they weren't posted so close to incoming danger on both sides, Harry would have punched Caleb Harper on sheer principle alone.

Harry laughed, teeth gritting together too hard for there to be any humour in it. "Now, Harper? You have to have this discussion right now? 'Cause it's really not a good time for this."

Harper finished loading the Mossberg and chambered a round, his movements quick, almost jittery. "Really, Harry? Okay!" he said brightly, mocking and sharp, lips pinched tight and bloodless. "So when is a good time? Later? After everyone here is dead? Well, it would sure cut down on all those pesky questions people keep asking."

There was a grunt of annoyance behind them and a pair of large hands lifted the Black Arrow off of Harper's back with soundless ease. "While you two girls are bitching at each other," said Jones. "I'll be joining our friend up on the stairs, mm... yes? Jump in whenever you're ready." Jones turned and pointed at their remaining team member. "You."

The boy jumped. He couldn't have been any older then nineteen; some hulking farm kid who'd survived the countryside massacres purely on luck alone.

"Stand over there," said Jones. The boy eyed the spot in front of the rotted out hotel with a wary expression. "Yes, there. Just keep walking until you feel dizzy. Stop. That's the edge of the dead zone. Congratulations, you've graduated from cannon fodder to bait."

Sweat dripped slick and wet off the greasepaint on the boy's face. "But–"

"Now, Francis," Harry barked, finally remembering the boy's name. "We've got you covered." His mouth curled into a thin, hard smile. "Feel free to conjure up a tutu and dance the dying swan."

"Sir." The boy bobbed his head and skittered away over the soggy muck piled in the streets.

"So, standard bait and capture?" said Harper, seemingly unruffled, anger gone as if it were never there.

Harry knew their conversation was far from over. "Amazing how many times they'll fall for the same damn thing."

Harper wedged himself further into the little blockade, sharp eyes picking out the shine of the Muggles' weapons in the light rain falling around them. "You'd think they would have learned by now."

He followed Harper's lead, crouching down behind the rubble. "They're Muggles, Harp, they don't understand wizards. They expect to be attacked with grand light shows and people pulling rabbits out of hats, not a bunch of soldiers armed with guns."

"Be verwwy verwwy quiet. We're huntin' wizards," Harper quipped in his best Elmer Fudd voice.

"Where did you learn that?" Harry muttered to Luna's cousin.

Harper actually looked offended. "Hey, half-blood here, remember?"

Francis put on an award-winning performance, dropping to the ground near the edge of the dead zone and flailing enthusiastically while crying out in imagined pain. "Please," he cried out. "Please help me! They hurt me! There were strange lights and people in masks! It hurt! It hurt so badly!"

Making allusions to Death Eaters – very nice. Harry had to give the boy props for his creative initiative. Everyone knew about Death Eaters these days. Too many destroyed buildings with the Dark Mark hanging over them and suddenly word got out: Beware of strange figures in dark cloaks and white masks for they killed without care or warning.

There was movement in the building across from the old hotel and Harry knew the Muggles had taken the bait, hook, line and sinker.

Jan 9, 2008

T: 1027 hours

"Tell me again, where did you see the Death Eaters?"

The fat Muggle screwed up his piggy face and spat at Harry. Harper uncoiled from his relaxed pose, arm outstretched to strike the Muggle, but subsided when Harry shook his head.

Harry calmly wiped the spittle from his face, sighing at the man's continued stubbornness. He tilted his head, paused, and then nodded to himself.

And promptly jabbed his thumb into the gunshot wound on the fat Muggle's shoulder.

The man howled, thrashing against the bindings holding him to the concrete supports of an underground parking garage. "Fuck you! We thought you were the Death Eaters!"

"No. We're the good guys, remember?" Harry drawled. "If you don't shoot at us, we won't shoot back."

Fatty eyed Harry up and down, disgust twisting his froggish face into something downright hideous. 'Definitely got beaten with the ugly stick as a child,' Harry thought to himself.

"You know, you don't have to tell me anything," said Harry tiredly, standing up from his crouch, joints clicking in protest. "I do have alternative means of getting information. It's all up to you."

"Harry," Harper groaned. "Stop fucking around already."

"Yeah, Harry," Fatty crowed. "Stop fucking around already, oh Mr. I-do-have-alternative-means-of-getting-information. Spook, spook, spook, cunt-munch."

Harry broke one of the man's fingers.

"Just so you know," Harry remarked idly, his expression still placid and serene as he ignored the sound of Fatty's scream bouncing off the crumbling walls of the parking garage. "I'm the witty one here and I'd thank you very kindly to keep a civil tongue in your head."

"Or what," Fatty replied, gasping for breath. "You'll rip it out of my skull? Be pretty hard to get your info after that."

'More balls than brains in this one.' Harry smiled and patted the man's cheek. "Not at all. Just think real hard and I'll take it from there."

The man's eyes widened before narrowing with suspicion. "You can't do that – there's no such thing as magic." Fatty laughed and shook his head, greasy rat-tail flying every which way. "Yer just a bunch of freaks with a clever gimmick. Pull the other one."

"Okay," Harry agreed reasonably, feeling mellow and generous.

So he did.

The man talked. They always did.

"Good news is," Harry began as he wiped Fatty's blood from his fingers. "We now know where their new clubhouse is located." He glanced over at Harper's distinctly annoyed countenance. "Is it just me or are these crazy fucks kind of like roaches? No matter how many times we wipe them out, they pop right back up again."

Harper crossed his arms and leaned back on his heels. "The bad news being that he didn't know one damn thing about Death Eaters."

"Got it in one," Harry replied distractedly as he cut Fatty's remains loose from the concrete piling. "But he knew someone who does."

"What are you going to do?"

An eager thrill of anticipation flared to life low in Harry's belly. "What most people do when they want to enter someone's home." He bared his teeth in a harsh, diamond-edged grin. "I'm going to knock on their door."

'Little pig, little pig, let me in. Or I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your shitty bolt-hole up into itty-bitty pieces.'

Harper rolled his eyes and turned to walk away. "I'll let the others know you've decided to engage Operation: Candygram for Mungo."

Harry glanced up, nonplussed.

"I know you too well, Harry," Harper said over his shoulder. "And you are one crazy motherfucker." There was a note of reluctant admiration in his voice as he disappeared up the stairs leading to aboveground.

The fat man's corpse lay crumpled at the base of the piling. Harry seized the ankles and dragged the body away from the concrete pillar to lie flat, spread-eagled on the grimy floor beneath his boots.

Time to get down and dirty.

He found that beneath the man's ratty overcoat, that Fatty wasn't very fat at all – his belly distended with starvation and disease.

"What do you want to bet," he asked the corpse. "That if I cut you open, we'll find all sorts of wiggly little parasites swimming around in your gut?"

The corpse didn't reply.

"Nobody appreciates my jokes anymore," Harry muttered morosely.

Harry shucked off his heavy over-robes and folded them neatly into increasingly smaller squares until he could roll them into a pill-box shape small enough to fit into the same satchel hooked to his belt that he carried his extra ammo in. The leather half-gloves followed the robes. His arms were bare and pale beneath the short-sleeved t-shirt and thick, dragonhide vest, streaked to the elbows with grey and black greasepaint.

The frigid touch of winter was a lot more noticeable without the extra insulation.

But it sure as hell beat making a mess of everything. Harry opened the switchblade with a decisive snick and began the process of skinning Fatty's face from his flesh.

He whistled a merry little tune as he carved; skin sliding slick and slippery with blood through his fingers.

Jan 9, 2008

T: 1103 hours

Francis had gawked at Harry's new appearance.

"What? Never seen a dead man walk around before?" he'd asked the boy.

"You're a sick fuck, Potter," Harper had grumbled.

He'd laughed in reply.

Now they were about 1500 meters out from one of the Muggles' hidden entryways.

Sometime in late 2005, Wizards flooded the Thames, putting large parts of London under three to damn near six meters of water depending on the tide. Parts around the docks were still underwater, boats and other remains sometimes floating right up next to skyscrapers and towers in downtown London; it was an almost comical sight to see a fishing boat bumping into the burnt-out remnants of high-rise flats and office buildings. The stagnant edges of the floodwaters had iced over in the cold January winter and it was frozen solid enough that in some places, you could even walk on it.

Not that many tried. Stumbling over a corpse frozen into the floodwaters, their features bloated, black, frostbitten flesh beginning to sag and decompose, was unnerving even to Harry's crew, who'd long since grown used to all manner of sins.

Most of London was too treacherous to walk through, despite the rubble piled up and packed with sandbags to block off certain streets from the wet muck. Floodwaters dragged old fuel, coal, trash, oil, building remains, bodies and faeces all up and down what were once the streets of a vibrant city. Now, they were nothing more than death traps. The stench was horrible.

Debris piled in the flooded river allowed Harry and his team to jump the floodwaters without having to take some of the other routes, one of which would take them far too close to another dead zone.

Francis stumbled over a particularly treacherous bit of footing; an old car bumper, chrome rusting and peeling back in shiny flakes, slid out from under his boots and landed with a muted splash in the murky river. Harry caught the boy by the scruff of his robes before he could follow its path.

Francis gasped out his thanks, shuddering at Harry's latest get-up.

"Watch your step," Harry growled. "You fall in, I'm not coming after you."

The boy nodded, almost swallowing his tongue.

Harry let go of him and climbed over a mound of concrete boulders piled over one another, rusty steel rebar bent back on itself like spindly red-brown fingers. He dragged Fatty's filthy overcoat closer to him and shivered. The chill of winter hung closer here, fog clinging to the river and his team. A meter and a half in front of him and visibility petered out into pearly grey mist. Ice crunched underfoot, dingy snow clinging to his boots.

Remains of a large fisheries research vessel moaned as it rubbed up against the concrete siding of an old office tower. Its once-white hull was coated in grey-brown river-muck and almost perfectly blended in with its environment. Other than the sound of water lapping at her metal sides, the ship was virtually undetectable.

Which made it the perfect spot for a group of fanatical Muggles to hide out.

Harry waved his team back and assumed Fatty's limping half-step.

He dragged himself over the last few meters alone to the ship's ladder and climbed up her side, rust flaking off in his hands. The information he'd ripped from the man's mind told him to knock twice, wait four counts then knock again.

Harry swung his frame over the railing and limped over to the door. It was obviously a new addition to the boat, a hastily welded project – its steel edges were raw and ragged and the thing was barely hanging onto its hinges. He pounded his fist on the metal door; sound rolling out muted like deep bells covered in wool.

The metal plate on the door slid open. Harry kept the hood of the heavy overcoat down over his eyes and hiding the edges of Fatty's fuck-ugly face where it was plastered on over his own. Thick, cooling blood dribbled sluggishly down Harry's neck, hidden by the coat's high collar. The face felt slimy and oil slick against his own, the edges near the hairline and neck drying stiff and tight to his skin.

"Where the fuck have you been?" The voice was hoarse, masculine, and royally pissed-off. "I swear to God, Benny, if you stay out this late again, I won't let you back in."

Remembering Fatty's slovenly mannerisms, Harry stuffed his hands into the overcoat's deep pockets and burped in reply. Some of Fatty's blood seeped into his mouth and Harry turned his head and spat against the trash piled by the door. The lip articulation was as poor as one might have expected, bloody flesh slip-sliding against his mouth as he moved.

The eyes framed in the security window narrowed with disgust. "Fucking slob." The plate slid shut and there was the rusty growl of steel shifting against steel.

And the door slid open.

The man was holding a crowbar in one hand and munching on some kind of snack packet with the other. Behind him was a short, red-lit hallway, emergency backup lights gleaming merrily in the dark.

Looked like somebody else had generators too. If they were functional, Harry would take a team back later to retrieve them.

"Well, what are you waiting for?" Crowbar growled around his mouthful of granola. "An engraved invitation?"

Harry looked up and smiled. The man blinked, sucking in a sharp breath and choking on it. Crumbs spilled out of the man's mouth as he clutched at his throat, face turning purple with asphyxiation, his eyes staring directly into Harry's new face with horror.

Up close, the dried blood crusted around the eyeholes and nostrils of Fatty's face got really noticeable.

"You!" he gasped.

Harry didn't give him time to finish that thought. Quick as snake, he slipped beneath the man's guard and ripped the weapon from his grasp. Wrapping a hand around Crowbar's neck to pin him in place, Harry locked his gaze onto bloodshot blue eyes and shoved his mind forward.


Colour and lights flashed by his mind's eye at breakneck speed. Riffling through Crowbar's dazed, frightened headspace, Harry ripped what he wanted from the man's memories. Davis, he was looking for a man named Davis.

Snicker-snack, a red smile slashed through the man's throat and Harry let him crumple into a limp heap by the open door. Lit as he was with the dull red of the emergency lights, Crowbar looked like he was only sleeping, the dark spray of arterial blood masked by the shadows of his chin nodding to touch his chest.

Harry glanced back outside and raised his hand, forefinger and thumb pinched together in the classic O.K. gesture. Harper, Francis and Jonesy hustled out of the shadows towards him. The other member of their team hadn't made it. Harry hadn't even bothered to learn his name.

Rusted, salt-burned metal groaned around them; the generators were louder in here, the decaying hull of the ship humming beneath Harry's boots. There was a door at the end of the room – Harry wasn't familiar with boat-lingo, but he knew it was a fucking door – and braced himself beside it, Berretta held at the ready. Harper nodded and swung the door open, rusted metal moaning in protest.

Harry rolled off the wall, gun braced in his hands and ready to fire.

Silence. Nothing there save for more of the same red-lit corridors, white paint peeling and streaked brown at the corroding metal seams of the interior.

He waved Jonesy and Francis down the corridor to the left, keeping a dubious eye on the hallway to his right. It ended abruptly in a pile of metal scraps, packed in with sandbags and soggy newspaper.

"Where to?" Harper murmured.

Harry pointed up in reply. "Pick off anything that moves."

Harper nodded and crawled up the ladder next to the door, boots thudding dully against the metal rungs.

The hallway stretched out in front of him, a red light at the end flickering erratically. Harry took one last glance at the hallway to his right, and then continued forward. There were a couple of doors down here too, but they were all rusted shut and no light shone from inside their portholes. The information from Crowbar's mind told him to ignore these doors and take the ladder on the far wall down two levels to the sleeping quarters.

The lights flickered around him, walls vanishing into darkness before the generators caught the lapse and the emergency lights gleamed once more.

Harry followed the ladder downwards.

Jan 9, 2008

T: 1136 hours

Gunfire echoed overhead.

Harry rose from his crouch by the door and slipped from the room, leaving behind five dead men still rolled in their sleeping bags, throats slashed open, blood pooling on the floor under their cots. This close to the generators and all other noises were swallowed up by the thrum of the machines.

But there was no hiding the sharp retort of the automatic rifle above him.

Harry poked his head around the corner, jerking backwards on reflex at the sight of more than a dozen angry men holding weapons on the other side. Bullets pinged off the metal walls above him.

The sound was echoed by more gunfire one level above them.

"Holy shit!" one of the men breathed. "I think that was Benny. Oh fuck, we shot Benny!"

Harry stood from where he'd hit the ground and bent close to the wall, one hand bracing his weight against the ship's hull, the other hiding the Berretta close to his body like he'd been shot in the gut. Harry groaned loudly and more of Fatty's sticky blood dripped into his mouth. He tilted his head down, letting the blood and a large glob of saliva drip from his lips.

He groaned again and that galvanized two of the men to check around the corner. Harry surreptitiously checked from under his eyelashes if either bloke was Davis.

They weren't.

"Bloody hell," said the taller of the two. "I think he's still alive."

A hand landed on his shoulder. "Hey! Hey buddy! You hanging in there? You don't look so… Good God!"

Harry lifted his head.

The man looked startled, like he'd finally realized that the eyes in the sagging visage of their comrade weren't shit-brown and dull, but rather a bright, hyper green, alien and jarring in the skin's muddy features.

"Hi," Harry rasped, smiling real big like everything was all hunky-dory and he was asking if his friend could come out and play. "I'm looking for Davis?"

Their eyes widened and Harry took the opportunity to fire off two warning shots.

Cursing filled the air from around the corner.

"I'm just looking for Davis!" Harry called out. "I only need to talk to him about Death Eater sightings. This could end without any more bloodshed!"

"Fuck you," came the succinct reply.

Harry couldn't help but chuckle. "Yeah, Benny said that too."

He couldn't perform any major spells as close as he was to a dead zone, but Harry could pull off a simple summoning charm without a hitch. His wand fizzled and spat sparks angrily, but the spell worked.

There were startled cries of dismay and then a swarm of weapons swooped down the hallway from around the corner and clattered to the ground somewhere behind him.

Harry stepped out from around the corner.

Fear could make a man lose all reason and rationality. It had a way of winding you up so tight inside that the only thing left was fight or flight. The group of Muggles crammed into the narrow hallway looked scared now, furious and frightened, more adrenaline than actual blood running in their veins.

So when one of them drew his hidden weapon and growled, "You're one of those wizard freaks," Harry knew what was coming next.

He smiled. "Benny didn't believe it."

And then there was a wall of crazy Muggles coming at him, weapons drawn, their faces twisted with hate.

Three went down with a bullet in the chest before the mob got too close for Harry's Berretta to be effective, shots painfully loud and echoing in the tight space of the ship. He dropped the gun and whirled under someone's wild swing, blade passing close overhead, catching the man's wrist and twisting it just so, that when Harry stood from his crouch, the blade was driven up under the man's chin and into his skull by his own hand.

Hell of a way to get somebody's attention.

They were back-pedalling, but it was too late and in too close quarters to run. Harry grabbed the Muggle shooting at him and smacked the gun from his hand, weapon clattering to the ground, and cleanly sliced through the man's throat. The body slumped to the ground.

The bright shine of a blade glittered in the corner of Harry's eye and then he was moving again, grabbing the man's arm and using his momentum against him, rolling the body over his shoulder and headfirst into the floor with a sharp crack, head lolling on his neck at a sickening angle.

Fatty's small eyelids cut down on Harry's peripherals so he peeled the skin from his face with a wet, sloppy squelching sound and flung it into the eyes of someone coming at him with a wickedly curved blade. The man let out a scream, wet flesh smacking into flesh and blundered blindly past Harry. Flicker quick, Harry jabbed his elbow into the man's temple.

He went down too.

Stars flashed in Harry's vision, his ears ringing from the blow to the head.

"You must be Davis," said Harry as he stumbled back from the man, blood dripping from the cut on his head. Fucker had a ring on; the skin was torn and tender where Davis had struck him. "Nice to meet you."

There was a note of recognition in Davis' eyes. "The Infamous Harry Potter himself. It's an honour. Who the fuck did I piss-off this morning to warrant attention from the likes of you?"

Harry grinned. "Nothing personal," he replied. "I was just out hunting Death Eaters. And like usual, you and yours got in my way."

Davis blocked Harry's jab and slashed out with a knife hidden against his forearm. "I thought you were here to talk about finding said Death Eaters."

"I lied."

It was subtle, but Harry saw Davis' aborted flinch at his bald declaration of deceit. "You're mad."

Harry laughed and the sound bounced off the walls of the ship, metal ringing in resonance. "Oh, we're all mad 'round here."

Davis' lip curled and he brought his knife back in a downward swing. Instead of dodging away from the blade, Harry moved forward. He slid inside Davis' guard and gripping his wrist, spun out with an elbow to the throat and Davis crumpled to the ground. Harry palmed the blade before it hit the floor and slashed it backhanded through Davis' gut, tearing him open hip to hip.

Metal clicked on metal as someone cocked a gun.

And blood spurted from their throat, the knife embedding itself up to the hilt. Harry's hand was still outstretched from where he'd thrown the blade, crouched over Davis' dying form, when Harper melted out of the shadows and fired four rounds into the spineless fucks trying to flee.

There was blood streaked wet and dark up the side of his robes and some of it looked suspiciously like handprints.

Still gasping out his last moments on the floor of the ship, Davis fumbled at the ropey loops of pink-grey intestine spilling out of the hole in his gut; valiantly trying to stuff them back in.

Harry picked up his gun and stood. He watched Davis' pathetic struggles for a moment longer, and then fired two rounds into his head. Mushy bone and grey matter splattered out from the back of Davis' head, mixing with the other mingled fluids slicking the floor of the ship.

Harry couldn't tell for sure, but he thought Harper might have heard that last part.

Because the look he gave Harry seemed a hell of a lot like betrayal.

Jan 9, 2008

T: 1215 hours

Unlike the Lesser Dead such as Shadow Hands or Inferi as they were more commonly known, the Greater Dead did not need substance or sustenance; swift-running water was the only thing that kept them away and the stagnant muck flooding the city did nothing to deter them. If they were attracted to great sites of slaughter, then London was the largest, juiciest graveyard around, her numbers thinning by the day. The veils here between death and life were at their flimsiest.

The necromancer had followed them from the ship.

There was a red shine in La Muerte's eyes, something old and mean that spoke of blood and bloodlust. He stank of funeral flowers and embalming fluid, of musty places and cold earth and when the wind blew past, Harry could catch the faint scent of burning flesh.

He was an anomaly out here amongst the ash and wreckage of London's business district; the necromancer's long dark coat, crisply pleated linen trousers and shiny black shoes coming across as more slick politician than a man who noted for being up to his elbows in the blood of the dead.

Harry wasn't fooled for one second. He'd seen the kind of mercy the necromancer liked to dispense.

"Mr. Potter, how pleasant to see you again." The man's voice was urbane and genteel, a faint lilting inflection to his words betraying his South American origins. He was a lean man of average height; dark-haired and dark-eyed, his olive skin bore few wrinkles and he could have been anywhere from thirty to fifty years old based on appearance alone.

"Wish I could say the same to you," Harry replied, hand creeping towards his wand.

"Ahh, still holding a grudge, I see. How is that hand of yours doing these days?" The wind blew back the edges of his coat far enough that Harry could see the dull gleam of a worn leather bandolier against the rich, burgundy silk of his waistcoat, seven heavy, pillbox-shaped cases swinging from their ties. Inside those cases were the bronze bells of a necromancer; the strongest tools he wielded against the dead, save for his will.

Harry bit his tongue against the incoherent rage that wanted to rear its head. "Just fine actually," he replied lightly. "The medics had a bit of trouble trying to reattach it so they decided to grow me a new one. They were very upset to have to tell me that."

"I'm sure they were," the necromancer purred.

"But between you and me," Harry said, laying a finger to the side of his nose as if he were sharing a secret with an old friend. "I kinda like the new one better. More mobility, you know? The old one had so many annoying little aches and pains."

"You're much more polite to me today," the necromancer said with a smile. "This is an improvement. Especially when your respect comes so grudgingly at the cost of something important to you."

Harry sneered. "Calling it 'respect' would be a stretch."

The necromancer's smile flickered. "I would treat you like an equal, Mr Potter, if you would afford me the same courtesies I extend to you. But of course, I would never expect that from somebody whose idea of polite necessity involves a wand in my face and a bullet hole in my gut," he said, biting out the last syllable.

"What can I say? Any man who calls himself 'Death incarnate' deserves to at least be on speaking terms with the reaper," Harry said, shrugging as he kept a cautious hand on his wand.

"We all have our masters to answer to. Mine is Death. Yours… is guilt," said the necromancer, a thread of amusement entering his voice. "Which is a delightful contradiction considering your propensity for murder and mayhem."

Harry wasn't eager to clash with La Muerte again, but damned if the necromancer didn't know how to push all of the right buttons. "Fuck off," he growled. "You're no saint yourself. What gives you the right to cast judgement on me?"

"And what gives you the right to cast judgement on me?" The necromancer smiled and this time it held a hint of smugness. "The truth is never bliss. Easier to live in self-centred solipsism than to acknowledge the hard facts of our failures, isn't it?"

"You say such sweet things to me. I might get all a-flustered here," Harry replied mockingly in a breathy falsetto. "You're surprisingly talkative today," he said, dropping the sugary tones. "I didn't know Tom paid you to be friendly."

"There's no shame in being sociable." The necromancer spread his hands apart, gesturing to the wreckage around them. "We are titans cut from the same cloth, trapped here together in a desolate Hell. The least we can do is be civil to one another lest we destroy this place any further."

"'Lest we destroy this place any further?' This place? You might as well consider this your finest masterpiece. This is your Hell."

"My Hell?" The amused note was back. "I like this new London. It's beautiful. It's like Christmas and Easter and birthday parties wrapped up into one grand package of pain and rage and hurt."

"Must suck, then," said Harry, almost vibrating with tension. "Having me come through and fuck with your sandbox."

"Oh Mr. Potter, why would I ever want to kill you when you do a better job of torturing yourself than I ever will? You are a wonderful addition to my… sandbox as you've called it.

"But let's not quibble over semantics here. I actually enjoy your company. If I had to be trapped with anyone here, I would always want it to be you. There is no greater entertainment than watching someone as noble as you poison himself with hatred and destruction."

Harry bared his teeth. "You know, I have to wonder who you're trying to get back at. Me? Or Tom, who left you here and hasn't done one damn thing to get you back out. He trapped you in here to do his dirty work because he doesn't have the stones to take me down himself."

"He has more to lose than you or I." The necromancer pulled a heavy bronze pocket watch from his coat and glanced over it idly. "I, on the other hand, have no reason to fear death and on the very day that I begin to, I have sworn an oath to take my own life. Until then, you will simply have to put up with me."

There was a strange amicability in the necromancer's attitude that set Harry's teeth on edge, a sense that he had all the time in the world and nothing better to spend it on.

'He's stalling.'

Awareness washed over him and Harry's muscles tensed, adrenaline surging through him. "What did you do?"

"Nothing you haven't done yourself."

"What did you do?" Harry snarled.

The necromancer smiled and disappeared.

Harry was off and running even before his brain registered movement.

He could hear the crash of Jones kicking down the door and the hellish roar of La Muerte's latest jack-in-the-box. Harry rounded the street corner in time to see the doorway of the ransacked department store belch thick, cloying smoke and white-hot flame into the street.

A Mordicant had waited in ambush – one of the Greater Dead that could pass at will through Life or Death. Crafted from putrid bog-clay and human blood; its cadaverous body was gaunt, vaguely humanoid shaped with overlong, emaciated limbs and spiny bone-spurs on its joints. Its knees bent backwards like a goats and like its hands, the Mordicant's feet held ten- digits like a man's, with dark, curling talons. Pale, dirty fire boiled off of its form, old blood beading like sweat on its rotting skin; infused with Free Magic and independent of La Muerte's will, the Mordicant had all the personality of a rabid Doberman and a damn near human intelligence driving it along.

Harry hurtled over Jones' slumped form in the doorway and slammed into the Mordicant, going ass over teakettle as he tangled with its smoky figure. Fire kissed his skin, causing the greasepaint smeared on his face to melt and drip from his chin as he rolled free of the creature, Fatty's overcoat singed and smoking.

A stench like burned hair and molten copper wafted off the Mordicant. The coal-like eyes of the dead burned with fury in its misshapen skull and the thing screamed, a hoarse, shrill howl that reminded Harry of the squeal of metal on metal like the breaks on a train and the lower, harder sound of a lion's roar.

And then it lunged at him.

Flicker quick, it struck, too-long arms batting Harry aside, its form nothing more than a searing blur of heat and pain. Harry found himself being hurled across the empty department store. He bounced off the far wall like a rag doll, the taste of blood exploding inside his mouth, pain twisting his throat shut.

He lay sprawled there for a moment, stunned, as the Mordicant licked its talons free of Harry's blood with a long, lizard-like tongue, a sound of satisfaction rising out of its desiccated throat.

The thing looked at him and smiled, rising up on its back-hinged joints, its lower jaw unhinging unnaturally wide. Blue flame flickered deep in the Mordicant's throat from behind gleaming, needle-like teeth the colour of steel.

Harry stumbled to his feet, dazed and almost coltish from vertigo. Blood dribbled from four long gashes over his right shoulder and collarbone, dragonhide armour neatly sliced through as if it were butter. He jabbed his wand at the wound and muttered a hasty healing spell. They'd scar without proper aftercare, but Harry could honestly say he didn't give a flying fuck at the moment.

The Mordicant let out a strange chittering sound and swiped at Harry again, smoke curling through the air around it.

Harry narrowly ducked out of the creature's reach. He didn't know how to express the sheer terror he felt when he realized the creature was playing with him; much like a cat would a mouse. "Harper! Move your ass!"

A silver hex struck the Mordicant, freezing the air with its passage.

Harper yanked Jones' arm over his shoulder, hauling the injured man away with Francis' help, another Frostbite hex sailing towards the creature.

It turned and yowled at Harper, spitting like a wet cat.

Harry drew his sword and ignored the pain in his ribs as he sliced a line of blue fire up the Mordicant's skeletal back, shining sparks flying up where the sword touched its flesh, blood vessels pumping dark and ugly under the gauze-thin membrane of its skin.

The thing whirled, screaming with rage, both sets of talons clawing at Harry.

And Harper slammed a broken piece of rebar into its ribs.

The Mordicant's skin was so hot that it began to melt the steel upon contact; smoke and a great stink of burnt hair billowed out in a thick black cloud from the wound. Ugly, brackish blood seeped from the thing's bony ribs. And where it dripped on the floor, it left a series of etching like acid on metal.

Harper dropped the red-hot steel with a cry. "Shit!"

"You alright?" Harry called out over the thing's startled yowl.

"Yeah, let's tag-team this bitch," Harper replied shaking out his burnt hand, drawing his wand with the other.

He flicked his wand in a figure-eight pattern and there came a grinding sound from underneath Harry's feet.

Heavy steel beams shot up out of the floor, impaling the Mordicant before melting. The hot metal stench thickened, glowing slag gouging large holes in the concrete floor.

The Mordicant howled, its cry rising to a fever pitch, black-brown fluids seeping from its wounds. It lunged toward Harry, the creature's talons striking golden embers from his sword as Harry batted its hand aside. Something that looked like razor wire wrapped around the Mordicant's throat, the glittering spell drawing more brackish blood before dissipating. Its lower jaw unhinged, maw yawning wide as an unearthly shriek rent the air, blue fire billowing out of its throat.

"Toss me your sword!" said Harper. "I'll get it from behind!"

Harry twisted around a flailing limb, driving his blade up under the armpit and out above the collarbone. "You've watched too many action movies, idiot! I'm not throwing a naked blade at you willy-nilly."

The Mordicant flinched away, its arm swinging limp at its side as it crooned a mournful note at the wounded limb; the sound like broken glass rubbing against gravel. The keening cry raised the hairs on the back of Harry's neck, his teeth buzzing in his skull, nausea rising in his belly and he bellowed at Harper: "Just summon the damn thing already!"

Magic tugged at the sword in his hands and he relinquished his hold obligingly. It sailed across the room, hilt swinging around and smacking into Harper's palm.

The Mordicant's attention caught by the flying object, Harry darted forward and jabbed the wakizashi into the creature's gut, whirling away when the creature reached for him with its good arm.

There was a flash of gold sparks behind the Mordicant and the thing crumpled to the ground, nearly on top of Harry. Its mewling cries hit a supersonic note too close to his head and Harry cried out in pain as his left eardrum blew out, blood dribbling down his neck. "Fuck!"

His stomached churned at the pain in his skull and the loss of equilibrium. Harry found himself listing to the side as he watched Harper behead the Mordicant.

The head rolled away from the Mordicant's skeletal frame; jaw still working in a silent, ululating scream. Its flame-like eyes darkened as the spirit inhabiting the spell-form fled for Death, the Mordicant's body turning into a shrivelled husk and flaking away into ash.

Harry swayed as his body wrestled with the vertiginous sensations running through him. Then the world was tipping… all the way to the floor.

"Harry?" Harper called out, worry straining his voice.

Harry turned his head and puked to the side in reply.

Harper mumbled something that sounded like 'fucking death-wish' as he dragged Harry away from the puddle of vomit.

"Toss me the fucking sword?" Harry mocked, his words slurred. "Dumbass."

"I know, I know, heat of the moment," Harper murmured as he hauled Harry around to sit upright against the side of the building. He chanted a series of musical sounding words, pointing his wand at Harry's head. Some of the dizziness went away and Harry found that he could hear out of that ear again.

"Better?" Harper asked, holding out a hand.

"Yeah," Harry replied as he took Harper's free hand and pulled himself to his feet. "Ribs are still broken, but I don't have the potion to fix that on me."

Harper handed his sword back. "Good thing you got here when you did. Damn thing almost disembowelled Jonesy."

"He's fine," Harper amended at Harry's look. "Bait-boy has a surprisingly deft hand at mediwizardry."

"Francis?" Harry asked as he summoned the wakizashi back to him. "Shit, now I've heard everything."

Harper followed him out of the ruined department and Harry vainly tried to ignore how he hovered like a mother hen. Jones' heavy form was perched on a pile of rubble as he kept a wary watch on the empty street around them.

Harry glanced at Francis' bloodstained hands. The boy saw him looking and pinked with embarrassment.

He offered the boy a smile of approval after catching Jonesy's eye to make sure he was still lucid and kicking. "Let's move it. No way somebody else didn't hear that ruckus."

Jan 9, 2008

T: 1302 hours

The sun should have been high overhead. But between the sleet outside and the dirty windows of the safe house, gloom was the only thing that peaked through the grey mess outside.

Harry pulled a small package of beef jerky out of his pocket and tore into it, hunger gnawing at his insides. The warehouse they'd holed up in had once been used to store non-perishable food products. Now it was filled with bare shipping crates and dust.

Neil and his group were supposed to have been here by now; they hadn't showed up at the boat and they hadn't met up afterward. Uneasy tension churned low in his belly.

Harper caught his eye and nodded to an empty corner, eyes flicking over Jones and Francis before lighting on his own again.

Harry crumpled the empty packet in his hand and stuffed it into Fatty's pockets. Not like the man was going to complain about littering anytime soon. He dipped his head to Harper and moved away from the low murmur of conversation between Francis and Jones' silent form, wry mirth writ in the heavy droop of the man's eyelids.

Dust swirled in the air, muted boot-steps stirring up the grit beneath them.

Harry wrapped his arms around the ache in his ribs as he glanced out of the window, noting the change in weather. Snow. Fan-fucking-tastic.

The dark paint smeared across Harper's face lent his silver gaze a resemblance to the flat stare of a shark. "So," Harper drawled. "I guess this is where we have that poignant heart-to-heart you were so eager to avoid earlier."

"I'm not sure what you're aiming for here," Harry remarked, staring out the dirty window.

"I don't care," Harper replied. "I'm tired of dancing around the subject."

Harry cracked his neck before putting his hands on his hips. "Keep on talking," he replied, calm despite the slow burn of anger beginning to course through his veins. "I want to see how deep a hole you're going to dig for yourself."

A not-quite smile twisted the corner of Harper's mouth. "Harry, if I don't call you out on the crazy shit you pull, who will? The others? They're too scared of you to say anything."

"I know you have a problem with my methods," Harry began.

"Oh it's not your methods I have a problem with," Harper corrected.

Harry was starting to lose the stranglehold on his temper. "Then what is it?" he bit out, turning his head to the side, just able to catch Harper's expression out of the corner of his eye. "You've been questioning me every step of this patrol and I have to say, I don't need you challenging my authority when we're in a life or death situation. There are easier ways to get yourself killed."

There was a snort of derision from Harper. "Funny you should say that."

Harry spun to face him. "Don't play coy with me. If you have a problem, fucking well spit it out already."

Harper laughed, shoving his hands into his pockets as he scuffed the bottom of one worn boot in the grit of the floor. "C'mon, Potter, how long are you going to continue this farce? I mean, since we both know you're just going through the motions." Harper grinned and made a crude jerking-off motion with one hand. "You don't care about me – you don't even care about yourself. I knew you were tail-spinning, but back there with the Muggles? That was a whole new level of fucked-up even for you."

Harry shivered, Fatty's bloodstained coat not offering much in the way of insulation now that the adrenaline was wearing off. He didn't want to risk a warming charm for fear of detection. "What are you getting at, Harper? Make it quick 'cause it's fucking freezing in here."

"Are there even Death Eaters here?" asked Harper, not bothering to hide the accusatory note in his voice. "We've already attracted the notice of your buddy, the necromancer. You that eager to lose the other hand too?"

"Shut the fuck up," Harry growled.

"Is there even a good reason why we're here besides playing ring-around-the-rosy with the reaper?"

Harry met his gaze and held it, unflinching. "Yes. Neville's patrol found solid evidence of Death Eater activity in this sector. The Muggles were just an opportunity to rid us of a problem."

"That was one hell of a way to go about it."

"What can I say?" Harry replied with a humourless smile. "Anything worth doing is worth doing well. Which brings me back to my original point. You have a problem with my methods? Fine. But don't bring it up in front of the same people who expect me to keep them alive each time we venture out here. I don't need your insubordination on top of that. You asked to be a part of this operation. And against my better judgement, I let you because I needed someone I could trust to watch my back."

"I know," Harper said, nodding his head. It was a fervent, school-boyish gesture and Harry was abruptly reminded of how much younger Harper was than him. Five years might as well been a lifetime. "For three years, I haven't questioned you at all. But Harry, you're getting reckless, and worse than that, you're getting careless about being reckless. Everyone else is starting to see it, too."

At Harry's questioning look, he continued. "Why do you think that nobody wants to be on your team for patrols? I must be unbelievably lucky, because I'm one of the few who keep coming back alive. How many others can say that?"

Harry sighed. "This is a dangerous world we live in, Harper. Shit happens. I can't save everybody."

"I don't expect you to. But I don't know if I can trust your judgement these days. You treat these patrols way too casually. We're not tin soldiers, Harry."

Harry rolled his eyes and went to rub the bridge of his nose, before remembering the blood and paint smeared across his face. "I would never mistake you for a tin soldier, Harper. If you were, you might actually do what I tell you to on occasion," he replied drolly.

"See, this right now, this is what I'm talking about," said Harper, his expression gone mulish, muscle ticking in his jaw as he pointed a finger at Harry. "You're treating this war like a joke."

"I'm not treating it like a joke," Harry assured him, a smile creeping onto his face at his own black humour. "If I was, it would probably have a better punch line."

It didn't even warrant a sliver of a grin. "Well, you're certainly not taking it seriously. This place, this absolute hell we are living in… it should have you shaking with terror – or at least cautious and wary. Instead… you act like you're taking a walk in the park on a sunny day." Harper shook his head in disbelief, scrubbing a hand through his hair. "What is wrong with you? Don't drag me into your passive suicide."

'Too late,' Harry thought idly.

Some of what he was thinking must have shown on his face, because Harper's mouth tightened in anger and for a faint second, Harry could see a flash of fear and hurt in his eyes.

Harry chuckled without feeling any true mirth. He spread his arms wide and gestured to the grimy walls of the warehouse around him. "Look around you,Harper. This was never going to end in a happily ever after."

His face slackened with disbelief. "You're giving up?" said Harper, voice thin and strained.

"Do you know where Voldemort is?" asked felt calm, almost drugged, blood sitting slow and sluggish in his veins. "'Cause I don't. He's not even in the UK – hasn't been for over two years. And I can't get out of the country. I can't go looking for him. I can't chase the bastard down and destroy him. The Dark Lord cut his losses a long time ago and left. As far as I'm concerned, he won. End of story."

"So you're just going to let everybody's death be meaningless?"

"This whole war is meaningless. It was started a long time before either of us was born; now it's devolved into hatred for the sake of hatred." Harry glanced at Harper's pole-axed expression. Poor boy looked like somebody had ripped the rug out from under him. "Oh don't give me that look, Harp. You didn't really think we were going to get out of this mess alive?"

"No." It was faint and sad, but underneath laid a live current of anger burning holes in Harper's next words. "But I thought I would at least have the opportunity to choose how I died. But instead, my best friend is treating me like cannon fodder because he's decided that he doesn't want to play with all of the other kiddies anymore."

Harry lashed out.

Harper spun three hundred and sixty degrees before hitting the ground.

Their conversation had apparently gotten loud enough to attract the notice of Jones and Francis.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Jones said as he inserted himself between Harry and Harper's sprawled form on the floor. "I leave you two alone for a couple of minutes and now you're trading punches? What the fuck is going on here!"

A purpling bruise was already darkening on Harper's face as Francis pulled him to his feet. "Nothing," Harry replied, meeting Harper's incredulous look with a careful, shuttered gaze. "It's all been sorted out now."

Green light flashed past Harry's ear.

Harry whirled around to face the darkened corner of the warehouse, dropping to one knee and drawing his wand, a spell already illuminating the end. Yellow light arced over his head from Jones' return fire. Another jet of light answered from the corner, green spell splashing off the floor and Harry released his curse. A masked and cloaked Death Eater dropped to the ground from the shadows, blood pooling out of the gash in his throat. The whole thing couldn't have taken more than four seconds.

"Where did he come from?" Harry muttered, casting out around him for others. The sleet and snow cut so far down on his senses he might as well be blind. He'd never even sensed the Death Eater, let alone his hexes.

"Harry…" There was a strange note in Jones's voice.

Harry turned around and found Harper's limp form crumpled on the dusty floor again, eyes wide and glazed, mouth halfway open like he was just about to say something.

Jones blinked back at him, startled, the beginnings of fear flitting across his face.

It took Harry a moment to realize that Harper wasn't breathing, that the wounded keening and the soft spatter of someone's insides dripping from their gut was coming from Francis, and that the popping noise in his ears wasn't firecrackers or the sound his knuckles made when he clenched his fists, but the sounds of multiple Death Eaters Apparating into the warehouse around him.

And then there was a flare of light behind them.

And Jonesy's head came off at his shoulders.

Jan 9, 2008

T: 1348 hours

At almost twenty-eight years old, this wasn't where he'd expected to end up.

Harry couldn't say that he'd had some elaborate life planned out for himself – normal family, normal job, normal life. For a kid who grew up in the cupboard under the stairs, those were high aspirations. Normal was a concept, a philosophy, an ideal that was a bit like the Holy Grail in that you could discuss it all you wanted, but at the end of the day, it was just another theory from somebody else's imagination. It was never really his. And somewhere along the way, he'd stopped wanting these things, stopped believing in these things, stopped dreaming of having them for himself.

Maybe it started when he was sixteen and he'd just experienced the first rush of fear and adrenaline that came with the hot gush of somebody else's lifeblood over his hands.

Maybe it started when he was seventeen, flush full of anger and raw with it when the Department of Mysteries set its ultimatum: join us or be declared a murderer with a warrant for his arrest and a bounty on his head.

Or maybe it was when he was twenty and he'd just watched Dumbledore's limp form topple to the ground, the sinking feeling of dread swooping through his stomach along with the surety that things were going to get much, much worse.

Harry didn't know when it was that he'd stopped living and started just going through the motions.

But he was fairly sure it had started long before everything fell apart.

He kept firing his Berretta in the melee until the magazine clicked empty.

Someone flung a killing curse at his chest. Harry slid sideways, lethal spell flying past him and into the Death Eater coming up behind him.

His shout of alarm abruptly cut off.

Whirling, Harry ducked an entrails-expelling curse and jabbed his wand at the Death Eater. The wizard's howl of pain ended in a bloody gurgle as his ribs splintered, bone shards perforating his lungs.

A misty purple curse arced through air and Harry flung himself backwards out its way. He rolled to his feet, wakizashi in one hand, wand in the other, and sliced the fucker from belly to neck. Harry thrust the corpse into the path of a skin-shredder hex.

Turning, mangled corpse falling from his grasp, Harry sent a jet of acid into the sea of black robes. They screamed, skin smoking where it hit.

His spine prickled in warning and Harry hit the ground, yellow curse-light flying a finger's width past his head to splash against the side of the warehouse.

Air whistled above him. Harry leapt aside, a steel beam from the warehouse's ceiling blossoming in the ground where he had lain.

He snarled, lunging at a Death Eater stupid enough to get within arms reach, and neatly slit his throat, blade passing deep enough to grind against bone. A killing curse brushed past him and he damn near felt dizzy at the siren call of death.

Harry spat a flat, guttural word in German and the Death Eater's head spun around twice before popping off his neck with a sound like a cork leaving the bottle.

The head rolled to a stop in between him and the remaining Death Eaters; mask long gone, the head showed plain, mousy features and a long, pointed nose.

"Back off!" A woman's barked into the silence. "He's going to kill us all if we don't wait for reinforcements!"

The Death Eaters stilled, wands extended, latent power still humming in the air.

Harry watched them as he waited for the next wave of attack, his adrenaline flowing high and bright, magic singing in his veins. They stood in a semi-circle thirty paces away, bone-white masks gleaming in the shadows like ghosts. Nobody bothered to pick up the dead and the wounded.

Then came a groan of metal bending in on itself from above and everyone looked up.

The metal supports buttressing the ceiling began to vibrate, metal shivering on metal. A bend appeared in the ceiling, roof bowing to kiss the ground and then the walls began to shudder as well.

The warehouse was coming down.

Shit fuck.

It was one of those stopgap moments in life, where everything went still and you felt as if you were moving in normal time, but everyone else was on pause like someone had stopped the film halfway through.

When it came down to it, Harry never expected to die out here. Oh sure, he'd pursued death whole-heartedly, but he'd never really believed it. Survive enough fantastical shit, and suddenly, you start to accept the stories as truth; so sure of your own immortality, that reckless, indestructible feeling rubbing against your insides – you start to believe you're untouchable.



Pride always did come before a fall.

Harry hit the warehouse door running.

Jan 9, 2008

T: 1740 hours

Fucking snow.

The cold seeped into his aching wounds, making his joints feel creaky and inflamed with pain. Warming charms were great and all, but they didn't sink way deep down inside where the bite of winter burrowed its way to the bone.

He'd been making circles for hours, leading the Death Eaters on a merry chase as he tried to muddle his tracks. But whatever they were using to trail him was scarily accurate because he hadn't been able to loose them once.

Fuck, it had to be blood. God knew he'd spilt enough of it all over this damned city. 'I am not going to be run into the ground like a fucking animal.'

"Alright!" he yelled into the white silence. "I give up! You win already!"

Nothing. The world around him was still and cold, snow muting everything save for the soft crunch of ice under his feet.

But Harry knew they were there; his pursuers showed up on his senses like a spotlight in the night. "C'mon! Let's do this before my balls fucking freeze off!"

Harry laughed, voice bouncing off the empty buildings around him. "It's a once in a lifetime opportunity!" he taunted.

There was a flutter of black robes and a white mask in the corner of his vision.

He whirled, wand outstretched, a killing curse on the tip of his tongue.

The sad, sooty scraps of somebody's curtains flapped from the broken window above him.

Glass shattered nearby and Harry turned.

Just in time to take a killing curse to the face.

Dizziness washed over him, the world turning into a miasma of green light. There was a ghostly gurgle of water in his ears, shallow and swift, a current tugging at his knees. It would be easy to lie down and let the chill water of the stream wash him where it willed.

And then there was the taste of ash in the air again, snow beneath his hands and soaking past his heavy armour into the knees of his BDUs.

Air rushed into his throat, mouth hanging open stupidly as he gasped life back into his lungs.

Green light hit him again.

It wasn't a gurgling brook that called him now, but the roar of a river, fast and deep, black water plunging over the side of a cliff to crash against sharp rocks below.

He came back crumpled on the snow this time, grey slush melting into Fatty's overcoat, body convulsing with the need to breathe. Under the snow lay the same muck and building rubble strewn across London. The hard crust of the snowfall didn't do one damn thing to cushion his body. Harry coughed, blood trickling from the side of his mouth and knew his broken rib had finally pierced his lung.

He laughed, the taste of copper slicking the back of his throat. "What do you think, huh?" Harry struggled to his feet, light-headed and careless from the adrenaline rush of coming back to life again. "Maybe the third time's the charm," he said as he stood, wobbling on shaky legs.

White masks peered out of the ruins around him, wands drawn, but they were still, frozen with shock.

"What, no takers?" he wheezed, grinning through the haze of grey in his vision. "You're not afraid, are you?"

Liquid burbled in his airways and Harry doubled over coughing, ribs protesting unhappily. The copper taste was stronger now and snow beneath him was splattered with blood.

He braced his hands on his knees and levied himself upright. The familiar hum of his own magic was rapidly closing in on his location. Taking a page out of the necromancer's book, Harry stalled for time.

"Been following us since La Muerte let loose the Inferi, haven't you?" Harry said, voice still strong despite the rattle in his lungs.

The white masks were silent.

"You burned Neil and the rest alive," he said, remembering the smell of burned flesh and the little burnt briquettes that used to be hands and feet. He'd come across their corpses on one of his circles around the city. Even he felt mildly horrified at what they'd been put through before the blissful mercy of death pulled them under. "Trapped them. Pinned them in like a herd of cattle against the wall. Did you hear how they screamed? How they begged?" Harry glanced around. "Didn't quite sound human, did it?"

A Death Eater, half-hidden behind a hotel doorway, shuffled nervously.

Harry laughed, shaking his head as he stuffed his hands in his pockets. Plastic crinkled under his fingers. "Look at the atrocities you commit. And how many of you have the gall to call me a monster?"

The howl of the winter wolf echoed across the buildings and Harry watched the Death Eaters scramble for cover as his violet-eyed creation ambushed its unfortunate victim, claws outstretched, maw open in a lupine grin. Glass and steel gleamed through a layer of frost as the thing shredded the Death Eater and pounced on another.

Harry began to chant, silver light gleaming in the air around him as his mouth moved soundlessly through a series of incantations.

The trail of blood spattered over the icy road burst into white flame, thick, hazy smoke obscuring the air. Somebody yelped high and panicked as the tracking device containing Harry's blood lit up like a magnesium flare.

Spellfire blasted past his ear.

Harry spun, flinging the plastic snack wrapper into the Death Eater's mask.

The man swatted the thing from the air just in time to catch Harry's killing curse in the face.

Harry waved his wand in the pattern Professor McGonagall had long drilled into his head, murmuring the words to transfigure the wrapper into a lion.

Or, at least he tried to.

The piece of plastic twisted and expanded, growing strong muscular legs and a feline frame. But in the place of tawny hair, grew a thick, luxurious coat of dark grey fur striped with black like a tiger, malachite-green eyes instead of gold, with white tufts on the ears like a lynx.

A new thing with claws and teeth entered the fray and if it weren't for the sharp taste of rime on the air, Harry would write it off as just another one of his transfiguration mishaps.

Recognition sat just out of reach, the creature's name swirling dizzily through his mind, his tongue struck dumb.

It turned and looked at him, green eyes gleaming with intelligence and bloodlust, red streaked over its fur.

Putrid orange light brushed past him close enough to ruffle his hair, drawing him back into the chaos.

Jan 9, 2008

T: Unknown

Snow hid all manner of sins.

The pack of angry wizards lay buried under a fresh coating of white.

He'd finally torn the ligament in his injured knee beyond its capability to support him. Harry gave up on struggling to his feet and sat back, sprawled in the snow like a ragdoll.

The grisly sound of tearing meat came from the grey and black creature beside him as it crunched heavy jaws through the meat and sinew of a fallen Death Eater. Black robes lay torn in the snow, the soft, muted colours of his insides spread around the unfortunate fucker and smeared onto Harry himself. A limp hand poked him in the hip and Harry tiredly brushed it away from himself.

The cat took that as an invitation to use it as a chew toy. Bone popped thick and wet as the thing bit down, a satisfied purr buzzing away in its throat. Harry reached out and scratched the side of its jaw; the happy whirr intensifying as the cat butted its head against his hand in search of more attention. It nipped gently at Harry's skin and curled up at his side as friendly as a housecat, its meal abandoned. Cunning green eyes dipped closed with contentment, its grey and black striped tail flicking from side to side.

"Hey there puss-puss," Harry mumbled to the animal as he rubbed behind its ears. "Not going to let me go alone, are you?"

There was a piece of rebar lodged in Harry's gut, neatly shish-kabobing him through the abdomen, the corrosive fluids of his internal organs seeping into his belly. Each breath he drew felt like fire. Fever was setting in fast and shock wasn't far behind it.

Harry didn't think his chances for survival were high.

Meltwater soaked his clothes and his skin and Harry wondered if his body had forgotten how to shiver. God, he was so fucking tired. His eyelids were as heavy as lead and Harry abruptly dug the fingers of his left hand into an ugly gash on his thigh.

Pain and consciousness shook him awake with the force of a hammerblow and Harry clenched his teeth against the scream rising from his throat.

A rattling click, click, click of steel joints came stalking across the snow; Harry's view of the steel and glass animation pared down to a hulking, chrome-edged menace slinking through the shadows, violet eyes glowing eerie and bright in the evening gloom.

The cat's hackles went up and it hissed at Harry's monstrous animation, soft fur sticking up in a ruff along its spine like a Mohawk.

Copper burbled in his throat and Harry gasped for air.

Jan 9, 2008

T: Unknown

The next time Harry awoke, it was to the feeling of movement, knobbly shards of glass and ragged steel ends jabbing at his skin.

Metal gleamed above him and Harry gradually recognized the underside of his animation's long muzzle. The monster held him curled close, feet dangling over one limb, his head resting on the shoulder of the other as it bounded across the snow in an easy lope. The slight bobbing of his body in the creature's hold aggravated the hole in his gut, a dull acidic burn working its way through him.

Shouting ricocheted inside his skull and Harry closed his eyes against dizzy swirl of the world around him. 'Fuck.'

"Down," he said, thumping his animation on the shoulder.

The Death Eater reinforcements weren't far behind and the buildings around him were far too familiar for comfort. Maybe four hundred meters ahead lay one of the bunker's hidden entrances.

His animation gently set him down in the snow, steel and glass parts clicking and chirping worriedly. He fought to stay sitting up for a moment, feet gone curiously numb, arms beginning to shake with strain.

Harry's shaking hands loosened the laces of a leather pouch tied to his belt. Large silver marbles spilt across the snow; the meticulously etched runes on the surface of the spheres frosting up immediately in the cold.

Multiple pops of Apparation echoed in every direction.

Blood crept up the back of his throat again and Harry spat it out, a streak of runny red spattered on the muddy slush on the streets. "Go," he said nudging the violet-eyed animation. "Buy me some time."

Muddled words bubbled in his mind. Harry struggled to remember the correct sequence of incantations. His tongue felt too large in his mouth and awkwardly tried to wrap around the foreign syllables.

Pointing his wand at the pile of sliver spheres, he flicked his wrist in a figure eight pattern and willed the damn things to come to life as he ignored the furious shouting from the pack of Death Eaters, the thunderclap of spells bouncing off the ruins around him.

The silver marbles bounced on the snow and rolled into a line like small soldiers standing at attention. The runes glittered with rainbow-hued light, frost melting from them as they began to heat.

A shrill cry of pain echoed in the background and faded into a gurgle, Harry's steel and glass animation screaming with rage.

The snow beneath the spheres turned to water as they spun in place, a high-pitched whine beginning to emanate from their whirling forms.

There was the sound of ruptured metal.

And then nothing.

Harry looked up, high whine of the spheres pulsing in his ears.

Scrap metal lay strewn across the snow, the violet glow gone from his animation's eyes.

The Death Eaters had taken notice of him now; wands pointed at Harry who was still sprawled in the snow. They crowded closer, almost panting with barely restrained fury.

Harry started to laugh, blood dripping from his mouth and smearing over his throat and chin.

"Die," he said, dark water gurgling in his ears. "Die screaming."

Red-orange streaks of light left spots in his vision as the spheres shot off in different directions.

A murmur of unrest rippled through those left of the Death Eaters. One bright soul hastily conjured a shield, white mask hanging loose around his neck, dark eyes fixed warily upon Harry.

It didn't fucking matter.

The world exploded in light.