The helicopter kicked up a blinding cloud of sand as it lowered altitude and began to hover slightly above the dunes of sand.

"Okay, men, lock and load!" Lieutenant Green shouted above the noise of the thundering helicopter blades as the squad cocked their rifles and began to leap out.

Many of the men were seasoned soldiers – grizzled war veterans with multitudes of scars, not all of them physical. Their faces were hard and stony, their eyes fierce and unyielding, rifles held tightly in their hands as they quickly landed and spread out, each soldier covering a different angle of fire.

Amongst these veterans, it was then odd to see such a fresh-faced young soldier. He was perhaps sixteen or seventeen, and although his stormy dark green eyes and cold expression spoke of a maturity well past his age, he still retained some of his youthfulness.

The boy adjusted his Kevlar helmet slightly and squinted – the sun's ferocious glare was making vision difficult for all of the soldiers.

"Cover me," the Lieutenant snapped as they began to move off to their objective. "And spread out!" he barked.

Lieutenant Green was a harsh leader, but extremely fair. He expected nothing but the best from them all, and the boy appreciated that. Quick decisiveness, like what the Lieutenant displayed, was what everyone needed, and the boy knew he could learn a lot from him.

The unit approached the airbase with total wariness and caution in their posture in steps, their M16 rifles up and at the ready. What they saw disgusted them.

Torn bodies lay strewn everywhere. Puddles of dry blood decorated the yellow sand, and several organs which had been ripped out were also lying around.

The boy felt that urge to vomit rise up again as his stomach churned, but he forced it down. Perhaps two years ago, he might have vomited at this horrible sight, but training and mental discipline meant that he had complete control over all his actions. Never again would he let rage, or foolhardiness or bravery dominate his actions. Rage and bravery would be used to drive his actions, but they would never master him. Nor would hate.

The boy hated, so strongly. He felt the hate seeping into his very blood, and he wondered sometimes if he would die from all the hate pumping into his veins.

He turned over one of the bodies to be greeted with a youthful face, a face that would normally be taken to be similar to his own in youthfulness, were it not for the boy's witnessing of many of the great horrors of the world.

The boy scanned the corpse's dress briefly before his lips twisted in disgust. "He wasn't even a soldier, he was an unarmed engineer. Why the needless slaughter?" His British accent had faded away considerably. Instead of an accent, his voice conveyed a great myriad of emotions, yet somehow managed to retain a cold and mechanical tone to it. It was a voice which was hot and cold, angry and calm, mad and sane yet also teetered on the brink of manhood and boyhood. Although he had greatly matured, he was not yet completely an adult, not yet completely aware of his purpose in life. He was at…a crossroad.

Perkins walked up beside him as he looked down at the body. He was the hardest and toughest of the squad, and had been in the Marines longer than the rest of them. He had been in many campaigns and had seen the most action, and in transit between assignments, he'd usually entertainment the rest of the squad with war stories, some funny, some outright horrific and some which could only be appreciated through the eyes of a soldier.

The grizzled soldier looked down briefly at the body the boy was staring at before turning around to look at the horizon. "It ain't easy living, kid," Perkins said gruffly. "Sometimes you're gonna find things which seem sick to you, but seem good to others. But know this – one day, we are all gonna pay for our crimes on this Earth."

The boy straightened, and unconsciously rubbed his forehead as he lowered his rifle. Hate added to more hate as the poisonous feeling flowed through his veins, yet the hate was not directed at himself, or to those who did not deserve it. "Punishment," he said simply.

Hate was powerful, when directed correctly. Hate could drive the most heinous of acts, yet it could also drive the greatest of them. It could destroy a man, or make him a legend.

-------

To say Lord Voldemort was angry was the understatement of the century.

Moments ago, the Dark Lord had been sitting on his throne in Riddle Manor, enjoying a glass of the Wizarding world's finest wine. But now…

"Avery," Voldemort stated, extremely slowly. "Do you think me a fool?"

"N-No my lord!" The Death Eater blurted out as he bowed lower to the ground. "I am merely…"

"Then you must understand, Avery," Voldemort said silkily as he drew his wand in an almost leisurely fashion, "That to tell me an entire group of Death Eaters, led by Lucius Malfoy, a member of the Inner Circle on a simple mission, vanished from the face of the Earth…" he pointed his wand at the now-shaking Death Eater. "Is an insult to my intelligence."

Avery waited, his eyes shut tightly for the torture to come, yet it did not. He opened one eye shakily and looked up. Seeing that the Dark Lord wanted an answer, he stuttered, "Y-Yes my lord, it is an insult!"
"So let me ask you again…" Voldemort lowered his wand and began to look at it fondly – Avery gave a deep sigh of relief. "Why have Lucius and his entourage of Death Eaters not returned from their mission?"

"W-We're not sure, my lord…" Avery stammered, then immediately began to regret saying it.

"Crucio!" Voldemort snarled, snapping his wand forward at the Death Eater.

Avery gave off several screams of pain as he writhed about on the ground. His whole body was in pure agony, the excruciating pain ripping through it like hundreds of hot knives searing through flesh.

Voldemort held it a little while longer before releasing the curse. "FIND OUT!" he roared.

Avery scrambled to his feet, ignoring the pain of the after-effects of the curse. He jumbled out there as quickly as he good, tripping over himself several times in the process.

Voldemort sat back down in his throne, picking up the glass of wine and looked absentmindedly into the dark red liquid, swirling it around. Good help was truly hard to find these days. And the mission that Lucius was on couldn't possibly take this long, meaning that it was likely he was wounded, killed or captured. But how? He had prepared for it, scrutinised every detail, made sure everything worked out perfectly. The girl was completely vulnerable, had no magical defenses and a first year's education. Even if Aurors had done it as a trap, the Death Eaters he had sent weren't rookies; they were experienced and could have easily dealt with them in time to Apparate past any wards not accounted for.

Voldemort was confused, and he didn't like it one bit. This whole setup was suspicious from the very start. It could have been mere coincidence that this girl was born on July the thirty-first, but his parents had inadvertently defied him three times, even though they were filthy muggles. This was too remarkable for him to ignore, and he began to ponder whether this girl was the Child of the Prophecy.

Potter was dead, and Longbottom had long-since disappeared for places unknown. This left only the muggleborn witch. Dumbledore had left her completely vulnerable, which was too suspicious. Perhaps it was a trap, after all.

Although the contents of the entire Prophecy were not yet known to him, Lord Voldemort was certain that Dumbledore wouldn't leave her completely vulnerable in such a way – even Potter had his blood wards. It was too foolhardy a move, considering that the Dark Lord only wished her completely unharmed so that he could personally see to her torture and eventual death.

-------

After the Punisher had finished Lucius's torture, he had dragged him out at dawn under the cover of a disillusionment charm and made sure that his…last moments, were prominent.

Lucius was barely recognisable now. His face had been disfigured beyond recognition, instead a huge mass of swollen bruises, slashes and dried blood. His smooth blonde hair had been ripped off, and only a few strands still remained on his head. Whatever limbs were left had been broken or dislocated – the Punisher had healed the stumps of the limbs he lost to make sure that he didn't die of blood loss.

The Punisher draped a black cloth around his torn robes with his distinctive white skull displayed on it. He considered leaving a message for Riddle, but decided against it – the skull, and Lucius's own mutterings would be enough.

Lucius was currently unconscious right now, but boy, would they be in for a surprise when he woke up.

The Punisher finished tying him up to the lamp post and dropped down gracefully, pulling a necklace with the Malfoy family crest on it out of his pocket. It seemed that the Malfoy head had on him a Portkey that took him straight into Malfoy Manor, right past the wards. It had only taken a little bit of persuasion for the Punisher to pry the password out of him, and he gripped the necklace tightly as he whispered it and felt a tug on his navel.

He reappeared in an exquisite hall – the ground was sleek and smooth, probably made from marble with the Malfoy family crest on it. There was a grand stairway leading up to several hallways, and on each side of him were large, furbished oak doors.

As if on cue, the door to his left opened, and in walked a tall, imposing lady dressed in long, flowing black robes.

The Punisher recognised her immediately as he pulled a modified Colt 1911 out of his trench coat. "Narcissa Malfoy," he greeted.

Before Narcissa could even think of reaching for her wand, the Punisher had already pulled back the hammer. "Don't even think about it. Put down the wand and kick it to me, and I might not kill you."
Narcissa tried to look dignified as she stared into the green eyes of this intruder. Being a pureblood of high education, she could read people easily, but aside from the hard resolve and resolution in his eyes, his body language showed the discipline and strength of a warrior, muscles coiled, stance ready and alert for anything. She quickly concluded that he could very easily kill her, and withdrew her wand out of the folds of her robes and dropped it to the ground, kicking it across to him.

The Punisher scooped it up off the ground, his eyes never leaving hers as he kept the weapon in his hand steadily pointed at the witch.

As the warrior pocketed her wand, he asked, "Is there anyone else here?"
"No," Narcissa replied coolly.

The Punisher studied her expressions mechanically before pulling a bulky black silencer out of his trench coat and affixing it to the pistol's barrel. He then raised the weapon, aimed and fired.

There was a quiet puff as the bullet tore through Narcissa's leg – the witch gasped in shock as she stumbled and fell.

With inhumane speed, the Punisher sprinted across and positioned himself over her. He flicked his hand as a small curved knife came out, lowering it to her throat until the tip touched her pale skin. "Lying isn't good for your health," he stated dryly. "Now, who else is in the Manor? You'd better pick your answer…" he slowly began to draw the knife across her throat, although he wasn't putting on enough pressure to piece the skin, "very carefully…"

Narcissa shook fearfully as she realised her predicament. "The house elves, and…" she gulped, "my son, Draco."

"Now that wasn't so hard now, was it?" the Punisher grinned darkly as he yelled, "DRACO! COME HERE, YOU FILTHY GROVELING DEATH EATER!"

"No!" Narcissa screamed, grabbing at him as the soldier removed his knife. "Not…"

"Stand up and try to look dignified!" the Punisher growled as he pushed her off him.

It was at that point that Draco stormed in, his wand at the ready – after all, hearing an unfamiliar voice insult him was bound to set off warning bells, especially as whoever did it manage to bypass the Manor's ancient wards. "Who are you?" he demanded. "What are you doing in my father's house?"

The Punisher turned his cold gaze on him, and Draco couldn't help but shiver. Ever since his graduation at Hogwarts, his father had pushed for him not yet to become a Death Eater, but instead to be taken under his wing to learn about the responsibilities and actions of being the head of the Malfoys - should anything ever happen to Lucius, Draco could then take over.

Of course, this was another way of saying that Draco had become a pansy. He spent most of his time at the Manor or attending "fine dinner parties".

The Punisher only needed to take one look at his posture before he smirked in dark amusement. "So what are you going to do now, Malfoy?" he taunted. "Kill me?"

"What are you doing here?" Draco repeated, a little shakily when he realised that his mother was unarmed and wounded, blood seeping into her silky black robes.

The warrior seemed completely unconcerned that the pureblood had his wand aimed at him. "Draco, Draco, Draco," he taunted. "What're you waiting for? I mean, it's not like you're going to throw me into Azkaban without a trial, is it?"

The pale pureblood's eyes widened. "Potter!" he hissed in shock.

"Harry Potter is dead. Only the Punisher remains," the Punisher stated flatly. He raised his pistol. "Now drop your wand."

"CRUCIO!" Draco screamed.

The Punisher merely leaned to one side as the curse flew past him. "Pathetic, Draco. I saw that coming from the time you came in here." Without moving from his position, he flicked his hand as a stiletto came out of his sleeve, slicing through the air at a frightening speed. Draco had no time to react as the knife stabbed into his wand hand, causing him to drop it as he fell to the ground, clutching his wound.

Ignoring the screaming behind him, the Punisher raised his pistol to the blonde's head. "Did you really think you would get away with all that you did, Malfoy? You were wrong. Half-bloods and muggleborns aren't the scum of the Earth. You are." He pulled the trigger, and all that Draco Malfoy saw in his last moments was a flash…then darkness.

The Punisher lowered his smoking gun, a look of satisfaction passing through his eyes briefly before fading. He didn't enjoy doing what he did but understood its necessity, and to enjoy it would mean becoming the same to Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Whatever remained of Harry Potter enjoyed killing him – there was no doubt of that. He would need to be more wary of these feelings in the future.

"You…you monster!" Narcissa hissed. "How could you?! Lucius had convinced the Dark Lord to postpone entering his ranks, he was not…"

"Evil isn't measured in putting black marks on your arm," the Punisher stated coldly. He raised the weapon once more.

"NO!" Narcissa raised her hands in front of her in a gesture of surrender. "I was never involved with the Death Eaters! My marriage was arranged! I was…"

The Punisher paused briefly, scanning her face as she gibbered on in an attempt to justify herself. He could tell when a person was lying or not. It was a skill he began to hone through extensive life-and-death situations such as this, and honed further when he was stuck in administrative duties, such as making sure a new supply of weaponry was up to specifications and on time, or rooting out moles in CTU. He was almost always correct, and could see through even the falsest of facades.

There was no doubt in his mind. The Punisher didn't lower his weapon. He ignored her screams and silenced her permanently.

-------

"Stu-Stupefy!" Cindy stuttered, firing a sickly looking red stream of light at Moody. Despite his wooden leg, the grizzled ex-Auror dodged it with ease, looking down at the small witch with disappointment.

"You have to mean it, Smith!" Moody growled. "In battle, a Death Eater isn't going to wait for you to cast it otherwise you'd be dead. Focus!"

"I-I'm trying!" Cindy cried in exasperation. "I'm doing everything you're asking me, aren't I?"

Moody sighed inwardly. The witch wasn't very talented at practical spell-casting. Although she understood the theory perfectly well, she was far from the best dueler, that plus her youth meant that pushing her too hard would result in severe magical exhaustion. This had happened twice before, although Dumbledore would keep insisting on intensive training, believing that she would learn from her mistakes.

It was not her fault, really. She simply wasn't strong enough.

As Cindy began to try another spell, it was at that point that Dumbledore burst out of the fireplace, green flames flashing for a brief moment before disappearing behind his long purple and red robes.

"Hello, Professor Dumbledore," the witch said shyly as she lowered her wand.

"Greetings, Miss Smith," the Headmaster's twinkling blue eyes focused on her. "And how goes your dueling lessons?"

Before Cindy could say anything, Moody interrupted. "I'll tell the Headmaster about your progress. In the meantime, practise your spell-work." He moved in closer to the older wizard, and muttered, "Albus, can we talk in the next room?"

As they got into the other room and Moody had closed the door and put up a silencing charm, it was then the dark wizard catcher began to fume. "Albus, are you barking mad? You're pushing her to the brink of exhaustion! She can hardly stand still or talk with stuttering or shaking! If we push her even further…"

"You know the consequences as well as I do, Alastor," Albus said with a sigh. While it was true that it had its risk, the Headmaster was confident that, being the Child of the Prophecy, it would prevent Cindy from any serious harm. Once Tom marked her as his equal, the road would then become much smoother. "But you also know the dire consequences of under-preparation. I am convinced that Miss Smith is the Child of the Prophecy, and as such must be adequately prepared. We simply do not have the time or manpower to sustain a sufficient defense until Miss Smith comes of age, so unfortunately this must be done."

"And what about this 'Punisher' that Malfoy keeps babbling on about?" Moody barked. "The same one who killed all those Death Eaters in the raid on Smith's house?"

Dumbledore frowned. "You know as well as I do, Alastor that such violent methods as those demonstrated on Lucius's body and mind, however much in our favour, are horrible and demeaning. No one should be made to suffer like Mr. Malfoy."

"You say that like you're sympathising for him," Moody muttered under his breath. Then clearing his voice, he said sharply, "Back to the subject. I think that Miss Smith has undergone a traumatic experience and needs time to recuperate…"

"Time we DO NOT have, Alastor," Dumbledore replied just as sharply. "We must prepare her for the journey ahead. It may seem harsh, but it will be for the greater good, and we will be doing Miss Smith a favour. You know as well as I that the real world is unforgiving and one must be prepared for all it can throw at you." With that finality, Dumbledore walked into the next room. "I apologise, Miss Smith, but I must be taking my leave," he said with a sigh.

"Professor, I'm trying really hard, but…" Cindy looked down at her feet in shame. "I can't get a lot of the spells, and even if I can, they're not very good…and I'm really tired…please, can I go home?"
Dumbledore schooled his face into his most kind, grandfatherly expression. "I truly am sorry, my dear, but I cannot allow you to go home because you will be in danger there. You must train very hard here, and when I deem you ready, then you may leave. However, I feel that a short break is required, as I'm sure you've worked very hard."

"Okay, Professor…" Cindy said shakily, walking off to her room.

"Where're you going, Albus?" Moody asked as he stepped back in, his wooden leg making heavy clumping noises on the floor.

Dumbledore wrinkled his nose. "Cornelius is holding a Gala at the Ministry to raise gold for the war efforts. All of the prominent pureblood families who are supposedly not Death Eaters…" At this, Moody snorted, "Will be appearing there."

"So soon, after discovering Lucius Malfoy dangling off a street light, repeatedly saying 'Punisher'?" Moody asked with a frown.

"That, unfortunately, is one of the reasons why the Gala is being held so soon," Dumbledore responded. "Lucius was discovered two days ago, which gave the Ministry enough time to prepare the Gala in haste and cover up the facts."

"I read about it," Moody said with a frown. "So at this moment, the Ministry is claiming that the body is not in fact Lucius Malfoy but a Death Eater being punished for insubordination. Do they really expect people to believe it?"

"Sadly, yes," Dumbledore sighed. "As you'd expect, Lucius was a large source of gold for the Ministry and promised many frequent donations to a variety of schemes. The Ministry must raise enough funds for these plans to go ahead…"

"Whatever gold raised should go towards the war effort!" Moody shouted.

"Unfortunately, many pureblood families are there to divert the funds to anywhere but the war. I have my suspicions that Voldemort has the support of almost all the pureblood families. Others are also being bribed to do his dirty work," Dumbledore replied sadly. "But I will not detain Miss Smith's training any longer, I must report to the Ministry to greet the invited."

-------

The news of the death of the entire Malfoy family would certainly shake up the wizarding world. It would make it much easier for the war, as the Malfoys were a powerful source of gold for both the corrupt Ministry and Voldemort.

He had them against the ropes.

The Punisher pulled out an M60 from the gun rack, and quickly checked the chamber. He grabbed a long belt of ammunition and several bandoliers of bullets, and threw both the weapon and the ammo to one side.

When you have an opponent against the ropes, do you let up?

He grabbed a Colt M1911A2 pistol and slid the magazine in, hearing a satisfying mechanical click before cocking it. He did the same thing for a matching one before also throwing them to the side.

You rip into them with everything you've got. You beat them senseless. You knee them in the stomach. You smash them in the face. You hit them until your knuckles are raw, until they began to bleed, until they slump to the ground, defeated.

The Punisher pulled on his torso armour, slinging several bandoliers of ammunition over his head. He strapped several throwing knives to his thigh, and slid his long combat knife into its sheath on his belt. Finally, he grabbed a pack of explosives and put on his heavy black trench coat, slipping more weapons into their holsters and pockets inside the coat.

And if that's not enough…

The Punisher slung the M60 over his head, pushing a long belt of ammunition into it with a click. He walked out of his shack, and prepared to Portkey to the Ministry.

You bleed them to death.

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