Chapter One: If You're Feeling Sinister

My hand clutches around my wand, and the words "Crucio" slip from my lips before I'm even aware I'm saying it.

Nothing happens, of course, as my target was an imaginary one, no where near me. I sit up in my bed at the Dursley's, shaking my head furiously and attempting to wake up further. The dream I was having was one I'd had every night since Sirius died. I watched him fall through the veil, seeing it over and over, seeing the look in his eyes. I'm pretty sure when it happened, we never locked gazes, but in my dream, he looks straight at me. His eyes are accusing. Or maybe we did. Its getting harder and harder to discern the difference between reality and my dreams.

I then follow LeStrange, to the point where I'm casting the Cruciatus on her. I failed then, but no matter what it takes, the next time I meet her, I swear on my magic she will feel its full brunt.

The thought of Sirius brings a fresh wave of nausea. I feel guilt, so much fucking guilt. I keep thinking I should be sadder, feel more grief, but all I feel is numb. I've tried to make myself cry over and over, recalling the most painful memories of him I can, but nothing comes. I wonder not for the first time since it happened if Voldemort had finally succeeding in breaking me.

Hedwig hoots softly, and I look over to her. She is perched on the sill of my open window, her amber eyes piercing my own, looking concerned. She can read me somehow, I know this without a doubt. I give her a grin.

"Hey girl. Good hunting, I hope?"

She seems to nod over towards her cage, where a few rat carcasses are strewn across its bottom.

"Good girl... none of those rats had a silver paw, I suppose?"

She hoots again, in a dangerous tone I take to mean 'Not yet.' Another, fluttering form comes into my room, landing beside Hedwig. In the dark, it takes me a few moments to see it fully. It's not another owl, but a raven.

"Oh, its you. Hullo, again."

The raven looks at me and croaks a reply. Hedwig seems to have made a friend in the week since we returned to the Dursleys. I'm positive its magical, otherwise I doubt the two species would mix as these two had. I'd seen them flying together earlier tonight, circling around Privet Drive looking for prey.

I wonder if somehow the raven is part of Dumbldedore's machinations, sent as another means of watching and 'protecting' me. I doubt it, though. He already has the Order standing sentry around the Dursley's house, after all.

"You know, if you keep hanging around, I'll have to give you a name," I say to the raven. "Or do you have one already?" It croaks, and flaps its wings at me. I snort, as I'm again reminded that practically the most significant interaction I've had since end of term has been with two birds. The Dursleys don't count.

They've been fine, but barely. I guess the warnings the Order members gave them were sufficient in scaring them. I don't really blame them, Alastor Moody scares me shiteless. I go over to the window, and open it wider for the raven and Hedwig. I scrape the rat bits into the bin and turn back to bed.

Hedwig ignores the implied invitation to go out again tonight and flies to the headboard, perching there as I get into bed. The raven hesitates for a moment before joining my owl.

"Gonna watch over me, are you?" I ruffle Hedwig's feathers a bit, as the raven clucks about, looking uncomfortable. I ignore it and lie down again, hoping that the dreams don't come again, but know they will.

*****************************

I wake up the next morning around 5 AM and stumble downstairs. I set the coffee to brew for when the elder Dursleys awake and set some ham to defrost to go with the eggs I'll make later.

When I was younger, I'd resent having to do this with every fibre of my being. I realize that somewhere along the way, that had stopped being the case. I shake my head a bit, wondering if I was just numb to it. Thinking on it a bit more, I think it's more that they don't deny my from enjoying the fruits of my own labor anymore. That and complaining about chores felt a bit... well, childish I guess. My relatives are bastards, I doubt I'll ever think otherwise, but there are far more evil things in this world and I've met them. Frequently.

Taking advantage of the fact that the Dursleys wont up for at least an hour, I take some books I had hidden around the house out and set to read them at the table with my coffee. I appreciate the irony in the fact that I'm hiding magical tomes, something the Dursley's despise with a passion, in the cupboard they used to lock me away in. They hadn't used it since. I think they're somewhat reluctant to be reminded of the literal skeletons in their closet.

This morning, however, I forgo my school texts and grab Machiavelli's "The Prince". It came recommended by Moody, who had taken to chatting with me after my morning jogs underneath his invisibility cloak. He seems to think it'll give me the right mindset I'll need for the war, and as I get further into it, I find myself agreeing. I thought it was strange at first he'd tell me to get a muggle book, but Moody knows the score and I trust his judgment.

Plus, it makes a certain amount of sense. I can't practice magic during the summer, and even if I study the theory of various charms, hexes and the like, it means exactly shite until I can try and cast them. Rather than doing nothing, I might as well hone my skills in other areas, like I was trying to do with exercise.

I briefly resent the fact that Dumbledore hadn't found a way to get me dispensation to practice magic. Or perhaps, it might be more accurate to say he could do it, but chooses not to. I feel somewhat guilty at the fact that I'm expecting special treatment, but at the same time, the prophecy is constantly at the forefront of my thoughts. I have to end this war. I have to kill Voldemort. And I'm getting no training? Even further than that, I'm being essentially cut off from the wizarding world for another summer. Does Dumbledore expect me to fight Voldemort using Protego, Expelliarmus and Stupefy? Just a month ago, I was proud at the progress I had made personally and even more so with what I was able to teach the D.A. It might have allowed me and the others to scrape by the Death Eaters at the Ministry, but having watched Dumbledore and Voldemort duel, I know that every single spell I know is woefully inadequate in comparison.

Not for the first time, I wonder if Dumbledore actually expects me to live through this war. The thought would have never entered my mind when I was younger. I would have blindly accepted anything Dumbledore did, and probably thought everything was going according to his plan, and would work out in the end. I have no faith left in my Headmaster.

My Aunt breaks me from my musings, walking rather sleepily into the kitchen. She eyes me, and then my book with trepidation, only slightly relaxing when she sees I'm doing nothing 'unnatural'. She pours two mugs of coffee and walks back out of the kitchen, not sparing me another look or word. I set my book aside and get to making breakfast proper.

After a rather silent and uncomfortable meal with my relatives, I head outside, stretching as I prepare for my now daily jog. You know, everyone assumes I'm in shape from Quidditch. How exactly is riding a broom meant to be exercise? Given their lack of any physical activity whatsoever, I've come to the conclusion the whole of the wizarding world would be as obese as the Americans if not for our magic.

Reaching the end of the drive, I continue to stretch and do other calisthenics. "Morning, Professor."

Slightly to my right, something shimmers for a moment before going still. The growl I had come to associate with Moody comes out of thin air with his reply. "Merlin's sweaty bollocks, Potter. I'd ask how you do that, except I'd rather protect my ego from the fact that a bloody schoolboy can spot me every time."

I laugh and look to where I assume his head is. "Natural talent, I suppose. Don't feel too bad."

Moody snorts and trots along me as I begin walking up the street, his false leg beating a staccato beat on the pavement. "And another thing, I'm not and never have been your 'Professor'. I thought you were bright, kid, you should know that."

I grin a little bit. "I do, but it annoys you." I knew I'd see a wry grin on his face if he were visible.

"Just call me Alastor." I'm somewhat touched by the implied respect in asking I call him his given name. "And do me a favor, Potter. Stay in view of Privet for your jog this morning, aye? I'm too bloody old to be chasing after you anymore."

I pick up the pace and nod. "Alright. And if I can't call you Professor, you shouldn't be calling me Potter. Harry's just fine."

I set off at a run and struggle to find my rhythm. I'd ask Dudley if I could borrow his walkmen for my runs, so I could listen to something, but find I can't bring myself to ask anything of him simply on principal. After a few moments, I see a familiar black form following me stealthily, tree to tree.

Again, I wonder what the hell this raven is, exactly. It's definitely been watching over me this summer. I don't feel too unnerved, since Hedwig has befriended it. I feel only slightly ridiculous in trusting the opinion of a pet owl, but then again Hedwig is family.

After a half hour or so, I come back to the Dursley's end of Privet, slowing. I stop for a moment when I see someone approaching me, but after a moment I can see its Moody, albiet altered by means of glamour charms to look less alarming in this muggle neighborhood.

"I thought I said stay in view, kid."

"Just trying to help get you in shape, Alastor."

"Trying to give me a heart attack, more like it."

"So whats up with Voldemort?" I ignore his slight shudder. Moody may be a frightening bastard, but even he cant seem to get over the fear of hearing that name. "Any movements? Deaths?"

He shakes his head slowly. "You know I can't tell you anything about what the Order's doing, but in general, nothing's happening. If I were a betting man, and I am, I'd say he's been licking his wounds and consolidating his forces since that fiasco at the ministry."

I consider that for a moment and nod. "Makes sense. After all, a good portion of his inner circle were captured there."

Moody, or rather the muggle doppelganger he was assuming, nods. "Aye. Are you getting the Prophet here?"

I shake my head and can't hide the bitterness from my voice. "No, the Dursley's have more than enough toilet paper. Why, are they back to worshiping the ground I walk on?" We continue past the Dursley's lawn, strolling leisurely down the street. I catch my Aunt's face in the window before the curtains draw tight.

"Aye, but that's not what I was talking about. Fudge seems to have grown a brass pair. He signed off on the veil for certain Death Eaters, namely the ones who had followed You-Know-Who the last go round. I suppose he wants to seem lenient, just sentencing the newer ones to life in Azkaban, but the only good Death Eater--"

"Is a dead one, I know." It was one of Moody's catchphrases, and I found I rather agreed with it. "Well, that's good."

If it were Dumbledore here, I imagine he'd give me a stern look for my rather bloodthirsty views, but I'm long past the point of caring about Dumbledore's opinion of me. Moody nods and looks pleased, but then disappoints with a stern view of his own. "Not necessarily, Harry. That includes Rodolphus and Rabastan LeStrange. From what I know about that daft bint Bellatrix, I doubt there's any love lost between her and her 'husband', but I reckon she'll be after your dangly bits just for the smirch on her character. Just be sure you practice --"

"Constant vigilance." I enjoy miffing him slightly by reciting his catchphrases before he even gets the chance to. "And bloody well let her come. After what she did to..."

I trail off slightly, the loss of Sirius coming fresh and painful from somewhere in the depths of my chest. Moody, only slightly awkwardly, places a grizzled paw on my shoulder. "I know, lad. Don't let yourself get cocky, though. You and your men did well in that battle, but you got lucky, the lot of you. You're a far cry from a warrior yet, son."

I try to be mad at his slight on my talents, but he's right and I know it. That will change, no matter what I have to do. "I know. I will be." I look at Moody straight in the eye, trying to convey the depths of that oath. He stares at me a moment, then nods.

Casting for lighter subjects, and failing miserably, Moody switches gears. "The muggles bein' decent, then?"

I shrug and sigh. "As decent they can be, I suppose."

He gives me a predatory grin. "You just let me know when they aren't. I reckon I need to shake the rust off for the war. I've been meaning to practice a few...things."

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After a rather uneventful rest of the day, I barricade myself in my bedroom at the Dursleys'. I was able to smuggle a few of my books up with me, past their prying eyes. If Hermione were here, she might praise me for doing homework so early in the summer, but you cant find any of these books on our list of approved and recommended reading.

They're not dark, exactly, but most of them aren't exactly legal either. I bribed Mundungus with the remaining galleons I had after term to venture into the seedier sides of Wizarding Britain to get them for me, and to also keep the fact he was doing so from Dumbledore. A few days earlier I had engaged Moody in a conversation, on what books he would get to train, were he younger and decided he wanted to brutally dismantle some Death Eaters. He elucidated me, reminding me this was 'on a purely theoretically basis, of course', wink.

Again, the fact I couldn't perform magic irked me, but at least it was something. From watching Dumbledore and Voldemort fight, I decided a few things. First, I know shite. Second, Hogwarts is just a lovely education when one wants to be a Ministry peon, but when you're going to grow up to be a fighter of Dark Lords, it's sorely lacking.

Even studying theory alone, I felt I was learning more than I had in my entire tenure at Hogwarts.

Dung managed to get me a few Grimoires, even. This, I'm told (by Dung as he attempted to wheedle more cash from me), is exceptionally hard to do in the wizarding world. These books are crafted personally by witches and wizards, infused with plenty of secret knowledge and spells he or she had created themselves. Most of the ancient families have even more impressive ones, handed down generation to generation, but I haven't any left testicles to spare to get one of those.

The one I'm finding most rewarding is Carina Zabini's personal Grimoire. She was Blaise's forebear by a few generations, and not exactly of-the-light. She had apparently been the personal spell researcher and spellcrafter of a minor Dark Lord in the early 1800s, and her tome includes scores of spells I'm rather eager to find a Death Eater guinea pig to try on.

I'm not only learning from the illegal texts, though. From "Theories on Higher Transfiguration" by Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, I was learning the nuts and bolts behind what made the Headmaster successful in the battle that night against Voldemort. Apparently, this book was his dissertation when he was a younger man. Transfiguration, as taught in the Hogwarts curriculum, is a rather straightforward art. You take something and turn it into something else. Its reputation as the 'hardest' class at school was more due to the reputation of McGonagall as a taskmistress and the fact that it took a lot of power and willpower for the more advanced spells, than due to the level of difficulty in the spells themselves. I was coming to see it was far more than that.

As a branch, it incorporated a plethora of other practices, conjuration, animation, manifestation and so on. To a true master, like Dumbledore, it was the embodiment of the power of the wizard himself. A master willed his power into being, animating and controlling it to serve his whims.

In a real fight, there was little I could imagine being more helpful. Animals conjured, set to my will and harassing the enemy. The bric-a-brac littering a fight, the venue itself, assets rather than distractions. The basic spells of it were rather derivative, and not especially complex. If you can conjure a flobberworm, you can conjure a lion. If you can animate a paper airplane, you can animate a Golem of scrap metal. The only difference, really, was power, and the ability to control the simultaneous arts of transfiguration and conjuring or whatever together.

Arrogance aside, I was pretty sure I had the power to do exactly that, if I did a fair bit of training beforehand.

From "Dueling is For the Schoolyards: An Auror's Account of War" by Alastor Moody, I was trying to learn the tactics of actual mage warfare rather than the sterilized and watered down dueling which essentially was Defense Against the Dark Arts. After I got it, I sarcastically asked for Moody to sign it after a jog. He flipped me off.

Discounting the brutal, and frankly, horrifying accounts Moody had put in of his own battles, I was learning to my disappointment that I pretty much did nothing right, whenever I fought. Yeah, I probably could be a right keen dueler, but the idea of bowing to Lucius Malfoy and then engaging in somewhat ordered spellfire was laughable.

It had me running the battle of the Department of Mysteries over and over in my mind. I shot spells and waited to see if they land. Furthermore, I shot single spells. I wasted energy casting shields, eating spells instead of dodging when I could have. Granted, the Death Eaters were fairly similar in their tactics, but they were under order of bringing me in as a hostage, on top of safely securing the prophecy orb. Given the sheer death toll of the first War, and the fact that they cut through legions of adult wizards like they were paper, I doubted I would always be so lucky.

As Moody was oft repeating in the book, you never stop in a fight until the other bastard is in their death throes on the ground. You never hesitate to use anything in your arsenal, even the Unforgivables.

You keep moving. You conjure items to distract, you dodge, you use the environment to your advantage and to the other guy's detriment. The only force you use is lethal.

You use the home-court advantage. I was rather curious as to where Moody learned that muggle expression. In the context of what Moody was saying, this means you fight whenever possible in a place of your choosing. That's obvious enough, but this goes beyond the natural psychological effect of fighting in a place you're familiar and comfortable with. It should be a place of your choosing because you've effectively stacked your own deck. You have intricate wards in place, siphoning energy from opponents and making them incapable of retreat, reinforcement or escape. They are set to attack, defend, destroy. There are enchantments you have secured to bolster your own efforts, subtle advantages placed on the structure of your venue. As these advantages can be bought or otherwise gained from other wizards, as Moody would put it, you'd be a 'bloody idiot who deserves to die' if you haven't secured them.

On the flip side of the coin, he cites the advantages of Artificing. Given I'd only heard of this in passing, I'm pretty murky on this, but it's different than enchantment. Enchanting, apparently, is the brother school of Artificing. Enchanting are charms and other magics that are set, researched and developed if you will, over the millenia by witches and wizards. Brooms are enchanted. Artificing is a personal art. A wizard creates an item himself, infusing his own magic into it. They create the 'one of a kind items', an example being Godric Gryffindor's Sorting Hat. My broom is enchanted by John J. Everywizard of the Firebolt Corporation, but if I were able to artifice a broom, it would have magics that are specific to me infused into it. It could, say, fly on its own, directed by my will, or bolster my own flying instincts and so forth. Moody artificed his own eye, if you can believe it. It sounds bloody fucking difficult and I doubt I could ever do it, but it's something to look into.

Despite the fact that these were just things I quote unquote knew, rather than things I could actually do, I wasn't too disheartened. The second I got back to Hogwarts, I would start applying whatever I was able to glean from these and the other tomes I had Dung get me. I was pretty sure I could convince Flitwick to fight me. Despite the disdain I had acquired for 'dueling', he had been a Master, and applied charms, hexes, and just plain magic in ways that were ingenious and outside the box. Outside the box was good. I was sure his knowledge would carry over to the battlefield just as well as it did in a duel ring.

I'd wrangle McGonagall into teaching me some of the new aspects of Transfiguration I was learning. She might seem frosty and harsh, but she was a sweetheart when it came to me and I'd charm her tartan socks off if need be.

And, I pause here to convey my ultimate trepidation, I'd even go and somehow convince Snape to teach me not only Occlumency, but Legilimency as well. If nothing else proves the lengths to which I'm willing to go, that should.

If nothing else, it's going to be a long fucking year.

*****************************

The next afternoon, I found myself lifting weights in a local gym in Little Whinging. My spotter was Auror Nymphadora Tonks, her hair today a 'subdued' sky blue. I found myself thanking Circe that my Order bodyguards during the day shuffled between Tonks, Moody, and Dung, who were the three members most willing to accommodate me, besides perhaps Remus Lupin who was in Belgium infiltrating a werewolf clan for the next month (I wasn't supposed to know that, sure, but a casual fuck you to you, Mr. Dumbledore). Granted, I was still being watched, and the 'freedom' I had was limited, but it was nonetheless appreciated.

"Oy, mate, give it a rest! You're going to overtire yourself." I shuddered slightly, sweating heavily as I set down the last rep of my set. Tonks doesn't get it. I don't just have to work past my limits, I have to shatter the fuckers and leave them in my wake. I acquiesced, though.

"Alright then, you want a go?" She nodded and slightly lowered the weight on the bar. I took a casual stance behind her, my palms ready to support her if need be.

I supposed I should feel depressed in her presence, as she had been Sirius' cousin nominally, and more of a niece in spirit. I found myself being more comforted than anything else though, as we mutually worked through some of our grief and tried to be a friendly support for one another. Tonks exhaled heavily and did a rep.

"So little guy, how are you doing today? The way you're attacking these weights, I've half a mind you actually have someone after you, or something." I snort at her joke, and at the use of her rather annoying endearment 'little guy'.

"Peachy, Nymphadora." I can play the name game too. "Hey, I've had this question for a while. As a metamorphmagus, can you change your body form, or is that rack of yours natural?"

She squeaks falters the rep she was currently doing to give me a death glare. I smirk back like the innocent schoolboy I am.

"Wanker. I suppose -- if we're asking -- embarrassing questions of one another -- I should ask -- does Hogwart's golden trio -- really get all sweaty and -- ravage each other?" She stops her set and places the bar down with a rather smug look. "I'm fairly certain I read something to that effect in the Prophet the other day."

I clutch my heart and give her a wounded look. "You hurt me Nymphy. You know I only have eyes for you."

"Who's the better shag, Ron or Herm--"

"Too far Tonks, too far." I glare back, infinitely enraged at the fact that she gave me a mental image of Ron's bits.

She gives a smile that looks anything but conciliatory. "Sorry. So little guy, how about we earn back some of these calories, hm? My treat."

I nod, and we exit the gym, walking to a nearby pub, sniping at each other in a somewhat friendly matter as we go.

Ten minutes later, we both have a pint and a decent hot meal in front of us.

"Molly and McG would kill me if they knew I had ever given you alcohol, bucko. Our little secret, eh?"

I nod and take a sip of the Guinness. There are benefits to the fact that Tonks is barely older than I am, not the least of which being her smoking hot figure.

"Seriously Tonks... are you doing okay?"

She blanches and her hair shifts color for just an instant. I look around, but none of the muggles seems to have noticed. "Yeah. I mean, I feel really silly sometimes, you know? I was just a sprite before they carted him off to Azkaban, and then spent most the rest of my life cursing his name."

I shrug and sigh a bit, taking another sip of my pint. "Aye, and I knew him exactly two years before he... he died. It's not as if there are rules here." She gives me a sympathetic look and shovels some food down her gullet. Despite her pixie figure, she can give Ron a run for his money when it comes to chowing down. She shoots me a careful look and seems like she's considering her next words carefully.

"Sirius' will was read the other day. My mother and I, Remus, and you are the beneficiaries, the sums split equally three ways."

I sit silently for a few moments. "Okay."

"Well, enough of the maudlin, eh mate? Guess what?"

I play along and open my eyes real wide and attempt a breathless reply. "What?"

"I was finally able to nick an Auror's manual for you. This will get you arrested and me fired if anyone finds it, mind. So be careful." She takes a slim book out of her purse and slides it over to me. I give her a genuine smile.

"Thanks. I'll be careful, wizard's promise."

"Aye, you will, or I'll hex you so the witches are all talking about Harry Potter's three inch, peckerwood wand."

I guffaw and flip open to the book's index. A lot of this is bureaucratic bullshit, but a good bit cover tactics and spells that the general public isn't allowed to know. If only I could get an Unspeakable's handbook, but I take what I can get.

"So Tonks, you never really answered me before."

"About what, kiddo?"

"Your rack, is it--"

I never finish my sentence and spend the rest of my meal massaging myself from the 'love tap' Tonks' heel had given my bits.

*****************************

Later that night, I stumble into my bedroom, intending to pass out as soon as my head hit the pillow. I find Hedwig and the raven waiting for me, perched as they had been on my headboard last night, both watching me closely.

"Well, hello girls. I suppose I should be happy to have two females waiting for me in bed, but you'll have to forgive me..."

I turn and toss my wand onto my desk, cracking knuckles and neck and other body parts that shouldn't crack before turning back to flop into bed. The raven flutters up momentarily, hovering over my bed before it suddenly shifts, turning into a far bigger form than a raven.

After a few seconds, Bellatrix LeStrange stares back at me where the raven just had been, her wand pointed at my heart.

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