'I am the wound and I am the blade; both the torturer and he who is flayed.'


PROLOGUE

It was midsummer and the heat was oppressive- it bore down upon Little Whinging, permeating the foundations of each house. Petunia Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, had taken to running the air conditioner full-throttle, day and night, with no concern for ill-effects of energy consumption. So it was when Harry Potter stepped out into the late afternoon, he was smacked by the wall of heat as though it were a physical barrier. Briefly he hesitated on the threshold- tolerate the warmth, or tolerate the Dursleys? The decision was made for him when his Uncle Vernon screamed bloody murder from the sitting room; 'Close the damn door boy, it's a hellfire out there!'

Stepping smartly over the low-growing hedge on the perimeters of the Dursley residence, Harry heaved a sigh of relief. He was no longer under the blood ward protection. Here, a Death Eater might strike at any given time- Voldemort himself might turn up- and he'd be done with it. Done with the nightmares- the guilt of watching Cedric Diggory die, over and over… done with the inertia that came hand in hand with summertime at Privet Drive. Done with waiting by the window for days only to have Hedwig bring him the same answer- Dumbledore said we're not allowed to tell you much. And no word from the man himself- not after having witnessed the rebirth of the darkest wizard of the age; after having seen his friend murdered, and having barely escaped with his own life. Dumbledore hadn't bothered to see how Harry was coping.

He walked up Magnolia Crescent, headed toward the copse of woodland he spent most of his days meandering about. It was small, barely a half-hectare, but the foliage was dense enough so that he could pretend he was somewhere else. It was cooler under here, in the dark, under the still canopy- with a sigh he sank to the ground and lay there, hands over his heart, eyes closed. He had surmised, from Ron and Hermione's hastily penned letters, that the two of them were staying together- at The Burrow, he supposed. At first he'd been angry, but he didn't have the energy for it. He just felt sad. It went beyond boredom after a month at Privet Drive; beyond his frustration at being kept in the dark. He felt inherently sad. He had seen death, and death had infected him, as it were. He could think of little else.

'Did you see him squirm?'

Harry wrinkled his nose. Damn. It was Gordon, one of Dudley's cronies, which meant his cousin had braved the heatwave on his standard 'bashing anyone who looks at me the wrong way' spree. Harry got to his feet and, in his haste, tripped over a wayward tree root. Sprawled amid the forest's debris he held himself still; with any luck they hadn't heard him.

'He deserved it, he did.' Dudley was guffawing, but the sound was growing fainter- they were walking away. Harry let out a sigh of relief and stood up, carefully this time. It was then that he noticed he was bleeding.

He'd grazed his elbows- blood was peppered, bright, and it stung. Where moments ago he'd felt flat, he was now exhilarated. The effect was instantaneous. When he saw the blood, his body reacted accordingly- blood meant danger, danger meant energy was required- adrenaline coursed through his veins. This acted on Harry like electricity; he touched his grazes, eyes bright- he was back in the graveyard again, danger was afoot and he relished it.

Harry had hovered, ear pressed to his bedroom door; a guttural snore from his cousin was his cue. Bounding down the stairs two at a time he had fumbled, sightless, in the cutlery draw, like a child playing lucky dip.

He sat now on his bed, clutching his prize; a filleting knife, silver and tapered. Instinctively he held aloft his forearm, and traced the scar left from Wormtail's dagger. Voldemort had needed his blood, used it to restore his body; this blood was sacred. It was only fitting to start at this limb.

Sucking in his breath Harry put pressure behind the blade, put it did not break the skin. He lifted it and swiftly bought it down, slicing in neat little lines. They were shallow, like cat scratches. But as he went on it was easier; he hacked at his forearm til it was messily hatched, but he wasn't spilling real blood, this was just capillaries. In his mind's eye he saw Snape, gloating; 'not much of a Gryffindor now, are we, Potter?'

Incensed, Harry traced the forearm deliberately, slowly, heavily; he watched the blade sink into flesh and felt the well of blood in its wake. The cut gaped, and more blood was coming; and here it was- the panic as his body realised it was in mortal danger. His heart raced ahead of time and he felt dizzy. Harry slashed, twice, three times, four times more; each cut deeper than the last. There was blood, so much blood; a metallic tinge in his nostrils and a ring in his ears; he raised closed eyes skyward and revelled in the vertigo.