HAND OF GLORY

"I want to invite this so called chaos, that you'd think I dare not be."

o o o o o o o

Most great discoveries are not made on purpose. You try to find a way to India and somehow end up in the Caribbean. You let something mouldy grow on your Petri dish and come up with penicillin. An apple falls on your head and the theory of gravitation is born. You work on a chemical inducing childbirth and present the unsuspecting world with LSD.

Harry Potter didn't require the blessing of the Queen of Spain, an orchard or a degree in chemistry to make his private discovery. What he needed was an extensive training in all forms of magical warfare, mind numbing fatigue, a good deal of cynicism and a very real possibility of dying in the next two minutes.

He crept, soundless and invisible, through thick bushes surrounding the Death Eater encampment in one of the last missions of the war. Focused despite his tiredness he moved forward, avoiding sentries and wards. He couldn't see the others, but they were there, counting on him not to make a mistake.

The guard sneaking around the tent, straight into his path, startled him. He froze and waited with muscles taunt and the wand trained on the Death Eater.

"...bloody freezing," muttered the man and pulled something from his pocket. Harry almost laughed when he caught the smell of firewhiskey. The guard took few more sips and sat down behind the tent. Directly in the only spot where the hastily constructed wards were weak enough for Harry to breach them without raising alarm. He couldn't do anything except wait.

The guard remained where he was and after ten minutes Harry was beginning to feel desperate. Two minutes later he cast a very mild sleeping charm, hoping that the combination of magic and alcohol would be enough to put the idiot to sleep.

It wasn't. The man was swaying and his grumblings were a bit slurred, but he remained awake and from time to time he jerked his head up to look around.

Well, bugger, thought Harry. He couldn't stun the moron, because a strong spell this close to the wards' edge could accidentally set them off. He most certainly didn't have time to wait for him to fall asleep or leave by himself. He had to move now.

One careful move at the time, Harry crept closer to the man, trying to sense where the weak point of the wards ended. The results made him want to scream in frustration. It could be done, but he would have to move bare inches from the Death Eater and pray he doesn't move.

As long as I don't breath too deeply... Bloody brilliant.

There was no other way. Gathering all his courage and hoping his luck stays with him, Harry took one last step and inched towards the breach in the wards. The drunk Death Eater didn't notice anything, but Harry did. There was a dagger hanging from the man's belt. It was slim, the hilt decorated with dark wood and thin lines of silver, the same pattern traced in the dark leather of the sheath.

It was beautiful. He wanted it. Not only because he should disarm the enemy or because it might be useful in tonight's mission. He wanted to own it, to take it for himself.

That's called stealing, said a voice in his head, sounding suspiciously like Hermione. Was it? Harry thought about it for a moment and decided that yes, stealing was the word, other words that came to mind being "stupid" and "suicidal". And no, that wasn't going to stop him.

Not really believing he was actually doing this, he used his own knife to cut the leather loop attaching the sheath to the belt and stepped through the wards, away from the man.

After few more steps Harry took the dagger out and turned it in his hand, feeling the charm preventing his grip from slipping. Dim light played on the blade, it's balance flawless, the edge razor-sharp. It was perfect.

He smiled and used a charm to fasten the sheath to his own forearm.

On the edge of the Death Eater encampment Harry Potter discovered that his talents, training, power and his weary I-don't-give-a-fuck attitude made him not only a great soldier, but also one hell of a thief.

o o o o o o o

The discovery and the excitement it stirred in Harry didn't change one particular fact of his existence. If he ever wanted to make his own life, he had to win this blasted war first.

So he did.

Two months later he was standing over the Dark Tosser's still twitching body. He was swaying on his feet, left side of his face was covered with an ugly burn, his whole body wanted nothing more than to collapse in complete exhaustion. Despite all this, in this moment everything was right with the world.

"Harry," whispered Ron Weasley. Harry tore his eyes away from Voldemort's pitiful shell and looked up. His oldest friend pointed at his forehead.

"Your scar," he said, "it's…gone."

Harry only smiled, too tired to respond.

Minutes later the pack of vultures, also known as the press, descended on them. Ron put his arm around Harry and, one sluggish step after another, led him through the crowd, shooting dark glares at the most annoying of them. Not that it helped any.

"Harry! Harry! Is it true? Is He Who Must Not Be Named dead?!" yelled someone to his right and dozen people cried their interest in his answer.

"How did it happen?" came someone else's voice, shrill and so piercing it made Harry wince.

"How do you feel?" asked Rita Skeeter with false concern. "Are you hurt?"

"What are you going to do now?"

The reporters closed in on them and Harry realized that more than just Ron's strong elbows would be needed in order to break free of this throng. He stopped and raised his wands, both of them. Holly and yew, brother wands, for the first time since their creation working together, cumulating their power into a truly formidable force. The shower of sparks was so bright and colourful that it stunned Harry's pursuers into silence and stillness for a moment.

Before they could gather their wits about them and assault him with a new round of questions, Harry cast Sonorus on himself and spoke.

"Voldemort is gone. Dead as a doornail once and for all, stiff as a plank, sleeping the endless sleep, not coming back, ever. As to how - we duelled, I cheated, I won. How do I feel? Bloody happy, that's how. Am I hurt?" he glanced down at his torn and bloodied robes. "Well, I think you can answer that yourselves. What will I do next?" he drifted off and looked up, a dreamy smile on his face. Those close enough to really see it wished they could take a step back. There was something about this smile that they didn't like one bit.

Harry Potter sighed and looked at the circle of worried faces around him. "Anything I very well please," he said, grinned like a maniac and disappeared without a sound.

"What the hell did he mean?" one nervous reporter asked Ron Weasley.

The young wizard stared at the spot where his best mate stood only moments ago. "I think we'll find out soon enough," he said.

Later many people decided he was wrong. For them it wasn't 'soon enough'. It was, in fact, about two months too late. Or, if one believed in Fate, Destiny and all that rot, not two moths, but whole eighteen years.

o o o o o o o

In the middle of the night, almost full month after Voldemort's death, the alarm on Ron Weasley's Floo sounded and woke him up. He reached the living room, wand in hand, right in time to see a dark figure stumble out of the green flames and land on his carpet in an undignified heap. Ron lowered his wand and smiled.

"Hullo, Harry."

His friend picked himself up and charmed the soot off his robes. "How did you know it was me?"

"There are exactly two people with access to this fireplace who can't keep their balance coming out, and Tonks doesn't drop by in the middle of the night," he yawned and rubbed his eyes. "Not that I'm not happy to see you, everyone was worried when you went and disappeared on us, but why now?"

Harry stopped the useless efforts to tame his hair, glanced at the clock on the wall and blinked. "Oh. Right."

"Please tell me you did realize it was three in the morning."

"Um. Well, it was already past midnight when I left home, so I guess I did. Stupid, eh?"

"You won't hear me arguing, mate," sighed Ron and sat down in his favourite chair. "Now, tell me what happened so I can go back to sleep."

Harry dropped his bag on the floor and plopped down on a couch across from Ron. He took a deep breath and looked at Ron with such intensity and sudden seriousness that the redhead felt a bit unsettled.

"Ron, I figured out what I want to do."

Ron let out a breath he didn't realize he was holding and seriously considered punching his best friend in the mouth, hard. "It's all jolly well, I'm happy for you and all, but couldn't it wait till morning?"

"Actually, no."

"Why? No, wait," Ron covered his eyes with his hand. "I'm too tired for this and I have to get up in three hours. Just tell me about this epiphany of yours."

"Well, I can't."

The idea of punching Harry seemed better and better with every passing minute. "Fine. I'm officially lost. What did you come here for then? Just to piss me off? You're doing a great job, if that's the case. Or maybe your fridge was empty and you wanted to raid mine? Or did you feel the overwhelming need to loose a game of chess?"

Harry gave him a hurt look. "Now, that was low."

"I don't give a damn, I swear I will loose the Twins on you if you don't explain right this second."

"I was running from the Aurors and needed an Unplottable location with a password-protected untraceable Floo connection. Also, I have a bag full of galleons and thought you might want some. And maybe we could have a beer?"

Harry was grinning in a way that reminded Ron of something. He tried to remembered what it was, but quickly gave it up as a bad job. Right now he was angry, tired and he could feel a mother of all headaches coming his way.

"Harry? Why would the Aurors chase you? And how exactly did you come up with a bag full of gold?"

Harry inherited a healthy amount of money from his parents and then some more from Sirius, but there was not much left by now. The war is an expensive business and most Order members, including Harry, spent the majority of their assets on equipment, training, bribes, weapons and such. Still, they all considered it more than worth it and nobody complained.

Harry shrugged. "I like you and I stole more money than I need, so I thought - why not? Which probably answers your first question as well."

"You what? What do you mean, stole?" said Ron incredulously.

Harry grinned again. "That's what it's called when you break into some guy's house, disable his wards, crack the locking charms on his vault and run away with all his money."

"Mate, you do realize that I am an Auror Apprentice, right?" asked Ron slowly.

"Yeah. But you like me."

There was some kind of logic in Harry's answer, but Ron couldn't see it right now, which actually made him feel relieved. He wasn't sure he ever wanted to find himself in a mindset that would allow him to understand that, so he decided to drop the subject.

"Why would you go and rob someone?" he asked instead.

"The guy is a bigot and a right wanker, and there are people, including yours truly, who need that money more than him and can actually use it for something decent," explained Harry in a tone that suggested it was the most obvious thing in the world. "And I felt like it," he added after a second.

"Mate, you can't steal someone's money just because you don't like them!"

Harry picked his bag from the floor and shook it, making the coins chink.

"Watch me."

Ron opened and closed his mouth several times, but he couldn't find anything to say. Harry just laughed.

"Any more questions?"

Ron thought about it for a moment and managed to come up with a question that didn't delve to deeply into Harry's reasoning behind all this.

"What are you going to do with it?"

"That's what I figured out a while ago," said Harry, looking very pleased with himself.

"That's your epiphany? You figured out what to do with money you stole? What did you steal it for in the first place then?"

"Told you already - he's a git, and it seemed like fun."

Harry wanted to say something else, but Ron's raised hand stopped him. "Enough. I can't do this while I'm sober."

He got up and poured himself a generous dose of Ogden's finest, which he downed in one gulp. He poured again, this time for both of them, and returned to his chair. They sat in silence for a moment, Ron contemplating his pounding headache and Harry grinning like a maniac.

"I should arrest you now."

"But you won't."

Ron sighed. "No, I suppose I won't."

They sipped their whiskey.

"Tell me again, why are you here?"

"I was happy and wanted to tell someone," said Harry. "And there were the Aurors."

"Oh. All right then."

"You sure you don't want some?" Harry gestured to the bag.

Ron shook his head. "It's bad enough that I'm letting you go. It would be worse if I accepted stolen money from a wanted criminal."

Harry sat his glass on the table. "Right, I'll be going then." He shouldered his bag and turned towards the fireplace.

"You won't tell me what the big plan is, will you?"

"No can do. You will have to wait and see, like everyone else. But I promise you'll like it."

Ron sighed and rubbed his temples. "Try not to get caught, all right?"

"Sure," said Harry and disappeared in a whirl of green fire.

Ron dragged himself to bed to catch an hour of sleep before he had to leave for the morning classes and tried not to think about Harry Potter. Harry was on a mission and the Aurors would try to stop him. The very idea of being included among those trying to stop Harry Potter made Ron shudder. Last time someone made a real effort to stop Harry was during the Final Battle, and Ron really did not want to end up like those people. The ones missing limbs were considered lucky.

Something occurred to him right before he drifted off. Oh Merlin, wait till Hermione finds out! I really hope you know what you're doing, mate, he thought, and fell asleep with a smile on his face.

o o o o o o o

The next two weeks were horrible for Ron. Every single night there was a break-in at a prominent wizard's house and the Aurors were at their collective wit's end. The Apprentices were not included in the investigations, but the rumours were running wild and sometimes one of their instructors let something from the official record slip. Ron had a hard time keeping from laughing and at the same time he felt guilty about it.

To make things worse, Hermione was directly involved in the case. After the war was over she surprised everyone by signing up for what seemed to be a random selection of classes at the Auror Academy and St. Mungo's Institute of Medi-Wizardry, as well as a course at the Muggle university - something called Forensic Science. It didn't make much sense to Ron, even though she tried to explain several times. The Aurors didn't get it either. She went to them right after graduation, carrying a trunk full of strange Muggle devices. They actually laughed at her when she told them what she wanted to do. They stopped laughing after she gave them a practical demonstration, outclassing their best investigators, armed with a variety of tracking and detecting spells, artefacts and potions.

Now, Hermione Granger was the first ever magical crime scene investigator and "Harry's case", as Ron called it in his thoughts, drove her to distraction. That caused her to pester Ron, as he was familiar with the case, which in turn was the reason why Ron decided to visit Harry.

He found his friend in a middle of preparations for yet another busy night.

"Hi Ron," he said, struggling to fit something inside his already bulging backpack. "Sorry, but I don't have much time right now..."

"That's all right," interrupted Ron. "I just... wait a moment. Is that...?" he pointed at the item in Harry's hands.

Harry shot him a wide grin. "Yep. My new favourite toy since I hit the Malfoys. It still gives me the creeps, but the possibilities..."

Ron's brow furrowed. "Wait, the Malfoys weren't robbed."

Harry smirked. "That's what you think. Though I can see why they didn't report it. I imagine Hermione and her merry band of geeks would be very interested in some things they would find in the Malfoy family vault. Not to mention the dungeons."

Ron shuddered. "I don't want to know."

"Smart man."

"Speaking of Hermione, I came to warn you. She will be dropping by some time next week."

Harry raised an eyebrow. "Did she find anything? Am I a suspect?"

"No, thank Merlin," smiled Ron. "But you managed to frustrate her to no end and she figured I've had enough of her complaining. You are her next victim."

"Give her my password then, would you?"

"Will do." Harry sighed and Ron looked at the object of his frustration. The backpack was filled to the brim and one brown mummified finger stuck out of the side pocket.

"Crap," muttered Harry.

"I will leave you to it then," laughed Ron. "Don't get caught."

"Never."

Ron had his hand on a jar with the Floo powder when he remembered something.

"Oh, and Harry? Please, do something about the name of your Floo node. I feel like a right idiot yelling it out loud in the Ministry Atrium," he said before disappearing.

"What's wrong with Not My Fault?" Harry asked the empty room.

o o o o o o o

Ron had a free day on Wednesday. He had planned to spend it eating pizza, sleeping, watching the telly (and blessing Hermione for introducing him to the Muggle invention), and then sleeping some more. Harry's little crusade drove the Aurors to distraction and the simpler cases were delegated to the Apprentices. The new workload, combined with his usual amount of studies and training, made him too tired to even consider doing anything productive on his precious free Wednesday.

That's why he wasn't exactly thrilled when Harry, who single-handedly managed to provide the entire Auror Division with enough work for a month and somehow still looked fresh and rested, paid him a visit. Ron had long since given up on trying to figure out what his friend's mad scheme was and didn't even bother asking any more. What was the point? All Harry ever did was smile in that deranged way of his and say nothing.

Like he was now.

"Don't you have money to steal?" grumbled Ron and, as expected, received that maddening grin for his effort. "I was just getting ready to go to sleep, you know. I'm dead tired. And it's all your fault."

"Sorry," said Harry, not sounding sorry at all. "And no, I don't have money to steal. I'm done."

That woke Ron up a bit.

"So you are going to tell me what this was all about?"

"I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise for you."

Ron glared at him for a long moment. "Harry, I swear, one day I'm going to strangle you."

"I brought beer," offered Harry, pulling two six-packs out of his enlarged bag.

Ron let out a heavy sigh. "Fine, come in then."

o o o o o o o

They spent the next three hours in Ron's small and rather dingy kitchen - Ron struggling not to fall asleep with his face in the cold pizza, and Harry pissing him off by enjoying the show and being enigmatic. Ron was about to once again try and convince Harry to tell him the big secret, or else bugger off and let him sleep, when the Floo chimed and Hermione stumbled out of the fireplace, looking dazed.

"Herm? What happened?" asked Ron. She didn't react. He called her Herm and she didn't even glare at him. Something was very, very wrong.

Ron stood and gently led Hermione to a chair. She plopped down and absently reached for the beer. Ron stared. Hermione never drank! Nothing stronger than a butterbeer anyway.

"Hermione, you're worrying me."

"I think she just saw today's Prophet," said Harry.

Ron's eyes grew wide in understanding and then narrowed in anger when Harry confirmed his suspicions with a happy nod.

"You are telling me you kept me guessing for three hours and all I had to do was read a bloody newspaper?!"

Hermione downed the beer and reached for the second bottle.

"Whoa, easy there," Ron held her hand. She looked up at him, as if noticing him for the first time, and blushed.

"Sorry. I... I don't think I'm feeling too well," she said.

"What was in that ruddy paper?"

Hermione swallowed and once again awe and disbelief showed in her eyes. "Someone... donated a hundred t-thousand galleons to S.P.E.W., and over a million to Moonlight - the foundation that helps werewolves. They gave two m-million to the institute that researches the possibility of combining Muggle technology and magic. And..." she glanced back and forth between Harry and Ron. "Summed up, it's just over eighty million galleons. Ron, is that real? They say the Wizengamot will have to change the laws now, those groups have too much influence now to be ignored... Harry? I'm not dreaming this, am I?"

Ron felt stupefied. "That's... a lot of money," he managed weakly.

He looked at his friends. Hermione for the first time in his memory looked, well, lost. Torn between shock and doubt and joy. "They say it all came from one person. Who would have that much money? Who would give up that much money?" she asked no-one in particular.

And Harry... "It's real. It's all real, Hermione," he said and Ron finally remembered when he had seen his friend smile like this. That was the look he had worn standing over Voldemort's body, the look that spoke of overwhelming relief, pride, happiness and the absolute certainty that everything was going to be fine now.

Ron stared at Harry and felt the matching grin appear on his own face.

"Well, bugger me," he whispered. "And here I thought you just went barmy, Potter."

"I told Rita to take her photographer, go to the Malfoy Manor first thing in the morning and tell them the good news," said Harry, his expression dreamy. "I think I'm going to have Lucius' picture framed."

"You... what? Harry?" There was a slow shift in Hermione's expression - confusion giving way to a flash of understanding, then denial and anger. Finally replaced by the weary acceptance and even a hint of amusement. "Boys? Please, please tell me you don't mean what I think you mean," she pleaded.

Ron could only laugh and laugh, until his belly hurt and tears streamed down his face. "As long as I get the copies, mate," he wheezed. And then he laughed some more.

o o o o o o o

fin