Disclaimer: I own nothing of the Harry Potter characters
A/N: Sorry everyone. I accidentally uploaded the wrong chapter. Here's the beginning of "the end..."
The End Was Only the Beginning: Prelude
Witches and wizards were celebrating throughout the castle, or what was left of it. Hogwarts was nearly a total loss, though that hardly mattered to the celebratory mood that most people found their selves in now that the Death Eaters had been defeated and Voldemort lie dead at Harry Potter's feet.
Harry pulled himself out of a sobbing Hermione's and an exalted Ron's embrace and pushed his way through the throng of revelers that now filled the Great Hall to over flowing. His eyes fixed on a smallish red headed form that was barely visible behind several larger, like red headed individuals.
A year, it had been nearly a year since he'd seen Ginny, and he would wait no longer. The prophesy had been fulfilled with Voldemort's demise. His life was now his own... and he chose to spend every last minute of it with Ginny. They could be together now. That thought had been the one thing that had kept him going this past year.
Harry finally made it past the never ending multitude of back slapping expressions of gratitude that he had only been the slightest bit aware of it, and then, only in the sense that it was delaying him from reaching his ultimate goal- Ginny. The mere thought of her being so near was like the answer to a prayer.
Harry finally managed to push his way out of the crowd; just before the wind went out of his sails.
The Weasley's were all gathered around the fallen form of one of their own. Harry's emerald green eyes scanned the mourner's; Bill, Fleur, Charlie, Percy, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, (he'd just left Ron behind him), Ginny,.. George... George was crying with Charlie's arm around his shoulders, half consoling and half supporting his younger brother in his horrific grief.
Harry caught a glimpse of the fallen form that the rest of the Weasley family was huddled around.
No, not Fred?!
He had been a fool to even consider that a family as large as the Weasleys, would come through the war both intact and unscathed. Harry scrubbed at the tears that marred his cheeks as he made his way hesitantly forward.
What could he say? He had to say something, though what could possibly help or even remotely bring the slightest of comfort at a time like this?
"M-Mrs. Weasley, everyone...?" Harry began hesitantly. "I'm so sorry about Fred. If there's anything I can possibly do?"
Molly Weasley turned around so abruptly that Harry stumbled backward uncertainly.
"I think you've done quite enough already, Mr. Potter." she scathed vehemently.
"Molly..?" Arthur Weasley reached out a restraining hand toward his distraught wife, but she shrugged him away as if he were no more than an annoying insect.
"Mrs. Weasley, I'm.." Harry began in trepidation.
Molly Weasley face contorted angrily. "Sorry, I know." she answered for him. "But sorry won't bring my Fred back, now will it?"she hissed sarcastically.
Harry had never seen her like this before. He'd seen her in a righteous rage many times, but this? This was pure contempt, loathing even, and it was all directed at him.
Mrs. Weasley planted her hands on her hips and loomed over a thoroughly uncertain Harry Potter, and continued her rant:
"You just had to lure Voldemort and his thugs back here, didn't you?" she accused caustically.
"I..I had to come back here. I-It was the only way. Voldemort was on to us and was coming here anyway to try and save his hor…" Harry clamped his mouth shut, just short of announcing the existence of Voldemort's horcruxes.
"He was coming here after you and you led him back here to all these children. Their deaths are as much your fault as they are his."Harry gapped blankly as Mrs. Weasley's raged washed over him.
Was he to blame? In his zeal to destroy Voldemort's horcruxes, did he blindly put children at risk?
The possibility that what she was implying could be true- absolutely sickened and horrified him.
"If you hadn't put all these children's lives at risk in the first place, then Fred wouldn't have had to have been here trying to protect them. Any way you slice it, the blame lies on your shoulders."
"You're wrong!" Harry felt a supporting hand on his shoulder as the voice of one he cherished, came to his defense.
"The war took Fred. Voldemort took Fred, just as sure as if he'd cast the curse with his own wand. Harry has saved thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives, by finally ending this war in the only way it could end-with Voldemort dead."
Cheers and supportive shouts answered Hermione's impassioned words.
"No" Molly Weasley shook her head desolately in disagreement.
"Molly, luv?" Her husband reached out a placating hand, but she would accept no comfort.
Her children stood behind her with looks of utter shock and trepidation on their faces, all accept Ginny. Ginny was crying despondently, sheltered in her eldest brother's embrace as she watched her mother do what Voldemort never could… destroy Harry Potter.
"He's no savior in my book." Mrs. Weasley spat venomously. Her eyes narrowed into threatening slits, her nostrils flared and grief poured out of her in a rage.
"He's a harbinger of death and destruction. Nothing but misery and grief follows in his wake."
Harry stumbled back as if he'd been struck a blow across his face from an unseen foe. The Hall went deathly quiet. The sounds of both grief and revelry died at Molly Weasley's accusation.
Harry just stood there, gapping at the women whom he'd loved like a second mother, whilst she glared back with hate filled eyes.
Whispers of denial, outrage were few within the gathered throng, more so were those of agreement at Molly Weasley 's pronouncement. Many were likewise grieving this morning and Molly was providing them an outlet.
The whispers and rasps of agreement around Harry startled him out of his shocked state. His eyes drifted around the Hall , finally settling on the one person who's opinion meant the most to him- Ginny.
Ginny's tear filled eyes locked on his momentarily, then shifted uncertainly to her mother's, before faltering and letting her gaze fall to the floor.
Molly's own gaze shifted toward Harry with a look of righteous triumph. "There's you answer, Potter." she all but crowed, and then added cruelly "No one in this family wants anything to do with you. You're the 'hand of death' and you've already claimed one life in this family, and it's the last life. Get out of my sight." Molly spat icily.
People whispered around the Hall with renewed vigor. Some shifted uncomfortably, trying to put some distance between themselves and the person whom they'd just been celebrating as their hero,... now pariah.
Harry shifted his gaze blankly to the two who had stood by him through it all. Hermione was sobbing uncontrollably in Ron's arms. Harry caught Ron's eyes and he could see the pain of his best friend's convictions mirrored in his sky blue eyes- Ron would side with his family.
Voldemort had won.
Harry cast a last sorrowful look in Ginny's direction then turned on the spot and did what magical history claimed was impossible, with a deafening " Crack ", Harry Potter apparted out of the Great Hall at Hogwarts.
Chapter One: The Return
Five years had passed. Five long years by most people's reckoning, but five years seemed as only five days to his way of thinking. Far too soon had he been forced to return to the one place he had silently vowed to never return to.
Boot falls echoed hollowly down the corridor as Harry made his way unencumbered toward the Minister's office. Whispers followed in his wake. Startled gasps of fear or delight heralded his approach. He was oblivious to it all as he passed by. He'd heard it all before, thousands of times before. Today was no different than any other. People were mostly the same the world over. The same hopes and dreams, tempered with the same fears and biases. He was still the same person in most people's eyes; savior to some, harbinger to others.
He'd grown an inch or two. His shoulders were broad, tapering down a powerful frame to a taut, well muscled abdomen. All of the above was carried on sturdy legs powered by steel hard muscles that lent a fluid grace and certainty to every step he took. Every self assured step carried him to the office of Britain's Minister of Magic. A Minister that he had not voted for, nor had he supported.
The new minister was a capable bureaucrat. As far as bureaucrats went, this one was more capable than most, though Harry had no personal love for anyone that held the office. History had taught him the valuable lesson of being ever cautious in dealing with Minister's of Magic. In that regard, this Minister was no different.
He didn't want to be here. He'd specifically requested to never have to return here. He didn't answer to the British Minister, or any other Minister for that matter. He answered only to the ruling council of the International Confederation of Wizards. Unfortunately, that august body had ordered him here, so here he had come. He knew his job, knew it well. He'd been a Knight for three years now, ever since he'd completed his training as a Battle Mage, the first such to reach that distinction in over a thousand years. As a knight, he was charged with upholding the law- by any means necessary.
Knights were empowered to kill in the protection of themselves, and or, others. They could do so with impunity, as Harry had proven the case many times in the past three years. He wore the uniform of a Confederation Knight, but with an added twist.. All knights carried a sword, and wore a black uniform, that is where the similarity between the distinction of themselves and Harry ended.
Most knights wore their sword over there right hip or shoulder, leaving their right arm free to draw a wand. Harry had no need to follow their example as he rarely if ever used a wand anymore. He was highly proficient in wandless magic. The most noticeable difference between Harry's garb and that of his brother knights was that his night black uniform was marred by a blood stained hand print over the left breast, his unprotected left breast. Harry did not wear the dragon hide breastplate that all knights were required to wear. An enlarged version of that handprint adorned his cape, which was draped over his left shoulder, leaving his right arm free to draw the gleaming ebony blade he wore on his left hip.
He had become the semblance of that which he was so unjustly labeled… the 'Hand of Death'; a symbol he carried on his uniform. Some called the insignia a warning. Harry called it a true representation of the once prophesy that distinguished his existence.
Harry's thoughts had brought him to the outer office of the British Minister, more quickly than he would have liked. Though it had been years since he stood in this spot, it would always be too soon to repeat the visit, as far as he was concerned.
Harry steeled himself and entered the outer office without bothering to knock. The Minister's secretary was busy at her desk, but looked up in surprise at his entry. She had obviously been expecting him, as most people were not so much surprised at his appearance, as they were shocked, or even terrified!
The secretary was a young attractive witch with long brown hair pulled back into a pony tail that cascaded down the back of her standard issue, black ministry robes.
"Confederation Knight, Harry Potter reporting for duty. Is the Minister in?" Harry could not entirely keep the hopeful anticipation, (that the minister might be out of the office), out of his tone.
The young witch smiled brightly as she stood and announced "It's a pleasure to meet you Sir Harry. I've heard so many stories about you. My mum and dad will be ever so surprised when I tell them that I actually got to meet the famous Harry Potter".
Harry shot her a withering glare that took the flirtatious smile right off of her face.
"The Minister?" he reiterated blandly.
"Oh, ah… of course." The young witch answered crest fallen as she turned to the Minister's office door.
"One moment please, while I see if the Minister's available."
The young witch return after a moment and held the door open beckoning him forward as she curtseyed and announced, "The Minister will see you know."
Harry strode into the office without gracing the young witch with a second glance in his passing. The sooner he completed the job, the sooner he could vacate these shores.
"Harry, it's good to see you again. How long has it been?" Arthur Weasley, Britain's Minister of Magic smiled invitingly as he rose from his desk in greeting, extending his hand.
"Knight Potter, if you please?" Harry redirected coolly.
"Beg your pardon?" Arthur Weasley asked as his smile faltered.
"Sir, I am here on business." Harry began in a coolly professional tone. "As such I expect to be addressed by my proper title, as I intend to offer you the same consideration. I am known by my given name to only a very select few close friends and associates. I am known as Sir Harry to familiar acquaintance's. You sir fit into neither category. Lastly, and just for the record; It's been five years, two months, six days and fourteen minutes since I've suffered the misfortune of our association."
Minister Weasley's hand dropped to his side but he still quirked a grin as he retorted.
"But who's counting, right?"
"Indeed." Harry returned unemotionally, in a tone reminiscent of his former Potion's instructor.
" Harry.." Mr. Weasley began; taking note of Harry's stiffening in response to the use of his given name. "While I can appreciate your trepidation,…things that night were,.. emotionally difficult. Molly was speaking from her pain, not from her head or her heart." He amended sadly and continued to try and explain. " We…."
Harry held up his hand halting his explanation before Arthur could barely begin.
"I reiterate; I am here on business. Let's make this easy on ourselves, shall we? Just give me my assignment and any pertinent information you have regarding the case and I'll get to it. When I finish the assignment, have any additional assignments ready on my return so that I can expedite their completion without delay, thus avoiding any unnecessary emotional overtures. Once I've completed any and all assignments to your satisfaction, I'll depart and, Merlin willing, we'll have far more than five years before either of us must suffer the presence of the other again."
Minister Weasley's jaw worked soundlessly as he bit back any further attempt to try and reach out to the young man that stood stoically confident before him. Gone were the tell tale round glasses, the lanky form, and the endearing innocence that once shone from his mother's eyes.
In its place: piercing emerald green eyes gazed raptor like from a powerfully built man who moved with fluid assurance. If it wasn't for the familiarity of those green eyes and the vivid scar on his forehead, Arthur Weasley would have never recognized the man, or more properly, the shell of the man who stood before him.
Regarding outer shells; Harry's distinct lack of armor was troubling. The bloody hand print displayed on his uniform's left breast, even more so. He'd heard the descriptions, the stories'… and the rumors. Up till now, he'd hoped they we're all just fictional accounts; merely propaganda generated to sell newspapers. Fanciful tales to delight children and frighten would be evil doers or even just exaggerations of over active imaginations.
Now that he'd seen him first hand, Arthur Weasley knew with one hundred percent certainty that every troubling account regarding "The Hand" was absolutely authentic. Harry was striving to become that which Molly had wrongfully labeled him in a moment of grief induced madness. Harry was becoming the "Hand of Death".
That he had achieved the rank of Battle Mage was unbelievable. His file listed one accomplishment after another. Any one such achievement few wizards could boast to have attained over an entire lifetime, but, all of them ,… and at 22 years of age!
Proficient at wandless magic.
Martial arts expert.
Command level tactician.
The qualifications contained within his file went on and on…
They were closely followed by a comprehensive listing of all of Harry's completed missions and assignments over the past three years since his induction as a Confederation Knight.
One hundred and forty-seven cases –resolved. No failures; a completely unblemished record. No knight in history has ever achieved as an impressive record of service, nor displayed such an aptitude.
That was the official record.
Unofficially; Harry was credited with surviving twelve assassination attempts. All assailants were dispatched without resulting civilian casualties, nor outstanding collateral damage.
In short, Harry had become an economically efficient, killing machine.
Minister Weasley's mind considered all these things; Harry's appearance, his record, his chilling persona- All of it. He was resolved to his course, though it was five years too late.
He handed Harry the dossier on his first assignment. "Ron is the lead auror on this case. I'm sure he will make himself available to answer any questions you may have." Minister Weasley indicated with a slight sense of hope.
"Thank you, Minister." Harry returned icily before turning on his heel and leaving the office without waiting for an official dismissal.
Arthur Weasley slumped warily into his chair.
So much for inviting Harry to the Burrow for dinner .He thought dejectedly.
His eyes strayed to the clock on his office wall.
Five years, two months, six days, four hours and thirty eight minutes too long since we rectified what should have never been allowed to happen in the first place. Arthur Weasley considered shamefully.
The grief in our hearts over Fred was so fresh and raw. Molly lashed out in her pain without thinking and the rest of us blindly followed along in her wake. Well, almost all of us. Fleur and Hermione had remained level headed and justifiably loyal, but the rest of us? The rest of us destroyed something beyond precious. We destroyed the trust and along with it, the love, of one who deserves all the love and consideration this world has to offer.
Arthur Weasley admonished himself once again, as he had done every day over the past five years, four months and six days, since the day he had stood idly by and let the love of his life destroy the love of his daughter's life. His sons had lost another brother that day. Molly and he had lost a another son, and Ginny,... Ginny had lost the most of all.
Too late they'd come to their senses and realized their hideous betrayal. Harry had left and for two whole years he was out of reach, having entered into Mage training at the Strombridge Institute in Salem. It was named for its founder, Galewin Strombrige, the last to hold the title of Battle Mage.
That was until Harry came along.
After Harry had graduated, and the rest of the world recovered from the shocking news that a Battle Mage had been named. He was immediately inducted into Knighthood by the Confederation. Harry immersed himself in his duties, taking on every unsolved and supposedly unsolvable case that was still on the books.
Dark lords were summarily defeated. Cults and plots against the public were destroyed with extreme prejudice. Murderers were soon brought to justice. An entire wing was added to Azkaban to house the substantial increase in the convict population as a result of Harry's actions..
The legend of Harry Potter grew to epic proportions and the heartache within his once surrogate family followed suit.
They'd sent owls, dozens upon dozens of them in fact. All returned with their letters unopened. Invitations to weddings, baptisms, anniversaries; all were met with complete disregard.
Every one of his son's had made a personal attempt to see Harry at one point or another, Ron, Bill and George had tried on several occasions, but had returned dejected . Harry was always out on assignment and as such, was unavailable due to security precautions. The fact that Harry was intentionally making himself unavailable went without saying. Immersing himself in his work had granted Harry the distinct advantage of making him unapproachable by the general public.
The only response that anyone in the family had supposedly received from Harry in the last five years was in answer to Fleur and Bill's request that Harry act as godfather to their daughter, Willimenia. The missive he'd returned had been short, but it was at least a reply. One that Fleur had not anticipated having to read in front of the Weasley family, but they we're all in attendance at Shell Cottage, when the owl arrived. Only Ginny was not in attendance as she was on the road playing quidditch with the Holyhead Harpies.
Ginny's lifelong dream of playing professional Quidditch with the Harpies had become a reality, but it proved bittersweet, having come in the wake of losing the love of her life.
Though I am greatly honored that you would even consider someone like me…
"Someone like me? What does he mean 'someone like me'?" Ron scoffed indignantly, interrupting Fleur's narration.
"I should zink zat would be obvious, Ronald." Fleur shot back with a roll of her eyes.
"So he still believes that we all think he's a murderer? " Charlie asked incredulously.
"He has no reason to think otherwise." Hermione added skeptically to the vein of their conversation.
"We've tried to see him. We've sent letters. He won't even meet us half way." Percy added defensively.
"And why should he?" Fleur scoffed angrily. "He has nothing to answer to you for. You all rounded on him like a pack of starving dogs. Now be quiet and let me finish." Fleur scanned the note in her hand and began to finish reading the note that Harry had sent.
…honored that you would even consider someone like me as a godfather candidate for little Willie.
Regretfully, I must decline for personal and professional reasons. The former being one that I'm sure needs no explanation, the latter; as a Confederation Knight, my duties require me to be in the field a great deal of the time and I would be unable to fulfill my duty adequately, as Godparent, to Willie.
Please try and explain my inability to serve as her Godfather in a fashion that she can understand. Remind her that she is dear to me and that I miss her greatly. I should be able to stop by the cottage next week before I have to go out on my next assignment.
Give Willie a hug and kiss for me!
Fleur finished the note and shared a brief, knowing look with Hermione, before the inevitable tide of questions.
"What does he mean, 'stop by the cottage? Bill bit out in angry disbelief.
"Yeah, and how does he know that we call her Willie for short. " George added bewildered.
Fleur lovingly ran her hand through the silver locks of her four year old and quite precocious, daughter, who lie sleeping in her arms.
Ze proverbial cat iz out of ze bag.
Though she had initially dreaded this moment, now that it was upon her she felt only profound relief.
"'Arry knows, these things because he visits Willie and me on a regular basis and has done so for ze past three years. Willie absolutely adores 'em." Fleur explained with a proud defiant look on her face.
Hermione cleared her throat drawing the attention of her stunned surrogate family as she added.
"Harry has remained in contact with Fleur and me since he left. We were his friends then and we remain his friends now. Nothing has changed between the three of us."
It was several moments before anyone could compose themselves enough to form a reply to this shocking revelation.
"All...this… time ? You mean all this time you've been in contact with Harry, and you kept it from me?" Ron turned and hissed accusingly to his girlfriend.
"Yes" Hermione replied simply.
Bill turned to his radiantly defiant wife and asked, "Why?"
"Why what, Bill? Why did I not sever ties with someone I care about az if he were my own brozer?" She turned a baleful glare toward her mother in-law, who had remained uncharacteristically quiet throughout this entire exchange.
"Why did I not betray ze one person whoz entire life and happiness he sacrificed for ze rest of us without reservation? Why...?"
Hermione interrupted her, but was facing Ron as she added solemnly. "Why did we choose to continue to love someone who deserves all the love and understanding that we can possible give, though he would never ask for it, let alone expect it from us?"
Ron's upper lip trembled and his eyes searched her face for some small sign of sympathy but he found none there.
"H-Hermione , I…" He began haltingly before she cut him off.
"I love you, Ron. I love you for the boy you once were and the man you've grown to be, but… I hate you for who you were in between. It was your betrayal that was the final straw that broke the camel's back. Molly only opened the wound." Hermione's words became caustic and she glared daggers at the Weasley matriarch.
"You, however, tore a hole right into his heart ,… and as for the rest of you?" Hermione's glare swept around the room. "The rest of you guided the sword that pierced his heart, but it was you ,Ron,.. it was your hand on the pommel of that sword. He loved you more than any of us and you turned your back on him when he needed you most."
Tears filled the corners of Ron's eyes, tears of shame and regret.
"Does he ever,.. does he ever talk about me?" Ron asked hopefully, swiping away a stray tear.
"Never" Hermione spat back in a flat monotone that was devoid of any compassion.
"He never talks about any of you. He never asks about any of you. Wait? I take that back. He did mention Molly once recently."
Molly lifted her tear stained face in trepidation. She was afraid to ask, but she was too afraid not to.
"W-What did he say?" she asked anxiously.
Hermione quirked an eyebrow and answered. "This was only a few months ago when we'd met for lunch. I asked him if he had met anyone that he might be interested in dating. He snorted derisively and answered, ' what sort of a woman would ever be serious about me?'
"I said that I thought a lot of nice witches would consider their selves lucky to have him. He laughed at this like it was the funniest thing he'd ever heard.
I was surprised by his reaction, so I asked him what he found so amusing about that." Hermione paused and pulled a face like she had swallowed something vile.
"W-What did he say? " Arthur Weasley asked curiously, voicing the same question that was on everyone's mind.
Hermione shook he head desolately. "His smile faded and he answered with complete conviction that; no decent witch would ever be interested in someone like him because Molly was right,… that he is the
'Hand of Death'."
Hermione brushed at her eyes. She was lost in the thoughts of her own regrets, oblivious to the sniffles from the others gathered around her.
Arthur Weasley sat in his office in apprehensive silence. He thought over the irony of that moment. They'd all hoped that Hermione was exaggerating.