A/N: I danced in and out of canon in this chapter, adjusting the story as I saw fit to gel with what I wanted to say.

The Beginning of the End?

MAY 1998

The horcrux hunt was over. The last one was destroyed when Neville killed Nagini. Fury was the Savior's impetus as he stalked toward Tom Riddle, vengeance in his emerald eyes.

"It's time, Tom," he hissed at the weakened wizard. "I've eliminated all traces of your soul; I've destroyed every horcrux. Now you die."

Kill me if you can, boy, Riddle hissed, his breath wheezing in his lungs. You missed one.

No, Tom, I didn't, Harry hissed back, the smirk growing as he raised his wand, poised to cast the killing curse. Your quest will live on, in me. You are now a part of me.

Well done, Harry. Riddle bowed his head to his chest in respect. I am glad it will be you to finish me.

Goodbye, Tom. Thank you for the power you will give me. "Avada Kedavra."

Collapsing to the ground, Harry was hit with such devastating exhaustion that he could barely keep his eyes open. He had felt a tremendous surge of power slam into him when Riddle died, but didn't worry about it. He had felt that same power surge when Draco had killed Dumbledore on the Astronomy Tower. He sat on his knees for a while, listening as those around him cheered his victory. He was suddenly surrounded by his friends, hugging and grabbing him, and he felt an overwhelming urge to crucio them all for touching him. He shook his head, trying to hide those feelings, and allowed his friends to help him to his feet. They supported him as he walked to the infirmary, where he collapsed on a bed, closing his eyes and sleeping for sixteen hours.

His eyes slowly opened, blinking the blurry images away as he saw the white walls surrounding him. Right, he thought. The infirmary. Voldemort's dead. My parents have been avenged. The thought didn't fill him with joy or happiness. In fact, he was rather indifferent to it all. Only relief, at his vengeance carried out, flooded him. He had no kind feelings for the wizarding world after the way they had treated him in all the years he'd spent there. He didn't kill Riddle for them; he killed the Dark Lord only for his parents, and for the Slytherins trapped in an endless existence of torture and pain. Figures moved around him, and he could make out the fuzzy images of what he supposed were his friends.

"His eyes are open," someone said breathlessly, and suddenly those fuzzy images came into focus as his bed was surrounded by bodies. Harry grimaced slightly as Ginny leaned down to kiss him; no matter how many times he had told her he wasn't interested, she still threw herself at him. He turned his head so she was only able to kiss his cheek. She put her palm against his face, trying to turn his head so she could kiss his lips, but he jerked away, glaring. She huffed, letting him go and stomping out of the infirmary.

"She's just glad to see you're alive, mate," Ron said uneasily. He saw the flash of fury cross his friend's face, and was worried.

"I've told her I don't want her," Harry responded brutally. Ron flinched, and Hermione gasped. Harry rolled on his side, away from his friends, not wanting to talk to or visit with anyone.

"You're probably still tired, Harry," Hermione said soothingly. "We'll come back later." Grabbing Ron's hand, she dragged the redhead from the room, and Harry heaved a relieved sigh. He turned back over, looking at the ceiling, and thinking about his life.

At fifteen months, his parents were killed, and he was marked by Voldemort. He was then left with relatives that hated the very sight of him. Until he was eleven, he didn't even know that anyone else knew he existed. Then he got letters with his name on them, addressed to the cupboard under the stairs, and understood that someone not only knew he existed, but that he wasn't well cared for. He'd always had a bit of darkness in him. He always enjoyed it when his cousin would come out on the short end, but maybe that was because Dudley was a bullying arse. Siccing that python on his fat cousin was something that sent a dark thrill of joy through him, even though he was severely punished for it afterward. When he slept, it was almost as if he could see this spot of black inside him. It never talked, or gave him any knowledge, but it was just there. A part of him, separate from the rest. For the longest time, he didn't understand what that spot was, or why it was there.

Then, at eleven, he came to the wizarding world, where everyone knew who he was. He went from being a nobody to being a somebody in the space of twenty four hours. People constantly came up to him; wanted to touch him. They pinched him, and grabbed at him, and pulled at him. He couldn't help but wonder; if all these people knew who he was, why didn't someone come and get him? He met another child, a wizard like he was, but the boy was nasty, and reminded him of his cousin. Harry didn't know that the wizarding world was like that; that there was a separation between different classes of wizards. He understood the muggle world; understood that skin color and culture made a difference. But in the wizarding world, where everyone had power, it should not have been this way.

He attended Hogwarts, making easy friends with Ron Weasley. Their first meeting was a little tense. Ron had asked if he was really Harry Potter. Then he asked to see the scar. Harry realized, now, that perhaps he should've been a little suspicious at the blatant hero-worship in the other boy's eyes. At eleven, he understood none of that. He was just desperate to have a friend, and Ron seemed to be like he was. Not very well taken care of or loved. Harry found out later that it wasn't true; Ron was as deeply loved by his parents as the rest of his family was. They just didn't have a lot. That didn't matter to the raven; Ron was still the richest person Harry had ever met, and the redhead didn't even know it.

Hermione's friendship came later, out of a joint effort to face down a daunting task. As Harry thought back to those years he spent in the school, he reflected on the way that the headmaster had masterfully manipulated him. Dumbledore had engineered task after task; had allowed Death Eaters, and even Voldemort, into the castle in spite of the wards. All to test his weapon; to see if the child would be able to overcome the obstacles Albus would put in his way. And he did. Every one.

Fourth year was the beginning. The beginning of Harry pulling away from the friends he'd made, and the Light. He never understood, until afterward, how his name had ended up in the Goblet of Fire. Thinking back, Harry realized that it was yet another test, only this time, someone else died, and the suspicion and blame was placed on Harry's shoulders. The wizarding world, and his friends to a degree, believed he had killed Cedric. They didn't believe Voldemort had returned, so the raven faced the truth, and the torture, alone. He still couldn't understand how Death Eaters couldn't cross Hogwarts wards, yet they still seemed to become teachers. It was the jealousy that Ron displayed that began to fray the tenuous cord of friendship. Jealousy and betrayal. Ron felt betrayed by his best friend; by the fact that Harry Bloody Potter could do anything he wanted, without reprisals. Hermione supported Ron in his backstabbing ways. She thought Harry broke rules to get his name into the cup, and that was one thing she could never accept, or approve of.

When Weasley came crawling back, begging to be forgiven, it was too late. Harry's anger at his supposed best friend's betrayal left a bitter taste in his mouth. Harry had had scant few things in his life that were his own. He thought his friendships were one of those things. But he had been wrong, and so he started to pull away from them. Oh, he laughed at all the right times, and spent time with them when he had nothing better to do, but he no longer trusted them. No longer put his faith in them. They didn't deserve it.

His faith and devotion to the headmaster took a downward turn at this time, as well. Dumbledore had no reasonable or logical explanation for how a Death Eater had gotten into the school. As with Quirrel, the headmaster brushed Harry's concerns aside. With Quirrel, it was that 'Voldemort had no physical body and was able to possess Quirrel. Without any physicality, he couldn't trip the wards.' Harry knew it was bullshit. He knew that the wards were supposed to protect against anything Dark-related. That meant magic and Marks. With the Moody fake, it was 'he was polyjuiced as Mad-Eye Moody, so the wards were fooled into allowing him into the school'. More bullshit, as far as Harry was concerned. On the surface, it was Moody. However, the wizard's soul and magic were Crouch, Jr. The Darkness of the magic within the Moody façade should have tripped the wards. If they even existed to the extent that the headmaster told him. After all, Snape had the Dark Mark, and was able to get past the wards. This was explained as 'Severus' Mark and magic were keyed into the wards, allowing him into the castle'.

Every time Harry raised a concern about how these people who wanted to kill him were getting into the castle, the headmaster had explanations that were riddled with more holes than Swiss cheese. Harry began to wonder if he was as protected as the headmaster led him to believe. He knew that upper-year students had been marked, yet they were in the school. He knew that his magic was turning Darker, yet he was allowed into the school. If the wards didn't trigger on magic, or marks, or intent, what did trigger them? All the research and questioning and pondering left Harry more in the dark than he'd ever been, and less and less inclined to take the headmaster at his word anymore.

He still saw that dark spot in his head. He still wondered at its purpose. It was after the Triwizard Tournament that he found out what it really was. After Voldemort was resurrected, using Harry's blood, the boy had developed a connection with the older wizard. It wasn't pleasant; Harry was privy to all of the tortures and punishments Voldemort doled out, as well as the deaths of countless muggles and muggleborns. It was during one of these 'visions' that the dark spot throbbed, catching Harry's attention. He watched as the spot seemed to feed off of the dark magic and emotions bleeding into Harry's brain. It was then that Harry realized that the dark spot was a piece of Voldemort. He understood, then, that he'd had part of his parents' murderer in his head since he was a baby.

Instead of being repulsed by it, Harry decided to make it a part of himself. After all, if Voldemort was so powerful, perhaps this piece of him would add to Harry's strength; give him more magic. So the raven researched in the restricted section of the library, and looked through the library at 12 Grimmauld Place. It was at Grimmauld that he learned that the dark spot was, indeed, a piece of Voldemort's soul; that Harry was a living horcrux. He also learned of a potion that he could drink, along with a spell, to make the soul-piece a part of him. He knew Voldemort was evil; he also knew that the wizard was incredibly powerful. Since the headmaster refused to train him in any way, he thought absorbing the soul-piece would grant him additional power to defeat Riddle.

So, at Grimmauld one night, while everyone was asleep, Harry crept down to the library and, setting up the strongest silencing wards he could, he pulled out the potion he had brewed, using the potions lab in the basement. Taking a deep breath, he swallowed the vile concoction, falling to the floor as a burning sensation flooded his body. He incanted the words to the spell through gritted teeth, hissing them in parseltongue without realizing it. He could feel the burning focus on his mind, underneath his scar, as the potion and spell pulled the soul-piece free of his consciousness and grafted it to his own soul. It didn't make him feel any different after; his temper had calmed greatly after he recovered from the pain, but nothing else seemed to change.

When he returned for fifth year, it seemed that the Slytherins felt something different about him. Everyone knew that the majority of the Slytherins' parents were Death Eaters, and it seemed that the snakes had sensed a darkness in him; a darkness that he didn't even know was within him. There were hints, insinuations, whispers within his earshot about the changes, and he remembered the ritual that summer, and figured that the piece of Voldemort that he'd absorbed had begun to change him. He didn't care. The wizarding world was full of mindless sheeple, ready to believe anything told them; ready to follow anyone who looked like they knew what they were doing.

Umbridge was the defense professor that year, and Harry had taken to going to the Room of Requirement, where he found all manner of Dark spell books to study. He spent most of that year studying offensive and defensive spells, knowing that he'd never learn anything from the toad-woman. Unfortunately, she took great pride in punishing him every time he skipped class. When she asked him why he wasn't attending, he'd answer that he was training to defeat Voldemort. In Fudge's effort to maintain plausible deniability, he gave her carte blanche to do what she needed to do to keep Harry from spreading the truth. To that end, when she scheduled detentions for him, it was to write lines with a blood quill. I will not tell lies was written over and over on pages and pages of parchment; was carved over and over into the back of his hand until the words were clearly visible. It was a permanent reminder of how the wizarding world thought of him; of how they had turned on him once again.

It was one night, near the end of fifth year, when the Ice Prince of Slytherin had decided to approach him. Harry was in the Astronomy tower, staring at the night sky. He never slept much, and had taken to wandering the castle all the time. Draco found him up there, and sat a few feet away, looking for the constellation Draconis.

"What do you want, Malfoy?" Harry asked quietly, looking at the silver-eyed boy.

"To talk, Potter."

"About what?"

"About the wizarding world. About Hogwarts. About the war. Anything, really." And so they talked into the wee hours of the morning. Harry learned more that night than in all the years he'd spent in the wizarding world. He learned of Riddle's original political aspirations, and intentions. He learned of pureblood culture and ethics. He learned more about what it was like to be family than he had with the Weasleys. He also learned that most of the purebloods in Riddle's service, while they agreed with his ideals, didn't agree with his methods and were desperate to get out from under the shackles of his rule.

Harry found, to his surprise, that he agreed with most of what Draco had told him. He understood, better than most, what muggles were truly like, and why muggleborns were a danger to the wizarding world. He spent the rest of fifth year meeting with Draco in the Astronomy tower, where they developed a tentative friendship.

The trip to the Ministry at the end of that year was spurred on by the visions Voldemort kept sending Harry, of his godfather being tortured. Harry's relationship with his godfather was…strained. Sirius saw Harry as a little James, the friend that he missed with every fiber of his being. Sirius would slip, and call him James. He would apologize for it later, but then call Harry James again. Harry heard this, and resented it. The boy-who-lived wanted to be loved for himself, not for being a carbon-copy of someone else. Still, Sirius represented the only real family he had, so he and his friends rushed to the Ministry and found their way to the Department of Mysteries. There, he found a prophecy sphere, with his name on it. He took it down and looked into it, watching with fascination the way the mist inside swirled as if it were alive.

When the Death Eaters arrived, Harry and his friends fought fiercely. Lucius Malfoy was the only Death Eater that Harry recognized, and he saw something in the man's grey eyes that told him that Malfoy, if not a friend, was an ally. Silently, he thanked Draco. Harry didn't really care what happened to his friends; after all, he didn't ask any of them to follow him. But he was grateful for the unobtrusive way that Malfoy protected him as they battled their way to the veil room. The Order of the Phoenix chose that moment to appear, and Harry found himself trying to deflect any curses thrown at the elder Malfoy. A curse was thrown at Harry's unprotected back, and Sirius jumped in the way, raising a shield, the name James screaming from his lips. Harry froze. His heart broke as he realized that Sirius wasn't trying to protect him; he was trying to protect his father. Part of Harry died as he realized that no one would love him for anything but who or what he represented.

When Sirius and Bellatrix engaged in their own personal battle, most of the Death Eaters had been taken out. There were still minor skirmishes, but the majority of the battle was over. The Order stood with their captives, watching the spectacle. Both Blacks were well-matched; however, Bella wasn't above using Dark curses, and she was able to drive Sirius back, into the veil. Harry watched, his eyes dead as the last of the broken promise of a family was wiped away. He could not mourn for what he'd never had, so he felt no real grief, nor pain. That small little boy inside the Boy Who Lived, the one who wanted a family and to be loved, died with Sirius that night. As the Order started taking away their prisoners, Malfoy resisted for a moment, looking into emeralds full of pain. Harry nodded to the man; a silent promise to protect his son and gain Lucius' freedom. Harry didn't bother to chase Bellatrix; he had no real feeling left for anyone on the Light side, so he just let Sirius' death slide. Harry struggled his way to the atrium, following her mad laughter, knowing that she was leading him to Voldemort. He got there just in time to see Dumbledore battle the Dark wizard. The Dark Lord invaded Harry's mind, wanting to somehow torture the young man. What he found there made him draw back into himself, shocked. He saw the lack of feeling for his dead godfather, and the lack of empathy for the Light. He saw the darkness growing within the Gryffindor, and did nothing more than snicker as he pulled away. The duel was spectacular; both men were magnificent in their skill. I want their power, the boy thought greedily. Voldemort was pushed back, and escaped, but not before meeting Harry's eyes, seeing the avarice there, and laughing as he was swept away.

Sixth year was the hardest for Harry. He had watched his friend lose sleep and weight, and knew that Draco was given a task that was well-nigh impossible for him to complete; he had witnessed the meeting, and heard the task and the consequences for failure. He was able to corner his friend in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom, and got the story from him. Harry offered solutions, and Draco gratefully took them. So the vanishing cabinet in the Room of Hidden Things was repaired, and Dumbledore, suffering from the curse released by Gaunt's ring, was slowly dying. The night the Death Eaters were let into the castle, Harry was hiding on the Astronomy tower, watching as Draco and Snape faced down the drastically weakened old man. The blond took courage from the fact that Harry was there, and would back him up, and threw the killing curse at the old man, releasing the elderly wizard's magic, which slammed with great force into Harry's thin frame. Snape looked at his godson in stunned silence, before he spun at a quiet cough coming from a sheltered corner. The Potions Master stalked toward the sound, wand at the ready, and a hand appeared, handing the man a message. Severus nodded imperceptibly and hustled Draco from the tower, following behind the Death Eaters.

That summer, and on into seventh year, Harry and his friends hunted and eliminated the horcruxes. Even though Harry had lost trust with Hermione and Ron, he still needed their help to find the cursed objects. Several times during that hellish year and a half, he and Ron had gotten into screaming rows about how to handle the investigations and hunt. Harry always bowed to their whims; he was outnumbered, and he no longer cared if they were successful. By pure luck and chance, and the occasional fortuitous clue, they were able to destroy all of them, resulting in the final battle on Hogwarts grounds. Severus and Draco remained in hiding, waiting until the raven could contact them; to let them know that they were safe.

Severus Snape had no side but his own. When he was in school, he took the Dark Mark after James Potter had stolen the love of his life. He didn't really have many options; Lily had turned from him when he used that foul epithet to her. Mudblood. The cruelty of Potter's practical joke, as well as the humiliation that it was done in front of others, made him lose control of his temper and his tongue. He couldn't allow Lily to see his humiliation complete when she offered help, so he lashed out at her.

He understood the position that Tom Riddle maintained, and understood that the elder wizard would be able to accomplish his goals. Riddle was a very powerful, influential man, for a minute. But when Severus overheard part of a prophecy, and reported it to his master, things began to change. Unbeknownst to his followers, Riddle had been making horcruxes since he was eighteen. Each fracturing of the soul left the man less human; less compassionate (not that he had had any in the first place, after the muggles had finished with him), less sane.

In spite of Lily's lost friendship, Severus begged for her life. He still loved her deeply, and wanted her safe. He begged Voldemort to spare her, and received a conditional promise. Unsatisfied with that, and knowing that Voldemort did what he wished without thought, Severus went to Dumbledore, begging the old man to protect her, to put the family in hiding, to keep her safe. When Riddle broke his promise and killed her anyway, Snape lost any reason to be loyal. So he returned to Dumbledore; an entirely different master, and more cruel in retrospect. He had begged for Lily's life, with both masters, and neither made a real effort to protect her. His heart hardened then, and he realized that the only side he could conceivably be on and survive, was his own.

When Harry Potter walked through the doors and into the Great Hall, Severus saw an arrogance to the boy. He couldn't help but see James Potter standing there, and even though the boy had Lily's eyes, it made no difference. Severus' childhood tormentor was back. So Snape took every opportunity to belittle, humiliate and degrade the boy, in front of as many people as he could get away with. Potter took it all in stride. He never flinched, he never buckled under the abuse, and he never fought back. He just looked at the older wizard with Lily's eyes, and it seemed like a part of the child understood. As he grew, Snape started to notice a marked difference between what Albus had said was the savior, and the real person.

It was after the Triwizard Tournament that Severus noticed a definite change in the boy. He had become more introspective, more solitary. He didn't seem to join in with his friends as much, nor did he really speak to anyone. It was as if he'd come to a realization, and made a decision based on that information. Through the years, Severus had seen, more and more, that the teen was nothing like his father. He couldn't change his behavior toward the boy, but perhaps he could allow the child to come to him.

He slipped a note within the parchment of an essay Harry had turned in one afternoon. My door is open to you, should you have need to talk. Harry looked at him with those eyes, and some kind of knowledge hidden deep within them. He left with his friends, but did not avail himself of the offer. Severus forgot, in time, that he'd offered the boy a shoulder, and things went on as they normally did. That was, until his godson came to him near the end of fifth year and told him of his meetings with Harry Potter.

The attempted rescue at the Ministry at the end of that year was a mistake. Though Severus hated Black nearly as much as he hated Potter, he couldn't in all conscience keep the rescue attempt to himself. He had grown to respect Harry, if not like him, and he didn't want the foolish boy to get himself or his friends killed. So he went to Grimmauld, to ensure that Black was where he was supposed to be. The house was empty, and the house elf, under threat of shame, told Severus that he'd informed the disgrace to the honorable house of Black that Harry Potter, a filthy halfblood, was going to the Department of Mysteries to rescue the filthy Blood Traitor. Severus alerted the Order, and they invaded the Ministry. When news came back that Sirius was lost, Severus hurt on behalf of Harry, knowing that the only family connection the boy had was gone.

Sixth year started, and both Severus and Draco were stressed and fearful. Severus was well aware of Draco's task; he had made an unbreakable vow to Narcissa to protect her son. He tried to get the blond to talk to him, to let him help, but was rebuffed time and time again. It was at this time that Harry had decided to speak with the Potions Master. So, nearly every night, he went to the dungeons to seek out the older man. They talked about many things, including Severus' wavering loyalties to both masters. They also talked of October 31, 1981 and Godric's Hollow. Severus tried to explain his culpability in the loss of Harry's parents, but the boy wouldn't listen. He didn't seem to want or need apologies. He seemed…more mature. Changed somehow.

Eventually, they spoke of Draco's assignment, and the impossibility of it. Harry and Severus shared their thoughts on the curse the headmaster was suffering under, and Harry, giving the Potions Master a considering look, left. "I'll take care of everything," was the boy's cryptic statement before he walked out the door. Severus didn't see him again, except for class, and missed his company. Finally, the night came when Draco took matters into his own hands. He had finished the vanishing cabinet, with Harry's help, and Death Eaters roamed freely in the castle. Dumbledore was on the Astronomy tower, facing young Draco's wand and begging him to please reconsider. The headmaster offered to help the Slytherin, to save him. "The way you saved Potter's parents? The way you keep Severus safe?" The blond raised his wand, knowing Harry would always have his back, and threw the Avada Kedavra at the headmaster, sending his body over the parapet of the tower. Severus looked at his godson in horror; where had he pulled the fortitude from to do that?

A quiet cough in the corner of the tower told Severus that they weren't alone, and he stalked over there, wand drawn, ready to eliminate any witnesses. A hand with a piece of parchment in it stuck out of thin air, and Severus realized that Potter was there. Relaxing marginally, he took the slip, before hustling his godson and himself down the stairs after the retreating Death Eaters. The school was easy to control after that; without Harry or the headmaster, the fight seemed to go out of the students and staff.

In his rooms, with Draco perched on a sofa, he opened the parchment. Potter Manor is located just outside the borders of Scotland, it said. It is under Fidelius, and I am the secret keeper. The address is 107 Cow Road Spital Berwick-Upon-Tweed Northumberland. Take Draco there and stay until I come for you. Severus was relieved that Potter was willing to protect Draco and himself, and grabbed the boy, dragging him through the school and to the apparition point outside the gates of Hogwarts. He was able to pass unmolested through the building; the Death Eaters held a bit of respect for Draco for killing the headmaster, and Severus was always a member of the inner circle. First Severus, then Draco, said the address, apparating to the doorstep of the Manor. They weren't sure how to enter, but the wards recognized Potter's magical signature on the parchment, and the doors opened.

So here he now was, with a restless teenage boy, waiting for word from Potter. The young man had killed the Dark Lord, and freed the wizarding world from his tyranny (undeserving bastards that they were). He couldn't help but wonder what would happen. Where do we go from here?