Hello everyone,

Welcome to my new Bellamione story. Here's the obligatory author's introduction to the story so you have an idea what you're getting into.

First of all, unlike my first Bellamione story Murder Most Horrid, this story is not an AU. It follows the events of canon and starts right after the Battle of Hogwarts. As such, the only part of canon it ignores is the epilogue. Due to her role in the story, Luna Lovegood gets second billing, but she is not involved in the romance itself.

Secondly, though readers of Murder Most Horrid know there were plenty of disturbing scenes, this particular story has strong Lovecraftian influences. As such, it ups the ante on disturbing scenes. I'd dare to say my new story has truly earned its M-rating. It's not all doom and gloom, though. At its core, it's a Bellamione romance, after all.

Thirdly, the grand majority of locations (and some events) mentioned in the story are either real locations, or real in the sense that they exist in a mythology. This is to give the story more of an authentic note.

Fourthly, for me the canon of films and books have pretty much blended together at this point. I'll never see Bellatrix with any other face than the beautiful Helena Bonham Carter, for example. This story references both canons, so I suppose that could be jarring for some readers. Look at it this way; it's sort of hard to come back from the dead when you've been obliterated.

Fifthly, updates will be one new chapter every Saturday. Like clockwork.

Still here? In that case, I hope you will enjoy the story.


The Dark Corners of the Earth

Chapter 1 – Burning Heart

"The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age."

- H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu (1926)


Location=∞. T=zero.

In Its endless slumber, It stirred.

The Others feared It. Feared Its power so much that they tricked It and trapped It by binding It to this forsaken rock in the middle of a meaningless backwater galaxy far away from anything even remotely interesting.

But It had the patience of stone and the will of stars.

It waited until the rock cooled and the planet started to take shape. It waited until oceans formed and gave existence to simple life. It waited until that simple life evolved to a point that it was just intelligent enough for Its purpose.

For the first time in billions of years, It saw Its chance for freedom.


12th of October 1997 – Somerset, UK – Forest in Exmoor

There was something about Somerset which stirred a chord in Hermione Granger. Years ago, when she was but a slip of a girl, her parents had taken her camping in a forest near the coast. She loved running down to the beach to collect seashells; she used to take them back to the tent and match them to pictures in her book to catalog her findings. Good memories. She'd been so sad when it was time to return home after their vacation had ended and hoped that she would be able to return to Somerset one day.

And here she was. Back in Somerset, but it was not how she had hoped it would be. Rather than looking for more seashells, she was sneaking around in the middle of the night in a very creepy forest looking for the hovel of a hermit. At least she had her two best friends with her.

The sounds of the night were all around her as Ron turned to her.

"Blimey," he whispered. "We've been out here for ages. Are you sure it's out here?"

"Positive," Hermione whispered back. They were looking for the hovel of Ozymandius Oliphant, a famed collector of writing on dark arts and evil magics best forgotten. If anyone were to have information on tracking horcruxes, it would be him.

"Will he help us?" Ron asked.

"Doubtful," said Hermione. "The story goes that he became disillusioned with the wizarding world and humanity as a whole and vowed never to be seen by anyone ever again. He was supposedly so much of a nutter that they were happy to see him go for the most part. It's been rumored that too much knowledge about the dark arts made him go stark raving mad."

Ron snorted. "And we're just going to knock on his door, introduce ourselves and say 'Hi, we're looking for a madwizard's horcruxes. Care to help?'."

"No," said Harry after looking over his shoulder. "We're not going to ask for help at all."

The trio of friends ventured deeper into the forest, following their wands as they had tuned it into a faint source of magic in the distance. Finally, they did manage to find it. Hidden in a dense grove of trees, overgrown with weeds was a small stone shack about the size of Hagrid's hut back at Hogwarts. A moldy wooden door covered with moss. No windows. No lights.

The three of them squatted down behind a fallen tree and studied it from a distance. "Right," said Harry with a wry grin. "This isn't creepy at all."

"Could have fooled me," replied Ron.

Hermione squinted her eyes, trying to see better in the darkness. There was something distinctly ominous about this shack and seeing the state of it, she wondered if Oliphant was even still alive. Then again, if he was dead, it would be far easier to ransack his library. It was a grim and morbid thought.

After sharing a nod, the three of them shared a nod and silently crept towards the shack until they reached the door. Harry tapped his wand on the lock and whispered a spell to open the door. And open it did. The trio offered each other an encouraging smile before stepping into the pitch-dark portal leading into the shack.

Inside, and not to their surprise, they found the shack to be far larger than what its outside walls would be able to hold. Secondly, this place didn't seem to have been lived in; cobwebs were abound, candles were unlit and the dank musty smell of rot hung in the air. The place itself was as quiet as a grave, but one thing made Hermione feel right at home; there were shelves upon shelves of ancient tomes, a massive collection of works long thought lost. Oh, if only she would have the time to fully study this library.

She made a mental note to come back here when this whole mess with Voldemort was over; Hermione would salvage as much knowledge as she could. Until then, the books were safe here. Nobody knew about this place and those who did would not come looking.

"Right, nobody's home," said Harry while lighting a few candles. "What are we looking for?"

"Anything about horcruxes or soul-rending," Hermione said. "Let's bring anything that looks interesting over to that table over there and we can have a look."

The trio spread out, each holding a candle. Hermione held it out in front of her while she skimmed the titles of the books. Merlin, this was veritable treasure trove. She could easily spend years in here studying all the many books she could see. Unfortunately, however, Oliphant either didn't believe in cataloging or had his own system which was so incomprehensible that he just as well might have piled them up randomly. Finding anything was going to take a while.

Then, she noticed something off. There was a book located in an alcove on a pedestal. Odd thing was that it was the only book in said alcove. Where other alcoves and bookstacks were filled to the brim with paper, this particular work had a place of honor all for itself.

This book had to be important or it would not have been given such a special place, so Hermione decided to investigate. The book itself looked to be large, heavy and very old. The book was bound in a type of leather Hermione didn't recognize. However, she did recognize the symbol etched into the leather; a scaly serpent eating its own tail.

"Oroborous," Hermione whispered into the darkness. For some reason, speaking that word caused chills to run down her spine.

The young witch took a step forward, slowly approaching the precious book. What secrets could it hold? If a venerable sage like Oliphant whom had dedicated his life to seeking out lost knowledge treated this particular book as special, it would be valuable indeed.

Hermione held a breath as her fingers could almost touch the book. It was like... approaching a sleeping dragon. Books like these had a life of their own and books about dark magics could be as malevolent as Voldemort himself. She had to be careful.

As soon as her fingers brushed the leather, a faint red glow emanated from the book. Before Hermione knew what was going on, magical energy shot up the length of her arm. For a split second, she felt a terrible headache, as if someone was stabbing repeatedly into her brain with a red-hot knitting needle. She grunted and slunk against the wall for a moment to try to regain her composure. Hermione set down the candle on one of the books and rubbed her forehead, trying to make sense of what just happened.

She realized she was not alone when suddenly a gnarled hand shot out of the darkness and grabbed her by the wrist in a vice-like grip. Instinctively, Hermione jerked backwards, forcing her attacker to step into the light.

"YOU!" snarled an ancient gravely voice, reminding Hermione of her chain-smoking great-uncle. "I knew you would come."

"Let me go!" Hermione pleaded as she tried to jerk out of the ancient man's grip.

"I see... I see... I don't want to see, but I still see..." the old man wheezed, a maniacal grin crossing his weathered and winkled features. "I saw the rise of the twisted snake, the one with his soul shattered into eight pieces. But he is nothing compared to the coming storm..."

"RON!" Hermione shouted. "HARRY!"

"Two puppets, stolen from death's grasp," the old man rasped. "Death. Chaos. It will come. Madness itself will come for us all! You, girl, are the catalyst. You are the one who will drive her to madness and despair!"

"Hermione!" Harry came running into the library with wand in hand, as did Ron.

"Oi, let her go, mate!" Ron threatened. "Two against one here."

The old wizard wasn't even remotely impressed. Still holding on to Hermione, he stepped forward, using his free hand to throw back his hood. When Hermione saw what was underneath it, she screamed in horror.

He was looking right at her right now, though 'looking' would be a misnomer. Both his eyes were gone, leaving only the empty sockets. Judging from the scarring, the man had removed his own eyes rather violently. Rotten teeth showed when the man grinned. What was more terrifying of all, was that he was 'looking' directly at her with those terrible black empty sockets. It was as if he was peering right into her soul. Hermione started pulling even harder, now increasingly desperate to get away from this obviously deranged man.

"I thought taking away my eyes would finally stop me from seeing. But I still see. I STILL SEE YOUR ACURSED FACE, GIRL!"

Finally, Hermione managed to pull herself loose. The girl backpedaled, tripped and fell to the ground. With the help of Harry and Ron, she scrambled to her feet and the three of them made a run for the door.

They burst into the forest and ran as fast as their legs could carry them. Behind them, the door slammed open and the man yelled after them. "Mark my words, vile girl! You will be the one who will end this world! YOU WILL BE THE ONE TO DOOM US ALL, HERMIONE GRANGER!"

The trio never looked back, but just ran and ran and ran until they could run no longer. Having put plenty of distance between them and the shack containing the crazy old wizard, the three let themselves fall to the forest floor. They lay here panting and coughing, trying to makes sense of what had just happened.

"Right," Ron wheezed. "That was a complete waste of time."

"Sorry," Hermione replied apologetically.

"Not your fault," said Ron. "Barmy old bugger, right?"

"It only goes to show," said Hermione, laughing slightly to try to lighten the mood. "Divination is still a whole lot of nonsense."

"Yeah," Ron laughed. "You? End the world? How'd you manage that? Are you going to drop it down the stairs?"

The absurdity of that statement reminded Hermione why she liked Ron so much. Despite the frightening situation she'd been in, she laughed in spite of herself. However, when Harry chose to speak up, the words he said made her blood run cold.

"But Hermione," Harry started. "How'd he know your name?"


2nd of May 1998 – Hogwarts - Battle of Hogwarts

"Not my daughter, you bitch!" growled the fat house-witch as she stepped forward in a pathetic attempt to look menacing. Bellatrix certainly wasn't impressed. In fact, that was an understatement. She was insulted. Did this fat house-witch actually think she could stand up to her?! She was the Dark Lord's Chosen! The gall!

Bellatrix let out an mocking cackle while raised her wand to easily block some of the blood-traitor's attacks. All around her, the battle was still going strongly. Those Death Eaters still standing, the most loyal of all, stood for her Lord as she did. They would win this day, it was inevitable. When Potter would lie dead at her feet... truly dead this time, her Lord's reign could finally begin.

Before the fat house-witch stepped in, she had been dueling three young witches at once without breaking a sweat. Pathetic, really. What were they teaching kids these days? In retrospect, she considered she should have tossed a killing curse at the brown-haired mudblood; she'd be doing the girl a favor, really, as she would certainly suffer under her Lord's rule. Let it not be said that Bellatrix Lestrange could not be merciful.

Bellatrix let out another mocking cackle as she pressed the attack. All around her, magic was flying back and forth. Oh, she would toy with the Weasley woman a bit longer, no need to end this quickly and miss out on all the fun. She threw her head back and tossed her hair about while continuing to mock the woman.

The fat woman's magic blasted against her defenses. Though she deflected them easily, she had to admit to being somewhat impressed by the intensity of her attack. Perhaps she could make this duel even more fun. A doozy of a taunt was just waiting to be let out. "What will happen to your children when I've killed you?" the dark witch grinned. "When mummy's gone the same way as Freddie?"

Oh, it was as below the belt as it got, but the look on the fat woman's face was priceless.

"You.. will... never... touch... our... children... again!"

To her credit, the now enraged fat house-witch fought back with renewed vigor. A worthy challenge after all. How unexpected! The dark witch was planning to finish her off in a most vainglorious fashion. She twirled her wand and let out another cackle. She knew just the spell for the job.

As it turned out, that was a mistake. The fat house-witch blasted through her defenses and Bellatrix found herself unable to move. She was still frantically trying to break free when she felt something enter her chest. Her eyes grew wide as she as she started to fall backwards; it was as if a fist was clenching around her heart, squeezing tightly. With sheer force of mind, she willed her heart to keep beating. As soon as she'd shrugged this off, she'd tear the fat house-witch into rips of bloodied flesh!

Keep beating!

This is just a set-back!

Keep breathing!

I'll tear you apart! I'll tear all of you apart!

Keep...

Ke...

K...

Darkness.

Odd. What spell had been cast here? Surely, that fat house-witch couldn't have dreamt up a spell Bellatrix hadn't known about. Perhaps it was simply a diversionary tactic, a spell which caused her vision to darken. Yes, that had to be it.

She still squeezed her eyes shut when she heard no more sounds of battle around her. What was going on? Was the fat house-witch still even there? She felt... no more of the pain, nor the fatigue. In fact, she felt... oddly tranquil.

Bellatrix opened her eyes and hissed in dismay when she was met with a massive sea of white light. The dark witch was startled for a moment, sitting up too quickly from the warm ground she had been lying on. This... this wasn't Hogwarts. Where the hell was she?

She rubbed the side of her face and slowly stood up to let her eyes adjust to the brightness. Bellatrix looked around as she saw shapes forming from the very whiteness itself. This... this was the old mansion! She was standing in the rear garden of her old family home. How was this possible?

Bellatrix slowly strolled through the facsimile of her old garden. Memories of times long passed assaulted her mind. She regarded the patio where she used to watch the stars at night with her father when she was a little girl. The memory of her father pointing out the star she was named after came to her as if it had happened yesterday. He had taken her on his shoulders and carried her through the yard while she'd giggled happily.

The dark witch let the memory float away when she passed the play area where she used to have fun with her sisters, the large lawn where she used to set up an obstacle course for broom flying. Fun times. There was that time Andromeda fell off her broom and cried; Bellatrix had held her while Cissy ran off to find mother. Sometimes, the three of them used to sneak out of the house after midnight and went into the small playhouse at the other side of the rear garden. They'd sit huddled under a big blanket with her holding a lumosed wand while they told each other scary stories. Good times. Andie had been surprisingly proficient coming up with morbid tales.

Bellatrix closed her eyes and let the memories wash over her. 'Where did it all go wrong?'

There were more immediate concerns than reliving childhood memories, though. Such as figured out how all of this was even possible. How could she be here? The mansion was no longer hers and as far as she knew it no longer even existed.

Then it hit her. She died. The fat house-witched had killed her. The Weasley woman had actually pulled it off! Still, shouldn't she be more upset about it? For some reason she was... just not upset.

Peace. For the first time since decades she felt completely at peace. Such an odd feeling, but a good one. She had forgotten what it felt like. Her only regret was that she had had to die for it.

However, with peace came clarity. Terrifying clarity. She no longer had the cloak of insanity to protect herself. All her mistakes, her faults, her desires were mercilessly laid bare.

Memories of her later life came flowing back. Falling in with the Death Eaters. Being married to a useless layabout of man who was unworthy of her. Torturing two people into insanity. Fourteen terrible years of Azkaban with dementors destroying her mind bit by bit. Loving a man who spurned her at every occasion and her being too blind to see it. How she had made the sisters she had loved so much suffer at her own hands.

So much time lost. So much misery. And for what? At the end of her life, she had nothing to show for all she had done. What had been the point? Had there even been a point?

All these years, she had never allowed herself to feel the pain, but now it hit her all at once. Bellatrix cupped her head in her hands and wept quietly. For time lost. For past mistakes. For herself. For the pointlessness of it all. She couldn't even bring herself to hate the fat house-witch for ending her tormented existence.

Bellatrix knew quite well that nobody would mourn her. Perhaps that was for the best.

She sat on the bench she had shared with her father so long ago and wept until there were no more tears to weep. Bellatrix merely sat there numbly, an eternity to be alone with her thoughts. When she was still alive, she'd been so sure of everything. But now? There no longer were any certainties.

With her cheeks still wet from tears, Bellatrix took a deep breath and stood up. It was time to move on. She'd never been afraid of death like her Lord had been and though she had no idea what would await her in the afterlife, she would take the leap of faith and meet her fate with her head held high, like a true Black.

That dignity, perhaps, was the only thing she had left.

As she was searching for the way to move on, she saw something stirring from underneath one of the bushes in the garden. Carefully, she decided to investigate and crept towards the strange form underneath it. When she finally got a good look at the thing, she gasped and took a step back.

"My... my lord?" Bellatrix whispered. In front of her lay a stunted and bloodied mockery of what once had been Voldemort. It seemed to be in pain and unaware of her presence. For the second time, Bellatrix had to go through an world-shattering revelation. This was the man she followed, respected and revered? This was the man she had given her love and devotion to? Endured fourteen years of Azkaban for his pathetic creature? This... this bloody thing whimpering on the ground?!

Part of her wanted to be insane again so she wouldn't have to face this, but now that she could think clearly, see beyond her own madness, she finally understood. Her entire life had be a lie. When she had been young, she had gone to every single one of his rallies and sat in the front row, wide-eyed and lapping up every word which came out of his mouth like warm honey. And when he noticed her, when she recognized her talent... there was no feeling in the world which could compare to it. Receiving her dark mark had been one of the proudest moments in her life. But now?

Peace gave way to anger; she balled her fists and narrowed her eyes, pacing back and forth while getting the urge to kick the abomination in front of her repeatedly until the need to cry for her lost life once again overcame her. There was nothing left for her here. At least she would be able to move on and find some measure of peace while that... abomination... she once lovingly called her lord would be stuck here until the end of time. It soothed her somewhat.

Suddenly, she became aware that she was no longer the only person in this place. There was... something else her with her. At first she thought it was Voldemort's soul becoming aware, but she could see that it was still as docile as it had been since she first laid eyes upon it.

Then, it happened. Some sort of elongated, tentacle-like shape stretched over her shoulder from behind her and violently slapped the shattered soul of Voldemort away. It flew off into the distance of this endless limbo and she could no longer see it.

Terror gripped her by the throat when the appendage retracted back over her shoulder mere inches away from her head. Her lip trembled when the tip of the appendage grazed her cheek.

Something... bad... was right behind her. It bathed the formerly white depiction of her old mansion in an eerily sick green light, casting shadows which turned the soothing area into a twisted mockery of itself.

In front of her, still stark white, was the way out. Shaped like the old garden gate, it was her way to move on and escape the thing that was behind her. Every fiber of her being screamed at her to run towards it, to escape whatever it was she now shared this limbo with. It meant her harm. She felt it. But, she was Bellatrix Black. And she could not resist to turn around to face whatever it was. Even in death, she still had her pride.

Merlin, how she wished that she hadn't.

Impossible geometric shapes blending into each other, shapes of light, smell, color that were so alien it made her want to claw her own eyes out to stop the assault on her senses. A cacophony of sounds washed over her while Bellatrix writhed on the ground in agony. One tone stood out, and she focused on it to try to escape the sensory overload... a tone she eventually recognized as her own terrified screams for mercy. If she wasn't already insane, she would be so now. She felt as if her very soul was being torn asunder.

"STOP IT! MAKE IT STOP! PLEASE, MAKE IT STOP!" Bellatrix shrieked in a useless attempt to beg whatever was doing this to her to just end it. Oblivion would be better than this true hell.

She stretched out an arm to the garden gate when the... the thing... engulfed her and started dragging her away from the merciful release of the afterlife. Bellatrix screamed and screamed until she could scream no more.


2nd of May 1998 – Hogwarts – Great Hall Antechamber

Darkness.

Silence.

Clarity.

Anger.

Focus.

Rage.

Bellatrix's eyes shot open and her body ached as her lungs drew its first breath in almost twenty hours. Her body, her head, ached terribly and her joints were stiff as a board. Her heart ached as it started to pump warm blood through her body once more. The dark witch took a few deep breaths and covered her face with her hand to give her eyes time to adjust to the light in the room.

Hogwarts. She was at Hogwarts. And she was alive. The heart pounding in her chest like a hammer was very much indicative of this. The dark witch grunted as she forced her stiffened body to sit up.

She took notice of her surroundings; she seemed to be in some sort of make-shift morgue. All the fallen Death Eaters had been neatly laid out in rows on the floor in a side-room of the ruined main hall. She looked to her side; Rowle, Mulciber, that beast Greyback, that Weasel Scabior, the moron Gibbon who was true to his name, Avery, Yaxley... tranquil in death. A slight cackle escaped from dried lips when she saw the bodies of Rodolphus and his idiot brother. Oh how she had wished this fate on them for so long. Bellatrix also quickly came to the conclusion that Rodolphus smelled better dead than alive, ironically.

However, she didn't see Dolohov or Rookwood among the bodies, nor some of the others. She supposed that they could either have escaped or that Potter's lot was keeping them captive in the dungeons. Perhaps they might be useful, if she could find them.

Bellatrix got to her feet and awkwardly took a few steps to ease her aching muscles. Merlin, it felt good to be alive.

Had she died? She tried to think back, but it was merely a haze. What had she seen? Where had she been? Why was she back? When she tried to remember more clearly, she was immediately confronted with the most intense pain she had ever felt in her life; it was as if someone had jabbed a red-hot poker in her brain and was roughly slashing it about inside her skull.

Bellatrix fell to her knees reeling as she panted heavily; the terrible pain was subsiding when she stopped trying to remember. Besides, what did it matter anyway? Likely her injuries were either severe enough to fool those idiots in thinking she was dead or she actually came back through sheer strength of will. In any case, she wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Memories of whatever happened to her in limbo might be faded and hazy, but it had left her with clarity and anger nonetheless. She barely even deigned to acknowledge the body of her former lord. For the first time in her life, she knew purpose and was beholden to no one but herself. And the world would tremble before her.

Either way, it was time for payback! She owed the fat house-witch a great debt of pain!

She grinned wickedly when she spotted a wand on Mulciber. The idiots who put them here hadn't bothered to collect the wands. Bellatrix grabbed it and grasped it tightly. She made her way to the heavy wooden door leading into the main hall and pushed it slightly ajar. As predicted, the Great Hall was a half-collapsed mess of rubble, but when she heard the sounds of a celebration somewhere off in the distance, probably outside in the courtyard, she carefully pressed against the side of the door. The fools were enjoying their victory while the evening sun was setting over Hogwarts, bathing it in an orange glow. However, there were several people gathered in the hall. Cleaning, perhaps? Enjoying a quiet moment away from the party? No matter, they would soon regret their decision.

Fate had given her a gift, however, for one of the people in the hall was the fat house-witch whom had deemed to kill her! Perhaps she should return the favor.

Letting out a quiet chuckle, Bellatrix pushed the door open and stepped out of the room, holding her wand in front of her. She grit her teeth when she took aim; immediately a power like she had never felt before welled up from within her very being. Oh, how she loved the feeling of magic flowing through her body, but this?! This felt nothing short of spectacular! Her skin tingled when the magic itself crackled in the air around her until it focused on her wand. A massive bolt of power surged forward into the hall while the dark witch let out a gleeful cackle.


2nd of May 1998 – Hogwarts – Victory celebration

Hermione Granger froze in her tracks, doubting her own vision in that very moment. She had just stepped away from the celebration with some others for some quiet contemplation. Dean, whom she had been talking to, frowned at her, not seeing what she saw. Never in a million years did she expect to run into Bellatrix Lestrange being up and about.

At first she thought it had to be a figment. Or that it was Bellatrix's ghost now bound to the halls of Hogwarts. But no. She was not translucent; she was alive! Bellatrix Lestrange was alive! How was this possible? The aurors had checked all the bodies. That evil woman was as dead as dead could be!

She fumbled for her wand and was about to cry out a warning when a massive green bolt of energy shot forward. Every head in the room turned towards the thundering sound of the magic just before it slammed into the ground near Molly's feet.

Molly. Oh, dear god, Molly.

The Weasley Matriarch was flung at least ten meters into the air while the shockwave from the blast knocked all of them off their feet. Hermione yelped as her back was violently slammed against the wall after a brief involuntary flight and ended up in a heap on the ground.

When she opened her eyes and her vision focused, she could clearly see a large crater in the floor. From her position, she could also see Molly Weasley laying prone on the ground. She seemed injured, but was still breathing. That was a relief, at least. But where was Dean? She didn't see him anywhere.

Her body protested as she tried to get to her feet, only to have her eyes fall upon Bellatrix slowly walking towards her. The dark witch had a vicious sneer on her face, showing off her rotting teeth. Slowly, but meticulously, the witch approached her. Hermione tried to force her body to obey her, to get up and run, but she stood no chance.

An unseen force wound around her body, particularly around her neck, and started to squeeze. Hermione fought for every breath when Bellatrix's wordless spell hoisted her into the air. The dark witch chuckled at her, looking her in the eye while grinning. "My, my, my, it's the little brown-haired mudblood! We meet again! It must be fate," Bellatrix mock-pouted. "Awww, is something wrong? Can't talk?"

Hermione tried to speak, but could only croak out half a syllable. She grasped futily at the unseen bonds.

Bellatrix smiled creepily when she leaned towards her, her face so close to hers. "I smell your fear. It's so thick in the air I can almost taste it," she whispered, her low voice having an oddly seductive quality to it. It made Hermione's skin crawl.

"Ah, and again I see you have something which you stole from me!" Bellatrix winked as she yanked the curved wand from Hermione's hand. "Awww," she cooed at the wand. "Has the nasty little mudblood been mistreating you? Not to worry, your true mistress is here."

She lovingly stroked her wand for a moment while Hermione started to see dark spots floating in front of her eyes as she fought to draw in precious oxygen. The dark witch chuckled and undid the spell, causing Hermione to drop to the ground and throw a coughing fit.

"I suppose I should thank you for not snapping it," said Bellatrix. "Here, you may have this one. Don't say auntie Bella never gave you anything."

An old wooden wand clattered to the floor in front of Hermione which she quickly grasped. Bellatrix giggled like a little girl while she danced through the hall, doing a pirouette in front of the crater she had just created.

She became acutely aware that someone was approaching from the corridor and tried to croak out a warning. Harry. Harry stepped into view, no doubt wondering where she had gone. The moment her friend saw what was happening, he let out a cry and fumbled for his wand. "Le...LESTRANGE!"

"Wittle bwaby Pwotter," Bellatrix laughed. "Oh, this is shaping up to be quite the reunion, isn't it?"

"EXPELLIARMUS!"

Hermione watch in a mixture of horror and fascination when the dark witch literally plucked the spell out of the air with her hand, twirled the magic around her finger and then squashed it when she shaped her hand into a fist. What she had seen... was impossible. Oh, she knew Bellatrix was a very talented, even prodigal witch, but what she had just seen with her very eyes defied everything she knew about magic.

"Well," sneered the dark witch. "That wasn't very nice, Potter!"

"Lestrange!" Harry narrowed his eyes. "Give yourself up. Voldemort is dead! It's over!"

"NOTHING IS OVER!" Bellatrix shrieked at the top of her lungs. "As usual, you have no idea what's going on, boy! And this time, you won't have old man Dumbledore to figure things out for you!"

Hermione saw the dark witch lash out with her wand. A green orb of magical energy shot out and flew into the hallways... towards the dungeons.

No.

No, she wouldn't.

"Harry!" Hermione croaked. "The other Death Eathers..."

She could see in Harry's expression what she needed to do. In unison, Harry and Hermione raised their wands; stunners blasted at Bellatrix from both sides. For a moment, Hermione thought they'd had her, but it was soon revealed just how foolish they'd been. The dark witch cackled like mad while she deftly caught both spells with her wand and, after whispering a counter, both were immediately returned to sender with power increased threefold. Once again, Hermione was knocked to the ground; her entire body screamed with pain.

Harry was downed as well, groaning on the floor while Bellatrix stepped away from them. She could hear noise coming from the corridor leading to the dungeon, confirming her worst fears.

"Bellatrix," Hermione rasped, hoping the witch would respond favorably to her first name. "Please. Don't do this. There's nothing left for you to fight for."

It wasn't a threat. It was a plea. After seven years living under the emergent shadow of Voldemort, Hermione only wished for an end to this nightmare.

The dark witch turned to her. Oddly enough, her cruel sneer was gone, replaced by a thoughtful expression. "I am sorry to ruin your victory, little mudblood," she spoke softly. "But there is plenty left to fight for."

Hermione closed her eyes when she saw several Death Eaters running into the hall, following the green orb Bellatrix had sent for them. The moment they saw her, the men and women looked around nervously and started murmuring among themselves. "Come," Bellatrix grinned, twirling a lock of curly dark hair with her wand. "We have work to do."

"Any why should we follow you?" mocked one of the men. One flick of the dark witch's wand, and the man was hurtling through the air, screaming as he shot into the room where they had stored the bodies.

"Any more insightful questions?" Bellatrix let out a girlish giggle while the other Death Eaters remained silent.

'This can't be happening. This isn't happening,' Hermione thought as she could only watch helplessly.

Apparently, however, one miracle wasn't enough for this evening. The heavy door opposite of the hall, near one of the collapsed towers, flew off its hinges and was launched into the room. It collided against the wall and slammed onto the stone ground with a clank. Hermione's jaw dropped when she saw just who was standing in the doorway. There, like a raven emerging from a shadow complete with his swishing cloak, was Severus Snape. His usual stony expression apparent, he raised his wand just as Bellatrix let out an enthusiastic whoop.

"Snivellus!" she greeted cheerfully.

Snape said nothing. Instead magic shot from his wand which Bellatrix immediately blocked. Spells started blasting through the room back and forth as both of them dueled with vigor.

Hermione had never seen such raw power in both of them, but it was obvious to her that they were evenly matched. Both Snape and Bellatrix circled each other, their wands cleaving through the air in almost perfect unison. It was like watching two ultimately talented virtuoso's playing the piano in a concert hall.

Two people. Assumed dead. Wielding magics beyond anything Hermione had ever seen. Of course, if Bellatrix had been able to cheat death, someone like Snape surely would have been able to as well.

"Professor?" spoke a baffled Harry after her friend got to his feet.

"Stay back, fool boy!" Snape sneered while dueling, plucking one of Bellatrix's spells out of the air and tossing it back at her while the dark witch giggled gleefully.

Most of the unarmed Death Eaters were staying away from the dueling pair, but the unconscious Molly had no such luxury; she was prone on the floor but right within the line of fire. Hermione gasped and didn't hesitate. The young witch shot forward and dove to the ground near Molly, twirling her wand to conjure a protective charm around them both. However, it was quickly shattered to bits by one of Bellatrix's spells... it didn't even hit the shield itself, but merely flew over it. Thinking quickly, Hermione grabbed Molly while staying as low to the ground as possible and started to drag her behind a piece of fallen debris. She grunted and heaved; Molly was rather heavy, after all.

Snape and Bellatrix were still fighting when Harry was besides her. He grabbed one of Molly's arms and managed to help Hermione drag her to safety.

"Well," spoke Bellatrix while she and Snape circled each other. "It's been a lot of fun, Snivellus, but I think we should be off now. Care to join us?"

"Oh, I don't think so," replied Snape.

"Hm, pity," shrugged Bellatrix before making an exaggerated bow. "It would have been so nice to kill you in your sleep!"

Bellatrix cackled while she waved her wand; her magic engulfed the escaped Death Eaters, transforming all of them into a billow of smoke. The dark witch shot off into the sky, the others following in her wake. In the blink of an eye, they were gone while the echo of Bellatrix's maniacal laughter slowly died in the ruined Great Hall.

Whatever just happened, it had left more questions than answers.

"Professor," said Harry while Hermione checked on Molly. "You're alive?"

"Yes," replied Snape with his usual acidic drawl. "Considering the fact that we are speaking right now should make that rather self-evident. Any more stupid questions, Potter?"

Harry seemed to bristle for a moment, but let the comment pass. "She's stable," said Hermione. "We should get her to madame Pomfrey immediately."

"I'll go get her," said Harry before hurrying off into the corridor, leaving Hermione with Snape. The young witch looked up and saw a man she knew had died. In fact, Professor Snape still bore the wounds on his neck where he had been bitten by Nagini. Yet he was here, alive and well. She should be happy, really. Snape didn't deserve to be one of Voldemort's victims.

"Professor," said Hermione. "Where would Bellatrix go? What does she want? There's nothing left to fight for. Voldemort is dead. The war is over!"

"No, miss Granger," Snape replied while looking up into the sky. "This war... has only just begun."