Chapter Nine

I Love You Too, Hermione

Hermione spent sixty-eight hours apparating almost constantly from one location to the next in what she would eventually realize to be a futile attempt at evading her pursuer, who, as time progressed, she would come to think of as the Reaper. If someone had told her days ago that she would have the magical power to survive without sleep or food or water for sixty-eight hours straight, all while under the constant threat of death and being forced to apparate every six seconds, she would have laughed and claimed that no one on Earth, not even Lord Voldemort had stamina of that magnitude.

Yet, oddly enough, she had done it, and had done so, because, when the only other option open to her was to simply give up and die in what she rightly believed would be a rather unpleasant death - well, that was a pretty good motivator, she reckoned.

At first, Hermione had thought that apparating to an area populated by muggles would force Harry to think twice about apparating with his demonic appearance, or, at least, force him to pursue her from the shadows, affording her more opportunities to escape by more conventional means. However, Harry had swiftly and brutally disabused her of that notion by apparating mere feet from her and simply lifting the nearest person, who happened to be some college student chain-smoker type with blue hair, and hurling him fifteen feet into a brick wall so that his back cracked audibly upon contact, effectively severing his spinal cord and killing him within moments. Needless to say, people fled right quick from his path, easily clearing a line to Hermione who spent only about four seconds actually running before apparating once more.

Fool, she had thought. He just spent the morning murdering tens of thousands of muggles. What does he care if he kills a few more?

Hermione's next stop was apparating to Diagon Alley, where she hoped that she could play the part of a damsel in distress and that at least one proficient dueller would stand up and hold Harry off. Truthfully, she didn't understand how Harry had been managing his wandless abilities, but was certain that it couldn't be natural and that he would eventually become exhausted.

Again, she was disabused of these hopes rather quickly.

Sure enough, there were people bustling about Diagon Alley, and, to Hermione's pleasure, it couldn't have worked out better, for there was an extra contingent of Aurors due to the Christmas rush. Hermione didn't even bother apparating to the apparation safe zone, instead appearing right outside Olivander's and immediately proceeding to run screaming down the main road, "HELP! HELP!" with her arms flailing about uselessly to either side. She was sure to take a moment to unbutton the top button of her blouse to show off a bit of cleavage to help spur some of the male Aurors into action. It seemed to work, because she heard the familiar sound of spellfire being discharged behind her, and, so, stopped and turned to watch. After all, she couldn't apparate unless she was sure that Harry was completely occupied. Otherwise he might notice and follow her apparation trail.

"Reducto!"

"Stupefy!"

"Incarcerus!"

"Stupefy! Stupefy!"

"AARGH!" Harry roared, not paying attention at all to the spells that were simply bouncing off his rippling chest. One of the nearby Aurors aimed an evisceration curse at him after seeing that the standard defense spells weren't working, and, even as the spell splashed uselessly against Harry's magically altered skin, the Auror was aiming a second shot, only to end up getting lifted off the street as Harry picked him up with one good arm and waved him around like a rag doll, his wand clattering uselessly to one side.

One of the Aurors, desperately flung a killing curse at Harry, who just threw the Auror he was holding onto in its way, before charging past them, now grabbing two more people, just simple passersby and waving them around maniacally as he charged Hermione, who just stood there flabbergasted as Harry hurled one of the bodies toward her, the witch's robes fluttering about her as she careened into Hermione, knocking the pair of them backwards. However, as Harry's shadow loomed over her, she apparated away, taking herself to yet another place where she could perhaps have a moment's reprieve. Again, though, it would only last a few moments.

This time, Hermione went to the top of a skyscraper, hoping that Harry would charge her and perhaps she could send him falling over the edge. No such luck. Harry charged and, just as she apparated, she sensed rather than saw him apparate as well, following almost immediately on her heels and forcing her to apparate once more the instant she touched down, for Harry was almost in front of her, still swinging one dangerous hand. Hermione just barely felt the brush of his skin before she made it to an empty field in the province of Saran, France. Not that it made any difference. Harry was sure to come, but that didn't disturb her too much. Hermione had a plan. From France, she jumped to Belgium, and from Belgium, she jumped to Germany, and then to Romania, and from there she darted about Romania a few times until she came upon the dragon reserves, that she had once read about.

Praying this would work, she apparated right into one of the dragon dens, and, just as Harry was appearing, she apparated ten feet deeper into the den, and then ten feet further, as she heard Harry charging after her. Once she felt the noxious, warm puff of air that signalled an oncoming dragon, she apparated further just once more, which put her less than five feet from a Chinese Fireball, where she waited only a second before apparating fifteen feet further into the den, which put her pressed against the back wall of the cavern, the dragon's hind claws uncomfortably close to her vulnerable body.

The trick seemed to have worked, because the Fireball went after Harry, who she heard roaring on the other side and being doused with a liberal amount of fire. Having a moment to collect herself, she found that she was filled with indecision. She could either wait and see if Harry succumbed to the dragon's assault, or she could try and take off and pray he was too preoccupied to notice her. Neither solution seemed very likely. She had never seen wandless abilities like his before, except perhaps with house elves, though how house elves could have played a role in his situation was beyond even her imaginings. And the only texts that talked about manipulating one's own body such that he could grow additional limbs that were perfectly functional were in the deepest studies of necromancy. She doubted anyone in the past century with the exception of Lord Voldemort himself had ever dared such a thing.

The dragon's powerful jets of fire, which were one of their few formidable weapons did not, it seemed, faze Harry, because the Fireball proceeded to roar and lumber forward, only to get stopped midway, and, to Hermione's horror, stagger backward, as if struck by a tremendous blow. She crept to one side and watched as the dragon swiped a huge claw at Harry, who responded by clutching the claw out of midair, which was an inhuman feat that could only have happened with the aid of tremendous magical power. And then, to Hermione's further astonishment, he yanked on the claw, dragging the entire dragon forward, which must have weighed around five tonnes, before the dragon dug its remaining claws into the earth to keep it from being pulled forward. Still, Harry did not let go and instead, grabbed one claw in each of his four hands from the one paw he was holding onto and snapped each one as though they were toothpicks. The Fireball howled and it was only at the last second that Hermione realized what Harry was doing. The Fireball, now in a frenzied state, began whipping its tail savagely about, which, if Hermione had not apparated right that second, would have whacked her against the wall and at the very least driven her unconscious.

It continued that way for a long time. Hermione continued to apparate and continued to devise crazier and crazier strategies for killing Harry or at least injuring him, and each one in turn failed, demonstrating yet again his unmatched superior power.

Until finally, she attempted to apparate and simply failed. This time, she was in Australia, in a muggle airport, where she hoped she could get on a plane, preferably with a parachute over the Indian ocean and disappear in the waves far below, despite the fact that she'd never gone parachuting in her entire life. However, it did not matter, because she no longer had the strength to apparate past the security gates, and instead staggered drunkenly forward before collapsing face first onto the unyielding tile floor.

An elderly lady knelt beside her, inquiring as to whether she was feeling well, to which Hermione simply mumbled incoherently.

The elderly woman never noticed the deep shadow cast by Harry, who now stood over them.

"Er, Emily," an elderly man said, coming next to his wife and pulling her way as he tried to keep one eye on the hulk.

"What is it, Leonard?" she asked irritably. "This girl needs medical attention." However, Emily said no more as her gaze fell upon Harry, which drove her into cardiac arrest, effectively killing her.

Harry paid them no mind. This was Hermione's third trip to the airport. The last one had been to the Israeli airport, where some of the guards had machine guns that she managed to manipulate into opening fire on Harry, who simply batted the bullets away like pesky insects. And now, he had her. Finally, after so much time had passed.

Hermione seemed to come out of her semi-conscious stupor, for she looked dazedly up at Harry and said in a strangely bewildered voice, "Harry?" as though she were in the midst of a dream, which, she probably was.

Harry found himself overcome with a terrible sense of pity for his one time friend. He remembered not too long ago that he would have done just about anything for Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasley. He would have died, and probably killed too, and he would have done a number of other atrocious things for them.

"Yes, Hermione, it's me," he replied softly. His eyes were no longer glowing with the fervor of the hunt.

"Oh good," she said. "I thought it might've been Ron... You know, I wouldn't have wanted him to see me like this."

"It's fine," Harry said, kneeling down beside her, his body retracting his two additional arms and hair sprouting out of his head and a shirt materializing around his torso, effectively returning him to the average, scrawny-looking teenager that one normally associates with the name Harry Potter.

"Wake me up when it's morning, would you?" she asked sleepily. She attempted to snuggle into the tile floor, and, though it surely must have been uncomfortable, she did a miraculous job of falling asleep. Harry wasn't terribly surprised. His own body was screaming at him to go pass out somewhere; preferably someplace a little more private than an airport floor.

Still, Harry had a job to do, and he couldn't leave before finishing it.

"Good night, Hermione," he said quietly. "Let angels guide thee to thine resting place."

Harry wrapped his cybernetic hand around her neck and slowly squeezed, pressing his thumb into the soft flesh of her throat, right around her thyroid, where he instinctively knew he could cut off her oxygen supply. She was so drained, that she hardly seemed to notice, choosing only to twitch occasionally to, as far as Harry could tell, try and find a more comfortable sleeping arrangement. After holding down his fingers for no less than five minutes, after which her breathing had slowed to a rasp and finally cut off altogether, he let go.

Hermione Granger was dead.

Time passed. The Spring came and went. The remaining rags that comprised the Order of the Phoenix quietly disbanded. None of them were muggle-borns anyway, and they were simply too tired and had lost too much to put any effort into the war. They were just ordinary citizens anyway, and they could only have done so much. The remaining Weasleys, Arthur, Ginny and Charlie retired to a wizarding village in France to stay with Fleur, who it seemed, had become pregnant with Bill's child. They would try to build roots there, as difficult as it was, given that they were British through and through. Remus and Tonks chose to stay behind in England, adopting a ramshackle little home on the outskirts of a muggle village where they could have privacy, given Remus's condition.

Minerva McGonagall, who had been absent that night that the massacre at Grimmauld Place occurred, simply remained at Hogwarts and did her best to repel the pressure that the Board of Governors were applying to have the curriculum altered in anti-muggle ways. As long as Voldemort continued to gain strength, however, it would be a futile effort.

Likewise, the Ministry was ill-equipped to deal with a well-resourced, magically powerful and highly intelligent terrorist group. It was simply not built to respond effectively in wartime situations, due to the destabilizing effects of all the political in-fighting.

The only real defense that remained against the Dark Lord Voldemort was Harry James Potter. Despite how bleak things looked after the demise of the Order and the failure of the Ministry, the situation, overall, was looking up. It was a certainty, for example, that, after the death of Hermione Granger on Christmas Eve, and, for quite some time before that even, the Dark Lord had lost all his horcruxes and was mortal for the first time in fifty years. Harry Potter knew it, and so did the Dark Lord. It would only be a matter of time before they crossed paths once more, and, when that happened, a resolution would be reached. Things like school curricula, Ministry policies, etc. would move on from there, either for better or worse. Until then, any gains made one way or the other could be considered transitory, at best.

June 21.

It was high noon, and Harry could be found standing amidst the ruin of yet another pureblood manor, this one belonging to the Crabbes. Since his complete disaffection from both the wizarding and muggle worlds, Harry decided that there wasn't much else to do except kill people. The Daily Prophet had branded him a Dark Lord, and the Ministry had put him at the top of their 'To Kill' list. He took a sick sort of satisfaction from bumping Voldemort to the #2 spot. He had even gotten a new name, which he thought was rather apt: He-Who-Fucked-Us-All.

It was a bright, sunny day that was expected of the summer solstice. Around him lay pools of stone dust, burnt papers, wood splinters, various shredded fabrics, and, last but not least, body parts. Harry absently kicked a charred arm out of his way as he surveyed the wreckage. Aurors would be coming soon, but he didn't care. Harry found he cared little who he actually killed these days, so long as they were in his way and interested in putting up at least a modicum of effort in surviving. That's what made the hunt fun.

That's not to say that Harry was without a compass. On the contrary, he targeted known supporters of Voldemort, in his ceaseless search for the traitors Severus Snape and Peter Pettigrew. Today, he had finally hit the jackpot. Harry had raised an anti-apparation ward over the Manor before he had rained down upon it with magical lightning bolts akin to what he used to devastate muggle London six months earlier. These had proven surprisingly effective against the ancient pureblood wards that had protected these homes for centuries, which was fortunate, because Harry was neither smart enough, nor patient enough to bother learning warding, past the few he needed to contain his victims long enough to kill them.

"Severus," Harry called out. "Come out now. Do not make me root for you amidst the rubble. Even for a Slytherin, it's degrading." Harry stalked calmly through the wreckage, surveying the debris in search of any of the familiar magical markers that told of a wizard's presence. Of all the Dark Lord's Death Eaters, Severus had been particularly elusive, though whether that was because he was smarter and more powerful than the others or whether it was because he was the last remaining potions master in Voldemort's inner circle, and, thus, worth protecting, Harry did not know. Nor did it matter. Harry had finally caught up to him, though it was more apt to say he happened upon him by chance, as he was obliterating the Crabbe ancestral home. For what purpose Severus had been there, Harry cared not, nor did he intend to ask. It was enough that Severus had been found. To Harry, too much time had been spent talking, strategizing, planning, contemplating, and he was altogether sick of it. He was a Gryffindor, and that meant he went around blowing things up mindlessly. It was the one trait that Snape had always berated him for, and it was the one trait that he was going to stick to. It also satisfied him immensely that, in living by a code for which Severus Snape had only the deepest contempt, Harry had managed to best him. "Come now, Severus. You wouldn't want this arrogant whelp of a boy to consider you a coward, would you?" Why it was that Snape found an insult to his courage so offensive, Harry did not know. Again, he did not care, either, so long as it got him his little traitor.

After what he now referred to as the Granger crime, Harry decided that, above all else, he hated traitors. If people didn't have the decency to be honest about shit, even if they were super-evil, then they didn't deserve to live. Harry was pretty sure it was a lousy assertion with little moral basis, but little things like moral bases didn't really bother him anymore.

"Come out, come out, wherever you are!" Harry called tauntingly. No doubt the good Professor is waiting for a good shot at me. Harry would have gladly let him take the shot, assuming it wasn't the killing curse, though he wondered if, in his half-alive state, he could possibly repel that, as well. He decided that maybe it would be useful after all to learn about the killing curse. He was sure he could put a shield like the one Voldemort conjured in Azkaban to good use.

Severus did not seem to want to play, so Harry switched to being a little more aggressive with his search. As the sun rained streams of shining yellow light down upon him, making his pale skin glisten, his black hair shine, his sunglasses glint ominously, Harry began laying waste to the wreckage around him, simply blowing things up even more than they already had been, sending bouts of stone shrapnel rocketing into the air and showering down around him like boiling water from Icelandic geysers. It was not long before he came upon Severus, who had had the presence of mind to transfigure himself into an innocuous looking rock in a halfway decent attempt to evade Harry's investigation.

Wandlessly and without moving a muscle, Harry transfigured him back into a human, already stripping him of his wand with enough force that he ended up ripping out Snape's entire right arm.

To Snape's credit, he merely grunted and tried to scamper back, as though he could possibly make it to the anti-apparation boundary by crawling one-armed. He didn't even bother issuing a single word to Harry, knowing full well he had no chance in the world of defeating him. To many, Harry had become a kind of demon-God, much like Voldemort himself. Nobody understood him. They failed to comprehend what drove him from day to day, the reasons that motivated him to get up in the morning. But then again, how could they? these were people with happy lives, with families who got together at night around a dining table and told stories. These were people who had time in their lives to eat mangos and noodle salads and learn the piano. These were people who loved and people who feared, and people who loved and feared were the kind of people who could be ruled. Harry was nothing like that.

Harry just walked calmly after him, his eyes flicking occasionally to the trail of blood and bits of flesh that were oozing out of Snape's mangled shoulder socket and dripping onto the mess of rocks that now sat amidst the otherwise brilliant throng of evergreens that surrounded the Manor.

People like Voldemort got off on subjecting their adversaries to grueling torture sessions, and Harry found he could understand that. However, he had decided that it was really not his cup of tea. It was the reason he could never really get on board with Moody's teachings. No, Harry preferred to see his victims struggle; to see that normally indomitable spirit persist again and again and again, failing each time, until, eventually, the continuous sense of loss permeated every fabric of their being, until it consumed their thoughts with despair and until it racked their bodies with pains that they, through their own futile efforts, had inflicted upon themselves.

His boots crunching against the broken wood and stones, Harry walked behind Severus for nearly forty-five minutes, maintaining a sedate pace and continuously adjusting the anti-apparation ward so that Severus never got within twenty feet of the boundary. Harry noticed with some amusement that Severus had endured a multitude of scrapes and lacerations across his torso and his one arm and his legs as he continued to pick his way through the rough surface of the debris and even afterwards, as they entered the forest that surrounded the Manor. Harry even bothered to feed Severus a bit of his own magic to continue driving him, so that Severus could have a sort of second wind, to perhaps give him some false hope that Harry could use to utterly crush him shortly thereafter. And, now lost within the forest, with no particular direction left to go, and with the anti-apparation barrier firmly in place, Severus collapsed from fatigue and blood loss. His breathing was raspy and shallow and his eyes were squeezed shut, and Harry couldn't help but admire the man's incredible pain tolerance.

Harry walked up to the man that he had viciously referred to as a greasy git, once upon a time, and, now, looking into his pale face, he knew he had finally cracked Severus. It wasn't a major crack, and it probably would have healed itself given time, but Harry hadn't really expected anything less. Severus was a hard man. He was as hard as they came. One had to be to do what he did.

Harry drew out a dagger with a black handle and a black, stone blade. He had pilfered the stone from Azkaban, because he had been curious about what such a stained rock could do when properly applied. Now, he ran the tip of the blade across Snape's throat, cutting just enough to open a small tear in his jugular, so that warm blood began spilling out. It was a severe injury but not normally fatal to a wizard, unless, of course, that wizard had already suffered major wounds and if that wizard had no access to magical healing. Severus twitched awkwardly and tried to scrabble at his throat with his one hand, but his fate had already been sealed. Not five minutes later, the dewy earth wet with his blood, Severus Snape died.

That was how Harry went on for a long time. One Death Eater after the next, he himself always on the move, always searching, always willing to kill whoever crossed his path, always willing to torture for information, he ghosted across the wizarding and muggle world like a wraith, neither dead, nor alive.

As for the epic battle between Harry and Voldemort, well, it would come eventually. It had to, for it had been prophesied, albeit it was a prophecy derived from a demented twit of a seer. At this point in time, it's not clear who would win from such a battle, but, of course, that's always the difficulty when predicting outcomes between opponents who are equal to one another. In some ways, it didn't really matter anymore who the victor would be, because, as equals, there wasn't even really a difference between the two. They both lusted after the same thing to the exclusion of all else - killing one another. In that way, the prophecy was absolutely correct. Neither can live while the other survives.

THE END

Epilogue

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," said Harry, raising an eyebrow as Voldemort stood not five feet from the death veil.

Voldemort whirled around, a scowl already plastered across his face. "How did you know I would be here?"

Harry shrugged. "I make it my business to know these things."

Voldemort was clearly not satisfied with that answer, because he narrowed his eyes at Harry and reached out with tendrils of legilimancy.

Years ago, Harry would have not been able to deflect the subtle assault, but, now, things were different. Harry just reached out with his own energy, as subtle and deadly as a viper, and gently but firmly repelled Voldemort's attack, all the while smirking just a little bit. "Honestly, Voldemort, do you think that a weak attempt like that is going to best me?" Harry asked, amused, his eyes twinkling in a rather infuriating way.

"So you're an occlumans now," Voldemort hissed, switching to Parseltongue.

Harry just inclined his head in acknowledgement.

"It's not becoming of a Slytherin to state the obvious, Voldemort."

Voldemort just sighed and turned to face Harry completely. "There's no way I can convince you to come back a little later, is there?"

Harry shook his head.

"I've noticed you haven't raised an anti-apparation ward," Voldemort commented, glancing about as if to make a show of his casualness, as if to obscure the underlying tension. "Curious. I could just apparate away and return another time."

Harry smiled broadly. "Be my guest." He even went so far as to hold his hand out like an usher directing traffic. "The door's right over there. You can even walk, if it pleases you."

"Dammit, Potter! How'd you know?"

At Voldemort's clearly discomfited tone, Harry couldn't help but grin goofily. "You really can be a bit of a dweeb, sometimes." Harry shook his head, his smile never wavering. "You've spent the last five years trying to gain back some semblance of immortality. Some means against which to defend yourself from the killing curse. It has always been your weakest point."

"What do you mean?" Voldemort asked.

"I even know about your merger with that disgusting Siberian micrococcal fungus," Harry went on, not even bothering to address Voldemort's question. As if in response, a tentacle burst out of Voldemort's shoulder and jiggled lewdly before retracting itself and sealing the gaping wound. "Er, right," Harry said, and then shaking his head. "I'm sure that's a real hit with the ladies." He then continued, ""But enough of that. I'm not going to waste my time talking, when we could be fighting. You and I both know the score." He gestured to the veil. "If you take off, I will seek to absorb its power for myself, before destroying it completely. Your only chance now is to fight."

Voldemort drew his wand, which Harry noticed with some curiosity, had as a wand core, a single drop of blood. However, he did not have time to ponder exactly what creature it had come from, because Voldemort was already conjuring an array of objects to aid him in his battle with Harry Potter.

Harry, on the other hand, simply pooled together lots of raw magic, letting it sizzle on his skin as it crystallized into a solid form and curled around him like glimmering diamond snakes.

Swiftly and without warning, magic flew from either side. However, unlike the conventional battle, where combatants hurled spells with cheesy sounding names vaguely reminiscent of Latin, the two duelists in the death chamber were experienced enough that they could manipulate incoming magic to render any particular application useless.

Consequently, the two mostly tried to pummel each other to death with either raw magic or large pointy objects.

The veil was a curious thing, to be sure. In many ways, it defied logic. You could not move it. You could not destroy it, with axe or sword or magic. It was a thing of contradictions. All along its body were markings that the foremost scholars on ancient texts and runes could only postulate about. Were they part of a runic language? One perhaps whose origins were as of yet undiscovered? The veil told of a story, yet no one could understand it.

Most curious of all is that you could see through it as clear as day, as though it were nothing more significant than a trellis on which to hang flowers. And yet, to be near it is to feel the call of something indescribable, to hear voices that drew you, told you of a place otherworldly. Students of the veil could only postulate that it took you to a place from which you could not return. Having only limited imaginations, that concept was synonymous with death.

That was why it had eventually been dubbed the Death Veil.

Being that it supposedly linked the realms of life and death to one another, it was obvious to anyone interested in immortality, that it would be a good place to start. After all, if you could figure out how to move between the two worlds, well, that would be a pretty good beginning to the whole project of not being dead, or, more aptly put, not having to stay that way.

Voldemort had, after the destruction of his horcruxes, sought out a more flexible means of gaining immortality. Instead of trying to keep from getting sucked over to the other side, he would develop a strategy that would allow him to navigate to and from the realm of the dead. Surely that would grant him immortality in a way that horcruxes had failed to. That way, even if he were murdered, he could simply cross back over, dust off his hands and pick up where he left off. If he were lucky, he could bypass the whole business of soul magic, which had proved to be rather cumbersome, all things considered.

But of course, Harry Potter had to go and ruin his day. It was bad enough that he was too scared to actually face the brat in open combat. For all his bravado, he wasn't a complete idiot. He knew that he only had a fifty-fifty chance of surviving an encounter with a Harry Potter in top form, and those weren't the kind of odds that a Slytherin favours. Oh how he cursed the day Severus told him Potter was an incompetent weakling. If his worthless excuse of a potions master were still alive, Voldemort would have cruciated him for days, non-stop.

And now he was stuck fighting the kid in a vicious, pitched battle in the bowels of the Ministry, of all places. Moreover, he had been caught totally off guard by Harry's arrival, which gave him a distinctly queasy feeling. If there was one thing Voldemort hated more than being beaten in a duel, it was experiencing queasiness.

"So, you want to play with the big bad veil, do you?" Harry asked, a lot of blood spilling down his body from the six dozen puncture wounds he suffered during the battle.

Despite having lost three pints of blood, which was liberally splashed around the stone amphitheatre, Harry was still looking a lot better than Voldemort himself, who had a missing rib that lay in pieces off to the left, one gouged out eyeball, which was stapled to the far wall, an exploded pancreas, that was still leaking out of his shredded kidneys, and a drill bit that had punctured his tympanic membrane and which was jutting out of his right ear.

"Get off me," Voldemort said, his front teeth spilling out of his mouth in a river of yellow pus.

"No, no, no," Harry said, as if lecturing a wayward first year student. "You want the veil, I'll give you the veil."

Voldemort seemed to think that Harry was going to throw him in, and, with sheer horror at that prospect, began to struggle fitfully, upsetting the brown fungus that had taken up permanent residence in his throat, and which thrust a tentacle that whipped about ominously as it searched for something outside Voldemort's mouth to latch onto.

"Oh no you don't," Harry wheezed, noticing absently that blood had stopped pouring out of his own body and getting the distinctly unnerving feeling that it had more to do with the fact that he was simply out of blood, as opposed to his wounds having simply clotted or scabbed over.

"Don't throw me in! Potter! I'll do anything!"

"Harry just raised an eyebrow and thrust a thumb at the archway. "You think I'm going to throw you in there?" he asked with no small amount of incredulity.

"It's the Death Veil, Potter. What else would you do with it?"

"Death Veil?" Harry asked curiously. "What makes you think it's a gateway to the realm of the dead?"

"Everybody knows that, Potter."

Harry just sighed. "Maybe, maybe not. For all I know, it sends you to Disneyland." Harry instinctively shuddered at the thought, before pressing onward. "No, I have a much more useful application for the bloody thing."

Voldemort, not sure whether to believe Harry, continued to struggle futilely against the magical energy that coiled around him. Since when the hell did Potter get so strong? he wondered somewhere in the back of his mind.

When they reached the archway, the voices now crescendoing to an ear-splitting buzz, Harry just stopped, and, after taking a moment to occlude his mind more fully from the voices, grabbed Voldemort more firmly by the side of his head and proceeded to smash it against the outer wall of the archway like it were a stubborn coconut.

"AAH!" Voldemort cried out, his one remaining eye rolling around in his head from the blow.

"I've heard this puppy's supposed to be, like, invincible," Harry said conversationally. "Reckoned I'd put that to the test."

Slam.

The second strike of Voldemort's head made a flat cracking sound, and Harry could see that blood was now leaking out of the side of his head. "I believe muggle doctors call that a subdural hemotoma. Let's see if we can't expand on that a little bit, shall we?"

Crack.

This time, there was a wet, sloshing sound that accompanied the further breaking of Voldemort's skull, and, even better - a slimy grey jelly now clung to the side of the archway. "I reckon that might count as a lesion," Harry said thoughtfully, examining the substance as it slid slowly down the side of the stone. Surprisingly, it reminded him of a gross fluid that once came out of a diseased prostitute's vagina that he had propositioned in Knockturn Alley. Harry looked over at Voldemort's skull and saw to his dismay that part of it had caved inward. Despite this, however, Voldemort still seemed to be alive. "Can't really get a lot of impact out of a squishy old brain," he muttered, more to himself than anybody. "Ah well, better to try and try again, than to not try at all, or something like that."

Thwack.

This time, a liberal amount of fluids splashed across the stone, accompanied by a sucking sound. When Harry pulled Voldemort's head away, he saw that a good third of the skull was bashed apart, leaving a wide open space through which he could make out the various tendrils of fleshy brain substance that composed Voldemort's ventromedial hypothalamus. Some of the veins had been damaged as well, and were now leaking blood down the network of crevices. "I don't think there's another hit left in you," Harry mused, and, instead of slamming Voldemort's head into the wall again, or simply dropping him, he turned Voldemort's head onto its side and shook it violently until the brain dislodged itself and fell in a heap on the floor. "that's better," Harry said, now seeming to be satisfied with his handiwork. He kicked the remainder of Voldemort's brains across the amphitheatre where it smacked wetly against the far wall; right next to his one stapled eye, in fact.

Needless to say, Voldemort was dead.

Harry didn't experience the sense of satisfaction that he felt he ought to have, given that he came out of his battle with Voldemort relatively unscathed. Well, sort of unscathed. It's doubtful people would regard being exsanguinated as a minor flesh wound, and certainly it would take Harry's necrotic body days or even weeks to heal from it. He probably wouldn't even manage to heal from it completely, or, at the very least, he could imagine the damage would cut a year or two off his life expectancy. But that didn't bother him so much, since he was alive, sort of, and that was really all that mattered. Still, he'd hoped to achieve a sense of completion, as though a chapter in his life had come to an end. Mostly, he just felt weary, and, in a quiet part of his mind, he felt a kind of sorrow that his purpose had been fulfilled. It was like coming to the end of a good movie, and knowing that the next film you saw was inevitably going to be a piece of crap compared to this one.

Of course, if there was one thing Harry James Potter did, it was soldier on, and that's what he went and did.

A/N: Fuck that was a monster to write.

Okay, housekeeping:

1. If the idea of living horcruxes amused you as much as it did me, then I would suggest taking on my megafic, Harry Potter and the Dark Lord, which is a much more sensible post-HBP tale, and which is about 250,000 words. It's not as dark as this one, but it features a strong, independent Harry who has a very mean cruciatus. It has a bit of a romance feel for the first few chapters, but I assure you it's temporary. The only thing I need to warn you about with respect to it is that a good third of the story is from Ron or Hermione's POV, and they're both strong and independent, though not as strong and independent as Harry, of course. Hermione will also be dark and mostly evil, just like this fic. Okay, enough with the self-promotion.

2. Obviously, if you have any comments, criticisms or whatever, feel free to communicate them to me. This fic is finished, so I won't be going back and making major changes. It's not my style. If you leave a review, I may or may not respond. For an actual discussion of the fic, you can do that, in theory, at There's a number of vague references in this fic. I'm curious to know just how vague they are. Do let me know if anything comes to mind.

4. Hmm, the Epilogue. Personally, I feel this fic has a lot of heavy action scenes that are personal, gruesome, and which form the basis for moving a lot of the plot along. As such, having yet another scene between Harry and Voldemort was boring to write, and it was boring to read. Therefore, I finished it without putting it in. However, I've been told that it's a bit of a cheat to do it that way, so, in my attempt to appease the masses in their entirety, I've tried to give you your cake and eat it.

5. If there's one question I'd like answered it's the following: I'm not a writer of comedy, but I've tried to integrate some into this fic. Obviously it's dark humour. Any suggestions or comments are appreciated in this regard. It's the only area in my writing that I'm not confident. (You're welcome to point out other perceived weaknesses, of course). I don't expect people to actually laugh while reading this fic, so much as perhaps experience some mild amusement.

6. I did not check any of my canon references, or any references relating to names, dates or places in England. The Sunlife building is a skyscraper in Edmonton, and Vermilion is a shitty little town just outside Edmonton.

7. If you're wondering what happened to Ron, then you have my sincere apologies. I basically threw him away. It's even more of an insult to his character than killing him off, which presupposes that he deserves screen time for such a thing as his own death. It wasn't my intention to do so, but I'm already nearing the maximum word limit for the Horcrux Challenge, and if anyone's going to get axed, it's going to be him.

8. Thanks for reading.

Until next time,

EB/QR