Disclaimer: Harry Potter and all associated riff-raff are not mine. The plot, however, is.

The so-called Final Battle, fought by the dead, dying, injured and unscathed.

Chapter 24

It was discovered that the dead could move surprisingly fast, as one dived in front of the Killing Curse fired at Severus. The rotting corpse collapsed to the ground, wreathed by the bright green flash. After a moment, the carcass climbed to its feet, unaffected by the lethal curse.

With a cry of rage, Voldemort attempted to launch another Killing Curse, only to cut off the incantation with a pained howl, clutching at his wand arm. The Death Eaters flanking him looked puzzled, before levelling their wands at Hermione, who was just switching her wand from her left hand to right hand, having launched a cutting curse at herself and transferred the damage to Voldemort in the process.

She cocked an eyebrow at the assembled Dark wizards and witches, before they were set upon by the undead surrounding them. Some of the more powerful Death Eaters were able to escape the icy clutches of the dead, but as they couldn't Apparate on Hogwarts grounds, they were not unscathed.

Lucius Malfoy had lost his mask and had accompanying rents across his face, spoiling his looks. Half blinded with his own blood and crazed with fear and rage, he launched himself at the line of Hogwarts staff and students, casting Unforgivables non-stop. Even as Filius Flitwick fell to one of the Killing Curses, the diminutive Charms professor sent an elementary Knock Back Jinx at the elder Malfoy, who was flung back into the throng of animated corpses. He didn't emerge.

Another Death Eater burst out of the undead mob, flinging rotting body parts everywhere. This coincided with the arrival of the rest of the Order of the Phoenix, so the rampaging Death Eater was met and bowled over by Remus Lupin. Black robes tore, the silver mask crumpled out of shape, revealing the feral features of Fenrir Greyback. The opposing werewolves rolled around, wands forgotten as they clawed and bit at each other. It wasn't full moon, leaving them in human form; yet the fight was somehow just as animalistic as it would have been in wolf form. Greyback cackled as he got the upper hand, Lupin yelping as his maker tore into his flesh, blood spurting around them to stain the grass.

Greyback's head flew off as Nymphadora Tonks managed to get a clear shot at him with a fully powered Cutting Curse, more blood spurting up in a fountain. She raced to the side of her beloved, only to slip over the blood-stained grass, sprawling on top of Lupin, who grunted with pain. Tonks stuttered an apology, her trembling wand hand fumbling over healing spells. Slowly but surely the bleeding stopped. Tonks pulled Lupin to his feet and began to half drag him toward the castle, both of them now out of the fight.

One of the undead was not under the control of Hermione, something the young Necromancer had overlooked. Bellatrix Lestrange was loyal to Voldemort even in death, yet lacked the emotional awareness necessary to link any damage to Hermione to the resulting damage and pain to her Master.

Hermione's feet were yanked out from under her, her torso hitting the ground with a winding impact. Sharp fingernails dug into her as she tried to catch her breath, dragging her under her attacker even as she scrabbled at the grass in an attempt to drag herself away. Voldemort had doubled over, wheezing, but the transference spell was apparently flawed when it came to breathing difficulties. The pain had transferred, but the lack of air was still an ongoing problem for Hermione. A problem that was exacerbated as Bellatrix clamped her hands around Hermione's neck, steadily tightening to the point that no air could be breathed in.

Voldemort fell to his knees, clawing at his throat, Hermione mirroring this movement as she tried and failed to prise Bellatrix's frigid grip from her throat. The strength in the undead hands was just as inhuman as the lack of emotions in the glassy stare.

If Hermione had been able to breathe, she could have reduced Bellatrix to ash or hijacked her loyalties, but she was steadily turning blue from lack of oxygen, a symptom that Voldemort shared.

Bellatrix abruptly let go, surging over to another target currently threatening her master. It was a mark of her lack of intelligence that she didn't realise that her previous efforts to protect Voldemort had placed him in far more danger than his current attacker did.

Severus had seen Hermione come under attack, but he had little chance of prying Bellatrix off her, having observed Hagrid get tossed aside as the dead Death Eater made a beeline for Hermione. While satisfying, his cast of
Crucio was doing little to damage the Dark Lord, but as long as Bellatrix thought her precious master was in danger, she should let Hermione go.

His ploy worked, but Bellatrix moved faster than he had anticipated. Severus managed to set the bitch on fire, but not before she'd thrown him clear across the blood-stained lawn to land at the foot of the steps at the main entrance to the castle. The impact knocked the breath out of him as his ribs splintered, allowing the waiting darkness to claim him as he passed out. Fortunately for him, Tonks had just emerged from the castle, having deposited Lupin in the hospital wing. She sighed, rolling her eyes as she grudgingly accepted her place as a glorified stretcher-bearer, her hair turning red with her annoyance.

Bellatrix let out an unearthly scream until the chill present in her put out the flames. Before she could attack again, Hermione reduced her to so much ash, a permanent state this time.

Antonin Dolohov was another Death Eater who managed to escape the attacking former inhabitants of Hogsmeade, his robes in tatters and his mask dangling from his face. He tore it off, launching his favoured purple flame curse as soon as his vision was clear. Minerva McGonagall managed to raise a shield in time to prevent the curse from killing her, but it still impacted, knocking her down and out. Dolohov snarled, lowering his wand to launch another curse at the defenceless witch at his feet. A fist knocked into the base of his skull, driving him to his knees before he could formulate the lethal spell.

"Oh, no you don't, Death Eating scum!" Ron Weasley stood behind him, his clenched fist trembling with his rage, deep red spots on his freckled cheeks. "Hey, I know you. You're Dolohov. You tried to kill Hermione in the Department of Mysteries. You also killed my uncles, before I had a chance to know them. Remember Gideon and Fabian Prewett?" The boy levelled his wand at the murderer, the length of willow steady as he mastered his rage to the point that he was in control.

"As if a snivelling brat like you can kill me, pathetic little Weasley." Dolohov spat a bloody mouthful onto the trampled grass, his eyes almost crossed with the blow to his head. "Yes, I remember them, the blood traitor brothers. I only regret that I didn't have time to dismember their corpses… I do so like to play. Pity that the little girl had Potter protecting her; I would have enjoyed her company so much."

"Shut up! Azkaban is too good for you. Hell, using magic is too good for you." The youngest Weasley son tossed his wand aside, clenching his fists as he kicked at Dolohov, who grunted with the bruising blows. As the punishing blows from the boy's fists began to land, he began to laugh weakly.

"Are you any better than me, Weasley? My blood will be on your hands." Dolohov smirked as Weasley's attack faltered. He launched himself at the brat, a cruel blade in his hands cutting into the soft flesh of the youngster. Before he could thrust the cold steel into the heart of the boy, he was thrown off in a deluge of Stinging Hexes.

"Ginny, what're you doing here? You're too young!" Weasley's voice was weak, as the poison in the knife took hold.

"Shut up, Ron." The girl launched her favoured Bat-Bogey Hex, causing Dolohov to flail at his face, cutting himself with the blade as he tried to fend off the attack of the bogies. He lumbered blindly towards the girl, managing to throw the knife. She ducked, the knife grazing the side of her head. A swift, lucky punch took her out of the equation, the bogey hex failing as the caster lost consciousness. Dolohov advanced on Weasley, snatching his wand up.

Before he could end the short life of young Weasley, his skull shattered under a blow from a rolling pin. Molly Weasley née Prewett had been baking as the call to assemble at Hogwarts had come in, and hadn't let go of her favoured pastry rolling tool before Apparating to the Hogwarts' gate. When she had seen her children come under attack, she had acted instinctively. It was only after the Dark wizard slumped to the ground, dead, that she recognised the long, pale, twisted face of her brothers' murderer. She kicked the corpse before conjuring stretchers under her youngest children, taking them up to the hospital wing.

Albus Dumbledore had not been standing still, but protecting his staff and students wherever he could, using admittedly illegal Portkeys to whisk the injured to the hospital wing. Great wizard though he was, he had limits, as the steadily rising death toll revealed. Part of the problem was that the Death Eaters avoided confronting him whenever they escaped from the attacking undead, so they picked off staff and students alike who were far enough away from Albus to be unprotected. He eventually called Fawkes, both for his Apparating ability and for his healing tears.

Now there were virtually no living Death Eaters left; Voldemort was raging. He didn't know how Hermione had transferred damage from herself to him, but the fact was that she was preventing him from taking as many of these Muggle lovers down with him as he could. He knew that it was highly unlikely that he would escape alive. Even if he did manage it, it was in a true Gryffindor's nature to sacrifice themselves in the name of the greater good. Hermione seemed to be the type, and he doubted that she had to be in his vicinity to transfer a mortal injury to him. His face contorted as he realised that it was unlikely that Hermione would die, as any damage seemed to instantly transfer to him. His incensed gaze passed over the assembled people, dead and undead, pausing at those he recognised. What really stung was that Potter would live and had a Necromancer to do his dirty work for him. The prophecy had misled him; this was the last time he would try to defeat fate.

Those glowing red eyes widened as a sudden thought occurred. They flicked to glance at Hermione; a slow smirk forming on his face. A flick of his wand and a nonverbal spell disarmed her. "Try to stop me now, Mudblood!" Voldemort twisted around, firing curse after curse at Harry Potter, who was steadily losing ground as he ducked, blocked and backed away.

"No Priori Incantatem to save you this time, Harry! I learned from our duel by my father's grave… I have a new wand now."

Potter's eyes were wide with fear with no back up from Albus Dumbledore, as the old man was occupied conveying his own sorrow to the flagging phoenix to enable more healing tears to be shed. The boy's jaw clenched, a defiant look coming over his face.

"Quite the Gryffindor, aren't you… Now, die like one, with your head held high." Before Voldemort could let his Killing Curse fly, his wand began to smoke. Seconds later, it burst into flame, a shriek of agony emanating from the core. An undignified yelp escaped the Dark Lord as the ashes of what had been his wand slipped through his fingers, his white hand both burned and stained. He stared in disbelief at his hand as the skin began to flake away, the flesh soon following suit as it shrivelled around the bones.

"What have you done?" Voldemort breathed, turning to Hermione, his accusing gaze drawn back to the gruesome sight of his disintegrating hand. The bones of his wand hand had collapsed into ash, but the process hadn't stopped there. His remaining hand was following suit, his nerves screaming the agony in a non-stop stream into his overloaded mind. "NECROMANTIC WITCH! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?" he roared, his voice high and piercing, drawing the attention of the soon-to-be victorious living. The process accelerated as the resistance from his body faltered as more of it collapsed into ash.

Voldemort raised his head, screams of pain tearing from his throat. His terrified gaze fell on the architect of his destruction. Hermione was surrounded by a source of darkness so intense that she seemed to absorb the low light of the setting sun, the very fabric of time accelerated by the great energies of her attack. Scores of the dead fell, collapsing into dust as she reached the limit of her powers.

The Dark Lord's wordless cry of agony rose higher still, past the pain threshold of the observers. The screech cut off with a dry, choking rasp as Voldemort's lungs collapsed into ash. The remainder of his body followed suit. The last stage of the atomising was completed when even the ash was gone. In the moment of silence following, it seemed that the representatives of the Wizarding world held their breaths, all eyes rooted to the spot where the Lord Voldemort had last stood, the grass dry and yellowed.

Ragged shouts of triumph strengthened as Fawkes erupted into joyous song, circling the dead spot in the grass. Sparks flew from wand tips like fireworks as the victorious staff, students and selected Order members embraced each other. The sounds of jubilation doubled as the last of the dead army returned to dust.

"Hermione, you did it! We won… Hermione?" Potter, as the closest, was the first to realise that she had vanished. His voice trailed off plaintively as he called for his friend. He staggered over to where she had been standing, to fall to his knees, white faced as he registered what was there.

"Harry? Harry, what's wrong? What—" Dumbledore was just behind him, his wrinkled hand resting on the boy's shoulder. "Dear Merlin, no."

All that was left of Hermione Granger was a few ragged, singed strips of her crimson robes and the jewellery that she had been wearing; her engagement ring and charm bracelet.

He emerged from the memory in the Pensieve, bitter lines etched deeply onto his face. When he'd awoken in the hospital wing, he had found Albus sitting by his bedside. What the old man had to say, he'd refused to believe. With the proof of an unaltered memory in the accursed Pensieve, his denial was futile.

"Where are her belongings?" Severus demanded, ready to fight for the last vestiges of his beloved.

"I took the liberty of leaving them in your quarters. Her personal effects recovered from the battlefield are in her student record box on your desk. Harry accepted that they should go to you. He has little energy to hate, after losing so much," Albus murmured, concerned twinkle-free eyes fixed on the younger man.

"I need to be alone, Headmaster." Severus stood up, unable to meet Albus's piercing eyes.

"Very well. If you are sure… I will be here, if you need someone to talk to."

"Unless talking to you can somehow bring my Hermione back, I don't see how it can help."

"Severus, you are not the only one to have lost someone in the last battle of Voldemort."

"I realise that, Albus. But I cannot believe that they feel the same sense of loss that I do." Severus swept out of the office, leaving Albus shaking his head sadly.

Despite the realisation that going to his quarters could only torment him, Severus headed directly for them, using the door in the teacher quarters corridor to avoid meeting anyone.

His quarters were just as he'd left them. They looked as though they still accommodated two people. Come to that, he could still smell Hermione's scent in the air, as though she was either hiding or just out for the day. Avoiding the sight of the open bedroom door, Severus made his way to the study. The sight of Hermione's desk piled high with books, finished and unfinished work brought a lump to his throat. He stumbled over to his own desk, zeroing in on the foot square wooden box with Hermione's name, year and house engraved on the lid. The sight of the word 'deceased' was like a jolt of Crucio to his soul.

Closing his eyes tightly, fighting against the sting of unshed tears, Severus reached over to pull the student record box closer. He opened it, looking through half-closed eyes at the contents. Hermione's academic record lay inside, together with her wand. A metallic glitter drew his eye, then his hand as he snatched whatever it was up to examine it more closely. It was the charm bracelet, unmarked save for a few black stains which rubbed off easily. Severus held the cool metal for a long moment, before slipping it back inside the box, closing it up. Swallowing hard, he turned to leave, before picking the box up and taking it with him. He didn't want to find it in his rooms again, lying in wait for him.

Rubbing an impatient hand over his bloodshot eyes to dash any hint of tears away, Severus left his quarters, unable to be so tantalisingly close to where he'd last been alone with his late fiancée. Had it only been a few days ago that he'd last spent the early hours of the morning making love to Hermione? Now she was gone, with no body for closure. Even in the Pensieve, she'd just vanished. One second she'd been there, the next she was not. Yet it was also clear that she was dead. Necromancer though she was, even she couldn't come back to life when her own body had done the same as Voldemort's and been reduced to its component atoms.

'That transference spell must have been the cause. I knew it was dangerous. I knew it had to be untested for a reason. Yet there was nothing I could do to stop her, and even if I had somehow managed it, Voldemort would have killed her. Bastard, gutter slimed, whoreson! Why did he have to take Hermione with him into death? Why couldn't he have dragged down Potter?'

An enraged, wounded, wordless cry escaped him. He rammed his fist into the nearest suit of armour, denting the breastplate. It swore after him as he stalked off, the pain in his now throbbing hand insignificant next to the pain inside him.

"Professor, I'm sorry. About Hermione—"

Think of the devil; Potter had appeared out of the woodwork. "Shut up and fuck off." Severus shoved past the boy, beyond any form of civility. Potter's jaw dropped, stunned by the bad language coming from the normally controlled man. The two youngest Weasleys were with him, admittedly pale-faced after battling Death Eaters, but whole. Albus had told him who had died, and of the nine members of the Weasley family, none had expired.

"Now, Severus, Potter was only expressing his respects—" Minerva frowned at him, blocking the corridor.

"Potter this, Potter that! Why couldn't the fucking Boy-Who-Lived have handled the fucking Dark Lord? Why did Hermione have to die? Get out of my way, you dried up old prune."

Minerva gasped, her shock at Severus's invective allowing him to slip past, heading for the entrance hall. The castle was suddenly stifling, far too overloaded with interfering busybodies, who thought of themselves as helpful. He turned back, feeling slightly guilty for snapping at Minerva that way. She was injured herself, after all.

"My apologies, Minerva. I need to be alone, not surrounded by a never-ending stream of commiserating morons. I'm not about to do anything drastic, so I don't need a babysitter." He slipped away, hurrying down the steps, across the grounds towards the gate, where he Disapparated.

Severus knelt before the cenotaph dedicated to the Grangers. He stared at it for a long moment, the gravel beneath him rattling as he shifted. He drew his wand, composing himself until his hand was no longer shaking. After a few minutes careful work, he sat back on his haunches, bleak gaze fixed on his handiwork. Below the names of her parents, their dates of birth and death, he'd carved:

'Hermione Jane Granger


Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

That old lie'

Reaching into Hermione's record box, Severus pulled out the charm bracelet. He hesitated for a moment before using his wand to break the links, allowing him to remove each charm. These he set into the stone around his carving, transfiguring them to match the texture. While he had thought to keep the platinum bracelet with him, this cenotaph would be a less painful place to keep the items that had last touched Hermione.

The parchment rolls recording his beloved's achievements were all that was left. The tip of his wand flared as he seriously contemplated burning them. He pulled them out, arranging them before the plinth. Before he touched his wand to them to set them alight, a glint caught his eye. Brushing aside the parchment partially concealing it, Severus snatched up what was revealed in the glow from his wand. The engagement ring he had crafted himself, using the deep magic of his own love for Hermione.

The white glow of the gemstone had faded with her death, incontrovertible proof for the last of his futile denials. Severus's eyes suddenly widened as they darted back to the ring in a double take, dropping his wand in his surprise, the tip extinguishing as it left his hand. He lifted the ring closer to his stunned, incredulous gaze to ensure that what he had noticed wasn't a trick of the light. The bitter lines etched into his face softened as hope overtook the grief in his heart. The faint white glow of the ring was reflected in his dark eyes.

"I'll wait for you, Hermione."

Finite Incantatem

AN: The epitaph is a slight rearrangement and change of the end of Wilfred Owen's poem Dulce Et Decorum Est. It seemed fitting…

I am fully aware that I am evil. At the end of the last chapter, it seemed that Severus had bought it. Well, I spared him. What more do you want? A happy ending? The sequels, Tabula Rasa and Resurgam, can be found on my author page. Both are complete.