So here it is: the last chapter of What If.
I feel like I've been writing this story forever, it seems sad that it's finally over...
"Ron, where have you been?" Hermione shouted frantically, as Ron came hurrying towards her, dodging crowds of people making preparations to fight.
"Come with me," said Ron, drawing Hermione into an broom cupboard. "I was in the Chamber of Secrets."
"But, how? How did you get into the Chamber? And why?"
"I just tried to make the sounds that Harry did when he opened the locket, and I thought ..."
Ron took from his pockets two great, curved fangs.
"We can use them to get rid of Horcruxes!"
"Ron, you're a genius!"
I need the place where everything is hidden.
The furore of the battle died the moment they crossed the threshold and closed the door behind them: all was silent. They were in a place the size of a cathedral with the appearance of a city, its towering walls built of objects hidden by thousands of long-gone students.
"And he never realised anyone could get in?" said Ron, his voice echoing in the silence.
"He thought he was the only one," said Harry, "Too bad for him I've had to hide stuff in my time ... this way," he added, "I think it's down here ..."
He passed the stuffed troll and the Vanishing Cabinet Draco Malfoy had mended last year with such disastrous consequences, then hesitated, looking up and down the aisles of junk; he could not remember where to go next ..."
"We should split up." said Ron.
And so they took separate routes through the piles of junk. From armchairs and desks, to statues and empty bottles, this room had it all. And somewhere there was the diadem. They just needed to find it.
"Eurgh, it's like searching for a needle in a haystack." Hermione muttered under her breath, rummaging through a pile of discarded objects. She didn't hear the footsteps behind her.
The tap on her shoulder made her jump out of her skin, but when she turned around and saw who it was, she wasn't scared. She was overcome with happiness.
"Draco!" she squealed, jumping into his arms.
She grinned into his shoulder as they embraced, but then she was overcome with a sudden realisation. The battle must have started.
"How did you get in here?" she asked, pulling away.
"I virtually lived in the Room of Hidden Things all last year, I know how to get in."
He paused for a moment to take in her face. It had been too long. If you didn't count her visit to Malfoy Manor. That was an evening that Draco never wanted to think about again.
"I got sent to Hogwarts yesterday with Crabbe and Goyle, they're in here somewhere. Where are Potter and Weasley?"
"We split up to find the..."
Before she had finished, Draco had grabbed her hand and pulled her along to a crossroads in the paths between piles of objects.
"We've got to find them before Crabbe and Goyle do!"
After running down the cramped aisles, they found them. Ron, Harry, Crabbe and Goyle. They were in a standoff, about to duel.
With a whip-like movement, Crabbe pointed his wand at the fifty-foot mountain of old furniture, of broken trunks, of old books and robes and unidentifiable junk and shouted, 'Descendo!'"
The wall began to totter, then crumbled into the aisle next door to where Ron stood.
Draco let go of Hermione's hand and raised his wand, shouting, 'Finite!'.
"No!" he shouted, staying Crabbe's arm as the latter made to repeat his spell. "If you wreck teh room, you might bury this diadem thing!"
"What does it matter?" said Crabbe, tugging himself free. "It's Potter the Dark Lord wands, who cared about a die-dum?"
"Potter came here to get it," said Malfoy with ill-disguised impatience at the slow-wittedness of his colleagues, "so that must mean -"
"'Must mean'?" Crabbe turned on Malfoy with undisguised ferocity. "Who cares what you think? I don't take your orders no more, Draco. You an' your dad are finished."
Draco flicked his wand and Crabbe crashed backwards into a pile of armchairs, taking Goyle with him. The chairs wobbled, before beginning to fall. Draco, Hermione, Harry and Ron just managed to get away before Crabbe and Goyle were buried.
"Thanks, Malfoy." Ron called over his shoulder as they stumbled along the aisle.
"It's somewhere here!" Harry said, stopping to rummage around. Ron followed suit. But Hermione and Draco didn't. They were looking back from where they had came.
"HARRY!" Hermione screamed.
A roaring, billowing noise behind him gave him a moment's warning. He turned and saw both Crabbe and Goyle running as hard as they could up the aisle towards them.
"Like it hot, scum?" roared Crabbe as he ran.
But he seemed to have no control over what he had done. Flames of abnormal size were pursuing them, licking up the sides of the junk bulwarks, which were crumbling to soot at their touch.
"Aguamenti!" Harry bawled, but the jet of water that soared from the tip of his wand evaporated in the air.
Hermione turned and ran as fast as she could, constantly glancing over her shoulder to make sure everyone was okay. And to check the progress of the flames. Now the fire was mutating, forming a gigantic pack of fiery beasts: flaming serpents, Chimaeras and dragons rose and fell and rose again, and the detritus of centuries on which they were feeding was thrown up in the air and into their fanged mouths, tossed high on clawed feet, before being consumed by the inferno.
"What can we do?" Hermione screamed over the deafening roars of the fire. "What can we do?"
Harry seized three heavy-looking broomsticks from the nearest pile of junk and threw one to Ron and one to Draco. Draco pulled Hermione onto it behind him, and pushed off into the air with a hard kick. So did Harry and Ron.
"Wait!" Draco shouted to them. "Crabbe and Goyle!"
"It's - too - dangerous -!" Ron yelled.
"There they are!" shouted Harry, pointing back towards the fire.
Crabbe and Goyle were climbing a huge pile of desks as the flames gained ever nearer. Harry and Ron flew towards them, battling the heat. Goyle clambered up onto Ron's broom, but before Harry could get Crabbe onto his Crabbe slipped, and the flames consumed him as he fell.
"We've got to get out of here!" Hermione shouted.
It was almost impossible to see what was in front of them. They swerved between piles of junk, ever pursued by the fire. Then, through the smoke, Draco saw a rectangular patch on the wall and steered the broom at it, and moments later clean air filled his lungs and they collided with the wall in the corridor beyond.
"Draco you've got to take Goyle and get back to the other side, before anyone suspects!"
Hermione gestured to the motionless body of Goyle, who had been knocked out by the collision with the stone walls of the corridor.
"It's the only way!"
Draco looked at Harry and Ron. They nodded. Draco began to pace over to Goyle, before changing his mind and turning around.
"One last thing before I go..."
He stepped towards Hermione, taking her in his arms and pulling her off the ground and he kissed her. Hermione wrapped her arms around his neck, smiling into the kiss. Ron raised his eyebrows, Harry coughed.
"Is this the moment?" Harry asked weakly, and when nothing happened except that Draco and Hermione gripped each other still more firmly and swayed on the spot, he raised his voice. "OI! There's a war going on here!"
Hermione and Draco broke apart, Draco put her back down gently.
"I know," Draco smiled, "But it's now or never, isn't it?"
Hermione did not see Draco again for some time. She fought alongside her friends in the castle. She watched as Fred, Lupin and Tonks fell, along with many others. Her eyes were clouded with tears as she saw all the bodies laid out in the Great Hall once the fighting had stopped. She buried her face in Ron's chest as Bill and Arthur brought Fred's body in. It was too much to take.
Harry had disappeared. It was worrying Hermione as the time Voldemort had given him to surrender was nearly up. She knew where he was. There was no way he'd let more people die. Harry was in the forest.
Draco found Hermione as the Death Eaters and Voldemort were walking up the driveway to the Entrance Hall. Everyone had collected in the shadow of the tall oak doors. Draco took Hermione's hand and kissed it. Hermione felt safe, until she saw what was in Hagrid's arms.
There were shouts of disbelief as Hagrid walked forward, flanked by Death Eaters. In his arms was Harry's limp body.
"SILENCE!" cried Voldemort, and there was a band and a flash of bright light, and silence was forced upon them all. "It is over! Set him down, Hagrid, at my feet, where he belongs!"
Hagrid lowered Harry on to the grass.
"You see?" said Voldemort. "Harry Potter is dead! Do you understand now, deluded ones? He was nothing, ever, but a boy who relaied on others to sacrifice themselves for him!"
Hermione stared blankly at Harry's motionless body. Draco's eyes were fixed on his parents, standing in the group of Death Eaters. His mother was searching for him.
"He was killed," Voldemort continued, "while trying to sneak out of the castle grounds. Killed while trying to save himself."
There was a bang as a spell was cast to Draco and Hermione's right. Voldemort deflected it and disarmed Neville, who fell to the ground. The Death Eaters laughed.
"And who is this?" asked Voldemort.
Bellatrix gave a delighted laugh.
"It is Neville Longbottom, my Lord! The boy who has been giving the Carrows so much trouble! The son of the Aurors, remember?"
Neville struggled to get to his feet.
"Ah yes," said Voldemort. "You show spirit, boy, as well as bravery. And you come from noble stock too. You will make a very valuable Death Eater. We need your kind, Neville Longbottom."
"I'll join you when hell freezes over," said Neville, "Dumbledore's Army!" he shouted, and there was an answering cheer from the crown, whom Voldemort's silencing charms seemed unable to hold.
"Very well," Voldemort sighed. "I didn't want to have to do this to a pure blood. But it needs to be done. An example needs to be set to those who do not obey."
Voldemort raised his wand. He was about to put a stop to Neville's life, when Harry Potter got to his feet. Voldemort's eyes widened in shock as Harry disappeared underneath his invisibility cloak. Draco felt Hermione's hand grip tight against his as this happened, his heart beat harder as he was overwhelmed with surprise and relief.
"HARRY!" Hagrid shouted, "HARRY - WHERE'S HARRY?"
Chaos reigned. The charging centaurs were scattering the Death Eaters, everyone was fleeing the giants' stamping feet, and nearer and nearer thundered the reinforcements that had come from who knew where; Hermione saw great winged creatures soaring around the heads of Voldemort's giants. Thestrals and Buckbeak the hippogriff scratching at their eyes while Grawp punches and pummelled them, and now the wizards, defenders of Hogwarts and Voldemort's Death Eaters alike, were being forced back into the castle. Hermione was shooting jinxes and curses at any Death Eater she could see, and many crumpled to the ground.
"Stay near to me!" Draco shouted. "I'm not letting you get away again!"
The bang was like a cannon-blast and the golden flames that erupted between them, at the dead centre of the circle they had been treading, marked the point where the spells collided.
Voldemort's green jet met Harry's spell, and the Elder Wand flew high into the air. And Harry, with the unerring skill of the seeker, caught the wand in his free hand as Voldemort fell backwards, arms splayed, the slit pupils of his scarlet eyes rolling upwards. Tom Riddle hit the floor with a mundane finality, his body feeble and shrunken, the white hands empty, the snake-like face vacant and unknowing. Voldemort was dead, killed by his own rebounding curse, and Harry stood with two wands in his hand, staring down at his enemy's shell.
They walked along the shore of the lake, ignoring the castle behind them. They had escaped the Great Hall, which was full of activity. Draco had left his parents, who were currently sitting at one of the house tables, huddled together and unsure whether they were supposed to be there. Hermione had left her friends and lead Draco outside. They had passed the marble staircase, which was now missing large chunks of stone, part of the balustrade, and was covered in rubble and bloodstains. They passed all the people milling around and found somewhere quiet.
They sat down on the pebbles and looked across the lake to see the sun beginning to rise on the horizon. Looking out across the water, they saw the giant squid come to the surface, checking to see whether it was all over.
Draco lay back against the ground and put his hands behind his head. Hermione turned her head and watched him.
"Nothing" Hermione said innocently, smiling.
"So," said Draco, turning to look at her. "What happens now?"
I can't believe I'm done. Over 2 1/2 years I've spent on this. Jeez.
Thank you for reading! I do plan on writing another fic or two, but not right away. To prevent you from the awful pains of waiting for updates, I'm going to write the whole story before I upload. It seems easier.
Again, thank you so so much for reading this story, and for the favourites and reviews. It means so much.