But Tonks had run off into the dust after Aberforth.
Ginny turned, helpless, to Harry, Ron, and Hermione.
“They’ll be all right,” said Harry, though he knew they were empty words. “Ginny, we’ll be back in a moment, just keep out of the way, keep safe—come on!” he said to Ron and Hermione, and they ran back to the stretch of wall beyond which the Room of Requirement was waiting to do the bidding of the next entrant.
I need the place where everything is hidden. Harry begged of it inside his head, and the door materialized on their third run past.
The furor 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 realized 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…”
They sped off up adjacent aisles; Harry could hear the others’ footsteps echoing through the towering piles of junk, of bottles, hats, crates, chairs, books, weapons, broomsticks, bats…
“Somewhere near here,” Harry muttered to himself. “Somewhere… somewhere…”
Deeper and deeper into the labyrinth he went, looking for objects he recognized from his one previous trip into the room. His breath was loud in his ears, and then his very soul seemed to shiver. There it was, right ahead, the blistered old cupboard in which he had hidden his old Potions book, and on top of it, the pockmarked stone warlock wearing a dusty old wig and what looked like an ancient discolored tiara.
He had already stretched out his hand, though he remained few feet away, when a voice behind him said, “Hold it, Potter.”
He skidded to a halt and turned around. Crabbe and Goyle were standing behind him, shoulder to shoulder, wands pointing right at Harry. Through the small space between their jeering faces he saw Draco Malfoy.
“That’s my wand you’re holding, Potter,” said Malfoy, pointing his own through the gap between Crabbe and Goyle.
“Not anymore,” panted Harry, tightening his grip on the hawthorn wand. “Winners, keepers, Malfoy. Who’s lent you theirs?”
“My mother,” said Draco.
Harry laughed, though there was nothing very humorous about the situation. He could not hear Ron or Hermione anymore. They seemed to have run out of earshot, searching for the diadem.
“So how come you three aren’t with Voldemort?” asked Harry.
“We’re gonna be rewarded,” said Crabbe. His voice was surprisingly soft for such an enormous person: Harry had hardly ever heard him speak before. Crabbe was speaking like a small child promised a large bag of sweets. “We ’ung back, Potter. We decided not to go. Decided to bring you to ’im.”
“Good plan,” said Harry in mock admiration. He could not believe that he was this close, and was going to be thwarted by Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle. He began edging slowly backward toward the place where the Horcrux sat lopsided upon the bust. If he could just get his hands on it before the fight broke out…
“So how did you get in here?” he asked, trying to distract them.
“I virtually lived in the Room of Hidden Things all last year,” said Malfoy, his voice brittle. “I know how to get in.”
“We was hiding in the corridor outside,” grunted Goyle. “We can do Diss-lusion Charms now! And then,” his face split into a gormless grin, “you turned up right in front of us and said you was looking for a die-dum! What’s a die-dum?”
“Harry?” Ron’s voice echoed suddenly from the other side of the wall to Harry’s right. “Are you talking to someone?”
With a whiplike 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 the top third crumbled into the aisle next door where Ron stood.
“Ron!” Harry bellowed, as somewhere out of sight Hermione screamed, and Harry heard innumerable objects crashing to the floor on the other side of the destabilized wall: He pointed his wand at the rampart, cried, “Finite!” and it steadied.
“No!” shouted Malfoy, staying Crabbe’s arm as the latter made to repeat his spell. “If you wreck the room you might bury this diadem thing!”
“What’s that matter?” said Crabbe, tugging himself free. “It’s Potter the Dark Lord wants, who cares about a die-dum?”
“Potter came in 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.”
“Harry?” shouted Ron again, from the other side of the junk wad. “What’s going on?”
Harry had lunged for the tiara; Crabbe’s curse missed him but hit the stone bust, which flew into the air; the diadem soared upward and then dropped out of sight in the mass of objects on which the bust had rested.
“STOP!” Malfoy shouted at Crabbe, his voice echoing through the enormous room. “The Dark Lord wants him alive—”
“So? I’m not killing him, am I?” yelled Crabbe, throwing off Malfoy’s restraining arm. “But if I can, I will, the Dark Lord wants him dead anyway, what’s the diff—?”
A jet of scarlet light shot past Harry by inches: Hermione had run around the corner behind him and sent a Stunning Spell straight at Crabbe’s head. It only missed because Malfoy pulled him out of the way.
“It’s that Mudblood! Avada Kedavra!”
Harry saw Hermione dive aside, and his fury that Crabbe had aimed to kill wiped all else from his mind. He shot a Stunning Spell at Crabbe, who lurched out of the way, knocking Malfoy’s wand out of his hand; it rolled out of sight beneath a mountain of broken furniture and bones.
“Don’t kill him! DON’T KILL HIM!” Malfoy yelled at Crabbe and Goyle, who were both aiming at Harry: Their split second’s hesitation was all Harry needed.
Goyle’s wand flew out of his hand and disappeared into the bulwark of objects beside him; Goyle leapt foolishly on the spot, trying to retrieve it; Malfoy jumped out of range of Hermione’s second Stunning Spell, and Ron, appearing suddenly at the end of the aisle, shot a full Body-Bind Curse at Crabbe, which narrowly missed.
Crabbe wheeled around and screamed, “Avada Kedavra!” again. Ron leapt out of sight to avoid the jet of green light. The wandless Malfoy cowered behind a three-legged wardrobe as Hermione charged toward them, hitting Goyle with a Stunning Spell as she came.
“It’s somewhere here!” Harry yelled at her, pointing at the pile of junk into which the old tiara had fallen. “Look for it while I go and help R—”
“HARRY!” she screamed.
A roaring, billowing noise behind him gave him a moment’s warning. He turned and saw both Ron and Crabbe running as hard as they could up the aisle toward 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.
Malfoy grabbed the Stunned Goyle and dragged him along; Crabbe outstripped all of them, now looking terrified; Harry, Ron, and Hermione pelted along in his wake, and the fire pursued them. It was not normal fire; Crabbe had used a curse of which Harry had no knowledge. As they turned a corner the flames chased them as though they were alive, sentient, intent upon killing them. 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 into the air into their fanged mouths, tossed high on clawed feet, before being consumed by the inferno.
Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle had vanished from view: Harry, Ron and Hermione stopped dead; the fiery monsters were circling them, drawing closer and closer, claws and horns and tails lashed, and the heat was solid as a wall around them.
“What can we do?” Hermione screamed over the deafening roars of the fire. “What can we do?”
Harry seized a pair of heavy-looking broomsticks from the nearest pile of junk and threw one to Ron, who pulled Hermione onto it behind him. Harry swung his leg over the second broom and, with hard kicks to the ground, they soared up in the air, missing by feet the horned beak of a flaming raptor that snapped its jaws at them. The smoke and heat were becoming overwhelming: Below them the cursed fire was consuming the contraband of generations of hunted students, the guilty outcomes of a thousand banned experiments, the secrets of the countless souls who had sought refuge in the room. Harry could not see a trace of Malfoy, Crabbe, or Goyle anywhere. He swooped as low as he dare over the marauding monsters of flame to try to find them, but there was nothing but fire: What a terrible way to die… He had never wanted this…
“Harry, let’s get out, let’s get out!” bellowed Ron, though it was impossible to see where the door was through the black smoke.
And then Harry heard a thin, piteous human scream from amidst the terrible commotion, the thunder of devouring flame.
“It’s—too—dangerous—!” Ron yelled, but Harry wheeled in the air. His glasses giving his eyes some small protection from the smoke, he raked the firestorm below, seeking a sign of life, a limb or a face that was not yet charred like wood…
And he saw them: Malfoy with his arms around the unconscious Goyle, the pair of them perched on a fragile tower of charred desks, and Harry dived. Malfoy saw him coming and raised one arm, but even as Harry grasped it he knew at once that it was no good. Goyle was too heavy and Malfoy’s hand, covered in sweat, slid instantly out of Harry’s—
“IF WE DIE FOR THEM, I’LL KILL YOU, HARRY!” roared Ron’s voice, and, as a great flaming chimaera bore down upon them, he and Hermione dragged Goyle onto their broom and rose, rolling and pitching, into the air once more as Malfoy clambered up behind Harry.
“The door, get to the door, the door!” screamed Malfoy in Harry’s ear, and Harry sped up, following Ron, Hermione, and Goyle through the billowing black smoke, hardly able to breathe: and all around them the last few objects unburned by the devouring flames were flung into the air, as the creatures of the cursed fire cast them high in celebration: cups and shields, a sparkling necklace, and an old, discolored tiara—
“What are you doing, what are you doing, the door’s that way!” screamed Malfoy, but Harry made a hairpin swerve and dived. The diadem seemed to fall in slow motion, turning and glittering as it dropped toward the maw of a yawning serpent, and then he had it, caught it around his wrist—
Harry swerved again as the serpent lunged at him; he soared upward and straight toward the place where, he prayed, the door stood open; Ron, Hermione and Goyle had vanished; Malfoy was screaming and holding Harry so tightly it hurt. Then, through the smoke, Harry 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.
Malfoy fell off the broom and lay facedown, gasping, coughing, and retching. Harry rolled over and sat up: The door to the Room of Requirement had vanished, and Ron and Hermione sat panting on the floor beside Goyle, who was still unconscious.
“C-Crabbe,” choked Malfoy as soon as he could speak. “C-Crabbe…”
“He’s dead,” said Ron harshly.
There was silence, apart from panting and coughing. Then a number of huge bangs shook the castle, and a great cavalcade of transparent figures galloped past on horses, their heads screaming with bloodlust under their arms. Harry staggered to his feet when the Headless Hunt had passed and looked around: The battle was still going on all around him. He could hear more scream than those of the retreating ghosts. Panic flared within him.
“Where’s Ginny?” he said sharply. “She was here. She was supposed to be going back into the Room of Requirement.”
“Blimey, d’you reckon it’ll still work after that fire?” asked Ron, but he too got to his feet, rubbing his chest and looking left and right. “Shall we split up and look—?”
“No,” said Hermione, getting to her feet too. Malfoy and Goyle remained slumped hopelessly on the corridor floor; neither of them had wands. “Let’s stick together. I say we go—Harry, what’s that on your arm?”
“What? Oh yeah—”
He pulled the diadem from his wrist and held it up. It was still hot, blackened with soot, but as he looked at it closely he was just able to make out the tiny words etched upon it; WIT BEYOND MEASURE IS MAN’S GREATEST TREASURE.
A bloodlike substance, dark and tarry, seemed to be leaking from the diadem. Suddenly Harry felt the thing vibrate violently, then break apart in his hands, and as it did so, he thought he heard the faintest, most distant scream of pain, echoing not from the grounds or the castle, but from the thing that had just fragmented in his fingers.
“It must have been Fiendfyre!” whimpered Hermione, her eyes on the broken piece.
“Fiendfyre—cursed fire—it’s one of the substances that destroy Horcruxes, but I would never, ever have dared use it, it’s so dangerous—how did Crabbe know how to—?”
“Must’ve learned from the Carrows,” said Harry grimly.
“Shame he wasn’t concentrating when they mentioned how to stop it, really,” said Ron, whose hair, like Hermione’s, was singed, and whose face was blackened. “If he hadn’t tried to kill us all, I’d be quite sorry he was dead.”
“But don’t you realize?” whispered Hermione. “This means, if we can just get the snake—”
But she broke off as yells and shouts and the unmistakable noises of dueling filled the corridor. Harry looked around and his heart seemed to fail: Death Eaters had penetrated Hogwarts. Fred and Percy had just backed into view, both of them dueling masked and hooded men.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione ran forward to help: Jets of light flew in every direction and the man dueling Percy backed off, fast: Then his hood slipped and they saw a high forehead and streaked hair—
“Hello, Minister!” bellowed Percy, sending a neat jinx straight at Thicknesse, who dropped his wand and clawed at the front of his robes, apparently in awful discomfort. “Did I mention I’m resigning?”
“You’re joking, Perce!” shouted Fred as the Death Eater he was battling collapsed under the weight of three separate Stunning Spells. Thicknesse had fallen to the ground with tiny spikes erupting all over him; he seemed to be turning into some form of sea urchin. Fred looked at Percy with glee.
“You actually are joking, Perce… I don’t think I’ve heard you joke since you were—”
The air exploded. They had been grouped together, Harry, Ron, Hermione, Fred, and Percy, the two Death Eaters at their feet, one Stunned, the other Transfigured; and in that fragment of a moment, when danger seemed temporarily at bay, the world was rent apart, Harry felt himself flying through the air, and all he could do was hold as tightly as possible to that thin stick of wood that was his one and only weapon, and shield his head in his arms: He heard the screams and yells of his companions without a hope of knowing what had happened to them—
And then the world resolved itself into pain and semidarkness: He was half buried in the wreckage of a corridor that had been subjected to a terrible attack. Cold air told him that the side of the castle had been blown away, and hot stickiness on his cheek told him that he was bleeding copiously. Then he heard a terrible cry that pulled at his insides, that expressed agony of a kind neither flame nor curse could cause, and he stood up, swaying, more frightened than he had been that day, more frightened, perhaps, than he had been in his life…
And Hermione was struggling to her feet in the wreckage, and three redheaded men were grouped on the ground where the wall had blasted apart. Harry grabbed Hermione’s hand as they staggered and stumbled over stone and wood.
“No—no—no!” someone was shouting. “No! Fred! No!” And Percy was shaking his brother, and Ron was kneeling beside them, and Fred’s eyes stared without seeing, the ghost of his last laugh still etched upon his face.
THE ELDER WAND
The world had ended, so why had the battle not ceased, the castle fallen silent in horror, and every combatant laid down their arms? Harry’s mind was in free fall, spinning out of control, unable to grasp the impossibility, because Fred Weasley could not be dead, the evidence of all his senses must be lying—And then a body fell past the hole blown into the side of the school and curses flew in at them from the darkness, hitting the wall behind their heads.
“Get down!” Harry shouted, as more curses flew through the night: He and Ron had both grabbed Hermione and pulled her to the floor, but Percy lay across Fred’s body, shielding it from further harm, and when Harry shouted “Percy, come on, we’ve got to move!” he shook his head.
“Percy!” Harry saw tear tracks streaking the grime coating Ron’s face as he seized his elder brother’s shoulders and pulled, but Percy would not budge. “Percy, you can’t do anything for him! We’re going to—”
Hermione screamed, and Harry, turning, did not need to ask why. A monstrous spider the size of a small car was trying to climb through the huge hole in the wall. One of Aragog’s descendants had joined the fight.
Ron and Harry shouted together; their spells collided and the monster was blown backward, its legs jerking horribly, and vanished into the darkness.
“It brought friends!” Harry called to the others, glancing over the edge of the castle through the hole in the wall the curses had blasted. More giant spiders were climbing the side of the building, liberated from the Forbidden Forest, into which the Death Eaters must have penetrated. Harry fired Stunning Spells down upon them, knocking the lead monster into its fellows, so that they rolled back down the building and out of sight. Then more curses came soaring over Harry’s head, so close he felt the force of them blow his hair.
“Let’s move, NOW!”
Pushing Hermione ahead of him with Ron, Harry stooped to seize Fred’s body under the armpit. Percy, realizing what Harry was trying to do, stopped clinging to the body and helped: together, crouching low to avoid the curses flying at them from the grounds, they hauled Fred out of the way.
“Here,” said Harry, and they placed him in a niche where a suit of armor had stood earlier. He could not bear to look at Fred a second longer than he had to, and after making sure that the body was well-hidden, he took off after Ron and Hermione. Malfoy and Goyle had vanished but at the end of the corridor, which was now full of dust and falling masonry, glass long gone from windows, he saw many people running backward and forward, whether friends or foes he could not tell. Rounding the corner, Percy let out a bull-like roar: “ROOKWOOD!” and sprinted off in the direction of a tall man, who was pursuing a couple of students. “Harry, in here!” Hermione screamed.
She had pulled Ron behind a tapestry. They seemed to be wrestling together, and for one mad second Harry thought that they were embracing again; then he saw that Hermione was trying to restrain Ron, to stop him running after Percy.
“Listen to me—LISTEN, RON!”
“I wanna help—I wanna kill Death Eaters—”
His face was contorted, smeared with dust and smoke, and he was shaking with rage and grief.
“Ron, we’re the only ones who can end it! Please—Ron—we need the snake, we’ve got to kill the snake!” said Hermione.
But Harry knew how Ron felt: Pursuing another Horcrux could not bring the satisfaction of revenge; he too wanted to fight, to punish them, the people who had killed Fred, and he wanted to find the other Weasleys, and above all make sure, make quite sure, that Ginny was not—but he could not permit that idea to form in his mind—
“We will fight!” Hermione said. “We’ll have to, to reach the snake! But let’s not lose sight now of what we’re supposed to be d-doing! We’re the only ones who can end it!”
She was crying too, and she wiped her face on her torn and singed sleeve as she spoke, but she took great heaving breaths to calm herself as, still keeping a tight hold on Ron, she turned to Harry. “You need to find out where Voldemort is, because he’ll have the snake with him, won’t he? Do it, Harry—look inside him!”
Why was it so easy? Because his scar had been burning for hours, yearning to show him Voldemort’s thoughts? He closed his eyes on her command, and at once, the screams and bangs and all the discordant sounds of the battle were drowned until they became distant, as though he stood far, far away from them…
He was standing in the middle of a desolate but strangely familiar room, with peeling paper on the walls and all the windows boarded up except for one. The sounds of the assault on the castle were muffled and distant. The single unblocked window revealed distant bursts of light where the castle stood, but inside the room was dark except for a solitary oil lamp. He was rolling his wand between his fingers, watching it, his thoughts on the room in the castle, the secret room only he had ever found, the room, like the chamber, that you had to be clever and cunning and inquisitive to discover… He was confident that the boy would not find the diadem… although Dumbledore’s puppet had come much farther than he ever expected… too far…
“My Lord,” said a voice, desperate and cracked. He turned: there was Lucius Malfoy sitting in the darkest corner, ragged and still bearing the marks of the punishment he had received after the boy’s last escape. One of his eyes remained closed and puffy. “My Lord… please… my son…”
“If your son is dead, Lucius, it is not my fault. He did not come and join me, like the rest of the Slytherins. Perhaps he has decided to befriend Harry Potter?”
“No—never,” whispered Malfoy. “You must hope not.”
“Aren’t—aren’t you afraid, my Lord, that Potter might die at another hand but yours?” asked Malfoy, his voice shaking. “Wouldn’t it be… forgive me… more prudent to call off this battle, enter the castle, and seek him y-yourself?”
“Do not pretend, Lucius. You wish the battle to cease so that you can discover what has happened to your son. And I do not need to seek Potter. Before the night is out, Potter will have come to find me.”
Voldemort dropped his gaze once more to the wand in his fingers. It troubled him… and those things that troubled Lord Voldemort needed to be rearranged…
“Go and fetch Snape.”
“Snape, m-my Lord?”
“Snape. Now. I need him. There is a—service—I require from him. Go.”
Frightened, stumbling a little through the gloom, Lucius left the room. Vodlemort continued to stand there, twirling the wand between his fingers, staring at it.
“It is the only way, Nagini,” he whispered, and he looked around, and there was the great thick snake, now suspended in midair, twisting gracefully within the enchanted, protected space he had made for her, a starry, transparent sphere somewhere between a glittering cage and a tank.
With a gasp, Harry pulled back and opened his eyes at the same moment his ears were assaulted with the screeches and cries, the smashes and bangs of battle.
“He’s in the Shrieking Shack. The snake’s with him, it’s got some sort of magical protection around it. He’s just sent Lucius Malfoy to find Snape.”
“Voldemort’s sitting in the Shrieking Shack?” said Hermione, outraged. “He’s not—he’s not even FIGHTING?”
“He doesn’t think he needs to fight,” said Harry. “He thinks I’m going to go to him.”
“He knows I’m after Horcruxes—he’s keeping Nagini close beside him—obviously I’m going to have to go to him to get near the thing—”
“Right,” said Ron, squaring his shoulders. “So you can’t go, that’s what he wants, what he’s expecting. You stay here and look after Hermione, and I’ll go and get it—”
Harry cut across Ron.
“You two stay here, I’ll go under the Cloak and I’ll be back as soon as I—”
“No,” said Hermione, “it makes much more sense if I take the Cloak and—”
“Don’t even think about it,” Ron snarled at her.
Before Hermione could get farther than “Ron, I’m just as capable—” the tapestry at the top of the staircase on which they stood was ripped open.
Two masked Death Eaters stood there, but even before their wands were fully raised, Hermione shouted “Glisseo!”
The stairs beneath their feet flattened into a chute and she, Harry, and Ron hurtled down it, unable to control their speed but so fast that the Death Eaters’ Stunning Spells flew far over their heads. They shot through the concealing tapestry at the bottom and spun onto the floor, hitting the opposite wall.
“Duro!” cried Hermione, pointing her wand at the tapestry, and there were two loud, sickening crunches as the tapestry turned to stone and the Death Eaters pursuing them crumpled against it.
“Get back!” shouted Ron, and he, Harry, and Hermione hurled themselves against a door as a herd of galloping desks thundered past, shepherded by a sprinting Professor McGonagall. She appeared not to notice them. Her hair had come down and there was a gash on her cheek. As she turned the corner, they heard her scream,
“Harry, you get the Cloak on,” said Hermione. “Never mind us—”
But he threw it over all three of them; large though they were he doubted anyone would see their disembodied feet through the dust that clogged the air, the falling stone, the shimmer of spells.
They ran down the next staircase and found themselves in a corridor full of duelers. The portraits on either side of the fighters were crammed with figures screaming advice and encouragement, while Death Eaters, both masked and unmasked, dueled students and teachers. Dean had won himself a wand, for he was face-to-face with Dolohov, Parvati with Travers. Harry, Ron and Hermione raised their wands at once, ready to strike, but the duelers were weaving and darting so much that there was a strong likelihood of hurting on of their own side if they cast curses. Even as they stood braced, looking for the opportunity to act, there came a great “Wheeeeee!” and looking up, Harry saw Peeves zooming over them, dropping Snargaluff pods down onto the Death Eaters, whose heads were suddenly engulfed in wriggling green tubers like fat worms.
A fistful of tubers had hit the Cloak over Ron’s head; the damp green roots were suspended improbably in midair as Ron tried to shake them loose.
“Someone’s invisible there!” shouted a masked Death Eater, pointing. Dean made the most of the Death Eater’s momentary distraction, knocking him out with a Stunning Spell; Dolohov attempted to retaliate, and Parvati shot a Body-Bind Curse at him.
“LET’S GO!” Harry yelled, and he, Ron, and Hermione gathered the Cloak tightly around themselves and pelted, heads down, through the midst of the fighters, slipping a little in pools of Snargaluff juice, toward the top of the marble staircase into the entrance hall.
“I’m Draco Malfoy, I’m Draco, I’m on your side!”
Draco was on the upper landing, pleading with another masked Death Eater. Harry Stunned the Death Eater as they passed. Malfoy looked around, beaming, for his savior, and Ron punched him from under the Cloak. Malfoy fell backward on top of the Death Eater, his mouth bleeding, utterly bemused.
“And that’s the second time we’ve saved your life tonight, you two-faced bastard!” Ron yelled.
There were more duelers all over the stairs and in the hall. Death Eaters everywhere Harry looked: Yaxley, close to the front doors, in combat with Flitwick, a masked Death Eater dueling Kingsley right beside them. Students ran in every direction; some carrying or dragging injured friends. Harry directed a Stunning Spell toward the masked Death Eater; it missed but nearly hit Neville, who had emerged from nowhere brandishing armfuls of Venomous Tentacula, which looped itself happily around the nearest Death Eater and began reeling him in.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione sped won the marble staircase: glass shattered on the left, and the Slytherin hourglass that had recorded House points spilled its emeralds everywhere, so that people slipped and staggered as they ran. Two bodies fell from the balcony overhead as they reached the ground a gray blur that Harry took for an animal sped four-legged across the hall to sink its teeth into one of the fallen.