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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 armpits. 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 the windows, he saw many people running backward and forward, whether friends or foes he could not tell. Rounding the corner, Percy let out a bulllike 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 the 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 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 it 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 had 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. Voldemort 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 glittering cage and 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.”

“But why?”

“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 flattened 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, “CHARGE!”

“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 around so much that there was a strong likelihood of hurting one of their own side if they cast curses. Even as they stood braced, looking for the opportunity to act, there came a great “Wheeeeeeeeeeee!” 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 slimy 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 down the marble staircase: Glass shattered to their 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, and a gray blur that Harry took for an animal sped four-legged across the hall to sink its teeth into one of the fallen.

“NO!” shrieked Hermione, and with a deafening blast from her wand, Fenrir Greyback was thrown backward from the feebly stirring body of Lavender Brown. He hit the marble banisters and struggled to return to his feet. Then, with a bright white flash and a crack, a crystal ball fell on top of his head, and he crumpled to the ground and did not move.

“I have more!” shrieked Professor Trelawney from over the banisters. “More for any who want them! Here —”

And with a movement like a tennis serve, she heaved another enormous crystal sphere from her bag, waved her wand through the air, and caused the ball to speed across the hall and smash through a window. At the same moment, the heavy wooden front doors burst open, and more of the gigantic spiders forced their way into the entrance hall.

Screams of terror rent the air: The fighters scattered, Death Eaters and Hogwartians alike, and red and green jets of light flew into the midst of the oncoming monsters, which shuddered and reared, more terrifying than ever.






“How do we get out?” yelled Ron over all the screaming, but before either Harry or Hermione could answer they were bowled aside: Hagrid had come thundering down the stairs, brandishing his flowery pink umbrella.

“Don’t hurt ’em, don’t hurt ’em!” he yelled.


Harry forgot everything else: He sprinted out from under the Cloak, running bent double to avoid the curses illuminating the whole hall.


But he was not even halfway to Hagrid when he saw it happen: Hagrid vanished amongst the spiders, and with a great scurrying, a foul swarming movement, they retreated under the onslaught of spells, Hagrid buried in their midst.


Harry heard someone calling his own name, whether friend or foe he did not care: He was sprinting down the front steps into the dark grounds, and the spiders were swarming away with their prey, and he could see nothing of Hagrid at all.











He thought he could make out an enormous arm waving from the midst of the spider swarm, but as he made to chase after them, his way was impeded by a monumental foot, which swung down out of the darkness and made the ground on which he stood shudder. He looked up: A giant stood before him, twenty feet high, its head hidden in shadow, nothing but its treelike, hairy shins illuminated by light from the castle doors. With one brutal, fluid movement, it smashed a massive fist through an upper window, and glass rained down upon Harry, forcing him back under the shelter of the doorway.

“Oh my — !” shrieked Hermione, as she and Ron caught up with Harry and gazed upward at the giant now trying to seize people through the window above.

“DON’T!” Ron yelled, grabbing Hermione’s hand as she raised her wand. “Stun him and he’ll crush half the castle —”


Grawp came lurching around the corner of the castle; only now did Harry realize that Grawp was, indeed, an undersized giant. The gargantuan monster trying to crush people on the upper floors looked around and let out a roar. The stone steps trembled as he stomped toward his smaller kin, and Grawp’s lopsided mouth fell open, showing yellow, half-brick-sized teeth; and then they launched themselves at each other with the savagery of lions.






“RUN!” Harry roared; the night was full of hideous yells and blows as the giants wrestled, and he seized Hermione’s hand and tore down the steps into the grounds, Ron bringing up the rear. Harry had not lost hope of finding and saving Hagrid; he ran so fast that they were halfway toward the forest before they were brought up short again.

The air around them had frozen: Harry’s breath caught and solidified in his chest. Shapes moved out in the darkness, swirling figures of concentrated blackness, moving in a great wave toward the castle, their faces hooded and their breath rattling. . . .

Ron and Hermione closed in beside him as the sounds of fighting behind them grew suddenly muted, deadened, because a silence only dementors could bring was falling thickly through the night, and Fred was gone, and Hagrid was surely dying or already dead. . . .

“Come on, Harry!” said Hermione’s voice from a very long way away. “Patronuses, Harry, come on!”

He raised his wand, but a dull hopelessness was spreading through him: How many more lay dead that he did not yet know about; he felt as though his soul had already half left his body. . . .

“HARRY, COME ON!” screamed Hermione.

A hundred dementors were advancing, gliding toward them, sucking their way closer to Harry’s despair, which was like a promise of a feast. . . .








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