And then Harry heard a thin, piteous human scream from amidst the terrible commotion, the thunder of devouring flame.
УItТsЧtooЧdangerousЧ!Ф 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 woodЕ
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 MalfoyТs hand, covered in sweat, slid instantly out of HarryТsЧ
УIF WE DIE FOR THEM, IТLL KILL YOU, HARRY!Ф roared RonТs 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.
УThe door, get to the door, the door!Ф screamed Malfoy in HarryТs 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 tiaraЧ
УWhat are you doing, what are you doing, the doorТs that way!Ф 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 wristЧ
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.
УC-Crabbe,Ф choked Malfoy as soon as he could speak. УC-CrabbeЕФ
УHeТs dead,Ф 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.
УWhereТs Ginny?Ф he said sharply. УShe was here. She was supposed to be going back into the Room of Requirement.Ф
УBlimey, dТyou reckon itТll still work after that fire?Ф asked Ron, but he too got to his feet, rubbing his chest and looking left and right. УShall we split up and lookЧ?Ф
УNo,Ф said Hermione, getting to her feet too. Malfoy and Goyle remained slumped hopelessly on the corridor floor; neither of them had wands. УLetТs stick together. I say we goЧHarry, whatТs that on your arm?Ф
УWhat? Oh yeahЧФ
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 MANТS 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.
УIt must have been Fiendfyre!Ф whimpered Hermione, her eyes on the broken piece.
УFiendfyreЧcursed fireЧitТs one of the substances that destroy Horcruxes, but I would never, ever have dared use it, itТs so dangerousЧhow did Crabbe know how toЧ?Ф
УMustТve learned from the Carrows,Ф said Harry grimly.
УShame he wasnТt concentrating when they mentioned how to stop it, really,Ф said Ron, whose hair, like HermioneТs, was singed, and whose face was blackened. УIf he hadnТt tried to kill us all, IТd be quite sorry he was dead.Ф
УBut donТt you realize?Ф whispered Hermione. УThis means, if we can just get the snakeЧФ
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 hairЧ
УHello, Minister!Ф 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. УDid I mention IТm resigning?Ф
УYouТre joking, Perce!Ф 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.
УYou actually are joking, PerceЕ I donТt think IТve heard you joke since you wereЧФ
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 themЧ
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 lifeЕ
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 HermioneТs hand as they staggered and stumbled over stone and wood.
УNoЧnoЧno!Ф someone was shouting. УNo! Fred! No!Ф And Percy was shaking his brother, and Ron was kneeling beside them, and FredТs eyes stared without seeing, the ghost of his last laugh still etched upon his face.