Voldemort's Deadly Defenses
The air seemed to be getting a lot colder to Harry as he maneuvered the sleigh farther and farther north. The skies at least so far had been mostly clear, and below him, the sea looked like a smooth sheet of glass. He glanced quickly backwards. No one was behind them, so apparently the Ministry wasn't following them-perhaps having inadvertently gone the wrong way at first had thrown them off their trail. Still, that meant more critical time had been wasted in getting to Drear...
"Hermione, time?" he mumbled softly to her.
"Eleven thirty-seven on the dot, and I'm guessing we're about thirty kilometers from Drear now," she checked her watch, "Barring anything drastic at the last minute, we're going to make it, Harry."
"I hope," he mumbled softly, scanning the horizon ahead for anything that could be an early warning system for the Death Eaters. Only open sea was visible at the moment, however. "Everything OK, Harry?" George leaned forward, "You've been awful quiet since..."
"We might make it to Drear in time, but then what?" Harry admitted softly, "Who knows what Voldemort's got standing between us and him when we get there? Everyone here trusts me," he gestured to the rest of Dumbledore's Army flying around them, "They trust that I'll get them through this safely. I can't guarantee that, especially when I don't know exactly what we'll be facing," he shook his head softly, "I don't want anything to happen to anyone..."
"We know, Harry," Neville leaned forward as well and put a sympathetic hand on his shoulder, "But we have to all do this, or Voldemort'll become all-powerful, and then a whole lot more people will die, if what you've said's right. And I think it's safe to say none of us," he gestured all around them, "want that to happen at all. If anything goes wrong, it won't be your fault; it'll be his."
"That's true, Harry, so don't worry; we're all good and ready, and we'll be careful," Fred nodded, "We'll be in and out safely to stop him, or our names aren't Gred and Forge."
"Thanks, Gred...I mean, Fred, but I'd still feel a lot better if we knew Dumbledore had the Order assembled and ready to follow," Harry glanced around the skies, which were still deserted, "If only there was some way of contacting him or them..."
"I guess that means he trusts us all enough to do what we have to do, Harry. I think we should be proud of that," Hermione told him, "We've earned it."
"Good," Harry did force a small smile, "Still, I hope Voldemort got overconfident and left his defenses weak..."
"I just hope whatever he's got doesn't include acromantulas," Ron visibly shivered, and not from the cold air, "He's even sicker than I thought if he'd..."
"Hold it, is that Drear?" Harry squinted at a rock in the distance.
"No, too soon; looks like just an outcropping," Hermione shook her head towards it, "Still about another twenty kilometers left."
"Ah," Harry managed to say, giving the thestrals' reins a quick crack and hunching down low in the front seat, his mind still racing. What did in fact await them? He knew from Hagrid's Magical Creatures class that Drear was swarming with dangerous quintapeds. It stood to reason Voldemort would use them well to protect himself while he completed the ritual. And of course all the Dementors had deserted Azkaban for the island, so they'd be waiting for them. What else if anything would Voldemort have up his sleeve?
He tried to banish such thoughts from his mind as the kilometers ticked on. Finally, about six minutes later, another land mass came into sight below them. "Is that it?" he asked Hermione for confirmation.
"I think it is," she nodded.
"All right. Everyone prepare to land," Harry stood partially up and waved one arm at the rest of Dumbledore's Army around them, "This is it."
"Uh, one question, though, Harry; WHERE are we supposed to land?" Ron was frowning, "Drear's a pretty large island; Voldemort could be hiding anywhere on it..."
"We'll find it, Ron, don't worry. See, there's plenty of light from that shooting star over there that'll illuminate something," George pointed to a bright light off the sleigh's starboard side.
"George, I don't think that's a shooting star...DRAGON!" Ron half-shrieked. Harry turned just in time to see the fireball heading straight at them. "Turn!" he shrieked to the thestrals, cracking the reins hard and making them jerk to the left hard just in time to avoid being incinerated by the fireball. An unearthly shriek filled the air-amplified by several more. And Harry saw with a sinking heart they were surrounded by a half dozen huge black dragons. "Dive, dive!" he screamed at the thestrals, cracking the reins hard again, seconds before the dragons all breathed fire towards where they were hovering.
"Go easy on them, Harry; they won't respond if we intimidate them!" Hermione protested his manner of prodding the thestrals, clutching the side of the sleigh hard as they went into a steep dive towards the island.
"I hate to break it to you, Hermione, but this REALLY isn't the time to go off on kindness to magical animals, in case you didn't notice!" Ron retorted, nonetheless pushing her down as another blast of fire from one of the dragons arced over their heads.
"Ron, you know how to handle dragons, any ideas!?" Harry all but begged him, yanking back on the reins to get the sleigh upwards, out of the path of one dragon coming right at them.
"What are you looking at me for; Charlie's the expert, Harry! Is there a fire extinguisher on this thing, or whatever the red thing Muggles use is called!?" was Ron's best answer as he began frantically searching under the seat for one. Harry's mind was racing as he tried to swerve around the sky to avoid the dragons and their fire. They couldn't simply fly around up here forever trying to elude the dragons; time was wasting. But dragons weren't the only problem, as he saw more trouble coming their way straight ahead. "Dementors at twelve o'clock!" he shouted, seeing a massive swarm of them coming, "Everyone think positive and...!"
"Watch it!" Hermione pushed his head down right before a blast of magic slammed into the front of the sleigh. There was a loud bang, and suddenly Harry felt the sleigh start to wobble in midair. He looked up to see the coupling device had been partially blasted apart. The sleigh was now only partially connected to the thestrals. And another trio of blasts was coming right at them from the island below. "DUCK!" he shouted to everyone else on the sleigh as the magic obliterated the top of the sleigh seats. "EXPECTO PATRONUM!" he shouted, firing a Patronus at the onrushing Dementors. His sleighmates did the same, and the Dementors were at least momentarily forced backwards from several silvery creatures...
...but it was then the sleigh snapped away from the thestrals with a sickening crack. "Oh no!" Harry desperately grabbed for the connecting pole, but the sleigh went into a sickening nosedive towards the island below before he could reach it. "Hermione, any ideas...!?" he all but screamed at her.
"WINGARDIUM LEVIOSA!" looking panicked, she tried the levitating charm on the sleigh, but it only shuddered slightly. Harry gripped onto the sides, aiming his wand at the circling Dementors around them, who were perhaps anticipating a kill. He didn't know what else might work...
"Expecto patronum!" came a cacophony of shouts, followed by the separation of the curtain of Dementors in a silver flash. "Jump on, quick!" Wood shouted, waving the rest of the Gryffindor Quidditch team rapidly towards the falling sleigh. Harry knew taking the risk and jumping while several thousand feet in the air was better than staying on the sleigh and dying. With a deep breath, he swan-dove onto the back of Wood's broom. "Thanks, Oliver," he breathed in relief, watching as Ron and Hermione dove onto Katie's broom, Neville onto Alicia's, and the twins, with deep grins, onto Angelina's.
"You owe me on the pitch, Potter," Wood advised him, "I expect Snitch catches for the rest of the year..."
"Dragon at twelve o'clock!" Harry pointed at one winging straight towards them.
"One behind you at six o'clock too, Harry!" Ron called out a warning.
"And Death Eaters at...uh, three thirty!" Neville cried. "Impedimenta!" he shouted, blasting downwards at the three figures ascending towards them on broomsticks. Harry, though, felt the dragons were the more dire threat at the moment, especially since the one in front was rearing its head back to breathe fire at them-and he could hear the one behind them preparing to do the same. "Oliver, on three, up quickly," he whispered nervously to Wood, "...THREE!"
Wood jerked the broom up just in time, a split second before the dragons spit out their flames. They were soon yelping as they burned each other instead, and winged off wildly, flapping their wings like crazy to try and extinguish the flames. Harry breathed a quick sigh of relief...but no sooner had it come out than a Killing Curse winged right by his face, almost making him lose his balance. "Avada ked-!" a Death Eater started to roar to his left, but was cut off as Ron from out of nowhere jumped down on top of him and strained to pull back his wand. "Get off of me!" the man roared, straining to pull his wand away.
"Careful there, Ron!" Hermione warned him, for Katie was zooming along right next to the Death Eater's, "Hold still, I'll handle this: Incarcerous," she commanded, firing magical ropes out of her wand that indeed restrained the Death Eater-but also wrapped Ron up as well. "VERY good, Hermione; this is REALLY handling the situation!" he protested sarcastically.
"You wanted to stop him from shooting Harry, didn't you!?" she raised an eyebrow at him, "Watch it, there's the island right ahead..."
Harry saw it a little late: they'd zoomed low enough to land in the confusion. Wood was just able to yank back on the broomstick's handle in time to avoid a rough landing, although Harry still lost his grip and tumbled across the rocks gently. Ron and the bound Death Eater, unable to do much, crashed much more spectacularly, rolling head over heels. Harry stumbled towards them. "You OK, Ron?" he asked him.
"Oh wonderful, Harry, never better. Care to get me out of this and keep him tied, Hermione?" Ron almost dared her as she and Katie landed. Rolling her eyes, Hermione trudged over to release him. Harry turned back to the sky and waved down the rest of Dumbledore's Army. Hopefully the Death Eaters hadn't set off some kind of alarm when they'd been spotted. He noticed Neville fighting with another as they spiraled down from the sky. Neville glanced down in time to see the rocks in front of them and dove off his broom at the last split second into the lagoon in front of the group's landing place. Unable to stop, the Death Eater crashed hard into the rocks with an agonized groan. Looking up, Harry saw the third one had been triple teamed by Dean Thomas and the Patil sisters, who had bound him with magical ropes themselves and were forcing him down for a landing. He nodded, satisfied. All the training had come in handy.
His gaze turned to a cave opening at the other end of the lagoon, into which the waves were lapping. "Hmm," he mused, striding towards it and staring into the darkness. "Is that where we've got to go, Harry?" it was Colin Creevey next to him, with a worried, but still firm expression.
"I think so, Colin," Harry nodded. "Everyone OK?" he scanned the rest of Dumbledore's Army, who seemed all right (he took note that Jugson was the Death Eater that Ron had fought, and Dean and the Patils had captured Selwyn, both men's masks having fallen off between them and now to reveal their identities). Both were now secured and harmless, and he could see the one Neville had been fighting with was still unconscious from impact, so he knew that one wasn't going to alert anyone).
"Fine as we can be, Harry," Neville was also all right, glancing at the cave himself, "I guess we go in there next; they seemed to come from around here before they reached us."
"I believe we do, Neville. All right, Ernie, Zacharias, the two of you stay out here," Harry directed them, "Keep an eye out for the Order of the Phoenix and signal them when they arrive-but make sure it's them; we don't want the Ministry on our trail. The rest of you, follow me. We're going in. And be careful."
"Well, actually, I guess it doesn't matter now whether the Ministry shows up or not, Harry; at least now we could lead them straight into Voldemort's inner..." Ron abruptly stopped and turned pale, "Uh oh, Percy! I think he was still in the back of the sleigh when it was going down...!"
Harry's heart somersaulted as well. If anything had happened to Percy, Ministry member or not...!
"Wait, I think I see him over there...yep, that's him," George called out, pointing to a rise of rocks above them, where in fact Harry could see the crashed remnants of the sleigh. His heart remained in his throat, however, as he and the Weasleys scrambled up the rocks to the wreckage. Percy lay flat on his back in the rear, still in the Full Body Bind and apparently unharmed as much as Harry could see. "Yep, he's fine," Fred confirmed it for him, "Guess being locked up helped him during the crash. Oh well, might as well let him out now."
He aimed his wand at Percy, and seconds later, the older Weasley flopped around. "Put that down, Ron, you can't...!" he started to shout, then glanced around confusedly. "Where am I? Why's...!?"
"We'll explain later, Percy, come on," Harry took his hand and dragged him back down the rocks.
"What have you done, Harry!? This is kidnapping of a Ministry official, and friend or not, I can't let you get away with this!" Percy ranted, trying to pull away, "I'm summoning every Auror I can...!"
"Good, go ahead; then they'll come and see this is where Voldemort's hiding out," Ron snorted at him.
"DON'T SAY THE NAME!" Percy shrieked fearfully, "And he's...!"
"...very much alive and well in this cave, Percy, and if you have to see it with your own eyes to believe it, then so be it!" Harry couldn't stop himself from snapping at him.
"Fine, I'll go in, but when there's nothing in there, I...look out!" Percy took off running for the cave, and Harry could see why: one of the dragons was diving towards them and about to breathe a jet of flames at them. He hastily broke into a run for the cave entrance, racing against the line of fire now arcing down to the lagoon. He made it into the cave just in time and dove underwater. Hands seized him and dragged him forward, and cresting the surface, he could see it was for the better, as the dragon had crashed into the entrance and triggered a partial cave-in. "Thanks," he breathed to Seamus and Dean, who were swimming hard away from the falling rocks.
"Don't mention it, Harry. Although, how do we get out now?" Dean frowned back at the now partially obstructed entrance, which was becoming more so as more rocks tumbled from the ceiling from the dragon's impact.
"We'll find a way, Dean," Harry assured him, secretly glad that the dragon couldn't come in and follow them. The three of them swam to the bank, where everyone else was waiting. Harry shook himself off and glanced around the cave. The walls were quite high, and in the light of the Lumos spells at the end of some of the Army's wands, he could see a trail stretching off into the distance. "OK, I guess this way," he told the group, pointing down it, "Just be careful; it's possible he could have booby-trapped the path."
"I doubt it; there's nothing down there, Harry, but if you want to..." Percy started to retort.
"Well then, Percy, why don't you go first?" George gave him a light push, "Maybe if you're so certain, you'd like to take the chance and test your theory?"
"With pleasure, George," Percy snorted back, but there was a hint of hesitancy as he started forward, the twins following right on his heels. Harry fell in behind them, glancing warily at the walls. Hopefully nothing was hiding in them, or in the shadows, ready to come out...
"Time?" he hissed softly backwards.
"Eighteen minutes left; let's hope he hasn't got too much left ahead of us, Harry," Ron seemed torn between optimism and pessimism.
"We'll make it, Ron," Harry tried to assured him, although not too sure himself. Slowly, the path wound around the edge of the inside of the tidal pool in the cave, until it reached the far back where the waves were crashing against the rear wall. "Well, like I said, nothing here," Percy declared triumphantly, gesturing at the seemingly solid wall in front of them, "Now can we...?"
"Not so fast, brother; who's to say there's no secret entrance here?" Fred cut him off, "I'm well aware of some dark wizards using those."
"Face it, Fred; this is all just a trick Harry put you up to for some..."
"Curse you, Percy, will you get down off your high horse for once!?" Harry barked at him, "This is...!"
"Harry, you're bleeding," Hermione approached him, staring worriedly at his hand. Harry glanced down at it. "Oh," he acknowledged a bit of blood, likely from the crash landing, "Well, that's not too bad..."
"Here, let me fix it..."
"I'll be fine, Hermione; really, it's just..." Harry pulled his hand away from her when she tried to grab hold of it; they didn't have time to stop to fix him up for a minor wound, he thought firmly. His hand smacked against the wall when he pulled it away...and abruptly, with a low rumbling, an entranceway magically appeared at the spot he'd touched. "Aha," he exclaimed, glancing through the new opening, then at his bleeding hand, "I guess it needed blood to open it. Typical Voldemort tactic; he'd want his foes to weaken themselves before they'd get close to him," he told everyone else.
"OK then, Percy, on we go," George dragged his brother forward through the tunnel, "How's your 'nothing's here' theory now?"
"So, this is simply a magic tunnel in a cave; it doesn't prove that You Know Who's here," Percy protested, "It's hardly...hello, what's this here?"
Harry saw it as well: a familiar table with seven bottles on it was set up in the middle of the next chamber. "Hello, not this again," Ron was frowning as he approached the table, "How'd this get here?"
"Hmm..." Harry surmised, wondering himself. For this had, he recalled, been Snape's challenge to protect the Sorcerer's Stone in their first year-and Snape had been nowhere to be seen at Hogwarts after the attack. If he didn't know any better, he'd have to think that...
There came loud shrieks all around him as the same familiar magical bursts of flames rose up in front and behind them, leaving about half of Dumbledore's Army stuck behind them in the tunnel. "OK, nobody panic," Hermione announced loudly to everyone still in the chamber, "We've been through this before, Harry and me; I just need some time to make sure I get it right again."
"But what if the potion to go ahead's in a different bottle this time, Hermione?" Harry had to point out, "And whoever did leave this here didn't leave any instructions this time..." he gestured at the otherwise blank table.
"Let me take a look," she glanced thoroughly over the bottles. "Now don't take too long; we've only got about fifteen minutes left..." Ron tried to hurry her.
"That's not all; heads up," Seamus pointed upwards as rocks started falling from the ceiling. Harry gulped nervously, flattening himself against the wall. Apparently in addition to the flames, whoever had rigged the table up this time had set a timer; the cave was starting to collapse around them (again, he had to wonder about the challenge being Snape's before...). "Hermione...!" he pressed her.
"Got it; it's still the smallest one to go forward," she held it up, "Besides, it makes logical sense; he'd want as small a..."
"Then give it, quick!" looking scared at the collapsing chamber around them, Colin rushed forward, grabbed the bottle, and started drinking...
...but suddenly dropped it, coughing and turning white. "Colin, what's wrong!?" stooping low, Harry rushed towards him, "Oh no, don't tell me...did he...!?"
"But it can't have been poison in there, I'm sure of it!" Hermione looked horrified at what could have been a serious mistake on her part.
"Wait, this is Voldemort we're talking about; he probably put poison in all of them so it wouldn't matter," Ron surmised, glancing nervously at the crumbling ceiling above them, "I thought he couldn't get much lower..."
"Great, so now what!?" Seamus looked extremely worried, "If we're stuck here..."
"Wait, I think I read about what the mixture was in Potions class a while back; it's a fairly easy conversion," Hermione snapped her fingers.
"Well do it, quick, I think we're just about out of time here..." Ron pressed against the wall hard. The ceiling was visibly sagging; it would go at any minute, Harry feared.
"Let me buy us some time: wingardium leviosa!" Neville fired up at the tumbling rocks. His face contorted as he tried to hold them up. "Hurry, hurry!" Harry pressed Hermione as she grabbed the biggest bottle.
"Uh oh..." Hermione's face crashed, "I just realized...the conversion needs unicorn teardrops...I don't think I brought any...!"
"Anyone have unicorn teardrops with them!?" Harry asked everyone in the room with them loudly, but they all worriedly shook their heads. "What happens if you don't have the teardrops!?" he pressed Hermione.
"You burn alive...stay calm, Granger, stay calm!" she looked far from calm as she paced rapidly in a circle, "There's got to be a...!"
The was a low cry as Dean toppled over in the corner, disgorging some rocks from the wall. "Watch it there, you'll..." Harry stopped as he noticed a shiny vial underneath the rocks. "What's this?" he picked it up.
"I don't believe it, unicorn teardrops!" Hermione grabbed the vial and hastily started pouring it into the largest bottle. "What a lucky break," Ron looked relieved at their good fortune, "It's almost as if someone doesn't want us to die."
"Hmm," was all Harry could manage to say, his eyes fixed on the ceiling sliding lower and lower above them despite Neville's efforts. "A little faster!?" he couldn't help goading Hermione.
"I'm going as fast as I can!" she protested, her wand shaking as she transfigured the poison in the bottle.
"Sorry, sorry, but it's just...you know..." Harry pointed at the rocks suspended above them.
"Can't hold it much longer...!" Neville grimaced out a warning.
"A few seconds... got it! Drink up, quick!" Hermione took a quick swig of the liquid now in the bottle and tossed it to Harry. Sure enough, he felt the same icy feeling when he drank it as he had in first year. "It's good; pass it around," he told Ron, handing it to him next. "Can you make the fluid to allow someone through the flames to go back?" he asked Hermione.
"Probably," she nodded, beginning to inch towards the flames in front of them as the ceiling inched slowly lower.
"Any second...!" Neville gave another warning.
"Wingardium leviosa!" Alicia, Angelina, and Katie cut in with the spell as well, which lifted the rocks higher up for a moment. "Thanks," Harry told his Quidditch teammates. He turned to the rest of the group. "Somebody's got to take Colin back; any volunteers? Hannah, good," he nodded to Hannah Abbott when she raised her hand, "Get him back to everyone back there; maybe someone'll be able to cure him..."
"I think Michael Corner had a bezoar with him; that should help," Hannah told him.
"Yes, that should. Here," Harry took one of the other bottles off Hermione once she'd transfigured the poison into the correct fluid and handed it to Hannah, "This should get you through. But hurry, Colin doesn't look too good," he felt sick at the sight of Colin's ashen appearance now, "Everyone else drank up?" he asked the rest of the Army, who nodded, "On three, all of us through: THREE!"
There was a mass rush forward. Harry glanced back to watch Hannah drag Colin back through the rear flames, moments before the roof came crashing down into the chamber. They all landed in a heap on the stone ground. "That was close," he breathed in relief. "Now do you believe us, Percy?" he frowned at him.
"Well...um...again, this doesn't prove anything, Harry..." Percy began, but he was looking much more hesitant now.
"Well get him there yet, Harry. Wonder what's next?" Fred glanced around.
"Hopefully nothing worse than what we just went through, Fred. I guess we'll keep going..." Harry started forward...
"HARRY WATCH OUT!" Ron grabbed his shoulders in a flash. And Harry was immediately grateful once the wands blazed on around him. For a tremendous chasm stretched out before them inches from where they'd all landed, at least a mile wide, and so deep that Harry couldn't see the bottom. "Are you kidding me!?" Ron complained, glancing down at it, "There's no way to get across this! And we left our brooms outside...!"
"Sorry, didn't think we'd need them," Wood apologized.
"No problem, Oliver, we'll just have to work our way around it...somehow..." Harry glanced around worriedly. There was no bridge or rope or anything to get to the other side. "What to do, what to do...?" he mumbled out loud. "Anything that could work..."
"Wait a minute," Ron raised his hand and glanced back near the entrance, where a tremendous pile of large boulders were piled in a heap, "We just might be able to...yeah, if we all levitated them into place, we could have a makeshift bridge..."
"A makeshift bridge...yeah, I think that'll work; great thinking, Ron," Harry commended him.
"Um, one other problem, though, Harry; someone else'll have to stay behind to keep them levitating until everyone else is across," Ron pointed out, "Otherwise, down to the bottom, and who knows what's down there?"
"Terrific, another man down," Harry grumbled at their rapidly depleting numbers, "I think Voldemort deliberately arranged all this to thin out the ranks of anyone coming in. Oh well, if we have no choice...who wants to volunteer this time to help keep the bridge up? Susan, OK," he nodded at Susan Bones when she raised her hand this time, "Just keep us up till we're all across. All right, let's build a bridge."
He joined the rest of Dumbledore's Army in levitating the boulders into position over the chasm, until a rudimentary bridge was formed. "OK, let's go, carefully," Harry told them all, hesitantly stepping across the boulders, trying not to look down. Rapidly, though, he and the others started making progress across. "Oh this isn't so bad," Seamus spoke up behind him, "This really is kind of easy..."
Suddenly, long vines zipped up out of the darkness below and grabbed hold of the boulders. Harry stumbled and grabbed on tight to the one he was on as it was pulled downwards. "Now what!?" he shouted in frustration at the continued obstacles before them.
"Looks like a Devil's Snare; he must have planted it down below in case anyone made any attempt to cross!" Hermione shouted back, clutching hard to the side of the boulder she and Ron were on.
"Oh terrific; this just keeps getting better and better!" Ron bellowed, frustrated himself, "It's almost like somebody's deliberately stacking the deck against us!"
"Well relax, we can stop this just as easily. Lumos totalus!" Hermione fired off the same blinding flash of light into the canyon below. The loud shrieks of the Devil's Snare rang out, and moments later, Harry felt his boulder move back upwards. "Everyone OK?" he called back again.
"Maybe not; listen," Neville looked worried as he held up his hand. Harry heard it too: loud thumping getting closer. And then he saw it: a giant stomping up the chasm towards them, a club raised menacingly high. "RUN!" he shouted to the rest of Dumbledore's Army, breaking into a rush.
But it was too late; the giant smashed its club against the boulders directly in front of him. Harry had no choice but to jump onto its club and hold on for dear life as it swung again and smashed the boulders behind him, forcing several members of his group to retreat back to the other side of the chasm. Those who'd been farther along made tremendous leaps and managed to grab hold of the edge of the cliff on the other side. Harry took another leap himself and landed on the far side. "Give me your hand!" he extended it to Fred, who was nearest where he'd landed, and pulled him up.
"Looks like we're going to have to put some overtime in on this one, Harry," Fred wipes some sweat from his brow, bending down and helping his twin up as well, "I love it."
"You're crazy, Fred," Harry glanced around. Everyone who hadn't been forced to go back was now safely up on the ledge, except...
"Seamus!?" he glanced around wildly over the edge. A loud cry below cued him in; Seamus had apparently missed his mark and was hanging perilously from a small ledge about fifty feet below. "Go on!" Harry waved everyone else through a small tunnel nearby. With a deep breath, he started climbing down towards Seamus-fortunately, the giant was swinging his club at everyone on the other side now, distracted from stopping him. "Seamus, grab hold!" he extended a hand when he was close enough.
"I'm slipping...!" Seamus's eyes were squinted shut as he started sliding.
"Just hold a bit longer!" Harry strained with all his might and just managed to grab hold of Seamus's wrist...but it was at this point one of the arms of the Devil's Snare lurched up out of the darkness and wrapped around Seamus's leg and started pulling him hard downward. Harry gripped hard into the ledge, his arm feeling like it was going to be ripped clean off from the pressure. And he couldn't go for his wand without letting go of Seamus. And now he couldn't hold on much longer himself...
There came a roar behind them, followed by a whoosh of air. Harry then felt the pressure slacken. He glanced down to see the giant was swinging at Seamus, but had hit the Devil's Snare instead. The plant was thrashing its coils at the giant now, making it swing at it more. An idea that sounded more stupid than anything crossed Harry's mind. "Seamus, jump for the giant!" he cried to his friend, "It's pretty much the only way; we can climb out up him!"
Seamus nodded weakly. The two of them leaped for the giant, grabbing hold of its elbow. They hauled themselves up and rushed up its arm to its shoulder, which was close enough to the ledge for a comparatively ease jump. Roaring, and having finally noticed it had invited guests climbing all over it, the giant, swung another wild punch at them, but only managed to crack itself on the side of the head. Harry and Seamus leaped for the ledge and rolled to safety, then turned and watched the giant topple backwards into the chasm with a monstrous thud. "Let's go," Harry tapped Seamus to his feet and led him through the tunnel everyone else had gone down. "Thanks, Harry," Seamus breathed gratefully, "I thought that was the end. If I haven't said it before, I'm sorry I didn't believe..."
"I know, Seamus, and thank you," Harry commended him. They bustled up the tunnel until everyone else came into sight. Owing to the various setbacks so far, no more than about a dozen of the Army were left now. "He's OK," Harry announced to those remaining, "What's next?"
"Looks like a statuary hall of some kind; Slytherin must have wanted to honor all the other sleazes who thought the same as him back in the day," Fred pointed to the large statues surrounding the large room they were in now; Harry recognized some of them from the History of Magic courses as several Dark wizards who'd inspired Slytherin-and likely, it stood to reason, Voldemort himself. "All right, quickly then," he waved everyone forward, "We've got about ten minutes left, and who knows what else is ahead..."
"Uh oh!" Dean pointed to the statues, whose eyes were now starting to glow an ominous red. Moments later, they all lurched off their pedestals and raised their wands at the youths. "Scatter!" Harry gave the order as dangerous green blasts that had to be Killing Curses exploded out of the statues' wands, all missing their marks, but tearing large holes in the walls. But they weren't the only ones firing; three Death Eaters jumped out of culverts in the walls and started firing as well. Harry thought frantically for a way out of this one. "Well, better the little guys than the big ones," he reasoned to himself. Leaping out of the way of a blast from one of the statues, he crawled towards one of the Death Eaters, who was preparing to take a shot at an unsuspecting George. "Expelliarmus!" he shouted right before the Death Eater could fire, sending him or her bowling backwards, knocking over one of his partners as well. The third rushed over and took dead aim at Harry...
...but a large boulder bounced off his or her head, sending him or her slumping to the floor. "Bull's-eye," a confident Neville exclaimed behind this Death Eater, now levitating more boulders over the heads of the other two. Seeing what was coming, they tried to scramble away, but Neville released the rocks, bonking them as well, one only partially. Harry flashed him a thumbs-up, then looked for a way out of the cavern. "Doesn't look like there's a way out, Harry," Wood was pressing against the rear wall with the rest of his Quidditch teammates, "We might have been lured into a dead end..."
"There has to be, Oliver," Harry pressed at the wall himself, wondering if they've have to give more blood to go on.
"Hold it, I have another idea," rushing over, Hermione grabbed the arm of one of the unconscious Death Eaters and held up that person's hand to the wall with the Dark Mark tattoo facing the rocks. Sure enough, a passageway immediately opened-and not a moment too soon, for the statues were starting to lumber towards them, their wands rising up again. "Protego!" Harry fired a shield to deflect the incoming blasts as everyone else scampered through the entrance. He suddenly swayed and fell. The still-conscious Death Eater had grabbed his leg and was trying to pull him down and backwards. Harry gripped hold of the wall, grimacing. The statues were raising their wands again...
...but fortunately, Harry felt multiple people grab his arm. Their strength proved more than the Death Eater's, and both of them were pulled through the passageway seconds before the statues fired and blasted it shut. "Give me that," George grabbed the Death Eater's wand and snapped it in two before he could recover. "Incarcerous," he then bound the Death Eater in magical ropes as well. "OK, let's see who we've got here," he remarked, yanking the mask off. Harry didn't recognize the clean-cut looking man underneath, but Percy abruptly let out a startled gasp. "Chandler!? But...you're high up in the Auror department, why are you...?" the oldest present Weasley stammered.
"Fool, the Dark Lord will soon gain powers beyond anyone's imagination, and the Ministry and all of Muggledom will fall under his domain!" Chandler ranted insanely, spitting at Percy, "Woe to all those who believed he would never return, for he shall soon subvert them all under foot!"
"Well, I'd say this is a big proof for everything I've said, wouldn't you say, Percy?" Harry raised an eyebrow at him.
"Um...well...perhaps, maybe...I don't know..." Percy clapped both hands to his face, "I don't know anything anymore...Chandler was one of the closest to Scrimgeour and the Minister...if this is true, and he's gone over to..."
"How much further to where he is!?" Harry grilled Chandler, shoving his wand into his face.
"I'll never tell, I'll never tell," Chandler mockingly sang.
"We've got to be close by now, Harry; everything we've met so far would probably have stopped most intruders," Hermione reasoned, her gaze shifting ahead. Harry saw a large clear lake in the wandlights ahead of them. All looked peaceful and quiet, and yet Harry couldn't shake a feeling of dread over what lay ahead. But still, at that moment, a very loud explosion could be heard on the far side of the lake. "We're close," he announced to the remaining members of his group, "We just have to get across the lake..."
"Well, I don't think we'd want to swim through this," Neville frowned suspiciously at the water, "Who knows what he's got under here?"
"Well, there doesn't seem to be a path around," Angelina glanced at the ledge they were on, which ended nearby, "So we might not have any choice."
"I don't think so," Harry mused, staring deep into the water, "I think he left a way. In fact, it looks like there's a boat down there," he squinted at a dark blob that looked very boat-like near the shore. "One way to find out..."
Pointing his wand at the water's surface, he muttered loudly, "Accio." There was a low rumble, followed by a large splash as, sure enough, an oversized rowboat burst through the surface. "Bingo," he exclaimed out loud.
"Are you sure it's safe?" Ron glanced it over worriedly, "Nothing else seems to have been so far."
"I doubt he'd've booby-trapped the way across, Ron. Getting there's probably going to be the problem," Harry glanced nervously at the water ahead of them. The lake stretched ahead for what looked like a mile, and he had his suspicions of what might be lurking under the water.
"Well, unfortunately, looks like we're going to have to divide some more; looks like it's only big enough for six of us at a time," Neville frowned at the boat's apparent capacity. Harry nodded softly, agreeing, but not liking it. "OK, Neville, you, Ron, Hermione, Fred, and George come with me on the first trip," he told them all, "We'll see if we can send this back for the rest of you when we're across."
"You'll never make it," Chandler laughed again, "It's almost midnight, Potter, and there's too much waiting for you out there..."
"Oh shut up!" furious, Percy hit him over the head with a rock, knocking him out. "If it can't come back, we'll try and find another way, Harry," he told him, looking much more accepting and willing to help now, "Now I'm sort of glad you brought me along for this..."
"I'm glad you're willing to be fair minded now, Percy," Harry smiled at him. "All aboard," he told everyone that was coming with him on the initial trip, "And whatever you do, don't touch the water."
"Got it," Hermione gently tapped the stern of the boat, and it started gliding smoothly across the water. "Time?" Harry pressed her again.
"Six minutes; I hope this is an uneventful trip across," she shivered, "We may have to go on ahead on our own after we send it back to stop him, Harry."
"Can we make this go faster, then?" Ron tapped the sides of the boat impatiently.
"This is as fast as it goes, Ron, unfortunately," Hermione shook her head, "Let's just hope it's a..."
She stopped and froze up. Harry had heard it too: the howl of a werewolf. "Not Greyback and his friends...!" he muttered out loud.
But it was undeniably Fenrir Grayback, in his werewolf form (Harry supposed he should have figured Greyback would have been utilized for guard duty given it was the full moon tonight) that leaped atop a rock on the far end of the lake and howled once more. About a dozen additional werewolves appeared behind him, howling as well, before diving head-on into the lake and swimming towards the boat after Greyback. "Turn, turn this thing!" he shouted back towards the stern.
"Where are we supposed to turn it to!? There's nowhere else to go!" Neville protested, pointing at the pathless walls all around them.
"Then let's at least try to outflank and outswim them. Hurry, hurry...!" Harry made the mistake of forgetting his own guidelines and started stroking the water to try and turn the boat...
...when, without warning, an icy cold arm grabbed him from under the water and started pulling him down. "No, no, let go!" he shrieked, grabbing hold of the sides of the boat to keep from being dragged under.
"Get your hands off of him, whatever you are!" Fred and George started whacking the arm, which did make it let go. Harry, though, could see their troubles were just beginning; all around them, to the horrified gasps of all in the boat, Inferi were rising out of the water: seemingly thousands of them. Harry didn't know which was worse: thousands of undead zombies or a dozen werewolves, who were awfully close to the boat now. "Harry...!" a deathly worried Neville managed a weak croak as the Inferi started towards the boat.
"I'm thinking, I'm thinking!" Harry glanced worriedly in all directions, wondering how they were going to get out of this one. But this time, it seemed fairly hopeless: there were far too many Inferi for a single spell to have much effect on, and the werewolves were practically to the boat now. There was nowhere left to run, and it looked, for once, like the end...