..fortunately, however, it wasn't, for there was a low hum above them. Harry looked up to see a long silver line zooming along above them, directly over their heads, straight to the opposite shore. "Is that...?" he started to ask, glancing back to the opposite shore to see everyone they'd had to leave behind generating it from their wands.
"Yes, a path, so let's take it!" Hermione jumped for it, just managing to grab onto the edge of it-before the nearest Inferi grabbed her leg and tried to pull her down. "No you don't!" Ron shoved it back into the lake. "Incindio!" he roared, blasting flames at the undead bodies all around them. Roaring, many of them staggered backwards, burning (although Harry took some comfort knowing that, being dead, it wasn't hurting them). "Jump!" Ron half-launched himself onto the platform as three large werewolves leaped for the boat, breaking through the bottom with the force of their leap. Harry, Neville and the twins leaped upwards as well, Harry kicking one of the werewolves into the lake when it tried to climb up after them. "Move, move, while they have this up!" he shouted, rushing like crazy for the far side along the silver pathway, leaping over the Inferi's groping arms and a few leaping werewolves.
"Cave inimicum!" he heard Hermione shouting behind them, putting up some sort of defensive spell around them. And it seemed to be working, for the Inferi and werewolves that came at him now staggered backwards as if hitting a brick wall. Soon the far end of the lake was upon them. With a final jump, he tumbled onto the bank. Everyone else fell over onto dry land behind them. Seconds later, the walkway disappeared, sending a few Inferi and werewolves that had climbed up behind it toppling into the lake. Harry flashed a thumb-up across the lake to everyone else, not sure if they could see it, and slightly disappointed they now couldn't join them with the boat gone. "Let's go, just a few minutes left," he urged the others, rushing for the tunnel out of the large cavern...
...but no sooner had he crossed the tunnel's threshold than he was violently thrown backwards by some harsh force. "Now what!?" he shouted, his eyes widening to see there was now not just one but twenty tunnels ahead of them.
"They must have put the Gemino curse on the tunnel to the inner sanctum as a final security measure!" Hermione looked frustrated at their continual lack of ease in moving forward, "Now we've got to find the right one soon or there'll be hundreds of them...!"
"Well, one way to find out..." Fred started towards the one in the middle.
"FRED, DON'T!" Ron's warning came a hair too late, as his brother was thrown backwards practically to the lake's edge. Almost forty tunnels were before them now...and Harry could hear something ominous clicking inside many of them. "What's that sound!?" he asked, not sure he wanted to really know.
"You don't want to know, Harry-QUINTAPEDS!" Ron stumbled back towards him as dozens of the dangerous creatures started crawling out of several tunnels, growling hungrily. "Great, not only does he screw up the tunnel, he fills them all with these things too! He is as sick as they come!" Ron continued complaining, nervously pointing his wand at the approaching beasts, "Impedimenta!" he shouted, slowing some of them to a crawl, but more seemed to be coming. Neville accidentally backed into another tunnel entrance and triggered another doubling of the available portals, out of some of which even more quintapeds started pouring. They were completely surrounded, Harry realized, out of the frying pan and into the fire...and a low shriek from Hermione made it clear the frying pan wasn't through with them yet, as the Inferi were starting to trudge out of the lake towards them, moaning ominously, and the werewolves were rushing forward as well. They were trapped, and even with spells raining down from their friends on the other side of the lake towards their attackers, there seemed no way out this time.
Unless, of course, they found the right tunnel...
Harry desperately scanned above him for any clue as to which tunnel was the right one. Luck proved to still be at least partially with them, for he heard a loud cry that was unmistakably Derek's coming from one above thirty feet directly overhead. "That's it, that's the right one," he pointed up at it. His hunch was confirmed, as a low blast of green light could be seen the instant everyone looked up at it. "Oh that's terrific, now how are we supposed to get up there...Incindio!" Ron desperately blasted a line of flames between they and their foes.
"It worked before...another pathway!" Harry shouted at everyone across the lake, praying they could still hear him, "Give us another pathway, to that tunnel there!"
He fired sparks from his wand at the tunnel entrance he wanted. Sure enough, another long silvery path arced across the lake towards the tunnel entrance in question. Unfortunately, it was at this moment the Inferi trudged right through the firewall, their arms extended even though they were burning from head to toe. "You go on, Harry; we'll hold them off!" Neville shouted to him, hitting several dead bodies with an exploding charm and sending them flying backwards.
"You sure!?" Harry didn't want to leave anyone else behind.
"We'll be fine, trust us; go!" Fred and George heaved Ron and Hermione up onto the walkway, then started hitting several quintapeds trying to break through with leg-bending hexes. Harry wanted to protest about their safety, but had no time to argue, as a werewolf leaped the flames and sprung right at him. He leaped up onto the walkway, which partially cracked under him as the werewolf slammed into it. The beast now heaved itself up as well and snapped its jaws at him. Harry inched backwards away from it, trying to avoid any bite...
...and remembered werewolves were brought down by silver. Without really thinking, he leaped over its head, pried a large sliver of silver off the broken part of the walkway, and jammed it straight into the werewolf's chest when it lunged for him. With a desperate shriek, the werewolf keeled off the edge of the walkway and landed hard on top of several Inferi, dead, and already beginning to return to its human form.
"Come on, Harry, hurry!" Hermione gave the call to him from near the end of the walkway, where she and Ron had already made it. But Harry saw something she didn't: two more masked figures leaped out of the shadows with wands raised in the tunnel. "Behind you! Expelliarmus!" he shouted, firing at them. His shot missed them, but distracted them enough to allow his friends to draw their own wands and start dueling with them. Harry rushed up to join them. "Expelliarmus!" he fired again when he got closer. This time it worked, and the Death Eater on the right was disarmed, his partner also being thrown backwards from being too close to the blast. Ron rushed for the wand, got to it a few seconds before its former owner could, and tossed it into the lake below. "No you don't!" he grabbed the Death Eater's wrist before the Dark wizard could touch his partner's wand to his Dark Mark tattoo, "You're not bringing him into this...!"
Roaring, the Death Eater flipped him over tried to push him over the edge. "Levicorpus!" Hermione's shout rang out, leaving the Death Eater suspended in the air. His mask fell off, revealing it was Avery. "Get me down from here!" he bellowed.
"Oh shut up! Silencio!" Harry zapped him with a silencing hex, then helped Ron to his feet, "OK?"
"I think so...watch it!" Ron in turn pulled him aside as the other Death Eater lunged for them. Instead, he sailed off the edge, screaming all the way down until he landed amid the swarming quintapeds, who started immediately tearing him apart with even louder screams. This at least took some pressure off Neville and the twins, who seemed to be holding their own, at least. But Harry knew they had to move on; time was almost up now. Indeed, he could hear Voldemort excitedly chanting down the tunnel. "Quickly, and let's be quiet," he told his friends, "We're going to have to trust them, Ron," he told him when Ron glanced worriedly down at his brothers as well.
"I can't just leave them...whoa!" Ron gasped as a blast of magic from across the lake slammed into the wall of the cavern right below them, "What are they doing...!?"
He gasped and jumped back as a claw slashed at his foot. The walkway had disappeared now, but Greyback had managed to climb up nonetheless, and the head werewolf had heaved itself up onto the ledge in a flash, growling furiously at the three of them. "Impedimenta!" Harry blasted him with the slowing-down spell, but Greyback still sprung towards them with teeth barred in slow motion..."
But suddenly froze in place-literally, as ice now hung all over him. "Huh?" Harry glanced down, "Was that you...!?"
"You still here!? Get going!" George shouted up at him, letting several quintapeds have it with a hex that made them tap dance.
"Yes, let's," Hermione dragged both boys down the tunnel, "That freezing spell won't hold him long..."
"Shhhh," Harry hissed. The chanting was louder than ever. And he had a cold icy feeling that signaled Dementors were nearby. They rounded a corner and immediately flattened themselves against the walls of the tunnel. Harry glanced around the corner into a circular room that was large but not quite as large as some of the others they'd gone through thus far; it seemed more wide than large. And sure enough, there was a large circle of Dementors hovering right in front of them, all facing forward towards the center of the large chamber in front of them. Harry climbed partially up on a rock for a higher view. Beyond the Dementors, a circle of what seemed like hundreds of Death Eaters were congregated-excepting an unmasked Gaspard Gavertson, slouching by himself in the corner, looking horribly regretful (while most of the evil wizards were solemnly chanting something too low to make out, Harry did notice one of them looking around the chamber impatiently, as if hoping for someone or something to arrive...). Inside the circle of Death Eater was another circle, this one of the children Voldemort had had abducted from the museum, many looking nervous and fearful. And there in the center, surrounded by the thirteen oversized runes stolen from the repository and bound with magical chains to a pair of large flat rocks, were Derek and Emma. The former was whimpering as Voldemort himself hovered over him, glancing over him with more than a little contempt. "Stay strong, you've got to stay strong," Emma told him firmly, but Harry could see the fear on her face as well.
"You cannot save him, and no one can save you," Voldemort strode towards her with a contemptuous look, "If you had chosen to embrace Salazar Slytherin's wisdom as everyone else in his house does, you would not be here tonight. But at least due to that, you shall prove useful for me now."
With an angry growl, Emma spit towards the Dark Lord's face-then struggled to keep from crying out as she was zapped with what appeared to be the Cruciatus Curse from within the circle of Death Eaters. "Enough, Bellatrix, I need her pure for this," Voldemort raised a hand.
"My apologies, my Lord, but she should not talk to you like that. No one should talk to you like that and live..." his most loyal supporter declared.
"It is time, anyway," Voldemort stared at a drawing of a serpent surrounding an eclipsing moon on the floor, which now had a beam of moonlight shining directly on it from a hole in the ceiling above, "The time is now. She and the Muggle shall die now anyway, to give me eternal life, as I first make the sacrifice..."
He conjured a dark metal knife out of thin air and slashed hard across Derek's arm, making him fight hard to keep from crying out. He then repeated the gesture on Emma, then rubbed the blood on the ancient drawing on the floor, which started glowing an ominous green. "What do we do now!?" Ron hissed worriedly to Harry, watching worriedly as Voldemort opened Andric Vydzaal's old spell book and started reciting an old incantation of some kind, "How do we stop this...!?"
"I'm thinking, I'm thinking! Hermione...!?"
"Got to stop the runes, I think they're what open the portal...but it looks like we might be too late...!" she gulped as the runes started glowing green as well.
"We can't be too late, not with their lives and everyone's lives at stake...!" Ron abruptly strode forward, wand in hand. "Ron, wait, think this over...!" Harry tried to warn him from doing anything rash.
"CONFRINGO!" Ron fired on the runes. His spell, however, was absorbed by the rune he'd aimed at...and now, every eye in the chamber was turned towards the three of them. "Uh oh...!" Ron gulped, taking large steps backwards, "Uh, sorry, wrong room...!"
It was already too late; dozens upon dozens of Dementors zoomed towards them and pinned the three of them against the wall. Harry cried out as his parents' final moments replayed yet again in his mind all too realistically, and he could only listen as Ron and Hermione's worst fears (although he couldn't tell exactly what they were screaming) played out next to them. He could still see in front of him through the Dementors, however, and was horrified to see Voldemort raise knives high over Derek and Emma in each hand and bring them down hard with sickening thuds while reciting from the spell book now levitating in front of his face in Parceltongue. Moments later, a hole magically opened in the floor at his nemesis's feet, and a blast of green magic shot upwards, combining with blasts from the runes to completely engulf Voldemort, who was half-shrieking in delight. Harry's heart fell out through his feet. They were too late; they had failed. And his new friends were gone. And his mortal enemy was now...
"Leave them," he could heard Voldemort calling to the Dementors, who glided away from he, Ron and Hermione en masse now that the green glow had faded and all seemed on the surface as it had been before-except, heartbreakingly, for the motionless figures on the stone tables. "Harry Potter, come to be the hero," the Dark Lord slowly started walking towards the three of them, "It appears all you did was show up just in time to see the beginning of an immortal age. I am now a god...I shall live forever, and I have powers beyond all comprehension..."
"AVADA KEDAVRA!" it was pure desperation in Ron's scream as he dared to fire the Killing Curse at Voldemort, and Harry didn't doubt his friend meant it, but horrifyingly, the curse went right through Voldemort and blasted a large hole in the wall. "Nothing can stop me now, not even death itself!" the Dark Lord let out a high, cold laugh. "All of you stay where you are; Potter is mine," he turned to his followers. I've waited a long time for this, Harry Potter," he turned back to a quivering Harry, "I'll let you and your friends run if you wish. It will make it more interesting. But you cannot hide. And now I can do THIS!"
He fired green blasts from his eyes at the nearest Death Eater to him, who keeled over dead in a flash. "Run!" Harry meekly whispered to his friends, not knowing what to do now. The three of them bolted backwards through the tunnel they'd come in...but a cold mist flashed by Harry's face, and seconds later Voldemort rematerialized in full in front of them to loud cries from Ron and Hermione. "Run, run, anywhere you can," Voldemort taunted them as they turned and ran, "I am pure magic now, and I can follow you wherever you go...!"
"What do we do now, Harry; we can't stop him like this!" Ron was purely petrified as they turned down another tunnel, "What if he really can't be stopped...!?"
"I don't know; Hermione, can the spell be reversed!?" Harry begged her frantically.
"I don't think so, Harry! We failed!" she was just as terrified, "Just a few minutes earlier, and we might have been able to...!"
She shrieked as Voldemort again rematerialized in front of them-and in a flash, the green blasts shot out of his eyes right into her chest. "NO! HERMIONE!" Harry crumpled down to her level as she fell to the floor, but he could tell she was gone, just like that. With a livid cry, he lunged straight for Voldemort, but went right through him. "FIGHT ME LIKE A MAN, YOU COWARD!" he shrieked tearfully at the dark wizard, swinging wild punches that went through him as well, "I DEMAND YOU...!"
"Potter wants me to fight like a man? Lord Voldemort can grant any request," a dark smile was spreading on the wizard's face. Suddenly, he seemed a whole lot more scaly, Harry thought, and his eyes were going yellow-and he was getting bigger. And Harry remembered what Marvolo MacClivert's pet had been...
"Oh my God...!" he gasped, "Ron, run, come on!" he seized a sobbing Ron by the arm and strained to pull him away from Hermione's body, "He can be a basilisk now too! Don't look back!" he pulled Ron hard when he tried to do so, "It's too late, Ron; if you look him in the eye, it's over, and I don't want to lose you too...!"
"I'm going to kill him!" Ron roared as Harry dragged him down the hall, "Let go of me; I've got to kill him for doing that to her! I said let...!"
He got his wish as Harry stumbled in a dip and toppled to the floor. Before Harry could get to his feet, he heard a violent hiss and the sickening crunch of fangs into flesh. "NO! BACK, BACK, LEAVE HIM ALONE!" he grabbed the rocks and threw them backwards without looking back. He was instead knocked off his feet as the Basilisk Voldemort struck forward, missing a direct strike on him, but knocking half the ceiling down in the process. His mind a mess of fear and misery, Harry clambered over Voldemort's scaly body and leapt for a side tunnel, again just missing a bite as Voldemort struck backwards. He blindly ran down the tunnels, pressing himself onward even as his legs ached under him, for Voldemort was slithering right behind him. Harry ducked as his foe struck forward again, once more knocking half the cave down around him. Blindly he jumped back to his feet and rushed around corners and through side tunnels for what seemed like forever, not knowing where he was going or even caring at this point. Finally, he stumbled and fell over something coming through another tunnel portal just as Voldemort struck once more, this time burying the entire cave behind Harry when he smashed the wall down. But Harry could hear the angry hissings on the other side; it would only be a matter of time before he came through again.
An agonized groan at his feet made him realized what he'd tripped over. "Ron, please don't go!" he tearfully shook his gasping, dying friend, "It can't end like this...!"
"Too late...I don't feel magical anymore..." Ron was crying as well as he gasped for air, "He can de-magic now; I can feel it out of me..."
"Harry...we fight sometimes, but I never had a greater honor than being your...your friend," Ron gasped in agony, his breathing shallower, "Do...what you can...to stop him..."
"Ron no...!" Harry pleaded, but Ron rolled over to the side and said nothing more. He was all alone now. Why, he thought furiously, sobbing into his friend's chest, why did they have to fail when it counted the most!? Why did he have to lose everything that was valuable to him...!?
A crash made him topple backwards. Basilisk Voldemort was breaking through. Harry stumbled backwards towards where Hermione's body lay, wand raised, but with his hand shaking. The giant snake's snout crashed through the wall; soon the rest of it would come through. And Harry knew there was nowhere left to run, nowhere left to hide. He'd lost everything and lost for everyone. But at least it would end soon now, and he'd be with his friends again in a moment...and perhaps, finally, his parents too...