If the thundering CRACK of stone rending hadn’t woken Harry, the primal scream that split the air and ripped into Gryffindor Tower, expanding to occupy every space like an Occamy of sound, would surely have done the trick.
He blinked stupidly, stars spangling his vision and a high, tinny ringing filling his ears as he fumbled at his bedside for his wand, not entirely certain where he was or when he was.
The lamps were sunlight-bright—but they hadn’t been, he recalled, earlier when he’d dragged himself into his four-poster, utterly drained from the evening’s fruitless ventures.
He’d been certain—so certain—that tonight would be it. The night that changed everything.
When he’d left the castle grounds on Dumbledore’s arm, twisting into the stomach-churning nothingness that was Side-Along Apparition, he’d felt with a strange, giddy sort of dread that once they returned, nothing would be the same anymore. The war would begin in those precious few hours they were gone, and everything he’d been training for would start to snowball, building and crescendoing into a cacophony of activity. He’d itched for it, honestly, all but praying they’d return and see a hideous green skull riding high over the castle parapets, because waiting for the other shoe to drop was torture.
But gone they had, and then returned, and there’d been no Morsmordre glittering in the heavens, no Death Eaters sneaking about the hallways or Order members charging up from Hogsmeade. No battle, no scuffle. And worst of all, no Horcrux.
The Felix Felicis he’d left for Ron and the others had been wasted. Draco Malfoy had not carried out whatever scheme he’d been cooking up these many months, somehow passing up what Harry had been certain would be the perfect chance to act. Instead, the castle had been as quiet as they’d left it, everyone abed as they ought to be save for Filch skulking about on his usual nightly rounds and Snape, darkening the doorway of the Headmaster’s office and glowering with his lips pursed into a thin line of disapproval on seeing the low state to which Dumbledore had been brought by Voldemort’s nasty potion.
Harry had been quite reluctant to leave Dumbledore’s side, wary that Snape would seize the opportunity to act on his true master’s orders to dispatch the defenceless headmaster, but he’d been given no choice, only dismissed with a knowing smile and That will be all for this evening, my boy; thank you for your aid.
It had been well past midnight when he’d finally found his way to Gryffindor Tower, earning a rude comment from the Fat Lady. Ron had roused briefly when Harry had stumbled in, but Harry had stifled any questions with a tired, “Can we just talk about it in the morning?” It was hardly a tale he wanted to get into in the middle of the night, and he’d hoped things might appear rosier after a hearty breakfast and what remained of a decent night’s rest.
Sleep had been difficult, but in the space between one breath and the next, he’d somehow managed it—until being practically rattled awake by a grating CRUNCH and the sounds of frantic scrabbling against the tower stonework.
“Whasgoinon?” Ron mumbled sleepily, rubbing the heels of his palms into his eyes as he tottered about the room in a confused, muddled haze. “What time is it?”
Harry’s heart was racing, adrenaline flooding his system in a heady torrent. “I think—I think we’re under attack.” That had to be it—the Death Eaters had only been delayed. While he’d slept, slumbering peacefully and blissfully unaware, Malfoy had finally pulled off his plan. Harry cursed inwardly, knowing he should have at least checked the Marauder’s Map before turning in, just to be sure he hadn’t missed anything, someone out of place or an unfamiliar name roaming the halls.
Something heavy slammed into the tower, and Harry heard a few shingles clatter to the ground far below. He swallowed, eyeing the window, and took a step towards it—
Dean snapped a hand out, fingers tight about Harry’s wrist and squeezing. “Are you mad? You’ll get your head blown off! Who knows what’s out there?”
He could hear other voices now—neighbouring rooms were waking, trying to work out what was happening. Any moment now, there would be word to evacuate—or perhaps to prepare for battle. He glanced to Ron, who seemed to have finally gotten his head on straight, expression only queasy with no signs of sleep-mussed confusion. Harry schooled his features, urging his heart to slow its rapid-fire tattoo so he could think clearly. “We need to get everyone out; if the Death Eaters are—”
“Death Eaters?” Seamus yelped, halfway into his dressing robe. “This is—this is You-Know-Who?” He looked fearfully to the window, wincing when another blow struck the tower. The beams overhead began to groan, showering them with splinters and batting insulation. Harry tried not to think about just how many tonnes of rubble might come crashing down on their heads if the tower collapsed.
He began to snap orders, trying to sort priorities at a clip. “Everyone quick—pull on shoes and grab your wands. Neville—” Neville straightened with a jerk, his wand clasped over his chest with both hands. “Pass the word on to the others in the boys’ dorms, will you? Seamus and Dean—you try and get word to the girls.”
“How are we supposed to do that?” Seamus quailed. “The stairs don’t trust us!”
“What are you and Ron gonna do?” Dean asked, snatching a pullover from a mountain of unwashed laundry.
“We’ll—oof!” Harry lurched forward, thrown into one of the posts of Ron’s bed as the tower swayed unsteadily, the grade of the floor gone disturbingly crooked. White-faced, they could only stare at each other in horror as the walls trembled and the roof finally began to cave under the assault, dust and debris showering down. Another blow like that, and it would be stone coming down, with the floor above collapsing. “Out! Out, out, out!” Harry shouted, shoving his dormmates toward the door, and they rushed out in a frantic scrum, flooding the hallway with the rest of their House.
Another piercing scream shook the walls, inhuman and bone-juddering, and Harry imagined that if Dementors had voices, that was what they might sound like. He gave Ron’s back a sharp shove, then groped for purchase as the tower shuddered again and tossed him into a chest of drawers.
Ron glanced back, eyes wide. “Harry! Harry come on!” He fumbled with his wand, brandishing it with a flourish. “Accio!”
Harry pitched forward, like someone had snagged his collar, and he felt himself zipping through midair, straight for the door—but another sharp CRACK sounded, followed by a sickening chorus of resounding snaps and crackles as the beams above collapsed into kindling and rained down chaos upon Harry’s head, plunging his world into darkness.