V: The Flight from the Mines

The Company, plus guest, marched on through the darkness. Gandalf went first carrying the weak candlelight on his staff; by his side strode Gimli, who took full advantage of walking by the light to see all he could of the ancient masonry. Behind walked the hobbits, shuffling on and taking care to keep close behind the wizard. Next came the Men, with Harry hanging between them, his head lolled forward on his chest. Legolas brought up the rear, casting wary looks into the darkness behind him, though even his keen eyes were unable to make out any shapes in the gloom.

When they reached the top of the stairs, and Gandalf increased the light, the Company became aware of the sheer size of the mines. It would be a simple matter to lose oneself forever in the vast labyrinth below, yet it would be just as easy to lose many days wandering but this one chamber. Despite now seeing the great space around them, the Company drew closer together, trying not to imagine what this chamber would look like bristling with Moria orcs and goblins.

The uneasiness they all felt in the immense hall was nothing to the sickening terror that touched each Walker in the chamber of Mazarbul, hearing the last words of the Dwarfen defenders. On entering the room, the men had left Harry slumped in a corner, completely insensible. Then, the drums came, blasting and echoing from the depths of the mine, followed by the sound of many footsteps in the great chamber.

Hurriedly fortifying the door, the Company readied their weapons. The hobbits drew their barrow-swords and held them ready in trembling hands. Legolas fit an arrow to his bow and all waited for the first orc to appear.

'How were we detected?' he hissed.

'Some accursed orc must have seen our light,' Gandalf replied. 'In the darkness of the mines, any light, no matter how faint, draws notice. It was too much to hope that we would pass without incident.'

The drums grew louder, and the rushing of feet drew closer and then, suddenly, the Company found themselves facing the first orcs to inch through the door, led by a fearsome troll. The orcs were dispatched quickly, but were replaced with more, and

in spite of the Walkers' diligence, some reached the furthest corner where Harry lay.

Harry had not had a very comfortable morning. Aside from the general soreness of his body, his head felt like it had been cracked open and his brain felt like it was dribbling out of the hole. He shook and sweated and his vision blurred, and just when it had seemed things were actually taking a turn for the better, he'd slipped into a terrifying dreamworld of clashing metal and roaring monsters.

It didn't feel like just any hallucination, either. It was so realistic he could smell the blood and sweat and fear. He kept his eyes clamped shut, focusing his strength inward in an attempt to regain control over his mind. But despite his efforts, it didn't go away.

He cracked one eye open, just in time to see what looked like a frying pan connect with a gnarled, ugly face. Seconds later, another face, similarly ugly, appeared directly in front of his, a long, wiry arm extending behind it holding a sword of black metal.

Harry's eyes popped out of his head. Time seemed to slow as he stared into the vile face with its clammy features and murderous smirk. Its putrid smell suddenly hit him like a breezeblock as his darting eyes singled out the pearly ribbon of saliva leaking from the corner of the mouth as the most offensive and disgusting element of the offensive, disgusting whole.

As suddenly as the moment had come, it was gone; leaving Harry staring at the… thing as it slowly became aware of the knife run straight through its throat. It reached up to touch the hilt, then toppled with a grisly gasp. Harry, his head the clearest it had been since his abrupt arrival hours, days ago, climbed to his feet and drew his concealed weapons.

The room was full of them, the monsters, and Harry wondered at how long it had taken one to find him. He had been laid in the back corner of the room, sheltered from view in a stone alcove. Harry was a bit put out to see that he'd been hidden behind even the children, but made up for it by fighting his way out from his hiding place and into the fray.

He quickly realised that this had been a Bad Choice. Not only was he not at his best, to put it mildly, but all he had on him by way of weapons were his knives, which while very good for stabbing at close range were completely pants in a swordfight. He ducked and weaved as well as he could, managing to get in a few hits at close quarters, but it made his head pound worse than ever. He did his best and brought down the ones he could reach even as the black blood ruined his grip, but before long he was less 'ducking and weaving' and more 'staggering and lurching'.

Fortunately, the monsters weren't particularly skilled fighters - around him Harry caught glimpses of the others killing a great many without much trouble - but there were still more of them trying to claw their way through the door, which had succumbed to the strength of what looked to Harry suspiciously like a Mountain Troll. Even the monsters seemed wary of it, dodging out of its way as it lumbered forward, knocking them over like bowling pins with each backswing of its gruesome club. Harry steered clear of it, knowing that he'd be worse than useless if he tried to take it on himself. If only he had his wand! He'd tackled a Mountain Troll – and worse – before his twelfth birthday, and here he was, leaving the biggest foe for someone else to deal with.

He couldn't do it. Even one of the kids had had a go at the thing, and got a good hit in too. Knowing that it was hopeless, reckless, downright desperate, Harry turned back to the troll. If he could get round behind it, maybe he could do what he'd done the first time: get on its back and attack where it was vulnerable.

An arrow whizzed past his ear. On second thoughts, climbing onto its shoulders and leaving himself open for every archer in the place didn't seem like a good plan. He looked around wildly for another target; in his frenzy the mass of bodies seemed blurred and distorted, and- Letting out a string of foul words, Harry clutched his arm. He'd let his guard down, and he'd been sliced for his trouble, but there was no time to worry about that now-

Suddenly, everything stopped. The monsters shrieked and fled, practically climbing over each other to get away. Adrenaline throbbed in Harry's veins, pounding the blood through his ears as silence descended. He felt light-headed, giddy with pain and nausea.

'Uh-oh,' he sing-songed, letting slip a quiet giggle.

And then the moment of calm was gone, and everyone followed the monsters' example and made a dash for the door at the other end of the room. Swaying on the spot, moments from collapse, Harry barely noticed as he was scooped up and carried off down the dark passageway, though he did notice It, the Thing they were running from. It was old and dark and strong and even in his condition Harry felt it burn into his senses, filling him with fear.

They ran. They ran and ran and ran through the darkness, almost petrified with fear of the Thing behind them. They ran on even as they stumbled on the dark staircase, not knowing or caring where they were going so long as they pulled ahead.

Harry wasn't running, though he almost wished he could – he'd always been fast on his feet and he was weighing down the men carrying him. He concentrated on getting the sensation of scorching flames out of his mind and senses. It was overwhelmingly powerful, seeming to burn his mind from the inside out. Summoning all his ability at Occlumency (not much), and all his desperation and fear (very much indeed), he pushed as back as hard as he could.

The Thing seemed to falter, as if stumbling over something small and irritating at Its feet. It carried on after them just as fast, but Harry knew that he'd bought them some time. He tried it again. This time it was harder, as It seemed to realise that Harry was the one who was responsible and assaulted his mind more determinedly. Harry felt his whole body burning this time, but he screwed himself up and attacked again.

Pain erupted in his hands, and he heard himself screaming, as if from a long way off. It faltered again, taking longer to recover this time, though Harry felt It burning him even as he faded into unconsciousness.

The blessed darkness didn't last long. The terrifying chase down the pitch-black staircase was over, but Harry could still hear flames and feel the Thing burning at him. The shouts of the monsters were back, but far off and not getting closer.

Reluctantly raising his eyes to look on the scene around him, Harry saw It clearly for the first time. It was huge, composed of fire and darkness and radiating evil. It was standing on the edge of a vast chasm, on the opposite side to the strangers and Harry himself. Why they were still standing there instead of hotfooting it in the opposite direction became obvious when Harry dragged his gaze from It and noticed the stone bridge spanning the chasm, on which stood the Dumbledore-wizard. He was chanting something, his staff raised, looking somehow infinitesimally small and magnificently powerful at the same time. He smote the bridge - it was definitely a smiting, and with some powerful magic behind it - and the Thing fell.

Somehow, Harry knew that something was about to go horribly wrong. Getting rid of a whatever-the-hell-It-was couldn't possibly be so simple. He shrugged off the men supporting him and ran for the chasm, just as the Thing's fiery whip came up and wrapped itself around the wizard. The old man tried in vain to hold on to the bridge, and had just choked out some last words when Harry, not having the faintest clue what he was doing, or if it was even possible, thrust out his hands and screamed, 'Accio!'

It worked. For a few glorious seconds, it worked. Pain, agony, ripped through Harry's arms and into his hands and he felt rather than saw the energy gushing from him. The wizard stopped falling, and even rose a few tentative inches, before stopping in midair. It was a tug-of-war, with gravity and the Thing on one side, and Harry's raw, inexplicable, power on the other.

The wizard for his part wore a look of utter astonishment. It was all too clear that he had expected to die, and had chosen to make that sacrifice so that his friends could escape, but Harry couldn't just stand back and let it happen without even trying. Hermione had called it a 'saving people thing'; Harry called it common human decency.

But it was too much. It was all just too much. Harry's strength was faltering, and the wizard must have noticed he was slowly sinking again, because he called out some revised last words in that strange language that Harry couldn't understand. Their gazes locked as Harry's face worked horribly, trying to find the last vestige of power, and the wizard nodded at him, and smiled Albus Dumbledore's trademark smile – knowing, compassionate and comforting.

Rather than struggle on and drag out the death of a noble old man, Harry dropped his arms and let the spell die, before collapsing on the spot.

The Fellowship stood round the cloaked heap, eyeing it with no little apprehension.

'What is he?' asked Merry, poking the crumpled form before him with a hairy toe.

'I… I do not know,' said Aragorn, and shook his head to clear it. 'We must go. At once.' He looked to Boromir and Legolas, the former grim and silent, the latter not caring to hide his pain and dismay.

'At once,' he repeated. 'We cannot linger here to be food for the orcs! They know the labyrinth well, they will find a path across, and when they do I would fain be some miles hence.'

Still not one of them moved.

'Mithrandir bid us fly with his last breath,' Aragorn continued. He looked down at Frodo, the little hobbit returning his gaze with a sad nod. 'We make for Lothlorien. It is the path he chose.'

And with that, he bent and grasped one of the stranger's arms and hauled him up. Grim Boromir stepped forward to take the other, and together they set off down the foot of the mountain, the rest of the Fellowship following sadly behind.