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It happened in a flash of steely talons; Malfoy let out a high pitched scream and next moment, Hagrid was wrestling Buckbeak (A magical creature which has talons) back into his collar as he strained to get at Malfoy, who lay curled in the grass. blood blossoming over his robes.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Does the sentence mean "Steely talons suddenly(happened in a flash) attacked Malfoy"?

So in a sentence like "It happened in a flash of ~", what is followed after "of" functions as a subject of the sentence? I'm just guessing and not quite sure if this is right.

What's the exact role of "of" in this sentence?

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    Yes, what you guessed is the correct way of interpreting this sentence. – Kasey Jan 19 '18 at 4:18
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The grammatical function of of in this context is to specify a unit of measure, as it is in a pinch of salt.

The choice of flash is a rather clever literary trick, as it is both a measure of time (you can say that something happens in a flash, meaning very quickly), and also gives the impression of light flashing off the steely talons.

The steely talons are not necessarily the subject of the sentence, but they were definitely involved in the incident. The sentence merely alludes to what happened rather than stating it directly: this again is a literary device.

In a more direct account of what happened, the subject would be the Buckbeak, but it would be rather less exciting to read:

The buckbeak raked Malfoy with its steely talons.

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