"We're going to have to try and tackle him," he whispered to Ron. They had no choice: the moment anyone entered the room and saw the absence of three prisoners, they were lost. "Leave the lights on," Harry added, ...

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

What does "they were lost" mean in this context? Is it they were dead or something? It doesn't seem to make much sense.

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    I don't get the "absence of three prisoners" thing. Didn't 4 prisoners escape (Dobby, Luna, Dean, and Ollivander)? In Collins, one meaning of "lost" is "destroyed physically" (no. 6 BrE) and "destroyed or ruined physically or morally" (no. 1a AmE). – AIQ Dec 11 '19 at 8:57
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    @AIQ, Dobby is not a prisoner. He was the one to come to rescue them. – dan Dec 11 '19 at 9:00
  • @AIQ, if it means "destroyed physically", I think it should be they would be lost, shouldn't it? – dan Dec 11 '19 at 9:02
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    Let's ignore "lost" for a moment and replace it with "dead". "the moment anyone entered the room and saw the absence of three prisoners, they were dead" is valid. It's like saying "the moment I find out you are cheating on her, you are a dead man" or "when you hear an explosion, it is time!" That construction is fine. Not sure why the author finds it exciting to write like this - "lost". It certainly isn't fun to read. Others may disagree. – AIQ Dec 11 '19 at 9:33
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    @AIQ Yeah, that 'lost' made me lost. :) – dan Dec 11 '19 at 9:41

they were dead or something?

Yes. Maybe not dead but in a whole lot of trouble. Their captors would know there was a way out, probably furious and afraid of what would happen if Voldemort found out. It would have been a lot easier if the escape had been quiet, that would have given the people remaining behind more time to prepare.

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