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J.K.Rîwling >> Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (page 12)


“Everyone gather 'round the fence here!” he called. “That's it—make sure yeh can see—now, firs' thing yeh'll want ter do is open yer books —”

“How?” said the cold, drawling voice of Draco Malfoy.

“Eh?” said Hagrid.

“How do we open our books?” Malfoy repeated. He took out his copy of The Monster Book of Monsters, which he had bound shut with a length of rope. Other people took theirs out too; some, like Harry, had belted their book shut; others had crammed them inside tight bags or clamped them together with binder clips.

“Hasn'—hasn' anyone bin able ter open their books?” said Hagrid, looking crestfallen.

The class all shook their heads.

“Yeh've got ter stroke 'em,” said Hagrid, as though this was the most obvious thing in the world. “Look —”

He took Hermione's copy and ripped off the Spellotape that bound it. The book tried to bite, but Hagrid ran a giant forefinger down its spine, and the book shivered, and then fell open and lay quiet in his hand.

“Oh, how silly we've all been!” Malfoy sneered. “We should have stroked them! why didn't we guess!”

“I—I thought they were funny,” Hagrid said uncertainly to Hermione.

“Oh, tremendously funny!” said Malfoy. “Really witty, giving us books that try and rip our hands off!”

“Shut up, Malfoy,” said Harry quietly. Hagrid was looking downcast and Harry wanted Hagrid's first lesson to be a success.

“Righ' then,” said Hagrid, who seemed to have lost his thread, “so—so yeh've got yer books an'—an'— now yeh need the Magical Creatures. Yeah. So I'll go an' get 'em. Hang on... “

He strode away from them into the forest and out of sight.

“God, this place is going to the dogs,” said Malfoy loudly. “That oaf teaching classes, my father'll have a fit when I tell him

“Shut up, Malfoy,” Harry repeated.

“Careful, Potter, there's a dementor behind you

“Oooooooh!” squealed Lavender Brown, pointing toward the opposite side of the paddock.

Trotting toward them were a dozen of the most bizarre creatures Harry had ever seen. They had the bodies, hind legs, and tails of horses, but the front legs, wings, and heads of what seemed to be giant eagles, with cruel, steel-colored beaks and large, brilliantly, orange eyes. The talons on their front legs were half a foot long and deadly looking. Each of the beasts had a thick leather collar around its neck, which was attached to a long chain, and the ends of all of these were held in the vast hands of Hagrid, who came jogging into the paddock behind the creatures.

“Gee up, there!” he roared, shaking the chains and urging the creatures toward the fence where the class stood. Everyone drew back slightly as Hagrid reached them and tethered the creatures to the fence.

“Hippogriffs!” Hagrid roared happily, waving a hand at them. “Beau'iful, aren' they?”

Harry could sort of see what Hagrid meant. Once you got over the first shock of seeing something that was, half horse, half bird, you started to appreciate the hippogriffs' gleaming coats, changing smoothly from feather to hair, each of them a different color: stormy gray, bronze, pinkish roan, gleaming chestnut, and inky black.

“So,” said Hagrid, rubbing his hands together and beaming around, “if yeh wan' ter come a bit nearer —”

No one seemed to want to. Harry, Ron, and Hermione, however, approached the fence cautiously.

“Now, firs' thing yeh gotta know abou' hippogriffs is, they're proud,” said Hagrid. “Easily offended, hippogriffs are. Don't never insult one, 'cause it might be the last thing yeh do.”

Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle weren't listening; they were talking in an undertone and Harry had a nasty feeling they were plotting how best to disrupt the lesson.

“Yeh always wait fer the hippogriff ter make the firs' move,” Hagrid continued. “It's polite, see? Yeh walk toward him, and yeh bow, an' yeh wait. If he bows back, yeh're allowed ter touch him. If he doesn' bow, then get away from him sharpish, 'cause those talons hurt.

“Right—who wants ter go first?”

Most of the class backed farther away in answer. Even Harry, Ron, and Hermione had misgivings. The hippogriffs were tossing their fierce heads and flexing their powerful wings; they didn't seem to like being tethered like this.

“No one?” said Hagrid, with a pleading look.

“I'll do it,” said Harry.

There was an intake of breath from behind him, and both Lavender and Parvati whispered, “Oooh, no, Harry, remember your tea leaves!”

Harry ignored them. He climbed over the paddock fence.

“Good man, Harry!” roared Hagrid. “Right then—let's see how yeh get on with Buckbeak.”

He untied one of the chains, pulled the gray hippogriff away from its fellows, and slipped off its leather collar. The class on the other side of the paddock seemed to be holding its breath. Malfoy's eyes were narrowed maliciously.

“Easy) now, Harry,” said Hagrid quietly. “Yeh've got eye contact, now try not ter blink... Hippogriffs don' trust yeh if yeh blink too much...”

Harry's eyes immediately began to water, but he didn't shut thern. Buckbeak had turned his great, sharp head and was staring at Harry with one fierce orange eye. “Tha's it,” said Hagrid. “Tha's it, Harry... now, bow.”

Harry didn't feel much like exposing the back of his neck to Buckbeak, but he did as he was told. He gave a short bow and then looked up.

The hippogriff was still staring haughtily at him. It didn't move.

“Ah,” said Hagrid, sounding worried. “Right—back away, now, Harry, easy does it

But then, to Harry's enormous surprise, the hippogriff suddenly bent its scaly front knees and sank into what was an unmistakable bow.

“Well done, Harry!” said Hagrid, ecstatic. “Right—yeh can touch him! Pat his beak, go on!”

Feeling that a better reward would have been to back away, Harry moved slowly toward the hippogriff and reached out toward it. He patted the beak several times and the hippogriff closed its eyes lazily, as though enjoying it.

The class broke into applause, all except for Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle, who were looking deeply disappointed.

“Righ' then, Harry,” said Hagrid. “I reckon he might' let yeh ride him!”

This was more than Harry had bargained for. He was used to a broomstick; but he wasn't sure a hippogriff would be quite the same.

“Yeh climb up there, jus' behind the wing joint,” said Hagrid, “an' mind yeh don' pull any of his feathers out, he won' like that...”

Harry put his foot on the top of Buckbeaks wing and hoisted himself onto its back. Buckbeak stood up. Harry wasn't sure where to hold on; everything in front of him was covered with feathers.

“Go on, then'” roared Hagrid, slapping the hippogriffs hindquarters.

Without warning, twelve-foot wings flapped open on either side of Harry, he just had time to seize the hippogriff around the neck before he was soaring upward. It was nothing like a broomstick, and Harry knew which one he preferred; the hippogriff's wings beat uncomfortably on either side of him, catching him under his legs and making him feel he was about to be thrown off; the glossy feathers slipped under his fingers and he didn't dare get a stronger grip; instead of the smooth action of his Nimbus Two Thousand, he now felt himself rocking backward and forward as the hindquarters of the hippogriff rose and fell with its wings.

Buckbeak flew him once around the paddock and then headed back to the ground; this was the bit Harry had been dreading; he leaned back as the smooth neck lowered, feeling he was going to slip off over the beak, then felt a heavy thud as the four ill-assorted feet hit the ground. He just managed to hold on and push himself straight again.

“Good work, Harry!” roared Hagrid as everyone except Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle cheered. “Okay, who else wants a go?”

Emboldened by Harry's success, the rest of the class climbed cautiously into the paddock. Hagrid untied the hippogriffs one by one, and soon people were bowing nervously, all over the paddock. Neville ran repeatedly backward from his, which didn't seem to want to bend its knees. Ron and Hermione practiced on the chestnut, while Harry watched.

Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle had taken over Buckbeak. He had bowed to Malfoy, who was now patting his beak, looking disdainful.

“This is very easy,” Malfoy drawled, loud enough for Harry to, hear him. “I knew it must have been, if Potter could do it... I bet you're not dangerous at all, are you?” he said to the hippogriff. “Are you, you great ugly brute?”

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

“I'm dying!” Malfoy yelled as the class panicked. “I'm dying, look at me! It's killed me!”

“Yer not dyin'!” said Hagrid, who had gone very white. “Someone help me—gotta get him outta here —”

Hermione ran to hold open the gate as Hagrid lifted Malfoy easily. As they passed, Harry saw that there was a long, deep gash on Malfoy's arm; blood splattered the grass and Hagrid ran with him, up the slope toward the castle.

Very shaken, the Care of Magical Creatures class followed at a walk. The Slytherins were all shouting about Hagrid.

“They should fire him straight away!” said Pansy Parkinson, who was in tears.

“It was Malfoy's fault!” snapped Dean Thomas. Crabbe and Goyle flexed their muscles threateningly.

They all climbed the stone steps into the deserted entrance hall.

“I'm going to see if he's okay!” said Pansy, and they all watched her run up the marble staircase. The Slytherins, still muttering about Hagrid, headed away in the direction of their dungeon common room; Harry, Ron, and Hermione proceeded upstairs to Gryffindor Tower.

“You think he'll be all right?” said Hermione nervously.

“Course he will. Madam Pomfrey can mend cuts in about a second,” said Harry, who had had far worse injuries mended magically by the nurse.

“That was a really bad thing to happen in Hagrid's first class, though, wasn't it?” said Ron, looking worried. “Trust Malfoy to mess things up for him...”

They were among the first to reach the Great Hall at dinnertime, hoping to see Hagrid, but he wasn't there.

“They wouldn't fire him, would they?” said Hermione anxiously, not touching her steak-andkidney pudding.

“They'd better not,” said Ron, who wasn't eating either.

Harry was watching the Slytherin table. A large group including Crabbe and Goyle was huddled together, deep in conversation. Harry was sure they were cooking up their own version of how Malfoy had been injured.

“Well, you can't say it wasn't an interesting first day back,” said Ron gloomily.

They went up to the crowded Gryffindor common room after dinner and tried to do the homework Professor McGonagall had given them, but all three of them kept breaking off and glancing Out of the tower window.

“There's a light on in Hagrid's window,” Harry said suddenly.

Ron looked at his watch.

“If we hurried, we could go down and see him. It's still quite early...”

I don't know,” Hermione said slowly, and Harry saw her glance at him.

“I'm allowed to walk across the grounds, “ he said Pointedly. “Sirius Black hasn't got past the dementors yet, has he?”

So they put their things away and headed out of the portrait hole, glad to meet nobody on their way to the front doors, as they weren't entirely sure they were supposed to be out.

The grass was still wet and looked almost black in the twilight. When they reached Hagrid's hut, they knocked, and a voice growled, “C'min.”

Hagrid was sitting in his shirtsleeves at his scrubbed wooden table; his boarhound, Fang, had his head in Hagrid's lap. One look told them that Hagrid had been drinking a lot; there was a pewter tankard almost as big as a bucket in front of him, and he seemed to be having difficulty getting them into focus.

“'Spect it's a record,” he said thickly, when he recognized them. “Don' reckon they've ever had a teacher who lasted on'y a day before.”

“You haven't been fired, Hagrid!” gasped Hermione.

“Not yet,” said Hagrid miserably, taking a huge gulp of whatever was in the tankard. “But's only a matter o' time, i' n't it, after Malfoy...”

“How is he?” said Ron as they all sat down. “It wasn't serious, was it?”

“Madam Pomfrey fixed him best she could,” said Hagrid dully, “but he's sayin' it's still agony... covered in bandages... moanin'..

“He's faking it, “ said Harry at once. “Madam Pomfrey can mend anything. She regrew half my bones last year. Trust Malfoy to milk it for all it's worth.”

“School gov'nors have bin told, o' course,” said Hagrid miseribly. “They reckon I started too big. Shoulda left hippogriffs fer later... done flobberworms or summat... Jus' thought itdmake a good firs' lessons all my fault...”

“It's all Malfoy's fault, Hagrid!” said Hermione earnestly.

“We're witnesses,” said Harry. “You said hippogriffs attack if you insult them. It's Malfoy's problem that he wasn't listening. We'll tell Dumbledore what really happened.”

“Yeah, don't worry, Hagrid, we'll back you up,” said Ron.

Tears leaked out of the crinkled corners of Hagrid's beetle-black eyes. He grabbed both Harry and Ron and pulled them into a bone-breaking hug.

“I think you've had enough to drink, Hagrid,” said Hermione firmly. She took the tankard from the table and went outside to empty it.

“At, maybe she's right,” said Hagrid, letting go of Harry and Ron, who both staggered away, rubbing their ribs. Hagrid heaved himself out of his chair and followed Hermione unsteadily outside. They heard a loud splash.

Title: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Author: J.K.Rîwling
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