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J.K.Rîwling >> Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (page 19)


Scariest... the scariest thing... hooded black figures... cold ...screaming...

Harry's eyes snapped open. He was lying in the hospital wing. The Gryffindor Quidditch team, spattered with mud from head to foot, was gathered around his bed. Ron and Hermione were also there, looking as though they'd just climbed out of a swimming pool.

“Harry!” said Fred, who looked extremely white underneath, the mud. “How're you feeling?”

It was as though Harry's memory was on fast forward. The lightning—the Grim—the Snitch—and the dementors...

“What happened?” he said, sitting up so suddenly they all gasped.

“You fell off,” said Fred. “Must've been—what—fifty feet?”

“We thought you'd died,” said Alicia, who was shaking.

Hermione made a small, squeaky noise. Her eyes were extremely bloodshot.

“But the match,” said Harry. “What happened? Are we doing a replay?”

No one said anything. The horrible truth sank into Harry like a stone.

“We didn't—lose?”

“Diggory got the Snitch,” said George. “Just after you fell. He didn't realize what had happened. When he looked back and saw you on the ground, he tried to call it off. Wanted a rematch. But they won fair and square... even Wood admits it.”

“Where is Wood?” said Harry, suddenly realizing he wasn't there.

“Still in the showers,” said Fred. “We think he's trying to drown himself.”

Harry put his face to his knees, his hands gripping his hair. Fred grabbed his shoulder and shook it roughly.

“C'mon, Harry, you've never missed the Snitch before.”

“There had to be one time you didn't get it,” said George.

“It's not over yet,” said Fred. “We lost by a hundred points”

“Right? So if Hufflepuff loses to Ravenclaw and we beat Ravenclaw and Slytherin —.”

“Hufflepuff'll have to lose by at least two hundred points,” said George.

“But if they beat Ravenclaw...”

“No Way, Ravenclaw is too good. But if Slytherin loses against Hufflepuff...”

“It all depends on the points—a margin of a hundred either way.”

Harry lay there, not saying a word. They had lost... for the first time ever, he had lost a Quidditch match.

After ten minutes or so, Madam Pomfrey came over to tell the team to leave him in peace.

“We'll come and see you later,” Fred told him. “Don't beat yourself up, Harry, you're still the best Seeker we've ever had.”

The team trooped out, trailing mud behind them. Madam Pomfrey shut the door behind them, looking disapproving. Ron and Hermione moved nearer to Harry's bed.

“Dumbledore was really angry,” Hermione said in a quaking voice. “I've never seen him like that before. He ran onto the field as You fell, waved his wand, and you sort of slowed down before you hit the ground. Then he whirled his wand at the dementors. Shot silver stuff at them. They left the stadium right away... He was furious they'd come onto the grounds. We heard him —”

“Then he magicked you onto a stretcher,” said Ron. “And walked up to school with you floating on it. Everyone thought you were —”

His voice faded, but Harry hardly noticed. He was thinking about what the dementors had done to him... about the screaming voice. He looked up and saw Ron and Hermione lookin, at him so anxiously that he quickly cast around for something matter-of-fact to say.

“Did someone get my Nimbus?”

Ron and Hermione looked quickly at each other.

“Er —”

“What?” said Harry, looking from one to the other.

“Well... when you fell off, it got blown away,” said Hermione hesitantly.

“And?”

“And it hit—it hit—oh, Harry—it hit the Whomping Willow.”

Harry's insides lurched. The Whomping Willow was a very violent tree that stood alone in the middle of the grounds.

“And?” he said, dreading the answer.

“Well, you know the Whomping Willow,” said Ron. “It—it doesn't like being hit.”

“Professor Flitwick brought it back just before you came around, said Hermione in a very small voice.

Slowly, she reached down for a bag at her feet, turned it upside down, and tipped a dozen bits of splintered wood and twig onto the bed, the only remains of Harry's faithful, finally beaten broomstick.

CHAPTER TEN

THE MARAUDER'S MAP

Madam Pomfrey insisted on keeping Harry in the hospital wing for the rest of the weekend. He didn't argue or complain, but he wouldn't let her throw away the shattered remnants of his Nimbus Two Thousand. He knew he was being stupid, knew that the Nimbus was beyond repair, but Harry couldn't help it; he felt as though he'd lost one of his best friends.

He had a stream of visitors, all intent on cheering him up. Hagrid sent him a bunch of earwiggy flowers that looked like yellow cabbages, and Ginny Weasley, blushing furiously, turned up with a get-well card she had made herself, which sang shrilly unless Harry kept it shut under his bowl of fruit. The Gryffindor team visited again on Sunday morning, this time accompanied by Wood, who told Harry (in a hollow, dead sort of voice) that he didn't blame

him in the slightest. Ron and Hermione left Harry's bedside only at nightBut nothing anyone said or did could make Harry feel any better, because they knew only half of what was troubling him.

He hadn't told anyone about the Grim, not even Ron -and Hermione, because he knew Ron would panic and Hermione would scoff. The fact remained, however, that it had now appeared twice, and both appearances had been followed by near-fatal accidents; the first time, he had nearly been run over by the Knight Bus; the second, fallen fifty feet from his broomstick. Was the Grim going to haunt him until he actually died? Was he going to spend the rest of his life looking over his shoulder for the beast?

And then there were the dementors. Harry felt sick and humiliated every time he thought of them. Everyone said the dementors were horrible, but no one else collapsed every time they went near one. No one else heard echoes in their head of their dying parents.

Because Harry knew who that screaming voice belonged to now. He had heard her words, heard them over and over again during the night hours in the hospital wing while he lay awake, staring at the strips of moonlight on the ceiling. When the dementors approached him, he heard the last moments of his mother's life, her attempts to protect him, Harry, from Lord Voldemort, and Voldemort's laughter before he murdered her... Harry dozed fitfully, sinking into dreams full of clammy, rotted hands and petrified pleading, jerking awake to dwell again on his mother's voice.

It was a relief to return to the noise and bustle of the main school on Monday, where he was forced to think about other things, eve', if he had to endure Draco Malfoys taunting. Malfoy was almost beside himself with glee at Gryffindor's defeat. He had finally taken off his bandages, and celebrated having the full use of both arms again by doing spirited imitations of Harry falling off his broom. Malfoy spent much of their next Potions class doing dementor imitations across the dungeon; Ron finally cracked and flung a large, slippery crocodile heart at Malfoy, which hit him in the face and caused Snape to take fifty points from Gryffindor.

“If Snape's teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts again, I'm skiving off,” said Ron as they headed toward Lupin's classroom after lunch. “Check who's in there, Hermione.”

Hermione peered around the classroom door.

“It's okay!”

Professor Lupin was back at work. It certainly looked as though he had been ill. His old robes were hanging more loosely on him and there were dark shadows beneath his eyes; nevertheless, he smiled at the class as they took their seats, and they burst at once into an explosion of complaints about Snape's behavior while Lupin had been ill.

“It's not fair, he was only filling in, why should he give us homework?”

“We don't know anything about werewolves two rolls of parchment!”

“Did you tell Professor Snape we haven't covered them yet?” Lupin asked, frowning slightly.

The babble broke out again.

“Yes, but he said we were really behind he wouldn't listen —”

“— two rolls of parchment!”

Professor Lupin smiled at the look of indignation on every face.

“Don't worry. I'll speak to Professor Snape. You don't have to do the essay.”

“Oh no,” said Hermione, looking very disappointed. “I've already finished it!”

They had a very enjoyable lesson. Professor Lupin had brought along a glass box containing a hinkypunk, a little one-legged creature who looked as though he were made of wisps of smoke, rather frail and harmless looking.

“Lures travelers into bogs,” said Professor Lupin as they took notes. “You notice the lantern dangling from his hand? Hops ahead -people follow the light—then —”

The hinkypunk made a horrible squelching noise against the glass.

When the bell rang, everyone gathered up their things and headed for the door, Harry among them, but —

“Wait a moment, Harry,” Lupin called. “I'd like a word.”

Harry doubled back and watched Professor Lupin covering the hinkypunk's box with a cloth.

“I heard about the match,” said Lupin, turning back to his desk and starting to pile books into his briefcase, “and I'm sorry about your broomstick. Is there any chance of fixing it?”

“No,” said Harry. “The tree smashed it to bits.”

Lupin sighed.

“They planted the Whomping Willow the same year that I arrived at Hogwarts. People used to play a game, trying to get near enough to touch the trunk. In the end, a boy called Davey Gudgeon nearly lost an eye, and we were forbidden to go near it. No broomstick would have a chance.”

“Did you hear about the dementors too?” said Harry with difficulty.

Lupin looked at him quickly.

“Yes, I did. I don't think any of us have seen Professor Dumbledore that angry. They have been growing restless for some time—furious at his refusal to let them inside the grounds... I suppose they were the reason you fell?”

“Yes,” said Harry. He hesitated, and then the question he had to ask burst from him before he could stop himself.” Why? Why do they affect me like that? Am I just —?”

“It has nothing to do with weakness,” said Professor Lupin sharply, as though he had read Harry's mind. “The dementors affect you worse than the others because there are horrors in your past that the others don't have.”

A ray of wintery sunlight fell across the classroom, illuminating Lupin's gray hairs and the lines on his young face.

“Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them. Even Muggles feel their presence, though they can't see them. Get too near a dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself... soul-less and evil. You'll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life. And the worst that happened to you, Harry, is enough to make anyone fall off their broom. You have nothing to feel ashamed of.”

“When they get near me —” Harry stared at Lupin's desk, his throat tight. “I can hear Voldemort murdering my mum.”

Lupin made a sudden motion with his arm as though to grip Harry's shoulder, but thought better of it. There was a moment's Silence, then —

“Why did they have to come to the match?” said Harry bitterly.

“They're getting hungry,” said Lupin coolly, shutting his briefcase with a snap. “Dumbledore won't let them into the school, so their supply of human prey has dried up... I don't think they could resist the large crowd around the Quidditch field. All that excitement ...emotions running high... it was their idea of a feast.”

“Azkaban must be terrible,” Harry muttered. Lupin nodded grimly.

“The fortress is set on a tiny island, way out to sea, but they don't need walls and water to keep the prisoners in, not when they're all trapped inside their own heads, incapable of a single cheery thought. Most of them go mad within weeks.”

“But Sirius Black escaped from them,” Harry said slowly. “He got away...”

Lupin's briefcase slipped from the desk; he had to stoop quickly to catch it.

“Yes,” he said, straightening up, “Black must have found a way to fight them. I wouldn't have believed it possible... Dementors are supposed to drain a wizard of his powers if he is left with them too long...”

“You made that dementor on the train back off,” said Harry suddenly.

“There are—certain defenses one can use,” said Lupin. “But there was only one dementor on the train. The more there are, the more difficult it becomes to resist.”

“What defenses?” said Harry at once. “Can you teach me?”

“I don't pretend to be an expert at fighting dementors, Harry, quite the contrary...”

“But if the dementors come to another Quidditch match, I need to be able to fight them —”

Lupin looked into Harry's determined face, hesitated, then said, “Well... all right. I'll try and help. But it'll have to wait until next term, I'm afraid. I have a lot to do before the holidays. I chose a very inconvenient time to fall ill.”

What with the promise of anti-dementor lessons from Lupin, the thought that he might never have to hear his mother's death again, and the fact that Ravenclaw flattened Hufflepuff in their Quidditch match at the end of November, Harry's mood took a definite upturn. Gryffindor were not out of the running after all, although they could not afford to lose another match. Wood became repossessed of his manic energy, and worked his team as hard as ever in the chilly haze of rain that persisted into December. Harry saw no hint of a dementor within the grounds. Dumbledore's anger seemed to be keeping them at their stations at the entrances.

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