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J.K.Rîwling >> Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (page 22)


“Hero-worshipped Black and Potter,” said Professor McGonagall. “Never quite in their league, talent-wise. I was often rather,harp with him. You can imagine how I -how I regret that now...” She sounded as though she had a sudden head cold.

“There, now, Minerva,” said Fudge kindly, “Pettigrew died a hero's death. Eyewitnesses—Muggles, of course, we wiped their, memories later—told us how Pettigrew cornered Black. They say he was sobbing, 'Lily and James, Sirius! How could you?' And then he went for his wand. Well, of course, Black was quicker. Blew Pettigrew to smithereens...”

Professor McGonagall blew her nose and said thickly, “Stupid boy ...foolish boy... he was always hopeless at dueling... should have left it to the Ministry...”

“I tell yeh, if I'd got ter Black before little Pettigrew did, I wouldn't 've messed around with wands—I'd 've ripped him limb—from—limb,” Hagrid growled.

“You don't know what you're talking about, Hagrid,” said Fudge sharply. “Nobody but trained Hit Wizards from the Magical Law Enforcement Squad would have stood a chance against Black once he was cornered. I was Junior Minister in the Department of Magical Catastrophes at the time, and I was one of the first on the scene after Black murdered all those people. I—I will never forget it. I still dream about it sometimes. A crater in the middle of the street, so deep it had cracked the sewer below. Bodies everywhere. Muggles screaming. And Black standing there laughing, with what was left of Pettigrew in front of him... a heap of bloodstained robes and a few—a few fragments —”

Fudge's voice stopped abruptly. There was the sound of five noses being blown.

“Well, there you have it, Rosmerta,” said Fudge thickly. “Black was taken away by twenty members of the Magical Law Enforcement 'Squad and Pettigrew received the Order of Merlin, First Class, which I think was some comfort to his poor mother. Blades been in Azkaban ever since.”

Madam Rosmerta let out a long sigh.

“Is it true he's mad, Minister?”

“I wish I could say that he was,” said Fudge slowly. “I certainly believe his master's defeat unhinged him for a while. The murder of Pettigrew and all those Muggles was the action of a cornered and desperate man—cruel... pointless. Yet I met Black on my last inspection of Azkaban. You know, most of the prisoners in there sit muttering to themselves in the dark; there's no sense in them... but I was shocked at how normal Black seemed. He spoke quite rationally to me. It was unnerving. You'd have thought he was merely bored—asked if I'd finished with my newspaper, cool as you please, said he missed doing the crossword. Yes, I was astounded at how little effect the dementors seemed to be having on him—and he was one of the most heavily guarded in the place, you know. Dementors outside his door day and night.”

“But what do you think he's broken out to do?” said Madam Rosmerta. “Good gracious, Minister, he isn't trying to rejoin You-Know-Who, is he?”

I daresay that is his—er—eventual plan,” said Fudge evasively. “But we hope to catch Black long before that. I must say, You-Know-Who alone and friendless is one thing... but give him back his most devoted servant, and I shudder to think how quickly he'll rise again...”

There was a small chink of glass on wood. Someone had set down their glass.

“You know, Cornelius, if you're dining with the headmaster, he'd better head back up to the castle,” said Professor McGonagall.

One by one, the pairs of feet in front of Harry took the weight of their owners once more; hems of cloaks swung into sight, and Madam Rosemerta's glittering heels disappeared behind the bar. The door of the Three Broomsticks opened again, there was another flurry of snow, and the teachers had disappeared.

“Harry?”

Ron's and Hermione's faces appeared under the table. They were both staring at him, lost for words.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

THE FIREBOLT

Harry didn't have a very clear idea of how he had managed to get back into the Honeydukes cellar, through the tunnel, and into the castle once more. All he knew was that the return trip seemed to take no time at all, and that he hardly noticed what he was doing, because his head was still pounding with the conversation he had just heard.

Why had nobody ever told him? Dumbledore, Hagrid, Mr. Weasley, Cornelius Fudge... why hadn't anyone ever mentioned the fact that Harry's parents had died because their best friend had betrayed them?

Ron and Herinione watched Harry nervously all through dintier, not daring to talk about what they'd overheard, because Percy was sitting close by them. When they went upstairs to the crowded common room, it was to find Fred and George had set off half a dozen Dungbombs in a fit of endof-term high spirits. Harry, who didn't want Fred and George asking him whether he'd reached Hogsmeade or not, sneaked quietly up to the empty dormitory and headed straight for his bedside cabinet. He pushed his books aside and quickly found what he was looking for—the leather-bound photo album Hagrid had given him two years ago, which was full of wizard pictures of his mother and father. He sat down on his bed, drew the hangings around him, and started turning the pages, searching, until...

He stopped on a picture of his parents' wedding day. There was his father waving up at him, beaming, the untidy black hair Harry had inherited standing up in all directions. There was his mother, alight with happiness, arm in arm with his dad. And there ...that must be him. Their best man... Harry had never given him a thought before.

If he hadn't known it was the same person, he would never have guessed it was Black in this old photograph. His face wasn't sunken and waxy, but handsome, full of laughter. Had he already been working for Voldemort when this picture had been taken? Was he already planning the deaths of the two people next to him? Did he realize he was facing twelve years in Azkaban, twelve years that would make him unrecognizable?

But the dementors don't affect him, Harry thought, staring into the handsome, laughing face. He doesn't have to hear my Min screaming if they get too close —

Harry slammed the album shut, reached over and stuffed it back into his cabinet, took off his robe and glasses and got into bed, making sure the hangings were hiding him from view.

The dormitory door opened.

“Harry?” said Ron's voice uncertainly.

But Harry still, pretending to be asleep. He heard Ron leave again, and rolled over on his back, his eyes wide open.

A hatred such as he had never known before was coursing through Harry like poison. He could see Black laughing at him through the darkness, as though somebody had pasted the picture from the album over his eyes. He watched, as though somebody was playing him a piece of film, Sirius Black blasting Peter Pettigrew (who resembled Neville Longbottom) into a thousand pieces. He could hear (though having no idea what Black's voice might sound like) a low, excited mutter. “It has happened, My Lord... the Potters have made me their Secret-Keeper and then came another voice, laughing shrilly, the same laugh that Harry heard inside his head whenever the dementors drew near...

“Harry, you—you look terrible.”

Harry hadn't gotten to sleep until daybreak. He had awoken to find the dormitory deserted, dressed, and gone down the spiral staircase to a common room that was completely empty except for Ron, who was eating a Peppermint Toad and massaging his stomach, and Hermione, who had spread her homework over three tables.

“Where is everyone?” said Harry.

“Gone! It's the first day of the holidays, remember?” said Ron, watching Harry closely. “It's nearly lunchtime; I was going to come and wake you up in a minute.”

Harry slumped into a chair next to the fire. Snow was still falling outside the windows. Crookshanks was spread out in front of the fire like a large, ginger rug.

“You really don' look well, you know,” Hermione said, peering anxiously into his face.

“I'm fine,” said Harry.

“Harry, listen,” said Hermione, exchanging a look with Ron, you must be really upset about what we heard yesterday. But the thing is, you mustn't go doing anything stupid.”

“Like what?” said Harry.

“Like trying to go after Black,” said Ron sharply.

Harry could tell they had rehearsed this conversation while he had been asleep. He didn't say anything.

“You won't, will you, Harry?” said Hermione.

“Because Black's not worth dying for,” said Ron.

Harry looked at them. They didn't seem to understand at all.

“D'you know what I see and hear every time a dementor gets too near me?” Ron and Hermione shook their heads, looking apprehensive. “I can hear my mum screaming and pleading with Voldemort. And if you'd heard your mum screaming like that, just about to be killed, you wouldn't forget it in a hurry. And if you found out someone who was supposed to be a friend of hers betrayed her and sent Voldemort after her —”

“There's nothing you can do!” said Hermione, looking stricken. “The dementors will catch Black and he'll go back to Azkaban and—and serve him right!”

“You heard what Fudge said. Black isn't affected by Azkaban like normal people are. It's not a punishment for him like it is for the others.”

“So what are you saying?” said Ron, looking very tense. “You want to—to kill Black or something?”

“Don't be silly,” said Herinione in a panicky voice. “Harry doesn't want to kill anyone, do you, Harry?”

Again, Harry didn't answer. He didn't know what he wanted to do. All he knew was that the idea of doing nothing, while Black was at liberty, was almost more than he could stand.

Malfoy knows,” he said abruptly. “Remember what he said to me in Potions? 'If it was me, I'd hunt him down myself... I'd want revenge.

“You're going to take Malfoy's advice instead of ours?” said Ron furiously. “Listen... you know what Pettigrew's mother got back after Black had finished with him? Dad told me—the Order of Merlin, First Class, and Pettigrew's finger in a box. That was the biggest bit of him they could find. Black's a madman, Harry, and he's dangerous —”

“Malfoy's dad must have told him,” said Harry, ignoring Ron. “He was right in Voldemort's inner circle —”

“Say You-Know-Who, will you?” interjected Ron angrily.

“— so obviously, the Malfoys knew Black was working for Voldemort —”

“— and Malfoy'd love to see you blown into about a million pieces, like Pettigrew! Get a grip. Malfoy's just hoping you'll get Yourself killed before he has to play you at Quidditch.”

“Harry, please,” said Hermione, her eyes now shining with tears, “Please be sensible. Black did a terrible, terrible thing, but d-don't Put Yourself in danger, it's what Black wants... Oh, Harry, you'd be Playing right into Black's hands if you went looking for him. Your mum and dad wouldn't want you to get hurt, would they? They'd never want you to go looking for Black!”

“I'll never know what they'd have wanted, because thanks to Black, I've never spoken to them,” said Harry shortly.

There was a silence in which Crookshanks stretched luxuriously flexing his claws. Ron's pocket quivered.

“Look,” said Ron, obviously casting around for a change of subject, “it's the holidays! It's nearly Christmas! Let's—let's go down and see Hagrid. We haven't visited him for ages!”

“No!” said Hermione quickly. “Harry isn't supposed to leave the castle, Ron —”

“Yeah, let's go,” said Harry, sitting up, “and I can ask him how come he never mentioned Black when he told me all about my parents!”

Further discussion of Sirius Black plainly wasn't what Ron had had in mind.

“Or we could have a game of chess, he said hastily, “or Gobstones. Percy left a set —”

“No, let's visit Hagrid,” said Harry firmly.

So they got their cloaks from their dormitories and set off through the portrait hole (“Stand and fight, you yellow-bellied mongrels!”), down through the empty castle and out through the oak front doors.

They made their way slowly down the lawn, making a shallow trench in the glittering, powdery snow, their socks and the hems of their cloaks soaked and freezing. The Forbidden Forest looked as though it had been enchanted, each tree smattered with silver, and Hagrid's cabin looked like an iced cake.

Ron knocked, but there was no answer.

“He's not out, is he?” said Hermione, who was shivering under her cloak.

Ron had his ear to the door.

“There's a weird noise,” he said. “Listen—is that Fang?”

Harry and Hermione put their ears to the door too. From inside the cabin came a series of low, throbbing moans.

“Think we'd better go and get someone?” said Ron nervously.

“Hagrid!” called Harry, thumping the door. “Hagrid, are you in there.

There was a sound of heavy footsteps, then the door creaked open. Hagrid stood there with his eyes red and swollen, tears splashing down the front of his leather vest.

“YWve heard?” he bellowed, and he flung himself onto Harry's neck.

Hagrid being at least twice the size of a normal man, this was no laughing matter. Harry, about to collapse under Hagrid's weight, was rescued by Ron and Hermione, who each seized Hagrid under an arm and heaved him back into the cabin. Hagrid allowed himself to be steered into a chair and slumped over the table, sobbing uncontrollably, his face glazed with tears that dripped down into his tangled beard.

“Hagrid, what is it?” said Hermione, aghast.

Harry spotted an official-looking letter lying open on the table.

“What's this, Hagrid?”

Hagrid's sobs redoubled, but he shoved the letter toward Harry, who Picked it up and read aloud:

Dear Mr. Hagrid,

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