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J.K.Rîwling >> Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (page 23)


Further to our inquiry into the attack by a hippogriff on a student in your class, we have accepted the assurances of Professor Dumbledore that you bear no responsibility for the regrettable incident.

“Well, that's okay then, Hagrid!” said Ron, clapping Hagrid oil the shoulder. But Hagrid continued to sob, and waved one of his gigantic hands, inviting Harry to read on.

However, we must register our concern about the hippogriff in question. We have decided to uphold the official complaint of Mr. Lucius Malfoy, and this matter will therefore be taken to the Committee for the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures. The hearing will take place on April 20th, and we ask you to present yourself and your hippogriff at the Committee's offices in London on that date. In the meantime, the hippogriff should be kept tethered and isolated. Yours in fellowship...

There followed a list of the school governors.

“Oh,” said Ron. “But you said Buckbeak isn't a bad hippogriff, Hagrid. I bet he'll get off

“Yeh don' know them gargoyles at the Committee fer the Disposal o' Dangerous Creatures!” choked Hagrid, wiping his eyes on his sleeve. “They've got it in fer interestin' creatures!”

A sudden sound from the corner of Hagrid's cabin made Harry, Ron, and Hermione whip around. Buckbeak the hippogriff was lying in the corner, chomping on something that was oozing blood all over the floor.

“I couldn' leave him tied up out there in the snow!” choked Hagrid. “All on his own! At Christmas.”

Harry, Ron, and Hermione looked at one another. They had never seen eye to eye with Hagrid about what he called “interesting creatures” and other people called “terrifying monsters.” Or' the other hand, there didn't seem to be any particular harm in Buckbeak. In fact, by Hagrid's usual standards, he was positively cute.

“You'll have to put up a good strong defense, Hagrid,” said Hermione, sitting down and laying a hand on Hagrid's massive forearm. “I'm sure you can prove Buckbeak is safe.”

“Won't make no diff'rence!” sobbed Hagrid. “Them Disposal devils, they're all in Lucius Malfoy's pocket! Scared o' him! Ad if I lose the case, Buckbeak —”

Hagrid drew his finger swiftly across his throat, then gave a great wail and lurched forward, his face in his arms.

“What about Dumbledore, Hagrid?” said Harry.

“He's done more'n enough fer me already,” groaned Hagrid. “Got enough on his plate what with keepin' them dementors outta the castle, an' Sirius Black lurkin' around —”

Ron and Hermione looked quickly at Harry, as though expecting him to start berating Hagrid for not telling him the truth about Black. But Harry couldn't bring himself to do it, not now that he saw Hagrid so miserable and scared.

“Listen, Hagrid,” he said, “you can't give up. Hermione's right, You just need a good defense. You can call us as witnesses —”

“I'm sure I've read about a case of hippogriff-baiting,” said Hermione thoughtfully, “where the hippogriff got off I'll look it up for you, Hagrid, and see exactly what happened.”

Hagrid howled still more loudly. Harry and Hermione looked at Ron to help them.

“Er—shall I make a cup of tea?” said Ron.

Harry stared at him.

“It's what my mum does whenever someone's upset,” Ron muttered, shrugging.

At last, after many more assurances of help, with a steaming mug of tea in front of him, Hagrid blew his nose on a handkerchief the size of a tablecloth and said, “Yer right. I can' afford to go ter pieces. Gotta pull meself together...

Fang the boarhound came timidly out from under the table and laid his head on Hagrid's knee.

“I've not bin meself lately,” said Hagrid, stroking Fang with one hand and mopping his face with the other. “Worried abou' Buckbeak, an' no one likin' me classes —”

“We do like them!” lied Hermione at once.

“Yeah, they're great!” said Ron, crossing his fingers under the table. “Er—how are the flobberworms?”

“Dead,” said Hagrid gloomily. “Too much lettuce.”

“Oh no!” said Ron, his lip twitching.

“An' them dementors make me feel ruddy terrible an' all,” said Hagrid, with a sudden shudder. “Gotta walk past 'em ev'ry time I want a drink in the Three Broomsticks. 'S like bein' back in Azkaban —”

He fell silent, gulping his tea. Harry, Ron, and Hermione watched him breathlessly. They had never heard Hagrid talk about his brief spell in Azkaban before. After a pause, Hermione said timidly, “Is it awful in there, Hagrid?”

“Yeh've no idea,” said Hagrid quietly. “Never bin anywhere like it. Thought I was goin' mad. Kep' goin' over horrible stuff in me mind... the day I got expelled from Hogwarts... day me dad died... day I had ter let Norbert go...”

His eyes filled with tears. Norbert was the baby dragon Hagrid had once won in a game of cards.

“Yeh can' really remember who yeh are after a while. An' yeh can' really see the point o' livin' at all. I used ter hope I'd jus' die in me sleep. When they let me out, it was like bein' born again, ev'rythin' I came floodin' back, it was the bes' feelin' in the world. Mind, the dementors weren't keen on lettin' me go.”

“But you were innocent!” said Hermione.

Hagrid snorted.

“Think that matters to them? They don' care. Long as they've got a couple o' hundred humans stuck there with 'em, so they can leech all the happiness out of 'em, they don' give a damn who's guilty an' who's not.”

Hagrid went quiet for a moment, staring into his tea. Then he said quietly, “Thought o' jus' letting Buckbeak go... tryin' ter make him fly away... but how d'yeh explain ter a hippogriff it's gotta go inter hidin'? An' -an' I'm scared o' breakin' the law...” He looked up at them, tears leaking down his face again. “I don' ever want ter go back ter Azkaban.”

The trip to Hagrid's, though far from fun, had nevertheless had the effect Ron and Hermione had hoped. Though Harry had by no means forgotten about Black, he couldn't brood constantly on revenge if he wanted to help Hagrid win his case against the Committee for the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures. He, Ron, and Hermione went to the library the next day and returned to the empty common room laden with books that might help prepare a defense for Buckbeak. The three of them sat in front of the roaring fire, slowly turning the pages of dusty volumes about famous cases If marauding beasts, speaking occasionally when they ran across something relevant.

“Here's something... there was a case in 1722... but the hippogriff was convicted—ugh, look what they did to it, that's disgusting —”

“This might help, look—a manticore savaged someone in 1296, and they let the manticore off—oh—no, that was only because everyone was too scared to go near it.”

Meanwhile, in the rest of the castle, the usual magnificent Christmas decorations had been put up, despite the fact that hardly any of the students remained to enjoy them. Thick streamers of holly and mistletoe were strung along the corridors, mysterious lights shone from inside every suit of armor, and the Great Hall was filled with its usual twelve Christmas trees, glittering with golden stars. A powerful and delicious smell of cooking pervaded the corridors, and by Christmas Eve, it had grown so strong that even Scabbers poked his nose out of the shelter of Ron's pocket to sniff hopefully at the air.

On Christmas morning, Harry was woken by Ron throwing his pillow at him.

“Oy! Presents!”

Harry reached for his glasses and put them on, squinting through the semi-darkness to the foot of his bed, where a small heap of parcels had appeared. Ron was already ripping the paper off his own presents.

'Another sweater from Mum... maroon again... see if you've got one.

Harry had. Mrs. Weasley had sent him a scarlet sweater with the Gryffindor lion knitted on the front, also a dozen home-baked mince pies, some Christmas cake, and a box of nut brittle. As he moved all these things aside, he saw a long, thin package lying underneath.

“What's that?” said Ron, looking over, a freshly unwrapped pair of maroon socks in his hand.

“Dunno...”

Harry ripped the parcel open and gasped as a magnificent, gleaming broomstick rolled out onto his bedspread. Ron dropped his socks and jumped off his bed for a closer look.

“I don't believe it,” he said hoarsely.

It was a Firebolt, identical to the dream broom Harry had gone to see every day in Diagon Alley. Its handle glittered as he picked it up. He could feel it vibrating and let go; it hung in midair, unsupported, at exactly the right height for him to mount it. His eyes moved from the golden registration number at the top of the handle, right down to the perfectly smooth, streamlined birch twigs that made up the tail.

“Who sent it to you?” said Ron in a hushed voice.

“Look and see if there's a card,” said Harry.

Ron ripped apart the Firebolt's wrappings.

“Nothing! Blimey, who'd spend that much on you?”

“Well,” said Harry, feeling stunned, “I'm betting it wasn't the Dursleys.”

I bet it was Dumbledore,” said Ron, now walking around and around the Firebolt, taking in every glorious inch. “He sent you the Invisibility Cloak anonymously...”

“That was my dad's, though,” said Harry. “Dumbledore was just Passing it on to me. He wouldn't spend hundreds of Galleons on me. He can't go giving students stuff like this —”

“That's why he wouldn't say it was from him!” said Ron. “In case some git like Malfoy said it was favoritism. Hey, Harry”—Ron gave a great whoop of laughter—”Malfoy! Wait till he sees you on this! He'll be sick as a pig! This is an international standard broom, this is!”

“I can't believe this,” Harry muttered, running a hand along the Firebolt, while Ron sank onto Harry's bed, laughing his head off at the thought of Malfoy. “Who -?”

“I know,” said Ron, controlling himself, “I know who it could've been—Lupin!”

“What?” said Harry, now starting to laugh himself “Lupin? Listen, if he had this much gold, he'd be able to buy himself some new robes.”

“Yeah, but he likes you,” said Ron. “And he was away when your Nimbus got smashed, and he might've heard about it and decided to visit Diagon Alley and get this for you —”

“What d'you mean, he was away?” said Harry. “He was ill when I was playing in that match.”

“Well, he wasn't in the hospital wing,” said Ron. “I was there, cleaning out the bedpans on that detention from Snape, remember?”

Harry frowned at Ron.

“I can't see Lupin affording something like this.”

“What're you two laughing about?”

Hermione had just come in, wearing her dressing gown and carrying Crookshanks, who was looking very grumpy, with a string of tinsel tied around his neck.

“Don't bring him in here!” said Ron, hurriedly snatching Scabbers from the depths of his bed and stowing him in his pajama pocket.

But Hermione wasn't listening. She dropped Crookshanks onto Seamus's empty bed and stared, open-mouthed, at the Firebolt.

“Oh, Harry! Who sent you that?”

“No idea,” said Harry. “There wasn't a card or anything with it.”

To his great surprise, Hermione did not appear either excited or intrigued by the news. On the contrary, her face fell, and she bit her lip.

“What's the matter with you?” said Ron.

“I don't know,” said Hermione slowly, “but it's a bit odd, isn't it? I mean, this is supposed to be quite a good broom, isn't it?”

Ron sighed exasperatedly.

“It's the best broom there is, Hermione,” he said.

“So it must've been really expensive...”

“Probably cost more than all the Slytherins' brooms put together,” said Ron happily.

“Well... who'd send Harry something as expensive as that, and not even tell him they'd sent it?” said Hermione.

“Who cares?” said Ron impatiently. “Listen, Harry, can I have a go on it? Can I?”

“I don't think anyone should ride that broom just yet!” said Hermione shrilly.

Harry and Ron looked at her.

“What d'you think Harry's going to do with it—sweep the floor?” said Ron.

But before Hermione could answer, Crookshanks sprang from Seamus's bed, right at Ron's chest.

“GET—HIM—OUT—OF—HERE!” Ron bellowed as Crookshanks's claws ripped his pajamas and Scabbers attempted a wild escape over his shoulder. Ron seized Scabbers by the tail and aimed a misjudged kick at Crookshanks that hit the trunk at the end of Harry's bed, knocking it over and causing Ron to hop up and down, howling with pain.

Crookshanks's fur suddenly stood on end. A shrill, tint,, whistling was filling the room. The Pocket Sneakoscope had become dislodged from Uncle Vernon's old socks and was whirling and gleaming on the floor.

I forgot about that!” Harry said, bending down and picking up the Sneakoscope. I never wear those socks if I can help it...

The Sneakoscope whirled and whistled in his palm. Crookshanks was hissing and spitting at it.

“You'd better take that cat out of here, Hermione,” said Ron furiously, sitting on Harry's bed nursing his toe. “Can't you shut that thing up?” he added to Harry as Hermione strode out of the room, Crookshanks's yellow eyes still fixed maliciously on Ron.

Harry stuffed the Sneakoscope back inside the socks and threw it back into his trunk. All that could be heard now were Ron's stifled moans of pain and rage. Scabbers was huddled in Ron's hands. It had been a while since Harry had seen him out of Ron's pocket, and he was unpleasantly surprised to see that Scabbers, once so fat, was now very skinny; patches of fur seemed to have fallen out too

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