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J.K.Rîwling >> Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (page 34)


“Professor Trelawney,” Harry panted, “just told me —”

But he stopped abruptly at the sight of their faces.

“Buckbeak lost,” said Ron weakly. “Hagrid's just sent this.”

Hagrid's note was dry this time, no tears had splattered it, yet his hand seemed to have shaken so much as he wrote that it was hardly legible.

Lost appeal. They're going to execute at sunset. Nothing you can do. Don't come down. I don't want you to see it.

Hagrid

“We've got to go,” said Harry at once. “He can't just sit there on his own, waiting for the executioner!”

“Sunset, though,” said Ron, who was staring out the window ill a glazed sort of way. “We'd never be allowed... 'specially you, Harry...”

Harry sank his head into his hands, thinking.

“If we only had the Invisibility Cloak...”

“Where is it?” said Hermione.

Harry told her about leaving it in the passageway under the one-eyed witch.

“...if Snape sees me anywhere near there again, I'm in serious trouble,” he finished.

“That's true,” said Hermione, getting to her feet. “If he sees you... How do you open the witch's hump again?”

“You—you tap it and say, 'Dissendium,'” said Harry. “But —”

Hermione didn't wait for the rest of his sentence; she strode across the room, pushed open the Fat Lady's portrait and vanished from sight.

“She hasn't gone to get it?” Ron said, staring after her.

She had. Hermione returned a quarter of an hour later with the silvery cloak folded carefully under her robes.

“Hermione, I don't know what's gotten, into you lately!” said Ron, astounded. “First you hit Malfoy, then you walk out on Professor Trelawney —”

Hermione looked rather flattered.

They went down to dinner with everybody else, but did not return to Gryffindor Tower afterward. Harry had the cloak hidden down tie front of his robes; he had to keep his arms folded to hide the lump. They skulked in an empty chamber off the entrance hall, listening, until they were sure it was deserted. They heard a last pair of people hurrying across the hall and a door slamming. Hermione poked her head around the door.

“Okay,” she whispered, “no one there—cloak on —”

Walking very close together so that nobody would see them, they crossed the hall on tiptoe beneath the cloak, then walked down the stone front steps into the grounds. The sun was already sinking behind the Forbidden Forest, gilding the top branches of the trees.

They reached Hagrid's cabin and knocked. He was a minute in answering, and when he did, he looked all around for his visitor, pale-faced and trembling.

“It's us,” Harry hissed. “We're wearing the Invisibility Cloak. Let us in and we can take it off.”

“Yeh shouldn've come!” Hagrid whispered, but he stood back, and they stepped inside. Hagrid shut the door quickly and Harry pulled off the cloak.

Hagrid was not crying, nor did he throw himself upon their necks. He looked like a man who did not know where he was or what to do. This helplessness was worse to watch than tears.

“Wan' some tea?” he said. His great hands were shaking as he reached for the kettle.

“Where's Buckbeak, Hagrid?” said Hermione hesitantly.

I—I took him outside,” said Hagrid, spilling milk all over the table as he filled up the jug. “He's tethered in me pumpkin patch. Thought he oughta see the trees an'—an' smell fresh air—before

Hagrid's hand trembled so violently that the milk jug slipped from his grasp and shattered all over the floor.

“I'll do it, Hagrid,” said Hermione quickly, hurrying over and starting to clean up the mess.

“There's another one in the cupboard,” Hagrid said, sitting down and wiping his forehead on his sleeve. Harry glanced at Ron, who looked back hopelessly.

“Isn't there anything anyone can do, Hagrid?” Harry asked fiercely, sitting down next to him. “Dumbledore —”

“He's tried,” said Hagrid. “He's got no power ter overrule the Committee. He told 'em Buckbeak's all right, but they're scared... Yeh know what Lucius Malfoy's like... threatened 'em, I expect... an' the executioner, Macnair, he's an old pal o' Malfoy's... but it'll be quick an' clean... an' I'll be beside him... “

Hagrid swallowed. His eyes were darting all over the cabin as though looking for some shred of hope or comfort.

“Dumbledore's gonna come down while it—while it happens. Wrote me this mornin'. Said he wants ter—ter be with me. Great man, Dumbledore...”

Hermione, who had been rummaging in Hagrid's cupboard for another milk jug, let out a small, quickly stifled sob. She straightened up with the new jug in her hands, fighting back tears.

“We'll stay with you too, Hagrid,” she began, but Hagrid shook his shaggy head.

“Yeh're ter go back up ter the castle. I told yeh, I don' wan' yeh watchin'. An' yeh shouldn' be down here anyway... If Fudge an' Dumbledore catch yeh out without permission, Harry, yeh'll be in big trouble.”

Silent tears were now streaming down Hermione's face, but she hid them from Hagrid, bustling around making tea. Then, as she picked up the milk bottle to pour some into the jug, she let out a shriek.

“Ron, I don't believe it—it's Scabbers!”

Ron gaped at her.

“What are you talking about?”

Hermione carried the milk jug over to the table and turned it upside down. With a frantic squeak, and much scrambling to get back inside, Scabbers the rat came sliding out onto the table.

“Scabbers!” said Ron blankly. “Scabbers, what are you doing here?”

He grabbed the struggling rat and held him up to the light. Scabbers looked dreadful. He was thinner than ever, large tufts of hair had fallen out leaving wide bald patches, and he writhed in Ron's hands as though desperate to free himself

“It's okay, Scabbers!” said Ron. “No cats! There's nothing here to hurt you!”

Hagrid suddenly stood up, his eyes fixed on the window. His normally ruddy face had gone the color of parchment.

“They're comin'...”

Harry, Ron, and Hermione whipped around. A group of men was walking down the distant castle steps. In front was Albus Dumbledore, his silver beard gleaming in the dying sun. Next to him trotted Cornelius Fudge. Behind them came the feeble old Committee member and the executioner, Macnair.

“Yeh gotta go,” said Hagrid. Every inch of him was trembling. “They mustn' find yeh here... Go now...”

Ron stuffed Scabbers into his pocket and Hermione picked up the cloak. “I'll let yeh out the back way,” said Hagrid.

They followed him to the door into his back garden. Harry felt strangely unreal, and even more so when he saw Buckbeak a few yards away, tethered to a tree behind Hagrid's Pumpkin patch. Buckbeak seemed to know something was happening. He turned his sharp head from side to side and pawed the ground nervously.

“It's okay, Beaky,” said Hagrid softly. “It's okay...” He turned to Harry, Ron, and Hermione. “Go on,” he said. “Get goin'.”

But they didn't move.

“Hagrid, we can't —”

“We'll tell them what really happened —”

“They can't kill him —”

“Go!” said Hagrid fiercely. “It's bad enough without you lot in trouble an' all!”

They had no choice. As Hermione threw the cloak over Harry and Ron, they heard voices at the front of the cabin. Hagrid looked at the place where they had just vanished from sight.

“Go quick,” he said hoarsely. “Don' listen...”

And he strode back into his cabin as someone knocked at the front door.

Slowly, in a kind of horrified trance, Harry, Ron, and Hermione set off silently around Hagrid's house. As they reached the other side, the front door closed with a sharp snap.

“Please, let's hurry,” Hermione whispered. “I can't stand it, I can't bear it...”

They started up the sloping lawn toward the castle. The sun was sinking fast now; the sky had turned to a clear, purple-tinged grey, but to the west there was a ruby-red glow.

Ron stopped dead.

“Oh, please, Ron,” Hermione began.

“It's Scabbers—he won't—stay put —”

Ron was bent over, trying to keep Scabbers in his pocket, but the rat was going berserk; squeaking madly, twisting and flailing, trying to sink his teeth into Ron's hand.

“Scabbers, it's me, you idiot, it's Ron,” Ron hissed.

They heard a door open behind them and men's voices.

“Oh, Ron, please let's move, they're going to do it!” Hermione breathed.

“Okay—Scabbers, stay put —”

They walked forward; Harry, like Hermione, was trying not to listen to the rumble of voices behind them. Ron stopped again.

“I can't hold him—Scabbers, shut up, everyone'll hear us —”

The rat was squealing wildly, but not loudly enough to cover up the sounds drifting from Hagrid's garden. There was a jumble of indistinct male voices, a silence, and then, without warning, the unmistakable swish and thud of an axe.

Hermione swayed on the spot.

“They did it!” she whispered to Harry. “I d—don't believe it—they did it!”

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

CAT, RAT, AND DOG

Harry's mind had gone blank with shock. The three of them stood transfixed with horror under the Invisibility Cloak. The very last rays of the setting sun were casting a bloody light over the longshadowed grounds. Then, behind them, they heard a wild howling.

“Hagrid,” Harry muttered. Without thinking about what he was doing, he made to turn back, but both Ron and Hermione seized his arms.

“We can't,” said Ron, who was paper-white. “He'll be in worse trouble if they know we've been to see him...”

Hermione's breathing was shallow and uneven.

“How—could—they?” she choked. “How could they?”

“Come on,” said Ron, whose teeth seemed to be chattering.

They set off back toward the castle, walking slowly to keep themselves hidden under the cloak. The light was fading fast now.

By the time they reached open ground, darkness was settling like a spell around them.

“Scabbers, keep still,” Ron hissed, clamping his hand over his chest. The rat was wriggling madly. Ron came to a sudden halt, trying to force Scabbers deeper into his pocket. “What's the matter with you, You stupid rat? Stay still—OUCH! He bit me!”

“Ron, be quiet!” Hermione whispered urgently. “Fudge'll be out here in a minute —”

“He won't—stay—put —”

Scabbers was plainly terrified. He was writhing with all his might, trying to break free of Ron's grip.

“What's the matter with him?”

But Harry had just seen—stinking toward them, his body low to the ground, wide yellow eyes glinting eerily in the darkness—Crookshanks. Whether he could see them or was following the sound of Scabbers's squeaks, Harry couldn't tell.

“Crookshanks!” Hermione moaned. “No, go away, Crookshanks! Go away!”

But the cat was getting nearer —

“Scabbers—NO!”

Too late—the rat had slipped between Ron's clutching fingers, hit the ground, and scampered away. In one bound, Crookshanks sprang after him, and before Harry or Hermione could stop him, Ron had thrown the Invisibility Cloak off himself and pelted away into the darkness.

“Ron!” Hermione moaned.

She and Harry looked at each other, then followed at a sprint; it “"as impossible to run full out under the cloak; they pulled it off and it streamed behind them like a banner as they hurtled after Ron; they could hear his feet thundering along ahead and his shouts at Crookshanks.

“Get away from him—get away—Scabbers, come here —”

There was a loud thud.

“Gotcha! Get off, you stinking cat —”

Harry and Hermione almost fell over Ron; they skidded to a stop right in front of him. He was sprawled on the ground, but Scabbers was back in his pocket; he had both hands held tight over the quivering lump.

“Ron—come on back under the cloak —” Hermione panted. “Dumbledore the Minister—they'll be coming back out in a minute —”

But before they could cover themselves again, before they could even catch their breath, they heard the soft pounding of gigantic paws... Something was bounding toward them, quiet as a shadow—an enormous, pale-eyed, jet-black dog.

Harry reached for his wand, but too late—the dog had made an enormous leap and the front paws hit him on the chest; he keeled over backward in a whirl of hair; he felt its hot breath, saw inchlong teeth —

But the force of its leap had carried it too far; it rolled off him. Dazed, feeling as though his ribs were broken, Harry tried to stand up; he could hear it growling as it skidded around for a new attack.

Ron was on his feet. As the dog sprang back toward them he pushed Harry aside; the dog's jaws fastened instead around Ron's outstretched arm. Harry lunged forward, he seized a handful of the brute's hair, but it was dragging Ron away as easily as though he were a rag doll —

Then, out of nowhere, something hit Harry so hard across the face he was knocked off his feet again. He heard Hermione shriek with pain and fall too.

Harry groped for his wand, blinking blood out of his eyes

“Lumos!"he whispered.

The wandlight showed him the trunk of a thick tree; they had chased Scabbers into the shadow of the Whomping Willow and its branches were creaking as though in a high wind, whipping backward and forward to stop them going nearer.

And there, at the base of the trunk, was the dog, dragging Ron backward into a large gap in the roots—Ron was fighting furiously, but his head and torso were slipping out of sight —

“Ron!” Harry shouted, trying to follow, but a heavy branch whipped lethally through the air and he was forced backward again.

All they could see now was one of Ron's legs, which he had hooked around a root in an effort to stop the dog from pulling him farther underground—but a horrible crack cut the air like a gunshot; Ron's leg had broken, and a moment later, his foot vanished from sight.

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