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J.K.Rîwling >> Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (page 4)


“NOOOOOOO!”

Uncle Vernon seized one of Marge's feet and tried to pull her down again, but was almost lifted from the floor himself. A second later, Ripper leapt forward and sank his teeth into Uncle Vernon's leg.

Harry tore from the dining room before anyone could stop him, heading for the cupboard under the stairs. The cupboard door burst magically open as he reached it. In seconds, he had heaved his trunk to the front door. He sprinted upstairs and threw himself under the bed, wrenching up the loose floorboard, and grabbed the pillowcase full of his books and birthday presents. He wriggled out, seized Hedwig's empty cage, and dashed back downstairs to his trunk, just as Uncle Vernon burst out of the dining room, his trouser leg in bloody tatters.

“COME BACK IN HERE!” he bellowed. “COME BACK AND PUT HER RIGHT!”

But a reckless rage had come over Harry. He kicked his trunk open, pulled out his wand, and pointed it at Uncle Vernon.

“She deserved it,” Harry said, breathing very fast. “She deserved what she got. You keep away from me.”

He fumbled behind him for the latch on the door.

“I'm going,” Harry said. “I've had enough.”

And in the next moment, he was out in the dark, quiet street, heaving his heavy trunk behind him, Hedwig's cage under his arm.

CHAPTER THREE

THE KNIGHT BUS

Harry was several streets away before he collapsed onto a low wall in Magnolia Crescent, panting from the effort of dragging his trunk. He sat quite still, anger still surging through him, listening to the frantic thumping of his heart.

But after ten minutes alone in the dark street, a new emotion overtook him: panic. Whichever way he looked at it, he had never been in a worse fix. He was stranded, quite alone, in the dark Muggle world, with absolutely nowhere to go. And the worst of it was, he had just done serious magic, which meant that he was almost certainly expelled from Hogwarts. He had broken the Decree for the Restriction of Underage Wizardry so badly, he was surprised Ministry of Magic representatives weren't swooping down on him where he sat.

Harry shivered and looked up and down Magnolia Crescent.

What, was going to happen to him? Would he be arrested, or would he simply be outlawed from the wizarding world? He thought of Ron and Hermione, and his heart sank even lower. Harry was sure that, criminal or not, Ron and Hermione would want to help him now, but they were both abroad, and with Hedwig gone, he had no means of contacting them.

He didn't have any Muggle money, either. There was a little wizard gold in the money bag at the bottom of his trunk, but the rest of the fortune his parents had left him was stored in a vault at Gringotts Wizarding Bank in London. He'd never be able to drag his trunk all the way to London. Unless...

He looked down at his wand, which he was still clutching in his hand. If he was already expelled (his heart was. now thumping painfully fast), a bit more magic couldn't hurt. He had the Invisibility Cloak he had inherited from his father—what if he bewitched the trunk to make it feather-light, tied it to his broomstick, covered himself in the cloak, and flew to London? Then he could get the rest of his money out of his vault and... begin his life as an outcast. It was a horrible prospect, but he couldn't sit on this wall forever, or he'd find himself trying to explain to Muggle police why he was out in the dead of night with a trunkful of spellbooks and a broomstick.

Harry opened his trunk again and pushed the contents aside, looking for the Invisibility Cloak—but before he had found it, he straightened up suddenly, looking around him once more.

A funny prickling on the back of his neck had made Harry feel he was being watched, but the street appeared to be deserted, and no lights shone from any of the large square houses.

He bent over his trunk again, but almost immediately stood up once more, his hand clenched on his wand. He had sensed rather than heard it: someone or something was standing in the narrow gap between the garage and the fence behind him. Harry squinted at the black alleyway. If only it would move, then he'd know whether it was just a stray cat or—something else.

“Lumos,” Harry muttered, and a light appeared at the end of his wand, almost dazzling him. He held it high over his head, and the pebble-dashed walls of number two suddenly sparkled; the garage door gleamed, and between them Harry saw, quite distinctly, the hulking outline of something very big, with wide, gleaming eyes.

Harry stepped backward. His legs hit his trunk and he tripped. His wand flew out of his hand as he flung out an arm to break his fall, and he landed, hard, in the gutter —

There was a deafening BANG, and Harry threw up his hands to shield his eyes against a sudden blinding light —

With a yell, he rolled back onto the pavement, just in time. A second later, a gigantic pair of wheels and headlights screeched to a halt exactly where Harry had just been lying. They belonged, as Harry saw when he raised his head, to a triple-decker, violently purple bus, which had appeared out of thin air. Gold lettering over the windshield spelled The Knight Bus.

For a Split second, Harry wondered if he had been knocked silly by his fall. Then a conductor in a purple uniform leapt out of the bus and began to speak loudly to the night.

“Welcome to the Knight Bus, emergency transport for the stranded witch or wizard. just stick out your wand hand, step on board) and we can take you anywhere you want to go. My name is Stan Shunpike, and I will be your conductor this eve —”

The conductor stopped abruptly. He had just caught sight of “Harry, who was still sitting on the ground. Harry snatched up his wand again and scrambled to his feet. Close up, he saw that Stan Shunpike was only a few years older than he was, eighteen or nineteen at most, with large, protruding ears and quite a few pimples.

“What were you doin' down there?” said Stan, dropping his professional manner.

“Fell over,” said Harry.

“'Choo fall over for?” sniggered Stan.

“I didn't do it on purpose,” said Harry, annoyed. One of the knees in his jeans was torn, and the hand he had thrown out to break his fall was bleeding. He suddenly remembered why he had fallen over and turned around quickly to stare at the alleyway between the garage and fence. The Knight Bus's headlamps were flooding it with light, and it was empty.

“'Choo lookin' at?” said Stan.

“There was a big black thing,” said Harry, pointing uncertainly into the gap. “Like a dog... but massive...”

He looked a-round at Stan, whose mouth was slightly open. With a feeling of unease, Harry saw Stan's eyes move to the scar on Harry's forehead.

“Woss that on your 'ead?” said Stan abruptly.

“Nothing,” said Harry quickly, flattening his hair over his scar. If the Ministry of Magic was looking for him, he didn't want to make it too easy for them.

“Woss your name?” Stan persisted.

“Neville Longbottom,” said Harry, saying the first name that came into his head. “So—so this bus,” he went on quickly, hoping to distract Stan, “did you say it goes anywhere?”

“Yep,” said Stan proudly, “anywhere you like, long's it's on land. Can't do nuffink underwater. 'Ere,” he said, looking suspicious again,,You did flag us down, dincha? Stuck out your wand 'and, dincha?”

“Yes,” said Harry quickly. “Listen, how much would it be to get to London?”

“Eleven Sickles,” said Stan, “but for fifteen you get 'or chocolate, and for fifteen you get an 'ot water bottle an' a toofbrush in the color of your choice.”

Harry rummaged once more in his trunk, extracted his money bag, and shoved some gold into Stan's hand. He and Stan then lifted his trunk, with Hedwig's cage balanced on top, up the steps of the bus.

There were no seats; instead, half a dozen brass bedsteads stood beside the curtained windows. Candles were burning in brackets beside each bed, illuminating the wood-paneled walls. A tiny wizard in a nightcap at the rear of the bus muttered, “Not now, thanks, I'm pickling some slugs” and rolled over in his sleep.

“You 'ave this one,” Stan whispered, shoving Harry's trunk under the bed right behind the driver, who was sitting in an armchair in front of the steering wheel. “This is our driver, Ernie Prang. This,is Neville Longbottom, Ern. “

Ernie Prang, an elderly wizard wearing very thick glasses, nodded to Harry, who nervously flattened his bangs again and sat down on his bed.

“Take 'er away, Ern,” said Stan, sitting down in the armchair next to Ernie's.

There was another tremendous BANG, and the next moment Harry found himself flat on his bed, thrown backward by the speed of the Knight Bus. Pulling himself up, Harry stared out of the dark window and saw that they were now bowling along a completely different street. Stan was watching Harry's stunned face with great enjoyment.

“This is where we was before you flagged us down,” he said. “Where are we, Ern? Somewhere in Wales?”

“Ar,” said Ernie.

“How come the Muggles don't hear the bus?” said Harry.

“Them!” said Stan contemptuously. “Don' listen properly, do they? Don' look properly either. Never notice nuffink, they don'.”

“Best go wake up Madam Marsh, Stan,” said Ern. “We'll be in Abergavenny in a minute.”

Stan passed Harry's bed and disappeared up a narrow wooden staircase. Harry was still looking out of the window, feeling increasingly nervous. Ernie didn't seem to have mastered the use of a steering wheel. The Knight Bus kept mounting the pavement, but it didn't hit anything; lines of lampposts, mailboxes, and trash cans jumped out of its way as it approached and back into position once it had passed.

Stan came back downstairs, followed by a faintly green witch wrapped in a traveling cloak.

“'Ere you go, Madam Marsh,” said Stan happily as Ern stamped on the brake and the beds slid a foot or so toward the front of the bus. Madam Marsh clamped a handkerchief to her mouth and tottered down the steps. Stan threw her bag out after her and rammed the doors shut; there was another loud BANG, and they were thundering down a narrow country lane, trees leaping out of the way.

Harry wouldn't have been able to sleep even if he had been traveling on a bus that didn't keep banging loudly and jumping a hundred miles at a time. His stomach churned as he fell back to wondering what was going to happen to him, and whether the Dursleys had managed to get Aunt Marge off the ceiling yet.

Stan had unfurled a copy of the Daily Prophet and was now reading with his tongue between his teeth. A large photograph of a sunken-faced man with long, matted hair blinked slowly at Harry from the front page. He looked strangely familiar.

“That man!” Harry said, forgetting his troubles for a moment. “He was on the Muggle news!”

Stanley turned to the front page and chuckled.

“Sirius Black,” he said, nodding. “'Course 'e was on the Muggle news, Neville, where you been?”

He gave a superior sort of chuckle at the blank look on Harry's face, removed the front page, and handed it to Harry.

“You oughta read the papers more, Neville.”

Harry held the paper up to the candlelight and read:

BLACK STILL AT LARGE

Sirius Black, possibly the most infamous prisoner ever to be held in Azkaban fortress, is still eluding capture, the Ministry of Magic confirmed today.

“We are doing all we can to recapture Black,” said the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, this morning, “and we beg the magical community to remain calm.”

Fudge has been criticized by some members of the International Federation of Warlocks for informing the Muggle Prime Minister of the crisis.

“Well, really, I had to, don't you know,” said an irritable Fudge. “Black is mad. He's a danger to anyone who crosses him, magic or Muggle. I have the Prime Minister's assurance that he will not breathe a word of Black's true identity to anyone. And let's face it-who'd believe him if he did?”

While Muggles have been told that Black is carrying a gun (a kind of metal wand that Muggles use to kill each other), the magical community lives in fear of a massacre like that of twelve years ago, when Black murdered thirteen people with a single curse.

Harry looked into the shadowed eyes of Sirius Black, the only part of the sunken face that seemed alive. Harry had never met a vampire, but he had seen pictures of them in his Defense Against the Dark Arts classes, and Black, with his waxy white skin, looked just like one.

“Scary-lookin' fing, inee?” said Stan, who had been watching Harry read.

“He murdered thirteen people?” said Harry, handing the page back to Stan, “with one curse?”

“Yep,” said Stan, “in front of witnesses an' all. Broad daylight. Big trouble it caused, dinnit, Ern?”

“Ar,” said Ern darkly.

Stan swiveled in his armchair, his hands on the back, the better to look at Harry.

“Black woz a big supporter of You-Know-'Oo,” he said.

“What, Voldemort?” said Harry, without thinking.

Even Stan's pimples went white; Ern jerked the steering wheel so hard that a whole farmhouse had to jump aside to avoid the bus.

“You outta your tree?” yelped Stan. “'Choo say 'is name for?”

“Sorry,” said Harry hastily. “Sorry, I—I forgot —”

“Forgot!” said Stan weakly. “Blimey, my 'eart's goin' that fast ...”

“So—so Black was a supporter of You-Know-Who?” Harry prompted apologetically.

“Yeah,” said Stan, still rubbing his chest. “Yeah, that's right. Very close to You-Know-'Oo, they say. Anyway, when little 'Arry Potter got the better of You-Know-'Oo —”

Harry nervously flattened his bangs down again.

“— all You-Know-'Oo's supporters was tracked down, wasn't they, Ern? Most of 'em knew it was all over, wiv You-Know-'Oo gone, and they came quiet. But not Sirius Black. I 'eard he thought 'e'd be second-in-command once You-Know-'Oo 'ad taken over.

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