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J.K.Rîwling >> Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (page 40)


The yelping stopped abruptly. As they reached the lakeshore, they saw why—Sirius had turned back into a man. He was crouched on all fours, his hands over his head.

'Nooo,” he moaned. 'Nooo... please...”

And then Harry saw them. Dementors, at least a hundred of them, gliding in a black mass around the lake toward them. He spun around, the familiar, icy cold penetrating his insides, fog starting to obscure his vision; more were appearing out of the darkness on every side; they were encircling them...

“Herrnione, think of something happy!” Harry yelled, raising his wand, blinking furiously to try and clear his vision, shaking his head to rid it of the faint screaming that had started inside it —

I'm going to live with my godfather. I'm leaving the Dursleys.

He forced himself to think of Black, and only Black, and began to chant: “Expecto patronum! Expecto patronum!”

Black gave a shudder, rolled over, and lay motionless on the ground, pale as death.

He'll be all right. I'm going to go and live with him.

“Expecto patronum! Hermione, help me! Expecto patronum!”

“Expecto —” Hermione whispered, “expecto—expecto —”

But she couldn't do it. The dementors were closing in, barely ten feet from them. They formed a solid wall around Harry and Hermione, and were getting closer...

“EXPECTO PATRONUM!” Harry yelled, trying to blot the screaming from his ears. “EXPECTO PATRONUM!”

A thin wisp of silver escaped his wand and hovered like mist before him. At the same moment, Harry felt Hermione collapse next to him. He was alone... completely alone...

“Expecto—expecto patronum —”

Harry felt his knees hit the cold grass. Fog was clouding his eyes. With a huge effort, he fought to remember—Sirius was innocent—innocent—We'll be okay—I' mgoing to live with him —

“Ex ecto patronum!” he gasped.

By the feeble light of his formless Patronus, He saw a dementor halt, very close to him. It couldn't walk through the cloud of silver mist Harry had conjured. A dead, slimy hand slid out from under the cloak. It made a gesture as though to sweep the Patronus aside.

“No—no —” Harry gasped. “He's innocent... expecto expecto patronum —”

He could feet them watching him, hear their rattling breath like an evil wind around him. The nearest dementor seemed to be considering him. Then it raised both its rotting hands—and lowered its hood.

Where there should have been eyes, there was only thin, gray scabbed skin, stretched blankly over empty sockets. But there was a mouth... a gaping, shapeless hole, sucking the air with the sound of a death rattle.

A paralyzing terror filled Harry so that he couldn't move or speak. His Patronus flickered and died.

White fog was blinding him. He had to fight... expecto patronum ...he couldn't see... and in the distance, he heard the familiar screaming... expecto patronum... he groped in the mist for Sirius, and found his arm... they weren't going to take him...

But a pair of strong, clammy hands suddenly attached themselves around Harry's neck. They were forcing his face upward... He could feel its breath... It was going to get rid of him first... He could feel its putrid breath... His mother was screaming in his ears... She was going to be the last thing he ever heard —

And then, through the fog that was drowning him, he thought he saw a silvery light growing brighter and brighter... He felt himself fall forward onto the grass... Facedown, too weak to move, sick and shaking, Harry opened his eyes. The dementor must have released him. The blinding light was illuminating the grass around him... The screaming had stopped, the cold was ebbing away...

Something was driving the dementors back... It was circling around him and Black and Hermione... They were leaving...

The air was warm again...

With every ounce of strength he could muster, Harry raised his head a few inches and saw an animal amid the light, galloping away across the lake... Eyes blurred with sweat, Harry tried to make out what it was... It was as bright as a unicorn... Fighting to stay conscious, Harry watched it canter to a halt as it reached the opposite shore. For a moment, Harry saw, by its brightness, somebody welcoming it back... raising his hand to pat it... someone who looked strangely familiar ...but it couldn't be...

Harry didn't understand. He couldn't think anymore. He felt the last of his strength leave him, and his head hit the ground as he fainted.

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

HERMIONE'S SECRET

Shocking business... shocking... miracle none of them died... never heard the like... by thunder, it was lucky you were there, Snape...”

“Thank you, Minister.”

“Order of Merlin, Second Class, I'd say. First Class, if I can wangle it!”

“Thank you very much indeed, Minister.”

“Nasty cut you've got there... Black's work, I suppose?”

“As a matter of fact, it was Potter, Weasley, and Granger, Minister...”

“No!”

“Black had bewitched them, I saw it immediately. A Confundus Charm, to judge by their behavior. They seemed to think there was a possibility he was innocent. They weren't responsible for their actions. On the other hand, their interference might have permitted Black to escape... They obviously thought they were going to catch Black single-handed. They've got away with a great deal before now... I'm afraid it's given them a rather high opinion of themselves... and of course Potter has always been allowed an extraordinary amount of license by the headmaster —”

“Ah, well, Snape... Harry Potter, you know... we've all got a bit of a blind spot where he's concerned.”

“And yet—is it good for him to be given so much special treatment? Personally, I try and treat him like any other student. And any other student would be suspended—at the very least—for leading his friends into such danger. Consider, Minister—against all school rules—after all the precautions put in place for his protection—out-of-bounds, at night, consorting with a werewolf and a murderer—and I have reason to believe he has been visiting Hogsmeade illegally too —”

“Well, well... we shall see, Snape, we shall see... The boy has undoubtedly been foolish...”

Harry lay listening with his eyes tight shut. He felt very groggy. The words he was hearing seemed to be traveling very slowly from his ears to his brain, so that it was difficult to understand... His limbs felt like lead; his eyelids too heavy to lift... He wanted to lie here, on this comfortable bed, forever...

“What amazes me most is the behavior of the dementors... you've really no idea what made them retreat, Snape?”

“No, Minister... by the time I had come 'round they were heading back to their positions at the entrances...”

“Extraordinary. And yet Black, and Harry, and the girl —”

“All unconscious by the time I reached them. I bound and gagged Black, naturally, conjured stretchers, and brought them all straight back to the castle.”

There was a pause. Harry's brain seemed to be moving a little faster, and as it did, a gnawing sensation grew in the pit of his stomach...

He opened his eyes.

Everything was slightly blurred. Somebody had removed his glasses. He was lying in the dark hospital wing. At the very end of the ward, he could make out Madam Pomfrey with her back to him, bending over a bed. Harry squinted. Ron's red hair was visible beneath Madam Pomfrey's arm.

Harry moved his head over on the pillow. In the bed to his right lay Hermione. Moonlight was falling across her bed. Her eyes were open too. She looked petrified, and when she saw that Harry was awake, pressed a finger to her lips, then pointed to the hospital wing door. It was ajar, and the voices of Cornelius Fudge and Snape were coming through it from the corridor outside.

Madam Pomfrey now came walking briskly up the dark ward to Harry's bed. He turned to took at her. She was carrying the largest block of chocolate he had ever seen in his life. It looked like a small boulder.

“Ah, you're awake!” she said briskly. She placed the chocolate on Harry's bedside table and began breaking it apart with a small hammer.

“How's Ron?” said Harry and Hermione together.

“He'll live, said Madam Pomfrey grimly. “As for you two you'll be staying here until I'm satisfied you're—Potter, what do you think you're doing?”

Harry was sitting up, putting his glasses back on, and picking up his wand.

“I need to see the headmaster,” he said.

“Potter,” said Madam Pomfrey soothingly, “it's all right. They've got Black. He's locked away upstairs. The dementors will be performing the kiss any moment now —”

“WHAT?”

Harry jumped up out of bed; Hermione had done the same. But his shout had been heard in the corridor outside; next second, Cornelius Fudge and Snape had entered the ward.

“Harry, Harry, what's this?” said Fudge, looking agitated. “You should be in bed—has he had any chocolate?” he asked Madam Pomfrey anxiously.

“Minister, listen!” Harry said. “Sirius Black's innocent! Peter Pettigrew faked his own death! We saw him tonight! You can't let the dementors do that thing to Sirius, he's —”

But Fudge was shaking his head with a small smile on his face.

“Harry, Harry, you're very confused, you've been through a dreadful ordeal, lie back down, now, we've got everything under control...”

“YOU HAVEN'T!” Harry yelled. “YOUVE GOT THE WRONG MAN!”

“Minister, listen, please,” Hermione said; she had hurried to Harry's side and was gazing imploringly into Fudge's face. “I saw him too. It was Ron's rat, he's an Animagus, Pettigrew, I mean, and —”

“You see, Minister?” said Snape. “Confunded, both of them... Black's done a very good job on them...” “WE'RE NOT CONFUNDED!” Harry roared.

“Minister! Professor!” said Madam Pomfrey angrily. “I must insist that you leave. Potter is my patient, and he should not be distressed!”

“I'm not distressed, I'm trying to tell them what happened!” Harry said furiously. “If they'd just listen —”

But Madam Pomfrey suddenly stuffed a large chunk of chocolate into Harry's mouth; he choked, and she seized the opportunity to force him back onto the bed.

“Now, please, Minister, these children need care. Please leave

The door opened again. It was Dumbledore. Harry swallowed his mouthful of chocolate with great difficulty and got up again.

“Professor Dumbledore, Sirius Black —”

“For heaven's sake!” said Madam Pomfrey hysterically. “Is this a hospital wing or not? Headmaster, I must insist —”

“My apologies, Poppy, but I need a word with Mr. Potter and Miss Granger,” said Dumbledore calmly. “I have just been talking to Sirius Black —”

“I suppose he's told you the same fairy tale he's planted in Potter's mind?” spat Snape. “Something about a rat, and Pettigrew being alive —”

“That, indeed, is Black's story,” said Dumbledore, surveying Snape closely through his half-moon spectacles.

“And does my evidence count for nothing?” snarled Snape. “Peter Pettigrew was not in the Shrieking Shack, nor did I see any sign of him on the grounds.”

“That was because you were knocked out, Professor!” said Hermione earnestly. “You didn't arrive in time to hear

“Miss Granger, HOLD YOUR TONGUE!”

“Now, Snape,” said Fudge, startled, “the young lady is disturbed in her mind, we must make allowances —”

“I would like to speak to Harry and Hermione alone,” said Dumbledore abruptly. “Cornelius, Severus, Poppy—please leave us.”

“Headmaster!” sputtered Madam Pomfrey. “They need treatment, they need rest —”

“This cannot wait,” said Dumbledore. “I must insist.”

Madam Pomfrey pursed her lips and strode away into her office at the end of the ward, slamming the door behind her. Fudge consulted the large gold pocket watch dangling from his waistcoat.

“The dementors should have arrived by now,” he said. “I'll go and meet them. Dumbledore, I'll see you upstairs.”

He crossed to the door and held it open for Snape, but Snape hadn't moved.

“You surely don't believe a word of Black's story?” Snape whispered, his eyes fixed on Dumbledore's face.

“I wish to speak to Harry and Hermione alone,” Dumbledore repeated.

Snape took a step toward Dumbledore.

“Sirius Black showed he was capable of murder at the age of sixteen,” he breathed. “You haven't forgotten that, Headmaster? You haven't forgotten that he once tried to kill me?”

“My memory is as good as it ever was, Severus,” said Dumbledore quietly.

Snape turned on his heel and marched through the door Fudge was still holding. It closed behind them, and Dumbledore turned to Harry and Hermione. They both burst into speech at the same time.

“Professor, Black's telling the truth—we saw Pettigrew “— he escaped when Professor Lupin turned into a werewolf —”

“— he's a rat —”

“— Pettigrew's front paw, I mean, finger, he cut it off —”

“— Pettigrew attacked Ron, it wasn't Sirius —”

But Dumbledore held up his hand to stem the flood of explanations.

“It is your turn to listen, and I beg you will not interrupt me, because there is very little time,” he said quietly. “There is not a shred of proof to support Black's story, except your word—and the word of two thirteen-year-old wizards will not convince anybody. A street full of eyewitnesses swore they saw Sirius murder Pettigrew. I myself gave evidence to the Ministry that Sirius had been the Potters' Secret-Keeper.”

“Professor Lupin can tell you —” Harry said, unable to stop himself

“Professor Lupin is currently deep in the forest, unable to tell anyone anything. By the time he is human again, it will be too late, Sirius will be worse than dead. I might add that werewolves are so mistrusted by most of our kind that his support will count for very little—and the fact that he and Sirius are old friends —”

Title: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Author: J.K.Rîwling
Viewed 114080 times

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