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J.K.Rîwling >> Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (page 42)


“Stop!” he whispered to Hermione. “They might hear us

Hagrid's back door had opened with a bang. Harry, Hermione, and Buckbeak stood quite still; even the hippogriff seemed to be listening intently.

Silence... then —

“Where is it?” said the reedy voice of the Committee member. “Where is the beast?”

“It was tied here!” said the executioner furiously. I saw it! just here!”

“How extraordinary,” said Dumbledore. There was a note of amusement in his voice.

“Beaky!” said Hagrid huskily.

There was a swishing noise, and the thud of an axe. The executioner seemed to have swung it into the fence in anger. And then came the howling, and this time they could hear Hagrid's words through his sobs.

“Gone! Gone! Bless his little beak, he's gone! Musta pulled himself free! Beaky, yeh clever boy!”

Buckbeak started to strain against the rope, trying to get back to Hagrid. Harry and Hermione tightened their grip and dug their heels into the forest floor to stop him.

“Someone untied him!” the executioner was snarling. “We should search the grounds, the forest.”

“Macnair, if Buckbeak has indeed been stolen, do you really think the thief will have led him away on foot?” said Dumbledore, still sounding amused. “Search the skies, if you will... Hagrid, I could do with a cup of tea. Or a large brandy.”

“O'—o' course, Professor,” said Hagrid, who sounded weak with happiness. “Come in, come in...”

Harry and Hermione listened closely. They heard footsteps, the soft cursing of the executioner, the snap of the door, and then silence once more.

“Now what?” whispered Harry, looking around.

“We'll have to hide in here,” said Hermione, who looked very shaken. “We need to wait until they've gone back to the castle. Then we wait until it's safe to fly Buckbeak up to Sirius's window. He won't be there for another couple of hours... Oh, this is going to be difficult...”

She looked nervously over her shoulder into the depths of the forest. The sun was setting now.

“We're going to have to move,” said Harry, thinking hard. “We've got to be able to see the Whomping Willow, or we won't know what's going on.”

“Okay,” said Hermione, getting a firmer grip on Buckbeak's rope. “But we've got to keep out of sight, Harry, remember...”

They moved around the edge of the forest, darkness falling thickly around them, until they were hidden behind a clump of trees through which they could make out the Willow.

“There's Ron!” said Harry suddenly.

A dark figure was sprinting across the lawn and its shout echoed through the still night air.

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

And then they saw two more figures materialize out of nowhere. Harry watched himself and Hermione chasing after Ron. Then he saw Ron dive.

“Gotcha! Get off, you stinking cat —”

“There's Sirius!” said Harry. The great shape of the dog had bounded out from the roots of the Willow. They saw him bowl Harry over, then seize Ron...

“Looks even worse from here, doesn't it?” said Harry, watching the dog pulling Ron into the roots. “Ouch—look, I just got walloped by the tree—and so did you—this is weird—”

The Whomping Willow was creaking and lashing out with its lower branches; they could see themselves darting here and there, trying to reach the trunk. And then the tree froze.

“That was Crookshanks pressing the knot,” said Hermione.

“And there we go...” Harry muttered. “We're in.”

The moment they disappeared, the tree began to move again. Seconds later, they heard footsteps quite close by. Dumbledore, Macnair, Fudge, and the old Committee member were making their way up to the castle.

“Right after we'd gone down into the passage!” said Hermione. “If only Dumbledore had come with us...”

“Macnair and Fudge would've come too,” said Harry bitterly. “I bet you anything Fudge would've told Macnair to murder Sirius on the spot...”

They watched the four men climb the castle steps and disappear from view. For a few minutes the scene was deserted. Then —

“Here comes Lupin!” said Harry as they saw another figure sprinting down the stone steps and hating toward the Willow. Harry looked up at the sky. Clouds were obscuring the moon completely.

They watched Lupin seize a broken branch from the ground and prod the knot on the trunk. The tree stopped fighting, and Lupin, too, disappeared into the gap in its roots.

“If he'd only grabbed the cloak,” said Harry. “It's just lying there...”

He turned to Hermione.

“If I just dashed out now and grabbed it, Snape'd never be able to get it and —”

“Harry, we mustn't be seen!”

“How can you stand this?” he asked Hermione fiercely. “Just standing here and watching it happen?” He hesitated. “I'm going to grab the cloak!”

“Harry, no!”

Hermione seized the back of Harry's robes not a moment too soon. just then, they heard a burst of song. It was Hagrid, making his way up to the castle, singing at the top of his voice, and weaving slightly as he walked. A large bottle was swinging from his hands.

“See?” Hermione whispered. “See what would have happened? We've got to keep out of sight! No, Buckbeak!”

The hippogriff was making frantic attempts to get to Hagrid again; Harry seized his rope too, straining to hold Buckbeak back. They watched Hagrid meander tipsily up to the castle. He was gone. Buckbeak stopped fighting to get away. His head drooped sadly.

Barely two minutes later, the castle doors flew open yet again, and Snape came charging out of them, running toward the Willow.

Harry's fists clenched as they watched Snape skid to a halt next to the tree, looking around. He grabbed the cloak and held it up.

“Get your filthy hands off it,” Harry snarled under his breath. “Shh!”

Snape seized the branch Lupin had used to freeze the tree, prodded the knot, and vanished from view as he put on the cloak.

“So that's it,” said Hermione quietly. “We're all down there... and now we've just got to wait until we come back up again...”

She took the end of Buckbeak's rope and tied it securely around the nearest tree, then sat down on the dry ground, arms around her knees.

“Harry, there's something I don't understand... Why didn't the dementors get Sirius? I remember them coming, and then I think I passed out... there were so many of them...”

Harry sat down too. He explained what he'd seen; how, as the nearest dementor had lowered its mouth to Harry's, a large silver something had come galloping across the lake and forced the dementors to retreat.

Hermione's mouth was slightly open by the time Harry had finished.

“But what was it?”

“There's only one thing it could have been, to make the dementors go,” said Harry. “A real Patronus. A powerful one.”

“But who conjured it?”

Harry didn't say anything. He was thinking back to the person he'd seen on the other bank of the lake. He knew who he thought it had been... but how could it have been?

“Didn't you see what they looked like?” said Hermione eagerly. “Was it one of the teachers?”

“No,” said Harry. “He wasn't a teacher.”

“But it must have been a really powerful wizard, to drive all those dementors away... If the Patronus was shining so brightly, didn't it light him up? Couldn't you see —?”

“Yeah, I saw him,” said Harry slowly. “But... maybe I imagined it... I wasn't thinking straight... I passed out right afterward...”

“Who did you think it was?”

I think —” Harry swallowed, knowing how strange this was going to sound. I think it was my dad.”

Harry glanced up at Hermione and saw that her mouth was fully open now. She was gazing at him with a mixture of alarm and pity.

“Harry, your dad's—well—dead,” she said quietly.

“I know that,” said Harry quickly.

“You think you saw his ghost?”

“I don't know... no... he looked solid...”

“But then —”

“Maybe I was seeing things,” said Harry. “But... from what I could see... it looked like him... I've got photos of him...”

Hermione was still looking at him as though worried about his sanity.

I know it sounds crazy,” said Harry flatly. He turned to took at Buckbeak, who was digging his beak into the ground, apparently searching for worms. But he wasn't really watching Buckbeak.

He was thinking about his father and about his father's three oldest friends... Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs... Had all four of them been out on the grounds tonight? Wormtail had reappeared this evening when everyone had thought he was dead... Was it so impossible his father had done the same? Had he been seeing things across the take? The figure had been too far away to see distinctly... yet he had felt sure, for a moment, before he'd lost consciousness...

The leaves overhead rustled faintly in the breeze. The moon drifted in and out of sight behind the shifting clouds. Hermione sat with her face turned toward the Willow, waiting.

And then, at last, after over an hour...

“Here we come!” Hermione whispered.

She and Harry got to their feet. Buckbeak raised his head. They saw Lupin, Ron, and Pettigrew clambering awkwardly out of the hole in the roots. Then came Hermione... then the unconscious Snape, drifting weirdly upward. Next came Harry and Black. They all began to walk toward the castle.

Harry's heart was starting to beat very fast. He glanced up at the sky. Any moment now, that cloud was going to move aside and show the moon...

“Harry,” Hermione muttered as though she knew exactly what he was thinking, “we've got to stay put. We mustn't be seen. There's nothing we can do...”

“So we're just going to let Pettigrew escape all over again.. said Harry quietly.

“How do you expect to find a rat in the dark?” snapped Hermione. “There's nothing we can do! We came back to help Sirius; we're not supposed to be doing anything else!”

“All right!”

The moon slid out from behind its cloud. They saw the tiny figures across the grounds stop. Then they saw movement —

“There goes Lupin,” Hermione whispered. “He's transforming

“Hermione!” said Harry suddenly. “We've got to move!”

“We mustn't, I keep telling you —”

“Not to interfere! Lupin's going to run into the forest, right at us!”

Hermione gasped.

“Quick!” she moaned, dashing to untie Buckbeak. “Quick! Where are we going to go? Where are we going to hide? The dementors wilt be coming any moment —”

“Back to Hagrid's!” Harry said. “It's empty now—come on!”

They ran as fast as they could, Buckbeak cantering along behind them. They could hear the werewolf howling behind them...

The cabin was in sight; Harry skidded to the door, wrenched it open, and Hermione and Buckbeak flashed past him; Harry threw himself in after them and bolted the door. Fang the boarhound barked loudly.

“Shh, Fang, it's us!” said Hermione, hurrying over and scratching his ears to quieten him. “That was really close!” she said to Harry.

“Yeah...”

Harry was looking out of the window. It was much harder to see what was going on from here. Buckbeak seemed very happy to find himself back inside Hagrid's house. He lay down in front of the fire, folded his wings contentedly, and seemed ready for a good nap.

“I think I'd better go outside again, you know,” said Harry slowly. “I can't see what's going on—we won't know when it's time —”

Hermione looked up. Her expression was suspicious.

“I'm not going to try and interfere,” said Harry quickly. “But if we don't see what's going on, how're we going to know when it's time to rescue Sirius?”

“Well... okay, then... I'll wait here with Buckbeak... but Harry, be careful—there's a werewolf out there—and the dementors

Harry stepped outside again and edged around the cabin. He could hear yelping in the distance. That meant the dementors were closing in on Sirius... He and Hermione would be running to him any moment...

Harry stared out toward the lake, his heart doing a kind of drumroll in his chest... Whoever had sent that Patronus would be appearing at any moment...

For a fraction of a second he stood, irresolute, in front of Hagrid's door. You must not be seen. But he didn't want to be seen. He wanted to do the seeing... He had to know...

And there were the dementors. They were emerging out of the darkness from every direction, gliding around the edges of the lake... They were moving away from where Harry stood, to the opposite bank... He wouldn't have to get near them...

Harry began to run. He had no thought in his head except his father... If it was him... if it really was him... he had to know, had to find out...

The lake was coming nearer and nearer, but there was no sign of anybody. On the opposite bank, he could see tiny glimmers of silver—his own attempts at a Patronus —

There was a bush at the very edge of the water. Harry threw himself behind it, peering desperately through the leaves. On the opposite bank, the glimmers of silver were suddenly extinguished. A terrified excitement shot through him—any moment now —

“Come on!” he muttered, staring about. “Where are you? Dad, come on —”

But no one came. Harry raised his head to look at the circle of dementors across the lake. One of them was lowering its hood. It was time for the rescuer to appear—but no one was coming to help this time —

And then it hit him—he understood. He hadn't seen his father—he had seen himself —

Harry flung himself out from behind the bush and pulled out his wand.

“EXPECTO PATRONUM! “he yelled.

And out of the end of his wand burst, not a shapeless cloud of mist, but a blinding, dazzling, silver animal. He screwed up his eyes, trying to see what it was. It looked like a horse. It was galloping silently away from him, across the black surface of the lake. He saw it lower its head and charge at the swarming dementors... Now it was galloping around and around the black shapes on the ground, and the dementors were falling back, scattering, retreating into the darkness... They were gone.

Title: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Author: J.K.Rîwling
Viewed 114077 times

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