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J.K.Rîwling >> Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (page 43)


The Patronus turned. It was cantering back toward Harry across the still surface of the water. It wasn't a horse. It wasn't a unicorn, either. It was a stag. It was shining brightly as the moon above ...it was coming back to him...

It stopped on the bank. Its hooves made no mark on the soft ground as it stared at Harry with its large, silver eyes. Slowly, it bowed its antlered head. And Harry realized... “Prongs, “he whispered.

But as his trembling fingertips stretched toward the creature, it vanished.

Harry stood there, hand still outstretched. Then, with a great leap of his heart, he heard hooves behind him -he whirled around and saw Hermione dashing toward him, dragging Buckbeak behind her.

“What did you do?” she said fiercely. “You said you were only going to keep a lookout!”

“I just saved all our lives...,” said Harry. “Get behind here—behind this bush—I'll explain.”

Hermione listened to what had just happened with her mouth open yet again.

“Did anyone see you?”

“Yes, haven't you been listening? I saw me but I thought I was my dad! It's okay!”

“Harry, I can't believe it... You conjured up a Patronus that drove away all those dementors! That's very, very advanced magic. I knew I could do it this time,” said Harry, “because I'd already done it... Does that make sense?”

“I don't know—Harry, look at Snape!”

Together they peered around the bush at the other bank. Snape had regained consciousness. He was conjuring stretchers and lifting the limp forms of Harry, Hermione, and Black onto them. A fourth stretcher, no doubt bearing Ron, was already floating at his side. Then, wand held out in front of him, he moved them away toward the castle.

“Right, it's nearly time,” said Hermione tensely, looking at her watch. “We've got about forty-five minutes until Dumbledore locks the door to the hospital wing. We've got to rescue Sirius and get back into the ward before anybody realizes we're missing... 11

They waited, watching the moving clouds reflected in the lake, while the bush next to them whispered in the breeze. Buckbeak, bored, was ferreting for worms again.

“D' you reckon he's up there yet?” said Harry, checking his watch. He looked up at the castle and began counting the windows to the right of the West Tower.

“Look!” Hermione whispered. “\Who's that? Someone's coming back out of the castle!”

Harry stared through the darkness. The man was hurrying across the grounds, toward one of the entrances. Something shiny glinted in his belt.

“Macnair!” said Harry. “The executioner! He's gone to get the dementors! This is it, Hermione —”

Hermione put her hands on Buckbeak's back and Harry gave her a leg up. Then he placed his foot on one of the lower branches of the bush and climbed up in front of her. He pulled Buckbeak's rope back over his neck and tied it to the other side of his collar like reins.

“Ready?” he whispered to Hermione. “YotM better hold on to me —

He nudged Buckbeak's sides with his heels.

Buckbeak soared straight into the dark air. Harry gripped his flanks with his knees, feeling the great wings rising powerfully beneath them. Hermione was holding Harry very tight around the waist; he could hear her muttering, “Oh, no—I don't like this oh, I really don't like this —”

Harry urged Buckbeak forward. They were gliding quietly toward the upper floors of the castle... Harry pulled hard on the left-hand side of the rope, and Buckbeak turned. Harry was trying to count the windows flashing past —

“Whoa!” he said, pulling backward as hard as he could.

Buckbeak slowed down and they found themselves at a stop, unless you counted the fact that they kept rising up and down several feet as the hippogriff beat his wings to remain airborne.

“He's there!” Harry said, spotting Sirius as they rose up beside the window. He reached out, and as Buckbeak's wings fell, was able to tap sharply on the glass.

Black looked up. Harry saw his jaw drop. He leapt from his chair, hurried to the window and tried to open it, but it was locked.

“Stand back!” Hermione called to him, and she took out her wand, still gripping the back of Harry's robes with her left hand.

“Alohomora!”

The window sprang open.

“How—how —?” said Black weakly, staring at the hippogriff

“Get on—there's not much time,” said Harry, gripping Buckbeak firmly on either side of his sleek neck to hold him steady. “You've got to get out of here -the dementors are coming—Macnair's gone to get them.”

Black placed a hand on either side of the window frame and heaved his head and shoulders out of it. It was very lucky he was so thin. In seconds, he had managed to fling one leg over Buckbeak's back and pull himself onto the hippogriff behind Hermione.

“Okay, Buckbeak, up!” said Harry, shaking the rope. “Up to the tower—come on.

The hippogriff gave one sweep of its mighty wings and they were soaring upward again, high as the top of the West Tower. Buckbeak landed with a clatter on the battlements, and Harry and Hermione slid off him at once.

“Sirius, you'd better go, quick,” Harry panted. “They'll reach Flitwick's office any moment, they'll find out you're gone.”

Buckbeak pawed the ground, tossing his sharp head.

“What happened to the other boy? Ron?” croaked Sirius.

“He's going to be okay. He's still out of it, but Madam Pomfrey says she'll be able to make him better. Quick—go —”

But Black was still staring down at Harry.

“How can I ever thank —”

“GO!” Harry and Hermione shouted together.

Black wheeled Buckbeak around, facing the open sky.

“We'll see each other again,” he said. “You are—truly your father's son, Harry...”

He squeezed Buckbeak's sides with his heels. Harry and Hermione jumped back as the enormous wings rose once more... The hippogriff took off into the air... He and his rider became smaller and smaller as Harry gazed after them... then a cloud drifted across the moon... They were gone.

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

OWL POST AGAIN

Harry!”

Hermione was tugging at his sleeve, staring at her watch. “We've got exactly ten minutes to get back down to the hospital wing without anybody seeing us—before Dumbledore locks the door —”

“Okay,” said Harry, wrenching his gaze from the sky, “let's go...”

They slipped through the doorway behind them and down a tightly spiraling stone staircase. As they reached the bottom of it, they heard voices. They flattened themselves against the wall and listened. It sounded like Fudge and Snape. They were walking quickly along the corridor at the foot of the staircase.

“...only hope Dumbledore's not going to make difficulties,” Snape was saying. “The Kiss will be performed immediately?”

“As soon as Macnair returns with the dementors. This whole Black affair has been highly embarrassing. I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to informing the Daily Prophet that we've got him at last... I daresay they'll want to interview you, Snape... and once young Harry's back in his right mind, I expect he'll want to tell the Prophet exactly how you saved him...”

Harry clenched his teeth. He caught a glimpse of Snape's smirk as he and Fudge passed Harry and Hermione's hiding place. Their footsteps died away. Harry and Hermione waited a few moments to make sure they'd really gone, then started to run in the opposite direction. Down one staircase, then another, along a new,corridor—then they heard a cackling ahead.

“Peeves!” Harry muttered, grabbing Hermione's wrist. “In here!”

They tore into a deserted classroom to their left just in time. Peeves seemed to be bouncing along the corridor in boisterous good spirits, laughing his head off.

“Oh, he's horrible,” whispered Hermione, her ear to the door. “I bet he's all excited because the dementors are going to finish off Sirius...” She checked her watch. “Three minutes, Harry!”

They waited until Peeves's gloating voice had faded into the distance, then slid back out of the room and broke into a run again.

“Hermione—what'll happen—if we don't get back inside before Dumbledore locks the door?” Harry panted.

I don't want to think about it!” Hermione moaned, checking her watch again. “One minute!”

They had reached the end of the corridor with the hospital wing entrance. “Okay—I can hear Dumbledore,” said Hermione tensely. “Come on, Harry!”

They crept along the corridor. The door opened. Dumbledore's back appeared.

“I am going to lock you in,” they heard him saying. “it is five minutes to midnight. Miss Granger, three turns should do It. Good luck.”

Dumbledore backed out of the room, closed the door, and took out his wand to magically lock it. Panicking, Harry and Hermione ran forward. Dumbledore looked up, and a wide smile appeared under the long silver mustache. “Well?” he said quietly.

“We did it!” said Harry breathlessly. “Sirius has gone, on Buckbeak...”

Dumbledore beamed at them.

“Well done. I think —” He listened intently for any sound within the hospital wing. “Yes, I think you've gone too—get inside—I'll lock you in —”

Harry and Hermione slipped back inside the dormitory. It was empty except for Ron, who was still lying motionless in the end bed. As the lock clicked behind them, Harry and Hermione crept back to their own beds, Hermione tucking the Time-Turner back under her robes. A moment later, Madam Pomfrey came striding back out of her office.

“Did I hear the headmaster leaving? Am I allowed to look after my patients now?”

She was in a very bad mood. Harry and Hermione thought it best to accept their chocolate quietly. Madam Pomfrey stood over them, making sure they ate it. But Harry could hardly swallow. He and Hermione were waiting, listening, their nerves jangling... And then, as they both took a fourth piece of chocolate from Madam Pomfrey, they heard a distant roar of fury echoing from somewhere above them...

“What was that?” said Madam Pomfrey in alarm.

Now they could hear angry voices, growing louder and louder. Madam Pomfrey was staring at the door.

“Really—they'll wake everybody up! What do they think they're doing?”

Harry was trying to hear what the voices were saying. They were drawing nearer —

“He must have Disapparated, Severus. We should have left somebody in the room with him. When this gets out —”

“HE DIDN'T DISAPPARATE!” Snape roared, now very close at hand. “YOU CAN'T APPARATE OR DISAPPARATE INSIDE THIS CASTLE! THIS—HAS—SOMETHING—TO—DO—WITH—POTTER!”

“Severus—be reasonable—Harry has been locked up —”

BAM.

The door of the hospital wing burst open.

Fudge, Snape, and Dumbledore came striding into the ward. Dumbledore alone looked calm. Indeed, he looked as though he was quite enjoying himself. Fudge appeared angry. But Snape was beside himself.

“OUT WITH IT, POTTER!” he bellowed. “WHAT DID YOU DO?”

“Professor Snape!” shrieked Madam Pomfrey. “Control yourself!”

“See here, Snape, be reasonable,” said Fudge. “This door's been locked, we just saw —”

“THEY HELPED HIM ESCAPE, I KNOW IT!” Snape howled, pointing at Harry and Hermione. His face was twisted; spit was flying from his mouth.

“Calm down, man!” Fudge barked. “You're talking nonsense!”

“YOU DON'T KNOW POTTER!” shrieked Snape. “HE DID IT, I KNOW HE DID IT —”

“That will do, Severus,” said Dumbledore quietly. “Think about what you are saying. This door has been locked since I left the ward ten minutes ago. Madam Pomfrey, have these students left their beds?”

“Of course not!” said Madam Pomfrey, bristling. “I would have heard them!”

“Well, there you have it, Severus,” said Dumbledore calmly. “Unless you are suggesting that Harry and Hermione are able to be in two places at once, I'm afraid I don't see any point in troubling them further.”

Snape stood there, seething, staring from Fudge, who looked thoroughly shocked at his behavior, to Dumbledore, whose eyes were twinkling behind his glasses. Snape whirled about, robes swishing behind him, and stormed out of the ward.

“Fellow seems quite unbalanced,” said Fudge, staring after him. “I'd watch out for him if I were you, Dumbledore.”

“Oh, he's not unbalanced,” said Dumbledore quietly. “He's just suffered a severe disappointment.”

“He's not the only one!” puffed Fudge. “The Daily Prophet's going to have a field day! We had Black cornered and he slipped through our fingers yet again! All it needs now is for the story of that hippogriff's escape to get out, and I'll be a laughingstock! Well... I'd better go and notify the Ministry...

“And the dementors?” said Dumbledore. “They'll be removed from the school, I trust?”

“Oh yes, they'll have to go,” said Fudge, running his fingers

distractedly through his hair. “Never dreamed they'd attempt to administer the Kiss on an innocent boy... Completely out of control... no, I'll have them packed off back to Azkaban tonight... Perhaps we should think about dragons at the school entrance...”

“Hagrid would like that,” said Dumbledore, smiling at Harry and Hermione. As he and Fudge left the dormitory, Madam Pomfrey hurried to the door and locked it again. Muttering angrily to herself, she headed back to her office.

There was a low moan from the other end of the ward. Ron had woken up. They could see him sitting up, rubbing his head, looking around.

“What—what happened?” he groaned. “Harry? Why are we in here? Where's Sirius? Where's Lupin? What's going on?”

Harry and Hermione looked at each other.

“You explain,” said Harry, helping himself to some more chocolate.

When Harry, Ron, and Hermione left the hospital wing at noon the next day, it was to find an almost deserted castle. The sweltering, heat and the end of the exams meant that everyone was taking full advantage of another Hogsmeade visit. Neither Ron nor Hermione felt like going, however, so they and Harry wandered onto the grounds, still talking about the extraordinary events of the previous night and wondering where Sirius and Buckbeak were now. Sitting near the lake, watching the giant squid waving its tentacles lazily above the water, Harry lost the thread of the conversation as he looked across to the opposite bank. The stag had galloped toward him from there just last night...

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