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J.K.Rîwling >> Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (page 5)


“Anyway, they cornered Black in the middle of a street full of Muggles an' Black took out 'is wand and 'e blasted 'alf the street apart, an' a wizard got it, an' so did a dozen Muggles what got in the way. 'Orrible, eh? An' you know what Black did then?” Stan continued in a dramatic whisper.

“What?” said Harry.

“Laughed,” said Stan. “Jus' stood there an' laughed. An' when reinforcements from the Ministry of Magic got there, I 'e went wiv em quiet as anyfink, still laughing 'is 'ead off. 'Cos 'e's mad, inee, Ern? Inee mad?”

“If he weren't when he went to Azkaban, he will be now,” said Ern in his slow voice. “I'd blow meself up before I set foot in that place. Serves him right, mind you ...after what he did...”

“They 'ad a job coverin' it up, din' they, Ern?” Stan said. “'Ole street blown up an' all them Muggles dead. What was it they said ad 'appened, Ern?”

“Gas explosion,” grunted Ernie.

“An' now 'e's out,” said Stan, examining the newspaper picture of Black's gaunt face again. “Never been a breakout from Azkaban before, 'as there, Ern? Beats me 'ow 'e did it. Frightenin', eh? Mind, I don't fancy 'is chances against them Azkaban guards, eh, Ern?”

Ernie suddenly shivered.

“Talk about summat else, Stan, there's a good lad. Them Azkaban guards give me the collywobbles.”

Stan put the paper away reluctantly, and Harry leaned against the window of the Knight Bus, feeling worse than ever. He couldn't help imagining what Stan might be telling his passengers in a few nights' time.

“'Ear about that 'Arry Potter? Blew up 'is aunt! We 'ad 'im 'ere on the Knight Bus, di'n't we, Ern? 'E was tryin' I to run for it...”

He, Harry, had broken wizard law just like Sirius Black. Was inflating Aunt Marge bad enough to land him in Azkaban? Harry didn't know anything about the wizard prison, though everyone he'd ever heard speak of it did so in the same fearful tone. Hagrid, the Hogwarts gamekeeper, had spent two months there only last year. Harry wouldn't soon forget the look of terror on Hagrid's face when he had been told where he was going, and Hagrid was one of the bravest people Harry knew.

The Knight Bus rolled through the darkness, scattering bushes and wastebaskets, telephone booths and trees, and Harry lay, restless and miserable, on his feather bed. After a while, Stan remembered that Harry had paid for hot chocolate, but poured it all over Harry's pillow when the bus moved abruptly from Anglesea to Aberdeen. One by one, wizards and witches in dressing gowns and slippers descended from the upper floors to leave the bus. They all looked very pleased to go.

Finally, Harry was the only passenger left.

“Right then, Neville,” said Stan, clapping his hands, where abouts in London?”

“Diagon Alley,” said Harry.

“Righto,” said Stan. “'Old tight, then.”

BANG.

They were thundering along Charing Cross Road. Harry sat up and watched buildings and benches squeezing themselves out of the Knight Bus's way. The sky was getting a little lighter. He would lie low for a couple of hours, go to Gringotts the. moment it opened, then set off—where, he didn't know.

Ern slammed on the brakes and the Knight Bus skidded to a halt in front of a small and shabbylooking pub, the Leaky Cauldron, behind which lay the magical entrance to Diagon Alley.

“Thanks,” Harry said to Ern.

He jumped down the steps and helped Stan lower his trunk and Hedwig's cage onto the pavement.

“Well,” said Harry. “'Bye then!”

But Stan wasn't paying attention. Still standing in the doorway to the bus) he was goggling at the shadowy entrance to the Leaky Cauldron. “There you are, Harry,” said a voice.

Before Harry could turn, he felt a hand on his shoulder. At the same time, Stan shouted, “Blimey! Ern, come 'ere! Come 'ere I”

Harry looked up at the owner of the hand on his shoulder and felt a bucketful of ice cascade into his stomach—he had walked right into Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic himself.

Stan leapt onto the pavement beside them.

“What didja call Neville, Minister?” he said excitedly.

Fudge, a portly little man in a long, pinstriped cloak, looked cold and exhausted.

“Neville?” he repeated, frowning. “This is Harry Potter.”

“I knew it!” Stan shouted gleefully. “Ern! Ern! Guess 'oo Neville is, Ern! 'E's 'Arry Potter! I can see 'is scar!”

“Yes,” said Fudge testily, “well, I'm very glad the Knight Bus picked Harry up, but he and I need to step inside the Leaky Cauldron now...”

Fudge increased the pressure on Harry's shoulder, and Harry found himself being steered inside the pub. A stooping figure bearing a lantern appeared through the door behind the bar. It was Tom, the wizened, toothless landlord.

“You've got him, Minister!” said Tom. “Will you be wanting anything? Beer? Brandy?”

“Perhaps a pot of tea,” said Fudge, who still hadn't let go of Harry.

There was a loud scraping and puffing from behind them, and Stan and Ern appeared, carrying Harry's trunk and Hedwig's cage and looking around excitedly.

“'Ow come you di'n't tell us 'oo you are, eh, Neville?” said Stan, beaming at Harry, while Ernie's owlish face peered interestedly over Stan's shoulder.

“And a private parlor, please, Tom,” said Fudge pointedly.

`Bye,” Harry said miserably to Stan and Ern as Tom beckoned Fudge toward the passage that led from the bar.

“'Bye, Neville!” called Stan.

Fudge marched Harry along the narrow passage after Tom's lantern, and then into a small parlor. Tom clicked his fingers, a fire burst into life in the grate, and he bowed himself out of the room.

“Sit down, Harry,” said Fudge, indicating a chair by the fire.

Harry sat down, feeling goose bumps rising up his arms despite the glow of the fire. Fudge took off his pinstriped cloak and tossed it aside, then hitched up the trousers of his bottle-green suit and sat down opposite Harry.

“I am Cornelius Fudge, Harry. The Minister of Magic.”

Harry already knew this, of course; he had seen Fudge once before, but as he had been wearing his father's Invisibility Cloak at the time, Fudge wasn't to know that.

Tom the innkeeper reappeared, wearing an apron over his nightshirt and bearing a tray of tea and crumpets. He placed the tray on a table between Fudge and Harry and left the parlor, closing the door behind him.

“Well, Harry,” said Fudge, pouring out tea, “you've had us all in a right flap, I don't mind telling you. Running away from your aunt and uncle's house like that! I'd started to think... but you're safe, and that's what matters.”

Fudge buttered himself a crumpet and pushed the plate toward Harry.

“Eat, Harry, you look dead on your feet. Now then... You will be pleased to hear that we have dealt with the unfortunate blowing-up of Miss Marjorie Dursley. Two members of the Accidental Magic Reversal Department were dispatched to Privet Drive a few hours ago. Miss Dursley has been punctured and her memory has been modified. She has no recollection of the incident at all. So that's that, and no harm done.”

Fudge smiled at Harry over the rim of his teacup, rather like an uncle surveying a favorite nephew. Harry, who couldn't believe his ears, opened his mouth to speak, couldn't think of anything to say, and closed it again.

“Ah, you're worrying about the reaction of your aunt and uncle?” said Fudge. “Well, I won't deny that they are extremely angry, Harry, but they are prepared to take you back next summer as long as you stay at Hogwarts for the Christmas and Easter holidays.”

Harry unstuck his throat.

“I always stay at Hogwarts for the Christmas and Easter holidays,” he said, “and I don't ever want to go back to Privet Drive.”

“Now, now, I'm sure you'll feel differently once you've calmed down,” said Fudge in a worried tone. “They are your family, after all, and I'm sure you are fond of each other—er—very deep down.”

It didn't occur to Harry to put Fudge right. He was still waiting to hear what was going to happen to him now.

“So all that remains,” said Fudge, now buttering himself a second crumpet, “is to decide where you're going to spend the last two weeks of your vacation. I suggest you take a room here at the Leaky Cauldron and

“Hang on,” blurted Harry. “What about my punishment?”

Fudge blinked. “Punishment?”

“I broke the law!” Harry said. “The Decree for the Restriction of Underage Wizardry!”

“Oh, my dear boy, we're not going to punish you for a little thing like that!” cried Fudge, waving his crumpet impatiently. “It was an accident! We don't send people to Azkaban just for blowing up their aunts!”

But this didn't tally at all with Harry's past dealings with the Ministry of Magic.

“Last year, I got an official warning just because a house-elf smashed a pudding in my uncle's house!” he told Fudge, frowning. “The Ministry of Magic said I'd be expelled from Hogwarts if there was any more magic there!”

Unless Harry's eyes were deceiving him, Fudge was suddenly looking awkward.

“Circumstances change, Harry... We have to take into account... in the present climate... Surely you don't want to be expelled?”

“Of course I don't,” said Harry.

“Well then, what's A the fuss about?” laughed Fudge. “Now, have a crumpet, Harry, while I go and see if Tom's got a room for you.”

Fudge strode out of the parlor and Harry stared after him. There was something extremely odd going on. Why had Fudge been waiting for him at the Leaky Cauldron, if not to punish him for what he'd done? And now Harry came to think of it, surely it wasn't usual for the Minister of Magic himself to get involved in matters of underage magic?

Fudge came back, accompanied by Tom the innkeeper.

“Room eleven's free, Harry,” said Fudge. “I think you'll be very comfortable. just one thing, and I'm sure you'll understand... I don't want you wandering off into Muggle London, all right? Keep to Diagon Alley. And you're to be back here before dark each night. Sure you'll understand. Tom will be keeping an eye on you for me.”

“Okay,” said Harry slowly, “but why?”

“Don't want to lose you again, do we?” said Fudge with a hearty laugh. “No, no... best we know where you are... I mean...”

Fudge cleared his throat loudly and picked up his pinstriped cloak.

“Well, I'll be off, plenty to do, you know...

“Have you had any luck with Black yet?” Harry asked.

Fudge's finger slipped on the silver fastenings of his cloak.

“What's that? Oh, you've heard—well, no, not yet, but it's only a matter of time. The Azkaban guards have never yet failed... and they are angrier than I've ever seen them.”

Fudge shuddered slightly.

“So, I'll say good-bye.”

He held out his hand and Harry, shaking it, had a sudden idea.

“Er—Minister? Can I ask you something?”

“Certainly,” said Fudge with a smile.

“Well, third years at Hogwarts are allowed to visit Hogsmeade, but my aunt and uncle didn't sign the permission form. D'you think you could —?”

Fudge was looking uncomfortable.

“Ah,” he said. “No, no, I'm very sorry, Harry, but as I'm not your parent or guardian —”

“But you I re the Minister of Magic,” said Harry eagerly. “If you gave me permission

“No, I'm sorry, Harry, but rules are rules,” said Fudge flatly.

'Perhaps You'll be able to visit Hogsmeade next year. In fact, I think it's best if you don't... yes... well, I'll be off Enjoy your stay, Harry.”

And with a last smile and shake of Harry's hand, Fudge left the room. Tom now moved forward, beaming at Harry.

“If you'll follow me, Mr. Potter,” he said, “I've already taken your things up...”

Harry followed Tom up a handsome wooden staircase to a door with a brass number eleven on it, which Tom unlocked and opened for him.

Inside was a very comfortable-looking bed, some highly polished oak furniture, a cheerfully crackling fire and, perched on top of the wardrobe —

“Hedwig!” Harry gasped.

The snowy owl clicked her beak and fluttered down onto Harry's arm.

“Very smart owl you've got there, chuckled Tom. “Arrived about five minutes after you did. If there's anything you need, Mr. Potter, don't hesitate to ask.”

He gave another bow and left.

Harry sat on his bed for a long time, absentmindedly stroking Hedwig. The sky outside the window was changing rapidly from deep, velvety blue to cold, steely gray and then, slowly, to pink shot with gold. Harry could hardly believe that he'd left Privet Drive only a few hours ago, that he wasn't expelled, and that he was now facing two completely Dursley-free weeks.

“It's been a very weird night, Hedwig,” he yawned.

And without even removing his glasses, he slumped back onto his pillows and fell asleep.

CHAPTER FOUR

THE LEAKY CAULDRON

It took Harry several days to get used to his strange new freedom. Never before had he been able to get up whenever he wanted or eat whatever he fancied. He could even go wherever he pleased, as long as it was in Diagon Alley, and as this long cobbled street was packed with the most fascinating wizarding shops in the world, Harry felt no desire to break his word to Fudge and stray back into the Muggle world.

Harry ate breakfast each morning in the Leaky Cauldron, where he liked watching the other guests: funny little witches from the country, up for a day's shopping; venerable-looking wizards arguing over the latest article in Transfiguration Today; wild-looking warlocks; raucous dwarfs; and once, what looked suspiciously like a hag, who ordered a plate of raw liver from behind a thick woollen balaclava.

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