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J.K.Rîwling >> Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (page 9)


“There's something moving out there,” Ron said. “I think people are coming aboard...”

The compartment door suddenly opened and someone fell painfully over Harry's legs.

“Sorry—d'you know what's going on?—Ouch—sorry

“Hullo, Neville,” said Harry, feeling around in the dark and pulling Neville up by his cloak.

“Harry? Is that you? What's happening?”

“No idea—sit down —”

There was a loud hissing and a yelp of pain; Neville had tried to sit on Crookshanks.

“I'm going to go and ask the driver what's going on,” came Hermione's voice. Harry felt her pass him, heard the door slide open again, and then a thud and two loud squeals of pain.

“Who's that?”

“Who's that?”

“Ginny?”

“Hermione?”

“What are you doing?”

“I was looking for Ron —” “Come in and sit down —”

“Not here!” said Harry hurriedly. “I'm here!”

“Ouch!” said Neville.

“Quiet!” said a hoarse voice suddenly.

Professor Lupin appeared to have woken up at last. Harry could hear movements in his corner.

None of them spoke.

There was a soft, crackling noise, and a shivering light filled the compartment. Professor Lupin appeared to be holding a handful of flames. They illuminated his tired, gray face, but his eyes looked alert and wary.

“Stay where you are,” he said in the same hoarse voice, and he got slowly to his feet with his handful of fire held out in front of him.

But the door slid slowly open before Lupin could reach it.

Standing in the doorway, illuminated by the shivering flames in Lupin's hand, was a cloaked figure that towered to the ceiling. Its face was completely hidden beneath its hood. Harry's eyes darted downward, and what he saw made his stomach contract. There was a hand protruding from the cloak and it was glistening, grayish, slimy-looking, and scabbed, like something dead that had decayed in water...

But it was visible only for a split second. As though the creature beneath the cloak sensed Harry's gaze, the hand was suddenly withdrawn into the folds of its black cloak.

And then the thing beneath the hood, whatever it was, drew a long, slow, rattling breath, as though it were trying to suck something more than air from its surroundings.

An intense cold swept over them all. Harry felt his own breath catch in his chest. The cold went deeper than his skin. It was inside his chest, it was inside his very heart...

Harry's eyes rolled up into his head. He couldn't see. He was drowning in cold. There was a rushing in his ears as though of water. He was being dragged downward, the roaring growing louder..

And then, from far away, he heard screaming, terrible, terrified, pleading screams. He wanted to help whoever it was, he tried to move his arms, but couldn't... a thick white fog was swirling around him, inside him —

“Harry! Harry! Are you all right?”

Someone was slapping his face.

“W—what?”

Harry opened his eyes; there were lanterns above him, and the floor was shaking—the Hogwarts Express was moving again and the lights had come back on. He seemed to have slid out of his seat onto the floor. Ron and Hermione were kneeling next to him, and above them he could see Neville and Professor Lupin watching. Harry felt very sick; when he put up his hand to push his glasses back on, he felt cold sweat on his face.

Ron and Hermione heaved him back onto his seat.

“Are you okay?” Ron asked nervously.

“Yeah,” said Harry, looking quickly toward the door. The hooded creature had vanished. “What happened? Where's that—that thing? Who screamed?”

“No one screamed,” said Ron, more nervously still.

Harry looked around the bright compartment. Ginny and Neville looked back at him, both very pale.

“But I heard screaming —”

A loud snap made them all jump. Professor Lupin was breaking an enormous slab of chocolate into pieces.

“Here,” he said to Harry, handing him a particularly large piece. “Eat it. It'll help.”

Harry took the chocolate but didn't eat it.

“What was that thing?” he asked Lupin.

“A dementor,” said Lupin, who was now giving chocolate to everyone else. “One of the dementors of Azkaban.”

Everyone stared at him. Professor Lupin crumpled up the empty chocolate wrapper and put it in his pocket.

“Eat,” he repeated. “It'll help. I need to speak to the driver, excuse me...

He strolled past Harry and disappeared into the corridor.

“Are you sure you're okay, Harry?” said Hermione, watching Harry anxiously.

“I Don't get it... What happened?” said Harry, wiping more sweat off his face.

“Well—that thing—the dementor—stood there and looked around (I mean, I think it did, I couldn't see its face)—and you—you

“I thought you were having a fit or something,” said Ron, who still looked scared. “You went sort of rigid and fell out of your seat and started twitching—11

“And Professor Lupin stepped over you, and walked toward the dementor, and pulled out his wand,” said Hermione, “and he said, 'None of us is hiding Sirius Black under our cloaks. Go. ' But the dementor didn't move, so Lupin muttered something, and a silvery thing shot out of his wand at it, and it turned around and sort of glided away... “

“It was horrible,” said Neville, in a higher voice than usual. “Did YOU feel how cold it got when it came in?”

I felt weird,” said Ron, shifting his shoulders uncomfortably. “Like I'd never be cheerful again...”

Ginny, who was huddled in her corner looking nearly as bad as Harry felt, gave a small sob; Hermione went over and put a comforting arm around her.

“But didn't any of you—fall off your seats?” said Harry awkwardly.

“No,” said Ron, looking anxiously at Harry again. “Ginny was shaking like mad, though...”

Harry didn't understand. He felt weak and shivery, as though he were recovering from a bad bout of flu; he also felt the beginnings of shame. Why had he gone to pieces like that, when no one else had?

Professor Lupin had come back. He paused as he entered, looked around, and said, with a small smile, “I haven't poisoned that chocolate, you know...”

Harry took a bite and to his great surprise felt warmth spread suddenly to the tips of his fingers and toes.

“We'll be at Hogwarts in ten minutes,” said Professor Lupin. “Are you all right, Harry?”

Harry didn't ask how Professor Lupin knew his name.

“Fine,” he muttered, embarrassed.

They didn't talk much during the remainder of the journey. At long last, the train stopped at Hogsmeade station, and there was a great scramble to get outside; owls hooted, cats meowed, and Neville's pet toad croaked loudly from under his hat. It was freezing on the tiny platform; rain was driving down in icy sheets.

“Firs' years this way!” called a familiar voice. Harry, Ron, and Hermione turned and saw the gigantic outline of Hagrid at the other end of the platform, beckoning the terrified-looking new students forward for their traditional journey across the lake.

“All right, you three?” Hagrid yelled over the heads of the crowd. They waved at him, but had no chance to speak to him because the mass of people around them was shunting them away along the platform. Harry, Ron, and Hermione followed the rest of the school along the platform and out onto a rough mud track, where at least a hundred stagecoaches awaited the remaining students, each pulled, Harry could only assume, by an invisible horse, because when they climbed inside and shut the door, the coach set off all by itself, bumping and swaying in procession.

The coach smelled faintly of mold and straw. Harry felt better since the chocolate, but still weak. Ron and Hermione kept looking at him sideways, as though frightened he might collapse again.

As the carriage trundled toward a pair of magnificent wrought iron gates, flanked with stone columns topped with winged boars,

Harry saw two more towering, hooded dementors, standing guard on either side. A wave of cold sickness threatened to engulf him again; he leaned back into the lumpy seat and closed his eyes until they had passed the gates. The carriage picked up speed on the long, sloping drive up to the castle; Hermione was leaning out of the tiny window, watching the many turrets and towers draw nearer. At last, the carriage swayed to a halt, and Hermione and Ron got out.

As Harry stepped down, a drawling, delighted voice sounded in his ear.

“You fainted, Potter? Is Longbottorn telling the truth? You actualy fainted?”

Malfoy elbowed past Hermione to block Harry's way up the stone steps to the castle, his face gleeful and his pale eyes glinting maliciously. “Shove off, Malfoy,” said Ron, whose jaw was clenched.

“Did you faint as well, Weasley?” said Malfoy loudly. “Did the scary old dementor frighten you too, Weasley?”

“Is there a problem?” said a mild voice. Professor Lupin had just gotten out of the next carriage.

Malfoy gave Professor Lupin an insolent stare, which took in the patches on his robes and the delapidated suitcase. With a tiny hint of sarcasm in his voice, he said, “Oh, no—er—Professor,” then he smirked at Crabbe and Goyle and led them up the steps into the castle.

Hermione prodded Ron in the back to make him hurry, and the three of them joined the crowd swarming up the steps, through the giant oak front doors, into the cavernous entrance hall, which was lit with flaming torches, and housed a magnificent marble staircase that led to the upper floors.

The door into the Great Hall stood open at the right; Harry followed the crowd toward it, but had barely glimpsed the enchanted ceiling, which was black and cloudy tonight, when a voice called, “Potter! Granger! I want to see you both!”

Harry and Hermione turned around, surprised. Professor McGonagall, Transfiguration teacher and head of Gryffindor House, was calling over the heads of the crowd. She was a sternlooking witch who wore her hair in a tight bun; her sharp eyes were framed with square spectacles. Harry fought his way over to her with a feeling of foreboding: Professor McGonagall had a way of making him feel he must have done something wrong.

“There's no need to look so worried—I just want a word in MY office,” she told them. “Move along there, Weasley.”

Ron stared as Professor McGonagall ushered Harry and Hermione away from the chattering crowd; they accompanied her across the entrance hall, up the marble staircase, and along a corridor.

Once they were in her office, a small room with a large, welcoming fire, Professor McGonagall motioned Harry and Hermione to sit down. She settled herself behind her desk and said abruptly, “Professor Lupin sent an owl ahead to say that you were taken ill on the train, Potter.”

Before Harry could reply, there was a soft knock on the door and Madam Pomfrey, the nurse, came bustling in.

Harry felt himself going red in the face. It was bad enough that he'd passed out, or whatever he had done, without everyone making all this fuss.

“I'm fine,” he said, “I don't need anything

“Oh, it's you, is it?” said Madam Pomfrey, ignoring this and bending down to stare closely at him. “I suppose you've been doing something dangerous again?”

“It was a dementor, Poppy,” said Professor McGonagall.

They exchanged a dark look, and Madam Pomfrey clucked disapprovingly.

“Setting dementors around a school, she muttered, pushing back Harry's hair and feeling his forehead. “He won't be the last one who collapses. Yes, he's all clammy. Terrible things, they are, and the effect they have on people who are already delicate

“I'm not delicate!” said Harry crossly.

“Of course you're not,” said Madam Pomfrey absentmindedly, now taking his pulse.

“What does he need?” said Professor McGonagall crisply. “Bed rest? Should he perhaps spend tonight in the hospital wing?”

“I'm fine!” said Harry, jumping up. The thought of what Draco Malfoy would say if he had to go to the hospital wing was torture.

“Well, he should have some chocolate, at the very least,” said Madam Pomfrey, who was now trying to peer into Harry's eyes.

“I've already had some,” said Harry. “Professor Lupin gave me some. He gave it to all of us.”

“Did he, now?” said Madam Pomfrey approvingly. “So we've finally got a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher who knows his remedies?”

“Are you sure you feel all right, Potter?” Professor McGonagall said sharply.

“Yes, “said Harry.

“Very well. Kindly wait outside while I have a quick word with Miss Granger about her course schedule, then we can go down to the feast together.”

Harry went back into the corridor with Madam Pomfrey, who left for the hospital wing, muttering to herself He had to wait only a few minutes; then Hermione emerged looking very happy about something, followed by Professor McGonagall, and the three of them made their way back down the marble staircase to the Great Hall.

It was a sea of pointed black hats; each of the long House tables was lined with students, their faces glimmering by the light of thousands of candles, which were floating over the tables in midair. Professor Flitwick, who was a tiny little wizard with a shock of white hair, was carrying an ancient hat and a three-legged stool out of the hall.

“Oh,” said Hermione softly, “we've missed the Sorting!”

New students at Hogwarts were sorted into Houses by trying on the sorting Hat, which shouted out the House they were best suited to (Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, or Slytherin). Professor McGonagall strode off toward her empty seat at the staff table, and Harry and Hermione set off in the other direction, as quietly as possible, toward the Gryffindor table. People looked around at them as they passed along the back of the hall, and a few of them pointed at Harry. Had the story of his collapsing in front of the dementor traveled that fast?

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