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J.K.Rîwling >> Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (page 36)


“Ah, 'Agrid... it is time?”

“Bong-sewer,” said Hagrid, beaming at her, and holding out a hand to help her down the golden steps.

Madame Maxime closed the door behind her, Hagrid offered her his arm, and they set off around the edge of the paddock containing Madame Maxime's giant winged horses, with Harry, totally bewildered, running to keep up with them. Had Hagrid wanted to show him Madame Maxime? He could see her any old time he wanted... she wasn't exactly hard to miss...

But it seemed that Madame Maxime was in for the same treat as Harry, because after a while she said playfully, “Wair is it you are taking me, 'Agrid?”

“Yeh'll enjoy this,” said Hagrid gruffly, “worth seein', trust me. On'y—don' go tellin' anyone I showed yeh, right? Yeh're not s'posed ter know.”

“Of course not,” said Madame Maxime, fluttering her long black eyelashes.

And still they walked, Harry getting more and more irritated as he jogged along in their wake, checking his watch every now and then. Hagrid had some harebrained scheme in hand, which might make him miss Sirius. If they didn't get there soon, he was going to turn around, go straight back to the castle, and leave Hagrid to enjoy his moonlit stroll with Madame Maxime.

But then—when they had walked so far around the perimeter of the forest that the castle and the lake were out of sight—Harry heard something. Men were shouting up ahead... then came a deafening, earsplitting roar...

Hagrid led Madame Maxime around a clump of trees and came to a halt. Harry hurried up alongside them—for a split second, he thought he was seeing bonfires, and men darting around them—and then his mouth fell open.

Dragons.

Four fully grown, enormous, vicious-looking dragons were rearing onto their hind legs inside an enclosure fenced with thick planks of wood, roaring and snorting—torrents of fire were shooting into the dark sky from their open, fanged mouths, fifty feet above the ground on their outstretched necks. There was a silvery-blue one with long, pointed horns, snapping and snarling at the wizards on the ground; a smooth-scaled green one, which was writhing and stamping with all its might; a red one with an odd fringe of fine gold spikes around its face, which was shooting mushroom-shaped fire clouds into the air; and a gigantic black one, more lizard-hike than the others, which was nearest to them.

At least thirty wizards, seven or eight to each dragon, were attempting to control them, pulling on the chains connected to heavy leather straps around their necks and legs. Mesmerized, Harry looked up, high above him, and saw the eyes of the black dragon, with vertical pupils like a cat's, bulging with either fear or rage, he couldn't tell which... It was making a horrible noise, a yowling, screeching scream.

“Keep back there, Hagrid!” yelled a wizard near the fence, straining on the chain he was holding. “They can shoot fire at a range of twenty feet, you know! I've seen this Horntail do forty!”

“Is'n' it beautiful?” said Hagrid softly.

“It's no good!” yelled another wizard. “Stunning Spells, on the count of three!”

Harry saw each of the dragon keepers pull out his wand.

“Stupefy!” they shouted in unison, and the Stunning Spells shot into the darkness like fiery rockets, bursting in showers of stars on the dragons' scaly hides—

Harry watched the dragon nearest to them teeter dangerously on its back legs; its jaws stretched wide in a silent howl; its nostrils were suddenly devoid of flame, though still smoking—then, very slowly, it fell. Several tons of sinewy, scaly-black dragon hit the ground with a thud that Harry could have sworn made the trees behind him quake.

The dragon keepers lowered their wands and walked forward to their fallen charges, each of which was the size of a small hill. They hurried to tighten the chains and fasten them securely to iron pegs, which they forced deep into the ground with their wands.

“Wan' a closer look?” Hagrid asked Madame Maxime excitedly. The pair of them moved right up to the fence, and Harry followed. The wizard who had warned Hagrid not to come any closer turned, and Harry realized who it was: Charlie Weasley.

“All right, Hagrid?” he panted, coming over to talk. “They should be okay now—we put them out with a Sleeping Draft on the way here, thought it might be better for them to wake up in the dark and the quiet—but, like you saw, they weren't happy, not happy at all—”

“What breeds you got here, Charlie?” said Hagrid, gazing at the closest dragon, the black one, with something chose to reverence. Its eyes were still just open. Harry could see a strip of gleaming yellow beneath its wrinkled black eyelid.

“This is a Hungarian Horntail,” said Charlie. “There's a Common Welsh Green over there, the smaller one—a Swedish Short-Snout, that blue-gray—and a Chinese Fireball, that's the red.”

Charlie looked around; Madame Maxime was strolling away around the edge of the enclosure, gazing at the stunned dragons.

“I didn't know you were bringing her, Hagrid,” Charlie said, frowning. “The champions aren't supposed to know what's coming—she's bound to tell her student, isn't she?”

“Jus' thought she'd like ter see 'em,” shrugged Hagrid, still gazing, enraptured, at the dragons.

“Really romantic date, Hagrid,” said Charlie, shaking his head.

“Four...” said Hagrid, “so it's one fer each o' the champions, is it? What've they gotta do—fight 'em?”

“Just get past them, I think,” said Charlie. “We'll be on hand if it gets nasty, Extinguishing Spells at the ready. They wanted nesting mothers, I don't know why... but I tell you this, I don't envy the one who gets the Horntail. Vicious thing. Its back end's as dangerous as its front, look.”

Charlie pointed toward the Horntail's tail, and Harry saw long, bronze-colored spikes protruding along it every few inches.

Five of Charlie's fellow keepers staggered up to the Horntail at that moment, carrying a clutch of huge granite-gray eggs between them in a blanket. They placed them carefully at the Horntail's side. Hagrid let out a moan of longing.

“I've got them counted, Hagrid,” said Charlie sternly. Then he said, “How's Harry?”

“Fine,” said Hagrid. He was still gazing at the eggs.

“Just hope he's still fine after he's faced this lot,” said Charlie grimly, looking out over the dragons' enclosure. “I didn't dare tell Mum what he's got to do for the first task; she's already having kittens about him...” Charlie imitated his mother's anxious voice. “How could they let him enter that tournament, he's much too young! I thought they were all safe, I thought there was going to be an age limit!' She was in floods after that Daily Prophet article about him. 'He still cries about his parents! Oh bless him, I never knew!”

Harry had had enough. Trusting to the fact that Hagrid wouldn't miss him, with the attractions of four dragons and Madame Maxime to occupy him, he turned silently and began to walk away, back to the castle.

He didn't know whether he was glad he'd seen what was coming or not. Perhaps this way was better. The first shock was over now. Maybe if he'd seen the dragons for the first time on Tuesday, he would have passed out cold in front of the whole school... but maybe he would anyway... He was going to be armed with his wand—which, just now, felt like nothing more than a narrow strip of wood—against a fifty-foot-high, scaly, spike-ridden, fire-breathing dragon. And he had to get past it. With everyone watching. How?

Harry sped up, skirting the edge of the forest; he had just under fifteen minutes to get back to the fireside and talk to Sirius, and he couldn't remember, ever, wanting to talk to someone more than he did right now—when, without warning, he ran into something very solid.

Harry fell backward, his glasses askew, clutching the cloak around him. A voice nearby said, “Ouch! Who's there?”

Harry hastily checked that the cloak was covering him and hay very still, staring up at the dark outline of the wizard he had hit. He recognized the goatee... it was Karkaroff.

“Who's there?” said Karkaroff again, very suspiciously, looking around in the darkness. Harry remained still and silent. After a minute or so, Karkaroff seemed to decide that he had hit some sort of animal; he was looking around at waist height, as though expecting to see a dog. Then he crept back under the cover of the trees and started to edge forward toward the place where the dragons were.

Very slowly and very carefully, Harry got to his feet and set off again as fast as he could without making too much noise, hurrying through the darkness back toward Hogwarts.

He had no doubt whatsoever what Karkaroff was up to. He had sneaked off his ship to try and find out what the first task was going to be. He might even have spotted Hagrid and Madame Maxime heading off around the forest together—they were hardly difficult to spot at a distance... and now all Karkaroff had to do was follow the sound of voices, and he, like Madame Maxime, would know what was in store for the champions.

By the looks of it, the only champion who would be facing the unknown on Tuesday was Cedric.

Harry reached the castle, slipped in through the front doors, and began to climb the marble stairs; he was very out of breath, but he didn't dare slow down... He had less than five minutes to get up to the fire.

“Balderdash!” he gasped at the Fat Lady, who was snoozing in her frame in front of the portrait hole.

“If you say so,” she muttered sleepily, without opening her eyes, and the picture swung forward to admit him. Harry climbed inside. The common room was deserted, and, judging by the fact that it smelled quite normal, Hermione had not needed to set off any Dungbombs to ensure that he and Sirius got privacy.

Harry pulled off the Invisibility Cloak and threw himself into an armchair in front of the fire. The room was in semidarkness; the flames were the only source of light. Nearby, on a table, the Support Cedric Diggory! badges the Creeveys had been trying to improve were glinting in the firelight. They now read POTTER REALLY STINKS. Harry looked back into the flames, and jumped.

Sirius's head was sitting in the fire. If Harry hadn't seen Mr. Diggory do exactly this back in the Weasleys' kitchen, it would have scared him out of his wits. Instead, his face breaking into the first smile he had worn for days, he scrambled out of his chair, crouched down by the hearth, and said, “Sirius—how're you doing?”

Sirius looked different from Harry's memory of him. When they had said good-bye, Sirius's face had been gaunt and sunken, surrounded by a quantity of long, black, matted hair—but the hair was short and clean now, Sirius's face was fuller, and he looked younger, much more like the only photograph Harry had of him, which had been taken at the Potters' wedding.

“Never mind me, how are you?” said Sirius seriously.

“I'm—” For a second, Harry tried to say “fine”—but he couldn't do it. Before he could stop himself, he was talking more than he'd talked in days—about how no one believed he hadn't entered the tournament of his own free will, how Rita Skeeter had lied about him in the Daily Prophet, how he couldn't walk down a corridor without being sneered at—and about Ron, Ron not believing him, Ron's jealousy...

“... and now Hagrid's just shown me what's coming in the first task, and it's dragons, Sirius, and I'm a goner,” he finished desperately.

Sirius looked at him, eyes full of concern, eyes that had not yet lost the look that Azkaban had given them—that deadened, haunted look He had let Harry talk himself into silence without interruption, but now he said, “Dragons we can deal with, Harry, but we'll get to that in a minute—I haven't got long here... I've broken into a wizarding house to use the fire, but they could be back at any time. There are things I need to warn you about.”

“What?” said Harry, feeling his spirits slip a further few notches... Surely there could be nothing worse than dragons coming?

“Karkaroff,” said Sirius. “Harry, he was a Death Eater. You know what Death Eaters are, don't you?”

“Yes—he—what?”

“He was caught, he was in Azkaban with me, but he got released. I'd bet everything that's why Dumbledore wanted an Auror at Hogwarts this year—to keep an eye on him. Moody caught Karkaroff. Put him into Azkaban in the first place.”

“Karkaroff got released?” Harry said slowly—his brain seemed to be struggling to absorb yet another piece of shocking information. “Why did they release him?”

“He did a deal with the Ministry of Magic,” said Sirius bitterly. “He said he'd seen the error of his ways, and then he named names... he put a load of other people into Azkaban in his place... He's not very popular in there, I can tell you. And since he got out, from what I can tell, he's been teaching the Dark Arts to every student who passes through that school of his. So watch out for the Durmstrang champion as well.”

“Okay,” said Harry slowly. “But... are you saying Karkaroff put my name in the goblet? Because if he did, he's a really good actor. He seemed furious about it. He wanted to stop me from competing.”

“We know he's a good actor,” said Sirius, “because he convinced the Ministry of Magic to set him free, didn't he? Now, I've been keeping an eye on the Daily Prophet, Harry..”

“you and the rest of the world,” said Harry bitterly.

“and reading between the lines of that Skeeter woman's article last month, Moody was attacked the night before he started at Hogwarts. Yes, I know she says it was another false alarm,” Sirius said hastily, seeing Harry about to speak, “but I don't think so, somehow. I think someone tried to stop him from getting to Hogwarts. I think someone knew their job would be a lot more difficult with him around. And no one's going to look into it too closely; Mad-Eye's heard intruders a bit too often. But that doesn't mean he can't still spot the real thing. Moody was the best Auror the Ministry ever had.”

Title: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Author: J.K.Rîwling
Viewed 138887 times

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