J.K.Rîwling >> Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (page 24)

“He's not looking too good, is he?” Harry said.

“It's stress!” said Ron. “He'd be fine if that big stupid furball left him alone!”

But Harry, remembering what the woman at the Magical Menagerie had said about rats living only three years, couldn't help feeling that unless Scabbers had powers he had never revealed, he was reaching the end of his life. And despite Ron's frequent conplaints that Scabbers was both boring and useless, he was sure Ron would be very miserable if Scabbers died.

Christmas spirit was definitely thin on the ground in the Gryffindor common room that morning. Hermione had shut Crookshanks in her dormitory, but was furious with Ron for trying to kick him; Ron was still fuming about Crookshanks's fresh attempt to eat Scabbers. Harry gave up trying to make them talk to each other and devoted himself to examining the Firebolt, which he had brought down to the common room with him. For some reason this seemed to annoy Hermione as well; she didn't say anything, but she kept looking darkly at the broom as though it too had been criticizing her cat.

At lunchtime they went down to the Great Hall, to find that the House tables had been moved against the walls again, and that a single table, set for twelve, stood in the middle of the room. Professors Dumbledore, McGonagall, Snape, Sprout, and Flitwick were there, along with Filch, the caretaker, who had taken off his usual brown coat and was wearing a very old and rather moldylooking tailcoat. There were only three other students, two extremely nervous-looking first years and a sullen-faced Slytherin fifth year.

“Merry Christmas!” said Dumbledore as Harry, Ron, and Hermione approached the table. “As there are so few of us, it seemed foolish to use the House tables... Sit down, sit down!”

Harry, Ron, and Hermione sat down side by side at the end of the table.

“Crackers!” said Dumbledore enthusiastically, offering the end of a large silver noisemaker to Snape, who took it reluctantly and tugged. With a bang like a gunshot, the cracker flew apart to reveal a large, pointed witchs hat topped with a stuffed vulture.

Harry, remembering the boggart, caught Ron's eye and they both grinned; Snape's mouth thinned and he pushed the hat toward Dumbledore, who swapped it for his wizard's hat at once.

“Dig in!” he advised the table, beaming around.

As Harry was helping himself to roast potatoes, the doors of the Great Hall opened again. It was Professor Trelawney, gliding toward them as though on wheels. She had put on a green sequined dress in honor of the occasion, making her look more than ever like a glittering, oversized dragonfly.

“Sibyll, this is a pleasant surprise!” said Dumbledore, standing up.

“I have been crystal gazing, Headmaster,” said Professor Trelawney in her mistiest, most faraway voice, “and to my astonishment, I saw myself abandoning my solitary luncheon and coming to join you. Who am I to refuse the promptings of fate? I at once hastened from my tower, and I do beg you to forgive my lateness...”

“Certainly, certainly,” said Dumbledore, his eyes twinkling. “Let me draw you up a chair —”

And he did indeed draw a chair in midair with his wand, which revolved for a few seconds before falling with a thud between Professors Snape and McGonagall. Professor Trelawney, however, did not sit down; her enormous eyes had been roving around the table, and she suddenly uttered a kind of soft scream.

I dare not, Headmaster! If I join the table, we shall be thirteen! Nothing could be more unlucky! Never forget that when thirteen dine together, the first to rise will be the first to die!”

“We'll risk it, Sibyll,” said Professor McGonagall inpatiendy. “Do sit down, the turkey's getting stone cold.”

Professor Trelawney hesitated, then lowered herself into the empty chair, eyes shut and mouth clenched tight, as though expecting a thunderbolt to hit the table. Professor McGonagall poked a large spoon into the nearest tureen.

“Tripe, Sibyll?”

Professor Trelawney ignored her. Eyes open again, she looked around once more and said, “But where is dear Professor Lupin?”

“I'm afraid the poor fellow is ill again,” said Dumbledore, indicating that everybody should start serving themselves. “Most unfortunate that it should happen on Christmas Day.”

“But surely you already knew that, Sibyll?” said Professor McGonagall, her eyebrows raised.

Professor Trelawney gave Professor McGonagall a very cold look.

“Certainly I knew, Minerva, 11 she said quietly. “But one does not parade the fact that one is AllKnowing. I frequently act as though I am not possessed of the Inner Eye, so as not to make others nervous.

“That explains a great deal,” said Professor McGonagall tartly.

Professor Trelawney's voice suddenly became a good deal less misty.

“If you must know, Minerva, I have seen that poor Professor Lupin will not be with us for very long. He seems aware, himself, that his time is short. He positively fled when I offered to crystal gaze for him —”

“Imagine that,” said Professor McGonagall dryly.

I doubt,” said Dumbledore, in a cheerful but slightly raised voice, which put an end to Professor McGonagall and Professor Trelawney's conversation, “that Professor Lupin is in any immediate danger. Severus, you've made the potion for him again?”

“Yes, Headmaster,” said Snape. “W—what?” said Harry, scrambling to his feet. “Why?”

“It will need to be checked for jinxes,” said Professor McGonagall. “Of course, I'm no expert, but I daresay Madam Hooch and Professor Flitwick will strip it down —”

“Strip it down?” repeated Ron, as though Professor McGonagall was mad.

“It shouldn't take more than a few weeks,” said Professor McGonagall. “You will have it back if we are sure it is jinx-free.”

“There's nothing wrong with it!” said Harry, his voice shaking slightly. “Honestly, Professor —”

“You can't know that, Potter,” said Professor McGonagall, quite kindly, “not until you've flown it, at any rate, and I'm afraid that is out of the question until we are certain that it has not been tampered with. I shall keep you informed.”

Professor McGonagall turned on her heel and carried the Firebolt out of the portrait hole, which closed behind her. Harry stood staring after her, the tin of High-Finish Polish still clutched in his hands. Ron, however, rounded on Hermione.

“What did you go running to McGonagall for?

Hermione threw her book aside. She was still pink in the face, but stood up and faced Ron defiantly.

“Because I thought—and Professor McGonagall agrees with me—that that broom was probably sent to Harry by Sirius Black!”



Harry knew that Hermione had meant well, but that didn't stop him from being angry with her. He had been the owner of the best broom in the world for a few short hours, and now, because of her interference, he didn't know whether he would ever see it again. He was positive that there was nothing wrong with the Firebolt now, but what sort of state would it be in once it had been subjected to all sorts of anti-jinx tests?

Ron was furious with Hermione too. As far as he was concerned, the stripping-down of a brandnew Firebolt was nothing less than criminal damage. Hermione, who remained convinced that she had acted for the best, started avoiding the common room. Harry and Ron supposed she had taken refuge in the library and didn't try to persuade her to come back. All in all, they were glad when the rest of the school returned shortly after New Year, and Gryffindor Tower became crowded and noisy again. Wood sought Harry out on the night before term started.

“Had a good Christmas?” he said, and then, without waiting for an answer, he sat down, lowered his voice, and said, “I've been, doing some thinking over Christmas, Harry. After last match, you know. If the dementors come to the next one... I mean... we can't afford you to—well —”

Wood broke off, looking awkward.

“I'm working on it,” said Harry quickly. “Professor Lupin said he'd train me to ward off the dementors. We should be starting this week. He said he'd have time after Christmas.”

“Ah,” said Wood, his expression clearing. “Well, in that case—I really didn't want to lose you as Seeker, Harry. And have you ordered a new broom yet?”

“No,” said Harry.

“What! You'd better get a move on, you know—you can't ride that Shooting Star against Ravenclaw!”

“He got a Firebolt for Christmas,” said Ron.

“A Firebolt? No! Seriously? A—a real Firebolt?”

“Don't get excited, Oliver,” said Harry gloomily. “I haven't got it anymore. It was confiscated.” And he explained all about how the Firebolt was now being checked for jinxes.

“Jinxed? How could it be jinxed?”

“Sirius Black” Harry said wearily. “He's supposed to be after me. So McGonagall reckons he might have sent it.”

Waving aside the information that a famous murderer was after his Seeker, Wood said, “But Black couldn't have bought a Firebolt! He's on the run! The whole country's on the lookout for him! How could he just walk into Quality Quidditch Supplies and buy a broomstick?”

“I know,” said Harry, “but McGonagall still wants to strip it down —”

Wood went pale.

“I'll go and talk to her, Harry,” he promised. “I'll make her see reason... A Firebolt... a real Firebolt, on our team... She wants Gryffindor to win as much as we do... I'll make her see sense. A Firebolt...”

Classes started again the next day. The last thing anyone felt like doing was spending two hours on the grounds on a raw January morning, but Hagrid had provided a bonfire full of salamanders for their enjoyment, and they spent an unusually good lesson collecting dry wood and leaves to keep the fire blazing while the flame-loving lizards scampered up and down the crumbling, white-hot logs. The first Divination lesson of the new term was much less fun; Professor Trelawney was now teaching them palmistry, and she lost no time in informing Harry that he had the shortest life line she had ever seen.

It was Defense Against the Dark Arts that Harry was keen to get to; after his conversation with Wood, he wanted to get started on his anti-dementor lessons as soon as possible.

“Ah yes,” said Lupin, when Harry reminded him of his promise at the end of class. “Let me see... how about eight o'clock on Thursday evening? The History of Magic classroom should be large enough... I'll have to think carefully about how we're going to do this... We can't bring a real dementor into the castle to practice on...”

“Still looks ill, doesn't he?” said Ron as they walked down the corridor, heading to dinner. “What d'you reckon's the matter with him?”

There was a loud and impatient “tuh” from behind them. It was Hermione, who had been sitting at the feet of a suit of armor, repacking her bag, which was so full of books it wouldn't close.

“And what are you tutting at us for?” said Ron irritably.

“Nothing,” said Hermione in a lofty voice, heaving her bag back over her shoulder.

“Yes, you were,” said Ron. “I said I wonder what's wrong with Lupin, and you —”

“Well, isn't it obvious?” said Hermione, with a look of maddening superiority.

“If you don't want to tell us, don't,” snapped Ron.

“Fine,” said Hermione haughtily, and she marched off.

“She doesn't know,” said Ron, staring resentfully after Hermione. “She's just trying to get us to talk to her again.”

At eight o'clock on Thursday evening, Harry left Gryffindor Tower for the History of Magic classroom. It was dark and empty when he arrived, but he lit the lamps with his wand and had waited only five minutes when Professor Lupin turned up, carrying a large packing case, which he heaved onto Professor Binn's desk.

“What's that?” said Harry.

“Another boggart,” said Lupin, stripping off his cloak. “I've been combing the castle ever since Tuesday, and very luckily, I found this one lurking inside Mr. Filch's filing cabinet. It's the nearest we'll get to a real dementor. The boggart will turn into a dementor when he sees you, so we'll be able to practice on him. I can store him in my office when we're not using him; there's a cupboard under my desk he'll like.”

“Okay,” said Harry, trying to sound as though he wasn't apprehensive at all and merely glad that Lupin had found such a good substitute for a real dementor.

“So...” Professor Lupin had taken out his own wand, and indicated that Harry should do the same. “The spell I am going to try and teach you is highly advanced magic, Harry—well beyond ordinary Wizarding Level. It is called the Patronus Charm.”

“How does it work?” said Harry nervously.

“Well, when it works correctly, It conjures up a Patronus,” said Lupin, “which is a kind of antidementor—a guardian that acts as a shield between you and the dementor.”

Harry had a sudden vision of himself crouching behind a Hagridsized figure holding a large club. Professor Lupin continued, “The Patronus is a kind of positive force, a projection of the very things that the dementor feeds upon—hope, happiness, the desire to survive—but it cannot feel despair, as real humans can, so the dementors can't hurt it. But I must warn you, Harry, that the charm might be too advanced for you. Many qualified wizards have difficulty with it.”

“What does a Patronus look like?” said Harry curiously.

“Each one is unique to the wizard who conjures it.”

“And how do you conjure it?”

“With an incantation, which will work only if you are concentrating, with all your might, on a single, very happy memory.”

Harry cast his mind about for a happy memory. Certainly, nothing that had happened to him at the Dursleys' was going to do. Finally, he settled on the moment when he had first ridden a broomstick.

“Right,” he said, trying to recall as exactly as possible the wonderful, soaring sensation of his stomach.

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