Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Read online

Page 14

Chapter 14 Snapes Grudge


  No one in Gryffindor Tower slept that night. They knew that the castle was being searched again, and the whole House stayed awake in the common room, waiting to hear whether Black had been caught. Professor McGonagall came back at dawn, to tell them that he had again escaped.

  Throughout the day, everywhere they went they saw signs of tighter security; Professor Flitwick could be seen teaching the front doors to recognize a large picture of Sirius Black; Filch was suddenly bustling up and down the corridors, boarding up everything from tiny cracks in the walls to mouse holes. Sir Cadogan had been fired. His portrait had been taken back to its lonely landing on the seventh floor, and the Fat Lady was back. She had been expertly restored, but was still extremely nervous, and had agreed to return to her job only on condition that she was given extra protection. A bunch of surly security trolls had been hired to guard her. They paced the corridor in a menacing group, talking in grunts and comparing the size of their clubs.

  Harry couldn't help noticing that the statue of the one-eyed witch on the third floor remained unguarded and unblocked. It seemed that Fred and George had been right in thinking that they -- and now Harry, Ron, and Hermione -- were the only ones who knew about the hidden passageway within it.

  "D'you reckon we should tell someone?" Harry asked Ron.

  "We know he's not coming in through Honeyduke's," said Ron dismissively. "We'd've heard if the shop had been broken into. "

  Harry was glad Ron took this view. If the one-eyed witch was boarded up too, he would never be able to go into Hogsmeade again.

  Ron had become an instant celebrity. For the first time in his life, people were paying more attention to him than to Harry, and it was clear that Ron was rather enjoying the experience. Though still severely shaken by the night's events, he was happy to tell anyone who asked what had happened, with a wealth of detail.

  ". . . I was asleep, and I heard this ripping noise, and I thought it was in my dream, you know? But then there was this draft. . . I woke up and one side of the hangings on my bed had been pulled down. . . I rolled over. . . and I saw him standing over me. . . like a skeleton, with loads of filthy hair. . . holding this great long knife, must've been twelve inches. . . and he looked at me, and I looked at him, and then I yelled, and he scampered.

  "Why, though?" Ron added to Harry as the group of second year girls who had been listening to his chilling tale departed. "Why did he run?"

  Harry had been wondering the same thing. Why had Black, having got the wrong bed, not silenced Ron and proceeded to Harry? Black had proved twelve years ago that he didn't mind murdering innocent people, and this time he had been facing five unarmed boys, four of whom were asleep.

  "He must've known he'd have a job getting back out of the castle once you'd yelled and woken people up," said Harry thoughtfully. "He'd've had to kill the whole house to get back through the portrait hole. . . then he would've met the teachers. . . "

  Neville was in total disgrace. Professor McGonagall was so furious with him she had banned him from all future Hogsmeade visits, given him a detention, and forbidden anyone to give him the password into the tower. Poor Neville was forced to wait. outside the common room every night for somebody to let him in, while the security trolls leered unpleasantly at him. None of these punishments, however, came close to matching the one his grandmother had in store for him. Two days after Black's break-in, she sent Neville the very worst thing a Hogwarts student could receive over breakfast -- a Howler.

  The school owls swooped into the Great Hall carrying the mail as usual, and Neville choked as a huge barn owl landed in front of him, a scarlet envelope clutched in its beak. Harry and Ron, who were sitting opposite him, recognized the letter as a Howler at once -- Ron had got one from his mother the year before.

  "Run for it, Neville," Ron advised.

  Neville didn't need telling twice. He seized the envelope, and holding it before him like a bomb, sprinted out of the hall, while the Slytherin table exploded with laughter at the sight of him. They heard the Howler go off in the entrance hall -- Neville's grandmother's voice, magically magnified to a hundred times its usual volume, shrieking about how he had brought shame on the whole family.

  Harry was too busy feeling sorry for Neville to notice immediately that he had a letter too. Hedwig got his attention by nipping him sharply on the wrist.

  "Ouch! Oh -- thanks, Hedwig. "

  Harry tore open the envelope while Hedwig helped herself to some of Neville's cornflakes. The note inside said:

  Dear Harry and Ron,

  How about having tea with me this afternoon 'round six? I'll come collect you from the castle. WAIT FOR ME IN THE ENTRANCE HALL; YOU'RE NOT ALLOWED OUT ON YOUR OWN.



  "He probably wants to hear all about Black!" said Ron.

  So at six o'clock that afternoon, Harry and Ron left Gryffindor Tower, passed the security trolls at a run, and headed down to the entrance hall.

  Hagrid was already waiting for them.

  "All right, Hagrid!" said Ron. "S'pose you want to hear about Saturday night, do you?"

  "I've already heard all abou' it," said Hagrid, opening the front doors and leading them outside.

  "Oh," said Ron, looking slightly put out.

  The first thing they saw on entering Hagrid's cabin was Buckbeak, who was stretched out on top of Hagrid's patchwork quilt, his enormous wings folded tight to his body, enjoying a large plate of dead ferrets. Averting his eyes from this unpleasant sight, Harry saw a gigantic, hairy brown suit and a very horrible yellow-and-orange tie hanging from the top of Hagrid's wardrobe door.

  "What are they for, Hagrid?" said Harry.

  "Buckbeak's case against the Committee fer the Disposal o' Dangerous Creatures," said Hagrid. "This Friday. Him an' me'll be goin' down ter London together. I've booked two beds on the Knight Bus. . . . "

  Harry felt a nasty pang of guilt. He had completely forgotten that Buckbeak's trial was so near, and judging by the uneasy look on Ron's face, he had too. They had also forgotten their promise about helping him prepare Buckbeak's defense; the arrival of the Firebolt had driven it clean out of their minds.

  Hagrid poured them tea and offered them a plate of Bath buns but they knew better than to accept; they had had too much experience with Hagrid's cooking.

  "I got somethin' ter discuss with you two," said Hagrid, sitting himself between them and looking uncharacteristically serious.

  "What?" said Harry.

  "Hermione," said Hagrid.

  "What about her?" said Ron.

  "She's in a righ' state, that's what. She's bin comin' down ter visit me a lot since Chris'mas. Bin feelin' lonely. Firs' yeh weren' talking to her because o' the Firebolt, now yer not talkin' to her because her cat --"

  "¨C ate Scabbers!" Ron interjected angrily.

  "Because her cat acted like all cats do," Hagrid continued doggedly. "She's cried a fair few times, yeh know. Goin' through a rough time at the moment. Bitten off more'n she can chew, if yeh ask me, all the work she's tryin' ter do. Still found time ter help me with Buckbeak's case, mind. . . She's found some really good stuff fer me. . . reckon he'll stand a good chance now. . . "

  "Hagrid, we should've helped as well -- sorry --" Harry began awkwardly.

  "I'm not blamin' yeh!" said Hagrid, waving Harry's apology aside. "Gawd knows yeh've had enough ter be getting' on with. I've seen yeh practicin' Quidditch ev'ry hour o' the day an' night -- but I gotta tell yeh, I thought you two'd value yer friend more'n broomsticks or rats. Tha's all. "

  Harry and Ron exchanged uncomfortable looks.

  "Really upset, she was, when Black nearly stabbed yeh, Ron. She's got her heart in the right place, Hermione has, an' you two not talkin' to her --"

  "If she'd just get rid of that cat, I'd speak to her again!" Ron said angrily. "But she's still sticking up for it! It's a mani