Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Read online

Page 21


Chapter 21 Hermiones Secret

 

  "Shocking business. . . shocking. . . miracle none of them died. . . never heard the like. . . by thunder, it was lucky you were there, Snape. . . "

  "Thank you, Minister. "

  "Order of Merlin, Second Class, I'd say. First Class, if I can wangle it!"

  "Thank you very much indeed, Minister. "

  "Nasty cut you've got there. . . Black's work, I suppose?"

  "As a matter of fact, it was Potter, Weasley, and Granger, Minister. . . "

  "No!"

  "Black had bewitched them, I saw it immediately. A Confundus Charm, to judge by their behavior. They seemed to think there was a possibility he was innocent. They weren't responsible for their actions. On the other hand, their interference might have permitted Black to escape. . . They obviously thought they were going to catch Black single-handed. They've got away with a great deal before now. . . I'm afraid it's given them a rather high opinion of themselves. . . and of course Potter has always been allowed an extraordinary amount of license by the headmaster --"

  "Ah, well, Snape. . . Harry Potter, you know. . . we've all got a bit of a blind spot where he's concerned. "

  "And yet -- is it good for him to be given so much special treatment? Personally, I try and treat him like any other student. And any other student would be suspended -- at the very least -- for leading his friends into such danger. Consider, Minister -- against all school rules -- after all the precautions put in place for his protection -- out-of-bounds, at night, consorting with a werewolf and a murderer -- and I have reason to believe he has been visiting Hogsmeade illegally too --"

  "Well, well. . . we shall see, Snape, we shall see. . . The boy has undoubtedly been foolish. . . . "

  Harry lay listening with his eyes tight shut. He felt very groggy. The words he was hearing seemed to be traveling very slowly from his ears to his brain, so that it was difficult to understand. . . . His limbs felt like lead; his eyelids too heavy to lift. . . . He wanted to lie here, on this comfortable bed, forever. . . .

  "What amazes me most is the behavior of the Dementors. . . you've really no idea what made them retreat, Snape?"

  "No, Minister. . . by the time I had come 'round they were heading back to their positions at the entrances. . . . "

  "Extraordinary. And yet Black, and Harry, and the girl --"

  "All unconscious by the time I reached them. I bound and gagged Black, naturally, conjured stretchers, and brought them all straight back to the castle. "

  There was a pause. Harry's brain seemed to be moving a little faster, and as it did, a gnawing sensation grew in the pit of his stomach. . . .

  He opened his eyes.

  Everything was slightly blurred. Somebody had removed his glasses. He was lying in the dark hospital wing. At the very end of the ward, he could make out Madam Pomfrey with her back to him, bending over a bed. Harry squinted. Ron's red hair was visible beneath Madam Pomfrey's arm.

  Harry moved his head over on the pillow. In the bed to his right lay Hermione. Moonlight was falling across her bed. Her eyes were open too. She looked petrified, and when she saw that Harry was awake, pressed a finger to her lips, then pointed to the hospital wing door. It was ajar, and the voices of Cornelius Fudge and Snape were coming through it from the corridor outside.

  Madam Pomfrey now came walking briskly up the dark ward to Harry's bed. He turned to took at her. She was carrying the largest block of chocolate he had ever seen in his life. It looked like a small boulder.

  "Ah, you're awake!" she said briskly. She placed the chocolate on Harry's bedside table and began breaking it apart with a small hammer.

  "How's Ron?" said Harry and Hermione together.

  "He'll live," said Madam Pomfrey grimly. "As for you two, you'll be staying here until I'm satisfied you're -- Potter, what do you think you're doing?"

  Harry was sitting up, putting his glasses back on, and picking up his wand.

  "I need to see the headmaster," he said.

  "Potter," said Madam Pomfrey soothingly, "it's all right. They've got Black. He's locked away upstairs. The Dementors will be performing the kiss any moment now --"

  "WHAT?"

  Harry jumped up out of bed; Hermione had done the same. But his shout had been heard in the corridor outside; next second, Cornelius Fudge and Snape had entered the ward.

  "Harry, Harry, what's this?" said Fudge, looking agitated. "You should be in bed -- has he had any chocolate?" he asked Madam Pomfrey anxiously.

  "Minister, listen!" Harry said. "Sirius Black's innocent! Peter Pettigrew faked his own death! We saw him tonight! You can't let the Dementors do that thing to Sirius, he's --"

  But Fudge was shaking his head with a small smile on his face.

  "Harry, Harry, you're very confused, you've been through a dreadful ordeal, lie back down, now, we've got everything under control. . . "

  "YOU HAVEN'T!" Harry yelled. "YOU'VE GOT THE WRONG MAN!"

  "Minister, listen, please," Hermione said; she had hurried to Harry's side and was gazing imploringly into Fudge's face. "I saw him too. It was Ron's rat, he's an Animagus, Pettigrew, I mean, and --"

  "You see, Minister?" said Snape. "Confunded, both of them. . . Black's done a very good job on them. . . . "

  "WE'RE NOT CONFUNDED!" Harry roared.

  "Minister! Professor!" said Madam Pomfrey angrily. "I must insist that you leave. Potter is my patient, and he should not be distressed!"

  "I'm not distressed, I'm trying to tell them what happened!" Harry said furiously. "If they'd just listen --"

  But Madam Pomfrey suddenly stuffed a large chunk of chocolate into Harry"s mouth; he choked, and she seized the opportunity to force him back onto the bed.

  "Now, please, Minister, these children need care. Please leave. "

  The door opened again. It was Dumbledore. Harry swallowed his mouthful of chocolate with great difficulty and got up again.

  "Professor Dumbledore, Sirius Black --"

  "For heaven's sake!" said Madam Pomfrey hysterically. "Is this a hospital wing or not? Headmaster, I must insist --"

  "My apologies, Poppy, but I need a word with Mr. Potter and Miss Granger," said Dumbledore calmly. "I have just been talking to Sirius Black --"

  "I suppose he's told you the same fairy tale he's planted in Potter's mind?" spat Snape. "Something about a rat, and Pettigrew being alive --"

  "That, indeed, is Black's story," said Dumbledore, surveying Snape closely through his half-moon spectacles.

  "And does my evidence count for nothing?" snarled Snape. "Peter Pettigrew was not in the Shrieking Shack, nor did I see any sign of him on the grounds. "

  "That was because you were knocked out, Professor!" said Hermione earnestly. "You didn't arrive in time to hear. "

  "Miss Granger, HOLD YOUR TONGUE!"

  "Now, Snape," said Fudge, startled, "the young lady is disturbed in her mind, we must make allowances --"

  "I would like to speak to Harry and Hermione alone," said Dumbledore abruptly. "Cornelius, Severus, Poppy -- please leave us. "

  "Headmaster!" sputtered Madam Pomfrey. "They need treatment, they need rest --"

  "This cannot wait," said Dumbledore. "I must insist. "

  Madam Pomfrey pursed her lips and strode away into her office at the end of the ward, slamming the door behind her. Fudge consulted the large gold pocket watch dangling from his waistcoat.

  "The Dementors should have arrived by now," he said. "I'll go and meet them. Dumbledore, I'll see you upstairs. "

  He crossed to the door and held it open for Snape, but Snape hadn't moved.

  "You surely don't believe a word of Black's story?" Snape whispered, his eyes fixed on Dumbledore's face.

  "I wish to speak to Harry and Hermione alone," Dumbledore repeated.

  Snape took a step toward Dumbledore.

  "Sirius Black showed he was capable of murder at the age of sixteen