Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Read online

Page 6

Chapter 6 Talons and Tea Leaves


  When Harry, Ron, and Hermione entered the Great Hall for breakfast the next day, the first thing they saw was Draco Malfoy, who seemed to be entertaining a large group of Slytherins with a very funny story. As they passed, Malfoy did a ridiculous impression of a swooning fit and there was a roar of laughter.

  "Ignore him," said Hermione, who was right behind Harry. "Just ignore him, it's not worth it. . . "

  "Hey, Potter!" shrieked Pansy Parkinson, a Slytherin girl with a face like a pug. "Potter! The Dementors are coming, Potter! Woooooooooo!"

  Harry dropped into a seat at the Gryffindor table, next to George Weasley.

  "New third-year course schedules," said George, passing then, over. "What's up with you, Harry?"

  "Malfoy," said Ron, sitting down on George's other side and glaring over at the Slytherin table.

  George looked up in time to see Malfoy pretending to faint with terror again.

  "That little git," he said calmly. "He wasn't so cocky last night when the Dementors were down at our end of the train. Came running into our compartment, didn't he, Fred?"

  "Nearly wet himself," said Fred, with a contemptuous glance at Malfoy.

  "I wasn't too happy myself," said George. "They're horrible things, those Dementors. . . "

  "Sort of freeze your insides, don't they?" said Fred.

  "You didn't pass out, though, did you?" said Harry in a low voice.

  "Forget it, Harry," said George bracingly. "Dad had to go out to Azkaban one time, remember, Fred? And he said it was the worst place he'd ever been, he came back all weak and shaking. . . They suck the happiness out of a place, Dementors. Most of the prisoners go mad in there. "

  "Anyway, we'll see how happy Malfoy looks after our first Quidditch match," said Fred. "Gryffindor versus Slytherin, first game of the season, remember?"

  The only time Harry and Malfoy had faced each other in a Quidditch match, Malfoy had definitely come off worse. Feeling slightly more cheerful, Harry helped himself to sausages and fried tomatoes.

  Hermione was examining her new schedule.

  "Ooh, good, we're starting some new subjects today," she said happily.

  "Hermione," said Ron, frowning as he looked over her shoulder, "they've messed up your timetable. Look -- they've got you down for about ten subjects a day. There isn't enough time. "

  "I'll manage. I've fixed it all with Professor McGonagall. "

  "But look," said Ron, laughing, "see this morning? Nine o'clock, Divination. And underneath, nine o'clock, Muggle Studies. And --" Ron leaned closer to the timetable, disbelieving, "look -- underneath that, Arithmancy, nine o'clock. I mean, I know you're good, Hermione, but no one's that good. How're you supposed to be in three classes at once?"

  "Don't be silly," said Hermione shortly. "Of course I won't be in three classes at once. "

  "Well then --"

  "Pass the marmalade," said Hermione.

  "But --"

  "Oh, Ron, what's it to you if my timetable's a bit full?" Hermione snapped. "I told you, I've fixed it all with Professor McGonagall. "

  Just then, Hagrid entered the Great Hall. He was wearing his long moleskin overcoat and was absent-mindedly swinging a dead polecat from one enormous hand.

  "All righ'?" he said eagerly, pausing on his way to the staff table. "Yer in my firs' ever lesson! Right after lunch! Bin up since five getting' everthin' ready. . . hope it's OK. . . me, a teacher. . . hones'ly. . . "

  He grinned broadly at them and headed off to the staff table, still swinging the polecat.

  "Wonder what he's been getting ready?" said Ron, a note of anxiety in his voice.

  The Hall was starting to empty as people headed off towards their first lesson. Ron checked his schedule.

  "We'd better go, look, Divination's at the top of North Tower. It'll take us ten minutes to get there. . . "

  They finished breakfast hastily, said goodbye to Fred and George and walked back through the hall. As they passed the Slytherin table, Malfoy did yet another impression of a fainting fit. The shouts of laughter followed Harry into the Entrance Hall.

  The journey through the castle to North Tower was a long one. Two years at Hogwarts hadn't taught them everything about the castle, and they had never been inside North Tower before.

  "There's -- got -- to -- be -- a -- short -- cut," Ron panted, as they climbed the seventh long staircase and emerged on an unfamiliar landing, where there was nothing but a large painting of a bare stretch of grass hanging on the stone wall.

  "I think it's this way," said Hermione, peering down the empty passage to the right.

  "Can't be," said Ron. "That's south. Look, you can see a bit of the lake outside the window. . . "

  Harry was watching the painting. A fat, dappled-gray pony had just ambled onto the grass and was grazing nonchalantly. Harry was used to the subjects of Hogwarts paintings moving around and leaving their frames to visit each other, but he always enjoyed watching them. A moment later, a short, squat knight in a suit of armour had clanked into the picture after his pony. By the look of the grass stains on his metal knees, he had just fallen off.

  "Aha!" he yelled, seeing Harry, Ron and Hermione. "What villains are these, that trespass upon my private lands! Come to scorn at my fall, perchance? Draw, you knaves, you dogs!"

  They watched in astonishment as the little knight tugged his sword out of its scabbard and began brandishing it violently, hopping up and down in rage. But the sword was too long for him; a particularly wild swing made him overbalance, and he landed facedown in the grass.

  "Are you all right?" said Harry, moving closer to the picture.

  "Get back, you scurvy braggart! Back, you rogue!"

  The knight seized his sword again and used it to push himself back up, but the blade sank deeply into the grass and, though he pulled with all his might, he couldn't get it out again. Finally, he had to flop back down onto the grass and push up his visor to mop his sweating face.

  "Listen," said Harry, taking advantage of the knight's exhaustion, "we're looking for the North Tower. You don't know the way, do you?"

  "A quest!" The knight's rage seemed to vanish instantly. He clanked to his feet and shouted, "Come follow me, dear friends, and we shall find our goal, or else shall perish bravely in the charge!"

  He gave the sword another fruitless tug, tried and failed to mount the fat pony, gave up, and cried, "On foot then, good sirs and gentle lady! On! On!"

  And he ran, clanking loudly, into the left side of the frame and out of sight.

  They hurried after him along the corridor, following the sound of his armor. Every now and then they spotted him running through a picture ahead.

  "Be of stout heart, the worst is yet to come!" yelled the knight, and they saw him reappear in front of an alarmed group of women in crinolines, whose picture hung on the wall of a narrow spiral staircase.

  Puffing loudly, Harry, Ron, and Hermione climbed the tightly spiraling steps, getting dizzier and dizzier, until at last they heard the murmur of voices above them and knew they had reached the classroom.

  "Farewell!" cried the knight, popping his head into a painting of some sinister-looking monks. "Farewell, my comrades-in-arms! If ever you have need of noble heart and steely sinew, call upon Sir Cadogan!"

  "Yeah, we'll call you," muttered Ron as the knight disappeared, "if we ever need someone mental. "

  They climbed the last few steps and emerged onto a tiny landing, where most of the class was already assembled. There were no doors off this landing, but Ron nudged Harry and pointed at the ceiling, where there was a circular trapdoor with a brass plaque on it.

  "'Sibyll Trelawney, Divination teacher,'" Harry read. "How're we supposed to get up there?"

  As though in answer to his question, the trapdoor suddenly opened, and a silvery ladder descended right at Harry's feet. Everyone got quiet.