Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Read online

Page 8


Chapter 8 Flight of the Fat Lady

 

  In no time at all, Defense Against the Dark Arts had become most people's favorite class. Only Draco Malfoy and his gang of Slytherins had anything bad to say about Professor Lupin.

  "Look at the state of his robes," Malfoy would say in a loud whisper as Professor Lupin passed. "He dresses like our old house elf. "

  But no one else cared that Professor Lupin's robes were patched and frayed. His next few lessons were just as interesting as the first. After Boggarts, they studied Red Caps, nasty little goblin-like creatures that lurked wherever there had been bloodshed: in the dungeons of castles and the potholes of deserted battlefields, waiting to bludgeon those who had gotten lost. From Red Caps they moved on to Kappas, creepy. water-dwellers that looked like scaly monkeys, with webbed hands itching to strangle unwitting waders in their ponds.

  Harry only wished he was as happy with some of his other classes. Worst of all was Potions. Snape was in a particularly vindictive mood these days, and no one was in any doubt why. The story of the Boggart assuming Snape's shape, and the way that Neville had dressed it in his grandmother's clothes, had traveled through the school like wildfire. Snape didn't seem to find it funny. His eyes flashed menacingly at the very mention of Professor Lupin's name, and he was bullying Neville worse than ever.

  Harry was also growing to dread the hours he spent in Professor Trelawney's stifling tower room, deciphering lopsided shapes and symbols, trying to ignore the way Professor Trelawney's enormous eyes filled with tears every time she looked at him. He couldn't like Professor Trelawney, even though she was treated with respect bordering on reverence by many of the class. Parvati Patil and Lavender Brown had taken to haunting Professor Trelawney's tower room at lunch times, and always returned with annoyingly superior looks on their faces, as though they knew things the others didn't. They had also started using hushed voices whenever they spoke to Harry, as though he were on his deathbed.

  Nobody really liked Care of Magical Creatures, which, after the action-packed first class, had become extremely dull. Hagrid seemed to have lost his confidence. They were now spending lesson after lesson learning how to look after flobberworms, which had to be some of the most boring creatures in existence.

  "Why would anyone bother looking after them?" said Ron, after yet another hour of poking shredded lettuce down the flobberworms' throats.

  At the start of October, however, Harry had something else to occupy him, something so enjoyable it more than made up for his unsatisfactory classes. The Quidditch season was approaching, and O1iver Wood, Captain of the Gryffindor team, called a meeting on Thursday evening to discuss tactics for the new season.

  There were seven people on a Quidditch team: three Chasers, whose job it was to score goals by putting the Quaffle (a red, soccer-sized ball) through one of the fifty-foot-high hoops at each end of the field; two Beaters, who were equipped with heavy bats to repel the Bludgers (two heavy black balls that zoomed around trying to attack the players); a Keeper, who defended the goal posts, and the Seeker, who had the hardest job of all, that of catching the Golden Snitch, a tiny, winged, walnut-sized ball, whose capture ended the game and earned the Seeker's team an extra one hundred and fifty points.

  Oliver Wood was a burly seventeen-year-old, now in his seventh and final year at Hogwarts. There was a quiet sort of desperation in his voice as he addressed his six fellow team members in the chilly locker rooms on the edge of the darkening Quidditch field.

  "This is our last chance -- my last chance -- to win the Quidditch Cup," he told them, striding up and down in front of them. "I'll be leaving at the end of this year. I'll never get another shot at it. "

  "Gryffindor hasn't won for seven years now. Okay, so we've had the worst luck in the world -- injuries -- then the tournament getting called off last year. " Wood swallowed, as though the memory still brought a lump to his throat. "But we also know we've got the best -- ruddy -- team -- in -- the -- school," he said, punching a fist into his other hand, the old manic glint back in his eye. "We've got three superb Chasers. "

  Wood pointed at Alicia Spinner, Angelina Johnson, and Katie Bell.

  "We've got two unbeatable Beaters. "

  "Stop it, Oliver, you're embarrassing us," said Fred and George Weasley together, pretending to blush.

  "And we've got a Seeker who has never failed to win us a match!" Wood rumbled, glaring at Harry with a kind of furious pride. "And me," he added as an afterthought.

  "We think you're very good too, Oliver," said George.

  "Spanking good Keeper," said Fred.

  "The point is," Wood went on, resuming his pacing, "the Quidditch Cup should have had our name on it these last two years. Ever since Harry joined the team, I've thought the thing was in the bag. But we haven't got it, and this year's the last chance we'll get to finally see our name on the thing. . . "

  Wood spoke so dejectedly that even Fred and George looked sympathetic.

  "Oliver, this year's our year," said Fred.

  "We'll do it, Oliver!" said Angelina.

  "Definitely," said Harry.

  Full of determination, the team started training sessions, three evenings a week. The weather was getting colder and wetter, the nights darker, but no amount of mud, wind, or rain could tarnish Harry's wonderful vision of finally winning the huge, silver Quidditch Cup.

  Harry returned to the Gryffindor common room one evening after training, cold and stiff but pleased with the way practice had gone, to find the room buzzing excitedly.

  "What's happened?", he asked Ron and Hermione, who were sitting in two of the best chairs by the fireside and completing some star charts for Astronomy.

  "First Hogsmeade weekend," said Ron, pointing at a notice that had appeared on the battered old bulletin board. "End of October. Halloween. "

  "Excellent," said Fred, who had followed Harry through the portrait hole. "I need to visit Zonko's. I'm nearly out of Stink Pellets. "

  Harry threw himself into a chair beside Ron, his high spirits ebbing away. Hermione seemed to read his mind.

  "Harry, I'm sure you'll be able to go next time," she said. "They're bound to catch Black soon. He's been sighted once already. "

  "Black's not fool enough to try anything in Hogsmeade," said Ron. "Ask McGonagall if you can go this time, Harry. The next one might not be for ages --"

  "Ron!" said Hermione. "Harry's supposed to stay in school --"

  "He can't be the only third year left behind," said Ron. "Ask McGonagall, go on, Harry --"

  "Yeah, I think I will," said Harry, making up his mind.

  Hermione opened her mouth to argue, but at that moment Crookshanks leapt lightly onto her lap. A large, dead spider was dangling from his mouth.

  "Does he have to eat that in front of us?" said Ron, scowling.

  "Clever Crookshanks, did you catch that all by yourself?" said Hermione.

  Crookshanks; slowly chewed up the spider, his yellow eyes fixed insolently on Ron.

  "Just keep him over there, that's all," said Ron irritably, turning back to his star chart. "I've got Scabbers asleep in my bag. "

  Harry yawned. He really wanted to go to bed, but he still had his own star chart to complete. He pulled his bag toward him, took out parchment, ink, and quill, and started work.

  "You can copy mine, if you like," said Ron, labeling his last star with a flourish and shoving the chart toward Harry.

  Hermione, who disapproved of copying, pursed her lips but didn't say anything. Crookshanks was still staring unblinkingly at Ron, flicking the end of his bushy tail. Then, without warning, he pounced.

  "OY!" Ron roared, seizing his bag as Crookshanks sank four sets of claws deep inside it and began tearing ferociously. "GET OFF, YOU STUPID ANIMAL!"

  Ron tried to pull the bag away from Crookshanks, but Crookshanks clung on, spitting and slashing.

  "Ron, don't hurt him!" squealed Hermione; the whol