Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling chapter one owl post



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CHAPTER EIGHT

FLIGHT OF THE FAT FADY

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 houseelf "

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

Professer 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 a's

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 tournamentgetting 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. "1'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 whole common room was

watching; Ron whirled the bag around, Crookshanks still clinging to it,

and Scabbers came flying out of the top -

"CATCH THAT CAR' Ron yelled as Crookshanks freed himself from the

remnants of the bag, sprang over the table, and chased after the

terrified Scabbers.

George Weasley made a lunge for Crookshanks but missed; Scabbers

streaked through twenty pairs of legs and shot beneath an old chest of

drawers. Crookshanks skidded to a halt, crouched low on his bandy legs,

and started making furious swipes beneath it with his front paw.

Ron and Hermione hurried over; Hermione grabbed Crookshanks around the

middle and heaved him away; Ron threw himself onto his stomach and, with

great difficulty, pulled Scabbers out by the tail.

"Look at him!" he said furiously to Hermione, dangling Scabbers in front

of her. "He's skin and bone! You keep that cat away from him!"

"Crookshanks doesn't understand it's wrong!" said Hermione, her voice

shaking. "All cats chase rats, Ron!"

"There's something funny about that animal!" said Ron, who was trying to

persuade a frantically wiggling Scabbers back into his pocket. "It heard

me say that Scabbers was in my bag!"

"Oh, what rubbish," said Hermione impatiently. "Crookshanks could smell

him, Ron, how else d'you think --"

"That cat's got it in for Scabbers!" said Ron, 'ignoring the people

around him, who were starting to giggle. "And Scabbers was here first,

and he's ill!"

Ron marched through the common room and out of sight up the stairs to

the boys' dormitories.

Ron was still in a bad mood with Hermione next day. He barely talked to

her all through Herbology, even though he, Harry, and Hermione were

working together on the same puffapod.

"How's Scabbers?" Hermione asked timidly as they stripped fat pink pods

from the plants and emptied the shining beans into a wooden pail.

"He's hiding at the bottom of my bed, shaking, " said Ron angrily,

missing the pail and scattering beans over the greenhouse floor.

"Careful, Weasley, careful!" cried Professor Sprout as the beans burst

into bloom before their very eyes.

They had Transfiguration next. Harry, who had resolved to ask Professor

McGonagall after the lesson whether he could go into Hogsmeade with the

rest, joined the line outside the class trying to decide how he was

going to argue his case. He was distracted, however, by a disturbance at

the front of the line.

Lavender Brown seemed to be crying. Parvati had her arm around her and

was explaining something to Seamus Finnigan and Dean Thomas, who were

looking very serious.

"What's the matter, Lavender?" said Hermione anxiously as she, Harry,

and Ron went to join the group.

"She got a letter from home this morning," Parvati whispered. "It's her

rabbit, Binky. He's been killed by a fox."

"Oh," said Hermione, "I'm sorry, Lavender."

"I should have known!" said Lavender tragically. "You know what day it

is?"


"Er --"

"The sixteenth of October! 'That thing you're dreading, it will happen

on the sixteenth of October!' Remember? She was right, she was right!"

The whole class was gathered around Lavender now. Seamus shook his head

seriously. Hermione hesitated; then she said, "You -- you were dreading

Binky being killed by a fox?"

"Well, not necessarily by a fox," said Lavender, looking up at Hermione

with streaming eyes, "but I was obviously dreading him dying, wasn't l?"

"Oh," said Hermione. She paused again. Then

"Was Binky an old rabbit?"

"N -- no!" sobbed Lavender. "H -- he was only a baby!"

Parvati tightened her arm around Lavender's shoulders.

"But then, why would you dread him dying?" said Hermione.

Parvati glared at her.

"Well, look at it logically," said Hermione, turning to the rest of the

group- "I mean, Binky didn't even die today, did he? Lavender just got

the news today-" Lavender wailed loudly. "- and she can't have been

dreading it, because it's come as a real shock --"

"Don't mind Hermione, Lavender," said Ron loudly, "she doesn't think

other people's pets matter very much."

Professor McGonagall opened the classroom door at that moment, which was

perhaps lucky; Hermione and Ron were looking daggers at each other, and

when they got into class, they seated themselves on either side of Harry

and didn't talk to each other for the whole class.

Harry still hadn't decided what he was going to say to Professor

McGonagall when the bell rang at the end of the lesson, but it was she

who brought up the subject of Hogsmeade first.

"One moment, please !" she called as the class made to leave. "As you're

all in my House, you should hand Hogsmeade permission forms to me before

Halloween. No form, no visiting the village, so don't forget!"

Neville put up his hand.

"Please, Professor, I -- I think I've lost

"Your grandmother sent yours to me directly, Longbottom," said Professor

McGonagall. "She seemed to think it was safer. Well, that's all, you may

leave."

"Ask her now," Ron hissed at Harry.



"Oh. but --" Hermione began.

"Go for it, Harry," said Ron stubbornly.

Harry waited for the rest of the class to disappear, then headed

nervously for Professor McGonagall's desk.

"Yes, Potter?" Harry took a deep breath.

"Professor, my aunt and uncle -- er -- forgot to sign my form," he said.

Professor McGonagall looked over her square spectacles at him but didn't

say anything.

"So -- er d'you think it would be all right mean, will It be okay if I

-- if I go to Hogsmeade?"

Professor McGonagall looked down and began shuffling papers on her desk.

"I'm afraid not, Potter," she said. "You heard what I said. No form, no

visiting the village. That's the rule."

"But -- Professor, my aunt and uncle -- you know, they're Muggles, they

don't really understand about -- about Hogwarts forms and stuff," Harry

said, while Ron egged him on with vigorous nods. "If you said I could go

--"

"But I don't say so," said Professor McGonagall, standing up and piling



her papers neatly into a drawer. "The form clearly states that the

parent or guardian must give permission." She turned to look at him,

with an odd expression on her face. Was it pity? "I'm sorry, Potter, but

that's my final word. You had better hurry, or you'll be late for your

next lesson."

There was nothing to be done. Ron called Professor McGonagall a lot of

names that greatly annoyed Hermione; Hermione assumed an

"all-for-the-best" expression that made Ron even angrier, and Harry had

to endure everyone in the class talking loudly and happily about what

they were going to do first, once they got into Hogsmeade.

"There's always the feast," said Ron, in an effort to cheer Harry UP.

"You know, the Halloween feast, in the evening."

"Yeah," said Harry gloomily, "great."

The Halloween feast was always good, but it would taste a lot better if

he was coming to it after a day in Hogsmeade with everyone else. Nothing

anyone said made him feel any better about being left behind. Dean

Thomas, who was good with a quill, had offered to forge Uncle Vernon's

signature on the form, but as Harry had already told Professor

McGonagall he hadn't had it signed, that was no good. Ron halfheartedly

suggested the Invisibility Cloak, but Hermione stamped on that one,

reminding Ron what Dumbledore had told them about the dementors being

able to see through them. Percy had what were possibly the least helpful

words of comfort.

"They make a fuss about Hogsmeade, but I assure you, Harry, it's not all

it's cracked up to be," he said seriously. "All right, the sweetshop's

rather good, and Zonko's Joke Shop's frankly dangerous, and yes, the

Shrieking Shack's always worth a visit, but really, Harry, apart from

that, you're not missing anything."

On Halloween morning, Harry awoke with the rest and went down to

breakfast, feeling thoroughly depressed, though doing his best to act

normally.

"We'll bring you. lots of sweets back from Honeydukes," said Hermione,

looking desperately sorry for him.

"Yeah, loads," said Ron. He and Hermione had finally forgotten their

squabble about Crookshanks in the face of Harry's difficulties.

"Don't worry about me," said Harry, in what he hoped was at, offhand

voice, "I'll see you at the feast. Have a good time."

He accompanied them to the entrance hall, where Filch, the caretaker,

was standing inside the front doors, checking off names against a long

list, peering suspiciously into every face, and making sure that no one

was sneaking out who shouldn't be going.

"Staying here, Potter?" shouted Malfoy, who was standing in line with

Crabbe and Goyle. "Scared of passing the dementors?"

Harry ignored him and made his solitary way up the marble staircase,

through the deserted corridors, and back to Gryffindor Tower.

"Password?" said the Fat Lady, jerking out of a doze.

"Fortuna Major," said Harry listlessly.

The portrait swung open and he climbed through the hole into the common

room. It was full of chattering first and second years, and a few older

students, who had obviously visited Hogsmeade so often the novelty had

worn off

"Harry! Harry! Hi, Harry!"

It was Colin Creevey, a second year who was deeply in awe of Harry and

never missed an opportunity to speak to him.

"Aren't you going to Hogsmeade, Harry? Why not? Hey" -- Colin looked

eagerly around at his friends -- "you can come and sit with us, if you

like, Harry!"

"Er -- no, thanks, Colin," said Harry, who wasn't in the mood to have a

lot of people staring avidly at the scar on his forehead. "I -- I've got

to go to the library, got to get some work done."

After that, he had no choice but to turn right around and head back out

of the portrait hole again.

"What was the point waking me up?" the Fat Lady called grumpily after

him as he walked away.

Harry wandered dispiritedly toward the library, but halfway there he

changed his mind; he didn't feel like working. He turned around and came

face-to-face with Filch, who had obviously just seen off the last of the

Hogsmeade visitors.

"What are you doing?" Filch snarled suspiciously.

"Nothing," said Harry truthfully.

"Nothing!" spat Filch, his jowls quivering unpleasantly. "A likely

story! Sneaking around on your own -- why aren't you in Hogsmeade buying

Stink Pellets and Belch Powder and Whizzing Worms like the rest of your

nasty little friends?"

Harry shrugged.

"Well, get back to your common room where you belong!" snapped Filch,

and he stood glaring until Harry had passed out of sight.

But Harry didn't go back to the common room; he climbed a staircase,

thinking vaguely of visiting the Owlery to see Hedwig, and was walking

along another corridor when a voice from inside one of the rooms said,

"Harry?"

Harry doubled back to see who had spoken and met Professor Lupin,

looking around his office door.

"What are you doing?" said Lupin, though in a very different voice from

Filch. "Where are Ron and Hermione?"

"Hogsmeade," said Harry, in a would-be casual voice.

"Ah," said Lupin. He considered Harry for a moment. "Why don't you come

in? I've just taken delivery of a grindylow for our next lesson." "A

what?" said Harry. I

He followed Lupin into his office. In the corner stood a very large tank

of water. A sickly green creature with sharp little horns had its face

pressed against the glass, pulling faces and flexing its long, spindly

fingers.

"Water demon," said Lupin, surveying the grindylow thoughtfully. "We

shouldn't have much difficulty with him, not after the kappas. The trick

is to break his grip. You notice the abnormally long fingers? Strong,

but very brittle."

The grindylow bared its green teeth and then buried itself in a tangle

of weeds in a corner.

"Cup of tea?" Lupin said, looking around for his kettle. "I was just

thinking of making one."

"All right," said Harry awkwardly.

Lupin tapped the kettle with his wand and a blast of steam issued

suddenly from the spout.

"Sit down," said Lupin, taking the lid off a dusty tin. "I've only got

teabags, I'm afraid -- but I daresay you've had enough of tea leaves?"

Harry looked at him. Lupin's eyes were twinkling.

"How did you know about that?" Harry asked.

"Professor McGonagall told me," said Lupin, passing Harry a chipped mug

of tea. "You're not worried, are you?"

"No," said Harry.

He thought for a moment of telling Lupin about the dog he'd seen in

Magnolia Crescent but decided not to. He didn't want Lupin to think he

was a coward, especially since Lupin alreadv seemed to think he couldn't

cope with a boggart.

Something of Harry's thoughts seemed to have shown on his face, because

Lupin said, "Anything worrying you, Harry?"

"No," Harry lied. He drank a bit of tea and watched the grindylow

brandishing a fist at him. "Yes," he said suddenly, putting his tea down

on Lupin's desk. "You know that day we fought the boggart?"

"Yes," said Lupin slowly.

"Why didn't you let me fight it?" said Harry abruptly.

Lupin raised his eyebrows.

"I would have thought that was obvious, Harry," he said, sounding

surprised.

Harry, who had expected Lupin to deny that he'd done any such thing, was

taken aback.

"Why?" he said again.

"Well," said Lupin, frowning slightly, "I assumed that if the boggart

faced you, it would assume the shape of Lord Voldemort."

Harry stared. Not only was this the last answer he'd expected, but Lupin

had said Voldemort's name. The only person Harry had ever heard say the

name aloud (apart from himself) was Professor Dumbledore.

"Clearly, I was wrong," said Lupin, still frowning at Harry. "But I

didn't think it a good idea for Lord Voldemort to materialize in the

staffroom. I imagined that people would panic."

"I didn't think of Voldemort," said Harry honestly. "I -- I remembered

those dementors."

"I see," said Lupin thoughtfully. "Well, well... I'm impressed." fie

smiled slightly at the look of surprise on Harry's face. "That suggests

that what you fear most of all is -- fear. Very wise, Harry."

Harry didn't know what to say to that, so he drank some mot,, tea.

"So you've been thinking that I didn't believe you capable of fighting

the boggart?" said Lupin shrewdly.

"Well... yeah," said Harry. He was suddenly feeling a lot happier.

"Professor Lupin, you know the dementors --"

He was interrupted by a knock on the door.

"Come in," called Lupin.

The door opened, and in came Snape. He was carrying a goblet, which was

smoking faintly, and stopped at the sight of Harry, his black eyes

narrowing.

"Ah, Severus," said Lupin, smiling. "Thanks very much. Could you leave

it here on the desk for me?"

Snape set down the smoking goblet, his eyes wandering between Harry and

Lupin.

"I was just showing Harry my grindylow," said Lupin pleasantly, pointing



at the tank.

"Fascinating," said Snape, without looking at it. "You should drink that

directly, Lupin."

"Yes, Yes, I will," said Lupin.

"I made an entire cauldronful," Snape continued. "If you need more.

"I should probably take some again tomorrow. Thanks very much, Severus."

"Not at all," said Snape, but there was a look in his eye Harry didn't

like. He backed out of the room, unsmiling and watchful.

Harry looked curiously at the goblet. Lupin smiled.

"Professor Snape has very kindly concocted a potion for me," he said. "I

have never been much of a potion-brewer and this one is particularly

complex." He picked up the goblet and sniffed it. "Pity sugar makes it

useless," he added, taking a sip and shuddering.

"Why --?" Harry began. Lupin looked at him and answered the unfinished

question.

"I've been feeling a bit off-color," he said. "This potion is the only

thing that helps. I am very lucky to be working alongside Professor

Snape; there aren't many wizards who are up to making it."

Professor Lupin took another sip and Harry had a crazy urge to knock the

goblet out of his hands.

"Professor Snape's very interested in the Dark Arts, he blurted out.

"Really?" said Lupin, looking only mildly interested as he took another

gulp of potion.

"Some people reckon --" Harry hesitated, then plunged recklessly on,

"some people reckon he'd do anything to get the Defense Against the Dark

Arts job."

Lupin drained the goblet and pulled a face.

"Disgusting," he said. "Well, Harry, I'd better get back to work. see

you at the feast later."

"Right," said Harry, putting down his empty teacup.

The empty goblet was still smoking.

"There you go," said Ron. "We got as much as we could carry."

A shower of brilliantly colored sweets fell into Harry's lap. It was

dusk, and Ron and Hermione had just turned up in the common room,

pink-faced from the cold wind and looking as though they'd had the time

of their lives.

"Thanks," said Harry, picking up a packet of tiny black Pepper Imps.

"What's Hogsmeade like? Where did you go?"

By the sound of it -- everywhere. Dervish and Banges, the wizarding

equipment shop, Zonko's Joke Shop, into the Three Broomsticks for

foaming mugs of hot butterbeer, and many places besides.

"The post office, Harry! About two hundred owls, all sitting on shelves,

all color-coded depending on how fast you want your letter to get

there!"


"Honeydukes has got a new kind of fudge; they were giving out free

samples, there's a bit, look --"

"We think we saw an ogre, honestly, they get all sorts at the Three

Broomsticks --"

"Wish we could have brought you some butterbeer, really warms you up --"

"What did you do?" said Hermione, looking anxious. "Did you get any work

done?"

"No," said Harry. "Lupin made me a cup of tea in his office. And then



Snape came in...."

He told them all about the goblet. Ron's mouth fell open.

"Lupin drank it?" he gasped. "Is he mad?"

Hermione checked her watch.

"We'd better go down, you know, the feast'll be starting in fiveminutes

They hurried through the portrait hole and into the crowd, still

discussing Snape.

"But if he -- you know" -- Hermione dropped her voice, glancing

nervously around -- "if he was trying to to poison Lupin -- he wouldn't

have done it in front of Harry."

"Yeah, maybe," said Harry as they reached the entrance hall and crossed

into the Great Hall. It had been decorated with hundreds and hundreds of

candle-filled pumpkins, a cloud of fluttering live bats, and many

flaming orange streamers, which were swimming lazily across the stormy

ceiling like brilliant watersnakes.

The food was delicious; even Hermione and Ron, who were full to bursting

with Honeydukes sweets, managed second helpings of everything. Harry

kept glancing at the staff table. Professor Lupin

looked cheerful and as well as he ever did; he was talking animatedly to

tiny little Professor Flitwick, the Charms teacher. Harry moved his eyes

along the table, to the place where Snape sat. Was he imagining it, or

were Snape's eyes flickering toward Lupin more often than was natural?

The feast finished with an entertainment provided by the Hogwarts

ghosts. They popped out of the walls and tables to do a bit of formation

gliding; Nearly Headless Nick, the Gryffindor ghost, had a great success

with a reenactment of his own botched beheading.

It had been such a pleasant evening that Harry's good mood couldn't even

be spoiled by Malfoy, who shouted through the crowd as they all left the

hall, "The dementors send their love, Potter!"

Harry, Ron, and Hermione followed the rest of the Gryffindors along the

usual path to Gryffindor Tower, but when they reached the corridor that

ended with the portrait of the Fat Lady, they found it jammed with

students.

"Why isn't anyone going in?" said Ron curiously.

Harry peered over the heads in front of him. The portrait seemed to be

closed.


"Let me through, please," came Percy's voice, and he came bustling

importantly through the crowd. "What's the holdup here? You can't all

have forgotten the password -- excuse me, I'm Head Boy --"

And then a silence fell over the crowd, from the front first, so that a

chill seemed to spread down the corridor. They heard Percy say, in a

suddenly sharp voice, "Somebody get Professor Dumbledore. Quick."

People's heads turned; those at the back were standing on tiptoe.

"What's going on?" said Ginny, who had just arrived.

A moment later, Professor Dumbledore was there, sweeping toward the

portrait; the Gryffindors squeezed together to let him through, and

Harry, Ron, and Hermione moved closer to see what the trouble was.

"Oh, my --" Hermione grabbed Harry's arm.

The Fat Lady had vanished from her portrait, which had been slashed so

viciously that strips of canvas littered the floor; great chunks of it

had been torn away completely.

Dumbledore took one quick look at the ruined painting and turned, his

eyes somber, to see Professors McGonagall, Lupin, and Snape hurrying

toward him.

"We need to find her," said Dumbledore. "Professor McGonagall, please go

to Mr. Filch at once and tell him to search every painting in the castle

for the Fat Lady."

"You'll be lucky!" said a cackling voice.

It was Peeves the Poltergeist, bobbing over the crowd and looking

delighted, as he always did, at the sight of wreckage or worry.

"What do you mean, Peeves?" said Dumbledore calmly, and Peeves's grin

faded a little. He didn't dare taunt Dumbledore. Instead he adopted an

oily voice that was no better than his cackle. "Ashamed, Your Headship,

sit. Doesn't want to be seen. She's a horrible mess. Saw her running

through the landscape up on the fourth floor, sir, dodging between the

trees. Crying something dreadful," he said happily. "Poor thing," he

added unconvincingly.

"Did she say who did it?" said Dumbledore quietly.

"Oh yes, Professorhead," said Peeves, with the air of one cradling a

large bombshell in his arms. "He got very angry when she wouldn't let

him in, you see." Peeves flipped over and grinned at Dumbledore from

between his own legs. "Nasty temper he's got, that Sirius Black."

CHAPTER NINE

GRIM DEFEAT

Professor Dumbledore sent all the Gryffindors back to the Great Hall,

where they were joined ten minutes later by the students from

Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin, who all looked extremely confused.

"The teachers and I need to conduct a thorough search of the castle,"

Professor Dumbledore told them as Professors McGonagall and Flitwick

closed all doors into the hall. "I'm afraid that, for your own safety,

you will have to spend the night here. I want the prefects to stand

guard over the entrances to the hall and I am leaving the Head Boy and

Girl in charge. Any disturbance should be reported to me immediately,"

he added to Percy, who was looking immensely proud and important. "Send

word with one of the ghosts."

Professor Dumbledore paused, about to leave the hall, and said, "Oh,

yes, you'll be needing..."

One casual wave of his wand and the long tables flew to the edges of the

hall and stood themselves against the walls; another wave, and the floor

was covered with hundreds of squashy purple sleeping bags.

"Sleep well," said Professor Dumbledore, closing the door behind him.

The hall immediately began to buzz excitedly; the Gryffindors were

telling the rest of the school what had just happened.

"Everyone into their sleeping bags!" shouted Percy. "Come on, now, no

more talking! Lights out in ten minutes!"

"C'mon," Ron said to Harry and Hermione; they seized three sleeping bags

and dragged them into a corner.

"Do you think Black's still in the castle?" Hermione whispered

anxiously.

"Dumbledore obviously thinks he might be," said Ron.

"It's very lucky he picked tonight, you know," said Hermione as they

climbed fully dressed into their sleeping bags and propped themselves on

their elbows to talk. "The one night we weren't in the tower...."

I reckon he's lost track of time, being on the run," said Ron. "Didn't

realize it was Halloween. Otherwise he'd have come bursting in here."

Hermione shuddered.

All around them, people were asking one another the same question: "How

did he get in?"

"Maybe he knows how to Apparate," said a Ravenclaw a few feet away,

"Just appear out of thin air, you know."

"Disguised himself, probably," said a Hufflepuff fifth year. "He

could've flown in," suggested Dean Thomas.

"Honestly, am I the only person who's ever bothered to read Hogwarts, A

History?" said Hermione crossly to Harry and Ron.

"Probably," said Ron. "Why?"

"Because the castle's protected by more than walls, You know,,, said

Hermione. "There are all sorts of enchantments on it, to stop people

entering by stealth. You can't just Apparate in here. And I'd like to

see the disguise that could fool those dementors. They're guarding every

single entrance to the grounds. They'd have seen him fly in too. And

Fitch knows all the secret passages, they'll have them covered...."

"The lights are going out now!" Percy shouted. "I want everyone in their

sleeping bags and no more talking!"

The candles all went out at once. The only light now came from the

silvery ghosts, who were drifting about talking seriously to the

prefects, and the enchanted ceiling, which, like the sky outside, was

scattered with stars. What with that, and the whispering that still

filled the hall, Harry felt as though he were sleeping outdoors in a

light wind.

Once every hour, a teacher would reappear in the hall to check that

everything was quiet. Around three in the morning, when many students

had finally fallen asleep, Professor Dumbledore came in. Harry watched

him looking around for Percy, who had been prowling between the sleeping

bags, telling people off for talking. Percy was only a short way away

from Harry, Ron, and Hermlone, who quickly pretended to be asleep as

Dumbledore's footsteps drew nearer.

"Any sign of him, Professor?" asked Percy in a whisper.

"No. All well here?"

"Everything under control, sir."

"Good. There's no point moving them all now. I've found a temporary

guardian for the Gryffindor portrait hole. You'll be able to move them

back in tomorrow."

"And the Fat Lady, sir?"

"Hiding in a map of Argyllshire on the second floor. Apparently she

refused to let Black in without the password, so he attacked. She's

still very distressed, but once she's calmed down, I'll have Mr. Filch

restore her."

Harry heard the door of the hall creak open again, and more footsteps.

"Headmaster?" It was Snape. Harry kept quite still, listening hard. "The

whole of the third floor has been searched. He's not there. And Filch

has done the dungeons; nothing there either."

"What about the Astronomy tower? Professor Trelawney's room? The

Owlery?"

"All searched."

"Very well, Severus. I didn't really expect Black to linger."

"Have you any theory as to how he got in, Professor?" asked Snape.

Harry raised his head very slightly off his arms to free his other ear,

"Many, Severus, each of them as unlikely as the next."

Harry opened his eyes a fraction and squinted up to where they stood;

Dumbledore's back was to him, but he could see Percy's face, rapt with

attention, and Snape's profile, which looked angry.

"You remember the conversation we had, Headmaster, just before -- ah --

the start of term?" said Snape, who was barely opening his lips, as

though trying to block Percy out of the conversation.

"I do, Severus," said Dumbledore, and there was something like warning

in his voice.

"It seems -- almost impossible -- that Black could have entered the

school without inside help. I did express my concerns whet, you

appointed --"

"I do not believe a single person inside this castle would have helped

Black enter it," said Dumbledore, and his tone made it so clear that the

subject was closed that Snape didn't reply. "I must go down to the

dementors," said Dumbledore. I said I would inform them when our search

was complete."

"Didn't they want to help, sit?" said Percy.

"Oh yes," said Dumbledore coldly. "But I'm afraid no dementor will cross

the threshold of this castle while I am headmaster."

Percy looked slightly abashed. Dumbledore left the hall, walking quickly

and quietly. Snape stood for a moment, watching the headmaster with an

expression of deep resentment on his face; then he too left.

Harry glanced sideways at Ron and Hermione. Both of them had their eyes

open too, reflecting the starry ceiling.

"\What was all that about?" Ron mouthed.

The school talked of nothing but Sirius Black for the next few days. The

theories about how he had entered the castle became wilder and wilder;

Hannah Abbott, from Hufflepuff, spent much of their next Herbology class

telling anyone who'd listen that Black could turn into a flowering

shrub.


The Fat Lady's ripped canvas had been taken off the wall and

Replaced with the portrait of Sir Cadogan and his fat gray pony. Nobody

was very happy about this. Sir Cadogan spent half his time challenging

people to duels, and the rest thinking up ridiculously complicated

passwords, which he changed at least twice a day.

"He's a complete lunatic," said Seamus Finnigan angrily to Percy. "Can't

we get anyone else?"

"None of the other pictures wanted the job," said Percy. "Frightened of

what happened to the Fat Lady. Sir Cadogan was the only one brave enough

to volunteer."

Sir Cadogan, however, was the least of Harry's worries. He was now being

closely watched. Teachers found excuses to walk along corridors with

him, and Percy Weasley (acting, Harry suspected, on his mother's orders)

was tailing him everywhere like an extremely pompous guard dog. To cap

it all, Professor McGonagall summoned Harry into her office, with such a

somber expression on her face Harry thought someone must have died.

"There's no point hiding it from you any longer, Potter," she said in a

very serious voice. "I know this will come as a shock to you, but Sirius

Black --"

"I know he's after me," said Harry wearily. "I heard Ron's dad telling

his mum. Mr. Weasley works for the Ministry of Magic."

Professor McGonagall seemed very taken aback. She stared at Harry for a

moment or two, then said, "I see! Well, in that case, Potter, you'll

understand why I don't think it's a good idea for you to be practicing

Quidditch in the evenings. Out on the field with only Your team members,

it's very exposed, Potter --"

"We've got our first match on Saturday!" said Harry, outraged. "I've got

to train, Professor!"

Professor McGonagall considered him intently. Harry knew she was deeply

interested in the Gryffindor team's prospects; it had been she, after

all, who'd suggested him as Seeker in the first Place. He waited,

holding his breath.

"Hmm..." Professor McGonagall stood up and stared out of the window at

the Quidditch field, just visible through the rain. "Well... goodness

knows, I'd like to see us win the Cup at last... but all the same,

Potter... I'd be happier if a teacher were present. I'll ask Madam Hooch

to oversee your training sessions."

The weather worsened steadily as the first Quidditch match drew nearer.

Undaunted, the Gryffindor team was training harder than ever under the

eye of Madam Hooch. Then, at their final training session before

Saturday's match, Oliver Wood gave his team some unwelcome news.

"We're not playing Slytherin!" he told them, looking very angry.

"Flint's just been to see me. We're playing Hufflepuff instead."

"Why?" chorused the rest of the team.

"Flint's excuse is that their Seeker's arm's still injured," said Wood,

grinding his teeth furiously. "But it's obvious why they're doing it.

Don't want to play in this weather. Think it'll damage their

chances...."

There had been strong winds and heavy rain all day, and as Wood spoke,

they heard a distant rumble of thunder.

"There's nothing wrong with Malfoy's arm!" said Harry furiously. "He's

faking it!"

"I know that, but we can't prove it," said Wood bitterly, "And we've

been practicing all those moves assuming we're playing Slytherin, and

instead it's Hufflepuff, and their style's quite different. They've got

a new Captain and Seeker, Cedric Diggory --"

Angelina, Alicia, and Katie suddenly giggled.

"What?" said Wood, frowning at this lighthearted behavior.

"He's that tall, good-looking one, isn't he?" said Angelina.

"Strong and silent," said Katie, and they started to giggle again.

"He's only silent because he's too thick to string two words together,"

said Fred impatiently. "I don't know why you're worried, Oliver,

Hufflepuff is a pushover. Last time we played them, Harry caught the

Snitch in about five minutes, remember?"

"We were playing in completely different conditions!" Wood shouted, his

eyes bulging slightly. "Diggory's put a very strong side together! He's

an excellent Seeker! I was afraid you'd take it like this! We mustn't

relax! We must keep our focus! Slytherin is trying to wrong-foot us! We

must win!"

"Oliver, calm down!" said Fred, looking slightly alarmed. "We're taking

Hufflepuff very seriously. Seriously."

The day before the match, the winds reached howling point and the rain

fell harder than ever. It was so dark inside the corridors and

classrooms that extra torches and lanterns were lit. The Slytherin team

was looking very smug indeed, and none more so than Malfoy.

"Ah, if only my arm was feeling a bit better!" he sighed as the gale

outside pounded the windows.

Harry had no room in his head to worry about anything except the match

tomorrow. Oliver Wood kept hurrying up to him between classes and giving

him tips. The third time this happened, Wood talked for so long that

Harry suddenly realized he was ten minutes late for Defense Against the

Dark Arts, and set off at a run with Wood shouting after him, "Diggory's

got a very fast swerve, Harry, so you might want to try looping him --"

Harry skidded to a halt outside the Defense Against the Dark Arts

classroom, pulled the door open, and dashed inside.

"Sorry I'm late, Professor Lupin. I --"

But it wasn't Professor Lupin who looked up at him from the teacher's

desk; it was Snape.

"This lesson began ten minutes ago, Potter, so I think we'll make it ten

points from Gryffindor. Sit down."

But Harry didn't move.

"Where's Professor Lupin?" he said.

"He says he is feeling too ill to teach today," said Snape with a

twisted smile. "I believe I told you to sit down?"

But Harry stayed where he was.

"What's wrong with him?"

Snape's black eyes glittered.

"Nothing life-threatening," he said, looking as though he wished it

were. "Five more points from Gryffindor, and if I have to ask you to sit

down again, it will be fifty."

Harry walked slowly to his seat and sat down. Snape looked around at the

class.


"As I was saying before Potter interrupted, Professor Lupin has not left

any record of the topics you have covered so far --"

"Please, sir, we've done boggarts, Red Caps, kappas, and grindylows,"

said Hermione quickly, "and we're just about to start --"

"Be quiet," said Snape coldly. "I did not ask for information. I was

merely commenting on Professor Lupin's lack of organization."

"He's the best Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher we've ever had,"

said Dean Thomas boldly, and there was a murmur of agreement from the

rest of the class. Snape looked more menacing than ever.

"You are easily satisfied. Lupin is hardly overtaxing you -- I ,Would

expect first years to be able to deal with Red Caps and grindylows.

Today we shall discuss --"

Harry watched him flick through the textbook, to the very back chapter,

which he must know they hadn't covered.

"Werewolves," said Snape.

"But, sir," said Hermione, seemingly unable to restrain herself, "we're

not supposed to do werewolves yet, we're due to start hinkypunks --"

"Miss Granger," said Snape in a voice of deadly calm, "I was under the

impression that I am teaching this lesson, not you. And I am telling you

all to turn to page 394." He glanced around again. 'All of you! Now!"

With many bitter sidelong looks and some sullen muttering, the class

opened their books.

"Which of you can tell me how we distinguish between the werewolf and

the true wolf?" said Snape.

Everyone sat in motionless silence; everyone except Hermione, whose

hand, as it so often did, had shot straight into the air.

"Anyone?" Snape said, ignoring Hermione. His twisted smile was back.

"Are you telling me that Professor Lupin hasn't even taught you the

basic distinction between --"

"We told you," said Parvati suddenly, "we haven't got as far as

werewolves yet, we're still on --"

"Silence!" snarled Snape. "Well, well, well, I never thought I'd meet a

third-year class who wouldn't even recognize a werewolf when they saw

one. I shall make a point of informing Professor Dumbledore how very

behind you all are...."

"Please, sir," said Hermione, whose hand was still in the air, "the

werewolf differs from the true wolf in several small ways. The snout of

the werewolf --"

"That is the second time you have spoken out of turn, Miss Granger,"

said Snape coolly. "Five more points from Gryffindor for being an

insufferable know-it-all."

Hermione went very red, put down her hand, and stared at the floor with

her eyes full of tears. It was a mark of how much the class loathed

Snape that they were all glaring at him, because every one of them had

called Hermione a know-it-all at least once, and Ron, who told Hermione

she was a know-it-all at least twice a week, said loudly, "You asked us

a question and she knows the answer! Why ask if you don't want to be

told?"


The class knew instantly he'd gone too far. Snape advanced on Ron

slowly, and the room held its breath.

"Detention, Weasley," Snape said silkily, his face very close to Ron's.

"And if I ever hear you criticize the way I teach a class again, you

will be very sorry indeed."

No one made a sound throughout the rest of the lesson. They sat and made

notes on werewolves from the textbook, while Snape prowled up and down

the rows of desks, examining the work they had been doing with Professor

Lupin.

"Very poorly explained... That is incorrect, the kappa is more commonly



found in Mongolia.... Professor Lupin gave this eight out of ten? I

wouldn't have given it three...."

When the bell rang at last, Snape held them back.

"You will each write an essay, to be handed in to me, on the ways you

recognize and kill werewolves. I want two rolls of parchment or, the

subject, and I want them by Monday morning. It is time somebody took

this class in hand. Weasley, stay behind, we need to arrange your

detention."

Harry and Hermione left the room with the rest of the class, who waited

until they were well out of earshot, then burst into a furious tirade

about Snape.

"Snape's never been like this with any of our other Defense Against the

Dark Arts teachers, even if he did want the job," Harry said to

Hermione. "Why's he got it in for Lupin? D'you think this is all because

of the boggart?"

"I don't know," said Hermione pensively. "But I really hope Professor

Lupin gets better soon...."

Ron caught up with them five minutes later, in a towering rage.

"D'you know what that --" (he called Snape something that made Hermione

say "Ron!") "-- is making me do? I've got to scrub out the bedpans in

the hospital wing. Without magic!" He was breathing deeply, his fists

clenched. "Why couldn't Black have hidden in Snape's office, eh? He

could have finished him off for us!"

Harry woke extremely early the next morning; so early that it was till

dark. For a moment he thought the roaring of the wind had woken him.

Then he felt a cold breeze on the back of his neck and sat bolt upright

-- Peeves the Poltergeist had been floating next to him, blowing hard in

his ear.


"What did you do that for?" said Harry furiously. Peeves puffed out his

cheeks, blew hard, and zoomed backward out of the room, cackling.

Harry fumbled for his alarm clock and looked at it. It was half past

four. Cursing Peeves, he rolled over and tried to get back to sleep, but

it was very difficult, now that he was awake, to ignore the sounds of

the thunder rumbling overhead, the pounding of the wind against the

castle walls, and the distant creaking of the trees in the Forbidden

Forest. In a few hours he would be out on the Quidditch field, battling

through that gale. Finally, he gave up any thought of more sleep, got

up, dressed, picked up his Nimbus Two Thousand, and walked quietly out

of the dormitory.

As Harry opened the door, something brushed against his leg. He bent

down just in time to grab Crookshanks by the end of his bushy tail and

drag him outside.

"You know, I reckon Ron was right about you," Harry told Crookshanks

suspiciously. "There are plenty of mice around this place -- go and

chase them. Go on," he added, nudging Crookshanks down the spiral

staircase with his foot. "Leave Scabbers alone."

The noise of the storm was even louder in the common roorn. Harry knew

better than to think the match would be canceled; Quidditch matches

weren't called off for trifles like thunderstorms. Nevertheless, he was

starting to feel very apprehensive. Wood had pointed out Cedric Diggory

to him in the corridor; Diggory was a fifth year and a lot bigger than

Harry. Seekers were usually light

and speedy, but Diggory's weight would be an advantage in this weather

because he was less likely to be blown off course.

Harry whiled away the hours until dawn in front of the fire, getting up

every now and then to stop Crookshanks from sneaking up

the boys, staircase again. At long last Harry thought it must be time

for breakfast, so he headed through the portrait hole alone.

"Stand and fight, you mangy cur!" yelled Sir Cadogan.

"Oh, shut up," Harry yawned.

He revived a bit over a large bowl of porridge, and by the time he'd

started on toast, the rest of the team had turned up.

"It's going to be a tough one," said Wood, who wasn't eating anything.

"Stop worrying, Oliver," said Alicia soothingly, "we don't mind a bit of

rain."

But it was considerably more than a bit of rain. Such was the popularity



of Quidditch that the whole school turned out to watch the match as

usual, but they ran down the lawns toward the Quidditch field, heads

bowed against the ferocious wind, umbrellas being whipped out of their

hands as they went. just before he entered the locker room, Harry saw

Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle, laughing and pointing at him from under an

enormous umbrella on their way to the stadium.

The team changed into their scarlet robes and waited for Wood's usual

pre-match pep talk, but it didn't come. He tried to speak several times,

made an odd gulping noise, then shook his head hopelessly and beckoned

them to follow him.

The wind was so strong that they staggered sideways as they walked out

onto the field. If the crowd was cheering, they couldn't hear it over

the fresh rolls of thunder. Rain was splattering over Harry's glasses.

How on earth was he going to see the Snitch in this?

The Hufflepuffs were approaching from the opposite side of the field,

wearing canary-yellow robes. The Captains walked up to eacb other and

shook hands; Diggory smiled at Wood but Wood no, looked as though he had

lockjaw and merely nodded. Harry saw Madam Hooch's mouth form the words,

"Mount Your brooms.,, He pulled his right foot out of the mud with a

squelch and swung it over his Nimbus Two Thousand. Madam Hooch put her

whistle to her lips and gave it a blast that sounded shrill and distant

they were off

Harry rose fast, but his Nimbus was swerving slightly with the wind. He

held it as steady as he could and turned, squinting into the rain.

Within five minutes Harry was soaked to his skin and frozen, hardly able

to see his teammates, let alone the tiny Snitch. He flew backward and

forward across the field past blurred red and yellow shapes, with no

idea of what was happening in the rest of the game. He couldn't hear the

commentary over the wind. The crowd was hidden beneath a sea of cloaks

and battered umbrellas. Twice Harry came very close to being unseated by

a Bludger; his vision was so clouded by the rain on his glasses he

hadn't seen them coming.

He lost track of time. It was getting harder and harder to hold his

broom straight. The sky was getting darker, as though night had decided

to come early. Twice Harry nearly hit another player, without knowing

whether it was a teammate or opponent; everyone was now so wet, and the

rain so thick, he could hardly tell them apart....

With the first flash of lightning came the sound of Madam Hooch's

whistle; Harry could just see the outline of Wood through the thick

rain, gesturing him to the ground. The whole team splashed down into the

mud.

"I called for time-out!" Wood roared at his team. "Come on, under here



--"

They huddled at the edge of the field under a large umbrella; Harry took

off his glasses and wiped them hurriedly on his robes.

"What's the score?"

"We're fifty points up," said Wood, "but unless we get the Snitch soon,

we'll be playing into the night."

"I've got no chance with these on," Harry said exasperatedly, waving his

glasses.


At that very moment, Hermione appeared at his shoulder; she was holding

her cloak over her head and was, inexplicably, beaming.

"I've had an idea, Harry! Give me your glasses, quick!"

He handed them to her, and as the team watched in amazement, Hermione

tapped them with her wand and said, "Impervius!"

"There!" she said, handing them back to Harry. "They'll repel water!"

Wood looked as though he could have kissed her.

"Brilliant!" he called hoarsely after her as she disappeared into the

crowd. "Okay, team, let's go for it!"

Hermione's spell had done the trick. Harry was still numb with cold,

still wetter than he'd ever been in his life, but he could see. Full of

fresh determination, he urged his broom through the turbulent air,

staring in every direction for the Snitch, avoiding a Bludger, ducking

beneath Diggory, who was streaking in the opposite direction....

There was another clap of thunder, followed immediately by forked

lightning. This was getting more and more dangerous. Harry needed to get

the Snitch quickly -

He turned, intending to head back toward the middle of the field, but at

that moment, another flash of lightning illuminated the stands, and

Harry saw something that distracted him completely , the silhouette of

an enormous shaggy black dog, clearly imprinted against the sky,

motionless in the topmost, empty row of seats.

Harry's numb hands slipped on the broom handle and his Nimbus dropped a

few feet. Shaking his sodden bangs out of his eyes, he squinted back

into the stands. The dog had vanished.

"Harry!" came Wood's anguished yell from the Gryffindor goal posts.

"Harry, behind you!"

Harry looked wildly around. Cedric Diggory was pelting up the field, and

a tiny speck of gold was shimmering in the rain-filled air between them

-

With a jolt of panic, Harry threw himself flat to the broornhandle and



zoomed toward the Snitch.

"Come on!" he growled at his Nimbus as the rain whipped his face.

'Taster!"

But something odd was happening. An eerie silence was falling across the

stadium. The wind, though as strong as ever, was forgetting to roar. It

was as though someone had turned off the sound, as though Harry had gone

suddenly deaf -- what was going on?

And then a horribly familiar wave of cold swept over him, inside him,

just as he became aware of something moving on the field below...

Before he'd had time to think, Harry had taken his eyes off the Snitch

and looked down.

At least a hundred dementors, their hidden faces pointing up at him,

were standing beneath him. It was as though freezing water were rising

in his chest, cutting at his insides. And then he heard it again....

Someone was screaming, screaming inside his head... a woman...

"Not Harry, not Harry, please not Harry!"

"Stand aside, you silly girl... stand aside, now...."

"Not Harry, please no, take me, kill me instead --"

Numbing, swirling white mist was filling Harry's brain.... What was he

doing? Why was he flying? He needed to help her... She was going to

die.... She was going to be murdered....

He was falling, falling through the icy mist.

"Not Harry! Please... have mercy... have mercy....

A shrill voice was laughing, the woman was screaming, and Harry knew no

more.

"Lucky the ground was so soft."



"I thought he was dead for sure."

"But he didn't even break his glasses."

Harry could hear the voices whispering, but they made no sense

whatsoever. He didn't have a clue where he was, or how he'd got there,

or what he'd been doing before he got there. All he knew was that every

inch of him was aching as though it had been beaten.

"That was the scariest thing I've ever seen in my life."

Scariest... the scariest thing... hooded black figures... cold ...

screaming...

Harry's eyes snapped open. He was lying in the hospital wing. The

Gryffindor Quidditch team, spattered with mud from head to foot, was

gathered around his bed. Ron and Hermione were also there, looking as

though they'd just climbed out of a swimming pool.

"Harry!" said Fred, who looked extremely white underneath, the mud.

"How're you feeling?"

It was as though Harry's memory was on fast forward. The lightning --

the Grim -- the Snitch -- and the dementors...

"What happened?" he said, sitting up so suddenly they all gasped.

"You fell off," said Fred. "Must've been -- what -- fifty feet?"

"We thought you'd died," said Alicia, who was shaking.

Hermione made a small, squeaky noise. Her eyes were extremely bloodshot.

"But the match," said Harry. "What happened? Are we doing a replay?"

No one said anything. The horrible truth sank into Harry like a stone.

"We didn't -- lose?"

"Diggory got the Snitch," said George. "Just after you fell. He didn't

realize what had happened. When he looked back and saw you on the

ground, he tried to call it off. Wanted a rematch. But they won fair and

square... even Wood admits it."

"Where is Wood?" said Harry, suddenly realizing he wasn't there.

"Still in the showers," said Fred. "We think he's trying to drown

himself."

Harry put his face to his knees, his hands gripping his hair. Fred

grabbed his shoulder and shook it roughly.

"C'mon, Harry, you've never missed the Snitch before."

"There had to be one time you didn't get it," said George.

"It's not over yet," said Fred. "We lost by a hundred points"

"Right? So if Hufflepuff loses to Ravenclaw and we beat Ravenclaw and

Slytherin --."

"Hufflepuff'll have to lose by at least two hundred points," said

George.


"But if they beat Ravenclaw..."

"No Way, Ravenclaw is too good. But if Slytherin loses against

Hufflepuff..."

"It all depends on the points -- a margin of a hundred either way."

Harry lay there, not saying a word. They had lost... for the first time

ever, he had lost a Quidditch match.

After ten minutes or so, Madam Pomfrey came over to tell the team to

leave him in peace.

"We'll come and see you later," Fred told him. "Don't beat yourself up,

Harry, you're still the best Seeker we've ever had."

The team trooped out, trailing mud behind them. Madam Pomfrey shut the

door behind them, looking disapproving. Ron and Hermione moved nearer to

Harry's bed.

"Dumbledore was really angry," Hermione said in a quaking voice. "I've

never seen him like that before. He ran onto the field as You fell,

waved his wand, and you sort of slowed down before you hit the ground.

Then he whirled his wand at the dementors. Shot silver stuff at them.

They left the stadium right away... He was furious they'd come onto the

grounds. We heard him --"

"Then he magicked you onto a stretcher," said Ron. "And walked up to

school with you floating on it. Everyone thought you were --"

His voice faded, but Harry hardly noticed. He was thinking about what

the dementors had done to him... about the screaming voice. He looked up

and saw Ron and Hermione lookin, at him so anxiously that he quickly

cast around for something matter-of-fact to say.

"Did someone get my Nimbus?"

Ron and Hermione looked quickly at each other.

"Er --"


"What?" said Harry, looking from one to the other.

"Well... when you fell off, it got blown away," said Hermione

hesitantly.

"And?"


"And it hit -- it hit -- oh, Harry -- it hit the Whomping Willow."

Harry's insides lurched. The Whomping Willow was a very violent tree

that stood alone in the middle of the grounds.

"And?" he said, dreading the answer.

"Well, you know the Whomping Willow," said Ron. "It -- it doesn't like

being hit."

"Professor Flitwick brought it back just before you came around, said

Hermione in a very small voice.

Slowly, she reached down for a bag at her feet, turned it upside down,

and tipped a dozen bits of splintered wood and twig onto the bed, the

only remains of Harry's faithful, finally beaten broomstick.


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