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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 stomachâ€¦.
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.
â€œAh, you're awake!â€ she said briskly. She placed the chocolate on Harry's bedside table and began breaking it apart with a small hammer.
â€œHow's Ron?â€ said Harry and Hermione together.
â€œHe'll live,â€ said Madam Pomfrey grimly. â€œAs for you two, you'll be staying here until I'm satisfied you're â€” Potter, what do you think you're doing?â€
Harry was sitting up, putting his glasses back on, and picking up his wand.
â€œI need to see the headmaster,â€ he said.
â€œPotter,â€ said Madam Pomfrey soothingly, â€œit's all right. They've got Black. He's locked away upstairs. The Dementors will be performing the kiss any moment now â€”â€
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.
â€œHarry, Harry, what's this?â€ said Fudge, looking agitated. â€œYou should be in bed â€” has he had any chocolate?â€ he asked Madam Pomfrey anxiously.
â€œMinister, listen!â€ Harry said. â€œSirius 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 â€”â€
But Fudge was shaking his head with a small smile on his face.
â€œHarry, Harry, you're very confused, you've been through a dreadful ordeal, lie back down, now, we've got everything under controlâ€¦â€
â€œYOU HAVEN'T!â€ Harry yelled. â€œYOU'VE GOT THE WRONG MAN!â€
â€œMinister, listen, please,â€ Hermione said; she had hurried to Harry's side and was gazing imploringly into Fudge's face. â€œI saw him too. It was Ron's rat, he's an Animagus, Pettigrew, I mean, and â€”â€
â€œYou see, Minister?â€ said Snape. â€œConfunded, both of themâ€¦ Black's done a very good job on themâ€¦.â€
â€œWE'RE NOT CONFUNDED!â€ Harry roared.
â€œMinister! Professor!â€ said Madam Pomfrey angrily. â€œI must insist that you leave. Potter is my patient, and he should not be distressed!â€
â€œI'm not distressed, I'm trying to tell them what happened!â€ Harry said furiously. â€œIf they'd just listen â€”â€
But Madam Pomfrey suddenly stuffed a large chunk of chocolate into Harryâ€s mouth; he choked, and she seized the opportunity to force him back onto the bed.
â€œNow, please, Minister, these children need care. Please leave.â€
The door opened again. It was Dumbledore. Harry swallowed his mouthful of chocolate with great difficulty and got up again.
â€œProfessor Dumbledore, Sirius Black â€”â€
â€œFor heaven's sake!â€ said Madam Pomfrey hysterically. â€œIs this a hospital wing or not? Headmaster, I must insist â€”â€
â€œMy apologies, Poppy, but I need a word with Mr. Potter and Miss Granger,â€ said Dumbledore calmly. â€œI have just been talking to Sirius Black â€”â€
â€œI suppose he's told you the same fairy tale he's planted in Potter's mind?â€ spat Snape. â€œSomething about a rat, and Pettigrew being alive â€”â€
â€œThat, indeed, is Black's story,â€ said Dumbledore, surveying Snape closely through his half-moon spectacles.
â€œAnd does my evidence count for nothing?â€ snarled Snape. â€œPeter Pettigrew was not in the Shrieking Shack, nor did I see any sign of him on the grounds.â€
â€œThat was because you were knocked out, Professor!â€ said Hermione earnestly. â€œYou didn't arrive in time to hear.â€
â€œMiss Granger, HOLD YOUR TONGUE!â€
â€œNow, Snape,â€ said Fudge, startled, â€œthe young lady is disturbed in her mind, we must make allowances â€”â€
â€œI would like to speak to Harry and Hermione alone,â€ said Dumbledore abruptly. â€œCornelius, Severus, Poppy â€” please leave us.â€
â€œHeadmaster!â€ sputtered Madam Pomfrey. â€œThey need treatment, they need rest â€”â€
â€œThis cannot wait,â€ said Dumbledore. â€œI must insist.â€
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.
â€œThe Dementors should have arrived by now,â€ he said. â€œI'll go and meet them. Dumbledore, I'll see you upstairs.â€
He crossed to the door and held it open for Snape, but Snape hadn't moved.
â€œYou surely don't believe a word of Black's story?â€ Snape whispered, his eyes fixed on Dumbledore's face.
â€œI wish to speak to Harry and Hermione alone,â€ Dumbledore repeated.
Snape took a step toward Dumbledore.
â€œSirius Black showed he was capable of murder at the age of sixteen,â€ he breathed. â€œYou haven't forgotten that, Headmaster? You haven't forgotten that he once tried to kill me?â€
â€œMy memory is as good as it ever was, Severus,â€ said Dumbledore quietly.
Snape turned on his heel and marched through the door Fudge was still holding. It closed behind them, and Dumbledore turned to Harry and Hermione. They both burst into speech at the same time.
â€œProfessor, Black's telling the truth â€” we saw Pettigrew â€” he escaped when Professor Lupin turned into a werewolf â€”â€
â€œâ€” he's a rat â€”â€
â€œâ€” Pettigrew's front paw, I mean, finger, he cut it off â€”â€
â€œâ€” Pettigrew attacked Ron, it wasn't Sirius â€”â€
But Dumbledore held up his hand to stem the flood of explanations.
â€œIt is your turn to listen, and I beg you will not interrupt me, because there is very little time,â€ he said quietly. â€œThere is not a shred of proof to support Black's story, except your word â€” and the word of two thirteen-year-old wizards will not convince anybody. A street full of eyewitnesses swore they saw Sirius murder Pettigrew. I myself gave evidence to the Ministry that Sirius had been the Pottersâ€™ Secret-Keeper.â€
â€œProfessor Lupin can tell you â€”â€ Harry said, unable to stop himself
â€œProfessor Lupin is currently deep in the forest, unable to tell anyone anything. By the time he is human again, it will be too late, Sirius will be worse than dead. I might add that werewolves are so mistrusted by most of our kind that his support will count for very little and the fact that he and Sirius are old friends â€”â€
â€œListen to me, Harry. It is too late, you understand me? You must see that Professor Snape's version of events is far more convincing than yours.â€
â€œHe hates Sirius,â€ Hermione said desperately. â€œAll because of some stupid trick Sirius played on him â€”â€
â€œSirius has not acted like an innocent man. The attack on the Fat Lady â€” entering Gryffindor Tower with a knife â€” without Pettigrew, alive or dead, we have no chance of overturning Sirius's sentence.â€
â€œBut you believe us.â€
â€œYes, I do,â€ said Dumbledore quietly. â€œBut I have no power to make other men see the truth, or to overrule the Minister of Magicâ€¦.â€
Harry stared up into the grave face and felt as though the ground beneath him were falling sharply away. He had grown used to the idea that Dumbledore could solve anything. He had expected Dumbledore to pull some amazing solution out of the air. But no â€¦ their last hope was gone.
â€œWhat we need,â€ said Dumbledore slowly, and his light blue eyes moved from Harry to Hermione, â€œis more time.â€
â€œBut â€”â€ Hermione began. And then her eyes became very round. â€œOH!â€
â€œNow, pay attention,â€ said Dumbledore, speaking very low, and very clearly. â€œSirius is locked in Professor Flitwick's office on the seventh floor. Thirteenth window from the right of the West Tower. If all goes well, you will be able to save more than one innocent life tonight. But remember this, both of you: you must not be seen. Miss Granger, you know the law â€” you know what is at stakeâ€¦You â€” must â€” not â€” be â€”seen.â€
Harry didn't have a clue what was going on. Dumbledore had turned on his heel and looked back as he reached the door.
â€œI am going to lock you in. It is â€”â€ he consulted his watch, â€œfive minutes to midnight. Miss Granger, three turns should do it. Good luck.â€
â€œGood luck?â€ Harry repeated as the door closed behind Dumbledore. â€œThree turns? What's he talking about? What are we supposed to do?â€
But Hermione was fumbling with the neck of her robes, pulling from beneath them a very long, very fine gold chain.
â€œHarry, come here,â€ she said urgently. â€œQuick!â€
Harry moved toward her, completely bewildered. She was holding the chain out. He saw a tiny, sparkling hourglass hanging from it.
She had thrown the chain around his neck too.
â€œReady?â€ she said breathlessly.
â€œWhat are we doing?â€ Harry said, completely lost.
Hermione turned the hourglass over three times.
The dark ward dissolved. Harry had the sensation that he was flying very fast, backward. A blur of colors and shapes rushed past him, his ears were pounding, he tried to yell but couldn't hear his own voice â€”
And then he felt solid ground beneath his feet, and everything came into focus again â€”
He was standing next to Hermione in the deserted entrance hall and a stream of golden sunlight was falling across the paved floor from the open front doors. He looked wildly around at Hermione, the chain of the hourglass cutting into his neck.
â€œHermione, what â€”?â€
â€œIn here!â€ Hermione seized Harry's arm and dragged him across the hall to the door of a broom closet; she opened it, pushed him inside among the buckets and mops, then slammed the door behind them.
â€œWhat â€” how â€” Hermione, what happened?â€
â€œWe've gone back in time,â€ Hermione whispered, lifting the chain off Harry's neck in the darkness. â€œThree hours backâ€¦â€
Harry found his own leg and gave it a very hard pinch. It hurt a lot, which seemed to rule out the possibility that he was having a very bizarre dream.
â€œShh! Listen! Someone's coming! I think â€” I think it might be us!â€™ Hermione had her ear pressed against the cupboard door.
â€œFootsteps across the hallâ€¦ yes, I think it's us going down to Hagrid's!â€
â€œAre you telling me,â€ Harry whispered, â€œthat we're here in this cupboard and we're out there too?â€
â€œYes,â€ said Hermione, her ear still glued to the cupboard door. â€œI'm sure it's us. It doesn't sound like more than three peopleâ€¦ and we're walking slowly because we're under the Invisibility Cloak â€” â€œ
She broke off, still listening intently.
â€œWe've gone down the front stepsâ€¦.â€
Hermione sat down on an upturned bucket, looking desperately anxious, but Harry wanted a few questions answered.
â€œWhere did you get that hourglass thing?â€
â€œIt's called a Time-Turner,â€ Hermione whispered, â€œand I got it from Professor McGonagall on our first day back. I've been using it all year to get to all my lessons. Professor McGonagall made me swear I wouldn't tell anyone. She had to write all sorts of letters to the Ministry of Magic so I could have one. She had to tell them that I was a model student, and that I'd never, ever use it for anything except my studiesâ€¦ I've been turning it back so I could do hours over again, that's how I've been doing several lessons at once, see? Butâ€¦
â€œHarry, I don't understand what Dumbledore wants us to do. Why did he tell us to go back three hours? How's that going to help Sirius?â€
Harry stared at her shadowy face.
â€œThere must be something that happened around now he wants us to change,â€ he said slowly. â€œWhat happened? We were walking down to Hagrid's three hours agoâ€¦.â€
â€œThis is three hours ago, and we are walking down to Hagrid's,â€ said Hermione. â€œWe just heard ourselves leavingâ€¦.â€
Harry frowned; he felt as though he were screwing up his whole brain in concentration.
â€œDumbledore just said â€” just said we could save more than one innocent lifeâ€¦â€ And then it hit him. â€œHermione, we're going to save Buckbeak!â€
â€œBut â€” how will that help Sirius?â€
â€œDumbledore said â€” he just told us where the window is â€” the window of Flitwick's office! Where they've got Sirius locked up! We've got to fly Buckbeak up to the window and rescue Sirius! Sirius can escape on Buckbeak â€” they can escape together!â€
From what Harry could see of Hermione's face, she looked terrified.
â€œIf we manage that without being seen, it'll be a miracle!â€
â€œWell, we've got to try, haven't we?â€ said Harry. He stood up andvpressed his ear against the door. â€œDoesn't sound like anyone's thereâ€¦ Come on, let's go.â€
Harry pushed open the closet door. The entrance hall was deserted. As quietly and quickly as they could, they darted out of the closet and down the stone steps. The shadows were already lengthening, the tops of the trees in the Forbidden Forest gilded once more with gold.
â€œIf anyone's looking out of the window â€”â€ Hermione squeaked, looking up at the castle behind them.
â€œWe'll run for it,â€ said Harry determinedly. â€œStraight into the forest, all right? We'll have to hide behind a tree or something and keep a lookout â€”â€
â€œOkay, but we'll go around by the greenhouses!â€™ said Hermione breathlessly. â€œWe need to keep out of sight of Hagrid's front door, or we'll see us! We must be nearly at Hagrid's by now!â€
Still working out what she meant, Harry set off at a sprint, Hermione behind him. They tore across the vegetable gardens to the greenhouses, paused for a moment behind them, then set off again, fast as they could, skirting around the Whomping Willow, tearing toward the shelter of the forestâ€¦.
Safe in the shadows of the trees, Harry turned around; seconds later, Hermione arrived beside him, panting.
â€œRight,â€ she gasped. â€œWe need to sneak over to Hagrid'sâ€¦. Keep out of sight, Harryâ€¦.â€
They made their way silently through the trees, keeping to the very edge of the forest. Then, as they glimpsed the front of Hagrid's house, they heard a knock upon his door. They moved quickly behind a wide oak trunk and peered out from either side. Hagrid had appeared in his doorway, shaking and white, looking around to see who had knocked. And Harry heard his own voice.
â€œIt's us. We're wearing the Invisibility Cloak. Let us in and we can take it off.â€
â€œYeh shouldn've come!â€ Hagrid whispered. He stood back, then shut the door quickly.
â€œThis is the weirdest thing we've ever done,â€ Harry said fervently.
â€œLet's move along a bit,â€ Hermione whispered. â€œWe need to get nearer to Buckbeak!â€
They crept through the trees until they saw the nervous Hippogriff, tethered to the fence around Hagrid's pumpkin patch.
â€œNow?â€ Harry whispered.
â€œNo!â€ said Hermione. â€œIf we steal him now, those Committee people will think Hagrid set him free! We've got to wait until they've seen he's tied outside!â€
â€œThat's going to give us about sixty seconds,â€ said Harry. This was starting to seem impossible.
At that moment, there was a crash of breaking china from inside Hagrid's cabin.
â€œThat's Hagrid breaking the milk jug,â€ Hermione whispered. â€œI'm going to find Scabbers in a moment â€”â€
Sure enough, a few minutes later, they heard Hermione's shriek of surprise.
â€œHermione,â€ said Harry suddenly, â€œwhat if we â€” we just run in there and grab Pettigrew â€”â€
â€œNo!â€ said Hermione in a terrified whisper. â€œDon't you understand? We're breaking one of the most important wizarding laws! Nobody's supposed to change time, nobody! You heard Dumbledore, if we're seen â€”â€
â€œWe'd only be seen by ourselves and Hagrid!â€
â€œHarry, what do you think you'd do if you saw yourself bursting into Hagrid's house?â€ said Hermione.
â€œI'd â€” I'd think I'd gone mad,â€ said Harry, â€œor I'd think there was some Dark Magic going on â€”â€
â€œExactly! You wouldn't understand, you might even attack yourself! Don't you see? Professor McGonagall told me what awful things have happened when wizards have meddled with timeâ€¦ Loads of them ended up killing their past or future selves by mistake!â€
â€œOkay!â€ said Harry. â€œIt was just an idea, I just thought â€”â€
But Hermione nudged him and pointed toward the castle. Harry moved his head a few inches to get a clear view of the distant front doors. Dumbledore, Fudge, the old Committee member, and Macnair the executioner were coming down the steps.
â€œWe're about to come out!â€ Hermione breathed.
And sure enough, moments later, Hagrid's back door opened, and Harry saw himself, Ron, and Hermione walking out of it with Hagrid. It was, without a doubt, the strangest sensation of his life, standing behind the tree, and watching himself in the pumpkin patch.
â€œIt's Okay, Beaky, it's okayâ€¦â€ Hagrid said to Buckbeak. Then he turned to Harry, Ron, and Hermione. â€œGo on. Get goin'.â€
â€œHagrid, we can't â€”â€
â€œWe'll tell them what really happened â€”â€
â€œThey can't kill him â€”â€
â€œGo! It's bad enough without you lot in trouble anâ€™ all!â€
Harry watched the Hermione in the pumpkin patch throw the Invisibility Cloak over him and Ron.
â€œGo quick. Donâ€™ listenâ€¦.â€
There was a knock on Hagrid's front door. The execution party had arrived. Hagrid turned, around and headed back into his cabin, leaving the back door ajar. Harry watched the grass flatten in patches all around the cabin and heard three pairs of feet retreating. He, Ron, and Hermione had goneâ€¦ but the Harry and Hermione hidden in the trees could now hear what was happening inside the cabin through the back door.
â€œWhere is the beast?â€ came the cold voice of Macnair.
â€œOut â€” outside,â€ Hagrid croaked.
Harry pulled his head out of sight as Macnair's face appeared at Hagrid's window, staring out at Buckbeak. Then they heard Fudge.
â€œWe â€” er â€” have to read you the official notice of execution, Hagrid. I'll make it quick. And then you and Macnair need to sign it. Macnair, You're supposed to listen too, that's procedure â€”â€
Macnair's face vanished from the window. It was now or never.
â€œWait here,â€ Harry whispered to Hermione. â€œI'll do it.â€
As Fudge's voice started again, Harry darted out from behind his tree, vaulted the fence into the pumpkin patch, and approached Buckbeak.
â€œIt is the decision of the Committee for the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures that the Hippogriff Buckbeak, hereafter called the condemned, shall he executed on the sixth of June at sundown â€”â€
Careful not to blink, Harry stared up into Buckbeak's fierce orange eyes once more and bowed. Buckbeak sank to his scaly knees and then stood up again. Harry began to fumble with the knot of rope tying Buckbeak to the fence.
â€œâ€¦ sentenced to execution by beheading, to be carried out by the Committee's appointed executioner, Walden Macnairâ€¦â€
â€œCome on, Buckbeak,â€ Harry murmured, â€œcome on, we're going to help you. Quietlyâ€¦ quietlyâ€¦â€
â€œâ€¦ as witnessed below. Hagrid, you sign hereâ€¦â€
Harry threw all his weight onto the rope, but Buckbeak had dug in his front feet.
â€œWell, let's get this over with,â€ said the reedy voice of the Committee member from inside Hagrid's cabin. â€œHagrid, perhaps it will be better if you stay inside â€”â€
â€œNo, I â€” I wanâ€™ ter be with himâ€¦. I donâ€™ wanâ€™ him ter be alone â€”â€
Footsteps echoed from within the cabin.
â€œBuckbeak, move!â€ Harry hissed.
Harry tugged harder on the rope around Buckbeak's neck. The Hippogriff began to walk, rustling its wings irritably. They were still ten feet away from the forest, in plain view of Hagrid's back door. â€œOne moment, please, Macnair,â€ came Dumbledore's voice. â€œYou need to sign too.â€ The footsteps stopped. Harry heaved on the rope. Buckbeak snapped his beak and walked a little faster.
Hermione's white face was sticking out from behind a tree.
â€œHarry, hurry!â€ she mouthed.
Harry could still hear Dumbledore's voice talking from within the cabin. He gave the rope another wrench. Buckbeak broke into a grudging trot. They had reached the treesâ€¦.
â€œQuick! Quick!â€ Hermione moaned, darting out from behind her tree, seizing the rope too and adding her weight to make Buckbeak move faster. Harry looked over his shoulder; they were now blocked from sight; they couldn't see Hagrid's garden at all.
â€œStop!â€ he whispered to Hermione. â€œThey might hear us.â€
Hagrid's back door had opened with a bang. Harry, Hermione, and Buckbeak stood quite still; even the Hippogriff seemed to be listening intently. Silenceâ€¦ then â€”
â€œWhere is it?â€ said the reedy voice of the Committee member. â€œWhere is the beast?â€
â€œIt was tied here!â€ said the executioner furiously. â€œI saw it! Just here!â€
â€œHow extraordinary,â€ said Dumbledore. There was a note of amusement in his voice.
â€œBeaky!â€ said Hagrid huskily.
There was a swishing noise, and the thud of an axe. The executioner seemed to have swung it into the fence in anger. And then came the howling, and this time they could hear Hagrid's words through his sobs.
â€œGone! Gone! Bless his little beak, he's gone! Musta pulled himself free! Beaky, yeh clever boy!â€
Buckbeak started to strain against the rope, trying to get back to Hagrid. Harry and Hermione tightened their grip and dug their heels into the forest floor to stop him.
â€œSomeone untied him!â€ the executioner was snarling. â€œWe should search the grounds, the forest.â€
â€œMacnair, if Buckbeak has indeed been stolen, do you really think the thief will have led him away on foot?â€ said Dumbledore, still sounding amused. â€œSearch the skies, if you willâ€¦. Hagrid, I could do with a cup of tea. Or a large brandy.â€
â€œOâ€™ â€” oâ€™ course, Professor,â€ said Hagrid, who sounded weak with happiness. â€œCome in, come inâ€¦.â€
Harry and Hermione listened closely. They heard footsteps, the soft cursing of the executioner, the snap of the door, and then silence once more.
â€œNow what?â€ whispered Harry, looking around.
â€œWe'll have to hide in here,â€ said Hermione, who looked very shaken. â€œWe need to wait until they've gone back to the castle. Then we wait until it's safe to fly Buckbeak up to Sirius's window. He won't be there for another couple of hoursâ€¦. Oh, this is going to be difficultâ€¦.â€
She looked nervously over her shoulder into the depths of the forest. The sun was setting now.
â€œWe're going to have to move,â€ said Harry, thinking hard. â€œWe've got to be able to see the Whomping Willow, or we won't know what's going on.â€
â€œOkay,â€ said Hermione, getting a firmer grip on Buckbeak's rope. â€œBut we've got to keep out of sight, Harry, rememberâ€¦.â€
They moved around the edge of the forest, darkness falling thickly around them, until they were hidden behind a clump of trees through which they could make out the Willow.
â€œThere's Ron!â€ said Harry suddenly.
A dark figure was sprinting across the lawn and its shout echoed through the still night air.
â€œGet away from him â€” get away â€” Scabbers, come here â€”â€
And then they saw two more figures materialize out of nowhere. Harry watched himself and Hermione chasing afte
r Ron. Then he saw Ron dive.
â€œGotcha! Get off, you stinking cat â€”â€
â€œThere's Sirius!â€ said Harry. The great shape of the dog had bounded out from the roots of the Willow. They saw him bowl Harry over, then seize onâ€¦.
â€œLooks even worse from here, doesn't it?â€ said Harry, watching the dog pulling Ron into the roots. â€œOuch â€” look, I just got walloped by the tree â€” and so did you â€” this is weirdâ€“â€
The Whomping Willow was creaking and lashing out with its lower branches; they could see themselves darting here and there, trying to reach the trunk. And then the tree froze.
â€œThat was Crookshanks pressing the knot,â€ said Hermione.
â€œAnd there we goâ€¦â€ Harry muttered. â€œWe're in.â€
The moment they disappeared, the tree began to move again. Seconds later, they heard footsteps quite close by. Dumbledore, Macnair, Fudge, and the old Committee member were making their way up to the castle.
â€œRight after we'd gone down into the passage!â€ said Hermione. â€œIf only Dumbledore had come with usâ€¦â€
â€œMacnair and Fudge would've come too,â€ said Harry bitterly. â€œI bet you anything Fudge would've told Macnair to murder Sirius on the spotâ€¦.â€
They watched the four men climb the castle steps and disappear from view. For a few minutes the scene was deserted. Then â€”
â€œHere comes Lupin!â€ said Harry as they saw another figure sprinting down the stone steps and halting toward the Willow. Harry looked up at the sky. Clouds were obscuring the moon completely.
They watched Lupin seize a broken branch from the ground and prod the knot on the trunk. The tree stopped fighting, and Lupin, too, disappeared into the gap in its roots.
â€œIf he'd only grabbed the cloak,â€ said Harry. â€œIt's just lying thereâ€¦.â€
He turned to Hermione.
â€œIf I just dashed out now and grabbed it, Snape'd never be able to get it and â€”â€
â€œHarry, we mustn't be seen!â€
â€œHow can you stand this?â€ he asked Hermione fiercely. â€œJust standing here and watching it happen?â€ He hesitated. â€œI'm going to grab the cloak!â€
Hermione seized the back of Harry's robes not a moment too soon. Just then, they heard a burst of song. It was Hagrid, making his way up to the castle, singing at the top of his voice, and weaving slightly as he walked. A large bottle was swinging from his hands.
â€œSee?â€ Hermione whispered. â€œSee what would have happened? We've got to keep out of sight! No, Buckbeak!â€
The Hippogriff was making frantic attempts to get to Hagrid again; Harry seized his rope too, straining to hold Buckbeak back. They watched Hagrid meander tipsily up to the castle. He was gone. Buckbeak stopped fighting to get away. His head drooped sadly.
Barely two minutes later, the castle doors flew open yet again, and Snape came charging out of them, running toward the Willow.
Harry's fists clenched as they watched Snape skid to a halt next to the tree, looking around. He grabbed the cloak and held it up.
â€œGet your filthy hands off it,â€ Harry snarled under his breath.
Snape seized the branch Lupin had used to freeze the tree, prodded the knot, and vanished from view as he put on the cloak.
â€œSo that's it,â€ said Hermione quietly. â€œWe're all down thereâ€¦ and now we've just got to wait until we come back up againâ€¦.â€
She took the end of Buckbeak's rope and tied it securely around the nearest tree, then sat down on the dry ground, arms around her knees.
â€œHarry, there's something I don't understandâ€¦. Why didn't the Dementors get Sirius? I remember them coming, and then I think I passed outâ€¦ there were so many of themâ€¦.â€
Harry sat down too. He explained what he'd seen; how, as the nearest Dementor had lowered its mouth to Harry's, a large silver something had come galloping across the lake and forced the Dementors to retreat.
Hermione's mouth was slightly open by the time Harry had finished.
â€œBut what was it?â€
â€œThere's only one thing it could have been, to make the Dementors go,â€ said Harry. â€œA real Patronus. A powerful one.â€
â€œBut who conjured it?â€
Harry didn't say anything. He was thinking back to the person he'd seen on the other bank of the lake. He knew who he thought it had beenâ€¦ but how could it have been?
â€œDidn't you see what they looked like?â€ said Hermione eagerly. â€œWas it one of the teachers?â€
â€œNo,â€ said Harry. â€œHe wasn't a teacher.â€
â€œBut it must have been a really powerful wizard, to drive all those Dementors awayâ€¦ If the Patronus was shining so brightly, didn't it light him up? Couldn't you see â€”?â€
â€œYeah, I saw him,â€ said Harry slowly. â€œButâ€¦ maybe I imagined itâ€¦ I wasn't thinking straightâ€¦ I passed out right afterwardâ€¦.â€
â€œWho did you think it was?â€
â€œI think â€”â€ Harry swallowed, knowing how strange this was going to sound. â€œI think it was my dad.â€
Harry glanced up at Hermione and saw that her mouth was fully open now. She was gazing at him with a mixture of alarm and pity.
â€œHarry, your dad's â€” well â€” dead,â€ she said quietly.
â€œI know that,â€ said Harry quickly.
â€œYou think you saw his ghost?â€
â€œI don't knowâ€¦ noâ€¦ he looked solidâ€¦.â€
â€œBut then â€”â€
â€œMaybe I was seeing things,â€ said Harry. â€œButâ€¦ from what I could seeâ€¦ it looked like himâ€¦. I've got photos of himâ€¦.â€
Hermione was still looking at him as though worried about his sanity. â€œI know it sounds crazy,â€ said Harry flatly. He turned to took at Buckbeak, who was digging his beak into the ground, apparently searching for worms. But he wasn't really watching Buckbeak.
He was thinking about his father and about his father's three oldest friendsâ€¦ Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongsâ€¦. Had all four of them been out on the grounds tonight? Wormtail had reappeared this evening when everyone had thought he was deadâ€¦ Was it so impossible his father had done the same? Had he been seeing things across the take? The figure had been too far away to see distinctlyâ€¦ yet he had felt sure, for a moment, before he'd lost consciousnessâ€¦.
The leaves overhead rustled faintly in the breeze. The moon drifted in and out of sight behind the shifting clouds. Hermione sat with her face turned toward the Willow, waiting.
And then, at last, after over an hourâ€¦
â€œHere we come!â€ Hermione whispered.
She and Harry got to their feet. Buckbeak raised his head. They saw Lupin, Ron, and Pettigrew clambering awkwardly out of the hole in the roots. Then came Hermioneâ€¦ then the unconscious Snape, drifting weirdly upward. Next came Harry and Black. They all began to walk toward the castle.
Harry's heart was starting to beat very fast. He glanced up at the sky. Any moment now, that cloud was going to move aside and show the moonâ€¦
â€œHarry,â€ Hermione muttered as though she knew exactly what he was thinking, â€œwe've got to stay put. We mustn't be seen. There's nothing we can doâ€¦.â€
â€œSo we're just going to let Pettigrew escape all over againâ€¦â€ said Harry quietly.
â€œHow do you expect to find a rat in the dark?â€ snapped Hermione. â€œThere's nothing we can do! We came back to help Sirius; we're not supposed to be doing anything else!â€
The moon slid out from behind its cloud. They saw the tiny figures across the grounds stop. Then they saw movement â€”
â€œThere goes Lupin,â€ Hermione whispered. â€œHe's transforming.â€
â€œHermione!â€ said Harry suddenly. â€œWe've got to move!â€
â€œWe mustn't, I keep telling you â€”â€
â€œNot to interfere! Lupin's going to run into the forest, right at us!â€
â€œQuick!â€ she moaned, dashing to untie Buckbeak. â€œQuick! Where are we going to go? Where are we going to hide? The Dementors will be coming any moment â€”â€
â€œBack to Hagrid's!â€ Harry said. â€œIt's empty now â€” come on!â€
They ran as fast as they could, Buckbeak cantering along behind them. They could hear the werewolf howling behind themâ€¦.
The cabin was in sight; Harry skidded to the door, wrenched it open, and Hermione and Buckbeak flashed past him; Harry threw himself in after them and bolted the door. Fang the boarhound barked loudly.
â€œShh, Fang, it's us!â€ said Hermione, hurrying over and scratching his ears to quieten him. â€œThat was really close!â€ she said to Harry.
Harry was looking out of the window. It was much harder to see what was going on from here. Buckbeak seemed very happy to find himself back inside Hagrid's house. He lay down in front of the fire, folded his wings contentedly, and seemed ready for a good nap.
â€œI think I'd better go outside again, you know,â€ said Harry slowly. â€œI can't see what's going on â€” we won't know when it's time â€”â€
Hermione looked up. Her expression was suspicious.
â€œI'm not going to try and interfere,â€ said Harry quickly. â€œBut if we don't see what's going on, how're we going to know when it's time to rescue Sirius?â€
â€œWellâ€¦ okay, thenâ€¦ I'll wait here with Buckbeakâ€¦ but Harry, be careful â€” there's a werewolf out there â€” and the Dementors.â€
Harry stepped outside again and edged around the cabin. He could hear yelping in the distance. That meant the Dementors were closing in on Siriusâ€¦. He and Hermione would be running to him any momentâ€¦.
Harry stared out toward the lake, his heart doing a kind of drumroll in his chestâ€¦. Whoever had sent that Patronus would be appearing at any momentâ€¦.
For a fraction of a second he stood, irresolute, in front of Hagrid's door. You must not be seen. But he didn't want to be seen. He wanted to do the seeingâ€¦. He had to knowâ€¦
And there were the Dementors. They were emerging out of the darkness from every direction, gliding around the edges of the lakeâ€¦. They were moving away from where Harry stood, to the opposite bankâ€¦. He wouldn't have to get near themâ€¦.
Harry began to run. He had no thought in his head except his fatherâ€¦ If it was himâ€¦ if it really was himâ€¦ he had to know, had to find outâ€¦.
The lake was coming nearer and nearer, but there was no sign of anybody. On the opposite bank, he could see tiny glimmers of silver â€” his own attempts at a Patronus â€”
There was a bush at the very edge of the water. Harry threw himself behind it, peering desperately through the leaves. On the opposite bank, the glimmers of silver were suddenly extinguished. A terrified excitement shot through him â€” any moment now â€”
â€œCome on!â€ he muttered, staring about. â€œWhere are you? Dad, come on â€”â€
But no one came. Harry raised his head to look at the circle of Dementors across the lake. One of them was lowering its hood. It was time for the rescuer to appear â€” but no one was coming to help this time â€”
And then it hit him â€” he understood. He hadn't seen his father he had seen himself â€”
Harry flung himself out from behind the bush and pulled out his wand.
â€œEXPECTO PATRONUM! â€ he yelled.
And out of the end of his wand burst, not a shapeless cloud of mist, but a blinding, dazzling, silver animal. He screwed up his eyes, trying to see what it was. It looked like a horse. It was galloping silently away from him, across the black surface of the lake. He saw it lower its head and charge at the swarming Dementorsâ€¦. Now it was galloping around and around the black shapes on the ground, and the Dementors were falling back, scattering, retreating into the darknessâ€¦. They were gone.
The Patronus turned. It was cantering back toward Harry across the still surface of the water. It wasn't a horse. It wasn't a unicorn, either. It was a stag. It was shining brightly as the moon above â€¦ it was coming back to himâ€¦.
It stopped on the bank. Its hooves made no mark on the soft ground as it stared at Harry with its large, silver eyes. Slowly, it bowed its antlered head. And Harry realizedâ€¦ â€œProngs,â€ he whispered.
But as his trembling fingertips stretched toward the creature, it vanished.
Harry stood there, hand still outstretched. Then, with a great leap of his heart, he heard hooves behind him. He whirled around and saw Hermione dashing toward him, dragging Buckbeak behind her.
â€œWhat did you do?â€ she said fiercely. â€œYou said you were only going to keep a lookout!â€
â€œI just saved all our livesâ€¦â€ said Harry. â€œGet behind here behind this bush â€” I'll explain.â€
Hermione listened to what had just happened with her mouth open yet again.
â€œDid anyone see you?â€
â€œYes, haven't you been listening? I saw me but I thought I was my dad! It's okay!â€
â€œHarry, I can't believe itâ€¦ You conjured up a Patronus that drove away all those Dementors! That's very, very advanced magic.â€
â€œI knew I could do it this time,â€ said Harry, â€œbecause I'd already done itâ€¦ Does that make sense?â€
â€œI don't know â€” Harry, look at Snape!â€
Together they peered around the bush at the other bank. Snape had regained consciousness. He was conjuring stretchers and lifting the limp forms of Harry, Hermione, and Black onto them. A fourth stretcher, no doubt bearing Ron, was already floating at his side. Then, wand held out in front of him, he moved them away toward the castle.
â€œRight, it's nearly time,â€ said Hermione tensely, looking at her watch. â€œWe've got about forty-five minutes until Dumbledore locks the door to the hospital wing. We've got to rescue Sirius and get back into the ward before anybody realizes we're missingâ€¦.â€
They waited, watching the moving clouds reflected in the lake, while the bush next to them whispered in the breeze. Buckbeak, bored, was ferreting for worms again.
â€œDo you reckon he's up there yet?â€ said Harry, checking his watch. He looked up at the castle and began counting the windows to the right of the West Tower.
â€œLook!â€ Hermione whispered. â€œWho's that? Someone's coming back out of the castle!â€
Harry stared through the darkness. The man was hurrying across the grounds, toward one of the entrances. Something shiny glinted in his belt.
â€œMacnair!â€ said Harry. â€œThe executioner! He's gone to get the Dementors! This is it, Hermione â€”â€
Hermione put her hands on Buckbeak's back and Harry gave her a leg up. Then he placed his foot on one of the lower branches of the bush and climbed up in front of her. He pulled Buckbeak's rope back over his neck and tied it to the other side of his collar like reins.
â€œReady?â€ he whispered to Hermione. â€œYou'd better hold on to me â€”â€
He nudged Buckbeak's sides with his heels.
Buckbeak soared straight into the dark air. Harry gripped his flanks with his knees, feeling the great wings rising powerfully beneath them. Hermione was holding Harry very tight around the waist; he could hear her muttering, â€œOh, no â€” I don't like this oh, I really don't like this â€”â€
Harry urged Buckbeak forward. They were gliding quietly toward the upper floors of the castleâ€¦. Harry pulled hard on the left-hand side of the rope, and Buckbeak turned. Harry was trying to count the windows flashing past â€”
â€œWhoa!â€ he said, pulling backward as hard as he could.
Buckbeak slowed down and they found themselves at a stop, unless you counted the fact that they kept rising up and down several feet as the Hippogriff beat his wings to remain airborne.
â€œHe's there!â€ Harry said, spotting Sirius as they rose up beside the window. He reached out, and as Buckbeak's wings fell, was able to tap sharply on the glass.
Black looked up. Harry saw his jaw drop. He leapt from his chair, hurried to the window and tried to open it, but it was locked.
â€œStand back!â€ Hermione called to him, and she took out her wand, still gripping the back of Harry's robes with her left hand.
The window sprang open.
â€œHow â€” how â€”?â€ said Black weakly, staring at the Hippogriff.
â€œGet on â€” there's not much time,â€ said Harry, gripping Buckbeak firmly on either side of his sleek neck to hold him steady. â€œYou've got to get out of here -the Dementors are coming â€” Macnair's gone to get them.â€
Black placed a hand on either side of the window frame and heaved his head and shoulders out of it. It was very lucky he was so thin. In seconds, he had managed to fling one leg over Buckbeak's back and pull himself onto the Hippogriff behind Hermione.
â€œOkay, Buckbeak, up!â€ said Harry, shaking the rope. â€œUp to the tower â€” come on.â€
The Hippogriff gave one sweep of its mighty wings and they were soaring upward again, high as the top of the West Tower. Buckbeak landed with a clatter on the battlements, and Harry and Hermione slid off him at once.
â€œSirius, you'd better go, quick,â€ Harry panted. â€œThey'll reach Flitwick's office any moment, they'll find out you're gone.â€
Buckbeak pawed the ground, tossing his sharp head.
â€œWhat happened to the other boy? Ron?â€ croaked Sirius.
â€œHe's going to be okay. He's still out of it, but Madam Pomfrey says she'll be able to make him better. Quick â€” go â€”â€
But Black was still staring down at Harry.
â€œHow can I ever thank â€”â€
â€œGO!â€ Harry and Hermione shouted together.
Black wheeled Buckbeak around, facing the open sky.
â€œWe'll see each other again,â€ he said. â€œYou are â€” truly your father's son, Harryâ€¦â€
He squeezed Buckbeak's sides with his heels. Harry and Hermione jumped back as the enormous wings rose once moreâ€¦ The Hippogriff took off into the airâ€¦ He and his rider became smaller and smaller as Harry gazed after themâ€¦ then a cloud drifted across the moonâ€¦. They were gone.
The Prisoner of Azkaban
. . . .