An uncomfortable ride

Harry is persuaded to ride on Buckbeak's back during Care of Magical Creatures

Extract from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

by J.K. Rowling

Trotting towards them were a dozen of the most bizarre creatures Harry had ever seen. They had the bodies, hind legs and tails of horses, but the front legs, wings and heads of what seemed to be giant eagles, with cruel, steel-coloured beaks and large, brilliantly orange eyes. The talons on their front legs were half a foot long and deadly-looking. Each of the beasts had a thick leather collar around its neck, which was attached to a long chain, and the ends of all of these were held in the vast hands of Hagrid, who came jogging into the paddock behind the creatures.

‘Gee up, there!’ he roared, shaking the chains and urging the creatures towards the fence where the class stood. Everyone drew back slightly as Hagrid reached them and tethered the creatures to the fence.

‘Hippogriffs!’ Hagrid roared happily, waving a hand at them. ‘Beau’iful, aren’ they?’

Harry could sort of see what Hagrid meant. Once you had got over the first shock of seeing something that was half-horse, half- bird, you started to appreciate the Hippogriffs’ gleaming coats, changing smoothly from feather to hair, each of them a different colour: stormy grey, bronze, a pinkish roan, gleaming chestnut and inky black.

‘So,’ said Hagrid, rubbing his hands together and beaming around, ‘if yeh wan’ ter come a bit nearer ...’

No one seemed to want to. Harry, Ron and Hermione, however, approached the fence cautiously.

‘Now, firs’ thing yeh gotta know abou’ Hippogriffs is they’re proud,’ said Hagrid. ‘Easily offended, Hippogriffs are. Don’t never insult one, ’cause it might be the last thing yeh do.’

Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle weren’t listening; they were talking in an undertone and Harry had a nasty feeling they were plotting how best to disrupt the lesson.

‘Yeh always wait fer the Hippogriff ter make the firs’ move,’ Hagrid continued. ‘It’s polite, see? Yeh walk towards him, and yeh bow, an’ yeh wait. If he bows back, yeh’re allowed ter touch him. If he doesn’ bow, then get away from him sharpish, ’cause those talons hurt.’

‘Right – who wants ter go first?’

Most of the class backed further away in answer. Even Harry, Ron and Hermione had misgivings. The Hippogriffs were tossing their fierce heads and flexing their powerful wings; they didn’t seem to like being tethered like this.

‘No one?’ said Hagrid, with a pleading look.

‘I’ll do it,’ said Harry.

There was an intake of breath from behind him and both Lavender and Parvati whispered, ‘Oooh, no, Harry, remember your tea leaves!’

Harry ignored them. He climbed over the paddock fence.

‘Good man, Harry!’ roared Hagrid. ‘Right then – let’s see how yeh get on with Buckbeak.’

He untied one of the chains, pulled the grey Hippogriff away from his fellows and slipped off his leather collar. The class on the other side of the paddock seemed to be holding its breath. Malfoy’s eyes were narrowed maliciously.

‘Easy, now, Harry,’ said Hagrid quietly. ‘Yeh’ve got eye contact, now try not ter blink – Hippogriffs don’ trust yeh if yeh blink too much ...’

Harry’s eyes immediately began to water, but he didn’t shut them. Buckbeak had turned his great, sharp head, and was staring at Harry with one fierce orange eye.

‘Tha’s it,’ said Hagrid. ‘Tha’s it, Harry ... now, bow ...’

Harry didn’t feel much like exposing the back of his neck to Buckbeak, but he did as he was told. He gave a short bow and then looked up.

The Hippogriff was still staring haughtily at him. It didn’t move.

‘Ah,’ said Hagrid, sounding worried. ‘Right – back away, now, Harry, easy does it –’

But then, to Harry’s enormous surprise, the Hippogriff suddenly bent his scaly front knees, and sank into what was an unmistakeable bow.

‘Well done, Harry!’ said Hagrid, ecstatic. ‘Right – yeh can touch him! Pat his beak, go on!’

Feeling that a better reward would have been to back away, Harry moved slowly towards the Hippogriff and reached out towards him. He patted the beak several times and the Hippogriff closed his eyes lazily, as though enjoying it.

The class broke into applause, all except for Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle, who were looking deeply disappointed.

‘Righ’ then, Harry,’ said Hagrid, ‘I reckon he migh’ let yeh ride him!’

This was more than Harry had bargained for. He was used to a broomstick; but he wasn’t sure a Hippogriff would be quite the same.

‘Yeh climb up there, jus’ behind the wing joint,’ said Hagrid, ‘an’ mind yeh don’ pull any of his feathers out, he won’ like that ...’

Harry put his foot on the top of Buckbeak’s wing and hoisted himself onto his back. Buckbeak stood up. Harry wasn’t sure where to hold on; everything in front of him was covered in feathers.

‘Go on, then!’ roared hagrid, slapping the Hippogriff’s hindquarters.

Without warning, twelve-foot wings flapped open on either side of Harry; he just had time to seize the Hippogriff around the neck before he was soaring upwards. It was nothing like a broomstick, and Harry knew which one he preferred; the Hippogriff’s wings were beating uncomfortably on either side of him, catching him under his legs and making him feel he was about to be thrown off; the glossy feathers slipped under his fingers and he didn’t dare get a stronger grip; instead of the smooth action of his Nimbus Two Thousand, he now felt himself rocking backwards and forwards as the hindquarters of the Hippogriff rose and fell with his wings.

Buckbeak flew him once around the paddock and then headed back to the ground; this was the bit Harry had been dreading; he leant back as the smooth neck lowered, feeling he was going to slip off over the beak; then he felt a heavy thud as the four ill-assorted feet hit the ground, and just managed to hold on and push himself straight again.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

By J.K. Rowling