“I’m not going to be murdered:” Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

September 3, 2010

This is the first book in which Harry feels (and is assumed to be by the rest of the wizarding community) specifically persecuted.  In the first book the trio basically stumble on the mystery of the sorcerer’s stone and in the second book, although Tom Riddle is particularly interested in Harry, the danger from the Monster of Slytherin is pretty general.  Ironically Voldemort is barely present in Prisoner of Azkaban but both Harry and the school and ministry authorities believe that Sirius Black is hunting him on the dark lord’s behalf.  Its interesting how coolly Harry takes it, despite dark and unsubtle hints from Professor Trelawney and his own multiple encounters with an apparent “grim.”

Hermione Granger and the Voice of Reason (ignored)

Does anyone else think that Hermione gets the very short end of the stick through this book.  Sure she gets to mastermind the final action sequence but that’s one day; she spends most of the year working her tail off in school and being shunned by her two best friends for trying to point out the truth.

  • First she’s in trouble because her cat, to quote Hagrid, “acted like a cat.”  She says that there’s no evidence that Crookshanks ate Scabbers, and, in fact, he did not.
  • Then she’s dissed and dismissed for pointing out (just as Lupin does later) that the Maurauder’s map is a dangerous object and could lead to Sirius Black related danger.  Also true.
  • And, finally, she’s completely shunned for notifying a teacher about the Firebolt –  a very expensive object sent to Harry with no message and no explanation when he know’s someone is out to get him.  Her suggestion that it could be from Sirius Black is pretty valid … and ultimately correct!

Mr. Moony presents his complements …

Oh, speaking of the Marauder’s Map, isn’t it just delightful?  It’s  intensely useful to Harry, and Rowling, for that matter, but what is more interesting about it (I think) is the whole implied back story of its creation by Remus, Sirius and James during their Hogwarts years.  Up to now we’ve known nothing more about Harry’s parents than that they remembered with love by everyone and that James and Severus Snape didn’t get along in school.  It takes several more books to paint a clearer picture of them but this is the first glimpse.

The map is a fairly impressive magical object (sure its no evil horcrux diary but it can identify by name and locate any person who steps foot on the Hogwarts grounds although not if they enter the Room of Requirment) and by the end of Prisoner of Azkaban we know that not only did Sirius and James manage to turn themselves into animagi without any instruction and without detection but they also coached their (much less capable) friend Peter through the process as well.

The Marauders

Harry feel’s an immediate kinship with his father’s boyhood friends (as soon as he’s convinced they aren’t evil) but is perhaps too quick to skate over their flaws at this point and later.The marauders weren’t clearly either good or bad during their school days and the adults they grew into are also very human and filled with human flaws.

  • James grew up into a devoted husband and father willing to put his body between Voldemort and his family but during his teens he was conceited and a bully, trading on his quidditch skills to get him ahead socially.
  • Sirius was a Griffindor from a family of Slytherins but still wielded a great deal of social power at school for the forces of not-so-good.  He is the one who set Snape up to have a run in with Lupin in wolf form which could have had disastrous results for both is enemy and his friend. As an adult he genuinely loves Harry but isn’t really able to get past his conflict with Snape and when he chafes at the restrictions put on him in the fifth book he both takes unnecessary risks himself and encourages Harry to do the same.
  • Remus knows (apparently  more than his companions) what he should do is but he’s too inclined to stand in his own light rather than do it.  As a prefect he was never able to stand up to his friends (see Neville here for a counter example) enough to stop them from causing trouble.  Grown up Lupin is too filled with self doubt (self loathing) to follow through as the father figure he could have been to Harry, to accept Tonks or to deal with his own impending fatherly responsibilities.  He rarely does the wrong thing but he doesn’t do the right thing much.
  • Peter Pettigrew starts out as a rat and ends up a rat.

Lupin vs. Snape

I’m very interested by the conflict between Lupin and Snape which goes on throughout the book.  Unlike Snape and Black, who can’t even bring themselves to be civil in the fifth book, Lupin and Snape has an uneasy coexistence in Prisoner of Azkaban.  Snape works continuously to persuade Dumbledore that Lupin is letting an evil madman into the school and does everything he can to turn the Defense against the Dark Arts class against him but still prepares an immensely complicated potion to ease him through his wolf periods.  Lupin is either more polite or more wary – he seems inclined to stay out of Snape’s way.  I find their interaction over the Marauder’s Map particularly interesting:

“Full of Dark Magic?” he repeated mildly. “Do you really think so, Severus? It looks to me as though it is merely a piece of parchment that insults anybody who reads it. Childish, but surely not dangerous? I imagine Harry got it from a joke shop —”

“Indeed?” said Snape. His jaw had gone rigid with anger. “You think a joke shop could supply him with such a thing? You don’t think it more likely that he got it directly from the manufacturers?”

Harry didn’t understand what Snape was talking about. Nor, apparently, did Lupin.

“You mean, by Mr. Wormtail or one of these people?” he said. “Harry, do you know any of these men?”

“No,” said Harry quickly.

“You see, Severus?” said Lupin, turning back to Snape. “It looks like a Zonko product to me —”

I think Snape must know who Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs are – its fascinating that he chooses to play along with Lupin in not revealing their identities to Harry.  On the first read through we know as little about “the manufacturers” as Harry does although its clear that Lupin and Snape are talking over our heads.  Now it seems clear that Snape is asking if Lupin (or Black) have given this to Harry and is suggesting that it means that the two Marauders are in league again.  Lupin simply deflects the idea and ends up hi jacking both the map and Harry at the end of the scene, which probably only leaves Snape more angry and more convinced of Lupin’s guilt.

Mcgonagall vs. Trelawney

This conflict has a lot less antipathy at its root but is no less comedic. The result is some of my favorite material in the whole book (I come down on the side of reason over revelation if you couldn’t tell).

‘Then you should know, Potter, that Sybill Trelawney has predicted the death of one student a year since she arrived at this school. None of them has died yet. Seeing death omens is her favourite way of greeting a new class. If it were not for the fact that I never speak ill of my colleagues –’ Professor McGonagall broke off, and they saw that her nostrils had gone white. She went on, more calmly, ‘Divination is one of the most imprecise branches of magic. I shall not conceal from you that I have very little patience with it. True Seers are very rare, and Professor Trelawney…’
She stopped again, and then said, in a very matter-of-fact tone, ‘You look in excellent health to me,Potter, so you will excuse me if I don’t let you off homework today. I assure you that if you do die, you need not hand it in.’

‘I dare not, Headmaster! If I join the table, we shall be thirteen! Nothing could be more unlucky! Never forget that when thirteen dine together, the first to rise will be the first to die!’
‘We’ll risk it, Sybill,’ said Professor McGonagall impatiently. ‘Do sit down, the turkey’s getting stone cold.’

Their conflict is extended through Hermione who acts (in this case) as a stand in for her favorite professor:

‘Oh, for goodness sake, not that ridiculous “grim” again!’
Professor Trelawney surveyed Hermione with mounting dislike.
‘You’ll forgive me for saying so, my dear, but I perceive very little aura around you. Very little receptivity to the resonances of the future.’

Trelawney and Mcgonagall don’t actually hate each other – they just don’t get along.  When push comes to shove in the fifth book they are able to put their dislike aside in the face of a common enemy in Dolores Umbridge.  Still I think the conflict is interesting because it shows Harry starting to notice the human interactions between adults in his life.

In fact Prisoner of Azkaban, as Harry starts to transition from childhood to adult perceptions, we see a lot more conflicts between adults.  This begins to humanize the authority figures in Harry’s life by showing us how their personal feelings can affect their judgment.  We also continue to see the moral authority represented by the Ministry of Magic erode away.

The Ministry of Mis-Management

Harry and Ron already watched Cornelius Fudge arrest Hagrid on pretty questionable grounds at the end of Chamber of Secrets and now the ministry continues to deploy dangerous dementors around the school, cavalierly bend rules for Harry when he runs away from home and generally seem pretty dodgy and inconsistent.  The appeal of Buckbeak seems particularly repugnant to the trio (although he probably is a dangerous animal in need of some restraint) his re-trial is a joke and it seems clear that the committee is acting directly with the wishes of a generous patron.  Finally, in the concluding sequence Dumbledore advises Harry and Hermione that they will have to act on their own, that the Ministry will never believe their true account of the events, and that the proper solution is to break Sirius out of offical custody and aid his escape.  This pretty much cements the Ministry as one more authority figure that Harry can’t expect to rely on.

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