Harry Potter Re-read: Prisoner of Azkaban

Just a quick note – we’ll do the Goblet of Fire discussion on Sept 19 instead of Sept 12.  I’d like to claim that this is because it’s the first of the more massive part of the series, but the reality is that I will be in Peru and will not be around to read the book or write about it.  We can talk, at that time, about whether we think the later books need three weeks in general, but since I read ~100 words an hour, I’m leaning towards keeping the two week schedule.

Anyway, onto Azkaban!  The book that introduced us to the Marauders – Remus, Sirius, and Peter are not mentioned at all in the earlier books – who prove to be extremely central to not only the upcoming war, but the war in the past.

Harry accidentally blows up his aunt, but unlike in CoS when Dobby did magic in Number 4 Privet Drive, instead of getting in trouble, Cornelius Fudge merely asks him to stay where everyone can keep an eye on him.  Why?  Well, it turns out notorious murderer Sirius Black has escaped from the wizard prison of Azkaban, something no one has ever managed, and has come looking for Harry.

Now, we’ve been around the block a few times, so we know that Sirius is really a good guy, and it almost feels like Harry knows it too since he’s never really very concerned about the fact that this guy is apparently after him, even after Sirius manages to get into the Gryffindor common room a couple of times.

I’ve been marking places in the books as I go with post-it notes, but I think I’m going to have to stop because Azkaban has a worrying amount on it, and I imagine it’s only going to get worse as we go along.

Azkaban has the first signs that we’re reaching a turning point.  Peter Pettigrew gets away, Sirius is not redeemed (and never is, poor guy), and Harry has the first inkling that things are not going to go his way.  He realizes, after hearing Professor Trelawny’s prediction (her second ever) and stopping Remus and Sirius from killing Peter, that he may have orchestrated his own undoing.  (Also, Dumbledore notes that Peter will owe Harry because of this, but for the life of me, I can’t remember if this debt is ever repaid.  Can anyone help?)  Also, we start actually looking at Lily and James’s death – before, it’s mostly mentioned that they are dead and that Voldemort killed them, but here Harry hears their last words, their confrontation with Voldemort – and learns that one of their best friends betrayed them.  (Personally, if I were Harry, I would have occasional moments of doubt where I would wonder about Ron and Hermoine’s loyalty, but if I recall correctly, he never does.)

Things introduced here that are important later include: The Marauder’s Map (and the Marauders themselves), the Daily Prophet (mentioned obliquely in CoS but featured more here), the Knight Bus and Stan Shunpike, Crookshanks, Dementors, the first hints that the Defense Against the Dark Arts position may actually be cursed, a hint to the future existence of thestrals, animagi, the patronus charm, Cho Chang and Cedric Diggory, Hogsmeade, grindylows (featured in GoF), the secret passages, Madam Rosmerta, a hint that one of Dumbledore’s spies had heard about Voldemort’s plot against James and Lily (oh, poor Snape), the first hint that Dumbledore will not be able to fix everything, and, in the very first chapter, Harry is reading A History of Hogwarts by Bathilda Bagshot, whom Harry will go and visit in Godric’s Hollow in Deathly Hallows.

Also, randomly, when Harry runs away from home, he gives Neville’s name to the people on the Knight Bus.  Throwaway comment, or a very subtle hint that Neville had the same possibility of being the Chosen One as Harry did?  I am probably reading too much into things now.

When Lupin showed up on the train, I said, out loud, “Poor Remus, things are not going to go well for you.”   Interesting to see all these characters now in more innocent times.  (Also, I noted, on page 80, that we were still not to Hogwarts yet.  It will be interesting to see if the lead-in times get less as the plot thickens.  I know Goblet won’t because of the Quidditch Word Cup, but past that.)

(As a neat parallel – in CoS, Ron and Harry go it alone because Hermoine is petrified; here, Harry and Hermoine go it alone.)

Onto the questions:

1. It’s been noted that animagi seem to turn into animals that closely match the wizard’s personality.  Why do you think no one ever suspected Peter Pettigrew to be a rat other than because he was easily frightened?

2. It’s easy to see where Sirius’s (a star in the Great Dog constellation) and Remus’s (one of the twins raised by wolves in Roman Mythology) names come from.  What do you think the motivation for Peter’s name was?

3. Why does Dumbledore allow Harry and Hermoine to go back in time to save Buckbeak and Sirius when there’s so much room for something to go wrong?

4. Harry saving Pettigrew’s life ultimately goes poorly for him.  If you were in Harry’s shoes, what would you have done?  Can you fault Harry for his actions?

5. Harry shows little trust in the adults in his life.  In CoS, he has an opportunity to tell Dumbledore about the voices in the walls, but does not.  Here, he considers telling Lupin about the dog he saw when he ran away, but again keeps it to himself.  These are people Harry thinks very well of – why does he not tell them?  How would doing so change the plot?

6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Midge on 2011/08/29 at 3:44 PM

    So! I am answering because you asked if Pettigrew ever pays back Harry’s debt.

    Yes, he does, but now that I have actually pressed “reply” I can’t for the life of me remember where. I think it’s in book seven while they’re in the Malfoy manor, though, if that helps.

    And as for Actual Questions You Asked, I don’t have answers ready for all of them, but I may as well take a shot at a few.

    1. I think it’s one of those hindsight-is-20/20 things as well, you know? And also, there aren’t that many Animagi, or at least that’s implied, so the data set might have been too small, especially with the Wizarding population so small after Grindelwald’s war and as Voldemort’s war was killing and influencing more people. Rats are also viewed as clever in some cultures, but more than that, it’s likely that they were simply unwilling to think so badly of a friend.

    2. My best guess on this is Biblical, denying-three-times and all, but I never really read deeper into it because JK was so fond of the names that just roll off the tongue, as Peter Pettigrew did.

    3&4. I do not really have answers to these at the moment, I’m afraid.

    5. Given that Harry grew up with the Dursleys, authority figures who were abusive and certainly didn’t listen when he had problems, I could see it just not occurring to him that adults might ever help him. And even when they demonstratively have helped him, it wouldn’t be that easy just to trust. Also, yes: it would have changed the plot (the endless litany in YA: where are the parents? They are not there because they would put a stop to a lot of the fantastical elements and kids being heroes). Remus likely would have recognized Harry as seeing Sirius and either reported him to the authorities or mysteriously disappeared to confront him, taking the narrative out of Harry’s sphere of influence.


  2. Im going to answer only number 4. If i was harry, i would have killed pettigrew and safe myself a whole lot of trouble in the future.


  3. Posted by Chris High on 2011/08/30 at 1:13 AM

    From the HP wiki site: “[…]during the Skirmish at Malfoy Manor, in a moment of rare mercy, he hesitated to strangle Harry Potter when Harry reminded him of his life debt.”
    I, too, forgot about that.

    Anybody else make the possible connection of Wormtail/Voldemort and Wormtongue/Saruman?


    • I can see the relationship, but I bet you if we think real hard, we can find other instances of powerful evil being/cowardly, looking out for himself lackey.


      • Well, sure, but the “worm_” aspect. Possibly just coincidence, I guess.
        And an interesting thing I just saw on the wiki – there was apparently a Redwall character named Wormtail who was missing a finger. Interesting.

      • Oh, aha. I gotcha.

        Really? I don’t remember a Wormtail in the Redwall books, but it has admittedly been a really long time.

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