The Harry Potter Reread

The Harry Potter Reread: The Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapters 5 and 6

You guys. Shucks, thank you for all the congrats last post! Back again, and the missus and I are mostly just shocked that it’s over, whoa that was fast awesome. (And yes, she’s definitely a Potterhead. Along with many other nerdly things. Though she’s more of a Tolkien buff—I am constantly schooled on elvish.)

And now we get to the introduction of my favorite character! And death omens. Which are always great. It’s time for Chapters 5 and 6 of The Prisoner of Azkaban—The Dementor and Talons and Tea Leaves.

Gideon Smith amazon buy linkIndex to the reread can be located here! Other Harry Potter and Potter-related pieces can be found under their appropriate tag. And of course, since we know this is a reread, all posts might contain spoilers for the entire series. If you haven’t read all the Potter books, be warned.

Chapter 5—The Dementor

Summary

Harry, Hermione, and the Weasleys pile into the Ministry cars and head to King’s Cross Station. Before Harry boards the Hogwarts Express, Mr. Weasley takes him aside with the intent on warning him about Sirius Black. Harry tells him that he already heard the previous night, but Arthur is insistent that Harry not go looking for Black, which confuses the boy. He wants to tell Ron and Hermione what he’s found out, so they find the only uncrowded train car, housing the presumed new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher—R. J. Lupin. He’s dead asleep, and nothing seems to stir him for the majority of the ride.

Ron and Hermione are very concerned at the knowledge that Black is after Harry. The sneakoscope goes off in their car, so Harry stuffs it further into his luggage. Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle come in to badger them, but Lupin’s presence puts them off. Shortly before they get to the school, the train suddenly stops and is boarded. The lights go out, Ginny and Neville clamber into their car, and a tall robed figure comes to the door. Professor Lupin wakes up just in time to confront the thing and send it packing, but Harry gets cold, hears screaming in the distance, and passes out.

When he wakes, Lupin passes out chocolate as a remedy, and informs the kids that the creature was a dementor—one of the Azkaban prison guards. Harry is disturbed to find that he was the only one who seems to have fainted, though the kids have all been affected to various degrees. Malfoy finds out about Harry’s reaction from a concerned Neville and immediately starts teasing. The kids board horseless (Harry reckons the horses are invisible) carriages and head up to the castle. Harry and Hermione are called aside by McGonagall; she has asked for Madam Pomfrey to attend Harry after hearing he fainted from Lupin, but Harry insists he’s fine. Hermione has a private chat with McGonagall about her course schedule.

The two miss the Sorting, but make it in time for the feast and a few announcements. Dumbledore explains the dementors will be providing extra security on the Hogwarts grounds, and warns the students not to provoke them, or attempt to sneak past them (even with an invisibility cloak, he stealthily adds). He announces Professor Lupin’s new position as the DADA teacher, and then announces Hagrid’s new additional job as the Care of Magical Creatures professor. The trio congratulate a tearful Hagrid after dinner, then head up to bed.

Commentary

I’d forgotten that Ginny’s already showing more gusto in this book. She and Harry share a laugh over Percy’s pomp when the new Head Boy sees Penelope on the platform, and she has no problem snapping on Ron when he tells her to get lost on the train. And of course, she seems to be the only one who comes close to Harry’s terror over the dementors; we don’t yet understand why at this point in the narrative, but looking back we know that she’s likely remembering what it felt like to be possessed by Riddle. So you know, that’s great.

Harry gets all happy when Mrs. Weasley gives him an extra hug before getting on the train because HARRY WAS NEVER HUGGED AS A CHILD, and Mrs. Weasley is treating him like one of her own, and if that’s not the saddest thing I can think of, I just don’t know, I’m very emotional, don’t look at me.

Mr. Weasley warns Harry not to look for Sirius Black, which is confusing at the time, but a hint toward Black’s history with the Potter family. Then the Sneakoscope goes off in the train compartment. We have to presume that it’s because of Scabbers… but then why wouldn’t it go off constantly in his presence? Here’s my theory: the Sneakoscope is picking up on the thoughts of people around it. You know when you’re doing something untrustworthy (hence it going off when Ron uses Errol to send Harry his present, because he knows he’s not supposed to use the owl). The trio are talking about Sirius, which means that Peter is listening to them talk about the man he framed for murder—bam, the Sneakoscope goes off. He’s recalling when he did something untrustworthy, so the thing starts to flare up.

Ron and Hermione start talking about Hogsmeade, resulting in a hilarious aside from Ron about the Honeydukes sweet shop, and the first official mention of the Shrieking Shack, “the most haunted building in Britain.” We will find out what makes it so haunted much later. There’s also a brief name drop of the 1612 goblin rebellion, and I want more information about that, gosh darnit.

Pointless aside: Lupin’s suitcase reads “Professor R. J. Lupin,” but I find it hard to believe that he’s taught anywhere else, given his particular condition. Yet the case is old and tattered and the letters are peeling. I presume that even if he altered the label with magic it would continue to look old? Magic rarely changes the quality of the thing, so perhaps that’s it.

I’m really just rambling on to avoid jumping up and down like a lunatic, and all-capsing at everyone about how my favorite character just showed up and you should all be prepared for me to gush over him from now on. Seriously. Teenage me was completely in love with Remus Lupin from the start. It helps that he has an instantly soothing demeanor right at his introduction. Also that he has a wry sense of humor (“I haven’t poisoned that chocolate, you know…”). And hands out chocolate.

Because he’s looking so rough, it’s safe to assume that he’s just come off a werewolf transformation, which must be an awesome note to start your new job on. Obviously, he knows he’s going to be teaching Harry, but imagine what it must have been like to wake up on the train, only to find your dead friend’s son sitting right across the way, looking just like him. The fact that he keeps everything together so effortlessly is a testament to exactly the sort of character he is; staid, level-headed, accustomed to more than his fair share of torment. He sics that patronus on the dementor with zero hesitation or difficulty because this isn’t an alien scenario to him.

Speaking of dementors… they are constantly compared to the LOTR Ringwraiths for obvious reasons, but they scare me more, I think. Probably because they weren’t created to do the bidding of a Dark Lord, though they do eventually help him out. They exist entirely on their own terms, and then people are dumb enough to try and manipulate them. (There was talk in the comments earlier about whether or not they perform the menial tasks at Azkaban, and the narration seems to indicate that they do. They are said to dig a grave at one point, and they do bring prisoners food.) Rowling claims to have come up with the idea for dementors while going through a severe bout of depression before the first Potter book was published. The sensation Ron mentions—that he felt he’d “never be cheerful again”—was pulled directly from her own experience.

Can you imagine what it would be like to be a first year Muggle-born student when the train was stopped by dementors? I think I’d go straight back home.

Interestingly, we’re never given a reason why chocolate works so well as a restorative after coming into contact with a dementor. But it’s not meant to be a scientific thing, like the antioxidants are at work, or what have you. Which means that Rowling straight up decided that chocolate was magical and had magical properties. Which might be one of my favorite choices in the entire series because it’s so obviously true.

The adults are seriously concerned for poor Harry, but he’s not having any of it because he’s so panicked over the fact that no one else had as severe of a reaction on the train. No one seems keen to give out information on the dementors, and I wonder if that’s more due to an information gap or a real desire not to talk about them. Either seems likely.

Once Harry’s out of McGonagall’s office, we can presume that this is where Hermione receives the Time-Turner. Sneaky, sneaky narrative. We finally get the announcement that Hagrid is a teacher now, and it’s a cuter moment than it has any right to be, with the applause and him being all bashful. And of course, if Hagrid’s name hadn’t been cleared of his alleged childhood crimes by the kids last year, there’s no way he would have been allowed the position. Dumbledore offers it to him immediately, and its strikes me that while we never see much between the two besides Hagrid’s blind devotion to Dumbledore, Albus clearly does love Hagrid very much. It’s something that doesn’t get talked about that often, but it’s so important to the structure of Hogwarts as a whole. Dumbledore trusts infant Harry with the half-giant, he gives the man a home and place in the magical world, he continues to look after Hagrid’s welfare. In a way, they are their own odd little family.

And despite that awful train ride, Harry feels that too. As soon as he hits his dorm room, he can relax at last. He’s home.

 

Chapter 6—Talons and Tea Leaves

Summary

Harry finds that the Slytherins’ favorite new game is to tease him about his reaction to the dementors. The twins try to cheer him, but Harry still wants to know why he was the only one to faint. Ron notes that Hermione’s schedule is too full (she has three morning classes that occur at the same time), but Hermione insists that she has it sorted with McGonagall, and she’ll be fine. The trio have a hard time finding the Divination classroom, and enlist the help of Sir Cadogan, a painting of a hapless knight.

They meet their Divination teacher, Professor Trelawney, who assures the students that books will only take them so far in the subject—you either have the Sight, or you don’t. This displeases Hermione greatly. Trelawney then has the students read each other’s tea leaves, but when Harry and Ron don’t do so well, she reads Harry’s cup herself and finds a series of bad omens, ending with the Grim; a great spectral dog, a sign of death. Hermione thinks that Professor Trelawney isn’t nearly so sensitive to the workings of the universe as she seems, and is vocally skeptical of her skill, a first for Hermione and teachers. When they get to Transfiguration, everyone seems fixated on Harry. McGonagall assures them that Trelawney predicts the death of a student each year, and no one has died yet. Ron is still worried though, and when Hermione tells him Divination seems a dodgy subject, he claims she’s just upset to find something she’s bad at. They stop speaking for bit.

Their next stop is Care of Magical Creatures, which they have with the Slytherins. Hagrid asks the class to open their books, but no one can. He explains that the books don’t bite if you stroke them on the spine before opening them, but realizing that his joke hasn’t gone over well puts him off. He retreats and brings out four hippogriffs, half-horse half-eagle animals. No one seems keen on approaching, so Harry does because he wants Hagrid’s lesson to be successful. Hippogriffs are proud, so you have to be polite to them—Harry does well, and Hagrid throws him on Buckbeak the hippogriff’s back for a short ride. It’s not the most fun in the world, but it does lead the other students to engage with the lesson. Everyone is doing fine until Draco deliberately insults Buckbeak, leading to a gash in his arm from the offended hippogriff. Draco milks it for all it’s worth.

The trio are concerned, so they head out to see Hagrid after dinner. He’s drunk and blaming himself for not starting with something easier, sure he’s about to be fired. Harry, Ron, and Hermione insist that it wasn’t his fault that they’ll stick up for him. Then Hermione suggests that Hagrid maybe lay off the booze, which leads to the gamekeeper sticking his head in a bucket of water to sober up. After doing so, he finally comes clear on the fact that they’re out after hours and scolds them, dragging them all back up to castle and insisting that they never come out late to visit again.

Commentary

Hermione’s course schedule is a great little mystery because it’s deliberately not as sly and hidden as the rest of the plot. We’re meant to know that something’s up with her, but there’s no way we can figure out what she’s up to, and it doesn’t spoil anything for the book’s ending to know that she’s got something up her sleeve. I remember having a lot of fun guessing at how she was managing it. Time travel was definitely at the forefront of my mind.

We get to meet Sir Cadogan, which is such a goofy aside. (FYI: he is meant to be a Knight of the Round Table, and was buddies with Merlin. Whaaaaat.) Of course, he becomes relevant later, but his helping the trio to the Divination classroom is such a perfect slice-of-life for Hogwarts. When discussing the rules for magical portraits in the comments, it was brought up that they function differently from photographs; they have to be taught to act more like their subject, to retain the information that the subject knew. Which means that Cadogan was either taught to behave that way (by the real Sir Cadogan), or that perhaps his personality is the result of being given little-to-no instruction. Considering what a parody he is of the standard “white knight” trope, the later explanation really appeals to me.

Okay, so Trelawney’s classroom is ridiculous, but… I would still love to have lessons there. Trelawney herself is such an interesting figure in the Potter mythos. We know that Dumbledore keeps her around because she is, very occasionally, right. Because she was the one who saw the upcoming war between Harry and Voldemort. On the other hand, the story does require that she be full of it most of the time, and she comes off that way from the get-go—no matter how accurate any of her predictions are, she’s doing what many fortune tellers and mediums have always done in their profession. She gives vague predictions and premonitions that can easily come true. It’s her conviction and the air of mystery that makes her seem legit. She talks about how that “thing” Lavender has been dreading will happen—which means that when a bad thing does occur on that day, Lavender will immediately associate it with the prediction. She makes a comment about Neville’s grandmother and him breaking cups—Neville is an incurable klutz (which would be easily discernible even at a glance) and assuming that he has a grandmother who might be in ill health is an easy sell. If he hadn’t had a living grandmother, she probably would have insisted that the prediction was meant for the person next to him.

I watched a lot of Crossing Over With John Edward as a kid. I know the spiel.

Also, Harry’s sass straight off the bat with Divination is just beautiful. See his and Ron’s first attempt at reading tea leaves:

“What can you see in mine?”

“A load of soggy brown stuff,” said Harry.

Also, this:

“When you’ve all finished deciding whether I’m going to die or not!”

Sorry, Harry. They’ll be wondering that for a next five years or so.

And of course, there is an element of truth in many of her predictions. The problem is that Sirius Black happens to look like a Grim in animagus form. It’s just a super unfortunate coincidence. Speaking of being an animagus, this is the first time we get the name for that ability, and the second time we get McGonagall’s transformation into a cat. (Her irritation over the class’ lack of reaction and snark at Harry’s death omen is one of my favorite McGonagall moments, easily.)

And then we get a great indication of the separation between kids from magic-born and Muggleborn homes. Not to say that Muggleborn kids aren’t susceptible to Trelawney’s way of thinking, but Ron and Hermione’s argument relies very heavily on Ron believing the Grim omen because he lives in the magical world and has encountered it. While his teardown of Hermione is undoubtedly mean (he knows that suggesting she wouldn’t naturally be good at something would press a button, and one that Trelawney has already hit, no less), it makes sense that he would take it personally when Hermione insists that his uncle died because he was essentially dumb enough to let a bad omen scare him to death. It’s one of those great moments where Hermione’s devotion to logic makes her markedly insensitive—something that’s really fun to see in a female character for a change. You do your Spock thing, Hermione.

Okay, I admit it. When Hagrid says that he thought the Monster Books of Monsters was funny, I tear up a little. It’s a perfect example of the disconnect Hagrid has with the general population in his love of big, deadly beasts, and we know that’s a source of a great deal of his woes and loneliness. And you know, the book is funny. It’s just a shame that the publisher didn’t bother to sell it with helpful petting directions taped to the front, so that everyone else could have appreciated such a Hagrid-y joke.

Hippogriffs are obviously awesome, being a modern wizarding equivalent to the gryphon. Apparently, you can breed “fancy” versions of them (Newt Scamander’s mom did back in the day), so in the magical world they’re similar to horses? Here’s something that is changed in the PoA movie that I actually wish they’d kept from the book; Harry really doesn’t like flying Buckbeak because he’s used the precision and control of a broomstick. Which makes sense, and also works better with Harry’s personality—he definitely prefers to feel personally in control most of the time.

Ugh, Draco. I’m always a bit impressed, truth be told, that he has no problem looking like a coward to get what he wants. Going on about how Buckbeak’s killed him, moaning and groaning about his wound when everyone around him can see that he’s fine. It’s a very specific type of manipulation that he essentially sidelines his pride for. It’s perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of Draco’s character.

And poor Hagrid. I don’t think it registered quite as sharply to me when I was younger that Hagrid always drowns his sorrows in booze. Alone. It’s treated a bit comically, but this time I was more cognizant of how Hermione cuts him off (through gentle suggestion because she’s still a kid). Good on you, Hermione. Someone has to take care of him. *sob*


Emily Asher-Perrin still kind of wants to slap Draco when he gets all fake weepy, though. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

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