The Harry Potter Reread

The Harry Potter Reread: The Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapters 7 and 8

The Harry Potter Reread is going to undergo hypnosis therapy to conquer its fear of tipping over while riding a bike, and magical spoons. These are legitimate concerns, it swears. And hypnosis seems like such a nice way of getting rid of all that worry…

This week there is so much pet abuse! Also the first trip to Hogsmeade for all children lucky enough to attend. (Hint: Not Harry.) We’ve got Chapters 7 and 8 of The Prisoner of Azkaban—The Boggart in the Wardrobe and Flight of the Fat Lady.

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 7—The Boggart in the Wardrobe

Summary

Draco comes back to class during a Potions lesson and makes a big deal about his injured arm, getting Snape to force Ron and Harry to help him with his classwork. He makes it clear to the boys that he’s also doing this in part to get Hagrid fired—his father is making complaints to the Hogwarts governors and the Ministry. Neville is having a very hard time making the Shrinking Solution in class, and Snape decides that Neville will feed it to his pet toad to encourage him to do better work. Hermione offers to help, which Snape dismisses as showing off. She helps him anyway, which is just as well because an ill-brewed potion would have killed Neville’s toad, according to Snape. He takes five points away from Gryffindor for her disobedience.

Next up is their first Defense Against the Dark Arts class, and Lupin directs them to leave their books aside for a practical lesson. Having only had one practical lesson before (Lockhart’s disastrous pixies), the students are wary, and they end up in the staffroom. Snape is there and choses to leave before the lesson begins, taking a potshot at Neville by informing Lupin that he shouldn’t trust anything to the boy. There’s a boggart in the wardrobe, a shapeshifter that prays on fear, and Lupin teaches the children that laughter is what destroys them. When the boggart appears, the students have to manipulate their fear into something funny.

He asks for Neville’s help in the first demonstration, prompting him on what frightens the boy most. Neville admits it’s Professor Snape. Lupin asks him to picture his grandmother’s clothes, and when he faces the boggart, to picture Snape in them. Neville does so, and Snape appears in a vulture-topped hat with a red handbag and a lace-trimmed dress. Much of the class gets a crack at the boggart, but when it gets to Harry (who is stuck trying to figure out how to make a Dementor funny), Lupin jumps in front of him and prevents him from facing it—Neville finishes it off. Harry is pretty put out, assuming Lupin thinks him weak after seeing his reaction on the Hogwarts Express.

Commentary

So Snape’s way of motivating a student is literally to say “get it right or I’ll kill your pet.” Because, you know, a failing grade is definitely not bad enough.

Lupin, on the other hand, knows the name of every single one of his students before he has his first class. Did you make a chart, sweetie? Or is your memory just that good?

Peeves’ reaction to Lupin as he walks the class to the staffroom is a tip-off here, if not to his identity as a werewolf, then to his history as a student. Considering how often the Marauders ran in and out of trouble and snuck around after dark, it’s fair to assume that Remus had a lot of run-ins with Peeves as a teen—hence knowing how to be a nuisance to him when the occasion calls for it. Shooting gum up the poltergeist’s nose is probably just one of many tricks they had for getting him off their back. I wonder if use of the word “loony” is a conscious rhyme with his childhood nickname as well. Peeves had to have heard the quartet in a halls, whisper-shouting at each other.

So Snape proceeds yet again to be the worst human being in the castle and humiliates Neville further by suggesting that he can’t perform simple tasks to a new professor. Lupin’s cheery rejoinder strikes me as probably the way Remus has always dealt with Severus. James and Sirius had active vendettas there, but Remus seems more the kind of person to kill someone with kindness when they can’t stand him.

And then Neville admits that Snape is his greatest fear, and my heart breaks. Not just because Snape has intimidated one of his students to the point where that boy is honestly terrified of him, but because Neville’s fear—like Harry’s—is indicative of something else. The dementor suggests that fear is what frightens Harry, and Neville’s fear of Snape suggests that what he fears is not being good enough. Neville’s family wasn’t even sure he had magical abilities when he was younger. Neville is clumsy and forgetful and has a hard time in many of his classes. Snape is a perfect marker of that fear, a teacher who manages to make Neville feel more clumsy, more stupid, more unworthy. And I’m so awed by Neville’s ability to take everyone’s laughter with good humor. Sure, it is funny, but the true fear underlying it is serious.

One the other hand, the fears for most of the students surround frightening creatures, more appropriate to their age group. We know that some adults will have far worse boggarts to contend with (such as Molly forced to regard the dead bodies of her family), which makes it interesting to me that Lupin’s greatest fear is the moon itself. I wonder if he’s purposefully engineered his fear for this exact purpose—toward the thing that causes his transformations rather than the terrible things his transformations might cause. He’s also lucky that the werewolf itself isn’t his boggart, which makes me even more suspicious that Lupin is consciously directing his fear toward an “object” that can easily be manipulated in boggart form. I assume that must be possible when dealing with them, though we’re not given a particular indication either way.

Either way, best lesson we’ve been given in any of the Potter books thus far. It might be the best in the whole series, frankly. And Neville gets to finish the thing off, proving his competence in a subject he probably didn’t feel particularly adept in before. It’s easy to argue that this is Neville’s first step toward Dumbledore’s Army, learning that he has the ability to fight back. If we take Neville as an analog for Peter Pettigrew in Harry’s generation (which I do), this shows how Remus has grown into adulthood as well. We can assume that Peter never received the same encouragement from friends and teachers, but Remus Lupin, older and wiser and now responsible for educating bright young minds, has no intention of leaving anyone behind.
Chapter 8—Flight of the Fat Lady

Summary

Everyone is enjoying Defense Against the Dark Arts (except the Slytherins who want to spend their time making fun of Professor Lupin’s robes), but Harry’s having a rough time with the rest of his classes. Professor Snape has been in a foul mood since hearing about his boggart, Trelawney keeps looking at him tearily, and Care of Magical Creatures has been a bore since Hagrid lost confidence over the Malfoy debacle. Harry’s excited to get back to Quidditch, however, and so is Oliver Wood because it’s his last chance to bring Gryffindor the Quidditch Cup. Practice begins with enthusiasm.

The first Hogsmeade trip is coming on Halloween, and Ron tells Harry he should ask McGonagall’s permission to come, even without his form signed. As this conversation goes on, Crookshanks attacks Scabbers, causing another spat between Ron and Hermione. Before their next Transfiguration class, they find Lavender in tears because her rabbit was killed by a fox—making Trelawney’s prediction about the “thing she was dreading” a reality. Except Hermione doesn’t buy it since she hadn’t been dreading the rabbit’s death at all beforehand. After class, Harry asks McGonagall for permission to go to Hogsmeade, but she turns him down.

Harry tries to figure out what to do with himself on Halloween and ends up wandering past Professor Lupin’s classroom, who invites him in for some tea. As they talk, Harry admits that he’s upset that Lupin wouldn’t let him face the boggart, and wants to know why. Lupin tells him that he was concerned the boggart would become Voldemort in the middle of class—not at all what Harry had assumed. When Harry admits that he actually thought of the dementors, Lupin tells him that his choice denotes a fear of fear itself, pretty wise for a thirteen year old. Snape comes into Lupin’s office with a smoking potion for Lupin to take, looking extra on edge to find Harry there. After he leaves, Harry asks Lupin what the potion is for; Lupin tells him he’s been feeling unwell and the potion is all that helps. Harry is immediately concerned that Snape might poison him for the DADA job.

Ron and Hermione bring Harry a jackpot’s worth of candy from Hogsmeade and tell him about their trip. Then Harry informs them of what he saw in Lupin’s office. Hermione doubts that Snape would dare to poison a teacher with Harry in the room, however. They go to the Halloween feast and find Lupin still alive, though Snape is eyeing him from the other side of the staff table. When they try to go back to the common room, the Gryffindors find that the Fat Lady’s portrait has been slashed. Peeves is taunting about the whole incident, but tells them when Dumbledore comes along—the Fat Lady has vanish because her portrait was shredded when she wouldn’t let Sirius Black into the common room.

Commentary

Personal aside: There was a point in grade school when my science teacher had us taking care of mealworms in cups of cereal. It was kind of gross and weird and probably my least favorite thing we did that year. Which is basically what I assume taking care of flobberworms is like in Hagrid’s class. Except bigger and grosser. More importantly, the fact that Hagrid changed his classes to be so boring will always be sad-making.

I remember that the first time I read this book, I was so confused by Oliver’s speech—because we’d only read about Gryffindor winning matches, I’d totally forgotten that they’d never won the Quidditch Cup. Someone give Oliver a hug. (He’s probably worried that if they never win the Cup while he captains, he won’t have a shot at playing professionally, which is a fair surmise.)

Look, I love Hermione and I love Crookshanks, and it’s different when you’re reading again and know the Scabbers deserves to get eaten by a half-kneazle—but I’m with Ron on this one. Her cat keeps trying to eat Ron’s pet, and her response is “that’s what cats do, Ron!” If she were my friend, I’d be seriously ticked off. Part of this is exacerbated by the fact that wizards don’t really treat their pets like Muggles do (both Ron and Neville cart Trevor and Scabbers around with them and keep them in bags and pockets), but if you have a pet that’s trying to kill another person’s pet, you should be taking the first steps to make sure that doesn’t happen. Hermione is typically so logical, but here she’s really not because she adores her big furball. We know cats have instincts, but that means that you need to keep your cat away from the rat or vice versa. The answer is not “well, that happens!”

Lavender and Parvati and the rabbit and ugh. Okay, this has very little to do with the actual incident here, but if I could make any honest complaint about how Rowling depicts the student body (aside from representation issues), it’s the fact that all the not-Hermione girls in Harry’s year are so… I’m trying to think of a better word than stereotypical? They’re all hyper-girly and gossipy and have very few distinct opinions or thoughts. Whereas Dean, Neville, and Seamus are all clear individuals. I understand that it’s sort of intentional here; pretty much any school experience involves some kids like Parvati and Lavender, but it stands out when their characterization is so thin on the ground. Not all the girls at Hogwarts are like this, but we don’t spend time with those girls, really. With the Angelina Johnsons and Alicia Spinnets. And I wish we did. I suppose this could be defined as a fault with Harry—despite the third person narration, we are definitely getting these stories primarily from his perspective, and Harry doesn’t really take much interest in fostering female friendships outside of Hermione (until Luna, which is part of the reason why her arrival is such a boon).

Harry getting tea in Lupin’s office is one of my favorite scenes in the book. Remus wins the not-a-real-award for most perceptive, unpretentious teacher Hogwarts has ever hired. Upon realizing that Harry has been left behind for the Hogsmeade jaunt, he offers Harry a fun way to pass the time without making it all weird, i.e. “Hey, Harry! I notice you’re wandering the castle ALONE—you must be so sad! Come hang out with a cool adult!” He pulls the whole look-at-this-fun-thing-I-just-got card, which helpfully segues into Harry admitting he’s upset about not getting the chance to tackle the boggart. In true teenager form, it never occurs to Harry that Lupin is not in his brain, and therefore could not know what his fear was. So the assumption that his professor thought he couldn’t handle the boggart is… actually pretty dumb, when everyone knows he has faced Voldemort. Of course that would be the most likely possibility in any teacher’s mind.

And then Snape delivers the Wolfsbane Potion, and Harry thinks it’s poison, and even without knowing for sure what Snape’s intentions are everything is hilarious. With Harry’s incredibly unsubtle hints to Remus, and the professor’s seeming cluelessness. (He must be trying so hard not to laugh—there’s no way he could miss what Harry’s suggesting.) I always found Snape’s concern in this scene so telling; you know the potion can’t just be for a cold when he’s giving such careful instructions for its ingestion. Why would he care if Remus Lupin is feeling under the weather? There’s a real fear there, fear of what Remus is and what he’s capable of. We just don’t have the information to recognize that concern for what it is.

Of course, it only irks Snape more that Remus spends his time being as guileless and sweet as possible: “I was just showing Harry my grindylow.” *blinkblink* *bigwerewolfeyes* Yes, god stop it, stop being so pleasant and lovely, YOU WERE THE WORST MARAUDER, DON’T LIE. MAKING EVERYONE THINK YOU WERE SO UNASSUMING AND DARLING.

I always particularly loved the line, “Pity sugar makes it useless,” in regard to the potion. Nothing better communicates how bad it must taste than that.

I know it sucks that Harry can’t go to Hogsmeade the first time around, but if my friends returned and dumped a bucket of magic candy in my lap, I think I’d cheer up right quick. The fact that Halloween is one of the biggest holidays in this series—clearly just because they’re magic wizard people—was always a favorite bit for me. I would like to instate Halloween feasts and festivities every year too, in addition to costumes. Come on, Muggle world. We can go bigger.

And then we finish on the loveliest cliffhanger. Peeves is exactly the perfect person to deliver the punch, too—Oops! Butterfingers! Sirius Black in the castle! Gee, how’d that happen?


Emily Asher-Perrin just imagines Snape’s inner rage rising every time Remus says anything vaguely nice. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

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