The Harry Potter reread is thinking about infusing some liquor to make firewhiskey a reality—but what would it taste like? (Don’t say Fireball, that is wrong.) Does infusing whiskey with Adobo peppers sound like a good idea? With cinnamon or without? How much fun were American wizard speakeasies back during Prohibition?
The plot is thickening in a mysterious manner on the reread! We’re about to take tea with the Minister of Magic and get a peek and the newly minted Firebolt broom line! It’s Chapters 3 and 4 of The Prisoner of Azkaban—The Knight Bus and The Leaky Cauldron.
Index 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 3—The Knight Bus
Harry gets a ways from the Dursleys before the fear creeps in; he has nowhere to go, and he’s sure he is about to be expelled from Hogwarts. He figures he’ll be forced to live as an outcast off the money left in his Gringotts vaults. He decides to attach his trunk to his broom and use the invisibility cloak to fly to Diagon Alley and enact his plan. As he’s shuffling things about, he feels a presence nearby, looking up to see what he thinks is a large black dog. Tripping over his trunk, his arm flies out, yielding an unexpected result—he summons the Knight Bus.
The Knight Bus is emergency travel for stranded magic folk. Harry gets on the bus and gives the name Neville Longbottom for fear of being caught for his recent aunt-blowing-up offense. The bus can travel anywhere on land, with landmarks and buildings moving out of the way to accommodate its path, and it’s manned by Stan Shunpike and driver Ernie Prang. Stan lets Harry read part of his paper and gives him the scoop on the criminal the Dursleys were talking about earlier; Sirius Black. It turns out that Black’s a wizard, the only one to ever break out of Azakaban prison. He is known for killing 13 people (12 of them Muggles) with a single curse. Harry hangs out on the bus as various other witches and wizards are dropped all over before getting to the Leaky Cauldron. The Minister of Magic—Cornelius Fudge—is there waiting for Harry, blowing his cover.
Fudge tells Harry that Aunt Marge is fine, her memory modified, and the incident reversed. Harry is to spend the rest of summer break at the Leaky Cauldron and stick to Diagon Alley while he’s there. Harry is perplexed by the lack punishment for his actions, but Fudge is cagey and refuses to clarify why he’s being let off the hook. Harry asks Fudge if they’ve had any luck catching Sirius Black, which clearly unnerves the man, then asks if Fudge might sign his Hogsmeade permission slip, which he refuses. He leaves Harry with Tom the innkeeper, and Harry is given a room.
As a child who totally decided to “run away” from home at one point, this breakdown strikes me as terribly real. The sudden realization that the decision to flee is really only the first part of the plan, the fear over how to survive, the eventual choices that really make no sense whatsoever but sound like the best you can do. Obviously, in my case it was never that serious, but that is definitely the way a child mind works. Harry’s all, I’ll fly to London under the Invisibility Cloak! I’ll empty my (very heavy, as it’s made of metals) bank account, and live on the fringe of wizard society, an outcast forevermore!
It’s like Harry forgets the fact that he’s technically been revered as a hero since birth, and there’s no way anyone would ever let him out in the cold. But here’s a thought—are wizards who don’t attend magical schooling allowed wands and the ability to do magic? (I know underage is a different story, but once they’re older?) We know that when Hagrid was expelled from Hogwarts, his wand was broken and he was forbidden to do magic. Was this due to his alleged “crimes,” or would this happen to anyone who was expelled? If it was due to the Chamber of Secrets dust-up that Hagrid was never properly convicted of, that’s super dodgy. On the other hand, if they do that to anyone who’s expelled, that seems plain wrong. Can you not attend another magic school if you’re expelled from one? You must be able to. Of course, Harry doesn’t know enough about the wizarding world to know that other schools are out there, but the idea that no one would ever take him in anywhere is actually pretty funny viewed from the outside.
I love the idea of the Knight Bus, but it seems waaaaay too easy to call it without meaning to. Stick out your wand hand? So they get accidental hails all the time, right? That must be half their stops. It also seems strange to have beds on a bus that gets you places so quickly, but whatever, I should stop thinking so hard.
Always tickled by the fact that Harry gave Neville’s name as his own here. Not just because it’s cute, but because once you know the connection between them, it comes off more important. We get our first info on who Sirius Black is and what he’s done to warrant his lifetime in Azkaban. When you know who Sirius actually is, it’s strange to be reminded of the fact that the world saw him as a cold-blooded murderer for so long. What’s more, he must have seemed extra terrifying to the wizarding world because (from their perspective) he was able to blend in with such good people. He was James Potter’s best friend, and they were inseparable. He was Harry’s godfather. To have known that, and then find out that he betrayed them to Voldemort, that he was a Death Eater all along…. We do know that paranoia was already running high in the community due to the Imperius Curse and sundry, but that would have been chilling on an entirely different level.
Fudge tells Harry that the Accidental Magical Reversal Squad fixed Aunt Marge (Rowling says that she’s “punctured” which always makes me giggle), and everything’s hunky dory now. The fact that they have an Accidental Magical Department tells you pretty much everything you need to know about how common that is.
I sort of wish that accidental magic and the results of it were shown more often within the books, even though it wouldn’t be a help plot-wise; it’s part of where I think we get the disconnect between wizards and logic. Their world is unpredictable even in the most basic sense. Additionally, the fact that Fudge is able to wave the laws about underage magic for Harry in this case is even more telling—it doesn’t seem to be a degenerating system so much as the Way Things Are. The ability to hand wave and make exceptions is part of their political process because things are very uncertain where magic is concerned. I’m not saying that the system works, but that’s clearly how they’ve chosen to handle it.
So Harry gets some face time with the Minister of Magic because everyone was worried that Harry was probably murdered by Sirius Black in the interim. I wonder how Fudge knew he was on the bus, or where he was headed? It ends up being a sweet deal either way, with two weeks of real vacation at the Leaky. Though this does seem like the second step in Harry’s general policy to neglect the help of adults; he can tell that Fudge isn’t being upfront with him, and then it get worse in the following chapter.
Chapter 4—The Leaky Cauldron
Harry enjoys his Dursley-free weeks and spends the days getting to know Diagon Alley better. He does his homework outdoors, gets his school supplies, and ogles the newest racing broom—the Firebolt. The day before school’s in session, he finds Ron and Hermione there. Ron has a new wand and Hermione has money from her parents for her birthday; she wants to get an owl. Ron says that Scabbers hasn’t been doing too well since the Egypt trip and wants to get him something to help out. They head over to the magic pet store, and as Ron is buying a rat tonic for Scabbers, a large ginger cat jumps on his head and tries to kill the rat. Scabbers runs away.
Ron runs out of the shop after Scabbers and Harry follows. Hermione comes out shortly after carrying the ginger cat—his name is Crookshanks and he’s Hermione’s new pet. Ron is most displeased.
They get back to the Leaky Cauldron where the other Weasleys are waiting. They’re going to stay the night with Harry, and then the Ministry of Magic is sending cars to take them to King’s Cross Station. Harry knows something is up, as this isn’t exactly normal operations for the Ministry. He tries to ask what for, but Arthur Weasley is cagey.
Later on that night, Harry goes to grab the rat tonic Ron forgot downstairs, and hears Mr. and Mrs. Weasley arguing. He ends up listening at the door because he hears his name. It turns out that Sirius Black is after Harry; right before he broke out of Azkaban, Fudge paid a visit there and heard him muttering “He’s at Hogwarts…” over and over in his sleep. Mr. Weasley reckons that Black wants a shot at Harry since the man was practically Voldemort’s second in command. He thinks Harry should know, so he can be properly on guard. Molly thinks it will scare Harry and that there’s no reason to upset him since he’s perfectly happy now. Harry goes back up to bed, trying to tell himself that he’s been able to take care so far and will not be murdered.
This chapter is 90% clues. It is a clue stew. It is a mishmash of clue-y goodness. And also manages to be fun on top of it, which is what makes Rowling’s writing so superb.
Being able to basically live on top of Diagon Alley for a couple weeks sounds like the best possible vacation to me right now. Of course, to your average witch or wizard, it would just be living over a main shopping street, but we’re like Harry and therefore excited. I also wish that the people who owned ice cream parlors in my neighborhood gave me free sundaes and helped me with my homework. Florean Fortescue’s the man.
Harry’s learning the basic rules of consumerism! Like how, if he buys a very expensive thing, he will have no money for later and must conserve it. Sure, it’s not exciting, but I do love little asides like this—points where Harry learns real, practical knowledge by simply going about his business. Small grounding moments where the real world seeps in. And the expensive things Harry wants to buy are exactly the sort of weirdly frivolous purchases that would appeal to a kid. (A game with gold playing pieces? Was it extra shiny, Harry?)
Which brings us to the Firebolt. I know that we’re led to believe that the wizarding world is a bit behind practically on technical innovations. (Like the fact that they have radio and seemingly no television/movies.) On the other hand, how many times can the speed of a broomstick go up when they’ve already existed for hundreds of years? I mean, really? Perhaps there have been recent advancements in this regard, but you’d think precision would be more important than speed. Maneuverability and all that. My mom never cared how fast our car went, but she loved bragging about its turning radius. Very few positions on the Quidditch pitch benefit from speed over everything else. I dunno. Unless you’re actually racing your racing broom, it’s kind of a moot point? (Do you think there are broom drag racers? And that they modify their brooms with special charms and paint them flashy colors? THIS SHOULD BE A THING.)
Harry gets his Divination textbook and sets eyes on another book on death omens, with a big scary black dog on the cover. Could it be the thing he saw before summoning the Knight Bus? Harry’s already had a couple brushes with death, so his sudden concern seem well-deserved. And since he doesn’t know enough about Divination to know how… unreliable it can be, it makes sense that he’d take the idea of death omens at face value and believe they’re a real thing.
There’s a goof here that doesn’t make sense to me, where Harry hasn’t heard from Ron and Hermione, and then they find him in Diagon Alley the day before school starts and I’m all “Harry, you have an owl, you could have just sent them a letter and told them what was up. With your owl.” Ron has a new wand (and words cannot express how happy it makes me that Ron finally has his own wand, one that’s aligned to him) and Hermione’s got pocket change. I’ve always been amused by the fact that Hermione’s mind goes straight to “pet” since that’s normally a purchase that you would consult your parents on first, and it doesn’t appear that she has. Anyway, many more clues begin here!
Scabbers is looking off to Ron, so they head into the creature shop, and the woman there asks what powers the rat has. But Scabbers has no powers, so she figures it must be a common garden rat, and therefore shouldn’t live outside three years. Now, we technically don’t know how long Percy had Scabbers before Ron at this point, but you can guess that it was longer than a year. Which means that the rat should be dead, if he isn’t a magical rodent. Hmm.
Then there’s the reaction of Crookshanks, which is perfectly played out as some crazy mean old cat going bonkers. No reason to suspect that the cat might have other motivations behind the attack on Ron’s beloved pet. Though I don’t believe Rowling ever mentions is outright in the books, Crookshanks is half-Kneazle, leading to his remarkable intelligence and instincts. Kneazles can be interbred with regular cats, and some witches and wizards make a living by breeding Kneazles or half-kneazles. Apparently, this is how Arabella Figg makes a living—which is also why her house is full of cats.
Crookshanks is easily one of the book’s best red herrings. Because we’ve known Scabbers for a while, the idea that something might be up with him doesn’t register, leaving all the suspicion to fall on the cat. And since he’s mean and clearly bright, you know there’s something going on there. Of course, for this chapter you’re mostly just perplexed at Hermione’s affinity for the thing. Does the Potterverse have animal familiars? That might explain some stuff.
So they get back to the Leaky Cauldron and the Weasleys are there and the kids are teasing Percy for being Head Boy. I’d sort of feel bad for Percy at this point, but he just comes off as one of the most unpleasant people, full stop. He treats every interaction with a human being like it’s a business meeting, unless he’s giving them a hard time for whatever behavior they’re currently enacting. Bleh. Harry gets suspicious over the Ministry cars, but Mr. Weasley isn’t talking.
Harry’s suspicions are confirmed later when he hears Molly and Arthur arguing about whether they should tell Harry that Sirius Black might be coming for him. It’s easy to see both sides here; the information does upset Harry the moment he hears it, so Molly is right. On the other hand, Harry does go wandering into trouble all the time, so Arthur is right. Then again, Harry is not less-likely to get into trouble with that added knowledge… but Mr. Weasley doesn’t know Harry well enough to know that.
On the upside, we do get one of the best chapters endings ever:
“I’m not going to be murdered,” Harry said out loud.
“That’s the spirit, dear,” said his mirror sleepily.
Quick note: There will be NO REREAD next week! I’m am terribly sorry about that, but I am getting married(!) this weekend, and these things are not exactly compatible. I’ll see you all in September! (What. How is that possible.)