The Harry Potter Reread is wondering what will happen when wizards discover the wonder of 3D printing and start making their wands that way. They could be any color of the rainbow and much easier for handling! Molded to the users grip! Laying the cores in would be a snap! Science + magic. The future is now.
We now return to your regularly scheduled dose of awkward Christmas presents and extra credit defense lessons. It’s Chapters 11 and 12 of The Prisoner of Azkaban—The Firebolt and The Patronus.
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 11—The Firebolt
Harry is raging at the knowledge that Sirius Black betrayed his parents. On arriving back at Hogwarts, he goes through the photo album that Hagrid gave him in first year and finds a picture of Sirius with his parents at their wedding. (Perhaps not the best picture to put in the album, Hagrid. Was there really no other picture of the day on hand? It’s a wedding, for pete’s sake.) The next day is the start of break and Harry wakes late. Ron and Hermione try to convince Harry that he should leave the business of Black alone, but he’s furious and insists that they go see Hagrid, so he can ask why the half-giant never mentioned Black’s relationship to his parents.
When they get to Hagrid’s hut, they find him despondent over a letter from the Ministry—the government has determined his innocence in Draco’s injury, but Buckbeak is going to be brought to trial by the Committee for the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures. Hagrid says that there’s not much hope for Buckbeak, and the trio promise they’ll do everything they can think of to prove the hippogriff’s innocence.
Christmas morning arrives and Harry gets an unexpected gift—a Firebolt broom. No note is attached, but Harry is thrilled. Hermione comes into the boy’s room and sees the broom, but she is less enthused at its mysterious arrival. She brings Crookshanks with her and has to leave when the cat goes after Scabbers again. (Apparently, she still has not grasped that her cat is intent on murdering Ron’s pet.) The sneakoscope goes off again.
Christmas dinner is sparse this year (likely due to the presence of the dementors, most of the students have gone home), so there is only one table for the feast. The trio sit with the teachers, and Professor Trelawney comes down for the meal, which is clearly a rarity. She does not want to sit, as her presence makes the table’s number thirteen, which would mean that the first person to rise would surely die. Harry and Ron both rise at the same time. Hermione stays behind at dinner to talk to Professor McGonagall; it turns out that she does this because she wants the professor to confiscate Harry’s new broom and check it for curses. She believes it may have been given to him by Sirius Black….
Okay, I love you, Hagrid, but if I was trying to find a wedding picture of James and Lily Potter for their son, and the only one I could crowdsource happened to include the man (who I thought was) responsible for their murder… I might just leave the picture out. Which seems like it should be a no-brainer, and we can say all we want about how absentminded Hagrid can be, but this is just so clearly a plot device. Oh, Harry has a photo album to see the young-and-handsome face of the man who has done such wrong! Feel the anger, Harry. FEEL IT.
All the same, the next morning is distinct for being one of the first times when Ron and Hermione band together to try and make Harry see reason. It won’t be the last time that the Chosen One gets too single-minded about something, and they know they’re the only two people who have a shot at truly changing his mind. Still, their plan to distract doesn’t work out, and Harry insists they head down to Hagrid’s hut, so he can give the guy a piece of his mind—
—and promptly forgets the whole thing when he sees how much pain Hagrid is in. It’s remarkably sweet, and a reminder of what makes Harry such a good kid; he puts his own problems in the backseat when someone else is hurting. He can’t stay angry with a friend when that friend is frightened and largely alone.
Ron’s instinct to make tea because that’s what his mom does when people are upset is one of my favorite moments in the book, hands down. ILU, Ron.
We see the first glimmer of Hermione’s lawyer future and her upcoming fight for house elf rights when she’s instantly able to bring up a case about a hippogriff being sentenced by the Ministry. Of course, the trio’s research on wizarding law gives a brief but uncomfortable glimpse into the lopsidedness of their justice system. The one case they find on a hippogriff shows the creature executed, and another involving a manticore tells them that the only reason it was freed was due to the fear it inspired in the court. The wizarding community has been keeping anything “too different” under its thumb for quite some time. Those cases go back centuries, and clearly nothing has changed.
So after the Firebolt being set up as the big “it” to get, you knew Harry had to somehow magically get one. Because as realistic as it is to want unattainable things as a child, you probably shouldn’t spend so many paragraphs going on about a very special item that a character pines over, then never sets eyes on again. So the shiny thing appears, and Harry and Ron buzz about who might have given to him without considering that this might not be a great thing. (The fact that Harry has already had an encounter with a bucking broomstick seems to escape his mind entirely.)
Hermione. Hermione, I know it’s a sleepy Christmas morning and your cat is warm and fuzzy, but seriously, how many times does your cat have to attack your friend for you to realize that your cat attacks people with rodents, and should therefore maybe not be brought up to their room. Hermione. This is getting silly. At the same time, Ron, don’t kick cats.
The sneakoscope goes off again, a deliberate misdirect at Crookshanks himself, which again brings me to musing on how the sneakoscope functions—I would assume that like Sirius, Peter is capable of fazing out a bit mentally while in animagus form, which he would probably do the majority of the time because being a pet rat can’t be super interesting. But as soon as Crookshanks attacks, he’s mentally acute again, and once he’s thinking, that guilt and untrustworthiness (since Peter likely knows that cat has it out for him, and probably wonders what that animal has figured) can be picked up by the sneakoscope. It’s a pretty interesting device.
That Christmas dinner is adorable, but can you imagine how loathe Snape is to be there? He hates basically everyone at the table, and you have to interact when there are so few. I have this image of Dumbledore heading down to the dungeons to find out if Snape is going, and Snape trying to make excuses about why he shouldn’t (I have to give Lupin the Wolfsbane Potion! I have to curl my hair! I have to poison some carolers!), and finally just acquiescing. That vulture-topped Christmas cracker hat is totally Dumbledore trolling him. I accept no other explanation.
Yet again, Trelawney makes a ridiculously obvious prediction—Lupin won’t be with us for long! Pretty easy bet there, considering that no teacher in his position does. Nothing will ever make me happier than the passive aggressive slam fest that exists between McGonagall and Trelawney:
“But surely you already knew that, Sibyll?” said Professor McGongall, her eyebrows raised.
Professor Trelawney gave Professor McGonagall a very cold look.
“Certainly I knew, Minverva,” she said quietly. “But one does not parade the fact that one is All-Knowing. I frequently act as though I am not possessed of the Inner Eye, so as not to make others nervous.”
“That explains a great deal,” said Professor McGonagall tartly.
Poor Remus is transforming on Christmas. You have to figure that being a werewolf wrecks havoc with your schedule that way all the time. You miss lots of holidays. Your own birthday. Anniversaries. Boo.
And then Hermione makes herself very unpopular by getting the Firebolt confiscated after dinner. Yet another instance in the book where her instincts are on point (the broom was indeed given to harry by Sirius), but not having all the facts makes her overall assumption incorrect. And gets her in trouble with her friends. She’s not wrong to tell a teacher, but I’m always surprised the Hermione doesn’t make more of an effort to get Harry and Ron to see things from her point of view. I remember being the kid who wanted to do “the right thing” on occasion, and it’s always preferable to get your friends to see reason. Then again, writing that fight would have probably been tedious on the page.
Chapter 12—The Patronus
Harry and Ron are both furious at Hermione for getting the Firebolt taken away, and Oliver Wood resolves to make McGonagall see reason about the broomstick. Harry remind Lupin about the dementor defense lessons he promised, and gets his first one scheduled. He meets Lupin in the evening, and is given a boggart-dementor to test out. The charm to repel a dementor is called a patronus—it is a focused shield of positive energy that the dementor can feed off of, but not sadden or drive mad. It is created by focusing on a single happy memory. Harry tries to conjure the patronus twice and fails. The second time, he hears his father’s voice rather than his mother’s. When he mentions to Lupin that it was the first time he’d heard him, it comes out that James and Lupin were friends at school. Harry asks the professor if he’d known Sirius Black as well, and Lupin gets cagey and upset on the subject.
Harry keeps hoping that McGonagall will release the Firebolt to him before his next Quidditch match, but it’s seeming more and more unlikely. Wood tells him to buy a new broom because he’ll never be able to win the next game on a school one. He also wants to be certain that Harry won’t fall off his broom again, leaving Harry frustrated when his patronus lessons don’t advance as quickly as he’d hoped.
Lupin insists that Harry is being harsh on himself, and rewards him with a butterbeer after one lesson. (Harry almost gives away having tried it before because he can’t keep his mouth shut.) He quizzes Lupin on what dementors are like with their hoods off, and the professor explains that no one knows unless they’re on the end of a Dementor’s Kiss. That is what happens when a dementor sucks out a person’s soul through their mouth, leaving them a wandering shell for eternity. It’s been authorized as the fate for Sirius Black, which Harry says is a good thing, but Lupin doesn’t seem sure it’s fair for anyone. Harry wants to ask him more about Black, but knows he can’t without giving his unauthorized trip to Hogsmeade away.
McGonagall gives Harry his broomstick back, convinced that it’s un-hexed. Neville is stuck outside the Gryffindor common room when he gets back, having written down the passwords, but lost them. Harry lets him in, then tells Ron they should make up with Hermione. But no sooner has all been forgiven than Ron comes downstairs with a bloody bed sheet and some cat hair—Scabbers is missing, and Crookshanks is the most likely of murderers.
A word about Patronuses: they apparently cannot be conjured by dark wizards because those who use dark magic would have no need for them. (Umbridge is an interesting anomaly in this case; Rowling claims that her wearing Slytherin’s locket allowed an extra boost of power, resulting in the ability to conjure one.) Because it is such a difficult charm to perform, and associated with fighting off dementors and lethifolds, it was long thought that wizards who could conjure a patronus were fighters of noble causes, those who were pure of heart. It is possible to disguise a corporeal patronus to prevent people from recognizing its form. Remus does this to disguise the wolf form of his patronus, feeling it would give him away. There’s a telling and lovely symmetry here—his boggart is the moon, but his protection takes the very form he fears. The wolf is his guardian, no matter how much it frightens him too.
The size of the animal shape a patronus takes is not indicative of its power, though extremely large ones are rare. It is also rare to have a magical creature-shaped patronus, though Dumbledore’s is a phoenix. It is unknown if animagi always produce patronuses identical to their animagus forms, but the evidence we have seems to indicate so. (James Potter’s was a stag, McGonagall’s is a cat.)
So a patronus is supposed to act as a shield of positive energy, which a dementor can’t have a negative effect on because a patronus doesn’t feel negative emotions. Here’s a thought, though—wouldn’t it make just as much sense to have it be a shield of negative energy that kind-of cloaks you from the dementor? I was trying to figure how a patronus could wind up powerful enough to chase a dementor down, and kept coming upon the block that it is made of exactly what a dementor wants to eat. Being made of negative energy—the opposite of food to a dementor—seems like it would be more effective as a deterrent. But then you don’t get the device of happy, lovely thoughts saving you from monsters that are an analog for depression, so there’s that.
It’s fascinating that the boggart is capable of producing an effect so similar to a true dementor. Its transformation could have merely been a defense mechanism; someone is less likely to harm you if you appear as whatever they fear the most. But the boggart takes on the aspects of that fear very exactingly, making it more dangerous on offense as well. Harry feels the same affects that he would from a real dementor, he hears his parents’ voices before their deaths and passes out again and again. This is only different because he hears James for the first time, the directions to Lily to take Harry and runs while he heads Voldemort off.
And it is that revelation that makes Remus keen to cut the lesson short, probably because he wasn’t expecting to be confronted with a reminder of his old friend quite so forcefully, and also because hearing one dead parent is quite enough for a kid, thank you. He then manages to inform Harry that he and James were old friends in the most unfortunately nonchalant way possible (someone is clearly trying to keep his distance on all those meddlesome feelings), which leads Harry to bring up Sirius Black, and whether or not they knew each other too.
I feel as though this plays into my assumption on why Lupin isn’t telling Dumbledore about the secret passages into the castle and Sirius’ other form as an animagus; he is immediately defensive when Harry brings up Black. He’s clearly expecting suspicion as a result of their former connection, and it makes him sharp and panicky. This is something he had assumed would happen. This is something he is guarding against. He doesn’t want to talk to Harry about it, or anyone for that matter. It doesn’t excuse his leaving relevant information off when Black is considered so dangerous, but Remus Lupin isn’t just fighting to keep a job, he’s fighting to keep some semblance of a real life. The first inkling he’s had of that since the death of his friends.
With the level of prejudice we see in the wizarding world against hippogriffs and house elves, a werewolf is liable to receive a very sharp end of that stick. According to Rowling, before coming to Hogwarts, Lupin was living in a half-derelict shack in the woods. He would take jobs for as long as he could until his condition was discovered, or his constant absences became a problem. He has been living that way for about a decade by the time these events occur. I think his hiding the truth is less a conscious misdirection than it is an instinctual act of self-preservation. This is a man who you can bet has been hungry before, who has been constantly alone for years. He doesn’t want to talk about his former friend, the murderer Sirius Black. Sirius is just a symbol of the point when his life went to pot and he lot everything.
Because of his general kindness, it is easy to miss that Lupin is also treading lightly around Harry. His father was one of Remus’ best friends, but he has been hesitant to even mention him. We get so wrapped up in the dynamic duo of James Potter n’ Sirius Black in the later books that it’s easy to miss out on exactly how important Lupin was: James Potter financially supported Remus following school, because it was so difficult for him to find a job. Harry’s family meant the world to him, but he’s actually keeping Harry at a pretty fair distance. You can write it off as a desire not to play favorites with students, but there’s no reason not to take the kid aside and begin regaling him with stories about his mother and father—particularly when he knows that Harry has no memories of them at all (and now can only remember their deaths). Why wouldn’t he? Because there is too much pain and guilt wrapped up in that bond. Remus Lupin doesn’t want to remember the past. He just wants to make a go of the present.
I could move from here to Harry’s desire to let the dementor pounce so he can listen to his parent’s voices directly prior to their murders, but I think we may have had enough SADNESS for today, don’t you?
Harry must have a death wish to keep pestering McGonagall for his broom like that. They act like she’s all strict and stern, but he’s essentially coming up to her every day and going, “Can I have it now? Can I have it now? What about now? Now? NOW?” and she stays relatively patient with him. Because she’s a boss.
First mention of the Dementor’s Kiss, which is suitably horrifying. It raises a lot of questions about souls and bodies and what dementors do with souls and such, but we’re not likely to get many answers there. In fact, Harry’s whole conversation with Lupin over butterbeer is rather philosophical. Upon hearing that Black is going to suffer the Kiss, Harry insists he deserves it, to which Lupin responds, “You think so? Do you really think anyone deserves that?” And frankly, that’s pretty deep to get with a kid, Remus. He’s thirteen, he’s not ready for the Can You Ever Justify the Death Penalty? conversation just yet.
Harry gets his broom back (just as well since he wouldn’t order a new broom), then we get another clue in the form of Neville losing his written-down passwords. You just know that’s bad news right from the off. Ron and Harry make up with Hermione, which goes surprisingly easy considering that they haven’t really been on speaking terms for a while. Then poor Scabbers appears to be dead, and we realize that if the reconciliation was going to go so well, something had to bring it down. Yikes.
Emily Asher-Perrin is pretty sure that her patronus would be a lion because whenever she takes those online quizzes, she always comes out a big cat of some sort. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.