The Harry Potter Reread

The Harry Potter Reread: The Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapters 15 and 16

The Harry Potter Reread is pondering whether any famous historical figures (who were not purported to be magical) were indeed wizards. Yes, Merlin was, but who else? Hatshepsut? Houdini? Hannibal? Why can the reread only come up with “H” names? This is not working out as planned.

This week, Hermione finally cracks and Buckbeak meets a tragic end… or does he? It’s Chapters 15 and 16 of The Prisoner of Azkaban—The Quidditch Final and Professor Trelawney’s Prediction.

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 15—The Quidditch Final

Summary

The news of Buckbeak’s fate mends the situation between Ron and Hermione, as he immediately announces his intent to help on the appeal. (He is very awkward about the hug she gives him in response.) At the end of their next Care of Magical Creatures lesson, Malfoy and Friends are gigging over Hagrid’s evident sorrow, which prompts Hermione to slap him clear across the face. Draco retreats in a hurry, rather than chancing a duel with her. The trio head to Charms class, but Hermione suddenly disappears. They find her later, asleep on her books. She’s horrified to have missed a class, but makes it to Divination. The are beginning work on the crystal ball and Harry, Ron, and Hermione are having a hard time taking the class seriously.

When Trelawney stops to predict Harry’s grim future (hurr, pun), Hermione finally steps in and insists that it’s rubbish. Professor Trelawney responds by insisting that Hermione has no talent for Divination, which leads Hermione to walk out on the class for good. Lavender believes this proves another of the professor’s predictions made at the start of the year. Exams begins their steady approach and everyone is going a little nuts trying to keep up with their courses. Ron has also buried himself in hippogriff history to help Buckbeak.

The Quidditch final arrives, and Harry has to be particular this time around—if he catches the Snitch before Gryffindor scores at least 50 points ahead of Slytherin, they won’t have enough accumulated to win the Cup. The game is rough and Slytherin is playing dirty, deliberately roughing the Gryffindor players up. Harry almost catches the Snitch, but Draco grabs hold of his broom tail to stop him. Harry pulls off the a win for the team nevertheless, and the Gryffindors win the Quidditch Cup.

Commentary

This section might as well be a defining tip-off for Ron’s entire character arc. It’s only in coming to the series again that you recognize his pattern: Ron feels slighted (sometimes the slight is real, sometimes it isn’t) and storms off. When he realizes that he’s needed, he rushes back.

There was some very interesting back and forth in the comments about Ron and Hermione’s argument here, who was more wronged and so forth. I think they’re both very clearly at fault for separate aspects of this fight. But conversely, I don’t know that I agree that Ron has reason to be as nasty as he is to Hermione in the previous chapters for a specific reason: I don’t think Ron cares about Scabbers all that much. Not that he’s indifferent, but Scabbers is not truly Ron’s. He’s a hand-me-down, like everything Ron gets. He calls the rat “useless” more than once in the books (he does it when he and Hermione make up, in fact). That doesn’t mean that he has no care for his pet at all, but we receive no evidence to suggest that Ron is super attached to Scabbers until this fight with Hermione becomes a thing in this book. It seems to me that Ron is standing up about this on principle. Maybe Scabbers wasn’t the best pet in the world, but he kept telling Hermione not to let her cat near him, and his rat got eaten anyway. Ron is furious that Hermione didn’t listen.

Which is why I would characterize his behavior as mean when he turns away from her. Ron doesn’t seem brokenhearted over the loss of his pet, he seems like he wants to get even. He wants to punish Hermione for turning a deaf ear on his complaints. In Ron’s mind, Hermione loves that crazy, violent cat more than she values their friendship. So it’s fine if he checks out on her completely, guilt trips her by mentioning Scabbers loudly in crowds, and keeps Harry at his side. He’s not doing it because he sits up in bed at night thinking about how he misses his old pal Scabbers.

This doesn’t diminish Ron much to me as a character even so; these kids are still thirteen years old, and I can’t even begin to list the multitude of dumb (probably also spiteful) things I did at thirteen. Even if you are a really nice kid, very few newly minted teenagers have a such clarity when it comes to the treatment of their peers. They are hormonal and full of feels. This is further demonstrated by the reconciliation of the argument—Hermione throws herself into Ron’s arms, and Ron remembers that part of the reason this fight was so important to him is that Hermione makes him feel lots of emotions and he’d really rather not get into whatit’seasiertobeangrythisisweirdandmakesmystomachdofloppythings.

Despite the fact that Harry and Ron have had their fair share of near-scuffles with Draco for his constant stream of bile—Hermione is the first one to lay hands on him. Let’s stop and consider how awesome this is. The female corner of the trio is the first person to rightly strike Draco Malfoy, after all the abuse everyone at the school endures from him on a daily basis. And she doesn’t do it on her own behalf, or even to defend her family like Ron, she does it for Hagrid and Buckbeak. It’s brilliant. Yes, okay, kids shouldn’t be hitting each other at school, but an exception really deserves to be made here. And tellingly, Draco is far more frightened to fight Hermione than he’s ever been of Harry or Ron. Because he should be.

Side note: Cheering Charms. Can we talk about this? I feel like there’s a lengthy point to be made about how, by virtue of magic’s use, the wizarding world basically contains a lot of normalized drug use. For lack of a better way of putting it. This charm makes you happy! This jinx makes your skin all itchy! This potion makes you see flying weasels! I mean, that’s what a Cheering Charm sounds like, doesn’t it? And then later Harry overdoes it and Ron can’t stop giggling and they have to put him in a quiet room to chill out for an hour? I wonder if there are any adverse effects to using those charms too often. Otherwise, you’d think wizards would overdo it. I bet plenty of them do anyway.

Once we get to Divination, it’s clear that the chapter should probably be renamed “Hermione is 100% Done With Your Sh*t.” She’s also delirious and clearly not getting enough rest. I say again: Time Turner User Guide. Chapter 2 should be titled “Sleeping and How to Manage It.” This is practically child abuse, not helping her manage this schedule. Then again, I’m sure Hermione is desperate to keep the teachers from noticing how burnt out she is. One problem with being an over-achieving student; you honestly believe that an inability to do something (even if it’s incredibly difficult) is tantamount to massive personal failure. I think that’s why I actively stopped over-achieving once I hit high school.

Before Hermione’s abrupt goodbye to Trelawney, we also get this choice quip from Ron:

“Would anyone like me to help them interpret the shadowy portents with their Orb?” she murmured over the clinking of her bangles.

“I don’t need help,” Ron whispered. “It’s obvious what this means. There’s going to be loads of fog tonight.”

I had some odd thoughts on the Quidditch final this time around. Normally, I’m really not into the culture around sports, the idea that it’s okay to riot and fight and shame people because of a game or a team they love. Rowling manages to subvert this in her narrative due to house rivalries. It’s still sport culture, but if this were any other story about a match, you’d be directed to root for the Slytherin team—because EVERYONE is hoping they’ll lose. Sport narratives normally go for the underdog (and I know, Slytherin has won many years previously, but for this match the overturn of tropes is still relevant). The whole point is that the reader doesn’t mind Slytherin being unfavored here because this is never just a game—this is about the houses and what they represent. The Slytherins are bullies, and bullies shouldn’t win. Usually the bullies are portrayed as the popular kids, but at Hogwarts, the house system allows for “popularity” to spread out from house to house.

The bullying aspect of Slytherin is further brought to the forefront because Marcus Flint literally changes out the majority of their team for bruisers in the final match. Just big hulking masses, there to body-check and play dirty. The match is fun to read with Lee Jordan’s commentary, and Quidditch overall seems purposed to provide relief from the sadness in various books, but this time around I found myself super keen to get back to the main action. I can understand why Rowling herself eventually grew tired of having to write Quidditch; it’s ultimately just a distraction from what’s really going on.
Chapter 16—Professor Trelawney’s Prediction

Summary

Exams come up, and Hermione is sitting for too many of them, but still refuses to explain it. They’re as rough as can be expected, and Harry has a particularly hard time in Potions, naturally. The Defense Against the Dark Arts exam is a sort of obstacle course that ends with a boggart. Hermione cracks a bit at the end of the test—her boggart is Professor McGonagall telling her she’s failed at her courses. When the trio head back up to the school, they run into Cornelius Fudge; he’s there to check up on the Black situation, and since he was already swinging by, he’s there to stand witness to Buckbeak’s execution. Ron insists that the appeal will help, but the executioner is already there and Fudge doesn’t seem to think so. Hermione stops Ron from mouthing off to his dad’s boss when he realizes that Buckbeak isn’t going to get a fair shake.

The last exam for Harry and Ron is Divination, which each student has to sit for individually. Harry pretends to see a hippogriff in the crystal ball, but disappoints Trelawney when he doesn’t see the animal murdered. As he goes to leave, Trelawney suddenly begins speaking in a voice not her own. She says that the Dark Lord has been alone for years, but tonight his servant will return to him, and that will allow him to come back more powerful than ever before. Once the prediction is complete, Trelawney does not seem to remember giving it.

Harry goes to tell Ron and Hermione this, but they greet him with the worst kind of news—the appeal was lost, as they suspected. Buckbeak is going to be executed at sundown. They want to go see him, so Hermione retrieves Harry’s Invisibility Cloak from the passage to Hogsmeade, and they all head down after dinner. Hagrid is beside himself, and warns them against being there. Hermione tries to make tea to cover her tears, and in the process of pulling down a milk jug discovers Scabbers alive and well (though he definitely looks worse for wear). The execution party, with Dumbledore in tow, are arriving at Hagrid’s hut, so he ushers the kids out the back and tells them to hurry away. They try to rush off under the cloak’s cover, but Scabbers keeps trying to get away from Ron. The three hear the murmur of adult voices behind Hagrid’s hut and the whooshing of an ax: Buckbeak is dead.

Commentary

I’m always sort of impressed at this point in the book that Ron has not managed to be annoying enough for Hermione to cave and tell the boys about the Time Turner. I know, she’s not allowed to and it’s this big deal, but that’s how secrets work—of course I won’t tell anyone! Except my best friends. They don’t count, right? They’re practically an extension of me.

There are O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s for the big important wizarding tests, with the latter standing for Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests. It strikes me that if all important tests were named more like that, you might feel a bit more respected as a student. It certainly beats “Advanced Placement” exam any day of the week.

Though I know that Hermione had no idea a Boggart would be on the DADA exam, it does make me wonder what form she assumed it would take—she had time to think it over in their lesson, and she clearly didn’t expect what she ended up with, otherwise she would have already considered how to make the scenario funny.

We get the duo from the Committee for the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures, which brings us face to face with Walden Macnair, Buckbeak’s executioner and former Dark Lord supporter. And I can’t help but point out… guy is reported to have fought for Voldemort, manages to avoid Azkaban, then heads over to the Ministry. They ask him what job he wants, and he’s like, “I’d love to be an executioner.” And no one finds this a little off? Gee, he was a rumored Death Eater and he’d like to spend the rest of his life KILLING THINGS. But he was probably innocent. It just makes you wonder how much people in the wizarding government know, but prefer to leave unsaid.

Hermione is ever practical despite how unfair the situation is when they talk to Fudge. Even as a child, she understands the delicacy of the situation; what’s happening to Buckbeak is wrong, but they won’t get anywhere by badgering the Minister of Magic. Worst case scenario, Ron’s dad gets in trouble for having a mouthy kid. Hermione just gets it. She knows there are channels through which you get things done, and that this is unfortunately not one of them. That awareness is much more impressive than her school smarts. Some people are hardworking and exceptionally gifted when it comes to education. Hermione already has a bead on the political system of a world she was not raised in. That’s not just clever, it’s near-genius. It’s really hard to shake the awe with Hermione sometimes.

I love how even for a good grade, Harry can’t pretend that he sees Buckbeak getting killed. He’s just determined to prevent it by force of will.

Trelawney gives a real prediction! (You have to wonder what triggers real “Sight” in the woman apart from plot helpfulness.) And it’s super creepy. But in all seriousness, this is a defining moment for the series. We’ve seen Voldemort in more than one form, we’ve watched he and Harry duke it out a couple of times, but here is where we’re finally told in no uncertain terms: The Big Evil Guy is coming back. It’s going to get much worse. He’ll be stronger and better than before. This is unavoidable. It makes the prediction one of the most chilling moments of the book by far. The rest of this story is more about discovery, it’s surprisingly untragic. This is the moment we’re meant to fear—it’s a reprieve that warns us of the losses that will mark the end of every single book after this one.

Presumably, Scabbers has been hiding in Hagrid’s hut because Crookshanks is going to have a harder time getting past Buckbeak or Fang? That’s my assumption. Because Hagrid would probably adopt Sirius-as-a-dog. So, not the smartest plan, Scabbers.

Hagrid tries to usher the kids out fast enough to keep them away from the execution. The pacing of this whole section feels so stilted until I remember that the first time you read it, you’re expecting something to come up last minute that will spare Buckbeak. It’s just as baffling from a reader standpoint as it is to the characters that the hippogriff has no chance. Their journey to Hagrid’s hut preys on that with every stop and start. You keep expecting something to happen that changes the game. What we don’t realize is that we’re being set up for a much longer one, and this is only the first step. It’s incredibly smart structurally, but still traumatizing the first time around.

 

Fun aside at the end of the reread today! I got a tattoo (my third and biggest). It’s a Harry Potter one. It seemed extra appropriate given this reread and the book we’re on, so I am shaaaaaaaring it with all of you because you’re part of the reason it happened:

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, cover


Emily Asher-Perrin is now unfortunately going through the healing stage where the tattoo just ITCHES all the time. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

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