The Harry Potter Reread won’t dance. Don’t ask it.
This week we’re going to learn EVERYTHING. Most things, at least. A lot of things. All the exposition. You will like it, I promise. We’re in for Chapters 17 and 18 of The Prisoner of Azkaban—Cat, Rat, and Dog and Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs.
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 17—Cat, Rat, and Dog
The trio are in shock are Buckbeak’s death, but Scabbers is causing a riot. Then Crookshanks shows up and the rat makes a break for it, causing Ron to follow. He grabs Scabbers and tries to shoo the cat away. A moment later, the large black dog that’s been stalking Harry shows up, nabs Ron, and drags him into the Whomping Willow. Harry and Hermione want to follow, but they’re getting flayed by the tree until Crookshanks presses a knot at the base that freezes the tree. Harry and Hermione are able to use the secret passage under the tree (the one that showed up on the Marauder’s Map, that no one could get to). They follow the trail and end up in the Shrieking Shack.
Once there, they head upstairs and find Ron with a broken leg, who informs them that the dog is an Animagus—Sirius Black. Black disarms them all, and Harry goes into a fury, wanting revenge on the man responsible for the death of his family. A scuffle ensues, the three kids against Black, and Harry gets his wand back and plans to do something terrible. Crookshanks jumps onto Sirius’s chest to defend him and Harry freezes. Lupin rushes onto the scene and asks Black where someone is. Sirius looks to Ron. Lupin seems to understand something at last, hauling Sirius to his feet and giving him a hug.
Hermione is distraught and reveals Lupin’s secret; that’s he’s helping Sirius into the castle, he wants to kill Harry, and he’s a werewolf. Lupin admits to the last part, but denies the former two. He claims that he’d been watching the map (he knows how to work it because he helped make it—he’s Moony) to keep an eye on the kids. He figured they’d go visit Hagrid under the Invisibility Cloak (the map can see people even under the cloak), then saw a name join them once they left Hagrid’s hut. Then he saw Sirius join them on the map and drag Ron, and someone else, down the passage. The other person was the rat—and he’s Peter Pettigrew.
It’s a pretty fantastic free-for-all, this bit. There’s so much going on at once, but it’s remarkably easy to follow. All the animals making a trail for the kids, and leading right to the Willow. I’m mostly impressed that Harry insists on staying to get battered by the Whomping Willow, rather than retreating to rethink their plan; if more kids had his resolve, then everyone would have found out that Remus was a werewolf when he was a kid. Also, it’s easy to forget how long that walk is. The book claims it’s about the same as a walk to Honeydukes, which is about an hour. Which means that Ron was bring dragged for that long with a broken leg, which, just, OW.
Speaking of Ron, he is hero-ing it up all over the place in these chapters. Breaking a leg is astoundingly painful, he’s just been dragged a few miles along the ground and hauled up a flight of stairs, while trying to keep his pet rat on him. And then he still manages to be helpful, flinging himself left and right, keeping it together when he realizes that the big black dog is that guy who attacked him a few weeks back. Ron deserves all the medals. Ron is keeping it together when everyone is telling him his household pet is a person, and the wizarding world’s most wanted for murder is in the room. Ron is putting himself and his broken leg between Sirius Black and his best friend. Ron, you really need to give yourself more credit than you normally do.
Harry interprets Black mentioning his dad as a taunt, but you can just imagine how this comes off to Sirius with what brain cells he can spare away from the act of killing Peter; these two just bolted after their friend with no backup on the way, and they’re thirteen. He’s right, it is damned impressive. Then again, it’s nothing that these three haven’t been through before. I appreciate the way Rowling writes Harry’s sudden burst of rage—the all-encompassing nature of it feels exactly right, even more so for a teenager. All the same, it comes clear that something is off very quickly, from Black’s lack of homicidal reactions to Crookshanks’s continued defense.
There are so many keys into Sirius’s mind and personality in these small exchanges. When Harry accuses him of killing his parents, Sirius does not deny it. In his mind, he did just that. He doesn’t want Crookshanks to come to his aid because he doesn’t believe that defense is deserved. And this is the point where, on a reread, you might get a little teary about that damned cat. Crookshanks has been a mystery and a menace in the book, but that’s only because you don’t know what he’s up to. Now not only does his loyalty come clear, but he’s willing to defend Sirius’s life. Makes you wonder what sort of bond that half-kneazle formed with a dog Animagus, if it’s deep enough that a creature as intuitive as Crookshanks deems him trustworthy to such an extent.
Lupin bursts onto the scene to confuse the matter better, and that hug, man. I remember the breath leaving me in a rush the first time I read that. I don’t know that I believed Remus was evil when it happened, but it was such a curveball. Not just a solidarity, but an affection, which was the clearest clue that everything you were thinking for this book was about to be upended. Lupin is hugging Sirius Black, dogs and cats love each other, the world as we understand it has ceased to make sense. It’s so impressive to me that the next few chapters are essentially all info dump exposition to make this all work, but they never feel that way. Everything is so tense and immediate. It’s all important, it all has to happen right then and there.
Hermione finally gives away a truth she’s been hiding most of the year, and lets the boys know Remus is a werewolf. And if you need any indication of exactly how difficult this is, Lupin’s composure gives it all away. He stays calm, but he freezes up. He distances himself, responding to Hermione’s cleverness “coolly,” he forces his laughter. This is learned behavior on his part, the tenseness a method of self-protection. He almost overcomes it so he can come to Ron’s aid, and the backlash is immediate:
“Get away from me, werewolf!”
If you ever had any doubt about the prejudices of the wizarding world, that distills it down perfectly. Instantly after the secret is revealed, Ron diminishes Remus to his condition. He is not a person, he is now a werewolf. You can’t blame Ron for this—he was raised in this society, and prejudices are learned. But it is a brutal backhand, and it comes from a child. Then Ron goes further, insisting that Dumbledore had to have been mad to hire Remus knowing about his lycanthropy.
The secrets come out about who created the Marauder’s Map, and Lupin knowing all about the Invisibility Cloak. I find it particularly fascinating that people who are cloaked still show up on the map. Ostensibly, that was just a bit of showing off on their parts when they created the thing; they were the only people who likely had an Invisibility Cloak at school, and it’s not as though they needed to be able to see themselves on the map. Unless it was useful for prank planning and stealth? Makes as much sense as anything.
Lupin claims that he notices the extra person on the map when they leave Hagrid’s hut… which would imply that Hagrid’s hut isn’t on the map, wouldn’t it? Otherwise he would have seen Peter in there in the first place. Rowling is very good about drawing out the mystery—Lupin keeps saying that he saw Sirius drag two people down the Whomping Willow, and when Ron tries to correct him, he won’t back down. And then he drops the bomb; Scabbers is not a normal rat. He’s a person. A person who should be dead.
If anyone claims they put the book down and walked away at this point, they’re lying. All this stuff is riveting, it’s nearly impossible to stop until you know everything.
Chapter 18—Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs
Harry and Ron think that Lupin and Black are nuts. Sirius doesn’t seem to care and is after Scabbers until Lupin grabs him and insists that he owes everyone the truth—especially Harry. That stops Black. Lupin gets a chance to explain everything the kids need to know. He begins by explaining that Sirius could not have killed Peter because he’s on the map, and the map is never wrong. Hermione tries to talk sense, pointing out the Animagi have to be registered, but Lupin tells her that there had been three unregistered Animagi at Hogwarts; James, Sirius, and Peter. The Shrieking Shack was never haunted at all: it was the place Dumbledore had the school provide to Remus to transform safely into a werewolf away from the student body.
Because Lupin’s werewolf transformations were so hard on him, his friends eventually figured out his condition and were intent on helping out. The Wolfsbane Potion did not exist at that time, which now allows Lupin to keep his mind when he turns. Their plan was to become Animagi so they could keep Lupin company on the full moons. With their added presence, the wolf wouldn’t turn on itself. As a result, they would all leave the Shack together and go roaming the grounds and Hogsmeade at night. It was dangerous, but they were young and impressed with themselves. Lupin admits to battling with the choice of telling Dumbledore about Sirius’s Animagus form all year, but he was too frightened to let the man know how he’d endangered everyone. He convinced himself that Sirius was getting into the castle to using the Dark Arts.
Lupin also explains why Snape hates him so much and believed him to be helping Black into Hogwarts—there was a rivalry between them all at school. Snape particularly hated Harry’s father, of course, but he wanted to know where Lupin went every full moon. He knew the group was up to something and wanted to catch them and get them expelled. Sirius told him that if he prodded the knot on the Whomping Willow, he’d find out. Snape went down the passage, and would have been killed by Lupin if James hadn’t found out what Sirius had done and gone after him. Snape hates Lupin because he’s always assumed Lupin was in on Sirius’s prank. And it’s at that point in Lupin’s story that Snape reveals he’s in the room, pulling of Harry’s Invisibility Cloak.
I do love that all the kids decide simultaneously that Lupin and Black are cuckoo, and spend the first portion of the chapter each handling that in the ways that make the most sense to them. Ron just wants to shrug them off, Hermione is trying to reason it out with them. Remus is too busy trying to stop Sirius from committing murder to care.
So, there were these three kids who learned how to be Animagi in their teens… you know, whatever opinion you may have on the Marauders, it is hard to doubt how phenomenal they were as a team. In terms of sheer talent, they’ve really got Harry’s crew beat. Their ace in the hole is Hermione, but James, Sirius, and Remus were all operating at incredibly advanced levels, and only wasting their off-hours getting better. It’s depressing to consider that they were wasted in the first war and its aftermath—think of what they might have accomplished had they made it out the other side and been able to innovate the way they were already beginning to do at school. Snape and Lily count in this equation as well. They were such a bright group of kids, and all that potential (something the wizarding world seems to be missing a lot of) was destroyed in the span of a few years.
Pretty horrifying to imagine what it was like for Remus Lupin to adjust to werewolf transformations at such an early age. He says he was very small, so that makes him probably… under eight? It’s stated later in the books that his father offended Fenrir Greyback, and that’s what got him bitten. Not only does that make his father partly culpable, but Greyback is a seriously hideous customer. He is evil for the sake of evil. Remus considers himself just plain lucky to have been allowed to attend school. Dumbledore is elevated to a near-savior status with Remus because it is down to Dumbledore that he got a shot at a “normal life” at all. Which goes so far in explaining why he was too scared to tell the man what he knew about Sirius.
Yes, it’s reckless, what the boys decided to do on Remus’s behalf, but I find it hard not to feel exactly where they were all coming from. Lupin was expecting to be shunned by his friends once they found out, and they do the opposite. The other boys find out that their friend goes through unimaginable pain each month, and of course their first instinct is to help. However pompous those boys could get, all of this is coming from a genuine desire to lessen a friend’s suffering. I can’t really blame any of them. People always use that cliché—teenagers think they’re immortal, that they can do no wrong. Well, you know what? A lot of them do. And if your ringleader is James “Charmed Life” Potter, you’re probably even more likely to believe it.
The tale is so excellently intricate, down to the use of each boy’s Animagus form and their funny nicknames. Everything plays well together. One of Rowling’s best tricks here is perception. We’re getting a lot of key information, but it’s colored by the character’s biases, their experiences. Remus makes a comment that he figures Snape had a grudge against James because he was a Quiddtich star at school; later we will find out that couldn’t be further from the truth. Sirius’ disdain is evident the moment Snape’s name is mentioned; he’s still unapologetic for the crime.
And about that crime… wow. I really feel like this deserves to be part of a larger character deconstruction for Sirius Black because it’s considered to be one of the most damning pieces of evidence when he’s put under the microscope. He could have gotten another student killed. He wanted to get another student killed. More than that, the person responsible would have been his dear friend, when out of his right mind. It would have destroyed Remus. But I feel the need to stress—that is not just a mean prank from a mean teenaged boy. That is desperately out of touch. That is a cry for some intense psychological help. (In point of fact: HOGWARTS NEEDS A SCHOOL THERAPIST.) It is also pretty likely that Sirius played this “prank” following one of the many abusive patches he went through at home. It screams of reactionary behavior. Snape was simply the easiest target because all of his friends (mainly James) disliked him too.
There is so much about the Marauders that we never see, and it’s honestly a problem. Because can you imagine how both Remus and James would have reacted to what Sirius had done? I guarantee you it was not pretty, and no one else was amused. I’m sure Sirius quickly realized he’d made an unforgivable misstep. And I’m sure it took a substantial swath of time for them to trust him again. But we never see any of this. I’d actually call this an authorial error on Rowling’s part; when these characters are so important to Harry and his development, we need a better grasp on their complexities. I think that a lot of this can be pretty easily inferred where the previous generation is concerned, but it is still frustrating to never truly know.
Did I mention that these chapters are impossible to stop on? Yeah, that was mean of me, since that’s what we’re going to be doing right here. Next week, everything gets spelled out in its entirety. Sheesh.