The Harry Potter Reread was thinking about how horcruxes would probably make the most awkward of Christmas presents. “Here, I’m giving you this piece of my soul! Sweet, huh? I did have to do something really horrible to chip away at it like that, though. Hope you like the vase.” Here’s hoping that Voldemort actually did this.
We’re going to chat with old friends and witness our very first werewolf transformation! We’re closing in on the end with chapters 19 and 20 of The Prisoner of Azkaban—The Servant of Lord Voldemort and The Dementor’s Kiss.
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 19—The Servant of Lord Voldemort
Snape is elated to have caught them all. He came into Lupin’s office earlier to give him the Wolfsbane Potion he forgot to take, and found the Map uncleared and open, with everyone’s names on it. The cloak was lying at the base of the Whomping Willow, so he used it to sneak in. He’s nothing but gloat now, thrilled to prove once and for all that Lupin was helping Sirius Black, and ready to hand them both over to the Dementors. Black wants to be sure that Peter is brought to justice either way, but Snape isn’t interested. He ties up Lupin and insists that they all get back onto school grounds.
Hermione wants to find out what the rest of Black’s story entails, but Snape is beyond reason at this point and shrieking at them to leave. All three kids disarm him at the same time, resulting in the Potions Master getting thrown into a wall and knocked unconscious. Harry asks for the rest of the tale. Sirius explains that when he got the newspaper off Cornelius Fudge during his visit to Azkaban, he saw the picture of Ron’s family (when they won the drawing and went to Egypt), and Scabbers was sitting there on Ron’s shoulder. It’s also pointed out that Scabbers is missing a toe; all they could send back to Pettigrew’s mother was a finger. Sirius claims that Peter cut it off before yelling to a crowded street that he’d betrayed Lily and James, then blowing the whole thing sky-high and heading down into the sewer with the other rats.
Harry realizes that Scabbers hasn’t been afraid and unhealthy since Crookshanks showed up, he’s been that way since the summer, when Sirius broke out of prison. It turns out that Crookshanks has been trying to help Sirius nab the rat for the better part of the year. The cat was the one who stole Neville’s password sheet to give to Black. Lupin finally asks for the rat, ensuring Ron that if they’re wrong, the spell they use to get him to change back won’t hurt a bit. Sure enough, the rat is Pettigrew. He immediately starts screaming about Black trying to murder him, claiming all the while that he’s innocent. Sirius explains that he did not betray Harry’s parents to Voldemort because he was never their Secret-Keeper. At the last minute, he suggested they switch to Peter, a less-likely suspect—but it turned out that Peter had been spying in their midst for over a year at that point.
Sirius escaped Azkaban because his ability to find Peter and enact revenge became an obsession, an unhappy one that the Dementors couldn’t take from him. He keep himself in dog form most of the time so that the Dementors wouldn’t pray on him; they don’t have eyes, so when they sensed his simpler thoughts, they assumed he was going mad like most of the inmates. Sirius eventually slipped past the guards and swam back to the mainland, and he’s been living in the forest most of the year. (Except when he slipped onto the grounds to peek at Harry.) Harry finally believes Black and so does everyone else. Lupin and Black prepare to murder Pettigrew, but Harry gets in the way. He wants Peter to go to prison, and doesn’t think that his father would approve of his best friends becoming killers in an act of revenge. They obey his wishes, chaining Peter up (and attaching him to Ron and Remus), and casting a spell to get Snape mobilized and off the floor.
Snape’s vitriol here is basically a buildup of what’s he’s wanted to level at Remus all year. Of course, he was hoping to get his hands on Sirius as well, considering that he’s got an even sharper axe to grind there. It’s easy to call up Remus’s comments about the Dementor’s Kiss in comparison here; whereas Lupin doesn’t really believe that anyone deserves a fate like that, Snape is completely gleeful at the idea of getting to watch Sirius get his soul sucked out. The way that Snape holds onto things is remarkable, really. Sirius’s continued dislike makes sense—being in Azkaban isn’t going to offer a lot of time for reflection and the ability to get over past misdeeds. Remus has had the time, and clearly isn’t interested in keeping up the fight as an adult. But Snape has just been stewing. That’s what he does.
All three kids going to disarm Snape at the same time might be one of my favorite trio moments ever. There’s no communication or cue for what needs to happen, they just have this perfect synced second where they are of the same mind and know what needs doing.
Hermione continuing to try and reason it out with Lupin is the best, and really just drives home how similar they are in the roles they play generationally:
“Professor Lupin?” said Hermione timidly. “Can — can I say something?”
“Certainly, Hermione,” said Lupin courteously.
A word on the Fidelius Charm: we only ever see it used to keep locations a secret in the series, but it’s implied that the charm can be enacted to protect any secret at all. And if that’s the case, its usage is limitless and that is… unsettling. ANY secret. Like, your special family recipes. A lie on an application form. The fact that you’re gay. A robbery you committed. Your favorite musician being Ke$ha. Any of these things would be permissible, as far as we know. (Can you be your own Secret-Keeper? Because that’s also incredibly significant.) It’s an old piece of magic, but not indicated as a particularly difficult one. Something that pretty much any adult can perform.
Can you erase those secrets from people’s memories by performing it? It’s a definite possibility, but never addressed roundly—we don’t know if performing the Fidelius Charm simply prevents everyone but the Secret Keeper from telling your secret, or if it actively erases information from others until the charm is broken. The former seems more likely, but that’s also pretty messed up. Someone could perform the Fidelius Charm involving a piece of information you know, and you wouldn’t be aware of it until you suddenly found yourself incapable of talking about it. You want to tell someone at a bar that your sister accidentally set fire to your house when you were little, and suddenly you cannot get the words out. Secret kept.
The question of the Fidelius Charm is such a complicated one in this specific instance. We know that Dumbledore offered to be the Potter’s Secret Keeper, and it’s totally bonkers that they didn’t chose him; I suspect that James—being the sort who puts a lot by trust and honor between friends—probably wanted it to be Sirius because outside of Lily and Harry, Sirius is the most important person in his life. It’s already been said that they were practically brothers. At this point, James had lost his parents. Outside of Lily and Harry, Sirius was his family, all of it. But once Sirius says, nah, let’s make it Peter? GO BACK TO DUMBLEDORE. BETTER OPTION.
But the real question comes down to why, where Sirius is concerned. And it could be a lot of things; he might have truly believed that Peter was the last person anyone would suspect; he might have been frightened that if he were captured and tortured, he would give the Potters away no matter how tough he was; he might have felt unworthy of James’s trust, even knowing that he had it. No matter what, it coveys a sense of worthlessness on Sirius’s part. It comes down to believing that he’s simply not good enough to protect the people he considers family. And then they die anyway. It’s no wonder he holds himself responsible and has been obsessing over Peter.
We get a really excellent dichotomy when Peter finally appears. It’s starts with Remus:
“Well, hello, Peter,” said Lupin pleasantly, as though rats frequently erupted into old school friends around him. “Long time, no see.”
If I were Peter, I’d probably be more unseated by Remus’s calm demeanor than Sirius’s raging. His friends are both angry, both betrayed, but Remus’s fury is cold. He is feeling all of those things that Sirius is feeling, but he’s keeping it all collected and under wraps. That’s scarier.
And you know Remus is angry because he’s not even bothering to consider a different plan of action; Sirius is there to kill him, Remus intends to help. The fact that it takes the 13-year-old kid to say “hey guys, maybe not because that actually sort of messes this up for everyone involved and lets this guy off the hook real easy” is whoa. This is the sort of bond these guys had growing up, this was how important it was to be true to that bond. They are for each other or nothing at all. It’s not necessarily the most healthy way of handling relationships, but it still hurts.
With that said… what can we infer about Peter? Sirius is quick to go for the throat, talking about how little Pettigrew preferred to surround himself with people who were smarter and more talented to protect him. And that does seem to be the case, but it does make you wonder the specific point at which Peter chose to become a spy for Voldemort—how did that go down, exactly? Did he get cornered by a Death Eater in an alley? Did he stumble into a Dark Lord meeting after getting some directions horribly wrong? This is stuff we’re missing that I really want to know about. Because how easily Peter caved to Voldemort tells us something about him.
What we do know is that no one suspected Peter of being the spy, likely because they assumed he’d be too frightened to try. But the group was already falling apart at this point; Sirius assumed Remus was spying, Remus assumed it was him. The idea that it might have been Lupin likely bloomed from his status as a werewolf, since wizards view them as dark creatures. Remus likely suspected Black due to his family ties to Death Eaters. If it was this easy to suspect ones closest friends, we get a clear measure of just how bad things were at this point in the war. Remus and Sirius are willing to forgive each other retroactively with little care—they know that they never would have thought the worst of each other if it hadn’t gotten so bad.
With Harry having the better plan (thank goodness), they all move to march out and deliver Peter. It’s a mark of how keyed up everyone is that they’ve forgotten perhaps the most important factor of the evening….
Chapter 20—The Dementor’s Kiss
As they’re all walking down the passageway, Sirius has a short chat with Harry. He points out that as the kid’s godfather, he’s technically Harry’s elected guardian in the event of his parent’s passing. He tells Harry that if he’d ever like a different home, he is prepared to take on that responsibility. Harry is overjoyed, and Sirius is equally pleased at the favorable reaction.
When they reach the grounds, the moonlight suddenly hits their party. Hermione remembers that Lupin hasn’t taken his Wolfsbane Potion this evening—he’s not safe. His transformation begins, and Sirius urges the kids away, changing into dog form to head the werewolf off. Remus takes off toward the forest, luckily, but Peter takes up Lupin’s wand and transforms into a rat. He’s gone in an instant. Ron is knocked off his axis again, out of sorts. Harry and Hermione are going to try to get him to the castle, but Harry hears Sirius whining in dog form. He and Hermione run after him, finding him back in human form as hundreds of Dementors close in on him.
Harry tries to create a patronus and encourages Hermione to do the same, all to no avail. Right before it seems as though they’re all about to succumb, there is a bright light and the shape of an animal that seems to chase all the Dementors away. Before Harry passes out, he sees a figure near the animal who he recognizes…
The instant Sirius offers the possibility of a new home to Harry, their relationship is cemented. I actually adore this conversation because they’re both reaching out in desire of the exact same thing—a real family. Sirius has lost most of the people who mattered in his life. Harry is all that’s left of those people. And after dealing with abuse from his only other relatives, I can’t blame Harry for responding with such joy at the prospect of living with someone who was actually appointed by the parents he never knew for exactly that job.
It’s also not surprising to me that Harry would feel an immediate affinity for Sirius (once he knows the guy isn’t, like, evil and stuff). While Harry is certainly a more sensitive kid than his pops, he does have a lot of James in him. James and Sirius had an almost… spiritual bond, for lack of a better term. Certain types of people just click. It seems awfully likely that Harry would key into that. Add to that, Sirius is a person who has the ability (and probably the desire) to tell Harry about his family. Add to that a lack of bars on windows and evil Aunts with bulldogs and never having to pretend to attend a correctional facility for school, and I’m having a hard time thinking of a reason not to hug Sirius Black and never let go. You know, apart from the fact that he probably hasn’t bathed in a dozen years.
But things can never go so smoothly… or at least, they can’t now that it’s book three and we’re done with pat endings. Remus runs off and Peter gets away and Ron is delirious because he’s really had enough for tonight, okay? And while I understand that Harry and Hermione want to make sure nothing is happening to Sirius, I do have to point out that Remus is still a werewolf and could still come out of the woods, and they’ve essentially left Ron and Snape to get mauled by him. Priorities, everyone. Friends don’t let friends get eaten by their teachers.
You know this book is different when we get to the Dementor attack and it comes clear that there are mysterious elements being added to the plot. Harry doesn’t know how the patronus pops up, and he recognizes the figure, or thinks he does, but soon he’s confused and then unconscious, and obviously we have to know what’s up with that. Rowling has solved the big emotional mysteries here—now it’s time for the practical ones.