The Harry Potter Reread

The Harry Potter Reread: The Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapters 21 and 22

The Harry Potter Reread has howled at the full moon and found that nothing seems to howl back. It was an all around disappointing experience.

We’re at the end of book three! Time to wrap up those time travel plots and give the kiddies some end-of-the-year gossip. We’re closing on chapters 21 and 22 of The Prisoner of Azkaban—Hermione’s Secret and Owl Post Again.

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 21—Hermione’s Secret

Summary

Harry wakes up in the Hospital Wing with Ron and Hermione. (Ron is still knocked out.) In the other room, he hears Snape getting praised by Fudge for saving students and bringing Black to justice. Snape is preening over being awarded the Order of Merlin and suggesting that Harry be punished for breaking so many rules. He insists that the kids were confounded by Black, and that’s why they were so confused about who was truly guilty. When Madam Pomfrey find Harry and Hermione awake, she tries to soothe them, doling out chocolate and letting them know that Sirius will have the Dementor’s Kiss performed on him shortly. Harry is frantic, trying to explain that they have the wrong man. Fudge and Snape come into the wing and tell Harry and Hermione that they’re mistaken. Dumbledore arrives after having a chat with Sirius, and asks to speak to the kids alone. He tell them that no one will believe their story against Snape’s word. He does believe them, and instructs Hermione that they need more time. He locks them into the wing and leaves, after telling Hermione that three turns should do it, and that they can’t be seen.

Harry is bewildered, but soon finds out what Dumbledore was referring to, and also how Hermione has been getting to classes all year—she has a Time-Turner. McGonagall asked the Ministry to give one to Hermione to use for her classes, allowing her to time travel in short doses. Dumbledore has instructed them to go back in time to prevent two deaths, which Harry realizes are Sirius and Buckbeak. Hermione explains the hard and fast rules to Harry: they are not allowed to seriously alter events because the implications could be disastrous, and they can’t be seen because it could result in someone killing past or future versions of themselves. They sneak out to Hagrid’s hut and hide at the edge of the forest, making sure that Buckbeak is seen out back before nabbing him so Hagrid won’t get in trouble. Then they wait in the forest near the Whomping Willow and watch everyone enter the tunnel to get to the shack. Harry wants to alter events more drastically, but Hermione won’t allow it. She asks him who conjured the Patronus that saved them, and Harry admits that he thought it was his father. Hermione feels the need to remind Harry that his father is, in fact, a deceased person.

Once everyone has emerged back onto the grounds, Harry realizes that they’re right in Lupin’s path when he transforms into a werewolf. They run to Hagrid’s hut to stay safe. Harry decides to leave the hut to make sure he can see when Snape comes to and gathers everyone up, but he really wants to see who conjures the Patronus. After waiting and watching, he suddenly realizes that he’d seen himself—he creates the Patronus with ease, having the knowledge that he’s already done it. The Patronus turns out to be a stag, giving Harry a sudden revelation; this was likely why his father’s nickname was Prongs, this was his Animagus form.

Harry and Hermione wait for Snape to get everyone back to the castle, ride Buckbeak up to the window where Sirius is being held and bust him out. Then they fly to one of the castle Towers and tell him to leave. Sirius is stunned and grateful, and promises Harry that he will see him again.

Commentary

With all the tension that ratchets up at the end of this book, it’s easy to forget how funny everyone is. Madam Pomfrey stuffing Harry’s mouth full of chocolate, Dumbledore’s constant amusement, Hagrid’s drunken revelry. The reveal of the Time-Turner is sort of relieving at this point (since we’ve been waiting to find out Hermione’s deal for a while now), but made all the more comical as Harry tries to wrap his brain around the concept in the middle of all this necessary action. And his reactions are so perfect:

“This is the weirdest thing we’ve ever done,” Harry said fervently.

And coming from this kid… yeah, you can’t really argue with him here. This is nuts.

I’m gonna say it; the idea that your time travel device also bumps you back to wherever you were in those previous hours is dumb. Especially if you know that meeting your past self could destroy everything. Bad design, wizards. It is worth noting that Rowling claims the safest distance you can typically go back in time without causing problems is no more than five hours, which is at least a nice way of limiting its usefulness.

So, here’s something interesting. At first glance, time travel in the Potterverse seems to operate under the Self-Consistency Principle. This theory posits that nothing the time traveler does will change the past because they are producing everything that they experienced before they time traveled. This is definitely true from what we witness; the trio heard an axe swoosh, but that was simply Macnair swinging at Hagrid’s fence in frustration after Buckbeak’s escape. Harry sees himself create the Patronus. These things have always happened, and nothing goes amiss.

But we know that time travel can go horribly wrong in their universe, as Hermione keeps insisting. With that in mind, the suggestion becomes that time travel does go by the Self-Consistency Principle in their universe, but only when done correctly. And that is kind of awesome? I dunno, it’s also kind of a mess, but I like it.

With that in mind, Dumbledore’s role in this is incredible. It indicates that he knows something is going on, even if he doesn’t have all the information yet. He extrapolates from practically nothing (other than his own tingly magic sense and intuition, likely), allowing Harry and Hermione precious seconds. His stalling tactics, his misdirection after Buckbeak’s disappearance, his lack of concern over the whole debacle. And then, of course, we have one of his greatest moments of all:

“Search the skies, if you will…. Hagrid, I could do with a cup of tea. Or a large brandy.”

So, one of the my favorite things about how these book finales work is that Harry is always assisted by different people or groups of people. In the first book, he has both Ron and Hermione because we’re getting to know the format. Then Hermione is out of commission in book two, so Ron is Harry’s second. This time Ron is down for the count, and Hermione is the MVP Harry needs to make it all work at the end. These three books give you a false sense of security that makes the finale of Goblet of Fire land harder because you cannot fail to notice that Harry’s alone for the first time. Which makes even more sense out of book five’s finale, which shows Harry with a whole platoon of allies, preventing him from having to face down enemies alone.

I really love how Harry’s confusion over his father plays out in these final chapters. What could have easily been a throwaway red herring (I thought I saw my dad, but it was me the whole time!) has so much emotional weight at exactly the right point. Harry has just been confronted by all of his father’s old school friends. It makes perfect sense that he’d be vulnerable to wishful thinking about his dad, that he’d feel as though a moment of resurrection was possible. Of course, when he voices those suspicions, he gets exactly the reception you’d expect:

Harry glanced up at Hermione and saw that her mouth was fully open now. She was gazing at him with a mixture of alarm and pity.

“Harry, your dad’s — well — dead,” she said quietly.

Sheesh, Hermione, don’t pull your punches or anything. It’s rough having logical friends.

But to have that stag appear when he needed him most, give that bow, to have it all come together for Harry in one bright, crystalizing experience… I don’t care how anyone feels about James Potter, everybody should be crying right now. The fact that Harry casts the Patronus out of the knowledge that he’s done it, rather than summoning a happy memory like he’s supposed to, adds to the weight of its appearance and the acknowledgment the stag makes of him. It really does seem as though James is there, protecting his son. It completes the sequence for the evening, the appearance of all four Marauders, and makes it count for something.

And that’s just good writing, no matter how you cut it.

Rescuing Sirius is such a brief thing, though that makes sense in how pressed they are for time. All the same, no adult could fail to be impressed by getting their life handed back to them by two thirteen-year-olds. In some ways, the rushed nature of the goodbye feels like it’s for the reader’s benefit—we’re losing Sirius much in the same way Harry is losing him, when we’re full of questions and ready to get more from him.
Chapter 22—Owl Post Again

Summary

Harry and Hermione rush to get back to the Hospital Wing before Dumbledore locks them in. He’s pleased at their success, and the kids jump back in bed and get tended to by Madam Pomfrey. Shortly after, Snape comes back in a fury—Black has escaped and he knows Harry was involved. Thankfully, he sounds bonkers to Fudge and everyone is mainly perplexed that Black got away. The Dementors are moved from the school since they tried to perform the Kiss on Harry and clearly cannot be trusted. Ron wakes up totally confused, and Harry tells Hermione to relay their adventure.

The school is full of rumors about what actually happened the night Black escaped, and the trio have to pretend they know nothing about it. Hagrid tells them about Buckbeak’s escape, and also that Lupin is resigning from the school—everyone seems to know he’s a werewolf now. Harry goes to talk to Lupin, who explains that Snape was so angry over the whole incident that he very not accidentally told the school about their werewolf teacher over breakfast. Harry pleads with Lupin not to go, but the man’s mind is made up, knowing the sort of reaction parents are going to have over his employ. He gives Harry back the Invisibility Cloak and Marauder’s Map. Dumbledore shows up to tell Lupin that his carriage has arrived, and stays when he notices Harry’s gloominess.

Harry points out that none of what they accomplished seems to have made any difference, with Sirius still on the run and Pettigrew at large. Dumbledore informs him that Pettigrew owes him a life debt, and that Voldemort won’t be happy with that. Harry tells the headmaster about Trelawney’s moment of sight, and Dumbledore claims that is the second real prediction she’s given. He insists that if Voldemort returns, it will not be due to Harry’s moment of mercy. Then he tells Harry that his father would have spared Peter as well, which brings him to the subject of Harry’s Patronus; after listening to Sirius’s story, he has learned all about their Animagus forms, which leads him to point out that Harry’s stag is in effect a part of his father continuing to live through him.

Many students are upset to learn of Lupin’s resignation, and Harry is even more upset that he has to go back to the Dursleys instead of living with his godfather. Ron tells Harry he should spend a good portion of the summer with his family, as the Quidditch World Cup is coming up. That cheers Harry right quick. A small owl appears at the window containing a letter from Sirius. He tells Harry that he sent him the Firebolt as a way of making up for missing 12 years worth of birthday presents. He also apologizes for frightening Harry at the beginning of the year—he’d wanted to see him before he left for Hogwarts. He gives Harry a permission slip for Hogsmeade and says that Ron is free to keep the tiny owl, since it’s his fault the kid doesn’t have a pet anymore. Ron holds out the owl for Crookshanks to inspect, wanting to be certain the animal is safe. When Harry gets off the train, he tells Vernon that the letter in his hand is from his escape convict godfather who likes to check on him and be sure he’s happy.

Commentary

I’m not really sure that anyone should buy the “I locked the door!” thing from Dumbledore’s end, but having Madam Pomfrey looking after the kids makes Snape look properly crazy. In fact, I’d be remiss to ignore that on more than one occasion, Snape shows himself to be so unreasonable that Dumbledore essentially has to treat him like a child. Snape’s meant to be in the inner circle, one of the people Albus trusts most. But when it comes to his emotions, Dumbledore knows he cannot count on Severus to maintain any level of reason. He’s going around Snape, over and under him, anything but simply pulling him aside and telling him the truth. Because he knows the truth won’t be enough for Severus. I’d almost feel bad for Snape, but he really does bring it on himself.

We’ll get rid of the Dementors… after we let them perform the Kiss on Sirius! They just tried to kill a student, but killing this convict is still more important than safety! …Fudge, you’re the worst. (Though dragons at the school entrance sound awesome.)

And then Snape goes out of his way to prove that he’s the most vindictive $#%*&#$&*@ in the series, and deliberately drops Remus’s condition in public so he’s forced to leave. And sure, Snape thinks that Sirius is at least partly responsible for Lily’s death (while still conveniently overlooking his own guilt in how that went down), fine. But railroading Remus out of town is plain, petty spite. This is one place where I really have a hard time excavating any sort of understanding in his direction. I think it’s the outing aspect of it. As a queer person, I’m just not going to have any fluffy sympathy/empathy here. Act like a damned grown up, Severus Snape. You’re a tool.

When Harry goes to plead with Lupin, and it’s clear that the man cannot get out of dodge fast enough, my heart just breaks. And even through all that, he still finds it in himself to offer a few kind words to the kid, give back his toys, and duck out gracefully. It’s a good thing Dumbledore is there once he leaves because from a reading standpoint, we’re in need of some reassurance as much as Harry is.

Harry’s dismay at the end of the this adventure makes perfect sense. He had gotten used to the clear heroism of the past two years. Both times, he knew he had done something good to stop terrible evil. This is the first year where the relative good of his actions can be called into question. The outcome was not the one he wanted. This is the first time Harry feels as though he may have lost, and he’s not sure how to tackle that.

In regard to whether or not Harry actually did well by letting Pettigrew live, we do run into the question of how much choice truly existed in the matter. Once Trelawney has seen into the future, is it possible to navigate away from that outcome? Prophecy does seem to carry real weight in this universe. Dumbledore’s commentary in that regard would seem to indicate that murdering Peter would not have prevented Voldemort from returning, which seems more likely. Finding Quirrell wasn’t that hard for the Dark Lord. Barty Crouch Jr. is pretty easy to come by as well. He would have located someone else to do the work he needed. Letting Peter live is not the deciding factor that allows Voldemort’s return. But if it had been someone other than Peter at Malfoy Manor in a few years time, someone worse… well. Who knows what might have happened.

And of course, Dumbledore completes this year’s lessons by telling Harry that his father was absolutely there for him as he cast that Patronus. These are the places where I feel that Rowling deliberately plays on “real magic,” for lack of a better way of putting it. Magic that has nothing to do with spells or wands, magic that is part of the working universe. Was the Patronus actually Harry’s dad? Well, no. And yes. He’s a part of Harry, much more than Harry himself is consciously capable of knowing. Harry is drawing on the strengths that James Potter possessed in that moment. He is finding that piece of his father in himself. So for all that Harry felt let down when the figure he saw turned out to be him, he essentially got what he wanted. He found his dad.

Now is the point where I sniffle dramatically at my computer screen, and abruptly change the subject to cover all the feelings. Remember how Dean Thomas hopes that they’ll get a vampire next year for DADA? Dean’s the best.

We get the letter from Sirius as a way of wrapping up all the little lose ends. I would like to point out that he says Crookshanks placed the Firebolt order in Harry’s name, but told them to take the gold from his vault. I assume that in order to do so, the goblins would require proof that Sirius was putting in the request. (Unless we’re saying that Harry has access to Sirius’s wealth as his godson? But that really seems unlikely.) Which means that the goblins handed over money from Sirius Black’s vault, knowing that he was wanted for murder and out of Azkaban… and they probably just didn’t care. Which is great, really. And continues to prove the point about how disconnected magical beings are from the wizarding world.

Ron gets an owl! Ron lets Crookshanks verify the owl’s owly-ness! Everything about this. And then Harry gets to terrify Vernon, and we get the most satisfying end to a Potter book as we’re ever likely to get—because it’s about to get a lot dimmer come Fourth Year.
Final Thoughts

Gosh, I still love this book to an unhealthy degree. It’s witty and smart and perfectly-paced. It brings on some of the best characters in the series. But I supposed I’m more impressed on a reread with just how much foundation work occurs in this book. We get some good basics in the first two, but so many key figures, abilities, plot points, and character flaws get laid out here. Everything required for Voldemort’s return is being alluded to, or dropped right in front of us.

We also get a continued guided tour for the injustice that the magical world inflicts on others. The treatment of Lupin and his condition, the ineptitude of magical law, the government’s clear desire to overlook facts and obfuscate their own justice system in favor of keeping their public calm. We’re beginning to see an internally destructive aspect to wizarding society, and it’s only going to get worse.

Though many would argue that the next installment is muddied and overwritten, Goblet of Fire contains so much of the series’ essential momentum. And because there is so much material in it, I would argue that GoF is the place where and when Potter fandom started to conquer the world in a behemoth sort of way. That’s relevant. So let’s get to it!

…but not until we get to the Prisoner of Azkaban film next week! This’ll be… interesting.


Emily Asher-Perrin has her own band of Marauders. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

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