Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

This installment has far and away been my favorite of the Harry Potter series, and no small part of that is the introduction of Remus Lupin and Sirius Black. Since they’re my favorite ever, ever, ever, I’ll spend almost the whole post talking about them and then add a few observations at the end!

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A lot of folks in the Harry Potter fandom are WILD about the Marauders. Between writing fan fiction and demanding a spin-off series, this branch of the fandom is probably the wildest (though, the Drarry shippers might give them a run for their money). Unlike most folks, my favorite version of Remus and Sirius isn’t their rowdy, carefree youth at Hogwarts, or their heroic young adulthoods fighting in the First Wizarding War. My favorite versions of them are their rumbled, downtrodden, grubby adult selves (maybe some part of this has to do with my own personal cynicism as I wretch forward into the dark abyss of adulthood….). Warning! Gushing below!

Remus Lupin

I hardly know where to begin. When I was younger, reading the novels for the first time, I liked the werewolf professor, but for the most part he was overshadowed by the charismatic and mysterious Sirius Black. I’ve slowly been growing more and more fond of Lupin though the films, and now, reading Prisoner of Azkaban as an older fan, I must say, Remus Lupin is my favorite part of Hogwarts (sorry Minerva!).

I wish more than anything he could have stuck around, but again, prejudice in the Wizarding community keeps good folks from doing good work. Despite his adoration of Lupin prior to knowing his deep dark secrets, Ron proves to be one of his most vehement attackers when he finds out that Lupin is a werewolf, and even Hermione has her apprehensions. We’re reminded of Ron’s dismissal of the gnomes feelings as he snatches them out of their homes and lobs them over the fence. Again, Rowling asks us to confront prejudice, to see that it isn’t always the loud and out aggressors like Malfoy who display an alarming amount of prejudice. I think it’s interesting that, in Lupin’s case, he wasn’t born a werewolf. He was merely a victim as a child (pre-Hogwarts, so he was attacked and survived before he was eleven!), but this fact does little, or nothing, to calm the raging prejudice against him for being a werewolf. Wizard judgment and prejudice against non-human magical creatures becomes a major plot point in the film Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them but even as early as the second and third novels in the Harry Potter series, Rowling alerts us to some serious systematic problems with how other magical beings are treated and even governed by the Wizarding community.

Okay, I’ll just admit it! Lupin can charm the pants off me! His quiet and understated charisma paired with his emotional conflict regarding Sirius and Harry (to parent or not to parent…) makes for a character that along with being kind and understanding is also vastly mysterious and complex. Where Sirius is ready to shoot first and ask questions later, Remus goes full on confessional mode and spills the beans to Harry about his father and their past in a way that no other character has yet done. Harry really is in the dark about nearly everything, and Dumbledore is like a lantern lit with secrets, so it’s revolutionary the way Remus gives it to Harry straight by starting the story from the beginning. I think this scene of confession is interesting for a lot of reasons, but my main interest with it is how Remus just spills his guts. He talks and talks and talks, it’s probably one of the longest dialogue scenes thus far, and it definitely covers the most ground and gives us the best idea of Harry’s father, who has remained in the dark even more than Lily (who we interact with vaguely via the dreams and Dementor induced screams).

Of course, it shouldn’t seem quite so strange once we’ve listened to him. Remus states that he had no friends, nor even the vaguest idea of companionship before Hogwarts, before he met James and Sirius and Peter. He was outcast and shunned from society for being a werewolf. It isn’t a stretch to think that once Sirius was in Azkaban, Peter was presumed dead, and James had been murdered, that life slipped back into cruel isolation for Remus, a fact which is confirmed by his outing and subsequent removal from Hogwarts. It’s really heartbreaking to think of Remus, who gets the least attention in his adult life because he wasn’t dead or entangled with the Dark Lord and thus kept the most out of trouble, removed from everyone who ever cared about him, outcasted from society, and left to deal with the betrayal and grief all on his own.

Despite all of his own trauma, Remus is the first identifiable father-figure in Harry’s life. Vernon Dursley is more of a prison warden, and Dumbledore is like that weird uncle that you can’t make heads or tails of most of the time. Before Harry’s relationship with Sirius grows, it’s Lupin that gives Harry a taste of what it would be like to have a father. Lupin likely sees this, as when Harry confides in him, we see him warring with behaviors — torn between the professor’s understanding nod and the father’s shoulder clap. Harry doesn’t realize how close Lupin is to his real father, and thus the tragedy is stronger. Imagine how different the story could have been if Harry knew Lupin’s friendship with his father and they spent more time sharing stories of James’ antics and less time talking about grindylows — but Rowling likes to see us hurt, doesn’t she? Lupin does what he feels is appropriate in his position as Harry’s teacher, and knowing that Harry has no idea that Lupin was close to his father, and is able to offer Harry some comfort in learning the Patronus Charm. This becomes even more impactful when Harry’s Patronus turns into a stag, like his father. I remember little of how this relationship pans out in the rest of the novels, so I’m excited to see where it goes.

I really have a special place in my heart for old Moony.

Sirius Black

As I said, Sirius Black has long held a space of reverence in my heart. He was the first fictional death that I ever cried over (but certainly not the last!). Reading the story again, I feel the agony of its tragedy even more potently.

When reading The Sorcerer’s Stone, I remarked that I noticed for the first time that Sirius’ name appeared in the novel incredibly early. He doesn’t show up again until The Prisoner of Azkaban, and what a different portrait he makes! In The Sorcerer’s Stone, he’s mentioned by Hagrid, who says that he saw him at Godric’s Hollow, and that Sirius lent Hagrid his motorbike to get Harry to Privet Drive. There is nothing more than that — no mention of his relation to Harry or James, nor even a comment on his behavior. By the time the name crops up again, he’s a murderous escaped convict — slashing portraits and standing over children with knives, more corpse-like than human.

For a person whose life was so swiftly destroyed by rumor and misinformation, Sirius can do very little to combat the image that the Wizarding World has made of him, and in fact, almost more lives up to it with his antics in attempt to take Pettigrew that he does to live them down. His story is complicated, and is made even trickier by the rumor mill where Harry gets his information. No one knows the perfect truth, few people are willing to talk about it, and no one, save Lupin, speaks it to Harry’s face.

We learn in The Prisoner of Azkaban that Hagrid comforted Sirius at Godric’s Hollow and that he had to make serious work of convincing Sirius that Dumbledore knew the best way to protect Harry. Hagrid is enraged about the incident, looking back over the course of time in which the drama with Sirius played out. The story, eavesdropped by the Trio, is shared by several sources, including Cornelius Fudge, Hagrid, Minerva McGonagall, Madame Rosmerta, and Flitwick. None of these figures, we later learn, could really know anything about it — since not even Sirius’s dear friend Lupin had any idea what was going on and was left as much in the dark about his friend’s behavior as anyone else. Sirius is even feeble in telling the story himself, which reveals that he is figure more of action than discussion. Together, Lupin and Sirius manage to piece together an account of the betrayal by Pettigrew that finally shines light on the truth. This, of course, matters very little in Rowling’s twisted storytelling, because that truth never reaches the people who could do anything about it.

After the big reveal in the Shrieking Shack, we begin to catch glimpses of the real Sirius beneath the mask of Azkaban. He shyly and anxiously tells Harry that he is Harry’s godfather, and suggests Harry come to live with him. This is a moment of pure joy for Harry, who for years dreamed of being fully immersed in the Wizarding World by being rid of his wicked Muggle family and of finally having a family of people who care about him. It’s almost evil, thinking about it, that Rowling would make both Harry and us, the reader, suffer through that moment of false hope, which is so brutally crushed in the remainder of the chapter. Perhaps all hope is not lost, however, as Harry and Hermione manage to see that Sirius lives another day. We are almost certain of seeing him again, but, perhaps we know better than to think that this could possibly work out…

Other Observations

A few last minute notes for some other things I noted in the novel:

  • The connection between Neville and Harry: A few times this comes up. Harry dreams that Neville is forced to take his place on the Quidditch team when he fails to show up to the match. They cross paths in such a way a couple of times, and I know this becomes a major plot point later, but I don’t remember the specifics so I’m interested to see how that all plays out.
  • Wizards saving wizards: At the end, Dumbledore mentions that when a wizard saves another wizard’s life, a sort of super-magical bond is created between them. Dumbledore has mentioned magic-more-powerful-than-magic before in relation to Lily saving Harry from Voldemort. In this novel, we see two specific incidences, with Snape and James Potter, and Harry and Peter Pettigrew. I think as well in the second novel Dumbledore had mentioned briefly that Snape had tried to protect Harry in the past because of this debt to James — which might suggest that either this bond lives outside of the bonds of death, or that Snape is a mite more noble than he appears. Of course, everyone has different ideas about what happened between Snape and James, with Snape saying that it was all James’ idea and that he got cold-feet before Snape could be murdered, and Lupin claiming that it was, in fact, Sirius who instigated the situation and James heroically rushed down to stop Snape before Were-Lupin could kill him. Again, Rowling plays with the multiple-sides-to-every-story idea while reminding us that no matter what, the end is still the same.
  • Harry and family: This was the first in the series to really give Harry hope for a family. There’s a really touching moment before he boards the Hogwarts Express where he notes that he felt very good when Mrs. Weasley gave him an extra hug, which was completely heart-warming. Likewise, Fred and George come even farther forward to treat Harry like their brother (better than a brother? Fred and George are hard on their own brothers…) by helping him get into Hogsmeade by gifting him the Marauder’s Map, and being supportive of him throughout the series. We also see the relationship between Ron and Harry and Hermione grow even more, which is great stuff. Finally, we get that trick move with Sirius and Harry that totally wrecked me.
  • Voldemort’s return: He was quiet enough throughout this novel. This is the only novel in which Voldemort doesn’t appear in some fashion, though he certainly isn’t missing from the story. We also have that totally harrowing prediction from Trelawney that Dumbledore so casually dusts away. Ready or not, here he comes!

Moving on to the fourth installment today, but this will probably take some time as the novel itself is a monster and I have a busy weekend. I’ll keep the blog active with other posts, some DIY Harry Potter crafts, and various other fun things while I work my way through it. Happy weekend!

Where do you stand with the Marauders? What did you notice in the novel that alerted you to some future wickedness or wonder?

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