Note: I originally re-readPrisoner of Azkabanbetween August and December of 2013. I decided to repost it to PhoenixSong. You can find the original LJ version here (link: http://author-by-night.livejournal.com/761320.html) although some things have since been edited.
Back in 1999, when I was a teenager, I read the first two Harry Potter books. I realized I was dealing with something special. Even so, I saw the books as "cute" with darker moments more than anything else.
Then there was Prisoner of Azkaban, where Harry's aunt calls his dead mother a bitch and he has memories of his parents being murdered. He later finds out the murderer was framed in a horrible twist of irony. Suffice to say, PoA rang very true to me in a way the first two books didn't.
Then fandom came along, and I loved PoA because it had "MWPP" (Moony Wormtail Padfoot and Prongs), more specifically Remus and Sirius. I had a huge fangirl crush on Remus, and while I always thought Sirius was a bit screwed up and wasn't remotely surprised by OoTP, I liked his character, too. I loved the story of MWPP altogether, of course — it was just so tragic, this group of best friends torn apart by war. One of them a misunderstood werewolf, the other a misunderstood criminal. I was also going through my emo phase, meaning I'd re-read PoA and write terrible Marauder fanfic with Sarah McLachlan in the background.
But that time has passed, and the books have come and gone. When I re-read PoA back in the day, it was always with fandom lenses. In other words, skipping most of the trio parts (except anything with the slightest hint of Ron/Hermione) and going straight for the MWPP goodness. Although I'm not completely removed from fandom — I still dabble in fanfic and so forth — I do want to take a fresher look at Prisoner of Azkaban. What I also want to do is look at how the book sets up the rest of the series, as well as the story itself, from a less fangirly POV.
However, I will warn you — I used a Time-Turner and went back to 2002. A fangirl, who I will call FFP (Fan of Fangirls Past) came back with me, and refuses to let me return her to her own time. She'll probably chime in more when Remus shows up; nonetheless, you have been warned.
Chapter 1: Owl Post
In this chapter, we learn that Harry was "highly unusual" because he hated the summer and was doing his homework. He hates summer because he's back with his abusive family, but he also hates it because he can't do his homework (since the Dursleys forbid it), and he has a lot of it to do. Although I'm glad he's upholding such a great example for the kiddos reading this, I'm willing to bet most of his classmates just do at least some of it on the train back. He's reading about witch burnings, which were apparently "completely pointless" because they would just use flame-freezing charms. (We do later learn that they had other methods of executing witches and wizards, but either JKR hadn't decided that, or Harry's teachers are being fair by not making him write about every single form of witch torture.)
I find it interesting that, from the start, we're presented with the idea of fooling authority. Harry is doing his assignment in the dark so his aunt and uncle don't catch him. His assignment is on a witch, Wendelin the Weird, who tricked authority into thinking they'd successfully killed her but had evaded them. The idea of authority being equally stifling and easy to fool is one of the major themes in this book, and right off bat, we're told — the person in a position of authority over you may have only the incentive of power, not justice. At the same time, they can and have been duped.
Ron has tried to contact Harry, but did so by screaming, as he didn't know how to use a phone. Apparently Ron never caught onto the fact that mentioning Hogwarts was a bad idea, either. Ron… has Harry never ever mentioned how much his aunt and uncle hate magic? Harry got in trouble and never heard from Ron after that, probably because Vernon hollered at the kid and scarred him for life.
Harry reflects on his shitty life, which has moments of brilliance, and rehashes the past two books for us. This almost makes me think of The Baby-Sitter's Club or Sweet Valley High books…
Voldemort and Harry were as different as night and day, but connected by the fact that Voldemort killed Harry's parents, but couldn't kill Harry. He gave him a scar. Hermione and Ron were also a different as night and day; Ron was fun but poor, his clothes long and oversized. Hermione was smart but bossy, and had bushy hair…
Hedwig is heading towards his window with what we'd learn are two Weasley owls and a Hogwarts owl. They bring letters, news clippings, cards and a gift from Hagrid. We learn from the Daily Prophet that the Weasleys won money, and used it to go to Egypt. There is a picture of them, and Ron conveniently has his "rat" on his shoulder. This Is Important.
FFP: OMG PETER! That traitor. Although I'm sure he had his reasons. TRAITOR.
Ron has also added a letter, apologizing for the phone call. He's happy because he's also going to get a new wand. We get an explanation as to why Ron didn't have one, and I realized I remembered it all wrong. I thought Ron's was damaged as the result of cursing Draco after calling Hermione a Mudblood, but it was the Ford Anglia crashing into the Whomping Willow. (Which we are reminded of here, conveniently enough.) Ron's wand being defunct was why he ended up barfing slugs. See, there are things I don't remember or only half remember! This is fun, if scary how quickly I was able to jump to the "right" canon moment. I really didn't have a life in high school.
Ron has also sent a "Sneakoscope", which I'd half remembered; it's supposed to warn you about untrustworthy people. "Bill says it's rubbish sold for wizard tourists and isn't reliable, because it kept lighting up at dinner last night. But he didn't realize Fred and George had put beetles in his soup."
I have to admit, I don't quite buy this Sneakoscope, even though I know it tries to reveal who Scabbers is and stuff later. (Or I think it does. We'll find out.) But couldn't James have just held it in front of people he thought might be spying on him? "Remus, mate, what's new? Okay, you're good — I mean, gotta go. Peter, nice to see – YOU!"
Hermione has written that she was in France, and learned a lot of local history. This is why I love Hermione, even if I'm not so sure I'd love her in real life.
Much to Harry's surprise, Hermione got him a broomstick servicing kit. Don't worry, Harry, two books from now you'll get the annoyingly patronizing "educational" book you were expecting. Harry thinks about his precious Nimbus Two Thousand. Just wait 'til you get your Firebolt.
Hagrid's present is a book that bites — "The Monster Book of Monsters." Hagrid. Fire-breathing dragons in a wooden house? Giant spiders? Bad idea, but okay, you're doofy. But books that actually hurt children? Uhhh…
McGonagall has sent Harry a permission slip for Hogsmeade, which of course never gets signed.
The chapter ends with Harry being happy for the first time ever that it's his birthday. Ouch.
Chapter Two: Aunt Marge's Big Mistake
(Because she blows up. See what JKR did there? See it? See it?)
Everyone ignores Harry as he comes down for breakfast. The reporter on television is talking about Sirius, saying that he's "armed." Vernon says there's "no need to tell us he's no good," because his hair looks bad. *Facepalm* The news report then starts talking about something else, which annoys Vernon. I have to admit this annoys me, too.
News Reporter: Yesterday at K-Mart, two costumed clowns got into a fight with circus props over who was the real Bozo. In other news, the sky is still blue—
Petunia peers out her window, as if to spot him in the beans or the flowers. This is meant to be a comic moment, but a while ago a friend and I actually came to the realization that knowing JKR, Sirius probably really was in the garden somewhere. Think about it.
Vernon has to go because he's picking up Aunt Marge. This horrifies Harry; she's Vernon's sister, has mean bulldogs she breeds herself, and has whacked Harry and given the kid dog biscuits. What the hell happened in Vernon and Marge's childhood? What did their parents do to them that it was okay to keep a kid in a cupboard and feed him pet food?
Harry is told that he has to be civil, and cannot tell Marge about his "abnormality." He's also to pretend he goes to a school for criminal children. Snape would like that. Filch. too, actually.
Harry asks Vernon to sign his permission slip, which of course Vernon doesn't want to do. He coolly points out that he could "let something slip," which is some Sirius Blackmail, Harry. Vernon threatens to beat Harry up if he does, but Harry just points out it won't make Aunt Marge forget. Harry promises to act normal as long as Vernon signs the permission slip. Vernon says he'll only do it if Harry behaves.
Harry tells Hedwig she has to go with Errol to the Weasleys. Harry watches the owls fly symbolically out of his window as he is forced to return to his repressed existence.
Aunt Marge roars for "Dudders," her "neffy-poo." Harry and I both know Dudley is miserable, but apparently Aunt Marge pays him? "Dudley had a crisp twenty-pound note in his fat fist."
In HBP Dumbledore points out that Dudley has been mistreated, and I think this is actually one example. He is being smothered by someone who pays him to put up with it, and someone is paying him to pretend he wants over-the-top affection. What has Dudley learned from this? That human value comes in money? That's actually incredibly sad and disturbing.
Aunt Marge has only brought one dog, Ripper, which is drooling on Petunia's "clean floor." She asks where the other dogs; some Colonel Fubster is managing them. Ripper growls when Harry sits, and Aunt Marge is offended by Harry saying "yes" to her. She goes on to tell him that she would've put him in an orphanage, and asks if he gets the cane at St. Brutus's. (Another traitor reference. Interesting.)
Life with Aunt Marge is even more miserable, and to top it off, she keeps saying things about his family at meals.
"It's one of the basic rules of breeding," she said. "You see it all the time with dogs. If there's something wrong with the bitch, there'll be something wrong with the pup—"
It's obvious Aunt Marge has never been married, because otherwise she'd known you don't tell a guy his mum is a bitch.
Harry regresses to involuntary wandless magic (or maybe it's the Voldie inside him), and Aunt Marge's wineglass explodes. She figures it's just because she "squeezed it too hard," and she "did the same thing at Colonel Fubster's the other day."
Harry tries to calm himself down, because he knows underage magic could get him expelled. Except he didn't do it with his wand. He just… did it. Which brings to mind a question — why aren't bad things always happening, if wizards can lose control that easily? Is it because Harry hasn't been able to use regular magic, so he regressed? Is he still learning to control it? Or is it the Horcrux?
On the final night, Aunt Marge has a brandy when she's already drunk. Great idea. Aunt Marge continues to insult Harry, and goes on about bad blood and how Lily must have been a bad egg, which is nothing short of a quick save since Lily was Petunia's sister. Vernon says that James didn't work, and as Aunt Marge is based on Margaret Thatcher, this gets her set on another rant. Harry tells her to shove it, and they begin to argue back and forth.
And then it happens: Aunt Marge blows up into a balloon, literally flying around the room. Harry basically tells his family to go to hell and leaves with his things.
This is a very powerful moment for Harry: Previously, he's had help getting away from the Dursleys. He's older now, and has to do it on his own this time. There is no Hagrid or Ford Anglia to get him out of this one. He's well on his way to fighting alone.