Literature Study GuidesHarry Potter SeriesHarry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban Summary

Harry Potter (Series) | Study Guide

J.K. Rowling

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Harry Potter (Series) | Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban | Summary


About the Title

In this book Harry meets his godfather, Sirius Black. Black had been a prisoner in Azkaban, the wizard prison, and at the time this story begins, has recently escaped.


The Knight Bus

For Harry it is another summer of misery at the Dursleys'. While Ron's family takes a trip to Egypt, and Hermione is on holiday in France, Harry must endure a visit from obnoxious Aunt Marge. One evening at dinner, Aunt Marge rudely insults Harry's deceased mother, and Harry angrily uses magic on her. Fearing he will be arrested for using magic against a Muggle, he leaves the Dursley home and catches a wizard bus called the Knight Bus, which takes him to Diagon Alley. There he runs into Cornelius Fudge. Contrary to Harry's expectations, Fudge does not have him arrested. In fact, he seems glad Harry is safe and laughs off the incident with Aunt Marge.

Harry stays at the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley, where Ron and Hermione eventually arrive. Hermione buys a new pet cat, Crookshanks, which takes a dislike to Ron's pet rat, Scabbers. The news is full of the escape of madman and murderer Sirius Black from the wizard prison called Azkaban. One night Harry overhears Molly and Arthur Weasley, Ron's parents, say Sirius Black, one of Voldemort's most loyal followers, will be coming after Harry because Harry is responsible for Voldemort's demise.

A New School Year Begins

Harry, Ron, and Hermione go together to the Hogwarts Express. On the way to Hogwarts, the train slows to a stop. The lights go out, and a strange cloaked figure enters their compartment. At once, all of them feel cold, and Harry feels as if he is drowning. He hears screaming, and he passes out. Professor Lupin—the new professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts—tells them the cloaked figure was a Dementor, a creature that acts as a prison guard of Azkaban. It had been searching for Sirius Black.

The third year of Harry's schooling begins. Third-year students are allowed to visit the nearby town of Hogsmeade, but Harry is unable to go because the Dursleys refused to sign his permission form. Professor Lupin proves to be a likable and competent teacher, though his health is poor. He is also revealed to have been a friend of Harry's parents when they were in school together. The Divination teacher, Sybill Trelawney, continually predicts Harry's demise. Oddly enough, Hermione is taking far more classes than necessary—some that take place at the same times.

The fear of Sirius Black increases when he breaks into Hogwarts, not once but twice, apparently looking for Harry. Harry learns Black, who had been friends with his father and Lupin at Hogwarts, was the one who revealed to Voldemort the location of his parents' house, resulting in their deaths. He also learns Black is his godfather.

Troubles increase for Harry in other ways, too. He occasionally catches glimpses of a large black dog and becomes convinced this is a Grim, a mystical animal that appears as a death omen. Ron and Hermione fight continually about Crookshanks's grudge against Scabbers. Harry is increasingly bothered by the Dementors that guard Hogwarts from Sirius Black, and Lupin has to teach him a special spell to repel them. Then, in an unusually authentic-sounding prophecy, Sybill Trelawney predicts Voldemort's return.

Secrets Revealed

During exam week, one of Hagrid's magical creatures—a hippogriff named Buckbeak—is scheduled to be executed for biting Draco Malfoy (in an attack Draco instigates and greatly exaggerates). Ron, Harry, and Hermione see the executioner arrive and hide under Harry's Invisibility Cloak to rush to Hagrid's hut, hoping to help avert the tragedy. On the way they hear the sound of the executioner's ax. As they head back to the castle, Crookshanks appears, and Scabbers thrashes wildly, trying to get away. Ron loses his hold on Scabbers and then chases after his pet—toward the Whomping Willow. The large black dog appears, seizes Ron, and pulls him through a gap that opens at the base of the tree's trunk. Harry and Hermione race into the gap after their friend.

They follow the dog and Ron through a tunnel into a small room. With a broken leg, Ron tells them the dog isn't a dog; he is an Animagus—a human who can transform into an animal. Suddenly, Sirius Black appears. Harry, believing Black to be his parents' betrayer, attacks him. Lupin arrives, and in the chaos, Black explains he was never the Potters' betrayer. It had been another friend—another Animagus—who was the real betrayer. This man, Peter Pettigrew, was able to transform into a rat and has been hiding in plain sight as Scabbers ever since Sirius went to prison for the murders Pettigrew committed. Instead of trying to kill Harry, Sirius has been after Pettigrew this whole time. Lupin reveals he is a werewolf, and while in school, his friends James Potter, Sirius Black, and Peter Pettigrew became Animagi so they could help him through his monthly transformation and keep others safe. Severus Snape had found out about Lupin's secret and, disliking James Potter and his friends intensely, tried to make trouble for them.

A Full Moon

In the midst of these revelations, Snape appears, wand pointed at them. Harry, Hermione, and Ron all use a disarming spell on him at the same time, and he falls unconscious. Then Black and Lupin force Pettigrew to assume his human shape. As they all exit the Whomping Willow, however, they see the moon, and realize Lupin has forgotten to take the potion that prevents his transformation. Lupin begins to change, and Black transforms into a dog to protect the others. Pettigrew takes this opportunity to change back into a rat and escape.

Dementors approach, and in the distance Harry sees they have surrounded Sirius. Harry tries to use the Patronus spell, which repels Dementors, but doesn't have the strength to do it properly. As he collapses, he sees a glowing white animal drive the Dementors away and return to the human who conjured it.

Knowing Sirius is in great danger, Hermione uses a magical device called a Time-Turner to take herself and Harry three hours back in time. They rescue Buckbeak from execution and then witness the entire scene at the Whomping Willow from a short distance away. At just the right moment they intervene to change the course of events. Harry conjures a Patronus to save himself from the Dementors; the mysterious person he'd seen before was himself. They free Sirius, who escapes by riding on Buckbeak.

In the end Lupin resigns from his teaching position. Pettigrew has escaped and is expected to rejoin his master, Lord Voldemort. Sirius Black is on the run since he is still wanted for murders he did not commit. Harry, Hermione, and Ron take the Hogwarts Express back to London.


Leaving Childhood Behind

As Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban opens, Harry turns 13. As he begins his teen years, perhaps it is only natural both the tone and focus of the series shift. Harry is maturing, leaving childhood behind. Even though Harry has faced terrifying monsters and situations full of peril before, as an adolescent, he must now also face his own personal history.

As such, his growth as a person moving from childhood to adolescence is an extreme example of a very common journey. Adolescence is a time of self-discovery, as well as a time of growing awareness of the wide world and how one fits into it. In this third installment of the Harry Potter series, Harry becomes aware of the violence of his parents' deaths in a visceral way. In the presence of Dementors, he experiences their final moments. These moments are actually his own memories of a traumatic experience he witnessed at a very young age.

To help Harry confront and work through the trauma of his parents' deaths, a new character appears: Remus Lupin. Unlike other adults in Harry's life who are constantly trying to shield him from the frightening truth—Dumbledore and Arthur and Molly Weasley—Lupin is more forthcoming. He helps Harry learn to defend himself from the Dementors rather than trying to protect Harry himself. He is a mentor, rather than a father figure—a guide to help Harry into adulthood.

Friends and Family

The journey from childhood to adulthood doesn't occur in a vacuum. All sorts of people accompany a person on this road. Family is crucial to the formation of identity. Friends become increasingly important in adolescence. In this book Harry learns more about friendship as his two best friends become locked in what seems like an irreconcilable dispute about their pets. He also connects with his parents by learning more about the friends they had when they were his age and how those friendships changed over time. He learns about a downside of friendship: having friends leaves a person open to betrayal. Trusting others is a risk, a small act of self-sacrifice.

Harry's world grows larger as he learns more about his own family history and incorporates this new information into his concept of self. The revelation Sirius Black is Harry's godfather is significant because it makes Sirius an automatic father figure. However, Sirius has been damaged by his long stay in Azkaban and his obsession with revenge. So while Harry is tempted by fantasies of having Sirius step into a fatherly role, this plan clearly has major issues. Part of Harry's growing up is learning the adults in his life—past and present—are flawed human beings.

Developing Themes

The book continues to develop themes that began in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The theme of self-sacrifice versus self-preservation is developed by a new way of looking at Harry's mother's sacrifice. Under the influence of the Dementors, Harry experiences his mother's sacrifice of her life to save his. Experiencing something is much different from knowing it; Harry will need both his head and his heart to face the final test in the last book in the series.

The theme of death, resurrection, and immortality continues to weave throughout the series. In this book Professor Trelawney continually predicts Harry's death. In addition, Harry spends much of the book believing he is glimpsing the Grim, a death omen, though the figure turns out to be Sirius in his transformed state. The theme of discrimination and oppression expands to include those who are part nonhuman. Lupin, as a werewolf, must keep his condition secret for fear of losing his job. Once he is revealed as a werewolf, he is ostracized.

The theme of fate and free will is developed by having Divination as a subject the third-year students study. There are real and fraudulent prophecies. Some prophecies, like Trelawney's prediction a servant of the Dark Lord would return to his master, do come true. Are these events fated to occur, once prophesied? What is the role of free will if one is caught up in a prophecy? These are questions the books will take up later in the series.

Repeated Structures

Like the first two books, the plot contains elements of a mystery novel. The characters encounter a question or problem toward the beginning. They discover clues, and they solve the mystery at the end. As usual, the story follows the school calendar and celebratory holidays such as Harry's birthday, Halloween, and Christmas.

The magical object that is crucial to the book's climax is the Time-Turner. Like the Sorcerer's Stone in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, readers are given clues toward the beginning of the book of the existence of this magical object. Here, Hermione's strange ability to attend classes that occur at the same time, and her increasing exhaustion, are clues that all make sense once the Time-Turner is revealed. Rowling effectively withholds information to build suspense and increase the satisfaction of the climax of a novel when that suspense is resolved.

This book has more of a focus on magical creatures than on magical objects, however. Hagrid teaches a Care of Magical Creatures class, and Buckbeak the hippogriff plays an important role in the book's plot. Furthermore, Animagi, people who have learned to transform themselves into animals, appear. Also, Dementors—a personification of depression, according to Rowling—are a frightening kind of magical creature.

The conversation between Dumbledore and Harry focuses on Trelawney's prophecy about a servant returning to the Dark Lord and helping him rise to power. This prophecy provides the connection between this book and the next, creating a reason to continue reading the series.

This book's ending is a bit different from those of the previous two. In both Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry goes with friends to confront a menace that turns out to be Voldemort. In each he is separated from his friends and must go on alone. Here, Harry does not go alone to face some incarnation of Voldemort. He is with friends throughout the book, and he faces Voldemort's servant, not the Dark Lord himself. This change may reflect the novel's focus on how Harry is connected, not isolated. At the end of this novel, Harry has a connection to his parents and to the history of the resistance against Voldemort. He will need these connections in the future.

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