Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Dementors and Animagi

By: Dr. John Ankerberg; ©1999
“Harry Potter was a highly unusual boy in many ways. For one thing, he hated the summer holidays more than any other time of year. For another, he really wanted to do his homework but was forced to do it in secret, in the dead of night. And he also happened to be a wizard.” (p. 1)


Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Unusual indeed. I can’t think of another 12-year-old who would even dream of doing homework at midnight, by flashlight, hidden under the covers on his bed, during the summer—on the eve of his 13th birthday. It boggles the imagination! Maybe the fact that he’s a wizard explains it. Clearly this is a child that you would love to have as a role-model for your own teenager! Of course, he does have a little problem with authority; he lies a lot; he’s not above cheating; and he is quick to use magickal (occult) means to get his way.

Book 3 starts out with Harry under virtual house-arrest with his aunt and uncle who are Muggles—people who have no appreciation for magic. Meanwhile his friend Ron is with his family in Egypt and Hermione has gone to France for the summer.

Once again, it’s his birthday—he turns 13—and once again his aunt and uncle ignore it. But he does get presents from Ron, Hermione and Hagrid—all delivered by owl post. This is also the year that his class will get to visit the magical village of Hogsmeade, if only he can get Uncle Vernon to sign the permission form.

Uncle Vernon agrees to sign the form IF Harry will go along with the story that he attends the St. Brutus Secure Center for Incurably Criminal Boys, and IF nothing odd happens while Aunt Marge is visiting.

But, of course, Aunt Marge insults Harry’s mother and Harry puts a swelling curse on her. Goodbye any hope of visiting Hogsmeade! Goodbye any chance of living with the Dursleys for the rest of the summer (even in the cupboard under the stairs)! Goodbye Hogwarts, because Harry has BROKEN A RULE, and he is sure to be expelled!

Not quite. Harry runs away from the Dursleys, is picked up by The Knights Bus, which astrally transports him to London, where he is met by The Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge. But is he expelled (or even punished) for breaking the rule? Of course not, because there is something more important happening: a prisoner who was convicted of killing 13 people (12 Muggles and 1 wizard) has escaped from Azkaban, and Harry seems to be his next target: “Black is deranged, Molly, and he wants Harry dead. If you ask me, he thinks murdering Harry will bring You-Know-Who back to power.” (p. 66)

But being a murderer’s next target is not Harry’s biggest problem: “No, all in all, the thing that bothered Harry most was the fact that his chances of visiting Hogsmeade now looked like zero. Nobody would want Harry to leave the safety of the castle until Black was caught; in fact, Harry suspected his every move would be carefully watched until the danger had passed.” (p. 68)

So there you have it: the plot of Book 3 is keeping Harry safe from the escaped prisoner, Sirius Black, until he is recaptured. Oh, yes, and getting him to Hogsmeade by fair means or foul.

Among the disgusting creatures Harry has encountered so far, the dementors probably rank near the top. These are the guards at Azkaban, who have been assigned to protect Hogwarts from Sirius Black. This is Harry’s first encounter:

Standing in the doorway, illuminated by the shivering flames in Lupin’s hand, was a cloaked figure…Its face was completely hidden beneath its hood. Harry’s eyes darted downwards, and what he saw made his stomach contract. There was a hand protruding from the cloak and it was glistening, grayish, slimy-looking, and scabbed, like something dead that had decayed in water….
And then the thing beneath the hood, whatever it was, drew a long, slow, rattling breath, as though it were trying to suck something more than air from its surroundings.
An intense cold swept over them all. Harry felt his own breath catch in his chest. The cold went deeper than his skin. It was inside his chest, it was inside his very heart…
Harry’s eyes rolled up into his head. He couldn’t see. He was drowning in cold. There was a rushing in his ears as though of water. He was being dragged downward, the roaring growing louder…. (p. 83)

Later Harry is told: “Get too near a dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself…soul-less and evil. You’ll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.” (p. 187) We also read about the dementor’s “last and worst weapon”:

They call it the Dementor’s Kiss….It’s what dementors do to those they wish to destroy utterly…. They clamp their jaws upon the mouth of the victim and… suck out his soul….
You can exist without your soul, you know, as long as your brain and heart are still working…. There’s no chance at all of recovery. You’ll just—exist. As an empty shell. And your soul is gone forever…lost. (p. 247)

Now, remember, the dementors are going to protect the students at Hogwarts! As if that isn’t bad enough, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher—who is supposed to teach the students how to protect themselves from creatures like dementors—is a werewolf!

But Harry is going to need more than just lessons in the Dark Arts to help him get to his goal: the magical village of Hogsmeade. Sure enough, Ron’s older brothers—who have made a name for themselves bending the rules—present Harry with a map they have stolen from a faculty member’s office, The Marauder’s Map. To activate this map, you simply tap it with your wand and say, “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.” At that the map begins to show “every detail of the Hogwarts castle and grounds. But the truly remarkable thing were the tiny ink dots moving around it, each labeled with a name in miniscule writing…. As Harry’s eyes traveled up and down the familiar corridors, he noticed something else. This map showed a set of passages he had never entered. And many of them seemed to lead—‘Right into Hogsmeade…’.” (pp. 192-193)

And there you have it. Armed with this map and his invisibility cloak, Harry is able to defy the rules, get around the guards, and enjoy the pleasures of Hogsmeade, the only entirely non-Muggle village in England.

Well, it also seems that Harry keeps catching glimpses of a great big black dog. One day in Divination class while reading tea leaves, Professor Trelawney “sees” something in Harry’s cup that she identifies as a Grim, “The giant, spectral dog that haunts churchyards! My dear boy, it is an omen—the worst omen—ofdeath!” (p. 107) Is Harry going to die this year?

In another class he has to face “boggarts.” These are “shape-shifter[s]… that can take the shape of whatever it thinks will frighten us most.” (p. 133) And how do you defeat a boggart? Why, by laughing at it, of course. All you have to do is “force it to assume a shape that you find amusing.” (p. 134) By the way, Rosemary Guiley’sThe Encyclopedia of Witches & Witchcraftsays of boggarts (also called bogeys): “a type of horrible evil spirit that travels alone or in groups and loves to make mischief…They sometimes are synonymous with the Devil.” (p. 31)

Well, it seems that what Harry is most afraid of is the dementors. So he asks Professor Lupin (the werewolf) to teach him how to defeat them. Lupin tells him that he needs to learn how to conjure up a Patronus,

…which is a kind of anti-dementor—a guardian that acts as a shield between you and the dementor….
The Patronus is a kind of positive force, a projection of the very things that the dementor feeds upon—hope, happiness, the desire to survive—but it cannot feel despair, as real humans can, so the dementors can’t hurt it….
“What does a Patronus look like?” said Harry curiously.
“Each one is unique to the wizard who conjures it.”
“And how do you conjure it?”
“With an incantation, which will work only if you are concentrating, with all your might, on a single very happy memory.” (p. 237 ff)

Our poor Harry has a hard time coming up with a happy enough memory, but he finally manages to come up with one, and practices on a boggart-turned-dementor.

Well, Harry spends another year learning spells, potions, divination, transfiguration, and so on between unauthorized trips to Hogsmeade and dealing with ghosts, boggarts, and dementors. But finally, the end of term is near, so we have to somehow deal with Sirius Black, the escaped murderer. This is where it gets confusing!

It turns out that Sirius Black, the escaped murderer, is really no murderer at all. In fact, he’s Harry’s godfather, who has escaped so he could come protect Harry from the real murderer. He is also an “animagus”—a wizard who can change into an animal. He is the big black dog Harry has been running into all over the place.

It seems that Sirius Black, Professor Lupin, James Potter (Harry’s father), and another student named Peter Pettigrew had all been at Hogwarts together. Since Lupin was dangerous to humans while he was in his werewolf phase, the other three had learned how to become animals so they could keep him company—he didn’t harm animals. Only they didn’t register themselves, as all animagus were required to do, so nobody knew they could do it.

(Even in occult circles, the practice of turning into an animal, called lycanthropy, is not seen as a good thing. Cf. Rosemary Ellen Guiley,The Encyclopedia of Witches & Witchcraft, 2nd Ed., pp. 206-208; Lewis Spence,An Encyclopedia of Occultism, pp. 255-256)

Well, then who is the real murderer? The wizard who killed 13 people with a single curse? Would you believe it was Peter Pettigrew, who could turn into a rat? And guess where he’s been all these years? He’s been living as a rat—in fact, for the past three years he’s been at Hogwarts as Ron’s familiar, Scabbers! (pp. 362-363)

That only leaves one of the group unaccounted for: We have Remus Lupin, the werewolf, Sirius Black, the dog, Peter Pettigrew, the rat (who, by the way, Sirius is serious about wanting to kill!), and then we have James Potter, who turned into a stag. Of course, he’s dead, but he does come back in the book—as the Patronus Harry conjures up.

Then, as if dementors and boggarts and animagus and invisibility cloaks and Marauders Maps aren’t enough, there is one more bit of dark magic to contend with. Near the end of the book, everything goes wrong. We can’t leave it that way, of course, so to straighten everything out, Dumbledore advises Hermione and Harry to practice one more illegal bit of magick—they go back in time.

“No!” said Hermione in a terrified whisper. “Don’t you understand? We’re breaking one of the most important wizarding laws! Nobody’s supposed to change time, nobody!… Don’t you see? Professsor McGonagall told me what awful things have happened when wizards have meddled with time…. Loads of them ended up killing their past or future selves by mistake!” (pp. 298-99)

But Dumbledore okayed it. So Harry and Hermione go back in time, rescue Sirius, rescue Hagrid’s hippogriff (just as Harry predicted, p. 323), and fight off the dementors. But Pettigrew (nicknamed “Wormtail”) gets away. We’ll see him again in Book 4.

Breaking rules and not getting punished for it, even having teachers help students to break rules, is a common theme throughout these books. Occult themes aside—which is difficult enough to do—why would you want your child to read about such blatant disobedience?

In this book we see Harry: practice divination/sorcery (p. 194); interpret omens (p. 323); engage in witchcraft (p. 124); cast spells (p. 29); act as a medium (p. 179); and consult the dead (p. 427). Each of these is a practice God has condemned. See our companion article God’s Warning About Witchcraft: Definitions of Terms from Deuteronomy 18.

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