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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling

Cover art by Mary GrandPre

Published by Scholastic Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

Harry Potter is back at number four, Privet Drive, enduring the Dursleys as best he can and biding his time until the beginning of his third term at Hogwarts, the magical school. The Dursleys have improved not one whit in the past two years, and still regard their nephew's magical talents as a disgrace to be hidden as best they can. Only that can prove easier said than done, particularly when Uncle Vernon's sister visits and persistently bad-mouths Harry's beloved father.

Harry has no conscious memory of his parents, who died when he was an infant. The Dursleys' official cover story claims they were killed in a car accident. Harry knows the truth -- they were murdered by the terrible Lord Voldemort, master of the Dark Arts, who was trying to conquer the wizarding world. Because of their sacrifice for his sake he bears a deep love for them, and cannot abide having them spoken ill of. Aunt Marge goes far beyond mere slighting to outright insulting James Potter, calling him a drunk and a ne'er-do-well. In a burst of fury, Harry's innate magical ability wreaks a shocking transformation on Aunt Marge, sending her floating like a bloated balloon to the ceiling.

Harry flees Uncle Vernon's wrath, certain that he will also face punishment in the wizarding world for having used magic without proper authorization. While he wanders the streets in despair he is rescued by the Knight Bus, a magical conveyance filled with comfy beds in which a stranded witch or wizard can catch a good night's sleep while being taken to a magical destination. Off Harry goes to Diagon Alley in London, a secret street full of magical shops, where he meets Cornelius Fudge, Minister of Magic.

When Harry asks about his punishment, Fudge makes vague references to circumstances changing and arranges a place for the orphan boy to stay for the next two weeks, until the beginning of the new term at Hogwarts. Far from being interested in punishing Harry for having broken the rules, Fudge is concerned primarily that he remains safe, and warns him strictly not to leave Diagon Alley until it's time to get on the train to Hogwarts. Dangerous things are afoot.

In particular, the notorious wizard criminal Sirius Black is still at large, and the Ministry of Magic is calling out the Dementors, the mysterious guards of Azkaban, to patrol Hogwarts against him. This comes over the strenuous objections of Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, for Dementors are not the sort of creatures one wants to have about. A sort of spiritual vampire, they seem to drain joy and energy from anyone in their vicinity. These magical creatures seem to affect Harry far worse than anyone else. At the same time they provide him with a tantalizing echo of his mother's voice, of her dying words as she pled with Voldemort for her only son's life. Thus Harry is simultaneously repelled and drawn to them.

Yet things may well be more complicated than they seem. "Everybody knows" that Sirius Black betrayed Harry's parents to Voldemort, and Harry burns with desire to avenge himself against this notorious wizard criminal. But in the final confrontation, things have a strange habit of shifting and transforming at the last minute, and the Dementors may well be about to execute an innocent man.

Review posted September 4, 2000

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