The Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapters 19-20: The Strange Case of Sirius Black


I rapped my knuckles on the door of the office suite that I’d become all too familiar with over the past few weeks. I thought I heard a voice say, “Come in.” I couldn’t be sure, but I took the chance anyway. I turned the brass knob and entered. Stacks of paperwork rested on the filing cabinets that occupied every spare inch of the office. Shadows spilled over the space, backlit from the streetlight that kept vigil outside the window. Some might call it cluttered, but I knew there was a method to this madness.

I took my usual place in the wooden chair by the desk. The arm rests had been worn down to a shiny, smooth patina. Other clients had sat in this chair and clutched the sides, fidgeting for lack of a better place to put their worry and concern.

“Well? What do you have for me?” I couldn’t wait any longer.

The detective spun her chair around and placed her feet up on the desk, leaning back precariously. A proper fedora tipped over her eyes. She clasped her hands together and sighed.

“He’s innocent, just as you expected.”

I exhaled, unaware that I’d been holding onto my breath.

“So what happened that night?” I’d come for answers, and I wasn’t going to leave without them.

“The Secret-Keeper was transferred at the last minute. It was a foolhardy choice; one bred out of desperation and misplaced trust. Black handed the responsibility over to Pettigrew. Pettigrew betrayed the Potters and killed all those bystanders.”

“That rat bastard!” I exclaimed. “But…but why would Black do such a thing?”

“I believe he thought he was making the right decision for the Potters’ safety. Which raises the question–does a person who believes that they are truly making the right choice, even if it ends up being the wrong choice, still end up in the clear?”

I had no answer, other than feeling sorry for Black, who had suffered for so long being unfortunately framed. I’m sure not a moment went by when he didn’t feel the sting of what took place that night. The light from outside hit the detective’s strawberry blonde hair–the color stood out against the black-and-white saturation of her sharp outfit.

Something else had occurred to me. “I’m a bit surprised that Snape didn’t intervene more. He had so much vehemence in him.”

“That’s a story for another day,” she replied. I’d have to be satisfied with that, I supposed.

“Did you figure out how Pettrigrew managed the crime?” I asked.

“Of course I did.” I saw the curve of a smirk hidden under the brim of her hat, like she had thought of everything. She probably had. “He changed into his animagus form and slipped away to his master. Rather cowardly, not that it comes as a surprise. Black noticed him in the paper.”

“I don’t know why Black didn’t take care of him right there and then. Twelve years in that hellhole…” Oh, the tales I’d heard about Azkaban.

“He very well might have if the Potter boy hadn’t stepped in. Harry might not have known his father, but he inherited the strength of his character. And everything else, for that matter. Except for his eyes…he had his mother’s eyes.”

She seemed lost in thought, so we stayed in silence for a few moments. It was then that I noticed that it had started to rain outside, with the pitter-patter of drops on the window filling the quiet.

She broke the reverie. “Black will return to his place as Harry’s guardian, by the way. I know you probably weren’t wondering that, but I thought you might be interested.” The idea hadn’t occurred to me, but it made me inexplicably happy to think about that.

“Ah, good. So Black and the Potter boy get to be happy, then,” I remarked.

She smiled sadly and said nothing. My time was up, so I stood to button my coat. I started towards the door.

“Oh—one more thing.” I turned back and looked at my detective. She tilted her head up and looked me in the eyes. “You might have noticed that the wolf forgot to take his potion. Watch out for that.” I shuddered and stepped back into my story.


Okay, enough of that. Now, let’s just take a moment to appreciate the mental image of Crookshanks leading the crew of Lupin, Pettigrew, and Ron “looking like contestants in a six-legged race,” an inanimate Snape looking like the Potter Puppet Pals version of himself, Sirius as the Puppet Master, and Harry and Hermione bringing up the caboose.

And now the song is stuck in my head. Whoops.

Snape…Snape…Severus Snape.

Sirius really does ask Harry to live with him and for one brief, shining moment, this is the best end to a book ever. They turn in Peter Pettigrew, who then reveals the location of Voldemort! Lupin stays on as the world’s best DADA professor! Sirius and Harry have lots of grand adventures traipsing around London! And they all lived happily ever after!

Hahahahaha, NOPE. All hell breaks loose because Lupin turns into a werewolf. This chapter is a lot of stuff happening all at once. To recap…

-Lupin = werewolf city.

-Sirius takes his dog form to control Lupin.

-Pettigrew turns into his rat form and takes off into the night. Would it have been asking too much to put him in a magical cage or something beforehand, guys?

-Ron is lying on the cold, hard ground.

-Snape is just chilling there, mid-air.

-Harry and Hermione are all, “Uh, we didn’t sign up for this when we found out about this magic jazz.” (Not that I think they’d trade it for anything.)

Then the Dementors arrive. I’ve always appreciated the idea that the Dementors are symbolic of depression. The soul-suckingness is combined with the complete sense of helplessness. The way that Jo writes about it is so personal and real. In an interview with Oprah, she said, “It’s so difficult to describe [depression] to someone who’s never been there, because it’s not sadness. I know sadness. Sadness is to cry and to feel. But it’s that cold absence of feeling—that really hollowed-out feeling. That’s what Dementors are.”

Even Harry’s best efforts, combined with the strength of Hermione’s, aren’t enough to fend off the swarms of Dementors, hungry for a kiss. Only a distant figure, who seems strikingly familiar, is able to send them away with a remarkably powerful Patronus.

Stray Thoughts:

  • The Snape/Hermione relationship is fascinating to me. I get why he can’t stand Harry, but he also really doesn’t like Hermione and he makes no effort to hide his feelings.
  • The idea of Ron putting his weight on his leg “gingerly” cracks me up every time. ‘Cause he’s a ginger.
  • Sirius smiling makes me SO happy. That could make for a plausible Patronus for myself.
  • Jo works a lot in these chapters with ellipses and capslock in order to achieve the proper sense of suspense and intensity in her writing. I love it.
  • When I first read the series, only the first three books had been published. By the time I finished Prisoner of Azkaban, I was devoted to Harry Potter with all of my heart and soul.
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37 thoughts on “The Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapters 19-20: The Strange Case of Sirius Black

  1. Dan says:

    What was that first part? Like, whoa! I am gobsmacked right now.

    I’d be willing to bet that Snape’s hatred of Hermione comes from the fact that, like Harry reminds him of James, Hermione reminds Snape of Lily. She’s an extremely good witch who also happens to be Muggle-born…sound like anyone Snape would know? Add to that the fact that she’s always hanging around with James’ son, I can see where Snape’s animosity might come from.

  2. Kevin O'Shea says:

    Now I want a noir crime novel set in the Wizarding World.

  3. Ashley says:

    “When I first read the series, only the first three books had been published. By the time I finished Prisoner of Azkaban, I was devoted to Harry Potter with all of my heart and soul.”


    It was 2 AM when I finished and I just wanted to run around my house screaming, but I didn’t because it would have woken my family.

    P.S. Gretchen, that first part was amazing. And this probably wasn’t your intention, but I kept being like, OMG is she writing a Cormoran Strike/Harry Potter crossover fic? And now I really want one.

    Also . . . I can’t figure out who the character is. Is it Dumbledore? I feel really dumb right now.

    • Gretchen Alice says:

      The client is the reader (so it was ostensibly from my POV, although it could be anybody) and the detective is JKR.
      True story: I was *this close* to writing it with Strike as the detective. Ultimately, though, I couldn’t pass up the idea of having a noir conversation with JK Rowling. 🙂

    • Jen says:

      Me too! Me too! This was my favorite of the first three (all of which I read together right before the fourth came out) and I think it’s probably still in my top 2. It was the first time that the HP books not only surprised me but really made me feel something. I was hooked.

  4. Well, there is no evidence that Lily was as devoted to schoolwork as Hermione. We only know that she’s smart.


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