Chapter 4 of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: The Leaky Cauldron
Harry's time in Diagon Alley is his own; he browses the many shops, admires the new Firebolt broom at Quality Quidditch Supplies, and spends the afternoons working on his homework, with free sundaes, at Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour. While buying school supplies, Harry is surprised that the book Hagrid gave him for his birthday, The Monster Book of Monsters, is displayed in Flourish & Blotts. Checking his booklist, he sees it is required for his Care of Magical Creatures class, which is a relief to Harry who was worried Hagrid wanted help with some new "pet". His already owning a copy is also a relief to the Flourish & Blotts clerk, as it is difficult to extract the aggressive tomes from their cage. While looking for his Divination text, Harry sees Death Omens: What To Do When You Know The Worst Is Coming. Something similar to the large black dog he saw when the Knight Bus stopped for him is on the book's cover. Harry is not entirely successful in convincing himself that it is not a death omen.
Many Hogwarts students are appearing in Diagon Alley, including Dean Thomas, Seamus Finnigan, and the real Neville Longbottom. Ron and Hermione finally arrive the day before school starts. Ron has a new wand, while Hermione has three bags of books. She wants to buy an owl, while Ron is going to have the sickly Scabbers looked at, so they troop into the nearby Magical Menagerie pet store. When a large cat named Crookshanks tries to attack Scabbers, Hermione buys it, and also the rat tonic recommended by the clerk for Scabbers.
At the Leaky Cauldron they meet Mr. Weasley. He mentions that Sirius Black is still at large, and the Ministry is putting all its efforts into capturing him. The other Weasleys sweep in: Mrs. Weasley, Percy, who is now Hogwarts Head Boy and even more pompous than the previous year, if that is possible, the Twins, Fred and George, who try to take Percy down a notch by imitating his affected mannerisms, and Ginny. The Weasleys, Harry, and Hermione dine in a private salon at the Leaky Cauldron. Mr. Weasley says the Ministry is providing cars to the train station.
Ron has misplaced Scabbers' Rat Tonic, and Harry volunteers to look for it in the salon as Ron has been pressed into helping Percy look for his Head Boy badge. On the way, Harry overhears Mr. and Mrs. Weasley arguing about what Harry should be told about Sirius Black. The Ministry believes Black escaped Azkaban expressly to find and kill Harry to avenge the Dark Lord. Dementors, guards from Azkaban, have been placed around Hogwarts to protect Harry.
Surprisingly, Harry is unconcerned and believes Black will not be any harder to deal with than Voldemort. The Dementors are more worrisome, however, as it appears he will have to somehow slip past them to get into Hogsmeade village. Carrying Ron's Rat Tonic, Harry finds Fred and George outside the room Ron shares with Percy, and sees that they have changed Percy's Head Boy badge to read Bighead Boy.
Three important plot elements unfold in this chapter. Most significant is that Sirius Black's escape from Azkaban prison is somehow connected to Harry. Understanding Fudge as a politician, we readers can now understand why Fudge so quickly dismissed the incident involving Aunt Marge, and also surmise that Harry is probably being closely guarded by Ministry wizards during his time in Diagon Alley. Secondly, and in Harry's mind most important, is Harry's intent to somehow attend the Hogsmeade school outings, despite lacking custodial permission. Finally, there is the ongoing battle between Crookshanks and Scabbers, a situation that likely will continue to escalate, straining Ron and Hermione's friendship, possibly permanently estranging them. We have seen already that Crookshanks will attack Scabbers while ignoring the nearby caged rats, so it is likely this specific antipathy will continue. Just why Crookshanks seems fixated on Scabbers is puzzling.
The reader should note the comment by the Magical Menagerie clerk about the age of Ron's rat, and the usual life expectancy of rats. It may also be worth noting that Crookshanks' attack on Scabbers is timed to prevent Ron from investigating this matter further. The reader should also note that Ron believes Scabbers is "looking poorly" before they visit the Magical Menagerie.
The canine image that Harry first saw in Privet Lane now seems to be becoming a pattern, with the appearance of a similar image on the book cover. We don't yet know whether this will prove a plot point, but we can see that Harry is beginning to believe that they may actually may have some significant hidden meaning. Harry of course suspects that he may be seeing death omens, but it is safe to assume this unlikely given that this is only the third book of a seven-book series. However, what the significance is, we have yet to find out.
Harry also learns about Dementors, Azkaban Prison's strange, eerie guards, though he is unsure exactly what they are. We find that, despite the worrisome death omens he is seeing, these concern him more than the possibility that Sirius Black may be hunting him. Harry's nonchalance about a more tangible danger is puzzling and unwise, though he may be rationalizing to himself that any threat other than Voldemort, who he has already faced twice, is simply less perilous.
And though Harry is left on his own for the first time, we can guess that Ministry officials are remotely monitoring him until his return to Hogwarts. We can guess that they do not show themselves to him to prevent his wondering about the threat presented by Sirius Black, and suspect that the injunction to remain in Diagon Alley is to avoid having his monitors reveal themselves by their inept aping of Muggle ways. Until his return to Hogwarts, Harry is unencumbered by apparent adult supervision, restrictions, or interpretations. Harry's time is spent exploring and observing the hidden Wizarding realm, which he clearly prefers to the parallel Muggle world only a few steps away.
Harry's character is further illuminated when he goes to Gringotts Bank to get money for school supplies. Rather than withdrawing a huge sum and frivolously buying whatever he wants, including the Firebolt broom he so admires, he carefully considers just how much he needs to cover his necessary school and living expenses. This level of maturity and restraint is rarely seen in someone so young, and it reflects Harry's balanced personality in general.
After being reunited with Ron and Hermione in Diagon Alley, Harry happily rejoins the Weasley family chaos as the children prepare to return to Hogwarts. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley warmly greet him, as do Ron and Ginny. Fred and George, meanwhile, seem even more irreverent, and, propelled by Fred's more dominant personality, are likely planning new mischief for Hogwarts. Percy, now Hogwarts Head Boy, is being insufferably pompous, and, having somewhat distanced himself from his younger siblings, becomes an irresistible target for the Twins' pranks. All these familial interactions provide Harry with rare doses of the happy, cozy family life he so sorely craves.
- Why is Harry seemingly unconcerned when he learns that Sirius Black is looking for him?
- Why does Harry believe he is seeing Death Omens? What are they, and where specifically has he seen them?
- Why does Hermione buy so many books?
- Why is Scabbers looking so sickly?
- Why would such a "dangerous" book be assigned for the "Care of Magical Creatures" class? Who might have assigned it?
- Why was Harry actually relieved to see that the "Monster" book was on the school list?
- Why would Sirius Black be looking for Harry?
- Fred and George have bewitched Percy's prefect badge. Is their replacement caption valid or is this just a mean-spirited prank on their part? How long before Percy is likely to notice?
- What might account for Percy's changed behavior?
- Why does Hermione decide to buy a cat rather than an owl, especially one that tries to attack Ron's pet rat?
- Why would Hermione's new cat, Crookshanks, only want to attack Scabbers, and not any other animal? How does Ron feel about that?
- As Harry spends time alone in Diagon Alley, what comparisons and contrasts might he make between the Muggle and Wizarding realms?
- If Harry is so convinced he is seeing death omens, why does he fail to tie that to Sirius Black, who is supposedly hunting him?
- Why do Mr. and Mrs. Weasley disagree about what Harry should be told regarding Sirius Black? Who is right, and just how much should Harry be told about this?
As Voldemort openly returns to power later in the series, we learn that Florean Fortescue has apparently been captured. One has to wonder why the Death Eaters would attack a harmless ice cream merchant, though his knowledge about medieval Wizardry, as evidenced when he helps Harry with his homework, could be a factor. Also, Fortescue may be related to Dexter Fortescue, a former Hogwarts Head Master whose portrait hangs in Dumbledore's office; one supposes that this connection could also have some bearing on Florean's later disappearance. Alternately, Florean's disappearance could be intended to highlight the random violence and disappearances that occur under the tyranny of Voldemort and his minions. This is left unexplained, however.
Harry's relief that Hagrid's gift is a required textbook for the Care of Magical Creatures course, rather than something to aid Hagrid with a potentially ferocious new pet, will be short-lived when he learns that Hagrid is that class' new teacher. Whatever fear Harry may have had about Hagrid having a new "pet" will likely be magnified many times over when he realizes the curriculum will probably include dangerous magical animals.
The conflict between Scabbers and Crookshanks comes to a head with Scabbers' disappearance and apparent death around April. This results in an extended estrangement between Ron and Hermione. This will be particularly upsetting for Hermione, who had just reconciled with both Harry and Ron following an unfortunate falling out she had with the two boys. When Scabbers reappears in June, we discover that Crookshanks' distrusting him is wholly justified, so much so that before accepting a new pet, Ron asks for, and receives, Crookshanks' approval. It should be noted that Crookshanks is something other than an ordinary cat: in an interview, the author has said that he is a cat / kneazle cross-breed, and thus much more intelligent than the average domestic feline.
As mentioned in the Analysis section, the Magical Menagerie's clerk mentions that Ron's rat is superannuated. Scabbers has been Ron's for at least two years at this point, and was in the family long before that. We can guess, from events at the end of this book, that Scabbers will have joined the Weasley family some eleven years before this story, and this is significantly longer than the normal lifespan for rats, as the clerk points out. We are not given time to explore this discrepancy, as Crookshanks' attack on Scabbers is timed to occur as Ron is working out the number of years Scabbers has been alive. In the aftermath of the attack, finding Scabbers and dealing with the fallout from that event is given more weight, and the matter of Scabbers' abnormally long life is forgotten, by Ron as well as by the reader. The student of literature will note that the author uses this form of indirection throughout the series when introducing key facts that she does not want the reader to notice.
Also noted in the Analysis section is Ron's comment that Scabbers is looking poorly. Ron will later attribute Scabbers' decline to Crookshanks' depredations, but Harry will recall that Ron had said in this chapter that Scabbers' looking poorly will have started during the trip to Egypt. We will later find out that Scabbers looking poorly is due to his having heard of Sirius' escape from Azkaban, an escape that was triggered by Sirius spotting Scabbers in the picture of the Weasley family that had appeared in the Daily Prophet. This will be the same picture that Ron had earlier sent in the letter that accompanied his birthday gift to Harry.
Near the story's end, we learn that Sirius never intended to kill Harry. It is actually someone else at Hogwarts that Sirius is seeking revenge against. However, this mistaken assumption that Harry is the target, and the associated beliefs concerning why Sirius was incarcerated, helps drive the story.
The Firebolt broom seen in Diagon Alley becomes a plot point, starting at about Christmas, and it results in Harry and Ron being estranged from Hermione. She is immediately suspicious about who sent Harry the broom as an anonymous gift, and, fearing it may be cursed, reports it to Professor McGonagall, who confiscates it for examination.
An interesting point one might note is that, up to now, the term "Azkaban Guards" is used, but after this chapter, it is never used again, with "Dementors" replacing it. The author may have wanted to keep the creatures' true identity hidden to give the illusion that the Azkaban guards might be humans. From a story-telling point-of-view, however, it does not quite make sense as to why everyone suddenly drops the term "Azkaban Guards" after Harry finally learns what they are.