Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Ch. 1-3: Mistresses Margery and Dolores’s Institute for Badly Trained Bulldogs and Children To Be Punished

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This week we discuss: things Harry Potter is or is not; why flatworms are flat; revisionist witch burnings and whether or not Wendelin the Weird was actually helping; poverty-shaming the Weasleys; that OTHER Valley of the Kings; Hagrid’s biting book; Harry repeatedly misses the obvious; Aunt Marge and The Bachelorette go Nazi; why white people don’t get to use the N-word; man buns are proof of vicious character; authoritarian parenting; coded gay tropes; Dickensian lesbian slashfic; dog breeding and eugenics; Uncle Vernon totally knows better; personal responsibility can keep you from catching compassion OR the gay germ; we finally understand why Marge is so horrid; cathartic Harry anger; teen slippery slopes; working-class Stan Shunpike; the Daily Prophet solves the gun debate; why the NRA is pointedly ignoring Philando Castile’s terrible fate; dreams of backstory; how is the Trace supposed to work again?; and THIS ONE QUESTION IS WHY NO ONE EVER GETS EXPELLED.

Welcome back to Advanced Muggle Studies! We have finally finished Chamber of Secrets.

C: Praise Jesus.

S: Praise the Weasel of God, ma’am.

C: Oh, sorry. Praise myself.

S: As we go through these books I’m starting to feel that, with all the heretical inside jokes and all our discussion, by the time we get to Book 7 our own personal philosophy and theology will be so warped.

C: We should be writing our own wiki as we go.

S: The Seraphine and Creed wiki so you can understand what we’re talking about?

C: Yes, like, “What is the origin of the Weasel of God?” “When did you talk about broom humping?”

S: That’s not a bad idea. It is us. Happily, today, we are beginning Prisoner of Azkaban!

C: Yay!

S: It’s a great book. In our cycle so far, we’ve done the Epic Book, then the Voldemort/Malfoy book, and now we’re on to the Family History book. Have you ever met someone who didn’t like Prisoner of Azkaban?

C: I don’t really go around and ask people their opinions of Harry Potter.

S: How do you make friends, then?

C: You are fundamentally misreading my character if you think that I want to make friends.

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Professor Creed, at work AND at home

S: Excellent point.

Chapter 1: Owl Post

S: I have to say as I was reading that I appreciated how J.K. Rowling got better at weaving in the exposition without stopping the narrative for a full fact dump.

C: It was better, yeah.

S: I noticed a pattern she started introducing – as the books progress you don’t always start with Harry’s perspective, as we don’t in 4, 6 or 7. But I always remember when you get back to Harry’s perspective, it’s always “Harry Potter was ____.” In this one, it’s “Harry Potter was a highly unusual boy in many ways.” In Book 7, it’s “Harry Potter was bleeding.” I like how we start it off by declaring what Harry is or was doing.

But he is unusual. He really wants to do his homework so bad! I can’t blame him. His homework is really interesting – way more interesting than any homework I got to do.

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We’re going to both ignore the egregious misuse of magic outside of Hogwarts AND the blatant 13-year-old boy masturbation visual metaphor

C: We had to read interesting books and write essays over the summer.

S: We did. I just deeply regret that none of my essays had assignment questions like, “Witch burning in the 14th century was completely pointless: Discuss.” Why couldn’t I have had those things? That’s the best.

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DO TELL ME MORE

C: To be fair, I feel like these were questions we had in our Bio 2 AP class.

S: Where we made up answers, like “That’s classified information and if I told you I’d have to kill you.”

C: That class was amazing.

S: Listeners, you have to understand – there were all these review questions, which were fine, not easy by any means.

C: This was an AP class, so we were using a college textbook.

S: Those questions were tough and took a while to finish. But after those, there would always be two or three thought questions which were much deeper. You couldn’t find the answers in the chapter because they were pushing you to apply theory and principle, to extrapolate your answer from that. But the only question I remember of the thought questions was, “Why are flatworms flat?”

C: Oh god. Do you remember what you said?

S: I think you answered that one. If I recall correctly, since we worked together, I think you wrote “Because God made it that way, that’s why.”

C: That sounds like me.

S: I still remember us looking at each other and saying, what? And now of course I understand they wanted you to talk about adaptation to environment, and why a flatworm would eventually develop this way. But at the time it was just, “What do you mean, why are they flat? They’re called flat worms!”

C: Because another insect had a tiny steam roller and rolled over them all.

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Maybe this dude cut the flat worms down to size!

S: That would have been a great answer. Our teacher would have loved it. I like to think that every so often he wakes up at night, terrified, after dreaming that we’ve returned to his class to harass him with terrible answers.

Well, Harry is working on History of Magic, which we know to be a boring class when Professor Binns is teaching it, but judging by the textbook, it’s fascinating. Bathilda Bagshot, historian, has written this large leather-bound book, which clearly came off a shelf of mahogany.

C: If I remember correctly, she never locks her door.

S: And she keeps all the ingredients for any potion you might need in her basement.

C: Damn that play.

S: Harry is trying to write about why witch burning was pointless. I loved this so much. I feel like this is one of those little jokes that J.K. Rowling giggled about endlessly to herself, and no one else ever fully appreciated why she found it so funny.

It’s such a delightful bit of revisionist history. Look back at the horrific things people have done to each other through history, all in the name of catching witches, and then there’s this notion that the witches were like, “Oh yes, I’m being burned! Oh! The pain!”

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Non-magic people (more commonly known as Muggles) were particularly afraid of magic in medieval times, but not very good at recognizing it. On the rare occasion that they did catch a real witch or wizard, burning had no effect whatsoever. The witch or wizard would perform a basic Flame-Freezing Charm and then pretend to shriek with pain while enjoying a gentle, tickling sensation. Indeed, Wendelin the Weird enjoyed being burned so much that she allowed herself to be caught no less than forty-seven times in various disguises.

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C: How did they fake their burned corpses?

S: I wondered about that. The only thing I could think was that maybe after they stopped shrieking, the villagers wandered off, and when they came back they found a burned-out fire and pile of ashes, and they thought, okay. It’s the 14th century, I guess we’re not being that scientific.

C: Nobody knew how hot it needed to be to burn the bones.

S: Maybe. And maybe because they were witches, if the body was gone afterward, maybe it was God stepping in to remove the evil from their midst. Who knows?

C: So Wendelin the Weird and all these witches just helped to perpetuate the burning of actual people? Inadvertently?

S: That is a terrible, intelligent, just, harshing-my-sparkle way of looking at this. Yes, fine. They perpetuated witch burnings. Although if you wanted to be more optimistic and way more revisionist, you could say witches like Wendelin who allowed herself to be caught in disguises – better that they burn her than someone who was not magical at all but was accused.

But also, Wendelin the Weird was having herself a good ol’ time. This gentle tickling sensation? She went back 47 times. Wendelin was having some fun.

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C: You do you, Wendy.

S: She was! I love the mental image of this woman, all cheerful and whistling, saying to herself, “What disguise shall I use today?”

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Little known fact: Dean Craig Pelton is a direct descendent of Wendelin the Weird

So, Harry is hiding under his bedsheets trying to write his essay. We get a little exposition – a reminder that the Dursleys have a medieval attitude toward magic. Appropriate descriptor is appropriate. We learn that they lock his stuff away over the summer, which is challenging given his homework. Including a lovely essay about Shrinking Potions from Snape.

C: That’s what you use to cure Petrificus Totalus’ing your penis!

S: Or at the very least, the Engorgio that Albus and Scorpius were experimenting with in Myrtle’s bathroom. You know?

In the first week of the holidays, when the family has gone to the front garden to admire the new company car, Harry was very smart, learned at thing or two from the Weasleys, snuck downstairs, picked the lock, got his books and hid them in his room. Way to be smart!

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He wants to stay out of trouble, though, because he got a phone call from Ron one week into vacation. The best telephone call that has ever been recorded in the history of mankind. Harry could hear Ron across the room as he bellowed at Uncle Vernon.

C: WHO IS THIS? WHO ARE YOU!

S: And Uncle Vernon doesn’t just respond, he holds the phone a foot from his ear and stares at it, shouting. It’s amazing.

“THERE IS NO HARRY POTTER HERE!” he roared, now holding the receiver at arm’s length, as though frightened it might explode. “I DON’T KNOW WHAT SCHOOL YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT! NEVER CONTACT ME AGAIN! DON’T YOU COME NEAR MY FAMILY!” 

Clearly Ron realized he’d gotten Harry in trouble, so he didn’t call back. Hermione hasn’t called either, which is probably because Ron warned her not to. Which sucks, because she should have called first. She knows how to use a fellytone.

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It’s been 5 weeks, no word from friends. But he has been allowed to let Hedwig out at night, so no terrible poo situation like last book.

And he realizes it’s his birthday! He’s just turned 13. But of course, no one ever remembers it. We get a little exposition, a couple of paragraphs that remind us that Voldemort is very much the Big Bad. Oh, look – it’s owls flying into Harry’s room!

C: My favorite owl of the series – Errol!

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S: Yes, who is being held up by 2 other owls because he’s unconscious.

C: Poor Errol.

They landed with a soft flump on Harry’s bed, and the middle owl, which was large and gray, keeled right over and lay motionless. 

Harry unties the cord around the bird’s leg.

Errol opened one bleary eye, gave a feeble hoot of thanks, and began to gulp some water. 

C: Poor Errol needs to retire.

S: Fred and George better buy the family a new owl when they get money. The reason Hedwig, Errol and this third owl have made this trek is – Harry has presents! Ron has sent Errol with Harry’s first-ever birthday card!

It’s so sweet. I know they bang this drum a lot – the cliché of the poor orphan Harry – but when you read it in the book, it’s so sweet that Harry is flummoxed at receiving a birthday card, that he can’t believe anyone would send him one. Not just a card, but a clipping from the Daily Prophet, in which we find out that the Weasleys won some money! The Daily Prophet Grand Prize Galleon Draw!

C: Woot!

S: They decided to go on vacation, so they took the money and went on summer holiday to Egypt to visit Bill.

C: If this was real life, people would complain about that.

S: You know people probably already do, right? You know there are a few people who have read this and thought, “That’s nice, but they should have spent that money on necessities and not wasted it on a holiday!”

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WTF DID I SAY I SHOULD GET AN E IN DIVINATION

To which I reply: Number one, research has shown that children who grow up in families that expose them to travel, new experiences, different cultures, etc. do much better academically and personally.

And number two, go fuck yourself for being a miser with someone else’s imaginary money. Stop with this whole “poor people can’t be poor unless they’re miserable, and I decide now miserable they have to be in order to qualify as poor and deserving of my help, but they better still be miserable once they have my help.”

C: It’s called compassionate conservatism.

S: I think at this point it’s just called conservatism. The compassion went out the door a long time ago.

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C: But, see, they’re doing this for our own good.

S: That’s so annoying. “Do I give money to this person? I don’t know, they don’t look poor enough!”

C: Much as our Lord Jesus Christ refused to feed people with loaves and fishes – oh wait, that’s not how that goes!

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S: Much as our Lord stationed apostles at the entrance, and as people filed in, they requested an accounting of their yearly income before being seated! Yes, that’s not how that goes.

It is awesome that they get to take a vacation. They get to get away, make awesome family memories, visit Bill, and have a blast. Ron has sent Harry a clipping from the Daily Prophet –a photo of the family standing in front of a pyramid, waving at him.

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I remember the first time I read this thinking that this was a lovely, unnecessary detail, and of course in true Rowling fashion it ends up being vital later on because she is better than me.

Meanwhile Ron has sent an apology for the phone call.

Look, I’m really sorry about that telephone call. I hope the Muggles didn’t give you a hard time. I asked Dad, and he reckons I shouldn’t have shouted.

I reckon that too, Ron.

Apparently, Bill took them to all these tombs that had been cursed.

Mum wouldn’t let Ginny come in the last one. There were all these mutant skeletons in there, of Muggles who’d broken in and grown extra heads and stuff. 

What tomb is this??

C: That’s a good question.

S: I don’t believe this is the run-of-the-mill Valley of the Kings.

C: Maybe it’s like Grimmauld Place, where you can’t see it unless you know the password.

S: I think it must be, or similar to the Leaky Cauldron, where Harry has gotten the distinct impression that Muggles can’t see it. I guess if you do the Valley of the Kings you can tour the tombs, and then access others as a wizard that others can’t.

C: because all the times Muggles went in they grew extra heads! So, they eventually had to keep them out altogether.

S: It is unfortunate. Mutant skeletons are not a positive outcome for tourism.

C: it is not going to help that much at all.

S: And on the upside, they are going to get Ron a new wand for next year.

C: So it won’t start randomly whistling!

S: Or blowing purple bubbles or making people lose their memories. Thank goodness. And they’re going up to London. And Ron ends with the line that is the rallying cry for my life:

“Don’t let the Muggles get you down!”

C: You should get a tattoo.

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S: I should. Or I could also tattoo myself with the immortal words in Ron’s P.S. “Percy’s Head Boy. He got the letter last week.” It’s very important news.

C: We all knew it was coming.

S: Percy is in year 7, looking terribly smug, and put his Head Boy badge on his fez during the vacation. Gotta impress those Egyptian mummies somehow.

C: The more people who know, the better.

S: Ron has sent Harry a pocket Sneakoscope, so if there’s someone untrustworthy about it’s supposed to light up and spin.

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Bill says it’s rubbish sold for wizard tourists and isn’t reliable, because it kept lighting up at dinner last night. But he didn’t realize Fred and George had put beetles in his soup.

C: And what I realized as I re-read this, it was probably lighting up not just because of the beetles, but because Scabbers was there.

S: Exactly! Brilliant. Harry also gets a package from Hermione – a card, package, and letter. Hermione went on vacation to France, and has written a characteristically verbose letter, describing her concerns that they might open his package at customs, and how she bought his present, and how she’s getting the Daily Prophet delivered, and did Harry hear about Ron’s family? “I’m so jealous, you know what he’s learning, also I’m learning a bunch of things I put in my essay!” This is so Hermione.

C: I love her.

S: She’s so happy about what she’s learned about French magical history. And of course, they’re all planning to meet up in Diagon Alley. And I love that her P.S. is about the same thing Ron’s is, just a slightly different take.

P.S. Ron says Percy’s Head Boy. I’ll bet Percy’s really pleased. Ron doesn’t seem too happy about it. 

C: Understatement, Hermione.

S: And in true awesome Hermione fashion, she got Harry a present she knew he would like: a Broomstick Servicing Kit, with handle polish and tail twig clippers and a tiny compass, and a book of Do-It-Yourself Broom care. Of course, there was a book there, you know she had to work it in somehow.

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The last package is from Hagrid. When Harry opens it, something green and leathery begins to snap its jaws at him. He has to arm himself with the bedside lamp before unwrapping it – which of course, turns out to be a book.

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C: I love The Monster Book of Monsters. I would hate to have it, but I love it.

S: I love the description:

Harry just had time to register its handsome green cover, emblazoned with the golden title The Monster Book of Monsters, before it flipped onto its edge and scuttled sideways along the bed like some weird crab.

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C: Pretty perfect.

S: The book is alive, it falls off the bed, shuffles across the room, and hides under his desk.

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Harry ends up having to tackle it and buckle a belt around it to keep it from snapping. Hagrid’s note is less than helpful.

Think you might find this useful for next year. Won’t say no more here. Tell you when I see you.

Yes, it struck Harry as ominous that a biting book would come in useful. It should.

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Another instance where we see the use of books to indicate character. I like that Hagrid is not left out of the class of those who gives books, and of course it’s a biting, dangerous book. It’s the perfect essence of Hagrid’s character. It’s dangerous and you have to fight it to get it to behave, but if you know the one trick to dealing with it it’s perfectly fine. It’s just like every beast that Hagrid loves himself.

Then he has his Hogwarts letter, which includes a notice that third-years can visit Hogsmeade on select weekends, if he gets his permission form signed.

C: I love the idea that after 3 years at Hogwarts, Harry has no clue that third years and up have been doing this every weekend.

S: Yes, I love that he never thought to mention this detail. I also find it fascinating that it doesn’t occur to Harry to simply forge Vernon’s signature.

C: No one will know the difference. Just make it up.

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Come on, Harry. There’s no way 13-year-old you didn’t see the obvious answer

S: I realize we’re trying to teach honesty, and it wouldn’t be right to have our hero forge his guardian’s signature on a form – not a good example for the children — but let’s be real here, who among us has not forged a parents’ signature on a permission form at one point or another?

C: I’m trying to think. I feel like I have, but I don’t think it was for a permission slip.

S: I think for me it was when we were supposed to return school nurse forms, progress reports, stuff like that signed, and I’d realize I’d forgotten to take it out of my backpack, so I’d just scribble my parent’s signature on it because I knew they would have signed it anyway.

Now Harry is thinking about how he’ll persuade them to sign. But it’s 2 a.m., and he’ll think about that tomorrow. And we have a nice sweet ending:

Extremely unusual though he was, at that moment Harry Potter felt just like everyone else — glad, for the first time in his life, that it was his birthday.

C: AWWWWWWW.

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Chapter 2: Aunt Marge’s Big Mistake

C: Aunt Marge is freaking awful. Aunt Marge in real life would be a Nazi.

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S: There was a funny article on The Awl that looked at all the dudes on The Bachelorette, asking, “Would this person go Nazi?” Depending on their personalities and tendencies. It was goofy, but also, hmmmm. Ever since, I’ve been wondering about people. And Aunt Marge would go full-on, let me manage my own work camp Nazi. She would be the happiest Nazi in the regime.

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Second only, perhaps, to the devastatingly charming Colonel Hans Landa

C: As far as The Bachelorette goes, this is the first time on either show that they’ve had a person of color be the Bachelor or Bachelorette. They have a lot of men of color on the show this year, but they also have a bunch of white dudes, because you can’t have a show that’s predominantly black, gotta throw in some white dudes. And to be fair you should be open minded about dating whoever, in my opinion. But people have gone back and looked at old social media stuff from some of the guys, and I know that at least one has published some, let’s be generous and say “racially insensitive” stuff in the past.

S: I wonder if it’s the guy who, in the article, made a big douchey joke when introducing himself. He said something like, “I’ve never dated a black girl but I’ve heard them say that once you go black you never go back.” And he’s grinning like he’s the cleverest person to ever say something, and oooh, how edgy. You complete, utter douche.

C: I don’t have the words. Just ugh.

S: Yeah, let’s degrade, fetishize and objectify all at once!

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C: What is it about white people that find stuff like that so hilarious? Oh, we enslaved you for years and have discriminated against you, but isn’t it all such a fucking funny joke now? We’re post-racial, we can all joke about it. No, we fucking can’t.

S: What I have found and come to terms with is that it’s about them being the ones allowed to set the terms of what is funny, and where the jokes are. Number one, laughing and joking after the fact lets them feel like they’re off the hook, no harm done. But white people REALLY do not like when other people set the standards for what is or isn’t funny or appropriate when it comes to race – the N word being the perfect example of that. You’ve got a whole bunch of white people pitching shitfits over the fact that anyone dares to tell them they shouldn’t use that word, while meanwhile that word has a place in black culture, because they’ve earned the right to use it as they see fit.

The incredible tantrum white people pitch over this! “HOW? WHY? YOU CAN’T TELL ME THAT!” No, you’re just pissed that you are not the end—all, be-all arbiter of social standards when it comes to race. Because if you’re not the one who gets to say what’s okay, then you aren’t in charge any more, are you? And that’s what it’s all about.

C: Hello, fellow white people? As a white person, I would like to decree that you don’t get to say the N word.

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Professor Creed, please demonstrate

S: I had to have a whole conversation with my students about it once. This one kid wasn’t white, but he just couldn’t wrap his head around it. “If they get to use it, why can’t we?” I explained about differing power dynamics, which made sense to most people, but he wouldn’t let it go, so finally I said, look, dude – it’s not your word. It’s a word that was used as a weapon for generations, and now they’ve decided to take the word away from us now and say we can’t beat them with it anymore.

So, have you earned the right to use it? No. It’s not yours. Don’t use it.

C: The only way I can think of to explain this to people – and of course, if they don’t want to get it they won’t get it – is if you’re upset with someone in your family and you bitch about them, you can. However, if you come across someone else bitching about your family, you step up and slap the shit out of them. You can say things about people in your family that you will not take from people on the outside.

S: And that doesn’t even begin to account for the loaded power dynamics at play with that word. So, no. For the record to everyone listening, just NO. How did we get here?

C: It was because Aunt Marge would be a Nazi, and there are so many examples of that through this chapter.

S: Okay, let’s look at how Aunt Marge would be a Nazi. because she already pretty much is. Harry has gone down to find everyone watching Dudley’s welcome home for summer TV.

Dudley had spent most of the summer in the kitchen, his piggy little eyes fixed on the screen and his five chins wobbling as he ate continually.

Was there ever a more depressing sentence written?

C: It’s pretty bad.

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S: Harry is downstairs getting toast, and he sees a report about a convict.

“The public is warned that Black is armed and extremely dangerous.”

Of course, Uncle Vernon knows immediately that this man is no good, because he has bad hair.

C: Oh, well. Think of how many hipsters are no good because of man buns.

S: That goes without saying, doesn’t it?

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Although, exceptions can always be made

Of course, we don’t know where he escaped from, and Uncle Vernon’s response:

When will they learn,” said Uncle Vernon, pounding the table with his large purple fist, “that hanging’s the only way to deal with these people?” 

C: Feel free to move to another country where they do things like that.

S: I think we’ve mentioned it before – I thinkresearch recently has shown that you can predict right or left-wing leanings depending on your parents (although there’s some fascinating discussion about the role brain structure plays too). If you were raised in an authoritarian household, my way or the highway, corporal punishment, strict, unemotional atmosphere, you tend to be right wing, and if your parents were open, communicative, interested in expressing emotion, and nonjudgmental that you tend to be left wing. So, I think we know exactly what kind of parents Marge and Vernon had.

Aunt Marge coming leads Harry into a moment of terrible distress. Aunt Marge is Vernon’s sister, who Harry has been forced to call aunt. Marge lives in the country where she breeds bulldogs. She doesn’t like to leave her precious dogs, but when she comes, it’s a memorable visit.

At Dudley’s fifth birthday party, Aunt Marge had whacked Harry around the shins with her walking stick to stop him from beating Dudley at musical statues. A few years later, she had turned up for Christmas with a computerized robot for Dudley and a box of dog biscuits for Harry. On her last visit, the year before Harry started at Hogwarts, Harry had accidentally trodden on the tail of her favorite dog. Ripper had chased Harry out into the garden and up a tree, and Aunt Marge had refused to call him off until past midnight.

This woman is the worst. She’s already embracing the authoritarian power that comes from having an attack dog to sic on people.

C: What is the name of the character in Book 5? Hem hem?

S: Umbridge.

C: I feel that on the one hand she and Umbridge would both see this as some kind of horrible perversion, but –

S: We’re going with a lesbian slashfic here, aren’t we?

C: Yes. Umbridge and Marge would be amazingly horrible lesbian lovers in charge of an all-boys orphanage/boarding school in a Charles Dickens novel.

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S: Oh god, it’s scary. And I can see it! Umbridge all pink and fussy, and Marge with her outdoorsiness and bulldogs, and both love tormenting children and being generally awful to people – oh, it’s a match made in heaven. That’s headcanon now.

C: I’m glad you see it my way.

S: The minute you started to segue it clicked in my head, and I realized where you were going. It so works! J.K. Rowling, what hast thou wrought?

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Uncle Vernon is trying to blackmail Harry, saying, we need to get things straight, Aunt Marge is going to be here for a week. And I love that Harry is totally 13 now, and his sass has grown accordingly.

“Firstly,” growled Uncle Vernon, “you’ll keep a civil tongue in your head when you’re talking to Marge.” 

All right,” said Harry bitterly, “if she does when she’s talking to me.” 

They told Marge that Harry attends St. Brutus’s Secure Center for Incurably Criminal Boys. First off, is that really a thing? Did Uncle Vernon look that up in a phone book? Something that actually exists? because a place that’s named that – what in the world?

C: Let’s hope not.

S: Although this may be the school Umbridge and Marge eventually take over and make their own.

C: That’s very true! Lots of smacking with the Smelting stick would be going on.

S: The Smelting Stick and the torture quill. This is going downhill so fast. Charles Dickens wishes he had created characters this evil.

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THIS EXISTED I DIDN’T MAKE IT THERE IS HOPE FOR HUMANITY

So, Vernon goes to pick up Marge, and Harry has an idea. He follows Uncle Vernon to the door.

“I’m not taking you,” he snarled as he turned to see Harry watching him.

“Like I wanted to come,” said Harry coldly.” 

And this is a moment of beauty. I love seeing Harry grow into his natural manipulativeness. He’s going to try to get his permission slip signed.

“And why should I do that?” sneered Uncle Vernon. 

“Well,” said Harry, choosing his words carefully, “it’ll be hard work, pretending to Aunt Marge that I go to that St. Whatsits–“

“St. Brutus’s Secure Center for Incurably Criminal Boys!” bellowed Uncle Vernon, and Harry was pleased to hear a definite note of panic in Uncle Vernon’s voice. 

I love that Uncle Vernon is like, I’ll knock stuffing out of you! Harry:

“Knocking the stuffing out of me won’t make Aunt Marge forget what I could tell her,” he said grimly.

Beautifully done, Harry. So now he’s blackmailing Uncle Vernon. Uncle Vernon says, fine, if you behave I will sign your ruddy form.

C: Which I would not buy for a second, Harry.

S: Yeah. That’s a little trusting on his part, because Uncle Vernon would totally come up with a reason not to sign. But Harry decides to start acting like a Muggle, so he goes to his room and clears away his non-Muggly things, and tells Hedwig she’s got to clear out for a week. It’s a good thing he’s telling her to go with Errol, since we know Errol will collapse halfway there anyway, so it’s best to use a buddy system.

C: Poor Errol!

S: Harry is now feeling miserable, because his buddy is gone and Marge is here.

“Do something about your hair!” Aunt Petunia snapped as he reached the hall. 

Harry couldn’t see the point of trying to make his hair lie flat. Aunt Marge loved criticizing him, so the untidier he looked, the happier she would be.

C: Pretty on point, Harry.

S: And there’s Aunt Marge, the one true love of Dolores Umbridge.

She was very like Uncle Vernon: large, beefy, and purple-faced, she even had a mustache, though not as bushy as his. In one hand she held an enormous suitcase, and tucked under the other was an old and evil-tempered bulldog.

C: I love bulldogs.

S: I do too! How dare she make her bulldogs evil-tempered?

C: They usually aren’t!

S: They’re snuggly with their wrinkles. When I was a kid a family friend had two bulldogs named Luke and Leia.

Oh, Dudley.

Harry knew perfectly well that Dudley only put up with Aunt Marge’s hugs because he was well paid for it, and sure enough, when they broke apart, Dudley had a crisp twenty-pound note clutched in his fat fist.

Harry has got Dudley’s number.

C: You have a lot of relatives like this. Not ones that necessarily want to hug you, but just horrible ones.

S: I do! Fortunately, they’re – well, I was going to say they’re not quite that bad but that’s not true. I get this. This exchange with Dudley and the 20-pound note did make me think of that things parents make you do when you visit relatives, who want to hug and kiss you, and you’re a kid and you don’t want to because you don’t know this person very well – you know you’re related, but it’s like you offend them if you don’t, so you have to perform.

C: Once when I was very young at one of our family reunions I asked my mom: “Mom! Why are all these strange men being so nice to you?” She said, “Because they’re my brothers!”

S: That’s awesome! Aunt Marge and Aunt Petunia get along fine. There’s so much commentary here. I feel like at some point, J.K. has found it particularly galling when people are overly close with their dogs, letting them eat off their dishes and lick them in the faces.

C: I hate that.

S: I think Rowling must too, because it’s disgusting. Oh, Colonel Fubster manages her other dogs! So, either Aunt Marge has a little some-some on the side, or he’s a local man who she’s bullied into caring for her dogs when she’s gone.

C: My other headcanon of Aunt Marge, other than my favorite one which is her lesbian love affair, is that Agatha Christie book. It’s a Miss Marple mystery where one of the characters wears a string of pearls around her neck all the time to hide a scar where she had a goiter or something cut out, and you find out later that she had been a twin, and her twin had been very vivacious and popular, and then I think she had an accident and died. Then this woman stepped into her role and kept wearing the pearls to hide her identity. Everyone just assumed the other twin had died, and there’s a character in that book who is one of those very – how do I put it – energetic woman who tramps about the countryside with a walking stick, with a booming voice, and wears a lot of tweed, and I feel like that was mid-century code for, oh, she was gay.

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Funny, I used to think this about Miss Trunchbull from Matilda….played by the same actress as Marge, coincidentally

S: I think you’re probably right. Very outdoorsy. I feel like I sort of remember the book…

C: I can see the cover but I can’t think of it.

S: But the point is mid-century coded language for lesbianism, which is accurate. I think we’re getting signals about Aunt Marge. She loves picking on Harry, dropping hints about how he’d have gone straight to an orphanage if she’d been on her doorstep, and don’t smirk at me, and knock manners into you, and do they use a cane at St. Brutus’s? And apparently Harry saying he’s been beaten loads of times isn’t satisfactory because

“If you can speak of your beatings in that casual way, they clearly aren’t hitting you hard enough. Petunia, I’d write if I were you. Make it clear that you approve the use of extreme force in this boy’s case.”

Perhaps Uncle Vernon was worried that Harry might forget their bargain; in any case he changed the subject abruptly.

Aunt Marge, the whole time she’s here, wants Harry around so she can

boom out suggestions for his improvement. (…) She also kept throwing out dark hints about what made Harry such an unsatisfactory person.

Apparently, Harry is rotten on the inside, did you know?

C: This is where I started thinking, Nazi.

S: Especially when she starts going on about the rules of breeding dogs.

C: It’s like eugenics!

S: So clearly dog breeding tendencies are true of this subhuman child. Ugh, this woman. And the lovely line that makes the movie:

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“If there’s something wrong with the bitch, there’ll be something wrong with the pup–“

Which makes Harry unintentionally explode Aunt Marge’s glass in her hand.

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C: Which is completely justified.

S: And it’s a shame those shards didn’t do more damage. He knows it was his fault and knows he’s got to focus – we know, from the infamous pudding and Dobby, that he’ll get expelled if he does magic again. I like his method of getting through it.

Harry got through the next three days by forcing himself to think about his Handbook of Do-It-Yourself Broomcare whenever Aunt Marge started on him. This worked quite well, though it seemed to give him a glazed look, because Aunt Marge started voicing the opinion that he was mentally subnormal.

C: I’m surprised she hadn’t already voiced that opinion.

S: Which leads me to believe that he appears intelligent enough that she couldn’t make that case easily before.

And on the last fateful evening! They got all the way through dessert, it was good, and then Uncle Vernon brought out the spirits and they let her start drinking. She’d already had plenty of wine, and then she has brandy. She’s going on about Dudley being a “proper sized boy,” and she starts in on Harry and his

“This one’s got a mean, runty look about him. You get that with dogs. I had Colonel Fubster drown one last year. Ratty little thing it was. Weak. Underbred.”

This woman is a Nazi!

C: That’s so mean! He was just a sad little puppy that wanted some love!

S: I’ll take a bulldog puppy and love him, and feed him until he’s roly-poly!

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Roly poly bulldog puppies make everything better!!

C: Screw you, Aunt Marge.

S: Now she’s insulting his momma!

“Your sister was a bad egg. They turn up in the best families. Then she ran off with a wastrel and here’s the result right in front of us.”

It makes sense – she picks on Harry for an entire week, and he comes close to losing his cool but he keeps it together, but it’s when he starts in on his family that he can’t anymore. She starts going on about his parents – how his father didn’t work, as Uncle Vernon says.

“As I expected!’ said Aunt Marge, taking a huge swig of brandy and wiping her chin on her sleeve. “A no-account, good-for-nothing, lazy scrounger who –“

C: I find it interesting that Uncle Vernon half-looks at Harry out of the corner of his eye. Uncle Vernon knows it’s not a good idea to say that, but he does it anyway.

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Vernon Dursley side-eye

S: Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia are very tense here. I would grant you that – even Dudley has looked up from his pie to gape at his parents. Dudley is probably tense because, why are we talking about the Potters, we never do that? Aunt Petunia is very tense because they’re talking about her family. But I like to think that Uncle Vernon is tense because he knows this is a bad line to go down, and that Harry might do something Uncle Vernon doesn’t want him to do. Then Harry suddenly says, “He was not.”

 “MORE BRANDY!” yelled Uncle Vernon, who had gone very white. He emptied the bottle into Aunt Marge’s glass.

C: Because that’s going to help, Uncle Vernon. Get her drunker and ruder.

S: He’s trying to get Harry out of the room. But of course, Aunt Marge is like, no, no. Starts suggesting that they were drunkards and died in the crash because they were drunk, leaving Harry to be a burden on “honest, hard working people.” Oh, it’s nice to see the Republican Party in full form! “Lazy, good for nothing moochers burdening us wonderful, hard working people! And conveniently we’re not going to mention that red states are the most heavily on welfare.”

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Hey look, it’s the current administration’s agenda summed up in 4 words

C: And speaking of children being burdens, this is again on a real-world tangent, but that wonderful law passed by Texas saying that adoption agencies can decline to give children to qualified families just because they are, say, gay.

S: Well, it’s logical. It’s all about personal responsibility. We’re trying to create a society in which people are responsible for themselves. These foster children – it’s their own fault they’re in foster! We can’t let them be raised by compassionate people who want to house them but just happen to be gay. Much better to allow them to rely on taxpayers to fund them, and just leave them in a system for years. God forbid they end up with nice people who do things in bed we don’t approve of.

C: Far better for someone to be an ignored, ill-treated ward of the state for 18 years than it is to be loved by someone, because what if they caught the gay germ?

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DAMMIT TOOTHLESS I TOLD YOU TO GET YOUR GAY VACCINE

S: It is better! because if they’re unloved, treated badly, and stay in the state system for years, they’ll transition very easily into the prison system! It’s a natural fit.

C: And since we privatize our prisons, we’ll be making money, and that’s capitalism. And that’s America.

S: DAMN STRAIGHT. Making money off people who are the wrong color, orientation, religion, and whose faces we don’t like.

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“That’s how dad did it, that’s how America does it — and it’s worked out pretty well so far.”

I hope you like our political opinions right now, listeners, because today we’re full of them.

C: God, I feel so patriotic right now. There’s a baseball game on mute on my TV in the bottom of the fifth, and I can’t wait for the 7th inning stretch where we stand up, put our hands on our hearts, and sing “God Bless America.”

S: Hooray for performative patriotism. I know I’m a cynic, I’m sorry.

C: That makes two of us.

S: But fortunately, we can live in a fantasy world where we can dream of a world where someone, our dear president, for example, might one day swell up into a balloon and float away, because that is what happens to Aunt Marge. I want you to take this description and apply it to what I just said, and tell me it doesn’t give you an inexpressible sense of satisfaction.

Her great red face started to expand, her tiny eyes bulged, and her mouth stretched too tightly for speech — next second, several buttons had just burst from her tweed jacket and pinged off the walls — she was inflating like a monstrous balloon, her stomach bursting free of her tweed waistband, each of her fingers blowing up like a salami–

C: It makes me think of Violet Beauregard from Willy Wonka.

S: It’s a great trope we’re familiar with from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – this type of punishment for selfishness. And it’s lovely poetic justice to have this happen to Marge. I didn’t think about it but until you brought it up – it mentions her tweed waistband! And according to that midcentury code for lesbianism – those women were usually stock, often outdoors and wore lots of tweed! Right?

C: Right.

S: All right, Aunt Marge is gay. So really this is all her deeply internalized self-hatred because she’s been raised to be a bigot and takes it out on Harry because deep down, she can’t embrace who she is.

C: Probably. If this was real life, yes.

S: Eventually, of course, she’ll meet Dolores Umbridge and they’ll go off and be evil together. I think you’re right – I think there is some coded suggestiveness here. Aunt Marge isn’t married, she lives alone with her dogs.

C: Yeah. Which of course doesn’t automatically make one a lesbian, but in these circumstances…

S: With all the notes of this trope being hit, we’re playing a very particular tune here.

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C: Agreed.

S: Anyway, fuck this woman ten ways to Sunday, because she’s horrible. I don’t care what her orientation is, she deserves everything she gets. She blows up into a gigantic Marge balloon and floats to the ceiling. Uncle Vernon tries to drag her down, and Ripper goes after Uncle Vernon, and Harry is already like, I’m out, I’ve had enough of this shit. He goes to get his stuff from the cupboard, and I love that the door bursts open magically as he draws close. He is on fire. He gets his stuff and makes it down the stairs just as Uncle Vernon comes back in, his trouser leg in bloody tatters.

C: Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy!

S: Uncle Vernon is bellowing at Harry to come back and put her right, but

a reckless rage had come over Harry. He kicked his trunk open, pulled out his wand, and pointed it at Uncle Vernon.

“She deserved it,” Harry said, breathing very fast. “She deserved what she got. You keep away from me.” 

Beautifully done in the movie, by the way. I’ve always loved it.

C: So well-deserved!

S: It’s cathartic. We’ve suffered two books with these people, and it got worse in this one, and Harry finally does the thing we wanted him to do all along – “Keep away, you all suck, I’m leaving.”

C: It actually made me wonder. We find out later on in the books that he has to come back every year because of the blood protection thing, and maybe this does happen in other books and I’ve forgotten – why isn’t it that every summer, five weeks in, that you can just go to the Weasleys?

S: That does happen in later books. He checks in for a bit and then goes to the Weasleys in 4 and 6, Grimmauld Place in 5, and in 7, of course, he’s off on adventures. So, after a while they figured out that he didn’t need to stay there. And fortunately, after this I think everyone realizes it’s best if this doesn’t happen again.

C: Yeah, you keep putting a kid back in an abusive situation and something bad’s gonna happen.

S: Harry is getting older, and pushing back, and they realize this could only go one way and we need to do what’s best for everyone. Works out pretty well.

C: Agreed.

Chapter 3: The Knight Bus

S: I remember when I first read this that I found this clever, that it was an aspect of this world I hadn’t thought of. I know it’s not hugely important, but it’s a funny little thing.

C: It is fun!

S: Harry makes it out of the house, and Rowling has nicely captured this feeling of being 13 and running away – you storm away, and about 10 minutes into it, out on the street, you say, shit, what do I do now? I got out of the house, but now where Aunt Marge I supposed to go? And Harry is better off than most kids who do this – he’s got money, a vault in Gringotts and a magic wand. And a broom. He’s got transportation. But he doesn’t know what to do, and he’s terrified that he’s been expelled from Hogwarts.

He had broken the Decree for the Restriction of Underage Wizardry so badly, he was surprised Ministry of Magic representatives weren’t swooping down on him where he sat. 

C: It’s true.

S: I like his 13-year-old thought process – it slippery slopes into the most depressing scenario imaginable.

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What was going to happen to him? Would be arrested, or would he simply be outlawed from the wizarding world?

When you’re 13 that’s how you think. You don’t think about a bureaucracy in place to deal with something like this, that there are options in place, other schools, people I might appeal to for assistance. No! It’s the end, and I will forever roam the streets!

C: Just think – they thought Hagrid murdered some people and yes, they expelled him and snapped his wand, but he’s also allowed to stay on school grounds when he had supposedly helped kill someone. So, Harry, you’re good.

S: If anything, the rules of the wizarding world aren’t consistent for very long. But of course, he’s 13, depressed and angry, and the thing he’s most afraid of he’s certain has happened. He finally decides to get his cloak, bewitch his trunk to make it light, tie it to the broomstick, and fly to London under the cloak. As he goes to get it, he’s startled by a weird sound – or at least a sense that someone is behind him, watching. He does Lumos with his wand, and eventually sees the hulking outline of something very big with wide, looming eyes. He steps back, hits his trunk, trips and falls, flings out his arm to break his fall, and – BANG. The Knight Bus.

C: I love the Knight Bus.

S: I love that all you need to do is stick out your wand arm to summon it, and a triple-decker, violently purple bus will appear!

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C: It’s just so weird and random.

S: And that’s why it works so well. It’s literally out of nowhere.

C: We have a driver and a steering well that he doesn’t actually drive.

S: It’s like a mini-deus ex machina. It’s the Knight Bus! Even the spelling! And Stan Shunpike.

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C: One of our few characters with an accent like that.

S: A 19-year-old pimply kid working the Knight Bus. And here we go again with the classist implications of accents! Stan has a job! He’s clearly just out of school, he’s working at night on public transportation – clearly, he’s lower class. Thus, the accent. So much classism in the wizarding world, and language is a good indicator of it. And the actor who does Stan in the movie just nails it.

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“What were you doin’ down there?” said Stan, dropping his professional manner. 

“Fell over,” said Harry. 

“‘Choo fall over for?” sniggered Stan. 

“I didn’t do it on purpose,” said Harry, annoyed.

C: It’s pretty good.

S: Harry is worried that Stan recognizes his telltale scar, so he says his name is Neville Longbottom. They get on the Knight Bus – for 11 Sickles, you go to London.

“For firteen, you get ‘ot chocolate, and for fifteen you get an ‘ot water bottle an’ a toofbrush in the color of your choice.”

C: What a deal.

S: This is a cool bus! It’s full of brass beds instead of seats, and wood paneled walls, and a tiny wizard in the back dreaming about pickling slugs. And then there’s Ernie Prang, an elderly wizard with thick glasses who doesn’t seem to know how to drive. The bus just goes BANG. It seems to be constantly Apparating and Disapparating up and down streets.

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Ernie didn’t seem to have mastered the use of a steering wheel. The Knight Bus kept mounting the pavement, but it didn’t hit anything; lines of lampposts, mailboxes, and trash cans jumped out of its way as it approached and back into position once it had passed.

The magical construction of the Knight Bus is crazy.

C: Yeah.

S: Is it really just dodging everything at super speed? Is it going through things? It’s a great bit of invention.

C: All excellent questions, none of which I have answers for.

S: I don’t think there really are answers. And since we’re not those other podcasts, we’re not going to spend an hour arguing about how it could work. It’s just fun to think about.

Poor Madam Marsh is being escorted off the bus, slightly green and hurking.

C: I cannot say that I blame you, Madam.

S: Meanwhile, Harry is sitting on his bed and watching Stan read the Daily Prophet. He sees the photo of the ruffian with the long hair on the front page – the one who was on the Muggle news. And this is where we meet Sirius Black.

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“You oughta read the papers more, Neville.”

C: Hear, hear!

S: Support your local journalists.

Sirius Black, possible the most infamous prisoner ever to be held in Azkaban fortress, is still eluding capture, the Ministry of Magic confirmed today. 

And again, with the most amazing quote you will ever get. Apparently, the Ministry is trying to capture Sirius, and Fudge has been criticized for alerting the Muggle Prime Minister. Fudge’s comment:

“Well, really, I had to, don’t you know,” said an irritable Fudge. “Black is mad. He’s a danger to anyone who crosses him, magic or Muggle. I have the Prime Minister’s assurance that he will not breathe a word of his real identity to anyone. And let’s face it, who’d believe him if he did?”

C: He’s got a point.

S: Amazing quote! I also love this line: they say Sirius is carrying a gun, which is

“(a kind of metal wand that Muggles use to kill each other).”

C: A kind of metal wand? Accurate.

S: Yes. That’s what it’s for. Whether or not you go out actively seeking to kill people with it, that’s one thing. But let’s not pretend that’s what it’s for.

C: If you say, I’ve got this .22 rifle and I use it to hunt deer – okay, totally cool with that. If you say, I have a shotgun for home defense – I’m fine with that too. And if you have a handgun for home defense you really should have a shotgun, because when you’re terrified and someone is breaking in you have to worry much less about your aim with a shotgun. And, unlike how they show it in movies, with handguns there’s actually a lot of recoil and you can most likely empty your clip and miss every time. So just get a shotgun.

All that being said, those things are a lot different than, say, AR-15s. Those are for killing people. You don’t need those. Nobody needs those.

S: Minor segue – I have found it very interesting that since the terrible injustice of the Philando Castile verdict, I’ve seen a number of interesting articles pointing out that the NRA should be all over this. This is their dream case. You couldn’t come up with a better case for defending injustices against responsible gun ownership and owners’ rights being trampled. This should be the NRA’s baby that they fundraise off of for years. But there’s a small detail about this case that makes it challenging – I’m trying to think of what it could be.

C: Is it because he was a Yankee?

S: No… Maybe because he wasn’t white? I’m starting to suspect… you know he was black, right?

C: Noooooooo. Are you telling me that black people have to play by a different set of rules than white people do?

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S: Go with me on this. I know it’s a crazy idea and blatantly revolutionary concept.

C: I just can’t buy that. I told you earlier we live in a post-racial world! And now you’re just, you’re trying to make it about race and you’re just setting us back. You’re setting us back.

S: Oh, I laugh to keep from weeping. It’s interesting  — the NRA has taken up cases with black people involved in them before, albeit rarely, but apparently it’s a combination of the racial aspect and the fact that if they support Philando Castile’s right to carry his properly documented and licensed handgun, which he was perfectly within his rights to do and was doing everything he could to behave properly and alert the law enforcement officer that he had a weapon – but if you side with that, it implies that you’re siding against the police officer. And apparently police officers are the biggest NRA demographic.

C: They’re also never wrong.

S: How could you suggest such a thing?

C: They’re all good guys who are all color-blind and just.

S: Hard working, blue collar people just trying to keep us safe. How dare you suggest this gentleman make a mistake and do like my husband would have done – he didn’t know anything about the case, and I explained what happened. His first reply was, “Why didn’t the officer just direct him to get out of the car and tell him where the gun was so he could locate it, take it, and then proceed from there?”

C: That’s what somebody should do. But when people are never held accountable for shooting, choking or smothering to death black people, you get the idea that you can kill indiscriminately and never face consequences.

S: Besides, what’s scarier in this world than a black person with a gun, right? It’s like staring a Dementor in the face.

C: You know they’re just plotting to take over.

S: I really hope you can tell, people, that we’re being heavily sarcastic here. This is just the kind of shit we’ve grown up listening to our entire lives.

C: I was going to say – if it sounds like we’ve heard this before? We’ve heard it before. We’re very familiar with benignly racist white people who think they’re very forward thinking.

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S: Intimately so. Anyway, now that we’ve established the correct definition of a gun – thank you, Daily Prophet – the real reason everyone is so terrified of Sirius Black is that 12 years ago, he murdered 13 people with a single curse. A very significant 12 years ago, and we don’t pause to think about what that time frame might mean in the timeline of this story.

Apparently Black was a big supporter of You Know Who. It is known.

C: Well.

S: After Voldemort disappeared, apparently Sirius Black thought he’d be second in command. He got cornered, blasted a street apart, killing a wizard and a dozen Muggles, and he laughed about it as they took him away, because he’s crazy.

C: Poor Sirius.

S: There are so many things about that story that are chilling once you get the real story.

C: What I think is interesting is that you know there are a lot of people in the wizarding world who – yes, of course they all know the types of people the Blacks are, and I’m sure that’s what colors the opinion. But a lot of them would also have known that Sirius was like, “Fuck off, guys,” hung out with Lily and James Potter and was actively anti-Voldemort. I guess they thought he was a double agent?

S: His family was so staunchly pro-Voldemort, pro-racial cleansing. His brother was a Death Eater, his parents were sympathizers, his cousin was off the deep end – I can see how it would be easy for people to accept this argument. He’s found at the scene, all these people are dead, and he’s a Black, you know how they are.

But it’s interesting how the story has developed over time.

C: We may have talked about this before, but I would like backstory on Bellatrix and her sisters. Particularly Andromeda, who went rogue and married Ted Tonks. I want to hear about those people.

S: I would like to hear how that went down too. How does someone like Andromeda meet Ted? How do they end up together? How does that play out with the family?

C: Was she in Slytherin too? Did she break the mold like Sirius? I’m not sure how close in age they are – Tonks is older than Ron and Harry, but how much older?

S: When she meets Harry he’s 15, and she seems like she’s in her 20s.

C: I would say mid-20s at the latest.

S: So maybe she’s 22, 23? Not a full decade older. But yes, it raises questions I would not mind answers too. I bet Ottaline Gambol knows.

C: Ottaline Gambol knows all, Ottaline Gambol sees all.

S: Ottaline Gambol is all.

C: I can’t believe I left that out.

S: Much as our Lord is in our hearts and souls and is everywhere at once, so Ottaline Gambol is the essence of the wizarding world!

C: If J.K. Rowling is ever inclined – I would read a series of books centered around Voldemort’s original rise to and reign of power. I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to know more about Harry’s parents and the Marauders and the Blacks.

S: I think a lot of people would love that, and I would love Rowling to write it and not farm it out to incompetent dude writers with slashfic issues.

So now Harry is panicking even more. Azkaban! Is that where I’m ending up? I broke the law too! Hagrid was there, and he broke the law like Sirius Black! The panic of a 13-year-old.

Finally, he’s the only one left on the bus and they go to Diagon Alley, and he stumbles directly into Cornelius Fudge, who has apparently been waiting for him at the entrance of the Leaky Cauldron.

C: How did he know where he would be?

S: I really don’t know. I guess the Trace? Which is on you until you come of age? Can you use the Trace to figure out where someone is even if they’re not doing magic?

C: I’m not sure what the Trace is.

S: It’s the thing in wizarding law that allows them to monitor underage wizards. That’s how they know you’ve done magic. But as we’ve seen, like Book 2, it doesn’t work precisely the way you would think it would. Harry gets a reprimand for performing magic at Privet Drive, but it wasn’t him who performed it. It was Dobby. So, the Trace seemed more oriented to his home than to him himself.

By the time we get to 7, though, they’re concerned about moving him immediately when the Trace breaks, when he comes of age. So not sure about consistency there.

In any case, Fudge seems to have expected Harry. I love Stan’s reaction to finding out who he really is.

“What didja call Neville, Minister?”

They get him in the pub, Stan and Ern are bringing in Harry’s stuff, and Stan just keeps calling Harry Neville.

“’Ow come you di’n’t tell us ‘oo you are, eh, Neville? Bye, Neville!”

C: Oh, Stan. There’s a reason why you’re a porter on a bus, and it’s not just because you’re lower class.

lswdoqo

S: Now it’s time for the official meeting with the Minister, who doesn’t seem super pleased. He doesn’t seem mad, but it’s intimidating to have him intercept you when you’re expecting to be tossed into prison. Fudge introduces himself, not knowing that Harry knows who he is because he was hidden in an invisibility cloak in Hagrid’s hut last year and saw him. It’s an awkward thing to bring up on a first meeting, though.

C: I’m just glad Harry has the wherewithal to realize, oh yeah, I have to pretend like I don’t know you.

S: Apparently the Ministry has been trying to find Harry since he left Privet Drive. I guess Marge blowing up is what alerted them – magic used at Privet Drive. Ministry officials went to go deal with that, and from there they’d find out Harry left. And fortunately for those in the story and unfortunately for those of us in favor of poetic justice, they were able to fix stupid Aunt Marge and deflate her.

C: BOOOOOOO.

S: Is there no justice?? They punctured her, modified her memory, and of course Vernon and Petunia are pissed but they’ll take him back in the summer.

“Now, now, I’m sure you’ll feel differently once you’ve calmed down,” said Fudge in a worried tone. “They are your family, after all, and I’m sure you are fond of each other — er — very deep down.” 

Fudge is going along like nothing has happened, and Harry is like, wait, Aunt Marge I in trouble? I broke the law, you guys threatened me last year about this. Fudge is all, “Oh, my dear boy, we won’t punish you for a little thing like that!”

But this didn’t tally at all with Harry’s past dealings with the Ministry of Magic.

Definitely a double standard. Fudge seems a little awkward when Harry brings it up.

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“Circumstances change, Harry … We have to take into account…in the present climate…Surely you don’t want to be expelled?”

And now we understand why no one is ever expelled from Hogwarts! Because it appears that once you get to the edge of being expelled, someone comes along and asks you, “Surely you don’t want to be expelled?” and you’re like, no, I don’t want to. And they say, “Well, there you have it, he doesn’t want to be expelled, we certainly can’t throw him out now!”

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“I beg your bloody pardon, no one ever asked me if I’d rather not be expelled!”

C: Makes me wonder what happened to Newt to get him expelled.

S: it better be pretty bad when we find out what it is.

C: I’m almost certain he takes the fall for someone.

S: I agree. Telling you, the wizarding world is a very dangerous, racist, incompetently managed place some days.

C: Most days.

S: Fudge: “Have a crumpet!” Makes me think of The Importance of Being Earnest when they’re fighting over the muffins.

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C: Oh, I love that movie.

S: Surely a man can eat his own muffins in his own garden!

C: That movie and An Ideal Husband are perfect.

S: Well, Harry does dumb things, but he’s not stupid. He knows this is weird. Fudge was waiting for him at the Leaky Cauldron, but not to punish him, so what did he want? Why is the Minister involved? They get him a room, and Fudge says he’s to keep to Diagon Alley and be back at his room every night, and that Tom will be keeping an eye on him, because we don’t want to lose you again!

Okay.

Harry then asks, making conversation, about the Ministry and Sirius Black. Fudge just stammers his way through that one. He’s not subtle.  Harry also asks Fudge to sign his permission form, but Fudge says it would be inappropriate, so no. Again, Harry – forge the signature. Forge it. Stop telling people.

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C: You know as soon as Fred and George heard about this they’d be like, “Harry, we’ll forge it for you.” Actually, they probably go on to invent some kind of quill that will forge it for you.

S: This is kid’s play for them. But Harry is our hero and must set a good example, I guess. They take him up to his room which seems very comfortable – and Hedwig! Who seems to have arrived about 5 minutes after he did. You have to wonder about the magic that enables owls to find their owners and know where to go.

C: She’s a very exceptional owl. Then she dies.

S: HOW DARE YOU.

C: It is brutal.

S: There is a nice ending to this chapter.

Harry could hardly believe that he’d left Privet Drive only a few hours ago, that he wasn’t expelled, and that he was now facing three completely Dursley-free weeks. 

“It’s been a very weird night, Hedwig,” he yawned.

C: It has been a very weird night!

S: And that’s Chapters 1-3!

C: And I’m really excited because we’re getting into the books I really enjoy.

S: And we get into the good movies!

C: Thank Christ. I’m forever bitter they didn’t have Cuaron do more movies.

S: I’m bitter that he didn’t at least do 4, so we wouldn’t have that train wreck.

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Professor Seraphine, immediately after credits rolled on Goblet of Fire

C: See, and I remember nothing about that beyond their very long hair and Harry fighting the dragon in a gravel pit or something.

S: I’m going to need to be really drunk for that one.

C: I have no objections to that.

S: I’m glad to hear it. As always, reach out to us at mugglestudiesblog@gmail.com. Write to us about any questions, comments, stories you’d like to share about whatever.

C: Politics included!

S: But no yelling about making America great again, because we’ll just read it on air, make fun of you, and then delete it. Unless you want that, in which case we’re happy to help. You can also tweet us @admugglestudies and follow us for the occasional weirdness.

Next week we will tackle Chapters 4 and 5! Until then, I am Professor Seraphine –

C: I am a white Southerner who is neither conservative nor racist –

S: You don’t exist. Admit it.

C: Okay, fine, I am Ottaline Gambol.

S: And we’ll see you next time on Advanced Muggle Studies!

Show Notes

Intro music: “Danse Macabre” by Camille Saint-Saens, performed by Kevin McLeod

Associated Press. “Texas adoption agencies could reject Jewish, Muslim, gay or single parents.” 6 May 2017. The Guardian.

Cohen, Michael A. “Why won’t the NRA speak out about Philando Castile?” 20 June 2017. Boston Globe.

Harris, Hunter. “Trevor Noah Calls Out the NRA For Silence on Philando Castile’s Death.” 20 June 2017. Vulture.com.

Klahr, Renee and Vedantam, Shankar. “When It Comes to Our Politics, Family Matters.” 13 September 2016. Hidden Brain. NPR.

Koren, Marina. “Study Predicts Political Beliefs With 83 Percent Accuracy.” 14 February 2013. Smithsonian.com.

Tcholakian, Danielle. “Who Goes Nazi: Bachelorette Edition.” 25 May 2017. The Awl.

 

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