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

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(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is primarily set at Hogwarts. In addition to places familiar to readers of the first two Harry Potter books, this novel introduces several new settings separate from Hogwarts as well as new sites within the castle. The village of Hogsmeade is the book's most significant setting. Described as the only all-magical village in Great Britain, Hogsmeade seems exotic to Hogwarts students and readers because it is off-limits until young wizards and witches are thirteen years old. This rule is symbolic of the transition phase of children toward adulthood by becoming teenagers when they are age thirteen.

Hogsmeade is home to a variety of magical people and creatures who own, manage, or patronize local businesses. The stores offer exotic treats such as soothing Butterbeer and revolting candies for Hogwarts students, faculty, and staff to savor. Other businesses sell magical jokes and tricks or deliver messages by color-coded owls. Located within an hour's walking distance of Hogwarts (in the valley below the cliff on which the castle sits), Hogsmeade symbolizes freedom for Hogwarts students. Children and adults interact in the village without the formal restrictions expected on campus. Special Hogsmeade weekends are scheduled for students to buy Christmas gifts or to relax after grueling weeks of study and tests.

Although the village has appeared in previous Harry Potter books, it is very significant to plot development in this novel. Harry is not allowed to go to the village because of concerns regarding Black. But eventually, through the use of the Marauder's Map and Invisibility Cloak, Harry identifies the correct statue (a hunchback which foreshadows future physical discomfort for Harry) to enter and travel through underground tunnels to reach the basement of Honeydukes, the candy store in Hogsmeade. While concealed, Harry overhears conversations at the Three Broomsticks between adult wizards about Black's alleged betrayal of his parents which infuriate Harry who vows vengeance. Harry's clandestine trips to Hogsmeade also alert him to the vigilant search for Black. Harry sees posters, almost reminiscent of something from an old Western movie, warning people to be inside by sunset. He also is chilled by the sight of Dementors patrolling Hogsmeade.

The Shrieking Shack is the most important Hogsmeade structure in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Harry and Ron tour the village, walking up the hill to view the dilapidated building, surrounded by weeds, which local legends declare is the most haunted place in Great Britain. According to tradition, years ago villagers overheard screams late at night from the two-story house. Harry and Ron's visit to the Shrieking Shack foreshadows their later confrontation with Black, Snape, and Peter Pettigrew. On the boys' first trip to the building, they encounter Draco Malfoy and his cronies, Crabbe and Goyle. Hidden by the Invisibility Cloak, Harry torments his archrival by throwing mud at him. Unfortunately, the cloak slips, and Harry's head is revealed, exposing him not only to Draco's taunts but possible punishment for disobeying orders to stay on campus until Black is recaptured. Harry's quick return through a tunnel to Hogwarts culminates in a conference with Snape and Lupin in which Harry learns more about his father's years at Hogwarts and realizes that Lupin is his ally while confirming that Snape is his adversary.

The book's climatic scene occurs in the Shrieking Shack. After comforting Hagrid before Buckbeak's execution, Harry and Hermione follow the black dog when it drags Ron into the tunnel with an entrance near the Whomping Willow. They emerge into the first floor of the Shrieking Shack. The inside is dusty and worn much like the weather-beaten and mistreated exterior. A path in the dust, much like a slug's slimy trail, shows where the dog pulled Ron towards and up the stairs. Harry and Hermione, desperate to save their friend, bravely proceed...

(The entire section is 5,108 words.)