The Firebolt

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Chapter 11 of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: The Firebolt← Chapter 10 | Chapter 12 →

Synopsis[edit]

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

Harry is in emotional turmoil, so distraught that he cannot even remember how he got from the Three Broomsticks and through the secret passage back into Hogwarts. Why had no one told him the truth about Sirius Black? Unfortunately, there is no opportunity to talk to Ron and Hermione that night, and Harry does not fall asleep until almost 5:00 a.m. He awakes at around noon to an empty Common room. The Christmas holiday has begun, and nearly everyone has left Hogwarts.

Harry is filled with rage and dark thoughts of revenge; Ron and Hermione are unable to reason with him. Harry remembers Draco saying that if it were he, he would hunt Black down. Ron's attempt to calm Harry, suggesting he would be better advised to listen to his friends rather than his enemies, seems ineffective. To change the subject, Ron suggests visiting Hagrid, but this backfires when Harry seizes on it as an opportunity to ask Hagrid why he never mentioned Black. Ron is now reluctant to go, but Harry is adamant. They find Hagrid sobbing uncontrollably. Although Hagrid has been exonerated in Buckbeak's attack on Draco, Lucius' complaint has been upheld. Buckbeak must appear before the Committee for the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures. A distraught Hagrid is certain Buckbeak will be condemned, being that the committee members are all in Lucius Malfoy's pocket. Harry, Ron, and Hermione promise to find precedents that will save Buckbeak. Hagrid considers setting Buckbeak free, but how does one explain to a Hippogriff that it has to go into hiding? And, after his unfortunate sojourn in Azkaban, Hagrid is terrified of breaking the law. This all helps distract Harry, and he, Ron, and Hermione search the library for cases of dangerous creatures avoiding execution. Unfortunately, they find little information.

Christmas brings presents; Harry gets the usual hand-knit jumper (US: sweater) from Mrs. Weasley, bright red with the Gryffindor lion woven into it, plus various treats. There is also a long thin package containing a broom. Not just any broom — a Firebolt. Harry and Ron are stunned. It is the finest and fastest broom there is, Harry has no idea who sent it, and it has no identifying note. Hermione is immediately suspicious, and says no one should ride it yet. Ron demands to know why but is interrupted by Crookshanks attacking Scabbers. In the commotion, Harry's pocket Sneakoscope starts whistling shrilly. Hermione and Crookshanks leave, and Harry tucks away the Sneakoscope in his trunk. Harry and Ron tend to Scabbers, who is looking poorly.

They head to the Great Hall where one table is set for twelve. In addition to themselves, only Professor Dumbledore, the four House Heads, Filch, and three other students are having Christmas dinner. Professor Trelawney joins them, and suddenly realizes there are thirteen at the table. She melodramatically declares that the first to rise will be the first to die, although Professor McGonagall is skeptical. It is mentioned that Professor Lupin, who is apparently sick again, will not be joining them. Trelawney predicts his imminent "departure," but Dumbledore mildly says he does not think he is in any immediate danger, then checks with Professor Snape that Lupin has received a potion. As Harry and Ron rise from the table two hours later, Trelawney demands to know who got up first. Because they rose together, they are unable to answer. Hermione stays behind to speak to Professor McGonagall. Minutes later, Professor McGonagall arrives in the Common room and confiscates Harry's Firebolt. Because it is unknown who sent it, Madam Hooch and Professor Flitwick will test it for any Dark Magic that may be embedded in it. If it is jinx-free, Harry will get it back. It should only take a few weeks. Both Harry and Ron are furious with Hermione, but she says that she and McGonagall believe the broom was sent by Sirius Black.

Analysis[edit]

As Harry roils in emotional turmoil after learning the history of Sirius Black and his parents' murders, Ron shows his budding maturity here. Rather than supporting Harry's desire for revenge, as might be expected, Ron calmly reasons with him, wisely counseling Harry to heed his friends' advice rather than listen to enemies like Draco Malfoy. Ron's attempts to defuse Harry's rage by redirecting his focus backfires, however, when Harry instead finds a new target (Hagrid) on whom to vent his frustration. That Hagrid is needing help is good timing: though we perceive how deeply distraught Harry is when he hears about Black, Hagrid's situation prevents Harry from dwelling on it, as he is likely to do. In this way, while Harry's despair is evident, we are spared being bored by his continuing reactions.

While Draco continues to taunt Harry, his father creates even more misery by pressuring the Ministry to put Buckbeak, an obviously innocent victim, on trial. It is not immediately obvious whether Malfoy has any specific motive in pursuing this attack against Buckbeak, though it could be argued that Lucius is only seeking revenge against the creature who dared to injure his son. It is also possible that, while Draco continues his campaign of harassment on Harry, Lucius is using Buckbeak as a way of retaliating against Hagrid, and incidentally against the policies of Professor Dumbledore, who hired him for the position. The success he has in this endeavor shows how easily the Ministry can be manipulated and hoodwinked by someone wielding wealth and influence. Rather than being corrupt, the Ministry seems more lazy and indifferent, unwilling to expend the energy to uncover the truth. Instead, it opts to quickly convict more readily available suspects, regardless what the evidence shows. Whether Lucius is physically present in the story or not, his evil influence continually permeates the series.

Trelawney's prediction that Lupin will soon depart Hogwarts actually has a high probability of coming true. However, she has probably (subconsciously) based this on historical fact rather than on any divination insight, though she likely believes she has truly foreseen the unknown future. For some decades, no Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher has ever lasted more than one year at Hogwarts, and it is unclear if Lupin can break this pattern. While Trelawney is hinting that Lupin will die, we actually should expect this from her; Trelawney is over-dramatizing, an age-old fortune-teller's trick. Her prediction that the first to rise from the table will be the first to die is similarly melodramatic. Once again, a combination of drama and fakery is passed off as a magical discipline in this exposure to Divination.

The Firebolt being confiscated will likely create a severe rift between Hermione and the other two. Hermione, who usually does little more than express her disapproval of Harry and Ron's irregular behavior, feels strongly that this time there is a greater than normal risk associated with such an expensive and anonymous (as well as highly suspicious) gift. Fearing for Harry's life, she is unable to remain silent. McGonagall agrees with her, though Harry and Ron, blinded to any danger, can see only the broom's dazzling glamour. One does wonder whether, rather than leaving it to Flitwick and Madam Hooch to analyze, the broom ought to be returned to the factory for an inspection. Perhaps McGonagall feels that the factory would be best able to check out its motive spells, but less able to decipher any Dark magic added to it.

Questions[edit]

Study questions are meant to be left for each student to answer; please don't answer them here.

Review[edit]

  1. What is Harry's reaction when he learns that Black was responsible for betraying his parents to Voldemort, as well as murdering Pettigrew and twelve Muggles?
  2. Why did Hermione report the Firebolt to McGonagall?
  3. Why does McGonagall confiscate Harry's Firebolt?
  4. Who do McGonagall and Hermione believe sent Harry the Firebolt?
  5. Although Hagrid was exonerated in the incident involving Draco Malfoy and Buckbeak, why is he still upset? Can the Trio actually help Hagrid?

Further Study[edit]

  1. Why would Trelawney predict Lupin's "imminent departure?" Is it accurate? If so, is there a more logical explanation than Divination?
  2. Why was the truth about the his parents' murders and his relationship to Sirius Black kept from Harry?
  3. What does Ron mean when he tells Harry to listen to his friends rather than his enemies? Will Harry follow his advice? Explain.
  4. Why are Harry and Ron so angry at Hermione? Was she justified in talking to Professor McGonagall?
  5. Why does Professor McGonagall choose to have the broom examined by Madam Hooch and Professor Flitwick? Would it not be more sensible to have the Firebolt factory technicians examine it?

Greater Picture[edit]

Intermediate warning: Details follow which you may not wish to read at your current level.

Once again, the pocket Sneakoscope is sounding a clue: someone untrustworthy is nearby. But the only ones present are the Trio, plus Crookshanks and Scabbers. We have learned about Animagi, but Hermione has categorically ruled out that there is any other registered Animagus. She is actually correct, there are no other registered Animagi. However, Hermione's perhaps excessive concern about rules leads her to the unconscious, and naive, belief that other people, particularly adults, are generally as rule-abiding as she. Hermione never considers that there may be unregistered Animagi. We discover later that the untrustworthy person is Scabbers, who is an unregistered Animagus.

Harry reacting only to an enemy's words (Draco's) rather than listening to his friends' advice as Ron suggests, not only shows his immaturity here, but is seen again in later books. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, hack journalist Rita Skeeter publishes a controversial book about Dumbledore, highlighting some dark secrets in his past. After listening to several other peoples' aspersions regarding the late Headmaster, Harry becomes so disappointed in the man he admired and thought he knew that he rejects any other reasonable explanation. Rather than weigh evidence both for and against an argument, he instead becomes fixated on this small portion in Dumbledore's life, ignoring the great man that Albus became. This pattern is also seen when Harry learns about a disappointing episode involving his father, James, during his youth. Harry, for a time, will only focus on this event in his father's life, ignoring others' accounts of the good man James chose to become. Harry has yet to learn that people can not only overcome their past misdeeds, but they often become even greater due to them.

McGonagall confiscating the Firebolt starts another rift within the Trio. Harry and Ron unfairly blame Hermione for Harry being deprived his new broom. Hermione is correct that, given what is known about its source, it could be jinxed and unsafe to fly on. However, Harry and Ron are behaving childishly, and they can only see the Firebolt's loss, rather than the legitimate reasons behind it being confiscated and the real danger such an expensive and anonymous gift could have realistically posed. As a result, neither speaks to Hermione for almost four months, until the Firebolt is returned in mid-April. Harry learns later that Sirius sent it only as a gift to his godson, but until the truth is known about Sirius, truth that flies in the face of what the entire Wizarding world now believe about him, this cannot be either known or believed.

It is interesting, and also unnoticed by Harry and Ron, that although Hermione turns in Harry's new broom to McGonagall, she never reveals to any Hogwarts teacher what she knows about the Marauder's Map or the secret tunnels listed on it, despite knowing that Sirius Black could possibly be using one to enter Hogwarts undetected. Hermione's loyalty to her friends, as well as fearing their reprisals, has to this point always overruled her need to adhere to school rules. This sudden defection may partially be why Harry and Ron react so strongly against her. However, this time the Firebolt posed too great a danger for Hermione to ignore.

It is also probable that the reason for not sending the Firebolt back to the factory for analysis is an associated plot point. Likely, analysis at the factory, by wizards familiar with the workings of the Firebolt's charms, would take only about a week; by leaving it with Flitwick and Madam Hooch, the analysis process takes several months, which allows the rift between Hermione and the other two time to widen and solidify, and also allows time for Harry to brood about its loss.

The laziness in the Ministry that is commented on in the Analysis section will be found to be endemic, as the series continues. In this case, it is relatively minor, accepting the word of the glib speaker, rather than expending the effort to determine the facts of the matter. It will be found that this same laziness will have harsher effects, as it will be found that Sirius Black had been consigned to Azkaban without trial, and that the crimes for which he had been jailed were in fact committed by another. Earlier, we had seen the assumption by the Ministry that Harry was the only possible source of magic for the charm cast by Dobby, and we will see the exact same "punish first, ask questions later only if we are forced to" on the part of the Ministry later in the series. We will see this again when Stan Shunpike is sent to Azkaban for making an idle boast. This behaviour on the part of the Ministry rings particularly true for adult readers, as it mirrors what many have encountered when trying to work with officialdom in the Muggle world.

It should be noted in passing that Professor Trelawney's over-dramatic, repeated prediction that the first to rise from the table would be the first to die will be proven false.

Connections[edit]

  • The Sneakoscope has appeared twice before in this book, when Harry received it as a gift, and on the Hogwarts Express. A different Sneakoscope will appear on Professor Moody's desk in the fourth book, and another, possibly Moody's, will appear in the Room of Requirement in the fifth book. The specific Sneakoscope that we see in this chapter will not be seen again until, old and broken, it is cleaned out of Harry's school trunk in the final book. Hermione will give Harry a new Sneakoscope for his birthday that year, and it will be used multiple times during the Trio's travels through England in that book.
  • Buckbeak will be condemned to death, but will escape at the end of this book, and will be Sirius' companion until Sirius' death. Hagrid will then take care of him until series end. This is not actually a particularly strong connection; one gets the feeling that, having brought Buckbeak into the story as a character, the author is now bound to mention how he is being cared for.
  • Harry will learn, later in this book, that it was Sirius Black who sent him the Firebolt. In the final book of the series, Harry will find out that Sirius had also given him a toy broomstick on his first birthday.