Hermione's Secret

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Chapter 21 of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Hermione's Secret← Chapter 20 | Chapter 22 →


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Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

Harry awakens in the Hospital Wing and hears Minister for Magic Cornelius Fudge and Professor Snape discussing the night's events. Snape says that the cut on his head was Harry, Ron, and Hermione's work but that they were probably under a Confundus charm put on them by Black. When he regained consciousness, the Dementors were returning to their posts, and he found Harry, Hermione, and Black unconscious beside the lake. He conjured stretchers and brought them to the Hospital Wing. Fudge says this will probably put him in line for the Order of Merlin, Third Class. Harry opens his eyes and sees Hermione in the next bed, wide awake and looking frightened. Nearby, Madam Pomfrey is attending to Ron. Madam Pomfrey tells Harry that Black has been captured, and the Dementors will shortly administer the Kiss. Harry leaps up, shouting that Sirius is innocent and Peter Pettigrew is alive and is an Animagus. Snape says he is obviously Confunded, and Madam Pomfrey forces him back into bed. When Professor Dumbledore arrives, Harry also tells him. Dumbledore says he has spoken with Black and needs to speak to Harry and Hermione alone. Madam Pomfrey and Fudge depart, but Snape protests that Black had shown, at the age of 16, that he was capable of killing someone. Dumbledore responds that he is aware, and Snape leaves stiffly.

Harry and Hermione try to explain what happened, but Dumbledore says their unsupported word will not save Black. Neither can Lupin, even if he were not currently roaming the Forbidden Forest. Apart from his being Black's old friend, a Werewolf's word counts for little. Snape's version will bear the most credibility, and while Dumbledore believes Harry and Hermione, he cannot force other people to see the truth. "What we need," Dumbledore comments, "is more time." Hermione apparently understands, though Harry does not. Dumbledore mentions that Black is in Professor Flitwick's office. He cryptically says it is five minutes before midnight, that they must not be seen, and that more than one innocent life can be saved. He tells Hermione that "three turns" should do it, then leaves, locking them in the infirmary.

Harry is mystified, but Hermione produces a tiny sparkling hourglass from her robes. She loops the chain around herself and Harry, and turns the hourglass over three times. The world becomes a spinning blur; when it settles, they are standing in the deserted Entrance Hall, and the sun is shining. Pushing them into a broom closet, Hermione tells Harry that they are now three hours in the past. Slow footsteps are heard going past, and Hermione says that it is themselves under the Invisibility Cloak; Harry is trying to comprehend being in two places at the same time, in the closet with Hermione, as well as under the Cloak with Ron and Hermione heading for Hagrid's hut. Hermione explains that the hourglass is a Time-Turner; she has been using it all year to get to all her classes. Professor McGonagall instructed her to tell no one about it.

Now that they have gone back three hours, Hermione is unsure what Dumbledore expects them to do. Harry guesses that he intends for them to save Buckbeak and Black, who is locked in Flitwick's office. Buckbeak can fly them to Flitwick's window to save Black. They head for the Forbidden Forest, edging around it until they reach Hagrid's pumpkin patch. There they watch themselves going into the hut. Harry wants to grab Buckbeak, but Hermione says the Committee must see him first, otherwise they will think Hagrid freed him. They hear Hagrid breaking the milk jug and the other Hermione finding Scabbers. Harry wants to dash in and grab Pettigrew, but Hermione asks what would he think if he suddenly saw himself bursting in that way. There is a reason Dumbledore said they must not be seen.

The Committee, including Professor Dumbledore and Cornelius Fudge, approach. Harry and Hermione watch Harry, Ron, and Hermione vanish under the Invisibility Cloak and exit at the back of Hagrid's hut, while the Committee enter the front. Harry waits until the executioner, Macnair, has spotted Buckbeak. Once Macnair has returned to the hut, Harry bows to Buckbeak and tries to lead him into the forest, but Buckbeak resists. As the Committee starts to exit the hut, Dumbledore calls them back, saying that the decree needs another signature. Just as Harry gets Buckbeak into the woods, the Committee emerges to find Buckbeak gone. Macnair slams his axe into the fence in anger.

Harry and Hermione, with Buckbeak, move closer to the Whomping Willow and watch as the black dog drags Ron into the tunnel. Shortly, Crookshanks stills the branches and their other selves go into the tunnel. Almost immediately, Dumbledore, Macnair, Fudge, and the old Committee member walk past on their way back to the castle. Now they see Professor Lupin running to the Whomping Willow and diving into the passage. Harry wonders if he could dash out and collect his Invisibility Cloak, but Hermione dissuades him, and just in time, as Hagrid now appears, already partly drunk, and heads up to the castle. Two minutes later, Snape arrives, throws on the Invisibility Cloak, and enters the tunnel.

Now Harry and Hermione must wait while the events inside the Shrieking Shack replay. Hermione wonders how they were saved from all those Dementors. Harry says it must have been a powerful Patronus and believes he saw his late father casting it. Hermione, of course expresses disbelief; Harry seems to be inclined to disbelieve it himself, but says it is what he saw.

An hour later, everyone exits the tunnel, and Lupin transforms into a Werewolf. Realizing they are standing where Lupin is about to run, Harry and Hermione rapidly retreat to Hagrid's empty hut. Despite knowing there is a Werewolf roaming loose, Harry wants to see who cast the Patronus and takes off for where the spell-caster was standing. No one is there. Harry suddenly understands: it was not his father he saw, it was himself. As the Dementors attack Black and the earlier Harry and Hermione, he casts the Patronus. A large animal bursts from his wand, and charging the Dementors, scatters them. When they have dispersed, the Patronus, a large silver stag form, canters back to Harry, who now realizes his father's Animagus form was a stag, hence the nickname, "Prongs".

Hermione appears, furious that Harry has been up to something. He explains that his earlier self had seen his later self casting the spell, and he was only performing the events that already happened. They watch as Snape conjures stretchers and transports everyone to the castle, as Fudge arrives, and as Macnair exits the castle to summon a Dementor. Harry and Hermione mount Buckbeak and fly to the West Tower. Hermione charms the window open, and Black climbs out onto Buckbeak. Harry and Hermione dismount on the tower top, and Harry urges Black to leave quickly. Black first inquires about Ron, then escapes with Buckbeak into the night.


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Many small mysteries are solved with the appearance of the Time-Turner. It explains why Hermione could take so many classes, her continually appearing and disappearing, and how she "forgot" Flitwick's class while she was headed to it with Harry and Ron immediately after slapping Draco in an earlier chapter. It also partially explains Hermione's stress: she has been artificially lengthening her days and is likely sleep deprived.

The Time-turner is the only means that can save Black and Buckbeak, but both Hermione and Harry initially seem uncertain how to proceed once they have gone back in time. Conscious that they must not be seen, they are unsure how, and if, they can change that night's events. At first, they are little more than passive observers as they watch their previous selves repeat what happened only a few hours earlier, but soon figure out what they must do. Harry, more adventurous and less concerned with altering the past than Hermione, finally realizes that it was not his father he had earlier seen on the lake shore, but himself. Only he can save Black and the others from the Dementors, and he must act quickly. It is this realization that empowers him to cast the powerful Patronus that scatters the Dementors.

Hermione, meanwhile, is deathly afraid of being seen for good reason; as she explains to Harry, many Wizards have died because they allowed their earlier selves to see them, and the earlier self believed that the later self was a Dark attack. It is this that so shocks Hermione when she discovers that it was Harry who actually cast the Patronus that saved them. Hermione here is facing something that goes counter to one of her fondest beliefs: doing something against the rules has saved their lives, is it possible that rules are not always there to be followed?

It seems probable that Dumbledore at the very least anticipated this rescue, but it is never explained if that is the case. We do not see enough of Dumbledore's arrival at Hagrid's hut to know how he feels about the execution, but when the Committee exits the hut to carry out the execution, Dumbledore seems unsurprised, and perhaps relieved, to find Buckbeak missing. We note that it was Dumbledore who called Macnair back into the hut to sign the form, thus giving Harry the few extra seconds he needed to get Buckbeak under cover. Dumbledore may have glimpsed Harry pulling Buckbeak into the forest; he would have had time to look through the hut window as Fudge was signing the form. It is reasonably certain that Dumbledore guessed that it was through the agency of the Time-Turner that Buckbeak would be saved; he hints strongly at this with his comment that "if all goes well, you will be able to save more than one innocent life tonight."

Fudge, meanwhile, seems more concerned with protecting the Ministry than learning the truth, and we can see how far he will apparently go to prevent the Wizarding world from falling into the chaos that would likely result should Black indeed be innocent. Though there is no indication that Fudge is corrupt, he is lazy and ineffectual, and readily dismisses both Harry and Hermione's adamant and credible claims about Black's innocence and Pettigrew's guilt; he instead prefers to believe Snape's version, not only because he is the adult, and supposedly more believable, but also because it is the easier path for Fudge to follow. It requires no further investigation on the Ministry's part, thus protecting them from admitting mistakes were made and that an innocent man was convicted. Fudge readily accepts Snape's theory that the Trio are under some spell, further allowing him to brush off their account. Snape, meanwhile, is driven by his long-instilled hatred, and he is unable to accept the truth.

Snape's comment that Black was capable of killing someone at age 16 refers back to Black's arranging for Snape to learn how to enter the Shrieking Shack while Lupin was there, transformed. It is perhaps curious that Snape does not refer to the later incident with Pettigrew and the Muggles.

We note that while Dumbledore was well aware of Lupin's being a Werewolf at the time he was hired, he apparently did not know that Black, Pettigrew, and Potter were Animagi. Lupin, we recall, had said that he did not tell Dumbledore that Black was an Animagus out of shame at his behaviour as a student; and it appears from Dumbledore's comments in this chapter that he did not know until Black told him after his capture. Black's being an Animagus would lend weight to Harry's story that Pettigrew is also an Animagus, but that information is not passed on to Fudge.

Before escaping on Buckbeak, Black inquires about Ron's condition. This is apparently meant to illuminate Sirius' character; like Lupin, he is concerned about how his actions affect others. Aware that Ron was injured, he wants to know what his condition is and be assured he will be alright before saving himself.

As a side note, we should mention some of the careful planning of the logistics in this chapter. We learn that the Whomping Willow is near the direct route from the castle to Hagrid's hut, which is necessary both to prevent Harry from interfering with prior events, and to allow us to see the logistics. Hagrid can't be allowed to stay in his hut drinking, as Harry and Hermione would then have no place to escape the transformed Lupin. He must go past the Whomping Willow to prevent Harry from attempting to reclaim the Cloak. So the author sends him drunkenly up to the castle, triggering Buckbeak's attempt to return to Hagrid's side, and requiring Harry's and Hermione's attention to Buckbeak until it's too late to avoid Snape's entrance onto the scene. There are several instances where Harry or Hermione comments that they have to wait until someone has seen something before they act; in particular, Hermione mentions that they can't remove Buckbeak from behind Hagrid's hut until Macnair has seen him, and both Harry and Hermione know that they can't rescue Black from Flitwick's office until Fudge and Dumbledore have seen him. Their cue for the latter is Macnair, who they recognize by the glint of moonlight off his holstered axe, running out of the castle to seek a Dementor. In this chapter, Harry and Hermione's actions are controlled by the actions of themselves and others that have already occurred. Significant effort must have gone into the planning of this chapter, to ensure that everyone was where they had to be.

We also note that Hagrid's reaction in this case casts some light on his character. Possibly surprisingly for someone his size, it seems that he manages to get staggeringly drunk within approximately half an hour once Buckbeak escapes. We've seen how sentimental Hagrid is about Buckbeak, but his reaction here seems somehow adolescent, inappropriate for one who is, as we have found out, approximately sixty years old. There is more discussion of this in Hagrid's character article.


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


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  1. How was Hermione getting to her many classes during the year?
  2. What does Dumbledore mean when he tells Harry and Hermione they need more "time"?
  3. Harry initially believed it was his father he saw on the lake shore who cast the Patronus. Who did he actually see?
  4. How does Sirius Black escape? Who goes with him and why?

Further Study

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  1. Why would the Ministry of Magic consider Harry, Ron, Hermione, and also Lupin, as unreliable witnesses regarding Sirius Black's innocence? What constitutes a "reliable" witness?
  2. Why is Hermione so concerned that she and Harry not be seen when they use the Time Turner? What might have happened if they were seen?
  3. Why is Hermione upset when she finds Harry by the lake shore?
  4. Why was Harry so convinced that it was his late father who cast the Patronus?

Greater Picture

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

Fudge's personality becomes more obvious in later books. Here he seems quite pleased with himself at Sirius Black's capture, perhaps inordinately so, particularly given his apparent belief, expressed at Christmas, that Voldemort is still out there, seeking allies to help him return to power. Unsurprisingly, Fudge's main motivation is to retain his power. This helps explain his readiness to accept Snape's story over Harry's and Hermione's. If Black is the threat Fudge believes he is, then his capture and execution can only enhance Fudge's reputation and consolidate his power. Snape's story conveniently supports this view while Harry's version would be political suicide: placing Dementors in Hogsmeade has proven extremely unpopular, and revealing that the Dementors attacked innocent children and that the Ministry was so easily hoodwinked as to send an innocent man to Azkaban for twelve years would seriously affect the population's trust in the Ministry.

We will find out in a later book that in fact Black had been sent to Azkaban without a trial. If this was revealed, along with Sirius' innocence, it would certainly spell the end of Fudge's career as Minister for Magic, and could have severe repercussions for Bartemius Crouch, the head of the Aurors division of the Ministry at the time Black was imprisoned.

We learn here of the ability of the Wizarding World to manipulate time. The Time-Turner is a rather stunningly useful device; among other things, we see here that Hermione and Harry have effectively doubled themselves, watching from outside Hagrid's hut as their earlier selves go through their actions inside the hut. In the hands of a Dark wizard, this could prove overpowering; what would Harry do if he were suddenly faced with twenty copies of Lord Voldemort, all intent on killing him? And what would happen if he managed to kill or disarm the oldest copy; would the later copies all vanish, or would he and Voldemort be plunged instantly into paradox?


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  • As mentioned, the Time-Turner is an extremely dangerous item to leave around where Dark wizards might use it. To prevent them being used against Harry, they should be somehow rendered harmless. This is done in a later book, though it is only revealed in a still-later book that Neville's misplaced curse had destroyed the entire world's supply of Time-turners.
  • We will find out later that Snape's Patronus is a doe. This will in some way relate to James' Patronus and Animagus being a stag, and to Lily being James' girlfriend and later wife. Near the end of the final book, we will learn that Snape was in love with Lily; it is through the shape of Snape's Patronus that Dumbledore recognizes that Snape's love for Lily has not faded over the years.