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

Published by Scholastic Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

Harry Potter is back at number four, Privet Drive, enduring the Dursleys as best he can and biding his time until the beginning of his third term at Hogwarts, the magical school. The Dursleys have gotten no better in the past two years, and still regard their nephew's magical talents as a disgrace to be hidden as best they can. But that can prove easier said than done, particularly when a visiting relative bad-mouths Harry's beloved father.

Harry has no conscious memory of his parents, who died when he was an infant. The Dursleys' official cover story is that they were killed in a car accident, but Harry knows the truth -- they were killed by the terrible Lord Voldemort, master of the Dark Arts, who was trying to take over the wizarding world. Because that he bears a deep love for them, and cannot abide having them spoken of slightingly. Aunt Marge, Uncle Vernon's sister, goes far beyond mere slighting to outright insulting James Potter, calling him a drunk and a ne'er-do-well. In a burst of fury, Harry's innate magical ability wreaks a shocking transformation on Aunt Marge, sending her floating like a bloated balloon to the ceiling.

Harry flees Uncle Vernon's wrath, certain that he will also face punishment in the wizarding world for having used magic without proper authorization. Instead he is rescued by the Knight Bus, a magical conveyance filled with comfy beds in which a stranded witch or wizard can catch a good night's sleep while being taken to a magical destination. Off he goes to Diagon Alley in London, a secret street full of magical shops, where he meets Cornelius Fudge, Minister of Magic.

Harry fully expects some terrible punishment, maybe even being sent off to the dreaded magical prison of Azkaban. However, Fudge is most concerned that Harry is indeed safe. When Harry asks about his punishment, Fudge makes vague references to circumstances changing and arranges a place for the orphan boy to stay for the next two weeks, until the beginning of the new term at Hogwarts.

But even getting back to Hogwarts isn't the end of Harry's problems. Far from it, it's only the beginning. The notorious wizard criminal Sirius Black is still at large, and the Ministry of Magic is calling out the Dementors, the mysterious guards of Azkaban, to patrol Hogwarts against him. This comes over the strenuous objections of Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore. These magical creatures seem to affect Harry far worse than anyone else. At the same time they provide him with a tantalizing echo of his mother's voice, of her dying words as she pled with Voldemort for her only son's life.

Yet things may well be more complicated than they seem. "Everybody knows" that Sirius Black betrayed Harry's parents to Voldemort, and Harry burns with desire to avenge himself against this notorious wizard criminal. But in the final confrontation, things have a strange habit of shifting and transforming at the last minute, and the Dementors may well be about to execute an innocent man.

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Review posted September 14, 2000

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