Mark Reads ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’: Chapter 8

In the eighth chapter of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry’s sadness inspires a story of sadness that’s very sadness because sad sad sad. Then Harry makes (sort of) friends with Professor Lupin and then all hell breaks loose. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Harry Potter.


Ready for story time? Grab a bowl of popcorn and huddle ’round our imaginary campfire. Because it’s time for me to Thought Vomit about my “Utterly Sad Childhood That’s Very Sad and Sad.”

There was a price to the newfound freedom I had when I ran away from home when I was 16/17. (I ran away a month before my 17th birthday, so I don’t like saying I’ve been living on my own “since I was 16” because it sounds like I’m adding an extra year to it.)

Not to say that the price of freedom and independence wasn’t worth it. It was, most certainly. But I moved before I was an adult and this brought a tough catch-22 to fruition.

I ran Cross Country in high school. Even to this day, I really love long distance running. I was good at it, but I wasn’t exactly a star and I didn’t run at the caliber to be the lead person on my team. But I was dependable and consistent. And something happened the summer before my junior year. I don’t know if I found escape and release during practice, but I started getting good. Like…really good. Like…beating most of the varsity team.

And then I started to win.

I don’t know what clicked. Like I said, I’m unsure if my confidence came from the fact that my home environment was so chaotic and depressing. But I found that I could tolerate more pain than I realized while running. And I discovered that once I knew I could run fast and believed it, I could actually do it.

That first week of September, our team hosted the first race for our district. Our course was in the yellowish, arid fields of western Riverside, borderline Norco. To the north of the hilly, dusty trails was the Santa Ana river. We spent many summer days running the switchbacks through the bamboo forest. Fear of the unknown (plus a heavy dose of disorientation) proved to be a great training method.

I remember hearing the starting horn go off and my mind was elsewhere, disassociated from the race here beneath my feet. As 14 runners began their gallop down the gradually sloping downhill, I heard them slip behind me, my own feet pounding on the packed dirt. When we made it to the first turn, the crowd of my peers and teammates was cheering louder than I’d ever heard them. And somehow, I was in front.

First climb. I felt like I was leaping upwards. My thighs aren’t hurting yet. Am I floating?

By the time I made it up the second ascent and down a steep decline, I was nearly 30 seconds ahead of the next runner. I passed the one mile mark and my coach merely gaped at me. No clapping, no cheering. Just staring at me in disbelief.

I passed the assistant coach near mile two, just before the long quarter mile climb up a miniature mountain we called Roselle’s Hill. His face was whiter than usual when he saw that I still had a minute lead on the next runner.

I had never won a race. And despite that another runner on my team finally passed me a couple minutes from the finish line, I recall crossing that end point to shocked cries and ecstatic cheers. I had never placed in the top ten varsity runners in my life, and suddenly, on the most difficult course of the year, I came in second place with a time of 16:12 for three miles.

My coach congratulated me in the only way he knew how: insulting me by calling me a loser for not coming in first place. But he still smiled, his crowns showing and his mustache stretching with his wide mouth.

I was permanently bumped up to the varsity team the next day. We practiced hard that Thursday, as we had a large invitational meet the upcoming Saturday just outside of town. We were running against 25 other teams from Southern California and with my newfound speed, we had a good chance of placing in the top three.

When I arrived at campus that Saturday morning, just after 6am, my coach pulled me aside before I boarded the bus. There’d been a change in plans. I couldn’t run that morning. Since the meet was off-campus, I’d need permission from my parents to participate in the race. My parents, the same people I’d escaped from and told I never wanted to see again.

I boarded the bus in defeat, stupidly thinking that perhaps I could sneak into the race or my coach would change his mind. But it was a district policy and a couple hours later, I stood, still dressed in street clothes, off on the sidelines, watching my friends and teammates compete in a race I wasn’t allowed to be in.

I had to watch, filled with disappointment and silent rage. It was an absurd idea to me. Why couldn’t my parents just sign the slip and let me be free? Why hold it over my head? Why prevent your son from being happy or successful or accomplished?

I was forced to sit out every race in 2000. I missed everything. I missed most of the races for Track the next semester. This repeated the following year until October 23, the day I turned 18 and no longer needed my parents’ permission to race off campus.

But at that time, there was only one race left of the season before semi-finals. And despite that I ran at every practice, I was placed on junior varsity for everything.

I was left behind. I was left out.

I don’t believe I ever recovered. I was so heartbroken to miss out on every experience for that year of my life and to sit out at every single race that, even when I could participate in the full track season my senior year, I never had the spark I had during that first race the year prior.

During that race, I ran the first mile in 5:01. The next day, during practice, I ran a 5:00:04 mile, officially clocked and everything. I am going to break a five minute mile before I graduate, I told myself. I have to do it.

I ran the mile during that final track meet my senior year. I ran a disappointing 5:28, coming in third place in the junior varsity position. I’m now 26 years old and I’ve still never ran a mile under five minutes.

What’s the point of all this? Because within four pages of the eighth chapter of this book, J.K. Rowling has me thinking HARRY POTTER KNOWS MY PAIN oh god whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy

  • “First Hogsmeade weekend,” said Ron, pointing to a notice that had appeared on the battered old bulletin board. “End of October. Halloween.”

    “Excellent,” said Fred, who had followed Harry through the portrait hole. “I need to visit Zonko’s. I’m nearly out of stink pellets.”

    Harry threw himself into a chair besides Ron, his high spirits ebbing away. Hermione seemed to read his mind.

    “Harry, I’m sure you’ll be able to go next time,” she said. “They’re bound to catch Black soon. He’s been sighted once already.”

It’s like Rowling based this book on my life. Good god.

  • “But–Professor, my aunt and uncle–you know, they’re Muggles, they don’t really understand about–about Hogwarts forms and stuff,” Harry said, while Ron egged him on with vigorous nods. “If you said I could go–”

    “But I don’t say so,” said Professor McGonagall, standing up and piling her papers neatly into a drawer. “The form clearly states that the parent or guardian must give permission.” She turned to look at him, with an odd expression on her face. Was it pity? “I’m sorry, Potter, but that’s my final word. You had better hurry, or you’ll be late for your next lesson.”

What is this, a biography of my life????

  • “They make a fuss about Hogsmeade, but I assure you, Harry, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be,” he [Percy] said seriously. “All right, the sweetshop’s rather good, and Zonko’s Joke Shop’s frankly dangerous, and yes, the Shrieking Shack’s always worth a visit, but really, Harry, apart from that, you’re not missing anything.”

Thanks for making absolutely nothing better, Percy.

As Harry aimlessly wanders Hogwarts, he runs into Professor Lupin, who invites him into his office for tea. Really. I was just as surprised by his friendliness, too. He also learns why Lupin didn’t allow him a chance to confront the boggart.

  • “Well,” said Lupin, frowning slightly, “I assumed that if the boggart faced you, it would assume the shape of Lord Voldemort.”

Which is a bad thing. Yes. Except Lupin was wrong about this prediction.

  • “I see,” said Lupin thoughtfully. “Well, well….I’m impressed.” He smiled slightly at the look of surprise on Harry’s face. “That suggests that what you fear most of all is—fear. Very wise, Harry.”

f yeah, Harry rules. And then….well, things get very, very strange. Snape arrives and hands Lupin a goblet that’s smoking. Literally. Apparently, Lupin hasn’t been feeling well and Snape had made him some special potion that causes his discomfort to go away. Harry isn’t exactly trusting of Snape, and he tries to let Lupin in on the secret.

  • “Some people reckon–” Harry hesitated, then plunged recklessly on, “some people reckon he’d do anything to get the Defense Against the Dark Arts job.”

Well, that’s subtle, Harry. Lupin doesn’t take the bait, though. Which, of course, naturally leads me to wonder what’s wrong with Lupin and how this plays out to the larger story.

I’m stumped.

Harry greets his friends before heading to Halloween feast, and I found it incredibly sweet that Ron and Hermione got as much candy as they could carry for Harry, since he couldn’t attend Hogsmeade. (Also, can I add that I love that Rowling didn’t find a way to weasel Harry into going? It’s far more realistic that he had to stay back.) Seriously, I WANT RON AND HERMIONE AS FRIENDS.

Unfortunately, this high moment doesn’t last too long. Upon returning to Gryffindor Tower, our characters discover that someone has slashed the portrait that allows entrance to the Common Room; the lady in the painting has disappeared to an unknown painting somewhere in Hogwarts. When Dumbledore arrives to investigate, Peeves the Poltergeist provides us all with a mind-melting revelation:

  • “Oh yes, Professorhead,” said Peeves, with the air of one cradling a large bombshell in his arms. “He got very angry when she wouldn’t let him in, you see.” Peeves flipped over and grinned at Dumbledore from between his own legs. “Nasty temper he’s got, that Sirius Black.”


A quick note about today: I’m on my way home from San Francisco and may not get to post a second review, but I’ll try my hardest to finish another one!