Are you ready to dive into Chapter 4 of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban? Because I sure am!
Welcome back to Muggles and Mocha, where we’re currently breaking down the third book of the Harry Potter series. Last time, we talked about the Knight Bus and everything that happens in Chapter 3. But now, Harry’s in Diagon Alley and preparing to head back to his true home—Hogwarts. At first glance, this chapter may seem like it doesn’t really have a lot to offer in terms of story development. But I BEG TO DIFFER, of course! If you’re in the party of “this-chapter-is-filler,” read on, and let’s see if I can change your mind.
But FIRST, check out our video for today! In this video, we talk about Chapter 4 in its entirety and get into some interesting discussions. As always, starting now, there will be spoilers in both the video and article.
This article is particularly special to me because we’re going to mix Harry Potter with a writing technique that’s dear to my heart. I think that might just be the most “English major” sentence I’ve ever written, but hopefully, you’re here for it.
In this chapter, J.K. Rowling uses this writing device extremely well, and I believe this is the book when we truly see her come into her own as a writer as a result of this technique—foreshadowing.
While we’ve seen foreshadowing in the first two books as well, I find this chapter extremely masterful in its execution of it. Rowling lays out a lot of plot points that will come back later in the book, disguising them as quirky, casual, and sometimes insignificant details that keep this foreshadowing subtle for us. However, little did we know when we first read the books that these pieces were all working together toward something greater. While some may find some of Rowling’s chapters long-winded, especially in the later books, she always does a good job of making clever use of every page she writes, either using them to set up character development, story intricacies, or what we’ll be talking about today—foreshadowing.
But before we discuss how this technique is used in this chapter of the book, let’s talk about foreshadowing in general. If you’re reading this article, I know you’re a book fan, and some of you may even be writers yourselves. As a book lover, you will have read many books that used foreshadowing with varying levels of success. Some may have been absolutely perfect, while others might have been a little too on-the-nose with their foreshadowing. Let’s dig into this technique and talk about why it’s so important.
What Is Foreshadowing?
Foreshadowing is a literary device authors use to hint at what’s to come later in the book. It’s an extremely impactful tool when used effectively. This article by MasterClass, a video teaching program where you can learn skills from the best in the business, says it well:
“In the definition of foreshadowing, the word ‘hint’ is key. Foreshadowing does not necessarily mean explicitly revealing what will happen later in your story. In fact, when it is used effectively, many readers may not even realize the significance of an author’s foreshadowing until the end of the story.”
So yes, foreshadowing is not revealing the end of the story to the reader; it is using clues and hints to build tension around the story’s conclusion or climax. There are two types of foreshadowing: Direct Foreshadowing and Indirect Foreshadowing. The names of these two different styles speak for themselves, but let’s dig a little deeper.
Direct foreshadowing is when an author mentions or hints at something that, from early on in the story, clearly broadcasts something that will happen, whether it be a problem the audience is made aware of or an element like a prophecy.
The most common form of foreshadowing J.K. Rowling uses, on the other hand—indirect foreshadowing—is subtle. It’s small details and hints dropped throughout the story that slowly and quietly build up a big reveal so the audience is prepared for this twist (whether they realize it or not). Both of these foreshadowing styles are important and can work together to make a good story really pop.
As a matter of fact, foreshadowing may actually be my favorite literary device. There’s nothing quite like reaching the end of a book and realizing so many little details suddenly make sense—that there was more than initially met the eye when you read it the first time. To me, this technique is what makes good stories with good reveals great. A show I’m presently watching, Attack on Titan, does this extremely well, and undoubtedly, it’s one of the main reasons I enjoy it so much.
Sorry, I have to find any opportunity to include a gif from this AMAZING show… but I digress. The same is true for Chapter 4 of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The way its effective foreshadowing contributes to the tension building up to the final reveal, while also making those reveals as impactful as possible, is one of the reasons it stands out in the Harry Potter series.
As mentioned, when we first read it, this chapter seemed like it could simply be filler information as we wait for Harry and the gang to go back to Hogwarts. Harry’s living in Diagon Alley for three weeks, and we see him enjoy the city life and the shops. He meets up with Ron and Hermione and prepares to go back to school. Besides learning that Sirius Black could be after him and meeting Crookshanks, there’s not too much else that seems important, right?
Once we reach the end of the book, we realize this isn’t the case. Rather, this chapter is filled to the brim with valuable details that slowly and subconsciously build our understanding of the story, preparing us for the big reveals that occur at the end of the book.
Here are only a couple of the foreshadowing moments we receive in Chapter 4.
When Harry is in Flourish and Blotts, he sees a horrifying dog on the cover of a book called Death Omens: What to Do When You Know the Worst Is Coming. This is a Grim, an omen of death Harry learns about from the infamous Professor Trelawney during Divination. It’s going to be a very important symbol in this book, even though we don’t know it yet. However, that’s not all we get from this moment. Harry lingers on this image, and thoughts of it take him back to the creature he saw in Magnolia Crescent.
Of course, this foreshadows Sirius Black and Harry’s knowledge about the Grim as an omen, but it goes deeper than that. The Grim symbol frames Harry’s view of Sirius Black from this moment on and the fear that he is being hunted. It appears multiple times and affects Harry before he (and we) learn what it means, impressing on us the significance of this omen early on. It’s something that began with the dog in Magnolia Crescent, is continued here in Flourish and Blotts, and will steadily build throughout the rest of the book as Harry learns more about this creature.
Rowling does a good job of ensuring it lingers throughout the rest of this chapter, even incorporating it into the last paragraph as Harry considers what lies ahead. It truly works as an omen even from its first introduction in Magnolia Crescent and gives Harry a feeling of unease before he even knows what it is.
HERMIONE AND THE TIME-TURNER
Hermione’s large course load is subtly mentioned in this chapter as well, and as we know, this will factor in strongly at the end of the book. The trio discusses how many classes she’ll be taking this year and how she’s going to achieve it all. Little do they know, a Time-Turner will be involved that will eventually save Sirius Black’s life.
SCABBERS AND PETER PETTIGREW
Then there’s perhaps my favorite bit of foreshadowing in this chapter—the connection between Scabbers and Peter Pettigrew. Rowling is able to be pretty subtle with the details she presents to us about Scabbers because this reveal has been a long time in the making. We’ve known Scabbers for a while at this point, so it isn’t weird for us to consider the small bits of information we learn about Scabbers in the pet store.
For instance, Scabbers is old. Like, really old. As I say in the video, when I first read this book, I thought the shopkeeper’s comments on Scabbers’s age just made him a funnier character. The “charm” of Scabbers came from him being old, worn out, sleepy, and just a funny little rat. But as we learn, these small details make up a larger, more malevolent truth. Scabbers is a man, the person responsible for selling out Harry’s parents to Voldemort, and he’s been living as a rat this whole time.
In this chapter, we learn he’s sick and hasn’t been doing well since the Weasleys were in Egypt. While in Egypt, the Weasleys’ (and Scabbers’s) picture was featured in the Daily Prophet, prompting Sirius’s escape from Azkaban. At the news of Sirius’s escape, Pettigrew/Scabbers becomes very ill because he’s afraid Sirius is looking for him—and he’s right. The beginning of the enmity between Scabbers and Crookshanks in this chapter is just the icing on the cake for this bit of foreshadowing, especially when we see Crookshanks later with Sirius in his animagus form. It’s so satisfying to reach the end of the book and have all of these pieces come together in what is one of my favorite reveals in the book series.
Even throughout the rest of the chapter, Rowling continues to mention Scabbers’s rat tonic. Harry even goes downstairs to get it, and even though it functions as a device to give Harry an opportunity to overhear Mr. and Mrs. Weasleys’ conversation, I think it’s also used as a reminder for us that Scabbers is sick, that there’s something wrong with him, even though that information might not be too important to us yet.
We’ll definitely talk more about Pettigrew/Scabbers in later articles! For now, we—as people who have read the book before—have the pleasure of sitting back and watching all of these foreshadowing instances unfold as we progress toward the end of the book.
MR. AND MRS. WEASLEYS’ CONVERSATION
While this scene is a little more overt than the other foreshadowing instances we’ve seen in this chapter, there are a couple of other details that work into our narrative besides the blatant information they give us through their dialogue. When we first read this conversation, we believe Sirius Black is after Harry and that Harry needs to be protected. It works as a red herring, pointing us away from the truth. While we do learn a bit more about Sirius, his escape, and Harry’s involvement, it’s telling us Black is going to be a major part of our plot in this book, the problem Harry will face. However, in fact, there’s also a lot of hidden meaning that we and the other characters aren’t aware of yet—Sirius is actually after Peter Pettigrew. While this conversation prepares us for events that lie ahead and Harry’s dilemma, it also gets us ready for our grand reveal in a way we might not have expected. After the reveal, we can look back at this conversation, read about Sirius muttering, “He’s at Hogwarts,” and understand that all of these details were true—they were just pointing in a different direction.
These are only some of the moments Rowling uses to utilize foreshadowing in this chapter, and as you can see, it takes a lot of careful planning and foresight. You want to give your audience enough information so the surprise events that occur in your story make sense while not giving too much away. This is something Rowling specifically excels at. Actually, in the MasterClass article I quoted above about this technique, they mentioned Rowling and Harry Potter, using a moment in the first Harry Potter book as a good example of foreshadowing. She’s well-known for her strength with this technique.
There are probably even more foreshadowing moments in this chapter, but these are some that particularly stood out to me. It’s little touches like these that make a book truly great, and I think they are what give this book in particular that extra oomph. There’s a reason many Harry Potter fans believe the third book is when the series starts getting really good, and it’s not only because of the plot itself—it’s the use of literary devices like this one that make those fantastic reveals stand out.
That’s all, folks! I hope you enjoyed this chapter. We’ll talk about Chapter 5 and dementors next time, and I’m eager to write about them. They’re fascinating creatures, and the inspiration behind them is pretty interesting as well. You don’t want to miss it!
Don’t forget to check out the video above, and my social media handles are below if you’d like to give a me a follow. I hope you all have a great week!
See ya, Muggles!
Disclaimer: I do not own any element of the Harry Potter series.