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Complete, detailed, and amazing Reader's Guides
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Chapter Two:
Aunt Marge's Big Mistake


NOTES | CHARACTERS | SETTINGS | TIMELINE / CALENDAR
EXCEPTIONAL CHARACTER MOMENTS
SPELLS | LINKS & RESOURCES | MEMORABLE LINES | STRICTLY BRITISH

Synopsis: Matt Allair
Notes and links: Steve Vander Ark and Michele L. Worley

US hardcover edition: pages 16 - 30
UK hardcover edition: pages 18-28
UK paperback edition: pages 23 - 38
Timeframe: 31 July - 6 August, 1993 [Y13]

In which Aunt Marge comes to visit and her taunting drives Harry to inflate her, then gather his belongings and leave Privet Drive without permission to visit Hogsmeade.

Aunt Marge's Big Mistake, PA2, by Mary GrandPré

Interesting facts and notes about the text of this chapter:

As we'll see, this chapter provides Rowling with a prime opportunity to talk about one of her favorite themes: that prejudice and intolerance and self-centeredness are very, very bad things indeed. Aunt Marge is all of these things rolled together into one large, mustachioed package, complete with an evil-tempered animal alter-ego with a violent name whom she treats far better than the humans around her. This chapter is great fun to read and Marge's comeuppance is delicious and perfectly suited to her: a woman whose sense of self-importance is inflated far beyond reason is herself inflated and ends up bobbing about on the ceiling, turned harmless and helpless and utterly laughable. In the next chapter we learn that the remedy for this is "puncturing." How wonderful. Too bad we don't get to hang around the Dursleys to see this done.

They were watching a brand-new television, a welcome-home-for-the-summer present for Dudley, who had been complaining loudly about the long walk between the fridge and the television in the living room.

This television may be the wide-screen one which is mentioned as being in the Dursley kitchen several years later, when the Advance Guard comes for Harry (OP3). In this brief sentence, Rowling once again introduces the idea that being a spoiled, obnoxious brat is very bad. She is not making fun of Dudley because he's fat, but she is scathing in her description of his laziness and his addiction to television. The fact that his parents would buy him a television (a very expensive wide-screen one, if it is the same as the one mentioned in OP2) to allow him to be so ridiculously lazy reinforces the point made back in our notes for PS2 (and by Dumbledore later in HBP3), that Harry is not the only child being abused at number four Privet Drive.

"... The public is warned that Black is armed and extremely dangerous. A special hot line has been set up, and any sighting of Black should be reported immediately."

The severity of the situation is such that the Muggles are alerted along with the Wizarding world. Of course, Muggles don't realize that the escaped prisoner is actually a wizard. Since this announcement comes on 31 July, about a week after the photo including Scabbers appeared in the newspaper, we can determine that Sirius escaped Azkaban on during the last week of July. A week from now, he will be in Privet Drive, checking up on Harry before heading north for Hogwarts, looking for Scabbers.

At Dudley's fifth birthday party, Aunt Marge had whacked Harry around the shins...

See Timeline of Dudley Dursley for more information on when exactly this would have been.

A few years later, she had turned up at Christmas with a computerized robot for Dudley and a box of dog biscuits for Harry.

Although "a few years" isn't very specific, we can determine the approximate year this happened from the dates of the other events in this list. Dudley's fifth birthday party would have been June of 1985 [Y5]. We can assume that the dog biscuit incident wasn't the very next Christmas, 1985 [Y5], or it wouldn't say "a few years later." So the earliest it can be is December of 1986 [Y6], and more likely 1987 [Y7] or later. The next event in the series, the infamous treeing of Harry by Ripper, happened when Harry was nine (OP24), which was between the end of July 1989 [Y9] through July of 1990 [Y10]. So the dog biscuit incident probably happened in December of 1988 [Y8].

On her last visit, the year before Harry started at Hogwarts, Harry had accidentally trodden on the tail of her favorite dog. Ripper had chased Harry out into the garden and up a tree...

This traumatic event was recalled by Harry when under Legilimency attack by Snape (OP24). He recalled that the incident happened when he was nine. We don't know what the occasion was of Marge's visit. It seems to have been fairly nice weather, since all the Dursleys were "out on the lawn" and laughing at him. We can't narrow it down to more than 31 July, [Y9] through 30 July, 1990 [Y10], however.

...we've told Marge you attend St. Brutus's Secure Center for Incurably Criminal Boys...

There is no such place, not surprisingly. Most likely, Vernon invented this place as a good story to tell (which is pretty clever for someone who doesn't believe in imagination). The neighborhood children had also been fed this lie, since according to OP1, they didn't want to play with Harry because they had been told that he was a "hardened hooligan" who attended St Brutus's.

Ripper was lapping noisily in the corner. Harry saw Aunt Petunia wince slightly as specks of tea and drool flecked her clean floor. Aunt Petunia hated animals.

As the week goes on we see Aunt Petunia bottling up her frustration as she endures Marge's boorishness. Here it's the dog messing up her "surgically clean kitchen" (OP2). Soon it will be Marge's insults to her family. In PA/f, Fiona Shaw portrays this very well by cringing as the dog jumps on her and impulsively clenching and unclenching her fist during Marge's speeches against Harry and by extension against Petunia's family. The fact that Petunia hates animals is very telling indeed, as the wizarding world is simply filled with animals.

"Oh, I've got Colonel Fubster managing them," boomed Aunt Marge. "He's retired now, good for him to have something to do..."

Colonel Fubster is just a Muggle, according to JKR, answering the curiosity of fans who wondered if perhaps the retired colonel had some larger part to play in the upcoming books. Some suspected the colonel of being magical because of a breaking wineglass incident which took place at his home (see below). "Good for him to have something to do" suggests that Marge is managing him the way that she tries to manage everyone's lives around her. The name "Fubster" doesn't mean anything directly, but it certainly makes the man sound like a bit of an old fool, doesn't it.

...lunch on the third day...

Since the first day was Harry's birthday, 31 July, the third day would be 2 August.

"You see it all the time with dogs. If there's something wrong with the bitch, there'll be something wrong with the pup --"

Of course Marge is speaking about dogs here, but there's no escaping the fact that she is using a rather rude term to refer indirectly to Petunia's sister, Lily. Although Petunia may wish to pretend she doesn't have a sister, as Harry believes she does, she is almost certainly offended at the way Marge is blaming Harry's imperfections entirely on Petunia's side of the family.

At that moment, the wineglass Aunt Marge was holding exploded in her hand.

Harry blames himself for this, and he is almost certainly correct. But there might very well be another person in that dining room who is frustrated and angry: Petunia. Is it possible that it was Petunia and not Harry who caused the glass to shatter? Then again, Marge says the same thing happened to her just last week at Colonel Fubster's. There was certainly no one there to do magic at that time, was there? We know it wasn't the Colonel and there's no way if could be Marge...could it? Naw, that's silly. It must have been Harry. Still...

Only last summer he'd gotten an official warning that had stated quite clearly that if the Ministry got wind of any more magic in Privet Drive, Harry would face expulsion from Hogwarts.

This refers to the events in CS2, of course. As we learn in OP2, the Ministry is keeping a particularly close watch on Privet Drive. I think it is likely that other students are not subject to the same scrutiny. For example, no one seems to bat an eye when the Weasley twins work magic in their room over the summer holidays, creating joke items. It is possible that if Harry performs magic, he might draw the attention of Death Eaters or even of Voldemort.  Of course, in the summer of Y15, Mundungus Fletcher Apparates right in front of the Dursleys' house and never gets an owl from Mafalda Hopkirk. Certainly the Ministry didn't know he was there, since he was on watch for the Order of the Phoenix, yet the Ministry doesn't notice his magic or perhaps they could tell it wasn't Harry. But then, if they could tell that, why didn't they know that it was Dobby who cast the Hover Charm the year before? The particulars of this surveillance are a bit complicated and don't entirely work out logically.

Harry got through the next three days...

Those three days would have been August 3, 4, and 5.

At last, at long last, the final evening of Marge's stay arrived.

This would be on the 5th or 6th of August. Since Marge stayed for a week, arriving on 31 July, it is logical that she would be leaving after seven days, on the morning of the eighth day. In that case, this dinner party happened on 6 August.

...Uncle Vernon brought out a bottle of brandy...Aunt Marge had already had quite a lot of wine...

At this point, Marge is drunk. Ironic, then, that she accuses Harry's parents of not only being worthless layabouts but also of being drunk when they died in that car crash. Aunt Marge is one of the clearest examples in the books of intolerance, one of Rowling's key themes. All through this section of the book, Marge is written with delicious detail designed to make us dislike her immensely. Her appearance is bizarre (mustache and all) and her voice is described as a bark. She drinks too much and belittles everyone: Dudley by paying him to give her a hug, Petunia by disregarding her feelings, and of course Harry. In PA/f, Pam Ferris portrays this by snapping her fingers imperiously for Harry to serve her, but not as if she is so great, but dismissively as if he is so inferior that he is little more than a slave.

The cupboard door burst magically open as he reached it.

This is a classic example of pure magic driven by intention and emotion. Harry doesn't think about incantations or even worry that his wand is nowhere in sight. He performs magic the way that Dumbledore does, by the force of his will. Of course, the fact that he can only muster this kind of focus when he's out of control shows that he has plenty of training to do yet.

Characters introduced in this chapter:

Characters returning in this chapter:

Characters mentioned in this chapter:

Settings and locations introduced or returning in this chapter:

Settings and locations mentioned in this chapter:

Exceptional character moments:

  • Dudley Dursley, who spends most of his waking hours eating and watching television, could be the poster child for childhood obesity and for couch potatoes.

  • When Uncle Vernon says, "Lunatic could be coming up the street right now!" after hearing the news report regarding Sirius Black, he has no idea that in less than a week this would be true. Foreshadowing?

  • Harry is definitely developing a teenager's attitude as illustrated in the way he speaks to Uncle Vernon. Harry agrees to behave during Aunt Marge's visit if she behaves during her visit.

  • Aunt Marge tells Harry that if he had been dumped on her doorstep that she would have sent him straight to an orphanage. Harry was bursting to tell her that he would rather live in an orphanage than with the Dursleys. If the Dursleys had sent Harry to an orphanage, he would have ironically grown up the same way as Tom Riddle. Harry knows this from his encounter with Riddle the year before. The information in the note that Dumbledore left with baby Harry on the Dursleys' doorstep prevented this from happening. If Harry had grown up in an orphanage, he would have had yet another similarity with Voldemort. Dumbledore had to have known this and would have rather had Harry endure eleven years of bad treatment from the Dursleys than to share something else in common with Voldemort.

  • Aunt Marge obviously tends to drink to excess resulting in intoxication. Many people tend to see their own faults in the faults of other individuals. Marge is no exception. After way too much wine and brandy during dinner, she (of all people) has the nerve to tell Harry that his parents were killed in the car accident because they were drunk. Perfect example of "the pot calling the kettle black" on Marge's part. Verbal irony at its finest.

  • Aunt Marge would make a very good Voldemort supporter if she were a witch and not a Muggle. She like the Malfoys have a real problem with not being a pureblood. She makes this clear when speaking about dog breeding. "Bad blood will out," she tells Petunia. Aunt Marge considers one of the basic rules of good breeding is: "If there's something wrong with the bitch, there'll be something wrong with the pup-"

  • When Harry finally snaps after enduring a week of Aunt Marge's insults toward him and his parents, his emotions get the best of him. Harry having never felt so angry in his life never goes for his wand or utters any curses; the magic just seem to emanate from him. Harry just "blew up" because he could not take Aunt Marge's nasty comments any more, and appropriately enough Aunt Marge blew up, too. Harry knows too many curses from his previous two years at Hogwarts, so why did his emotions choose to inflate Aunt Marge? Could it be that this happened because he spent the summer watching Dudley continue to balloon in size?

Spells:

  • wandless magic

    • wineglass shattering

    • inflating Aunt Marge

    • door-opening spell

Links and Resources:

Memorable lines:

  • ". . . The public is warned that Black is armed and extremely dangerous. A special hot line has been set up, and any sighting of Black should be reported immediately." Reporter on television

  • "She was the nosiest woman in the world and spent most of her life spying on the boring, law-abiding neighbors." Description of Aunt Petunia

  • ". . . we've told Marge you attend St. Brutus's Secure Center for Incurably Criminal Boys." Uncle Vernon to Harry

  • "Bad blood will out." Aunt Marge

  • "She deserved what she got." Harry regarding Aunt Marge

  • "I'm going. I've had enough." Harry

Strictly British:

Timelines/Calendar:

We are given no hint of the days of the week, so we'll go with supplying Y13 with the dates from the actual calendar of the summer of 1993.

See also Timeline of Dudley Dursley, which received a lot of information thanks to this chapter.

SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
July 25 26 27 28 29 30
July 31
Marge arrives shortly after breakfast

Harry's 13th birthday
Aug 1 Aug 2
at lunch, Marge's wineglass explodes
Aug 3 Aug 4 Aug 5 Aug 6
dinner at which Marge becomes inflated and
Harry flees number four Privet Drive
Aug 7
31 July, 1993 [Y13]

Harry joins Vernon, Dudley, and Petunia for breakfast in the kitchen (around 8 or 9 o'clock?). All are watching the new television as a news program announces a warning of an escaped convict, named Black, who is "armed and highly dangerous."

Vernon mentions picking up Aunt Marge, whose train is due at 10 o'clock. Marge is Vernon's sister and is due to stay for a week. This comes as a very unpleasant shock to Harry as Marge is his least favorite Aunt. She has a history of being cruel to Harry, while spoiling Dudley.

Vernon barks three conditions to Harry while Marge is visiting. First, to keep a civil tongue. Second, that there's to be no 'funny stuff', no magic. Third, Vernon has told Marge that Harry attends St. Brutus's Secure Center for Incurably Criminal Boys, Harry has to play along.

Harry is stunned by this development, while Vernon gets his coat to leave, Harry remembers the permission form. Harry strikes a bargain with Vernon, as well as a touch of blackmail, he'll agree to the conditions if the form is signed. Vernon agrees if Harry  'toes the line' for the week and sticks to the St. Brutus story. Vernon leaves.

Harry goes to his room, hides all evidence of his wizard life, has Hedwig leave and follow Errol to the Weasley home for the week.

Soon Marge arrives with Vernon, hugging Dudley while planting a twenty-pound note in his hand. She throws her heavy suitcase at Harry, winding him. Marge's dog Ripper is by her side. Harry escapes upstairs with the suitcase.

Harry comes back downstairs to the kitchen, to find Marge served with tea and fruitcake. Ripper is given some tea while Marge mentions that Colonel Fubster is watching over her twelve other dogs. Marge starts to harass Harry while he plays along to attending St. Brutus's.

2 August, 1993 [Y13]

Marge continues to harass and provoke Harry, who ignores her. During lunch, she comments, "You mustn't blame yourself for the way the boy's turned out, Vernon. If there's something on the inside, there's nothing anyone can do about it." Harry has to remind himself to control his temper when Marge's glass explodes. Vernon and Petunia are alarmed, Harry leaves nervously reminding himself about the form and not to get in trouble again with the Ministry through any illegal use of magic like the summer before (CS2).

6 or 7 August, 1993 [Y13]

The Dursleys, Aunt Marge and Harry have a fancy evening dinner. After dessert, Vernon offers Marge some brandy when she starts to make comments about Harry again. She repeats a similar 'poor breeding' comment directed at Harry, when she starts a more insulting comment about Petunia's sister and the 'no-account, good-for-nothing' father of Harry's. Harry feels the anger begin.

Harry starts to lose his temper when he speaks up and debates with Aunt Marge about how the Potter's died. She stops speaking and starts to inflate like a balloon, rising to the roof. Vernon seizes one of Marge's feet when Ripper appears and attacks Vernon's leg.

Harry, realizing he must be to blame, races out of the dining room. He makes for the hall and the downstairs cupboard as it magically bursts open. Harry heaves his trunk out to the front door.

Harry races upstairs, grabs his hidden books and birthday presents, grabs Hedwig's cage, races downstairs as Vernon appears, bellowing to him to 'put her right'. Harry opens his trunk, takes his wand and points it at Vernon, telling him to 'stay away, she deserved it' as he opens the door. Still fuming, Harry tells Vernon 'I'm going' as he exits the Dursley home.


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