The Firebolt

chapter eleven of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry fumes over Sirius Black but calms down when he hears that Buckbeak is scheduled for a hearing – and he then receives a Firebolt for Christmas. After an entertaining Christmas dinner, however, McGonagall confiscates the broom, enraging Ron.

Harry Examines the Old Wedding Portrait of His Parents and Sirius Black, by Drew Graham

He stopped on a picture of his parents’ wedding day…. If he hadn’t known it was the same person, he would never have guessed it was Black in this old photograph. His face wasn’t sunken and waxy, but handsome, full of laughter. Had he already been working for Voldemort when this picture had been taken?


Firebolt, by Tealin Raintree

It was a Firebolt, identical to the dream broom Harry had gone to see every day in Diagon Alley.


Christmas Morning, by Tealin Raintree

“What’re you two laughing about?”


Christmas Dinner 2, by Heather Campbell

Snape’s mouth thinned and he pushed the hat toward Dumbledore, who swapped it for his wizard’s hat at once.


But Surely You Already Knew That, Sybill, by gerre

“But surely you already knew that, Sibyll?” said Professor McGonagall, her eyebrows raised.

(by gerre)


Christmas Dinner, by Heather Campbell

“My dears! Which of you left his seat first? Which?”
…”I doubt it will make much difference,” said Professor McGonagall coldly, “unless a mad axe-man is waiting outside the doors to slaughter the first into the entrance hall.”


Don't Look at Me, I'm Reading! by Tealin Raintree

Harry and Ron looked around at Hermione. They could see her forehead reddening over the top of her book, which was upside down.


"May I?" by gerre

“I see…,” said Professor McGonagall. “Well, I’m afraid I will have to take this, Potter.”

(by gerre)


about the chapter


Every time I read this chapter, I wonder whether Rowling had a deliberate reason for injecting so much humor into the Christmas break, or whether she might have just been an particularly goofy mood one day and decided to write Trelawney into the scene. McGonagall is just about the most straight-laced of any character in the books, but when she cracks, she provides for some of the funniest scenes Rowling has written. I love her exchange with Trelawney over Christmas dinner, and we’ll see this side of her personality poke out again with another teacher in a couple of years.

The Wizarding World

It’s such a cool element of the wizarding world that the characters in paintings are friends with each other. Every Christmas, it seems, the Hogwarts paintings gather together in groups to celebrate – in this case, Sir Cadogan is “enjoying a Christmas party with a couple of monks, several previous headmasters of Hogwarts, and his fat pony.” Sir Cadogan must throw a mean party – the painted monks we know of are rather prone to, um, indulgence, and surely Sir Cadogan wouldn’t be the type of guy that Hogwarts headmasters would particularly enjoy the company of. Maybe everyone just likes to laugh at him?

Life at Hogwarts

Rowling has mentioned in interviews that whether Hogwarts professors have spouses is classified information, but we do get a bit of a hint at the Christmas dinner as many of them seem to have left the school for the holidays; for example, Madam Hooch, Madam Pomfrey, and Professor Sinistra don’t seem to be anywhere to be found. Dumbledore and the heads of houses are all present, so perhaps they still have duties at school (or perhaps *none* of them are married – after all, teaching in a boarding school wouldn’t be a position conducive to having a family). But I think it’s probably safe to assume that Filch, Hagrid, Trelawney, and Lupin don’t have families at home with whom they would prefer to spend the winter break, and they’re all around.

One question that does come to mind on this front: Harry, Ron, and Hermione take books out of the library during the break, so Madame Pince must be around during the holiday. So where is she now, during Christmas dinner? We know she doesn’t have a spouse, though it’s possible she’s with other family members. Surely she’s not still in the library during dinner…. right?

Here’s another aspect of daily life at Hogwarts that we rarely hear about: laundry. Harry mentions when his Sneakoscope falls on the floor that he never wears Uncle Vernon’s old socks “if he can help it.” Why would he not be able to help it? Only if all his other socks were dirty, of course. So the question then becomes, how do the students do their laundry? Do they leave it out for the house-elves? And while we’re at it, what about all the times we hear the entirety of Harry’s morning routine, and it never includes a shower? So many aspects of daily life that aren’t included, I just wonder how they all work….

Something to Remember

Speaking of Harry’s Sneakoscope, it’s worth keeping an eye on. Ron mentions it might not work very well as it’s cheap, but Hermione wryly points out that Ron was doing something untrustworthy at the time it started going off unexpectedly. Yet none of the trio seems to notice when the Sneakoscope is going off on the Hogwarts Express, or in the Gryffindor dormitories when they’re the only three around. It’s worth another look at those scenes to see who’s around and why it might be going off.

46 Responses to “The Firebolt”

  1. I thought there was something about laundry in CoS when they steal Crabbe & Goyle’s robes…maybe not

  2. Sure enough, Hayley… I’d never noticed this passage before:

    “‘Good. And I sneaked these spare robes out of the laundry,’ Hermione said, holding up a small sack.”

    So it sounds like laundry is indeed done centrally, and therefore almost certainly by house-elves. Although for me this passage brings up even more questions than it answers…. ;)

  3. In regards to the showers, I believe there was a thread on Leaky where we talked abotu Harry’s personal hygiene, and I believe the conclusion was that we’ve seen him take 3 showers and 1 bath over the course of the first 6 books.

  4. I think the Sneakoscope is always reacting to Scabbers.

  5. Yes, I’ve always wondered about Harry’s morning routine too. I mean normally Rowling says Harry goes upstairs, gets into pyjamas and gets straight into bed. Does he not brush his teeth? Same in the morning, he gets dressed straight away and down to breakfast. No mention of brushing teeth or bathing.

    I’ve also wondered does the Gryffindor common room have any bathrooms. I mean lets say some students have bladder problems or constipation. Would they wander about the corridors at night looking for a bathroom.

    And then there’s regular rooms we wouldn’t perceive as magical. Like laundry where do they leave it. Oliver, Fred and George are all described as being quite muscular. Is there some sort of gym at Hogwarts? What about witches and wizards who are religious. Do they have a place of worship?

  6. I’ve never thought about it but you’re right, “spare robes out of the laundry” doesn’t make a ton of sense. Students purchase their own school uniforms outside of school, right? So why does the school stay stocked with spare robes? Unless that was Hermione’s euphemistic way of saying she stole some robes at some point between the time they were cleaned and the time they were returned to their owners.

    Did anyone feel as bad as me when, in DH, Harry loses the Firebolt? Because it made me really sad. One of the few gifts he received from Sirius.

  8. Seán, good points!

  9. I’ve thought of where those places would be too Sean. The places of Hogwarts are described as moving around a lot, so I figured rooms for exercise, religious worship, etc. would sort of pop up in a Room of Requirement-like way whenever students needed it.

  10. Paula you’re not the only one. It really made me sad :S

  11. For me, the loss of the Firebolt was overshadowed by Hedwig’s death in the same scene.

    And I got a kick out of Heather’s picture of Snape imagining the mad axeman targetting Harry and coming as close as Snape can get to a smile.

  12. This is the first time we see/hear about the 13 people at a table theory. If you read into the books. You can see this theory actually work later. once in OotP and once in DH. Here are the links from Mugglenet. and

  13. Just wanted to point out a misspelling in one of the quotes – Trelawney’s first name is spelt Sybill, not Sibyll.

  14. Yes! These hygiene issues have always made me very curious. When we finally see the prefects’ bathroom in GF, it seems so.. impractical. Maybe it’s not as big an issue for guys, but I certainly wouldn’t like to have to go outside of my dormitory to take a bath. And unless I’m remembering incorrectly, that bath is just one big, community tub. Again, maybe it’s a gender thing, but I don’t think I’d be too keen on washing up in there (especially during CS when professors have to accompany students to the bathroom).

  15. In older college dorms in the U.S., it is common for the toilets and showers to be in a separate room down the hall from the actual dorm rooms and to be shared by everyone on that floor. (Separate facilities for men and women, though.) I have always envisioned something like this at Hogwarts with the prefect’s bath as kind of privilege or perk – almost like a spa room.

    In SS Neville’s toad was found “lurking in the upstairs toilet.” Maybe there is a floor on each dorm for toilets and bathing, we just don’t get told about it.

  16. though the issues with hygiene are legitimate, you do have to realize though that it would get rather dull and annoying if JKR said that Harry brushed his teeth literally EVERY time before he went to bed and EVERY time he got up. Granted, she could throw it in there a few times, just to ease the minds of some more dental hygiene conscious readers, but honestly…it would just be excessive to say that he did it every time that we do such an activity in our “normal” lives. y’know?

  17. Eliza – for reasons unknown to me Trelawney’s first name is spelled Sybill in the UK editions of the books, and Sibyll in the American ones. I confess I’m not always consistent with which version I use (Madam/Madame is one I’m particularly bad at), as I own both. But Sibyll is, at least, not incorrect. :)

    nerdeegirl – I agree with you that hearing about these things regularly would get boring. The reason it strikes me as funny isn’t so much that showers aren’t mentioned, as that Rowling routinely leads us to believe she’s written the *entirety* of Harry’s morning activities, and showers, etc. aren’t included. That’s when it feels odd to me.

  18. He doesn’t use the toilet either, though we know there are toilets in Hogwarts.

    Did anyone else feel slightly sorry for Harry standing there with the tin of polish still clutched in his hands as McGonagall took the Firebolt away? It’s one of those little details that just paints a very vivid picture.

  19. @elizabeth

    I felt sorry for Harry too. It must have seemed really cruel to him. He had the best broomstick and someone actually spent that much money on him and then it’s taken away and he hears how a murderer probably sent it too him. Poor Harry no wonder he was angry.

  20. They might leave it for the house elves or there is probably a laundry room at Hogwarts. As in the first book we see that students are asked to buy robes with name tags.. I think it’s meant for laundry purpose ..

  21. Since the castle was built a long time ago it probably didn’t have proper bathrooms back then, but when they installed modern plumbing I bet they put a bathroom in each dormitory. Otherwise how else would they be able to go straight up from quidditch practice all muddy and what not and then go straight to bed?

  22. And I feel like the laundry is automatically taken from their rooms and replaced much like the trunks are brought to them on their first day and the christmas presents are delivered. It seems like the servants have full access to the whole castle, so they can clean up and do this sort of chores, of course house elves can apparate inside the castle so it would be quite easy for them.

  23. if elves apparate,
    then how come noone wakes up hearing the ‘crack’ though harry heard it in CoS?

  24. totally off topic for the other discussions, but it was mentioned that madam pince isn’t at the meal… well, if i remember correctly, filch isn’t there either….

  25. Whether one used elves or charms, the wizarding world still needed a laundry room, I guess.
    Seems like a magical way to clean one own’s self wouldn’t be out of reach, but a hot bath is universal. They obviously took care of the oral hygiene problem too if dentists are not known. One of the most appealing aspects of wizard life is the lack of mundane chores. George Carlin said (I’m probably not quoting him verbatim) “Isn’t it annoying to wake up and realize you have to wash all over again?”
    Personally, I’m waiting for my housecleaning robot that The Jetsons promised was in my future.

  26. I’ve always found it rather hilarious that Hermione’s parents are dentists… and yet good dental hygiene does not seem to be practiced by the boys. One would think Hermione would be constantly on them about it.

  27. “if elves apparate, then how come noone wakes up hearing the ‘crack’ though harry heard it in CoS?” – ud

    They probably only appear when there’s no one else around. Or if they have to sneak into the dormatory while the kids are sleeping, like to deliver Christmas presents, they probably apparate into the common room and then come up via the stairs.

  28. I’ve always just assumed that the usually clean themselves via magic. There is probably a a charm to clean your teeth… Maybe they only shower when they feel like it and use other self-cleaning charms when they’re feeling lazy?

  29. And on the topic of Apparating, I think there is a bit of an inconsistency with the noise it makes. Sometimes, it is called a small ‘pop’ while sometimes it is a loud ‘crack.’ I wonder if that is a mistake or has something to do with the person apparating.

  30. Sean, it was always pretty routine in British boarding schools for the domestic staff to do the students’ laundry. In the mid-C19, the parents even had to pay an extra “washing” charge. We don’t know where the Hogwarts laundry is, but maybe next to the kitchen? And possibly there are chutes that lead down to it.

    Hermione does seem to have been lucky, howeverr, to have found a spare basket of newly-ironed school robes just lying around.

    Regarding those other rooms you mentioned: well, we don’t know anything at all about what’s on the sixth floor of Hogwarts. There don’t seem to be any classrooms. I like to think there are a few music practice rooms… but I wonder what els? A gym or some art rooms are real possibilities.

    We can be practically certain that a castle built in 950 would have a chapel, and that attendance would have been compulsory until well into the seventeenth century. The place is probably a bit neglected now, however; for one thing, there doesn’t seem to be anyone to officiate…

  31. Christa – We know that wizards take baths/showers because Fleur went to take a bath when she was staying at the Burrow before her wedding, Harry used the prefects bath in GoF, and Wood was trying to ‘drown himself in the shower’ after they lost the Quidditch match in POA!
    I think baths/showers are normal. Not to say that there aren’t cleaning spells; ust that the normal way to get clean is to take a bath or a shower.

  32. Pam, you beat me to it! This entire time I was waiting for the last comment so I could say Oliver tried to “drown himself” in the showers after they lose to Hufflepuff in PoA. I’m glad somebody else remembered this, though =P

    As for cleaning charms and the like, I’m certain there must be a charm for cleaning one’s teeth, as dentists are unheard of to those who grew up in the Wizarding world. This doesn’t quite explain the spearmint flossing candies in Honeydukes though.

    Tom, Filch *was* at Christmas dinner in this book. He did away with his brown coat and donned a “very old and rather moldy-looking tailcoat” =]

    Also, I’m sure the Church would be appalled at us saying there could be a place of worship in Hogwarts, seeing as how just reading these books seems to be “blasphemy”. I always found this funny, as the students are all seen celebrating holidays such as Christmas and Easter throughout the year.

    And I’ve always liked to assume that the sound of apparating depends on the inherent power of the with or wizard, as they might be able to control how loud they’re being by force of will, depending on their power level. One of my favorite fan fictions has this exact idea in it. But I can’t really say how it could go for house elves. I think elizabethauthor is correct, they probably do make the sound, but wait until no one is around, or apparate somewhere close by first, and walk the rest of the way.

  33. @Casey Yeah, I’m pretty sure you’ve just thrown religion out the window if you decide to practice magic at an institution for witches and wizards.

  34. Casey, I think JKR has made it pretty clear that wizards have the same religions and non-religions as Muggles. In the 1990s in Britain, that usually means a non-religion. But in the tenth century, that would mean being a good scion of the Celtic Church (the Catholics didn’t take over Scotland until more than a hundred years later).

    Did the Celtic Church object to the wizards having a chapel? We don’t know. But we can be pretty sure that Hogwarts didn’t care what the Muggles thought!

    Actually JKR has fudged her facts here. She says Hogwarts was founded to escape Muggle persecution. But in real life, the tenth century was a period of stability. Ordinary people were superstitious about believing in magic but not particularly afraid of it. A spell-casting neighbour was only a problem if you suspected the person was using malicious spells; “benign” magic was not much feared. The educated (mainly the Churchmen!) tended not to believe in magic at this time, and it was not a century of witch-hunting.

    So I suppose you could play it either way. Either the Church wasn’t worried about Hogwarts, because they – unlike the ignorant masses – just perceived it as a centre for practising science; or the Church led the persecution of the wizards, and that’s why Hogwarts was founded.

  35. nerdeegirl, Josie, for a greater treatise on how boring it would be if a main character’s every hygiene ritual was covered, check out Douglas Adams’ novel So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, in which the narrator devotes a paragraph or two to musing on how boring it would be if he did this.

  36. @Josiah: religion is a deeply complicated phenomenon, so the idea that going to a school of magic precludes it doesn’t ring true. Magic is a part of everyday wizarding world life, so there is no reason that it would tend to produce an anti-religious environment per se. And Casey, I personally find it very difficult to contemplate that you would cite “the Church” as inferrable magicophobes (although I know there have been some religious people who have said what you say they’ve said). Magicophobia shouldn’t be automatically assigned to a religious institution, as being a church or equivalent attendee doesn’t automatically make you a bigot.

  37. I don’t actually believe wizards believe in Muggle religion. What I believe is the case in the Potterverse there are spirits that hang around (such as death in the Tale of the 3 brothers) but apart from that they dont have knowledge of any sort of afterlife.

    This is supported by the ghosts: indeed, if there were an afterlife to look forward to, why be afraid of death and leave an imprint of yourself behind. Of course this is just as easily disproved by Harry’s temporary death in King’s Cross, where it seems to be an overlap between life and death.

    In addition, I theorise that these same spirits act on Muggles, who, with no magical knowledge to guide them, come up with their own theories which have formulated themselves into Muggle religion

  38. Lewis, if wizards didn’t believe in religion, then there’d be no point in celebrating Christian holidays such as Christmas or (even more relevant to your idea of death) Easter. And Harry has his temporary death because of his connection to Voldemort. However, I suppose that because of Nick’s explanation to Harry at the end of OotP, wizards are given a choice to return and become spirits (usually when they feel they have unfinished business) and end up inhabiting the areas they’ve left their imprint on, or passing on. This would be similar to Harry’s death, except instead of the choice of coming back alive, they would still be dead.

  39. Casey, may I point out that most religions don’t have Christmas as part of their religious calender, but they still “celebrate” it. Same goes for wizards.

  40. This is true, Lewis. I’m an agnostic, yet I still celebrate Christmas with my family more than because of habit than anything else. I still find it hard to believe that every single witch and wizard has this mindset, though. Just because not every single man, woman, and child worships Christmas and Christian holidays out of habit. There are a number of them that actually believe in it. I would hazard a guess that this is also true for witches and wizards.

  41. Yeah, I guess it’s a tricky one. We’ll never realy know I guess because it doesn’t have anything in canon. All we can do is interpret the facts the way we see fit.

    What sways me however, is the fact there that we do not hear of an afterlife at Dumbledore’s funeral, or anything about Holy Matrimony at Bill and Fleur’s wedding, though of course Harry zoned out at both of them.

    I think this shows these two groups of people didn’t find religion too important but whether this holds true for all…???

  42. My understanding is that JKR (she said this somewhere, I think) deliberately left religion out of the books so they would a) appeal to more people and b) so she was not seen advocating any particular religion. I remember reading her talking about her own beliefs somewhere but can’t remember where.

    My personal feeling is that, as religion, like politics are discussions fraught with emotion, and are better left off the table, so to speak.

    Some of us do hold strong beliefs, but I am also an adamant believer in freedom of religion and hate censorship.

  43. Actually, Lewis, it seems that Dumbledore does believe in some kind of afterlife. He refers to death as “the next great adventure”. Very few wizards become ghosts; most of them go on to the “adventure”.

    Why would some wizards fear death enough to become ghosts? Perhaps they are not certain of their stakes in the afterlife. A wizard who thought he was going to Hell might well prefer the ghost option. (Peter Pettigrew, anyone?)

    It seems that James and Lily Potter had some kind of religious belief because Harry was christened and has a godfather. If James and Lily hadn’t had at least a loose religious affiliation, they would surely have used a secular naming ceremony and not bothered giving Sirius any role beyond legal guardian.

    Bill and Fleur have a completely secular wedding, but all that tells me is that the Weasley family is completely agnostic. And we sort of had that impression anyway.

    As for JKR minimising the references to religion… She has said that this was so that readers wouldn’t guess the ending of the story. You can’t really write a story about a Christ-figure hero and then also have Christianity as a real force in the lives of some of the characters. It would be distracting to mention it even as a historical or social force.

  44. Grace, why do you say that Bill & Fleur’s wedding was completely secular? I always thought of the presiding official as a minister (priest?), due to his officiating at the funeral and now at a wedding.

    Do ministers officiate at weddings held outside of a church in Britain? They do in the US. You can have a religiously valid marriage service and not be in a church, at least for most religions.

  45. Among the trio, only Hermione was thinking logically in this chapter. I mean on my first read of the book, I immediately jumped to the conclusion that Black sent that Firebolt to kill Harry off. I mean topnotch and expensive broom, unknown benefactor, Christmas gift… it’s got to be Black! And it indeed was, though for reasons far from what I initially thought. But still, it’s lucky the boys got Hermione to keep them grounded and of course, save their lives. :)

  46. I think that trelawny’s inclusion in the scene was to mention casually the thing about thirteen people dining together.

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