Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is primarily set at Hogwarts. In addition to places familiar to readers of the first two Harry Potter books, this novel introduces several new settings separate from Hogwarts as well as new sites within the castle. The village of Hogsmeade is the book’s most significant setting. Described as the only all-magical village in Great Britain, Hogsmeade seems exotic to Hogwarts students and readers because it is off-limits until young wizards and witches are thirteen years old. This rule is symbolic of the transition phase of children toward adulthood by becoming teenagers when they are age thirteen.
Hogsmeade is home to a variety of magical people and creatures who own, manage, or patronize local businesses. The stores offer exotic treats such as soothing Butterbeer and revolting candies for Hogwarts students, faculty, and staff to savor. Other businesses sell magical jokes and tricks or deliver messages by color-coded owls. Located within an hour’s walking distance of Hogwarts (in the valley below the cliff on which the castle sits), Hogsmeade symbolizes freedom for Hogwarts students. Children and adults interact in the village without the formal restrictions expected on campus. Special Hogsmeade weekends are scheduled for students to buy Christmas gifts or to relax after grueling weeks of study and tests.
Although the village has appeared in previous Harry Potter books, it is very significant to plot development in this novel. Harry is not allowed to go to the village because of concerns regarding Black. But eventually, through the use of the Marauder’s Map and Invisibility Cloak, Harry identifies the correct statue (a hunchback which foreshadows future physical discomfort for Harry) to enter and travels through underground tunnels to reach the basement of Honeydukes, the candy store in Hogsmeade. While concealed, Harry overhears conversations at the Three Broomsticks between adult wizards about Black’s alleged betrayal of his parents, which infuriate Harry, who vows vengeance. Harry’s clandestine trips to Hogsmeade also alert him to the vigilant search for Black. Harry sees posters, almost reminiscent of something from an old Western movie, warning people to be inside by sunset. He also is chilled by the sight of Dementors patrolling Hogsmeade.
The Shrieking Shack is the most important Hogsmeade structure in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Harry and Ron tour the village, walking up the hill to view the dilapidated building, surrounded by weeds, which local legends declare is the most haunted place in Great Britain. According to tradition, years ago villagers overheard screams late at night from the two-story house. Harry and Ron’s visit to the Shrieking Shack foreshadows their later confrontation with Black, Snape, and Peter Pettigrew. On the boys’ first trip to the building, they encounter Draco Malfoy and his cronies, Crabbe and Goyle. Hidden by the Invisibility Cloak, Harry torments his archrival by throwing mud at him. Unfortunately, the cloak slips, and Harry’s head is revealed, exposing him not only to Draco’s taunts but possible punishment for disobeying orders to stay on campus until Black is recaptured. Harry’s quick return through a tunnel to Hogwarts culminates in a conference with Snape and Lupin in which Harry learns more about his father’s years at Hogwarts and realizes that Lupin is his ally while confirming that Snape is his adversary.
The book’s climatic scene occurs in the Shrieking Shack. After comforting Hagrid before Buckbeak’s execution, Harry and Hermione follow the black dog when it drags Ron into the tunnel with an entrance near the Whomping Willow. They emerge into the first floor of the Shrieking Shack. The inside is dusty and worn much like the weather-beaten and mistreated exterior. A path in the dust, much like a slug’s slimy trail, shows where the dog pulled Ron towards and up the stairs. Harry and Hermione, desperate to save their friend, bravely proceed upstairs to the bedroom where Ron is being held captive. Immediately, they confront Black who pleads for mercy to tell his story. They are shocked by Lupin’s kindnesses to Black. Snape’s arrival, courtesy of Harry’s dropped Invisibility Cloak, further complicates a situation as messy as the Shrieking Shack. Learning that the shack’s image as a sinister place had been designed to protect Lupin from curious villagers during his werewolf phases, Harry and his friends realize that the building is a facade much like the false faces presented by characters such as Scabbers a.k.a. Peter Pettigrew. Although the Shrieking Shack does not initially seem nurturing, it actually is a shelter for good characters and a means for exposing evil characters, reinforcing the theme that appearances can be deceiving.
The secret passages leading from Hogwarts to Hogsmeade are crucial for connecting the two settings. These tunnels are utilized for both devious and clandestine missions. Innocuous journeys to Hogsmeade occur above ground, usually on a straight path, and in the light. The tunnels, in contrast, are buried beneath the earth, twisting, and dark. They are often narrow, forcing people to bend over to move through the ground, indicating their flexibility to pursue their objectives. The tunnels resemble veins, bringing essential characters to crucial sites much like veins transport oxygenated blood to major organs. The passages could also be compared to the birth canal, delivering individuals to a new level of being and understanding.
In contrast to the subterranean tunnels, the Divination classroom in the north tower of Hogwarts lifts students above their earthly concerns. Hogwarts pupils rise to the turret on a spiral staircase and through a trapdoor to reach a heavily perfumed and poorly ventilated room. Dim lighting and thick vapors contribute to establishing this classroom’s sense of obscurity and students’ confusion about lessons regarding fortune telling and predictions. Unlike this confined space, the Hippogriff paddock permits students to become part of the outdoor landscape and rise above it if the Hippogriffs are willing. Adjacent to Hagrid’s hut, the Hippogriff paddock provides a controlled environment for students to practice their skills at communicating with a magical creature. The paddock is a setting that rewards students like Harry who follows the rules and punishes students like Draco who disdain guidelines. If Buckbeak had been executed, the paddock would have been a tragic place. Instead, it represents the possibilities of resolving problems through ingenuity and resourcefulness.
Azkaban is only described through recollections by various characters who have either visited or been incarcerated there. Located on an island in the cold North Sea (somewhat like the notorious American prison Alcatraz near San Francisco), Azkaban isolates its dwellers from the comforts of normal wizard life. Although escape from the island prison seems impossible, Black outwits the Dementors. Azkaban symbolizes despair for wizards, especially law-abiding wizards who are fearful of being falsely accused and convicted. The indirect contact with Azkaban enhances our perception of the prison as lonely and foreboding.
The lake near Hogwarts has been referred to in the two previous Harry Potter books. In the third novel, the lake becomes a battleground when Harry is surrounded by his worst fear, Dementors. On the opposite shore, Harry believes he sees his father’s Animagus, a stag, which bolsters him to fend off the Dementors. The lake is a buffer zone between the sanctuary of Hogwarts and the hostility of Harry’s enemies. It serves as a demilitarized zone where Harry is paradoxically somewhat protected but vulnerable to sudden destruction. Harry’s favorite outdoor setting is the Quidditch field, which is a hostile arena in this novel. Harry’s playing abilities are hampered by the appearance of a group of Dementors and by Draco and his friends masquerading as Dementors in an effort to unnerve Harry. Harry finds comfort in Lupin’s office, although it had also housed Harry’s former nemesis Professor Quirrell and the inept Gilderoy Lockhart. The History of Magic classroom is a metaphorical stage for Harry to practice his techniques to cope with Dementors after not being permitted a turn in the faculty lounge, a setting whose interior was not featured in previous books. The Great Hall nourishes the students and serves as an overnight campground where they gather to sleep, whisper, and eavesdrop when Black is known to be nearby.
Another new setting introduced in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the Knight Bus, which transports Harry from the Muggle to magical realm. A triple-decker bus which travels wherever its passengers desire to go, the Knight Bus resembles a motorhome or hotel on wheels. The Knight Bus is significant to plot development because Harry hears rumors about Black presented as fact on the Knight Bus. Other modes of transportation are significant to characterization and plot development. On the Hogwarts Express, Harry meets Lupin and sees his first Dementor. The horseless carriages that convey students from the Hogsmeade station to Hogwarts reinforce Harry’s connection to Lupin before school starts. Because he boards at the Leaky Cauldron, Harry, and readers, becomes more familiar with that business’ contents and clientele, which provide clues about wizard culture and history. The Gryffindor common room and dormitory shelter Harry but also prove vulnerable when Black breaks in one night. Professor Flitwick’s seventh-floor office, with the thirteenth window right from the West Tower, serves as Black’s prison cell and salvation because it is high enough that Harry, Hermione, and Buckbeak can fly Black to freedom.