Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Compassion and Forgiveness
By J.K. Rowling
Compassion and Forgiveness
"Poor Crookshanks, that witch said he'd been in there for ages, no one wanted him." (4.2.61)
Hermione's compassionate nature appears most clearly in her interactions with, and long-running defense of, poor unlovable Crookshanks (who turns out to be smarter than anyone else in the book – pretty cool). Don't judge a book by a its cover, or an ugly cat by its ugly face.
"Well, look at it logically," said Hermione, turning to the rest of the group. "I mean, Binky didn't even die today, did he? Lavender just got the news today – " Lavender wailed loudly "– and she can't have been dreading it, because it's come as a real shock –"
Don't mind Hermione, Lavender," said Ron loudly, "she doesn't think other people's pets matter very much." (8.2.21-2)
Hermione is super compassionate, but there's a definite flip-side to her personality: relentless logic. In the tradition of Agent Scully, Agent Brennan on Bones, and Christina Yang on Grey's Anatomy, Hermione is often so extremely logical that she becomes horribly unsympathetic. The detail about Lavender wailing in the midst of Hermione's spiel is really spot-on.
"Pettigrew [...] that fat little boy who was always tagging around after them at Hogwarts?" said Madam Rosmerta.
"Hero-worshipped Black and Potter," said Professor McGonagall. "Never quite in the same league, talent-wise. I was often rather sharp with him. You can imagine how I – how I regret that now [...]" She sounded as though she had a sudden head cold. (1067-8)
The details we learn about Pettigrew create a lot of sympathy for him among the trio, and among readers. Even the usually stern McGonagall is moved by the situation.
Ron and Hermione glanced quickly at Harry, as though expecting him to start berating Hagrid for not telling him the truth about Black. But Harry couldn't bring himself to do it, not now that he saw Hagrid so miserable and scared. (11.2.66)
It's interesting that Ron and Hermione seem to think that Harry's temper is so extreme that he'll go off on Hagrid even when Hagrid is clearly upset. Anger management classes might be in Harry's future, at this rate.
Harry knew that Hermione had meant well, but that didn't stop him from being angry with her. He had been the owner of the best broom in the world for a few short hours, and now, because of her interference, he didn't know whether he would ever see it again. (12.1.1)
Harry clearly tries to be sympathetic towards Hermione, but he can't quite manage it. The words used to describe the broom, such as "best" and "few short hours," make it sound like Harry just met and lost the love of his life. The narrator is sort of making fun of Harry even as the narrative sympathizes with him.
"Not Harry, not Harry, please not Harry!"
"Stand aside, you silly girl [...] stand aside, now [...]"
"Not Harry, please no, take me, kill me instead–" (9.5.45-7)
The scenes in which Harry has to listen to his mother plead with Voldemort are almost hard to read. Lily's desperation and fear, as she begs for mercy, come across powerfully here.
"You know what – we should try to make up with Hermione [...] She was only trying to help [...]"
"Yeah, all right," said Ron. (12.5.38-9)
The first time the boys go to make up with Hermione, it's clear that they haven't really learned their lesson. They only decide to go make up with her after Harry gets his Firebolt back – they pretty much never forgive her while the Firebolt is still AWOL.
Hermione burst into tears. Before Harry could say or do anything, she tucked the enormous book under her arm, and still sobbing, ran toward the staircase to the girls' dormitories and out of sight.
"Can't you give her a break?" Harry asked Ron quietly.
The image of Hermione running off, sobbing, is really painful. Though it's kind of pathetically funny that, even in her extreme distress, she remembers to bring her book with her. Poor kid.
"No," said Ron flatly. "If she just acted like she was sorry – but she'll never admit she's wrong, Hermione." (13.3.10-2)
Ron's stubbornness and, dare we say, competitiveness, drown out any compassion he might otherwise feel for Hermione.
They heard the Howler go off in the entrance hall – Neville's grandmother's voice, magically magnified to a hundred times its usual volume, shrieking about how he had brought shame on the whole family.
Harry was too busy feeling sorry for Neville to notice immediately that he had a letter too. (14.1.16-7)
We feel horrible for Neville, which is probably the point. Can you imagine hearing your parent's shrieking voice, magnified, in hearing range of everyone you know, bawling you out for doing something stupid? Yikes.
Hermione flung her arms around Ron's neck and broke down completely. Ron, looking quite terrified, patted her very awkwardly on the top of the head. Finally, Hermione drew away.
"Ron, I'm really, really sorry about Scabbers [...]" she sobbed.
"Oh – well – he was old," said Ron, looking thoroughly relieved that she had let go of him. (15.1.8-10)
It's fitting that Ron doesn't extend the proverbial olive branch to Hermione out of compassion so much as he does out of fear. He's clearly freaked out by her breakdown and he probably would have said just about anything to get her to let go of him and stop crying. Which is pretty funny, really.
"If you made a better rat than a human, it's not much to boast about, Peter," said Black harshly. Ron, going still paler with pain, wrenched his broken leg out of Pettigrew's reach. Pettigrew turned on his knees, staggered forward, and seized the hem of Hermione's robes.
"Sweet girl [...] clever girl [...] you – you won't let them [...] Help me [...]" Hermione pulled her robes out of Pettigrew's clutching hands and backed away against the wall, looking horrified. (19.150-2)
Peter's efforts to elicit compassion from those around him backfire spectacularly. As he begs for mercy and tries to appeal to the kids, Peter becomes even more disgusting and awful. We love the details of how Ron and Hermione physically back away from Peter.
"When one wizard saves another wizard's life, it creates a certain bond between them [...] and I'm much mistaken if Voldemort wants his servant in the debt of Harry Potter."
"I don't want a connection with Pettigrew!" said Harry. "He betrayed my parents!"
"This is magic at its deepest and most impenetrable, Harry." (22.3.44-6)
The idea that emotions are linked to magic is a running motif in the Harry Potter books. We see it with Harry's anger, as when he inflates his aunt, and here when he acts with compassion.
"I knew your father very well, both at Hogwarts and later, Harry," he said gently. "He would have saved Pettigrew too. I am sure of it." (22.3.48)
This little detail makes us intensely curious about Dumbledore's relationship with James. But beyond that, we love the fact that Dumbledore reassures Harry and tells him that James would have spared Peter too. We even get confirmation of this through a past act of James's: when he saved Snape from a prank gone awry. James clearly wasn't a violent man and didn't want to see people get hurt, even if they were punks.