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The stories we build

Well, I haven’t quite finished Deathly Hallows yet (unlike the amazing Mir, who read it straight through and has already given two reviews of the book, ack). But in prep for the book (and as a refresher – my memory ain’t what it used to be), I dvr’d a couple of the Potter films, Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban. I’ve mentioned before that I like the Potter universe. In each book, I discovered more and more that brought God-talk into open spaces. And, watching Azkaban, I found something new.

This time it was in the scene where Harry and Hermione have followed Ron (who, the last they saw was being dragged by a large black dog as he clutched Scabbers, his rat) through a secret passage under the Whomping Willow. The passage comes out in the Shrieking Shack, an abandoned house surrounded by legends of hauntings—and, as it turns out, the hideout for escaped Azkaban prisoner (and Harry’s god-father), Sirius Black (who can change into a black dog). Unbeknownst to the kids, Remus Lupin (Hogwart’s current Dark Arts teacher and a werewolf) has followed them.

In a scene of cascading revelations, the flabbergasted and confused kids discover that Sirus isn’t the back-stabbing criminal he’s been purported to be; that dubious honor falls on Peter Petigrew, who’s been masquerading as Ron’s rat for 12 years – coincidently, the same number of years it’s been since Harry’s parents were betrayed by a friend and killed by Voldemart. Sirius had dragged Ron to the Shrieking Shack in order to confront and kill Petigrew, and Remus had followed, figuring it all out only moments earlier.

As Sirus and Remus corner the weasely Petigrew and take aim with their wands with full intent to kill, Harry stops them. When they turn to look at him, their faces are confused. Why would Harry stop them from killing the man who betrayed his parents, the accomplice in their deaths?

Killing Petigrew not only felt right but made sense to Sirius and Remus. The two had been close friends with Harry’s parents for years. They had a lot of shared experiences – meals shared, pranks pulled, struggles shared and tears shed. Their deaths devastated the two men. Over the years, they’d nurtured their desires for justice (and, yes, let’s admit it, revenge) for the undeniably evil acts that led to their murders. It was only logical in their minds that once the culprit(s) had been caught, he should die. An eye for an eye. That was the finish to the story they shared. And it was a story that worked. But it wasn’t the whole story.

Harry, however, doesn’t have their story. His is different. His is shorter. His is still young. While Harry’s shorter story has lots of moments of pain, suffering and thwarted rules, his heart and conscience are still in the right place. And, perhaps because his story is shorter and still young, he can see other options and consequences his older companions can not: if they kill Petigrew, they will be murderers. And he knows if they kill Petigrew, no one will be able prove Sirius innocent – or that Voldemart is on the move. As much as he wants Petigrew punished at that very moment, Harry realizes turning him over to Azkaban is the better choice – both morally and logically in context of the larger story they are living, one Harry is all too aware of.

Oddly enough, I realized that at that moment I understood and identified much more with Sirius and Remus than Harry. Maybe it’s my age (I’m much closer to Sirius and Remus in age than Harry by a long shot), but more likely it’s because I build stories like Sirius and Remus. I take years of experiences and events and knit them together with purpose. But sometimes (more often than I care to admit) the purpose, as well-intentioned as it can be, is my own and doesn’t fit into the larger Story I’m living in. As a result, I make short-sighted decisions like Sirius and Remus. I lose sight of the larger Story, blindered by the one I’ve nurtured on my own.

How do we keep the larger Story in mind? We live and breathe it. We remind ourselves of it every day. We read it. We read about it. We talk about it. We hash it over with its Author. We look for it in the movies we watch, the books we read and the events that go on around us. It’s there – and don’t just take my word for it; Paul thinks so, too.

This is one of the reason’s I like the Potter universe. A small scene like this one – one with no overt religious or faith talk – contains a revelation and lesson for me. I’m sure Deathly Hallows will have them as well.

But if you can’t wait for my take, check out Mir’s spoiler-free and spoiler-rich reviews. Seriously, girl, you rock.

(Images: all screen shots copyrighted by Warner Bros; screenshots can be found at FilmFocus)