Who Was the Potters’ Cat?
The Harry Potter series is full of small mysteries for the reader and deep-rooted meanings. One of my personal favorite minor details is the name of the big, bad werewolf: Fenrir Greyback. For those of you unfamiliar with Norse mythology, Loki, the god of mischief, fathered a wolf for a son. His name? You guessed it: Fenrir.
Small details such as this, and clues to bigger plot points, are what keep the reader enchanted with a story. The following is a theory I have developed by piecing together some of these clues left by Jo throughout Deathly Hallows and Prisoner of Azkaban.
While the gang is staying a 12 Grimmauld Place at the beginning of Deathly Hallows, they discover a letter written to Sirius by Lily Potter. The letter reads:
Thank you, thank you for Harry’s birthday present! It was his favorite by far. One year old and already zooming along on a toy broomstick; he looked so pleased with himself. I’m enclosing a picture, so you can see. You know it only rises two feet off the ground, but he nearly killed the cat, and he smashed a horrible vase Petunia sent me for Christmas (no complaints there).” – Deathly Hallows (p. 180)
The letter continues, but the clue in question is the reference to the Potter family pet, a cat. Now, we know that Harry’s birthday is July 31, so this letter must have been written in very early August. Assuming Harry was unsuccessful in running down the cat on his broomstick, the cat should have been present the night Lily and James were murdered, October 31. Later, however, we learn that if the cat would have been present, the entire series would have played out differently. As Harry explores Snape’s memory in the Pensieve in Deathly Hallows, Dumbledore explains,
… when Lily cast her own life between them as a shield, the Killing Curse rebounded upon Lord Voldemort, and a fragment of Voldemort’s soul was blasted apart from the whole, and latched itself onto the only living soul left in that collapsing building.” – Deathly Hallows (p. 686)
I have seen fan posts claiming that the cat is a final Horcrux, and there should be more books, however; I hardly believe for a moment that J.K. Rowling would overlook such a detail. Someone who takes the time to give meaningful names to background characters wouldn’t create such a plot hole. This cat had a much bigger role to play beyond the events of that fateful Halloween; he was going to come back into Harry’s life in an unexpected way.
Shortly before the beginning of their third year, our beloved trio ventures into Diagon Alley for ice cream and rat tonic for Scabbers, Ron’s pet rat whom we know to be Wormtail, or the traitorous Peter Pettigrew. At the Magical Menagerie, they have a rather unexpected and rude encounter: “Ron buckled as something huge and orange came soaring from the top of the highest cage, landed on his head, and then propelled itself, spitting madly, at Scabbers” (Prisoner of Azkaban, p. 59). Sure, cats and rats don’t exactly have a warm and fuzzy history, but there’s more.
After Scabbers disappears from sight, the cat delightedly latches on to Hermione, purring in her arms as she joins the boys in the street. She explains, “Poor Crookshanks, that witch said he’d been in there for ages; no one wanted him” (Prisoner of Azkaban, p. 61). Considering the average cat lives 15 years (my own cats lived 18 and 19 years), it would be safe to say that “ages” could reasonably mean a decade or more. Not even taking into consideration the possibility of an extended lifetime for magical pets. So a feisty old feline that despises Wormtail in his Animagus form. Not compelling enough for you? Just wait.
Crookshanks is also seen chumming around with Sirius’s Animagus form. Even though cats and dogs don’t have a warm and fuzzy history either.
It was only Crookshanks… or was it only Crookshanks? Harry squinted, pressing his nose flat against the glass. Crookshanks seemed to have come to a halt. Harry was sure he could see something else moving in the shadow of the trees too… and just then, it emerged – a gigantic, shaggy black dog moving stealthily across the lawn, Crookshanks trotting at its side.” – Prisoner of Azkaban (p. 303-4)
At the foot of the Whomping Willow, Harry expresses his suspicions of the unlikely friendship to Hermione. Strange, isn’t it? The cat is ferocious with Wormtail and friendly with Padfoot. A family pet would have known family friends, right?
Finally, as we discovered before, the cat could not have been in Godric’s Hollow at the time of the murders because it would have become a Horcrux. Where on earth could he have gone? Hagrid gives us an idea:
I musta bin the last ter see him before he killed all them people! It was me what rescued Harry from Lily an’ James’s house after they was killed! Jus’ got him outta the ruins, poor little thing, with a great slash across his forehead, an’ his parents dead… an’ Sirius Black turns up, on that flyin’ motorbike he used ter ride. Never occurred ter me what he was doin’ there. I didn’ know he’d bin Lily an’ James’s Secret-Keeper… white an’ shakin’, he was” – Prisoner of Azkaban (p. 206)
As we learn later, Sirius was indeed not the Potters’ Secret-Keeper. So how did he come to be the second person to the scene of the crime and already upset? He knew what happened.
Given these clues, one can piece together a probable theory: Once Voldemort arrived at Godric’s Hollow, Crookshanks fled to one of James’s Animagus friends for help (not being an Animagus himself, he needed a wizard who could communicate with him). This explains how Harry came to be the only living soul in the home when the Killing Curse rebounded. With his family dead and Sirius on his way to Azkaban for Wormtail’s crimes, Crookshanks was orphaned and ended up in the Magical Menagerie. He knew his Harry, though, and once he saw him in the shop his instincts kicked in, and he found a way to accompany him to Hogwarts to protect him through Hermione.
J.K. Rowling is never one to overlook the seemingly minor details. Knowing this and based on these clues, I think that Crookshanks could very likely have been the Potters’ cat before the tragic events of October 31, 1981.