Witches and cats have gone hand in paw for centuries. History often dictates that cats were portrayed as ‘familiars’– creatures who assist in their owners’ magic. So it figures that some of the most important characters from the Harry Potter stories were fluffy, meowing, and most likely to be found curled up asleep during the day.
There were several occasions when cats had a merely incidental, yet remarkably significant, plot point in the stories. After all, in the opening chapters of Philosopher’s Stone, it was one such cat that aggrieved Vernon Dursley by taking watch on Privet Drive. (That tormenting tabby turned out to be one Professor McGonagall in her Animagus form.) Or how about the time Hermione, after months spent brewing Polyjuice Potion, consumed one of Millicent Bulstrode’s cat hairs by mistake, and thanked her lucky stars Madam Pomfrey didn’t ask too many questions?
Plus there was the letter written by Lily Potter to Sirius Black, which described baby Harry terrorising the family cat (there was a Potter cat!) while zooming around on a toy broomstick – a brief moment of family harmony that Harry had no idea about.
There were also a pawful of pussycats who had a more direct, deliberate influence on the fate of the wizarding world. The most significant of these was Crookshanks. It should come as no surprise that Hermione, one of the cleverest witches we knew, had a pet who was dubbed one of the most intelligent of his kind. With his ‘grumpy and oddly squashed’ face framed by a mass of ginger hair (we always knew Hermione was a fan of redheads), it was actually the naturally suspicious Crookshanks who cracked Prisoner of Azkaban’s major plot twist: that Scabbers was not actually Scabbers.
This may have been because Crookshanks was very smart, or because he was often rumoured to be part-Kneazle; a magical cat-like creature with a plumed tail like a lion, and quite good at detecting suspicious behaviour.
Before outing Scabbers as treacherous Death Eater Peter Pettigrew, Crookshanks was able to communicate with Sirius in his dog form, steal the passwords to the Gryffindor common room for him, and create the purr-fect plan for capturing the traitor. A lesson that we should never undestimate the mysterious ways of any cat – and that cats and dogs can get along, actually.
Mrs Norris was a ‘scrawny, dust-coloured creature with bulging, lamp-like eyes’ and an uncanny ability to sniff out rule-breakers. She was Hogwarts caretaker Argus Filch’s second-in-command and the second most influential cat in the stories, thanks to her ability to communicate wordlessly with Filch and lead him to students misbehaving in the castle corridors.
Unfortunately for the draconian janitor, Mrs Norris put the ‘pet’ in ‘Petrified’ when the Chamber of Secrets was opened in Harry’s second year. Believing Mrs Norris to be dead, Filch was overcome by ‘racking sobs’, slumping in a chair with his head in his hands. Luckily for Filch (though perhaps not for the students), Mrs Norris was revived by a Mandrake at the end of the school year and lived to slink around for another day. We rarely got a glimpse of Filch’s softer side, but the caretaker crooned lovingly at his kitty, calling her ‘my sweet’, so he must have had one after all.
What is it with Squibs and cats? Along with Argus Filch, for some reason, Arabella Figg was the second not-quite-magical character who seemed to have a fascination with them. Maybe hanging out with an animal so closely affiliated with the magical world made them feel a bit more witchy? Who knows. Nonetheless, Harry discovered Filch was a Squib in his second year, and during the summer holidays before his fifth year, he was astonished when his batty old neighbour Arabella Figg told him she was also magically challenged.
We first heard of Arabella as Harry’s cat-loving babysitter who Harry despaired at having to go and stay with. But up until the arrival of Dementors in Little Whinging, Harry had no idea that one of the ways Dumbledore succeeded in keeping an eye on him during the school holidays was with the help of Mrs Figg’s collection of cat accomplices: Mr Tibbles, Mr Paws, Tufty and Snowy. We also discovered that Figg had some dealings with cross-breeding Kneazles.
Harry might have been bored spending hours flipping through kitty photo albums, but he might have done it with far more interest if he’d known he was looking at a tag-team of kitty spies.
When fellow cat-fan Dolores Umbridge, in a bid to hush up Harry’s claims that the Dark Lord had returned, sent the Azkaban guards to silence him during the school holidays, Tibbles warned Mrs Figg and she alerted Dumbledore. The fact that Tibbles was stationed under a car shows the amazing bond Squibs can have with their pets – giving them incredibly helpful insight and the ability to help Harry even if, as Mrs Figg claims, she’s ‘never so much as Transfigured a teabag’.
Basically, what we’re trying to say is Harry Potter wouldn’t have defeated Lord Voldemort without cats. Probably.