For those of you who don’t spend what little time you have on this Earth watching children’s movies about magic on an endless loop, I’d like to introduce you to Hogwarts School Of Witchcraft And Wizardry’s resident cat, Mrs. Norris, and her universally disliked owner and Hogwarts caretaker, Argus Filch.
Mrs. Norris is a weird name for a cat. J.K. Rowling has stated that she named her after a character in Mansfield Park, but as usual, she’s not thinking hard enough about her own universe. For one thing, Jane Austen books — like all other non-wizard media — aren’t read much in the wizarding world. Even if they were, 1) Filch certainly wouldn’t identify his beloved companion with an unpleasant busybody, accurate as the comparison may be, and 2) the man who looks like he’s drilled peepholes into all of Hogwarts’ restrooms doesn’t seem like he’d be too into Jane Austen, but then again maybe I’m being judgey.
Regardless of Rowling’s reasons, they can’t be Filch’s. I’ve always suspected that there’s a tragic story behind the name, that perhaps it was the name of a person Filch had loved and lost, which Rowling annoyingly refuses to confirm.
It would take five seconds, Jo.
Turns out, my idea actually makes a lot of sense, and it would go a long way toward explaining Filch’s deeply unhealthy attachment to his cat. For example, when Mrs. Norris is temporarily paralyzed after indirectly seeing the basilisk in Chamber Of Secrets and Filch at first believes she’s been killed, he breaks down into violent sobs. That is not how a grown man, particularly one as usually heartless as Filch, reacts to a dead cat. Once he finds out she’s only been petrified, he still viciously attacks Harry, who he believes to be responsible. No one outside of a Cathy comic has ever loved a cat more than Argus Filch.
Yeah, totally healthy relationship.
But it actually gets weirder. To say that Mrs. Norris is an exceptionally smart cat would be like saying Superman is an exceptionally strong dude. Filch and Mrs. Norris often work as a team, patrolling different areas of the castle for misbehaving students. Getting caught by Mrs. Norris is as bad as getting caught by Filch, because she will fetch him straight away. This means that Mrs. Norris has memorized the school’s rules, understands them, and recognizes when a student is breaking them. In the first book, Hagrid tells Harry and Ron that he suspects Filch has trained Mrs. Norris to follow him specifically. You’ll recognize all of these as things cats can’t do. (It’s been theorized that Mrs. Norris might be part Kneazle, a cat-like magical creature with superfeline intelligence, but Rowling has shot it down.) She also shows up on the Marauder’s Map, while other animals don’t. It’s almost like she’s a person in the body of a cat in a magical universe where that exact thing can definitely happen.
Animagi — wizards and witches who can transform into animals at will — are rare, but they do exist. They’re rare because becoming one is extremely difficult, involving a complicated potion and hilariously specific conditions. It’s not clear what happens if mistakes are made at any point in the procedure, but it’s enough to scare the vast majority of the wizarding world out of turning themselves into adorable pets, which — if the internet is to be believed — is humanity’s dearest wish. They are usually people who have a pressing need to travel unseen, like tabloid reporter Rita Skeeter, fugitive Sirius Black, and fake-dead Peter Pettigrew. The sole exception is Minerva McGonagall, who learned it just to prove she’s that awesome, as if further proof were necessary.
The only thing that makes sense is that Mrs. Norris wasn’t named after a person Filch loved — she is, in fact, a person Filch loves. We don’t know much about Filch’s personal affairs, but he’s never mentioned to have a woman in his life. (Some students theorize that he’s got a thing with the school librarian, but they could be just friends, don’t be sexist.) That could be because he’s a miserable old cunt who looks suspiciously like Walder Frey, but it could also be because he very much does have a woman in his life — an animagus named Mrs. Norris.
Her reason for transforming is apparent in her name: She was obviously married. I don’t know Mrs. Norris’ life and why she couldn’t just divorce Mr. Norris, but sneaking around disguised as a cat would be a good way to see Filch undetected. If she was taking up with a chucklehead like him, she was probably not a very bright witch herself, so it seems likely her transformation went wrong and she ended up stuck as a cat. It’s also possible Mr. Norris cottoned on and turned her into a cat himself in a fit of rage, if only at her poor taste. And if he’s the sort of asshole who responds to marital strife with transfiguration, her philandering is kind of understandable. It would explain Filch’s unhealthy attachment to the cat, her bizarre name, her human-like intelligence, her appearance on the Marauder’s Map, and Filch’s lack of romantic prospects. Listen, even Honey Boo Boo’s mom managed to get married at least once.
It would also explain another aspect of Filch’s behavior. In the second book, it’s revealed that Filch, who is a Squib (an impressively dumb word in a series full of them that means a person of magical parents who hasn’t inherited the magic gene or whatever), has been taking a correspondence course to learn magic. Why would a man who has comfortably, if bitterly, lived non-magically for decades suddenly take an interest in learning it? Well, there happens to be a spell that can force animagi back into their human form.
Filch couldn’t ask someone else to perform this spell for a number of reasons. If Mrs. Norris became an animagus voluntarily, she’s been missing so long she’s probably been presumed dead. (Anyone who knew both her and the cat probably just assumed Filch named the cat after his dearly departed friend, gave him the side-eye, and didn’t ask questions.) If she transformed back in the presence of others, she’d have some ‘splaining to do, chiefly to her grieving husband. Also, animagi are required to be registered with the Ministry Of Magic, and she probably wasn’t, since it would kind of blow her cover. Plenty of animagi aren’t registered, for similar reasons, but if caught, it does carry a mandatory sentence in Azkaban. If she was transfigured against her will, her return brings a whole mess of problems for the clearly already fucked-up Norris family. No, Filch would have to carry this out himself. They’d have to live in secret, but at least they’d live.
And as far we know, he hasn’t yet succeeded. He’s still trying, but in the meantime, he has his cat. They spend their days together, busting students, warring with Peeves, and polishing the chains and manacles they definitely didn’t previously use for sexual purposes, and it’s enough. It has to be.
Manna has a Twitter, and none of this would be necessary if J.K. Rowling would just @ her.