Within the Harry Potter series, J. K. Rowling creates an entirely new world, and within that world are significant magical devices that become crucial to character development, the individual novels, and the storyline as a whole. In the first volume, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the two most significant magical devices are clearly the Hogwarts Sorting Hat and the Mirror of Erised. Both of these not only help further the plot, but play hugely important roles in Harry’s growth from boy to teenager. Similarly, in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the Marauder’s Map is introduced, as well as Harry’s Patronus. Though not quite a physical object, the Patronus ultimately proves to be a magical device unto itself, and becomes the most significant agent.
The significance of this hat is clear right from the start, as the decision it makes subsequently determines a student’s Hogwarts family, in a sense. We learn later just how much pride each house has, and of the rivalries existing between them; creating a major plot point for the series. The houses are also microchasms of the divisions and alliances in the Wizarding World. More important than this, however, is how Harry’s sorting is crucial to his character. The hat, when placed on his head, is able to read Harry’s thoughts and converse with him, and initially wishes to place Harry in Slytherin.
We see here Harry’s revulsion at the prospect of being placed in Slytherin, and are led to wonder why the hat would wish to place him within a group that seems to have such a negative connotation associated with it. This conflict eventually proves to be a hugely important plot point throughout the entire series. Harry ultimately wishes to follow in the footsteps of his deceased parents, Lilly and James, and so he joins Ron and Hermione in Gryffindor. Later on in Philosopher’s Stone, Harry stumbles upon a mirror in an empty classroom.
The mirror, large and ornate, has the words “Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi,” inscribed along the top, which is “I show not your face but your heart’s desire” written backwards. Upon looking into the mirror, Harry sees his family: “The Potters smiled and waved at Harry and he stared hungrily back at them… He had a powerful kind of ache inside him, half joy, half terrible sadness. ” (PS, 153) Harry’s longing for his real family is displayed here in a heartbreaking series of scenes, where Harry returns to the mirror night after night only to stare.
This desire for knowledge of his family and his search for a real connection with his parents remains a constant theme throughout the series. After several nights, Dumbledore appears and tells Harry the nature of the mirror, in saying “It shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts. … However, this mirror will give us neither knowledge or truth. Men have wasted away before it… been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible. (PS, 157)
That Harry is finally able to let go of these images of his family and accept the truth is demonstrative of his immense personal strength and conviction. These attributes of Harry’s personality are revealed once again when he is faced with the mirror before Quirrell and Voldemort, and instead of seeing his family, he sees himself with the Philosopher’s Stone; which, subsequently, appears in his pocket. Harry proves that he is able to place the good of the whole before his own personal gain. Moving on to the third novel, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, similar themes dealing family are prevalent.
Fred and George Weasley, who stole the Marauder’s Map from caretaker Filch’s office, pass it on to Harry shortly before Christmas. The map contains an extensive drawing of the school and its grounds, various secret passageways, and most remarkable, tiny dots that identify everyone inside Hogwarts parameters and their respective locations and movements at any given time. When tapped with a wand and the phrase “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good” is uttered, the map is revealed, with the message “Messrs Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs, purveyors of aids to magical mischief-makers, are proud to present the Marauder’s Map. [PA, 144]
The map is cleared when the user says “Mischief managed”. At first, this map is just useful to Harry for sneaking around the castle and out to Hogsmede, but he soon begins to suspect more is at hand when he sees a dot labeled ‘Peter Pettigrew’ moving about Hogwarts, a person who was believed to have been murdered by Sirius Black. Sirius Black has escaped from Azkaban and apparently is after Harry, but towards the end we learn that Sirius is in fact Harry’s godfather, and was framed for the murder of Pettigrew.
If it weren’t for the map, Pettigrew’s scheme and cover as an animagus, in the form is Ron’s rat Scabbers, would have continued unnoticed. The map also becomes a significant tool linking Harry to his father, as we learn that Prongs was in fact a nickname for James Potter, whose animagus form was a stag. The makers of the map – Moony, Wormtail, and Padfoot – are indicative of Remus Lupin, Peter Pettigrew and Sirius Black, respectively, as they were best friends in their years at Hogwarts and nicknamed themselves the Marauder’s.
The Marauder’s animagus forms continue to be important, notably that of James Potter, with the formation of Harry’s Patronus. When Harry has especially bad reactions to the Dementors present on Hogwarts grounds, he is taught by then-professor Lupin an especially powerful spell, Expecto Patronum. The Dementors are the prison guards at Azkaban and are hunting Sirius Black. They are horrible creatures, who embody depression, as they feed off of human’s happy feelings and memories, forcing them to relive their worst experiences. For Harry, whenever in close proximity to a Dementor, he is forced to relive his parent’s death.
Expecto Patronum conjures a physical incarnation of the person’s most positive feelings, emotions and memories, called their Patronus. While the Patronus is not exactly an object or a being, it does in fact take on the same significance as an object. The Patronus becomes the person’s protector, and becomes an immensely powerful fighter against various dark magic, notably the powers of Dementors. It is summoned, does whatever the witch or wizard needs, and then fades away. The physical shape of a Patronus is always an animal, but it is unique to each individual, and Harry’s Patronus takes on the shape of a stag.
In Prisoner of Azkaban, we learn that Harry’s Patronus is a stag because of his father’s animagus form, also a stag. This enhances the deep connection he has with his parents, as he draws on them for positive memories and strength. Towards the end of the novel when Harry and Hermione use the Timeturner to return in time and save Buckbeak and Sirius, Harry initially believes that it is his father who conjures the Patronus that saves him and Sirius from the Dementors, when it in fact ends up being Harry himself.
The Patronus ultimately ends up being the most significant device out of those described above, simply because it is the most powerful, and is the most indicative of Harry’s character. It not only is able to save him in dire circumstances, but is a deep connection between him and his deceased father. Lupin teaches Harry to conjure his Patronus, “which will work only if you are concentrating, with all your might, on a single, very happy memory. Harry’s happiest memories are his parents, and this gives him the strength to fight the dark in the world. All the magical devices in the Harry Potter series serve a purpose to further the plot and develop the characters. In Philosopher’s Stone, the two most significant are the Sorting Hat, because it creates a framework for the divisions and alliances within the Potter world, and the Mirror of Erised, because it is central in defeating Quirrell and gives Harry his first glimpse of his parents standing before him.
In Prisoner of Azkaban, the Marauder’s Map is significant as it helps the trio solve the mystery of Peter Pettigrew and Sirius Black, and also ties Harry to his father, giving him more knowledge of his parents. Ultimately, however, it is the Patronus in Prisoner of Azkaban that becomes most crucial, as it is a test to the power of positive thought and memory, and in the end protects the lives of Harry in Sirius.