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The Prank - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
The Prank
Hmmm. Well, not having anything better to do than poke a hornet's nest before I even get back to work on my Prank story--I started one pre-HBP ("Dance By the Light of the Moon" (Part One, Part Two)) that has some Snape stuff that I need to re-think on the knowledge that his dad was a Muggle--I thought I'd do a post about the "amusing little joke" that Sirius played on Snape at the Shrieking Shack. I really doubt that JKR ever thought it would be talked about as much as it is--like the business of Sirius suspecting Remus of being the traitor, I think it was just story backfill... "Oh, why does Snape particularly hate these guys more than other people? Oh, fine, prank pulled that involved Remus as a werewolf. Neatly accounts for Marauder hate and total distaste for werewolves. Good." However, it's a rich vein. So, as long as I'm practicing NaNo avoidance this evening, I may as well mine it.

What was the intent?
Snape seems convinced (and some fans are equally convinced) that it was a literal attempt at murder on Sirius's part. What else would happen? Of course it was a murder attempt. And the fact that the Marauders are so blasé about it later only shows them to be cold and vicious.

I don't really buy that--while what we've seen of Sirius and even, to some extent, Remus, show a level of thoughtlessness even as adults, I don't think that it works with either character to suggest that they were blasé about a deliberate attempted murder. But neither the would-be murderer or the would-be unwitting murder weapon seems to think of it as a psychologically devastating event. I think they think of it as more important than the upside-down pantsing operation from OotP, but not as a vicious crime of their youth that they need to spend years atoning for. Since intent lies with the perpetrator, to some extent, it's their reactions more than Snape's that count in this--to Snape, of course the first thing that occurred to him was that he was put into a life threatening situation, and it must have been a deliberate murder attempt, but the behavior of other characters doesn't support it. You could, if really determined, posit that every character other than Snape was in thrall of the Mighty Marauders, I suppose, but I somehow doubt that. So I'm just going to look at it from a (mostly) Marauder-Eye view, not because Snape's experience wasn't horrible, but because it doesn't have a lot of bearing on what the intent of the perpetrators was.

Then there are Sirius partisans--Snape must have done something which earned him a trip to the Shrieking Shack. Sirius didn't mean it, but if he did, his reasons were righteous and just. I don't buy that, either. Look, I love Sirius, really. I didn't expect to, but I do. But the guy is never going to be, in the immortal words of Buffy Summers, on the cover of Sanity Fair. He's impulsive, temperamental, and prone to nastiness when dealing with people (or house elves) he doesn't much like. We know from OotP that the Marauders were frequently going after Snape, and from HBP that Snape could escalate these things quite efficiently. I don't think there's much out there to suggest that Snape committed a grave, life-threatening offense for which Sirius was righteously punishing him. I tend to take him at his word that it was because Snape was trying to find out where they were going every month that he decided that would be a good thing to do. Were there other precipitating factors? Most likely, or at least as a fan writer, I hope so--the build up is half the fun of writing the episode. But some crime deserving of a probable death sentence? I doubt it.

So what was it? What was going through the boys' minds when they came up with this.

Peter Pettigrew, we have no information about in regard to the Prank. Any speculation is pretty much valid. He could have been egging them on, or he could have thought it so vile that it's what drove him to become a Death Eater. I kind of doubt the latter, but I can't really see anything practical in the way of it. Maybe he was the one sitting with Remus that night in the Shrieking Shack. That could be an angle to go with, and seems to make sense, but again... nothing to go on.

Remus would have to have been a lot stupider than he's ever demonstrated--and that's going some in some cases involving the other boys--to agree to go along with this, so I tend to take him at his word that he wasn't informed of the plan. He was careless with information that he should have kept more guarded, and let his friends get away with a lot, but any opinion he has of Snape aside, the fallout from that kind of prank, if it had been successful, might well have ended up with him being destroyed by Macnair's department at the Ministry, and he does demonstrate concern for his own hide. Remus is pretty much off the hook for anything beyond habitually letting his friends get away with anything.

That leaves James and Sirius.

How much did James know and when did he know it? It's hard to say based on the scant information we have about James. Was he an active participant until he got cold feet, or did he saunter back to the dorm after Quidditch practice and find out from Peter what Sirius was doing, and immediately rush down? Snape definitely assumes the former, and probably with the good reason that James had always been a ringleader in picking on him. I'd guess that Remus, with his rose-colored glasses about his friends, assumes the latter, because to think otherwise would be horrible. For myself, I suspect that James knew Sirius was up to something, but realized almost too late just what it was... and that he might not have been all that averse to an equally dangerous scheme that didn't involve Remus. It's all so speculative with James, though. I have a feeling that he was the glue that held the boys together--they certainly fell apart without him--and the idea that Sirius was doing something that was using one of his "brothers" very badly and could tear the group apart could really be a real catalyst point. As far as we can tell, this happens sixth year, which would put it roughly around the time he "deflates his head" so that Lily starts dating him, and I speculate that the two things are related--that James realizing he's responsible for this "family" he's forged is a big part of his growing up. But then, that's all speculation based on very vague timelines, and the feeling I have that the OotP scene just didn't "feel" like it was after a change in the dynamic of the group which would be caused by James stepping between Sirius and Snape. So my thought is that James was feeling uneasy about Sirius, but only realized in the nick of time what was going on, and immediately went to stop it once he did. Snape is right that it had nothing to do with valuing his (Snape's) life, but I don't think it's about the self-interested motives Snape ascribes as much as worry about Remus and even Sirius crossing lines that they shouldn't cross.

And then there's Sirius, allegedly one of the most brilliant students the school had--surely, he knew what would happen if he put Snape in a room with a werewolf! But known or unknown, I don't get the impression that he was logically thinking through the consequences of his action, any more than he was thinking about the consequences of slashing the Fat Lady's portrait in PoA, which would make him look guilty and violent to boot, or of treating Kreacher abysmally as he does in OotP, or for that matter, of rushing off to find Peter without pausing to, say, tell Dumbledore what had happened. This is also, as far as I can tell, the same year he ran away from Grimmauld Place and ended up living with the Potters, so obviously, whether that came before or after the Prank, this is a eyar where Sirius has some fairly intense emotional stuff going on, and given that he's emotionally intense anyway, I'd guess that he was on a hair trigger. Things may or may not have been escalating for awhile with Snape (personally, I'm throwing Regulus into the mix, though there's no canonical basis for--or against--it whatsoever, because I'm all for having more Regulus in the world), but when he found out that Snape was sneaking around and trying to find out what they all did on full moons, I'd guess Sirius's thought process was no more complicated than, "He wants to know what's up at full moons? If he saw, I bet he'd run away screaming like a little girl, and that would put him in his place." Not exactly an upright moral manifesto, but also not premeditated murder... no intent to kill. Even years later, he doesn't seem to not have any appreciation of how far it could have gone (muttering "would've served him right") in the Shrieking Shack scene, which implies that he's under the impression Snape would have had the bejeesus scared out of him and therefore behaved better later, not that he had any concept of Snape dying.

Anyway, that's a prank post for now. I really should get back to writing.
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Comments
neotoma From: neotoma Date: November 14th, 2005 03:08 am (UTC) (Link)
I don't think Sirius was attempting murder either.

But if the prank turned out less fortuitously, it could have ended up as a murder (by reckless disregard for human life, if the British have that as a category?) or a manslaughter case at the very least.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 14th, 2005 03:15 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, if it were being tried on Law and Order, Jack would definitely have to settle for reckless disregard, but I have no idea if there's such a category in British law!
stephantom From: stephantom Date: November 14th, 2005 03:28 am (UTC) (Link)
Hehe, I love Jack. Now I'm imagining him cross-examining Sirius.

Anyway, I agree with your thoughts on this issue. And those are interesting points about where the boys probably were emotionally at that time (James maturing enough to gain Lily's respect, Sirius running away from home).
lareinenoire From: lareinenoire Date: November 14th, 2005 03:08 am (UTC) (Link)
Really enjoyed reading this post, as I wrote the Prank into my MWPP-era fic in a very similar way. I'm of the opinion that Peter was involved in some way (I like to think on the side of not killing Snape, given the way Sirius treats him), and I do wish JKR would give us a bit more information. Of course, that would somewhat ruin any attempts on our parts--as mad fanfic writers--to explain it in our own ways...
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 14th, 2005 03:16 am (UTC) (Link)
That's the dilemma. On the one hand, we want more info. On the other hand, we don't want more info that might contradict what we've decided. Ah, the joys of an in-progress series. ;)
lareinenoire From: lareinenoire Date: November 14th, 2005 03:54 am (UTC) (Link)
Indeed. I do, however, believe that even if Sirius might have wanted Snape dead in a general sort of way (considering how much they hate one another), my suspicion is that he'd have stopped on Remus' account. Because if Remus was found to have killed Snape, he'd almost certainly either die or be sent to Azkaban.
straussmonster From: straussmonster Date: November 14th, 2005 03:33 am (UTC) (Link)
I can't think through the Prank at all because there's just too little information, and arguments about it tend to get obnoxiously polemical fast. That said, I salute your creative attempts at dealing with the issues going.

And I hope we get an explanation that no one had predicted, just to mess with the fandom's obsession about this issue.
antonia_east From: antonia_east Date: November 14th, 2005 03:35 am (UTC) (Link)
*nods* Sounds right to me. I've always thought that James's head deflating might have a lot to do with the prank. There's a lot of carelessness in the OotP scene, and I can quite well imagine Sirius just not thinking through what consequences telling Snape would have - and then defending himself by saying that Snape would have only have got a fright and serve him right. I think he'd have felt guilty about involving Remus though.

As for Peter, I should imagine that, from what we've seen of him, he would be capable of knowing what Sirius had done and not stopping him or pointing out it was wrong. He may have been the one to tell James what happened. I suppose it likely that the prank happened in winter, so that the other three wouldn't have been able to sneak away when the moon came out, but were planning to join Remus later in the evening. It would be odd if they weren't planning on joining him, as this is only the year after they'd discovered how to become Animagi.
trinity_clare From: trinity_clare Date: November 14th, 2005 03:41 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm going to break a discussion rule here and use fanfic to describe canon, but I really liked the way it happened in Shoebox Project. (yes, you can shoot me now). Sirius was in a huge insulting match with Snape and figured it would do Snape some good to get thrashed by the Whomping Willow. Snape put two and two together and Sirius didn't even realize something was wrong until he mentioned it to James later that night. Sirius was being extremely thoughtless, James was being a hero without thinking it all the way through, and Snape was convinced it was all a grand conspiracy.
harriet_wimsey From: harriet_wimsey Date: November 14th, 2005 03:44 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah. Nothing to say really other than that I think you're right. Sirius was dangerously reckless and stupid and not using the thinking part of his brain, but neither was he trying to kill Snape. He was just being a not-very-level-headed 16 year old boy. They often unintentionally do things that backfire horribly, as I can attest to having one brother who will be 16 in a few months and another who was 16 just a few years ago. I love them as I love Sirius, but they're not so much about thinking through the consequences of their actions.
moonlinnet From: moonlinnet Date: November 14th, 2005 03:59 am (UTC) (Link)
I totally agree with you, especially about James's deflating. The Prank was definitely a catalyst for this, I've always thought.

Even years later, he doesn't seem to not have any appreciation of how far it could have gone (muttering "would've served him right") in the Shrieking Shack scene, which implies that he's under the impression Snape would have had the bejeesus scared out of him and therefore behaved better later, not that he had any concept of Snape dying.


I adore Sirius, but this has always frustrated me about him, that he really doesn't think over the consequences of his actions, and it's not always cute or amusing or endearing. Of course, his faults are why I like him, but still.
hughroe From: hughroe Date: November 14th, 2005 04:03 am (UTC) (Link)
Intent is important...but I must admit that most of the "good guys" have done a lot of reckless and stupid things in JKR's world.

How did Sirius tell Snape about how to get through the Whomping Willow, and why did Snape listen? I mean, these folks are the type that would spit in each other's shadow and then dare the other to do something about it. (Sorry, old Romany curse there.)

Sirius was most likely thinking that Remus would have already turned by the time Snape got there. That Snape would open the trap, see a werewolf, soil himself, and go running back along the passage screaming for his mum.

After all, all the other "pranks" played were either just embarassing or nothing that Madame Pomfrey couldn't take care of, so no doubt Sirius didn't think about what would've happened if Snape was really inside the shack when he met a transformed Remus.

kizmet_42 From: kizmet_42 Date: November 14th, 2005 04:13 am (UTC) (Link)
Ok, I'm sorta rambling here, but we've seen the Gaunt family as a hideous example of the inbreeding of pure blood. Sirius reminds me of the Gaunts in a way; not entirely sane, too easily set off, not thinking things through.

On the flip side, I wonder if Snape learned of the knothole from Sirius but didn't use it until the night of the full moon, expecting to need the light to see by and not use Lumos and increase his chances of being seen whilst spying. James gets some comment from Snape that's obscure until he finds out from Sirius that Sirius had told him about the knothole. Anyway, that would absolve Sirius of attempted murder.

There's a fanfic in there, somewhere. Oh wait, there's MILLIONS of fanfics out there. Never mind.
midnitemaraud_r From: midnitemaraud_r Date: November 14th, 2005 04:18 am (UTC) (Link)
Nicely said. I don't think Sirius intended murder, premeditated or not. I do think he wanted to scare Snape, and didn't think about the consequences. As for Snape, he hated the marauders so of course he would think it was planned, that they wanted to kill him, and would put that spin on his thoughts and feelings. I really do believe that our past knowledge of their rivalry is biased in that we've only been shown (or told of) two incidents, and over seven years, I'm willing to bet there were dozens more, and not all instigated by MWPP. Obviously Snape was no slouch, nor was he stupid. He knew dark arts, created spells, excelled at potions, snuck around and spied on the marauders... he was no saint, and it ticks me off when people presume that he was the perpetual victim. His friends (Lestranges, Avery, etc.) were not nice people, nor do they seem to be the types to take things lying down. Unless those people are saying Snape was their lackey and not their friend, which I don't see at all.

Yes, I think the pensieve scene was an accurate portrayal of that one day, but to judge an entire rivalry, an entire relationship, and to even judge the dynamic of the marauders by that one incident is not only unfair, but completely midguided. And to judge the infamous prank by the vague and highly biased (on both sides) information that we have is just as bad. Snape is not a reliable source of judgment, and if there's any questioning of that, just look at his behavior in the shack scene at the end of PoA. He heard plenty of information before he revealed himself and ignored all of it in favor of his own revenge.
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 14th, 2005 04:36 am (UTC) (Link)
My take on it for what it's worth.

With Sirius, it's that he often has a very hard time seeing the consequences of his actions. Long range thinking and impulse control don't have to go hand in hand with intelligence.

Snape, on the other hand, has a limited ability to see things from the other person's POV. He can't believe an otherwise intelligent person couldn't see this as potentially deadly. He can't believe Remus didn't know about it ahead of time because Snape can't imagine forgiving someone who set him up like that without warning. Also, Snape's social experience is extremely limited and what ones he's had have been extremely structured. He sees the marauders and sees a hierarchy with James at the top. He also likes to demonize James. James is The Enemy. To imagine the deadliest thing the Marauders ever did to him was done casually by a lesser member of the group with James not even knowing about it until the last minute - and acting immediately to save Snape when he did - would be a painful blow to his pride as well as to his view of how their group functioned.

My guess is that Sirius had been hinting for a while that he had something really fun lined up as they were heading over to the Shack. He may have even deliberately delayed them to make sure Snape would have his chance to sneak in ahead of them. Then, he finally told James what the joke was and how they could expect to see Snape running like a girl and wetting his pants any minute now.

I think there may have been more leading up to that moment for James to immediately see how serious the consequences could be and to take immediate action. I imagine him instantly transforming into Prongs and charging off as fast as he could run, leaving a surprised Sirius in his wake (although [according to a quick google search] a wolf can hit speeds of 30-35 mph and a deer can hit speeds of 35, I'm assuming the horse sized Prongs hit speeds equal to an elk's or a horse's, more in the area of 45 mph, easily arriving ahead of Sirius).

Ellen
tunxeh From: tunxeh Date: November 14th, 2005 04:54 am (UTC) (Link)
I don't have much of an opinion on the prank, but I always enjoy seeing such attempts to understand backstory. I wonder, do we have any idea when Peter first turned to Voldemort, relative to the timing of the prank?
antonia_east From: antonia_east Date: November 14th, 2005 06:03 am (UTC) (Link)
As far as I remember, it's 'over a year' from when the Potters are killed. So there's nothing to say that it wasn't much more than a year, but it's probably unlikely, as the order recognised there was a spy - hence Sirius knowing that it was over a year that information was being passed (if that makes sense).
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 14th, 2005 02:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
They've known of information-passing for a year, but it probably took longer than that to bring Peter over in the first place. It wouldn't be too terribly shocking to find out that he'd been dabbling for a couple of years before he started passing information.
straussmonster From: straussmonster Date: November 14th, 2005 07:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'd suspected pre-HBP that Rowling's comments that Muggleborns could become DEs under very special circumstances might apply to Peter. Looks a little less likely now that we have Snape as the prime entrant in the 'hypocritical self-hating DE' category, but I still wonder about what got Peter in, and WHO.
sigune From: sigune Date: November 14th, 2005 10:00 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for an excellent post! I am really very fascinated by the "Prank" episode. Whether or not JKR intended it to be so prominent, I think she has created a story element that has become really crucial in terms of Snape's personality and its development. And it's a great source of inspiration... :D

a_t_rain offers what I think is one plausible explanation for Sirius' behaviour in the whole affair in one of her stories at TDA: based on Screaming Mrs Black, Bellatrix, the pureblood fanaticism of the Black family and their ideas of interior decoration, she posits that madness runs in the family, and that Sirius's bouts of total irresponsibility and flights of temper are the first signs of his hereditary disposition manifesting itself. Whatever is the case, he certainly wasn't thinking straight; I don't believe he would have gone through with the plot if he'd actually realised it would seriously harm Remus. On the other hand, I don't think he had any qualms about Snape.

I like the picture you paint of James viewing his friends as a self-chosen family. It works very well, and the idea that his head deflated when he understood how things could get out of hand is very good as well.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 14th, 2005 02:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
I absolutely agree that madness runs in the family. Sirius is all over the map emotionally, but not in a way that makes him inconsistent--he's quite consistently emotionally keyed up and intense, and does not have a solid grasp of cause and effect, which is one of the primary signs of delusional thinking. I don't think of that as an insult any more than it's an insult to say that Remus!Wolf craves human prey--it's just part of the character, and I like the character a lot. He does some very good things despite his mental instability, and that's saying a lot. It's just a burden that the character has to bear. I think the Prank may be the first time he realizes it, though judging by his later behavior, he never entirely accepts it.
From: cristix Date: November 14th, 2005 12:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think we can be 100% sure that Remus knew nothing abour the prank, fern.

And not because Remus was not stupid, and didn't want to be killed- which would have probably happened if he hurt Snape.

But because Remus was and is a caring person.

This is why I am 100% sure that Remus knew nothing. He would never have wanted to hurt somebody, not even someone like Snape.

H eis not like that, and he has proved it more than enough. And he is not so irresponsible to think that nothing bad will happen. And he is extremely cautious when it comes to his condition; he doesn't want people to find out and he doesn't want to hurt anybody. So he would never reveal on purpose his secret and he would never risk to hurt someone.

Yes, he was a little thoughtless when he wandered with the marauders in the woods during the full moons, but from that to showing himself to Snaoe and risking to hurt him is a great difference.

Moreover, Remus didn't approve of the marauders' treatment of Snape. In the Pensieve scene he doesn't interfere, but he is definitely not enjoying the scene, and I bet that he reprimanded J/S after that scene, when they were alone.
It's one thing to let your friends go most of the times and not confront them in public, and a totally different thing to agree with the prank. Moreover, don't forget that Remus did reprimand J/S. Otherwise he will be either spineless, or as reckless as they were. Sirius says so. So, I bet that when they were alone Remus tried to make J/S see sense.

And let's not forget that Remus does not hate Snape. he said so in HBP.

And let's not forget that Remus was a person who was capable to feel sorry for Greyback, until he found out that Fenrir had bitten him on purpose. He was capable of feeling sorry for the person who ruined his life.

So, it's impossible for him to have participated in the prank.

As to James and Sirius, I am sure that Sirius didn't think at all in that scene. Probably Snape provoked him and he reacted, without thinking of the consequences.

I don't know about James. i don't know if he was in the prank or not. Porbably not.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 14th, 2005 02:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
I agree about Remus, but I think that whether you interpret him as caring, cold, disinterested, or a James/Sirius fangirl, the logic of him being involved doesn't work. As far as I'm concerned--and this would certainly be part of any story I wrote--he'd be horrified at the whole concept, and wouldn't find it amusing for a moment. I think it probably would have been something he'd feel betrayed by; the incident was, imho, more of a watershed for the Marauders than for Snape, at least in the fallout stage. But that's just something I'll get into in the story.
gabrielladusult From: gabrielladusult Date: November 15th, 2005 02:05 am (UTC) (Link)

Hey, I Agree!

It's all so speculative with James, though. I have a feeling that he was the glue that held the boys together--they certainly fell apart without him--and the idea that Sirius was doing something that was using one of his "brothers" very badly and could tear the group apart could really be a real catalyst point. As far as we can tell, this happens sixth year, which would put it roughly around the time he "deflates his head" so that Lily starts dating him, and I speculate that the two things are related--that James realizing he's responsible for this "family" he's forged is a big part of his growing up. But then, that's all speculation based on very vague timelines, and the feeling I have that the OotP scene just didn't "feel" like it was after a change in the dynamic of the group which would be caused by James stepping between Sirius and Snape. So my thought is that James was feeling uneasy about Sirius, but only realized in the nick of time what was going on, and immediately went to stop it once he did. Snape is right that it had nothing to do with valuing his (Snape's) life, but I don't think it's about the self-interested motives Snape ascribes as much as worry about Remus and even Sirius crossing lines that they shouldn't cross.

I agree with most of your post -- but the above is exactly how I see it. It is what I had in mind when I wrote Acceptance, my first Harry Potter fanfic. So, naturally, I think you are on the right track with your logic and assumptions. Now you'll have to rethink the whole thing! *grin*
lilacsigil From: lilacsigil Date: November 15th, 2005 03:28 am (UTC) (Link)
Your post is very sane! The other thing that points to Sirius recklessly (rather than deliberately) endangering Snape is that James found out in time. Sirius, as you said, obviously has no comprehension of what could have happened, and I can quite easily see him boasting to James of what a fright Snape's going to have - not the actions of a vicious killer or a righteous punisher. If it was a deliberate attempt on Snape's life, he would have covered it up better. Sirius may be impulsive, but he can also be sneaky and secretive when he really means it.

the guy is never going to be, in the immortal words of Buffy Summers, on the cover of Sanity Fair.
Hee hee! So true.
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