Prior to the release of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Scholastic, the American publishers, released the Advance Reader’s Edition, a copy of the book to share among journalists and booksellers. It was made to create enthusiasm and hype about the book, so those who influenced the market could share their thoughts about the book before the release. It was normal – even Bloomsbury did the same in the United Kingdom for the first three books (when they were not that popular and spoilers were not a problem).
These ARE (or ARC, from Advance Reader’s Copy, as they are more commonly known) have minor differences from the final published version. For instance, the Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban doesn’t not have the final cover art – its design is just purple and black, possibly because Mary GrandPré didn’t have the artwork ready when that ARC went into print. And it is not only on its design that isn’t the same, some parts of the texts change. A few words, sometimes entire sentences, or the order of some paragraphs, nothing really important. Just in case, the publishers ask to not quote them if you are going to write a review, because the final version may not include the passage you use.
However, Azkaban Advance Copy does have an interesting difference. It was a month ago that I was checking this copy when I opened Chapter 18, “Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs”. The start of the chapter is already different. The dialogue isn’t the same: while in the final and published version Remus Lupin wants to explain to the trio what happened, in the original one he is more direct and more on Sirius’ side. “You’re free to leave us, all three of you, but you’ll leave Peter with us,” he says as soon as he discovers the truth, while he never said that in the published version. In fact, in the version we all know, he is more like a middle-man between Sirius and Harry, Ron and Hermione: he wants to make justice, but at the same time, he wants Harry and friends to know the truth, to get the explanation they deserve.
A few paragraphs down, after Sirius keeps pushing Lupin to hurry up with the explanation, Lupin explains Peter Pettigrew is an Animagus, and Hermione says that’s not possible because the Ministry of Magic keeps a record. And Lupin replies, “But the Ministry never knew that there used to be three unregistered Animagi running around Hogwarts”. In the original version, tho, he adds “None of them submitted their names to the Ministry, because they became Animagi in secret, and for a very good reason – because I’m a werewolf.” This is how Remus was going to reveal his truth – in a more dramatic way.
Later on, Lupin makes yet another kinda dramatic revelation: not only did James, Sirius and Peter become Animagi, but they did it secretly. More precisely, Lupin explains that while they were practicing on their transformations, they “didn’t tell [him] what they were up to, didn’t want [him] to know, in case it didn’t work”. In the published version of the chapter, this detail disappeared, as Lupin only mentions that his three classmates managed to become Animagi during their fifth year and that’s about it. Now we particularly like this one sentence of the ARC. Although we understand that not every detail could make it to the published version of the chapter, we feel like this one is a little bit special. You know how Hermione has her magic bag that only holds the appearance of a bag on the outside, but once you put your hand inside you can find room for many more items. That’s exactly what this sentence is like: while we don’t want to turn this article into a piece of fanfiction, it lets you imagine James, Sirius and Peter spending hours every week in an empty Hogwarts room, secretly practicing their Animagi transformation in order to comfort their friend Remus, while he was going through the night in the Shrieking Shack. We think if there is one idea that sums up the friendship between the four Marauders, that is a pretty good one.
The last major change we spotted lies in the way Lupin talks about Dumbledore and betraying his trust. In the ARC, he first gives details on how Dumbledore assisted him with his condition and helped him keep it a secret. A few paragraphs later, Hermione asks him if Dumbledore had knowledge of James, Peter and Sirius being Animagi, to which Remus briefly explains that he still doesn’t know about it and that they would have been expelled as “they had broken an important law” and that’s it. While the ARC version of the chapter didn’t expand much on Remus’ feelings about acting behind Albus Dumbledore’s back, the published version delves much deeper into Lupin’s mind. In fact, it openly shows for the first time some of Remus’ imperfections: his “self-disgust” and his cowardness. Lupin explains how he spent a whole year “wondering whether [he] should tell Dumbledore that Sirius was an Animagus” but didn’t do it.
While we very much like the way the ARC depicts what happens in the Shrieking Shack that very night, and we particularly enjoy some of the details that were sadly removed, it seems that the additions we observed in the published version of the chapter and mentioned above – such as exposing darker parts of Professor Lupin’s personality – were a very interesting way for Rowling to prepare us for some of the things that would happen in later Harry Potter books.
This comparison gives us a glimpse inside of Rowling’s creative process. In this case, we were able to see an early version of one chapter and how Rowling imagined that scene before it was published. If we had access to early versions of the whole books, we sure would be able to read a completely different take on the Harry Potter story, one without any edit or modification, closer to Rowling’s original ideas.