7

When teaching Harry how to cast a patronus, Harry asks what a patronus looks like. Lupin gives him a vague answer about patronuses being different for everyone.

"What does a Patronus look like?" said Harry curiously.

"Each one is unique to the wizard who conjures it."

Prisoner of Azkaban - page 196 - Bloomsbury - chapter 12, The Patronus

However, every patronus we see in the series is an animal, ordinary or magical. Why wouldn't Lupin say that patronuses take the forms of animals? Of course, it is never stated that patronuses can't be a non-animal, but it seems unlikely. Is it just because JKR wanted Harry's patronus to be a complete surprise at the end of the book?

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    It could be that this is implied. If they manifested as a rock they wouldn't be able to help much. Even a gun would not be something we would refer to as a 'defender'. The term defender implies living. To me that word alone narrows it down to an animal or a person. It could also be that Lupin doesn't see things in such black and white terms giving his condition. It may be that he prefers not to look at species in the way many people say that they don't look at color. – krowe Jun 24 '14 at 7:39
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    It may also just be that Lupin doesn't want to get into the 'looks' side of patronuses because he doesn't want to explain that the look of a patronus may be obfuscated and is therefore arbitrary. If he did then it would make it that much easier for Harry to guess his secret. – krowe Jun 24 '14 at 7:39
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    The series mentions one person with a giant for a patronus, so they're not necessarily animals. – Kevin Jun 24 '14 at 17:26
10

Remember that only a corporeal patronus can take the form of an animal. Throughout their lessons and most of the book, Harry is only able to conjure something which is incorporeal and wispy. But even this is quite remarkable:

“You’re expecting too much of yourself,” said Professor Lupin, sternly in their fourth week of practice. “For a thirteen-year-old wizard, even an indistinct Patronus is a huge achievement. You aren’t passing out anymore, are you?”

Prisoner of Azkaban, chapter 12, The Patronus

I think Lupin might have been worried that if Harry knew about corporeal patronuses, he would have been discouraged by his inability to produce one, which would make it even more difficult for Lupin to teach him.

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Lupins patronus was a wolf just like him and if harry knew they were animals he would have most likely asked lupins what his was and harry might have been frightened by how he had seen the grim/ omen of death in his cup which was in the shape of a wolf

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    The Grim is a big black dog, not a wolf. – Anthony Grist Jun 24 '14 at 9:37

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