The Boggart

What if Lupin hadn’t stepped in front of Harry that day with the Boggart? What if, instead of a Dementor, it turned into something else entirely?

Canon Divergent
Flash Fiction
Harry Potter
Length: 3,921

As the boggart morphed and shifted with each child’s fear, one child struggled to realize the shape his would take. At first, Harry’s mind conjured an image of Lord Voldemort before disregarding the idea. Perhaps it was arrogant of him, or the mere fact that he’d already faced him twice and come out on top but Harry didn’t fear him. The boggart appeared before Ron Weasley and transformed into a gigantic spider, prowling on the class before losing its legs and barrelling forward—

To land at Harry’s feet. His grip tightened on his wand. Maybe it would turn into Lord Voldemort after all. Or maybe one of those Dementors—he could consider the dread he felt for those figures fear, but how to make it comical?

And then the boggart changed, it grew large—larger than the spider, a towering hulking figure, the familiar face contorting with purple rage. It was impossible—and yet—the giant beefy man before him with his thick mustache and malicious blue eyes—there was no mistaking it.

“YOU UNGRATEFUL FREAK!” roared the monstrous Uncle Vernon, and just like that all the excitement borne from fears turned comedic vanished into horrified silence. Harry had taken a fast step back before he realized what he was doing. And then his Uncle was bearing down on him like an angry wolf-hound, his thunderous steps rattling the entirety of the room.

“YOU WAIT UNTIL I GET MY HANDS ON YOU BOY! YOU WON’T BE ABLE TO SIT FOR A WEEK! NEVER SHOULD’VE TAKEN YOU IN. YOU’VE BEEN NOTHING BUT A BLIGHT ON THIS FAMILY—YOU’RE NOTHING BUT A FREAK AND THEY’RE GOING TO FIND OUT—MARK MY WORDS!”

Uncle Vernon raised his arm and Harry, voice shaking shouted, “Ridikulous!” but with nothing pictured in his mind’s eye except a numbing sense of panic the Boggart twisted and shrieked, and suddenly Aunt Petunia’s blonde head was poking out of Uncle Vernon’s shoulder. She twisted and ripped her flesh forward, until her entire torso sprouted from Uncle Vernon like a limb on a mangled tree.

“YOU’RE A FREAK EVEN AMONG FREAKS,” she screamed at him, “YOU SHOULD’VE DIED WITH YOUR PARENTS! NOT EVEN WORTH LOCKING IN A CUPBOARD! I SHOULD’VE TOSSED YOU IN THE BIN THE MOMENT I SAW YOU ON OUR DOORSTEP!”

And then the creature morphed back into Uncle Vernon, the real one, the one that Harry had seen less than a month ago in his best dinner jacket and a murderous gleam in his eyes.  “YOU CAN’T USE MAGIC OUTSIDE OF SCHOOL!” he bellowed, and as he rushed toward him Harry forgot where he was.

“No—I didn’t mean—Uncle please—” Harry stammered, wand forgotten as he attempted to shield himself  with his arm, and backed up—crashing into someone behind him.

RIDIKULOUS!” someone shouted and suddenly Vernon was gone.

It took a moment for Harry to realize what had happened, and when he did—he couldn’t breathe. His eyes found Hermione, Ron, Professor Lupin, even Draco—the look in their eyes was beyond shock. Hermione had tears rolling down her face, and then he felt the world start to spin. “I need to—” he started, and then he couldn’t finish, not without air.

“Harry,” came Ron’s voice—what a sound, like he’d just come across a dying dog yelping for death. He went to put a hand on Harry’s shoulder and Harry flinched away, wheezing.

“No—” he said, “Don’t—” he shook his head, trying to clear his vision. And then he was running for the door.

Copy of blue flower

Gryffindors seldom loitered about the dungeons, so when Snape saw Harry Potter slip into one of the unused potions classrooms—especially when he had it on good authority that the boy had Defense at this time—Snape grew suspicious at once. He reached the door before it swung shut.

“Potter! What are you doing in here?” he snarled, his words freezing the boy in his tracks. Slowly, Potter turned around. The moment his eyes fell on Snape all the color drained from his face. His bottle-green eyes went wide, a horrified dawning realization spreading across his features.

“No—” Potter breathed, his voice hoarse. His hand went to the desk as if for support. “You can’t—you’re going to find out,” he went on, no longer looking at him.

“What are you on about, Potter?” Snape cut across losing his temper. “And why aren’t you in class? Professor Lupin might cater to your every whim but I certainly will not. Five points—” a wheeze brought his words to an abrupt halt.

It was clear that Potter hadn’t heard a word he had said. He was gasping for breath, limbs visibly shaking. Snape only just managed to step forward to catch him by the elbow as Potter’s knees gave way and eased him to the ground. That at least got the boy to look at him again, but his gaze was panicked.

“I can’t—breathe,” Potter choked out, still shaking. His hand went to his heart, and Snape was shocked to see tears welling in Potter’s eyes. There was no mistaking it. Harry Potter was having a panic attack. Snape withdrew a vial of light blue liquid and uncorked it.

“Drink,” he said, lifting the bottle to Potter’s lips. The boy didn’t even argue—for once—and instead choked it back with fumbling fingers. After another minute during which Snape re-pocketed the empty vial, Potter’s breathing eased and he buried his face in his hands.

“It seems Lupin is more incompetent than I thought,” Snape sneered. “Tell me did he at least tell you the incantation before allowing the Dark Lord to materialize before you? He’s an absolute disgrace to—”

Potter gave a rattled sob and shook his head, mumbling something.

“What was that?”

Potter lifted his head, furiously wiping at his eyes. “I wish it’d been Voldemort.”

“Don’t say his name,” Snape said automatically, though he had to confess his interest peaked. He waited for Potter to continue and after several rattled gulps Potter shrugged.

“You’re going to find out anyway,” he whispered, closing his eyes as though preparing himself. “I haven’t even—he hadn’t even—he’s not my—” Potter ran his hands through his hair, his eyes flying open to stare at his knees. “It, the boggart, turned into my Uncle.”

A cold sinking sensation settled in Snape’s bones, like a silver knife flaying skin. The smirk vanished, replaced by a careful impassive mask. “Your Uncle?” he repeated, only the dark slow tremor of his voice betraying the swell of emotion he suddenly felt.

Potter looked up at him, and nodded. He bit his lip to stop it from quivering. And then he buried his face in his hands. “Everyone heard him—everyone knows I’m—I’m—” Snape saw Potter’s fingers white-knuckle through his black hair. And then so quietly, that Snape almost missed it—

I’m a freak.

And Snape saw scarlet. It didn’t take much to lift the boy and lead him back to his office where he fixed a large cup of tea and put it in Potter’s hand with the order to stay put, before sweeping down the halls to the staff room.

One look told him that there was more to this story—he’d never seen a class so subdued. Lupin seemed to be in the middle of giving a lecture on discretion, damage control, Snape thought bitterly.

The moment Lupin saw him the blasted werewolf grimaced. “Class dismissed,” he said, and the class filtered out, silent, avoiding eyes.

“Severus,” Lupin began somewhat offhandedly, “I’m afraid I need to run, can this wait—”

“Harry Potter is currently in my office enjoying a calming tea,” Snape said and Lupin stared at him. “I found him having a full-blown panic attack in one of my classrooms.”

Lupin went white, hands balling into fists. It took him a long second to compose himself enough to speak. “We need to speak to the Headmaster, immediately Severus—you don’t know—what it said to him.”’

“By all means, lead the way,” Snape sneered, though inside he was boiling. His fingers itched to clasp his wand and curse the nearest thing into oblivion. As they rushed to the Headmaster’s office, he kept telling himself that everyone was blowing this out of proportion. Potter was spoiled brat who’d gotten his feelings hurt, hadn’t been able to hack a simple Boggart. Lupin was coddling his friend’s son—everyone was thinking too much and then it came back to him.

“I’m a freak.

Instead of attempting to reiterate what happened, Lupin produced a memory. The three of them watched in horrified silence. When the Boggart shifted into the person replica and Potter threw up his hand to defend himself, Snape turned away. It was a move he knew all too well, and he should’ve known.

“Did you know?” he whispered, when they had returned to the office. He looked at Dumbledore.

“No.”

“How could you not know?” Lupin shouted, throwing up his hands. “Aren’t you supposed to be keeping tabs on him?”

“I did not think I needed eyes inside the house,” Dumbledore said, his normally bright blue eyes shadowed. “Rest assured, we will investigate this.”

“Investigate?” Lupin said, “Albus, Harry cannot go back there.”

“While loathe I am to agree with Lupin on anything,” Snape said with a grimace. “Potter’s Boggart is his uncle. The damage is done.”

Copy of blue flower

He wasn’t supposed—that couldn’t be his greatest—he was not scared of Uncle Vernon. Harry tore down the corridor, not even paying attention to where he was going. All he could see was the Boggart and the broken expressions of his friends. Ron and his brothers had suspected something was amiss ever since second year, but Harry had never told him or anyone what really went on in that house.

But really, it was just embarrassing more than anything. Had that been his fear? Embarrassed that everyone would find out how unspoiled he was. Yes, that was it. He wasn’t actually scared of Uncle Vernon. That was—Harry scoffed to himself. Now he just needed to compose himself enough to face his friends when they asked him about it. And everyone else in that class. And maybe the whole school.

Harry slipped through a door and only just realized where he was. One of the unused potions classrooms. He took a deep shuddering breath, trying to knock himself out of it. He could handle it, the weird looks, the questions, it’d be just like last year with the Chamber of Secrets but instead everyone would be concerned for him. And besides, if a Boggart was supposed to be his worst fear… it’s just what he imagines to be. No one would think—how could they know—

That Harry had heard those words before.

“Potter! What are you doing in here?”

Harry froze. Slowly he turned around, and when his gaze fell on Snape all his rationalizations fell away. “No—” he breathed, his voice hoarse. His hand went to the desk suddenly unable to stand without support. “You can’t—you’re going to find out,” he went on. If there was anyone in this entire School—Dumbledore had left him there so he obviously knew, McGonagall would probably fret and worry about him but Snape—Malfoy would surely tell him and all the Slytherins. He could just hear their voices in his ears.

 

“Hey Freak, scared of a fucking muggle? Maybe you should’ve really died with your parents. So much for Saint Potter, adored by all. You’ve known all along that you’re nothing but a waste of space.”

He couldn’t breathe. Air danced just out of reach of his lungs, his vision swam oddly before him – focusing in and out on Snape. He felt so light-headed—and then he felt a grip on his elbow as his knees buckled. When had Snape moved? He turned his attention to the professor as he sunk to the ground, gaping like a fish. “I can’t—breathe,” he choked out. What was wrong with him? His heart felt ready to burst from his chest. He clamped his hand over it, willing it to slow—

Make no noise and pretend I’m not there.

No. Don’t think about that. Don’t. If you make too much noise it’ll be worse. There were not tears burning in his eyes—he saw a vial of some light blue potion pushed to his lips and he drank it greedily. His hands were shaking—what was wrong with him? After a moment he felt a sense of calm wash over him, he could draw breath again.

And Harry buried his face in his hands. He had just gone to pieces in front of Snape. He heard the Professor clear his throat.

“It seems Lupin is more incompetent than I thought,” Snape sneered. “Tell me did he at least tell you the incantation before allowing the Dark Lord to materialize before you? He’s an absolute disgrace to—”

Harry wanted to scoff, “Yeah, I wish,” but it didn’t come out that way. Oh god, was he crying? He needed to pull it together.

“What was that?”

Harry swallowed tried to hide the wetness about his eyes. “I wish it’d been Voldemort,” he whispered, unable to meet Snape’s gaze.

“Don’t say his name,” Snape said automatically, but he didn’t sound as angry as he usually did. Maybe that was why Harry went on.

“You’re going to find out anyway,” he whispered, closing his eyes. It was easier to say this in the dark where he could pretend he was alone. “I haven’t even—he hadn’t even—he’s not my—” Harry ran his fingers through his hair, feeling an odd impulse to pull out the strands. Why was this so hard? He couldn’t say it. He opened his eyes again, staring at his knees. “It, the boggart, turned into my Uncle.”

“Your Uncle?” came Snape’s voice, low and wrought with fury. It jolted Harry to look at him, but the Potion Master’s face was flat, unfathomable. He didn’t look mad at Harry. Slowly, Harry nodded. His lip quivered and he bit down. The soft taste of blood knocking against his teeth steadied him. But not enough to maintain eye contact.

He hid his face in his hands. “Everyone heard him—everyone knows I’m—I’m—” He wanted to rip the skin off his bones and run. Tear the words out of his throat like pulling teeth from his jaw. He heard the words; screaming in his ears—and then he moved his lips to utter them himself.

“I’m a freak.”

He waited for Snape to agree—to tell him he’d known all along, or even to berate him for being so ridiculous. What he didn’t expect was for the professor to help him to his feet and make him a cup of tea. He stared at the mug, and then looked up in time to see the door close behind those billowing black robes.

His fingers quivered and he held the mug tighter. What was going to happen now?

Copy of blue flower

Harry didn’t know how long Snape was gone. Time felt irrelevant, suspended, like the mug of hot tea he held in his fingers. He thought he’d drank all of it, but the mug always had more. Perhaps Snape had charmed it, an oddly thoughtful action he would never have expected from his least favorite professor.

He closed his eyes and saw the visage of Uncle Vernon behind them, wild-eyed and manic, face purpling and winced. Of all the things to be terrified of—why not Voldemort? Why not the Dementors? But as Harry mulled over it, his grip tightened around the mug, he knew why. Like a worm curling in his gut, vomit climbing his throat—he could fight back against dark creatures, even against Voldemort and his attempts on his life.

He’d never been able to fight back against Uncle Vernon.

“You can’t use magic outside of school,” rang again in his ears and Harry bit his lip. And now Snape knew. Where had he gone? Harry imagined him sweeping into the Slytherin Common Room with a proclamation: Harry Potter is a freak and knows it. He was being melodramatic, he knew, but even if that wasn’t where Snape had gone—there was no denying that the whole school would learn the truth now. Too many had seen it. It would be in the Daily Prophet by the morning.

The fireplace behind Snape’s desk swelled with sudden heat and Harry watched as Snape stepped out, closely followed by Professor Lupin and right on his heels, the Headmaster. Harry flushed and dropped his gaze to the mug of tea in his hands. Why had Dumbledore been involved?

“Harry?” Came Lupin’s tentative voice and Harry looked up to see him walk over to him and kneel so that they were eye-level. The look in his eyes made Harry want to scream.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t defeat the Boggart,” he found himself saying, the words bitter on his tongue.

Lupin blinked. “Oh no—that’s not—if I’d known—”

“You’d have stopped it from appearing in front of me?” Harry finished, and he gave a scoff. “Yeah, right, because that’s so much better when everyone else managed to face their—” he couldn’t say the word fear. It felt strange and foreign and got stuck in his throat. “—Boggart,” he finished and he glanced up at Dumbledore.

“You were caught off guard,” Lupin said, placating, and understanding, and god why did Harry want to tear out his hair— “I’m sure you could have—”

The mug shattered.“Stop it!” and suddenly he was on his feet and he couldn’t stop fury and panic bleeding into his tone. “Don’t pretend like everything is going to be fine! It’s not! Everyone saw it, they’re all going to know—” he thought he saw Snape’s eyes flash out of the corner of his eye, a subtle clenching of his fist, “My Uncle is my worst fear,” Harry finished, breathing hard.

He’d said it. It killed him to say it. He sank back into his chair, and hid his face in his hands. How did this happen, it was never supposed to happen, and yet now he realized there was never anything else it could have been and it grated against his flesh like a hacksaw.

“I’m so sorry Harry,” came Dumbledore’s somber tone, and the apology got Harry to look up again. There it was again, that look. “I should have been more vigilant. I never thought I would need eyes inside the house.”

And Harry wished he had another mug to shatter against Dumbledore’s bright blue eyes because that look, he couldn’t—

“Headmaster, Lupin, you are doing more damage than good,” came Snape’s voice, cutting through the conversation with such finality that everyone turned to him. “I’m going to have to ask you to give me a moment with Potter alone.”

“What?” Came Lupin’s outraged tone, jumping to his feet but Dumbledore only gave Snape one of his thoughtful looks and nodded.

“We will take a step outside. Come along, Remus.”

Lupin spluttered and turned to Harry as though hoping his word would keep him there, but Harry said nothing. He took a deep breath, shot a glance at Snape before following the Headmaster from the room. As soon as they were gone, Snape waved his wand and a shimmer fell over the door.

“I do not put it past Lupin to eavesdrop,” he said, even though Harry didn’t ask. Then pinched the bridge of his nose and Harry waited, wondering why Snape had asked to speak with him alone.

“They do not understand,” Snape started slowly, each word bitten out like they had teeth, “that pity is not a balm that will make this better, it is fuel to a fire they do not know is burning. They think they can ease the panic and uncomfortable vulnerability you feel with words, but it will not change what happened.”

Harry stared at him. Snape did not look at him with eyes crinkled and soft and full of pity. They were not narrowed in intense dislike, that look of utter loathing that he usually reserved just for him, either. They were—tired, resigned, and yet cold and unyielding like always.

“So, what happens now?” he asked, his voice tired, strained.

Snape held his gaze for a long moment. “It goes without saying that you will not be returning to your Aunt and Uncle this summer—” and Harry’s heart leapt. “However,” Snape went on, clearly having noticed the look of hope on the boy’s face, “that leaves the issue of where you will go. You are aware that you were safe at that house due to the Blood Wards there?”

Harry slowly nodded. He seemed to recall the Headmaster telling him something about that.

“I fully believe that if it were possible, the Headmaster would attempt to smooth things over with your Aunt and Uncle and fix the situation there rather than relocate you.”

Harry deflated. He’d suspected that as well.

“I say the damage is done. Your Uncle is your boggart, and even if he were to threaten them into treating you like a human being, you should not be left there.”

Something about that had Harry narrowing his eyes. “Yeah?” he challenged. “And what about Neville Longbottom?”

Snape looked somewhat perplexed. “What about Longbottom?”

Harry folded his arms. “Should he be forced to stay with his worst fear?”

“I did not hear that Longbottom’s Boggart had turned into his grandmother.”

“No,” Harry said, “It turned into you.” An emotionless mask fell over the Professor’s face and Harry scoffed. “Thanks, but if Neville still has to take Potions with you every week, then I can handle living that damn house—”

“Language,” Snape said automatically.

“Got to consider those Blood Wards, right?” Harry went on, getting to his feet now, his voice taking on a scathing tone. “Wouldn’t want to be murdered by some Death Eater hoping to score a few points with Voldemort—”

“Don’t say his name,” Snape hissed.

“—and besides, it builds character, does it? Wouldn’t want me to turn into a spoiled, proud, arrogant, good for nothing, strutting about the castle like my old man, right?” Harry went on, throwing Snape’s words back at him and enjoying the coloring of the Potion Master’s face. “So, was there anything else or can I go now, Sir?

“There is a world of difference,” Snape said, each word punctuated with silent anger, “between letting a child live in an abusive household and a student in the class of a strict professor.”

“Whatever you have to tell yourself,” Harry snarled, already halfway to the door. “For all I know, my Uncle could just be strict, I mean, it’s not like he ever threatened to poison my owl in front of my friends—”

“Detention!” Snape interrupted, his eyes flashing dangerously. “I will not be spoken to like that!”

Harry wrenched open the door to find a bemused Dumbledore and a sulking Lupin who started at Harry’s sudden appearance. “And I don’t want your pity,” Harry snarled at the pair of them, before storming off.

“My office, Potter!” Snape roared after him. “Seven O’clock for your detention.”

Harry did not look back. He thought he heard Dumbledore clear his voice behind him.

“Well. That went about as well as to be expected.”

Harry wanted to scream.