The Boggart in the Wardrobe
Chapter 7 of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: The Boggart in the Wardrobe
Draco Malfoy reappears on Thursday, midway through Professor Snape's Double Potions class, claiming his injury is still painful. He sits himself at Harry and Ron's bench, and Snape orders them to prepare Malfoy's ingredients for him. Malfoy taunts them with threats of Hagrid's imminent dismissal thanks to his father, Lucius, who apparently still has influence with the Ministry. Malfoy also contends that if he was Harry, he would want revenge on Sirius Black. Harry later asks Ron why he would want revenge against Black; Ron cannot answer. Meanwhile, Hermione helps Neville make his potion correctly; Snape penalizes Gryffindor five House points, believing Neville incapable of correcting his potion unaided, and guessing that Hermione had, against his orders, assisted Neville.
As the Trio leave the dungeon, Hermione suddenly seems to disappear. Looking around, Ron sees her catching up while tucking something down her robe. Her bag splits, and Ron asks why she is carrying so many books, as there is nothing that afternoon except Defence Against the Dark Arts. She does not answer.
In Defence Against the Dark Arts, Professor Lupin tells the class to put their books away and bring out their wands, they will have a practical lesson. He leads them to the staff room, where they find Snape. When Snape, as he departs, snidely comments about Neville's undisciplined magic, Lupin replies that he hoped Neville would lead off the demonstration. Lupin explains that there is a Boggart in the wardrobe. No one knows what a Boggart looks like because it styles itself after a person's deepest fear. To repel it, it must be forced to change into a humorous shape by casting the Riddikulus charm. Neville's greatest fear is Snape. Lupin tells Neville to imagine the scary professor wearing his grandmother's clothing. Each student similarly comes up with their own fear and then pictures it as a funny image. Harry first thinks of Voldemort, but on further thought decides that his greatest fear is a Dementor; he wonders how can he make that funny. The wardrobe is opened and "Snape" emerges. Neville casts the spell that dresses Snape as his grandmother. Following Neville's success, each student takes a shot at the Boggart. As Harry goes to take his turn, Lupin steps in before the Boggart takes shape. It rapidly turns into a floating white orb, and Lupin forces it back to Neville, who spells it one last time, whereupon it vanishes. Class is dismissed. Harry wonders why he was prevented from repelling the Boggart, while Parvati is curious as to why Lupin fears crystal balls. Ron wants to know what Hermione's worst fear is, but she also did not have a chance at the Boggart.
Professor Lupin's character is becoming more defined here. One key item is his understanding, demonstrated here by his actions, that students, like anyone, require respect in order to perform at their best. Despite Snape's aspersions against Neville Longbottom, Lupin has him lead off against the Boggart, and coaches him to where he has the confidence to perform the spell twice. This proves to be an important milestone in Neville's development. To date, Neville has always felt that he was in the wrong place, even remarking that "everyone knows [he's] almost a squib," in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. He fears he has no real magical abilities. Indeed, it does appear that he has little, if any, skill in Potions, and he is apparently just as lost in Divination as Harry and Ron. Lupin, by having him lead off the class against the Boggart and later having him finish the lesson, boosts his confidence. Harry's confidence, meanwhile, is deflated when Lupin denies him an opportunity at the Boggart, leaving him a bit confused.
Additionally, the astute reader may note that Lupin uses the students' Christian names rather than their surnames, as is the British custom. While this could be seen as excessive familiarity, particularly in schools run on the English public-school model, in this context, it seems to change Lupin from a professor into a teacher, bringing him closer to the students without undue familiarity – he doesn't expect the students to address him by his first name, remaining Professor Lupin to the end of the book.
The Boggart represents how everyone's fears are different. Curiously, it is not Voldemort that Harry fears most, but Dementors. It may be that Harry is more affected by them because he (and just about everyone else) has difficulty comprehending what the eerie creatures actually are, leaving him unsure how to react to them. Voldemort, though an evil and powerful enemy, is a human being, albeit a disembodied one, and Harry can better understand his more predictable human traits. Dementors, in contrast, are dark, hideous, unpredictable creatures not entirely understood by Wizards, and apparently difficult to keep under control; it is curious then, just why they are entrusted with guarding Azkaban prison. The creatures also seem to show a particular interest in Harry, whose encounter with them has left a deep emotional wound.
Note that Peeves is especially disrespectful towards Lupin. Peeves may know something about Lupin's earlier school years, and the song he sings ("Loony, loopy Lupin") may refer to what we later hear called Lupin's "furry little problem." Lupin's Boggart, a silvery orb, may provide a clue as to just what this problem is. However, Lupin demonstrates that he is able to hold his own against Peeves and, in the process, reinforces his students' admiration.
We are also offered a few more insights into Snape's character, but little new is learned; he is wholly biased in favor of his own House, Slytherin, and seems to purposely belittle Gryffindors, especially Neville. This bias apparently extends to anyone or anything associated with Harry, but Snape's animosity may go even further than that.
- What is a Boggart, and what form do they assume?
- Why does Lupin ask Neville Longbottom to be the first to confront the Boggart in class?
- Why does Harry fear Dementors more than Voldemort?
- Why does Lupin step in when it is Harry's turn to face the Boggart?
- What could the shape of Lupin's Boggart mean?
- Why does Lupin call students by their first names rather than their last, as is the custom in the British school system? What effect might this have on his relationship with the students?
- What might Draco mean when he says Harry should want revenge against Sirius Black?
- What could account for Hermione seeming to suddenly vanish and reappear as the Trio is leaving class?
- What shape might Hermione's Boggart assume?
Draco's taunt relates to the widely held belief that Sirius Black betrayed Harry's parents to Voldemort; we will hear this theory in detail just before Christmas. While this belief is later disproved, it has a certain consistency about it, and Harry will be driven by it.
Hermione's constant disappearing and reappearing is due to a Time-Turner, a device that allows her to attend more classes than physically possible. Her bag splitting open is conveniently timed to distract us from questioning where she was or noticing how she suddenly vanished and reappeared. Throughout the book, Hermione similarly appears in places where she was not mere moments before, and always there is some distraction that prevents any pondering about her abrupt appearances. The author's use of this technique is quite skilful and warrants examination by writers interested in revealing facts to their readers while downplaying their significance.
The confidence that Lupin instills in Neville sustains him through his next two years at Hogwarts, and Harry later builds upon it in Dumbledore's Army. It also allows Neville to join Harry in the Battle at the Department of Mysteries in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Without this initial success, Neville likely would have remained ineffectual, depressed, and useless, never discovering his strengths in Herbology, Charms, and Defence Against the Dark Arts.
Harry is confused and upset because Lupin refused him a chance at the Boggart. Lupin assures him in the next chapter that he intervened only because he worried the class was unprepared to face Lord Voldemort's simulacrum. When Harry admits he initially thought of Voldemort, but quickly realized he feared Dementors more, Lupin is impressed by Harry fearing fear rather than an actual being. When fear is intangible and incomprehensible, it often becomes more terrifying.
Although Hermione also never had a chance at the Boggart in Lupin's class, it will be learned later that her greatest fear is Professor McGonagall telling her that she failed all her classes.
The "silvery orb" Lupin fears is not a crystal ball, but the full moon, which is connected to his being a Werewolf. Parvati's mistake in believing it to be a crystal ball is wholly in character, and a nice bit of misdirection by the author; Parvati has already shown a significant aptitude for Divination, so likely is already predisposed to seeing things related to that subject.
- Use of the Boggart as a way of revealing a character's deepest fears will be reused in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. It will be used there to show Mrs. Weasley's deepest fears, that one of her family or Harry could end up dead, presumably as a result of membership in the Order. Harry's fear of Dementors, and the fact that a Boggart takes the shape of a Dementor when exposed to Harry, will form the core of Harry's training in anti-Dementor spells in this book. Additionally, a Boggart, taking the shape of a Dementor, will be one of the challenges Harry must face in the Third Task of the Triwizard Tournament in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.