What if Harry Potter, the chosen one, had turned out to be a squib, how do you think history would have turned out differently?
It was Mrs. Figg who suspected first.
She noticed many things, sitting on her side of her fence with her cats chasing butterflies and nuzzling her ankles, Mundungus and the other watchers dropping by for tea now and then.
Mrs. Figg noticed that Petunia was a nosy bit of work with insecurities hanging from her every harsh angle. She noticed when Dudley learned the word MINE– the whole neighborhood noticed that one. She noticed that Vernon glared at owls.
She noticed that when Petunia gave Harry a truly horrendous haircut one year, it grew back in at a normal rate. Harry was uneven and weird-looking for ages, hiding under beanies when he could.
When Mrs. Figg had Harry over for carefully miserable afternoons of babysitting, she noticed nothing moved that shouldn’t. He didn’t accidentally make flowers out of fallen leaves, or levitate anything during tantrums, or turn toys funny colors.
Mrs. Figg called up her mother, interrupting the wizarding bridge game she was winning against the nursing home staff, and asked her how she had known, decades back, that her youngest daughter was a squib.
When Albus Dumbledore received Mrs. Figg’s letter he wrote back a polite thank you and then went to talk with Minerva McGonagall, who inhaled sharply in horror when he told her the news.
Finally, McGonagall gave a gathered sigh. “I suppose we can ask one of the wizarding families to homeschool him,” she said. “We can’t have the Boy Who Lived not knowing about his own world.”
“No, he’ll come to Hogwarts,” said Dumbledore.
“Hogwarts is not a place for–” Her voice fell. “–squibs, Albus.”
Dumbledore shook his head. “Harry must be taught.”
“Be taught what, Albus?”
But Dumbledore just sighed and offered her a lemon drop.
Years later, the owls and the letters came to 4 Privet Drive. The Dursleys ran, dragging Harry with them, and the letters and one stubborn gamekeeper followed– none of this would change with a magicless Harry.
When Hagrid asked Harry in that little cabin on that little rock in the middle of the sea if weird things always happened around him, Harry couldn’t tell him about vanishing glass and setting captive snakes free, about ending up somehow on the school roof, or growing his hair out overnight.
“Strange things always happen around you, don’ they?”
“Um,” said Harry, racking his brain. “Well… I live in a cupboard under the stairs…”
Harry could tell him about how snakes sometimes talked back, because that had never been Harry’s magic, but when he did Hagrid just blanched and changed the subject.
Hagrid held out hope, even against Dumbledore’s quiet warning explanations, until they made it to Ollivander’s Wands. Harry marveled at Diagon Alley, got his hands shaken in the Leaky, pressed his nose up against shop windows. Hagrid watched the scant boy– looked at James’s messy hair, Lily’s eyes, Harry’s own wandering gaze– and he wondered how this boy could be anything but magical.
In the wand shop, Ollivander said, “James Potter, yes… mahogany, eleven inches. Pliable. A powerful wand for Transfiguration.” He said, “And your mother, Lily… strong in Charms work, ten and… yes, ten and a quarter, willow, swishy.”
Harry picked up stick after wooden stick. They remained just that– wood with bits of feather or scale or hair. Harry wondered if the creatures who gave these offerings were still alive– if they were given or taken. What did it do to your wand when they died? He waved a maplewood wand (unicorn hair, eleven inches) and a gust from the door opening blew some receipts off the counter.
“Well, said Ollivander. “I think that’s as close as we’re likely to get.”
He sent them out with the maplewood. Hagrid bought Harry a snowy owl and a fudge sundae and tried not make it too obvious that these were condolence gifts. The next day the Prophet’s headlines read: The Boy Who Lived– A Squib? Various magical medical experts weighed in on how it might have happened. Fingers were pointed at childhood trauma, at his upbringing, at his family lineage.
Harry still met Ron on the train– Ron was still smudge-nosed and Harry still bought enough candy to share. When Molly had helped him through the platform entrance, her voice had been a little softer, a little more pitying– but it was still better than the laughter that had been in his aunt and uncle’s voices when they dropped him here to find a platform they didn’t think existed.
Hermione Granger dropped by their compartment, looking for Neville’s toad, but got distracted when she spotted Harry. “I’ve read about you! In my books, and in the paper,” she said. “You’re the Boy Who Lived, and you’re a squib.”
Harry sank down in his seat. Ron hid Scabbers under a candy wrapper.
“Squibs have never been allowed in Hogwarts,” Hermione announced. “According to Hogwarts, A History, squibs try to sneak in now and then– the furthest anyone’s ever gotten is to the Sorting Hat before they got found out.” At eleven, Hermione still believed in expulsion being worse than death. Her voice was thrumming with sympathetic horror.
“But they already found out about me,” Harry said, alarmed.
“It’s alright, mate,” said Ron. “You’re Harry Potter. Oy, Granger,” he added. “What’s this Hat? Fred and George were trying to sell me some story about having to fight a mountain troll to get your House…”
Harry sat back and watched the countryside rush by. Yes, he was Harry Potter– his aunt’s useless sister’s useless child, the boy in the lumpy hand-me-down sweaters who named the spiders who lived in his cupboard. And here, in new world, he was apparently useless too.
When they got to Hogwarts, Harry clenched his fists and stood in line with the other first years. He barely twitched at the ghosts or Peeves, just stared ahead and thought about how far he would get before they turned him around and sent him back to Vernon and Petunia.
They opened the Great Hall doors. They called the first years one by one. Harry clenched his teeth and walked up to the Hat when they called his name.
As he turned to sit down on the stool, he really caught sight of the Hall for the first time– the hovering candles, the big wooden tables, the black robes that swallowed the light. Translucent ghosts gossiped with the students beside them. The paintings on the far walls– were they moving?
Harry’s jaw had unclenched, falling open. His fists curled open, curving around the stool’s seat as he leaned forward to stare. If this was it, if this was as far as he’d get in this world, then he wanted to drink it all in. The candles were floating, in mid-air.
The Hat dropped down over his eyes and blocked out the light.
Well, said the dry voice that had been hollering House placements all night. What do we have here?
Ron had been begging for not-Slytherin. Draco from the robes shop had been scornful of Hufflepuff, desperate in his disdain. Neville had begged for Hufflepuff, sure he was not brave enough for Gryffindor.
Please, thought Harry. Don’t send me back.