In Order of the Phoenix, Mad-Eye Moody identifies a Boggart for Molly Weasley.

"We've been wanting to ask you for ages -- could you have a look in the writing desk in the drawing room and tell us what's inside it? We haven't wanted to open it just in case it's something really nasty."

"No problem, Molly."

Moody's electric-blue eye swiveled upward and stared fixedly through the ceiling of the kitchen.

"Drawing room . . ." he growled, as the pupil contracted. "Desk in the corner? Yeah, I see it. . . .Yeah, it's a boggart. . . .Want me to go up and get rid of it, Molly?"

(Order of the Phoenix - Page 169 - US Hardcover)

Prisoner of Azkaban tells us that no one knows the natural appearance of a boggart. However, would Moody's magical eye allow him to see a boggart in its natural state? Or would he have just seen his own boggart, the thing that scares him the most?

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    If you don't know the answer, how are we supposed to? Commented Dec 4, 2011 at 2:01
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    @JackBNimble - Well, Kevin offered a very thoughtful answer to my question; it's not unanswerable. Isn't the point of Stack Exchange to ask genuine questions that we have? There are all kinds of details in the HP series that I have wondered about over the years. This is one of them. Questions come up in this forum that I do not know the answer to; it would not occur to me to be irritated with the original poster for asking the question to begin with. I seem to have offended you -- that certainly wasn't my intention. Commented Dec 4, 2011 at 12:21
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    @Slytherincess I think it was meant as a compliment on your knowledge of HP.
    – user56
    Commented Dec 4, 2011 at 16:35
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    @Gilles - Oh . . . well, if that's the case I appreciate it and now feel very sheepish. Yet again, the internet proves to be an imperfect communication device for Slytherincess. facedesk Commented Dec 5, 2011 at 12:43

4 Answers 4


Since the boggart takes its form from whatever has its attention, and I don't think it's likely to know that Moody is watching it from downstairs, I think Moody would indeed see the natural(*) state of the boggart.

Recall their first class with Lupin, when they tackled the boggart. It only turned into one thing at a time, the fear of whoever had its attention. It has to know what to turn into, and I don't think it is likely to be focusing on anything in particular, sitting happily in its hiding spot, oblivious that Moody is watching it.

(*) Assuming they have a natural state. Lupin says they do, but how would anyone know if it's never been seen? In that case it would likely be in the form it had assumed at its last encounter.

For reference, Lupin's description of a boggart, p.133, first American edition:

So the boggart sitting in the darkness within has not yet assumed a form. He does not yet know what will frighten the person on the other side of the door. Nobody knows what a boggart looks like when he is alone, but when I let him out he will immediately become whatever each of us most fears.

And the boggart's defeat, p.139:

the boggart exploded, burst into a thousand tiny wisps of smoke, and was gone.

So there's no corpse after they're dead.

  • Here's a thought - a dead boggart wouldn't be able to shape-shift... so, having just dealt with a boggart you would know what its natural state would at least look like (although, not when it is alive).
    – HorusKol
    Commented Dec 5, 2011 at 1:52
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    @HorusKol There's no corpse when a boggart is defeated, I've added the quote to my post.
    – Kevin
    Commented Dec 5, 2011 at 3:01
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    Wouldn't it be interesting if a boggart's "natural" form is the thing that it fears the most. That could explain why they like dark spaces, so they don't have to see it, and Moody would likely know what a boggart would normally fear the most and that would be how he identified him.
    – Sydenam
    Commented Dec 5, 2011 at 8:05
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    If the boggart wouldn't be shapeshifted when it thinks it's alone, would anyone then theoretically be able to observe a very stupid boggart who is alone in a room with a two-way mirror?
    – Flater
    Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 16:00
  • Speculation: What if the tiny wisps of smoke are the remnants of its corpse? What if a boggart's true form is more incorporeal / disembodied?
    – OhBeWise
    Commented Dec 31, 2018 at 17:34

I'll agree with Kevin, but for a slightly different reason. The things that a boggart transforms into is usually much bigger than the space it previously inhabited. For example, Rons giant spider, Snape, Dementor, etc...

Presumably, Alistor Moody isn't scared of much, and what he is scared of must be pretty fearsome indeed. Plus, writing desks aren't exactly roomy, so even transforming into an miniature full moon would require more space than the desk would contain.

Since nobody mentioned the desk being unable no longer able to contain the boggart, then it mustn't have noticed Moody staring at it. Thus, it probably didn't transform and Moody detected it was a boggart.

However, the exact mechanism of Moody's eye was never really covered, although we know it was simple enough to be used by others - such as Barty Crouch Jr. (when he wore it) and Delores Umbridge (when she put it in her door). So it may have been that the eye is able to determine the needs of user and displays some kind of magical "heads up display", so when he looked at the desk it may have just displayed a fog in the desk with a neon outline and said "here be a boggart".

  • I was always pretty sure that it could see through walls etc. Which would make sense if he could see through to the Boggart.
    – Pryftan
    Commented Aug 14, 2018 at 0:19

It does not seem like one could see a Boggart's true form.

As evidenced in the Pottermore writing, Boggart by J.K. Rowling

Nobody knows what a Boggart looks like if nobody is there to see it, although it continues to exist...

So Moody is seeing it, and this seems like an absolute statement (no exceptions are mentioned). To make a real world comparison, it sound like the "observer effect". And I don't think the rules of of even "regular" magical creatures would apply as,

Like a poltergeist, a Boggart is not and never has been truly alive. It is one of the strange non-beings that populate the magical world, for which there is no equivalent in the Muggle realm. ... Like poltergeists and the more sinister Dementors, they seem to be generated and sustained by human emotions.

A Boggart may even be able to stay in a particular form if it feeds on enough emotions from two example of famous Boggarts

  • the Bludgeoning Boggart of Old London Town (a Boggart that had taken on the form of a murderous thug that prowled the back streets of nineteenth-century London, but which could be reduced to a hamster with one simple incantation)

  • the Screaming Bogey of Strathtully (a Scottish Boggart that had fed on the fears of local Muggles to the point that it had become an elephantine black shadow with glowing white eyes, but which Lyall Lupin of the Ministry of Magic eventually trapped in a matchbox)

My conclusion would be that Moody, when observing the Boggart, would see the form the Boggart has taken a liking and realize that what he was seeing could else-wise not exist in that space and therefore must be a Boggart.

  • But there's another way of looking at it: I would imagine that the Boggart has to see the person before it transforms into the most terrifying thing to the person since otherwise how would it know the person is there so that it can terrify them? And since Mad-Eye was able to see it without the Boggart seeing him it stands to reason that he did see the true form, whatever it may look like.
    – Pryftan
    Commented Aug 14, 2018 at 0:22
  • @Pryftan Yes, and I chose to to look at this way. Considering this a Pottermore writing if Rowling really wanted to say that Moody was able to see a Boggart's true form, she could have. But my answer makes the assumption that the Boggart doesn't have to know you are looking at it... The act of looking at it changes it, after-all emotions are not a visible thing.
    – Skooba
    Commented Aug 14, 2018 at 11:48
  • Canon doesn't really suggest that at all. And besides that 'could have' doesn't always mean 'reality' (neither incidentally does 'should have'). She could have said many other things; she could have published the encyclopaedia; she could have ... But that doesn't mean anything other than she didn't. Inference is often enough and maybe she didn't even think of it. There are numerous possibilities.
    – Pryftan
    Commented Aug 14, 2018 at 21:22

I, myself, was wondering about this today; and since it is indeed specified by Professor Lupin that no one has ever seen a Boggart's "natural" form, I'd dare to guess that when Moody looked into the drawing room to check if it was a Boggart, he either saw something trying to shift continuously, not having an specific shape and mayhap just going over and over previous shapes it had taken; or, it was merely in the shape of the last person's fear that saw it. Then again, it's quite complicated to speculate about this, since first, a Boggart doesn't spontaneously appears somewhere, it must have gotten there inside the desk somehow—— and given that being around too many people can lead to confusion and a possible ridiculous shape of two or more fears mixed into one, it'd really be hard not to notice. Perhaps the last creature to see it was Kreacher. But it also leads me to ask what shape would a Boggart take if he were standing in front of the painting of someone, say Sirius' mother?

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