The only thing creepier than a spot-on Harry Potter fan theory is a spot-on Harry Potter fan theory that is ... not exactly unconfirmed by J.K. Rowling herself. Specifically, the theory that Harry Potter never left the cupboard under the stairs throughout the series, and in fact imagined the entire thing as he slowly went mad from the isolation and abuse at the hands of the Dursleys. I know, I know — every major work has a theory like this. Lost was someone's fever dream, Friends was a figment of Phoebe's imagination, all that jazz. But the Harry Potter version is different, primarily for one reason: it is a popular fan theory that J.K. Rowling didn't shoot down.
In an interview between J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter screenwriter Steve Kloves released in 2012, they're discussing the circumstances we find young Harry in at the beginning of the series. Kloves brought up the character of Alistair, a spider that Harry befriended under the cupboard, who was ultimately cut from the script for time. Kloves mentions that the set-up of young Harry talking to Alistair and playing with the broken toy army men that he pilfered from the trash was a means of making Harry, and to some degree the audience, question the legitimacy of Hagrid's sudden appearance in the narrative — that Harry had "summoned" him, and he wasn't real at all.
This is the part where J.K. Rowling was supposed to say something along the lines of "Lolololol, what a crazy thought" before she got back to slaying on Twitter and writing more books like the boss that she is, except that she didn't.
"I think that’s a fabulous point, and that speaks so perfectly to the truth to the books, because I had it suggested that to me more than once that Harry actually did go mad in the cupboard, and that everything that happened subsequently was some sort of fantasy life he developed to save himself," said J.K. Rowling in the interview.
So ... she didn't say the theory was true. But she didn't not not say it was true, either. And as we all know, Rowling has no problem shooting down fan theories.
To make this even more depressing, it would actually make sense within the larger framework of what we know about Harry Potter. There is no question that he was emotionally abused at the hands of the Dursleys, ignored and verbally degraded and literally locked in a room for an entire summer to eat food that came in from a cat flap. From what we see of Dudley's and Vernon's aggression, it wouldn't be a stretch to assume there were incidents of physical abuse as well. It is a well-documented coping mechanism of abuse victims to "escape" with mental blocks or fantasies, which would be consistent with Harry's situation.
Some further support for this theory comes from Cracked.com, where author Karl Smallwood pointed out that of all the injuries people suffered in the Wizarding world, Harry's were remarkably mundane. While Hermione was dealing with overgrown teeth and Ron was barfing up snails, Harry only ever had injuries involving broken bones — perhaps consistent with the real-life abuse he encountered while still stuck on Privet Drive.
So why exactly would Harry still imagine in this "fantasy" that he still had to come back to Privet Drive in the summers? Maybe, contrary to what the readers experienced, Harry's life wasn't getting worse in those incidents, but momentarily better. Getting locked in a room with a cat flap is better than getting locked in a dark cupboard, after all. But just as soon as those periods ended, he would revert right back into the elaborate Hogwarts fantasy he'd created for himself, with friends to occupy his time, magic spells to fix the problems he was powerless to fix, and plenty of magical explanations and excuses for the Dursleys' real-life abuse.
Well, if you'll excuse me, I have to go find a bucket for my tears until I can re-convince myself this is all a lie (and that J.K. Rowling was actually Rita Skeeter the whole time).
Images: Warner Bros; Giphy