Author's Note: Thanks so much for the great reviews! It was written pre-HBP/DH but I still think it fits with canon. I hope you like this story.
They filed into the wood-panelled room, full of old mismatched chairs, one Slytherin student after the other. Draco Malfoy's eyes shot across the room observing his new surroundings with curious interest.
"Move forward, please," I directed them. It had taken time for me to connect with the Slytherin students, however, most seemed to tolerate me now. The students in the upper years had been won over easily, possibly due to the string of troubled teachers before me.
I was so mentally exhausted when I accepted the teaching role at Hogwarts. Nerves hadn't really hit me until the second week. Who was I to be teaching? A dark creature teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts? There would be an outrage if people knew.
"No way," was my planned response when Dumbledore had come to my door. I should have closed it shut on the meddling old man, but I owed him so much. And, Sirius was back. I definitely owed Harry and Dumbledore where he was concerned – before I knew it I was begging Dumbledore to hire me.
I had to reflect that the students weren't that bad; not as naughty as James, Sirius, Peter and I had been. Now, it was only Draco who continued to cause trouble.
"So, what exactly are we doing in here," Draco drawled.
'Here' was the Hogwarts Staffroom and I was more nervous about this lesson than I had been for Harry's. Thankfully, Snape wasn't in the staffroom this time; hanging around watching me like he usually did, the annoying bat.
"We are here," I said slowly, making sure the other Slytherins were paying attention, "because in today's lesson we will be facing a boggart."
The students had now formed a semi circle around the closet where the boggart was hidden. The closet gave a sharp rattle.
Draco's eyes widened. "Boggart?" he repeated a little unsure and despite the presence of other Slytherins unable to keep the edge of fear from his voice.
"Boggarts like dark, enclosed spaces-" I instructed ignoring Draco and began lecturing in my teacher voice. "-wardrobes, the gap beneath beds, the cupboards under sinks, etcetera. We often find them in this closet and a new one moved in recently. So, can anyone tell me what a boggart is?"
Nobody put up their hand.
"Not even for ten house points?" I coaxed.
"It's a shape-shifter," Blaise Zabini answered with little interest. "It becomes whatever it thinks will frighten you the most."
The students became more frightened now they knew what it was then when they hadn't known. Draco looked terrified and Pansy calculating.
"Fantastic Blaise, ten points. So, currently the boggart is sitting in darkness where nobody knows his true form. When he is let out he will immediately become whatever each of us most fears. This means that we have a huge advantage over the boggart before we begin. Have you spotted it, Daphne?"
The pretty Slytherin girl looked around as if surprised to be called on.
"Um, we can confuse by using two or more people to attack it?"
"Precisely," I smiled, confident that she would outshine her domineering housemates if given the chance. "It's always best to have company when you're dealing with a boggart. He becomes confused. Which should he become, a headless corpse or a flesh-eating slug? I once saw a boggart make that very mistake - tried to frighten two people at once and turned himself into half a slug. Not remotely frightening."
"Which student was afraid of Professor Snape," Pansy interrupted. Some students started laughing and Draco was whispering to his goons. I fought both the urge to roll my eyes at Pansy and to snicker at the memory of Snape dressed in Mrs Longbottom's infamous wardrobe.
"Ah, so you heard about that then. That makes the next part simple, you see the charm that repels a boggart is easy, yet it requires force of mind. The thing that really finishes a boggart is laughter- so you will need to force it to assume a shape that you find amusing. The charm is Riddikulus."
"I bet it was Longbottom, that boy's a complete whimp," Pansy sneered.
"Class," I said sternly feeling the need to steer the conversation back to the topic. "How about we try the charm first without our wands? Everyone repeat 'Riddikulus'!"
This time the class chimed, "'Riddikulus!"
"Very good. But that was the easy part. Next I'll have you form a line here," I gestured the space in the front of the wardrobe, "and we will practice our charms on the real thing."
There was some pushing as the Slytherins formed a line. I prayed one last time for this lesson to go smoothly before turning to face Blaise who had been pushed to the front.
"Right, Blaise," I started as the students settled down and looked towards the closet. "First things first: what would you say is the thing that frightens you most in the world?"
"I'm not sure?" Blaise said, his face deep in thought, "Perhaps not living up to my expectations. Um, by living falsely?"
"Think about how would you make that funny? Perhaps you could live as a clown?"
The class sniggered.
"Or a muggle," Draco whispered to his friends, it was loud enough for me to hear but I choose to ignore him. He should be focusing on the task that he is about to complete.
Blaise looked thoughtful and stepped forward.
"When the boggart bursts out of this wardrobe, Blaise, and sees you, it will assume your form," I instructed. "And you will raise your wand and cry 'Riddikulus' - and concentrate hard on your humorous image. Everyone else step back and I will call you forward one at a time. Okay Blaise, are you ready?"
Blaise nodded stiffly.
I waved my wand at the door and it opened. Blaise stepped out. The boggart Blaise didn't look anything like the young boy before me. The boggart was older, thinner and haunted with dark empty eyes. The Dark Mark was clearly visible on his arm and his face looked gaunt and deadened. Blaise was quick to react and shouted the incantation at his own deathly form.
The shape shifted and suddenly he was dressed as a ballerina, the students laughed as the pirouetting Blaise fell over. The boggart paused and turned to me so I called the next student.
Daphne moved forward so the boggart moved from Blaise to her. Suddenly a giant snake appeared, it's eyes a glowing yellow. Daphne wasn't the only student who had seen the Basilisk this year, after last years ordeal the students had monsters on their minds.
"Riddikulus," she cried and the snake's fangs fell to the floor so that the beast was toothless and drooling. The class chuckled and I laughed aloud encouragingly.
"Right Pansy! You're next!"
The boggart shivered and then suddenly became an obese woman wearing a torn and dirtied wedding dress. Pansy squealed, and I realised that she had projected herself, yet this fat woman looked nothing like the thin third year.
"Riddikulus," she muttered but nothing happened.
"Something funny Pansy," I shouted encouragingly, "you can do it."
"Riddikulus," she tried again and the boggart got even fatter until it was rolling over the floor like a ball, pudgy arms knocking her back and forward. She laughed loudly in its face and ran to the back of the room.
When the stringy Slytherin stepped forward the boggart shifted menacingly. The boy shivered as his father came face to face with him.
"What are you doing son?" the boggart hissed, "You are pathetic, I wish you were never born."
The boggart reached up to slap the student and I stood agape at the sight of this man whose face was distorted into a look of pure hate. I welled with anger and it was hard to keep the beast at bay- yet I wanted to see how Theodore would handle this. It troubled me deeply; there were few students who were afraid of their own family.
Theodore growled back at the boggart with a fury I did not expect.
Suddenly the boggart man withered in pain, his arms falling off as if sliced by an unseen sword, blood weeping from his eyes and his form twitching aggressively. Theodore laughed loudly but the rest of the class, myself included, were largely disturbed.
"Millicent! Forward!" I cried desperately, afraid the lesson was getting out of hand.
Millicent dealt with her dog boggart efficiently and stepped back for the next student. The dog reminded me of Sirius but I could dwell on those thoughts as Draco stepped toward the boggart.
Draco strolled up to fill the space Millicent had vacated, his arms were shaking and Gregory jumped up beside him confusing the boggart.
"Back Gregory," I scolded, aware Draco would try something like this. Gregory scooted backwards. Draco turned to Vincent but the boy had placed himself at the very edge of the staffroom. Even I gasped when the boggart advanced toward the blonde boy.
To be honest, I was expecting to see Lucius, but when young Draco turned back around Voldemort was standing in front of him.
"Riddikulus," Draco shouted desperately, but I could tell he had nothing in mind. There was little that would make this monster funny.
The class gasped loudly, but thankfully nobody screamed. All hell would break loose if this were the case. I quickly stepped forward my wand already drawn. I wasn't the only one though; the other Slytherins had stepped forward as one, wands drawn, and coming to the defense of one of their own.
The boggart, now confused, tried to change but ended up shifting into a messy pile of creatures. The students laughed together with hollow voices, nevertheless the boggart shook violently and I shot a final charm so that it vanished with a puff of smoke.
We sighed collectively and I watched the students turn to one another. Some students were helping Draco to his feet but he was already pulling his arms angrily out of their grasp and I chose not to ask him if he was alright and further upset the Slytherin. That had been more than enough for today.
"Great work class," I congratulated them taking the time to smile encouragingly at each student in turn. Draco avoided my eyes. "Next week we will be continuing with Grindylows so be sure to review that chapter."
The class moved to the door.
"Oh, and one last thing,"
The students turned around again, their faces so young and eyes already so old and weary.
"Fifty points to Slytherin," I said quietly, the room becoming deathly still. They looked up to me in stunned surprise, "For coming to the aid of your housemate and dealing with an enemy."
It was the closest I had come to talking about Voldemort with them and as soon as the moment of shock had passed they shuffled nosily out the door. They were only children, just like Harry, and already they had been through so much.
I closed the door after them and fell into a mismatched chair nearest the now empty closet. My head felt increasingly heavy with these new burdens.
Suddenly Snape stormed in and slammed the door in an ugly temper.
"What have you done to my Slytherins?" he demanded. "I just walked past them on their way to class and their faces were positively stricken. You foul loathsome monster, if I find that you have hurt them in any way…"
Snape stopped his ranting mid sentence, which is an achievement in itself, to access me and the surroundings. If nothing else good could be said about the cruel sarcastic shell of a man you could say that he loved his house and he was very serious in his responsibilities as head of Slytherin.
"You've had the boggart lesson," he surmised, his dark eyes raking over my appearance.
"Yes Severus," I answered wearily. The man still hated me, even after all these years. I previously used his first name to taunt him but now I was brainlessly attempting to bury the past.
"And…" he sighed impatiently, as if he had been kept waiting. His hatred kept him alive.
"There are some things I should probably talk with you about."
Snape looked rebuffed as if anything I could say about his Slytherins would be news to him while at the same time he stiffened. He sank into the chair next to me, his face a perfect mask.
Even as a student Snape always held himself in the upmost control. His body manner was meticulous, almost graceful, both daunting and powerful – but when he sat hunched in the chair, legs to big and arms tucked beside his elbows I was able to see the boy in him for just a moment.
"Theodore and his father," I looked up at him hopefully, I didn't want to have to explain further. Nott Senior's face was an image that I would not get rid of for a long time.
Snape nodded curtly but his leg twitched.
"I am aware of that situation," he gritted.
"Are you in a position to do something about it? Should I take it to Dumbledore? I can do so without casting any suspicion on you."
Snape actually went green for a moment and then in the quietest whisper, "Perhaps that might be a prudent course of action."
How it must kill him to ask me for help.
Sirius would have gloated, I was sickened. How horrible it must be for him to be trapped in his position. How long has he known? How long has he sat back and done nothing while he sends the poor child back to a monster?
"And the others," his velvet voice breaking like a child's.
I could not be angry with him, but how could I tell him that this was not his fault, not this time, these students were lucky to have him there.
My musings would not be well received so I took a deep breath and continued, "Draco saw Voldemort." Snape flinched at the name but did not look surprised. "The class helped Draco vanquish him and I awarded Slytherin fifty points."
Snape's eyebrow almost disappeared into his hairline.
"I give house points fairly," I stressed, but he had already recovered and let the insult slide off his serpentine black robes.
"A basilisk, is she muggleborn?"
"Half blood, I don't think it causes her too much trouble but maybe I should look into it. Vincent?"
"He and Gregory did not get a turn. Millicent's boggart was a dog. Pansy's was fat..."
"The house-elves tell me she is not eating," he interrupted rather unintentionally, worry now more evident in his pale drawn face.
"At thirteen!" I exclaimed; I knew what eating disorders did to people, especially children, for Pansy to already be so stressed about body image was disturbing indeed.
Snape nodded solemnly in agreement, they were all much too young. He seemed resolved on some matter or another though because he nodded and turned to me.
"He saw himself. He was branded with the Dark Mark." My eyes shifted without my consent to the sleeve I knew hid Snape's mark, but he did not notice. Once I looked up to his face and there was no other way to describe his expression but pleasant surprise.
"Very good," Snape said curtly, standing and ending our most civil conversation since, well, ever.
He turned and his long black robes billowed for the simple three strides it took to cross the room. Snape paused at the door as if he were about to say something and then thought the better of it. My mind was still with the students, these Hogwarts students, now my students.
Something dark is coming, we can all sense it. Fears. No longer silly children's fears, but real and terrifying. All the houses would have to deal with the darkness coming and while the Gryffindors have been dubbed brave, maybe they just don't have as much to fear yet.
So, as I watched the door close behind the solitary man I said a little prayer for my Slytherins.