"Professor Snape was sitting in a low armchair and he looked around as the class filed in. His eyes were glittering and there was a nasty sneer around his mouth."
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Ch. 7 – The Boggart in the Closet, p. 100 (English ed.)
He didn't know it was in there.
No one bothered to warn him.
Dumbledore only told him that Lupin was supposed to give the third years a practical DADA lesson in the early afternoon.
But he had forgotten to mention the topic.
When he got to the Staff Room, right after lunch, he was pleasantly surprised to find it empty; the first days of school were always the hardest for him. After three months of self-inflicted purgatory in the emotional desert of Spinner's End, surrounded by the nightmares – and the dreams – of his childhood, coming back to the Castle for sure didn't improve things. Too many memories, too many ghosts.
In addition, Dumbledore refused to give him the position of DADA teacher for the third consecutive year: The job is jinxed, Severus – he told him – These are difficult times, I can't afford to lose you. Dumbledore knew that his passion for the Dark Arts was only part of the reason why he wanted the job so badly…but sneaky and deceitful as always, the Headmaster managed to talk him once more into dropping his suicidal intents with his lies, his nice words truly disguising loathing and condemnation. Always pulling everybody's strings, Dumbledore was. Always compelling him to lie and do the dirty work, always hiding his schemes and his real thoughts behind false concern about his safety and wellbeing.
You disgust me…
No, Severus wasn't that boy anymore; at the same time, he still was.
Now more than ever, now that the DADA post had been assigned to the werewolf who had almost killed him when he was sixteen. If he was to be honest with himself – and being the Slytherin that he was, he had to admit that he was most of the time – it wasn't Lupin's fault, but Black's…
He always believed himself to be a tough, unflappable man, mostly impervious to passion and, no matter what others thought, not very inclined to wrath either. He could be rancorous, that's true, but most of the time it was a cold resentment, vengeful. Rational. He wasn't a Potions Master for nothing.
But this, this wasn't most of the time. Sirius Black committed an unforgivable crime. Sirius Black deserved to die. And Severus was hoping he would personally hand him over to the Dementors' justice.
He could be patient.
He had waited more than twelve years.
Twelve time-consuming, excruciating years…
When he heard the news about Black's breakout from Azkaban, a fury he'd never felt before, except perhaps against himself, took him over. He couldn't allow the boy to even the score by himself, very likely risking his own skin. He swore to himself, that he would do the impossible and capture him by himself.
Then Dumbledore told him about Remus Lupin.
At first, he thought the old man was kidding. Lupin was one of Black's best mates. And he was a werewolf. How could he trust him? How could he allow him to teach the boy?I trust you, Severus – the Headmaster answered him.
Yeah, always pulling the strings, indeed…
It was only three o'clock in the afternoon and Severus already had a migraine.
The morning hadn't made things easier.
The first Thursday lesson was - you don't say! - Double Potions with the Gryffindors and Slytherins. It almost seemed like Dumbledore took personal pleasure in arranging the class schedule so that, whether he liked it or not, he would be forced to see the boy during the very first lesson of the day.
A way unlike any other to start the day on the wrong foot.
Today, it had been worse.
Malfoy, whose striking resemblance to his father both in likeness and mannerisms increased every year, staged a good show, exhibiting a totally pointless bandage for an arm that had barely been scratched. In only two hours and with great satisfaction, Severus had accomplished a great deal. Acting as he usually did with his characteristic biased behavior – almost an art by now - Severus took 5 points from Gryffindor, humiliated Weasley and the boy, and made things extremely difficult for Longbottom, who was saved by the usual Miss Know-It-All. That kid would never learn if she wouldn't stop helping him. Draco resembled Lucius as much as Neville seemed to be Frank's opposite. He wondered when the proverbial Longbottom courage would finally, unexpectedly, kick in…
He checked the clock: in less than an hour he had a Double lesson with the second year's Ravenclaws and Gryffindors.
He was pleased with that class; he had to admit that much at least.
Beside her loony appearance, young Lovegood was a sharp observer, and she took a great deal in details, two qualities essential to the Art of Potions Making. When his camera didn't distract him, Colin Creevey had a very personal and peculiar instinct for dosage. It was quite amazing, considering he was a Muggleborn. But, then again, in the past he witnessed other Muggleborns with an innate aptitude in Potions…
And then, there was Ginevra Weasley…
Severus couldn't understand why everybody kept calling her by that silly nickname. Her full name suited her.
She didn't talk much in class, didn't raise her hand very often, but if questioned directly, she always knew the correct answer and sometimes added few personal remarks, which on a couple of occasions had left him quite baffled. In written tests she never deserved anything lower than an Acceptable. She looked shy and reserved, but Severus knew better. She was a redhead. Redheads almost never are shy and reserved. The nasty experience in the Chamber of Secrets the previous year had taken a toll on her, it was understandable, but Severus hoped she would overcome it.
He'd watched her very carefully; it was impossible not to notice the likeness.
In a three years time, he bet, she would have the whole Hogwarts population of male youths dropping at her feet. But he also took notice of the sudden blushes and the furtive glances she addressed to the boy.
Sometimes, history has a funny, ironic, and cruel way for repeating itself.
He grinned bitterly.
He couldn't bring himself to think about that…
He wanted to drink, now…he never drank - not on the job, anyway. But he knew that inside the closet McGonagall, the good Scottish woman she was, always left a bottle of old mead.
Not very strong, but it would do for now.
He stood up from the armchair, he conjured a glass from nothingness and opened the closet's door; Lupin would be here in a couple of minutes. He shot a glance to the front door, checking for footsteps that didn't come. His lips curled into a smirk. But when he turned to pour a drink, he stopped, stunned.
She was there.
She was right there, in front of him.
Beautiful, like on the last day of her life.
The glass slipped through his fingers and shattered on the wood floor.
He stood perfectly still, almost not breathing, just looking at her: she was wearing a long, flowing white robe, and the aquamarine pendant he bought her for her fourteenth birthday.
It should've been emerald, but he hadn't been able to afford it.
Emeralds, like her eyes…her almond-shaped eyes, shimmering, intense, cheerful, these eyes now were staring up at him, empty and cruel, silently reproaching him…
He took a step back: she ought not to look at him like that, because it would mean that it was true, that it really happened, and that he was to blame.
If Sirius Black was guilty, wasn't he in also? Didn't he deserve to die too?
But, then again, wasn't he dying a little more every day?
Day after day he was compelled to look at these wonderful green eyes staring at him through thick spectacles with the same hatred, the same shamefulness. Those eyes he loved, stamped on James Potter's hateful face…the actual sign that he had her…and that she loved him for it…
A slow agony.
Suddenly his sight misted, and with shock and horror he became aware that his own eyes were full of tears.
The silent ghost lifted an arm and pointed an accusatory finger at him; a dark red spot was quickly spreading on her white robe, right over her heart. Avada Kedavra doesn't leave signs, he knew that very well; but that didn't mean it wouldn't bleed…
Lily Evans was back from the dead, reminding him of his faults and his sins.
Why didn't she just leave forever, why couldn't she leave him be?
But he didn't want her to leave… What would he have done, if she'd deserted him once and for all? A walking corpse. An Inferius. An empty shell.
What if she really was back? Severus remembered a story he read when he was a child – by himself, his mother never read him anything – about the three Deathly Hallows; one of them, the Resurrection Stone, had the power to bring dead people back to life. Not like Inferi, but almost as physical presences. After that dreadful Halloween night, for some year after that, he made some accurate research, hoping to find some truth beyond a children's tale, but that Stone didn't exist.
Not even Magic itself had any power over Death.
Yet…yet that figure standing in front of him, it was so real, so concrete, so alive…
Totally overcome, he moved towards her. Then, abruptly, he noticed something was wrong…
The scent…the flowery scent that was so Lily, that mixture of wisteria, lilies and roses, walking with her wherever she would go, that scent he would've recognize among a million others, that scent wasn't there…It's not like she was wearing another one…he was a Potion Master, he knew the difference; and Lily would always make fun of him, telling him that he got a big nose to sniff better – a reference to a Muggle tale where, he remembered, a Bad Wolf would eat a redhead little girl…
No, Lily's scent wasn't different at all, it just simply wasn't there, hence that figure in front of him looked like Lily, but it could not be her.
No, Lily Evans was dead. She couldn't be really there. She was a hallucination.
He grabbed his wand and pointed it at the ghost.
He felt the incantation was weak even before spelling it aloud. He just couldn't think of anything ridiculous with that reflection of his past looking at him.
And, of course, nothing happened.
Please, go away…
He concentrated again.
He lifted the wand and tried once more.
He stood still, waiting.
Then, after a couple of seconds, Lily Evans' red hair burst into fire.
For one moment, just one, Severus lips curled into a smile, remembering how, during their first Hogsmeade trip on third year, he had actually set fire to Lily's hair. It had been a most sordid affair, involving Firewhiskey, a drunken owl and a slip on the snowy paving street. He laughed at the memory; from that day on, Lily became, only for him, "Firewhiskey Evans". The incident was completely unintentional, of course. He'd always had trouble with magic when she was around. That was the real reason why she'd been better than him in Potions. That, and the Advanced Potions Making Manual Severus used since his first year and that he lent her whenever she asked.
He watched the features of the false Lily, an expression of pain on his face as the flames consumed her, as if he was wrapped around the fire too, until nothing remained but a dark, shapeless mass. With a swift diagonal movement of his wand, Severus forced the Shape Shifter back inside the closet and he closed the door.
He stood there, leaning against the closet for several seconds, breathing fast and with great effort, as inside the little cupboard Lily – no, that thing wasn't his Lily – struggled to break free again.
Severus wiped the sweat from his forehead, cast a Vanishing Spell over the fragments of broken glass and staggered to the armchair.
His legs couldn't support his weight anymore; he collapsed backwards, trembling, over the armchair where, less than three seconds later, Lupin found him.
When the door opened and the class walked in, Severus's eyes instantly sought out the boy. A sharp, deep pain stabbed him with the violence of a Cruciatus curse… those eyes, the same eyes… if he had never have screamed that unforgivable word, the boy would've been…he could've been…and she… still alive.
The mere thought of that was unbearable…He couldn't stay there, he simply wasn't strong enough…
With a grimace he stood up and walked to the door Lupin was half-closing: "Leave it open, Lupin. I'd rather not to witness this." He mechanically addressed another couple of malicious pointers about Longbottom, fervidly hoping the child would react somehow, and he walked outside, leaving the Boggart, and his ghosts, behind him.
Many thanks to my beta, Dew of Heaven, for fixing the grammar mistakes.
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