Riddikulus

A/N: I'm rereading the books backwards, and I happen to be on POA. This little one shot popped in my head. Please enjoy. (And on another note, I've decided to completely ignore anything else JK has been saying about what happens after the epilogue. I find I'm happier with the blank spaces. So sorry if anything in this is AU.)

- - -

Neville Longbottom is not thirteen anymore.

And yet.

He has to remind himself, a little too often, that he is much older now. Sometimes he cannot help but see the halls from the perspective of his younger self- not through his own self-assured and confident eyes, but the eyes of a trembling misfit, cowering in the corner of classrooms.

In the greenhouses he finds himself looking to the door before the students arrive, waiting for the comforting presence of Professor Sprout. He passes the Transfiguration classroom and feels his back stiffening, as though straightening up for Professor McGonagall. The Charms classroom feels dimmer without Professor Flitwick's warming good nature, and no one but houselves have been to the North Tower in years, not since Trelawney left her post and retreated up the stairs, forever stewing in the room's heavy, sweltering misty heat. Somehow, after all this time, year after year, he is surprised to see the same smiling Professor occupying the Defense Against the Dark Arts position, half expecting the jinx to make a come back and see him meet some grisly end. The only one that remains is Binns, drowning on and on, as boring as ever. The sight of him makes Neville smile and hold the fat golden coin he always keeps in his pocket still more tightly.

He never thought, as he suffered and strained through class after class for those seven years, that he would find himself missing it. But he does. Though he loves his life now, is proud of what he made of it, he does.

He tries to tell Hannah all this. Occasionally, on vacations, while she nurses little Alice or makes dinner for Frank, he searches for the words to explain to her his longing. She smiles mostly, or looks faraway, and murmurs some Hufflepuff name he cannot remember. Those moments, which he feels are the closest to her understanding, are fleeting. Hannah is often more firmly grounded in the real world than he is, but he cannot blame her. Her roots- their two daughters and one son, of whom she is the primary caregiver- allow for less daydreaming then his do.

- - -

It is early winter in his eighth year of teaching, the seventh year of Frank's life, the fifth of Alice's, and the second of Millie's. Hannah is not yet the landlady of the Leaky Cauldron; instead she lives in Hogsmeade, working in Honeydukes on the days she can find someone to watch the children, living in a smallish flat on the fourth story of an old house in the center of town. Millie is not a fussy baby, but she is learning to walk and likes to pull things off tables and annoy her siblings as often as possible. She will be the only Gryffindor in the family later, a lion among badgers. She gives her mother trouble constantly. Neville comes into town when he can manage, stealing whole weekends at a time when they are lucky, but more often than not he is stuck at the castle, guarding the children of other people while he sees his own through photographs and free hours for ten months out of twelve. Despite this he is happy. His memories are served best in the castle, where every corner holds the lingering scent of one of his own adventures.

The snow is falling thickly one day, and he is on duty again. There is a snowball fight outside between a few Slytherins and a few Ravenclaws, and he watches as he grades papers and gives three Fourth Year Gryffindors a detention. They struggle with the task- a thorough cleaning of an unused classroom- but remain blissfully silent. Neville chews on his quill for a moment, thinking hard. He is just about to mark up a particularly terrible essay on Mandrakes when one of the boys gives a surprised yelp from the corner of the room. He looks up.

" What's wrong, Davies?" He asks the boy, frowning. Davies eyes are the size of saucers as he stares at a dusty old wardrobe, and his companions have stopped to study their frightened comrade.

"The wardrobe started shaking." Davies says. "Gave me a start."

The other boys looked interestedly at the now-silent wardrobe.

"Can I open it?" says one, a small, sandy-haired boy with his tie so loose it was barely on.

"No, I don't think so," answers Neville, casually picking up his wand. "I think you three are dismissed for the day. I can handle this one myself."

"But Professor!" cries the third boy, lanky and brown haired. "We've learned about these already! It's a boggart, isn't it?"

Neville assumed it was, but still he shakes his head. "Can't be too sure till I've checked, which means you boys have got to go. Now clear out before I give you a week's worth of detention on top of the ones you've already got."

"I could've done it, too." Says the lanky boy again, and the other two grumble their assent. Still they shuffle out of the room, leaving Neville behind in the half dusty, half sparkling classroom.

He heaves a sigh and kicks the wardrobe, which shakes violently without making a sound. For a moment he considers leaving it for the next Professor who was unlucky enough to need this classroom, but his nobler instincts kick in, and, before he can convince himself of doing anything differently, he swung the door open.

For a moment he'd been bemusedly remembering his first boggart, when he had been thirteen and nothing had so terrified him as Severus Snape. He'd only just managed a chuckle when a figure began to creep out of the wardrobe, tall and thin and draped in so much black that for a moment it seemed as though he is Severus Snape. But he isn't. He isn't anyone, really, but he is sending shivers up Neville's spine. He is hooded and caped and has red eyes and most resembles Lord Voldemort, if he resembles anyone at all. But he isn't Lord Voldemort. He is someone completely different, someone Neville has never met, and yet someone he instinctively knows. A man completely of Neville's own creation, a product of his deepest nightmares. A different Dark Lord. A new attempt at a terrible world order. A man who would stop at nothing to disrupt his new world, just as Voldemort had seeped into his old one.

"Riddikulus!" Neville shouts, but it's unconvincing. The man laughs, cold and deep, but it seems the boggart cannot produce a voice. The hair on Neville's neck still stands up, he cannot help it. He knows this is a boggart, knows this man is not real, and yet to see him looking solid, standing in front of him, changing the very air he breathes, terrifies him past logic.

"Riddikulus!" he tries again, and this time the boggart makes that crack-like sound as it shifts, but it does not disappear. Instead it hovers as his son, his Frank. He looks more terrified than Neville has ever seen him, sobbing without knowledge of it, his eyes rolling back in his head with pain as though he is being tortured.

"Riddikulus!" He shouts again. This time it is Alice.

"Riddikulus!" Now Millie.

"Riddikulus!" It is the unnamed man again, the one with the deep laugh.

"You won't win." The figure says, his voice part hiss, part rumble. He is both strong and serpentine, huge and slim. The terrified forms of his children seem to have given the vision strength, allowing him to exist more solidly than he had only a few moments previous. Neville knows the boggart is feeding on his fear to do this. Suddenly he is angry, not at the boggart but the man who does not exist, the dream Dark Wizard he's only seen in his sleep before now. He concentrates on an old vision with all his might.

"Riddikulus!" He shouts, and this time it works- the man is suddenly wearing an old moth-eaten green lace dress, a fox fur, and a vulture hat. Neville laughs bitterly.

"Riddikulus!" He shouts for the last time, and the boggart vanishes into wisps of smoke. Neville is shaking.

- - -

He doesn't tell Hannah about the boggart, or anyone else for that matter.

At first he thinks it must be shame that prevents him from telling someone about it, divulging his secret to his wife and friends. Embarrassment at admitting his new fear. But he realizes later that he does not feel the need to tell anyone the story because his fears are not unique. He knows enough now to know that it is a fear he shares with Hannah, with his friends from school, with his fellow Professors. That some new beast will come along and shake their happy world to its core and reduce their carefully carved lives to ruin. He knows this without having to ask and so he doesn't bother. His friends are just as terrified as he that they are all a few steps away from a cliff they can't see. They are afraid their children will have to endure what they have already seen, to bear the scars, physical and otherwise, their parents and grandparents already carry. But it is not a fear they keep on their sleeves, something that haunts them often. It only creeps up on them in their deepest of sleeps, in the nightmares that are too irrational to control. Only in the darkest of nights does the knowledge of how much the world has changed, how much better they have made it, seem to fade away, giving strength to the fears they dare not voice.

So Neville does what comes naturally to him. He works in the heat of the Greenhouse, carefully cultivating his odd, magical plant life. He forgets things. He trips. He falls down stairs and chastises students and gazes into classrooms he once sat in with an almost longing eye. He gets time off from work and sees his children. Careful, timid Frank, so much like him already. Sweet Alice, just like her mother. And Millie, his little lion, a girl all her own. Perhaps she resembles the father he never knew, the mother he cannot remember. He likes to think this. And after a time, the dream man in black, the man from the wardrobe and the fright he caused in Neville's children, are reduced to what they are- an awful, infrequent nightmare, and nothing more.

He is happy, and life is good. Neville Longbottom is not thirteen anymore, with the scars of a past he'd rather forget and a deep fear of a swooping man in black who could reduce him to rubble in less than a second. He is older now.

And yet.