He has the Slytherins in class by themselves. Double-period with the Ravenclaws hadn’t held up well beyond the first week, too much ambition and bubbling wit, not always where first-years would think to find it. Isolated and reassured by an equable system whereby everyone gets called on regularly the Ravenclaws are a relatively docile lot, even with Padma Patil’s tendency to mutter Gujarati insults under her breath when deprived of her chance to answer every question asked in class. The Slytherins, though, the Slytherins are difficult. Not all of them, though it’s a difficult House: the first- and second-years too young to be of any real trouble, and fifth-years and upwards far too focused for idle mischief. The fourth year is uniformly terrible, malicious and given to petty infighting. His third-year class has the commendable tendency to cling to each other, and Draco Malfoy at their head. He does not look forward to Friday mornings.
Still, his week has other consolations. Harry excelling in class; the Hufflepuff sixth-years en masse; Cho Chang, who will become a scholar of the effect of migration on Chinese dragons if he has to sell himself to get her a seat in Peking University; Oliver Wood holding forth on wind conditions oblivious to a Professor creeping down the aisle; the quiet hour between the end of his last class and beginning of his office hours. Usually he has time for a well-steeped pot of Darjeeling before the onslaught of seventh years worried out of their wits about their NEWT projects. Some days, like this day, he has barely managed to pour out a second cup before there’s a knock at his door.
Pansy Parkinson and Blaise Zabini edge their way in and stand looking, awkwardly, at each other, the floor, the air two inches above his right ear. Children, Remus thinks fondly, nonsensically, and floats over the tea-pot and two mismatched cups. “You’ll take tea?”
Pansy says, “Black.”
Blaise says, “Two sugars. Thank you, Professor.”
They take their seats with an eerie grace, Blaise pulling out Pansy’s chair for her. Pansy wraps her hands around her steaming cup, Blaise folds his together, and they lean forward.
“We’ve been deputized,” Blaise says, “to ask whether you would consider letting us face the Boggarts individually.”
“We’ve heard from the Hufflepuffs how their class went,” Pansy says, “and we’re not particularly enthused.”
“I see,” Remus says, and pushes his cup closer to Blaise, drinks from his own. “Unfortunately, Boggarts can only be defeated by a group of people working in concert, and I can’t let any of you put yourselves in danger. If you would prefer not to be taught or examined on Boggarts you have to take it up with your Head of House. Doubtless Professor Snape…”
“No! I mean,” Pansy says, dragging her voice down with visible effort. “That won’t be necessary. How many people constitute a group?”
“Three or four should suffice,” Remus says. “If matters get out of hand I will be forced to intervene, but I should have done so in any case. Will that satisfy you?”
“Three or four in every group we can manage,” Blaise says, and nods decidedly. “Thank you, Professor.”
He forgets about it a little, under the frantic fears of Justin Finch-Fletchely, and the frankly confusing questions of little Dennis Creevey who he rather suspected was being bullied by his class-mates, but the class when he comes to it is clear enough: three groups of three, Gregory Goyle and Vincent Crabbe sullenly flanking the Greengrass twins, and Draco Malfoy serenely shoving Blaise Zabini over to make space for him. They’re a bigger class than the others, his third-year Slytherins. Their parents didn’t die before birthing them. Somewhere among the fifth-years there is even a Lestrange.
“Well,” he says mildly, “put away quills and parchment, and come along in rank and file.”
His other classes, even when they’ve known what’s to come, have clattered along comparing notes or asking questions. The Slytherins, not usually among the quietest, march as though going to war, so determined that he is tempted to charm a fife to play alongside. For once there are no pointed remarks about his poverty or ill-health or sidelong glances signifying the same. Just before the door creaks open Draco and Pansy furtively hold hands.
“I was told to stop disrupting my colleagues for impromptu lessons and move the Boggart. It was a job of work moving it up three flights. Anyone know why?”
“Because it kept trying to escape and I can’t imagine transporting an amorphous lump of flesh was easy or much fun,” Theodore Nott says, still blankly bored. “Ten points to Slytherin?”
“Ten points to Slytherin,” Remus agrees, “though I think you might be interested in Spatchcock’s work on the Boggart. Shall we begin?”
When Remus was at Hogwarts, this used to be a music room. Sirius would disappear grumbling the first few years, every week on a Tuesday, and reappear in a far better mood and trying to hide it. He quit in sixth year, and hated it even more. Remus himself never stepped foot in the place in those years, but he remembers from Sirius’ whingeing that it is sectioned into two, mutually sound-proof, rooms with a door leading from one into the other. The Boggart in its wardrobe is secured in a corner of the inner room, and chairs are laid out in the outer.
“We’ll go first,” Millicent Bulstrode offers, and chivvies Nott and Yaxley in. The rest don’t look remotely rowdy, and Remus follows them in with less of a sense of trepidation than might be wise.
It goes well. Whatever qualms they might have about letting their fears be known beyond a limited circle, they’re all excellent at ridiculing the same, and if their humour is harsher and more self-loathing than might be expected of a group of spoiled thirteen year-olds, Remus is no stranger to self-loathing. The worst moment is with the Greengrass girls, who fear losing each other, but it helps that they are within sight and hearing of each other, and that Vincent Crabbe most fears the Great Squid and Gregory Goyle for some reason cupcakes. Millicent Bulstrode is afraid of becoming too fat to walk easily, Theodore Nott of being savaged by dogs, Anyanka Yaxley of rabbits. They are good at stepping in when others in their group are overwhelmed, and each group has only one person terrified of the same thing, except the Greengrasses. Whoever made the groups—he suspects some combination of Blaise Zabini and Pansy Parkinson—has an impeccable knowledge of his classmates’ horrors and a clear mind for strategy. Remus is resigning himself to having to congratulate Severus on the abilities of his students when Draco Malfoy lifts a pugnacious chin and stands in front of the Boggart Pansy is cowering from, and it turns from a charging bicorn into Lucius Malfoy without breaking stride.
“Oh, Merlin and Morgana,” Pansy breathes, sidling out from behind Draco. She looks paler if anything, eyes darting from Remus to Draco and back. “Draco, your father’s in Wiltshire, this isn’t him. Draco! This is a Boggart. Make something up. Do it now. Do it this instant.”
She doesn’t laugh at him for being afraid of his father, or show any surprise. Blaise Zabini, openly standing guard at the door, looks at Remus and makes a small, aborted gesture with his wand, offering to step in. He’s already had his turn.
“No,” Remus says, strides forward and waits for the Boggart to turn to him and banishes it into the wardrobe before it can fully take the shape of the moon. “I think class is done for the day. Pansy, Blaise, dismiss the others. Ten points to Slytherin for everyone who faced the Boggart, to add to the ten for Theodore Nott answering my question at the beginning of the class.”
Pansy nods, and she and Blaise move, not towards the door, but together towards Draco, taking him by the elbows and pulling him away, half-dragging him. In the doorway he straightens suddenly, shrugs off his supporters, and forces a smirk.
When he walks out into the other room his stride is like the years falling away. Remus swears under his breath and occupies himself with putting his briefcase together and shaking out his robes until they have all filed out.
Some day, he thinks desperately over lunch, some day he will stop seeing Sirius everywhere. Some day the loneliness will stop ambushing him. Twelve years and still a smile on a child can remind him of Sirius so fiercely it stops his heart.
This time he is braced for a Slytherin intrusion, but it is still some small surprise for it to be Draco Malfoy instead of a nominated deputy. He takes a seat, looks around, and says, “I understood there would be tea.”
“It’s brewing,” Remus says, and carefully twitches a smile away. “What did you want to discuss?”
“Your Boggart was malfunctioning. There is no way in which that was an accurate representation of my fears. My father,” he stops, lifts his chin, says, “my father will hear about this.”
“We don’t often know what we most fear,” Remus says mildly. “I’ve had similar disruptions in my other classes. If you would like to register a complaint, you have only got to tell Professor Snape.”
“I’d like to keep this ridiculous blunder as quiet as possible,” Draco snaps. “I’m not afraid of my father. You understand that cannot be the case.”
“What are you afraid of, then? I mean, what were you expecting to meet when the Boggart saw you?”
Draco Malfoy is not the brightest mind in his year, a title hotly contested between Padma Patil and Hermione Granger, but he isn’t much worse. In Potions a little ahead, but even discounting what is sure to be Severus’ monstrous bias, a steady performer in all his classes, better at DADA than Remus had in truth expected. He frowns, ready to snap, closes his mouth and frowns deeper.
Remus, leaving him to it, pours out two cups of tea, and takes a generous hand with the sugar. If he offers chocolate it’ll only get him snarled at, but sweet tea can just be dismissed as his dismally working-class tendencies.
“I don’t think it had a shape,” Draco says. “Nothing as neat as giant spiders or ravenous dogs, at least. Does that disappoint you?”
“It makes your Boggart unpredictable,” Remus says, and sets a cup down in front of him. “Drink. If your greatest fear is inchoate, then the Boggart takes the shape of whatever authority you wish to please and fear to disappoint. When I was a student here, someone’s Boggart was their mother. Did him no end of damage, that. Next he faced it, it was Professor McGonagall, and so on.”
“Longbottom’s was Professor Snape,” Draco counters, and smirks, “but that’s not the same thing.”
“Drink your tea,” Remus says, and offers a good example. “I won’t tell anyone, if that’s what you’re afraid of.”
“My father will understand the nuances of what you’ve just said, but the Prophet isn’t as sensible and it would make a nice piece for the society page. They’ll probably have me weeping in Pansy’s arms to make the whole thing more touching,”
“And make it a tête-à-tête, with Mr. Zabini and myself absent,” Remus adds, and laughs when Draco looks up, startled. “I’ve some experience being written out of the Daily Prophet and Witch Weekly. I can’t imagine they’ve changed much over the past years.”
“You were friends with Sirius Black,” Draco says, and it is the first time in twelve years he has heard that name pronounced without distaste. “I’ve seen the photographs. Mother took albums from the house when my great-aunt died. You’re in some of them, skulking in the back.”
“We used to be friends,” Remus allows, and because Draco clearly thinks impossibly well of Sirius, and any port in a storm has seen him through much, adds, “It was Sirius who had his mother as a Boggart.”
Draco lights up. “And he went on to serve his family well, and he’s the only known escapee from Azkaban. Thank you, Professor, I think I’ll have the tea now.”