"I shouldn't have let you drag us to Care of Magical Creatures," Tom said as he kept a few meters away from the big grey hipogriff that kept staring at them with its big yellow eyes. "This is madness... To approach a creature like this is madness."
"It's not horrible, Tom," Abraxas said, stepping in front of them and bowing at the animal.
"Be careful." This time it was Emily who warned Abraxas as she watched the hipogriff look at the blond boy with a quizzical expression.
The creature made a gurgling sound before stepping foward, putting its beak to his hair and sniffing it. After a moment, the animal retreated and, slowly bowed, just like the Slytherin. Tom held his breath as he watched Malfoy looking up at the hipogriff, before walking towards it with his hand outstretched. The smaller Slytherin saw Professor Kettleburn approaching and hoped that the wizard would demand Abraxas to step away, but, instead, he simply encouraged the mad act with words like, "You're doing great, Mr. Malfoy!" or "Don't be nervous, he won't bite your arm off!"
"Shouldn't Kettleburn try to protect his student?" asked Emily in a whisper.
"Didn't you hear what they say about him?" The girl shook her head. "That he's not right in the head."
"Oh... Merlin's beard! Look!"
Tom turned to see what the Hufflepuff was pointing at and was surprised to see his friend patting the hippogriff's dark beak. Abraxas seemed to be happier than he had even been in his whole life. A giant smile was on his face as he watched the giant crature nuzzle its head against his hand.
"I always thought he was," she said. "This only confirms my thoughts."
"Do any of you want to try too?" the teacher asked, looking around and seeing most of the students backing away, scared of getting closer to the hippogriff. "Come on, class, you saw how easily Mr. Malfoy did it! You... Mr. Riddle, right? Want to give it a chance?"
"I... I don't think it'll allow me to approach, professor," the boy replied shakingly.
"And what about you, young lady?" Emily simly shook her head.
"Stop being boring and go up to the creature, boy!" Kettleburn pushed Tom towards the animal. It raised his head and stared at him coldly. "Now, bow."
Without hesitating, Riddle bowed to the beast, feeling tiny in front of it. When he looked up, he saw, to his suprise, that the hippogriff was now bowing at him. Tom looked at Professor Kettleburn, who was gesturing for him to approach the animal, and then at Malfoy, who smiled to him. The young wizard extended his hand – that, to his dismay, was trembling – and waited for the animal to touch it with its beak.
"See? It's not so bad," whispered Abraxas, smiling.
Tom nodded lightly and smiled to the creature nuzzling against his hand. Malfoy was right. A hippogriff wasn't a horrible creature, but he still preferred snakes.
The third years students stood in the middle of the Defenses Against the Dark Arts classroom, confused about what Professor Merrythought wanted them to do with that old trunk she had put in front of them. Septimus Weasley was whispering something about the class being about Boggarts, because he remembered an incident in which his mother had found one inside an old wardrobe in his house, Alphard Black, on the other hand, was saying that their teacher could be hiding a Red Cap inside the trunk.
"Good morning, class."
" 'Morning, professor Merrythought," the class answered as they watched her go to the front of the class, an amused look on her face.
"So, do any of you have an idea of what today's class is about?"
"What? No, Mr. Black. Red Caps are found in old battlefields and are extremely dangerous; I not mad enough to bring one to class," she laughed. "Anyone else?"
"Exactly, Mr. Weasley... And who can tell me what a Boggart is? Yes, Mr. Riddle?"
"They're shapeshifters," the Slytherin explained. "They change the form of their bodies to look like a person's worst fear."
"Right, and when can one see a Boggart's true form?"
"Never... I mean, as soon as it senses the presence of a person, it already changes its form, so there is no record of someone who managed to catch a glimpse of the original form of a Boggart."
"Excellent, Mr. Riddle. Ten points to Slytherin." Tom suppressed the smile that came to his face when he heard what the teacher had said. "Today's class will be about how to defend ourselves from a Boggart... During your life, you'll likely find one of these little buggers somewhere and it's good to know how to make them stop annoying you. The thing is: a Boggart can't stand laughs. That's important... So, in order to defeat one of them, you must laugh. The incantation of the spell you must use against it is 'Riddikulus'. Repeat with me: 'Riddikulus'... For Merlin's sake, Mr. Black, don't point your wand at anyone while saying it!"
"Now, I'll open this trunk," she said as she walked around the said trunk and placed her hands on its lock. "And the Boggart will come out... The first student to duel against it – will be you, Mr. Avery, seeing as you seem to be so eager to face it... You must think of a way to make your worst fear look funny and say the incantation. Do I make myself clear?"
The students nodded, watching as Merrythought gestured for Malfoy to get closer, before opening the trunk. From that moment on, the third year students occupied themselves with watching their colleagues duel against their Boggarts... Septimus managed to transform a giant and dangerous looking grasshooper into a tap-dancing grasshooper; Malfoy saw a Ghoul and managed to turn it into another Ghoul gettng beaten by his great grandmother who, according to him, had actually done this once, when she was still alive.
When it was Tom's turn to face the creature, the whole class was already relaxed, not very scared after having to face their worst fear. The young Slytherin smiled softly as he waited for the Boggart to change its form but, as soon as it did, the smile fell from his face.
Tom felt a shiver run down his spine as he saw not only his father, but his grandparents as well, standing in front of him, staring at him with unpleasant expressions on their faces.
"What do you want?" Tom Riddle Sr. asked, his words seeming to be covered with a layer of ice. "What do you want here? You know very well that this is not your place."
"Imagine that," his grandmother whispered, putting her hand over her heart as if she wasn't feeling well. "Someone related to the Gaunts... Someone related to people that couldn't possibly be a Riddle."
"A freak," said the copy of Thomas Riddle. "That's what you are."
The boy stood stock still, unable to talk and his wand hand trembling. The Boggart was trying to trick him... It wasn't true. His family was back at Little Hangleton, not...
"Tom, the spell!" He heard Merrythought's voice speaking from behind him. "Use it!"
"You can't even be good in the middle of these people." Tom Sr. approached him. "Half-blood... You don't belong in the normal world and neither in this one."
"Dad..." the boy whispered, his voice trembling.
"You shouldn't be with us." His father pursed his lips, looking disgusted by the wizard in front of him. "You shouldn't be in this school... Actually, it would be way better for you if it was actually like that."
The younger Riddle looked at where the Boggart was pointing and felt the air being sucked from his lungs as he saw a copy of himself sprawled on the floor. Pale skin, unmoving limbs, parted mouth with purpleish lips, blue eyes opened and staring at the nothing. The mere sight of it was enough to make Tom run from the classroom without looking behind, ignoring the teacher's calls and fighting against the wave of nausea that took over him, as well as the tears that were welling up in his eyes.
"Where is he?" the girl asked, looking around.
"I think he went through that door." Abraxas pointed at a door by the end of the corridor where they were walking in. "I think it's better for you to go in alone... You know him better than I do."
The Hufflepuff girl nodded and quickly approached the door the Slytherin had pointed to her. Knocking on it lightly, she opened it and peered inside the room. It was an abandoned classroom which had its tables and chairs lying in a pile in a corner. Its old dark board had white scribbles all over its surface and the sunlight of the end of the day was entering the place through dirty windows.
"Tom..." Emily sighed as she slowly walked up to the boy who was sitting by the window, leaning his forehead against the glass. "Are you alright?" The Slytherin simply looked at her with an emotionless face before looking back at the grounds outside the window. "Right, stupid question... I'm sorry."
The girl took a deep breath, walking closer to him. Riddle didn't move; he simply kept staring through the window, ignoring her even though she was next to him.
"Abraxas told me what happened... Tom, you know that was only a Boggart." She sighed. "Remember what you told me in our first year? That Boggarts like to have a good laugh at us... That they have a twisted sense of humor, but they only want to have fun... It's not true, it would never be true," the girl said. "Your family would never say that to you."
"My grandfather has already said that once," the boy whispered. "When he found out I was a wizard..."
"He was shocked back then, he didn't mean to say it."
"How do you...?"
"Tom Riddle," Emily spoke in a serious tone she had never much before, making her friend finally look at her. "Don't you dare to say your family thinks anything bad about you... They love you very much. Especially your father... I've never seen a father love his son as much as yours loves you, Tom... They would never think you're less than them."
Tom stared at the girl for a while, before sighing and looking away once again. The Hufflepuff sighed, feeling a little nervous, before grabbing the boy's arm and pulling him away from the window, leading him out of the classroom.
"Emily, for Merlin's sake..."
"No, Tom, I should say that," she said. "For Merlin's sake, Tom, stop that! That was a Boggart, a stupid Boggart who wanted to scare you and managed to do so. Alright! Now it's gone, it's locked inside that trunk once again while your family, the family that loves you, no matter what a silly Boggart makes you think, is at home." Emily stopped walking when they were finally out of the classroom. "Now, please, stop sulking and become the Tom Riddle that every Hogwarts student knows, please."
The Slytherin opened his mouth to say something, but quickly closed it as he noticed that he didn't have a good answer to give his friend. Emily was right. He was getting too affected by a creature whose greatest deed in life was to scare people. He was overreacting.