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Only A Boy

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The first question that most parents asked – after their newly discovered witch or wizard stopped rambling – was whether or not they were certain. After all, how did they know that their child was a magic user?

It wasn’t like they had taken an “are you a wizard?” test.

In fact, no one in the muggle community was even aware of their existence until a representative showed up on their doorstep. The Deputy Headmistress had realized long ago that just sending the letter alone was often regarded as a hoax and discarded. So, their question was a perfectly legitimate one. A pity she still hadn’t figured out the appropriate answer to it. Usually, she simply averted their attention by explaining they were certain – but not how they were certain.

It was a lot better than saying, “Their name just appearing on my roster.”

Minerva McGonagall sighed and leaned back in her chair, rubbing exhaustion from her eyes. She wasn’t as young as she used to be either – she had no idea how Albus managed it in his obscene age. She remembered how one parent a few years back had demanded to know the specifics – nearly drove her mad and she’d been forced to actually go to the Ministry and ask. Apparently, they had some kind of sensor system in place to pick up magic in those underage and they were automatically added to the system. The muggle hadn’t been pleased with the answer.

It was magic. Get over it.

She would be going to visit the new muggleborns in a few weeks. She knew for certain there was one, but she couldn’t remember if there were more. Most students who came were half-blood with a few purebloods and muggleborns thrown into the mix. She frowned, and summoned the roster from the cabinet with a flick of her wand, wanting to peruse the list again.

Well, that was odd.

There was another name on the list.

It wasn’t unheard of, of course. Sometimes someone would move in and suddenly come within the bounds of the Ministry and adjustments would be made. She glanced at her schedule, wondering when she should drop by to give the news – his blood status was marked with a question mark, but since he was living in a muggle orphanage she assumed that he was either a half-blood or a muggleborn. Wait, which orphanage was he in?

Oh. That orphanage.

Maybe she’d let the headmaster handle this one. He was familiar with that place after all. 

Merlin Evans.

He thought the name had a good ring to it. Evans kind of reminded him of Emrys too, so he didn’t feel like he was being completely unfaithful to his given name.

Experiencing life in the future was very confusing. Especially the first week that he was there. By the second he was starting to get the hang of it. True, he still felt like an idiot when Silas tried to talk to him about something called a telly and something that he’d seen on it or when he asked him which football team he was rooting for. But, at least he wasn’t getting any more odd looks from Martha.

He realized that asking how something worked didn’t arouse as much suspicion as what something was. After all, asking what a telly was made him look like someone who had lived under a rock – or severely out of his time. Therefore, covering with, “I mean, how does it work?” let him learn a lot of things about this new world.

First and foremost: Magic didn’t exist.

Not exactly the future he had been hoping for. He had been greatly puzzled by that revelation. He also knew that it was completely impossible, meaning that the magical community had gone underground from some inexplicable reason. Which, after pouring over history books in the library on the second floor, turned out to be the witch burnings in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. He had refused to eat anything for the whole day after reading about that out of grief.

Silas thought he’d gotten a stomachache from the meatloaf the previous day.

Though, for a society that didn’t believe in magic they sure loved it. Silas made sure to show him all his favorite movies – these moving pictures on the telly. It reminded him of a scrying bowl, except what was happening wasn’t real. That was probably his favorite advancement. This was so much better entertainment than trying to whack people with swords.

“So, ready to go outside today?”

Merlin blinked, turning to look a Silas. The boy was leaning over the side of the couch, looking at him with those big hazel eyes of his. He had been incredibly friendly these last few weeks and Merlin was pleased to say that he considered him a friend.

“Uh…” Truth was, Merlin hadn’t gone outdoors since he’d come to Wool’s Orphanage. He’d been worried about the sensory overload of an entirely unfamiliar world and had tried to educate himself as much as possible about it to lessen the shock. But he was dying for some sun. He had never been cooped up like this before. “Sure.”

“Great! Maybe we can get Martha to give us a few pounds, there’s an ice-cream shop on the corner.”

A pound was their form of money and it was made of paper. Merlin thought it was utterly unreliable as a system and far too susceptible to financial ruin. “Okay,” he said grinning as well and he got to his feet. He was getting used to his ten-year-old self again as well. It had been so weird the first few days walking around, and he’d been more than unsteady on his feet. He kept thinking his legs were longer than they were. Thankfully though, his wardrobe hadn’t changed much. He had modern clothes, but worn in exactly the same style.

He loved his scarfs.

It didn’t hurt that everyone in the orphanage thought he had style too.

As Silas dashed away to manipulate Martha into giving him some money – that’s what it looked like to Merlin anyway – he let his mind wander to something very important.

He still didn’t know what the Old religion wanted him to do, exactly. The orphanage was utterly unremarkable. A little gloomy and miserable looking, but free of any magic whatsoever. He frowned, staring at the linoleum floor as though it had wronged him in some way. And when he wasn’t trying to figure out what he was doing here, he was trying to remember a good five or six years of his life – or more!

So far he’d gotten a scene of Arthur tossing a cup at him while Gwen laughed in the background. But, that happened like, every other day anyway.

“Okay,” Silas said, bounding over. “I managed to get enough for two Sundays and a chocolate bar to split.”

“Sounds great,” and it really did. Back in Camelot they hadn’t had ice cream or chocolate. “Let’s go.”

Silas grinned widely and lead the way out the door. He was halfway across the yard by the time that Merlin poked his head out. It was an absolutely beautiful summer day, but the world around him wasn’t. The stone beneath his feet was gray and fine, though just beyond Silas was a smooth black top with white and yellow designs on it. He stared, dumbfounded at the ground for a moment – where was the dirt? – and so when something loud and large passed by he leapt into the air.

What. Was. THAT?!

Entirely encased in metal, it was the strangest thing he’d ever seen in his life. It had wheels, like a carriage but they were so much larger and thicker and there was no horse pulling the thing! It moved forward without any indication of being pulled, or being pushed. Through clear – though solid – windows he could see people within. He was utterly perplexed. He could hear an odd rumbling, growling sound from the contraption. Was there an animal inside it?

Merlin had no idea, and frankly it scared the crap out of him. The air around him felt heavy with magic as it responded to his panic, and the loose gravel on the ground vibrated. As soon as he realized what he was doing he was taking deep calming breaths, trying to steady himself.

It was a miracle that no one had noticed it yet.

He had shattered the glass of water that was always on his bedside table so many times that he wasn’t allowed to touch anything glass ever. He had overheard Martha on the telephone – something else he was very fascinated with – talking about getting an electrician to fix the lights because he kept making them flicker. Some of the other orphans were beginning to spread rumors of the orphanage being haunted.

He’d turned into a living poltergeist.

And he absolutely hated it!

He was a very powerful warlock! It was almost insulting that his magic was acting out the way it was. It was so much worse than it had been when he was a kid. Maybe the new environment was just throwing him off balance, but it wasn’t getting any better. He had thought that maybe after the second day it would calm down – but no, if anything it had become perfectly linked to his state of mind.

Meaning he had to calm down, right now or Silas was going to see some real magic.

“So,” he asked in a very off-hand sort of way. “What kind of vehicles do you see most often around here.” He started walking toward him, resisting the urge to squeak when another thing passed them by.

Silas merely shrugged. “Nothing too fancy.” He paused, glancing toward Merlin. “You don’t like cars much, do you?”

“How could you tell?”

“Hiding in that,” he pointed toward the orphanage – which now that Merlin saw the outside actually looked a bit like a fortress – “for two weeks kind of give it away, dude.” He paused again, looking uncomfortable. “Is that how your parents died? Were they in an accident?”

“Uh…” Merlin bit his lip. He supposed he could just answer yes, it would probably make everything easier but Silas didn’t give him the chance.

“Sorry, I shouldn’t ask.” The kid tugged at his shirt. “We can go back inside if you want…”

“No,” Merlin said quickly, then he gave him a small smile. “No, I want some ice-cream.”

“Great!”

Silas took his hand and guided him across the street. The stench of tar and heat dried his throat the instant he stepped onto the black top, and though he felt a little childish with Silas holding his hand he was grateful for it. It held him there when another car was coming toward them. For a moment he thought it was going to hit them, and he was getting ready to make a dash for it when Silas’ hand tightened comfortingly. It was just enough to stop his magic from sending out a shockwave to the metal contraption. Luckily, it did stop and he was able to relax slightly. He made the firm decision to ask Martha how a car worked when he got back to the Orphanage.

At the shop, he ate a chocolate fudge Sunday, while Silas went for the banana split with lots of sprinkles. It looked so colorful that Merlin almost thought it might be poisonous – Gaius had said the more colorful something was in nature the more likely it was that it could kill you.

“So, Merlin.” It was weird when his name wasn’t said in that sarcastic way that Arthur coined. “Do you like Wool’s?”

Silas looked a little anxious, as though the silence had been bothering him and he had no idea how to fill it. “I suppose,” Merlin said with a shrug. “I mean it could use some of those sprinkles.”

Silas laughed. “Definitely. It took ages just for Martha to swap out the wallpaper in the play room.”

“What was it before?”

“I think some kind of teddy bear theme?”

Merlin snorted. “I think I’d prefer that to the weird flower thing it is now.” He paused a moment, licking the fudge from his spoon. “So, uh… anything been happening?” he asked as casually as he could manage. “I mean, like weird stuff.”

Silas gave him a very blank expression. “What, like murders and stuff?”

“Uh, sure.” Maybe it would help him narrow down what the Old Religion wanted him to do.

“Not really…” He chewed on his thumbnail, thinking. “At least, not recently. Martha and some of the nurses talk about this really weird time every now and then.”

“Weird time?” Merlin repeated.

“Yeah,” Silas picked up his bowl and slurped up the parts of the Sunday that had melted. He wiped his mouth and continued, “It was like, a few years ago or something. A lot of people going missing and stuff. There’re a lot of conspiracy theories flying about.” He sat back, shrugging. “But that’s the only thing I can think of. Other than…”

“What?”

“Some guy named Bundy was killing a lot of people, but that was across the pond.”

Well, at least there was something for him to go on.

 

When one doesn’t succumb to dreams, there is a point when reality and imagination merge, clouding every waking moment with hallucinations. Merlin seldom remembered his dreams, but that did not mean he didn’t dream. No, and frankly he reveled in the fact that the horrors of his life didn’t come back to haunt him at a subconscious level. He shuddered to think what the state of his mental status would be if he relived being chained to a wall in Morgana’s hut, or slowly dying after being slammed in the chest with a hammer, or the fear of being discovered by Uther and burned alive at the stake every time he closed his eyes.

No, instead he cast a spell that put him into a deep sleep, saving himself from the anguish of being trapped in a nightmare. Luckily that worked most of the time – sure seldom didn’t mean one hundred percent gone, but it was better than the alternative. And, the dreams that usually peaked through the cracks were so deeply rooted in his subconscious that it was actually unwise to ignore them, whether it was a fear or a memory. Those dreams demanded closure and healing.

But tonight, they demanded something else entirely.

He was lying on his back, staring at the stony gray expanse above him while glimmers of moonlight filtered through his open window. It was very late. Logic urged him to close his eyes, to drift off to sleep – he would be exhausted the next day. Arthur would be less than pleased with his adviser, especially when they had so much to accomplish. But, try as he might, he lied in wake, thinking of nothing and everything at the same time.

Crack!

Merlin nearly fell off his bed as a single loud crack crashed through his room, sending him to a squat beside his bed as the magic churned within him. It was there, at his fingertips in seconds, a thousand spells at his tongue – each more aggressive than the last. Four people were standing before him, crowding the small room that had been designated as his own. And, for a moment, all he could do was stare, crouching by the side of his bed like a child.

They were all wearing a different color cape.

“Emrys?” It was the man at the front with wild ginger hair and a pointed leather hat. He looked doubtful, and even as Merlin watched he turned back to a man in an acid green cloak. “You’re sure this is the place?”

Merlin got to his feet, blue eyes narrowing. “And what, were you expecting a different reaction to just apparating here in the middle of the night?” he said, his tone heavily layered with sarcasm. “You know you could just knock, or maybe come by in the morning. Like normal people.”

“We couldn’t be sure if the rumors about Albion were true,” the man in red said again, looking sheepish. A very pretty woman with long black hair and a blue cloak sighed loudly, pushing her way to the front.

“Excuse Godric, he just couldn’t wait another moment to see you, Merlin,” she said with a disapproving glare at her comrade. “I am Rowena Ravenclaw,” she gave a small bow. “We have a proposition for you and for King Arthur.”

Merlin raised an eyebrow. “Then you should probably make an audience with the King and me. You know, in the morning.”

Rowena clicked her tongue, but didn’t day anything. She looked slightly affronted. Merlin was willing to bet that no one had ever spoken to her in such a way – and granted, he normally wouldn’t have. But, he was in his pajamas and it was a little more than awkward and irritating that they were all just intruding into his chambers.

“How did you even get in here?” he asked shaking his head. “You can only apparate somewhere you’ve been before.”

“That would be my trickery.”

The man dressed in green made no move to come forward, leaning all to casually against Merlin’s dresser. He was smirking shamelessly, though his features were hard to make out in the gloom. He chuckled, and then lifted his sleeve, revealing a thick-banded poisonous blue snake wrapped around his wrist. His smile broadened, dark green eyes glinting mischievously.

“She knew where to lead us.”

Merlin stared at wonder at the creature as it lifted its head to look at him. Though, it seemed he was utterly alone in that thought, for the others stiffened and the second woman – a rather pretty curly haired blonde in yellow  - made a small squeak of anxiety.

“Really Salazar, do you have to do that? Its cramped in here y-you know?”

“Anyway,” Rowena cut across, glancing at the snake with a wary expression. “We want you to help us with the planning process as well.”

“Planning for what?” Merlin asked, finally tearing his gaze away from the snake.

Godric smiled now, clapping his hands together. “What do you think,” he said, his voice dropping to a conspiratorial whisper. “Of making a school that would teach Magic?”

The dream turned to chaos, a mosaic of incoherent thoughts and images. They swirled together, faded into each other with such speed and ability that it was all his mind could do to block it out. And then there was nothing.

He was standing, an adult Merlin, in a world of thick penetrating blackness. It pressed down on him; it filled the air with something more than oxygen. His breathing was labored, gasps that left him more strained than the last. And then the screaming started.

He clapped his hands over his ears, trying to block it out but it wasn’t around him. It was in him, it was inside his core, in his soul. The Old Magic was crying out to him, begging, pleading, and shrieking for him to help it. He swallowed, a lump rising in his throat. He tried to shout, tried to ask what it wanted him to do!

How could he help if he didn’t know how?!

He tried to cry back, tried ask it to give him instructions, a riddle, anything. His voice wasn’t working. No sound escaped his lips, and no answer was given. He stood there, shaking, as the cries grew louder. They were shaking his bones, chattering his teeth. Someone had been torturing it, twisting it as they saw fit.

Someone had damaged it, because of their arrogance and their ignorance.

He took his hands away from his ears, extended them to either side of him. He extended himself, reached out with his magic to the expanse around him. He could feel the man that had done this, sense the cruel hatred that possessed him. A man that was so mutilated by his ignorance that he was something less than human. He had damaged himself, just as he had damaged the Earth.

And then there was a blinding blast of vivid green light. It sent a shock right through him, a blinding fear that seized his heart and squeezed with long bony fingers.

With a jolt, Merlin woke up. Just as he opened his eyes, sucked in a panicked gasp of air, the glass of water on his bedside table shattered into a million pieces. Jumping, his young blue eyes still filled with the fear and panic that had accompanied the green light, Merlin jerked upright.

“What’s going on?”

“What was that?”

“Why am I… wet?”

“Merlin?”

At his name, he turned to the bed on the other side of him, his breath still coming in uneasy gulps. Silas was sitting up, looking at him with large worried eyes. All around them, the rest of the boys were waking up.

“Are you okay?”

He nodded, though he wondered why he did. He was most certainly not okay. That had been a curse, something he had never seen before in his life. It was the curse of instant death. 

“Hello? Why am I wet?”

“Shut up, Mark. Its just water.”

“What’s going on in here?” And then they were all blinded by light. Merlin raised his hand to give shade to his eyes until they had adjusted, blinking owlishly. In the doorway was Martha, looking rather odd in an orange nightgown with sunflowers on it.

“S-sorry,” Merlin muttered and he felt his face grow hot. He hadn’t meant to wake everyone up.

“Merlin just had a nightmare,” Silas spoke up, shooting him an apologetic glance. There was a general murmur of understanding and most of the boys that had woken to the breaking glass laid back down in their beds. This was an orphanage. He wasn’t exactly alone in waking up with nightmares.

“You all right, dearie?” Martha asked, nodding toward him.

“Yeah,” though his voice still shook slightly. He swallowed, and continued stronger. “Just a monster.”

She surveyed him for a moment before nodding once more. “Well, everything’s all right now,” and she turned the lights back off. Merlin was glad that she did. She might have seen the panic in his eyes, the slight shake of his head as he denied her words. No, it wasn’t all right because those hadn’t just been nightmares. They had been memories. And while the first filled with warmth and excitement, the second sent a chill down his spine. That hadn’t been a nightmare either. It had been an answer to his question, a nudge in the right direction.

The first phrase in a riddle.

Merlin lay back down, and rolled away from Silas. He loved the kid like a brother – he hadn’t left Merlin’s side since he’d come here – but he didn’t want to talk to him about this. Maybe Silas knew that, because he didn’t try to ask. Maybe he had nightmares of his own. In any case, he closed his eyes. He didn’t try to forget what he had seen. He tried to decide what to do next.

“Um… Hello? I’m still wet!”

 

Albus Dumbledore didn’t usually give the news of magical abilities to muggle-borns. Indeed, he was such a busy man that he could hardly be expected to. Headmaster of Hogwarts, Supreme Mugwump, and Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot placed a great deal of responsibility – and tedious tasks – upon his shoulders. Not to mention his underground activity in the Order of the Phoenix, a group dedicated to making sure that he never rose again. And, making sure that he was never forgotten.

Dumbledore sighed, leaning back in his chair as a hand came to adjust the half-moon spectacles he wore. Minerva had sent him a list of all the potential new students awaiting their letters – luckily it fell her to send the actual letters, he just had to sign off on all the names. The Ministry had sent him several letters about accidental magic taking place in muggle London, as well as a notification of the user in question being added to the list, then another notification as someone else was taken off – the Keller family had moved to France.

Best get to it, then.

He bent over the list, a twinkling in his blue eyes as he perused the names. Well, well, there were certainly several familiar names attending this year. It seemed that a new generation had come, the sons and daughters of white and dark wizards alike, and a few muggle-borns as well. Minerva had scribbled a few notes beside their bios, remarking when she would be stopping by to give the news.

Except for one boy.

The name was something of a shock and Dumbledore found himself staring at it before breaking into quiet chuckles. Merlin was coming to Hogwarts at last, figuratively at least. Hopefully the knowledge of who exactly he was named after wouldn’t go to his head. Minerva had written next to it, in her neat script:

I thought you might handle this one.

Ah, Wool’s Orphanage. Not a place he was likely to forget. Only a select few knew the significance of that particular orphanage, and he was in no hurry to spread the word. The place didn’t need the association. It wasn’t their fault after all. But the fact that there was a second wizard to appear there, and this one seemingly out of nowhere… Dumbledore stroked his beard, thoughtful.

He didn’t believe in coincidences. But he did believe in fate and destiny.

Sadly, he was almost entirely booked for the remainder of the summer. At most, he would have two hours to give him, and that wasn’t nearly enough. Orphans were a little different than the average muggle-born. They would need someone to take them to the Ministry of Magic and apply for Orphan Warlock funding, which meant they needed accompaniment to Diagon Alley, not to mention hours of explanations.  He certainly – much to his shame, he had a feeling this boy would be interesting – didn’t have the time. Minerva wouldn’t have the time either. She had other muggle-borns to visit, all the letters to send out, budgets to file.

He paused, a list of possible candidates for the job swimming before his eyes. Instinctively he would send Hagrid, but the giant would hardly fit through the door of Wool’s, let alone get around London without attracting a great deal of attention. The Statute of Secrecy would be all over him. So then, it fell to the second man he trusted above all others.

In a single fluid motion, Dumbledore got to his feet and crossed to his fireplace. He threw a handful of powder to the grate.

“Severus! I need a favor.”