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Only A Boy

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 Only A Boy

"The Old Religion is the magic of the Earth itself. It is the essence which binds all things together. It will last long beyond the time of men."

 

Kilgharrah

 

Destiny.

It's a strange notion, and in some circles laughable. Of course, Merlin had first-hand experience in regard to the fickle whimsies of Fate. It had been his to guide and protect Arthur. It had been his to bring back magic to a land soaked with the blood of sorcerers. And it had been his to bring about the era of modern wizardry.

He had heard what those among the growing magical community called him. Emrys, The Prince of Enchanters, the greatest wizard who had ever lived.

But he felt like a boy.

Maybe that's why his blue eyes twinkled the way they did. And maybe that's why he had snorted with laughter when Arthur had almost dropped the most important document in the history of magic. The scene flashed before his eyes, lingering on when they'd had peace—before things had fallen so far out of hand.

 

"Merlin!" Arthur snapped. He'd dubbed that tone as 'Merlin's Tone' because he only ever used it when talking to him.

"Yes, Sire?" A cheeky smile.

But all he got was a glare. Merlin grinned back, his eyes flickering over to the group of four that stood before them—all of which looked about ready to burst into laughter. After being guests of the court for several months, Merlin suspected they had grown accustomed to the way things worked around here.

The man who had handed Arthur the document was large and burly, with wild ginger hair and a square jaw—prominent even from beneath his tangled beard. His name was Godric Gryffindor and Merlin was always forcefully reminded of Arthur whenever they talked—though he was certainly nicer to him than Arthur was. Next to him was a tall pale man with well-groomed black hair and brilliant green eyes that always seemed crinkled in mockery. Salazar Slytherin had become a close friend of his—even if Gaius disapproved of some of their shenanigans.

But turning all of the capes and banners green for a week had been hilarious.

Rowena Ravenclaw and Helga Hufflepuff he knew less well. Both were refined women, though the latter thoroughly enjoyed the tavern. And when Helga had a tankard of mead in her; well, she was certainly unrefined to say the least. It was a good thing he was already smiling, because the image of a woman with curly dirty-blonde hair dancing on a bar table certainly would've fixed that.

Rowena was slightly taller than Helga, with sharp elven features and a rather serious disposition. Proven when she looked up at him and raised an eyebrow, indicating that he should probably pay attention to the speech Arthur was giving. As if—he'd written the thing, and practically had it memorized himself.

It was to mark the beginning of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, a place where children with magic would learn how to correctly use it. Merlin could remember how they'd fought over the name for weeks. He'd personally liked The Academy of Albion—Hogwarts sounded like a disease. Maybe that's why Gaius snickered every time he heard it.

"Emryssss."

Merlin glanced over at Salazar, recognizing the foreign language that slipped from his tongue. It was the language of the snakes, Parseltongue. They'd discovered it together only a few weeks prior. Merlin had been trying to pass on the language of the Dragon Lords, but with little success. Instead, they'd discovered Parseltongue, the development of which was based on the very same idea of blood magic. Of course, it didn't have nearly as much power.

But it was pretty nifty.

"What?" he hissed in reply.

Salazar smirked again. "Your accent is still off," he whispered, his words drawn out and running together.

Merlin nearly rolled his eyes. "It's not. You, sir, are forcing it on."

"It soundsss better that way."

"It really doesn't."

"Merlin? What are you doing?"

Merlin started, the sudden assault of English forcing his thoughts into a rumble. He turned to look at Arthur, who was giving him that incredulous 'are you insane' expression.

"Nothing," he said quickly.

"You were hissing."

"Really? I hadn't noticed."

"Anyway," Arthur cleared his throat. "As High Priest of the Old Religion you need to sign your approval."

It was amazing how he could make it sound like he didn't believe a word of what he'd just said. Merlin had that affect. How could he be this great and powerful sorcerer? Not to mention that he was now the Chief Advisor as well—thank the gods he didn't have to polish armour anymore.

"Right." Merlin glanced at Salazar—who was smirking all the more widely now—and strode over to the document that Arthur was spreading out on the table. After skimming the headline for the hundredth time that week, he removed his ring. He'd crafted it from magic himself once it had become apparent that he would need a seal in order to sign official documents. Made of a smooth black metal, it bore the carving of a merlin in the mist of flight. The wings had been imbedded with slivers of a gorgeous light blue gem, given to him by the dragon Kilgharrah.

He ignored the twitch Arthur gave. His King thought it absolutely criminal to stick such a beautiful ring into wax but, lucky for him, Merlin had enchanted it to smithereens. No one else could put it on, it'd never get damaged, and it was enchanted to always return to him. As if he was afraid to stick it in wax.

 

The memory shifted, losing its tangibility. And as the images began to fade, a bone-breaking tremor ripped through him. Though strangely devoid of pain, the jarring sensation sent him into a tailspin; heaviness seized his heart. Impressions flitted past him, colours, sounds, emotions, like leaves carried by wind that vanished before he could more closely examine them.

There was something wrong.

Something had gone wrong. Something had changed – an unexpected complication that now threatened to ruin everything—but what?

Somehow Merlin knew that destiny demanded something new of him—something that would probably damn near kill him. He could feel the old magic swirling around him; more potent and alive than he had ever felt it before in his life.

It suffocated him.

It jerked him forward, a strange tug of pure magic pulling him at an impossible speed.

Images flashed before his eyes again, half-remembered memories that couldn't quite make it to the surface of his convoluted mind. Camelot was warping before him, and as he saw the moments fade he realized what was happening.

He was forgetting.

He couldn't recall the events of that morning. What had happened before now, before this blackness? He was spiraling down, falling into a never-ending pit of inky darkness and he couldn't remember whether he had seen the sun that day or not.

He started to panic, something the warlock hadn't done since Arthur had returned magic to the land. Wait, Arthur was just signing the order to return magic. No, he wasn't, he was just talking about it. Even as he thought it, it ceased to exist.

Arthur didn't know his secret. He didn't know who Emrys was or how he had saved his life all those times.

Merlin felt every bit like the young boy who had discovered he could use magic for the first time, and every bit the terrified teen that had first screwed up. He tried to open his eyes, but couldn't. He couldn't move his arms or legs. He felt a tear roll down his cheek as his best friend forgot whom he was, as he became a servant once more. His memories were being wiped away just as he tried to hold onto them and there was nothing he could do about it.

But something worse was about to happen. Something had already happened. Years of anguish and grief slammed into him, one after the other. He couldn't breathe, feeling as though something heavy pressed down on his chest.

He grimaced, resisting the urge to cry out when another wave of ancient magic crashed into him; filling his ears with inhuman screams and pleads. It was a stream of twisted and perverted rituals, each performed more incorrectly than the next and they were slamming into him like shockwaves. He didn't know what day it was anymore; he didn't know what month, what year.

And then it all stopped.

He saw himself standing in the crowd, smiling as a beautiful woman in royal purple walked up the aisle. She took the hand of a man with golden hair, crowned and radiant in vibrant red, and they pressed their lips together. He was cheering, chanting with the crowd—watching as she too was crowned, and a servant became a Queen.

And then it all faded to nothing.

 

"How long was he out there before you found him?"

He heard her voice as if from far away, the sound smudged and blurred. He tried to focus on it.

"I don't know, maybe a few hours?" A male this time, his tone clipped and bored.

"Poor dear," the woman continued and Merlin found he could hear her better. "He looks far too thin." She paused.

"You know, he almost reminds me…" she trailed off, leaving silence wherever her sentence had been heading. She had a grandmother's voice, warm and protective. It eased Merlin back into the realm of conscious thought. He heard some bustling and then a warm hand was pressed against his forehead and he caught a whiff of lavender.

"Silas, could you grab a glass of water?"

"How long till he wakes up?" A new voice—that of a young boy. He sounded anxious and excited, his words bumbling with barely constrained glee, as though waiting to receive a special present.

What was going on? Where was Gaius? Now fully awake, he realized he hadn't heard the physician's voice. Merlin groaned and whatever response the woman had been about to give, cut short. He felt her shift next to him, and then her soft voice beside him, "Can you hear me, dearie?"

"Yeah," he breathed. The word felt fuzzy on his tongue. Wasn't water coming? His eyelids felt too thick to open, so he rubbed them with his fingers. No one said anything, and finally, he managed to pry his eyes open. As the ceiling came into focus, so did the cold realization that he wasn't in the castle. He'd never seen a wall like that in his life.

"Where am I?" he asked shrilly, jerking upright— a wave of dizziness threatened to drag him back into the blackness. He clutched his head, squeezing his eyes shut.

"Who are you? Where's Gaius?" But the more he talked, the more apparent it became that something was very, very wrong.

That wasn't his voice.

"Dearie, calm down." The woman was talking again, soft and controlled. "Who's Gaius? Is he your father?"

"What?" Merlin reopened his eyes, finally looking at the people around him. The closest and most notable was an older woman, her light grey hair pulled back into a tight bun. She looked nearly as old as Gaius—possibly older. She had a kind wrinkled face that still remembered beauty, with high cheekbones and rounded chin. Her dark brown eyes were narrowed with concern as she surveyed him closely from behind wire-rimmed rectangle spectacles.

Behind her was a distinct man in a dark grey suit, a prominent frown on his face and a greasy salt-and-pepper mop of hair. As he watched, the man glanced at something on his wrist and tutted, apparently impatient. Last of all, a young boy with a tuft of unmanageable brown hair and wide hazel eyes held onto the metal post at the foot of his bed.

Everything about this was wrong. This—what was this? He'd never seen a suit like the man wore, or the sunflower dress of the woman. And he was becoming extremely aware of the glowing balls of light hanging from the ceiling, illuminating the room more effectively than two-dozen candles.

His heart started to pound in his chest, blood rushing in his ears. Who were these people? What was this place? And as these panic filled thoughts coursed through his mind, the lights began to flicker like candles caught in the wind. He tried to calm down.

Magic was forbidden. Arthur didn't know he had magic yet, and this wouldn't be a good way for him to find out.

"Calm down," the woman repeated, clearly enunciating the word. "You're quite all right. You're at Wool's Orphanage in London."

"London?" Merlin repeated, dumbfounded. He'd never heard of a place called London. Or—or was she talking about Lundenbruh? But that only confused him all the more! Lundenbruh was very far away from Camelot—and hadn't he just been attending Gwen's wedding and coronation?

"Yes, dearie." The woman was nodding, keeping eye contact with him. "Take a deep breath; everything is going to be okay. Who's Gaius?"

Almost comically, Merlin took a deep breath, willing his nerves to relax. He'd thought Gaius's reputation was widespread, but considering he wasn't even in the same kingdom…

"He's my guardian and a physician," he began slowly, growing ever more painfully aware of his voice. It wasn't his—It sounded too young.

"Your grandfather?"

"No," and Merlin looked around, as though hoping to find him hiding in a corner. "I just came under his care recently. I've been helping him with his work."

He could see that these words meant something profound to the woman, though he didn't have the faintest idea what. She nodded, her lips pursing before she took a deep breath herself. She put her hand on his shoulder, and gently squeezed in what Merlin gathered to be a comforting matter.

"This sometimes happens," she said in what he knew was her softest tone.

"W-what does?" he pressed, warily.

"Your mother made plans for you to live with him should the worst happen, correct?"

Merlin just stared, utterly perplexed.

"This isn't your fault." She was staring straight into his eyes, and the intensity floored him for a moment. "You don't deserve this and you are wanted."

"Right—I've no idea what you're on about, milady."

She seemed thrown off by his reply, though he couldn't fathom why. He was clearly missing something. She gave him a searching look before, "We found you on the doorstep. When a child no longer has any living relatives," she smiled apologetically, "they take them here."

What?

"This Gaius doesn't want you."

"You—" Merlin shook his head, still utterly lost. "But I'm not—"

I'm not a child!

She didn't seem to know that though. She gave another sad smile and pulled him into a tight hug, ignoring his halting sentences. But—but she shouldn't be able to wrap her arms around him like this. His memory of himself was that of a man. But his voice—it was the young, small, terrified voice of a young boy.

Had he accidentally managed to de-age himself?

"Can I leave?" the man interrupted curtly. He had been watching the scene unfold in absolute silence, and it seemed that his patience had finally worn out.

The lady broke the hug—at last—and turned to glare at him.

"Yes, you certainly may." She looked as though she was wondering why he hadn't left already. The man grunted and gave a stiff nod before walking briskly from the room. She turned back to Merlin.

"That," she said, nodding toward the door swinging shut, "was the fella who found you. Lucky he did mind, but I don't much care for the business types."

Merlin didn't know what to say to that, so he just nodded. He'd realized he'd started shaking from the combined effort of trying to piece together what was happening whilst struggling to maintain control of his magic. He felt weird, empty—wounded almost. As if something had just been violently ripped from him and his mind had yet to process the pain. There was a gap—a tangible one—between the memory of Gwen's marriage and now. He could even feel the lingering traces of old, chaotic magic on his person; like dust after a windswept journey.

He closed his eyes, trying to remember.

Falling. He had fallen—but not really, just the sensation of it. He could remember the Old Religion calling out to him, begging for him to restore balance. What was he supposed to do? He took another deep breath, frowning. Had the magic of the earth brought him here? Or had he made the journey intentionally, for a purpose he could no longer remember? Here for some new destiny but—

Arthur!

His eyes snapped open, and in a wave of thoughtless panic opened his mouth—not even knowing what he would say—when something calmed him.

Just a feeling.

Somehow, he knew Arthur was safe. But the tangible gap was becoming less empty. He could make out faded images like smeared paintings behind his mind's eye, although he still couldn't make out a single one. He grabbed his head in an attempt to focus, noting how the blackness was strongest when he thought of recent events.

The lady misinterpreted his movement.

"You should lie back down. I know this is a lot to take in," she said, touching his shoulder again. But she was wrong—he hadn't been abandoned like some mutt. Oh no, he was trying to figure out what was going on, how he'd gotten here. The lady was silent once more, giving him time to think. He heard her shush the other boy that hovered at the foot of his bed.

He tried to piece together the events that had led to this, but it was impossible. What images he could make out were blurry at best, and as he brushed against them a twinge of pain reverberated around his head. But while he couldn't see them, he did glean emotions.

He felt more confident in his earlier conclusion that Arthur was safe, in fact he felt as if all of Camelot was. He couldn't explain it. But it'd due for the present—hopefully the entirety of his memory would return in time.

The lady was surveying him, and knew when he'd calmed down.

"I'm Ms. Martha Green," she introduced. "But I don't much care for propriety, there's me growing up in the twenties for you. Just Martha will do."

"Okay."

What were the twenties?

Something of his confusion must've shone on his face because she'd fixed him with a curious expression. "What's your name, dearie?" she asked. The other boy had started rocking back and forth on his toes, still watching with his wide eyes.

"I'm Merlin."

"Ooh!" The little boy sounded thrilled. "Like after that wizard? Merlin from the Arthurian Legends with the round table and all that?"

"What?"

"Don't crowd him Silas," Martha snapped. Merlin's head was spinning. Legends?

"Wait." They both looked at him. "What's the date?" He knew how stupid he sounded, and their perplexed expressions didn't help but—

"It's Wednesday," the boy, Silas said.

"I mean the actual date."

"June twenty-first."

His stomach had disappeared. It'd been April last he knew. "The year!" he pressed, knowing how shrill he sounded.

They were looking at him as if he had worms crawling from his ears. "1991," Martha uttered softly. She put her hand on his forehead again, frowning. He thought she muttered something about drugs, but he wasn't listening anymore.

He couldn't hear at all really.

He, Merlin Ambrosius, was over a thousand years in the future. According to Gaius they'd barely hit 900 AD back home— keeping time hadn't seemed all that important. It made his current predicament almost ironic. He'd lost time, his memories, his life, and was so far in the future that he, Merlin, had been reduced to legend. Plus, he was almost positive now that he was in his ten-year-old body once more.

Merlin did the only thing he could in the face of so many impossible things assaulting him all at once.

He fell back in a dead faint.

 

Well, he could've handled that better. Taken it in stride like everything else—Morgana going evil, Lancelot rising from the dead, seeing Freya in a puddle of water. But no, he'd reacted like a ten-year-old and fainted.

Not that you could blame him.

When he woke up the second time, Martha and Silas weren't with him and the room was dark. He could see the night sky through a gap in the curtain drawn windows, accented by a strange, dim yellow light that—like the ceiling lights from earlier—lacked the flickering consistency of candles. He lay there on the bed, staring at the ceiling, just able to make out the lines of architecture in the darkness.

He was ten-years-old. He was in the future. How?

He still couldn't remember anything past Gwen's coronation. At the same time, a quick mental catalogue of his spell library told him he had entire bookcases of added knowledge he couldn't remember learning. Well, it explained why he felt so in tune with the Old Religion—he'd never been so aware of the earth breathing and pulsing beneath his feet.

But how many years had he lost? It felt like a lot—the sheer amount of magic churning within him was a testament to that; it was far more powerful than he recalled. Gaius had mentioned magic strengthened with age—though being Merlin, his magic had always been potent. But combined with the wild and instinctual quality of his youth? Beautiful chaos.

Anyway—It didn't look like the how was something he could answer anytime soon. Not without his memories. Where were they? Did time travel rattle the noggin a little, or were they lost to him for more nefarious reasons? Merlin shook his head—pushing at the blackness. It felt like he was attempting to dissect his brain with an ice pick, and he stopped with a wince.

Well, at least he knew Arthur was fine. With time travel involved, there was nothing he could do about Camelot. Not until he got back to his time period, and that wasn't happening for a while. He'd come here for a reason—he could feel it dancing right on the tip of his tongue. Just out of his reach. How was he supposed to accomplish anything?

New destiny? Sure, but he kind of needed to know what it was first.

He groaned, and rolled over. He'd even take a Kilgharrah riddle right about now. He could tell that something was wrong with the magic here—his own melded with the earth, and felt cavernous injuries like festering sores. The Old Religion demanded balance… but what to do?

"Are you awake?"

Merlin craned his head toward the door, squinting in the dark. He heard the creak of floorboards, and the boy—Silas—came into view. He glanced behind him, wringing his hands together before bouncing over to Merlin's bed, hovering on the end post like before.

"Martha thinks that this Guy fellow drugged you. She's trying to file a police report."

None of this made sense to Merlin for a second. "You mean, Gaius?" he asked, slowly.

"Yeah, that guy." He had an innocuous tone, soft and animated. It had the same spring that he had in his step.

"Do you know his last name? She can get him arrested!" The kid sounded overjoyed by the idea.

"Uh, no. Listen, he wouldn't drug me." Okay, Gaius would but that was irrelevant here. "He's a good guy. I think I just—I mean, I'd forgotten he's not around anymore either."

"Oh." Silas bit his lip. The boy seemed to understand Merlin's meaning. He wrung his hands together again, and after an awkward silence asked softly, "Was he nice?"

"He… had his days," Merlin said, a smile rising at the thought. Silas smiled in response, and rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet. Merlin got the impression he was teetering on a question he desperately wanted to ask, but was trying to restrain himself. After the moment began to drag, Merlin sighed. "What?"

"Is your name really Merlin?" the kid blurted out. "Like in those legends?"

Right. Legends. Merlin stared at him, nonplussed. It made sense now that he knew he was in the future, but it was still incredible. They still remembered them, after all this time? Did he have his very own epic poem? The idea of people singing his tales left him numb.

"Legends?" he repeated, hoping Silas would expand on them. He didn't disappoint.

"Yeah! Merlin, the greatest wizard that ever lived!" Silas swung around the post and sat down on the foot of his bed, speaking faster and faster. It didn't escape Merlin's notice that the language had evolved, and found it miraculous he could follow the kid at all.

"Of course, Martha says it's just a myth. One of those stories that never happened or did, but has become so twisted that no one knows what really happened. I dunno, it happened a really long time ago, so I think it could be true. Martha's really smart anyways. She tells us the stories at night—well, we have to ask, but she never says no. But yeah, Merlin was this guy with a really epic beard, like all white and super long. He was the tutor of King Arthur, who pulled the sword Excalibur out of a stone!"

He went on and on, telling of the beautiful Lady Guinevere and her affair with Lancelot, the bravest of the knights. About Morgana, the evil witch who was Merlin's greatest and most ruthless enemy. He even spoke of Merlin's love for the Lady of the Lake—though there the story got really inaccurate. Apparently, some people thought that Merlin had been Arthur's father. That made him burst into laughter. He had to tell Arthur if he ever made it back to Camelot—the look on his face alone would be priceless.

Silas had talked for nearly an hour when the door opened again and he cut off mid-sentence, about a battle Merlin had missed the name of.

"Silas! What are you doing? I told you not to bother him." Martha folded her arms, frowning at them.

"It's okay Martha," Silas said, glancing toward Merlin as though asking for help. "He was already awake. He asked about the legends of King Arthur and Merlin!"

Martha gave him a stern look, her eyebrow rising disbelievingly. Merlin swallowed, not wanting Silas to get in trouble. "He wasn't being a bother," he supplied with a smile.

Martha rolled her eyes and crossed over to them, flicking something on the wall as she did so. Merlin jumped as the whole room was bathed in brilliant white light. Had she just done magic? He hadn't heard her say an incantation. He looked up, blinking as he stared at the glass balls.

"Don't stare at the light bulb! Martha said indignantly and he looked back at her, seeing purple blotches in his vision. Okay, not magic, probably some technological advancement. "Silas, you should be in bed. Off you go."

Silas heaved a loud sigh, getting to his feet in an unnecessary flurry of movement. He waved back at Merlin. "See you tomorrow, then!" he said, before dashing out of the room.

Martha rubbed her temples, shaking her head as she looked after him. Then, she opened a drawer from the dresser beside his bed. She withdrew something thin and black, holding it over his eyes. There was a clicking sound and he was immediately blinded. He automatically recoiled, raising a hand against the light.

"Oh, calm down," she said briskly. "It's only a flashlight."

A what?

But Merlin dropped his hand and let her do, well, whatever it was she was doing. He found it odd she'd told him not to stare at the light bulbs when shining the flashlight in his eyes. But it only lasted a few seconds, before she clicked it off and stepped back.

"Well, if it was a drug, it's out of your system. Your eyes are reacting normally."

Merlin blinked. "Are you a physician?" he asked, unable to mask the eager curiosity in his young voice.

Martha gave him that look again, perplexed. She took a moment to respond, taking a seat on his bed. "I have training equal to a nurse," she replied. Merlin had only ever heard of a wet-nurse before. Maybe it meant some kind of female physician here.

"Now," she continued, "Do you know where you are?"

"You said I'm in London."

"Just making sure you remember all of that." Her lips quirked downward. "I filed a report with the police about this Gaius of yours. They'd have more to go on if you talked—"

"No," Merlin interrupted. He swallowed, wondering how to sell this. He had a feeling Martha could see through lies just as easily as Gaius. "I—I think I hit my head when I fell. Gaius—he's not here anymore either." He looked down at his hands. He wouldn't be able to run to Gaius for advice here…and it left him more nervous than he cared to admit.

"I see." He didn't know if that meant she'd bought it, but she let the subject drop. "Well, I best start filing the paperwork for you." She got briskly to her feet.

"Paperwork?" Merlin repeated, looking up at her.

"Yes. We need records for everyone who lives here at Wool's Orphanage."

"I'm going to live here now?" Maybe there was a reason he'd been dropped here of all places.

Martha nodded. "Now, I only need to know a few things." She was at the other end of the room now, rummaging in a desk. Merlin realized that this was some kind of infirmary, with an office at the back. There were only three beds, the other two separated by pallid curtains.

"Right," Merlin said, fidgeting. He was already counting back ten years, figuring out which year he would've been born in. And, predictably:

"Birthdate?"

"Uh… July 31st 1980."

"Birthplace?"

Merlin rubbed the back of his neck. "I don't know." What was Ealdor even called in this day and age? The woman didn't press him though.

"Full name?"

"Merlin."

"He thought he saw her smile. She waited for him to continue, looking up when he didn't. But he couldn't tell her his actual last name. She'd never believe him!

"Last name?"

"Just Merlin."

She sighed. "Merlin," she said gently, "you don't have to hide it from me."

He cast his eyes around, trying to think of surnames. But all the ones he knew were also from Camelot, and Pendragon wouldn't be any better than Ambrosius. His gaze fell on a book resting on a bedside table on the opposite side of the room, the spine facing toward him. Well, it was better than nothing.

"Evans," he said looking back at her. "Merlin Evans."

 

Chapter Text

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.”

 

Chapter Text

Convincing Severus had taken every ounce of his not inconsiderable ability. Dumbledore resisted the urge to spare the man a glance as they strode toward Hogsmead – since apparition was impossible within the school. He knew that Severus was perhaps the least apt person for this job. Cold, sarcastic, and unapproachable were not the qualities suited for this task.

Severus Snape was his spy, his confidante, and his doctor. He might venture to consider the man his friend, but highly doubted that sentiment was mutual. Loyalty, not friendship was what kept the bat at his side. But, that didn't stop the headmaster from entertaining the hope that one day, Severus might see him as a friend as well.

"And where," Severus asked, extending no effort to keep the displeasure from his tone, "are we expecting to find this boy?"

Dumbledore withdrew a bag of skittles from his pocket. The brilliant colored muggle candy was something he had recently become obsessed with. "Wool's Orphanage," he replied as he popped a lemon-flavored candy into his mouth. As he held the bag out to Severus in offering he added, "Would you care for—"

"No," Severus cut him off. He gave the bag one of his cold glares before looking straight ahead once more. They were almost at the gate. "Are you being purposefully vague?" he asked after a moment.

Dumbledore's blue eyes twinkled. "I don't believe I have any idea as to what you are referring, Severus."

"Not once have you told me the boy's name." Severus raised an eyebrow, his lip curling. "You waited until now to tell me our destination. Might I expect the revelation that he is some ancestor of Slytherin as well, or do you take pride in keeping everyone around you completely ignorant?"

It was a mark of how accustomed Dumbledore had become to this mockery that he didn't find it offensive in the least. Instead, he merely sighed and stepped through the gate. "Why don't we find out?" he said with a small smile and he held out his hand, as though expecting Snape to shake it.

Severus rolled his cold black eyes, a resigned expression taking over the spiteful aggression that usually occupied his features. After a second's pause he took the headmaster's hand and they vanished with a crack.

They reappeared in an alleyway, one block down from the orphanage. Dumbledore, fully intent on striding into the street in his navy blue robes, stopped when Severus cleared his throat meaningfully. The headmaster glanced back, seeing that his colleague had already transformed his billowing black robes into a waistcoat and trousers.

"Ah, of course," he said and waved his wand over his wardrobe as Severus rolled his eyes, the sneer firmly back in place. Now donning a dark blue suit, Dumbledore stashed his wand in his sleeve and strode toward the orphanage.

While the world around it had changed substantially, Wool's Orphanage remained a picture of the past. The stone building still loomed over the street in the same imposing manner it had fifty years before, looking as unfavorable to live within as always. Someone had attempted to make it look more approachable by adding flowerbeds along the front. While somewhat curious about what the potions master thought of the place – Severus only knew of it from the stories of Tom's beginning – Dumbledore didn't glance at him. He could ask later. Thoughts of the boy they were about to meet filled his thoughts.

He rang the buzzer to the intercom.

Silence for a moment, then a young female voice said, "Hello, welcome to Wool's Orphanage. Do you have an appointment?"

Dumbledore smiled and put his finger on the reply button. "Could you tell the Matron Albus Dumbledore is here?" He clicked it off.

"Did you send them a letter ahead of time?" Severus asked from behind him. The man sounded highly skeptical – and for good reason.

"While I have managed to figure out how to work a buzzer, I am utterly confused by the postal system. Waiting two days for a letter speaks of their efficiency well enough, I think."

"You should have phoned, at the very least."

Dumbledore knew he was right. A pity he didn't quite understand how the telephone worked either. He was saved from replying when the woman on the other end of the phone returned. "She'll be right down."

"Thank you," he said and he took a step back. Severus was giving him one of those piercing glares, the one were he demanded to know the details of the situation. He got those quite often from the potion's professor.

Not a moment later the door was thrown open. An elderly woman stood before them, kind brown eyes wide with shock. She took in both the men on her doorstep, positively staring at Albus. It took him a moment to recognize her as one of the young nurses that had been present fifty years ago.

"Hello," he greeted with a jovial grin. "I am Professor Dumbledore and this is Professor Snape." He gestured at the man in question. Snape gave a very stiff nod in reply.

"Martha Green," she replied. Her gaze snapped back to Dumbledore. "You've come to take another one to your school, haven't you?" She took a step back to let them in.

"My apologies Martha," Dumbledore said. "I hope this one hasn't been causing any problems around here." He didn't miss the way that Severus stiffened, as though paying the conversation a little too much attention.

The lady paused, thinking. "There have been a few incidents, now that you mention it. But," she added bracingly, "nothing like Tom. Speaking of which, what happened to that boy after he graduated?"

"He traveled," Dumbledore said, choosing each word with care. "Last I heard he was in Albania." To his great relief Martha didn't press the subject and instead nodded, leading them toward a reception room.

"You've remodeled," Dumbledore remarked softly, gazing around the room. The gray walls that he remembered had been covered with a faded floral wallpaper. It was startling the difference it made, turning the cold gray into warm brown. The place had been arranged as one would expect a living room, a nice red and brown rug in the center. A coffee table sat in the center of the rug, surrounded with an assortment of couches and chairs.

"About twenty years ago," Martha said. She nodded toward a very antique looking couch, while taking a seat in an armchair herself. "Unfortunately, much will change again." The briefest expression of grief flashed across her face, before she shook herself. "But that is a conversation for another time. Would you like some tea? I can send for some."

"That would be lovely, thank you."

Dumbledore could hear Martha in the hallway, asking one of her helpers to get some tea from the kitchen. Beside him, Snape tugged at the stitching on his waistcoat. The potions master wore a scowl, glaring at everything in the room as though it had done him a great injustice. Dumbledore wanted to say something to ease the tension in the air, but knew nothing he said would make Snape relax. Thankfully, it was only a few minutes later that they were all sipping on cheap raspberry tea. Severus kept glancing at him impatiently. No doubt he was extremely aware of the headmaster's limited time and didn't want to be stuck explaining everything to the boy. Dumbledore sighed and returned his cup to its saucer. "Best get on to business then," he said.

"Shall I go get the lad?" Martha asked.

"I haven't given you the name yet," Dumbledore said.

"I hardly think I need it. He's a bit of an odd sort."

"Odd?"

And here Martha smiled fondly. The expression warmed her face, making her look several years younger. "There's… just something about him." She got to her feet. "I'll be back in a moment."

And then she was gone.

Dumbledore exchanged looks with Severus. He didn't have to be a legilimens to know that the potion's professor was completely baffled – as was he. Last time, the previous Matron had turned positively green at the mention of Tom. The stark contrast was so apparent that it floored him completely. Hearing footsteps out in the hallway, both men turned.

Accompanying Martha was a pale boy. Rather tall for his age, he had a mop of inky black hair and striking features. Handsome cheekbones chiseled his face, but they weren't what caught the headmaster's attention. Dumbledore had always taken pride in his twinkling blue eyes, but this boy put them to shame. His eyes were a rich navy color, flecked with hues belonging only to the sky and sea, bright with curiosity and warmth. They were bottomless lakes of knowledge and experience, sparkling oceans of light – ancient and wise. And, they twinkled with humor, as though he were privy to a joke about the world and only he knew it.

"Hello," he greeted with a broad smile and a slight bow of his head. "I'm Merlin Evans."

"Merlin, honey, there's someone who would like to meet you."

Merlin looked up from his game of Uno, confusion clearly written on his face. Who would want to meet him? He didn't know anyone in this time-period. He glanced at Silas. The two of them had become very close since the nightmare a week ago, and it was only Silas who knew that the flash of green light woke him every night. The other boys thought that there was a ghost breaking the glasses while they slept, while Silas seemed to think that Merlin liked knocking them over with his elbow.

"It's okay," Silas said with a smile. "We'll just skip you."

"You'll win!" Merlin said, frowning. Silas only had three cards left.

"Exactly." He grinned broadly, showing off a small chip in his front teeth. Merlin itched to do something about that - he remembered Gaius always cautioning to take care of one's teeth – but, that would result in him having to expose his abilities as a warlock.

"This may take an hour or so," Martha hinted casually.

"Okay then, you get my cards," Merlin said, grinning and placing them in front of Silas. He got to his feet quickly, dodging nimbly out of the way when the boy tossed his cards back at him. He laughed, and noticed that Martha seemed to be hiding her amusement. Odd. She usually didn't approve of them making a mess.

He followed her to the reception room. He'd only been in there once before— to talk to some man about his past. They had needed to write up some kind of document, record keeping they'd said. He knew that was where kids went to meet families they might be going to live with. He bit his lip, shoving his hands into his pockets. As nice as that would be, he didn't want to leave Silas alone in this place.

There were two men seated on the couch. One was extremely old and reminded him vividly of himself when had been pretending to be an eighty-year old warlock named Dragoon The Great. The only difference was the absence of blood-red robes. The other man struck Merlin immediately as a no-nonsense type. He had rather long oily black hair, a hooked nose and the look of someone being held against his will. It was obvious from the way that he was scowling that he didn't want to be there.

They stared wordlessly at him.

"Hello," Merlin ventured allowing a smile to take his features. "I'm Merlin Evans."

He was used to the reaction he got from his name now, or at least, he thought he was. Usually, people just blinked and asked if he was serious before jumping into mentions of the Arthurian Legend or some film attempting to depict the story. They were never accurate. The older man seemed to have already known his name for he smiled warmly at Merlin, light blue eyes twinkling behind half-moon spectacles. But, the other man… well, Merlin had never quite received a reaction like that.

Shock and anger flashed through the man's cold black eyes and he immediately turned to the elder man, wearing such an aggressive expression on his face that Merlin wondered for a moment whether he was going to throttle the geezer. He didn't understand the reaction at all. Why would his name make him that angry?

"Is something wrong?" he asked, glancing from one to the other.

"Oh, nothing at all, Merlin," the elder man said. "Please, have a seat. We have much to talk about. Martha, could we perhaps have some privacy?"

"Of course, Mr. Dumbledore." She left quickly and closed the door behind her. Merlin stood, hesitating, just inside the doorway for a moment before crossing over to one of the brown armchairs and taking a seat. He tried to not look as confused as he felt, and ended up settling his expression on mild curiosity.

"I am Albus Dumbledore," the older man introduced himself, smiling again. "This is Professor Snape."

"Professor?" Merlin repeated, now turning his attention to the sallow faced man. "Of what?"

Dumbledore's eyes crinkled. "That's why we're here. I am headmaster of the school where Professor Snape teaches. It's a school for gifted children, like yourself." He reached into his pocket and withdrew a roll of parchment. "Dear Mr. Evans," he read. "We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry."

It was like someone had just dumped a bucket of ice-cold water over Merlin's head. He blinked, wondering if he had somehow misheard. "Sorry, what?" he asked, knowing his voice had cracked oddly. Hogwarts? As in, the school that Salazar and the others had come to him, asking to build? This was incredible. They'd actually succeeded. It was almost too much for Merlin to process. Thank the gods that Dumbledore assumed his shock was due to an entirely different reason.

"You're a wizard Merlin."

No, really? I hadn't noticed.

"How do you know?" Merlin asked slowly. He had done his best to keep his accidental magic under control – and failed, he knew that – but no one here knew of his abilities. How in the world had they found out? The professor, Snape, pinched the bridge of his nose.

"Why don't you think about it?" he snapped a little more harshly than was needed. Dumbledore fixed him with a rather penetrating stare before turning back to Merlin.

"When you were angry or sad have you ever made something happen that couldn't be explained?"

Merlin frowned. "No – that's not what I mean. I mean, how do you know I'm a war—wizard?" They called it wizard, it would be odd to say warlock out of the blue. He hoped no one noticed his slip.

Dumbledore was giving him the penetrating stare now. As though he was trying to see right through him. "So you have noticed it, then?" he said simply and Merlin bit his lip.

"Er," he fidgeted in his seat. "Yeah. I mean, it was hard not to notice." He hoped that was the right answer. The last thing he needed was for them to become really suspicious. Snape had stopped pinching his nose and was giving him a look that appeared to be a cross between a glare and interest.

"Very curious. Did you tell anyone?"

"Of course not!" Merlin said a little too quickly. Both men were starting to stare at him again. "What if—" He stopped short and swallowed. "What if they'd locked me up?" He hadn't meant for his voice to get so hysterical. Even after these past few weeks he still hadn't gotten used to the young tone of his voice.

His sentence hung there in the air for a moment. It didn't really need answering, anyway. From the look on both the men's faces, they completely understood. They seemed surprised that he had acted so logically, but were happy that he had.

"Mr. Evans," Snape said, "do you know anything about your family?"

Merlin felt his gut clench, the same way it always did when he knew he was going to have to lie. "Not really. They're all dead."

"Do you remember if any of them were like you, a witch or wizard?"

Merlin paused a moment, wondering if it was all right to tell them. The question brought up a faded thought concerning blood purity. Was that why he wanted to know? He couldn't really see the importance of it. "I don't know," Merlin said flinching slightly as he remembered his father. Oh, how he wished that he had gotten more time with him. Snape wasn't pleased by his answer. In fact, he looked frustrated by it.

"So, how did you know?" Merlin asked when the silence started to drag on. He tried not to look at Snape, somehow feeling like he had unintentionally offended him.

"The Ministry of Magic has measures in place that detect magic in underage wizards," Dumbledore explained.

"Ministry of Magic?" Merlin repeated, his eyes growing wide.

"I'm sure you have several questions," the headmaster smiled. "And I'll do my best to answer them all, but you must forgive me. I can only give you half-an-hour of my time, and then I must leave you."

Merlin had asked as much as he dared. He'd asked about the creation of the Ministry of magic, the minister, and about how it worked. He had asked about the different departments and how the wizarding world co-existed with muggles. He'd asked about various magical creatures and whether the dragons were still around. And, he'd asked about the creation of Hogwarts. At the same time, he tried not to appear too knowledgeable about the magical world. He threw in a few questions about magic in general just for good measure.

Dumbledore had just finished his explanation on the four Hogwarts houses when he glanced at his watch. "My apologies, Merlin," he said with another warm smile. "Professor Snape will answer any further questions you have. I must be off, I'm afraid." He stood and took out a long piece of wood from his sleeve.

"Is that… a wand?" Merlin asked, glancing toward Snape. The professor's lip curled.

"Yes."

Merlin blinked. Most wizards in his day preferred staffs or rings – things easier to pass off as normal. A wand just screamed wizard. Dumbledore smiled and waved it in the air. Immediately, Merlin felt the magic swirl around him. He could sense it in the air, as it shot out of the wand and onto the headmaster's clothing, which changed from the blue suit into flowing navy robes. Merlin felt himself grin. Now that style reminded him of home. It was almost a relief to see that some of the ancient styles were still in fashion so far in the future. He relaxed as the magic subsided.

"I look forward to seeing you at Hogwarts," the man said. He nodded to Snape. "Severus." And, with another wave of magic and a small crack, he disappeared.

The magic that Professor Dumbledore had used was very different than what Merlin was accustomed to. He could feel the difference between it and the magic of the Old Religion. And, if he interpreted the feelings and dreams that he got from the Earth, no one even knew how to use the ancient magicks anymore.

The reason he had come here was because someone was using it incorrectly.

Merlin turned to Snape, and tried not to fidget. The professor didn't seem to like him very much, from what Merlin could tell. He couldn't fathom why that was. Maybe he just didn't like kids all that much – or maybe he was just a clotpole. Merlin was growing a little annoyed by the perpetual sneer the man was giving him.

"Do you always look this annoyed?" he asked.

Immediately, he knew he had made a mistake. Merlin had never been very good with authority – he insulted the bloody king on a daily basis after all – and he often spoke without thinking. Judging by the look that Snape was giving him, Merlin wasn't sure he was going to live long enough to discover his new destiny.

"Were school in progress," Snape said in a voice of deadly calm, "you would find yourself scrubbing the floors of my potions classroom for an entire week. I do not tolerate insolent behavior of any kind, Mr. Evans. Do I make myself clear?" It didn't escape Merlin's notice that he tripped over his fake last name.

"Yes."

"Yes, sir."

"Yes, sir," repeated Merlin feeling every bit like the child that he looked like. He never thought he'd miss the days when Arthur was the only one he had to take orders from. Snape seemed satisfied, though he was still looking at Merlin as though he wanted to chop him up into potion ingredients.

"So, um…" Merlin wrung his hands. "Do you have a wand, sir?"

Snape looked at him as though he thought Merlin was being stupid on purpose. "Everyone has a wand."

"Oh." Merlin hesitated. "But do you need one?"

"One can learn how to do some wandless magic, but it takes years of study and effort. Many are never able to achieve it."

Merlin was confused. "But the accidental magic…"

Snape was pinching the bridge of his nose again. "That is instinctual magic. It responds to emotions and is just as volatile. Once a wizard learns how to control themselves and their magic, those incidents disappear and a wand is needed."

Merlin nodded. It made sense he supposed, but knew it didn't apply to him. As that thought came to him, he blinked. "One of the boys here," he began slowly, "said that Merlin was a warlock. Is that just myth or—" he cut off embarrassed. It felt weird, talking about himself in the third-past tense.

"Merlin," Snape said sounding remarkably like Arthur when he was annoyed, "was the greatest wizard to ever live."

Merlin stared at him. That was the highest praise he had ever heard in his life. Sure, he had been praised back home, but hearing it from someone a thousand years in the future… well, it was incredibly humbling.

"Because of your name," Snape continued, "it is possible you will encounter a lot of judgment from your peers." He didn't sound very sympathetic as he said this. "Merlin single handedly founded modern magical society."

"So," Merlin's throat had gone very dry, "does Camelot still exist? I mean, in the magical world?"

"No."

Merlin tried not to show how much this news pained him.

"It was lost not long after the death of King Arthur. It is believed that Merlin cast a spell to keep it hidden from the world."

"Why would he do that?"

Snape only offered a shrug. Well, that was frustrating. Merlin had no idea why he would do such a thing, unless he was worried about it falling into hands that would tarnish its reputation. He opened his mouth to ask about what had happened to Merlin in the end, but he stopped himself. He didn't want to know. Knowing too much about one's future could destroy it.

"Is that all the questions you have?"

No. Merlin had a million more, but he couldn't ask them. He wasn't supposed to know anything. "No, sir," he said before immediately changing his mind. "Actually yes. Where is Hogwarts?"

"Somewhere." Snape sighed at the raised eyebrow Merlin gave him. "It's enchanted so that no one can stumble across it. It's somewhere North."

"Oh." Good idea. He would have to drop the hint to the founders when he got back to his own time, if they hadn't thought of it already.

"Now, we will move on to more pressing matters," Snape said getting to his feet. He withdrew a piece of paper from his jacket pocket and handed it to Merlin. "On that slip of paper is a list of all the equipment you will need for school."

Merlin perused the list, his frown growing more prominent with every line. "Sir?" he asked looking up. "How do I pay for all this?"

"That, brings us to our next topic of discussion. We will need to visit the Ministry of Magic and get you formally registered as a member of the magical community and apply for Orphan Wizard funding. Under normal circumstances, we would have your parent or guardian sign registration papers but, given the circumstances…" he trailed of meaningfully.

"Oh. When would we go?"

Snape strode toward the door and opened it. "Now. The application may take a few days to process and we can't get your equipment without it."

Merlin didn't hesitate to follow him out the door.

"Would it be all right to tell a muggle that I am a warlock?"

"I beg your pardon?"

They were walking along a corridor within the Ministry of Magic, having just gotten off the elevator. Professor Snape had already changed back into his flowing black robes, making him look extremely imposing as he whirled around to glare at Merlin, who considered the possibility that the man didn't know how to do anything other than glare.

"There's a boy I'm good friends with at the orphanage," Merlin explained, feeling a little awkward. He glanced down at his feet. "I just hoped I didn't have to lie to him about what's going on with me anymore."

"The Statue of Secrecy is in place in order to keep peace between our two cultures. What will you do if he tells everyone about your abilities?"

Merlin looked up at him. "He wouldn't do that."

"Oh, because you know him so well?" Snape sneered back.

"No. Because he hasn't told anyone that I have—" He cut off. He didn't want the professor to know about the dreams with green light. "Never mind. I get it."

Didn't mean he agreed with it.

"Now, when we get to the registration department I expect you to behave."

"Yes sir."

"Only speak when spoken to. I'll not have that insolent tongue of yours causing any trouble." Snape paused then turned abruptly down a different hallway. He opened a door on the left and strode forward first, not bothering to check if Merlin was following. Merlin had started chewing his cheek. Every insult he had ever dished out to King Arthur was running around in his mind. Snape was a prat. And he wasn't even a royal one. It seemed almost unjust that Merlin couldn't tear him a new one. He sighed and followed him into the room.

"Welcome to the Department of Witch and Wizard Registration," said a witch at the front desk. "How can I help you?" She smiled down at Merlin, and he returned the gesture.

"I need official registration via the Foundling Act for Mr. Evans." So he was generally displeasing to everyone he met, not just him. The secretary looked a little taken aback.

"Go back to cubical seven. Mr. Marks will be able to assist you."

"Thank you," Snape said curtly and he swept down the hall.

Merlin looked around eagerly as he followed the professor. The place appeared to be utterly chaotic, but he could see systems of organization popping out randomly. The cubicles were the strangest shapes, looking as though someone had just smashed them together and hoped for the best. There were floating florescent numbers above each one. Near the back they found cubical seven and were greeted by a very thin man who was trying to ignore the fact that he was balding with a wig.

"Hello," he greeted. Merlin noticed that he had pronounced circles under his eyes. "How can I help you?"

"I need to officially register Mr. Evans as a member of the magical community."

"Ah, an orphan are we?" the man said looking at Merlin now.

"Yes."

"That's easy enough. Just give me your name and date of birth." Mr. Marks summoned a parchment before him, and dipped a quill into ink.

"Merlin Evans. July—"

"Wow, your parents were indeed hopeful!" the guy interrupted. Merlin's eyes narrowed.

"I doubt they realized the significance of the title," he snapped back before he could stop himself. He cringed and risked looking up at Snape. To his surprise though, the professor only seemed mildly irritated by his outburst. He wasn't even looking at him, gazing around the boring office with a scowl.

Mr. Marks laughed nervously. "Right, sorry. No middle name?"

"No."

"Okay, continue."

"July 31, 1980."

The guy nodded. "What were your parents' names?"

Merlin had no idea how to answer that question. Hunith and Balinor weren't exactly common names in this time period. There was also the possibility that someone would recognize them from Arthurian legend. "John and Grace," he said making up the names on the spot.

"Were they muggles?"

"I don't know. They died a long time ago."

The guy nodded and Merlin saw him check off a box labeled unknown. "Okay, Mr. Evans I think that's everything. Your file will automatically update with any new information." And he grabbed a large stamp from a drawer, and practically slammed it onto the document.

"Thank you," Snape said with the same cold tone as he had used with the secretary and then he steered Merlin out of the office.

"Why do they even need a form?" Merlin asked puzzled. "I thought they already knew I was a wizard."

"Usually the wizarding community will simply absorb any records that already exist in the muggle world. We have the parents and the child sign off on the accuracy of the form without ever having to come near this infernal office. For some reason, you Mr. Evans did not have any such paperwork. The automated system by which names appear on the Hogwarts roster is due to very old and complicated magic that I can't even begin to understand."

"Oh." It was probably a good thing that the professor was leading the way as Merlin was having trouble keeping the dawning realization from his face. Chances were, the old magic itself had put Merlin's name on the roster. If that were the case, it seemed that whatever imbalance had brought him to this time was occurring at the school.

Another phrase to the riddle.

Snape led the way back to the elevators and they went up another floor. Merlin didn't like it at all. It was cramped and the sensation of movement left him feeling unbalanced. He didn't miss the way that Snape looked at him, as though the professor was amused by his discomfort. He all but ran out of the contraption when they stopped.

"Doesn't this place have stairs?" he asked gruffly as Snape took the lead once more.

"No."

Merlin managed to hold the vulgar swear in his mind.

"Through here," Snape said pushing open a door to another office. It was very cramped in this one. Several of the paper memos that Merlin had seen on the elevator were darting around the ceiling. There was one disgruntled looking man at a desk, poring over a file. He was large, with bushy sideburns, and dull green eyes.

He looked up when they walked in. "Welcome to the Department of Finance for Wizard Incapables," he said in the most apathetic tone Merlin had ever heard. "What can I do for you today?"

"Mr. Evans requires funding for wizarding orphans," Snape replied coldly. Merlin hoped they finished this quickly. Snape was sounding crankier the longer they stayed in this place and he was having difficulty keeping himself from snapping insults the man. It was doing odd things to his magic as well. It kept swirling within him, threatening to shake the shelves and scatter papers.

That definitely wouldn't be good.

It took them nearly ten minutes to file the paper work, not because there was a lot of questions, but because the man wrote unbearably slow. And the questions were really just about how much funding Merlin would need, and whether he actually needed it. No wonder it would take a few days for it get filed, Merlin thought, if the man took forever to do it. Snape didn't seem to be in a good mood either, so he decided against asking him any questions until they had gotten back to the elevator.

"Sir?"

Snape grunted to show that he was listening.

"Is that everything? Are you taking me back to Wool's now?"

"Yes."

Merlin nodded, wringing his hands again. "Um… how will I know about the funding?"

"You'll receive a card by post."

"Okay." Another pause. "Where do I go to buy my stuff?"

Snape pinched the bridge of his nose again. Merlin had the feeling he was irritating the professor with all his questions, but he really did need to know. "Diagon Alley. I'll come back after you have received your confirmation of funding to take you there." The elevator opened before them and Merlin stopped asking questions when several other witches and wizards joined them.

He really couldn't stand the blasted contraption.

They had been moving again for several minutes when the elevator jerked unceremoniously. Had Merlin been paying attention, he might have realized that it was no cause for concern. No one else was acting as though the jolting was anything out of the ordinary. He took a deep breath in an attempt to calm himself and fight back the panic that was threatening to overcome him.

The elevator jerked again and came to an abrupt stop.

"What the—?"

"Oh great, maintenance has been slacking."

"I've got a meeting in five minutes!"

As the other people in the elevator started filling the elevator with their upset musings, Merlin started feeling incredibly claustrophobic. He felt as though the walls were pressing in on him. It was becoming difficult to breathe and his magic was fighting to react against the threat. He wasn't aware he was shaking until he felt a hand grip his shoulder very tightly.

"You," Snape muttered in his ear in that voice of deadly calm, "need to calm down."

If anything, that only made it worse. The floor began to shake, the memos in the air above them fell to the ground. The hand on his shoulder relaxed a little.

"Everything is fine." The professor actually sounded strained, saying something that was supposed to be calming. It didn't suit him at all. Merlin focused on that, trying to amuse himself with it. "Take a deep breath."

Merlin sucked in a deep gulp of air, closing his eyes. After a moment the elevator jerked down again, moving back on its intended trajectory. Snape didn't take his hand off Merlin's shoulder until they came to their stop and disembarked. He almost pushed Merlin off the platform and into the entry hall. Before he'd had time to turn around, the professor had taken his elbow in an ironclad grip and was steering him toward an unoccupied corner.

"Explain," he spat spinning Merlin around to look at him. Snape's face was white, his lips curled in all out snarl.

"I—I—" Merlin swallowed. "I didn't mean too—"

"So I gathered," Snape interrupted. "I would, however, like to know why you neglected to mention your obvious lack of impulse control."

"I just panicked."

"Obviously."

"I've never been in an elevator before!"

"You—what?" Snape blinked. He seemed to deflate slightly, though still managed to maintain the look of utter loathing that seemed to be his specialty.

Was that so odd? "I just… didn't get out much," Merlin said wincing as the words left his mouth. It felt like a really pathetic excuse, but it was the only one he had. Snape sighed and rubbed his eyes, looking exhausted. After a moment he took his arm again, and lead him back to the telephone booths they had used to get inside.

"Let's get you back to Wool's before you ruin someone else's day."

Chapter Text

 


“Merlin?”

Merlin opened his eyes. For a moment he didn’t move, nursing a faint hope that Silas would think he’d gone to sleep. He had managed to avoid everyone after returning to the orphanage with Snape, some mumbled excuse that he was tired and needed to think. Now the dark swirled around them, dim yellow light from street lamps causing shadows to dance on the ceiling. But, somehow Silas knew that he wasn’t asleep.

“You ever going to tell me who those two guys were?” A pause. “Merlin—”

“They were from a school,” he interrupted and he rolled over. He could see Silas propping himself up on his pillow. His eyebrows were scrunched up together.

“What kind of school?”

Merlin rolled back, staring at the ceiling. He didn’t know what to tell him. He didn’t want to lie to him, he had been such a good friend to him these last few weeks but he also knew that the Statute of Secrecy was important. It felt like Camelot all over again, being forced to hide who he was. He was always hiding who he was. Even the headmaster, though he knew about the magic, he had no idea who he was.

He was always in the shadows.

“Merlin,” Silas pressed. “What’s going on? Why won’t you talk to me?”

And he always would be.

“It’s a boarding school,” Merlin told him. “A school for the gifted or something.” He turned and watched Silas digest this information.

“A boarding school?” he repeated. “That’s why you’ve been so moody?”

“What?”

Moody?!  Merlin hadn’t been expecting that response.

“You think that I’m going to hate you for leaving, or something?”

“What—no! I—”

“You’ll be able to come back for the summer and holidays, right?”

“Um, I think so. Yeah, but—”

Merlin couldn’t even get a word in. The next minute, Silas was rambling about how it was such a great opportunity and how he’d write him all the time. He kept assuring him that he wasn’t upset. He’d miss him, he was sad he was going to be leaving, but he wouldn’t hate him. Here he was, upset that he couldn’t tell Silas the truth, and Silas thought that it was because he was scared about how he’d take the news.

It made him smile, and actually feel bad that he would be leaving.

“You’re not leaving before your birthday, are you?” Silas asked.

“No,” and Merlin smiled. “I’m not leaving until September.” He paused. “But I do need to go buy school supplies and stuff.”

“Well, I’m sure Martha wouldn’t mind if we stopped by the—”

Merlin shook his head. “No, they have a weird supply list. Snape, one of the guys I met with, will come and take me to get the materials.  We’re just waiting for some funding card to get approved.”

“Oh.” Silas nodded. He was silent for a moment. Merlin could hear Mark snoring loudly from two beds over, his magic tingling pleasantly in the air around him. It had been uncomfortably excited ever since the elevator fiasco.

“Merlin?”

“Yeah?”

“If—I mean when you go to—to that school…” Silas sucked in a deep shuddering breath. “You won’t forget about me, will you?”

He chuckled softly. “Wouldn’t be able to even if I tried.”

“Hey! I’m being serious.”

“So am I.” Merlin glanced at him and smiled. “I promise, I won’t forget you.”

 

Merlin!”

Ah, that inflection of his name was so painfully familiar. The only problem was that it was coming from a feminine tone. Merlin turned – slowly, so as to appear more innocent – to see Martha hurrying toward him. From the look on her face, he had not just won some sort of prize.

“What?”

“I know you’re leaving in a little over a month, but this is no excuse!”

Merlin blinked. “Er… sorry?” There was a squeaking sound and he watched as Silas rounded the corner behind Martha, looking both terrified and excited at the same time. He was waving his arms wildly in the air, mouthing, “I did it!”

“Where’s Silas?”

“I don’t have any idea who that is.”

Martha raised her eyebrow. Behind her, Silas was stuffing his fist into his mouth, trying to stop himself from laughing.

“You flooded the entire boys bathroom.”

“Really? Isn’t that difficult to do?”

“Well, you certainly managed it!”

After years of practice, Merlin had gotten very good at keeping his face perfectly impassive when faced with hilarity. He didn’t know where this prankster side of him had come from. He couldn’t remember ever playing around like this back at Camelot. He’d always been risking his life, trying to save Arthur’s, and keeping his head down. Though, he did have this odd feeling like he’d done something like this before. In any case, after that talk with Silas they had been thick as thieves, and more than a little mischievous.

“What am I going to do with you? I’ve got to get that bathroom back in working order before social services arrive, never mind dinner—”

“What?” Silas had interrupted her. He raced over to them now, confusion coloring his features. “Why are social services coming?”

Martha swallowed, looking suddenly uncomfortable. It was strange. It was as though she had said too much. The room was quickly falling silent as the other boys turned to look at her as well, a ripple of apprehension sweeping around the room.

Martha sighed. “I suppose you all ought to know, you’ll be finding out soon enough.” She paused. “Wool’s orphanage is being closed down.”

Merlin felt as though someone had smacked him in the face. He stared, wordlessly at her as he tried to make sense of what she had said.  An oppressive silence filled the room. Then an uproar of panicked questions filled the air.

“They can’t do that!”

“But where will we go?”

“When are they—?”

Boys!” Martha shouted, and it quieted down again. She pinched the bridge of her nose. “By the end of August, you will be placed in foster homes.” The questions tried to break out again, but she held up her hand. “This is the way it is. There’s nothing I can do to change it. People from Social Services will be arriving later today to collect files and start the process.”

“Why?” Merlin asked once it was clear she was done speaking. He felt like his home was being taken away from him, like he was being banished.

Martha turned to him, shaking her head. “Most other orphanages were closed down by the 1970s. It was a strange twist of fate that kept this place going for as long as it did.” She glanced from him to Silas. “You two, in my office now. Everyone else, start thinking of goodbye party ideas.”

Mood deflated and fairly certain Martha was going to continue her attempt to get a confession out of them, Merlin dejectedly followed the elderly woman to her office. From beside him, Silas didn’t seem much happier. He kept shooting him worried looks. Martha closed the door behind them when they entered and took a seat in front of an aged wooden desk. The office showed signs of packing. One bookshelf on the wall was stripped, several boxed stacked in front of it. Merlin wondered how long she had known about the orphanage getting closed down.

“Take a seat,” Martha told them. Merlin sat, Silas following his lead. She surveyed them for a moment, seeming to almost glare at the pair of them before softening her expression. “I’ve decided to join your two files.”

 “What does that even mean?” Merlin asked blankly. He and Silas exchanged confused looks.

“It means, that whatever foster family Silas gets sent to, that’s the one you’ll be going to as well.” And then she gave them a small smile. “You’re a package deal.”

“Oh.”

Merlin had never had a brother. The closest one he’d ever had was Arthur. And maybe Gwaine, but he’d never been the elder brother. Silas was a year or so younger than him, and the kid looked up to him – not that he was sure he was the greatest role model. He felt strange. He couldn’t describe it. But, whatever it was, it felt good.

A broad grin cross his face as he looked over at Silas. “Hear that? We’re stuck together.”

“Lord help your foster parents,” Martha muttered and the two boys burst into laughter. Merlin’s cheeks felt stiff when he’d finally stopped.

“Now, I want the both of you to grab mops, and clean up the bathroom.”

“What? Seriously? You can’t prove it was us.”

“Please Silas, your right shoe is soaking wet. How much more obvious could it get?” She sighed. “Now get to it. Oh, I have a letter for you Merlin.”

“A letter?” Merlin blinked and then it came to him. It’d been nearly a month. The ministry of magic should have approved his funding card by now. He got to his feet as Martha pulled out an envelope. He could see his name, Mr. M Evans, written across its surface in flowing elegant script.

“Who’s it from?” Silas asked, coming to stand at his elbow.

“I think it’s from that school,” Merlin said taking it from Martha. It was written on thick yellow parchment. It sent him back to a time of candlelight, working in Gaius’ study. He smiled at the memory, and turned it over. It had a red wax seal on it, a lion, a snake, a badger, and a raven all surrounded by a large letter H.

“That. Is the strangest looking letter I’ve ever seen in my life.”

“How so?” Merlin asked him. It looked perfectly ordinary to him.

“It doesn’t have a stamp! How did they send it?”

“Silas, stop asking him questions he couldn’t possibly know,” Martha interrupted. “You have a bathroom to mop. Merlin, you’re allowed to stop by your room to drop off the letter. Silas, you are not.”

Silas grumbled something incoherent under his breath as he followed Merlin out of the room. One of the janitorial staff members met them in the hallway and handed Silas a mop and bucket, looking a little too happy that they were about to do his job. Merlin muttered in Silas’ ear that he’d be right back before taking off to the bedroom.

He was actually relieved that he had a chance to open it without Silas peering over his shoulder. While he didn’t want to hide anything from his new brother, he certainly didn’t want to have to explain to Severus Snape that he had spilled the beans on the magical world. Merlin shook his head, and ripped the envelope open as he scaled the staircase.

Dear Mr. Evans,

The Department of Finance for Wizard Incapables has informed the Headmaster of your approval. I’ll not get into the number of times that students have lost important documents due to their negligence and blatant disregard. Therefore, I had the department send your Orphan Wizarding Funding Card directly to me. I’ll be coming to take you to Diagon Alley to get your equipment tomorrow. Be ready to leave at nine o’clock sharp.

Yours Sincerely,

Professor Snape

Merlin came to a dead stop outside his bedroom. Tomorrow was his birthday. Snape should have known that, right? He had been at the office when he was filling out the information, he heard say his birthday was July 31st didn’t he? What, did he just think he wouldn’t have plans or something? Merlin frowned, wondering whether or not this was a guise to give him a treat for his birthday, or to ruin it.

Just bloody perfect.

 

“Hey, bro!”

Merlin winced. As much as he liked being called that by Silas, right now it just felt like a twisting knife in his gut. He had to tell him, now. He gave him a small half-smile and grabbed one of the mops that were lying against the counter. The Janitor gave him a piercing look before taking his leave from the bathroom.

“Hey… Merlin, you okay?”

He had forgotten how very observant Silas was. Merlin didn’t answer for a moment, swinging his mop across the damp floor of the boy’s bathroom. “I read the letter.”

“Not good news, I take it…”

“No, not really.” Merlin squeezed the ripped cloth out in the sink. “Remember that guy I told you about, Snape?”

“The super strict guy in black? Yeah…”

“He’s coming to take me to get my school supplies. Tomorrow.”

Silas looked up sharply. “Does he know that tomorrow is…” he trailed off pointedly.

Merlin nodded, frowning. “I don’t think he really cares.” He leaned against the counter, watching Silas. With Arthur, he could always tell when was a good time to duck or leap out of the way of a flying goblet. But, with Silas? Not really, and not just because the kid wasn’t the type to throw hard metal objects at him. He had the weird ability to hide the fact that something made him upset, whether he was angry, scared, or sad.

It made knowing if something was wrong difficult.

“You can’t play it sick and ask him to reschedule?”

“Would if I could, but I don’t even have a return mailing address, let alone any other way to contact him.”

Silas nodded and started mopping again, staring at the ground. After he had squeezed his mop two times, he straightened up. “Well, then. It looks like we’re staying up to celebrate your birthday tonight.”

“What?” Merlin took a hurried step toward him, taken aback by what he had heard. But his foot touched down on a particularly watery patch of linoleum and he slipped. Everything seemed to slow down. Merlin felt his legs fly out from under him, saw Silas’ look of panic ripple across his features, and just as his back smacked into the wet ground he felt his magic shoot out from around him. It wrapped around his head and neck, stopping it from cracking on the ground. But he couldn’t contain it. It whiplashed out, washing over the entire bathroom in a warm wave of fresh wild air, smelling like his home in Ealdor. Crisp and dry, rich with the scent of growing crops and thatched houses.

For a moment, he laid perfectly still on the ground, taking in the familiar air. Then, he realized that the ground he laid on was completely dry. Merlin jerked upright, and saw Silas looking around the bathroom with the most beautiful expression of shock and confusion.

“What… just happened?”

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

“What… just happened?”

Merlin could hear his heartbeat, fluttering with panic within his chest. He tried to calm down, tried to tell himself that there was a perfectly reasonable explanation for all the water to suddenly vanish. But he didn’t have one. He couldn’t move, sitting frozen on the hard linoleum floor.

“I—”

He needed to calm down. He needed to calm down now. The panels of light above the mirrors were starting to quiver, and their brightness waxed and waned. He closed his eyes and tried to take deep, calming breaths but his racing thoughts were making it difficult. This wasn’t good. This was a complete disaster. Even if Silas didn’t notice the water evaporating, the lights were kind of hard to miss.

“Merlin, are you—”

His eyes shot open; all the composure he had managed to grasp fell through his fingers and one of the light bulbs exploded with a loud pop. Silas managed to strangle a yell of surprise, but Merlin was already scrambling to his feet. He had to get out of here; he had to get away from the onslaught of magic. He had broken the Statue of Secrecy so badly, the ministry had to be on their way. What would happen when they got here? Would they throw him into a dark cold dungeon—er, prison?

Merlin was halfway to the door when something warm and comforting seized him around the middle, forcing him to stop.

 “It’s okay.”

In what universe was this okay ?!

He wanted to run, but the small hands tightened. “I promise I won’t tell anyone you have magic. I—” Silas swallowed. “I’ll keep it a secret. Please don’t go. Don’t—”

“Silas,” Merlin finally choked out. “I can’t breathe.” Silas had started squeezing him so tightly that all the air had been pushed out of his lungs. Sometimes he forgot that he was just a little kid too, and that these hands were only slightly smaller than his own. Silas let go.

“Sorry! I didn’t realize—”

“Geeze,” and Merlin let the gravity of the earth pull him to his knees. He was glad that Silas was behind him, so that he couldn’t see the shinning in his eyes. Gods, he had no control over his emotions, did he? This kid, this young child had known him barely two months. Arthur had taken over a year to start trusting him and confiding in him and he’d never dared to expose his secret even then. But this little kid, his new brother

“Merlin,” and he felt a hand on his shoulder. “If—” and he heard Silas’ voice crack. “If you have to, you can wipe my memory, c-can’t you? You don’t have to leave. You could make me forget—”

“You,” Merlin interrupted softly, “—you don’t hate me for hiding this from you?”

“Of course not!”

“Then… don’t forget.” Merlin swallowed the lump in his throat.

“But—”

“You said you’re okay with it, aren’t you?”

“Well yeah…”

“Then nothing else really matters does it?” Will had known about his magic, Gaius, Freya, and they had all kept the secret for him. In fact, he wasn’t sure he would have been able to handle the weight of his destiny if they hadn’t. He needed someone to know. “You are not allowed to forget, all right? Never.”

Silas didn’t say anything for a long moment. Then, and with an air of blinding happiness, “I won’t.”

Merlin discreetly wiped his eyes on his sleeve, he didn’t want Silas to know he’d actually cried – how lame. He turned around, and saw that Silas was kneeling on the ground too. His hazel eyes were large and his face was shamelessly wet. Merlin stared at him, before trying to touch his shoulders with his hand.

“Were you crying into my shirt?” he asked, astonished.

Silas jutted forth his chin in a childish pout. “I thought you were going to run away from Wool’s, okay? I didn’t want to lose another brother.”

Merlin blinked. “I—I didn’t know you had a brother.” Silas had never even mentioned his family before, let alone a sibling.

Silas was silent for a moment before shaking his head. “Not anymore.” Then he gave a very sad smile. “You remind me of him, you know?”

“I do?”

“Yeah.”

“How so?”

But Silas only shrugged and Merlin knew the subject was closed. In any case, there was something more important on his mind. He turned his attention to the door, narrowing his eyes. He would have thought members from the ministry to be here by now. Did that mean they weren’t coming? Had they not been able to detect his burst of accidental magic?

“Do you think someone heard the light bulb explode?” Silas asked him, following his gaze.

“No, it’s not that.” Then Merlin paused and turned back to him. “By the way, how did you know that what I can do is magic and not this… telek—thingy?”

“Telekinesis?” Silas supplied. “Maybe because you can’t even say the word?”

Merlin frowned. “I’m being serious.”

“So am I.”

“Silas…”

The kid grinned his wide tooth-chipped smile. “Okay, okay.” And he brought his hand to rest under his chin. “I suppose, it’s because of your name. Magic just made sense, doesn’t it?”

“I suppose.”

“Anyway. Since we’re stuck here for at least another hour – the janitor would know something’s up if we finished this early – I have a ton of questions for you.”

 

 

 

Severus Snape was brewing potions.

True, that particular pastime was nothing extraordinary, or even remotely abnormal. In fact, one might even say that it was his natural state of existence – of course they’d be wrong, but he could see how such an assumption could be made. He was the Potions Master, after all. But no, contrary to popular belief, he did not like to spend all his free time chopping rat spleens and crushing centipedes.  He would much rather occupy his time with a good book and his favorite scotch.

But life was unkind like that.

Today, he was brewing several headache tonics. He had the feeling he was going to need them for tomorrow’s excursion. He did know that it was the boy’s birthday, and was not ignorant of the fact that he may have wanted to spend it some other way than with a very strict professor. After their trip to the Ministry, he had come to dislike young Mr. Evans very much, even if he found the boy intriguing at the same time. He was both a painful reminder of the past and a smart aleck. But, as such, his schedule provided no other time for the task. Students would be arriving in a month and he needed to stock up the infirmary with potions, prepare lesson plans, and run more than one errand for Dumbledore.

His duties as a spy were not yet over.

So, fairly certain the Evans boy would kick up a fuss over being stuck with him for the day – and that he would get himself into all manner of trouble – a few headache soothers were definitely going to be needed. He paused, having capped a third dose in a small glass vial. Perhaps it would not be unwise to also brew a calming draft. He didn’t want the kid panicking again like that time at the Ministry.

He sighed and brought a hand to the bridge of his nose. Dumbledore wanted him to pick up the Stone from Gringotts tomorrow, too. He’d offered to send Hagrid instead but Snape had put his foot down. He wasn’t going to trust the blundering giant with something as important as the Stone. But the roller coaster of Gringotts was a nightmare, and certainly more terrifying than any lift.

“Maybe I’ll just leave him at Madam Malkin’s while I collect it,” he mused aloud. That way he wouldn’t have to deal with the inevitable panic-attack.

A fluttering of wings intruded upon his thoughts as an owl soared through the open office door. He kept it open during the summer, just in case one of these creatures felt the need to deliver a message that simply couldn’t wait till he was in the Great Hall – which was surprisingly often. Sighing, wondering which pureblooded parent it was this time, he approached the tawny owl and took the letter.

What on earth?

The logo of the Ministry of Magic was on the back. For a second, he stared at it. He hardly ever got letters from them; maybe Lucius had decided to use his work postage? Frowning – mostly because that was extremely unlikely – he opened the envelope.

Professor Severus Snape,

It is necessary to inform you that Mr. Merlin Evans has gained a family member. Paperwork binding him and a Mr. Silas Meadowes was submitted via Wool’s Orphanage earlier today, and they will later be sent to a foster home. Please advise Mr. Merlin Evans that the Statue of Secrecy does not extend to family relatives, but to execute caution. Mr. Silas Meadowes must similarly be advised – if told – of the law as he will be held accountable for it.

Please inform them they must not divulge the existence of magic to their foster parents – we are searching for wizarding fosters to send them to as soon as possible. Please note our pool of availabilities is currently non-existent, and we are waiting for one to open.

This information was sent to you, via suggestion from Headmaster Albus Dumbledore and not to Mr. Merlin Evans due to the high probability of muggle interference.

Kristine Jenkins

International Confederations of Wizards British Office

Great. Just great. Now he had something else to add to his never ending list of chores. He glared hard at the letter, firmly deciding not to mention this to the boy in question until after their shopping trip – he wasn’t going to take both of them to Diagon Alley. There wasn’t enough headache tonic in the world to make that even remotely enjoyable.

Meadowes…

The name sounded familiar for some reason, but Snape couldn’t put his finger on it. Maybe he’d bring it up to Albus, ask if he’d heard of it before. He shook his head and made his way over to his store cupboard, grabbing materials he’d need in order to brew a simple calming draught. Now that he thought about it, the boy had asked about sharing his secret with someone. It was hard to believe that he’d want to share it with anyone else. He might have all ready done it – even though he’d told him not too. Children were often stupid like that, and the Ministry wouldn’t have picked up on it because they were now “relatives” or some such nonsense.

He set the ingredients onto the table a little harder than necessary. He wasn’t upset about the boy breaking the Statute – if he had, of course – he’d be upset that he’d directly disobeyed him.

Not a great way for Merlin Evans to get on his good side.

 

 

 

It was several hours later, when the janitor came in to tell them to leave for dinner that Silas finally stopped asking questions. He’d been nearly as energetic as Merlin when it came the magical world. Of course, there were still tons of things that Merlin didn’t know about. They’d had fun speculating, wondering about the world of magic that resided just under the commoner’s nose.

Merlin hadn’t told him anything about who he was, of course. That was something he considered even more important than his magical abilities. Not that he didn’t think Silas could handle the truth or keep it a secret though. He just didn’t think it was a good idea, especially with this new destiny looming over him. And, for some reason, he felt like his presence here demanded secrecy. He couldn’t explain it but, for right now, Merlin needed to be invisible.

Or maybe because he knew he’d sound insane if he even tried to explain.

“So, this ministry, right?” Silas was saying in an undertone as they walked into the cafeteria. “Why do you think they didn’t, I dunno, swoop down on you the instant you did magic?”

Probably because it was a different type of magic than they’re used to.

“Maybe they were on a coffee break.”

Silas snorted, earning a few curious looks in their direction. Merlin smiled too, and glanced at what the cooks had prepared. Meatloaf. How predicable. They seemed to make it twice, if not three times, a week. At least the salad looked interesting, with spinach, pecans, and tangerines. The other kids thought he was nuts, liking the salads. But back at Camelot, they hadn’t had dressing, and it was quickly becoming his new addiction.

Indeed, he smothered his meatloaf and salad with the dressing. Silas only glanced at him before piling his own plate. He’d gotten used to it by now, though the first time he’d been more than eager to point out how weird he was.

“Do you think that maybe it’s because they joined our files, or whatever?” Silas asked.

“Oh, yeah.” Merlin hadn’t even thought of that. “You mean, it’s okay because we’re sort of family now?”

“Sort of?”

“You know what I mean!”

Silas smiled again. “I know, I know,” he said in between bites. “But yeah. Do you think it’s possible?”

“Sure, I guess.” But Merlin would’ve thought they’d still come after him. Hadn’t Snape said something about he being not allowed to use magic outside of Hogwarts? Sure, accidental magic happened – it was accidental. But—ugh, he was just going to have to ask the professor tomorrow. That promised to be a fun conversation.

“So, what do you want for your birthday?”

“I told you two weeks ago, I don’t really care.” Merlin took a sip of water. “Isn’t it a little late to be asking me, anyway? I thought we were celebrating it tonight.”

“We are! But, now that you’re going to be gone most of tomorrow I have time to get you something better.”

Merlin raised an eyebrow. “Silas, you don’t have any money.”

Silas merely shrugged. “C’mon, there has to be something.”

“Well…” Merlin took another bite of the salad and chewed slowly, giving himself time to think. Was there anything he really wanted? He couldn’t help but think that this whole experience in modern times would be more fun with Arthur to make fun of, but that was obviously not an option. He wanted to talk to Freya again, even if it was just in the reflection of a pool of water. He wanted to remember all that his mind kept from him, remember more about the Hogwarts founders. He wanted to know who was twisting the magic of the earth, and how he should fix it. He wanted Kilgharrah to give him a riddle that would solve all his problems. 

But for right now, he wanted…

“A new scarf.”

“Clothes. You want clothes, seriously? Not an enormous chocolate bar?”

Merlin laughed. “You asked, but I know what to get you now.” Having finished his plate, he dumped seconds of the salad onto it.

Silas shrugged. “Er… okay then.” Merlin saw him screw up his eyes, as though trying to plan something out. “What color?”

He was wearing his red one, and he really didn’t need a second one of the same color. He thought about saying blue – he’d had a blue one back at Camelot. But, the image of the man with the sly smile and the blue snake popped into his mind.

“Green.” He smiled. “I’d like a dark green one.”

Silas looked a little doubtful. “Okay, but don’t be upset if you open your present and see a chocolate bar instead.”

 “Okay, okay.” Merlin laughed. “So how are we celebrating my birthday tonight if I’m not getting my present?” He glanced around at the kitchen doors. “Or a cake, I’m assuming.”

Silas grinned broadly.

“What?”

 

 

 

 

 

“I was going to save this until tomorrow night, but midnight is technically your birthday too right? Actually, it might even be better this way.”

“I can’t believe this. How did you get them?”

“I’ve been saving up for the last six months – originally I was going to do it for New Years or something.” He shrugged. “But I say this is money well spent.”

“I’ll say.”

“Okay, so... what does the clock say?”

“Two more minutes.”

Silence.

“Hey, Silas?”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks, you know. For everything.”

He gave a wide cheesy smile. “You too.” He took a deep breath. “Time?”

“Now.”

There was some scuffling as Silas moved in the darkness, the smell of wick burning, smoke on the air. “Five—” They stumbled several feet back.

“Four.”

 “Three.”

“Two—”

“We’re going to get in so much trouble for this.”

“—One!”

BOOM!

And as the clock struck midnight, the sky exploded in a brilliant burst of cackling color. A second shot thundered through the sleeping city, vibrant blue and green sparks scaring the sky. Merlin and Silas laid down flat on their backs, staring up at the sky and cheering as firework after firework shot high into the air. The muck on the roof was sinking into the back of Merlin’s shirt, making it stick to his skin, but he didn’t care.

“Happy birthday, Merlin.”

And it was the best birthday he’d ever had in his life.

Merlin smiled so widely that he thought he was going to rip his cheeks, but he couldn’t help it. Above the display continued, as the cake emptied its contents into the sky with ear bursting bangs. Showers of white sparks popped like popcorn, and then – much too soon – it was over.

The night was silent once more.

“Okay, let’s get down before—”

“MERLIN!”

Both boys froze, halfway in the act of climbing back over to the ledge and the window just below it. They looked at each other, Merlin blinking as splotches of color made it difficult to focus on Silas’ dark face.

“I think Martha is going to kill us.”

“You mean, you.

“It was your firework!”

“It’s your birthday.”

Merlin sighed and started to make his way across the roof. They might as well get down. Heaven forbid she called a fire truck and had them carried down. He gripped the ledge tightly and lowered himself, one foot searching below for the ledge of the windowsill. After a moment’s strain, he found it and let go, jumping through the open window. He was greeted by a rush of applause and cheers as the other boys smacked him on the back – or laughed and told him how dead he was. He turned around in time to see Silas’ foot peak over the edge and he grabbed at it and lowered it to the ledge.

Merlin!”

He didn’t turn around, but he felt a pair of furious eyes on the nape of his neck. After he helped Silas inside, he turned around and hurriedly wiped his slime-covered hands on his pants.

“Yes?” he asked as innocently as was possible.

Martha – in a hairnet and blue nightgown this time – seemed to actually swell as rage filled her. For the next half hour, she shouted herself hoarse at the pair of them. Everything from “you could have been injured” to “it’s not a bloody holiday.” Merlin tried to look regretful, but he couldn’t. And, at quarter to one, Martha gave up.

“Merlin that Professor called me while you were cleaning the bathroom and told me about your letter.” She narrowed her eyes. “But when you get back tomorrow, you are going to join Silas on becoming reacquainted with the floors, the toilets, and anything else I think needs scrubbing!

“Yes, ma’am,” Merlin said, finally managing to stop smiling. Not that he was particularly upset about the punishment – it couldn’t be worse than working for Arthur, after all.

“Both of you get to sleep, now.”

And she left them there. After a moment, Silas nudged him playfully. “She’ll cool down after a day or so.”

“You sure about that?”

“Yeah, she likes you too much. Did you see that smile she was hiding the entire time she shouted at us?” Silas yawned, not bothering to cover it with his hand. “Anyway, she has a point. Tomorrow you’re getting your school supplies, and I don’t think this Snape person will be lenient if you’re late.”

 

 

 

Merlin was actually a little nervous.

He hadn’t slept in and was ready to go when the professor arrived, but Martha had taken him to her office for a “private conversation” and Merlin was fairly certain he knew the topic. They’d been in there only five minutes but time was doing something strange, and every second felt like an eternity.

Finally, the professor emerged. He was dressed in that black waistcoat that Merlin had first seen him in. Severus Snape shot him a glance and Merlin managed not to recoil at the look of utter loathing reflected in those pitiless black eyes. Okay, so he was furious with him – something to be expected. Merlin couldn’t help but feel a little resentful toward Martha.

She shouldn’t have told him.

Snape jerked his head toward the door and swept through it, not bothering to wait for him. Wishing he could throw some smart-ass remark – but not daring too – Merlin followed. And for a moment they walked in silence, Merlin several feet behind him. When they had rounded the corner from Wool’s Snape stopped and turned around.

“Mischief like that,” Snape said, his lip curling, “is not tolerated at Hogwarts. Do I make myself clear?”

“Perfectly.” Like that’s ever stopped me before. “Sir.”

The professor glared at him, making Merlin wonder whether or not Snape had heard his unspoken retort. But he would never know for sure as the man turned away and started walking again. Merlin followed him, unable to keep himself from staring at the cars that passed them by.

“How are we going to get there? To this, Diagon Alley I mean?” Merlin asked. He couldn’t take the silence anymore. Were they going to walk all the way there? He wasn’t exactly against the idea – walking for kilometers came easy to him – but he had hoped to be back at Wool’s by the night. Just as he finished his sentence, the professor turned down an alley. Perplexed, Merlin followed him and watched as he took out his wand and changed his clothing back to billowing black robes.

So much more fitting, if Merlin did say so himself.

“We’re going to take the Knight Bus.”

And from the look on the professor’s face, Merlin knew that he wasn’t going to enjoy this at all.  The professor held out his wand hand. There were a deafening bang and an enormous vibrantly purple triple-decker bus materialized before them. Merlin made a small squeak and jumped, earning a raised eyebrow from Snape. The doors to the bus opened and a conductor jumped down.

“Welcome to the Knight Bus. I’m Sylvester Harris, and I’ll be your conductor today.” Snape scaled the bus first, withdrawing something from his pocket and handing it to Harris, saying something about a trip to the Leaky Cauldron. Merlin hovered outside for a moment, somewhat nervous.

“C’mon, boy,” Snape spat, apparently having grown impatient at his dawdling. Merlin quickly jumped on board, glancing warily around the metal box. It was cramped, and inside were rows of chairs. It was sparsely occupied though; one bored looking businessman at the back and a wizened witch reading the newspaper behind the driver.

“Sit down!” the professor snapped and he grabbed Merlin’s sleeve, flinging him into one of the chairs. Merlin clenched the sides of the chair tightly. He could feel the magic in the air, in the chair he sat on. The entire bus was enchanted, and he could feel it like static electricity, brushing against his skin. He expected the bus to take off smoothly, slowly – like the cars he’d seen getting out of the driveway back at Wool’s.

Yeah, wishful thinking.

The Knight Bus shot forward with another loud bang, and the next minute they were speeding into oncoming traffic. Merlin decided to shut his eyes, his knees shaking as they jerked, stopped, and then shot forward again. This was so much worse than any lift! A particularly bad jolt sent his chair skidding several feet forward and Merlin’s eyes shot open, a wave of magic rising up to stop him from colliding with another chair.

Trying not to hyperventilate, he turned to look at Snape. He was unprepared for the thoughtful expression the man wore.

“What?” he asked, trying to glare but knowing that his eyes were full of anxiety.

“You’ve never ridden in a car.” It wasn’t a question.

This,” Merlin said through gritted teeth, “contraption is not a car. This is a steel deathtrap.” They jerked again and Merlin’s magic threatened to break out once more. “How much longer?”

“We’re next.”

“Okay, but can we walk back? Or can we ap—poof.” Merlin bit his tongue. He hadn’t asked them about apparition. He shouldn’t know about it. Snape raised an eyebrow.

“Poof?” the professor repeated, as though he was speaking to someone of inferior intelligence. “I highly doubt that you will find that mode of transportation more to your liking if a little,” and here the professor smirked, “turbulence causes your accidental magic to flare. I’d rather not get splinched.”

“Splinched?”

“Apparition,” Snape said delicately, “is a difficult practice, and one can accidentally ah—leave part of themself behind.”

“Oh.” He and the other founders had called it “getting splitted” but splinched worked too. He had apparated himself though, and though it wasn’t comfortable, he preferred it to this. He frowned, wondering if there was a way to convince the professor to do it anyway but ultimately decided against it. He didn’t want to make another slip-up.

“The Leaky Cauldron,” A voice called through the bus. Merlin was on his feet and out the door before Snape this time, stumbling in his haste to get off the bus. Instantly, his attention was drawn to a buzz of magical activity. The Leaky Cauldron was a small place, and rather unnoticeable – save for the magic rolling out of it in waves. It calmed his jittery nerves.

He glanced toward Snape. “I thought you said Diagon Alley, though?” He asked confused.

Snape’s lip curled again, like Merlin was asking an annoying question. “Just follow my lead,” he said icily and he led the way into the pub.

It was dark inside. It filled Merlin’s nostrils with the familiar scent of ale and beer, polished wood and musky wines. It reminded him a little of the tavern back at Camelot, though the wood had a different scent here. He glanced around at the patrons; one witch was smoking a pipe. The bartender merely nodded as they passed, but then something made Merlin stop dead.

Snape hadn’t realized – he was still walking ahead of him. Merlin didn’t care though. Slowly, he turned around and caught sight of a young man with a turban standing in the back corner. As he stared at him, the young man felt his eyes and looked up at him. There was something wrong about that man. He could feel the earth vibrate under his feet, feel it pulse as though it were begging him to look at that man.

He felt a hand close on his shoulder, squeezing tightly. “What,” Snape asked him, his voice one of deadly calm, “are you doing?”

Merlin didn’t even glance at him. “Who is that man?”

There was a moment’s pause. “That is… Professor Quirrell. Your defense against the dark arts teacher.” From the way that Snape spoke, Merlin was fairly certain he didn’t like him. And, strangely, Merlin agreed with him. Quirrell looked up again and this time gave a wave and very nervous smile. “You will get enough of his idiocy at Hogwarts, I don’t have all day to entertain your every impulse.”

Snape’s hand tightened to the point that it hurt and steered Merlin away from Quirrell and through the pub to a back alley with a solid brick wall and several dustbins. Snape let go of him there and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Staring is hardly a polite behavior, the turban may be more ethnic than you—”

“I wasn’t staring at his turban,” Merlin interjected, frowning. He’d seen stranger, after all.

“Do not interrupt me while I am speaking,” Snape bit sharply. Merlin clamped his lips together, recognizing the signs of a man loosing his patience. And, though Snape didn’t have any goblets to throw at him, he did have a wand. “Now, when we go into Diagon Alley I’m not going to be able to watch your every move. I have errands of my own to run. You will not do anything except get all the materials on your school list—” He withdrew a sheet of parchment from his cloak and handed it to him. “You will not create a ruckus, leave the main street, or burden the other shoppers with improper manners.”

“Yes, sir,” Merlin said though he was resisting the urge to roll his eyes. Snape gave him a hard look before taking out his wand and tapping a few bricks on the wall. Merlin watched as they moved out of their way, folding into a doorway. He gasped as the wave of energy hit him, a concentration of magic far greater than he had ever felt before. It made his fingers tingle slightly. It reminded him of the Druid camps, but intensified. So many different wizards, witches, and enchantments were all in the same place.

It was beautiful.

“Welcome to Diagon Alley.”

Chapter Text

“Mr. Evans, stop gawking and follow me. You’ll have plenty of time to observe the wonders of the magical community after we get your allowance.”

“Right, sorry.” Merlin started and broke into a run as he tried to catch up with the professor – who was leaving him in the dust. It was lucky that the spectral bat stood out the way he did, a head taller than everyone else and possessing a certain ominous aura. It made it easy to follow him in the crowd of people – even if Merlin was a few shoppers behind him.

To see a magical community thriving and flourishing like this, well, it made his chest feel warm. Though he had one strange memory of the Hogwarts Founders appearing in his room, he couldn’t remember living in Albion. He couldn’t remember a time where people lived happily with magic. And though there were two worlds now, split by a curtain, he didn’t worry about being discovered. Silas had accepted him wholeheartedly, and he was sure the Ministry wouldn’t allow knowledge of his abilities to spread.

It was a rare comfort. 

Thwack.

Merlin collided with something and stumbled back, rubbing his forehead. “S-sorry!” he muttered.

“Watch it!”

The woman he’d hit stalked off, Merlin shouting another apology after her. It wasn’t like he’d meant to hit her – she’d stopped abruptly in front of him! He sighed, shook his head, and looked ahead.

Oh no.

Where was the bat?! Merlin blinked, and tried to stand on his tiptoes. He really missed his height. He couldn’t see over the heads of the people in front of him, and Snape’s back had vanished from view. What kind of a guardian was he? Did he even notice that he’d been caught up in the crowd? He jumped and thought he saw that oily-head go round the corner. Feeling a little panicky – it wasn’t like he had any idea where to go – he tried to catch up. Pushing his way through the crowd, muttering apologies to the people he bumped, he came around the corner breathing heavily.

And the professor was nowhere in sight.

“Brilliant. Just brilliant.”

He’d gotten lost. He didn’t even know what their destination had been. Obviously to get money, but he didn’t recall ever being told where the place was. Scowling, annoyed that he’d been left behind, he started walking again. He kicked the ground, pebbles skidding.

“You lost, kid?”

Merlin didn’t even have to think about his reply. “No,” he shot back, turning to look at the shop owner. Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor was written on the sign hanging above him. He stopped, blinking several times as he looked from the sign to the man standing near the door. “Actually—have you seen a really tall bloke with black oily hair, hooked nose, and robes like a bat?”

The man – Florean, Merlin presumed – laughed. “That sounds like Professor Snape.”

“Yeah! Him!” Merlin broke into a relieved smile. “So, you’ve seen him?”

Florean nodded. “Headed right on down the street.”

Merlin swallowed. “Do you know where?”

“I didn’t speak to him, kid.”

“Right.” Merlin heaved a sigh and ran his hands through his hair, messing it up. Well, that didn’t help him in the slightest.

“First time I’ve ever heard of someone looking for Ol’ Snape.” The man looked thoughtful, leaning against the wall of his shop. “What d’ya need him for?”

“He’s supposed to be helping me get my school supplies,” Merlin said through gritted teeth. He shook his head. “Apparently, we were getting my allowance but I’m still allowance-less.”

“He must’a been taking you to Gringotts then.”

“You know where it is?” Merlin asked.

“Course, but Ol’ Snape must’ve already noticed that you’re no longer following. Chances are that if I send you down that way, you’re going get turned around again and he’ll walk back up this way looking for you.”

Merlin frowned, looking down at his feet. “That’s probably true…”

“So, tell you what, I’m going to go inside and whip you up a chocolate ice cream and you sit at one these outside tables and wait for him to come back, all right?”

“But—” He bit his lip. “I don’t have any money on me.” And I doubt Snape will buy me ice cream.

Florean shook his head, grinning again. “My treat.”

Merlin smiled. It almost felt like the universe knew that it was birthday and had decided to give him a treat – a disaster had turned into free ice cream.

 

Professor Snape – unaware that his charge was leisurely licking ice cream – was in a state of panicked fury.

Should Headmaster Dumbledore find out about this, he doubted he’d ever hear the end of it. And, though he assaulted the child’s name with every curse imaginable, he knew that it wasn’t actually the boy’s fault. Snape hadn’t bothered to check behind him until he was standing in front of the bank. It seemed that at a subconscious level, he’d wanted to lose him in the crowd.

Well, he’d certainly succeeded.

Now he needed to find him before he somehow wandered his way into Knockturn Alley and became another face on milk cartons, while his kidneys were sold to some demented necromancer.  He shook his head. He hadn’t felt like this in a long time – it was somewhat akin to a student clumsily spilling a toxic solution in class and having only seconds before everyone became disfigured permanently.

He was walking back up the street, eyes sweeping systematically. He wasn’t desperate enough to start shouting names into the crowd – he’d always sneered at the parents who did that. He wasn’t about to become a hypocrite. But if he didn’t find that child soon…

He rounded the corner and finally, at the far end of the street, caught sight of him. He was sitting outside Florean Fortescue’s with a half eaten ice cream and chatting to the man himself. For a moment, Snape allowed himself to be relieved. And then he became angry.

Idiot boy.

In a few moments, he reached the parlor. His expression could have turned the ice cream into cheese but upon catching eye contact with Merlin, felt it soften into his usual loathing glare. He hadn’t expected that expression on the boy’s face.

As though he’d injured him in some way.

“Thanks for waiting,” Merlin muttered in a cool voice. It did not sound like a tone one would hear from a child. “Because, you know, I can walk just as fast as you in a crowd of dollop heads, sir.”

Dollop heads?

Snape’s first impulse was to shout at Merlin for his insolent words. How dare he be smart with him after making him worry like that? He felt his blood boil, and then cool – ice settled in his veins. He was ready to tear him apart, this rebellious, disrespectful, smartass.

But something stopped him.

Maybe it was the way the kid was folding his arms, the ice cream already eaten. The way he seemed accuse him with his eyes, It’s your bloody fault, hanging unsaid in the air.  Or, perhaps it was because he could see relief in the boy’s face, just as much as he could see the anger.

“Then next time I suggest you ignore the surroundings and pay attention to the task at hand.”

“That’s kinda hard to do when the surroundings sort of knock you to the ground.”

“Sort of knock you to the ground?” Snape repeated, a mocking edge in his tone now. “Dear me, I didn’t realize you were that unobservant.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I had to be aware of over a hundred people at once.”

Florean was standing there, looking from him to the boy as though watching an acrobatic act. The child frowned and got to his feet. Snape tried to see the impudent Potter in the way he jut forth his chin, but there was no similarity at all. This boy wasn’t cocky.

He was defensive.

“I am only eleven, you know?” He said it as though daring him to just try saying happy birthday. “I’m not exactly able to see over the heads of the people in the crowd.” He took a breath, his brilliant blue eyes flashing. Snape had never encountered a student who’d dared to talk back to him like this. His strict demeanor was usually enough to deter that type of thing, and if they tried they were reprimanded so harshly that they never tried again.

“I’ll,” and here Snape’s lip curled, his tone turning icy, “keep that in mind.” Florean looked awestruck, as though he’d never seen something so amazing in his life. Indeed, Snape felt like he had just apologized. He pinched the bridge of his nose, wondering what on earth was up with him today. “As I have no desire to repeat this appalling experience, I’ll ask that you refrain from bumping into the surroundings and stay by me. I don’t have time to look for you again.”

Merlin narrowed his eyes a fraction but didn’t say anything. Instead, he nodded and turned to Florean. “Thank you for everything.”

“My pleasure.” Snape could hear the shock in the man’s voice. “If you ever want to hear about your namesake again, just drop by.”

Merlin nodded and gave him a small smile. “Sure.” He turned back to Snape and nodded. The professor appraised him for a brief moment and then set off at a slightly slower pace, the dark-haired boy at his side.

 

“I hope I do not need to remind you to be on your best behavior?”

“No, sir.”

Merlin had decidedly said very little on the walk to Gringotts. He was still fuming inside but knew he had to stop pushing his luck. He wasn’t an adult in this situation – no matter what his mind was. Snape wasn’t like Arthur. With the king, they’d had this tacit agreement that banter was fine. He supposed that everyone had their limits. He and Arthur had known each other so long that sarcasm and name-calling had become not just a part of everyday life, but also of brotherly affection.

And Arthur really did feel like the older brother he’d never had.

But theyhad needed to get past that initial bit of establishing boundaries. Merlin could remember being thrown in the stocks time and time again during the early days. But as they had become friends, those incidents had occurred less and less. Maybe Snape would be like that too – though, he wasn’t eager to find out what his equivalent of the stocks would be.

Probably something even worse.

They turned the corner and Merlin caught sight of Gringotts for the first time, enormous black letters written on stone. The building was oddly crooked, as though built by someone who’d only had a vague idea of what straight lines were supposed to look like. The marbled stone made him uneasy, but the comfort of strong magic gave him the assurance that it would not collapse on the pair of them. Men at the front opened the doors for them, and Merlin caught sight of a plaque on the wall.

Enter stranger, but take heed
Of what awaits the sin of greed,
For those who take, but do not earn,
Must pay most dearly in their turn
So if you seek beneath our floors
A treasure that was never yours
Thief, you have been warned, beware
Of finding more than treasure there

Interesting. That would definitely help to deter potential thieves, though as to what could possibly be guarding the vaults his imagination drew up a long list of lethal creatures – many of which he had faced. Merlin looked out into the bank, at the beautiful office space with ornate desks and lines of patrons. And then he caught sight of the employees. For a moment he blinked, staring at the scene before whipping around to face Snape.

“Goblins? You have goblins, running your financial system?”

Snape’s lip curled. “Creatures who are, shall we say, hoarders of gold tend to be the best at protecting it.” His voice was in a deadly whisper, barely a glance spared toward one of the beings in question. “In fact, they mint the coins in question.”

Merlin raised an eyebrow. The only interaction he’d had with goblins had been the time that Gaius had become possessed by one of the creatures, pranking the entire castle and stealing – and then licking – gold pieces. Somehow, Merlin had a hard time trusting them with his money. He looked over at one of them. They had a different appearance than the one he had encountered, dark-skinned and set heavier – maybe he’d met the impulsive subspecies.

Snape rolled his eyes and grabbed the back of his shirt, almost dragging him to the front desk. The professor really had no patience, did he?

They came to an open desk where a goblin with pointed ears and long skeletal fingers greeted them. When he smiled, Merlin saw needle-like teeth. He could feel the magic on him as well, an organic type that he often felt associated with non-humans. The troll that Uther had nearly married had given him the same sensation. Merlin stood a little taller.

“Mr. Evans wishes to withdraw his quota from the Funds for Wizard Orphan’s account,” Snape told the goblin in a tone of cool politeness. Merlin managed a very small smile as the goblin glanced at him. The dark skinned creature met his eyes for a long moment, and he could see curiosity reflected in its clear black eyes.

“I assume you have his card?” it replied at last, turning back to Snape. The goblin’s voice was graveled and rough, though oddly higher pitched than Merlin had expected.

“Indeed,” and Snape produced a shiny silver card from the pocket of his robes. It had elegant blue writing on the surface, but Merlin didn’t see what it said before the professor placed it on the counter. “I also have this request from Headmaster Dumbledore,” Snape continued and he placed another envelope on the desk.

The goblin glanced at the envelope – holding the card in his thin hands – and nodded. “If you would follow Griphook, Professor, he will take to vault 713. I will see to young Mr. Evans.”

From what Merlin could tell by the professor’s expression, he was surprised.  It was only there for a split second though, because the next minute he had nodded and turned to Merlin. “Do not leave. Wait for me to return here in the lobby.”

“Is it normal to leave children alone with goblins?”

Snape looked almost amused. Maybe it was because he sounded so apprehensive about that prospect. “If you’re envisioning a mindless brutal creature, you’ll be sadly disappointed. These goblins are hardly that of Moria.”

Merlin blinked. He didn’t quite understand that reference.

Snape surveyed him for a moment. “If I find that you’ve gone strolling around Diagon Alley, you’ll find yourself with detention before school even begins. Am I understood?”

“I wasn’t planning to!”

“Am I,” his voice was that calm dangerous whisper again, “understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

Snape nodded, walking away from the desk and through a corridor where another goblin was standing. In a moment, he had vanished from sight and Merlin was left alone in the lobby.

“Mr. Evans,” the goblin said and Merlin turned back to him. “This way, if you please.” He took a deep breath and followed the goblin toward a hallway in the opposite direction. He couldn’t help but notice that a few other goblins looked up curiously as they walked past. He was starting to feel self-conscious. Why were they giving him such an odd look? Could they sense that he was different from the wizards they usually encountered?

When they had passed into another room with several tall vaults, the goblin leading him turned around and offered a light bow. “I am Dirknot,” the goblin told him. He was getting that curious look in his eyes again, an odd excited glint. “Juglout is withdrawing your annual school allowance as we speak.”

“Okay…” Merlin said, growing steadily more nervous. He wasn’t sure he liked being alone in a room with the creature – memories of his previous encounter with the species kept rising to the surface. He half expected Dirknot to break into cackling laughter. Sure, different subspecies and all that but first impressions die hard. 

“You are a forger.”

Merlin was so caught off guard that he pulled a double take. “W-what? Sorry.”

He could see every single one of those sharp teeth in the smile that Dirknot gave. “A forger,” he repeated. “You are the forger of an artifact in our vaults, and thus the rightful owner.”

Merlin stared at him. “You have got to be mistaken.”

“There is no mistake.” Dirknot crossed to one of the vaults and ran a finger along one of the several hundreds of grooves. “We goblins do not abide by the same laws of possession that wizards do. The one who makes an object is the rightful owner.”

“Er…”

Dirknot seemed to realize that Merlin was totally not following him. “A goblin smith crafts a magnificent sword and sells it to a wizard. When the wizard dies, it should be returned back to the smith, the maker and not to the descendants.” He paused a moment and Merlin nodded to show that he understood – though he did not have any idea where this conversation was going. “The maker only loans their work. Many wizards thieve from us, because they do not understand this.”

“Okay.”

“If the maker dies, their work is passed to their children or to their species. They are the rightful owners.”

“Right.” Merlin frowned. “But I’m—”

The goblin shook his head, cutting him off. “We have many unclaimed items in our vaults. Their maker’s have been lost and we keep them until they are found. Goblin magic is different than wizard magic—” Don’t I know it. “—and we can sense the maker of an object when they walk through our doors. You are the forger of one our items.”

“Or my family member was.”

Dirknot nodded. “Please come here.”

Merlin was no longer anxious. He had grown curious as the goblin spoke, because he had a very good idea now of what he was talking about. He walked over, every bit the excited kid who wanted to see if his toy still worked. “Do you have enchantment nullifiers on the vault?”

The goblin blinked. “We do,” he said in his gruff squeaky voice.

Merlin nodded and stood at the entrance. Ah, he could feel the enchantment now. He turned to look at Dirknot, silently asking him for permission to enter and the goblin nodded once more. He took a breath and stepped inside. There were shelves upon shelves of objects lining the entire room, which was as large as the cafeteria at Wool’s. Cups, swords, paintings, and jewelry twinkled in the sliver of light provided by the door.

But the instant he had stepped within, he felt the boundaries of the enchantment fall and he heard a quiet chink as something collided with his shoe.

Unbelievable.

He bent down. There, ready for him to pick up, was his ring. It hadn’t changed a bit in over a thousand years, and it knew exactly who he was. The black band seemed to glint navy blue in the dim, the wings of the merlin glowing with azure light. He picked it up and straightened once more, staring at it in wonder. He had thought he’d never see it again, that it had been lost in Camelot or perhaps behind a display case in a museum. And, he could tell just by holding it in his hand, all his enchantments were just as powerful as the day he cast them.

This was proof of who he was.

He wrapped his fist around it and existed the vault, bowing in thanks to Dirknot. “Thank you,” he told the goblin.

“No thanks is needed, forger. It is yours.”

Chapter Text

The ring didn’t fit.

He had expected that but it was still disappointing that he couldn’t slide it on. Created because he’d needed something to sign, it had become more than just a crest. It had become a piece of him, in a way.

“Does forger know the significance of his new ring?”

He turned to Dirknot, who was closing the vault doors behind him. He swallowed and did his best to appear only casually interested.

“I’m not—” he tried to say, but the goblin spoke over him.

“It bears the crest of Emrys.” Dirknot’s eyes glinted, excitement and intrigue within them. “The Prince of Enchanters.”

Merlin could feel his gut churning, a panicked nausea coming over him. “S—so I’m related to…” he trailed off pointedly. He hoped that he sounded more excited than anxious.

The goblin’s grin only grew wider. “Our magic can identify the true maker. You are the one who forged this ring.”

He gave a nervous laugh. “What? That’s impossible! I’m eleven.”

Dirknot nodded. “Indeed.” The goblin cocked his head to the side, as though he were gazing at a puzzle that he desperately wanted to solve. “Yet you bear his name, forger.”

Merlin was holding the ring so tightly in his palm that it had started digging into his flesh. He started scooting toward the door, his hands cold as his legs prepared to run back into the lobby. The goblin knew. He was ready to make a dash for it when a sensation of calm washed over him. He took a deep breath and turned around.

“Maybe this ring chooses its own maker, instead?” he suggested, choosing his words delicately. All this talk was speculation; there was no way to prove that he was The Merlin. Acting panicked would only add to the creature’s suspicions.

“Perhaps.” The goblin didn’t look convinced. He appeared thoughtful for a moment, and then he started walking toward the exit. “Emrys has the loyalty of all magic, forger. Wizards tend to be ignorant of the earth beneath their feet, but we goblins live within her. We have felt her cries.”

Merlin stopped dead, gaping at Dirknot in shock.

“Those who have hurt her also have the wrath of the goblins to face. Remember this forger, for when the earth shivers once more we will swear allegiance to none but her.” The goblin bowed and opened the door back to the lobby. “No goblin will reveal you, forger, and none will speak of the ring you possess. But do well to hide it from the view of all others, for we are not the only ones who know its linage.”

Merlin was silent for a moment, then he nodded and bowed in reply. “I shall,” he murmured. The panic had fled, the churning in his stomach calmed. There was a strange comfort in the words of the goblin, the same comfort he’d had when the druids had approached him and sworn their loyalty. “Can I ask a question, though?”

Dirknot nodded.

“You say maker, and yet call me forger. Why?”

And the goblin grinned once more. “Because, you create with the aid of dragon fire.”

Merlin stared.

“Only a select few have ever done, for the task is wrought with danger and unpredictability. The language of the beasts vanished long ago, leaving only savage brutality in it’s midst. To tame the dragon’s flame is to become a forger, and it is believed to be a skill belonging solely to goblin kind.” Dirknot lead the way through the door.

“Know this forger, for you feel her below your feet and walk where no wizard has tread before.”

 

Snape hated the Gringotts carts just as much as the next wizard, but he emerged from his venture into the underground only a trifle paler than his usual pallid color. The goblin that led him nodded in farewell, opening the door that lead back to the lobby without a word. He returned the nod, and quickly swept past him. He had nothing against goblins, even if he didn’t particularly enjoy their company – he was, however,worried about what sort of shenanigans his charge had gotten into during the fifteen minutes left unsupervised.

Evans.

The name was a painful reminder of a time better forgotten. It grated him the wrong way every time it rose in his mind, feelings that he had tried hard to smoother rising so easily to the surface. But blaming the boy because of a name was pathetic. He didn’t even resemble her, nor did he act like the offspring of Potter. No, Merlin Evans was something else altogether.

Getting tripped up on a name was ridiculous.

Snape looked up, catching sight of the boy leaving a door from the other side of the lobby. He started to make his way over to him when something made him pause. The goblin that they’d first met was handing Evans a sack of gold – the funding, no doubt. The boy bowed – thank God, some manners – but then, to Snape’s utter astonishment, the goblin bowed back. He stood there, watching the scene for several seconds. A goblin bowing to a wizard wasn’t unheard of. Though the act would’ve been filled with mockery, as goblin and wizard relations had always been strained. They wouldn’t bow if they didn’t have too, and certainly not to an orphaned Hogwarts Student.

“Ah, Professor Snape!” The boy had caught sight of him, and was giving a hearty wave and hurrying over to him.

“There’s just something about him…

For a muggle, Martha had certainly nailed that one. Merlin Evans was an odd sort. He seemed to affect everyone around him with a strange charisma that incited both blinding hate and an urge to protect him.

“Evans,” Snape answered curtly. “Did you perhaps fill that goblin’s ears with such rubbish that he was forced to bow in order to get rid of you?”

“What?” Evans blinked. He was tucking something down his shirt as he spoke, the glimmer of a silver chain around his neck. “I think he rather liked me, actually.” He was getting that tone again, one that wasn’t quite arrogant, had a little sarcasm, and filled with bright wit. “Thought that was manners anyway, bowing.”

Snape’s lip curled. “Something that you’ve clearly forgotten how to use.” He surveyed him for a moment, a calculating expression on his face. From the look of it, the goblin had also taken Evans to the vault of unclaimed artifacts. But as the boy wasn’t voluntarily sharing the information – and since he seemed to share everything else – it was obvious that Evans wanted to keep it secret. And, etiquette demanded that he didn’t pry. Probably an old heirloom from a family he’d never known, anyway. Definitely not from the Potter vault – all their wealth had been given away to friends as per their will. He’d even managed to receive something.

“I would rather we finish our little adventure before nightfall. I assume I am not alone in that thought.”

A nod.

“Then I suggest you follow my lead and forgo any thought of staring longingly into windows.”

Evans raised an eyebrow. “Do you want to hold onto the money, too?” There was the barest hint of mockery in his tone. “You know, just in case I somehow manage to spend it all on ice cream?”

Snape practically snatched it from the boy’s hands. “Do not speak to me in that tone,” he whispered. “Unless you want to find yourself back on the Knight Bus and all your supplies delivered tomorrow.”

That shut Evans up. He clamped his lips together, as though he were fighting back a retort. Snape pinched the bridge of his nose, gathering himself. Only a little bit longer and then he’d be free of this torturous day.

“Come along,” he snapped more aggressively than he’d intended, making his way out of the bank. Evans hobbled beside him; looking somewhat like he kept thinking his legs were longer than they actually were. After a moment the boy started speaking again – would nothing ever shut him up?

“Goblins.” Evans had the barest hint of a smile on his face. “Not such a bad idea after all. I mean—”

“Yes, because the wizarding world must obey your ideals on infrastructure. So pleased that it has passed your approval,” Snape spat, his words dripping with sarcasm. “Do you need to approve the postage system as well?”

Evans glanced toward him, a small pout on his face. “Sorry sir, I didn’t realize I couldn’t have an opinion.”

 Thank Merlin he didn’t have to respond. As he opened the door to Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions the witch herself greeted them. Elderly and kind, she curtseyed when she saw the pair of them.

“Severus!” she said with a smile. “Lovely to see you again. Come for some new work robes?”

He inclined his head to her. She’d been the witch who’d taken the measurements his first time to Hogwarts as well – it was hard not to feel a fondness toward her. “Not today, Madam. Just Mr. Evans here.”

“Professor Snape?”

Snape looked up, catching sight of another boy that was getting fitted by one of Madam Malkin’s assistants. Light blonde hair delicately styled and handsome angled features, Draco Malfoy heavily resembled his father. From the sneer and propriety to the sharp grey eyes. Even so, Snape could see the elegance of his mother in the boy’s jawline.

“Draco, getting your school supplies today as well?” From the corner of his eye, he saw Evans regard his polite attitude with interest.

Draco nodded and then turned his attention to Evans. Both boys stared each other down for a moment, and Snape could see the oddest emotion flashing through Evan’s gaze. As though he felt a kinship to a boy he had never met before – which struck Snape as downright peculiar.

“Ah, this is—” Snape began, feeling that introductions were in order. “Merlin Evans, you’ll be attending Hogwarts together.”

Merlin?” Draco repeated. His tone was almost rude. Snape glanced quickly toward Evans to see if he was offended but he was surprised to see that was not the case. Evans looked downright pleased. As though he didn’t mind in the slightest when his name was said in that particular tone.

“Yeah,” Evans said with a grin. “I—”

“You can talk in a minute!” Madam Malkin interrupted. “Just hop onto the stool on the other side of Mr. Malfoy so I can start measuring the robes, all right?”

Evans nodded. “Right, sorry,” he said sheepishly and he quickly moved to the spot the witch had indicated. Madam Malkin slipped a robe over his head and begun to pin it to the correct lengths. It didn’t escape Snape’s notice how every uncomfortable this made Evans.

“My father should be back in a moment,” Draco told Snape. Even his drawling tone was reminiscent of Lucius. “He’s just looking at books at the moment. Mother’s up the street looking at wands.”

“Are both your parents wizards?” Evans asked turning to look at Draco. Snape grimaced internally – the subject of blood purity was one he’d rather have avoided. He’d have to discuss with Evans what topics were appropriate when in the company of certain people.

“Yes,” Draco said turning to Evans. A slight sneer was taking his face now. “Are yours?”

“Mr. Evan’s parents are dead,” Snape quickly interrupted. He shot a meaningful look to Evans and prayed the boy had the sense to follow his lead. “Hence the reason I am accompanying him.”

“Oh, sorry.” He didn’t sound like he meant it at all. “But they were our kind, weren’t they?”

“Not sure,” Evans put in giving Snape a calculating look. “But I would think so…” He trailed off.

“Severus, pleasure to see you.”

Snape turned around. Lucius Malfoy stood in the doorway of the shop, several books held under his arm. His shimmer of long blonde hair was held back in a refined ponytail, giving him the appearance of someone that had stepped out of a ninetieth century novel. He leaned lightly on his cane, his hand gripping the silver snakehead with great care.

“Lucius,” Snape replied with the air of greeting an old friend. “Just having a small chat with your son.”

“So I gathered.” Lucius glanced toward Evans. “Severus, I didn’t know you had children.”

“O—oh, I’m not—” Evans started to say hurriedly, but Snape cut him off.

“Please, you know me well enough. It’s a special favor to the Headmaster, the lad has no living family and apparently, I’m the only one with a gap in my schedule.”

“Well then, it seems they’ll be another few minutes. Why not join me for a drink?” Lucius had a way of making a request sound like a demand and Snape wasn’t fool enough to refuse him. His reputation and favor with their family couldn’t afford to fall, even if the battle was finished. The spy knew the war wasn’t over just yet.

“Certainly.” He turned back to Evans, and said with the barest hint of a threat, “Behave, I’ll be back momentarily.” Evans blinked but nodded all the same, seeming pleased that he was going to get a moment to talk to Draco alone. Snape followed Lucius’ lead out of the shop, thinking on why that might be.

Ah, of course. He’d never met another wizard his age.

Lucius immediately engaged him in a conversation regarding the new term. Snape played along, relieved that for once the dialogue wasn’t about Death Eaters and rumors of the Dark Lord, or else some attempt to corrupt government officials and actively fight for blood purity laws. At least this time, Snape wouldn’t have to filter his answers in the slightest – he really wasn’t looking forward to the dunderheads he would have to teach.

He just hoped that Merlin Evans wouldn’t make enemies with Draco too quickly.

 

Merlin watched as Snape left the shop, a swarm of questions buzzing around in his mind. Who exactly were the Malfoys? They seemed to demand respect from the people around them, as though they were royalty or members of court, a family of privilege, for certain. It felt as though he were once again in Camelot, meeting some lord possessing great influence with the king.

It felt comforting, in a way.

“So,” the boy beside him drawled. Draco Malfoy, that’s right. “Is your first name really Merlin?”

“Yes, it is.” He paused a moment, surveying the Malfoy. “But then your name isn’t really common either, is it?”

 Malfoy sneered, “Well, I’m not named after the greatest wizard in history. But at least your parents seemed to have some magical knowledge. If they knew who Merlin was anyway.”

“Yeah, though – mind you – I think they might have been a little too hopeful,” he said remembering the words of the ministry official. Best to downplay his name and abilities. Then no one would look twice at him when something did happen, would they? It had worked well enough at Camelot.

“That’s an understatement.” He paused a moment and Merlin got the impression he was looking for something else to talk about. “So, how are you getting along with Professor Snape?”

“I don’t think he likes me much.”

“I’d be surprised if he did.”

Merlin glowered at him. “Thanks,” he said.

“He’s head of Slytherin House, you know. Father says that he always favors his own house over everybody else.”

Oh, really?

“Yeah, is that where you’re headed to?” Merlin countered, his voice taking on a rather hard edge. At first he had thought that this boy reminded him of Arthur. But, the way he had said father made Merlin a little nauseous. Arthur had never worshiped his father like that, and he had been honorable even if he was a bit of a prat. True, Merlin didn’t know Malfoy’s father but he hated the sound of that oily smugness, as though he thought that his father would solve all his problems for him.

Merlin would have to change that.

“My whole family has been in Slytherin,” Malfoy replied smugly. “You do know what Slytherin is, right? Being an orphan and all?”

I think it’s you that doesn’t know what a true Slytherin is, actually.

“I got the rundown,” Merlin replied now hoping that Madam Malkin would hurry up, or Snape to come back – whichever was faster. “Do you know what a prat is? Being one and all?”

Malfoy’s expression turned sour. “Who do you think you’re talking to? My father is one of the governors of Hogwarts. He’s also quite close to the Minister of magic.”

“Oh I see, so should I be calling you Lord Prat or something?” He couldn’t help but be snarky – what did being a governor of Hogwarts entitle a person to? It wasn’t equal to a Baron and definitely not to a Prince or a King. If Malfoy knew who he was, he’d shit himself.

“T-that’s you done,” Madame Malkin said quickly. She seemed eager to separate them, and Merlin couldn’t blame her. He hopped off the stool, turned to her and managed a genuine smile.

“Sorry, Madam,” And he bowed his head. “I’ll have Professor Snape come and pay, afraid he has the money. I’ll just wait outside, shall I?”

Both she and Malfoy looked so startled by his change in demeanor that they only stared at him wordlessly. He inclined his head again and left the shop. When he was outside he leaned against the wood of the door, taking deep calming breaths. A current of magic hung in the air for a moment before dropping and he clenched his fists.

Draco Malfoy. It was hard to find someone even worse than Arthur in terms of arrogance and self-entitlement, but he’d somehow managed it. Merlin had half a mind to go back in there and give the silver-tongued boy a piece of his mind, but he forced himself to stay where he was. He couldn’t afford to show his power.

He stopped leaning against the door and looked up the street, hoping to see the professor making his way back. He wasn’t sure where the two men had gone for their drink – maybe the Leaky Cauldron? But Snape would be furious if he found that Merlin had gone off on his own and since he had no money, there was hardly a point. He was just considering taking a seat in the alleyway beside the shop when he caught a glimpse of a billowing black robe making its way toward him.

“What are you doing out here?” Snape spat as he came closer.

“My robes are finished,” Merlin replied, sparing a glance at Lucius as he came up behind Snape. “But you have the money, remember, sir?” He fidgeted for a moment, wondering how to get out of an awkward situation in which Malfoy told his father all about their less than civil conversation. “Would you mind if I went to look at wands?”

“And let you get lost in the crowd once more? I don’t think—”

“It’s a really good idea,” Merlin interrupted and he cleared his throat, glancing toward Lucius again. “That way we can finish this little adventure sooner, right? Just give me enough for a wand, and I’ll have gotten mine by the time you get there. I know where it is anyway,” he said – he had seen it on the way to Gringotts.

Snape looked thoughtful for a moment, but he seemed to have caught the glance toward Lucius. Maybe he suspected that a disagreement had ensued between him and the younger Malfoy. In any case, the professor nodded and produced a smaller bag from his pocket. He emptied two-dozen coins into it and handed it to Merlin.

“If I find you’ve stopped for Ice Cream along the way, you’ll find yourself scrubbing the dungeons for the first week of term. Do I make myself clear?”

“Perfectly, sir.” Merlin held the bag of coins very tightly in his hand and took off at a jog. So he’d made his first enemy and he hadn’t even gotten to Hogwarts yet. Fantastic. He only hoped that somehow, like how he’d managed to change Arthur, he could change this boy too.

Make him stand on his own feet instead of standing on his father’s.

It didn’t take him long to find Ollivanders. The ancient design and lack of people inside had stuck in his mind. He paused outside the door, taking a moment to catch his breath. He could feel a buzzing of magic from within, could feel the concentration of hundreds of wands all in one spot. He stretched out his magic, tasting the electrified air before reining it in once more. He stepped onto the threshold, but before he could actually push open the door he was seized by a massive headache.

His hands flew to his temples and he stumbled back, his head feeling like it was going to split in two. What was going on? His eyes were watering, his legs shaking and threatening to collapse. He hobbled to the alleyway beside the wand shop, and collapsed to the ground, panting. The world before him was vanishing; it was flickering between the street and a forest.

He shut his eyes.

He was standing in the woods just outside of Camelot, the mist of the morning just starting to vanish in the light of the sun.

“He doesn’t even need one, Godric,” Rowena was saying. The witch was clad in robes of navy, her dark hair pinned back. She regarded the burly man beside her with something akin to defeat. Merlin grinned – Godric was hard pressed to stop once he had an idea.

“I just want to see what’ll happen! Don’t pretend you aren’t curious,” he said teasingly. Merlin glanced toward Salazar. The wizard was leaning against a tree, and he offered the warlock a shrug.

“He’ll never let it go, otherwise,” he said rolling his eyes. Merlin heaved a heavy sigh but nodded to the man with wild ginger hair.

“Okay, fine. Let’s get this over with.” He was a little curious as well, truth be told.

Godric produced a thin stick from his robes, grinning broadly. “It’s my spare, Rosewood, dragon heartstring. Just try casting some really simple spell.” He held it out to Merlin.

“Like what?” He didn’t take the wand. He eyed it cautiously; he could feel its magic core, fire and power like a lion barring its teeth.

“I don’t know. Try levitating that rock, or something.”

Merlin nodded and took the wand in his hands. Heat flowed through his fingers, the magic of the wand trying to align itself with his own. But, it was growing too hot. The wand pulsed and trembled, and then it shattered. A thousand sharp wood splinters fell to the ground as a small shockwave blasted them all back several feet, a ball of golden light expanding before suddenly shrinking with a loud crack.

Merlin jerked back to the present, gasping for breath. Shaking, he sat himself up and leaned against the wall, holding his face in his hands. The sack of gold coins that Snape had given him lay in the dust beside him. His subconscious must have broken free to warn him, and he was certainly glad that it had. Although his head still hurt something fierce. He grimaced and rubbed his temples, remembering the time that Gaius had done this for him. It alleviated some of the pressure, but it was still painful.

Couldn’t you have warned me last night, or something? Merlin thought savagely. Now it made sense why his memories only returned while he slept. He could only hope that this didn’t happen too often – and never when he was with someone. That could prove problematic. But knowing his luck, he’d better come up with some explanation just in case.

Like an allergy or chronic headaches.

“Okay, no wand.” Merlin muttered, but he already saw a large flaw in that statement. Everyone in this magical world had a wand. According to Snape, wandless magic was very difficult to do, and required years of practice. He couldn’t just be able to do it, and even then, he should be able to use a regular wand. Merlin frowned, and got to his feet.

There was really only one solution.

He looked around but there weren’t any sticks lying in the alleyway. Plus, he really needed to spend this money Snape had given him somehow – it’d look so strange to come back with a wand without having paid for it. Merlin walked back into Main Street and looked around. He didn’t want to go too far and he had to get it done fast – Snape was going to be here soon.

There.

Across the street was a small carpenter shop. He ran over to it and stumbled inside, out of breath. “Can—I—buy wood here?” He asked in between pants.

The man behind the bar was young, reminding Merlin of a son running his father’s shop. The nametag Earl Grant was on his shirt.

“Uh, yeah…”

“What’s your most expensive wood?”

“Whomping Willow, at twelve galleons per six inch slabs.”

Merlin put the sack of gold on his counter. “Give me enough that this’ll buy.”

Two minutes later, Merlin walked out penniless with a bent twelve-inch slab of golden wood. He checked the street for Snape before making another mad dash for the alleyway. Turning his back to the road, he took a deep breath and held a hand over the wood.

A stream of archaic language fell from his lips, and as his eyes flashed brilliant gold the slab began to morph. Part of it fell away to the ground as it warped around into the shape of a wand. He could feel the remnants of magic in this wood, as though the tree had possessed a sentient life. Deciding to honor that somehow, he allowed character to emerge from the wand – something straight was boring anyway.

A thick handle, it became narrow as it extended in a spiral – much like the horn of a shofar. The wood was a mosaic of color, light butter and deep ocher like bruises melted into a marbled tip. Brilliant gold intertwined with black, the contrast between the two colors vivid and elegant. Satisfied, Merlin muttered another spell and the wood polished, becoming soft looking and glossy.

There. That looked like a wand he could say belonged to Merlin.

For a moment he gazed at it then, stuck by a sudden idea, his eyes glowed gold once more. The inside hollowed out – so much as though to allow a clump of three strands of hair inside. Praying this worked, he took it in his hands and poured his magic through it – like a conductor. The wood warmed, but it did not shatter.

Perfect.

Merlin grinned broadly and got to his feet, wiping the dust of the road off his pants. Of the shavings that were on the ground, he muttered a spell and turned it into a case – something to hold the wand until he could just slip it into his shirt. Holding it securely in his hands, he left the alleyway and waited for the professor outside of Ollivanders.

After a few minutes, he caught sight of Snape walking towards him. But to his utter dismay, he wasn’t alone. In tow was Lucius Malfoy, a woman that could only be his wife, and giving him a very pronounced sneer was Draco.

Well, lunch was going to be an interesting affair.

 

Chapter Text

 “Where did you sneak off to?”

“What?”

Merlin and Snape were waiting outside of Ollivanders, while the Malfoy family purchased a wand for their youngest member. Merlin had been nervous at first – if they had been asked to join, Ollivander wouldn’t have recognized him and that could’ve led to several problems. Luckily, Snape had wanted to talk to him alone. Unluckily, Merlin knew it was only because the professor wanted to reprimand him. But it wasn’t in regards to the incident in Madam Malkin’s. 

“I don’t—” Merlin started to say, his brows furrowing in confusion.

“Don’t play games with me,” Snape cut sharply, his lip curling. “Narcissa was just inside Ollivanders and yet she didn’t cross paths with you.”

Merlin blinked. He must have just missed her when he’d gone into the carpentry shop. “Maybe she just didn’t see me in the crowd?” Merlin suggested lightly.  “I mean, I didn’t do anything except get my wand.” He held up his wooden box as if this proved it.

Which he thought it should.

Snape surveyed him for a moment, his black pitiless eyes narrowed as though he were trying to stare right through him. Merlin tried not to fidget or squirm, but it was very uncomfortable to be under the scope of such scrutiny. “If I find that you are lying to me,” the professor whispered in a voice of deadly calm. “I’ll personally make sure the Knight Bus takes you on a tour of London – the kind where you never leave the vehicle and merely jerk from location to location.”

Merlin wondered for a second if this was perhaps a poorly executed joke, but Snape’s tone said otherwise. What kind of a punishment was that? Torture? Merlin swallowed, trying not to think of what this man’s idea of detention could possibly entail, and nodded.

“I didn’t go anywhere. Just got my wand.” He just hadn’t gotten it from Ollivanders, that’s all.

Snape gave him one last long look before finally turning away, apparently satisfied. Merlin managed to stifle a sigh of relief. That’d just probably incriminate him again, and instead looked back toward Ollivanders behind them. How long did it normally take someone to buy a wand? It seemed more complicated than just picking one that looked nice.

“What exactly did you do to Draco in Madam Malkin’s?” Merlin turned back to Snape. He wasn’t facing him, merely giving him a half-hearted glance before looking straight ahead again. If his eyes weren’t deceiving him, Merlin would say that the professor looked amused. “I don’t believe I’ve ever seen such an expression of disbelief on the young Malfoy’s face.”

“What did he say?” Merlin asked, both curious and nervous. He had thought that the professor had asked him to stay out here with him so that he could yell at him for being disrespectful to that clotpole.

“Nothing.”

“Huh?” Merlin’s mouth fell open.

“Apparently, whatever occurred between the two of you was so tedious that Draco saw no need to relate it. In fact, I’ve never seen him avoid a topic of conversation so skillfully as he did when I asked what happened.” The professor glanced toward him, a single brow rising. “Madam Malkin on the other hand employed an expression quite similar to yours.”

Merlin closed his mouth. Perhaps Malfoy didn’t rely on his father as much as he thought he had – or, he simply hadn’t wanted to drag Snape into it. Merlin wasn’t quite sure what he had done to elicit this type of reaction though. Snape was still looking at him, waiting for a response.

“Well, sir,” Merlin began slowly. “I was perfectly polite to Madam Malkin—” Almost too polite, “and I was merely myself to Malfoy.”

“I don’t think I have to ask what that entails,” Snape heaved a sigh, though he still appeared – at least to Merlin – curious. “In any case, I would prefer it if the remainder of our trip passed by with the two of you being at least marginally civil to each other. Do I make myself understood?”

“Yes.”

Snape glared at him.

“Sir.”

 

Merlin would have given his left kidney if it meant he could leave the table and get far away from the Malfoy family. It seemed that their attitude of entitlement and propriety was hereditary, because Merlin felt more like he was at a feast with nobles than at a simple lunch. The Leaky Cauldron had even given them a table far removed from the rest of the occupants – making Merlin feel as though they ought to be conducting some sort of secret meeting instead of this mindless small talk.

But he was having an incredibly difficult time restraining his tongue. Sarcasm was second nature to him, and he had never had to filter himself before. After all, he could talk back to King Arthur. Why would he ever watch what he said around someone else?

And now he was forced to be civil.

“Have you gotten all your school supplies, then?” Snape asked Draco. His parents had said very little so far. Merlin had a feeling that this meeting was really for the two of them to talk than anyone else. He glanced at the professor, wondering what exactly was his relationship with the youngest Malfoy.

Draco hadn’t let go of his packaged wand since he’d left the shop. “Yes, sir,” he drawled with a wide smirk. “My wand was the last thing on the list. Although, I still want to go take a look at racing brooms, mine is rather out of date.”

“First years aren’t allowed on the house teams,” his father reminded him in an undertone. He sounded faintly amused, though tired – as though they’d had this conversation before.

“That doesn’t mean I can’t fly at all,” Draco replied, his smile fading. He glanced toward Merlin. “Have you ever flown before?”

“On a broom, or in general?”

“What other way is there?” Draco sneered at him.

Oh, maybe on a dragon?  

The thought of what Draco would say to that made him smile. “No, then.”

“Ever heard of Quidditch before?”

Sounds like a type of mud.  Another smile. “No, can’t say I have.” It was killing him to be so polite. His magic tasted the air around him, vibrating as though itching to reach out and shock something.

“Marcus Flint will be quite happy to tell you all about it, given five minutes,” Snape cut in smoothly. He glanced at Merlin and for the first time, the warlock wondered whether or not other wizards could feel his magic. The Malfoy’s appeared not to notice at all though, remaining as they were. Draco’s mother – Narcissa – seemed to find her salad worthy enough for her stomach and was eating very slowly, a small frown on her face.

Maybe the dressing wasn’t to her taste?

“So Draco, what wand chose you?”  Snape asked. Merlin glanced at him. The wands chose the warl—wizard? How did that work? He almost wished he’d been able to get a normal wand now, if nothing else but to satisfy his curiosity.

Draco seemed more than pleased with this change in conversation and eagerly opened his package. “It took quite a while,” Lucius said, his voice dripping with pride. Merlin took it that this was a good thing then, taking forever to get a wand. Maybe wands were finicky.

“Hawthorne,” Draco drawled, taking out a handsomely browned, very straight, stick. “Ten inches, unicorn hair.”

 “Very nice,” Snape said. The professor turned to him, as though just realizing he hadn’t seen Merlin’s wand either. “Which wand chose you?”

Merlin swallowed and took his time getting his package out from under his chair – it felt like all the eyes were on him. Even Narcissa and Lucius’. He put the box on the table and then opened it.

“That’s your wand?” Draco exclaimed leaning over to get a better look. Merlin cringed slightly, regretting making it so flashy now.

“Er… yeah. Think he said that it was Whooping Willow, or something.”

Whomping Willow?” Snape said. Merlin tried not to squirm beneath the look the professor was fixing him with.

“Yeah, sorry that.” What was a Whomping Willow? Snape looked torn between shock and indignation. “Twelve inches, I believe.”

“I didn’t realize Whomping Willow was wand wood,” Lucius said softly. He looked rather thoughtful. “Ollivander has been experimenting, it seems.”

“Indeed,” Snape had stopped looking at Merlin and was gazing at the wand instead.

Merlin was starting to feel nervous – wands were supposed to be made of only certain types of wood? That would have been nice to know.

“What’s its core?”

“D-dragon heartstring.” He hadn’t wanted to copy Draco, and that was the only other wand core he’d heard of. He supposed he could have made up something else – but what if cores were also limited to only a few things? No, this was easier – even if the thought of cutting off a piece of a dragon’s heart made him feel queasy.

“It’s a bit pretentious, isn’t it?” Draco asked him giving a sneer. Merlin turned to him, his head rising a little taller. He was making such an effort here to be polite, and here this prat was just poking sharp sticks at him. “Compensating for something?”

That had been the tipping point for Merlin. His magic shocked the air above him, writhing at the restraint. He opened his mouth to whip back a scathing retort about how Draco’s wand obviously reflected the talent of its owner, but Narcissa was faster.

“Draco.” She gave him a long look, neither anger nor pride on her face. Her son met her gaze for a moment before dropping his head, his ears twinged with pink. He straightened up, and spoke as though each word were costing him a great deal.

“Which is what some people may think, not I, of course.”

Lucius gave a nearly inaudible chuckle, his shoulders barely moving. “Well, I do believe that we should take our leave. You have your shopping to finish, and we have some brooms to look at.” And he got to his feet. As one, the rest of the family did so and Merlin and Snape followed them. “Until next time, Severus, Mr. Evans.”

Merlin inclined his head when Lucius spoke his name and the man paused a moment, sparing him a second glance before heading out the door. Draco hung back with his mother, giving Merlin a glare. “See you at school,” he drawled, his eyes flickering to Narcissa and back to him.

Merlin inclined his head again, and they left.

“If I never see them again, it’ll be too soon,” he groaned, collapsing back into his chair. He put the lid back over his wand and stowed it in his lap, holding it tightly with his fingers. He felt a little insulted that Draco thought his wand was pretentious – he thought it was great. Better than a boring stick – because, honestly, it was just a stick.

Snape sat back down, albeit much more gracefully than Merlin had done. “The Malfoy family,” he said, his tone cool and even, “are some of the most influential people you could ever hope to meet. It would be most unwise to make enemies with them.”

Merlin looked at him and raised an eyebrow. “You can’t seriously be telling me to be friends with him.”

Snape’s lip curled. “Acquaintances would suffice.” He heaved a sigh and pinched the bridge of his nose. “But I’ll not waste my breath on what is obviously a lost cause. Come, we still have items to purchase.”

 

“He’s a very unusual boy,” Narcissa remarked.

She glanced toward Draco, noting with amusement the way his lip quirked at her words – as though he were trying to restrain himself from scowling. Severus had told her about the lad as they’d walked to Ollivanders – an orphan with unknown bloodlines. But, the child behaved as though he had spent a great deal of time in the company of high society.

Which was of course absurd, as he was an orphan living in a muggle orphanage. And yet— and yet he had given off the distinct vibe of someone who’d lived at court for several years. She was no stranger to that, no Malfoy or Black was for their family names demanded a certain way of life. She could recognize it in a heartbeat; the incline of the head and the polite yet veiled responses.

“Indeed,” Lucius said at her side. He too glanced toward their son. “What did you think of him, Draco?”

Draco gave some noncommittal grunt that did not sound like her son at all.

“Is something wrong?” she asked him, her brow furrowing. She hadn’t been able to get him to tell her about his first encounter with the strange boy. But she could still remember his face when she’d asked him about it. It was as though the boy had infuriated her son, and then managed to shock and impress him.

Something hard to do.

“I’m thinking of how I might smuggle a broomstick into Hogwarts,” Draco answered evenly. Narcissa raised an eyebrow – she could always tell when he was telling half-truths. She sighed and shook her head, glancing toward Lucius as though asking him for help. Sometimes she didn’t like their wealth and their power, the way that her son had been brought up to take all and put everyone else down.

But then, she did it too.

“I’ll talk to Severus,” Lucius told Draco. “Perhaps he can twist that old man’s arm.” He paused a moment and then looked straight ahead. “Under normal circumstances, I would tell you not to bother with the Evans boy at all. Growing up in a muggle orphanage, he’s probably half-blood at best. However—” He paused again.

“I don’t think he’ll make a favorable ally,” Draco ground out.

“Oh? He was polite enough during lunch.” Narcissa decided to push again. “What happened at Madam Malkin’s?”

Like before, Draco’s face became a convoluted mess of emotions. “He—” he frowned. For a moment, Narcissa thought that he was going to leave it at that, when he finally revealed the incident. “I’ve never met anyone so blatantly disrespectful to the Malfoy name in my life.”

“Really?” Narcissa recognized the cool tone in her husband’s voice. It was the tone he used when a good opinion was turning sour.

“I do believe he called me a Lord Prat.” Draco’s eyes darkened. Narcissa felt insulted herself and she folded her arms. She tried to see it as the jeer of a commoner, but her instincts told her otherwise. But, she hadn’t been there – she had to be reading too much into it.

“But then,” and here Draco sounded positively puzzled. “He turned around, smiled and bowed to Madam Malkin.”

“Ah, that would explain her shocked expression,” Lucius said thoughtfully. His eyes were fixed on his cane for a moment, his walk slow. “Well, he’s of little importance in any case. But be cautious, I’ve never heard of a wand made of Whomping Willow. Perhaps Ollivanders had too much to drink and too much time on his hands one night, or perhaps there’s something else at work here.”

“So do you want me to befriend him?” Draco sounded as though he’d eaten something sour, but she knew her son would do it just to please his father.

“One who insulted the Malfoy’s? I think not.”

Draco sighed with relief.

“But it might be a good idea to keep a close eye on him. Whether one of neutrality or otherwise is up to you.”

A soft smile lit up Narcissa’s face. Sometimes she worried that Lucius placed too much on Draco’s shoulders, but on those moments where he gave him the reins, joy warmed her heart. Draco loved his father, but she knew he depended on him too much. She had heard him bragging to his friends about Lucius on more than one occasion. Yes, admiration and respect were to be desired – but not the idea that father would solve everything. Sometimes she wondered what might have become of her son if he had grown up while his father was still an active Death Eater.

And she would be secretly glad that he hadn’t had to.

“Come, which broom would you like Draco?”

 

The rest of the shopping trip was rather uninteresting, at least in comparison to the chaos of the morning. Snape nearly had to drag Merlin away from the bookstore and gave him a very stern talking to about not wasting time – after all, Merlin didn’t have the money to buy any leisure books. They spent nearly an hour in the apothecary, but that was more the professor’s fault than his. Apparently, the beetles weren’t up to standard the Potions Master required and he’d forced the poor attendant to get a new box from the back. Then he’d gone on to explain each ingredient as he packaged them, making Merlin feel like there’d be a pop quiz later.

One that he’d probably fail.

By late afternoon all the money had gone, replaced instead by a few dozen heavy packages. After walking out of the final shop, Snape paused. Merlin watched as the professor took all the packages – save for his wand, which Merlin still held in his hands – and shrunk them with a wave of his wand. He then put them into the empty coin purse.

“Are we really going to take the Knight Bus back?” Merlin asked when he’d finished and they began their walk back up the street and toward the exit. He didn’t want to experience that monstrosity again.

“We’ve had this discussion before. I’d rather not repeat myself,” Snape said without turning to look at him. Merlin could hear the edge in his tone, as though he’d had enough of Merlin’s company for one day. Merlin would say that went both ways.

“We could get a cab. A muggle cab.” From what he saw, they didn’t jostle around so much. In fact, it might even be kind of nice – he didn’t know, he’d never ridden in one.

Snape’s lip curled. “No, we could not. I do not have any muggle money on my person, and I highly doubt the cabbie would accept a few bronze coins.”

“We could—”

“Walking is highly impractical, Mr. Evans.” There was a heavy sigh and the professor stopped in the street. For one wild moment, Merlin thought he was going to turn around and start scolding him for not dropping the subject. But, instead, Snape put his hands into his robes and withdrew a small vial and held it out to him. “Drink this.”

“What is it?” Merlin took it cautiously.

“Poison,” Snape deadpanned.

Merlin raised an eyebrow.

“It’s a calming draft. It’ll make the trip more bearable.”

“O-oh.” Merlin stared at the vial, a wave of nostalgia flooding through him. How many times had Gaius handed him bottles just like this?

Snape was watching him closely. “What is it?”

“It’s nothing,” Merlin said quickly and he downed the draft in one gulp. It tasted strongly of chamomile. “Thanks.” He handed back the empty bottle.

Snape nodded and tucked the vial back into his robes, then started off again. For a few moments, Merlin didn’t feel anything affect him. He was quiet, constantly gauging his senses for some change. They got back to muggle London and went to the same side road where they had disembarked from the Knight Bus. Snape stuck out his wand hand and with a loud bang, the bus appeared.

Not trusting himself to speak, Merlin clambered aboard and took the seat nearest to the driver – so that he could get back off again that much quicker. Snape sat down beside him, watching him with those black eyes of his. “Stop overthinking it, you’re fighting the potion,” he snapped.

Merlin nodded and took a deep breath, trying to relax. The bus took off with an almighty bang, and their chairs skid forward a few notches. Merlin flinched and griped his stool tightly. His heart fluttered in his chest and the air vibrated as his magic stretched out around him. But, it wasn’t as bad as it had been the first time. He took another deep breath and felt his grip on his chair lessen.

Snape looked thoughtful.

“What?” Merlin asked a little more sulkily than he’d intended. “Sir,” he added when he realized how rude he sounded.

“Do you know how dosage works in the magical world?”

“No.”

“Although body weight and age play a part, it’s mostly in accordance to the magic of the individual,” Snape explained. “Your magic behaves differently at different ages. Everyone’s magic behaves in a protective manner, fighting against other magical items they come in contact with it – much like antibodies in one’s blood stream. This is why a child getting hit with a curse is more serious than an adult being hit with the same curse. Adults have more magical ability and require higher doses to get the same affect.” He paused a moment, that expression in his eyes again.

“So—?”

“A child’s dose doesn’t seem to be enough for your system,” the professor remarked.

Merlin felt his stomach churn. There was a very good reason for that. It would also explain why, right now, his magic was behaving so chaotically. All the power and ability of an adult forced back into a child’s body, it was bound to have side affects.

“Maybe this contraption is so awful that not even a potion can fix it,” he suggested as they were jolted again.

“Or your phobia so great that it might be better to knock you unconscious next time,” Snape retorted with a sneer. But Merlin saw that he didn’t really believe his words. Great, now he was going to have to tread even lighter around the professor. But at least now he knew he needed to avoid potions in the future – he didn’t need anybody else growing suspicious.

They reached Wool’s Orphanage not a moment too soon.

Merlin jumped out of the bus as though he’d been electrocuted, wondering how much worse it would have been if he hadn’t taken the calming draft – weak as it was. They were just around the corner from Wool’s, in the alleyway. Snape took out his wand and turned his billowing black robes back into the waistcoat and trousers, before turning to survey Merlin.

“Do you have your own room, at the orphanage?”

“No,” Merlin answered wondering what this could possibly be about.

“Then it might be a better idea if I were to take your school equipment. Should some muggle come across some of the items, it would lead to awkward questions and possible ministry involvement.”

Merlin gulped.

“I assume you don’t want that.”

“Right.” Merlin looked down at his packaged wand. He didn’t like the idea of giving it to Snape, what if the professor tried to use it and realized that it was nothing more than a stick? He looked back up at Snape and bit his lip.

“It is, of course, never a good idea to give someone else your wand. Whether you know them, or not.” Snape was looking away, out of the alley. “You should never be without your wand, regardless of where you are. Keep it on your person at all times.”

“So… does that mean I can take it out of the box?”

Snape turned and gave him a look that said he should’ve taken it out of the box a while ago. Merlin smiled and opened it, holding the elegantly curved wand tightly in his hand. He gazed at it for a moment – pleased with how it had turned out. Then he frowned.

“Where should I put it?”

It was hot, so he hadn’t worn his jacket. His shirt was loose, his red scarf hanging wide on his neck. It wouldn’t fit in his jeans pocket that was for sure. Snape paused a moment before turning to him. “Lift up your pant leg a moment.”

Feeling a little weird, Merlin did so and Snape pointed his wand at it. He muttered something Merlin didn’t catch – it didn’t sound anything like the spells he used – and a leather holster appeared out of thin air.

“That will suffice for now,” the professor said, stowing his wand back into a pocket within his vest. Merlin gave a small smile and slipped his wand into it, pulling the cloth of his trousers back over it. There was a small bulge, but nothing anyone would notice unless they looked too closely.

“Thanks.”

Snape didn’t really respond. He did this odd head jerk and then turned on his heel, walking out of the alley and back toward the school. Merlin had to jog to catch up to him. He didn’t speak as they walked up the steps and rang the doorbell. He got the feeling that any conversation would have been met with grunts instead of actual words. And, he wanted to savor the moment.

Somehow, he’d managed to get a birthday present out of Snape.

He was grinning when Martha opened the door. “Merlin!” She greeted warmly, stepping aside so that they could enter. “Not a moment too soon.”

“What?” Merlin asked blankly. Martha didn’t reply, she merely slipped around him and gave his shoulders a small push toward the recreation room.

“Why don’t you come as well?” Martha said looking back at Snape.

“I think the professor has things to do, actually,” Merlin said with a very brief glanced toward him.

“Oh, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind. Would you, professor?”

“I—”

“Excellent.” Merlin was willing to bet no one had ever spoken over Snape like that. “Please, just this way. Come on, everyone’s waiting!”

Utterly bewildered, ready to burst into laughter at the look on Snape’s face as the elderly woman ushered them forward, Merlin was unprepared for the scene that met his eyes.

“Happy Birthday, Merlin!”

There were horns and streamers. The couch had been pushed up against the television to make room for a small table with a stack of paper plates on it, and beside it was a large cake with the words Happy Birthday written on it in blue icing. There was a group of boys around it, the lads he shared a bedroom with. And there, in the front with a blue party hat was Silas, showing off the chip in his tooth with his broad smile.

A lump rose in his throat.

“Y-you didn’t have too—” Merlin started to say weakly, but Silas interrupted.

“Of course we did!”

“You gave us fireworks.”

“Mark, shut up!”

They all laughed. Merlin tried to swallow the lump, but it wasn’t cooperating. “I’m touched. Really.”

He couldn’t remember ever having a birthday party like this back at Camelot. He wasn’t even sure if Arthur knew when his birthday was. They had always been caught up in their adventures and fighting against Morgana. And back at home it had always been a small affair. His mother hadn’t had the money to buy a cake, and flour had been too expensive to use on anything except bread. Just him and Will, playing a few games and eating a fresh caught dinner had been enough.

“Thanks.”

“Good. Now let’s cut the cake. I’m starving.”

 

Severus Snape probably could have slipped away, now that everyone had a piece of cake and Martha was handing Evans a few clumsily wrapped packages. He doubted anyone would have really noticed, absorbed as they were in the festivities. Even Evans seemed completely occupied.

But he didn’t.

Snape leaned against the wall, watching the boy with that thoughtful expression of his. It was starting to become a habit. Evans seemed to bring the curiosity out in him, unintentionally piquing his interest. He acted as though he’d never been in a car. He had managed to insult and impress the Malfoy’s.

And this looked like the first time he’d ever had a Birthday Party.

He was overly ecstatic about presents that were so simple. He got some candy bars, a few large yellow smiley stickers, and a tennis ball. Presents, that any normal child would have been a little disappointed with. Had Evans been an orphan since birth? Was this a tradition of the orphanage? But Snape thought he had heard from Martha that Evans had only been there a few months. So, where had he been before this? Who was his family?

Evans was being handed a present by the boy that seemed to be his best friend – Silas, if he remembered correctly. Silas Meadowes. The two of them were going to the same foster home, technically brothers now. Perhaps he should take advantage of this opportunity to discuss with the both of them the importance of the Statute of Secrecy. It would be better to fill the Meadowes boy in on the world of magic when there was a wizard nearby – just in case he had to do some damage control.

Merlin Evans ripped open the package, his blue eyes bright and sparkling. For a moment, Snape expected another candy bar, but what he saw made him stare. The boy took out a rather plain, dark green scarf. The exact color of Slytherin House. But even more surprising was Merlin’s reaction to the gift.

“I can’t believe you got it!” He was saying, taking the red one he currently wore and replacing it with the green.

“Well,” Meadowes grinned broadly again. “You said that was what you wanted. It’s from Martha too, by the way.” He scratched his head sheepishly. “She paid for it, anyway.”

“Good, I was worried you’d nicked it.”

Snape managed to stifle a chuckle. Somehow, he had thought that Evans was pegged for Gryffindor – now, he wasn’t so sure. All of the presents appeared to have been given out and boys were onto their second and third helpings of cake. He cleared his throat.

“Mr. Evans, would you spare me a moment?” He nodded toward the entry hall. Meadowes opened his mouth, shooting him a look before turning back to his brother. “Ah, and why don’t you join us as well?”

Meadowes looked downright worried now. Wasn’t that interesting? It seemed he was going to have to talk about the Statue of Secrecy in a different way than he had originally intended. Snape went into the hall ahead of them, waiting until they were alone before taking out his wand and whisperinga quieting spell around them. It did not escape his notice how both boys seemed to find this normal.

What he had suspected, he had now confirmed.

“Mr. Evans,” he said stiffly. “Would you care to explain to me why you breached the Statue of Secrecy when I explicitly told you not to?” He was already planning a week’s worth of detentions in his mind.

“I—”

“It wasn’t his fault!” Meadowes squeaked. “He-he didn’t mean for me to find out. It just sort of…” he looked over at Evans helplessly.

“—happened. It was a moment of accidental magic,” Evans finished, meeting his eyes evenly. It was nothing like how Potter would try to get out of trouble, no boasting or long tales. Simple. Honest. He actually believed him. But Snape couldn’t help but wonder what had caused the accidental magic to occur. Why had Evans felt scared or angry?

“I see,” he said slowly. They tried not to squirm under his scrutinizing glare – he saw Meadowes fidget with his hands. He turned to Evans. “You should have informed me when we met this morning.”

“Sorry, sir.” He didn’t look very apologetic, but Snape could hardly hold that against him.

“Well then, I do not think I need to tell you,” he said turning back to the younger boy, “what happens should you reveal your new knowledge to anyone else.”

“N-no.” Meadowes gulped audibly. “I won’t tell anyone.”

“See that you don’t.” Snape straightened. “Now, for the moment you will be with muggle fosters and it is important that they remain uninformed. They will be under the assumption that Mr. Evans is attending a boarding school for the gifted. There will be no mention of magic, do I make myself clear?”

Both boys nodded.

“Now, this is only a temporary predicament. The ministry is currently trying to locate a magical foster family, or else muggles that are members of the magical community through marriage or with wizarding children.” He paused a moment. It seemed that Evans had explained all the terminology to Silas. Good, he hadn’t wanted to go through that a second time.

“Do you know when we might be moved, then?” Evans asked.

Snape shook his head. “If you are at school at the time, you will be notified by owl. During the holiday, either myself or the headmaster will come to take you to the new location.”

Both boys nodded their understanding.

“Now, this is your ticket for the train.” He got it out of his jacket pocket and handed it to Evans. He had some misgivings about letting the boy hold onto it, but he highly doubted he would be able to take him to Kings Cross himself. “Walk between barriers nine and ten to get to three-quarters. The train leaves at Eleven O’clock.”

“You’re not going to come to take me there?”

Snape raised an eyebrow. “Do I need to?”

Evans frowned. “Am I expected to walk?” He looked just like a Slytherin student with that green scarf. Maybe that’s why Snape let his jest slide.

“I’m sure Ms. Martha can arrange for some transportation,” Snape cut back with a sneer. “Unless you’d like to face the Knight Bus again. I can provide your fare—”

“Thanks, but I’d rather make it to school in one piece.”

“Then I suggest,” Snape said his tone dropping. “You return to your party before I lose my patience.”

“You sure you don’t want a piece of cake before you leave, sir?”

Meadowes was looking from him to Evans his eyes round as saucers. He made a funny squeak, as though he wanted to tell his friend to cut it out, but was too shocked by the ensuing banter to actually do so. At least that boy seemed to know when to hold his tongue. It really was a miracle that they had gotten through lunch.

“I doubt there’s any left,” Snape quipped back with a sneer. “In any case, I find muggle sweets revolting.” He turned to leave when something stopped him. He turned back and put on his most menacing face. “Magic is forbidden outside of school. If you don’t want that wand snapped in half, I’d keep it sheathed.”

Evans gave a very strange expression, one of mingled recognition, alarm, and understanding. It wasn’t the terrified one he’d been looking for.

“Yes, sir.”

“Until September first, then.”

And Merlin Evans inclined his head again, just as he had to the Malfoy’s. It felt so strange to be on the receiving end of it – stranger than watching it. It was a spark of propriety he didn’t expect from the boy. Snape watched until those bright blue eyes lifted again, and then he turned on his heel and vanished into the night.

 

Chapter Text

Professor Snape reappeared just outside of Hogsmeade, the barriers around the castle a few strides before him. On occasions like this, he wished there were some way to apparate directly into the Headmaster’s office. The Philosopher’s Stone was burning a hole in his pocket and he was eager to remove it from his person. Dumbledore had told him enough times – it was one possible way that the Dark Lord could return to his corporeal form.

Yes. The double-agent was anxious to pass it over to someone else; namely, the Headmaster.

He moved quickly and quietly, his black robes billowing around him. Up the marble steps, through the entrance hall, and down a corridor. When he finally reached the stone gargoyle guarding the passage to Dumbledore’s office, he was out of breath. “Lemon drop,” he told it, frowning at the password. The headmaster’s sweet tooth was something that he could never understand – particularly when it came to muggle candies.

The gargoyle sprung to life and stepped aside, allowing Snape to slip past and scale the spiral staircase, taking two stairs at a time. At the door he stopped and took a deep breath, composing himself. Then he knocked.

“Come in,” said a familiar elderly tone. He opened the door. “Ah, Severus! Not a moment too soon.”

Snape hardly spared the office a second glance, far too used to all the strange contraptions that adorned its walls and many tables. Albus Dumbledore was standing by a bookshelf behind his desk, apparently adding a few volumes to his collection – or else putting away all the books he’d had hidden in his bedchamber. He put down the three books he cradled in his arms when he saw Snape though, immediately crossing over to his desk with an urgent glint in his eye.

Something must have happened.

Snape withdrew the Stone from his pocket. “I believe this has a more suitable location.”

Dumbledore nodded and gestured to the desk. Snape placed the stone upon it before taking a step back, relieved that it was no longer in his possession. The blood-colored gem glinted innocently in the lamplight, as though trying to tempt him. As if he would ever fall for its charms.

“Indeed, I’ll inform Nicolas of its arrival as soon as we’re finished here.” Dumbledore took a seat behind his desk. He rummaged in a drawer for a moment, and then withdrew a letter. “Earlier today I received this from Gringotts Bank,” he said holding it up for Snape to see the crest. “It seems I was quite right in having you withdraw it today instead of waiting until next week. The vault was breached only a few hours after you retrieved the stone.”

Snape felt his throat tighten. “So the alchemist wasn’t just being paranoid.”

“No, I’m afraid not. He and I have talked long into the night in regards to this matter, but today I feel that our suspicions are confirmed.”

How?” Snape frowned. “According to you, the Dark Lord should be wandering some forest in Albania, alone and formless.”

Should be does not always directly translate to what is. The evidence speaks for itself and we would be ill-advised to ignore it.”

Snape was silent for a moment. “Then... he’ll try to come here next.”

“Indeed. I feel that his desperation for the Stone may push him even here.”

Snape pinched the bridge of his nose. As if he didn’t have enough to worry about this term. The Dark Lord should have just died all those years ago. He had nursed a faint hope that the Potters had managed to put him down for good, but no. Their little suicide mission had put a pause to the war, not stopped it completely.

“Hogwarts,” the potions master began icily, “is a school, not a bank. We don’t have safety deposit boxes, or vaults to guard treasure. How exactly do you propose we protect the stone?”

There was a mischievous glint in the headmaster’s eyes. “I have a plan, one that I will relate during tomorrow’s staff meeting as it will require not just your assistance but the aid of all.”

Snape raised one of his brows skeptically, but decided to save any sarcastic remarks for the meeting. Merlin knew that he had a whole arsenal of them. But he could not resist one. “Since we are on the subject of staff, may I as why you approved that stuttering oaf for Defense Against the Dark Arts?”

Dumbledore heaved a sigh and leaned back in his chair. “Quirinus is a brilliant wizard, Severus.” He surveyed the professor through his half-moon spectacles. “You are aware of why I could not give you the job.”

Snape gritted his teeth, but he didn’t answer. He knew perfectly well to what the headmaster was referring to, the so-called curse that Riddle had placed on the position when Dumbledore had refused to hire him. Snape wanted to disregard it, but the inability to keep a Defense professor for more than a year said otherwise.

“I’m not quite ready to lose you yet, Severus.”

“Forgive me if I don’t find that encouraging.” He shook his head. “Even Merlin Evans didn’t seem to find him—”

“You ran into Quirinus, today?” Dumbledore questioned sharply.

“Only briefly. He was in the Leaky Cauldron, and seems to have added a turban to his attire.” Snape paused, recognizing the calculating look in the old man’s eyes. “What is it?”

“I’m not sure,” he stroked his beard thoughtfully. “During his sabbatical, Quirinus traveled the world. I wonder if he ever went through Albania…” he trailed off.

“You think Quirrell was the one who broke into Gringotts?” Snape’s tone clearly stated what he thought of that idea, a sarcastic, are you serious, hanging in the air between them.

“I merely think we shouldn’t discount it. But then again, everyone’s a suspect at this stage.” He shook his head. “So, how was young Mr. Evans? The funding cover all the supplies well enough?

“Everything’s in order,” Snape said in his polite clipped tone. He still couldn’t understand why the old man hadn’t just gone to get take the boy school shopping himself. “I’m holding onto Mr. Evan’s materials until September 1st due to his living situation.”

“Excellent.” Dumbledore smiled and then got to his feet. “Well, I must send that owl to Nicolas and then I need to see Hagrid about a guard dog.”

 

Wool was closing down.

Merlin had known that, they had all known that but it was still so weird to watch it happen before their eyes. Merlin couldn’t even imagine how the boys who’d lived here their whole lives felt. The library was the first to go, and they’d all been forced to help. They had loaded boxes of books, magazines, and maps into a truck destined for the local library. But, nothing could compare to waving goodbye as boy after boy was taken away to a new home.

Merlin and Silas watched as their numbers shrunk every day, until there was only one table left in the cafeteria.

“Do you know where you’re headed to yet?” Mark asked the pair of them. They were eating pizza, the regular kitchen staff having been gone for a week now. But, there were so few of them left that Martha had taken to making the meals herself– though tonight she had been caught up in administrative duties.

“Nope,” Silas said through a mouthful of cheese and pepperoni. He glanced at Merlin, silently asking for him to finish since he couldn’t elaborate at the moment.

“We were supposed to be placed with the Douglas family a week ago, but they backed out for some reason.” Merlin sighed and poked his own slice of pizza. He was leaving for Hogwarts in four days. He had hoped to get settled in with his new foster family with Silas before leaving. “You?”

“Bernard.” Mark grinned broadly. “They’re supposed to pick me up on the thirtieth.” Mark had grown up in the orphanage. It was good to see him so excited about being placed in a home.

“Where do they live?” Silas took another huge bite.

“North of London, I think.” Mark shrugged. “But it doesn’t really matter, does it?”

Merlin sighed and took a half-hearted bite of his pizza. Normally, he liked eating junk food – another thing that Camelot didn’t serve – but today he didn’t feel very hungry.

Another memory had returned to him the previous night.

They had been slowly coming back all month, ever since the incident by Ollivanders. It was as though some dam had burst and memories were trickling through a crack in the wall. The only problem was that they all woke him up with a monstrous headache and no amount of Advil seemed to do him any good. Even now, hours later he could feel it behind his eyes, a small pressure that seemed to radiate up to his temples and poke at his brain.

It made him feel a little nauseous.

“You all right, Merlin?”

He looked up. Silas was staring at him with his wide hazel eyes, a little bit of tomato sauce on his chin and mouth. Ever since he had found out about the world of magic, Silas had been amazingly aware of Merlin’s mood. The way he picked up on everything was a little astounding, to tell the truth. But, at the same time it was such a relief to have someone to talk to.

But Merlin didn’t want to worry him with this.

“I’m fine, just not that hungry, want it?” He pushed his paper plate toward him, managing a small smile.

“You sure?”

“Yeah, you eat like you’re starving anyway.”

“No, I mean…” Silas paused, frowning. He glanced toward Mark and the other two boys that shared the table with them. Then he shook his head and took the plate, taking a smaller bite of pizza. He seemed to want to ask if this concerned the magical world, but knew that he couldn’t in the present company.

So much for not wanting to worry him.

“It’s just a headache,” Merlin tried, putting on his most earnest face.

“You haven’t been sleeping well.”

 “I just have a lot on my mind.” He sighed, knowing how vague that sounded. “I’ll be fine.”

Silas gave him a look that told him quite plainly that he didn’t believe him and that he’d be asking about it later tonight when they could talk freely. Merlin sighed again, slouching in his seat. He was itching to leave the table, but he knew that Silas would follow him in a heartbeat and the little guy needed to eat.

Granted, he probably did too but whatever.

“Merlin, Silas, can I talk to you both for a moment?”

Merlin turned around, the both of them glancing toward the door to the cafeteria. Martha was peaking her head in, a soft smile on her face. “You can bring the pizza with you.”

Merlin exchanged a look with Silas before the both of them got to their feet and walked over to her. Merlin noticed that Silas didn’t bring his plate. He frowned but didn’t say anything – he could hardly tell him to eat when he wasn’t.

“What’s up, Martha?” Silas asked, flashing her a smile that still had tomato sauce in it.

She gave him a look that was torn between amusement and disgust. “Do learn to swallow all the food in your mouth, Silas.” She shook her head. “Now, I just got off the phone with social services. We’ve found you both a foster home.”

“Really?” Merlin stood a little straighter. Who was it? What were they like? When would they be leaving? Question after question raced around in his mind. They must’ve showed on his face because Martha smiled at him.

“They’re a little elderly, but I’ve heard that they are very kind. Wentworth and Audrey Haddock.”

Merlin heard Silas swallow. “When?” the boy asked. He sounded a little apprehensive. Merlin glanced toward him – he was wringing his hands together, but his face was bright.

“Tomorrow. Mr. Haddock said he’d be here to pick you up about ten in the morning. So, you both ought to start packing.” Her eyes were sad for a moment, and then she swept them both into a very warm hug.

“Martha—!” Merlin choked out, taken aback. “We—we’re not leaving yet!”

“There’s a chance I may not be able to see you off,” she said, still holding tightly onto them. “Don’t cause them too much trouble, please. And Merlin, you’re leaving to that school in a few days, aren’t you? Take care, all right? Mr. Dumbledore’s a good man, if a bit mad.”

“I—”

“Martha, I can’t breathe,” Silas managed though he was holding just as tightly onto her. His head was buried into her shoulder, and he didn’t try to push her off him. Merlin couldn’t bring him to move away either, her comfort something he hadn’t felt in a long time. She was like the grandmother he’d never had.

And then, suddenly, the hug was broken.

“Right.” She hastily wiped her eyes, and Merlin felt a lump rise in his throat. “I’ll—I’ll have a few boxes brought up to your room.”

“Martha.” Merlin cleared his throat. “Thank you. For everything.” He bowed his head to her feeling more emotional than he’d thought he’d be. Martha was silent for a moment, and then she ruffled his hair with her hand.

“Stay out of trouble, you two. And thank you.”

Merlin blinked and looked up. He glanced at Silas, but he looked just as stumped as he was.

“For what?”

But Martha didn’t answer. She only smiled and walked back down the hall to her office, leaving the boys standing in the hallway for several minutes afterwards.

 

 The night vanished around him, dreams invading the peace and quiet of his sleeping mind. Merlin rolled over, his brow sleek with sweat. The headache was building, a painful throbbing that managed to break through the illusion of rest. He could sense it, feel it even though he was fast asleep. His brow furrowed, his eyes scrunching up against the pain.

But he couldn’t break back into consciousness.

He was standing in the court, snickering with silent laughter as Arthur almost dropped the most important document in the history of magic. The deed for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

“Merlin!”

“Yes, Sire?”

A glare was all he received. The founders of Hogwarts were there as well, Godric being the one to hand the document over.

Merlin whimpered in his sleep, a hand rising of its own accord to cover his eyes and apply pressure to his forehead. This memory was the most painful one he’d ever experienced. His eyes flickered open, but he couldn’t drag himself out of the memory, out of the dream. He was trapped in that state between wakefulness and sleep.

He and Salazar were talking to each other in Parseltongue. Arthur interrupted them and had him come over to sign the document. He was taking off his ring, was pouring the wax onto the parchment—

He was gasping for breath. He was fully awake now, but the dream still wouldn’t let go. It wrapped around his mind like claws, forcing him to stay with it till the end. He wrapped his hands around his head, and buried his face into his pillow, trying to mute the cries of pain that were sliding from his lips. He felt someone sit down beside him, felt them ask something that he couldn’t understand. There were small hands patting his back.

Everything went dark, but it wasn’t a pure blackness. It was grainy, with something faded just beyond it. As though something had disintegrated there. All he could feel was the sensation of being sent somewhere, the shrinking of his limbs and the cries of the Old Religion. And, in the pit of his stomach, he recognized sorrow and grief. He was sad, but determined.

The pain reached a crescendo, and then it stopped. Merlin sucked in a gasp of air as the bedroom came back into focus, as the memory took a step back and joined the collection that had compiled.

“—okay, Merlin?”

Silas was speaking to him. He had probably been talking to him for the past minute, but Merlin had no idea what he’d said to him. He sat up slowly, turning to face his brother while wiping the sweat from his forehead.

“S-sorry for waking you,” he mumbled. He wasn’t sure what else he should say.

Silas gave him a long look. Merlin could just barely make out his features in the gloom. “Should I get Martha?” He asked in an undertone.

“No, I’m—”

“If you say fine, I’m going to hit you.”

Merlin sighed, but he felt a smile tug on the corners of his mouth.

“Here.” Silas held something out and Merlin took it. “It’s some medicine. I swiped it from Martha earlier – told her I had a headache.”

“Oh.” Merlin paused a moment, and then he popped it into his mouth.

“What did you see? You were shaking the bed with your magic pretty badly. My bed was shaking, too.”

Merlin felt himself pale. “Did anyone—”

“Don’t think so.” Silas looked around. “They’re all still asleep, so you’re good.” He paused. “It’ll help if you talk about it. That’s what they always say.”

There was just no arguing with him. Merlin took a deep breath, and started massaging his temples. His head ached horribly, and even blinking hurt.

“I have some…” Merlin trailed off, wondering how to tell him without blowing his identity. “I have some holes in my memory,” he started.

“Like how you didn’t know where Gaius was when you first came here?”

Merlin nodded. “Yeah, sort of. Anyway, the memories have been coming back slowly. Like, I get little scenes and snippets. Usually they only come back while I sleep, and they weren’t painful – just surprising.” Merlin swallowed. “But, while I was at Diagon Alley I had a memory come while I was awake and it gave me the worst headache. Since then, they have been more frequent and more painful. Tonight was the worst.”

He was pretty sure that had been the last memory he’d had before coming to the present too. Meaning, that he remembered almost everything from Gwen’s Coronation to being brought to the present – or at least, everything of importance. Some memories hurt when he thought back to them, even though they had already returned weeks previous.

It was strange, and he didn’t understand it at all.

“Why does it hurt?” Silas whispered. “I mean, memories shouldn’t hurt, should they?”

“I don’t know.” He had been thinking the same thing. “Maybe cause they were suppressed in the first place?”

“Hm…” Silas was thoughtful for a moment. “Well, I think I might know why they started coming back more after Diagon Alley. Or at least, I have a theory.”

“Really?” Merlin hadn’t even thought about it.

“Maybe it was because of all the magic around you, you know? You said the place was full of wizards and enchanted things, right?” Silas shrugged. “Maybe it like, I dunno, jump started your mind?”

Merlin stared at him. “Maybe.”

“Anyway, will there be more like that?” Silas fidgeted, wringing his hands. “I heard you and I thought—”

“I don’t think so,” Merlin said. He wasn’t positive, after all. “I mean, I could be wrong. But I think that this one was so painful cause it was the last one, you know?”

“That’s lame. Why can’t the last one be nice about it?”

Merlin chuckled but he quickly smothered it, glancing around them. Luckily no one woke up. “Maybe that’d be against the rules?”

Silas pouted. “What rules would those be, exactly?”

“Like I would know!”

And the two dissolved into sniggers, berating the universe for a long time after.

 

“What time did you fall asleep?”

“I have no idea, the sun was already rising. You?”

“About the same.”

Merlin and Silas both had dark shadows beneath their eyes. Merlin’s headache from the night had followed him to the day, and he squinted at the light in the entrance hall. Everything seemed so much brighter than it should be, not to mention a lot louder. The movers seemed especially unkind as they dropped boxes onto the floor with loud thuds.

Silas had passed out on the foot of Merlin’s bed, and had awoken with half his body hanging off. Merlin would have found it very amusing had he been in a good mood. But, even though the rest of his night had been relatively dreamless, it hadn’t been peaceful. And now it felt like he had a serious hangover. Which he knew because of the one time he actually had gone to the tavern.

Something he’d never wanted to repeat.

“What time did Martha say he’d be here?” Silas asked. He yawned widely, showing off all his pearly whites.

“Ten o’clock, I think it was?” Merlin answered. He poked the box he had at his feet. It held all his clothes, a few history books he’d managed to steal from the library, and all his birthday cards. Silas had one very similar at his feet, though it was just a hair bigger. He had been as Wool’s longer, after all.

“What time is it now?”

“Er…” Merlin looked around, but all the clocks had been taken down. “Soon?” he guessed.

But it wasn’t soon. Minute after minute dragged by, and eventually both boys slid to the floor. Silas tried to get Merlin to play a word game with him but they were both so tired that they ended up passing out, sprawled over their boxes.

Merlin woke up to someone shaking his shoulder. He blinked and looked up. There was a rather old gentleman standing over them. He had a square face, and equally square horn-rimmed spectacles that made his brown eyes look twice the size. His gray hair was speckled with light brown, and he leaned upon a wooden cane.

“Hello, Lad. I’m Wentworth Haddock. Are you two Merlin and Silas?” He had a very kind voice, though low and rough as though he needed a drink of water.

Merlin nodded, and hurriedly wiped a line of spit from his mouth. Not exactly the best first impression to give. He glanced beside him and elbowed Silas in the ribs. “Wake up!” he muttered when Silas groaned and shifted his head to the other side. “He’s here!”

 Mr. Haddock scratched the back of his head, giving a sheepish smile. “Sorry about being so late. I slept in by accident.”

Merlin got jerkily to his feet, while at the same time giving Silas another nudge. “T-that’s all right.” He gave a small smile and extended his hand. “I’m Merlin.”

“I thought you might be.” Mr. Haddock smiled again. “You both look knackered, if I do say so myself.”

Merlin laughed nervously. “Yeah, bit of a late night.”

Silas finally stirred awake. He blinked owlishly for a moment as though he couldn’t figure out what was going on before shooting to his feet. “S-sorry! I—”

“That’s all right, laddie.” Mr. Haddock laughed. “It’s my fault that I was late. Is this all your stuff?”

“Er, yes.”

“Well, let’s go then.” He turned around and walked towards the door, limping heavily. Merlin and Silas exchanged looks before grabbing their stuff and following him out the door.

Mr. Haddock had a sky blue pick-up truck that looked nearly as old as he was. The doors creaked and groaned and there were no seatbelts on the bench-like seat. The interior smelled of rust and gasoline mixed with coffee and old man. It actually wasn’t a bad smell, just a little overwhelming at first. The truck purred as they started driving. Every time Mr. Haddock changed a gear, they’d jerk slightly but it was nothing compared to what the Knight Bus had been like.

Merlin actually found this drive relaxing, in comparison.

“So, tell me about yourselves,” Mr. Haddock said after they’d been driving for a bit. “What do you like to eat?”

“Anything, really,” Silas answered. He glanced at Merlin. The silence was growing.

“I like salad dressing,” Merlin said with a shrug.

Mr. Haddock laughed. “Not salad or anything, just the dressing?”

“Yeah.” Merlin smiled back. “But I’m not picky. We both aren’t.”

“Well, the Mrs. cooks really well. Don’t be afraid to request something, she likes that.”

“All right.” There was silence for another moment. “So,” Merlin looked out the window. “Where are we going?”

“Ah, they must not of told you. We’re going to Little Winging, Surrey.”

“Is it a long drive?”

Mr. Haddock shrugged. “Not really.”

It was.

Merlin and Silas both fell asleep on the way again, but Mr. Haddock didn’t seem to mind. Merlin woke up of his own accord just as they were pulling into the driveway. He could see a number nine on a plaque by the door. Silas was snoring, his head leaning on Merlin’s shoulder.

“Hey, we’re here,” he said nudging him just as Mr. Haddock cut the engine.

“S’was for eating?” Silas mumbled, and he yawned.

“Come along, the Mrs. probably has lunch out. Some food in you will wake you up.” Mr. Haddock smiled at the pair of them and then got out of the car. Merlin pushed open the door – it was heavier than he thought it might be – and stumbled out of the truck. Silas followed after him and looked up and down the street.

“It’s a pretty nice neighborhood,” he remarked. Merlin followed his gaze and saw that he was right. All the lawns were trimmed and green. Mr. Haddock’s car looked to be the oldest one, but its paint was just as new and bright as every other car. Down the street, they could see a sign that said Privet Drive.

“Are you coming?”

“Y-yeah!” Silas called back and he nudged Merlin.

They got their boxes from the back of the truck and walked up the steps. But, before they could even walk through the door a woman burst through it and swept down on them.

“Oh, at last you’re here! I told you, I told you, didn’t I? You should have set two alarms. Did he make you wait very long, I bet he did.”

Mrs. Haddock spoke very fast, and with a voice of graveled alto. She had puffy cheeks, and a small mouth. She too wore square glasses that magnified her blue eyes, though she had a second pair hanging on a gold chain around her neck. Her hair was long and auburn, though her white roots were starting to show. She ushered them inside, still speaking in the same annoyed tone.

“Worth never gets up on time. He’s never on time at all. I’ve been telling him for years, but he just doesn’t listen. You can’t just turn off the alarm and go back to sleep. So sorry, you two. Was the ride okay? He didn’t play any old music, did he? Worth, you didn’t make them listen to jazz classics, did you?”

“No, he—” Merlin couldn’t even get a word in.

“I bet you both are famished. Yes, I bet you are. It’s past lunchtime, at least our lunchtime. We eat a little bit earlier, you see. Well come on, to the kitchen! I have it all laid out on the table. Just put those boxes there. Yes, there, we can deal with them later. Have you—”

Her words faded into the background as Merlin looked around the house. It was a nice, modest two-story house. The entry hallway led directly into the living room. There was a couch against the wall with a bookshelf beside it and a television across from it. There was also a staircase leading up, with a little cupboard beneath it. At the end of the hallway was another door, one that Mrs. Haddock was walking through.

Merlin followed, Silas close behind him. The kitchen was large and bright. There was a bar counter and on the other side, a dinning room. The table would comfortably seat six, let alone four. Mr. Haddock was already sitting down, serving what looked like potato salad onto everyone’s plates. There was a platter of bread slices, all without crust. There was mayo and mustard, and also a plate with ham, cheese, onion, and pickle slices. Beside the potato salad was another bowl with coleslaw.

“No need to stand on ceremony,” Mrs. Haddock was saying. “Come on, take a seat. Do you have anything you’re allergic to? Martha didn’t say, but I suppose she would have, wouldn’t she? Here, let me make you an Ol’ Haddock sandwich.”

Merlin took a seat beside Mr. Haddock, Silas taking the seat across from him. They didn’t speak while food was loaded onto their plates, but they didn’t have to. Mrs. Haddock spoke enough for all of them. It was a nice feeling though, and Merlin caught himself smiling as she chattered on and on about all the different things she could make for them and to feel free to request something anytime.

“Audrey,” Mr. Haddock said finally. “Stop it, you’ll talk all our ears off at this rate. And sit down, make your own sandwich now.” He shook his head and turned to the boys. “Sorry about this, she’s just excited.”

“Don’t apologize for me!” Mrs. Haddock said, but she sat down all the same. She looked a bit flustered. “You know how long it’s been since we’ve had children in our house? My God, I hardly remember the last time—”

“So, best we get a few things out of the way,” Mr. Haddock interrupted. His wife pursed her lips but stopped talking; instead she started making her own ham and cheese sandwich. “We don’t have a lot of rules here, but the ones we do I hope you’ll follow to the best of your ability.”

Merlin and Silas exchanged expressions of mild apprehension.

“First, all meals are at the dinner table. Food isn’t allowed in the bedrooms or the living room simply because it’s too difficult to clean. I also consider it important for us all to eat together – make it feel more like a family.” Merlin gave a small smile, but he didn’t speak – his mouth was full of food. The potato salad was amazingly good. He liked that they wanted to have meals together, and judging from the look on Silas’ face, he thought so too.

“There’s no cussing in the house.” Mr. Haddock looked over at his wife as though this was a rule that he hadn’t come up with. “But, outside it’s perfectly fine.”

“Worth!”

Silas snorted into his glass of water. Mr. Haddock smiled as well.

“Um… let’s see. You’ll be given some chores to do of course, just to help out the Mrs. But, you will get an allowance for it.”

Merlin didn’t know what an allowance was, but it sounded like they were going to get paid. Silas looked surprised by this news.

“Really?” he asked.

“Earning money is something you’re going to do most of your life, better start now. Plus, it’ll teach you how to handle it. You’ll think twice about breaking a toy that you bought with your own sweat.”

“Cool.” Silas grinned broadly, turning to look at Merlin. He had a little bit of mustard on his chin.

“Other than that… just staying out of trouble with the neighbors, I suppose.” Mr. Haddock starched his ear. “Might be forgetting something, but that’s the gist of it.”

Merlin swallowed his final bite and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “So,” he said. “What should we call you?”

 Mr. Haddock thought for a moment.

“Oh, I don’t like formalities,” Mrs. Haddock said, taking her husbands silence as permission to speak. “Well, I mean. I don’t want you two to be so formal. We’re just fosters, but I want us to feel like family. I was so happy that they finally approved our application. It took them long enough, didn’t it Worth?” She shook her head. “You can call me Granny, or Granny Audrey. That’s what the grandkids call me, after all.”

“A-all right.” Merlin was a little taken aback, but pleasantly so. He looked at Mr. Haddock, waiting for him to answer.

“I suppose…” Mr. Haddock scratched his chin. “Well, anything’s find really. Except Gramps, don’t much like that.”

“The grandkids call him Popeye,” Mrs. Haddock said fondly.

“Why?”

Mr. Haddock chuckled and leaned back in his chair. “Well, I was in the navy, wasn’t I? But I think it’s because of that one Christmas where I told Lucy to eat her spinach.”

Merlin was still rather confused, but figured he’d just ask Silas later – because he was trying very hard to stop giggling.

“If you’re both finished, I’ll show you your rooms,” Granny Audrey said. She was getting to her feet. “I suspect you’ll want to unpack.”

 

 

Chapter Text

“Merlin?”

Someone poked his face. Within a heartbeat he was wide awake. He couldn’t help it, not after living for so long as a servant of Arthur and all the times when he’d needed to be on his guard at once. His first instinct was to reach down and grab the wand he had strapped against his leg, but he didn’t. It was only his new brother.

“What, Silas?” he groaned, rolling over and pulling his blankets tighter. He had never slept in a bed this comfortable in his life. It was as though it were made out of feathers.

“What do you think of them? Of Mr.—er, Popeye and Granny Audrey?” He swallowed. Merlin had a feeling that the kid felt strange calling the elderly couple something so informal.

Merlin sighed and sat up. The silver chain around his neck clinked as he moved, the cool of his ring against his chest a comfort. The orange light from the street lamps filtered through the window, casting shadows onto Silas’ face. His room was just across the hall, but Merlin wasn’t at all surprised by his midnight visit. Hell, he wouldn’t be surprised if the kid camped out on his floor for the next two days, trying to be with him as much as possible before he had to leave for Hogwarts.

He hoped Silas would manage all right without him.

“Um…” Merlin rubbed his eyes, buying himself time to think more than anything else. “I think they’re really nice.” A lot nicer than anyone in Camelot, in any case.

“Yeah. Hey, did you know that Granny Audrey asked me if I wanted warm milk before bed?” He looked thoroughly bewildered. “And then she asked if I wanted a bedtime story!”

“Well, did you?”

Silas started to squirm. “Hey – she offered, okay?!”

Merlin laughed and then clamped a hand over his mouth, glancing toward his door. In a quieter tone he said, sniggering, “You got tucked in.”

Silas frowned. “And what, you didn’t?”

“Er…”

“You did!” Silas punched his shoulder, now giggling. “I bet Granny Audrey even gave you a kiss goodnight on the forehead!”

What? She did not!” Merlin said, trying to sound offended as he reached behind him and grabbed hold of the corner of his pillow.

“Oh, she totally did!”

Merlin laughed and smacked Silas in the face with his pillow. The kid sat there stunned for a second before grinning broadly and tackling him right off the bed with a loud crash and a squeal of giggles.

“Merlin, is everything—”

Not a minute later, Mr. Haddock or rather, Popeye opened the door and peaked his head inside. Upon seeing the two boys, fighting over a pillow on the floor however, his sentence gave way into low chuckles.

“C’mon lads, the Mrs. is already in bed. There’ll be plenty of time for horseplay in the morning.”

“Right, sorry—” Merlin started to say but Popeye shook his head.

“First night in a new home, it’d be strange if you didn’t stay up talking.” He paused a moment, surveying Silas. “If you want, I can put a mattress on the floor. I know Merlin’s leaving in a short bit.”

“R-really?” Silas glanced quickly at Merlin and the warlock saw the smallest sign of panic at the mention of his leaving. He was worried about being separated, that much was clear.

“Sure. Just keep it down some, all right? Elderly folks like to sleep a bit earlier than others.”

And, fifteen minutes later, Silas had his own makeshift bed on the floor. They didn’t stay up much longer at Popeye left. They still had not fully recovered from the previous night, despite the various brief naps they’d taken. After a few mumbled words exchanged, Silas fell asleep. Merlin sighed and tried to get comfortable again, willing to bet all he owned that Silas had been too anxious to sleep alone.

He really hoped the kid would be okay without him.

 

Merlin wished he could use a spell to slow down time, because for some reason it had decided to zoom by as fast as it could.

The following morning, Granny Audrey had awoken them for a breakfast of pancakes and then had taken the both out shopping. According to her, they were both in dire needs of new clothing. Merlin managed to convince her that he didn’t need much since his school had uniforms, but Silas wasn’t so lucky. Afterwards, she dragged them both to a toy store and asked them to pick one thing each, a sort of welcome home present.

Needless to say, both boys felt awkward.

“No, really I don’t need anything,” Merlin tried to say.

“Oh come now, it’s fine. Anything you want,” Granny Audrey said and she gave him a pat on the head. “I don’t expect you’ve had many toys.”

“Yeah, but—” Silas said chewing on his bottom lip. Merlin caught him glancing toward the Star Wars Lego set. “We haven’t gotten our allowance yet.”

“Oh please, that’s Popeye’s idea. I personally don’t see the purpose of an allowance until you’re at least thirteen but,” she sighed. “Go on. I gave away all my children’s old toys to charity a few years ago. We’ve got nothing but board games, and I wasn’t sure whether to get boy or girl toys. You know we didn’t know whom we were going to get. Took them forever to approve our application.”

Merlin nudged Silas and gave him a meaningful look. They were not getting out of this toy store without buying something and let’s face it, they were secretly happy. Finally, Granny Audrey gave them a little push and they went off to explore the shelves of toys. Silas made a beeline for the Legos.

“You know my brother used to have some of these,” he muttered to Merlin in an undertone. “I don’t remember much, but I remember he used to build these really awesome ships and then play with them. He used to tell me stories with them too.”

Merlin shifted, unsure of what to say. “How old were you?” he finally asked.

“I dunno. Maybe six or seven?”

“How did he d—”

“Anyway, I want one of these.” He picked out a box with an Empire Fighter Ship on the cover. He gave Merlin a smile, but this time it completely reach his eyes. Merlin was dying to find out more about this brother. How had Silas ended up an orphan? What had happened to his family? But at the same time, Merlin felt like his brother had every right to keep his history to himself.

He did, after all.

“So, what do you want?”

“I don’t actually know.” Merlin had never seen toys like these before. In Camelot a wooden carving of a dragon had been his idea of a toy. Here there were balls, fancy dolls, small cars, stuffed animals, and a bunch of other stuff he wasn’t sure about. “What is that?” he asked, pointing toward a bunch of egg shaped things with the words Silly Putty on them.

“Oh! That’s like this soft non-sticky gum stuff that you can make into different shapes.” The real smile was returning. “Come on, I’ll show you some stuff you might like.”

There were Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Cabbage Patch Dolls, Transformers and playing cards. Merlin honestly would rather have a book than any toy – he was actually an adult, after all. But, that was not exactly an option – any books in the store were obviously for much younger children. Eventually, he found a small handheld maze where one had to get a small metal ball to the end. As they stood at the counter, waiting for their turn an outburst behind them made Silas and Merlin turn around.

“But I need it! My last one b-broke!”

An enormous boy with a mop of blond hair and small watery blue eyes was wailing to his mother in a loud shrill sound that filled the store. The woman, a thin horse faced woman immediately crooned and took something down from the shelf.

“Oh, don’t you cry, Duddy-kins, Momma’s going to buy you a new Gameboy and a few games. Will that be all right?”

Merlin wanted to hurl.

“Now boys,” Granny Audrey said in an undertone. Her face had darkened. It was the first time Merlin had seen her look so serious. “I don’t think I have to tell you that, that behavior is not okay. If you want something, you ask for it politely and if I say no, it’s for a good reason.”

“Trust me, Granny,” Silas said turning to her. “I don’t think that’ll be a problem.”

They dashed to the car after paying as the boy had started demanding a computer game as well. Merlin hadn’t like the way the boy had glanced at them either, the way his little eyes were laughing even though he was crying for toys. The way he had looked at the two of them as though they were just some toys and he would have fun playing with them later. Merlin had seen that look before.

“Hey, Silas?” he said after a moment. Granny Audrey was driving them back to the house. “Can you promise me something?”

“What?”

“If you run into that kid again, just turn around and walk in the opposite direction. I think it’d be better if we didn’t get tangled up with him.”

Silas gave him a very strange look but nodded. “Sure, I guess.”

But just like that, what was morning was now evening.  And then in the blink of an eye, it was the evening of Merlin’s last day. It was more painful than he wanted to admit. He could see the look in Silas’ eyes when he looked at him, this almost pitiful expression that told him exactly how much he would miss him.

“Popeye, would you mind if we went for a walk around the neighborhood?” Merlin asked. Silas glanced curiously at him, but jumped on board without a moment’s hesitation.

“Yeah, we won’t go far.”

Popeye gave them both a steady look before nodding. “All right. There’s a park at the end of the street, actually. Just be back in time for dinner.”

“Will do!” Merlin called out and he was out the door, Silas on his heels.

“So?” Silas asked after they had been walking for a few moments. He had stuck his hands into the pockets of his new jeans, which were clean and hole-less. He looked almost strange after wearing only ripped trousers for so long.

“It’s my last day.” He swallowed. “I wanted to see the neighborhood before I left.”

“Oh.” Silas was quiet for a long moment. “Right.”

Merlin glanced at him, his heart twisting in his chest as the boy beside him stared fixedly at his sneakers. They didn’t speak to each other again until they had reached the park. It was rather small, and the age showed despite of the good condition it was kept in. They headed for the sing set and sat down, the steel pipes creaking as they moved.

“I have no siblings,” Merlin said after a moment. Silas looked at him. “My mom raised me on her own. My dad left when I was little in order to keep us safe – there had been some people who knew he had magic, and we weren’t living in a magic-friendly place. I didn’t even know that until later. But, then my mom thought it’d be safer if I lived with a friend of hers. So, to try and protect me I moved and lived with Gaius.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Silas asked blankly, know staring at Merlin.

Merlin took a deep breath. “Because we’re brothers, and I want you to know about my family.” He gave a very sad smile. “Because I want you to know that it’s okay to tell me about yours too.”

Silas turned his head very quickly, looking at his feet swinging in the air a few inches off the ground. Merlin watched him for a moment before looking straight ahead.

“You don’t have to say anything. Not if you don’t want to. But,” Merlin bit his lip, “just know that whenever you do, I’m here for you.”

Merlin stepped off the swing, straightening up. The sun was starting to set. He knew they would have to head back to their new home soon.

“I don’t know what happened to my brother.”

Merlin turned around. Silas got to his feet as well, and when he looked up into Merlin’s face his expression was fixed, a solemn grimace. Silas shook his head, his jaw tight. He clenched his fist, and then turned around, hiding his face.

 “I don’t remember my parents. My mom died when I was just a baby and my father went after her a few years later. My brother raised me, but then one day he disappeared. He just didn’t come back, and I lived on the streets looking for him for nearly a year before I got to Wool’s.”

“Silas, I—”

“I know he’s probably dead. And if he isn’t then that’s even worse.” His shoulders had started to shake, his voice cracking. “So, you have to promise to come back. Because I-I can’t—I can’t lose—”

Merlin gave him a tight hug. “I’ll write you every week. You’re not going to lose me.”

Silas didn’t reply. He sniffled loudly and Merlin let him out of the hug. He turned around, hazel eyes watery and bright. “Okay.” He wiped his nose on his sleeve. “Okay,” he said again.

“I’ll be back before you know it,” Merlin told him, smiling. “And the Haddock’s are good people, you’ll be okay.”

“Yeah.” Silas smiled and then glanced around. “We should probably head back. Dinner will be soon.”

“Right. Let’s go.”

 

“You sure you don’t need to bring anything else?”

Granny Audrey was eyeing Merlin’s small bag with doubt, her frown adding lines to her already wizened face. Merlin nodded and slung the backpack over his shoulder. Inside he had stuffed the toy she had bought him, all his scarfs and some clothes. He didn’t really need much as he would have to wear his wizard robes most of the time anyway.

“I’m sure. My materials are already at school.” Snape had decided to keep possession of his stuff, to prevent any sort of breech in the statute of secrecy. He was very aware of the wand he had strapped to his leg. He hadn’t taken it off except to shower since the moment Snape had given it to him. And, with his ring securely around his neck, he was ready to go. “Really, I have everything.”

“All right.” Granny Audrey still seemed to have misgivings but she opened the door to the truck all the same. “Well, let’s go then. Don’t want you to be late. I don’t know how you would get to school then. Do you know where it is, even?”

“Uh—”

“Audrey, stop pestering him.” Popeye gave her a look. “Ms. Martha all ready told us everything she knew.”

“Well,” Granny Audrey huffed slightly. “When you do get to school, make sure to mail us. Or give us a ring, you have the number I gave you?”

“Uh, yes. I do.”

Merlin highly doubted there would be any telephones at Hogwarts, but he didn’t tell her that. He merely smiled and squeezed into the truck with Silas and off they drove. It was really lucky, how small he and Silas were. It was cramped now, and he didn’t even want to think about what it would have been like were he his normal size.

They got to the station with ten minutes to spare, but there was no spot for them to park. Plus, and of this Merlin was pretty positive, they wouldn’t take his walking straight into a barrier very well. “Just drop me off here, Granny, I can go in by myself.”

“What? Honey, I’m not sure I—”

“I don’t feel so good.” Silas leaned over, putting his head between his knees. He turned his head toward Merlin, and winked. They had talked about this the night before.

“Silas?!” Granny Audrey now turned her attention to the small boy beside her. “Are you all right?”

“Silas, are you okay? Can you walk?” Merlin asked, feinting concern.

Silas shook his head, clamping his mouth shut.

“Merlin, you sure you can find the right train by yourself?” Popeye asked. He looked worried, his brows bunching together. Merlin nodded.

“Yeah, I’m sure. I have my ticket. Will Silas be—?”

“You’re going to be late! He’ll be fine, just go.”

 “Bye, Sil!” he said and he gave him a tight, but brief hug.

“See you, Merlin.” Silas looked up at him. His eyes were shiny with unshed tears, but he was doing a good job of keeping himself under control.

“Merlin—”

“Thanks for everything!” Merlin said to the Haddocks. “Take care of him, please,” he said his voice thick and then he jumped out of the car and ran inside the station. He swallowed the lump in his throat and made his way through the crowd. Everything would be okay. He could not let himself cry – he was the adult. Silas would be just fine, and he would send him loads of letters. This wasn’t Camelot. The post here was much better.

When he reached the platforms, he stopped and caught his breath. He glanced at the clock and relaxed. He still had upwards of seven minutes to get onto the train, and the platform was right there. He took out his ticket. Platform nine-and-three-quarters. Snape had told him to walk at the barrier between nine and ten.

He felt it before he saw it.

There was a tug of magic, a pull that led him toward the block of bricks. It was emanating not from the stone itself, but from a point beyond it. He blinked and cocked his head, noting the odd shimmer that the pillar gave off. Well, at least he didn’t have any misgivings about walking straight into it. He looked around and, hoping that no one saw him, casually walked into it. For a second, it was black and then the world returned. The previous station had vanished, replaced instead by a single large red steam engine. The platform before him was packed with students, some already clad in black robes, others saying goodbye to parents in colored cloaks. A mother with flaming red hair was saying goodbye to a whole crowd of children with the same vibrant hair.

“At last Mr. Evans, for a moment I thought you would miss your only means of getting to school.”

Merlin jumped and turned around, too startled to reply with a sarcastic remark of his own. “Professor Snape? What are you—”

The black robed professor moved aside to reveal a trunk, and Merlin had no doubt about what was inside. He blinked, stared at the trunk for a moment before looking back at Snape – whom was enjoying the look of surprise on his face.

“You brought me my stuff?”

“I see we are still stating the obvious.” Snape rolled his eyes. “Yes, I do believe you will need your equipment and robes. Muggle clothing is not permitted in class.”

“Right.” Merlin crossed over to him and ran his hand over the top of the trunk. “I just thought you would be giving it to me at school.”

“You will need to change into your robes on the train. And,” Snape’s lip curled. Merlin saw his eyes flicker briefly to a spot behind him before turning to his face. “I had no desire to hold onto your things longer than necessary.”

  “I see. Uh, thanks, I guess.”

Snape gave him a long hard look before nodding. “You’re welcome. Now, I must return to school.” And, before Merlin even had time to say goodbye, the man had disapparated with a crack.

“Are you Snape’s son?”

Merlin turned very quickly. In front of him were two boys, both with flaming orange hair and identical wide grins. He recognized them as part of the crowd that had been around the red-haired lady just a few minutes before. The twins were ogling him as though he were some sort of rare treasure.

“What?” Merlin blinked and then, almost comically, glanced toward the spot where Snape had vanished. “Snape? No—no! I’m not his son.”

“What do you reckon, Fred?” one asked the other, as though he hadn’t just heard Merlin’s dismissal.

“I suppose if you look hard enough you can see some sort of resemblance,” his brother, Fred answered. “Mind you, that’s probably a good thing. Wouldn’t want those facial features.”

“Or allergy to shampoo.”

“In fact, he’s actually rather all right, for the spawn of the git.”

Merlin folded his arms, narrowing his eyes ever-so-slightly. “No, please, go right ahead. I’m not standing in front of you or anything.”

That seemed to snap the twins out of their exchange. Fred opened his mouth, and then closed it before turning to share an expression with his brother.

“Oh, he’s most definitely related to him.”

“I’m not!” Merlin tried to protest, but Fred held up his hand and smiled.

“Don’t worry, Snape Jr. Your secret is safe with us.”

Merlin knew there would be no point in trying to persuade him otherwise. He heaved a sigh and turned back to his trunk. The train blew steam and whistled, indicating that it was probably high time he stowed his possessions on board. For a second, the twins watched him and then without even needed to say a word to one another, stepped forward to help.

“Want some help with that?” It was the second brother who spoke this time. He gave Merlin a kind smile, somehow devoid of the mischievous glint that had possessed him not a few seconds before.

“Uh—” In all honesty, he didn’t need the help. With a muttered spell, he could make the trunk much easier to carry but he supposed that this way was better. It was more discreet, in any case. The twin must have picked up on his hesitation because he continued.

“I’m George Weasley, and this is my brother, Fred.” He stuck out his hand. “What’s your name?”

And, after a split second, Merlin shook it. “Merlin Evans.”

“He named you after Merlin?”

“We aren’t related!” Merlin managed not to roll his eyes. He had a feeling that no matter how many times he’d say it, they wouldn’t believe it.

“All right then, Merlin. Let’s get your trunk onto the train before it leaves without us.”

After a few minutes of laborious pulling and lifting, his trunk was finally inside the train. He smiled, glancing at the two brothers. “Thanks,” he said. Fred blinked, but before he could actually say anything someone called out his and George’s name.

“Coming, Mum!” he called back. He turned to go, but paused. “Hey, you’re a first year, right?”

“Right…”

“Why don’t you come with? I have a brother that’s going to be in your year.”

Merlin stared. “Uh… okay.” He wasn’t quite sure what to make of these Weasley twins. They gave him a clash of vibes, a light-hearted mischievous aura and a genuinely kind elder brother. It made the air around them feel as warm as their hair. George beamed when Merlin accepted – though he expected Fred would’ve dragged him along even if he’d refused – and he placed an arm on his shoulder.

“C’mon, let’s go meet ickle-Ronnie-kins.”

“That sounds like the name of a cat,” Merlin said as he was steered forward, walking toward the woman with hair just like the twins.

Fred snorted with laughter. “Oh, I’m so remembering that one for whenever Mum calls him that again.”

“Fred, here’s your lunch and—well, who’s this?”

Mrs. Weasley had a warm smile, with lovely dimples and crow’s feet. She was on the heavier side, but her robes artfully accented her better points. She was holding a bag filled with brown paper bags with names on them. From the look of it, she had upwards of five children that she was sending off.

“This is Merlin, mum. He’s a first year we ran into.”

“Pleasure to meet you,” and Merlin inclined his head just barely to the woman. The action was meet with stares all around. “What?”

“N-nothing.” Mrs. Weasley said brushing it aside. A young girl at her side was still gazing at him, her brilliant green eyes wide. “First year, you said? Well you ought to meet Ron.”

“Which would explain why these two kidnapped me,” Merlin replied, a small smile playing about his mouth. He tried to look annoyed though, in a mocking, light-hearted sort of way.

“Whose gotta meet Ron?”

Merlin turned around. The boy was about his height, maybe an inch taller with a swarm of freckles on his nose and cheeks. He could see something dark right on the bridge of his nose that looked somewhat like a smudge of dirt. Immediately, Merlin knew he wasn’t the prankster type, nor did he seem particularly interested in him.

“Whose this?”

“I’m Merlin.”

He stared at him, and then looked up at the twins. “Very funny. Who are you, really?”

Merlin narrowed his eyes. “Spawn of the devil.” Behind him, Fred snorted with laughter again. “Seriously, my name is Merlin Evans.”

“Really?” Ron gave him a once over. “Ever think that’s a bit much to live up to?”

“Not really.”

“Okay,” George cut in, seeming to be with holding laughter as well. “Change of plans.”

“We are most definitely not handing this piece of comedic gold over to you,” Fred finished.

“Mother,” another boy spoke, joining the group. He was already in his Hogwarts robes. “The prefects are all meeting up front, so I’m off.”

“Oh, are you a prefect Percy?” George said turning to him with a look of mock surprise. “You should have said something.”

“Hang on, I think I remembering him mentioning it once, or twice.”

“A minute.”

“All summer.”

“Enough!” Percy glared at them before turning and pecking his mother on the cheek. “Goodbye.”

“Take care, dear,” and Mrs. Weasley handed him one of the bags. She then turned to the twins, her hands on her hips. “Now, you two. Behave yourselves. If I get one more owl telling me—telling me you’ve blown up a toilet or—”

“Blown up a toilet? We’ve never blown up a toilet. Great idea though, thanks mum.”

“It’s not funny. ”

Merlin thought it was hilarious. He was trying very hard not to let his smile increase in size.

“And look after Ron.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll look after ickle-Ronnie-kins.”

“Shut up!” Ron snapped, his ears going red.

Merlin and George exchanged expressions of hidden laughter. The little girl was still ogling him, and Merlin felt a strange desire to wave his hand in front of her face. The train blew a whistle, and they knew it was time to go. Merlin stood back as he watched Mrs. Weasley kiss all her sons goodbye. She tried to rub the dirt off Ron’s nose, but with little success. And the next minute, they were all clambering onto the train.

Their sister began to cry.

“Don’t Ginny, we’ll send you loads of owls!” Fred called out to her through one of the windows.

“Yeah, we’ll send you a Hogwarts toilet seat!”

“George!”

“Only joking mum!”

Merlin smiled and then waved as well. She smiled back, though her cheeks were wet. As the train started moving, Ginny ran after it – half laughing, half crying – until it picked up speed and she fell back, waving.

“Careful Merlin, that’s my sister you’re smiling at,” Fred said, apparently having noticed.

Merlin quickly dropped his hand. “I didn’t—”

“Relax.” He laughed. “Well, come on, mate.”

Ron had vanished from behind them. Merlin didn’t mind though and he didn’t ask where he’d gone, supposing he’d gone to find his own compartment. Merlin liked the twins a little more than he did Ron. They were more similar.

He followed them through the hallway. “So, how many years have you been at Hogwarts?” Merlin asked.

“Three,” the twins replied in unison.

“Although it feels like longer, doesn’t it Fred?”

“No idea how we’ll survive all seven. Filtch will probably kill us during detention if the bludgers don’t get us during practice.”

“Um, a what?”

“A bludger.” They both stopped, turning to look at him. Fred raised an eyebrow while George adopted a more surprised expression. “You know, Quidditch?”

“Uh…”

“You cannot be serious. How don’t you know what Quidditch is?”

Merlin frowned, and folded his arms. “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because I didn’t grow up in the magical world?”

“You didn’t—”

“How is that possible?” George asked, seeming horrified. “Your dad—”

“For the last time, he’s not my dad.” He had a father. A father that he was very proud of.

“Seriously?”

“Yes, you dollop head!”

Fred gave him a strange look while George seemed to be trying to decide whether or not he should laugh. “You sure you’re not like… distantly related or something?”

Merlin rolled his eyes.

“Okay, okay. So are your parents muggleborns, or something?”

Merlin shifted uncomfortably. George must have seen the movement because he suddenly elbowed his brother in the side and gave him a meaningful look.

“Oh, oh. Sorry. I—” Fred stammered but Merlin cut him off.

“It’s okay.”

“Was your dad’s name Balthazar?” asked George, keeping his face perfectly serious.

Merlin gave him a gentle shove. “Shut up.” He didn’t entirely understand the reference, but he didn’t want them to know that. George laughed and put his arm on his shoulder again.

“Well, fear not. We—” and he exchanged looks with Fred, “—will teach you everything you need to know about Hogwarts.”

“Especially how not to get caught.”

“Yes, definitely how not to get caught.”

 

Chapter Text

The Weasley twins were popular.

Merlin hadn’t expected that, though in retrospect he figured that their warm playfulness appealed to more than just him. Students from every house smiled and greeted them as they walked down the hallway. Of course, some were suspicious, and some were more than a little annoyed but that was to be expected if one was a troublemaker. They were invited to join several compartments, and sometimes the twins poked their heads inside to say hello before continuing on their way up the train.

“Where are we going?” Merlin asked as they finally managed to get out of a compartment filled with giggling Hufflepuff girls.

“Lee Jordan.”

“He’s our partner in crime,” George elaborated. “He’s brought a giant tarantula with him – he was showing everyone at the station.” Then he grinned and exchanged a look with his brother. “Merlin only knows how much fun we’ll have with that.”

“What? I don’t—”

Fred choked on a laugh, his pace slowing a he turned around to glance at him. “Right! Um… well Merlin – historical Merlin, I mean – has sort of become…” he trailed off and glanced at George as though wondering how best to phrase it.

“A cuss word.” George grinned. “Or a god, I suppose.”

“A god?” Merlin repeated, staring dumbfounded at him. “You’re kidding right?”

“Okay, not a god god. More like a wizard saying?” He frowned, as though he didn’t like that explanation. “Kind of like how muggles say, ‘Oh my god,’ wizards say, ‘Merlin’s beard.’ Does that make sense?”

“I think so.” Merlin felt a little lightheaded, his ego soaring to new heights.

“Well, you best get used to it. You’re going to hear it all the time.”

“Just remember they’re not actually talking about you.”

Actually, they are.

“Right,” Merlin said slowly, processing this new information. It seemed that Arthur’s tone of his name had spread further than he’d thought. Even back then he’d thought that it sounded a bit like a swear, but to find that it was actually used as such centuries later? Well, he hadn’t seen that one coming.

“By the way, you’re not squeamish about spiders are you?” Fred asked, as though in afterthought. He glanced back at him again, raising an eyebrow.

Merlin mimicked him. “You even have to ask?”

Fred grinned and stopped before a compartment with a single boy inside, a box beside him. With a flourish, Fred pushed opened the door and went inside, George nodding for Merlin to follow him.

“Lee! So splendid to see you!” Fred said, and he gave a mock bow.

Lee Jordan was dark-skinned boy with thick black dreadlocks. He grinned broadly when he saw them. “Glad you could make it,” he said with the same air of mockery. His eyes flickered over to Merlin, and then to George.

“He’s tall for a firstie.”

I’m actually twice your age.

“The name’s Merlin.” He stretched out his hand. “And yes, I am named after a thousand year old powerful warlock, thank you for noticing.”

On either side of him, the twins snorted with laughter. Lee chuckled, looking from Fred to George as he shook Merlin’s hand. “Where did you find this guy?” he asked, his words intertwined with laughter.

“On the platform?” Merlin suggested, raising his eyebrow.

George patted Merlin’s shoulder. “Found Ol’ Snape dropping him off,” he said brightly. “Was a bit eerie, to tell the truth.”

“Snape?” Lee repeated blinking, and then he gasped. “Are you—?”

“No—I’m—” Merlin tried to say, but Fred spoke over him.

“You can’t tell anyone, all right? It’s a secret.” He glanced at Merlin and winked, as though he was now part of some secret organization. Merlin on the other hand, frowned. They knew he wasn’t, so why were they trying to play this up?

George seemed to know what he was thinking because he muttered in an undertone, “Go with it.”

“But—”

“It’ll pay off later. Trust us.”

Merlin wasn’t sure what he meant by that, but he didn’t argue further. Instead he looked up and gave a grimace. “And if you tell anyone,” he told Lee, “they’ll never find your bones.”

He smiled.

Lee chuckled in reply, although Merlin could see that he was at least considering his threat. Maybe Snape’s reputation was one of greater cruelty than he had suspected. “Don’t worry, they’re not finding out from me.”

Merlin wasn’t sure whether or not he could trust him. So, he merely nodded and finally, took a seat. And, the twins followed suit.

“So, where is it?” Fred asked eagerly, though he fixed his gaze on the cardboard box lying on the seat beside Lee. The boy beamed and put the box on his lap but before he took off the lid, he glanced warily toward Merlin.

“You sure he’s…” he trailed off awkwardly.

“Oh, he’s definitely safe. Wouldn’t have brought him otherwise.” George glanced toward Merlin. “Right?”

“Trust me,” Merlin said, grinning in spite of himself. “Shenanigans are what I live for.” When there aren’t more important things, anyway.

Lee nodded, seemingly satisfied and opened it. “Everyone, meet Esmeralda.” Inside, sitting on a piece of cloth was a spider larger than Merlin’s hand. Its entire body was covered with long black and orange hair. She looked up at them with glittering black eyes, and all of the boys leaned closer.

“Whoa,” George said with a kind of reverence in his tone. “She’s huge!”

“She’s gorgeous!” Merlin added, his eyes wide. He had never seen such a brightly colored spider before. He’d never thought a spider could look smug but somehow she did, as though she could understand their flattery.

“You thinking what I’m thinking?” Fred asked, glancing toward his brother with one of his mischievous smirks.

“Most definitely.”

 

Neville Longbottom was a bundle of uncertainties.

Of that, Hermione Granger was certain. At first, she had thought the poor boy was younger than her with his babyish face and immaturity. But then she realized that what Neville really suffered from was low self-esteem and she knew that he would become a target for bullies. She’d seen it happen several times during her stay at public school. She knew what it felt like to be singled out, too.

Maybe that’s why she had withdrawn into books and academics the way that she had.

So, when she had seen the poor blubbering boy tearing up his compartment with water in his eyes, she had been unable to walk on by. She could even understand why the toad was so important to him. She was willing to bet that Trevor had been his only friend for a while.

“He might have gotten out into the hallway,” she suggested after they searched every corner of the compartment. “We should expand our search to the other compartments.”

“Oh no.” Neville started wringing his hands. “What if someone—”

“Neville,” Hermione interrupted firmly. “He’ll turn up. This isn’t the first time you’ve lost him, is it?”

Neville shook his head, whipping his cheeks.

“Then we’ll find him.” She opened the door and stepped out into the hallway, looking up and down. “We’ll cover more ground if we split up. I’ll go this way, okay? Let’s reconvene in ten minutes.”

“Let’s what?”

Hermione often forgot that not everyone had her level of vocabulary. “Meet here again in ten minutes,” she quickly amended, waving her hand. Neville bit his lip before nodding and scuffling down the hallway. Hermione watched him go for a second before stopping by the next compartment.

“Hello, you haven’t seen a toad by any chance?” she asked.

The occupants of most compartments just glanced at her before continuing their conversation. Sometimes they were polite enough to look around but there was no luck. She realized that if she badgered them a little, she got a better reaction – probably more out of a desire to get rid of her, but she would take what she could get.

“Has anyone seen a toad? A boy called Neville’s lost one!” she said as she opened another compartment door. The only occupant, a red-haired boy staring out the window, glanced over at her.

“No.” He looked back out the window. The rat beside him was lying on it’s back in a patch of sunshine, looking more dead than alive.

Hermione frowned. “Well, why don’t you come help me look? It’s not like you’re doing anything else.”

The boy’s head snapped back to her, his eyes narrowing. She could see a smudge of dirt on his nose. “Yeah?” he asked, a little aggressive. “Maybe I just don’t want to go looking for a frog.”

“Toad,” Hermione automatically corrected.

“Whatever.”

Hermione frowned. She knew she wasn’t going to get anything out from this boy. “Fine, then sit here alone. I’m sure you’re having loads of fun staring out the window.”

She turned to leave but paused when she saw the boy glance back at her one more time with a strange expression on his face. She knew that expression. The proud, I’m fine being alone except I’m secretly not. “I’m sorry,” she said turning back to him. “You sure you don’t want to come? I could really use the help.”

The boy gave her a long hard look before standing up and sticking the rat into his pocket. “Sure, I guess I can come.”

Hermione gave him a small smile and she led the way out of the compartment. “I’m Hermione Granger, by the way,” she said once they were in the hallway.

“Ron Weasley.”

“Pleasure.” She glanced at her watch. “Let’s go this way. I told Neville to meet back at his compartment to check our progress.”

“Wait, so he might have already found his toad?”

“I doubt it,” Hermione sighed. “I really doubt it.”

Ron gave her an appraising look before shrugging and following her down the corridor. After a few minutes they found the compartment, except there was no one there. Hermione frowned and glanced at her watch again. “He should be here by now.”

“C’mon, then,” Ron said and he started walking up the train, Hermione following. After several minutes, they found him inside a compartment, and it took all of two seconds to realize he needed assistance.

“Neville!” Hermione called out, bursting through the door.

“Oh, so you do have friends. My mistake.”

The boy sneered at her, his gray eyes narrowed in black humor. Neville was cowering beneath the gaze of two other boys, both burly and mean looking. Hermione had half a mind to step back when they turned their gaze to her, and she swallowed lifting her chin as high as she dared.

“Yes. He does.” She turned her gaze on the pale boy, refusing to be intimidated by him. “And we would like him back, thank you very much.”

“Oh, I’m not sure. We were having so much fun together, weren’t we? Longbottom?

Neville whimpered. “I-I—”

“Hey, you should pick on someone your own size!” Ron snapped, his ears turning pink.

“Oh? Is that an invitation?”

“Neville, come here,” Hermione muttered, grabbing the boy’s sleeve and pulling him toward the compartment door. But the pale boy grabbed her wrist.

“Just who do you think you are?” he spat.

“Hey! Let go of her—!”

“Oi! What’s going on here?”

All eyes swiveled around to look at a pair of taller boys that boor an uncanny resemblance to Ron. Hermione blinked, before wrenching her arm out of the grip of the pale boy, her brown eyes flashing. The pale boy smirked and glanced over at them.

“Let me guess, Weasleys? Did you know you guys are starting to pop up like gophers, or is that your intention?”

“Oh, I don’t know Malfoy. There could be worse things. At least they aren’t prats, like you.”

It was a new voice that spoke. Hermione tried to glance around the twins to catch sight of him but the next moment the two boys had moved aside to allow the speaker to come forward. He was rather tall, and thin with defined cheekbones and brilliant blue eyes that twinkled. Thorns of black hair contrasted sharply with his pale skin, making her wonder whether or not he might be something more than just human.

But of course that was absurd.

“Sorry, I mean, Lord Prat.”

The pale boy, Malfoy, stiffened. “Evans.”

And Evans smiled in return.

 

Merlin and the twins had heard the commotion while they had been attempting to plant the spider in a compartment filled with Ravenclaw girls. Lee was distracting the girls in the hallway with exploding snaps and Quidditch stories. Merlin was still holding the cardboard box in his hands, leaning it casually against his side as he met Malfoy’s eyes evenly.

“You know him?” Ron asked, looking from Merlin to Malfoy with a mixture of shock and anger.

“We go way back, don’t we, Evans?” Malfoy said with a smirk. Merlin caught the nervous glances in his direction, as even the Weasley twins seemed uncomfortable.

Merlin rolled his eyes. “Oh yeah, definitely. All the way back to Madam Malkin’s, what was it? Last month? Has your ego been sufficiently soothed since then?”

Fred unsuccessfully tried to cover his snort of laughter. Merlin smiled all the more broadly, and turned his attention to the other people in the compartment. There was another boy he didn’t know – other than the two masses of flesh flanking Malfoy – who was nearly on the floor, his cheeks red and wet. Trying to help him get to his feet was a girl with very bushy brown hair and rather large front teeth. She was staring at him with a mixture of admiration and suspicion.

“C’mon Neville,” she murmured, and she finally managed to pull the boy to the compartment door. She glanced at him, and Merlin stepped aside nodding before turning back to Malfoy. She disappeared through the door, dragging Neville behind her.

“I hope you know what you’re doing,” Ron muttered as he followed Hermione out.

“Didn’t think you were one to stand up for cry-babies,” Malfoy said, folding his arms.

“And you know me so well, right?” Merlin quipped back. Malfoy sneered at him, and seemed about to reply when he was interrupted.

“You know, Fred,” George began thoughtfully, “I still have not forgotten the fact that he insulted us.”

“You know, neither have I.” A mischievous smile graced Fred’s face.

“I don’t think we should just let that slide, should we?”

“No, I don’t think you should,” Merlin added and he mimicked Fred’s grin. “After all, they made someone cry. And upset a lady.”

“A lady? You call that—”

Before Malfoy could finish, Fred lobbed several exploding snaps at his and his cronies’ feet. Merlin was sure the screams and shouts could be heard out in the corridor, but he didn’t care. He was flush with excitement, high from the adrenaline. George threw a stink bomb and amid the confusion and smoke, Merlin opened the box and let the spider out. He and the twins retreated back into the hallway and shut the door tightly behind them, listening as the boys inside caught sight of the spider and panicked.

“Crack the door open, I’ll toss another one inside and let Esmeralda out. Lee will be upset if one of those blundering idiots crushes her.”

Merlin nodded to George, and opened the door. The stench of rotten eggs was so strong that he nearly blanched. As George pushed another bomb into the room, the spider scuttled out and past them, trotting down the hallway.

“After her!” George shouted, and Fred slammed shut the compartment door. He pulled out his wand as George dashed after the spider.

“What are you doing?” Merlin asked, preparing to run after George. “You can’t use magic outside of school!”

“You can on the train.” He tapped the door and muttered something. “Learned that over the summer.”

“What did you do?”

“Locked them in.” He grinned darkly and then sped down the hallway after his brother. Merlin was about to follow when something made him stop and he glanced back at the locked door. The smell was so putrid and strong that it was leaking into the hallway. Within he could hear coughing and gagging. Merlin groaned, running a hand through his hair.

Malfoy was a jerk, but he didn’t deserve suffocation.

He bent by the door and muttered a spell, his eyes flashing gold. The door unlocked and Malfoy burst though, his face ashen. However Merlin was right there, and the boy collided with him, sending them both tumbling into the corridor. After several loud coughs and gulps of air, Malfoy wiped his forehead and looked up at him.

“Why did you do that?” he croaked. Behind him, his two bodyguards stumbled into the hallway after them and shut the door. The shorter one seemed to be trying very hard not to throw up.

“Because you’re a prat who was bullying—”

Malfoy shook his head, cutting him off. “That, I am fairly aware of,” he ground out. “I mean…” and he paused, looking both confused and angry. He coughed again. “I mean, why did you let us out?”

Merlin stared at him. “Would you leave someone to suffocate in rotten eggs?”

“You’re friends didn’t seem to mind.”

Merlin gave him a long hard look before getting to his feet. “Yeah, well. I didn’t fancy turning into a hypocrite.” He glanced up the hallway where Fred and George had disappeared.

“Those two…” Malfoy said, following his gaze, “should have been in Slytherin.”

“Tell me about it.”

They didn’t really say goodbye. It was more of an awkward, thanks for not letting me asphyxiate now get out of here before someone finds out I had to be rescued by someone I don’t like. In any case, Merlin left feeling a bit weird – as though he and Malfoy had bonded slightly. It made him feel good, in a way. As though maybe it was possible to change Malfoy from his snobbish and cruel mannerisms.

“Where were you?” George asked when he finally managed to catch up. The twins had cornered the spider against the wall and were trying to coax her back into the box.

“Sorry, got held up,” Merlin said.

Fred looked at him. “You let them out.” It wasn’t a question.

Merlin met his gaze. “I did.”

The spider finally climbed back into the box and George clamped the lid shut over her. Fred was silent for a moment, and then he shook his head and turned away, walking back down the hallway.

“Fred!” Merlin called after him, but George grabbed his arm.

“What did he do?”

“After you ran after the spider, he locked Malfoy and his friends in the compartment with the stink bombs. I stayed behind to let them out.” Merlin folded his arms, as though daring George to get upset with him as well. But, to his surprise, the twin merely sighed and he glanced at his brother’s retreating back.

“Sometimes, Freddie goes a little too far.”

“You think?”

George glared at him before sobering up and nodding. “He’ll get better.” And then he grinned. “He’s got me for a conscious, after all!”

Merlin raised an eyebrow.

“Well, I try.”

“C’mon, let’s give Lee his spider back,” Merlin said and he lead the way down the hallway after Fred.

 

If Fred was upset that Merlin had unlocked Malfoy’s compartment, he didn’t show it. They caught up to him at Lee’s compartment, where he was telling Lee all about their adventure. He did edit out the part about him locking the door, however. Merlin decided not to bring it up either. He figured that if Fred really had a problem with what he’d done then he’d bring it up himself.

It did seem, however, that Fred had lost interest in pranking for the rest of the trip. Instead, they played exploding snap and entertained Merlin with Quidditch stories. Both Fred and George were on the Gryffindor team as beaters, and apparently, Lee was the commentator for the matches. He happened to be a very good storyteller.

“I think we’re almost there. We ought to change into our robes,” George said glancing out the window and cutting across Lee’s rather biased recount of a Slytherin verses Gryffindor match that had lasted over three hours.

Merlin looked outside too, noting how the world had darkened. The compartment grew silent as all the boys dug in their trunks for their black wizarding robes.

As Merlin pulled his shirt over his head there was a jingle as his metal necklace rattled. “What’s that?” George asked putting his robe on already. He nodded toward the ring that Merlin had tied around his neck, now clearly visible on his bare pale chest.

“Uh…” Merlin hurriedly snuggled into his school robes, hiding it once more from view. “A family heirloom,” he answered in an offhand way, hoping that the boy would leave it at that.

“Speaking of!” Lee suddenly said making everyone look at him. “Did you hear? Someone tried to rob Gringotts!”

What!?”

Merlin and the Weasley Twins gaped at him. Fred was still only halfway dressed, giving him a rather comic appearance. “Did they take anything?” he asked, finishing and grabbing a gold and maroon tie from his trunk.

“Not sure yet.” Lee looked both worried and excited. “The goblins say that nothing was, but you know…” he trailed off meaningfully.

“The goblins are all right!” Merlin said, his eyes narrowing minutely.

Lee raised an eyebrow. “I know more than one wizard who would beg to differ.”

Merlin frowned but decided not to say anything more. He didn’t want to get into a fight, or reveal why he felt so strongly on the matter. So, he just shrugged and turned away to tie his shoes.

“Um… Lee?” George sniggered. “Your robe is backwards.”

“Damnit!”

It wasn’t long after that when the train slowed to stop. Merlin’s heart beat wildly in his chest, excitement pulsing through his veins. He closed his eyes for a moment, stretching out his magic. He could sense the power that resided so nearby, the tingling of the earth.

It felt oddly familiar.

“Right, so we’re going to have to split up.”

“What?” Merlin looked sharply back at George.

“First years have this tradition thing. You guys are going over the lake in boats. And then you have to be sorted into your house.” He smiled.

“How exactly are we sorted?” Merlin asked, following them as they lead the way out of the compartment and out the train.

“It’s the most terrifying thing you’ve ever—” Merlin interrupted him with a skeptical brow. “You put on this hat, okay?” George sighed. “It whispers in your ear and decides where you ought to go.”

“Okay.” Merlin couldn’t be entirely sure that George wasn’t attempting to pull his leg for a second time, but from the look on Lee and Fred’s face he was getting the truth.

“Firs’ years this way! Firs’ years over ‘ere!”

“Time to go,” Fred said and he gave Merlin a small smile. “See you in the Great Hall.” The next minute, the three of them had disappeared into the crowd of students, leaving Merlin alone. He took a deep breath and turned around, following the booming voice calling the first years over.

It wasn’t hard to find.

The man calling out was enormous. Instantly, Merlin knew he was a giant – or some subspecies. He was more than twice the size of a normal man, and five times as wide. But he could see the gentle expression in his beetle black eyes, the kindness in a smile half-hidden by bushy black hair.

“Everyone ‘ere? Right.” The giant looked around at the crowd of young students around him. “My name is Rubeus Hagrid, Keeper of Keys and Grounds at Hogwarts.” He paused a moment, smiling at them. “Follow me and mind yer step.”

No one talked much as they followed the giant Hagrid through the darkness. Merlin felt uncomfortable. He longed to break the silence with a witty remark, but he had no idea what to say. He tried to look on either side of them, but a thick grove of trees blocked his view.

“You’ll be getting’ yer first look at Hogwarts in a minute. Jus’ round this bend.”

Merlin sped up. He was excited. He wanted to see it. As they came through the trees, an enormous castle came into view. A resounding awe went through the first years, eyes fixed on the lights and tall spires poking holes in the cloudless sky. Its majestic beauty was reflected in the black lake before them, several little boats in front of them.

“No more then four to a boat!” Hagrid called out, already down by the shore.

Everyone stumbled over to him, slipping and sliding on the rocks, still gazing at the castle. Everyone except Merlin. He stood, rooted the spot. He was staring, his heartbeat thundering in his chest with something more than just excitement. He could taste the magic in the air, the swell of power that rolled off the building and over to them. His magic rose into the air to meet it, to intertwine as though greeting a long lost friend.

And, in a way he was. Time had changed it, had made the lake grown larger, the forest thicker. Everything was different, but at the same time there was so much the same. The same magic ingrained into the earth beneath his feet. He released a bellow of laughter, casting his eyes to the sky.

The founders had built Hogwarts on the Isle of the Blessed.

The nostalgia that swept over him made his knees weak. He could have fallen to the ground and cried, tears of happiness just to be able to see something he knew. Something that was a relic of home. But he couldn’t. No one would understand. Already, other kids were staring at him.

Shaking himself, Merlin quickly stumbled over to the boats. Most were already full. He bit his lip, trying to decide which one to hop in when someone spoke.

“Evans. Could you take any longer?”

Merlin turned, catching sight of Malfoy. He only had three in his boat, and even as he watched he seemed to move to make room for him. Knowing that he was the last one, Merlin didn’t waste any time being shocked and stumbled into the boat.

“Sorry I can’t appreciate this spectacular view for longer than five seconds,” he replied.

Malfoy rolled his eyes, looking somewhat like he already regretted this decision. The boats set off on their own, gliding across the lake with Hagrid in the lead. Merlin was silent for a few moments.

“Thanks,” he murmured in an undertone, still gazing up at the castle in wonder.

“Don’t thank me,” Malfoy snapped back. “We’re even now.”

“What? You think public humiliation is equivalent to suffocation?”

“I could always have Crabbe push you out of the boat.”

“No, I think this covers your debt to me,” Merlin said quickly. He did not doubt that Malfoy would carry out his threat and the water, beautiful as it was, looked cold. “You know, you still kind of stink.”

Malfoy hit the back of his head, causing the boat to rock.

Luckily, the trip was short. Before long they had reached the shore and Merlin quickly put distance between himself and Malfoy. He could feel Ron’s eyes on the back of his head, boring into his skull. He was no idiot, he knew the Malfoy’s and the Weasley’s bore some sort of familial animosity toward each other. If he wanted this to work, he would need to walk a careful line.

“Oi, is this your toad?”

“Trevor!”

Up the marble steps and through large front door, the other students stared around as though they had never been in a castle before. Merlin felt like he had come home. The large entrance halls, elegant tapestries, and stonewalls. Even though all the magic in the air was making his own dance around him, the familiarity calmed him. It relaxed him and stopped his magic from lashing out.

Oh, a house was nowhere near to the home of a castle.

Hagrid left then, handing them over to a very stern looking witch. She gazed at them all for a moment. “I am Professor McGonagall, Deputy Headmistress. Now in just a moment you will go through these doors and join your classmates, but before you can do that you must be sorted into your houses.” Some of the students fidgeted nervously, unsure of what this might entail. Merlin was not one of them, meeting the witches’ eyes and waiting for her explanation.

“They are Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin. Triumphs will earn you points, whilst any rule breaking will lose them. At the end of the year, the house with the most points is awarded the house cup. I trust you all will put forth your effort to help whichever house you are sorted into.”

There was a general murmur of agreement through the students. The witch nodded and then disappeared through the doors, leaving them alone for a moment. Whispers broke out at once.

“How do you think we’ll be sorted?”

“I don’t remember being told about this!”

“I was told it hurts a lot, but I reckon that’s not actually true…”

Merlin resisted the urged to turn around and join the conversation. He wasn’t sure of what would happen either. All he had was George’s word and he knew the cloth that boy was cut from all too well.

“I never got to thank you, for what you did on the train.”

It was the bushy haired girl that had been in Malfoy’s compartment rescuing the tearful boy. Merlin shrugged, smiling at her.

“Uh, no problem. It wasn’t just me, you know.”

“I know that. But I was ever so pleased that someone came to help out. I can’t help but think that something really bad could have happened otherwise.”

Something sort of did.

“Yeah, well.” Merlin fidgeted, glancing down at his feet. “Not sure I completely agree.”

She frowned, growing confused but before she could ask about what he meant – and much to his relief – the stern witch came back.  “Follow me,” Professor McGonagall called out to them and she lead them though the front doors.

Merlin felt Hermione fall into line behind him, but he didn’t try to make conversation with her as they walked into an enormous hall. Four long tables were before them, a fifth one against the far back wall. Above, millions of candles hung in the air, while a clear cloudless sky sparkled with millions of stars.

“It’s not really the sky,” Hermione said behind him, though to no one in particular. “It’s just bewitched to look like the night sky. I read about it Hogwarts, A History.”

Merlin turned around. “There’s a book on the history of Hogwarts?” he asked her. He would love to get his hands on that book that was for sure. She looked a little startled by his interest.

“Of—of course there is! It’s really fantastic too. A bit dry at some points, but I really—”

Someone behind her shushed them and she trailed off. They were nearly at the front now, anyway. Merlin wanted to ask her whether or not she owned the book and if he could borrow it. But, he supposed that the library also ought to have it. He looked up at the high table and caught sight of Dumbledore.

The aged wizard caught his eye and smiled warmly. Merlin grinned back, no trace of apprehension on his face. He didn’t understand why some students – like Ron and Neville – were so nervous. It wasn’t that big of a deal.

Professor McGonagall walked ahead of them, placing a three-legged stole in front of them. And, on top, she placed a hat. It was very old, patched frayed and dirty. Merlin however, recognized it at once. Godric’s hat! So that was how they had done it. Merlin beamed at the aged cloth. Though, he was curious about how the hat was going to do anything before a rip opened wide and burst into song.

Oh, you may not think I’m pretty,
But don’t judge on what you see,
I’ll eat myself if you can find
A smarter hat than me.
You can keep your bowlers black,
Your top hats sleek and tall.
For I’m the Hogwarts Sorting Hat
And I can top them all.
There’s nothing hidden in your head
The Sorting Hat can’t see
So try me on and I will tell you
Where you ought to be.
You might belong in Gryffindor,
Where dwell the brave at heart,
Their daring nerve and chivalry
Set Gryffindor’s apart;
You might belong in Hufflepuff
Where they are just and loyal
Those patient Hufflepuffs are true
And unafraid of toil;
Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw
If you’ve a steady mind
Where those of wit and learning
Will always find their kind
Or perhaps in Slytherin
You’ll make your real friends,
Those cunning folk use any means
To achieve their ends
So put me on! Don’t be afraid!
And don’t get in a flap!
You’re in safe hands [though I have none]
For I’m a thinking cap

Everyone burst into applause when the hat had finished its song. Merlin followed suit, although worry had started to creep into his heart. What exactly did that hat mean, that it could see everything inside his head? Would it know that he was the actual Merlin? Would it tell anyone?

Merlin bit his lip, watching as McGonagall started calling names. At least it looked like whatever dialogue that went on between the hat and the student was private, only the house name shouted aloud. It didn’t stop Merlin from wringing his hands. Great, now he was just another apprehensive face in the crowd. He knew he had relaxed too soon.

And Evans was right at the top of the list too.

“Evans, Merlin.”

A few laughs and whispers broke out when they heard his name. Merlin knew they were comparing him to the old sorcerer, but he didn’t care. He walked forward, holding his head high and sat down on the stool. The hat was placed over his head and everything went black.

Why, if it isn’t the great and powerful Merlin. I never thought I’d have the chance to sort you, much less in this time period.

Merlin swallowed, gripping the stole tightly with his hands. You can’t tell anyone, he thought desperately. No one must know about me.

Of course not, the hat replied. Now, where should I put you? You possess qualities from all houses. Brave and loyal, intelligent and cunning.

Merlin rolled his eyes. Fantastic, we’ll be here all night.

Preferably not. Merlin could actually feel the hat poking through his mind, now the he actually focused. You are the greatest wizard to ever live; it would make sense if you possessed the best of all houses. You helped create them, after all.

Merlin shifted on the seat. He felt awkward receiving such high praise. He was still a servant back in Camelot.

You do not remember helping Godric to enchant me? The hat actually sounded surprised.

No…that hasn’t happened yet, for me, anyway.

But it has. The memory is here.

Merlin felt numb, as though someone had just doused him in icy water. W-what? He was starting to breathe a little faster, a swirl of confusion and shock clogging his brain. His magic vibrated, threatening to expand and explode. I don’t remember—

There is a block on your memories, the hat whispered into his year, and he could hear the tone grow dark and angry. A black curse has eaten them away, is preventing you from accessing them. Even I cannot see past a certain point.

Can you fix it? Merlin asked.

I am merely a hat. I cannot. I am not sure anyone can.

Merlin clenched the stole again, but this time it was out of frustration and anger. He had thought that he had gotten all of his missing memories back. What do you mean, a black curse? What do I—

I cannot help you, Merlin, the hat interrupted. I can only see into your mind and sort you into your house, nothing more.

Merlin gritted his teeth.

I am sorry, Emrys. I hope you find the answers you seek.

Merlin mentally nodded.

Now, while you are exceedingly loyal and hard working, I believe you are more cunning. You kept your secret of magic for years, sneaking around and helping Arthur without his knowledge. You were driven with ambition, not for yourself but for a world of peace – for the creation of Albion.

Merlin felt the hat smile. “SLYTHERIN!” And the word was shouted out to the entire hall. And just before Professor McGonagall could take the hat off, it whispered one final thing into his ear.

Good luck, Emrys.

 

Chapter Text

The table on the far left burst into applause, but Merlin hardly heard it as he walked to an open seat. Far more important concerns were pressing his mind, blurring the world around him. He did not have all his memories back. The hat had seen them enveloped in pitch, some so tainted that even it could not access them.

Someone had cursed him.

“Welcome to Slytherin, young snake!” Someone was patting his back. Merlin smiled at the elder student, but it felt forced. His mind was elsewhere. When had he been cursed? Why? It was troubling, the possibility that someone knew of his mission and was trying to sabotage it—or had someone tried to stop him back in Camelot?

Merlin swallowed and glanced toward Snape, wondering if his convoluted thoughts showed on his face. The spectral bat was clapping politely with the rest of the staff, and he gave a very minute nod when their eyes met. Merlin returned the gesture and turned to watch the other students being sorted into their houses. Some were only a few seconds but others were a minute or more.

“Granger, Hermione.”

The girl that had talked about “Hogwarts, A History,” walked forward. Merlin thought he saw her eyes flicker once to him before the hat went over her eyes.

“GRYFFINDOR!”

She hurried to her seat, her face slightly pink. As Merlin looked at the table, he caught sight of the Weasley twins, both of whom were clapping. They seemed to feel his gaze, because they looked up. Merlin wasn’t quite sure what he had expected. He waved to them, smiling and for a moment they looked startled – as though they hadn’t expected that. They looked at each other and then waved back.

“You might not want to do that.”

“Sorry?”

It was the older student that had congratulated him earlier. The boy’s eyes flickered to the Gryffindor table before returning to Merlin. “Gryffindor and Slytherin aren’t exactly on the best of terms,” he explained in an undertone as Greengrass, Daphne put on the hat.

“What do you mean?” Merlin muttered back, clapping as the Daphne was made a Slytherin and took a seat at their table. “Why not?”

The boy raised his eyebrows. “You’re kidding, right?”

Merlin frowned. “I think I could make better jokes than that.”

A smile twitched at the boy’s mouth. “It goes all the way back to the founders,” he explained. “Godric and Salazar used to be friends, but they cut ties over blood purity. Salazar only wanted purebloods admitted to Hogwarts, and the others didn’t. Eventually he left the school over it.”

“What? Seriously?” Merlin shook his head. That couldn’t be right! Maybe the history books had gotten wrong.

The boy shrugged. “I’m Terence Higgs, by the way.”

“Oh, I’m—”

“Merlin Evans.” Terence chuckled. “I did just watch your sorting.”

Merlin smiled back, but before he could say anything else, another student shushed them both and he went back to watching the sorting. Draco Malfoy was sorted into Slytherin as soon as the hat touched his head and he swaggered over to the table. Merlin was relieved that he didn’t take the empty seat by him, preferring one further down the row. The empty seat was taken by Theodore Nott, a boy built like Merlin, with rather pointed features.

“Hey,” Merlin said by way of greeting. Nott glanced at him, smiling weakly.

“I don’t much like being at the center of attention.” He was holding his hands together, as though worried that if he didn’t they might shake.

“Yeah, well, least it’s over now.”

Ron Weasley was pale green by the time his name was called. But, in spite of that, he still managed to shoot Merlin a hard glare before the hat went over his eyes. Apparently, he was now black listed in the youngest Weasley boy’s mind. Merlin rolled his eyes and was one of the few Slytherins who clapped when Ron took his seat on the Gryffindor table. After Zabini, Blaise was made the final Slytherin Professor McGonagall took away the stool and Dumbledore got to his feet.

“Before we begin our feast I would like to say a few words here they are, nitwit blubber oddman tweak, thank you.”

Merlin coughed, but the sound was lost amid the loud applause that followed. “What on earth?” he managed, glancing toward Terence but the boy only laughed at Merlin’s shocked expression and nodded toward the table. Food had suddenly appeared.

He had eaten half a plate of food before he stopped to breathe. Merlin hadn’t realized how hungry he had been, and he became aware that Nott was staring at him. “When was the last time you ate?” he asked in a small voice. He was filling himself a bowl of soup.

Merlin shrugged, his mouth full of chicken and potatoes. Probably before ten that morning, the train had provided too much excitement.

“Y—you know, if you haven’t eaten in a while, it’s not good to scarf it down,” Nott told him. “You’ll just make yourself sick.” And then he narrowed his eyes. “Or choke on a chicken bone…”

With difficulty, Merlin swallowed. “Sorry, it’s been ages since I’ve seen this much good food on one table.” Now that he had some food in his belly he didn’t have the need to swallow everything in sight either, and when he began eating again it was slower. The kitchens at Camelot had never been this good.

Merlin was just covering his plate in salad dressing for a second time when a loud gasp made him turn around. A first year girl at the Hufflepuff table, Hannah Abbot, was pointing at the ceiling where a dozen ghosts had suddenly appeared. They smiled and waved, swopping down on the tables and joining them. A man dressed like a lord with silver stains all down his front joined the Slytherin table, taking a seat right next to Malfoy.

Merlin tried not to laugh at the look on his face.

“Who is that?” Merlin asked Terence, nodding toward the ghost who was now talking to an older student.

“The Bloody Baron, our house’s ghost.” Terence took a long drink of pumpkin juice. “Each house has one. Nearly Headless Nick for Gryffindor, The Fat Friar for Hufflepuff and The Gray Lady for Ravenclaw.”

“Don’t forget Peeves!” A student across from them had been listening in. He grinned broadly, and Merlin saw that he had gotten something caught in between his teeth.

“Bole, swallow all your food before you talk, please.”

Bole ignored Terence. “Peeves is the poltergeist. The only one who can control him is the Bloody Baron, remember that. It might save your skin if you get caught down a hallway with him.”

“Great.” Merlin grimaced and looked over at the Bloody Baron again. The ghost looked up at him and Merlin waved. For a second, the ghost stared at him, eyes narrowing in confusion. And then they grew wide and he flew to his feet. Merlin didn’t even have time to blink; the ghost was two inches from his face, standing inside the table.

“Uh, Baron?” Terence said, sounding just as startled as Merlin felt. “Is there something wrong?”

The only part that Merlin couldn’t see through the ghost was his eyes, black and silver they held Merlin’s own for a long moment. “Young snake,” the Bloody Baron asked, his voice grating like nails on a chalkboard, “would you mind coming to the entry hall, for a moment?”

“Baron, what’s going on?” Terence asked again, this time with more urgency in his tone.

“Sir?” Merlin said though he was already moving to stand up.

“Pay no attention, Higgs. Just want a quick word with Merlin, won’t be gone long.”

 Merlin got out of the table and the ghost glided away, leading the way out of the Great Hall. As they passed the Gray Lady, a pretty woman with long silver robes, The Bloody Baron motioned for her to follow them. She blinked but joined them.

“Uh, Bloody Baron, sir?” Merlin asked once they were alone in the entry hall. “What’s going on?”

“Baron? Why is this boy here?” The Gray Lady appeared just as confused as he was.

“Very clever and all, making yourself look young.” The Baron took a step back, folding his arms.

“I don’t—” Merlin tried to say, but the Baron held up a hand and he fell silent.

“Look at him, Helena.”

“Baron—”

“Look at his eyes!”

The Gray Lady gave the Bloody Baron an eye roll before turning and giving Merlin a hard look. For a long moment, her expression remained the same but then she gasped. She turned to look back at Baron, who nodded, before turning back to him.

“Merlin? Merlin!” And she wrapped her arms around him.

Merlin had never been hugged by a ghost before. It felt a bit like being doused in cold water, her hands passing through him. She took a quick step back as though she had somehow forgotten that she was dead. “Oh, sorry. But, you’re here.” She turned to look at the Baron again. “How?”

“Wait.” Merlin glanced around them, worried that someone would walk in. “How do you know who I am?”

“What do you mean? You are, sorry were, good friends with my mother.” When Merlin still looked blank, she frowned. “Rowena?”

Merlin’s mouth fell open. “You’re Rowena’s daughter?”

The Gray Lady, Helena, now looked worried. She bit her lip. “You don’t remember? You tutored me after class when I was having problems. The Charms final?”

Merlin shook his head. “I—” he paused a moment, looking from one ghost to the other. They both knew him. And it was so strange, because he didn’t know them at all. He tried to remember, he really did but his head started to hurt and he rubbed his temples.

“Enchanter?” Helena asked, and she touched his shoulder, sending another wave of coldness through him.

“It’s complicated to explain right now,” Merlin said slowly.

“Do attempt,” the Baron said and Merlin thought he saw a flicker of worry pass through his face as well. It looked strange on his hard features.

Merlin took a deep breath. “I’m here because the Old Religion is being twisted by someone. The rituals are being performed incorrectly, and balance is demanded. I’m supposed to right it, somehow.”

“You don’t know?”

Merlin frowned, rubbing his temples again. “There’s been a complication. I’ve got—” he hesitated a moment.

“You can trust us, you know us.”

“See, that’s the problem. I don’t. I can’t remember. I’ve been hit with a curse, or something. It’s blocked my memories.”

The Bloody Baron looked murderous. “Who hast done this?” he roared, an old accent rising. An accent that sounded vaguely familiar, but… that couldn’t be right.

“Well, obviously I can’t remember,” Merlin shot back, glowering. “I didn’t even know until Godric’s hat told me about a block on my memories. It knew me as well and was just as upset as you guys that I didn’t remember.”

Baron deflated slightly, though he still appeared angry. Helena glanced at him nervously before bending down to meet Merlin’s eyes. “Is there any way to get them back?”

“Don’t know yet. I’ll try.”

She nodded, smiling sadly. “It’s good to see you Emrys. And you are right, the old ways have been forgotten and he is trying to invoke them incorrectly.”

“He?”

“Lord Voldemort.” The Bloody Baron’s voice was cold. “Tom Riddle. He was in my house, half a century ago. As if I wouldn’t recognize my own snake.”

Merlin’s heart leapt. Maybe this task wasn’t going to be as impossible as he thought. He stood straighter, the child-like façade falling away. “Who is he? Where is he?”

“A descendent of Salazar,” Helena said in an undertone. She folded her arms across her chest. “Intent on making his ancestor’s dream come true.”

“Dream?”

“You might not remember right now, but you will. Salazar abandoned Hogwarts for more than one reason.”

“Pure-blood supremacy,” Merlin muttered, recalling what Terence had told him. “So it’s true, then?”

“It’s more complicated than that.” The Baron heaved a sigh. “Neither I nor Helena know of all the particulars. But not long after Hogwarts was built and magic restored to the land, muggles and druids began to intermingle. And while magic was spreading, so was this worry that magic would take its revenge for being oppressed for so long. Salazar disliked seeing the children of men who had killed his kin welcomed into the school, he felt that it was a disrespect to their memory.”

“My mother tried to shelter me from most of it, but I remember when battle broke out,” Helena said sadly. “A magical war is not a pretty sight, perhaps it is better you do not remember.”

“But—” Merlin swallowed a lump in his throat. “Salazar was my friend. He wouldn’t do that!”

“Great Warlock, he did. The entire story is not in the history books because no one wanted to remember how peace came collapsing around our heads.” The Bloody Baron shook his head. “Tom nearly made it happen again.”

“Nearly?”

“He was,” Helena paused a moment, wringing her hands. “Thwarted, but not defeated. I believe he’s used some of the old magicks to extend his life. He exists but he has no body, at least not at the moment.”

“So, I have to first find and then defeat a man who’s pretty much a wisp of smoke.” Both the Baron and Helena shrugged helplessly and Merlin ran a hand through his hair. “Well, this is going to be peachy.”

“We will offer you all the help we can.”

The Bloody Baron inclined his head and the Gray Lady followed him in curtsy. Merlin smiled at the both of them. “I thank you,” and he bowed his head in return. “I trust you know how vital it needs be that no one here knows my identity?”

“Of course. Now come, with any luck there is still some dessert for you.”

 

“What—what did the Bloody Baron want?”

Dinner had finished. The Slytherins were following a prefect down into the dungeons where their common room, and their homes for the several years, would be. Nott had somehow attached himself to Merlin, stumbling along beside him and attempting to make conversation. Merlin glanced at him, wanting to befriend him but unable to actually tell him what the Baron wanted.

Maybe he could bend the truth a bit.

“He thought that he recognized me,” Merlin said slowly. “I mean he might know who my parents were.”

Nott’s eyes widened. “You don’t know?”

“I’m an orphan.”

“Oh.” Nott was silent for a long moment. “So you don’t know anything about them?”

“Well, I know their names. But nothing else, not if they were magical as well.” He had already told the Ministry that his parent’s names were John and Grace.

Nott bit his lip and then whispered, “You might not want to tell anyone else that.” He fidgeted with his hands. “I’ve heard stories about how blood purity is everything in Slytherin and that kids can be cruel if they know you’re not pure.”

“Are you?” Merlin asked. “Pureblood, I mean?”

Nott’s eyes darkened, but he nodded. “I am.” He didn’t sound too happy about it.

He didn’t say anything else for the remainder of the trip down into the dungeons. It was much colder here than in the rest of the castle but somehow Merlin didn’t mind. He was used to the chill that castles bore. The prefect stopped before a stonewall, and pointed out a small engraving of a snake along the bottom. If he hadn’t pointed it out, Merlin didn’t think he’d of noticed it.

“This is the entrance to the Slytherin Common room. If you ever forget which wall it is, look for the snake at the bottom. The password changes on a monthly basis, with the new one posted on the bulletin board – remember to check! The password right now is Boomslang.”

As he said it, the Snake’s eyes flickered with light and as it slithered to the right, it revealed a passageway behind it. The prefect smiled and led the way inside. Behind them, Merlin heard the door close with a softly hissed, “Welcome, young snakes.”

The common room was large, with black squashy armchairs angled around a fire, which was cackling merrily in its grate. Enormous windows opened out to an underwater world, allowing for ghostly green light to filter through. Merlin saw fish look at them before swimming quickly away. Enormous green tapestries covered the opposite walls, depicting battles and serpents.

“Now, the boys dormitory is up the stairs and to the right,” the prefect said, pointing to a doorway. “The girls, the same on your left. All of your belongings have already been brought up. Quiet time is observed between the hours of 8:00am and 9:00pm. There are study group signups on the bulletin board, as well as the meal times in case you forget. Any questions?”

No one said a word.

“Right, so that’s everything. If you ever need help you can come talk to me or the other prefect, Carrie. Professor Snape is also available in his office should you need him. He’s one flight of stairs above us and to the left.”

The prefect smiled one last time at them before taking his leave. Merlin watched him join a group of older Slytherins that had taken some chairs in the far corner against one of the tall windows.

“So, Merlin. Never thought you’d be here among the snakes.”

Merlin turned around to see Malfoy split the crowd of first years; Crabbe and Goyle were doing their best to appear intimidating behind him. Nott took several steps back, standing behind Merlin.

“So your name really is Merlin then?” A girl asked. She didn’t sound nearly as condescending as Malfoy, but Merlin could still pick out the air of superiority. She was pretty, with long dark hair and dark eyes, though her face was rather hard. Professor McGonagall had called her Pansy Parkinson. 

 Merlin glanced at Parkinson, nodding to her before allowing his gaze to return to Malfoy. “Funny, how things turn out.”

Malfoy sneered. “Too bad you won’t be able to see your blood traitor friends anymore.”

Merlin stood taller, his bright blue eyes flashing. “Oh really?” He answered, his voice cold. “And why exactly would that be?”

“Because they are in Gryffindor, obviously.

“Oh right, the rivalry thing.” Merlin rolled his eyes. He was dimly aware of how the rest of the common room had gone quiet, listening to their argument. “Well, as I am not a prat, I do not care. After all, didn’t you say yourself that the Weasley twins should have been in Slytherin?”

“I did,” Malfoy ground out. “Perhaps if they weren’t blood traitors they would have been!”

“What on earth is a blood traitor?” Merlin asked. “Because they don’t agree with this whole pureblood supremacy nonsense?”

“Merlin—” Nott whispered behind him, but Merlin ignored him. He wasn’t going to let Malfoy walk over him. He wasn’t in Camelot and Malfoy was nothing like Arthur. He wasn’t going to take anything from him.

“They’re a bunch of muggle loving saps!” Malfoy shouted. “And it’s not nonsense—”

“Are you kidding me? That’s a load of hogwash! It’s medieval.”

“And what gives you the right to make that sort of judgment?” Another boy had joined the argument. He was tall too, with long slanting brown eyes and dark skin. It was the last boy who had been sorted, Zabini Blaise. “Resenting the fact that you aren’t pureblood?”

“We d-don’t know that,” Nott mumbled from behind Merlin. He flinched with Zabini glared at him.

“Yeah, right. There are no old families by the name of Evans. He’s probably nothing more than a pathetic mudblood that was sorted into Slytherin by accident—”

From the way the crowd had both gasped and sniggered, Merlin figured that Mudblood was a crude way to refer to someone who came from no magic whatsoever. He opened his mouth to bite back a scathing remark of his own, but Malfoy beat him to it.

“Piss off, Zabini. I don’t recall inviting you to join the conversation.”

 Merlin blinked, taken aback. Zabini frowned, also giving Malfoy a rather strange look but Malfoy didn’t seem to notice. Instead he snapped, his attention back on Merlin, “Purebloods that dirty themselves with muggles are blood traitors. We shouldn’t associate ourselves with filth like them.”

“And what makes you better than them, huh? Chances are you have some muggle blood in your family tree somewhere, Malfoy. Otherwise you’d be the result of inbreeding!”

Malfoy’s ears went pink, his fists clenching at his sides. It seemed that he had touched upon a taboo subject, as other Slytherins were glaring at Merlin now too. He took a deep breath and amended, “All I’m saying is that I’m not going to let someone’s blood status dictate how I treat someone. That’s like being nice to people with blue eyes, but hating brown.”

For a long moment, no one said anything. “You know, Merlin was a muggle lover too,” Malfoy said at last, his tone low and quiet. “Trying to live up to your name?”

Oh, if Malfoy only knew.

“A name means nothing,” Merlin spat in return. “Nobody remembers the great names of ordinary people, only the names of those who have done great things. You don’t live up to a name; the name lives up to you.”

Merlin didn’t even wait to see how these words affected the young pureblood. He turned around and strode toward the boy’s dormitory, and away from the wide eyes staring after him.

 

Draco didn’t go up to the boy’s dormitory for a long time, preferring to sit in one of the armchairs by the fire and stare at the smoldering wood.  

He had baited Evans, he knew that. It was his fault that the conversation had gotten so out of hand, and into the waters of controversial matters. It was his fault that Evans had felt the need to defend himself, had started poking sticks right where it hurt. Because the truth was, there had been inbreeding back in the Malfoy line. No one was proud of it, and no one talked about it, but it had happened. He knew he wasn’t the only pureblood family to have suffered the same fate, but the fact that Evans had picked up on it made his gut churn.

 Evans confused him. The boy behaved so stereotypically Slytherin that when he threw in his muggle loving ideas, Draco had half a mind to think he was joking. Except that, well, he knew he wasn’t.

He didn’t like Evans. His parents had advised him to try and maintain a civil relationship, at least – something that was pretty much impossible now. And at the same time, he couldn’t stop thinking about the time when he had stayed behind to let them out of the stinking compartment.

He sighed, and rubbed his eyes. Yes, Evans was irritating and his views were so un-Slytherin that it made him sick. But he was also loyal, and he displayed the true friendship of a Slytherin.

He only wished that he had a little more respect for his House, and their beliefs too.

 Draco yawned and got to his feet, walking up the cold steps to his dormitory. Inside, nearly everyone was already asleep. The curtains were drawn around all of the beds, except one.

Merlin Evans was sitting against the large window, staring into the darkened underwater world. Somehow, whenever they spoke, Draco always got the impression that he was a lot bigger than he was, a lot older. But right now, he just looked like another eleven-year-old child.

He took a deep breath. “I… apologize, for earlier,” he whispered, coming to take a seat on the floor across him.

Evans glanced up at him, blue eyes widening in surprise. “I’m sorry too, I didn’t mean to say—I mean—” he bit his lip. Draco had a pretty good idea of what he was trying to say, and not say at the same time, so he nodded.

“It’s just…” Evans paused, looking back out of the window. “Why does blood purity matter, anymore?”

Draco swallowed thickly, fighting his gut reaction to start the argument up again. “Old habits die hard, I guess.”

 “But you genuinely believe that you’re better than others because you’re pureblood.”

Draco was surprised that he hadn’t said it in his usual sarcastic tone. He was just stating it, a fact.

“I do.”

“Why?”

Draco thought about that for a long moment. He had never actually thought about why he thought that, it was just something that he did. He thought that they were better than others because they were untainted, because they had more power, and were supposed to rule over them. But, none of those were his original thoughts; they had been placed there.

“It’s because that’s what your father taught you, right?”

Slowly, Malfoy nodded. He had never thought of it that way, but now that Evans said it he wondered why he hadn’t. He was practically a replica of his father, regurgitating all of his words.

“Let me tell you a story, Malfoy,” Evans said softly, his eyes far away. “It’s about a king who was tricked by a witch, costing him the life of someone he loved. Because of this he grew to hate magic and all those who practiced it, and so he decided to outlaw magic under pain of death and he slaughtered everyone accused of it.”

“But—” Draco frowned. “That was just the deed of one witch! Not everyone who uses magic is the same!”

“The King was too blinded by hate to see that. He taught his son to persecute magic users as well. He taught him that magic was evil, and that everyone who used magic was evil and must be destroyed.” Evans broke his gaze from the window, turning to look at Draco. “Just because your father tells you something, doesn’t make it true, Malfoy. You have to decide for yourself, and understand that the actions of one person do not reflect those of a nation.”

Evans got to his feet, walking toward his bed. Draco stared after him.

“Did the son?”

“What?”

“Did the son decide for himself?”

And Evans smiled, a sad wistful smile that did not belong on such a young face. “Eventually. But when he did, he was great because of it.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

As it turned out, Slytherins did not just forgive and forget.

 They pretended that everything was all right with dangerous smiles and darkened eyes, while at the same time plotting revenge. When Merlin woke up the next morning, it took him less than five minutes to realize that he had somehow managed to alienate the entirety of Slytherin.

After working for years as a servant, Merlin had grown accustomed to waking up early – which was perhaps lucky, because no one would have woken him. The rest of the dormitory was already up and getting dressed. As he got to his feet and quickly started to dress himself, Malfoy glanced toward him and sneered.

“What’s the matter, Evans? Afraid you’re going to be left behind?”

Crabbe and Goyle sniggered behind him. Merlin glanced up at him, his eyes narrowing. “I just don’t fancy hanging around here longer than I have to.” He pulled on a fresh pair of socks and starting putting on his shoes. He could be ready for the day in less than five minutes if need be - a side effect of working for a demanding clotpole.

Malfoy readjusted his tie and straightened up. “If I were you, I’d take my time.”

“And why exactly would I want to do that?” Merlin snapped back.

Malfoy glanced over at him. “You threw dirt at purebloods.” He ground out each word. “Do you really think that everyone will just let you get away with that?”

Merlin opened his mouth, and then closed it again. Hadn’t they apologized to each other last night? Hadn’t this all been resolved? Malfoy seemed to know what he was thinking because he suddenly laughed. “You have some things to learn about pureblood families.”

He felt strange, like someone had just hit him hard over the head. He felt betrayed, to be honest. “Please, enlighten me O’ pureblooded one,” he spat.

Any semblance of a smirk slid from Malfoy’s face. Crabbe and Goyle popped their knuckles, their faces contorted with rage. Merlin was willing to bet that they’d have gladly whaled on him until there was nothing left. And then Malfoy held up a hand for his bodyguards to hang back. He walked forward, until he was standing right in front of him and he could see the cold fury in his gray eyes.

“Our dispute was about the blood traitors. But, you made it about every pureblood when you attacked our core beliefs.” And then he gave a smile, a chilling smirk that didn’t reach his eyes. He put his hand on Merlin’s shoulder. “If you want to survive here, I suggest you re-evaluate your opinions. There’s not a Slytherin here who won’t rip you apart if you dare shame them in front of another house. We are united, we protect each other’s back and we can’t do that if one of our own is spewing Mudblood ideals.”

His grip tightened for a moment. “Do you understand me, Merlin?”

Merlin was silent for a long moment. He glared right back at Malfoy, restraining his magic with difficulty. It itched to jump up and push the clotpole back. “So what was that apology last night?” Merlin muttered. “A trick? A lie?”

Malfoy took a step back. “No.” He turned his back and started walking out of the dormitory. “Because the repercussions you now face are also my fault.”

And he disappeared down into the common room.

 

“It might be more prudent to leave Crabbe and Goyle with him.”

Malfoy came to an abrupt halt midway down the stairs. He turned slowly around and Crabbe and Goyle did their best to press themselves against the wall so that he could see the boy behind him. Zabini Blaise was walking slowly down the stairs. When he caught Malfoy’s eye though, he stopped and leaned casually against the stonewall.

“You know, one might even say that you’re too soft on the ignorant snake. I’ll admit, he’s got spirit, declaring himself a muggle advocate in front of everyone but that might also be a mark of his stupidity.” Zabini’s dark eyes narrowed. “You’re not buying into his—”

“You dare to claim that I would agree with such nonsense? Remember who you’re talking to, Zabini or I might have to remind you,” Malfoy snarled. Maybe he would write a letter to his father, inform him of the insolence of the Zabini family. His father—Malfoy’s fists clenched at his side—Evans had done more than imply that he should throw off his father’s persona, as if he couldn’t make his own decisions. It was insulting and it made him want to curse the boy.

But he also could not deny that Evanshad a point.

Zabini held up his hands in a placating gesture. “I merely think you aren’t handling his disloyalty to his colors. Have you stopped to consider what happens when the rest of the school discovers the truth? Our reputation will be stained, and inbreeding, well he shouldn’t speak of things he knows nothing about, should he?”

Malfoy was an aristocrat. He knew the language of charm and veiled threats better than most purebloods, had been privy to more parties and social events than some families could ever hope to. He knew what Zabini’s words really meant. He wanted to give Evans a piece of his mind, wanted to deal with it his own way. He didn’t like the fact that Malfoy was trying to maintain appearances with the boy, or why he didn’t just teach him one painful lesson and be done with it.

He couldn’t explain that Evans had saved him once, that he confused the hell out of him. How Evans behaved as though he had dealt with aristocrats at a personal level, despite that being impossible. He wasn’t sure how to explain that something about the boy got under his skin and he couldn’t shake him off.

“Forgive me, but do you honestly think that will resolve the situation?” Malfoy said with a hint of mockery. “Evans clearly has no qualms about spitting venom. If you are so sure that he’s not meant for Slytherin, go right ahead and extract your revenge. But,” and here a small smirk graced Malfoy’s features, “if a snake bites you in your sleep, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Because that was just it, none of them knew what Merlin Evans was capable of. All of their families knew each other; they’d had time to test the waters at many a pureblooded gathering. But this newcomer was unknown to them and perhaps he would scuttle under a rock to nurse his injuries or maybe he would lash out and defend himself. Malfoy had never even heard of a Whomping Willow wand, and he was willing to bet that Zabini hadn’t either – but he wasn’t particularly keen on warning him about it.

Malfoy turned around, and continued on his way down the stairs with nothing further to stay. In the common room, Nott and the first year girls had gathered together.

“We thought it might be a good idea for all of us to go down to breakfast together,” Pansy Parkinson said.

“An excellent idea,” Malfoy replied and a light pink touched her cheeks. “Shall we go then?”

“But—” Nott started to say but a loud crash from the boy’s dormitory made everyone jump. Malfoy whirled around his eyes widening. What on earth had just happened up there? He’d had a feeling that Zabini would disregard his warning and pay Evans a visit – he’d admit it was a little hard to imagine a scrawny guy like him fighting back. But had Zabini just killed Evans or something? Malfoy’s fist clenched. He did not like Evans. He would even go so far as to say he hated him. He had insulted his honor as a pureblood, taken the side of the blood traitors, and even had the gall to imply that the Malfoy name meant nothing.

So why did he even care if he was okay?

None of them moved for a second, and then someone burst out of the stairwell looking disheveled. Merlin Evan’s collar was stretched, his tie hanging loosely around his neck, but he was otherwise unharmed. When he saw all of them he opened his mouth, glanced upstairs, and then closed it again as though he didn’t know what to say.

“Merlin, what happened?” Nott asked after a tense moment. “The crash—”

“It’s not my fault!” he immediately shouted, holding up both his hands as though they were going to arresting him. “He just snuck up on me and I sort of—” he swallowed “—overreacted.”

He suddenly went pale and turned around, backing away from the stairwell as he did so. Malfoy watched as Zabini staggered into the common room. “Talk about a bite,” he gasped as he finally collapsed into a chair. There was an uproar.

“Are you all right?”

“What happened?”

“Evans, what did you do?”

“First you insult purebloods and now you attack them? What is wrong with you?”

“I didn’t—” Evans tried to say helplessly but his words were drowned out by the accusations now streaming out of Pansy’s mouth.

“What is a muggle lover like you even doing here? Why don’t you go back to Gryffindor where you belong? You—”

“Would all kindly, shut up?” Zabini sat up, his breath returning to normal. “I’d like to retain some hearing, if possible.” He glanced over at Evans, a different look in his eyes. Malfoy recognized that look. It was one he had worn several times. He was trying to understand the mystery that was Merlin, with just a little of resentment thrown in to even it out.

“I—I think I should go,” and before anyone could stop him, Evans disappeared through stonewall.

“He should pay for what he’s done, and said,” Pansy said, glaring after him. “He’s one of us, he should act like it.”

“He—he just doesn’t understand. He’s an orphan, he probably doesn’t—” Nott tried to say but Pansy silenced him with a look.

“But that might explain why he likes muggles,” Daphne Greengrass offered. She glanced nervously at Pansy as though worried about retaliation.

“How so?” Zabini spat, getting slowly to his feet. He winced slightly, but managed to stand tall.

“Well, he probably grew up with them as his family. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were the first people to show him kindness. I mean, did he even know he was of magic before he got his letter?”

“You make him sound no better than a Mudblood!”

“But he’s in Slytherin,” Daphne reminded, raising her eyebrow. “Which means that the Great Salazar himself wanted him in his house.”

“If you’re suggesting that—” Pansy started to say.

“What I’m suggesting,” Daphne interrupted. “Is that there’s a reason he’s here. Maybe he just needs a little guidance, is all.”

Zabini sneered at her. “What else would you expect from a girl who comes from a family that advocates leaving muggles to do their own thing while we do ours?”

Daphne went very red, but didn’t reply. Malfoy straightened his collar again. The Greengrass’s were one of the less vocal pureblooded families. Not like the families of those who had once been death eaters.

“Even so,” Pansy said nodding to Daphne, “we can’t just forgive what he said.”

“I wouldn’t sneak up behind him, if I were you. You might find yourself flying back towards the wall,” Zabini said with a chuckle. Malfoy glanced at him, his eyes widening.

“He pushed you into the wall?”

Zabini shook his head. “I flew into the wall. He didn’t even move his hands. I’ve never felt anything like that in my life.”

It was silent for a long moment as everyone processed this new information. Malfoy swallowed and glanced toward the stone wall that was their exit, even though Evans had long since disappeared through it. Who exactly was this kid?

“We should probably head down to breakfast.”

 

Merlin had been in a state of sheer panic ever since he’d left the Slytherin common room. Not only had he sent Zabini flying, but he had also given everyone another reason to hate him. He knew his secret wasn’t exposed – they were in a magical school, and it could be easily explained away as accidental magic – but for a moment there he had felt like it.

He was pretty much screwed anyways, though.

All during breakfast he waited for someone to snap some remark at him, he waited for Parkinson to trip him as they walked down the corridor; he waited for Zabini to retaliate at the top of a staircase. He expected something to happen. But they didn’t bully him, they didn’t throw any insults his way, in fact they didn’t do anything at all.

It was though Merlin did not exist.

He tried to catch Nott’s eye as they walked to Herbology class, but the boy never looked his way. None of them did. He thought he felt Malfoy’s eyes on him once, but the instant he looked up to check he had already turned away. Merlin didn’t mind, and by second period he found the isolation soothing. He might not have any friends, but at least he was free to occupy his mind with more important matters.

Classes.

He was actually excited, or rather, he had been. In Charms, they did nothing but take notes and talk about spells for the entire class period. He was eager for History of Magic – mostly because he was certain that it would become his best subject – but the teacher didn’t even go over the birth of magical society. He dove straight into goblin rebellions and within a few minutes his eyes glazed over.

He was not the type to sit in class.

He had never been in a classroom setting in his life. In Camelot, he’d taught himself from books. He could move as fast or as slow as he wanted, and he was constantly running around and doing something. Sitting in class and listening to professors talk was not something he did. There was also the fact that the magic was so simple, it drove him mad. So he didn’t pay attention. He didn’t take notes. He neglected most of his homework, and what he did turn in was sloppy at best.

It was better for him to be underestimated.

On Wednesday, they had transfiguration and finally got to take out their wands. Professor McGonagall instructed them all to transform a match into a needle – a simple enough task. Merlin glanced at his housemates before taking his wand out. He couldn’t help but notice that even Professor McGonagall did a double take.

“Who did you have to kill to get that wand?” Zabini asked, staring at him. It was the first thing he’d said to him since the incident in the dormitory two days prior. Parkinson glanced sharply at him as though she disapproved, but she didn’t say anything. Merlin knew that secretly, she wanted to know too.

“You wouldn’t know him,” Merlin quipped back with a smirk. Zabini blinked before turning away with a shake of his head. Merlin thought he saw a glimmer of a smile on his face though. Malfoy opened his mouth as though to say something, but he abruptly closed it and turned to his match.

Merlin tried to remind himself that they could be shoving his head into a toilet right now. It could be worse.

He turned to the match and glanced at the spell that the professor had written down. It was a different tongue than his magic. Had different meaning to it. He could definitely accomplish this task with his own magic, but he wanted to try it their way. He wanted to examine their style of magic.

He channeled his magic through the empty core of his wand as he said the word. He put the usual amount of power he’d need for a simple everyday spell of his nature.

A loud bang sounded through the classroom. Merlin was shoved backward by the excess force of the spell, a charred mark left on the desk where the match had once been. Professor McGonagall was there in an instant, asking him if he was all right.

“F-fine professor. Think I said the incantation wrong,” he said numbly. He knew he had not.

“You must have said it very wrong,” she said, raising one of her eyebrows. “Do take care not to happen again. I’d rather not send you to the hospital wing.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

She gave him one last hard look, as though assuring herself that is was safe for him to try again, and placed another match on the desk. Merlin stared at it for several moments, outlining an explanation in his head for why this had occurred. But it was obvious. The magic was different. It was not the same raw and aggressive magic that he possessed. It had been weakened by the absence of the Old Religion. It was a lighter magic, a softer magic. It didn’t require nearly as much power and even then it was channeled through the magical core of a wand.

In a way, his magic was dark. It was violent and powerful, aggressive and writhed within the world around him. His magic often required rituals to complete, and was far more similar to the Voodoo that Silas had mentioned seeing a program about on the telly. He didn’t need a wand, a core, or any amplifier because he was Merlin. He was magic itself; in it’s purest and most potent form.

This was going to be tricky.

Merlin swallowed and glanced toward Malfoy – who was staring at him. “What?” he asked irritably.

“It seems I was mistaken in thinking you were skilled at magic.”

Merlin gritted his teeth. “Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you.”

“How on earth did you do that, then?” Zabini asked, also gaping at him. “In the dormitory?”

Merlin turned to him and hesitated for a moment. Would he rather be powerful or weak in their eyes? “Accidental magic,” he said.

“That was some pretty serious accidental magic.”

“Well—”

“Stop talking to him!” Parkinson finally snapped. She glared at Zabini before turning her ruthless gaze on Merlin. “He’s probably just messing up on purpose so that we’ll talk to him.”

Merlin frowned. “Why on earth would I do that?”

“Well, it’s obviously working,” Malfoy snickered and Parkinson’s cheeks twinged with pink again. She turned away from them and started poking her wand at the match.

He would be lying if he said he didn’t want to make up with all of them. He hadn’t really meant what he’d said about inbreeding – and from their strong reaction it looked like it had happened. Merlin had just been trying to stand up for the twins, just trying to make them understand that their thoughts about pureblood supremacy were ridiculous. But he couldn’t do that if none of them would talk to him. He couldn’t do that if they didn’t see that someone could be both Slytherin and accepting of muggleborns.  And he couldn’t just make something explode so that they paid attention to him.

The rest of the class period, as he tried to figure out the right amount of power to use for the unfamiliar magic, he tried to think of a way to mend ties with all the first years. Should he just challenge them all to a duel? He doubted any of them would take him up on it, not after what he’d done to Zabini. Should he just let them all beat him up until they were satisfied? He was worried about what his magic would do, what if he couldn’t hold it back? By the end of class he had thought of only one way to placate their anger toward him and he didn’t like it. There was no guarantee that it’d work either. He had managed to turn the match into a perfect needle, but he changed it back before anyone could see.

Pretending to be incompetent had always been his specialty.

As everyone packed up and left, Merlin followed a few steps behind. He stared at his feet as he walked, wondering when it would be a good for him to try to rebuild bridges. He was going to apologize, to all of them. Now he just had to figure out the right words—

“Merlin? Right, Merlin!”

Merlin stopped in his tracks as someone came up behind him. Two identical red-haired and freckled someone’s. They didn’t seem to be expecting him, to be honest. George was stuffing a piece of paper into his cloak while Fred blinked before giving a hesitant grin.

“Fred, George. What are you doing here?” Merlin asked, smiling at them. He glanced toward the Slytherin students. They had all stopped and were talking with each other, but Merlin knew they were listening in on the conversation.

“Just planning our latest prank,” Fred said with a wink. “Slytherin treating you right?”

“Yeah, why?” Merlin lied smoothly. It could definitely be going better.

“Oh, they don’t like us much.”

“Not at all.”

“Being blood traitors and all that.” And then Fred winked. “Can’t help what our parents make us do.”

Merlin caught on. “Oh really? Not your thing?”

“I can’t help it if muggles make great test subjects for pranks. Merlin’s Beard,” and here his eyes twinkled oddly. “I’d love to give a fat kid a tongue-ton-toffee.”

Merlin blinked. “Why? What’s that?”

“Something we’ve been developing. It makes your tongue grow really long, and the fatter you are the longer it grows!”

“Mind you, we’re still in the development stage.”

“No where near ready for testing.”

“But come your fourth year, see if you can direct us to the perfect test subject.”

“And bring a camera.”

George grinned and gave a theatrical bow. “We’ve got to run, got things to do.”

“Children to prank.”

“Muggles to irritate.”

And as quickly as they had appeared, the vanished down the corridor. Merlin would have bet his ring that they knew every single passageway in the castle. He smiled and cast his eyes to the ceiling. He was pretty sure that they weren’t even joking; they would use a muggle to test their pranks on. He was instinctively against it but when children like that Dudley he had seen in the toyshop came to mind, maybe it wasn’t so bad.

Pranks didn’t do any lasting harm. Not really.

He turned around to see that all of his housemates were staring at him. Malfoy straightened the instant his eyes met Merlin’s and he strode forward. “Perhaps I misjudged you, Evans.”

“You seem to be doing that a lot recently.”

Malfoy glowered at him and Zabini snickered. “Perhaps,” he said stiffly, “you were right to stand up for their honor.”

Merlin bowed his head. It was now or never. “And perhaps I let my tongue run away with me. I assure you, I meant no disrespect to the Nobel house of Malfoy, or any pureblood for that matter.” He swallowed; as his face was fixed on the ground he couldn’t see their faces. “I merely wished to make a point and I overstepped my bounds. But,” and here he finally looked up and allowed a smirk to cross his face, “I’m sure that now you see why I felt they did not deserve the title of blood traitor.”

Malfoy was silent for a long moment. He glanced back to the other Slytherins. Zabini shrugged, Nott looked nervous but nodded his head, as did Daphne. Only Parkinson kept her head stiff.

“Do you take it back?” she shot at Merlin. “That we have muggle blood somewhere in our lines?”

“Oh please, Parkinson,” Zabini said with a roll of his eyes. “Everyone knows the Avery’s do.” He smirked at the appalled look on her face before looking at Merlin. “Still, seems too easy to let him off just like that. He’s still a muggle lover, he admitted that much.”

“What do you suggest?” Malfoy asked, sneering as well. Merlin knew there was no getting out of it; he would have to take whatever punishment they saw fit to give. Malfoy especially seemed to be enjoying this turn of events, and his henchmen cracked their knuckles in eager anticipation.

“Tell us what the sorting hat said.”

Merlin stared. “Slytherin, obviously.”

Zabini shook his head. “I want to know what it whispered in your ear. Did it even consider placing you in Gryffindor?”

Merlin was quiet for a long moment. The hat had considered putting him in every house, but Zabini was looking for something in particular. He wanted to humiliate Merlin in front of everyone. Even Parkinson looked interested. They wanted something just as private and embarrassing as inbreeding in the family line. So, Merlin decided to give it to them.

“Honestly? It considered Hufflepuff.”

And as they walked to their next class roaring with laughter, Merlin walked with them.

 

Hufflepuff, what’s the matter with you?”

Merlin glanced toward Zabini. While they had all brutally teased him about his conversation with the sorting hat, only Zabini used the nickname. At first Merlin had been annoyed – Hufflepuff wasn’t that bad of a house and Helga had been a hoot  - but after a while he’d given up.

It was Thursday, and they were headed toward Defense Against the Dark Arts.

The Slytherins were all eager for the class, and Merlin could understand why. This was combat magic. Granted, he was sure several of them would rather have learned the actual Dark Arts but they would take what they could. But Merlin had another reason to be both excited and anxious.

Professor Quirrell.

Ever since he had run into the man in Diagon Alley, he’d known there was something wrong with him. He made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end, made his magic tingle. The man didn’t feel right. So when the man begun his lecture and passed by his desk, Merlin cringed. The man’s aura was so offensive to him that it made Merlin want to recoil – but he couldn’t cause a scene.

Quirrell himself was utterly unremarkable. He stuttered constantly, tripped over cracks in the floor, and seemed terrified of the dark arts. He explained to them that his turban had been given to him as thanks for getting rid of a troublesome zombie. Merlin might have thought he was telling a rather poor joke if it weren’t for the fact that his skin crawled every time the professor turned around.

And his housemates were starting to pick up on his discomfort.

This is our teacher?” Merlin muttered back, trying to play it off as if he thought the man was incompetent. “He looks like one good hex will finish him off.”

Malfoy glanced at Merlin, his brow raising. “Same with you, to be honest.”

“Very funny.”

“No really, you kinda look like you’re about to run out of here.” Malfoy smirked and Zabini chuckled from his spot on Merlin’s other side.

“Yeah, it’s like you’re just as terrified of the subject as he is. Scared of the dark arts, Evans?”

Merlin frowned and shook his head. “Of course not—” but they didn’t believe him. They teased him about it all through class. He bit his tongue, wanting to snap that he knew some real dark arts but he couldn’t. He had to play the incompetent, scaredy cat. He was good at that. Didn’t mean he didn’t like it, and he wished he could give them all a piece of his mind.

But there were more important things. Like figuring out why this professor felt so dark.

On Friday, he came down into the common room to find all of the first years gathered around the notice board.

“What’s up?” he asked Nott.

Nott hadn’t said much to him since Monday. The boy seemed scared of not just him, but of becoming another target for the Slytherins to ridicule. Merlin figured the boy hated to be in the spotlight at all, good or bad. He’d mentioned as such at the opening feast. And as Merlin was now a source of constant friendly banter for Malfoy and Zabini, he seemed nervous of being associated with him.

“We have double potions with the Gryffindors,” Nott muttered to him before looking jerkily away.

“The Gryffindors?”

Malfoy – who was at the front of the group – turned around to sneer at him. “Don’t worry, Ol’ Snape will be there to protect you from the lions.”

Merlin folded his arms as the others snickered. Crabbe and Goyle’s deep chuckles particularly stood out. “Oh, I’m sure I can protect myself. Can’t say the same for you though.”

“Well I guess we’ll find out, won’t we?”

“That’s obvious.”

Zabini shorted with laughter. “Can we please go to class, already? I’ve got a galleon that says he’ll be the first student to get away with being smart with Snape.”

“Ooh, you better not be,” Daphne said to Merlin with a shudder. “He might be lenient on our house but we shouldn’t push him.”

“I bet he’s going to be the first Slytherin to get a detention from the bat,” Pansy sniffed, holding her head high. “Would serve him right.”

“I’ll take that bet,” Malfoy said with a smirk.

Merlin rolled his eyes. Only Malfoy knew that Snape had taken him shopping to Diagon Alley – the twins were another story all together. Malfoy probably assumed that he’d already been smart with Snape and had gotten away with it.

After lunch, they headed down to the dungeons. They had arrived first, most likely because the Gryffindors were dragging their feet. Snape had a reputation for being particularly cruel to the students clad in red and gold. Merlin took a seat at a table with Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle. Zabini, Nott, Pansy and Daphne took the table beside them. All of the other Slytherins took seats on their side of the classroom, drawing a distinct line down the middle.

Potions.

Merlin felt oddly calm within the classroom. It reminded him a great deal of Gaius’s study, except that this one was noticeably darker. But just like his former guardian, Snape had bottles of elixirs on the walls, books and charts, tables with beakers and mortars. He could smell the camphor of medical remedies, the musk of dried herbs.

It felt like home.

After a few minutes, the Gryffindor’s entered. Merlin glanced toward them. Hermione was at the front of line. She glanced at him curiously for a moment and then took a seat at the front of the class. Merlin still needed to ask her about that book, the Hogwarts A History – chances were it held some answers – but that would be difficult to do. And not just because she was in Gryffindor. Merlin chewed on his cheek, trying to think. And it didn’t look like Ron Weasley knew that Merlin were still friends with his elder brothers, either. The redhead glared at him as he sat down with two other boys, Dean and Seamus. At least that might give him some points in Slytherin.

Snape emerged not a minute later. His cold black gaze swept over them all, though Merlin could have sworn that when their eyes met the professor almost heaved a sigh. He couldn’t be certain though because the man turned around to grab a piece of paper out of a drawer in his desk and began reading off the names of students, making a mark every time someone confirmed their presence.  

Merlin Evans.”

“In the flesh.”

Snape’s lip twitched but he went on to the next name. When he had finished, he put away the list and looked up at them all. “You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potion making,” he began. He spoke in barely more than a whisper, but they caught every word. “As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic. I don’t expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses… I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death – if you aren’t as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach.”

Snape swept his gaze over the class once more, a calculating look in his eyes. Merlin couldn’t help but smirk. Snape certainly had a way of words. He sat a little straighter in his chair. He would do his work half-heartedly in every class except this one. Not only did he owe it to Gaius, but also to Snape. The Potions Master had taken a lot of lip from him over the summer, and as he was likely to receive an entire year full of it, he could at least give him a reason not to completely hate him.

“Now, does anyone know what happens when you add powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?”

Hermione Granger’s hand immediately shot into the air. Merlin’s hand had been on the way up and he casually pretended to ruffle his hair.

“Forgive me sir, but I think Merlin knows the answer,” Zabini said nodding toward him and flashing a smirk. Merlin frowned and shook his head.

“Do forgive Zabini twice, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

There was an outbreak of snickering in the classroom. Snape’s lip twitched again, and he came to stand in front of their side of the classroom. “Now it’s perfectly fine to guess,” he said his lip curling. “Why don’t you give it a try, Evans?”

Merlin glared at Zabini before turning to Snape and holding his head high. “It’s a sleeping curse so powerful that it can mimic death, sir.”

“The Draught of Living Death,” Snape said nodding. “Five points to Slytherin.” Merlin received a rather hard congratulatory punch in the arm from Zabini. Snape turned and walked back to the middle of the classroom. “Where would you look if I asked you to find me a bezoar?”

Merlin stared at him. “Your pantry.

Snape did not turn to look at him. “Interesting, although I’m searching for the original source.”

Hermione switched arms, her hand still raised. She was the only student in the entire class who offered an answer.

“Very well, Miss Granger.”

“It’s a stone taken from the stomach of a goat, and it will save one from most poisons,” she answered with a flourish. Merlin thought that she looked a little too relieved to finally have been called on.

Snape nodded to her, but he did not offer her a reward of house points. “You all would do well to remember that, as I do not believe you will have access to my pantry when you have need of one.”

Merlin frowned. “You think it’s more likely we’ll have access to a goat, sir?” It didn’t escape his notice how every student had suddenly gone stiff in their seat, all eyes turning to watch Snape.

“Then I would suggest you purchase the stone from an apothecary, if you so feel it necessary to possess one. In fact, I would recommend such an item mandatory in any first aid kit.” Snape turned around to the board and started writing instructions on the board. “Every potion you make will be placed in a kit and returned to you at the end of the quarter, assuming they are viable. If you receive a kit that is empty, take it as a sign that you are utterly disgraceful at potions and have receiving a failing grade for the course.” He paused a moment.

“Sir?” Pansy asked, raising her hand. “If we bring in a Bezoar for our kit, can we get extra credit?”

Snape turned and gave her a rather soft expression. “I will consider it.”

 

“I thought he was going to give you detention for a moment there,” Malfoy murmured as they added the final ingredients to their potion. They had left Crabbe and Goyle to partner with each other.

“I thought he’d never give one of his snakes detention,” Merlin said raising his eyebrow.

“I wouldn’t test me if I were you, Evans.”

Merlin didn’t jump, but it was a very close thing. He turned to look up at the professor, who was peering down at their finished potion. He nodded approvingly. “It seems that your name didn’t leave you talentless after all.”

“Oh sir, have the other teachers been talking?” Merlin asked. “I’m afraid I’m not very good at copying down notes and listening to lectures.”

“This is obvious.” Snape smirked and Malfoy’s face was turning red from the effort of trying not to laugh. “However, I expect the best out of my house, and you will try harder to pay attention.” Even Zabini was shaking with laughter now.

“I do think that might be asking the impossible, professor. Quirrell doesn’t even speak English.”

Snape raised an eyebrow, but Merlin could see that he didn’t mind the slight against his co-worker. “Professor Quirrell speaks perfect English, Evans.”

“It definitely doesn’t sound like it.”

Zabini couldn’t take it any more. He snorted with laughter. Snape was silent for a long moment, then he said, “Even so, Slytherins are known for their aptitude in Defense against Dark arts. I would try not to become a disappointment.”  He swept over to torment the Gryffindor side of the room, and the instant he was gone Malfoy chuckled.

“It’s almost like he’s your father.”

The table went deadly quiet.

“He’s not—is he?”

Merlin opened his mouth to bite back that, no he most definitely was not, but he just so happened to glance across the classroom. He saw Neville Longbottom, the poor boy he had rescued from Malfoy on the train, hold porcupine quills over his cauldron—and the fire was still going beneath it—

NEVILLE DON’T!” Merlin shouted, jumping to his feet. The poor boy jumped and the quills fell from his hand. His heart sank. Snape had heard his shout, but he was on the far end of the classroom by now he’d never make it there in time. If the potion exploded now, Neville would be injured. He was sitting too close to the table, his face bent over the opening—Merlin acted automatically. He whipped out his wand and pushed the boy back with a muttered spell, just as loud hissing and green smoke erupted from the cauldron and it melted into a blob.

Everyone jumped to onto their chairs as the acid-like potion began burn holes in their shoes. Thanks to Merlin, Neville had managed to escape a lap full, though he crashed into Ron, sending both of them to the floor and they had to scramble out of the way of the potion.

“Idiot boy!” Snape snarled, swooping down on Neville. He vanished the mess with a wave of his wand. “Next time pay attention and read the instructions. It clearly states not to add the porcupines before taking the cauldron off the fire.”

Neville sniveled an apology, his face very red.

“And Evans!” Snape turned to look at him. The anger still hadn’t left his face. “Stay after class. The rest of you are dismissed.”

Merlin thought that he had finally done it. He had pushed Snape to give him detention for pulling his wand on another student. He sank back into his chair as Malfoy and the others packed up their things.

“I think you owe me a galleon,” Pansy murmured to Malfoy, with a sly grin.

“Not until it’s official,” Malfoy snapped. He glared at Merlin and bent to his ear. “You better be able to talk your way out of this. Otherwise you owe me a galleon.”

“Right.”

“Don’t worry Hufflepuff,” Zabini said with a smirk. “Daddy won’t be too harsh on you.”

“He’s not my father,” Merlin ground out.

“I’ll believe that when you get detention.”

Merlin glared at him as he left the classroom. When it was finally just him and Snape, he heaved a sigh and walked up to the front desk and put down his vial of potion. “Sir?” he asked tentatively.

“First, I would like to inform you how reckless and dangerous your actions were,” Snape began as he sat down. “Had you failed to execute your spell, Mr. Longbottom may have been more severely injured than he would have been from the boil solution. You might have injured other students in the process. It was very foolish and I will not have displays of Gryffindor heroics out of my Slytherins.”

Merlin clenched his jaw, but didn’t speak.

“That being said, you did managed to save the boy from a face of boils and alerted the rest of class to the danger moments before it occurred.” Snape heaved a sigh, pinching the bridge of his nose. “In the future, I would recommend you merely banish the potion and save everyone from the possibility of broken bones. Do you know the spell?”

“Uh, no,” Merlin managed, startled. He didn’t know their spell for it anyway.

“Come down to my office tomorrow after lunch. It’s simple enough, and should a situation like this arise again I give you authority to banish another student’s potion.” Snape took out a quill and a ledger, starting to catalogue the vials he had received from the students.

“Do you have anything to say, Evans?” he asked when Merlin stood there silent.

“No, sir,” he answered, surprise thwarting his wit. He walked back to his desk and threw his bag over his shoulder.

“And five points to Slytherin, for your quick thinking,” Snape added before Merlin walked out the door. Merlin paused and then turned back to him, scratching the back of his neck.

“Uh sir, we might have a problem.”

Snape closed his eyes as though he couldn’t possible need another problem and looked up at him expectantly.

“You are definitely going to be hearing some rumors. And you aren’t going to like them at all.”

 

Chapter Text

Severus Snape had not asked Evans what rumors would be circulating. He had expected some trivial mutterings about favoritism or perhaps – and in his mind even worse – something about how he was going soft. He had never bantered with a student before, not like he had done with Evans. Snape had walked into class with the determination to treat the boy with the same cordiality he regarded all his Slytherins.

He had heard the other professors complain about Evan’s less than satisfactory behavior. He was supposed to mess around, neglect his work, and perform poorly. The whispers had only reinforced Snape’s resolve. He would not give Evans any special treatment. As a Slytherin he was exempt from quite a bit already, but he had been ready to berate the boy if he gave him lip.

And then the boy displayed an aptitude for potions.

Snape had almost forgotten the charm that Evans embodied. He had almost forgotten the way his every word could drip with sarcasm and wit, and how it was somehow both irritating and endearing. The boy had gotten away with more than any student, Slytherin or not. And with that in mind, it was hardly surprising that some rumors would form.

But he had never expected this.

Snape entered the Great Hall for breakfast early on Saturday morning. He slept very little, a trait he had acquired during his years as a double agent. And so, he often stayed up late into the night and woke early in the morning, regardless of the amount of work he needed to do. There were only a handful of students present, as most were taking advantage of the opportunity to sleep in.

“Ah, Severus.” Professor Dumbledore waved him over. Other than Professor Sprout, he was the only one present. “How was the first week of classes?”

Snape took McGonagall’s usual seat beside him and starting pouring himself a glass of pumpkin juice. “The same as they always are,” he replied curtly.

“Oh?” There was that damned twinkle in the old man’s gaze. “That’s not what I hear.”

Snape glared at him and started dishing some sausages onto his plate. “Then you’ve heard wrong.”

Dumbledore smiled and glanced down at the house tables. “Ah, young Mr. Evans is up early,” he said nodding toward the Slytherin table. Too quickly, Snape glanced down. He was sitting near the end, separate from the other Slytherins – three fifth years – and eating a bowl of porridge. He hadn’t expected the boy to be an early bird. Dumbledore was looking at him again, but he didn’t seem to expect a response because he said, “You know, I’ve heard the most interesting thing about Mr. Evans.”

Snape raised an eyebrow and reached for his goblet again.

“Apparently, he is your son—” Snape spat pumpkin juice everywhere, now staring at the headmaster who only smiled and continued, “—have you been holding out on me, Severus?”

 “I—” Snape was too angry to speak. This was the rumor?!

“And you aren’t to like them at all.”

That was putting it mildly. He jerked his head to glare down at the boy, to give him his look of utter loathing but the expression softened when he actually looked at him. Evans was alone. He had come to eat breakfast at an ungodly hour. And now that he actually looked, he was hunching his shoulders, deliberately trying not to look in his direction. Even as he watched, the boy scarfed down his last bite of porridge and darted out of the hall.

“That allegation is utterly ridiculous,” Snape said icily, turning back to Dumbledore. “I do not have any children.”

Dumbledore blinked, the small pause the only indication that he was taken aback. “Why Severus, if I didn’t know that for a fact I might be inclined to believe it.” He stroked his beard, staring at the Potions Master. “Might I request a paternity potion?”

Snape set his fork onto the table a little harder than necessary. “You know very well it’s impossible that he’s mine.” Inside he was cringing, he could only imagine what the other professors were going to say about this matter – and even worse, the students. “Yes, we both have black hair but that concludes the extent of our similarities,” he snapped, his lip curling.

“Oh, your similarities do not stop there, Severus,” Dumbledore said softly.

“Even so,” Snape ground out, keeping his gaze fixed on his food. “Such a superfluous rumor should not be taken seriously. Or shall I remind you of the one detailing your rather explosive affair with the previous deputy headmaster?” Snape glanced toward him, a sneer on his mouth. “As such, I do hope you put a stop to such ridiculous rumors once they reached you.”

“I’m afraid that isn’t possible with this particular rumor,” Dumbledore said with a sigh.

Snape’s heart sank.

“Do you mean to tell me that the entire school is under the delusion that I am a father?!” Snape hadn’t even realized he was on his feet until he was slamming his hands down onto the table. It was really quite lucky that the great hall was nearly deserted. “The insolent whelp doesn’t bare the slightest relation to me. I demand that you silence these mutterings before they spread any further!”

Dumbledore pushed his empty plate into the middle of the table where it disappeared into the kitchens and dabbed his mouth clean with a napkin. “Are you fond of the boy?” he asked, as though he had not heard any of the words Snape had just shouted at him.

“I—” Snape clenched his fists. “He’s one of my snakes, of course I—”

“And yet you would never let even one of your snakes talk back to you during class,” Dumbledore interrupted smoothly. “Perhaps he isn’t your son but you treat him like he is, so though you wish the for the rumor to disappear you will undoubtedly just bring it back.”

 Snape stared at the headmaster for several moments. He wanted to explain just how very wrong he was, how being the center of a rumor infuriated him, and how it would be so simple to put an end to said rumor but he couldn’t. Because a part of him knew that Dumbledore had given this a great deal of thought, and a part of him knew that the old man was right.

And because he had grown rather fond of Merlin Evans.

 Snape slowly sat back down into his chair. For a moment, he did nothing but eat his breakfast. But as Dumbledore got to his feet he looked up. “There’s,” he said in an undertone, “just something about him.”

Dumbledore paused, his smile only serving to make the twinkle in his eye brighter. “So it would seem.”

 

The instant Merlin had emerged from the potions room, detention free, he knew that he would never be able to convince the other Slytherins – or anyone for that matter – that he was not in any way related to the Head of Slytherin House. It didn’t stop him from trying, of course. But when he let slip that the professor had taken him to Diagon Alley to purchase his school supplies, all possibility to persuading them otherwise went right out the window.

He knew that by morning, the word would have spread. He knew how rumors worked. And even if he didn’t automatically wake up at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning, he still would have done his best to avoid his housemates. He could only imagine how much worse the rumor would get if they knew he was planning on going to Snape’s office after lunch.

No, it was better to get some alone time and he had things to do in any case.

Merlin was just dishing himself out some porridge – it felt like the thing to eat today – when Professor Snape entered the Great Hall. Before Merlin had even realized it, he was sinking in his seat and scarfing down his food as quickly as possible. Snape had to have heard of the rumor by now. They had been practically shouting it in the common room last night, and he’d heard that a second year had sent a letter to their sibling in another house.

He knew that a talk was going to occur soon but he would prefer to enjoy his morning before that happened. He kept his head down and when he’d finished eating, he made a dash for the door. He could feel the professor’s gaze on his back and had a pretty good feeling that the man was not happy.

Merlin shook himself, pausing in the empty entrance hall. He didn’t want to go back to the common room. He had no desire to be ridiculed today. He set off at a brisk walk before he’d consciously decided. And when it finally came to him, he was nearly running.

He was going to go to the library and look up Voldemort.

Of course, there was no guarantee that he’d find anything useful but he felt like it was a good place to start. He slowed his pace when the library came into sight, catching his breath before walking inside. The copious amount of aged leather-bound volumes warmed his heart. This was how a library was supposed to look like. The one that used to be at Wool’s just hadn’t been the same. It hadn’t commanded the same respect; it didn’t give off the same scent of decay and knowledge.

He had no idea where to look.

Merlin walked around the bookcases, reading labels. After ten minutes, he finally found what seemed to be the historical section. There were books on Shamans, the witches of the Mayans, how witchcraft influenced the priests of Egypt. Merlin was so tempted to pull down a book entitled, The Creation and Destruction of Albion, but he stopped himself. He didn’t want to open that can of worms just yet. One thing at a time.

 “If you’re looking for books about your namesake, you’re in the wrong section. He’s under Great Warlocks of the Past.”

Merlin jumped and turned around. Hermione Granger stood alone, holding seven or eight thick volumes in her arms. For a moment he stared at her, and then he frowned.

“I’m not looking for books about him.”

She raised her eyebrow and tried to get a better grip on the books she was holding. “I would, if was me I mean. He was a really fascinating wizard, the greatest one who ever lived.”

“So I keep hearing,” Merlin deadpanned. He turned around, staring at the book titles again. And then he sighed and turned back to Hermione. “Let me help you with those.”

“Oh no, I’ve got—”

Merlin ignored her. He grabbed four books off the top of her stack and started walking toward the nearest table, the bushy haired girl following him. He set them down gently and glanced at her. “What exactly are you studying?” He saw Through The Eyes of the Goblins and When Saying Incantations Isn’t Enough and Defending Against the Undead and several other equally random volumes.

“I’m trying to gain a bit of background for the topics we are currently studying in class,” Hermione replied, setting the rest of the books down and taking a seat. She regarded him for a moment, her hands gripping Send Objects Soaring: A Beginners guide to Levitation Charms tightly. “What are you looking for?”

Merlin paused a moment and then took the spot opposite her. “I’m trying to find something about a dark wizard that was around a decade or so back? Lord V—”

“Shh!” Hermione interrupted, glancing around them with a panicked look on her face. “It’s He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named,” she said in an undertone. “You’re not supposed to say his name!”

Merlin blinked. “Why not?”

She was silent for a moment. “Because,” she said slowly, “names have power and his was of the darkest sort.”

“I see. So, you know about him then?”

“Oh yes! He’s in the Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts, and The Great Wizard War.” She stacked all the textbooks she’d found beside her. “He wanted to enslave muggles and exterminate all muggleborns.” Her face darkened. “The terror lasted over twenty years.”

“How did it end?” Merlin asked, putting his elbows on the table and leaning in to hear the story. “Who stopped him?”

“A couple of Auror’s—”

“What’s an Auror?” Merlin interrupted.

Hermione gave him a very strange look. “Didn’t you grow up in the magical world?”

“No.”

Her eyes widened. “But, aren’t you in Slytherin?”

Merlin folded his arms. “We aren’t all purebloods, you know,” he said with a frown. “The Weasley’s are purebloods but they aren’t in Slytherin.”

“Oh. Well, of course I knew that but—” she hesitated. “So are you—I mean—” she trailed off awkwardly. “You don’t have to tell me. I’m a—I’m a muggleborn.” She watched him for a response, wringing her hands together. 

“I’m…” Merlin paused for a long moment. “I’m a half-blood,” he finally said in an undertone. He wasn’t exactly sure why he told her. Maybe it was because she had told him what she was, even though she knew that he was in Slytherin. But, he’d never tell her that she was the only one who knew. “But I’m an orphan. Grew up with muggles.”

“You—” she stopped and shook her head.

“What?”

“An Auror is a dark wizard catcher,” she began to explain, and Merlin had a feeling that he was never going to find out what she’d been about to say. “James and Lily Potter lead a mission to take out He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. They were betrayed by Peter Pettigrew, and died in the attempt but they managed to take their target with them. I think there’s a statue honoring them outside the Auror office at the Ministry of Magic.”

“But he’s not really gone, is he?” Merlin said slowly, recalling the words of the Bloody Baron and Helena. Hermione bit her lip and shook her head.

“Well, at least according to some sources, he had performed some ancient magic rituals and had extended his life somehow. They never really explained how, so I’m not sure how much credence that theory possesses.” She shrugged. “The Ministry considers such rumors of his continued existence as impossible. Though, that’s not stopping some from claiming that he’s trapped in the Forest of Albania.”

Merlin stared. “Why would he be trapped there?”

“It’s rumored to be the darkest forest in the world,” she shrugged again. “That particular report came from the Quibbler, which has about the same reputation as the Weekly World News.”

Merlin had no idea what that was but he didn’t want her to know that, so he smirked. “That bad huh?” he said, hoping that he was right in thinking that she was being skeptical.

“Worse.” She smiled back.

“So, what happened to that Peter guy? Did he get arrested?”

Hermione shook her head. “He disappeared before they could apprehend him. He’s still on the run but as he hasn’t been seen since that night it’s widely believed that he was killed by the other Death Eaters for failing to protect their leader.” She leaned back in her chair and opened one of her books.

For a moment, Merlin thought that was her way of ending the conversation. She had already told him so much more than he would of learned on his own. But before he could get to his feet, she glanced up at him. “How come you didn’t ask your Slytherin friends to tell you all of this?”

Merlin shrugged. “I wasn’t going to ask anyone. If you recall, I was looking for a book.”

“It would have been easier to just ask them.”

“And that would matter if I hadn’t already asked you.”

Her warm brown eyes narrowed. “You know, you’re a very peculiar Slytherin.”

“And you ought to be a Ravenclaw, but here we are.” He smiled cheekily at her. He pushed his chair back and got to his feet. “Thanks for the help, I’ll let you study.”

He hadn’t even had time to turn around before, “Wait!” He glanced at her. Hermione bit her lip again, her eyes flickering to her books for a moment before returning to him. “Would—would you like to join me?”

“What?” He stared at her. “Why?”

Her cheeks twinged with pink. “I just find that learning with someone else makes things a bit easier.”

“What about your Gryffindor friends?” Merlin asked blankly. The instant he said it, he knew why she’d asked him. He was willing to bet that her intelligence and eagerness to learn made her an outcast in Gryffindor. Just like how his muggle friendly ideas made him a target in Slytherin.

“Forget I said anything. You don’t have to stay if you don’t want to. Might be better, in fact, just in case anyone sees you talking to me.” She buried her face in her book.

Merlin watched her for a moment before disappearing into the bookshelves. Within five minutes though, he’d returned with several history and defense books, slamming them onto the table.

“What are you—?” Hermione shouted, jumping at the loud sound.

“You know, I totally don’t remember a word of what Binns said during class, or Quirrell for that matter. Think that might be a problem next week?”

Merlin didn’t miss the small look of relief that flashed across Hermione’s face when he sat back down. And within seconds, she was rehashing entire lessons – which were somehow a great deal more interesting than how Merlin remembered them. They talked about the goblin rebellions for nearly a half hour. Merlin was very pleased by the fact that Hermione seemed so upset by the unfair treatment the goblins had suffered in their history and the way she almost seemed to root for them.

As they started diving into Defense Against the Dark Arts Merlin asked, “So, what do you think of Professor Quirrell?”

“Well,” she deliberated for a moment, “I don’t know—he seems a bit…”

“Off?” Merlin supplied.

“Not really. He just seems a tad bit too anxious. He’s not a bad teacher, not really. I heard from older students that he used to teach muggle studies and that he was really fun and good at it. But he took a year off and came back… well…”

“Off…” Merlin repeated with a grin. Hermione smiled back. “Maybe even bonkers,” Merlin added, mocking a thoughtful expression.

“Merlin!” Hermione reached over to nudge his shoulder but the act was playful, her grin wide. “You can’t say that about your professors!”

“Why not? He’s a right old loon.”

“He’s not a loon!”

“My mistake, you’re right. He’s an imbecilic fool.”

She covered her mouth to try and mute her giggles. She glanced up behind him and her smile slid off her face so fast that, for a moment, Merlin didn’t notice. And then someone grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and yanked him to his feet, a “Get away from her!” shouted into his ear.

Merlin managed not to blast the boy back like he had with Zabini but it been a very near thing. Instead he twisted and managed to break the hold on his collar, turning to look at the boy. Sorry, three boys.

Ron Weasley had been the one to grab him. Beside him were Dean and Seamus, both of which were sharing dirty but nervous expressions but they didn’t compare to the utter rage exhibited by the red-haired boy.

“Ron!” Hermione hissed, getting to her feet. “Stop it! What are you doing?”

“Me? What’re you doing? He’s a SLYTHERIN!”

Merlin pretended to look shocked. “My God, did you hear that Hermione? Well, that explains the green tie.”

Ron darted forward and grabbed Merlin’s tie, ignoring Hermione’s indignant cry. “I don’t know what kind of game you and your slimy friends are playing but I won’t let you get away with it. You leave her alone.”

“You do know that snakes aren’t slimy, right?”

“Hey, Ron, maybe you should let him go,” Dean offered but Ron ignored him. Instead he shoved Merlin back, where he stumbled into a chair went sprawling to the floor.

“Merlin!” Hermione said taking an automatic step toward him, her face painted with worry. “Ron, you are being completely unreasonable!”

“Hermione, you don’t know what they’re like! Slytherins are all the same. They all hate Gryffindors and they hate muggleborns. Can’t you see that he’s just manipulating you?” Ron said, turning to her. Merlin got slowly to his feet, watching the redhead. Ron believed he was doing Hermione a favor. He really thought that Merlin would hurt her, or humiliate her, or something.

And Merlin was insulted that he thought so.

He opened his mouth to defend himself but Hermione beat him to it. “Merlin isn’t like that!” she ground out, her own fists clenching. Merlin felt a rush of gratitude toward her.

“Oh really? Did you know he’s Snape’s son?

“He’s—what?” Hermione said, so startled that she actually took a step back.

“Yeah! He is. Apparently that’s why Snape didn’t punish him for talking back.”

“I’m right here,” Merlin finally said. “And he most definitely is not my father.”

Ron sneered at him. “Yeah okay, and that’s why he didn’t give you detention for cursing Neville.”

“I didn’t curse him!” Merlin protested. “He melted his cauldron, you prat. If I hadn’t pushed him back it would of hurt him!”

“He still should have ripped you a new one!” Ron spat. “Just admit it. All your Slytherin friends have already spilled your little secret. I bet the whole school knows by now.”

“Merlin, is that true?” Hermione asked, glancing at him.

He rolled his eyes. “No! What is it with everyone thinking I’m related to that bat? My parent’s are dead.” He ground out the last word, his heart giving a painful twinge. His real father had died in his arms, died to save his life. And no one could ever replace him. The only person that had ever come close was Gaius and now he was dead too.

“You sure about that?” Ron said smirking. “Maybe daddy abandoned you because you were such a disappointment—”

Merlin punched Ron right across the face, sending him stumbling back. He had never punched anyone seriously before. He was also sure he’d done it wrong, as pain shot through his hand, but he didn’t care. Ron had touched a subject so sensitive to him that it had wiped away all of his control. Anger and pain exploded in his head, because in a way, his father had abandoned him. And for so long he had thought that he had been a disappointment. And when he’d died… Merlin had never even gotten to properly grieve. He couldn’t hold back now, and he didn’t particularly want to.

“Don’t you ever talk about my father when you know nothing,” Merlin whispered, shaking. It was taking every once of control not to send out a magical wave powerful enough, not just to blast them all back, but kill them. He turned jerkily around and started walking away. He needed to get out and calm down and if Ron was smart he’d let him go.

But he wasn’t.

Ron tackled him into the bookcase, shouting something about payback, and how all Slytherins were the same. Merlin didn’t really listen. Because he knew that his magic had reached a crescendo. He couldn’t contain it any longer. And because he didn’t want to kill Ron – even though the kid gave him a blood lip and knocked all the wind out of lungs – he did the only thing he could do. As he collided with the wooden shelves, he channeled his magic toward it. There was a loud crash, several screams, and the bookcase toppled, knocking over the adjacent shelf in the process.

“What have you done!” came the screech of Madam Pince as the stern librarian swooped down on them.

 And all Merlin could think to say as he wrenched himself away from the wreckage, wiping his bloody lip as he did so was, “What the bloody hell took you so long? Are you so deaf that you didn’t hear the commotion before now?”

And, from the look the elderly woman gave him, he had a feeling he was in a whole new world of trouble.

 

Merlin waited in Snape’s office while the librarian informed his Head of House of the incident that had occurred not ten minutes prior. He would not be surprised if she also mentioned his less than polite words – not that he thought an apology was in order. How had she not heard them, anyway? Or maybe he was just grasping at straws, trying to blame someone else for the way he’d allowed the situation to blow out of control.

He hoped Ron wouldn’t be too mean to Hermione, or that Hermione wouldn’t buy into his crap about all Slytherins being the same. He didn’t think that Gryffindors were all the same. They all had their faults and their redeeming qualities; some just drew more attention than others. Merlin shook his head, dropping his face in his hands.

This was not how he had pictured starting his meeting with Snape. He wasn’t even sure the professor would teach him the vanishing spell he’d mentioned yesterday after class. They had so much else clogging the air now, the rumors and now this little escapade.  He had a feeling that he would be lucky to just receive detention – for a month.

The door opened and Snape swept inside, closing it behind him.

“Of all the Slytherins I expected to fight with the Gryffindors, you were not even on the list. Just what were you thinking, Evans? And Madam Pince tells me you knocked over two bookcases in the process?”

Merlin’s shoulders sagged. “It wasn’t entirely my fault,” he muttered.

“Oh yes, the old, But they started it, professor excuse. I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that you were incapable of ignoring the petty insults of children.” Snape took a deep breath and sat back in his chair, a hand rising to pinch the bridge of his nose. He was silent for a few moments then, “Explain what happened, Evans. From the top.”

So Merlin told him. He told him about meeting Hermione in the library and how they were having fun studying together. He explained how Ron seemed to think that he was going to hurt her and pushed him around. But when he got to the part about Ron claiming that he was Snape’s son and then his jab at being abandoned, Merlin went silent.

“Sir,” he asked after a moment. “Have you heard about—about—” Merlin swallowed, glancing up at him before fixing his gaze on his hands.

“Yes, Evans.” There was a heavy sigh. “Shall I assume that came into play?”

Merlin fidgeted. “Sort of. He mentioned it… and then—” Just the memory of it inspired a wave of magic to rise in his chest. He closed his eyes. Balinor did not abandon me. I did not disappoint him, he chanted in his head.

“And then?” Snape prompted, the curiosity in his tone causing Merlin to open his eyes and look at him. The unfathomable expression on the professor’s face reminded him Gaius. It calmed the magic within him and gave him the peace of mind to continue.

“He said something about my father. That—that he’d abandoned me,” Merlin’s voice got very small. He shook his head. “I didn’t mean to hit him, I swear. I just reacted, and then he was tackling me into the bookcase.”

“He tackled you into the bookcase,” Snape repeated, raising an eyebrow. “Evans, I have yet to meet anyone with the necessary bulk to simply push one of the library’s bookcases over – and as Madam Pince knows, many have tried.” He shook his head. “I know what a blasting charm looks like, and you definitely demonstrated your proficiency with it yesterday—”

“I didn’t cast a blasting charm!” Merlin interrupted.

Snape’s lip curled and barked, “Do not interrupt me when I am speaking.” Merlin clamped his lips together. He did not want to infuriate the professor any more than he already was. He wrung his hands together, trying to sooth his knuckles, which still hurt after punching Ron.

“Now, would you care to explain what really happened?” Snape ground out, his eyes narrowing.

“That is what really happened,” Merlin protested. But at Snape’s glare he dropped his head. “I—I just had an accidental magic incident, that’s all.”

“An accidental magic incident?”

“Don’t say it like I’m mad, it’s the truth,” Merlin replied with a surly look. For a moment he thought Snape was going to start shouting at him again, but then he got to his feet and crossed toward a bookshelf on the other side of the office.

“As this appears to be a reoccurring problem with you, I will have to give you lessons in magic control.” He pulled down a book and walked back to his desk. “I’ll not have you destroying school property every time your adrenaline kicks into gear.”

“But sir—” he tried to protest. He did not need lessons, and he doubted they would make any sort of a difference. He had more important things to worry about!

“Until you can control your emotions and magic, you will come here every Friday night to study. If anyone asks, you are serving detention for your disregard for school property and insolence toward the librarian.” Snape looked tired as he handed Merlin the book – Understanding Magic, the Fundamentals of Control. When Merlin took it, he sat back down in his chair. “Am I understood?”

“Uh, yes sir,” Merlin said. He sat in silence for a moment, his fingers trailing the spine of the book.

“As for the rumors,” Snape said and Merlin stiffened in his seat. He cringed, waiting for the hammer to fall. He gave Merlin a very hard look. “If I find you perpetrated them yourself—”

“I had a father,” Merlin spat jumping to his feet. The magic rose in his chest again, a bubbling froth of power. “And no one can replace him. Ever,” his cold tone rang in the air.

“I seem to recall you had no memory of your parents,” Snape said very quietly.

Oops.

The swell within him died almost at once, replaced instead with the horror that he’d said too much. “I said I remembered very little,” Merlin backpedaled. “Not nothing.” He held his breath while he waited for Snape to ask him something else about his parents – something he knew he couldn’t answer – but the professor decided not to push it.

Instead he snapped, “Sit back down, I haven’t dismissed you yet.” Merlin quickly sat down, trying not to look as surprised as he felt. “Now it has been established that neither of us particularly enjoy the idea of being related to one another; however, it seems that we are stuck with them.”

Merlin stared at him. “What? You mean the entire school is going to think you’re my father whether or not I tell them otherwise? Why can’t you stop them?”

Snape gave a very sour grimace. “Apparently, I inspired them in the first place.”

“You—what?” Merlin frowned. “And how exactly did you do that? What, was it the trip to Diagon Alley?” He didn’t understand at all. How on earth had Snape caused the rumors to form? Hadn’t it been him who’d let them jump to the conclusion without meaning to?

“Of course not, such rumors would have occurred earlier than now.”

“Oh, so it must be my charm then, right?” Merlin sneered getting back to his feet. “I must embody the Snape wit, is that it?”

Snape got his feet as well, his voice rising to match Merlin’s. “The last time I checked we were the insolent brat who considers himself above homework! Or do you think you were gifted with the ability to not pay attention in class?”

“I prefer to think of it as an artfully honed talent.”

Snape didn’t reply for a moment, merely glaring at Merlin as though he blamed him for everything. And then his shoulders sagged.

“Because of this.”

Merlin blinked. “Because of what?” he asked slowly. And then realization dawned on him. Their banter. Even his Slytherin friends had remarked how Snape would never have let a student talk back to him, even a Slytherin one. “Sir?” Merlin asked, “How come you don’t give me detention for talking back?”

“Well, that is the great mystery, now isn’t it?” Snape grumbled. He looked genuinely frustrated by that fact too. Merlin raised an eyebrow.

“It really is my charm, isn’t it?”

Snape rolled his eyes. “Yes, because you don’t give me a headache at all.” He pinched the bridge of his nose again.  “Now go up to lunch before it closes. I need to get some actual work done before I can teach you the banishing spell.”

“You’re still going to teach me it?” Merlin said, unable to hide the glee in his voice.

Merlin knows why.”

“Um… I really don’t.”

“Get out! Before I really give you detention.”

 

 

Chapter Text

What was the matter with him, really? He’d never thought of himself as a particularly violent person. He knew he had a bit of a temper but he’d never struck anyone before – at least, not in the serious sense of the word. His frown deepened, and he leaned back in the red squashy armchair, staring blankly into the flames that cackled merrily in the grate before him.

Really, what was he doing?

“Oi, Ron!” He recognized the voice at once, and it was with great reluctance that he turned his blue eyes toward Fred who was emerging from the portrait hole. Right behind him came George, sharing an identical expression of mock indignation. Ron sighed, steeling himself. They’d no doubt learned of the incident between himself and the Slytherin. It’d only happened an hour ago but somehow his brothers were always the quickest to discover things he’d rather keep hidden.

“Leave me alone Fred, I’m not in the mood,” Ron grumbled and he turned his attention back to the fireplace, though he didn’t really see it. The incident swam before his gaze once more, anger and confusion prickled along his skin.

“No, I’d expect not,” Fred, said behind him, and Ron knew he wasn’t going to drop it. And when his brother came to sit on the couch beside him he had to stifle the groan that threatened to burst out of him. For one wistful moment he hoped that George had decided to leave them to it but that was not to be, for the other twin decided to sit right beside him, on the arm of his chair.

“I don’t think anyone would fancy a week of detentions with Filtch,” Fred continued grimly. His eyes flickered to George but he didn’t address him, instead, “So, have you got a crush or something?”

Even though Ron could hear the tease in his tone, something else made him look up at stare at him. Fred actually sounded concerned, and not in that “my little brother is acting kind of weird” way. No, it felt more like, “why’d you attack the kid, he didn’t do anything wrong” type of concern. His hands balled into fists.

“I do not,” he spat. “Who’d like her?” but his gut contracted strangely as he said it. She wasn’t really all that pretty, and she was really annoying when it came to schoolwork. But the train ride had been, at the very least, more interesting after she’d dragged him after her. No—no, this was a duty that every Gryffindor had, protecting each other from the sly Slytherins.

“Then why—?” George started, but Ron cut him off.

“What do you mean, why? He’s a Slytherin! He was obviously trying to manipulate her and maybe even get some Gryffindor secrets out of her!”

“What are these Gryffindor secrets you speak of?” Fred asked with a raised eyebrow, and Ron knew he was mocking him. He jerked to his feet, glaring at the pair of them.

“Shove off! He’s just like the lot of them!” Ron took a deep breath, trying to calm down but the rage swirled. Hadn’t dad always told them how Slytherins were never to be trusted? How they were always getting Gryffindor in trouble and cunningly escaping punishment themselves? “He was probably going to hurt her or something because she’s muggleborn! You know how they are! I wasn’t about to let him get away with it just because she was too stupid to realize it.”

He didn’t even realize he’d been yelling until he finished out of breath, the back of his neck scarlet. Fred and George exchanged expressions, but Ron didn’t see any sign of agreement. His heart felt tight, emptiness in his stomach. They didn’t share his thoughts. They didn’t think that—that Evans was just another Slytherin.

And it stung.

Before he could call them out on it – all the while praying to Merlin that he was somehow mistaken – there were pounding footsteps and Hermione burst out of the girl’s dormitory, her face flushed and furious. She’d no doubt overheard his rant and he was willing to bet that she didn’t appreciate being called stupid. But when he saw her brown eyes blazing and that jut in her chin that spoke of her haughty “I’m always right” attitude, he didn’t feel sorry at all.

“You’re so prejudiced!” She shouted at him. She stomped toward him as she continued, her hands flying. “You don’t even know him. Merlin isn’t like that!”

“Oh yeah, because you know him so well, “ he bellowed back, coming to meet her in the middle of the common room. He didn’t even care that everyone had fallen silent, that they were at the center of attention and that their voices might just carry out into the corridor for everyone to hear. He did not care at all. She was wrong and she just couldn’t shove her pride and admit it.

“I know him better than you! He’s really nice and smart!”

“He’s just pretending so that you’ll let your guard down! You can’t trust him, you can’t trust any of them!” Ron itched to grab her shoulders and shake some sense into her, but he didn’t. He’d never put a hand on a girl – no matter how stupid they were being. He wasn’t so sure that Slytherins had that same type of code. “You don’t understand this type of thing because you’re muggleborn!”

He knew at once he’d said the wrong thing.

“You’re ridiculous!” Hermione cried out, and he was horrified to see that she had tears in her eyes. No-no-no! He didn’t want tears to enter this discussion! It wasn’t fair, because now she had an advantage over him. How could he yell at someone who was sobbing their eyes out?

“Hermione—” he tried, but she started shouting at him in between the sobs and he fell silent.

“You don’t know anything, Ronald! I asked him to join me, to study with me because I was tired of being alone. He’s the only person who will actually talk to me!” She tried to wipe her eyes, as though trying to make her argument more convincing, but she couldn’t stop the flow. Ron’s anger fell away at the sight, panic rising in his chest. Please, please calm down he thought now glancing around at everyone staring at him. They were all glaring at him now.

This wasn’t how this was supposed to go!

“He doesn’t care that I’m muggleborn!” She continued, starting to hiccup. “He doesn’t make fun of me because I like to study and learn about magic.” She crossed her arms in front of herself, having given up on trying to wipe her cheeks dry.  And with her eyes red and growing swollen, she glowered at him. “You’re nothing but a jerk and a bully, Ron Weasley, and I hate you!

He words sliced at him more deeply than he’d ever admit. Because he had always made fun of her for studying so much, even badgering her to give him her notes so that he didn’t have to take any. He had no reply, and the silence that fell on the common room was deafening save for her gulps and hiccupping breaths. Almost helplessly, he turned to look at the twins, at his brothers. They had both risen from their seats while he and Hermione were arguing and now they went over to her.

“You know, Ron,” Fred said softly and Ron was startled by the serious tone in his voice. His brothers were never serious. “She’s right. Merlin isn’t your usual Slytherin.” George had bent down to eye-level with Hermione and patted her head, giving her a small sad smile. Ron stared at the scene – he’d never seen them do that either.

“It’s okay,” George was saying. “We agree with you. Merlin’s a good guy, he wouldn’t hurt you.”

“You—” Ron wanted to start crying himself. His brothers had abandoned him. They were supposed to be on his side! They were supposed to vouch for him, not for some Slytherin! What had Evans done to win such—loyalty from them? He was the spawn of Snape! He was supposed their enemy, and they were all supposed to unit against those clad in green and silver.

But they had all united with him instead.

Hermione sniffled, giving George a watery smile in return. She didn’t turn to look back at Ron as she walked back toward the girl’s dormitory. On the stairs, Lavender and Pavarti met her and wrapped her in a tight hug, their whispered apologies carrying across the room.

“We’ll talk to you Hermione.”

“You’re not alone, okay?”

Ron couldn’t stand it anymore. He couldn’t stand the way that everyone was looking at him now, the way that his brother’s seemed to want to apologize to him but wouldn’t take back their words. Ron had never felt like this before, never felt alienated like this. He swallowed the lump rising in his throat and then made a dash for the portrait hole. He wasn’t sure where he was going to go – but anything was better than here.

How had Evans tricked them? Was it just a matter of time before the entire common room felt the same way? They had all glared at him out of pity for Hermione, but what if they all started seeking Evans out and got confunded too? And they all knew that he was “supposedly” Snape’s son, so why didn’t they hate him if just on principle?

Why was he the only one who didn’t see the boy through rose-colored lenses?

 

 “This is pointless.”

Merlin itched to use more colorful language to describe the exact extent of what a complete waste of time he considered this “magic control” lesson, but he knew Snape had a limit. He sighed and brought a hand to run through his black hair, messing it up. Snape seemed to pause for a moment – as though the motion had bothered him in some way – but it didn’t last long.

“Two book cases, the Knight Bus, and an elevator all beg to differ.”

Merlin glanced up at him and heaved a sigh, “You forgot Blaise,” he said without thinking. He wondered how many people had seen such an expression of exhaustion and worry on the professor’s face.

“What did you do to Mr. Zabini?” Snape asked, as though he didn’t actually want to know. Somehow, Merlin had simply assumed that the Slytherin students would have told him what happened but they were a great deal more loyal than he’d expected. Even though they bullied and teased him, it was never with malicious intent. Always light-hearted and playful, and Merlin had even found himself having fun while in their company.

And after the incident with Ron in the library, they had completely forgone the use of surnames. The first time they’d called him Merlin, he’d felt weird. He had already gotten used to the distance, to the use of his first name as sarcastic. They had actually gotten angry that someone had picked a fight with him. They had become protective and begun planning retaliation against the Gryffindors. And when Merlin had asked, “Why is it such a big deal?”

Draco had replied, “Because we’re your friends and we look after our own.”

It had touched him.

 “Anyway,” Merlin said avoiding his question – Snape didn’t need to know about Blaise colliding with the wall. “This isn’t helping at all!” he folded his arms.

They had been at this for nearly half-an-hour, and Merlin was quickly growing exhausted from the effort of not blasting the Potions Master back into his desk. The professor would cast a spell that magnified his emotions – most notably anger – and then instruct him to control the magic that swelled within him. Merlin didn’t feel like it was working at all – he was constantly on the breaking point – and his sarcasm flew to new heights while under the spell.

“I’ll be the judge of whether or not these lessons will make any improvement, Evans,” Snape countered, rolling up his sleeves. “We’re going again!” And he raised his wand. Instantly, Merlin was assaulted by such emotion that the air was knocked out of him. Before he could even regain his bearings, he felt the power rise – almost as if it was panicked – to the surface and start banging against his walls. It wanted to protect him against whatever was filling him with such anger and frustration.

“I hardly think that repeatedly re-creating the event will produce any meaningful results!” Merlin shouted. His hair ruffled from the magical electricity that his irritation evoked, almost as if the dungeon had suddenly acquired a breeze. 

Snape waved his wand and the intense frustration released its hold on Merlin. He fell to his knees, gasping for breath as his magic settled at last. He was growing emotionally exhausted and cranky. He couldn’t explain why this sort of exercise wouldn’t work. He couldn’t explain that he was Merlin and that he’d always had chaotic magic that responded instinctively to outside stimuli. He could remember having several incidents while a child, and how even when he’d first come to Camelot how he’d just reacted– like catching the bucket of water Gaius knocked over in midair.

“Did you even read the book I gave you?” Snape shot, sinking into a chair himself. “Or did you think that you could figure it out by running at it headfirst?”

Merlin glowered at him. He actually had read the book that Snape had leant to him – even though he’d only had it for a day. And that was exactly why he was so certain that this training wouldn’t work. He wasn’t just in a child’s body, but he also had the maturity of a child as well – of that he was pretty sure, not that he liked admitting it. But, he also had all the knowledge and power of an adult wizard and not just any wizard. He was the very essence of magic itself, the embodiment of a raw and wild magic that simply didn’t exist in the world anymore. When that sort of power was forced back into a smaller container, there were consequences – like a loss of control. And, he was fairly sure that the lighterand gentler magic of the era was having an effect on him, making him unstable and volatile.

And there was nothing that anyone could do about it.

“I read that book cover to cover, but it has nothing constructive about accidental magic!” he retorted with a surly frown. He crossed his legs, ignoring the cold of the stone floor. “It talks about varying the amount of magic one uses for different spells – more powerful and simple alike. Apparently accidental incidents are just a part of childhood.”

He didn’t mean to shout. That spell had completely wiped away his usual filters. Snape sat up in his chair and Merlin automatically cringed, preparing himself for the chiding that was sure to follow—but it didn’t come. Merlin blinked, meeting the Professor’s black gaze almost warily. He didn’t understand why Snape looked so smug all of a sudden.

When it was clear the professor wasn’t going to say anything he shot, “What?”

“Did your magic respond as you shouted that pathetic argument?” he asked, with a sneer.

What?

His blanking mind must have been reflected on his face because Snape smirked. The professor stood up and started waving his wand toward the swarm of papers and books that Merlin had dislodged during some of his more violent outbursts. “I am fully aware that accidental magic cannot be controlled without very poor results,” the man began. He picked up a second year potions textbook and frowned at the broken spine. “Which is why I was not training you to smoother your magic.”

Merlin stared at him. “Then, what were you training me to do?” he asked very slowly. He actually felt like a child for once and not just in appearance. But he also felt like he’d been tricked. Merlin had been very nervous about these lessons in the first place, worried that Snape would start remarking on his raw power – it was obvious to anyone. But even though he’d thrown things across the room Snape had never mentioned being surprised or even curious about his abilities. And though he couldn’t understand why, he was grateful because he’d never be able to explain.

Though he did wonder why the topic hadn’t come up.

Snape didn’t even glance at him, continuing to put his office back together. “I was raising your tolerance levels.” Merlin got the distinct impression that Snape felt very clever right about now. “Your outbursts are directly related to your emotions, you’ve noticed this correct?”

Merlin nodded. “I have,” he said and he got to his feet as well, brushing off the dust from his robes. “What does that have to do with it though?” he asked, unable to keep the rising curiosity out of his tone. The sulky irritation he’d felt during this entire session was starting to dissipate.

Finally, Snape turned to look at him. That smirk was starting to really annoy him, as though Snape was trying to make him feel stupid for not knowing. “The intention of this training was to make those incidents of accidental magic decrease – not vanish completely. I have no doubt that there will arise a situation – as trouble seems to follow you around like some lost puppy – when accidental magic might just save your life. In fact, that’s one reason the practice of suppressing it completely is such a bad idea in the first place, as magical children are so much more likely to do reckless things. No, what we have done – and will continue to do for the next few weeks – will raise your trigger levels.”

Snape paused a moment here, as though waiting for Merlin to absorb this explanation. So far, Merlin was on board. In fact he was growing more interested by the second and he eagerly nodded for Snape to continue.

“When you get angry, your magic rises with you as part of your fight-or-flight response. What this training will do is require you to be extremely angry in order for your magic to rise.”

Merlin’s eyes grew a fraction wider. “So, the spell that intensifies my emotions…” he said and Snape nodded.

“Teaches your body to associate that level of emotionality before reacting.” Here Snape heaved a sigh and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Though we obviously have a long way to go before there’s any sort of consistency in your reactions. For now, it would be wise if you worked on calming your mind and avoiding confrontation until we can firmly establish your new baseline.”

Merlin wondered if Snape knew that the words, “I didn’t sign up for this shit,” were plastered to his furrowed brow.

They stood there in silence for several minutes. Finally Merlin fidgeted and asked, “So—so am I dismissed?”

Snape glanced at him and nodded. “Dismissed, Evans,” he said with a touch of his usual severity and Merlin quickly left the office. Even though it was still very early – dinner wouldn’t be served for another few hours – he itched to crawl into his bed and fall asleep. He doubted his Slytherin housemates would let him though; more likely badger him about where he’d been. Even though the rumor of parentage had quieted and only arose in sarcasm, he knew what would happen if they knew he was having private lessons with Snape.

Speaking of which—

“Well, if it isn’t the great and powerful Merlin,” George said with an exaggerated bow, a smile on his face. Fred grinned too, stuffing a piece of parchment into his robes. “What a pleasant surprise this is!”

Merlin rolled his eyes and glanced up and down the dungeon corridor. “What are you two doing down here?” he asked raising his eyebrow. His heart tightened in his chest – they had probably heard about the incident between him and Ron by now. Were they here to sever ties? “If—if this is about the library,” Merlin started to say, wanting get it over with, but Fred interrupted him.

“Please accept our humblest apologies, our brother is a right ol’ git.”

Merlin stared at them. “You’re not mad? I—I punched him!”

“And he probably deserves worse,” Fred said, and Merlin saw a dark expression flicker across his face. What had happened between the brothers? Merlin wanted to ask, but he didn’t dare pry into family business. Instead, he scratched the back of his head awkwardly.

“I’m surprised. I—I thought you’d—” He didn’t even want to say it. Ron had said some very degrading things in regards to his character. He hadn’t thought that Fred and George would listen to him, but then again they were family and he wouldn’t have been surprised if they’d snapped at him to lay off their sibling.

George sighed and crossed over to him, slinging his arm around his neck and wrapping his knuckles against his head. “You kidding? If you’re a manipulative Slytherin I’m a hippogriff.”

“Hey,” Merlin said trying to break free. “C’mon, stop it your going to give me a bruise,” but he laughed as he said it. Then he frowned as a different worry invaded his mind. “So—so is Hermione okay?” he asked.

“Hey, do I smell a forbidden love?” George said practically beaming at him.

“What? No!” Merlin said though he wondered if perhaps he’d spoken too quickly, because the twins were sharing identical smirks now. God! He was too old to even think about girls Hermione’s age and yet there was that nagging reminder in the back of his head that he was her age. “We’re just friends,” Merlin mumbled looking at his shoes.

“I think she will be, especially if she has you on her side,” Fred said. He and his brother exchanged the same look again, that dark expression making a pass between them.

“Is everything all right?” Merlin asked them slowly.

“Hm? Oh absolutely,” but somehow Merlin knew he was lying. George ruffled hair and finally let go of him.

“You take care, okay Merlin? And you have our absolute permission to extract revenge on ickle Ronnie-kins.” He nudged his brother and they started walking back down the hall. Merlin stared after them, taken aback. It had taken everything to persuade his Slytherin friends not to trip Gryffindors in the hallway, and here was the twins declaring open season on their very brother.

“Play nice now!” Fred called back to him.

“Yeah, don’t accidentally kill Ron! Mum wouldn’t be too happy about that!”

Merlin could stand there, rooted to the spot as utter confusion filled his mind. “What?”

 

A day turned into a week, and then into two. Merlin sank into the rhythm of school life with everyone else but at every moment he expected something to burst from the shadows and dispel the calm that had settled over him. And as time passed, he only grew more anxious about it. Quirrell still confused and unsettled him, but he could find now obvious reason for it. And though the Gryffindors had all stared at him for several days following the outburst in the library, no one ever acted.

He saw Fred and George occasionally in the hallway. They didn’t seem at all surprised that he had no intention of “extracting revenge” on their brother. In fact, they said that they were pretty sure that Ron had learned his lesson – whatever that meant. Merlin wanted to ask about Hermione, but he could never bring himself to do it – he didn’t want to look like he actually did like her after all.

Not to mention slipping away from the Slytherins to see her would be next to impossible, not with him already sneaking off for his lessons with Snape – which were actually going very well. He hoped that Snape would be pleased enough with his progress by Halloween to discontinue them. Before the Slytherins finally got fed up with his secretiveness.

He came down from the dormitory one morning to find all the first years gathered around the bulletin board, a ripple of excited conversation seizing the crowd. He blinked, and walked over. “Is there a particular reason everyone’s clumping together like sardines?” he asked Blaise, who was nearest to him.

“Oh look, Merlin finally graces us with his presence,” interrupted Draco’s drawling voice and a minute later he had emerged from the crowd of students. “What’s the matter, you don’t have any secret meetings to attend to this morning?”

For some reason, Draco seemed to be the only one who was really bothered by his comings and goings. Merlin narrowed his eyes. “You do know the definition of secret, right? Meaning you don’t know?” he quipped back with a sneer.

Draco glared at him, and Blaise interrupted the stand off with a chuckle. “He’s probably off to see the twins, aren’t you?” he said smacking Merlin’s back.

A good cover, for sure. Maybe he’d ask the twins if they’d actually be okay with that. For now though, he made a display of mock indignation, “I have no idea to what twins you are referring to.”

Draco rolled his eyes. “How very smooth.” He glanced back toward the bulletin board. “Flying lessons start this week – finally, I was about to file a complaint.”

“Flying lessons?” Merlin repeated. He straightened his back and looked easily over the tops of heads to read the sign himself. “With the Gryffindors?!” he read aloud, some panic bleeding into his tone.

“Hey look, he’s giving an appropriate reaction for once,” Blaise said nudging Draco’s shoulder. Draco ignored Blaise, preferring instead to fold his arms and sneer at Merlin.

“What’s the matter, Merlin? Worried you’ll make a fool of yourself in front of the lions?” he teased.

Merlin didn’t say anything. He hadn’t seen Ron or Hermione since the library – except inside Potions class. He’d thought he’d seen Hermione glance his way but she never stuck around long enough for him to say anything to her. He suspected that she was worried about the Slytherins – or even Ron – seeing them.

He’d been silent too long. Draco started snickering and he looked up at him, frowning. “What?”

“I forgot! You’ve never been on a broom!”

“Wait, seriously?” Blaise said, staring at Merlin in shock. “Ever?”

Okay, misinterpreting his silence but he could work with it. Merlin shook his head and shrugged. “Nope.” He had flown much more interesting things, like dragons. “Can’t be too hard, right?”

“Nah, you’ll be fine!” Blaise said with a wave of his hand. Merlin nodded in agreement, flashing a smile. He turned toward Draco and noted the sour expression on his face.

“What’s up with you today, anyway?”

“Nothing,” and he turned left the common room, Crabbe and Goyle sulking after him. Merlin and Zabini exchanged puzzled expressions.

“What’s up with him?”

Merlin wasn’t entirely sure why Draco was acting so cold toward him. Blaise didn’t seem to think that there was really anything to concern themselves about and immediately started telling him about all the flying experience he had and giving him as many tips as possible. Throughout the week, though Merlin noticed Draco’s mood slowly deteriorating.

Was it the prospect of flying lessons with the Gryffindors? He knew that Draco wasn’t a bad flyer – everyone knew that. Theodore Nott seemed to be scared of flying and Daphne had been injured once, but everyone else was really looking forward to class in spite of who their flying partners would be. And, the general opinion was that even if something did happen, Merlin would take care of it.

At breakfast the day of, Merlin was passing along some of the advice Blaise had given him to Theodore when the Post arrived. He stopped and looked up, watching the school owls and hoping. He’d written Silas a few letters since term had started, just telling him about his classes and the people he’d met. He even told him about the fight in the library, but so far he hadn’t gotten a letter back.

And he couldn’t figure out why.

“Waiting for a letter?” Theodore asked him, now looking up at the mass of owls as well.

“Yeah, from my foster brother,” Merlin answered him. He frowned when the owls left the Great Hall, a sinking feeling in his heart. “I’ve written him, but he hasn’t said anything back.”

“He’s probably fine,” but Merlin heard the doubt in his friend’s voice, for it mimicked his own. He itched to find out what was going on. Maybe he’d ask Snape if he could send a letter to him the muggle way, in case Silas wasn’t getting his letters at all.

He frowned, and was just about to continue where he left off on take off strategies when he spotted Draco getting to his feet. Curious, he watched as the blonde boy crossed to the Gryffindor table. “What is Draco doing?” he muttered to no one in particular.

“I-I don’t know,” Theodore replied, sounding hesitant.

“Letting off steam, probably,” Pansy said with a shrug. Merlin glanced at her, an eyebrow rising.

“Why?”

She shrugged again.

Even from this distance it was obvious what was going on. Somehow Draco had zeroed in on Neville Longbottom and was bullying the boy. Merlin frowned, his fists clenching. He hadn’t bullied anyone – except for him – for such a long time! Why was he suddenly going back to his old habits? 

“Merlin?”

He didn’t even acknowledge Theodore. He had gotten to his feet and made his way toward the Gryffindor table, ignoring when his name was called again more earnestly. He arrived not a moment too soon – he could see Ron starting to rise in seat. Draco didn’t seem surprised at all to see Merlin, in fact he smirked and held out a glass ball for him to see.

“Look, Longbottom’s got a Rememberall.”

“That would be so fascinating if I knew what that was,” Merlin deadpanned. His blue eyes flashed, a warning hanging unsaid in the air between them. The whole Gryffindor table went quiet – even Ron seemed to be watching the scene with keen interest, though he attempted to hide it.

“The smoke inside turns red when you’ve forgotten something,” Draco drawled, waving the thing back and forth now.

“Really?” Merlin couldn’t help it. His eyes glinted gold for a fraction of a second, so fast that unless someone was really looking, they wouldn’t have noticed. “Kind of like now?”

The smoke inside the glass ball had turned scarlet. Draco seemed to lose his cool for a moment, taken aback by the change. Hermione flashed him a smile and he glanced toward her, his expression softening for a moment before he turned sharply back to Draco. “C’mon, we shouldn’t bother with this,” he said carefully, knowing that he couldn’t make fun of Draco in front of everyone. “It’s just a dumb trinket.”

Draco frowned. “Indeed,” he ground out and he tossed the Rememberall roughly back to Neville. He met Merlin’s gaze and nodded toward the entrance hall, leading the way there. “Let’s leave them to their silly games,” he said in the same low voice.

Merlin didn’t reply. He followed him out of the Great Hall, aware of the Gryffindor eyes on the back of his neck. When they were finally alone, Draco whirled on him.

“What’s the matter with you? Where’s your loyalty!” he spat. Merlin folded his arms in reply.

“Sorry, I thought you knew that I don’t like bullying.”

“Don’t give me that shit after you picked a fight!” Draco countered, folding his arms as well. “Or what, only you get to have a go at them?”

Merlin was speechless. Was that why Draco was being such a prat? “Stop being stupid,” he said with a frown. “You know I didn’t pick that fight!”

“Yeah? Well that’s just one more thing, isn’t it?” Draco was shouting now. He seemed to realize how loud his voice had gotten though because his eyes widened and he gritted his teeth. In a quieter, though savage tone he continued, “What started the fight, huh? Why didn’t you get detention from Madam Pince? Where do you disappear? And now you come and stick up for some sniveling slob instead of backing me up!” 

Merlin felt himself getting angry too – why should he have to explain himself to Draco? “Stop being such a prat Draco! It’s really not that big of a deal – and I told you what happened.”

Draco rolled his eyes. “Yeah, right. That blood-traitor doesn’t have the balls to just walk up and hit you. I know you did something to set him off!”

Merlin gritted his teeth. He wasn’t going to tell Draco about talking with Hermione, the git just wouldn’t understand. “Yeah? Well maybe he’s not the only one!”

Draco’s fist collided with his face, making him stumble back a few paces and silence fell between them. He’d reopened the crack on his lip. Merlin wiped the dribble of blood from his chin and looked up to glare at Draco, who glared right back. After a moment, the pale boy shook his head, and he was surprised to see him look hurt.

“Merlin Evans,” he said, his voice dripping with disdain, “the boy that won’t tell his friends anything!

And he pushed past him toward the Quidditch pitch for their first flying lesson.

 

 “Hey, what happened to your lip?”

“Nothing,” Merlin said, wiping his mouth again. It had already stopped bleeding, leaving behind a bruise and a scab. Blaise gave Merlin his, “details later” look and turned his attention back to Madame Hooch who was introducing the lesson for the day.

Merlin was only half listening. Thank god those lessons with Snape were actually doing something. Even though he was felt so convoluted, his magic was still content. He glanced down the row at Draco who seemed to be determinedly staring at Madame Hooch and was ignoring even Pansy who kept trying to talk to him.

Was that why Draco had been moody? Because he felt hurt that Merlin wasn’t talking to him about anything? Somehow he’d always thought that Draco’s friendship was fake – something that he pretended to give because he didn’t want to cause a ruckus inside his own house. Blaise and the others certainly didn’t care if Merlin went off on his own every once in a while. Sure they asked him about it all the time, and teased him with their theories but only Draco had gotten truly upset.

Was it really as simple as that?

 Blaise nudged him.

“What?” he bit, a little more sulky than he’d intended.

“Snap out of it, we’re getting on our brooms now.” He already had his broom in his hand. “Just say ‘up,’ already!”

Merlin nodded, shaking himself and stuck his hand out over his broom. The twigs were all pointed in different directions in the tale and there were several chips on the handle. Would this thing really support his weight?

“Up!” He said firmly. The broom shuddered oddly. He frowned. “Up!” he repeated a little more forcefully. The broom actually quaked and shuddered, as though it was fighting against his demand. “I said, up!” and his eyes flickered gold.

The broom jumped to his hand, but not of it’s own accord. The instant his fingers clasped around it though, he wanted to drop it right back onto the ground. He could feel the enchantments on the broom groaning from the contact of his hand, the way they seemed to unravel and strain with the interference of his magic. The broom itself had started shaking, quivering in his hand and making a nearly indiscernible buzzing noise. If he had to put his finger on it, it felt like the time he’d held a normal wand – seconds before it exploded.

He could not ride this thing.

“O-on second thought I’m going to sit this one out,” he said with a weak smile.

What?” Blaise hissed, already saddling his broomstick. “You’re kidding right? It’s not that hard.”

“No, I’m pretty sure this broom is going to die.”

“Look, I know it’s old but it’s not that bad.” He glanced toward the Gryffindors. “You can’t chicken out! Not in front of them!” He whispered urgently, but Merlin thought he caught some hint of a threat. He shook his head.

“Blaise I don’t think you understand. I cannot ride this thing,” he was starting to sound a little desperate. Madame Hooch passed by them, checking everyone’s grips. She frowned when she saw that Merlin was behind.

“Mr. Evans, please mount your broom,” she barked.

Merlin felt his face flush as everyone turned to look at him. Blaise was mouthing for him hurry up. Draco even looked over, puzzlement on his face.

“Is this really necessary?” Merlin asked the professor in an undertone, hoping that no one else heard him. “I mean, is this class required?”

“Yes! Now hurry up,” she snapped. Merlin flinched, acutely aware of the vibrating broom. It didn’t look like it was moving at all, and he couldn’t have her hold it to check because it wouldn’t work. He didn’t have any reasonable excuse.

“C’mon Merlin!” Blaise hissed, nudging his arm. All the color gone from his face, Merlin mounted the broom. The thing shook under him, and he could feel the magic reacting erratically to his raw natural core. Maybe if he just stayed like this, that would be fine, right? No actual flying?

He looked up and saw that Neville was staring at him. He was gripping his broom so tightly that his hands were white. Merlin offered him a weak smile and he smiled back – some of the color returned to his knuckles. Well, Neville didn’t have any reason to be scared of his boom; it wouldn’t explode if he rode it.

“All right, on my whistle. Three, two, one!” Madame Hooche’s whistle blared through the air and everyone around Merlin kicked off from the ground, soaring into the air. He stayed exactly where he was though. Neville rose a few inches, hovered and then touched the ground again.

“Mr. Evans!” Madame Hooch barked, coming over to him again. “Why haven’t you kicked off?”

Because I’m worried this contraption will explode.

“I have a fear of heights,” he said automatically. Neville had started doing this weird hopping thing around the field, seeming to enjoy himself.

“You do not need to go very high,” Madame Hooch said, and Merlin got the impression that she was doing her best to be soothing. It wasn’t working very well.

“I think I’d rather fail the class.”

“Every first year needs to pass this course, otherwise you will be banned from Quidditch tryouts.”

“I’m really fine with that—honest.”

 “Awe, is Merlin scared to fly?” Draco had hovered over to them, looking so natural on his broom that Merlin thought it should be illegal. Madame Hooch opened her mouth to say something, but a yell – Neville had somehow crashed into Theodore – drew her away from the situation. Draco took full advantage of her absence; he made a loop over Merlin, sneering at him.

“What’s the matter, Merlin? It’s just a broomstick,” he jeered.

Merlin gritted his teeth. He did not want to lose. But he was actually scared to take off on this rackety, shuddering thing.

“What? Don’t have the balls to fly?” Draco continued in a light teasing voice. “You a coward, Merlin?”

That struck home. Merlin tightened his grip on the staff and gave a very light push from the ground. God, the broomstick started shaking instantly. He could hear the wood creaking, the tail twigs bristling but it didn’t explode. He let out a breath he didn’t realize that he’d been holding and went a few inches higher into the sky. The shaking of the broom was obvious now, rebounding and making his arms quiver.

Draco was watching him closely and his eyes widened when he noticed. “Are—are you okay?” he asked slowly, his hostility from earlier replaced by genuine worry. He flew a little closer to Merlin, dropping his current altitude.

“Yeah—I’m fine,” Merlin shot back, managing to shoot him a glare. Draco didn’t return it though; he was still looking at Merlin’s shaking hands. Merlin clenched his jaw and flew a little to left and then to the right, testing out the broom. It didn’t like the movement but Merlin felt like it would tolerate it. Draco came around and flew around him.

“Want a safety harness?” he teased, some of his old smirk coming back though his still flickered to Merlin’s shaking hands every now and then.

“I’m good. Want an undertaker?” Merlin spat in reply. Draco snickered.

“Come on, follow me.” He took off down the field, toward where the rest of the class had clumped together. Merlin hesitated for a moment before following him – albeit, much more slowly.

When he reached the others – all of which were flying much higher than him, except for Theodore and Neville, who were still on the ground. Hermione spotted him and flew over to meet him, smiling brightly.

“Isn’t this amazing!” she said her face flushed from wind.

“Amazing…” Merlin repeated, sounding a great deal less enthusiastic. She blinked, looking at him.

“You don’t think so?”

“I’m not much of a flier, to be honest,” he said with a sheepish smile. “I’d rather keep my feet on the ground.” Or ride a dragon, that’d be okay too, or maybe just an animal in general?

She smiled gently at him. “C’mon, lets go up slowly together,” she said casting her eyes to the sky.

“Oh no, I’m really fine…”

“Merlin,” she said giving him a look and he relented. He took a deep breath and they both started gaining altitude. Merlin noticed with growing panic that the shaking of his broom was growing worse.

“Hey, Merlin!

Oh great, Draco was back. Hermione jerked around as Draco came into view and he sneered at her. And then he glanced from her to Merlin with a kind of dawning comprehension. “Who is this, Merlin? Your girlfriend?”

“I am not!” Hermione said briskly, though her cheeks tinged with pink. “I’m—I’m—” she glanced helplessly at Merlin, and he understood. She didn’t want to get him in trouble – everyone knew she was muggleborn. And Draco was as pureblood as they came. But he wasn’t going to cast her aside – he couldn’t. 

Merlin looked at Draco. “She’s my friend, Draco.” He saw the way that Draco’s face froze, noticed the way his sneer turned ugly.

“Really now?” Draco said, now glaring at Hermione with such an expression of utter loathing that she actually flinched and moved back to stand behind Merlin. “Making friends with mudbloods, now?”

Merlin heard the intake of breath behind him. “Is that a crime?” Merlin said coldly. He was aware of just how badly he had insulted Hermione, but he was trying to keep his cool. The shaking of his broom panicked him enough; he couldn’t afford a severe emotional spike right now. “I didn’t realize I needed your permission to make friends.”

“Well then, come on, friend,” Draco said, the word friend sounding like a cuss on his tongue. “Why don’t we all play together, like friends are supposed to?”

“I don’t think—” Hermione tried to say, but his glare silenced her with a squeak.

“Hermione, stay back,” Merlin murmured to her. She glanced at him and nodded, and then she frowned and glanced down at his broom.

“Merlin—you’re—” she said blanching. “You need to go back to the ground—now!”

“I’m fine,” Merlin countered, and he turned back to Draco. He knew he wasn’t fine though. He knew the shaking of his broom – and by extension his arms – was extremely noticeable now. He was too high, and the broom couldn’t stand him for much longer. “What do you want to do Draco?”

But he would never find out. He didn’t know why, even looking back he couldn’t explain what had happened because it didn’t make sense to him. But one minute he was glaring at Draco, trying not to be bothered by the fact that Draco looked more betrayed and hurt than actually angry he was friends with Hermione, and the next his broom had shot two feet higher into the air.

All the color drained out of his face, leaving behind a green pallor.

“Merlin!” Hermione shrieked.

He couldn’t reply. The broom had started shaking so badly that he could barely hang onto it anymore – but if he let go now it would be at least a twenty-foot fall. The panic that surged within him blinded him to all else; he was clinging to the broom for dear life. It dropped a foot, than abruptly shot up another four feet, moving so violently that it almost looked like it was trying to throw Merlin off it.

“Merlin!”

Draco was nearly as white as Hermione. He flew up with her, trying to grab hold of Merlin’s broom to steady it but the broom was having none of that. It dropped again and started jerking from side to side. Beneath his fingers, Merlin felt the staff starting to swell. It was growing hot, way too hot. He yelled as it burned his hands and thighs. He lost all control over his emotions. His magic rushed forward and straight into the broom and for one split second it froze. Hermione took advantage of it and shot forward and grabbing Merlin’s collar, just as Draco managed to grab his arm. Together, they yanked Merlin off the broom, placing him awkwardly in-between both of theirs.  

“Are you—” Draco didn’t finish his question.

The broomstick had started emitting bright light from the center of the staff, jumping and shaking once again. Merlin had a fairly good idea what was about to happen, but there wasn’t enough time to get all the way to the ground. He yelled and covered Hermione with his arms, as the thing exploded, sending a shockwave full of sharp wood splinters right at them.

They went crashing to the ground, the broomsticks they were currently on managing to cushion their fall. Merlin winced as he hit the grass; the wood had been imbedded into his skin, like tiny pieces of glass. He struggled to get up, but when he moved he let out a gasp. A particularly large piece of wood had wedged itself two of his ribs, and every breath was painful.

“Hermione?” he murmured, straining to look over to her.

Merlin! Oh my god, are you okay? What—” her voice cracked. “You’re bleeding. Madam Hooch! Please! HELP!” She was in utter hysterics, and Merlin felt her shaking hands touch his chest.

He cleared his throat. “Draco? Is Draco okay?”

“No,” came a pained groan not to far from him. “No I most certainly am not okay.” Merlin managed to turn his head to look at him. He had gotten some of the splinters too, one had scratched his face, but Merlin could see the sheer panic in his face when he looked at him.

“H-hey, hold on okay?” he crawled over to him. “There’s—there’s a—” he looked faintly sick. Hermione ripped off her tie and then turned to Draco.

“Give me your tie, we need to stem some of this blood before he passes out!”

Draco didn’t even hesitate. He ripped it off his neck. As Hermione placed it against his side Madame Hooch swept down on them. Merlin blinked, their faces were swimming out of focus. He heard Hermione shrieking for the professor to help him, while Draco seemed to have lapsed into horrified silence. He heard a spell murmured and he was lifted onto a stretcher.

Hermione and Draco walked beside him. Hermione’s face was streaked with tears now – when had she started crying? Draco was still in his silent shock. Was it night? His eyelids felt so heavy. And finally, he just couldn’t keep them open anymore.

 

Chapter Text

“Well, this places us in a difficult situation, does it not Severus?”

The headmaster glanced up at the Potions Master, something dark dimming his bright blue eyes. His jaw clenched in reply, and gave his employer a stiff nod. A difficult situation indeed – and perhaps that was putting it too mildly. True, it was a feeling, a suspicion that could merely be wild speculation but Severus Snape knew better. And if Dumbledore shared his same sentiments then he was certain.

Quirrell was in league with the Dark Lord.

How, neither of them really knew. But Dumbledore thought it likely that the professor had encountered the wizard while on his year sabbatical – the imbecilic Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher had ignored all caution against going into the forest of Albania. But, there was no way to prove that Quirrell was really in cahoots with him. At the moment, the only real thing they had to go on was the startling change in Quirrell’s behavior and a few half-heard conversations with thin air and neither were compelling evidence. But that didn’t change the fact that there was someone possibly dangerous within Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

And Snape knew Dumbledore detested the very thought.

“We don’t know anything for certain yet,” Snape said, his tone clearly in disagreement with his own words. He was too wired to continue sitting. He got to his feet and clenched the back of his chair, looking down at Dumbledore who now brought his hands together in a steeple. “But it might be a prudent idea to keep a close eye on that blasted stone – it was a brilliant idea to bring one of the only objects in the world that could return the Dark Lord to his former glory into a school full of children.”

Dumbledore sighed and shook his head. “No, the stone is safest in my possession. Lord Voldemort wouldn’t dare take it from under my nose.”

Snape raised his eyebrow. “Well, it seems that Quirrell just might.”

“Yes, you’ve done a wonderful job keeping tabs on him so far, Severus – thank you.” Dumbledore got to his feet now, that same darkness still muting the usual glimmer of his eyes. It sent a chill through Snape, that look of old power. Dumbledore paused on the edge of his desk. “It seems necessary to reactivate you as a double-agent, we need more evidence if we hope to bring this to the Wizengamot.”

It was with difficulty that Snape kept himself from snarling. He had known this moment would come, even if he had hoped it never would. But, there were a few aspects to the assignment to brighten its prospect. Namely taunting Quirrell. “As necessity demands it,” Snape said with stiff nod.

Dumbledore nodded. “See if you can get him to confide in you, and do all you can to make sure he does not succeed in his aims. But, it might be prudent that you do not let him know that you are blocking him. And, try to find out how Quirrell is in contact with him, I’m sure Lord Voldemort will be keeping a close eye.”

Snape nodded again, his clench on the chair growing tighter. The Dark Lord must be desperate to use such a pathetic man, though Snape had to remind himself not to underestimate his quarry. Though he was a squirrel, he had known him during his years as the muggle studies professor and he knew Quirrell was at least somewhat intelligent.

“With any luck—” Dumbledore cut off mid sentence as someone knocked with quick urgent hands. He glanced toward Snape – who was now turning to look at the door. There was another urgent bang on the door. “Come in,” the headmaster said and Madam Hooch strode into the office looking somewhat pale and flustered.

It wasn’t a look Snape saw often.

“I’m sorry to interrupt,” she said in her gruff voice, which made her sound like she wasn’t really all that sorry. “But, there was an incident at the Gryffindor and Slytherin flying lesson that demands both your attention.”

Dumbledore merely looked curious, but Snape had gone rock still. He was fairly certain he knew who had been involved – that idiot boy was somehow always at the center of excitement. “What has Evans done this time? He hasn’t knocked over a castle wall, has he?” he ground out very sarcastically. The entire staff had given him an earful for the bookcase incident – especially the librarian.

Madam Hooch made a funny little noise though, and to his horror, her face drained of the little color it had left.

“Do explain what happened, Madam Hooch,” Dumbledore put in softly and he conjured one of his purple armchairs for her.

“One of the school brooms exploded,” she said hoarsely and she collapsed into the armchair.

An awful silence followed her words.

“I’m sorry, did you say one of the brooms broke?” Dumbledore asked his brow furrowing. He walked slowly over to her and conjured another of his chairs so that he could sit opposite her.

She shook her head. “Not broke. Exploded headmaster. I was on the other side of the field a the time so I didn’t see it myself, but Miss Granger said that Mr. Evan’s broom started—”

“Evans?” Snape’s mouth went very dry. “It was his broom?”

“Yes, and well apparently it started jumping and then there was a bright light and it burst into a thousand pieces.” Here she glanced up at Snape, and her face suddenly adopted a grievous expression. Almost like she was about to break some very bad news to him. She took a deep breath, “The splinters hit the three students closest, Miss Granger and Mr. Malfoy sustained only minor injures.” She swallowed.

“And Evans?” Snape couldn’t explain the sinking feeling in his gut, the way his heart seemed to jump with panic.

“He was closest to the explosion. Some of the splinters stabbed his side and back—Madam Pomfrey said he’ll be fine!” she quickly added when Snape made a beeline for the door. He turned and glanced at her then at Dumbledore. The headmaster gave a very small nod and he dashed down the stairs into the hallway, doing his best not to run but also get there as quickly as possible. The concern he felt at this moment was so alien to him. Sure, he was always worried about his snakes – they were his responsibility after all – but, and maybe it was because he had actually admitted that he had a certain fondness for Evans’ charm, he had to see him with his own eyes.

He had to see that he was all right.

And he needed to find out what exactly happened from the witnesses. He skidded to a halt just outside the infirmary, taking a deep breath. It wouldn’t do to enter looking winded after all – if Evans, or even worse Draco, thought he had run here he was sure he’d never hear the end of it. So, he took a moment to compose himself, and pushed open the door.

Draco was sitting up in bed, wearing a very loose open shirt that revealed several bandages on his right shoulder and arms. He had a few smudges of dirt on his face and Snape had never seen the young Malfoy’s hair so disheveled. One bed down laid Miss Granger, though she bore very few bandages. She was curled up in the blankets, ignoring her dirty school robes. Even from this distance, Snape could see her shoulders shaking and as he watched she sniffled and attempted to wipe her very red eyes. And, in between the pair of them, the subject of their frequent eye flickers, was Evans.

He wasn’t sure what he had expected to see – the boy sulky and ready to leave probably. But what he saw was so opposite from that that it made his heart clench for a moment and it took every ounce of willpower not to cross to the boy’s side.

Merlin Evans was unconscious, and an even worse sight than Draco. Madam Pomfrey had removed his shirt, revealing layers upon layers of bandages – particularly around his left side, just above his ninth rib. Snape was sure that the boy’s entire back was covered in bandages as well. He had a cracked lip and hair that would make James Potter envious. The complete picture was one that smacked Snape in the face like a stone slab, causing him to stand frozen for several moments.

“Professor?”

Madam Pomfrey had seen him. At her word, both Granger and Draco glanced over at him, though they didn’t say anything. The girl sniffled again and feverishly tried to wipe her eyes.

“How is he?” Snape asked the nurse in an undertone. He tried to bury his feelings of panic and concern, this strange possessiveness he felt over the wellbeing of Evans. God, if he wasn’t careful he really would turn into the boy’s father.

“He’ll be fine Severus,” and Madam Pomfrey gave him a very knowing smile. Damn her. “A few of the splinters went a little deeper than expected, but he’s strong and in good hands.” Yes, her hands were some of the best when it came to this sort thing. He had always wondered why she hadn’t gone to the trauma ward at St. Mungo’s Hospital. She was certainly skilled enough, but then he’d always be grateful that she’s opted to stay with them instead. “His magic is aiding the healing as well, to a shocking extent even. He should be able to leave tomorrow, though he’ll need to take it easy next week.”

Sweet relief managed to quell some of his worry. He nodded and asked, “What of Miss Granger and Mr. Malfoy?”

“Mr. Malfoy had a few splinters in his right shoulder and arms, but he’ll be fully healed in a few hours and Miss Granger only sustained a few scratches and could be discharged now.” She paused a moment. “However, I will be keeping them both overnight with a few calming and de-anxiety potions. They were both very distraught after the incident and seeing Evans’ injuries up close like that have left them likely to develop Acute Stress Disorder and I’d rather that didn’t happen.”

Snape nodded in agreement, though his jaw clenched at the thought of what they must have seen up close. “It’s probably for the best,” he said. “I need to ask them what happened.”

Madam Pomfrey gave an aggravated tut. “Of course you do. But not for very long, they need their rest.”

“Of course, Poppy.”

Snape gave her one last nod before making his way over to the injured students. As he neared, Draco immediately gave him his full attention and a very ugly frown took command of his face. “My father will hear about this,” he spat when Snape finally came to a stop at the end of Evans’ bed. “Those brooms were always an utter disgrace.”

Hermione made a small choking sound, as though trying to stop her hiccupping tears but unable to. “Professor Snape—sir—it wasn’t—wasn’t our fault—”

“Of course not, you silly girl,” Snape snapped though his words didn’t have the venom they usually did. “I do not think this was your fault at all.”

He glanced at Evans for a moment, wondering whether or not it might really have been the cause of his ridiculously turbulent accidental magic. Perhaps it would be a good idea for Dumbledore to run a few diagnostic spells, figure out what on earth was going on—was he just another dark lord in waiting to go off like a time bomb?

“It wasn’t Merlin’s fault either, sir,” Draco added, correctly guessing his godfather’s thoughts. Snape turned to him now, and raised his eyebrow for him to continue. “It’s those bloody—blasted,” he quickly amended, “brooms!”

Snape sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Why don’t you begin from the beginning Draco. What happened?”

The young snake didn’t delay for a moment. He jumped right into the story, explaining how he had seen Evans shaking when he first climbed onto the broom. “But sir, all week he had been excited to fly. Not a worry at all – I thought it was a bit strange.”

“Yes!” Granger seemed to quail beneath his gaze – even though he wasn’t giving her his Gryffindor glare. “I noticed that too, and it just got worse the higher he flew in the air. I thought he was just scared of heights.”

“And then,” Malfoy glanced toward Granger for a moment, something strange in his expression. It was though he hated her, but knew that his reasons for doing so weren’t right. “Well, we had a small fight. I baited him to fly higher and he was going to do it! But then the broom just started jumping and once it did it just got worse and worse.”

“We managed to pull him onto our brooms,” Granger added, sniffling again. “And then his just started to glow with light and—”

Boom.”

They all jerked toward Evans, startled. “Merlin?” Draco croaked turning to him with one of the most unguarded faces Snape had ever seen him with. A swarm of fresh tears ran over Granger’s cheeks and she hiccupped his name as well.

Those brilliant blue eyes cracked open for a moment before closing again, a groan on his lips. “Draco, if you keep looking at me like that I might actually drop dead,” he mumbled and Snape felt the relief sweep over them all. Evans blinked open his eyes again and Snape saw them lock onto himself. “Professor, I’m touched. Were you worried about me?” he said as he sat up with just a glimmer of a smirk.

“Believe it or not Evans, but I do care about the students in my house,” Snape countered with a roll of his eyes. “Or did you think you were special?” He caught Granger staring at him out of the corner of his eye before she quickly turned back to Evans, shaking her head.

“And here I was thinking I was your favorite,” Evans continued with a smile. He gave a small chuckle and immediately winced, some of the color draining from his face.

“Hey, take it easy,” Draco said. “The broomstick came after you with a vengeance.”

“Don’t I know it?” Evans took a shallow breath and brought a hand to his side for a moment, before lying back in bed. Snape clenched the bed frame, aware of how they were all watching Evans carefully. After a moment, Evans brought his hand to his chest, right above his heart. He sat up so abruptly that Granger gave a small squeak.

“Merlin, what—”

“Where’s my—” Evans looked around his bed, still rather pale. “I had a chain around my neck with something important on it.” Snape blinked, recalling the moment they had walked out of Gringotts Bank. He’d seen a glimpse of that chain, but it was interesting to see the boy so worried about it.

“Oh.” Granger reached into her pocket and held out a very simple silver chain. “It fell off when you hit the ground. I held on to it for you.” As Evans took it back, she added, “That’s a very pretty ring.”

Snape caught only a brief glimpse of it before Evans covered it with his hand. Something about it struck his memory, though he didn’t have the faintest idea why. Draco leaned over to try and get a look at it too, and seemed more than a little disappointed when he couldn’t see it.

“It’s a family heirloom,” Evans explained quietly. Granger nodded, as though in understanding, and turned to Snape, hesitant though seeming to be doing her best to not appear so.

“We’re not in trouble, are we? This wasn’t our fault.”

“We better not be!” Draco shot, now turning to Snape as well. “Merlin almost died because of that archaic contraption! Those brooms should all be destroyed, sir!”

“I’m sure the committee will reconsider buying the school new brooms, in light of this unfortunate incident.” Headmaster Dumbledore had arrived, and they all glanced toward the doorway. Right behind him was Madam Hooch, who had regained some of the color in her face since Snape since had last seen her.

“They will be hearing from my father for sure!” Draco continued, though he seemed to lose some of his boastful energy as the headmaster came to stand beside Snape. Dumbledore smiled in reply, nodding.

“I would expect nothing less,” he said before turning to Evans. “Are you all right, Mr. Evans?”

“Could definitely be better,” the boy replied with a cheeky smile. “But, I’ll live.”

“I know that you might not want to recall the incident, but I need to know what happened. I’ve never encountered an exploding broom before, and it’s important that we take precautions so that this doesn’t happen again.”

Evans nodded in reply, and Snape noticed that he didn’t seem particularly upset by the idea of having to reiterate everything. His story was very similar to Granger and Draco’s, except that it was a great deal more elaborated. When he got to the broom jumping up and down, he glanced toward Snape. “I panicked, a little,” he said slowly, “but lucky Hermione and Draco were there to grab me.”

Snape nodded, indicating that he understood. Yes, accidental magic could do a lot, but he’d never heard of it exploding a broomstick – and it seemed that he still hadn’t.  

“Yes, very lucky indeed. If they had not been there I shudder to think of the state of you.” Dumbledore glanced at Snape for a moment.

“Sir?” Hermione asked, her voice panicked. “Have we failed the class?”

“Oh my dear, quite the contrary. Both you and Mr. Malfoy will receive full marks.” Draco’s brow rose at that but he didn’t say anything. Dumbledore chuckled and turned to Evans. “In your case, you have the option of retaking the class or opting out of flying entirely.”

“The second one, definitely,” Evans answered without hesitation. Then he paused and added, “But only on broomsticks, right?”

Draco and Granger both stared at him. “What else would you fly on?” Draco asked rather sarcastically.

Evans merely shrugged, but Snape caught the look that passed between him and the headmaster. What, did the boy intend to fly a Thestral or something? Dumbledore smiled in reply, his eyes twinkling.

“Yes, only on broomsticks.” He cleared his throat, glancing toward Madam Pomfrey who was glaring at the lot of them from her office doorway. “Now, I do believe that Poppy is about ready to usher us out.” As he spoke, the woman in question started walking toward them, several potions in her hands. Dumbledore nodded to her and after giving Evans one last curious glance, strode out of the wing. Snape paused before following him.

He wondered if they knew how strange the three of them looked together.

Snape shook his head and quickly followed after Dumbledore, finding him waiting for him outside the infirmary. The headmaster gave him a surveying look before beginning the walk back to his office, Snape in step beside him.

“Quite an interesting lad.”

“You don’t know the half of it.”

Dumbledore chuckled. “Yes, how are those accidental magic lessons going?” He said as they turned the corner and into another corridor.

“Utterly exhausting. The boy has one of the most insolent tongues I’ve ever encountered.” Snape heaved a sigh, as he recalled the less than pleasant remarks he’d had to endure. “I had considered that this unfortunate incident was due to his inability to control his emotions.”

“Oh, I don’t think that Mr. Evans has the ability to do that. Broomsticks are one of the wizarding world’s greatest inventions, and it’d take more than accidental magic to interfere with them.” He surveyed Snape from behind his half-moon spectacles, his tone gentle and yet matter -of-fact. “He’s only a boy, after all.”

 

The jolt back into awareness left her motionless for several seconds, wondering why she had been wrenched out of sleep when Hermione heard conversation. She had half a mind to turn and snap for silence – they all needed rest, particularly Merlin. But as she lay still in her bed their words washed over her, curiosity kept her faking sleep while she listened to her friend and her enemy converse together.

Especially since hearing Draco Malfoy apologize was unheard of.

“I told you—” Merlin was saying, in whispered emphasis. “It’s not your fault!”

“I’m the one who got you to fly higher!” Malfoy paused a moment and Hermione’s eyes widened when she heard his voice crack. “If I hadn’t this mess wouldn’t have happened! Your broom wouldn’t have exploded and—”

“Draco,” Merlin interrupted, sounding a little startled. “It’s okay.”

“It’s not. I mean, I was angry at you sure, but I didn’t want anything bad to happen to you.”

“Your right cross says differently,” Merlin put in with a chuckle.

“Yeah, okay. But you almost died and—”

“Hey,” Merlin shot. “Snap out of it. Despite your best efforts I’m still breathing”

“That’s not funny,” Malfoy said very quietly.

Hermione’s head was spinning. She hadn’t expected that the two of them were friends. She’d seen their curt replies beside the Gryffindor table and how they’d fought at the flying lesson – but they were friends. She might not have believed it if she hadn’t heard them talking together. And how? How could Merlin stand to be friends with that boy? He’d called her a Mudblood, he’d bullied Neville, and the whole school knew of his spoiled arrogance. Merlin wasn’t anything like him!

So how come hearing them talk felt so natural?

“If I hadn’t—” Malfoy tried to continue, but Merlin suddenly spoke over him.

“I was talking to Hermione when Ron came at me.”

There was a very pregnant pause, and Hermione felt her heart thud in her chest. Hearing herself being talked about was perhaps the strangest thing she’d ever encountered. It made her slightly uncomfortable, but she strained to catch every single word.

“What?” asked Malfoy, stunned. 

“I was in the library, like I told you. But, I ran into her and then we were studying together.” Merlin sounded firm, though Hermione could hear a touch of apprehension bleed into his tone, as though he was aware of just how Malfoy might take his confession. “Ron saw us and, well, thought I was trying to manipulate her or something.”

“Wait, you were studying?”

There was a pause and a ruffle in the sheets, as Merlin no doubt turned to stare at Malfoy. “Out of everything I just said, that’s what caught your attention, seriously?”

“I’m sorry, but you seem to be allergic to parchment and ink.”

“Yes well, I find I learn best by doing, not by regurgitating information.” Merlin quipped back. “And as Quirrell is little more than an imbecilic squirrel, I’m surprised no one else has dropped their books.”

A soft smile touched the gentle contours of Hermione’s face. Merlin certainly had a vendetta against Quirrell but instead of irritating her, she found herself amused.

“Okay, so the blood-traitor caught you taking to his girl. Now that makes sense.” Malfoy paused a moment. “Is she really your friend?”

“As possible as it is to be with having had only two conversations.”

Three, Hermione silently added. She considered the first time he spoke to her right before the sorting ceremony as their first conversation, even if had been only a few words.

“I’m serious Merlin. Why are you friends with that—”

“Look, just because she’s not a pureblood doesn’t mean that she’s any less of a person.”

There was an aggravated sigh and Malfoy said, “You and your muggle-loving ideas.”

“Doesn’t make me wrong. C’mon, you know that she has the highest grade of all the first years,” Merlin said earnestly. “And you know me. We don’t even know who my parents are. If you suddenly found out I was a muggleborn what would you do?”

Hermione blinked while Malfoy sputtered about how that was impossible. Merlin hadn’t told him he was half-blood? She felt a little strange. Had she been the only one he’d told about his parentage? She felt both smug and shocked that he had shared that with her, but also guilty. She didn’t want to cause a rift between the two of them.

She could see that Merlin was a good influence on Malfoy.

“No, what would you do?” Merlin pressured.

“I don’t know! Okay, even though there’s no possibility that you are one, if you were—” Malfoy paused a moment, pondering his answer. “I’d uh—pretend I’d never found out. Wipe my memory.”

“That,” Merlin said very slowly, “is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” He hissed in frustration and shot, “would you still be my friend, knowing me now and finding out I was a muggleborn later?” Hermione was a little surprised by his aggressive tone. “Would you? Would you?”

“Yeah! Okay?” Malfoy nearly shouted. He went very quiet for a moment, and Hermione knew they were both listening for sounds of movement from either her bed or from Madam Pomfrey’s office.

“And why is that?” Merlin asked in a whisper.

“Because—” Malfoy dropped his voice to a mumble. “You’re the only person who’s not my friend just because of who my family is.”

“Don’t you think everyone deserves to be judged by their own merit?” Merlin asked him, and Hermione could hear the soft smile in his tone. “Maybe give the muggleborns a chance.”

“Merlin I—”

“Then give me a chance.” Merlin shifted in bed, and Hermione felt his eyes on the back of her head. “Because I have known several muggles in my time and just like wizards, some are good and some are evil. And just because they might not have come from magic that doesn’t stop them from becoming a force to be reckoned with.”

There was a long silence.

“I’m going to bed,” Malfoy grumbled. “It’s too late to be deep.”

“Oh, one more thing. I’m having private magic control lessons with Snape. That’s why I’m gone all the time.”

What?”

As Malfoy badgered Merlin for all the details, Hermione sighed and closed her eyes.

Maybe, just maybe there would come a time when Malfoy would accept her. When he’d judge her according to her skill and not to her lineage. And, she knew the only way he’d ever do that was if Merlin inspired him. She could feel the spirit that constantly surrounded Merlin. He was unique and amazing, and he drew people to him. There was something about him, something in his aura that made her stand in awe of his presence and also want to cling to him and never let go. In a way, it reminded her of when she’d discovered her magic. He had that same essence, brought forth that same desire to both protect and stand immovable.

And she was sure that he could bring not just Malfoy to see the truth, but all of Slytherin.

She couldn’t explain her faith in him, or why she thought that he of all people could do it. Maybe she was biased because she had read so much about his namesake and of all the amazing things he’d done. Whatever the reason, she knew he could do it. And she would take a few steps back until he had.

 

“How are you feeling?”

Merlin donned his most convincing smile, “Fine,” he said though his side ached with pain. It was better than last night, but in all rights he should be at ninety percent – not fifty. The potions Pomfrey had given him were, while the correct dosage for a child, incorrect for him. But, as he didn’t want to arouse suspicion – any more than already swirled around his character – he kept quiet.

He’d had much worse, after all.

Hermione didn’t seem to believe him though, the worry still clouding her face. She opened her mouth to say something else but changed her mind when Draco stood up and stretched. She took a deep breath and suggested, “Why don’t you head down to breakfast first?”

Merlin glanced back at Draco. She probably felt uncomfortable around him, especially after he’d called her a Mudblood. He had hoped that Draco would warm up to her by being around her more, but he didn’t want to make Hermione feel uncomfortable either. “You sure?” he asked turning back to her.

She nodded and gave a small smile. “I’ll catch up,” she said with another glance toward Draco. “I want to talk to Madam Pomfrey for a moment, anyway.”

Merlin was willing to bet that was just an excuse, but he nodded all the same. “Okay, let’s go, Draco.”

Draco didn’t glance at Hermione as he walked by her bed, staring determinedly at the door. Well, he hadn’t really expected anything – Draco wouldn’t change overnight. He waved Hermione goodbye and then caught up with Draco in the corridor, walking carefully so that he didn’t twist his torso and pull on his injuries.

The next week was full of nothing but the story of how Merlin’s broom exploded. Everyone wanted to know why it had happened and all the horrific details included. Merlin did his best to ignore them, he found that most people lost interest after a few days anyway, but when rumors started spreading about how he’d had the entire shaft of the broomstick stuck in his gut, he found it difficult to let them pass by.

“Yes, that’s exactly what happened. In fact, I think my kidney is still lost on the Quidditch pitch,” he snapped when a particularly annoying group of second year Hufflepuffs shared a ridiculous fourth-hand story. “If you go now, you might be able to find it before the grass eats it up.”

Draco chuckled as they walked away from the boys – who all looked rather startled.

“Absolute clotpoles,” Merlin continued shaking his head. “How idiotic do you have to be to believe that Madam Pomfrey had to regrow my kidney because the broomstick flew away with it?”

“Duffers, the lot of them,” Draco agreed. Then he chuckled again.

Merlin looked at him. “What?”

“What’s the bet they’re headed to the Quidditch pitch right now to find your missing kidney?” Draco said turning to glance back at where the group of boys had been. Merlin laughed and immediately regretted it, aching pain reminding him that he hadn’t healed just yet.

“Shouldn’t you be all healed by now?” Draco asked, having noticed Merlin’s wince.

“I’m fine,” Merlin tried to say, but Draco shook his head.

“It’s been a week, maybe you should go talk to Madam Pomfrey,” he said some concern in his tone. Draco had been oddly protective ever since the incident. He was still the same Draco though. He still made fun of him and matched Merlin’s sarcasm with his own; he just worried about Merlin a little now too.

He had turned into a real friend.

“Ah, Merlin Evans. I had hoped I would run into you.” Merlin and Draco came to a dead stop and turned around, recognizing at once the harsh gritty voice of The Bloody Baron. Draco gave a very stiff nod, his eyes at once fixing themselves onto the bloodstains on the ghost’s translucent robes. Merlin on the other hand, smiled warmly and bowed his head – which the ghost returned.

“Baron, it’s not often we see you outside of the dungeons.”

Draco nudged Merlin’s elbow, shooting him an incredulous look. “He didn’t mean it, Baron,” he drawled. “We’ll just be going, now.”

“Merlin, could you stay behind for a moment?” the Baron asked. When Draco looked nervous about this idea, The Baron turned toward him and assured – though his horrid guttural voice did little aid in this – “He will meet you in the common room in just a few moments, not to fret.”

“Right.” Draco shot the ghost a very sulky expression before meeting Merlin’s eyes and heading quickly down the hallway.

“Why Baron, I think your manner makes people uncomfortable,” Merlin quipped with a grin. The Bloody Baron raised his eyebrow and motioned for Merlin to walk with him in the other direction.

“It’s fortunate that I should have a chance to speak with you, Merlin.” The Bloody Baron said, and he dropped his tone to a conspiratorial whisper. Merlin glanced around the hallway out of habit.

“What is it?” he whispered back, his heartbeat quickening. What had happened?

“My contacts have informed me that Tom Riddle has left the Forest of Albania,” The Baron said, a deep frown painting his face. Merlin stared at him, coming to a stop in the middle of the hallway.

“He’s left?”

“Approximately during early July.” The ghost shook his head. “It’s difficult for the dead to pass messages along, as we cannot leave our places of eternal wandering.” He paused a moment. “I am unsure Headmaster Dumbledore is aware of this – Tom resides between the land of the living and the dead, and as he takes to possessing animals it is difficult to realize his presence.”

Merlin folded his arms, bringing a hand to rub his chin as his mind catalogued the new information. “So, Dumbledore is keeping tabs on him then?”

The Baron nodded, “Indeed. I fear I do not know more – the headmaster has charmed all the portraits in his office so that they keep his secrets.” He gave Merlin a surveying expression. “I have been sitting on this information for several weeks, being unable to speak with you alone. Should I inform the headmaster of these developments as well?”

Merlin blinked. “Why are you asking me?” he asked slowly, his brow furrowing. “I’m just a snot-nosed first year,” he added with a nonchalant shrug.

The ghost chuckled; a sound like nails banging against wood. “There was once a time when men traveled thousands of miles seeking your wisdom, and here I am having waited a thousand years to do the same.”

Merlin frowned, his blue eyes flashing. “Why would you wait so long? You didn’t offer any help during the first wizarding war?” People had needed the Baron’s knowledge! “Why didn’t you warn Dumbledore what was coming? You must have seen the signs in Tom while he was at school!”

The Baron rolled his eyes. “The ghosts of the world do not interfere in the affairs of the living – we care not whether the world continues or stops because our lives have come to a halt. I have kept my knowledge to myself these past centuries, allowing men to succeed or fail in their fight against the last heir of Salazar. I have my own mistakes to ponder over,” here the Baron paused, his eyes dropping to the bloodstains on his shirt for a moment. He took a breath – though Merlin was sure he did not need to breathe. “I was angry at the world,” he whispered. “It no longer concerned my life and I had no reason to provide my aid.”

He shook his head. “But you are from my life, Emrys. I disregarded your advice once and will pay for it with an eternity of regret and isolation.” Merlin felt something cold stir within his heart, some emotion of forgotten pity and anger that he didn’t understand.

“What did you do, Baron?” he asked in a bare whisper.

The ghost shook his head, a sad smile on his face. “Now is not the time for sad tales and bloody deeds. I swore to offer you all the help I could, and I will stand by that until you cross into my realm – if you ever do, of course” he added with a wink. “But until then, I believe I have watched enough pass me by.” He shook himself and stood tall, his stature reminiscent of a general ready for orders. “Shall I inform the headmaster that Tom is on the move? I will of course keep your involvement a secret.”

Merlin didn’t answer for a long moment.

They didn’t know where Tom had gone, or what he intended to do. But what if sitting on the information caused a chain reaction that Merlin couldn’t foresee? He chewed on his tongue, suddenly missing the times when he was the one seeking advice. He was eleven again, he wasn’t sure he could clear his mind and come at this with the caution it required.

“Sit on it for a little longer,” Merlin told the Baron finally. “I need to think this over. Inform me the instant you know anything else.”

The Bloody Baron inclined his head and vanished through the floor, leaving Merlin alone in the corridor.

 

Snape.

He needed to talk to Snape.

Merlin had been fretting about it all day, and he finally couldn’t take it anymore. Back in Camelot he would have been able to talk to Gaius, to figure out whether or not he should act or if he was overreacting. He wasn’t sure whether or not he should bare the weight of this himself, if he should solve this problem on his own or utilize the aid of those around him. He had always done everything himself. And now there were people and creatures swearing their allegiance to him. He couldn’t remember ever having someone to lean on, to help him stand and bear the burden of his destiny.  He needed Gaius. He needed someone to talk to that wasn’t afraid to tell him he was wrong. And, the only person he could think of that could help him right now was Snape.

So, he barged right into the professor’s office.

Snape blinked and looked up at him, irritation showing on the lines of his face. “Why yes, come right in Evans and disrupt my evening.”

Merlin looked at him, opened his mouth and then closed it again. What was he thinking? He couldn’t talk to Snape. Snape didn’t know who he was and he couldn’t risk exposing himself any more than he already had. His accidental magic incidents had probably made him suspicious enough. And, he couldn’t just tell him that he had a destiny, that the goblins had sworn allegiance to him, and that the Bloody Baron was now his personal informant and that he was worried about whether or not he could trust Dumbledore.

Merlin gave a loud sigh of frustration, shook his head, and then walked right back out of the office, closing the door behind him with a snap. He didn’t stop walking until he was in the entrance hall. Dinner had long since been finished, and he’d managed to shake off Draco in the common room. The castle walls felt claustrophobic all of a sudden. He couldn’t think. Merlin frowned and looked around the deserted hall before he threw open the doors and ran down the steps and into the dark grounds.

Snape would kill him if he found out about this.

He skirted around Hagrid’s cabin, and into the forbidden forest. There was only one being that might ease his troubled mind – or just give him a riddle that occupied all his energy into solving instead – and there was a very high chance that he was already long dead.

But it didn’t hurt to try.

“O drakon, e male so ftengometta tesd'hup'anankes!” Merlin shouted to the skies as he raced through the darkened undergrowth, and deep into the heart of the forest. He knew most eleven year olds would be terrified, that the dark trees around them and the rustling of leaves by unknown creatures would drive them into a panicked frenzy. But, he wasn’t like most eleven year olds.

He stood still, waiting with bated breath. Would Kilgharrah come? Was the old dragon still even alive? Merlin had no way of knowing, so he just took a seat on a rotting stump and waited, staring up at the beautiful stars that expanded across the black sky. And then, as he watched a patch of the stars disappeared in the wake of an enormous shadow, a roar sounding through the trees.

Merlin leapt to his feet, his heart pounding in his throat as tears welled in his eyes. The beast that landed before him, knocking over a young tree, glowed silver in the moonlight. She shook her great frame, a ghost that slunk through the bushes and greeted him with a warm nuzzle. His name was spoken from deep within her chest, half broken and harsh sounding – as if she only knew half the letters.

“Merlin.”

“Aithusa!” Merlin wrapped his arms around her neck, her scales smooth and hot to the touch. “I can’t believe that you’re still around!”

She nodded her head, a dragon grin on her face. She poked him with her muzzle and chirped, clearly asking him why he was still around. Merlin laughed and patted her head again. “It’s a long story. I don’t have time to tell you everything tonight.” Merlin glanced back into the sky, hoping to see another dark shape coming toward him though none did. “He’s dead, isn’t he?”

Aithusa nodded sadly. “Long time,” she croaked, her words difficult to understand. Merlin was a little disappointed to see that even after all this time she had barely recovered her speaking ability. He sighed and sat back down on the stump, she coming to a rest beside him.

“I could really use a riddle right now,” he said with a laugh. “I have another dark wizard to stop, and I’m not sure if I should trust the people around me with the knowledge I have.” He swallowed, remembering the pain of so many betrayals. And, everyone he’d ever trusted seemed to end up dead not long afterward. “I don’t know what to do,” he said putting his face in his hands. She crooned and touched his neck with her nose. “Can you help me, Aithusa?”

She shook her head and then she paused. She got to her feet, and looked back up at the sky, then back to him. “Stay.”

Merlin was utterly bewildered. “What is it? Where are you going?”

Aithusa gave her wide dragon smile. “Egg.

Merlin could only stare as she took off into the sky with a might swoosh. Did she just say egg? How would that help him, hatching another dragon? Merlin frowned, but there was nothing he could do until she came back. He started pacing in the field, glancing up at the sky for the ghost dragon to return. She looked better than she ever had in Camelot, though the second time he saw her fly he noticed she still had some of the deformity in her wings.

Those men had deserved worse than death for what they did to her.

It wasn’t long before her heard the wind of her return. He glanced up just as she touched back down onto the ground and laid a dragon egg before him. It was white, just like she was with glimmers of auburn around the top and bottom. Merlin raised his eyebrow. “How will that help me?” Merlin asked her. “I don’t need another thing to worry about!”

She sighed and pointed to the egg again. “Kilgharrah,” she said, butchering the name horribly. Merlin blinked.

“Wait, that’s Kilgharrah?”

She gave him a look as though he was stupid.

“Oh, it’s his?”

She nodded, smiling again. Then she pointed to herself and did her best imitation of a dragon blush. Merlin burst into laughter and picked up the egg. “Okay, didn’t expect that.” He paused, looking it over.

“Speak.” She croaked. She pointed at the egg. “He speak. He help Merlin.”

Merlin could not see how hatching a dragon capable of human speech could help him at all. “How exactly will he be able to help?” But Aithusa only smiled in reply nodding eagerly to the egg. Merlin heaved a sigh and put the egg back on the ground. Only a Dragonlord could hatch an egg with a dragon of ancient magic, so even if he didn’t want to it was his duty. He took a breath and held his hand out over the egg, seeking the name of the creature within it.

Korrizahar!” he called out in the dragon tongue.

Aithusa released a loud chirp of joy as the egg rattled and cracked. She jumped up and down, leveling a second tree. Merlin glanced nervously at her, hoping he was far enough away from the castle so that they couldn’t hear her antics. The egg burst open and a pair of large golden eyes peered out. The dragon was red, a handsome maroon marred with blotches of black and charcoal. His eyes were fixed on Merlin as he crawled out of what was left of his egg, his dark wings smeared with blood stretched before curling back against his body.

Merlin smiled at him and held out his hand to the dragon. The creature looked at it for a moment, sniffing Merlin; before it spread it’s wings and dashed up Merlin’s arm. He winced as the thorn sharp claws clung to his shoulder, the small angular head nuzzling Merlin’s ear and making him laugh.

Aithusa chirped and the dragon turned to her, cocking its head to the side. “Teach him,” she said to Merlin, who nodded in reply.

“You’re going to have to help me. I can’t keep this thing in my dorm.” The young dragon made a chirping noise, rubbing its face against Merlin’s neck. He laughed and gently patted its head. “I’ll be back tomorrow night,” and he moved the dragon to his arm. “Don’t let either of you be seen by the castle.”

Aithusa nodded, and chirped again. Her son turned to her and chirped in reply, spreading his wings and gliding over to sit on top of her head, where he curled up. His golden eyes again fixed themselves on Merlin, more than just curiosity in their depths. Merlin could see the intelligence and the trust the young dragon bore. And, as Aithusa started trotting off into a darkest and most untouched part of the woods Merlin grinned.

He would worry day and night about the two of them, but they were his kin and he knew he could trust them completely. Dragons had the ability to see into the heart of men. Aithusa had aligned herself with Morgana for a long time because she had seen the once virtuous being she’d been, how she’d only ever wanted equality and safety for all who practiced magic in Camelot. It had been a noble cause, and when Aithusa had seen the darkest parts of man she had withdrawn in fear. But once Aithusa had been able to see that there were good people in the world, not just the bad she’d regained just a little bit of her faith in humanity.

Merlin shook his head and started trudging back to the castle, feeling both excited and nervous about the coming months. And he whispered, “How will you help me Korrizahar, The Red of Dusk?”

 

Chapter Text

Merlin half expected to run into Filtch the caretaker or his cat Mrs. Norris every time he turned the corner, but the castle was empty. The blanket of silence pressed on his ears, and his light footsteps seemed so loud that he was certain to attract attention. It had been a very long time since he’d snuck around a castle at night, and the absence of guards made him uneasy. He wanted to turn down a hallway and see a knight clad in blood red patrolling the perimeter. Was Hogwarts so vacant? The enormity of the castle had never been so apparent as when there was no living soul within sight.

The sight of Aithusa had brought back a rush of memories, both fond and bitter. Merlin hurried his pace down the corridor and slid into the dungeons, feeling like he was back in Camelot sneaking off behind Arthur’s back. Merlin shook his head. He wasn’t in Camelot, no matter how similar the situation felt. He had different duties, different obligations, and different concerns.

Merlin stopped for a moment against the cool dungeon wall. Had hatching Korrizahar been a good idea? Such a young dragon would be of little help and teaching him would only further worry him. But then he remembered those large golden eyes staring right into his heart, and he knew he craved the kinship that only another creature of magic could bestow.

Merlin sighed and made his way quickly over to the entrance of the Slytherin common room. “Boomslang,” he whispered to the snake at the bottom of the wall and with a soft hissed, “Welcome, young snake,” Merlin walked inside. For a moment, he thought the room was deserted, and then he noticed the dark figure sitting by the dying fire.

He was so dead.

“Tell me Evans, do you have some difficulty with grasping the concept of a curfew, or do you consider yourself above such rules?”

Professor Snape rose from the chair and crossed the room, silent fury rolling down his black cloak in waves. He stopped a few feet before Merlin, towering over the boy with flashing eyes. “All students are to be in their dorms by ten,” Snape roared and Merlin cringed, taking a quick step back from him. Even in the gloom he could see the anger in Snape’s face. “So what exactly were you doing at this hour?!”

“I—I was just clearing my head.”

“And did you achieve some clarity in the four hours you’ve been missing?” And his words echoed in the empty room.

Merlin spluttered. He hadn’t realized he’d been gone so long, and after he’d barged into Snape’s office he was sure the man had been waiting for his return. “I didn’t realize—I went for a walk outside and—” The Potions Master fixed him with such an expression that Merlin was sure Snape intended to expel him right there.

“There is a reason students are not allowed on the ground after dark, Evans!” Snape bellowed. “You are as stupid as you are insolent! More than one student has been attacked during their reckless nighttime wandering.”

 Merlin had never seen Snape so angry. His voice was bound to carry up the stairs but he didn’t seem to care. And Merlin had no idea how to respond, the assault of angry words were disarming. He had never been yelled at like this. Sure, Arthur had always told him how stupid and incapable he was, but he’d never gotten really angry about it. And Gaius had never shouted, preferring the stare of blatant disapproval.

Merlin didn’t say anything after the professor finished shouting. What could he say after all? Sorry I made you worry, but I was hatching a dragon in the middle of the forbidden forest? As if the professor would even believe him. Snape heaved a profound sigh and pinched the bridge of his nose. The furious tone in Snape’s voice melted away, exhaustion and frustration taking over instead.

“What is bothering you, Evans?”

Merlin blinked, taken aback. “Nothing is—”

“Don’t insult my intelligence,” Snape cut across. “I am perfectly aware that you meant to talk to me about something earlier this evening and then abruptly changed your mind.” Snape folded his arms.

A lot of things were bothering him. Where was Lord Voldemort now? Would Korrizahar be all right so close to humanity? Why did he get bad vibes from Quirrell? Could he trust Dumbledore? Could he trust Snape? And then there was trying to make Draco cast aside his bias against muggleborns and—

“I haven’t heard from Silas since term started,” Merlin blurted out. It was the only matter he could talk about. And when he finally said it out loud, he realized that it really did bother him – a lot. And though it wasn’t what he’d wanted to talk to Snape about initially, he knew that it would have brought him to the professor’s office sooner or later. “I’ve send him a few letters, but he’s never replied.”

Snape was silent for a moment. “Your foster brother?” When Merlin nodded he continued with an eye roll, “And you thought wandering around at night would help, did you?”

“Look,” Merlin said his jaw clenching. “I know it wasn’t very smart to go out alone—” and I’m going to be doing it a lot more because of Korrizahar “—and I’m sorry if I made you worry, but Slytherin doesn’t really understand when it comes to muggles.” He shook his head. “And I’m not the best when it comes to asking for help.”

“Clearly.”

When Snape didn’t say anything more than that Merlin frowned. “Yes, clearly I have trust issues and feel more comfortable shouting my problems at the sky than talking to people. Now can you just give me detention already so that I can go to bed?”

Snape’s lip curled. “Strictly speaking, you already have detention with me every Friday Evans and I don’t see the need to add another one.” He paused a moment. “But if I catch you out of bed again you will spend an entire Saturday degutting toads, do I make myself clear?”

Merlin stared at him. He wasn’t going to be punished? Was that even possible? After a moment Snape swept past him. “I’ll find out what’s going on with your foster brother. This wouldn’t be the first time the ministry blocked letters to a non-magical sibling. Now, get up to bed before I change my mind.”

Snape didn’t wait to see if Merlin had listened to him before exiting the common room. Merlin stared after him for several more minutes, completely thunderstruck. That was not how he had pictured that conversation going at all. And not even a point lost? But as he stood there the surprise slowly faded into understanding. Snape had been worried about him. He could just imagine the professor going from mildly curious by the barging into his office, to panicked as the night wore on without a sight or sound of Merlin. He was willing to bet Draco had come to ask Snape where he was too.

He was going to have to be a little smarter about how he snuck out from now on.

Merlin headed up the stairs to his dorm room, unsurprised to see everyone sitting up in bed and staring at him.

“Oh, did you make Daddy mad?” Blaise asked with a smirk.

Merlin ignored him.  He thought he heard Draco mutter his name, but he didn’t reply. He didn’t want to think about how much they heard or what the fallout would be in the morning. He just wanted to go to bed.

 

 “Merlin!”

Merlin cracked open an eye. The long black couch was so comfortable, had it always been this comfortable? Draco was standing over him with folded arms with Blaise next to him. Where were the bodyguards that never left Draco’s side? “What?” he mumbled and he stretched in a very catlike manner.

He’d been out with Korrizahar the previous night. Again. The dragon was incredibly smart and understood the meaning of words quickly, but he had a lot of trouble saying anything. It had only been a week but the constant lack of sleep was starting to take its toll.

“Come on, it’s lunch! And then we have Charms and Transfiguration,” Blaise said rolling his eyes. Merlin groaned and sat up, his hair sticking up in all directions. Well, lunch explained where the bodyguards were. Blaise waited another minute before grabbing Merlin’s arm and dragged him off the couch. “Let’s go, Hufflepuff.”

Stifling a yawn, Merlin followed him out the stone door, Draco falling into step beside him. Other than a few jeers about disappointing daddy, they hadn’t mentioned Snape scolding him. Draco had tried to get him to explain a little more, but there had just been nothing to explain. Merlin had a feeling that Draco would be next to no help regarding the Silas situation and he didn’t feel like listening to his anti-muggle bigotry when he was so sleep deprived.

“Didn’t get enough sleep?” Draco asked him. Merlin looked at him. There was something weird about the way he said that, as though he was daring him to lie to him. And when Merlin shrugged, Draco glared at him.

“What?” Merlin finally asked as they walked into the Great Hall.

“I heard you sneaking out last night!” Draco whispered to him, glancing toward the others and falling back slightly. “What have been up to these last few nights?”

“Nothing, I—”

“Right, you went to the bathroom!” Draco shook his head. “You know, you’re a much better liar than you pretend to be. When you feel like telling your friend what’s really going on, let me know.” He shoved ahead, knocking Merlin’s shoulder with his own.

“Draco—Draco!” Merlin tried to say, but the blond boy didn’t pay him any attention, sitting instead beside Pansy Parkinson. Merlin groaned and plopped down next to Theodore, and began poking a plate of hash browns with disinterest. There were just some things he could not talk to Draco about – talk to anyone about really.

“Are you okay?” Theodore asked him, looking down at the sausage he was chopping up.

“Just peachy, Theo,” Merlin responded without looking at him.

“Is Snape still angry with you?”

Everyone’s angry with me.” The sausage was starting to turn into pile of mush.

Theodore shrugged. “I’m not. Neither is Blaise.” Merlin sighed and glanced at him, a small smile gracing his tired face.

“Thanks Theo.” He was being melodramatic he knew that. He was just sleep deprived and two people turned into everyone in the whole world. Merlin shook his head and drained his glass of pumpkin juice.

As the week dragged on, Merlin started sleeping in class. His grades, so poor already, slipped even further and Blaise started teasing him that he was going to fail his first year. Merlin didn’t really care though. The grades were decided by the exams and he had no doubt that he’d pass those – not with his knowledge. But he couldn’t sleep all day – Snape would kill him if he started sleeping in his magic control lessons.

“Focus, Evans!” Snape barked at him as chaotic emotion threatened to burst out of Merlin in one violent spiral of destruction. Over a month of these lessons had improved his ability to control his magic in tense situations – more than he’d thought possible – but that didn’t make him like them any more.

“I am,” Merlin snapped back. He was so tired that it was difficult to focus. Korrizahar was so close to saying his first word, and he’d ended up staying out until dawn working with him. If only Aithusa was more useful! Frustration built in his chest and wind kicked up his hair, magic tasting the air. Merlin took a deep calming a breath and the magic receded, waiting for his command.

“I think that’s enough,” Snape said approvingly and with a wave of his wand, Merlin’s emotions returned to normal. Snape walked back to his desk and took a seat, stowing his wand in his robes. Merlin yawned widely and sat down on the floor.

“Great. So next week?” he said as he stretched.

“I think not.”

Merlin looked up at him. “What? You mean we’re done?”

Snape leaned back in his chair, surveying Merlin with a calculating expression. “You tell me. Judging from this lesson, how well did you keep your magic in control?” Snape cast his eyes around the room and Merlin followed him. For once, not a single book had been thrown off the shelf and nor were there any papers scattered about.

Merlin looked back at Snape and grinned. “Then I will not see you next week.” He got to his feet, feeling oddly sluggish. It’d been such a long time since he’d gone on a few hours of sleep that his body had forgotten how to cope – and not just that, but now it was a child’s body, which wasn’t accustomed to this at all. He paused as he scooped his bag off the floor. “Outside of class, I mean,” he quickly amended at seeing the professor raise an eyebrow.

“If only I really believed that,” Snape said shaking his head.

Merlin grinned cheekily at him. “You’d start to miss me if I didn’t intrude upon your life on a regular basis.”

“I’d rather think of it as a blessing.” Snape sneered at him. “Now come here, I have a letter for you from Silas,” he continued as he pulled an envelope out of a drawer from his desk. “It arrived earlier this afternoon.”

Merlin crossed the room so fast that he when he stopped at Snape’s desk he was slightly light headed. Without a word, he snatched the away the letter and tore it open.

“It seems that the Haddocks called animal control in order to take care of a pair of troublesome owls that found themselves in Silas’ room,” Snape said as he watched Merlin attack the envelope. “A contact of mine stopped by and checked in on the situation. Your foster brother did get all your letters, but had some difficulty in sending any back – what with the owls forcibly removed and released in a bird sanctuary. She managed to pick up a reply letter from him while the Haddocks were out on business.”

Merlin couldn’t think of what business would draw Granny Audrey and Popeye to leave Silas home alone, but he didn’t say that out loud.

Merlin,

I’m doing all right. It’s really good to hear from you. Sorry I couldn’t send a reply. Popeye saw the owls and panicked. How is school? I bet you’ve made loads of friends. I’m—all right. Don’t like school much. There’s— Can’t wait to see you again.

Silas

As he held the letter in his hands, it was clear to him that his foster brother wasn’t as “all right” as he claimed to be. He didn’t talk about himself at all leaving Merlin to fret about why he wasn’t answering any of his questions about school, and living with the Haddocks. He didn’t really ask about Merlin either. The energetic boy of a thousand words and endless questions had gone. What was wrong with his school? He’d started to say something about it before changing his mind.

“Are you incapable to displaying proper manners, Evans?” Snape glowered at him, starting to drum his fingers on his desk.

Merlin looked up at him, but his mind wasn’t with him. It was still somewhere back with the letter and his tumultuous thoughts. “Oh—what? Sorry, thank you sir.” Merlin dropped his eyes back to the letter, any semblance of a smile or relief gone from his face.

“Is everything all right?” Snape asked after a tense moment, and Merlin looked up to see that he was surveying him with an unfathomable expression. Those black eyes dropped for a moment to the letter and Merlin quickly stuffed away in his bag.

“Yeah.” He backed up and headed toward the door. “Everything’s fine.” His foot caught the door as he opened it and he tripped on his way out. “Yeah—fine. Just great. Thanks again!”

Worried that Snape would call him back, Merlin headed down to the common room. After dinner the place was packed, some students doing homework while others preferred to play games and have fun on a Friday night. Blaise looked up from a corner chair and waved him over, Draco next to him.

“Snape let you out of detention tonight early,” Blaise remarked leaning back in his chair. He and Draco were engaged in a game of wizard chess, but Merlin was so unfamiliar with the game that he had no idea who was winning or losing.

“Yeah, looks like it was the last one too. Apparently, he couldn’t stand to see much more of me,” Merlin said with a shrug.

Draco glanced up at him and rolled his eyes. “Or he was tired of giving up his Friday nights to set you straight,” he said as he directed one of his pieces to move forward.

Merlin watched him before, “Can we talk, just for a moment?” He glanced at Blaise who shrugged.

“I’m not moving, you guys come back when you’re done bickering.” He sneered at them both.

Merlin turned back to Draco before heading up the stairs to their dorm room, and after a moment, he heard footsteps following him. “What is it?’ Draco drawled once they were standing in the hallway outside their room.

“I need to sneak out again tonight.” Merlin knew he was taking a huge risk in telling Draco about it. But he also understood why Draco was feeling upset. He’d just told him a few weeks ago that he’d stop keeping secrets and treat him like a real friend. They were friends, and yet here he was with another secret. Yet here he was again telling more lies.

Draco stared at him. Then he folded his arms. “And you want me to cover for you, is that it?” He gave Merlin a searching look and shook his head. “Where do you keep going? What are you doing?”

Merlin swallowed. “I can’t tell you that, Draco.”

“Well if you want me to cover for you, you better.”

“Look, I’m the worst friend in the world.” Merlin gritted his teeth but kept going. “I keep secrets and I lie, because I can’t tell others what I’m up to. I’m not very good at trusting people.”

“Yeah, I overheard,” Draco grumbled and Merlin could tell that he was thinking it over. After a moment he sighed and shook his head. “I don’t even know why I bother anymore. Okay, fine. But one of these days I’m going to get an explanation.”

“And on that day you will deserve it.” Merlin smiled and Draco rolled his eyes.

“But if you get caught, don’t you dare mention me. I’ll hex you into next week if you get me in trouble.” Draco snapped and Merlin laughed.

“Trust me, lips are sealed.” And with that Merlin walked back downstairs. He whispered a simple charm that would make him unnoticed as he crept around the edge of the common room and out the door, and once in the hallway he raced toward the grounds.

“There has got to be a shortcut,” he muttered when he finally reached the forbidden forest half an hour later. He’d had to wait for ten minutes until Mrs. Norris went inside the library. But the dark trees around him calmed his nerves; the dark sky and the bright moon above sent him back to a simpler time.

Merlin raced through the undergrowth toward the clearing that had become their place. Aithusa had knocked over several trees, breaking the thick canopy of leaves above so that moonlight could touch the heart of the forest. He rose his voice to his sky, "O drakon, e male so ftengometta tesd'hup'anankes!"

 Within minutes he heard the beating of Aithusa’s powerful wings and she landed before him, chirping with joy. Every time she saw him it was like the first time, and Merlin had a feeling that she’d been alone for a very long time. Nestled between her shoulder spines was Korrizahar, and he crawled along his mother’s neck until he was sitting on her head, right before him.

“Hello, Kor,” Merlin said smiling at him as he rubbed Aithusa’s cheek scales. Kor was only the size of a housecat, but Merlin knew that before long the dragon would dwarf his mother. “Ready for today?”

The black and red dragon bobbed his head, as though nodding. And then he fixed those large golden eyes on him and opened his mouth, “Mer—” Kor paused.

“—lin,” Merlin finished for him. With his jaw structure, Merlin had no idea how Kor would ever speak normally. Sure, Kilgharrah had somehow managed it, but he’d had a millennia to practice and Merlin certainly couldn’t wait that long.

Korrizahar made a loud guttural cry, and ruffled his wings, sitting up on his mother’s head. Aithusa chirped something to him and sank to the ground, wrapping her tail around her. Smoke rose from Kor’s nostrils.

“It’s just going to take longer than we thought,” Merlin told the dragon as he took a seat on a tree trunk. “You’ll get it eventually.” At least Korrizahar understood Merlin well enough. That was something. “Let’s work on the sounds again, okay?”

 

Merlin woke with a start, having fallen asleep on the log about three am. Kor was sitting on his chest, the dragon’s body emanating enough heat to be a small heating blanket. When he saw that Merlin was awake he chirped and his wings stretched wide, catching the light of dawn and glowing an incredible vibrant red.

“Oh no, you guys have to leave,” Merlin groaned, wiping the sleep from his eyes. “You need to be hiding by daylight.”

Aithusa chirped and Kor glanced at her, clicking in reply. He turned back to Merlin. His face was so close that Merlin could see himself reflected in his gold eyes. The dragon took a deep breath and then he spoke. It wasn’t the harsh broken sound of previous attempts, or the croak that Aithusa spoke with. It was a different sound all together, as though the dragon had found a second voice box to speak with, one that possessed the sound of a high alto, accented with a husk that brought forth images of fire crackling.

Merlin.”

 

After Korrizahar spoke his first word, the rest fell behind with a mad rush. Within another mere week, the dragon was using full sentences and Merlin finally had someone to talk to. Not that Kor was any help when it came to things. He didn’t understand why Silas’ letter was off or what it could possibly mean, and he didn’t know why it was a problem that he kept things from Draco, but at least he listened.

And speaking of Draco, it seemed that at least telling the blond that he was keeping secrets from his was good enough. Merlin personally thought it was a little unfair – who knew how many secrets of Malfoy Manner Draco had – but at least he wasn’t bothering him about it. Sure he shot him questioning looks every morning but Merlin just told him, “I’ll tell you when I’m ready.”

He just neglected to say that he might never be ready.

And as the days wore on, Silas’ letter came back to haunt his mind during those brief moments when he wasn’t falling asleep. It made him more snappish than usual when someone interrupted his worried musings. Which usually occurred as he walked from one class to another.

“Hey, Merlin?”

“I’ve got History of Magic to sleep through,” Merlin snapped back as he turned around, “this better be—” He stopped short. Standing in front of him was Hermione Granger, looking uncharacteristically nervous. “Hermione,” he choked out and then glanced behind him to where the rest of his Slytherin classmates stood. “Uh, I’ll catch up guys.”

He’d hardly seen her since the broomstick incident. Except for class, Merlin just hadn’t had the time or the energy to go to the library. For a moment, Blaise looked like he was about to say something before Draco turned and started leading the group away. Merlin was grateful – Draco knew there was no point persuading him otherwise.

“How do you expect to pass the class if you sleep through it!” Hermione said after an awkward moment, folding her arms.

“Osmosis. I’m sleeping on my book.” He gave a cheeky smile.

“Really, Merlin?” She shook her head and after a moment her face fell. “Are you all right? You have bags under your eyes.”

Merlin scoffed. “Course I am,” but for some reason his voice sounded hollow. Were Silas’ teachers giving him a hard time? Were the students? “Just not sleeping so well.”

“Oh, is there—”

“So, how are you?” Merlin smoothly interrupted. He didn’t want to talk about his worries, not when she couldn’t really do anything to help.

Hermione watched him for a moment. “I’m good,” she said and Merlin smiled in response. She reached into her bag and pulled out a few loose leafs of paper. “Here,” she said. “History notes, we just had the class.”

“Oh, Hermione I can’t!” Merlin said staring at her. “Your notes—”

“I’ve got copies.” Hermione shrugged. “It’s no trouble, really. Half of Gryffindor tower are at my feet begging for notes.” Merlin scratched his head, embarrassed, but he took the notes.

“Uh, thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” Hermione smiled. “You’re always welcome to join me for a study session in the library, you know.” Her cheeks tinged with a light pink. “I don’t ever see you in there anymore.”

“I’ve been really busy,” Merlin told her and Hermione raised an eyebrow.

“Sleeping?” she said lightly and Merlin laughed.

“That and other stuff.”

“Well, the offer still stands.” She said with a nod and she turned back down the hallway. Merlin watched her walk away for a moment before an idea struck his tired brain. “Wait! Could I bring a friend?”

 

Hermione had no doubt as to whom Merlin intended to bring with him – she didn’t think that there were any other options than the one entertaining her current thoughts. But the question was, why did he want to bring him? Hermione knew that Merlin was trying to change the boy’s prejudice toward her and her kind, but wasn’t this a little extensive? To ask Draco Malfoy to study with her was surely a bit much, and even laughable. In light of the prospect – even though Merlin didn’t mention it – she chose the most secluded table in the far back of the library, right next to the restricted section. Hardly anyone ever came back here, and she knew for a fact that Draco Malfoy would not want to be seen in her company.

Okay, she knew that Merlin was trying to show Malfoy that she was a good person. Or at least, that she was just another witch trying to make her way in the world. She only hoped that she managed to give Malfoy the impression Merlin was looking for. She’d even borrowed some of Lavender’s makeup – which was awkward, because she kept badgering her about what boy she wanted to look good for.

Hermione shook herself and straightened her stack of course books again, even though they were perfectly straight. When she heard their voices behind the bookshelf it took every ounce of willpower not to leap to her feet and hide. She had suggested the study group, she couldn’t ditch it! Granted, Malfoy was a variable she hadn’t anticipated but she really did want to help Merlin in his agenda to show the blond boy that muggleborns were good people worthy of his time.

They rounded the corner and Malfoy came to a dead stop. Very slowly he turned to look at Merlin, a glare in his grey eyes. “I don’t seem to recall,” he drawled with a rather dirty look in her direction, “you telling me we had a third member in our study session.”

Merlin feinted looking shocked. “Really? I thought I must have mentioned it. It’s not a problem, is it?” And the look he shot Draco dared him to say otherwise. Hermione swallowed and gave Draco a small awkward wave, hoping she appeared as unthreatening as possible.

Draco rolled his eyes and took the seat at the table that was furthest from Hermione. “You asking me join you in studying, I knew something was up,” he grumbled, placing his book bag between him and her as though to build a barricade.

Merlin heaved a sigh and took the seat next to her, giving a friendly smile. “Sorry we’re late Hermione, been waiting long?”

She glanced toward Malfoy briefly who was keeping his gaze fixed on a textbook in front him before answering. “Not at all,” she said. She took a deep breath. “So, what do you want to study first?”

“How about muggle studies,” Malfoy shot with a sneer. “Oh wait, but that’s not a class option until third year. No matter, you can give us a head start, right?”

Hermione sat up straighter in her chair. “I think that class is a bit beyond you, Malfoy,” she replied coolly.  “After all, understanding people isn’t one of your strong suits.”

“Guys,” Merlin cut across, massaging his temples. “Can we try to be civil with each other, please?” He shot Malfoy another one of his silent meaningful expressions and Hermione averted her eyes down to her lap.

“My apologies, I was rude.”

She saw Malfoy glance up sharply at her, but she didn’t remark on it. “Why don’t we tackle transfiguration first? It’s arguably one of the hardest subjects.”

“Merlin blew up his match, much less transfigured anything else since then,” Draco jeered, giving Merlin a smirk.

Hermione blinked. “You blew up your match?” she asked him. It was such a simple spell. How exactly had he managed to mess it up in such a way that he caused an explosion?! She couldn’t even fathom it.

“I can get it now,” Merlin muttered with an annoyed glance toward Malfoy.

Nevertheless Hermione started reading her notes to them on the subject, giving advice and little tidbits she’d picked up from other books. To her utmost surprise, Draco actually started writing down some of her advice. And also to her surprise, Merlin didn’t touch his parchment at all. As she spoke, his eyes grew glassy and far away, a troublesome thought furrowing his brow. After they’d been studying for about half an hour, Hermione abruptly came to a stop and Malfoy looked up.

“What, did you sleep through the next lecture or something?” he asked seeming a little frustrated that he was indirectly asking for her help.

Hermione knew it was rude to ignore him, but the mere fact that Merlin didn’t seem to notice anything was more pressing. She touched his arm and Merlin started, turning toward her. “What?” he asked blinking.

Malfoy turned to him too, and Hermione caught his eyes glance toward her. “Merlin, stop daydreaming, I’m not going to let you copy my notes,” Malfoy said with a smirk.

“What? Why would I want to copy your pathetic attempt at note taking?” Both Hermione and Malfoy stiffened, and a second later Merlin seemed to realize just how callous he’d sounded. “No—I didn’t mean that—” he sputtered.

“Merlin,” Hermione interrupted. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong,” he tried to say but she caught the frown on Malfoy’s face. So even his friend didn’t think he was being truthful. And just like before, his words sounded hollow to her ears.

“You know, you can talk to us,” Hermione said. “Maybe we can help.”

“I doubt it,” Merlin shot back, that same sour edge in his tone again. After a long silence Malfoy seemed to think of something because he shut his book with a loud snap.

“Is this about your floss brother, or something?” He asked rolling his eyes. When Merlin turned sharply to him, he continued, “Hey, you and Snape were talking loud enough for the whole castle to hear.”

“Wait, you have a foster brother?” Hermione asked realizing what Malfoy had been trying to say. From the look on Merlin’s face, it was true and it bothered him a lot. “Why didn’t you say anything?”

For the first time, Merlin actually looked uncomfortable. “Well,” and for a brief moment he glanced toward Malfoy. “He’s sort of a Muggle.”

Hermione folded her arms. “That’s nothing to be ashamed of!”

Malfoy stared at her. “He’s a Slytherin, of course it’s something to be ashamed of,” he shot. Hermione saw Merlin cringe from out the corner of her eye.

“That’s exactly why I never brought it up,” Merlin muttered and Malfoy fell silent.

Hermione wasn’t about to let the subject drop though. “Well, what’s wrong? Is he doing all right?” Merlin glanced up at her, opened his mouth and then closed it again with a sigh. He’s probably worried Malfoy will make fun of him, Hermione realized glancing toward the blond boy who, by the look of it, had come to the same thought.

“Look, he’s your brother,” Malfoy said in an offhand way. “I won’t say anything about it.”

Merlin stared at him, but nodded all the same. He didn’t speak right away though. After another long moment he pulled out a crumpled piece of parchment from his bag and put it on the table. “I haven’t heard from him all term, and then I get this letter from him.”

Hermione quickly read through it – the letter was very short after all. She could see why Merlin was worried, the crossed out note about school would concern her too. But she wasn’t going to reinforce his apprehension. “He’s probably fine,” she said with a small smile. “He’s younger than you right?” And when Merlin nodded she continued, “He probably just doesn’t know what to put in a letter.”

Malfoy who had been leaning over to read it as well, nodded. “Yeah, he’s probably just a bit lonely without you and that’s why he sounds off.” He blinked and looked up at Hermione. He seemed horrified that he had actually agreed with her and for a moment Hermione was insulted. If Merlin was so worried that he didn’t notice, she might have said something about it.

“It just doesn’t sound like him,” Merlin mumbled, taking the letter and holding it in his hands. “You don’t think—you don’t think he’s in trouble, do you?”

“Oh no,” Malfoy said shaking his head. “No, I’m sure he’d tell you if that were the case.

Merlin shook his head. “He’s more of the silent type when it comes to his own discomforts,” he said with a small smile.

“Merlin, I’m sure he’s perfectly all right. Why don’t you write him another letter, put your mind at ease?” Hermione suggested. And she caught Malfoy nodding out of the corner of her eye. Maybe his being around her more often would be good for him. It would take the mystery out of her; show him that muggleborns were nothing above or below him.  

Merlin gave a hollow laugh. “Last time I sent him a letter, the foster parents called animal control on the owl.”

Hermione snorted with laughter, but quickly smothered it when Malfoy glanced at her confused. “Well, then why don’t you send it the muggle way?” she asked casually.

Both Malfoy and Merlin stared at her. “How?”

“Uh,” she paused a moment. She hadn’t seen any letter bins around Hogwarts. “You could probably ask Professor Snape,” she suggested. “I’m sure he could get it sent to Silas by the muggle post.”

Malfoy seemed ready to rebuke this idea but he paused, and cocked his head to the side nodding. “Yeah, I think Ol’ Snape would know how.”

Merlin looked from one to the other before abruptly getting to his feet. “Yeah, Snape would know.” He said nodding. “I’ll be back later. Keep going, I’m going to send Silas a letter,” and before either of them could protest he left the Library.

Hermione was left sitting across from Draco Malfoy, and she had no idea what to say or do about it. She almost wanted to suggest they keep studying, but she wasn’t going to lose in this game of who spoke first. She always was the one who broke the silence, and she wasn’t going to this time. So she opened a book and started reading, waiting for the blond boy to say something.

“He planned that.” Hermione looked up. Malfoy wasn’t really talking to her. He’d folded his arms and was rolling his eyes. “He definitely planned that.”

“I don’t know,” Hermione said lightly, glancing back down at her book. “He seemed genuinely worried about Silas.”

“Yeah, his foster brother.” Malfoy was silent again for a moment. Hermione felt his eyes on her before he got to his feet. “I actually think I’m done for today,” he said avoiding eye contact. When she didn’t say anything he shot, “I only came here because Merlin asked me, I didn’t know you would be here.”

Hermione put down her book and looked up at him. “And why do you think he didn’t tell you, exactly? Just like he didn’t tell you he was worried about Silas? Don’t you think that it’s because he knows what you think of muggles and muggleborns?” She knew that Merlin would never say this, so she would have to say it for him. “You’re so prejudiced that he can’t talk to you.”

 Malfoy slammed his fists down on the table. “What do you know about me, you Mudblood?” he growled his eyes cold. Hermione silently put her hand on her wand, holding it just in case. What had Merlin been thinking, leaving her alone with this maniac?

“I know that you care about your friendship,” Hermione said, swallowing her fear. “And I know that you do think about what he says and stands for. But if you want to really be Merlin’s friend, I think you also need to accept the people he chooses to associate with.”

Malfoy didn’t reply. He stared coldly down at her for a long moment before grabbing his bag and turning heel. Hermione let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding and released her grip on her wand. In all honesty, she expected Malfoy to hex her. She’ heard about how Slytherins did that sometimes. She leaned back in her chair and took a deep breath. She wouldn’t have believed it, but Malfoy actually looked like he was making progress – not just that, he’d actually talked to her. But she wasn’t sure he wanted to do this again anytime soon.

 Merlin was going to get an earful the next time she saw him.

 

Chapter Text

The world rusted.

Trees wilted and threw their leaves to the ground, bloodied and infected with vermilion. The air grew crisp, the cloying scent of decay and musk belonging to late autumn. October set over the school like a chill, chasing the students down corridors trying to catch and settle in their bones. But she was not winter yet, just a little promise of what was in store for them.

Professor Snape liked this time of year. Perhaps that was due to his fascination with the dark arts, to the way his core responded to the nearing of Samhain. Though the traditions of old had long since died out and no one alive quite knew what rites the Priestesses had practiced, all of wizardry held All Hallow’s Eve dear. Children who had never yet exhibited magical abilities were more likely to do so that night, and indeed, it was the night that most muggleborn witches and wizards were discovered. And, it was the night Lily had died.

He had thought that would ruin the event for him. After all, how could he like the day the only woman he had ever loved was taken from him? He had actually tried to hate the holiday, tried to procure a grudge against it and dread it’s coming but he couldn’t. Against his will, his magic tingled and grew jittery, soaking in some source of power he didn’t fully understand. At Hogwarts the sheer concentration of witches and wizards seemed to amplify the feeling.

Which meant there were a lot of foolish children behaving erratically.

Snape could remember the first Samhain after the Weasley twins came to Hogwarts with such clarity that he doubted anyone would soon forget it. The pumpkins in the Great Hall had all turned black and begun to melt, like tar. He was certain that hadn’t been the twin’s intention – probably a spell gone wrong – but the widespread panic and fear as inky black pumpkin insides fell on their heads had been chaotic to say the least. Luckily that had been the first and last time they had attempted to sabotage the decorations of the Great Hall.

Snape had honestly expected something like that from Merlin Evans. As the days grew closer and closer to the date, and the attention of the student body became preoccupied with the coming holiday, Snape waited nervously for the boy to do something just as impulsive and reckless. But, it quickly became apparent that Mr. Evans did not intend to set any Halloween pranks. In fact, Snape wasn’t sure Evans intended to anything except sleep.

Ever since that night Evans had run in and out of his office without a word, he had started sleeping during class. Snape might not have minded, were it not for the fact that his quality of work had also taken a steep turn downhill. He didn’t pay attention whatsoever in class, half-assed his potions, and didn’t do homework at all. And, apparently, he was like this in every single one of his classes.

Snape shook his head, glancing over at the boy in question. Draco Malfoy was making their potion alone, Evan’s head bobbing up and down. The blond kept glancing at him, a mixture of resentment and concern on his face as he watched his friend give in to sleep.

At this rate, Evans was going to completely fail first year.

Snape could only hope that this new attitude would end after Samhain. But at the same time, the memory of Evan’s face when he read the letter from his foster brother – that hadn’t been the face of relief. The second time too. Evans had brought a letter for him to send on to Silas, and his brother’s reply had been just as concerning. He had actually watched Evan’s smile slide from his face, his eyes narrow and fill with worry. Was he having trouble sleeping because of it?

He glanced at the clock.

“Your potions should be done by now,” he said, noting the pale look on the Longbottom boy. “Fill a vial and bring it to my desk.” He watched as Draco filled a vial and nudged Evans, nodding for him to clean up the cauldron. Evans looked surly as he pulled out his wand and carelessly waved it. Snape wondered what exactly that pathetic gesture was supposed to achieve when – the contents of the cauldron vanished. Snape blinked – he hadn’t expected anything to happen. Had Evans even said an incantation? Snape shook himself, of course he had, he just hadn’t heard it because of everyone else cleaning up.

“Here, professor,” Draco drawled, putting his and Evan’s vial on his desk. Snape looked up at him.

“Would you please inform Mr. Evans that I wish to speak to him after class?”

Draco paused a moment and then nodded. Snape thought he saw the glimmer of a smile before the boy turned away and hurried back to his desk and his snoozing partner. He no doubt thought Evans was going to be reprimanded. Well, he was right.

Draco muttered the message into Evan’s ear and the boy cracked open his eye, meeting Snape’s own. He seemed to challenge him, an exhausted “don’t want to deal with this now” hanging unsaid over his lips. Evans gave a jerk of a nod and shut his eyes again, seeming to decide to catch a few more winks as the class departed. Snape wanted to shake him into wakefulness, but he didn’t. He waited at his desk, writing the potions given to him into his ledger and making a note of which ones were toxic. When everyone had finally left – Granger had dithered about, clearly hoping to catch Evans on the way out – Snape looked up.

“Evans,” he spat. “While the potion used to abate fevers is simple, I think you might find it more interesting if you could open your eyes.”

Evans blinked awake and looked up at him, staring blurrily for several moments. “That’s nice,” he said finally, getting to his feet and stretching. “But I think I’d rather keep my eyes closed.”

Snape’s lip curled. “Do you recall a conversation we had earlier in the year, Evans?”

“We’ve had a lot of conversations.”

“When you perform poorly in class, it reflects negatively upon your entire house,” Snape ground out. Evans was more sarcastic than usual. “Are you planning on becoming the only first year Slytherin to be held back in over a decade?”

“I think Crabbe might beat me to it,” Evans countered with a sneer and Snape slammed his fist onto his desk.

“Am I laughing, Evans?” Snape shouted at him. The smile fell from the boy’s face, and he grew somber.

“No, sir.”

Snape hadn’t heard him refer to him as “sir” in a very long time. He pinched the bridge of his nose, wondering why he was taking such a keen interest. Students failed classes all the time, he never molly coddled any of them. And yet, here he was trying to persuade Evans to take his classes more seriously. What had become of him?

“Why are you not sleeping?”

Evan’s face became impassive. “I sleep just fine.”

“That, I highly doubt,” Snape said raising his eyebrow. He paused. “Is your foster brother worrying you—”

“It’s nothing,” Evans interrupted, and he grabbed his bag from his chair. “I’m leaving.”

“I did not dismiss you,” and Snape got to his feet. There was only so much insolence he could tolerate. Evans froze at the cold fury in his voice and very slowly turned back to him. “Sleeping through your classes is not only insulting to your professors, but also a distraction to all the students that are there to learn. If you want to sleep, do it in your bed. But do not come to my class planning to attract flies the entire time!” Snape ground out.

Evans didn’t reply. He stood in stony silence, as though chewing his tongue. Snape walked around his desk to stand in front of him. From this distance the dark circles beneath the boy’s eyes were clearly evident, the pallor of his skin. He had probably taken to sleeping through meals  - he was going to make himself sick if he carried on much longer like this. Even though he was angry with the boy for his rude behavior, concern melted it away.

“Now, what’s wrong?” Snape asked. “Or do I need to slip a truth serum into your evening pumpkin juice?”

Evans didn’t seem to like that idea because he paled slightly. He didn’t reply though, he merely cast his head down, staring at his shoes. “I don’t want to talk about it,” he finally whispered. But somehow Snape thought he heard him catch on the word want. As though, that wasn’t the word he wanted to use. And for a moment Snape wondered what secrets were so large that a child was willing to lose sleep over it for weeks on end.

And not for the first time, Snape wondered about just who Merlin Evans was.

“I see,” he said slowly. There was not point in pushing the boy. Something about Evans staring at the ground, looking hopelessly exhausted reawakened those strange protective feelings he had felt back at the broomstick incident. Almost on impulse, he put his hand on Evan’s shoulder and it seemed to slump under the weight. Evans looked up, a little startled.

“But when you do,” Snape told him, “my door will be open.”

“Would you stop avoiding me?”

Merlin tripped over his feet, skidding ungracefully to a halt before he crashed into the girl that had appeared before him. Hermione Granger was doing her best impression of his mother, her youthful face filled with the lines of frustration and worry. Merlin stifled the groan that rose in his throat, the desire to push past her and collapse into one of the black couches in the Slytherin common room.

He couldn’t go out to see Kor everyday anymore.

It was as simple as that. He was too tired, too cranky, and too many people were beginning to notice. So much for helping his problems – he only had more now. When was the last time he’d had a real conversation with anyone? He felt like he had forgotten how to deal with people – or rather; he was just too exhausted to put up with everyone else. But if Snape’s conversation was anything to go by, this behavior needed to stop. But there was something else beneath his reasons of going to see Kor every night, and that was because he couldn’t sleep.

He was too worried about Silas. To worried about Kor. And he could feel the coming of Samhain.

“Hermione, hey,” he shook his head and brought his hands to smack his cheeks. He needed to snap out of it. He couldn’t do this to the people around him anymore, even if every single one of his nerves felt like someone was running an electric current through them. “Why would I be avoiding you?” he asked looking at her confused.

Hermione raised an eyebrow and folded her arms. “Our study group?”

Merlin blinked.

“Leaving me alone with Malfoy?” Hermione continued. “Ringing any bells?”

“Oh!” God that had been weeks ago. All the days had started to blur together. “Right,” he said slowly. Silas had completely taken over his thoughts during that study group. “I didn’t mean to do that I—”

“Merlin,” Hermione interrupted. “He threatened me. I know you think he’s your friend but that doesn’t mean I’m ready to be alone with him, and he sure as hell isn’t!” Merlin cringed as her voice got louder, echoing off the dungeon walls. He glanced around, hoping that none of his classmates were waiting for him in the shadows. She gave a profound sigh, which seemed to deflate her of all hostility toward him. When she looked up into his eyes, he didn’t see anything except worry.

“What is the matter with you recently?” but she said it softly as though she was really talking to herself, despite his being before her. Merlin swallowed and scratched his head, offering her a smile that recently turned into a rare thing.

“I’m working on it,” he told her.

“I hope so.” Hermione surveyed him for a moment longer before walking away. Merlin watched her go. He had disappointed her. He wasn’t sure why that bothered him, but it did. He’d lost whatever shred of admiration he’d gotten from her – and he wanted to get it back.

Merlin groaned, rubbing his hands through his hair causing it to stick up in every direction. First Snape, now Hermione? No doubt Draco would jump on this bandwagon sooner or later. And if Snape tried to push Draco about his sleeping habits, he was doomed. He didn’t think that Draco’s loyalty would extend to lying to his godfather.

Merlin even hated lying to Snape.

For one wild moment, he’d been ready to tell the man everything. He had been able to tell Gaius everything, after all. Stop it! Merlin started walking down the corridor. He could handle this if he got his act together. He needed to stop acting like a child – even if that was his instinct. He couldn’t afford to be distracted so close to All Hallow’s Eve. His magic vibrated with the increase of magic in the air, the sensation of closeness to the other side. No, if this Tom Riddle were going to make a move it would be on this day – on the day when he was strongest.

He couldn’t afford to be off his game.

That evening, he ran into the forbidden forest. He had only an hour before he needed to be back inside before curfew, but he was sure he could make it. The forest was sticky with the smell of decomposition, the musk and crisp sweetness of red leaves. Cool wintery wind snapped at his nose, and he shivered beneath his summer cloak. He got to the clearing that had been designated as theirs and smiled – he didn’t have to call Korrizahar to him.

The dragon had grown over the weeks, but only just. He had been concerned at first – he’d read in a book that dragons grew rapidly, and then he remembered how many years it took Aithusa to reach maturity. The dragons of ancient magic were unique in that sense.

Merlin!” Kor glided down from the branches of a large elm and onto his shoulder, nuzzling his face against Merlin’s neck. “You’re early tonight.” His voice was nothing like the croaking of Aithusa, or the refined gruff tones of Kilgharrah. It was husky and smooth, like furls of smoke that dissipated into the air, an alto that promised to lower with time. 

“I can’t stay long,” Merlin told him in between a large yawn.

“You look dead on your feet,” Kor said staring at him with his large golden eyes. “I told you, you were pushing yourself too hard. You’re not an adult anymore, Merlin! You’re a kid who needs eleven hours of sleep a night.” The dragon nuzzled him again. “Don’t come see me tomorrow.”

Merlin stared at him. “What? No—”

“I’ll be okay.” Kor lifted his lips in a toothy dragon smile. He turned his head toward the mound of white that lay on the far side of the clearing. Aithusa’s scales gleamed in the twinkling starlight and she seemed to light up the woods around them. “Besides,” Kor went on, “she’ll keep me safe.”

Merlin brought a hand to rub the warm scales beneath Kor’s head and he closed his eyes, vibrating with a graveled purr. “Maybe you are smarter than I give you credit for,” he said and Kor snapped playfully at his fingers.

“No, I just have common sense.

“Uncommon you mean, otherwise more people would have it.” Merlin chuckled at his own joke and set Kor onto a tree limb. “Okay, how about I visit you every Friday night only?”

“And emergencies, I trust. If you find this Tom Riddle I’m not going to wait a week to hear about it!” Kor reproached him and Merlin laughed, smiling for the second time that day.

“Yes, for emergencies too.” He shook his head. “Well, I need to run if I want to make it back before they count heads.”

Kor nodded and was silent for a moment, watching as Merlin yawned again. “Be safe,” he whispered.

Merlin blinked, “What? I should be telling you that!” he said indignantly, but Kor didn’t give him a dragon smile in reply. He lashed his tail, impaling his branch with spikes.

“I’m serious. Samhain has me all jittery. And by the looks of it, you’re more reckless than I am.” Kor lay down along the branch, his large golden eyes reflecting moonlight.

“Now you sound like your dad,” Merlin said and Kor gave one of his dragon smiles. He liked it when Merlin talked about Kilgharrah. He’d been the topic of conversation for more than on night. Merlin brought his hand up in a wave and he made his way back through the trees. He looked down at the ground and found that he had started to beat a path into the ground from all his trips in. Not good, he’d need to take a different route next time – or obliterate it with magic.

He slipped into the Slytherin common room without a minute to spar. One of the prefects by the door frowned as he burst in, gasping for breath. “Cutting it a bit close?” they snapped but Merlin only shrugged in reply. It was considered ‘Gryffindor’ to sneak out after dark, and so all the prefects discouraged it. Merlin disagreed – it was very Slytherin. Gryffindor had been the goody-two-shoes one. Back in the day, at least.

Merlin headed up to his dormitory, finding that most of the boys were already lying down in bed. Nott was reading a book by wand light, and the two bodyguards were already snoring. Merlin passed by Draco’s four-poster, the curtains already drawn, and got into bed – kicking off his shoes.

“You’re not going out tonight?”

Merlin jumped. Draco had pushed back his hangings, and was looking at him with some surprise. “Yeah,” Merlin said and he flopped back into bed, sighing with relief. “I forgot how comfortable these beds were.”

“They’re okay, I guess…” Draco shrugged. Then he smirked. “Did Snape give you a scolding?”

Merlin rolled over and propped his head on his arm. “Not really,” which was strangely the truth. He was silent for a long moment, watching as Draco re-fluffed his pillow. He could feel the boy’s magic, strumming the strings of the world. All of them, he could feel them more powerfully each day it got closer to Halloween.

“Can I ask you something?” Draco asked him suddenly. He was lying flat on his back, staring up at the paneled wood above him.

“Uh, sure?”

Draco rolled over to look at him. “Is the reason you don’t confide in me because I’m a pureblood?” he whispered. He bit his lip and then turned quickly away from him. “I mean, are you worried I’d make fun of you or something? Like your foster brother, Silas. Is that why you didn’t talk to me when you were worried?”

Merlin stared, wordlessly at Draco. “I—” he spluttered. “I didn’t talk to anyone, Draco. Don’t take it personal.”

“Right.” Draco rolled away from him. Merlin new he didn’t believe him. “But you talked to Hermione today, right?”

Hermione?

“If by talk, you mean she yelled at me for my stunt at the library, then yeah.”

Draco sat up and turned to him. “Yeah! That! What was that?”

Merlin was only growing more confused by the moment. “We’ve seen each other every day for weeks since then. You’re only now bringing it up?”

“This is the first time I’ve been able to have a conversation without you dozing off on me!” Draco snapped back. From across the room someone shushed them – probably Blaise. In a quieter tone, Draco continued, “I just don’t know what’s been up with you, recently. Are we even friends?”

“Of course we are,” Merlin admonished, sitting up as well.

“Good, because I was worried.” He huffed and lay back down.

Merlin watched for him a moment. “Is yelling at me making you feel better?”

“Yeah, a little bit.”

Merlin chuckled and second later, Draco joined in. It felt good, and Merlin couldn’t help but wonder how many late night conversations he’d missed out on because he’d cut Draco out of his life. He’s just pushed everyone else away because of his worry.

“I am worried about Silas,” he finally admitted. And so many other things.

“I know.” Draco paused, and then, “Are you going to tell me why you’ve been sneaking out, yet?”

“Nope.”

“I didn’t think so.” Draco sounded a little disappointed though. Of course he would be. Keeping secrets from friends was hard. Until he told him, this would always be between them. This would be the constant reminder that they weren’t best friends, and that he didn’t completely trust him. Merlin could say what he wanted, but Draco would always feel the distance.

And it bothered him.

“Goodnight, Draco,” Merlin muttered and he rolled over in his bed. He thought he heard a murmured reply, but he was half asleep by the time he closed his eyes. A world of blackness enveloped him, the soft confines of his bed leagues beyond the couch by the fireplace.

The court of Camelot swam before his gaze, the bright vibrant colors of a feast in session. Arthur was laughing, raising his goblet in a toast. He could see the knights, Gaius, even Gwen. And he stood, behind the tables in cheerful solitude. Any minute, Arthur would shout for him to fill his goblet. Maybe he should surprise him and do it without reminder – as if. He was too distracted. The world pulsed beneath his feet; the air was intoxicating, sweet and full of life. The day was coming. Samhain was just minutes away, and the entire world soaked in the magical power crossing through the veil into the physical world. The barrier was at it’s weakest, and his nerves were on fire because of it.

And then something screamed. It stabbed a dagger into his mind, into his brain and numbed him to everything. An old woman stood before him, but she looked sad. The memory churned and shook, the horror that gripped his heart insurmountable. It was unlike anything he’d ever felt in his life. The veil had been pierced, someone had ripped it wide open and it gushed blood like a gaping wound. He fell to his knees, and his eyes rolled as the cold hit him. The worst cold he’d ever felt; a cold that froze his bones.

And then he saw the wisp of smoke, the ghosted face stretched with grotesque beauty, it’s hands outstretched as a shriek dragged him into oblivion.

With a cry, Merlin sat up straight in bed, his whole body covered in cold sweat. The memory of the Dorocha as it attacked him still painfully vivid in his mind’s eye. He shook his head, swallowing gulps of air and looked outside to the light blue of the coming dawn.

Samhain had finally arrived.

Halloween.

The air jumped with static magic. Merlin had never felt it so powerfully as he did now; the sheer concentration of so much magic in one place was acting like an amplifier. Those who didn’t understand what was going on – the majority of the first years – were particularly loud and obnoxious, feeling braver and more reckless due to the power they felt.

Merlin felt a little overwhelmed, to be honest.

That evening, all of the Slytherins met up in the common room before heading up to the Great Hall together. Something about wanting to make an entrance. Merlin didn’t really pay much attention; he was too distracted by the magic swirling through the air. Draco was boasting loudly of his father’s Halloween parties and how it was such a shame that he couldn’t go. But as they were passing the potions classroom Merlin came to a dead stop.

For a moment, he couldn’t really understand why. Something had touched the back of his neck, all the hairs standing on end and his arms covered in goose bumps. He turned quickly to look behind him, noting how his breath frosted in the air.

“Merlin, what are you doing?”

He turned back to look at the green and sliver clad group that was leaving him in the dust. Draco had realized that Merlin wasn’t beside him and had stopped as well, frowning at him. He opened his mouth to say something else when he paled and looked at something that had just emerged from the potions classroom – but Merlin hadn’t heard a door open—

“Ah, young Mr. Evans, heading up to the feast are we?” It was the Bloody Baron. Merlin could feel the ghost’s essence like a chill through the air. He was reminded of the Dorocha and shivered, unable to push the memory of their horrible shrieking from his mind. The Baron surveyed him with curiosity, and Merlin lifted his head to an arrogant level.

“Yup, I heard it’s going to be delicious. You know, for those of us who can eat.”

Draco made a noise like a dying cat. “Merlin—”

“I see,” the Baron interrupted, his blank silver eyes narrowing. “It seems prudent to have another one of our chats regarding respect to elders. Perhaps being late to this delicious feast will help you to remember it.”

Merlin tried to look upset by this. But he hadn’t talked to the ghost in quite some time and he was eager for an update. He turned back to Draco and briefly widened his eyes, hoping to convey some sort of panic.

“You can leave now, Mr. Malfoy,” the Bloody Baron shot, and Draco almost ran down the hallway. He looked back over his shoulder though, seeing Merlin smile reassuringly at him before disappearing from sight.

“I think you’ve scared him, Baron,” Merlin said with a dark chuckle. The ghost rolled his eyes and floated back through the closed door of the potions classroom. Merlin’s eyes flashed gold and the door opened, allowing him to follow into the cold quiet of the deserted room. For a long moment, the ghost didn’t say anything and Merlin started to feel rather uncomfortable. Like the Dorocha, the Baron gave off that same aura, the aura belonging to the dead. He’d never noticed it before – and probably wouldn’t notice again once the night passed – but now it wrapped around him, misty and tart with decay.

“I didn’t mean what I said about the food—” Merlin began in an offhand way, but the ghost chuckled and he stopped. The Baron turned to him, shaking his translucent head.

“My silence is that of man searching for the right words, not of anger.” He glided over to Snape’s desk.

Merlin watched him. “Start with the most important?” he suggested watching as the ghosts tried to touch the wood. Perhaps he could feel it to some degree tonight.

“Tom is back in England.”

“Wow, you don’t sugar coat it at all.” Merlin swallowed. “Are you sure? Where?” He crossed through the dark pews until he was standing in front of the ghost.

The Baron gave a sigh of frustration. “That is impossible to know. It is my personal belief that Tom has moved up from possessing animals to people.”

What?” Merlin felt rather sick.

“It hides his presence most effectively. However, he was sensed within Gringotts at the end of July. He must have separated himself from his host for a moment, and that was when one of the ghosts there felt his presence.” The Baron shook his head.

“We really need to work on the speed of your information,” Merlin muttered, running a hand through his hair. The ghost nodded somberly. Merlin leaned back against one of the desks and asked, “Do we know why he was there?”

“Not for certain. Did you hear that Gringotts was broken into?”

Merlin blinked. “Maybe…”

“That was the same day. But, the vault had already been emptied by our very own Severus Snape.”

Merlin stared at him. He looked around the classroom, at the jars filled with pickling potion ingredients. He could remember Snape taking him to Gringotts and then saying he had his own errand to run. Had that been it?

“What was in the vault?”

Baron shook his head. “It was a closely guarded secret. I only know that it was and is in Headmaster Dumbledore’s possession.”

Well, at least that was something. But, if Tom was in England something big must be happening, and soon. Merlin chewed on his bottom lip, thinking. And if he was possessing a human body, that meant he could be anywhere – even Hogwarts. Merlin swallowed and looked up at the ghost before him.

“I want you to inform the headmaster of these developments. He might already know, but if he doesn’t it’s too important to be kept quiet.” Merlin knew he was taking a huge risk. “I trust you won’t flip on me?” he added with a nervous laugh.

The Baron gave him a very soft expression. “I swore to your service, not to his.”

Merlin nodded. “Tell him that you were sent by the Warlock. I hope that when Dumbledore realizes there’s another ally in this fight against Tom, he will share his information as well.”

“Indeed, but I recommend you enchant me to keep your secrets.”

Merlin blinked. “Is that possible? To enchant a ghost?”

“It is. I hold your secrets, Merlin. I need to keep them.” The ghost floated down to stand before him. “Your enchantments will work tonight.” Merlin nodded and held his hand out toward the ghost, his eyes flashing bright gold. His lips fluttered with the spell, half murmured and within a moment it was done.  The Baron nodded and stepped back.

“Enjoy the feast, young Warlock,” the Baron told him with a nod, and then he rose into the air, disappearing through the stone ceiling. Merlin stared at the spot for a moment before departing the classroom and making his way up the stone stairs. He hoped he had done the right thing – it felt like the right thing.

He didn’t completely trust the old wizard but he did trust Snape, at least, to some degree.

The great hall loomed ahead of him, wafting scents of roast and caramel making his mouth water. But before he had taken his first step through the doors another smell reached him. It went straight through him, for it was the scent of magic. Merlin paused and turned around, wondering why it felt so familiar. He hesitated, wondering whether or not he should just ignore it, but curiosity drove him up the stairs. It felt organic, a rich, almost soiled type of energy. Like the goblins but considerably more animalistic. A touch of worry hit him as he reached the second floor – had something escaped from a defense or magical creature class?

The corridor was completely deserted. He couldn’t tell whether the energy was coming from one floor higher or from down the corridor – was it both? That didn’t make sense. He heard the clatter of footsteps behind him and he dived into the crook of a corner. It was probably Filtch and he did not want to deal with his questions.

But it wasn’t Filtch.

  It was Quirrell. Merlin stared as the professor hurried up the stairs, heading for the third floor. Why wasn’t he at dinner? Hadn’t Dumbledore mentioned that the third floor corridor was forbidden but—what on earth was that smell?

It was pungent, and he covered his mouth to stop himself from coughing. It was rotted, fragrant with the smell of decomposing meat and curdled milk. Choking, Merlin got to his feet and darted down the hallway, hoping to out run the smell. It was blocking all his other senses – he was going to throw up. But for some reason it felt familiar. At the end of the second floor corridor, right next to the girl’s bathroom he straightened up. There was a draft here from a gap in the stones and he sucked in the clean air hungrily.

It almost smelt like—like a—

And then he felt hot breath on his head, rancid and broken by a cruel grunt.

“Hey, where’s Merlin?”

Draco gave a shrug. “The Baron wanted a word with him,” he told Blaise, feeling nervous as he said it. The ghost had felt particularly vindictive today for some reason, or maybe it was just the spirit of Halloween going to his head. He glanced toward the double doors at the end of the hall but he didn’t see Merlin walking through them. He hoped the idiot was okay – and why had he deliberately antagonized the ghost? Everyone knew that the Baron was the most feared – only he could control the poltergeist. Which was why nearly every Slytherin student was left in peace.

Did Merlin want detention?

Feeling eyes on him, Draco scanned his table. And then he looked over to realize that Hermione Granger was watching him. When she’d caught his eye, her lips moved to form a word. Merlin. Before he knew what he was doing, he had shrugged in reply and she’d dropped her gaze to look at the doors as well.

He felt horribly conflicted toward her. Her words at the end of the study group repeated themselves over and over in his mind, and he couldn’t help but think that there was some truth to them. Merlin’s answer to his questions last night didn’t comfort him in the slightest. He knew who his father was, he knew who his family was – muggle haters. And, for eleven years, he had accepted and lived that fact as though it was just as true as the sun rising each day. But for the first time in his life he was questioning what he’d been taught. Sometimes he caught himself believing Merlin, or maybe just wanting to. He was the only friend he’d ever truly had. And it pained him to realize that even though he considered Merlin his best friend, Merlin didn’t.

Merlin didn’t trust him.

And for good reason, in all honesty. He had befriended Merlin because of his father, and had put up with him because of the possibility of his becoming an ally later. A Whomping Willow wand was, after all, unheard of. Draco was no fool; he knew his father thought that Merlin might be a potential pupil for the dark magicks. Only Draco had realized that idea was completely wasted on Merlin – he’d never hurt others. He was the kindest person he’d ever met.

And part of him wanted to change to be more like him.

But he couldn’t just start flaunting an acceptance of muggleborns. He couldn’t just start associating with Gryffindors, no matter how Slytherin-like they were, and he couldn’t just forget who he was. If his father found out he was even considering it—Draco shuddered.

The doors were thrown wide open and he turned, praying to see Merlin making a ridiculous entrance but he didn’t. Professor Quirrell ran straight through the tables, all the way up to the high table and collapsed to his knees in front of Professor Dumbledore. “Troll,” he gasped. “In the dungeons—thought you ought to know.” And he collapsed in a dead faint.

Fear unlike he had ever felt seized him. The entire great hall rose to their feet in a great uproar, but their shrieks and panicked questions were lost on him. His ears had stopped working properly. Almost in a haze, he looked over and met Hermione’s eyes. Her horror-stricken face looked exactly how he felt, and then her lips, trembling, formed a word.

Merlin.

All of the color had left Draco’s face by that point. Merlin was still in the dungeons. He was in the dungeons with the troll. Or had he made it out already? He had no idea. Dumbledore finally managed to calm everyone down, but he could barely understand the instructions he gave. As everyone got to their feet and started moving, Draco made a beeline toward her. He would later claim the crowd had pushed him, but at the time all he knew was that she was the only other person who was as worried about Merlin as he was, and they needed to help him together.

“He’s in the dungeon,” he said once she was beside him. “Merlin’s in the dungeon,” he repeated, his hands starting to shake. A troll could kill an adult, much less a kid. They had to find him.

“Don’t panic,” Hermione muttered to him. They were swept up the stairs by the crowd. The Slytherin students were going to the library while the dungeons were sealed off. “We need to slip away, okay? Are there any other entrances to the dungeons?”

Draco paused for a moment, sweat breaking out on his brow. “Uh, maybe? But I don’t know where. My God, what if the teachers don’t—”

“They are headed toward him already. They’ll find him, okay?” Hermione was silent for a moment then she grabbed his arm and led him down the second floor. “There’s another staircase at the end back to the great hall. We can wait outside the dungeons and maybe tell a teacher what’s—” she skidded to a halt. Draco jerked her back behind a column.

Professor Snape was ahead of them, racing toward a staircase toward the third floor corridor. “What are you doing?” Hermione hissed. “We should grab him, tell him that Merlin’s in trouble!”

“No.”

“No? He can help!” Hermione snapped back. “Don’t be an idiot!” And she tried to break free of his grip and run after Snape. Draco groaned and jerked her back.

“No. If he sees us, he’ll send you to your common room and me to the library.” And he might tell my father he saw me consorting with a mudblood. Draco shook his head. “We need to find Merlin ourselves.

Hermione looked like she wanted to protest but thought better of it. “Fine, arguing isn’t going to help us anyway. Let’s go.”

Once Snape had rounded the corner; they shot down the hall toward the staircases. But as they neared them, a smell suddenly reached Draco and he came to a stop, grabbing Hermione’s arm again and pulling her into a corner. “What are you—” she began to say but then the smell must have reached her too, because she fell silent.

It was coming from a hallway around the corner. Draco gritted his teeth and walked toward it, Hermione following him very slowly from behind. His heart was in his throat, and his stomach seized, as they got closer. He pulled his collar over his nose. At the edge, he stopped, leaned against the wall and peered around. He would never forget the sight for as long as he lived.

Standing in the middle of the hallway was a twelve-foot mountain troll. Its skin was gray, leathery, and covered with this awful dark clay that gave off the most putrid odor. Its arms were so long that they almost dragged along the floor, and in its enormous hand it held a gnarled wooden club. The creature ran its clawed feet along the stone floor, as though preparing to charge. It threw back its enormous head and opened jaws that could crush an entire watermelon, long lethal looking tusks glinting in the torchlight. The roar it made sounded like a cross between an elephant and the cry of a falcon, a harsh sharp sound that made Draco wince. And standing across the monstrosity, was Merlin Evans.

Hermione came up beside him to look too, positively shaking. When she saw Merlin, she opened her mouth to scream—Draco clamped his hand over her mouth. Something didn’t feel right. Merlin hadn’t noticed they were there; his icy blue gaze was fixed on the troll before him. Hermione tried to make Draco let go of her, but he held fast – she needed to be quiet. And maybe she realized why when she looked at Merlin too, he didn’t really care. All he knew was that he was scared of Merlin.

He was facing down the troll, holding himself differently than usual. But he wasn’t standing tall, holding his head arrogantly like he had against the Baron. No, he was completely relaxed, with his body facing against the wall and his head angled in such was that it seemed like he was only barely considering the beast before him. The troll raised its club, but it hesitated before it took a step toward him and it was then that Draco noticed scorch marks on the stone by the creature’s feet.

“Leave the castle,” Merlin spoke. Draco had never heard Merlin use such a cold tone before; it sent a chill through him. “I will not warn you again.”

The troll let out another piercing shriek. It lifted its club high above it’s head and started lumbering toward Merlin, gaining speed. Something gold flashed in the shadows, a bright clear color that somehow managed to be both warm and cold at the same time. There was blinding flash of light, Draco felt a hot breeze blow down the corridor, and the troll crumpled with a pitiful whine. It smacked against the stone floor and lay still.

Draco didn’t move. Hermione, who had started crying at the second bellow of the troll, was shaking. For a moment, there was no sound, and then the clatter of footsteps as Merlin walked away. When they had vanished, Draco finally let go of Hermione. She didn’t make a noise though, merely staring at him in shock.

“What—what just happened?” she gulped, too scared to look around the corner at the motionless corpse in the hallway.

Draco stared back at her. “Merlin just killed a troll.”

Chapter Text

 

“But, how did the troll get in?”

The Slytherin house had been returned to their common room once it was realized that the troll had, apparently, wandered out of the dungeons. All of the sofas and chairs had been pushed back against the walls, and instead several tables had been set with the Halloween feast upon them. Merlin and the other first years had snagged a table to themselves, and were deep in conversation about the earlier excitement.

Merlin had slipped back down to the first floor and then catching sight of a few green cloaks had followed the crowd back up the stairs. But what had surprised him was that Draco had entered the library after him.

“Where were you?” Merlin had asked him, taking a seat at a table with Blaise and Theodore. Crabbe and Goyle had been pacing, almost panicked behind them until they had seen Draco.

“I got swept up by the crowd,” Draco had replied shortly, and any other conversation was drowned out by an announcement by Madam Pince, the librarian. They had taken care of the troll, and it safe for Slytherin to return back to their dormitory. She had led them back down the stairs and into the dungeons. Merlin had caught sight of teachers rushing to the second floor, and after Madam Pince had dropped them off she hurried away as well.

No doubt they had discovered his handy-work.

Merlin didn’t feel guilty. He had killed many magical creatures in his time; even led others to kill for him. He had never felt guilty for any of them, and that was because they had threatened to harm the people he cared most about. He had even killed another human being before – and though the memory made him feel cold – he knew he’d do it again. Anything for the safety of his friends and his home.

“Maybe Peeves let it in for a joke,” Blaise suggested, loading his plate with roast chicken. “I’ve heard most of his jokes are dangerous.”

The house of Slytherin was thankfully saved from Peeves’ torments by the Bloody Baron – the only ghost that he respected and feared. Merlin hadn’t even seen Peeves since he’d come to Hogwarts, but he’d heard of how the poltergeist dropped things on students’ heads and pelted them with chalk.

“Professor Quirrell might know,” Theodore suddenly put in. He was munching on a caramel apple. “Didn’t Terrence say he was some sort of troll expert?”

Merlin turned very quickly to Theo. “Wait, really?”

“Some expert, he mumbled, “said thought you ought to know,” and fainted right in front of the high table,” Blaise said with a dark chuckle.

Merlin glanced beside him to Draco, and found that the blond was staring at him. When their eyes met though, he quickly looked away and started poking at his food. “You all right?” Merlin asked, noting how he wasn’t actually eating anything. “You look kinda pale.”

“Fine.” Draco put his fork down. “You know, I’m not very hungry. Think I’m going to turn in,” and he grabbed an apple as he got up and hurried up the stairs to the dormitory. Merlin glanced back at Blaise and raised his eyebrow.

“Oh, don’t worry about him,” Blaise said with a shrug. “Probably embarrassed. You should have seen the look of horror on his face when Quirrell said there was a troll.”

Merlin nodded and grabbed some more dressing, slopping it all over his meal. He couldn’t remember feeling so hungry. Sleeping all the time must have stunted his appetite. “So,” he said. “You said Quirrell knew there was troll first?”

Blaise nodded. “Probably saw it on his way to the feast or something.”

“Maybe we should ask him,” Merlin said, thinking aloud. He might not like Quirrell at all – though if the professor had an affinity for trolls that could explain the strange feeling he got toward him – but he might know something.

Blaise laughed at his suggestion though. “I doubt you’ll get anything. He might just faint at the mention.”

Merlin frowned, but nodded all the same. Something didn’t feel right.

The next morning, Merlin rose early and headed down to the common room, his thoughts in a jumble. He didn’t want to talk to Quirrell directly, mostly because he didn’t want to make the professor suspicious – particularly if there was something going on. But if two students came to the professor out of curiosity, it wouldn’t be so weird, would it?

Merlin glanced up the stairs to see Draco heading down. From the look of it, he hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep last night. He had dark smudges beneath his eyes, and he still looked pale. Worry creased Merlin’s brow – was Draco getting sick?

“Hey,” he said by way of greeting.

Draco looked up, saw him, and stopped dead. “Hey,” he replied though it felt awkward. Merlin saw him fidget.

“You don’t look so good,” Merlin said. “Feeling sick?”

Draco nodded slowly.

Merlin waited for him to say something else, but he didn’t. “Um, want to go up with me to talk to Quirrell? I want to ask him about the troll.” But at the mention of the troll, Draco seemed to pale even further. What was wrong with him? He didn’t think that a troll would have scared Draco this badly.

“You know—I think I’m going to go up to the infirmary,” Draco muttered, brushing past him.

“Yeah, okay,” Merlin said watching him go. He felt an impulse to go after him, but Draco hadn’t asked for company. He probably didn’t like showing weakness to anybody – Arthur was a bit like that.

Shaking his head, Merlin ran a hand through his hair. Well, he didn’t want to go up to Quirrell’s alone. To be honest he didn’t feel like talking to the professor at all – but he did want to know about the troll. He stood there for a moment, thinking. Maybe he should ask Snape – he would have gone with them to take care of the troll, right? Maybe he knew something about how it got in and if he was lucky, maybe he knew a bit about Quirrell too.

He had never been so confused.

Draco tore through the halls, nearly running into some poor Hufflepuff as he rounded the corner. The boy stumbled, then spluttered but Draco had left him in the dust by the time he heard something that sounded like a fearful apology. Well, at least some of his reputation remained. The Slytherin came to a pause. He looked down the corridor, a chill causing the hairs on his arms to stand on end.

Merlin had killed a troll, just over there.

Draco wanted to move away from the spot, but he couldn’t. It was so surreal that he was sure he’d dreamed it. Merlin? The Merlin that he had just talked to in the common room? It just didn’t seem possible. And yet Draco knew it had really happened. The sickening feeling in his gut told him so.

He set off again so abruptly that he skipped, and he rounded the corner to the library. He would deal with his own understanding of what had happened soon enough, first he had to protect his friend. Draco entered the library and looked around. It was rather empty this morning – after all who would be studying over the weekend? He walked among the shelves, glancing down the rows, searching for someone with bushy brown hair.

He found her in the wandless magic section, thoughtfully searching for something. Draco glanced around, and then snuck up behind her. He clamped his hand over her mouth and started pulling her back behind to a little secret studying alcove. She made a terrified squeak but nothing that anyone would overhear. The instant they were out of sight of anyone walking through the library, he let her go. Hermione Granger whirled around and shot him a hard glare, though he caught her eyes dashing to the only exit and he resisted the urge to smile.

It was somehow gratifying to know that he scared her.

“Did you tell anyone about what happened last night?” he ground out, taking a menacing step toward her. She better not have spilled to any of her lion friends. “Did you?” he repeated taking his wand out of his pocket.

“Of course I haven’t!” the Granger girl replied hotly, her hand moving to her pocket too, as though getting ready to grab her own wand. Draco’s lip curled in a very Snape-like manner.

“Make sure it stays that way.”

She raised an eyebrow. “What are you, the Godfather?”

“I wouldn’t be caught dead petting a cat,” he snapped back. The girl gave him a very startled expression, and for a moment she was silent. She probably hadn’t expected him to catch the reference – it was a muggle movie after all. Well, the things she didn’t know about him could fill a book. He shook his head. “If someone finds out about it, it’ll cause a panic. They’ll think Merlin’s a budding Dark Lord.”

Granger glanced up at him. “Merlin, a Dark Lord?” she asked skeptically, but her expression looked worried. 

Draco nodded, grim faced. “My father told me that the Dark Lord was a prodigy,” he drawled. “He would brag about how his first murder had been done while he was still a student – or so my father had been told.” She probably knew about the rumors of his father being allied with the Dark Lord, but that didn’t mean he had to confirm them. His father would be furious if he knew his son was having this conversation right now.

“But Merlin’s the kindest person I’ve ever met!” Granger protested. And she definitely had a point – Merlin was a huge muggle lover and he didn’t think that that was faked.

“Other people won’t see it like that!” he shot back, and he stuffed his wand back into his robes. “Old supporters of the Dark Lord might target him and try to push him into taking over the job, and everyone else will panic over that possibility. Either way, it will cause trouble.” He knew that his father would try to push Merlin into the dark arts if he knew. And personally, if he didn’t know Merlin like he did, he would have been sure that Merlin would go dark.

Granger didn’t speak for a long moment. “I won’t tell anyone,” she finally said in a half-whisper. She took a step back and leaned against one of the tables there. “I’ve never even heard of anything like that before,” she continued and Draco didn’t need to ask her what she was talking about.

“Neither have I.”

“And it was wandless. We don’t start studying that until sixth year, but he did it like it was nothing. I’m not sure even Dumbledore could do something like that.” Draco didn’t respond, and instead gave a sullen nod. He would be lying if he said he wasn’t scared. Merlin honestly scared him, the magnitude of his raw power was unlike anything he’d ever heard of. And for the first time Draco thought that Merlin’s name suited him perfectly.

“Do you think we should just ask him—” Granger started to say but Draco cut her off with a shake of his head.

“No. He won’t tell us anything, or worse, he might just wipe our memories,” he said. He had no doubt now that Merlin would be able to do so.

“But we’re his friends,” Granger said. “He wouldn’t do that.”

Draco shook his head again. “For the last several weeks Merlin’s been sneaking out at night and even though I caught him at it, he wouldn’t tell me anything.” Had he been sneaking off to practice magic in an empty classroom or something? “He keeps everything close to the vest, so we’ll just have to wait until he tells us what’s going on.”

Granger bit her lip. “Do you really think he’ll tell us?”

Draco sighed and sat down on one of the tables as well. “One can hope.”

Granger was quiet for another long moment. “Are you sure we’re right about him?” she asked softly. “What if we’re wrong? What if he is as dangerous as we fear?”

But Draco didn’t have an answer for her, because the same thought had been plaguing his mind since that night.

Perhaps it was a mark of how comfortable Merlin had become with the Potions Professor that he felt perfectly fine barging into the man’s office without so much as a knock. It also probably meant something that Snape didn’t even look up from some paperwork on his desk.

“Are you incapable of understanding the concept of knocking?” Snape said as he signed something and flipped to another page.

“No, I just don’t see the point of it.” Merlin flashed a cheeky smile, and waited for some snappish retort. When it didn’t happen, he asked slowly, “Are you all right, professor?” He was used to the professor’s sallow complexion but today he seemed particularly pale, almost ill.

“What do you want, Evans?” Snape put his quill aside and looked up at him, rubbing his temples. “I don’t have the energy to entertain your every whim today.”

Merlin surveyed him for a long moment before finally nodding. “I just wanted to ask about the troll,” he said, taking a seat in the chair opposite the professor’s desk. “If that’s all right,” he quickly added – feeling a bit strange at seeing the man so deflated. Snape didn’t reply for a moment. He leaned back in his chair, something of a wince on his face, and procured a vial from his robes and downed it.

“The situation had already been resolved by the time I got there,” he explained, but Merlin heard a slight hesitation in his voice. They had probably all agreed to keep the fact that the troll was taken care of by some unknown person quiet. “Professor Quirrell seems to think that the troll had been drawn by the concentrated magical power pouring out of the school, and wandered inside while everyone was at dinner.”

Merlin didn’t miss the skepticism in the professor’s tone. It somehow reassured him that Snape didn’t like Quirrell either – even if everyone else claimed that it was merely because of petty reasons. “He was the one who found it, right?”

Snape nodded. “Said the thing was in the dungeons,” and Merlin got the impression that he was actually talking to himself.

Wait.

How did the troll get to the second floor so quickly? It had lumbered around, and honestly moved rather slowly. Not to mention the fact that between the time that Quirrell had alerted everyone to the troll’s presence and the evacuation to the common rooms had been only a few minutes – if the troll had trudged up to the second floor during that time someone else would have seen it. And if the troll had been in the dungeons, what on earth had Quirrell been doing heading up to the forbidden third floor corridor?

“Even though he has a so called “affinity” with trolls, he didn’t really take charge, did he?” Merlin asked casually.

“That would be putting it mildly,” the professor glowered. Merlin waited for him to continue, but Snape didn’t seem keen on the topic. It was a little frustrating, to tell the truth. The more questions he asked, the more likely Snape would realize he was fishing but he needed to know!

“You knew him before, right? Some of the older students said that Quirrell’s changed,” he remarked.

“I did.” Snape pinched the bridge of his nose. “He was the muggle studies professor then, and he was irritating. Ever since his year Sabbatical he—”

“What’s a sabbatical?” Merlin interrupted, furrowing his brow.

Snape gave him a stern look that told him he didn’t appreciate being interrupted. “He took some time off to travel. Gain a better perspective of the world or something equally ridiculous. If you ask me, Albania rattled his brains a bit.”

“O—oh.” Merlin’s heart had jumped into his throat. Worried that Snape might notice the effect this news had on him, Merlin quickly said, “Or maybe it was the zombie, you know, the one he pretends to have gotten rid of.”

Snape smirked. “Maybe.”

Merlin got jerkily to his feet, his mind racing. Albania, the place where Voldemort had gone into hiding. It was too much of a coincidence.  “I’ll stop bothering you, Draco’s probably waiting for me in the common room anyway,” he lied smoothly. Snape gave him a nod and Merlin exited the office, trying not to run. When he hit the hallway though, he dashed up the stairs. He had to make sure. He had to be positive. Merlin had never acted before gaining proof that someone meant to do harm – Gaius had always reminded him that being wrong could be disastrous. When he skidded to a halt outside the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom he’d formed a plan.

He entered without knocking. The classroom was vacant on a weekend, and he walked inside. He tripped on one of the chairs that hadn’t been pushed in correctly, and a screech sounded as the wood scrapped against the stone floor.

“W-who’s t-there?” called the nervous voice of Professor Quirrell, and the next minute he had poked his head out of his office door on the balcony above the classroom.

“It’s just me,” Merlin said pushing the chair back into place. At the blank look on the professor’s face he continued, “Merlin Evans?” Still blank. “I’m a first year Slytherin student.”

“Oh. R-right.” Merlin was pretty sure that Quirrell was recalling his name on a roster or something. “W-what c-c-can I d-do for you?” he asked as he descended the banister and came to stand at the front of the classroom.

“I was just curious,” Merlin said taking a seat on top one of the desks in the front row. “I heard that you took a year to travel Europe, and I was interested in doing something like that after I graduate.” Merlin gave him a convincing smile, even though his heart was beating out a horse race. “I was hoping you could give me some advice.

Quirrell blinked. “I d-don’t k-know if I’m the b-best p-person to ask,” he said delicately. He wrung his hands together.

“But you went to so many places! And that zombie thing, well I must say that’s pretty amazing,” Merlin said, inwardly cringing at the sappy compliment. At least it worked; Quirrell seemed to puff out his chest slightly. “Can you please tell me about all the places you went to, you know like what was good and what I should avoid?”

Although the professor seemed rather hesitant to discuss it at first, he was soon rambling about his adventure. It was difficult to follow due to the stuttering sometimes, but Merlin wasn’t really interested. Although, it did seem like no one had ever asked Quirrell how it had been. He got the impression that Quirrell had been waiting for someone to ask for a very long time.

But he completely avoided talking about Albania, much to Merlin’s dismay.

“—And t-then the c-chief g-gave me this t-turban,” Quirrell was saying. “Nice p-p-place, but I d-definitely wouldn’t r-recommend it. T-too hot.”

“Sounds amazing though,” Merlin said. Well, there was nothing for it. “Have you ever been to Albania?” he asked. “I’ve always wanted to go.”

The professor’s demeanor, which had relaxed during the course of the conversation, suddenly grew tense again. “W-why d-do you ask?” Quirrell asked with a nervous laugh. “That’s not a very interesting place.”

His stutter had disappeared.

Merlin felt all the blood drain from his hands as his legs itched to run. Every instinct was telling him to back off, that to push any more would not only be dangerous but stupid. But he’d always been reckless. “Oh, I don’t know about that,” he said evenly. “Isn’t that where Voldemort was last rumored to be?”

Quirrell gave his little nervous laugh. “W-well I d-d-didn’t see h-him.” He glanced down at his watch. “M-my how t-the time f-flies, I should r-really t-try to f-finish g-grading these r-reports.”

“Of course.” And Merlin practically jumped off the desk he was sitting on. He started walking back through the desks before pausing, and turning back to the professor. Quirrell was still standing where he’d left him, watching him walk away and something about the nervous smile irked him so much that he threw over his shoulder, “By the way professor, the troll was on the second floor not the dungeons.”

Quirrell didn’t bat an eyelash.

Just thought you ought to know,” Merlin quipped with a smirk. He didn’t look back as he left the classroom. And he didn’t see how the nervous smile slid off the professor’s face.

Was Merlin a good guy?

Hermione took her time walking back up to Gryffindor tower, the question churning her stomach. She wanted to believe that he was. She never would have questioned Merlin before, but that much power. Was it even possible for a kid to have that much power and not fall into darkness? As much as she disliked him, Draco Malfoy had a point. If someone else found out, they’d surely think that Merlin was some sort of young Dark Lord. The fact that he was a Slytherin made everything worse. It made her wonder whether or not he really was just another bomb waiting to go off.

Hermione paused in front of the portrait of the fat lady, hesitant to enter the common room. She felt betrayed, to be honest. Merlin had been one of her first friends at this school; he hadn’t teased her for her excessive studying habits. If that had all been nothing more than a lie – well, she wasn’t sure what she’d do.

The portrait swung forward and Fred clambered out, closely followed by his twin. “I’m telling you, they—” he was saying, but when he saw Hermione he abruptly stopped talking. “Hermione, what a pleasant surprise.”

“Fred. George.” Hermione nodded to both of them.

George raised an eyebrow. “Are you all right?” he asked giving a significant glance toward his brother. “Halloween give you a good scare?”

Hermione blinked. “Something like that.” What was with the cryptic looks? Did they know something too? But that was impossible; they hadn’t been there.

Fred returned George’s glance with one of his own. “Don’t worry, trolls don’t normally get into the castle. I’m sure the professor’s won’t let it happen again.”

“Right.” Hermione brushed past them, but before she walked through the portrait hole she paused and looked back at the twins. They had been friends with Merlin since before term started, right? She could still remember how they came to help her and Neville when Malfoy was bulling them. And Merlin had been right with them. “Is Merlin a good guy?”

George blinked. “What makes you ask that?” he said cocking his head to the side. “Something happen?”

Hermione gave an awkward one-shoulder shrug. “He’s really good friends with Malfoy, and I just—” she trailed off, unsure what else to say. “And he’s not that good,” she finished deflating slightly.

George chuckled. “Merlin is many things, but he certainly isn’t bad.” He took a step toward her and patted her head. “He’s one of the best. Trust us on that.” And he smiled before walking away with Fred beside him. Hermione watched them go for a moment. How did they know that for sure, though? Would they still think that if they knew what Merlin had done, or would they also think he’s a rising Dark Lord?

Miserable, Hermione walked into the common room. Since there weren’t any classes, it was full of people and none of them were studying. Hermione took a small table in the far corner, dumping her bag on top of it. When in doubt, she studied, so that was what she was going to. She pulled out several books on wandless magic that she’d checked out from the library and began to read them, hoping to find the spell that Merlin had used.

“Uh, hey.”

Hermione blinked and looked up. Ron Weasley was standing in front of her, looking awkward. “Hey,” she replied and she turned her attention back to a list of wandless spells that made white light.

“Would it be all right—I mean—can I sit here?”

Hermione shrugged and she heard the scrape of a chair as Ron took the seat opposite her. He didn’t say anything for several moments. Hermione flipped the page to the beginning of chapter two.

“So—are you still hanging around that uh—Evans kid?”

Hermione glanced up at him. He didn’t sound like he was trying to start a fight. She closed her book with a snap. “I am,” she replied evenly. “What of it?”

“Nothing—nothing. Just curious,” Ron said quickly. He looked at the book she was holding. “Wandless magic? We don’t study that for years!” he exclaimed.

Hermione swallowed. “I was just curious about it,” she told him delicately. “I don’t know much about it.”

“My dad says that it’s one of the hardest things to do,” Ron said with a shrug. “Especially when it’s coupled with silent spells.”

Which was what Merlin did. “Yeah,” Hermione said slowly. “I heard that it was something Dumbledore could do, so I wanted to look it up,” she lied. Well, it wasn’t completely a lie. She fidgeted, wondering why he was even talking to her in the first place.

“So,” she said glancing around the room. She saw Lavender petting her cat by the fireplace. “What animal did you bring?” she asked.

“Oh, I have Scabbers.” And out of his pocket he pulled out a light brown rat. Hermione recoiled, wondering why on earth he kept the thing in his pocket. “Did you?” he asked with a small smile.

Hermione shook her head. “No, I didn’t think it’d be a good idea.” Her free time was spent studying, not taking care of an animal. Plus, her dad was allergic to cats and her mom had been worried the neighbors would see the owl.

Ron nodded. “Does Merlin—”

“What do you want, Ron?” Hermione interrupted. “You didn’t come over here to make small talk.”

For a moment, Ron didn’t say anything and then, “I want to talk to him.”

“You want to talk to Merlin,” Hermione repeated blankly. She could remember the last time the two of them had talked – it’d ended in two bookcases collapsing. “Why?

“Just set it up, please?” Ron said folding his arms. When Hermione raised an eyebrow he added, “I promise I won’t try to hit him.” A pause. “Or hex him.”

“I don’t know if that’s a good idea,” Hermione muttered, the troll once more flashing through her mind.

“Well, just run it past him, all right?” And he got up. He opened his mouth as if to say something else, changed his mind and walked quickly away. Hermione stared after him, wondering what had gotten into him.

Damn that dog.

He had been in agony all day. At least he hadn’t had any classes, Snape thought bitterly. Just sitting at his desk had been nearly unbearable, and he cringed at the thought of standing on it all day to give lectures. He couldn’t even go to madam Pomfrey because she would completely freak out with worry – and he wasn’t half the healer she was. Hagrid’s mongrel had something in its salvia, he was sure of it, and it was fighting against his potions.

Damn. That. Bloody. Dog.

 As he put all his papers into a folder, the door to his office burst open. For the second time that day, Evans strode in as if he owned the place. Snape glared at him – he didn’t have the energy to deal with him right now. His leg hurt and all he wanted was to lie down in his bed.

“What is it, Evans?” he barked.

But the boy didn’t speak. He paced once in front of his desk, jerked to a stop and then released a loud hiss that could only be of frustration. He glanced at Snape, seemed to want to say something, and then as quickly as he had come he’d gone. Snape glowered after him, his lip curling. Good riddance. Now was not a good time. And then he remembered that the last time Merlin had barged into his office had been followed by being out in the grounds after curfew.

For a moment, Snape just stared at his office door. And then he got to his feet. “Damn that boy,” he grumbled.

Merlin couldn’t tell professor Snape what he had realized. Aside from the fact that it sounded too ludicrous to be real, he didn’t have any proof. Not physical proof anyway, nothing that would stand up before a jury. He’d wanted to tell him, God he did. He would have told Gaius after all, and then the old man would have given him some excellent advice. Which he might or might not follow, but more to the point he needed to warn somebody. The school was in danger and no one seemed to know that except him.

But right now, he was going to find out what Quirrell had been doing on the third floor corridor last night.

He must have released the troll himself in order to cause a distraction. Whatever was on that floor must be important to both him and Tom, and if he was going to find any sort of proof it was a good place to start. Merlin had made a beeline for the corridor the instant he left Snape’s office, racing through the hallways. Curfew was only a few minutes away now, so no one should see him. He took the stairs two at a time and reached his destination breathless.

It seemed that not even Filtch ventured here. The corridor had a stuffy smell to it and spiders had started spinning their webs behind empty torch holders and in the helmets of armored suits, which had lost their shining glow. Merlin looked cautiously around and began walking, noting some animalistic magic hanging in the air. Was it the last remnants of the troll that hadn’t had time to vanish?

Merlin came to the end of the corridor. Before him was a sturdy looking door with metal reinforcements in with the wood and a double lock. Well, Merlin considered that suspicious so he took hold of the handle and with a whispered spell, pulled the door open.

“What—”

Merlin wasn’t sure what he had expected, but this certainly wasn’t it. He was engulfed in a stench of animalistic magic so strong that he staggered, his senses completely overpowered. The door must have been enchanted in some way to keep the bulk of the energy behind it. And before him, standing atop a trap door in the floor, with coarse brown hair was bristling, it’s hackles raised, were three sets of yellowish teeth pulled back and dripping saliva onto the floor. For a moment, Merlin could only stare at the creature that did not belong in a school. The middle head let out a thunderous bark and it leapt forward, jaws extending toward his arm.

Something seized his collar and jerked him backward, casting him to the floor with a hard thud. Merlin grimaced and looked up in time to see Severus Snape magic the door shut once more. Merlin could still hear the booming barks and growls of the beast within.

Snape turned to him and Merlin actually cringed. He’d seen the professor mad, but this had to be a new record. Snape was taking deep breaths, his eyes popping with fury. And the worst part was that Merlin knew he couldn’t talk his way out of this one. “Just looking for the bathroom,” was not going to cut it.

“You have thirty seconds,” Snape whispered, the deadly calm in his voice almost more terrifying than the anger in his face, “to explain what you are doing before I expel you.”

And Merlin didn’t think he was joking.

“I—I—” he spluttered, glancing hopelessly toward the door.

Fifteen seconds.”

Merlin shut his eyes. He was doomed anyway. “Quirrell lied,” he exclaimed, wincing as the secret fell from his lips. “The troll was never in the dungeons, it was standing guard on the second floor while he headed up here. I just wanted to know why.” With his eyes shut, he had no idea what expression the professor was wearing now. His thirty seconds were up and he waited for the hammer to fall. How was he supposed to accomplish his new destiny if he wasn’t at Hogwarts?

“Who told you we found the troll on the second floor?”

Merlin opened his eyes. Snape was staring at him with an unfathomable expression on his face. He swallowed. “I-I’m sworn to secrecy.”

Snape closed the distance between them with one stride and picked Merlin up from the ground by the scruff of his shirt, looking right into his eyes. “I overheard some students talking—” Merlin tried to say but Snape set him onto his feet with a jolt and grabbed his chin.

“Don’t lie to me, boy.”

Snape was trying to intimidate him, to scare him. Merlin’s bright blue eyes narrowed, and he pushed Snape’s hand roughly away. “No one told me,” he snapped. “I found out on my own.”

“Oh really?” Snape’s voice was hard and sarcastic. “I suppose you’ll also find out what it’s like being expelled.”

A stone dropped in Merlin’s stomach. “What? No—” But Snape wasn’t listening. He had started to walk back down the corridor. Merlin was insulted. After everything, after all the times he’d come to the professor, and all their conversations he didn’t believe him? Well, Merlin wasn’t going anywhere. Not a chance.

“No one told me,” he shouted but Snape didn’t turn around. Merlin’s hands balled into fists. “The troll was twelve feet tall, and smelled like rotted meat and toilet,” he hollered. Snape froze in the hallway. “And when it died,” Merlin went on, “it fell to the ground on its face, it’s club cracking part of the tiling.”

Snape turned back around very slowly, his expression hidden by the dim light of the corridor.

“And when it charged,” Merlin continued savagely, taking a step toward him, “I put a curse through its heart.”

“Y-you?” Snape spluttered. “That’s impossible, a child couldn’t have—”

“Look, I don’t expect you to believe me,” Merlin interrupted coolly. “Just trust me, Quirrell is up to something and he needs to be stopped, and whatever that dog is guarding has something to do with it!” He was out of breath when he finished. Snape didn’t speak for several moments.

“What spell did you use?”

Merlin met his gave evenly. He had used a Druid spell, and he doubted if Snape had ever heard of it. “Onbaerne,” he said.

Snape gave a very stiff nod. He looked down to the entrance of the corridor, and then back to Merlin. “You have been honest with me, and so I shall be honest with you.”

“How very kind of you.”

“And I can see that if I don’t tell you, you’re going to go off and do something stupid again,” Snape continued.

“A fair assumption,” and Merlin managed to flash him a smile.

Snape nodded, and he pinched the bridge of his nose. For several moments there was silence between them, and then Snape pulled up his black robes to show one of his legs, which was heavily bandaged. Merlin stared at him.

“Quirrell has been on my radar for quite some time. On Halloween night, I knew he would head for the third floor while everyone else was headed to the dungeons, so I tried to cut him off,” Snape dropped his robes and grimaced. “I’m sure you noticed that three against one are unfavorable odds.”

Merlin glanced back toward the door that hid the monstrous dog. “What’s under the trap door?” he shot.

Snape heaved a sigh. “That dog is guarding a Philosopher’s Stone. Dumbledore is safe keeping it for a friend of his.”

Merlin swallowed. He knew exactly what that stone could do, and he knew how many lives had been lost because of one. “Someone tried to steal it, that day in Diagon Alley.”

Snape nodded. “We suspected an attempt would be made, so it was moved here.” Merlin wondered if he knew that it was Voldemort himself who had been part of that attempt.

Snape took a step back toward him. “It’s important that no one knows about this.”

Merlin held his head high. “And it’s important no one knows my part. Not even Dumbledore.”

The corner of Snape’s lip lifted in a smirk. “Not even Dumbledore.”

Severus Snape had a mountain of secrets.

Most of them weren’t even his. They belonged to someone else who had trusted him enough. But sometimes Snape wished he didn’t have to carry them around. He definitely hadn’t wanted to know that one of his students had killed a mountain troll. The entire staff had been in an uproar over the incident – who had done it? It had been the question of the century, and now Snape knew.

It had been Merlin Evans.

God, that kid was one mystery after another. And the spell he’d said he had used, well Snape had never heard of it before. And then there was the sheer amount that Evans had managed to discover. He actually felt a little proud that the snake had seen Quirrell for what he really was – he wasn’t a complete imbecile after all.

Snape ascended the staircase to the headmaster’s office. Before he had even reached his office, he’d received an urgent message from Dumbledore. Memos were really more of a ministry thing, but they did in a pinch. He preferred using a patronus himself. Part of him wanted to confide in the headmaster, to ask him for advice concerning this matter. Snape was actually worried about Merlin. He was worried about what he was capable of and what he might do in the future.

What kind of path he might go down.

But he would keep his promise. He knew that Merlin had been scared of anyone finding out. The boy was smart enough to realize what others might think. And, since Merlin was also keeping some of his secrets now he owed it to him. Plus, Dumbledore would be more than a little upset to find out that Snape had told the kid what was going on. The man didn’t think that children were capable of carrying the burden that came real life drama. Snape, on the other hand, was positive Merlin could handle it.

Snape knocked on the headmaster’s door once before entering. Dumbledore was standing in front of his desk, and he looked up when Snape walked inside. His expression was very grave; some of the twinkle in his eye had gone out. Beside him was none other than the Bloody Baron. Snape stared at him. He had never seen a ghost set foot inside this office. Snape directed a questioning brow to Dumbledore.

And Dumbledore cleared his throat. “There has been a complication, Severus.”

Chapter Text

The Bloody Baron had long since vanished through the floor of the headmaster’s office, leaving behind a silence so thick an oppressive that it bore down on them like an anvil. Severus even felt like that poor coyote at the moment, dazed from the impact.  

“Did you know?” he managed to croak, meeting the headmaster’s solemn expression. “Did you know the Dark Lord might be possessing Quirrell?” Dumbledore’s eyes didn’t twinkle with reassuring light. And Snape deflated into his chair, a chill racing down his spine and along his arms. The Dark Lord might be inside Hogwarts and Dumbledore knew.

“I had considered the possibility,” Dumbledore said quietly.

“And yet you let him wander the castle, knowing full well that he might be a two-faced monster!?” Snape spat, rising to his feet. The thought of that psychopath near his students made his blood boil. He had been young and impressionable when the Dark Lord brainwashed him, and if he dared to do the same to any one of his Slytherins he had another thing coming.

“What do you propose I do?” Dumbledore asked sharply. “Unless Quirrell confesses that he is allowing Lord Voldemort to possess his body, there is very little we can do to prove any of this.” He rose to his feet as well, and began walking toward one of his many bookshelves. “You and I are certain he let the troll in during Halloween and for what purpose, but as there are no eyewitnesses and no sustainable proof, contacting the ministry is pointless.”

Snape grimaced. Firing a professor in the middle of the school year was difficult. It required that his contract be nullified. There had to be an investigation, evidence to support the necessity of an immediate termination, and then Quirrell could even call a hearing in retaliation. Unless they could present solid evidence that Quirrell was working with the Dark Lord and that he was a threat to the students, there was nothing they could do. But this task was made doubly hard by the fact that the ministry didn’t even officially acknowledge the Dark Lord’s continued existence, and so any claim that Quirrell was working with him was likely to be completely disregarded.

“Are we sure this information is even true?” Snape asked glancing back toward the spot the Bloody Baron had vanished. He would be lying if he said the blood stained ghost had his utmost trust.

Dumbledore raised an eyebrow. “My dear Severus, you think I would have related this information if I hadn’t already put the Bloody Baron through every test I could think of?” He gave a tired sigh. “I know that he must have outside connections in order to learn most of his information, a network of ghosts if you will. But, and I’m sure you know this as well; ghosts tend to not interfere with the affairs of the living. Someone has influenced them to come join the fight.”

Snape blinked. He watched as the headmaster pulled down a book from his shelf and return to his desk. “Who?” he questioned after a moment’s silence. Who on earth could have that sort of sway over the Bloody Baron?

“Well, unless you know anyone who refers to himself as the Warlock, I’m afraid his identity will remain unknown to us – which I assume is this Warlock’s intention.” Dumbledore sat back down and looked up at the Potions Master. 

“Is it possible this Warlock is at Hogwarts?” Snape asked quietly. For some reason, he suspected Merlin’s involvement in this. After all, first he finds out the boy defeated the troll, and then said boy seems to know a lot more than should.

“Possible? Of course,” Dumbledore replied, but he waved his hand. “But unlikely. I do not suspect any teachers here of being this Warlock and the magical ability required to enchant a ghost is beyond even most seventh years.”

“Enchant a ghost?” Snape repeated blankly, and Dumbledore nodded.

“Yes, though I pressured the Baron to reveal to me the identity of this Warlock, he was unable to divulge a name. He had been enchanted so that he could not betray the Warlock’s trust. A clever idea, and a very difficult one to execute.”

Snape was silent for a moment. His hands gripped the back of the chair in front of Dumbledore’s desk. Yes, defeating a troll was difficult but something that a third year student could tackle. Snape suspected that Merlin had many tricks up his sleeve, but he was still just a boy. A very nosy and intelligent boy, but capable of something like this?

Doubtful.

“What do you want to do, Headmaster?” Snape asked heavily, sinking back into his chair once more. “If it is true, if the Dark Lord is possessing Quirrell he will use the professor in order to steal the philosopher’s stone. He knows all the obstacles and can prepare for them accordingly.”

Dumbledore was silent for a moment. “That has crossed my mind, which is why this Christmas I will be adding some additional security for the stone. The Mirror of Erised could do with some use – it’s been collecting dust for decades now.”

Snape didn’t feel reassured. “Headmaster, what about the students? He’s teaching them.”

“From a curriculum.” But Dumbledore didn’t seem completely reassured either. He shook his head. “Yes, removing Quirrell from his position as Defense professor would be preferable; however, I think keeping our enemy close will be safer in the long run.”

Snape gave a stiff nod, but he wasn’t sure he completely agreed.

He tripped over tree roots and rocks as he ran through the forbidden forest. Merlin was testing out another way to the clearing; worried that someone would notice the path he’d created and stumble upon the two dragons that had made their home in the heart of the woods. But the problem was that urgency drove him to haste and he neglected to watch where he put his feet.

“Korrizahar!” Merlin shouted as he caught sight of the clearing in the distance. There was a burst of orange flame in the darkness and the next moment he felt a brush of wind against his cheek. He came skidding to a halt and looked up, seeing the young black and red dragon hovering in the air, his wings making no sound as they beat against the moonlit sky.

“Merlin, what’s happened?” the dragon muttered, settling upon the warlock’s shoulder. The strong scent of wood smoke filled Merlin’s nostrils and he sucked in the familiar smell. Merlin touched the dragon’s head and started walking again, explaining as he did so. He told Kor about the troll on Halloween night, about how had he killed the creature and then discovered that Professor Quirrell had let it in. He grew more energetic and anxious as he got to the part about finding the three headed dog and telling Snape that it was he who had killed the troll. As he finished explaining that Dumbledore was guarding a Philosopher’s Stone in his school – and what that meant as Kor hadn’t encountered that magical artifact yet – he took a seat on the fallen stump across from Aithusa.

Korrizahar was silent for a long moment when he had finally finished speaking. Then, and with another brush of wind, he took perch on a tree branch just above Merlin’s head. “That was incredibly stupid of you,” The dragon growled.

Merlin stared at him. “I had to tell Snape! He—”

“Not that, Merlin!” Kor interrupted with an exasperated roar. “You tipped Quirrell off! Just like you’ll be keeping an eye on him, he’ll be keeping one on you, now.”

Merlin gaped. “I had to make sure.”

“Then you shouldn’t have spat it in his face!” Kor huffed, a curl of acrid black smoke rising from his nostrils. “I might be younger than you, but if someone came asking funny questions about you and then mentioned the Merlin of Camelot times? Well, I’d have reason to worry.”

“I’m just a kid in his eyes,” Merlin pointed out. He was taken aback by the Kor’s response to this. Of course, now that he thought about it he had to admit that it had been a pretty stupid move. “He’ll underestimate me.”

Kor deflated. “Probably, but Merlin,” and here he floated back onto Merlin’s shoulder. “Just don’t underestimate him.”

Merlin nodded and patted Kor again, a sad smile on his face. “I’ll do my best,” he said and he flashed a cheeky smile. Kor smacked the back of his head with his tail.

“Ouch! You know you have spines right?” Merlin cried out, jumping to his feet and grabbing the back of his head.

“Me and every other monster out there.” Kor nuzzled Merlin’s neck and flew back to his branch. “Now get to bed, I won’t have you sleeping through class on my account.”

Merlin grumbled but he turned around anyway. “Suddenly I miss the cryptic advice I used to get.” He dodged the small fireball that Kor shot at him and ran laughing back through the trees. No, that was definitely a lie. He liked Kor’s advice much more than that old dragon’s ridiculous riddles. Not that he’d ever tell the dragon to his face, of course.

It was midnight when he got back to the castle, and he painstakingly looked around every corner just in case Filtch and his cat were patrolling the halls – or worse, Snape. He slipped back into his dormitory and was just about to pull his hangings around his bed shut when, out of the darkness came the words, “Did you make a fire or something?”

Merlin fell off his bed with a thud. As he climbed back on he shot, “You’re supposed to be asleep!”

Draco pulled back the curtains of his four-poster. In the dim green light of their lake window, Merlin could see his friend raise an eyebrow. “Well, look who’s talking,” he drawled.

“I just needed to do something.”

“Oh, so very informative. I know everything now,” Draco said very sarcastically. “Did you go dance around a fire like a savage in the middle of the woods?”

“Yes, that’s exactly what I did,” Merlin quipped back, rolling his eyes and pulling the covers over his head. “Finally, you figured it out, I’m so proud of you.”

“I was just joking,” Draco muttered and Merlin was surprised by his subdued tone. He craned his neck to look over at him.

“So was I,” he said slowly. “What’s up?”

“Nothing,” but the quickly spoken word did not reassure Merlin in the slightest.

“Right.” Merlin hesitated, wanting to say something more but unable to find the words. He rolled over. “Well, goodnight then,” and he pulled the covers around his four-poster closed.

He wished he could find out why Draco was acting so oddly. This was the first real conversation they’d had since Halloween. The first time Draco hadn’t abruptly left during an exchange. Merlin frowned, but he had more important things to worry about. Namely, what he was going to do about Defense Against the Dark Arts because Kor was right, he’d tipped Quirrell off. So, should he skip the class or just pretend that nothing had changed?

His thoughts hadn’t let him fall asleep for several hours. He’d barely closed his eyes when he was woken by the bustling of the dormitory getting ready for class. Merlin groaned and buried his head beneath his pillow. Their first class was DADA and he still wasn’t sure what he was going to do.

“Merlin! Get up!” He felt a pillow crash through his curtains and hit his back.

“Just tell Quirrell I’m sick,” Merlin grumbled, pulling the curtain back and throwing the pillow back at Blaise. “I hate his classes anyway.” He almost wanted to suggest they all skip the class because the professor was only at Hogwarts because he was trying to steal the Philosopher’s Stone for his “Dark King” but he didn’t think that’d go over to well.

“No, come on. Get dressed, you’re already failing as it is,” and Blaise threw his robes at him.

Glaring at him, Merlin dressed, making sure to look as haphazard as possible. “Why do you dislike Professor Quirrell, anyway?” Draco asked in an undertone. Merlin glanced at him. He was putting on his shoes, as though trying to appear only slightly interested.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” Merlin said simply and he jammed his feet into his own shoes without bothering to untie them first.

“Try me.”

“Oh look, we’re going to be late,” and Merlin grabbed his book bag from the floor as he walked out of the dormitory. Although warning Draco about Quirrell was something he wanted to do, what would happened if Quirrell found out? He might begin to panic that the entire school knew what he was planning – or, you know, silence the pair of them before they could tell anyone else. Merlin could handle whatever the professor decided to do – Draco couldn’t.

To his relief Draco didn’t ask again when he caught up in the common room, although the expression he shot him was thick with unsaid words. Blaise talked the whole way to class, though Merlin barely paid attention. What should he do? Challenge Quirrell or pretend that he hadn’t meant anything by his questioning the other day? Merlin shook his head and pinched the bridge of his nose in a very Snape-like manner.

Before he could actually enter the classroom though, Draco pulled him back. “I know you think you can’t trust me,” he muttered as Blaise and the others went ahead. “I think the number of secrets you have out-number my father’s – and that’s saying something.”

“Draco—do we have to do this now?” Merlin asked glancing toward the door. “Class if about to start.

“Yes, we do.” He took a deep breath. “I’m here to back you up, okay? Just,” and here he took a step back, straightening his tie. “Just don’t do anything stupid.” And he brushed past Merlin into the classroom.

What?

Merlin stood there for several moments. What on earth had gotten into him? But funny enough, it helped Merlin make his decision and he walked into the classroom, taking a seat beside Draco who glanced at him with a nod. The best idea right now would be to pretend that he hadn’t meant anything by his questions the previous day. He’s just been an interested student, that’s all.

And it seemed that Quirrell was taking the same route.

The professor taught the class as he always did – even if those light blue eyes flickered over to him with more regularity than normal. Merlin did his best not to betray any sort of contempt or suspicion toward the professor. He lay back in his seat and neglected his notebook as always.

“Is it just me, or has Quirrell actually realized you exist?” Blaise asked as they left the classroom. “I mean, he actually looked at you for once.”

Merlin didn’t miss the way that Draco quickly glanced toward him. “Maybe he realized that I’m the only one failing his class,” Merlin suggested casually. Blaise snickered at him and lead the group toward the next class, charms. But they had only walked to the end of the corridor when Draco nudged Merlin’s shoulder and pointed behind them.

“What—Hermione!”

Hermione Granger looked slightly out of breath. “Good, I caught you,” she managed before sucking in a gulp of air. Merlin noticed that she had dirt beneath her fingernails.

“Did you just run here all the way from Herbology?” he asked. “You could have just waited until lunch you know.”

Hermione glanced toward Draco and something strange passed between the two. Draco didn’t snap any rude remarks toward her and he actually held her gaze. Merlin looked from one to the other and raised an eyebrow. “Did I miss something important?” he asked shortly.

Hermione shook her head. “I just didn’t want to mention it in front of the rest of your house.”

“Obviously,” Draco drawled with a tired sigh.

“Well, what’s up?” Merlin asked and he flashed her one of his smiles. She hesitated a moment.

“Ron wants to have a word with you.”

“What?”

“What does that blood traitor want?” Draco spat. He folded his arms and shot her a hard glare. “Wants to have a second round, does he?”

“No!” Hermione said quickly. “He just wants to talk.” She shrugged helplessly. “I don’t really know what about, but I think he’s at least willing to hear you out this time.” She bit her lip. “So, will you talk to him?”

Merlin exchanged a look with Draco. The blond rolled his eyes. “He knows you’ll just collapse another bookcase on him if he tries anything.”

“Or worse,” Hermione mumbled and Merlin turned sharply to her. She seemed to pale slightly and she glanced toward Draco again before giving a nervous laugh. “So—so will you?”

There was definitely going on between these two. It was almost as if they shared some sort of inside joke. Merlin scratched the back of his neck, wondering why that bothered him. “Uh, sure,” he finally said. “I suppose it couldn’t hurt. Where does he want to meet?”

“The library.”

“Of course he does.” Merlin sighed. “If Madam Pince sees us fighting again, she just might ban us both for life.”

Hermione sniffed and raised her head. “Then you better not fight,” and she turned tail. Merlin and Draco watched her go before looking at each other.

“So, are you going?”

Merlin shrugged. “She’ll probably drag me there herself if I don’t.” A smile played about his lips and he turned and started walking again. Draco didn’t say anything for several moments.

“Oh!” He paused a moment before setting off again at a faster pace. “First Quidditch game of the season this Friday! Maybe Weasley wants to make a bet with you or something.”

Merlin grimaced. “I honestly don’t care about Quidditch. At all.” He didn’t want to be anywhere near a broom again. Draco seemed to remember the incident as well and winced.

“You’ll like it – the games are fun enough. Anyway, Slytherin is facing Gryffindor, so you have to be there to support your team, at least.” He nudged him in the shoulder. “Or I’ll drag you there myself.”

Ron felt naked without his wand.

Hermione had taken it from him but he would claim that he’d given it to her. No man would ever admit that a girl had beaten him. He sat in the back of the library, twiddling his fingers.  She’d told him that Evans would show but a small part of him almost wanted the kid to stand him up. This had been impulsive on his part after all.

He didn’t even know what he was going to say.

Ron felt horribly conflicted toward the Slytherin. Both his brothers and Hermione seemed to think that Evans was different from the other Slytherins. And sure, he’d seen him stand up for Neville on more than one occasion but Evans was also a friend with that racist prat, Malfoy. How could someone be both at the same time – one of them had to be a lie. And it was obvious to him that Hermione was going to continue being his friend.

He just wanted to see what the fuss was about.

Ron heard him before he saw him. Evans had apparently clipped the bookshelf and came around the corner massaging his arm. He came to a pause in front of the table that Ron was seated at, looking uncertain. “Uh, hey,” he said.

“Hey.” Ron wanted to cringe. The awkward atmosphere settling on them was unbearable.

“Should I—” Evans gestured toward one of the chairs.

“Er, sure.”

Evans sat down.

Ron took a deep breath. “Look, first of all I’m sorry about last time. I shouldn’t have hit you.” Evans stared at him.

“Well, I’m sorry about the bookcases.”

Ron refrained from rolling his eyes. That cheeky smile irritated him to no end, it was so Slytherin. “And,” he continued with effort. “I suppose you can’t be all bad if you stuck up for Neville.”

Merlin narrowed his eyes. “But?”

“But,” Ron repeated. “I still don’t trust you.” He saw Evan’s shoulders deflate slightly. “But,” he said again and he sighed. “Hermione seems to. So, I’ll just say this, if you hurt her you’re going to regret it.”

Ron didn’t know any curses yet, but he would master them all if Evans hurt his fellow Gryffindor. Okay, it was really more of a bluff. He was practically rubbish at the moment. And for some reason, he had the feeling that Evans was just pretending to be – he could remember how the boy had collapsed those two bookcases. He knew Evans was more powerful than him – not that he’d admit it. And yeah, there was this weird calm feeling that he got from Evans when he was with him – almost as if he could trust him with anything – but he refused to fall under whatever spell he had going for him. He just wanted to make sure Hermione didn’t get hurt.

Or his brothers.

“Ron,” Evans said and he felt weird when the Slytherin addressed him by his first name. “Hermione’s my friend too.” And he gave a very small smile.

“She’s not my friend,” Ron said quickly, and Evans raised an eyebrow.

“Well, in any case, you don’t have anything to worry about.” The Slytherin got to his feet. “Good luck at the match, by the way.”

Ron blinked. “Uh, you too?” He said but it sounded like a question. He’d never heard that from a Slytherin before. Evans smiled and then left just as quickly as he had come. Ron frowned and sat back in his chair, thinking. What was he even doing? Hermione wasn’t his friend and he didn’t really like her – well, he definitely liked it when she gave him her notes. But, he wasn’t her keeper. Ron shook his head.

“So, what was all that about?”

Ron jumped. Hermione emerged from among the bookshelves, twirling his wand in her fingers. She looked smug and cheerful and Ron was certain that she’d listened in to his private conversation. “It’s rude to eavesdrop!” he snapped and he snatched his wand back from her hands. He stuffed it roughly into his inside pocket.

Hermione watched him for a moment. “Do you think he’s a good guy?”

Ron glanced sharply up at her. Why did that question feel so loaded? God, it wasn’t like his opinion even mattered so why was she pretending it did? He knew that she’d keep on hanging with that snake even if he said that he hated him and that he was going to ruin her life. But, to be honest, he didn’t think that Evans would do that. The kid, if anything else, did seem to genuinely care about Hermione.

“He’s—” Ron grumbled, “okay.”

But Hermione looked like he had just told her that Evans was the most amazing person in the world. Girls were so weird.

“Let go of my arm already, will you?”

“I told you, I will drag you to the Quidditch match.”

“Yeah, okay but we’re here now, so let go.” Merlin wrenched his arm free from Draco’s grip, his mood sour. He had been looking forward to sleeping in. Which, meant he wouldn’t get up until lunchtime but no, Quidditch had to start earlier than that. Merlin munched on the piece of toast he’d managed to snatch from the Great Hall and then grimaced when he realized he’d forgotten to put any jam or butter on it.

“This sport doesn’t even make sense,” he grumbled as Madam Hooch walked onto the field, carrying the box of balls.

“And why not?” Blaise shot from his other side. “Quidditch is a fantastic game.”

“It can last months. That’s just stupid.”

Draco rolled his eyes. “Yes, because you’re such an expert on games.”

Even if Merlin had wanted to reply his words would have been drowned out by the roar of the crowd. The two teams walked onto the pitch. Merlin could just barely see Terrence down there. He was the seeker, apparently. Merlin thought he looked pretty good, the Gryffindor seeker was someone he’d never met in his life and looked terrified.

And then the match began.

Merlin had no idea what was going on. There were just too many players and too many balls. The commentator was clearly biased toward the Gryffindor team – but he had to admit that his team didn’t exactly play fair. Fifteen minutes in they were in the lead with fifty points.

“Enjoying the match?” Draco shouted over all the screams and cheers from the crowd.

“Not really,” Merlin shouted back. Draco rolled his eyes.

“You don’t understand true sport.”

Slytherin scored another goal. Terrence was hovering above the pitch, circling the stadium in a wide circle. Merlin lost interest. He glanced toward the teacher’s stand. Professor Dumbledore seemed relaxed, and he engaged the professors beside him in animated conversation. Snape on the other hand looked like he was on the edge of his seat. He kept glancing toward McGonagall.

Of course, house rivalry and all that.

“Slytherin has the snitch!”

“What?” Merlin shouted. “It’s over?” and he glanced back toward the pitch. Terrence looked windblown, but he was holding the snitch up in the air. The Gryffindor seeker was sprawled on the grass behind him and Madam Hooch was attending to him.

“Yeah, we won!” Draco shouted. He punched Merlin on the shoulder.

“Party in the common room!” Blaise said and several people copied him.

Merlin sighed and let Draco steer him off the stands and onto the pitch. The entire Slytherin house was going to congratulate the team on their victory. It was some kind of tradition of theirs, and for some reason they seemed to think that beating the Gryffindor’s was the most important match all year. Merlin managed to duck around Draco’s arm and hovered near the entrance, laughing and watching as they cheered and put their team members on their shoulders. Merlin shook his head and walked outside of the pitch, hanging out on the grounds next to the entrance for them to come out.

And then something odd caught his eye.

Quirrell was heading into the Forbidden Forest. Now, he might not have thought this odd – Defense teachers did sometimes display a creature or two for the class – if not for the timing. Merlin saw him disappear into the trees. He hesitated a moment, and before he really knew what he was doing, he was walking toward the forest. And then he was running.

Merlin stopped on the edge of the forbidden forest.

He was doing something stupid again, wasn’t he?

Snape had told him that he would keep an eye on Quirrell already, and what happened if Quirrell realized that Merlin was following him? He hesitated a moment, and then with a sigh turned around. Now was not the time to rush in blindly. It wasn’t like he could just kill the professor either. The stone was safe for the moment, and although he hated it. There wasn’t much he could do.

With a frustrated sigh, Merlin headed back toward the pitch and on to the Slytherin common room. Draco would probably be pissed he’d ditched, but the temptation to rush after the Defense professor was too great to let hover right in front of him.

 

Merlin had ditched him.

Draco had realized it when walking back out of the pitch with the rest of the Slytherin house. It was a little irritating, to be honest. Draco frowned and glanced around the grounds in hopes of seeing him. He walked back toward the stands, just in case Merlin had maybe gone back to grab something – which was stupid, because he hadn’t brought anything with him to begin with other than that piece of bread. But as Draco came to the conclusion that Merlin had probably gone to the common room ahead of him, he spotting the Granger girl hovering underneath the stands.

“Draco! You coming?” Blaise shouted over to him.

“Go ahead of me, I forgot something,” he called back. Blaise shrugged and left with the rest of the Slytherins. Draco took a deep breath and walked over to her. She was leaning against on of the wood posts, looking lost in thought. When he came closer she looked up and gave a small smile.

“Congratulations on winning.”

“Thanks,” Draco said shortly. He looked around. “What are you doing here?”

She shrugged. “Just thinking.” She paused and then met his eyes. “Merlin tell you about his meeting with Ron?”

“He mentioned it, yes,” Draco drawled with a shrug. “Didn’t seem all that interesting, to be honest.”

“He told me that he though Merlin was okay.”

Draco raised an eyebrow. “And because he approves, suddenly what we saw doesn’t matter any more?” he sneered. “Sorry, but I don’t think a blood traitor is going to dictate what I think.”

Granger frowned and folded her arms. “No, what Ron thinks doesn’t matter. What matters is what we think.” She sighed and glanced out across the grounds. “Merlin has a lot of secrets.”

“No kidding.”

“But I think that we should be there for him anyway.” She glanced back at him and smiled softly. “He won’t turn dark if he has someone to show him the light.”

Draco wanted to roll his eyes. “That’s cheesy,” he said. Talking to her was getting easier and easier as the weeks past. He still felt a little strange, and the fact that he wasn’t making fun of her was disarming. But, her blood status wasn’t as important as Merlin. “But,” and here he tried not to cringe, “I think you’re right.”

She beamed at him, and then she cocked her head to the side. “Why?”

Draco blinked. “Why what?”

“Look, you can deny it all you want. But everyone knows that your family is dark, and that your father was in league with You-Know-Who for a time. So, why don’t you want Merlin to go down that path?” She hesitated a moment. “I mean, aren’t you going in that direction?”

Draco stared at her. “You have no filter, do you?” He shook his head. She made a very good point after all. His dad was always telling him that he should be proud to be a Malfoy and that their darkness was to be praised. They were better then everyone else, but his dad really just cozied up to the greatest power at the moment. The minister, the dark lord, the minister again. It was all a big political game to him.

“A friend once told me,” Draco began softly, “that fathers can sometimes be wrong.” 

“That sounds like good advice.”

Draco nodded. “Yeah,” he turned to leave before pausing. “Hey listen, what do you know about Professor Quirrell?”

“That boy knows something.”

Long pasty fingers rapped against the wood of his desk. Even after all these months he hadn’t gotten used to the sensation of second soul living within him, sharing the space. It made him feel stretched and powerful, as though he was a vessel that harbored more energy than any other person on the planet. He was bursting, ready to explode. And it was addicting, he liked the confidence it gave him, even if there was one very important catch.

“He is of no consequence,” the high cold voice of his lord replied, not concerned in the slightest. “A mere boy of eleven cannot stop our plans.”

“Yes,” Quirrell replied though the worry still showed on the lines of his face. He had hardly paid attention to Evans at all; the boy never did his homework and had taken to sleeping in his class. Quirrell had written him off as a deadbeat, doomed to a pathetic paper-pushing career. And yet…

“But if he knows what we’re trying to accomplish—” Quirrell began nervously, “he could undo everything.”

“You give the young Slytherin too much credit, Quirrell,” the Dark Lord said, and Quirrell was certain the entity was laughing at him. “I have seen his abilities during your classes, and to think that he possesses much of a threat is laughable.”

Silently Quirrell agreed with him, but there was some nagging thought at the back of his mind that if this boy suspected what he was up to then someone else that was a threat might have noticed something. He frowned, but didn’t voice these concerns. The Dark Lord would have thought of them, and he didn’t want to agitate the powerful wizard.

“Severus Snape is a more pressing concern,” the Dark Lord continued, his tone lowering slightly. Ah, Snape. Quirrell had seen the Potions Master exiting the third floor corridor with a slight limp, preventing himself and his Lord from attempting to steal the stone.

“Are you certain you don’t want to include him in this? He might—” Quirrell started to ask but the Dark Lord interrupted him.

“No,” hissed the voice and Quirrell went silent at once. “His loyalty is questionable and I will not jeopardize this plan. I have waited far too long to risk anything getting in the way.”

“Of course, Master,” Quirrell hurriedly said, a bead of sweat on his brow. “But sir, he suspects something as well.” He wouldn’t have been surprised if that’s how that Evans boy had been tipped off – wasn’t there this uncanny rumor of the two being related?

“I know, Quirrell. I hear everything that you hear,” he snapped, and Quirrell cringed slightly. “As long as there are no more foul ups like Halloween, everything will go smoothly and Severus Snape will no longer be an issue. He and that muggle loving fool can’t do anything without proof of your incompetence!”

Quirrell swallowed.

“Now, go pretend to be the bumbling professor and feint idiocy when confronted by Severus. He will no doubt come to you and attempt to join our cause, but whether he is coming of his own violation or of the muggle-loving fool’s we can’t know.” The Dark Lord paused a moment, and Quirrell gave an involuntary nod in agreement. “When I have regained a body and my power, his loyalty will be put to the test.”

Chapter Text

 

 

 

And ‘ere in mid-December, snow fell upon the castle grounds. A blanket of glistening white and bitter cold, it covered the Forbidden Forest and the towers, the icing on a winter wonderland. The halls of Hogwarts grew chilly, and in the dungeons warm breath crystalized into mist.

Merlin shivered. But why was Snape’s office an icebox? The Slytherin common room had a roaring fire, and it was obvious that Snape had a fireplace – it was just behind his desk. But the coals were dim red at best; the absence of licking flames obvious. Snape didn’t seem to have even noticed that his fire was on the verge of death. He was too preoccupied with a long list in front of him.

“Will you be returning home for the holidays, Evans?” Snape asked as he dipped his quill into an inkbottle.

“Yes,” Merlin said folding his arms. “I’d rather not get frostbite this Christmas.”

Snape’s lip twitched. He reached into his robes and flicked his wand toward the fire, and the flames roared back into existence. Merlin felt the warmth wash over him and he shivered violently once more before his body began absorbing the heat.

“I think my ears are on fire,” Merlin said clamping his hands over them in a feeble attempt to warm them up.

“I can always return the fire to its previous state,” Snape said icily and Merlin glared at him.

“And you wonder why some students think you’re a vampire.”

“Oh, how will I ever convince them otherwise?” Snape spat sarcastically. “Now, unless you have any questions you are free to leave.” And he returned to his list and scribbled something down.

Merlin sighed and got to his feet, but paused before walking to the door. “Sir?” he asked turning back the Potions Master. “Are you going home for the holidays?”

Snape glanced up at him. “No. I will remain at Hogwarts over break.”

Merlin released a breath of relief. Snape raised an eyebrow and Merlin said, “Well, I just wanted to know if someone would be keeping an eye on Quirrell. He’s staying too, isn’t he?”

Snape pinched the bridge of his nose. “He is not stupid enough to act while the Headmaster is inside Hogwarts. But, be assured, I will also keep an eye on him. Enjoy your holidays, Merlin.”

Merlin nodded stiffly and left the office. He was sure Snape would be able to keep watch over the stone, but Merlin still felt uneasy leaving. It wasn’t that he thought that Quirrell would make another attempt over break, but the mere fact that he wouldn’t be able to keep an eye on the professor made him uneasy. What if something happened? What if an opportunity to prove the professor’s criminal activity appeared? Merlin frowned and shook his head. No, as much as he wanted to stay and keep an eye on the DADA professor, he needed to go home.

He needed to check on Silas.

Merlin met Draco at the entrance to the dungeons. “Going home too?” he drawled as they started walking to Charms class. Merlin nodded.

“As if I’m going to stay in this freezer during break,” he replied with a smirk. “I feel a little sorry for everyone who’s staying.”

Draco shrugged in reply. “Theodore seems rather thrilled actually.” And his expression darkened for a moment. “Not that I blame him. His father isn’t exactly the most pleasant person to be around.” He shook his head and said, “By the way, my father throws a party during the winter break every year. Several important people attend, including the Minister of Magic.”

Merlin raised an eyebrow. “Sounds like fun,” he said sarcastically. A business party sounded incredibly dull. Draco glared at him.

“Well, I’m sure you’ll be able to liven things up.”

“I—what?” Merlin said quickly as they rounded another corner.

Draco pretended to look shocked. “You didn’t think I would invite my best friend? Why Merlin, I’m hurt.” And then a very serious expression crossed his face. “You are coming aren’t you? I’d hate to tell my father that you declined my invitation.”

“Oh, so your father is welcome to the idea, is he?” Merlin asked lightly. The Charms classroom was a few steps away now, a small line of students filing into the classroom. Draco shot Merlin a puzzled expression.

“Why wouldn’t he be welcome to the idea, exactly?”

Merlin gave him a look. “Oh, I can think of a few reasons.”

Draco grimaced. “Just don’t give him a reason at the party. He’ll be courteous because there are important people present, but don’t test him. I know he’s not very fond of you—” and when Merlin raised his eyebrows Draco added, “—which is entirely your fault; you weren’t exactly polite at Diagon Alley. But it might be a good idea to give him a reason to change his mind.”

“Really?”

Draco nodded and muttered, “For my sake, at least.”

 Merlin paused, surveying him for a moment. Finally he nodded. “All right, I’ll do my best.” He hadn’t really thought about it, but even if Merlin thought that it was good that Draco was changing his anti-muggleborn ideas his father would have a very different reaction. In a way, he almost felt bad. He was causing a rift between father and son, and though he knew it was for a good reason that was one connection Draco would forever miss.

And it would be his fault.

The bell rang then and they both hurried into Charms.

 

The Great Hall was crowded.

Merlin pressed himself against the wall in order to avoid being swept away by the several hundred students who were heading out of the castle and to the train where they would be taken home for the holidays. Draco grumbled beside him, glaring at a pair of Ravenclaw students who ventured too close.

“This is a madhouse!” Draco complained. Merlin sighed and stepped off the wall to join the tide.

“Everyone wants to go home.”

Well, almost everyone. He’d run into Fred and George the other day on his way to say goodbye to Korrizahar. The Weasley’s were all staying at school this year, although the twins seemed more excited by that prospect than Merlin would have expected.

“Mum’s going to Romania to visit Charlie,” George explained. “I expect she’d be so panicked about us sneaking off to catch sight of the dragons, we wouldn’t even get out of Charlie’s House.”

“Which,” Fred muttered to Merlin, “smells a bit like burnt rubber, if you ask me.”

Merlin wondered what would happen if they knew there were in fact two dragons living in the Forbidden Forest at that very moment. And then he decided that he didn’t want to know.

“You didn’t forget anything right? I’m not running back down to the dungeons once we finally get outside.” Draco glanced at Merlin’s bag skeptically, as though he doubted Merlin was bringing enough clothes with him. Little did Draco know Merlin had shrunk every single one of his possessions to fit inside his school bag with ease. The feather-light charm he’d put on afterwards was just common sense.

“Definitely not,” Merlin assured him and they followed Terrence through the castle doors and into the bitter winter morning. “By the way,” Merlin asked glancing around them. “Where have Crabbe and Goyle got to? Don’t they usually shadow your every movement?”

Draco frowned. “Don’t pretend you miss them hulking around,” he said with dismissal. “Anyway, they seem to have finally gotten the hint that I don’t want them around.” Merlin raised an eyebrow but didn’t comment on the matter any further. He’d always thought it a bit strange how Crabbe and Goyle followed Draco around everywhere. Some odd relationship arranged by their fathers no less. In any case, Merlin was glad that Draco had decided to ditch them.

And then he glanced up at the carriages that they were going to be riding down to the train station. Traditionally, first years used little boats to cross the lake but during winter when the lake froze solid that obviously wasn’t possible. Next year they would always use these horseless carriages. At least, everyone had said they were horseless.

But they weren’t.

Skeletally thin, with black skin stretched so tightly over the bones that every single bump and grove was visible, they looked nothing like any horse Merlin had ever seen. They were taller, gaunter, and had beaks that were clearly meant for a carnivorous diet. Merlin came to a skidding halt in the snow and stared.

“What is it?” Draco asked, trying to follow his line of sight.

“You—you don’t see them?” Merlin asked. They were really obvious. He hadn’t seen creatures like this anywhere near Camelot.

Draco blinked. “Wait, can you see the thestrals?” he whispered.

“What’s a thestral?” Merlin asked and Draco raised an eyebrow. “Oh, right. But why can’t you see—” Merlin began but Draco shushed him.

“Come on,” and he lead the way into one of the carriages that was still empty. “Look,” he said in an urgent whisper. “Don’t tell anyone else you can see them.”

“Why not?”

Draco sighed. “I keep forgetting you didn’t grow up with wizards.” He shook his head. “The only people who can see them are those who have seen someone die.”

Merlin went very white. Seen someone die?

Draco was watching him closely. “It’s considered a bad omen if you can see them,” he added with a shrug.

“I can’t imagine why,” Merlin muttered back.

Draco was silent then, “So, who did you see die?”

Merlin shot him a sharp look. For a moment, he seriously considered not answering him at all. After all, where should he start? So many battles, so many friends lost to the tides of time and war. But in the end he felt like he could reveal one death he had witnessed, one that still stayed with him. Merlin leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes.

“My father.”

 Draco didn’t reply. He didn’t get a chance to. At that moment, Blaise, Pansy, and Daphne joined their carriage. Merlin smiled at them, grateful for the distraction. He didn’t want to talk about the day the last Dragonlord fell. Their carriage shuddered and set off, and he did his best to ignore the startled expression on Draco’s face.

“So, are you going to the Malfoy Winter Ball?” Blaise asked no one in particular.

“Of course,” Pansy replied with a flourish. She smiled widely at Draco, scooting closer to him. “It’s going to be spectacular.”

“It will,” Draco drawled. His eyes flickered to Merlin again. “The Malfoy’s never do anything half-hearted.”

They reached the train station a few minutes later. Pansy linked arms with Daphne and declared they were going to find the rest of the girls in their dormitory and disappeared into the train. Blaise bade farewell too. He wanted to find the Slytherin Quidditch team and befriend them; to give him an edge when he tried out next year, and it was with reluctance that Merlin waved him off. He had hoped that Blaise would stick around, at least then Draco would have a reason not to ask Merlin about his dad.

“Come on,” he muttered and he clambered onto the train. There were still quite a few empty compartments, and it wasn’t long before Draco and Merlin had one to themselves.

“Merlin,” Draco began, the instant Merlin had shut the door. “I—”

“I don’t really want to talk about it.” Merlin interjected quickly. “It’s really depressing and it happened a long time ago—” Seriously, like a thousand years ago “—so let’s talk about something else, all right?”

Draco blinked. “Yeah, course.” He still seemed rather uncertain though. And then he frowned. “But I thought you didn’t remember your parents at all?”

Merlin sat down across him with a sigh. “I lied,” he said shortly. “For this very reason. New topic.”

“What else have you lied about?” Draco asked in an undertone. Something about the way he said that made Merlin feel uneasy, although he didn’t really understand why.

“I—”

“Oh, there you are!” Merlin and Draco both looked up. Hermione was standing in the open compartment door with a large smile on her face. She barged her way inside and took a seat next to Merlin. “Been walking up and down the train looking for both of you.”

Why?” Draco shot with a sneer. “Miss us already?”

Hermione sniffed and was about say something else when she caught the look on Merlin’s face. “What’s going on? Are you two fighting?” and she shot a warning look toward Draco. There was more than disapproval there, a little more than worry. Draco rolled his eyes.

“Merlin watched his father die.”

“DRACO!” Merlin shouted, jumping to his feet. “I said drop it, okay?”

Hermione frowned and grabbed Merlin’s shirt, pulling him back down to the seat with a jerk. “Stop it, we just want to get to know you better,” she said glancing toward Draco. “You don’t talk about your family at all, you know.”

“I mention Silas,” Merlin grumbled, ripping his shirt away from her hand. He’d told them when he was worried about his foster brother, eventually.

Draco scoffed. “Hardly. I still know nothing about him, other than you are worried about him and he’s your foster brother.”

“Merlin, we’re just worried about you,” Hermione interrupted, glancing toward Draco again. She paused a moment then asked, “Did you really watch your father die?”

Merlin glared at Draco. This was all his fault. “I did,” he ground out. “Years ago, I hardly remember.” Draco narrowed his eyes.

“Well, if it isn’t another lie.” He groaned and leaned back in his seat. “Hermione’s right, we just want to understand you better. It’s hard to be friends with a guy who won’t open up at all.”

Merlin wondered why that sentence sounded so weird. He blinked for several minutes before he glanced at Hermione and it clicked. “Oh, on a first name basis are we?” he said glancing between the two of them. When on earth had that happened? As far as he knew, Draco and Hermione didn’t talk to each other at all and yet they felt strangely comfortable with each other now.

“Don’t change the subject,” Hermione countered with a frown. She looked a little taken aback though, and she sent Draco a small smile. “This is obviously a very important part of you.”

Merlin groaned. When had they gotten so pushy about getting him to open up? “Look,” he said shortly. “I watched my dad die, and that’s pretty much all I have to say about that.”

“How old were you?” Hermione asked softly. She put her hand on Merlin’s. Her touch was soft and warm.

“I don’t know,” Merlin muttered. He had been about nineteen or twenty at the time, but that would not make any sense right now. “Maybe five?” he said with a shrug.

Draco was giving him that subdued expression again. He didn’t want their pity. “It’s fine, guys. Really. I’m fine.” He said as though daring them to challenge him on that. “Now can we please not talk about something so depressing?”

“My parents are dentists,” Hermione said immediately. Both Merlin and Draco gave her very blank expressions. “They tend to peoples teeth,” she explained. “In the muggle world, there are healers for toothaches and they make sure your teeth stay healthy. That’s what my folks do.”

“Well,” Draco said with a shrug. “There are magical healers that specialize with teeth too, so it’s not that weird.”

Hermione nodded and looked at Draco expectantly.

“Uh… okay. My mother has a crazy sister that we don’t talk about. She’s in Azkaban Prison.” Draco shrugged. “She’s a little embarrassed by that.”

And then they both stared at Merlin. For a minute, he stared blankly back at them. “What?” he finally said.

Draco rolled his eyes. “It’s your turn, share some random fact about your life or family.”

Merlin groaned and ran a hand through his hair. What could he tell them? He grew up in a different time; his childhood stories wouldn’t make any sense to them. And what if they figured it out? No, he was being stupid. Talking about himself a little bit wasn’t going to make them suddenly realize he was the Merlin. After all, there was very little written about his historical self and what was there was mostly inaccurate. They wouldn’t realize he was the Merlin. He was only a boy, so why would they ever suspect anything more? Finally, he mumbled, “I—was raised by a physician after I left my parents.”

And then it was Hermione’s turn again, then Draco’s, and so the train ride passed with stories and confessions.

 

 

Yes, he had told Merlin that he would not be leaving Hogwarts Castle during the break; however, he had neglected to mention that it would be he, Severus Snape, who dropped him off at the Haddocks. Snape had suspected it the moment the train left the Hogsmeade station, long before Dumbledore flued down for a chat in his office. But the strange part? He wasn’t furious that this menial task was being forced upon him.

Maybe it was some primal instinct that lurked within him that needed to see Evans get home safely. He couldn’t explain that either. Somehow, even though the boy was a constant headache, he had come to worry about him. Even now, months later, he could still recall the panic that had gripped him when he’d learned that Merlin was in the hospital wing. And that was another thing too.

It wasn’t often he called a student by their first name.

 Severus shook his head and looked up at the large clock on the station wall. The train should be arriving any minute. Sooner the better, in his opinion. He could feel the curious eyes of parents on him, some of them even former classmates of his. He had the horrible feeling that the rumor he was Evan’s father was going to wake back up with a vengeance. Especially when they saw them leaving together. Oh, Merlin, if the Daily Prophet somehow caught wind—he shuddered.

There was a loud whistle. He could hear the train engines now, slowing and coming nearer to the platform.

“Severus, what a surprise.”

Snape glanced sharply to the side and nodded. “Lucius,” he replied. “Narcissa decided not to come?”

Lucius had his long blonde hair pulled back, his black fur lined cloak probably more expensive then everything Severus owned. He twirled his snake-headed cane in one hand. “Narcissa,” he replied as the train came to a stop in front of them, “is at home instructing the house elves on how to decorate.” His expression darkened. “Those blasted creatures are incapable of the simplest tasks, they need constant supervision.”

Snape didn’t reply and Lucius wasn’t looking for one either. This wasn’t a topic Lucius would appreciate a different opinion on, and Snape couldn’t provide a concerting one.

“Might I ask why a professor is meeting the students?” Lucius asked, and he sneered. “Dear me, is Dumbledore still having you cater to that Evans child?”

The way that Lucius referred to Merlin revealed that he still hadn’t forgiven the boy for his behavior in Diagon Alley. But the way that he said it, it rubbed Snape the wrong way. Snape was here because he wanted to be – and though Evans was a child, he was a very capable one.

“His caregivers are muggles, at the moment,” Snape replied icily. “Complications would ensue if they were to pick him up, would they not?”

From few hundred students exiting the train, Snape spotted Merlin walking side by side with Draco. They were deep in animated conversation, but abruptly ended it when they looked up and saw Lucius and Snape standing there.

“Father,” Draco said quickly rushing up to him and giving a very small smile. Lucius did not return it.

“Come along, Draco,” Lucius said and he glanced carelessly at Merlin before turning away. Draco frowned and turned back to Merlin.

“See you in a few days, then.”

“Yeah,” Merlin replied. Draco nodded and took off after his father, who was already walking through the hidden entrance pillar. Merlin frowned, some apprehension showing on his face. He sighed and turned to Snape, raising an eyebrow. “So, why are you here?”

Snape almost rolled his eyes. “I am here,” he said as he turned to lead the way out of the platform, “to take you to your foster parents. Due to a happy mistake, they were under the impression you were arriving tomorrow.”

Merlin blinked, but quickly fell into step beside him. Snape glanced back at him, his school bag the only thing on his person. “Where is your trunk?” he asked shortly, coming to a stop.

“I didn’t bring one,” and here Merlin smiled. “I’ve got everything in here.” He patted his bag. Snape did roll his eyes this time.

“Why yes, I am certain you have enough clothing for one week inside that bag of yours. It’s so obvious, how could I have missed it?”

Merlin shrugged but didn’t reply. Did the boy know a shrinking or extendable charm? Or was he just going to wear the same thing every single day? Snape decided he didn’t care – or maybe he persuaded himself not to care – and started walking again. Before he went through the barrier though, he took out his wand and transfigured his clothing to the waistcoat and trousers he’d worn on their previous outing.

“I assume you don’t have a car,” Merlin said as they crossed over into muggle London.

“We’ll take the Knight Bus.”

Predictably, Merlin stopped dead, an expression of horror on his face. Snape wanted to laugh, and his lip turned up in a half-smile. “Or do you have another suggestion?” he said watching some of the color return to Merlin’s face.

“Apparation,” Merlin said at once.

“I’ve told you before,” Snape said with a sigh, “you will like that one even less.” They came to a stop outside Kings Cross Station.

But Merlin wouldn’t back down. “Why don’t you let me be the judge of that?” he snapped back, folding his arms. “I might just love it.”

“Fine,” Snape said straightening up, “perhaps one trip will be good for you,” and he put his hand on Merlin’s shoulder. They vanished with a crack, the sensation of instantaneous travel warping their bones. With another crack, they reappeared behind some snowy hedges on Mrs. Figg’s lawn. It was sanctioned safe point. Snape didn’t know the squib very well, but knew that she preferred her anonymity.

He straightened up and took a deep breath. He had gotten used to Apparation now but his stomach still felt a little weak afterwards. He turned and glanced to Merlin, who had stumbled when they’d landed.

“So, how do you feel?” Snape asked with a smirk.

But, to his surprise, Merlin straightened up with a broad smile. “Fantastic, sir.” He didn’t look the least bit queasy. In fact, he led the way off the property and onto the pavement with a spring in his step. Most adults threw up the first time, so why wasn’t this kid on the floor right now? Snape couldn’t understand it. “I know the rest of the way, if you want to get back to Hogwarts.”

Snape paused and then followed him. “And just what will you tell to your fosters about your sudden appearance?” Merlin hesitated and Snape passed him on the walk toward number nine. “As I thought.”

It wasn’t a long walk, but it was a silent one. Snape kept glancing toward Merlin, expecting some random question or remark but none came. The boy’s brows were furrowed with apprehension, as though he was worried about meeting his foster brother again.  They rounded the corner and the house came into view. On the doorstep sat a young boy with a tuft of messy brown hair. He looked up when they neared and gave the largest smile Severus had ever seen.

Silas!” Merlin shouted and the next minute he’d broken into a run.

“Merlin! You’re back! Popeye, Merlin’s back!” Silas shouted behind him before running to meet Merlin and tackling him into the snow-covered front yard. Snape came to a stop in the driveway, watching the two boys embrace and roll around in the snow.

“Silas, your jacket!” said an elderly man stumbling out of the house holding a blue winter jacket. “Merlin!” he greeted with a broad smile. “Didn’t expect you till tomorrow!”

Merlin sat up, snow in his hair and smiled. “Change of plans, Popeye,” he said simply and he ran to give him a quick hug.

“Merlin, come on, let’s go put your stuff in the room,” Silas said already standing in the doorway. Merlin nodded and let go of the man they’d both called Popeye. He turned toward Snape.

“Thanks Professor, I guess I’ll see you back at school?”

Snape nodded. The display of affection between his foster brother and parents warmed his heart. “Have a good holiday, Evans.”

Merlin grinned and disappeared into the house.

“Ha, kids,” the man, Popeye said with a sigh. He turned toward Snape and extended a hand. “I’m Wentworth Haddock, professor—”

“Snape,” he replied and he shook Wentworth’s hand.

“Ah, Professor Snape,” Wentworth went on and then he wrung his hands nervously. “Thank you very much for dropping Merlin off, we didn’t know it was today.”

Snape nodded. “It was a mistake on the school’s part,” he replied smoothly.

“Still, thank you sir.” Wentworth paused. “Would you do me a favor, Professor Snape?” He didn’t wait for Snape to give an answer, and went rushing on, “Will you make sure to look after Merlin when he comes back to school? The Mrs. and I need to give them up, and I’m worried about their next family.”

Give them up? Snape was taken aback. He hadn’t been notified that Evans and his brother were moving homes. “Uh, Mr. Haddock I am also responsible for the paperwork regarded Mr. Evan’s home situation. We haven’t received—” he said slowly, and Wentworth quickly shook his head stopping him.

“We’re putting in the request after the holidays,” he explained. His expression became very somber. “See,” and here Snape realized that the old man’s eyes were glistening with unshed tears. “Last week, the Mrs. was diagnosed with cancer.”

He paused a moment to compose himself and dropped his voice. “We won’t be able to take care of the boys during her treatments, and—” he faltered for a moment, before continuing, his voice stronger, “I don’t want those lads to see that.” He shook his head. “She’s not as strong as she used to be, and the doctors haven’t given us a good prognosis. They don’t need to watch her wither away. They’re too young for that kind of horror.” He swallowed and met Snape’s eyes. “I haven’t told Silas yet so Merlin won’t know either. Audrey and I decided to wait until after Christmas—so if you know anyone in your records that’s a good fit—” he trailed off, his voice cracking.

Snape didn’t know what to do. He felt like he’d walked into a brick wall. He and Dumbledore had been looking for a wizarding foster, but the system was horribly unorganized. They hadn’t found anyone yet. He put his hand on the old man’s shoulder. “I will look after Merlin, Mr. Haddock. You have my word.”

Wentworth gave a sad smile and wiped his eyes. “Thank you, professor.”

Snape nodded and hurried down the street toward Mrs. Figg’s hedge. He had a lot to do, and not a lot of time to do it. He could only hope he found a wizarding foster before the boy’s were sent off to a muggle foster family that wasn’t as kind as the Haddocks.

 

Draco didn’t like apparating much.

Though it wasn’t his first time, he still bent over wheezing outside the gates of Malfoy Manor, doing his best to keep all the goodies he’d gotten from the train trolley from coming back up.

“Come along Draco, your mother is waiting,” Lucius drawled and Draco felt a hand rest on his shoulder for a brief moment. Draco nodded and straightened up, taking a deep breath in an effort to calm his heaving stomach. His father opened the gates, the gothic steel perfectly immaculate, their family crest displayed in some intricate metalwork. And ahead, loomed Malfoy Manor.

It was a large home, with more than enough room for fifty wizards and yet only three occupied it at the moment. Constructed centuries earlier, the manor was an imposing architectural feat that ought to have belonged in a Pride and Prejudice adaption rather than real life. But Draco had never thought it strange or odd. He’d grown up in this classy lifestyle, with enormous ballrooms and crystal chandeliers. The small muggle homes were completely alien to him – strange things deserving of ridicule. But after talking to Hermione Granger, and especially the conversations they’d had on the train ride made him wonder.

A small house would certainly feel less empty.

It wasn’t long before Draco followed his father into the entry hall, the doors swinging magically open for them. The manor was extravagantly decorated for the holiday, holly and tinsel, wreaths and floating glass figurines performing famous ballets. His father took off his black fur lined cloak and tossed it to a rack, which immediately jumped to catch it.

“Draco, welcome home,” came a voice from a hallway, and Draco smiled at the sight of his mother walking toward him. She was looking rather festive herself, wearing emerald green robes with gold lacings. She walked toward him and then kissed him on each cheek. “Come along, I want to hear all about your first term.” And she steered Draco out of the entrance hall and into the lounge where tea and biscuits had been laid out on a tray.

“Narcissa, you already know all about it from his weekly letters,” Lucius said following them, a bite of impatience in his tone. “However, I would like to know when you became so close to that Evans boy. I seem to recall that the boy’s attitude toward the Malfoy family was unfavorable to say the least.”

Draco had dreaded this conversation. Yes, he had written his family weekly letters and in the beginning he had complained about Merlin’s blatant disrespect for purebloods – despite also being a Slytherin. But once Merlin’s words had started working their way into his heart and his opinion of muggleborns started changing he’d stopped mentioning him in his letters. He knew that his parents would be furious if they knew that he’d had a polite conversation with a muggleborn. Or that he was beginning to think that the idea that purebloods were better than everyone else might be wrong. So, he just hadn’t mentioned his friendship with Merlin at all.

“Evans?” his mother repeated, glancing toward Lucius. They had taken a seat at the table now, Narcissa pouring a cup of tea for everyone. “Do you mean that boy that was with Professor Snape at Diagon Alley?”

Draco grimaced. “Yes, we’ve actually become rather good friends, Merlin and I,” he explained, doing his best to appear casual. “He—ah—straightened out after a short while.” Not in the slightest.

“Did he now?” Lucius drawled. “Is he the friend you mentioned would be joining us at the festivity this year?”

Draco had perhaps lied a little to Merlin when he’d said his father knew and was perfectly fine with him coming to the party. “Yes, he is.”

Lucius glanced toward his wife, who nodded. “Well, honey,” she said turning back to Draco, “you are free to invite whoever you wish, you know that. I’m merely worried that this Evans will be uncomfortable in that sort of setting – he’s grown up with muggles after all.”

“Oh, Narcissa I think if that were the case, Draco would never have invited him,” Lucius said and he gave his son a look that told him that better be the case. Draco quickly nodded, feeling nervous.

“Of course.” Draco took a sip of his tea, taking courage from it.

“He will be your guest, Draco,” Lucius said. And then his expression darkened, his grey eyes growing cold. “But do not think I will not remove him should he become an embarrassment. I’ll not have filth in my house.”

 “Understood,” Draco managed through gritted teeth. His father calling his friend filth offended him. As Merlin was his first true friend, this was an entirely new sensation but not just that. It was his father who was offending him. He had always agreed with everything his father had said, always idolized his every opinion. And for him to be offended by his father’s words, well, that felt strange to say the least.

“Oh, Lucius, I don’t think there’ll be need for that,” Narcissa said quickly, seeming to realize that her son was bothered by the slight. “I’m sure he’ll take responsibility should the need arise.”

“You both ought to treat him with more respect,” Draco mumbled, unintentionally saying his thoughts out loud.

“What was that?” his father snapped, having clearly heard him. Draco met his gaze evenly.

“Nothing.” He wanted to tell them how Merlin had killed a fully-grown mountain troll without so much as waving a wand, but he had a secret to keep. He pushed away his half-drunk tea and got to his feet. “I’m going to my room to unpack.” And he left his parents to stare after him.

 

“Are you sure you’re all right?”

Merlin watched as Silas quickly made his bed and then sat down on it, his feet kicking in the air. He blinked at the question and paused one second too long before answering.

“Yeah, I’m fine. Why do you keep asking?”

Merlin sat down beside him. Now that he saw Silas he couldn’t think of any reason to be worried. But— “Well, how have you been? What’s your school like?”

Silas shrugged awkwardly. “Oh, that’s boring.” He paused another moment and then turned to Merlin, his eyes shining again. “I want to hear how you’ve been. I know you didn’t put everything in your letters.”

“You first,” Merlin pressured. “Come on, I’m worried about you.” Was school hard for Silas? Was he making friends, doing well in class? Merlin put his hand on Silas’ shoulder, doing his best to be reassuring. “You didn’t write about how you’re doing at all and I—” Merlin trailed off, unsure what to say.

“There just wasn’t much to talk about,” Silas finally said with another shrug. “The classes are boring, the uniform is boring, school is boring.” He heaved a sigh and shook his head. Merlin saw his fists clench. “Everything is boring when you know magic exists.”

Merlin hesitated. “Did you make any friends, at least?”

Silas shook his head. “Not really. I mean, I did hang out with this one boy Tommy but when his mum found out I was a foster kid she didn’t let him hang out with me again.”

Merlin frowned. “But that’s not fair!”

Silas shrugged, trying to pretend that it didn’t bother him but Merlin was sure that it did. “Oh!” Silas said and he smiled. “Mark came around a few times. He’s only a few neighborhoods over and I saw him at one of the sports events. He’s playing basketball.”

“That’s good,” Merlin said smiling in reply. He yawned and stretched his back. “Hey, lets go for a walk. I need to move around after sitting for so long on the train.”

Silas nodded eagerly and led the way out the room and down the stairs. “Granny Audrey,” Silas called into the kitchen. “Merlin and I are going for a walk, we’ll be back soon.”

Granny Audrey poked her head through the doorway, a smile on her face. Merlin thought that she looked older since he last saw her. She had bags under her eyes and there was a paper quality to her skin that concerned him. “All right, dearies,” she said. “Just be back in time for supper in an hour. And don’t forget your coats!”

Silas pulled an extra winter jacket from the closet – since Merlin couldn’t very well go out in his Hogwarts cloak – and soon they were walking side by side down the road. Their feet made a sound like a cross between a squeak and a crunch on the frozen ground.

Merlin glanced at Silas, concern furrowing his brows. Despite that carefree smile upon his face, Merlin had a feeling that the boy was keeping something else from him. Silas was like that. He didn’t want to bother others with his troubles and carry the weight alone. It was an honorable quality, but Merlin wished that the boy would open up to him. He wanted to help him. He wanted to be the person that Silas turned to and it wasn’t because they were siblings now. From his time at Hogwarts, he’d realized that just because you were brothers, it didn’t mean you were friends. Ron and the Twins were evidence enough of this.

He had been Silas’ friend first and he wanted it to stay that way.

But he also knew that Silas was just like him. They both disliked sharing their secrets. Merlin still didn’t know what exactly had happened to Silas’ brother or how he had ended up in Wool’s or even why he seemed to know more than he let on about the magical world. Just like how Merlin didn’t want to talk to Hermione and Draco about any of his problems. They were really the perfect pair, weren’t they?

“So, how is the world of magic?” Silas asked and he took Merlin’s arm. “I want to know everything.”

Merlin hesitated. He couldn’t tell Silas everything. How could he tell him that a professor might be trying to steal the key to resurrecting the most feared warlock in fifty years? How could he tell him that he was the unofficial guardian of two dragons residing in the Forbidden Forest?

Silas seemed to sense his uneasiness because he added, “Has something bad happened?”

Merlin ran a hand through his hair, fluffing it up. How could he ever expect Silas to tell him his problems, his worries, his life if he wouldn’t do the same? Yes, he hated the idea of revealing his secrets. He had always lived in the shadows but he had always had Gaius there for him. Snape was great and all, but Merlin couldn’t tell the professor everything. But Silas, who didn’t even attend Hogwarts, would listen. And Silas, who was his first friend in this bizarre futuristic world and his first younger brother wouldn’t judge him. Anyway, hadn’t Silas already proved that he could keep Merlin’s secrets?

“I think there’s someone bad at Hogwarts,” he finally said.

Silas’ eyes widened. “Who?” he whispered, moving closer to Merlin as though he were listening to a scary story around a campfire.

And Merlin told him about the Dark Lord Voldemort. He told him how Professor Quirrell, the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher was working with him in order to restore him to his full power. He told him how he couldn’t prove it and how that fact frustrated him. Merlin told him about Korrizahar hiding in the Forbidden Forest with Aithusa and how he was terrified someone would find them and kill them. He told him how his magic was causing problems at school, how he’d collapsed bookshelves, sent Zabini flying, and exploded a broomstick. He told him how he was scared of revealing how much power he really had. And, Merlin told him how he’d killed a troll on Halloween and how all these secrets complicated his friendship with Hermione and Draco.

“It’s just,” Merlin said as they reached the park and took a seat on one of the frozen benches, “I’m scared of what they’ll think of me.”

“Well obviously, you don’t care what I think,” Silas said cheekily and he nudged Merlin’s arm. He leapt to his feet in mock horror, “Oh no! My brother has killed a magical creature three times his size. I am now scared for my life—run away!” and giggling, he dashed toward one of the icy slides.

Merlin groaned and followed him at a walk, shaking his head with a smile on his face. “I didn’t tell you all that so you would laugh at me! I really am worried about it. What if they think I’m some sort of Dark Wizard or—or—” he trailed of awkwardly.

Or the real Merlin.

Silas managed to climb up the slippery bars and sat down on top of the slide. “Well,” he said cocking his head. “If they’re your friends, they would know that you could never become a Dark Wizard or anything.” He went through the slide and landed in a heap in the snow.

“You okay?” Merlin asked helping him up.

“Yeah, awesome.” Silas wiped his red nose. “Anyway, how did you do it?”

Merlin blinked. “Do what?”

Silas rolled his eyes. “Kill the troll! That’s why you’re scared to tell them. I mean, if you’d just shouted some spell that accidentally made the ceiling collapse you wouldn’t be scared to tell them how you accidentally killed the thing.” He shook his head. “But it was wasn’t an accident and you meant to kill the troll, so you’re worried that it makes you look dangerous.”

Merlin slowly nodded. “Y-yeah.”

“Well, it does.” Silas scratched his head. “From the sound of it, killing a troll isn’t easy.” He met Merlin’s eyes for a moment as though looking for affirmation. Then he smiled. “So, are you some kind of badass then?”

“Silas!” Merlin admonished and then he laughed. “I guess I am.”

“Don’t be prideful!” Silas said snottily and he punched Merlin’s arm with a chuckle. Sobering up he added, “But really, I think you should tell them.”

Merlin bit his lip, casting his eyes to the ground. Silas watched him for a moment and then wrapped his arm around Merlin’s shoulder. “I don’t want to look dangerous,” Merlin told him in a half-whisper. He could still remember the way Arthur had looked at him when he’d performed magic for the first time. The fear he’d seen there. He didn’t want his friends to fear him.

“But you are a dangerous,” Silas replied softly. “I’ve known since the moment I met you. I think to some degree everyone does. There’s just something about you Merlin, and I think that something is danger. But you are also a guardian and that’s why everyone’s in awe of you. You are powerful but you use your power to protect, and that’s why you’re a badass.”

Merlin stared at him, lost for words.

“By the way, you have no idea how badly I want to meet your dragons. Can I hide inside your bag and come with you to Hogwarts, or something?” Silas added pleadingly. “You can feed me scraps. You won’t even know I’m there—”

Merlin burst out laughing. “Oh, I’m sure Professor Snape would just love that.” He ruffled Silas’ hair, still chuckling. “I’ll think about a way for you two to meet.”

“Promise?” And Silas gave him a tight hug.

“Yeah, now come on, we came to this park to have fun.” Merlin said breaking the hug and running toward the monkey bars.

The metal was horribly slick, and Merlin kept sliding off the bars to land with a thud in the snow but that didn’t stop him from getting up and doing it again, Silas laughing and doing the same. Silas told him how Granny Audrey and Popeye had taken him to the zoo a few months ago.

“It was amazing, Merlin! We should really go together sometime,” he said with a giggle. “There was this enormous snake and the otters were playing a game with balls.”

“Well, look who it is?” came a new voice behind them.

Merlin and Silas turned around to look and it took a moment for Merlin to recognize the boy that stood there, flanked by two others. It was the enormous blonde brat from the toy store that they’d seen before Merlin had left for school. Merlin dropped from the bars and onto the ground, landing gracefully on his feet despite the slippery ground.

“Is this your brother, Silas? God, I was beginning to think you’d made him up,” the boy continued and his friends guffawed with him.

“Silas?” Merlin muttered glanced toward him. His brother was standing defensively, shooting a glare that somehow didn’t manage to hide the fear that lurked in his eyes.

“Shove off, Dudley!” Silas spat. “Merlin, lets go back home,” and he turned to go but one of Dudley’s friends blocked his way.

Merlin?” Dudley repeated. “Is that your name?” He wiggled one of his sausage-like fingers in Merlin’s face. “How stupid were your parents to give you such a lame name?”

Merlin clenched his fists. “At least mine weren’t drunk. Isn’t Dudley a type of beer?”

Dudley didn’t blush. Instead he glowered at Merlin, taking a menacing step toward him. “Since you’re new here, I’ll just let you off with a warning. I don’t want to see you at this park again.”

Merlin folded his arms. “Oh is this your park?” he snapped. “I don’t see a sign anywhere saying Dudley’s Private Park anywhere.”

Silas tugged on Merlin’s arm. “We should go,” he whispered in Merlin’s ear looking nervous. “Those guys are mean – and you can’t use magic outside of school.”

Merlin glared furiously at Dudley, but Silas was right. He was on the Ministry’s radar now. They would know if he cast a spell, and these boys were muggles. He would certainly get in a lot of trouble for that, maybe even expelled. “Fine,” he hissed and he turned to leave with Silas.

“Hey, Silas? How’s your bruise coming along? Should be turning green and purple now, right?” One of Dudley’s friends who looked like a rat shouted with a smirk and Dudley roared with laughter. “Lift up your shirt, and we’ll—”

Merlin hit him so hard across the jaw that the rat-faced boy fell to the snowy ground. His knuckles cracked and bleeding, the pain was numbed by he sheer rage that filled him. “Have they been bullying you, Silas?” Merlin asked in a voice of deadly calm. The rat-faced boy whimpered and scrambled to his feet, holding his cheek with tears in his eyes.

“Merlin—come on let’s go. I’ll tell you at home,” Silas mumbled. “They’re not worth it,” he continued trying to pull Merlin back toward the house.

“You’re dead Merlin,” Dudley snarled and he balled his hands into fists. “You should ‘a listened to that wimpy brother you got there.”

 “No one picks on my little brother!” Merlin shouted and he dive tackled Dudley into the snow. He was going to kill him. He wasn’t even going to use his wand; he was just going to keep hitting him until he stopped moving. The only problem with that plan was that Dudley was over twice his size and he had a friend.

It was a tangle of limbs and flesh. Merlin thought he saw Silas fighting off the rat-faced boy. Dudley’s other friend grabbed Merlin around the neck with his arm and pulled him off Dudley. The fat boy struggled to his feet, his lip bleeding and eye turning black and hit Merlin so hard in the stomach that all the wind rushed out of his lungs. The pressure around his neck grew more painful and he tried to throw the other boy off him with little success.

“Get him!” someone shouted, and Merlin had no idea if it was for him or Dudley.

Merlin managed to elbow the boy holding him in the gut and the kid loosened his hold long enough for Merlin to struggle out of it. Dudley however knocked him across the face before he could regain his footing and he tumbled to the ground with splotches of blood splashing across the snow.  Dizzy, fighting off the blackness swirling around his vision he tried to get up when a kick got him right under the ribcage. Without really meaning to do it, his eyes flashed gold and the ground beneath Dudley turned into solid ice. The fat boy’s foot flew right out from under him and he landed flat on his back wheezing for breath.

In the background, Merlin could hear the loud blare of police sirens. Still dizzy, his nose dripping blood all over his jacket and hands, he struggled to his knees just as he saw a police officer pull the rat-faced boy off Silas and toss him into the snow bank as if he were a rag doll. The boy that had been holding Merlin in a chokehold took off running, ignoring the shouts at his back.

“Hey kid,” someone snapped their fingers in front of his face. “Are you all right?” It was a second officer. The man had a scar on his lower lip and he gripped Merlin’s elbow to help him get to his feet. Merlin held on, struggling to stay upright.

“S-Silas,” he mumbled, turning to look to where his brother had been.

“He’s good. Silas is fine.”

Merlin nodded and shook his head, trying to clear it. He saw that the other officer was now putting Dudley and the rat-faced boy into the back of his car. The officer still holding Merlin saw where he was looking. “Officer Harrows is going to drop those boys off at their parents and explain what it means to be charged with assault.”

Merlin nodded and finally saw that Silas was sitting on the bench, holding an icepack over his eye. An ambulance was just behind him on the road, a stocky man with bright orange shoes was rushing toward Merlin with a wad of tissue and another ice pack in his hands. “Here,” and he put the tissue over Merlin’s nose to stem the flow.

“I think he’s got a concussion,” the officer told the EMT and he led Merlin over to sit next to Silas on the bench.

“How did you know to come?” Merlin mumbled, resting his head back on the bench.

The officer with the scar smiled. Merlin finally caught sight of a badge that said Officer Figg on it. “One of your neighbors called it in when she heard the yelling,” he explained. “We just happened to be a few blocks over.” Merlin nodded and Officer Figg turned to talk to the EMT.

“Merlin,” Silas mumbled. Merlin could see a purple bruise forming on his cheek, his eye starting to swell shut. “Are you okay?”

Merlin didn’t answer. He could taste blood running down the back of his throat and it made him nauseous. He dropped the tissue and spat a thick wad of coagulated blood onto the ground. He groaned and sat back up.

“Never been better.”

Silas nodded and then looked at his shoes, readjusting the ice pack on his face.  And then, so quietly that Merlin almost didn’t hear him, “Thanks for sticking up for me.”

Merlin chuckled and then winced when it made his side ache. “I’m not sure this qualifies,” he said.

“It does.” Silas bit his lip. “He doesn’t go to Stonewall Public, but sometimes I’ll run into him here at the playground or walking home from the bus stop.” He paused again and Merlin glanced blearily at him. “He’s a horrible boy,” Silas said savagely.

“You’re kidding?” Merlin said sarcastically. “I thought he was a real charmer.”

“And he always has those friends around him. They’re the ones that run you down and hold you while he—” he cut off abruptly.

Merlin felt his blood boil with rage again. “Well, with any luck he’ll think twice before he does it again.” Merlin swallowed, and his throat ached at the motion. “But if he does do it again, just warn him that next time I won’t hold back. I’ll kill him.”

Silas gave Merlin a soft smile. “No you won’t.”

Merlin frowned, not entirely sure he agreed. “Is he the reason why that boy Tommy wasn’t allowed to hang out with you anymore?” he asked. Slowly, Silas nodded.

“He jumped us when we went to the park and his mother freaked out about it. And then Dudley’s parents managed to convince her that it was all my fault.” His voice cracked and he fell silent.

“How are we doing, boys?” Officer Figg said as he came to a stop in front of them. The EMT knelt down in front of Merlin and shined a small flashlight on his eyes.  

“Yeah, I’d say you have a weak concussion. You’ll need to get it checked out,” he said and he brought Merlin’s hand away from his nose so that he could take a look at it. “And the bleeding’s stopped. Good.” He got to his feet and glanced toward the police officer. “Will you be taking them home, or should I just take them straight to the hospital?”

“Don’t need a hospital,” Merlin mumbled and Officer Figg chuckled.

“You do, actually. I think they need to realign your nose.” Merlin pouted as Silas giggled beside him. Another EMT, a stern looking woman emerged from the ambulance with a sour look on her face.

“We just got another call!” she barked. “Just down the road from here, a Mr. Haddock just—”

Horrible cold terror drenched Merlin and both he and Silas leapt to their feet at once.

“Popeye?!” screeched Silas in horror.

“Is he okay?” Merlin asked, ignoring the way the world spun horribly around him. The officer seemed to notice though, and grabbed his elbow again.

“Do you know him?” he asked as both EMT’s jumped into the ambulance and took off with their sirens blaring.

“He’s our guardian,” Merlin said glancing panic-stricken toward Silas. The poor boy looked like he was on the verge of hyperventilating.

Officer Figg nodded. “All right, let’s go. Which house is it?”

“Number nine,” Silas whispered as he ran toward the police car. Officer Figg nodded and helped steady Merlin as he walked toward the car as well, sliding into the back seat with Silas.

It was completely silent while they drove, and it was only a minute later that they were pulling up beside the house. The ambulance was already in the driveway, and the front door was thrown open. Silas burst out of the car first, with Merlin cautiously going after him.

“Popeye!” Silas yelled, rushing toward the door.

“Don’t block the doorway!” came a stern command from the woman EMT. She appeared in the doorway, leading a gurney with not Popeye on it, but Granny Audrey. She had a breathing apparatus over her face and Silas crumpled to the ground when he saw it. And if Officer Figg hadn’t taken his elbow again, Merlin was sure he would have done the same.

Popeye came outside after the gurney, his face wet with tears. He caught sight of Silas on the ground and wrapped his arms around him. “It’ll be all right,” Merlin heard him say and then he caught sight of Silas’ face. “What happened?” Popeye looked up at Merlin. “Both of you? Officer?”’

Officer Figg lead Merlin over to him and let go of his arm. Merlin slowly lowered himself to the cold ground and put his arm around Silas who had started crying. As the police officer explain what happened at the park, the EMT’s loaded Granny Audrey into the ambulance and whisked her away to the hospital. When the officer finished explaining, Popeye glanced down at Merlin and Silas.

“You should get his,” the officer said pointing to Merlin, “head checked out.”

“Yes, of course.” Popeye took a deep shuddering breath.

“Popeye,” Silas mumbled, his words thick with his sobs. “What happened to Granny Audrey?”

Officer Figg put his hand on Wentworth Haddock’s shoulder and walked back to his car. Popeye seemed to take some courage from that and bent down, his knees popping. “I’ll tell you in the car on the way to the hospital, all right?” he said softly. And he helped Merlin to his feet and lead the boys over to the old beat up pickup.

 

 

 

The hospital was dim and sparsely staffed, with the sound of late-night television drifting through the halls.

It didn’t take long before he found them sitting on a bench in the hallway and Snape could honestly say he’d never seen Merlin worse. Even that time in the infirmary, his eyes had sparkled despite the pain. But that sparkle had gone out. He had his arm around his foster brother; the poor boy snuggled right up against him in fretful sleep with his head on Merlin’s lap. Both were supporting bandages and large dark colored bruises.

Merlin didn’t look up until Snape was right in front of him, and something in Snape’s heart broke when he saw the miserable expression on the boy’s face. “Granny—she’s got cancer,” he whispered hoarsely. “We—we can’t stay with them anymore—” his voice cracked and a few tears slipped down his face.

Snape knelt down so that he was the same height. “I know,” he said. He’d received a letter from the ministry of magic not ten minutes prior explaining everything.

Officer Figg, or Adam Figg was Arabella’s son from her first marriage. And though, like his mother, he possessed no magical abilities of his own, he was aware of its existence. He was usually the first one they called when there was a muggle-wizard incident. Luckily, the ministry wasn’t going to press any charges for the use of magic against a muggle. Officer Figg had managed to convince them that it was done purely out of self-defense and that they wouldn’t even need any memory wipes. But, due to Audrey Haddock’s deteriorating condition, the muggle social services considered them unfit to continue housing the boys and would be coming to move them to a new home—or at least they would have been if Snape hadn’t intercepted the message.

“Dumbledore is looking for a wizarding foster as we speak,” Snape told him, putting his hand on Merlin’s shoulder. The boy nodded in reply and dropped his head, hiding his eyes with his hair. It was so painful to see Merlin like this. Every part of him wanted to wrap the boy in a hug and tell him that everything would be all right. “But for now,” Snape continued, “You’ll be staying with me.”

Merlin looked up at him, and he thought he saw the smallest glimmer of a smile return to his face. “Silas too?” he asked.

Snape ruffled his hair. “Silas too.” He then slipped his hand underneath the sleeping Silas and picked him up. The boy groaned but didn’t wake up, instead shifting to rest his head on Snape’s shoulder. “Let’s go,” he told Merlin and he led the way down the hallway.

It was strange how Merlin didn’t make the smallest protest when he summoned the Knight Bus. He’d hoped that the prospect of riding “that blasted contraption” would bring some of the fire back to the boy’s eyes, but it didn’t. They jerked and slid, jumping from one location to another but save for a few grimaces Merlin didn’t say anything. Instead he kept shooting worried glances toward his sleeping brother, a turmoil of emotions written in his face. Finally, the bus skidded to their stop and a voice spoke over the crackling intercom, “Spinners End.”

“I won’t get in trouble for using magic outside of school, will I?” Merlin finally asked as they started walking down the dark street.

Snape paused a moment. “Yes. You’re expelled.”

Merlin made a terrified squeaking noise and came to a complete stop. “What?” he choked out. “But he was attacking me! I—” he trailed off as Snape started laughing. “You lied, you prat!” Merlin huffed, taking off with a stomp in his step.

“Yes, I did.” There it was, some little semblance of the regular Merlin. “And as you have pointed out, you were defending yourself, so the Ministry will not press any charges.”

Merlin gave a small sigh of relief, but he still didn’t look back at Snape. When they got to the house, Snape thought that some cheering drafts might be in order for both of them, Silas especially. They were taking this hard, and as Christmas was in two days Snape wasn’t surprised.

“Merlin, over here,” he called when Merlin kept walking past his house. He unlocked the door with a silently cast spell and strode inside. He hadn’t been here for several months and the place reflected this fact. Stuffy, thick with the smell of dust, Snape almost wished he’d had time to clean the place up a bit. But, if Merlin was bothered by the accommodations, he didn’t say. He gave the entry hall one look over and shrugged. He followed Snape up the stairs to the guest bedroom. Snape handed Silas gently over to Merlin and took out his wand. A few spells later, two cots with sheets and blankets appeared.

“Do you need—” Snape started to say, but Merlin shook his head.

“Thank you, professor. We’re fine,” and Merlin slipped Silas into bed before kicking off his shoes and getting into his own. Snape stood there awkwardly for a moment, unable to think of anything to say. Good night? He didn’t know. Merlin had already pulled the blanket over his head, so in the end Snape just turned off the lights and left.

In the hallway he pinched the bridge of his nose, exhaustion washing over his mind and body. He could only imagine how those boys felt right now. Slammed with news like that not minutes after getting beaten up, and then dropped like hot stones for the next family to pick up. He knew how the system worked, the strain and stress it placed on the young minds of children. Acceptance and love traded for negligence and disregard in a heartbeat. And now they had to spend Christmas with him, a grumpy stern professor with little interest in holidays.

Snape headed back down stairs and cast a few cleaning spells, obliterating the centimeter of dust that hung on all his shelves. Before long, there was a knock at his door. Knowing that there was only one person that could be, Snape flicked his wand over his head to open the door and Dumbledore strode inside with two levitating trunks behind him.

“Evening, Severus,” he said coming to a pause in the entry hall. He directed the trunks to the ground. “Merlin’s and Silas’ belongings. I took the liberty of stopping by the Haddock’s on my way here.”

Snape glanced carelessly toward the trunks. “I’ll bring them up to the boys in the morning,” he said.

Dumbledore nodded. “Mind if I?” and he gestured toward Snape’s stove where a kettle covered in grime sat. At Snape’s nod, the headmaster walked toward it, pulling out his wand. The kettle sparkled good as new, and two mugs drifted from a cabinet to rest on the counter. “Would you care for a cup?”

Ten minutes later, the two men sat at the newly cleaned dinner table sipping tea. Snape was a little amused that the headmaster had thought to bring his own tea, as Snape was certain he didn’t have any in the house at the moment. Or if he did, it’d probably gone bad.

“Have you found a wizard foster for the boys, yet?” Snape asked.

“Not yet, I’m afraid. There are a few possibilities but none can take them until after the holidays,” he replied with a sigh.

“I suppose that means they’ll need to stay with me for the time being,” Snape said and he pinched the bridge of his nose again. This was just great.

“I’m surprised, Severus,” Dumbledore said and his eyes twinkled as he took another sip of tea. “I would have thought you’d protest to spending the holidays away from the castle.”

Snape set his mug down. “I hardly think that protesting will change the situation, do not however assume that I am pleased.” And he suspected that the boys that were sleeping in his guest bedroom felt the same way. “I would much rather keep an eye on Quirrell – the holidays are an ideal time to make a move.”

“On the contrary, Severus,” Dumbledore said with a small smile, “the holidays will be when I am least occupied with school affairs and can actively keep an eye on the stone myself.” He set his finished mug on the table. “I will watch Quirrell, so do enjoy your holiday.”

Snape gave him a stiff nod and Dumbledore got to his feet. “I’ll keep you informed,” he added and Snape felt himself relax slightly. He escorted the headmaster out the door and sat back down at the table, drinking the rest of his tea. 

 

 

Early morning sunlight drifted through the window, touching upon the two boys that were feinting sleep.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were being bullied?” Merlin asked, turning in his bed to look at Silas. When his foster brother didn’t answer, Merlin wondered if Silas still asleep but then the covers moved and Silas turned over to look at him.

“It wasn’t that I didn’t tell you,” Silas muttered. The swelling of his eye had worsened during the night, taking on a purple and red hue. It hurt Merlin just to look at it. “But,” and here Silas took a deep breath, “I didn’t tell anyone. It was my problem, and I wanted to try to deal with it on my own.”

 “Silas, he was three time your size and had friends.” Merlin shook his head and sat up, wincing slightly as his side protested against the movement. “It’s okay to ask for help,” and he moved over to sit on the side of Silas’ cot.

Silas sat up and gave a lopsided smirk. “I guess we both have the same problem.”

Merlin smiled in reply and nodded. “Yeah, I guess we do.” He paused, and his smile faltered. “So, why don’t we make each other a promise?”

Silas nodded and held out his pinky finger. “A pinky promise.” Merlin blinked for a moment before sticking out his own. Silas hooked it with his pinky.

“Promise that you’ll tell me the next time you’re having problems,” Merlin said.

“Okay,” Silas said and he smiled. “You promise to tell your friends the truth.” Merlin almost unhooked his pinky. Silas must have seen the flicker of panic in his eyes because he added, “You don’t have to tell them everything. I might save the news about the dragons for another day—but tell them about the troll.”

“Silas I—” Merlin started to say, but Silas put his other finger over Merlin’s lips.

“Just promise to be more honest with them, okay? Just like you want to help me, I want to help you but I—” Silas faltered, and for a moment Merlin thought he was going to start crying again. His eyes shone, but somehow he managed to hold the tears inside. “I can’t,” he finally said. “So let them help you instead.”  

Emotion rose in Merlin’s throat and he swallowed with difficulty. The very idea terrified him, the threat of them discovering who he really was worried him. But he knew he owed it to Silas to at least try, the kid was right after all. He wasn’t going to be able to do everything on his own. And how could he get upset when Silas wouldn’t ask for help when he did the exact same thing?

“Okay.” Merlin took a deep shuddering breath. “Okay.”

“Pinky Swear?”

Merlin chuckled and nodded, dropping his hand and wrapping Silas in a hug. “Pinky Swear,” he repeated.

“Ow—Merlin that—” Merlin quickly let go and Silas grimaced.

“Sorry! Are you okay?”

“Yeah, just sore. Does that professor have some magical healing potion, or something?” He asked touching his swollen eye and wincing. 

“I’m sure he does,” Merlin said and he ran a hand through his hair. “I don’t know if he’s awake yet though.”

The rapping of knuckles against wood startled both of them. Merlin jumped and Silas gave a small squeak. The door opened and Snape stepped inside, billowing black cloak and all. And if weren’t for the mildly surprised look on his face as though he hadn’t expect to find them awake, Merlin would have worried that he’d overheard their conversation.

“Good, you’re both awake,” he said and he pulled two bottles out of his robes. “Drink this,” and he handed them each one. Silas downed it at once and Merlin amused himself with watching before following suit. It felt warm and minty, a pleasant taste that he hadn’t expected.

“Did it heal?” Silas asked eagerly looking at Merlin.

“Does it feel healed?”

“Not really.”

And Merlin raised his eyebrow. “Well, you know the answer then,” he said. He didn’t feel healed either, but he did feel happier. Even though everything about their situation was miserable, he didn’t feel so weighed down by it.

“No,” Snape said and he rolled his eyes. “That’s this bottle here,” and he took another pair out of his robes.

Merlin stared at him, as he took the second vial. “You’re like a walking pharmacy, you know that?” he said.

“I prefer the term, Potions Master.”

Silas let out a snort of laughter, and then winced. He glanced at Merlin and drank the second vial, scrunching up his face as he did so. “Blarg, why does this one taste so awful?”

Merlin uncorked his and drank it too, grimacing at the bitter taste. “Toad bile never tastes good,” Snape answered with a nasty smirk and Merlin choked, coughing hard.

“What?” he croaked.

“Why—what’s toad bile?” Silas asked glancing toward Merlin, who had gone green.

“It’s—you really don’t want to know,” he said wiping his mouth and handing Snape the bottle back. From the wicked glint in the professor eyes though, he was ninety-percent sure that he was just teasing him. At least, he hoped he was.

Silas pouted, but quickly became distracted by his eye healing. He touched it and grinned, jumping to his feet. “Merlin!” he said. “It’s healing!”

“No,” Snape corrected. “The swelling is going down. Even wizards cannot make injuries disappear completely but it will heal much faster.”

Silas didn’t seem to mind though. His bruise had shrunken in size, and he could open his eye fully again. He glanced at Merlin and cocked his head to the side. “How come your face still looks the same?”

“Oh,” Merlin brought a hand to touch the bruise on his cheekbone. “I feel better,” he lied smoothly. “My injuries didn’t swell as much as yours, so it’s probably not as obvious.” But that wasn’t the truth at all. It was the dose size again, that lovely problem of having the magical strength of an adult while locked in a child’s body. Merlin suspected that Snape had given him a child’s dose, and he wasn’t about to ask for a stronger one.

Silas blinked, but nodded all the same. He stretched and smiled. “I’m starving,” he said looking up at Snape. “What’s for breakfast?”

Ten minutes later, they were seated around the table eating toast with jam. Merlin saw Snape’s lip twitch when Silas piled his high and dropped some sticky red jam on the table. He looked over at Merlin and grinned broadly, pieces of bread and strawberry stuck on his teeth.

“Now, there are a few house rules,” Snape said as they ate. Merlin suspected that he wanted to tell them while their mouths were full so that they couldn’t protest. “You are not allowed to go into my bedroom, or my basement lab. And there is no reason for you to accidentally wander into them because those doors are locked.” Snape pinched the bridge of his nose. “Otherwise, clean up after yourself and don’t break anything.”

“Can’t you just fix it with magic?” Silas asked him.

“Do you intend to break something?”

“Uh… no,” Silas murmured and he took another piece of bread.

“Then there shouldn’t be a problem.” He paused a moment, as though trying to think of something else to say. “Merlin, do not use magic.”

“And here I was wishing you’d forget that one,” Merlin quipped back.

“As you can see,” Snape continued as if he hadn’t heard him. “This house has been unoccupied for a while, and we don’t have very much food. Although a trip to the shop is in order, my cooking skills are limited and we will make due with takeout for—”

“I can cook,” Merlin interrupted. He wiped his mouth and pushed his empty plate back.

Snape turned to look at him. “I’d rather not get food poisoning this holiday,” he sneered at Merlin.

“No, Merlin’s a really good cook,” Silas added, a piece of bread falling out of his mouth and onto his plate as he spoke. Merlin grinned. He’d better be after preparing most of Arthur’s meals for him. And he’d always been the cook for every single one of their expeditions. He looked at Merlin. “I want a ham!”

“I really think—” Snape began to say but Merlin interrupted.

“We’re not eating Chinese takeout.”

“Fine then, why don’t you become charge of cooking all our meals?” Snape said sneering at him.

Merlin folded his arms. “Fine. I’ll make a list of things I need and you go to the shop while I deep-clean the kitchen.” Although the counters looked wiped down, the oven burners were black and he was sure the pots and pans were covered in grime.

Snape looked a little taken-aback. “You’re not allowed to use magic,” he repeated folding his arms. “Are you deaf, or do you think you’ll get away with it because it’s a chore?”

Merlin shrugged. “A little soap and water never killed anybody.” He got to his feet and grabbed a small notebook that was next to the old-style phone and began scribbling ingredients.

“Can I go with Professor Snape shopping?” Silas piped up, getting to his feet too.

“Uh—” Merlin glanced helplessly back at Snape. And the professor pinched the bridge of his nose.

“You may,” Snape said. Merlin watched him for a moment. He’d been almost nice this whole morning. Even his interruptions and Silas dribbling jam everywhere had been allowed. But for some reason, it bothered Merlin. He knew that it was only because he felt sorry for them but he really didn’t want the professor’s pity.

Well, on the bright side, it wouldn’t be long at all before the professor finally had enough.

Merlin finished the list and handed it to Snape. He glanced at the list, but didn’t comment on what was written there. He merely looked at Silas and nodded for the boy to follow him.

“Have fun,” Merlin offered with a wave.

“I will!”

The front door closed with a snap, and Merlin stood alone in the kitchen for a long moment before turning and smacking his hand together. Cleaning was something he was very good at.

 

 

Why did this boy volunteer to go with him?

Snape couldn’t understand why Silas had opted to go with him rather than stay with Merlin. After all, hadn’t the boys only been together for a day? He would have expected this child, as clingy as he was, to stick to Merlin like glue for the entire holiday, especially now that they’d been removed from the Haddock family.

“So you teach potions, right?” the boy asked. Snape glanced down at him, noting with relief that his eye did look much better. The colors were beginning to fade.

“Yes,” he replied shortly and he turned to look ahead.

“Is it fun?”

Snape’s lip curled. “When my instructions are actually followed, its tolerable.”

Silas frowned. “Shouldn’t you like what you teach?”

“You teach what you’re good at.”

Snape was a brilliant potions master, but that didn’t necessarily mean that he loved potions. No, what he loved was Defense Against the Dark Arts but as that particular position was cursed Dumbledore wouldn’t let him teach it. A pity really, Snape was curious to see what it would take to get him to leave the post because he wouldn’t resign voluntarily.

They reached the grocery market and Silas was still badgering Snape with random questions about the classes at Hogwarts. Snape’s short replies did little to deter him from asking more, and by the time Snape had paid for the food his head was aching. This was why he was so mean at school, so that children like Silas didn’t pester him with nonsensical questions!

“But Sir, if the—”

“Silas, why don’t we practice the art of silence? Are you familiar with that particular concept?” Snape interrupted, shooting the boy a glare.

Silas fell silent at once. He nodded mutely and walked with Snape down the road, holding the bag that contained the Christmas ham. Snape sighed with relief, grateful that he could finally think again. He probably needed to give Merlin another healing draft when he got home; from the look of it the child’s dose wasn’t enough. It was just like before – though he still wasn’t sure why that was. Why did Merlin need an adult’s dose? It wasn’t like his magic had reached that level already.

Or had it?

“How do you know if you’re a wizard?” Silas asked in a very small voice.

Snape blinked and looked over at him. The boy was chewing his lip. “Why do you ask?” Snape countered.

Silas gave a non-committal shrug. “Just wondering.” For a long moment that was all he said, and then he added in a rush, “I mean, there’s just been some funny stuff happening at school.”

Snape rolled his eyes. This was rather common in families were one child had magic and another didn’t. They always thought they’d done something just because they wanted to join their sibling at Hogwarts. “Unlikely,” he said.

Silas raised an eyebrow. “I mean really funny.”

“Why don’t you enlighten me?” Snape asked with a sneer. He could always tell when a kid was making a story up.

Silas folded his arms, and he cast a surly glance up at Snape. “I broke my teacher’s chair. He was putting me on the spot to answer a question and I got all flustered and his chair broke.”

Snape sighed and shook his head. “The weight of your teacher finally caused the chair to break,” he explained. “Lucky timing does not mean you have magical abilities.”

The boy didn’t seem convinced however, and he came to a stop, forcing Snape to stop as well. “A kid killed my plant in science class, but the next day it was the biggest one.”

Now that sounded a bit more like accidental magic.

“And then,” Silas went on and here his voice went quiet. “I woke up from a nightmare and my curtains had caught fire. Popeye said that the heater must have malfunctioned, but it wasn’t even next to the heater. And—”

“Thank you, Silas,” Snape interrupted, “I do believe I have been enlightened.” Silas nodded and fell silent, watching him as he processed this information. Well, there wasn’t a reason why Silas couldn’t be a member of the magical community. It was a little unlikely considering the circumstances, but stranger things had happened before. “What does Merlin think?” he finally asked in order to buy some time.

Silas shuffled his feet. “I—I haven’t told him about it, yet,” he mumbled.

“And why not?”

Silas hesitated. “Well, I wasn’t sure how,” and he bit his lip. “So, you think that maybe I—”

“It is a possibility,” Snape told him shortly, although honestly he wondered how else a curtain would catch fire like that. He didn’t want to be too hasty though. Hogwarts kept a record of students that were candidates for future enrollment and if Silas truly possessed magic, his name would appear on the list. It would be a simple matter to ask McGonagall if she could take a look. “How old are you, Silas?”

The boy blinked and his face went blank for a moment and dropped his head to stare at his shoes. “I think nine?” he said finally looking back up. He frowned and then lifted his leg to closer inspect his shoe, as though he saw something that shouldn’t be there.

“You don’t know?” Snape asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Years living on the street start to run together,” Silas retorted. He scrapped the sole of his shoe along the pavement and then re-inspected it. “I lost count a few times, but I’m almost positive I’m nine.”

Snape sighed. “And your last name is—”

“Meadowes.” Silas walked over to a broken water drain and tried scraping his shoe along the gap, a frown on his face.

“That’s right.” Again, the name felt familiar –like he’d read it in an obituary report. Snape turned and started walking down the street again, not bothering to look if Silas was following him. “If you do have magic, Hogwarts will have you on a list of prospective students.”

He glanced beside him expecting to see the boy, and realized the boy wasn’t following. He stopped and looked behind him, seeing that Silas was still next to the drain. Silas gave a miserable sigh and pointed toward the drain. “I lost my shoe.”

Snape blinked. “You lost your shoe,” Snape repeated slowly, coming back to stand next to him. He was struggling to maintain his balance so that his sock didn’t touch the ground. “Down the drain?” Snape continued wondering how on earth this boy had managed that.

“I stepped on a piece of gum in the grocery store and I was trying to get it off,” Silas mumbled. Snape managed to suppress a groan and, after a quick glance around, pulled out his wand. As he retrieved the shoe with a simple spell, Silas asked again, “So you think there’s a chance that I’m magical?”

Snape cleaned the shoe and handed it back to Silas. “A possibility. I will check the list, but don’t get your hopes up.”

Too late judging from the sparkle in Silas’ eyes.

 

 

Merlin wasn’t sure what he expected when he woke up Christmas morning. After all, he couldn’t ever remember really celebrating the holiday back in Camelot. It just hadn’t been a part of the culture, as his mother had been a pagan and his father had been a servant of the Old Religion, which was merely a subsection of paganism.

So why would he ever celebrate a Christian holiday?

But in this time period, it had taken on a different meaning. It had become a weird hybrid of pagan and Christian ideals, and then twisted into something that wasn’t really recognizable by either party. The Santa Claus character was such an entity that sprung to mind.

After a simple dinner, drinking some more potions that Snape gave both him and Silas – and which seemed to work better for Merlin too – they had gotten ready for bed. And, before Merlin even knew it he was waking up on Christmas morning. Silas, who had been acting strangely cheerful ever since his shopping trip with Snape, was already up and sitting on Merlin’s bed holding a box wrapped in silver wrapping.

“What’s that?” Merlin asked blearily, still half-asleep.

“It’s your present. From me.” Silas held it out eagerly toward him. “And I’m going to watch you unwrap it.”

Merlin chuckled and slid into a sitting position, wiping his eyes as he did so. “Goddess, what time is it?”

Silas’ smile faltered slightly. “It’s better that you don’t know.”

Merlin groaned but he was more amused than annoyed. He yawned and took the present from Silas and started ripping the paper off it. Silas had put three different layers of wrapping over it, and by the time Merlin got to last layer he was laughing.

“It’s more fun if you have to work for it,” Silas explained with a broad grin.

“I see,” he replied. And finally, amid the heaps of silver paper was a book. “A collection of Arthurian Tales comprised by Geoffrey of Monmouth?” he read from the title cover. “Wait, is this—”

“Yup!” Silas nodded. “I found it in a used book-shop months ago. It has some of the more original legends, although most people think that this Geoffrey guy made them up. Anyway, I thought you might like it.” Silas bit his lip. “Do you?”

“Of course!” Merlin hugged him. He felt so strange, holding a book in which a version of himself resided within. He was beyond curious to know how accurate or inaccurate it was – he’d seen some hilarious film adaptions already. He grinned broadly and Silas beamed back, looking relieved.

Glancing to the ground, Merlin saw that they each had a small pile of presents around their beds. Recognizing one of them as his own gift to Silas – and wondering how the hell it got there – he reached down and grabbed it, handing it to his brother. “This one is for you, from me.” He awkwardly rubbed the back of his neck as Silas opened it. “Although, I don’t think it’s as good as the gift you got me.”

It was a box of assorted wizard candies that Merlin had bought from the trolley on the train. “These are Chocolate Frogs,” he explained taking one package out. “They have famous wizard cards in them if you want to collect them, I gave you all my cards just case you do,” he shrugged. “And these are Pumpkin Pasties, Ice Mice, and Bertie Bots Every Flavor Beans, and Licorice Wands. Oh, and this box has a stasis charm on it so food that’s inside it will never go bad.”

Silas was thrilled and immediately ripped the wrapper off a Chocolate Frog, which then jumped onto his chest. “Whoa!” he yelled and then he giggled. “You didn’t say they move!”

They spent the next half hour unwrapping their presents. Merlin received a set of crystal vials from Snape, his own copy of Hogwarts A History with several chocolate frogs from Hermione, and a prank-kit from Zonko’s courtesy of the Weasley twins. Draco sent him a box with very expensive looking green and gold dress robes, with a note saying, I know for a fact you have nothing to wear to my father’s party. It starts at 7p.m. sharp and it’s polite to bring a gift. I’ve also enclosed a gift for Silas. Happy Christmas.

“Silas, I have another present for you,” Merlin said as he read the note. Silas, who was inspecting a wizard chess set from Snape and a VHS of Fox and the Hound from Hermione, looked up. Merlin handed him the small package that had been hidden inside his box. “It’s from my friend, Draco.”

It was a midnight blue wizard’s hat. Silas rammed it on his head at once. “How do I look?” he asked. It was a little big, and Merlin couldn’t see his eyes at all.

“You’ll grow into it.”

Merlin and Silas turned around to see Snape standing casually in the doorway. From the look it, he had been amusing himself by watching them unwrap their presents for a while. Silas held up the wizard chess set and beamed at him. “Thanks for the present, Snape sir!”

Snape nodded in reply. Merlin looked up at him and smiled, wondering whether or not the man had gotten his present. He wasn’t going to bring it up though. Snape didn’t seem the type who talked what he got for Christmas. “Breakfast is ready,” Snape said. “Come eat and then you can go back to entertaining yourselves.”

Merlin raised an eyebrow. “Is it toast and jam?”

But it wasn’t. A frying pan filled with scrabbled eggs, along with some kippers and three tall glasses of orange juice had been laid on the table. “Is it safe to eat?” Merlin asked as poked the scrabbled eggs.

Snape’ slip curled. “Of course not, I poisoned it so that I might enjoy a peaceful Christmas Day.”

Silas, who was already on his second mouthful, choked and clamped his hands around his neck. Merlin smacked him hard on the back and Silas coughed, and then swallowed with difficulty.

What?” he croaked, looking panicked toward Snape.

“Oh, not your portion,” Snape said, and Merlin saw the smirk unfurling. “Just Merlin’s.”

For a moment, Silas stared at him and then he relaxed. “You’re just joking. He’s joking.” He looked Merlin. “He’s joking, right?”

Merlin raised an eyebrow and pointedly took a bite of his eggs. “Oh yes, tastes like poison,” he said sarcastically and Silas giggled.

Snape cleaned the dishes with a few waves of his wand. Merlin got to his feet and stretched, popped his fingers. “All right,” he said and he walked over to the fridge.

“We just ate,” Silas protested when he saw Merlin taking out the ham.

“It’s going to cook for a while,” Merlin explained. He put the ham on the counter and then started taking out carrots and potatoes. He dug around in the drawers and finally pulled out a small knife and an oven pan.

“I want to help!” Silas said at once and he got to his feet.

Snape didn’t offer to help, but he didn’t leave the kitchen either. He sat at the table, drinking a cup of tea and reading a book, casting glances toward them every now and then as though worried that the pair of them might blow up his kitchen.

Merlin let Silas help him out for a short while, but eventually he took over and Silas sat on one of the counters, kicking his feet and watching. Silas glanced at Snape and then at the living and dinning room walls. “Snape!” he suddenly shouted and the professor gave a little jolt, turning to look at him with a raised eyebrow. Silas beamed. “Let’s put up some decorations while Merlin works.”

“I—what?”

“Come on, I need your wand.” And Silas jumped down from the cabinet and dragged Snape by his sleeve to the living room, rambling about putting Christmas lights along the bookshelves and streamers on the lights. Merlin peaked toward them and clamped his hand over his mouth to stop himself from laughing at the expression on Snape’s face as Silas told him what to conjure.

“I something amusing, Evans?” Snape spat toward him and Merlin quickly shook his head. “Then I suggest you return to your cooking and try not to cause a catastrophe.”

Merlin smirked. “Of course, what do you take me for?”

 Merlin finished preparing everything and put the ham in the oven, wishing he’d had this wonderful contraption back when he was making meals for Arthur. Cooking things over a fire had always taken so much longer, mostly because he first needed to build and maintain said fire. He could hear Snape trying to explain to Silas that he couldn’t conjure fake snow to fall from the ceiling from the living room as he tossed the salad, and wondered if this what Christmas was like in the Snape household. They didn’t have any Santa’s around the room or even a Nativity Scene. Instead they had each other, and Merlin liked the comfort that it brought.

 “Okay,” he called, putting the salad in the fridge. “The ham’s going to cook for a while,” he continued and he walked into the living room. “Looks nice,” he remarked. They had lines of lights around the room now, and Silas looked up from adjusting what looked like fake icicles on the fireplace.

“Yeah?” he said and he glanced toward Snape. “See? It’s good.”

The professor pinched the bridge of his nose. “Do take this opportunity to go outside and enjoy the freshly fallen snow. I will finish this,” and he gestured to the decorations.

Silas raised an eyebrow, “You will?”

Snape shot him a glare, “Or I can banish all these things and you will enjoy Christmas Day without so much as a snowflake.”

Merlin took Silas’ hand and muttered in his ear, “I think he’s thirty seconds away from giving detention,” and steered him out the door. “Great idea sir,” Merlin said behind him as Silas shot him a panicked expression. “We’ll just go outside then—now,” and he lead the way out the door.

“Is he mad at me?” Silas asked in an undertone as they walked along the street.

Merlin shrugged. “He’s probably just cranky he has to babysit us,” he said and he kicked some of the fresh snow. But Snape had been actually nice to them, which was a little weird in itself. “I mean, he probably wanted to spend Christmas alone.”

“That’s sad.” Silas glanced back to the house. “And that house is really gloomy.”

“I think he would’ve stayed at Hogwarts, actually.” Keeping an eye on Quirrell. Merlin felt a flicker of panic at the thought, but knew that at least Dumbledore would be there to stop him if something happened.

“Oh.” Silas fiddled with the zipper of his coat for a moment. “So, what would you think if I could go to Hogwarts too?”

“You?” Merlin repeated glancing at him. “That’d be awesome,” he said smiling and putting his arm on Silas’ shoulder. “But,” and here his smile faltered, “you need to have magic in order to go, you know that right?” He would love it if Silas could come with him. He knew that Silas would have fun, but at the same time he was worried. He didn’t want him anywhere near Quirrell or Tom, and unfortunately they were at Hogwarts. He didn’t want to think about what might happen if Silas got hurt.

“I know,” Silas said quickly. “Just saying, if.”

“Well, it make it easier for you to meet Kor, that’s for sure.”

Silas smiled in reply, nodding. They walked once around the block, stopping to make snow angels on an untouched patch of snow near the pavement. Merlin was all for wandering around and looking for a park, but the snow had already soaked their clothes and Silas had started shivering. They came back, tip-toed past Snape in the living room, and went upstairs to change and try out Silas’ chess set while they waited for the meat to finish cooking.

Merlin had never really liked chess, but wizard chess was amazing. They both weren’t very good and it resulted in Merlin and Silas chasing each other’s king around the board with little luck until the timer for the ham went off. They came back downstairs to see Snape turn the beeping off and take a peak at the meat.

“Well, it doesn’t look like a catastrophe, I’ll give you that,” Snape said finally, but Merlin knew he was at least a little impressed.

And they sat down to Christmas Dinner.

 

 

Draco straightened his robes.

A deep almost poisonous looking green, they had been embroidered with silver thread and real rare beetle shells that shifted color from silken blue, to violet. To be honest, he thought that it was a bit ostentatious but these were the robes his mother had selected for him and it’d be daft to argue with her.

Draco wasn’t sure what he thought of this holiday. On the one hand he loved being back home, getting to sleep in his own bed and surrounded by the familiarity of childhood. But on the other, he felt like his relationship with his parents had changed, especially with his father. He didn’t admire him anymore. It was difficult to find something to talk about with his father that didn’t have anything to do with blood supremacy and upholding the Malfoy name. And, he certainly didn’t like how his father degraded Merlin and seemed convinced that he would embarrass their family at the party.

If only they knew what that boy was capable of.

Behind him, there was a popping sound and he turned to see Dobby the House Elf. He had large flapping ears, enormous tennis-ball green eyes, and wore a filthy ripped pillowcase that had stains of snot and grime along the collar. Draco wrinkled his nose, the stench of the unwashed cloth sending his stomach into knots.

“Your mother is on her way, young master,” Dobby squeaked, giving a low bow.

Draco gave him a stiff nod and the elf vanished at once, no doubt to return to the lower kitchens. He’d assigned the elf to always warn him whenever his parents were on their way to his room. He didn’t like being surprised, simple as that. He turned back to the mirror, grateful that the stench had left. Why didn’t Dobby wash that pillowcase once in a while? Honestly. Draco stared at his immaculate robes, at the expensive stitching and felt a twinge of embarrassment.

He wore this, and that elf wore a pillowcase.

Draco quickly shook himself. No, he’d never pitied that creature. What was he thinking? Dobby was their servant and nothing else mattered. But at the back of his mind he wondered what Merlin would think of this arrangement and a sick feeling seized his heart. Somehow, without even asking, he knew that Merlin wouldn’t approve. And, for the first time in his life, he understood why.

There came a soft knock on his door. “Come in,” Draco called without turning to look.

His mother entered and he heard a soft sigh as she caught sight of him. “Oh, that fits you wonderfully,” she said walking over to him. “How does it feel, Draco?” she asked and she tugged on one of his sleeves. “If it’s a bit short, I can still have it tailored before tonight.”

“It’s fine,” Draco replied and he turned to look at her. She already had her makeup done and was wearing a shimmering silver dress. She put her hand on his cheek and gave him a small smile. She dropped her hand and glanced at her own reflection in the mirror.

“Has your friend confirmed he’s coming?” she continued and Draco didn’t need to ask about which friend she was referring to.

“He has,” Draco drawled, hoping this conversation wasn’t going where he thought it was. “He’ll be arriving with Professor Snape.”

Merlin had briefly explained his circumstances in a letter, as well as thanking him for the robes. Living with Snape, Draco didn’t envy him. He could only imagine how dreary their Christmas had been.

“Ah, yes,” his mother said with a nod. She hesitated a moment and then added, “You’ve become close with that boy, haven’t you?”

“I suppose,” and he shrugged. How could he tell her that Merlin was the first true friend he’d ever had? He wasn’t even sure his parents understood what true friendship was.

“Then I will look forward to meeting him again,” she said. She put her hand on Draco’s shoulder and walked away but at the door she paused and glanced back, “But perhaps it might be better if you kept him away from our important guests.”

She left, and Draco glared after her. That was it. That was all she had wanted to stay, and everything else had just been the set up. He clenched his fist and shook his head.

“Merlin,” he ground out to his mirror. “Don’t do anything stupid.”

 

 

“Merlin!”

“I’m coming!” Merlin shouted back, giving his reflection a one last critical look over. His face had finally cleared of bruises, even though it still felt tender to the touch. But he felt so strange wearing such expensive clothes. And he knew from one look that it was expensive, he’d been a servant after all and he knew what made something fit for a king or fit for a servant and this was certainly not servant material. But if he stood here any longer staring at himself Snape was sure to have an aneurysm.

“At last,” Snape barked when Merlin came careening down the stairs. “Did the mirror finally grow tired of catering to your vanity?”

“Not at all,” Merlin replied with a sly smile. “It enjoyed every minute of it.”

Snape looked about ready to hurl him across the room. Yes, the Snape that Merlin remembered had finally returned, although the professor still strained himself to be at least somewhat nice to Silas. “Move along,” the professor snapped. “We need to drop Silas off on our way.”

“Why?” Silas asked, peaking his head out of the living room, where he’d been playing with his chess set. “Can’t I just stay here?”

“Not alone,” Snape grounded out. He waved his wand and the front door threw open with a mighty bang. “Now unless you wish to be late Merlin, I suggest you get outside and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to drag your brother with you.”

Resisting the urge to reply, Merlin ushered Silas outside with him and Snape shut the door with a click behind him. “Are we taking the Knight Bus?” Merlin asked him warily.

“Not enough time,” Snape said. “We will be apparating.”

“But Silas—” Merlin protested at once.

“He will survive,” Snape grumbled, but he looked a little uncomfortable. Silas, who didn’t have the slightest idea what apparition was, looked from Snape to Merlin with increasing panic. Snape put his hand on Merlin’s and Silas’ shoulder. “Brace yourself,” he told Silas and Merlin felt the tug as the magic rose around them. The next minute they were twisted and warped, and reappeared in what looked like a muggle neighborhood.

Silas stumbled and Merlin caught him, noting his ashen face. “We’re not—doing—that again,” he panted, and he leaned over as though preparing to throw up. Merlin patted his back and glared up at Snape.

“Where are we?”

“You’ll see in a moment.” Snape glanced toward Silas and pulled a vial from his pocket. “It’ll quell the nausea,” he explained and the kid quickly drank it. Merlin saw some of the color return to his face and Silas straightened up, though he was still breathing rather heavily.

“You okay?” Merlin asked.

“I’ll live,” Silas retorted. “How come you’re fine?”

Merlin blinked. “It—it wasn’t my first time.” He didn’t miss the glance that Snape shot him, but hoped that the professor wouldn’t say anything. To be honest, he had never felt sick after apparating. He suspected that it was because of the raw magic that it involved, and how he interacted with it – but it was just a theory.

“Oh,” Silas nodded. He glanced up toward Snape. “How far away is this place?”

“Just around the corner,” the professor replied and he led the way. Someone had put lights around the trees that lined the road, giving the neighborhood a winter wonderland look. Snape glanced back at them periodically as they walked, and finally came to a stop in front of a modest two-story townhouse. He rang the doorbell as Merlin and Silas came to stand beside him.

“I’ll get it, Dad,” a girl called from inside. Merlin blinked and glanced up at Snape.

“Wait is that—” he started to say but the door flew open and answered his question.

Hermione Granger stood before them, wearing a hand-woven red sweater with what looked like snowballs over it, her bushy brown hair pulled back in a ponytail. Her expression went blank when she saw them and as she caught sight of Merlin and her cheeks flushed with color.

“Merlin what are you— you look—” she spluttered and Merlin felt himself go red too, though he wasn’t sure why.

“Um its—”

“Ah, Mr. Granger,” Snape said effectively ending the conversation. A man who could only be Hermione’s dad had appeared behind her. He was rather tall, with a thin face and brown hair. “I’m professor Snape.”

“Yes! Please do come in,” Mr. Granger said and he pulled Hermione back slightly.

“Afraid I’m just here to drop off Silas, we’re in a bit of a rush.”

“Silas?” Hermione repeated. She glanced toward the boy in question and broke into a wide grin. “So you’re Silas?” she asked and she shrugged off her father’s hand and took a step toward him. “It’s great to finally meet you,” she said and she glanced toward Merlin.

“You too!” Silas replied. “You’re Hermione, right? Merlin’s told me all about you.”

“Has he?”

Merlin coughed. “Yeah, I mean I told him about you and Draco.”

“Right,” she said but her eyes seemed unnaturally bright.

“We’ll be watching Silas for a few hours,” Mr. Granger explained and he looked up at Snape. “You sure you wouldn’t like to come in?”

“Thank you, but we really must be going,” Snape countered with a polite nod. “Behave,” he said to Silas, though the boy was still staring at Hermione.

“Where are you going?” she asked quickly as Snape turned to walk back down the steps.

“Draco’s party,” Merlin answered. As soon as he said it he felt awkward. It would have been nice if she could come with them but from the look of understanding on her face, she knew exactly why she couldn’t. 

“Have fun,” she said and she waved. “Tell Draco hello, for me.”

Merlin nodded, a little taken aback. “I will,” he said. “Sorry to trouble you like this.”

“Not at all! I’m sure Silas and I will have fun.”

“Merlin!” Snape called, already getting ready to round the corner and Merlin scratched the back of his head.

“Gotta go, see you!”

Hermione nodded and he turned to leave. “Oh! And thanks for the Christmas present!” she shouted after him. Merlin grinned and waved, before jogging to catch up with Snape at the spot where they’d appeared.

“What did you get her?” Snape asked when Merlin reached him.

“Oh, a book bag with a feather-light charm on it,” he said with a shrug. “She has a habit of carrying a lot of heavy books with her so I thought—yeah,” Merlin shook his head. “How did you know—”

“You are friends?” Snape supplied and he put his hand on Merlin’s shoulder. “I’m afraid it was blatantly obvious. And since Silas clearly wouldn’t have been welcome to come with us, I thought this was the best place for him.”

Merlin nodded in agreement and the next minute they were apparating once again. They reappeared in front of an enormous manor, with several other people appearing beside them. Merlin followed Snape up the steps and into the beautifully decorated entrance hall. Floating golden orbs illuminated ribbons and tinsel wrapped around bannisters, with an enormous Christmas tree in the center of the hall.

Next to the door stood the Malfoy family. Lucius was shaking someone’s hand, while his wife welcomed them inside. Draco stood beside his mother, though to be honest Merlin thought he looked a bit bored with all the festivities.

“Now,” Snape said turning to Merlin and speaking in an undertone. “I will not be able to watch your every move.”

“So don’t make a scene blah blah—” Merlin finished with a sigh. “Draco has already given me the same speech.”

Snape appraised him for a moment before nodding. “Then I should hope you remember it. Do you have your gift?”

Merlin nodded and withdrew a small package from his inside pocket. “You mean the gift you gave me to give to them?” he said with a smirk.

“I would keep that information to yourself.”

“Ah, Severus!” Lucius Malfoy had caught sight of them and Snape turned and walked toward him with a polite smile. Merlin followed a few steps behind, fine with being ignored for the time being.

“So glad you could make it,” Lucius continued in a silky polite voice that left Merlin confused about whether or not he actually meant his words. “And this must be—” his grey eyes fell on Merlin.

“You remember Mr. Evans,” Snape introduced.

Merlin almost wished that he hadn’t reminded Lucius of their first encounter. Hoping to somehow remedy the poor impression he’d left on them last time, he inclined his head. “Do pardon my previous behavior,” he said and he withdrew the gift from his pocket and held it toward Narcissa. “Perhaps it is not too late to make amends?”

Draco was staring at him. His mother looked a little startled as well and she cast her son a quick glance before accepting the gift. “Why Draco, I don’t think you gave your friend’s manners due credit,” she said.

“Only so that you might be mildly impressed,” Merlin answered also shooting Draco a glance.

“Indeed?” Lucius said. “Draco, why don’t you give your friend a tour of the manor? I’m sure he’s not used to such extravagance.”

“Nor to such exquisite taste,” Merlin said, which was clearly not the reaction Lucius had been expecting. “Oh, and it seems I am holding up the line. You clearly have more important guests to meet,” Merlin continued, a smirk tugging on the edge of his mouth. In truth, startling them was almost more entertaining than speaking his mind. Merlin turned to Snape, nodded and started walking away before pausing and glancing back.

Lucius looked as though he didn’t understand what had just happened. “Why don’t we begin that tour, Draco?” Merlin called and Draco gave a little start before nodding and quickly following him into the next room where a table with Hors d'oeuvre lined the back and all the guests intermingled.

“How did—what was that?” Draco asked once they were out of earshot.

“You asked me to be polite,” Merlin said shrugging.

“That wasn’t being polite. I don’t even know what that was,” he said starting to laugh. “The look on my father’s face—” he shook his head chuckling.

“He seemed rather disappointed he didn’t have a reason to throw me out,” Merlin said grinning too.

  “I’m sure he was.” Draco smiled. “Where did you learn to do that?”

King Arthur’s Court. “Here and there,” Merlin said and he glanced around the room. “Do you actually know all these people?”

“Not personally, although Pansy and Blaise have already arrived. We have a second parlor for the students,” he sighed and rolled his eyes.

“Ah, in case the children cause a scene?” Merlin supplied.

“My parents are all about appearances. I’m sure they’d rather that no children were allowed but as I’m here,” he sighed again. “Come on.”

But as they were walking across the room toward another hallway, a man clipped Merlin on the elbow and he stumbled. “So sorry my dear boy!” and Merlin came face to face with a man in lime-green bowler hat.

“Not at all,” Merlin quickly said. “It was probably my fault.”

Draco made a choking noise.

“And Draco, good to see you again,” the man continued with a jolly smile. “The parents finally let you go?”

“Uh, Merlin this is—”

“Merlin! Is that your name? Splendid name. I can introduce myself Draco, thank you. I’m Cornelius Fudge, Minister of Magic.”

Now Merlin completely understood the reason for Draco’s ashen face. “O-oh,” he said as the Minister of Magic shook his hand. He swallowed and tried to regain his calm. “Very nice to make your acquaintance.”

“Pish posh, children should talk like that.” He took another drink from his glass. “Enjoying your first year at Hogwarts, I trust?”

“Yes,” Draco said hurriedly. “It’s fantastic.”

“Good to hear! Good to hear.” Another man came behind him and tapped Cornelius Fudge on the shoulder, whispering something in his ear. “Oh really? I must meet him,” the minister said with a flourish. “Well, I must be going, very nice chat,” and the Minister of Magic wandered off.

Merlin and Draco stood there frozen for a long moment. “I won’t mention this if you don’t,” Merlin said without even looking at his friend.

“Absolutely not.”

Luckily, they didn’t run into anyone else on their way to the youth parlor. A pool table had been set up in the middle of the room and Pansy was watching as Blaise played with Terrence and two other boys from the Slytherin Quidditch team. Though both he and Draco were invited to join them, it was really much more entertaining to watch. Pansy cozied up to Draco at once, trying to get him to talk about what events were in store later in the night.

After over an hour of lounging around, Merlin got to his feet and stretched. He honestly thought it’d be more fun watching the adults play politics than watching Blaise challenge Terrence for the fifth time. Draco came to stand beside him, looking tired.

“Finally shake off Pansy?” Merlin asked with a sneer.

“She went to use the bathroom.” He shook his head. “I don’t even remember what she was talking about.”

Merlin laughed. “Prepare yourself for when she comes back. Oh, by the way, Hermione says hello.”

Draco looked surprised. “Did you see her today?”

Merlin nodded. “We dropped Silas off at her place before coming here. Snape didn’t want to leave him alone at home.”

“Ah.” Draco paused a moment. “Did she give you a Christmas present?”

Merlin nodded. “Yeah, a book.” He surveyed Draco for a moment. “Wait, did she give you one too?”

Draco raised an eyebrow. “Is there any reason she shouldn’t have?”

“Well no,” Merlin said but he was surprised. Yes they were talking, but he didn’t think that they were friends. It was like the train ride from school, they had actually gotten along and called each other by their first names. When had they started getting along like that? “What did she give you?”

“Balto.”

Merlin stared. “She gave you a muggle movie?”

“Yeah, I was kind of like – how the hell am I supposed to watch this?”

Merlin shrugged, but his head was spinning. “When did you guys become friends?” he asked in as casual manner as possible.

“We aren’t,” Draco snapped back. “We’ve just reached an understanding.”

“I think that’s called friendship.”

“Please don’t say that out loud,” Draco groaned. “If my father overhears he’ll probably transfer me to Durmstrang.” He shook his head, and though Merlin waited he didn’t elaborate any further.

“Is this understanding a secret or something?” he prodded, unable to quell his curiosity.

“Well you would know all about that, wouldn’t you?” Draco’s eyes widened as he realized what he’d just said. “Wait, I didn’t mean—” he began quickly but Merlin spoke over him.

“No, you did,” he said softly.

Draco grimaced and then grabbed his sleeve and pulled him to the far corner of the room. “It’s just—” and he glanced around to make sure that none of the others were listening in. “I wish you’d let us help you. Hermione and I can keep your secrets, you know.”

Just like you want to help me, I want to help you but I can’t. So let them help you instead.

He’d made a pinky promise to Silas, hadn’t he? A promise to be more honest with his friends and to let them help him. His gut reaction was to play it off, “Help me with what?” and pretend there was nothing more important going on. But they both knew that was a lie. Draco knew Merlin was lying to him, and he was his friend anyway.

Didn’t that count for something?

“Do you have somewhere private we can talk?” Merlin finally asked. “There’s something I have to tell you.”

Chapter Text

“There’s something I got to tell you.”

Perhaps Merlin had jumped the gun in telling Draco that night, in the dimly lit hallway outside of the festive celebration and sophisticated yet veiled dialogue. As soon as the truth had tumbled from his lips, regret made it’s way into his heart and he dashed away before the young Malfoy could supply any word in reply. Was he scared of seeing the fear in Draco’s eyes? Was that why he had jumped at the chance to return home when Snape had spotted him making his way nervously through the crowd? Merlin didn’t want to articulate it into words – he couldn’t.

I killed the troll on Halloween.” Merlin cringed at the memory, at his rushed explanation of how he’d heard something strange on the second floor and had gone to investigate, ending in the death of the magical creature. Draco hadn’t interrupted him, the only indication of his surprise the slight widening of his eyes. And Merlin had left him to ponder on his words in the hope that nothing would come of it.

He stood on platform nine-and-three-quarters, running over the conversation in his mind. He would see Draco today and their conversation would arise to be repeated to Hermione, and he would be unable to run away from the fear on her face and the disgruntled one on Draco’s. Wafts of steam ruffled Merlin’s hair, the vibrant red Hogwarts Express beckoning him forward. But at the moment there was something even more important than returning to Hogwarts, than preparing himself for the long and difficult conversation that waited for him, and that was watching as Silas took all the wonder of a purely magical location for the first time.

“How does this all fit inside one barrier,” Silas breathed, glancing back toward the wall they had stepped through.

Magic.” Merlin smiled and put his arm around Silas’ shoulder. He glanced up at Professor Snape and nodded his thanks. Snape had been against letting Silas come with them, and Merlin was grateful he’d changed his mind. The sheer look of amazement on his foster brother’s face was worth it.

“Unless you wish to miss the train, I suggest you board,” Snape said as he glanced up at the enormous clock on the wall. Merlin glanced at it too; he had less than ten minutes to jump on board and find a compartment.

“Okay—okay,” he turned Silas to look at him. “Promise you’ll write to me everyday, all right?”

Silas nodded eagerly. “I promise. I’ll make sure to tell you all about our new fosters.”

Merlin glanced back at Snape again. The professor had finally told them earlier that morning that he’d found someone to take the pair of them in. He would be dropping Silas off before traveling back to Hogwarts and Merlin couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed. He would have liked to meet the people that were taking them in. Snape hadn’t even given a name, only a muttered, “They’re wizards,” before adding that unless they got a move on, Merlin would miss the train back to school.

Snape must have caught Merlin’s apprehensive look because he sighed and said, “Silas will be perfectly safe. He’s going to stay with Florean Fortescue.”

“Florean?” Merlin repeated, wondering why that name sounded familiar. Snape raised an eyebrow.

“You met him in Diagon Alley, after we were separated? This ringing any bells for you, Evans?”

“Oh!” Merlin brightened up at once. “The ice cream man!”

“You know him?” Silas asked, glancing from Snape to Merlin with increasing interest.

 “Yeah,” Merlin replied and he smiled. “He’ll take care of you.” A whistle echoed through the platform, reminding everyone that they needed to board. Merlin saw Silas’ smile falter, saw his eyes flicker to the clock and his lip begin to tremble. Merlin wrapped him in a bone-crushing hug; a tsunami of worries threatening to wash over him. “I’ll see you soon,” he whispered and his brother nodded, his small hands gripping Merlin tightly. As he let go, Merlin noticed how Silas tried to discreetly wipe his eyes on Merlin’s shoulder, and his eyelashes shimmered with water when he stepped back. Silas took a deep shaking breath.

“See you soon,” he repeated.

Merlin nodded, his hand gripping the strap of his bag a little tighter. He glanced toward Snape and nodded, knowing that he would see the professor again very soon. He heard another whistle blow and he ran for the train, leaping through one of the entry doors just as the shudder of movement coursed through the floorboards. Merlin turned around. Silas furiously fought back tears and Snape stood awkwardly beside him, as though unsure of what he should do. Merlin smiled and waved, but then the train turned and the platform vanished from sight.

Silas will be fine, Merlin told himself. Florean had seemed like a decent enough fellow. He sighed and headed deeper in the train, trying to ignore the tugging on his heart. Well, if Silas really were able to join him at Hogwarts at least they wouldn’t have anymore of these awful goodbyes. Merlin shook his head, walking past compartments.

“Merlin?”

He turned around to see Draco poking his head out of a compartment. The memory of their conversation made Merlin uneasy, in spite of the fact that Draco appeared relaxed and even happy. He wore a gentler expression than Merlin was used to, as though Merlin finally being honest with him had alleviated an enormous amount of stress.

“Come on, Hermione and I saved you a seat.”

Merlin hesitated, knowing exactly what was coming. He nodded and entered; casting nervous looks between the pair of them. “Have you told her?” he muttered as Draco shut the door behind them.

“I thought you should do it.”

“Told me what?” Hermione asked, looking up at them. Merlin grimaced and it was only when Draco nodded that he began.

“I killed that troll on Halloween,” he said avoiding eye contact. “I heard something and got curious, and I ran into it on the second floor.” He chanced a look toward Hermione, expecting to see shock but she nodded encouragingly, a small smile on her face. “So—so I killed it, and then doubled back to join the crowd heading up to the library. It was in self defense,” he added quickly.

“Of course it was,” Hermione said. “We know that you were just trying to do the right thing.”

Merlin started at her, and then at Draco. “You’re both taking this a lot better than I’d expected.” He had anticipated some horror in their faces, had expected them to jump to their feet and run away from him. “You’re not even surprised,” he continued with a chuckle, and then his smile faltered. “You’re not even surprised—wait did you—?”

The panicked glance that Hermione shot Draco answered that question. For a second, Merlin gaped at the pair of them, all of his thoughts freezing in place. And then, with a jolt his brain finally accepted the information and he leapt to his feet.

“What? How—when?” he spluttered, looking from one to the other. “Who told you?” he asked, his stomach sinking. The very thought of Snape violating his trust made him feel sick and betrayed.

“Merlin,” Hermione squeaked and she glanced at Draco again. “We—uh.”

“It’s okay,” Draco said and he nodded to her.

He took a deep breath and met Merlin’s eyes evenly. “We’ve known since Halloween night,” he said. Hermione dropped her head in a solemn nod, and she began to wring her hands together in her lap.

“We wanted to let you tell us when you thought the time was right,” she explained nervously. “So we pretended not to know anything.”

“But how did you find out? Who told—”

“Oh, Merlin,” Hermione whispered and she bit her lip. “We saw you.”

Merlin’s heart was pounding in his chest, panic invading his mind and numbing his ability to think clearly. “What?” he croaked, his vocal cords refusing to respond normally. “No, you didn’t. You can’t have—I would’ve seen you.” But he was trying to convince himself, trying to remember that chilling night.

“When Quirrell announced that the troll was in the dungeons, Hermione and I panicked,” Draco explained. “We thought you were still down there, and decided to go find you.”

Merlin frowned. “But I was on the second floor,” he said slowly.

“We got swept up by the crowd,” Hermione said. “We snuck away and were heading toward the dungeons when we saw—” she trailed off, gesturing awkwardly.

“Me,” Merlin finished and he sagged back into his seat, slumping.

“Well, not exactly.”

“Actually, we saw Snape heading up to the third floor,” Draco finished and he leaned forward in his seat. “We waited until he’d passed and then tried to take a different stairwell down, which is when that awful smell reached us and sent us into hiding.”

Merlin stared at them. This was so much worse than just telling them about the incident. In their imaginations, they might have seen him as the scared little boy struggling for his life. But to have witnessed him, to have seen him wordlessly killed the beast without so much as a finger lifted, how could they not be afraid? But even more terrifying than that—did they know who he was? Had they made the jump to thinking of him as Merlin, the great and powerful enchanter?  

But Hermione’s eyes were bright with curiosity and admiration. “I’ve never seen anything so amazing,” she said softly.

“You—you’re not scared?” Merlin asked, raising his eyebrow.

“Well,” and here Hermione sighed. “I’ll admit I was at first.” She nodded toward Draco. “We were both rather terrified.”

“Oh,” Merlin said as he glanced toward Draco too. “So, that’s why you avoided me that whole week,” he said thoughtfully.

“I just needed some time to adjust, okay?” Draco snapped and he folded his arms. “That’s a lot to take in at once. I mean, I thought you were awful at magic.”

“Yeah,” Merlin dropped his head and smiled, the panic ebbing away.

“I’m not sure even Dumbledore could have done what you did,” Hermione said and Merlin laughed.

“Oh, I doubt that. That man could probably do anything.” Although, in truth he knew that Dumbledore was ignorant to the old druidic spells.

“But why do you hide your abilities?” Hermione asked and she folded her arms. “You’re failing your classes, and yet you clearly have the talent to pass them.”

Merlin chuckled and shook his head. “I know, but right now it’s more advantageous for me if I’m underestimated.” He had lived most of his life this way, and it was strange to think that he didn’t have to. In Camelot, he’d had no choice. If he had revealed his magic he would have been executed, and yet here he would be admired. Merlin knew that there were certain advantages to working behind the scenes, he was overlooked and it gave him the element of surprise.

“But you’re failing!” Hermione protested, clearly not understanding him.

“Grades don’t matter, Hermione,” Merlin said with a chuckle.

“Yes they do!” Hermione shot back at once, horrified. “How do you expect to go anywhere with poor marks?”

Merlin merely shrugged. It was obvious that Hermione wouldn’t understand that grades were meaningless in the grander scheme of things. The world had taught her that everything depended on her scores, and how she would be limited without pristine grades but he had been a part of a world where knowledge had not been readily available. Grades hadn’t existed, only the application of learned knowledge and Merlin had a feeling that Hermione would need to learn that before the end.

“Now,” Draco said and he glanced toward Hermione. “Tell us why you really don’t like Quirrell.”

Merlin bit his lip, “Okay,” he said slowly and he sighed heavily. “But for that I need to tell you why I went up to the second floor.”

They both frowned. “Because of the troll, right?” Draco said furrowing his brow.

“Not exactly,” Merlin said. And he explained how he had seen Quirrell heading up to the third floor. How he had tried to follow him before running into the troll. “He let the troll loose,” Merlin said and for the first time Draco and Hermione looked horrified. “He used it as a sentry so he could sneak onto the third floor.”

“But why?” Hermione whispered, her hand over her mouth. “Quirrell’s a teacher.”

“So what?” Draco said with a laugh. “Doesn’t mean he still can’t be evil.”

Hermione looked shocked.

“Anyway,” Merlin continued, “I went up to the third floor corridor and—well—Snape caught me.”

Draco stared at him. “How are you not expelled?” he asked.

“Well, telling him that I killed the troll on Halloween helped.”

You told Snape?” Hermione said aghast. She was gripping the cushions of the seat very tightly now. “But we saw him going up to the third corridor too! What if he and Quirrell are working together for some reason?”

“He’s not,” Merlin told her and he smiled. “Trust me on that.”

Draco folded his arms. “Okay, so what exactly is on the third floor? I’m getting tired of guessing in my head.”

Merlin hesitated. “You can’t tell anyone, all right?” They both nodded eagerly and Merlin said, “A Philosopher’s Stone.”

Hermione let out a shriek while Draco only looked more confused. “A what?” he asked and he had to duck as Hermione’s hand shot into the air, just like it so often did in class.

“Can I tell him?” she asked, looking like she was trying not to smile.

Merlin shrugged. “Go for it.”

After Hermione had clued Draco in, they had to pause the conversation as the plump witch pushing the food trolley came by their compartment. Merlin didn’t really want anything, but Draco bought enough for four people and he and Hermione munched on the sweets as they listened to Merlin continue, much like eating popcorn at a theatre.

“By the way, there’s an enormous three-headed-dog guarding the stone,” Merlin added and Draco nearly choked on a Bertie Bots Every Flavor bean.

“Oh, is that all?” Draco drawled sarcastically after he had stopped coughing. “I thought it was just sitting on a pedestal in the middle of the room.”

“But if Snape suspects Quirrell, why hasn’t Dumbledore sacked him?” Hermione asked as she unwrapped a pumpkin pasty.

“He doesn’t have enough evidence,” Merlin said. “Snape said that it was a complicated process to sack a professor, especially in the middle of the year.”

“But you realized something was going on,” Hermione interjected, and she smiled brightly again.

“Only because I was at the right time at the right place.”

But Draco didn’t look convinced. “You didn’t like Quirrell from the beginning,” he pointed out.

“Yeah, well, I thought his teaching methods were awful.”

And they dissolved into laughter.

“Have another drink.”

“Ah, I shouldn’t,” the half-giant replied but there was a twinkle in those dark eyes that said otherwise. With a wave of his hand, another drink was brought to their table and enormous man across him took several long draughts before dropping his tankard to the table. Had a regular man consumed the same amount of alcohol, he would have surely died by now and yet the Gamekeeper was just becoming drunk.

Quirrell had watched Hagrid for several weeks, trying to think of a way to persuade him to tell him about how to get past the enormous three-headed dog on the third floor corridor – but he couldn’t just ask him. Even Hagrid, as foolish and blundering as he was would never betray Dumbledore. Not unless he was out of his mind drunk. And so finally, after he had discovered Hagrid’s preferred drinking grounds he’d organized a plan that would both give him the information he needed and not tip off the half-giant.

“So what do you do?” Quirrell asked, knowing with confidence that Hagrid would never recognize his voice without the stutter. And with the black cloak obscuring his face, there was no reason Hagrid would realize that it was him.

“I’mma gamekeeper at Hogwarts,” Hagrid replied, and he finished his flagon.

“Really?” he said and Quirrell quickly bought him another drink, pushing it toward him before the giant could protest, “What sort of creatures do you look after?” he asked. He could feel the heat of the egg in his pocket, the itching to get rid of it as quickly as possible.

“All sorts,” Hagrid said, and Quirrell was relieved to hear his speech starting to acquire a pronounced slur. “And ther’ great, but I’d love a dragon,” he continued and eyes glazed over. “I ‘lways wanted a dragon.”

“A dragon?” Quirrell repeated, faking surprise. “Well now, I may be able to help you with that.”

Hagrid blinked blankly and stared at him, his eyes sliding in and out of focus. “How?” he asked.

“I deal in rare and unique items,” Quirrell said as Hagrid took another giant swig. “And I’m looking for someone who can take this off my hands,” and he bent over to show Hagrid a glimpse of the egg that resided in his pocket.

Hagrid made an odd squeaking nose. “Is tha’?” he said pointing toward it with shaking fingers.

“It is,” and he added in a conspiratorial whisper, “A Norwegian Ridgeback, that is.”

“How did ya get it?”

“Legalities demand I keep that information to myself.” He hid the egg once more in his pocket. “Why don’t we play cards for it?”

Hagrid nodded vigorously, and he drained his cup once more. “But,” Quirrell said as he summoned another drink. “I need to make sure you can handle a creature like this. This isn’t like anything you’ve ever taken care of at Hogwarts.”

“Oh, after Fluffy a dragon would be easy!”

Quirrell could feel the soul of his master writhing in anticipation, the eagerness almost painful in his chest. “Fluffy?” he repeated smoothly.

“Yeah, he’s beautiful. Bought him off a Greek fella awhile back. Enormous three-headed dog, and just as feisty as a dragon I reckon.” He smacked his lips, wiping some butterbeer that had dribbled down his beard. “He’s a piece of cake if you know how to calm him down though – just play him a bit of music and he’ll go straight to sleep. All creatures have a weakness of some sort.”

Success. Quirrell smiled beneath his hood, and he withdrew a pack of cards from his cloak. “Well then,” he said and he started dealing them out, “Maybe you’ll get lucky.”

And being as drunk as he was, Hagrid played a surprisingly good hand. True, Quirrell didn’t even try to win. He figured that if Hagrid was too busy trying to take care of this infernal creature he wouldn’t spend any time thinking about what he had accidentally let slip. There was also the hope that he’d be too drunk to even remember the details of their conversation, or with any luck the dragon would just eat Hagrid and silence him forever.

Quirrell watched the half-giant swagger off back to the castle, holding the dragon egg in his hands as if it were more precious than all the gold in the world. “The stone is as good as ours,” he muttered into the night.

“Yes,” spoke the cold high voice of his master. “But we must wait a while longer before acting, the effort of remaining bonded to your soul has tired me and I need to regain some of my strength. And, with that muggle-loving fool watching our every move, we must wait for the opportune moment in which to strike.”

Over the course of the next few weeks, Merlin, Hermione, and Draco spent a lot of time in the back of the library or in an unused classroom discussing Quirrell and what they were going to do about the Philosopher’s Stone. They thought up of ways to get the Defense professor sacked, and though none of them would really work, they were fun to talk about.

 Merlin hadn’t yet told them about his suspicions that Tom Riddle was possessing the professor. He had made it sound like Quirrell desired the stone for his own selfish purposes. He felt a twinge of guilt every time he thought about that, after all, he had promised Silas he would be more honest with his friends. Well, he was more honest with them but he thought too much honesty could do more damage in the end. Hermione and Draco couldn’t really do anything to help him. As eleven year old children they were next to useless in this battle against the Dark Lord – and he was terrified of them getting hurt. Already they were in danger. If Quirrell ever realized that his secret had been discovered – well, Merlin wasn’t sure what the man would do.

But he was certain he wouldn’t like it.

At least now Silas sent weekly letters, updating Merlin on how life with Florean Fortescue was. And much to Merlin’s relief Silas sounded like he was living on Cloud Nine. Florean had a flat above his ice cream shop in Diagon Alley, which meant that Silas was living in wizarding world central and he loved it. He told Merlin all about his trips to the other shops, how he’d seen goblins outside of Gringotts, and passed on the amazing stories that Florean told him. Apparently, the man was quite versed in wizard history and always loved an opportunity to spread his knowledge. It was huge weight off Merlin’s shoulders to know that at last Silas was safe and happy. He was even going to a local pre-magic school that all wizards attended prior to going to Hogwarts – like a type of muggle primary school except for wizarding folk.

Merlin did his best to keep Silas just as informed about his life, although there just wasn’t much to tell. Quirrell seemed to be biding his time and there was no excitement save for constant reminder that exams would be arriving soon. Hermione never missed an opportunity to berate Merlin’s dismal grades and to urge him to do at least a little better in class.

“You don’t have to be the best,” she would quickly add when Merlin opened his mouth to reply. “Just pass, all right? You can’t afford to repeat first year.” To which Merlin would sigh and promise her that he’d do well enough on his exams to pass. Hermione had difficulty understanding how he could just disregard his homework and intentionally do poorly in class. Especially since how she knew that Merlin had magical capabilities well past the usual first year and it would be easy as breathing for him to complete the simple spell work. Merlin knew that she would pester him about it until the end of term.

At least there were more important things he could distract her with.

They were together at the back of the library again, in a little alcove so that no one would stumble across them. Even though Draco considered Hermione as a “sort of friend” he was still adamant that no one could see them together. And when Hermione got huffy about it, he reminded her that his father could not find out under any circumstances.

“He’d transfer me to Durmstrang, that’s if he didn’t kill me first,” Draco said and he rolled his eyes.

“Oh, all right then,” Hermione snapped.

Recently, they had been trying to find all the information they could about the Philosopher’s Stone. They couldn’t do anything else anyway, so they might as well become experts on the topic. Merlin was just picking out another book to look through when Hermione said, “At last!”

“Found something?” Merlin asked and he got up to look over her shoulder at the passage.

“It says here that Nicolas Flamel is the only known maker of the Philosopher’s Stone. So, it must belong to him.” Her eyes darted down the page. “I can see why Quirrell would want it.”

“Turning any metal into gold?” Draco said and he laughed. “Who wouldn’t want it?”

“Do you think we should warn Nicolas Flamel?” Hermione asked and she looked up at Merlin. “I mean, he might want to know that someone is planning to steal it.”

Merlin ran a hand through his hair. “I think he already knows. It was almost stolen once already from Gringotts. Dumbledore is guarding the stone for him, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the headmaster was keeping him informed.”

“Why would he hide the stone in a school?” Draco asked folding his arms. “We’re not exactly equipped to stop thieves.”

Merlin raised his eyebrow. “Tell that to the three-headed dog standing guard.” He shook his head. “It’s probably because of Dumbledore. Only an idiot would try to take if from right under his nose.”

Hermione nodded. “And there’s probably other things guarding it as well, spells, enchantments, that sort of thing.” She sighed and shut the book. “Well, why don’t we go over our history of magic notes while we’re here? We’ve still got an hour before dinner.”

“Can we go for a walk instead?” Merlin groaned. “I think anymore knowledge and my brain will explode.”

“Our exams are only a few weeks away,” Hermione snapped. “And one can never be too prepared.”

“Not today, please,” Merlin said getting to his feet and stretching. “I’m all stiff. Let’s go for a walk on the grounds.”

“Oh—” and Draco looked at Hermione, hesitation written in the lines of his face.

Merlin sighed. “It’ll be fine. Everyone knows that she’s my friend. If anyone starts coming toward us you two just pretend to have a row or something.” 

“I don’t know—” Draco said still looking reluctant, but Merlin gave him a shove and started walking out of the library.

“Yeah, it’ll be fine. Come on,” Merlin said, although he felt like he was trying to convince himself more so than Draco. Hermione smiled softly before packing up her bag and racing after them, walking a few feet behind them until they had reached the grounds and then catching up to walk on Merlin’s other side.

It was a cool overcast day and save for a few Ravenclaws walking around the lake they were the only ones outside. The sun hung low in the sky, giving them barely an hour before they would need to return inside. Hermione was just suggesting they stop by Hagrid’s for a cup of tea when Merlin froze.

On the air he could feel familiar animal magic, and it made his blood run cold. He would recognize that essence anywhere, the way it rang with his core and harmonized with his own magic. For a moment, he didn’t move. Hermione and Draco were still walking ahead, now bickering about the Gamekeeper.

“Merlin what do you think—” Draco turned around, and his scowl fell from his face to be replaced with worry. “What’s wrong?”

Merlin didn’t answer. Words could not convey the sheer panic that wracked his brain. Why would a dragon be this close to the school? He’d told Korrizahar and Aithusa to stay in the heart of the forbidden forest and to hide from any human that was not himself. They were going to be discovered – or had someone already stumbled across them? Without a second thought, Merlin broke into a run toward the magic. Hermione and Draco shouted something after him and followed but Merlin didn’t respond to their questions.

He’d never been to Hagrid’s hut, but he knew the instant he saw it whose home it must be. He could tell that the dragon was inside the hut, and his heart sank even further. Aithusa wouldn’t fit in there so it had to be—

The door burst open before Merlin had even touched it and he stumbled inside, gasping for breath. There was a mighty crash, several loud booming barks, and a horrific guttural screech. Sitting on top of the table, its long thin wings outstretched with hostility, was a light brown dragon. It seemed to be trying to attack the enormous black boarhound opposite it, and Hagrid stood in between them trying to regain control.

“Merlin!” Hermione shouted and she and Draco ran inside too, before skidding to a halt in the doorway. “Oh my—”

The dog let out a pitiful whine and pelted toward the open door, knocking Merlin down as it raced past. The dragon shrieked with fury and smacked Hagrid with its tail, trying to follow the dog outside.

“The door!” Hagrid shouted, but Hermione didn’t look like she liked the idea of locking herself in this tiny, wooden house with a dragon. In one smooth movement, Merlin had gotten back to his feet and placed himself between the dragon and the open front door. The creature hissed and smoke curled out of its nostrils, completely ignoring Hagrid’s yells of, “Bad Norbert! Stop this!”

Dragorn!” Merlin shouted and everyone fell silent at once, including the young dragon standing in front of him. He grimaced, knowing that what he had said was clearly not English. Aware that they were all staring at him now, Merlin bent down as the dragon started to growl again and murmured in a tone that would not carry to the others in the room, “Nun de ge dei s’eikein kai emois epe’essin hepesthai.”

The dragon, Norbert, blinked and folded its wings, looking curiously up at Merlin. Merlin offered his arm to it, and it climbed onto his shoulder. This dragon was nearly twice the size of Korrizahar and Merlin could feel the extra weight pressing into his shoulder.

“You can shut the door now, Hermione,” Merlin called behind him, giving Hagrid a calculating look.

“What’re you think yer doin’ barging in like that?” Hagrid asked them weakly. He straightened up and attempted a stern expression. “What’ve you’d gotten hurt?”

“Oh, I see,” Draco drawled, though his voice shook slightly. “We should have just let that—that thing eat your dog, is that it?” He couldn’t draw his eyes away from the dragon sitting on Merlin’s shoulder.

“Well—” Hagrid faltered and Draco sneered at him.

“But Hagrid,” Hermione said her voice much higher than usual. “Where did you get it? Dragon breeding was outlawed by the Warlock’s Convention of 1709!”

“I won it,” Hagrid explained and he smiled at the creature on Merlin’s shoulder. “His name’s Norbert, and he’s a Norwegian Ridgeback. Gorgeous, isn’t he?”

“Yeah, sure he is,” Draco grumbled and he scratched the back of his neck.

But Merlin smiled and gently rubbed the dragon’s cheek scales. “He is,” he agreed and Hagrid beamed at him. “But,” and here Merlin sighed. “You can’t keep him, Hagrid.”

“No!” Hagrid cried out and he took an enormous step toward Norbert. “You can’t tell anyone.”

“We won’t have to, pretty soon this thing will be too big for your house,” Merlin explained. “And someone will notice the screeching eventually, dragons can’t be cooped up in a hut like this Hagrid.”

“Especially a wooden one,” Hermione sniffed, looking around.

Hagrid looked from Merlin to Hermione with a desperation that tugged on Merlin’s heart. The enormous man genuinely cared about the dragon, but Merlin knew that just caring about something wasn’t enough. He had to understand them, and recognize that dragons were independent and dangerous.

“I know,” Hagrid said, his lip trembling. And he dropped his head as he sank defeated into one of his enormous armchairs. “I’ll—I’ll think of something,” he grumbled.

Merlin looked up at the dragon, noting the black scales that decorated the dragon’s boney spine ridge. “I might know a place I can take him,” he found himself saying and he glanced at Hagrid, who was staring at him. “I mean, I know someone who can get him to a safe place,” Merlin amended smoothly, the half-truth falling from his lips with practiced ease.

“Who do you know like that?” Draco asked Merlin incredulously, he exchanged a glance with Hermione.

“Oh, just a dragon expert,” Merlin shrugged. Draco was still staring at him, “Anyway,” he said shaking his head and he gently eased Norbert back onto the dinner table. “I’ll come back later tonight to take him to someplace safe, all right?”

It took some convincing but with watery eyes Hagrid finally agreed, and they left the hut, the dragon staring curiously after Merlin. Outside, Fang the Boarhound was lying down on the front steps and they carefully stepped over him before making their way back to the castle in the twilight.

For one blissful moment, no one said anything and then both Draco and Hermione pelted Merlin with questions. How had he calmed the dragon down like that? Who was he going to take the dragon to? Why hadn’t he mentioned he had some wizarding connections before hand? Merlin did his best to answer them without giving away the real truth. How could he tell them that he was the dragon expert? How could he tell them that he was planning to take Norbert to Aithusa and get a second opinion from Kor on where to take the hatchling? Perhaps they knew he wasn’t being completely honest with them because their questions died off quickly, and instead they kept shooting each other significant looks.

It wasn’t until half past midnight that the common room finally emptied, and Merlin was able to slip out of bed, dress, and tiptoe out of the dormitory. When he came to the landing however, he heard footsteps behind him and he turned to see Draco coming behind him.

“You can’t come,” Merlin groaned in an undertone. “Go back to bed.”

Draco folded his arms, “And why not?” he whispered back. “I thought there were no more secrets between us,” and he gave Merlin a resentful look. “I don’t believe a word of what you told Hermione and me earlier. Why won’t you tell us?”

“Because it’s not just my secret,” Merlin said through gritted teeth. “If it only concerned me, perhaps but I will not jeopardize the safety of someone else.” He would not tell Draco and Hermione about Korrizahar and Aithusa on a whim, especially not before talking to them about it. Even though wizards didn’t destroy dragons like they used to, they were still feared creatures and Merlin had the nasty feeling that the ministry would put down dragons that were nesting too close to Hogwarts. Or, even worse, study their unique ancient magical properties and turn them into potion ingredients.

Draco didn’t say anything for a long moment. “Okay, fine,” he said and his shoulders slumped. “Be careful, all right?”

Merlin grinned. “Me?” he said and quickly left the common room, taking care to make sure he didn’t run into Snape or Filtch on his way to the grounds. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Hermione and Draco – he did trust them. He had told them so much already, but this was something so much closer to home. Dragons weren’t just creatures to him, they were kin and that was something his friends could never discover. It was something no one ever could, because it would lead them on the thought path that eventually ended up with the realization of who he truly was.

He went around to the back of Hagrid’s hut and knocked, shivering in the chilly air. The temperature dropped phenomenally at night, and he could feel the bite even though his cloak. After a moment, Hagrid opened the door, his beard sparkling with tears.

“He’s all ready for the journey,” he said in a subdued voice. Norbert was on the floor, trying to rip off what looked like a hand knitted sweater. “And here’s his teddy bear,” Hagrid said handing Merlin the stuffed animal, “in case he get’s homesick.”

Merlin worked his jaw so that he didn’t snap that Norbert would never get homesick, and instead nodded. When the dragon spotted Merlin it jumped, flapping its wings and settling itself back on Merlin’s shoulder. Norbert watched him, as though hoping he would say something else in the dragon language.

As Merlin left Hagrid’s hut and started heading into the forest, he heard Hagrid calling after him, “Goodbye Norbert!” in muffled sobs.

“I’m so sorry,” Merlin told the dragon when they had vanished from Hagrid’s sight. He held his hand over and the sweater that was hanging limply on the dragon’s back and it fell away. “That’s better, right?”

It was a long walk to the meadow where Korrizahar and Aithusa were. Merlin didn’t want to jostle Norbert too much, worried that the dragon would take flight and explore. He knew that unlike Kor, Norbert was a type of Wyvern and possessed a more primitive and violent nature. Finally, Merlin reached the clearing.

“Kor!” Merlin called out, not seeing the dragon on any of the nearby branches. “I’ve got a surprise for you!”

Within a few minutes, he heard the fast beating of wings and the small red dragon came out of the darkness and landed on a branch, holding a rabbit in his talons. “I—” Kor started to say and then he caught sight of Norbert. The two dragons stared at each other for a moment before simultaneously taking to the air and landing opposite each other on the ground and beginning to circle.

Fascinated, Merlin sat down on a stump to watch. He wanted to ask Kor where Aithusa had gone, but he didn’t want to distract him. After several moments Kor sat down and made a series of chirping noises, to which Norbert responded. “She says that you rescued her from a blundering meat suit?” Kor asked sounding confused.

“She?” Merlin repeated. “So, I assume its Norberta then.”

Kor nodded. “Yeah, I suppose so. She doesn’t mind the name.” The dragon paused a moment and then retrieved his rabbit from the tree and ripped it in half with a crunch, giving a part to her before flying over to sit next to Merlin on the stump.

While the two dragons ate, Merlin explained to Kor about how he’d found out about Norberta and convinced Hagrid to let him take her someplace safe. “Said he’d won her, but Hermione said that dragon breeding’s illegal.”

Kor swallowed the last piece of his rabbit. “I don’t know anything about laws,” he said shaking his head. “Aithusa went hunting in the mountains but she’ll be back by dawn, and I’m sure she wouldn’t mind mothering Norberta. I think the two of us can keep an eye on her.”

Merlin didn’t smile. “I was rather hoping you might just take her to a dragon preserve,” he said casting a nervous glance in the dragon’s direction. “She’s going to be larger than Aithusa when she’s matured I think, and she’s a Wyvern breed.” He shook his head. “I don’t think hiding her for very long will be possible, especially if she decides to pay a visit to the castle when you’re not looking.”

“I don’t think a dragon preserve would just let us drop her off,” Kor said with a sigh. “We’d have to stay too.”

“Ug, I know,” Merlin said and he ran a hand through his hair.

“We can take care of her for now,” Kor said and he puffed out his chest confidently. “The only city around is Hogsmeade, and it’s right next to Hogwarts. There are tons of untouched mountain forest that she can hide in. Aithusa and I can teach her how to stay hidden.” He touched Merlin’s hand with his cheek and Merlin rubbed his scales.

“All right, and if worst comes to worst I can command her to fly to the sanctuary once she’s big enough to make the journey alone.” Kor nodded in agreement and they looked over at Norberta, who was exploring the clearing.

“There’s something else,” Kor said and his tone dropped to almost a growl. “There’s something coming into the forest at night.”

Merlin blinked. “What?”

Kor lashed his tail. “I think its Quirrell.” Aithusa landed in the clearing with a crash and Norberta ran hissing toward Kor, as though asking him what was going on.

“Quirrell?” Merlin repeated. “What’s he doing?”

“He’s been killing unicorns and drinking their blood.”

 

Merlin walked back to Hagrid’s hut slowly, his mind preoccupied with what Korrizahar had told him. This was the last nail in the coffin, the last piece of evidence Merlin needed. Quirrell was possessed by the Dark Lord. That was the only reason he would drink unicorn blood, and the mere thought of it made him sick to his stomach. At least Norberta had been integrated successfully into the growing pod of dragons.

Just another thing for him to worry about.

Hagrid was sitting on his back doorstep when Merlin came out of the trees and he started crying the instant he saw him. “He’s gone?” he asked as Fang padded up to Merlin and sniffed his legs.

“She,” Merlin automatically corrected, “and yes.”

Hagrid blinked his red eyes and smiled. “He’s a she?” he repeated sounding surprised. “Should’a known. Females are more feisty than the males.” And he reached behind him for an enormous pink tablecloth and blew his nose with it.

“Hagrid,” Merlin said and he sat down next to him, “what were you thinking, getting a dragon?”

Hagrid blew his nose again. “I love ‘em,” he said tearfully. “It’s been mah dream to own one since I was a kid.” He sighed miserably, “and I messed it t’all up.”

Merlin patted Hagrid’s enormous arm. “You sure did,” and then he laughed. “But maybe you’ll see Norberta again.”

Hagrid stopped crying at once and looked at him. “You mean that?” he asked. “I’d jus’ love to see her again.”

“Not yet of course, she’s long gone for now,” Merlin said and he glanced up at the sky. “Do some more studying. Understand dragons, and treat them like they should be.” He pulled the teddy bear out his cloak and gave it back to him.

“Teddy bears and sweaters?” he asked raising an eyebrow and Hagrid wrung his hands together in an embarrassed sort of way. “Monster’s aren’t pets,” Merlin chided. “But sometimes, they can be wonderful friends.”

Chapter Text

The next morning, Merlin met with Draco and Hermione in their usual place at the back of library. As they passed the counter, Madam Pince glanced up at them. She pursed her lips but as they disappeared into the shelves, Merlin thought he caught the smallest glimmer of a smile before she vanished from view. Once they were settled into their little alcove, Merlin told them that the dragon Norberta had been safely removed from Hagrid’s hut. They were silent while he talked, but the moment he’d finished Draco folded his arms.

“Okay, spill.”

Merlin glanced at Hermione. “Spill what?” he asked slowly.

“What do you mean, what?” Draco said and he frowned. “You haven’t really told us anything. What made you run into Hagrid’s hut like that? How did you calm the dragon down?”

Merlin hid his hands under the table so they wouldn’t see him fidgeting. “I dunno,” he said with a careless shrug. “Just a feeling.”

“A feeling?” Draco repeated, and he shared a glance with Hermione.

“Merlin,” Hermione said and she hesitated a moment before continuing, “that—that dragon perched on your shoulder like a parrot or something. I’ve never even heard of dragons doing anything like that.”

Merlin swallowed, “I guess she liked me,” and he managed a weak smile.

“Really? What did you say to it?” Hermione pressed. “I couldn’t hear most of it, but what I did hear didn’t sound English at all.”

“And how did you even know it was there?” Draco added.

“I didn’t—” Merlin tried to say but Draco interrupted him.

“You took off like a bat out of hell—you knew there was something going on in Hagrid’s hut.”

Merlin didn’t know what to say. He looked from one friend to the other, the gears in his mind working furiously in order to think of how he could both be honest with them and yet keep his kinship with dragons secret. But he couldn’t just write off what happened as nothing – they’d seen him speak the tongue of dragons, though he doubted any soul alive would recognize the language. This wasn’t something he could lie his way out of, even if he had wanted to.

“Did you—” Hermione said, a look of dawning realization on her face, “did you realize the troll was in the castle too? Is that why you went to look for it?”

“I didn’t know it was a troll,” Merlin said quickly.

“But you knew something was there, didn’t you?”

“What are you saying?” Draco scoffed. “That Merlin can somehow sense animal magic?” He laughed nervously, shaking his head. “But he can’t,” and then his smile faltered. “Can you?” he asked, addressing Merlin now.

“Well,” and Merlin shrugged. “It would explain a lot,” he said with a sheepish grin. He was trying to play it off as nothing, as something he had discovered along side his friends but his heart was beating painfully fast. He didn’t want to lie to them. It would be easy to tell them that— well, actually, I’m the last living Dragonlord so I have access to some pretty awesome archaic magic.

Yeah, that conversation would go over so well.

“Anything else?” Draco asked, gesturing his hand almost rudely in Merlin’s direction. “Can you make the birds do your laundry, ask flies for exam questions, you know something else that’s completely bonkers?”

Hermione giggled and they both looked at her. She flushed a light shade of pink and said, “Sorry, you just—” and she giggled again. “You make him sound like a Disney Princess.”

For one long moment, Draco just stared at her and then he started laughing too. Merlin, who was stressing over how to repair the situation he found himself in, frowned. “Guys,” he said shaking his head. “It’s not like that—I can’t do those things.”

“You should ask the school mice to make Hermione a dress, Merlin,” Draco said still laughing. “Give those vermin something productive to do.”

Hermione was laughing so hard by now that she clutched her side. It was hard to stay serious when his friends were so full of mirth. Merlin chuckled, a smile tugging on the corners of his mouth. “Yeah, that’s it. And I’ll get Mrs. Norris to finally leave all the students alone,” he said laughing.

“I wish,” Draco said and he smiled. “But you do know when something’s around, then?”

Merlin shook his head, “Not everything. Just the larger, more magically potent ones I think.”

Hermione nodded, wiping her eyes. “I suppose that makes sense.” Draco glanced at her and raised his eyebrow and she continued, “Well, those types of creatures have their own kind of magic and if one’s well enough attuned to environmental magic, they might be able to sense them.” She was looking very impressed. “Where did you learn to do that?”

“No idea,” Merlin replied. “It’s just sort of been there. I didn’t really notice it until I came to Hogwarts.”

“Yeah, where else would you be exposed to lethal magical creatures?” Draco said rolling his eyes. “Fine, that clears that up, but you still haven’t told us what you said to the dragon.”

“I just told it to calm down, that’s all,” Merlin said. “If—if Hermione’s right, maybe the Dragon could sense that I didn’t mean it any harm or something. I just garbled my words a bit at first because I was so nervous. It wasn’t a different language at all.”

Draco didn’t look convinced but Hermione nodded, seeming to accept that explanation. “And Norberta’s safe?”

“Yes,” Merlin said confidently. “She won’t be burning down any houses.” At least, he certainly hoped not.

He was sure that Draco and Hermione still had more questions regarding the matter, but to his enormous relief Hermione changed the topic of conversation to exams and started pulling out her homework. Merlin followed suit, though the cold truth was settling in his mind. If he wanted to really be honest with them, it was only a matter of time before the whole truth would have to come out. He didn’t care if they knew who he was – he had known them for long enough that he felt confident that they would protect his secrets. But he did care about their safety, and if there was a war to occur that knowledge could put them in danger.

What would Gaius tell him? He had never missed that old man’s advice more than he did now. Sometimes he thought that the physician was more learned than even Kilgharrah – at the very least, his advice didn’t end in disaster nearly as often and it was beautifully stated. Yes, no riddles with Gaius.  Merlin gave a very small smile at the memory, before shaking his head.

No, Gaius wasn’t here to help him anymore. It was about time he started making his own decisions – he just hoped he made the right ones.

 

  Professor Snape examined his grade book, frowning as one particularly dismal grade stood out. Hadn’t he already told Evans to put more effort into his studies? He was no fool – the boy had great magical talent, but you certainly wouldn’t know it from his poor marks. He’d already been told by a stern McGonagall that the boy was unlikely to pass his exams and that it might be prudent to start planning an extensive summer study program for him – that is, unless he wished to repeat the year.

Snape shook his head and leaned back in his chair, mulling it over. He’d already sent for Merlin to join him in his office, hopefully convince the boy to do some schoolwork. Perhaps Granger could influence him to do his assignments. Merlin knew that girl took her studies seriously.

There was a knock at his door and it swung open to reveal Merlin. “You wanted to see me?” he asked and he glanced around the office in curiosity. Then his eyes brightened, “Is Quirrell getting sacked?”

Snape resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “Much to my disappointment, no. Sit down,” he said nodding toward the seat in front of his desk. “I wish to address the more immediate concern of your total lack of completed coursework. Do you honestly think you can pass your final exams without studying at all?”

Those brilliant blue eyes narrowed. “Please, do you think it’s possible to be Hermione Granger’s friend and not spend some time studying? Besides aren’t there more important things to be worried about? Quirrell—”

Snape’s lip curled, “Quirrell,” he said interrupting Merlin mid-sentence, “is none of your concern.” Why couldn’t this boy leave adult business to adults? Couldn’t he understand that Quirrell was no mountain troll and that he was out of his depth? A first year was nothing compared to a professor, let alone the Dark Lord.

But Merlin folded his arms, a definite sulky edge in his tone. “I beg to differ. If my Defense teacher manages to steal the philosopher’s stone and return Voldemort to power I will be very concerned.”

“Don’t say his name!” Snape spat. “Regardless, an insolent child like you is little more than a fly that he will swat out of the way,” he continued icily. “The headmaster and I are handling the situation, and you can help by focusing on your studies and staying out of harms way.”

Something in Merlin’s eyes flashed. He seemed like he wanted to say something, to clarify some vital piece of information but he didn’t speak. Instead his chin jutted out, a frustrated angle on his jawline. It looked arrogant in Snape’s opinion, as though the idiot thought he was more than able to fight Quirrell.

“Fine.”

Merlin got abruptly to his feet. Snape watched as he strode toward the door and wrenched it open. “Don’t worry professor, I will be sure to ace every single one of my finals,” he said without glancing back.

Snape raised an eyebrow. “Really?” he sneered. “I will believe it when I see it.”

“Then keep your eyes open, because there’s so much you won’t believe.”

And Merlin left the office, closing the door behind him and Snape was left to wonder about what he could possibly mean.

 

“What did Snape want?”

Draco had waited for Merlin in the hallway, the pair of them planning to head out to the grounds and enjoy the beautiful weather. Summer was fast approaching, hailing the return of bright sunshine and the dreaded exam week.

To be honest, Merlin was getting tired of everyone pestering him about his grades. What did it matter if he did his schoolwork if he could apply the enchantments in real life situations? Exams meant nothing in the real world – he’d never done assignments like this at Camelot and he wasn’t about to start. The only thing that mattered was being able to do the spells and understand when to use them. And, he certainly didn’t need everyone to realize he was different.

“Oh, the usual,” Merlin said with a shrug. He adopted Snape’s greasy sneer and spat, “You’re grades are dismal, how do you expect to succeed?” He rolled his eyes.

Draco grimaced. “Well, as long as you do well on your exams everything will be fine.” He hesitated a moment. “You will do well, won’t you?”

Merlin groaned and ran a furious hand through his hair. “Yes, I will. Now, can we stop talking about it? It’s bad enough with Hermione constantly breathing down my neck. Do you know she’s copied all of her notes for me? Seems to think I won’t pass without them.” He sighed as they reached the entrance hall.

“Well, I don’t think you will,” said a sulky voice behind him. Merlin and Draco jumped and whipped around to see Hermione frowning at the pair of them. In addition to her book bag cutting into her shoulder, she was holding another volume in her hands with several pieces of parchment.

“Yeah? We’ll see after finals who’s right,” Merlin grumbled. “C’mon it’s a beautiful day outside, let’s go for a walk.”

Hermione pursed her lips, “We shouldn’t. Finals are just around the corner you know!”

“Great,” said Draco and he sneered at her, “why don’t you head back up to the library then? We’re going to soak in a little sunshine.”

“But—”

“Hermione,” Merlin said interrupting her protest. “I’ve just had Snape badger me about exams, I don’t need hear the same thing from you.” He gestured toward the front doors. “It’s a crime to study on a day like this, just look at the sun!”

Hermione still looked uncertain but then her eyes caught something past Merlin and she blinked. “What’s Hagrid doing?” Draco and Merlin turned to look.

The giant of a man had just pushed through the double front doors and was peering inside the great hall, as though looking for someone.

“Shouldn’t that oaf be taking care of the grounds?” Draco drawled. Hermione elbowed him rather hard in the side as she walked past him. Merlin quickly smothered a snigger and followed her, Draco grumbling behind him.

“Hello Hagrid,” Hermione said with a smile.

“Hermione!” Hagrid brought his head back from the great hall and beamed at the three of them. “I was jus’ lookin for yer,” and he nodded toward Merlin. “Say, would you three join me for tea? I’ve got to talk to you ‘bout sumthin’ important.”

“Uh, sure,” Merlin said ignoring Draco’s sigh. “We’d love to!” and Hagrid beamed at him. Once they were back in Hagrid’s hut with a plate of rock cakes and tea, Merlin cautiously asked, “You didn’t get another dragon, did you?”

Hagrid laughed, “I wish,” he said shaking his head sadly. “Nah, but I really wanted to thank you for your help.” He poured himself an enormous cup of tea.

“Thank Merlin,” Draco said softly, “He was the only one who did anything.”

“You didn’t run away and tell Dumbledore when you saw little Norberta though,” Hagrid said and he gave Draco an appraising look. “Truth be told, I thought I was a goner for sure – if you’d told your dad ‘bout it. He’d one of the school governors, ain’t he?”

Draco fidgeted. “Well, pretty sure these two would kill me if I did that,” he said and he glanced at Merlin and Hermione.

Hermione nudged him with her elbow again. “Honestly, the world isn’t going to collapse if you admit you did something nice.”

Draco glared at her but didn’t reply and Hagrid started chuckling. “In any case, I thought you three might be willing ta help me with sumthin’,” he paused a moment. “But, if you’re too busy studyin’ for yer finals, I understand.”

“No,” Merlin said quickly. “What do you need?”

Anything that would stop Hermione from shoving a book under his nose was fine. Even Draco seemed to appreciate the idea of a distraction, he was sitting a little straighter in his chair. Only Hermione hesitated before nodding, looking as though she’d much rather study for finals.

“Of course we’ll help,” she said with a sigh.

Hagrid shook his head. “You might change yer mind after ya hear what it is.” He emptied his cup of tea. When he spoke again, his expression had darkened, a fierce anger hiding beneath his thick beard. “Couple a night’s ago, I was going through the forbidden forest when I found unicorn blood splattering the leaves. ”

Hermione gasped, her hand clamping over her mouth. Draco seemed to pale slightly but Merlin had frozen in his chair.

He’s been killing unicorns and drinking their blood.”

Was this the chance he’d been hoping for? The chance to catch Quirrell in the act and finally reveal the professor’s true colors? Merlin swallowed. “Do you know what—” he asked in a bare whisper, wondering if it was possible that Hagrid had somehow been able to see Quirrell do it. But to his dismay, Hagrid shook his head.

“I dunno yet, I need to take a look at the injuries. I need someone to help me go look for ‘em tonight.”

“Wait.” Draco seemed to have finally realized what Hagrid was asking them. “You want us to go into the Forbidden Forest? At night? But there are—there are werewolves.”

“More than that,” Merlin muttered in an undertone, thinking absently of the dragons. He would have to make sure their search for the unicorn didn’t bring them anywhere near Korrizahar. Just the thought of Hagrid searching the forest made him uneasy. He’d much rather be part of the search than wonder and worry about how close Hagrid was getting to his cherished Norberta.

Hermione made a choking sound. “But, Hagrid, we’re just kids. Wouldn’t it be better if Professor McGonagall or that Care of Magical Creatures professor – Kettleburn, I heard – joined you? I mean, what can we do to help?”

Hagrid smiled at her. “Unicorns are shy creatures, Hermione. You kids probably have a better chance of finding her than any adult. They don’t trust us much, see? And I can’t really blame them.”

“I’ll help, Hagrid.” Merlin said, getting to his feet. His confidence seemed to reassure Draco and Hermione because they nodded.

“Yeah.”

“We’ll try,” Draco said, a hint of doubt in his tone. He shot Merlin a look but didn’t say anything. “When do you want to this—ah—this thing?”

After Hagrid had arranged to pick them up in the Great Hall about ten o’clock that night, Merlin, Draco, and Hermione bade him farewell. Having made up his mind, Merlin headed for the lake instead of the castle, his friends following him. It was nearing dinner, and the warmth was fading from the grounds. Which also meant that most students had returned to the castle by now. Merlin paused on the edge of the lake, convincing himself one last time that this was the right thing to do before turning around to look at Hermione’s and Draco’s puzzled faces.

Merlin took a deep breath. “Quirrell’s the one killing unicorns.”

Draco stared at him. “What?”

“How do you know?” Hermione squeaked.

Merlin grimaced. “Let’s just say this won’t be my first time in the Forbidden Forest.”

He had expected a reaction to this, but it still made him cringe. Hermione looked about ready to faint. Draco wore a mixture of shock and anger on his face. “You know Merlin,” he said folding his arms, “I didn’t think you could get any stupider! What are you thinking, sneaking off into the Forbidden Forest? You could have gotten hurt!”

Merlin raised an eyebrow and smiled, “Me?” he said as though making sure they were talking about the same person. Draco glared at him.

“This isn’t a joke!”

“But neither is Quirrell killing unicorns,” Hermione whispered and a chill fell over them all. “Merlin, why would a professor be killing them? It just doesn’t make sense.”

Merlin hesitated. He’d started this conversation; he’d wanted to include them in this journey. He walked a few steps over to a rock and sat down. “First you both need to understand something.” Draco glanced at Hermione but they didn’t speak. “All my life I’ve hid who I am. Before I came to Hogwarts, there was only one person who truly saw me and now that I’m without him I don’t know who to turn to.”

Hermione took a seat beside him, resting her hand on Merlin’s shoulder.

“I know you’re upset I keep so much from you,” Merlin continued and he looked up at Draco as he spoke. “If I had a drop of water for every secret I kept, they would fill this lake. But there was once a time keeping secrets kept me alive, and I’m afraid that’s not an easy habit to break.” He shook his head and dropped his gaze to the ground. “So, I guess what I’m trying to say is what you see is what you get.”

He had a lot of secrets. And, there were things he wasn’t ready to tell them about. Not because he worried about their reactions, but because he wanted to protect them. He could only remember too well the time Gaius had been tortured to reveal his identity.

He looked up when Hermione wrapped him in a very tight hug. “We accept who you are, we just want to understand you better,” she said earnestly and when she released him, she met his eyes. “You know, that right?”

“Then understand that there are some things I can’t talk about yet,” Merlin told her. She nodded at once and then looked up at Draco. Merlin copied her. Draco seemed to hesitate for a moment before rolling his eyes.

“Whatever, I can’t stand much more of this sappy conversation. I’m more interested in why Quirrell is killing unicorns.”

Merlin nodded, inexplicable relief washing over him. “For that, I need to clarify something I told you a little earlier.” Merlin told them about how he had realized that Quirrell wasn’t getting the stone for himself and how he had come to discover that Quirrell was allowing himself to be possessed by Lord Voldemort. When he was finished, both Hermione and Draco were staring at him.

“He-who-must-not-be-named is in Hogwarts?” Hermione whispered. “Why—” but before she had even finished her sentence her eyes widened. “The stone.”

“Exactly, it’s one of the few things that return him to power. The unicorn blood is his way of buying extra time.”

Draco had gone very white. “Oh, but of course. And we—we just volunteered to go into the forest and help Hagrid find him.” He trailed off as though his throat had gone dry.

“It might be our only chance to prove he’s guilty,” Merlin said and he got to his feet. “You don’t have to come, but I’m not going to let this chance slip past. And unicorns are one of the most amazing creatures on the planet – I can’t let him keep killing if I can stop it.”

Hermione and Draco looked at each other. “Oh, all right,” Draco said getting to his feet and straightening his robes. “But if I’m attacked by a werewolf, the first person I bite will be you.”

When ten o’clock came, the trio found themselves standing in the empty entrance hall. After a few minutes of waiting, Hagrid appeared wearing his moleskin overcoat. In his hand he held an enormous lantern and he smiled broadly when he saw them.

“Almost though you lot weren’t gonna come,” he said ushering them outside.

“I wont’ say it didn’t cross our minds,” Draco said and he dodged as Hermione tried to hit him. “Uh, by the way we won’t get in trouble for being out after curfew?”

“Nah,” Hagrid said as he led the way back to his hut, “I’ve told yer heads of houses that I needed your help.”

“So basically you told them we had detention with you,” Draco said with a frown and Hagrid laughed.

“Put it anyway you like,” he said and Merlin smirked at Draco, who was looking sour. He would have loved to see Snape’s reaction to Hagrid telling him that he and Draco would be spending detention with him.

When they reached Hagrid’s hut, he had them wait outside as he went inside to grab another lantern, his crossbow, and Fang the boarhound. The enormous dog bounded happily up to them and Draco swore when the dog slobbered all over his hand.

But when Hagrid led them into the forest, their smiles left. Merlin felt comfortable between the dark trees, the scent of crisp leaves and musky undergrowth but beside him, Draco and Hermione kept casting worried glances at each other. They had never been in the forest before, and the fact of what they were looking for scared them. Merlin felt a stab of regret – maybe he should have waited to tell them about Quirrell until after their adventure here. But what if they did actually run into the man, wouldn’t it be worse to be unprepared?

“All right,” Hagrid said and he came to a stop. He was looking down at a splash of silver on the ground and leaves. Even from the blood Merlin could feel some residual magical aura, and there wasn’t a single doubt in his mind of what it was.

He felt Hermione tug on his sleeve. “Is that?” she whispered.

Merlin nodded as Hagrid turned around to face them, some of the mercury colored blood on his fingers. “See this?” he said. “That’s unicorn blood, that is. Now, it’ll be easier to find the poor creature if we split up.”

“Split up?” Draco repeated hoarsely. “Are you mad?”

“Most of the creatures in ‘ere won’t hurt you unless provoked. And it’s not a full moon tonight, so you needn’t worry about werewolves. Uh, do you all know how ta send up red sparks?” Hagrid asked.

“Yes,” Hermione answered faintly.

“Right, if you get in trouble, send up red sparks. If you find the unicorn, send up green ones. If we’re lucky we might even find it before it dies,” Hagrid explained and Merlin saw his beetle black eyes sparkle with hope.

“I’ll be my own group with Fang,” Merlin suggested. “I’ve been in the forest before.”

“Merlin, no,” Hermione started to say but Merlin glanced at her and winked.

“I’ll be fine, trust me.”

She bit her lip but nodded all the same. Draco hesitated too and then he handed Merlin the lantern he was carrying. “Be careful,” he muttered before looking away.

“You sure?” Hagrid asked Merlin. “Fang won’t be much help in a fight. He’s big but gutless.”

Merlin nodded. “Just send up red sparks, right?” he said with a smile. He would take the route that brought him closer to the pod of dragons, meaning that the others would search for the unicorn in the opposite direction.

“All right,” Hagrid said and he readjusted his grip on his crossbow. “Now just remember to stay on the path and everyone’ll be okay.”

“Okay,” Hermione said and she glanced back at Merlin once, worry written in the creases of her brow. She took a deep breath, “Let’s go.”

And they split up.

Merlin waited a few moments before walking along his path, waiting until Hagrid’s rumbling voice had faded and he could no longer hear Draco’s complaining. Honestly, that boy had never done a day’s labor in his life. And Merlin didn’t even think that this counted as labor. Fang whined at his side, and his wet nose pressed against Merlin’s hand.

“It’s all right,” he told the dog and he patted Fang’s head. “C’mon.”

The lantern was heavy and did little to illuminate the pathway. Merlin almost thought it was more tedious to carry it with him – he was used to starlight guiding his path. But in the thick of the trees, the stars were blotted out and thick oppressive blackness pressed in from every side. At least the lamp was good for one thing, and that was catching the glimmer of unicorn blood splattered across the ground and leaves.

Merlin felt his stomach heave as he looked down at a particularly large patch of the silver blood. Who could ever do this to a unicorn? Even Arthur, the hunter that he was, had offered the creature a swift death. But this unicorn seemed to have been thrashing about, mad with pain and fear. And what of the curse? Would the death of the unicorn bring a curse upon the castle? Merlin shook his head. No, the curse would fall upon Lord Voldemort and Quirrell. It should.

He came to another fork in the road and paused. “What do you reckon, Fang?” he asked the boarhound. For a moment, Fang didn’t move and then he dropped his nose to the ground, sniffing. He started trotting down the left road, and Merlin followed, hoping that Fang was indeed following the scent of the unicorn and not something else.

They had barely walked a few paces when Fang whined again and hid behind Merlin, pressing his body against Merlin’s leg. “What is it?” Merlin whispered and he dropped to a crouch, looking up and down the pathway. “What is it?” he asked again, rubbing Fang’s head. He didn’t really expect a response, but his touch seemed to reassure the boarhound. And then he heard a distant clapping growing louder. It sounded so familiar that Merlin had no trouble placing it.

Hooves.

Within moments, something enormous leaped over them and skidded to a halt in the brush before turning around and surveying them. For one blinding moment, Merlin had thought it was the unicorn. His hair was light blonde, but when it straightened up there was the torso of a young man with astonishing blue eyes.

For a moment, the two stared at each other. Merlin slowly got to his feet, disliking how the centaur towered over him. “What is a student doing here alone?” the centaur asked him aghast, and he took a step toward him. “The forest is not safe at this time.”

“I—I know. I’m with Hagrid,” Merlin said, wondering if the centaur even knew Hagrid. He coughed and tried to stand taller, still feeling dwarfed. “We’re trying to find the unicorn,” he went on. “It’s been badly injured.”

Something in the centaur’s eyes seemed to soften and he nodded. “Yes, such a crime I never thought I would have to witness. But the planets have warned of more terrible things to come.”

“The planets?” Merlin repeated, furrowing his brow.

“Yes, we centaurs use the planets and the stars to foretell of things on earth.” He shook his head. “The forest is not safe. You must leave this place with Hagrid quickly.”

Merlin frowned. “Not until we’ve found that unicorn,” he protested. “It needs our help, and I will not leave it to be eaten by some monster.”

The centaur hesitated for a moment, as though considering whether or not to grab Merlin and take him back to Hagrid himself. He sighed and said, “The herd saw the unicorn traveling down this path. I hope you find it quickly. But boy, where is Hagrid?”

“Merlin, and he followed the other path that way,” Merlin said pointing through the black trees.

The centaur smiled. “A good strong name. I am Firenze.” And he reared on his hindquarters before setting off at a gallop through the trees. Merlin didn’t pause to watch him. He wouldn’t be surprised if he came back to take him out of the forest. Hagrid was brave and maybe even a little reckless but he wouldn’t risk putting him or his friends in any serious danger.

Tripping and sliding over roots, the lantern lying dead on the ground where the centaur Firenze had been, Merlin plowed through the forest looking for the smallest glimmer of white. Even in the near pitch darkness, he could still see the flecks of silver blood that lined the trail. He heard something ruffle in the trees and he froze, Fang crashing into his legs behind him with a yelp.

“Firenze?” Merlin called out warily, squinting his eyes as he looked through the trees. He brought his hand to his lips, and with a half whispered “Lumos,” and a flicker of gold, a small orb of white light appeared in his hands. He held it above his head, the light growing larger and brighter as he focused his magical energy into his palm.

“Who’s there?” he whispered as the ground was swathed in white light, as the branches and bushes were illuminated. For a moment, all was silent and then from behind a thick branch of trees emerged the most stunning creature Merlin had ever seen. The unicorn was whiter than snow, whiter than his light. It shone in the darkness like a beacon. It tossed its great mane, pawing nervously at the ground with silver hooves. Merlin slowly lowered his hand, and lessened the intensity of its brightness.

All he could think of was how beautiful this creature was, and how could anyone drink it’s blood. Merlin didn’t dare move. He was terrified he would spook it back into the cover of darkness, and now that he had a moment to look at it, he could see a dribble of silver blood dripping down it’s leg.

“It’s okay,” Merlin whispered. “I’m here to help you,” and he took a cautious step toward it. The unicorn pawed at the ground, but it didn’t move away as he slowly inched near it. His heart hammering in his chest, adrenaline in his veins, Merlin came to stand next to the creature. Fang hadn’t moved from the path, and was staring at the unicorn in silence.

“Fang,” Merlin said and the dog’s ears perked up. “Go get Hagrid.”

Without a moment’s pause, the dog bounded into the trees, and after a few minutes Merlin could hear his booming barks echoing through the forest. The unicorn tossed its head again, a twitch in its flank.

“It’s okay,” Merlin told it again. As gently as he could, he brought a hand to pat its neck. It didn’t take more than a few seconds to spot the source of the dripping blood. It looked as though someone had stabbed the unicorn just above the shoulder, and again on it’s back. And as Merlin rested his hand on the unicorn’s neck, he felt the creature slowly lean back into him as though it had lost so much blood that it was now having difficulty standing up straight.

“Hagrid will put you right,” Merlin said, this time more for his own comfort. He wasn’t sure that unicorns could understand human speech anyway. And thinking that it might not be a good idea for his friends to see him holding a light, he muttered, “Nox.”

Just when he was beginning to wonder where was Hagrid, he heard pounding footsteps that could only belong to a giant. Merlin kept his hand on the unicorn, hoping the noise wouldn’t frighten it. He didn’t want to tether the unicorn to a tree, but he would if he had too. To his relief, the unicorn seemed too exhausted to move and gave a bleary neigh when Hagrid, Draco, and Hermione burst through the trees lead by there by Fang. The dog sat up and panted, wearing a giant slobbery smile.

“Merlin, you found it,” Hagrid breathed.

“It’s hurt really bad,” Merlin whispered back and he pointed to one of the slash marks. “Can you do anything?”

“Not in here. Professor Kettleburn needs to take a look at ‘im. It’s difficult treating an injured unicorn.”

Merlin nodded. Hermione was staring at the unicorn in wonderment. “Can I?” she asked glancing at Hagrid, who nodded. Slowly, she approached Merlin and the unicorn, and she placed her hand on the flank next to Merlin’s.

“Wow,” she said, smothering an excited giggle.

“Strange though,” Hagrid said and he stroked his beard. “The older ones usually don’t tolerate men. Don’t trust ‘em.”

Draco snorted with laughter. “Oh, that’s because Merlin’s a Disney princess.”

Merlin shot him a glare, not daring to retort while being so close to the injured animal. He had an idea why the creature had let him approach. It might have something to do with that crazy unicorn sage that had put Arthur through those trials years ago.

The unicorn shuddered and started to walk. Merlin cast a glance toward Hagrid, walking with it. “Go on,” Hagrid said softly. “Let ‘er lead you.”

Still resting his hand on the unicorn, they followed it as it led them through some brush and into a low clearing. It paused on the edge of it and dropped its head, a low pitiful whine escaping it. There, beneath two enormous oaks was another unicorn. It was sprawled out along the grass, some of its legs lying at awkward angles. And marring its pristine white coat was a flood of silver blood.

Merlin felt sick.

Behind him, he heard Draco emptying the contents of his stomach into a shrub. Merlin wondered if they could feel the awful magic hanging in the air. It sat in the pit of his stomach, a toxic fume that spoke of such a twisted soul that nature rejected its very essence. Beside him, Hermione took his arm for support, horror in her face.

And Hagrid looked away, wiping his tears.

“Let’s head back up to the castle,” the half-giant said hoarsely. “We need to help the unicorn still breathing.”

 

Hagrid left Merlin, Draco, and Hermione in his hut with a steaming pot of tea while he led the Unicorn over to the Care of Magical Creatures paddock and fetched Professor Kettleburn. Perhaps he knew how badly the sight of the dead unicorn had affected them, and Merlin had never needed a cup of tea so badly. He needed the warmth in his heart, needed the soothing that only tea seemed able to provide.

He still felt sick. He almost wanted to copy Draco and expel his innards, but he couldn’t. It just didn’t want to come up, and so he was left with an awful churning in his stomach.

Hermione gave a small sob and refilled her cup. She had managed to hold in the tears until they’d gotten back to Hagrid’s. She rubbed her eyes on her sleeve, and heaved a loud shuddering breath. “How could anyone do—do that?” she mumbled.

Draco’s face had taken on a pallid greenish color. “There was so much blood,” he said and he shook his head. He looked up at Merlin, something in his gaze hollow. “Will the other one be okay, you think?”

“I think so. It wasn’t as badly injured and now it’s being helped.” Merlin set his tea down on the table, holding it in his hands.

For another long moment, no one spoke. Hermione got shakily to her feet and refilled the teapot, before slumping to the ground and wrapping Fang in a tight hug. Draco laid his head on the table and started fiddling with his chipped teacup, running his finger along the edge. And Merlin refilled his cup just so he could hold something warm.

His eyes were starting to droop. Merlin felt both physically and mentally exhausted and all he wanted was to curl up in bed. He didn’t want to think about the bloody corpse in the clearing. Hermione was crying again. Her tears dropped on top of Fang’s head, and the dog turned his muzzle to her. He licked her cheek and she smiled, wiping some of the slobber from her face.

“If—” Draco began quietly, “—if Quirrell really did murder that unicorn,” he said his voice thick. “Then he deserves a fate worse than death.”

And they all agreed.

Chapter Text

 

Every time Merlin turned a corner, he expected to see Anhora standing there like some white-robed Grim Reaper. The guardian of the unicorns. Maybe he wanted to see him, wanted Quirrell to be punished for the death of the unicorn but he never saw him. Was it because he had not been involved in the unicorn’s death? With Arthur, he had accompanied the hunt and had felt partly responsible for it. But how was Quirrell being punished by his abominable deed?

Hermione had referenced a textbook, telling him that unicorn blood would keep someone alive even if they were an inch from death – but that their life would be cursed. Was Quirrell cursed? Merlin had watched the professor from the corner of his eye and nothing seemed to be different, although he was sure Quirrell would hide such differences.

Hermione had taken the incident especially hard. Instead of meeting up with them at the library during breaks, she would run down to the Care of Magical Creatures paddock and ask Professor Kettleburn how the unicorn was doing. Much to their relief, the unicorn was recovering quickly, although Merlin feared that if it were released back into the forest Quirrell would finish the job.

Merlin found himself in the forbidden forest the very next night; running through the brush toward what he had started calling the dragon clearing. The night sky was beautifully clear and the warm breeze of summer ruffled his hair.

“Kor?” he called and he slowed to a walk. The clearing had expanded some since he’d last been there, more trees knocked down and some portions of the ground burned charcoal black.

“Merlin!” Korrizahar flew down from one of the trees on the edge of the glade. He had grown a few inches in height, and Merlin was sure his wingspan was double his body length. The red and black dragon landed on his shoulders, now needing to wrap his body around Merlin’s neck in order to fit.

“Hey,” Merlin said with a smile and he ran his finger gently under the base of Kor’s throat. “Where are Norberta and Aithusa?”

“Hunting,” the dragon replied. “Berta’s twice my size already, I’m a little jealous of her growth speed to be honest.”

“Yeah, well, you’ll live longer,” Merlin said with a laugh that died out too quickly. Kor fixed his golden eyes on Merlin, surveying him for several moments before pressing his head against Merlin’s cheek.

“What’s happened?” he asked, the smoky aspect of his voice seeming to intensify as he whispered.

Merlin took a seat on his stump – now slightly charred – and told him everything that had transpired the night before. As he spoke about the dead unicorn, his tone grew hard. He was furious. He hoped now that Hagrid was keeping an eye out, Quirrell would be forced to stop drinking unicorn blood but he couldn’t be certain.

“The other unicorn will be fine,” Merlin said. “Hermione says Kettleburn fixed her right up.” He shook his head, frustrated. “The sooner Quirrell is discovered, the better. But, how has Norberta been settling in?”

Kor gave him a stern look, a silent reprimand for avoiding the issue that was clearly bothering him. Merlin just wanted to distract himself for one moment. The death of that majestic creature filled him with frustration and anxiety. He wanted to do something but there was nothing to do. He couldn’t just walk into Quirrell’s office and attack, and he couldn’t just tell Snape because what proof did he have?

“She’s fine, likes to sleep in ash as I’m sure you’ve noticed,” Kor said and he nodded toward the patches of scorched earth. He was silent for a moment, watching Merlin. “You’ll get Quirrell, you know that right?”

“Yeah, I know,” Merlin said and he put his face in his hands. “I’d just—I’d rather it was sooner than later.”

“It’ll happen when it’s supposed to.”

Merlin looked up and smirked, “You’re starting to sound like your father.”

Kor gave a toothy grin. “Has to happen every now and then.”

Above them, there was the sound of wings and Merlin looked up to see Aithusa streak across the sky like a ghost. Close behind her was the dark silhouette of Norberta, the muddy color of her scales melting unseen into the night sky. They circled the clearing once before landing heavily, Aithusa dropping what looked like an elk onto the ground behind her. Norberta had indeed grown, looking as though she was fast nearing the size of a small bear.  

“She says hello,” Kor said as Norberta chirped. The dragon stared at Norberta for a second before a giving another wide toothy grin. “I think I have an idea on how to protect the unicorns,” Korrizahar said and he moved smoothly from Merlin’s shoulders to a young sapling tree next to him.

“Yeah?”

“I’ll start patrolling the forbidden forest with Norberta,” he said and Merlin frowned.

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” Merlin said glancing toward Norberta. If they were going through the forbidden forest, it would be so easy for someone to catch a glimpse of them. Hagrid or even Quirrell might see them and tell someone.

“Really?” Kor said and a curl of black smoke rose from his snout. “If we’re lucky, Norberta will just eat Quirrell and solve all your problems.”

And Merlin laughed.

 There is no better cure for a troubled mind than time. Because, inevitably, a different and more pressing problem will displace the worry currently plaguing you until it becomes nothing more than an unpleasant memory.

After a while, it was as though the unicorn had never died. Life continued just as it always did, and maybe it was the fact that no one else in the entire school seemed to have noticed the absence of the unicorn’s life that Draco and Hermione slowly stopped talking about it. There was nothing they could do, so why should they let the horrible memory of that bloody corpse in the clearing drag them down? Professor Kettleburn released the now healed unicorn back into the forbidden forest, and Hermione stopped fretting about whether or not something would attack it. Even Merlin felt his anger ebb away as his friends began to talk more and more of the approaching exams. The entire school seemed to buzz, and the library became packed with individuals feverishly studying. Which meant that the trio needed to find a different location to meet together, as Draco emphasized how important it was his father didn’t hear how his son was consorting with a muggleborn.

And they both wouldn’t stop pestering Merlin to study.

It didn’t seem to matter that Merlin had already promised to ace his exams. The fact that he didn’t do any of his homework or study at all made Hermione sure he was going to fail. And, now that there was a little over two weeks before the exams were to take place, Draco had joined her in urging him to study.

And Merlin couldn’t take it anymore.

They were supposed to meet in one of the unused classrooms on the second floor during break but Merlin had already made the decision to ditch the study session. Maybe Draco had realized Merlin couldn’t take another moment of Hermione shoving papers under his nose, because he didn’t question it when Merlin told him to go without him. Not to say that Draco approved. He frowned, an exhausted sigh on his lips as he shook his head and headed out of the dungeons. He probably thought Merlin was wasting his talents. At least the rest of the Slytherins had given up persuading Merlin to do his coursework – he could only imagine how frustrating that would be otherwise.

But at least even professor Quirrell thought he was a lost cause, and barely paid attention to him anymore. It made it easier to keep an eye on him, wait for him to slip up.

Merlin waited a few more minutes, until Draco had reached the next floor so he wouldn’t have to tell him again that he wasn’t coming to study with Hermione, and then he left the common room. To be honest, he wasn’t really sure what he was going to do. Most of the school had left for the last Hogsmeade trip of the year, and everyone else was studying either in their common rooms or the library. Thinking of perhaps walking around the lake, trying to catch a glimpse of the giant squid, Merlin walked along the entrance hall until someone called him.

Merlin! Long time no see!”

He turned to see the Weasley twins walking down the staircase, their faces split into identical grins. Merlin mimicked them and walked over. “Been busy I guess, why aren’t you two at Hogsmeade?”

“Oh, we’re going in a moment,” George said and his smile broadened.

“We just thought we might extend the invitation to you,” Fred continued and he inclined his head in a sort of mock bow. “How could we not, after all?”

Merlin blinked. “You know only third years and up are allowed to go,” he said raising his eyebrow. “I’d never get past the gate.”

“Past the gate, yes,” and Fred glanced toward his brother. “But do you honestly think that’s the only way out of this castle?”

“Unless you’d rather be off studying, of course,” George added but from the look on his face, Merlin knew the twin already knew the answer to that question.

 “What do you think?” Merlin said and the twins high-fived each other.

“Come on then,” and they turned and raced back up the stairs. Utterly puzzled, Merlin tore after them, his chest feeling lighter than it had in weeks. Worrying about Quirrell, about the dragons, then the unicorn incident, and final exams he hadn’t had a moment to really enjoy himself. Right, with all those things happening what was there to enjoy? And burying himself in all those problems stopped him from remembering and missing Camelot with all its simplicity. At least there he’d had people who’d truly known him.

But even in Camelot he had needed a moment of fun. Like turning all the knight’s capes green for a day.

The twins took him toward the Defense Against the Dark Arts tower, and came to a pause on the third floor next to a statue of a one-eyed witch with hump. Merlin came to a stop next them, growing steadily more confused. “What are we doing here?” he asked them, catching his breath.

“We’ll talk inside – it’s too easy to be overheard,” George explained quickly as he looked up and down the corridor. “It’s clear, Fred.”

The other twin nodded and took out his wand. He tapped the hump on the witch statue and whispered, “Dissendium.” At once, the hump sunk from sight to reveal a small passageway. Merlin stared.

“Well, get in!” George said with a chuckle and he gave Merlin a small push. Tripping over his robes, Merlin crawled inside, closely followed by the twins and the passage closed behind them. Fred lit the tip of his wand, illuminating the small tunnel they stood in.

“Leads straight to Honeydukes cellar,” Fred explained with a flourish.

“This is amazing,” Merlin said. “How did you know this was here?”

The twins exchanged the smallest of looks, as though communicating something important to each other. Then, Fred nodded and George ran a nervous hand through his hair. “We’ve talked about whether or not we should tell you, but we both decided that you ought to know.”

Merlin felt a sense of foreboding. “Okay,” he said slowly.

George reached into his pocket and withdrew a very old piece of blank parchment but from the way he held it reverently in his hands, Merlin had a feeling that it was anything but blank. “This,” he explained, “is a map of Hogwarts.”

“What?” Merlin gasped.

Fred beamed. “Oh yes. Nicked it from Filtch’s office our first year and it’s the secret to our success.”

“Watch,” George said and cleared his throat. “I solemnly swear that I am up to know good,” and tapped the parchment. Ink began to spread across the parchment, giant words across the top reading, “Misters Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs present the Maurders Map.”

“Absolute genius,” Fred said. “One generation of rule breakers paving the way for the next.”

Merlin stared at the map, looking at the outline of all the corridors he knew and all the ones he didn’t. He was watching the map when he saw a pair of footprints with a name beneath them, reading Ron Weasley disappear into Gryffindor tower.

“Wait a minute—” Merlin said and George’s grin widened.

“Yup, it shows everyone in the castle. Where they are every minute of the day.”

“But Ron just disappeared.”

Fred waved his hand. “The map doesn’t show inside of classrooms and common rooms.”

“Shows teacher’s offices though,” George corrected.

“Well, yeah. A rule breaker must always know where authority is. But I think that there are just too many people inside the common rooms and classrooms to put all the names in. I mean, look at the library,” Fred continued and he flipped on of the pages to point at the library. There were so many people inside it that all of the names were jumbled and you couldn’t really tell whose footprints belonged to which name.

“Good thing it isn’t always that crowded in the library.”

“So, what do you think, Merlin,” Fred asked, something glinting in his eyes that Merlin didn’t really understand.

“It’s—” and then Merlin fell silent because he had finally understood the glint in Fred’s eyes every time he said his name. He had finally understood why the twins so often emphasized his name the way they did.

There, in the passageway underneath the statue of the one-eyed witch were three pairs of footprints. George Weasley, Fred Weasley, and beside them was Merlin Ambrosius.

And all he could do was stare.

George smiled and slung his arm over Merlin’s shoulder, leaning over to read the map too. “Imagine our surprise when we looked at the map the first day of term and saw that name written on it,” he said looking up, as though he were recalling a fond memory.

“Absolutely shocking,” Fred agreed.

“And then,” George continued looking down at Merlin, “we followed the map toward the name and found you.”

"Merlin? Right, Merlin!"

Merlin stopped in his tracks as someone came up behind him. Two identical red-haired and freckled someone's. They didn't seem to be expecting him, to be honest. George was stuffing a piece of paper into his cloak while Fred blinked before giving a hesitant grin.

But that was the very first day of term! The. First. Day. Merlin hadn’t even been friends with Draco yet. He hadn’t had a real conversation with Hermione. Korrizahar hadn’t even been hatched! And somehow, without even knowing it, someone had discovered his most closely guarded secret.

Merlin felt rather lightheaded, still staring at the map, at his name so clearly written on the parchment.

“So, Merlin,” Fred said and he exchanged a look with his twin. “Why aren’t you looking like Dumbledore’s brother?”

Finally, Merlin tore his gaze from the map and looked at the twins. He gaped for a moment before, “Is that really the thing you’re going to focus on?”

Fred shrugged. “What can I say? Any and all depictions of you are as an old geezer with an impressive beard.”

“And what, you don’t have aging potions in this time period?”

“Yeah, but why would you permanently de-age yourself?” George asked and he scratched his head. “Going through puberty, again?”

Merlin grimaced. “Don’t remind me.” He paused a moment, surveying the identical redheaded twins in front of him. “But, you’ve known all this time. Why didn’t you say anything? Why didn’t you tell anyone?” he asked, furrowing his brows in confusion.

Why had they just sat on the knowledge? And not just that, they had still reached out and befriended him. They hadn’t treated him any different. And not just that, if they had this map, Merlin was willing to bet that they had caught sight of him wandering into the forbidden forest, perhaps even seen him on the second floor during Halloween. It made Merlin swing between gratitude and sheer panic.

“Well yeah,” George said rolling his eyes. “You’d have to be really thick to blow the whistle on Merlin, the founder of modern wizarding society.”

“I’m shocked you would think we’d do that,” Fred added, pretending to be insulted. He touched his chest as though Merlin had poked him. “We consider ourselves sworn to your service, you know.”

“Especially since we discovered that you are the original prankster,” George said with a grin. He glanced up the tunnel and nodded. “Come on, let’s walk and talk.”

“Wait, we’re still going to Hogsmeade?” Merlin asked, confused. For some reason, he’d gotten it into his head that they had lured him down into this tunnel just for the sake of questioning. George looked back at him and laughed.

“Of course! What, you think because we told you that we know we’re going to treat you differently?”

“Just because you know that we know who you are you think everything’s changed,” Fred said rolling his eyes and he gave Merlin a little nudge to get him walking. “What do you take us for, really?”

“But I’m—”

“The most powerful wizard to ever live, yes but we’re still going to sneak you out of school to eat candy. No getting out of that one.” And then George made a funny little hop. “This’ll be something to tell the kids—I convinced the great Merlin to break school rules!”

Merlin raised his eyebrow. “I didn’t exactly need much convincing, I mean I am failing all my classes.”

“About that,” George glanced back at him. “Why?”

“You could be famous. Never mind if they know who you are, you’re magical prowess is enough for sure,” Fred added. “And all the teachers would leave you alone, too.”

“It’s better right now if I’m underestimated,” Merlin said shortly. He wasn’t sure he wanted to tell the twins everything that was going on at the moment. Then again—why not? They obviously already knew the worst of it.

“Same reason why you’re identity is kept secret, I assume?” Fred said thoughtfully.

Merlin nodded and he glanced down at the ground, silent for a few moments as he followed George through the tunnel. George cleared his throat.

“Look, Merlin. Don’t ever feel like you have to tell us what you’re doing or whatever. I’m pretty sure it’ll be over our heads anyway,” and George nodded to Fred. “How you got here and why is your business and we understand that. We found out who you are, but you’re still this awesome sassy kid that has somehow managed to tame the vindictive professor Snape.”

“And,” Fred added with a soft smile, “We’ll be here if you ever need to talk to us about something. Also if you need a random diversion for any reason at any time of day.”

Merlin burst out laughing. It felt as though something had been lifted from his heart, something that he hadn’t even realized was there until it was gone. The fear of what would happen if he were discovered? Perhaps. It was such a relief that they didn’t ask any important questions. No—how did you get here, where are you going, what are you doing? Hermione and Draco weren’t like that. They wanted to be filled in every step of the way, and understand him.

But right now, it felt like the twins understood him better than they ever could.

And what about Snape? Well, sure he wouldn’t deny he had thought about telling the professor his secrets. But he didn’t want to just project Gaius onto the man. Snape wasn’t Gaius. They didn’t think the same way and they didn’t react the same way. Merlin knew that the instant he told Snape who he was their relationship would change, and he actually liked the way things were now. He certainly didn’t want to end up as some sort of leader for the wizarding world. He wasn’t cut out for that, Arthur was the leader and he—well, he was his court advisor.

Sometimes he really missed home.

Merlin sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Okay.” He laughed again, and he could actually feel Fred and George relax. “Okay, guys.” He smiled. “Thank you.”

“Oh, geeze, don’t thank us,” George said scratching his neck and giving a nervous chuckle. “We haven’t done anything.”

But Merlin didn’t agree. Because they knew, because they had taken the knowledge in stride, they had done a lot. They had given him that little bit of recognition that he needed.

“So,” Fred said smacking his hands together. “Ready for the best experience of your life?”

It was only a few minutes after Fred started talking about all the different kinds of sweets in Honey Dukes – with George jumping in every few lines – that they reached the trap door in the cellar. George led the way into the main shop, greeting the owners with a familiarity that made Merlin think they were extended family. They somehow managed to get Merlin free samples of everything, and then purchased a whole bag of sweets. Merlin had the feeling the owners gave the twins some sort of discount, and then they held the candy for them for when they returned.

“They’re good like that,” Fred whispered to him with a wink.

Then it was outside. They took Merlin around the sights, the post office, the shrieking shack, a rather long visit in Zonko’s, culminating with a mug of butter beer at The Three Broomsticks. Merlin couldn’t remember the last time he’d been inside a tavern, and it felt nice. He could remember, most clearly, Helga dancing on top of a table with a tankard of mead. He could remember he and Arthur aiding Gwaine in a bar fight. He could remember all the times Arthur had accused him of getting drunk off his ass in the tavern, when instead he had been saving the day.

Merlin smiled into the beer foam, and listened while Fred and George talked about the upcoming Quidditch game and their hopes for finally getting the Quidditch Cup for Gryffindor. It was entertaining, and he finally explained to them why his broomstick had exploded. They laughed together and when they finally started making their way back to Honey Dukes, Merlin thought it was too soon.

“Why doesn’t he care about exams?” Hermione muttered under her breath, her brow furrowed in confusion. She was walking up to Gryffindor Tower to drop off her bag before dinner.

She and Draco had gotten a lot done today. She had really felt rather flattered that he had put aside his pride in order to ask her for help studying History of Magic. She would never admit it, but sometimes she caught herself staring at him in wonder. Draco Malfoy, renown for his anti-muggle ideals and general antagonism toward Gryffindor was studying with her. If someone had told her at the beginning of the year she would become friends with him, she would have sent them to St. Mungo’s psychiatric ward. And yet, he had been right in front of her. Asking questions about major players in the Goblin Rebellions.

And Merlin had ditched.

She was a little angry with him, to be honest. He thought he could just pass all his exams without putting in any effort, when she was working so hard for her perfect scores? If he actually managed to pass—did he even deserve it? She knew it was awful to want him to fail but it wasn’t fair. And then, all his comments about how grades don’t matter and mean nothing in the real world really ticked her off.

Not that she would ever tell him.

Hermione sighed as she reached the portrait hole, gave the password without really listening to what the Fat Lady said, and clambered inside. The first thing she noticed was that it was rather empty. Oh right, every third year and above were at Hogsmeade still. Dean and Seamus were playing with Gobbstones in a corner, Lavender and Parvati were sitting in the usually taken armchairs and had textbooks propped on their laps, and sitting at one of the tables with parchment strewn over the surface was Ron Weasley.

He looked up with she entered. For a moment, he stared at her and then he bit his lip and got slowly to his feet. Hermione paused, wondering whether or not she should dodge around him and head up to the girl’s dormitory when he asked, “Would—would you mind helping me with something?”

He swallowed thickly. “I’m—I’m stuck on my Astronomy charts. I—well, you don’t—” he stammered, and his ears went pink. He turned jerkily away from her and sat back down at his table. “Just thought I’d ask, forget it.”

“I haven’t even said anything,” Hermione said and she chuckled. Ron looked up at her, his eyes narrowing.

“Don’t make fun of me.”

“I’m not!” Hermione said, still smiling.

“It was stupid ask,” Ron grumbled, more to himself than to her.

She shook her head. “It’s never stupid to ask for help.” But she folded her arms, not taking a seat opposite him just yet. “Although, you have been rather mean to me this year. Why should I help you?”

Ron didn’t reply immediately. He seemed to cringe at her words and then give a nervous smile. “Uh, because I’m really sorry and I’m worried I’m going to flunk?”

Hermione raised her eyebrow.

“Okay. I am really sorry for all that stuff I said. Now will you come? I seriously don’t understand this gibberish at all.”

“Fine,” Hermione said as she took her seat, “But only for a few minutes. Dinner is in a bit.”

“It is!?” Ron said and his eyes widened. “Okay then, here,” and he handed her his chart. “Obviously, I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Hermione wasn’t going to do it for him. She quickly read through his chart and handed it back to him. She told him where he was wrong, and then had him ask exactly what points were confusing him. It was difficult to get a clear question from him, “all this,” was his answer until she started pointing out specific things on his chart. They’d been at it for nearly fifteen minutes when the portrait hole opened again and the Weasley Twins burst inside, roaring with laughter.

“The look on his face.”

“For a minute there I thought we were in serious trouble.”

“I think he got a little drunk too, how many butter beers was that?”

“I lost count,” and George wiped his eyes. “Oh, Ron, Hermione,” he said catching sight of them and stumbling toward them still grinning. “This ought to help you with your studies,” and he dropped two enormous handfuls of Honey Dukes sweets on top of Ron’s homework.

“You enjoy that,” Fred said pointing at Ron. “And you,” he said turning to Hermione. For a moment, Hermione seriously thought that he was going to yell at her until he ruffled her hair. “You’ve got some good friends, you know that?”

She didn’t reply. She and Ron stared at the twins as they climbed up the stairs to the boy’s dormitory.

“What on earth?” she asked, turning to look at all the different kinds of candy.

“What?” Ron said, already grabbing a chocolate frog, “Oh, this is from Honey Dukes in Hogsmeade. Best wizarding candy in all of Britain!”

“Oh, well that’s nice of them,” Hermione said taking a piece too.

“Yeah, it is,” Ron said smiling. “Wish they’d brought some butter beer too – then again they might have but it sounds like they drank it all.”

“Butter beer?” Hermione repeated frowning.

“Yeah. It’s not strong mind, so they must have had a lot.”

“A sugar high too, I expect,” Hermione added. For a moment they both picked through the candy, splitting it down the middle. She put her pieces into her bag, while Ron either ate them on the spot of stuffed them into his pockets.

“I think dinner’s ready,” Hermione finally said, getting to her feet and stretching.

“Yeah,” Ron said and he got to his feet too. “Should probably go, and Hermione?” he asked as she began to walk toward the girls’ dormitory. She paused and glanced back at him curiously. “Thanks.”

She smiled, “You’re welcome.”

“No, come on, Merlin you’re not skipping class.”

Merlin had come back from Honey Dukes with more than candy and a little buzz; he’d come back with a determination to not study at all. Sure, he joined Draco and Hermione in the library or whatever classroom they found empty but he didn’t bother opening up his books. His bag lay ignored under his chair, as he read random books on the history of Druids, and more notably his Christmas present on Arthurian Legend from his foster brother Silas.

It drove Hermione crazy.

It was a little amusing to be honest. She would glance up at him from her books and tut disapprovingly, but at least she had stopped pestering him to join them. And the Weasley twins were always willing to give him a break from studying, all he had to do was say the word and they would be on the roof of the Astronomy Tower that night firing Fred’ wet-start Filibuster Fireworks until the Marauders Map told them Filtch was coming to investigate. The only thing that could make things better was if Snape finally found a way to fire professor Quirrell.

Merlin had just been considering ditching Defense Against the Dark Arts when Draco dragged him inside.

“He’s not even going to be talking about anything,” Merlin told him in an undertone as they took their seats. “He’s just going to be talking about the exams next week. Everyone is.”

“Well then, that’s something you should listen too,” Draco drawled back.

“Hey, Hufflepuff,” Blaise whispered and Merlin turned around to look at him. Theodore was next to him looking tired. “So much for hardworking.”

“Obviously there’s a reason I’m not actually in Hufflepuff,” Merlin quipped back and Blaise chuckled.

“Maybe they should make a house just for you. House Evans, home of the slackers.”

Merlin glared at Blaise. He didn’t have time to respond because Quirrell had started speaking. He sighed and faced forward, shoving his book bag underneath his chair and slouching in his seat. This was their last class of the day. Next would be dinner, and all he could think about was what he was going to eat.

“As y-you a-a-all k-know,” Quirrell was saying as he paced, “E-exams are n-n-next week. N-now I-I-I t-trust you’ve a-all b-b-been s-studying hard—”

And Merlin stopped listening.

It seemed that because exams would be next week, every single teacher felt like they needed to remind them. What, like they would forget or something? Exams were the only thing anyone talked about anymore.

Merlin yawned. He hadn’t gotten much sleep last night. He’d eaten too much candy—which had been completely worth it, by the way. His eyes began to droop, and within minutes he had drifted off to sleep.

Arthur was shouting at him. That wasn’t anything new. Merlin smiled and ignored him, dodging a flying cup as it went his way. Morgana. She was still good. She smiled at him as he passed her in the hallway. His heart ached in his chest—why had things gotten so messed up?

The dream shifted. Salazar and he were laughing. They’d enchanted a fake snake to slither into Rowena’s room. It was totally worth it to hear the usually stern Ravenclaw swear like a sailor. Then the image went black, a flicker of film too damaged to play. Merlin furrowed his brow, trying to remember but it was like trying to see through smoke. He saw the signing ceremony for the Deed of Hogwarts—was that the construction in the distance?

He didn’t know.

His head had started to ache again. It hadn’t hurt like this in a long time—since summer. There was strange rushing in his ears, then—

Merlin, wake up!”

His eyes shot open. Draco had elbowed him in the shoulder and he rubbed the spot, turning to look at him.

“Class is over,” the blond continued, rolling his eyes. Still caught up in the memories of his past, Merlin didn’t reply. He nodded, and stumbled jerkily out of his chair and into the hallway, following the crowd of Slytherins.

“Did you hear anything Quirrell said?” Draco asked with a frown.

“Should I have?” Merlin replied raising his eyebrow.

“Well, I’m not telling you,” Draco said folding his arms. “You’ll find out the day of the final.”

Merlin shrugged, following Blaise into the common room. It wasn’t until he was walking up the stairs to their dormitory in order to drop off his bag did he realize.

“Oh man,” he said and Draco turned to look at him. “I forgot my book bag under my chair.”

Draco groaned. “Well, I’m not going back with you to get it.”

Merlin sighed. “I’ll just get it after dinner,” he said shaking his head. “It’s not like he has another class.”

“I’m still not going with you.”

And so it was Merlin headed back up to the Defense Against the Dark Arts tower alone after dinner, mentally kicking himself the entire way. Even though the summer sun was still illuminating the landscape outside, the castle corridors felt unnaturally dark and eerie. Everyone had gone to their common rooms, and Merlin was hoping against hope that Quirrell wouldn’t even be there when he slipped inside and grabbed his bag.

But even though it was tedious to head back up and grab his bag, the dream had felt so nice. Sometimes he let himself forget about Camelot. It was less painful that way. He would be lying if he said he didn’t miss it but he also knew that he had more important things to focus on. After all, he’d come to this era for a reason and though piecing it all together had been difficult, he knew what that reason was.

Stopping Lord Voldemort.

Merlin grimaced. The name was utterly ridiculous. Lord of what, precisely? But the monster had once been a man. Tom Riddle. That name was better, it was innocent and yet something about it screamed a nature darker than pitch.

He’d reached the classroom. Merlin carefully pushed open the door and peered inside. It was dark and empty. Good. He smiled and walked inside, strolling casually over to his desk and grabbing his bag. He slung it over his shoulder and was just about to leave when he heard voices. Confused, Merlin glanced toward Quirrell’s office door. It was ajar, and he could hear someone mumbling when another voice cut sharply across.

“We cannot wait much longer!”

Merlin froze. The high, cold voice did not belong to the professor. It sent chills down his spine, made his stomach writhe with disgust. It felt cloyed with decay and malice, a pathetic creature that was just barely hanging onto life.

Not daring to breathe, Merlin slowly climbed the steps to Quirrell’s office listening all the while.

“Master, we cannot act while Dumbledore is watching our every move! He would stop us before we even started playing the music for that oafs dog!”

“Then get him out of the castle,” the other voice cut like an ice shard. “We only require a few hours. One urgent message from the Ministry of Magic should be enough to distract him.”

“And what of Severus, he know something—”

“He is of no consequence.”

Merlin’s throat had gone very dry. He had reached the landing, and on his hands and knees he looked through the crack of the open door. He clamped a hand over his mouth so that he wouldn’t scream. Quirrell was sitting at his desk holding a mirror in his hand, while sitting in front of another. His purple turban lay discarded on the floor, and it was for this reason that Merlin kept his hand firmly over his mouth. Reflected in the mirror was, not the back of Quirrell’s head but a face. The most awful face Merlin had ever seen.

He had no nose. Instead, there were crude slits cutting into the pallid and peeling skin. And his eyes, red gleaming eyes that shone in the darkness of the office. There was no mistaking who that was even if Merlin had never seen him before. He felt sick, and yet there was also triumph.

He had proof. Tom was visible beneath Quirrell’s turban.

Without waiting there a second longer, he tiptoed back down the stairs. Back into the main classroom, and he made a mad dash for the door but halfway there he heard a clatter and froze. His bag had caught one of the chairs, knocking it over.

He heard some movement from Quirrell’s office, and the next minute the professor had emerged, tugging his turban on straight.

“Evans?” He said softly, looking down at Merlin.

“S-sorry, professor,” Merlin said quickly, putting the chair back by the desk. “I-I just forgot my bag this afternoon. Thought I’d come pick it up after dinner.” He took a step back, resisting the urge to bolt. “I didn’t mean to disturb you. I’ll just be going.”

Quirrell didn’t say anything for a long moment. Merlin hovered next to the door, wanting to leave but worried that it would make him look guilty.

“Yes,” Quirrell finally said nodding. “Be sure to study for exams.”

He had no stutter. Merlin nodded nervously and slipped out the door but once he was in the hallway, he ran as fast as he could for the dungeons. His heart was hammering in his chest, sweat on his brow. The professor hadn’t stuttered. What did that mean? Merlin wasn’t sure he wanted to find out. The panic made him fly down the corridor. But when he reached the head of the stairs, he found out why professor Quirrell hadn’t bothered to keep up his charade of the poor stuttering professor. And like he had thought, he hadn’t wanted to know.

He didn’t time to turn around when he heard a mumble behind him. The curse hit him hard, like a kick in the back and he fell from the top of the stairs. One flight, and then a second. Merlin had a fleeting glimpse of the ground rushing up to meet him before he collided with it and with a flash of horrible pain the world dissolved into darkness.

Chapter Text

“You say he fell down two flights of stairs, professor?”

“I-I-indeed, M-madam P-P-Pomfrey.”

“It looks like his magic protected him from the worst of the damage, but even so if you hadn’t found him—”

For a few moments, Merlin couldn’t understand the conversation. The only thing he could focus on was the awful thudding in his head, the throbbing of his right foot, and the general soreness that wracked his entire body. He felt as though he had managed to hit every single step on his way down—his way down—

“Quirrell!” He shouted, ignoring the pain and sitting bolt up right in bed. The two adults beside him started, and Merlin saw to his horror that the person he had just named was one of them. His eyes widened, confusion and panic fighting for dominance.

What was he doing here?

“Lay back down!” Madam Pomfrey barked, putting her hand on Merlin’s shoulder and forcing him back in the bed.

“But—he—” Merlin tried to say but she forced a vial of potion into his mouth and he spluttered, coughing as only half of it made it down the right pipe. He hit his chest, trying to regain his breath. Quirrell was still standing there, looking far too calm.

“Really Evans, I would have thought you’d be more careful. Slipping at the head of the stairs?” Pomfrey was saying as she bustled around him, waving her wand over his elbow, which he saw was deep purple and scratched.

“I didn’t slip,” Merlin immediately said, his voice starting to shake with anger. “He pushed me,” he continued, pointing toward Quirrell.

“Now, really,” Pomfrey admonished, raising her eyebrows. “Professor Quirrell found you. And lucky thing too—”

“No! It’s a trick.” Merlin interrupted, his voice growing louder. “He’s just pretending. He’s going too—” and he tried to get back up but Pomfrey wouldn’t have it.

“Calm down, Mr. Evans!”

Quirrell donned a hurt expression when Merlin accused him and looked at the nurse. “P-Pomfrey he’s o-obviously d-d-distressed. P-perhaps a sleepless p-potion?” he suggested lightly and Merlin saw the smallest smile tugging on the corner of his mouth

“No. I’m fine. Really,” Merlin said quickly but madam Pomfrey forced the potion down his throat with a flick of her wand anyway. All Merlin wanted to do was find Snape, and he was willing to bet that Quirrell had told Pomfrey that they shouldn’t worry him until, well, until Merlin was unable to tell him anything.

Before, Merlin had wondered why Quirrell hadn’t just killed him. Silence him before he could tell Snape or anyone else what he had seen. But now he knew. If he had died he would never make it near the stone, especially when an investigation revealed that Merlin hadn’t just slipped. No, this way Quirrell looked like a hero and he could discredit Merlin’s words as the rambling of a child who hit his head too hard.

And his injuries would make it easy for him to influence madam Pomfrey to knock him out until the deed was done.

Merlin coughed and tried to spit it out, but he’d choked and most of it made it through. As the hospital wing started to grow hazy, Merlin mustered his remaining strength to glare at Quirrell and whisper, “I’ll stop you,” before his eyelids dropped.

 

He was not worried about Merlin.

Just because he’d left to grab his bag from Quirrell’s classroom and hadn’t come back yet didn’t mean anything. And three hours was surely no cause for concern. The castle was large after all, and there always the possibility that Merlin had somehow winded up in the Astronomy Tower instead of the dungeons—or maybe he’d met up with those blasted Weasley Twins again and were off pushing Filtch’s buttons.

Yes, that must be why Merlin hadn’t returned to the common room yet.

Draco sat there on one of the black squishy armchairs, chewing his tongue. Blaise had already made fun of him, sitting there like a worried adult. But, Merlin had gone to Quirrell’s classroom. And, Draco knew exactly what that man was up to. Unable to bear the wait any longer, Draco got to his feet and left the common room, ignoring the call from behind telling him curfew was in a few minutes.

He was going to ask Snape. He wasn’t fool enough to go try take Quirrell on his own – he wasn’t a Gryffindor. He was a Slytherin, and Slytherins knew when to ask a teacher for help. When he reached Snape’s office to his surprise he found the door ajar. Inside, Snape was pacing back and forth, looking bad-tempered and worried. Draco cleared his throat.

“Uh, Professor?” he asked timidly. “Do you—do you know where Merlin is? It’s almost curfew—”

Snape shot him a look that made Draco take a step back. It was as though he’d poked a sharp stick into the professor’s gut, said something that had physically pained him. Draco’s heart sank and he swallowed, panic-stricken thoughts coursing through his mind.

“Evans,” Snape said slowly, “was found a few hours ago at the bottom of the stairs, having had a—” he paused a moment, “—a nasty fall.”

“What?” Draco exclaimed, his heart hammering in his chest. “What happened, is he okay?”

Snape shook his head. “I don’t know. I don’t trust anything that Quirrell says, but Madam Pomfrey says she has given Merlin a sleeping draft to last the night.”

“Quirrell?” Draco repeated. This was looking worse by the minute.

Snape nodded and spat, “Apparently it was he who found Merlin.” Snape scoffed and shook his head. “But it’s too late. We’ll have to wait till the morning.” He sighed heavily. “Go on back to the common room. I’ll get you when Merlin wakes up.”

Draco stood there frozen for a moment, thinking quickly. All he could picture in his head was Merlin, covered in bandages and just barely holding onto life and he knew he would never get to sleep with that picture in his head. So, he gave a jerky nod to Snape and left the office but instead of heading back to the Slytherin common room, he ran up the stairs.

He didn’t know what to do. Absolutely no clue and the only person he knew that might have one, was Hermione Granger.

So here he was, a Slytherin, running up to Gryffindor tower…wherever Gryffindor tower was. He’d ran as fast as he could up the stairs toward where he’d seen the Gryffindor’s heading to after dinner. He reached the sixth floor, completely out of breath and lost. He looked around, trying not to think about the fact that it was probably past curfew by now, and looked for something that looked like it could be the entrance to Gryffindor.

Or was he on the wrong floor? Draco had no idea. He wandered around, up and down the corridor and just when he had started to consider shouting Hermione’s name, two red haired boys appeared on the staircase looking puzzled.

“What are you doing up here, Malfoy?” one of them asked, glancing toward his brother and walking forward. “Where’s Merlin?” But from the look on his face, Draco had a funny feeling he knew where.

 “I—” Draco started before shaking his head. “I need Hermione.”

The Weasley stared at him. “You need Hermione,” he repeated slowly.

Draco frowned. “Yes! It’s important and it concerns Merlin, all right?” he snapped. He didn’t feel much like going into the specifics with them. They were friends with Merlin, they weren’t friends with him and he wasn’t sure how honest Merlin was with them. He just—he needed Hermione’s help.

Maybe something of his desperation showed on his face, because the twins exchanged looks and sighed. “All right,” one of them said as he shook his head. “Wait here a second.” And he quickly ran back up the stairs—wrong floor then. Draco felt awkward, the other twin had stayed behind but neither of them seemed to know what to say.

“I’m Fred,” the twin finally said raising his hand and offering a small smile.

“Right,” Draco said nodding stiffly to him.

“The other one’s George.”

“I knew that. Process of elimination and all that,” Draco muttered back. He knew the twins’ names, he just never knew who was who. He leaned from one foot to the next, praying that George hurried back with Hermione.

“So, is Merlin okay?” Fred finally asked, his smile faltering some.

Draco swallowed. “Probably,” he said with a weak smile. It was better to think that he was over-reacting than to think that—that—

“Draco, what’s happened?” came a shrill voice from the stairs. Hermione was taking them two at a time, George right behind her. “He said something’s happened to Merlin?”

“I’ll explain on the way,” Draco muttered and he motioned for her to follow him down the stairs.

“Let us know, will you?” Fred shouted after them but they were already halfway down the stairs.

“Where are we going?” Hermione asked him, worry seeping into her tone. “It’s already curfew and—”

“The hospital wing,” Draco cut across and Hermione gasped.

“What’s happened?” He could feel her large brown eyes on the back of his head.

He shook his head. “I don’t know, Snape said that he fell but he had gone to pick up his bag from Quirrell’s classroom.”

“You—you think that Quirrell did it?” she squeaked and her pace increased so that she was walking right next to him.

“I wouldn’t put it past him,” Draco replied darkly. He sighed, his brows furrowing with worry. “I just don’t know what to do. If it was Quirrell what do we do?”

Hermione was silent for a moment then, “But why would he do it?”

“What do you mean why—” Draco tried to say but Hermione continued, interrupting him.

“He wouldn’t just attack a student, Draco. That’s too reckless, what if he was caught? Merlin must have seen something.”

Draco nodded, gritting his teeth. “Must have been something pretty big.”

 

Merlin woke with a start.

He could still feel the last remnants of the potion fighting to bring him back to sleep before his magic finished it off completely. Not to his surprise, Pomfrey had given him a child’s dose and he had never been more grateful it wasn’t the right one.

He laid still in bed for a few moments just in case, but he didn’t see Madam Pomfrey making her rounds around the infirmary. Assuming that she was in her office, Merlin sat up. He still ached all over. His shoulder twinged painfully when he moved it too quickly, and he was pretty sure he’d sprained his ankle. But Quirrell was probably headed for the stone right now, and he couldn’t risk sitting here for another minute.

Wincing, Merlin got out of bed and hobbled through the infirmary doors. But just as he was closing them behind him, he heard pounding footsteps and a cry, “Oh, Merlin! You’re okay!”

Hermione and Draco were running toward him.

“Shut up! You want to wake the whole castle?” Draco ground at her as they skidded to a halt in front of him but he seemed more worried than angry. “Merlin, what—”

“There’s not a lot of time,” Merlin cut across and he grimaced as he took another step forward. “Quirrell’s going after the stone, tonight.” He quickly explained everything he could remember, about going into Quirrell’s classroom and seeing the Dark Lord on the back of his head and then waking up in the infirmary the first time. When he’d finished, Draco was pale.

“Merlin—” Hermione started to say but Merlin shook his head. He knew they would try to stop him, but there wasn’t time to argue. He was willing to bet that Quirrell had already gotten past Fluffy.

“There isn’t time. I can stop him and I will,” he told them with such finality that Draco actually took a step back. Hermione swallowed, glanced at the blond to her left and nodded, taking her wand out of her robes.

“You won’t far with your foot like that,” she told him as she bend down and tapped it with her wand, muttering a spell. A brace appeared around his foot and though walking was awkward, it didn’t hurt nearly as much as before.

“Thanks,” he told her smiling weakly and he took off down the hallway. “Listen,” he told them as they ran, “You two need to go tell Snape what’s going on. I’ll delay Quirrell until he and Dumbledore can get there.”

“No, we’re coming with you!” Draco began hotly but Merlin shook his head.

“I can handle Quirrell, so just get Snape!”

“Merlin,” Hermione said, sounding scared, “Quirrell is a professor. You’re no match for him!”

“And you think you two are any better?” Merlin shot back and Hermione bit her lip. He knew perfectly well that he was more than capable of handling Quirrell but he knew that his friends would never believe it. “I can do enough to delay him,” he continued, “So you bring the back-up, okay?”

He could tell that Draco and Hermione still didn’t agree, but with a curt nod Draco grabbed Hermione’s sleeve and dragged her down a different hallway. Merlin didn’t waste time watching them go. He would have knocked them both out if he had too, he wasn’t going to let them get hurt by coming with him. The splint Hermione had given him clunked loudly every time he stepped on it. It’d be just his luck if Filtch caught him now.

But somehow, he didn’t run into the cranky caretaker and he skidded to a halt outside the locked door to the third floor corridor. Merlin took a deep breath and waved his hand over the door. It opened of it’s own accord and Merlin walked inside. As he did, the enormous three-headed dog woke from its snooze and began growling.

Merlin didn’t want to hurt Hagrid’s pet, but he had to get past it. He grimaced, and held up his hand but before he’d cast a spell he spotted a harp in the corner. He stared at it for a moment and then remembered what Quirrell had mentioned about music. His eyes flashed gold and the harp began playing on it’s own. It wasn’t really a tune, just strumming the strings but the dog – which had been getting ready to jump – started dozing off at once.

Not caring if he touched the sleeping dog, he made his way across the room and wrenched open the trap door. He couldn’t see what lay inside, blackness meeting his gaze. It had to be deep and falling was going to hurt, even if he wasn’t injured. He didn’t see any stairs either, so the only way he could get down was to jump. Merlin gritted his teeth.

Here goes nothing, he thought and he jumped into the hole.

He landed with a thump on something soft, much to his relief. He had expected hard ground, after all. The room was dark and earthy, the smell of soil filling his nostrils. Beneath him was something smooth and after a moment he realized it was aplant. His eyes adjusted to the gloom at last and he saw thick vines covering the walls. Several things became clear in that instant. First and foremost, he was sitting in a patch of Devil’s Snare and second, he wasn’t far behind Quirrell.

He could remember dimly Professor Sprout talking about how this particular plant could not stand the light or the heat, and yet the vines felt warm beneath his fingres. In fact, they felt charred. It hadn’t had time to recover, but he knew that it was only moments before the plant was attempting to strangle him. Already s some strands were attempting to wrap around his legs. He quickly untangled himself and pressed himself against the far wall, moving quickly to the dimly lit door in the corner.

He had hopped that he would see Quirrell there, but it was another obstacle. It looked like Hermione had been right when she’d said that there would probably be a series of hurdles, blocking the way to the stone and this one seemed to be Professor Flitwick’s contribution. The room was tall and brightly lit, with several hundred winged keys zooming in the air above him. In the middle of the room was a broomstick, hovering in the air. Clearly one of these keys was intended to open the door at the opposite side of the room, but he didn’t have time to try and catch one of these infernal things. Besides, he couldn’t even fly the broom.

He crossed the room and attempted to magic the door open, but to no avail. Merlin frowned and glanced frustrated toward the broom. He couldn’t. The broom would explode if he tried to fly it.

Wait a moment.

The memory of the broom exploding gave him an idea, and he quickly pressed his palm against the door. Yes, the door had been enchanted to ignore all opening spells, but that didn’t mean it was indestructible; particularly against one of his ancient druidic spells. He took a deep breath, keeping his hand against the door. Beneath his eyelids, his eyes shone gold and he pushed his magic into the door, interfering with the enchanted upon it. He could feel the wood growing warm beneath his touch. He opened his eyes and took a few steps back, and then with another spell he pushed his hands out toward it. The door was knocked off it’s hinges with an almighty bang and into the next room.

Allowing himself a small smile, he hobbled over the wreckage of wood and came into an enormous hall. It had to be twice larger than the room he had just left, and dimly let – allowing the shadows to give the illusion of more space than there actually was. Up against the walls on the left and the right were deep marble trenches, filled with what looked like broken statues. The shapes looked somewhat familiar to him, but he knew why the moment he took in the sight in front of him. The dim lights illuminated a life-size chessboard, with enormous marble pieces, each one nearly twice his height, and there – in the middle of the board – was a man in a purple turban.

He had caught up to Professor Quirrell.

 

 

“This is not good. Oh… this is so not good.”

Hermione hadn’t stopped mumbling the moment they’d left Merlin. Sometimes she would shake her head, thick brown hair swinging before biting her lip and muttering again about how this was, “not good.”

It was starting to get on Draco’s nerves.

“Everything will be fine,” he told her through gritted teeth. “Snape will be right behind him. Quirrell won’t have time to even cast a spell.”

Hermione didn’t look consoled though. She glanced behind her, and said, “We should have gone with him. I bet – I know - more than just more than just that dog guards the stone. He might not even be able to get to Quirrell.”

Draco frowned. “He said he would handle it, and I believe him.”

“Yeah, but—”

“He took down a troll, and was a perch for a dragon. He can do it,” and he almost convinced himself. Merlin was a mystery, someone who didn’t look like he could accomplish much but then he snuck up on you and showed you exactly how wrong you were.

They reached the dungeons out of breath, but didn’t stop. Draco skidded around the corner and caught sight of the professor’s office. With any luck, Snape was still inside. But if he’d gone to sleep—Draco had no idea where the teacher’s lodgings were. Crossing his fingers, he barged inside, Hermione staggering behind him. Snape looked like he was in the middle of re-arranging his bookshelf; he had volumes on the floor all around him and was holding several more in his hands.

He stared at them.

“What are you doing out of bed at this hour?” he snarled at them. “Draco, I seem to recall telling you to go to—”

“Professor, please,” Hermione interrupted. Draco turned to stare at her. She’d never interrupted a professor before, let alone Snape. “It’s Merlin.”

Snape, who had been looking murderous, froze. He looked from one to the other before slowly setting his books down. “Merlin is in the hospital wing, Granger. He will be perfectly fine after a night’s rest.”

Draco gave a hollow laugh. “Oh no, he’s not. He’s headed to the third floor.”

“What?” Snape said softly, his eye widening.

“We snuck up to see him and ran into him in the hallway,” Hermione said. “Told us that Quirrell was the one who attacked him, he’d seen him taking to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.”

“He saw him, actually. On the—on the back of Quirrell’s head.” Draco grimaced. “The turban wasn’t just a fashion statement.”

“So he tried to keep Merlin quiet, while he goes after the stone tonight!” Hermione squeaked.

Snape didn’t reply. He turned sharply and walked over to his fireplace, igniting it with a wave of his hand and throwing some powder on the flames. Draco glanced at Hermione and saw that she was shaking, chewing on her thumbnail. She looked as worried as Draco felt.

“Albus,” Snape shot into the fire. “He’s gone after it.”

For a second nothing happened, and then Dumbledore appeared in the green flames. The sight didn’t bother Draco, he was used to the flu network even if his family preferred not to travel that way. Cheap transportation, his father called it. Climbing out of fireplaces covered in ash was beneath the Malfoy’s. Draco had secretly always wanted to try it. Hermione on the other hand seemed shocked as she watched the headmaster climb out of the fireplace and join them in the office.

“Explain on the way,” Dumbledore told Snape briskly and he strode for the door. “Perhaps it would be better if you two wait here,” he told Draco and Hermione. He didn’t wait for a reply. He left the office with Snape right behind him and the door closed with a snap.

Draco stood there, heart thumping. Now that he had a moment to think, he realized what he had just done. He had thrown his lot in with the light. His father would be furious when he found out he had tried to stop the Dark Lord from coming back, that he had involved the headmaster. But Draco wasn’t ashamed of his actions. He felt proud. He felt like for once in his life he had done the right thing, and he found solace in that.

Next to him, Hermione slumped to the ground, hugging her knees. “Do you think he’s okay?” she whispered.

Draco sat down next to her and patted her back. “I’m sure he is.”

The façade had run its course.

It was time to drop the act, to throw away the skin of a lazy student and reveal how adept at magic he really was. But as Merlin stood tall and took a step forward, he noticed the smallest tremor of his hand. And here, the eleven-year-boy tried to make an appearance. His body, his hormones, his maturity, was caught between an older mind and physical youth. But he would not let childish fears stop him, wouldn’t let the anxiety of what was about to come shake him. The instincts of a boy wouldn’t stop him from doing what needed to be done.

He had faked incompetence nearly all his life, but these were the moments that stuck out in his mind. The moments he could stop pretending, when it really mattered and he could embrace who he truly was. So he clenched his hand into a fist and let sweet calm wash over him. He fixed his cold blue gaze on the professor in front of him and lifted his chin. He stood between Quirrell and the stone. Between Tom and his return. They both knew it, but only Merlin knew for certain that Quirrell would never make it to the next room.

Quirrell regarded him for several moments, never moving from his square on the chessboard. “What a surprise, Evans,” he said, his soft voice cutting across the silent room like a knife.  “How did you manage to awaken from your dreamless sleep?”

Merlin smiled in reply. “Does it really matter, professor?” He walked casually to the edge of the board, noting the way the stone bishop turned around as though getting ready to stop him from intruding into the game. “I told you in the infirmary.”

Quirrell raised his eyebrow.

The smile fell from his face, his expression growing solemn and not at all reminiscent of the youthful child that had stood there moments before. “I will stop you.”

“You will, will you?” Quirrell laughed. But Merlin had seen it in his eyes, the flash of hesitation, of anxiety. He had never encountered something like Merlin before and though he kept telling himself the boy before him was no threat, there was that flicker of doubt. That wonder that this boy had discovered everything, had dragged himself out of bed, and had managed to catch up.

“You really think you can stop me?” Quirrell continued, putting on an air of nonchalance. “A boy who couldn’t turn in one scrap of homework?”

Merlin shrugged and started strolling along the edge of the board. “There’s only one way to find out.”

Quirrell sneered at him. “You’re too late. I’m one move away from checkmate, and then I’m moving on to the next room while you’re stuck here hopelessly battling your way across the room.”

Merlin sighed and rolled his eyes, “Such a cliché statement,” he said. He had reached the graveyard of dilapidated black pieces. He placed his hand atop a crumbling castle, feeling the enchantments placed upon it. “Say that when you’re holding the prize, when you’ve destroyed everyone in your path, when you’ve won.” He smiled and said as sweetly as he could, “Because you never know when someone might screw up your plans.”

Quirrell tensed as though he wanted to step off his square, but he didn’t. Instead he turned his attention back to the king and shouted, “Castle to E4!” The piece slid across the board and as it neared the king entrapped by Quirrell’s bishop and queen, he sneered, “Checkmate.”

The king dropped his sword, the bang ringing through the room and all the pieces turned to walk off the board. The doors on the other side opened with a click and Quirrell leapt toward it, victory written on his face.

Merlin’s eyes shone gold, he raised his hand, jerked it and Quirrell went flying back. He landed in the middle of the board with a heavy thud and Merlin’s eyes glittered again. The doors slammed shut, the destroyed chess pieces returned to their perfect state and climbed back onto the board, forming a barricade in front of Quirrell.

“Oh, shoot. I seem to have reset the game,” Merlin said walking onto the chessboard now and scratching the back of his neck. “That doesn’t make things difficult for you, does it?”

Quirrell was livid. He got to his feet with billowing robes, bearing a feral look in his eyes. The time of conversation had finished. Merlin knew the instant he saw the professor’s arm twitch and Merlin leapt behind the newly reconstructed castle as a burst of green light shot at him, chipping away bits of the marble chess piece as it hit it with an almighty bang.

Merlin ducked out as he whispered, “Wáce ierlic!” and one of the pawns in front of him was blasted backwards at Quirrell, but the professor managed to break it apart with a spell. He yelled and fired another spell though the smoke and debris, but Merlin dodged it easily and hid behind the black bishop.

“You haven’t stopped anything,” Quirrell screamed, firing destructive spells at random chess pieces, sending rocks and dust into the air. “I’m going to kill you, and continue on my way to the stone!”

“Have fun with that!” Merlin shouted back and he sent another pawn skidding toward Quirrell, but this time it managed to clip the man in the shoulder, knocking him to the ground as the professor’s spell skidded off the side and hit the other castle. Coughing in the dust, Merlin peaked around to see Quirrell slowly get to his feet, his turban slowly unraveling. As he watched, the purple cloth fell away completely and a high cold voice chuckled.

“Most surprising, young wizard,” it said softly and Quirrell turned his back to Merlin so that he could see the back of his head. Although he had known what he was going to see, seen it before in the reflection of a mirror only hours before, the sight of Lord Voldemort’s mutilated soul made him queasy.

Everything was wrong about this man, if he was even a man at all. He was the reason Merlin was here, and the one twisting the ancient magicks. Merlin swallowed and got to his feet. His robes were covered in rock dust, the bruises of his tumble down the stairs not yet healed, his splinted foot doing little to make him appear impressive or intimidating.

Voldemort laughed again, the sound echoing off the marble board and around the stone walls of the room until it made Merlin feel insane just listening to it. “You exhibit a mastery of magic beyond your years, and to think you were the fool in Quirrell’s class.” Quirrell took a step backward, toward Merlin and the mutilated face sneered at him.

“My young snake,” his eyes flickered toward the house crest on his robes. “Do not be foolish. You could be such a master of the dark arts, do not waste your life fighting here. Join me, and I’ll show you how to reach your potential.”

Merlin felt like puking. “Yeah, thanks but no. I can do that on my own,” he spat glaring at those pitiless red eyes.

Voldemort hissed and took another step toward him. “You are a Slytherin!” he screeched. “You are meant to serve the desires of your house! To continue the cause of the great Salazar himself!”

“Salazar would spit on a monstrosity like you,” Merlin snarled back. “You pervert the old rites, mutilate the fabric of a human soul. You are less than the ground you slither across, and he would weep at the sight of you!”

If there was one thing he knew for certain about Salazar, despite whatever his pureblood agenda had been was that he cherished the Old Religion. He had honored the rites, had made absolute sure the balance was maintained. He had practiced druidic magic with the dignity and respect it deserved, not with careless brutality. Perhaps that was why he had developed his pureblood ideals in the first place; maybe he thought muggleborns weren’t worthy of such dignified magicks after despising it all those years.

Voldemort face contorted, a hellish demon wanting nothing more than claw out Merlin’s eyes and devour his soul. “Silence! You will be silenced! Kill him!” he screeched and Quirrell turned back around, twirling his wand in the air.

Merlin dove behind the knight chess piece, and the flash of green light hit the wall instead.

“How difficult is it to kill a boy?” Voldemort shrieked, his words sounding barbed as though he held Quirrell’s life in between his teeth. “Butcher him, smear his life across the floor! I want him dead!”

“I’ll kill him, I’ll do it,” Quirrell said but there was fear in his voice. He was scared of his master’s fury, terrified of what would happen if he didn’t succeed. He cast another spell at the knight Merlin was hiding behind, but this time the stone wasn’t damaged. Instead, there was a ripple of magic that ruffled his hair. There was a pause, a moment for Merlin to wonder what Quirrell had done before the stone knight had turned its sightless face toward him and it was too late.

He didn’t deflect in time. Even as his eyes flickered with gold he felt the sword smash against his side as though it had intended to separate his torso from his legs. But the blunt stone blade, though perfect for breaking a part stone chess pieces was ill suited for slicing. It was like someone had hit him with a steel rod, and he felt his ribs break with ear splitting cracks.

He crumpled to the ground as he fought off the blackness of pain that threatened to engulf him.

Checkmate,” Quirrell breathed.

 Merlin was having difficulty breathing. He wheezed for breath, and it was with more than a whimper that he managed to crane his neck to see Quirrell standing in the middle of such carnage, his robes ripped and some blood dripping from his shoulder and down his hand, to the black and white marble tiles checkering the floor.

“Finish him!” Voldemort cried and as Quirrell raised his wand again, the knight raised his sword.

The boy had surfaced again, the scared little boy that fought for space in his heart. Merlin could see him clearly in his minds-eye. He was hyperventilating, and suddenly he was drowning in panic. The world seemed to slow down, and he looked from Quirrell to the knight getting ready to bash his head in. His magic was expanding, responding the emotion and vibrating chaotically.

He had broken past the emotion threshold, and there was nothing left but to channel the magic building inside him. He didn’t even have a second to think. His only goal was making sure Quirrell didn’t make it to the last room, that he didn’t get the stone and Voldemort didn’t return. And he knew one way to do it.

Screwing up his concentration, still trying not to pass out, he croaked hoarsely, “Ic þe bebiede þæt þu abifest nu,” and with all his remaining strength, slammed his fists into the ground.

His magic reached a crescendo and shot out; the ground quaked, bending as the shockwave of magic passed through it. Quirrell shouted, and Merlin heard him lose his footing. And then there was a crack as the ground ripped, jagged edges rising up and the entire ceiling collapsed with a colossal boom.

Merlin covered his head with his hands, whispering a shield spell as the room caved in. He couldn’t hear anything but the sharp crashing of rock on rock, the sound piercing his eardrums without mercy. He thought he could hear Quirrell screaming, but he couldn’t know for sure. The vibrations that shook the ground jostled his injuries, and he swung in and out of consciousness.

And then everything stopped. The crumbling sound of small rocks tumbling down the pile seemed so soft compared to the explosion of before. He felt a rush of wind, and the putrid aura of the Dark Lord left the destruction like a swirl of smoke rising upward. He could feel the hatred, the malice and self-loathing. He could feel it screaming at him, twisting and crying out with anguish before vanishing with a last muted cry.

“Now, its checkmate,” Merlin whispered, and it was with a smile that he fainted.

Soft.

He was lying in the softest bed in the world—of that, he was certain. He sank into it, and it enveloped him with such comfort that he never wanted to leave. But something more important pressed on his mind, told him that he needed to wake up. An image of the steel black knight raising his sword flashed in his mind, the thunder as the ceiling caved in—

Quirrell!

Merlin’s eyes shot open and when he saw something move out of the corner of his eye he jerked away, his bed rattling.

“Dear heavens, it’s only me my boy.”

Merlin blinked, turning to look at the Headmaster sitting in a chair at his bedside. The man’s blue eyes twinkled and Merlin saw them crinkle with a smile. “You are a very brave young man.”

Merlin slowly smiled. “It’s been known to happen.” He paused a moment and looked around the infirmary. “What happened to Quirrell?” he asked.

“For attacking a student and attempting to steal the stone, he has been taken to Azkaban. Or rather, will be as soon as he can move again.”

“So he survived,” Merlin said and he sat up in bed. It wasn’t a question.

“Indeed, it seems he managed to get underneath one of the transfigured pawns. Not to say he didn’t escape—er—some crushing, of course.” He surveyed Merlin for a moment before continuing, “Professor Snape has informed me how you pieced almost everything on your own, and I must say I’m impressed you were able to do so.”

“What—what did he tell you?” Merlin asked frowning. Although he surely understood the circumstances in which Snape violated his trust, he still didn’t like it. And how much had Snape said— but Dumbledore was waving a hand.

“Merely that. I understand you asked him not to tell me the particulars.”

Merlin nodded, relieved.

“I will however mention that what happened down in the dungeon between you and professor Quirrell has made the Daily Prophet,” and he grimaced. “The announce of Quirrell’s arrest alerted the—ah—more invasive aspect of journalism.”

Merlin groaned. “Then I suppose there isn’t even a point pretending anymore,” he muttered, more to himself than to the aged wizard beside him.

“No, I don’t think you can pretend you are bad at magic after you made a gaping hole stretching two floors.” He chuckled lightly.

Merlin winced. “Right.” He took a deep breath, noting how it was still somewhat tender. He didn’t speak for a long moment. He closed his eyes and before he could change his mind said, “I killed the troll on Halloween.”

“Did you now?”

 “I was late coming to the feast and while everyone was getting away from the dungeons, I saw Quirrell headed for the third floor so I followed him.”

“But why,” Dumbledore asked gently. “My dear boy, why did you feel the need to involve yourself? You were very nearly killed, twice as I understand it. You could have left it to the adults.”

Merlin frowned. “No I couldn’t,” he shot back. “I stopped Quirrell and I would do it again even knowing what would happen to me.”

But Dumbledore seemed to like this reply. He chuckled again and got to his feet. “I do believe this school has underestimated you, myself included.” He ruffled Merlin’s hair. “I’ll be expecting great things from you, Mr. Evans.”

As he opened the door to the infirmary he gave a nod and stepped aside. Hermione and Draco ran inside, and he chortled as they sat themselves on either side of Merlin before leaving. 

“You’re awake!”

“Are you all right?”

“We heard all sorts of stories about what happened with Quirrell.”

“What really happened?”

“Whoa!” Merlin said laughing. “One at a time,” and Hermione rolled her eyes. Draco was beaming at him, looking relieved. “How long was I out?” Merlin asked glancing from one face to the next.

“Nearly three days,” Hermione said promptly. “Oh, Merlin when Snape came back to his office that night I thought—”

“We’d thought you’d died,” Draco interjected. “The look on his face, and then the next morning when everybody found the holes in the corridors.” He shook his head. “What happened down there, Merlin?”

And Merlin told them. He told them about getting past Fluffy, the Devil’s Snare and the flying keys and catching up to Quirrell on the gigantic chessboard. They looked terrified, as he talked, gasping and aweing as he told them how he battled the professor and ultimately brought the roof down. Not that he told them the druidic spells that he’d used, of course. When he’d finished they were staring at him.

“This is one of those rare moments were the true story is more unbelievable than the rumors,” Draco said still gaping at Merlin.

“I can’t believe you didn’t die!” Hermione cried dropping her hands from her face. She had been hiding behind her fingers while Merlin told them about the homicidal knight.

Merlin snorted. “Thanks, you know I really did make an effort but things just didn’t work out.”

“Merlin!”

And Draco burst into laughter.

“Dumbledore said everyone knows,” Merlin said after a moment. He glanced at Draco and the blonde’s smile faltered slightly.

“Yeah,” he drawled, glancing awkwardly away from them both.

“What is it?” Hermione asked looking from one boy to the other.

“My,” Draco took a deep breath. “My dad’s not to happy about it. He sent me a letter, the morning of the aftermath.” He shook his head and sighed heavily. “He’s livid. Wants me to cut Merlin off and make sure not to get in the Dark Lord’s way.” He scratched his head. “I mean, it’s not like he really wants him to come back. He’s just scared I think. Knows that if he does come back he’ll either be his follower or a corpse.”

Merlin and Hermione watched as he sighed again and began fiddling with his tie. “So, am I cut off?” Merlin asked slowly. Draco gave him a look.

“Are you thick? I’m not letting him stop me,” and he gave a nervous laugh. “I helped you stop Quirrell. I threw in my lot with the light. There’s no going back.”

Merlin grinned at him. “Stuck with me then.”

“Not if you do this every year, what’s the bet you’re dead before fifth year?”

“That’s not something to joke about,” Hermione chided, looking horrified.

“Yeah man,” Merlin said shaking his head. “I’ll make it sixth year, at least!

And he and Draco dissolved into laughter, ignoring Hermione’s attempts to make them stop joking about it.

Chapter Text

Snape paused, his hand outstretched toward the infirmary doors. For a moment he considered just ignoring the impulse to see the boy and return to his office instead. He had exams to complete after all, as well as a practical to prepare. He’d already seen Merlin anyway, albeit while he’d slept in the infirmary. Did he really need to see him awake?

It wasn’t usual for the head of house to take such an interest in his students. Yes, he cared about each and every one of them but he didn’t visit them all in the hospital wing. He didn’t think any of the other heads did. There were just too many students for them to keep track of and being invested in their lives just wasn’t practical – and yet, he wondered whether the students needed that kind of support from their teachers.

He certainly had needed it as a youth.

Snape pushed open the door and strode inside. He wasn’t the least bit surprised to see that Merlin was accompanied by Draco Malfoy and Hermione Granger. They had begun to attract the attention of the staff. Madam Pince had mentioned just the other week how the trio was always together at the back of the library and how it warmed her heart to see Gryffindor and Slytherin students ignoring the prejudice of their fathers.

They glanced up at him as he entered, their conversation coming to an abrupt end. Draco shot Hermione a glance and said, “We’ll be back to check on you later, Merlin.”

Merlin smiled and nodded. “See you later, then,” he said and Draco and Hermione got to their feet. Snape caught the curious look they shot him as they walked past, the silent question of what he was going to ask Merlin but realizing that they weren’t needed for this conversation. Hermione gave one last wave to Merlin before she and Draco closed the door behind them.

Snape walked toward Merlin, coming to a stop at the foot of his bed. “You have some interesting friends, Merlin,” he said with a sneer. “Your blatant refusal to acknowledge the rivalry of Gryffindor and Slytherin is beginning to catch attention.”

Merlin raised an eyebrow. “Don’t you think it’s time we cast aside our petty differences?” he said. “Houses should never have mattered in the first place.”

Snape paused, taken aback by the wisdom in a child so young. “I don’t think Draco’s father will be pleased to hear his son is fraternizing with the enemy.”

“Oh, he’s not,” and Merlin chuckled. “But I don’t think there’s much he can do about it.”

Snape decided not to tell him that there was a lot Lucius could do to ruin the friendship between him and Draco. The least of which being the swift transfer of Draco to Durmstrang, but hopefully Narcissa would step in and prevent that from happening. For so long he had worried about how Draco would turn out, the son of a Death Eater and cut-throat politician and for the first time, he believed that Draco would turn out all right.

Merlin cleared his throat, breaking eye contact. “So, about finals—” he began.

“Yes?”

“They begin soon, don’t they?”

Snape sighed and nodded. “They do, indeed.” He appraised Merlin for a moment. Even though he’d been in Pomfrey’s care for several days now he still hadn’t healed up completely. His cheek was still rather purple and from the way he was sitting, it was apparent that his side – where Pomfrey had said he’d suffered a major blow from McGonagall’s transfigured knight – was still causing him a great deal of pain. No doubt the nurse was using the prescribed children’s dose for the healing potions, and there was no denying that it just wasn’t strong enough for Merlin’s system. And after seeing the total destruction of the third floor corridor, it was unsurprising that Merlin had a magical strength that surpassed his age.

“I hope you still intend to ace them,” Snape told him with a sneer. “You are, after all, obviously more than capable of that.”

Merlin glared at him. “Of course I do!” he exclaimed. “I’m just wondering whether or not it’ll be possible to convince madam Pomfrey to let me take them!”

“Oh, I don’t know about that. She might just force you to miss them in order to ensure a full recovery.”

Merlin’s eyes widened. “But—”

“I’m afraid you’ll have to fail them.”

For one long moment, Merlin stared at him before his expression turned suspicious. “You’re pulling my leg, aren’t you?” When he didn’t answer Merlin added, sounding worried, “Aren’t you?”

“Of course I am,” Snape said rolling his eyes. “Students that are unable to take the exams due to extenuating circumstances may take the exams at a different time.” He allowed himself a small smile and sighed. “I’ll talk to madam Pomfrey about the potions she’s giving you, since it looks like she’s not giving you a strong enough dose.”

Merlin shifted. “Yeah.”

“You have a much stronger magic system than your age.”

“I noticed that,” Merlin muttered still looking uncomfortable. Why would this topic make him nervous, or was he just embarrassed?

“However,” and Snape cleared his throat. “After your performance fighting Professor Quirrell the teachers have agreed to give you passing marks if you decide not to take the exams and stay in the hospital wing.”

Merlin blinked. “What?”

“As I’m sure you’ll recall, the corridor had a series of trials. Hagrid and his blasted dog, Professor Sprout and the Devil Snare, Professor Flitwick and the flying keys, and Professor McGonagall and the chessboard.” Merlin nodded. “They are willing to consider those rooms as your final exam, if you’re unable to attend the real exams. However, you will not receive a score,” Snape added. “Simply a pass.”

“So, it wouldn’t be like I aced all my exams,” Merlin said slowly. “Just passed them.”

“Yes, and you would still need to take Professor Binn’s examination but he will allow you to take it in the hospital wing rather than his classroom.”

Snape watched as Merlin thought over these terms. Professor Dumbledore had suggested the idea in the first place since it looked unlikely that Merlin would be recovered by the time exams started and what he had done clearly showed he was past first year abilities and knowledge. But he wouldn’t ace the exams like he had claimed he would do. He would simply pass them and the extenuating circumstances would be explained on his report.

“No.” Merlin met Snape’s gaze, raising his head in determination. “Just passing them isn’t good enough.”

“Oh, and you’re so certain you’ll receive more than an Acceptable?” Snape sneered at him in reply.

Merlin took a deep breath. “What I did on the—on the chessboard wasn’t an accident.” He paused. “And,” he shrugged, “I think it’s about time I stopped pretending.”

Snape surveyed him for a moment before nodding. “Yes, I do think it is.”

Merlin, who had begun debating whether or not to ask madam Pomfrey for stronger doses of healing potion, was relieved when Snape did it for him. It would have been awkward for him to explain, and he certainly didn’t want her to run any tests in order to figure out the exact dose that he needed. Whatever she was giving him now was better even though he knew that it still wasn’t precisely what his body required; which was why he was attempting to supplement it with his own healing spells when she was hidden away in her office.

Even so, madam Pomfrey wasn’t entirely satisfied with his improvement when the evening before finals arrived. Merlin honestly would have taken the deal given to him by the professors, if it weren’t for the fact that he wanted to prove to everyone that he could do it. And anyway, Hermione had forced him to actually study and both her and Draco had badgered him about it so much that he felt like he needed to. He tried to make Pomfrey understand that he had to take these exams and that he’d even come right back to the infirmary if that’s what it took.

“Oh, all right!” she snapped with an exasperated sigh. “But I want you back at least once a day so I can check your injuries. You have one of the most stubborn systems I’ve ever seen.”

Worried that madam Pomfrey would change her mind; Merlin quickly dressed and left the infirmary. Sure his side still twinged when he moved it but he’d pushed through much worse. Anyway, it wasn’t like he was going to be fighting at all. Just taking exams, which was hardly strenuous and Merlin was eager to sleep in his own bed.  

Hermione and Draco had visited him every day in the hospital wing, always eager for him to recount what had happened on the third floor corridor and to tell him what was going on in the rest of the school. The twins too, had visited him on occasion. And all of them had told him how he had become the talk of the school.

Perhaps Merlin hadn’t taken their words to heart, or perhaps he just hadn’t believed them because when he entered the Slytherin Common room he was unprepared for what met him.

The first thing he noticed was Draco sitting at a table with Theodore while Blaise stood beside them, using his hands as he talked. As he looked over at them, Draco glanced up and jumped to his feet, a wide grin on his face.

“Merlin!” he said walking quickly over to him.

As one, the entire Slytherin house fell silent and looked at him. For a moment, they stared at him as though they were unsure it was really him. He could see Pansy feverishly shaking her head, Daphne gazing open mouthed. Blaise looked as though someone had hit him in the face and Theodore gave him a nervous smile. And then everyone started to talk at the same time.

“Pomfrey finally let you out?”

“What really happened with Quirrell?”

“I would have never believed it.”

“Never saw that one coming!”

Merlin felt some of the older students clap him on the shoulder and whisper how impressed they were. He winced when Terrence actually gave him a hug and told him off for doing something so stupid. But the congratulatory remarks soon subsided. Blaise came to stand before him, as did Crabbe and Goyle. The two boulders looked nervous. Crabbe cracked his knuckles while Goyle looked past him to Draco.

“You throwin’ it in with his lot?” he asked, his voice thick and as low as it was possible for an eleven year old.

Merlin, who wasn’t sure he had ever heard Goyle say something that sounded even remotely intelligent, was taken aback. He turned to Draco who stiffened. The air became thick with curiosity and excitement.

“There’s no denying it,” Blaise said, taking a step toward them. “Merlin here stood in the way of him returning.” Merlin didn’t wonder how he knew that. The death eaters would most certainly have been talking about the developments and it wasn’t a surprise their children had found out and spread it around the common room.

As he said it, some other students looked uncomfortable. Pansy fidgeted and Theodore went white. “There’s some,” Blaise continued and nodded pointedly at Draco, “that’ll take issue with that.”

Merlin ran his hand through his hair. “Well,” he said in what he hoped was a lighthearted tone, “There’s only room in this world for one Dark Lord, you know.”

Some people laughed. Theodore seemed to relax slightly, although Crabbe and Goyle glanced anxiously at each other. Blaise paused a moment before chuckling and clapping his hands. “Of course.”

Draco frowned. “As if. Merlin’s the lightest person I know.”

“So you admit it,” Pansy spoke up then. She swallowed and added, “But what about your father? He won’t—”

Damn my father,” Draco cut across her loudly. He looked around them all, the crowd of Slytherins. Most of them had family members that had probably been in league with Voldemort at one point or another, Merlin thought. There were some that hadn’t, of course. But they all knew of the stain on their house colors, knew how many dark wizards had stood where they stood. Draco held his head high, and Merlin saw him decide something.

“Isn’t it about time we learned from the mistakes of our fathers?” Draco continued, his voice carrying over the crowd. “Merlin made me realize something,” and he turned to beam at him. “I don’t want to live a life where I’ve gained respect by inflicting fear.” He took a deep breath. “I don’t want to be my father.”

“Rebelling early, aren’t you?” Blaise murmured, and Merlin saw a smirk tugging on his lips. “I can’t say I really care. My family never stooped to that level.”

“Yeah,” Pansy shot rolling her eyes. “And your mother remarrying some seven times due to the early deaths of her husbands is so much better.”

Blaise turned and glared at her. “Don’t bring my mom into it!”

“Don’t mock our families!” she shrieked back. She tossed her hair and walked over to Draco, linking her arm with his. “It was their mistakes, not ours.”

Merlin wondered whether she really believed that or she was just jumping on the bandwagon because she obviously liked Draco. “And we shouldn’t let their mistakes drag us down,” Merlin said coming to stand between Blaise and Pansy, since Blaise still looked upset. “Don’t you think it’s time we brought Slytherin’s reputation out of the mud?”

“That’s easier said than done,” Blaise said softly.

“It happens one step at a time and it begins with us.” Merlin turned to look at them all. All eyes were fixed on him and he saw varying degrees of awe and fear. This was an adult conversation and they all felt it. It was the choice to follow their parents footsteps, to feed into pureblood ideals and turn into the same people that helped Lord Voldemort terrorize the country, or to break free and do something different.

It all began with them.

If he’d thought the mixture of pride and fear that had met him from the Slytherins was strange, it was nothing like how the rest of the school treated him. Merlin felt like he’d become some overnight celebrity. Eyes followed him as he walked down the halls, whispers chased his heels. Some called him a hero and he had more than one girl shyly telling him what he’d done was so brave. Some wondered aloud whether he was the one who was going to finally defeat him, while others worried that he would take the Dark Lord’s place, and so on and so forth.

And everyone wondered how he’d done something so incredible.

Merlin was bombarded with questions constantly. He’d done his best to tell his housemates what had happened, editing some of the details. But everyone he ran into in the halls asked him, curious Ravenclaws, nervous Hufflepuffs and even the occasional Gryffindor. The feeling somewhat reminded him of when he’d finally revealed his magic, and he’d explained all the things he’d done. But he hadn’t told everyone, just Arthur and the Knights, Gwen and some other officials. He hadn’t been ambushed in the hallway by groups all wondering what had happened.

Finally, Draco started telling people off. There were only so many times that Merlin wanted to relive the experience after all, and he was grateful when Draco – and on occasion Blaise – started jumping between him and curious eyes. Anyway, he didn’t have much time because of exams.

Merlin wasn’t worried about the practical exams at all. He waved his Whomping Willow stick and did the spell but the written exams made him pause a moment. For the first time, he was a little glad that Hermione had constantly made him study and give him her notes because this wasn’t druidic magic. But he still felt confident when he walked out of the classroom, knowing that he had answered everything correctly. He understood the magic and the spells he’d cast in the practical, and the written merely tested that.

Hermione was furious with him. When he waved his perfect marks in her face she scoffed and said, “Well, I made you study.”

But she got her moment. When Merlin got his History of Magic exam back he looked back at the Acceptable in dismay. Not even an Exceeds Expectations, let alone a perfect store. Hermione was beside herself with glee.

“I told you to study more!”

To which Merlin glared at her and shot, “I’m sorry I didn’t realize memorizing useless facts will be something employers ask about.”

Hermione didn’t care in the slightest. “Still, you didn’t ace all your exams,” she said haughtily. “I was right.” And she skipped away.

Draco sighed and patted Merlin’s back. “You know that next year she’s going to shove your nose into your History of Magic book, right?”

“I’m beginning to suspect that, yeah.”

But ignoring Merlin’s History of Magic score, he had perfect marks for every other exam. McGonagall had actually stood over him as he took the test, as though she thought he was cheating somehow but as he left, she congratulated him for defeating Quirrell. The staff were in shock, and Merlin overheard them discussing why he hadn’t done any work when he obviously understood the material.

Snape told him as he left the exam that he wouldn’t be able to get away with not doing his work next year.

“What?” Merlin had responded. “No special treatment?”

“Oh yes,” Snape said, his lip curling. “The special, pay a lot of attention and make sure he doesn’t squander his talents, treatment.”

Fantastic.

Merlin knew that everything would be different next year. He wasn’t going to be able to ignore his schoolwork as easily anymore because everyone knew he was capable of doing it. Sure, he was still going to try – regurgitating information was pointless to him. He had placed an enormous spotlight on himself.

And he had no idea how to react to it.

Merlin found himself running through the Forbidden Forest. The last of the exams had finished earlier in the day, and although everyone was celebrating he felt the need to hide. The constant stares and questions were starting to suffocate him. It had been easy enough to persuade Draco to cover for him; he suspected his friend had understood his need to get away for a moment.

He came to the dragon clearing, and to his relief everyone was present. Aithusa was sitting opposite Norberta – who to his shock was the size of a large bear – and the two were attempting to make designs out of puffs of smoke from their nostrils. Korrizahar, dog-like in size, sat on a thick branch above them. He looked up when Merlin came closer and chirped loudly.

“Merlin!” He flew quickly over to him and nearly knocked him over when he jumped on his shoulder. “I was beginning to worry,” he growled. “It’s been nearly two weeks since you visited and after—”

“Yeah, I have a lot to tell you,” Merlin said, taking a seat on his usual stump while Kor took to his lap.

He explained everything that had happened since he’d last visited, about Quirrell and Voldemort, how he had been holed up in the hospital wing and final exams. As he spoke, Norberta stopped her game with Aithusa and padded over to him and sat at his feet, watching him with her large orange eyes.

“I’m going to be going home on the train soon,” Merlin said after he’d finished explaining the events of the previous weeks. He shook his head. “I’m worried someone will stumble across you while I’m not here.”

Kor scoffed, a puff of black smoke rising from his nostrils. “I don’t think adventuring through the Forbidden Forest is on anyone’s summer vacation plans.”

Merlin smiled. “Even so,” he said rubbing Kor’s head. “Watch after yourself and her,” he said nodding toward Norberta.

When he looked at her, she blinked and made a soft rumbling sound. “She wants to know,” Kor said slowly, “Whether you’re going to tell Hagrid about us.”

“Uh,” Merlin paused, taken aback. “I wasn’t planning on it. At least,” he amended, “not yet.” He wasn’t sure he was ready to trust Hagrid with a secret like this, not after he’d so easily slipped and revealed Fluffy’s weakness to Quirrell.

Norberta gave a snort of approval and walked back to Aithusa. “She’s more mellow than I thought she would be,” Merlin said.

“Well, she’s got us to keep her in check,” Kor said and he puffed out his chest, his wings extending. He deflated after a moment, and he rubbed his head against Merlin’s chest. “I’m going to miss you.”

“I’ll be back,” Merlin said quickly.

“In a few months,” Kor countered. Merlin slumped his shoulders and gave Kor a hug. “Be careful, Merlin,” Kor said. “Voldemort knows you tried to stop him now.”

“I know.”

Merlin dropped his hands and Kor shook himself before taking off to a branch. “You better come visit me, first thing you get back.”

Merlin laughed. “Of course,” and with a last wave, he headed back through the brush and up to the castle. He was surprised by Kor’s sensitivity. Kilgharrah hadn’t been like that. He hadn’t really felt like friends with the old dragon, more like uncle and nephew. He liked the relationship he’d formed with Korrizahar, and he worried about him. Merlin sighed and shook his head. He’d be all right.

Better than him, probably.

The end of term feast was decked in silver and green. Merlin discovered that Snape had awarded him a hundred points while he’d slept for defeating Quirrell, which had solidified their lead over the other houses. And for once, it seemed the other houses weren’t as angry with Slytherin as usual. Even Ron behaved politely when Merlin walked over to the Gryffindor table with Draco to say hello to Hermione and the twins.

But soon, their bags were packed, the dormitories were empty, and everyone was boarding the Hogwarts Express for the return trip home. Merlin, Draco, and Hermione found a compartment with the Weasley Twins.

The atmosphere couldn’t have been more different than the train ride in September. Draco and the twins chatted about crazy family relatives they shared, and hadn’t realized it, and Hermione sat next to Draco so she could share his bag of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans. It was amazing to Merlin, how just one year could change so much.

“Does your father know about,” and Fred nodded awkwardly toward Hermione.

“Thanks,” Hermione said folding her arms.

“You know what I mean,” Fred tried to amend, scratching the back of his neck. He met Draco’s eyes, who nodded and shook his head.

“He knows I helped Merlin stop Quirrell, but I think my being friends with a muggleborn will not go over well at all.”

“You don’t think he’d accept your decision,” Hermione inquired. “Respect your difference of opinion?”

Draco gave a hollow laugh. “Definitely not.”

“Hermione,” Merlin said shaking his head. “Lucius is actively against muggleborns, muggles too. He’s not going to change his mind just because his son has.”

Hermione frowned. “But judging someone because of—”

“We all know that,” George interrupted. “