Yellow, orange, flickering red—brown igniting, smoldering, black into off-white dust. Maybe if Merlin focused hard enough on that log turning into charcoal, a solution would present itself. Maybe his headache would finally vanish. Draco sat on the armchair next to him, eyes closed. Merlin might’ve thought he was asleep if not for the way he’d periodically shake his head—“He knew this was going to happen,”—and grimace—“I don’t know. But I’m going to find out.”
But if Lucius had known the Chamber of Secrets would open again, that only meant one thing: Lord Voldemort was somehow involved.
As if he didn’t have enough to worry about.
By the time he and Draco had reached the common room, word had spread: Merlin was a Parselmouth and he had attacked Mrs. Norris. His head still pounding, he had left Draco to explain as he’d made a beeline for the fireplace. Not that any explaining had occurred. Instead, Draco had informed them that Snape would be along shortly to answer their questions and had gone to join Merlin. Now was the waiting game, the whispers having finally faded and died with the passage of time.
Merlin heard the telltale sound of rock grating against rock and turned with the rest of Slytherin to watch as the stone passage opened, and Snape strode inside. He glanced once around the room, no doubt able to discern that the entirety of Slytherin was present. He cleared his throat.
“As you no doubt have already heard, someone wrote a threatening message on the wall of the second floor corridor. The culprit, whoever it is,” he added meaningfully, “also petrified Filtch’s cat.”
He paused, and his eyes flickered to Merlin along with the rest of Slytherin. “The Headmaster has personally listened to Merlin and Draco’s account of events, and has decided he was in no-way involved with this distasteful prank despite his… abilities.”
Prank? Merlin exchanged a perplexed look with Draco. Snape knew full well that it wasn’t a prank. Why would they disregard something so dangerous? Merlin frowned, but Snape caught his eye—a silent warning not to interrupt him.
“If you aren’t already aware, the Chamber of Secrets is a reference to an old Slytherin legend,” Snape continued, his lip curling. “One that, given the circumstances, you ought to be aware of.” He looked as though he’d swallowed something sour.
“Now, not long after Hogwarts was founded, Salazar Slytherin expressed his desire to be more selective about who they admitted to the school. He believed that magical learning should be reserved only for those of magical parentage, or purebloods. The other founders disagreed and as a result, Salazar Slytherin left the school. According to this legend,” Snape said with a hint of skepticism, “Salazar Slytherin had built a secret chamber somewhere within the school. Before departing, he sealed it so that only his heir would be able to open it and, by so doing, purge the school of muggleborns. Meaning,” Snape said carefully, “as of this moment, you are the prime suspect.”
At that, there was a cry of protest. Snape held up his hand and the noise died, but Merlin could tell from the look on everyone’s face that it was a tongue-biting type of quiet.
“The sooner the culprit steps forward,” Snape said icily, “the sooner this whole mess can be swept under the rug. As no one was irreparably hurt, I can assure minimal punishment—I doubt any of the other professors would offer such a thing.” Snape swept his gaze over the room again and when his black eyes settled on Merlin, he seemed to hesitate. “Which…is what I have been instructed to tell you.”
There was shift as surprise rippled through the room.
“I do not believe any of my students would be foolish enough to play such a prank,” Snape said. “But, I do not expect the other Heads to tell their students the same, and I don’t think I need to tell you how self-righteous the Gryffindors can be—” There was a scattered hum of acknowledgement, “—and our vilified reputation, not to mention the reality of this situation, will do little to persuade them otherwise. It is more important, now than ever, for Slytherins to look out for each other—because no one else will.”
Merlin swallowed as everyone’s eyes turned to him again. They all knew, without Snape saying it, that he would have the hardest time of all.
“If anyone remembers seeing something suspicious, or has relevant information that they feel would help resolve this mess, my office is open.” Snape did not wait for questions. Instead he gave a nod of finality and turned on his heel. Conversation erupted before the stone passageway closed, and Merlin knew that this time he couldn’t avoid it.
But, if that speech was anything to go by, they hadn’t found a giant snake roaming the corridors.
“Does this mean that it might not have been a prank?” Daphne asked, slumping down into one of the couches by the fire.
“Even if it was,” Pansy said, shaking her head, “It wasn’t a harmless one, not for Mrs. Norris anyway.”
“Well, you can’t say that cat didn’t have it coming,” Blaise said. He rolled his eyes when Pansy shot him a scandalized look. “Anyway, there are more important things to discuss—” and he turned to Merlin. “You should’ve told us you were a Parselmouth.”
Merlin got gingerly to his feet, h head still aching fiercely. He thought longingly of his bed. “Look, like Snape said, I didn’t attack Mrs. Norris or write that message.” He noted how the rest of his house moved closer to listen.
“I never believed you did,” Blaise said, looking surprised. “Out of all of us, I think you’re the least likely to have done this.”
“What?” asked Pansy. “Do you think one of us did?”
“Well, it wouldn’t be the first time,” Blaise said with a laugh. “It’s a Slytherin Legend for a reason, you know.”
“But Snape said he doesn’t think it was any of us,” Daphne said, glancing at him.
“Or he’s using reverse psychology,” Pansy snapped. “Doesn’t change the fact that right now, Merlin looks guilty.”
“He’d look guilty anyway,” Blaise said, shaking his head. “He’s in Slytherin.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Draco interrupted, slamming his hand on the armrest of the chair he sat in. “Merlin didn’t do this—end of discussion.”
“Except when the Gryffindor’s come with pitchforks,” Pansy said sardonically. She folded her arms. “If we threw him to the lions, the rest of us would be able to live our lives as usual.”
“No—we’re not suggesting that,” Draco said, getting to his feet. He met Pansy’s gaze evenly and after a second she sighed and nodded. “We’re all in this together. He’s not the Heir of Slytherin. We’ve been over this.”
“But he could be,” Blaise said, scratching his chin. “I mean, wasn’t the Dark Lord a Parselmouth as well?”
“Blaise—” Draco said warningly.
“Just hear me out. Your families,” and he gestured vaguely around them, “what would they do if they found out Merlin could speak Parseltongue?”
“They might think he’s a new Dark Lord,” Draco sneered.
Blaise raised his eyebrow. “Exactly.”
There was a pause as they all fell silent. Merlin could see some of the older students behind them exchanging thoughtful expressions. Most of them, Merlin knew, didn’t have ties to known Death Eaters. Terrence Higgs, the seeker turned chaser after Draco joined the team, seemed to want to say something but a girl nudged his shoulder and shook her head. Maybe she felt like it wasn’t their place to interrupt.
“What exactly are you saying?” Merlin asked Blaise.
“Let Draco and Pansy and the others tell their parents about what’s happened,” Blaise said. “You said you wanted to be taken more seriously—what a better way to show them that you’re a real contender than the fact you can speak Parseltongue?”
“But,” Daphne said, looking confused, “How will thinking he’s the Heir of Slytherin make them take Merlin more seriously?”
“They will when he catches the real Heir of Slytherin.”
Merlin considered this. If Draco was right about Lucius knowing, and he was right about Lord Voldemort being involved, then that idea might work out even better than he’d thought. He glanced at Draco and shrugged. It was worth a shot, wasn’t it?
Draco, however, frowned. “No—this is a terrible idea.”
“Why? Because it’s not yours?” Blaise sneered.
“They’re probably going to find out anyway,” Daphne put in. “I wouldn’t be surprised if students from the other houses are writing letters to their parents as we speak.”
“Draco,” Pansy interrupted softly, “You know full well that Merlin stands against what your father, what a lot of our parents stand for. They’ve been entertaining him because of what he did to Quirrell, but at some point that’s not going to be enough. My mother already wants me to keep my distance. If I’m going to pull out my wand and defend Merlin and defy my family’s wishes, then I need to give them a damn good reason.”
“Pull out your wand—?” Merlin started to say but Draco nudged him.
“It’ll happen,” he muttered. “We can barely restrain ourselves from hexing each other before Quidditch matches, I’d hate to see the Gryffindor’s when they think they’re on some righteous mission.” He sighed.
“She has a point,” Theodore said in a very small voice, somewhere behind Blaise. He moved aside and Theodore gave a weak smile. “Parseltongue is viewed almost like a personal gift from Slytherin.”
“Among Slytherins anyway,” Pansy amended with a shrug. “You could even be a descendant, even if you’re not… you know, his heir.”
“Exactly,” Blaise said. “They might even be willing to put up with your muggle-loving ideas long enough for you to convince them,” he said looking smug.
Merlin looked at Draco again, and this time the blond heaved a sigh. “It’s up to you,” he said, shoulders slumping. “I’m not responsible for what my father does with this information,” he added, dropping his voice.
“Understood.” Merlin looked from Blaise to Pansy before inclining his head, “You have my permission to spread the word. Though don’t misrepresent me—I’m not the Heir of Slytherin.”
“Yeah, sure,” Blaise said with a shrug, “As if you won’t be saying that a thousand times over.”
Merlin grimaced and brought a hand up to massage his temple. He could see some of the older students heading up to bed now—something that sounded like a fantastic idea.
“By the way,” Daphne asked before he could make a move, “why were you shouting Parseltongue in the corridor?”
It was as though she’d said the magic words. Everyone froze and looked back at Merlin. He opened his mouth to speak, but Draco grabbed his arm and whispered, “Telling them everything is a bad idea. The other houses will find out and it’ll cause a panic.”
Draco surveyed him, as though assuring himself that Merlin didn’t intend to do anything stupid. Then, he nodded, and let go of his arm.
“What is it?” Blaise asked, his tone taking a turn for the serious, looking from one to the other.
Merlin took a deep breath, “Well, I’m not the only Parselmouth at Hogwarts this year.”
Pansy’s mouth fell open, Blaise took a step back, Daphne put her hands over her mouth, and Theodore’s eyes went wide as a ripple of nervous tension went through the rest of Slytherin.
“But,” Theodore spoke up at last, “that’s a uniquely Slytherin trait. How can it not be one of us?”
No one slept well that night in Slytherin.
The week that followed was the worst he’d had at Hogwarts.
Students who had once admired him, now hissed as he walked past. Merlin tried not to listen to what they said but he couldn’t block it out when it was shouted, screeched in his ears.
“Who’re you going to attack next?”
“I always knew you were bad news.”
“I don’t know how you got out of this one, but we’ve got our eye on you now.”
“Slytherins really are all the same.”
The days leading up to the first Quidditch match of the season always resulted in mounting tension between Gryffindor and Slytherin, but things had taken a turn for the extreme. Most Gryffindor’s seemed convinced that Merlin was the Heir of Slytherin, and had come to the odd conclusion that he’d lied his way out of punishment, and that the entire house was culpable. Which meant they were personally obligated to prove otherwise.
There were fights in the corridors, with and without wands, accompanied with impassioned orders to tell the truth and to turn themselves in. The bulk of these, of course, fell on Merlin. He suspected he might have received the end of a wand too, if it weren’t for the reminder that he had defeated a professor and petrified Mrs. Norris that kept self-righteous Gryffindor’s at bay. And as Draco went everywhere with him, the Gryffindors seemed particularly motivated to see him fail in the upcoming match on Saturday.
But, Merlin would rather have people snap at him than run away. It was disorienting to see a group of Ravenclaw girls stop dead in the hallway and turn right back around at the sight of him. Even Neville Longbottom—who he had defended against bullying last year— fled at the sight of him.
Of course, Fred and George Weasley didn’t run. They were the only people in the world who knew who Merlin really was. He didn’t even need to explain himself to them, a welcome reprieve. Instead, the twins took it upon themselves to walk in front of him in between classes, announcing his presence.
“Make way! Make way for the Heir of Slytherin!”
“Budge up there, Dean, the new Dark Lord is headed to History of Magic!”
At first Merlin had been exasperated. He already had the Slytherin’s escorting him everywhere. But he quickly realized that when the twins were there, the Gryffindors took a step back. The first time they’d done this, George had told him that Ron and a lot of the other Gryffindor’s planned to curse him the instant they saw him or Draco anywhere near Hermione.
“But she’ll be in the library Friday like usual,” Fred promised with a smile. “We’ll distract ickle-ronnie-kins.”
“That twat,” Draco said as the twins left them to their charms class. “It’s as if the fact you stopped Quirrell doesn’t even matter anymore.”
“Oh, but didn’t you hear? I can talk to snakes. So evil.”
But perhaps worst of all was Gilderoy Lockhart, who had held him back after class in a misguided attempt to cheer him up. “Not to worry, Merlin,” he’s said, clapping his shoulder. “Once I’ve caught the real culprit, everything will go back to normal. So for now, just hold your head high and look on the bright side. They could be ignoring you.”
And with the near constant ache at his temples, Merlin wanted to just stay in bed until the Christmas. He almost wishes he had taken more of Draco’s advice and enjoyed his earlier positive fame. Being known for defeating a professor was so much better than everyone thinking he was the next super-villain. When class ended on Friday, he and Draco almost ran to the library.
They found Hermione seated on the floor of the magical creature section, surrounded by half a dozen open volumes. She had a roll of parchment atop another book on her knee.
“What’s all this?” Merlin asked, gesturing to the books.
She started and looked up at them. ”Oh good, you’re here!” she said and she waved for them to sit down. “Mind the ink,” she shot grabbing her inkbottle from the floor before Merlin knocked it over with his foot. “So, the other day I asked Professor Binns about the Chamber of Secrets and—”
“You actually interrupted that ghost?” Draco asked, sitting back against the bookshelf with a bemused expression.
Hermione glowered. “How else was I going to find out about it? All of the copies of Hogwarts A History, have been checked out, and there’s a two-week waiting list!”
“Yeah, and that prat Ron didn’t want you to come ask us,” Merlin finished, rolling his eyes. “So?”
“Well,” Hermione continued, “Professor Binns mentioned Slytherin’s monster, you know, and it just got me thinking—you said you’d heard a snake roaming the school and if it’s Slytherin’s monster, it’d make sense for it to be a giant snake. So, I’ve been trying to find out what kind.”
“Because then we’ll know how to stop it? Not a bad idea,” Merlin said, and he grabbed one of the open books. “Any luck so far?”
Hermione sighed and shook her head. “All I have to go on is really old and petrification, which I can’t find anywhere.”
“Still,” Merlin said, and he began flipping through the pages, “it’s worth a look.”
Hermione smiled. “That’s what I thought."
They spent the next few hours perusing through different books on magical snakes. Merlin hadn’t realized there were so many different types. There were boomslangs, yes, but also ashwinders, and then the stranger snake-hybrids like the Occamy. He even thought he might’ve found the snake he remembered Salazar holding back in Camelot, a lamia snake. But like Hermione had said, he couldn’t find any snake that’s venom could petrify its victims.
“Ah,” Draco said after they’d been at it for over an hour, stretching. “But even if we do find out what it is, we still don’t know where the thing is hiding when it’s not slithering through the halls.” He shut Poisonous Snakes of Europe and tossed it onto the stack to be re-shelved. “I mean, we told Snape and Dumbledore that there was a snake, and even with everything looking they couldn’t find it.”
Hermione frowned. “Maybe it leaves the castle somehow? I mean, if it’s hiding in the forbidden forest, it’s going to be almost impossible to find. It’s not like they can search the whole forest.”
“Great,” Draco grumbled. “Another reason I never want to set foot in that place.”
But Hermione had just given Merlin an idea. He knew someone who could search the forest for them. He made a mental note to tell Korrizahar later that night—if he could get out of the castle with everyone watching him, that is. He could just imagine the panic that would ensue if someone caught him out after bed, especially if it wasn’t Snape.
“Are you all right, by the war?” Hermione asked and Merlin blinked. He’d been absent-mindedly rubbing his temple. He dropped his hand.
“You mean, other than the constant negativity thrown my way?”
“That,” Hermione said with a grimace, “and you still look a bit peaky.”
“It’s just a stubborn cold,” Merlin said, and he grabbed another one of the books to avoid meeting her eyes.
Hermione pursed her lips. “Maybe you should go see Snape again.”
“Yeah, I might.”
“Right,” she said, and Merlin got the impression she didn’t believe him. She checked her watch, and closed her book. “I should head back up to Gryffindor tower. I want to drop off my books before dinner.”
“Right.” Draco stretched and got to his feet. “I’ll walk you.”
Hermione stared at him. She glanced at Merlin, who shrugged, before looking at Draco as though she wasn’t quite sure she’d heard him correctly. “What?”
“I’m walking you back to Gryffindor tower.”
“No, you’re not,” Hermione said with a disbelieving breath of laughter. When Draco raised his eyebrow, her smile faded a little. “You are kidding.”
“I’m really not.”
“What about Ron, and the others?” Hermione protested. “They’re not exactly keen on Slytherins being around me at the moment, and coming up to Gryffindor will just piss them off!”
“Oh, I’m aware. I bet they’re the same prats who tormented Theodore the other day.”
Hermione frowned. “What did they do?”
“Verbal abuse mostly,” Merlin said, getting to his feet as well. “He took off before they could get their wands out.”
Hermione shook her head. “Honestly—you’d think they’d realize antagonizing this Heir would be the stupidest thing they could do.”
“When have Gryffindor’s ever done anything smart?” Draco scoffed.
Hermione gave him a look.
“You’re the exception.”
“Uh huh,” and Hermione started putting the books back on the shelves. “Which is why I’m going up, alone.”
Draco folded his arms. “No. You’re not.”
“Come on, you should be able to figure it out,” Draco sneered. When Hermione raised her eyebrow, he rolled his eyes and continued, “The Heir of Slytherin attacks Muggleborns, Hermione. From now on you should always walk with a pureblood. Just in case.”
“I—well I—” Hermione didn’t seem to know what to say. She looked torn between insulted and concerned. She shot Merlin a look.
“Draco,” Merlin said, frowning. “It’s not even dark out yet, and the corridors are full of people. You really think that’s necessary?”
Draco held up his hands, “Maybe not, but better safe than sorry.”
Merlin pinched the bridge of his nose. “He’s got a point?” he said and Hermione spluttered.
“But—oh, I suppose if you insist.”
“I do,” Draco said and Hermione glowered at him.
“Fine!” she said, shouldering her bag. “But if Ron sees you, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Merlin grimaced at the thought of another row with the ginger, and nodded. With any luck, maybe Ron would realize he was an idiot when he saw Merlin genuinely concerned about Hermione’s safety. But as they left the library, he had a sudden thought.
“Hey, let’s walk past the second-floor corridor,” he suggested, causing Draco to scoff derisively.
“Yeah, because that’ll make you look less guilty.”
“I don’t think anything can help with that,” Merlin snapped. “Come on, let’s just see if Filtch is still guarding the place at least.” The caretaker had haunted the spot all week, as though expecting the culprit to return.
“Maybe we’ll find something the professors missed!” Hermione said, her face brightening.
“Fine,” Draco said, shaking his head. “But Filtch is probably still trying to scrub away that message.”
But to their surprise, Filtch was nowhere to be seen. His chair stood empty just beneath the message on the wall. The words glistened as they had on Halloween night, and Merlin walked over to inspect it while Draco and Hermione watched the corridor. Filtch hadn’t even smeared the paint. He touched one of the stains and felt magic push against his fingertips.
“Well, someone didn’t want this message to fade away,” he muttered. “It’s got some kind of ward on it.”
“You can tell that just by touching it?” Hermione asked, coming to stand next to him.
“Er… yeah.” Merlin looked away from Hermione’s wide eyes.
“Can you get rid of it?” Draco asked, also walking over.
Merlin pushed some of his magic into the enhancement, and shook his head. “Doesn’t look like it.” He paused. “I think it’ll dissipate on it’s own after awhile, though. It’s strong, but I can feel it getting weaker.”
“Huh,” Draco said, appraising it for a moment. He glanced down at the floor and frowned. “Remember all that water? Where was that from?”
“You know, that might have been Moaning Myrtle,” said Hermione, thoughtfully.
“Yeah, she’s this ghost that haunts the girls toilet over there,” and she pointed to a door across them with what looked like a permanent Out of Order sign on it. Even from this distance, Merlin could see water stains seeping from under the door. “She floods it so often, nobody ever goes near it,” Hermione explained.
“Well, maybe she saw something,” Merlin said, walking toward it.
“I’m not going in there,” Draco said flatly. “I’ll keep watch out here.”
“Suit yourself,” Merlin said and he pushed open the door.
The bathroom looked miserable. Splashes of standing water littered the floor, and the mirrors above the cracked sinks looked as if they hadn’t been washed in quite some time. Merlin wrinkled his nose as the cloying scent of mold hit his nose, and he glanced at Hermione.
“Least the constant flooding washes it out,” Hermione offered with a shrug.
“Who’s that?” came a glum voice from the end stall. They watched a silver-faced girl with large round spectacles poked her head around the corner. She paused, watery eyes narrowing, and floated over to them. “What’s a boy doing here?” she asked, pointing at Merlin.
“I just—we just wanted to know if you saw anything on Halloween night,” Hermione asked with a sideways glance at Merlin. “A cat was attacked just outside your door.”
Moaning Myrtle stared at her before giving a loud wail that echoed in the tiled room. “I d-don’t know,” she sobbed, tears rushing down her face. “I went to Sir Nick’s Deathday Party. But why’d he have to invite Peeves?” she wailed.
“So you weren’t here?” Merlin said, deflating. “But the water?”
Myrtle shook her head. “Peeves upset me so much I left early,” she said, sniffling. “I came here and tried to kill myself, only I’m—I’m—” she broke off with a tragic sob and dived into one of the toilets, splashing water everywhere. They could hear her wailing somewhere near the u-bend.
“Oh, dear,” Hermione said softly.
“Let’s go,” Merlin muttered. “She can’t help us,” he said, and with a touch of irritation he turned on his heel. Back to square one.
Outside, they found Draco next to the window, frowning. “No luck, huh?” he said, correctly reading the look on their faces. “I might have something though—take a look at this,” and he nodded toward the windowsill.
Merlin and Hermione went to look. Climbing through a crack to the outside was a thin line of spiders. Merlin could just see a single silken thread dangling above the ledge, as though they had all scaled it one-by-one. As they watched, the last spider slipped outside and Draco looked up with a peculiar expression.
“Do spiders usually behave like that?”
“No,” Hermione said, frowning too. “Weird…”
“Add it to the list of stuff we gotta figure out,” Merlin said, shaking his head. “Don’t you need to get back to your common room?”
“Right! We should probably go.”
They headed up the stairs in silence. Merlin brought his hand up to massage his temple, not really seeing the stone steps. Why hadn’t anyone been able to find the snake? How had Mrs. Norris gotten petrified? They hit the landing. And what was it with those spiders?
“Gryffindor inbound,” Draco muttered, coming to an abrupt halt in the corridor. Merlin skidded to a stop behind him and peaked around. He recognized her at the same time Hermione said, “Oh, its just Ginny.”
Ginny Weasley hadn’t seen them yet, her eyes trained on her shoes. Giving a smile, Hermione walked forward. “Hello, Ginny.”
The girl started and looked up. “Oh, Hermione.” Her gaze shifted to Draco, and then to Merlin. Her eyes widened. “Why—”
“No matter what Ron says,” Hermione interrupted, “Merlin and Draco are innocent, all right?”
Ginny blinked. “That’s not—I mean, why are they walking you to Gryffindor tower?”
“Oh, so you don’t think it was us then?” Draco asked, raising his eyebrow. “That’s a new one.”
Ginny frowned. “Somehow I thought it might be weird for Merlin to stop Quirrell and then turn around and threaten muggleborns,” she snapped. “Plus,” she added shuffling her feet. “Fred and George vouched for you.”
“’Course,” Merlin said giving a small smile. “If only you could all convince the rest of Gryffindor,” to which both Hermione and Ginny exchanged weary expressions.
“If only—” Hermione muttered, “but anyway, they,” and she gestured back to Draco and Merlin, “are being paranoid because of said threat against muggleborns.”
“Oh.” Ginny’s eyes went wide. “Really? So they don’t think it’s just a prank either.”
“Better safe than sorry,” Draco repeated with a careless shrug.
Merlin brought his hand to his temple again. He felt oddly nauseous. He swallowed thickly and said, “And on that note, maybe we shouldn’t go all the way up to the common room.”
Draco seemed about to protest but he stopped short at the look on Merlin’s face. “Yeah, I suppose you’re right,” he said slowly, “After all, Weasley is a pureblood herself.”
“Tell the twins too, maybe,” Merlin said, closing his eyes for a minute. “Since, they count.”
“Now, wait a minute,” Hermione said, folding her arms. “You can’t just expect me to be escorted everywhere!”
“Yeah, until the culprit is caught,” Draco retorted.
Hermione threw up her hands in frustration and stalked off down the corridor. Ginny shot one last nervous look in their direction before following her.
“Now,” Draco said, turning to Merlin. “Are you okay?”
“Just the usual,” and he gave a weak smile. “Nothing a little dinner won’t fix.”
Draco paused a moment, watching him. “Sleep in tomorrow.”
“Uh… I intend to.”
“No, I mean—” and Draco trailed off, looking uncomfortable.
It clicked. “What?” Merlin said, taken aback “You want me to miss the match? It’s your first game! And at this point even I want to stick it to the Gryffindors.”
Despite what he’d said, the next morning Merlin wished he had stayed in bed. Breakfast had never felt so tense. Both teams ignored their food, and instead shot increasingly hostile expressions at one another from across the Great Hall.
“Look at them,” Draco spat, narrowing his eyes at the Gryffindors. “They think they actually have a chance.” Wood seemed to be giving some kind of empowering speech.
“Good to see you’re confident, then,” Merlin said as he poked at his food. He struggled to find his appetite these days. He looked up to see Ron glaring daggers at him, and shook his head. “You’re probably lucky Fred and George are the Gryffindor beaters.”
Draco grunted and folded his arms. “They’ve never gone easy before now,” he countered.
“Yeah, but at least they won’t miss the bludger to hit you instead,” Merlin grumbled. He had heard the Slytherin beaters Derrick and Bole discussing such a thing last night in the common room.
“Well,” Draco looked slightly uncomfortable, “sometimes the best defense is a good offense.”
“Why do I feel like you’ve inverted that saying?”
“Anyway,” Draco said, and he grabbed his goblet of pumpkin juice, “we’re going to win and knock these sanctimonious Gryffindors down a peg.”
“Just as long as you ignore the Gryffindors and focus on catching the snitch,” Merlin said, seriously. Draco grimaced and nodded, taking a drink of his pumpkin juice instead of replying.
Sitting a few seats away from them, Marcus Flint got to his feet and looked around at the Slytherin team meaningfully. Draco took a deep breath, looking less confident than before, and got up.
“Good luck,” Merlin said as he and the rest of the team made their way out of the Great Hall. He saw the Gryffindor team similarly rise to their feet, and would have been concerned about the two meeting in the entry hall if he didn’t see Professor McGonagall and Snape keeping a weather eye.
“What exactly do they think they’ll prove if they win?” Blaise said, sliding over to take Draco’s empty seat. He nodded toward the Gryffindors. “Do they think you’ll suddenly be found guilty if they catch the snitch, or something?”
“That’ll be the day,” Merlin said rolling his eyes. He pushed his beans in a circle around in is plate, frowning.
Blaise shook his head. “Well, we might as well go get seats unless you want to keep playing with your food?”
“No, let’s go,” and they got to their feet. “You coming Theo?” Merlin asked the shy Slytherin from across him. And together, the three of them left the Great Hall.
They were among the first to reach the stands, but it wasn’t long after they’d sat down and Blaise began explaining his list of predictions for the game that the rest of the school joined them. Merlin could just see among the Gryffindor stands a first year boy dancing about the edge of the stands with a camera, and cringed when he saw it point in his general direction.
“I though paparazzi weren’t allowed?” Blaise said in a mocking tone, nudging Merlin’s arm. “Maybe he thinks he’ll sell it to the Daily Prophet.”
“He can try,” Merlin said, narrowing his eyes. He was surprised to see Ginny Weasley pull the boy back into his seat, shooting a half-grimace and a silent sorry, in his direction.
Bellow, the doors opened and the two teams stepped out onto the pitch and the tumult of noise—positive and negative—drowned out any possibility of conversation.
It was a violent game. Merlin cringed as he watched players dive-bomb each other, and it felt like Madam Hooch blew her whistle every thirty-seconds. Fred and George didn’t try to hit anybody with their clubs but they didn’t pull their punches either, and the Slytherin beaters looked downright murderous.
“And Slytherin is in possession,” came the commentator’s voice, barely heard over the sheer noise from the crowd. “Flint passes to Higgs—take it from him Angelina! Rip it from his slimy—”
“Jordan!” came McGonagall’s voice. “If you can’t commentate in a non-biased manner—”
“Sorry, Professor. Higgs is in possession of the quaffle. He’s coming up to the goal posts—Wood, stop him!”
But Wood missed. The cheers from Slytherin were almost drowned out from the torrent of boos and hissing thrown in their direction.
“This is terrible,” Merlin said, rubbing his temples. He could just see Draco circling high above the pitch. He seemed to have taken Merlin’s advice to heart, and stayed out of the way of the chasers pelting up and down the field. The Gryffindor seeker—some third year Merlin had never met, hovered a good ten feet below him.
“It’ll make out victory that much sweeter,” Blaise yelled. “Go Draco!”
“Gryffindor in possession,” said Lee Jordan. “Angelina finally got that ball, good girl. Stick it to those snakes—”
Merlin plugged his ears, watching as Draco passed by above them. The blond suddenly stopped, and Blaise pulled one of Merlin’s hands away from his ear.
“He’s seen it!”
“There!” said Pansy, pointing. Something gold was hovering right by the Slytherin goal posts.
Draco shot toward it, but below him the Gryffindor seeker did the same thing. But whereas Draco passed above the stampede of chasers speeding down the pitch, the Gryffindor seeker flew into the chaos.
It happened so fast, Merlin didn’t see it but the next moment the Gryffindors were screaming, “FOUL,” while their seeker fell to the ground.
“What happened?” Merlin shouted, as Draco dived.
“Their seeker just took a bludger to the back!” Blaise explained. “Come on! GET IT! YES!”
And as Draco began to rise, the glittering snitch clenched in his hand, Madam Hooch blew her whistle for the last time.
Black static pressed against his eyes, and then moved to travel down his arms as tangible electric pressure. He tried to focus, to form thoughts from the quagmire, to see images through the ink blotting his vision. His headache groaned and swayed, building with his focus until he could see a man standing before him in faded colors. Merlin winced, glass behind his eyes now, but he squinted toward the person—and recognized him.
Salazar Slytherin spoke soundless, his words nothing more than the static dancing down Merlin’s arms. He watched as Salazar frowned, and shook his head before turning his back to Merlin.
Merlin tried to reach out too him. What had he tried to tell him? But the next moment, Salazar had faded back into the black.
Merlin woke with a start. The pain had followed him through the dream. He pressed his palms against his eyes, but when the static returned he winced and massaged his temples instead. After a few minutes, the pain lessened and he was able to sit up without the room spinning.
It must’ve been a memory—one of those blocked by the curse. He winced as he thought of it. Maybe he should ask Hermione to help him research memory curses, though he quailed at the thought of her asking why. If she knew—she might just drag him to Dumbledore herself. No, maybe he’ll do some research himself.
Now that he was awake, Merlin felt cold. He shivered, and pulled his blanket up around him—but when it didn’t help the fire in the common room popped into his mind. Pulling the blanket with him, Merlin headed down to the common room. But when he reached the bottom of the stairs, he saw something that brought him to an abrupt halt.
Snape was standing behind the long black couch in front of the fire, staring into the flames. He turned around when he heard Merlin and in the gloom, Merlin almost missed the somber expression he wore. The professor cleared his throat and took a step toward Merlin.
“There’s been another attack.”
Merlin took a sharp in-take of breath. “Are they—?”
“Petrified,” Snape said, and he grimaced. “No doubt sneaking out for a midnight snack.” He paused. “I need you to come with me.”
Merlin blanched. “You don’t honestly think I—?”
“Of course not,” Snape interrupted in a furious whisper. “But as you were able to hear it last time… Dumbledore has requested you join us for a search of the castle.”
Merlin stared at him. “I’ll grab my cloak.”