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Merlin Elderson and the Ouroboros Dilemma

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It was one of those perfect late summer mornings. The kind that starts with a cool breeze and a bit of fog, but will eventually give way to warm sunlight that will stay with you until you fall asleep. It was that kind of morning that made you want to scream, completely unironically, Carpe Diem! at the top of your lungs. Even if it just earns you a few sideways looks and a quietly muttered, “he’s losing it,” from those nearest and dearest to you.

It was going to be the kind of day, thought Merlin Elderson, that promised nothing but good things. He was glad of it, because a perfect late summer day seemed like just the right kind of day for the start of term as a freshly appointed House Prefect at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Well, alright, it wasn’t an entirely perfect day. No day that started before five could be called perfect. Especially not when five had given way to six, and then half past six. And then it was fifteen till and oh, Merlin was running late.

“Have you finished your toast?” Hunith called from the kitchen. Merlin was in the front room, looking under the battered old armchair for his copy of Dark Arts in the Dark Ages. He had spent the last week sprawled on the front room floor, frantically trying to finish his summer assignments while watching as much television as he could before the first of September. He had fallen asleep there the night before, curled up over his paper for Defense Against the Dark Arts while an episode of Being Human flickered in front of him.

There…may have been some confusion between what he was watching and what he was writing near the end. Professor Alator would be sure to point out the “Muggle generated nonsense” once he got around to marking it.

“I’ve had three slices,” Merlin called to his mother, even as he was pulling the cushions off of the couch. Nothing.

Merlin swore quietly. This was why it was stupid not to let underage wizards use their magic outside of school. He could have long since summoned the book, put it in his trunk, and been happily eating a fourth piece of toast under the loving gaze of his mother.

Merlin briefly considered pulling his wand out of his back pocket. Surely the Ministry had better things to do today than send nasty notices to fifteen year olds that were only four short hours away from being legal to do magic again? But, it wasn’t worth the risk.

Not when Merlin could do some things that, he had inadvertently discovered over last few years, the Ministry could neither track nor probably explain.

Merlin looked over his shoulder towards the kitchen, just to be sure his Mum was out of sight. She was a Muggle, sure, but she knew enough to give him an ear-full if she caught him doing magic. Satisfied, he turned back to the room.

He put his hand out, concentrating on creating an image of the book in his mind. He tried to remember the feel of it in his hands; the way that the pages seemed to stick together a little towards the middle, or the feel of the cover coming loose from the spine near the top. When he was sure he had as clear a picture of it as he was going to muster, he whispered the words that sprung naturally to his tongue. “Inbringe, cume mec.”

The book flew out from behind the television and straight into Merlin’s outstretched hand. He smiled triumphantly.

“Neat,” said a voice from the front door. Merlin jumped, dropping the book in the process.

“I thought you said you weren’t to be doing that funny stuff over the Holidays?” Will asked, leaning against the frame. He must have come in while Merlin was focusing on the book. Will had stopped knocking on the front door ages ago, so it wasn’t like Merlin could accuse him of barging in.

“Keep it down,” Merlin said, bending low to scoop up the book and then rushed towards the stairs that lead to the second floor. “It’s…complicated.”

“Yeah, whatever you say,” Will said with a shrug, and caught Merlin by the arm as he passed. He leaned in, smiling. “I won’t rat you out to Hunith if you do something nice for me.”

Merlin could feel himself smiling back, a little shyly. “Hm? Like what?”

It was strange, being able to do this with Will. They had been best mates since Merlin and his mother had moved into the estate ten years ago, which was pretty much forever as far as Merlin could tell. Even if things had gotten a bit weird and strained the year that Merlin had disappeared to “some posh boarding school up north,” they had still been close.

This summer they had gotten, well, closer.

“Let’s see,” Will said. “We could start with a proper ‘good morning.’”

Merlin’s stomach flipped, just a bit, and he leaned forward to press his lips to Will’s. The gesture was starting to feel familiar, if not exactly natural. Merlin still had to say to himself, Yes, it’s Will, and it’s different, but we do these things now.

After a moment, conscious of his mother in the next room, he pulled back.

“Good morning,” Merlin said.

“William?” Hunith called, and Will and Merlin stepped away from each other quickly. It wasn’t that Hunith didn’t know about them, more or less. There was just something about kissing your first boyfriend in front of your mother that wasn’t quite on.

Hunith came into the room, shooting them both a knowing glance. Merlin did not blush. Not a lot, anyway.

After a moment, Hunith fixed her gaze on Will. “I doubt you’ve had your breakfast,” she said crisply. “Come along and I’ll fix you some eggs while Merlin finishes the packing he should have done last night.”

“Right,” Will said, stepping away from Merlin. They had still been standing rather close together. “Is there anything that can go in the car?”

“You and Merlin will have to work together to get that trunk into the boot,” Hunith said, rolling her eyes.

Merlin cringed a bit in embarrassment. He hadn’t gotten around to telling Will about the trunk yet.

“That heavy?” Will asked, even as he and Hunith were disappearing into the kitchen. Merlin made his way up the stairs, and just barely heard Hunith huff, “Oh, William. When are things ever that simple with that son of mine?”

* * *

Merlin was worried.

Well, worried was perhaps too strong a word. Slightly anxious was a better way of putting it, he thought.

You see, he was pretty sure he had stuck his prefect’s badge in his duffel that morning before breakfast. But, then again, he thinks he might have been holding it when his Mum had reminded him that he still hadn’t put away all his books. Then, of course, he had panicked and shot out of the room. Which is when Will showed up, and then it was time to get everything into the car, and then chaos had reigned until they were all squashed in his mother’s battered old Lacetti.

He would have looked for it when they reached the bus terminal, but Hunith had started crying when it was time to say goodbye. Stupid things like prefect badges had gone straight out of his head.

Still, he distinctly remembers pinning the badge to his favorite set of robes before shoving them into the duffel…he thinks.

To be fair, he didn’t imagine the school would stop him from being a prefect just because he forgot his badge. The Queen was Queen even when she wasn’t wearing the crown, right? QED.

Not having a badge AND missing the Hogwarts Express, though. That might be the kind of combination that gets ones removed from prefect-i-ness before one even starts.

“Will,” Merlin said, craning his neck to catch the name of the station they were leaving. He didn’t take the Tube often enough to be familiar with all the stops, but he suspected they were almost at King’s Cross.“Could you possibly break yourself away from your staring contest with Arc to help me get this stupid trunk to the door?”

“He’ll start squawking if I do,” Will said, continuing to ignore everything that wasn’t the massive barn owl perched quietly in the brass cage in front of him. Which, Merlin thought, was probably true. Archimedes did not like his cage, and, on the rare occasions Merlin had to use the offending thing, made sure everyone around him knew it.

Thankfully, one of the few things Archimedes disliked more than his cage was Will. Not that Merlin was happy that his owl and his recently-upgraded-from-best-mate-to-boyfriend were destined to be mortal enemies. Just that it made moving a fair bit easier when aforementioned pet’s entire focus was on killing aforementioned boyfriend using only the power of his wee walnut sized brain.

It was a bit cute, really.

“Let him do,” Merlin said with a shrug. He smiled apologetically at the commuters in their car that had been eying them wearily since they’d boarded. He wasn’t sure if it was the owl that gave them pause, or the great big bloody trunk that would not stop shaking, no matter how many time Merlin nicely asked it to behave. In either case, it was probably better for them to get off sooner rather than later.

“Right,” Will said as he stood to grab onto the handle of the trunk. It flinched at Will’s touch, or possibly at the shrill screech Archimedes was now emitting. Merlin couldn’t be sure.

“Did you have to spell it to shake?” Will whispered softly, but imploringly. He had to lean in rather close to be heard over Archimedes and the increasingly audible grumbling of their fellow passengers. “Luggage is hard enough to manage when it’s not trying to make a break for freedom.”

“I was trying to make it bigger on the inside,” Merlin admitted dejectedly. It had been one of the last spells he had cast before the end of last term, hoping to make the journey back much easier if he could fit everything into one big box. He had even been planning to Charm it blue if it had worked.

It hadn’t.

Before Will could say something smart, Next Stop: King’s Cross, St. Pancras was announced over the speakers. Merlin hastily dragged his end of the trunk to the train door. He then picked up Archimedes’ cage, kicked his worn duffel in Will’s general direction, and braced himself as the train slowed to enter the station.

“You owe me one of those sweet beers,” Will muttered as they carried the still shuttering trunk between them. “A big one. A pint.”

“Butterbeer,” Merlin corrected.

“Whatever,” Will said, ”and I take it back. You don’t owe me one; you owe me a case.”

“I don’t know if they come in cases,” Merlin said absently. He looked around, then began leading them towards the lift that would take them up to ground level. “I’ll have to look into that next time I’m down in…the village.”

Will was used to talking about this stuff in public. As he put it once, “I just stick in the words ‘crazy magic shit’ as appropriate in my head, and nod, and your vague points end up making some sense.

“And while you’re making inquiries amongst your people,” Will said as they waited for the lift, “could you please find out why there isn’t an easier way for you to get to school than schlepping into the heart of London? I thought one of the benefits of being you-like would be not having to deal with bus schedules and rush hour commutes.”

“It’s complicated,” Merlin replied for the second time that morning. It was his stock answer that meant, “I would love to actually explain this but ‘crazy magic shit’ is going to have to do for now.” Getting lost in the weeds of wizarding law was not something they had time for. “It’s tradition, anyway.”

“Oh yes, tradition,” Will nodded. “I’m sure your poncier schoolmates love the part of the tradition where your have to say say good-bye to your Mum at seven because that’s how long it takes to get to King’s Cross by half past ten via public transit.”

And for a moment, Merlin did think of one of his poncier schoolmates, and how hilarious it would be to see him trying to muddle his way through the Muggle-y bits of the train system. Merlin would have actually laughed, except his brain caught on the “say goodbye to his Mum” part, and Merlin felt the laughter die away.

“It’ll be different next year,” Merlin said, trying to think about anything other than that idiot at the moment. “For a start, you’ll have your license and a car.”

“And you’ll be paying for petrol,” Will agreed cheerfully. “It’ll be brilliant.”

They moved through the underground station at a good pace, negotiating the turnstile with Merlin only getting slightly caught up in it with his luggage. They stepped briefly out into the warm September sunlight before making their way into King’s Cross Station proper.

They paused to catch their breathe, letting the trunk rest between them.

“Oh, blurgh,” Merlin said, catching sight of a digital clock on one of the departure boards. “It can’t be twenty till eleven already?”

“It can,” said a familiar female voice to his left. “I thought you were going to miss the train!”

Merlin spun to the side, grinning. There was a very pretty girl walking towards them. She was wearing a bright yellow summer dress, and her hair was pulled up into a messy bun that made her seem, paradoxically, all the more put together.

“Gwen!” Merlin greeted happily. “Of course I wasn’t going to miss the train. I’m a prefect! I am a model of foresight and responsibility.”

Merlin was going to ignore the way both she and Will snorted at that.

When she got close enough he pulled her into a quick hug. “Oh, I’ve missed you!”

Gwen Smith had been the first friend Merlin had made in the magical world. They’d met the summer before First Year, when Merlin’s Mum had taken him into London to shop for school supplies. Being a Muggle, Hunith had had no earthly idea how to get into Diagon Ally the first time. Merlin wondered later why no one from the school or Ministry had been sent to guide them, the way that other Muggle families were helped during the “adjustment” period.

It took him probably longer than it should have to remember that he wasn’t actually Muggle-born. They must have just assumed he had someone in his life that would know to help him when the time came. After all, his father had been a wizard. A very well respected one at that, as Merlin had quickly learned in his first few weeks at Hogwarts.

But they hadn’t had anyone. As long as Merlin could remember, it was just him and his Mum.

Given that, it was no surprise that Merlin and Hunith ended up staring at the wall behind the Leaky Cauldron for an embarrassingly long amount of time. People on the street had watched them curiously, but whenever someone seemed like they were going to ask what the pair of them were doing staring at a wall, they would suddenly remember that they had left the kettle on at home and hurried away.

Merlin had begun to think that maybe he should just send out a tendril of his magic to poke at the wall, maybe see if he could get it to do something. He was pretty sure that his wand was supposed to be involved— somehow — but Merlin had always been perfectly fine using just his mind. To be honest, he had been a little dubious about the whole wand thing from the beginning. It had seemed…sort of silly. He couldn’t explain it.

Before he could actually give the wall a good mental shove, a man with two children around Merlin’s age had walked up beside them.

“Are you trying to get into Diagon Ally?” One of the children, a young girl with her hair pulled into curly pigtails, had asked Merlin. She looked at him, then at Hunith. “Dad didn’t know how to get in either when Elyan had to get his school supplies his first year. Where’s your guide?”

“Guinevere,” the man had said, and Merlin had assumed that it was her father. “You’re not being polite.”

“Oh,” Guinevere had said, and stepped back behind her father slightly. “Sorry.”

“You’re fine, love,” Hunith had said, then looked over at the man. “Actually, we are slightly lost. This is all a bit foreign to me.”

“Oh, you should have seen me the first time,” the man had said. “I was trying to keep it together for the kids, but inside? I was alternately screaming and laughing hysterically. I mean, magic? Really?”

“I know the feeling,” Hunith had laughed, then put her hand on Merlin’s head. “I’m Hunith, and this is my son, Merlin.”

“Tom Smith,” Tom had said, extending his hand to Hunith. “And these are my two munchkins, Elyan and Gwen,” he had continued, pointing first to the boy, who Merlin could see then was at least a year or two older than him, and then the girl Guinevere who was, apparently, also called Gwen.

Tom had looked down at Merlin, and extended his hand. “Merlin, huh? Proper name for a young wizard, I’d think.”

“I guess,” Merlin had said, taking his hand. It had been disconcerting, being able to talk about these things with people that weren’t his mother. At the time, not even Will had known that Merlin was Magic. It had been thrilling and scary all at once.

“So you’re a first year, yeah?” Elyan had asked. “So’s Gwen. We could stick together, if you want? Gwenie’s going to have have to get her robes and books and everything else today, too.”

“That is a fine idea,” Tom had said, looking to Hunith. “That is, if Miss Hunith and Mister Merlin don’t have other plans?”

“Thank you,” Hunith had said with a sigh. “That would be great.”

As Elyan had walked towards the wall and began tapping the bricks with his wand, Gwen had leaned over to Merlin. “I’m glad you’re here,” she whispered. “Elyan won’t pick on me for not knowing magic things if we have company.”

Merlin had grinned. “And Mum won’t yell at me nearly as much if there are other people with us,” he whispered back. “Elyan’s right, we should stick together.”

“Agreed,” Gwen had said as the wall in front of them began to shift away, revealing Merlin’s first true glimpse into the world of Magic.

They had stuck together ever since.

Gwen leaned into the hug, holding on tightly as she stood on her toes. “I’ve missed you, too,” she said warmly, speaking into his shoulder. When they broke apart, she turned to Will and smiled. “’Lo, Will. Good to see you again.”

“Likewise,” Will nodded. “But god, haven’t you turned into a girl! I mean, a proper one.”

“Will!” Merlin chided. “Be nice!”

“Well, she has,” Will said, pointing at Gwen. “I haven’t seen her since she visited last summer. She’s not spotty anymore or anything.”

“I’m so sorry,” Merlin said, turning to Gwen. “He’s a lost cause, he really is. There is nothing I can do.”

“I don’t doubt it,” Gwen replied, but she didn’t look upset with either of them. “Anyway, let’s get you a trolley.”

Just then, a whistle sounded. It was a strange sort or whistle, somehow seeming to come from everywhere and no where all at once.

“Shit,” Gwen said. “That’s the fifteen minute warning,” she continued, before grabbing Arc’s cage and Merlin’s duffel. “You two take the trunk, we need to get down there.”

Merlin nodded, grabbing at the trunk’s handle on his side. It lurched away, but Merlin was able to hold on.

“Is it still doing that?” Gwen asked, staring at the trunk in amusement. “You were so confident it would wear off.”

“Leave me alone,” Merlin said. “I’m going to have Professor Grettir look at it as soon as we get home.” Their Charms professor would probably mock him mercilessly for a while, but he would help Merlin— eventually.

“When you get home, huh?” Will said, in a way the didn’t sound exactly pleased. “Fully moved yourself to Scotland there, Elderson? Already taken away to Glasgow in your mind?”

“Bad phrasing,” Merlin said, not wanted to touch the complicated emotions laid there. “Look, there’s a free trolley over by the wall. Help me get this thing on there.”

A moment later the three of them were moving quickly through the station, dodging commuters as they made their way towards Platform 9 and 3/4.

Well, it wasn’t really Platform 9 and 3/4 anymore. The Muggles had decided a few years ago to restore King’s Cross, which including tearing down the wall that happened to lead to the Wizarding platform. It had caused quite a stir at the Ministry, to the point that it had actually been proposed that the whole of the UK should ‘forget’ that anyone had ever considered changes to the station, and wouldn’t it be a silly idea to ever try to do in the future?

Luckily, it hadn’t come to that. There was a deal reached between the Minister of Magic’s office, Network Rail, and the Camden London Borough Council. Details of the agreement were never fully revealed to the public, Muggle or Magic, but the Minister enjoyed a nice bump in his approval ratings anyway. A number of the members of the Borough Council, on the other hand, retired quietly at the end of that year. Many of them to places far, far away from London.

So, Platform 9 and 3/4 survived, even if, technically, it was more like Platform 9 and 9/10 now. Wizards were the kind of people that didn’t take well to change, so the name stuck regardless of where it was along the new wall.

Unfortunately, that also meant that each year at least a few Muggle-born first years found themselves smashing into an unyielding mass of bricks that they had been assured would give way to them. It was embarrassing for everyone involved, so it had eventually fallen to the incoming Head Boy and Girl to stand watch and stop any kids that looked like they were about to make a Kamikaze run into the wrong wall.

Which was why, at first, Merlin wasn’t too surprised to see the crowd gathered along the wall between Platforms 9 and 10.

“Oh,” Gwen said, obviously thinking along the same lines. “Someone must have wiped out spectacularly.”

Merlin would have agreed, except as they got closer, the crowd seemed abnormally large for an accident. Also, if it was some poor eleven year old sprawled on the floor, it was rather rude that a number of the people standing around were holding cameras. Professional looking cameras at that.

“I don’t think it was a crash,” Merlin said, standing on his toes. “Look, no one’s even looking at the ground. I think they’re talking to someone in the middle—oh, someone moved, I can see now, it’s that bloke with the grey hair, see? He— oh holy hellfire!”

Merlin jumped back, involuntarily. Because there, standing at the center of the crowd of journalists was none other than the Minster of Magic himself, Uther Pendragon.

“That is him, isn’t it?” Gwen asked, clearly able to see Uther through the crowd. “He doesn’t usually come out for this.”

“Who is it?” Will asked, looking at them both. “I don’t recognise him.”

“Wouldn’t think you would,” Gwen said, in a way that was more apologetic than condescending. “Unless you keep up with Wizard politics. That is the Minister of Magic, the Right Honourable Uther Pendragon.”

“I’ve heard of him,” Will said, turning to Merlin with an evil smile. “He’s the dad of that pillock you can’t stand, right?”

Merlin, to his utter shame, blushed.

“Merlin!” Gwen said crossly. “You can’t let that go, can you? Not even over the holidays?”

“I’ll let it go when he does,” Merlin said, trying for flip but probably sounding nothing but petulant. “Well, Minister or not, we don’t have time for this.”

With that, Merlin started to push the trolley forward in the direction of Platform 9 3/4. He only made it a meter when a hand shot out of nowhere, grabbing him and pulling him back. Merlin stumbled, and Archimedes squawked in his cage, but whoever had pulled him made sure to steady him as well.

“Do not,” said a familiar voice quietly into his ear, “even think about getting onto that platform. All the Muggles are watching us, you half-wit.”

And even before Merlin’s eyes met the familiar blue ones, he felt a not entirely unpleasant, but entirely unwelcome, shiver run down his spine. He ignored the feeling as best could, hoping the damn git who was practically holding him hadn’t noticed.

“Hello, Arthur,” Merlin said. “Fancy meeting you here.”