Visit from the Potions Master
"Did you really mean it?" Draco swallowed, wondering if he even dared allow himself the luxury of hope. "I can go for ice cream with Merlin next week?"
His mother didn't answer immediately, keeping her gaze fixed on their approach to Malfoy Manor. He considered that a good sign—she would've wasted no time in declaring otherwise. It wasn't the first time a Malfoy had lied in the name of public image. Even if his parents didn't agree with Merlin, the boy had been thrown into the media spotlight and they'd therefore maintain, if not friendly, at least polite terms with the boy.
But they didn't like him.
Merlin had declared himself an advocate of the light, an enemy of the Dark Lord and a muggle-lover. The fact that Draco therefore chose to associate with him—well, his father wasn't pleased. Lucius had already threatened to transfer him to Durmstrang twice, and was only prevented from doing so by his mother. Not that she approved of their relationship either—
"Is your friendship with Merlin so important that you would risk our family losing favor with the Dark Lord?"
Draco gaped at her. She was rarely so blunt. "I—" he faltered.
"He has already defied the Dark Lord once," his mother continued, casting him a glance. "Standing in his way will not end favorably for us—particularly for your father."
"You were the one who said I should keep an eye on him," he shot, frowning as he recalled the trip to Diagon Alley last year. It felt impossibly long ago now. So much had changed. "Father said he'd never heard of a Whomping Willow wand."
"That was before he allied himself with Dumbledore and the rest of them."
"Don't—" Draco took a deep breath, choosing his words carefully. "Don't you think it might be better to stay close to him because of that? What's that phrase?" He sneered. "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer."
"You're too close, Draco."
But she didn't sound angry. Her shoulders dropped in exhaustion and he heard her sigh softly beside him. Draco didn't speak. He knew that although she spoke of loyalty to the Dark Lord, she had never truly wanted him to go down that path. He had seen it in her eyes, the way her jaw clenched when his father mentioned some of his more radical purist ideals. No—she was terrified. His mother wanted him to be safe, nothing more.
Well, he certainly felt safer with Merlin.
His parent's didn't know everything. They didn't know that Merlin had single-handedly killed a troll. They didn't know the sheer amount of raw power that the boy possessed, and Draco had a feeling that once they knew they would be more supportive. They might not agree with Merlin's muggle-loving ideas, but they wouldn't risk antagonizing power.
"Will you attend the evidence hearing with father?" he asked as they scaled the steps of the manor.
"If I can."
Draco nodded. "And—" He didn't need to finish.
"I'm sorry, but you may not attend. Your father is a school governor and his presence, although not a necessity, is recommended due to the nature of the case." She opened the doors with a wave of her hand and strode inside.
She turned back to him, raising one of her penciled eyebrows.
Draco shrugged, "He might understand, that's all."
Merlin deserves his loyalty more than the Dark Lord.
"I see." She appraised him for a moment before turning away. "So, about purchasing those brooms—"
Only A Boy
If Severus Snape was honest with himself, he wanted to see Merlin.
He argued that it was perfectly normal to have the boy on his mind. The events of the previous school year stared at him from every copy of the Daily Prophet. The imprisoned ex-Defense Against the Dark Arts professor glared at him from behind bars, wearing a hungry, frustrated expression that twisted his bandaged face. Snape was almost disappointed Quirrell had managed to pull through—for a brief moment the healers at St. Mungo's weren't sure he would. But he didn't think Merlin would've taken it well if he discovered he'd accidentally killed someone—accidental magic, or not.
And then there was the prophecy.
He hated seers. By predicting the future, he often felt they were forcing that future to happen. If no one paid attention to a half mumbled prophecy, would it still come to pass? And this one—sure it foretold the downfall of the Dark Lord but now he was taking protective measures. There went any chance of a surprise attack. And Merlin—
Dumbledore thought he was the boy spoken of in the prophecy. Though Snape hated it, he nevertheless found himself agreeing. He might not understand all the vague language but Merlin had defeated him once, and he'd therefore put himself on the Dark Lord's radar. Even if he weren't the boy of the prophecy, he would be now. Plus the notes about blue eyes and the late July Birthday were oddly coincidental.
Snape sighed, tapping the brick to allow him entry to Diagon Alley. The trial would begin tomorrow. He almost wished he could attend, but his role as a double agent demanded that he keep a low profile. He would ask Merlin to mention his involvement as little as possible. It wouldn't bode well for him if the Dark Lord thought he might have truly switched sides—especially not now that it was clear he wasn't gone.
He reached the ice cream parlor quickly, and was pleased to see that he'd arrived before the lunch rush. Snape gritted his teeth—Merlin was clever. He didn't want the boy realizing something was wrong, and although he and Dumbledore had their differences they agreed on this matter: Merlin was too young to know about the prophecy. He didn't need that ominous shadow following him around. Snape shook his head, and pushed open the door.
A bell clanged.
"Ah, Professor. Merlin said you would be dropping by." Florean Fortescue was standing behind the register, wearing a white stained apron over what looked like a bright orange pinstripe waistcoat.
"Mr. Fortescue." Snape politely inclined his head.
"Florean, please. You make me feel like I'm still in school." Florean gave a hearty laugh and walked out from behind the counter, still smiling. "Should I grab Merlin?"
"If you wouldn't mind."
"I have a private room in the back," Florean said, pointing to a door on the far side of the shop. "Usually reserved for birthdays and the like. I trust you don't want to be overheard?"
Snape nodded and without another word, strode across the room. The thought that a student might spot him inside the ice cream parlor did not appeal to him. He swept into the private room and almost winced at the array of brightly colored streamers hanging from the ceiling. Empty and unused, the chairs rested upside down on the large center table. He flicked his wand and two chairs righted themselves. Snape had just taken a seat when the door opened again.
"Congratulations, you managed to last nearly two weeks without seeing me." Merlin gave a broad cheeky smile and flung himself into the chair opposite him. "That's got to be a new record, isn't it?"
Snape's lip curled. "I see your new foster hasn't addressed your insolent behavior."
Merlin scoffed. "Oh, I don't think there's anyone that can fix that."
"Pity." Snape pinched the bridge of his nose. The image of the boy lying bloody and unconscious beneath heavy slabs of rock had haunted him since the end of the quarter, and it seemed impossible that this was the same boy. He had almost expected Merlin to be more subdued after his encounter with Quirrell—but he was as tenacious as ever. Somehow, that comforted him. Merlin was too young to be plagued by nightmares. "I trust I don't need to reiterate the purpose for my visit?"
Snape nodded. "The hearing, I'm sure you're aware, will decide whether or not there is enough evidence to convict Quirrell."
"And I'm the key witness," Merlin sighed.
"Yes, now it's important that in your testimony you refrain from mentioning my involvement as much as possible."
He watched as Merlin frowned. "Why?" the boy asked. "You suspected Quirrell long before I did."
"It would," Snape said slowly, choosing his words with care, "cause unfortunate complications." Merlin didn't need to know about his role as a double agent. He had no doubt that Merlin would find out eventually, especially if he really was the boy of the prophecy but now wasn't the time. "The Headmaster has explained that certain members of his staff desire anonymity—so they are prepared for such details to be omitted."
Merlin didn't say anything for a long moment. He could see the boy thinking, his brow furrowed as he took in Snape's explanation. "Okay," he said finally, meeting Snape's eyes. "But, won't it seem odd that I didn't go to my head of house for help?"
"I didn't say that you couldn't mention me entirely," Snape said. "But it would be a good idea if you didn't give the jury the impression that I shared sensitive information with an eleven year old." Snape watched Merlin's eyes widen in understanding. "Also," he decided to add, "Lucius Malfoy will be present, and I'd rather he didn't come to the conclusion that you consider me a confidant."
Merlin's face suddenly went impassive. Snape recognized the expression of someone hiding their emotions, though he didn't understand why Merlin would feel the need to hide something from him. He surveyed Merlin for a moment before saying, "Lucius would no doubt take advantage of it, especially since I am Draco's Godfather."
"You—" Merlin spluttered a moment, before shaking his head. "Okay." Snape was willing to bet that Draco would be receiving an owl after he left. "So," and Merlin took a deep breath, "I just tell them what happened then?"
"A verbal testimony will only persuade so many," Snape said. "Would you be willing to submit a memory of the incident?" Since Merlin would need to omit certain details, undergoing a Veritaserum interview was out of the question. In any case, it was forbidden to use the truth potion on a student—it could have adverse effects on a developing brain.
But Merlin had gone stiff in his seat. Even though he was clearly trying to hide his emotions, Snape could see panic and fear in his eyes. Maybe the incident had affected Merlin after all—or was he simply scared of how people would see him? Merlin had killed the troll on Halloween night and hadn't taken the credit. He'd only told Snape because he'd threatened to expel the boy, and even then he hadn't wanted anyone to know about it. In all honesty, he would have expected a student to brag about accomplishing something so difficult, and yet Merlin feared being discovered.
"Wizarding law," Snape said after a minute, "protects the privacy of youths more fiercely than adults. You may submit one, all, or no memories the incident."
This seemed to comfort Merlin. He relaxed slightly, and his expression turned thoughtful. "I'll submit the memory of eavesdropping on Quirrell in his classroom and getting pushed down the stairs. That was the first time I saw Voldemort—" Snape flinched, "—and that's the one they'll have the most difficulty believing, isn't it?"
Snape nodded, but didn't speak, bringing his hands together on the table. So he didn't want anyone to see him dueling the ex-professor. Snape was almost disappointed. How had Merlin managed to stand his ground? And again, he was refusing to bask in the spotlight of doing something incredible.
"Are you uncomfortable with recognition?" he shot suddenly, his curiosity getting the better of him.
Merlin blinked. "Um—why do you ask?" He fidgeted in his seat.
"One dead troll and an incarcerated professor would indicate that you don't like to take credit for your accomplishments. I'd have thought you were excessively humble if I didn't know otherwise," Snape sneered.
"Everyone knows that I defeated Quirrell though," Merlin said, folding his arms. "That's taking credit, isn't it?"
"And yet you guard your memory of the incident. I'm right when I assume you encountered the Dark Lord then as well, in even more detail then a glimpse through a cracked door." He knew he was right when Merlin went silent again, those blue eyes dropping to the floor. "But you don't want anyone to see that memory, do you?"
"Maybe it's just too traumatic for me," Merlin snapped suddenly. "I was stabbed."
"And I suppose being pushed down two flights of stairs and cracking your skull isn't traumatic?" Snape replied, seeing the lie for what it was immediately.
"I—" Merlin faltered. He bit his lip and mumbled something that Snape didn't hear.
"Would you care to repeat that?" He snapped.
"I'd scare them."
Of the responses Snape's had expected, that wasn't one of them. He thought he would scare them? "I'm sure the Dark Lord would concern them far more than a boy," he deadpanned. But then Merlin laughed, and the harsh mirthless sound grated against his nerves. It didn't sound right coming from him and not just because he was young. It belonged to someone much older and darker than Merlin.
"Right, because dueling Voldemort at eleven is so ordinary," the boy spat sarcastically. "I'm not an idiot, professor. I know that power scares people, especially when they aren't sure which side it's on and lets face it—Slytherin doesn't exactly have the best track record." He took a deep breath and shook his head. "And yeah, I'm not used to recognition either," he added in a softer tone.
"Perhaps," Snape said slowly, "you have a point."
The Dark Lord had been gifted from a young age as well. He had often bragged to his Death Eaters that his first muggle-killing had been while he was a student, and it had been his sheer power and charisma that had drawn so many to follow him in the first place. If everyone saw a young boy fight him on equal ground, the question would be raised. Would Merlin be another Dark Lord? Perhaps if he'd been in Gryffindor he would've been regarded as a hero, but everyone knew Slytherin could go either way and as of late it seemed they had a tendency to go dark side. But what else hadn't Merlin received recognition for? Or maybe he didn't want to know.
Snape leaned back in his chair and after a moment, chuckled. Merlin looked sharply up at him, his eyes narrowing.
"It appears you are more intelligent than I thought."
"Are you saying you thought I was stupid before?" Merlin asked, frowning.
Snape raised his eyebrow, "You certainly didn't do anything to suggest otherwise, or shall I remind you of the number of zeros I have in my grade book?"
"Yeah, well," Merlin shrugged, "I passed anyway."
"Don't think I or any other professor will tolerate your slothful behavior this time," Snape said. "Have you finished your potions homework yet?"
Merlin brightened. "Funny enough, I have."
"You'll forgive me if I don't take your word for it. Bring it here."
Merlin groaned before getting to his feet and shuffling out the door, clearly taking more time than was necessary for such a task. Snape pinched the bridge of his nose after Merlin shut the door behind him. So, his defeat of Quirrell had not been an accident. That was the only reason why he thought his memory would scare the wizarding community. Snape frowned. He had always pictured a scared, desperate boy just barely holding Quirrell off—if it was otherwise…
"Can I interrupt for a moment?"
Snape blinked and looked up, spotting Florean hanging in the doorway.
"I wondered if I could speak to you about Merlin for a moment."
"He is as hopeless as he is insolent, I doubt I'll be of much help," Snape sneered, but he gestured to the chair opposite him all the same. "Or are you looking for detention ideas?"
Florean laughed, "No, nothing like that." He took a seat and brought his hands together. "I just wondered if perhaps you knew anything about his birth parents."
Snape stared at him. He wanted to know about Merlin's parents? "When I first met him, he was living in an orphanage. They had no record of his parents, and Merlin himself claims he remembers little of them."
Florean raised his eyebrow. "Claims?" he repeated, and he leaned forward. "What makes you think that?"
"He changes his story regarding them. First he doesn't remember them at all, and then a little." Snape's lip curled. "He mentioned to me once that no one could ever replace his father, making me think that he does remember the man even if he won't say anything about him."
"Well, that's more than what he's told me," Florean said scratching the back of his neck. "He's very guarded, isn't he?"
Florean shook his head. "His birthday is coming up in about a month, I'm sure you know, and I was hoping to give him a photo or something that had belonged to his family."
"He does possess a family heirloom," Snape said, remembering the chain Merlin wore around his neck. The only time he'd ever caught sight of it had been when it'd fallen off, after Merlin had been injured by the exploding broomstick and very briefly at that. "A ring, I think. He wears it around his neck."
"Oh!" Florean looked delighted. "That's good, I was hoping he had something to remember his parents. Looks like I need to come up with another idea."
The door opened and Merlin entered, holding a roll of parchment in his hand. "Florean?" he asked, stopping short when he saw them.
Florean smiled and got to his feet. "Just having a quick word with your professor," and he nodded to Snape. "I'll leave you to it then."
Snape watched him leave for a moment, Merlin taking the seat again and pushing the roll of parchment toward him. He honestly hadn't thought about Merlin's parents in a long time, but now that Florean had brought it up the thought stayed with him. Something must have happened while Merlin was younger that made him hesitant to trust others, or take credit for his accomplishments. There had been a time when Snape had thought that Merlin might be related to Lily Evans. But other than lacking any physical similarity to her or her family, she still had living relatives and Merlin would surely have been placed with them instead of going straight to an orphanage.
Merlin was a bundle of mysteries, each buried deep where no one would find them. Not unless he wanted them to.
"Okay," Snape said shaking his head and snatching the homework. "Let's see if anything is salvageable."
Only A Boy
Merlin stared at the ceiling, listening to the gentle snores coming from the bed next to him. He couldn't sleep. He kept running over the conversation he'd had earlier with Snape, doubting his responses. The professor had always been rather sharp, realizing when Merlin was truthful and when he wasn't. He had started to consider Snape a confidant; even if it were always painfully obvious that he would never be like Gaius. But hearing the professor say it like a fact—he'd felt touched.
And then he'd felt guilty.
He tried to be honest with Snape as much as he could. Merlin had told him about the troll first. He'd trusted him, sent for his help when Quirrell went after the stone. But although Snape knew about his accomplishments he was also right—Merlin refused to give details. He'd told Draco and Hermione because they had already seen him like that, as something powerful and dangerous and they hadn't been scared of him. Now, Merlin didn't think he'd scare the professor—he doubted anything could really scare that man—but he was worried what Snape would think of him.
And he didn't want them to hear his use of druidic spells. He suspected that someone would recognize them, or at least attempt to research them and then he'd be questioned about where he'd learned them. That wasn't something Merlin wanted to deal with. And if people started to worry that he was another Dark Lord, just waiting for a chance to take over? Voldemort had made everyone paranoid, and his being in Slytherin certainly wouldn't help matters. At least the Professor had understood that.
Also, he was Draco's Godfather? Somehow the Malfoy had forgotten to mention that. Merlin supposed he ought to have realized—Snape had appeared to be on good terms with Lucius when they'd met in Madam Malkin's. The Malfoy family wouldn't have gone to lunch with just anybody. Or perhaps Draco had mentioned it before and Merlin had just forgotten—it was known to happen. Merlin shook his head, his brow furrowing.
He wished he could be more honest with Snape. But so much of what he said would just be taken as nothing more than a child's word—Snape had said last year to leave adult matters to adults, and Merlin didn't think he'd change his mind now. Not when it was clear Snape actually cared about him to some extent. Merlin teased him, but he knew the professor worried about his wellbeing. He wouldn't take it well if Merlin actively went against Voldemort again, or at least, he wouldn't expect him to.
Snape had also clearly wanted to see Merlin defeat Quirrell himself. He'd seen the disappointment in the professor's eyes. He sighed and rolled over in bed, pulling the covers over his head. He wasn't sure how that made him feel. Gaius had never really asked for the particulars. He'd just wanted to know that everything had gone okay, and was ready to caution him about what some of his actions could entail. And Arthur—well, that was part of the reason Merlin had grown accustomed to never accepting credit.
Yes, everyone knew he'd defeated Quirrell. They even knew some of the details, as a gaping hole in the corridor was hard to miss. Only Draco and Hermione knew the blow-by-blow account, although that was surely to change at the hearing tomorrow. Anxiety touched Merlin's mind, whispering that even though they wouldn't see the memory he was still likely to cause concern among the wizarding world.
Not as much, he argued back.
He heard Silas shift in his sleep and the snores stopped. Merlin shook himself again. He needed to get to sleep. He had court in the morning. He yawned and closed his eyes, summoning images of Ealdor to lull him to sleep. He'd just started to float into unconsciousness when Silas tossed again, the action loud and feverish. Merlin's eyes opened. Silas made a choking sound and Merlin sat up, craning his neck to look up at him.
"Silas?" he whispered, but his foster brother didn't hear him. The bedside table rattled, and Merlin stared at it. Silas made another strained noise and the table shook again, causing the glass of water resting on top to spill a little.
"Silas," Merlin repeated, jumping up to get a better look at the bunk above him.
Silas fought with his covers before shouting, "Byron!" and jerking upright just as the glass of water on the bedside table shattered. He didn't say anything for a moment, his breathing heavy. Merlin noted with the tremor wracking his frame, and put his hand on his shoulder but when Silas flinched he quickly pulled his hand back.
"Are you okay?" Merlin asked slowly. "Were—were you dreaming about your brother?" Silas had never mentioned his name before but Merlin couldn't think of anyone else that could cause Silas to be so distraught.
"What?" Silas looked blankly at him for a moment, wiping sweat from his forehead. He turned to look at his bedside table and gasped, pointing at the broken pieces of glass. "Merlin—look!" he said, the panic from before disappearing. "I did the same thing you did!"
"Congratulations, it's caused by nightmares."
"Yeah—" Silas shook his head, and met his eyes. "But this is proof I have magic, right?"
Merlin raised his eyebrow. "You say that like you have other evidence." Silas bit his lip and Merlin stared. "You do?"
Silas fidgeted. "I didn't want to tell you in case it didn't turn out to be true! Snape said he would check if I was on the Hogwarts roster for me, but I think he's been to busy with the Quirrell case…" he trailed off, shrugging.
"Oh." Merlin found himself smiling. "Well, I think you might just be a wizard."
Silas looked thrilled. He laughed and wrapped Merlin in a tight hug. He could actually feel his magic now that Merlin thought about it, he had never noticed it before but it was there. It was slightly agitated by whatever Silas had been dreaming about, though as it calmed it became harder for Merlin to sense.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Merlin asked when Silas didn't break the hug after a moment.
"What?" Silas pulled back and looked at him. "About the other times? Well—"
"Not that—the dream. You said Byron before you woke up."
Silas went very still.
"Is that your brother?" Merlin watched him closely. He knew very little about Silas' older brother, other than he was presumed dead. He'd disappeared one day and Silas had been forced to live in the streets for a while before going to Wool's Orphanage. He could understand why Silas didn't like to talk about him—he himself avoided the topic of his family. It was painful, to think about them.
Slowly, Silas nodded and he lay back down in bed. "Just, the last time I saw him," he mumbled. He shook his head. "Anyway, can we tell Florean? I want to tell him that I have magic!" He sat up again, his smile wide. "I'll definitely go to Hogwarts with you next year!"