Happy New Year!


The Chamber of Secrets


Even the screeching of nails on a blackboard would be preferable to listening to Gilderoy Lockhart whine about how Merlin had skipped out on his detention. The insufferable Professor had showed up at his office at half-past six, with a pout that ought to have belonged to a four-year-old child. He then proceeded to pace back and forth in front of Snape's desk, robes giving him the appearance of a golden peacock while he attempted to educate Snape about the need for discipline.

The irony was not lost on Snape.

When Lockhart mentioned that he'd expected Merlin to show up right after dinner, considering he hadn't actually given the boy a time, Snape rolled his eyes. "If you did not give Evans an exact time and place, he would not be obligated to show up."

"But how could I, what with him avoiding me?" Lockhart grumbled. "I must've tried to catch his eyes a dozen times during breakfast and lunch. Never looked my way. And the moment I went out into the entry hall, he'd vanished."

"Off to his other classes, no doubt."

Lockhart gave him a disparaging look. "He knew he had detention," he complained. "I worry that all this fame has gotten to young Merlin's head. You should have heard the tone he used when he spoke to me. No respect. Probably my fault, I was too easy on him before. He's convinced that he can solve this Chamber of Secrets business alone."

Snape pinched the bridge of his nose. "Did he tell you this?"

"Yes!" Lockhart said, waving his arms. "I tried to tell him I was very close to catching the Heir myself, but would he listen? That boy—"

But whatever that boy was, Snape wouldn't find out. Professor McGonagall's voice cut across the rest of Lockhart's sentence, magically amplified. It rang in the small office, as if she were standing right before him. "All students please return to your dormitories. All teachers to the staff room—immediately."

Snape stood up at once; free to ignore the remainder of Lockhart's drivel. Had another student been attacked? But if so, why were they being asked to meet in the staff room? Foreboding settled in his veins like ice and he swept out of his office without a backwards glance at his fellow professor. He could hear Lockhart prattling along after him, and increased his pace until they were almost sprinting down the corridor—one way to eliminate getting dragged into another conversation with Lockhart, who seemed content to discuss the possible meeting with a tone far too upbeat for the occasion.

By the time he'd reached the staff room everyone had assembled. Professor McGonagall looked pale, pacing back and forth at the far end of the room, her lips the thinnest he'd ever seen. Professor Sprout was doing her best to hide her tears, sunk low in her chair. The Headmaster stood statuesque out of McGonagall's path, the twinkle in his eyes replaced with something far darker. Unease shuddered across Snape's limbs. He came to a stop in front of his chair, unwilling to sit down.

"Well now," said Lockhart, bounding along inside behind Snape with that glowing smile of his. "What is all the fuss about?" He didn't seem to notice the general despondency of the room, or the way every eye narrowed with intense dislike when they landed on his person. Or he willfully ignored it—he shot a jovial wink at Minerva who looked ready to throttle him with her bare hands.

The Headmaster responded before she could act on it. A shame, Snape inwardly thought. "It seems that the Heir of Slytherin has abducted two students."

Snape's gut gave a terrible lurch. "Who?" he asked.

"A note was left on the wall, just beneath the first one," Dumbledore continued as if there'd been no interruption. "Pomona was directed to it by a group of Hufflepuffs on their way to a study group. It reads, their bodies will lie in the Chamber forever."

Silence followed. Then—

"Who is it?" Snape ground out, his voice one of deadly calm, his hands clenching the chair in front of him until his knuckles turned white.

Dumbledore met his eyes, and in that instant Snape's worst fears were confirmed. "Perhaps you should take a seat."

Snape did not sit. It was a miracle the chair did not buckle and crumble beneath his grip. Damnit, Merlin.

"Merlin took Ginny Weasley," McGonagall said, and Snape glanced at her. Merlin—he could understand, but the Gryffindor first year was a pure blood. Why her?

"Now, now," said Lockhart in a condescending tone that sent Snape's teeth on edge, "We all know Merlin is a bit of a glory hound," he chuckled, "I was just telling Snape how the boy seems to be under the delusion that he can sort this Slytherin Heir business on his own. And is it any surprise a Gryffindor went off to help? I mean," and he gazed about the room, as though they were all sharing little joke wherein McGonagall was punchline, "What they're known for—"

"I'm certain the only one under any sort of delusion," Snape hissed at Lockhart, clipping off his sentence, "is you."

"Now, that's not very nice," Lockhart began with a little sigh, but McGonagall's anger seemed to have reached the boiling point.

"Neither are your egregious claims," she said, her Scottish tone thick with fury. "A student has been taken into the very chamber itself, and to be frank, it'll be a miracle if we find her alive and you have the nerve, the sheer audacity to—"

"Now, now," Lockhart said, and there was a nervous quality to his voice now. "Surely, no one is saying that." His smile faltered when Dumbledore rested his eyes on him.

"The chamber has taken the life of a student before!" McGonagall screeched, "Or have you not been paying attention? Too busy bragging about how you found the entrance to the chamber last Tuesday!"

"I never—"

"Quite right," Flitwick said, interrupting Lockhart's stutter, "I do believe you told me during dinner that you were quite sure you knew what was inside and how to defeat it."

"In that case," Dumbledore said lightly, and all eyes turned to him, "Gilderoy, why don't you search for the Chamber of Secrets." He gave Lockhart a piercing look and the professor visibly swallowed.

"V-very well. I'll get right on that," he said, straightening the collar of his cloak before dashing from the room.

They waited until he the sound of his footsteps had vanished down the corridor.

Professor Sprout cleared her throat with a sigh, "Not that I disapprove," she sniffed, "but we've already searched the castle and we haven't found anything of the Chamber!"

"It'll keep that dolt busy," McGonagall said roughly.

"There is every possibility," Dumbledore said, "that he may find something we missed, after all, a student has never been taken into the Chamber itself."

"We know who's taken her," McGonagall said at once, and she shot a furious look in Snape's direction as if he were somehow responsible. His lip curled.

"If you are insinuating," he began in a voice of deadly calm, but McGonagall interrupted him with a shriek and a stilted gesture in his direction.

"He's the only one who can speak Parseltongue in this entire school! And now he's gone missing with her. Do you really think he'd got nothing to do with this?"

"I doubt Merlin would be stupid enough to include himself among the kidnapped were he planning to return and continue his reign of terror," Snape hissed and McGonagall appeared to deflate a little. His hands hurt from the continued pressure with which he gripped the chair, and with great difficulty he let go and pinched the bridge of his nose. "If anything, he got himself kidnapped so he could find the chamber."

Because that was exactly what Merlin would do. Damn him.

"How heroic," McGonagall muttered, though her tone was skeptical.

"Merlin Evans is not the Heir of Slytherin, and I do not suspect him of kidnapping anyone," Dumbledore said, and his tone made it clear that there would be no further discussion of the topic. "In any case, we must put all our efforts into finding him and Miss Weasley, as well as ensuring the safety of the students. Heads, please inform your students what has happened. No one is to leave the dormitories. We will maintain a patrol of the castle in order to enforce this. I must tell you, that is it very likely that the school will be closed once news of the abduction spreads, and it will be in our best interest to aid in this process."

Dumbledore took a moment to survey his staff. Snape had never seen an evacuation of the castle, and judging from the look on McGonagall's face, neither had she.

"Surely that's not necessary," she began, but Dumbledore shook his head.

"We will not have a choice, Minerva," he said. "If Merlin isn't found or returns on his own by morning, we will be forced to send the students home to prevent further loss of life. Neither the Board of Governors nor the parents will stand for such reckless endangerment. This did not happen in the dead of night. We are clearly unable to stop this heir from striking out. Minerva, Severus, after you've informed your houses I want you to meet Miss Weasley and Mr. Evan's families. I will be informing them of what has happened and inviting them to the castle, in light of the circumstances."

Snape scowled. His bedside manner was abysmal to put it mildly, and Dumbledore wanted him to calm down a worried Florean and Silas. This did not bode well. Still, the look in Dumbledore's eyes said refusal wasn't an option, so he nodded.

"Dismissed!"


Only A Boy


The crunch of bones underfoot echoed in the cavernous Chamber of Secrets. Ginny stayed near him, wand tip aglow, her complexion growing paler by the minute. But soon the sound faded and the skeletons of tiny animals gave way to subterranean stone and the damp musky scent of waterlogged grime and moss. Merlin kept his eyes narrowed, ready to shut at the first of movement, but each step resounded through empty tunnels.

Then—carved stone gave way to hewn rock. The air tasted stagnant here. How deep under the castle were they now? Under the lake, perhaps? Merlin grew more cautious as they walked, squinting around corners and keeping Ginny behind him. So, when he glanced around a bend of stone and saw a patch of scaly green skin enter his peripheral vision, he shut his eyes immediately and pulled Ginny back against the wall.

"What?" she breathed into his ear.

Merlin shook his head, and pressed a finger to his lips. He couldn't sense anything. Surely the Basilisk would be even more potent than the Troll? Taking a deep breath, he glanced around the corner again and relaxed. "It's just the skin," he said, walking forward. The snake had shed here, a large thick-banded patch of skin that was faded green in color. In any case, the Basilisk was enormous—sixty feet long at least, large enough to swallow a human with ease.

Ginny went paler still. "This—Merlin, what—?"

"It's a Basilisk," Merlin said. He glanced at her bloodless face. "Are you sure you don't want to go back?"

"We don't know where it is—it could be somewhere in the castle," Ginny said, taking a step closer to him instead. "What if I ran into it?"

Merlin hated it but she was right. And he didn't have time to walk her back through the passage in any case. He sighed, "Well, it looks like we're moving on," and they started off again. Merlin carefully stepped over the skin, and down another long tunnel until the rock smoothed out and narrowed to a point, and a stone door. With one look, Merlin could tell that even if he attempted to blast it open—a terrible idea considering the sheer size and the rock encompassing them—the ancient enchantments would hold strong. Engraved into the stone was a long snake, curling in a circle the height of the space, with emeralds for eyes. They glittered as he neared.

It wasn't hard to guess what he needed to do. "Open," Merlin hissed and the snake shuddered into movement, and the door slid open. "Last chance," Merlin said, hoping a little that she would decide to wait there for him. But, instead, she lifted her head and resolutely strode inside.

Damn Gryffindors.

The soft light of Ginny's Lumos cast the next room into shadowed relief. The ceiling rose, suspended by stout columns four across and lining the way into the dark. Merlin took a tentative step forward, shoes knocking against sculpted stone and vibrating into the space.

There was nothing for it.

They ventured forth, Merlin wishing he could send an orb of light to shine the path above them, were it not for the questions that would no doubt arise. Then, the Lumos illuminated the end of the chamber, and touched a giant statue standing the full height of the room. A Salazar Slytherin he no longer remembered, with a flowing beard that disappeared into a sheet of water at the giant's feet – a mirror reflecting dead eyes. Something about the statue tickled his magic—wait, no—something within the statue.

Merlin took a deep breath, closed his eyes and concentrated his magic, like a bat shouting into the dark he considered the enchantments, the echoes left behind. The statue was heavily warded, protected from outside and within. It prevented him from delving inside, but he could hazard a guess what might be inside. Question was—how long would it stay there?

"I think the Basilisk's in there," he whispered to her.

Her eyes went very wide. "How could you possibly know that?" she breathed, searching Merlin's face.

"It just makes sense," Merlin said. "Come on, we should see if the Heir left anything behind," and he withdrew his wand. He didn't like to light the tip of his wand, as it was less of a Lumos and more of an orb he had to materialize at the end of a stick, but he needed more light. He wandered off to the left, and after a moment he heard Ginny's footsteps as she started off to the right.

Other than the stone columns and statue, the room was bare. Except—there was a space where the stone shifted slightly in texture, a break in the mold. He ran his hand down the crack and then glanced down to the ground, where a tiny stone snake was carved, not unlike at the bottom of the passage into the Slytherin Common room.

"Hey, Ginny," Merlin called. "I think I found something." He turned back to the wall. "Open," he hissed and the snake began to slide along the floor, opening to reveal a door. He heard Ginny stutter to a halt behind him.

"That's—what's that?" she asked, regarding the room with a mixture of suspicion and alarm.

It turned out to be a private study of some kind. In one corner sat a splintering desk, ready to collapse under its own weight, and that of an array of dusty volumes and scattered parchment. Grooves in the walls had been utilized as shelves, bottles black with grime and unknown contents, decayed parchment, assorted bones, and even a few flowers Merlin was sure would disintegrate if he so much as looked at them a moment too long. But most notably was what covered the left wall, a glittering mosaic of fettered gold and emerald, twinkling in the reflected light of their wands.

It depicted a man, the long black hair and beard, though nowhere the length of the statue outside still bore a resemblance. They had the same nose, same imposing presence. Merlin stepped closer to admire the detail work of the cloak, when two hard emerald eyes snapped toward him and he leapt back as Salazar Slytherin stretched.

Ginny gasped behind him.

"Yfel tôsetednes yfel bâm tunge." And 'ere I bethought I heard a familiar tongue. He had a soft voice, the sound embodying an ancient melody, smooth as a whisper and thrumming with command. "I'm Salazar Slytherin, or as that gent used to be'est, ere this chamber, and lies marr'd the page."

"What do you mean?" Merlin frowned, his amazement of finding Salazar Slytherin himself undercut by his words. He saw a jerk of red hair out of the corner of his eyes and turned to find Ginny regarding him with a raised eyebrow. "What?" he asked, when the silence began to drag.

"You—can understand it?" she muttered, nodding towards Slytherin who watched the exchange with mild curiosity.

Merlin hadn't thought Salazar was speaking in Parseltongue. He looked back at the mosaic and felt the realization hit him like a block of ice. He wasn't speaking English, as Ginny would know it. Buried deep in this chamber, the mosaic's words had never evolved—unlike the ghosts and portraits above.

Merlin attributed his knowledge of modern English to his magic, that, and Silas introducing him muggle television. He supposed it must always translate some for him. He couldn't say how much—he'd never really thought about it before now. Or maybe he'd never noticed what with the curse and all. Now, he turned back to the mosaic and Salazar broke into a wide smile.

"I read a lot of Shakespeare," Merlin said at last, resisting the urge to grimace. He paused, and then raised his wand. His eyes flashed gold.

"What're you—?" Ginny started to ask only to trail off as Slytherin spoke again, "Oh, how times changes the meaning of things." Ginny shot a look at Merlin, eyes wide before returning her attention to the mosaic, the words no long in the ancient tongue.

Slytherin's eyes seemed to glitter. "Taught my tongue a new tune, have you? Why, perhaps this time my tale will not walk about misunderstood and deaf to my warnings." He brought his hands together in a steeple formation, gazing from the green to the red of their robes. "The lie you have been fed has reached me here, but listen to me now and judge—for I will tell you truths written in no tome, nor found in my other depictions."

"Depictions?" Ginny repeated, "You mean the Salazar portrait up in the school?"

"What portrait?" Merlin asked, surprised.

"I saw it in a room on the 7th floor," Ginny said with a shrug. "He wasn't talkative though."

"For he is but an empty shell, devoid of me, and a representation of the story time created," Slytherin said with a wave of his hand. "What was once a refuge became a closely guarded secret, my friends my enemies, my dreams for the future a legacy of shame but alas, the winners get to spin that web of history. This chamber is an incomplete sanctuary. You may have noticed tis impossible to enter without magic, no matter how many books studied or enchanted objects you employ. And I passed on my tale of how I swallowed a Basilisk so that it might bite any who threatened my kin."

At this, Ginny turned to Merlin with a raised eyebrow. "Swallowed a Basilisk? Is your translation spell broken?"

Merlin rolled his eyes. Salazar had always had a flare for poetry. "It's inside the statue," he said pointedly. "But," he looked up at the mosaic and frowned. "What do you mean, threaten your kin? It's attacking muggleborns—children from non-wizarding families," he clarified when he saw the blank look on Slytherin's face.

Then the emeralds of his eyes seemed to soften. "For a purpose misconstrued, I assure you but context is key and it will do nothing if you do not understand my full meaning." And then the pieces of the mosaic began to move, twisting and swirling, ushering in color from the borders and Slytherin's voice filled the room.

"In my time, there was no veil betwixt the commoner and the magician. We resided in each other's space, taking and giving in our turn. But in my childhood the pendulum had swung and we feared and hated the other." The pieces of the mosaic came together and formed a face, frowning atop harsh lines, a square jaw, tired blue eyes and a steely grimace. Merlin recognized the face like from a dream—King Uther, the father of King Arthur. Slytherin's voice came back, narrating as the scene played out across fragmented pieces of pottery and jewels.

"In a Kingdom not far from mine, King Uther commanded. And one day, a seer told King Uther that his world would shatter when his wife's nine months had ended. Confident that this meant his heir would die in birth, he searched all his lands for one with the skill to control life itself. He found his druid, but fate is a fickle mistress. For though the son survived, the mother did not, and the world did shatter for our King."

"When grief explodes, it goes outward and hits others. He grabbed the first thing to blame, and found us. It was our fault the Queen had died. We had killed the Queen. And with a roar, King Uther decreed our very souls evil. Under pain of death we were banished, and thus began the First Great Witch Hunt."

Merlin winced as the image shifted to a pyre, rustic orange flames curling high as an old woman in brown rags writhed against her post.

"Most condemned were mere potion-brewers of humble skill, physicians, old women able to cure a cold or a wart but unable to cast a spell. But we were displaced. Our friends turned on us, neighbors told our secrets for a price, and entire towns rallied with torches around simple folk just tryin'a live. We had to run or hide. Children who may have possessed the gift never pursued it, and bursts of magic were met with screaming of the night."

The mosaic pulsed and twisted into a deep bit, where two peasants threw small bodies into a mounting pile. Merlin swallowed, his gaze darkening. He would have been among those bodies, were his mother less careful.

"But no King rules forever." The mosaic formed a procession in red, carrying King Uther through the streets. "After Arthur took the throne, ideas began to change, due in part to Arthur's closest friend, Merlin."

"Merlin," Ginny repeated, with a scoff. "As in King Arthur and Merlin?"

Slytherin's face returned, the large emeralds of his eyes glinting. "All legends begin somewhere. A distortion of history, to be sure. What's no longer known is that once upon a time, dear Merlin was just like any druid in Camelot, hunted and hiding in plain sight. As a young man he worked under the physician in the castle, and became Arthur's manservant. I hear they were thicker than thieves, even in those early days. And after Arthur became King, Merlin finally revealed his talents and was instrumental in changing the public view of magic. King Arthur lifted the decree of his father, and appointed Merlin to the first ever Court Mage."

The mosaic pulsed and the shards of stone and pottery morphed until it depicted four individuals, clad in dark traveling cloaks. Two women, one with long dark hair, and another with blonde curls and two men, one with wild ginger hair and one— "That's, when we walked upon the stage." Salazar returned, standing before them.

"I sent my whispers into the walls of the castle, and found that the rumors were true. I approached Merlin with the other founders, and secured an audience with King Arthur." He chuckled. "Those two could move mountains together. If only armies were as easily swayed." He shook his head. "But that's a tragedy for another time…

"We came to them with an idea. We wanted to build a haven for the persecuted, a place for them to hone the craft and feel the safety of being among family. We would show that magic was neither good nor bad, only intent could bear that weight. Arthur allowed it, and Merlin showed us this place—the Isle of the Blessed, sacred earth to the old druids, far into the highlands. Together, we changed the shape of the world for us both."

The voice of Slytherin had become wistful, and his eyes shadowed. He turned his gaze, and fire burned behind his eyes. "I never wanted anyone to feel that way again, choking under the thought that each day might be the last. But if there's one thing we druids know well, it is the cycles of life and the way mortal men are doomed to repeat themselves."

Salazar took a deep breath and looked back at them. "I knew one day another King would scream for our blood. You must know that in those days this muggleborn word you use did not exist. Many with magic were the first in their line, including Merlin from what I understand. It was possible to study one's way to power, from nothing to enchantments. You could learn how to feel the earth in those days. I did not shun those who tried."

His lips curled. "But, it wasn't long before the child of one of those who had persecuted us found their way here. And then came another. They, who had stood beside their parents as shrieks filled the night—those who had once been our executioners! King Arthur had removed the law but failed to punish the criminals. A different time, you say. A different King. Well, now say it to the children who watched their families slaughtered. Say it to the bones beneath my home.

"Merlin and the others wanted to be forgiving. It sat like rot in my gut. I would see their faces and then remember them in some crowd, laughing while some poor child burned alive. I told them—these things come in cycles. They ignored me. Paranoia, Godric called it. But their tune changed when they heard the whispers. Don't wander too far or the witch will swallow you up. The common-folk feared our rising power. Armies encroaching on the Kingdom put everyone on edge. The enemy had magic too, after all."

"Mordred and Morgana wanted revenge for what the Kingdom had done to them, revenge for all the fallen. I knew it would only perpetuate the cycle I hated—" Slytherin cast his eyes to the ceiling. "But I heard the whispers. One drunk tries to curse his wife and taints the word. One peasant remembers lording over his neighbors and misses it. History is not inspiration. And when they began to reminisce and remember the good old days, I built this."

Slytherin gestured with his arms to the room. "It was my contribution to the protections of Hogwarts, as Merlin had done all he could. He'd dug deep and imbued old magicks into the foundations of the castle, safeguarding this place against non-magic eyes. He did the same to Camelot before the end, I hear."

Merlin blinked and hoped his expression remained impassive.

"You may have noticed tis impossible for any without magic to enter herein. The perfect sanctuary, you might say. I raised Ríognach to attack my enemies and protect my kin, to obey my word and those of my decedents. I wanted to present this place as a gift—" and Slytherin gave a sad chuckle. "But, I realized my friends would not see it that way. They were desperate to preserve the peace, deaf to the rising chorus. And then, tragedy struck. King Arthur died at the hands of Mordred, and the war begun."

Slytherin vanished, revealing battlements and armies marching on the land. The image sparked in Merlin's mind, summoning a half-blurred memory.

He was standing on the Hogwarts steps; older, long hair lined with gray and before him stood Salazar, in his thick traveling cloak. His words echoed, dissipating into the air. "So, you're really leaving," he hissed.

Salazar shouldered a large leather pack. "I will not teach them. I will not arm them against my kin, against you—though you be too soft to see it." But Salazar's words were not angry. They were—tired. "I cannot ignore the rising chorus."

"Then help us fight against it," Merlin said, stepping toward him. "I know you don't want to go back to those dark days any more than I do."

"I applaud your hope, but the tide rises and falls in equal measure. I must play my part, just as you." Salazar smiled and then put his hand on Merlin's shoulder. "I will protect what we have built here, you have my word. But I cannot stay here. Morgana and Mordred stole their army from our neighbors, and soon they will come to collect."

"You can't seriously be thinking of joining them?"

"While I admire their methods, they are rash and vengeful. No thought of the future, but of immediate reward. They could use a lesson in real ambition."

Merlin snorted and pushed Salazar's hand off his shoulder. "You mean you caught wind of an opportunity, and can't resist a good power struggle."

"You know me well."

"Yeah well, the others won't see it that way. Godric just might never forgive you."

"I don't want his forgiveness."

"And you want revenge."

"Nothing wrong with killing two birds with one stone. They don't see it, not like you and I do. They think this is another battle to be won—not realizing the pendulum has already swung." He sighed, and turned away. But before he began to walk down the stone steps, Salazar paused and turned back to Merlin. "If we do not meet again—"

"Salazar—"

"No, hear me now. I want you to know that even if I don't, one day my heir will come back…"

The memory faded, the final parts of Salazar's sentence growing jumbled and incoherent. Merlin came back to the present, and took a deep steadying breath. He had begun to accept that those memories would be lost forever. In front of him, the mosaic continued.

"Not long after I left, Godric heard some prophecy from a druid stoned out of her gourd. She told him that one day my heir would return to Hogwarts and finish my noble work." He shook his head, his jaw clenching. "Seers never see the full picture—All down to interpretation. According to the mind of the beholder and all that. Well, at the time, my work involved Morgana and Mordred and needless to say, Godric and his little seer assumed the worst."

Merlin cleared his throat. "So what is your noble work, then?" he folded his arms, and frowned. "Because at the moment, someone thinks it involves murdering muggleborns."

Slytherin paused, and then sighed. "I'll admit. I could never truly bring myself to forgive those who had once murdered us. I knew my descendants would never be free of their prejudice against the common-folk. For every warlock who cursed their way to power, an angry mob followed in their wake. The only way to stop the pendulum from swinging back and forth forever is to break the string…"

Slytherin's eyes focused on Merlin, and he gave a weak smile that seemed almost pained. "And the pendulum can't swing if there is no weight pulling it in two directions. The tide would not rise if there was no moon in the sky." His expression hardened. "I would destroy that moon."

Merlin shook his head, trying to understand beneath the dizzying amount of metaphors. "How would joining Morgana and Mordred destroy the moon, exactly?"

At that, Slytherin laughed. "Join those two? You misunderstand. They had no grand plan after their revenge finished. Neither of them knew how to rule a Kingdom, though Morgana tried. No—I had them fall under my banner, join me. I would change the world again. I would end the conflict that magic caused between the druid and the commoner."

"How?" Merlin hissed, growing frustrated.

"Why, you remove it," Slytherin said with a little laugh, as though he thought Merlin should have realized by now. Merlin opened his mouth to ask politely for clarification when he stopped. Because he couldn't mean—

"The only way for there to be no conflict," he said slowly, "would be for everyone to have magic."

"Or no one," Slytherin finished. "That's the route you took in the end, isn't it my old friend?"

"Old friend?" Ginny repeated, looking from Merlin to Salazar with a perplexed expression. Then she laughed. "Oh, right, cause he's Merlin. Good one, Sir."

But from the look in Slytherin's eyes, Merlin knew this was no joke. He recognized him. Merlin could play dumb, put on a face of confusion, wave off the remark for a silly misunderstanding. He stared into Slytherin's emeralds and found he didn't want to pretend.

"You don't look surprised to see me," he said, folding his arms.

"Ah, O' gemyndig etere she did a number on you. Alas I did warn her I'd string her up by her entrails if she murdered you. Clever of her to find a loophole."

"Morgana?"

Slytherin nodded. "She saw her own version of the future in the crystals, and saw you stopping it. I think perhaps my ambition to change fate inspired her. How funny that none of you sought my opinion on the matter, but I digress—I was rather uncompromising." He looked at Ginny, who'd gone rigid. "After Godric got his prophecy, he decided the best way to stop my heir would be to deal with it himself. I will never stop marveling at how that man's mind works. I told Morgana to let them do what they wanted. We would change that future in the here and now—after all, we didn't really know when this would come to pass. If Godric wanted to abandon the fight for a mirage in some crystals, so be it. Why you," he turned back to Merlin, his tone somewhat accusatory, "ended up volunteering, I have no idea. But that's a quirk of fate. Morgana attacked while you were performing the ritual, against my word."

"Maybe she thought I would ruin everything you both had built," Merlin said with a shrug.

"And you feared the same?" Salazar chuckled. "No—Godric told me that only you would be able to survive the journey."

"A little of both, then."

Next to him, Ginny took a rattling breath and he turned to her, somewhat bemused. "You—" her hands went to her hair, pulling at the strands as she stared at him. Her mouth opened and closed but no sound came out. And then she turned and ran out of the room.

"Hold that thought," Merlin told the Slytherin mosaic and he rushed after her. He found her standing in front of the statue of Salazar Slytherin, craning her neck to look up into the old face. He took a cautious step toward her. "Ginny?" he said slowly.

She didn't respond. He took another step toward her and she whirled around, something manic in her eyes. "You were just putting him on, right? You aren't— you aren't Merlin."

"That is my name."

She gave a high-pitched laugh. "That's not what I asked you."

Merlin regarded her for a moment, not a trace of amusement about his features now. "You are not asking." He could see it in her eyes. She was only coming to terms with it. Even if he denied it now, she would still know.

Ginny gave an odd hiss and collapsed to the ground in a dead faint. Merlin rushed to her side, thinking he might just have to wipe her memory after all, when a sickening aura hit him, twisting in the pit of his gut and a shock of white light erupted from Ginny's pocket. Merlin shielded his eyes, mind racing—what was going on?

Then, from the light formed a spectral figure and the light faded. Standing in front of him was a boy, perhaps only a few years older than him. He had neat black hair and handsome features, and dark brown eyes empty of warmth. He wore Hogwarts robes, and on his chest was a shiny Slytherin Prefect badge. He gave a wide smile that failed to meet his shadowed eyes.

"Hello, Merlin. I am Tom Riddle. I think we got off on the wrong foot."

That was an understatement, in Merlin's humble opinion, but he was too stunned to say it. His mind frantically tried to piece together what had just happened to no avail. He watched this—apparition? Whatever he was of Tom Riddle as he bent down and picked up Ginny's still glowing wand. He twirled it between semi-translucent fingers, a hungry gleam in his gaze. It set Merlin's teeth on edge. He knew one day those eyes would shine crimson, and the features of Riddle's face would become something from a nightmare—the future Tom Riddle would shape for himself.

Merlin stuffed his Whomping Willow stick back into his robes. No need for pretense now. "I had a feeling you were behind this Tom."

"Did you now?" Riddle seemed oddly delighted. "Though I confess I did not see you coming."

"I have that affect." Merlin glanced at Ginny. She hadn't been possessed in the same way as Quirrell. As far as he could tell, Riddle had come out of her pocket—so why did she remain unconscious? He lifted his eyes back to Riddle. "So, what are you? A ghost?"

"A memory, preserved in a diary for fifty years." Riddle glanced down at Ginny as well. "You see, little Ginny here found me in one of her second-hand textbooks and has been writing to me all year. All her worries and woes, her secrets, her deepest desires—" his eyes traveled over Merlin's face, "All about the kind Parselmouth in Slytherin."

He threw back his head and laughed, a high cold sound that pricked the hairs on Merlin's arms. "To see into someone's heart is powerful magic, as I'm sure you are aware. With each new confession I grew stronger and stronger—stronger than the foolish girl pouring her soul out to me. Until one day, I was able to pour a little of myself back into her."

"You possessed her," Merlin said, his fist clenching and unclenching at his side. "You made her write that message on the wall on Samhain, and open the Chamber of Secrets. So what, you've been controlling her ever since?"

"Only when I needed to. I was not yet powerful enough to leave my pages, and each new incident brought her back to me with more secrets. Though, if it's your secret that you are concerned about, you will be happy to know that I'm the one who followed you down here."

Merlin gave a stiff nod, "And no one is coming," he finished. The dead smile Riddle gave was all the answer he needed.

"It wasn't long before Ginny began to suspect what she must have been doing during her blackout. She really is more clever than her brothers give her credit for." He chuckled and Merlin clenched his teeth. "I knew it was only a matter of time before she told someone, so I encouraged her to tell you."

"And why on earth would you do that?" Merlin said through gritted teeth. "Wanted to make it easy for me?"

"I thought you might be someone I'd missed when I was tracing Slytherin's family tree, some small bud that history had overlooked. I had Ginny tell me everything she knew. An orphan boy who kept everyone on their toes, pretended to fail his first year at Hogwarts only to face his Defense Against the Dark Arts professor in a duel and come face-to-face with the most feared wizard in a century and come out on top. I gather my future self still has no idea how cleverly you've hidden what you really are."

"He and I didn't exactly part on the best of terms," Merlin said with a careless shrug. Riddle had noticeably lost some of his transparency now, and Merlin had a sinking feeling that only meant bad news for the young Gryffindor. It wouldn't be good to let this drag on for too long.

"But we don't have to buy into some millennia old feud," Riddle went on, taking a step toward him. "We can work together, just like you and Slytherin once did. I would work with you. There is nothing that would stand in our way, once the world knew you were Merlin of Old, come to right the wrongs of the magical world."

Merlin rolled his eyes, "Have you heard nothing of what Salazar said?" he said gesturing back to the side chamber with the mosaic. "He had nothing against muggleborns. And yet, here you are, setting a Basilisk on them. Why would I ever join you?"

Riddle's expression stiffened. "Opening the Chamber of Secrets was a means to an end, nothing more. The last time it happened, a mudblood died, and Headmaster Dippet was forced by the school governors to shut down the school. It was only upon my heroic capture of the Heir of Slytherin that saved the castle from its fate. I knew it would be an easy matter to spark events to take the same path, only this time there would be no one to stop it."

"And what?" Merlin said with scoff. "You'd come down here to hide until Dumbledore left? Or were you hoping your fellow Death Eaters would come bust you out?" He shook his head. "I've no interest in joining your little gang, Tom."

Riddle's lip twitched, though whether to frown or smile Merlin didn't know. "I'm only continuing the noble work of my ancestors," he said and Merlin found indignant rage rise in his gut. "You have seen history," Riddle went on, "Nothing happens if not violently and without mercy. I am going to shape a world free of cycles, just as Slytherin wanted. Help me, Merlin."

Merlin gave a derisive snort. "You don't care about the cycles. I know what you've done, what you stand for. Pureblood bigotry, some misguided war against the muggleborns? That won't solve anything. It's just another swing of the pendulum, as Salazar would say."

"The muggles will never be our equals, and pretending otherwise is willful ignorance. It's the same now as it was a hundred, five hundred, even a thousand years ago. The moment they learn of us, another witch-hunt is around the corner. Nothing has changed from your days! And yet, we let mudbloods into our house, as if it doesn't matter. They endanger us all!"

"I don't know if you're aware," Merlin said in a hushed voice as if he were talking to an utter clotpole, "but people aren't burned at the stake anymore for witchcraft. Wizards weren't even burned five hundred years ago, but I suppose you had better things to do than listen to Professor Binns and how medieval witches avoided burnings." At the sour turn in Riddle's face, Merlin dropped the mockery and went for the throat.

"You're using this façade of being Slytherin's Heir, regurgitating his words, but you're just trying to justify your hate. I don't care whether your hate is systemic or because some muggle hurt you somewhere in your angst-filled past. It doesn't matter. It won't work. I met you last year, you're a parasitic stain clinging to the scourge of humanity, and I will not endorse your attempted genocide!"

Riddle's face twisted into a fit of ugly rage. "I thought you of all people might be able to understand," He snarled. "You knew Salazar Slytherin better than anyone."

"Oh, I understand perfectly." Merlin said, with nasty smile. "This is not the noble work of your ancestor, no matter how you dress it up. You're an insult to Slytherin and Salazar would never approve of you."

Riddle went silent, his anger still clear upon his face. A hundred more barbs sat poised on Merlin's tongue. Then, Riddle threw back his head and laughed. "You will regret not joining me when you had the chance," he said and he turned to the giant statue of Salazar Slytherin and extended his hand.

His next words were not in English, but it didn't matter for Merlin understood. "Speak to me Salazar, greatest of the Hogwarts four."

The mouth of the statue began to open. Merlin could just see something shift in the darkness within, and even as he turned his gaze away, something sparked in his memory again. The scene from before returned, picking up where it left off.

Slytherin hesitating on the stone steps, pack on his shoulder and a pained look in his eyes. "If we do not meet again—"

"Salazar—"

"No, hear me now. I want you to know that even if I don't, one day my heir will come back to teach here once again. I saw it in the crystals," he gave a little laugh. "And you know how I despise those things."

"No—really? I'll fight fate tooth and nail, Salazar Slytherin believing in a prophecy?"

"Yeah, well, maybe you've helped me change my mind about that." Salazar smiled and after a moment, Merlin smiled back. "But, just in case, I've left you a gift that will defend this castle until I return, and I think you'll need her more than me."

Merlin gaped at him. "You—" He started to laugh. "Rowena is going to have a heart attack whens she finds out you left Ríognach in the castle."

"Then do not tell her, or anyone. She is my secret that I entrust to you. I've put her far beneath the castle where she can sleep and take care of herself. But when you have need of her, she will be there."

"Fine. But you better come back and teach these young ones how to defend themselves. Who knows what'll come of them without you."

"You have my word," and Salazar extended his hand. "Till we meet again."

Merlin clasped his forearm and held tight for a moment. "And may the Old One watch your path till then."

The memory receded, and Merlin straightened his back and turned to Tom Riddle. He did not try to shield his eyes. He watched surprise and then fear flit across Riddle's face in quick succession.

"Kill him!" Riddle hissed, nervous panic marring the command.

"Ríognach wouldn't kill an old friend, would you girl?" And, Merlin turned to face the basilisk. She had climbed from Salazar's mouth, raising her head high into the space. Her dark vivid green skin caught the light of Ginny's wand and shone like emerald fire, but her eyes—where Merlin expected to see luminous yellow eyes was a membrane of black skin.

The basilisk hovered, silent, unmoving, before winding forward and gently pressing the nub of her nose against Merlin's hand. "Emrysss, you've come to me at lassst." Merlin could feel the thick magic embedded into her core and marveled how he had ever forgotten her.

"You don't seem to realize who I am, Tom," Merlin said. He rested his palm on Ríognach's head, and felt a content hum vibrate his fingers. "Allow me to enlighten you." Merlin returned his gaze to Riddle and enjoyed the shock on his face.

"Destroy the false heir," he spat, and Ríognach reared her head until she towered over Riddle. As if in slow motion, Riddle raised his wand but before he could say the words, his expression froze. The wand fell from his fingers with a clatter.

When Nearly Headless Nick had seen the eyes of the basilisk, he had turned black—figure slack in mid-air. The victims of petrification formed living statues. Riddle hovered somewhere in that space of form and spirit—but what Merlin did not expect was for spider web cracks like fissures of light to break across his skin. Riddle stood frozen, arm still raised in the motion of casting a spell, but Merlin saw his eyes dart to Ginny and he understood.

His soul was tethered by something even stronger than the gaze of a basilisk.

Merlin bent down and from Ginny's pocket pulled a small black book. The moment he touched it, he could sense the foul magic drenching the pages. How hadn't he noticed it before? He experimentally dropped it, and the aura of magic vanished at once. Fascinating. Alas, he didn't have the time to figure it out. Merlin picked up the diary again.

"I've heard basilisk venom is next to dragon fire, in destroying magical objects. Let's test that, shall we?" and he raised the book into the air. "Ríognach, bite this."

There was a hiss of acknowledgment and Merlin glanced up to see the basilisk open its jaws wide and, carefully so that she did not bite Merlin's hand at the same time, sunk one of her long fangs into the book.

There was a terrible piercing scream. Not from Riddle, but the book. The sound seemed to vibrate from the very pages, and black ink began to pour the growing hole, gushing down Merlin's hand and arm. It soaked the elbow of his robes and began to drip onto the floor. Riddle himself began to shine, brighter and brighter—the light was literally breaking him apart. It reached such a point that Merlin went to shield his eyes, and with a burst of magical energy, Riddle disintegrated.

There was silence except for the soft drip-drip of ink on stone.

Merlin reached up and pulled the diary off of Ríognach's fang, appraising the smoking hole with a smile. "You know, I might like this more than dragon fire. Don't tell Korrizahar."

"Who iss thiss Korrizahar?" Ríognach said, tilting her great head to the side.

"I'll explain later," Merlin said, because he could feel the magic returning to Ginny's core now, and it would be difficult to explain why he could control the basilisk. "Quickly, return to the Mouth of Salazar."

He could sense the reluctance, but Ríognach didn't argue. "Till next time, Emryssss." She slunk back into the opening in the statue, her tail gently flicking Merlin's shoulder before she disappeared. And not a moment too soon, for just as the mouth closed, Ginny's eyes flew open.

"What—" she sat up and looked around. She saw Merlin, standing there with the destroyed diary in his hand and ink all over his right arm, and broke into tears. "M-Merlin, I wanted to t-t-tell you. R-r-riddle made me do it—and where are we? The l-last thing I remember is following you into Moaning Myrtle's b-bathroom."

"Hey," Merlin said, kneeling down next to her. "Shh, it's okay. I know. Riddle's gone, see?" and he handed her the diary. "Everything is going to be okay."

Ginny sniffed, holding the ruined book, then with a loud sob she dropped it and threw her arms around him. "I'm sorry," she mumbled over and over into his shoulder. Merlin could feel her arms shaking. Not sure what else to do, he awkwardly patted her head, before hugging her back.

"You'll be fine. I promise, I'll explain what happened to Dumbledore. Come on, let's get out of here, I'm sure we've been missed by now." Merlin gave her one final squeeze and helped her get to her feet. Ginny swayed dangerously for a moment, the color not yet fully returned to her face.

"Take a deep breath," Merlin said, ready to grab her elbow if she fell. "It'll take some time for your magic to normalize. He took a lot from you."

Ginny gritted her teeth, and nodded. She took a deep breath, wiping her face on the sleeves of her robes. "O—okay." She took a step forward and nodded again. "I can do this."

"That's right," Merlin said with a smile. He bent down and grabbed Ginny's wand and the diary from the ground. He held the wand out to her, "And this belongs to you, I believe."

Ginny took it back with shaking hands. "Thanks. W-what happened?" Ginny asked, looking around the chamber and marveling at the columns.

"Well," Merlin said, "We found the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets." He explained as much as he could as they walked back, telling her how they'd found the engraving of a snake below the sinks and how she'd followed him down. "I originally blamed your Gryffindor-ness," he told her with a laugh, "turns out Riddle wanted a private word."

Ginny sniffed again. "It's my fault. I—I told him about you. I never should've said anything." She gulped down another rush of tears. Then her brow furrowed. "W—what did he want to talk about?"

"Oh you know, just wondered if I was another Heir of Salazar," Merlin said with a shrug. "I'm not," he added at the look on Ginny's face.

"So the b-basilisk?" Ginny asked, her eyes going wide.

"Oh, she won't be attacking anyone anymore. With Riddle gone, there's no one left who can control her."

Ginny paused. "Her?" she repeated. Merlin stopped dead. He turned to look at her. Ginny's cheeks were still wet with tears but the fire was returning to her eyes. "Look, I may have spent the last few months getting hoodwinked by a diary and unconsciously opening the Chamber of Secrets but I'm not a complete idiot." At Merlin's continued silence, Ginny went on, "I won't tell anyone. Not even my diary," she added rolling her eyes.

Merlin chewed his tongue for a moment. "I was able to talk to her," he said slowly. "Being a Parselmouth and all. Without Riddle to influence her, she's harmless."

"So, you can control her, then," Ginny said just as slowly, with a raised eyebrow. When the silence began to drag, Ginny shrugged. "Whatever, as long as you don't sick her on anyone, I don't care," And she began to walk again.

"You don't?" Merlin asked, and Ginny rolled her eyes.

"Considering you killed—destroyed Riddle and saved my life, I think you've earned the right to do whatever you want. Let's just get out of here."

They had reached the main door into the chamber, and Merlin made sure to close it behind them—just in case. When the reached the stone cavern with the basilisk skin, an idea struck Merlin. He bent down and tried to tear off a small patch of skin.

"What are you doing?" Ginny asked sounding exhausted.

"Whatever I want."

"Oh Ha, Ha—but seriously," Ginny said bending down next to him.

"Well, I assume most people will want reassurance that Ríognach is taken care of," Merlin said. The snakeskin was much tougher than he'd expected and he struggled with it for another minute before extending his hand. "Diffindo," he said and with a glitter of gold, severed a patch of skin.

"Show off," Ginny muttered as Merlin folded the skin and stuck it into his robes.

"You'll get there."

"Sure." She paused. "So was that her name? Ríognach?"

"Oh, yeah." Merlin said standing up.

"It's pretty. Anyway, so what's the story we're going with?"

By the time they reached the mouth of the tunnel, Merlin was pleased with the fiction they had come up with. It was close to the truth, and would hold up under scrutiny. As Ginny didn't remember anything that had happened, nor had she ever actually seen Ríognach, she wasn't even lying. It was Merlin would really have to lie and such things were second nature by this point.

But now, how to get back up the tunnel? Merlin frowned as he looked up the steep stone passageway, and pressed his palm against the stone. Of its own accord, the stone began to shift. Merlin stood back, watching as grips like footholds formed into the back wall. "That's handy." He nodded at Ginny, "Here, you go first."

Ginny gave him a look but went first, and Merlin cast one last look into the darkening chamber behind him before following her up. By the time they reached the top, they were both out of breath.

"Right, so let's go find—" Merlin trailed off. There, lounging on the floor in resplendent robes, head slack against the wall and snoring was Gilderoy Lockhart. As Merlin stared at him, he jolted awake with a start. He blinked owlishly at them, and then broke into a wide smile.

"Ah! I knew it!" he jumped to his feet. "I going to climb down when I heard the two of you coming up, I must've dozed off—it's been quite a long day, I assure you." He gave another one of his blinding smiles. "Merlin, Merlin—I must say I'm impressed. And not too worse for wear I see, lovely. I'm sure it was such an experience. Did you find the Heir of Slytherin, then?"

Lockhart was the last person Merlin wanted to talk to right now. "I'd rather go through this the once, Professor," Merlin ground out.

"Of course, of course," Lockhart said. "Come, let's go to my office—it's closest and we can fire-call the Headmaster from there. Not quite sure where he is, like I said the castle has been in an uproar since you two vanished."

He gestured for them to follow with an extravagant wave of his hand. Merlin glanced back at Ginny before the two of them followed Lockhart out.

"How long were we gone?" Ginny asked, looking around the darkened corridor.

"Several hours, it's just past curfew now," Lockhart drawled. "Oh, they'll all be thrilled the school is no longer in danger. They were preparing to close Hogwarts, you know. Petrification is one thing but two students disappearing into the chamber itself and still being unable to find the blasted place? Why, the scandal!"

It really was good Lockhart's office was so close, Merlin thought as they turned a corner and the Professor opened the door. Because if he had to listen to Lockhart jabber the entire way to Dumbledore's office or the dungeons he might just screw it and go back into the chamber. Ginny didn't appear to even be listening. She kept wiping her eyes, as though trying to hide the few tears that kept leaking out, her breath rattling with nervous relief.

Lockhart ushered them into his back office, and Merlin watched as all the portraits of Lockhart began to clap and offer obnoxious congratulations to the man himself. "Now, now," Lockhart with that blinding smile. "But it's really Merlin here who saved the day." He turned and clapped himself. "Come now, at least tell us something! Did you face down the monster in the chamber?"

He looked from Merlin to Ginny, his expression oddly intense. After a moment, he focused on Ginny who shuffled her feet and resisted the urge to glance at Merlin.

"He fought a basilisk. He's got a piece of its skin," Ginny offered, and Lockhart clapped again.

"Excellent! Excellent! I expected no less. May I see it?" he said holding out his hand.

"Look, we came here to fire-call the Headmaster," Merlin said, losing his patience. "We can do this later."

"Of course," Lockhart said, and he busiest himself about his desk looking for something. "But surely a peak couldn't hurt? Just put it on the desk."

"Fine, if only to make you drop it," Merlin snapped and he pulled out the basilisk skin from his pocket and slammed it onto the desk. "See?"

Lockhart stopped whatever he was doing and grabbed the skin. "Amazing," he said holding it aloft and gazing at the green skin as if it were the most amazing thing he'd ever seen. "Really, quite amazing."

"So amazing," Merlin deadpanned. "And I'll tell you all about it once you call Dumbledore," he repeated, enunciating each word as if he were speaking to a toddler. Lockhart didn't look away from the skin, still admiring the piece. Merlin and Ginny exchanged similarly exhausted expressions.

"Right," Lockhart said, seeming to snap out of it. "Right," he said again and he put the skin back onto the desk. "Best get to it."

"Finally," Merlin muttered as Lockhart dipped down over his desk again.

The sudden spike of magic in the air was his only warning.

Lockhart fired his wand at Merlin, turning in single smooth stride, Mr. Five Time Winner still wearing his charming smile. Merlin only just managed to dive out of the way, and the spell hit a bookcase behind him in a thwack of flying paper. Without missing a beat, already halfway through the motions, Lockhart said, "Expelliarmus," and the spell went flying at Ginny Weasley, hitting her square in the middle. The force of the spell threw her back against the cabinet, her wand soaring over to Lockhart.

"Ginny!" Merlin yelled as she crumpled. He turned to Lockhart, furious, confused as hell, "What are you doing?" he shouted.

Lockhart looked deranged. Still smiling, eyes full of manic glee. "This is how the story will go, my dear Merlin. I found you and the girl in the Chamber of Secrets, you—the Heir of Slytherin, standing over her and I defeated you, and killed the monster." He raised his wand again. "It's nothing personal."

Merlin felt the magic build, and his eyes shone gold. Lockhart flew back against the wall of his office, and Merlin grabbed Ginny and dragged her out the door. Outside, he looked up to see a disheveled Lockhart, getting back to his feet—that charming smile gone from his face.

"You won't outshine me, boy!" he snarled, vaulting over the desk.

Merlin jerked his hand and the door slammed shut on him. "Nothing personal," Merlin hissed, and his eyes glowed again as the door sealed shut with the most powerful locking charm he could think of. "Yeah, right, you jealous prick."

He could hear Lockhart banging on the door, swearing profusely. "You think this will hold me?" Lockhart screamed. "I have a fireplace, you dolt!"

"Not—without floo powder," came Ginny's bitter voice. And Merlin saw she had a jar in her hands. "It was on the shelf behind us," she went on as Merlin opened his mouth. "Thought it would be a good thing to grab while I was there."

"Are you okay?" Merlin asked, helping her to her feet.

"I think so." She shook her head. "Just winded." She took a deep breath and unbidden tears began to fall down her face again. "Why—why would he do that?" she said, angrily wiping her eyes. "He's a professor. Why would he do that?"

"Because he's a pretentious clotpole who has to always be at the center of attention," Merlin said, loudly, so that Lockhart could hear him.

The muffled swearing was delightful.

"Come on, let's go."

And Merlin led Ginny out of the office.


Only A Boy


The task of informing Florean Fortescue and Silas of Merlin's disappearance into the Chamber of Secrets had not been an easy one. Snape had an appalling bedside manner, and his blunt style did not lend itself well to matters of emotional delicacy. His words had been met with shocked silence and the soft sniffling of worry.

He tried to say, "I have every reason to believe Merlin will stroll in here by morning," but his mind conjured up an image of a bloodied body beneath rubble, and the words became, "I'm sure he's all right," a decidedly less confident statement that did little to stop the fear on Silas's face.

"I'm sure he will be," Florean had agreed, wrapping the young boy in a tight hug.

That had been hours ago. At the moment, Silas dozed on a conjured couch while Florean held a cup of tea. And Snape tried not to tread a channel into the floor of his office with his pacing—try being the operative word.

The office door swung open. As such a thing had been happening every twenty minutes since the announcement that the school would be closing, Snape barely glanced at his door and then was forced to look again. Because standing there was Merlin Evans, right arm soaked black with ink, in tow with a red-eyed Ginny Weasley.

Merlin saw Florean and Silas there and his eyes widened, but though Florean leapt to his feet and Silas began to stir he did not address them when he spoke. "I will explain what has happened tonight to your heart's content, but first there is a matter that must be addressed immediately."

The formal coldness in the boy's tone sent an uneasy shiver down Snape's spine. This did not bode well.

"Merlin—" came a nervous voice from the couch, and for a brief moment Snape saw Merlin's frostiness melt. It was back in a heartbeat.

"I'm sorry Silas, but this can't wait."

"What is it?" Snape asked, taking a step toward the two of them. At once Miss Weasley's eyes filled with tears again, and she glanced at Merlin as if asking permission to speak first. She must've seen something there because she turned back to Snape, and took a deep breath.

"It's Professor Lockhart, sir. He found us coming out of the Chamber of Secrets and took us to his office, saying he would fire-call the Headmaster." She gulped another wave of fresh tears, and shook her head wordlessly.

"He attacked us," Merlin finished, his eyes far colder than they had a right to be. "Well, attacked me. It seems he just couldn't stand the idea of not getting the credit for defeating the Heir of Slytherin."

"Is he—" Snape asked, in a bare whisper because to speak now would be too much for the utter fury and malcontent coursing through his veins.

"I've locked him in his office."

Snape decided not to question how. "Miss Weasley, please take a seat—I will be back shortly. Florean, if you could fire-call Professor McGonagall and tell her they'd been found, I would appreciate it."

"Of—of course," Florean said.

Ginny gave Merlin another look and Snape caught him give her a firm nod before she went to take a seat on the couch. Merlin himself however, turned around and walked back out of the office. Snape did not hesitate in following him.

"Were you injured?" Snape asked, taking in Merlin's ink stained arm.

"No. I'm fine," Merlin replied in the same clipped tone. "Just a little tired of Defense Against the Dark Arts professors trying to kill me."

"What happened exactly," Snape asked, increasing the speed of his stride.

"He kept trying to get me to tell him about the chamber. I thought he was just being a nosy git like always, but now I realize he wanted as many details as he could in order to make the story his. He attacked out of nowhere, disarmed Ginny, and said that he would take tell the story of how he had found the Chamber himself, saved Ginny and defeated the Heir of Slytherin—me." Merlin clenched and unclenched his hands.

Snape had his wand out before they even entered the classroom. "Lockhart!" He roared, as he scaled the steps of the professor's office. He nodded to Merlin, and the boy didn't even draw his wand. He had seen it before, of course, but watching Merlin coldly blast the door open with nothing more than a wave of his hand was far more unnerving than Snape had expected. But there wasn't time to dwell on that now—Snape strode into the office, wand raised.

"It seems you have some explaining to do."

Lockhart's office was—perfect. No sign at all of the scuffle that occurred earlier. The man himself was sitting at his desk wearing a befuddled expression.

"Explain?" he repeated, looking blankly from Merlin to Snape. "Explain what?"

At that, Snape lost his temper. "You think you can just pretend it didn't happen?" he snarled, and he jabbed his wand at Lockhart. Ropes sprang from the air and bound him to the chair. Lockhart looked mystified, his mouth falling open.

"I say! I don't have any idea what you're on about, sir," he said, looking nervous now. "But you seem quite upset, so let me help. You really don't need these."

If anything that only made Snape angrier. He waved his wand again. "Legilimens!" and suddenly, Snape understood. He dropped the spell, and took a step back, a new kind of anger rocking his core.

"What is it?" Merlin asked softly next to him.

"The coward's wiped his own memory," Snape said through gritted teeth. At least Lockhart had the decency to look embarrassed by that. "Let me guess, you don't even know who I am? Well, I hate to break it to you, but there are ways to bring those memories back—" Illegal ones, but he was sure Merlin wouldn't mind—

"Severus," came a mild tone from behind them and Snape and Merlin turned to see Dumbledore standing behind them. If Snape had thought Merlin's blue eyes were severe, it was nothing compared to the cold fury in the Headmaster's. "Florean told me what happened," he said striding into the office and coming to stand in front of Lockhart.

"Ah, you're Dumbledore, aren't you?" Lockhart said, nervously.

"I am. And you don't need to remember what you did for us to pronounce judgment, I'm afraid. Two-eyewitness testimony's and your guilty conscious is enough." He turned to Snape and Merlin. "I've already notified the ministry, they'll be here to collect him shortly. In the meantime, I think it's time we return to Miss Weasley and listen to your tale, Merlin. I'm quite looking forward to it."


Only A Boy


LYING WITH LOCKHART: FAMOUS AUTHOR DISGRACED

It turns out his books are more fiction than fact, writes Rita Skeeter, Special Correspondent. Gilderoy Lockhart has been revealed to be a spectacular fraud, taking credit for the accomplishments of other wizards, and then covering it up with memory charms.

Late last night, Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts and Supreme Mugwamp on the Wizengamot, had the Department of Magical of Law Enforcement forcibly remove Lockhart from the Hogwarts grounds. Lockhart had come to the school earlier this year to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts, but it looks as if he ought to have remained with his books. The famed author and five time winner of Witch Weekly's Most Charming Smile Award, has been charged with assault, witness tampering, with the promise of more to come.

The Headmaster has yet to release an official statement, but the Prophet can exclusively reveal that Lockhart assaulted two students and attempted to wipe their memories of the incident. Having failed and 'caught in the act' he obliviated himself.

"He's a coward,"said Draco Malfoy, a Slytherin second year. "We all thought he must have been lying about his achievements, but we never thought he'd stoop so low as to attempt to outshine one of his own students."

It's no surprise that the student in question was Merlin Evans, who entered the public spotlight last summer after he fought off an attack from another of his professors, Quinirius Quirrell.

"[Lockhart] kept trying to put Merlin down," said Pansy Parkinson, a girl in Merlin's class. "He would have Merlin act out passages from his book, trying to embarrass him in class. Merlin was far more graceful about it all than I ever could be."

Merlin Evans is reportedly uninjured from the incident. The question that now faces the Wizengamot is how to sentence a man with no memory of his crimes.

"It looks as if he's selectively removed every memory about what he's done, including his entire teaching post at Hogwarts," said Mr. Chilton, a mind Healer at St. Mungos. "He might be a fraud, but he's a genius with Obliviation and Confunding charms to have pulled this off without turning himself into a blank slate."

Lockhart is in a locked ward in St. Mungos, while the mind healers take a look and see if there is anything that can be done to recover his memory of the incident. But with sworn affidavits from two witnesses, and Dumbledore backing the claim, a trial may take place regardless although there are already conversations about reaching a settlement behind closed doors.


Author's Note

Wow, that took way longer to write than I was planning on. I hope the length made up for that a little. And, if you were curious, the bit with Salazar Slytherin was proper old English. It's probably not completely accurate, but I tried my best with online dictionaries. Thank you everyone who has stuck with this story from the beginning, and thank you to all the new readers dropping lovely reviews! HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE! Hopefully 2018 is a better one!