Home Is Where You Floo

The following week, Merlin did his best to stay within Florean's line of sight whenever possible, not because the man had asked him too but because Merlin wanted to apologize for worrying him. In any case, he and Silas had several new books to read and neither felt much inclined to stray far from home the further they delved into the nature of Azkaban.

Merlin didn't like the images his mind conjured as he read Kazak Kaminski in Azkaban: The Unabridged Story describe an imposing fortress of black stone permeated with human despair. He could remember the bone-chill of sitting atop stone scattered with straw, the waiting in a damp cell, hungry—to add a Dementor seemed like a cruel joke.

And yet, Damocles Rowle had established the prison, and the following Minister of Magic Perseus Parkinson—an old relative of Pansy, Merlin suspected—continued the project. It wasn't until Eldritch Diggory visited the prison himself that anyone mentioned the inhumanity of it all. He died before he could implement any change, and championing a stellar record, no Ministry tried to shut down the prison again. Instead, they placated public opinion by affording inmates the basic necessities. Which, some had pointed out, did nothing to stop the deaths of despair even among temporary incarcerations.

The book seemed to combine most of the scattered information that he and Silas had discovered during the reading session in Flourish and Blotts. But though he had been promised an unabridged account, Merlin frowned when he reached the final page and realized no one knew exactly how many prisoners had died while in custody or why everyone refused to close the prison now.

Not for the first time, Merlin wondered whether the Department of Magical Law Enforcement was withholding the records and his faith in the system crumbled a little further.

However, his other book, The Azkaban Problem by Josie Keller, clarified the situation. Merlin shivered despite the warm July sun streaming through the upper windows of the flat. Beside him, Silas held a purring Khoshekh in his lap, fingers running absently through her pitch-black fur as he read over Merlin's shoulder.

At the time of its discovery, Azkaban presented an unorthodox solution to the issue of wizarding incarceration. The most violent witches and wizards stop at nothing to accomplish their destructive goals, and even your average warlock can wreak chaos if inspiration strikes. As such, Azkaban served and continues to serve as a deterrent and the remote location is able to effectively detain individuals who pose a threat to magical society. In nearly three hundred years, not a single prisoner has escaped.

But supposing Azkaban was to cave in on its magic or crumble eventually into the sea—or as some humane activists desire, were we to simply shut down the institution entirely—what would happen to the hoard of Dementors that call it home?

As creatures of maleficence, the Dementors subsist off a diet of despair and emotional torment. Their exact origins are unknown though some allege that Azkaban itself birthed the monsters from the prevalent fog the surrounded the island. Initial attempts by ministry officials to combat the creatures were dismal, and to this day there is no known way to kill or destroy them. The only defense shown to work is the Patronus Charm, a very difficult spell that requires the caster to focus on a Happy memory or feeling. However, this only repels the Dementors, leaving many to fear a mass migration if the prison were shut down and their main source of food taken away.

"They need not devour our souls, not if we provide them with a steady turnover of prisoners," remarked Minister of Magic Perseus Parkinson in 1727, when questioned by the press about his decision to double-down on the use of Azkaban as a prison and continuing the work of his predecessor Rowle. "Wizards who threaten the exposure of our world—after all the work we've done to make the muggles forget—deserve the greatest punishment."

This influx of authoritarian leadership was largely due in part to muggle persecution and a series of Muggle Witchcraft Acts that legally allowed the punishment and execution of anyone associated with witchcraft and magic. As a result, hostilities between the two groups necessitated the establishment of the Statute of Secrecy in 1692—

Silas yawned next to him, and Merlin decided to skip ahead having heard about the Statute of Secrecy in History of Magic class.

Handing problematic individuals over to the Dementors provided a ghastly solution to rampant wizard-on-muggle violence. And with Azkaban acting as a deterrent, violent crime in the wizarding community dropped and allowed time for the muggle world to forget magic had ever existed outside of stories. And with the success of the prison, latter Ministers of Magic expanded the fortress to include a refurbished wing for prisoners serving brief sentences, and shut down every other wizarding prison still operating in the United Kingdom.

The result? A well-behaved magical populace, and the emergence of a Dark Lord amassing supporters to take on the Ministry, often with no regard for the Statute of Secrecy.

The most recent of these was the Dark Lord He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named who rose to power in the 1950s and terrorized from 1971—1981, representing a rebuke against allowing muggleborns entry to the magical world, and against allowing muggles to command stewardship of the earth. In order to curtail such ideological movements, Azkaban proved invaluable.

Following the sudden disappearance of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named in October of 1981, the Ministry scrambled to contain their win before one of the inner circle Death Eaters could assume the role of Dark Lord. Over half of the pureblooded Slytherin community was arrested overnight and sent to Azkaban to await trial. Those revealed to possess the Dark Mark were given life-sentences unless they switched sides and aided in the effort to capture others.

Some of the worst atrocities committed by the Death Eaters occurred in the months following Lord Voldemort's fall, in the name of returning their master to his former power. As a result, the Department of Magical Law Enforcement suspended trials in the name of Wartime Lawand slapped long savage sentences on anyone remotely connected to the Death Eater movement.

Over time, the number of incarcerations plummeted, and the Ministry has come under pressure on how to keep the dementors on their island. House-arrest sentences have largely vanished except in special circumstances and non-violent crimes are given massive fines designed to push defendants into plea-bargaining for a short stint in Azkaban instead. But, in every case, the defendants are sent to await trial in the prison itself regardless of verdict.

"Merlin? Do you think he—Byron, I mean—do you think he could be a Death Eater?" Silas whispered, a touch of nervous tension in his voice.

Merlin closed the book and looked at him. "You said you were about six or seven when he disappeared, right? So, at most he was imprisoned four maybe five years ago?"

Silas nodded. He held the midnight Kneazle a little tighter and she began to purr, eyes closed in a soft smile as she lifted her neck for him to scratch.

"It's hard to say. If he is, he managed to avoid the Ministry for years while taking care of you, and since it sounds like they started sending everyone to Azkaban—" He trailed off pointedly and Silas nodded again, looking relieved.

"Yeah, it doesn't sound like him either." He was silent for a long moment and then, he sat up so abruptly that Khoshekh mewed at him in protest. "What day is it today?"

"Uh," Merlin shrugged. "Thursday, I think?"

Silas swore and Merlin stared at him, perplexed. Before he could ask what, Silas had kissed Khoshekh on the forehead and the both of them got to their feet. "I forgot to talk to Florean about something."


"I'll catch up on the reading tonight!" and before Merlin could say anything else he had dashed from the room, the midnight feline hot on his heels.

Suspecting that this may have something to do with his approaching birthday, Merlin chuckled to himself and returned to his book. But now that Silas was gone, his mind kept drifting, and after a fruitless fifteen minutes gave up and returned the book to their room. While he felt that the reading had given him a better grasp on the situation, the issue of how to "make a fuss," eluded him.

He could write a long angry letter to the Daily Prophet and entice Rita Skeeter to report on the inhumanity of Azkaban, but what good would it do without a solution to the Dementor problem? Was it his job to find a solution? He frowned and began to pace aimlessly about the flat, hoping movement might spur his thoughts to action. Regardless of who he really was, at thirteen and two defense professors down, the magical world had begun to take him more seriously, he knew.

But what would happen to everyone still incarcerated? Azkaban was full of people driven insane by their long imprisonment, violent offenders, and others who could not simply be released back into the wild.

"If all I can do is improve the internal conditions, that's enough," Merlin spoke aloud to himself, coming to pause in the doorway to the kitchen.

"That's all any of us can hope," replied a dozing Boris in his painting, causing Merlin to jump at the unexpected sound before mentally chiding himself for being so nervous. Maybe it was time to take a break from Azkaban, at least until after his birthday.

The next day had both Florean and Silas evading questions and pushing Merlin to hang out downstairs in the ice cream shop or out in Diagon Alley, leading Merlin to laugh that it wasn't much of a surprise since he knew it was coming. His birthday was tomorrow, after all. Still, he pretended not to notice when Silas returned from his shopping trip, trying to hide something under his shirt, scuttling down the hall with an incoherent shout that Merlin assumed to be some kind of greeting. Khoshekh bounced along behind him, her tufted tail high in the air, curling in friendly affection and she chirped at Merlin before chasing after Silas.

That night during dinner, over a delicious array of basmati rice and chicken Tikki Masala, Florean and Silas kept trading meaningful expressions until Merlin decided he couldn't take it anymore.

"You both are just horrible, you know that right?"

Florean gave a chuckle that elongated to a sigh. "It's more of a complication," he said, and he pulled out a daily prophet clipping from his waistcoat pocket. "I suppose you haven't seen this yet?"

Merlin was pleasantly surprised when he read the title:


"The Weasleys won the 700 galleon prize and are going to spend it on a month-long visit to Egypt?" Merlin said as he scanned the article. The picture showed all nine of the Weasleys, grinning broadly, and waving in front of a pyramid. He recognized Bill in the middle, who winked at him. The eldest Weasley child had broken his memory curse the previous Christmas.

The longer he stared at the article the more confused he became. "How is this a complication?" he asked, frowning.

"Well, unfortunately, none of them will be attending tomorrow."

"Ah, well, I suppose that makes sense," Merlin said as he set the article onto the table.

"I know you were hoping to have the twins and, uh, Miss Weasley, come celebrate it with you," Florean went on gently.

Merlin shrugged, wondering why he was making such a big deal out of it. "I mean sure, but I get it. They deserve a family holiday. Draco and Hermione are still coming though, right?"

"Oh, yes, of course," Florean hesitated a moment and then went on, "but I also need to run a rather important errand in the morning, so I won't be here when you wake up. I'll be back soon as I can."

He wore such an apologetic expression that Merlin had an impulse to hug the man, were there not a table between them. "That's okay!" and he glanced between him and Silas. "Really, now, I'm not nearly that easy to upset," and he began to laugh. "I'd be happy if all we did was a family dinner, to be honest."

"In that case…" Florean said trading another glance with Silas, but this time there was an unmistakable glint of mischief in his eyes. "Silas, you're in charge tomorrow until I get back."

And judging from the grin that spread across his foster brother's face, Merlin knew tomorrow would be a good day.

He was awoken in the morning by a loud rumbling purr directly next to his ear. Merlin smiled into his pillow and turned over to see Khoshekh sitting there and looking supremely satisfied about something. She blinked her silver eyes slowly up at him.

"Morning to you too," he said, and he began to scratch her neck through her thick silky mane. After a few minutes, she got to her feet, stretched, and hopped down from his bed. She looked back at him, her tufted tail flicking.

"Okay," he grumbled, stretching too, "I'm getting up."

The flat was oddly quiet. A glance at the bunk above him told him Silas was indeed up, but he didn't run into him on his way to the bathroom. So, Merlin took his time getting ready, falling into the calm of the morning. When at last he emerged, showered and dressed, into the main room he was taken aback to find it empty.

Khoshekh appeared at his ankles, her tail hooking around his leg as she passed with a purposeful stride down the stairs and toward the door to the Ice Cream Parlour. When she reached it, she looked back at him and mewed.

"He left?" Merlin frowned. Where would he have gone? Still, he wasn't about to argue with the kneazle and threw on his shoes.

Merlin had scarcely pulled open the door when he was blown back by the crack of a firecracker. Streamers of colorful confetti burst before his eyes, the soft heat of a temporary enchantment against his skin.

"Oh shit, not right at him!" came Draco's voice and Merlin heard a distinct gasp of panic that he recognized as Hermione.

Merlin blinked. For a moment all he saw were discolored splotches as if he had looked directly at the sun, and then it faded and Hermione Granger stood before him with her hands over her mouth.

"I'm so sorry!" she said her words muffled. She lowered her hands. "Are you okay?"

"I feel okay." Merlin ruffled his hair and confetti fell before his eyes, the tiny multicolored pieces in the shape of stars.

"Oh no."

But though Hermione still looked worried, Draco took on the grimace of someone trying hard not to laugh. Silas appeared behind them and began to laugh.

"Do a hair flip," Silas said.

"A what?"

"You know," he whipped his neck so that the bangs swung slightly on his forehead.

It looked ridiculous.

Merlin did it at once. A burst of color streaked through the air like a pastel rainbow and all of them fell to the floor howling with laughter.

The enchantment clung to his hair for most of the day, and Merlin quickly fell in love with the hilarity of whipping his bangs at inappropriate moments, egged on by Silas and Draco. Silas led them in an adventure around Diagon Alley, Khoshekh striding ahead with her tufted tail high in the air. For lunch they went to the Leaky Cauldron and what with Draco tripping over himself to set the stage and Hermione's increasing exasperation, Merlin had too much fun watching their waiter process the sight of confetti falling from his hair while a chorus of Happy Birthday rang through the small pub.

They returned to the ice cream parlor in the afternoon. Florean had returned, and he whisked them all upstairs where the table had been set with such decadent sundaes that Hermione began to grumble about teeth and dentists. That is, until Draco snidely remarked, "Does the lion need a tooth strengthening potion?" and she finished every spoonful in defiance.

Florean replaced the empty ice cream dishes with tea and snacks— "Really, we just ate!" Merlin laughed—and Silas appeared suddenly with an armful of presents that he laid out on the table. He handed Merlin a rather heavy gift in tropical print. "This one's from—Hermione!"

"Oh, uh, if you don't mind," Florean stepped forward, glancing down at the gift Merlin held in his hands. "Would you permit me the first honor?"

"Course!" Merlin said, setting the gift back onto the table. "You don't mind—" he began, glancing back at Hermione and she hurriedly shook her head.

"No! Not at all."

Florean beamed. He fiddled with a button on his waistcoat, and then motioned for them all to follow him, "Oh and—" he withdrew his wand from an inner pocket and levitated the tablecloth along with everything upon it, "Silas if you could just keep an eye out that I don't knock that teapot against anything?"

"Got it!"

"Thanks, kiddo," and Florean led them down the hallway until they stood underneath the ceiling light. Here, he turned around and pressed a finger against his lips. Merlin and Draco met eyes, a fraction of a second, and yet the ripple of excited silence was tangible. Florean reached up and grabbed the neck of the light revealing a rope cord and the trap door swung open. A rope ladder unfurled and with a swish of his wand, Florean sent the table setting ahead of them.

"After you," he said, and Merlin scaled the ladder in a shower of confetti.

Merlin had never been up in the attic before, but the space had the look of a recent overhaul and he could just taste the lingering traces of an expansion charm. There was a low coffee table in the center, the tablecloth from downstairs sitting upon it. An array of large burgundy and purple beanbags were scattered around the table. At the far corner was a brick fireplace, tall as a person, with a clay pot hanging from the wall beside it.

Silas climbed up behind him and squeaked in excitement as he jumped into one of the beanbags. "No way!"

He heard Hermione give a soft oh, and turned to see her captivated by an overflowing bookcase on the opposite wall. She turned away from it with great effort, shaking her head and Merlin heard her mutter, "later," to herself before rushing over to join Silas on one of the beanbags.

"Quaint," came Draco's drawl, looking quite unimpressed by comparison, but he was trying to cover it up by being polite. "Very secret clubhouse chic." He took his time looking around, shrugging into the space as Florean pulled himself up.

"I set up the fireplace with the Floo Network this morning," Florean said, and he held out a small package wrapped in glossy blue paper. Merlin took it and ripped the paper with his fingers, and pulled out a thin chain connected to a teardrop vial. It looked like it was filled with— "It's floo powder, enough for one or two trips."

Florean took a deep breath, the shaky sound flush with emotion. He reached across and Merlin let him take the vial from his fingers, holding the chain up. "I've wanted to give you something like this ever since the Quirrell sentencing, but I worried it would encourage you to take unnecessary risks. When they told me you had disappeared into the Chamber of Secrets I feared the worst. And, I know I'm not your father—I don't pretend I can stop you from doing what you feel you need to but I want you to know that no matter what happens, you will always find a home here."

He slipped the vial around Merlin's neck, and Merlin hugged him, "Thank you," he said.

"Happy Birthday," and Florean gave a soft squeeze before letting go and looking around at Merlin's friends. "Also, I have permission from your parents, in writing," he added as Draco opened his mouth, "granting approval for you to stay the night!" He waved his wand and in the space in front of the fireplace appeared a pillow fort, with four sleeping bags.

"Ah! Thank you, Mr. Fortescue!" Hermione said, jumping to her feet. Merlin saw Hermione's eyes fly to the bookcase with renewed excitement and began to laugh.

"Go on, I don't even know what books are there."

Hermione shot him a grateful look as she rushed over to peruse the titles.

Florean shot him a wink and then bowed, "Come to the kitchen whenever you get hungry!" he said, and he left, closing the trap door behind him.

Merlin turned to find all eyes on him.

An unnatural stillness filling the space, from Silas peaking out from the pillow fort to Hermione staring at him with an open book in her hands, to Draco who straightened his shoulders and stepped forward, too formal, too stiff and Merlin had to fight to the swallow the lump in his throat. Without Florean there, the birthday cheer fizzled and Merlin was halfway through the enchantment before he even brought his fingers against the trap door.

"Uh, Merlin," Draco sounded much so like his father in that instant that Merlin looked at him and Draco faltered as their eyes connected. Instead, Draco quite pointedly shifted his gaze toward Silas, raising an eyebrow.

Merlin returned to his enchantment, his eyes shimmering gold, and then straightened up. From his pocket, he withdrew the shard of green mosaic from the Chamber of Secrets and strode over to the fireplace. He set the stone on the mantelpiece and stepped back as the ward slid into place.

"You told your kid foster brother?"

"Ah excellent, it works," Merlin mused, and he crossed to take a seat in one of the purple beanbags. When Draco didn't continue, he looked up at him and gestured. "By all means, go on."

"Yeah, I know everything," Silas said, frowning over at Draco. "Probably know more than you," he went on with a mumble and Draco whirled around.

"What'd you say you little—"

"Draco!" admonished Hermione, though she also looked rather taken stricken by the news.

"I can't believe this!" Draco threw up his hands. "You told him everything?!"

Merlin kept his voice calm and even. "He had my confidence long before I had yours, and he was forced to patiently wait until I came back to hear about what happened."

Draco rolled his eyes and fell back dramatically into a beanbag, "I hope you're right, for your sake."

"Hey! I can keep a secret!" Silas shot at him.

"Well, what with the enchantment, it doesn't really matter now does it?" Hermione said quickly, taking the beanbag on Draco's other side. "So, how old are you turning really, Merlin?"

Merlin opened his mouth, closed it again, and then frowned, "I dunno, I guess technically it's over a hundred."

"You don't know?"

"Well—uh—do you remember that memory curse?"

Hermione blinked and then shook her head. "Oh, right. So it hasn't all come back then?"

"Not entirely, though talking to that mosaic helped to fill in some of the gaps after the fact. But you know, isn't age just a culmination of our life experience?"

"Oh really?" Draco scoffed. "Merlin as an impulsive kid, what the bloody hell did I sign up for?" He took a deep breath, sitting up and pressed his hands together until they formed a steeple before his face. "Merlin? Can you please at least warn me before you decide to tell anyone else?"

"Why's he gotta tell you?" Silas interrupted, and he vacated the pillow fort to be closer to the conversation. He fell into the burgundy beanbag on Merlin's other side and folded his arms. "He's Merlin!"

"This is exactly why—look, Silas, I don't know how you or frankly," and Draco hesitated slightly before pushing on, "how you, Merlin, think politics work these days. Things have changed since the medieval era, and you've been very upfront about how you're not exactly the father of modern magical society."

"I was simply an advisor to a King, yes. Most of what you call modern magical society is just a bunch of small laws made by the ruling government over time that I had absolutely nothing to do with."

Draco ran his hands through his blonde hair. He seemed to be practicing some type of calming exercise.

"You're also afflicted by constantly selling yourself short," Hermione said with an exasperated shake of her head. "You're a genius at Charms and if anyone can stop He—Who—"

"Oh, I can't stand that phrase," Draco interrupted. "Call him the Dark Lord."

"He's no lord of mine," Silas said scoffing.

"Can't we just call him by his name?" Merlin asked, groaning, only for Draco to stamp his foot down.

"No! He's got a curse on the name that tells him where you are if you say it!"

Hermione gasped. "It does?"

Draco gave the solemn nod of someone unwilling or unable to say more.

"Does he have a curse on Tom Riddle too?" Merlin asked quietly.

"I—don't know. He tried to keep that name quiet though, I know that." Draco hesitated, scratching the back of his neck. "Hermione, you were saying?"

"It's just that Merlin isn't trying to go into a career of politics, are you?"

Merlin considered it. "I may need politics to defeat him, is the thing."

Hermione frowned, "What? You're a kid—I mean you look like a kid—you know what I mean. Besides, it's not as if some law by the Ministry of Magic is going to stop him."

"Not that kind of politics," Merlin said with a little laugh. "I'm not planning to run for office or anything."

"Ever?" Draco asked, narrowing his eyes.

"One step at a time, please," Merlin said. "If I try to tackle the universe I'll never get anything done." He sighed, "But, and correct me here if I'm wrong Draco, many Death Eaters used to hold or now hold political office in order to sway public opinion, yes?"

Draco nodded, his jaw taut.

"However," Merlin continued, "it's not like Tom Riddle ever had much success as a politician," to which Draco seemed to think about before shrugging in agreement, "he was the leader of a movement, and to inspire people is a type of politics that's a tight-rope act in the best of cases."

"So, what's your grand plan to get this movement going, huh?" Draco asked.

"I propose we improve the conditions at Azkaban."

"Ooh," Hermione said, "I was wondering about that the other day. Do you think the dementors will affect Lockhart without his memories?"

"They affected me well enough," Merlin grimaced.

"Hang on," Draco said laughing now. "You're worried about Lockhart? After everything he's done? Who knows what else he erased when he obliviated all those people. He should've been stopped a long time ago, and definitely never should have been let near children. Besides, six months in Azkaban? He got off easy if you ask me."

"Stop it," Silas said.

"What? You know he only got six months because he could afford to pay the fine!"

"Uh, Draco—" Hermione began, but he ignored her and went on, growing angry now.

"Improve the conditions in Azkaban, you're hilarious. My Aunt's been there near twelve years, for torturing some couple into insanity." Hermione gasped and Draco shot her a withering look, "yeah, you don't want her out on the streets, trust me. She's better off in there."

"Why don't you just kill her?"

"What?" Draco turned to look at Silas. The kid had risen to his feet, a tremor wracking his shoulders.

"If your Aunt is so dangerous and you hate her so much," Silas said, tears in his eyes. "Why don't they just execute her, huh? It's faster than waiting for her to die!"

Draco didn't reply immediately. He stared at the kid, the anger from before gone. "Yeah, well," he said dropping into a low nonchalant drawl, "I'm not the one who locked her up, am I?"

"Not that it matters." Merlin reached across the coffee table and took the gift wrapped in shiny tropical-looking print. He pulled back the wrapping to find an uncommonly wide book, the title The World As You've Never Seen written across the front in tall gold lettering.

He opened the first page to read the inscription.

To Merlin—

I thought you might like to see all the things we've discovered.

From Hermione

He began to flip through the pages and realized that this wasn't a wizarding book at all. The large artful photographs of nature did not move. An eagle caught in the middle of flight among snowy mountains, canyons of layered color and vibrancy as such that he had never seen before.

"I wasn't sure to say," came Hermione's voice nervously. "I mean, every time I went to write I couldn't—and well—"

He flipped from an image of a tropical island in shallow water and palm trees to one of black basalt rock and flowing lava, as crystal clear as if he were standing right before it.

"This is incredible! Thank you, Hermione," Merlin said, marveling at the pictures. "These are real places? They exist out in the world?"

"Yes! And I've actually been to this one—"

And then Silas slammed his hand down on the coffee table, making them all jump. "I—Oh, sorry Hermione—But, I don't think anyone should go to Azkaban," he said. "Ever."

"Really now?" Draco said, laughing. He leaned back and folded his arms. "You want them to shut down Azkaban."

"I don't care how difficult or inconvenient that is," Silas ground out, "Using Dementors to torture people is inhumane."

Draco glanced over at Merlin. "You seriously want to add anti-Azkaban to your platform?" he asked, disbelieving.

"Yes, I do."

Draco swore and pinched the bridge of his nose.

"I had no idea Azkaban was so horrible," Hermione said pursing her lips slightly. "They glaze over the details in most of the texts that I read."

"I'll lend you the books we got last week," Merlin promised.

"Bet you got them from the Knockturn side of Flourish and Blots," Draco said, and then he chuckled darkly, "You're corrupting this kid fast, Merlin—" to which there was an indignant outcry from both Hermione, who resented that information could be corrupting, and Silas who thought much the same thing. "But I digress. My Father has never been particularly supportive of Azkaban," he looked uncomfortable for a moment but continued, "and the position has the added benefit of being shared by Dumbledore."

"Really? But he was directly involved in getting Quirrell sent to Azkaban." Hermione said.

"My Father says he's not a fan of the Dementors, which, fair." He regarded Merlin for a long moment. "So, what? You want to get the discussion going again?" He shifted his arms, weighing the chances. "I suppose you are in a unique position, they'll hear you out at least. And the Death Eaters won't hate you for making it easier for them to escape."

Merlin grimaced. "Thanks for the vote of confidence."

"Get used to it, that's the argument you're going up against." Draco sighed, "But why, why Azkaban? And don't tell me it's because you feel guilty about Lockhart."

Merlin hesitated, and then before he could come up with a reply, Silas interrupted. "It's because I asked him to!"

If anything, this served to only confuse Draco further, and he whipped his neck over to Silas and frowned. "Why'd you do that?" He sneered at him "You got an Aunty in there too, have you? Want to find a way to get them released, huh?"

"Stop it."

"You even know what they got in for?" He clicked his tongue, and read the face furious silence for what it was. "I thought not."

"Draco," Merlin said, with a hint of warning. "You know perfectly well that Azkaban is the equivalent of a medieval dungeon. They were unsightly even back in my day, and they're bloody horrifying now. I don't need a better reason than that."

Draco turned away from Silas, unwinding as if he had been a coiled snake about to strike. "Good enough. Now, Silas, why don't you share with the class?"

"Don't put him on the spot!" Hermione said. "It's none of our—"

"It most certainly is my business because if this snot-nosed kid and medieval Merlin over there want to succeed in whatever scheme they clearly have planned they're going to need the help of a Malfoy."

When neither Merlin nor Silas jumped to reply, he rolled his eyes and leaned toward Hermione. "You see I had an epiphany about a week after I got back home. Merlin here, while being a certifiable ace in the deck, is crippled by his physical age and lack of modern education."

Hermione narrowed her eyes. "Are you still upset because I asked you about mathematics?"

"Hermione, what you told me about what muggles have discovered of the universe is perhaps more upsetting than learning Merlin was such a bloody scaredy-cat. We still use candles and ink bottle pens for f—"

"Oh, you learned about electricity, huh," said Silas, collapsing back into his beanbag. "Yeah, Florean couldn't look at me in the eye for a week."

"The lights?" Merlin said, and they all looked at him, and he was taken aback by a sudden feeling of foreboding. "You mean that's not common knowledge?"

"It's honestly shocking what wizards think about muggles," said Hermione. "The twins told me their dad works in the misuse of muggle artifacts office," she shook her head, "the ideas those two have about how muggles live amazed me."

"The point!" Draco interrupted before they could get too sidetracked, "If the kid wants in to the super-secret club," he said providing sarcastic air quotes, "then I deserve the right to know his motives, especially if he wants a chance at success."

Silas did not reply. And he didn't have to.

"It is my super-secret club, Draco. He'll tell you in his own time," Merlin said with an edge of finality. "It is a personal favor I have granted him."

And then, because it was his birthday and this dreary conversation had gone on far enough, he flipped his hair for added effect and Draco snorted with laughter as confetti rained all over the coffee table. "Now do you want me to unwrap your present or not?"