Chapter 8: Nasty temper he's got
"You've outdone yourself," Colin said. "That was the largest colony of conjured bats in the world."
"Probably the only one," Merlin added. "I don't think anyone has ever tried to conjure this many. Only our Jack."
Jack scratched his head, looking between them. "But they looked good, right?"
"Your decorations were splendid. McGonagall had a good idea to give you two that project."
"It was spooooktacular," Colin grinned. "And I loved the skeletons walking upside down on the ceiling. How did you do that?"
"That was Elsa's idea."
"Where was she anyway?" Colin bit his lip, his cheeks going slightly pink. "I wanted to praise her work and… She never came?"
"She said she would only come for a quick bite before going to - get this - the library." Jack put a palm against his forehead.
"We must have missed her."
Jack was looking sideways at Merlin again, opened and closed his mouth like he did many times tonight.
Merlin felt too tired to deal with riddles. "If you want to say something, just spill it."
Jack took a long breath and said on the exhale, "I have a theory."
Jack exchanged a look with Colin who jumped up from joy. "Ask it! Ask it!"
"About you. You said you would answer truthfully. You swear?"
"Oh, that. Yes, go for it." He had long forgotten about the theory game but he wanted to stick to his word. Besides, he was curious.
Colin leaned in and Jack whispered, "You're not human."
Colin gasped and held his breath, waiting for an answer.
Merlin often asked himself that question. Was he still human? He was overpowered and immortal - all things humans were not and yet he wasn't anything more. "One hundred percent human."
Jack furrowed his brows, not quite believing. "That's the truth?"
He was tempted to throw the same theory back at him, suspecting that the boy was only half-human but decided to leave it for later. He was too tired to deal with Jack's secretiveness and doubted he would open up when there were witnesses around.
"Any more theories?"
That was disappointing. Merlin wanted to drop the pretense and hoped that knowing the truth would prompt Jack to open up about himself but what if he was wrong? Some people he had told in the past did not handle the truth well. Merlin sometimes doubted that fifteen hundred years had really passed. Where did it go? He couldn't recall a few centuries as if he skipped them. It was a wonder his brain worked at all, considering how many memories it held.
As they got to the staircases, Colin and Jack fell behind, whispering to each more theories about him and Merlin climbed the never-ending stairs with Hermione. The magic of this castle made no sense. He suspected that the Founders had intended for moving staircases to act like escalators but failed in their design. He couldn't imagine that anyone would enjoy climbing stairs so much to make them pointlessly interactive.
"Are you okay?" Hermione asked. "You look like you need to be carried to your dorm."
Merlin rubbed his belly while Harry and Ron who were just ahead of them glanced at them. "I might have eaten too much."
"Might have," Harry joked and Ron snickered.
Merlin glared at him but then smiled all the same. Hogwarts food was great and it wasn't like he had to worry about getting fat. His body would remain frozen in the skinny state it was in when he was this age so he could enjoy the festive feast to its limits.
Before they got to their dorm, everyone stopped, clogging up the staircase.
"What's the hold-up?" Ron asked.
They craned their necks but couldn't see over the heads of Gryffindors. Whispers started to reach down from the source of the traffic jam.
Percy Weasley's voice rang out from the front. "Someone get Professor Dumbledore immediately."
Within a curiosity-intensifying couple of minutes, Dumbledore showed up, followed by McGonagall, Lupin and Snape. As the sea of Gryffindors parted for him, the source of the commotion was revealed: the portrait of the Fat Lady was ripped and she was gone.
"What happened?" Harry asked.
Peeves the Poltergeist floated over, grinning wide. "Peevsie knows."
"What did you see?" Dumbledore asked.
"Fat Lady is hiding. He got her good."
"Nasty temper he's got, that Sirius Black."
After shooting Merlin a discreet but poignant glance, Dumbledore sent the students to the Great Hall where they were soon joined by children from the other Houses and told to stay there overnight while the teachers went around the castle, searching for Sirius Black.
Hermione and Ron whispered to themselves how lucky it was that they were all in the Great Hall and didn't encounter the deranged criminal but it didn't sit well with Merlin. Black attended Hogwarts. He had to have known that the Halloween feast was tonight and Harry wouldn't be in his dorm. It didn't make sense.
The trio pulled their sleeping bags away from the others and Merlin stuck close to Harry. As they whispered the theories of how Black might have snuck into the castle, along with all other students who were too riled up to sleep, Merlin closed his eyes and used his Mind's Eye to scan the castle corridors. Black couldn't be far.
Teachers briskly walked through the halls, opening classrooms and cupboards, checking hidden passages and student dorms. Filch, the Caretaker, tried to talk the Fat Lady into going back to her portrait and his cat looked around, feeling Merlin there.
He was growing tired and wished he had his red crystal with him to energize but he left it in the trunk by the bed where it shimmered with power, completely useless to him now. But Sirius Black was somewhere around and this was no time to be taking things easy.
Merlin pushed himself further and traveled outside the castle to look for clues on the ground. He saw animal tracks in the mud and found deer and wolf - no - dog imprints, but no evidence of a human sneaking around.
He was all the way around the castle when a great chill filled him from the inside. Thinking that something was happening to his physical body, he tried to return to deal with it but found himself stuck in that spot as if someone could hold him hostage. Who in this castle would have the power to recognize his disembodied spirit and trap him?
The cold increased and he found it hard to think. Was there a point to his presence at Hogwarts? He wasn't helping anyone. He was wasting his time. He should have died a millenium and a half ago. He did not belong in these modern times. Everyone he had ever cared about was long gone, their bones turned to ashes, forgotten by history or turned into mere myths. Their faces flashed before his eyes. He belonged with them. It would be easier to just die and get this over with if only he was allowed. Why did the Triple Goddess insist to keep him around when it was clear that his prophecy would never come true? He wasn't powerful, smart or brave enough for the great destiny that was promised him. Maybe it was all a mistake. He was a long-forgotten failed experiment of the gods.
The vision of his Mind's Eye was fading and he wanted to disappear, eager for it all to be over. Then, everything went blindingly white and he found himself in a world of fog, kneeling in front of Triple Goddess. He found that position hard to maintain, tempted to lay down at her feet.
"Emrys, how could you have been so careless?" her ethereal voice held an edge of disappointment but also worry.
He had a hard time staying awake. It would be easier to fall asleep but it was so cold here. He craved a warm blanket, or better yet, someone warm to hold him until he felt better.
Someone touched his shoulders and he inhaled deeply, the fog clearing out of his mind. He took a few breaths before he noticed that the Goddess was helping him. Helping him out of what?
"What just happened?"
Why did she summon him? Did he die? How? If he overdid it with the Mind's Eye, he should have simply lost consciousness and woken up in his body.
"You exposed your unprotected soul to the Dementors," her tone was sharp, scolding. "I thought you would've been smarter than that."
He hit his forehead, realizing how close he came to having his soul devoured by the dark creatures. He looked up at her, wide-eyed. She wouldn't be able to save him if his soul had fallen prey to them. It would have been a permanent death.
"Yes," she confirmed, power pulsing out of her so strongly, it obscured her features.
"Thank you," he blurted. The Great Merlin was nearly taken down by a Dementor only because he was looking down instead of up. That would have been the greatest failure in the history of sorcerers.
"Thank you, Goddess," he repeated. "May I return?"
In response, she walked away from him and he was immediately rushed between the realms.
Merlin gasped once back in his body, dizzy from the travel, and immediately shivered. He wrapped himself with the sleeping bag into a tight cocoon to preserve body heat.
"Are you all right?" Hermione asked, lifting her head over Ron.
"Yeah." He couldn't stop his teeth from chattering and whispered a warming spell to engulf the sleeping bag. While it warmed his skin, the chill was inside him, clinging on to his very core as if his insides were frozen. He had never been under Dementor's influence before. Was this how Harry felt when he was attacked? Poor kid.
"Do you have any chocolate?" he asked her but she shook her head.
He buried himself inside the bag up to the tip of his head and tried to think warm thoughts. He could really use his crystal right now. Why was he stupid enough to leave it behind? Didn't last year teach him that it was better to carry that battery around just in case? Maybe he assumed that he wouldn't need it this early in the year, it had only been two months, but the nature of emergencies was unpredictable. He should've known better.
Someone ripped the cover off of his head and he groaned. The cold raised painful goosebumps on his skin, and the chills increased as a warm hand landed on his forehead.
"He's freezing. Sir Nick," a boy's voice said in a moderate loudness. "We need Madam Pomfrey."
Merlin wrapped himself again and wondered who was injured, vaguely aware that there were hushed whispers nearby. As long as they let him stay inside the bag, he didn't care all that much.
Not long after, someone reached inside a little gentler now, a warm hand touched his forehead and his neck.
"He wasn't looking well after the Feast," Hermione whispered to someone. "We thought he was tired from overeating but then he just conked out as soon as he got inside the sleeping bag and now he woke up like this."
"I'll take him to the Hospital Wing," Madam Pomfrey said.
Merlin felt the strange vertigo sensation as a levitating charm was used on him, and he held onto the sleeping bag, trying to keep the warmth within. Thankfully, Madam Pomfrey asked everyone to stay in the Great Hall and escorted him out of there on her own.
He was placed on a soft surface.
"Is there anything you can tell me?" she asked. "We're alone."
"I just need some chocolate and I'll be okay."
"Did they get in the Great Hall?"
"No. It's a long story."
He should probably come out of hiding now but the spell was still working and it was so cozy in there, he couldn't give it up. The Great Merlin was hiding from the cold. Oh, what a disappointment he must have been. He just hoped Dumbledore didn't see him like this. Or Snape. He wouldn't want any of them to see him weak, especially since it was his fault. He forgot about having to look out for Dementors. They were probably ecstatic, seeing a disembodied spirit travel under their noses and couldn't wait to check out such irresistible oddity.
Madam Pomfrey helped him get in a sitting position, and he grudgingly left the safety of the sleeping bag to sip the hot chocolate she brought him. He closed his eyes as the divine warmth filled him up from the inside.
"I wish I had chocolate as a child." He wasn't sure why he shared but maybe he just wanted to talk about something other than his weakness. "I rarely even had anything that contained sugar. It was a luxury."
"You grew up humbly?"
"I was born a peasant."
He took a long swig and shivered as the contrasting temperatures waged a war inside him. Thankfully, warmth won and he took a long breath of relief.
"Will you explain how you were attacked by Dementors while safely within the castle?"
"In short, I sent my consciousness out to search the castle and left my body behind. I was inspecting animal tracks outside when they snuck up on me."
"You were defenseless out there."
"Just a tasty soul on a stroll through the grounds." Merlin took a sip of the chocolate and snorted at the absurdity of it, spilling a little. "Soul food."
She watched him with a tilted head, not getting the joke.
"Have they finished searching the castle?"
"Yes. They didn't find Black so there is no need for you to leave this bed tonight."
"I'm feeling fine now."
He would have fought her but he was so cozy, he was tempted to obey. And yet, Sirius Black was somewhere out there. He had to investigate how he got in. Who knew when he would try again.
"You can go look for Sirius Black when you're fully rested."
It was like she could read his mind. Could she?
He covered his mouth as a yawn took over, making up his mind for him. Dumbledore would have to do without him for a few hours.
Madam Pomfrey took the empty mug away as he got comfortable.
As soon as he closed his eyes and the heaviness of sleep weighed him down, he heard the voice. Someone was saying his name over and over. It started as a faint call, a plea for help until it intensified into an annoyed drawl like a parent that tried to wake a child who was late for school.
Merlin shot up into a sitting position, eyes wide, mouth open in shock. He recognized the voice though he had not heard it in over a thousand years.
It was the Great Dragon, Kilgharrah.