[13]

The Art of Apologizing


As it turned out, Slytherins did not just forgive and forget.

They pretended that everything was all right with dangerous smiles and darkened eyes, while at the same time plotting revenge. When Merlin woke up the next morning, it took him less than five minutes to realize that he had somehow managed to alienate the entirety of Slytherin.

After working for years as a servant, Merlin had grown accustomed to waking up early – which was perhaps lucky, because no one would have woken him. The rest of the dormitory was already up and getting dressed. As he got to his feet and quickly started to dress himself, Malfoy glanced toward him and sneered.

"What's the matter, Evans? Afraid you're going to be left behind?"

Crabbe and Goyle sniggered behind him. Merlin glanced up at him, his eyes narrowing. "I just don't fancy hanging around here longer than I have to." He pulled on a fresh pair of socks and starting putting on his shoes. He could be ready for the day in less than five minutes if need be - a side effect of working for a demanding clotpole.

Malfoy readjusted his tie and straightened up. "If I were you, I'd take my time."

"And why exactly would I want to do that?" Merlin snapped back.

Malfoy glanced over at him. "You threw dirt at purebloods." He ground out each word. "Do you really think that everyone will just let you get away with that?"

Merlin opened his mouth, and then closed it again. Hadn't they apologized to each other last night? Hadn't this all been resolved? Malfoy seemed to know what he was thinking because he suddenly laughed. "You have some things to learn about pureblood families."

He felt strange, like someone had just hit him hard over the head. He felt betrayed, to be honest. "Please, enlighten me O' pureblooded one," he spat.

Any semblance of a smirk slid from Malfoy's face. Crabbe and Goyle popped their knuckles, their faces contorted with rage. Merlin was willing to bet that they'd have gladly whaled on him until there was nothing left. And then Malfoy held up a hand for his bodyguards to hang back. He walked forward, until he was standing right in front of him and he could see the cold fury in his gray eyes.

"Our dispute was about the blood traitors. But, you made it about every pureblood when you attacked our core beliefs." And then he gave a smile, a chilling smirk that didn't reach his eyes. He put his hand on Merlin's shoulder. "If you want to survive here, I suggest you re-evaluate your opinions. There's not a Slytherin here who won't rip you apart if you dare shame them in front of another house. We are united, we protect each other's back and we can't do that if one of our own is spewing Mudblood ideals."

His grip tightened for a moment. "Do you understand me, Merlin?"

Merlin was silent for a long moment. He glared right back at Malfoy, restraining his magic with difficulty. It itched to jump up and push the clotpole back. "So what was that apology last night?" Merlin muttered. "A trick? A lie?"

Malfoy took a step back. "No." He turned his back and started walking out of the dormitory. "Because the repercussions you now face are also my fault."

And he disappeared down into the common room.


Only A Boy


"It might be more prudent to leave Crabbe and Goyle with him."

Malfoy came to an abrupt halt midway down the stairs. He turned slowly around and Crabbe and Goyle did their best to press themselves against the wall so that he could see the boy behind him. Zabini Blaise was walking slowly down the stairs. When he caught Malfoy's eye though, he stopped and leaned casually against the stonewall.

"You know, one might even say that you're too soft on the ignorant snake. I'll admit, he's got spirit, declaring himself a muggle advocate in front of everyone but that might also be a mark of his stupidity." Zabini's dark eyes narrowed. "You're not buying into his—"

"You dare to claim that I would agree with such nonsense? Remember who you're talking to, Zabini or I might have to remind you," Malfoy snarled. Maybe he would write a letter to his father, inform him of the insolence of the Zabini family. His father—Malfoy's fists clenched at his side—Evans had done more than imply that he should throw off his father's persona, as if he couldn't make his own decisions. It was insulting and it made him want to curse the boy.

But he also could not deny that Evanshad a point.

Zabini held up his hands in a placating gesture. "I merely think you aren't handling his disloyalty to his colors. Have you stopped to consider what happens when the rest of the school discovers the truth? Our reputation will be stained, and inbreeding, well he shouldn't speak of things he knows nothing about, should he?"

Malfoy was an aristocrat. He knew the language of charm and veiled threats better than most purebloods, had been privy to more parties and social events than some families could ever hope to. He knew what Zabini's words really meant. He wanted to give Evans a piece of his mind, wanted to deal with it his own way. He didn't like the fact that Malfoy was trying to maintain appearances with the boy, or why he didn't just teach him one painful lesson and be done with it.

He couldn't explain that Evans had saved him once, that he confused the hell out of him. How Evans behaved as though he had dealt with aristocrats at a personal level, despite that being impossible. He wasn't sure how to explain that something about the boy got under his skin and he couldn't shake him off.

"Forgive me, but do you honestly think that will resolve the situation?" Malfoy said with a hint of mockery. "Evans clearly has no qualms about spitting venom. If you are so sure that he's not meant for Slytherin, go right ahead and extract your revenge. But," and here a small smirk graced Malfoy's features, "if a snake bites you in your sleep, don't say I didn't warn you."

Because that was just it, none of them knew what Merlin Evans was capable of. All of their families knew each other; they'd had time to test the waters at many a pureblooded gathering. But this newcomer was unknown to them and perhaps he would scuttle under a rock to nurse his injuries or maybe he would lash out and defend himself. Malfoy had never even heard of a Whomping Willow wand, and he was willing to bet that Zabini hadn't either – but he wasn't particularly keen on warning him about it.

Malfoy turned around, and continued on his way down the stairs with nothing further to stay. In the common room, Nott and the first year girls had gathered together.

"We thought it might be a good idea for all of us to go down to breakfast together," Pansy Parkinson said.

"An excellent idea," Malfoy replied and a light pink touched her cheeks. "Shall we go then?"

"But—" Nott started to say but a loud crash from the boy's dormitory made everyone jump. Malfoy whirled around his eyes widening. What on earth had just happened up there? He'd had a feeling that Zabini would disregard his warning and pay Evans a visit – he'd admit it was a little hard to imagine a scrawny guy like him fighting back. But had Zabini just killed Evans or something? Malfoy's fist clenched. He did not like Evans. He would even go so far as to say he hated him. He had insulted his honor as a pureblood, taken the side of the blood traitors, and even had the gall to imply that the Malfoy name meant nothing.

So why did he even care if he was okay?

None of them moved for a second, and then someone burst out of the stairwell looking disheveled. Merlin Evan's collar was stretched, his tie hanging loosely around his neck, but he was otherwise unharmed. When he saw all of them he opened his mouth, glanced upstairs, and then closed it again as though he didn't know what to say.

"Merlin, what happened?" Nott asked after a tense moment. "The crash—"

"It's not my fault!" he immediately shouted, holding up both his hands as though they were going to arresting him. "He just snuck up on me and I sort of—" he swallowed "—overreacted."

He suddenly went pale and turned around, backing away from the stairwell as he did so. Malfoy watched as Zabini staggered into the common room. "Talk about a bite," he gasped as he finally collapsed into a chair. There was an uproar.

"Are you all right?"

"What happened?"

"Evans, what did you do?"

"First you insult purebloods and now you attack them? What is wrong with you?"

"I didn't—" Evans tried to say helplessly but his words were drowned out by the accusations now streaming out of Pansy's mouth.

"What is a muggle lover like you even doing here? Why don't you go back to Gryffindor where you belong? You—"

"Would all kindly, shut up?" Zabini sat up, his breath returning to normal. "I'd like to retain some hearing, if possible." He glanced over at Evans, a different look in his eyes. Malfoy recognized that look. It was one he had worn several times. He was trying to understand the mystery that was Merlin, with just a little of resentment thrown in to even it out.

"I—I think I should go," and before anyone could stop him, Evans disappeared through stonewall.

"He should pay for what he's done, and said," Pansy said, glaring after him. "He's one of us, he should act like it."

"He—he just doesn't understand. He's an orphan, he probably doesn't—" Nott tried to say but Pansy silenced him with a look.

"But that might explain why he likes muggles," Daphne Greengrass offered. She glanced nervously at Pansy as though worried about retaliation.

"How so?" Zabini spat, getting slowly to his feet. He winced slightly, but managed to stand tall.

"Well, he probably grew up with them as his family. I wouldn't be surprised if they were the first people to show him kindness. I mean, did he even know he was of magic before he got his letter?"

"You make him sound no better than a Mudblood!"

"But he's in Slytherin," Daphne reminded, raising her eyebrow. "Which means that the Great Salazar himself wanted him in his house."

"If you're suggesting that—" Pansy started to say.

"What I'm suggesting," Daphne interrupted. "Is that there's a reason he's here. Maybe he just needs a little guidance, is all."

Zabini sneered at her. "What else would you expect from a girl who comes from a family that advocates leaving muggles to do their own thing while we do ours?"

Daphne went very red, but didn't reply. Malfoy straightened his collar again. The Greengrass's were one of the less vocal pureblooded families. Not like the families of those who had once been death eaters.

"Even so," Pansy said nodding to Daphne, "we can't just forgive what he said."

"I wouldn't sneak up behind him, if I were you. You might find yourself flying back towards the wall," Zabini said with a chuckle. Malfoy glanced at him, his eyes widening.

"He pushed you into the wall?"

Zabini shook his head. "I flew into the wall. He didn't even move his hands. I've never felt anything like that in my life."

It was silent for a long moment as everyone processed this new information. Malfoy swallowed and glanced toward the stone wall that was their exit, even though Evans had long since disappeared through it. Who exactly was this kid?

"We should probably head down to breakfast."


Only A Boy


Merlin had been in a state of sheer panic ever since he'd left the Slytherin common room. Not only had he sent Zabini flying, but he had also given everyone another reason to hate him. He knew his secret wasn't exposed – they were in a magical school, and it could be easily explained away as accidental magic – but for a moment there he had felt like it.

He was pretty much screwed anyways, though.

All during breakfast he waited for someone to snap some remark at him, he waited for Parkinson to trip him as they walked down the corridor; he waited for Zabini to retaliate at the top of a staircase. He expected something to happen. But they didn't bully him, they didn't throw any insults his way, in fact they didn't do anything at all.

It was though Merlin did not exist.

He tried to catch Nott's eye as they walked to Herbology class, but the boy never looked his way. None of them did. He thought he felt Malfoy's eyes on him once, but the instant he looked up to check he had already turned away. Merlin didn't mind, and by second period he found the isolation soothing. He might not have any friends, but at least he was free to occupy his mind with more important matters.

Classes.

He was actually excited, or rather, he had been. In Charms, they did nothing but take notes and talk about spells for the entire class period. He was eager for History of Magic – mostly because he was certain that it would become his best subject – but the teacher didn't even go over the birth of magical society. He dove straight into goblin rebellions and within a few minutes his eyes glazed over.

He was not the type to sit in class.

He had never been in a classroom setting in his life. In Camelot, he'd taught himself from books. He could move as fast or as slow as he wanted, and he was constantly running around and doing something. Sitting in class and listening to professors talk was not something he did. There was also the fact that the magic was so simple, it drove him mad. So he didn't pay attention. He didn't take notes. He neglected most of his homework, and what he did turn in was sloppy at best.

It was better for him to be underestimated.

On Wednesday, they had transfiguration and finally got to take out their wands. Professor McGonagall instructed them all to transform a match into a needle – a simple enough task. Merlin glanced at his housemates before taking his wand out. He couldn't help but notice that even Professor McGonagall did a double take.

"Who did you have to kill to get that wand?" Zabini asked, staring at him. It was the first thing he'd said to him since the incident in the dormitory two days prior. Parkinson glanced sharply at him as though she disapproved, but she didn't say anything. Merlin knew that secretly, she wanted to know too.

"You wouldn't know him," Merlin quipped back with a smirk. Zabini blinked before turning away with a shake of his head. Merlin thought he saw a glimmer of a smile on his face though. Malfoy opened his mouth as though to say something, but he abruptly closed it and turned to his match.

Merlin tried to remind himself that they could be shoving his head into a toilet right now. It could be worse.

He turned to the match and glanced at the spell that the professor had written down. It was a different tongue than his magic. Had different meaning to it. He could definitely accomplish this task with his own magic, but he wanted to try it their way. He wanted to examine their style of magic.

He channeled his magic through the empty core of his wand as he said the word. He put the usual amount of power he'd need for a simple everyday spell of his nature.

A loud bang sounded through the classroom. Merlin was shoved backward by the excess force of the spell, a charred mark left on the desk where the match had once been. Professor McGonagall was there in an instant, asking him if he was all right.

"F-fine professor. Think I said the incantation wrong," he said numbly. He knew he had not.

"You must have said it very wrong," she said, raising one of her eyebrows. "Do take care not to happen again. I'd rather not send you to the hospital wing."

"Yes, Ma'am."

She gave him one last hard look, as though assuring herself that is was safe for him to try again, and placed another match on the desk. Merlin stared at it for several moments, outlining an explanation in his head for why this had occurred. But it was obvious. The magic was different. It was not the same raw and aggressive magic that he possessed. It had been weakened by the absence of the Old Religion. It was a lighter magic, a softer magic. It didn't require nearly as much power and even then it was channeled through the magical core of a wand.

In a way, his magic was dark. It was violent and powerful, aggressive and writhed within the world around him. His magic often required rituals to complete, and was far more similar to the Voodoo that Silas had mentioned seeing a program about on the telly. He didn't need a wand, a core, or any amplifier because he was Merlin. He was magic itself; in it's purest and most potent form.

This was going to be tricky.

Merlin swallowed and glanced toward Malfoy – who was staring at him. "What?" he asked irritably.

"It seems I was mistaken in thinking you were skilled at magic."

Merlin gritted his teeth. "Well, I'm sorry to disappoint you."

"How on earth did you do that, then?" Zabini asked, also gaping at him. "In the dormitory?"

Merlin turned to him and hesitated for a moment. Would he rather be powerful or weak in their eyes? "Accidental magic," he said.

"That was some pretty serious accidental magic."

"Well—"

"Stop talking to him!" Parkinson finally snapped. She glared at Zabini before turning her ruthless gaze on Merlin. "He's probably just messing up on purpose so that we'll talk to him."

Merlin frowned. "Why on earth would I do that?"

"Well, it's obviously working," Malfoy snickered and Parkinson's cheeks twinged with pink again. She turned away from them and started poking her wand at the match.

He would be lying if he said he didn't want to make up with all of them. He hadn't really meant what he'd said about inbreeding – and from their strong reaction it looked like it had happened. Merlin had just been trying to stand up for the twins, just trying to make them understand that their thoughts about pureblood supremacy were ridiculous. But he couldn't do that if none of them would talk to him. He couldn't do that if they didn't see that someone could be both Slytherin and accepting of muggleborns. And he couldn't just make something explode so that they paid attention to him.

The rest of the class period, as he tried to figure out the right amount of power to use for the unfamiliar magic, he tried to think of a way to mend ties with all the first years. Should he just challenge them all to a duel? He doubted any of them would take him up on it, not after what he'd done to Zabini. Should he just let them all beat him up until they were satisfied? He was worried about what his magic would do, what if he couldn't hold it back? By the end of class he had thought of only one way to placate their anger toward him and he didn't like it. There was no guarantee that it'd work either. He had managed to turn the match into a perfect needle, but he changed it back before anyone could see.

Pretending to be incompetent had always been his specialty.

As everyone packed up and left, Merlin followed a few steps behind. He stared at his feet as he walked, wondering when it would be a good for him to try to rebuild bridges. He was going to apologize, to all of them. Now he just had to figure out the right words—

"Merlin? Right, Merlin!"

Merlin stopped in his tracks as someone came up behind him. Two identical red-haired and freckled someone's. They didn't seem to be expecting him, to be honest. George was stuffing a piece of paper into his cloak while Fred blinked before giving a hesitant grin.

"Fred, George. What are you doing here?" Merlin asked, smiling at them. He glanced toward the Slytherin students. They had all stopped and were talking with each other, but Merlin knew they were listening in on the conversation.

"Just planning our latest prank," Fred said with a wink. "Slytherin treating you right?"

"Yeah, why?" Merlin lied smoothly. It could definitely be going better.

"Oh, they don't like us much."

"Not at all."

"Being blood traitors and all that." And then Fred winked. "Can't help what our parents make us do."

Merlin caught on. "Oh really? Not your thing?"

"I can't help it if muggles make great test subjects for pranks. Merlin's Beard," and here his eyes twinkled oddly. "I'd love to give a fat kid a tongue-ton-toffee."

Merlin blinked. "Why? What's that?"

"Something we've been developing. It makes your tongue grow really long, and the fatter you are the longer it grows!"

"Mind you, we're still in the development stage."

"No where near ready for testing."

"But come your fourth year, see if you can direct us to the perfect test subject."

"And bring a camera."

George grinned and gave a theatrical bow. "We've got to run, got things to do."

"Children to prank."

"Muggles to irritate."

And as quickly as they had appeared, the vanished down the corridor. Merlin would have bet his ring that they knew every single passageway in the castle. He smiled and cast his eyes to the ceiling. He was pretty sure that they weren't even joking; they would use a muggle to test their pranks on. He was instinctively against it but when children like that Dudley he had seen in the toyshop came to mind, maybe it wasn't so bad.

Pranks didn't do any lasting harm. Not really.

He turned around to see that all of his housemates were staring at him. Malfoy straightened the instant his eyes met Merlin's and he strode forward. "Perhaps I misjudged you, Evans."

"You seem to be doing that a lot recently."

Malfoy glowered at him and Zabini snickered. "Perhaps," he said stiffly, "you were right to stand up for their honor."

Merlin bowed his head. It was now or never. "And perhaps I let my tongue run away with me. I assure you, I meant no disrespect to the Nobel house of Malfoy, or any pureblood for that matter." He swallowed; as his face was fixed on the ground he couldn't see their faces. "I merely wished to make a point and I overstepped my bounds. But," and here he finally looked up and allowed a smirk to cross his face, "I'm sure that now you see why I felt they did not deserve the title of blood traitor."

Malfoy was silent for a long moment. He glanced back to the other Slytherins. Zabini shrugged, Nott looked nervous but nodded his head, as did Daphne. Only Parkinson kept her head stiff.

"Do you take it back?" she shot at Merlin. "That we have muggle blood somewhere in our lines?"

"Oh please, Parkinson," Zabini said with a roll of his eyes. "Everyone knows the Avery's do." He smirked at the appalled look on her face before looking at Merlin. "Still, seems too easy to let him off just like that. He's still a muggle lover, he admitted that much."

"What do you suggest?" Malfoy asked, sneering as well. Merlin knew there was no getting out of it; he would have to take whatever punishment they saw fit to give. Malfoy especially seemed to be enjoying this turn of events, and his henchmen cracked their knuckles in eager anticipation.

"Tell us what the sorting hat said."

Merlin stared. "Slytherin, obviously."

Zabini shook his head. "I want to know what it whispered in your ear. Did it even consider placing you in Gryffindor?"

Merlin was quiet for a long moment. The hat had considered putting him in every house, but Zabini was looking for something in particular. He wanted to humiliate Merlin in front of everyone. Even Parkinson looked interested. They wanted something just as private and embarrassing as inbreeding in the family line. So, Merlin decided to give it to them.

"Honestly? It considered Hufflepuff."

And as they walked to their next class roaring with laughter, Merlin walked with them.


Only A Boy


"Hufflepuff, what's the matter with you?"

Merlin glanced toward Zabini. While they had all brutally teased him about his conversation with the sorting hat, only Zabini used the nickname. At first Merlin had been annoyed – Hufflepuff wasn't that bad of a house and Helga had been a hoot - but after a while he'd given up.

It was Thursday, and they were headed toward Defense Against the Dark Arts.

The Slytherins were all eager for the class, and Merlin could understand why. This was combat magic. Granted, he was sure several of them would rather have learned the actual Dark Arts but they would take what they could. But Merlin had another reason to be both excited and anxious.

Professor Quirrell.

Ever since he had run into the man in Diagon Alley, he'd known there was something wrong with him. He made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end, made his magic tingle. The man didn't feel right. So when the man begun his lecture and passed by his desk, Merlin cringed. The man's aura was so offensive to him that it made Merlin want to recoil – but he couldn't cause a scene.

Quirrell himself was utterly unremarkable. He stuttered constantly, tripped over cracks in the floor, and seemed terrified of the dark arts. He explained to them that his turban had been given to him as thanks for getting rid of a troublesome zombie. Merlin might have thought he was telling a rather poor joke if it weren't for the fact that his skin crawled every time the professor turned around.

And his housemates were starting to pick up on his discomfort.

"This is our teacher?" Merlin muttered back, trying to play it off as if he thought the man was incompetent. "He looks like one good hex will finish him off."

Malfoy glanced at Merlin, his brow raising. "Same with you, to be honest."

"Very funny."

"No really, you kinda look like you're about to run out of here." Malfoy smirked and Zabini chuckled from his spot on Merlin's other side.

"Yeah, it's like you're just as terrified of the subject as he is. Scared of the dark arts, Evans?"

Merlin frowned and shook his head. "Of course not—" but they didn't believe him. They teased him about it all through class. He bit his tongue, wanting to snap that he knew some real dark arts but he couldn't. He had to play the incompetent, scaredy cat. He was good at that. Didn't mean he didn't like it, and he wished he could give them all a piece of his mind.

But there were more important things. Like figuring out why this professor felt so dark.

On Friday, he came down into the common room to find all of the first years gathered around the notice board.

"What's up?" he asked Nott.

Nott hadn't said much to him since Monday. The boy seemed scared of not just him, but of becoming another target for the Slytherins to ridicule. Merlin figured the boy hated to be in the spotlight at all, good or bad. He'd mentioned as such at the opening feast. And as Merlin was now a source of constant friendly banter for Malfoy and Zabini, he seemed nervous of being associated with him.

"We have double potions with the Gryffindors," Nott muttered to him before looking jerkily away.

"The Gryffindors?"

Malfoy – who was at the front of the group – turned around to sneer at him. "Don't worry, Ol' Snape will be there to protect you from the lions."

Merlin folded his arms as the others snickered. Crabbe and Goyle's deep chuckles particularly stood out. "Oh, I'm sure I can protect myself. Can't say the same for you though."

"Well I guess we'll find out, won't we?"

"That's obvious."

Zabini shorted with laughter. "Can we please go to class, already? I've got a galleon that says he'll be the first student to get away with being smart with Snape."

"Ooh, you better not be," Daphne said to Merlin with a shudder. "He might be lenient on our house but we shouldn't push him."

"I bet he's going to be the first Slytherin to get a detention from the bat," Pansy sniffed, holding her head high. "Would serve him right."

"I'll take that bet," Malfoy said with a smirk.

Merlin rolled his eyes. Only Malfoy knew that Snape had taken him shopping to Diagon Alley – the twins were another story all together. Malfoy probably assumed that he'd already been smart with Snape and had gotten away with it.

After lunch, they headed down to the dungeons. They had arrived first, most likely because the Gryffindors were dragging their feet. Snape had a reputation for being particularly cruel to the students clad in red and gold. Merlin took a seat at a table with Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle. Zabini, Nott, Pansy and Daphne took the table beside them. All of the other Slytherins took seats on their side of the classroom, drawing a distinct line down the middle.

Potions.

Merlin felt oddly calm within the classroom. It reminded him a great deal of Gaius's study, except that this one was noticeably darker. But just like his former guardian, Snape had bottles of elixirs on the walls, books and charts, tables with beakers and mortars. He could smell the camphor of medical remedies, the musk of dried herbs.

It felt like home.

After a few minutes, the Gryffindor's entered. Merlin glanced toward them. Hermione was at the front of line. She glanced at him curiously for a moment and then took a seat at the front of the class. Merlin still needed to ask her about that book, the Hogwarts A History – chances were it held some answers – but that would be difficult to do. And not just because she was in Gryffindor. Merlin chewed on his cheek, trying to think. And it didn't look like Ron Weasley knew that Merlin were still friends with his elder brothers, either. The redhead glared at him as he sat down with two other boys, Dean and Seamus. At least that might give him some points in Slytherin.

Snape emerged not a minute later. His cold black gaze swept over them all, though Merlin could have sworn that when their eyes met the professor almost heaved a sigh. He couldn't be certain though because the man turned around to grab a piece of paper out of a drawer in his desk and began reading off the names of students, making a mark every time someone confirmed their presence.

"Merlin Evans."

"In the flesh."

Snape's lip twitched but he went on to the next name. When he had finished, he put away the list and looked up at them all. "You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potion making," he began. He spoke in barely more than a whisper, but they caught every word. "As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic. I don't expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses… I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death – if you aren't as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach."

Snape swept his gaze over the class once more, a calculating look in his eyes. Merlin couldn't help but smirk. Snape certainly had a way of words. He sat a little straighter in his chair. He would do his work half-heartedly in every class except this one. Not only did he owe it to Gaius, but also to Snape. The Potions Master had taken a lot of lip from him over the summer, and as he was likely to receive an entire year full of it, he could at least give him a reason not to completely hate him.

"Now, does anyone know what happens when you add powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?"

Hermione Granger's hand immediately shot into the air. Merlin's hand had been on the way up and he casually pretended to ruffle his hair.

"Forgive me sir, but I think Merlin knows the answer," Zabini said nodding toward him and flashing a smirk. Merlin frowned and shook his head.

"Do forgive Zabini twice, he doesn't know what he's talking about."

There was an outbreak of snickering in the classroom. Snape's lip twitched again, and he came to stand in front of their side of the classroom. "Now it's perfectly fine to guess," he said his lip curling. "Why don't you give it a try, Evans?"

Merlin glared at Zabini before turning to Snape and holding his head high. "It's a sleeping curse so powerful that it can mimic death, sir."

"The Draught of Living Death," Snape said nodding. "Five points to Slytherin." Merlin received a rather hard congratulatory punch in the arm from Zabini. Snape turned and walked back to the middle of the classroom. "Where would you look if I asked you to find me a bezoar?"

Merlin stared at him. "Your pantry."

Snape did not turn to look at him. "Interesting, although I'm searching for the original source."

Hermione switched arms, her hand still raised. She was the only student in the entire class who offered an answer.

"Very well, Miss Granger."

"It's a stone taken from the stomach of a goat, and it will save one from most poisons," she answered with a flourish. Merlin thought that she looked a little too relieved to finally have been called on.

Snape nodded to her, but he did not offer her a reward of house points. "You all would do well to remember that, as I do not believe you will have access to my pantry when you have need of one."

Merlin frowned. "You think it's more likely we'll have access to a goat, sir?" It didn't escape his notice how every student had suddenly gone stiff in their seat, all eyes turning to watch Snape.

"Then I would suggest you purchase the stone from an apothecary, if you so feel it necessary to possess one. In fact, I would recommend such an item mandatory in any first aid kit." Snape turned around to the board and started writing instructions on the board. "Every potion you make will be placed in a kit and returned to you at the end of the quarter, assuming they are viable. If you receive a kit that is empty, take it as a sign that you are utterly disgraceful at potions and have receiving a failing grade for the course." He paused a moment.

"Sir?" Pansy asked, raising her hand. "If we bring in a Bezoar for our kit, can we get extra credit?"

Snape turned and gave her a rather soft expression. "I will consider it."


Only A Boy


"I thought he was going to give you detention for a moment there," Malfoy murmured as they added the final ingredients to their potion. They had left Crabbe and Goyle to partner with each other.

"I thought he'd never give one of his snakes detention," Merlin said raising his eyebrow.

"I wouldn't test me if I were you, Evans."

Merlin didn't jump, but it was a very close thing. He turned to look up at the professor, who was peering down at their finished potion. He nodded approvingly. "It seems that your name didn't leave you talentless after all."

"Oh sir, have the other teachers been talking?" Merlin asked. "I'm afraid I'm not very good at copying down notes and listening to lectures."

"This is obvious." Snape smirked and Malfoy's face was turning red from the effort of trying not to laugh. "However, I expect the best out of my house, and you will try harder to pay attention." Even Zabini was shaking with laughter now.

"I do think that might be asking the impossible, professor. Quirrell doesn't even speak English."

Snape raised an eyebrow, but Merlin could see that he didn't mind the slight against his co-worker. "Professor Quirrell speaks perfect English, Evans."

"It definitely doesn't sound like it."

Zabini couldn't take it any more. He snorted with laughter. Snape was silent for a long moment, then he said, "Even so, Slytherins are known for their aptitude in Defense against Dark arts. I would try not to become a disappointment." He swept over to torment the Gryffindor side of the room, and the instant he was gone Malfoy chuckled.

"It's almost like he's your father."

The table went deadly quiet.

"He's not—is he?"

Merlin opened his mouth to bite back that, no he most definitely was not, but he just so happened to glance across the classroom. He saw Neville Longbottom, the poor boy he had rescued from Malfoy on the train, hold porcupine quills over his cauldron—and the fire was still going beneath it—

"NEVILLE DON'T!" Merlin shouted, jumping to his feet. The poor boy jumped and the quills fell from his hand. His heart sank. Snape had heard his shout, but he was on the far end of the classroom by now he'd never make it there in time. If the potion exploded now, Neville would be injured. He was sitting too close to the table, his face bent over the opening—Merlin acted automatically. He whipped out his wand and pushed the boy back with a muttered spell, just as loud hissing and green smoke erupted from the cauldron and it melted into a blob.

Everyone jumped to onto their chairs as the acid-like potion began burn holes in their shoes. Thanks to Merlin, Neville had managed to escape a lap full, though he crashed into Ron, sending both of them to the floor and they had to scramble out of the way of the potion.

"Idiot boy!" Snape snarled, swooping down on Neville. He vanished the mess with a wave of his wand. "Next time pay attention and read the instructions. It clearly states not to add the porcupines before taking the cauldron off the fire."

Neville sniveled an apology, his face very red.

"And Evans!" Snape turned to look at him. The anger still hadn't left his face. "Stay after class. The rest of you are dismissed."

Merlin thought that he had finally done it. He had pushed Snape to give him detention for pulling his wand on another student. He sank back into his chair as Malfoy and the others packed up their things.

"I think you owe me a galleon," Pansy murmured to Malfoy, with a sly grin.

"Not until it's official," Malfoy snapped. He glared at Merlin and bent to his ear. "You better be able to talk your way out of this. Otherwise you owe me a galleon."

"Right."

"Don't worry Hufflepuff," Zabini said with a smirk. "Daddy won't be too harsh on you."

"He's not my father," Merlin ground out.

"I'll believe that when you get detention."

Merlin glared at him as he left the classroom. When it was finally just him and Snape, he heaved a sigh and walked up to the front desk and put down his vial of potion. "Sir?" he asked tentatively.

"First, I would like to inform you how reckless and dangerous your actions were," Snape began as he sat down. "Had you failed to execute your spell, Mr. Longbottom may have been more severely injured than he would have been from the boil solution. You might have injured other students in the process. It was very foolish and I will not have displays of Gryffindor heroics out of my Slytherins."

Merlin clenched his jaw, but didn't speak.

"That being said, you did managed to save the boy from a face of boils and alerted the rest of class to the danger moments before it occurred." Snape heaved a sigh, pinching the bridge of his nose. "In the future, I would recommend you merely banish the potion and save everyone from the possibility of broken bones. Do you know the spell?"

"Uh, no," Merlin managed, startled. He didn't know their spell for it anyway.

"Come down to my office tomorrow after lunch. It's simple enough, and should a situation like this arise again I give you authority to banish another student's potion." Snape took out a quill and a ledger, starting to catalogue the vials he had received from the students.

"Do you have anything to say, Evans?" he asked when Merlin stood there silent.

"No, sir," he answered, surprise thwarting his wit. He walked back to his desk and threw his bag over his shoulder.

"And five points to Slytherin, for your quick thinking," Snape added before Merlin walked out the door. Merlin paused and then turned back to him, scratching the back of his neck.

"Uh sir, we might have a problem."

Snape closed his eyes as though he couldn't possible need another problem and looked up at him expectantly.

"You are definitely going to be hearing some rumors. And you aren't going to like them at all."