[15]

She's My Friend


What was the matter with him, really? He'd never thought of himself as a particularly violent person. He knew he had a bit of a temper but he'd never struck anyone before – at least, not in the serious sense of the word. His frown deepened, and he leaned back in the red squashy armchair, staring blankly into the flames that cackled merrily in the grate before him.

Really, what was he doing?

"Oi, Ron!" He recognized the voice at once, and it was with great reluctance that he turned his blue eyes toward Fred who was emerging from the portrait hole. Right behind him came George, sharing an identical expression of mock indignation. Ron sighed, steeling himself. They'd no doubt learned of the incident between himself and the Slytherin. It'd only happened an hour ago but somehow his brothers were always the quickest to discover things he'd rather keep hidden.

"Leave me alone Fred, I'm not in the mood," Ron grumbled and he turned his attention back to the fireplace, though he didn't really see it. The incident swam before his gaze once more, anger and confusion prickled along his skin.

"No, I'd expect not," Fred, said behind him, and Ron knew he wasn't going to drop it. And when his brother came to sit on the couch beside him he had to stifle the groan that threatened to burst out of him. For one wistful moment he hoped that George had decided to leave them to it but that was not to be, for the other twin decided to sit right beside him, on the arm of his chair.

"I don't think anyone would fancy a week of detentions with Filtch," Fred continued grimly. His eyes flickered to George but he didn't address him, instead, "So, have you got a crush or something?"

Even though Ron could hear the tease in his tone, something else made him look up at stare at him. Fred actually sounded concerned, and not in that "my little brother is acting kind of weird" way. No, it felt more like, "why'd you attack the kid, he didn't do anything wrong" type of concern. His hands balled into fists.

"I do not," he spat. "Who'd like her?" but his gut contracted strangely as he said it. She wasn't really all that pretty, and she was really annoying when it came to schoolwork. But the train ride had been, at the very least, more interesting after she'd dragged him after her. No—no, this was a duty that every Gryffindor had, protecting each other from the sly Slytherins.

"Then why—?" George started, but Ron cut him off.

"What do you mean, why? He's a Slytherin! He was obviously trying to manipulate her and maybe even get some Gryffindor secrets out of her!"

"What are these Gryffindor secrets you speak of?" Fred asked with a raised eyebrow, and Ron knew he was mocking him. He jerked to his feet, glaring at the pair of them.

"Shove off! He's just like the lot of them!" Ron took a deep breath, trying to calm down but the rage swirled. Hadn't dad always told them how Slytherins were never to be trusted? How they were always getting Gryffindor in trouble and cunningly escaping punishment themselves? "He was probably going to hurt her or something because she's muggleborn! You know how they are! I wasn't about to let him get away with it just because she was too stupid to realize it."

He didn't even realize he'd been yelling until he finished out of breath, the back of his neck scarlet. Fred and George exchanged expressions, but Ron didn't see any sign of agreement. His heart felt tight, emptiness in his stomach. They didn't share his thoughts. They didn't think that—that Evans was just another Slytherin.

And it stung.

Before he could call them out on it – all the while praying to Merlin that he was somehow mistaken – there were pounding footsteps and Hermione burst out of the girl's dormitory, her face flushed and furious. She'd no doubt overheard his rant and he was willing to bet that she didn't appreciate being called stupid. But when he saw her brown eyes blazing and that jut in her chin that spoke of her haughty "I'm always right" attitude, he didn't feel sorry at all.

"You're so prejudiced!" She shouted at him. She stomped toward him as she continued, her hands flying. "You don't even know him. Merlin isn't like that!"

"Oh yeah, because you know him so well, " he bellowed back, coming to meet her in the middle of the common room. He didn't even care that everyone had fallen silent, that they were at the center of attention and that their voices might just carry out into the corridor for everyone to hear. He did not care at all. She was wrong and she just couldn't shove her pride and admit it.

"I know him better than you! He's really nice and smart!"

"He's just pretending so that you'll let your guard down! You can't trust him, you can't trust any of them!" Ron itched to grab her shoulders and shake some sense into her, but he didn't. He'd never put a hand on a girl – no matter how stupid they were being. He wasn't so sure that Slytherins had that same type of code. "You don't understand this type of thing because you're muggleborn!"

He knew at once he'd said the wrong thing.

"You're ridiculous!" Hermione cried out, and he was horrified to see that she had tears in her eyes. No-no-no! He didn't want tears to enter this discussion! It wasn't fair, because now she had an advantage over him. How could he yell at someone who was sobbing their eyes out?

"Hermione—" he tried, but she started shouting at him in between the sobs and he fell silent.

"You don't know anything, Ronald! I asked him to join me, to study with me because I was tired of being alone. He's the only person who will actually talk to me!" She tried to wipe her eyes, as though trying to make her argument more convincing, but she couldn't stop the flow. Ron's anger fell away at the sight, panic rising in his chest. Please, please calm down he thought now glancing around at everyone staring at him. They were all glaring at him now.

This wasn't how this was supposed to go!

"He doesn't care that I'm muggleborn!" She continued, starting to hiccup. "He doesn't make fun of me because I like to study and learn about magic." She crossed her arms in front of herself, having given up on trying to wipe her cheeks dry. And with her eyes red and growing swollen, she glowered at him. "You're nothing but a jerk and a bully, Ron Weasley, and I hate you!"

He words sliced at him more deeply than he'd ever admit. Because he had always made fun of her for studying so much, even badgering her to give him her notes so that he didn't have to take any. He had no reply, and the silence that fell on the common room was deafening save for her gulps and hiccupping breaths. Almost helplessly, he turned to look at the twins, at his brothers. They had both risen from their seats while he and Hermione were arguing and now they went over to her.

"You know, Ron," Fred said softly and Ron was startled by the serious tone in his voice. His brothers were never serious. "She's right. Merlin isn't your usual Slytherin." George had bent down to eye-level with Hermione and patted her head, giving her a small sad smile. Ron stared at the scene – he'd never seen them do that either.

"It's okay," George was saying. "We agree with you. Merlin's a good guy, he wouldn't hurt you."

"You—" Ron wanted to start crying himself. His brothers had abandoned him. They were supposed to be on his side! They were supposed to vouch for him, not for some Slytherin! What had Evans done to win such—loyalty from them? He was the spawn of Snape! He was supposed their enemy, and they were all supposed to unit against those clad in green and silver.

But they had all united with him instead.

Hermione sniffled, giving George a watery smile in return. She didn't turn to look back at Ron as she walked back toward the girl's dormitory. On the stairs, Lavender and Pavarti met her and wrapped her in a tight hug, their whispered apologies carrying across the room.

"We'll talk to you Hermione."

"You're not alone, okay?"

Ron couldn't stand it anymore. He couldn't stand the way that everyone was looking at him now, the way that his brother's seemed to want to apologize to him but wouldn't take back their words. Ron had never felt like this before, never felt alienated like this. He swallowed the lump rising in his throat and then made a dash for the portrait hole. He wasn't sure where he was going to go – but anything was better than here.

How had Evans tricked them? Was it just a matter of time before the entire common room felt the same way? They had all glared at him out of pity for Hermione, but what if they all started seeking Evans out and got confunded too? And they all knew that he was "supposedly" Snape's son, so why didn't they hate him if just on principle?

Why was he the only one who didn't see the boy through rose-colored lenses?


Only A Boy


"This is pointless."

Merlin itched to use more colorful language to describe the exact extent of what a complete waste of time he considered this "magic control" lesson, but he knew Snape had a limit. He sighed and brought a hand to run through his black hair, messing it up. Snape seemed to pause for a moment – as though the motion had bothered him in some way – but it didn't last long.

"Two book cases, the Knight Bus, and an elevator all beg to differ."

Merlin glanced up at him and heaved a sigh, "You forgot Blaise," he said without thinking. He wondered how many people had seen such an expression of exhaustion and worry on the professor's face.

"What did you do to Mr. Zabini?" Snape asked, as though he didn't actually want to know. Somehow, Merlin had simply assumed that the Slytherin students would have told him what happened but they were a great deal more loyal than he'd expected. Even though they bullied and teased him, it was never with malicious intent. Always light-hearted and playful, and Merlin had even found himself having fun while in their company.

And after the incident with Ron in the library, they had completely forgone the use of surnames. The first time they'd called him Merlin, he'd felt weird. He had already gotten used to the distance, to the use of his first name as sarcastic. They had actually gotten angry that someone had picked a fight with him. They had become protective and begun planning retaliation against the Gryffindors. And when Merlin had asked, "Why is it such a big deal?"

Draco had replied, "Because we're your friends and we look after our own."

It had touched him.

"Anyway," Merlin said avoiding his question – Snape didn't need to know about Blaise colliding with the wall. "This isn't helping at all!" he folded his arms.

They had been at this for nearly half-an-hour, and Merlin was quickly growing exhausted from the effort of not blasting the Potions Master back into his desk. The professor would cast a spell that magnified his emotions – most notably anger – and then instruct him to control the magic that swelled within him. Merlin didn't feel like it was working at all – he was constantly on the breaking point – and his sarcasm flew to new heights while under the spell.

"I'll be the judge of whether or not these lessons will make any improvement, Evans," Snape countered, rolling up his sleeves. "We're going again!" And he raised his wand. Instantly, Merlin was assaulted by such emotion that the air was knocked out of him. Before he could even regain his bearings, he felt the power rise – almost as if it was panicked – to the surface and start banging against his walls. It wanted to protect him against whatever was filling him with such anger and frustration.

"I hardly think that repeatedly re-creating the event will produce any meaningful results!" Merlin shouted. His hair ruffled from the magical electricity that his irritation evoked, almost as if the dungeon had suddenly acquired a breeze.

Snape waved his wand and the intense frustration released its hold on Merlin. He fell to his knees, gasping for breath as his magic settled at last. He was growing emotionally exhausted and cranky. He couldn't explain why this sort of exercise wouldn't work. He couldn't explain that he was Merlin and that he'd always had chaotic magic that responded instinctively to outside stimuli. He could remember having several incidents while a child, and how even when he'd first come to Camelot how he'd just reacted– like catching the bucket of water Gaius knocked over in midair.

"Did you even read the book I gave you?" Snape shot, sinking into a chair himself. "Or did you think that you could figure it out by running at it headfirst?"

Merlin glowered at him. He actually had read the book that Snape had leant to him – even though he'd only had it for a day. And that was exactly why he was so certain that this training wouldn't work. He wasn't just in a child's body, but he also had the maturity of a child as well – of that he was pretty sure, not that he liked admitting it. But, he also had all the knowledge and power of an adult wizard and not just any wizard. He was the very essence of magic itself, the embodiment of a raw and wild magic that simply didn't exist in the world anymore. When that sort of power was forced back into a smaller container, there were consequences – like a loss of control. And, he was fairly sure that the lighterand gentler magic of the era was having an effect on him, making him unstable and volatile.

And there was nothing that anyone could do about it.

"I read that book cover to cover, but it has nothing constructive about accidental magic!" he retorted with a surly frown. He crossed his legs, ignoring the cold of the stone floor. "It talks about varying the amount of magic one uses for different spells – more powerful and simple alike. Apparently accidental incidents are just a part of childhood."

He didn't mean to shout. That spell had completely wiped away his usual filters. Snape sat up in his chair and Merlin automatically cringed, preparing himself for the chiding that was sure to follow—but it didn't come. Merlin blinked, meeting the Professor's black gaze almost warily. He didn't understand why Snape looked so smug all of a sudden.

When it was clear the professor wasn't going to say anything he shot, "What?"

"Did your magic respond as you shouted that pathetic argument?" he asked, with a sneer.

What?

His blanking mind must have been reflected on his face because Snape smirked. The professor stood up and started waving his wand toward the swarm of papers and books that Merlin had dislodged during some of his more violent outbursts. "I am fully aware that accidental magic cannot be controlled without very poor results," the man began. He picked up a second year potions textbook and frowned at the broken spine. "Which is why I was not training you to smoother your magic."

Merlin stared at him. "Then, what were you training me to do?" he asked very slowly. He actually felt like a child for once and not just in appearance. But he also felt like he'd been tricked. Merlin had been very nervous about these lessons in the first place, worried that Snape would start remarking on his raw power – it was obvious to anyone. But even though he'd thrown things across the room Snape had never mentioned being surprised or even curious about his abilities. And though he couldn't understand why, he was grateful because he'd never be able to explain.

Though he did wonder why the topic hadn't come up.

Snape didn't even glance at him, continuing to put his office back together. "I was raising your tolerance levels." Merlin got the distinct impression that Snape felt very clever right about now. "Your outbursts are directly related to your emotions, you've noticed this correct?"

Merlin nodded. "I have," he said and he got to his feet as well, brushing off the dust from his robes. "What does that have to do with it though?" he asked, unable to keep the rising curiosity out of his tone. The sulky irritation he'd felt during this entire session was starting to dissipate.

Finally, Snape turned to look at him. That smirk was starting to really annoy him, as though Snape was trying to make him feel stupid for not knowing. "The intention of this training was to make those incidents of accidental magic decrease – not vanish completely. I have no doubt that there will arise a situation – as trouble seems to follow you around like some lost puppy – when accidental magic might just save your life. In fact, that's one reason the practice of suppressing it completely is such a bad idea in the first place, as magical children are so much more likely to do reckless things. No, what we have done – and will continue to do for the next few weeks – will raise your trigger levels."

Snape paused a moment here, as though waiting for Merlin to absorb this explanation. So far, Merlin was on board. In fact he was growing more interested by the second and he eagerly nodded for Snape to continue.

"When you get angry, your magic rises with you as part of your fight-or-flight response. What this training will do is require you to be extremely angry in order for your magic to rise."

Merlin's eyes grew a fraction wider. "So, the spell that intensifies my emotions…" he said and Snape nodded.

"Teaches your body to associate that level of emotionality before reacting." Here Snape heaved a sigh and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Though we obviously have a long way to go before there's any sort of consistency in your reactions. For now, it would be wise if you worked on calming your mind and avoiding confrontation until we can firmly establish your new baseline."

Merlin wondered if Snape knew that the words, "I didn't sign up for this shit," were plastered to his furrowed brow.

They stood there in silence for several minutes. Finally Merlin fidgeted and asked, "So—so am I dismissed?"

Snape glanced at him and nodded. "Dismissed, Evans," he said with a touch of his usual severity and Merlin quickly left the office. Even though it was still very early – dinner wouldn't be served for another few hours – he itched to crawl into his bed and fall asleep. He doubted his Slytherin housemates would let him though; more likely badger him about where he'd been. Even though the rumor of parentage had quieted and only arose in sarcasm, he knew what would happen if they knew he was having private lessons with Snape.

Speaking of which—

"Well, if it isn't the great and powerful Merlin," George said with an exaggerated bow, a smile on his face. Fred grinned too, stuffing a piece of parchment into his robes. "What a pleasant surprise this is!"

Merlin rolled his eyes and glanced up and down the dungeon corridor. "What are you two doing down here?" he asked raising his eyebrow. His heart tightened in his chest – they had probably heard about the incident between him and Ron by now. Were they here to sever ties? "If—if this is about the library," Merlin started to say, wanting get it over with, but Fred interrupted him.

"Please accept our humblest apologies, our brother is a right ol' git."

Merlin stared at them. "You're not mad? I—I punched him!"

"And he probably deserves worse," Fred said, and Merlin saw a dark expression flicker across his face. What had happened between the brothers? Merlin wanted to ask, but he didn't dare pry into family business. Instead, he scratched the back of his head awkwardly.

"I'm surprised. I—I thought you'd—" He didn't even want to say it. Ron had said some very degrading things in regards to his character. He hadn't thought that Fred and George would listen to him, but then again they were family and he wouldn't have been surprised if they'd snapped at him to lay off their sibling.

George sighed and crossed over to him, slinging his arm around his neck and wrapping his knuckles against his head. "You kidding? If you're a manipulative Slytherin I'm a hippogriff."

"Hey," Merlin said trying to break free. "C'mon, stop it your going to give me a bruise," but he laughed as he said it. Then he frowned as a different worry invaded his mind. "So—so is Hermione okay?" he asked.

"Hey, do I smell a forbidden love?" George said practically beaming at him.

"What? No!" Merlin said though he wondered if perhaps he'd spoken too quickly, because the twins were sharing identical smirks now. God! He was too old to even think about girls Hermione's age and yet there was that nagging reminder in the back of his head that he was her age. "We're just friends," Merlin mumbled looking at his shoes.

"I think she will be, especially if she has you on her side," Fred said. He and his brother exchanged the same look again, that dark expression making a pass between them.

"Is everything all right?" Merlin asked them slowly.

"Hm? Oh absolutely," but somehow Merlin knew he was lying. George ruffled hair and finally let go of him.

"You take care, okay Merlin? And you have our absolute permission to extract revenge on ickle Ronnie-kins." He nudged his brother and they started walking back down the hall. Merlin stared after them, taken aback. It had taken everything to persuade his Slytherin friends not to trip Gryffindors in the hallway, and here was the twins declaring open season on their very brother.

"Play nice now!" Fred called back to him.

"Yeah, don't accidentally kill Ron! Mum wouldn't be too happy about that!"

Merlin could stand there, rooted to the spot as utter confusion filled his mind. "What?"


Only A Boy


A day turned into a week, and then into two. Merlin sank into the rhythm of school life with everyone else but at every moment he expected something to burst from the shadows and dispel the calm that had settled over him. And as time passed, he only grew more anxious about it. Quirrell still confused and unsettled him, but he could find now obvious reason for it. And though the Gryffindors had all stared at him for several days following the outburst in the library, no one ever acted.

He saw Fred and George occasionally in the hallway. They didn't seem at all surprised that he had no intention of "extracting revenge" on their brother. In fact, they said that they were pretty sure that Ron had learned his lesson – whatever that meant. Merlin wanted to ask about Hermione, but he could never bring himself to do it – he didn't want to look like he actually did like her after all.

Not to mention slipping away from the Slytherins to see her would be next to impossible, not with him already sneaking off for his lessons with Snape – which were actually going very well. He hoped that Snape would be pleased enough with his progress by Halloween to discontinue them. Before the Slytherins finally got fed up with his secretiveness.

He came down from the dormitory one morning to find all the first years gathered around the bulletin board, a ripple of excited conversation seizing the crowd. He blinked, and walked over. "Is there a particular reason everyone's clumping together like sardines?" he asked Blaise, who was nearest to him.

"Oh look, Merlin finally graces us with his presence," interrupted Draco's drawling voice and a minute later he had emerged from the crowd of students. "What's the matter, you don't have any secret meetings to attend to this morning?"

For some reason, Draco seemed to be the only one who was really bothered by his comings and goings. Merlin narrowed his eyes. "You do know the definition of secret, right? Meaning you don't know?" he quipped back with a sneer.

Draco glared at him, and Blaise interrupted the stand off with a chuckle. "He's probably off to see the twins, aren't you?" he said smacking Merlin's back.

A good cover, for sure. Maybe he'd ask the twins if they'd actually be okay with that. For now though, he made a display of mock indignation, "I have no idea to what twins you are referring to."

Draco rolled his eyes. "How very smooth." He glanced back toward the bulletin board. "Flying lessons start this week – finally, I was about to file a complaint."

"Flying lessons?" Merlin repeated. He straightened his back and looked easily over the tops of heads to read the sign himself. "With the Gryffindors?!" he read aloud, some panic bleeding into his tone.

"Hey look, he's giving an appropriate reaction for once," Blaise said nudging Draco's shoulder. Draco ignored Blaise, preferring instead to fold his arms and sneer at Merlin.

"What's the matter, Merlin? Worried you'll make a fool of yourself in front of the lions?" he teased.

Merlin didn't say anything. He hadn't seen Ron or Hermione since the library – except inside Potions class. He'd thought he'd seen Hermione glance his way but she never stuck around long enough for him to say anything to her. He suspected that she was worried about the Slytherins – or even Ron – seeing them.

He'd been silent too long. Draco started snickering and he looked up at him, frowning. "What?"

"I forgot! You've never been on a broom!"

"Wait, seriously?" Blaise said, staring at Merlin in shock. "Ever?"

Okay, misinterpreting his silence but he could work with it. Merlin shook his head and shrugged. "Nope." He had flown much more interesting things, like dragons. "Can't be too hard, right?"

"Nah, you'll be fine!" Blaise said with a wave of his hand. Merlin nodded in agreement, flashing a smile. He turned toward Draco and noted the sour expression on his face.

"What's up with you today, anyway?"

"Nothing," and he turned left the common room, Crabbe and Goyle sulking after him. Merlin and Zabini exchanged puzzled expressions.

"What's up with him?"

Merlin wasn't entirely sure why Draco was acting so cold toward him. Blaise didn't seem to think that there was really anything to concern themselves about and immediately started telling him about all the flying experience he had and giving him as many tips as possible. Throughout the week, though Merlin noticed Draco's mood slowly deteriorating.

Was it the prospect of flying lessons with the Gryffindors? He knew that Draco wasn't a bad flyer – everyone knew that. Theodore Nott seemed to be scared of flying and Daphne had been injured once, but everyone else was really looking forward to class in spite of who their flying partners would be. And, the general opinion was that even if something did happen, Merlin would take care of it.

At breakfast the day of, Merlin was passing along some of the advice Blaise had given him to Theodore when the Post arrived. He stopped and looked up, watching the school owls and hoping. He'd written Silas a few letters since term had started, just telling him about his classes and the people he'd met. He even told him about the fight in the library, but so far he hadn't gotten a letter back.

And he couldn't figure out why.

"Waiting for a letter?" Theodore asked him, now looking up at the mass of owls as well.

"Yeah, from my foster brother," Merlin answered him. He frowned when the owls left the Great Hall, a sinking feeling in his heart. "I've written him, but he hasn't said anything back."

"He's probably fine," but Merlin heard the doubt in his friend's voice, for it mimicked his own. He itched to find out what was going on. Maybe he'd ask Snape if he could send a letter to him the muggle way, in case Silas wasn't getting his letters at all.

He frowned, and was just about to continue where he left off on take off strategies when he spotted Draco getting to his feet. Curious, he watched as the blonde boy crossed to the Gryffindor table. "What is Draco doing?" he muttered to no one in particular.

"I-I don't know," Theodore replied, sounding hesitant.

"Letting off steam, probably," Pansy said with a shrug. Merlin glanced at her, an eyebrow rising.

"Why?"

She shrugged again.

Even from this distance it was obvious what was going on. Somehow Draco had zeroed in on Neville Longbottom and was bullying the boy. Merlin frowned, his fists clenching. He hadn't bullied anyone – except for him – for such a long time! Why was he suddenly going back to his old habits?

"Merlin?"

He didn't even acknowledge Theodore. He had gotten to his feet and made his way toward the Gryffindor table, ignoring when his name was called again more earnestly. He arrived not a moment too soon – he could see Ron starting to rise in seat. Draco didn't seem surprised at all to see Merlin, in fact he smirked and held out a glass ball for him to see.

"Look, Longbottom's got a Rememberall."

"That would be so fascinating if I knew what that was," Merlin deadpanned. His blue eyes flashed, a warning hanging unsaid in the air between them. The whole Gryffindor table went quiet – even Ron seemed to be watching the scene with keen interest, though he attempted to hide it.

"The smoke inside turns red when you've forgotten something," Draco drawled, waving the thing back and forth now.

"Really?" Merlin couldn't help it. His eyes glinted gold for a fraction of a second, so fast that unless someone was really looking, they wouldn't have noticed. "Kind of like now?"

The smoke inside the glass ball had turned scarlet. Draco seemed to lose his cool for a moment, taken aback by the change. Hermione flashed him a smile and he glanced toward her, his expression softening for a moment before he turned sharply back to Draco. "C'mon, we shouldn't bother with this," he said carefully, knowing that he couldn't make fun of Draco in front of everyone. "It's just a dumb trinket."

Draco frowned. "Indeed," he ground out and he tossed the Rememberall roughly back to Neville. He met Merlin's gaze and nodded toward the entrance hall, leading the way there. "Let's leave them to their silly games," he said in the same low voice.

Merlin didn't reply. He followed him out of the Great Hall, aware of the Gryffindor eyes on the back of his neck. When they were finally alone, Draco whirled on him.

"What's the matter with you? Where's your loyalty!" he spat. Merlin folded his arms in reply.

"Sorry, I thought you knew that I don't like bullying."

"Don't give me that shit after you picked a fight!" Draco countered, folding his arms as well. "Or what, only you get to have a go at them?"

Merlin was speechless. Was that why Draco was being such a prat? "Stop being stupid," he said with a frown. "You know I didn't pick that fight!"

"Yeah? Well that's just one more thing, isn't it?" Draco was shouting now. He seemed to realize how loud his voice had gotten though because his eyes widened and he gritted his teeth. In a quieter, though savage tone he continued, "What started the fight, huh? Why didn't you get detention from Madam Pince? Where do you disappear? And now you come and stick up for some sniveling slob instead of backing me up!"

Merlin felt himself getting angry too – why should he have to explain himself to Draco? "Stop being such a prat Draco! It's really not that big of a deal – and I told you what happened."

Draco rolled his eyes. "Yeah, right. That blood-traitor doesn't have the balls to just walk up and hit you. I know you did something to set him off!"

Merlin gritted his teeth. He wasn't going to tell Draco about talking with Hermione, the git just wouldn't understand. "Yeah? Well maybe he's not the only one!"

Draco's fist collided with his face, making him stumble back a few paces and silence fell between them. He'd reopened the crack on his lip. Merlin wiped the dribble of blood from his chin and looked up to glare at Draco, who glared right back. After a moment, the pale boy shook his head, and he was surprised to see him look hurt.

"Merlin Evans," he said, his voice dripping with disdain, "the boy that won't tell his friends anything!"

And he pushed past him toward the Quidditch pitch for their first flying lesson.


Only A Boy


"Hey, what happened to your lip?"

"Nothing," Merlin said, wiping his mouth again. It had already stopped bleeding, leaving behind a bruise and a scab. Blaise gave Merlin his, "details later" look and turned his attention back to Madame Hooch who was introducing the lesson for the day.

Merlin was only half listening. Thank god those lessons with Snape were actually doing something. Even though he was felt so convoluted, his magic was still content. He glanced down the row at Draco who seemed to be determinedly staring at Madame Hooch and was ignoring even Pansy who kept trying to talk to him.

Was that why Draco had been moody? Because he felt hurt that Merlin wasn't talking to him about anything? Somehow he'd always thought that Draco's friendship was fake – something that he pretended to give because he didn't want to cause a ruckus inside his own house. Blaise and the others certainly didn't care if Merlin went off on his own every once in a while. Sure they asked him about it all the time, and teased him with their theories but only Draco had gotten truly upset.

Was it really as simple as that?

Blaise nudged him.

"What?" he bit, a little more sulky than he'd intended.

"Snap out of it, we're getting on our brooms now." He already had his broom in his hand. "Just say 'up,' already!"

Merlin nodded, shaking himself and stuck his hand out over his broom. The twigs were all pointed in different directions in the tale and there were several chips on the handle. Would this thing really support his weight?

"Up!" He said firmly. The broom shuddered oddly. He frowned. "Up!" he repeated a little more forcefully. The broom actually quaked and shuddered, as though it was fighting against his demand. "I said, up!" and his eyes flickered gold.

The broom jumped to his hand, but not of it's own accord. The instant his fingers clasped around it though, he wanted to drop it right back onto the ground. He could feel the enchantments on the broom groaning from the contact of his hand, the way they seemed to unravel and strain with the interference of his magic. The broom itself had started shaking, quivering in his hand and making a nearly indiscernible buzzing noise. If he had to put his finger on it, it felt like the time he'd held a normal wand – seconds before it exploded.

He could not ride this thing.

"O-on second thought I'm going to sit this one out," he said with a weak smile.

"What?" Blaise hissed, already saddling his broomstick. "You're kidding right? It's not that hard."

"No, I'm pretty sure this broom is going to die."

"Look, I know it's old but it's not that bad." He glanced toward the Gryffindors. "You can't chicken out! Not in front of them!" He whispered urgently, but Merlin thought he caught some hint of a threat. He shook his head.

"Blaise I don't think you understand. I cannot ride this thing," he was starting to sound a little desperate. Madame Hooch passed by them, checking everyone's grips. She frowned when she saw that Merlin was behind.

"Mr. Evans, please mount your broom," she barked.

Merlin felt his face flush as everyone turned to look at him. Blaise was mouthing for him hurry up. Draco even looked over, puzzlement on his face.

"Is this really necessary?" Merlin asked the professor in an undertone, hoping that no one else heard him. "I mean, is this class required?"

"Yes! Now hurry up," she snapped. Merlin flinched, acutely aware of the vibrating broom. It didn't look like it was moving at all, and he couldn't have her hold it to check because it wouldn't work. He didn't have any reasonable excuse.

"C'mon Merlin!" Blaise hissed, nudging his arm. All the color gone from his face, Merlin mounted the broom. The thing shook under him, and he could feel the magic reacting erratically to his raw natural core. Maybe if he just stayed like this, that would be fine, right? No actual flying?

He looked up and saw that Neville was staring at him. He was gripping his broom so tightly that his hands were white. Merlin offered him a weak smile and he smiled back – some of the color returned to his knuckles. Well, Neville didn't have any reason to be scared of his boom; it wouldn't explode if he rode it.

"All right, on my whistle. Three, two, one!" Madame Hooche's whistle blared through the air and everyone around Merlin kicked off from the ground, soaring into the air. He stayed exactly where he was though. Neville rose a few inches, hovered and then touched the ground again.

"Mr. Evans!" Madame Hooch barked, coming over to him again. "Why haven't you kicked off?"

Because I'm worried this contraption will explode.

"I have a fear of heights," he said automatically. Neville had started doing this weird hopping thing around the field, seeming to enjoy himself.

"You do not need to go very high," Madame Hooch said, and Merlin got the impression that she was doing her best to be soothing. It wasn't working very well.

"I think I'd rather fail the class."

"Every first year needs to pass this course, otherwise you will be banned from Quidditch tryouts."

"I'm really fine with that—honest."

"Awe, is Merlin scared to fly?" Draco had hovered over to them, looking so natural on his broom that Merlin thought it should be illegal. Madame Hooch opened her mouth to say something, but a yell – Neville had somehow crashed into Theodore – drew her away from the situation. Draco took full advantage of her absence; he made a loop over Merlin, sneering at him.

"What's the matter, Merlin? It's just a broomstick," he jeered.

Merlin gritted his teeth. He did not want to lose. But he was actually scared to take off on this rackety, shuddering thing.

"What? Don't have the balls to fly?" Draco continued in a light teasing voice. "You a coward, Merlin?"

That struck home. Merlin tightened his grip on the staff and gave a very light push from the ground. God, the broomstick started shaking instantly. He could hear the wood creaking, the tail twigs bristling but it didn't explode. He let out a breath he didn't realize that he'd been holding and went a few inches higher into the sky. The shaking of the broom was obvious now, rebounding and making his arms quiver.

Draco was watching him closely and his eyes widened when he noticed. "Are—are you okay?" he asked slowly, his hostility from earlier replaced by genuine worry. He flew a little closer to Merlin, dropping his current altitude.

"Yeah—I'm fine," Merlin shot back, managing to shoot him a glare. Draco didn't return it though; he was still looking at Merlin's shaking hands. Merlin clenched his jaw and flew a little to left and then to the right, testing out the broom. It didn't like the movement but Merlin felt like it would tolerate it. Draco came around and flew around him.

"Want a safety harness?" he teased, some of his old smirk coming back though his still flickered to Merlin's shaking hands every now and then.

"I'm good. Want an undertaker?" Merlin spat in reply. Draco snickered.

"Come on, follow me." He took off down the field, toward where the rest of the class had clumped together. Merlin hesitated for a moment before following him – albeit, much more slowly.

When he reached the others – all of which were flying much higher than him, except for Theodore and Neville, who were still on the ground. Hermione spotted him and flew over to meet him, smiling brightly.

"Isn't this amazing!" she said her face flushed from wind.

"Amazing…" Merlin repeated, sounding a great deal less enthusiastic. She blinked, looking at him.

"You don't think so?"

"I'm not much of a flier, to be honest," he said with a sheepish smile. "I'd rather keep my feet on the ground." Or ride a dragon, that'd be okay too, or maybe just an animal in general?

She smiled gently at him. "C'mon, lets go up slowly together," she said casting her eyes to the sky.

"Oh no, I'm really fine…"

"Merlin," she said giving him a look and he relented. He took a deep breath and they both started gaining altitude. Merlin noticed with growing panic that the shaking of his broom was growing worse.

"Hey, Merlin!"

Oh great, Draco was back. Hermione jerked around as Draco came into view and he sneered at her. And then he glanced from her to Merlin with a kind of dawning comprehension. "Who is this, Merlin? Your girlfriend?"

"I am not!" Hermione said briskly, though her cheeks tinged with pink. "I'm—I'm—" she glanced helplessly at Merlin, and he understood. She didn't want to get him in trouble – everyone knew she was muggleborn. And Draco was as pureblood as they came. But he wasn't going to cast her aside – he couldn't.

Merlin looked at Draco. "She's my friend, Draco." He saw the way that Draco's face froze, noticed the way his sneer turned ugly.

"Really now?" Draco said, now glaring at Hermione with such an expression of utter loathing that she actually flinched and moved back to stand behind Merlin. "Making friends with mudbloods, now?"

Merlin heard the intake of breath behind him. "Is that a crime?" Merlin said coldly. He was aware of just how badly he had insulted Hermione, but he was trying to keep his cool. The shaking of his broom panicked him enough; he couldn't afford a severe emotional spike right now. "I didn't realize I needed your permission to make friends."

"Well then, come on, friend," Draco said, the word friend sounding like a cuss on his tongue. "Why don't we all play together, like friends are supposed to?"

"I don't think—" Hermione tried to say, but his glare silenced her with a squeak.

"Hermione, stay back," Merlin murmured to her. She glanced at him and nodded, and then she frowned and glanced down at his broom.

"Merlin—you're—" she said blanching. "You need to go back to the ground—now!"

"I'm fine," Merlin countered, and he turned back to Draco. He knew he wasn't fine though. He knew the shaking of his broom – and by extension his arms – was extremely noticeable now. He was too high, and the broom couldn't stand him for much longer. "What do you want to do Draco?"

But he would never find out. He didn't know why, even looking back he couldn't explain what had happened because it didn't make sense to him. But one minute he was glaring at Draco, trying not to be bothered by the fact that Draco looked more betrayed and hurt than actually angry he was friends with Hermione, and the next his broom had shot two feet higher into the air.

All the color drained out of his face, leaving behind a green pallor.

"Merlin!" Hermione shrieked.

He couldn't reply. The broom had started shaking so badly that he could barely hang onto it anymore – but if he let go now it would be at least a twenty-foot fall. The panic that surged within him blinded him to all else; he was clinging to the broom for dear life. It dropped a foot, than abruptly shot up another four feet, moving so violently that it almost looked like it was trying to throw Merlin off it.

"Merlin!"

Draco was nearly as white as Hermione. He flew up with her, trying to grab hold of Merlin's broom to steady it but the broom was having none of that. It dropped again and started jerking from side to side. Beneath his fingers, Merlin felt the staff starting to swell. It was growing hot, way too hot. He yelled as it burned his hands and thighs. He lost all control over his emotions. His magic rushed forward and straight into the broom and for one split second it froze. Hermione took advantage of it and shot forward and grabbing Merlin's collar, just as Draco managed to grab his arm. Together, they yanked Merlin off the broom, placing him awkwardly in-between both of theirs.

"Are you—" Draco didn't finish his question.

The broomstick had started emitting bright light from the center of the staff, jumping and shaking once again. Merlin had a fairly good idea what was about to happen, but there wasn't enough time to get all the way to the ground. He yelled and covered Hermione with his arms, as the thing exploded, sending a shockwave full of sharp wood splinters right at them.

They went crashing to the ground, the broomsticks they were currently on managing to cushion their fall. Merlin winced as he hit the grass; the wood had been imbedded into his skin, like tiny pieces of glass. He struggled to get up, but when he moved he let out a gasp. A particularly large piece of wood had wedged itself two of his ribs, and every breath was painful.

"Hermione?" he murmured, straining to look over to her.

"Merlin! Oh my god, are you okay? What—" her voice cracked. "You're bleeding. Madam Hooch! Please! HELP!" She was in utter hysterics, and Merlin felt her shaking hands touch his chest.

He cleared his throat. "Draco? Is Draco okay?"

"No," came a pained groan not to far from him. "No I most certainly am not okay." Merlin managed to turn his head to look at him. He had gotten some of the splinters too, one had scratched his face, but Merlin could see the sheer panic in his face when he looked at him.

"H-hey, hold on okay?" he crawled over to him. "There's—there's a—" he looked faintly sick. Hermione ripped off her tie and then turned to Draco.

"Give me your tie, we need to stem some of this blood before he passes out!"

Draco didn't even hesitate. He ripped it off his neck. As Hermione placed it against his side Madame Hooch swept down on them. Merlin blinked, their faces were swimming out of focus. He heard Hermione shrieking for the professor to help him, while Draco seemed to have lapsed into horrified silence. He heard a spell murmured and he was lifted onto a stretcher.

Hermione and Draco walked beside him. Hermione's face was streaked with tears now – when had she started crying? Draco was still in his silent shock. Was it night? His eyelids felt so heavy. And finally, he just couldn't keep them open anymore.