A/N: Hey Merlin fans! It's my Saturday update! And it's extra long since I didn't get a chance to update last Saturday and may not next week due to exams :/
But, they're almost over! Yay! I swear, this fic is taking over my life. I was in my exam this week writing about the real historical Druids and I actually started writing about the Old Religion ... oops.
Enjoy this extra long and majorly hard to write update! :D
Harry sat at the table in the kitchen of Grimmauld Place holding an old bed sheet to his arm to staunch the heavy bleeding. His arm throbbed and his body was trembling with adrenaline.
"That was a close one!" said Charlie Weasley sitting opposite him. The entire Order nodded, each one of them tending to their own injuries. Mrs Weasley and Lupin were flitting here and there trying to help.
"Were there any Muggles killed?" Percy asked, holding some ice to a large bump on his forehead.
"No," said Kingsley from the head of the table. "We got there just in time. But we didn't manage to capture or kill any Death Eaters. We barely managed to drive them off."
"They're Muggle-baiting again," said Bill, shaking his head. "Just for fun."
"No," said Lupin gravely. "They were distracting us, trying to draw us out."
"Distracting us from what?" Ron asked.
"From the fact that they were trying to break into Gringotts," said Kingsley sighing.
"What?" asked Fred sitting up straighter. "They broke into Gringotts?"
"No," said Kingsley. "They tried to. But they couldn't get through the protective enchantments Merlin placed around Diagon Alley and by the time the Aurors showed up they'd already moved on."
George exhaled in relief. "Thank Merlin for that. Literally."
"You're welcome, George," Merlin said casually, strolling through the door. Kingsley stood up to meet him.
"All's well at Gringotts?" he asked.
Merlin nodded. "They didn't get within fifty feet of the place. Morgana obviously didn't anticipate my enchantments and didn't have time to break them before they lost the element of surprise."
"Why would she want to break into Gringotts?" Hermione mused. "They already have the Cup. What else could they want?"
Merlin shrugged. "Morgana always did have a weakness for pretty things. Being locked up in a cave for thirteen hundred years … she probably just wants to go shopping."
"Shopping?" Ginny repeated, looking sceptical.
Merlin nodded, looking serious. "Oh yes. Morgana liked her home comforts. I used to be a palace servant remember? You should have seen the amount of dresses and jewellery she had-"
"This isn't a joke, Merlin," said Ron. "Her minions damn near killed us all tonight!"
Merlin looked at him evenly. "It wasn't intended as a joke. There is no motive for her to attack Gringotts other than to steal riches and allow Voldemort to do some Muggle-baiting at the same time. She sees herself as a Queen remember? She probably thinks of this as her right. I understand Morgana. We used to be friends."
"Still can't believe that," muttered Fred, shaking his head. "Morgana and you friends."
Merlin nodded, and frowned. "Neither can I sometimes," he said quietly. "She's so different now."
"Well, all I can say is that it's a relief she didn't manage to get into Gringotts," said Mrs Weasley.
Kingsley grimaced. "Yes, but how many people saw her? There will be more questions in tomorrow's Prophet about who she is."
"Then tell them," Merlin said simply.
Harry glanced at Kingsley who sighed deeply. "Not until we have the sword. Not until we know for sure that we can defeat them. I won't give the people false hope."
"We can't defeat them at the moment," agreed Charlie. "Barely any of our spells made contact! How could that be?"
"They were protected by Old Magic," Harry said. Everyone turned to stare at him.
"How do you know?" asked Tonks.
"I felt it," said Harry, trying to ignore their awed looks. "I sensed they'd had some protective enchantment placed around them. One that's incredibly hard to break through."
Everyone exchanged glances. "But how could they have used Old Magic?" Neville asked, looking worried.
"They didn't," said Harry. "Morgana must have done it beforehand. That's why we eventually were able to break through it. She wasn't there to keep replenishing the spell."
"If that's true," said Bill. "Then why didn't you use Old Magic against them?"
Harry blinked and glanced up at Merlin uncomfortably. He felt a quiet anger simmering away within him. He could have. He could have ended the fight much more quickly. He didn't answer them, but Merlin did.
"I don't want Harry using Old Magic in a fight just yet," said Merlin calmly.
Lupin frowned. "But I thought you said he had made excellent progress these last few weeks?"
"He has," Merlin agreed. "But this magic is exceptionally dangerous. I don't want Harry using it unsupervised. He's still learning."
Harry scowled. He wasn't a child! He could have fought back with his Old Magic! Merlin was reminding him of Lupin in his third year when fighting the Boggart. He was perfectly capable of handling himself.
Merlin seemed to sense Harry's discomfit and glanced at him warningly. Harry tried not to feel resentful, but it was difficult. He'd been training with Merlin every night for the past several weeks and he believed he was doing well. He was now able to cast most of the spells Merlin had taught him without exhaustion and could keep them under control. Every time he cast one successfully he was filled with exhilaration. He understood why Merlin loved it; it was different from New Magic. He could feel the energy and the power rushing throughout his entire body and his eyes burn brightly as he released it. He was getting better at it- why couldn't Merlin see that?
"But how will he learn without combat experience?" asked Tonks. "You can't keep teaching him in private."
Harry couldn't help but smile.
Merlin frowned. "We will practice in a combat situation, but not in real life. Harry has yet to understand how different it is to use this magic in battle than it is in a classroom. I can't just thrust him into the deep end. It's hard enough for him to control it in a lesson without pitting him against a foe."
Tonks opened her mouth to argue, but Merlin cut across her. "I taught this magic to the Four Founders," he said determinedly. "They also had many foes, and there was not a single one of them that I sent into battle unprepared. Godric tried to. He ended up in a coma for two months because he underestimated the power of the spell he was trying to use. The fury of battle and the adrenaline in your veins alters your perceptions of control. Harry needs to practice this control under a variety of scenarios with me to supervise before he can use it against an enemy. I know what I'm doing."
Tonks refrained from further argument, and even Harry grudgingly accepted his words. He understood deep down where Merlin was coming from. He could perfectly well understand how possibly dangerous it could be if something went wrong. He trusted Merlin, and that's why he hadn't disobeyed his orders to not use Old Magic without Merlin there by his side. But when there were attacks like these ones, as there had been ever since Morgana had gained control of the Cup several weeks ago, his resentment rose to the surface and he couldn't help but feel like a naughty school child who couldn't control himself. He wanted to make use of what he'd been so carefully studying.
Kingsley nodded to Merlin. "Very well, but you must remember: you had several years in which to train the Founders. We on the other hand barely have several months." Merlin stiffened at this, but Kingsley changed the subject before Merlin could retaliate. "Has Morgana still not made use of the Cup?"
Merlin sighed and made a face. "It's hard to tell. But I'm certain that if either Morgana or Voldemort were to use the Cup I would sense it. Or Kilgharrah or Aithusa would. And they haven't sensed anything, or noticed any sign of their base."
George rolled his eyes. "Just how secret is this base if two gigantic dragons can't find it from the sky?"
Kingsley began drumming his fingers on the desk. "Why would they not?" he asked, looking strained. "Why go to so much time and effort to find something to not use it?"
"Perhaps they're just biding their time?" suggested Percy.
Merlin nodded. "Samhain approaches. Morgana may believe then would be the opportune time to use it and perhaps increase its power."
"Hallowe'en is on Saturday," Hermione said, though she really didn't need to; everyone already knew. Harry felt a fluttering in his stomach as he thought about it. Avalon. The Lady of the Lake. Excalibur. It was like all the legends he'd heard as a child were coming to life.
Harry noticed that Merlin flinched as Hermione said this, but gave no other indication of discomfort. Harry felt a pang of sympathy. He was once again being forced to confront his past. And from what he'd told them all, he'd known this Lady of the Lake. It was probably going to be upsetting for him.
Kingsley nodded and stood up. "Well, I believe that is all that can be said for the present. Another Death Eater attack repelled successfully. I must get back to the Ministry." He moved to the door, but hesitated in the frame and looked back to Merlin. "Will you be able to manage on Saturday?"
Merlin nodded, his jaw stiff.
"Then as soon as you have the sword you must come back here," said Kingsley. The room was silent. "The next day I'll call a press conference at the Ministry. Then we can … "
He trailed off, and hesitated. Then he shook his head and left the room. Merlin watched him go, his expression unreadable. Harry watched him carefully. Was he scared about telling everyone? Or was he finally at peace with it?
"Ow!" Harry yelled, as Mrs Weasley began to tend to his arm.
"Don't fuss, Harry," she said soothingly. Then she frowned as she looked at the wound. "It's deeper than I thought. Perhaps a trip to St. Mungo's …"
"That won't be necessary," said Merlin, ceasing his silent vigil watching after Kingsley. He came over to Harry and drew out a seat next to him.
He placed his hand over the wound on Harry's arm. "Hālian se āmyrran," he said, and his eyes went gold. A few people who were still unaccustomed to see Merlin use magic gasped.
Harry's arm tingled for a moment, and a second later it was healed, with only a few scraps of bloodstained fabric to attest to the presence of a wound in the first place.
"Thanks," said Harry, and Merlin smiled.
"Are you accomplished in Healing?" Lupin asked in interest.
Fred rolled his eyes. "He's Merlin. He's accomplished in everything."
Instead of being annoyed as he usually was by such a statement, Merlin laughed.
"I lived with the Court Physician," he said. "I learned many ways of Healing with magic. I've been a Healer a few times over the centuries. Helga Hufflepuff was a Healer as well, and unlike the others, all the Old Magic she cared about learning was healing magic. And she was very good at it. She came up with whole new methods of Healing, and I actually still use some of them today. I like helping people." He smiled sadly. "Gaius taught me practically everything I know. Because magic was banned for so long we both became incredibly accomplished in Muggle medicine as well. Although," he said, standing up. "My knowledge is a little out of date. All these modern antibiotics and vaccines baffle me. Give me a good old poultice and herbs any day."
Mrs Weasley smiled. "A little old-fashioned are we?"
Merlin laughed. "You have no idea."
"We should get back to Hogwarts," said Hermione, also standing up. "McGonagall will be wondering where we are."
"Yeah," Ron said, standing up. "It'd be just like her to give up detention straight after risking our lives to save a load of screaming Muggle villagers."
"They'll be alright won't they?" Neville asked.
Mr Weasley smiled. "Yes, their memories are being modified right now."
Merlin grimaced. "Memory-modification," he spat. "I miss the days when we didn't have to control the Muggle population like they were our pets or something. I hate lying to them and treating them like ignorant children."
"Yeah, and I'm sure they miss the stench of sorcerer roasting on a stake," Malfoy said sarcastically. Harry jumped; he hadn't notice him come in- he hadn't been at the battle.
Merlin regarded him intensely, and Malfoy almost seemed to shrink back slightly. "That only happened because we gave them reason to fear us," he said. "An equal society is possible. I've seen it. I hope I live to see it again."
Hermione's eyebrows shot up. "Are you talking about abolishing the International Statue of Secrecy?" she gasped.
Merlin smiled wistfully. "If only."
Then without another word he strode out of the kitchen.
Merlin struggled to keep his eyes open. He was sitting in his Thursday morning Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson and he was wished he was anywhere but here. The constant restlessness that he'd experienced in his early lessons had vanished and now all he felt was extreme boredom.
He and Harry had been up until late last night practicing. Merlin was pleased with Harry's progress. He was roughly at the same level as one of the ordinary run-of-the-mill sorcerers in Camelot, which didn't sound like much, but really was a great achievement in such a small space of time. And now Harry had more or less mastered the basics and a few of the more complex spells all indications were that he'd continue drastically improving. Merlin was extremely optimistic. Harry was rapidly becoming very proficient and Merlin had no doubts that in a month or so he'd rival Voldemort in power. Even the Founders hadn't progressed as quickly as this. Except perhaps Rowena.
But what use was that when he had no idea where Morgana was hiding? After Harry's lesson, Merlin had gone out into the grounds and called the dragons, but they still had no information on Morgana's location. She had proven herself skilled at concealment.
When they got Excalibur, how on earth were they supposed to use it? How were they supposed to get close enough? Lay a trap? Give themselves up?
Merlin's stomach clenched as he thought of what was going to happen on Saturday. He would see Freya again …
How would he cope? How could he face her after so long? The thought of seeing her face, hearing her voice …
He wrenched himself out of these thoughts. Worrying about it would do no good. He'd call her, get the sword, and leave. That's all. She was dead. There was nothing either of them could do about it. There was no point in lamenting over it.
Merlin sighed and buried his face in his hands. Get the sword, teach Harry Old Magic, kill Voldemort, kill Morgana, don't collapse into a gibbering mess … there was so much to do. He was too old for this.
"Mr Emrys? Am I boring you?"
Merlin jumped in his seat, and looked up to see Professor Connolly glaring down at him, and the rest of the class looking at him curiously. Merlin inwardly cursed. He was supposed to be inconspicuous. Connolly still didn't like him much. She was grudgingly impressed with his skills, but found him arrogant. Merlin found himself thinking the same about her.
"No, professor," Merlin answered, attempting to smile at her. She scowled in response.
"Is there something wrong with my lesson, Mr Emrys?" Connolly asked dangerously.
"Not at all," answered Merlin.
"Then why were you so uninterested?" Connolly asked mildly. "Do you know everything there is to know about all of Gamp's Law of Elemental Transfiguration and its five Principal Exceptions?"
Pretty much, I helped him come up with it.
"No, professor," he answered instead, forcing back his retort. "I'm sorry."
"You don't know?" she asked, raising an eyebrow. "I would have thought that someone who spends his time daydreaming through his lessons yet still managing to score perfectly in every test I set would know such a simple aspect of magic."
Merlin kept smiling with difficulty. "With all due respect, professor, I thought we were in Defence in the Dark Arts and not in Transfiguration?"
Her nostrils flared and he heard Hermione gasp beside him.
"Indeed, Mr Emrys," Connolly said looking down at him. "But if you had been listening you would have known that I was instructing the class on how Transfiguration can come in useful during a duel and how to properly implement it. Or do you dismiss this?"
Nope. Tonks showed me that.
"No, professor," he said, trying to sound innocent.
Don't rise to the bait, just pretend like you're an idiot.
He couldn't help but look into her eyes and smile victoriously. Just a few more days and she would know the truth. Then he'd never again have to pretend to be a simple student.
She sniffed. "Perhaps a demonstration then?" she asked him, obviously trying to provoke him into showing his supposed ineptitude. "Show me your abilities."
Merlin grinned. My pleasure.
He reached into his pocket, but found it empty. He frowned and looked down. He searched through his pocket again frantically, stuck his hand into his other one and patted himself down thoroughly. He didn't have his wand.
He groaned inwardly. He was such an idiot! He barely used his wand these days, only really using it during classes. He'd stopped carrying it everywhere he went. How stupid was he? Of course someone would end up wondering where it was!
She raised her eyebrows. "What, no wand?" she smiled. "I wonder how Mr Emrys means to get through his magical education at Hogwarts without the most basic of magical equipment? It really is not such a good idea to wander around unarmed, Mr Emrys. Particularly these days."
Merlin sighed. What an idiot!
She smiled again, and Merlin didn't like the look in her eye.
"You are an exceptionally gifted student, Mr Emrys," she said, moving back towards the front of her classroom. "But I fear your attitude to using these gifts leaves much to be desired. You perform well in all tests and lessons yet your lack of concentration, commitment and determination disturbs me. I told you at the beginning of this year that I would not tolerate this. You seem to think you can glide through this class on your talent alone and not exercise any hard work at all. You are wrong."
Merlin blinked in surprise. Was he getting into trouble?
She continued. "You must realise the seriousness of these times we find ourselves in. You cannot afford to be ill-prepared, either by laziness or by forgetting your wand. You must learn. You must grow up and live in the real world."
At this, Seamus Finnegan let out a huge snort of barely suppressed laughter. The entire class was staring at him, their mouths open. Merlin realised that most of them were DA members and knew his real identity. Merlin felt distinctly embarrassed now. He was the world's most powerful sorcerer and here he was being told off by his teacher.
Connolly ignored Seamus, and moved closer to Merlin. "Detention, Mr Emrys. Tomorrow night. I suggest you take the time to reflect on whether you really are as powerful as you think you are."
Merlin stared at her in complete shock. Detention? Him?
This was ridiculous! Here he was trying to save the entire wizarding world from two evil sorcerers and he had detention? If he wasn't so shocked he'd find it funny.
Ron's eyes had grown as wide as saucers. "You can't give him detention!" he protested his mouth hanging open.
"Yes, I can, Mr Weasley," Connolly retorted.
"But he's-he's … you can't make him do a detention!"
Connolly raised one eyebrow. "You loyalty is admirable. Perhaps Mr Emrys would benefit from not being alone?"
Ron's face sank as he realised what she had just said. He glanced at Merlin looking as horrified as Merlin felt. Hermione looked disapproving, but Harry looked like he was barely holding back his laughter.
Merlin rolled his eyes.
"Detention?" Seamus laughed later that evening, holding his sides. "That's the funniest thing I've ever heard!"
Merlin scowled. "Glad you find it so hilarious."
Ron looked as indignant as Merlin but the others in the common room were all laughing.
Dean, Neville, Seamus and Harry were laughing openly, and Ginny and Hermione looked they were trying to hold it in to spare their feelings but weren't having much success.
"It's ridiculous," muttered Ron. "You're Merlin! You shouldn't have to do a detention! Just wait until Sunday when she finds out who you really are!"
"Can't wait to see the look on her face," said Dean. "When she finds out she had Merlin scrubbing the staircases in the North Tower!"
Merlin sighed. "I can't believe it."
"Haven't you ever had a detention before?" Harry asked.
"Not in about five centuries," said Merlin. "I liked being the model student."
"What did you do back then?" Dean asked eagerly.
Merlin hesitated. "I … turned the Headmistress into a wild boar. It was just before the Christmas feast. The house-elves were preparing the food, they saw her and … started chasing after her with cleavers … it wasn't pretty …"
The room collapsed in laughter, and Merlin joined in after a while.
"Why did you do that?" Hermione asked, her mouth only twitching slightly, such was her disapproval.
"I didn't mean to," Merlin protested, prompting further laughter. "Me and a guy named Erikus Gaunt were having a duel, which by the way, I didn't start, and she kind of … got in the way."
"What did you do then?"
Merlin grimaced. "Well, I had to try and convince the house-elves not to butcher her, but she slipped away and took me ages to find her. Me and Nick searched for her forever. She eventually turned up a couple of days later sniffing about around Inverness."
The room erupted in laughter again. Merlin sighed. "I'm not done yet. Nick … wasn't much good at Transfiguration; that's how he ended up getting executed years later, a Transfiguration spell gone wrong. Well, he tried to change her back, but instead … he sort of … turned her green. Even when I changed her back into a human her hair was green and she wouldn't let me undo it. It stayed like that for two months."
Tears were now streaming down people's cheeks with laughter.
"Surprised you only got a detention," said Seamus, after regaining his composure. "If we did that to McGonagall …"
Merlin laughed. "Well, detentions were different back then. Nick and I were thrown in the stocks for a day and a night."
"Stocks?" asked Neville frowning. "Hogwarts had stocks?"
"Oh yes," said Merlin darkly. "I told the Founders they were a bad idea, but they didn't listen. Kids used to use them for playing pranks on each other mostly. Locking each other up and the like. Stayed there for days, because of course, teachers wouldn't believe any student that told them they weren't supposed to be there." He sighed. "I hate stocks. Always have. Ever since Camelot."
"It's barbaric!" Hermione said. "Putting children in stocks!"
Merlin smiled. "Different times, Hermione. It was acceptable back then." He smiled in memory. "It wasn't so bad. I used my magic to make it slightly more comfortable, and at night I magicked us out so we could sleep easier. Nick didn't tell anyone, though he had no idea how I'd managed to do it."
Ron frowned. "When you say Nick, do you mean-"
"Nearly-Headless-Nick?" Merlin asked. "Yeah. He was two years above me. We weren't friends exactly. He didn't like me much, especially after this. But we got to know each other years later. I'd had no idea he'd been executed until I came back to Hogwarts the next time. I don't know who was more shocked to see who!"
There were a few titters.
"Well, I'm just glad we don't have to do that," said Ron.
Merlin nodded fervently. "Me too."
The next evening came far too quickly for Merlin. Filch met them in the evening after classes and leeringly told them where to find the buckets and scrub brushes. He left Mrs Norris behind to watch them.
Merlin sighed as he scrubbed, Ron beside him. There were far more important things he could be doing. Tomorrow night he'd be at the Lake of Avalon …
"Urgh!" said Ron, throwing down his brush in disgust. "Why do we have to do this without magic?"
"Because it's supposed to be a punishment, Ron," Merlin said, though he privately agreed. There were so many steps in the North Tower even cleaning them with magic would be hard.
Ron sighed. "Can't you, you know, speed things up a little?"
Merlin glanced at Mrs Norris, who sat there watching them with gleaming eyes.
"Not in present company."
Ron frowned. "She's a cat! She can't tell Filch who you are!"
"No, but she can let him know we're using magic to clean the stairs," Merlin reasoned. Ron huffed.
"Can't believe this," he said. "We didn't even do anything!" He kept scrubbing. "This is torture."
Merlin smiled. "It's not so bad."
Ron stared at him. "Scrubbing the stairs in a massive tower isn't so bad?"
"Nope," said Merlin, continuing with the scrubbing. "Time was when I'd have to help scrub an entire castle. The palace in Camelot may not have been as large as Hogwarts but it had a lot of staircases."
Ron frowned. "I thought you were a manservant?"
"I was," said Merlin. "Technically, the maids were supposed to do the scrubbing. But Arthur … well, he liked to assign me extra duties."
Ron looked confused. "Didn't you mind?"
"Of course I did!" Merlin said. "I had loads of work to do! Arthur's laundry, dressing him, scrubbing his chambers, making his bed, cleaning his armour, getting his horse ready, going off on quests with him, mending his clothes, preparing meals, serving at table, attending council meetings, cooking, carrying heavy stuff, waiting on him hand and foot … and all that extra stuff he made me do just for the fun of it. I swear, without my magic to help I'd still be doing it today."
Ron frowned. "Why are you laughing about it? It sounds awful! How could you have been friends with someone who treated you like that?"
Merlin laughed. "To tell you the truth, I don't know. I felt like throttling him sometimes, but underneath all that prattishness he was a good man. And we were friends. It was mainly just friendly banter."
"Doesn't sound it," muttered Ron.
Merlin smiled. "It's … complicated. Incredibly complicated. I don't expect you to understand. No one did. They all just accepted our rather strange relationship. And I wasn't Arthur's servant all his life. Things got better after he found out."
"I don't understand," Ron said. "You tell me all this great stuff about King Arthur and all the good he did, but then you tell me about all the crap he put you through! What am I supposed to think?"
"That people are often more complex than they seem." Merlin said to him.
Ron cast him a sidelong glance, but didn't say anything. Merlin found himself lost in memory. Something about scrubbing the castle steps was filling him with so many memories. Oddly, they weren't unpleasant. Servant's gossip sessions with Gwen as they scrubbed the palace together, when they did their chores, complained about their workloads … it had been a hard life, but there had been plenty of laughs.
They worked in silence mainly, Ron uttering a few curses here and there as he got blisters on his hands.
They emerged onto a landing.
"Ho! Ho! Intruders! Intruders! Stand and fight you mangy dogs!" a familiar portrait started yelling at them.
Ron rolled his eyes and hurried past the painting. Merlin followed and they didn't stop until Sir Cadogan's shouts were only very distant.
"Mental that one is," Ron said, resuming his scrubbing. "Barmy."
"Yeah," said Merlin. "And the real one wasn't much different."
Ron dropped his scrubbing brush and his mouth fell open. "You knew the real Sir Cadogan?"
Merlin laughed. "Yeah, he was one of Arthur's Knights."
Ron's eyes widened. "You mean to tell me that idiot was a Knight of the Round Table?"
Merlin laughed again. "Hard to believe isn't it? But Arthur didn't judge. He gave everyone an equal chance."
"Yeah, but him?"
Merlin smiled. "He wasn't the highest-ranking Knight, I grant you. He rarely got trusted with anything important. He spent most of his time going off on ridiculous quests and barely spent any time in Camelot. Scatter-brained and a memory like a sieve, that's why he doesn't recognise me. He's said to me before that I look familiar, but he'll never place me. We never really had any dealings. But as idiotic as he was, he was brave. He died at Camlan, fighting beside Arthur."
Ron blinked and looked awkward. "It's hard to imagine … I mean … him …
He didn't finish his sentence and Merlin understood why.
"You judged him didn't you?" he stated without any hint of accusation. "You saw the idiot and not the man. Like you do with Malfoy."
Ron looked away from Merlin, and Merlin saw he'd touched a nerve.
"I don't trust him," Ron said slowly. "All that stuff he did … not just the childish stuff that happened at school. He joined the Death Eaters! He helped them kill Dumbledore and almost killed other innocent people in the process, and we're just supposed to believe he can come back and be sorry?"
Ron sighed, and looked uncomfortable under Merlin's intense gaze. " I-I'd like to be all noble like you and Harry and forgive him and stuff, but it's hard."
"I understand," said Merlin. "But he's helped us a great deal, you cannot deny that."
This was true. Ever since Morgana had gleaned the location of the Cup of Life from his mind, Malfoy had been eager to make amends. He often participated in Order meetings and gave advice about Death Eater tactics and strategy. He was uncomfortable with all of them, sulky and often downright rude, but Merlin saw that he really did want to help. And it was a relief that most of the Order were accepting him, albeit slightly grudgingly. He had a chance.
Ron nodded. "I know." He glanced back towards where Sir Cadogan's portrait was. "People are complex I suppose," he said. "I just never imagined that Malfoy could be anything but an evil git."
Merlin laughed slightly. "And I bet you never considered that the great Merlin would be so adept at scrubbing floors?"
Ron smiled weakly. "No, I didn't."
"I'm trying," he said. "It'll just take time for me to get my head around it."
Merlin nodded. "I don't care how long it takes. The main thing is that you do. After all, Harry welcomed you back after you abandoned the Horcrux hunt. You couldn't help yourself, and you wanted to make amends. So do other people. But people have to be willing to offer those chances."
Ron looked at Merlin in shock, but Merlin didn't look at him. Just let him think that over. He'll come around. Ron was a decent person. Old prejudices may die hard, but Merlin had learned over the centuries that they did die.
What seemed like hours later they walked back to the Common Room together, both rubbing their aching muscles. They passed through the portrait hole.
Ron sighed. "I'm going to be exhausted tomorrow. And I really can't afford to be."
Neither can I, said Merlin, his stomach once again writhing at the thought of what he must do.
"Hopefully, it won't affect my performance too much," Ron said, clapping his hands together and smiling.
Merlin frowned. "Performance?"
"Yeah!" said Ron, looking baffled. "The game! First Quidditch match of the season! Gryffindor vs Hufflepuff. Remember?"
Merlin only looked blank. "You're playing Quidditch tomorrow?" he asked, barely believing what he was hearing. "We'll be contacting the realm of the dead tomorrow night, and you're playing Quidditch?"
Ron frowned. "I thought you knew! We've been talking about it all week!"
Merlin rolled his eyes. "Really? Well, funnily enough I've had more important things on my mind."
"You sound like Hermione," said Ron. "It's just a bit of fun!"
Merlin sighed. He'd thought the Knight's obsession with jousting and melees had been bad enough. He never could have anticipated the modern generation's obsession with Quidditch.
This was utterly ridiculous.
"Right, Ron, remember, you can do this!" Harry said urgently. "We need to win this!"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "I can't believe you're going to play Quidditch today of all days," she said.
"Neither can I," muttered Merlin, looking around at all the Hallowe'en decorations. "Not exactly opportune is it?"
Harry frowned. "Look, I know there are more important things going on. They're all I can think about all the time. All I want is a few hours on one day to have fun. "
Ron nodded. "Yeah, by the look of things we're not going to have much opportunity for that in the future. Let's enjoy it while we can."
Harry nodded, but deep down he agreed with Merlin and Hermione. He should be practicing Old Magic or helping the Order instead of playing a stupid game. But then he thought of how it'd feel to get back on a broom and soar through the air thinking about nothing more than finding a silly golden ball, all of his reservations vanished. A few hours wouldn't hurt him, and tonight was probably going to be so emotionally draining the others deserved a carefree afternoon.
His light-hearted feelings drained away however when he saw Professor McGonagall hurrying towards him. As Headmistress she wasn't allow to show favouritism and so wasn't wearing her usual Gryffindor scarf and Harry could tell she wasn't happy about it. But something else was disturbing her more deeply.
"What is it, professor?" Harry asked, dread growing in his stomach.
She shook her head. "Don't look so serious, Potter, nothing more awful than a Quidditch inconvenience has occurred."
Merlin rolled his eyes, but Ron gaped at McGonagall. "What's happened?"
She frowned. "Dean Thomas was hexed by a Slytherin this morning on his way down to breakfast. Madame Pomfrey says he'll be out of it all day. The team is short of a Chaser."
Harry's heart stopped. Not now, not the first time he'd been able to relax! Why now?
McGonagall looked at Harry closely. "Do you have a reserve Chaser?"
Harry shook his head. "No, and we can't play with just two!"
"We'll need to get someone to stand in!" Ron said, his face shining with a nervous anticipation.
"But where?" asked Hermione, actually looking seriously interested in the conversation. "Who else do we know that's a good Chaser?"
Harry looked around the table, his heart sinking. Ginny had been listening into the conversation as well, and was now biting her lips. Their eyes met.
Ginny looked away. "Seamus?" she called. "Any good at being a Chaser?"
Seamus snorted. "Love watching the game, but I can barely stay upright on a broom! Remember my awful try-out a couple years back?"
"Could I help?" Neville asked from further down the table. Ron cast him a quick glance.
"Uh, no offence, Neville but … well, you know."
Neville nodded, and grimaced. "Fair enough."
Ginny cursed. "I can't think of anyone!"
Harry couldn't either. "Who else was there that tried out a couple of years back?" he asked, trying to think.
Ron shook his head. "None of them were any good! And we don't have time to train with them! We need someone we know personally!"
McGonagall was now looking worried, unable to appear unbiased.
"Then I'm afraid you must play with only two Chasers," said McGonagall regretfully. "Hopefully, Potter your training has been sufficient enough to do well without Mr Thomas."
Harry made a face. "All our tactics and new moves will be useless!"
Ron frowned. "Can't we reschedule it? Malfoy got his match rescheduled because he was injured! Can't we do the same?"
McGonagall shook her head. "I don't know how Professor Snape managed that. But I'm afraid the school rules are clear, and Madame Hooch will not permit a match to be rescheduled at the last minute." She sighed and looked around at them all. "I'm afraid you shall just have to proceed. There is nothing I can do. Unless you can find another Chaser that you trust within the next hour then you'll just have to try your best and …"
McGonagall trailed off and a tiny frown crossed her features, as though she was thinking hard. Harry felt a fluttering of hope.
McGonagall's gaze shifted from Harry and settled on Merlin, who suddenly looked apprehensive.
"Correct me if I'm wrong, Mr Emrys," she said slowly. "But did you not once play Chaser for the Ravenclaw House team?"
Merlin paled dramatically and he froze. Everyone's heads whipped around to stare at him. His eyes went wide and he blinked rapidly. "Me?" he practically squeaked.
"Yeah!" said Harry, falling on this opportunity gratefully. "You know how we work! You have experience! You have great reflexes! Why not?"
Merlin laughed nervously. "You have to be joking me!" he said, sounding panicked. "I can't play!"
"Why not?" Ron demanded, he too grasping at this opportunity like a lifeline.
Merlin looked around at everyone staring at him in complete bewilderment and dread.
"I can't play Quidditch!" he said to them all firmly.
"I beg to differ, Mr Emrys," McGonagall said formally. "I checked your school records. You played for the Ravenclaw team for six years, captained it for three years and won the Inter-House Cup four times in a row."
Harry was impressed and turned to look at Merlin eagerly but he was shaking his head.
"That was part of a team," said Merlin. "And it was mainly luck!"
"Don't be so hard on yourself!" said Ginny. "You're an excellent player!"
This was pushing it a bit, thought Harry. She's never even seen him play; she was just desperate for another Chaser.
Merlin was still shaking his head. "Look, I haven't played Quidditch in two hundred years! The game has changed a lot! Not to mention the brooms! Mine didn't go anywhere near as fast as modern ones! I can't play! It's too different!"
Harry bit his lip. He knew enough from Quidditch through the Ages to know what he said was true. But he couldn't give up so easily.
"Come on," he said. "It'll be alright. It'll come back to you. Just like riding a bike."
Merlin eyed him beadily. "I've never ridden a bike."
"Come on, Merlin!" urged Ginny. "It won't be so bad! Demelza and I will do most of the work! Just score a few goals and fly about looking useful!"
Merlin sighed. "I won't be able to keep up. The game is a lot faster now. And besides, when I was a Chaser, the goals were baskets, not hoops! The rules have changed, the game itself has changed too much!"
Then he glanced around again. "And anyway, we've more important things to do tonight! What if the match goes on too long?"
"It won't," Harry reassured him. "Please, Merlin. We need you."
"Yeah," urged Ron. "Don't you want to beat Hufflepuff?"
Merlin raised his eyebrows. "If I'm honest I actually preferred being a Hufflepuff. I've been there as often as I have here. I have just as much loyalty for them as I do for Gryffindor."
"Mr Emrys," McGonagall began warningly, and Merlin went quiet. "I cannot force you, but please consider it. Goodness knows the lot of you deserve a bit of fun, especially on a day like this, after all you've been through."
"Exactly," said Merlin. "This will be even more torture!" He looked around at all of them again, and sighed heavily. "Then again … I am in Gryffindor now. I can't really let you all down …"
Harry and Ron grinned widely, and Ginny leaned over and hugged him briefly.
"You won't regret it, Merlin," she said. "We'll win!"
Merlin looked sceptical. "No, you'll win. I'll just look like an idiot."
"No more than I will, mate," said Ron, starting to look nervous again.
"We'll all be amazing," said Harry firmly. "We can win this."
"Yeah," said Ron, smirking, as soon as McGonagall had moved away. "If we don't Merlin can use some of his little tricks."
"He will not!" protested Hermione indignantly. "He won't cheat!"
Ron raised an eyebrow. "Did you ever cheat, Merlin?"
Merlin bit his lip, and avoided Hermione's glare. "Well, only occasionally. I mean, slowing down time and stuff to catch the Quaffle and that, sometimes nudging it into the goal, helping the Seeker catch the Snitch if the game went on too long … but hardly ever!" he added, as Hermione looked furious. "Only like in Cup finals and stuff!"
Hermione wasn't impressed however, and kept berating Merlin all the way down to the Quidditch pitch. They'd decided to go down early to try and get Merlin back into the game.
They emerged onto the pitch and Merlin looked around in interest. "It's different," he said, peering around. "There were new regulations introduced a hundred years ago and pitches changed around a lot." He looked up at the goal posts and frowned. "I don't know if I can do this again. I'm too old for games."
"It'll be alright," said Harry clasping him on the shoulder. "Here, take Dean's broom and have a trial flight."
Merlin looked at it in apprehension. "Brooms are very different." He said, holding it carefully. "For one thing, in the 1780s the Cushioning Charm hadn't been invented."
Ron grimaced. "That can't have been comfortable."
"Nope," said Merlin. "And brooms were of shoddy craftsmanship; there were no established manufacturers. They were difficult to control at high altitudes and didn't go very fast."
"Well," said Ginny bracingly. "The only way to get used to it is to practice. We've only got about half an hour before people start showing up."
Merlin nodded, and mounted the broom, and began hovering a few feet above the ground. Harry mounted his new Firebolt and hovered beside him.
"Ready?" he asked. "We'll go twice around the pitch just to let you get the hang of it."
Merlin nodded, and a few moments later they were zooming around the pitch, the stands blurring past them. Harry glanced to his side and saw Merlin's eyes flash several times, but Merlin stayed on the broom, and seemed to cope really well.
They stopped and hovered above the pitch. Ron whooped. "Not bad!"
Merlin grimaced. "I used my magic to slow it all down and to improve my reaction time."
Harry shrugged. "That's alright."
"No," said Merlin. "I don't want to be distracted by my magic. Besides, I don't want to wear myself out before tonight."
Harry nodded, and they went off on another few practice flights. Merlin wobbled and almost crashed a few times; he was obviously unaccustomed to the speed and the smoothness of a modern broom. But after a few laps he seemed to grow in confidence. Harry was encouraged.
He called Ron and Ginny up and they practiced a few manoeuvres, with Merlin ducking in between them and diving. He and Ginny tried a few practice throws and goals with the Quaffle as well. He wobbled and often dropped the Quaffle because he had misjudged the speed he was travelling at.
"Arthur always said I was a clumsy oaf," Harry heard him mutter to himself a few times.
But after a while he seemed to get the hang of it, despite the occasional wobble and fumbling of the ball. Harry couldn't help but be impressed. He could tell that Merlin had once been a skilled player, but was just struggling to adjust after two hundred years of neglect. He felt a thrill of hope. Maybe they'd win the game after all?
People started arriving, so Harry and the others left the pitch and entered the changing rooms, where Merlin spent ten minutes charming a set of spare robes to fit him. He looked nervous.
The rest of the team arrived and looked apprehensive at the thought of working with Merlin; all of them were in the DA and fully aware of who he was.
As the noise of the crowd grew louder and louder Harry felt the nerves increase, yet it wasn't an unpleasant feeling. It was almost a relief to feel nervous at something as trivial as a sports game, rather than a potentially life or death situation. He felt the adrenaline build up and the excitement take over. This was Quidditch, this was something he could do. Something that didn't involve life or death situations.
Then he glanced at Ron and Merlin and almost laughed. They looked like it was life or death.
He'd be alright, Harry decided. Merlin was a decent player underneath, and he always had his little tricks to fall back on. It wasn't really cheating; Quidditch rules banned the use of a wand, not magic itself.
He felt the excitement building. Soon, they were walking out onto the pitch to a tumultuous crowd.
Harry grinned and mounted his broom. He looked to his side and saw Merlin with a barely suppressed grin on his face almost hidden under his nerves.
Madame Hooch blew her whistle and they were off.
Harry rose up above the other players and zoomed around the pitch keeping his eyes skinned for the tiny Golden Snitch. As he did so, he heard the commentary, and laughed out loud.
"Welcome to the first Quidditch game of the year," Luna Lovegood said dreamily, her voice magnified. "I do hope Gryffindor win. I like the people on the team. Especially Ginny. She's my friend. And Harry and Ron, they saved me from Death Eaters you know."
McGonagall was looking distinctly unhappy with the arrangements as she sat beside Luna, but there seemed to be nothing she could do.
Luna kept on. "Oh look! Martin Emrys has joined the team! I wonder when that happened? He's my friend too."
McGonagall buried her head in her hands.
Merlin whooshed past Harry on his broom, Quaffle under his arm, grinning broadly at Harry. Harry paused in mid-air to watch. Merlin dodged the Hufflepuff players, only wobbling slightly on Dean's broom, and headed towards the goals-
"Martin scored!" Luna said happily. "Oh that is good news."
"Not if you're a Hufflepuff," Harry heard McGonagall grumble, the megaphone picking it up easily.
Merlin whooped and Ginny flew up and pulled him into a brief hug, delighted. Harry grinned too.
The game wore on and Harry continually circled the pitch, eyes darting here and there searching for the Snitch, feeling the familiar rush of adrenaline that came with a Quidditch match. Before long, Gryffindor was 70-20 up, with a fair few of those goals being scored by Merlin. The Gryffindor fans, particularly those in the DA were going insane.
Harry grinned again as Merlin soared past him clutching the Quaffle. All his nerves seemed to have vanished in the face of the game. He winked cheekily to Harry as he easily dodged Zacharias Smith's tackle and went on to score another goal. Harry noted with pleasure that Smith looked half terrified at playing against Merlin.
"Of course, Martin was always going to be good at Quidditch," Luna said dreamily, over the screams of the Gryffindors. "He's good at almost everything."
Smith scowled as he heard this and raced after the Quaffle again fuming.
The Hufflepuff Seeker was hot on Harry's tail, and seemed determined to dog his every move. Harry tried out a few stunts with his brand new Firebolt to try and shake him off. He thought he'd succeeded when-
"Oh look! That Hufflepuff's seen something!" Luna exclaimed, as the entire stadium gasped. Harry's heart stopped as he watched the Seeker's dive and the look of joy on his face as he reached out for the tiny golden ball in front of him.
He jerked his own broom around and went into an equally steep dive. The world rushed past in a blur of colour, the ground looming up in front of him. The noise of the crowd seemed to be extinguished.
The Seeker was just in front now. He gained speed, drawing level with the Hufflepuff. Harry's heart was racing. He had to win! He couldn't miss the Snitch, not now, not after everything. He needed this.
Inch by inch his broom drew in front. Harry reached out his hand-
"Harry's got it!" squealed Luna. "Oh that is good! He deserved that!"
As Harry drew level again, the tiny fluttering ball clenched tightly in his hand he saw Smith land with a look of thunder on his face, screaming at his teammates.
The rest of the Gryffindor team swooped on Harry screaming wildly. He was pulled into so many hugs and thumped on the back so many times he was actually in pain- but none of that mattered. They'd won.
He didn't know why he was so exhilaratingly happy as winning as something as trivial as a Quidditch match, but it felt good. It was familiar, an experience he'd had ever since he was eleven years old, before any of the darkness had fallen over the world. He couldn't stop grinning.
They landed on the pitch in a giant heap, the roars of the crowd still ringing in their ears. Ginny rushed up to Harry and hugged him, and Harry didn't even try to maintain the illusion of keeping his distance from her. He hugged her back fiercely, still grinning.
"You did it, Merlin!" Ron roared, thumping him on the back. "All that 'Quidditch has changed too much' crap didn't stop you! You really can do everything can't you?"
Merlin grinned, his raven hair windswept. "At times like this, I really believe I can," he answered.
Harry laughed. Merlin had needed this too he thought. The shadow that had been on his face all week as he'd thought about the meeting with the Lady of the Lake tonight had vanished and now there was nothing but pure joy on his face.
This, Hermione, Harry thought, is why Quidditch is so much more than a game.
At the Hallowe'en Feast that night however, worry was beginning to creep back into Merlin's heart. He looked around the table to see happy smiling faces everywhere and couldn't help but feel resentful. How could they be so happy when in just a few hours time he would be face-to-face with Freya again?
He was terrified of seeing her. He'd always avoided his past, he had always run from it. And here he was, running right back to it.
Would Freya have changed? Would she still care for him? Would he feel the old pain again? Things were different now; he was a far different man from the one he had been when he had last seen her. He was older now, and been through so much. He had enjoyed a few precious years with Rowena, had fallen for her as deeply as he had for Freya. Would she resent him for it? Or would she be glad he'd found someone, even if it had only been for a short while?
He shook his head and tried to clear himself of these thoughts. It would do no good to worry about it. He was being ridiculous. He'd see her, he'd get the sword, and he'd leave. That would be it.
But would it? Or would yet more old wounds be reopened?
Then there was tomorrow, when the entire wizarding world would learn the secret he'd been attempting to conceal for thirteen centuries.
He should just try to enjoy the moment for what it was. They'd won a Quidditch match, they were celebrating at a feast- this wasn't a time for melancholy.
"I heard you were great today, Merlin," Dean Thomas said to him over the table having just been released from the Hospital Wing.
"Not that great," grimaced Merlin. "I haven't played in a long time."
Dean nodded, looking happier. Ron laughed.
"You don't need to worry, mate, you're not chucked off the team yet! Merlin's not that good! No offence!"
Merlin grinned. "None taken. I never really went in much for sport. It's alright for a bit of fun, but …"
Neville chuckled. "You know, I always pictured Merlin as an old man with a grey beard and pointy hat. I never thought I'd see him play Quidditch."
Merlin laughed as well. "I never thought I'd ever do it again," he admitted. "Quidditch gets you too much attention, and I've always tried to avoid that."
He stared down at his plate of food. Had it been a wise decision to play? Tomorrow the entire school would know his identity, would they take him seriously after this?
"What's wrong?" asked Ron through a thick mouthful of chicken. "Something wrong with your food?"
"No," said Merlin smiling, trying to rid himself again of his misgivings. "I've always loved the feasts at Hogwarts. Helga's recipes are sublime. They even outdo the ones at Camelot."
"You mean we're eating better than a king?" Seamus asked, looking more appreciatively at his food.
"Well," said Merlin laughing. "There's a lot more variety of food stuffs in this century, and Camelot didn't exactly have the benefit of a hundred house-elves. Just one grumpy cook, who really didn't like me."
"So, was it like in all those old Muggle movies?" Dean asked. "Was there like a suckling pig with an apple in its mouth?"
Merlin laughed. "Sometimes."
"What sort of things were there?" Ron asked.
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Trust you to ask about food, Ron."
"What else is there to ask about?"
"Oh, I don't know, Ron, perhaps the centuries of history, culture, heritage, people-"
"I take it," said Sir Nicholas, suddenly drifting towards the table, "that your friends now all know your identity?"
Merlin nodded. "Most of them do. And tomorrow everyone will."
Sir Nicholas nodded, and smiled. "I am glad of it. The burdens that have lain on you for so long shall soon be lifted. And I will have the honour of knowing that I knew it first."
Harry frowned. "You told him before you told us?"
"They already knew half of it," Merlin pointed out. "The ghosts know I'm always coming back here. It wasn't too much of a leap for them to guess the truth."
"No, particularly when you are so careless," Sir Nicholas said. "Subtlety was never your strong point, Mortimer."
"Mortimer?" Neville asked, frowning.
"The name he went under when we attended Hogwarts together," Sir Nicholas explained. "He's had so many names I find it easier to stick with one only."
"Yeah," Ron said grinning. "We heard what you got up to at Hogwarts. Something about your Headmistress and time in the stocks?"
Sir Nicholas seemed to go even paler if that was possible. He drew himself up and tried to look dignified.
"That was an exaggerated misunderstanding," he said proudly. "The punishment was ridiculous in its severity. It was his fault."
"Was not!" Merlin objected. "You're the one who turned her green!"
Sir Nicholas sniffed. "Regardless, it doesn't matter now. I'll admit, I didn't much like you at Hogwarts, Mortimer. I found you rather annoying actually with your perfection in every subject. I regret that I couldn't see past my own ego and didn't pursue a friendship. It might have come in handy exactly 506 years ago this night."
Merlin's face creased in sympathy. "I'm sorry, Nick."
Sir Nicholas waved his hand. "Do not blame yourself, Mortimer. It was my own stupid fault. I only wish it had been quicker and less painful." He adjusted the ruff at his neck. "Humiliating for a wizard to be executed by a Muggle."
"It didn't happen very often though did it?" Ginny asked. "I mean, we could just use magic to escape usually couldn't we?"
"Yes," said Merlin sombrely. "But sometimes, like Nick here, the witch or wizard was stripped of their wand. And more often than not, executions were Muggles killing Muggles on suspicion of witchcraft only. I tried to help where I could. But there was only so many I could save."
Everyone was silent and looked distinctly uncomfortable. Merlin tried to draw himself out of his past, there was no point in going back down that route yet again this evening. The witch hunts had been horrifying enough without reliving them.
Ron turned to look closely at Sir Nicholas. His eyes hovered over the ruff and doublet and he frowned slightly.
"Did you ever wear that stuff?" he asked Merlin, looking incredulous.
Merlin rolled his eyes. "Obviously."
"Yes, Mortimer had a particularly fine set of clothes," Sir Nicholas recalled. "I'd always wondered how someone of such low birth had such rich clothes, even more so than me, who was a member of the nobility. But then, by the 1400s, you must have accumulated quite an amount in Gringotts."
Ron's eyes went wide, and everyone else stared at Sir Nicholas.
"You actually wore that?" Dean asked, staring Sir Nicholas up and down.
"Yeah!" said Merlin frowning. "It was the style of the times!"
Seamus stifled a laugh. "Not very stylish."
Merlin and Sir Nicholas both frowned. "Hey!" Merlin objected. "Styles change, a lot. In another few hundred years people will be laughing at the way you dress! If someone had shown me a t-shirt and jeans when I lived in Camelot I'd have fallen over from laughing!"
"What did you wear in Camelot?" Neville asked.
Merlin shrugged. "Rags mostly. Didn't get a decent wardrobe till I was made Court Sorcerer."
Ron was still staring at Sir Nicholas. "Can't imagine you wearing that."
"Well, I did," Merlin said huffily.
"Even the hat?"
"What about the long hair?"
"You're getting ridiculous now."
Ron's eyes lit up. "Ha! You did, didn't you!"
Merlin rolled his eyes, as everyone at the table collapsed in laughter. "Honestly, you lot. I've been around for thirteen hundred years. I shouldn't think it would be such a surprise that I've worn a lot of different styles of clothes over the years!"
"Didn't it bother you?"
"No," he answered. "It was strange at first, to see styles changing right in front of me, but I adjusted, I had to. I couldn't go around wearing the same clothes forever. Admittedly though, there were some styles I preferred more than others. The powdered wigs in the eighteenth century … awful. And the 1960s? Very strange decade."
Ginny collapsed in giggles. "I can just imagine you as a hippy."
This prompted another round of laughter, and Merlin sighed. Sir Nicholas had long since drifted off, seeing his audience had turned their attention away.
"Have you all finished?" Merlin asked, annoyed.
Harry chuckled. "Come on, mate, you have to see the funny side!"
Merlin stared at them all, barely holding in their laughter. He thought back to the vast amount of different clothes he'd worn over the years. He couldn't help it, he laughed too.
The rest of the feast passed in more hilarity and Merlin found his doubts and worries about the coming night fade away as he laughed with his friends. It was easily the most enjoyable Hallowe'en Feast he'd ever attended, including the ones with the Founders. This time, he had friends, and many of them. Ones he didn't need to lie to.
Yet, a few hours later it all came rushing back. As they were crossing the Entrance Hall they were greeted by the sight of McGonagall hurrying towards them, her brow creased in worry.
Merlin immediately felt his happiness drain away.
"Are you ready?" she asked, as she stopped in front of him.
Merlin nodded. "Yes, I should head off right now."
His heart raced at the very thought of it
McGonagall nodded, biting her lip. "Should you go alone?"
"I don't see why not," Merlin said. "It isn't particularly dangerous."
But McGonagall was shaking her head. "That wasn't what I was referring to, Merlin."
Merlin didn't understand at first, but as he looked around at the faces near him he suddenly realised.
"Truth is, professor," he said. "I'd rather go alone. It's a … personal matter."
As much as he cared for these people, he didn't want them with him. This was private, he didn't want to share it. He wasn't sure how well he'd handle it.
McGonagall still shook her head. "I think you should go with someone. You need their support."
Merlin opened his mouth to protest, but it died in his throat. He glanced around at the people with him. They looked eager to come, wanting to offer their support.
But he couldn't accept it. They didn't know why he was really so hesitant. They knew he'd known the Lady of the Lake, but not the entire story. Not what she really meant to him. Could he face her again in front of them all?
"I really don't-"
"Please, Merlin," Hermione said, smiling at him. "This won't be pleasant, and we want to be there for you."
"I know it won't be pleasant," Merlin pleaded. "And that's exactly why I want to be alone."
"Listen, mate," said Ron firmly. "You've been alone enough all these years. Don't push us away now. You've only just started opening up to us!"
"But-" Merlin said desperately. Why couldn't they see?
"Merlin," said Ginny softly. "We're all in this together aren't we? This is the weapon we can use to defeat Voldemort. We need to be there. We don't want you to be alone."
"Yeah," agreed Harry. "We want to be there."
Merlin cast around searching for a way out, but found none. He sighed. He hoped he was strong enough for this.
"Alright," he said finally, prompting large smiles on everyone's faces. "Let's go then."
Harry and the others followed Merlin out into the dark grounds, his heart thumping wildly. He wasn't sure what he was expecting, but he knew it was something he didn't want to miss.
He saw the look on Merlin's face, it was what had convinced him that he and the others should come along. It was how Harry had felt when he'd returned to Godric's Hollow, and he knew himself how valuable and comforting having Hermione there had been for him. Merlin deserved the same.
Merlin led them into a deserted part of the grounds where they were out of sight of the castle.
"Right," he said, looking distracted. "Everyone take hold of each other and me. I'll take us all there."
"You can do Side-Along-Apparition with all these people at once?" Neville asked wide-eyed.
Merlin just smiled.
"Where is the Lake of Avalon?" Hermione asked, holding on tightly to Ron's hand and to Harry's as they all linked up. "All the historical sources seem conflicted."
"Never follow the historical sources," Merlin scoffed, making sure they were all holding on tightly. "They're a bunch of rubbish. I'm all the history you need." He stepped back and himself took hold of both Ginny and Neville. "It's not far outside of Camelot, a lake in a forest at the base of a mountain."
"Will it still be there?" Ginny asked. "I mean, there won't be a dam or anything there now will there?"
Merlin chuckled. "That place was imbued with such powerful magic Muggles have always avoided it. There won't be anything around it for ten miles in every direction."
Harry barely had time to register this before Merlin began chanting in the language that was now becoming so familiar to Harry.
"Beran ūs tō se mere Avalon ætsomne!"
Merlin's eyes flashed gold, and before the spell whisked them all away, Harry felt the surge of power come from Merlin. He recognised it for what it was, and now fully appreciated the subtle nuances of this type of magic. He now realised just how brilliant Merlin was to command such magic, what Harry used in his lessons was pitiful in comparison.
Soon they were all passing through that crushing nothingness that seemed so much like Apparition and landing heavily on a stony beach. Harry cursed and pulled himself to his feet, noting with annoyance that Merlin was the only one still standing.
He looked around in interest. They were standing on the edge of a vast lake like Merlin had said. Thick woodland lined the banks of the lake. The water seemed to shimmer in the light of the moon, sparkling like crystals in the night. There seemed to be a sort of hush about the place, like some great sleeping power, ancient as the earth was waiting there for them. Harry felt immediately that this was some sort of sacred place, and reverently stopped the racket he'd been making by scuffing his shoes along the beach. This was a place of pure magic. Every hair stood up on the back of Harry's neck. This place was old.
Everyone else seemed to feel it too, and they stood up silently. Even Ron seemed subdued.
Merlin was standing completely still looking out over the lake, his eyes unfathomably deep and full of some emotion Harry couldn't recognise. For some reason, he looked young in these surroundings. Yet still ancient, and sad.
"It's very pretty," said a voice from behind them.
Harry jumped and turned to see Luna smiling at them all.
Ron clutched at his heart. "Blimey, Luna! Where did you come from?"
"I was with you the whole time."
Ron blinked and looked at Neville, who shrugged. "Did you see her?"
"That doesn't matter now," Hermione said dismissively. She approached Merlin almost hesitatingly. He seemed not to have heard what was going on. "Now what?"
Merlin blinked, and seemingly with great effort, turned his head to look at her.
"Now I summon the Lady of the Lake."
He took a deep breath and started walking towards the waters. Harry and the others followed, caught in some sort of strange spell.
"The last time I was here was thirteen hundred years ago," Merlin said, his soft voice ringing out clearly over the silent lake. "I was still grieving for Arthur. I met her here and gave her Excalibur. She didn't ask any questions. She seemed to know that I'd one day come back for it. I trusted it to her."
He stopped at the very edge of the water and seemed to hesitate.
"Did you know this Lady well?" Ginny asked, a growing realisation in her voice.
Merlin smiled. "Actually … we only spent a few days together before she died. And we met again only twice after that."
Harry felt a chill go up his spine as Merlin mentioned meeting someone again after they'd died. He felt like he was literally being steeped in legend.
Merlin took one step forward until the dark waters were lapping around his ankles.
"Yet," he said wistfully. "Those few times were enough to convince me of her kindness, her gentle nature and loving heart. We understood each other in a way neither of us had ever encountered before, or after. She was a kindred spirit. She died here at this lake, and I laid her to rest here. She loved lakes."
There was something in Merlin's expression now that Harry had never seen before. A tempest of emotion, pain, regret, fondness and something deeper.
Merlin smiled sadly. "I never let myself forget her."
Then, Hermione gasped and clasped her hands over her mouth. She looked stricken, and tears began to fill her eyes.
"Oh my God," she whispered, lowering her hands to reveal her distress. "You were in love with her."
Harry felt his heart grow cold. He whipped his head back around to stare at Merlin. How could he not have seen this? Merlin's hesitation, his pain, his reluctance to allow anyone to accompany him? How could he have been so stupid?
He opened his mouth to say something, to say anything, but he was stopped by the change of expression on Merlin's face.
The pain on his face seemed to drain away, and a smile seemed to spread over his face as he looked into the distance.
"Freya," he sighed, his eyes shining.
Harry turned to look back over the lake, and his heart stopped as he saw a figure standing there in the lake, water up to its hips.
He stood in reverent awe at the sight, he was fixed to the spot. He was literally shaking.
A woman was standing there, a woman of such beauty it took Harry's breath away, an ethereal beauty that wasn't quite human. She was pale, and the moonlight glinted off her skin. Her long hair was dark and framed a small face with sparkling eyes and a sweet mouth. She was wearing a long robe of flowing silk that seemed to spread out from around her in the water, yet she wasn't wet. She was just standing there, the eternal guardian.
She smiled and took a few graceful steps forward. Merlin's smile widened and he took a few steps towards her. Harry couldn't move.
"Freya," breathed Merlin, his voice trembling. "I've missed you so …"
She smiled sadly, and her eyes seemed to be filled with water. "And I you, Merlin," she said, her voice echoing with times long gone by.
She reached out an arm her fingers stretching out in front of her. Merlin did likewise, and their fingers met, yet not quite, as if the Lady of the Lake was not quite corporeal.
Merlin looked down at his fingers which seemed to pass right through hers and chuckled quietly. "Are we always so destined this way, Freya? Are we always to be apart?"
"It is the destiny you accepted long ago, Merlin," she said sadly. "But I wait for you still in Avalon."
He laughed humourlessly. "Then you shall wait even longer. I'm still lingering on as ever before."
She shook her head, her dark hair reflecting the light of the moon. "Your time is coming to an end, Merlin, this long suffering will soon cease. Happiness lies in your future if you will only be willing to see it."
"How can I?" he asked desperately. "After all this time … how can I?"
"You must forget the pain you felt, Merlin," she said. "You will never again find happiness if you remain in the past, lamenting for what was. Look to the future, Merlin, the future that can be yours."
He frowned, and raised his eyes to hers. They stared at each other for so long Harry began to feel uncomfortable.
"All I have ever loved is gone, Freya," he said softly. "I shouldn't be here. I'm just some ancient relic of a long-ago era. What hope have I?"
She reached out and placed one of her hands on the side of Merlin's face. He closed his eyes at her touch.
"You can find new things to love, Merlin," she said, smiling. "Let go of the past. Remember it fondly, but do not let it rule you. That is how you can defeat this evil. And defeat it you will."
He opened his eyes, and Harry was shocked to see tears there.
"I'm afraid," he admitted. "I'm so afraid I'll fail once more, and Morgana will once again destroy everything I care about."
"Then you must not let her," Freya said, her voice stronger than before. "She is an evil which must be stopped. You and you alone can do this."
He smiled. "I need a little help."
She smiled back. "Yes, and I shall help you." She turned and looked back across the lake. "Morgana uses the Cup tonight, believing the power of Samhain will increase the potency of the Cup. Once your enemies are immortal there is only one weapon that can stop them."
Merlin nodded. "Excalibur."
She nodded. "You gave it to me long ago. You did not know then how important it would become, but I did. I knew this would happen one day, and I knew that you would come to me in your despair. You are not just here to find the weapon to defeat your foes, but to find the means to defeat the foes in your mind."
She took a step back. "You must reconcile, Merlin. You have to let the past be at rest."
"And how am I to do that?" Merlin asked his eyes desperately.
"You must release your guilt," Freya said, still smiling. "And I know of only one way to convince you that you were not at fault all those years ago."
She smiled again and looked to her right. "See for yourself."
Merlin blinked. He slowly turned his head as though terrified of what he may see. He gasped.
There was another figure in the water, the waves lapping around his chest. He stepped closer to Merlin, out of the deeper water, the moonlight shone on his golden hair and suddenly, Harry recognised him.
It was King Arthur.
Harry's jaw dropped open. King Arthur? He was dead! How could he be here? He didn't look like the shadowy representations he'd seen with the Resurrection Stone, yet not completely alive either. He was ethereal, and quietly grand.
Harry couldn't tear his eyes away from the long-dead king as he approached Merlin. It was exactly the same man he'd seen the Boggart imitation. Every detail, down to his youthful face, his armour and the scarlet dragon sigil.
Arthur stopped a few feet away from Merlin, and casually looked Merlin up and down, his eyebrows raising slightly.
He smiled and spoke, his voice echoing in the silent night.
"Honestly, Merlin," he said, sounding exasperated. "I leave you alone for a while and look at the trouble you get yourself into!"
Harry looked to Merlin, to see him standing there frozen on the spot, his face slack with astonishment. He gulped and shook his head slightly.
"You can't be here …" he gasped. "You can't be …"
Arthur laughed. "Trust you to make things difficult. Of course I'm here, you idiot!"
Merlin was blinking rapidly still looking amazed. "But …"
"Merlin," said Arthur firmly. "Did you honestly think I was going to stand by and watch you struggle with your destiny and do nothing to help?"
"You know?" Merlin asked.
"Of course I do!" Arthur said. "I spent so long in life watching over you to make sure you didn't accidently impale yourself on a flagpole or something, did you really think I wouldn't do the same in death?"
Merlin didn't laugh, he was still staring at Arthur, blinking as though he thought he was dreaming.
Arthur's amused expression faded, and he looked at Merlin seriously. "You've waited so long, Merlin," he said. "You never should have had to suffer this way, but there's no time to dwell on that. You know what you have to do now."
Merlin nodded slowly. "Kill Morgana."
Arthur's mouth set into a grim expression. "Yes. She's incessant. She has to be stopped. For your sake, and for this new world's."
"But how?" Merlin asked desperately. "Even with the sword, how are we to do this? How can we defeat both of them? I don't know if I have the power anymore!"
Harry blinked in surprise. He'd never heard Merlin talk this way before, never heard him express his doubts and fears so vehemently before. Suddenly, Merlin seemed so much younger.
Arthur laughed again. "You? Don't have the power? Now, that is ridiculous! After all those years you spent trying to prove to me you weren't hopeless, now you believe you aren't good enough? You are such a riddle, Merlin!"
Merlin blinked, and Arthur continued smiling. "You can do this, Merlin, you have the power and the intelligence to defeat them, not something I would readily admit. You defeated Morgana once before."
Merlin shook his head. "No, I didn't. I failed."
Then his expression changed, instead of shock and amazement, his face was filled with an expression of so much pain Harry felt he was intruding on something private.
"I'm sorry," Merlin whispered, his face stricken. "I'm so sorry." His voice grew stronger, and thick, holding back the emotion. "I should have been there, Arthur! I shouldn't have trusted her. I shouldn't have let you ride out that day. I should have been at your side. I'm sorry …"
"Merlin," Arthur said, his voice loud. "Don't you dare blame yourself again. I've seen how you struggle with this, and there's many a time I've wanted to knock your head against a wall because of it. It wasn't your fault. It was Morgana's. In fact, it was probably mine. I told you to meet with her. I chose to ride out that day. It was I who failed in battle. I let my guard down. I was slain by a sword, Merlin, not by magic."
"I could have protected you," Merlin objected, his eyes filling with tears. "I could have prevented it!"
"Merlin, I'm a warrior," Arthur said. "Dying in battle was always an occupational hazard."
But Merlin didn't look soothed, just more agitated. "That's why I was supposed to be there!" he said. "I was supposed to stop that from happening! When you died, so did everything you'd worked for! The Old Religion declined, tolerance of magical peoples became a distant memory and the world turned to anarchy. I could have prevented that …"
Arthur took a step closer to Merlin, and Merlin bowed his head, not looking into the king's face.
"No, you couldn't, Merlin," Arthur murmured, his own voice filled with emotion. "I do not blame you. I only ever blamed myself. Blamed myself because for all these centuries you've tortured yourself with thoughts of your own guilt with no one there to help you. No one to help you see what an idiot you were being."
Despite his pain, Merlin managed a small smile at that. "Insulting me from beyond the grave, Arthur? That's a new low."
Arthur raised an eyebrow. "You deserve it."
Merlin looked back up at Arthur and searched his face with his eyes.
"I do, don't I," he whispered. "I spent so long in my guilt I couldn't bring myself to be happy, to live again. I've been so stupid."
"You won't find any argument from me," Arthur smiled, and Merlin actually laughed through his tears.
He looked at his feet briefly before looking back up to Arthur, looking determined.
"Will the sword work?" he asked.
Arthur shrugged. "I don't know," he said. "I used the sword to hit people with, I know little of its magical properties."
Merlin frowned. "How is that helpful?"
Arthur smiled. "I'm not going to tell you how to win, Merlin. That is something you need to figure out on your own."
Merlin raised an eyebrow. "You don't know do you?"
Arthur watched Merlin carefully. "No, but you do, Merlin. You just have to have the confidence to do it."
Arthur took yet another step closer to Merlin.
"You need to focus on the present, Merlin," he said softly. "Forget about me and Camelot, there's nothing you do can do to reverse what happened then. But you can do something now. You have friends now, for the first time you have people who care about you. Don't push them away because you're afraid. This is something Morgana and her new ally can never understand. That is how you shall defeat them."
Merlin nodded. "I know …"
Arthur smiled and stepped back. He spread his hands out and gestured to the lake around him.
"I'm dead, Merlin," he said. "This is my new kingdom. There's nothing you can do for me. Remember us, but don't live in the past."
Merlin smiled wryly. "When did you become so wise, Arthur?"
Arthur laughed. "You'd be surprised how bored one gets in the realm of the dead. Of course, it's not all bad." He smiled. "It does get interesting sometimes, especially when there's some interesting things to watch. Who would ever have guessed that you would help win a sporting competition?"
Merlin laughed out loud, and the pain vanished from his eyes. "Yeah, likewise."
Arthur shook his head. "If I'd known you weren't completely useless at sport I would have taught you how to joust."
Merlin made a face. "Now that would have been torture!"
Arthur laughed softly. He turned his head to look at Freya who had been watching silently the entire time. She nodded briefly, and Arthur turned back to look at Merlin.
"We haven't much time," Arthur said, a frown on his brow. "The entrance to Avalon opens only briefly on Samhain."
Merlin nodded, and turned back to Freya, his fists clenched as he looked at her once again, barely controlling some great emotion.
She smiled and stepped closer to him.
"You know what must be done," she said softly. "I ask you now that you take this sword and go forth and destroy the evil you were always destined to. Have faith in yourself, Merlin, and in those you care about. The Old Religion and the Wizarding World depend on it."
Merlin nodded, his jaw set, and his eyes lit with a fierce fire.
Freya nodded slightly, and held out her arms in front of her body.
As Harry watched open-mouthed, a great golden light appeared there in her arms, setting the lake off with a fiery glow. A second later, a great sword lay there in her arms, twinkling in the moonlight.
Freya bowed her head and offered the sword out to Merlin. Merlin stepped forward slowly and deliberately, like in some sort of ritual ceremony. He reached out, and took hold of the sword. He lifted it upright and pointed it towards the night sky. Harry gasped to see it there; it seemed to sing with the power of the Old Religion.
Merlin smiled and brought the sword back down. He looked at Freya.
"That's the second time you've given me this sword," he noted. "Both occasions in a time of dire need."
She nodded and smiled, but said nothing. Merlin stared at her for the longest time, his expression tender, before with great effort turning away from her and started to leave the lake, where he was in up to his knees.
Just before he left the lake-
"Remember and be careful, Merlin," Arthur called. "That is my sword and I don't want a single scratch on it!"
Merlin laughed. "That's the only reason you're here isn't it, Arthur? To make sure I don't break it!"
"Not quite," said Arthur softly, as Merlin turned back to face him, and froze once more. Arthur was not alone.
Standing around him were many men, all dressed in the same way as the king, shining armour and proud dragons on their chests. Beside Arthur stood a woman, her arm linked in his, dressed in an exquisite dress. There was a small crown on her brow. Queen Guinevere.
She met Merlin's eyes and she smiled widely, and after a moment of shock on Merlin's face, he returned the gesture, his eyes shining.
"We're here for you, Merlin," she said. "We always will be."
Merlin looked into her face and smiled. "Thank you, Gwen," he said, his voice grateful. His eyes went to the men standing around the royal couple. "Thank all of you."
The Knights smiled back and Merlin cast his eyes around them all, lingering on each of them, having unspoken conversations. There was such a bittersweet happiness in his eyes as he looked at them, his old friends, and Harry felt his own composure begin to break.
Then, for the first time, King Arthur took his eyes away from his former servant, and instead fixed them on Harry, who was too much in shock to do anything.
"Look after him, Mr Potter," Arthur said to him. "Someone needs to make sure he stays out of too much trouble."
Harry nodded, feeling numb all over to know that King Arthur of all people was talking to him. "I will," he managed to get out.
Arthur nodded, and took one look back at Merlin, and gave one last smile.
Merlin turned his eyes back to Freya. She lifted her arms into the night sky and looked upwards. An instant later, she and everyone else had vanished.
Merlin stood there, still in the water for a few moments, watching the spot they'd disappeared from. Then, he fell to his knees and bowed his head, covering his face with his hands, overcome.
Harry didn't know what to do. He couldn't move. He couldn't believe what he had just seen. He felt like just creeping away and leaving Merlin to his grief, but that didn't feel right. Neither did going up to him to try and comfort him. How could they possibly hope to comfort? How could they possibly even begin to comprehend what he was going through?
Harry wrenched his face away from Merlin and looked around at the others. Like him, they were standing there watching him, half in shock, half in sympathy and an air of unease and worry about what to do for Merlin permeating the air.
Hermione had tears spilling down her cheeks as did, surprisingly, Ginny. Even Ron looked distressed. Neville was sniffing loudly.
Luna however, looked as serene as always. She walked towards Merlin slowly, and crouched down beside him, her own feet in the water. She reached out with one hand and gently touched him on the shoulder.
Slowly, she turned him around so that he faced her, and gently guided him so that they were both standing up in the lake. Merlin was watching her like he'd never seen her before.
She took one of his hands in her own.
"We can never replace them, Merlin," she said softly. "But we care about you. You're one of us now. I hope you can come to care about us as well. Consider us as a part of your new family."
Merlin watched her for a moment, before turning around and looking at each of them in turn as he had with the Knights.
He glanced back at Luna and his face split into a wide smile and he squeezed her hand. He looked back at all the others.
"I already do," he said.
A/N: That was an EXTREMELY difficult chapter to write! Did a load of research and got info from Quidditch through the Ages, but even then it was hard to write! And Freya and Arthur! So hope I got that right! Long chapters exhaust me mentally ...
Hope you liked it! Tell me what you thought! :)