A/N: Here it is, the final chapter! Thank you all for your great and constructive reviews! I've absolutely loved writing this story and I'm so grateful to all your support.
Someone asked in a review a couple chapters back if I was on Pottermore, and if so, what my House was. I am on Pottermore, and I had two accounts (don't ask, long story) and my first account I was Sorted into Ravenclaw, but my second, I was Sorted into Hufflepuff … so, I'm a Ravenpuff! I usually think of myself as a Ravenclaw though :)
A New Purpose
What Merlin did in those years after leaving Hogwarts, he barely knew. Gone was the colour and happiness in his life. He wandered from village to village, almost blinded to everything, feeling empty and hollow. He woke up to see strange new faces, he drank in strange taverns, slept in unfamiliar inns and sold his remedies to strangers. He was back to the existence he had known in the centuries after Arthur's death. His brief time in the sunlight was gone, and all he could foresee for himself was pain and misery.
When was the last time he had laughed? The last time he had held a friendly conversation with someone? He was back in his own personal torture. The nightmares of Arthur and Camelot, banished during his eight years at Hogwarts were back with a vengeance.
Eventually, it became too much. Every village he passed through he caught snatches of conversation about the evils of witchcraft, the evils of Muggles, the wonders of Hogwarts … he could not escape it at all.
He crossed the great channel and onto the Continent, intending to travel for several years to stave away the inevitable monotony that his life would become. He wanted no reminders of his life at Hogwarts, he didn't want to risk meeting the Founders or hearing their names spoken again.
So that was how he lived his life for a good few years, travelling on the Continent through unfamiliar and often hostile lands, picking up new languages, discovering new philosophies, new healing herbs, a great many things. The only thing he could not discover, was peace.
Ever the reminders of Hogwarts stuck with him. Every time he saw a night sky, he imagined Rowena peering up at the stars and mapping their positions. Every time he saw a magical duel, or a Muggle jousting match, he thought of Godric and wondered whether he had won or lost any of his own duels. Every time he saw something unique and fascinating, he thought of how Helena's eyes would have lit up to explore and learn more about it. Every time he learned a new healing technique from exotic travelers from the east and south, he thought of how much he longed to share it with Helga. Every time he encountered prejudice between Muggles and wizards he thought of Salazar, and wondered how he had fared.
Had he overcome his prejudice and found the peace he desired? How was Hogwarts coping? Had Helga and Godric ever gotten married? How had Helena got on at school?
Eventually, he had to return, he had to know something.
It was against his better judgment, but he headed back to Britain after almost ten years of foreign travels, back to his homeland. He knew he could not go back to them, could not influence them in any way, but he needed to know how they were. Even if he had to watch from a distance as they grew old, the pain of not knowing was greater than the pain of being so near, yet so far.
He found his way to London, and found refuge in an inn there. It was a place magical people tended to congregate, and the Muggles chose to turn a blind eye to it, so long as the witches and wizards that frequented the establishment kept to themselves. Several magical shops were also nearby, and Muggles avoided the area if they could. It was London's unofficial magical ghetto.
He sat in the common area with a tankard of ale that he barely touched. He watched each and every person that entered, searching for information. He could easily find the information he desired by asking the barkeep or one of the other patrons, but no, he needed to be more subtle than that. He naturally shied away from drawing attention to himself.
Instead, he listened in on the many conversations that were being whispered around the rooms. He took a room in the inn, and visited the common area every evening, hoping that the information he sought would come to him.
Conversations were always grim. People exchanged news about the persecutions that were happening up and down the country, discussing the state of the Muggle politics and how they would affect themselves, telling stories of raiders from across the seas, of battles, bloodshed and increasing Muggle hostility. It wasn't pleasant conversation, but Merlin persisted.
One night, just as he was thinking about finally striking up a conversation of his own, what he desired finally came about.
Two elderly warlocks sat at a table near to him and began their conversation. A combination of drunkenness, and deafness on the part of the two men soon meant that their conversation was more or less audible to everyone in the room. Merlin at first dismissed their warmongering stories, but soon listened intently as a familiar name reached his ears.
"Pollux has tried take over that school again," one man complained to the other. Merlin immediately sat up a little straighter, his heart thumping.
"Like he'll ever succeed," the other man snorted. "That Board of Governors are kidding themselves. They don't wield enough power to influence anything at Hogwarts."
"I wouldn't be so sure of that, Edgar," said the other man. "Half the people on that Board are wealthy, and the other poor as church mice. It wouldn't take much to convince them to do as they said. 'Specially since half of them have the support of the Wizards' Council and can offer as many threats as they like without worrying."
"The Founders wouldn't let that happen."
"The Founders don't have a choice," said the first man. "I tell you, those Governors won't be nothing but trouble for the school. They don't want Muggle-Borns in that school, and I promise you that one day they'll succeed in getting what they want. The Founders want the school separate from the government, but that'll never happen. The Governors will be a thorn in their side forever."
"But I thought they were supposed to protect the school-"
"Don't be such an idiot, Edgar," said the first man, looking at him as though he were a child. "The Governors were created as a compromise. So that the Wizards' Council wouldn't shut the school down on the spot. Everyone knows they're in the pockets of the nobility. Mark my words, the Wizards' Council will never rest until they get complete control of the school."
Merlin listened with held breath. He had known that the Governors would prove a difficulty, he had known almost from the beginning. The Founders had managed to control at least some of them, but after they were gone, what would happen? Had creating this Board been a bad idea?
Edgar was shaking his head however, a confident smile on his face. "The Founders are greater than them though! Have you heard about the sort of magic they can do?"
"The Founders won't last forever," warned the other man, shaking his head. "They're not immortal. The school will not be able to stay eternally impartial. The Board of Governors appoint Headteachers remember? After that Whitethorn man has had his day, what's to bet the next one will continue the Founder's philosophies?"
Edgar seemed to falter a little. "Such a pity though, isn't it? For the first time there was a group of people trying to end the hatred in the world, and in just a generation it'll be over. I hope those kids will have learned something at least. At least they'll have the benefits of tolerance."
"It won't last," said the other man. "Perhaps the memory will, and that is all we can hope for. I doubt it though. Those ideas won't last much longer. The Founders are crumbling from within. I mean, what can you expect after that debacle seven years ago?"
"You mean that business with Lord Salazar?"
Merlin was leaning in at this point, hanging on the edge of his seat, no longer trying to appear inconspicuous. Salazar? What had he done? Please no …
"The Founders weren't as perfect as you think, Edgar," said the other man. "They had a falling out. Lord Godric and Lord Salazar turned against each other, even though they'd been as close as brothers. Lord Salazar stormed out the castle and hasn't returned since. He wants nothing more to do with it apparently. All those good and righteous morals were a front. He is a prejudiced as the ones he was fighting against. He demanded the Founders chuck all the Muggle-Borns out the school, or at least, limit the number they admit and keep tabs on them. Some people say he was hatching some plan to set a monster on them if they betrayed the school. Absolutely cracked he was. Everyone thinks of the Founders as saints, but he was one of them, and look how he turned out. There's never going to be peace. Even the ones supposed to be promoting it and changing the world for the better can't agree!"
"Did he ever believe in it though? I mean, why go to the trouble of building the school if he hated the concept of peace anyway?"
"Word is he went a bit mad," came the reply. "Lost the plot. Completely paranoid, and who can blame him after what happened to his family? He and Gryffindor had some big duel, and Slytherin was told to get out. It shook them all up, I can tell you that. Of course, now all the bigots on the Wizards' Council seem to worship him, and want all their kids put into his House at the school, even though just twenty years ago they were worst enemies. Time can change a person, and not for the better. Gryffindor and Slytherin haven't spoken since. If even the Founders can't reconcile their differences, what hope do the rest of us have?"
The man paused here to drink, and Merlin fell back, almost weak with guilt. He should not have left Hogwarts. He should have stayed and helped them sort out their differences. How bad had Salazar gotten that Godric would duel him? They were brothers in all but blood. How could a friendship such as theirs go so badly wrong?
He had been right. Salazar would never change his views. How had the school suffered? He thought of Helga, and Rowena, Helena and Godric … how had they coped after Salazar's departure? It made him sick to his stomach to think about it. Their magic was tied together. They were linked by the Old Religion in ways that even Merlin did not understand. How could Salazar have left? How could he have abandoned every good feeling, everything that he was?
Was this what the Old Religion had intended for him? Merlin had thought his mission had been to save him, had all his work been in vain? How could the Old Religion want this man's suffering and hatred to continue? Was all that work towards peace futile now?
The man was speaking again, and Merlin leaned in to listen once more, though despair seeped through every inch of his body, and he dreaded hearing more.
"But the other three are still there, aren't they?" said Edgar doubtfully. "They'll keep the school going. Hufflepuff and Gryffindor won't stand for discrimination in the school, will they? And Ravenclaw was married to a Muggle once, wasn't she?"
"That's not the point," said the other man. "Slytherin's departure left them weaker than before. Slytherin was the brains and cunning of the school. He was politically minded in a way none of the rest of them were. They're lost without him."
"What about Ravenclaw though?" asked Edgar. "I heard she was supposed to be smart, even if she is a Celt."
"Haven't you heard?" the man asked, sounding surprised. He lowered his voice, and Merlin almost pulled a muscle in his neck straining to hear his next words. "The news is, Lady Rowena hasn't long left to live."
Something cold dropped into Merlin's stomach, and he froze, reeling in shock. He was so caught up in the storm of his own emotions, he almost missed the rest of the conversation.
"What's wrong with her?"
"No one knows," said the man, almost smiling, as though the news of a dying woman was something to look gleeful about. "A sudden deterioration of health that no one can explain. Even Hufflepuff can't cure a disease of this kind."
"They say she's dying of a broken heart," said the man, his eyes gleaming.
Merlin wasn't breathing, so desperate was he to hear more.
"A broken heart? People don't die of that, Oswald! What has she got to be so broken hearted about? She's been a widow for almost twenty years, Slytherin left seven years ago! Is she that delicate?"
"Oh, it's nothing to do with that," said Oswald. "You've heard the rumours of the mysterious man she used to be friendly with, if you know what I mean. She's been melancholy ever since he left, nearly ten years ago now. Never got over it of you ask me, and then Slytherin left of course. But the real problem is that daughter of hers."
Helena? What happened to her?
Oswald didn't keep Merlin in suspense much longer.
"She's vanished," he said, enjoying the look of surprise in Edgar's eyes. "Yeah, she lived at the castle, even after she left the school, rejecting every suitor that came her way. None of them were good enough for her apparently. She was cold, and haughty from what I've been told, unable to live up to that reputation of her mother's, I'd say. Well, about three months ago, she vanished, without a word. The Founders sent people after her, but they never found her. Some say she's on the Continent somewhere.
"What a tragedy," said Edgar. "Her only child too."
"I wouldn't be so sympathetic if I were you," said Oswald. "From all accounts she was a spoiled little brat. Ravenclaw was hard on her, and there was little love lost between them when she got older. Of course, that's not to mention those rumours that Ravenclaw's Muggle husband wasn't the father. That friend of her mother's vanished around the same time the child started school, and that's when the problems started. It seems the girl's true father didn't stick around long enough to give a damn about her. So now she's gone wild, and gone off into the wilderness, and Ravenclaw's pining after her, blaming herself."
Edgar's eyes narrowed in suspicion here. "How do you know so much anyway?"
"Remember that Baron friend of my grandson's?" Oswald said, and Edgar nodded. "He was infatuated with the girl apparently. She's rejected him a dozen times already. Ravenclaw's sent him after her to bring her back. He stopped by our house before he headed to the Continent to search for her. He told us everything. That was about two months ago now. We haven't heard anything from him either."
"Well, good luck to him," said Edgar. "Hogwarts is in too fragile a position to be left with only two Founders."
"Even if she is found, there are some things that can't be mended," said Oswald shaking his head. He drained the last of his tankard. "Come on. I need some dragon liver for that boil potion of mine."
The two of them left, and Merlin remained seated, frozen, trying to process everything he had heard.
He didn't want to believe it, any of it. How could so much have gone wrong? Helena, cold and haughty? What had happened to that bright, inquisitive child he had taught to read? The one who loved to laugh? Helena would never have run away. She would never have done that to her mother.
But the more Merlin thought about it, the more painfully obvious it became. He remembered when Helena became upset, she had run off into the grounds and hid herself away for several hours with a book. She ran when afraid. What had happened between her and her mother to drive her to run so far?
Was it his fault? He had hoped Rowena would have stayed the same, would not have reverted to her old ways, but perhaps he had been naïve. Had she returned to the cold and reserved woman he had first met eighteen years ago? What would that have done to Helena? The loss of the man she knew as a father, her mother's sudden coldness, Salazar's departure three years later … what effect had that had on her?
He sat there for what felt like hours, wrestling with the pain in his heart and the reason in his mind. How had it all gone so wrong? How could Salazar and Helena abandon their home like that? And Rowena …
He wanted more than anything to go to her, to heal her of whatever it was that afflicted her. His mind told him no, he could not reopen past wounds like that, but his heart could not allow him to sit here when he could save her.
He stood up after hours of debating and headed out into the street, his mind made up. He had to do this. The Founders were destined for more than this. Rowena Ravenclaw did not deserve a fate such as this, such a brilliant and intelligent woman could not die of something as meagre as a broken heart. He could not believe it.
He summoned a great whirlwind around him as soon as he stepped out into the street, not even caring who saw him. All sense of rationality was gone from his mind. He needed to go to her. He needed to see her one last time. She couldn't end like this.
The winds abated, and Merlin found himself standing at the eaves of the Forbidden Forest, looking upon Hogwarts castle for the first time in ten years. He was shocked by how little had changed. After ten years away, ten years of pain, he almost expected the castle to be showing signs of his own torment, after all, had he not poured so much of himself into it? But it looked as strong and magnificent as ever. How could it look so unchanged when one, and now almost two of its Founders were gone for good?
He walked slowly up to the great doors, ignoring the screaming in his head to turn back and leave before it was too late. It was midsummer, and the school would be empty of pupils. He just had to see her. He had to find out just how everything could have gone so wrong.
He pushed open the doors and emerged into the dark Entrance Hall. It too looked as if no time had passed, deceptively beautiful, betraying none of the awful things that had, and still were happening.
No one came to meet him, not a house-elf noticed him passing through the corridors treading the familiar path to Ravenclaw Tower. He was oddly calm, despite the great misgivings within him, the rational part of his mind that told him to turn back. But as always, where Rowena, where this school was concerned, he was lost to reason.
He reached the old door with the bronze eagle knocker, and pushed it open, heading silently up the stairs like a shadow. In the living area, there were two figures asleep on couches, breathing quietly. A shock of red hair emerged from underneath a pile of blankets, and Merlin knew without uncovering the face that Godric was lying there. Helga lay stretched out on the other couch, her face lined with worry, not even peaceful in sleep. Their silent vigil outside the door of their closest friend.
Salazar should be here too, Merlin thought. So should Helena. This isn't right. It should never have ended like this.
He stood watching them for several minutes, almost wanting them to wake up and discover him there. But too many questions would be asked, he could not speak to them. He almost smiled looking down at them. Despite the circumstances, he was glad to see them once more.
He was startled suddenly, by the opening of the door to Rowena's bedchambers. He hurriedly muttered a quick spell to make himself invisible. From within, Scáthach emerged, passing a gnarled hand over weary eyes, which were filled with tears. Merlin was shocked to see her like this, a formidable and intimidating woman, reduced to this most fragile of human weaknesses.
She was clutching an empty bowl and shuffled off and out of the living area, mumbling something to herself about getting more water. Merlin waited until he heard the door close, before quickly crossing the room and heading up the stairs, halting before the door to the room.
A great pain clutched at his insides. Did he want to go inside? He feared what he would see, what he would feel. But, he should not have left. If he was in any way responsible for what had happened, he had to see her again, to apologise. He could not explain it. He felt guilt, he felt pain.
He took a deep breath, and pushed open the door. He owed it to her.
The room was lit by a dying fire, and filled with the scent of various herbs and potions. He slowly crossed the room towards the large bed, almost afraid of what he would see. He stopped a few feet away, and let himself take in the sad scene, almost not believing what he saw.
Rowena was lying there, tiny in the massive bed, reminding him forcefully of that day eighteen years ago when he had first seen Helena, dying of the awful disease. But Rowena bore no outward signs of illness, no fever, no rash … she just slept, a small frown on her brow. Her face looked tired, and her frame was painfully small. The ten years had not been kind to her, there were a few grey hairs on her head, despite the fact she was not yet forty. She looked weary, like she had just given up.
Merlin watched her, his pain only increasing as he saw how shallow her breaths were. Had he caused this? Had he neglected her? Was all this his doing?
He collapsed into the chair that Scáthach had evidently just vacated and clutched at one of her hands, hoping to somehow reach out to her. Her skin was cold to the touch, and Merlin placed it between two of his, as though hoping to restore both warmth and life to the woman before him.
He hung his head over her hand and tried to compose himself. He should not have left … he should not have left …
A soft, hoarse and almost inaudible sound met his ears and he looked up immediately, to see Rowena looking at him, her blue eyes opened only slightly, blinking at him as though trying to decide whether or not he was an apparition.
"Yes," he said, his voice not as controlled as usual. "I am here."
"I have dreamt this before," she said, her voice still scarily weak. "How can I be sure?"
He rose from his seat, and gently sat himself on the bed beside her, touching his hand to her face. "I am real, Rowena. I am here with you."
"Why have you come back?" she asked, and he thought he detected a note of resentment in her weak voice. "Why torment me like this?"
"I had to see you again," he said softly, stroking her face softly. "I had no idea what was going on here. I am sorry. I … I should not have left. Everything seems to have gone wrong."
Rowena's eyes welled up with tears at this point. "She's gone," she said, a tear leaking out of her eye. "Helena … she's gone."
Merlin leaned in closer, and squeezed her hand. "What happened?"
"It was never the same after you left," she all but whispered. "Helena … I was distant with her … too distant. I forgot everything you taught me … I broke my promise to you, Emrys. I forgot who I was. I was cold, I was hard on her, I did not show her the love I felt … we grew apart. She resented me … she tried to better me at every turn … I was too reserved. I lost her."
She wrapped her own fingers around Merlin's. "I have lost her forever, Emrys," she said, tears now falling freely from her eyes, more than Merlin had ever seen from her before. "I will never see her again, my precious little girl … she is lost to me."
"No," Merlin said, feeling his composure breaking. "You will see her, I promise. I'll find her, I'll bring her back. I'll heal you somehow, I'll-"
"No," she said, shaking her head, softly. "I deserve this. And you cannot heal a broken heart, Emrys. I only regret that she is out in the world unaware just how much I truly loved her."
"She knows," Merlin said, trying to comfort her. "She loved you, Rowena. She cannot have forgotten that."
"But we did not reconcile," Rowena said, still crying silently. "I shall die without ever apologising to her for what I failed to do for her. She was right to run away, Emrys. I was a teacher to her, a mentor, not a mother. She resented me. She … she took my diadem, Emrys."
"She what?" Merlin asked, unable to believe it.
"She took my diadem," repeated Rowena, "the one you enchanted for me. I was never enough for her. I haven't even told the others this. She has been unhappy for so long. I did not guide her the way I should have."
"This is my fault," said Merlin, shaking his head, feeling his own eyes go watery. "I should not have left."
"No," she said, and here, her voice was a little firmer. "I understand now, Emrys. The Old Religion has let me see that. It was own fault. I was not strong enough."
"You are the strongest person I know," Merlin said, still clutching at her hand.
"Only with you," she said, staring at him, her breath growing shallower. "You taught me how to live, Emrys, but I forgot it all as soon as you left. You made me stronger, you made me a better person. I should not have forgotten it all."
Merlin did not know what to say. He had so hoped when he had left all those years ago that she would find the strength to carry on as the independent and capable woman he knew she was.
"You made me stronger too," he admitted to her. "You stopped me feeling so wretched about my destiny. I've been a mess these last ten years."
"That makes two of us," said Rowena sadly. "I resented the world and the Old Religion for taking you from me, and I lost my way. Then Salazar … Salazar … he left, and all hope seemed lost. And now Helena …"
She laughed softly, still crying silently. "I always prided myself on my strength, my superiority and control over my emotions," she said. "But I am just as subject to them as everyone else, despite my best efforts to deny it. It is a fitting end for someone who has avoided feeling all of these years, to fall prey to the very things I have tried to deny. I am not as strong as I thought I was, as I would have others to believe me. And now Hogwarts shall fall, and it shall be my fault."
"No," Merlin said loudly. "I will not let it fall, Rowena. This school shall last, I shall make sure of it. For all eternity."
She smiled weakly. "For all eternity, Emrys? What happens when your destiny catches up with you? Our little school shall not see so important then."
"The Old Religion had me come here for a reason," he said, caressing her face softly, seeing the colour leave her cheeks. "This school is important, more than either of us yet know. I will not let it fall. There was a reason I was brought here, my destiny is tied up with this school. The Old Religion shall return to the world, and this school and its Founders will have played their part in it. I will not let the world forget you, nor the sacrifices you all made."
She smiled. "And why is it you are the one to return this magic? Why were you chosen for this task? Why you, the one with the name from legend?"
"I will tell you, if you wish," he said, before realising what he was saying, his desperation growing as her grip on his hand grew weaker and weaker. "I will tell you everything."
But, amazingly, she shook her head. "No," she said, her voice almost inaudible. "What does it matter now? I have finally realised: what use is knowledge in the end? After you left I spent so long obsessing over who you were and why you had to leave that I neglected all else. Besides, I think I have already guessed."
She smiled at him, and for the tiniest moment, he thought he saw a glimmer of all her old wit and intelligence. He felt his heart grow heavier. Did she know? Had she really figured it out?
But he did not ask her what her guess was, it wasn't important. He held on tighter to her hand.
"I never thought there would be a day when you would willingly refuse knowledge."
"And I never thought I'd see the day when you would once more be by my side," Rowena said, smiling again. "I have lost everything, my school, my life, my daughter … my one comfort is that you can be here with me one last time."
"I won't leave," he promised, raising her hand and kissing it gently. "I will stay with you."
"Good," she sighed, closing her eyes wearily. "I have spent so much time alone in my life."
"I am here," he said, and he clutched her hand ever tighter. She smiled one last time, and settled back into her pillows.
He sat by her side for what felt like forever, as her hand grew colder, and her breath shallower. He stared without blinking, without moving, watching as the life slowly drained out of her. Finally, her breathing stopped.
Merlin closed his eyes, even as he felt the Old Religion cry out inside of him in great tumult. He was shaking with emotions he could no longer suppress. He opened his eyes, and saw her lying there, her face almost peaceful. He stood up, his legs ready to collapse underneath him. He laid her hand back on the bed, by her side. He leaned in and kissed her on the forehead, like he had done the day he left ten years ago. Then, he leaned in and whispered into her ear.
"Merlin," he said, as a single tear fell from his eye. "My real name … it's Merlin."
But she did not stir, she did not respond. He fell back on the chair. He sat there for he knew not how long. A great emptiness seemed to fill him. This could not have happened. Not Rowena … not that strong woman … she could not have wasted away like that.
He sat there, in complete shock, letting the despair and grief wash over him. Well, he thought wryly to himself, it was going to happen some day, you always knew that. That was the risk you took.
He barely even noticed the door open. There was a soft cry, and Merlin saw Scáthach cross to the bed, her face haggard, dropping a bowl of water on the floor as she clutched at the still Rowena. She sobbed loudly, pressing Rowena into her chest, stroking her hair.
"No," she moaned, in Gaelic. "Not my child … I nursed you from a babe into a girl and into a woman … you weren't supposed to go before me …"
Merlin said nothing, how could he? Scáthach did not even look at him, sobbing unrestrainedly, clutching Rowena's body close to her own, as though hoping to restore the life to it with her presence. He felt as though he was looking at all this from a great distance.
He had to leave, he decided, still reeling. He could not linger … he did not belong here anymore. Two of the Founders were now gone, he had failed them, like he had once failed Arthur. He had to leave. He no longer felt welcome here.
He stood to leave, unable to look once more at Rowena, and headed towards the door as though in some awful dream he could not awaken from.
"She loved you, you know."
Merlin turned in astonishment, to see Scáthach looking at him from over the top of Rowena's dark head, her eyes bright with tears and a buried anger and grief. Merlin suddenly realised that this was the first time Scáthach had ever spoken to him.
"I know," he said, his voice as pained as hers had been. "I know."
And once more, he turned, and this time did not look back. He stumbled down the stairs, his mind racing. He crossed the living room, past Helga and Godric's sleeping forms, unable to even glance at them, and emerged once more into the dark corridors. He moved along them, feeling the emptiness inside threatening to overwhelm him.
He did not stop until he was once more outside, standing beside the lake, at almost the exact spot where he had felt the Old Religion telling him to leave. He breathed out, and looked out across the lake, for once completely immune to its beauty. It seemed wrong to him that the grounds still looked so perfect, so wondrous. Did the world not know what tragedy had just occurred? The thing he had worked for for eight years was now in ruins, one Founder had forsaken their mission, and another had died after just … giving up on life. This was not the way it was supposed to be.
Salazar and Rowena … they had deserved better than this.
Especially Rowena …
He stood there for ages, a silent immovable pillar, trying to comprehend the weight of what had just happened. What did this mean for Hogwarts? For everything they had believed in? Was it all memory now? Would Hogwarts be over before even a generation had passed?
The Old Religion … it was a curse … it was a torture …. it was hard for him to now see any good in it. Why did he want it to return so badly? These past three centuries, what had it given him except pain, pain, and now even more pain?
What was the point in anything anymore?
As though he had been expecting it, the sound of Helga's soft voice did not surprise him in the slightest. He turned slowly to see her standing a few feet behind him, a soft golden cloak wrapped around her disheveled clothes. Her face was wet with tears.
"Helga," he said, shocked that his voice was so calm.
She blinked fiercely, even as more tears spilled from her eyes. "Emrys … it's … it's … Rowena … she's … she's … "
"I know," he said, the pain in his heart now so intense he was almost numb to it. "I was there with her."
For a moment, Helga looked angry.
"You were? But why did you not wake me?"
"Because … I … I …I," Merlin trailed away, unable to express what he felt in words, he heard his voice beginning to shake.
Helga's angry glare diminished and she nodded, more tears trickling from her eyes. "I understand," she said. "You and she …"
He looked away, unable to stand the sympathy in her eyes. He should not have left her … he did not deserve this.
She wiped away some of her tears. "We expected it for some time," Helga said, her voice trembling. "But that makes it no less painful. She just … gave up, after Helena disappeared. But she's been unhappy for years. Ever since …"
"Ever since I left," he finished for her. "I know … I should not have left."
"You did what you had to," she said, though more tears threatened to spill over. "I do not blame you, and at heart, I do not think she did either. You had your destiny … and we had ours."
"It does not make me feel any better," Merlin said, not even saying half of what he felt.
"No," Helga said, stepping a little closer. "I would imagine not. Pain like this can never be diminished. But know this … she loved you, Emrys."
"So Scáthach tells me," Merlin said, avoiding her gaze, trying to keep his emotions under check.
"You did not need Scáthach to tell you that," Helga said, stepping even closer. "You knew she loved you, loved you as much as you loved her."
"She knew it," said Helga firmly, not allowing him to contradict her. "You both did, even if neither of you admitted it to each other, or even to yourselves. Maybe you thought it would cause you less pain."
"Well, that did not work," Merlin said ruefully, letting his emotions finally get the better of him. "Did I love her? Perhaps I did, and even now try to avoid admitting it, for what use is it to do so now, when the pain shall overwhelm me? We shared eight years together, and we were happy, that is all that mattered. It does not matter whether I loved her or not, she is gone, and I am left."
"But that memory of that love shall remain with you," said Helga, now so close he could see the lines in her face from the ten years apart. "Do not make the mistake she did and try to forget about what you shared. Do not hide away from it, do not forsake your destiny, but take strength from this, and do not forget her, or any of this, even if it does cause you pain. Because with great love, great pain inevitably follows. But that does not make the love any less worthwhile. Do not forget this, Emrys, do not forget how powerful love can be. Never forget, for however many centuries you may live."
For a moment, Merlin did not realise what Helga had just said. Then, he stared, his heart gone cold.
"I am not a fool, Emrys," Helga said, wiping away another tear and managing a small smile. "It is eighteen years since first we met, and you have not aged a single day. You practice magic that died out centuries ago, and you run from your past and dread the future. You are long-lived, perhaps even immortal, and that is why you left. To avoid the pain of seeing us all grow old and die. I know it to be true, I have always seen the haunted looks in your eye when you think of your past, and we all spoke of the future."
He thought of contradicting her, but decided instead to give a small smile.
"And everyone said Rowena was the smart one," he said sadly. "They always underestimate you, Helga."
She smiled weakly. "As long as you do not underestimate yourself, Emrys. There is great pain in your future, I can tell. But there is hope yet."
"Is there?" he asked. "I cannot see it."
"But I am a Seer," Helga said, her eyes dry and determined. "I saw into the future of this school, Emrys. What I saw, I am not sure, but you were there. You were there defending this school."
"Defending it, from what?" he asked.
"There was a great battle," she said, her eyes gazing into the distance. "Hogwarts was falling. Men in black robes and masks were attacking children, bodies were lying everywhere, spells filled the air, there was screaming … fear … evil in the school. And you were there … in the middle of this battle, looking the same as you do now."
She frowned slightly. "I saw a man. He was pale, with red eyes, and a cruel face. He was evil, he meant harm to the school. And … a boy."
"A boy?" Merlin asked, listening avidly. "What boy?"
"I do not know," said Helga, shaking her head, and looking thoughtful. "He was young. He had dark hair … and a cut shaped like a bolt of lightning on his forehead. In him I sensed great power … love, kindness, bravery … I sensed the Old Religion. This boy … he is the one you are waiting for, Emrys. You must find him."
"When?" Merlin asked desperately, "this vision, when did it take place? How long do I have to wait?"
"I do not know," said Helga, coming back into focus, and looking upset. "I could not tell. But I fear … it is many years from now."
"Of course it is," Merlin spat, turning away, and kicking a stone angrily, sending it splashing into the lake. "The Old Religion never makes it easy. It is playing with me. This boy might not be born for a millennium. How much pain will I endure until then?"
"As much as is needed," said Helga, coming to him and pulling his hand into hers. "It is cruel, I know. But you know as well as I do that this cannot be fought, in which case, it must be accepted. Accept it, Emrys, make peace with your destiny, or you shall destroy yourself in the way that Rowena did. You have something to live for, live for it, and never give up. Remember all that happened here, and take that love with you and keep it strong. This boy shall need you one day, and I swear, if you give up and abandon him I shall haunt you the rest of your days. Hope is not lost, Emrys. You will have a life of your own one day. You will help bring happiness to others the way you did for us, even if it was only fleeting. These people will need your guidance the way we did."
"But I failed with you four," said Merlin, staring at her sad but still warm eyes. "Salazar is gone, Rowena is dead … it did not last."
"The ideas shall remain, Emrys," said Helga. "They shall not die, not completely. We would not have been where we are today without you."
She held up their entwined hands to show him the light wedding band on her left hand. She smiled.
"Godric and I married not long after you left. Now we have two children. You helped bring us together, Emrys. Not everything was a failure."
And for the first time that evening, Merlin felt a glimmer of true happiness. "I am sure they are as wonderful as their mother."
Helga smiled, though the smile was still tinged with sadness. "I only hope I do not lose them as Rowena lost Helena."
The pain was back. "They never got to reconcile," he said, shaking his head. "Why did she not return when her mother was dying?"
At this Helga let out a fresh stream of tears that surprised him. "Helena lost her way …" Helga said, her grief evident in her voice. "They were too similar … too stubborn … she forgot the innocence and curiosity of her youth and instead became arrogant and competitive. And now she is … now she is dead."
"Dead?" Merlin said, feeling a wrenching feeling in his gut. "What do you mean?"
Helga pressed a handkerchief to her eyes, almost unable to speak through her tears. "We- we," she began, trying to bring her grief under control. "We received a letter this morning from friends Helena had been living with somewhere down on the Adriatic coast. The Baron that Rowena asked go to find her … he tried to force her to return, and she ran away into a forest. Her friends discovered her the following morning. The Baron … he … he stabbed her … and then apparently took his own life out of shame. We … we just couldn't find a way to tell Rowena … we didn't know if we should …"
Helga cried some more, but Merlin could make no move to comfort her. He was staggered by the news that Helena … that sweet little girl he had helped to raise, the girl so curious about the world and everything in it, the girl he had taught to read, taught to play tricks on Salazar, who had loved playing with house-elves and eating Hilda's cakes whenever she got the chance ... she was dead. Murdered.
The entire Ravenclaw family was dead. And these were the first deaths since Arthur's that had caused him to feel this much grief, this much agony. He had been so unreserved and free with them. He had dropped his guard.
And now he was paying the price for all those happy years, that borrowed time he had so selfishly leapt upon.
He would not make that mistake again.
With an effort so strong he had not known he'd had it in him, he pushed back the grief, let go of the pain he felt. He could not surrender to it.
Helga stopped crying and looked up at him, nodding sadly. "This will be the last time we meet," she said, and it was not a question, more a statement. "All I ask is that you do not forget this, Emrys. One day, you shall find the happiness that you deserve, and it will be worth it. Protect this school, protect that boy, whoever he is. Do not give up on the Old Religion, no matter how painful it becomes. We were not the ones you were waiting on, Emrys. But we are a part of you now, do not forget it."
"I won't," he promised her.
She nodded, and turned slowly on the spot, and headed back into the castle without another word. He watched her go, her figure slowly disappearing until out of sight. He knew he would see her again.
He looked up at the window to Ravenclaw Tower. He would return here one day, to this castle. He would not let people forget the Founders, he would not let himself forget. It was like what he had told Salazar all those years ago. They might not have saved everyone immediately, but they had begun it, and Merlin were certainly going to stick around and see the fruits of this labour and their suffering. Because they would come, some day, and he would be ready for it.
He walked towards the Forbidden Forest, getting ready to Transport away again, not willing to stay even another moment longer in this place that now held so many painful memories.
Yes, he would return, but not yet. This wasn't like Camelot; irreparable, gone and in the past. He had a chance here, hope was not yet lost. He would not let the same thing happen again. Hogwarts would flourish, he would make sure of that, if he had to bribe his way onto the Board of Governors himself. He would not give up in the way he had so often thought of doing.
He thought he understood now why he had been brought here. He had forgotten the sound of laughter, and the joy friends could bring to life. He had experienced that again, thanks to the Old Religion. And though he bought it with great pain, he would remember it, remember what he could one day have again. However long it took, however many centuries, he wouldn't give up.
And then there was that boy in Helga's vision. Merlin had no idea who he was, but he knew he was important. He would wait for him. After all, how many boys were there with lightning bolt scars?
He smiled to himself, despite the numbness that still lay within. His time at Hogwarts had reminded him of who he had been, reminded him of what it was he was fighting for, reminded him of the destiny he had so often thought of forsaking.
Now, he had a new purpose.
And he had every intent to carry it out.
A/N: Thanks for all your reviews for this story!
About Ancient Relics ... I have now finished revising it (a gargantuan task, let me tell you; I hadn't realised how long it was!) and I have now posted it in its entirety on another site called Archive of Our Own, though if enough of you ask, I'll also post it here as well. On that site, my name is SootyOwl, but if you can't find it, or don't want to trawl through it all, just let me know and I'll send you the link. Don't be expecting massive changes, or even tons and tons of added material, because that wasn't my intent. It's edited, refined, with a few paragraphs added in for clarification and expansion. It isn't completely rewritten.
I edited the entire thing, mainly for spelling and grammar mistakes, and in addition, there have been 5249 additional words added in, split over all the chapters. But, as many of you asked, I'll tell you what the most heavily edited chapters are: Chapter 17 (643 words), Chapter 36 (402 words), Chapter 30 (376 words), Chapter 22 (328 words) and Chapter 7 (310 words). The editing to the rest varies from 0 words, to 304 words.
I didn't want to make any glaringly obvious changes, though I did toy with the idea of including the Founders at the Lake of Avalon with Freya and the Knights. I decided against it though, since I felt that detracted away from the focus of Merlin absolving his guilt over Arthur's death, and that Camelot, not the Founders, was the main focus of that story. However, whenever I write the sequel, memories and sadness over the Founders will be included from the very beginning.
Speaking of the sequel, it isn't yet written. I've had a few ideas, but no 'flash of inspiration'. I'm sure you would all rather that I wait until I had the perfect idea and the perfect plot rather than rush something out that would be sub-standard at best. Also, I'm now in my Junior Honours year of university, so I have a lot less time for writing. I promise though, is IS coming. Comments about what should be in the sequel are welcome, perhaps you can be my inspiration! :)
Thanks for reading :)