Even now—months after having fought in and won a battle, at a school, between two immortal wizards—there were still times when Harry caught his brain reeling at the fact that he was somehow friends with The Great Merlin, the most powerful wizard to ever live, a fifteen hundred-year-old man who was the literal embodiment of magic itself (and it showed).
This was one of those times.
“ARTHUR!” Merlin was bellowing into the landline he had helped install in the kitchen at the Burrow (to Mr. Weasley’s continual delight). “PUT THE PHONE UP TO YOUR FACE, YOU CLOTPOLE!”
He listened silently for a moment, staring up at the ceiling in exasperation.
“I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” he shouted again, making Hermione jump. “I NEED YOU TO TALK—INTO—THE PHONE! Why do I even bother…”
“LIKE THIS?” said a tinny voice on the other end. Merlin jerked the phone away from his ear with a wince.
“Yes,” he said patiently. “You’ve got it in the right place now, but you don’t need to shout.” He paused, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Just because I’m shouting doesn’t mean you also need to.
…Yes, but you see, when you hold the phone away from your ear, you can’t hear me, and when you hold it away from your mouth, I can’t hear you.
…I don’t know, Arthur, I didn’t invent the blasted thing. There used to be two separate pieces and—you know what? It doesn’t matter. Would you please, for the love of Avalon, just Transport to the Burrow?
…Because that’s where I am. We talked about this alread—No, no, don’t Apparate, I sa—!”
With a loud crack, Arthur Pendragon appeared inches from Merlin’s face.
“Were you about to say something?” he asked.
“I said,” Merlin grumbled, hanging up the phone, “Transport, don’t Apparate. You could’ve splinched yourself! Or Apparated into something—like me, for instance!” He extricated himself from between Arthur and the kitchen counter.
“But Apparating’s more fun,” said Arthur.
“No, it’s more dangerous,” Merlin replied. “But I can see how you would confuse the two.”
“Shut up, Merlin.” Arthur took his now-customary seat at the table, where the trio, the twins, Ginny and Sirius were already sitting, watching the proceedings with glee.
Merlin looked around the kitchen. “Where’d Mrs. Weasley go?”
Fred and George both pointed cheerfully to the front door.
Merlin sighed. “Great. She’s going to thwack me again, isn’t she?”
“You deserve every thwack you get, you great clotpole.”
“That’s my word!” said Merlin. He sighed. “I’d better go and get her, she’ll want to know I’m done teaching you how to use a telephone…”
He shook his head and headed out, but they could still hear him through the open windows when he called, “Mrs. Weasley? Sorry for the noise, it’s safe to come back now…”
“Who’s that—ah! Merlin.”
“Still technically a secret!” he protested as she led him back inside.
“Oh yes, of course, dear,” she said as she removed her gardening gloves and otherwise bustled about. “Come on, then. Let’s see if we can get supper ready before my Arthur gets home, shall we?”
As Mrs. Weasley got started in the kitchen, Merlin hauled Arthur bodily out of his chair. “Get up, Arthur, you’re helping.”
“But I can’t cook!”
“No excuse,” Merlin replied, continuing to push and shove as Arthur reluctantly stood up.
As they continued bickering and generally getting in Mrs. Weasley’s way, Harry turned to Hermione to resume their (much) earlier conversation.
“So are you coming with us to visit Charlie while you’re here?” he asked. “He’s opening the new sanctuary on Monday!”
“Oh, for the dragons?” said Merlin, turning around so quickly he nearly ran into Arthur. “Where’s it going to be?”
“Scotland!” said Ron. “Not far from Hogwarts, actually. We could go with Hagrid to visit them on the weekends sometimes.”
“And so could you,” Hermione added, “if you come back to work at Hogwarts.”
“No!” cried the twins. “Come work with us! We’ve got the shop all set up now, business is great already.”
“Not this again,” said Merlin. “We’ll figure it out after we deal with the Dementors.”
“What’s this about Dementors?” said Ginny.
“We’re stealing them,” said Merlin.
Arthur cut in quickly. “He means that we’re going to banish them back to the other side of the Veil, so they’ll stop harassing the living.”
“Then who’s going to guard Azkaban?” asked Ron as his mum made ‘shut it’ motions in his direction, glancing pointedly at Sirius.
“Guards,” replied Arthur easily.
“More importantly,” said Merlin, “how are North Wind and Norbert doing?”
“They’ve got it easy,” said Harry. “You know how Hagrid is. Charlie had to kick him out last time we were there; I’m pretty sure he wanted to stay overnight. And whenever he’s not at the sanctuary, he’s off visiting Grawp in the mountains.”
“We don’t go with him those times,” said Hermione.
“Maybe we should visit,” said Merlin. “It must get a bit lonely up there—“
“Visit the giant?” said Arthur. “He’d squash you like a bug.”
“No, he wouldn’t,” Merlin scoffed. “He’s becoming much more careful, you know.”
“Sure, Merlin,” said Arthur. “Whatever you say. Moving on from that terrible idea, have they set a date for the trial yet?”
“About a month from now!” said Sirius eagerly. “If you two, Dumbledore and Kingsley hadn’t ganged up on him, I don’t think Fudge ever would have agreed.”
“He’s not presiding, is he?” Arthur growled.
“No,” said Harry, “it’s Madam Bones, the woman who was at my hearing.”
“Good,” said Merlin. “I’ll be there too, just in case he tries anything.”
“Thanks,” said Sirius. “But mostly, somebody’s got to stop me from strangling Wormtail when they call him in.”
“Not a problem,” said Merlin.
“Should you really be going out in public right now?” said Arthur. “There have been a lot of rumours going around…”
Merlin waved a hand. “They’re just rumours. I’ll just turn up, act relentlessly normal, and everybody will forget about it.”
“I see,” Arthur said, nodding slowly. “So we’re screwed.”
“I can be normal!” said Merlin. “I am normal!”
“Maybe if you just… don’t talk,” Harry suggested.
“And make sure not to trip,” Arthur contributed. “Or drop anything.”
“You should probably show up as Professor Emrys,” Fred added.
George nodded. “Old people get a pass for weirdness.”
“Especially if they’re terrifying,” said Ron.
Merlin sighed. “You’re acting like we’re not the exact same person.”
“Told you,” said Arthur.
Merlin raised an eyebrow. “Oh, do you want to start the I-told-you-so’s? Because I’ve got so many saved up.”
“Boys,” Mrs. Weasley warned.
Arthur stuck his tongue out at Merlin, so Merlin turned it green.
On a cold evening some months later, a young man with large ears and loose-fitting clothes was waving a sword wildly in the air as he marched back and forth on the shore of a lake, shouting at thin air for the ninth time.
“ARTHUR!” he bellowed, then resumed grumbling to himself as he paced.
The three schoolchildren waiting further back looked on in bemusement.
“ARTHUR!” the man shouted again. “We’re going to be late!”
The man came to a halt, glowering intently at the still surface of the lake for a few seconds before taking a deep, long breath—
“For god’s sake, Merlin!” cried a sopping wet man who waded irritably and painstakingly out of the middle of the lake and up to shore. “I was busy! You’d think you would have learned patience in the last thousand years…”
Merlin raised an eyebrow. “Have you met me?”
Arthur rolled his eyes. “No, of course, what was I thinking.”
He grabbed his sword back.
“Can we go now?” Ron asked. “The Halloween feast’ll be starting soon.”
Hermione huffed indignantly. “Only you would be so eager to leave the Lake of Avalon, Ronald, honestly.”
“We can go back in a minute,” said Arthur. “Don’t worry, I don’t want to miss the feast either.”
“So?” said Merlin, bouncing slightly. “Did you tell them everything?”
Arthur frowned. “Huh?”
“Don’t tell me you forgot! All the stuff I told you to tell them when you got back!”
With a sigh, Arthur shook his head and waved at the lake behind him. “Tell them yourself, Merlin.”
Merlin frowned; Arthur grinned.
And as they looked on, the lake’s placid surface, almost as black as the night sky, started to ripple again. Three vague, ghostly figures began to emerge, growing clearer and more substantial as they rose, perfectly dry, above the surface of the water. It was a trio of finely clothed women who walked toward the shore, transparency diminishing with each step so that they looked almost ordinary by the time they reached land.
Merlin moved warily, stepping in front of Harry, Ron and Hermione and watching the spectral figures cautiously.
Arthur nudged him forward slightly. “I told you, Merlin, it’s fine. Besides, they’re only apparitions, she can’t do any harm.”
“What is he talking about?” Ron whispered to Hermione.
“It’s Samhain,” she explained in a low voice. “When the veil between the worlds is the weakest. Arthur must have done something to conjure the dead.”
“Who are they?” Harry whispered, but he was interrupted when one of the women spoke. She was young—only a girl, really—with dark hair and eyes, but very pale skin.
“I promise you, Merlin,” she said, her voice gentle. “It’s perfectly safe.”
The woman in the center stepped forward slowly. “You can trust us,” she said. She was soft-spoken, but her voice carried an authority Harry wasn’t expecting. Judging by the circlet atop her dark curls, she might have been some sort of royalty.
“Right, Arthur?” she added, raising her eyebrows at him.
“Right.” He stood beside Merlin, murmuring, “Remember what I told you before?”
Merlin still looked unsure. “All right,” he said, “then… where did we first meet?”
The lady with the circlet covered a smile with her hand. “Well, I was running errands in the courtyard. You were getting rotten vegetables thrown at you.”
The trio turned puzzled looks on Merlin, who scratched his head. “Oh, right. I’d forgotten that bit.”
She carefully pulled away from her companion sand approached slowly, reaching out with one hand before embracing Merlin.
“It’s good to see you,” she said.
She pulled away and gestured to the other two ladies, still standing at the shoreline. The first who had spoken approached much more quickly on bare feet and then threw her arms around him, murmuring, “We missed you.”
“I missed you too.” His voice was muffled slightly. “Both of you. How are you here?”
They all turned to the third, silent woman, who hung back until they beckoned her forward. She bowed her head slightly before finally speaking. “Emrys,” she greeted solemnly. “I instructed Arthur on how to call upon us once he reached the other side. He wanted you to have the chance to speak with all of us.”
“Wasn’t my idea,” Arthur interrupted.
The woman raised an eyebrow at him pointedly before continuing. “I’m sorry, Merlin. I don’t know—“ She paused. “I’ve changed, I swear to you. And I’m sorry—for everything.”
Merlin sighed. “I’m sorry, too. I never wanted to hurt you.”
She started to turn away, but Merlin stepped forward, hand outstretched. She watched him hesitantly, then took it.
“Are we even?” he asked.
She nodded quickly. “Even.”
“Thank GOD,” Arthur blurted. “That was the most tiresome feud ever.”
“Hey, half of this is your fault,” Merlin retorted, just as the woman said, “Oh, shut up, Arthur.”
“Great,” Arthur grumbled. “Joining forces again.”
Beside Harry, Hermione slowly started to raise her hand, apparently knowing no other way to interject.
“Oh!” said Merlin, rushing back toward the trio. “Harry, Ron, Hermione, this is Queen Guinevere, the Lady Morgana, and Freya, the Lady of the Lake.”
Harry and Hermione stared at him, thunderstruck.
“Er,” whispered Ron. “Which one’s which?”
Hermione groaned. “Don’t be stupid, Ronald.”
“What? I don’t know what they look like.”
But their conversation was cut short when five men in chainmail emerged from the lake, much more quickly and messily than the ladies had. As a matter of fact, they practically rushed Merlin, nearly lifting him off the ground as they crowded around to clap him on the shoulder or throw an arm around him.
“Guys!” he yelled, but they kept shouting over him.
“It’s so good to see you!”
“Did you kill that snake man?”
“I always knew you had magic!”
“Stop lying, Gwaine.”
“You’re scaring the children!” Merlin protested as he tried to extricate himself from the grip of a long-haired knight.
“Oh, hello, children!” said the knight, waving jovially at them. He finally let Merlin go only to march over and inspect all three of them.
“Gwaine, no!” said Merlin, running over to pull him away. “You are not the first knight they’re meeting. You’re a bad influence.”
“Rude,” said Gwaine.
“Here,” said Merlin, grabbing another knight and ushering him forward. “This is a good influence. His name is Sir Lancelot.”
“Very pleased to meet you,” said Lancelot good-naturedly, shaking hands with Harry and Ron before kissing Hermione’s hand politely. She blushed furiously and couldn’t find anything to say. Fortunately, Ron was too busy staring at the scene before them to take notice.
“This is Gwaine,” said Merlin, “and then Percival, Elyan, and Leon—the Knights of the Round Table.”
“Why’s Lance the only one who gets a ‘Sir’?” muttered the one Harry thought might be Elyan.
“And this,” the first knight interrupted, manhandling Merlin again, “is the man who repeatedly saved our backsides while simultaneously pretending to be a buffoon. You’re the best, Merlin.”
It seemed that more people had arrived during the mayhem, because Harry suddenly caught sight of a face he recognised: a long-haired, dark-eyed man whom he’d seen only once before, when Merlin repelled the Boggart over a year ago—and beside him, a kind-looking woman with a headscarf who could only be Merlin’s mother. The two of them were joined by an older man who rushed forward to pull Merlin away from the nights.
“Gaius!” cried Merlin, caught in a sudden, tight embrace that his mother soon joined. “And Mother—Father—“
“We’re so proud of you, my boy,” said the old man.
“We always have been,” Merlin’s mother added with a teary smile.
“And we’ll always be with you,” said his father, touching Merlin’s chest lightly.
Merlin nodded, sniffling as they released him.
Harry turned away then, trying not to intrude, only to come face-to-face with Morgana Le Fay, of all people.
“You’re young sorcerers, then?” she asked, not unkindly. Queen Guinevere returned to her side, smiling encouragingly at the three of them. Up close, she was much younger than he had expected—all of them were, really.
“Er—“ said Ron, glancing nervously at Harry and Hermione. “Yes, we are.”
“It’s, erm, nice to meet you,” Hermione ventured, although she didn’t seem very certain of it.
Meanwhile, the knights had apparently taken an interest in the trio, as they and Arthur were beginning to crowd around, as well.
“You’re almost as scrawny as Merlin,” said one, encroaching on Harry’s space.
“Don’t be an arse, Gwaine,” said the largest knight—Percival, right?
“Hello, I’m Elyan,” said another, helpfully re-introducing himself. “I’m Gwen’s brother.”
“Give them some space, for god’s sake,” said the one that must be Leon.
“What’s this?” asked Gwaine, indicating the wand sticking out of Harry’s pocket.
“Er,” he said. “That’s my wand. It’s for… spells, and that.”
“How does it work?” Percival asked.
Harry floundered, glancing at Hermione instead. But before she could start explaining how wands were made, Arthur, Merlin and his family broke through the circle forming around them.
“All right, break it up,” said Merlin loudly. “You lot are a menace—I leave you alone for thirty seconds…”
As Merlin wrangled the knights, Gaius and Merlin’s parents took the rest of the introductions upon themselves.
“It’s good to finally meet you,” said the woman, whose caring demeanour reminded Harry abruptly of Mrs. Weasley. “I’m Hunith, Merlin’s mother. This is my brother, Gaius, and my husband, Balinor.”
Balinor nodded solemnly at them, rather Moody-like.
Gaius squinted at them curiously. “And who are you three?”
“We… we’re students,” Hermione began. “Of magic. We wanted to see Avalon.”
“Very few have ever laid eyes upon it,” said Balinor gravely.
“Merlin!” Gaius called suddenly; Merlin jumped, then bounded back over. With all four of them side-by-side, Harry was beginning to see a family resemblance, but Merlin was noticeably taller than the others.
“Why on earth did you bring a bunch of fourteen-year-olds out to the middle of the woods, in the dead of night, on Samhain?” said Gaius.
“Erm.” Merlin scratched his head. “It’s… a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity?”
“He’s not wrong,” Hunith piped up.
Gaius turned his glower on her then, but none of the family seemed remotely threatened by this.
To Harry’s disappointment, the newcomers couldn’t remain for long. Everyone in attendance at the strange, impromptu celebration was making merry, from the largely boisterous court of Camelot, to the peculiar members of Merlin’s family—all of whom seemed very curious about Harry, Ron and Hermione—to the legendary nemeses, the two most powerful sorcerers in history, who were having what seemed to be a perfectly friendly conversation (apart from the fact that they were standing nearly two metres apart) under the supervision of the Lady of the Lake.
Everyone took turns pulling Merlin in various directions—asking questions, giving advice, and telling tales—until Arthur grabbed him, placing the warlock firmly at his side as if daring anyone to try and remove him. Merlin, as usual, didn’t seem to notice or care.
It seemed that hardly any time at all had passed before the apparitions began to slowly fade and the lively mood calmed into something more wistful, but no less joyful. Each and every one of them said their teary, solemn, or cheerful goodbyes (some a mix of all three) to Arthur and Merlin as they stood side-by-side on the shore; to Merlin’s amusement, most of them threatened Arthur with various forms of bodily harm if he should let anything whatsoever happen to their favourite warlock.
As they all walked out onto the misty surface of the lake, they said their last few words, waving as they faded into the mist.
“You take good care of him!” said Guinevere sternly.
“Come visit us next year,” said Lancelot.
“Don’t be late!” Gwaine added.
“See you soon, my boy,” said Gaius as he turned to go.
And finally, Hunith’s soft voice: “You watch over the world. We’ll watch over you.”
With that, they were gone.
Harry was brought back to his senses by Merlin’s quiet, “Arthur?”
“Come on, dollophead. Let’s get going.”
Before long, they were Transporting onto the darkened Hogwarts grounds, where stars were already sparkling overhead and cold wind ruffled the grass beneath their feet as they walked up to the front entrance. Warm light shone through the windows of the school, and the distant sounds of the feast grew slowly clearer.
When the five of them entered the Great Hall, the bright candlelight and savoury aromas surrounded them, and the lingering melancholy seemed to fade from the air. Arthur and Merlin shrank down to teenagers and joined their group at the long, full table, where they ate heartily and talked loudly, long into the night.
A bright, lazy Saturday dawned not long after. The morning was dewy, quiet and still, soft clouds clinging to the mountaintops as the handful of early risers wandered the chilly castle and its grounds. Among them was a peculiar, lively young man who capered like a unicorn foal across the sparkling grass. He grinned at the groups of owls making their way home overhead, waved to the merpeople in the Black Lake—paused briefly to shout into the forest in an unknown tongue—and crouched down to say hello to a few rabbits.
He quickly turned and made shushing motions in the direction of the man shouting from just outside the castle doors. He got up to run back to the school, and in his haste, tripped on an invisible obstacle and tumbled onto the soft grass; the impact shook a flurry of golden sparks out of him, which drifted gently to the ground as he dusted himself off and continued on his way, leaving a patch of tiny flowers growing behind him.
When he was in hearing range, Arthur snorted. “You really are a ridiculous man, do you know that? Now come on or you’ll miss breakfast.”
They went inside together, and as the morning mist started to recede up into the hills and into the crannies of the forest, the school began to awaken. By the time the sun had risen enough to warm the morning into day, people were already gathering outside. Study groups, Gobstones tournaments and miniature games of Quidditch were scattered all about the grounds.
Just outside the forest, a different sort of study group started to assemble. There were dozens of students ranging from fifth to seventh years, and even a few teachers took careful seats on rocks, on conjured chairs, or directly on the grass.
Without the threat of Ministry interference, DA meetings were often held outside now: around the Black Lake, in a clearing in the Forbidden Forest, among the grassy knolls just a short walk from the castle… but always in the open. There were a few new faces, and a few teachers who attended the occasional meeting. Hagrid in particular was eager for every lesson.
And Harry wasn’t the only teacher now. Sometimes Arthur trained them all in fencing, or recited military history, or talked battle strategy. Sometimes Merlin talked to them about magic, or told them old stories, or taught them maths and physics. Other times, seventh-year specialists helped tutor the younger students in difficult subjects. Sometimes Neville took over for a day, or Ginny, or Ron—or Seamus, but only when they were near the lake. And sometimes Harry helped them all practice some of the most simple but useful spells. No one complained about those lessons anymore.
This particular morning was Merlin’s turn, which meant there were more teachers in attendance than usual. It was also one of the few times Slytherin students dared to turn up.
“No, Harry’s right,” Merlin was saying. “Expelliarmus is an extremely useful spell—er, if I may say so, anyway.” He scratched his head awkwardly and pressed on. “The basics are just as important as the flashy stuff—more, even. And as I keep saying, spells aren’t the only thing out there. They’re not even the only magical tool at your disposal. Just ask Neville.”
Arthur clinked his sword conspicuously.
Hermione raised her hand. “Are you going to teach us Old Magic?”
“Of course!” said Merlin with a grin. “I’ve always wanted to help bring back the old ways. But bear in mind, it will be difficult; more so for some of you than for others, just like everything.”
A running and shouting figure interrupted them, panting all the way down from the school… ah. Filch.
Merlin groaned. “What has he done now?”
“No—“ Filch panted, catching his breath as he finally came to a halt at the edge of their group. “It’s another fight—Gryffindors and Slytherins—it just keeps growing—could you break it up?”
Merlin raised a dangerous eyebrow. “Oh, I’ll do more than break it up.”
Arthur got up to stand beside Merlin. “What are you doing.”
Ignoring him, Merlin loudly continued, “This nonsense has gone on entirely long enough, if you ask me.”
“No,” Arthur groaned. “You can’t latch onto another mission. You just finished one.”
Merlin grinned. “New lesson plan!”
“Let’s go, Mr. Filch,” said Merlin, walking briskly in the direction of the castle. “We’ll just see about this rivalry rubbish.”
“Just get a hobby or something!” Arthur called after him. “For god’s sake.”
Merlin just beamed at him. “Well? You coming or not?”
Arthur glared, sighed, and then marched irritably after him.
And, with their newest friends in tow, the king followed his sorcerer, just as he always would.