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The Immortal and the Revenant

Chapter Text

There was a cat under a car. This was remarkable only because of the exceedingly concerned expression it was wearing, which was unmistakable due to the proximity of its wide eyes to Merlin’s face. He had been crawling around on the driveway in search of a suddenly missing Mundungus, as he had been known to hide under things—much like cats, as it turns out.

“Sorry to bother you,” said Merlin, head halfway under the Dursleys’ car, “but have you by any chance seen a rather offensive man by the name of Mundungus recently?”

The cat did not respond, but he didn’t run away either, which Merlin took as a good sign.

“I suppose he’s run off again, then? No surprise there, really. Well, as it happens, I’ve been keeping an eye on the boy too, so I suppose I’ll take it from here. My name’s Emrys.”

He was not at all sure whether that meant anything to the cat, but reasoned it was polite to give some name or other in either case. At length, the cat seemed satisfied, so Merlin started to get back up. “Er, don’t tell anyone, if you don’t mind? I’m trying to keep a low profile here.”

When the cat continued to stare at him, Merlin took that as his dismissal.

“Low profile,” he snorted to himself. “How long did you honestly think you could keep that up for? You’re delusional, is what you are.”

But he sensed Harry on the move, so he made his way back down the driveway and headed in that general direction. Not a moment too late, in fact, as darkness clouded around the area rapidly, leaving behind a cold and quiet that made Merlin slow his pace slightly as he approached Harry’s location.

Leave the kid alone for five seconds and he gets attacked by Dementors, of all things. He’s as bad as Arthur, and that’s saying something. Merlin picked up the pace and ran into the alley that seemed to be the center of the disturbance. Harry was making a valiant attempt to conjure a Patronus while Dudley shrank blindly away from the invisible force attacking him.

To Merlin’s surprise, Harry did in fact manage to create a corporeal Patronus after a few attempts, so as the ethereal stag worked on fending off the first Dementor, Merlin set to work on the other one. He despised Dementors, personally, but they didn’t seem to like him much, either, so at least they were on the same page. The creature didn’t immediately notice Merlin’s approach, busy trying to pry Dudley’s hands away from his face, but it quickly recoiled when it saw him. After a split second, it lunged forward.

Wisely reflecting that a giant dragon Patronus might raise a few questions, he instead figured he might as well just dump the accursed thing back through the Veil (it was sometimes useful to know exactly where that was located, even if that location was the Ministry). But Merlin realised too late that doing that would make it look as if he had evaporated a Dementor, and that that was not ideal for several reasons.

Oh, well, he thought. At least he didn’t have to sacrifice anything to send it back where it had come from in the first place. He had a vague feeling that the Balance approved, but he couldn’t be sure. The Dursley boy seemed fine, at least, as he was still squirming on the ground and groaning.

“Who are you?” came Harry’s suspicious voice from behind him. Meanwhile, his stag Patronus was nuzzling Merlin’s arm as if looking for treats.

So much for a low profile, he thought, and threw caution to the wind (where caution normally went, when it came to Merlin).

“Just in the area,” he said. Oops, that’s not what he asked. “Er.”

He turned to see Harry’s wand pointed vaguely at him; he scratched sheepishly at the back of his head.

“Your friend doesn’t look too good,” he redirected.

“He’s not my friend.”

“Yeah, I gathered that, actually. Just trying to be concise.”

“Who sent you?”

“Er, well, not Voldemort, if that’s what you’re asking. Nobody sent me, per se. See, I was watching Mundungus Fletcher, who was watching you—Dumbledore did send him, Avalon knows why. Anyway, he ran off somewhere, so I figured I’d, you know. Give you a hand. Given the Dementors and all.”

Harry definitely did not look any more at ease when Merlin finally stopped talking, but he didn’t get the chance to respond.

“Who are you?” said a voice from the end of the alley—an old woman was standing there in her slippers.

“Who are you?” Merlin returned, squinting at her as the meagre light started to return.

Harry visibly rolled his eyes at the repetition, but didn’t put his wand away.

“I’m Arabella Figg,” said the woman, answering Merlin’s question for some reason, “and I’m protecting Harry—under Dumbledore’s orders.”

“You know Dumbledore?” asked Harry.

“Everyone knows Dumbledore,” she said.

“That’s true,” Merlin agreed.

Harry turned back to him. “Fine, I know her, but who are you?”

“Er…” Think of a name. Any name. Lancelot. No! Don’t say that, you’ll sound like a nut. What’s my name again? Okay, easy, think of a bird, think of a bird…

“Robin.” That’s not a good bird.

“You don’t sound too sure.”

Bloody hell, I’m stuck with this now.

“Well, it’s always wise to maintain a healthy dose of skepticism.”

Harry decided to let it drop, apparently, but it wasn’t much relief. “Wait, you mentioned Mundungus—he was the one that Disapparated in front of my house, wasn’t he? Why was Dumbledore having me followed?”

“I don’t know,” Merlin shrugged, “probably the same reason you were immediately attacked by Dementors after he left.”

“Right. You don’t know his plans, then?”

Merlin snorted. “No one knows his plans. He just moves people around like chess pieces. But now, we have one advantage—he doesn’t know my plans, either.”

You have no plan, he reminded himself.

“Anyway,” he continued, “we should probably get your cousin home.”

Harry nodded, stowing his wand in his back pocket (a terrible place to store a wand, really) and helping Dudley to his feet.

“Mrs. Figg,” Merlin asked of the old woman still standing a few metres away, “would you mind alerting the Order of what has happened? I imagine they will want to get Harry out of here as soon as possible.”

She squeaked at the mention of the Order, but scurried away anyway—which wasn’t all that surprising since “Tell us if anything weird happens” was probably the only instruction Dumbledore had given her, and this definitely qualified.

Harry was still struggling with his cousin. Merlin moved to levitate him, before realising he had left his wand at home.

“Oops.” Hopefully Harry had been too preoccupied to notice that he had a) made a Dementor evaporate and b) done so without a wand.

“What?” said Harry.

“Oh, I, uh… dropped my wand.”

He made a show of looking around for it.

Harry squinted at him, probably wondering if it was him or Merlin that was stupid. “Couldn’t you just… summon it?”

Merlin stopped scuffling around. “Oh, right.” He’d seen people do that wandless. “Uh, accio wand?”

A wooden stick appeared out of thin air and smacked him in the face.


The stick clattered to the ground, and he pointed warningly at it before bending down to pick it up. Practically every inanimate object seemed to acquire a personality if it spent enough time around Merlin. It was a nightmare.

Well, at least Harry seemed to be getting a kick out of it. Village idiot all over again. Merlin shook his head at the boy’s laughter and levitated his catatonic cousin.

When they reached the driveway a few silent minutes later, Harry helped Dudley stand upright and turned to look inquiringly at Merlin. “Don’t you need to disappear or something?”

“Why? Your aunt and uncle already know about magic. And I have a feeling you’ll be needing backup.” He knocked on the door and stepped back.

“Diddy!” called a high-pitched voice from inside. “About time too, I was getting quite—quite—Diddy, what’s the matter!”

The second the door opened, “Diddy” proceeded to vomit all over the doormat. Harry, by some miracle, had extricated himself from his cousin just in time to avoid the blast. The vaguely horse-like woman and her ample husband ushered their still-catatonic son into the kitchen, all the way peppering him with questions that went unanswered, and raving about muggings and police. Harry and Merlin both followed completely unnoticed—right up until Dudley uttered a single word: “Him.”


Merlin let out an exaggerated sigh and trudged into the kitchen behind Harry. He had spent enough time snooping around the Dursley house to already be sick of this nonsense. He had no idea how Harry had put up with it this long. It was just asking for a complex, really.

“What have you done to my son?” Vernon demanded when Harry came into view.


“What did he do to you, Diddy?” Petunia asked. “Did he use his—his thing?”

Merlin snorted. Dudley, unfortunately, nodded.

Harry started to protest, but he was cut off by an owl which flew at his uncle’s head, dropped a letter at Harry’s feet, and zoomed back out the window. 

“OWLS!” Vernon bellowed, and slammed the window shut as Harry busied himself with the letter. “Owls AGAIN!”

“Ministry?” Merlin asked Harry, cutting off his uncle’s oncoming rant.

Harry didn’t answer immediately, just handed him the letter and wandered out of the kitchen in a daze.

“Who the hell are you?” demanded Vernon, having evidently realised that there was a stranger in his kitchen.

“Er, Robin,” Merlin answered, then followed Harry. “Don’t worry, these charges are totally absurd. Dumbledore’s heading to the Ministry now to sort it out.”

Harry gave him a strange look. “How do you know?”

Merlin shrugged. “I keep an eye on him.”

You keep an eye on Dumbledore?”

He grinned. “Only fair, isn’t it? Besides, he’s not the only batty old wizard around here.”

“So you’re one of them too,” said Vernon, standing in his kitchen doorway.

“Oh, yes. The strongest one, actually,” Merlin answered with a smile, assuming Harry would take it as either a joke or a poorly executed threat. At least he brightened up a bit, though that might be because Vernon was now fuming in someone else’s direction for once.

But before the large man could start on another tirade, a sharp CRACK filled the room, making everyone jump. Harry ran over to open the window and rescue the owl that had caused the ruckus.


When Harry read the letter, he looked back at Merlin. “Huh. You were right.”

“Don’t act so surprised.”

Who are all these ruddy owls from?”

Harry started to reply, but it was already clear they’d never believe anything he said, so Merlin stepped in.

“Your ward used magic to protect your son from some soul-sucking monsters called Dementors, so there will be a hearing to determine whether it was justified. You see, he’s not normally allowed to use magic in front of you lot because they’re afraid you’ll go nuts and start burning people at the stake again. Or something. So, in short, you’re welcome.”

“And what in the ruddy hell are these Dementy-whatsits?”

Merlin sighed. Apparently he was still stuck on the first half of his explanation.

“They guard the wizard prison, Azkaban,” said Petunia.

Everyone turned to gawk at her. Well, except Dudley, who still had a thousand-yard stare and didn’t seem to be hearing much of anything. Petunia clapped a hand over her mouth.

“How’d you know that?” asked Harry.

Her voice was jerky when she finally replied. “I heard—that awful boy—telling her about them—years ago.”

Harry bristled. “If you mean my mum and dad, why don’t you use their names?”

“She’s not talking about your father,” said Merlin, causing Petunia to lift her eyes from the floor and regard him suspiciously.

“So,” started Vernon, “so they—er—they, er, actually exist, do they?”

Yet another owl clattered through the still-open window and landed on the kitchen table.

“Enough—effing—owls,” said Vernon through gritted teeth, and shut the window as soon as the owl took off again.

“I’ve got to go to a hearing,” said Harry.

“That’s normal,” Merlin assured him. “You’ve got nothing to worry about, you were defending yourself against some bloody Dementors. I swear, the government these days…”

“Dementors again!” Vernon exploded. “I demand you tell me what happened to my son.”

“I already told you: nothing, thanks to Harry. Just got a bit of a fright, he’ll be fine in an hour. They were going to suck out his soul, of course, but they didn’t succeed.”

“Fought ‘em off, did you, son?” said Vernon with a tinge of desperation. “Gave ‘em the old one-two, did you?”

“You can’t give a Dementor the old one-two,” said Harry through clenched teeth.

“He’s right.”

With a whoosh and a clatter, a fourth owl shot out of the kitchen fireplace.

“For god’s sake!” roared Vernon.

“I’m afraid I’m starting to agree with your uncle here,” said Merlin, “which is decidedly not a good sign.” But Harry seemed reluctant to tell him what was in this letter, so he didn’t push it.

“I can’t stop the owls coming.”

“Well you can’t stop the Dismembers coming either!” Vernon shouted. “In fact, they’re probably here for you!”

Merlin jumped in. “Mr. Dursley, Dementors are not normally in the habit of chasing down fourteen-year-olds on their summer holiday.”

“Actually,” said Harry absently, “it’s probably Lord Voldemort again. He does have it out for me.”

“Lord—hang on,” said Uncle Vernon, thinking with his entire face. “I’ve heard that name… that was the one who—“

“Murdered my parents, yes,” said Harry dully.

“But that giant bloke said he was gone.”

“He’s back.”

“Back?” whispered Aunt Petunia, for once the only one having a normal reaction to the proceedings.

“Yes. He came back a month ago. I saw him.” Again, Harry seemed to be hoping someone would believe him.

“Yeah,” said Merlin. “He’s back.”

“I see,” said Vernon, hitching up his trousers. “Well, that settles it. You can get out of this house, boy!”


“You heard me—OUT! OUT! I should’ve done this years ago! You’re not staying here if some loony’s after you, you’re not endangering my wife and son!”

Merlin stepped bodily in front of the boy. “Now, hold on just a damn minute. You agreed to care for this boy, and not only have you not done that, now you’re—“

He was interrupted by the sound of yet another owl hitting the floor after having flown directly through the chimney. Once recovered, it dropped a red envelope on Petunia’s head despite Harry’s attempts to retrieve it.

“You can open it if you like,” said Harry, “but I’ll hear what it says anyway. That’s a Howler.”

“Let go of it, Petunia!” roared Vernon. “It could be dangerous!”

“It’s addressed to me.” Her voice shook. “Look, Vernon! ‘Mrs. Petunia Dursley, The Kitchen, Number Four, Privet Drive—“

But when the envelope caught fire, she screamed and dropped it.

An awful voice rung against the walls of the small room: “Remember my last, Petunia.”

It wasn’t Dumbledore’s voice, but he was the only one who was routinely so vaguely threatening. Excepting Merlin himself, of course.

“What is this?” Vernon’s voice was hoarse. “I don’t—P-Petunia, dear?”

“The boy—“ she started weakly. “The boy will have to stay, Vernon.”

“He… but, Petunia…”

Uncharacteristically, she ignored him and addressed Harry directly. “You’re to stay in your room. You’re not to leave the house. Now get to bed.”

Harry was still frozen. “Who was that Howler from?”

“Don’t ask questions,” she snapped.

“Are you in touch with wizards? What did it mean?”

“I told you to go to bed!”

“How come—?“


“Well,” Merlin interrupted, “this has been a most pleasant evening, but I should probably be going now. Harry, if you need me, just give a note to any random bird and tell them to take it to Emrys, it won’t take me long to respond.”

“Who’s Emrys?”

“Me.” Er… “It’s my last name.” Good save. “And, Petunia. You’re obviously acquainted with Dumbledore. Well, take it from me: I’m worse. And if any cupboard-related shenanigans go on around here, I will know about it. Good evening.”

And with that, he strode back out the front door before anyone could respond.

Chapter Text

The moment Harry reached his bedroom, he scrawled out three identical notes to the only people he could trust: Sirius, Ron and Hermione. 

I’ve just been attacked by Dementors and I might be expelled from Hogwarts. I want to know what’s going on and when I’m going to get out of here.

Unfortunately, Hedwig was evidently still out hunting, so despite his stinging eyes and pounding head, Harry paced back and forth waiting for her to return before going to bed. Not only was he exhausted, he still ached from Dudley’s blows (and from carrying him home), and he was grinding his teeth in furious frustration at being trapped in this awful house with no information, no friends, no magic, and no bloody answers. He kicked his school trunk as he passed it, got another ache for his troubles, and continued limping back and forth around the room.

Finally, a soft rustle alerted him to Hedwig’s return.

“About time!” he snarled as she alighted, a dead frog clamped in her beak. “You can put that down, I’ve got work for you.”

He tied the three small rolls of parchment to her leg. “Take these straight to Sirius, Ron and Hermione, and don’t come back here without good long replies. Keep pecking them if you have to. Understand?”

Her hoot was muffled by frog.

“Get going, then.”

She took off, and Harry finally threw himself down on his bed without undressing, immediately feeling guilty for snapping at her. She was the only friend he had here. He’d make it up to her when she returned, he decided. And she would, soon—he’d been attacked by Dementors, for Merlin’s sake. Tomorrow, he’d wake up to words of sympathy and a plan for getting him to the Burrow right away. That comforting idea lulled him to sleep.

But there was no letter in the morning. Harry stayed in his bedroom all day, waiting. Aunt Petunia came up a few times to shove food through the cat flap in his door, but each time, she ignored every question about the Howler that he asked through the door. Otherwise, the Dursleys stayed away.

The next day was the same, and the next. Completely alone in the place he was forced to call home, forgotten by his friends, he seethed in silence, pacing his room with furious energy before exhausting himself and returning to his bed to stare emptily at the ceiling. He raged mutely at Ron, Hermione, Sirius, Dumbledore, all of them, for abandoning him. He drove himself mad thinking through what would happen if he was expelled, his wand snapped in half, forced to live with the Dursleys full-time—or worse, sent to Azkaban. Would he be exiled from the world he’d finally found, the one he really belonged in, estranged from all his friends—from Sirius, his only family? Or would he live the rest of his days surrounded by Dementors, and by the laughter and sobs of the insane, whose ranks he would soon be joining?

He shook his head, having once more fallen into the vortex of his solitary thoughts. His friends had forgotten him or were ignoring him. It didn’t matter which. He had no one now. He started pacing once again, glancing every so often out the window, hoping for a glimpse of white feathers.

Well. There were feathers. There was a bird on his windowsill. Not an owl, unfortunately. It was scrutinising him with an uncomfortable seriousness which, he admitted, was not altogether uncommon for birds. They were serious creatures, on the whole. This one had grey wings with a mottled brown breast and a white, hawkish face. He thought it might be a falcon.

Any bird, his mind murmured suddenly. Even with Hedwig gone, he could try sending a message to that Emrys bloke who had helped him with the Dementors the other day. He had seemed fairly forthcoming at the time, and he definitely seemed to be in the habit of knowing things.

That decided it. He was desperate. He opened the window to let the bird in and quickly scribbled something down, hoping it wouldn’t fly away in the meantime.

Mr. Emrys—

Was he a Mr.? He couldn’t be much older than twenty-five, and he’d introduced himself by his first name. Oh, just leave it.

—I hope you don’t mind me contacting you. The hearing’s coming up, and I don’t know what’s going on. I haven’t heard from any of my friends, or even Professor Dumbledore. The only thing they told me was not to leave the house. Do you know anything?

I can’t leave Hogwarts. It’s my home.

Okay, that was probably too much at the end, but he needed someone to talk to—someone to know how important this was.


Harry Potter

He quickly rolled up the parchment and approached the bird cautiously, holding it out. When it didn’t flutter away, he carefully tied the note to its leg.

“Er, this is for Emrys,” he remembered to say. “Could you take it to him, please?”

And with that, the bird was off. Presumably, it had worked. Hopefully the man would remember him. He wasn’t completely sure whether he knew he was Harry Potter, although it certainly seemed like he had. On the other hand, he seemed like the type who was disarmingly friendly with everyone, so it was difficult to tell. Was he even English? He had an English name—if you could really call that a name, it was more like a word—but he definitely heard some sort of accent, maybe German… what did Danes sound like? It doesn’t matter, he decided. He’d probably never hear from him again, anyway.

Five minutes later, there was a tap at his window. Same bird.

Wow, he thought as he rushed to open the window. He hadn’t been lying about ‘it won’t take me long.’ He hurried to untie the note and gave the bird one of Hedwig’s treats for his helpfulness, hoping at the last minute that the bird hadn’t just gotten confused and turned right back around with his own letter.

The bird scarfed the treat and flew away—which was not ideal, as Harry might need to reply, but he might be able to find another bird elsewhere. He shut the window behind it to keep out the heat. Harry unrolled the new scroll, and it was indeed a letter, one with much nicer handwriting than his. It almost looked like calligraphy.

Dear Harry,

First of all, just call me Robin, for god’s sake.


Secondly, I am glad to hear from you. I was somewhat concerned after having met your guardians.

Harry frowned, hoping Robin hadn’t gotten the idea the Dursleys were abusing him or something. They had been very angry that night, so he wouldn’t blame him for jumping to some alarming conclusions.

I do indeed have some answers if you want them, and it sounds very much as if you do. Would you please open your window?

Huh? He shrugged and reached over to open it. Maybe he planned on sending another owl—or, bird.

You will not have to leave Hogwarts: trust me. And try not to be too angry with your friends, if you can. They are worried about you, but they cannot reply to your letters yet.

I will speak with you more soon.



That was odd; he hadn’t said much. Harry glanced back at the window to see if another bird was on its way, but there was nothing. He sat there for a moment just to catch the breeze, staring out at the waving trees. A blue butterfly was moseying about the Dursleys’ garden, sniffing at a yellow flower before ascending to his window. It alighted on his windowsill as if observing him, then drifted happily into his room. Harry sat back down on his bed. It was a welcome intruder, he supposed, glancing out the window again.

“You got my letter, then?”

Harry screamed.

The young man from before was sitting cross-legged on his bedroom floor, large ears sticking out from among black curls, wearing a sheepish grin.

“Er, sorry,” he said. “I—“

“BOY!” shouted Uncle Vernon from downstairs. “What’s going on up there!”

“Er—nothing!” Harry called back.

That must not have satisfied him, because heavy steps started plodding up the stairs. Harry shot up in a panic and started looking for a place to hide the newcomer.

“Don’t worry about it,” he whispered as Uncle Vernon approached. “I’ll just—“

And he was a butterfly again. Harry stared agape for a second, then rushed to open the door before Uncle Vernon could pound on it.

“What was all that shouting about?” he demanded without preamble.

“Er—something just… came through the window, that’s all. It’s gone now.”

“Not another OWL—“

“No!” Harry assured him. “Just, er…”

He looked around for inspiration. That’s when Uncle Vernon spotted the blue butterfly still hovering amiably in the middle of his room, seemingly inspecting the posters on his wall.

“A butterfly?” Uncle Vernon chortled.

“No, not a—“

Apparently Harry’s presumed cowardice had satisfied him, though, because he immediately started back down the stairs.

“Petunia,” he called, “you’re not going to believe this.”

“Great,” Harry said, shutting the door and turning back to the person-who-was-still-a-butterfly, who was now sitting atop a book on his desk.

“I’ve never seen a butterfly read before,” he said at length.

He fluttered his wings happily, and Harry couldn’t help but smile a little.

“Could I shut the window now? It’s quite hot today.”

In response, he flitted over to Harry and sat atop his head. He could barely feel the tickle of tiny feet in his hair, but the butterfly had disappeared from view, at any rate.

“I’ll take that as a yes.”

When he turned back from the window, the butterfly was on the carpet, inspecting the cat flap.

Harry joined him on the floor. “Yeah, they put food through there sometimes.”

His antennae bristled indignantly.

“Well, at least if I’m not allowed downstairs, I don’t have to make dinner.”

The butterfly took a few quick steps forward towards Harry, almost insistently.

“They didn’t lock me in here or anything. It’s just, Mr. Weasley told me to stay in the house.”

That thought brought Harry back to the pit that his life was in right now, so he fell silent again. The butterfly fluttered up near his face, trying to get his attention, then backed up, pointing his antennae in Harry’s direction. He was trying to tell him someth—

Harry barely managed to keep from shouting again when the tall, gangly man tumbled out of the air in front of him once more. ‘Tumbled’ was especially apt, as he immediately lost his balance and stumbled to the floor in a pile of limbs. They both froze, waiting for a voice from downstairs… but nothing happened.

Robin straightened his loose-fitting clothes and flashed a broad grin.

“Sorry about the commotion,” he said. “It’s easier to talk in person, and I figured you wouldn’t mind some company right now along with some answers.”

Harry tried not to look as relieved as he felt. “Both of those would be great, actually.”

Robin brightened (further), pulling his wand out of a sheath on his leg and fiddling with it, tossing it up in the air a few times. He didn’t seem in any particular hurry, that was for sure.

“So you’re an Animagus, then?”

“Yep,” he answered cheerfully. “I would’ve warned you in the letter, but who knows who’s spying on those these days.”

“Oh,” said Harry. “You’re unregistered too?”

“Too?” Robin laughed. “How many felons do you know, exactly? Although I suppose I can’t really talk, I am the one committing the crime here, technically…”

It occurred to Harry to wonder why a demonstrable chatterbox would have a completely silent Animagus form, but mostly, he was just glad Robin kept rambling on after questions Harry didn’t really want to answer. This time, he took the opportunity to change the subject.

“Why are you so sure I won’t be expelled?”

“I think Dumbledore’s planning to be at your hearing—to defend you. Even if he isn’t, I was there too, so I’ll just show up and tell them what really happened. People don’t get expelled for defending themselves. And anyway, the families of Muggle-borns are allowed to know about magic. I don’t know what they’re on about, ‘magic in the presence of a Muggle.’” He snorted and continued balancing his wand on his head.

“Then why are he and all my friends keeping things from me? It’s my life, why can’t I know what’s going on?”

“It’s about the Order,” he said. “Of the Phoenix. Named after Dumbledore’s bird, I think. Anyway, it’s a secret organisation that’s supposed to be fighting off Voldemort, mostly made up of Aurors and a few of your old teachers.”

He paused to look at Harry seriously, an effect that was undermined by his casual posture on the ground. 

“Keep in mind I shouldn’t be telling you any of this. They have no idea I’ve been watching them, and will probably be very upset when they find out, but I don’t particularly care. Unfortunately, I can’t get a lot of information, because Alastor Moody can see through most of my disguises—that eye of his, you know… anyway, I’m probably making myself sound like a total creep. The point is, it’s a secret, and therefore Dumbledore told your friends not to answer your letters until they can rescue you from here and you can all talk in person.”

Harry felt vaguely as if he was recovering from whiplash, but he managed to absorb one thing from all that. “So they’re coming to get me, and they’ll explain then.”

“That would seem to be the plan,” he agreed, tracing lines in the carpet with his wand. “Keep in mind, though, you’re only fourteen, and because of that, they’ll probably want to keep you out of the thick of things as much as possible.”

“I’m not an infant,” Harry protested.

“I know that,” he said. “And so do they. But Voldemort chose you, made you his worst enemy, so they’re trying to protect you from him. But they’re going about it the wrong way, if you ask me. That’s why I’m here. I knew Dumbledore had control over everyone else, and he was going to prevent them from answering your questions. But he doesn’t know me.”

Harry frowned at how Robin seemed to talk about Dumbledore sometimes, but he had to admit the headmaster was fond of his secrets. The only difference was, in the past, he had been included in them. “Do you think he’s stopped trusting me, then?”

Robin hesitated. “I can’t tell you what he’s thinking, but I don’t think so. I believe he’s come by some new information that’s changed… something. I just don’t know what it is.”

He sounded sincere, at least. But it honestly worried Harry a bit that Robin knew so much as it is. Even if he seemed friendly, someone who was spying on Dumbledore would have to be dangerous, right?

“How do you know all this, anyway?” Harry asked carefully.

“It’s complicated,” Robin started, and Harry sighed inwardly, preparing for a lot of evasion. “—but mostly, this.”

Robin pulled wad of fabric out of the pocket of his jeans and unfolded it to reveal a nondescript crystal.

“Don’t touch it!” he warned quickly. “It wants to give you visions of the future, that’s what it’s for, but sometimes I’m able to use it to see the present, too. Trust me, you do not want to see whatever it wants to show you.”

Harry drew his hand back from where he had unconsciously been reaching out to it. He decided to accept that explanation for now, since Robin wasn’t touching it with any bare skin, either. He’d had enough experience with Borgin and Burkes to know not go around touching mysterious magical objects.

“Can Voldemort get hold of one of those?” he asked.

Robin smiled widely, as if he had asked the right question. “No. I won’t say it’s impossible, because more of these do exist, but they’re under more protection than probably anything else on Earth. I don’t see any way he could get to them even if he knew they were out there somewhere.”

Harry nodded, eyeing the crystal dubiously. He thought for a second it might be glowing, but Robin put it away before he could be certain.

At least he knew something now, he supposed, even if he still didn’t understand everything that was going on. That didn’t change his apprehension about the hearing, though.

“You’re sure they won’t expel me, then?” He tried his best not to sound like a child seeking reassurance.

Robin looked him in the eye. “I promise, Harry. I won’t let them.” He relaxed a bit. “You probably won’t even need me, but I’ll be there anyway.”

Harry nodded, hoping he was right. “Do you know how they’re planning to get me out of here? I can’t sit in this room by myself for another three days.”

“Not exactly,” he said. “All I know is they’re waiting for your relatives to leave the house so they can sneak you out.”

“All of them?” Harry sighed. “Fat chance.”

Robin frowned.


“I might be able to… push them along, as it were.”

When Uncle Vernon opened his bedroom door again, his face was brick red and he had to shout over the tempestuous whooshing emanating from downstairs.

“BOY!” he bellowed, barely audible over the repeated slamming of windows followed by a chorus of hoots. “WE’RE GOING OUT. DON’T LEAVE THE ROOM WHILE WE’RE GONE, Y’HEAR?”

Harry just nodded, making no attempt to make himself heard over the owls. Uncle Vernon harrumphed back down the stairs, and a few moments later, Harry heard a faint screeching of tires.

Robin materialised mid-laugh as the ruckus downstairs started to fade. “They booked a hotel,” he managed. “Poor man could barely hear your uncle over the phone.”

Harry poked his head out his bedroom door to find out how high the carpet of letters was downstairs.

“They weren’t real owls,” Robin told him. “It was easier to conjure a bunch of duplicates than to write and then send thirty thousand letters.”

“Thank Merlin,” Harry muttered. Robin laughed out loud again.

“Listen, Harry,” he said eventually. “I have to go now—the Order could be here any minute, and I’d rather they didn’t interrogate me right now. You don’t have to keep it a secret or anything, I just need to… not be in this location when they arrive.”

Harry nodded, hoping he was right about the incoming rescue.

“I’ll come visit you after you get there safely if you like,” he continued, and Harry agreed before Robin could change his mind.

Robin grinned and moved over to the window, probably getting ready to fly away.

“Wait!” said Harry. “I have a question.”


“So… were you always a butterfly, or did you start out as a caterpillar?”

Robin laughed again. “Why on earth—no, I was never a caterpillar. Good question, though. Now I have to go find out why.” He snickered once more before disappearing, and the butterfly fluttered lazily out into the summer evening.

Chapter Text

“Ron and Hermione will explain everything, dear, I’ve really got to dash,” said Ron’s mum, and he and Hermione backed away from the door where they had been listening for signs of Harry.

“Great, thanks, mum,” Ron muttered.

When Harry opened the door, both Hermione and Pigwidgeon freaked, the girl attacking her friend with a hug while the owl zoomed in circles around the room. 

“HARRY! Ron, he’s here! We didn’t hear you arrive! Oh, how are you? Are you all right? Have you been furious with us? I bet you have—but we couldn’t tell you anything, Dumbledore made us swear we wouldn’t…”

She babbled at him about Dementors and the Ministry and the Decree for Reasonable Restriction of… something, until Ron stepped in.

“Let him breathe, Hermione,” he said, closing the door behind Harry.

Hedwig joined in the commotion, swooping down to land on Harry’s shoulder.

“She’s been in a right state,” said Ron, showing Harry the index finger with a healing cut. “Pecked us half to death when she brought your last letters, look at this.”

“Oh, yeah,” said Harry. “Sorry about that, but I wanted answers, you know…”

“We wanted to give them to you, mate. Hermione was going spare, but Dumbledore made us—“

“Swear not to tell me,” said Harry, tone suddenly chilly. “Yeah, Hermione’s already said.”

Ron frowned. That wasn’t like him.

“He seemed to think it was best,” said Hermione rather breathlessly. “Dumbledore, I mean.”


Ron piped up again, trying to keep the peace. “I think he thought you were safest with the Muggles—“

“Yeah?” Harry raised his eyebrows. “Have either of you been attacked by Dementors this summer?”

“Well, no—but that’s why he’s had people from the Order of the Phoenix tailing you all the time—“

That only seemed to make him angrier. “Didn’t work that well, though, did it? Some random bloke had to come along and help me fight them off.”

“What?” said Hermione. “Who? Dumbledore said Mundungus—“

Harry looked like he’d said too much, but he continued arguing anyway. “Yeah, of course Mundungus bailed! And Dumbledore still trusted him enough to send him to tail me without even letting me know. But apparently somebody knew better, because thanks to him, I still have my soul.”

“What?” Ron started, taken aback. “I thought you fought off the Dementors alone, with the Patronus—“

“Yeah, well, I didn’t have to.”

“This is good!” said Hermione desperately. “That means there was a witness! He can speak at your hearing, there’s no way they can expel you for acting in self-defence.”

“Yeah,” sighed Harry, unwinding a little, “that’s pretty much what he said.”

“You talked to him?” she asked. “He said he’d testify?”

“He promised. He said he’d visit me here, too. And so far,” he added a little more harshly, “he’s kept all his promises.”

“Harry,” said Ron quietly, “we really are sorry. Dumbledore convinced us you’d be all right until they rescued you, and we could make it up to you when you got here.”

Harry nodded, rubbing at his forehead.

“I don’t know how your friend could get here,” said Hermione, unhelpfully. “I mean, you saw the security measures.”

Harry deflated. “Damn, you’re probably right. He probably thought I was going to the Burrow, that’s what I thought… what is this place, anyway?”

“Headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix,” said Ron at once.

“Yeah, Robin mentioned them too—that’s the bloke I was talking about—but he didn’t seem to know much. What is it, exactly?”

“Er,” said Ron, a little taken aback. “A secret organisation, theoretically.”

“Dumbledore’s in charge,” said Hermione quickly. “He founded it. It’s the people who fought against You-Know-Who last time.”

“Who’s in it?”

“Quite a few people—“ Hermione started.

“We’ve met about twenty of them, but we think there are more.”

“But what are they doing, exactly?” asked Harry. “About Voldemort?”

“They won’t let us in the meetings,” said Hermione, “so we’ve only got a general idea…”

She seemed reluctant to go on, so Ron jumped in. “Fred and George have invented Extendable Ears, see. They’re really useful.”

Harry frowned. “Extendable—“

“Ears, yeah. They let you eavesdrop, er, better. Only we’ve had to stop using them lately because Mum found out and went berserk. But we found out some of the Order are following known Death Eaters, keeping tabs on them, you know—”

“Others are working on recruiting more people to the Order,” Hermione added.

“Yeah, and some of them are standing guard over something.”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “Couldn’t have been me, could it?”

Ron paused. “Oh, yeah.”

With two loud cracks, Fred and George materialised out of thin air. Pigwidgeon scurried off to join Hedwig on top of the wardrobe.

“Stop doing that!” Hermione said weakly.

Harry shook his head. “I see you two passed your Apparition tests, then.”

“With distinction,” said Fred, holding an Extendable Ear.

“It would have taken you about thirty seconds longer to walk down the stairs,” said Ron.

“Time is Galleons, little brother,” Fred replied. He held up the string. “We were trying to hear what’s going on downstairs.”

“You want to be careful,” said Ron. “If Mum sees one of them again…”

“It’s worth the risk; that’s a major meeting they’re having.”

The door opened again. “There you are. Oh, hello, Harry! Anyway, it’s a no-go with the Extendable Ears, she’s gone and put an Imperturbable Charm on the kitchen door.”

George looked crestfallen. “How d’you know?”

“Tonks showed me how to find out. You just chuck stuff at the door and if it can’t make contact, the door’s been Imperturbed. Been flicking Dungbombs at it for a while.”

The gloomy lull in the conversation made them aware of a tiny, almost imperceptible ticking sound. Ron couldn’t tell where it was coming from, but it wasn’t a clock; it was too irregular.

“Do you hear that?” asked Hermione.

A few of them nodded. They all cocked their heads, looking around for the source of the sound.


Harry’s shout made Ron jump. He was already heading for the window, trying to heave it open.

“It’s always jammed,” said Ron, joining him to help wiggle it properly. “Here—“

It opened with a squeak, and Harry backed away a few steps. A… butterfly fluttered merrily into the dank bedroom. And Harry seemed inordinately pleased to see it.

“You’re really here!” he exclaimed with a broad smile.

The butterfly fluttered curiously around their little group as if inspecting each of them.

“These are my friends,” said Harry. “That’s Ron and Hermione, I told you about them, and then there’s George, Fred and Ginny. They’re Ron’s siblings.”

“You were right, Hermione,” Ron whispered. “We shouldn’t have left him cooped up in that place. He’s gone completely bonkers.”

The butterfly, meanwhile, seemed to be greeting the owls, who were making no attempt whatsoever to eat it—which was surprising, especially in the case of Pigwidgeon, a known half-wit.

“That’s my owl, Hedwig, and Ron’s, Pigwidgeon,” Harry continued. “Forgot they were up there.”

With a thump, a tall, black-haired man suddenly fell out of thin air. Hermione shrieked. Ron was pretty sure he let out some kind of unflattering sound as well, but was more preoccupied by the twins falling all over each other. Harry and Ginny both seemed fine, if startled.

“Is this a bad time?” the man asked. “I figured, since you were talking to me, it must be safe.” 

He wasn’t much older than the twins, Ron noticed, and had a faint foreign accent.

“No, it’s fine,” said Harry quickly, “but how in Merlin’s name did you find this place?”

The young man laughed heartily at something, but Harry didn’t seem to think this was out of the ordinary.

“I was watching to make sure your rescue went all right,” he finally said. “Besides, I’ve already been here once or twice.”

“Are you part of the Order, then?” Ginny asked.

“Oh, sorry,” said Harry. “Guys, this is Robin. I was telling Ron and Hermione earlier, he fought off the Dementors with me. He already knows about the Order, but he’s not in it, are you?”

Robin shook his head. “No, I’m not. I’ve been fighting against Voldemort too though, that’s how I found out about them. I wouldn’t mind joining forces, actually, although I’m sure they’ll be distrustful of strangers. Can’t blame them, really.”

“Well,” said Fred, “anybody who protects Harry—“

“—is a friend in our book,” George finished.

Robin grinned widely. “Everyone deserves to have backup, even if they don’t need it. You were doing pretty well on your own with that Patronus, if I recall,” he added, turning to Harry.

Harry shrugged. “Wasn’t the first time.”

“Hold on!” Ron shouted suddenly. “You’re the butterfly!”

“Oh, yeah,” said Robin. “I’m an Animagus.”

“Hm…” George started, “if you could be tempted to use your powers for evil…”

“We might have a job for you,” said Fred.

Robin brightened. “Oh, I am always up for a bit of mischief. What have you got in mind?”

The twins shared an excited look that made Ron a little anxious.

“Well, we invented these Extendable Ears—“ Fred held up the string he was holding.

Robin’s gasp cut him off. “For eavesdropping?” He examined it intently. “This is brilliant!”

“Er, thanks!” said George, nudging Fred jubilantly. “But unfortunately, they won’t work against an Imperturbable Charm, so we can’t listen in on the Order meeting. And this is a big one.”

“Oh, you want me to—“ Robin twirled his fingers in the air. “I can do that. At least, I can try. What room are they in?”

“The kitchen,” said Ginny, who seemed to be on board with this new plan (unlike Hermione, who was biting her fingernails). “But you’d better hurry if you want to catch anything, the meeting’s almost over by now.”

“Got it,” said Robin. “I’ll try the chimney.”

And with that, he was gone.

“Harry…” Hermione murmured after a moment. “Are you sure he’s trustworthy?”

At Harry’s glare, she barrelled on before he could interrupt. “I mean, I know he helped you, and he seems perfectly nice, it’s just he admitted he was spying on the Order, and he has access to the headquarters… I’m just saying it could be really dangerous if he’s not who he says he is, or even if he just lets something slip accidentally.”

“I know we can trust him,” said Harry slowly, as if just realising it. “I can feel it. Trust me, Hermione.”

She didn’t look convinced, but the others were satisfied, so she let it drop.

“You’re right to be wary,” said Robin from behind them. “You can’t be too careful these days.”

Hermione stifled another scream.

Robin continued quickly, slightly out of breath. “Sorry, I didn’t get much, but Mrs. Weasley will be up here any minute so I’ve got to—“

When Mrs. Weasley opened the door, he was gone.


Well, Harry thought when they finally got up to bed that night, he’d sort of gotten what he wanted. He was staying with Sirius, who had forced the Order to answer at least some of his questions. His friends were still here—Ron in the next bed, Hermione in the other room—and they had stood by him.

That didn’t stop him being angry, though. They were all still treating him like he was made of glass, even though he had been in that graveyard, he had seen Cedric die and Voldemort come back to life, and of course, he was the one everyone was blaming. His name had become a joke in the Daily Prophet, if Hermione was to be believed. And she was, of course. 

They wouldn’t let him fight because he wasn’t overage, but this was his fight to begin with. And now Voldemort was apparently looking for some kind of weapon, and who knew what it was, where it was… If anyone, Dumbledore was probably keeping it hidden away.

But Harry was still exhausted from the broom ride, from the arguing, and from the bloody screaming portrait, so it wasn’t long before he fell asleep.

Chapter Text

“And there goes Sirius’s mum again,” George sighed when Mrs. Weasley’s escalating argument with Mundungus Fletcher awoke the shrieking beast. Now there were three shouting voices.

Harry made to shut the door to deafen some of the noise so that they could all get back to work cleaning the drawing room, but before he could do so, a house-elf edged into the room. He was extremely old, back hunched as he shuffled towards the far end of the room. He took no notice whatsoever of Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny and the twins all standing around staring at him, instead muttering continuously under his breath in a hoarse, deep voice.

“… smells like a drain and a criminal to boot, but she’s no better, nasty old blood traitor with her brats messing up my mistress’s house, oh, my poor mistress, if she knew, oh, the shame of it, Mudbloods and werewolves and traitors and thieves…”

“Hello, Kreacher,” said Fred very loudly, closing the door with a snap.

The house-elf froze in his tracks, stopped muttering, and gave a very pronounced and very unconvincing start of surprise.

“Kreacher did not see young master,” he said, turning around and bowing to Fred. Still facing the carpet, he added, perfectly audibly, “nasty little brat of a blood traitor it is.”

“Sorry?” said George. “Didn’t catch that last bit.”

“Kreacher said nothing,” said the elf, with a second bow to George, again adding, “And there’s its twin, unnatural little beasts they are.”

Harry would have laughed if he wasn’t so taken aback by his blatant nastiness.

“… and there’s the Mudblood,” Kreacher continued, “standing there bold as brass, and there’s a new boy, Kreacher doesn’t know his name. What is he doing here? Kreacher doesn’t know…”

“This is Harry, Kreacher,” said Hermione tentatively. “Harry Potter.”

One would think Kreacher would, at this point, realise that they could all hear him plainly, but instead he just muttered faster and more furiously than ever. “The Mudblood is talking to Kreacher as though she is my friend, if Kreacher’s mistress saw him in such company—“

“Don’t call her a Mudblood!” Ron and Ginny both shouted.

“It doesn’t matter,” Hermione whispered, “he’s not in his right mind, he doesn’t know what he’s—“

“He knows exactly what he’s saying,” said Fred, eyeing Kreacher with great dislike.

Kreacher, meanwhile, was muttering about Harry and the Dark Lord, staring directly at him all the while.

“We can all hear you, you know,” said a voice from behind Harry.

Kreacher really did jump that time. Robin had somehow gotten back in the house despite the closed windows, and was now shutting the door behind him whilst dripping soot all over the floor. Oh. Must have been the fireplace, then. After checking in the hallway, he turned back to Kreacher, who immediately started quivering and practically threw himself flat on the floor in front of him. In a quivering voice, he mumbled something inaudible into the carpet.

Robin quickly knelt in front of him to pull him up off the floor.

“My lord!” the elf whimpered, “Kreacher is sorry, he did not know you were here—“

The group exchanged bewildered looks over their heads.

Robin sighed, still sitting on the floor in front of the house-elf. “I’ve told you guys a thousand times not to call me that. Literally a thousand, I’m sure. Anyway, why are you calling my friends names?”

Kreacher wailed and tried to bow again (it appeared to be a pattern with him), but Robin stopped him.

“Kreacher did not know Emrys was friends with a Mudblood—“


“—or with Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived…”

“I’m friends with almost everyone, you know that. Centaurs, unicorns, house-elves, humans—all kinds of humans.”

“Kreacher heard that Emrys was a Slytherin,” whispered Kreacher, which seemed like a non-sequitur.

Robin smiled. “The hat was never sure where to put me. And it never mattered, anyway.”

Kreacher continued trembling and avoiding Robin’s gaze.

“Please, Kreacher,” said Robin softly, “don’t use that word anymore?”

Kreacher looked up and nodded vigorously. “Kreacher swears, Emrys.”

Robin beamed at Kreacher as he headed for the door and looked at them all one last time before leaving.

“What the bloody hell was that?” said George.

“Why did he call you ‘my lord’?” Harry added.

Robin shrugged. “I have no idea. They never explain it to me.” Before they could ask any more questions, he continued, “Anyway, I didn’t get a chance to tell you what I heard yesterday. Apparently they think Voldemort’s looking for something he didn’t have the last time—“

“WHAT IS IT?” they all shouted at him, hoping to finally resolve the discussion from yesterday.

Robin started. “Er… they didn’t say. Sorry. But I gathered they know where it is. Unfortunately, they didn’t actually say where. They had a map though, you didn’t happen to see it, did you?”

Harry shook his head. “They cleared it all out as we were coming in for dinner.”

“Too bad. I hope it’s well protected, at least.”

“Given Dumbledore’s track record,” said Ron, “I doubt it.”

“In the habit of losing things, is he?”

“You could say that,” said Harry. “He guarded the Philosopher’s Stone at Hogwarts our first year with a three-headed dog and a bunch of puzzles.”

“Deadly puzzles,” added Ron, “but still. Puzzles.”

“How odd,” he said, then stood there for a good thirty seconds without saying anything.

“Oh!” he exclaimed suddenly. “Harry, I found out that Amelia Bones is going to be questioning you at your hearing. She’s fair, you’ve got nothing to worry about. She’s not one of those shifty Ministry types. On the other hand, Fudge will probably try to insert himself, so just try to ignore him and his cronies if you can.”

“He’s right, Harry,” said Hermione, noticing his continued consternation. “I’ve heard of her, she’ll see that it was self-defence.”

Harry nodded and tried to put it out of his mind as they continued about their cleaning.

He was not successful. As much as he knew, logically, that his friends were probably right and were definitely looking out for him, he couldn’t rid himself of the dread in the pit of his stomach during the following days, and he couldn’t eat breakfast the morning of the hearing. He swallowed down some perfunctory toast and said his goodbyes to Sirius, Lupin, Tonks, and Mrs. Weasley before joining Mr. Weasley on his way to work.

They walked to the underground station rather than Apparating, then disembarked and crammed themselves into an old, abandoned telephone box in order to descend below the pavement into the Ministry. From the giant hall with the golden fountain and peacock blue ceiling through to the elevator down to Mr. Weasley’s floor, there were people everywhere, and entirely separate highways of flying purple memos above all their heads—one of which was moving very slowly, Harry noticed as he followed Mr. Weasley down the hallway.

It was being carried, with difficulty, by a blue butterfly. Harry looked around before squinting at the approaching creature and making a questioning gesture. The butterfly just dropped the memo into his hands and sped away.


To: Mrs. Amelia Bones, Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement

From: Mr. Cornelius Fudge, Minister for Magic

CC: Mrs. Dolores Umbridge, Senior Undersecretary to the Minister

Date: 12 August

Re: Disciplinary Hearing for Mr. Harry Potter

Please be aware that Mr. Potter’s disciplinary hearing has been moved to 8:00 a.m. in Courtroom Ten.

It was now 7:57.

“Mr. Weasley!” Harry shouted, running after him and shoving the paper into his hand.

He read it quickly. “What on earth—where did you get this, Harry?”

“I don’t know, it just fell out of the air!”

Mr. Weasley threw up his hands and led Harry in a mad dash back to the elevator, jamming the down button and muttering to himself.

“Down here, down here,” he panted as they practically fell out of the elevator and made for the stairs. “The lift doesn’t even come down this far… why they’re doing it down there I…”

They stumbled to a halt outside a dark, grimy door with an immense iron lock.

“Go on,” said Mr. Weasley between breaths, slumping against the wall. “Get in there.”

“Aren’t—aren’t you coming with—“

“No, no, I’m not allowed. Good luck!”

Harry reluctantly pushed open the heavy door and walked inside, stopping in his tracks when he took it in. The large dungeon was horribly familiar—it was the one from Dumbledore’s Pensieve, the one where the Lestranges had been sentenced to life in Azkaban. The dark stone walls were dimly lit by torchlight. Up ahead of him, shadowy figures were seated in the highest benches he could hardly see. The benches along the sides of the room were empty—except for a twiggy, large-eared man who flashed him a reassuring smile. Thank Merlin there was one familiar face in here.

“Take your seat,” said a cold male voice that rang across the courtroom.

Harry dropped his gaze to the chair in the centre of the room, whose arms were covered in chains that fortunately did not move to bind him when he sat gingerly on the edge of the chair. Above him he could see about fifty people, all in plum-coloured robes with a silver W on the left breast. In the middle sat Cornelius Fudge, the Minister; to his left, a square-jawed witch with short grey hair and a monocle.

“Very well,” said Fudge. “As the accused is finally present, let us begin. Are you ready?” he called down the row.

“Yes, sir,” said the eager voice of Percy Weasley. Harry looked to him for some sign of recognition, but found none.

“Disciplinary hearing of the twelfth of August,” Fudge began, echoed by the scribble of Percy’s quill, “into offences committed under the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery and the International Statue of Secrecy by Harry James Potter, resident at number four, Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey. Interrogators: Cornelius Oswald Fudge, Minister for Magic; Amelia Susan Bones, Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement; Dolores Jane Umbridge, Senior Undersecretary to the Minister. Court Scribe, Percy Ignatius Weasley—“

“Witness for the defence, Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore,” said a quiet voice from behind Harry, who turned his head so fast he cricked his neck.

Dumbledore was striding serenely across the room, never meeting Harry’s eyes even as he drew level with him.

“Ah,” said Fudge. “Dumbledore. Yes. You—er—got our message that the time and—er—place of the hearing had been changed then?”

“As a matter of fact,” Robin interjected in a sure voice that made everyone turn to look at him, “all three of our owls seem to have been simultaneously afflicted with a serious and elusive ailment, having forgotten about and then lost your letters—something that was very kindly pointed out to us by one of your lovely employees when he wondered why we were all loitering outside Madam Bones’s office.”

The grey-haired woman levelled her monocle at Fudge as he blustered.

“Yes—well—I suppose we’ll need a few more chairs. I—Weasley, could you?”

“Not to worry, not to worry,” said Dumbledore pleasantly. With a flick of his wand, two squashy armchairs appeared beside Harry, one on either side.

Robin and Dumbledore exchanged a polite nod as they took their seats. Harry shook his head, slightly dizzied by the intersection of the two peculiar wizards.

“Yes,” said Fudge, shuffling his notes and extricating a sheet of parchment. “Well, then. So. The charges. Yes. The charges against the accused are as follows: That he did knowingly, deliberately and in full awareness of the illegality of his actions, having received a previous written warning from the Ministry of Magic on a similar charge, produce a Patronus Charm in a Muggle-inhabited area, in the presence of a Muggle, on the second of August at twenty-three minutes past nine, which constitutes an offence under Paragraph C of the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery, 1875, and also under Section 13 of the International Confederation of Warlocks’ Statute of Secrecy. You are Harry James Potter, of number four, Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey?” Fudge asked, glaring at Harry over the top of the parchment.


“You received an official warning from the Ministry for using illegal magic three years ago, did you not?”

“Yes, but—“

“And yet you conjured a Patronus on the night of the second of August?”

“Yes, but I only did it because we were—“

The monocled witch cut across him. “You produced a fully-fledged Patronus?”

“Yes, because—“

“A corporeal Patronus?”

“A—yes, it’s a stag. It’s always a stag.”

“Always? You have produced a Patronus before now?”

“Yes, I learned it over a year ago in school. Professor Lupin taught me, because of the—“

“Impressive,” she said, staring down at him. The muttering witches and wizards around her nodded at each other while others shook their heads.

“It’s not a question of how impressive the magic was,” said Fudge testily. “In fact, the more impressive the worse it is, I would have thought, given that the boy did it in plain view of a Muggle!”

Percy’s sanctimonious nod, more than the frowning and murmuring of the Wizengamot, pushed Harry to speak.

“I did it because of the Dementors!” he blurted, before anyone could interrupt him again.

“Dementors?” Madam Bones raised her eyebrows so far that her monocle threatened to fall out. “What do you mean, boy?”

“I mean there were two Dementors down that alleyway and they went for me and my cousin!”

“I thought we’d be hearing something like this,” Fudge muttered loudly enough for all to hear.

“Dementors in Little Whinging?” said Madam Bones. “I don’t understand—“

“Then let me explain,” Fudge replied. “It’s clearly a very convenient cover story, being, of course, that Muggles can’t see Dementors, so it’s just your word and no witnesses…”

Robin made an obnoxious screaking sound with his chair and pointed to himself.

“Ahem,” he said aloud. “Witness.”

The murmuring witches and wizards turned to him.

“Do you mean to say,” began Madam Bones, “that you were present during the alleged attack?”

“I was.”

“Very well,” said Fudge dubiously. “What is your story?”

“Well, I was going for an evening walk when it suddenly became very dark and very cold, whereupon I noticed two Dementors sneaking around an alley—“

Fudge scoffed. “Sneaking? Everyone knows Dementors glide—“

“Yes, well, they were gliding about in a manner that I deemed sneaky, so I followed them and discovered they were attacking two teenagers. Harry here was attempting to cast a Patronus, but given his age, I surmised he would need assistance. He did manage it in the end, though, and the Dementors were driven off.”

Harry glanced at him, wondering why he was implying that he had merely driven off the Dementor as Harry had rather than making it disappear entirely, but he was not about to question it.

“And you can also cast a corporeal Patronus?” asked Madam Bones.

“Yes, I also learned in school.”

“And what form does it take?” Fudge interjected.

“Excuse me?”

“It may be useful to the Wizengamot to see proof of your ability to cast this charm—both of you, in fact.”

Robin considered the Minister for a moment, then brightened.

“Oh, I see,” he agreed cheerfully. “In case we actually fought off the Dementors with our bare hands. No matter.”

“Ready, Harry?” he muttered to him, and Harry nodded, summoning a happy memory and closing his eyes to try and block out the dungeon in which he was seated.

“Expecto Patronum,” came a whisper from beside him, and he echoed the spell a little louder, forcing the stag from his wand.

He opened his eyes: it had worked. An ethereal stag was standing in the courtroom before him, and surprisingly, its presence actually made him feel a little better. He didn’t see Robin’s Patronus until a soft swooping noise sounded above him. He and Dumbledore both looked up.

It was a dragon. An unbelievably giant dragon with hardly any room to manoeuvre in the dank room. It lit up the Wizengamot in a bluish glow that finally allowed him to see their faces properly—at least, those who were not attempting to duck out of the beast’s way. Beside him, Robin let out a quiet laugh and the creature disappeared in a hazy wisp, Harry’s fading after it.

No one spoke for a moment.

“I remain unconvinced,” Fudge declared, but continued to cast wary glances up at the ceiling every so often. “Dementors wandering into a Muggle suburb and just happening to come across a wizard?”

“Oh, I don’t think any of us believe the Dementors were there by coincidence,” said Dumbledore lightly.

“Oh, certainly not,” Robin agreed with a look of dismay. “The odds!” He shook his head.

Great. They were joining forces now.

“And what is that supposed to mean?” Fudge asked icily.

Dumbledore looked as if he were about to respond, but Robin spoke first. Harry felt dizzy again.

Robin leaned forward and let out an exaggerated gasp. “You don’t mean—that someone has lost control of the Dementors. But that would be catastrophic!” He started to stand, and Harry struggled to hold back a smile at his awful acting. “The papers would have a fit—“

“I assure you,” said Fudge, quickly and loudly, “that the Ministry have complete control over the Dementors. There is no need to panic.”

“Oh.” Robin sat back down. “Well, then why would anyone in the Ministry order a couple of Dementors into Little Whinging?”

In the complete silence that greeted these words, the witch to the right of Fudge leaned forwards so that Harry saw her for the first time. Her appearance was frankly alarming. Her squat, flabby face and wide, slack mouth made him immediately associate her with a toad, and she even had a black velvet bow perched on top of her head like a fly.

“The Chair recognises Dolores Jane Umbridge, Senior Undersecretary to the Minister,” said Fudge, seemingly relieved that he did not have to formulate a response.

When she opened her mouth, Harry was expecting a croak, but instead a fluttery, high-pitched voice emerged.

“I’m sure I must have misunderstood you, Mr. Emrys,” she said with a simper. “So silly of me, but it sounded for a teensy moment as though you were suggesting that the Ministry of Magic had ordered an attack on this boy!”

Her giggle made the hairs on the back of Harry’s neck stand up.

“No!” Robin shouted, overacting again. “You don’t think there are You-Know-Who sympathisers in the Ministry!”

Harry noted Robin’s unusual use of Voldemort’s epithet, but didn’t have time to think what it meant in the few seconds of hubbub that followed.

“Of course not!” Fudge shouted. “What an absurd idea!”

“That is a relief,” Dumbledore chimed in. “I am glad the Ministry plans to make an inquiry into why those two Dementors attacked without authorisation, then.”

Fudge stuttered. “I would remind everybody that the behaviour of these Dementors, if indeed they are not figments of this boy’s imagination, is not the subject of this hearing!” said Fudge. “We are here to examine Harry Potter’s offences under the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery!”

“Of course we are,” said Dumbledore, “but the presence of Dementors in that alleyway is highly relevant. Clause Seven of the Decree states that magic may be used before Muggles in exceptional circumstances, including those which threaten the life of the wizard or witch him- or herself, or any witches, wizards or Muggles present at the time of the—”

“We are familiar with Clause Seven, thank you very much!” snarled Fudge.

“Of course you are,” said Dumbledore courteously. “Then we are in agreement that Harry’s use of the Patronus Charm in these circumstances falls precisely into the category of exceptional circumstances the clause describes?”

“If there were Dementors, which I doubt.”

“You have heard it from an eyewitness,” Dumbledore interrupted. “I am sure he would not object to being questioned again if you have doubts about his truthfulness.”

“I—that—have you ever bothered to tot up the number of cock-and-bull stories this boy has come out with, Dumbledore, while trying to cover up his flagrant misuse of magic out of school? I suppose you’ve forgotten the Hover Charm he used three years ago—”

“That wasn’t me, it was a house-elf!” Harry contributed.

Fudge gestured flamboyantly in his direction. “You see! A house-elf, in a Muggle house! I ask you.”

“The house-elf in question is currently in the employ of Hogwarts School,” said Dumbledore. “I can summon him here in an instant to give evidence if you wish.”

“I—not—I haven’t got time to listen to house-elves! And I haven’t even started on what he gets up to at school.”

“Oh,” said Robin, looking confused. “I thought this was just about the Patronus—I’m sorry, I don’t know about any of that other stuff.”

A few of the wizards above them shifted uncomfortably in their seats.

“As far as I am aware,” said Dumbledore, “Harry has been charged with a specific offence and he has presented his defence. All we can do now is await your verdict.”

Harry glanced sidelong at him, not at all sure that it was wise to tell the Wizengamot, in effect, that it was about time they made a decision. Dumbledore seemed oblivious to Harry’s attempt to catch his eye, so he glanced at Robin instead, who inclined his head toward the benches and, just for a second, mimed catching a fly on his tongue. Harry turned away quickly to avoid laughing out loud.

“Those in favour of clearing the witness of all charges?” Madam Bones announced.

Harry’s head jerked upwards. They were finally done whispering. There were a lot of hands in the air… more than half! 

He tried to count, but before he could finish, Madam Bones announced, “And those in favour of conviction?”

Fudge raised his hand, and maybe a half dozen others, including the toad-like witch on his right.

“Very well, very well,” said Fudge in a voice contorted by fury, “… cleared of all charges.”

“Excellent,” said Dumbledore briskly, springing to his feet, pulling out his wand and causing the two armchairs to vanish. “Well, I must be getting along. Good-day to you all.” And without looking once at Harry, he swept from the dungeon. No one among the Wizengamot seemed to be paying any attention to him either, except for the Umbridge woman, who was staring directly at him.

“Come on, Harry!” said Robin beside him. “Personally, I don’t want to spend one more second in this dank dungeon.”

When they exited at as brisk a pace as reasonably possible, they almost collided with Mr. Weasley, who looked apprehensive.

“Dumbledore didn’t say—“

“Cleared,” Harry exclaimed, “of all charges!”

Beaming, Mr. Weasley seized him by the shoulders. “Harry, that’s wonderful! Well, of course, they couldn’t have found you guilty, not on the evidence, but even so, I can’t pretend I wasn’t -”

But Mr. Weasley broke off, because the courtroom door had just opened again. The Wizengamot were filing out.

“Merlin’s beard!” exclaimed Mr. Weasley wonderingly, pulling Harry aside to let them all pass. “You were tried by the full court?”

Robin let out a strange cough. “Er, yeah, with the Minister and everything.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I’m Arthur Weasley, Harry’s staying with us for the moment—“

He held out his hand, which Robin shook. “Right, of course, I’m Robin Emrys, I helped Harry out with the Dementors a bit, though he didn’t really end up needing it.”

“You know each other, then?” Mr. Weasley asked.

“Well, we do now,” said Harry brightly, suddenly far more cheerful than he had been the past few weeks. It was finally over.

“So, listen,” Robin began, moving down the hallway slightly as he spoke. Harry saw why when Percy Weasley followed the Minister through the courtroom door behind them, passing outside of his father’s gaze. “I know you’re busy at work here,” he continued, “so I could take Harry home, if you’d like. Apparating would be safer than wandering around the city…”

“No, no!” Mr. Weasley said immediately. “I couldn’t trouble you. I’ll take him back and return in no time. But thank you so much for offering.”

Harry didn’t press the matter—as he knew why Mr. Weasley would not want a stranger anywhere near Grimmauld Place—and neither did Robin. He just grinned at Harry once more and said, “Oh, all right, then! I’ll see you around, Harry. Mr. Weasley.”

When they walked past the fountain again, Harry dumped his whole moneybag into the water, despite the creepy looks of awe and servitude on the faces of the magical creatures surrounding the witch and wizard in the centre. Donations went to St. Mungo’s, after all.

Chapter Text

Merlin had been summoned. Of that, he was certain. But he decided to go along with it anyway. Dumbledore had said in his letter that he was “fond of lemon drops,” which was nonsensical, in his view, but he brought a few of the things with him anyway, just in case. They weren’t bad, but he wasn’t overly fond.

A batlike man (whom he knew very well to be Severus Snape) had arrived at the gate to lead him to Dumbledore’s office. His hair was just as long and greasy-looking as it had been when Merlin had first seen him lurking around Lily Evans’s backyard, but he supposed he couldn’t fault a man for consistency.

It was a fairly direct route to the headmaster’s office, so he didn’t get a chance to say hello to any of the portraits—or to the one of himself, either, which was always fun—but he did notice a couple of ghosts whispering as they passed. He shot them a warning glare to make sure they kept their traps shut.

The two of them arrived at the gargoyles guarding the entrance to Dumbledore’s office without having exchanged more than a half dozen words.

“Thank you, Severus,” he started to say before realising that would be weird, as this man didn’t know him, then trying to think of something else to say before realising that his last name also began with an S and he could just say that, so what he actually ended up saying was “S-S-Snape.”

Great, he thought as the man in question simply raised an eyebrow and walked away. Now he had a stutter too, apparently. He turned to the gargoyles, who continued staring at him.

“Er, could I come in, please?” He waved the letter in the air. “Dumbledore asked me to—“

They wordlessly jumped aside, so Merlin started up the stairs between them somewhat hesitantly.

“Er, thank you,” he said, and continued upwards to knock on the door.

“Enter,” came Dumbledore’s voice, and he pushed open the wooden door.

The inside was like something out of a Jules Verne novel, filled with mysterious objects making a variety of soft sounds, many of which he had not seen in years. Dumbledore was still ‘busy’ writing something, so he decided to occupy himself with the bird that he suddenly found atop his shoulder.

It appeared to be a phoenix, though it was difficult to tell with its beak two inches from his face. It was bright red, anyway, that much was clear. He petted the bird softly on the head. He had heard Dumbledore’s Patronus was a phoenix, too. It seemed to be a theme with him. To be fair, Merlin supposed he himself had much the same situation with dragons—though, being the Last Dragonlord, it was only fair.

When the scratching of the quill finally stopped, Merlin did not look up, instead waiting for Dumbledore to start. He was the one who summoned him in the first place, after all. At length, the phoenix disappeared from his shoulder in a quick flash of flames. He brushed a bit of soot off his shoulder.

“Fascinating,” said Dumbledore at last. “Phoenixes are very perceptive creatures.”

“Indeed,” said Merlin noncommittally.

He reached into his pocket for the little bag of lemon drops and deposited them on Dumbledore’s desk. “I’m glad you like these, because I’m afraid I can’t get rid of them.”

Dumbledore peered inside before regarding him with some degree of alarm. “How did you get up here?”

“Professor Snape led me up from the gates. Didn’t you send him?”

“Indeed,” Dumbledore echoed. “Please, have a seat.”

Merlin sat in the slightly low chair in front of Dumbledore’s desk and returned his stare.

“Your Patronus charm was very impressive the other day,” he finally said.

“Thank you,” he said simply, hoping that the headmaster would soon reach the point.

“Charms are rather my expertise,” Merlin continued, then nearly smacked himself in the face. Blast, why did you say that? You’re falling into the trap. You know better than this!

Dumbledore’s piercing stare returned at that. Merlin was beginning to wonder if he was attempting to use Legilimency on him, but he was not inclined to peek out from behind his mental walls to find out. He would feel it if there was a real threat—probably.

Normally, Merlin would be inclined to play dumb at this point simply in order to force Dumbledore to spell out whatever he wanted from him, but as the headmaster had just seen him do exactly that at the Ministry, it was unlikely to be especially effective.

“Have you heard of the Order of the Phoenix?” Dumbledore asked, thank Goddess.

“Yes,” he answered, seeing no benefit in lying, since he was hoping to be made aware of their plans.

“Then you know what it was founded for?”

“Sure. Resisting Riddle, the usual… Recruiting people to the cause,” he added pointedly.

“Then I suppose you would not be surprised to learn of its namesake.”

“Not in the slightest.”

… “May I ask where your accent is from?”

“Good god.” It wasn’t Merlin who said it, though he had thought it.

He looked around at the portraits—ah, Phineas Black. Didn’t he have a portrait at Grimmauld Place, too? Of course—Phineas must have told Dumbledore something about him. That was the only way he would have told Merlin so much so quickly.

“He clearly knows about the whole thing already,” the former headmaster continued. “Just get on with it.”

Dumbledore glared at the portrait before returning his gaze to Merlin. Unfortunately, one portrait waking up meant all the portraits were waking up (or ‘waking up,’ as the case may be), and most of them were now staring down at him.

“Am I right in assuming that your name is not Robin Emrys?” Dumbledore asked, surprisingly taking Black’s advice.

“Well, it sounds more like an educated guess than an assumption.”

Phineas snorted. Merlin wondered if he had seen him at Grimmauld Place… he had completely forgotten to avoid the portraits. Sometimes he really did feel as thick as people always seemed to think he was.

A commotion erupted in one of the furthest frames, slightly out of sight.

“Out of my way!” shouted a crotchety voice.

Merlin rolled his eyes, and several of the portraits groaned. He would be offended, but he knew his portrait was some of the only excitement they got around here.

As Dumbledore looked around for the source, a bony old man with long, white hair and a matching beard tumbled ungracefully into Phineas’s frame. He could almost have been mistaken for Dumbledore if not for—well, that—and the rather unkempt state of his spiderwebby hair. Phineas wandered off as the old man scrunched up his face and peered closer to the surface of the portrait as if to get a better look at them.

“You,” he growled.

“Me,” Merlin cheerfully replied.

“Great,” he heard Godric Gryffindor mutter. “Let’s do this again.”

Both Merlin and the old man stuck their tongues out in his direction. Dumbledore was looking downright alarmed now, but if he had met the portrait, he should no longer be surprised by almost anything he did.

“Who told you I was here?” Merlin grumbled at his counterpart.


Of course. “Bloody Gryffindors.”

His portrait was now standing precariously on Phineas’s chair, seemingly trying to get a better vantage point.

“Go away, Merlin,” he told himself. “The headmaster and I are trying to have a discussion.”

“An interrogation, you mean.”

“A discussion which you are ruining as always. Go bother someone else for a while.”

Dumbledore seemed somewhat concerned for Merlin’s safety, which was absurd.

“Peeves has been locked in a broom cupboard,” said the portrait.

“You can make plenty of mischief all on your own, you don’t need his help.”

“Yes,” he replied significantly. “I can.”

“Fine,” Merlin sighed. “Will you go away if I promise to let him out when we’re done here?”

“Only if you swear by the King of the Druids.”

“Oh, get out of here, you pest.” Merlin was somewhat bemused to discover that he was standing. “This is why people find you annoying, you know. You’re a menace to society.”

You’re a menace to society,” said his portrait, moving into a frame higher on the wall so that he could continue to be taller. Merlin pulled out his wand and levitated himself up there.

“Ha,” said his portrait. “Nice stick.”

“You’re one to talk, carrying that great ruddy staff around all the time!”

The portrait’s rightful inhabitant took a seat in a chair in the background of the painting to read a book.

“It carries an air of gravitas!”

“You’ve got plenty of gravitas as it is! Or you would, if you combed your hair once in a while. Just look at Dumbledore! He knows how to make a good impression.”

Dumbledore did not look as if he wanted to be involved in this conversation.

Portrait-Merlin crossed his arms. “Well, now you just sound like Mum.”

“That’s just your way of admitting I’m right,” he returned, pointing an accusing finger at him.

“Ha! You’re the one arguing with a portrait!”

“This isn’t about me!”

Portrait-Merlin gave him an incredulous look.

“Point taken. Argument lost. Can you go back to your portrait now? I have to convince the headmaster I’m trustworthy, and you’re not helping.”

“No. And yes, I am helping.”

“Merlin!” he shouted, feeling rather absurd for it. “You’re interrupting something important. Again. Unlike you, I have things to do.”

“I have plenty of things to do keeping all the portraits quiet, not to mention the ghosts! Do you have any idea how much of a nightmare Professor Binns is? He pesters me with questions constantly.”

“Yeah, because you exclusively tell him obvious lies. This is how the rumours get started!”

Godric gleefully interrupted at this point, having apparently been following the whole exchange. “Oh, like the one about how you fought off a griffin and then convinced someone else he’d done it?”

“I did fight off a griffin,” said Portrait-Merlin, “and yeah, the prat absolutely believed he’d done it because I am wily, I’ll have you know.”

“Wily?” the real Merlin interrupted incredulously. “You’ve got leaves in your hair, Merlin!”

“Oh, you and your precious hair! You’re as bad as Arthur.”

“You take that back!”

By now, they seemed to have attracted an audience, as a few of the nearby portraits had acquired more occupants than usual.

“Oh, are they arguing again?” someone asked.

“You always learn interesting things this way,” another muttered to his neighbour.

“Is that what he really looks like?” came a sensibly hushed whisper.

“And besides,” Merlin was saying, “you’re making a scene!”

I’m making a scene?”

Dumbledore cut in with a throat-clearing sound down below. “Ahem. Merlin?”

“WHAT?” roared both Merlins simultaneously.

The look of dawning comprehension on Dumbledore’s face was Merlin’s first indication that he had said something very, very stupid. He winced. Slowly, deliberately, he turned back to his portrait, who was sniggering at his predicament. He was fairly sure he was leaking magic again as he clenched his fists and growled at his counterpart, who was not in the least impressed.

“You little—“ he started, but the old man just scampered off through the neighbouring portraits and out of the room, bumping into a few cowering occupants on the way.

“Come back here!” Merlin roared, and took off after him, not bothering to return to the ground to do so. At least Dumbledore would probably give him a little leeway on the manners front now that he knew he was over a thousand years old and probably completely mad.

Dumbledore sat blinking at his desk. He did not move or otherwise react when one of the former headmasters asked, “Professor?”

Well, he thought. For once, he had no more questions. That explained… everything. Mentally reviewing the entire incident, he stared blankly into the still-open door ahead of him, not bothering to close it magically or otherwise, and having no idea whether the strange fellow would be coming back at all. Merlin knew the man could make himself scarce, evidently. Or—wait. He should probably try to stop saying that. Who knew whether he would be offended or not.

And he did not want to offend him, as it was already abundantly clear that Merlin the Great lived up to the legends. The magic that rolled off him in waves when he turned his fury on the portrait—his portrait—was so strong that he could practically see golden tendrils of power floating around him, reaching out like a third limb. The impenetrable shields around his mind started to make more sense, as did the almost instinctive calm and trust that everyone seemed to feel in his presence. His goofy demeanour was a bit of a surprise, he had to admit, but if he really was Magic Incarnate, then of course he would have the same sense of wonder and play that Dumbledore knew magic itself did.

His attention was torn away from his reflection when a veritable whirlwind started up in the middle of his office, scattering a few papers around and off of his desk. A few of the machines around his office started to accelerate in their whirs and clicks—just as they had when the young stranger had entered the room that first time. He hadn’t thought much of it: they fluctuated all the time.

When the wind reached its peak, Merlin stepped out of it. Merlin. In his office. Did he have a title? He should at least call him Mr.—how exactly did one politely address someone who was born before last names were invented?

“So sorry for the interruption,” said Merlin, hair looking predictably windswept. “Oh. And for the mess.” He started to gather up the papers on the floor. “I don’t usually do that in enclosed spaces. I’m starting to remember why.”

Dumbledore did not bother to mention the impossibility of Apparating within Hogwarts’ walls as Merlin returned the papers to his desk and resumed his seat across from him. Oh—of course the Gargoyles let him in without a password. Why wouldn’t they?

Say something, he thought to himself as the Prince of Enchanters stared at him expectantly. Instead, someone spoke up from behind him.

“Congratulations,” said Rowena Ravenclaw, “you played yourself.”

“Ha, ha,” Merlin retorted, shooting her a withering look, then turning back to Dumbledore. “Just so you know,” he added, “we’re normally very friendly. The portrait and I, I mean. He probably just wanted me to tell you my real name, for some reason.”

“I see,” said Dumbledore.

“You probably have questions,” he said in a slightly shy voice when Dumbledore did not otherwise respond. “They always do. I can answer a few, if you want. If you even believe I’m really ‘Merlin,’ that is.”

“Oh, I certainly do,” said Dumbledore quickly.

Merlin frowned at him. “Really? I generally have trouble convincing people. I think it has something to do with, you know—“ He gestured vaguely at himself.

“Your magic is so concentrated—” answered Dumbledore slowly, “if you don’t mind my saying—that I could almost see it. Not to mention that I could sense nothing through your mental walls.”

“Oh, I wondered if that’s what you were doing.”

He hadn’t even noticed?

Before he could respond, Fawkes reappeared on Merlin’s shoulder in a flash of flame, holding a wand in his beak.

“Oh!” Merlin exclaimed. “Thank you! I must have dropped it back there.”

Fawkes inclined his head and returned to his perch.

“Is your wand really made of English oak?” was all Dumbledore could think to ask.

“Er—“ Merlin held it in front of his face. “No idea. It’s actually not a wand, though. Just a stick. Here!”

He held it out to Dumbledore, handle first, and he took it reverently despite having just been told that it was nothing but a stick.

“I can’t use a real wand, you see,” Merlin said matter-of-factly. “They have an unfortunate tendency to, er. Explode.”

Dumbledore was no Ollivander, but he sensed that Merlin was right—there was no core to speak of. The portrait’s words echoed in his mind. Nice stick. He handed it back.

“How did you attend Hogwarts without a wand?” asked Dumbledore.

“I just pretended,” Merlin replied. “Like this. Lumos,” he said, and white light sprung from the tip. “I just make it look like it’s coming from the wand. Pretty convincing, yeah?”

He grinned, then moved the wand—the light did not move with it. It simply hung in midair in front of him.

“Anyway,” he continued, “it would have been hard for me to actually learn at Hogwarts doing that, but I’d learned magic centuries before this place was even built. Well, I say ‘learn’.”

He looked back at Dumbledore, who just made an eager motion for him to continue.

“Well—I could do magic before I could speak,” he said. “I was the first person to be born with magic, apparently.” He laughed. “No one believed me for the longest time. They insisted I must have studied it somewhere. I did get a book on it eventually, with actual spells in it. I never needed to say something to make things happen, you see,” he added, as if it were an afterthought. “I just wanted something to happen and it did.”

If Dumbledore did not know with every fibre of his being that this man was telling the truth, he would already have chucked him out of his office for lying to his face.

“H-how?” Dumbledore whispered.

“Like this,” said Merlin.

He did not move or speak, but Dumbledore was sure a few sparkles of gold appeared in his eyes. Something changed in the office, but he could not identify it right away. Then he realised the machines had stopped whirring. He looked, and they were all frozen. Above the shelves, even the portraits looked unnaturally still. He glanced at Merlin, who was watching him and grinning. Fawkes—Fawkes was not moving either, sitting perfectly still on his perch. Dumbledore stood up and touched him lightly.

“He’s fine,” said Merlin, “don’t worry.”

Somehow, that reassured Dumbledore entirely. Now standing near the window, he glanced down into the courtyard. There weren’t many people, as it was still summer, but they were frozen, as well.

“You’ve frozen the castle?” he asked, and Merlin laughed.

“Did you notice the trees?” he asked.

Dumbledore looked. The leaves were still. There was no wind. There was no wind to push the clouds, either, and they hung floating in empty space. He turned back around, about to speak, when he noticed the particles of dust illuminated in the air by the light from the window. They were hanging, suspended, in midair. He moved his hand through them—they were pushed out of the way and stilled again, leaving a completely empty space of air where his hand had been.

“Cool, isn’t it?” asked Merlin, joining him in waving his hand through the air. “It took me a lot longer to notice the dust than you did.”

Dumbledore hesitated for a long moment before speaking. “Have you just stopped time?”

“Yeah!” Merlin said brightly. “I can’t hold it for too long, though. It’s my new go-to. I used to summon lightning and thunder whenever I wanted to convince people I was—er, me—but that stopped being as impressive around the Renaissance.”

Dumbledore glanced at Fawkes again. “He won’t… run out of air?”

“No. He’s not breathing. For the moment, it’s almost as though he doesn’t exist.”

“And what about us?”

“Great question!” said Merlin. “Actually, yes, we will eventually run out of air unless we move to another location, but we should be good here for a while.”

“I see.” Dumbledore returned to his seat. “I presume, however, that you would not die in either case?”

“Oh, no, I’ve died a million times,” said Merlin. “I just don’t stay dead. No idea why.”

“I see,” said Dumbledore again, having nothing else to say to that.

“I don’t age, either, for some reason,” he added. “The only reason people think I’m old is because of that bloody portrait—well, it’s a long story. But I don’t really care. Sometimes it’s useful to have people assume you’re dead.”

“Oh,” breathed Dumbledore, suddenly realising something. “English must not even be your native language.”

“No,” sighed Merlin, “it’s my seventh, I think. I worked hard on French—I really thought it was going to catch on for a minute there—but no. I learned English relatively recently, actually. I was holding out for a resurgence of French, or even German.”

Dumbledore had no concept of what ‘recently’ might mean to someone of Merlin’s age, but he didn’t ask.

“So what did you ask me here for, anyway?” asked Merlin—Merlin—returning to the beginning of their conversation, which seemed now as if it had taken place several days ago.

“Well,” said Dumbledore, “that has changed slightly. Would you be willing to join forces with the Order of the Phoenix?”

“Of course,” the young man answered seriously. “I really can’t have evil dark lords returning from the dead. I’m sort of in charge of the Balance, you know.”

“I don’t suppose you could just snap him out of existence?”

Merlin sighed. “Not this time. It’s because of the prophecy; I’m not allowed to interfere with them. Bad things happen when I do. I could kill him myself, but soon, you would wish I hadn’t—believe me. I learned that the hard way. So no, Harry has to be the one to defeat him. But I can help Harry. And I will.”

“Thank you,” said Dumbledore. “I would suggest that you meet the Order, if you are amenable. I presume you already know the location of our headquarters.”

“Er, yeah.”

“… And you have already been there.”

“Several times, yeah.”

“Do you plan on sharing your identity with them?”

Merlin shook his head. “I believe it’s sufficient, for the time being, that you know, as you’re their leader. My mere presence could undermine your authority. Eventually, I’m sure they’ll realise, but it would be best if that comes after they have gotten to know me. I don’t want them to keep information from me because of who I am.”

“Understandable,” said Dumbledore, and truth be told, he was slightly relieved at not having to introduce Merlin the Great to the Order of the Phoenix.

“Oops,” said Merlin, and suddenly, the entire office came back to life—machines, portraits, and phoenixes alike. None of them seemed to notice that anything was amiss.

“I forgot to let go,” said Merlin sheepishly.

Dumbledore gaped at him. “How are you able to continuously expend that much magical energy without even realising it?”

But Merlin was prevented from answering by a knock at the door of his office.

They shared a glance before Dumbledore called, “Enter.”

“Professor!” McGonagall practically shouted. “Have you any idea—oh, excuse me, young man. Have you any idea what is going on downstairs? Why, a boy in Muggle clothing was just flying down the hall—and I do mean flying—shouting at thin air, and being pursued by a pack of clamouring ghosts!”

“Oh, er, that was me, Professor,” said Merlin, turning around in his chair to look at her. “Apologies for the commotion. The hallway appeared deserted.”

“Wha—“ McGonagall spluttered. “That’s not—what on Earth—“

“Minerva,” said Dumbledore, “Please have a seat.”

Merlin moved his chair to the side to allow another to appear out of thin air. McGonagall sat, pointed hat still askew.

“This is a new recruit for the Order,” he began, unsure how much to say.

It’s all right, said a voice in his head, and he nearly fell out of his chair.

Yeah, it’s me. Dumbledore glanced at Merlin, who nodded slightly.

You can tell her if you want, he continued. She’s already seen me yelling at the portrait, anyway. The bloody ghosts were calling my name the entire way down the hall.

“Headmaster?” asked McGonagall with a look of concern.


“Well,” declared Merlin, standing up, “I should probably go down to see Professor Binns. The man is persistent. If you need me, I will probably be down there for the next four hours.”

And he’s leaving me with her.

Come down later if she doesn’t believe you.

Dumbledore had been summoned. Of that, he was sure.

Chapter Text

It wasn’t Harry’s letter that first made Hermione suspicious of this Robin Emrys—not by a long shot—but it is what made her decide to start doing Research.

Harry had shown it to them early in the morning, a few days after his hearing.

Dear Harry,

Dumbledore has recruited me. He’s bringing me to Grimmauld Place to meet the Order (or at least the key members) tomorrow. He wants me to stay there with you all, so he’ll probably introduce me to everyone afterwards. Tell the others to act natural, will you?

See you soon,


The letter was practically calligraphy—it looked like it had taken hours to write, although it probably hadn’t. No one wrote like that, not even Dumbledore, and certainly not someone as young as Robin. She wondered where he had learned it, and that was when she realised she still didn’t even know what country he was from. His slight accent was unrecognisable no matter how much she wracked her brain, and he had obviously been speaking English for a long time.

But more importantly, Dumbledore had met him for the first time two days ago. Why would he recruit him so quickly? He must have said or done something to make Dumbledore trust him, and it couldn’t be just the trial. Hermione worried that it was something about Harry—or worse, that it was something about You-Know-Who, and that Robin was another double-agent like Professor Snape. To be honest, though, she doubted that You-Know-Who would put up with someone with his… personality… for very long at all.

Hermione got her first clue when she overheard a conversation between Harry and Lupin at the dinner table that very night.

“—but do you think you could teach me to evaporate Dementors, too? Just in case I run into any more of them.”

“Evaporate, Harry? What do you mean?”

“Instead of chasing them away with a Patronus, just make them disappear like Robin did in the alley. I don’t know what it’s called.”

“You mean… destroy them? That’s impossible, Harry.”

“Oh,” said Harry, then quickly added, “I guess his Patronus must have disappeared before I turned around, then.”

It wasn’t like Harry to drop a question that quickly, but she didn’t ask him about it directly. Instead, she asked him a few questions about the trial while he and Ron were half-busy with a game of Wizard’s Chess.

“—Madam Bones seemed surprised that I could cast a corporeal Patronus,” he recounted, “so Fudge asked—well, told—me to cast one. Both of us, actually.”

“You managed it again, I guess?” Ron asked. “Queen to D5.”

“Yeah,” said Harry. “I told her it was a stag, but I guess that wasn’t enough. I suppose I could have made it up.”

“What was Robin’s Patronus, then?” Hermione asked. “A butterfly?”

Harry laughed. “No, actually. Far from it. I was fully expecting a butterfly, then he comes out with this giant—and I mean giant—dragon. It filled up the whole courtroom, practically. The Wizengamot was cowering. It was great.”

A dragon? And from the way he went on to describe it, it could have even been a Great Dragon. The only person she’d ever heard of with a magical creature for a Patronus was Dumbledore’s phoenix. They were incredibly rare, according to all the books she’d read about them. And a dragon? The most dangerous and intelligent of all magical creatures—and which, what’s more, was extinct? But that alone wouldn’t have been enough to convince Dumbledore he was trustworthy. Evil wizards could be powerful too.

Hermione had noticed a distinct relaxation of the atmosphere every time Robin turned up—it affected her, too, despite her misgivings. Could he be using some sort of potion or spell to fool them all? But certainly Dumbledore had measures in place to detect that, didn’t he?

Sirius wandered into the kitchen, eyes narrowed, interrupting both her thoughts and her idle fidgeting with her cup of tea.

“Haven’t seen him,” she said immediately, no longer having to ask what he was looking for.

“Too bad,” he said. “Damn elf’s been acting weird lately, I bet he stole something important this time.”

“Weird how?” Hermione asked, perking up. Could it have something to do with Robin, whom Kreacher had, for some reason, still not mentioned to any of his masters?

Sirius shrugged. “I don’t know—he’s still been muttering a lot about the chores he has to do, which shouldn’t be that weird, but on the whole, he’s been slightly less… offensive? Merlin knows I’ve told him a thousand times to can it with the ‘blood traitor’ this and the ‘filthy werewolf’ that, and I have a hard time believing he’s started listening to his masters now. He’s definitely up to something.”

He wandered off again, muttering to himself much like Kreacher. Hermione stood and quickly washed her cup, resolving to find Kreacher before Sirius did. He obviously recognised Robin, and on top of that, seemed to be following his orders, against all odds. All right… where would I hide if I wanted to avoid Sirius?

Well, far away from Buckbeak. Maybe around a bunch of old, irremovable artefacts. Hermione wandered quietly around the other wing of the house until she came across the tapestry room, where Kreacher was indeed loitering near Regulus Black’s name on the family tree.

“Kreacher,” she said firmly, hoping he wouldn’t run away.

“And she’s back,” he muttered, “all by herself, none of her identical friends…”

“Kreacher, I would like you to answer some questions,” she continued, wording her request carefully in the hope he would have to answer her.

“Kreacher is here to serve young mistress,” he said lowly, then continued at the exact same volume, “Two dozen strangers in mistress’s house, oh, what would she say…”

“Where have you met Robin Emrys before?” she continued, ignoring him. “Why did you recognise him the other day?”

Kreacher froze and started quaking again at the mere mention of his name. Could it be he had hurt him?

“Kreacher had never had the honour to meet Emrys before that day.”

“Okay… then why did you call him ‘my lord’?”

Kreacher bristled and said shortly, “He is Emrys.”

Hermione was beginning to think that word was something other than just a name. Kreacher used it alone, as if it were a title rather than a surname. And hadn’t Harry said that he could address a letter to ‘Emrys’ and any bird would take it to wherever he was? That was certainly odd, but she couldn’t test it without alerting him to what she was doing.

“What does Emrys mean, Kreacher?”

He seemed to struggle with himself for a moment, wringing his hands before uttering one word: “Forever.”

She sighed. That wasn’t helpful—maybe it really was just a name. What did ‘Granger’ mean, anyway? But there had to be something she could get out of the elf.

“Do you know why everyone trusts him? Why do you have to do what he says?”

“He is Emrys.”

All of her subsequent questions were answered in exactly that manner, so eventually she was forced to give up, thanking Kreacher for his time and noticing that he did not call her ‘Mudblood’ even as she was walking away. She added ‘Emrys’ to her mental list of research topics for when she arrived at Hogwarts—a list which, at this point, consisted merely of ‘dragon Patronus’ and ‘butterfly symbolism.’” Well, Emrys was due to arrive soon anyway, so she hoped she could glean something from that.

For the first time, Robin arrived by simply walking through the front door, accompanied by a nervous-looking Professor McGonagall. Mrs. Weasley directed them immediately into the kitchen, Robin giving no sign that he had seen the group of students standing at the top of the stairs. Dumbledore arrived a few moments later and was ushered in, as well.

Fred tossed an old locket at the door once the meeting started; it bounced off a forcefield and clattered to the ground. A few seconds later, Kreacher came scurrying in to pick it up, then ran back out of the room. No one bothered him.

“Blast,” Fred said. “Imperturbable again. Anybody here got a bug Animagus up their sleeve?” He looked around at Harry, Ron, Ginny and George, who all shrugged.

“Wait,” said Ginny. “Did you hear that?”

They all shook their heads.

“It sounded like Snape. Trust me, I have a sixth sense specifically for him. Go on, try the Extendable Ear again.”

The twins shrugged and lowered the string down, one of them putting the other end to his ear.

“What—“ he started. “It’s working! Listen!”

He handed Harry another Extendable Ear and they all gathered around the two of them to try and hear.

“… a special relationship to magic that allows him to sense various forms of it.”

Snape muttered something in response, but the only word Hermione could catch was ‘background.’

“I come from a family of healers,” Robin replied, “connected to the natural world. My father, in fact, had a special bond with dragons. Perhaps there were Druids among our ancestors. But that’s not important now. As Professor Dumbledore has said, Voldemort is on the move.”

“He’s redirecting the conversation,” Hermione realised. “He knows we can hear them.”

“He must have lifted the Imperturbable somehow!” one of the twins exclaimed, but she rather feared they were missing the point.

Dumbledore was speaking now. “… stay at Grimmauld Place, if you are amenable, Sirius.”

They heard no response, but he must have nodded, because Dumbledore declared, “Wonderful! Then let us proceed to any updates that may have emerged since last time, as there is no other decision to be made today. As I said, this is a very short meeting.”

The Weasleys groaned.

“The Dark Lord has no knowledge of this object,” Snape declared in his habitual drawl, “of that I am certain. And you are confident that the source is well guarded?”

“Practically,” began Robin, “the source does not exist. The only reason I have this is because an ancestor of mine obtained it a long time ago. I can see no possible way that any mortal could obtain one now.”

“What do you mean, ‘mortal’?” Lupin asked, taking the words right out of Hermione’s mouth.

“It is said to exist outside of normal time, so no person living in normal time could possibly reach it.”

“Voldemort has already returned from the dead once,” he pointed out.

“That does not make him immortal,” Robin explained. “He has simply returned to time. Not even Nicholas Flamel could have reached the… the source.”

“And how do you know all this?” Snape again, of course.

“My family has a lot of relics, actually, some of which include ancient books with more detail on things like this. They’re mostly written in runes.”

“It might be useful to bring a few of those here, if they can be transported,” Dumbledore suggested.

“It is possible,” Robin answered slowly, “but it would take some time to prepare them for transport. Is there anyone here who can read ancient runes?”

Hermione resisted raising her hand.

“I believe Ms. Granger can,” Lupin answered for her. “Possibly others. At the very least, it would give them a chance to help in some capacity.”

Harry and Ron grinned at each other, happy that Lupin wanted to include them.

“Very well,” Dumbledore agreed. “I believe that concludes our business for today?”

When no one added anything, he continued, “Minerva, would you stay to introduce Mr. Emrys to the others? I am afraid I have some business to attend to at Hogwarts.”

“Of course, Headmaster.”

“Oh, do stay for dinner, both of you?” Mrs. Weasley offered. “I’m sure—“

All sound was cut off in an instant. They exchanged confused glances.

“Maybe he put the Imperturbable back,” said Ginny. “I didn’t hear him say an incantation, but surely Mum would notice if the charm was already gone when she went to remove it?”

“Yeah, probably,” Ron agreed. “Wonder how he did it.”

So did Hermione. She mentally added ‘wordless spells’ to her list, something she had wanted to learn for a while now anyway.

“Let’s clear away before they come out,” said Harry, and they all quickly returned to their rooms.

“What do you think of Robin?” Hermione asked Ginny once she closed the door behind her.

“Robin?” she repeated, sitting down on the bed. “I don’t know, I suppose he’s pretty in a weird sort of way. Kind of like a butterfly, actually.”

“No,” Hermione laughed, “I mean him being in the Order. He’s sort of odd. Do you think he’s trustworthy?”

Ginny nodded. “Yeah. He seems genuine. And I think my magic likes him.”


“Oh, I don’t know—it’s probably stupid. It’s like—you know that time in Care of Magical Creatures when we got to see the unicorns? You did that too, right?”


Ginny nodded as if growing surer. “Well, the girls were allowed to get closer and actually touch them. And when you were standing next to one, it felt sort of… safe. But something else, too. You felt like being quiet around them, like you’d become a part of nature or something. And when I pet one, I felt like my magic was reaching out and petting it too. I know that makes no sense, but it sort of feels like that—like reaching out.”

She looked back at Hermione as if she expected her to laugh at her, but she didn’t. “I… I think I know what you mean. About the unicorns, that is. I felt something too, like it was some otherworldly creature. And I noticed people feeling calmer around Robin, but I thought he might be using a potion or something.”

“Wouldn’t Dumbledore have noticed something like that?” said Ginny.

“I suppose so. I’d just feel better if I knew what was going on.”

“Now you sound like Harry.”

Mrs. Weasley poked her head in a moment later. “Are you girls ready for dinner? We’re going to be having a guest for a little while, come and meet him!”

When they arrived downstairs, the boys were already there, Harry and Ron talking with Lupin (who had been absent for the last few days) and the twins harassing Professor McGonagall.

“Ms. Weasley, Ms. Granger,” McGonagall greeted them, taking the opportunity to sidestep the twins. “This is Robin Emrys, the newest member of the Order. He will be staying at Grimmauld Place for the time being. Mr. Emrys, this is Hermione Granger and Ginny Weasley.”

Once they had all exchanged plenty of greetings, they sat down to dinner. Harry was downright gleeful that Mrs. Weasley was now fussing over Robin as well, muttering about his pallor and scrawniness (“I am not scrawny—”) and continually adding more food to his plate. Not that she neglected to do the same to Harry, of course. Unfortunately, she also unwisely asked Fred and George to help her, for which they used a lot of unnecessary magic.

Meanwhile, Harry and Sirius were arguing again.

“At least you know what’s going on!” said Harry.

“Oh, yeah,” Sirius returned, rolling his eyes. “Listening to Snape’s reports, having to take all his side hints that he’s out there risking his life while I’m sat on my backside here having a nice comfortable time… asking me how the cleaning’s going—“

“What cleaning?” Robin asked, strategically interrupting.

“Trying to make this place fit for human habitation,” said Sirius, waving a hand at the room in general. “No one’s lived here for ten years, not since my dear mother died, unless you count her old house-elf, and he’s gone round the twist—hasn’t cleaned anything in ages.”

“Ooh!” Robin exclaimed, unexpectedly. “Can I help?”

Sirius stared. “With…”

“The cleaning.”

“What’s this, dear?” Mrs. Weasley asked.

“I’m good at it, I promise!”

Hermione and Ginny exchanged an incredulous look.

“Don’t be silly, you’re a guest and—Fred, George—no! Just CARRY THEM!”

They all looked round and, a split second later, dove away from the table. A cauldron of stew, a flagon of Butterbeer and a breadknife were hurtling towards them. Hermione raised her hands protectively, but a second later, there was no impact. She opened one eye.

The cauldron, flagon and knife were all frozen in midair, hovering over the table and its former occupants, all of whom were staring at the scene—and at Robin, whose hand was still outstretched. He finally lowered it, but the objects didn’t fall.

“Er—sorry…” he muttered, ducking his head and reaching out to pluck the knife out of thin air.

Mrs. Weasley was the first to recover, reaching out warily to right the stew and set it on the table. “What are you apologising for, boy? But how in Merlin’s name did you do that?”

He seemed surprised at his own sudden bark of laughter, but set the flagon of Butterbeer down on the table. “Yeah, that’s… some of that accidental magic I was talking about. I did say it was a little wild.”

“That’s one way of describing it,” said Sirius, still staring at the now motionless objects on the table.

“Does that happen a lot?” one of the twins asked.

“Er, yeah… pretty much every time someone throws something at me.”

Naturally, they spent the rest of the evening testing that principle.

“I should never have said that,” Robin grumbled as he dodged yet another apple thrown at the back of his head—dodged, unnecessarily, as it simply hung in midair behind him as if caught in a giant, invisible spiderweb. He hadn’t even turned around.

Indeed, he continued washing a plate (having insisted that he be allowed to help in return for housing him) before reaching behind him and examining the fruit. Hermione was polite enough not to throw things at the back of people’s heads, but she was still watching intently along with the twins, fascinated by the phenomenon. Was all adult accidental magic like this? Somehow, she doubted it.

“Huh,” he laughed softly, tossing the apple back to Ginny, who he somehow that thrown it from behind a corner. “We used to get these at Yuletide sometimes. Sort of.”

Mrs. Weasley looked sidelong at him from where she was cleaning off the table, but she didn’t ask any questions. She would undoubtedly be even more pushy with his breakfast tomorrow, though.

When all the cleaning was finally done, Harry, Ron and Hermione left the Order downstairs to reconvene in Harry and Ron’s room, sitting on the two beds and the cot that was now set up for Robin. (His remark that he was fine and ‘used to sleeping on the floor’ had been decidedly unhelpful on that front.)

“Thanks for the assist with the Imperturbable,” said Ron.

Robin beamed. “Ah, so you managed it! Good, I was afraid you’d have given up by then.”

“You were talking about the crystal in there, weren’t you?” Harry asked.

He nodded.

“What crystal?” Hermione asked.

“A magical artefact passed down to me,” Robin answered. “Theoretically, it shows you the future, but it’s extremely unreliable. What it does do is let me see the present. It doesn’t sound particularly useful, but that’s how I knew about the Order and where it was.”

“Can it help us find Voldemort?” Harry asked.

Robin sighed. “Maybe. But it never shows you what you want to see, only a bunch of random visions. Often, they’re completely useless. Maybe if we could find a real Seer they’d be able to control it, but you can’t let just anyone touch it. A lot of people—most people, even—they go insane if they look into it. I think maybe I’ve got some kind of immunity because it was an ancestor of mine that found it, but I really have no idea.”

“Maybe we can find one,” said Ron. “Professor Trelawney—“

“She’s a fraud,” Hermione cut in. “If Seers even are real, she isn’t one.”

“Of course not,” said Robin, “she’s a Prophetess. It’s a different thing entirely. And Seers are real, I knew one. But she’s dead now.”

Hermione wasn’t sure which part of that to ask about, but Harry decided for her.

“What do you mean, a Prophetess?”

Robin frowned at him. “Don’t tell me Sibylle Trelawney’s been going around thinking she’s a Seer this whole time. A Prophet makes prophecies—she made one about you and Tom Riddle, Harry, that’s how I know. Apart from those trances, she won’t be able to predict anything.”

“Ha!” cried Hermione. “I knew it.” There were more important things at hand, obviously, but still—she was right. Mostly.

“We’ll look for a Seer, then,” Harry decided. “As soon as we get back to Hogwarts.”

Robin grinned. “Just don’t forget your OWLs.”

Harry and Ron groaned.

In the end, Hermione didn’t need to question Robin—Harry did it for her.

“How did you manage to get into Dumbledore’s good graces so quickly?” he asked. “He’s usually so careful.”

Robin seemed to consider his words before speaking. “I told him a secret.”

“A secret?” Harry repeated. “What secret?”

“Sorry, I can’t tell you what it is yet.”

Harry looked almost angry, the sting of that summer still fresh. “Why would you tell him something you’re still keeping from me? Is it because you don’t trust me, either?”

Robin looked up. “Of course not, Harry. It’s because Dumbledore’s mental shields are probably the strongest I’ve ever seen. And besides, well, I didn’t actually tell him. He found out.”

“Mental shields?” Ron interjected. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Have you ever heard of Occlumency?”

The boys shook their heads, but Hermione gave a tentative “Yes?”

He nodded for her to go on.

“It’s—that’s how you magically close your mind to protect against Legilimency, when someone tries to read your thoughts and emotions.”

“Exactly,” he agreed. “If an even moderately decent Legilimens was to come near any one of you, they’d probably have no trouble finding anything about the Order they wanted to—not because you’re young, but because you’ve never been trained in it.”

“Are you a Legilimens?” asked Ron. “Or an Occlu—Occ—“

“Occlumens, yes, I can do both.” He grinned. “Want a demonstration?”

The three looked nervously at each other.

“All right,” said Harry. “You can try it on me. Just don’t go digging around in there.”

“I won’t,” Robin said. “Here, we’ll do a test—just think about something you did… oh, yesterday. Something I wouldn’t know about. Got one?”

Harry nodded.

“All right. You try and keep that from me, and I’ll try and find it.”

Harry scrunched up his face.

“This won’t hurt,” Robin added. He stared at Harry intently for a second before saying, “You found a music box. It was playing a creepy tune and you all started to feel sleepy, then Ginny had the good sense to shut it. Wow, that’s a dangerous thing to have lying around. You threw it out, I hope? What on earth is this place, anyway?”

“That’s amazing,” Ron breathed.

Hermione was still skeptical, but only slightly. Legilimens weren’t incredibly rare, after all. “Are you sure you weren’t just floating around here as an Animagus?”

He shook his head. “If I were, I would have been affected by it too—you probably would have noticed me falling out of the sky.”

Harry was practically bouncing on the edge of the bed. “Are you going to teach us Occlumency?”

Robin scratched his head. “Well, I don’t—I mean, Dumbledore’s much better at it, probably, maybe, and he’s a teacher after all—“

“Dumbledore’s busy,” said Ron with a wave of his hand. “And if you teach us, we can start now!”

Robin looked offended. “I can be busy.”

“You’re here now, though.”

“Well, so is Sna—actually, never mind, he’s clearly a terrible teacher.”

“Agreed,” said Harry.

“Don’t tell him I said that.”

“So you’ll teach us, then?”

Robin glanced around as if looking for another option. He threw up his hands. “All right, fine, I’ll teach you. How do I get myself into these things?”

Chapter Text

Robin was good at cleaning, Harry realised as he watched him scrubbing the floor in yet another drawing room, after having already gone through two of them, plus a hallway and some stairs. So much so that it was actually alarming. He just hoped they wouldn’t all be held to that standard. It was summer, for Merlin’s sake. He glanced over at Mrs. Weasley, who was finding increasingly implausible excuses to just stand in the doorway and watch him work with an almost awed expression on her face.

Robin, for his part, mostly ignored her, humming an unrecognisable tune to himself as he quickly scrubbed his way around the room. It had taken him almost an hour to realise that he could use magic for this, at which point he set two other brushes to the same task.

“What’re we all gawking at?” asked Ron when he returned with Hermione.

Mrs. Weasley opened her mouth to sing his praises again, but before she could speak, Robin piped up from the other side of the room.

“What’s this?”

He was bending over to peer through the keyhole of a locked and rattling writing desk, and his hands and the knees of his trousers were completely filthy. When he turned around, Harry could also see several smudges of dust on his face.

“I think it’s a Boggart,” said Mrs. Weasley, rushing over to join him, “but we’re not sure yet. We’re waiting for Alastor to come back so he can have a look at it.”

“Oh, it’s a Boggart, all right,” he said, wiping a filthy hand on his forehead again. “I was just wondering why it was in there. I can get rid of it if you like.”

“Are you sure? Have you banished one before?”

He shrugged. “No, never run into one, but I’ve seen worse. I can get rid of pests all right.” He pulled out his wand. “Everyone back up, all right? You might want to leave for this, actually.”

None of them did leave, but once they were far enough away, he said, “Alohamora,” and the cabinet fell open.

A man slowly started crawling out of it, the wooden floor cracking where his hands and feet touched it, and Harry smelled a distinct burning of wood and something that might have been hair. As the man pushed himself laboriously upright, he saw that some dark, rust-brown liquid had dried all over his hands and forearms. The man was looking down at them, black hair obscuring his face. He started muttering to himself much like Kreacher, but Harry couldn’t understand him. It did, however, make him more aware of the acute silence: there was no chirping from outside, no wind, no flickering of lamps—and most disconcertingly, he couldn’t even hear his own quick breaths in and out.

When the man raised his head, as if he’d heard something, it took Harry a second to recognise him through the almost tangible veil of sorrow on his face—but it was!—it was Robin himself, though his eyes were glowing a strange colour, and Harry glanced between the boggart and the real one to reassure himself that his friend was really all right.

The real Robin stumbled a few steps backward in shock, his blue eyes turned pale and wide. As he did so, the apparition suddenly roared into the silence, howling a guttural word Harry didn’t recognise—but the way it stood there afterwards, staring up into the sky as if waiting for an answer, told him with certainty that it was a name.

Robin jumped at the sound, but his familiar determination came back to his face when he was jolted back into reality. “Riddikulus!” he shouted.

The boggart only changed a little at first, standing straighter as his hair started to grow longer, but when he turned back to look directly at Robin, he was someone else. Only a hint of Robin’s angular face was left; this man was older, wearing a short beard and strange, heavy clothes of leather and wool.

“Son,” he said firmly, and tossed a small wooden object to Robin, who caught it with difficulty. “Stop losing my stuff. I mean it.”

Robin looked down at the little figurine in his hand and laughed out loud, joy spreading over his face. He opened his mouth to reply, but when he looked up, the boggart was gone, and so was the figurine.

No one was sure how to break the silence.

Robin chuckled quietly, looking at his empty hand, then shook his head and returned to pick up the pile of brushes he had left from cleaning, along with the bucket of filthy water. Harry wasn’t sure when Mrs. Weasley had left, but she was now nowhere to be found.

“Well,” said Robin, heading for the door, “that was an alarming realisation. Who wants sandwiches?”

Ron practically jumped up to run after him, and Harry and Hermione slowly followed suit.


It was evening when Mrs. Weasley finally emerged from wherever she had been hiding, starting on dinner right away and calling everyone into the kitchen to help. It had started raining a few hours ago and was only just beginning to let up, fading into small, intermittent taps on the windows. Harry, Ron and Hermione were all exhausted from cleaning, as was Ginny, but Fred and George seemed to have avoided it by Disapparating whenever the subject was brought up. Tonks and Lupin both joined them for dinner, the latter going upstairs to retrieve Sirius.

Robin had gone outside and disappeared several hours ago, but returned just in time to help with the preparations. He was his usual cheerful self when he clambered in through a side window, damp from the rain (for which Mrs. Weasley, surprisingly, did not scold him), and he was holding something small in one hand.

“Look!” he said with a grin when he spotted the trio. He opened his hand and held it out, revealing an ancient-looking, tiny wooden dragon. “I’ve been looking for it for ages, but then I remembered what Harry said the day we met.”

Harry looked at him, confused.

Robin grinned. “Remember? ‘Can’t you just… summon it?’”

“Oh, right,” Harry laughed. For a bloke who did magic by accident all the time, he sure had a hard time remembering it existed sometimes.

“That man gave it to you?” Hermione asked.

“My father, yes. He carved it, actually. I also brought,“ he told the room, “a load of old books for anybody who can read Ancient Runes. We were hoping there might be something of use against Voldemort in there.”

Said load of books drifted in through the still-open window, crossed the kitchen, and arranged themselves on a low table in the nearby sitting room. They were massive and heavy, ornately decorated but crumbling on the edges.

“Wow,” Hermione breathed. “Could I try to read one?” she asked hopefully.

Robin nodded, picking one up himself. “Go for it. Tell me if you find a weird dialect, I’ve become familiar with a lot of those.”

She reverently opened one of the covers and began squinting intensely at the page.

“Whoa!” Ron shouted. “Mate, look at this!”

“What?” Harry asked, looking over his shoulder.

“This one was written by Merlin himself!”

If they didn’t already have everyone’s attention, they had it now.

“Yeah?” said Robin, wandering over to inspect it. “Oh, right, I’d forgotten about that one.”

He returned to his book, flicking through its pages quickly, but Ron continued to touch the page Merlin’s name was written on reverently.

“It must be worth a fortune…” Tonks muttered in an awed voice, she and Lupin crowding around them to try and get a better look at it.

“Wow,” said Ron. “Is this Merlin’s handwriting?”

“I think we can assume that,” Harry replied.

“What language is it in?” asked Hermione, who could no longer conceal her interest.

“Old Brythonic,” Robin replied without looking. “Similar to Welsh.”

“Do you speak either of those?” asked Hermione.

Robin paused. “Er… yeah, I suppose. I had to, to read that book. Although some parts are translated into English.”

“Did Merlin translate them, too?” Ron asked.


“Of course not, Ron,” Hermione interrupted. “English arrived in the British Isles long after Merlin’s time.”

“Ron’s a bit of a Merlin fan,” Harry told Robin with a look that indicated it was more than ‘a bit.’

He laughed. “Really?”

“Got a problem with that?” Ron demanded.

Robin only laughed harder. “Nope! No problem here.”

“You’ve read it!” exclaimed Ron with an abrupt change in tone. “Could you tell us about what’s in it? Did he talk about any of the stuff he did?”

Robin took a better look at Ron’s book, flipping quickly through a few pages. “Yeah, he does, a bit. I don’t know that any of it’s going to be all that useful, though.”

“Of course it will be!” Ron exclaimed, looking carefully through for passages written in English. “Could you leave this one here so I could read it?”

He shrugged. “Sure, why not? I could probably scrounge up a few more of his books if you want.”


“Anything to get him interested in books,” Hermione muttered.

“Merlin’s name is written on this one too,” said Sirius at the other side of the table, “but it was written by someone else.”

“Just his first name,” Harry added.

“Maybe he owned it,” said Lupin, going to his side to look at it.

“Do you think he learned magic from it?” Ron whispered.

Robin examined the cover. “Oh, yeah. Probably. I mean, it was written before he was born. Oh, there’s his name,” he said with a laugh, looking at the scrawl in the inside corner of the cover. “Wow, that’s so dumb.”

Ron bristled again. “What do you mean?”

“Well, magic was illegal in Camelot at the time, so, you know, writing one’s name in a book of spells was probably a bad idea.”

“It was?”

Robin looked at Ron. “I thought you were a ‘Merlin fan’?”

“I didn’t know that either,” said Hermione skeptically. “Where’d you read it?”

“Well, er, the book Ron’s holding, of course.”

If Ron hadn’t just put the book in question back down on the table, he would have dropped it.

“You should donate these to the school!” Hermione exclaimed.

“Or sell them,” Sirius contributed.

“—It’s a primary source, for Merlin’s sake!” she continued.

“Yeah,” said Robin, still thumbing through the book of runes. “Might as well, I suppose. As long as they’re able to maintain the spells that keep them from turning into actual dust.”

Hermione looked giddy at the prospect.

“Oh!” Robin exclaimed after a moment. “This could be something.”

He set the book down on the table and pointed to a passage near the beginning of the page, motioning for Hermione to come and look at it.

“I think I’ve heard of this, but here they call it ‘Horcruxes.’ Apparently you can put a piece of your soul in it so that, even if you’re mortally wounded, as long as that piece is intact, you won’t die. I’m not entirely sure how you would accomplish that, though.”

“You think that’s what You-Know-Who’s after?” asked Sirius.

“It’s possible. He does seem to be hung up on the idea of immortality, for some reason.”

“I don’t know,” muttered Ron, “I can think of a few reasons.”

“Pretty sure Merlin would disagree with you there, Ron,” Robin replied.

“Are any of you going to help set the table?” called Mrs. Weasley.

They all jumped up, sharing an apprehensive look before rushing in to tell her what they had found.

Hermione had plenty of clues. She was drowning in clues, in fact. But they were as useless to her as pieces from different puzzles; none of them fit together, and none of them led her in the same direction. Where had Robin gotten a dozen ancient books that no one had ever heard of (some of them written by Merlin himself, of all things)? Where had he gotten a crystal that tells the future? What on earth did that sort of Boggart mean? Was he afraid of himself? Why? Was it insanity? Loneliness, perhaps, but that was a stretch. And was that… blood? She honestly wasn’t sure, but it didn’t bode well.

And then there was that language the Boggart was speaking… she’d never heard anything like it before. And of course, there was the matter of his ‘accidental magic.’ She had never heard of magic acting in such a way all on its own—in children or in adults—but it couldn’t have been intentional, either, because he had never been holding his wand. Why did he say he slept on the ground and received fruit for Christmas—or ‘Yuletide,’ rather? She was beginning to wonder if this entire thing was designed to drive her mad.

And the situation did not improve. The man was extremely efficient and thorough at all manner of cleaning, for some godforsaken reason (which only raised more questions), including at getting rid of incredibly dangerous creatures and objects without even blinking.

For instance, there were the giant spiders. The other giant spiders, actually—beasts the size of saucers lurking in an abandoned dresser in a bedroom from which Ron had immediately excused himself. Robin pointed his wand at them and muttered something, whereupon they all politely trailed out of the window and down the side of the house. The sight of giant spiders crawling over the downstairs windows had, of course, re-traumatised Ron, but he recovered enough to demand Robin teach him the spell—which he had, apparently, invented.

That wasn’t even the only spider-related incident: the needle spider, as she had taken to calling it, was discovered a few days later. Harry had been fishing around in a mysterious drawer (unwise) when he was accosted by something that looked like a many-legged pair of tweezers, which immediately tried to stab him with its rusty legs. Robin simply plucked it from his sleeve, placed it on the table, and allowed Ron to smash it with a book—which would hopefully have some therapeutic effect, if they were lucky.

Robin at first thought that Buckbeak was part of the mess and had somehow snuck into the house, but Harry, Ron and Hermione quickly assured him that he was a pet, not a pest—not that he could really feasibly be either.

“Oh,” Robin had said cheerfully, putting his wand away. “Even better.”

He had then walked right up to the hippogriff. They all yelled over each other, telling him to stay back and make sure to bow before approaching, all shouting different instructions at the same time.

“What?” he said, turning partly around (bad idea) as the hippogriff bowed to him… first.

“You…” Hermione said weakly. “You’re supposed to bow before you pet him.”

“Oh!” He grinned and returned Buckbeak’s bow before patting him gently on the head. “Sorry, didn’t mean to be rude.”

So that was added to the now lengthy list of research topics. Hermione’s schedule was already full, and school hadn’t even started yet.

Later on, the belligerent grandfather clock (which routinely spat bolts at passersby) he had taken care of with a stern lecture, and that seemed to be that.

Until Tonks tripped over the troll-leg umbrella stand again.

“Tonks!” cried Mrs. Weasley, running out into the hallway at the loud crash.

“I’m sorry,” Tonks wailed from where she had tumbled to the floor. “It’s that stupid umbrella stand, that’s the second time I’ve tripped over—“

The rest of her words were overtaken by a deafening, blood-curdling screech. The curtains in the hallway had flown apart to reveal a shrieking woman with yellowing skin and eyes rolling back in her head, and her scream woke the other portraits, who then added to the din. Some of them covered their ears. Lupin and Mrs. Weasley darted forward and tried to tug the curtains shut, but that only enraged the old woman further.

“Filth! Scum! Byproducts of dirt and vileness! Half-breeds, mutants, freaks, begone from this place! How dare you befoul the house of my fathers—“

Tonks continued to apologise, but no one could hear her. Giving up on the curtains, Mrs. Weasley hurried up and down the hall, stunning all the other portraits.

Sirius joined Lupin in trying to pull the curtains shut, roaring, “Shut up, you horrible old hag, shut UP!”

The woman’s face blanched. “Yoooou! Blood traitor, abomination—“

Harry and Robin ran into the room with their hands over their ears. Harry was shouting something that no one could hear, Robin looking frantically for the source of the racket before discovering the portrait Sirius and Lupin were wrestling with. He had been lucky enough to avoid her so far—largely by virtue of coming and going almost exclusively through windows—and unsurprisingly, Sirius avoided mentioning her.

Robin finally removed his hands from his ears and let out a roar that somehow echoed over the screaming of the portraits, fluttering his black curls as if in a strong wind. “QUIET,” thundered an unearthly voice at a piercing volume, and quiet fell.

When the old woman fell still, Sirius and Lupin finally succeeded in shutting the curtains, turning to stare blankly at Robin, who was rubbing at his temples. Robin didn’t seem to notice.

“What in the name of Avalon was that thing?” he demanded in a harsh whisper.

“Er, that would be my mother.”

“My deepest condolences,” he muttered. “Why is her portrait still here?”

“Permanent Sticking Charm,” Sirius said through gritted teeth. “We’ve been trying to get rid of it for months.”

“Ah, well that’s too bad,” Robin replied, regaining some measure of his usual cheerfulness. “Would you mind terribly if it were to disappear entirely?”

Lupin turned to look at him skeptically. “Er—“

“I don’t care if the whole wall is gone,” Sirius practically shouted over him, “if you can do something about her—anything—go right ahead.”

Robin reached a hand out towards the curtains, but thought better of it and stepped back, pulling out his wand and pointing it at the portrait. Without warning, the curtains and the portrait behind it shattered as if they were made of pottery, falling in shards to the ground. There were only shards on the ground and a rectangular patch of lighter wallpaper left behind to indicate that anything had been there.

“Oops,” said Robin. “Seem to have disintegrated the curtains, too.”

“Who the hell cares!”

They were all sporting a variety of (thankfully mostly minor) injuries by lunchtime that day. They got around to eating a little later than the others due to an incident with a murderous pair of purple robes, and none of them had any energy for conversation.

Harry hissed as he put his palm to his forehead again.

“What’s wrong?” Ron asked.

“Scar,” he muttered. “Happens all the time now.”

“What’s this?” Robin interjected.

“Sometimes his scar hurts when danger’s nearby,” Ron explained for him.

“Yeah,” said Harry, “but there isn’t any now, and there hasn’t been any for the past three months. Well, except for the Dementors, but not since then.”

“That’s handy,” said Robin, but he was giving Harry a funny look.

“What?” he asked.

“Do you mind if I take a look at it?” Robin ventured. “I mentioned I came from a family of Healers, right? I think that might be a magical affliction of some kind. Want to make sure it’s not dangerous.”

“Sure,” said Harry, “I suppose. But if it was dangerous, wouldn’t Dumbledore or someone have taken me to a doctor? Or, a Healer, I mean?”

“Probably,” Robin agreed, getting up to move to a chair next to Harry, “but you can’t be too careful, I suppose.”

Robin moved his wand slowly over Harry’s forehead, muttering a few incantations. He frowned and set the wand down on the wooden tabletop, instead backing up slightly and moving his hands vaguely in the air as if tracing something, eyes darting around at nothing, all the while continuing to mutter. Suddenly, all the hair on Harry’s head stood on end, as if by static electricity. He looked bemusedly between Ron and Hermione, who were trying their level best not to laugh at him.

Robin sat back down. “Hm.”

“‘Hm’ what?” said Harry, trying and mostly failing to make his hair stick to his head, and not his hands.

“I think I saw… something, but I don’t know what.” He stood up. “I think I’m going to go find an expert and pose a few dozen hypothetical questions, if that’s all right with you.”

Harry turned back to his sandwich, coming to terms with his new hairdo. “All right, then. Tell us what you find out.”

“Yep.” With that, he transformed and flew out the window.

“Oh, for Merlin’s sake,” said Harry when he noticed Robin’s wand still sitting on the table.

Chapter Text

Merlin stepped casually out of a whirlwind and into Dumbledore’s office. “Can a person be a—oh, hello, Professor Snape, I see you two are busy here, let me just come back another time—”

“Hold on!” said Snape as the wind started up again, billowing his hair in a way that clearly made him uncomfortable.

The wind stopped.

Snape stood and straightened his robes irritably. “The Headmaster and I were just discussing your recent addition to the Order, in fact.”

“And you want me to… be here for this conversation?”

“We had a few questions.”

You had a few questions,” Dumbledore corrected him.

“Which you would not answer.”

“I see.” Merlin conjured the most obnoxious chair he could think of off the top of his head—a plastic Muggle school chair in bright yellow—and sat.

Snape, as planned, was not pleased. He continued standing.

“This ‘accidental magic’ of yours, for one thing.”

Merlin awaited a question. Dumbledore leaned back in his chair.

“It does not have the markings of accidental magic.”

Merlin waited.

“Will one of these questions of yours be making an appearance today?” he asked at length.

What are you doing?”

“A slightly more specific question would be preferable, but that’s a good start.”

“How are you doing that?” Snape growled.

“Again, just slightly more specific—”

“Professor Snape,” Dumbledore interjected, “is the most capable Legilimens I am aware of. He does not imagine that could be unaware of his attempts to read your mind.”

Merlin laughed as Snape turned incredulously to Dumbledore.

“Sorry about that,” he said. “I assumed we were still on the topic of accidental magic.”

Snape turned his glare back on him.

“…Which I am now regretting reminding you of.”

“Who is this?” Snape asked Dumbledore.

Dumbledore just gestured back to Merlin.

“Robin Emrys,” said Merlin, standing up from his chair and stretching out his hand as if they had not already met. “Nice to meet—“

“Sit down!”

But Snape seemed to have calmed now that he had latched onto something. “Interesting name. ‘Emrys,’ meaning ‘immortal’?”

Merlin shrugged. “If you say so. Not much of an etymologist, myself.”

Snape took the opportunity to throw a pen at his head, which was ingenious, and it landed in midair inches from his face.

“So how did you do that?” he asked.

“No idea,” said Merlin, truthfully, pushing the pen further away with his finger before he became cross-eyed.

“It didn’t look very accidental.”

“Then how do you imagine I did it, exactly? I didn’t even have me wand out and—“ he fished around for it. “Oh, I forgot my wand.”

Snape rubbed at his temple. “Then how did you arrive here? What in Merlin’s name is that method of transportation, anyway?”

Merlin paused. He couldn’t pass that off as accidental.

“Aha!” he declared, conjuring a stick from midair behind his back. “Here it is!”

A few of the portraits snorted, disconcerting Snape, who glanced up at them in bewilderment.

“May I see it?”

Merlin deflated. “Very well.”

“This is a stick,” Snape said almost immediately.

“What? How do you—“

“So you’ve now somehow Apparated into Hogwarts, accompanied by a tornado, fended off a Legilimens, stopped a projectile in midair, and conjured a stick, all without a wand.”

Merlin stared silently at him for a few seconds.

“He’s good,” he said to Dumbledore brightly.

After a moment, he added, “Much more cunning than making tree branches fall on little girls.”

Snape choked on thin air.

“A true Slytherin, I like it,” he continued.

“Where did you hear about that?” Snape demanded, having quickly recovered.

Dumbledore looked as if he had no idea what they were talking about, but he didn’t seem to mind.

“What, didn’t you notice me standing behind the hedge?” Merlin said. “I was lurking, I do that a lot, actually, I thought you might be the next dark lord or something, no offence, but it turned out to be that creepy orphan instead, no surprise there, really, but unfortunately I missed him entirely—“

“You’re lying.”

“I’m afraid not.”

Snape looked to Dumbledore, who raised an eyebrow.

“So you’re in disguise, then,” Snape surmised.

“No, contrary to popular belief, this is what I look like.”

Snape nevertheless performed a set of wordless revealing spells on him, which had no effect.

“Satisfied?” he asked.

“Not at all,” Snape replied. “You are hiding something.”

“I’ve told you already. I’m old.”

“Yes, older than me, presumably, but—“

“Much older than that. I was there for the whole Grindelwald situation, too. These dark lords pop up every few decades, you know.”

Dumbledore looked a little startled, but Snape just narrowed his eyes.

“Older than the Headmaster, then?”

Merlin hesitated. “Yes.”

“Did you know the Founders?”

“Yep,” said Godric’s portrait.

“Hey!” said Merlin with a significant look. He only wanted to give Snape enough to back off. That made him older than even Nicholas Flamel.

“Well,” he declared, standing up, “This was fun, but I really must be going now—“ and stepped into a whirlwind.

He arrived in a forest in Wales with Snape in tow.

“You idiot!” Merlin shouted. “You could easily have been ripped in half!”

“Where are we?” Snape asked calmly.

Merlin grabbed his shoulder and took them back to Dumbledore’s office.

“Sit down,” he said when they arrived, pushing Snape into his chair and turning to Dumbledore. “He’s more of a Slytherin than Slytherin, I swear.”

“You knew Merlin, didn’t you?” Snape asked, quietly than before. “You learned magic from him.”

Merlin heaved a long-suffering sigh and gave up. “Please. If anyone was going to end up living for over a thousand years, it would be me, not one of my hooligan apprentices.”

As he waited for that to fully sink in, he wandered over to a wood-and-gold machine on a shelf that had caught his eye earlier. Snape was still staring at him when he glanced back at Dumbledore.

“Is this mine?” he asked.

Dumbledore adjusted his glasses. “Er, yes, I believed so. It completely slipped my mind. Take it back if you like.”

Merlin shook his head. “No, keep it. It does nothing, actually, just something with randomly moving parts to make Gwen think I was actually working.”


“Yes, Queen Guinevere.”

“I don’t believe you,” Snape decided.

“Unsurprising. I don’t care.”

“It really is him,” Dumbledore said. “Last time he was here he stopped time for several minutes.”

When he felt Snape prodding at his mind again, he smiled at him. “Fine. You want in here? Go ahead.”

“Severus,” Dumbledore warned, “I really don’t—“

The two of them were standing in a corridor in Hogwarts. Teenage Snape walked by, followed by Merlin in student’s robes muttering, “Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it…”

There was a large CRACK and Snape whirled around to see himself, walking up to Lily as Petunia ran away crying. Memory-Merlin shrugged and wandered off. “Little creep deserved it, I suppose.”

Something exploded and they were in a trench, dust clearing to reveal two dozen dead soldiers. On the ground, Merlin awoke with a rattling breath, his wounds closing up as he rose and looked around him at the carnage. He frantically ran back and forth, trying to surreptitiously save the wounded men, but there were too many.

They were in a town square near the sea, surrounded by people speaking French. It might have been the late 1800’s. Above them, Merlin and two others stood on a scaffold.

Snape jumped back to avoid being skewered by an armoured man swinging a large sword. The man charged at Merlin, who jumped aside and parried. There was no one else—it was just a sparring session, and both men laughed when the knight charged too exuberantly and fell on his face.

Flowers were springing up of their own accord around a grave. Merlin sat in the grass a great distance away, staring at a cemetery filled with his friends. Rage slowly flooded his eyes, and golden coils of magic grew visible in a haze around him, lashing out in all directions and hitting nothing. Merlin let out a furious cry that grew into something unearthly, ripping through their eardrums and leaving behind nothing but a ringing as the world exploded into blinding light.

Merlin and a young woman dove for cover behind a low brick wall a few metres away from the road. A few seconds later, a cavalry passed by. They shared a grin and kept running.

Merlin was calmly mixing something for a potion at a small wooden table. An old man in robes crept up to smack him upside the head.

“Ow!” Merlin shouted. “What was that for?”

“How many times do I have to tell you not to let him drink the entire potion? He came down here bleeding out of his eyes! You’re lucky I had the antidote ready.”

“It’s not my fault he never listens to—ow!”

They were standing in a barren field. A small boy with large ears was barely visible above the dying grass. Snape moved closer to watch as the boy bent down to touch the earth. With a smile on his face, he stood back up and spread his arms wide. Sunlight broke from the clouds and splashed across his upturned face, and the field they stood in came back to life. As molten gold swirled in the boy’s eyes, the stalks turned green and vibrant, standing back upright, and small fruits bloomed all over them. Birds appeared from nowhere, and the now-glowing boy was surrounded by a scattering of butterflies in bright colours. He laughed and the air vibrated around him; he chased one of the butterflies, and flowers sprung from the earth where his feet landed.

“Merlin!” his mother called with a tremor in her voice. She ran to him and knelt down to wrap him in her arms. “What have you done?” she whispered, looking fearfully at the old woman watching them from afar.

When Snape returned to Dumbledore’s office, he dropped back into his chair without speaking.

“As I was saying earlier,” said Merlin, “can a person be a Horcrux?”

A blue butterfly traipsed significantly through the kitchen. He passed behind Ron and Hermione’s heads as the three of them drank their tea in companionable silence.

“Er, I’ll be right back,” said Harry, surmising that it was a private matter.

When he arrived in their shared room, Robin was standing there with an unusually serious look on his face.

Harry groaned. “This is about my scar, isn’t it?”

“I’m afraid so. I talked to Dumbledore—and Snape—and it turns out they were already pretty sure what was going on, so I berated them for keeping us both in the dark about it.” He brightened a bit and told Harry, “Actually, I think I traumatised Snape a bit.”

“Well,” said Harry, “at least something good came out of it. So what’s the diagnosis, then?”

“I’m afraid,” he said, “you’re a Horcrux, Harry.”

“… Excuse me?”

“Those things we were studying the other day, where you trap a piece of your soul in it?” Harry nodded. “Well, the way you create one is by killing someone in cold blood—evidently Dumbledore has been doing a lot of reading up on this—and apparently, that will cause a piece of your soul to break off and attach itself to an object of your choosing. However, if you don’t finish the ritual—whatever that is—the piece of soul, desperate to return to its host, will attach itself to the nearest living thing.”

“So when Voldemort killed my parents…” said Harry, “his soul got lodged in me.”

“A piece of it, yes. That’s the only explanation. And it’s probably why you have such a connection—why you can speak Parseltongue, and why you seem to be able to sense him coming.”

“Oh,” said Harry, feeling strangely calm. He was expecting panic to take over at any second, but it still hadn’t yet. “So if I’m what’s keeping him alive, then you have to kill me before you can kill him.”

Robin scoffed. “Don’t be absurd, Harry, we’re not going to do that.”

He summoned a book from the other room and sat on the bed beside Harry. When had Harry sat down?

“I’m not sure yet how to get it out of you without hurting you, but we’ll figure it out. And anyway, it’s not just you. Dumbledore’s sure there are others—he’s looking for them now. He seems convinced Riddle is aiming for six in order to split his soul into seven pieces (because it’s a powerful magical number) and that he’ll put them in important objects, ones that are significant to him. So we’re going to be going on a very dangerous treasure hunt.”

“We?” asked Harry hopefully.

Robin looked back up with a grin. “Well, they can’t possibly keep you out of the Horcrux hunt if you are a Horcrux, can they? That would be ludicrous.”

He turned the book so Harry could see better—it must have come from Hermione, because it was Hogwarts, A History.

“He always hated Dumbledore. I bet he made some of his Horcruxes out of Hogwarts-related artefacts. I just don’t know which. We can go digging around there when you go back to school.”

“We?” Harry asked again. “Are you coming with us?”

“No,” he said with a sigh. “There’s no room for a new teacher even if I was any good at it, and I could disguise myself as a student, but then I’d have to go to classes, and that would take up a lot of time I could be using to snoop around. I will come around often, though.”

“Yeah,” Harry agreed. “I’ll be wasting a lot of time in there too.”

“Well, it’s not entirely wasted. You’re going to live through all this, and once you do, you’re going to need a job. Can’t do that without OWLs.”

Harry hadn’t even considered what he would do after Voldemort.

“And I’m afraid you’ll be extra busy this year,” Robin added.

Harry groaned. “Why?”

Robin flashed him a grin. “Occlumency lessons, of course. It’s even more important now that I know you have a piece of Riddle’s soul in you. If he knows about it, he might try and use it to get to you somehow.”

That was an unsettling thought. But at least he would be learning something useful.

“Should I tell the others?” he wondered aloud. “About the Horcrux?”

“It’s up to you,” said Robin. “But remember they’re your friends. They want to help you.”

Harry nodded decisively.

After dinner, they all gathered in the room Harry, Ron and Robin shared—all seven of them, including Ginny, Fred and George. Harry had only told Ron and Hermione about the Horcrux, even though the members of the Order already knew about it, but they were all equally excited to learn Occlumency.

“All right, listen,” Robin started when they were all seated. “This is going to be more similar to Quidditch practice than to the way you’d be learning normal spells.”

The Quidditch players in the room—i.e., everyone but Hermione—shared jubilant looks.

“Which is to say,” he continued meaningfully, “that it mostly involves practicing. You can learn a bit from books, but even if you know everything about it, you won’t be able to defend yourself against a real attack until you’ve built your skills up enough.”

“Also,” he continued, “each method is personalised. There are many ways of preventing someone from accessing your thoughts. Some of you will find it easier to clear your mind, or to concentrate on a single place or object, or to recite a poem, while others can actually fabricate false thoughts to make the Legilimens think they’ve succeeded.”

Hermione raised her hand.

“Go ahead.”

“Which is the most advanced?”

“I thought you might ask that,” he grinned. “But they don’t come in levels, exactly. All the techniques I mentioned can be equally effective, but only if you choose the one you’re best at. And those aren’t the only ways, either. However, once you’re able to do that consistently, you can invent an entirely false mindscape—surface-level thoughts, memories, images, et cetera—to deceive the Legilimens and lead them down the wrong path. And after you’ve mastered defence, some people go on to study Legilimency, but I’ll leave most of that for later, as it’s much more complicated.”

When she seemed satisfied, Robin turned to Harry. “Because you’re so capable with the Patronus Charm, I’d recommend you start out by doing much the same thing. Try to find a powerful, detailed memory to live in until the Legilimens goes away. Hermione, I’m sure you’ve memorised some very long texts?”

She blushed slightly, but nodded.

“Perfect,” he continued. “You try and start by reciting one of those, just make sure your mind doesn’t stray from the meaning of the words. And Ron, you play chess, right?”

“Er, yeah.”

“I’ve heard you’ve got a real talent for it—which means you must be good at hiding your strategy from your opponent. You can put those skills to use here too by using a sort of misdirection. Every time you sense your opponent trying to get at something, just dangle some bait and lead them down a trail that looks promising, but leads nowhere. Does that make sense?”

“Yeah,” said Ron, sounding a bit surprised. “Yeah, I think I’ve got it.”

“George, Fred,” said Robin, “sorry to lump you two together, but I think the fact that you’re with each other almost all the time could help you out. It’s almost impossible for a Legilimens to attack two people at once, so if one of you is attacked, you can send a signal for help to the other one, who can then come help you. Mental communication is actually a diluted form of Legilimency, but I’m sure you’ll be able to do it.”

They were already staring intently at each other, obviously trying to communicate telepathically.

“But that’s not all of it,” Robin continued. “Have you ever met Merlin’s portrait at Hogwarts?”

They grinned and nodded.

“There’s a portrait of Merlin?” Ron exclaimed. “How did I not know about this?”

“He could answer every question I’ve ever had!” Hermione agreed.

“Well, I wouldn’t go that far,” said Robin weakly. “But not many people do know about it, anyway, because the vast majority of the time, he either lies about who he is or blurts out a bunch of nonsense until whoever it is forgets what they even asked.”

“It’s a wonder to behold,” Fred agreed.

“And that’s what I want you two to do,” said Robin. “He probably took to you immediately, so I’m sure you’ve heard him go on those ridiculous rants a thousand times. If you can thoroughly confuse the person who’s trying to attack you, their concentration will drop and you’ll be able to re-erect your defences—or, you know, just run away. That does work occasionally.”

“All right, Ginny,” he said finally. “First of all, you should all know that it’s difficult to perform Legilimency while being physically attacked, so if you can, it wouldn’t hurt to try that first—but that’s not what we’re practicing here. I want you to try clearing your mind of all thoughts, images, and feelings. It’s pretty difficult to do, so when you’re beginning, it might be easier to imagine some sort of physical mindscape, like a clearing or a room, to help prevent thoughts from suddenly popping up. All right?”

Ginny nodded quickly.

“But like I said,” he added, “it’s difficult, so if it doesn’t end up working for you, we can just try a different method, no harm in it.”

The next fifteen minutes were both boring and exhausting. Robin had them practice each of their exercises and try to maintain it for as long as possible while he listened with his mind. When any of them broke concentration or got distracted, he nudged them back with a slight mental tap—to Harry, it felt almost like a “psst” right behind his ear.

When it was finally over, he gave each of them pointers, telling Harry to make sure the memory he chose involved as many of the five senses as possible—then, he tested the strength of their defences. They went in turns, each trying to keep Robin out when he reached out to prod slightly at their minds.

“Ready, Harry?” he said with a reassuring smile once everyone else had finished.

Harry nodded and tried not to look nervous.

“All right, prepare yourself. I’ll give you a few seconds.”

Harry sank into a memory from the other day, thinking a recent one would be more vivid. Being stuck in the house all the time had made them all a bit antsy, so they devised a game (an especially hazardous one, in retrospect) of modified tag wherein you could get immunity by finding and holding onto any number of dangerous Black family heirlooms—including, in one notable instance, Sirius, who George argued was both Black and dangerous, and therefore fair game. Sirius, in turn, argued that this meant he himself must always be immune, so he was finally taken off the list of possible immunity items.

Kreacher was not technically in the game, but he ran around stealing dangerous Black family heirlooms so often that he was made an honorary player, and he seemed to take great satisfaction in having an excuse to run around the house with various items he was trying to keep out of the rubbish.

Harry felt something warm touch his mind, like a beam of sunlight from between the leaves. Emrys, his mind whispered, as if he didn’t know very well who it was. But the name echoed in his mind until he recovered himself and dove back in, running into a drawing room to escape Ron’s footsteps.

When he was sure Ron was gone, he poked his head out and ran back the other direction, nearly barrelling into Tonks—

The scene dissolved. Got you! he heard Robin say in his mind.

“That was great, Harry!” he said out loud when Harry opened his eyes. “But when you’re under attack for real, try not to show them the entire floor plan of the Order headquarters.”

“Oh, right,” said Harry. He’d better pick some other memory. But he’d think of one later, as the others were already talking amongst themselves again.

“I know,” Ron was saying with a look of frustration, “I read it in his book, but he never mentions where it actually is!”

“Yeah, it’s weird,” said George, “he won’t tell us anything, either. His portrait, I mean. He hardly talks about his life at all, just vague, random things like—“ in a croaky voice, he mimicked, “Knights are rotten scoundrels and you should never listen to a word they say—unless it’s Lancelot.”

“Which doesn’t help us at all,” added Fred, “never having met any knights.”

“What about knights?” Harry asked.

“Nothing, really,” said Fred. “Ron was just saying nobody’s ever been able to locate Merlin’s Hogwarts records, but—“

“But we have his book! If I could find his last name, or place of birth…”

“Not this again,” Robin muttered, seemingly sick of the subject.

“You can’t look on his gravestone?” Harry asked.

Ron rolled his eyes. “Come off it, Harry, everyone knows his grave has never been found.”

“That’s strange,” Hermione said. “He was famous even during his lifetime, you’d think people would make pilgrimages or something.”

“Why do you want to find his records, anyway?” Ginny asked.

“We hardly know anything about him! Not even when he was born, or what his parents’ names were. They think his wand was made of oak, but they don’t know because they can’t even find his grave—and he doesn’t mention his wand at all in here so far—and did you know the Druids had a prophecy about him? He doesn’t say what it is exactly, just some nonsense about a coin—but apparently they gave him some special title.”

“What was it?” Harry asked. “Maybe it could give you a clue.”

“All he was said it meant ‘undying’ or ‘forever’ or something like that—he reckoned it was a blessing, sort of like their ‘long live the king.’ You don’t suppose we could search for that at the school somehow?”

“He didn’t go to Hogwarts, Ron,” Robin said with a sigh. “You won’t find his records. He was born some five hundred years before it was founded.”

“It says that in here?” Ron asked.

Robin hesitated. “There are context clues,” he decided.

“Thank Merlin!” Ron exclaimed. “Er… I mean—I’m just glad he wasn’t a Slytherin, is all.”

Harry laughed. “He still might have been, if he’d been sorted. We’ll never know.”

“Maybe we can ask the portrait what he thinks when we get back to Hogwarts,” Fred suggested.

“You could even ask him to help you with your OWLs,” George added with a smirk.

Ron groaned.

“I hope they’ve found somebody decent for Defence Against the Dark Arts, at least,” said Harry. “You know, someone’s who’s not insane, in disguise, or both.”

“That’s a low bar,” Robin remarked.

“So far,” said Ron, starting to count on his fingers, “we’ve had a bloke with Voldemort sticking out the back of his head, a narcissistic fraud—well, Lupin, who was good—and then we thought we had Mad-Eye, but it ended up being a mad Death Eater using Polyjuice Potion.”

Robin was looking at them with genuine concern. “Maybe I ought to accompany you on the train.”

“Yeah!” said Fred and George together. “You could help us with our Opening Prank!”

“Oh, no,” Hermione mumbled.

Chapter Text

“Psst,” someone said.

Snape whipped out his wand and scanned his office.


Snape checked to make sure his potion was not overflowing.

“Up here, you great nincompoop!”

Ah. That was unmistakeable. He looked up on the wall to see Merlin invading the portrait of Gaspard Shingleton. Snape wondered briefly why he was so much more cantankerous as an old man, but decided he could live with it as long as he was confined to the portrait. He had seen him thwack many a headmaster with his staff and did not wish to be on the receiving end of it.

“Anyway,” said Merlin, “Merlin told Phineas to tell me to tell you to tell Dumbledore to stop ignoring Harry. He’s getting resentful, and it’s a problem.”

Evidently the propensity for rambling and run-on sentences transcended age, however.

“You never had any problem barging into his office before—either of you.“

“Yes, well, he’s ignoring both of us, so it might sound better coming from his closest advisor.”

“It is still not my business to—“

“I’ll turn you into a bat if you don’t.”

Snape looked skeptically at him.

“Well I won’t, but other me might.”

Snape sighed. “Fine.”


“Guard?” said Harry. “We have to go to King’s Cross with a guard?”

You have to go to King’s Cross with a guard,” Merlin corrected him.

“Why?” said Harry irritably. “I thought Voldemort was supposed to be lying low, or are you telling me he’s going to jump out from behind a dustbin to try and do me in?”

Merlin shrugged. “It’s Moody, he thinks someone’s lurking behind every dustbin.”

“WILL YOU LOT GET DOWN HERE NOW, PLEASE!” Mrs. Weasley bellowed.

She had seemed to be shouting more than usual just because she could, now that Mrs. Black’s portrait was gone. Not that the rest of them weren’t being equally loud, Merlin admitted.

Harry, Ron and Hermione dragged their trunks down the stairs, Harry nearly dropping his when a bear-like black dog barrelled into him.

“Harry,” said Mrs. Weasley, “you’re to come with me and Robin. Leave your trunk and owl, Alastor’s going to deal with the luggage—oh, for heaven’s sake, Sirius, Dumbledore said no!”

“Hey,” Merlin whispered to Harry. “Watch this.”

He pointed his wand at himself and muttered some nonsense, turning himself back into a fifteen-year-old.

“Cool,” said Harry. “You’re coming on the train, then?”

“Well, you’ve already been attacked by Dementors on the train once, so I think I’d better. It’d be nice to see Hogwarts again, anyway. I’ll mostly stay at Grimmauld Place once you’re settled, at least for now.”

“Oh, honestly…” said Mrs. Weasley to the dog. “Well, on your own head be it!”

She wrenched open the front door and stepped out into the weak September sunlight. The two boys and the dog followed. The walk to King’s Cross was mostly uneventful apart from Sirius scaring a couple of cats for Harry’s amusement, and soon, they were through the barrier and waiting for the others to arrive.

“Nice dog, Harry!” called a tall boy with dreadlocks.

“Thanks, Lee,” said Harry with a grin.

Sirius wagged his tail.

“Oh good,” said Mrs. Weasley, “here’s Alastor with the luggage.”

“All okay,” he muttered when he joined them. “Don’t think we were followed…”

Seconds later, Mr. Weasley appeared with Ron and Hermione, followed by Tonks with Fred, George and Ginny.

“Don’t forget,” said Moody as they prepared to board, “be careful what you put in writing. If in doubt, don’t put it in a letter at all.”

“It’s been great meeting all of you,” said Tonks. “We’ll see you soon, I expect.”

The warning whistle sounded, and Mrs. Weasley hugged all of them at random—even Merlin. “Quick, quick. Write… be good… onto the train now, hurry…”

Sirius reared up on his hind legs to place his front paws on Harry’s shoulders, but Mrs. Weasley shoved Harry toward the train door, hissing, “For heaven’s sake, act more like a dog, Sirius!”

They all hurried onto the train and waved through the open window as it started to move. The dog bounded alongside the window for a while, wagging his tail, but when they rounded a bend, he was gone.

“Well,” said Fred, clapping his hands together, “we’ve got business to discuss with Lee. See you later!”

“Yeah,” said Hermione, exchanging a look with Ron, “and—we have to go into the prefect carriage…”

“Oh,” said Harry. “Right. Fine.”

“But I don’t think we’ll have to stay there all journey, just to get instructions and then patrol the corridors from time to time.”

“Fine,” Harry repeated. “Well, I—I might see you later, then.

“Yeah, definitely,” said Ron. “I’m not enjoying it, trust me—I’m not Percy.”

“I know you’re not,” said Harry with a grin, but he still looked a bit sad as they all walked away.

“Come on,” Ginny said, “if we get a move on we’ll be able to save them places.”

“Right,” said Harry, picking up his trunk and struggling to get Hedwig’s cage as well, so Merlin grabbed it for him.

Most of the compartments were already full (of people blatantly staring at Harry), but in the very last carriage, they ran into a red-faced boy trying to lug his trunk along while maintaining a one-handed grip on his struggling toad.

“Hi, Harry, Ginny,” he panted. “Can’t find a seat… everywhere’s full.”

“What are you talking about?” said Ginny, squeezing past to peer into the compartment behind him. “There’s only Luna in here.”

The boy mumbled something about not wanting to disturb anyone.

“Don’t be silly, she’s all right.”

“Oh,” said Harry, “Neville, this is Robin, a… friend of ours. Robin, Neville Longbottom, he’s in my year.”

“Hello,” said Merlin, not daring to reach out a hand just in case Neville dropped one or the other of his burdens.

“Hi, Luna,” said Ginny, sliding the door of the compartment open. “Is it okay if we take these seats?”

The girl beside the window looked up. She had straggly blonde hair down to her waist and wide eyes, and was reading a magazine upside-down, her wand tucked behind her ear for safekeeping. She nodded at the crowd of teenagers in the door and they all trailed in—some with more difficulty than others.

“Thanks!” said Ginny.

When Merlin entered the compartment, he immediately realised that something was about to happen, though he wouldn’t have been able to guess what. Luna let out a gasp when he appeared, staring fixedly at him with steadily widening eyes as her magazine started to droop slightly.

“Emrys!” she cried, starting to stand up.

Not this again.

The other three looked rapidly between them as Merlin did his best to look as confused as possible.

If you can hear me, he projected, please don’t tell them who I am. Just play along and we can talk later.

“You wouldn’t be Luna…”

What’s your last name?

“Lovegood! Yes!”

“Oh, so nice to see you again!” He shook her hand, which seemed to freak her out slightly. “We met in Diagon Alley a while back, right?”

She just nodded in agreement and returned to her seat, still staring at him.

Thank you, he thought at her. Can you speak back to me?

She frowned for a few seconds.

No, I can’t hear anything. All right, give me a minute and I’ll think of something.

“Had a good summer, Luna?” Ginny asked.

“Yes,” she said, turning abruptly to Harry. “Quite enjoyable. You’re Harry Potter.”

“I know I am,” said Harry.

Neville chuckled.

Luna turned her pale eyes on him instead. “And I don’t know who you are.”

“I’m nobody,” he said hurriedly.

“No, you’re not,” said Ginny sharply. “Neville Longbottom—Luna Lovegood. She’s in my year, but in Ravenclaw.”

“Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure,” Luna agreed in a singsong voice before raising her magazine up to mostly hide her face, gaze still alternating between Harry and Merlin.

Fortunately, Harry didn’t notice. And thank Avalon Hermione wasn’t here, she was far too shrewd for her own good. She would almost certainly lock onto the whole ‘Emrys’ thing—if she hadn’t already, what with Kreacher’s outburst.

“Guess what I got for my birthday?” said Neville. “Look at this…”

He pulled something vaguely resembling a small grey cactus out of his school bag. “Mimbulus mimbletonia!”

Harry eyed it distrustfully, as it was pulsating slightly. “Does it—er—do anything?”

“Loads of stuff! It’s got an amazing defensive mechanism. Here, hold Trevor for me…”

Luna lowered her magazine a bit to watch. Catching his tongue between his teeth, Neville gave the plant a sharp prod with the tip of his quill.

Green liquid squirted everywhere—and it smelled awful. A split second later, it was covering all five of them, the ceiling, and the windows. Neville—and Harry, who had been holding the toad—both received a faceful.

“S—sorry. I haven’t tried that before… don’t worry, though, Stinksap’s not poisonous.”

Harry spat a mouthful onto the floor anyway.

That was when the door chose to open.

“Oh… hello, Harry,” said a girl with long, black hair. “Erm… bad time?”

Harry used his free hand to wipe off his glasses.

“Oh,” he said. “Hi.”

“Erm…” she said again. “Well… just thought I’d say hello… bye then.” She closed the door; Harry just groaned.

Teenagers, honestly.

“Never mind,” said Ginny bracingly. “Look, we can easily get rid of all this. Scourgify!”

The Stinksap vanished, but the smell did not. Merlin opened the window.

“Sorry,” said Neville in a small voice.

“Don’t worry about it,” said Merlin. “This is going to be a fun trip, I can tell already. I am, however, going to find some water to wash out my eyeballs. Don’t let anyone take my spot.”

Follow me when you get an opportunity.

He lingered a few carriages down, out of anyone’s immediate line of sight. Luna eventually found him, though she had left the compartment earlier than was probably advisable.

“Emrys,” she breathed.

“No humans have recognised me in centuries,” he said. “How did you know?”

“My father told me about you,” she whispered, “and his father told him. He said if I ever saw you, I would know… and I did.”

Well, that was exactly as much help as the Druids had ever been on that front.

“But I thought you must have died,” she continued. “After all, I can see Nargles, but I never saw you.”

The way she was staring at him now indicated that she really had been holding back when they were in the compartment.

“Well, just… please don’t tell them. I don’t want them to…” be afraid of me.

She shook her head violently, Butterbeer lid necklace rattling slightly. “Of course not, my lord!”

“Please don’t call me that. You really don’t have to—“

She gasped again. “My—Emrys! Could I please tell my father? He would be overjoyed to know I met you!”

“Well, I suppose, since he already apparently knows I exist.”

“Thank you!” she breathed.

“Oh,” he said, “and call me Robin, not Merlin.”

She frowned at him. “What?”

“Yes, I know it’s a weird bird theme, but it was off the top of my head. I almost went with Lancelot, you can imagine how that would go over.”

“You’re Merlin?”

All right, now he was lost.

“Er… no,” he said, knowing it was futile. “Of course not. That’s why I told you not to call me that.”

“Of course!” she exclaimed suddenly, ignoring him completely. “He was—no, you! You are the greatest wizard to ever live because you are Magic Incarnate. I can’t believe you’re alive! I never knew you were the same person…”

“Okay,” he said, holding his hands up, “that’s a bit of an exaggeration, first of all. Secondly, how did you know Emrys even existed? I thought everyone had forgotten about him—I mean, me.”

“My father writes about all kinds of magical creatures in his magazine, even the ones that are thought to be extinct, or that people don’t believe in: like Wrackspurts, Crumple-Horned Snorkacks, you, Blibbering Humdingers, the Great Dragons and their Dragonlords—did you ever see any of them? Could my father interview you?”

“Er—“ he started, nonplussed. “I don’t know, you might have new names for them… I knew a couple of dragons, though, if that helps?”

“Did you meet their Dragonlords? What were they like? Did they look like normal humans?”

“What—yeah, I suppose—of course Dragonlords are normal-looking, have you been hearing something else? Look, just tell your father not to let anyone know I’m still alive, especially in his magazine. I’m trying to deal with a dark lord here, you know.”

Luna nodded earnestly. “I’ll tell him.”

“I’m serious. Especially about my real name.”

“I promise!” said Luna. “I’ll tell him what you said. But can I ask you a couple of questions? He’s going to want to know absolutely everything.”

“Yes, fine, as long as it doesn’t go—“

“—in his magazine, yes. I promise.”

“Oh, hello,” said Merlin when he finally made it back to the compartment to see that Ron and Hermione had joined them. “Where’s Luna?”

“Looking for the trolley, I think,” said Harry, who was borrowing Luna’s magazine.

The door opened again as Merlin sat down.

“What!” Harry instantly demanded.

“Manners, Potter,” said a pointy-faced boy with sleek blond hair, “or I’ll give you a detention.”

Oh, no. Merlin was going to get involved in this, wasn’t he? He could feel it. The little prat even had a couple of cronies behind him. Great.

“You see,” the boy continued, “I, unlike you, have been made a prefect, which means that I, unlike you, have the power to hand out punishments.”

“Yeah,” said Harry, “but you, unlike me, are a git, so get out and leave us alone.”

Merlin nearly choked on his laughter, earning a sharp look from the blond boy.

“And who exactly are you?” he sneered.

“Nobody,” said Merlin, and shut the door in his face.

Merlin didn’t want any of the teachers—or the Gryffindor table—to see him just in case they started asking questions, so with a quick goodbye to Harry, Ron and Hermione, he transformed and fluttered away up to the castle on his own, wandering around for a bit so that he could sneak into the Great Hall once the feast was underway.

He ran into Dumbledore emerging from his office and fluttered around his head meaningfully until he took notice.

“Good evening,” Dumbledore said politely.

He didn’t seem to recognise him, but that was all right. At least he was sensible enough to be courteous to animals acting strangely. Merlin wandered away to see if he could find a Snape to bother.

His portrait waved to him as he passed, of course, but at least he didn’t try to chase after him. A few of the neighbouring portraits gave them both strange looks, though.

Ah! The dungeons. He did know Snape liked to skulk. Merlin headed down that direction, happily bypassing all the unnecessarily aggravating stairs. There was the Slytherin common room… he wandered in the direction of Snape’s office, but the professor was probably heading up to the feast by now.

Oh, indeed he was. Merlin flew right past his face, and Snape gave him a strange look—probably just wondering how he had got in—and kept walking. Merlin then circled back and flew past Snape in the same direction, just to make him think he was having déjà vu.

The fourth time he did it, Snape tried to grab him. He quickly flitted away, hovering in midair just out of reach.

“What in Merlin’s name—“

That phrase seemed to trigger something, and Snape eyed him suspiciously. He still seemed reluctant to speak to him, though, in case he was wrong and wound up arguing with an ordinary butterfly in a deserted hallway.

Merlin would have liked to jump out and scare him by transforming back, but he settled for perching on the frame of a nearby painting and watching Snape as he walked away. Which he did… very, very slowly.

Once he was gone, Merlin wandered around looking at paintings for a little while. He would have liked to talk to Sir Nicholas, who was evidently on his way to arrive fashionably late, but the ghosts still didn’t know what his Animagus form was and he was not letting them find out. His worst harriers were people who had nothing better to do.

He waited a while to follow Sir Nicholas up, flying through the double doors rather high in the air to hide among the candles whilst he looked for Harry. Oh… he, Ron and Hermione were talking to Nick, who was not looking especially cheerful. He fluttered down to defuse the situation. Fortunately, their little group was fairly well hidden.

“…would never dream of seeking an argument with the Bloody Baron.”

“Only because you’re terrified of him,” Ron replied.

Merlin set himself firmly in the middle of the table. The three students stared down at him as Sir Nicholas spluttered, “… have never been guilty of cowardice in my life! The noble blood that runs in my veins—“

“What blood—?” Ron started to say, so Merlin landed on his nose, interrupting him.

Nick departed with a firm harrumph. Merlin returned to the table.

“Er, hi,” said Harry in a low voice, checking to make sure no one was listening in.

Merlin waved his wings slowly.

“I wasn’t attacked by Dementors on the way to the Great Hall, if that’s what you’re here for,” Harry continued. “The hat did give a warning, though. Nearly Headless Nick was telling us he does that sometimes.”

“What’s his problem?” muttered Ron, but he was looking at Snape.

Snape was sitting at the professors’ table, glowering intensely at Merlin. Merlin wiggled his antennae.

“How does he know it’s you?” Hermione asked, but he couldn’t really respond.

“You sure he’s not just looking at us in general?” Ron asked.

“Doesn’t look like it,” said Harry. “Robin told me he harassed Snape a bit the other day, maybe it has something to do with that.”

“Well,” said Dumbledore, getting to his feet, “now that we are all digesting another magnificent feast, I beg a few moments of your attention for the usual start-of-term notices. Mr. Filch, the caretaker, has asked me, for what he tells me is the four-hundred-and-sixty-second time, to remind you all that magic is not permitted in corridors between classes, nor are a number of other things, all of which can be checked on the extensive list now fastened to Mr. Filch’s office door. We have had two changes in staffing this year. We are very pleased to welcome back Professor Grubbly-Plank, who will be taking Care of Magical Creatures lessons; we are also delighted to introduce Professor Umbridge, our new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher.”

Oh, no. What on earth was she doing here? Oh, wonderful, she’s interrupting Dumbledore now.

With a strange “hem, hem” sound, she stood—not gaining much height—and started talking, resolutely ignoring the incredulous looks from everyone at the staff table. Speaking to the hall of students as if they consisted entirely of three- to five-year-olds, she rattled of a seemingly memorised speech about the Ministry and unspecified ’changes.’ This was not going to be good.

When she finally sat (after what seemed like forty-five minutes), Dumbledore continued with his announcements, cutting off any applause that might ever have come, although there was not much chance of that.

“Yes, that certainly was illuminating,” said Hermione quietly.

“Was it?” asked Harry. “Sounded like a load of waffle to me.”

“How about ‘progress for progress’s sake must be discouraged’? How about ‘pruning wherever we find practices that ought to be prohibited’?”

“Well, what does that mean?” asked Ron impatiently.

“It means the Ministry’s interfering at Hogwarts.”

As she said it, students started to get up and leave the hall—she jumped up, looking flustered. “Ron, we’re supposed to show the first-years where to go!”

“Oh, yeah. Hey—hey, you lot! Midgets!”


“See you later,” said Harry dully as he turned to go, ducking his head to avoid the stares from around the hall that were probably due to Fudge’s bluster in the papers.

Merlin alighted on his shoulder as he hurried up the stairs. Ron and Hermione’s prefect duties were decidedly not helping Harry’s continued sense of abandonment.

When they reached the Fat Lady’s portrait, Harry stopped. “Er…”

“No password, no entrance,” she said loftily.

“Harry, I know it!” Oh, it was Neville again. “I’m actually going to remember it for once—Mimbulus mimbletonia!” He waved the little plant jubilantly.

“Correct,” said the Fat Lady, and her portrait swung open.

It was cozy in the Gryffindor common room, and a few people were warming their hands by the fireplace before going up to bed.

“Night, Harry,” said Neville as he continued up the stairs to the dormitory.

“Night,” he responded, and whispered to Merlin, “You can change back once that group at the fire has gone up. Nobody should be coming back down any time soon.”

Harry sat in an armchair and waved good night to Fred and George—soon, the room was empty.

“Well,” said Merlin when he materialised on the couch, “you were right about Defence Against the Dark Arts professors.”

“I hate her already.”

He looked at Merlin as if expecting him to say he should give her a chance, but he just nodded in agreement. “She was downright vile at your hearing. Can’t believe they’re letting her teach.”

“Even worse, Hagrid hasn’t come back.”

“The Care of Magical Creatures professor?”

“Yeah. He was on some sort of mission for the Order. I hope he’s all right.”

“Me too,” said Merlin, gazing into the fire. “I’ll ask Dumbledore about it.”

“Thanks,” Harry said quietly. “I think he’s been avoiding me.”

“Seems like it,” he agreed. “Can’t figure out why.”

They sat in silence for a while before Harry asked, “Did you see the carriages we came up here in?”

Merlin looked up. “Yeah. Why?”

“Well, they… Ron didn’t see anything, but there were these horse things pulling them—Luna saw them too, but she sees all sorts of things.”

“Oh yeah,” Merlin said. “Thestrals. You can only see them if you’ve seen someone die, so a lot of people can’t nowadays.”

“You’ve seen death then?”

“Oh, sure,” he answered. “But the Thestrals won’t do you any harm, even if they are a bit creepy-looking. It’s Riddle we have to worry about.”

Harry grimaced as he looked into the fire.

“You look dead tired,” Merlin said. “I should go so you can get rested for tomorrow, but I’ll be back as soon as I have news.”

“How are you getting back to headquarters?” Harry asked.

“I’ll just Apparate once I’m out of Hogwarts.”

“Right,” said Harry, stifling a yawn. “Will you tell Sirius everything went all right?”

“Sure,” he replied, standing up. “Good night, then.”


The Fat Lady cried out when he stepped through the door.

“How did you get into the common room?” she demanded.

Chapter Text

Harry stormed furiously down the deserted hallway, note from Umbridge in hand, taking satisfaction in making as much noise as possible on his way to Professor McGonagall’s office. He whirled around a corner and walked directly into Peeves, who was floating on his back in midair, juggling a number of inkwells.

“Why, it’s Potty Wee Potter!” he cackled, dropping a few of the inkwells with a smash.

Harry jumped backwards to avoid the mess of ink and glass shards.

“Get out of it, Peeves,” he snarled.

“Ooh, Crackpot’s feeling cranky,” said Peeves, zooming after Harry as he ran down the hallway. “What is it this time, my fine Potty friend? Hearing voices? Seeing visions? Speaking in tongues?” He blew a raspberry at him.

“I said, leave me ALONE!” Harry rushed down the nearest flight of stairs, but Peeves merely slid down the banister beside him.

Peeves continued in a singsong voice. “Oh, most think he’s barking, the potty wee lad, but some are more kindly and think he’s just sad, but Peevesy knows better and says that he’s mad—“


A door to Harry’s left flew open; a harassed-looking McGonagall emerged from her office, followed by Robin, who waved cheerfully.

“What on earth are you shouting about Potter?” she snapped. “Why aren’t you in class?”

“I’ve been sent to see you,” said Harry stiffly.

“Ooh,” Peeves chortled gleefully, darting behind McGonagall to hover around Robin, “the young one’s come back. Is he here to play with Peevsy? Is he sneaking around again?”

“Not now, Peeves,” said Robin.

“Sent?” McGonagall asked Harry. “What do you mean, sent?”

Harry held out the note from Professor Umbridge. As McGonagall opened it and started to read, Peeves continued yapping in the background.

“Where has he been all this time? Will he tell Peevsy his name now? Maybe we should ask some of his friends…”

McGonagall’s eyes narrowed with each line that she read. Finally, she looked up and gestured to Harry.

“Come in here, Potter.”

He glanced at Robin, hoping he would come back in with him, but he was still occupied by the poltergeist.

“Peeves,” he said calmly. “Go away. I’d better not see you lurking outside this office.”

Peeves zoomed off backwards, pouting at them all the way.

Robin joined Harry and McGonagall inside just before the door fell shut.

“Well,” Professor McGonagall said. “Is this true?”

“Is what true?” Harry asked, rather more aggressively than he had intended. “Professor?” he added belatedly, trying for politeness.

“Is it true that you shouted at Professor Umbridge?”

“Yes,” said Harry.

“You called her a liar?”


“You told her He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is back?”


Professor McGonagall sat down behind her desk. Robin lingered near the bookshelf, contorting himself sideways to read the titles. McGonagall did not seem to take any notice of him.

“Have a biscuit, Potter,” she said.


“Have a biscuit,” she repeated impatiently, indicating a tin of cookies on top of a pile of papers. “And sit down.”

He was reminded uncomfortably of the last time he was in here expecting to be disciplined but was instead appointed to the Quidditch team. He sat bemusedly, helping himself to a Ginger Newt.

“Potter, you need to be careful,” she said in a low, serious tone that was very distinct from her normal crisp voice.

“Misbehaviour in Dolores Umbridge’s class could cost you much more than house points and a detention.”

“What do you—“

“Potter, use your common sense,” she snapped. “You know where she comes from, you must know to whom she is reporting.”

The bell rang for the end of the lesson, and all around came the sounds of a mass of students on the move.

“It says here she’s given you detention every evening this week, starting tomorrow,” Professor McGonagall said.

“Every evening this week!” Harry repeated. “But I was telling the truth! Voldemort’s back, you know he is; Professor Dumbledore knows it—“

“It doesn’t matter,” said Robin tranquilly, without turning around. “We knew this was what she wanted—to discredit you and Dumbledore, to serve Fudge’s agenda of disinformation so that he can prevent a mass panic. She provoked you so that you’d shout at her about Voldemort, and you did.”

He turned to look at him. “Can’t say I blame you, really. No matter what you do, she’ll use any opportunity she comes across to make you look unbalanced. You’d better be careful during your detentions.”

Professor McGonagall did not seem to mind whatsoever that he had contributed to the conversation. “This isn’t about truth or lies,” she concluded. “It’s about keeping your head down and your temper under control.”

She stood, and Harry followed suit.

“Have another biscuit,” she said, thrusting the tin at him.

“No, thanks,” said Harry.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she snapped.

He took one.

“Thanks,” he said grudgingly.

“Didn’t you listen to Dolores Umbridge’s speech at the start-of-term feast, Potter?” she said.

“Hermione did,” said Robin.

“Ah,” she said. “Well, I suppose that’s close enough.”

Harry turned to go.

“I’ll catch up with you later, Harry,” said Robin. “Wouldn’t want to make you late.”

Harry nodded, and once he was out the door, he lingered for a moment as they resumed whatever business they were discussing before he arrived.

“Please talk to him,” said Robin. “He won’t listen to me.”

“If the headmaster won’t listen to you, of all people, then why in Mer—er, that is, why would he care what I have to say?”

“He may know who I am, but he still doesn’t know me. He’s more likely to take your advice than—“

When Harry heard someone shuffling around inside, he scurried away in the direction of his next class. That was a strange conversation, he thought. McGonagall had been treating Robin rather strangely the entire time. She didn’t even want to swear in front of him—Harry supposed she probably would have avoided doing so in front of Harry, as well, but that was because he was a student. But more importantly, what could he and the headmaster be arguing about?

That evening, Harry and his outburst in Defence class seemed to be the sole topic of discussion in the Great Hall. Maybe Umbridge was a bit smarter than he had imagined—the other students already seemed convinced he was some sort of maniac, and their not-so-hushed mutterings were probably meant to provoke another fit of anger on his part.

It wasn’t long before he, Ron and Hermione returned to the common room early just to get out of there. They attempted to do some homework, but all of them were too distracted. By the next day, that had already caught up with them, and they had three essays to write, two spells to practice, a Bowtruckle drawing to finish, and a dream diary for Trelawney—none of which Harry could start on, because he had detention with Umbridge.

He tried to arrive as punctually as possible; outside the door, he took a deep breath and knocked.

“Come in,” said a sugary voice.

The office was unrecognisable. It bore an almost cartoonish contrast with the last time he had been here, when Moody’s impostor was teaching. Now, every possible surface was covered in an assortment of lace, dried flowers and ornamental plates with kittens on them.

“Good evening, Mr. Potter.”

He was so horrified at the decor that he had almost forgotten she was there—but that was partly because her luridly flowered set of robes blended perfectly with the tablecloth on the desk behind her.

“Evening, Professor Umbridge,” he said stiffly.

“Well, sit down.” She indicated a small table, also draped in lace, with a piece of blank parchment sitting on it.

Her creepy, condescending smile only provoked his anger once more, but with a massive effort, Harry looked away from her, dropped his schoolbag beside the straight-backed chair and sat down.

“There,” said Umbridge sweetly, “we’re getting better at controlling our temper already, aren’t we? Now, you are going to be doing some lines for me, Mr. Potter. No, not with your quill,” she added, as Harry bent down to open his bag. “You’re going to be using a rather special one of mine. Here you are.”

The quill she handed him was long and black, with an unusually sharp point.

“It want you to write ‘I must not tell lies.’”

“How many times?” Harry asked, with a creditable imitation of politeness.

“Oh, as long as it takes for the message to sink in. Off you go.”

“You haven’t given me any ink.”

“Oh,” she giggled, “you won’t need any ink.”

Harry started to write. I must not—He let out a gasp of pain. The words had appeared in what looked like shining red ink, and at the same time, they had etched themselves into the back of Harry’s right hand. As he stared at it, it healed over quickly, leaving only a slight red imprint behind.

Harry looked round at Umbridge, who was watching him with that same smile.


“Nothing,” said Harry quietly.

Harry continued to write lines in his own blood for what seemed like hours, and even as darkness fell, Umbridge did not tell him to stop.

“Come here,” she said at last.

He stood up and approached.


It was raw, and stinging painfully, but no longer bleeding. Harry repressed a shudder when she grabbed his hand with her thick, stubby fingers, on which she was wearing a number of large, old rings.

“Tut, tut,” she said, “I don’t seem to have made much of an impression yet. Well, we’ll just have to try again tomorrow evening, won’t we? You may go.”

Harry left her office without a word. The school was dark and deserted, and it must have been past midnight. As soon as Harry turned the corner and was sure she would not hear him, he broke into a run. He practically shouted the password at the Fat Lady, dumping his school bag on the floor of the common room so that he could get something done on his homework.

“Harry!” came an anxious voice.

Robin stood up from his chair, half in shadow now that the fire had died down. He looked like he had fallen asleep there.

“Are you all right?” Robin asked quickly. “I didn’t think it could possibly last this long.”

Harry nodded. “Fine. I just have a lot of homework to do, that’s all.”

“Do you need help?”

“No, I’m fine, I’ll just do a couple of things quickly—I have to get to bed.”

“Yeah,” said Robin with a yawn, heading for the door. “Me too. I—“

He stopped abruptly when he walked past Harry, turning quickly back.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” he asked, frowning slightly. “What did Umbridge make you do?”

Harry hesitated for a fraction of a second, then said, “Lines.”

“Lines…” Robin repeated to himself. “Well, I won’t keep you any longer. Just wanted to make sure everything went all right.”

“Sure,” said Harry. “And, thanks.”

“It’s no trouble,” he said with a small smile before exiting through the portrait.

The fact that Fred and George were up early in the common room the next morning was not a good sign. The fact that Robin was with them, engaged in a hushed conversation near the fireplace, was not reassuring in the slightest. But to be perfectly honest, Harry would welcome some diversion today, even if it came in the annoying ‘inescapable dungbomb’ variety. But as it turned out, this particular prank ended up improving everyone’s day—all except one, that is.

When it started, hardly anyone even noticed. They were in the Great Hall for breakfast when Umbridge descended from the staff table to passive-aggressively chide some poor Gryffindor first year about the dress code. His mousy brown hair was even messier than Harry’s, and his tie was loose and twisted.

Harry couldn’t quite hear the conversation from his vantage point, but he recognised Umbridge’s contemptuous smile and the way the student slumped out of the room, probably to go change his rumpled shirt before classes started. Harry felt a little bad for him; but when the boy walked past Fred and George, he saw him shoot them a wink. He may have had a rounder, darker face, but that broad, genuine grin was unmistakeable.

With renewed anticipation, Harry followed the twins’ gaze back towards Umbridge, who was going back to the staff table. As he watched, she stumbled on what looked like a small brown stone in her path; but when a loud croak suddenly boomed across the Great Hall, Harry realised it was a frog, which immediately started struggling out from under her pink high heel. At the noise, everyone in the hall looked up from their breakfast just in time to see Umbridge slip on its slimy back, pinwheeling her arms in midair before falling forward onto the stone floor with a satisfying smack.

The Hall fell completely silent.

The immediate result of this was that they could all hear, in excruciating detail, her muffled grunts and the scraping of her shiny shoes on the floor as she struggled back to her feet. She had managed to catch herself on her hands at the last second, so at least her nose wasn’t broken, but the knees of her stockings were torn, and her hair had fallen into her face, cutesy bow askew.

After a few lengthy seconds, she managed to get to her feet, straightening her restrictive skirt before turning quickly around and marching from the Hall with the quick ta-tap, ta-tap of a short woman hurrying.

The second she disappeared from sight, the room positively exploded into shouting and laughter, with no one but the professors maintaining any pretence whatsoever of calm. Professor McGonagall was trying so valiantly to keep a straight face that her mouth and eyebrows had become flat lines, and her eyes were wide and watering. While Professor Sprout hid her face completely behind her hands, Professor Flitwick had merely ducked under the table. Professor Snape was eyeing his colleagues with disdain, but Dumbledore was drinking his pumpkin juice as tranquilly as ever.

“That was brilliant,” said Ron on their way to Charms. “Maybe it’ll take her down a few pegs.”

“I sincerely doubt it,” Hermione replied.

Professor Flitwick was especially cheerful during class, where they practised Slowing Charms in preparation for the OWLs.

Halfway through, however, Umbridge made an unexpected appearance, opening the door and sticking her head through with a “hem, hem” before announcing, “Professor Flitwick, if I could borrow you for a moment…”

“Er…” He looked at her curiously. “Yes, of course, Professor.”

When Professor Flitwick returned, he appeared even more cheery than before, but adamantly refused to explain what had happened.

“Doesn’t matter,” he proclaimed. “Couldn’t help.”

And that was why, for the first time that year, Harry was not entirely dreading Defence class. 

Uncharacteristically, Professor Umbridge was not there when they arrived. Instead, the students pulled out their books and waited anxiously in their seats. There was little room for side conversations in the anticipatory atmosphere. Just as the bell rang to signal the end of the short break, Umbridge hurried into the room, slamming the door quickly behind her before striding at a slightly more moderate pace towards the front of the classroom.

“Wands away,” she said happily (if a little breathlessly). “Now, open your books to page 19 and begin reading Chapter Two of Defensive Magical Theory, ‘Common Defensive Theories and their Derivation.’”

With a collective sigh, they did as requested; and ten minutes later, most of them had resorted to doodling in the margins of their books. Beside Harry, Ron was drawing meandering lines on his desk in an attempt to lead a stray ant around in circles. Harry was happy to discover an ant on his own desk not long afterward. He joined in, taking the alternative approach of encircling the ant in ink to try and keep it from leaving the designated circle. Neither method was working, but there suddenly seemed to be an abundance of ants for some reason.

“Ugh!” Hermione whispered. A few of them were crawling on her arm.

“Hold on,” Harry murmured, nudging her and Ron. “Look.” He pointed at the now numerous ants, which were beginning to form trails—all of which were moving in the same direction.

The three of them followed the numerous trails with their eyes, all the way up to Umbridge, where what looked like every ant in Britain was gathering on the blackboard. At first, they seemed to be circling and wandering at random, but as they watched, some sort of hive mind became apparent. With surprising speed, they gathered in a few separate clumps on the blackboard, obscuring a few specific letters of Umbridge’s instructions… in order to spell out a dirty word. There were a few muffled sniggers around the classroom when people began to notice.

“Quiet, class,” said Umbridge, but she didn’t look up.

The ants re-arranged themselves.

s h h, the board now spelled. And then: don t an ger toa d

This got a few real laughs, even though some of the letters had to be spelled out more creatively by erasing or adding bits and pieces.

Umbridge did look up this time, glaring around at them, but they had all quickly buried their faces in their textbooks. She watched them for a while longer, but unable to find a culprit, eventually returned to her work.

w h ew, said the board.

Umbridge glared at them over her paper when she heard a few more noises. “Does anyone care to explain what part of Mr. Slinkhard’s book is so amusing?”

Pansy Parkinson tentatively raised her hand.

“Yes, Miss Parkinson?” said Umbridge pleasantly.

“Er, Professor—behind you—the board, it’s spelling out… er, rude things…”

Umbridge turned to look, but as she did, the ants hastened towards the edges of the board, hiding themselves just behind the wood frame. When she looked back at Parkinson, she shook her head in disappointment, making a tacky little pout.

“I’m sorry, Miss Parkinson, but I am forced to take five points from Slytherin for lying, and for disrupting my class.”

“Five points—?” Ron hissed, but Harry elbowed him hard in the ribs.

“But Professor—“ Parkinson protested, but Umbridge stopped her with a look.

When the ants returned, they arranged themselves in a sad face before going back to spelling things out.

ta t l er, they said.

Pansy Parkinson just glared at them.

u  r  me a n

i  m  j s t  p o or  an t

When Umbridge looked up at the class once again, their heads were as low as they could go, but in the silence of the classroom, she could definitely hear the people that were breathing with difficulty. Harry looked furtively from side to side to see a couple of people covering their faces or tearing up, and many shoulders were visibly shaking. Umbridge’s face began to turn purple, but she still couldn’t find anyone to blame.

Her eyes slowly narrowed; then, without warning, she whipped around to the board, which still displayed the last message.

The ants quickly rearranged themselves under her gaze.

a  a a  a   a a

This time, there was no suppressing their snorts and guffaws of laughter, and watching their classmates lose it, no one could manage to stop. Umbridge stomped over to the board and attempted to swat the ants away with a few flicks of her wand. Some of them fell onto the floor, but they quickly returned.

n  o o

Umbridge switched tactics, picking up the eraser to try and wipe them away, but that only succeeded in getting ants all over her arm. She shrieked and slapped at them before flat-out running from the classroom, trailing ants all the way.

w e  h  e e

When Umbridge returned with Professor McGonagall several minutes later, the class was still laughing, though Harry wasn’t even sure anymore what they were laughing at. The stress must have been getting to them.

“What is the meaning of this?” Professor McGonagall asked, looking incredulously around at them.

e  c s cu s e   m  i, said the board. i  m  ta  l k n

Professor McGonagall goggled at it for a few seconds.

“How long—“ she began. “How long has it been… doing that?”

“Almost the entire class,” said Umbridge, not even bothering to be rude to her. “I can’t get rid of all of them at once…”

w e   l  i v

h  e re  n o w

Professor McGonagall shook her head in disbelief and cast a spell Harry didn’t recognise; it succeeded in removing all of the ants, but they quickly returned. Harry doubted whether they were even real ants. Could they have been conjured, like the owls from that summer?

o w, said the board.

At that point, McGonagall simply erased Umbridge's instructions from the board. In response, the ants moved en masse off of the board and up onto the blank stone wall above it.

I was using that, they wrote.

Professor McGonagall turned primly to Umbridge and said, “Well, I’m afraid there’s not much I can do about this. I should call Professor Dumbledore if I were you. He might be able to reason with them.”

The bell rang before Umbridge could respond, so McGonagall swept out of the classroom with a cheerful “Good day,” leaving the students to pack their bags and head to lunch.

The Great Hall was almost as boisterous as it had been that morning after Umbridge’s fall, but this time, she did not make an appearance at all.

Fred and George ambushed Harry, Ron and Hermione at the entrance.

“What happened?” they demanded.

“No one will tell us,” Fred continued.

“They can’t stop laughing long enough!” George added.

The trio exchanged a look and tried not to laugh.

“Er—“ said Harry, clearing his throat. “It’s… a bit hard to explain…”

“You!” Fred shouted, dashing past Harry to grab the collar of the rumpled Gryffindor from that morning. “We demand to know what you did.”

He just smiled that familiar smile and said mysteriously, “Oh, you’ll see soon enough. They’re still there.”

Who’s still there?”

“And then,” he continued, ignoring them, “I’ll let you two take over for phase three.”

Phase three, as it happened, was to take place in the at dinner. If things kept going this way, Umbridge would never show her face in the Great Hall again; and Harry was not opposed to that idea.

That evening, not even Hermione was bothering to hide her excitement. All four houses were staring not-so-subtly at the staff table when dinner began, and the Hall was much quieter than usual. The professors were looking around rather apprehensively—including Umbridge. Fred and George, Harry noticed, looked happy enough, so it seemed safe to assume everything was going to plan. 

Eventually, dinner began in earnest, though Umbridge was still eyeing the Hall over her glass of pumpkin juice. As Harry watched, her eyes went wide and her mouth bulged, making her look even more toad-like. Abruptly, Umbridge spat out her juice with a frankly impressive range, spraying the plate in front of her and forcing her neighbours, as well as the nearest students, to duck—with limited success.

She stood so quickly her chair nearly toppled over, but she was preoccupied, batting at her own face with stubby hands and making more spitting noise. That’s when Harry noticed the flies buzzing around her head, all of them far too fast for her to catch. She must have swallowed one… Beside him, Ron furtively spat some pumpkin juice back into his goblet.

But it wasn’t just flies swarming around Umbridge now. As she slapped at the air and at herself to get them away, an assortment of gnats and large, noisy beetles joined in. And once more, she shrieked and ran from the room, trying desperately to stay ahead of the swarm, which was following like a cloud several centimetres behind her at all times.

This time, the professors just shook their heads, waved their hands vaguely to get rid of straggling bugs, and did their best to resume their meal.

George leaned across the table to tell Harry seriously, “Be glad we spared her the bees.”

Harry was glad of that, especially when he arrived for his detention with Umbridge that evening, because it quickly became clear that she had not managed to rid herself of the problem since dinner. Harry briefly considered feeling bad for her, but that inclination disappeared when she started screaming.

“Out, Potter, OUT! Detention—detention is cancelled! And get Professor Dumbledore here immediately!”

Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, Harry sprinted from the room in the direction of Dumbledore’s office.

Finally, he thought. A good day.

Chapter Text

Hermione was marginally more content to be sitting in Professor Trelawney’s class now that she knew she was making everything up (even if Robin had maintained that Seers did exist). She sat calmly and followed instructions, doing her best to ignore the occasional “oohs” and “aahs” that came from a particularly absurd prediction.

Across from her, Harry was practically dozing at his desk. He had been awfully distant and distracted lately, and she suspected he was hiding something, but she didn’t want to push and make him angry again. Beside him, Ron was also snoring softly, head propped up precariously on his hand, but that was par for the course.

After class they could finally go to the Great Hall before Harry’s third detention with Umbridge, then Hermione could go to the library to get some work done. She was falling behind—well, not really, but she was only just caught up. She always wanted to read ahead in case she came across anything particularly difficult, and besides that, she still hadn’t found out much about Robin’s strange magic.

She hadn’t said anything about it, since her friends would probably jump on her about being paranoid, but just the other day she had wandered down to the common room rather late at night to leave out some hats for the house-elves (which she had been knitting at every available moment and well into the night) when she stumbled upon Robin asleep in one of the chairs.

She assumed he was waiting for Harry, who still hadn’t returned from detention. The fire had grown low, but it was strangely active, the flames jumping and twirling as if trying to form images. She turned to go, but stopped in her tracks when a thought struck her—an experiment. Did it work when he was asleep?

She crumpled up a few balls of parchment (something, unlike an apple, that wouldn’t hurt if it hit him) and backed up towards the stairs so she could make a quick getaway if Robin woke up. Aiming carefully, she threw one at him. But this time, it didn’t stop in midair. When it was a few inches away from him, the projectile spontaneously caught fire—it didn’t burn for more than a split second, and moments later, it was drifting to the floor in a pile of ash.

Was it possible a spark from the grate had caught it at just the right time? She threw another one just to make sure. It sailed perfectly and stopped in midair just like the twins’ apple, grapes and pebbles had—except a second later, it zoomed back at her with perfect accuracy, chasing her back up the stairs to the girls’ dormitory. When she had fled up almost the entire flight, it fell at her feet, once more an inanimate object. She didn’t pick it back up as she hurried to bed.

Hermione stayed up late knitting the next night too, sitting by the fire where it was warmer. She was hoping to see Harry when he finally returned from detention, but when the portrait opened, it was Ron who slinked in, hiding something behind his back.

“Oh,” he said when he caught sight of her. “Er, hey, Hermione.”

“Hi,” she said slowly. “What are you doing?”

Ron was doing his best to sidle over to the entrance to the boys’ dormitory while hiding what was plainly a broomstick behind his back.

“Er, nothing. What are you doing?”

“Knitting,” she said, indicating the large pile of hats.


“Were you… thinking of trying out for Keeper?” 

“Fine,” he said defensively. “Yeah, I’ve been practicing. Go on, laugh.”

“I’m not laughing,” said Hermione. “I think it’s nice you’ve been practicing so much. You must be pretty good at it by now, what with playing every summer, too.”

Ron shrugged. “I’m not bad. Don’t tell Fred and George, though!” he added quickly. “They’re going to laugh themselves stupid when I show up for tryouts. They haven’t stopped taking the mickey out of me since I got made a prefect.”

“You should be a prefect,” said Hermione. “The younger students like you. I mean,” she added timidly, “our methods are… different, but at least they still seem to listen to you.”

“Huh,” said Ron, sitting down in the other armchair. “Thanks, Hermione.”

“You’re welcome, Ronald,” she said with a slight blush. “I hope you make the team—oh, I hope it doesn’t interfere with your studies, though…”

Ron sighed, but the two of them were interrupted by the sound of the portrait opening again—still not Harry.

“Oh good, you’re still up,” said Robin, wearing Hufflepuff robes he somehow obtained. “Where’s Harry? I’ve got some news for the three of you.”

“Detention, I expect,” sighed Hermione.

“Still?” He sat on the couch. “Can’t imagine he’s gotten any homework done. It’s hard enough to get good grades while fighting Voldemort without adding another evil sorcerer.”

They waited another half hour or so before Harry finally arrived, discussing the first week of school and their mound of homework. When Robin brought up the Occlumency exercises they were supposed to be practicing, Hermione took the opportunity to question him about her techniques, asking if it was better to choose a text in English or another language, and whether she should change the text every so often to prevent it from becoming rote. Either would work, apparently, as long as it was complicated enough to keep her attention, but he told her cycling through different texts might indeed help.

Ron, in the meantime, was attempting to pretend as though he had indeed been practicing. Hermione had seen him doing it a few times, but he seemed to find it difficult to keep it up on his own without anyone to practice attacking him mentally.

“Harry!” Ron exclaimed when their friend trudged through the portrait door.

“Oh,” he said tiredly, “hey, everyone.”

He flopped down beside Robin, his eyes falling on the broomstick on the floor.

“What’re you doing with that?” he asked.

“I…” Ron started. “I’m thinking of trying out for Gryffindor Keeper,” he said decisively.

“Really?” said Harry. “That’s brilliant! Are you any good?”

“All right,” he shrugged. “Charlie, Fred and George always made me Keep for them during the holidays.”

Harry sighed. “I wish I could be there. Er…” he said, noticing Robin staring intently at him. “What?”

“What has that Umbridge woman been doing during your detentions?” he asked seriously.

“I told you, she has me writing lines. Why?”

Robin frowned. “There are no cursed objects in there?”

“What? I don’t think so, but—“

Without warning, Robin had wrenched up Harry’s sleeve and was inspecting his hand. On the back of it was a painful-looking welt that was still oozing blood; it looked like writing, but Hermione couldn’t see.

“Hey!” said Harry, trying to pull away, but he stopped when he saw how Robin’s eyes had darkened, his face livid and shadowed with a fury Hermione had never seen before.

She and Ron exchanged a worried glance, but he wasn’t hurting Harry, and they didn’t want to do anything to upset him. They both jumped when the fire beside them spat and leapt dangerously, the grate creaking slightly.

“It’s just this weird quill,” said Harry lowly, cautiously.

“A blood quill,” said Robin flatly, and Hermione almost thought she heard a strange, low echo.

“Those are illegal,” she started to say, but it came out in a whisper.

“She can’t do that,” he seethed, finally letting go of Harry, whose hand was starting to heal slightly as the redness went down.

Robin stood up with an authority that suddenly did not seem so incongruous.

“I’ll take care of this,” he said, and as the fire jumped again, the three of them were startled by a sharp CRACK. Hermione whipped around in her chair to see a spiderweb of fissures spreading in the stone wall behind her; when they reached the window, a few of the glass panes shattered, letting in a cold, whistling wind.

“Wait!” Harry shouted over the noise. “She’s already gone. Please, just—“

Robin turned to the window as if just noticing it, and with a wordless flick of his wand, it and the wall repaired themselves. When he reluctantly sat back down beside Harry, his face was almost normal again.

“Tomorrow,” he warned. “First thing.”

When he seemed to realise they were all staring at him, he winced. “Are you okay? I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to, er…” he looked down at his hands. “… to scare you.”

No one knew what to say.

“Look,” said Harry finally, voice soft. “My hand… you healed it. It’s barely raised at all now.”

Robin nodded slowly. “She won’t hurt you again, Harry,” he said quietly. “Or anyone. I’ll make sure of it.”

Ron gulped. “You aren’t going to…”

“Kill her? No.”

“You can’t—confront her!” Hermione exclaimed. “She’ll… have something done to you!”

“She can’t. She doesn’t know who I am,” he replied, and the words seemed to carry more significance than they should.

“Besides,” he continued lightly, “I don’t have to. I’ll just steal all of her cursed objects and bug her office.”

“Fill it with spiders?” said Ron, alarmed.

“What? No, I’m going to set up recording devices.”


Robin sighed. “I don’t know, go to RadioShack? I’ll figure it out. The point is, as long as we know what she’s planning ahead of time, we can sabotage it. Unfortunately, you’ll still have to put up with her abysmal classes, but the moment she does anything untoward, I’ll know about it and we can take steps to prevent it. I’ll get Snape to help me—Umbridge thinks he’s on her side.”

Ron groaned.

“Snape?” Harry exclaimed. “I know he’s in the Order, but what makes you think he’d help you with this?”

“He likes me,” Robin grinned. “I can tell. Or possibly he just does whatever I say so that I’ll stop bothering him, but he’ll certainly intercept Umbridge if I ask him to.”

“But what about Voldemort?” Harry asked. “Everyone still think’s I’m a delusional nutter.”

“Oh,” said Robin, “that’s actually what I came here for. Dumbledore told me the diary of Tom Riddle’s that you destroyed, the one that possessed Ginny, must have been a Horcrux. That gives us a clue as to the identity of the others.”

He stood up and started pacing back and forth in front of the fire as he continued. “He wants to be immortal to avoid death, yes, but also to become the greatest sorcerer—I mean, the greatest wizard in history. That means his Horcruxes aren’t going to be insignificant, and the fact that he chose the diary tells us he might be focusing on objects from school or from his childhood.”

“So what should we be looking for?” Harry asked.

“Hogwarts artefacts, maybe?” Robin guessed. “Especially things related to Slytherin, I would guess.”

“Maybe we could check the Chamber of Secrets,” Harry suggested.

“And the library,” said Hermione.

“I could talk to the ghosts,” said Robin.

“And I’m going to find Merlin’s portrait,” Ron declared.

“But what on earth does it mean?” Molly Weasley was whispering.

Merlin paused outside the door, turning himself invisible. He wasn’t entirely above eavesdropping every once in a while.

“I can’t say,” Lupin answered in a low voice. “Insanity, maybe?”

“No,” she said with certainty. “He didn’t look insane. He looked… exhausted. Oh, I don’t know! I can’t describe it.”

Lupin sighed. “I’m sorry, Molly, I’m not really an expert. You ought to talk to—“

“Oh, I can’t!” she cried. “I shouldn’t even have told you. I feel just awful about it, but that poor boy… He disappeared for hours afterwards, Merlin knows where.”

“He shouldn’t have tried to deal with it alone,” Lupin replied. “Boggarts can really be dangerous if you’re not careful. That’s why I did the demonstration with the entire class back when I was teaching Harry. There’s safety in numbers.”

“Well, he did get rid of it, like he said, but the look on his face…”

At least that explained why she had been so gentle with him lately: she probably saw the whole thing. It was his own fault. He really ought to have made them leave before getting rid of it, but he naively assumed the Boggart would take the shape of Morgana, or perhaps his dead friends—something easily explainable. He sighed and continued on his way to find Sirius.

It was hearing his own voice calling out for a long-dead friend that hurt the most; knowing that he couldn’t even remember their faces anymore, only vague shadows. But he’d lived their lives with them (most of them, anyway), and he had other things to do now. If the legends were true—and they generally had been, in his experience—then he’d see them again someday. All he had to do was wait. And he had all the time in the world for waiting.

He was in an unusually grave mood when he went to drag Snape up to Dumbledore’s office—perhaps that’s why the professor came along without comment.

But they did not barge into the headmaster’s office this time: they knocked on the door, like civilised people.

“Enter,” Dumbledore called, and seemed surprised to see them—probably due to the conventional manner of their entry.

“This is getting out of hand,” said Merlin immediately, pacing as Snape calmly took a seat. “I told you I wasn’t going to undermine you, and I stand by that. But if you don’t involve Harry and the others in what the Order is doing, he’s only going to go off on his own with some half-cocked plan and get himself into even more trouble.”

“Unfortunately,” Snape surprisingly contributed, “I am forced to agree. The Potter boy, as we have already seen with Professor Umbridge, is incapable of keeping his head down. He is already attempting to search for the Dark Lord’s Horcruxes on his own.”

Merlin sighed. “Okay, that’s partly my fault, but it would be totally irresponsible to hide the fact that he has a piece of Tom Riddle’s soul inside him. That could do serious damage, and it probably already is.”

“I agree,” said Dumbledore, “and we are all doing our best to find a way to remove it. But Harry has school to focus on, and including him in the Order’s meetings would only add further stress that will prevent him from being ready when the time comes.”

“You know what’s stressful?” said Merlin. “Being shunned by your peers and ignored by your mentors. He has been talking of nothing else. He wants Riddle gone just like all of us, so we can all go back to our normal lives—which, in his case, includes studying and making friends, neither of which he is doing right now. No one wants Harry to be involved, but he is, and we have to allow him to do what he is meant to do.”

“You and Harry may share great destinies, but he is not—“

“No,” Merlin interrupted with a dangerous calm. “Do not attempt to tell either of us what we are. And do not insinuate that this is about me. I have my failings, but using people as playthings is not one of them.”

He saw the shadows darken around them as he spoke, but he didn’t care. “You don’t have to do what I ask because of my name, but you should listen to me because of what I’ve seen. I’m just a man, but I am a man ten times your age, and I’ve already made the mistakes I can see you making now.”

He let out a breath, and the shadows retreated. “I do not say this to offend you, I say it because it is easy to forget. I have made worse mistakes, and more of them, than you ever have. I know you want what is best for Harry, and I know you want to protect him. But the danger is already here: we must prepare him.”

Dumbledore inclined his head. “I believe I understand you,” he said. “Forgive me if I am reluctant to expose Harry to further violence. But I will not forget what you have said, and I fear that perhaps you may be right—that is what worries me.”

“We should all be worried,” Merlin agreed. “But none of us will let Harry stand on his own against Riddle.”

“No,” said Dumbledore, “we will not.”

Chapter Text

After another Occlumency lesson with Robin and the others—which, like last time, consisted of warding off his blunted attacks—Hermione had practically all Saturday to herself in the library. That evening after an apparently abysmal Quidditch practice, Ron, as promised, was wandering the halls asking various ghosts and portraits where to find Merlin, although so far, they all either ran off or fastidiously ignored him when he brought up the name. This, of course, only made him more curious, and as far as Hermione knew, he had been at it since dinner. Harry, finally done with Umbridge’s detentions (which, as of late, had consisted of writing lines normally, thank Merlin), had gone back down to the Chamber of Secrets, taking his Invisibility Cloak and the Marauders’ Map with him just in case.

While Hermione was always happy to re-read Hogwarts, A History, she had practically memorised it by now, so she quickly made a list of the most important objects it discussed before moving on to older texts, especially about the Founders. With any luck, there would be other items like Gryffindor’s sword that they may have left behind at the school.

There was surprisingly little written about their lives and the actual founding of the school, as most accounts had been written after the school became well-known and therefore only spoke generally of what had happened before. The ideal would be to find a book on the subject written by one of the Founders, or at least by someone who knew them personally, but nothing of the sort could be located in the library.

Fortunately, Robin had made good on his promise to bring some of his ancient tomes to Hogwarts, where they were currently being held in the Restricted Section due to the information on Dark Magic that some of them contained. Professor McGonagall granted Hermione, Harry and Ron permission to access them, and surprisingly, Ron had joined Hermione in the library a few times since then.

Some of the texts, she saw while carefully browsing through, were primarily books of spells which, while fascinating, were not especially helpful when it came to the Founders. There were no books written by them, either, unfortunately, but there were one or two that Merlin had written—or at least written in, which drove Hermione rather mad—but even if what Robin said was true and he hadn’t gone to Hogwarts, it was still plausible, due to his being a powerful wizard, that he had lived long enough to meet the Founders. In fact, the sort of information that could give her might be even more valuable.

Assuming, Hermione fumed, that he ever got to the point. The man was worse than Robin when it came to rambling—although she supposed that Fred and George had already said as much about his portrait. Maybe it had something to do with being named after birds. They never shut up, either.

Hermione turned to the book Ron had been poring over the past few days, the one that seemed to be Merlin’s memoirs, or possibly a journal. Hoping that it was in some semblance of chronological order, she skipped to the end to see if she could determine when he died; if it was before the Founders’ time, then she could move on to another book. Unfortunately, English translations were much more rare at the end than at the beginning, and almost the entire final third was in Old Brythonic exclusively.

The little of the language that she had learned by now was helping her search for key words, but the grammar was proving difficult to decipher with such a limited vocabulary. She would have liked to try some sort of translation spell, but that was much more difficult with handwritten texts, and she could already tell that Merlin had used a dialect that was slightly different from the standard. Someone more educated than her should definitely be poring over this right now, she reflected. Just think how much the wizarding world could learn from it!

That was strange. As she turned the page looking for anything resembling the Founders’ names, she instead recognised a different name: Emrys. She wasn’t sure at first because of the differences in the letters, but sounding it out, that was definitely what it said. She could even tell that the modern spelling with a Y had come directly from Old Brythonic. Could that be one of Robin’s ancestors? It would explain why he had the book.

She searched around it for words she knew. There was one directly beside it that looked familiar… she pulled her notes out of her school bag and searched through one of the more recent pages.

“Lord,” she whispered aloud. Lord Emrys, it said, just like Kreacher had referred to Robin.

It must have been an important family for Kreacher to act so deferentially towards someone who was not his master, but then why had Sirius not said anything about it, or any of the other Purebloods in the order? She searched the final pages more closely for the name, and it wasn’t hard to find: it was scattered all over, especially on the last page. She copied down the entirety of the final paragraphs and did her best to approximate a translation, but she only got perhaps one in five that were decipherable.

Emrys, Emrys, Emrys!

That was, of course, the easiest one. She added a note beside it—Irritation? Rival?

They (?) did not never told me what it meant.

And now they all are are all gone.

And a few lines later:

They told me they waited for me.

They told me I was Emrys.

They told me it that what I must do.

But not [for] how long.

Hermione stared down at her own handwriting. For the most part, it was incomprehensible, but only because she was missing so much context. But that one sentence... They told me I was Emrys. She underlined it and turned to her notes, trying to find any possible alternatives to her feeble translation. Merlin had a lot of titles, that was certain, but no one had ever found any living relatives—which was a bit odd, actually. Could it be possible that his children or grandchildren had started using it as a last name? Even if Robin had studied Old Brythonic, he might have had difficulty interpreting the dialect, like she did: it was possible he didn’t even know—that is, assuming it was true. But this was mad! He couldn’t possibly be a descendant of—of…

Perhaps she should ask the source. Ron must have found that portrait by now; this definitely merited a visit. She still hadn’t found any additional potential Horcruxes, but it was only seven o’clock: she had plenty of time. She muttered a quick spell to copy the page onto a blank piece of parchment, stuffed her things back in her bag, and practically ran out of the library.

It wouldn’t just explain why Robin had those books, she reminded herself: it would probably explain his so-called “wild” magic. He could have inherited some of his ancestor’s skill, his innate magical ability. No one had ever been able to explain why Merlin was the most powerful wizard in history; whatever it was, it could easily have been passed down.

“Have you seen Ron?” Hermione asked Ginny, panting.

“Er, no, not since this morning,” she said. “Why, is he in trouble?”

“No,” said Hermione, waving a hand and catching her breath. “Just needed to talk to him. I’ll catch up with you later!”

“All right,” said Ginny bemusedly.

If only she had the Marauders’ Map right now…

“Hey,” she said to a nearby portrait. “Have you seen a boy asking about Merlin’s portrait?”

“Another one?” the wizard exclaimed. “Leave the man alone already!”

“I’m just looking for my friend,” she said, but the portrait wouldn’t tell her any more.

She questioned a few more portraits, but all they would tell her was that Ron had asked them questions that they hadn’t answered.

“Ooh,” said Peeves, floating down the hallway after her. “It’s Potty Wee Potter’s little friend. She looks frazzled. Is she up to no good?”

“I’m just looking for someone, Peeves,” she said irritably. “If you’re not helping, then go away.”

“Is she going to play games? Bother someone? Or maybe she only wants to talk…”

“Actually,” said Hermione, seeing an opportunity, “I was going to go bother Merlin’s portrait. I’ve heard he’s a lot of fun.”

Fred and George’s definitions of ‘fun’ were not exactly normal, but they might be similar to Peeves’s.

“Oho! Peevsey likes the old one, he plays games with us…”

Hermione considered her words. “Do you want to help me mess with him?”

“Weehee!” cried Peeves before zooming off down the corridor.

That wasn’t really an answer, but Hermione ran after him anyway, fingers crossed that he wasn’t leading her into a Dungbomb trap or something. She had to sprint at breakneck speed to keep him in her sights, and when he flew up a staircase, she almost lost him, skidding around a corner to catch up—and running right smack into him. He just laughed and zoomed away backwards, making a shushing motion.

And there, indeed, was Ron, standing in front of a painting that was smaller than Hermione had expected. When she walked up behind him, she saw that it had a pleasant landscape with a few large rocks and a cabin in the background—but otherwise, it was completely empty.

Ron looked at Hermione with desperation in his eyes.

“He’s not here!” he wailed. “I’ve been standing here for hours. No one will tell me anything!”

Hermione deflated. “Someone must have warned him you were looking. He seems very reclusive…”

Who could she talk to about this, if not Merlin himself? She was reluctant to tell Robin in case she was wrong—which was starting to seem more and more probably—and she certainly couldn’t go to anyone else about it. Not only was it wrong, if the world found out… well, it would be even worse than Harry’s fame, that’s for sure.

“There you are!” 

Robin was bounding down the hallway towards them. “How’s it going so far? I went to the common room but you weren’t there. Come with me,” he continued, practically bouncing, “I have a surprise!”

Harry should never have come down here. Nothing had looked amiss when he entered the Chamber; the skeleton of the Basilisk had alarmed him momentarily, but it was exactly where they had left it in second year. It wasn’t the Chamber that was dangerous: it was whatever was coming down here with Ron and Hermione.

Before leaving, he had pulled out the map to make sure no one was near the entrance to spot him leaving; it was clear for the moment, but not far away were three dots heading in his direction labeled “Ronald Weasley,” “Hermione Granger,” and… nothing. There was a third dot following directly behind them, but there was no label whatsoever. Harry tried to wipe it off with his sleeve, but he already knew it wasn’t a smudge. The mysterious dot was moving, keeping pace with his friends, and all three of them were headed quickly this way.

Harry rushed to pull out the Invisibility Cloak and throw it over his head so that he could at least surprise whatever that thing turned out to be—but would they even be able to get down here without him there to open the Chamber? He looked back at the map, where all three had paused at the entrance… but only moments later, the nameless dot had entered, followed by Ron and Hermione. They were coming this way.

Harry got a little closer to the door and moved out of the path so that no one would accidentally walk into him. He could hear footsteps now: the pace was slow and a little uneven.

“Harry?” Hermione called.

“Man, this place gives me the creeps,” Ron added.

They were getting closer. They turned the final corner before the entrance into the heart of the chamber, and he held his breath as their shuffling footsteps approached until finally—

“Oh, hey, Harry!”

It was Robin. Harry looked back down at the map. There was the nameless dot, standing right in front of him. Ron’s and Hermione’s were only a few steps behind. He looked back up, still silent under the cloak. Robin was looking straight into his eyes.

As Ron and Hermione emerged into the room, they exchanged a confused glance and looked around for Harry.

“What’s that you’ve got on?” Robin asked with a puzzled look, reaching out to touch the cloak lightly.

“What are you—“ Hermione began, but Harry quickly pulled off the cloak and searched it for holes.

“Whoa!” Ron exclaimed. “There you are. Wait, how did you see… ?“

“Is that an Invisibility Cloak?” Robin asked as Harry continued inspecting it for wear. “I’ve never seen one before.”

“That’s sort of the idea!” Harry exclaimed. “How did you know I was there?”

“Er…” said Robin, scratching his head. “I don’t know—I mean, you were sort of fuzzy-looking, but I thought you were just using a heavy magical shield until I got closer.”

“It’s a new thing every day with you,” Ron muttered.

“Er—“ Robin said again. “Actually, I brought you here because I sort of have another… ‘thing’.”

“What is it?” Harry asked, starting to calm down as his heartbeat gradually slowed.

“Well, you know those old books I have?”

“Er… yeah?”

“Well, one of them has a transportation spell I managed to learn, and… well, the Hogwarts wards don’t include it, so I can actually just sort of… pop in and out.”

“That’s incredibly dangerous!” Hermione admonished. “What if the Death Eaters learn it?”

“How?” asked Robin. “You can’t find it anywhere else.”

“Why are you telling us this now?” Ron interjected before Hermione could protest further.

“I’m glad you asked,” said Robin with a grin. “It’s because I’ve got a surprise. Coming with me?”

Harry’s lingering suspicion at having seen Robin’s blank dot made him hold back, but Ron took Robin’s outstretched hand, followed by a nervous-looking Hermione. Harry shook his head and took hold of his arm like he would for side-along Apparition.

“Ready?” Robin asked. “Hold on.”

They all winced in anticipation of the wrenching sensation, but none came. Instead, a breeze fluttered Harry’s hair, starting to grow faster and louder until it became a strong wind which seemed to lift him off the ground; and just as he felt he was in danger of losing his balance, the wind died down once more.

His eyes were still shut when he heard a jubilant “Harry!”

“Sirius?” His eyes flew open and there he was, standing in front of the fireplace at Grimmauld Place and looking more tidy than he had in months. All four of them had materialised in the sitting room, and seconds later, Lupin and Mrs. Weasley joined them.

“Oh, it’s so good to see you all!” she exclaimed, hugging them one by one. “Let me go put on some tea.”

“I’ll help you,” said Robin, following her out.

“How has your first week been?” Lupin asked politely, and was interrupted by Sirius’s “Tell me everything.”

“Well…” Harry began, glancing at Ron and Hermione, “that Umbridge woman has been horrible, but apart from that, not bad, I suppose. We got some potential clues to where the Horcruxes might be—we were investigating them when Robin showed up to bring us here.”

“It seems rather dangerous to leave that hole in the wards…” Lupin worried.

“That’s what I said,” replied Hermione with a pointed look at Harry and Ron.

“Oh, nobody’s going to be able to exploit that,” Sirius said with a wave of his hand.

“We should at least ask Dumbledore about it,” Lupin replied neutrally.

“So what were you investigating, anyway?”

“We were looking for anything the Founders might have owned,” said Harry.

“Apparently Dumbledore thinks You-Know-Who’s trying to lord it over Hogwarts,” Ron added.

“Er—“ said Harry. “Well, that did seem to be the gist.”

He glanced back towards the door and continued in a low voice, “Listen… there have been some, er, weird things going on.”

Sirius stiffened, immediately on alert. “What things?”

“Well—you know how it should’ve been impossible to get past the wards? That’s not the only thing he can do. Just before we arrived, Robin saw me through the Invisibility Cloak. He didn’t even realise it was there!”

By the end of the sentence, he was speaking in a harsh whisper, causing Ron and Hermione to glance over their shoulders a couple of times.

“That’s strange,” Lupin admitted, “but Moody can see through it too, can’t he?” 

“Moody has a magical eye,” said Sirius. “Of course he can see through it.”

“Well, what about Mrs. Norris? Didn’t you say she followed you, Harry?”

Sirius scoffed. “What, are you suggesting Robin smelled him?”

“That’s not all of it,” Harry interrupted. “The thing that really worried me—it’s the map.”

“What’s wrong with the map?” they both said.

“Nothing! Well, I don’t think so. But it didn’t… his dot was blank.”

Lupin exchanged a confused look with Sirius. “What do you mean, blank?”

“There was no name,” Harry hissed. “Just a dot following Ron and Hermione. I thought it was some sort of… well, I don’t know!”

“Are you sure there was no name?” Hermione asked with a concerned expression.

“Of course I’m sure, I only stared at the thing for five entire minutes.”

Sirius and Lupin looked as lost as he did.

“Maybe,” said Ron, “it’s just a mist—“

“The map never lies.”

“Do you know what caused it?” Harry asked. “How does it work?”

“The Ministry!” Sirius exclaimed.

“That’s where it draws the names from,” Lupin explained. “We linked it to the Ministry’s registry of witches, wizards and their families.”

“But we added Mrs. Norris and the ghosts ourselves… maybe a few others. I can’t remember.”

“So that means,” Ron frowned, “Robin isn’t a wizard?”

“He has to be a wizard, Ron,” Hermione chided.

Lupin nodded. “All it means it he’s not registered, for whatever reason. Maybe his family’s exceptionally reclusive.”

“Or paranoid,” Sirius added.

“I suppose that makes sense,” Hermione mused.

“Still weird, though,” said Ron.

Harry supposed they were right. Just so many oddities… he didn’t like how they added up.

“So what’s been happening with the Order?” he asked, changing the subject. “Is there anything you can tell us?”

“We haven’t met since you left,” said Sirius. “And Dumbledore’s been even quieter than usual. I bet he’s planning something—“

Lupin cuffed him lightly just as Mrs. Weasley and Robin returned with tea.

“Thanks for arranging this,” Sirius told him. “I’m surprised Dumbledore agreed to it.”

“So was I,” Robin conceded, “but he seemed to think it was safe as long as Harry, Ron and Hermione don’t go missing for too long, too often. This time of day is probably the best.”

“Did he say anything about the next meeting?”

Mrs. Weasley shushed him, but it wasn’t as if they didn’t already know about it.

Robin was shaking his head. “Nothing yet, sorry. But I get the feeling we’ll hear from him soon.”

Chapter Text

Monday was hell.

Umbridge was always hellish, of course, Ron reflected, but she was especially dreadful now that she was Hogwarts’ ‘High Inquisitor,’ whatever that meant. According to Hermione’s copy of the Daily Prophet, the hateful woman had been an “immediate success” that “revolutionised the teaching of Defence Against the Dark Arts,” and now Dumbledore was being subjected to “fair and objective evaluation.” But not just him—all Hogwarts teachers would now be facing her inspections.

To their immense displeasure, they did not even have to wait for Defence class before they were subjected to Umbridge’s presence. That morning, she hovered ostentatiously in the background of Trelawney’s Divination classroom with a flowery clipboard, occasionally asking questions about her background and teaching history.

“If you could just predict something for me, then?” she eventually asked, wide smile still stuck to her face.

“I don’t understand you,” Trelawney said, looking affronted as she clutched convulsively at her shawl.

“I’d like you to make a prediction for me,” Umbridge repeated.

Most of the class was now transfixed on their interaction rather than their meaningless dream interpretation assignments.

“The Inner Eye does not See upon command!” said Trelawney, scandalised.

“I see,” said Umbridge softly, making a note.

“I—but—but… wait!”

She was trying for her usual ethereal tone, but the effect was ruined somewhat by the way her voice was shaking with outrage. “I think I do see something… something that concerns you… why, I sense something—dark, some… grave peril…”

She pointed a shaking finger at Umbridge. “I am afraid… I am afraid that you are in grave danger!”

“Right,” said Umbridge slowly. “Well, if that’s really the best you can do…”

Trelawney stood rooted to the spot, her chest heaving. Ron felt a little bad for her until she descended on them with her leftover anger.

“Well?” she said, snapping her fingers. “Let me see the start you’ve made on your dream diary, please.”

When the bell rang, they went straight from there to Umbridge’s class… where Hermione immediately started an argument with her. When they were told to start reading the second chapter, she announced that she had read the whole book and began making an argument for the usefulness of defensive jinxes.

“Well,” said Umbridge, “I’m afraid it is Mr. Slinkhard’s opinion, and not yours, that matters within this classroom. Miss Granger, I am going to take five points from Gryffindor house.”

“What for?” Harry demanded.

“Don’t you get involved!” Hermione whispered urgently.

“For disrupting my class with pointless interruptions. I am here to teach a Ministry-approved method that does not include inviting students to give their opinions on matters about which they understand very little. Your previous teachers in this subject may have allowed you more license, but as none of them - with the possible exception of Professor Quirrell, who did at least appear to have restricted himself to age appropriate subjects—he would have passed a Ministry inspection—“

“Yeah, Quirrell was a great teacher,” said Harry loudly. “There was just that minor drawback of him having Lord Voldemort sticking out of the back of his head.”

This pronouncement was followed by one of the loudest silences Ron had ever heard. Then—

“I think another week’s detentions would do you some good, Mr. Potter,” said Umbridge sleekly.

When Angelina Johnson found out the next day, she was so angry that Harry would miss practice again that she shouted at him in the Great Hall, causing McGonagall to take points from both her and Harry—the latter for losing his temper with Umbridge a second time after she had just warned him against it.

“And how you could ignore a warning from Emrys too is beyond me.” she added before marching back to the staff table.

Harry visibly deflated, and Ron didn’t blame him. Robin may have stolen Umbridge’s dark artefacts, but that didn’t mean she didn’t have an equally nasty punishment in mind for tonight. Even Hermione was looking at Harry with discontent.

The only silver lining was that McGonagall was being inspected next. They didn’t know what was going to happen, but he and Harry were both looking forward to her reaction.

“Excellent,” whispered Ron when they took their seats in her classroom after lunch. “Let’s see Umbridge get what she deserves.”

Umbridge was already sitting primly near Professor McGonagall’s desk when they entered, and moments later, a bang and a clatter alerted the entire class to the fact that someone had arrived just in time. A scrawny boy with large ears, wearing Gryffindor robes, was laying flat on the floor, having apparently tripped on… something.

“Hey, guys!” said the tinier version of Robin, waving to Harry, Ron and Hermione upside-down.

He scrambled to his feet and rushed into the chair beside Hermione with a huge grin.

Harry leaned across the aisle to mutter, “What are you doing here?”

He quietly answered, “Professor McGonagall told me you got detention yesterday, so I’m your official chaperone until further notice.” He beamed again. “And I’m going to do everything I can to get detention with you.”

“This is going to be so much fun,” he added almost to himself as Professor McGonagall marched into the room without giving the slightest indication that she knew Professor Umbridge was there.

Hermione was eyeing Robin rather warily, but couldn’t protest his clearly insane plan now that their teacher had arrived.

“That will do,” said Professor McGonagall, and silence fell immediately. She shot a strange look at Robin’s aggressively cheerful face before clearing her throat and continuing, “Miss Brown, please take this box of mice—don’t be silly, girl, they won’t hurt you—and hand one to teach student.”

“Hem, hem,” said Umbridge, the same silly little cough that she had used to interrupt Dumbledore on the first night of term.

“Right then, everyone, listen closely—Dean Thomas, if you do that to the mouse again I shall put you in detention—most of you have now successfully Vanished your snails, and even those who were left with a certain amount of shell have got the gist of the spell. Today, we shall be—”

Umbridge hemmed again.

“Yes?” said Professor McGonagall as she turned, her eyebrows so close together she looked positively hawkish.

“I was just wondering, Professor, whether you received my note telling you of the date and time of your inspec—”

“Obviously I received it, or I would have asked what you were doing in my classroom,” said Professor McGonagall, turning her back firmly on Professor Umbridge. Many of the students exchanged looks of glee. “As I was saying: today, we shall be practicing the altogether more difficult Vanishment of mice. Now, the Vanishing Spell—”

“Hem, hem.”

“I wonder,” said Professor McGonagall in cold fury, turning on Professor Umbridge, “how you expect to gain an idea of my usual teaching methods if you continue to interrupt me? You see, I do not generally permit people to talk when I am talking.”

Umbridge looked as though she had just been slapped in the face. She did not speak, but straightened the parchment on her clipboard and began scribbling furiously.

Looking supremely unconcerned, McGonagall addressed the class once more.

“As I was saying: the Vanishing Spell becomes more difficult with the complexity of the animal to be Vanished. The snail, as an invertebrate, does not present much of a challenge; the mouse, as a mammal, offers a much greater one. This is not, therefore, magic you can accomplish with your mind on your dinner. So: you know the incantation, let me see what you can do.”

Unlike with Trelawney, Umbridge did not attempt to follow Professor McGonagall around as she moved around the room to watch their spellwork.

“How she can lecture me about not losing my temper with Umbridge!” Harry muttered to Ron under his breath, but he was grinning despite himself.

“Mr. Emrys,” she said when she reached their section. “I see you have already managed to Vanish your mouse. Well done.”

“I’m… afraid not, Professor,” Robin replied grimly, staring directly at Professor Umbridge.

The four of them looked to the front of the classroom, where Umbridge was taking furious notes and failing to notice the brown mouse that was now nestled amongst her similarly coloured hair.

McGonagall seemed entirely taken aback, and did not say anything for several seconds as they all stared at the High Inquisitor, whose new associate was now standing up and sniffing the air.

“What are you doing?” she hissed at Robin.

He beamed. “Getting detention!”

“I’ll explain later,” he added as he stood up from his chair and then bellowed, “MERLIN’S BEARD!”

Umbridge jumped slightly at the noise, as did the everyone else in the room. McGonagall just put a hand to her head and looked on with dismay.


Umbridge looked at him incredulously. “Excuse me?”

And that’s when Lavender Brown screamed. “There’s a MOUSE IN HER HAIR!”

The look of dawning horror on Umbridge’s face was well worth the house points they would certainly be losing. She slowly looked upwards, becoming cross-eyed as she did so. When the mouse started to scuttle around on her head, she let out an ear-piercing shriek and jumped out of her chair, clipboard clattering to the ground, as she smacked frantically at the creature, knocking the gratuitous bow onto the floor and laying absolute waste to her hair.

When the mouse finally tumbled out and scurried away, there was audible laughter echoing across the room, quickly suppressed when Umbridge regained herself. Professor McGonagall was looking positively shellshocked, and had not moved an inch since the commotion began.

Umbridge, meanwhile, was quivering with hate, eyes glued to Robin, not even attempting her usual glued-on smile.

“You,” she said, pointing a stubby finger at him. “Detention. For a month.”

She then hastened from the room as fast as her squat legs could carry her, hair in disarray, leaving her clipboard and her bow behind her on the floor of the Transfiguration classroom.

Utter anarchy broke out the moment the door slammed behind her, and even the intrepid Professor McGonagall had difficulty getting the class back in order. The whispering simply refused to die down.

When class was over, the four of them practically skipped down to the Forest for Care of Magical Creatures, still giddy from her earlier humiliation and expecting to enjoy an Umbridge-free afternoon. Unfortunately, they were rather stunned to see her standing beside Professor Grubbly-Plank as if nothing had happened, having at some point rearranged herself and replaced her bow and clipboard. It was slightly eerie, in fact, but at least she seemed slightly more subdued as she spoke with Professor Grubbly-Plank.

“You do not usually take this class, is that correct?” Ron heard her ask as they arrived at the trestle table nearest the Forest where the group of captive Bowtruckles were scrabbling around for woodlice.

“Quite correct,” replied Professor Grubbly-Plank, hands behind her back and bouncing on the balls of her feet. “I am a substitute teacher standing in for Professor Hagrid.”

Strangely, Umbridge did not comment on this apart from a low “Hmm,” but Malfoy and his cronies were whispering in a way Ron did not like the look of. He exchanged uneasy looks with Harry and Hermione as Professor Grubbly-Plank began her lesson.

Once everyone had picked up where they left off from last class, the professor walked to their table, where Robin had joined their group and was now trying to convince a Bowtruckle to sit still for his drawing.

“What’s your name, boy?” she asked. “I haven’t seen you in my class before.”

“Oh, I’m Will Emrys, Professor,” he said politely. “I’ve only just been able to return to Hogwarts, as I’ve been ill with the Mumblemumps all summer.”

“Very well,” she said. “Just be sure you get notes from a friend so that you can catch up and pass your OWL.”

“Yes, Professor,” he answered, and went back to his work.

As Umbridge was making herself rather inconspicuous at the moment, Ron took the opportunity to say in a low voice, “Not that it wasn’t hilarious, but why were you trying to get detention? How does that accomplish anything?”

“I have a Plan,” said Robin, and Ron did not like the sound of that. “I may have allowed Umbridge to come by some ‘blood quills’.”

Harry, Ron and Hermione all looked at him in horror, but Robin raised an eyebrow.

“Note the air quotes,” he said. “They won’t do anything to us, but they’ll look as if they are, and we can get away unscathed. I’ve been working on them for days.”

“Why?” Harry asked, still looking dubious.

“You see,” Robin explained in a false, haughty voice, “William Emrys happens to have an extremely rich, Slytherin grandfather who just donated a large sum of money to the ministry, and he will not be pleased to hear how an employee of the Minister has mutilated his son. Ambrose Emrys will soon be requesting an audience with the Minister to discuss her despicable teaching methods and to demand her removal from Hogwarts.”

“You never mentioned your grandfather before,” said Hermione.

“Oh, I don’t have any family,” said Robin. “I’m just going to use an ageing spell and go down there myself.”

“Where did you get the money to donate to the Ministry?” Ron asked without thinking.

“Oh,” Robin said, once more busying himself with his Bowtruckle. “Well, I did have parents, and my father was… sort of well-known, in certain circles. Anyway, I inherited everything of his when he died, and it’s grown quite a bit, sitting there for so long. All I did was invent a reclusive grandfather, and now he’s on record with the Ministry since he made that donation. It’s all coming together…”

“That’s…” said Harry, “actually not a bad plan.”

“It might just work,” Hermione agreed. “He’s corrupt enough.”

They fell into a hush when Umbridge started walking nearby, but fortunately she avoided them entirely, instead asking various students questions on magical creatures. Most people were able to answer well, and Ron was glad that so far, the class wasn’t letting Hagrid down.

Failing to find anything amiss, she returned to Professor Grubbly-Plank’s side.

“What are you planning to cover with this class this year?” she asked. “Assuming, of course, that Professor Hagrid does not return?”

Ron shared an annoyed glance with Harry, glad that he was facing the forest rather than Umbridge—she wouldn’t appreciate the expression on his face, he was sure. Hermione was on the other side next to Robin and—something was coming out of the forest behind them.

He thought it was a horse at first, but its coat was a blinding white that he instantly recognised. He elbowed Harry sharply when he saw its horn, and they both stared at the slowly approaching unicorn. Its hooves were completely silent on the grass, and it had lifted its head to sniff at the light breeze.

Harry and Ron shared an apprehensive look. Professor Grubbly-Plank had said they didn’t like boys, but was it dangerous or just—

“Mr. Emrys!” Professor Grubbly-Plank shouted, causing their heads to jerk back towards her. “Get away from—“

Robin looked up at the sound of his name, but the professor trailed off, stupefaction written on her face. When Harry followed her gaze, he saw that the unicorn had walked right up to Robin’s side and had begun nuzzling at his head with her snout, munching lightly on the ends of his hair.

“Oh, hello!” Robin beamed at the creature, lifting a hand to stroke its soft muzzle.

“Don’t touch it!” the professor cried. “They won’t tolerate—“

And of course, not only had Robin already touched it, he had thrown his arms around its neck as if it were a large dog and was combing his fingers through its silvery mane.

“What was that, Professor?” he asked rather belatedly.

Professor Grubbly-Plank, in lieu of responding, approached very carefully and reached out a tentative hand to touch the creature’s mane.

“Have you ever seen a unicorn before, boy?” she asked quietly.

“Once,” he said, and added in a whisper, “but she was dying.”

“Well,” she continued, “adult unicorns usually charge when boys come anywhere near them… yet this one came to you. Do you have any unusual magical herbs on you?”

Robin shook his head and, catching sight of a flabbergasted Umbridge, put himself between her and the unicorn, which bumped its head lightly into Robin’s chest. Harry, Ron and Hermione exchanged equally confused looks; Ron shook his head, deciding to chalk it up to Robin’s weird magic and move on.

“All right, everyone!” Professor Grubbly-Plank announced as the unicorn wandered back towards the forest.  “Back to your Bowtruckles, we already studied unicorns last year.”

“You’re a bit weird, mate,” said Ron, shaking his head. “Fun, but weird.”

Chapter Text

Harry had been apprehensive about Umbridge’s apparently false quills, but when he and ‘Will’ turned up for detention that evening, the pain never started. Harry looked down to see the lines appearing on the parchment in blood red, and his hand certainly looked painful, but the charms were working. He tried not to look too relieved—Umbridge would be suspicious.

As usual, it was late at night when she finally let them go after having inspected the matching wounds spelling out “I must not tell lies”—only this time, Harry’s hand didn’t sting, and Robin was able to remove the glamour as soon as they returned to the common room and sat with Ron and Hermione, who were finishing up some homework.

“What about you?” he asked Robin. “You’ve got detention for a month.”

He shrugged. “I’ll only have to go to one or two more before I go down to the Ministry to confront Fudge.”

“But you won’t be able to bring Will with you,” said Harry. “Won’t Fudge want proof?”

“It couldn’t hurt…” Robin murmured, then snapped his fingers. “Great idea, Harry! You’ll come with me and pretend to be my grandson.”

“What? I don’t—he’ll recognise me!”

“Well, I’ll cast another glamour over you, of course, so you look like me. You’ll barely even have to talk!”

“You should do it, Harry,” said Ron. “Anything to get that Umbridge woman out of Hogwarts.”

“Fine,” Harry sighed. “As long as nobody will know it’s me.”

“It’ll go great,” said Robin brightly.

“We do have to do something about her,” said Hermione in a small voice.

“I suggested poison,” Ron added.

“No, I mean, something about what a dreadful teacher she is,” Hermione said. “You know, I was thinking today…” she shot a slightly nervous look at Harry and then plunged on. “I was thinking that maybe the time’s come when we should just—do it ourselves.”

“Do what ourselves?” asked Harry.

“Well—learn Defence Against the Dark Arts.”

“Come off it,” groaned Ron. “You want us to do extra work? Besides, if this plan works, we’ll end up with another teacher pretty soon.”

“Yes,” said Hermione, frustrated, “but with one exception, all of our Defence teachers have been dismal. No one wants the job! There’s no telling who Dumbledore will be able to get this time.”

“It’s a fair point,” said Robin grimly. “Your Defence education so far has been so incomplete I’d be concerned about your OWLs, not to mention the actual danger you’ll be facing.”

“But we can’t do much ourselves,” said Ron. “I mean, all right, we  can go and look jinxes up in the library and try and practice them, I suppose—“

“No, I agree, we’ve gone past the stage where we can just learn things out of books,” said Hermione. “We need a teacher, a proper one, who can show us how to use the spells and correct us if we’re going wrong.”

“If you’re talking about Lupin...” Harry began.

“No, no, I’m not talking about Lupin,” said Hermione. “He’s too busy with the Order and, anyway, the most we could see him is during Hogsmeade weekends and that’s not nearly often enough.”

“Who, then?” said Harry, frowning at her.

Hermione heaved a very deep sigh.

“Isn’t it obvious?” she said. “I’m talking about you, Harry.”

There was a moment’s silence. Harry turned to Ron, ready to exchange the exasperated looks they sometimes shared when Hermione elaborated on far-fetched schemes like SPEW to Harry’s consternation, but this time, Ron did not look exasperated.

He was frowning slightly, apparently thinking. Then he said, “That’s an idea.”

“What? I—“

“You are the only one with practical experience,” said Robin.

“And you’re the best in our year!” added Hermione.

“I mean—“ Harry began. “It sounds all right when you say it like that, but it was mostly luck in the Chamber, in the… graveyard—I got through it because help came at the right time or because I guessed right. I’m no teacher. Diggory didn’t make any mistakes, he was taken by surprise, and it could easily have been me dead instead of him: it would have been, if Voldemort hadn’t needed me.”

“Harry,” said Hermione timidly, “Don’t you see? This… this is exactly why we need you. we need to know what it’s really like, facing V—Voldemort.”

It was the first time she had ever said Voldemort’s name; Harry didn’t respond right away.

“I wouldn’t have the first idea what to teach you,” he said quietly. “Can’t you do it, Robin? You’re already teaching us Occlumency.”

“I think I had a dream about that,” said Ron. “Robin was our professor at Hogwarts and he made the spiders disappear.”

Harry and Robin both decided to ignore that information.

“Occlumency is completely different,” said Robin. “I’m basically training you; that’s easy. I’m no teacher, either.”

“But still,” said Harry, “you have practical experience with way more spells than we do!”

“Well,” he said, “I think Hermione was hoping you’d teach anyone who wanted to join your study group, not just the two of them, and I’m sure your classmates would respond better to someone they know rather than a complete stranger who showed up yesterday.”

“That’s what I was concerned about too,” said Hermione.

“Couldn’t we both do it?” Harry asked.

Ron nodded vigorously.

Robin hesitated. “I’d help you if you needed it, but really, I think you’ll do fine on your own.”

“If Robin does it, I’ll do it,” said Harry decidedly.

Ron and Hermione looked delighted.

“Ugh,” Robin groaned. “Fine. I will help.”

“Great!” Hermione beamed. “You know next weekend is our Hogsmeade visit? How would it be if we tell anyone who’s interested to meet us in the village and we can talk it over?”

“You’ve sure thought this through,” said Ron, eyebrow raised.

“Well, we can’t do it here, I don’t think Umbridge would be very happy if she found out what we were up to.”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Harry, “no one but you two is going to want to be taught by me. I’m a nutter, remember?”

“I think you might be surprised how many people would be interested in hearing what you’ve got to say,” Hermione replied.

“Right then, Hogsmeade,” Robin declared. “We’ll see what happens then.”

“I just hope Sirius doesn’t turn up,” Harry sighed. “He was talking about it when we were at Grimmauld Place.”

“Well, you can’t blame him for wanting to get out and about,” said Ron. “Shut up all the time with that ghastly elf.”

“But he won’t come,” Hermione said quickly. “He listens to Dumbledore—mostly.”

“He’s going to get sick of it eventually,” said Harry.

“But don’t forget,” Robin added, “we’re doing everything we can to take down Riddle and clear Sirius’s name. It won’t be forever.” 

Just then, the portrait opened, and in walked Professor Dumbledore. They all stared at him in astonishment.

“Excuse me for disrupting your evening,” he said, “but a meeting is about to begin, and we have agreed that the three of you ought to join us.”

Ron’s mouth dropped open. “A meeting of the—“

“Yes,” Dumbledore interrupted. “The Floo Network is still safe for now, but one can never be sure who is listening.”

He moved to the fire to push the gate out of the way.

“Well?” Robin asked, jumping to his feet. “You coming?”

And one by one, they used the Floo powder to emerge from the fireplace at Grimmauld Place.

“Hey, Harry,” said the twins, helping him up off the floor and brushing soot off each of his soldiers. “Dumbledore said we could come too! Not Ginny, though.”

“Yes,” said Professor Dumbledore, emerging right behind Harry, “I was able to locate them when I heard a commotion emanating from Professor Umbridge’s office.”

They grinned, turning to greet Robin when he stumbled through.

“We heard about the incident with the mouse,” said Fred.

“You’ve been holding out on us,” George added.

“Oh, don’t worry,” said Robin, moving aside to let Ron and then Hermione through. “That was only Phase One.”

“We’re men of simple tastes,” said George as they all headed for the kitchen.

Fred nodded. “We like a plan with phases.”

The kitchen was full of people. Mrs. Weasley swept over from where she was making tea to hug all of them again—even though it had only been a few days since they were last here—as Sirius and Lupin rose from their seats to greet them. Professors McGonagall and Snape were talking at the far end of the table. A harried-looking Mr. Weasley looked up from his papers to wave, and Tonk shot them a “Wotcher!” Even Kingsley was here, but no Mundungus.

“Where is Alastor?” Professor Dumbledore asked.

“He said he was running a bit late,” said Tonks. “He’ll be here.”

As they all took seats around the table, Robin talked quietly with Fred and George, Hermione eyeing them suspiciously, while Ron just contentedly drank his tea beside Harry. They were finally being allowed to help. And when Professor Dumbledore sat across from the four of them and greeted Harry with a kindly smile, he realised it was the first time Dumbledore had looked at him since last year.

“So what do we need to fill them in on?” Lupin was asking Sirius.

“Well,” said Sirius with a conspiratorial glance at Harry, “there’s the ‘secret weapon’.”

“What’s that?” Harry asked as they all turned to listen.

“Only the Professors know,” said Sirius, gesturing to where Dumbledore, Snape and McGonagall were carrying on a low conversation.

“Dumbledore said we’d find out soon enough,” Sirius added, “but evidently he wants to keep it under wraps for now. We think he must be hiding it somewhere.”

“Something that will help defeat Voldemort?” Harry asked eagerly.

“He certainly seems to think so.”

“Good evening, everyone,” Dumbledore announced, effectively starting the meeting. “I will begin with an update as we await Alastor’s arrival. As you all know by now, we have been searching for Voldemort’s Horcruxes, of which we believe there to be seven. One, Tom Riddle’s diary, has already been destroyed, and I believe I have found a second. It is most likely cursed, which is why I have left it in my office for Robin and Alastor to look at after this meeting.”

There was a slight bang from the front entrance, followed by uneven footsteps.

“Ah, said Professor Dumbledore. “That must be him now.”

Indeed, Moody limped in a moment later.

“Sorry I’m late,” he said gruffly. “There was a bit of a situation with—“

Suddenly he drew his wand, making several people jump.

“Professor Dumbledore,” he asked, wand levelled at Robin’s bewildered face from across the table, “who is this?”

Harry immediately noticed that Moody’s magical eye was stiller than he had ever seen it before; and what’s more, both eyes were pointing in the same direction, staring directly at Robin.

“It’s all right, Alastor,” said Dumbledore, standing up from the table, “that is Robin Emrys, the young man I was telling you about.”

“He’s an impostor,” Moody growled.

Silently, everyone turned to stare at Robin.

“Wha—no, I’m not!” He did not look in the least threatened by Moody’s menacing gaze, but his expression was thoroughly baffled. “What on earth are you talking about?”

“We have all known him for months now,” said Dumbledore calmly. “He comes from a family of healers in Wales, and he has been helping us by bringing books and other lost knowledge, not to mention using his Animagus form to assist in the search for Voldemort’s Horcruxes.”

Moody had not moved or lowered his wand. “Only humans can be Animagi.”

Everyone froze, including Robin himself, a look of complete shock on his face. Harry was shaken, but he couldn’t see any sign of deception, and Robin hadn’t done anything to indicate he couldn’t be trusted, even if he was odd…

“Please speak plainly, Alastor,” said Dumbledore.

Moody spoke slowly, still staring.

“My other eye—“ he indicated the magical prosthesis, which was still unmoving— “I don’t know what that is, but it’s not human. I can see it.”

“That’s not true!” Robin cried, looking genuinely disturbed. “I’m human! I had parents—my mother was a Muggle!”

Harry hadn’t know that. But then again, he never talked about his family.

“I want to examine him,” said Moody, ignoring Robin completely.

Dumbledore turned to Robin, who rose rather weakly from the table.

“Go ahead,” Robin said sharply. He didn’t move as Moody crossed the room, but a few of the dishes on the stove started to rattle dangerously.

Moody waved his wand carefully, still keeping his distance, as he muttered a few incantations.

“I see no disguises,” he said eventually. “Still—“ 

He stopped. Staring intently at the tip of his wand, he enunciated, “Lumos.”

Both eyes flicked back to Robin.

“That’s impossible,” he said.

“Will someone please explain what’s going on?” Sirius demanded.

“Magic,” Moody breathed. “You’re… magic.”

“Well, of course he’s got—“

“No,” Moody interrupted, “he’s made of magic. Like a Patronus, but… alive, somehow. Where did you come from?” he asked. “What are you?”

Robin stared at him with an afflicted expression, shaking his head slowly.

“I don’t—I don’t know!” he exclaimed, and on the last word, the lamps flared and the ground shook like an earthquake.

Moody jumped back, looking all around him as if he could see the magic surging outward, and Harry supposed he probably could.

“I don’t know anything, all right?” he said with a ferocious calm. “I don’t know why I’m here, but I am, and I’m going to help Harry get rid of that nasty Riddle boy, because destiny can go to hell: I’m not letting a teenager stand alone against an evil, corrupted sorcerer and his army of blood purists.”

Moody’s regular eye was almost as wide as his normal one now, his wand slackening in his grip, but Robin continued.

“Maybe I’m not human. Maybe I never was. But that doesn’t mean I’m evil. It means that I don’t adhere to the same natural laws as you; it means I did banish that Dementor, I can get past all your wards, and I don’t need a wand.”

He pulled out his wand and tossed it onto the table. His chair then pulled itself out from the table, without so much as a glance from Robin, and he sat.

“Now, if we could please get on with this meeting.”

Chapter Text

Their next Occlumency lesson was anarchy after what happened at the Order meeting. Hermione had never heard anyone talk to Moody like that, and she had certainly never heard of whatever magical creature Robin apparently was. As a matter of fact, Robin seemed rather surprised they wanted to continue with the lessons, knowing that he was some kind of ‘freak of nature.’

But for the most part, they were just excited, especially Fred and George, who asked him innumerable questions that were mostly answered with some variant of “Honestly, guys, I really don’t know.” Ginny, of course, was furious that she was not allowed to participate in the meeting, but Mrs. Weasley had forbidden it.

They did, however, insist that Robin tell them everything he knew about wandless magic. Plenty of cultures had never really adopted wands, he explained, and in those places, it was perfectly common to forgo them most or all of the time. It was only so difficult for European wizards because they had been using wands for their entire lives and had never learned to properly cast wandlessly. Wordless magic, of course, was a different matter entirely, as Hermione knew, but he did not address that.

Their Occlumency lesson that Wednesday evening was harder than usual because Robin asked them each to try a different technique for that day in order to practice adapting to the strategies of their attacker, which may be repelled more effectively by different methods. Still, they felt as if they were making progress.

Afterwards, Robin brought them up to speed on what happened when he and Dumbledore had left the Order meeting together.

“Dumbledore did manage to find a Horcrux,” he told them. “It was a ring belonging to Marvolo Gaunt, Riddle’s grandfather, which he obtained while at Hogwarts by killing both his father and grandfather.”

“I’ve never asked—“ Hermione began, “why do you call him ‘Tom Riddle’ instead of Voldemort?” 

He had even called him ‘the Riddle boy’ yesterday, which struck her as odd.

Robin scoffed. “Nicknames don’t count if you give them to yourself, Hermione, everyone knows that.”

“So did you destroy it?” Ginny asked.

“We did. Dumbledore used Gryffindor’s sword, which was infused with Basilisk venom when Harry used it to stab the Slytherin’s snake.”

“That’s a relief,” said Harry.

Robin nodded. “I’m going to go see the house-elves later to find out if they know anything about what the others might be.”

“I already tried asking Merlin,” Ron said sadly, “but he hasn’t been in his portrait a single time I’ve checked.”

“I did tell you he was going to be useless,” said Robin. “And anyway, he really does his best to avoid being seen or identified by students.”

“Yeah, except Fred, George and you,” Ron grumbled.

Robin glanced warily at the twins. “Yeah… maybe we have something in common.”

“We certainly do—“ said one twin.

“—but lately, we haven’t seen him either,” the other finished.

“He probably has another portrait somewhere,” Harry suggested.

“Let’s go look!” said the twins simultaneously.

“I’m coming with you,” Ginny agreed.

“It’s probably not in Hogwarts!” Robin called after them as they headed out of the common room. “Your books are probably going to be more useful than that, Hermione,” he added.

“They haven’t been much use yet,” she sighed.

Except—should she tell him about the passage she’d translated, about her suspicion? She shook her head slightly. She couldn’t possibly say anything until she was sure; not with something of this magnitude.

“Well,” said Robin, standing up, “I’d better get to Umbridge’s office for detention. My ‘grandfather’ is going to pull me out of school in a few days to keep me away from her, so if anyone asks, that’s where Will disappeared to, all right?”

This time, Robin didn’t even bother taking out his wand; he just stood there and shrank back into a weedy fifteen-year-old, hair growing shorter as his face and arms became positively gaunt. Hermione wondered whether that was really what he had looked like at that age.

“Bye!” he beamed as he skipped out of the common room.

“He looks pleased,” Ron remarked skeptically.

“Where are we going, anyway?” Harry asked as the three of them set off down the stone steps that weekend. “The Three Broomsticks?”

Hermione shook her head, pulling on a knit cap. The day was bright, but windy.

“No,” she said, “it’s always packed and really noisy. I’ve told the others to meet us in the Hog’s Head, a ways off the main road. I know it’s a bit, you know… dodgy, but students don’t normally go in there, so I don’t think we’ll be overheard.”

They walked down the main street past Zonko’s Wizarding Joke Shop—where they were not surprised to see Fred, George and Lee Jordan—and past the post office, from which owls issued at regular intervals, then turned down a side-street at the top of which stood a small inn. A battered wooden sign with a picture of a boar’s severed head hung from a rusty bracket over the door.

“Well, come on,” Hermione said, hesitating outside the door.

Harry led the way in, the door creaking as he opened it. Unlike the large, welcoming Three Broomsticks, the Hog’s Head comprised one small, dingy room that rather smelled of goats. The windows were encrusted with grime that blocked much of the daylight; instead, it was lit by stubs of candles sitting on rough wooden tables.

But the occupants of the inn were odder still. There was a man at the bar whose entire head was wrapped in dirty bandages; at a table by one of the windows, two hooded figures spoke quietly in strong Yorkshire accents; and beside the fireplace sat a witch with a thick, black veil all the way down to her toes.

“I don’t know about this, Hermione,” said Harry, and Hermione was inclined to agree. “Has it occurred to you Umbridge might be under that?” he asked, indicating the veiled woman.

“Umbridge is shorter than that. Besides, even if she does come in here, there’s nothing she can do to stop us. I’ve double- and triple-checked the school rules, and study groups are definitely allowed. I just don’t think it’s a good idea to parade it, is all.”

“Well, no,” said Harry. “This isn’t exactly a homework group, is it?”

A tall, thin man with a great deal of long grey hair and beard sidled out of a back room and behind the bar.

“What?” he grunted. He looked vaguely familiar, but Hermione couldn’t place him.

“Three Butterbeers, please,” she said.

“Six Sickles.”

“I’ll get them,” said Harry.

They retreated to the table furthest from the bar as Ron said, “You know what? I bet that bloke would sell us anything. I’ve always wanted to try Firewhisky…”

Hermione glared at him. “You. Are. A. Prefect.”

“Oh,” he said dejectedly. “Yeah.”

“So, who did you say is supposed to be meeting us?” Harry asked.

“Just a couple of people. I told them to be here about now and—oh, look, that might be them.”

Through the door streamed two dozen people, including Neville, Luna, Ginny, Fred, George, Robin (still fifteen), and a crowd of students that were mostly from Gryffindor.

“A couple of people?” Harry whispered incredulously.

“Yes, well, the idea seemed quite popular,” said Hermione happily. “Ron, do you want to pull up some more chairs?”

“I’ll say,” Robin agreed as he took a seat beside Hermione. “I don’t know how you managed it.”

“Hi,” said Fred to the barman. “Could we have… twenty-six Butterbeers, please?”

The barman glared at him for a moment before starting to pass up dusty Butterbeers from under the bar.

“Cheers,” said Fred, handing them out. “Cough up, everyone, I haven’t got enough gold for all of these.”

“What have you been telling people?” Harry asked in a low voice. “What are they expecting?”

“They just want to hear what you’ve got to say,” Hermione said, but Harry continued to look at her so furiously that she quickly added, “you don’t have to do anything yet, I’ll speak to them first.”

When everyone had finally taken seats in the general vicinity of their little table, Hermione tried to start talking, but found she had no real idea of what to say.

“Well,” she said, “er, hi. Erm, well, you know why you’re here. Harry here—I mean me!” she added quickly when Harry raised his eyebrows. “I had the idea that we might start a group for people who wanted to study Defence Against the Dark Arts—and I mean really study it, not Umbridge’s rubbish—“

“Hear, hear,” somebody called.

“Well, anyway,” she finished a little more strongly, “I thought we ought to take matters into our own hands.”

“So we can pass our OWLs?” said Michael Corner, watching her closely.

“Well, yes,” said Hermione, “but more than that, I want to be able to defend myself properly because… because Lord Voldemort is back.”

After everyone had finished wincing, yelping, and spilling Butterbeer at the mention of Voldemort’s name, they all turned eagerly to Harry.

“If you want to join us,” Hermione continued, “we need to decide how we’re going to—“

“Where’s the proof You-Know-Who’s back?” said a blond Hufflepuff player in a rather aggressive voice.

“Well, Dumbledore believes it—” Hermione began.

“You mean, Dumbledore believes him,” he said, nodding at Harry.

“Who are you?” said Ron, rather rudely.

“Zacharias Smith,” said the boy, “and I think we’ve got the right to know exactly what makes him say You-Know-Who’s back.”

“Hey,” said Robin loudly. “Yeah, it’s me, the mouse guy from the other day. Everybody lay off, will you? This isn’t about Voldemort. Some of us are here to learn, not gossip. Harry doesn’t want to talk about carrying his friend’s dead body out of Tom Riddle’s family graveyard, and I don’t want to hear about it. Voldemort’s back, but this is not a courtroom, it’s a study group, so kindly keep your wrong opinions to yourselves.”

“Exactly,” said Hermione. “So… like I was saying, if you want to learn some Defence, then we need to work out—“

“Is it true,” interrupted a long-haired Hufflepuff girl, looking at Harry, “that you can produce a corporeal Patronus?”

“Er, yeah,” said Harry.

A loud murmuring erupted around the group.

“Blimey, Harry!” said Lee. “I never knew that!”

“And did you kill a Basilisk with that sword in Dumbledore’s office?”


“And that’s not to mention,” said Cho, “All the tasks he had to get through in the Triwizard Tournament last year.”

“Look guys,” said Harry. “I had help with all of that—“

“Are you trying to weasel out of showing us any of this stuff?” asked Zacharias Smith. “We’ve all turned up to learn from him and now he’s saying he can’t really do any of it—”

“That’s not what he said,” Fred interrupted.

“Would you like us to clean out your ears for you?” enquired George, pulling a lethal-looking instrument out of one of his Zonko’s bags.

“Moving on,” said Hermione hastily, “the point is, are we agreed we want to take lessons from Harry?”

There was a murmur of general agreement. Zacharias said nothing, but he might have been busy eyeing the instrument in George’s hand.

“Well, then, the next question is when we do it—“

“It can’t clash with Gryffindor Quidditch practice!” said Angelina.

“Nor ours,” said Cho.

“Nor ours,” Zacharias added.

“I’m sure we can find a night that suits everyone,” said Hermione quickly, “but you know, we are talking about learning to defend ourselves against Death Eaters here.”

“I agree,” said Ernie Macmillan. “Obviously the Ministry’s in denial about the return of You-Know- Who, but to give us a teacher who is trying to actively prevent us from using defensive spells…“

“We think the reason Umbridge doesn’t want us trained in Defence Against the Dark Arts,” said Hermione, ”is that she’s got some… some mad idea that Dumbledore wants to use the students in the school as a kind of private army against the Ministry.”

Nearly everyone looked stunned at this—except Luna Lovegood.

“Well, that makes sense,” she said. “After all, Cornelius Fudge had got his own private army of Heliopaths.”

“No, he doesn’t,” said Robin, with finality.

Surprisingly, Luna did not see fit to argue.

“Hem, hem,” said Ginny, in such a good imitation of Professor Umbridge that several people looked around in alarm and then laughed. “Weren’t we trying to decide how often we’re going to meet and have defense lessons?”

“Yes,” said Hermione at once, “yes, we were, you’re right, Ginny.”

“Well, once a week sounds cool,” said Lee Jordan.

“As long as—” began Angelina.

“Yes, yes, we know about the Quidditch,” said Hermione in a tense voice. “Well, the other thing to decide is where we’re going to meet…”

This was rather more difficult; the group fell silent.

“Library?” someone suggested after a few moments.

“An unused classroom?”

“I don’t know,” said Harry. “Those are pretty public places.”

“The Room of Requirement,” Robin declared.

“The what?” Hermione asked.

“It’s on the seventh floor, across from the tapestry with the dancing trolls,” he explained. “If you walk past it three times thinking about something you need, a door will appear and the room inside will be what you need it to be.”

“That sounds… perfect,” said Hermione suspiciously. “Where’d you hear about it?”

“I didn’t, I was pacing.”

“Okay then,” she said slowly. “Well, then, I think everybody should write their name down, just so we know who was here. But I also think,” she took a deep breath, “that we all ought to agree not to shout about what we’re doing. So if you sign, you’re agreeing not to tell Umbridge or anybody else what we’re up to.”

Most people signed quickly, but Ernie was hesitant.

“I—“ he said. “Well, we are prefects. And if this list was found…”

“Ernie, do you really think I’d leave that list lying around?” said Hermione testily.

“No, of course not, but—oh, all right, I’ll sign.”

No one raised objections after him, and they all signed rather solemnly, as if it were a sort of contract.

“Well, time’s ticking on,” said Fred briskly, getting to his feet. “George, Lee and I have got items of a sensitive nature to purchase, we’ll be seeing you all later.”

In twos and threes, the rest of the group took their leave too.

Hermione, Harry and Ron were unusually cheerful for the rest of the weekend, having made a concrete plan to resist Umbridge and the Ministry, but that mood quickly evaporated when the new notice appeared on the Gryffindor noticeboard.


All student organizations, societies, teams, groups and clubs are henceforth disbanded.

Permission to re-form may be sought from the High Inquisitor (Professor Umbridge).

Any student found to have formed, or to belong to, an organization, society, team, group or club that has not been approved by the High Inquisitor will be expelled.

“This isn’t a coincidence,” said Hermione. “She knows.”

“Maybe that Zacharias bloke told her,” said Ron. “I thought he looked shifty.”

“He can’t have done,” she replied. “I put a jinx on that parchment we all signed. If anyone told her, we’ll know exactly who it is, believe me.”

“What’ll happen to them?” said Ron eagerly.

“Well, put it this way,” said Hermione, “it’ll make Eloise Midgeon’s acne look like a couple of cute freckles.”

‘Will’ was with them in classes that day in an attempt to prevent Harry from losing his temper with Umbridge again and endangering their study group—or their plan to get her removed from the school.

Unfortunately for Harry and Ron, Quidditch teams also had to get permission to re-form, which Malfoy took as an opportunity to provoke them.

“Yeah, Umbridge gave the Slytherin Quidditch team permission to continue playing straight away,” he was saying loudly, directly outside Professor Snape’s classroom door. “I went to ask her first thing this morning. Well, it was pretty much automatic. I mean, she knows my father really well, he’s always popping in and out of the Ministry. But if it’s a question of influence, I don’t think Gryffindor’s got much chance. As for Potter, my father says it’s a matter of time before the Ministry has him carted off to St. Mungo’s.”

He made a grotesque face, his mouth sagging open and his eyes rolling. Crabbe and Goyle gave their usual grunts of laughter; Pansy Parkinson shrieked with glee.

Something collided hard with Hermione’s shoulder, knocking her sideways. A split second later, they realised that Neville had just charged past her, heading straight for Malfoy.

“Neville, no!”

Harry leapt forward and seized the back of Neville’s robes; Neville struggled frantically, his fists flailing, trying desperately to get at Malfoy who looked, for a moment, extremely shocked.

“Help me!” Harry shouted.

Robin got his arms around Neville’s chest and pulled him backward with surprising strength as Neville continued spluttering, “Not funny—don’t—Mungo’s—show him—!”

The dungeon door opened and Snape appeared. His black eyes swept up the Gryffindor line to the point where Harry and Robin were wrestling with Neville.

“Potter, Emrys, release Longbottom. Inside, all of you.”

Harry, Ron and Hermione exchanged shocked looks at Snape’s subdued response, but hurried inside after the Slytherins, who were looking disappointed.

“I had to stop you,” Harry told Neville apologetically. “Crabbe and Goyle would’ve torn you apart.”

Neville just stormed off to his seat, ignoring him.

“What in the name of Merlin’s baggy Y-fronts was that?” Ron muttered to Harry.

“HEY!” said Robin, looking scandalised.

Ron turned to look at him. “What?”

Robin opened his mouth and shut it. “Er… nothing.”

“You will notice,” said Snape, in his low, sneering voice, “that we have a guest with us today.”

He gestured to Professor Umbridge, who was sitting in a dim corner with a clipboard on her knee.

“We will be continuing with our Strengthening Solutions,” Snape continued. “If correctly made, your mixtures should have matured well over the weekend. Instructions—” he waved his wand “—on the board. Carry on.”

For the first half hour, Umbridge just sat taking notes, but when she started asking Snape questions, Harry got so distracted that he almost added pomegranate juice to his potion.

Hermione grabbed his wrist. “Salamander blood, Harry!”

“Right,” said Harry vaguely, continuing to watch Umbridge.

“How long have you been teaching at Hogwarts?” she asked.

“Fourteen years.”

“You applied first for the Defense Against the Dark Arts post, I believe?”


“But you were unsuccessful?”


Robin snorted, drawing a quick glance from Professor Snape, whose expression was inscrutable. When Umbridge walked over to Pansy Parkinson to question her about the lessons, Snape went to inspect Neville’s potion, which smelled strongly of burnt rubber.

“No marks again, then, Longbottom,” he started to say, but before he could give him either detention or extra homework, Malfoy’s potion gave a loud BANG and covered his silvery hair with a cloud of glittering purple dust.

Snape whipped around to inspect the commotion. Malfoy, who rivalled Hermione’s skill in Potions, was looking baffled as he stared down into his cauldron.

“How in Merlin’s name—“ Snape started, but he didn’t finish his sentence. With a suspicious glance in their direction, he finished, “Just go to the hospital wing in case that substance is toxic.”

Malfoy nodded silently and left with his bags.

Harry kept his temper in Snape’s and Umbridge’s classes that afternoon, but the Gryffindor team still had not been given permission to practice by the time they returned to the common room.

“But I kept my temper!” said Harry, horrified. “I didn’t say anything to her, Angelina, I swear, I—“

“I know, I know,” said Angelina miserably. “She just said she needed a bit of time to consider.”

To make things worse, Fred and George were taking turns projectile-vomiting into a bucket in an effort to advertise their Skiving Snackboxes.

Chapter Text

As Harry was walking down to meet Ron and Hermione in the Great Hall after Charms class, he found himself abruptly yanked into an empty classroom.

He pulled himself away from the stranger as soon as he was able, drawing his wand as he heard the door shut behind them. When he whipped around, he thought for a split second that it was Dumbledore standing in front of him. With his long, white hair and beard, the stranger bore a passing resemblance to the headmaster, but Harry quickly noticed that, while he was just as tall, his build was bone-thin and his face exceedingly angular. When he turned vivid blue eyes on him, there was a strange contrast between his acute, almost frightening stare and the permanent laugh lines at the corners of his eyes. As the old man loomed menacingly over him, Harry was distantly surprised to discover that his wand was trembling slightly. He gripped it tighter to compensate, but that only made it worse.

“So?” the stranger said, his voice harsh and ancient-sounding. “What do you think?”

He backed away from Harry and spread his hands wide as if showing him something. Harry looked apprehensively around the room.

“It’s me, you dolt,” the old man said. “Do you really not recognise me at all?”

Harry stared blankly. “Er… no?”

“Well—I suppose that is rather the point. Let me just…“

He shut his eyes and stood there for what was probably less than a second, but Harry was so anxious about whatever was about to happen that time seemed to slow down around him. He stared at the stranger, not daring to take his eyes away for even a second lest he—but the old man was changing. As Harry watched, his hair darkened from white as a unicorn’s to steel grey, and it kept getting darker as it lifted from his shoulders, growing shorter and shorter along with his beard, which eventually disappeared, revealing a face he recognised framed by hair that had turned coal-black.

Robin started to speak, cleared his throat, and tried again, returning to his normal voice. “Convincing?”

Harry just stood there for a few seconds before he could manage an answer. Finally, he put his wand back in his pocket.

“Extremely,” he answered.

“Excellent,” Robin beamed. “When do your classes end today? I was thinking of going down to yell at Fudge this afternoon.”

“At four o’clock,” Harry said. “Are you sure this is going to work?”

“Well, no offence, but you looked like you were about to faint back there, so yeah, I think so.”

Harry was even more excited about this than about Hermione’s study group, despite the fact that they wouldn’t be confronting Umbridge directly. There was something similarly satisfying about going over someone’s head, he thought. Soon, he was going to get to watch the Minister of Magic be lectured at length by someone Harry knew by now to be fully capable of doing so and of being downright terrifying when he felt like it.

Consequently, he couldn’t shut up about it during his last class of the day, History of Magic—which he would have liked to skive off for this occasion, but Robin had said to keep a low profile for the time being. When class was finally over, the trio rushed to Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom, the most deserted place in school, to meet Robin, where he would cast a glamour over Harry and teleport them both to the Ministry.

“There you are!” cried the old man from earlier, turning away from Myrtle, with whom he had apparently managed to have a civilised conversation.

Ron and Hermione looked a little startled—not as bad as Harry, but to be fair, he, unlike them, had been unexpectedly accosted in a hallway.

“Wow,” said Hermione. “I can hardly recognise you.”

“Er, thanks?” Robin laughed. “What about Harry?”

“What about—?“

Ron and Hermione both froze when they turned to look at Harry.

“What?” Harry asked. His voice sounded funny.

“Whoa,” Ron breathed, looking between Harry and Robin.

“Go look in the mirror,” Hermione suggested.

Harry approached the sinks, peering into one of the grimy mirrors.

“Whoa,” he echoed.

It was Robin’s fifteen-year-old face staring back at him. It was rather disconcerting to see his own expressions on his friend’s face, so he turned away and looked down at himself instead. He was still wearing his school robes, which seemed to be a little too short now, but nothing too noticeable. On his hand was an image of the scar Harry himself still bore, but where his real one was starting to fade, the wound on his hand now was raw and dripping blood. He touched it and the blood smeared slightly, but he still couldn’t feel anything—neither the usual stinging nor the liquid dripping down his arm as he held it up in front of his face.

“Amazing,” Hermione whispered.

“Ready, Harry?” Robin asked.

Harry nodded and took hold of his outstretched hand. “Let’s do this.”

“Good luck,” said Ron as Harry started to feel the wind kick up around them.

Seconds later, they emerged from a fireplace in the Ministry’s main hall, looking exactly as if they had arrived by Floo.

“Remember,” said Robin quietly, “you’re traumatised, so I’ll do most of the talking, but jump in if inspiration strikes. Keep in mind you’re in Gryffindor, and therefore a disappointment to me. Stick to the plan and everything will be fine.”

Harry nodded and clutched his ‘injured’ hand to his chest as if in pain. The two of them split off from the flow of Ministry employees to make their way to the guest entrance, where a bored-looking wizard put down his Daily Prophet.

“Step over here,” he said.

Harry belatedly realised that they were going to have to produce their wands—one of which was Harry Potter’s wand (which would not look good) and the other of which was nothing but an ordinary piece of wood (which would look even less good). He looked up at Robin, who did not seem in the least worried, but was instead looking rather affronted.

“What for?” he demanded in his crotchety voice.

“Er—“ The man didn’t seem sure how to handle this. “So that I can inspect your wand,” he finally said.

“Inspect my wand?” he asked incredulously—and loudly. “What on earth for?”

“Er—“ he said again, then pointed to the stack of tickets on his desk indicating who had entered the Ministry that day. “For… the records?”

He didn’t seem especially certain.

Robin looked at him in utter disbelief. “Incredible. You follow one idiot statement with another! We are already in the records, as you perfectly well know.”

“What? Who told you that?”

“You did! Who else? Only ten minutes ago you said so, so we left, like you said, and now we’re back.”

The man frowned at the two of them. “No, I didn’t.”

What exactly is wrong with you? Something interesting in your tea, is there?”

The increasingly confused guard looked back at his desk as if wondering if he had indeed been drugged.

“It’s hardly any wonder the government’s falling apart if this is how it’s run! First you drop and step on my grandson’s wand, then you make us late for our meeting with the Minister because you can’t even remember who you’re letting in and who you’re letting out! You let us out, and I thank you for that. And now, apparently, we have to let ourselves back in!”

The guard opened his mouth—

“No—!” Robin snapped, holding up his finger. “Goodbye.”

And with that, he strode through the turnstile with Harry in tow.

“That,” said Harry when he caught up with his long, swift stride, “was amazing.”

“Thank you,” said Robin, giving a mock bow and grinning widely. “I really thought he was going to call security for a second back there. And he still might, so let’s get out of here. Wait, where are we going?”

After a second of looking around, they continued down a hallway to the left before entering the elevator—which was almost as crowded as it had been last time Harry was here—and exiting after just one floor.

“This way,” he beckoned Harry. “Fortunately, I did actually make an appointment. Well—demand, really.”

Cornelius Fudge’s office was not difficult to spot after that, as it was rather centrally located and bore his name on a gold plaque.

Robin paused before entering. “Got to get back in character… angry, self-important old Slytherin. Right, let’s go.”

He raised his fist to knock, then thought better of it and just strode right in. Harry followed, trying to toe the line between ‘rich git’ and ‘in immense pain’.”

“Minister!” Robin greeted graciously, proceeding immediately to the chair in front of Fudge’s desk and installing himself there. Harry hovered meekly behind him, trying to imagine how Sirius might have felt when in the presence of his mother, as that seemed to be a good model for this situation.

Fudge looked momentarily surprised at the intrusion, but quickly recovered himself, sparing only a glance for Harry.

“Thank you for meeting with me,” Robin continued in a tone that strongly suggested Fudge had no choice in the matter. “Would you mind terribly if I asked you to close the blinds? Terrible headache, you see.”

“Oh,” said Fudge, standing almost on instinct. “Of course, no trouble at all.”

He gave Robin a friendly smile when he returned to his armchair, the room now lit only by the lamps along the walls.

“I’m afraid it’s because of my grandson,” Robin continued, “but of course you already know that.”

Fudge nodded seriously, looking very much as if he did not, in fact, know that.

“Yes, well, he’s attending Hogwarts, of course, and I’ve come to understand how right you really are about the current state of affairs at that school.”

Fudge looked immensely pleased to hear this. “Yes,” he agreed, “I’m afraid Professor Dumbledore is no longer the wizard he once was. It is a great loss to our society.”

“Precisely,” Robin replied quickly, before Harry could jump to Dumbledore’s defence. “I was quite saddened to realise that was the case. Unfortunately, though, he is not the only threat to Hogwarts, and to the Ministry.”

“You can’t think…“ Fudge began.

“Oh,” Robin laughed. “Those Dark Lord rumours? Don’t be absurd, Minister, you know as well as I do those are utter hogwash. An Emrys would never be taken in by such rubbish.”

Fudge seemed to relax at this.

“No,” Robin continued, “I’m afraid to say it’s Dolores Umbridge, the Defence Against the Dark Arts professor. I had such high hopes for her. And it seems she has indeed been an excellent teacher. Unfortunately, it is her… shall we say, discipline that I am here about.”

“Oh?” said Fudge, eyebrows contracting.

Was it possible he didn’t know about the blood quills?

“Come here, boy,” Robin said sharply, making a gesture towards Harry without turning.

Harry obediently crept over to stand beside Robin, who grasped Harry’s wrist to show the still-bleeding wound on his hand to Fudge, pulling Harry forward slightly as he did so and causing him to stumble.

“Now, Minister,” said Robin, “I am a most ardent proponent of strict discipline, but Gryffindor or no, I simply cannot have my grandson physically mutilated, especially by a cursed object that it is against the law merely to have in one’s possession. His father—my son—he was a good boy, but he died, you see, and William here is the only one remaining to carry on the Emrys name.”

Fudge was staring in abject fear at Harry’s hand; Harry could see his eyes flicking this way and that, trying to find a way to take the heat off of him.

“And though I am not especially inclined to believe my grandson’s stories, he insists that Professor Umbridge falsely accused him, and that she in fact sabotaged his class project. That may very well be a complete fairytale, but in either case, the traces that blood quills leave can never be erased, and the professor has mutilated my son for life.”

He finally let Harry go, fixing Fudge with his disconcerting stare as he continued. “I am delighted to see that the Ministry is working to improve Hogwarts by pruning those practices and members of staff who are… less than exemplary, but I am afraid I will have to transfer William to another school if this continues, and you know how close-knit Pureblood families are. There could very well be a mass exodus in Hogwarts’ future. Now, I know Dolores Umbridge is a dear friend of yours—“

“Oh,” said Fudge quickly, “I wouldn’t go that far. She is simply a longstanding colleague. I am frankly shocked to learn that she would employ such barbaric tactics against a family as well-respected as yours—and to use illegal methods, no less!”

“You illustrate it perfectly, Minister, as always,” said Robin with a haughty smile. “I knew you would understand. That is, of course, why I came directly to you.”

“And I am glad you did,” said Fudge. “I’m afraid I have no choice but to replace her as Professor of Defence Against the Dark Arts right away. She really ought to be focusing on her role as High Inquisitor, in any case. Her skills are much more suitable there.”

“You make a good point,” said Robin. “The role of High Inquisitor is of supreme importance. We cannot allow teachers to go unchecked.”

“I only wonder who will take her place. We cannot allow Dumbledore to continue appointing werewolves and crazed ex-Aurors to the post.”

“What a humiliation that would be,” Robin agreed, shaking his head. “But I am sure your people will locate someone much more suitable than that. Someone who can be trusted, from a good family, with a track record of achievement.”

“You are absolutely right,” said Fudge with a determination that Harry did not like the look of. “And I can think of no better choice than yourself, Mr. Emrys.”

Robin’s eyes widened, and Harry was fairly certain this was not the conclusion he had been leading Fudge to.

“Minister, you cannot possibly—“

“You, sir, fit all of those criteria perfectly,” Fudge said, growing increasingly pleased with himself.

He was not going to be talked out of this. And to Harry’s utmost amazement, he found himself for once entirely in agreement with Cornelius Fudge—though for very different reasons.

And that’s why he spoke up. “Grandfather,” he said quietly, just loudly enough that Fudge could hear, “the Minister is right. With you there, how could Dumbledore possibly usurp the Ministry? And…” he scuffed his foot on the carpet. “To be frank, you’ve been a role model for me since Father’s death. You were right, I did things to put our family at risk, but thanks to you, I’m on the right path again. And I know there are many other students from… good families who would benefit from your wisdom.”

Robin was staring at Harry rather as if he were trying to make him spontaneously combust, but since that probably wouldn’t be too difficult for him if he were really trying, Harry just stepped back to his meek place slightly behind his chair.

“Minister,” said Robin as if Harry had not spoken, “I am of course humbled by your suggestion, but surely there are—“

“Oh, no!” said Fudge quickly.

Harry seemed to have him convinced, he thought jubilantly; he was learning already. Robin was right, this was fun.

“No,” Fudge continued, “you are an experienced and estimable wizard, and have already been most valuable to the Ministry. We could not possibly offer anyone else the position.”

“Very well then, Minister,” Robin said eventually. “I suppose I must accept your proposition. And rest assured, I will use this opportunity to keep a wary eye on Albus Dumbledore and his associates.”

“Wonderful!” Fudge exclaimed, and they both stood up so he could shake Robin’s hand with both of his. “I am so glad that you brought this to my attention, Mr. Emrys, and that you have so graciously agreed to come to the Ministry’s aid in our time of need. I will owl you straight away with details.”

“And I,” Robin replied, “am glad to have you as Minister of Magic. I look forward to your owl.”

With that, he strode briskly from the room, Harry following on his heels.

“What part of ‘stick to the plan’,” he hissed in his ear as they continued walking away speedily, “did you not understand?”

Harry whispered back. “You also said, and I quote, ‘jump in if inspiration strikes’.”

“Remind me why you’re not in Slytherin?” Robin said gruffly, grinning despite himself. “You were good back there, I have to admit. And it’s good that Fudge thinks he won that exchange and is getting what he wants. It’s usually best to let people think that, at least for a little while.”

“I think it worked,” said Harry as they once more passed the befuddled guard on their way to the Floo. “I think it really worked.”

When they landed in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom, he was positively elated. Ron and Hermione were waiting for them, sitting uncomfortably on the floor and working on homework.

“How’d it go?” asked Hermione, quickly standing up and biting her nails.

“It was great,” Harry replied. “You should have seen it. Fudge already agreed to sack Umbridge, and guess who our new teacher is?”

He turned excitedly to Robin, who looked rather like a statue with his arms crossed, glaring down at all of them.

“No,” Hermione breathed with awe on her face.

“Oh, yes,” said Robin. “Harry here ensured it. Actually, let me remove that glamour. There you go. How on earth do I get myself into these things?”

Harry looked down at himself to see that he was back to normal size, scar once more faded on his hand, but he went over to the mirror to check anyway.

“But don’t forget,” Robin continued, “Umbridge is still going to be here as High Inquisitor, at least for a little while. She won’t be handing out punishments anymore, but she can still cause problems for you and the teachers, so watch yourselves.”

“At least we’ll have a real Defence teacher for once!” Ron exclaimed, his mood not dampened whatsoever by the ongoing prospect of Umbridge.

“This is better than I hoped!” Hermione exclaimed.

They were interrupted by a clamour of jostling and grunts that issued from one of the nearby bathroom stalls, and they all turned to look just as Fred and George tumbled out of it, half on top of each other.

“Sorry,” said George.

Fred added, “We just wanted to see who—”

Neither of them moved for several seconds—except for their eyes, which were widening slowly and to a comical degree as they stared fixedly at Robin. He stared back, looking confused, until something that looked like dawning comprehension rose on his face.

“Oh, no,” he said aloud.

Chapter Text

Merlin winced as the twins scrambled to their feet and looked repeatedly at each other, then back at him, eyes still wide as dinner plates.

“Relax, guys,” said Ron. “It’s just Robin.”

That did not improve matters. The twins looked exactly as if a man they knew to be dead had just materialised in front of them as if stepping out of his own portrait. George opened his mouth, and his expression seemed to indicate that he might be about to either scream, or blurt out the first thing that came to mind.

“Will you excuse me for one moment?” said Robin, loudly. “I’ll be right back. You three catch up.”

He strode purposefully to the door and turned to look at the twins as the other three started talking again. They were, of course, still staring at him. He beckoned forcefully and mouthed Out here. Now.

He waited outside the door for a few seconds, praying that they weren’t in there blabbing, but as he’d asked, they came tumbling out the door one right after the other.

“Get in here,” said Merlin, pushing open the door of the nearest empty classroom and eyeing them severely as they walked past.

He cast an Imperturbable on the door as soon as it was shut behind him, and the twins immediately exploded into shouting, talking over each other so that he couldn’t hear a single word. He glared at them with a flash of gold in his eyes; they both shut up immediately.

“You’re—“ whispered George, voice shaking. “You’re—“

Not even Fred could bring himself to finish that sentence. They both just continued staring at him.

“Okay, yes,” said Merlin, throwing up his hands. “It’s clearly me.”

George really did scream that time, or at least make a very loud, very undignified sound. The brothers were now clinging onto each other as if trying to hold themselves up.

“I’m going to need you to calm down,” said Merlin.



Merlin decided to guess at one of their questions. “So, I would seem to be immortal…”

George sat down hard on the floor and waited a long time before speaking. “We have so many questions.”

“And we can’t think of a single one,” Fred agreed, sitting beside him.

“Er…” Merlin joined them on the floor—with some difficulty, due to the ageing spell. “I’m going to be around for a while, guys, it’s not like you have to get all your questions out now.”

“Ron said—“ Fred suddenly remembered.

George’s eyes widened. “He said you were—“

In lieu of answer, Merlin wordlessly started dissolving his ageing spell. Like with Harry, he went slowly so that they could see the transition, see it was really him. He felt the aches lift and his eyes grow clearer as Fred and George watched the outward changes unblinkingly.

“It’s you,” Fred whispered.

“How could we not see it?”

“The resemblance—“

“The magic—“

“To be fair,” said Merlin, “Dra—the ageing spell was designed to be a disguise. I made a portrait and left it here so it could keep an eye on things for me, and help people when they needed it—fat lot of good that did, by the way—but I didn’t want anyone to be able to recognise me.”

“Why did you go into hiding?” George asked.

“I didn’t,” said Merlin. “I lived in Camelot while my friends got older all around me, and when they were gone, I left. I wandered around, I suppose. I didn’t find out people even remembered me until much later. But what was I going to do, claim to actually be this ‘legendary figure’? Why would they believe me? Why would I even bother? I assumed they’d forget eventually.”

He let out a breath. “But they never did. They remembered me, they continued saying I was the greatest sorcerer ever to live or some such nonsense, and soon, I couldn’t even go by my own name anymore. And I wasn’t about to admit it now, a thousand years after the fact. ‘Hey everyone, sorry for the misunderstanding, I’m actually not dead.’ So I kept wandering around. I kept it to myself. I didn’t even want to tell any of you, but I’m so involved now… I’m sure the whole Order will find out eventually.”

Merlin laughed as he continued. “Did you see Moody’s reaction when he saw me with his magical eye? I thought he was going to kill me right then and there, then you’d get to witness yet another of my inexplicable resurrections.”

He’d said too much, he thought—he’d just kept talking, as usual—but it didn’t much matter now, anyway.

“Don’t tell anyone, please,” he said tiredly. “They won’t believe it, anyway, unless they find it out for themselves. If I just went in there and told them my real name right now, they’d think I was either crazy or worse, trying to claim someone else’s legacy.”

“We won’t tell anyone,” said Fred.

“But you have to tell us everything,” George added. His brother kicked him.

“I’ll answer any questions you don’t ask in front of other people. And anyway,” he added, “I’m about to be your new Defence teacher, so you’ll be hearing from me quite a bit more than usual.”

Merlin is going to teach us!” George suddenly realised.

“I’m… sitting right here,” said Merlin.

“We could put that on our CVs,” Fred continued.

“All right, listen up,” said Merlin as he stood, putting a little more ‘Dragoon’ in his voice. “Now, we’re going to go in there, we’re going to have a normal conversation like civilised people, and there are going to be no puns made or hints dropped. Got it?”

They both scrambled to their feet and nodded vigorously.

Fortunately, when they returned to Myrtle’s bathroom, Harry, Ron and Hermione were still there—as was Myrtle, who seemed to be harassing Harry. Fred and George shared an excited glance when they realised they had free rein to ask the ghosts everything about Merlin they could think of.

“What took you so long?” Ron asked. “I’m starving.”

“Run-in with Peeves,” Merlin answered easily. “Me too, let’s get out of here. I’d better get back to headquarters and tell them about the upcoming staffing modifications.”

Merlin materialised in the kitchen at Grimmauld Place with a flurry of wind. “Have any owls arrived?”

Molly Weasley jumped and turned away from the stove to menace him with a ladle (something to which he was not entirely unaccustomed). “You’re worse than the twins, you know! You could very well just walk in the front door, you got rid of the shrieking portrait, after all. Not to mention that I do not need a tornado in my kitchen every other day, young man, is that really necessary?”

“I’m afraid it’s a side effect I can’t seem to get rid of,” he answered, opening a window to check for owls.

“Well, why don’t you just Apparate, then?”

“It’s exceedingly uncomfortable.”

Having seen no owls, he returned to the stove, where Mrs. Weasley was furiously stirring while attempting to monitor a pie of some kind.

“Where is everyone?” he asked, looking around the empty kitchen. “Here, let me help you.”

He took over the ladle—partly in order to avoid getting thwacked with it—and Mrs. Weasley immediately started on three other tasks.

“Thank you, Robin,” she said. “Were you asking about owls? One arrived for you earlier, in fact, it’s in this pile over here, hold on—”

Merlin was fairly sure the Minister would not go back on his word now, after everything he had said that morning, but if someone had managed to influence him in the meantime… It didn’t seem incredibly difficult to do so, after all.

“Thanks, Mrs. Weasley,” he said when she handed him the letter; he opened it with magic so he could keep stirring with his other hand.

“Why are you getting letters from the Ministry, anyway? You’re not in trouble, are you?”

Merlin just grinned and showed her the letter.

“Dear Mr. Emrys,” she read, “please find enclosed details on your appointment to the post of Professor of Defence Against the Dark Arts, effective immediately after Dolores Umbrige’s resignation tomorrow morning—“

She looked up at him with wide eyes. “You’re replacing that Umbridge woman? How on earth did you manage it?”

He had told her and the other residents of Grimmauld Place all about Umbridge’s abysmal teaching methods and her barbaric discipline, although he had tried to leave Harry out of it as much as possible, so he was glad Mrs. Weasley approved. For his part, he was very hesitant to begin teaching again after so many years, but he supposed someone had to do it.

“I pretended to be my own grandfather and went to complain about how she was treating the heir to my fortune,” he answered. “What she’s doing is illegal, so it wasn’t that difficult. Unfortunately, that means I’m going to have to walk around with an ageing spell for the foreseeable future. And now I have to come up with a lesson plan before tomorrow morning.”

At least he’d already sent his portrait to go live in his other frame for a while. If anyone else were to react like Fred and George…

“Well, this is good news,” said Mrs. Weasley. “I’ll go and get the others.”

That evening, after Merlin had once more stolen the blood quills from Umbridge’s office (as well as a box of objects that looked rather suspicious but might, in fact, be harmless), he sent them to his cabin in Wales, transformed back into a butterfly before anyone saw him, and traipsed down to McGonagall’s office, where he hoped she would still be working so that he could ask her for some advice on lesson plans.

Unfortunately, Snape was also there; and when Merlin fluttered through the half-open door, the professor looked unduly enraged, fixing him with a glare so ferocious that McGonagall quickly noticed, pausing mid-sentence to give him an apprehensive look and glance around to see what he was glowering at. When she saw the source of his distress, she eyed him with concern—especially since he did not seem to realise that their conversation had come to an abrupt halt.

As going unnoticed would now be impossible, he perched on the back of McGonagall’s guest chair and gave Snape an unimpressed look that he probably couldn’t see. When no one moved, Merlin fluttered in the direction of the door. He’d come back later.

“Oh, no you don’t!” Snape cried, rushing over to slam the door shut in front of him.

Come on, Merlin thought, like a closed door would stop me?

They stared each other down for a few seconds.

“I know it’s you,” said Snape.

Merlin said nothing.

“Only you would spend inordinate amounts of time just fooling with people.”

Merlin headed for the chimney.

“No!” Snape shouted, jumping in front of it and drawing his wand.

“Severus!” McGonagall finally managed as she watched the inexplicable standoff.

Merlin transformed with a sigh. “Don’t point that stick at me.”

“Ha!” Snape cried. “I knew it was you.”

“Yeah, obviously it’s me,” he said, turning his back on Snape and his wand to address Professor McGonagall.

“Evening, Professor, I had some news, but I can come back another time, as obviously you two are busy right now.”

“Well, not anymore,” said McGonagall, eyeing Snape. “We will continue this discussion tomorrow then, Severus?”

“Very well,” he said, looking satisfied with having proven his suspicion as he swept ominously from the room, cloak trailing behind him.

“That boy always was rather theatrical, I found,” said Merlin when the door shut behind Snape. He turned back to Professor McGonagall, who was still looking rather startled. “As I said, I have some news, but I did not want to be seen sneaking about in the corridors. I was also hoping to ask your advice on something.”

“My advice?” said McGonagall incredulously, sitting down in her chair. “What on earth would you need my advice for?”

“Teaching, of course,” he said. “You see, Umbridge is ‘resigning’ from her Defence Against the Dark Arts post tomorrow morning—“ McGonagall’s eyebrows shot up, but she didn’t interrupt him— “and for some godforsaken reason, Fudge has seen fit to hire me instead. She’ll be staying on as High Inquisitor for a while, though.”

Professor McGonagall’s eyebrows had practically disappeared into the brim of her pointy hat.

“You’ll be teaching at Hogwarts?” she finally said. “You have already told the Headmaster, I presume?”

“Yes, I owled him this afternoon. Or, birded him, anyway. It wouldn’t be my first time teaching here, of course, but the last time was probably around four hundred years ago, so as you can imagine, I’m going to have to seriously update my lesson plan. Metaphorically, of course, because my actual lesson plan has since disintegrated.”

“And you’ve come to me for… advice.”

“Well, yes. I’ve been in your class, you remember, and you would seem to be the best teacher here, especially given how much the students obviously respect you.”

The professor looked positively gobsmacked now, but she agreed, and answered all of his questions thoroughly well into the evening.

The next morning, Merlin arrived at Hogwarts early so as to be sitting nondescriptly at the staff table before the students entered for breakfast. They would have already seen the announcement on their common room noticeboards, so he thought it polite to make an appearance before just turning up in class. He was also looking forward to irritating Snape throughout breakfast.

When he entered the Great Hall, only a few groggy students had yet wandered in; up at the staff table, Dumbledore, McGonagall, Umbridge, Snape and Flitwick were already there. Snape appeared to be waiting suspiciously for the as yet unnamed new teacher, eyes honing in on Merlin when he entered in his ‘old’ disguise, whereas Umbridge seemed content to pretend as though he didn’t exist. He returned the favour.

Merlin took his seat directly next to Snape and stared intently at the side of his face until he turned to look at him.

“Good morning,” said Merlin, beaming at him.

Snape narrowed his eyes and examined him intently, seeming vaguely to recognise something of him in either his face or his voice.

“…Morning,” he replied, still looking as if he were trying to figure out where he had seen him before.

Merlin continued grinning at him, batting Snape’s Legilimency away as if it were a gnat.

Snape groaned, finally catching on. “Not you again.”

“Ambrose Emrys,” said Merlin, shaking Snape’s hand. “Nice to meet you!”

Snape just glowered at him.

Chapter Text

Harry had started to worry that Fudge would change his mind, that Umbridge would somehow convince him to let her stay on, but that morning, there was a new parchment on the Gryffindor noticeboard.

Educational Decree Number Thirty

In order to spend more energy in her role as High Inquisitor of Hogwarts, Dolores Umbridge does hereby resign from the post of Professor for Defence Against the Dark Arts. A new Ministry-approved professor will be taking over those duties for the remainder of the year.

“Ministry-approved?” someone asked apprehensively. “What does that mean?”

Harry, Ron and Hermione just shared a jubilant look and rushed down to the Great Hall.

When they arrived, it was already packed, but they managed to squeeze in at the Gryffindor table. The three of them looked up at the teachers. Umbridge was still there, unfortunately, sitting near Dumbledore and apparently trying her best not to look snubbed. Harry was frankly surprised she turned up at all, but he supposed it would look worse if she didn’t. Further down was Robin in the guise of Ambrose Emrys, sitting directly next to Snape and seemingly having a grand old time talking nonstop in his general direction. Snape, for his part, was resolutely acting as if Robin was not there, which only seemed to amuse him further.

“We should probably be acting like we don’t know him,” said Harry. “We don’t want Fudge to think he’s on our side.”

“I agree,” said Hermione. “I just hope we can finally start learning something.”

“Hey,” said Harry, “how much you want to bet he’s going to do something insane in the first five minutes?”

“I raise you,” said Ron with his mouth full, “the first thirty seconds.”

The trio had Defence that afternoon; at lunch, Fred and George refused to tell them anything about their morning lesson, but hinted that it would be ‘unexpected’—which wasn’t helpful, because the only thing Harry was expecting about this class was that it would be unexpected.

They had class with the Slytherins, and as usual, sat on the opposite side of the room. As they were all getting settled and talking in low voices, the doors opened and Robin strode directly to the front of the classroom, then turned around and stared at them all. He hadn’t persisted in wearing Muggle clothes, thank Merlin, but he wasn’t wearing robes either; rather, some sort of long tunic with breeches underneath. Silence quickly fell as he continued to stare.

“Wands away,” he announced gruffly.

Harry heard several groans, but the class quickly complied. He shot a confused look at Ron, who only raised his eyebrows and held his hand out to Harry under the table. First thirty seconds, right. Harry reluctantly handed over a Sickle.

“No gambling in my class,” said the old man, without even looking in their direction. He picked up a piece of chalk from his desk, but didn’t move toward the blackboard.

“I’m Professor Ambrose Emrys, your new Defence teacher. Obviously. Any and all rumours you have heard about me are true. Questions?”

A Gryffindor girl whose name Harry didn’t know raised her hand. “Are you Will Emrys’s grandfather?”


“What happened to him?”

“Ill. Again. There’s something seriously wrong with that boy. Yes?” he asked when a Slytherin raised his hand.

“So you’re a Gryffindor too?”

“No, I was in Slytherin.”

Said house shared a triumphant look.


“All right,” he said suddenly, “too many questions. Who wants to volunteer?”

Nobody moved an inch.

“For what?” someone whispered behind Harry.

Emrys sighed. “First person to volunteer gets… oh, seventeen house points.”

As the class exchanged bewildered looks at the number, a few people hesitantly raised their hands.

“Good. You there,” he said, pointing at Malfoy. “What’s your name?”

“Draco Malfoy, sir,” he said primly.

“Mr. Malfoy, what is the best way to block the killing curse?”

He smirked, having recognised it for a trick question. “The killing curse can’t be—“

Without warning, Emrys chucked his piece of chalk directly at Malfoy’s forehead. Malfoy had drawn his wand to defend himself, but he was too slow. The look of shock that he gave the professor was only accentuated by the splotch of white dust on his forehead.

“Thank you,” said Emrys. “Seventeen points to Slytherin. Mr. Malfoy has just demonstrated the importance of a major lesson that you all learned last year. Can anyone tell me what that was?”

They all looked furtively around at each other; not even Hermione seemed to know what he was referring to.

“CONSTANT VIGILANCE!” Emrys bellowed, causing the class to jump.

“I should have thought that would be drilled into your heads by now,” he calmly continued. “Right then, can anybody tell me what Mr. Malfoy should have done to avoid getting hit in the face just now?”

Now Hermione raised her hand. “He should have cast a shielding charm, such as Protego.”

“Theoretically, yes. But as you saw, he wasn’t able to reach his wand in time, since I already told you to put them away. What he should have done is just move. If he hadn’t been fumbling for his wand, he could’ve easily dodged that. Your wand is a tool, but it’s not the only one you have. If you rely on it too much, it becomes a liability.”

Hermione was furiously taking notes, but the rest of the class seemed to just be listening to his advice rather than treating it as a lesson—even Malfoy was grudgingly paying attention.

Pansy Parkinson raised her hand.


“Was Draco’s answer right, then? About the killing curse?”

“I’m glad you asked,” said Emrys, sitting down on his desk. “Yes and no: if you wrote it on your OWLs, you would be correct. But in practice, the killing curse will be stopped by walls, for example. If you can dodge it or dive for cover, you’ll live. But you can also block it with magic by manipulating your environment—for example, causing a wall to jump in front of you. Creativity will save your life.”

“Does this mean we’re going to be learning to use defensive spells?” a boy in the back asked.

Emrys acted as if he had no idea what he was talking about. “Use spells? As opposed to what? Writing them on a piece of paper and chucking them at people? Of course you should know how to use them, this is a school. Besides, you never know what kind of danger you’ll run into unexpectedly.”

“Like You-Know-Who?” Malfoy asked in a mocking voice.

“No, I’m afraid I don’t know who.”

“You know—“ said Pansy in a low voice. “He Who Must Not Be Named.”

Emrys raised an eyebrow. “Well, someone had better name him.”

“The Dark Lord!” Malfoy exclaimed.

“If there’s another Dark Lord running around, then yeah, go ahead and use these spells on him.”

“But do you believe he’s really back?” Seamus Finnegan asked.

“Mr. Malfoy just told me he was back.”

“No I didn’t!” Malfoy cried.

“Well, then why did you bring him up?”

When no one answered right away, he announced, “Right then, let’s get on with it. Today, you’re going to be duelling with Pixies.”

This caused rather an uproar. “Pixies?” “Duelling?” 

“Anything to get a pass to attack those little gits,” Ron muttered in Harry’s ear.

“Hey!” Emrys shouted, bringing a cage into the room. “Listen up. Each Pixie is worth one house point. Bring me as many as you can, unharmed, however you can manage it. You lose points if you hurt them or your classmates, or if you get bit.”

“But how do we do it?” someone asked frantically.

“I don’t care,” he said, and opened the cage.

The class was instantly thrown into chaos, Pixies filling the air like insects. Several people were screaming or shouting, and a few people were being lifted into the air. Emrys was sitting on his desk, watching the proceedings from within an impermeable golden bubble. Harry tried to accomplish the same thing, but he couldn’t force the shield to go all the way around him, so Pixies kept ripping out tiny handfuls of his hair from behind. Bright flashes of spells were fired into the air from every direction, and a number of Gryffindors were fistfighting with the tiny creatures, with only moderate success.

The Slytherins, meanwhile, started forming groups and standing back-to-back, shooting stunning spells into the air; a few of them would break off every so often to pick the Pixies off the floor and bring them up to the professor, who returned them to the cage and added to the tally on the blackboard behind him. The Gryffindors started forming groups soon after, but a few of them started running over to steal some of the Slytherins’ pixies, and soon Slytherin thieves joined in too.

When there were only a few Pixies left in the air, Emrys clapped his hands once. “All right!” he shouted over the noise, which quickly died down as the Pixies, too, turned to listen. “Pixies, come get back in the cage, please.”

Surprisingly, the Pixies followed instructions, though a few were looking rather longingly back at the huddles of students. The total on the blackboard was, unfortunately, slightly in Slytherin’s favour.

“I’ll zap you if I have to,” Emrys warned the stragglers.

When they were all safely back in the cage, he turned to the class.

“All right, you lot. Come up here one at a time and get some of this potion,” he said, indicating a cauldron now sitting on his desk. “Make sure you put it on all of your bites. You don’t want any of them to get infected, you never know what’s on their teeth—no offence.”

As everyone who had been bitten lined up, Emrys continued, “This exercise was mostly to figure out where you’re all at in this class in a way that’s more fun than testing, so next time we’re going to be working on some new spells that come in handy in a variety of situations, and which will almost definitely be on your OWLs.”

The bell rang moments later, and Harry, Ron and Hermione lagged behind to talk to Robin before their next class.

“That went well,” said Ron cheerfully.

“Even if you did chuck something at Malfoy’s head,” Harry added.

Emrys shrugged. “He did volunteer.”

“I just hope he won’t go to his father and try to get Umbridge reinstated.”

“Snakes stick together,” said Robin, organising the papers on his desk. “He wouldn’t turn on a fellow Slytherin, even if I am eccentric.”

“Wait,” said Ron. “Were you actually in Slytherin? I thought that was just a cover.”

“Er, yeah. The hat was going to put me in Hufflepuff because I was friendly, but when it realised I had already made two first years forget their own names, it chucked me right in Slytherin.”

“Why—?” Harry began.

“It was too good to pass up,” Robin laughed. “They were named Silas and Elias, and they called each other the wrong name once or twice, so I eventually convinced them they had gotten each other mixed up. When Silas was called, they both went up at the same time to try and find out which one was which. It was great. Anyway, you three had better hurry to your next class.”

Harry was walking once more along a windowless corridor, his footsteps echoing in the silence. As the door at the end of the passage loomed larger, his heart beat faster. If he could only open it, enter beyond… He stretched out his hand. His fingertips were inches from it—

Harry woke with a jolt and a flash of anger. Another corridor dream, he thought, rubbing his stinging eyes. The strange, foreign dreams were making it difficult for him to get a good night’s sleep. He wouldn’t go to Dumbledore with it, as Ron had suggested; he had stopped ignoring Harry, for the most part, but he was still busy, and Harry had barely heard from him since the Order meeting.

Maybe Robin could help. He’d ask him tomorrow.

As they didn’t have Defence the next day, the first time Harry was able to speak with him was at the D.A. meeting, which Hermione was still insisting they hold despite the fact that Umbridge wasn’t their teacher anymore. Harry supposed it wasn’t an altogether bad idea, but it did seem rather odd to have their new teacher attend their study group in disguise as a fifteen-year-old.

“How do you even keep these aliases straight?” he asked as Robin led the way to the Room of Requirement.

“It’s a logistical nightmare,” he responded cheerfully, “and it’s going to drive me to an early grave. So to speak.”

There was indeed a tapestry depicting dancing trolls in the corridor Robin had described. Across from a blank stretch of wall, Barnabas the Barmy was, in theory, attempting to train them for the ballet, but at the moment, several of the trolls were busy clubbing their would-be teacher.

Feeling rather foolish, Harry followed Robin as he paced in front of the wall three times, Hermione and Ron directly behind them, one whispering and the other scrunching his eyes shut in concentration. Harry repeated to himself, We need somewhere to learn to fight… somewhere where Umbridge can’t find us…

“Harry!” Hermione yelped.

A polished wooden door had appeared in the wall. Ron was looking at it rather warily, but Robin turned the brass handle and walked in ahead of them. Inside, it was spacious, and brightly lit by rows of flickering torches. The walls were lined with bookcases, and large silk cushions lay scattered on the floor nearby. At the far end of the room, a set of shelves carried instruments like a variety of Sneakoscopes, what appeared to be the very same Foe-Glass that Moody’s impostor had had in his office last year, and a Secrecy Sensor that was vibrating so much it fell right off its shelf.

“That’s rather concerning,” said Hermione, eyeing it suspiciously.

Robin shrugged. “This is a secret meeting in which we’re teaching ourselves to fight, potentially against the government. I’d say it’s justified.” But he did Vanish it to make it shut up.

Well, since the Sneakoscope would surely be going haywire if anyone was doing something untrustworthy nearby, Harry didn’t worry too much about it. 

“These will be good when we’re practicing Stunning, “ said Ron enthusiastically, prodding one of the cushions with his foot.

Hermione had already sank into the nearest cushion with one of the books from the shelves.

It wasn’t long before the others that Hermione had informed began to arrive, starting with Ginny, Neville, Lavender, Parvati and Dean.

“Whoa,” said Dean, looking impressed. “What is this place?”

More people streamed in as Harry explained (and re-explained), and by eight o’clock, every cushion was occupied.

“I thought you were ill?” somebody asked Robin—er, Will.

“No,” he said, “I was ‘ill.’ Big difference. Would you want your grandfather teaching you?”

When they were satisfied, be muttered to Harry, “I told you. Logistical nightmare. How exactly am I supposed to attend my own classes? I blame you for this particular conundrum, I’ll have you know.”

Harry just grinned at him. When everyone had started to look to the front of the room for him to start, Hermione set her book aside, which Harry took as a cue to begin.

“Well,” he said, a slight tremor in his voice, “This is the place, and you’ve, er, obviously found it okay.”

“It’s fantastic!” said Cho.

“It’s bizarre,” said Fred. “Last time we were here, it was just a broom cupboard, remember, George?”

“Well,” he continued, “I’ve been thinking about the sort of stuff we ought to do first and, er—” He noticed a raised hand. “What, Hermione?”

“I think we ought to have a name,” she said brightly without lowering her hand. “It would promote team spirit, don’t you think?”

“Can we be the Anti-Umbridge League?” said Angelina hopefully. “Or the Ministry of Magic are Morons Group?” suggested Fred.

“I was thinking,” said Hermione, frowning at Fred, “more of a name that didn’t tell everyone what we were up to, so we can refer to it safely outside meetings.”

“The Defence Association?” said Cho. “The D.A. for short, so nobody knows what we’re talking about?”

“Yeah, the D.A.’s good,” said Ginny. “Only let’s make it stand for Dumbledore’s Army, because that’s the Ministry’s worst fear, isn’t it?”

There was a good deal of appreciative murmuring and laughter at this.

“All in favour of the D.A.?” said Hermione bossily, kneeling up on her cushion to count. “That’s a majority: motion passed!”

“Right,” said Harry, when she had sat down again, “shall we get practicing then? I was thinking, the first thing we should do is Expelliarmus, you know, the Disarming Charm. I know it’s pretty basic but I’ve found it really useful—”

“Oh, please,” said Zacharias Smith, rolling his eye s and folding his arms. “I don’t think Expelliarmus is exactly going to help us against You-Know-Who, do you?”

“I’ve used it against him,” said Harry quietly. “It saved my life in June.” 

Smith opened his mouth stupidly. The rest of the room was very quiet.

“Okay,” said Harry, his mouth slightly drier than usual with all these eyes upon him, “I reckon we should all divide into pairs and practice.”

It felt very odd to be issuing instructions, but not nearly as odd as seeing them followed. Everybody got to their feet at once and divided up.

“Right. On the count of three, then. One, two, three—“

The room was suddenly full of shouts of Expelliarmus. Wands flew in all directions; missed spells hit books on shelves and sent them flying into the air. Glancing around, he thought he had been right to suggest they practice the basics first; there was a lot of shoddy spellwork going on; many people were not succeeding in Disarming their opponents at all, but merely causing them to jump backwards a few paces or wince as their feeble spell whooshed over them. Ernie Macmillan was flourishing his wand unnecessarily, giving his partner time to get in under his guard. The Creevey brothers were enthusiastic but erratic, and mainly responsible for all the books leaping off the shelves around them.

This was going to be a long night, but he could actually help them with this. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

He walked around the room giving suggestions and, on one occasion, preventing Fred and George from interfering with the other duels, but now they seemed deeply occupied in a conversation with Robin. Hopefully he was giving them advice on improving their accuracy.

“Hey, Harry,” Hermione soon called from the other end of the room, “have you checked the time?”

He was shocked to see that it was already past nine, which meant they needed to get back to their common rooms immediately if they wanted to avoid Filch.

“Well, that was pretty good,” said Harry, “but we’ve overrun, we’d better leave it here. Same time, same place next week?”

“Sooner!’ said Dean Thomas eagerly and many people nodded in agreement.

Angelina quickly said, “The Quidditch season’s about to start, we need team practices too!”

“Let’s say next Wednesday night, then,” said Harry. “We can decide on additional meetings then. Come on, we’d better get going.”

He pulled out the Marauder’s Map again and checked it carefully for signs of teachers on the seventh floor. He let them all leave in threes and fours, watching their tiny dots anxiously to see that they returned safely to their dormitories.

When it was finally just the four of them left, Robin said, “That went great, Harry! But you’d better get up there before Filch starts making his rounds.”

“Can you come with us?” Harry asked. “I wanted to ask you about something.”

By the time they had reached the Fat Lady’s portrait, he had explained all about the recurring dreams—how he felt like he was searching for something, the frustration, the unrecognisable hallways… and Robin was looking increasingly worried.

“I fear it might be Riddle, Harry,” he said quietly when they entered the empty common room. “We know he’s looking for something. Try practicing your Occlumency exercises right before you go to bed, all right? That should help. In the meantime, I can put a shield on you, if you’re all right with it, but I’ll have to renew it every so often.”

Harry agreed, and a moment later, he felt as if something had receded from his mind slightly, like an oncoming headache he hadn’t quite noticed yet, one which was still a slight pressure behind the eyes.

“Any better?” Robin asked.

He nodded.

“But if Harry can see what You-Know-Who’s doing,” said Ron, “couldn’t we try and stop him before he kills again?”

“Not if it works both ways,” said Robin. “We would have no way of knowing what’s real and what isn’t. And we can only hope that Riddle hasn’t already found out about it.”

Chapter Text

Umbridge’s inspections continued the next week with Professors Flitwick, Sprout and Emrys, and Hermione was actually looking forward to the latter—as was everyone else, it seemed. When she, Ron and Harry entered the Great Hall that morning, there was a lot more whispering than usual, and for once it wasn’t about Harry, but about Robin. Surprisingly, even the Slytherins seemed to be rooting for Professor Emrys, now that they knew he was one of them.

“Do you think she’ll go easy on him because they’re both Slytherins?” one Gryffindor murmured as the trio walked past to their normal seats.

“No way, he took her job!”

“And he’s peculiar, to boot.”

“This is going to be a good day,” said Ron confidently before digging into his breakfast with gusto.

Hermione busied herself with her research on Gellert Grindelwald, wondering if Voldemort might have taken inspiration from him—so far, the search for Hogwarts artefacts had turned up nothing.

By that afternoon, she still had nothing, but she got good marks back on her homework in her morning classes, and soon it was time for Defence, which she found herself enjoying more as they mastered new spells—although she suspected that might change today, if Robin really did want to keep his job.

When they filed into class, he and Umbridge were already there, the latter lurking a few feet behind him. Hermione noted that he had made one concession by wearing a plain brown robe over his usual clothes; but it soon transpired that that was only because he had a Plan.

“It has come to my attention that many of you are not aware that Thestrals exist,” said Emrys when they were all settled. “That is problematic, since a herd of them live on the Hogwarts grounds and you are liable to come across one. It may also come up on your OWL exam, because although they are not generally aggressive, the Ministry still considers them dangerous dark creatures, so you must be on the lookout for them. Therefore, we will be studying our local herd today.”

He strode to the door and turned. “Well? You all coming or not?”

Hesitantly, the class got back up and followed the professor outside, Umbridge trailing in their wake. She had evidently not been aware of today’s lesson plan, because her bright pink high heels were continually getting stuck in the soft grass and becoming dirtied with mud. The ancient man leading them, on the other hand, seemed to have no difficulty walking briskly up and down still-dewy hills for several minutes until they reached their apparent destination.

“Do not fear,” said Emrys, stopping abruptly in the middle of a field as Umbridge struggled to catch up, “we will not be going anywhere near the Forbidden Forest today, though I can assure you that there are plenty of creatures—dark and otherwise—who live in there. As a side note, I do not recommend you enter, as centaurs can be very territorial.”

“First,” he continued as Umbridge stumbled and panted up the hill, “you must learn to recognise the Thestral. You would think that would be the easy part, but it is in fact quite difficult for most people. Only those who have seen someone die are able to see Thestrals; to the rest of you, they are invisible.”

Most people looked around apprehensively at this, looking for anything that might conceivably be a Thestral. Umbridge was doing the same, and Hermione saw that the parchment on her clipboard was still blank: she must have been unable to write while trying to avoid sinking into the ground on their way here, and now she was too worried about Thestrals to start scribbling as she usually did.

“Have you noticed how cold it is today?” said Emrys. “How many of you can see your breath in front of you?”

Eventually, they all raised their hands.

“Good,” said the professor. “Now, do me a favour and hold your breath for a few seconds.”

As they did so, they noticed what he had wanted them to see: small clouds of vapour were appearing a few feet in front of them, emerging from midair before dissipating and returning again. The class collectively took a few steps back.

“I already told you, they won’t hurt you. These are domesticated Thestrals. They’re most similar to horses, although they’re black and rather skeletal. They also have wings which are flight-capable.”

“You can see them, then?” a Slytherin asked.

“I can. There are only two with us today,” he said as he gestured, presumably, to the Thestrals. “Their names are Tenebrus and Umbra.”

“I can see them,” said Neville quietly.

“Me too,” said Harry, a little louder.

“So can I,” said a Slytherin Hermione didn’t recognise.

“Then you will all have an advantage in today’s class, and hopefully on your OWLs.”

He patted the air beside him, and Hermione noticed a few hoof prints in the soft grass.

“Thestrals have been used for transportation in the past, although it is not generally advisable, especially to those who cannot see them. Their hairs have also been used in wands, and are said to be especially powerful. Here at Hogwarts, Thestrals pull the carriages that take you up to the castle.”

He waited a few seconds as the students talked quietly amongst themselves, asking each other what they saw.

“All right!” he said brightly. “Let’s return to the classroom so we can examine the section about Thestrals in your books.”

He headed back towards the castle in the same sprightly fashion with which he had departed, leaving Umbridge behind once more as she staggered around like a foal in the mud. 

“Would you like us to slow down, Inquisitor?” Emrys asked kindly. “We of course have our Ministry-approved book chapters still to get through, but I’m sure we have time to…”

Umbridge shook her head and waved her hand to continue, but she appeared to be too out of breath to properly respond.

“Wonderful,” he said, and they continued.

Fortunately, the Gryffindors and Slytherins were so competitive that neither group was willing to fall behind, meaning that they arrived back in class in record time and with no Umbridge in sight.

“All right,” said Emrys when they had all taken their seats. “Any questions while we wait for the Inquisitor to arrive?”

Seamus Finnegan raised his hand. “I accidentally squashed a beetle a few weeks ago. Why can’t I see the Thestrals?”

There was a scattering of laughter at his, but the professor answered, “It’s a good question, actually, because I oversimplified somewhat when I said you had to ‘see’ death. Really, you must confront and then accept death. This doesn’t really apply in the case of insects because you don’t know them, you aren’t able to communicate with them, and even if you feel a little guilty about it, you generally don’t have any particular feelings about all the ants you step on. Sometimes if you have to watch a pet die, you might be able to see Thestrals afterwards, but only if you were especially close and if you were there when it died.”

The door opened and Umbridge bustled in, trying her best not to breathe loudly. She seemed to have attempted to scrape most of the mud off her shoes, but she was only partially successful, and there were still splatters on her calves as well.

“Well,” Emrys said, ignoring her completely, “if there are no further questions, please start on chapter twenty-five of Defensive Magical Theory, ‘Dark Creatures and How to Avoid Them’. Let me know if you have questions.”

Hermione raised her hand.

He squinted at her. “What, already?”

“Er, Professor, I already read the entire book.”

“Oh, excellent, then you can go ahead and get started on the homework, which is a foot-long essay on non-magical defensive strategies. You can draw on what we learned in the first lesson.”

With a flick of his wand, he copied his instructions onto the blackboard, then sat at his desk and started writing. Umbridge hovered awkwardly behind him, having nothing whatsoever to write down. Hermione started on her essay and surreptitiously watched the Inquisitor until she marched primly up to Emrys to start her habitual interrogation.

“I understand that you are the grandfather of William Emrys, a fifth-year Gryffindor?”

“I am,” he said without looking up.

“And would you also be related to a Robin Emrys?”

“That name sounds familiar. I believe he’s a distant cousin. Why, has he done something?”

“He testified as a witness at the disciplinary hearing for Mr. Potter here,” she replied with a creepy smile in their direction.

“Oh, good,” said Emrys, sounding relieved. “I was afraid it was going to be more of his habitual shenanigans.”

Umbridge floundered. “You were sorted into Slytherin when you attended Hogwarts, then?”

“I was.”

Umbridge poised her quill above her clipboard again. “So, how long have you been a professor?”

“Er…” he pulled up his sleeve to check his watch. “About four days, unless you count the weekend.”

Harry snorted; Hermione elbowed him. The Inquisitor wasn’t supposed to be able to give detentions, but he still shouldn’t push it.

“Ah!” said Umbridge. “So you have no prior teaching experience?”

“Yes, I do,” Emrys replied. “I have taken on pupils as they come and go for… roughly sixty years. That was in addition to my regular work.”

“Which is?”

“I was a Healer; when I retired, I began inventing spells and potions.”

“I see,” said Umbridge primly, finally writing something down. “Could you give me an example?”

Everyone who had previously been pretending to read was now watching the exchange rather blatantly.

“Certainly,” said Emrys, pulling out his wand and finally standing up (causing him to tower nearly two feet over Umbridge).

He waved his wand, mumbled something unintelligible, and then stood there looking expectantly at Umbridge.

She looked around. “I don’t—“

They were interrupted by a knock at the door.

“Enter,” Emrys called.

The door opened to reveal… Emrys.

“How’s this for an example?” the professor in the doorway asked in his familiar, croaky voice.

A wide-eyed Umbridge looked back and forth between the two identical figures, as did the students. She could not seem to find anything to say. The projection disappeared with a jaunty wave, and the professor returned to his work, Umbridge staring down at him.

After a moment, she scanned the students to begin her interrogation of them. Predictably, she headed to the Slytherins first for dirt, but just as with Professor Snape, if they had complaints, they didn’t voice them. So instead, Umbridge went around the room questioning people on the material they had learned. That method also proved unsuccessful, since they remembered nothing from her lessons but plenty about Thestrals, which they had just heard about ten minutes ago.

She avoided Harry, thank Merlin, and finally gave up to return to the front of the classroom, where she took her place standing just over his shoulder.

“Hem, hem,” she said at length. Emrys did not seem to notice.

She repeated the noise.

Then she shuffled closer and did it again.

“Professor?” she finally said.

He looked up. “Yes?”

“I’m sorry,” she said sweetly. “I didn’t realise you were hard of hearing. I shall endeavour to speak more loudly in the future.”

“Oh,” he said, “was that meant to speech? My apologies, I assumed you had a head cold; I didn’t want to embarrass you by drawing attention to it. In the future, feel free to speak at a normal volume, as long as words are involved in some fashion—preferably English, but we don’t discriminate here.”

Umbridge bristled, but continued in her usual sickly voice. “I see. Well, I was going to ask, why have you allowed your grandson to miss all of your lessons so far? I do hope he hasn’t fallen ill again…”

“I’m afraid he did,” said Emrys, “and I’m sure he will again, as he’s sickly, but so far, he only missed one lesson.”

“Well, you see, he was absent for your first, and if you add today to that number…”

Emrys squinted at her. “He’s right there,” he said, pointing to a seat in the back of the class.

And there, indeed, he was—impossibly. ‘Will’ was staring glassy-eyed at his textbook, seemingly failing to notice that he was the topic of conversation. Hermione could guess how he had done it, of course, being that he had just demonstrated the spell two minutes ago, but Umbridge seemed thoroughly baffled. Of course, she was still under the misapprehension that the student and the professor were two different people. A few of the students appeared confused too, but they shrugged it off.

“Erm… very well, then. So,” she quickly transitioned, “what are your plans for this class for the remainder of the year?”

“Why, I’ll be following the Ministry’s curriculum, of course.”

“Of course,” Umbridge simpered. “But dragging the class across the grounds to confront a herd of dark creatures is highly irregular, don’t you agree?”

Emrys laughed with and waved his hand. “Oh, a good constitutional never hurt anyone. Besides, two ancient, domesticated Thestral nags are hardly a herd.”

“Nags?” she asked.

“Yes, extremely old and effectively lame.”

“I am well aware of the definition of the term,” she said with an edge in her voice.

“Ah, of course, you must not have been able to see them. If you had, you would certainly have noticed how decrepit and harmless they were. If anyone were afraid of them, I would have serious doubts about their ability to proceed to the NEWT level in this class.”

The bell seemed to surprise Umbridge when it rang, but Emrys immediately started packing his things.

“Thank you for reading so diligently, class,” he said with a small smile. “And don’t forget your homework.”

As the professor and his students bustled about and headed for the door, Umbridge tried to insert herself once more.

“You will receive the results of your inspection in ten days’ time,” she said rather shrilly.

“I look forward to it,” Emrys said sincerely as he shouldered his bag. “And I’m sure the Minister is, as well. He and I are in agreement that the state of this school is in dire need, and your reports are crucial to the continuance of this program.”

When Hermione, Ron and Harry left, she was still staring down at her sparsely annotated clipboard.

“That was fun,” Harry reflected.


‘Will’ had emerged from the crowd behind them, a grin on his now-beardless face. He must have shrunk himself back down quickly, because Umbridge had just emerged from their classroom and seemed to be looking around for his older self.

“I really have to figure out a way to get William Emrys out of the picture, though,” he said. “I can’t really project myself into places where I can’t see—I could be sitting in midair beside my chair, for all I know. And I certainly couldn’t answer any questions.”

“Mumblemumps again?” Ron asked.

Robin grimaced. “It may come to that.”

As they continued down the hallway in amidst the stream of students, Hermione said, “I’m going to the library. You two should really come with me if you want to get any work done.”

“Can’t yet, Hermione,” said Harry. “We’re going to practice.”

“Quidditch practice?” she asked. “I thought that was at seven.”

“We’re practicing for practice,” Ron explained. “Since I’m new and all.”

Hermione just rolled her eyes.

“Mind if I tag along with you guys?” Robin asked the boys. “Unless it’s weird, since you were just in my class.”

“No, come with us,” said Ron. “It’s not like we stop being friends with Harry after he leads D.A. meetings.”

“Cool. See you later then, Hermione.”

“Yeah,” said Harry, “have fun in the library.”

She shook her head as they headed outside. Well, she would have fun in the library, thank you very much.

Hermione had already finished most of her homework, so after finalising her Defence and Potions essays, she eagerly went back to her book on Grindelwald. There weren’t a lot of objects or artefacts associated with him, unfortunately, but she did read that he had been looking for some unnamed powerful magical object; whether he ever found it was unclear. She flipped quickly through the pages to look for pictures of him that might reveal a piece of jewellery or some other item that could hold that sort of power, but the only thing she saw was a vial that was apparently the remnant of a blood pact between Grindelwald and—Albus Dumbledore? That was odd.

She had heard of their legendary battle in 1945, of course, which resulted in Grindelwald’s ultimate incarceration, but this indicated that they had known each other well before that—and, what’s more, had evidently trusted each other. If that was the case, perhaps Professor Dumbledore was the best person to ask about any possible link between Grindelwald and Voldemort. She couldn’t very well talk to him about it herself, though. Perhaps she could ask Robin to do it, as he was an adult, and now a member of staff as well.

Maybe it was that thought that made Hermione notice it. Because there, in a grainy, black-and-white picture on the top right corner of the page, was the person she’d just been thinking about: Robin. He was right there, in the background of one of the photos taken during Grindelwald’s arrest. Despite the low quality of the moving picture, she recognised him immediately; she could clearly see his angular face and black hair—even the ears that stuck out slightly. And he appeared to be the same age he was now, maybe around twenty-five… could it be his father? But she’d seen his father when he confronted the Boggart, and he looked nothing like this. An uncannily similar uncle?

But Hermione knew that face. She desperately scanned the article and the caption for any indication of who he was, but there was no mention of him: the caption simply said “Gellert Grindelwald, arresting officers, and onlookers.” It had to be him—right? But that would make him at least seventy-five, probably. Maybe his older alias, ‘Ambrose’ Emrys, was what he really looked like. But why would anyone go to the trouble of expending constant energy to age themselves back fifty-odd years? It was unsustainable, and it didn’t eliminate the aches and pains of age; otherwise, everyone would do it. On the other hand, if, as Moody had said, he wasn’t really human, that could explain a longer lifespan. But in that case, what was he? And perhaps more importantly, why had he monitored Grindelwald, just as he was monitoring Voldemort now?

The first step, Hermione decided as she copied the picture onto a parchment and closed her book, was to determine exactly when he had attended Hogwarts—assuming that was even true—and hopefully even find his records. Ideally, she would like to speak to the Sorting Hat, but it would be almost impossible to sneak into the headmaster’s office even if she could borrow Harry’s Invisibility Cloak; and she didn’t want to tell him and Ron about it yet for fear of them thinking she was being paranoid again.

The Hogwarts ghosts might be a good recourse: in this case, the Bloody Baron. If a former Slytherin student was back here teaching, he would certainly know something about it. However, it took Hermione about forty-five minutes of wandering around the dungeons (and avoiding live Slytherins) to find him.

“Excuse me!” she nearly shouted when she caught sight of him floating idly down a corridor.

He looked around for another student she might be talking to. “Yes?” he finally said.

“Er,” she started, suddenly nervous. “Would you—would you mind if I asked you a question?”

He sniffed. “I… suppose you may.”

“I seem to have come across someone who’s lived an unnaturally long time,” she said carefully, staying vague for now, “and I’m worried that You-Know-Who might be trying to use whatever method he’s using. I wanted to see if you knew anything about this person.”

“Do you mean Nicolas Flamel?” he asked. “Because the Philosopher’s Stone he created has been destroyed.”

“No,” said Hermione, “this isn’t the same. This person… he seems to age very, very slowly. But I don’t know how old he is, exactly. That’s why I was wondering if you had seen him around, because I know he attended Hogwarts.”

“No,” the Baron answered quickly. “I don’t know of anyone like that.”

“But I haven’t even told you what he looks like,” said Hermione. “How do you know you haven’t seen him?”

The Baron looked at her carefully. “I would think I would notice someone who never ages, but I suppose I could ask around if you have a description.”

“I can do better than that,” said Hermione, pulling out the photograph she had copied.

The Baron went even whiter than usual. “Where did you get this?”

“Er—“ She faltered. “From a library book?”

“Which one?” he insisted with a strange tone of urgency.

“Erm… I don’t remember,” she lied.

“Come,” he said, gliding quickly down the hall, “we have to find that book.”

“Why?” she asked as she chased after him.

“… So I can answer your questions.”

Suddenly, Hermione realised the Baron couldn’t run off now that he wanted her to show him the book; she stopped dead in the corridor, staring expectantly at him. 

“You know what it is he’s hiding, don’t you?”

“I don’t know anything of the sort,” the Baron replied, still hovering rather far away. “I’m just curious to see this book.”

“And you’re hiding it too!” she continued. “Why would you do that for him? You’re a ghost, he can’t do anything to you!”

“Did it ever occur to you,” he replied tartly, floating closer, “that I might just respect this person?”

“Ghosts don’t concern themselves with the world of the living. And besides, why would you involve yourself in the lies of someone centuries younger than you? Why do you care?”

He didn’t say anything, but he wouldn’t look directly at her, either. Hermione was struck with a worrisome idea.

“Unless… you knew him when he was alive. Unless he wasn’t younger than you.”

“That’s absurd,” exclaimed the Baron with a snort. “No one could live that long.”

“But you were one of the first to attend Hogwarts,” she said, ignoring him. “So that would mean—“

“Don’t be ridiculous, girl,” he interrupted. “I didn’t know him.”

“But you wouldn’t forget a Slytherin, either. And not one as strange as he is. I’m sure one of the ghosts will be able to tell me something.”

“They won’t,” said the Baron with certainty.

He floated through the wall and was gone. Hermione wondered if he was still headed for the library, but it didn’t matter. She already had the photograph. She looked at it again, just to confirm that she wasn’t crazy, before setting off to find Nearly Headless Nick. He was much younger than the other three, but the most likely to accidentally let something slip.

She was very doubtful about the idea that Robin was almost nine hundred years old, of course (for a number of reasons, foremost of which was the fact that it was completely inconceivable), but perhaps if she went around spouting ridiculous theories, someone would feel the need to correct her. Fortunately, she soon came across Sir Nicholas.

“Ah, Miss Granger!” he said genially. “I hope your classes have been going well so far.”

“Yes, they have, Sir Nicholas, thank you,” she said politely. “Especially since I discovered that the new Defence teacher is a thousand years old.”

Sir Nick’s eyes positively ballooned. “Where in Mer—where did you hear such a thing?”

“Er…“ Proving it was another matter entirely. “I found a picture of him—from a hundred years ago—where he looks exactly the same. Then I talked to the Bloody Baron about it.”

“He didn’t say anything, did he!” the ghost exclaimed, looking just as fearful as the Baron had. “There’s no way he would ever…”

He eyed her suspiciously. “I should confer with him, in fact… good day, Miss Granger.”

And he had disappeared through the floor before she could respond.

Well, that wasn’t especially helpful, but at least she was fairly sure all the ghosts were in on… whatever this was. Maybe Peeves would be more talkative, but he might just throw dungbombs at her instead. It depended entirely on his mood. 

Chapter Text

Robin came back from the Room of Requirement a little late, having stayed behind for a few minutes to talk to Fred and George about something Ron was sure he would find out about later.

“Hey,” he said when he came through the portrait, “did you guys know Hagrid’s back?”

By unspoken agreement, the trio immediately scrambled out of their chairs to put on some warm clothes, and to grab the Invisibility Cloak and the Marauder’s Map. Ron had to crouch to keep his feet from showing under the Cloak. They tried to make room for Robin to accompany them, but there was no way he could fit too.

“I’ll just transform and follow you,” he said. “I’d like to meet Hagrid in person.”

“Shouldn’t you do an ageing spell first?” Hermione asked.

“No, Hagrid’s in the Order, so he can know I’m both people.”

“I hope he’s okay,” said Ron, a sudden feeling of dread coming over him.

“I’m sure he’s fine,” said Hermione rather uncertainly.

The four of them crept down the staircases, across the Entrance Hall, and out onto the cold, silent grounds without meeting a single person apart from Nearly Headless Nick. Hagrid’s windows were finally lit up, and smoke coiled up from his chimney. It started to snow as they hurried towards the cabin.

Robin transformed early so as not to startle Hagrid, then Harry knocked at the door. Inside, a dog started barking frantically.

“Hagrid, it’s us!” Harry called through the keyhole.

“Shoulda known!” said a gruff voice. “Bin home three seconds… out the way, Fang…”

The bolt was drawn back, the door creaked open and Hagrid’s head appeared in the gap. Hermione screamed.

“Merlin’s beard, keep it down!” said Hagrid hastily.

Robin jumped slightly and Hagrid stared at him, being the only person he could see.

“Hello,” Robin said. “I came with those three—they’re under the Cloak—we know each other from the Order.”

“All righ’,” he said quickly, “well, get in, get in!”

“I’m sorry!” Hermione gasped as the three of them squeezed past Hagrid into the house and pulled the Cloak off. “I just—oh, Hagrid!”

“It’s nuthin’, it’s nuthin’!” said Hagrid hastily, shutting the door behind them and hurrying to close all the curtains, but Hermione continued to gaze up at him in horror.

Hagrid’s hair was matted with congealed blood, and his left eye had been reduced to a puffy slit amid a mass of purple and black bruising. There were cuts all over his face and hands, some of them still bleeding, and he was moving gingerly. It was obvious that he had only just got home; a thick black traveling cloak lay over the back of a chair and a haversack large enough to carry several small children leaned against the wall inside the door. Hagrid himself limped over to the fire to place a copper kettle over it.

“What happened to you?” Harry demanded, while Fang danced around them all, trying to lick their faces.

“Told yeh, nuthin’,” said Hagrid firmly. “Want a cuppa?”

“Come off it,” said Ron, “you’re in a right state!”

“I’m tellin’ yeh, I’m fine,” said Hagrid, straightening up and turning to beam at them all, but wincing. “Blimey, it’s good ter see yeh three again—had good summers, did yeh?”

“Hagrid, you’ve been attacked!” said Ron.

“Fer the las’ time, it’s nuthin’!” said Hagrid firmly.

“Would you say it was nothing if one of us turned up with a pound of mince instead of a face?” Ron demanded.

“I’m dealin’ with it, all righ’?”

“Professor Hagrid,” said Robin loudly. “Please sit down. I’m a Healer, I can help you with that.”

Hagrid sat, staring strangely at Robin—though his expressions were difficult to read at the moment.

“Do I know you?”

“Er… no, I don’t think so,” Robin said, starting on the cuts on Hagrid’s arms and hands.

He didn’t bother to pull out his wand (if he even had it on him), instead just lightly touching Hagrid’s hairy arms and pulling his hands away as the wounds started to close up.

“Blimey,” said Hagrid. “Where’d you learn ter do tha’?”

“My uncle,” said Robin vaguely, seeming distracted as he continued to glance twitchily at something on the table which was covered up by a tea towel.

“You all righ’?” Hagrid eventually asked.

“What is that?” Robin said quickly, pointing at the thing.

“Oh, this?” Hagrid reached over to remove the tea towel.

There was a piece of raw, green-tinged steak the size of a car tire underneath, and Robin recoiled from it immediately, looking almost as green as the meat did.

“Dragon meat,” he hissed.

“It’s fer—“ Hagrid started.

“It’s okay,” said Robin, resolutely ignoring the slab of meat, “I’ll fix your eye, it’ll be healed in no time. Could somebody cover that—cover it back up, though?”

Harry threw the tea towel back over the steak, giving Robin a weird look—the latter edged as far away from it as possible before muttering a spell to clear Hagrid’s blood off his face and hair. He then traced a finger over his eye, and the bruising started to fade to a yellowish colour as the swelling went down.

“Blimey, feels loads better now, thank yeh,” said Hagrid as Robin started examining his ribs. “What’d yeh say yer name was?”

“I didn’t,” he answered, and held out his hand to shake Hagrid’s. “Robin Emrys.”

“Tha’ sounds familiar.”

“Yeah, I’m the new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor, but under another name and an ageing spell. Don’t ask, impossible to explain.”

“All righ’,” said Hagrid, taking it all in stride.

“Don’t lift anything for the next few weeks at least, if you can avoid it,” Robin warned. “Your ribs are still healing—eye, too.”

“So, are you going to tell us what’s happened to you?” Harry asked.

“Can’t, Harry. Top secret. More’n me job’s worth ter tell yeh that.”

“But we’re in the Order now!” Ron protested.

“Did the giants beat you up, Hagrid?” asked Hermione quietly.

“Giants?” said Hagrid. “Who said anythin’ abou’ giants? Who yeh bin talkin’ to? Who’s told yeh what I’ve—who’s said I’ve bin—eh?”

“We guessed,” said Hermione apologetically.

“Oh, yeh did, did yeh?” said Hagrid, surveying them sternly. With a snort, he strode over to the kettle as it started whistling.

“Never known kids like you three fer knowin’ more’n yeh oughta,” he muttered, splashing boiling water into three of his bucket-shaped mugs. “An’ I’m not complimentin’ yeh, neither. Nosy, some’d call it. Interferin’.” But his beard twitched.

“So you have been to look for giants?” said Harry, grinning as he sat down at the table.

Hagrid set tea in front of each of them and sat back down. “Yeah, all righ’, I have. We set off righ’ after term ended—”

“Madame Maxime went with you, then?” Hermione interjected.

“Yeah, tha’s right, it was jus’ the pair of us. An’ I’ll tell yeh this, she’s not afraid of roughin’ it, Olympe. Never complained once about clamberin’ over boulders an’ sleepin’ in caves an tha’. Anyway, once it was light we wen’ down ter see ‘em.”

“Just like that?” said Ron, looking awestruck. “You just walked right into a giant camp?”

“Well, Dumbledore’d told us how ter do it,” said Hagrid. “Give the Gurg gifts, show some respect, yeh know.”

“Give the what gifts?” asked Harry.

“Oh, the Gurg—means the chief.”

“How could you tell which one was the Gurg?” asked Ron.

Hagrid grunted in amusement. “No problem. He was the biggest, the ugliest an’ the laziest. Sittin’ there waitin’ ter be brought food by the others. Name o’ Karkus.”

“What do you give a giant?” asked Ron eagerly. “Food?”

“Nah, he can get food all righ’ fer himself,” said Hagrid. “We took him magic. Giants like magic, jus’ don’ like us usin’ it against ‘em. Anyway, that firs’ day we gave ‘im a branch o’ Gubraithian fire. When we got to talkin’, it was goin’ all righ’. He’d heard o’ Dumbledore, heard he’d argued against the killin’ o’ the last giants in Britain. Seemed ter be int’rested in what he had ter say. Bu’ that night it all wen’ wrong.”

“What d’you mean?” said Ron.

“Well, I told yeh, they’re not meant ter live together. That night a fight broke out. Went on fer hours, yeh wouldn’ believe the noise. An’ when the sun came up, Karkus’s head was lyin’ at the bottom o’ the lake. We tried to negotiate with the new Gurg, Golgomath, bu’ he attacked an’ we ‘ad to run back to our hideout. The nex’ couple o’ days, we watched Death Eaters come an’ go—he didn’ object to them, I s’pose.”

“How d’you know they were Death Eaters?” said Ron.

“Because I recognized one of ‘em,” Hagrid growled. “Macnair, remember him? Bloke they sent ter kill Buckbeak? Maniac, he is. Likes killin’ as much as Golgomath; no wonder they were gettin’ on so well.”

“So Macnair persuaded the giants to join You-Know-Who?” said Hermione desperately.

“Hold yer Hippogriffs, I haven’ finished me story yet!” said Hagrid indignantly, who, considering he had not wanted to tell them anything in the first place, now seemed to be rather enjoying himself. “Me an’ Olympe talked it over an’ we agreed, jus’ ‘cause the Gurg looked like favorin’ You-Know-Who didn’ mean all of ‘em would. We had ter try an’ persuade some o’ the others, the ones who hadn’ wanted Golgomath as Gurg.”

“How could you tell which ones they were?” asked Ron.

“Well, they were the ones bein’ beaten to a pulp, weren’ they?” said Hagrid patiently. “Anyway, we wen’ lookin’ in some o’ the caves for the ones hidin’ out, and we ended up convincin’ six or seven. But they was all badly hurt, an’ when Golgomath’s lot raided the caves, the ones tha’ survived didn’ wan’ no more ter do with us.”

“So... so there aren’t any giants coming?” said Ron, looking disappointed.

“Nope,” said Hagrid, heaving a deep sigh, “but we did wha’ we meant ter do, we g ave ‘em Dumbledore’s message. There’s gotta be a chance they’ll remember Dumbledore’s friendly to ‘em... could be they’ll come—”

They were interrupted by a sudden rapping on the door. Hermione’s mug slipped through her fingers and smashed on the floor; Fang yelped. With a quick movement, Robin stood up, made all their mugs but one disappear with a wave of his hands, and cast his ageing spell over himself.

“You three,” he said in his now-croaky voice as Fang started leaping up at the door, “hide in that corner under the Cloak. Hagrid, I’m the Defence teacher, Ambrose Emrys. Stay calm and open the door, all right?”

Hagrid nodded, pushing Fang out of the way with his foot to pull the door open.

Professor Umbridge was standing in the doorway wearing her green tweed cloak and a matching hat with earflaps. Lips pursed, she leaned back so as to see Hagrid’s face; she barely reached his navel.

“So,” she said slowly and loudly, as though speaking to somebody partially deaf. “You’re Hagrid, are you?”

Without waiting for an answer she strolled into the room, her bulging eyes rolling in every direction.

“Get away,” she snapped, waving her handbag at Fang, who had bounded up to her and was attempting to lick her face.

“Er—I don’ want ter be rude,” said Hagrid, staring at her, “but who the ruddy hell are you?”

“My name is Dolores Umbridge.”

“This is the Hogwarts High Inquisitor,” Emrys added when it became clear she was not going to continue.

“Professor Emrys,” she said sweetly. “May I ask what you’re doing… down here?”

“Introducing myself, of course,” he answered. “And explaining the new measures the Ministry has put in place to keep Hogwarts running smoothly. I was just telling Professor Hagrid how he might get the chance to meet you, so your timing is wonderful.”

“Ah,” said Umbridge. “What is that?” She pointed to Hermione’s smashed mug.

Before Hagrid could speak, Emrys answered. “I’m afraid that was my fault. As a matter of fact—“ He pulled out his wand to clean the mess.

“Then why are there three sets of footprints in the snow leading from the castle doors to this cabin?” she asked sleekly.

Hermione gasped; Ron clapped a hand over her mouth. Luckily, Fang was sniffing loudly around the hem of Professor Umbridge’s robes and she did not appear to have heard.

“I’m glad you asked!” said Emrys cheerfully. “I was, in fact, demonstrating the spell I showed you when you inspected my class. I thought it would be rather amusing to show up with two extra me’s.”

A copy popped up beside him, making both Hagrid and Umbridge jump. Without responding, she wheeled round and strode the length of the cabin, looking around carefully. She bent and peered under the bed. She opened Hagrid’s cupboards. She passed within two inches of where Harry, Ron and Hermione stood pressed against the wall.

After looking carefully inside the enormous cauldron Hagrid used for cooking, she wheeled round again and said, “What has happened to you? How did you sustain that black eye?”

“Oh, I… had a bit of an accident.”

Ron just crossed his fingers that Umbridge believed him, because while Hagrid was great, he was not going to be able to talk his way out of this.

“Right…” she said dubiously. “Where have you been?”

“Where’ve I—?”

“Been, yes,” she said. “Term started two months ago. Another teacher has had to cover your classes. None of your colleagues has been able to give me any information as to your whereabouts. You left no address. Where have you been?”

There was a pause in which Hagrid just stared at her. Ron could almost hear his brain working furiously.

“I—I’ve been away for me health,” he said.

“Evidently he’s been ill for some time now,” Emrys contributed. “We’re lucky to have him back at all, it seems.”

“Dumbledore seemed to think a bit o’ fresh air would do me some good,” said Hagrid.

“Yes, as gamekeeper fresh air must be so difficult to come by,” said Umbridge sweetly.

“Well—change o’ scene, yeh know—“

“Mountain scenery?” said Umbridge swiftly.

The trio exchanged worried glances. She knows.

“Mountains?” Hagrid repeated, clearly thinking fast. “Nope, south o’ France fer me. Bit o’ sun an’… an’ sea.”

“Really?” said Umbridge. “You don’t have much of a tan.”

“Yeah… well… I was ill,” said Hagrid, attempting an ingratiating smile.

Umbridge looked at him coldly; his smile faltered. Then she hoisted her handbag a little higher into the crook of her arm and said, “I shall, of course, be informing the Minister of your late return.”

“Righ’,” said Hagrid, nodding.

“You ought to know, too, that as High Inquisitor it is my unfortunate but necessary duty to inspect my fellow teachers. So I daresay we shall meet again soon enough.”

She turned sharply and marched back to the door.

“Inspecting?” Hagrid asked once she was gone.

“She’s trying to find excuses to get Dumbledore sympathisers out,” said Emrys, pulling the curtain on the window back an inch or so. “You three can come out now, she’s headed back to the castle.”

“Erm... what sort of thing are you planning to do with us in class, Hagrid?” asked Hermione.

“Oh, don’ you worry abou’ that, I’ve got a great load o’ lessons planned,” said Hagrid enthusiastically. “I’ve bin keepin’ a couple o’ creatures saved fer yer OWL year; you wait, they’re somethin’ really special.”

“Erm... special in what way?” asked Hermione tentatively.

“If you bring anything too dangerous,” Emrys clarified, “she’ll try to use it as an excuse to get rid of you. She doesn’t even want me to teach them spells in my class, although I think I threw her off my trail a bit.”

“Look, don’ you go worryin’ abou’ me, I promise yeh I’ve got really good stuff planned fer yer lessons now I’m back… now you lot had better get back up to the castle, an’ don’ forget ter wipe yer footprints out behind yeh!”

“Actually,” said Emrys, “I’ll just Transport you back up. Don’t know why I didn’t do that in the first place. Just grab onto the Cloak so it doesn’t fly away. Who knows where it’d end up.”

That Sunday, Hermione trudged out in two feet of snow to try to convince Hagrid to plan a reasonable lesson, but he wouldn’t tell her any of his plans, or what he was apparently keeping in the forest. Ron just hoped his bruises weren’t related.

Hagrid’s reappearance at the staff table at breakfast next day was not greeted by enthusiasm from all students. Some, like Fred, George and Lee, roared with delight and sprinted up the aisle between the Gryffindor and Hufflepuff tables to wring Hagrid’s enormous hand; others, like Parvati and Lavender, exchanged gloomy looks and shook their heads. Ron knew many of them preferred Professor Grubbly-Plank’s lessons, and the worst of it was that a very small part of him knew that they had good reason: Grubbly-Plank’s idea of an interesting class was not one where there was a risk of someone’s head getting ripped off.

It was with a certain amount of apprehension that Harry, Ron and Hermione headed down to Hagrid’s on Tuesday for his first class, heavily muffled against the cold. Robin joined them about halfway, expressing trepidation at the prospect of Umbridge’s inspection. And they were not only about what Hagrid might have decided to teach them, but also about how the rest of the class, particularly Malfoy and his cronies, would behave if Umbridge was watching them.

However, the High Inquisitor was nowhere to be seen as they struggled through the snow towards Hagrid, who stood waiting for them on the edge of the Forest. Strangely, he appeared to have more bruises again, but Ron was most concerned by the thing he was carrying over his shoulder, which looked like half a dead cow.

“We’re workin’ in here today!” Hagrid called happily to the approaching students, jerking his head back at the dark trees behind him. “Bit more sheltered! Anyway, they prefer the dark.”

“What prefers the dark?” Harry heard Malfoy say sharply to Crabbe and Goyle, a trace of panic in his voice. “What did he say prefers the dark—did you hear?”

“Now, what we’re studyin’ today is pretty rare,” said Hagrid. “I reckon I’m probably the on’y person in Britain who’s managed ter train ‘em.”

They walked for about ten minutes until they reached a place where the trees stood so closely together that it was as dark as twilight and there was no snow at all on the ground. With a grunt, Hagrid deposited his half a cow on the ground and turned to his class, most of whom were creeping from tree to tree towards him, peering around nervously as though expecting to be set upon at any moment.

Hagrid gave an odd, shrieking cry that echoed through the trees; a second later, he did it again. A minute passed in which the class continued to peer nervously over their shoulders and around trees for a first glimpse of whatever it was that was coming.

“Why doesn’t Hagrid call again?” Ron asked.

“Oh, an’ here comes another one! Now… put yer hands up, who can see ‘em?”

Ron looked around for the creatures, baffled, but beside him, Harry raised his hand.

“Yeah… yeah, I knew you’d be able ter, Harry,” he said seriously. “An’ you too, Neville, eh? An’—”

“Excuse me,” said Malfoy in a sneering voice, “but what exactly are we supposed to be seeing?”

For an answer, Hagrid pointed at the cow carcass on the ground. The whole class stared at it for a few seconds, then several people gasped and Parvati squealed. Bits of flesh seemed to be stripping themselves away from the bones and vanishing into thin air; the creatures were invisible?

“What’s doing it?” Parvati demanded in a terrified voice, retreating behind the nearest tree. “What’s eating it?”

“Thestrals,” said Hagrid proudly and Hermione gave a soft “Oh!” of comprehension at Ron’s shoulder. “Hogwarts has got a whole herd of ‘em in here.”

“I think I felt something,” someone exclaimed, “I think it’s near me!”

“Don’ worry, it won’ hurt yen,” said Hagrid patiently. “Righ’, now, who can tell me why some o’ yeh can see ‘em an’ some can’t?”

Hermione raised her hand.

“Go on then,” said Hagrid, beaming at her.

“The only people who can see Thestrals,” she said, “are people who have seen death.”

“Tha’s exactly right,” said Hagrid solemnly. “Ten points ter Gryffindor. Now, Thestrals—”

“Hem, hem.”

Professor Umbridge had arrived. She was standing a few feet away from Harry, wearing her green hat and cloak again, her clipboard at the ready. Hagrid, who had never heard Umbridge’s fake cough before, was gazing in some concern at the closest Thestral, evidently under the impression that it had made the sound.

“Hem, hem.”

“Oh, hello!” Hagrid said, smiling, having located the source of the noise.

“You received the note I sent to your cabin this morning?” said Umbridge, in the same loud, slow voice she had used with him earlier, as though she were addressing somebody both foreign and very slow. “Telling you that I would be inspecting your lesson?”

“Oh, yeah,” said Hagrid brightly. “Glad yeh found the place all righ’! Well, as you can see—or, I dunno—can you? We’re doin’ Thestrals today—”

“I’m sorry?” said Professor Umbridge loudly, cupping her hand around her ear and frowning. “What did you say?”

Hagrid looked a little confused.

“Er—Thestrals!” he said loudly. “Big—er—winged horses, yeh know!”

He flapped his gigantic arms hopefully. Professor Umbridge raised her eyebrows at him and muttered as she made a note on her clipboard: “Has to resort… to crude… sign language.”

“Well… anyway…” said Hagrid, turning back to the class and looking slightly flustered, “erm… what was I sayin’?”

“Appears to have… poor… short-term… memory,” muttered Umbridge, loudly enough for everyone to hear her. Draco Malfoy looked as though Christmas had come a month early; Hermione, on the other hand, had turned scarlet with suppressed rage.

“Oh, yeah,” said Hagrid, throwing an uneasy glance at Umbridge’s clipboard, but ploughing on valiantly. “Yeah, I was gonna tell yeh how come we got a herd. Yeah, so, we started off with a male an’ five females. This one,” he patted thin air, “name o’ Tenebrus, he’s my special favorite, firs’ one born here in the Forest—”

“Are you aware,” Umbridge said loudly, “that the Ministry of Magic has classified Thestrals as ‘dangerous’?”

“My grandfather said,” Robin interjected—in the same tone that Malfoy always said ‘my father’— “that these ones are domesticated. If they weren’t, the Ministry wouldn’t allow them to transport students.”

“Tha’s true,” Hagrid said, looking at him strangely. “These here creatures aren’ any more dangerous than regular horses.”

Umbridge did not respond; she finished writing her last note, then looked up at Hagrid and said, again very loudly and slowly, “Please continue teaching as usual. I am going to walk,” she mimed walking (Malfoy and Pansy Parkinson were having silent fits of laughter) “among the students” (she pointed around at individual members of the class) “and ask them questions.” She pointed at her mouth to indicate talking.

Hagrid stared at her, clearly at a complete loss to understand why she was acting as though he did not understand normal English. Hermione had tears of fury in her eyes now.

“Professor Hagrid,” Robin asked, “is the Inquisitor all right? She’s acting rather strangely, and her shouting is rather disturbing the Thestrals.”

Hagrid didn’t respond right away, but Umbridge walked towards the boy, having apparently latched onto something.

“So you can see them, can you?” she asked sweetly. “Who did you see die?”

Robin hesitated. “My father.”

“Ah. Chronically ill like you, was he?” A few people sniggered.

“No, ma’am. He was killed protecting me from some mercenaries that attacked us because we had magic. I saw them die, too.”

“Killed by Muggles,” she said in a falsely sad tone, shaking her head.

“Yes,” Robin responded, “a mob of them—just like Salazar Slytherin.”

It wasn’t clear whether that was meant as a threat (it never was, with him), but Umbridge seemed to take it as such, moving on to Pansy Parkinson.

“Do you find,” she asked, “that you are able to understand Professor Hagrid when he talks?”

Her answer was almost incoherent because she was trying to suppress her giggles. “No… because—well… it sounds… like grunting a lot of the time.”

“Oh!” Robin interrupted again. “Can we complain about teachers’ voices? Because if so, I would like to formally object to Professor Binns’ constant droning, as I can barely hear him over the slightest breeze. And, of course, you yourself seem to eschew English in favour of making inarticulate noises.”

Umbridge responded by making another inarticulate noise. Her face was contorted in fury, but she couldn’t give him detention, so instead she said, “Fifty points from Gryffindor, Mr. Emrys, for criticising a prof—the High Inspector.”

“But what about Parkinson?” Ron cried. “She just did the same thing.”

Umbridge ignored him. “Well, Hagrid,” she said, still talking rather slowly, “You will receive the results of your inspection in ten days’ time.” She held up ten stubby fingers and bustled from their midst before any more could be said.

“That foul, lying, twisting old gargoyle!” Hermione hissed.

“Sorry about the house points,” said Robin with a grimace. “That went worse than I was expecting.”

“Thanks for trying, mate,” said Ron. “At least it’s over—she didn’t get much.”

“Yeah,” said Harry, “but Fudge is looking for an excuse to get rid of Hagrid, I’m sure.”

Chapter Text

It was already December and they still hadn’t found anything. Merlin had scoured seemingly every place Tom Riddle had ever lived or spent any significant amount of time on the hunt for Horcruxes, and for any indication of what this mysterious object was that Riddle was searching for. Snape said he was keeping it from everyone, even his Death Eaters.

Merlin had thought he might have found something important when he was set upon by Death Eaters in Godric’s Hollow, but it sounded as if they were here on an unrelated matter. Unfortunately, that did not prevent them from attacking him in an alley, so he fought them off as quickly as should reasonably be possible (using a fake wand and Latin spells so as not to draw undue attention to himself). The Stunner that sent one of the hooded figures flying through the air may have been slightly overkill, but he was caught off guard.

He Disapparated as soon as he was able, having found nothing in the village anyway, except the graves of the Potter, Dumbledore and Peverell families. That was an odd intersection, especially if it meant that any of them were inter-related; that could make Harry’s Invisibility Cloak the one from legend. But that couldn’t be what Riddle was after, could it? He didn’t seem to be very big on invisibility. Maybe one of the other Deathly Hallows, if they really existed.

Merlin had been scouring every corner of England for the past weeks—when he wasn’t teaching Defence, or Occlumency, or helping Harry in the D.A. He wondered yet again how he kept getting himself into things like this. But speaking of Hogwarts, he was sure at least one of the Horcruxes would be either in or from the school. It was probably high time he went back there to have a very serious conversation with a couple of ghosts.

As usual, Nick knew nothing, and took about fifteen minutes to tell him so.

The Fat Friar wasn’t especially helpful either, but the Baron vaguely recalled Salazar having worn a rather large golden locket with a snake carved on it, as he had wondered what was inside.

“That sounds familiar,” said Merlin. “Didn’t he say only a Parselmouth could open it? Do you think it’s important?”

“Well, he generally put snakes on anything he thought was important.”

“True,” Merlin admitted. “And if Riddle was really Slytherin’s heir, maybe it was passed down to him.”

“Or he thought it should have been,” the Baron added.

Merlin nodded. “I’ll look for it. Thanks. I’d better try and find Helena.”

On the way there, Peeves tried once again to get him to help out with a prank, but this time, he was joined by Fred and George, who had quickly realised that the real Merlin was even more useful than his portrait. He occasionally helped them work out kinks in their Skiving Snackboxes, but mostly they just had a lot of questions.

“Would You-Know-Who be able to harness your power to make himself immortal like you?”

“First of all,” he said, continuing to search for Helena, “say that a little louder, why don’t you? But I doubt that’s possible, since the only reason I’m still here is because I’m a ‘creature of the Old Religion,’ which I can only assume means I’ll be around as long as magic is. And as far as I know, there’s only one of me. Besides, I was born like this, so I don’t think it’s something you can obtain—whatever ‘it’ is.”

“Then—why… ?”

“Why me?” Merlin asked with a sigh. “I’ve been asking myself and everyone else that for centuries.”

They were quiet for a moment—even Peeves, who seemed to actually be listening.

“Is your crystal from the Crystal Cave?” Fred asked.

“Yeah, actually, that’s why I’m so sure no one can get to it.”

“Weren’t you trapped there by Morgana?”

“Well—“ he frowned. “Yeah, for like, a day or two. I don’t know where people got the idea I was stuck in there for a thousand years or whatever, I got out almost immediately.”

“So she’s stuck in there?”

“Nobody’s stuck in there. She’s dead.”

“You killed her?”

“Yeah, I stabbed her.”

“What?” The twins looked astounded. “You didn’t use magic?”

Merlin shrugged. “Well, I’d fought magical duels with her before, but I had a sword with me that time, so I just… stabbed her.”

Ah, there was Helena, floating through the wall of an inner courtyard.

“I’ll see you guys later,” he said. “I have to talk to the Grey Lady before she disappears.”

He vaulted over the little wall and ran after her. “Helena!”

He wasn’t surprised when she ignored him. Though they were on slightly better terms now, she had been angry for a long time because he hid his immortality from her and the Founders, and because he left Hogwarts rather than admit it. She probably blamed him, at least in part, for Salazar’s split with the others. And maybe she was right.

“Helena!” he called again, trying for a more commanding voice.

She stopped, hovering in midair without turning around.

He kept his distance. “I’m just trying to find these dark objects, Helena—so I can get rid of them. I think the diadem might be one of them. Do you know anything at all?”

When she turned to face him, she didn’t look angry: she looked ashamed.

“I told him where it was, Merlin. He was so nice… he seemed to understand… I was stupid, and he found it and defiled it. He brought it back here, I’m sure of it—hid it somewhere right under Dumbledore’s nose.”

“It’s not your fault,” Merlin sighed. “It’s no one’s but his. He used everyone. You, Dumbledore… I wasn’t even able to stop him from doing all this.”

“My mother would never have fallen for such a trick,” she whispered.

“Of course you think that,” he said. “You’re her daughter. She wouldn’t have wanted to show weakness in front of you, so that you wouldn’t be afraid, but she wasn’t perfect. You know that.”

“Just make sure you destroy it,” she said. “Once and for all. Perhaps then I can move on.”

“I will.” He, of all people, would not begrudge someone their rest—even if he would miss her, at least he would remember her.

Helena nodded and floated away through the wall.

If she was right, where could he have hidden it?

That night was the last D.A. meeting before Christmas break started, and they had a few minutes before everyone arrived in the Room of Requirement to practice Occlumency, which they were all getting rather good at. For now, at least, the dreams had stopped.

Dobby had put some strangely Harry-centric decorations up, so afterwards, they started to get rid of those; by the time the D.A. started arriving, almost all of the golden baubles with Harry’s face had been removed from the ceiling.

“Okay,” Harry said when everyone was present. “I thought this evening we should just go over the things we’ve done so far, because it’s the last meeting before the holidays and there’s no point starting anything new right before a three-week break—”

“We’re not doing anything new?” said Zacharias Smith, in a whisper loud enough to carry through the room. “If I’d known that, I wouldn’t have come.”

“We’re all really sorry Harry didn’t tell you, then,” said Fred loudly.

“We can practice in pairs,” said Harry. “We’ll start with the Impediment Jinx, for ten minutes, then we can get out the cushions and try Stunning again.”

They all divided up, and the room was soon full of intermittent cries of “Impedimenta!” People froze for a minute or so, during which their partner would stare aimlessly around the room watching other pairs at work, then they would unfreeze and take their turn at the jinx. Many of them had improved immensely, especially Neville, who seemed to be gaining some much-needed confidence.

Harry walked around the room assisting pairs, then they switched to Stunning for the rest of the hour. It passed quickly, and Harry made sure to stop them right on time in order to avoid Umbridge and Filch.

“You’re getting really good,” he said, beaming around at them. “When we get back from the holidays we can start doing some of the big stuff—maybe even Patronuses.”

There was a murmur of excitement. The room began to clear in the usual twos and threes, most people wishing Harry a “Happy Christmas” as they went. In a cheerful mood, the four of them started collecting up the cushions and stacking them away.

“I have a couple ideas for Horcruxes to look for,” Merlin said once everyone had gone. “The Bloody Baron said Slytherin used to have a gold locket, and then there’s Ravenclaw’s lost diadem, which the Grey Lady suspects is somewhere in the castle.”

“In Ravenclaw Tower?” Hermione suggested.

“Maybe,” said Merlin, “but I doubt it. Ravenclaws would’ve been scouring the tower for centuries; if it was there, I’m sure they would’ve found it.”

“It could even be in the Room of Requirement,” said Ron. They all turned to him in bafflement.

“What? It’s where I would hide something I didn’t want found. Maybe the locket too—no, I have a feeling it’s closer than that.”

Hermione squinted at him. “What could be closer than here?”

Ron shrugged. “Well, I dunno. Just feel like I’ve seen it before, is all.”

Merlin frowned at him. He seemed to be oddly lucky with these kinds of things… 

“You know what?” he said, striding out of the room. “Let’s check.”

“What?” said Harry as the others followed.

“Well, no harm in checking. And Ron’s right, it could be a good place to hide things. Come on, let’s think about a place where things are hidden.”

So they paced back and forth three times, re-opened the door, and entered… a veritable maze of junk, towers of objects stacked and stacked upon each other for what had to be centuries, as far as the eye could see.

“We’ll never find anything in here,” Harry groaned.

“Accio Horcrux!” Hermione tried. Nothing happened. “Well, it was worth a shot.”

They looked around hopelessly at the mountains of indistinguishable mess.

“I think,” said Merlin, “if it’s here, we can find it. It’s not like he’d bury his Horcrux, would he? He’d want it in a prominent place, maybe even near the entrance where anyone who came in here would pass right by it. Let’s just check—I’ll Transport you back to the common room afterwards so you can avoid Filch.”

They split up to search down the different corridors created by the towering piles, walking slowly so as to avoid missing anything. Merlin picked his way around a sea of broken furniture, hundreds upon hundreds of books, an assortment of dusty old bottles with congealed potions, a number of stained and rusted weapons… there were even a few cages. Some of them were empty, but others contained bizarre-looking skeletons.

“I think I’ve found something!” Harry shouted.

Merlin made his way towards the sound of his voice as the others called, “What is it?” “Where are you?”

“Over here!” Harry answered as Merlin rounded the final corner before almost running into him.

“There you are,” he said. “What did you find?”

Harry held up a dusty, battered tiara with a small blue stone in it.

“Is that it?” Hermione asked as she rushed over to them.

“Oh,” said Ron, coming from the other direction, “so that’s what a diadem is.”

Hermione glared at him.

“Do you think this is it?” Harry asked, holding it up to the light.

“It definitely feels evil,” Merlin replied. Just standing near the thing was making him feel sick.

“It says something,” said Hermione, “look. ‘Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure’.”

“That has to be it,” said Merlin. “That was one of her favorite things to say.”

“So now what do we do?” Ron asked.

“Dumbledore destroyed Marvolo Gaunt’s ring with the Sword of Gryffindor,” Merlin said, “and that worked for some reason—he thinks it’s because it has Basilisk venom in it now—so maybe we should go up there and use that.”

Harry shrugged. “No point waiting around. Let’s go.”

Merlin held out his hands to bring the trio with him. “Hold on tight to that thing, Harry. Horcruxes sometimes try to escape.”

And with a gale of wind that soon faded away, they appeared in the headmaster’s office. Dumbledore looked up as Merlin started to gather up the papers he had scattered.

“Sorry for the interruption, Headmaster. We’ve found another Horcrux.”

“Are you certain?” he asked, standing up from his chair to examine the diadem Harry held out to him.

“It fits his pattern,” said Merlin. “And it’s giving me the creeps, so there’s that.”

“Can you destroy it?” Harry asked.

“I believe so,” said Dumbledore, reaching up to remove the sword from its mount behind his desk. “But perhaps you should do it, Harry.”

He extended the sword, hilt-first, and Harry carefully took it. “Are you sure?”

“The sword itself has already deemed you worthy.”

Merlin nodded in agreement, and they all stepped back a few paces as Harry raised the sword with both hands in front of him, aiming for the silver diadem on Dumbledore’s desk. He brought it down hard and the diadem exploded into a flurry of black, whispering smoke all around them. When it cleared, only a mangled mess of silver wire and broken stones sat atop the headmaster’s desk.

“It worked,” Harry breathed.

“That’s three down,” said Hermione.

“So,” said Dumbledore, calmly gathering up the pieces and placing them in a desk drawer, “how did you manage to find it?”

They all looked at Ron, who shrunk a bit.

“I don’t know—it just occurred to me, if it’s hidden at Hogwarts… why not the Room of Requirement?”

“The one on the seventh floor that turns into whatever you need it to be,” Merlin clarified.

“Yeah, what made you think of that, anyway?” Harry asked.

“Dunno,” Ron shrugged. “Just popped into my head.”

Hermione shook her head.

“And,” said Merlin, “didn’t you have a dream about me becoming your professor? And this was way before that, the day we went to the first Order meeting.”

“Oh, yeah, I did, come to think of it,” Ron said, frowning as he tried to remember. “But you were, you know. Not old. And there were spiders—“

Harry snorted. “There are spiders in all your dreams, Ron.”

“Are you suggesting,” said Hermione incredulously, “that Ron is a—a Seer?”

“Well…” said Merlin, “he was right about the diadem. It was right under our noses—we looked, and there it was.”

“Wait!” Harry exclaimed. “Remember in the beginning of second year, when you kept insisting Lockhart was a fraud?”

Ron bristled. “Well, he was, wasn’t he?”


“But that’s—“ Hermione began. “That’s absurd!”

“I’m telling you, Hermione,” Merlin replied, “Seers exist.”

“Is there a way to find out for certain?” asked Dumbledore, who had been very quiet so far.

“I don’t know,” Merlin sighed. “I suppose you could try to look into the crystal I told you about, but like I said, that can be risky. There are other forms of scrying, but I don’t really know how they work. This really isn’t my strong suit.”

“I want to try it,” said Ron resolutely. “What if I could help find the other Horcruxes? Or find out what the weapon is that Voldemort’s looking for?”

Hermione wrung her hands. “You can’t, Ron, it’s too dangerous!”

“You don’t even believe in this stuff.”

“That doesn’t mean—“

“I’m doing it,” Ron declared. “Where’s the crystal?”

Merlin drew it from his pocket, still wrapped in cloth. “Safest place in the world,” he half-joked.

Ron took it gently, but didn’t unwrap it. “What do I do?”

“I’m not entirely sure,” said Merlin apologetically. “I just try and concentrate on what I’m looking for, but I’m fairly sure I’m doing it wrong, anyway.”

Ron seemed to brace himself. With a shrug, he said, “Who knows, maybe I’ll see somebody’s death like Trelawney always does.”

He removed the crystal and held it in his bare hands, squinting into its depths until his eyes went strangely vacant as something seemed to swirl inside them. He went immobile as he stared, until Merlin started to worry that it had been too long.

With a sudden intake of breath, Ron looked up, eyes still wide. “My father’s in a room full of orbs. He’s been attacked by a snake.”

“Where?” Merlin demanded.

“The Hall of Prophecies,” Dumbledore answered. “In the Ministry of Magic. We sent Arthur Weasley there in case Voldemort was after his own prophecy.”

In an instant, Merlin was gone—and the Sword of Gryffindor with him.

Chapter Text

The four of them sat in breathless silence, Ron growing paler and paler as Harry watched, until Dumbledore stood up and marched to a portrait of a man in Slytherin colours with a pointed beard.

“Phineas,” he said to the apparently sleeping man. “Phineas.”

When he continued to feign sleep, some of the other portraits joined in, shouting, “Phineas! PHINEAS!”

He could not pretend any longer; he gave a theatrical jerk and opened his eyes wide. “Did someone call?”

“I need you to visit your other portrait again, Phineas,” said Dumbledore. “I’ve got another message.”

“Visit my other portrait?” said Phineas in a reedy voice, giving a long, fake yawn (his eyes traveling around the room and focusing on Harry). “Why don’t you just ask old Merlin? Lord knows that man has too much time on his hands.”

Something about Phineas’s voice was familiar to Harry, where had he heard it before? But he was caught on Phineas’s emphasis instead. He’d said ‘old Merlin,’ as if to distinguish him from someone else—could there be another portrait of him? Either way, it didn’t matter at the moment.

“He has taken a leave of absence from the castle,” said Dumbledore. “And this is a matter of some urgency.”

“Oh, very well,” said the wizard called Phineas, “though he may well have destroyed my picture by now, he’s done away with most of the family—”

“Sirius knows not to destroy your portrait,” said Dumbledore, and Harry realised immediately where he had heard Phineas’s voice before: issuing from the apparently empty frame in his bedroom in Grimmauld Place. “You are to give him the message that Arthur Weasley has been gravely injured and that his wife, his children and Harry Potter and Hermione Granger will be arriving at his house shortly. Do you understand?”

“Arthur Weasley, injured, wife, children, Potter and Granger coming to stay,” repeated Phineas in a bored voice. “Yes, yes… very well.”

He sloped away into the frame of the portrait and disappeared from view at the very moment that Robin re-emerged from a whirlwind, bloody sword hanging at his side.

Panting, Robin said, “Mr. Weasley’s at St. Mungo’s. The snake had already got to him, but he should be all right, we got there in time.”

Relaxing slightly, Ron slumped as if all the nervous energy holding him up had been siphoned out of him.

“Good,” said Dumbledore. “The other Weasley children are most likely already in their beds; I will send Professor McGonagall to bring them here so that we can all go to Sirius’s house, which is much more convenient for the hospital than The Burrow.”

Robin nodded, cleaning the sword with a word and replacing it on his desk. “I’ll tell Mrs. Weasley, then.”

As he disappeared once more, Dumbledore instructed Fawkes to give a note to Professor McGonagall to bring Fred, George and Ginny; then he set about informing the other Order members of what had happened. The three remaining Weasleys arrived quicker than Harry expected, still in their nightclothes, all of them looking dishevelled and shocked.

“Ron—what’s going on?” asked Ginny, who looked frightened. “Professor McGonagall says you saw Dad get hurt—”

“Your father has been injured in the course of his work for the Order of the Phoenix,” said Dumbledore, before Ron could speak. “He has been taken to St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. I am sending you back to Sirius’s house, which is closer to the hospital. You will meet your mother there.”

“How’re we going?” asked Fred, looking shaken. “Floo powder?”

“No,” said Dumbledore, “Floo powder is not safe at the moment, the Network is being watched. M—Robin will Transport you there as soon as he returns. We are just waiting for Phineas Nigellus to report back… I want to be sure that the coast is clear before sending you.”

“He says he’ll be delighted,” said a bored voice behind Dumbledore; the wizard called Phineas had reappeared. “My great-great-grandson has always had odd taste in house-guests.”

After that, it was probably less than a minute before Robin appeared, buffeting them slightly in the now crowded room.

“Oh, excuse me,” he said. “Everyone’s here, evidently. Don’t worry, I was just with your father, he’s already awake and I’m sure he’ll be fine. Are you all ready to go?”

They all nodded rather nervously.

“All right, you three first,” he said, beckoning to Ginny, Fred and George. “Don’t want to take all six of you at the same time, just in case. I’ll be right back.”

A few seconds later, he returned for Harry, Ron and Hermione.

“Keep us updated,” he said to the professors before Transporting them into the kitchen of Grimmauld Place.

Sirius, anxious-looking, was still in his rumpled day clothes. “What’s going on?” he asked. Phineas Nigellus said Arthur’s been injured—“

“Ask Ron,” said Fred.

“Yeah, I want to hear this for myself,” said George.

“It was—it was Robin’s crystal,” he stammered. “He thought—well, he let me try it, and I had a… a sort of vision. Dad was in a dark room, and a snake attacked him.”

“I went there and killed it,” Robin added. “But it sort of exploded into smoke, like the diadem did. I think it may have been a Horcrux, too.”

“You found more Horcruxes?” Fred asked.

“It’s been a weird day,” said Ron. “I guessed at where the first one was, and now Robin thinks I’m a Seer.”

“Yeah,” said Robin wryly, “well, now I’m extra sure.”

“One thing at a time,” said George. “Is Mum here?”

“She’s still at St. Mungo’s,” Sirius said.

“We’ve got to go there,” said Ginny urgently. “Sirius, can you lend us cloaks or anything?”

“Hang on, you can’t go tearing off to St. Mungo’s!” said Sirius.

“Course we can go to St. Mungo’s if we want,” said Fred, with a mulish expression. “He’s our dad!”

“And how are you going to explain how you knew Arthur was attacked before the hospital even let his wife know?”

“What does that matter?” said George hotly.

“We can’t let anyone know that we’ve got—well, Robin—and now a Seer on our side. If we do, You-Know-Who will be after Ron next! And your father wouldn’t want you damaging the Order’s secrecy, either.”

“He’s right,” said Robin. “It would put everyone at risk. We can go as soon as Mrs. Weasley comes back, but I’ve seen your father, and he was awake—he’s going to be all right.”

Fred and George still looked mutinous. Ginny, however, took a few steps over to the nearest chair and sank into it. Harry looked at Ron, who made a funny motion somewhere between a nod and a shrug, and they sat down too. The twins glared at Sirius for another minute before taking seats on either side of Ginny.

“That’s right,” said Sirius encouragingly, “come on, let’s all... let’s all have a drink while we’re waiting. Accio Butterbeer!”

He raised his wand as he spoke several bottles came flying towards them out of the pantry, skidded along the table, and stopped neatly in front of the nine of them. They all drank, and for a while the only sounds were those of the crackling of the kitchen fire and the soft thud of their bottles on the table. Ron was looking ashen-faced as ever.

A burst of fire in midair illuminated the dirty plates in front of them and, as they gave cries of shock, a scroll of parchment fell with a thud on to the table, accompanied by a single golden phoenix tail feather.

“Fawkes!” said Sirius at once, snatching up the parchment. “That’s not Dumbledore’s writing—it must be a message from your mother—here—”

He thrust the letter into George’s hand, who ripped it open and read aloud: “Dad is alive; he needs to stay at St. Mungo’s for treatment. Stay where you are. I will send news as soon as I can. Mum.

If Harry had ever sat through a longer night than this one, he could not remember it. Sirius suggested once, without any real conviction, that they all go to bed, but the Weasleys’ looks of disgust were answer enough. They mostly sat in silence around the table, watching the candle wick sinking lower and lower into liquid wax, occasionally raising a bottle to their lips, speaking only to check the time, to wonder aloud what was happening, and to reassure each other that if there was bad news, they would know straightaway.

Eventually, Fred fell into a doze, his head lolling sideways on to his shoulder. Ginny was curled like a cat on her chair, but her eyes were open; Harry could see them reflecting the firelight. Ron was sitting with his head in his hands—whether awake or asleep, it was impossible to tell. Harry, Hermione, Robin and Sirius looked at each other every so often, intruders upon the family grief, waiting… waiting…

At ten past five in the morning, the kitchen door swung open and Mrs. Weasley entered the kitchen. She was extremely pale, but when they all turned to look at her, Fred, Ron and Harry half rising from their chairs, she gave a wan smile.

“He’s going to be all right,” she said, her voice weak with tiredness. “He’s sleeping. We can all go and see him later. Bill’s sitting with him now; he’s going to take the morning off work.”

Fred fell back into his chair with his hands over his face. George and Ginny got up, walked swiftly over to their mother and hugged her. Ron gave a very shaky laugh and downed the rest of his Butterbeer in one.

“Breakfast!” said Sirius loudly and joyfully, jumping to his feet. “Bacon and eggs, I think, and some tea, and toast…”

Harry hurried over to the stove to help, not wanting to intrude any more than necessary.

“I don’t know what would have happened if it hadn’t been for you, Ron,” Mrs. Weasley said in a muffled voice. “They might not have found your dad for hours, and then it would have been too late, but thanks to you he’s alive and Dumbledore’s been able to think up a good cover story for him being where he was…”

Before Ron had to formulate a response to that, she moved on to thank Harry, Hermione and Sirius for sitting with her children all through the night.

“Oh, Sirius, I’m so grateful… they think he’ll be there a little while and it would be wonderful to be nearer… of course, that might mean we’re here for Christmas.”

“The more the merrier!” said Sirius with such obvious sincerity that Mrs. Weasley beamed at him, threw on an apron and began to help with breakfast.

Almost everyone spent the rest of the morning sleeping—even Hermione, who had owled her parents to ask if she could stay with them for the first part of the break. Meanwhile, Robin went off to get more information from Dumbledore.

When they all woke up for lunch, their trunks had arrived from Hogwarts, so they could dress as Muggles for the trip to St Mungo’s. Everyone was riotously happy and talkative as they changed out of their robes into jeans and sweatshirts. When Tonks and Mad-Eye turned up to escort them across London, they greeted them gleefully, laughing at the bowler hat Mad-Eye was wearing at an angle to conceal his magical eye and assuring him, truthfully, that Tonks, whose hair was short and bright pink again, would attract far less attention on the Underground.

“There isn’t any Seer blood in your family, is there?” Tonks enquired curiously, as she sat near Harry, Ron and Hermione on a train rattling towards the heart of the city.

“No,” said Ron, sounding rather more insulted than he probably should. “At least—I don’t think so.”

They got out at the next stop, a station in the very heart of London, and they all followed her up the escalator to a large, old-fashioned, red-brick department store. The place had a shabby, miserable air; the window displays consisted of a few chipped dummies with their wigs askew, standing at random and modelling fashions at least ten years out of date. Large signs on all the dusty doors read: “Closed for Refurbishment”. Harry distinctly heard a large woman laden with plastic shopping bags say to her friend as they passed, “It’s never open, that place…”

“Right,” said Tonks, beckoning them towards a window displaying nothing but a particularly ugly female dummy. Its false eyelashes were hanging off and it was modelling a green nylon pinafore dress. “Wotcher…” Tonks muttered. “We’re here to see Arthur Weasley.”

Harry thought how absurd it was for Tonks to expect the dummy to hear her talking so quietly through a sheet of glass, with buses rumbling along behind her and all the racket of a street full of shoppers. Then he reminded himself that dummies couldn’t hear anyway. Next second, his mouth opened in shock as the dummy gave a tiny nod and beckoned with its jointed finger, and Tonks had seized Ginny and Mrs. Weasley by the elbows, stepped right through the glass and vanished.

The rest of them followed into what seemed to be a crowded reception area where rows of witches and wizards sat, some looking perfectly normal, others sporting gruesome disfigurements such as elephant trunks or extra hands. Many of them were also making peculiar noises, including a woman whose ears kept emitting steam and high-pitched whistles and a man who clanged loudly every time he moved.

“Over here!” Mrs. Weasley called, and they all gathered in a queue in front of a sort of reception desk.

A very old, stooped wizard with a hearing trumpet shuffled to the front as they waited. “I’m here to see Broderick Bode!” he wheezed.

“Ward forty-nine, but I’m afraid you’re wasting your time,” said the witch dismissively. “He’s completely addled, you know—still thinks he’s a teapot. Next!”

Mrs. Weasley moved forward to the desk.

“Hello,” she said, “my husband, Arthur Weasley, was supposed to be moved to a different ward this morning, could you tell us—?”

“Arthur Weasley?” said the witch, running her finger down a long list in front of her. “Yes, first floor, second door on the right, Dai Llewellyn Ward.” “Thank you,” said Mrs. Weasley. “Come on, you lot.”

They followed her through the double doors and along the narrow corridor beyond, which was lined with portraits of famous Healers and lit by crystal bubbles full of candles that floated up on the ceiling, looking like giant soapsuds.

When they arrived, Tonks said, “We’ll wait outside, Molly. Arthur won’t want too many visitors at once. It ought to be just the family first.”

Mad-Eye growled his approval of this idea and set himself with his back against the corridor wall, magical eye spinning in all directions. Harry drew back, too, but Mrs. Weasley reached out a hand and pushed him through the door, saying, “Don’t be silly, Harry, Hermione, come on.”

Once inside, Harry was pleased and relieved to see that Mr. Weasley was propped up on several pillows and reading the Daily Prophet by the solitary ray of sunlight falling on to his bed. He looked up as they walked towards him and, seeing who it was, beamed.

“Hello!” he called, throwing the Prophet aside. “Bill just left, Molly, had to get back to work, but he says he’ll drop in on you later.”

“How are you, Arthur?” asked Mrs. Weasley, bending down to kiss his cheek and looking anxiously into his face. “You’re still looking a bit peaky.”

“I feel absolutely fine,” said Mr. Weasley brightly, holding out his good arm to give Ginny a hug. “If they could only take the bandages off, I’d be fit to go home.”

“Why can’t they take them off, Dad?” asked Fred.

“Well, I start bleeding like mad every time they try,” said Mr. Weasley cheerfully, reaching across for his wand, which lay on his bedside cabinet, and waving it so that extra chairs appeared at his bedside to seat them all. “It seems there was some rather unusual kind of poison in that snake’s fangs that keeps wounds open. They’re sure they’ll find an antidote, though; they say they’ve had much worse cases than mine, and in the meantime I just have to keep taking a Blood-Replenishing Potion every hour.”

“So, you going to tell us what happened, Dad?” asked Fred, pulling his chair closer to the bed.

“Well, you already know, don’t you?” said Mr. Weasley, with a significant smile at Ron. “I was keeping an eye out—“ he lowered his voice— “just in case You-Know-Who came for the prophecy, but the snake snuck up on me and attacked. Then out of nowhere, Robin shows up with a sword of all things… Cuts the beast’s head clean off.”

“So that is what he was after, then,” said Ron.

“We can’t be sure,” said Mr. Weasley, “but it can’t be a good sign that he sent his snake to go skulking around there. Obviously it didn’t get anything, though—being dead.”

They were interrupted by a tapping on the window.

“Oh, is that an owl?” Mr. Weasley asked.

“Looks like a falcon,” said Mrs. Weasley, turning to look, “but it’s carrying a letter.”

“I think it’s a merlin,” Hermione said, looking confused.

“Is somebody going to let it in?” said Ron.

Ginny walked over to open the window, removing the scroll.

“It’s from Robin,” she said.

“Why didn’t he send a robin, then?” Ron muttered. “If he’s going to be all nonconformist about it.”

Ginny ignored him and read the letter aloud: “Good news: I have stolen the prophecy. Problem solved.

Harry snorted.

“Well,” said Mr. Weasley cheerfully, “he’s nice to have around, isn’t he?”

“Oh!” cried Mrs. Weasley. “I almost forgot to invite him to stay with us for Christmas break.”

Chapter Text

Hermione and Ginny woke up on Christmas Day to Sirius tramping past their door, singing “God Rest Ye, Merry Hippogriffs” at the top of his lungs. His delight at having the house full again, and especially at having Harry back, was infectious. He seemed determined that everyone should enjoy themselves as much, if not more than they would have done at Hogwarts, and he worked tirelessly in the run-up to Christmas Day, cleaning and decorating with their help, so that by the time they all went to bed on Christmas Eve the house was barely recognisable. The tarnished chandeliers were no longer hung with cobwebs, but with garlands of holly and gold and silver streamers; magical snow glittered in heaps over the threadbare carpets; and a great Christmas tree, obtained by Mundungus and decorated with live fairies, blocked Sirius’s family tree from view.

Hermione’s parents had sent her presents to open on Christmas morning since she was away for the beginning of the holidays, but she had received some from her friends too, including a book on numerology from Harry and one of Robin’s ancient runic texts, which appeared to be about ancient magical history.

But she was quickly torn away from her reading by Ginny, whose delight at the Quidditch broom Robin had given her was evidently audible from the next room, as the boys came to knock on their door soon after. When Hermione opened it for them, Robin was pleading with Fred and George not to test out their Christmas presents yet.

“What’s all this?” Ginny asked. “What’d you get?”

George tossed her a little box that looked suspiciously like—

“A Skiving Snackbox?” said Hermione, looking over Ginny’s shoulder at it.

“He gave us some new designs,” said Fred gleefully.

“And prototypes,” George added, “as you can see.”

“They’re not all for skiving off,” Robin interjected. “Some of them have other uses. And,“ he added quickly, “I’ll know if somebody uses them in my class.”

“We know,” said the twins simultaneously.

“Hey,” said George, “can we put your name on them? You know, once we launch our business?”

“Er—“ said Robin with a strangely caught-in-the-headlights expression.

“What business?” Ron interrupted.

“Why would you want to—“ Harry began, but Fred had already started his sales pitch.

“A joke shop, little brother!” he grinned. “It’s an owl-post service now, but we’re going to open up our own store later.”

“We’ve even got some Muggle ‘magic’,” George added. “It’s good fun, nobody can figure out how it works. But don’t tell Mum about this, right?”

Ginny mimed zipping her mouth shut as the seven of them made their way downstairs.

“What’s that?” Hermione asked, indicating a box under Ron’s arm.

“A chessboard,” he said. “I was thinking of setting it up downstairs. The black pieces play all by themselves, at increasing difficulties. It’s for practice, mostly.”

“Never seen that before,” said Ginny. “How does it work?”

“Dunno,” Ron replied. “Ask Robin.”

“You made that?” said Hermione. “How?”

“I had help,” Robin said quickly. “I can hold my own at chess, but I had to consult a real master to make sure it was advanced enough.”

“Happy Christmas!” said Sirius and Lupin as they passed by on their way into the kitchen.

They chorused “Happy Christmas!” in return and followed them inside; Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were already there, drinking mugs of hot spiced butterbeer and distributing more of them to the newcomers.

“Thanks again for inviting me, Mrs. Weasley,” said Robin, bobbing happily around the kitchen. “Hope I’m not in the way.”

“Don’t be silly, dear!” she said, going to fish around for something in a cupboard. “Ah, here we are!”

She presented Robin with one of her knit jumpers, this one a blue the exact shade of his wings when he was a butterfly, with an R emblazoned on the front in deep red.

“It’s for me?“ he asked as she held it out to him.

“Of course it is! Here, try it on,” she said, unfolding it so he could pull it over his head.

He obeyed rather hesitantly, looking around the room at the others who were wearing theirs.

“It matches your eyes,” Mrs. Weasley said happily as he examined the fabric on his sleeve.

“You made this,” said Robin softly. “Oh, thank you, Mrs. Weasley, you didn’t have to…”

“I wanted to,” she said, but it was muffled when Robin rushed to wrap her in a tight hug.

When he pulled away, he looked down at the front of the sweater happily, not noticing Mrs. Weasley’s watery smile.

“What does the R stand for?” he asked eventually.

“For Robin, of course,” she laughed, putting her mug of butterbeer in the sink.

“Oh!” he exclaimed, grinning. “Of course.”

As Mrs. Weasley started washing dishes, Harry gestured to the package Hermione was carrying and asked, “Who’s that for, anyway?”

“Kreacher,” she said brightly.

“It had better not be clothes!” Ron warned her. “You know what Sirius said: Kreacher knows too much, we can’t set him free!”

“It isn’t clothes,” said Hermione, “although if I had my way I’d certainly give him something to wear other than that filthy old rag. No, it’s a patchwork quilt. I thought it would brighten up his bedroom.”

“Got a present for Kreacher, have you?” Robin asked. “Mind if I join you? I’ve got something to give him too, but I don’t know where his bedroom is.”

“Oh, okay!” said Hermione. “Well, Sirius says it’s not so much a bedroom, more a kind of—den. Apparently he sleeps under the boiler in that cupboard off the kitchen.”

The four of them went round the corner, finding a dim hall with a pantry and a dingy door opposite it.

“Is this it?” said Ron.

“Yes,” said Hermione, now sounding a little nervous. “Er…I think we’d better knock.”

Ron rapped on the door with his knuckles but there was no reply.

“Kreacher?” Robin called.

With a crack, the elf appeared behind them. “Yes, my—“ At a look from Robin, he amended it to, “Yes, Emrys?”

“Happy Christmas, Kreacher,” he said brightly. “Hermione and I have presents for you, if that’s all right. It’s not clothes,” he added quickly when Kreacher looked dubious.

He nodded to Hermione, so she tentatively handed Kreacher her package.

“It’s not much,” she said, “but I thought… well.”

“Go on,” said Robin, “open it. It’s for you.”

Kreacher hesitantly opened the wrapping, shooting glances at her every few seconds, but none of them moved.

“It’s a quilt,” she blurted as soon as he uncovered the fabric. “It just gets cold in this house sometimes…”

“Kreacher thanks young mistress,” he said with a bow.

Robin shared a triumphant look with Hermione before reaching into his pocket to hand the elf a small package, which Kreacher stared at intently and did not open until Robin insistently nodded his encouragement.

Hesitantly, and with frequent looks back at Robin, Kreacher obeyed, uncovering a large golden ring with an emblem that Hermione recognised as the Black family crest. His large eyes widened as he stared at it.

“I rescued it from the bin,” Robin explained. “It took a while to convince Sirius to let me give it to you, but he doesn’t mind, really.”

“Thank you, Emrys,” he whispered, still staring at the ring clutched tightly in his small hand.

“It’s no trouble,” Robin grinned. “I thought you’d like to have it.”

“Kreacher has something for you too, Master Emrys,” he said decisively.

“You—you do?” Robin asked, looking thoroughly baffled. Hermione hoped Ron and Harry had given him Christmas presents too—she’d bought some potions ingredients for him, knowing he used to be a healer, but he didn’t seem used to receiving things. Maybe that woven bracelet on his wrist was from one of them… she didn’t think she had seen it before.

Kreacher opened the door of his room, beyond which they could see a jumble of assorted rags and smelly old blankets, with a small dent in the middle of it showing where Kreacher curled up to sleep every night. Here and there among the material were stale bread crusts and mouldy old bits of cheese. In a far corner glinted small objects and coins that Kreacher must have saved. It was to that corner that Kreacher went, rummaging around before extricating a large, golden locket on a chain.

Kreacher returned and held the locket up to Robin; Hermione saw that a snake was curled in the centre of it.

“Master Regulus gave it to Kreacher,” he said in a whisper they could barely hear. “He ordered Kreacher to destroy it, but Kreacher could not. Emrys,” he said desperately, “you can fulfil Master’s wish, can’t you? You can destroy anything.”

He said it with something like reverence, but Robin flinched; still, he took the locket from Kreacher’s outstretched hand.

“Yes, Kreacher,” he said. “I’ll make sure it’s destroyed. Thank you for giving me this.”

Kreacher bowed. “Thank you, Emrys.”

Robin returned a serious nod and swept from the room.

“What’s the matter?” Harry asked him when they caught up.

“It’s a Horcrux,” said Robin as they re-entered the kitchen. “I’m sure of it.”

“Another one?” said Lupin. “That’s good news.”

“Closer…” Robin muttered.


Robin turned to Ron. “You predicted the locket would be closer than the diadem, remember? And it was right here the whole time.”

“I didn’t predict—“ Ron began.

“But you were right,” Robin pointed out. “Whether you meant it as a prediction or not.”

“Quick,” said Harry. “Where’s the last one?”

Ron stammered. “I—I dunno. Guarded by some Death Eater? Or—no, by a dragon! Er, or maybe stored in Gringotts? I don’t know, it could be anywhere!”

“The Inner Eye does not see upon command!” Robin repeated, mimicking Trelawney.

“Well,” said Harry, “one of those guesses is probably right.”

“Maybe,” said Hermione rather dubiously. “He could have given it to one of his followers, but we can’t very well search their houses, can we?”

“Let’s worry about that later,” Mrs. Weasley interrupted. “It’s Christmas, for Merlin’s sake.”

Robin started. “Er—sorry, Mrs. Weasley, but I need to go and destroy this. Who knows what could happen if we wait?”

“What you need,” she retorted, “is to stop skipping meals.”

He sighed. “What if the locket’s cursed like the ring was? I’ll be back in time for lunch, I’m sure.”

“Very well,” she said sternly, “but you had better be back before noon!”

“I will,” he promised with a grin. “I’m just going to go steal a Basilisk fang.”

Mrs. Weasley watched him disappear in a tornado with a shake of her head. “What it is with young people these days and rushing off places, I really don’t know.”

Fred and George snorted.

“And you two are the worst offenders, what with your Apparating every which where!”

Everyone quickly busied themselves with their butterbeers.

Later that morning, after everyone had cleaned up the gifts in their rooms, Harry, Ron and Hermione returned downstairs to take turns playing chess with Ron, letting the black pieces assist them in their strategy.

They all looked up at a knock from the front door; Sirius got up to answer it, Lupin and Mrs. Weasley emerging from the kitchen to peer rather suspiciously into the entryway.

“Thought I’d arrive in a civilised fashion for once,” said a familiar voice.

“Oh, good, you’re back,” said Mrs. Weasley, ushering Robin into the house.

“Did you destroy it?” Harry asked when he came into view.

He sat down, holding up the smashed locket and grinning brightly. “Not that difficult when you have a Basilisk on hand, as it turns out.”

“How did you get in, anyway?” asked Hermione. “To the Chamber of Secrets?”

“Yeah,” said Harry, “I only got in by speaking Parseltongue.”

“So did I,” Robin replied. “I learned it.”

“You can’t learn Parseltongue,” said Hermione.

Robin scoffed. “If it’s speakable, it’s learnable. I bet people just said that because it was difficult and they didn’t want to look bad.”

“That’s how we got in the first time,” Ron added. “Me, Robin and Hermione. I didn’t learn it, obviously, but I copied something you said in your sleep.”

“I speak Parseltongue in my sleep?” said Harry.

“Your Christmas present should help with that,” Robin said. “The healing bracelet. It wards off bad dreams and other influences.”

As talk of Christmas eventually turned to Quidditch, Hermione busied herself with homework while she sat by the fire, content to let the background noise wash over her like it did in the common room at Hogwarts. Eventually, the smell of cooking swirled into the room to mix with the faint aroma of pine. Hermione finished a Potions essay and stretched in her armchair, enjoying the relaxed atmosphere that was so rare these days.

It was a stupid thing that made it click.

The others were still talking about some Quidditch-related thing Hermione was barely paying attention to when Ron uttered one of his usual curses.

“Merlin’s pants!” he exclaimed, and started laughing uproariously.

Robin jumped. He always did, when Ron swore. At first, Hermione had thought he was just very proper, but that was quickly proved untrue—and he had himself once shouted “Merlin’s beard!” at Umbridge, barely able to suppress a smile as he got himself in detention.

But this time, she was watching him when it happened (as she was still rather suspicious about that picture from Grindelwald’s arrest). And when Ron swore, she saw him look up quickly, eyebrows lifted, as if he was asked a question—then he looked down again with a slight, rueful smile.

“Hermione!” said Ron.

Jerked from her reverie, she jumped and looked up. “Hm?”

“Didn’t I beat you in duelling practice that one time? In the DA?”

Hermione nodded, but was barely able to register the question with her heart beating in her ears. She had just made the exact same motion. She’d heard her name unexpectedly, and she jumped.

She glanced surreptitiously at Robin again. Robin… who was named after a bird;  who had appeared, unchanged, in a fifty-year-old photograph; who was named ‘Immortal’; who had things that belonged to Merlin; whose Patronus was a Great Dragon; who was recognised instinctively and obeyed readily by every magical creature he came across, even ghosts and elves and unicorns; for whom magic itself bent to his every thought, to his very being… whose grave had never been found because it didn’t exist. Because he was sitting right here.

Merlin laughed at a wry comment from Harry, and the fire in the hearth jumped and sparkled, warming her very core. Hermione smiled, finally satisfied.

No need to tell anyone just now.

Everyone got to visit Mr. Weasley in hospital again, escorted by Moody and Mundungus Fletcher, of all people. Moody and Robin—no, Merlin—exchanged their usual semi-threatening stare by way of greeting, and Hermione’s brain suddenly put together the rambling, half-translated sentences at the end of Merlin’s book that she had been reading so many weeks ago.

They never told me what it meant.

Just as he had told them when Kreacher first used the name, people called him Lord Emrys without telling him why—without telling him that ‘forever’ really meant forever. He must have found out, at the end of the book, that he was either immortal or extremely long-lived; and he’d stopped writing. And if anyone had known he was something other than fully human, they surely hadn’t told him that, either. He really hadn’t known, not until Moody nearly lost his mind at the sight of him.

They had arrived at St. Mungo’s before Hermione knew it, and it was decorated pleasantly for Christmas. Mr. Weasley was doing well (happily playing with the digital camera Ro—Merlin had given him), but they still had not managed to completely stop his wounds from bleeding, citing some sort of unidentified toxin that must have been from the snake. Evidently they had even tried stitches. That hadn’t worked, but Mrs. Weasley was still furious with him for trying to ‘sew his skin back together.’

When they returned to Grimmauld Place, Hermione took the earliest opportunity to run upstairs to Harry and Ron’s room. She wouldn’t tell anyone Robin’s—Merlin’s—secret, at least not now, but that didn’t mean she didn’t want confirmation. This was, after all, a rather insane theory.

“Mr. Black!” she whispered urgently to the apparently empty portrait. “Headmaster!”

Nothing happened; but she knew he could hear her.

“Phineas!” she tried again. “Phineas Black!”

“What is it?” he finally grumbled, trudging into frame.

“Please,” she entreated, “I have to speak to Merlin’s portrait.”

“Can’t help you,” he said, turning right back around. “He doesn’t want to see anyone right now.”

“I know who he is!” she blurted.

The portrait paused, squinting at her. “Sorry?”

“I mean—I know he’s alive.”

His face went completely blank. “Alive? What a ludicrous idea.”

“I recognised him!” she lied. “From his portrait, and from photos that were taken a long time ago. I just want to talk to him,” she added carefully. “If he’ll just speak with me, I won’t have to ask anyone else about the things I’ve found.”

“Yeah…” said Phineas Black with a grimace. “This is above my pay grade.”

He disappeared from view; Hermione fidgeted, but didn’t leave, hoping he would return eventually. She stood there for several minutes before he trudged back in, a white-haired man stomping behind him.

He looks nothing like his Chocolate Frog Card, was her first, nonsensical thought. Wait—you know what he looks like, don’t be stupid.

She blamed it on the intense look he turned on her—which made her suddenly very aware of why all the portraits seemed to be afraid of him. Was this what Moody felt like when the younger Merlin stared him down, too? If so, she had to admire his fortitude. Still, she could see him, now that she was looking for it; she could see traces of the person sitting, alive and well, just downstairs.

“This had better be good,” he said, echoing the familiar, croaky voice of their Defence teacher.

“I know it’s you,” she said in a voice that was meant to be firm, but when the words left her mouth, they were barely a squeak. She noticed, absently, that Phineas Black was leaving.

“Of course it’s me,” he snorted. “Didn’t you demand Phineas bring me here?”

“I didn’t demand—“ she began.

“He said you threatened to start asking questions,” he argued. “I don’t quite see how that’s a real threat, actually, since presumably that’s what you asked me here for. I can’t imagine you’d bring me here just to tell me something.”

“Well—sort of—you see—“

“So you are here to tell me something,” he interrupted, striding towards the frame. “Trust me, I already know whatever it is.”

“No!” said Hermione quickly, trying to keep him from leaving. “I did want to ask you a question… er—why are you in this photograph?”

She pulled out the parchment onto which she had copied the photo from Grindelwald’s arrest, holding it up to the portrait.

Merlin peered at it. “That’s not me.”

“Wha—yes, it is!”

He raised an eyebrow. “Well, I don’t look like that, and more importantly, I’m dead—well, I’m a portrait, anyway. And I’ve been that way for quite some time.”

“Not you you,” she said in exasperation. “Other you! I know you’re still alive. You’re sitting downstairs right now!”

The portrait looked at her in utter disbelief. “Are you daft, girl? I was born in the 500s. Do you really think there’s a fifteen hundred-year-old sorcerer running around that nobody knows about?”

Hermione straightened herself. No; this was ridiculous. She recognised him. This was her Defence professor. This was Robin, disguised by a beard and an ancient voice. He couldn’t talk her in circles, not this time.

“I know it’s you,” she said, actually firm this time. “I’ve seen you almost every day for the past few months: you, disguised by an ageing potion, and the version of you—the real you—who’s in the sitting room as we speak. You can’t talk your way out of this.”

Merlin considered her, and she found this even more unsettling than his unrelenting stare.

“I’ll have you know,” he said haughtily, “that I can ‘talk my way out of’ almost anything. I got out of a dungeon that way, as a matter of fact.”

Now we’re getting somewhere.

“What were you in a dungeon for?” she asked.

“Attempted murder.”

She looked warily at him.

“Or would it be murders… ?” He shook his head. “No—I was in there for attempting one murder twice. But I didn’t do it!” he quickly added. “If I had, I would’ve succeeded.”

“Okay…” said Hermione slowly. “Look, I’m not going to tell anyone. I just want—“

I can’t tell him I want confirmation, she thought quickly. He’ll use it as an out. “I just want to know how. How are you still alive? If you can do it, maybe Voldemort can, too.”

“I didn’t do anything,” he snapped, rather venomously. But he seemed to regret saying anything at all, and didn’t continue.

“So…” she said carefully, “can you be killed, or does your body regenerate from wounds as well as ageing?”

“Why?” he hissed. “Planning a murder, are we?”

“You’re my friend!” she snapped. “I was suspicious, but only because I knew you were keeping things from us. This is exactly why I didn’t come to you you about this. I don’t want him to run away.”

“I have my faults,” he retorted, “but I’m not a coward.”

They both let the words hang in the air between them, the “I” stretching meaningfully into the silence.

“Why did you never say anything?” Hermione asked quietly. “If you were here this whole time, why didn’t you…”

But he heard what she didn’t dare say. “You’re the one who found that picture,” he said, gesturing to the parchment in her hand. “What do you imagine I was doing there? I never left. I never stopped trying to help. You don’t know the futures I saw. You don’t know how much worse it would’ve been if I hadn’t been there.”

“But how?” she asked again, utterly mystified at how any of this was possible.

“He told me what Moody said,” the portrait answered softly. “The Druids always said I was magic, but I thought they were being figurative. I’m starting to think they meant it quite literally.”

“But what does that mean exactly?” she asked with a frown.

Merlin shrugged. “Who knows? Tell me if you figure it out.” With that, he left the frame before Hermione could respond.

Hermione returned downstairs with a sigh. The only consolation was that she was finally certain she was right. It was really him. It was—

“Hey, Hermione.”

She jumped at being abruptly confronted with the other version of him. The greatest wizard who ever lived was slumped down on the sofa, Sirius in dog form laying half on top of him. He looked content, and she could almost have sworn there was a golden glow beneath his skin. She wondered how long it had been since he’d had people to spend Christmas with. It must be so lonely… but why try to make friends only to watch them slowly die? Still, she couldn’t stay morose for long in the presence of whatever magic was emanating from the immortal being on the couch.

Ron was playing chess against Lupin now, since apparently the board ‘learned’ from the players that used it, so it was best to play as many people as possible. Harry, for his part, was living vicariously through the tiny model Firebolt zooming around the room, staring dreamily at it as if lamenting not being able to practice.

“You all right?” Harry asked her. “You’ve been acting a bit funny today.”

“It isn’t me, is it?” Ron asked apprehensively.

“No,” said Hermione accusingly, “what did you do?”

She sat near Sirius and Ro—Merlin, trying her best not to stare at him.


“He means because he Saw Mr. Weasley’s attack,” Harry interjected. “He keeps asking people if it’s weird.”

“I can’t be a Seer,” said Ron, shaking his head as he moved his rook. “I’m not all weird and mystical, like Trelawney and Luna.”

“Neither of whom are Seers,” Merlin pointed out.

“You saved your father’s life,” Lupin reminded Ron as he moved a struggling bishop. “We can’t be anything but grateful for that.”

Chapter Text


That was the headline in the Daily Prophet on Monday. Ten photos were lined up underneath, including those of Bellatrix Lestrange, Antonin Dolohov and Augustus Rookwood, names Ron recognised as some of You-Know-Who’s central circle of Death Eaters. The only good news was that the Ministry’s flimsy story of how they escaped was causing a lot of whispers around the school—whispers that were not nearly as anti-Harry as they had been before Christmas.

Classes were going as well as could be expected, but the DA was becoming one of Ron’s favourite parts of the week—besides Quidditch practice, of course. He would never admit it to Hermione, but it had been a good idea to keep it going even after Umbridge left, since their grasp on the basics was admittedly rather tenuous.

‘William Emrys’ was supposedly out with the Mumblemumps again (in order to avoid having to attend the classes he was also teaching), but Robin still did his best to help Harry out with planning for DA meetings. Harry seemed to worry that it was an unnecessary risk, with Umbridge’s ban on unauthorised student groups still in force, but they needed extra lessons.

Umbridge herself was as unpleasant as ever, but with her classes and her detentions both eliminated, there was not much she could do. At least, that was what they thought before Wednesday evening arrived.

As Ron, Harry and Hermione were heading for Gryffindor Tower after dinner, they heard a woman’s screams coming from the Entrance Hall. They quickly circled back towards the source of the noise, where they found the Entrance Hall completely packed; they pushed their way forward through a knot of tall Slytherins to see a ring of shocked onlookers. Professor McGonagall was on the other side of the Hall, looking rather ill.

Professor Trelawney, wand in one hand and a mostly empty sherry bottle in the other, was standing in the middle of the Entrance Hall, looking completely mad with her hair sticking up on end, scarves trailing behind her and lopsided glasses making one eye more magnified than the other. The two trunks askew on the floor beside her looked as if they had been thrown down the stairs after her.

“No!” she shrieked. “NO! This cannot be happening… it cannot… I refuse to accept it!”

“You didn’t realise this was coming?” said a high girlish voice, sounding callously amused, and Ron didn’t have to look to know it was Umbridge. “Incapable though you are of predicting even tomorrow’s weather, you must surely have realised that your pitiful performance during my inspections, and lack of any improvement, would make it inevitable that you would be sacked?”

“You c—can’t!” howled Professor Trelawney, tears streaming down her face from behind her enormous lenses, “you c—can’t sack me! I’ve b—been here sixteen years! H—Hogwarts is my h—home!”

As Professor Trelawney moaned and rocked back and forth on her trunk, Professor McGonagall walked up to pat her firmly on the back as she handed her a large handkerchief.

“There, there, Sibyll… calm down. Blow your nose on this. It’s not as bad as you think, now… you are not going to have to leave Hogwarts…”

“Oh really, Professor McGonagall?” said Umbridge in a deadly voice, taking a few steps forward. “And your authority for that statement is… ?”

“That would be mine,” said a deep voice.

The oaken front doors had swung open. Students beside them scuttled out of the way as Dumbledore appeared in the entrance. Leaving the doors wide open behind him, he strode forwards through the circle of onlookers towards Professor Trelawney, tear-stained and trembling, on her trunk, Professor McGonagall alongside her.

“Yours, Professor Dumbledore?” said Umbridge, with a singularly unpleasant little laugh. “I’m afraid you do not understand the position. I have here—” she pulled a parchment scroll from within her robes “—an Order of Dismissal signed by myself and the Minister for Magic. The High Inquisitor of Hogwarts has the power to inspect, place upon probation and sack any teacher she—that is to say, I—feel is not performing to the standards required by the Ministry of Magic. I have therefore dismissed Professor Trelawney.”

To Ron’s very great surprise, Dumbledore continued to smile. He looked down at Professor Trelawney, who was still sobbing and choking on her trunk, and said, “You are quite right, of course, Professor Umbridge. As High Inquisitor you have every right to dismiss my teachers. You do not, however, have the authority to send them away from the castle. I am afraid,” he went on, with a courteous little bow, “that the power to do that still resides with the Headmaster, and it is my wish that Professor Trelawney continue to live at Hogwarts. Might I ask you to escort Sibyll back upstairs, Professor McGonagall?”

“Of course,” said McGonagall. “Up you get, Sibyll...”

Professor Sprout came hurrying forwards out of the crowd and grabbed Professor Trelawney’s other arm. Together, they guided her past Umbridge and up the marble stairs. Professor Flitwick went scurrying after them, his wand held out before him; he squeaked “Locomotor trunks!” and Professor Trelawney’s luggage rose into the air and proceeded up the staircase after her, Professor Flitwick bringing up the rear.

Professor Umbridge was standing stock still, staring at Dumbledore, who continued to smile benignly.

“And what,” she said, in a whisper that carried all around the Entrance Hall, “are you going to do with her once I appoint a new Divination teacher who needs her lodgings?”

“Oh, that won’t be a problem,” said Dumbledore pleasantly. “You see, I have already found us a new Divination teacher, and he will prefer lodgings on the ground floor.”

“You’ve found—?” said Umbridge shrilly. “You’ve found? Might I remind you, Dumbledore, that under Educational Decree Number Twenty-two—”

“The Ministry has the right to appoint a suitable candidate if—and only if—the Headmaster is unable to find one,” said Dumbledore. “And I am happy to say that, on this occasion, I have succeeded. May I introduce you?”

He turned to face the open front doors, through which night mist was now drifting. At the sound of hooves, there was a shocked murmur around the Hall. Those nearest the doors hastily moved even further backwards, some of them tripping over in their haste to clear a path for the newcomer. Through the mist came a familiar figure: white-blond hair and astonishingly blue eyes, with the head and torso of a man joined to the palomino body of a horse.

“This is Firenze,” said Dumbledore happily to a thunderstruck Umbridge. “I think you’ll find him suitable.”

“You mark my words,” said Hermione the next morning, “Umbridge is going to want revenge on Dumbledore for appointing a new teacher without consulting her. Especially another part-human. You saw the look on her face.”

The three of them bypassed the stairs to head for classroom eleven, where Firenze would be teaching.

“He’s not part-human,” said a familiar, raspy voice. “He’s a centaur.”

Ron jumped. He was never going to get used to his sudden appearances.

“And don’t let him hear you say that, either,” their Defence professor added. “He’ll probably be offended at being described as ‘human’ in any capacity.”

Hermione didn’t respond, just stared at him rather strangely.

“I’d better get to class,” she said. “Let me know how Divination goes.”

“All right,” said Harry, and turned back to Emrys. “What are you doing down here, anyway? Don’t you have to teach soon?”

“Not yet. Thought I’d say hello to Firenze before class starts.”

When they entered classroom eleven, Ron and Harry were caught off guard by its transformation: the floor had become springy with moss, and trees were growing out of it; their leafy branches fanned across the ceiling and windows so that the room was full of slanting shafts of soft, dappled green light. The couple of students who had already arrived were sitting on the earthy floor with their backs resting against tree trunks or boulders, arms wrapped around their knees or folded tightly across their chests, and all looking rather nervous. In the middle of the clearing stood Firenze.

“Emrys,” said Firenze. “And Harry Potter. It was foretold that we would meet again.”

He shook both their hands, and Ron saw the shadow of a hoof-shaped bruise on Firenze’s chest.

“Who did this?” said Emrys, apparently having noticed the same thing.

“The herd was not pleased with my decision to accept Professor Dumbledore’s offer of employment,” he said. “They have banished me. Do not concern yourself, Emrys.”

“Those under my care are my concern,” he responded in a low voice as Harry and Ron found seats in the grass.

“Please do not try to convince them,” said Firenze. “They must invite me back of their own accord, if at all.”

“If that is your wish,” said Emrys.

“I must say,” said Firenze rather more genially, “you are looking rather different these days.”

Emrys laughed. “It’s temporary. And a rather long, rather irritating story, as it happens. Perhaps we’ll speak about it later, but it appears your students are arriving.”

As he spoke, the door opened to admit the rest of the class in a slow stream.

“Yes,” said Firenze, “thank you for your visit, Emrys.” He gave a slight bow which Emrys returned.

“If any pink atrocities appear,” Emrys added as he made for the door, “you know where I am.”

When he was gone, Firenze turned to the class.

“Let us begin,” he said, and with a wave of his hand, the light in the room dimmed so that they now seemed to be sitting in a forest clearing by twilight, and stars appeared on the ceiling.

“Blimey!” Ron exclaimed as a few oohs and gasps came from around the classroom.

“Lie back on the floor,” said Firenze in his calm voice, “and observe the heavens. Here is written, for those who can see, the fortune of our races.”

“I know that you have learned the names of the planets and their moons in Astronomy,” he continued, “and that you have mapped the stars’ progress through the heavens. Centaurs have unraveled the mysteries of these movements over centuries. Our findings teach us that the future may be glimpsed in the sky above us—”

“Professor Trelawney did astrology with us!” said Parvati excitedly, raising her hand so that it stuck up in the air as she lay on her back. “Mars causes accidents and burns and things like that, and when it makes an angle to Saturn, like now—” she drew a right-angle in the air above her “—that means people need to be extra careful when handling hot things—”

“That,” said Firenze calmly, “is human nonsense.”

Parvati’s hand fell limply to her side.

“Trivial hurts, tiny human accidents,” said Firenze, as his hooves thudded over the mossy floor. “These are of no more significance than the scurryings of ants to the wide universe, and are unaffected by planetary movements.”

A few of the students looked rather offended at this, but Firenze continued smoothly, teaching one of the most unusual lessons Ron had ever attended. They burned sage and mallowsweet there on the classroom floor, and Firenze told them to look for certain shapes and symbols in the pungent fumes, but he seemed perfectly unconcerned that not one of them could see any of the signs he described, telling them that humans were hardly ever good at this, and that it took centaurs years and years to become competent.

He finished by telling them that it was foolish to put too much faith in such things, anyway, because even centaurs sometimes read them wrongly. He was nothing like any human teacher Harry and Ron had ever had. His priority did not seem to be to teach them what he knew, but rather to impress upon them that nothing, not even centaurs’ knowledge, was foolproof.

“He’s not very definite on anything, is he?” said Ron in a low voice, as they put out their mallowsweet fire. “I mean, I could do with a few more details about this war we’re about to have, couldn’t you?”

The bell rang right outside the classroom door and everyone jumped; Ron had completely forgotten they were still inside the castle, quite convinced for a moment that he was really in the Forest.

The fact that Umbridge had continued attending all Care of Magical Creatures lessons put Harry, Ron and Hermione on edge given the recent fiasco with Trelawney, although Hagrid did not seem especially concerned.

And with OWLs fast approaching, all of their classes were jam-packed, homework piling up all the while. The DA became even more crucial as a real study group for Emrys’ class—and sometimes others—though in this week’s DA meeting they were learning Patronuses, partly to do something a bit more fun and partly for self-defence.

Some corporeal Patronuses were already floating around the room as Harry helped the others (though, as he continued to point out, doing it in a brightly lit classroom was much different from trying to repeat the spell when confronted by a Dementor).

The door of the Room of Requirement opened, and closed. Harry looked round to see who had entered, but there did not seem to be anybody there. It was a few moments before he realised that the people close to the door had fallen silent. Next thing he knew, something was tugging at his robes somewhere near the knee. He looked down and saw, to his great astonishment, Dobby the house-elf peering up at him from beneath his usual eight woolly hats.

“Hi, Dobby!” he said. “What are you—What’s wrong?”

The elf’s eyes were wide with terror and he was shaking. The members of the DA closest to Harry had fallen silent; everybody in the room was watching Dobby. The few Patronuses people had managed to conjure faded away into silver mist, leaving the room looking much darker than before.

“Harry Potter, sir…” squeaked the elf, trembling from head to foot, “Dobby has come to warn you… but the house-elves have been warned not to tell…”

He ran head-first at the wall. Harry, who had some experience with Dobby’s habits of self-punishment, made to seize him, but Dobby merely bounced off the stone, cushioned by his eight hats.

“What’s happened, Dobby?” Harry asked, grabbing the elf’s tiny arm and holding him away from anything with which he might seek to hurt himself.

“Harry Potter… she… she…”

Dobby hit himself hard on the nose with his free fist. Harry seized that, too.

“Who’s ‘she’, Dobby?”

But he thought he knew; surely only one ‘she’ could induce such fear in Dobby. The elf looked up at him, slightly cross-eyed, and mouthed wordlessly.

“Umbridge?” asked Harry, horrified. “What about her? Dobby—she hasn’t found out about this—about the DA?”

He read the answer in the elf’s stricken face. His hands held fast by Harry, he tried to kick himself and fell to the floor.

“Is she coming?” Harry asked quietly.

Dobby let out a howl, and began beating his bare feet hard on the floor. “Yes, Harry Potter, yes!”

Harry straightened up and looked around at the motionless, terrified people gazing at the thrashing elf.

“WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?” Harry bellowed. “RUN!”

They all pelted towards the exit at once, forming a scrum at the door, then people burst through. Harry could hear them sprinting along the corridors and hoped they had the sense not to try and make it all the way to their dormitories. It was only ten to nine; if they just took refuge in the library or the Owlery, which were both nearer…

“Dobby—this is an order—get back down to the kitchen with the other elves and, if she asks you whether you warned me, lie and say no!” said Harry. “And I forbid you to hurt yourself!” he added, dropping the elf as he made it over the threshold at last and slammed the door behind him.

“Thank you, Harry Potter!” squeaked Dobby, and he streaked off. Harry glanced left and right, the others were all moving so fast he caught only glimpses of flying heels at either end of the corridor before they vanished. He started to run right; there was a boys’ bathroom up ahead, he could pretend he’d been in there all the time if he could just reach it—

But something caught him around the ankles and he fell spectacularly, skidding along on his front for almost six feet before coming to a halt. Someone behind him was laughing. He rolled over on to his back and saw Malfoy concealed in a niche beneath an ugly dragon-shaped vase.

“Trip Jinx, Potter!” he said. “Hey, Professor—PROFESSOR! I’ve got one!”

Umbridge came bustling round the far corner, breathless but wearing a delighted smile.

“It’s him!” she said jubilantly at the sight of Harry on the floor. “Excellent, Draco, excellent, oh, very good—fifty points to Slytherin! I’ll take him from here… stand up, Potter!”

Harry got to his feet, glaring at the pair of them. He had never seen Umbridge looking so happy. She seized his arm in a vice-like grip and turned, beaming broadly, to Malfoy.

“You hop along and see if you can round up any more of them, Draco,” she said. “Tell the others to look in the library—anybody out of breath. Check the bathrooms, Miss Parkinson can do the girls’ ones. Off you go. And you…” she added in her softest, most dangerous voice, as Malfoy walked away, “you can come with me to the Headmaster’s office, Potter.”

They were at the stone gargoyle within minutes. Harry wondered how many of the others had been caught. He thought of Ron—Mrs. Weasley would kill him—and of how Hermione would feel if she were expelled before she could take her OWLs. And it had been Seamus’s very first meeting… and Neville had been getting so good…

“Fizzing Whizzbee,” sang Umbridge. The stone gargoyle jumped aside, the wall behind split open, and they ascended the moving stone staircase. They reached the polished door with the griffin knocker, but Umbridge did not bother to knock, she strode straight inside, still holding tight to Harry.

The office was full of people. Dumbledore was sitting behind his desk, his expression serene, the tips of his long fingers together. Professor McGonagall stood rigidly beside him, her face tense. Cornelius Fudge was rocking backwards and forwards on his toes beside the fire, apparently immensely pleased with the situation; Kingsley Shacklebolt was positioned near the door like a guard, and the freckled, bespectacled form of Percy Weasley hovered excitedly beside the wall, a quill and a heavy scroll of parchment in his hands, poised to take notes.

The portraits of old headmasters and headmistresses were not feigning sleep tonight. All of them were alert and serious, watching what was happening below them. As Harry entered, a few flitted into neighbouring frames and whispered urgently into their neighbour’s ear.

Harry pulled himself free of Umbridge’s grasp as the door swung shut behind them. Cornelius Fudge was glaring at him with a kind of vicious satisfaction on his face.

“Well, well,” he said. “I expect you know why you are here, Potter?”

Harry replied with the dirtiest look he could muster. His heart drummed madly inside him, but his brain was oddly cool and clear, and he fully intended to respond with a defiant ‘yes’—but he caught sight of Dumbledore’s face. He was not looking directly at him, focused on a point just over his shoulder, but he shook his head a fraction of an inch to each side.

“No idea,” said Harry.

Fudge looked incredulously from Harry to Professor Umbridge. Harry took advantage of his momentary inattention to steal another quick look at Dumbledore, who gave the carpet the tiniest of nods and the shadow of a wink.

“So you have no idea,” said Fudge, in a voice positively sagging with sarcasm, “why Professor Umbridge has brought you to this office? You are not aware that you have broken any school rules?”

“School rules?” said Harry. “No.”

It was almost worth telling these lies to watch Fudge’s blood pressure rising, but he could not see how on earth he would get away with them; if somebody had tipped off Umbridge about the DA then he, the leader, might as well be packing his trunk right now.

“So, it’s news to you, is it,” said Fudge, his voice now thick with anger, “that an illegal student organisation has been discovered within this school?”

“Yes, it is,” said Harry, hoisting an unconvincing look of innocent surprise on to his face.

“Minister!” someone said from behind him.

Harry turned to see Emrys striding in with a guileless smile on his face. “How gratified I am to see you here,” he continued, addressing Fudge and ignoring the rest of the crowded room. “Although I admit, circumstances could be more pleasant.”

Fudge shuffled his feet slightly, adjusting his posture under Emrys’ gaze.

“And why,” Umbridge simpered, “might I ask, are you here?”

Fudge shot her a sharp look, but she didn’t notice.

Emrys regarded her with confusion. “Well, it is my student organisation we’re here about, is it not?”

Umbridge faltered. “Your—“

“Yes, to study for my class. As you and the Minister have both pointed out, their instruction in Defence has been woefully deficient thus far. Though I hope you don’t take overmuch offence, Headmaster,” he added in Dumbledore’s direction, without looking straight at him.

Dumbledore inclined his head slightly, but did not speak.

“But…” said Umbridge, regaining her traction and pulling out, to Harry’s horror, the list of names that had been pinned upon the Room of Requirement’s wall. “See what they’ve named themselves? ‘Dumbledore’s Army’.”

Emrys loomed over her shoulder to read it, then let out a laugh. “A fine demonstration of school spirit!” he declared. “If somewhat misplaced. But of course, they couldn’t use any of the house symbols, being that they’re a mixed group. A creative solution, I must admit.”

“Still,” said Umbridge sweetly, “according to Educational Decree Number Twenty-Four, no student organisations were to be continued or formed without the approval of the Hogwarts High Inquisitor.”

“Yes…” Emrys replied expectantly.

And,” she said slowly, as if he were hard of hearing, “Mr. Potter never requested my permission for this Defence Against the Dark Arts group.”

“Well, of course not,” said Emrys. “That would be highly inappropriate. I made the request.”

“Wha—“ Umbridge looked thoroughly bemused, glancing back at Fudge and the other Ministry officials, who avoided her gaze. “You never visited my office to—“

“But of course I did,” he interrupted with a laugh. “That’s how I learned of your penchant for kittens. I’m not altogether surprised you’ve forgotten our meeting, however. You seemed to be rather swamped with requests that day. Which is why,” he added, turning back to Fudge, “I have taken the liberty of bringing the signed authorisation form with me this evening.”

He handed the document over to a white-faced Fudge.

“Forgery!” Umbridge shrieked, losing her composure entirely. She pointed a squat finger in Emrys’s face and spat, “That is an offence worthy of more than just dismissal!”

Emrys just shook his head slowly at her, as if she were nothing but a deluded patient at St. Mungo’s. Kingsley, meanwhile, was waving his wand over the parchment Fudge had passed him.

“You want to calm yourself, Madam Umbridge,” said Kingsley in his deep, slow voice. “You don’t want to get yourself into trouble, now.”

“But he—!“

“I can find no trace of forgery on this document,” he continued. “On what are you basing these accusations?”

“Serious accusations,” Fudge added with a warning in his tone.

Umbridge paled. “I think—“ She gulped. “I think, Minister, now might be the time to fetch our informant. She told me that the students were practicing spells against Ministry regulations in these meetings.”

She went to the door, and there was a wait of perhaps a minute—in which nobody looked at each other—before the door re-opened. She returned with Cho’s curly-haired friend, Marietta, who was looking studiously at the floor.

“Don’t be scared, dear, don’t be frightened,” said Umbridge softly, patting her on the back, “it’s quite all right, now. You have done the right thing. The Minister is very pleased with you. He’ll be telling your mother what a good girl you’ve been. Marietta’s mother, Minister,” she added, looking up at Fudge, “is Madam Edgecombe from the Department of Magical Transportation, Floo Network office—she’s been helping us police the Hogwarts fires.”

“I see,” said Fudge neutrally.

Marietta looked rather frightened at that for a moment, but a split second later, Harry noticed her eyes had gone strangely blank.

“Miss Edgecombe here,” Umbridge continued valiantly, “came to my office shortly after dinner this evening and told me she had something she wanted to tell me. She said that if I proceeded to a secret room on the seventh floor, sometimes known as the Room of Requirement, I would find out something to my advantage. I questioned her a little further and she admitted that there was to be some kind of meeting there.”

Emrys turned to Marietta and, in a gentle tone, asked her, “What sort of meeting?”

“M—meeting?” she stammered.

“Yes,” he said patiently, “you see, Madam Umbridge here is saying that you told her about the meetings of the study group, and that you were not only studying, but practicing spells, against Ministry regulations. Is that true?”

“Don’t be afraid, dear,” Umbridge added rather desperately.

Marietta looked perplexedly between them. “Practicing… spells?”

“Yes!” said Umbridge, making her jump. “Remember, what you were telling me earlier this evening?”

“Well…” Marietta mumbled, “we recited the incantations, to memorise them, but only when our wands were away, like you taught us, Prof—Madam Umbridge.”

Umbridge was positively seething as she demanded, “Have you or have you not been attending secret martial meetings for the past six months?”

Marietta just shook her head.

“What do you mean by shaking your head, dear?” said Umbridge in a testy voice.

“Well, usually when a person shakes their head,” said McGonagall coldly, “they mean ‘no’. So unless Miss Edgecombe is using a form of sign-language as yet unknown to humans—”

Professor Umbridge seized Marietta, pulled her round to face her and began shaking her very hard. A split second later Dumbledore was on his feet, his wand raised; Kingsley started forwards and Umbridge leapt back from Marietta, waving her hands in the air as though they had been burned.

“I cannot allow you to manhandle my students, Dolores,” said Dumbledore, and for the first time, he looked angry.

“Please, Madam Umbridge!” Fudge cried. “Control yourself!”

Emrys removed the still vacant-looking Marietta from her grasp and shielded her by his side, one hand on her shoulder.

“No,” said Umbridge breathlessly, glancing back at the Minister of Magic. “I mean, yes—you’re right, Minister—I—I forgot myself.”

“Are you quite all right, Madam Umbridge?” Emrys asked, looking truly concerned. “Your frequent outbursts and attacks on students are most uncharacteristic; I fear you may be suffering from a magical malady that has gone untreated.” He shook his head. “I only wish I had noticed this abnormal behaviour earlier.”

Umbridge’s face grew redder and redder as he spoke. “How dare you insinuate—“

“Oh, dear!” cried Fudge rather gleefully, jumping on the opportunity to remove all guilt from the Ministry’s shoulders. “I can’t believe I didn’t see it before! You must see a Healer immediately, Madam Umbridge!”

“Yes,” Emrys agreed gravely, “a most judicious idea, Minister. With these incidents, and now that she has forgotten both our conversation and the testimony of Miss Edgecombe, I fear for her health. This explains many things. How gracious of you to take such an interest in your employees’ well-being.”

“Oh, of course!” Fudge blurted. “Please come with me, Dolores, we should take you to see the best Healers at St. Mungo’s straight away…”

“I am not ill!” Umbridge shrieked. “This is a conspiracy—“

“Now, now,” said Fudge rather fearfully, eyes darting around the room, “we will discuss all of this at length with the Healers. They will want to know everything. Percy, would you mind accompanying her…?”

Umbridge continued to splutter, but Percy put his pen away, nodding vigorously and preparing the Floo powder. “Of course,” he said, “I shall ensure nothing happens to her en route. Please, Madam Umbridge, come with me.”

Umbridge stood stock-still, quivering with rage.

“Please just come quietly,” Fudge pleaded. “It will be much better in the long run, and then you can return to your post, good as new.”

“This is in your best interest,” Kingsley added gravely, taking her by the arm and guiding her towards the fireplace.

Umbridge stared furiously around the room, looking in vain for support, before fixing her fiery gaze on Emrys. That gaze contained a promise.

But not a moment later, she and Percy had disappeared, leaving a shivering Fudge beside Kingsley, who was still staring into the fire with one eyebrow raised.

“Perhaps Miss Edgecombe ought to be escorted to bed,” said Dumbledore calmly. “It has been a long night for her.”

“Of course,” Fudge conceded.

The headmaster nodded to Professor McGonagall, who took the girl by her shoulder and guided her from the room.

“It is unfortunate, about Madam Umbridge,” Fudge mumbled, glancing at the fire, “but at least we caught it before she could do any more damage…”

Harry was certain he was not talking about damage to the school or its students, but it mattered little now.

“However,” Fudge declared, gathering himself, “the post of High Inquisitor must not go unfilled…” His eyes raked helplessly around the room, searching for an answer. “Perhaps, Kingsley, you might be willing to fill in for a time? Only a few weeks, most likely, until Dolores is back on her feet, or—“

He didn’t finish his sentence.

Kingsley inclined his head slightly. “If that is what you wish, Minister, I would be honoured to fill in for Madam Umbridge until she is healed—anything to ensure the Ministry continues on course.”

“Superb,” Fudge concluded with a weak but relieved smile. “It will mean a little extra work for a time, but the Ministry will of course accommodate… But for now, let us return to our duties, as it is clear this entire affair was a false alarm.”

Kingsley nodded and joined him at the fireplace.

So sorry to disturb you, Dumbledore,” said Fudge rather crossly before he and Kingsley both disappeared into the flames.

Finally alone, Harry, Dumbledore and Emrys exchanged glances.

“Well,” said Emrys, clapping his hands together, “that went much better than I had planned.”

Chapter Text

There was an Educational Decree on every common room noticeboard the next morning, but the school as a whole was reluctant to really believe Umbridge was gone until they arrived in the Great Hall to see Kingsley Shacklebolt in her seat at the staff table. Whispers echoed throughout the Hall, and they soon turned to laughter and cheerful conversations that Ron was starting to realise he hadn’t heard in months. Even some of the Slytherin table seemed to be celebrating, with the notable exception of Malfoy and his gang.

The three of them stayed behind after Defence class that day. Now that they were out from under Umbridge’s watchful eye, they were able to practice spells more openly in class rather than just ‘when she’s not around,’ and fortunately, none of the students seemed inclined to rat out their professor to the Ministry, as they were only just beginning to have any hope of passing their OWLs.

“But won’t they realise nothing’s wrong with her and send her back?” Hermione asked, chewing on her nails. “The Healers, I mean.”

“Oh, but there is something wrong with her,” said Emrys with a grin. “I cursed her just before she left so that she’ll turn green every few days, at random. The coughing fits, on the other hand, are pretty constant. Maybe they’ll make her drop that nasty ‘hem, hem’ habit of hers. She’ll be completely fine, don’t worry, but it would be a PR nightmare for the Ministry.”

“We weren’t worried about her being fine,” said Ron.

“But what about once they’ve fixed it?” Harry asked.

Emrys shrugged. “If they ever figure out what’s causing it, it’ll be at least several months from now, once school is over. And we can always hold out hope that they’ll diagnose some sort of personality disorder while they’re at it, so they can keep her there indefinitely. Now hurry, you three, don’t want to be late to Professor Snape’s class.”

They headed for the door just as his next class started to trickle in.

“I wonder why he’s so confident no one will find out,” said Harry as they made their way to Potions class downstairs. “No one could tell he’d forged that authorisation form yesterday, either.”

“Well,” said Ron, “if he’s really a magical creature, his magic is probably different, like a house elf’s. They can Apparate inside of Hogwarts and perform wandless spells, too.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Harry agreed. “Strange you bring up house elves, though; it’s almost like they see him as some sort of leader—Firenze too, did you notice that?”

“I’m sure it’s nothing,” Hermione contributed, which was not like her.

“That’s not like you,” said Ron. “You’re always suspicious—no offence.”

She sniffed haughtily. “None taken.”

But their conversation was cut short when they had to hurry to their seats before Professor Snape noticed them idling.

Unlike Umbridge, Kingsley did not appear to feel the need to insert himself into every class for repeated ‘inspections.’ For once, several days in a row went by smoothly for the trio, apart from the fact that there was now another member of staff that they were pretending not to know personally.

Ron hadn’t thought that their Defence class could get any more outlandish, but he was beginning to learn to ‘expect the unexpected,’ as Fred and George gleefully put it. He’d never seen the twins so invested in a class before, though Ron had no idea what they were learning in their year.

“Hello, everyone,” said Emrys when they all took their seats in his classroom that afternoon. “Good to see you again. Today, I’m going to teach you a bit about how spells work,” he said, sitting on his desk as was becoming a habit for him. “Normally, you would learn this in History of Magic, but it seems safe to assume you haven’t. I don’t know what Professor Binns has been teaching you—because so far, no one has been able to tell me—but this sort of thing is important to know as you get into the more advanced spellwork.”

“Most spells you use are in Latin,” he continued, “but spells can be created in many languages—any language, in fact. I once knew a wizard who invented spells to be used in sign language, although he had to make modifications to accommodate the use of a wand.”

And there went Hermione, furiously taking notes beside Ron.

“Some people,” Emrys continued, “have been known to eschew spells in favor of shouting at inanimate objects in whatever language they happen to be speaking at the time. Well—just a few people, really. Those are also commonly the same people who have little difficulty with nonverbal spells. That’s because incantations (or words that you use exclusively for magic) are a way of concentrating your will on the exact action that you want to perform. Without them, you have to find another way to concentrate your magical energy.

“That’s why nonverbal and wandless magic are commonly associated with very powerful witches and wizards. But it’s important to know that anyone can learn to perform these types of magic—it just requires a little more effort and practice for some people than it does for others.”

Seamus Finnegan raised his hand. “Does that mean we can use spells in English instead of Latin?”

“It is possible,” said Emrys, “but it tends to be more difficult to use your native language in spells because each word means something to you apart from the spell you’re trying to use. There would be a lot of associations with the words that would distract you from the magic. That’s part of the reason why we don’t ask you to learn Latin: because if you spoke it fluently, it would lose some of its power. It would still be possible—just more difficult. Not to mention that you don’t want to do a bunch of accidental magic if you have your wand in your hand during a normal conversation.”

“Can you create spells in magical languages?” a Slytherin girl asked.

“Like what?”

“Like Mermish, or Parseltongue.”

There were a few whispers at that.

“Oh, certainly,” said Emrys with a nod. “Professor Dumbledore is the only person I know who can speak Mermish, but many humans have been known to speak and perform spells in Parseltongue. Salazar Slytherin, for example. He was known to use Parseltongue spells on occasion to hide or lock things—and especially to keep people out of his lab so they couldn’t spill potions on themselves. Evidently, at least one Founder, who shall remain nameless, had a habit of barging in unannounced.”

A few of the Slytherins snickered, making the Gryffindors bristle.

“Maybe that’s what he was kicked out for,” said Dean Thomas venomously. “Keeping secrets.”

“Oh, he wasn’t kicked out—” said Emrys, “honestly, what is that man teaching you—he left when Hogwarts started taking on students from Muggle families. The entire reason the Founders created Hogwarts was to create a safe place for magical children, because they were often threatened or killed by Muggles when their magic became known.

“Slytherin was afraid that magical children who had Muggle parents, siblings and friends might be influenced by their families to turn on the other students at Hogwarts. He wasn’t concerned about the ‘purity’ of their actual magic—all that’s utter rubbish, as you should know by now. He had always been cautious to the point of paranoia, and eventually it created a rift between him and the others.”

“None of them were perfect,” he continued seriously. “Nor are any other historical figures. They’re just people, with their own gifts and flaws. Being in Slytherin doesn’t have to mean that you’re afraid of Muggleborns like he was, just like being in Gryffindor doesn’t mean you have to act recklessly. And while it’s often Slytherins who speak Parseltongue, there are plenty of others that do; not to mention other schools that don’t have these houses.”

“I heard Grindelwald spoke it,” one Slytherin said quietly.

“Well,” said Emrys, “he’s not the best example, but yes, him too.”

Lavender Brown raised her hand. “Did Merlin speak it?”

Emrys started. “Er—Yeah, I suppose he did.”

“Does that mean he was a Dark Wizard?” Ron exclaimed.

“Wha—? No!” Emrys exclaimed. “Speaking to snakes doesn’t make you evil, doing evil things makes you evil.”

“But if he was a Slytherin,” someone said, “doesn’t that mean he was against Muggleborns too?”

No,” Emrys said emphatically. “He spent most of his… life, trying to integrate wizarding and Muggle societies. Actually, the Order of Merlin was originally a Muggle rights organisation, when he first founded it. And he was a half-blood himself.”

“How do you know that?” said Pansy Parkinson.

“Er—“ he stammered. “I just do. Books, I suppose. Look, we’re getting a bit off track here. The point is, knowing how something works allows you to make better use of it. Maybe you’re not especially good at nonverbal spells, but if you shout Old Welsh spells at someone, for example, it’s going to have the same effect—meaning, they’ll have no idea what you’re about to do. Or maybe spellwork isn’t your thing and you’re better at earth magic, like working with plants and animals. My father was like that: he could heal wounds and was even strong enough to control dragons, but I can’t remember ever seeing him cast a spell.”

Ron was fairly sure Emrys was talking directly to Neville at this point, but Ron himself was busy wondering if there was some reason he and Harry were rubbish at potions, or if it was just Snape’s presence.

“And it’s okay if you’re not sure what you’re best at,” Emrys continued. “That’s why you’re here. If you’re having a hard time with something, just ask me or one of the other teachers for help. And it’s always a good idea to go get your wand checked. That can give you a lot of information. People have even been known to grow out of their wands so that they’re not a good fit anymore.”

“Can you use something other than a wand?” Hermione asked.

“That’s possible too,” said Emrys. “I’m sure you’ve heard of people using staffs? Those are similar to wands, but they usually use a stone as a core instead of the hair of a magical creature. Then there are other conduits, like magical artefacts or runic tablets. The problem is that none of those are as easy to use as wands are. It’s also possible to use your own body as a conduit—which is slightly different from wandless magic—but it’s extremely dangerous and difficult to control, so we don’t teach it at Hogwarts.”

Hermione was still scribbling away when Emrys stood up and fished a box out from under his desk.

“I’m glad you asked that, actually,” he said, “because I have a few examples here.” On the table he laid down a large staff, a wand-like object made of what looked like brass, a ring, a box and a few carved stones. “You can come up one at a time and choose one of these to test out, but like I said, it’s a bit dangerous, so you can only use the spell ‘Lumos’.” He eyed them all seriously. “Got it? You’ll take turns—pointing it away from the class, thank you—so I can make sure you’re safe. Who wants to go first?”

A few Slytherins crowded to the front of the queue before Harry, Ron and Hermione could, but Neville was near the front, looking surprisingly eager. Emrys was quick to tell them that their choice of object wasn’t a test and didn’t mean much of anything, but the students seemed convinced otherwise, discussing their choices in hushed tones as the ones ahead of them practiced, then hesitating between two or three options when they got to the front.

Malfoy was decisive, going straight for the staff (probably because it was the biggest thing there), but looked deeply disappointed when nothing happened.

“Don’t be discouraged,” said Emrys. “That hardly works for anyone. Here, try this instead.” He handed Malfoy the wand-like object, which cast a fairly bright greenish light when he incanted the spell.

A few of them after that couldn’t make any of the objects work, but Emrys said it was mostly due to a lack of practice, and that it just meant they had a greater affinity for wands. When Seamus Finnegan was up, everyone automatically (and resignedly) moved out of the way, but to their surprise, nothing exploded. The blue fire that resulted from his ‘Lumos’ was contained to the now-glowing stone in his hand, though it didn’t burn him.

“Cool,” he said, and returned to his seat unharmed.

When it was Neville’s turn, he started for the ‘safe’ option of the metal wand, but at the last minute (and with great trepidation) picked up the staff. There were a few sniggers from the Slytherin onlookers.

“Lumos?” Neville said tentatively.

To the surprise of almost everyone, bright light burst forth from the stone and enveloped the room in blinding white for a second before softening to a more reasonable level, illuminating the students as if they were outside in broad daylight.

Emrys let out a bark of laughter. “Impressive! Well done, Neville.”

A few of the Gryffindors cheered him as he went back to his seat, looking slightly red-faced but proud.

When it was Ron’s turn, he tried the box, curious as to what it did. It appeared to be for aiming magic in multiple directions, because light shot out of all six sides in straight beams when he cast the spell.

Hermione read the runes on all the stones before choosing, then picked up the one she seemed to understand the best. It created sharp blue sparks of light that glittered across the room before falling to the floor.

Harry studiously avoided the staff, instead placing the too-large ring on his finger and using his fist to point it, emitting a soft yellow light that nonetheless illuminated all corners of the room.

After the last few students took their turns, they started packing up for the end of class.

“If anyone wants to keep experimenting with these,” said Emrys, “just come to my office and we can try out any spells that aren’t likely to destroy the school.”

When the bell rang, Ron was glad to see Neville hanging back after class. He remembered how difficult it was to use a broken wand—using his father’s wand would probably be even harder.

“That was sort of fun,” said Hermione as they made their way to the Great Hall.

“I wonder if you can use anything as a wand,” said Harry.

“Conduit,” Hermione corrected him.

Ron drew a bent quill out of his pocket.

“Lumos,” he tried; nothing happened.

Hermione hummed. “Maybe it has to have some magical element to it.”

“If Robin’s a magical creature,” said Ron, “do you reckon we could make a wand from his hair?”

They never came to a consensus on that, but the rest of the evening was spent brainstorming magical creatures and/or plants that could be used to make their own magical conduits. The dittany leaf Ron plucked off of Neville’s robes didn’t work, but that wasn’t saying much.

Chapter Text

Harry was not thrilled at having to spend hours in the library on a Friday afternoon, but Hermione insisted that they couldn’t give up the hunt for Horcruxes now, just when they were finally making progress. Ron had agreed with her, but Harry suspected he just wanted an excuse to read up on Merlin some more, now that they had access to the Restricted Section.

There was only one Horcrux left (apart from the one apparently floating around in Harry’s head), and it was most likely Helga Hufflepuff’s cup, so Hermione got out a variety of books on the Founders and their time period for the three of them to look through.

Harry was unable to concentrate on his book for three reasons: first, it was Friday. Second, it was a massive, boring book that sounded as if it had been written by a morose monk from the 1600s with a pathological love of commas. Third, Ron kept interrupting with Merlin trivia.

“Did you know he painted his own portrait?” Ron exclaimed just as Harry was starting to reach the end of the third page of Hufflepuff’s chapter.

Harry just grunted in response.

“Yeah! He enchanted it to act like himself, just like the other portraits, but it spoke so cryptically it was no use whatsoever.” Ron frowned. “Not clear whether that was intentional or not…”

There was silence for a while, but for the flipping of pages and an occasional “SHH!” from Madam Pince as she patrolled the library.

“Says here he might have been a Druid,” Ron muttered. “Or at least raised by them. Wonder if that’s why no one’s found his grave.”

“Hm,” said Harry.

“Is there anything about the Founders in there?” Hermione asked pointedly.

“It only mentions Slytherin so far,” said Ron.

“Well, we’ve already found his thing,” said Harry.

“What if it isn’t the cup, anyway?” Hermione said, closing the book carefully despite her evident frustration. “It could be practically anything!”

“SHH!” said Madam Pince from around the corner.

“Anyway,” Harry whispered, “Dumbledore probably could have found it by now if it was here, right?”

“I wonder what he looked like…” Ron muttered.

“Huh?” said Harry.

“You know. Merlin.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Probably like that,” she said, pointing to the miniaturised portrait on the page of Ron’s book.

“Yeah,” said Ron, “but I mean, he wasn’t always old. I just wonder—I don’t know—what color his hair was, and stuff.”

Harry stood up, reached over and closed the book under Ron’s nose. “All right, mate,” he said. “You’ve had quite enough of that. You’re growing an actual obsession over there.”

“Better than some Quidditch star,” Ron grumbled, but stood up with Harry. “Come on, Hermione, let’s go get some food.”

“Just one more—“

By unspoken agreement, Harry and Ron grabbed Hermione by the elbows and ushered her toward the Great Hall.

It was late in the evening when Professor McGonagall hurried into the Gryffindor common room, startling Harry, Ron and Hermione.

“Good,” she said, looking around, “it’s just you three. Mr. Weasley, would you fetch your brothers, please? There is a meeting of some urgency in the headmaster’s office.”

The three of them exchanged a glance—an Order meeting?—before Ron dashed upstairs, returning shortly with Fred and George.

“Quickly,” said Professor McGonagall, beckoning to them from the portrait hole. “The High Inquisitor may be gone, but it is still very close to curfew.”

They followed obediently—and quietly—as she led them to Dumbledore’s office. Inside, Dumbledore was joined by Kingsley, Moody, Snape and Robin (who was back to his normal, younger appearance). Snape looked rather annoyed at the fact that students were joining them, but he didn’t protest.

“Unfortunately,” Dumbledore was saying, “we do not have time to inform the Order members who are not immediately on hand.”

“We are wasting time as it is,” Snape protested. “We cannot risk bringing children into a situation that may very well be a trap.”

“I’m afraid I must agree,” Robin added with an apologetic look in their direction. “They’re insufficiently prepared, and we don’t have any idea what will be waiting for us.”

“We must go,” said Dumbledore, addressing the newcomers. “We have received word that Voldemort has found the weapon he was searching for, and he has plans to acquire it tonight.”

“What is it?” Harry asked.

“Unfortunately,” Robin answered, “we still don’t know what it is. We only know where it’s going to be—supposedly.”

“We must act now,” Moody growled. “It will be ten times more difficult to get it from him once he already has it; we must stop him.”

“We want to help!” said Harry. “What if you need me to speak Parseltongue again or something?”

“That’s highly unlikely,” said Snape, eyebrow raised.

“What if this whole thing is just a plot to lure you there?” said Robin. “He wants to kill you, Harry.”

“And I’m the only one who’s able to kill him,” Harry retorted. “You said so yourself.”

“Not until we’re able to get that piece of him out of you.”

“I have to do something!” he insisted. “I can’t let all of you go out there and confront him in my place.”

“You’re his primary target. We have to keep you safe—“

“I can look after myself.”

“None of us can do it alone,” Robin argued. “Not even—“

You can!” Harry snapped. “You’re invincible, whatever you are!”

Robin flinched minutely and Harry immediately regretted having kept going, but he didn’t back down.

“That’s not true,” Robin said quietly. “No one—nothing is invincible.”

“For heaven’s sake,” Snape drawled. “If the boy wants to confront the Dark Lord, let him. Maybe he’ll know better next time.”

“I have a bad feeling about this,” Ron muttered. Robin looked at him with an uneasy expression.

“So do I,” said Moody. “But we need to go now. Bring Potter, he has the right to confront his enemy; the rest can meet at the Burrow to inform the others.”

“Fine,” said Robin resignedly. “If that’s what you want. Come on, Harry—and ready your wand now, we don’t know what we’re Transporting into.”

Harry, Robin, Dumbledore, Snape and Moody were gone in a matter of seconds.

When the winds cleared, they were in a dense forest. It was dark and cold, and Harry quickly realised he hadn’t thought to bring a jacket. The narrow dirt path ahead led deeper and deeper into the trees with no end or destination in sight.

“I Transported us a little ways back,” said Robin quietly. “It should be just up ahead, if the directions were accurate.”

“This appears to be the path here,” said Snape.

No one dared cast Lumos, so they walked slowly and quietly, single-file along the path, looking for signs of Death Eaters. Dumbledore led the way with Robin bringing up the rear, following close behind Harry. Harry could see the faint haze around them that indicated someone had cast a large shield, but as he looked around, he noticed they were entering what appeared to be a ravine.

“This is the place,” Snape murmured, but the walls of the ravine only grew higher and higher around them.

“There’s no sign of anyone,” said Moody as they continued on. “This has got to be a trap.”

“Even if it is—“ Dumbledore began, but Robin cut him off.

“Guys,” he said with an urgent tone in his voice. “I think—“

As Harry looked round at him, Robin raised his hand in a half-formed motion, sending Harry flying backward into the rest of the group; he fell hard into the dirt. The others quickly formed a circle around him, but then there was a flash of green light. At first, he thought it had flown over their heads. Then Harry looked back at Robin, whose eyes were wide, hand still outstretched; he lurched forward as if trying to catch himself. But then his face went blank. All strength slipped from his body as he twisted and collapsed onto the grass, blue eyes staring into nothing.

Someone was screaming. And just like in the dreams that once plagued Harry’s nights, a high, cold voice was laughing. Spells started raining down on the ravine, but Harry could only see their lights as they were reflected in the glassy blue eyes he was still staring into. He couldn’t distinguish any voices or incantations—except one.

“Accio!” Voldemort’s voice shouted, and Robin’s wand flew from the sheath at his unmoving side, up into the darkness, into a pale, outstretched hand.

Harry pitched forward, half crawling, half running in an effort to reach it, but he was far too late. Voldemort’s red eyes looked down on him, locking with his own as Harry crouched over Robin, trying pointlessly to shield him from the creature above. Voldemort just sneered at him as he Disapparated; and he was quickly followed by the silver-faced Death Eaters that had emerged from the trees bordering the ravine.

Harry noticed, distantly, that the screaming had stopped. There were lower sounds, urgent, near his ear. With weak, quaking hands, he pulled at Robin’s shoulders, trying to check on him, or perhaps trying to get him up. But his eyes were still empty.

“Potter!” he heard remotely. “Harry!”

Whatever low sound Harry was making, it was cut off when Moody grasped him by the shoulder and turned him bodily to face him.

“Harry!” he shouted. “We have to go.”

Moody solemnly reached down to close Robin’s eyes. Harry shoved at him vaguely, trying to protest, but Moody gestured for Snape, who carefully lifted Robin out of the grass. Resting limp in his arms, Robin looked almost spindly, more pale and fragile than he ever had before. One bony arm hung lifelessly, just as Myrtle’s had from under her shroud in Riddle’s memories.

“We’re going to the Burrow,” Moody announced. Harry realised no one else had spoken. “Harry, you’re coming side-along with me.”

There was a jolt, all the air sucked from his lungs as Harry tumbled through the air, landing on grass. He pushed himself back up automatically, not bothering to wipe the dirt off his jeans.

Someone screamed, further away than last time. He looked up to see Mrs. Weasley run from the bright sanctuary of the house, followed by Ron and Hermione, George and Fred, and Mr. Weasley.

“Let’s get him inside,” said Moody. “Let’s get him inside.”

Professor McGonagall, Lupin, Tonks, and even Sirius were coming outside too. Harry didn’t know what was going on; everyone was shouting. He stayed close by Robin’s side as they crowded their way inside, and he was right beside Snape when he laid him down on the sofa. Harry sat down hard on the floor, staring at the stillness of his chest and trying to push back the visions of Cedric invading his mind. Everyone crowded around, and Harry could feel Ron’s and Hermione’s eyes on the side of his head.

“What happened? Is he—” cried Mrs. Weasley, who was also hovering, watching the boy on the sofa through watery eyes.

“It was an ambush,” Moody growled. “You-Know-Who hit him with a Killing Curse—from behind, the coward—he Summoned something and then Disapparated.

“His wand,” Harry mumbled.

“What?” said Snape.

“His wand,” he repeated, not caring that it was Snape who asked. “That’s what he Summoned. I saw it.”

The professor’s face hardened. “That’s what he was after,” he said through gritted teeth. “The wand.”


Harry felt like his head was starting to split, and he wished everyone would stop talking so loudly.

“He’s been looking for the Deathly Hallows!” Snape hissed. “He can’t use his wand because it’s linked with Potter’s; and he won’t settle for less than the most powerful wand in existence.”

“But that’s preposterous!” said Moody. “They’re not even real. And Robin himself admitted he doesn’t even use an actual wand.”

“Well, the Dark Lord has convinced himself otherwise on both counts.”

Harry hissed, holding his hand against his head. “It’s my scar,” he realised distantly.

“What is it?” Ron asked. “Is he coming?”

Harry shook his head, trying to retreat back into one of his Occlumency exercises, but it wasn’t working now. “He’s angry,” he said. “Furious. I think Snape’s right. I think he hasn’t got what he wanted. He can’t use it.”

“It’s because of those missions he’s gone on!” Mrs. Weasley wailed. “Off looking for Horcruxes and fighting Death Eaters… they must have known he was more powerful than he should have been.”

“Why are you talking about him like that?” Harry snarled. “In the past tense—he’s right here!”

Harry immediately felt terrible for speaking to Mrs. Weasley like that. He looked up into her tearful face and tried to say, “I’m s—“

“Harry,” said Hermione softly. “He’s—“

“I know he’s dead!” Great. He was shouting again. “I just saw it happen!”

“Mr. Potter,” said Snape calmly. “Sit down.”

It sounded so much like something Dumbledore would say that he complied automatically. He looked over at the headmaster, who was still standing silently by the front door, looking almost lost as he stared at the scene rather absently. He’d never seen him like that before.

“All may not be lost,” Snape continued carefully. “He said he had… some sort of protection in place—“

“Are you seriously suggesting,” Sirius demanded, “that he may still be saved? You saw him get hit with a Killing Curse! There’s no coming back from that!”

“I’m only relaying what Robin told me,” Snape retorted, “which is next to nothing. But he said this sort of thing—“

“That’s cruel, Severus,” said Lupin quietly. “You can’t get their hopes up.”

“Headmaster?” said Snape impatiently.

Dumbledore’s head snapped up to him. “Yes…” he said slowly. “He told me something similar. But surely, by now… if it were true?”

“It must be true!” said Snape. “How else do you explain… all of this?”

“Perhaps he was lying,” Dumbledore murmured. “I could have been blinded by the magic he showed me…”

“I saw his memories, Headmaster!” Snape insisted. “It’s all true.”

“You saw what an accomplished Occlumens he was. Perhaps he fooled you…”

Snape threw up his hands. “Why you are determined to doubt him now of all times is beyond me.”

“Perhaps,” Sirius snapped, “it’s because he’s lying here dead! We should be burying him, not arguing about what he did and didn’t say, because it doesn’t matter anymore!”

Harry felt himself crack again. “Will you all—stop—SHOUTING!”

The face of his dead friend blurred as his eyes filled with tears, but guiltily, he felt glad he didn’t have to look at him anymore. His head was still pounding, and the silence only made it worse.

Beside him, Hermione gasped.

“What is it?” Ron asked in a quiet voice.

Harry blinked rapidly, trying to clear his eyes before looking at her.

Hermione shook her head. “Noth—I just thought I saw—no, look, there it is!”

But then Harry saw it too. In the old wooden floor just in front of him, directly underneath where Robin’s hand was dangling towards the ground, there was a tiny blue flower blooming before his eyes, right between the cracks in the wood.

Ron yelped and jumped back. By the time a few more flowers, grasses and sprouts had worked their way up in patches, everyone in the room was staring intently at that patch of floor, their expressions ranging from shock, to fear, to amazement.

But something else was sprouting up from the earth, too. Bright filaments of gossamer gold twisted upward like vines searching for sunlight, sparkling like firecrackers as they reached up to brush Robin’s fingertips. As they wrapped gently around his hand, warm light began to glow from every single crack and line in the floor around them, seeming to take almost corporeal form as it coiled up like mellow fire, curling in the air and winding up Robin’s arm in a slow spiral. It left glittering trails twisting along his skin like a tattoo.

When it reached the centre of his still motionless chest, it joined the other strands of light wrapping around him from all sides to form into a twisting sort of spiral. The light seeped into his ashen skin and glowed as if the winding trails were nothing but cracks in his skin, letting out the essence swirling inside. It was as if his veins ran with molten gold. The markings reached even his face, engraving arcane patterns that continued to spread into smaller and smaller forms. His eyes flew open, making Harry jump back, and they were swirling pools of that same golden fire.

Only then did Robin move. With a harsh, creaking breath, his chest arched and the light on his skin and in his eyes started to dissolve. They were blue again before they squeezed shut in pain. His breaths were laboured, but they were there. He was breathing again…

Robin sat up on shaking arms, and Harry could do nothing but watch with wide eyes and slack jaw. The rest of the Order looked as stunned as he felt. Robin hunched in on himself, drawing his knees to his chest and shivering violently; his lips and fingers were still tinged blue.

“W—what… happened?” he asked breathlessly, through chattering teeth.

Fred and George were the first to recover. They let out a whoop that startled everyone out of their stupor, hugging each other and then Robin.

Robin smiled weakly at them when they let go, then finally looked around the room, squinting in the bright light.

With effort, he asked, “Where… am I?”

“The Burrow!” said George.

“You were dead,” Fred added.

“Erm…” he frowned up at them. “Are you… sure?”

“We’re sure!” several people shouted.

“Oh,” he said slowly, still balled up. “Sorry… about that.”

“Sorry!” said Mrs. Weasley shrilly. “Sorry, he says!” She retrieved a blanket from an armchair and wrapped it around his shoulders. “I’m going to make some tea. You look like… well, death!”

They could still hear her muttering incredulously to herself in the kitchen.

“Look,” Robin breathed, struggling to stand up. “I didn’t mean to—“

His knees buckled the moment he got to his feet, unable to support his weight; Snape caught him easily and shoved him back on the couch.

“Severus,” said Robin, as if just noticing him. “You told them, didn’t you? That I wasn’t dead?”

“I did my best, but—“

“But you were dead!” Sirius cried.

“You weren’t breathing…” said Harry, but he wasn’t sure if anyone heard him.

“The Dark Lord hit you with a Killing Curse while your back was turned,” Snape explained.

“That slimy git,” Robin muttered. “I assumed he was going for Harry… Harry!” His eyes widened and he looked around before finding him still sitting on the floor. “Harry,” he said, “I’m sorry for dying in front of you, that’s really awful, I didn’t see it coming…”

Ron broke into hysterical sniggers.

“Are you apologising for getting killed?” Hermione asked incredulously.

Robin hunched in on himself a little more, mumbling, “He’s seen so many people die… it’s not fair…”

Suddenly, Moody levelled his wand at Robin.

Robin glared at him. “Avalon, not this again. Stop… pointing that thing at me.”

“I have to ask you something only you would know.”

“How could it be anyone but me? Didn’t you bring me here?”

Moody just continued staring at him.

“Fine, what is it.”

“Where did we first meet?” Moody asked.

Robin raised an eyebrow. “The kitchen. With you pointing that stick at me.”


“Grimmauld Place. Sirius’s house.”

Moody put his wand away, seemingly satisfied.

“You-Know-Who stole your wand,” he said. “That was, apparently, the point of all this. He thought it was the Elder Wand.”

Robin laughed feebly. “He must be pretty disappointed right about now.”

“I’d say so,” said Harry quietly.

“At least now he definitely thinks I’m dead,” said Robin as Mrs. Weasley returned with several cups of tea. “Now I can really be a secret weapon.”

“Not to be rude,” said Sirius, “but why aren’t you? Dead, I mean.”

“Dunno,” said Robin. “Just happens.”

He thanked Mrs. Weasley for the cup of tea she handed him and moved aside for her to take a seat beside him. The rest of the Order followed suit, finding seats where they could now that the chaos was seemingly over.

“Just happens?” Lupin asked. “You mean this has happened before?”

Robin winced. “Er… sorry, my brain is really low on oxygen right now, you’re going to have to give me a minute.”

How many times?” Moody demanded.

Robin sighed, rubbing his forehead. “I don’t know.”

“Does it happen… every time?” Ron asked tentatively.

Robin raised an amused eyebrow at him. “No, once in a while I actually die.”

“Are you telling us you’re immortal?” Tonks asked incredulously.

“Er… no.”

He offered no further clarification.

“You just came back from the dead,” said Moody gravely. “You’ve got some explaining to do.”

“Ugh,” Robin groaned. “Can you give me a break here? I just died.”

“How—“ Ron started, but his voice cracked. “How old are you?”

Robin shrugged. “Older than most people, I guess. But as Moody already pointed out, I’m not strictly human, so it’s really not that weird.”

“It’s pretty weird,” said Sirius, who was staring at him with no small degree of fascination.

Robin was pressing his fingers together as colour started to come back to them. “I think my blood’s finally starting to circulate again,” he muttered. “Ow.

“This is the strangest day of my life,” said Tonks.

“Well,” said Snape, looking significantly at Robin, “it’s about to get stranger.”

Robin looked up at him. “You can’t be serious.”

“Yes,” Dumbledore agreed. “You must tell them.”

“You know what’s going on here?” Moody asked sharply. Dumbledore nodded.

Robin sighed. “Isn’t it enough that Dumbledore knows?”

“Not anymore,” said Moody.

Robin still looked reluctant.

“You said—“ Harry began, throat feeling hoarse. “You said you told Dumbledore a secret. And you couldn’t tell us because we had no Occlumency training. But you’ve been training us for a long time, and you still haven’t told us.”

“We just want to know you,” said Hermione pleadingly. “You keep so much from us.”

“You already do know me,” he said. “Anything else is just history.” With a heavy sigh, he continued, “But I suppose you’re right, all of you. I always knew this would happen. The only reason I haven’t told you is because I don’t want to.”

“Why not?” Harry asked.

“People tend to react… badly.”

They exchanged a few nervous glances.

“So?” Robin asked, resting his tea on the low table. “I suppose it’s about time. What do you want to know?”

“How old are you?” Sirius blurted.

Lupin smacked him, and Robin smiled slightly.

“I really don’t know—not exactly…” he said. “Nobody ever told me when I was born… I mean, it didn’t really matter, unless you were a noble.”

“You weren’t?” Ron asked.

“Of course not,” Robin scoffed. “My mother and I lived in a one-room hut until I went to live with my uncle.”

“And you slept on the floor,” Mrs. Weasley remembered.

Robin shrugged. “Well, we had straw sometimes, but essentially, yeah.”

“And I thought we were poor,” Ron whispered. Hermione elbowed him.

“So you are from England, then?” Mr. Weasley asked hesitantly.

“Well—” Robin hesitated. “Yes…”

“But?” said Moody when he didn’t continue.

“It wasn’t called that.”

At the incredulous looks he received, he added, “I was originally from… er… Essetir.”

ESSETIR?” Sirius squawked. “That hasn’t been around for literally a thousand years!”

“All right!” Robin admitted, loudly. “I’m pretty old, okay?”

“Merlin’s beard!” cried Mr. Weasley.

Robin groaned.

“Well,” Sirius muttered, “it explains the accent.”

“Accent?” said Robin. “Ugh, I thought I had it down by now.”

“What it doesn’t explain,” Moody interjected, “is exactly how you came back from the dead.”

“I told you,” said Robin, “I don’t know. I don’t do it on purpose.”

“Then how did you know you’d come back?”

“Well…” he began, “I didn’t know, it’s just, that’s what usually happens.”

“So it always happens the same way.”

He shrugged. “Well, I’ve never seen it happen, obviously, but I generally wake up wherever I fell down, so I guess so. Except for that one time I drowned, but when I woke up, I was on the shore. Which was nice, because if not, I would’ve drowned again.”

Nobody responded to that right away.

“Why did it… hurt?” Harry asked quietly. “To come back?”

Robin smiled softly. “Don’t you know it’s life that hurts? Not death.”

There was a long pause. Suddenly, Robin asked, “Er, why are there plants in the floor?”

“That was you,” said Fred.

“Yeah,” George added, “and then light exploded from the floor and sort of…”

“… drew all over you,” Fred finished. “Swirls and that.”

Robin eyed them as if they were crazy. “What?”

“It looked sort of like a triskelion,” Hermione added timidly.

He frowned. “That’s… weird. I had no idea. Might explain a few things, though…”

Tonks tentatively spoke up again. “So… why you, then? If you were just a human—before, at least—then why are you so… er, powerful?”

“I don’t—“ He sighed again, rubbing his temple. “I don’t know. I asked, believe me. No one could tell me why me. But they told me I was… well, Magic.”

Mr. Weasley frowned. “Of course you are, we’re all—“

Robin shook his head. “No, you don’t understand. You have magic. I, supposedly, am Magic. Magic Incarnate—that’s how they described me. Don’t ask me what it means. But it probably explains what Moody’s eye sees.”

“That’s insane,” said Ron.

“You’re telling me.”

“Hold on,” said Sirius. “If you’re a thousand years old—“

Robin winced. “Little bit older.”

“Great. If you’re super old, why haven’t we heard of you?”

Robin grimaced. “Er—well, I try to keep my name out of… things… but incidentally, I’m pretty sure you, er, have. That’s why I had to make up a new name.”

“You lied about your name?” said Lupin. “Why? Who are you?”

“Nobody!” Robin answered quickly. “I mean—it doesn’t really matter… it’s just—sort of an unusual name. Besides, you wouldn’t believe me. You’d accuse me of lying and kick me out of the Order, that’s why I didn’t want to tell you in the first place.”

“We just watched you come back from the dead,” said Ron. “I think we’d believe anything right about now.”

Robin actually laughed then. “Anything?”

“Just tell us,” said Hermione rather eagerly.

“You won’t believe me without proof.” He sighed. “This was a bad idea, I should just go home… Why did I ever think…”

“No!” Mrs. Weasley jumped in. “You’re too weak, you’re not going anywhere.”

“Did you keep the same last name, at least?” Moody asked, hand on his wand in case he tried to escape.

“Er… I don’t have a last name.”

“You don’t—!“ Sirius exclaimed.

“I was a nobody,” said Robin defensively, “I didn’t need two names.”

“What’s your first name, then?” said Moody, eyebrows raised.

Robin grinned sheepishly. “Well, to be fair, I really was named after a bird, so it wasn’t a complete lie—“

He was interrupted by Mrs. Weasley’s gasp. All of them, including him, turned their eyes on her. She had one hand to her mouth, covering her ashen face as she leaned as far away from Robin as possible.

“Mum—?” said Ron, looking alarmed.

“Yeah,” said Robin ruefully, “that’s sort of the reaction I was expecting.”

“Now I have to know,” said Sirius.

“Well, you see, there was a falcon on the windowsill that kept—“

But he jumped, cut off when Moody growled, “What is your damn name?”

“MERLIN!” he shouted.

Dead silence.

They all stared blankly at Merlin, the Merlin, who was studiously avoiding their gazes, sitting on the couch at the Burrow with a blanket around his shoulders, having just come back from the dead before their very eyes. He had to be lying. He couldn’t be lying.

His eyes flicked between them, looking more and more unnerved by the minute.

“That’s it,” he said uneasily. “That’s the whole thing.”

“Well,” said Fred, “people often add a ‘the Great’ after it, you know, for distinction.”

“You’re not helping,” he replied dryly.

They knew?” said Hermione incredulously.

Robin—no, Merlin—looked at her perplexedly. “You knew?”

“Er…” She faltered. “Yeah. Sorry?”

“Who told you? Was it that damn portrait? Always in my business, I swear…”

“No, I sort of… figured it out? I mean, there was a really old picture of you in a book, and you kept jumping when people swore by—er, your name.”

He sighed. “I told the ghosts to make sure those were all gone. It’s not as if they don’t have the time…”

Ron (who had made no noise whatsoever for the past several minutes apart from a barely audible, high-pitched whine) screamed, “Oh, no! Did I swear in front of you? I definitely did, didn’t I? And I talked about you, in front of you… and I’m pretty sure I argued with you about your own book… oh, and now I’m rambling at you…”

He stumbled to his feet and made for the door, still white-faced.

“Ron!” Merlin called, through suppressed laughter. “Come back, it’s—it’s fine, seriously.”

“See?” Mrs. Weasley said pointedly. “I told you not to swear.”

Chapter Text

“You are not leaving this house, young man!”

Ron was awoken by his mum shouting again. He was back in his room at the Burrow, he realised; and Harry was sleeping nearby on the spare cot… And that was when last night came flooding back to him.

The other voice from downstairs responded at a quieter, but still audible level. “I’m not a young man, and I have classes to teach!”

“You have classes on Monday. This is Saturday, and you’re going to spend it resting.”

Ron… could not go downstairs for breakfast. His mum had invited all the students to stay overnight after the excitement, and Lupin and Sirius as well, though the rest of the Order was gone. The students would have had a hard time returning to Hogwarts without… him, but he was still too weak to Transport them back.

“I’m fine!”

“You just died!”

“And now, I’m fine.”

The noise had woken Harry too, and the two of them shared an apprehensive look before silently agreeing to go down together.

When they got dressed and made themselves relatively presentable, they descended the stairs slowly and hesitantly. In the kitchen, Fred and George had already made themselves comfortable watching their mother argue with the greatest wizard who ever lived. Said wizard was now seated across from them at the table reading a large book and wearing a mildly disgruntled expression. Behind him, Lupin was helping Mrs. Weasley with breakfast while Sirius tried to pretend he wasn’t staring at the rumpled-looking warlock.

“Good morning, Ron, Harry,” said Mrs. Weasley. “Breakfast is almost ready.”

In passing, she draped a blanket over Merlin again.

“Mrs. Weasley, I’m fine, really, I was only cold yesterday because I was recovering from being room temperature. I’m fully alive now, I assure you.”

She ignored him. “Please, call me Molly, dear.”

He hesitated. “Er. Sure, Mol—no, that’s weird. We’re not doing that.”

When he noticed Harry and Ron still standing in the doorway, he raised an eyebrow. “Are you going to sit down? You too, Sirius, I can feel your eyes on the back of my head, it’s creeping me out.”

Sirius sat, but did not stop staring. Ron and Harry followed suit, alternating between joining Sirius in staring and avoiding looking anywhere near that side of the table. Ro—he was doing his best to ignore them, focusing on the book on the table in front of him.

As Mrs. Weasley once again set cups of tea on the table for everyone, Merlin shook his head fondly. “You thousanders and your tea…”

“Thousander?” Sirius asked.

“Er—“ He froze, then mumbled, “Well, you know… late thousanders, I suppose.”

“He means people born when there were four digits in the year,” George said gleefully.

“He’s said it before,” Fred added.

“Good heavens,” said Mrs. Weasley faintly.

“This is the best,” said the twins, grinning at each other.

“I’m glad I amuse you,” he mumbled into his cup. Then he looked around at them skeptically. “So you… believe me, then?”

“Believe what?” Lupin asked.

“You know.” He shrugged. “That I’m the guy on your Chocolate Frog Cards. Doesn’t really look much like me.”

“Dunno who else you could be, to be honest,” said Harry, but he still looked just as shocked as he had last night.

Merlin (the Merlin) hummed. “I’ve always had a hard time convincing people I was me.”

“That seems like a weird problem to have,” said Sirius.

Merlin raised an eyebrow. “Have you seen me recently?”

“Well,” Lupin admitted, “I suppose you don’t look a thousand years old.”

“Fifteen hundred,” he corrected him automatically. Then he jolted forward in his seat. “I know! I could show you something… one of those things people keep saying are impossible. Let me think—“

“YES!” Ron, Harry and Sirius shouted, cutting him off.

“NO!” Mrs. Weasley cried at the same time.

“All right!” He raised his hands in surrender. “No impossible things, got it.”

“Oh!” Mrs. Weasley shouted suddenly, dropping a teacup that would have shattered on the floor if not for the magic that stopped it in midair.

“What is it?” Ron asked, alarmed.

“Oh, no…” she said, looking anxious. “I have to fix your jumper!”

Leaning over to pluck the teacup from midair, R—he looked at her strangely. “What are you—“

“Your sweater!” she wailed. “It’s got an R on it!”

“Oh,” he laughed. “Don’t be ridiculous, you don’t have to—“

“Where is it? I have to change it to an M, it won’t take long…”

“Don’t you dare,” he said with mock sternness. “I wear it with pride.”


“Besides, it’s my fault, not yours.”

When Hermione joined them shortly, she stopped dead in the doorway and gasped.

“What?” said Fred. “Forget he was here?”

“You’re—“ Hermione began. “That’s his—I mean—your book!”

Ron noticed for the first time that the book was the same one he had been so interested in before, the one Merlin had written. “Oh,” he said faintly. “That’s why you had it.”

The warlock in question looked up from the book, quill poised over the paper. “Er, yeah?”

“You’re—“ Hermione spluttered. “You’re writing in it!”

“I’m not writing, I’m fixing spelling mistakes. I noticed them weeks ago but I didn’t want you to think I was defacing it.”

“But you… are?”

He stared at her blankly. “But I wrote it, though.”

“It’s over a thousand years old!”

“Er, yeah, I know. I was there.”

Hermione plopped down into the chair beside Ron and continued watching him. He was frowning at the page now, flipping through a few of them near the end.

“I should really just rip this part out,” he muttered.

Hermione screeched.

He looked at her in alarm. “All right, fine, I’ll just leave it! Even if it’s stupid and misspelled. Not as if anybody expected me to be able to read, anyway…”

He dried the page with a wave of his hand and closed the book, wordlessly sending it off to the other room. Unfortunately, that meant he now had nothing to do, so he just watched them watching him.

“Did you not get this out of your system last night?”

Before they could attempt to answer, Mr. Weasley joined them, then proceeded to fidget silently in his seat for a few moments.

“Erm, sir?” he said abruptly.

Merlin the Great continued doodling on the table with one finger, trailing lines of gold that quickly evaporated.

“Merlin,” said Fred, suppressing laughter.


“He means you.”

“Oh!” He jumped and shot Mr. Weasley a sheepish smile. “Sorry, Mr. Weasley, didn’t realise you were talking to me.”

Mr. Weasley waved his hand vigorously. “Oh, it’s quite all right, er…”

After a beat, he said pointedly, “Name’s Merlin, Mr. Weasley.”

“Right.” He fidgeted some more. “Well, I was wondering…”

Merlin raised a rather apprehensive eyebrow.

“Do you happen to know… what is the function of a rubber duck?”

That made him laugh out loud, and Mr. Weasley seemed somehow both pleased and confused by this.

“I don’t really know,” he answered. “But when in doubt, go with capitalism.”

And did that ever lead to a lengthy discussion.

The analysis of Muggle economics (during which Merlin explained the origin of paper money, because he was apparently there for that) went on for some time, but it wasn’t long before their incredulity took over once more.

As Merlin was attempting to go about grading papers by the fireplace, the five students joined him, and Harry and Ron finally managed to shake themselves out of their shocked stupors and actually talk to him. And unlike Harry, Ron blurted out the first thing that popped into his head.

“How did you become the greatest wizard to ever live?” he said, a little too loudly.

Merlin looked up, a little startled, quill dripping ink on the paper. Hermione, studying beside him, looked vaguely, but she didn’t say anything.

“Er,” he said. “That’s never really been confirmed, you know. I mean, how would you even determine that?”

“Your magic brought you back to life yesterday,” Harry pointed out.

“Well—“ He looked down, rubbing at the many ink spots on his fingers. “It probably wasn’t my magic exactly, just magic in general…”

“Exactly,” said Harry. “The Earth itself has kept you alive for over a thousand years. You must be important.”

“You’ve got to understand,” he said, “you know me as Merlin, a powerful sorcerer, but that’s not why I’m still alive. That’s not all I am.” He sighed. “I asked the Druids the same questions you’re asking me. They treated me like some sort of deity, calling me ‘Emrys’ or ’Master’… many of them were willing to die for me. Some did. I’d never even met them. 

“So I asked them why. I asked them what I was. They couldn’t answer all my questions, but I’ll tell you what they told me—though I don’t know if it’s true or only legend.”

Fred and George edged forward in their seats; even Hermione, who had been pretending not to listen, put down her quill.

“During the Great Purge,” Merlin began, “before I was born, thousands of magical beings were killed. So afterwards, the Balance had to be restored. A huge amount of magic was removed from the world by that slaughter, and it had to be put back…

“But this time, instead of thousands of magical beings, there was only one. I alone was the embodiment of the magic that once belonged to thousands. And I was something no one had ever seen before: I was magic made living.

“The Druids knew this would happen. They gave me a name before I was even born, one which meant ‘Immortal,’ and they recognised me on sight somehow. So it wasn’t a question of ‘why me’—although I asked myself that many times—because I wasn’t chosen by the Old Religion: I came into existence because of the Old Religion. I am magic, and it is me. Once I understood that, I grew more powerful. I don’t have to force magic to do anything; it just does.”

It was a few moments before anyone spoke.

“Blimey,” said Ron. “Does that mean you can do anything?”

Merlin shook his head quickly. “No. There are laws of magic just like there are laws of physics.”

“Physics?” Ron asked.

Merlin eyed him incredulously. “You know, witches and wizards really need to start getting a proper education. I mean, surely the basics, at least.”

Ron looked vaguely offended, but wasn’t quite ready to argue with the Merlin just yet.

“But—“ Harry began, but he hesitated.

When he didn’t continue, Merlin nodded his encouragement. “Go on, Harry. I won’t be offended or anything, I promise.”

And somehow, they knew instinctively that he was telling the truth.

“But doesn’t it hurt?” Harry rushed. “To have to watch your friends die?”

Harry looked apologetic at the question, but Merlin just smiled sadly.

“Of course it does, Harry,” he said. “And you always wish you could see them just one last time. But eventually, it doesn’t hurt so much to think of them anymore, because you love them, even if they’re gone.” He shook his head. “It’s true, I’ve lost more loved ones than most, and I miss them. But at least this way, I know they’ll be remembered forever. Even if it’s only by me.”

“I just wish—“ said Harry, but he stopped himself, remembering there were other people in the room. “I don’t even remember my parents. I never even got the chance to know them.”

Beside him, Ron looked down at his hands.

“You’re right,” said Merlin. “And I wish it could have been different. Maybe you don’t remember almost anything about them, but you do know, without a doubt, that they loved you. Your mother’s enchantment is proof of that. She’s still watching over you, even today.

“And they aren’t the only ones who love you. You still have your friends, and all the Weasleys, and Sirius.” He smiled softly. “I had a Sirius too, you know.”

Harry looked up.

“His name was Gaius. He took me in when I had to leave my village. He looked after me, made sure I was safe, kept my secret even though he could be executed for harboring a sorcerer… And sometimes he yelled at me, so I knew he cared.” Merlin gave a watery laugh. “He taught me everything he knew—about magic, but other things, too.

“I never knew my father either, and when I finally got to meet him, he was killed only a few days later. But I had Gaius. And you have us. And personally,” he added, “I don’t plan on dying anytime soon.”

Given the circumstances, Harry had to laugh at that just a little.

The rest of the weekend was similarly odd. One moment, they’d all be talking just as if nothing had happened, and the next, one of them would remember exactly who they were talking to and forget everything they were about to say.

The man himself was doing his best to help them get over it. Whenever Ron would mumble something along the lines of “Merlin is in our sitting room” or “Merlin is singing along to Celestina Warbeck,” he would retort, “Quit talking about me in the third person, I’m sitting right here.”

Hermione and Lupin kept asking him vague historical questions like “What were the Middle Ages like?” (the answer was “Dirty”); Harry and Sirius asked him countless questions about magic, which he could only answer rather ambiguously; and Mrs. Weasley, unsurprisingly, asked about his upbringing.

“Did you get enough to eat when you were growing up?” was the third such question.

He sighed. “Probably not. Nobody did. Except Arthur, but that’s probably why he was such a prat.”

“What do you mean?” asked Sirius eagerly.

“Well,” he grinned, “the first time I met him, he was using his servant for target practice, so that sort of prat, I suppose.”

“That’s horrible!” Hermione gasped.

“What did you do?” Harry asked enthusiastically.

“Told him to knock it off, obviously.”

Ron gawked at him. “You said that to the king?”

He shrugged. “Well, he was the prince at the time, although I thought he was just a knight. But, yeah, I did. Anyway, he put me in the stocks.”

“That’s horrible!” said Hermione again.

“Not really.” Having drunk his tea, he was now spinning the cup on its saucer with a slight motion of his finger. “It was worse when he attacked me with a mace the next day.”


“What’d he do that for?” Ron interrupted, scandalised.

“I assume it was because I persisted in calling him an ass,” he said indifferently. “Oh, and then I asked him how long he’d been training to be a prat. He was bragging about his training, you see. So I don’t really blame him, honestly.”

Sirius managed to stop laughing long enough to ask, “Did you have a death wish?”

“What was I supposed to do, allow him to continue being a prat?”

“But you became friends eventually, right?” Lupin asked.

“Oh, yeah,” he said with a nod. “After he got over the fact that I continually disrespected him. And that I was a pretty lousy servant. Don’t know why he kept me on, really.”

“You were his servant?” Ron cried.

“Yeah, for his whole life. I had to keep him from getting killed left and right somehow.”

Hermione frowned. “I thought you were his Court Sorcerer?”

He shook his head. “Not his, Gwen’s. She’s the one who legalised magic.”

“Who’s Gwen?” Ron asked.

“You know, Guinevere, his queen. But she was a servant with me before, so we’d been friends for a long time.”

She was a servant too?”

Merlin frowned at them. “I’m beginning to think I should have a look at your history books. Yeah, she was Morgana’s handmaid.”


“Stop repeating everything I say.”

By Monday, they were sufficiently used to the concept to attend his Defence Against the Dark Arts class without causing a scene, although Ron felt as if an entire week had passed since Friday. He was a little annoyed that Hermione hadn’t told Harry and him what she’d found out, but even if she had, they probably would’ve thought she’d just snapped from the stress of the oncoming OWLs.

And speaking of OWLs, they barely had any time to talk to him—or each other—between jam-packed classes, mountains of homework and Quidditch practice, especially since the last Quidditch game was coming up soon. Ron felt rather sick at the thought.

On the bright side, Hagrid wasn’t being continuously inspected by Umbridge anymore, but when he caught up to them in the halls a few days later, he was looking nearly as bruised as he had the first day he’d come back. Come to think of it, he’d been looking rather battered more often than usual since he’d returned, but Ron had long since decided not to ask about any dark creatures he may or may not be keeping in his cabin. No, this time, Hagrid told them himself.

“Harry, Ron, Hermione,” he said in a quick, loud whisper when he stopped them in the corridor. “Listen, can yeh come with me? Now? While ev’ryone’s in the Grea’ Hall?”

“Can’t it wait?” Ron pleaded, stomach growling.

“No, it’s gotta be now… while ev’ryone’s busy… please?”

“‘Course,” said Harry at once (possibly because of the blood dripping from Hagrid’s nose). “‘Course we’ll come.”

“Erm…” Hermione ventured. “Maybe we should bring—er, Professor Emrys? Whatever it is, it looks…” She regarded Hagrid’s two black eyes warily. “…dangerous.”

“I don’ know…” said Hagrid.

“She’s probably right,” Harry agreed. “He’s in—“ He lowered his voice. “He’s in the Order, you know Dumbledore trusts him.”

Hagrid still looked reluctant, but he agreed. “Well, I suppose. Hurry and get him, though, all righ’?”

Harry ran off down the corridor to fetch him.

“I know Umbridge’s gone, thank Merlin,” said Hagrid (Ron and Hermione exchanged a look). “But I have to make sure the Ministry doesn’ find out…”

“Find out about what?” Ron asked.

“Yeh—yeh’ll see in a mo’,” he said, looking over his shoulder into the crowd of students milling about in the direction of the Great Hall.

A few moments later, Harry returned with Professor Emrys. Ron was slightly uncomfortable with how Merlin-y he looked with his long white hair and beard, and avoided looking him directly in the eye.

“What’s going on?” he asked in a low, hoarse voice.

“Yeh’ll see,” said Hagrid evasively, then strode down the corridor and out into the courtyard in the direction of the Forbidden Forest.

They all had to jog to keep up with him as he walked across the lawn, though Merlin somehow made it look as if he were merely striding with purpose. He sure could be quick when he wanted to. They walked straight past Hagrid’s cabin and into the shade of the trees, where Hagrid picked up a crossbow that was leaning against a tree.

“Hagrid,” said Harry warily, “why are you armed?”

“Jus’ a precaution,” he answered, shrugging his massive shoulders.

The path was becoming increasingly overgrown and the trees grew so closely together as they walked further and further into the Forest that it was as dark as dusk. They were soon a long way past the clearing where Hagrid had shown them the Thestrals, but Ron felt no sense of unease until Hagrid stepped unexpectedly off the path and began winding his way in and out of trees towards the dark heart of the Forest.

“Hagrid!” said Ron, fighting his way through thickly knotted brambles, over which Hagrid had stepped with ease, and remembering very vividly what had happened to them on the other occasion they had stepped off the Forest path. “Where are we going?”

“Bit further,” said Hagrid over his shoulder. “C’mon, you lot… we need ter keep together now.”

They were so deep in the Forest now that sometimes all they could see of Hagrid in the gloom was a massive dark shape ahead of him. Any sound seemed threatening in the muffled silence. Ron found the lack of creatures thus far strangely ominous, but at least R—Merlin was following behind them, making sure they all got there in one piece.

“Hagrid, would it be all right if we lit our wands?” said Hermione quietly.

“Er… all righ’,” Hagrid whispered back. “In fact—”

He stopped suddenly and turned around; Hermione walked right into him and was knocked over backwards. Harry caught her before she hit the forest floor.

“Maybe we bes’ jus’ stop fer a momen’, so I can… fill yeh in,” said Hagrid. “Before we ge’ there, like.”

“Good!” said Hermione, as Harry set her back on her feet. They both murmured “Lumos!” and their wand-tips ignited. Hagrid’s face swam through the gloom by the light of the two wavering beams and Harry saw again that he looked nervous and sad.

“Righ’,” said Hagrid. “Well, see… the thing is…” He took a great breath. “Well, I know Umbridge was plannin’ to sack me any day now, and who knows, she migh’ still be able to.”

“She’s still in St. Mungo’s,” Merlin said. “I don’t see how she could.”

“Still,” said Hagrid. “Jus’ in case… I can’ leave withou’… withou’ tellin’ someone, because I’ll—I’ll need yeh ter help me, if yer willin’.”

“Of course we’ll help you,” said Harry at once. “What do you want us to do?”

Hagrid gave a great sniff and patted Harry wordlessly on the shoulder with such force Harry was knocked sideways into a tree.

“I knew yeh’d say yes,” said Hagrid into his handkerchief, “but I won’… never forget. Well, c’mon… jus’ a little bit further through here… watch yerselves, now, there’s nettles.”

They walked on in silence for another fifteen minutes; Ron had just opened his mouth to ask how much further they had to go when Hagrid threw out his right arm to signal that they should stop.

“Really easy,” he said softly. “Very quiet, now…”

They crept forwards and Ron saw that they were facing a large, smooth mound of earth nearly as tall as Hagrid that he thought, with a jolt of dread, was sure to be the lair of some enormous animal. Trees had been ripped up at the roots all around the mound, so that it stood on a bare patch of ground surrounded by heaps of trunks and boughs that formed a kind of fence or barricade, behind which the five of them now stood.

“Sleepin’,” breathed Hagrid.

Sure enough, Ron could hear a distant, rhythmic rumbling. He glanced sideways at Hermione, who was gazing at the mound with her mouth slightly open, looking utterly terrified.

“Hagrid,” she said in a whisper barely audible over the sound of the sleeping creature, “who is he?”

Ron found this an odd question. ”What is it?” was the one he had been planning on asking.

He looked from her to Hagrid and then, as realisation hit him, he looked back at the mound with a small gasp of horror. The great mound of earth, on which they could all easily have stood, was moving slowly up and down in time with the deep, grunting breathing. It was not a mound at all. It was the curved back of what was clearly—

“Well, no—he didn’ want ter come,” said Hagrid, sounding desperate. “But I had ter bring him, Hermione, I had ter!”

“But why?” asked Hermione, who sounded as though she wanted to cry. “Why—what—oh, Hagrid!”

“I knew if I jus’ got him back,” said Hagrid, sounding close to tears himself, “an’—an’ taught him a few manners—I’d be able ter take him outside an’ show ev’ryone he’s harmless!”

“Harmless!” said Hermione shrilly, and Hagrid made frantic hushing noises with his hands as the enormous creature before them grunted loudly and shifted in its sleep. “He’s been hurting you all this time, hasn’t he? That’s why you’ve had all these injuries!”

“He don’ know his own strength!” said Hagrid earnestly. “An’ he’s gettin’ better, he’s not fightin’ so much any more—Hermione, I couldn’ leave him,” said Hagrid, tears now trickling down his bruised face into his beard. “See—he’s my brother!”

Hermione simply stared at him, her mouth open.

“Hagrid, when you say ‘brother’,” said Harry slowly, “do you mean—?”

“Well, half-brother,” amended Hagrid. “Turns out me mother took up with another giant when she left me dad, an’ she went an’ had Grawp here—”

“Grawp?” said Harry.

“Yeah…” said Hagrid anxiously. “He don’ speak a lot of English… I’ve bin tryin’ ter teach him… anyway, she don’ seem ter have liked him much more’n she liked me. See, with giantesses, what counts is producin’ good big kids, and he’s always been a bit on the runty side fer a giant—on’y sixteen foot—”

“Oh, yes, tiny!” said Hermione, with a kind of hysterical sarcasm. “Absolutely minuscule!”

“He was bein’ kicked aroun’ by all o’ them—I jus’ couldn’ leave him—”

“Of course, Professor Hagrid,” Merlin intervened. “We’ll look after him if you have to leave, though I’m sure you won’t.”

“I knew I could count on all o’ yeh,” said Hagrid, beaming in a very watery way. “An’ I don’ want yeh ter put yerself out too much, like… I know yeh’ve got exams… if yeh could jus’ nip down here in yer Invisibility Cloak maybe once a week an’ have a little chat with ‘im. I’ll wake ‘im up, then—introduce yeh—”

“Wha—no!” said Hermione, jumping up. “Hagrid, no, don’t wake him, really, we don’t need—”

But Hagrid had already stepped over the great tree trunk in front of them and was proceeding towards Grawp. When he was about ten feet away, he lifted a long, broken bough from the ground, smiled reassuringly over his shoulder at them, then poked Grawp hard in the middle of the back with the end of the bough.

The giant gave a roar that echoed around the silent Forest; birds in the treetops overhead rose twittering from their perches and soared away. In front of them, meanwhile, the gigantic Grawp was rising from the ground, which shuddered as he placed an enormous hand upon it to push himself on to his knees. He turned his head to see who and what had disturbed him.

“All righ’, Grawpy?” said Hagrid, in a would-be cheery voice, backing away with the long bough raised, ready to poke Grawp again. “Had a nice sleep, eh?”

The three of them retreated behind Merlin, who didn’t seem perturbed in the slightest. They looked up into his startlingly huge face; it was as though the features had been hewn onto a great stone ball. Grawp raised dirty knuckles, each as big as a cricket ball, to his eyes, rubbed vigorously, then, without warning, pushed himself to his feet with surprising speed and agility.

Hermione squeaked as the  trees to which the other ends of the ropes around Grawp’s wrists and ankles were attached creaked ominously. Gazing blearily around, he seized a bird’s nest from the upper branches of a towering pine and turned it upside-down with a roar of apparent displeasure that there was no bird in it; eggs fell like grenades towards the ground and Hagrid threw his arms over his head to protect himself.

“Anyway, Grawpy,” shouted Hagrid, looking up apprehensively in case of further falling eggs, “I’ve brought some friends ter meet yeh. Remember, I told yeh I might? Remember, when I said I might have ter go on a little trip an’ leave them ter look after yeh fer a bit? Remember that, Grawpy?”

Grawp merely gave another low roar. He had now seized the top of the pine tree and was pulling it towards him, evidently for the simple pleasure of seeing how far it would spring back when he let go.

“Now, Grawpy, don’ do that!” shouted Hagrid. “Tha’s how you ended up pullin’ up the others—look, I got company for yeh! Look down, yeh big buffoon.”

Merlin moved to stand beside Hagrid, waving cheerfully at the giant.

“Hello, Grawp!” he said loudly.

The new voice seemed to attract Grawp’s attention; he let go of the top of the tree, which swayed alarmingly and deluged Hagrid with a rain of pine needles, and looked down.

“This is Emrys, Grawp!” said Hagrid quickly. “And Harry, and Ron, and Hermione.”

They watched, in great trepidation, as he lowered his huge boulder of a head so that he could peer blearily at them all.

“Is’n’ tha’ nice, eh?” Hagrid continued. “Some friends fer yeh ter—GRAWPY, NO!”

Grawp’s hand shot out of nowhere towards Merlin, who jumped back just in time to avoid it.

“Bad boy, Grawpy! Yeh don’ grab—!“

This time, Grawp reached for Hagrid.

“HEY!” Merlin shouted, jumping in front of him, hands raised. “They’re fragile. You’ve got to be careful. Er… varg.”

Grawp sat down, shaking the earth beneath their feet. “Varg?”

“Yeah,” he replied, grinning.

“Em… Em-ersh?”

“Yep, that’s me.”

Grawp nodded thoughtfully, then went back to pulling the pine tree as far as it would go.

“Righ’,” said Hagrid. “Well… there yeh are. Yeh’ve met him, an’ now he’ll know yeh when yeh come back. I reckon tha’s enough fer one day. We’ll go back now, shall we?”

They nodded, and Hagrid led the way back into the trees. After a few minutes, they heard a crash that indicated Grawp had at last pulled the pine tree over.

“Hold it,” said Hagrid abruptly. He pulled an arrow from the quiver over his shoulder and fitted in into the crossbow. Harry and Hermione raised their wands. Merlin, of course, did nothing in particular to arm himself.

“I thought we told you, Hagrid,” said a deep male voice, “that you are no longer welcome here?”

The centaur who emerged from the dappled green half-light of the forest was armed with a longbow, and four or five others emerged behind him.

“How are yeh, Magorian?” said Hagrid warily.

“So,” said a second centaur, ignoring Hagrid, “we agreed, I think, what we would do if this human ever showed his face in the Forest again?”

“‘This human’ now, am I?” said Hagrid testily. “Jus ‘ fer stoppin’ all of yeh committin’ murder?”

“You ought not to have meddled, Hagrid,” said Magorian. “Our ways are not yours, nor are our laws. Firenze has betrayed and dishonoured us.”

As the volume of their argument increased, Merlin stepped forward in front of Hagrid, his ageing spell fading without a word. The centaurs stumbled back when his true face emerged, pawing at the ground. A few of them bowed their heads—a few noticeably did not.

“This human and his foals,” Magorian began, “they are under your protection?”

“They’re not his foals!” the other centaur interrupted contemptuously. “Students, Magorian, from up at the school! They have probably already profited from the traitor Firenze’s teachings—”

The others in the group sent him warning looks; he stopped, but stamped his hooves restlessly.

“Yes, they’re under my protection,” Merlin answered, inclining his head. “As is his brother. But the giant will not be here for much longer.” He shot Hagrid a look that clearly said ‘we’ll talk about this later.’ “I mean to find him a home more suited to him, to allow the Forest’s original inhabitants to live in peace. It is why we’ve come today.”

“Very well,” said Magorian. “But Hagrid, you forfeited the friendship of the centaurs when you helped the traitor Firenze escape us.”

“I won’ be kept outta the Fores’ by a bunch o’ old mules like yeh!” said Hagrid loudly.

“Hagrid!” Merlin interrupted quickly. “Firenze broke their laws with your help; whether or not we agree with those laws is not part of the matter at hand. However,” he added, “none of us own the forest. We must simply stay out of each other’s way for the time being.”

“‘The time being’,” the second centaur spat, “is not long enough for us—we mean to keep him out forever.”

“Excuse my figures of speech,” Merlin replied with a smile. “You see, ‘forever’ means something rather different to someone of my age.”

“Know your place, Bane,” said Magorian. “Today, Hagrid, you pass. Henceforth, stay away from this place.”

“We’ll be on our way,” said Merlin before Hagrid could retort. “Go in peace, Magorian.”

“And you, Emrys.”

Merlin herded the four of them towards the edge of the forest, though Hagrid’s crossbow was still raised.

“Wha’ in the ruddy hell was that?” Hagrid asked once they were out of earshot.

“What was what?” Merlin asked.

“I think he means the shapeshifting,” said Ron.

“Aye, an’ what did yeh mean, ‘someone o’ my age’? Is this wha’ yeh really look like, or are you as old as Dumbledore?”

“Oh!” said Merlin quickly. “Er… I look like this. I needed a disguise for teaching… it’s a long story.”

“Er, Hagrid…” said Harry. “I think we have something to tell you.”

“We do?” asked Merlin.

“Just tell him,” Hermione chided him. “He’s part of the Order, he’s going to find out anyway.”

As Hagrid looked perplexedly between them, Merlin crossed his arms. “You tell him then, if you think it’s such a good idea.

“Tell me wha’?” Hagrid demanded.

Nobody answered.

Merlin groaned. “I should never have gone to that damn cave. Why do I keep doing that? I could be at home gardening right now.”

“You mean the Crystal Cave?” Hermione asked.

“Yeah, the Crystal Cave, do I look like a man with an abundance of caves?”

“Oi!” Hagrid exclaimed as the castle came into view between the trees. “Somebody mind fillin’ me in ‘ere?”

“Maybe we should do this indoors,” Merlin sighed, gesturing to the cabin. “Do you mind? It’s sort of meant to be a secret.”

“’Course,” said Hagrid. “I’ll make some tea.”

At Hagrid’s pace, it wasn’t long before they reached his cabin, breathing heavily as they sat around his large table. He bustled about with the kettle as he said, “So, what’s this secret, then?”

Merlin regarded him apprehensively. “Well… er… you saw the centaurs knew me?”

“Yeah,” he said, joining at the table. “Mighty strange, tha’.”

“Well, you did too, sort of. When we first met, you thought you recognised me, remember?”

“Er, yeah.”

Ron remembered that too… Hagrid kept insisting he looked familiar. He hadn’t thought much of it at the time.

“Right,” said Merlin, fidgeting slightly. “Well, that’s probably because you’re half giant. All magical creatures seem to sense me…”

“Er…” Hagrid still looked lost. “Why?”

“Er, well, I’m a creature too, I suppose… except there’s only one of me.”

“He’s Magic Incarnate,” Harry supplied.

“Er,” said Merlin, “Supposedly. Yeah. No way of knowing, really—“

Ron scoffed. “We all watched you come back from the dead a few days ago.”

“Yeh did wha’?” Hagrid exclaimed.

“All right,” said Merlin, raising his hands in mock surrender, “so I’m unusually powerful, basically. End of story. No big deal.”

“The most powerful to ever live,” Hermione added.

“Impossible,” Hagrid scoffed, getting up to see to the whistling kettle. “That’d be Dumbledore. Or… maybe Merlin, I suppose.”

When his words were followed with complete silence, he turned around to look at them quizzically.

“What?” he asked, setting the kettle down on the table.

When he sat back down, Ron, Harry, and Hermione stared at him pointedly while Merlin just stared down at the table, resting his head on his hand in such a way that they could barely see his face. Hagrid looked between each of them in turn. His eyes widened comically, then he looked between them again, his massive hair and beard seeming to fluff up with anxiety.

Hagrid laughed nervously. “Yeh nearly got me, yeh did…”

Merlin sighed deeply. “Used to be I’d say, ‘Hi, I’m Merlin!’ and they’d say ‘Get out of my face, you peasant.’ Got to admit it was easier.”

Hagrid just stared at him. “Yeh… yeh can’t be!”

Without breaking eye contact, Merlin morphed back into his older form. “Does this help?”

“How?” Hermione blurted. “How do you perform a spell that complex without an incantation? You can’t have been saying it in your mind, you were talking mid-spell!”

He raised his eyebrows. “Er… I’ve always done it like that. I didn’t know any spells until I moved to Camelot. I just thought about something, and it happened.”

Hermione crossed her arms with a huff—probably just upset that it didn’t seem to be a learnable skill—as Hagrid began rather shakily to pour the tea.

“But—” said Hagrid, “but how is tha’ possible? An’ why do yeh look like—like tha’?”

“Er,” said Merlin. “That last one I can’t explain. I look a bit like my father, I suppose. But as for what I’m still doing here, it would appear that I’m immortal.”

Hagrid choked on his tea and stared at him, bug-eyed. “How?” he eventually managed.

“He’s magic made living!” said Harry excitedly.

“Keep in mind,” Merlin said quickly, “that that’s paraphrased from what some guy told me over a thousand years ago, in a different language, based on legends. About me. So, you know, grain of salt and all that.”

“But it’s true,” said Ron in an awed whisper. “We saw him come back to life on Friday. It was incredible.”

“The whole Order knows now,” said Hermione.

“Well,” Hagrid said, not looking directly at Merlin, “if Professor Dumbledore believes him, I suppose it mus’ be true.”

Merlin eyed him skeptically. “You put an awful lot of trust in Dumbledore.”

“Aye, but he gave me a secon’ chance, didn’ he?”

“He gave you a job, that’s true,” said Merlin carefully, “but he didn’t get you back into Hogwarts, even though he knew you’d been framed for that Chamber of Secrets business. Just doesn’t seem quite fair to me, that’s all.”

“Anyway,” Harry wisely interrupted, “we should probably be getting back to the school before curfew. But don’t worry, Hagrid, with Umbridge gone, there’s no way you’ll be sacked. You’re a great teacher.”

“Absolutely,” Merlin agreed. “Dumbledore won’t allow it.”

“Righ’,” said Hagrid, still looking rather disconcerted. “Righ’. Yeh’d better hurry, then. Yeh got yer cloak, Harry?”

“No need,” said Merlin, turning the trio invisible with a wave of his hand. “Thank you for your hospitality, Professor.”

Harry, Ron and Hermione bumped into each other a few times as they tried to rise from their seats while invisible.

“Righ’,” Hagrid said again as the four of them trailed out the door. “‘Course. Evenin’, then.”

“Ouch!” said Hermione when Ron stood on her foot.

“Sorry,” said Merlin. “Let me fix that so you can see each other. This is why spells are useful: pre-set parameters.”

“This would make for a fun game, though,” said Harry brightly.

“You’re a bad influence on each other,” Hermione grumbled.

Chapter Text

Merlin felt like an absolute idiot at allowing that slimy Riddle boy to kill him, but he had to admit it put the Order in an advantageous position. With one of their most powerful members ostensibly dead, Riddle would underestimate them. They also now knew he was looking for the Elder Wand, but there wasn’t much they could do about it without knowing where it was themselves.

He said as much at the next Order meeting at Sirius’s house, though he wasn’t yet sure if Riddle had given up on his search for the prophecy. It did seem rather pointless, since he had evidently already decided that it meant he needed to kill Harry.

“Do we know who had the wand last?” asked Kingsley Shacklebolt.

Moody answered, addressing Shacklebolt while his magical eye remained disconcertingly fixed on Merlin. “I remember a rumour that the wandmaker Gregorovitch was trying to duplicate its powers,” he said, “but that was long ago. I doubt he still has it, if he ever really did.”

“I’m afraid not,” Dumbledore sighed. “It was stolen by Gellert Grindelwald. After I defeated him in a duel many years ago, I became its new master.”

“So…” said Sirius, “you have it.”

In response, Dumbledore pulled out his nondescript want and set it on the table. “I do.”

“Er, okay,” said Merlin. “That’s convenient. Should we be worried about Riddle finding out somehow?”

“The Dark Lord,” said Snape, “now believes that Dumbledore somehow replaced the real Elder Wand with a decoy, the false wand he now possesses.”

“So he knows we have it,” Moody growled.

“Well,” said Merlin, “that’s a slightly more fixable problem. All we have to do is actually create a decoy.”

“You mean—“ said Mrs. Weasley, “induce him to attack us again? To attack you?”

“No,” said Merlin cheerfully, “He thinks I’m dead. He most likely assumes that I had two wands, one real and one fake, and that now that I’m dead, the real one will be buried with me, to prevent anyone else from getting it.”

“Are you suggesting,” said Lupin skeptically, “that we hold a funeral?”

Merlin shrugged. “A burial would be enough. All we need is for him to know where it is. We just make a real, functioning wand out of elder wood and wait for him to steal it. He’ll overestimate its power and stop looking. But he’ll probably attack at the earliest opportunity after he has it, so we have to make sure we’re ready.”

“And by attack,” said Shacklebolt, “you mean… ?”

“His first target will certainly be Harry or Dumbledore,” said Merlin slowly. “So the most obvious place to attack will be Hogwarts, although I’m not sure he’ll risk it; he might prefer to pick them off one at a time, just like he tried to do with me.”

“Succeeded, actually,” Fred pointed out.

“Partially,” George added.

“True,” said Merlin sheepishly. “I mean, he did hit me. Maybe he’ll stick with the same strategy, if he thinks it’s working. But the most important thing now is to eliminate his Horcruxes, while he’s still busy looking for the wand. And I think I know how to get rid of one of them.”

He looked at Harry then, who shrunk under the Order’s gaze.

“You think—“ he began. “You think you’ve found a way to remove it?”

Merlin nodded. “Honestly, I should have thought of it before now. There was another sorcerer who wanted to cheat death, back in—er, Camelot.”

Just as his apprentices used to do, the Order leaned in slightly as they sensed a story coming. Merlin smiled despite himself. This was going to be a little strange.

“There was a legend,” he began, “of someone who was so powerful he could change day into night, and turn the tides, and all that. He may have helped build Camelot itself. He was said to be the most powerful sorcerer in history.”

“Are you sure about that?” George interrupted with a grin.

Merlin glared at him. “Fine, other than me. That was determined when he came back to life by possessing someone and I eventually defeated him, which is the actual point of this story, thank you very much. Anyway, I think he must have used something like a Horcrux, because he stored his soul, or part of it, in a gem. He came back much like Riddle did, and like him, he retained his powers.

I went to the dragon Kilgharrah, who gave me a spell to return the soul to its vessel. Sigan tried to convince me to join him, obviously, but when I refused he tried to possess me, which is when I was able to take hold of his soul and force it back in the jewel. I think, since Riddle wasn’t able to complete the Horcrux spell—you know, being that he died—I can do the same thing here: force the piece of soul into some object we can then destroy.”

The Order exchanged glances.

“Do you think that’ll work?” asked Tonks. “It sounds more difficult than last time.”

Merlin grinned. “I’m also some thousand years older than last time. And I doubt Riddle is as powerful as Sigan was. But,” he added, sobering, “I have to get something first. Because if he does succeed in possessing me—which is unlikely!—there’s only one thing that has the remotest chance of killing me.”

Harry gawked at him. “We’re not going to kill you!”

“You’d better,” said Merlin seriously. “Do you realise what could happen if Riddle got hold of my power? He’d snap his fingers, and you’d all be gone. There would be no stopping him. So if he succeeds in possessing me, you must stop him. Besides, I don’t even know for certain whether it will kill me permanently. Honestly, I sort of doubt it. But when my body dies, Riddle would be expelled in either case.”

“I’ll do it,” said Moody. “If it comes to that.”

“Right then,” said Merlin. “I’m a little uneasy about the enthusiasm there, to be honest, but at least somebody’s stepping up. Harry, if you’re ready, we can do it this weekend. You’ll probably need some recovery time.”

Harry wavered, but quickly nodded.

“We will reconvene on Saturday, then?” said Dumbledore.

There was a general murmur of agreement.

Unfortunately, the Horcrux situation was only adding another burden to Harry’s shoulders on top of the upcoming OWLs. Students were studying upwards of eight hours a day, according to some, and the DA had begun meeting more often to practice as many spells as they could before exams. They had mostly given up learning new spells since Merlin was finally free to teach his class in a reasonable manner and had been ensuring that they could all reliably perform the new skills that would certainly be tested in the OWLs. The only bright side was that, if all went according to plan, Harry would soon be free of the piece of Voldemort’s soul that had been haunting him.

Merlin was uncertain about getting Arthur’s sword back from the lake, as it seemed tantamount to grave robbing at this point; but as he was the one who put it there, he was certain Freya would return it to him. What was slightly more concerning was Kilgharrah’s warning that no one but Arthur should wield it. He himself had used it on occasion without incident, but handing it over to Moody, even for a short time, seemed risky. Still, it was better than Riddle managing to possess him and setting the world aflame. Merlin had no concrete idea of the amount of destruction his power could wreak, and he had no desire to find out. He had to take every precaution.

On Friday, he reserved his Defence classes primarily for questions, and though they came slowly at first, by the end of it, they had discussed a wide variety of topics in quick succession. For once, Gryffindors and Slytherins were participating equally, and diligently; Merlin was impressed at the progress they had managed to make in the short time Umbridge had been gone.

“You’re all capable,” he said seriously as the bell rang for the end of class. “You know what you’re doing; so don’t let the tests or the examiners throw you off.”

He nodded once, and the students packed their things, eager to get to the Great Hall for dinner.

You three, he projected to Harry, Ron and Hermione. Will you stay back for a few minutes? I have an idea.

The trio shared looks of alarm and confusion before turning to him.

It’s me, obviously, he said, raising his eyebrows at them. They started packing slower.

They didn’t have to dawdle long before the rest of the class had streamed through the door, leaving a rather abrupt silence.

“What is it?” Harry asked as they approached his desk.

“Sit down,” he said, conjuring three chairs that proceeded to tap insistently at the backs of their knees.

As they bemusedly sat, Merlin pulled the little scrying crystal from his robes and set it on the desk.

“I know you probably don’t want to look in this thing again after what you saw last time,” he told Ron, “but if anyone can find out where the last Horcrux is, it’s got to be you.”

Ron eyed it suspiciously. “Can’t you look into it? I mean, you’re…”

“I’m not a Seer,” said Merlin. “I can receive visions from it, but they’re usually random, and I don’t know what they mean until later. You should be able to search for something specific—unfortunately, that’s not something I can teach you.”

“But you said you knew a Seer,” said Hermione. “Don’t you know how they did it?”

Merlin smiled grimly. “Well, that Seer was Morgana, so not really, no.” He sighed. “We used to be friends. She was a good person. But that was when she first started having those dreams. She was afraid she had magic, so she came to Gaius and me about it… but we wanted to protect her, so we lied to her. When she found out, she was angry, of course. She turned to her sister, a High Priestess, who taught her how to use magic, and who turned her against us. That’s not the whole story, but—I drove her away. And clearly, after that, she never confided in me again.”

There was a space of silence before Harry asked, “There are no other High Priestesses?”

Merlin winced. “Well, no… they had mostly died out by then, but I—er—killed the last of them. That wasn’t the plan or anything,” he added quickly. “But Morgana was out to kill me, and Nimueh tried to kill my mum and Gaius, so…”

“Right…” said Harry. “But—“

“It doesn’t matter,” said Ron. “I have to try, right?”

Without warning, he picked up the bare crystal and squinted into it forcefully. The other three watched him warily, but didn’t interfere. Slowly, something in his face changed. He mumbled something.

“What?” Hermione asked.

“There was an old woman…” he repeated. “And a cup, with badgers on it… And then Bellatrix Lestrange had it, but I don’t know where. There were a lot of other ancient, expensive-looking things, though, and a lot of gold.”

“Wow,” said Merlin. “That was, er, fast. You all right then, Ron?”

“Yeah,” he answered slowly. “It wasn’t like last time.”

“If Bellatrix Lestrange hid it,” said Hermione, “it must have been moved fairly recently. The Death Eaters only broke out of Azkaban a few months ago.”

“Still,” Harry added, “she’s rich. It could be anywhere. I mean, how many houses does she have?”

Ron shook his head. “It was a small room, though. Nothing in it but treasures—no windows, no furniture, just shelves.”

“No windows?” said Hermione. “Could it be underground?”

“Maybe. No way of telling.”

“Wait,” said Merlin. “What if it’s not a room? What if it’s a vault?”

“Like at Gringotts?” asked Harry.

He shook his head. “Not like. She could easily have stored it in her family vault, since she and her husband are the only ones left able to access it.”

“Then we’re screwed,” Ron despaired. “No one’s ever broken into Gringotts.”

“Voldemort did,” said Harry. “Remember, when he was looking for the Philosopher’s Stone?”

“That settles it,” said Merlin.

The trio looked at him quizzically.

“If Riddle can get in, then I certainly can. The only problem is, the goblins can sense me a mile away. They’d know it was me, even if I managed it.”

“Who cares?” said Ron. “Not as if they could do anything about it.”

Merlin grimaced. “I’d rather not make any more enemies right now. Perhaps I can bargain with them.”

“Either way,” Hermione reminded them, “we can’t do anything about it now. Tomorrow, we have to go back to the Burrow to remove Harry’s Horcrux.”

“I don’t know if ‘we’—“ Harry began.

“Shut it, Harry,” said Ron. “We’re coming.”

Merlin didn’t return to the lake until early morning. He knew he was trying to put it off for as long as possible, not wanting to dwell on the place where he had lain his friends to rest. He wanted to remember them as they were, not relive their last moments.

But if he were to confront the undead once more, he would need the sword. So he spoke aloud to Freya as he stood on the shore, promising to bring it back soon so that it wouldn’t fall into the wrong hands. She never spoke to him from the lake—only ever from the vial that he always kept hidden away in his things—but he knew she could hear.

And sure enough, just as before, the sword emerged from the placid waters of the lake. Something was different this time. Magic called to him from beneath the surface, as if the waters beneath were stirring, and he began to wonder if it was really wise to remove the sword from its home. But it was necessary. He would return soon. And then, when it was all over, he would come back and continue to wait for Arthur—for as long as it took.

And here he was, moping around the lake again. Merlin shook his head and departed with a last, quiet “Goodbye.” He would see them again; just not today. Today, he had to perform an exorcism on a magical teenager, because that’s just what his life was like these days.

Chapter Text

When Merlin materialised in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom on Saturday morning, Harry, Ron and Hermione were already waiting for him—and they quickly noticed that there was a sword sheathed at his side, of all things.

“Ooh,” said Myrtle from where she had been sulking in one of the windows. “No one new ever comes in my bathroom.”

“I’m not new,” said Merlin. “We’ve met, remember?”

She frowned. “I’m sure I would remember if you’d come in here before…”

Merlin waved his hand. “Not in the bathroom, in the Great Hall. That Ravenclaw girl was bothering you, remember? What was her name… ?“

“Olive Hornby!” Myrtle answered quickly, floating down to examine him.

“Yeah, that’s right. So I threw a couple of peas at the back of her head.”

Harry glanced incredulously at Ron and Hermione, both of whom just looked resigned at this point.

Myrtle gasped. “Oh, I remember, there was that huge food fight! And then afterwards, I’d forgotten all about the boy who threw something at her—that was you?”

“Yeah, in hindsight, that was a bad plan. I mean, it’s a school, what did I think was going to happen?”

“But… you’re not a ghost.” She circled him as if verifying.

“No,” said Merlin cheerfully, “I’m extremely long-lived. The other ghosts haven’t said anything about me?”

“No,” she sighed. “I don’t go out there much. Peeves is so mean.” She sniffled.

“I’ll have a word with him if you like.”

“Would you?” she squealed, getting even closer to him. “Everyone just tells me to ignore him, but…”

Merlin snorted. “Where did that ever get anyone? He’ll just think you’re a doormat—then he’ll never leave you alone. Next time he pulls something, just tell the Baron. Or my—Merlin’s portrait.”

“What can a portrait do?”

He shook his head. “You’d be surprised.”

Myrtle floated a little closer. “If you ever die,” she said shyly, “you’re welcome to share my toilet.”

Merlin smiled. “That’s nice of you. But unfortunately, I have a previous engagement.”

He beckoned to the trio. “Come on, you lot. Dumbledore and the others will be waiting there by now.”

“You can’t Apparate inside of Hogwarts,” said Myrtle, looking confused.

Merlin just grinned and disappeared in a swirl of wind.

They soon appeared in the Burrow’s crowded kitchen. Mrs. Weasley was at the counter making tea—which was fast becoming her full-time occupation—while Sirius, Lupin, Dumbledore, and Moody were gathered at the table.

“Good morning,” said Dumbledore serenely.

Mrs. Weasley turned around to see who he was talking to, nearly running straight into Merlin.

“Oh!” she exclaimed, then tutted. “You and your tornadoes! Why you don’t just take the Floo, now that that Umbridge woman’s gone…”

“Can’t be too careful, Mrs. Weasley,” he responded genially, causing Moody to raise his eyebrows meaningfully at the rest of them.

Mrs. Weasley carried on, ignoring him. “…making a mess of leaves, I’m sure. What you must have been like as a child—your poor mother!”

Merlin didn’t seem to take offence. “Oh, I didn’t know how to do that when I lived at home. She did get her faire share of objects flying through the house, though.” He paused thoughtfully. “And occasionally, people.”

Sirius cut in before Mrs. Weasley could start up again.

“What’s that you’ve got there?” he asked, indicating the sheath at Merlin’s side.

Merlin looked blankly at him. “A sword.”

“Can we see it?” Ron asked eagerly.

Merlin shrugged. “Why not? I wouldn’t touch it though, just in case. I’m not even really supposed to be using it.”

Hermione eyed him warily as he pulled out the sword with in one motion that looked practised. He laid it down on the kitchen table, for lack of a better location, and stood there bemusedly as they all stared down at it.

Harry’s first thought was that it looked nothing like the sword of Gryffindor. It was both broader and longer, and looked very heavy. It had no jewels: only golden filigree on the leather-bound hilt, and on the runic inscription carved onto its blade.

“It’s so much bigger than Gryffindor’s sword,” said Ron, evidently thinking the same thing.

“’Course,” said Merlin. “That one’s a ceremonial sword. I doubt Godric ever used it in battle.”

“So you’ve used this one?” Harry asked.

“Yeah. A few times.”

“Oh,” sighed Mrs. Weasley when she saw where he had put it down. “Not on the table… Who knows whose blood could be on there? Not sanitary…”

Merlin shrugged and picked it back up, resting the flat of its blade casually on his shoulder. 

Hermione tilted her head to the side. “Take me up…” she read.

Merlin nodded and flipped it over to show her the other side. “Cast me away,” he finished.

Hermione’s eyes grew wide and she stumbled back a few steps, causing a chair to scrape on the floor when she bumped into it.

“That’s—“ she breathed. “That’s Excalibur!”

Merlin frowned. “Yeah, of course. Did you think it was going to be some other random sword? I don’t exactly have them laying around my—oh, actually, I do.”

The others had stood from their chairs to gape at him, coming to the collective realisation that Merlin himself was standing in the kitchen with the legendary Excalibur resting carelessly on his shoulder. The renowned warlock just regarded them in bewilderment.

“It can destroy anything, living or dead,” he explained warily. “I used it against an undead army… and Morgana, who couldn’t be killed by a normal sword.”

“Hold on,” said Ron, snapping out of it. “You killed her with a sword?”

Merlin frowned at him. “Why is everyone surprised by that? I had it on hand.”

“How did you retrieve it from the Lake of Avalon?” asked Dumbledore.

“I asked for it,” he said with a shrug. “I’m the one who put it there in the first place, I didn’t think she’d say no.”

“She?” said Ron, yet more incredulously. “You mean, the Lady of the Lake? You know her?”

“Er, yeah.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “I sort of… put her there, too.”

“Wait,” said Harry, putting his hands up. “I thought Excalibur was the Sword in the Stone. What’s this about a lake?”

“It was in a stone for centuries, yes,” said Hermione immediately, “but King Arthur pulled it out, and after his death it was returned to the lake.”

Merlin made a sound of hesitation. “Well, I don’t know about centuries…”

Harry raised his eyebrow at him.

“I sort of…” Merlin winced, “made that up. I mean, it was in a stone,” he added quickly, “it’s just, I put it there for safekeeping. And then lied to Arthur about it to convince him he had some sort of legendary right to the throne. He was having an off day,” he finished with a shrug.

“That’s…” Lupin began.

“Disappointing?” Merlin guessed.

“Hilarious,” Sirius corrected him, grinning. “Did he buy it?”

Merlin laughed. “Definitely not at first, but I’m pretty sure I convinced him by the time we got there. After all, there was a sword sticking out of a stone. You don’t exactly see that every day. Come on, then,” he said, beckoning them into the sitting room and leaning the sword against the wall. “Let’s get this over with.”

He gestured to the couch (the one where he had come back to life not long ago, Harry thought), and Harry sat.

“I know it’s a bit crowded in here,” he said in a lower voice, “but we should have backup just in case anything goes wrong, even though I don’t think it will. Do you want anybody to leave before we start?”

Harry looked around at his godfather, his best friends, his favourite teachers, and the woman who had treated him like a son.

“No,” he said, feeling minutely less anxious. “I’m ready.”

“All right. Lie down,” said Merlin, kneeling on the floor beside Harry as he awkwardly complied.

“I’m going to put you into a light sleep,” he explained, “just in case there’s any discomfort. And, listen.” He paused. “I wouldn’t be doing this if I thought there was any serious risk to you. When you wake up, you should feel better.”

Harry nodded. “I’m ready,” he said again.

A sound.

Harry heard a sound that echoed and surrounded him in the warm blackness—a voice—one more ancient even than the trees he could sense swaying somewhere nearby, in the back of his mind. It was profoundly strange, yet unbearably familiar. The words were muffled as if Harry were underwater, but they brought a vague tingling sensation, as of sunlight warming icy skin.

He’d felt that sunlight somewhere before, but he couldn’t think now. Something was struggling against it down in the deep, thrashing and trying to cry out, but the all-encompassing voice suppressed it with ease.

The coldness in that little corner of Harry’s world gave him no fear. As it shrunk into the darkness, smaller and smaller, he let himself sink deeper into the quiet, and he slept.

When Harry opened his eyes, he didn’t have a headache.

At least, that’s what it felt like, somehow—a non-headache. He shook his head and sat up. Was he still drowsy? He wasn’t making any sense.

He looked around at the room, and everything looked exactly the same; no one had moved, not even the sword resting in the corner. It felt vaguely as if someone had opened a window—it was brighter, maybe, or there was more fresh air…

“Did someone open a window?” he asked.

Hermione and Ron exchanged a concerned look; but Merlin, still sitting on the floor, just laughed.

“No,” he said, “it’s probably just the absence of Riddle’s soul you’re feeling.”

“It’s gone, then?” Harry asked, feeling more cheerful than he had in months. “It worked?”

Merlin nodded, showing Harry the small glass bottle in his hand.

“What’s that?”

“A Horcrux,” he answered with a grin.

“But… it’s an empty bottle.”

“A Horcrux can be anything,” said Merlin, waving his hand vaguely over Harry, probably checking  him over. “Voldemort wanted his to be important things, but I see no reason we have to adhere to that.”

Once he was satisfied with Harry’s health, he set the bottle on the low table and retrieved Excalibur.

“Better get rid of this, then,” he said, raising the sword.

“Not on the table!” Mrs. Weasley insisted.

Merlin gave a long-suffering sigh and looked around.

“Watch out,” he said, and walked toward the fireplace. “There might be shards.”

Sirius and Lupin, who had the closest seats, stood up to move further away. And as they watched, Merlin tossed the dirty bottle up into the air, swung the sword with a satisfying whoosh, and hit it in midair like a cricket ball, right into the lit fireplace. It smashed into a thousand tiny pieces that fell into the flames with a few suspicious hisses and sparks. Merlin waved his free hand to gather up any stray shards, and with a glance, turned the fire blue.

“Well,” he said, tucking the hilt under his arm to dust off his hands, “that should take care of it.”

Mrs. Weasley looked slightly scandalised at the antics taking place in the sitting room, but evidently didn’t see any reason to protest.

“All right then, Harry?” Ron asked bracingly.

“Yeah,” he answered with a grin. “I think so.”

“You should still take it slow for a while,” said Merlin. “You never know what—“

Just then, there was a knock at the door.

Moody instantly pulled out his wand. “Were you expecting anyone?” he asked Dumbledore.

“Not at all,” he responded.

“It’s probably just Tonks,” said Mrs. Weasley. “She comes by often.”

“Still…” said Moody, wand at the ready as he left the room to check the door.

Constant vigilance, Merlin mouthed with a grin.

“Good day,” said an unfamiliar voice from the door. “Is Merlin here?”

Merlin dropped Excalibur. They all jumped at the clatter, and Harry stared in alarm as Merlin’s face turned almost as white as it was when he died.

“Who are you?” Harry heard Moody ask gruffly.

Without warning, Merlin lurched for the door and hastened around the corner. The rest of them followed hesitantly, drawing their wands. Through the crack in the front door, Harry could see the sliver of a young man, and a suggestion of blond hair. Merlin pressed past Moody and wrenched the door open all the way.

The blond man’s face lit up, but Merlin just stumbled backward, covering his face with his hands. The stranger stepped forward and reached out—Harry noticed vaguely that he wore leather cuffs over a plain red tunic.

“No, Merlin—don’t cry,” the stranger said softly.

“I’m not!” Merlin snarled in a voice that indicated he probably was. 

His pressed his palms into his eyes before ripping them away and curling his hands into fists, eyes flashing as something coiled dangerously in the air.

The stranger gave him a baffled look. “Are you… angry?”

“Apparently!” Merlin snapped.

“Look,” the man said, raising his hands. “I’m sorry—“

The door frame cracked beside Harry. The stranger eyed it distrustfully, but he was stopped from saying anything more when Merlin held out his hand, still staring him down; Excalibur zoomed into his outstretched hand from the other room, and he smoothly aimed it at the intruder.

“Are you a Shade?”

Hands still raised, the man spoke quickly. “A wha—No! It’s me. Don’t point that at me!”

The sword didn’t waver. “Tell me something only you would know.”

“Er—You’re a slob!” the stranger blurted suddenly.

Merlin stared blankly at him.


“Your room is always an absolute mess,” he said firmly, doubling down. “And you can’t clean to save your life.”

Merlin gaped at him.

“You’re the one who can’t clean his own bloody clothes!” he retorted, waving the sword in his direction.

“I could, but I have you to do that.”

Merlin menaced him with the sword again. “Not if I run you through, you don’t.”

Harry glanced warily at Ron and Hermione.

The man scoffed. “Please. When did you learn to use a sword?”

“Would you like a demonstration?” Merlin replied cheerily.

“Merlin,” he sighed, “just put the sword down.”

“Not until I know who you are.”

“Who else could I be?”

“Prove it.”

No one else dared to move, but the stranger just sighed heavily and rolled his eyes.

With great distaste, he said, “What accompanies his majesty on his saddle yet stays at the castle to announce his return?”

Merlin scrunched up his face. “Er… I dunno.”


Merlin thrust the sword back into its scabbard with ferocity, glaring fixedly.

“YOU,” he said, jabbing a finger at the stranger, ”are the absolute worst. I swear I was this close to forgetting every single one of those stupid bloody jokes, and it’s going to take me another thousand years to forget that one. Thank you so much, you unredeemable arse.”

The man spluttered. “You can’t speak to me like that!”

“Pretty sure I can, actually.”

“And don’t scratch my sword!”

“It’s literally indestructible.”

The blond man stood awkwardly for a moment before saying, “So… how’ve you been?”

Merlin glowered. “I was fine this morning.”

“Do you want me to leave?” the stranger asked, raising his eyebrows.

“Don’t you dare,” Merlin replied, and with a single motion toward the entry, pulled the man the rest of the way inside and shut the door behind him.

“How did you even find—“ Merlin started to say, but the wind was knocked out of him when the blond man barrelled into him with a hug that almost lifted him off the floor.

The warlock looked flabbergasted for a moment before letting out a shaky breath and returning it, hands fisted and face hidden. He mumbled something that was answered with a whispered, “I know you did.”

All at once the man moved, catching Merlin in a headlock and messing up his hair.

“Argh!” he cried inarticulately, shoving at his captor. “Let go! Arthur, get off!”

Harry looked on incredulously, wanting to do something but having no idea what that might be.

“Let go or I’ll turn you into a toad,” Merlin threatened as he struggled.

“You wouldn’t,” the other man retorted with a laugh that turned into a croak. His eyes widened and he quickly let go.

“Ha!” Merlin shouted, then meandered into the kitchen. “Told you I was stronger than you.”

“That doesn’t cou—“ But his protest was cut off by another croak. He glowered.

“Merlin,” he said, following him into the other room. “Fix this.”

All they heard in response was laughter.

In a situation eerily similar to a few weeks ago, the current inhabitants of the Burrow were gathered around the kitchen table, pretending not to stare at a person who was meant to be dead. The only difference was, this time Merlin was staring at him too.

What?” Arthur Pendragon demanded. “Did you forget what I looked like?”

“Yeah, actually,” said Merlin with a mocking smile. “Fifteen centuries will do that.”

The king looked appropriately chastened.

But then he opened his mouth again. “It wouldn’t have taken so long if you’d just—“

“Oh good, explain how it’s my fault this time.”

Harry became very interested in his tea.

“Well I’m only here because you took up the sword!”

Merlin frowned. “What are you talking about?”

Pendragon sighed and said, “It was foretold that I’d come back when Albion’s need was at its greatest—“

“How do you know about that?”

“Shut up, Merlin. Anyway, apparently the idea is that if you were ever desperate enough to come back for the sword, Albion must be in dire need, so that’s when I’d come back. If Albion faces a threat that can only be repelled by the sword, then you need me to wield it.”

Merlin stared incredulously at him for several long seconds.

“Are you telling me all I had to do to make you come back was… steal your stuff? I guess it explains why you weren’t here for the world wars, though.”

“Eloquent as ever, Merlin,” the king replied haughtily.

Merlin rolled his eyes. “If you really thought I was as much of an idiot as you act like I am, you wouldn’t have made me write all your speeches.”

“That’s beside the point,” he said quickly. “The point is, I go where the sword goes. If you need it—if you need me—I come with you. When you give it back to the lake, I return with it.”

“So…” Merlin glanced at the Order gathered nearby—who were pretending not to listen in—and lowered his voice. “So you’re only here for a little while?”

“You’re not listening, Merlin,” said Arthur, punching him in the arm. “I’ll take the sword back to the lake when you’re done with it, but all you have to do is come get it again, and I’ll come back with you. I’m the Once and Future King, Merlin, not the Once and Twice King.”

Merlin threw up his hands. “Well, how was I supposed to know that? No one ever tells me anything, I swear… And I was explicitly told never to let anyone but you use the sword, anyway!”

“By who?”

“The dragon.”

“The dragon known for giving good advice.”

“Sometimes,” Merlin muttered.

“Like killing Mordred.”

“If I had,” Merlin retorted, “we wouldn’t be in this situation. And how do you know about all that, anyway?”

Pendragon rolled his eyes again. “I’ve been in Avalon with Morgana and Gaius for the last millennium. I’ve heard it all countless times. Besides, we’ve been… keeping an eye on you.”

“Have you been spying on me?” Merlin squawked.

“Well, time’s a little different there, we don’t get to see much—“

Merlin interrupted. “Wait… Morgana—is she—?”

Pendragon waved his hand. “Whatever insanity overtook her passed a long time ago. We’re all on speaking terms again, and she and Gwen are once more inseparable, which is annoying. She was furious at first that you killed her, especially without magic—you should have seen her! But I’m pretty sure she thinks it’s a bit funny now, although she’d never admit it.”

“Are you sure—?”

“Yes, Merlin, I’m sure. That rat’s nest on her head is finally gone, and she’s back to complaining about every woodland creature we accidentally injure, so yes, she’s back to her old, insufferable self.”

“Why are you injuring woodland creatures in—“

“Good god,” Pendragon interrupted, “there is no escaping the sensitive sorcerers, is there?”

Merlin spluttered. “I’m not sensitive!”

“Of course you are, you cry more often than she does.”

“I do not!”

“You did when I died,” he responded smugly. “Yeah, I know about that. And the day before that, when I was mad at you. And when that Dragonlord was killed, even though we only met him the day before.”

Merlin glowered at him. “That was my father, you arse.”

“Ohhh,” was the slow response. “That explains a lot, actually.”

“And I’m supposed to be the idiot.”

“You can’t address me like that. I’m the king.”

“Oh?” Merlin responded, looking around the room. “Of what?”

“Well—of you, for one thing! So will you kindly tell me where I am and who all these people are?”

Merlin glared daggers at him before turning to the group with a cheery grin.

“Guys,” he said, “may I present Arthur… son of Uther… King of Camelot… Knight of the Round Table—“

“Merlin,” Arthur tried to interrupt.

“—slayer of dragons and Questing Beasts—“

“I know that was you.”

“—wielder of Caliburn—“

“Don’t name my swords for me, Merlin.”

“—the Sword in the Stone—“

“That was your doing, wasn’t it? I knew it. Can’t believe I bought that even for a second.”

“—the Once and Future King.”

Arthur glared at Merlin. “Are you done?”

“I suppose,” Merlin beamed. “These are a bunch of sorcerers, who you will not be arresting. That’s Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore—who has taken the opposite approach of mine by using as many names as possible—he is the…” He frowned. “leader, of a… school for sorcery. As well as this organisation, which is a group of sorcerers fighting against a particular evil sorcerer calling himself flight of death. Or theft of death, it’s actually not clear what he meant by that.”

“Er,” was all Arthur managed before Merlin barrelled on.

“Anyway, then there’s Alastor Moody, a… knight. Yes, a magical knight. Don’t be disturbed by his eye, it’s staring at me because I’m the embodiment of magic. I don’t like it any more than you do. Sirius Black and Remus Lupin there are also skilled sorcerers, and are sort of hiding from the magical government because the justice system is in shambles. And finally, those three are students at Professor Dumbledore’s school: Harry Potter is being attacked by that Voldemort chap I mentioned for insane reasons I won’t bother explaining right now, and he’s also an excellent duellist. Beside him are his friends, Ron Weasley—a strategist and a Seer—and Hermione Granger, a scholar and a prodigy.”

Merlin turned genially to his friend and continued, “So there you have it. Satisfied? Or should I make you a list?”

“I’ve got it,” Arthur growled at him. “It’s, er, a pleasure to meet you all, although I admit circumstances could be better.”

There was a general mumble of agreement from the Order.

“Hang on,” said Merlin. “How did you find me, anyway?”

“Ah, thanks for reminding me,” said Arthur cheerfully, and slapped Merlin upside the head.

“OW! What was that for?”

“For running away before I could even make it out of the lake! You’re really supposed to wait longer than a second and a half, Merlin. I had to ask Freya where you disappeared off to. And by the way, what on earth is happening outside? I got to civilisation and suddenly there’s… stuff, everywhere. It’s incredibly loud, and the carriages—at least I think that’s what they are—they’re faster than anything I’ve ever seen, and the buildings are enormous!”

“Er,” said Merlin. “None of that was my doing, if that’s what you’re—“

Arthur rolled his eyes. “I’m not stupid, Merlin, I know it’s the future, but the least you could do is be there when you summon me so I don’t have to walk across Albion!”

Merlin squinted at him. “There’s no way you got here this quickly just walking.”

“Fine,” he said haughtily. “I may have borrowed a horse.”

“I see,” said Merlin with mock seriousness. “So you stole a horse—“


“—but that still doesn’t explain how you got here so fast.”

Arthur sighed. “All right, I got help from a sorcerer. Managed to find one in the first tavern-like establishment I came across.”

You asked a sorcerer for help?” said Merlin incredulously.

“I do have the ability to grow, Merlin. Even learn occasionally.”

“Does that mean you don’t hate magic anymore?” Merlin ventured. “Because I find that hard to believe.”

Arthur looked at him with sudden seriousness. “I stopped fearing magic the minute I realised it was part of who you are,” he said. “I thought you knew that.”

Merlin didn’t respond, just looked away.

“I couldn’t hate anything if it meant hating you,” said Arthur simply, as if explaining why two and two always equals four.

Merlin shook his head before speaking. “That’s—“ he said hoarsely, then looked up with a weak grin. “That makes no sense at all. But then, I always knew you were daft.”

Arthur laughed. “You haven’t changed one bit, Merlin.”

He shrugged. “You asked me not to.”

They shared a look that seemed to contain an entire conversation before Arthur finally asked, “So, what did you need the sword for, exactly? To kill this voldything you were talking about?”

“We can defeat Lord Voldything without the sword,” Merlin replied. “But he has a couple household objects keeping him alive, so I needed it to kill those.”

Harry knew that wasn’t quite true, as they had Gryffindor’s sword for that, but he could see why Merlin wouldn’t want to say it was for insurance.

“I see,” said Arthur with remarkable calm. “Well… can I help?”

“Yes!” Merlin practically shouted. “I’m planning to rob a bank run by goblins, and I need your help.”

Arthur looked at him with deep incredulity.

Chapter Text

Anyone who was not already awake at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday morning was abruptly roused by a deafening roar of “MERLIN!”

Hermione, Lupin and Merlin were already in the sitting room (the first two reading, the latter playing with the fire in the hearth), and they all jumped at the shout.

Hermione and Lupin looked warily at Merlin, who winced and let his tiny fire dragon dissolve. He didn’t respond, but Arthur seemed to know he was listening.


Still sitting on the floor by the fire, Merlin grinned guiltily.

“No!” he called back, unconvincingly.

He waited carefully, cocking his head to listen. There was no response until, a few seconds later, someone started thumping quickly down the stairs.

Merlin scrambled to his feet and looked frantically around the room for a hiding place before just shrugging his shoulders and turning invisible. At that very moment, Arthur Pendragon skidded to a halt in the doorway.

When he saw them, he cleared his throat, started to bow, and then thought better of it. “Have either of you seen my—seen Merlin?”

Hermione and Lupin shared an apprehensive look.

“Er…” Lupin began.

“I see,” Arthur said neutrally, taking a seat on the sofa. “It’s a good thing he isn’t here, because I wanted to warn you…” He lowered his voice. “Don’t let him cook anything. It’s awful, he burns absolutely—“

Merlin materialised indignantly off to the left. “If I was so bad at it—”

But his retort was cut short by a pillow from the sofa, which Arthur launched directly at him. He swiftly ducked, and the projectile sailed right over his head and into the wall.

“Ha!” Merlin shouted. “I see your aim hasn’t improved any. I suppose Gwen has had to punch new holes in your belt, then, after all? Or is George your new servant? Oh, please tell me he is…”

Arthur just glowered at him. “You owe me at least seventy silver pieces.”

Merlin gaped. “What for?”

“For cheating at dice! I know you did.”

“Maybe I’m just lucky.”

“You guessed right every single time, Merlin, that’s impossible. I know you used magic, and that’s cheating.”

“There’s no rule against using magic in dice!” Merlin protested.

“It’s implied,” said Arthur long-sufferingly, “by the law against using magic in Camelot.”

“Fine,” said Merlin, wandering towards the kitchen. “Since I broke the law, feel free to execute me, but I didn’t break the rules, so I’m not giving you back the winnings. Are you lot coming?” he added from the doorway. “I’m making breakfast so I can force Arthur to try every new food I can think of.”

Hermione summarily shut her book and followed, as did the others. Ron and Mrs. Weasley were coming down as she passed the stairs.

“Good morning, dear,” said Mrs. Weasley. “Harry’s still asleep, we should probably let him rest. I’ll bring him something later.”

“Morning, Mrs. Weasley,” Merlin said when they all crowded into the kitchen to see a variety of cooking instruments already filling and stirring themselves. “Excuse me for borrowing the kitchen, I’m making Arthur try new things.”

“I hate new things,” Arthur contributed, still staring at the chaotic scene with obvious anxiety.

“I know,” said Merlin cheerily.

Mrs. Weasley just shrugged and sat (rather restlessly) beside Lupin.

“Is Arthur on his way down?” he asked her. “It’s getting late.”

Arthur Pendragon glanced cautiously at him.

“Er—“ said Lupin. “Sorry. I meant Arthur Weasley, Mrs. Weasley’s husband.”

“Ah,” said Arthur. “And that fellow from yesterday was named Percival…”

“I have a son with that name, too,” said Mrs. Weasley. “Er, my lord…”

Arthur waved a hand. “Don’t bother with that, madam. It seems rather pointless now. Although…” he said, grinning at Merlin, who was pointing warningly at a stray pot, “I wonder why no one’s named after you, Merlin.”

Merlin turned back to him, fidgeting nervously. “Yeah… who knows…”

He glanced toward the door when Sirius wandered in, hair disheveled, obviously having forgotten that a king was suddenly living in the house.

“Oi!” he cried when he saw pots and pans flying around the room. “What in Merlin’s name is going on in here?”

Merlin himself quickly turned around and busied himself with the stove.

Arthur turned slowly to stare at his servant’s back. “Merlin.”

“Sire?” he answered without turning around.

“What did that man just say?”

“No idea. I didn’t hear anything. What man?”

Oops, Sirius mouthed as he sat beside Lupin.

“Did he just use your name as a swearword?” Arthur demanded.

Running out of things to pretend to do, Merlin turned to face him and laughed uncomfortably. “Don’t be ridiculous, Arthur, of course not. The things you come up with sometimes…”

“You are the worst liar on the face of this earth,” said Arthur, shaking his head. He turned to Sirius instead. “Do people… say that a lot?”

“Er…” He looked at Merlin before answering, but the warlock was still pretending not to know what was going on. “I mean—yeah, I suppose…”

“There are other variations,” said Ron helpfully.

“Merlin,” said Arthur cheerfully. “How in the hell did this happen?”

“I tried to stop them!” he blurted, throwing up his hands. “But it was already too late! I thought it would just go away eventually…” He sounded almost sad as he trailed off, though it was probably just a tactic.

“This is unbelievable!” said Arthur. “You’ve replaced God!”

Merlin scoffed. “It’s just a stupid saying, Arthur, don’t be dramatic.”

“I thought you were trying to keep a low profile!”

“Well, yes, I didn’t want them to know I was still alive, but they already had these legends about us, and I destroyed a lot of sensitive information, but it just wouldn’t go away, and then it became this whole thing, and—you know I’m Emrys, right?”

Arthur just glared at him. “Yeah.”

“And Morgana was terrified of him—I mean me?”


“Because Emrys is supposed to be—you know—“ He lowered his voice. “The greatest sorcerer to ever blah, blah, blah?”

“Yes, Merlin. I know.”

“Well—“ he said, hesitating. “That, er, hasn’t really changed…? I mean, they still think I’m—er—the best one, I suppose. So that’s why.”

“Still can’t wrap my head around that,” Arthur said. “I mean…” He gestured vaguely at Merlin, who glowered back.

Merlin raised an eyebrow. “You’re not so impressive yourself, you know. Much too short to be a king.”

“I’m not short!” he retorted, standing up.

Merlin just looked down at him smugly, lording his extra centimetre and a half of height over the king.

“Here,” Merlin said, shoving a mug into his hands. “Drink that.”

“What is it?” he asked, successfully distracted.

Merlin paused. “Did you hear they discovered a new continent?”

“Yeah, Morgana told me.”

“It’s from there.”

Still eyeing him, Arthur took a suspicious sip.

His eyes widened. “What on earth is that?”

“Hot cocoa,” Merlin beamed.

“That’s the sweetest thing I’ve ever tasted in my life,” he muttered, but returned to his chair as Merlin zoomed some mugs over to the rest of them.

“What’s that?” Arthur asked, pointing at the cup Merlin had set out for Mr. Weasley at the other end of the table.

“Coffee,” he said. “You’ll hate it.”

But he gave him some anyway.

Arthur… did not spit it out. He glanced sidelong at Merlin, whose grin was a challenge, and swallowed with difficulty.

“Is it some sort of medicine?” he asked with a grimace.

“No,” said Merlin, going back to cooking. “Apparently it has some sort of rejuvenating effect, though.”


“I don’t like it either, so I wouldn’t really know.”

“Oh!” Mr. Weasley exclaimed in the doorway. At least he, unlike Sirius, was dressed neatly. “Er, hello, everyone.”

“Morning, Mr. Weasley,” Merlin said, taking a seat beside Arthur as various plates began to zoom around the room and set themselves in front of people. “I take it Harry’s still asleep?” he asked.

Ron nodded. “Yeah, you said he should rest, so I didn’t wake him up.”

“Well, if Arthur’s shouting didn’t wake him,” said Merlin pointedly, ”I’m sure he needs the sleep.”

Mr. Weasley, who had been informed of the new developments late last night, was still standing in the doorway, staring at the legendary king, who in turn was staring at his plate with much the same expression.

“What is this?” the latter Arthur asked Merlin. “Why is it square?”

“It’s a waffle,” said Merlin patiently, “and it’s square because human beings like squares and will use them wherever possible. Just eat it.”

“Is it bread?”

“I don’t know. Kind of. Mr. Weasley, your coffee’s getting cold.”

“What’s this?” Arthur asked, gesturing to a jar on the table.

“Tree blood,” Merlin answered.

“Maple syrup,” Hermione amended.

Arthur did not look satisfied with either of these answers.

“Don’t drink it,” Ron warned. “You pour it in the square holes.”

Well, that was slightly more informative, at least. Arthur shrugged and complied.

“Don’t go overboard,” Merlin warned, watching as he painstakingly poured dark liquid into each waffle hole individually. “I don’t think you’ve ever had this much sugar at once in your life.”

“Is this bacon? I’ve had that before.”

“Not like this, you haven’t. Anyway,” he added to the others, “when’s the Order supposed to arrive?”

“Dumbledore should be here soon,” Lupin answered, “with Professors Snape and McGonagall—along with Fred and George, if they can find them.”

“Oh, you’ll like McGonagall,” Merlin told Arthur brightly.

“Moody, Kingsley and Tonks will arrive from the Ministry a little later,” Sirius added.

“And this is the… army,” said Arthur hesitantly. “Who’s fighting Voldemold.”

Merlin nodded. “Voldemack, yes. There aren’t a lot of us, but he doesn’t have many men either. Besides,” he added with a disconcerting grin, “you know how well armies do against me. Trust me, this is plenty.”

“At least some of them are trained,” Arthur allowed. “I suppose the knights didn’t number many more.”

“Always better to have a small, loyal group,” Merlin agreed. “Dumbledore’s the leader, in case you hadn’t realised.”

“I had,” Arthur said as he tried to subtly move some of his bacon strips onto Merlin’s sparse plate.

“Cut it out,” said Merlin, fighting him off.

“So, Mr. Weasley,” Arthur redirected, “Might I ask what your trade is?”

“I work at the Ministry,” he answered proudly. “In the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office.”

“The wizarding government,” Merlin translated.

“What’s a Muggle?” Arthur asked him.

“You are.”

Arthur appeared rather affronted by this, but Mr. Weasley just looked delighted to remember that there was a real live Muggle in his house.

“You could probably learn magic, though,” Merlin added. “If you tried. But other Muggles can’t these days.”

“Oh, I know,” said Arthur smugly, and murmured something that made his empty cup slide away from him across the table. A brief flash of gold swam in his eyes.

Merlin positively beamed at him, looking awestruck. “You learned magic?”

“Just a bit,” Arthur admitted. “In case you needed my help. Morgana showed me.”

Merlin abruptly threw his arms around Arthur, but was quickly dislodged by a few disgruntled mumbles and half-hearted shoves.

“So…” said Mrs. Weasley awkwardly, “I hope you found the room to your liking, er, sir.”

“Call me Arthur,” he responded good-naturedly. “And yes, it was very generous of you, Mrs. Weasley.”

“Molly, please,” said Mrs. Weasley quickly.

“Oh, that’s good,” said Merlin, “slept well, then?”

Arthur rolled his eyes. “I didn’t get any sleep, Merlin, because you came in every half hour and woke me up!” His tone went back to polite as he added towards the others, “But I greatly appreciate the hospitality, despite my friend making a nuisance of himself, as usual.”

“Exaggeration is unbecoming of a king,” Merlin replied haughtily. “It wasn’t every half hour. And I didn’t mean to wake you up. Besides—” He faltered. “I was just… checking you were still there.”

Arthur’s face grew solemn. “I’m not leaving until you send me away,” he said simply.

But it seemed to mean something to Merlin, who gave him a watery smile before getting up from the table to wash dishes.

“Oh, let me help,” said Mrs. Weasley, joining him. “It’s the least I could do, after you made breakfast for everyone.”

“I had help,” said Merlin, indicating the dishes on the other side of the sink that were washing themselves. He didn’t stop her, though. “Wait, when did you learn English, anyway, Arthur?”

“The first time I saw you speaking it,” Arthur answered. “No idea what century that would be. I’ve been trying to keep pace with you as much as I can—I didn’t know when you’d summon me.”

“Let me guess,” said Merlin wryly. “Morgana taught you?”

Arthur shook his head. “No, Gaius did.”

Merlin whipped around, flinging soapy water on him. “Gaius is there too? How is he? Has he been watching too?”

“A lot of people are there,” said Arthur, wiping stray suds off his face. “I’m not sure why. Even your mum. And they’re all doing well, I made sure of it. I’m still their king, after all.”

Merlin nodded. “And my father—“

“Oh,” said Arthur with a look of sudden realisation. “I wondered why I kept seeing that bloke around. It’s a big place, though, didn’t think much of it.”

Merlin rolled his eyes and went back to the dishes.

Harry had blearily joined them by the time the rest of the Order arrived. Mrs. Weasley took full advantage of his seemingly endless appetite by putting as much food in front of him as she could find, then she set about making tea for everyone.

“Is it true?” Tonks asked the second she arrived. “Is King Arthur really here?”

“Sh!” Mrs. Weasley admonished. “They’re just upstairs.”

After checking on Harry, both Merlin and Arthur had retreated to one of the many drawing rooms to have what looked like a serious conversation.

“Merlin,” Arthur had said when he caught him hovering again. “We need to talk.”

He had protested vaguely and at length, but eventually Arthur just manhandled him onto the stairs, not seeming to care that Merlin could probably obliterate him in the blink of an eye.

They returned to the kitchen soon after the Order was gathered, both still in Muggle clothes, Arthur carrying his sword. It was rather an odd sight, made odder by the way Arthur sidled in front of Merlin at the sight of them all gathered there, as if shielding him.

Merlin ignored this and bounded in front of the king, announcing, “Hi, everyone, glad you could make it, this is my friend Arthur, the one I told you about.”

Arthur raised an eyebrow at the introduction, but bowed slightly and said, “Arthur Pendragon. I’m here to help.”

“It’s really him, then?” said Tonks.

Merlin tugged at Arthur to lead him to a seat at the table past the professors. “Oh, yeah,” he answered. “I’d recognise that vacant expression anywhere.”

Arthur slapped him upside the head as they sat, so Merlin poked him and made his blond hair stand on end. It did a very good job of undermining the withering glare he consequently shot in Merlin’s direction.

As the king of Camelot attempted to discreetly calm his hair, Dumbledore called the meeting to order. “Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, for hosting us again. We have quite a few updates to get through today, and with any luck, we will be able to make a move on the final Horcrux.”

“Final?” Tonks exclaimed. “Harry’s is gone, then?”

Harry gave her a thumbs-up.

“Yes,” said Dumbledore. “That is our first bit of news. The second is related: Merlin used the sword Excalibur to destroy it—“

There were a few gasps.

“I didn’t stab Harry!” Merlin interjected, probably misinterpreting the reason for their shock.

“—and,” Dumbledore continued, “he believes the seventh and now final Horcrux to be stored at Gringotts, based on Mr. Weasley’s scrying.” He nodded to Ron, who sank lower in his chair.

The elder Mr. Weasley beamed at his son. “You’re getting good at that, eh, Ron?”

Ron shrugged. “Can’t see the future yet…”

“You will,” said Merlin with certainty. “And maybe you already have.”

“But Gringotts is impregnable,” Moody pointed out. “And we can’t destroy it if we can’t get to it.”

“So I’ve heard,” said Arthur, “but can we not simply speak to the goblins about it? Based on what Merlin has told me about how they’ve… changed… in recent centuries, I doubt they relish guarding dark magical objects for their enemies. Perhaps we could come to an arrangement.”

Lupin shook his head. “Goblins harbor a great dislike for wandbearers. I doubt they’d want to even entertain anything we proposed, especially one that might harm their reputation.”

“Ah,” said Merlin, “but we’re not wandbearers. True, they might not want to talk to you—or even Arthur, for that matter—but they might listen to me. To them, I’m not Merlin, I’m Emrys: magic. And creatures of magic tend to listen to me. If I can offer a solution that benefits them, they might accept.”

Tentatively, Ron raised his hand, ignoring the way Hermione stared at him for it.

“Do you have a suggestion, Mr. Weasley?” Dumbledore asked.

“Er—sort of. Not exactly. See, my brother Bill, he works at Gringotts—“ He glanced at his parents warily. “And, er, he said they think the person who makes something is its rightful owner, so wizards don’t have the right to pass down goblin-made objects—the person who wants to inherit it has to buy it from the maker again. Bill said they think of inheriting goblin-made objects as theft.”

“But the cup isn’t goblin-made,” Hermione pointed out. “Helga Hufflepuff made it herself.”

“It’s still stolen property, though,” said Ron. “She made it, so it was supposed to have been passed down through her family, so whenever You-Know-Who found it, he most likely stole it—and probably murdered someone in the process, since that’s just what he does.”

Lupin nodded. “A murder must be committed in order to create a Horcrux, so I’m sure you’re right.”

“Are there any laws about hiding stolen property in this bank?” Arthur asked.

“There are,” said Dumbledore, “though they are often ignored for the most powerful and wealthy of wizarding society.”

“Well,” said Arthur, “very soon, this family will be neither of those things. Perhaps, with the right offer, we can reach a mutually beneficial, somewhat secret arrangement.”

Chapter Text

Even after most of the Order had left, Merlin dawdled all Sunday evening before returning the students to Hogwarts. Arthur would be returning with Sirius to Grimmauld Place, and though he knew the house was relatively secure, Merlin was not looking forward to leaving him so far away for days at a time.

“Where would I go, Merlin?” Arthur had said in exasperation, multiple times, and Merlin didn’t say, “Home.”

Besides, it wasn’t just that he was somewhat afraid Arthur would disappear. He also didn’t want to leave him alone in the twentieth century with a couple of strangers, no matter how welcoming they were.

Especially with his constant questions.

“What is this?” Arthur asked, poking Merlin’s shoulder repeatedly while he was trying to pack.

Merlin glanced up at the cup of tea Arthur was sniffing at.

“Leaf-flavoured water,” he replied.

“Er…” said Arthur. “Why?”

“I don’t know,” Merlin said from halfway under the bed. “For the caffeine?”


“Never mind!”

But Arthur had already moved on. “What’s this for?”

Merlin rushed over to take the Walkman gently out of his hands. “It’s for listening to music,” he said, “and it’s fragile.”

“Er…” Arthur eyed the little machine sitting on the bed, leaning down to inspect it with his hands politely in the pockets of his new jeans. “… How?”

“Erm.” Merlin struggled to figure out where to even begin. “Okay. So it’s made of plastic—which comes from… oil? But oil from the ground. Very deep in the ground. And the oil’s solid now. Anyway, inside there are metal bits—I think—that are sort of… engraved in a specific pattern, so when you spin it really fast, it makes the little needle vibrate like—like the string on a lyre, I suppose.”

Arthur stared blankly at him, unmoving, for several seconds.


“Look,” said Merlin, herding Arthur out of the room. “I don’t know. I can’t explain the last millenium and a half of technology to you, Arthur, I really can’t. Go ask Hermione or someone. I’ll be down in a few minutes if you let me finish packing already.”

He breathed deeply when the room was finally empty, then moved around quickly to gather scattered articles back into his satchel and change into robes. It was getting late already. He cast his aging spell and hurried downstairs as he struggled to pull on his cloak.

“You lot ready, then?” he asked when he noticed the trunks and bags in the entryway.

A chorus of unenthusiastic ‘yeah’s came from the kitchen; Merlin turned the corner to see Ron, Harry, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Lupin, Sirius and Dumbledore all sitting at the table while Arthur watched Hermione repeatedly push the toaster down and pop it up again. He turned to Merlin when he entered—then drew his sword and pointed it straight at Merlin’s chest.

“Arthur!” Merlin exclaimed. “What the hell? I may come back eventually, but I still don’t want to be stabbed, you clotpole!”

Arthur faltered. “Oh, right… It’s just you.” He lowered the sword slightly to peer intently into Merlin’s aged face.

“What do you mean, just me?” Merlin groused, batting the sword away. “I’ll have you know I’m extremely dangerous and not to be trifled with.”

Arthur frowned at him, looking intently. Without warning, his hand shot out and grabbed the end of Merlin’s beard, pulling hard.

“Ow!” Merlin yelled, and threw Arthur off him once he regained his footing. “What on earth is the matter with you?”

Arthur just regarded him with that same considering look.

“Not a very strategically sound hairstyle, Merlin,” he said at length.

Sirius snorted, so Merlin glared at him, too.

“You’re all a bunch of hooligans,” Merlin grumbled, stealing Arthur’s seat. “Ought to just retire,” he continued, mumbling.

“Why do you keep your hair so long?” Ron asked. “I’ve always wondered.”

Merlin shrugged evasively. “Dunno. Same reason Dumbledore does, I suppose.”

The others turned to Dumbledore, who sighed. “I must confess, in my old age I have rather modeled my appearance after you yourself.”

Merlin abandoned his huff to goggle at the professor. “Wha—me?”

Sirius laughed at him again. “Don’t look so surprised.”

“But—“ Merlin stuttered. “I only used it to look… well, less like me.”

“Why do you keep your hair so long, though?” Harry asked. “I don’t see how that helps.”

Merlin faltered. “Er… it’s easier?”

“No, it isn’t,” Dumbledore interjected.

Merlin glanced to Arthur for help, but he was just grinning at him stupidly.

“Oh, who cares?” said Merlin, waving his hands. “I have my reasons.”

“I think I can guess,” said Arthur.

“Don’t guess.”

“Maybe to imitate Morgana’s ‘insane hermit’ look…” he continued anyway.

“Oh, all right,” Merlin cried, raising his hands in surrender. “The hair hides my ears! I would’ve been recognised immediately if I got rid of it.”

Arthur smirked at him. Dumbledore seemed to be questioning his fashion choices.

“Well,” said Lupin, “that answers one of life’s mysteries.”

Sirius nodded slowly. “Not really the answer I was expecting, though.”

It was only Monday evening when Merlin skipped supper in the Great Hall just to go see Arthur at Sirius’s house. He spent the second and a half it took him to get there worrying that Arthur was busy, that he had gone out, that he wouldn’t want to see him…

“Merlin!” said Arthur’s relieved voice.

Merlin whirled around with a grin, and there he was, sitting with Sirius, Remus and Tonks near the hearth. The latter two were playing chess, and it looked as if Sirius and Arthur had been giving covert tips to Remus and Tonks, respectively.

“Hi, everyone,” said Merlin. “Hope I’m not intruding, just wanted to check in…”

“Not at all,” said Sirius. “Please feel free to interrupt this massacre, Moony here is absolute rubbish.”

“I might be able to concentrate if you’d stop muttering bad advice in my ear,” said Lupin.

“You’d better not be letting me win,” said Tonks dangerously.

Merlin watched the board as he sat on the sofa beside Arthur, but he never had much to contribute to these games apart from “Yeah, that doesn’t look good.”

“What’s wrong?” Arthur asked the second he sat down.

“What?” Merlin frowned. “Nothing’s wrong.”

The others glanced at him curiously, but they clearly didn’t see whatever Arthur did.

“Then why do you look like somebody stole your leaf?” said Arthur.

“My leaf?”

“Yeah, your leaf. Because you look like a sad rabbit.”

Merlin snorted despite himself. “I do not. This is my face, Arthur, get used to it.”

“No, it isn’t,” said Arthur. “Normally, you look like a sneaky rat.”

“Well, you look like an offended toad.”

Merlin laughed when Arthur made the insult even more true by turning an offended glare on him.

“Shut up, Merlin.”

Merlin didn’t have the energy to retaliate by rambling at him for the next fifteen minutes, so he settled for relaxing back on the sofa and leaning against Arthur just to annoy him. He barely registered that his head was resting on Arthur’s shoulder before he dozed off.

When Merlin awoke, he was curled against the arm of the sofa with a blanket draped over him, and Arthur was gone. He sat up quickly, but the voices in the kitchen stilled him.

“Trust me, he’s awake. I can hear him worrying from here.”

It was Arthur’s voice; Merlin relaxed, but he was surprised to hear Kreacher respond.

“Kreacher should return to his duties, then, Master Pendragon.”

“Of course, go ahead. I didn’t mean to keep you for quite so long.”

“Thank you, sire,” Kreacher muttered, voice growing more distant as Arthur’s footsteps approached.

“Come on then, Merlin,” said Arthur from the doorway. Merlin stood, rubbing his eyes. “Quit lazing around.”

“What’s going on?” Merlin asked, following him blearily into the kitchen only to find a proper English tea laid out on the table. “What—are you cooking in here?”

“That’s generally what one does in a kitchen, Merlin. I’m the king, I do have some skills.”

Merlin scoffed. “I know you had to get Kreacher to help you.”

“Sit down and quit complaining.”

“Where are the others?” Merlin asked, obeying automatically.

“Upstairs,” said Arthur when he took the seat beside Merlin, at the head of the table. “Probably still arguing about heirlooms.”

Arthur passed Merlin a few things that he took without thinking. “So,” he said. “Care to explain why you look like a sad rabbit?”

“I do not—“

“Eat that,” Arthur interrupted, gesturing to a plate that had somehow appeared in front of Merlin.

He stared blankly at Arthur.

“I’m not an idiot, Merlin,” he said, “I know you haven’t eaten.”

“I’m sorry!” Merlin blurted, a propos of nothing.

Arthur blinked at him. “What on earth for?”

“I should have tried harder, I shouldn’t have just sat there waiting like a bump on a log—I mean, I tried asking Freya to bring you back, I tried yelling at the Cailleach—“

“You what.”

“—but they couldn’t do anything, I even tried swimming around in the lake but that didn’t do any good. I thought I was supposed to just be patient, but really I could have figured it out at any time if I wasn’t so stupid, you could have come back centuries ago—not to mention that it was my fault you died in the first place—“

“Merlin,” said Arthur firmly. “Stop being an idiot. First of all, Mordred killed me, not you. You’re not the one who should be apologising. If all this is anyone’s fault, I blame that bloody dragon, personally, or all those other people going on about the prophecy but not answering your questions about it. I wish I could’ve been here to help you like you helped me, but I’m here now, aren’t I? Besides,” he added, taking a sip of tea and wincing, “you’ve pretty much had it under control.”

“But I—“

“No. I’m glad I got extra time with our friends in Avalon, and I’m glad I’m back here now, with you.”

Merlin sighed. “I wish I could have been there with you.”

“They’re not the ones who need you now,” said Arthur. “You’ll see them again, but would you really want to leave Harry and his friends and the Order now? You wouldn’t be able to stand it, watching and doing nothing.”

There was a short silence before Merlin mumbled, “I’m not like you. I never was. I had to sit there and watch as you all got old and died, or got killed, and I couldn’t do anything, and before I knew it the whole of Camelot was gone…”

Arthur shook his head. “No. No, you’re just like us. You fell in rivers and caught colds; you made dumb mistakes and failed at hiding them from me; you fought alongside us every day, as bravely as any knight. Don’t flatter yourself, Merlin—you’re one of us.”

Merlin hid his smile from the prat. “And now you’re one of us, too,” he added, pointing to Arthur’s cup as it stirred itself.

“Good,” said Arthur. “So we’re finally even for you worming your way into being my servant.”

“Hey!” said Merlin indignantly. “I didn’t want that any more than you did. Honestly, what sort of reward is that, being named Prince Arthur’s servant?”

“It’s a great honor,” Arthur retorted. “And you’re lucky I’m such a good master.”

“You put me in the stocks every other day! And threw things at me!”

“And you spent half your time in the tavern.”

“You know full well I wasn’t in the tavern.”

The two of them hardly took notice when the others returned downstairs much later to sneak scones and make even more tea, but eventually their bickering turned into their telling two wildly different versions of the same story for a nonetheless enraptured audience; and it was very late before Merlin got back to Hogwarts.

“Merlin,” Arthur demanded, striding regally into Merlin’s office at the school a few evenings later. “Care to tell me why everyone is at your funeral right now?”

Merlin looked around in confusion. “How did you get in here?”

“I brought him,” said a blue-haired Tonks from behind him, closing the office door behind her.

“We’re supposed to go negotiate with the goblins today, remember?” said Arthur, fiddling with the instruments on Merlin’s shelves. “I see your ability to keep a schedule hasn’t improved.”

“First of all,” Merlin retorted, “I was doing three simultaneous jobs—no—four! And I always made sure you were on time to deliver my speeches, so quit complaining.” He returned a stack of papers to his desk drawer as he stood. “And by the way, don’t go around shouting my real name, please. You’ll ruin everything.”

Arthur huffed. “Why is your name sacred, but not mine? I’m the king!”

“It’s not sacred,” said Merlin, tapping on the frame of one of the portraits his alter-ego inhabited so it could watch his stuff while he was gone.

“It sort of is,” Tonks interjected.

“So?” said Arthur, eyebrows raised. “What’s with the funeral?”

“This imbecile,” Merlin’s portrait interrupted as he strode into view, “allowed that snake man to kill him, so they’re planting a wand in his grave for snake man to steal, to make him stop looking for the real thing.”

“Er—“ said Arthur, glancing disconcertedly between Merlin and his portrait as they glared at each other. “Why is that portrait talking?” He shook his head. “Never mind, it’s you. Why am I even asking? More importantly, is it talking about that Voldy Lord again?”

“Yes,” said Merlin quickly, “Lord Voldywhack, that’s who he’s talking about.”

He shot a glance at the portrait, whose subtle nod indicated he would continue the prank. Tonks looked torn between fear and laughter, but fortunately, Arthur wasn’t looking at her. Instead, he stared warily at the identical old men.

“Yeah,” he said eventually. “One of you is plenty. Too much, in fact. Let’s go, Merlin.”

“Robin,” Merlin corrected him. “Oh—I mean, Ambrose.”

Arthur snorted. “How many fake identities do you have, exactly?”

When they arrived in Diagon Alley, Tonks was looking distinctly less human than usual, which Merlin could only assume was an intentional ploy by the Order. But as soon as they neared Gringotts, Merlin sensed the perfect bargaining chip.

When they ascended the steps, Merlin stumbled as a wailing cry pierced his mind, filling it with pain—a telepathic cry.

“Arthur,” he hissed, pressing a hand against his head.

Arthur rushed towards him, looking concerned, but Merlin waved a hand at him, mentally pushing the dragon’s voice away with effort.

“They have a dragon,” Merlin muttered when Arthur and Tonks were close enough to hear. “And they’ve hurt it—badly.”

“Great,” Arthur sighed. “We have to rescue it, don’t we?”

Merlin shook his head. “No—I mean, yes, obviously we do, who do you think I am?—but this might also work to our advantage.”

“What do you mean?” asked Tonks.

“I’m a Dragonlord,” Merlin explained. “The creature down there isn’t a Great Dragon, but they’re still my kin, and the goblins have put themselves in a difficult position by imprisoning and torturing it. A crime against a dragon is a crime against me.”

“I see,” Arthur breathed. “They’re already at a disadvantage in this negotiation. And if they’ve never met you in person, they have no idea how you’ll react to the slight.”

“Exactly,” said Merlin. “We can use this. They’ll have to give me the dragon—I’m sure they knew this was coming eventually—but we can offer to forget the whole thing if they give us the dark artefact we’ve been looking for.”

Tonks nodded. “Especially if we lean on the theft aspect Ron brought up.”

“Right,” said Arthur, straightening as he eyed the imposing front doors. “We’ll improvise a bit, then. Mer—Ambrose, you’d better do the talking. I doubt they’ll take too kindly to either of us.”

Merlin nodded and took the lead, opening the double doors wide with a wave of his hand, dummy wand safe in the pocket of his cloak.

All eyes turned to him as he strode forward into the marble hall with a confidence he didn’t feel; even the humans in the building seemed to be wondering what the goblins were staring at, though they quickly went back to their business. The goblins did not seem surprised to see him: they must have sensed him coming.

Merlin ignored them and approached the most senior goblin at the end of the room. Unsurprisingly, he waited for Merlin to speak first.

“Good evening,” Merlin said quietly, forcing the goblin to lean forward slightly to hear, giving him his full attention—not that he didn’t already have it. “I have come to collect something,” he continued, both of them knowing what he meant.

The goblin bowed his head. “Please follow me, Emrys. I will take you to the head of the bank.”

“Thank you,” said Merlin, and beckoned for Arthur and Tonks to follow. The goblin did not object.

They received a few odd glances from the humans as they left, but the goblins simply went back to work. The three of them were led down a few narrow passageways before entering an office that was darker than the main hall, with a doorway that Merlin had to duck under slightly.

“Welcome, Emrys,” said the goblin behind the desk, standing and bowing his head slightly. “I am Norlag, the head of Gringotts Bank. How may I assist you?”

“Thank you for your welcome,” Merlin returned, inclining his head towards both him and the other goblin, who was retreating from the room. “These are my associates, Nymphadora Tonks and Arthur Pendragon, who wish to witness our discussion, if it pleases you.”

Norlag gave a silent nod in response.

“As I am sure you know,” Merlin continued, “I have come to retrieve my kin; but I wish to offer you a still greater security for the inconvenience.”

“And what did you have in mind?” he asked.

“You are aware, are you not, that there is an object of great dark magic in one of your vaults—a tarnished artefact that was stolen from its rightful owner?”

Norlag sighed. “Yes, Emrys, our security has detected it. I am afraid we have no control over what wandbearers choose to store in the vaults that they rent.”

“Of course. As the only one remaining with power over life and death, it is my responsibility to ensure the destruction of this dark magic and the eventual return of the object to its rightful owner, so I have come to negotiate with you. Am I correct in assuming that the owner of the vault did not disclose to you the magic that the object contained before asking you to guard it?”

“You are.”

Merlin nodded. “If you will allow me to replace the dragon with a set of magical shields of my own design, your security will be increased and the dark magic will be destroyed without harming the artefact in question. Due to their failure to inform you of its contents, the renter of the vault could be held liable for this destruction if it were ever discovered—though I doubt it would be. Does this proposal interest you?”

“…It does,” Norlag replied slowly, “but the vault in question belongs to a family that can sway the opinions of wandbearers against us, liability or no liability.”

“There are only two remaining members of that family,” said Merlin, “and both of them will be either killed or captured in the battle that is soon to come; I can assure you of that. Their vault will become forfeit very soon, as will their word.”

Norlag considered him, sparing barely a glance for Arthur, who remained stoic.

“The word of Emrys, on the other hand, does not depreciate,” said Norlag. “I will accept this exchange, my lord. I have no doubt that what you say is true—and that if it is not, you will offer appropriate compensation. Do we have a contract?”

“We do,” Merlin replied.

Norlag returned to his desk to retrieve a blank parchment from a drawer; he waved his hand over it, causing a lengthy list of terms to appear. After signing it by hand, he offered it to Merlin, who read quickly before magically imprinting his personal crest below Norlag’s name. He had adopted it centuries ago to facilitate magical contracts; it was simple, but elegant, containing only a few runes, a dragon, and the falcon that was his namesake.

“Come,” said Norlag, sounding friendlier than before the agreement had been made. “I will take you to that which is yours. Are you prepared to perform your enchantments now, or do you need time?”

“I’m ready,” said Merlin as they exited the office and continued further into the bank.

The four of them eventually crowded into a rickety-looking mining cart that nonetheless sped at breakneck speed through the caverns—and through a waterfall that removed Merlin’s ageing spell but left Tonks’s blue hair intact.

“Ingenious,” said Merlin in his now younger voice, wordlessly drying them all off.

Norlag regarded him as if he had not even noticed his change in appearance. “Thank you,” he said. “It was designed many years ago by one of our foremost engineers.”

Merlin winced as they descended further into the caverns and the echoes of the dragon’s screams rang in his mind. Tonks looked at him strangely, but soon the rattling cart was coming to a rather abrupt stop—Merlin’s arm shot out to keep Arthur from flying over the front when they screeched to a halt.

They were at a low point on the rails when they dismounted onto the floor of an expansive underground hollow. Small torchlights in the distance marked an abundance of vault doors along the walls, but the four of them were alone, surrounded by emptiness.

“Right then,” said Merlin, and shut his eyes to concentrate on the massive structure he could sense around him.

In a low voice, he began muttering the incantations he’d just come up with during their ride on the cart, in addition to a few good standbys such as those he had used at Hogwarts. After all, those still hadn’t worn off yet. Perhaps it would be good to go back and bolster them later, though, just in case.

Focus, Merlin, he thought, and his voice grew louder as he repeated the words, reaching out to wrap the building in his mental grasp; he covered it completely and felt magic dripping down the walls, like paint pouring down liberally until there was no surface left blank.

As the magic settled over them, beginning to calm the dragon cowering nearby, Merlin scanned their surroundings, searching for the wound-like blot on his subconscious that told him where the Horcrux was—somewhere nearby, just above them… And just as before, he uttered the spell Kilgharrah had given him to banish the soul into an object, this time directing it to the stray pen in his pocket, forcing it away from the cup.

The fragment of broken soul struggled against him, and the distance made it more difficult, but at last he felt the weight of its dark magic sink into his pocket, and it was contained once more.

When he opened his eyes, the cavern looked just the same, but he could feel the hum of magic surrounding him—and it seemed that Norlag could, too, as he took a soft breath and relaxed his posture. The festering wound of the Horcrux was gone, and so too were a few other blemishes Merlin had hardly noticed at first, tiny objects with sinister but petty intentions that had been destroyed by his shields.

Feeling a little faint, he knelt down on the floor to touch the earth and draw strength from it, drawing deep breaths into his lungs—but somehow, not only his lungs.

“Thank you, Emrys,” said Norlag when Merlin finally straightened.

“It’s no trouble,” Merlin responded timidly. “Let me know if you have any problems… though I daresay the shields will last longer than the dragon would have. He grows frail, though not from age.”

“I shall take you to it,” said Norlag, motioning for him to follow into a tall, narrow passage. “Though I fear you will have to free the creature yourself, as it has naturally grown to fear and hate goblins due to the way it was domesticated in the past.”

Merlin attempted to nod politely, reining his magic in to prevent it from lashing out in fury. He could sense the dragon’s pain as they drew closer. They approached another cavern up ahead as Norlag handed him a single large key, then fell back.

“Through there,” the goblin said, pointing to the barely visible outline of a massive door in one wall. “That path was sealed when my predecessors first brought the dragon into the caverns, but that key will open it. It is large enough to allow you all to pass, but it cannot be opened from the outside.”

“I understand,” said Merlin. “Thank you, Norlag. Perhaps we will meet again.”

“Thank you for your visit, Emrys,” he replied, and turned back the way they had come.

“You two stay back,” Merlin murmured to Tonks and Arthur. “My control over these new dragons is less absolute.”

Arthur’s hand went to his side, resting on the hilt of his sword as Merlin continued down the corridor and into the circular chamber that held the suffering creature.

Before him crouched a small, hunched dragon with flimsy wings and sallow, flaky scales. He turned its milky pink eyes on Merlin as he emerged from the tunnel, but he doubted they could see him properly. The dragon huffed at him with a small burst of flame, but did not attack.

I am Emrys, he said, your kin. I’ve come to free you.

He spoke in Dragontongue and transmitted the message mentally at the same time, but one way or the other, the dragon seemed to vaguely understand; Merlin drew closer, disintegrating the metal cuffs on its hind legs.

I have brought friends, he said. None of us will hurt you. We will take you through that door and bring you somewhere nicer, with open sky and sunlight and trees.

As he spoke, he unlocked the great gaping door and pushed it aside. It was dark inside the giant tunnel, but he could faintly smell earth and stale but moving air—and the dragon could smell it too. The creature edged carefully toward the opening, glancing back at Merlin.

I’m going that way too, he said, taking a few steps into the dark before conjuring an orb of light to illuminate the way. Come with me.

“Follow us,” he called to Arthur and Tonks, who were peeking around the corner. “But stay out of the way of his tail.”

And with that he strode quickly in the direction of the exit, feeling the dragon’s labored and tentative steps behind him on the slight incline.

Do you smell the fresh air? he asked as the slight breeze grew crisper. We’re almost out.

He quickened his pace to unlock the second door before the others reached it, pushing it aside and stepping out onto the mossy grass of a forest clearing. That was good; they might not be seen.

The dragon moved forward eagerly, but winced and retreated when the sunlight struck its eyes.

It’s all right, said Merlin, floating upwards to start healing the dragon’s eyes. You’ll get used to the sun. It’s warm, do you see?

Slowly, he drew the creature out of the dark whilst Arthur and Tonks emerged unnoticed behind it, backing away quickly as soon as they were out of the cave.

When he returned to the ground, Merlin drew the pen from his pocket and laid it in the grass before Arthur.

“This is now the final Horcrux,” he said. “Care to do the honors?”

Arthur eyed the nondescript object warily, drawing his sword. “This will… make that man mortal again?”

“Exactly,” said Merlin. “But he has no way of knowing that we’re doing this unless he goes to check on any of his Horcruxes.”

“Very well,” said Arthur solemnly, and Merlin and Tonks backed up as Arthur raised the sword, bringing it down on the little pen with a tiny, underwhelming crack.

The three of them watched blankly as it bled black ink into the grass.

“Well,” said Tonks. “Good.”

“More importantly,” said Arthur, who did not have his priorities straight, “How are we going to get that dragon out of here? It’s going to run feral through the streets!”

“First of all,” said Merlin, “dragons don’t run through any streets, they have wings. But unfortunately, we can’t ride this one, it would probably panic. I have another way of guiding it back to the Forbidden Forest, but I need you to promise not to freak out.”

Arthur eyed him warily, though Tonks looked excited.

“I’ll promise no such thing,” he said. “Knowing you, it could be absolutely anything.”

“Fine,” Merlin sighed. “Just… back up, will you? And at the very least, don’t scream. I’m having a hard time keeping the dragon here as it is.”

He cleared a space between him, the dragon, and the humans before scrunching his eyes shut in concentration. This was not a particularly comfortable process, and he had just extended himself a little too much with those shields…

But when he next opened his eyes, he knew it had worked. He looked down on two tiny, wide-eyed humans, both of whom had plastered themselves against the stone wall in alarm. He was also looking down on the scarred grey dragon, who was lowering his head submissively, but at least the creature was no longer cowering.

“Get a grip,” Merlin said to the humans. “It’s just me. I can’t very well keep up with a dragon if I’m a butterfly, can I? And anyway, this way you two can ride on my back. Go on,” he said, lowering his head so that he was practically lying on the ground. The other dragon looked down at him curiously. “Climb on,” he said. “And hold tight to my scales, I’m not going to be held liable for people falling to their deaths.”

He felt faint footsteps on his neck and shoulders as they situated themselves—even Arthur, who looked highly reluctant.

“Arms and legs inside the vehicle, please,” he joked as he rose up to his full height once more.

He could feel them jostling around as he did so; he craned his long neck to try and look at them, but that only seemed to unnerve them further.

“Seriously,” he said again, “hold on. If you need something, yell—loudly.”

Are you ready? he asked the grey dragon. Follow me: let’s fly home.

He stretched his dark, shimmering wings, flapping them experimentally a few times before taking off with a jolt that, fortunately, did not dislodge his passengers. The two dragons ascended into the lightly clouded sky and turned north, a strong wind under their wings and the sun on their flanks.

Chapter Text

Ron stared idly out the common room window, stubbornly not looking at the homework sitting right in front of him. He could feel his stress levels rising at the mere presence of a blank parchment; that would go away if he filled it, of course, but in order to write on it, he would have to look at it, and that he was not prepared to do.

That’s why Ron was the first to notice the dragon.

"Merlin’s pants!” he exclaimed, momentarily forgetting why he shouldn’t be saying that.

He ran over to the window to stare out onto the grounds, which were growing slowly darker in the twilight. Harry joined him, and Ron eagerly (and nervously) pointed out the grey dragon that was gliding across their field of vision in the direction of the forest.

“Wow,” said Harry. “Is it, er… dangerous?”

“Oh, definitely,” said Ron zealously.

“What is it?” Hermione finally said. “This had better be good…”

She squeaked when she joined them at the window. “Is that a—“

“A dragon,” said Ron, “yeah.”

“Shouldn’t we tell Dumbledore or something?” she asked.

Harry shrugged. “I’m sure he knows already, doesn’t he? Bit hard to miss, that.”

“I suppose,” said Hermione. “Still…”

They all leaned slowly to the left to watch the dragon on its path, but since it didn’t seem to be wreaking any destruction for the time being, Harry and Hermione eventually returned to their seats.

“Bloody hell,” said Ron dreamily, still watching. “A dragon.”

He watched its giant shadow cross the Hogwarts grounds as the heavy-looking creature somehow soared above, occasionally catching glimpses of a grisly sort of face. Until something else came into view.

“BLOODY HELL!” Ron screamed. “A DRAGON!”

“I think we established that,” said Harry quizzically.

“NO!” said Ron, still unintentionally screaming. “Look! What the—Merlin’s—“

Harry sighed and rejoined him at the window.

“BLOODY HELL!” he shouted when he saw it.

“EXACTLY!” Ron shouted back.

“Honestly!” said Hermione, smacking her quill down and standing up. “You two—“

Yeah, it was definitely there. All three of them were looking at it now. Trailing leisurely behind the giant grey dragon was a positively massive Dragon, easily three times the size of the first one and blue-black as night, so much so that Ron hadn’t even seen it at first. It was like a shadow encroaching on the window, dwarfing the completely normal-sized grey dragon but still somehow slender and elegant, making the other one look squat and bristly. Its shadow covered almost the entire grounds for a moment, rendering Hagrid’s hut nearly invisible for a few seconds before the two dragons traveled further above the forest, beginning to descend as they disappeared from view at the edge of the window.

“What is that thing?” said Hermione faintly.

“Let’s go find out,” Harry said, packing his things.

“Are you insane?” said Ron and Hermione simultaneously.

“What?” He looked blankly at them. “We have the Cloak.”

“Do you remember that Hungarian Horntail you fought last year?” said Hermione. “Remember how gigantic that was? That thing—“

“That thing,” Ron interrupted, “eats Hungarian Horntails for breakfast.”

Hermione didn’t disagree.

“But it could be a Great Dragon!” Harry protested. “Those things R—I mean Merlin was talking about. They’re supposed to be intelligent; they can talk and everything. If we can catch up to it, maybe it can help us against Voldemort.”

“No thanks, mate,” said Ron definitively. “Somebody else can deal with that. Moody, maybe. He looks like he’s had a run-in with a dragon or two.”

Harry shrugged. “I’m going, with or without you.”

It was freezing cold, nearly dark, and Ron was huddled under a meagre invisibility cloak, trying not to trip over his two best friends as they attempted to track down the biggest dragon they’d ever seen. Or heard of.

There seemed to be a load of broken trees around, so Ron reckoned they were going in the right direction. Normally, he would say fallen trees, but these had been broken like twigs, scattered on the forest floor as if by accident. This was worse than Grawp. Ron groaned.

“Shh!” Hermione warned, and they all came to an abrupt, jostling halt.

There were noises up ahead—large noises that shook the earth. They approached more quietly, trying to hide behind trees despite the fact that they were already wearing the Cloak. A low growl momentarily stopped them in their tracks, but they eventually carried on.

Again, the first thing that Ron saw was the pale grey dragon, which looked rather sickly and scarred up close—though, to be honest, that only made it more frightening. The three students peered at it between the splintered trees.

Ron heard a sharp intake of breath from Hermione, then he noticed it too: he hadn’t seen the black dragon at first because he thought it was the sky. It must have landed and then taken off again for some reason, because the first Ron saw of it was a strange shifting of the first few stars of the night as they were blotted out by a huge moving shape—one that was diving, and quickly.

Just as Ron had finally managed to make out the creature, it landed in the clearing with the grey dragon. While its flight was graceful, its landing was clumsy at best. Several earth-shaking thumps and buffets of strong wind threatened to either knock the trio over or blow the Cloak off their heads.

Once it finally started to settle down, Harry crept closer—which meant Ron and Hermione had to get closer, too. For a second, Ron could swear the dark dragon turned its bright blue eyes directly on them, but it looked away just as quickly and busied itself with nuzzling insistently at the smaller dragon, sniffing at its scars almost like a concerned big brother. Or sister, as the case may be. He couldn’t really tell.

They saw the reason for the large dragon’s concern when they had nearly reached the edge of the clearing, and they could finally see the seeping wounds and gruesome scars on the pale dragon’s flaky scales, its wings, even its face and eyes, the latter of which seemed to be damaged as it sniffed around for the large animal the other dragon had brought for it. The dark dragon nudged it in the right direction.

Then it took them by surprise by looking directly at them and, with a huff of warm breath, dislodging the Cloak from their grasp. It fell half to the ground, still clutched in their hands, and they were exposed.

Its cat-like pupils were almost big enough for Ron to crawl through, he thought rather hysterically as the black holes constricted and dilated, growing closer as they adjusted. All three of them stumbled back onto the leaf-strewn ground as its angular face approached, small nose twitching as it sniffed at them. Its demeanor didn’t seem particularly threatening, but that wasn’t much comfort with a creature of this size.

Up close, Ron could see that its spikes lay down almost flat against its blue-black scales, even the ones on its head that made it look rather like an inquisitive cat. Its eyes were such a bright blue that they seemed almost luminous in the twilight. It blinked at them a few times, head nearly down to their eye level as they struggled to their feet.

Its mouth widened almost in a smile, but a strange glow started to emanate from between its sharp teeth—

“Run!” Hermione shouted, and Ron realized abruptly that dragon = fire.

The trio turned to flee, but somehow the creature’s long tail had snaked behind them while they were preoccupied, now blocking their path entirely.

The dragon merely blew a few sparks onto the ground, watching as they bounced harmlessly and petered out. It blew a few more and patted at them with a surprisingly gentle front paw, then lay its head directly on the ground in front of them.

“Quit menacing the children,” said a faraway voice.

Without warning, two figures slid down the dragon’s flank, dismounting. Arthur Pendragon and Tonks navigated around the large dragon to join Harry, Ron and Hermione in front of it. That was only a slight comfort, though, because there was a little fear in their eyes, too.

The dragon narrowed its eyes at them, still lying down leisurely. It huffed petulantly, blowing leaves in all directions.

“Use your words, bonehead,” said Arthur, looking braver than he should, standing in front of the massive dragon with his arms crossed.

The dragon sighed again. “You’re no fun,” it said.

The voice was booming, sort of ominous, and somehow vaguely familiar, but Ron didn’t have time to reflect on any of those things, because he let out a panicked yell and tried to back away, running right into the dragon’s tail again. The dragon who was talking.

“Why are you three here, anyway?” it said, nudging Ron with its tail. “Did you see me from the window? I’d forgotten about that…”

“I told you,” said Arthur at the same time as Hermione squeaked, “You’re—you’re talking!”

“We knew you were a Great Dragon!” Harry exclaimed.

The dragon eyed them skeptically. “So you, what, followed two large dragons into the middle of the Forbidden Forest? That’s… unwise.”

“You’re one to talk,” said Arthur pointedly.

The dragon just lightly batted him away with a giant paw, forcing him to stumble backward a few feet. It stood back up then, stretching its wings before settling them back at its sides. It nudged at the grey dragon to keep eating, then slowly stretched its mouth wide open. For a second, Ron was afraid it was going to eat the smaller one (which was something he both did and really did not want to see), but then it just snapped its mouth shut and ruffled its wings again as if yawning.

It looked down blankly at their uneasy expressions before making a sound that Ron recognised belatedly as laughter.

“I’m not going to eat you!” it cackled. “It’s just me. Your faces, though…”

It snorted again, shuffling and circling around as if making a nest like a dog.

“Just… me?” Ron stammered.

“Just Merlin being an idiot,” Arthur clarified, walking back up to the dragon as it settled down.

“Huh?” said Harry, staring quizzically at the dragon.

“Bit of self-Transfiguration, that’s all,” it said. “Or… something like that. Not really sure.”

“Okay…” said Hermione slowly. “Who’s that?” She pointed to the grey dragon.

“Er…” The black dragon that was apparently Merlin stared blankly at its companion. “A regular dragon,” he said finally. “He can’t speak, so I don’t know if he has a name. Seems to understand me, though. Dragonlord and that.”

Harry just shrugged and joined Arthur and Tonks, who were examining the giant dragon up close. Arthur tentatively touched his iridescent scales.

“Er,” said Hermione. “Why are you black?”

“That’s racist,” said the dragon, deadpan.

“All right, change back, will you?” said Tonks. “We’ve got to get back to the Burrow for the Order meeting soon, you’ve got to Transport us if we want to be there on time.”

The black dragon looked up into the darkening sky. “On the other hand…”

This was exactly the kind of thing that happened when the only responsible adult in the group was Hermione. Seven humans flying over Scotland on the back of a massive talking dragon, zooming at breakneck speed toward the Weasleys’ house.

It didn’t take much convincing for everyone (except Hermione) to get on board with the idea of scaring the living daylights out of the Order for no particular reason, so Ron and Harry were sent back up to the castle to fetch Fred and George. He had to admit it was funny to see them scared witless for a few seconds at the appearance of an unreasonably large dragon, but they adjusted quickly when Merlin explained.

“Wicked,” they said simultaneously.

They said the same thing a number of times as they all started to fly, but by now it was too cold and too windy to speak. Hermione had wrapped herself around a single large spike as if her life depended on it (which it sort of did). Fred and George were taking turns leaning as far over the side as they could, holding onto each other for support, while Ron and Harry were just trying to hold on tight in case anything funny happened. Merlin had already tried a few minor acrobatics against their screamed protests, though no barrel rolls yet, thank Mer—well.

Arthur and Tonks were growing a little more confident, looking down at the scenery on occasion. Ron tried to look down too, but he only caught a glimpse of an approaching city before he jerked back, feeling faint.

“Large city up ahead!” Merlin shouted in his booming dragon’s voice. “Got to turn invisible!”

“WHA—?” Arthur started to shout, but was cut short when the giant dragon beneath them just disappeared.

Screams ensued; everyone hung onto the nearest invisible spikes for dear life, and Ron couldn’t avoid looking at the distant earth now, because there was nothing else to look at, but Hermione had squeezed her eyes shut as she clung to midair, so Ron followed suit.

Soon the screams turned to whoops of exhilarated laughter, and Ron opened his eyes tentatively to see the twins high-five as the dragon finally became visible beneath them. Ron shared a nervous glance with Harry, who was looking just as windblown and jittery as Ron felt, but he was grinning too.

“HOW FAR NOW?” Tonks shouted over the wind.

“Almost there!” Merlin responded. “You can see it up ahead there!”

Ron peered into the distance, but his eyes were watering and he couldn’t make out much of anything, much less his house.

“I SEE IT!” Arthur called.

That was the only warning they got before they plummeted into a dive. The wind kicked up even more around them, and Ron could swear it was actually reshaping his face. He could feel himself lifting slightly off the dragon’s back now, anchored only by his grip on the giant spike, and he didn’t even have enough air to scream.

There were screams, though—they were coming from down below, Ron realised as the ground rushed toward them.

This is it, he thought wildly. This is how I die. Good way to go out, though.

And then he was on the ground, flat on his back—winded, but perfectly fine. He sat up to see the others scattered about, looking dazed, and the dragon nowhere in sight. But Merlin scrambled to his feet nearby, pulling Arthur with him, and laughed as he saw the aghast faces of the Order members crowding in the doorway of the Burrow.

“Had you for a minute there, didn’t I?” he said, grinning.

The rest of them gathered themselves up off the ground, but Mrs. Weasley was already descending on Merlin, menacing him with some manner of cooking instrument.

“What on earth—!” she spluttered. “Scared us all—half—to death!” she shouted, waving her large spoon to punctuate her reproaches. “Totally—out—of control! I can’t—believe—!”

Ron merely helped Hermione up. Merlin, dodging and ducking out of the way, was trying not to laugh as he defended himself.

“You said no more tornadoes!” Ron heard him protest.

There was a pause.



“So,” said Merlin once they had all stopped shouting and returned inside, “I take it Voldemort has the fake Elder Wand now?”

He took the seat furthest from Mrs. Weasley, but he was still grinning, and looking just as windblown as the rest of them. His passengers joined him at the table in a rather shellshocked stupor.

“He does,” Moody answered as he creakily sat. “Professor McGonagall and I stayed behind after the service; we hid nearby to make sure he showed up to retrieve it. He came with six Death Eaters, but he grabbed it and left without incident.”

“Some dramatics,” McGonagall added, “but no incidents.”

“Good,” said Arthur, “because our mission was also successful.”

“That was the last Horcrux,” Merlin added. “Voldemort is finally mortal.”

Arthur looked at him strangely. “I thought it was ‘Voldywad’.”

“Oh, it is,” Merlin assured him quickly. “I was just making fun.”

Tonks studiously looked down, inspecting the grains of the table. Snape merely glared at Merlin wearily.

Before Arthur could get suspicious, Merlin blurted, “So! Er, that means we need a plan. Ideas?”

Everyone looked at Arthur. He looked blank for a moment, then drew himself up.

“Merlin’s right. We can’t allow him to dictate the terms of the coming battle, and we can’t wait for him to learn of our deception. If he discovers that his Hor—er—cruxes have been depleted, he will surely create more, and probably make a better effort to hide them.”

“How can we be sure he doesn’t know already?” Sirius asked.

Dumbledore spoke up. “The sources that Severus and I have gathered to monitor his movements give no indication that he has any notion of our plan, or that any of his Horcruxes have gone missing. It is fortunate that he hid them in places he will find it difficult to check on.”

“Still,” said Moody, “I doubt we have much time before he finds out—or suspects something. We must act quickly.”

“Have we any idea of the location of his headquarters?” Arthur asked.

“That’s the problem,” said Snape. “He has none. His followers are rarely gathered in one place, and when they are, it’s only a few of them at a time. Meanwhile, he himself relocates often.”

“Then our best chance is to bait him into launching a full attack,” said Arthur. “That’s the only way we can force him to gather all of his followers at once—preferably, at a place and time of our choosing. If we can manipulate him into mobilising his full force, we can kill or capture him and as many of his followers as possible, to prevent a resurgence.”

“How do you suggest we do that?” said Lupin.

“He tends to be on the paranoid side,” Sirius added dryly.

“A lure,” Arthur replied. “An opportunity he cannot risk missing. Is there anything else that he’s after?”

Harry meekly raised his hand, indicating himself.

“Yes,” Dumbledore sighed, “he is desperate to attack Harry, as he believes it is the key to his ultimate success, and to controlling the wizarding world by becoming the greatest wizard alive.”

“Don’t see that happening,” Fred muttered, eyeing Merlin. George snorted.

“But he is also after Professor Dumbledore,” McGonagall added, “and Hogwarts in general, to seek some sort of revenge.”

Arthur sighed. “I would be reluctant to turn a school into a battleground. There must be some way we can drag him out into the open, or at the very least, to a less vulnerable location.”

“He wants control,” said Tonks. “I’m sure he plans to try for a government takeover eventually.”

“If we could make the Ministry appear weak,” said Snape, “he might take the opportunity, especially now that he has the false Elder Wand and a following of dark creatures.”

“Dark creatures?” Arthur asked.

“Death Eaters have been making efforts to recruit giants, werewolves, and probably others to their cause,” Dumbledore explained. “We have attempted to do the same, but with much less success.”

“I wouldn’t worry too much about the giants,” said Merlin. “If any of them do show up, they’ll turn back when they sense my enchantments. They know better than to attack something I’m protecting.”

“What enchantments?” Sirius asked.

“The wards. I built a lot of them. Most magical creatures can intuitively sense when I or my protections are nearby—not werewolves, evidently, but giants can.”

Arthur frowned. “What do you mean, evidently?”

“Er—“ Merlin froze. “Well, I’ve met a few, and they never recognised me, that’s all.”

“It’s all right,” said Lupin tiredly. “He means me. I tried to convince the other werewolves to join us, but they’re not like me. They run in packs, and while I only transform during the full moon, they’ve been known to attack at any time.”

“I see,” said Arthur, recovering quickly from his astonishment. “All the more reason to draw their forces away from the school.”

“Unfortunately,” said Dumbledore, “I doubt that will be possible. Tom Riddle’s obsession with both Harry and Hogwarts will not be thwarted. I have attempted it many times.”

“But we cannot simply allow him to attack a school full of students!” Professor McGonagall protested. “Even ignoring the risk to the children, it would be unwise to allow him to dictate the terms of this battle.”

“I see no way to avoid it,” said Snape. “The Dark Lord will stop at nothing to seek his vengeance, and he is manic with it. He will not be stopped, and it would be naïve to presume that he would be satisfied with any other target. Anyone and anything he attacks in the meantime is only to serve his end goal of killing Potter and Dumbledore.”

“His end goal,” said Merlin, “is immortality. He fears death more than anything. It’s primarily for that reason that he’s after Dumbledore and Harry, the only two people he knows to be capable of killing him.”

“But they are capable,” Snape argued. “And Hogwarts is the safest place for both of them. We can’t risk moving them, and if we can’t move them, then we can’t lay a trap.”

“We could use decoys,” Tonks suggested. “Body doubles.”

“And if he were to realise this?”

“Professor Snape is right,” Moody sighed. “We must ensure that he makes his move soon, before he becomes aware of the missing Horcruxes, and he won’t settle for anything less than Hogwarts.”

“I am afraid I must agree,” said Dumbledore. “Perhaps if I were to fall gravely ill, constrained to the Hospital Wing where he could easily dispatch me?”

“But a school under siege!” Mrs. Weasley cried.

“What if he were to get inside?” said McGonagall. “People could be killed—children! We have been entrusted with their safety.”

“The wards are impregnable,” said Moody. “I’ve tested them extensively myself.”

“I can get through,” Merlin interjected. “I’m a bit of an anomaly, I admit, but there are ways. There are no certainties here. There could be a strategy to draw him away from Hogwarts temporarily—and temporarily is all we need.”

“What do you think, Mr. Weasley?” Dumbledore asked Ron. “Have you had any visions or dreams about Voldemort attacking Hogwarts?”

“Well—“ Ron faltered, racking his brain. “I don’t know. I might have done, but that’s probably only because I was afraid of it happening—we all were.”

Ron saw Merlin looking down and shaking his head, but he sensed it wasn’t because of anything he’d said.

Dumbledore, on the other hand, was nodding solemnly. “We cannot ignore the warnings we have been given,” he said. “Knowing where the attack will take place gives us an advantage, and we could coerce him into doing so at a certain time by giving an impression of weakness.”

“Can’t we at least wait until school is out and bait him into attacking then?” said Sirius.

“But he always makes his move at the end of the school year,” said Harry. “There must be some reason for that.”

“It’s his last opportunity to attack you before you’re safe at the Dursleys’ again for the summer,” said Merlin. “And if he keeps to that pattern, he’ll be mobilising soon. Whatever we choose to do, we won’t have much time.”

There was a tense silence before Arthur spoke up. “We cannot afford to be divided on this. If Hogwarts is to be the battleground, then so be it. We must spend all of our efforts in bolstering its defences and protecting its students. There will be no room for mistakes.”

“It is decided, then,” said Dumbledore. “We must appear weak on the outside, but we must be united against the forces of darkness. If we can orchestrate the battle close to the end of term, we can evacuate the smaller remaining student body as a safety precaution.”

“That does seem the safest approach,” Arthur agreed.

“Still,” Merlin added, “it would be wise to be prepared in case of an early attack. Might I suggest a Portkey be kept both here and at Sirius’s house, so that the Order members not residing at Hogwarts could come to our aid more quickly in case of an emergency?”

“I can procure them,” said Moody. “That would be a useful precaution.”

“Excellent,” said Dumbledore. “I will need to inform the staff of what we have discussed here in order to finalise our plan.”

McGonagall still looked reluctant as she and the other teachers stood, but she said nothing as they made their way to the Floo.

“Come on,” said Merlin, gesturing to the students. “We’d better get back too.”

Ron was suddenly feeling rather tired as they gathered around to be Transported, but it wasn’t a bad tired, really.

“Night, Arthur,” said Merlin, shooting a last glance at Arthur.

“See you tomorrow, Merlin,” the king replied with a small smile.

Chapter Text

By the time exams arrived, Harry was sick and tired of practise quizzes, Ron was looking dead on his feet, and Hermione was practically buzzing with nervous energy. No one talked much at breakfast, and afterwards, the fifth- and seventh-years milled around in the Entrance Hall as they waited for the Great Hall to be rearranged for exams.

When they were called forward, class by class, at half past nine, the four house tables had been replaced with many individual desks, all facing forward towards Professor Dumbledore. Once they all settled in and quieted down, he said, “You may begin,” and turned over an enormous hourglass on the desk beside him, which also contained spare quills, ink bottles, and parchment rolls.

Harry turned over his paper, his heart thumping hard—a few seats ahead and to the right, Hermione was already scribbling—and lowered his eyes to the first question: a) Give the incantation and b) describe the wand movement required to make objects fly.

Harry had a fleeting memory of a club soaring high into the air and landing loudly on the thick skull of a troll… with a slight smile, he bent over the paper and began to write.

“Well, that wasn’t too bad, was it?” said Hermione anxiously in the Entrance Hall two hours later, still clutching the exam paper. “I’m not sure I did myself justice on Cheering Charms, I just ran out of time. Did you put in the counter-charm for hiccoughs? I wasn’t sure whether I ought to, it felt like too much… And on question twenty-three—”

“Hermione,” said Ron sternly, “we’ve been through this before. We’re not going through every exam afterwards, it’s bad enough doing them once.”

The practical exams came after lunch; the fifth-years crowded into the chamber beside the Great Hall. As small groups of students were called forwards in alphabetical order, those left behind muttered incantations and practiced wand movements, occasionally poking each other in the face or shoulder by mistake.

After a tense thirty minutes or so, Professor Flitwick called, “Parkinson, Pansy. Patil, Padma. Patil, Parvati. Potter, Harry.”

“Good luck,” said Ron quietly. Harry walked into the Great Hall, clutching his wand so tightly his hand shook.

“Professor Tofty is free, Potter,” squeaked Professor Flitwick, who stood just inside the door. He pointed Harry towards what looked like the very oldest and baldest examiner who was sitting behind a small table in a far corner, a short distance from Professor Marchbanks, who was halfway through testing Draco Malfoy.

“Potter, is it?” said Professor Tofty, consulting his notes and peering over his pince-nez at Harry as he approached. “The famous Potter?”

Out of the corner of his eye, Harry distinctly saw Malfoy throw a scathing look over at him; the wine-glass Malfoy had been levitating fell to the floor and smashed. Harry could not suppress a grin; Professor Tofty smiled back at him encouragingly.

“That’s it,” he said in his quavery old voice. “No need to be nervous. Now, if I could ask you to take this egg cup and make it do some cartwheels for me.”

On the whole, Harry thought it went rather well. His Levitation Charm was certainly much better than Malfoy’s had been, though he wished he had not mixed up the incantations for Color Change and Growth Charms, so that the rat he was supposed to be turning orange swelled shockingly and was the size of a badger before Harry could rectify his mistake. He was glad Hermione had not been in the Hall at the time and neglected to mention it to her afterwards. He could tell Ron, though; Ron had caused a dinner plate to mutate into a large mushroom and had no idea how it had happened.

Unfortunately, there was no time to relax afterwards. The next morning was the Transfiguration exam, followed by Herbology on Wednesday and Defence Against the Dark Arts on Thursday. There, at least, Harry felt sure he had passed.

The weekend was a brief respite, during which Merlin made a rushed appearance as a fifteen-year-old Gryffindor.

“Don’t tell anyone I was here,” he whispered when he joined them by the fireplace. “I get the feeling teachers are supposed to stay out of the way for the time being.”

“Any news from the Order?” Harry whispered back.

Merlin grimaced. “Nothing. They ought to be solidifying plans by now, but if they are, they haven’t told me. They’re too caught up in the minutiae… I’ve been bolstering the wards in the downtime, though.”

Harry shook his head worriedly, but Ron changed the subject. “How was Runes, then?”

“I mistranslated ehwaz,” Hermione blurted furiously. “It means partnership, not defence; I mixed it up with eihwaz.”

“Ah, well,” said Ron lazily, “that’s only one mistake, isn’t it, you’ll still get—”

“Oh, shut up!” Hermione retorted. “It could be the one mistake that makes the difference between a pass and a fail!”

Hermione’s bad mood persisted for most of the weekend, though Harry and Ron found it easy to ignore, as they spent most of Saturday and Sunday revising for Potions on Monday, the exam which Harry had been looking forward to least—and which he was sure would be the downfall of his ambitions to become an Auror. Still, he was beginning to realise there were other career paths open to him… for one thing, he had started teaching a Defence Against the Dark Arts study group this year, and Merlin’s unconventional teaching methods were beginning to give him ideas.

Sure enough, he found the Potions written paper difficult, though he thought he might have got full marks on the question about Polyjuice Potion, having taken it illegally in his second year. Even the afternoon practical was not as dreadful as he had expected it to be. With Snape absent from the proceedings, he found that he was much more relaxed than he usually was while making potions.

Harry was determined to do well in Tuesday’s Care of Magical Creatures exam so as not to let Hagrid down, and he thought he managed it; once it ended, he flashed a thumbs-up at Hagrid, who was anxiously watching the proceedings at the forest’s edge through his cabin window.

Astronomy went well enough, but even by Harry’s low standards in Divination, that exam went very badly. He might as well have tried to see moving pictures on the desktop as in the stubbornly blank crystal ball; he lost his head completely during tea-leaf reading, saying it looked to him as though Professor Marchbanks would shortly be meeting a round, dark, soggy stranger; and he rounded off the whole fiasco by mixing up the life and head lines on her palm and informing her that she ought to have died the previous Tuesday.

“Well, we were always going to fail that one,” said Ron gloomily as they ascended the marble staircase. Still, he had made Harry feel a little better by telling him how he had told the examiner in detail about the ugly man with a wart on his nose in his crystal ball, only to look up and realize he had been describing his examiner’s reflection. “I could see things just fine in Merlin’s crystal!” he complained. “Why not the stupid crystal ball?”

“You think it’s a fake or something?” Harry asked.

Ron shrugged. “Wouldn’t put it past Trelawney. But I did reckon the examiners would have the real thing. Whatever that is.”

After the Astronomy practical, which obviously had to wait for nightfall, the final exam the next day was History of Magic. Most of it was nonsense to Harry, but with Sirius’s complaints about werewolf-related legislation and Merlin’s old stories, he must have at least scraped up some points.

“Glad to be of service,” said Merlin when Harry told him as much, recounting his last exams as the four of them lounged on the grounds. “Got loads more where that came from,” he added with a grin.

Ron looked up hopefully from where he was leaning against a tree. Harry and Hermione sat nearby as Merlin lay carelessly in the grass.

“Could you tell us one?” Ron asked tentatively.

Merlin shrugged. “Like what?”

The three of them exchanged a blank look.

“Er…” Harry wracked his brain for a History of Magic question he hadn’t been able to answer. There were plenty of them, but his brain was absolutely fried.

“What about the Founders?” Hermione suggested. “Do you have any stories about them?”

“Hm…” Suddenly, a grin spread across his face. “Want to hear about the Room of Requirement?”

“Yeah!” they agreed enthusiastically.

“At first,” he started, “we called it the Changing Chamber. Well, I say ‘we’… Godric called it that, mostly. He was a fan of alliteration, so obviously he thought it was genius. Helga and I didn’t call it anything in particular, sometimes just ‘the Room.’ It was Rowena who came up with ‘Room of Requirement,’ probably just to annoy Godric, but eventually, it stuck.

“Anyway, I’d been helping with all the enchantments they were doing to get it ready for students, so they started to suggest—Helga especially—that I should be a fifth founder. Godric was against it because my name didn’t alliterate, but Salazar argued that it did because vowels didn’t count, so Myrddin and Eames sort of started with the same letter. Rowena thought the whole argument was idiotic, of course.”

“The point is,” Merlin continued, “I said no, partly because I hadn’t been there in the very beginning. So they said I should at least have some special contribution. Rowena’s was the moving staircases, as you know—those always irked me, by the way. What a waste of time. Then Helga’s was the magical kitchens, how food would appear on the table at mealtimes all at once. They weren’t operated by house elves at first, mostly by magic and some human cooks.

“Godric’s contribution was the enchanted ceiling in the Great Hall. He was a great hunter, and he always loved looking up at the stars when he was drifting off to sleep outside. Salazar came up with the system of house points, and those nifty hourglasses in the Entrance Hall. He and Godric competed over everything, so even though they were for students, at first they used them exclusively on each other.”

Merlin laughed, brushing grass out of his hair as he sat up. “’Elbows on the table!’ Salazar would say. ‘That’s fifty points from Gryffindor!’ Or Godric would yell, ‘Brooding in darkened corridors! Seventy-six points from Slytherin!’ Godric saw no need to adhere to nice, round numbers, you see. It annoyed Salazar immensely, especially when he started halving points. They made a rule about it after that.”

Laughing again, Merlin shook his head. “I’m getting off track. Oh, that’s right! My contribution. I couldn’t think of anything for a long time—and I wanted it to be really good, just in case they told anyone who was behind it. I told them not to, of course, but they never listened to a word I said…

“So one day I was wandering around the castle—I’d gotten lost because of those blasted staircases again and was trying to find my way back to Rowena’s chambers to babysit Helena. But instead I ran into Godric and Helga arguing about this one particular room. They were both a bit obsessive like that. Apparently Helga thought it was a death trap and they should rebuild the whole wing just to be safe, but Godric said they should just leave it abandoned so it could be some sort of cool secret hangout for the adventurous students.”

Merlin squinted at the castle, shading his eyes with one hand and pointing with the other. “It was right about there, I think, really high up and sort of tucked away. Well,” he continued, “I didn’t like either of those ideas, so I asked if I could have it—just to experiment on it for a while, you know.”

He idly twirled a blue flower in one hand which didn’t seem to have come from anywhere. “So I was messing around with it, trying to think of something useful that nobody else had thought of yet. So I thought—what if it wasn’t the same thing all the time? Maybe it could adapt to new things that nobody could dream up yet.”

Merlin looked slightly sheepish as he continued, “I ended up going a bit further than that. I didn’t want it to be something, I wanted it to be anything.” He laughed. “Turns out, I accidentally created some sort of black hole that defies space and time, so that was sort of cool. I mean, did you see that place where all the hidden objects are stored? It’s got to be bigger than Hogwarts itself! Avalon knows how. I certainly didn’t do it on purpose—I don’t think.

“But I forgot to tell them about it right away. I was still sort of tinkering, I suppose. So one day Salazar stumbled upon it—he’d probably gotten lost too, but he’d never admit it—and he wandered into a massive library. ‘The biggest one you’ve ever seen,’ if you believe him. He spent hours and hours in there… we were on the verge of gathering up a search party when he finally reappeared. And the strangest thing was, there were books in there that he’d never read—books I’d never read. Most of them were in English, but when he walked further in, he found books for learning other languages, and then ones in other languages. I’d swear now that some of them were in Japanese, but I couldn’t tell at the time—I’d never seen it before.

Merlin threw up his hands. “How did they get there? I mean, how? I spent a long time wandering around in that library after Salazar told us about it, and sometimes I wonder if we could find lost texts in there, like the old Arabic scrolls destroyed by Christians.”

He shrugged. “Let me know if you ever find out.” After a pause, he added, “After that, Helena tried to hide in it and ended up finding some sort of giant playroom, I suppose… ? None of her descriptions of it matched up, so who knows what it was, really.”

When Merlin flopped back down onto the grass and made the flower twirl around in the air above him, Harry gathered that the story was over. He looked around, having momentarily lost himself in the story.

You made the Room of Requirement?” Ron finally said.

Hermione elbowed him. “Was that all you took from that?”

Merlin shrugged. “Take from it what you want. There’s no moral of the story or anything.”

“Hold on!” Ron shouted. “That means Prefects can take away odd numbers of points too!”

“Or give them,” Harry added. “Can you imagine giving Malfoy three house points? That would irritate him even more than taking away ten!”

“We can’t abuse—“ Hermione began.

“No, but Hermione,” Harry rushed, “don’t you see? This allows for a far more accurate and precise points system! I mean, haven’t you ever hesitated between five and ten?”

She hesitated. “Well…”

“Come on!” said Ron, pulling her up by the hand. “Let’s go blow off some steam. We can even use the opportunity to reward people instead of just punishing them! As long as it’s only weird numbers.”

“Well,” said Hermione again, but she was standing up.

“Hold on,” said Harry, turning back to Merlin. “You said they made a rule about it. Does that mean you can’t give and take half points anymore?”

“Well, yes…” said Merlin, grinning. “But you see, they only explicitly banned fractions. And a few hundred years later, guess what showed up in maths?”

Hermione’s eyes widened. “Not…”

Merlin nodded gleefully. “Decimals.”

That night at dinner, the only thing the teachers were discussing was how to prevent all the school prefects from awarding partial house points. Snape and Dumbledore seemed to be trying to get Merlin (Professor Emrys, that is) to tell them how to fix it, but if he had ever planned on helping them out, he couldn’t stop laughing long enough to do so.

The students, on the other hand, were exercising their long-forgotten maths skills to try and come up with new and inventive ways to game the system.

“What if we used equations?”

“Equations with asymptotes!”

“Square roots!”

“Factorials! It would jam the system!”


That last one caused a bit of an uproar. And this game was one in which Muggleborns had a distinct advantage over Purebloods (and even some Half-bloods), who could do basic financial maths and almost nothing else. Most of the outlandish ideas didn’t work—or did jam the system temporarily—but it was entertaining nevertheless.

After dinner, everyone was too hyped from exams (and from their new discovery) to return to their common rooms right away. When Harry, Ron and Hermione headed out to the grounds, there was a large cluster of younger Ravenclaw students loitering in the Entrance Hall jamming traffic as they watched the hourglasses empty or refill by minute amounts at a time, loudly discussing theorems they were unable to test.

As the trio struggled to get past the crowd, McGonagall exited the Great Hall only to run into the same predicament.

“That’s quite enough of this nonsense!” she declared irritably. “All of you ought to be focusing on your studies.” Before she turned to go, she sternly added, “And 13.8 points from Ravenclaw for creating such a commotion!”

She disappeared round the corner to the sound of uproarious cheers; that was probably the most excited anyone had ever been to lose house points.

That night, Harry went to bed with a lighter heart now that exams were over, and for once with a head full of maths rather than incantations. Maybe he ought to have a look in that giant library Merlin told them about…

Chapter Text

“And this,” Mr. Weasley was saying, “is a washing machine.”

“Fascinating,” said King Arthur, bending down to examine the Muggle contraption. “What does it wash, exactly?”

“Good question!” said Mr. Weasley. “You see, this particular model washes clothes, but I’ve been informed there are others that wash dishes. And even one for drying clothes!”

“What on earth for? They dry all by themselves.”

“Who knows?” replied Mr. Weasley gleefully.

Harry, Ron and Hermione, gathered in a cluttered room at the Burrow, quietly watched the confusion. Merlin had taken them along with him to pick up Arthur from the Burrow (where he had spent a few days to get familiar with the place) before heading to Grimmauld Place to make sure both headquarters were doing well and were fully equipped with wards and Portkeys; and ever since then, the two Arthurs had spent the entire Saturday morning discussing innovations in Muggle technology in such a way that one could be forgiven for mistaking the two of them for space aliens.

As one Arthur introduced the other to something allegedly known as a mike-or-wave and speculated wildly as to its purpose, Hermione wondered if Merlin would be able to procure a bag of popcorn—both to demonstrate the purpose of the microwave and to make the spectacle more entertaining for the three onlookers.

The warlock, however, was still outside, floating through the air to repair tears in the wards that he could apparently sense somehow. After watching him drift around muttering incantations to himself for a while (interspersed with occasional bursts of light or sparks), the three students had wandered inside to see if they could convince Arthur Pendragon to tell them any embarrassing Merlin stories while he was out of earshot.

“Why not?” he had said, looking more gleeful than he probably meant to. Glancing around furtively, he had started off with a few of the best ways Gaius—Merlin’s mentor in Camelot—had punished Merlin for something.

“One time,” he said, “I was looking all over for Merlin, so I eventually went to Gaius to ask him where he was. Apparently, Merlin had spilled a couple potions on the floor and somehow created a really nasty chemical reaction, but every time he tried to clean it up, the smell only got worse. So Gaius told me he’d sent him out to the forest to find this one specific flower that would supposedly fix the smell.

“The thing was, apparently the flower Gaius described—in great detail—was entirely made up. He just wanted Merlin to waste his time puttering about in the forest all day.” He laughed as he continued, “I didn’t really need Merlin for anything, just wanted to bother him for a while, so I just asked George to do whatever it was and let Merlin spend all day in the forest.”

“What did he do when he got back?” asked Ron, sounding fearful.

“Oh,” said Arthur, “I’d almost forgotten! Actually, he didn’t even come back that night, so the next day, Gaius and I were worried—well, the whole castle was, really. Everyone always loved that idiot. Anyway, I took a few of the knights out to search the forest for him, and we nearly ended up trampling him, because there he was, fast asleep in the dirt, completely fine. Evidently he’d given up and just sat down by a tree, then he just fell asleep in the middle of nowhere. I took pity on him and told him about the made-up flower before we headed back.”

That was about when Mr. Weasley had come in and started asking Arthur questions about Muggle technology, which he didn’t seem to realise Arthur knew nothing about. Once they established that common ground, there was no stopping them. Hermione had heard a bafflingly false history of almost every household appliance by now.

At this point, they had begun hypothesizing as to the purpose of a garden hose: Arthur Pendragon maintained that it was an especially advanced sort of rope and was attempting to tie it into various complicated knots, while Arthur Weasley suggested that the nozzle indicated it must be some manner of hoover.

“It transports water,” said Merlin as he came down the stairs to join them.

Both Arthurs started staring directly into the nozzle as they fiddled with the handle to try and make it work.

“I wouldn’t do that,” said Hermione. “It’s not connected to anything, but if it was, you’d be spraying yourself in the face.”

“Aw, don’t ruin it,” Harry muttered to her. “That would’ve been funny.”

“Only with a hose,” Hermione returned. “They both need to learn not to point mysterious devices at their faces like that.”

“Are you two done playing?” Merlin asked the befuddled Arthurs. “We’ve still got to get to Grimmauld Place.”

“You’re done already?” Pendragon asked.

Merlin nodded. “These ones are much smaller than the Hogwarts wards, it doesn’t take long.”

“Thank you for your help, er…” said Mr. Weasley, who was still having trouble addressing Merlin by his first name, though he couldn’t seem to think of an alternative.

“No trouble at all, Mr. Weasley,” Merlin replied. “Just want to make sure everyone has the best protection possible, just in case.”

They tramped upstairs to say goodbye to Mrs. Weasley before heading off. She was still rather tearful at the fact that Ron was finally done with his OWLs, despite the fact that he hadn’t even received any marks yet, so their goodbyes were relatively quick—though she did give them each a biscuit for the road.

Sirius and Arthur were still downstairs with Merlin almost an hour later; Harry, Ron and Hermione, meanwhile, looked curiously around Sirius’s old room (having been sent up there to look for any non-broken quills they could find) when a large, silvery dragon stuck its head in the door.

Hermione jumped, barely suppressing a shout of surprise before realising it was only Merlin’s Patronus. It beckoned for them to come downstairs before disappearing, and Hermione was suddenly grateful that the Patronus didn’t seem to be quite as large as Merlin’s own dragon form was—he probably wouldn’t have fit in the house at all.

“There you are!” said Merlin when they joined Sirius downstairs. “This is an awfully large house, isn’t it? I was having trouble finding you all.”

“This is a house?” Arthur exclaimed. “I thought it was some sort of modern castle.”

“No such thing,” said Merlin. “This is what a lot of houses look like now. When we get to the school, that’s a castle. Maybe even bigger than yours.”

Arthur scoffed. “I find that hard to believe.”

“All right,” said Merlin, clapping his hands together. “Thank you for your hospitality, Sirius. One last stop before we get back to Hogwarts: my house.”

“It doesn’t look like this, does it?” asked Arthur warily.

“No,” Merlin replied, patting him on the shoulder. “I know your ego couldn’t handle it.”

Arthur’s reply was cut off by the wind kicking up around them; Sirius and Harry waved their goodbyes, and then they were gone.

The room that took shape around them was small and cluttered, smelling faintly of dust and old paper. In front of them was a desk filled with papers that looked like they came from several different centuries, along with an assortment of cheap Muggle pens. In one right-hand corner was a small cot which was neatly made, but Hermione could still see boxes and clothes stuffed underneath.

As the three newcomers looked around, Merlin rummaged around for something, moving quickly and erratically. There were stacks of books growing up from the floors in haphazard clusters; some of the precarious towers had already been knocked down. Mismatched bookcases lined the walls, few of which contained any books. Instead, they were filled with strange whirring devices like those in Professor Dumbledore’s office, clocks traveling at different speeds, dusty potion bottles, various wands and staffs and other conduits (many of which weren’t even made of wood), bushels of herbs and dried flowers, what looked like a pile of rocks but probably wasn’t, a bunch of artefacts that looked like they could have come from Borgin & Burkes, and stacks of photographs, most of which weren’t even framed.

There were two windows near the front door through which Hermione could see a lush field of long grass, tall flowers, and more woodland creatures than seemed probable. Beyond that lay the foot of a large hill not too far away—Hermione felt a little uncomfortable after looking at it for too long.

On the other side of the room were two doors. Through one, she could see the little kitchen; the other room was so full of miscellaneous objects that Hermione had trouble picking out any individual thing among the mess.

“Wow,” said Arthur. “You really have become a crazy old man.”

“Sod off,” Merlin replied, his voice muffled as he rooted through a cabinet that he had partially buried himself in. “I’m younger than you.”

“Not anymore,” Arthur argued. “I was dead. Doesn’t count.” He looked out the window. “Hey! That’s the hill that appeared when I got out of the lake! Did you do that?”

Merlin ignored him, so Arthur kicked his boot. “Merlin. Did you turn Avalon into a mountain?”

“No,” he said as he crawled out. He brushed some dust out of his hair and sneezed. “I just made it look like a mountain to anyone approaching from the outside. Except me. I didn’t want them going anywhere near it.”

“Is that why it’s giving me the creeps?” Ron asked.

“Probably,” said Merlin, shuffling through a stack of books. “It’s similar to the enchantments on Hogwarts that make Muggles turn away, only it works on pretty much everyone.”

“What’s this?” said Harry, indicating a packed trunk in the corner, partially covered by unidentifiable junk. “Are you going somewhere?”

Merlin looked up. “Oh, no. I used that when I went to a conference a while back and I haven’t got around to unpacking it.”

“When was that?” asked Arthur.

“Er…” He had to pause his rummaging in a desk drawer to remember. “That was in London, so it must have been… no, but Edward was there, so I guess it would have been sometime in the early 19… aughts.” He nodded decisively and went back to work.

“Are you telling me,” said Arthur, “that you’ve been putting off unpacking your trunk for over seventy years?”

“Hm,” said Merlin. “Yeah, I really should get on that. But not right now. We have things to do.”

“Aha!” Merlin cried after a moment, producing a book written in something similar to Old Brythonic. “Found it. Let me just check the wards and we can go.”

“Who are all these people?” Arthur asked, picking up a black-and-white photograph. Hermione caught a glimpse of around twenty uniformed men in the still, faded picture before Merlin took it from Arthur’s hand.

“Oh, that’s the Twenty-Third. And look, there’s Edward.” He pointed to a man on the left, then handed it back to Arthur and started looking at the pile of pictures it had come from. “He died in the war,” he continued. “That’s how I know the conference must have been before that.”

“Those helmets must be armor…” said Arthur. “You fought with these men?”

“Yeah,” said Merlin. “There are lots of wars. Oh, look!” He showed Arthur a slightly older photograph, a magical one with two young men on a crowded street, laughing and gesturing at something out of frame. “That’s Albus there, you know him. He looks different, doesn’t he?”

He grinned, showing the picture to Harry, Ron and Hermione too. Hermione couldn’t even tell which one was supposed to be Professor Dumbledore, but the shorter one perhaps looked a little kinder.

“I should give this to him,” Merlin said, looking down into the photograph. “I was taking a picture of that horse over there, but I’d been keeping an eye on those two for a while, so when they walked past, I took the opportunity.”

He pocketed it carefully and grabbed the book he’d found.

“Here, Arthur,” he said, “before we go to Hogwarts, let me make you look younger, all right? So you’ll pass as a student.”

Arthur looked wary, but he nodded and shut his eyes. In seconds, he and Merlin were both fifteen again.

“Aw,” said Merlin, laughing. “Tiny you is so cute.”

Arthur swatted at him. “I am not! You take that back!”

“Make me,” said Merlin, but Arthur didn’t get a chance to try before they were Transporting away again.

When they appeared on the edge of the Forbidden Forest, Arthur picked up the first stick he saw to whack Merlin with. In response, Merlin summoned a small pebble and chucked it at his head.

“Well,” said Merlin as if nothing had happened, “I’d better go give Albus his picture. You three could show Arthur around for a bit if you feel like it.”

“Sure!” said Harry, clearly jumping at the opportunity to gather more stories.

“Good,” said Merlin. “I’ll be back soon.” He started to go, then turned back to them. “Er, I’d stay out of the forest if I were you. The centaurs aren’t all that fond of humans. Oh, and also, if Peeves bothers you, just tell him you’re friends with ‘the young one.’ That’s what he calls me. He seems to think I’m two different people.”

Before they could ask any questions, he transformed into a butterfly and fluttered off in the direction of the castle.

Arthur started at his sudden disappearance. “Er,” he said. “Why is Merlin a butterfly?”

“That’s his Animagus form,” said Harry.

“His what?”

And that’s how Animagi became Hogwarts lesson number one.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Merlin and Arthur were among the Gryffindor students at breakfast. Since the examiners were still seated at the staff table until all the NEWTs were over, it wasn’t quite as noticeable that Professor Emrys was absent.

“The place is massive. And the stairs move, Merlin,” Arthur complained as they sat down across from Harry, Ron and Hermione. “For god’s sake, why? That was your doing, wasn’t it?”

“Actually, no,” Merlin replied, waving the twins over. “That’d be Rowena. I’m not surprised you hate them, most people did at the beginning. Especially Godric.” He studied Arthur for a second. “You know, I think the two of you would get along splendidly.”

Arthur squinted. “I reserve the right to be offended by that at a later time if necessary.”

“Noted,” said Merlin, scooting closer to Arthur to leave the twins room to sit.

“What’s up?” they asked simultaneously.

“Meeting this evening at the house in London,” Merlin told them. “We want to start having them here at Hogwarts for safety reasons, but for now Dumbledore thinks it’s too suspicious to bring a lot of people in while the examiners are still here, especially Ministry employees like Moody, Tonks, and Mr. Weasley. We’re pretty sure at least some of them are being watched.”

“But it’s not suspicious to show up at the house of a known Azkaban escapee?” said Fred, eyebrows raised.

“Those three will take the Floo to the Burrow first,” he explained, “then join us when we Transport to London. It’s less suspicious, but not a great long-term solution.”

“Are we finally going to get started on a strategy for when—“ Harry looked around and lowered his voice. “For when Tom shows up?”

“That’s the plan,” said Merlin. “Dumbledore’s convinced he’ll wait to attack until he’s supposedly in the hospital wing, but Snape keeps insisting we have to be prepared for him to show up at any time, and I’m starting to agree.”

There was a solemn silence in their little corner of the Gryffindor table as cheerful conversations carried on around them.

“What do we do with the rest of the day, then?” Harry asked. “There’s got to be some way we can help.”

“Well—“ Merlin shared a glance with Arthur. “We have to make sure Arthur really knows the lay of the land so that he knows what he’s doing during battle. The grounds are going to be more important, but the castle too, just in case. And we’ve been looking at exit strategies. We need to have several reliable ways to evacuate, because the top priority has to be keeping the students safe.”

“But you’re going to let us fight, aren’t you?” said Ron urgently. “We’re not going to cower in the dungeons or something just waiting!”

Merlin grimaced. “I don’t see how we could stop you, to be honest. We’re trying to keep everyone who’s underage out of it, but Harry basically has to be here, whether we like it or not, and I’m sure he’s going to take you two with him no matter what we say.”

“We’re staying,” Fred and George declared.

“I don’t like that my entire family’s going to be here when he attacks,” Ron muttered. “It increases the chances of somebody dying.”

“Now you know how we feel,” said Arthur pointedly.

Before they could get started, however, a few teachers cornered them in the Entrance Hall to ask Merlin once again to fix the points system. Snape swept in front of them with Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall in tow.

“Fix this,” he hissed, indicating the hourglasses. “I’m sure you somehow caused this problem in the first place, and it’s disrupting everything.” Beside him, McGonagall just looked on sternly.

“What exactly is the problem?” Arthur demanded, trying to step in front of Merlin.

“And how does it work?” Dumbledore added rather eagerly.

“I didn’t actually do it,” said Merlin, nudging Arthur out of the way. “I just pointed out a loophole in the system that the Founders never noticed. And I’m leaving it that way until someone figures out how to start giving people imaginary numbers. Because I would really like to see that.”

As he walked off, he transformed into his older self and returned Arthur to normal, just to make sure they weren’t harassed for sneaking around the corridors.

Merlin, Arthur and the trio spent most of the day wandering the castle, exploring hidden rooms and passages. Fred and George went along for a while before splitting off after lunch to deliver some of their products.

When the five of them got a little lost looking for one of the entrances (and once Arthur finally made Merlin admit it), Harry pulled out what appeared at first to be a blank sheet of paper.

“We could use this,” he said tentatively. “It’s sort of a secret, but… my father and his friends made it when they went here. It’s a map of the school and everyone in it.”

“Really?” said Merlin, peering at the parchment as Harry recited, “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”

“That’s quite impressive magic…” said Merlin, watching the little dots wander around on the page.

Arthur, looking over Harry’s other shoulder, asked, “Does that track the name and current location of everyone in the school?”

“Everyone except Merlin,” said Ron, pointing out his blank dot standing amongst the others.

“Arthur, too,” Hermione pointed out.

She was right: theirs were the only two nameless dots Merlin could see.

“Why us?” Arthur asked.

“I asked Sirius,” Harry told him. “He was one of the four who made it. He said it uses names registered with the Ministry, and since you were both born before it was created, you wouldn’t be on the list.”

“Interesting,” said Arthur.

“Creepy,” said Merlin.

“I presume Voldemeek would also appear on this map?” Arthur asked, ignoring him.

“Er,” said Hermione.

“Only if he’s on the Hogwarts grounds,” Harry answered.

“But his real name’s Tom Riddle,” Merlin added, “so that’s what we’d need to watch out for.”

Arthur sighed long-sufferingly. “Too many strange names. Back in Camelot, we all had normal, respectable names.”

Merlin snorted. “Can you even spell Guinevere’s name?”

Spluttering, Arthur retorted, “Of course I can!”


“I can spell your name!”

“My name’s just a word, that barely even counts.”

“Erm, guys?” Harry interrupted. “Is this the passage you were looking for?”

Merlin and Arthur immediately forgot their argument.

“Ah!” Merlin exclaimed. “You’re right, there it is. Not far now.”

“That’s quite a handy machine,” said Arthur, watching his dot progress on the map. “It would be extremely helpful at the Order meeting later, if you’re willing to show everyone.”

“Why not?” Harry shrugged. “Most of them already know about it, anyway.”

“Sirius, Remus, Peter and James made it?” Merlin guessed.

“Yeah…” said Harry. “How did you know?”

Merlin laughed. “If one of them was involved, they all were. Those four were inseparable at Hogwarts.”

“You knew them?” Harry exclaimed, nearly dropping the map.

“Not well,” he admitted. “I saw them around quite a bit when I was pretending to be a student. But that was mostly because I was following Severus around for a bit, and they were sort of mortal enemies.”

“He and my father?”

Merlin shook his head. “All of them, really. It was him and Lily against those four, although Remus didn’t seem to approve.”

“My mum was friends with Snape?”

“For a while. They’d sort of grown up together, but they had a falling out at some point. He never mentioned it?”

Harry shook his head, looking shellshocked.

“They were both bullied,” Merlin said more gently. “Her for being Muggle-born, him for being poor. They protected each other.”

“Poor?” Ron exclaimed.

“It was easy to see by his clothes,” Merlin explained, “but mostly I think it was just the fact that he was smarter than everyone else. Except Lily, of course.” He grinned. “They were always in friendly competition until Severus fell in with some blood purists later on. I felt bad for both of them, really.”

The trio were looking thoroughly astounded now.

“Oh, don’t tell him I said all that!” Merlin belatedly exclaimed. “He’d kill me, seriously. My existence clearly doesn’t faze the guy at all. I just thought you ought to know why he’s got such a grudge, that’s all.”

“But later, my mum and my dad started to get along?” Harry asked.

“‘Course they did. None of them were bad kids, you’ve got to understand that. The Marauders were a little rowdy, and Severus just made friends with the first people that talked to him. They got into this stupid rivalry, like you and the Malfoy boy…”

“Malfoy’s a git!” Ron argued.

“Malfoy was trained to be a git,” Merlin said with a grin. “If you’d give him some leeway maybe he’d come around. Severus did, for the most part, even though he’s still a git to people for no reason.”

“Like Neville,” Hermione muttered.

Merlin sighed. “I’ve already told him off about that, trust me. I don’t know what his problem is. But I’ve warned him.” He left that hanging in the air threateningly.

“We’re talking about the fellow who always dresses in black?” Arthur asked. “I can’t really read him. He was always like that, then?”

Merlin shrugged, trying to get off the subject. “I suppose. All kids can be prats once in a while, you know that. They sort of have the right.”

“You weren’t,” said Arthur.


“A prat,” Arthur clarified, still looking around for the passageway. “Everyone loved you.”

Gobsmacked, Merlin stopped in his tracks.

“What the hell are you talking about?” he eventually managed. “That’s not true. At all.”

“Yeah, it is,” Arthur said with a shrug, still not looking at him.

“Ridiculous!” Merlin protested. “Not… well, the cook didn’t, certainly. Or your father, of course. Even you didn’t!”

“Of course I did,” said Arthur matter-of-factly, continuing down the corridor.

Merlin shook his head and caught up to him. “That’s it. Say something mean before I decide you’re an impostor.”

“You’re an idiot,” Arthur said easily. “And that’s the entrance.”

“So it is!” said Merlin, approaching the statue. “This one ends outside the castle, too. There are about… ten more, I think.”

“Ten?” said Harry. “There are only seven total on this map.”

“Interesting,” said Merlin. “They must never have found the others. Well, come on, let’s go to the next one—and then I have an amazing evacuation plan.”

“Plan?” Arthur asked warily. The others seemed to share his skepticism.

Merlin noted rather smugly that they were much less skeptical when he explained his plan.

“Er…” said Arthur when they entered the Room of Requirement. “A room full of fireplaces?”

“It’s a magical means of travel,” said Merlin.

“They’re connected to the Floo network?” Hermione asked.

“Yep! They should be unmonitored, but that won’t matter, because we’ll be sending the students directly to the Ministry.”

“The Ministry?” Harry squawked. “Why?”

“No, he’s right,” said Hermione. “Think about it: how could they deny V-Voldemort’s really back if they have the entire population of Hogwarts evacuating onto their front doorstep?”

“It’s also the safest place to send them,” said Merlin, “behind Hogwarts itself and Gringotts. And the bank would probably shut down if it was suddenly flooded with hundreds of kids, but the Ministry couldn’t. They’re the government, how could they?”

“Not a bad plan,” Arthur acknowledged. “And there are enough… fireplaces to get everyone out reasonably quickly.”

Merlin waved a hand and even more fireplaces appeared.

“I was right about this room,” he said gleefully. “It is coming in handy in ways I couldn’t have foreseen.”

“We should tell the Order about this evacuation route,” said Arthur. “That’s the first step, after all.”

“Oh, no!” Hermione cried. “We aren’t late, are we?”

“Not yet,” Arthur replied, “but we should get going. Perhaps we should test out this ‘Floo’ method… can you redirect it to Sirius’s house?”

“Sure,” said Merlin. “There’s just one caveat. I’m pretty sure that, since I’m the only one whose magic can get past the Hogwarts wards, I’m the only one who can set up the fireplaces.”

“Er,” said Arthur. “Okay. That shouldn’t be a problem. But can’t you just… freeze the room like this?”

“I don’t know…” said Merlin. “Eventually, I probably could, but the problem is, that means Ministry employees could get through the other side. And we don’t want that, because we know Riddle has moles there.”

“Right,” Arthur agreed. “We’ll just have to cover the defences while you monitor the evacuation, then. The rest of us can handle it for a few minutes.”

Merlin closed his eyes and concentrated on reconnecting the Floo, reconstructing the room into one with a single fireplace.

“Does that mean we can’t get back via Floo once we’re gone, then?” Hermione asked.

“No,” said Merlin, “you’ll be stuck at the Ministry. But that’s good, because it prevents both kids and Death Eaters from sneaking in. And when we’re at Grimmauld Place, I’ll just Transport us back.”

When he re-opened his eyes, he discovered that the five of them were abruptly cramped in a much smaller room with a single fireplace.

“Oops,” he said. “Unforeseen side effect.”

“Merlin,” said Arthur. “Could you Summon my sword? I would rather not go into a war room without it.”

“Erm…” Merlin mentally searched for it. “Ah, there it is. I’ll have to open the door for it when it arrives.”

He turned to open it a crack, watching for it just as it zoomed around the corner.

“That was quick,” he said, catching the sheathed sword and handing it over. “Hopefully no one saw it on the way.” He clicked the door shut once more.

“Ready?” Harry asked, holding the jar of Floo powder.

Harry, Ron and Hermione went first while Merlin explained the Floo to Arthur, who then stepped cautiously into the fire and disappeared.

When Merlin followed, the Order was loudly questioning the students as to how they had arrived.

“Oh good,” said Merlin. “It worked. Calm down, everyone, I connected the Room of Requirement to the Floo network temporarily. We were testing it to see if it could be used to evacuate students to the Ministry, which it can. And don’t worry, those fireplaces aren’t tracked because they don’t normally exist.”

That explanation seemed to satisfy them, though Moody still looked suspicious as ever. Looking around, Merlin could see Tonks and Mr. Weasley beside him, then Mrs. Weasley, Lupin and Sirius, Dumbledore, Kingsley, and McGonagall, and finally Fred and George.

“Everyone’s here,” he said.

“Who has stayed behind to guard Hogwarts?” Arthur asked, finishing his thought.

“Professor Snape,” Dumbledore answered. “As well as the other teachers, most of whom are aware of the Order’s existence and of the fact that Voldemort is likely to strike soon.”

“And the members who are out of the country?” Arthur asked. “Are they ready for the impending threat?”

“They are,” said Dumbledore.

“But ‘impending’ is a bit of a stretch, isn’t it?” Kingsley added. “He’s shown no signs of movement thus far.”

“Not that he ever does,” Moody muttered.

“I don’t mean to sound paranoid,” said Arthur, “but he could make his move at any time now that he has this Elder Wand, although I admit he is more likely to do so after we spread the rumor of the headmaster’s illness. I suggest only that we prepare ourselves.”

“Agreed,” said Moody, unsurprisingly.

“Come,” said Dumbledore, leading them to the kitchen table. “Let us sit. Do you have any other news to share?”

Merlin nodded encouragingly to Harry, who produced the map.

“Good idea, Harry!” Sirius exclaimed. “That will make this much easier to visualise.”

“What is it?” Mrs. Weasley asked.

“A map of the school,” Lupin explained. “It includes everyone’s location.”

“That seems like a liability,” said Kingsley warily.

“Only if we let it fall into the wrong hands,” said Sirius, adding, “We made it when we were kids.”

“He means it’s not perfect,” said Lupin.

“You missed a few secret passages,” said Merlin, “but it’s very impressive spellwork nonetheless.”

Lupin and Sirius stared at him until Dumbledore spoke.

“As to the matter at hand, then,” he said, standing so as to better see the map now spread out on the table, “our first protection is the wards—which, thanks to Merlin, have been increased and reinforced in the past weeks—and the shield which he will erect when the time comes.”

At the mention of his name, some of the Order members looked at him surreptitiously as if still somehow surprised that he was sitting among them. He supposed the beard was part of the problem. Perhaps he should have changed back before coming here.

“Aside from that,” Dumbledore continued, “we must find an efficient way to monitor and protect all sides of the castle with our limited numbers. It is unlikely that Voldemort will attempt a frontal assault; he will probably look for a back way in, or at least attack from multiple sides.”

“Could we assign guards to each of the towers?” Kingsley suggested, pointing to them on the map. “That would cover most of it, though there would still be some blind spots.” 

“Perhaps a patrol, as well?” McGonagall suggested.

Moody shook his head. “People are less protected outside of the walls, even if the outside wards hold.”

“Not a person,” she said. “Perhaps a Patronus…”

“Who can maintain one for that long?” said Lupin.

Slowly, the Order turned to look at Merlin.

“You’re forgetting,” he reminded them, “that my Patronus is a Great Dragon—it would do the job, but it’s impossible to miss, and it might scare them away entirely if they mistake it for a real one.”

“We’ll have to take turns casting them, then,” said Kingsley. “But only the smaller ones that are difficult to see.”

“We can do that,” said Fred.

“Magpies,” George added.

As Merlin leaned over to explain to Arthur what a Patronus was, Tonks cried, “Perfect! And they fly, too.”

“If they stay outside the shield,” said Moody, “we can gather our forces before bringing the attack to them. But what if something happens and it doesn’t hold? I mean no offence,” he added in Merlin’s direction.

“No, you’re right to be concerned,” said Merlin. “There are ways of getting past any magical shield, it just takes time to find them. And all that goes out the window if someone manages to sneak in. That’s especially a risk here because there are so many people in the school, and because we can’t seal it yet—it would prevent students from leaving or returning. Owls, too.”

“So we have to wait until You-Know-Who’s knocking on the front doors?” Sirius exclaimed. “What good will that do?”

“I believe,” said Dumbledore calmly, “that he will not use the element of surprise, but instead attempt to strike fear into our hearts by making a proclamation or demand of some kind, perhaps demanding that we give up Harry—or possibly me—in exchange for leaving the rest of us be.”

“But of course he won’t hold up his end,” Merlin added. “Personally, I think he’ll go for you first, Albus. He sees you as Harry’s protector and his most dangerous enemy, and once he defeats you, he can get to Harry with little interference. At least, that’s what he imagines. It was the same thing with Morgana,” he added. “She was desperate to kill me because I was the only one more powerful than her, and that’s what she always said: ‘Face me!’ Don’t fall into that trap.”

Albus nodded. “Then Harry should be kept safe, preferably far away from me.”

“I can take care of—“ Harry began.

Arthur glared at him. “Do you want to duel this dark lord one-on-one? Do you think you’re ready for that?”

Harry deflated, but didn’t argue.

“Riddle’s older than most,” Merlin added. “He’s had a lot more experience.”

“I can take care of Harry,” Sirius said, putting a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “He’s my godson.”

“Not that you aren’t capable,” said Kingsley, “but wouldn’t it be wiser to give him into the care of the most powerful person here?”

“Me?” said Merlin when they all looked at him again. “I don’t know that that’s… And anyway, I have to be able to move quickly. I need to be everywhere to provide reinforcements where it’s needed. What about Arthur? He’s got the same Old Religion magic I have, which is less diluted—no offence. I just mean it’s more dangerous to the target and the caster. He’d be a better protector than me.”

Sirius sighed, clearly trying not to push back. “It makes sense, I suppose. Just as long as I can keep an eye out too. Never hurts to have more backup.”

“It’s agreed, then,” said Moody. “Potter, you stick with Pendragon once the battle starts, got it? He’ll make sure you get close enough to confront You-Know-Who if need be, but until then, keep your head down.”

Harry nodded uncertainly.

“At the very least,” said Merlin, “we should give Harry some Polyjuice Potion to take the target off his back. Otherwise the Death Eaters will be after him at every turn.”

“Seems sensible,” Moody agreed. “Professor Snape may have some stored—or at minimum, he’ll have the ingredients.”

“Good,” said Dumbledore. “Now, while Voldemort believes he must duel with Harry personally in order to fulfill the prophecy, the same does not apply to me, so it is entirely possible that he will simply set up an ambush for me the minute I step outside the shield, in which case I will no longer be of use to any of you. I have no intention of giving myself up that easily, so we must have a plan for this eventuality.”

“If we can find out where the Death Eaters are hiding,” said Kingsley, “we may be able to ambush them before it comes to that.”

“But how?” said Mr. Weasley.

“Perhaps I could turn invisible…” Merlin began, but trailed off when a silvery doe bounded into the room.

“The Dark Lord is here,” it said, voice echoing eerily. “We are under siege.”

As the Patronus faded, people started to jump up from their chairs, screeches of wood on stone mingling with exclamations of fear.

“Who was that?” Harry exclaimed. “Is it true?”

“It could be a trap,” Sirius warned.

Dumbledore raised his hands, and they fell silent. “It is Severus’s warning,” he said. “We must return to Hogwarts. There is no more time.”

“But we’re not ready!” Mr. Weasley cried.

“What do we do?” said Hermione.

“What about the rest of the Order?” said Lupin. “Where are they?”

This time it was Arthur who interrupted the panic, declaring firmly, “All right, listen up! The time for reflection is over. This is the plan we have, and it’s the plan we’re going to stick to.” He pointed to the map, where little black dots were speeding to all four corners of the castle, away from the Entrance Hall. “Merlin, take us back to Hogwarts—somewhere out of the way, so we can regroup.”

“Not all at once,” Merlin began as Arthur started re-folding the map for Harry. “It’s not safe—“

“Merlin,” Arthur interrupted, “I know you can do this. Take us back.”

The wind that stirred up around them was stronger than usual, and when their surroundings began to take shape again, a few random objects from Sirius’s kitchen had come with them. Arthur quickly ran a headcount: everyone was still here.

They stood in a circle in the middle of a deserted hallway high up in the castle: through a nearby window, Merlin saw bright flashes of spells starting to light up the night. A loud rumble shook through the castle as they stood.

“Minerva,” said Dumbledore, drawing his wand, “I will alert the rest of the Order. Go find the other heads of house and begin evacuating all underage students. Inform them of the plan, such as it is.”

As she hurried off with a decisive nod, Dumbledore began to cast phoenix Patronuses and send them in various directions.

As he did so, Arthur gathered everyone’s attention. “Fred, George, find a safe place and start taking turns conjuring Patronuses, as we discussed. Ron, Hermione, Mr. Moody: go to Professor Snape’s office to find some of that shapeshifting potion for Harry—as much as you can.”

As he gave orders, people began splitting off. Dumbledore murmured messages to his Patronuses as he sent them off, but otherwise, no one else was speaking. Chaos still reigned outside the walls.

“The rest of the Order,” Arthur continued, “will join the headmaster and me as we search for the other teachers and find out where the attack is coming from. Merlin, go to the Room of Requirement and wait there with Harry until the students are out, then come find me.”

“One teacher lives outside the castle,” Merlin said quickly. “He could be in danger. And the house-elves, as well.”

“Then you evacuate the house-elves,” said Arthur. “But be careful. And send a message to that teacher any way you can, but do not go out there yourself. Harry, you stay with Merlin until we get this under control.”

Arthur gave Merlin one last nod before leading the remainder of the Order down to the Entrance Hall. As they ran, loud bangs and scattered screams could be heard echoing through the corridors, as if from all directions.

Merlin cast a Patronus and quickly sent it away with a message for Hagrid, hoping the dragon would have the good sense to sneak, at the very least.

He touched Harry’s shoulder. “Let’s go.”

Chapter Text

Harry resisted the impulse to cover his ears as blasts of magic shook the earth, as Dumbledore and Arthur gave orders, and as shouts echoed in the corridors. The Order split up into groups and ran in different directions. Harry hadn’t seen a single Death Eater, but his brain was still in panic mode.

He shook himself from some sort of stupor when a hand touched his shoulder.

“Let’s go,” said Merlin. “I’ll Transport us to the kitchens so we can let the house-elves know what’s happening. We should stay out of the corridors as much as possible for now.”

Harry nodded, bracing himself as the winds circled the two of them. When they cleared, wide-eyed and shaking house-elves surrounded them, asking questions and whispering among themselves as they huddled in groups.

Merlin held up a hand to stop their barrage of questions.

“Please try to stay calm,” he said. “Yes, Hogwarts is under attack. I don’t have many details for you yet, but there is an escape route available for anyone who wishes to take it. However, we don’t have much time, so will anyone who’s going to evacuate please gather over here?”

The elves hesitated. “We are bound to serve Hogwarts,” one said.

“You’re not required to fight in battle,” Merlin said firmly. “It’s by my authority that you can evacuate, and you’ll have my protection if you choose to do so. And even apart from that, anyone who has a problem can come to me. Please, if you aren’t prepared to fight against Death Eaters, there’s no shame in it. There are few of us who will. If you have any inclination to leave, now is the time. I will take you there.”

Some of them finally stopped quaking, but none of them seemed to want to move forward.

Harry finally saw Dobby among the crowd when he climbed atop a table, stack of hats wobbling on his head, and declared, “The house-elves fight for our home!”

There was a general murmur of agreement.

“As you wish,” Merlin said, scanning the crowd. “But I recommend you stay here for now, at least. Someone will notify you when we have more news.”

Dobby nodded seriously, and Merlin turned to go. “Oh—“ he added, “and you hereby have my express permission to use magic in the upcoming battle, in case that might be an issue for any of you.”

With that, Harry and Merlin departed once more, materialising in the seventh floor corridor in front of the Room of Requirement.

“Professors!” Merlin exclaimed; Snape, Flitwick and their houses were waiting near the tapestry of the dancing trolls. “You’re the first to arrive?” he asked.

“Professor Emrys,” said Professor Flitwick. “Yes. They told me you could Floo the students to the Ministry?”

“I can,” he said, opening the door to the room of fireplaces. “I’ll explain how later, but for now, just know that no one can get back through the other side.”

“That’s good enough for me, I suppose,” he said. “Students, begin evacuating in order of year. Make sure you help each other if anyone doesn’t know how to use the Floo yet.”

“Make sure you go to the Ministry of Magic,” Merlin warned them. “The fireplaces aren’t connected to any other location.”

“What will happen if they don’t?” Harry asked in a low voice.

“Nothing,” he answered. “They’ll just be spit back out on our side.”

There weren’t too many protests as the students filed through the door, although some fifth- and sixth-years were still clamoring to be allowed to stay and fight.

“Out of the question,” Professor Snape said firmly, which seemed to quiet most of them down.

“Where are the seventh-years who stayed?” Merlin asked the professors.

“Everyone’s either outside or gathering in the Great Hall,” said Professor Flitwick. “A number of teachers and older students went out to fight off the Death Eaters at the very beginning, but they are quickly being pushed back towards Hogwarts. For now, at least, the siege remains outside the castle walls.”

“And Hagrid?” Harry asked.

“He returned safely,” said Flitwick. “He was struck with a few Stunning Spells, it appears, but he is unharmed. He’s with the others, guarding against the onslaught.”

Professor McGonagall arrived with the Gryffindors next, and Professor Sprout soon behind her. The Gryffindors, of course, took somewhat more effort to herd into the Room of Requirement than some of the others, but eventually, the underage students had all been shepherded off to the Ministry (although Harry had his suspicions that some of them had managed to escape detection).

He was about to ask after Ron and Hermione when they came barrelling around the corner, Ron carrying a small bottle.

“Where did you—?” Snape began.

“Dumbledore told us to!” they shouted, handing the potion over to Merlin.

“We’re going to disguise Harry,” Merlin explained. “For his safety.”

“There was only one bottle,” Ron added, panting slightly.

Merlin drew a single brown hair from the pocket of his worn trousers. “Nicked it off a passing Slytherin,” he explained. “But you’re wearing Gryffindor robes, so no one should recognise him—probably.”

He added it to the disgusting concoction and handed it over to Harry.

“Drink it quick,” he said, “and I won’t tell you what’s in it.”

Harry didn’t tell him he already knew, but he downed it in one go anyway. Whoever he began changing into, they must have been roughly the same size as Harry, because he didn’t feel too unbalanced. He did, however, need to remove his glasses.

When he blinked and looked back up, Merlin had his eyes closed and his wand out, murmuring a series of incantations that seemed to run together. Outside, Harry could see some sort of golden, semi-transparent dome slowly forming around the castle—that must be the shield. He could just see the edge of the battle, but the Death Eaters were already retreating from the shield, running toward the Forbidden Forest… there didn’t seem to be enough of them. What was going on?

“Come on,” said Merlin, and Harry turned back to follow them back down to the Great Hall. The noise from outside began to die down as the eight of them moved quickly through the halls, but that didn’t reassure Harry in the least.

And it turned out that his instinct was right, because just as they were approaching the Great Hall, a familiar sound rang out, seeming to issue from the walls themselves.

“You have fought valiantly,” said a high, clear voice.

Harry nearly stumbled and fell in his haste, but Merlin caught him by the arm and they continued down the corridor.

“Lord Voldemort knows how to value bravery,” Voldemort’s voice said. “Yet if you continue to resist me, you will all die, one by one. I do not wish this to happen. Every drop of magical blood spilled is a loss and a waste.”

When Professor McGonagall wrenched open the doors of the Great Hall, there was complete silence in the wake of the echoing voice, the crowd of teachers, students and others standing frozen in place.

“I want only Albus Dumbledore,” the voice continued. “Give me what I have come for, and no one else need be harmed. I will leave the school and its students untouched. Give him to me, and you will be rewarded. You have one hour.”

The silence swallowed them all again. Harry looked around at the Order, the teachers and the students (many of whom Harry knew to be underage, including Ginny); already some of them were injured, some more severely than others, but Harry didn’t see any prone figures or stretchers—hopefully there had been no casualties while they were busy evacuating the students and collecting themselves. There were a number of people Harry recognised only vaguely. Even the examiners, who had been due to leave soon, stood with them. And everyone was looking at Dumbledore, who stood beside Snape and a few other teachers.

“We anticipated this demand,” Dumbledore said calmly. “We intend to take the opportunity to make our move. Please,” he added, beckoning to Merlin, “we have something to discuss with you.”

“Where’s Arthur?” was Merlin’s first question when he, Harry, Dumbledore, Snape and McGonagall formed a small huddle away from the main group.

Hermione and Ron were watching them from a distance, but the other teachers and students seemed to be quietly talking among themselves. Harry shot the two of them a look that said he’d tell them later.

“He has gone to fetch Fred and George Weasley,” Dumbledore told Merlin. “They will return soon. But for now, there is rather an urgent matter at hand.”

Merlin frowned. “You mean, apart from the Death Eaters outside?”

“Obviously,” said Snape, who was looking rather more edgy than usual. “Must Potter be here for this?”

Yes,” Merlin said emphatically, sounding as if this was a longstanding argument. “What’s going on?”

“You must know we have a spy in Voldemort’s ranks,” Dumbledore began.

“Yes, I gathered as much.”

“That was Severus’s position,” he said, making Professor McGonagall gasp. Harry’s mouth fell open, but he forced himself not to interrupt.

Merlin nodded. “I suspected that might be the case, but I didn’t want to say anything to put him in danger. That was incredibly risky of you, by the way, but that’s a matter for later. I’m glad you’re telling me, at least, but why are you bringing this up now?”

Wordlessly, Snape tapped his left forearm.

“Of course,” said Merlin. “He’s summoning you.”

“Rather insistently,” Snape agreed.

“I would prefer that he stay here,” said Dumbledore. “We are fairly certain Voldemort has begun to suspect him.”

“This is why you gave me this job,” Snape protested in a low voice. “What good am I to you if I can’t tell you what his plans are now?”

“He will not tell you his plans,” said Dumbledore. “Not now.”

“I agree,” said Merlin firmly. “Or if he does, he’ll lie to you. Now is the time to give this up, believe me. Let me remove the Mark.”

Snape goggled at him. “Remove—?”

Merlin interrupted, rolling his eyes. “Listen. Any and all ‘how’ questions are banned for the duration of the battle. Will you let me do it or not?”

Snape glanced between Dumbledore and the still-thunderstruck McGonagall.

“Very well,” he said at last.

Merlin nodded and moved to the side, his back to the room, so that he could shield Snape from view. McGonagall joined him. When Merlin held out his hand, Snape rolled up his sleeve to show him the black skull and snake. Professor McGonagall drew in a sharp breath.

Merlin took his arm and placed one hand over the Mark, partially covering it. He took a deep breath and looked up. “This is probably going to hurt.”

He started whispering in a language Harry didn’t recognise, and Snape winced, his hand forming a fist, but he didn’t pull away. As Harry watched, the mark writhed, the snake’s tail snapping as if trying to fight back, but then it started to move. Slowly at first, then more quickly, it slid down to his wrist and hand, then seemed to climb onto Merlin’s own skin, settling itself on his inner left forearm as he pulled up his sleeve to examine it.

Snape snarled. “You said remove, not—“

“Shh,” said Merlin, still concentrating on the Mark. He moved his fingers almost unconsciously as if trying to dislodge it… and after a few seconds, the deep black lines started to fade, dissolving into little dots of pigment that broke apart and floated into a sort of mist on his skin. Eventually, that too seemed to be absorbed, and the Mark was gone.

Merlin coughed suddenly, expelling an unnatural black smoke from his mouth before opening his eyes.

“Well, that was unpleasant,” he finally said. “I wonder if it has some sort of corrupting influence.”

“Thank you,” said Snape curtly, lowering his sleeve once more.

“No need,” Merlin replied. “So, what’s the plan?”

But he was interrupted by a jubilant voice from behind them.

“Guess who we found wandering the corridors?” George called.

Harry turned to see Percy Weasley standing between Fred and George, who were making dramatic ‘presenting’ motions in his direction. Arthur entered behind them. There was awkward silence from the Weasley area of the room—Harry took it that Percy hadn’t expected to run right into his entire family. Even Charlie, Bill and Fleur had evidently arrived with reinforcements before Merlin cast the shield. It was a good thing Dumbledore had sent those Patronuses.

As the silence stretched on, Percy finally roared, “I was a fool!”

A few people jumped.

“Ministry-loving, family-disowning, power-hungry moron,” Fred agreed.

Percy swallowed. “Yes! I was.”

“Well,” said Fred, “you can’t say fairer than that.”

He held out his hand, and Percy shook it hesitantly—he was then nearly barrelled over by Mrs. Weasley, who burst into tears and pulled him into a strangling hug.

“That’s the Percival fellow, then, I gather?” Arthur muttered when he got close enough.

“That’s him,” said Merlin.

“Hm.” Arthur squinted at him. “He’s a bit…”

“Scrawny, yes,” Merlin agreed immediately. To Harry, he added, “Our Percival was huge—tall and burly. It was sort of his thing.”

“We heard the message earlier,” said Arthur. “What’s the plan?”

“Did you and the Weasley twins find anything?” McGonagall asked first.

“The Death Eaters seem to be waiting in the forest,” he answered. “There may be a smaller force hiding somewhere else, but if there is, we can’t see it from here.”

“I could—“ Merlin began.

“Absolutely not,” Arthur immediately interrupted. “You get captured by evil sorcerers more than anyone else I know.”

“But I could—“


Merlin crossed his arms, but did nothing else apart from glare at him.

“We should set a trap for the Death Eaters,” said Snape. “They will surely be there to at least watch, if not participate in, the duel between the headmaster and the Dark Lord. We could use the opportunity to send a smaller force to circle around and attack them from behind during the chaos.”

“If possible,” said Dumbledore, “it would be more advantageous to us if we could lure them into the castle itself, where we have the upper hand.”

“The familiar lay of the land would work in our favor,” Arthur admitted. “We could make him believe he has broken through our defences.”

McGonagall quickly protested. “But what if there are stray students who managed to break away from the evacuation groups?”

“Not to mention,” said Merlin, “that bringing the Death Eaters in here makes it easier for them to hide. Out there, we can see their entire force once they approach from the forest.”

They were interrupted by a sound which had been going on for some time, but which they were only beginning to notice as it grew louder—or rather, closer. Slow, rhythmic thumps shook the earth and grew slowly more audible as the room fell silent.

Then Fred said what they were all thinking: “Giants!”

They all gathered around the windows to watch their approach. The giants were somehow bigger than Harry had imagined, looking more like walking mountains than the large humans he was expecting; and as they approached the Forbidden Forest, a horde of small, black-robed figures emerged from the trees, silver masks glinting in the rising moonlight. Among their ranks Harry could see a large number of people in plainer clothes, some of them strangely hunched and hairy…

“And werewolves,” Lupin muttered.

“Do you think the centaurs will help us?” Harry heard someone ask.

“I find it unlikely,” Firenze’s voice responded.

“Hey, Ron,” said Merlin, drawing the trio away from the window. “Didn’t you say one of your brothers worked with dragons?”

“Yeah…” said Ron. “Charlie.”


“Er—Romania. Why?”

“Eastern Europe…” said Merlin. “I think that’s close enough.”

“What’s going on?” asked Arthur, sidling up to them.

“You’re not going to like it,” Merlin warned.

“What is it?”

“It’d probably be better if I just—“


“Shh!” Merlin chided him, glancing around nervously. “I’m going to call some dragons.”

Arthur grimaced. “How many is ‘some’?”

“I don’t know,” he said, turning to Ron. “Ron, about how many dragons does he have?”

“Erm,” said Ron, glancing at Charlie standing across the room. “I don’t know, really. Not too many.”

“Not too many,” Merlin told Arthur cheerfully.

Arthur sighed. “Can you keep them under control?”

“Shouldn’t be a problem,” said Merlin. “The modern species is less intelligent than Great Dragons, but also less strong-willed, so it should be fine.”

“Should be fine…” Arthur muttered irritably. “Whatever, just go ahead and do it, I guess.”

“Great!” said Merlin. “Hey, Albus!”

As Dumbledore approached, the Order slowly collected into a group once more around them.

“I’m going to call some dragons,” Merlin said in a low voice. “It could take them some time to arrive—I’m not sure how long, exactly—but we should make our move before that happens, so they can fly in from behind and trap the Death Eaters.”

“Back up,” said Tonks. “Dragons?”

Merlin waved his hands. “Where and how I plan to acquire said dragons isn’t important right now. I just need to get to the Astronomy Tower.”

“When he gets back,” Arthur added, “we should move our force outside, just behind the magical shield. There’s no point pretending to hand you over; this group is too small to risk splitting up. We should bring the fight to them. When we’re ready, we can drop the shield and let them charge us—make them think they’ve dealt us a blow.”

“I agree,” said Moody.

“Very well,” Dumbledore said. “I will inform everyone.”

“Harry,” said Merlin seriously. “You stick by Arthur’s side now, all right? He’ll watch your back during the battle. Don’t let him out of your sight.”

Harry nodded; satisfied, Merlin turned and rushed from the room, doors falling shut behind him.

Among the quiet rumbling of the mismatched group gathered in the Great Hall, Dumbledore raised his hand for silence.

“A battle plan has been agreed between the teachers of Hogwarts and the Order of the Phoenix,” he said. “Professors Flitwick and Sprout are going to take groups of fighters up to the two highest towers, where they’ll have a good overview and better positions from which to work spells. Meanwhile, Professors Snape and McGonagall will take groups to guard the two side entrances to Hogwarts. The rest of us will move onto the grounds, between Hogwarts and the Forest. When we are all in position, the shield will fall to allow the fighters in the towers to attack from afar.”

A murmur of understanding ran through the room, and it seemed to calm people a little to know where their places were going to be.

“Should we really be splitting off into so many pieces?” said Moody in a low voice.

Harry, Ron and Hermione shared a glance and got a little closer to listen in.

“It is not ideal,” Dumbledore agreed, “but if we approach the Death Eaters in a single cluster, it will be easier for them to take more of us out in one fell swoop—especially with the giants.”

“Yes, but—“

Whatever Moody was going to say was drowned out entirely by a sound Harry had never heard before, but one which struck an instinctual fear and awe into his core. At first, Harry felt it more than he heard it. Unlike Voldemort’s high, cold voice that had echoed through the room earlier, this thundering, impossibly deep roar surrounded him completely, resonating in his chest. He thought of it as a roar, though he had the sense that the word was deeply insufficient somehow. Some part of Harry told him that, somehow, those sounds meant something—a command—but that part also told him to run, because that voice was more ancient and more powerful than he could fathom.

The room had fallen into an instant silence, as if the voice had stripped all sound from their throats at once. In the reverberating hum it left behind, they stayed frozen in place, silent and still. 

And unlike Voldemort’s, this voice provoked no screams: only a few scattered whimpers and gasps. It was some time before anyone spoke again, and when they did, they began in hushed whispers that grew slowly into murmurs.

“Was that a dragon?” Hermione whispered.

“That was not a dragon,” said Ron.

“I believe that was our cue,” said Dumbledore over the commotion. “The house-elves will be waiting in the Entrance Hall by now: let us join them.”

They moved quickly but anxiously. Outside the double doors, the house-elves were indeed waiting, as were the ghosts, and ‘Professor Emrys’ came skidding around the corner a moment later.

“What in the hell was that sound?” said Madam Pince faintly.

“A Dragoncall,” said Merlin.

“What?” said Professor Sprout.

“Dragons are coming.”

There were a number of excited and fearful shouts at that.

“They’re on our side?” someone exclaimed.

“They will be,” he assured them.

“Do you think the Death Eaters heard it?” Harry heard Neville whisper to Luna—neither of whom were supposed to be here.

“They must have,” said Seamus Finnegan.


Harry noticed for the first time that what appeared to be the entire DA was here, even though their heads of house had surely told them to evacuate with the others. He was a little proud, and a little scared.

“Where did the examiners go?” Ron asked quietly, but they didn’t have time to look for them in the crowd before Dumbledore spoke again.

“All designated groups should go to their posts now,” he said. “We have only minutes before reinforcements arrive.”

As people began to break off and hurry down the corridors, Professor McGonagall pulled out her wand.

“Piertotum Locomotor!” she cried.

At first, Harry wasn’t sure what she was doing; but then the statues around the hall started to move, stepping heavily down from their platforms, and they were soon joined by suits of armor, rows and rows of them coming down the hallways and lining up like soldiers.

“Fight for Hogwarts!” she told them as they marched. “Protect the school!” Then, almost under her breath, she said happily, “I’ve always wanted to use that spell.”

Almost unconsciously, the haphazard group of witches and wizards organized themselves more properly beside the rows of statues and armor. At the front, the Order drew their wands, even ‘Professor Emrys’ holding his false one at the ready; beside him, Arthur drew his sword, not seeming to care how odd it looked.

“For Hogwarts!” he echoed, and the cry rose up behind them as the doors slowly opened.

Chapter Text

Every sound echoed in the nearly silent courtyard: their footsteps on the stone, the crunching and clanging of the statues and suits of armor, the jeers and whoops of Voldemort’s army on the other side of the shield, even Harry’s own heart thudding in his ears.

He couldn’t see Voldemort among the crowd. Harry felt certain he was watching, but maybe he was hiding somewhere, waiting… but for what?

And then a jet of light struck the hazy gold dome in front of them. Then more, and then a barrage of them, making sharp sounds like sparking electricity.

“Come out, Dumbledore!” cried a mocking female voice. “We’ll leave the kiddies alone, we promise…”

A few more jeers rose up among them, but the Order just stood, waiting.

And that’s when the shield fell.

In the blink of an eye, the translucent barrier shattered before their eyes, shards fading even as they fell to the ground. Merlin must have been waiting for the right moment to break the enchantment, because the Death Eaters whooped and charged forward without a second thought.

They streamed out from between the trees, werewolves gaining on humans as the giants strode slowly forward among the crowd of smaller figures. Harry glanced over to make sure Arthur was still there; he couldn’t lose sight of him. He held his wand tight in sweaty fingers as the statues and empty suits of armor drew their weapons around him, preparing for impact—

And then it was chaos. An explosion of noise chased all thought from his head as spells rained down from the towers above; and soon, the Death Eaters drew close enough to start firing on the Order. Shouted spells, ricochets, snarls, the clangs of swords, and metallic pings as Arthur deflected curses off Excalibur’s blade… On Harry’s other side, Merlin’s wand flicked up to cast a smaller shield, causing most of the first wave to bounce off it harmlessly. They jumped up with renewed fury and charged, spreading out to the sides. Harry heard more incantations behind him and around him, saw Kingsley and Professor Trelawney stun a group of attackers with lightning speed.

“Expelliarmus!” he shouted, pointing in the direction of the first person he saw.

“Reducto!” he heard Ron yell.

Harry couldn’t even tell if his spells were landing, people were moving so quickly…

“Arthur!” Merlin called from Harry’s other side, raising his empty hand high in the air.

That was all the indication Arthur needed to toss his sword through the air and into Merlin’s waiting hand. Arthur didn’t even need to wait to see that he had caught it, instead transitioning seamlessly to his wand and firing off several spells in quick succession—over the din, Harry caught a mix of Latin and the language Merlin used. Merlin himself, meanwhile, wielded Excalibur more quickly than should be physically possible, blocking a barrage of spells and shattering a few magical shields.

When he had pushed them back just enough, he reset his stance, sword held ready at his side; that golden flicker appeared in his eyes once more, then the sword flickered as well—and with a furious crackling of sparks, the blade burst into flame. The Death Eaters jumped back once more, masks glittering the reflection. Merlin swung the sword through the air, raining fire down on the cloaked figures, and Harry took the opportunity to Disarm as many of them as he could.

Beside him, Arthur took that as his cue to join in, casting a volley of spells Harry didn’t recognise. Merlin grinned at Arthur and sent the flaming sword zooming back into his waiting hand.

“Thanks for the upgrade!” Arthur shouted before diving back into the fray, adapting to his new weapon with ease. Harry could have sworn he channeled a few spells through the sword itself, as if it were a wand.

Harry tried to keep up, keep track of his friends, keep from getting hit… All the while, beams of light shot down from above, aimed at large groups of Death Eaters or at the giants, who growled furiously and swatted at them.

Not far away, Merlin shouted something, voice magically carrying over the din. The giants looked at him, and he shouted again. They stopped advancing. A few Death Eaters looked around in confusion; Harry took the opportunity to try and Stun them, though they were able to shield against it. He ducked as they fired back.

When he looked back up, the giants were slowly loping away, back in the direction from which they had come. The Death Eaters shouted and cursed at them, but they ignored it. They ignored the ineffectual spells cast at their backs, too.

At Harry’s side, Arthur used his sword to deflect a curse before shouting a spell Harry didn’t recognise, which sent the Death Eater flying.

“Something’s wrong!” Merlin shouted.

Arthur, Harry, Ron and Hermione followed his gaze as he pointed up towards the castle: the spells had stopped coming down from above.

“Go!” Arthur told him, and Merlin disappeared in a tornado that buffeted them slightly.

“Professor Emrys!” someone shouted when he appeared in the Astronomy Tower. “How did you get here?”

It was one of his seventh-years, Merlin realised. Standing at the top of the narrow stairs of the tower, the student was firing spell after spell down at the ascending Death Eaters.

“No time now!” Merlin replied quickly, rushing to his side to create a cascade of water that crashed into the ascending invaders and sent them flying down the many, many stairs.

“Thanks, Professor,” said the boy. Behind them, Professor Flitwick and the other three students went back to casting spells down at the battle in the courtyard. “They must have got past Snape and McGonagall somehow,” he panted.

Merlin cast a few shields on the stairs for Death Eaters to break through before they could come up again. “I’ll go check on them,” he said. “Keep it up.”

The student nodded gravely and returned to one of the windows.

Quickly, Merlin Transported down to the Clock Tower Courtyard, where Professor Snape was posted. He and his group were indeed fighting, but they were facing the school, shooting spells at dark shapes inside…

“Dementors?” Merlin exclaimed.

Snape conjured a Patronus that galloped after a few of them, illuminating the darkened hallways, but the students with him could only form vague wisps. “The Dark Lord must have recruited them somehow,” Snape shot over his shoulder.

“Expecto Patronum!” Merlin shouted. A silvery dragon exploded into existence before them, and the students dove out of the way as it charged into the school.

Snape peered around the corner, but the Dementors appeared to be gone.

“Do you need backup here?” Merlin asked.

Snape shook his head. “We’ll go to join the rest of the battle. There is no longer any point guarding the castle if the Dark Lord’s men are already running rampant within it. Someone must have let them in before the shield went up. They’re most likely looking for Potter.”

“I agree,” said Merlin grimly. “I’ll try and flush them out.”

Snape gave him a curt nod before beckoning the seventh-years away; Merlin ran inside to check on Gryffindor Tower, hoping to find out how many Dementors had turned up.

This tower was under siege too. When he ran into the common room, two Death Eaters turned and fired curses at him. One was hit by a Stunner that came down the stairs behind him, so Merlin knocked out the other one and sent both of them zooming out the window, aiming for a cushioned landing somewhere in the middle of the Forbidden Forest. But who knew what could happen on the way.

“It’s just me, Professor Emrys,” he called up the stairs before ascending. “Are you all right up there?”

“We need some help!” a student shouted. “Lavender’s been injured!”

Merlin climbed the stairs two at a time to see the student covered in blood from a few deep cuts on her neck and shoulders. She appeared to be unconscious.

“Werewolf?” he guessed, running to her side.

“Yeah,” said Dean Thomas. “Fenrir Greyback rushed us—we just barely got him away from her.”

She was still alive. Merlin cast a few healing spells over each of her injuries and tried to remove what he could of the lycanthropy virus; fortunately, it wasn’t a full moon, so she couldn’t be fully infected… When her pulse started to get stronger under his fingers, he cast one last restorative charm and stood.

“She should be okay,” he told the others, “but I don’t know how long she’ll be unconscious. Keep her safe up there, all right?” he said, gesturing to the stairs on the other side of the small room.

“We’ll take care of her,” said Professor Sprout, pulling back from the window. “What’s going on out there?”

“They’ve infiltrated Hogwarts somehow,” he said quickly. “Expect more—I think they’re looking for Harry.”

Sprout nodded. Merlin cast a shield on the stairs again before disappearing to find Professor McGonagall.

“Voldemort!” McGonagall shouted the instant Merlin appeared.

Merlin ducked as a spell shot over his head; McGonagall returned fire, and there was a crash behind him. He turned and sent the lot of them flying.

“Voldemort’s here,” McGonagall panted. “He left his Death Eaters behind to attack us—it looked like he was heading out to the grounds.”

“To join the battle,” Merlin surmised. “He must not have found what he was looking for in the castle.”

“How did he get in?” she exclaimed.

“I don’t know,” Merlin said, “but I haven’t seen the examiners for a while, have you?”

She grimaced. “We’ll keep an eye out for them—check to see if they’ve been Imperiused.”

“Be careful,” he warned. “There are Dementors about.”

“I’ve seen them,” she replied grimly. “We’re going to join the others.”

“I’ll be there soon,” said Merlin, and sprinted down the hall towards the front entrance, dodging curses and stunning a couple of Acromantulas on the way.

Rubble was beginning to fill the halls near the front of the school, spells flying in a dangerous web around him as he ran. They were truly fighting a battle on two fronts now. He needed to get all of Voldemort’s men outside before the dragons arrived—where were they?—but there were mostly Dark Creatures inside the castle, very few Death Eaters… they must be outside with their master. He shot a few random spells at several groups of Riddle’s army, attracting their attention, and ran for the entrance, casting over his shoulder as he went. Peeves joined him briefly as he ran, pelting random objects at people. Merlin shot him a thumbs-up and kept running.

Outside, the night air stung coolly on his skin, but it was growing dark; he could hardly see anything apart from flashing lights. Behind him, a good number of Riddle’s supporters had followed and were now joining in the massive battle on the grounds, which was leaving scorched ground and sprayed rubble everywhere. In the center of the fray was Riddle, given a wide berth by his followers as he dueled with Dumbledore.

“Avada—“ he heard from somewhere behind him, and ducked close to the ground as he turned.

The spell flew over his head; he turned to see Bellatrix Lestrange snarling furiously at him. He threw the first spell he could think of at her, and her scream when she hit the ground a few metres back drew the attention of her husband, who was duelling nearby.

“Get away from my wife!” he shouted, running at Merlin.

And now there were four Death Eaters converging on him. He didn’t have time for this. He pointed his wand at the ground and they stumbled in their tracks, feet sinking into the mud as grass twined about their ankles and trapped them.

As he dodged through the battle, casting spells left and right, a few quick whistling sounds from above signaled the arrival of broomsticks—the Quidditch players had evidently determined their skills were needed for aerial reinforcement. Merlin thought he saw a few flashes of red and platinum blond as the students zoomed by overhead, firing off spells all the way, but he couldn’t be sure. His attention was turned to the forest when small, barely visible figures began to emerge from between the trees. Their numbers grew rapidly as Merlin watched, and soon, arrows began to join the spells flashing in the sky. Screams and shouts rose up as the projectiles began to land, and then the centaurs charged. So they had come after all.

Merlin ignored the din as he dodged and ducked his way through duels and stray curses, aiming for the epicenter of the battle. With a shield around him, he raised his wand high above his head, summoning more clouds into the night sky until thunder came… and then lightning rained down on the Death Eaters, picking them out in twos and threes all around him.

Unfortunately, Riddle took notice of that. He broke away from Dumbledore and sent a fiery serpent in Merlin’s direction, which he extinguished easily with a massive waterfall that splashed everyone in a twenty-foot radius. That included both him and Riddle, but Merlin didn’t mind too much since it made Riddle look rather like a drowned mole rat.

He cast a quick drying spell, causing his white hair to fluff up more than was preferable, but he continued bringing lightning down on the heads of nearby Death Eaters, allowing it to set a number of fires that preoccupied them for a time.

Riddle retaliated with a furious howl, casting several explosions all around him; Merlin was thrown into the air with a jerk. As a last-ditch effort, he sent a shield to try and protect the students—there were Ron and Hermione, where was Harry?—but Merlin hadn’t landed yet, that was bad…

NO!” someone bellowed.

Merlin couldn’t see Arthur. He thrust his hand out for a shield, but it was too late, he landed hard and couldn’t—

Out of nowhere, a golden shield appeared just inches in front of Ron. His spell ricocheted off of it, and behind him Arthur screamed—“NO!

Fire licked at the shield in the wake of the explosion that had sent everyone flying. Ron and Hermione stepped around it and out of the smoke. Arthur and Harry were nearby, fighting furiously with sword and wand as they protected something. Someone—Dumbledore? No, Professor Emrys, Merlin, was on the ground behind them. Ron and Hermione rushed over, dodging spells and another explosion. Meanwhile, Professor Dumbledore cast a circle of fire around a group of werewolves—he and Voldemort had been separated, the latter occupied with a couple of Aurors not far away.

“He’s alive!” Harry shouted, just as Ron and Hermione reached him and Merlin.

Arthur stabbed a Death Eater right in the chest, then used the man’s body to shield himself from a curse.

“He’d better be!” he bellowed. “Stupid—ridiculous—fiasco of a manservant!”

“Professor!” shouted an older student—a Hufflepuff. He and a few Slytherins tried to run over and help, but they were cut off by a stampede of desks that galloped past, knocking over a dozen people.

Bellatrix Lestrange’s laughter was instantly recognisable. Ron whirled round; she and a few other Death Eaters were converging on them now.

“Just another foolish old man,” one of them crowed.

Arthur jumped in front of Ron and the others, sword at the ready, but the Death Eaters stopped in their tracks, one of them letting out a gasp. Ron turned: behind him, Merlin was transforming back. His spell must have worn off when he was knocked unconscious. As he sat up groggily, his hair started to turn black again, causing consternation among the various onlookers on both sides. He prodded at the blood trickling down the side of his head and groaned.


“I’M GOING TO KILL YOU!” Arthur bellowed back as he fought off Lestrange and her cronies.

Merlin’s now beardless face split into a grin as he muttered something that sounded like, “He’s fine.”

“Professor!” someone cried. “Help! Where’d he go?”

Merlin stood quickly and unsteadily, leaning on Harry for support for a second as he looked around. Ron turned with him to see Neville trying desperately to dodge the club of a troll that seemed fixated on him in particular; after bumping into a few duellers, he dove behind a large fallen stone from the castle.

“HEY!” Merlin shouted at the troll.

It looked slowly around for the source of the noise. With a wave of his wand, Merlin levitated the large rock Neville was hiding behind and chucked it at the troll’s head, knocking it out instantly.

“Thanks!” said a relieved Neville, looking around for Professor Emrys. “Professor? Where’d you—“

“Right here!” said Merlin, not seeming to realise he had changed back yet.

But that conversation was over when Lestrange made yet another appearance.

“You!” she cried, shooting a jet of green light at him.

He ducked, looking annoyed. “Who even are you, anyway?”

But instead of waiting for an answer, he levitated another nearby troll and threw it in her direction. She and several others were trapped under it—probably with a few broken wands, among other things.

With a heavy sigh, he looked up into the night sky and shouted, “Now would be a good time!”

“Look!” said Harry.

Merlin followed his eyes—Voldemort was fighting his way furiously through the fray, and it looked like he was heading back toward an unsuspecting Dumbledore. Evidently he was Voldemort’s focus until he managed to find Harry.

“I’m on it!” Merlin shouted, and Transported away.

They saw him reappear directly behind Voldemort and tap him on the shoulder, whereupon Voldemort whirled around with a spell on his lips, just for Merlin to punch him directly in the face.

“Blimey!” said Ron as he and Hermione looked on. “Did you see that?”

“Who the hell is that?” they heard someone exclaim.

Voldemort had not yet recovered from the pure shock of being physically assaulted, so Merlin took the opportunity to Transport away into a crowd of Dementors, which he promptly dispatched with some sort of explosion that erupted into white light almost like a Patronus; but when the light cleared, the Dementors had just disappeared.

But they didn’t have time to wonder about that; a werewolf was coming their way.

“Watch out!” Hermione cried.

Ron quickly cast a shield, turning to come face-to-face with Fenrir Greyback. Hermione moved to attack, but Arthur came in from the side, barrelling into the man sword-first. Judging by the howl, the werewolf was severely injured, but they didn’t stick around long enough to find out. Arthur herded Harry, Ron and Hermione over to one side to make way for the Headless Hunt, which galloped past on their way through as many people as possible.

A shadow fell over the moonlight, and almost everyone looked up; four dragons were approaching quickly from the south, including a grey one Hermione thought she recognised. Screams and cheers both erupted all around them, and Hermione thought she heard a few tell-tale cracks of Apparition.

“Finally!” exclaimed Merlin, who was now standing beside Dumbledore.

Voldemort snarled, and Hermione noted with gratification that his nose (so to speak) was bleeding. “Everyone remove your masks!” he commanded. “I will have no cowards among my ranks!”

Evidently he wanted to know who Disapparated so he could properly deal with them later, but his Death Eaters were reluctant.

“NOW!” he screamed.

The first Death Eater Hermione saw was Lucius Malfoy, who was staring with a strange expression across the battlefield, locking eyes with his son, who stared back defiantly among a group of older Slytherin students. All around the battle, other faces were bared, some Hermione recognised and some she didn’t.

She didn’t have much time to think about Malfoy before one of the dragons roared and started to dive, quickly followed by the other two.

Voldemort’s army quickly redirected their attention upwards, firing volley upon volley of curses at them, most of which bounced off. When the first dragon reached them, it breathed a line of fire through their ranks and took off back into the sky. Screams echoed eerily in the night, but mere seconds later, the other two did the same, all three now circling above among the stars.

“Norbert?” they heard Hagrid shout. “Is tha’ you?”

Hermione squinted into the sky, but she couldn’t make any of the dragons out well enough to tell.

“Kill it!” Voldemort screamed, taking shots at the dragons as his followers joined in. “Kill it!”

But they were too far away, circling so high above their heads that they could barely see them against the blackness.

“Cover me!” Merlin called to Arthur, stepping into the blackened clearing created by the dragons and facing due west. Fortunately for him, he was mostly ignored in favor of the dragons—that is, until he started his spell.

Looking up into the sky with a deep breath, Merlin raised his hands high and wide, wand still held loosely in one hand. As they looked on, the air seemed to vibrate around him, and the ground beneath his feet began to grow green again.

“Who is that?” said Bill Weasley. “What’s he doing?”

No one answered him.

As Merlin stood and reached out with his magic, he finally uttered a spell, a single word that Hermione thought she recognised from her studies: Rise. Nothing seemed to happen for a few moments except for the grass and flowers continuing to grow around him, but he seemed to glow with a soft light. Even his surroundings were growing easier to see, and Hermione could finally make out the faces of some of their classmates…

With a jolt, she looked in the direction Merlin was facing. There, just beyond the western mountains, the sun was rising. The battlefield was growing clearer and clearer, and people were starting to take notice. Students and teachers shared stunned looks and whispers of amazement; even the Death Eaters abandoned their attempts at attacking the dragons, instead staring aghast into the impossibly rising sun. They didn’t even try to attack Merlin, if they realised he was the cause of it.

As the battle grew clearer, everything seemed to slowly become less mysterious, and somehow less frightening. The faces of the Death Eaters were tired, dusty, bloody; Voldemort’s skin was sallow and sickly in the daylight; the vampires ran for cover with a putrid burning smell in their wake, dashing either for the castle or for the forest; the Dementors ran from the light too (or possibly from the magic), gliding past the fleeing vampires to take refuge in the castle walls or among the trees.

When the pinkish sun in the now blue sky was at the level of roughly four in the afternoon, by Hermione’s guess, Voldemort stepped out into the clearing to stare at Merlin.

“You!” he hissed.

Turning to face Voldemort, Merlin let his hands fall and exhaled, just audible in the silence that was growing around them—the battle was slowing down as Death Eaters went to stand behind their master, the people of Hogwarts huddling in groups across from them.

“Me,” he replied cheerfully.

Chapter Text

From among the ranks of his burnt and bloodied Death Eaters, Tom Riddle slowly emerged, barefoot for some reason. He and Merlin stood opposite each other in the clearing blackened by dragonfire, encircled by the Riddle’s waning army on one side and the people of Hogwarts on the other.

As he approached, Riddle regarded him with a strange combination of contempt and confusion that Merlin could honestly say he hadn’t seen in recent memory.

“I killed you!” Riddle hissed.

Merlin looked around blankly. “I hate to say this…” he said, “but I think you may be mistaken.”

Somewhere to Merlin’s left, Arthur sighed deeply.

Riddle snarled. “Avada—“

With a flick of his wand, Merlin sent a bunch of small rocks pelting at his head, interrupting him.

Glancing at the students gathered nearby in the circle that was slowly forming around the two of them, Merlin said cheerily, “Take notes, school isn’t out yet!”

“It is him!” he heard Neville exclaim in bewilderment. Just how he was going to explain this, Merlin had no idea.

This time, Riddle didn’t use the incantation when he shot the jet of green light at Merlin, who merely summoned a stone wall in front of him.

“Did we not establish,” he said as he Vanished the wall, “that that’s not an effective use of your time?”

A few spells started coming from the crowd then, so he wordlessly cast a shield, but Riddle bristled. “Stay out of this!” he shouted to his followers. “Find Potter and bring him to me!”

“Stop picking on the fifteen-year-old,” said Merlin. “What do you even want with him?”

“It’s none of your concern,” Riddle retorted. With a sibilant spell, he conjured a giant snake.

When it made to attack Merlin, he chided it in Parseltongue—Calm down!—and it slithered away harmlessly.

“Impossible!” Riddle hissed.

“You know what?” Merlin shot back, sending a horde of butterflies to cluster around his head. “I’m starting to get sick of hearing that word.”

When Riddle broke free of the colourful insects, he wordlessly fired a huge beam of what looked like pure energy—but Merlin didn’t even move, merely stood there and absorbed it. When the loud rushing sound stopped and Riddle lowered his wand, the air cleared and Merlin calmly stood, feeling the absorbed magic build up, glowing brighter and brighter…

Then that same beam of white light shot from his chest, but instead of Riddle’s steady stream, it was all at once. Riddle quickly raised his shield, but it wasn’t enough. He was thrown backward, skidding along the ground for a few metres before scrambling to his feet, slightly muddied and looking enraged.

With a wordless yell, he pointed his wand at Merlin again, and vine-like ropes crawled up from the earth to twist around and bind Merlin’s body. He almost toppled over, but caught himself. Let go, he said in the language of the Old Religion, and the vines immediately retreated. With a flick of his wand, the earth itself rippled in front of him, rolling towards Riddle and knocking him over again, his wand flying out of his hand.

Merlin waited patiently for Riddle to get up and retrieve his wand.

“Who are you?” Riddle demanded when he got back in position.

“Take a wild guess,” said Merlin. “I’m tired of having this conversation.”

Tell me!” Riddle screamed, and sent a flock of ravenous birds to dive and peck at him one by one; Merlin waved his wand, and they were gone. Riddle snarled. “How did you come back!”

But he was distracted by something over Merlin’s shoulder; and Merlin didn’t like the jubilant look that was crawling up Riddle’s snake-like face.

“Potter!” Riddle hissed, just as Merlin cast a shield between him and the boy; turning, he saw that the Polyjuice Potion was starting to wear off.

Riddle growled as his spell bounced off it. “Seize him!” he ordered.

Chaos broke out once more as Death Eaters struggled to reach Harry from all sides, held off by teachers and Order members as they surrounded him. Meanwhile, house-elves with large knives hacked at various ankles as they tried to avoid getting kicked, Apparating and Disapparating almost constantly.

Merlin was too far away. He had Riddle at his back, and he couldn’t see Harry through the fray. He quickly conjured a stone dome around Riddle—it would at the very least keep him busy for a minute or two.

Fortunately, the Death Eaters’ black robes were easy to spot in the daylight. Merlin started picking them off one at a time as he called in backup.

Dragons! he roared. Attack the ones with hoods!

One by one, they dove on the unsuspecting Death Eaters as Merlin turned his attention to the werewolves who had joined in the fight. But the stone encasing Riddle was cracking—he would escape in seconds.

North Wind! he called. (He had had to give the poor Gringotts dragon a name, after all.) Do not let that man escape! He pointed to Riddle as he burst out of the cage, sending stone flying in all directions.

The grey, scarred dragon landed in front of Riddle with a thud that threw many people off their feet. A few Death Eaters ran to their master’s aid, but even with his eyes not yet fully healed, North Wind had no trouble knocking half of them out with a swipe of his tail.

As Riddle started firing spells haphazardly at the dragon, Merlin surreptitiously set up a few wards around the entire area that would prevent anyone from Disapparating—just to be sure, he made sure no one could Transport out, either.

“Harry!” he called, running into the fight. “Arthur!”

“Here!” he heard someone yell from the epicenter, then—“Expelliarmus!”

Ah, there he was.

As the other two dragons dove in for the attack once more, Merlin barrelled through a swarm of Riddle’s followers, conjuring a void that zoomed around and swallowed a few clusters of Death Eaters before petering out. That caused a bit of a panic.

Riddle’s men now seemed fixated on Merlin in particular for some reason. He was glad most of them were leaving Harry alone for the moment, but now they were in Merlin’s way; they rushed at him en masse, casting curses from all directions. Under his shield, Merlin paused, took in his surroundings, and shrugged. Wand in hand, he charged the oncoming force (which caused a fair amount of alarm in itself). 

Without warning, he Transfigured himself into his dragon form, letting out a giant stream of fire as he slammed into the enemy ranks, roasting the entire area and probably trampling them underfoot.

And then, just as suddenly, he shrank back into human form. Behind him lay a blackened sea of destruction, as well as a smattering of people looking dazedly around, trying to figure out where the dragon had gone. Fortunately, the regular dragons descended on them once more before they could think too much about it.

When Merlin finally reached Arthur, Harry and his friends, he tossed a ball of energy into a crowd of Death Eaters at random and pulled out his wand again.

“Harry!” he cried over the resulting explosion.

He ducked as a spell flew over his head, then turned and stunned the person responsible.

“You all right?” he called as he finally reached Arthur and the trio.

“We’re fine!” Harry shouted back; then his eyes widened. “Behind—!”

Merlin turned before he could finish his sentence. Riddle was there, flanked by four Death Eaters. Merlin sent a few of them flying, but he couldn’t risk harming Riddle himself, Harry had to—

Riddle moved quickly, aiming his wand at Harry. Merlin jumped in front of him with the strongest shielding charm he could think of. Riddle’s Reducto! bounced off, but so did Harry’s Expelliarmus! It ricocheted backward, straight into Merlin. His stupid wand was thrown right out of his hand and into the fray, probably broken or trampled underfoot.

He’s remarkably good at that spell, Merlin thought for a split second.

“Sorry—!” Harry tried to say, but Riddle was already on them again.

“Now,” Riddle said coolly, striding confidently toward them as his people practically jumped out of his way, looking down at their shoes. “Hand over the boy and this can all end. All this destruction, the spilling of magical b—“

Merlin cut off his spiel with a wordless spell that sent a storm of dust and ash from the trampled battlefield barrelling into him and his followers. Around them, people kept trying to get through the Order and attack Harry, just as North Wind was fighting his way back to Riddle. Curses tore through the air from all directions.

“ENOUGH!” Merlin roared.

Merlin’s thunderous voice rang over the fields and against the stone walls of the castle behind them. Everyone turned, some of them shrinking away; the volleys of spells slowly began to peter out. Even the dragons stopped in their tracks. Harry edged closer to Merlin’s side, looking around to make sure his friends were safe.

Calmly, Merlin said, “The next person who moves dies.”

Someone Harry thought he recognised as Dolohov scoffed (a little timidly, as far as scoffs went). “You don’t even have a wand!” he pointed out, voice trembling slightly.

Merlin squinted at him. Slowly, deliberately, he raised his right hand, almost as if to point at him, but he kept his thumb and forefinger together…

Harry recognised the gesture just before Merlin flicked the air, and then Dolohov was tumbling through the sky as if kicked by an invisible giant, flying halfway toward the Forbidden Forest before he hit the ground with a distant, quiet oof. Probably not quite dead, Harry thought, but definitely regretting his life choices.

“Anyone else?” said Merlin expectantly.

“I know who you are,” said Voldemort’s high, ringing voice. He stepped away from the crowd again, and so did Merlin, moving into a rapidly clearing space while keeping Harry in his line of sight.

“Doubt it,” Merlin replied.

Voldemort opened his arms wide to gesture to his followers, standing in an uneasy half-circle behind him. “Join me, Sigan.”

Merlin looked genuinely baffled. “Excuse me?”

“We have the same mission,” Voldemort continued, oblivious. “To defeat death. You were once the greatest wizard to walk the Earth; you could change the tides, turn night into day… together, we can have that power once more!”

“I’m going to stop you right there,” said Merlin, raising his hands. “You think I’m Cornelius Sigan?” He snorted. “I’m genuinely offended. Why on earth—”

Voldemort continued ignoring him. “You must have succeeded! You have indeed risen from the grave—“

“Hey!” Merlin interrupted. “Would you pay attention? Sigan’s dead. That’s not what’s happening here.”

“Very well,” said Voldemort, raising his wand. “If you insist on refusing my offer…”

With a flourish of his wand, a sea of liquid blackness rushed forward and surrounded Merlin, swirling and suffocating as it lifted him from the ground—but in an instant, it stopped moving, growing solid and drifting to the ground in a fine black dust. Merlin floated leisurely down after it.

Voldemort sneered. “Have you reconsidered? If you give me Potter, all you ever dreamed of can be yours. I have refined your Dark Magic; I can give you its secrets, secrets I have given no one else—”

“You’re not listening,” said Merlin irritably. “I’m not Sigan. How did you even hear about him?”

Harry officially had no idea what was going on.

“I spent many hours in ancient libraries studying your experiments,” Voldemort answered. “We are two of a kind, you and I.”

Merlin rolled his eyes. “Sigan’s dead. Trust me, I would know.” He smiled abruptly. “What, did these books of yours never mention who defeated him?”

The atmosphere shifted minutely as Merlin spoke—like the prickling feeling that came before an electrical storm. Voldemort frowned, eyes narrowing at he regarded Merlin suspiciously—then they slowly widened, looking at him with renewed… something.

Merlin grinned. “Oh, so they did mention it.”

“No—“ Voldemort whispered. “But the stone, it was supposed to bring him back—“

“Exactly,” said Merlin, taking a step forward; Voldemort took a step back. “That’s why I destroyed it.”

“Destroyed…?“ Voldemort’s wand was falling to his side, seemingly without conscious thought.

“Well, I’m not stupid enough to leave that thing lying around,” Merlin scoffed. “For this exact reason, in fact.”

“You—?” Voldemort looked somehow paler than usual as he inched backward. His Death Eaters grew restless behind him, sharing fearful looks.

“Yes,” said Merlin serenely, an unspoken name hanging in the air. “Me.”

You lie!” Voldemort hissed, aiming his wand shakily. “You can’t be. You can’t!”

Merlin grinned. “You don’t believe that.”

Pale and trembling, Voldemort started to withdraw into a flurry of blackness. A few cries went up from the Death Eaters’ ranks as they took that as their cue to Disapparate—

“No!” cried Harry. Not after all this…

But they weren’t disappearing. The Death Eaters turned on the spot, then flickered dangerously as they struggled against some invisible force before crumpling, some of them stumbling to the ground with cries of pain; Voldemort, meanwhile, was a writhing black mass in midair, twisting about and struggling to escape. Merlin’s hand was outstretched, squeezing into a fist in midair as Voldemort struggled harder against him.

He grimaced with effort as Voldemort and his spell slowly lowered back toward the ground, coalescing back into human form. Merlin released his fist and tossed Voldemort the last few feet onto the ground. He landed unceremoniously with a groan before standing slowly, clutching at his left hand; when he raised his wand once more, both hands were smeared with blood. Could he have been splinched?

“Don’t run away from me,” said Merlin with deadly calm.

“We could still work together,” Voldemort panted almost pleadingly. “We could be of use to one another—”

Merlin interrupted him with a smile. “You’re a smart man, Riddle—relatively.” Fury and fear swam in Voldemort’s eyes, but he noticeably didn’t make a move.

“So I don’t need to tell you,” Merlin continued slowly, “that you’re standing in front of me right now only because I continue to tolerate it. I suggest you don’t do anything to jeopardise that.”

“Just give me Potter,” Voldemort hissed through gritted teeth. “He is all that I came for. The boy is so puny beside the two of us… surely he doesn’t matter to you. Just give him to me, and we will leave Hogwarts be.”

Harry looked around at the bloody and exhausted Death Eaters, their number halved by casualties and deserters. The vampires and trolls were nowhere to be seen; only a few loyal werewolves remained.

“He matters,” said Merlin calmly. “Everyone matters—even you. But I can’t save you. Unlike the courage of Harry’s mother, your own mother’s actions condemned you; and maybe there was hope once, but not anymore. It’s too late, Tom.”

Voldemort’s face contorted with rage as he spoke. “Avada—“

With a wave of his hand, Merlin knocked the wand from his grasp.

As Voldemort scrambled to retrieve it, Merlin turned and beckoned to Harry. He looked over at his friends, then at Arthur, before stepping out from among the ranks of his stunned classmates. Dumbledore accompanied him, exhausted but unharmed, and the two of them joined Merlin in the clearing.

“What do you want to do with him?” he asked softly. “It’s your right to decide. We’re not going to force you to kill someone.”

Harry eyed the pale, bloodied man as he snatched his wand from the grasp of a Death Eater who was trying to be helpful.

“Can we build a prison like Grindelwald’s?” he asked, looking between Merlin and Dumbledore.

“If we do—“ Dumbledore began, but Merlin turned, standing between Harry and Voldemort and erecting a shield as Voldemort shot spells at them.

But Harry knew Voldemort, and knew what was coming. Before he even saw the jet of green light, he knew what to do.

Harry ducked under Merlin’s outstretched arm. “Wingardium Leviosa!” he shouted, pointing his wand at the scattered rubble on the ground and praying it would work.

Before his eyes, the pieces of Hogwarts flew into the air. The largest stone, almost twice as tall as Harry, shot in front of the three of them; smaller pieces assembled around it as if magnetised.

Harry heard the ricochet before he saw the result. The great stone fell to the ground with a great thud when it was struck, rolling backwards toward them, but Merlin waved his hand and pushed it easily aside. It came to a thumping standstill off to the side, but Harry didn’t even look. He was paralysed by the sight before him.

The green light rapidly faded, and for a split second, Voldemort stood perfectly still, wand still raised—but his hand dropped, and his entire body collapsed, crumpling to the ground as the wand slipped from his bloodstained hand and into the trampled grass. And then he lay motionless.

Chapter Text

The hush that fell was absolute—but only for a moment. Tumult broke free around Harry as the screams and the cheers and the roars of the onlookers rent the air. In the space of a moment, everyone rushed forward, Ron and Hermione’s arms around him, Arthur sheathing his sword with finality as he embraced Merlin tightly, incomprehensible shouts deafening Harry as the Weasleys and the Order crowded around them—and there were the few remaining Death Eaters, fleeing into the forest.

“Shouldn’t we—!” Harry shouted, pointing at them.

“Everyone’s seen their faces, Harry,” said Merlin over the clamour. “They can’t hide. Don’t worry about them.”

Feeling rather dazed, Harry really just wanted to sit down for a moment, but he was ushered up toward the castle by Lupin, Mrs. Weasley, McGonagall, and when he turned he saw Neville and Luna, and there were Moody and Dumbledore, and Dobby and Winky, and everyone…

The Entrance Hall was half-destroyed, light streaming through the walls and ceiling. The jubilant mood of the crowd started to fall a little to meet Harry’s as they walked among strewn rubble and blast marks.

“We’ve set up a sort of infirmary in the Great Hall,” said Neville. “There are some injured, and—and a few dead.”

“Mostly Death Eaters,” Moody growled, but it didn’t make Harry feel much better.

Harry scanned the faces around him as they walked, looking for gaps, and with a jolt, it occurred to him that there was less red hair than usual.

Mrs. Weasley seemed to be thinking the same thing. “Where’s Percy?” she asked, suddenly anxious.

“Maybe with Fred and George,” said Sirius. “They were on their brooms earlier.”

But Mrs. Weasley didn’t hear most of it, because she was running for the Great Hall; Harry, Ron and Hermione ran after her, the others following behind.

The room was full of makeshift cots lying under the evening sky of the enchanted ceiling. The first face Harry saw was that of Bellatrix Lestrange. She didn’t look quite dead, but he didn’t particularly care. Colin Creevy sat not far away, waving cheerfully from where he sat at the window—what was he doing here?—but he looked at least mostly all right. Then one of the OWL examiners, unconscious or worse, and a few younger faces Harry thought might be seventh years—

Then he heard a terrible cry that pulled at his insides, and he whirled around to find the Weasleys gathered around a cot at the far end of the hall; as he rushed over, he saw Mrs. Weasley fall to the ground next to Percy and George as she flung herself across someone’s chest—Harry stumbled. It was Fred. It couldn’t be Fred, that wasn’t right, it was impossible…

Merlin rushed past Harry, his distress trailing palpably in his wake; it washed over Harry so forcefully that he had to stop in his tracks.

“Wait—“ said Arthur, reaching out to try and stop him, but he was too slow, and Merlin stumbled to a halt beside the Weasleys, kneeling with a thud on the stone floor.

George latched onto Merlin instantly, hiding his face against his chest. “We were flying,” he said in a hollow voice. “We were…” He trailed off.

No,” said Merlin through gritted teeth.

“Mer—“ Arthur began.

“Not this!” Merlin shouted at him. “Not today.”

“What are you—“

Merlin interrupted him. “How long ago?”


“A few minutes?” said George’s muffled voice. “Maybe more… I caught him on my broom, but…”

Merlin looked quickly around the room. “What’s wrong with that woman?” he asked, pointing at Bellatrix Lestrange across the room, who was still lying completely still, eyes open.

“Who cares—“ Ron snarled.

“Just answer me!” said Merlin loudly.

“Dementor’s Kiss,” said Moody. “They attack anyone, they don’t care who.”

“Good,” muttered Sirius venomously.

“Somebody bring her over here,” Merlin ordered, laying his head on Fred’s chest as he took his wrist in his other hand. George hovered nearby, trying valiantly to wipe still-falling tears from his face.

“What is he doing?” cried Charlie.

Now,” said Merlin, but Lupin was already returning, carrying the vegetative woman in his arms.

When he placed her on the empty cot next to Fred, Merlin reached over to lay a hand on her forehead, eyes squeezed shut.

“I thought so,” he muttered. “Sensed it when I came in…”

“What on earth is going on here?“ Madam Pomfrey exclaimed.

“Everybody back up!” Merlin ordered. “I need some space.”

“Now, just what do you think—“

“We don’t have a lot of time!” he cried, waving a hand and sending them all sliding back a metre or two.

Merlin grasped Bellatrix’s hand tightly, kneeling halfway between her and Fred, and placed his other hand on Fred’s chest. His knuckles were white, his eyes squeezed shut, but he recited no incantation this time.

“Come on,” he whispered, “just let me do this…”

After a moment, Bellatrix’s limp form grew still with one final exhale, and Merlin dropped her hand. It fell limply, brushing against the stone floor. Eyes still closed, Merlin turned to Fred,  placing his free hand on the boy’s forehead; the other still hadn’t moved from his heart. Merlin bowed his head, almost touching Fred’s shoulder as he mumbled something Harry couldn’t quite make out.

They could no longer see Merlin’s face, but they stood frozen as a golden glow started to emanate from him, barely visible at first—after a moment, it engulfed Fred too, and Harry could almost swear he saw those same gossamer threads that had revived Merlin all those months ago trickle from his hand onto Fred’s still chest.

And then there was that same sound—a rattling, laborious breath—and Fred opened his eyes.

Harry gasped, and the Weasleys gathered around him screamed and cried as Fred tried to sit up.

“Good heavens!” cried Professor McGonagall.

“You’re all right,” Merlin murmured as he and George held Fred between them. “You’re all right.”

“Wha…“ Fred tried to say, but his throat didn’t seem to work properly.

“Don’t try to talk,” said Merlin, putting a hand to Fred’s forehead. To the group, he called, “Does anybody have a blanket?”

Everyone jolted into action, Mr. Weasley draping Fred in his coat just before Madam Pomfrey ran back over with a wool blanket, then everyone was on top of each other, several people were shouting, and Harry could have sworn someone was saying a Hail Mary.

“Did he just do what I think he did?”

“Who the hell is that man?”

“Is that the same bloke from before?”

Beside Harry, Dumbledore and the rest of the Order were still staring down at the scene.

“That’s impossible,” Dumbledore breathed.

“What did I say about using that word?” said Merlin, grinning despite the wetness in his eyes. He sounded exhausted, and he slumped against Fred’s cot as if he could barely hold himself up.

Beside him, George was crying and holding his brother so tightly Fred was starting to wheeze.

“Let him breathe,” said Merlin gently. “He needs to get oxygen circulating again.”

“Is he going to be all right?” said George frantically as Merlin peeled him off of Fred.

“He should be fine in a few minutes,” he answered. “He didn’t have any other injuries—“

A small oof escaped him when George wrapped his arms around Merlin instead.

“Thank Merlin,” he muttered, and Harry wasn’t sure whether that was a joke or not.

But it was definitely a joke when Fred cried a weak, “Ha!” and said, “You’re the older one now… So next time something happens… it’s your fault.”

“All right, Freddie,” said George, laughing through tears. “I don’t mind.”

As soon as Merlin was free, Mrs. Weasley wrapped her arms around him, followed by the rest of the Weasleys (except for Bill and Charlie, who were still staring in blank shock). “Thank you…” she sobbed, and Harry could only hear half of what she said. “My little boy—how—oh, it doesn’t matter…”

Now Professors Flitwick and Sprout were examining Fred, unable to believe their eyes. Neville and a few other students hovered over their shoulders. Madam Pomfrey just sat nearby, thunderstruck.

“All right, all right,” Merlin was saying, trying to distance himself from everyone. “Please stay calm, I’m not even really supposed to do that, but she was just right there, her soul was long gone…”

“You exchanged them?” Harry asked when he was finally able to speak.

He nodded, now struggling to remove Mr. Weasley from his person. “Yeah, I can’t bring anyone back without restoring the balance… and before you ask, it only works if their injuries are fixable and recent, so I can’t just go moving people between worlds willy-nilly…”

“What’s happening?” came a voice from the doorway.

When Harry looked, he saw all four of the house ghosts floating in their direction.

It was the Grey Lady who had spoken. “We felt something shift with the Veil,” she said.

“Oh, no,” said Merlin, “I didn’t mess it up, did I? I know I’m not supposed to, but…”

“It shifted,” said the Grey Lady, “it didn’t implode. Calm down.”

Merlin smiled weakly and leaned back against the wall with a slight thump—but he jolted upright again in alarm.

“Arthur?” he said, searching the crowd. “Arthur!”

“Right here,” said Arthur, pushing forward toward Merlin and helping him to his feet. “Everything’s fine,” he said, holding Merlin against him for a moment as he wobbled. “You shouldn’t have done something so risky after all that, you idiot, you could have gotten yourself hurt…”

Merlin waved his concerns off vaguely, eyes still locked on Fred.

Madam Pomfrey had had about enough. “Will somebody please explain,” she said loudly, drawing herself up to her full height, “what exactly is going on here?”

“Er,” said Merlin. “I can explain.”

He stood there for a long moment and did not explain.

“You see…” he ventured. “It’s about the Balance… Speaking of which, I have to go put time back in order, give me a second.”

He disappeared before anyone could grab him, having evidently already removed the anti-Transport wards he put up against Voldemort. Voldemort… who was dead… Harry looked out the window and could still see the surprisingly small, black-clad shape sprawled on the grounds. Merlin stood not far away as he cast a spell on the sky again. Harry had half-expected Voldemort’s body to disappear the next time he looked, but he was really dead. It was over.

“All right, Harry?” said Ron, and Harry turned from the window.

“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, I think so.”

“That was bloody brilliant, by the way,” said Ron with a grin.

“And you used the environment like he taught us!” Hermione added.

“Taught you?” Professor Flitwick asked. “You three know this boy?”

The trio shared an uncertain look before answering, as everyone was watching them now—at least, those who weren’t still clinging onto Fred.

“He’s Professor Emrys!” Neville exclaimed. “I saw him change, but I didn’t believe it…”

“What on earth are you talking about?” asked Professor Sprout.

“It’s true,” said Harry, not wanting to leave Neville hanging. “His ageing spell wore off when he was knocked unconscious.”

As they spoke, it grew quickly darker; they looked outside, where the night sky was returning, the moon floating serenely across the patchwork of stars, and then the sun reappeared on the other horizon, pink light illuminating the grounds once more. The sky fell still once more, back in sync with chronological time.

“Good heavens,” someone said.

“Why would he use an ageing spell?”

“More importantly,” said Madam Pince gravely, “why was You-Know-Who so afraid of him?”

Through the window, Harry watched Merlin wander leisurely back inside, stopping to pick something up off the ground. Probably a flower, knowing him.

“Unbelievable,” Arthur muttered.

“I feel much better now,” said Fred, trying to stand, but Mrs. Weasley stopped him. “No, I’m fine, I can walk…”

“Don’t even think about it,” said Merlin from the doorway. “If you fall and get a concussion, I’m not fixing it.”

Behind him, Harry saw some sort of grey blur—

“MERLIN!” Arthur bellowed, lurching forward beside Harry, and several things happened at once.

A quick shink was the only warning before Arthur launched his sword across the room; at Arthur’s shout, Merlin had ducked instinctively, and the blur Harry belatedly recognised as a werewolf missed him by inches. Instead, the creature was stopped dead by Arthur’s sword, which struck him in the side and sent him skidding along the stone floor. Another approached at breakneck speed from down the hall, but Merlin raised his hand and the werewolf flew backward—dead or unconscious, Harry couldn’t tell.

“Bloody hell, Arthur!” Merlin exclaimed, looking down at the twitching creature from which Arthur’s sword still protruded. “You nearly lopped my head off!”

“You’re welcome,” said Arthur irritably.

“Hang on, did you just throw your sword at me?”

“I didn’t throw it at you, you idiot. And besides, it’s my sword, I’ll do what I like with it.“

“I gave you that sword, you prat, and I could very well go put it back in that blasted rock right now, see if I don’t!”

Everyone in the Great Hall was watching the argument now—whether because of the subject matter or because of Arthur’s slip-up, Harry couldn’t tell.

Arthur scoffed. “You wouldn’t. And by the way, would you kindly explain WHAT you have done to the sun?”

“Nothing!” he said quickly, edging away from the dead man. “I put it back! It’s fine, see?”

“It is not fine, can’t you see that we’ve skipped nighttime?”

“Well, would you rather jump back in time five hours every time you step onto the Hogwarts grounds?” Merlin retorted, crossing the room to yell at Arthur up close. “Because that’s the alternative!”

“Why are you messing with the sun in the first place?” said Arthur. “Leave it alone!”

“It was dark! I was trying to raise morale!”

“You raise morale by giving a rousing speech, not by turning back time!”

“I turned back time under us, Arthur, that’s why I had to wait for the dragons to arrive!”

“What the hell does that mean?”

“It means I turned back time for everyone but us—therefore the rest of the world didn’t notice anything!”


“Stop asking me how I do things! If I knew, I would tell you!”

Beside Harry, Nearly Headless Nick muttered to the other ghosts, “Is this that Arthur? Looks a bit young, doesn’t he?”

No one else said a single word as the disaster continued.

“How do you know you can fix it if you can’t even figure out how you did it?”

“I already DID fix it!”

“Will you keep your voice down? You’re causing a scene!”

“I’M causing a scene?”

“Yes, Mer—“

The two of them froze in place rather comically as they came to a joint realisation.

“Hang on,” said Merlin. “Did you just—“

“Yeah,” said Arthur. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure I did.”

“Do you think they noticed?” he whispered.

“Don’t be stupid,” Arthur scoffed, “that’s probably why people are staring.”

“Aha!” Merlin cried. “So you admit it wasn’t me that caused the scene!”

“Of course it was you,” Arthur retorted. “If you didn’t have such a country bumpkin name, we wouldn’t be in this situation right now.”

Merlin’s mouth fell open in indignation. “You take that back! Maybe if you could keep your trap shut once in a while—“

“Are you seriously lecturing me about knowing when to shut up?”

“Boys, please!” cried Mrs. Weasley. “It’s not worth fighting over!”

Arthur and Merlin turned away from menacing each other to look for the source of the interruption. They then noticed the teachers and students standing open-mouthed as they watched.

“They definitely noticed,” said Merlin.

“Yeah,” said Harry, “we did.”

“Well,” said Merlin, “this is normally about the time I go home and make myself scarce… come on, Arthur, I have a place for you to stay for the time being… I really should be checking on the herd soon, anyway…”

Harry never got to find out whether he was talking about a herd of unicorns, dragons or butterflies (which were his first three guesses), because Arthur grabbed him by the arm before he could make a run for it.

“I’m not staying in your hut, Merlin,” he said firmly, “and you need to stop being so antisocial.”

“It is not a hut,” Merlin replied irascibly. “And stop saying my name! Er—I mean, that name.”

“Don’t fret,” said Professor McGonagall. “None of us are going to go running to the presses.” She glared intently at everyone gathered in the Great Hall, just to make sure.

“Might go running for the hills,” Merlin muttered under his breath.

“Quit being such a grumpy old man,” said Arthur. “We’ve got to get this school fit for human habitation again.”

“I’m sorry,” Madam Pomfrey stammered, “are we meant to believe… of all the… Professor Emrys?”

Merlin grinned sheepishly. “Yeah, it’s me. This is what I normally look like—or what I looked like when I was younger, depends on how you look at it—I didn’t want to use a disguise this whole time, believe me. I didn’t even intend to be a teacher, it was just a consequence of getting rid of Umbridge. It’s a rather long story, actually, you don’t want to hear all that…”

Several of the older students, plus Neville and Malfoy, crowded closer to try and see if it was really him. Merlin raised his eyebrows at them expectantly.

“Can’t believe I let you boss me around,” Malfoy sneered.

Merlin just grinned. “I see you take after your godfather. No respect,” he laughed. “I get no respect in this school.”

“It really is you,” Professor Sprout murmured.

“How did you do…” Professor Flitwick squeaked, “any of that?”

He shrugged. “Well, you already knew charms were my area of expertise, apparently.”

“But it… it can’t be!”

“This is absurd,” said Madam Pince. “This boy simply cannot be… the… the father of magic!”

Merlin rolled his eyes. “I didn’t invent it,” he started to say, but several house-elves shouted over him at once.

“Do not disrespect Lord Emrys!” one of them squeaked, running towards them—to do what, Harry didn’t know, because Merlin bent down to stop him.

“Whoa,” he said, “calm down, it’s quite all right. And I’ve told you not to call me that.”

“This is indeed Emrys, known to wandbearers as Merlin,” said Firenze, stepping forward for the first time. The two centaurs who were with him hung back. “All magical creatures know when he is nearby.”

Merlin waved a hand. “Don’t bother arguing with them. I don’t care if they don’t believe it, what difference does it make?”

“But it’s true!” George argued. “That’s why he sent his portrait away—tell them, Merlin!”

Everyone stared, the wide-eyed students looking almost frightened.

Merlin threw up his hands. “Well, I couldn’t have it hanging around looking exactly like me, could I? Might raise a few questions.”

“This,” said Arthur pointedly, “is what happens when you run around in disguises all the time. Remember Dolma?”

Merlin frowned. “How did you even know that was me?—No, never mind, don’t answer that.”

One of the seventh years spoke up. “Are you really… him?”

“Erm,” said Merlin.

Arthur took pity on him and put an arm over his shoulder, saying, “Friends, I am King Arthur Pendragon, the Once and Future King of Camelot, and this is Merlin of Ealdor, the greatest sorcerer ever to walk the earth.”

Hushed whispers ensued. Harry was just enjoying not being the center of attention for once.

“Okay,” said Merlin, trying to wriggle out of Arthur’s grip, “no need to be dramatic. I’m sure there’s someone ‘greater’ out there anyway—“

Arthur looked incredulously at him. “You just brought someone back from the dead, Merlin.”

“Nimueh could do that,” Merlin pointed out.

“And who defeated her again?”

Merlin grimaced.

“No, seriously, remind me, Merlin,” said Arthur with a smirk.

“All right, all right, I got it.”

“I am afraid,” said Dumbledore, stepping forward, “that I must apologise for keeping this from you all. We did not want to risk Lord Voldemort hearing that he was working with us.”

It seemed to finally sink in when Dumbledore said it. A few people stepped back, or covered their mouths—but then a streak of red flew directly into Merlin, nearly bowling him over.

“I cannot—believe—“ cried Ginny, shoving him so hard he stumbled, “you kept me out of this!”

Ron sniggered.

“And you!” she attacked Ron then, and probably would have gone for the twins if they weren’t still scrunched side-by-side on Fred’s tiny cot.

“Hey!” Ron shouted.

Once she had hit Ron’s arm a few times, she pushed her hair summarily out of her face, collecting herself again quicker than lightning.

“I didn’t know!” said Percy quickly.

She ignored him, turning to Harry and Hermione. “And don’t think you’re off the hook, either.”

He and Hermione shared an apprehensive glance. Harry sort of wished she’d just hit him, too.

“See?” said Arthur. “That wasn’t so hard.”

Merlin just glared at him.

Chapter Text

While Arthur, Moody and Dumbledore left the Great Hall to make sure no more dark creatures were hiding in the castle, Merlin and Madam Pomfrey tended to Fred. Harry just sat beside a jittery George as they (and most everyone else) watched the proceedings.

He hadn’t realised how much Merlin had been holding back until there was no longer any need to. Without so much as a word, he had created a miniature fire in the palm of his hand which danced pleasantly without any sort of kindling: “Hold out your hands,” he’d said to Fred, then nonchalantly dropped the little fire right into his cupped hands, where it nestled like a living creature. Fred had jumped slightly, but it didn’t burn, just warmed him back up to human temperatures. As they all stared into it, Merlin murmured a few healing spells over Fred.

All the while, and to their collective amazement, the room behind Merlin was in a flurry. As dustpans and brooms emerged from the woodwork, dirt and dust were sweeping themselves up in all corners of the room, maneuvering around various onlookers. The windows were cleaning themselves as well, but they seemed to have trouble sharing the three available buckets of soapy water; the buckets were repeatedly jerked back and forth from one window to another, sloshing water on the floor as the sponges fought amongst themselves and sprayed soap bubbles everywhere. That’s about when the mop reinforcements started coming in.

Various other tools were trying to get puddles of wax off the floor, which had evidently fallen from candles that had been caught in the crossfire. They weren’t having a great deal of success, though, because they didn’t seem to know which tool was the right one for the job and just kept shoving each other out of the way. Eventually the sponges had to come to the rescue. 

Meanwhile, various bits and pieces of rubble zoomed around the room, sometimes fixing themselves back in place in the walls or ceilings, sometimes wandering back and forth as if searching for where they belonged, sometimes colliding and then bouncing away politely as they continued on their way. 

Merlin didn’t so much as glance at any of the goings on. Harry could almost believe it wasn’t his doing… almost. But his thoughts were interrupted when a dustpan zoomed over to tap Merlin on the shoulder.

“Yes?” said Merlin politely, turning around.

The dustpan moved forward, offering him two halves of a broken wand.

“Oh, is this mine? Thank you.”

The dustpan nodded before wandering off back to work.

Merlin set the broken stick beside him on Fred’s bed. “You should start to feel better soon,” he told him. “Let me know if the headache doesn’t go away.”

As Madam Pomfrey took over, examining Fred intently, a Hufflepuff Harry didn’t know said, “Can I ask… what is your wand’s core made of?”

“Oh—“ Merlin stood up, pocketing the broken pieces. He shrugged. “I don’t use a wand. They keep blowing up in my face. This is just a fake.”

“You don’t ever use a wand?” Professor Flitwick squeaked.

Merlin looked uncomfortable. “Well, not really… but I use a staff sometimes—“ He broke off when a pair of brawling sponges whizzed past his head. “Oi!” he scolded them. “Settle down! This is a school, not a stable!”

Just then, a cackle came from the rafters. Harry looked up to see Peeves floating gleefully among the candles, crying, “Fight! Fight! Fight!”

“Same goes for you!” Merlin warned him. “If you make a mess again right after I just cleaned this place up, I’ll banish you to the Astronomy Tower for the next fifty years.”

Peeves pouted but said nothing, just floating up higher in the rafters to mope.

Out in the corridor, there was a rush of quick, repetitive scraping and huffing noises before Filch wheezed into view, running as fast as he could—which, as it happens, was not very.

“Peeves!” he panted. “Where’d he go?”

A few people silently pointed up into the ceiling.

“What did he do?” Merlin asked wearily.

But Filch was distracted by the magical mayhem still going on as the company of miscellaneous cleaning equipment moved about seemingly of its own accord.

“What is going on here?” Filch demanded.

“Cleaning,” said Merlin, looking confused.

“I am the caretaker here!”

Merlin just stared at him. “There was a battle going on here an hour ago, surely you can’t be expected to clear up the aftermath all by yourself?”

“As a matter of fact, that’s just why I’m here!” he exclaimed, turning with renewed outrage to McGonagall. “Peeves has locked my personal cleaning supplies and Mrs. Norris in the cupboard. Again!”

Peeves cackled again above their heads.

“Peeves!” said Merlin. “Get down here.”

The poltergeist drifted down slowly, blowing a raspberry at Filch on the way.

When he was at eye level, Merlin leveled him with a stern look. “Go back there and let Filch into that cupboard—and clean up whatever mess you made while you’re at it,” he ordered. When Peeves still looked impish, he added, “If I find out you haven’t fixed it, you’re going to be in for a world of hurt.”

They stared at each other for a moment.

Now, please,” said Merlin pointedly.

Peeves jumped. He quickly zoomed away, but paused before he reached the door. “Can Peevsy at least glue some Knuts to the ground on the way?” he asked, to the continued astonishment of everyone.

Merlin considered him for a moment.

“On one condition,” he said eventually. He reached up and plucked a small box out of thin air, tossing it to Peeves—a camera, Harry saw. Merlin grinned at the poltergeist. “Get pictures.”

Peeves beamed and zoomed down the corridor, already clicking away.

“He’s wasting film…” said Hermione.

“Joke’s on him,” said Merlin, “it’s digital. It’ll last a while.”

“Why are you encouraging him?” Filch bristled. “And who are you, anyway?”

“Oh, right. It’s me, Professor Emrys. And he’s a poltergeist, he has to have some sort of outlet.”


But before they could go through that whole thing again, Dumbledore, Arthur and Moody returned with a veritable entourage: the two remaining OWL examiners trailed rather dazedly behind them whilst Cornelius Fudge and three of his men peppered the headmaster with questions.

“We don’t have time for this, Dumbledore!” he cried. “I demand to know why the entirety of the Hogwarts student body is in the Ministry lobby right now!”

“Believe me, Minister,” Dumbledore replied, “you will want to see this.”

“We have been unable to contact Hogwarts for the past five hours—“

“What’s all this?” Merlin interrupted.

“You again!” said Fudge when he saw him. “I knew the two of you were in kahoots somehow…”

“There are no kahoots, Minister,” Merlin reassured him.

Fudge ignored him. “Where are Kingsley and Emrys? They were supposed to be monitoring the situation…”

“Here, Minister,” said Kingsley, stepping out of the crowd to stand beside Merlin. “And this is Professor Emrys.”

Merlin waved sheepishly and shifted back into his older form. “There’s only one of me. Any Emryses you’ve met have all been the same person.”

Fudge merely spluttered in response.

“Come, Minister,” said Dumbledore. “As I said, there has been a battle—“

“A battle?” said Fudge, pitch steadily increasing. “At a SCHOOL? Dumbledore, this is utterly ludicrous and I will not—“

“Minister!” said Merlin loudly, trying to herd them toward the doors. “If you would kindly just follow us outside, you would see Tom Riddle’s body on the front lawn, and I am sure everything would become clear at that point…”

When Merlin shifted back into his younger self, Fudge seemed to dig in his heels.

“I’m not going anywhere with you, you impostor! I don’t even know who you are—there’s probably a trap outside—You-Know-Who has not returned—and I’m not taking orders from a scrawny little brat who doesn’t know the first thing about—“

His rant was cut off by the menacing sound of a sword being unsheathed. Arthur stepped cleanly in front of Merlin, pointing his sword toward Fudge’s neck.

“Don’t talk to him like that,” he said dangerously, sword unwavering as Fudge leaned away from it, backing into the Ministry officials clustered behind him.

“Arthur!” said Merlin, one hand on his arm trying to get him to lower his weapon. “Honestly, calm down, it’s fine, no need to threaten the poor man—“

“Shut up,” said Arthur.

Merlin rolled his eyes and continued tugging on his arm as the Minister of Magic stood frozen.

“Maybe,” said Arthur, “you should tell them who we are. Perhaps then they might learn some respect.”

The Ministry officials looked a little alarmed at this—or perhaps at his tone—but Merlin just grinned as he extricated the Minister from the standoff and led him to the door.

“Yes,” Fudge blustered as soon as he was out of striking range (not realising, of course, that Arthur had just successfully thrown his sword across the room a half hour ago, so ‘striking range’ meant very little in this situation). “Who are you, exactly?”

“It might indeed help if you told him,” said Moody.

“What, first you want me to tell the whole school and now the entire government?”

The argument continued as the group headed outside, but Harry didn’t follow: he just headed back to the window to watch Fudge’s reaction when he found the body of Lord Voldemort on the castle grounds.

Merlin was gesticulating wildly as they walked—which was not entirely abnormal—and Fudge stopped dead in his tracks when they were only a few metres away from the dark shape in the grass. Dumbledore walked on ahead, beckoning calmly to him.

Behind Harry, most of the seventh years, every Weasley in existence, and the entire staff crowded around the windows to watch—all except for Madam Pomfrey, who was now attending to the still dazed OWL examiners, who Harry was beginning to suspect had been Imperiused.

Fudge and his lackeys crept forward toward the shape, led by Arthur and Moody, and Harry could swear he heard a couple of screams through the glass. For his part, the minister looked as if he were about to be sick. Once he recovered, he blustered over to Dumbledore to wave a finger in his face, then did the same to Merlin, though from a greater distance.

Gesturing forcefully at Voldemort, he seemed to be demanding answers. Merlin pointed casually at the school—great, he was probably telling them all how Harry killed him with ‘Wingardium Leviosa,’ that was helpful—but Dumbledore stepped in, putting a hand briefly on Merlin’s shoulder and pointing to the sky. Oh, that wasn’t a good sign.

Merlin shrugged, looking to Arthur for help whilst attempting to fumble out some sort of explanation. Arthur took his place at his side, and all four Ministry officials stood frozen in place. There was a brief, silent standoff. Merlin fidgeted with his collar.

And then one of them fainted. There were a few laughs among the audience in the Great Hall as the other officials scrambled about, shouting and pulling at their hair. One of them shakily bowed to Merlin, who quickly waved his hands and rushed to get him to stop.

In one motion, he levitated the unconscious man, and he and Arthur headed back to the castle with the rest in tow.

“I told you that was a bad idea,” was the first thing Merlin said when he walked through the doors.

“Merlin’s beard!” Madam Pomfrey began when she saw the man floating through the air. “The battle’s over, I have enough people to treat already!”

“Sorry,” said Merlin, depositing him onto a cot. “Not my fault, I swear. Also, no beard, currently.”

Madam Pomfrey just muttered under her breath as she tended to the man.

“So,” said Arthur casually, “should we magically swear them to secrecy, then?”

Without looking, Merlin waved a hand to shut the double doors as someone tried to sneak out.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Seems a bit rude, don’t you think?”

“Do you want your face on the front page of every newspaper?”

“How do you know what a newspaper is?”

“Stop asking me how I know things, Merlin. I read.”

“Since when?”

“Excuse me!” Professor McGonagall interrupted. “They’re getting away.”

“Thanks,” said Merlin, shutting the doors again as the four Ministry officials sidled in that direction.

“And if I may say so,” she added, nodding toward the officials, “I do not recommend that you trust them in particular with this information.”

“I don’t mind keeping it a secret,” Harry piped up. “It’s not fair to paint a target on your back like that.”

“Especially after everything you’ve done for us,” Neville added, and Harry nodded his agreement.

Merlin regarded them all seriously for a moment.

“I trust you,” he said finally. “I hope you keep it among yourselves, but I won’t make you swear to it. We all fought together today.”

Beside him, Arthur shot them all a menacing glare, just to make sure of it.

“It’s not as if anyone will believe us, anyway,” said Ron with a shrug.

“They’re children,” said Arthur in a low voice. “They won’t be able to keep it to themselves.”

“But Ron’s right, too,” said Merlin. “No one would believe it. But once enough time passes—once it becomes a legend again, nothing more than a school rumor—they can seek out my portrait in times of need, just like I intended it. And if things ever get this dire again, he can send for me.”

Before Arthur could respond, Merlin turned to the four Ministry officials. “You, on the other hand,” he said, “aren’t going anywhere until I make sure you can’t sell me out to the press.”

He beckoned to the huddle of men, who trudged over reluctantly, only beginning to protest when Merlin started reciting an incantation.

“Now, just hold on a minute—“ Fudge blustered. “We haven’t agreed—“

Arthur slid his sword partway out of its scabbard, effectively ending that conversation. Merlin continued his incantation, waving a hand slowly over the group.

“Right,” he said after a moment. “I’m Professor Ambrose Emrys. And no one else. That—“ He gestured over his shoulder to the window— “is Lord Voldemort. Who is back. Or he was, up until an hour ago. Harry Potter defeated him.”

“I didn’t—“ Harry started to say.

“He had some help,” Merlin continued, “but he defeated him. That’s the story, got it?”

The four wide-eyed men nodded.

“Is it really that easy?” Arthur asked.

“This may surprise you,” said Merlin, “but I’ve had to do this before.”

“That does not surprise me.”

Merlin stared thoughtfully at Arthur for a moment. Arthur glared back.

Merlin hummed. “Have I told you recently that you’re an arse?”

“Not in the last five minutes, no.”

“Well, you are. I feel you need to be reminded every so often.”

“Thank you, Merlin.”

“No problem, sire.”

Moody interrupted, standing up from where he had been studying one of the OWL examiners. “Definitely Imperiused,” he declared. “That must be how You-Know-Who’s army infiltrated the school.”

“What does that mean?” asked Arthur.

“It’s a powerful mind control spell,” Merlin explained. “You can make people do whatever you want.”

Arthur eyed him warily. “Does it work on… everyone?”

Merlin raised an eyebrow. “I doubt anyone could manage to Imperius me, if that’s what you’re hinting at. You, on the other hand, would probably be an easy target.”

Arthur didn’t seem certain whether he should actually be worried, or whether Merlin was poking fun at him again. He settled for saying, “You’re the oldest and most powerful being in existence, Merlin. You’re a terrible example.”

“There are a couple trees that are older,” said Merlin, unhelpfully.

Suddenly, Hermione blurted, “Harry can fight off the Imperius Curse, too. He did it last year.”

“Thanks, Hermione,” Harry muttered when Merlin and Arthur both turned abruptly to look at him.

“That’s amazing!” Merlin beamed. “I didn’t know that. You must have a very strong spirit—especially since you’re so young.”

“I take it this is abnormal?” said Arthur.

“Very,” said Moody. Sometimes Harry forgot that Moody hadn’t actually been there when it happened.

Fortunately, Harry didn’t have to stand there and be stared at for much longer, because a roaring sound outside drew everyone’s attention back to the windows.

“Blimey!” said Hagrid. “Tha’s got to be—wha?—thirty dragons!”

“Oh, no,” Merlin muttered.

He and Harry looked outside, and indeed there was an absolute horde of dragons headed their way.

“MERLIN!” Arthur bellowed again.

Merlin sighed. “So I underestimated the number of dragons in Northern Europe. I’ll just send them home, it’s not that big of a deal.”

Arthur spluttered. “You—you absolute—“

“Don’t try too hard, you’ll hurt yourself,” said Merlin.

“Hm,” said Ginny. “The power dynamic in this relationship is very weird.”

“You can say that again,” said Ron.

“Why are they here now, anyway?” Arthur demanded. “The battle’s been over for at least an hour.”

Merlin shrugged. “I didn’t wait for them before I turned back time. I closed us off from the rest of the world when the first four turned up, so these ones must have been circling for a while, trying to figure out where I was. Unforeseen complication.”

Meanwhile, outside, the four original dragons—including Norbert and the one from Gringotts—were emerging from the trees to watch the two or three dozen newcomers land on the castle grounds.

Arthur just yelled inarticulately.

Merlin raised his hands in mock surrender and backed toward the doors to the Great Hall. “Calm down, Arthur, really. I’m getting rid of them. Actually, Hagrid?”

“Erm,” said Hagrid.

“Would you like to come and see Norbert again? I heard you took care of her for a while when she was a baby. Now might be an opportune time, since she’s no danger to anyone while I’m here…”

“Hang on,” said Charlie suddenly. “Did you break dragons out of our sanctuary?”

“In their defence,” said Merlin, “they have to do what I say.”

“Er, why?” Hagrid asked.

“I’m a Dragonlord. The last one. It’s passed down from father to son.”

“Of course he is,” Professor Flitwick sighed. “Why not?”

“I thought those were a myth,” said Charlie.

“I thought your father was a demon or something,” said Seamus suddenly. Dean elbowed him, hard.

“Er,” said Merlin, taken aback. “What? No. Definitely not. Dragonlord. Although,” he laughed, “funny you should say that, because it certainly seemed like the townsfolk thought so. He was a bit bad-tempered.”

“A bit?” said Arthur incredulously.

“Hey,” Merlin replied seriously. “Your father was far worse. And I had to see him practically every day. Come on, then, anyone who wants to say hello to three dozen dragons, come with me.”

In the end, Hagrid, Charlie and Dumbledore—plus a reluctant Arthur—were the only ones who accompanied Harry, Ron and Hermione outside. It seemed that after having spoken to and ridden a Great Dragon (sort of), the trio found thirty-odd dragons far less intimidating than they might have.

“Hello!” said Merlin cheerfully as he strode out onto the grounds. The army of dragons turned to look at him curiously. “Sorry about all that, there was a bit of a mix-up.”

“Can they understan’ English?” Hagrid asked in a low voice—low for him, anyway.

“No,” said Merlin, “but I’m also communicating with them telepathically. Even though they’re not Great Dragons, they seem to get the general gist.”

“How do you do that?” asked Charlie.

“No idea,” said Merlin. “I suppose it’s instinctive.”

“Yeah,” Hermione muttered, “like everything else you do.”

Merlin heard her, but he didn’t seem offended. Well, Harry supposed, if you weren’t offended by a teenager insinuating that you were some sort of demon, there wasn’t much else that could reach that threshold.

“You keep forgetting I’m not a wizard,” said Merlin. “I’m magic in human form.”

“Ah,” said Arthur. “That explains why magic is so annoying.”

Merlin merely glared at him as he petted the snout of the nearest dragon.

“Excuse me—“ said Charlie, shaking his head. “You’re what?”

“Er.” As Merlin started uncomfortably to explain his existence once more, Dumbledore leisurely approached Harry, Ron and Hermione.

“You shouldn’t be so hard on yourself, Miss Granger,” he said pleasantly. “Being frustrated at Merlin’s abilities is almost like being disappointed that the ocean can create larger waves than you can.”

Harry watched Merlin as he continued to awkwardly answer Charlie’s questions.

“Huh,” said Ron. “Never thought of it like that.”

Not far away, Hagrid was very slowly approaching Norbert, who was watching him warily.

“It’s all right, girl,” said Charlie, joining him. “You remember Hagrid…”

They both jumped when Merlin said something in Dragontongue; Norbert looked at him, looked back at the two humans approaching her, and crouched closer to the ground to get a better look at them.

It was not a very great surprise when she leaned down to lick Hagrid right in the face.

When the rest of the Hogwarts students returned later that day (after the dragons and the Ministry goons were all safely returned to their homes, of course), the chaos was all-encompassing. There was a constant onslaught of questions as the ones who had remained behind tried to explain what had happened, and Harry didn’t like how much the shouting reminded him of the very different sort of chaos that had visited Hogwarts earlier that day. He felt suddenly bone-tired, though everyone else seemed invigorated, if not downright frenzied, at the renewed excitement.

Amid the uproar, Harry slipped away, retreating to the Owlery to visit Hedwig and get some fresh air that didn’t involve standing on a recent battlefield. Instead, he looked out at the mist-covered mountains and breathed in the gentle wind.

“It’s quiet up here,” said a voice behind him.

Harry didn’t startle. Merlin joined him at the window, and the wind reminded Harry of the much warmer breeze that had carried a blue butterfly into his room at the Dursleys’.

Harry didn’t say anything. It didn’t seem necessary.

Merlin stroked the feathers of a nearby owl as he spoke. “I know you want to be alone now,” he said, “but would you settle for… slightly less alone?”

Harry turned a confused look on him.

“Hogwarts suddenly feels very crowded,” Merlin continued. “I was thinking we might shepherd all the parents and Aurors out of here… let the school start to get back to normal. I think Mrs. Weasley might like to have all her children under one roof for a moment, after all that.”

That idea conjured up the cozy atmosphere that always seemed to surround the Burrow, especially during holidays when everyone was gathered at once, bumping elbows as they crowded into mismatched chairs around the hearth. For some reason, Harry couldn’t quite imagine the house still being the same, after what had happened at Hogwarts.

“Maybe,” said Harry, “but they wouldn’t want me there. I’d just be in the way.”

“Don’t let Mrs. Weasley hear you say that,” Merlin warned. “Besides, sometimes you should be in the way. Just like I’m in the way of your pondering right now.” He grinned. “Come on, then. You, me, Sirius, Hermione, Arthur—we’ll all be in the way together. What do you say?”

As Harry shivered in the growing cold, tea and a fireplace started to sound more and more appealing. Maybe Merlin would conjure his little animal shapes in the fire again.

“Oh, all right,” Harry relented, finally tearing his gaze away from the distant mountains. “Better than standing around here all day.”

“Yeah,” Merlin agreed, hastening from the tower with Harry in tow. “It’s freezing up here.” He paused. “Don’t tell Mrs. Weasley I said that. She’s been attacking me with blankets ever since I died.”

Harry snorted. “That’s not a sentence I ever expected to hear.”

Chapter Text

The school was still abuzz with activity on the last day of term, though it was decidedly more cheerful than it had been. Merlin coerced Arthur into staying at the castle in his professor’s chambers until the summer holiday began, though there was much griping—especially when he walked around in his ‘old man’ disguise, which Arthur kept insisting made Merlin even more annoying.

There seemed to be a rumour circling about Professor Emrys having some sort of secret power (which was true, of course) or identity (also true), but ironically, Merlin had started dealing with it in the same way his portrait had dealt with it—answering most questions with obvious lies and/or jokes.

He occasionally transformed back into ‘Will’ Emrys just to escape his students’ curiosity, but that only worked for the less informed among them (having unwisely announced that “Any Emryses you’ve met have all been the same person”). As such, he was assaulted by questions from the older students when he and Arthur entered Gryffindor Tower that afternoon.

A strangely common one was, “What house were you in?,” which he always answered with some variant of, “I didn’t go to Hogwarts, I was already ancient when it was built.”

Or more interestingly, “What’s your Patronus?” “A dragon.”

And so on.

“How many times have you died?” “Lost count.”

“How are you alive?” “Not sure.”

“Is that King Arthur?” “Sure is.”

“How old were you when you stopped ageing?” “In the vicinity of twenty.”

“Could you teach me?” “I already am, have you forgotten?”

And once again, “Are you really… him?”

“Yes,” said Arthur emphatically, dragging Merlin up the stairs to the dormitory.

“Bothering you again, are they?” asked Ron, who had been acting just a bit superior about having known who Merlin was ahead of everyone else. He and Hermione were sitting on his bed as Harry packed listlessly, the last one to do so.

“They’ll get over it,” said Merlin cheerfully, ignoring Arthur’s doubtful look. “Hey, Harry. Could I ask you a favor—as the leader of the DA?”

Harry looked up curiously from his absolute mess of a trunk. “Yeah, I suppose.”

“You two could probably help, as well,” Merlin added toward Ron and Hermione. “I was hoping you could teach Arthur here the Patronus Charm.”

“Now?” said Harry doubtfully, looking at the clothes strewn about. “It’s a difficult spell, I don’t know if we have time…”

“Oh, I’ll take care of that for you,” said Merlin, indicating the mess. “I’ve gotten quite good at cleaning spells.” He shot a good-natured glare at Arthur for good measure. “Besides, Arthur’s got pretty powerful magic, he just doesn’t know too many spells. I’m sure he’ll pick it up quickly.”

“Well, all right,” said Harry easily, clearly glad to be rid of his chore.

“Why do you need to learn the Patronus Charm?” Hermione asked.

“Merlin and I are going to round up some…” Arthur squinted.

“Dementors,” Merlin supplied.

“Right. Dementors.”

“It’s inhumane to have them guarding Azkaban,” said Merlin. “I’m going to go have a word with Fudge about it in a minute. And about a couple of other things… Though who knows how long he’ll be Minister, anyway, there’s been a lot of backlash in the papers lately, what with this Voldemort business coming out.”

“Stop putting it off,” said Arthur. “You’re already late. We’ll be fine here.”

He started pushing Merlin toward the door as he spoke, but Merlin ducked out of the way.

“All right, all right,” he said. “I don’t need the door, anyway. Just listen to Harry while I’m gone, right?”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Arthur, waving a hand. “We’ve got it.”

Merlin rolled his eyes and, with a snap of his fingers, caused all Harry’s things to march in an orderly fashion toward his trunk. He made sure they were behaving before he disappeared in a gust of wind.

“ARGH!” cried Fudge at Merlin’s sudden appearance.

Merlin made a show of checking the watch he had put on specifically for that purpose. “This was our arranged time, was it not?”

Fudge stood up behind his desk and put a hand to his forehead. “Er, yes—yes, it was, quite right. Please, have a seat, Mr., erm…”

“I’m afraid I don’t actually have a last name,” said Merlin as he took a seat. “Besides, there’s really no need for such formalities.”

“Right…” said Fudge vaguely, rearranging himself into his desk chair rather awkwardly. “Very good.”

“In fact, I’m just here for a quick notice. You see, I’m going to steal the Dementors.”

Fudge choked on thin air.

Taking advantage of his momentary inability to speak, Merlin barrelled on. “Don’t ask me how. You couldn’t stop me anyway. I just felt as if I should let you know ahead of time, so that you could put some actual guards in Azkaban before I do so. Create some jobs! It’s a win-win, really.”

“I’m afraid—“

“Yes, everyone is,” Merlin interrupted solemnly. “That’s because Dementors are depressing, soul-sucking creatures. They belong on the other side of the Veil, which is where I intend to put them. I’m supposed to be maintaining the Balance, you see. So, in a way, they fall under my responsibility.”

Fudge’s eyes continued to bulge as he spoke, but Merlin ignored it.

“Anyhow, it shouldn’t take long. Most of them will be back home in a week or two. But that’s not what you should be worried about.”

“It—it isn’t?”

“No,” said Merlin, letting a hint of danger creep into his tone. “Because then, there’s the matter of Sirius Black’s trial—or rather, lack thereof.”

As Merlin watched Fudge’s quickly changing expression, he wondered whether there was a word for ‘confused but terrified.’

“That went rather well,” Merlin said to himself when he materialised in an empty corridor back at Hogwarts not long after.

There was a gasp behind him.

Well, a theoretically empty corridor.

Merlin turned slowly, praying it was a teacher, at least…

“Ah, Professor McGonagall!” he cried happily when he saw the stern-looking witch standing with her hand to her heart. “Just the person I wanted to see. Would you mind accompanying me to Professor Dumbledore’s office for an argument?”


“I’m afraid it’s an argument we’ve had before, but I feel certain it’ll go better this time, since Riddle’s dead. And I know you’re just as concerned about Harry’s well-being as I am, so I imagine you might have an interest in joining me.”

At that, McGonagall seemed to find her resolve once more.

“Er—“ she said again. “Why, yes, of course. Might I assume this has something to do with the boy’s housing arrangements?”

“You assume correctly!” said Merlin cheerfully, striding down the hall so quickly that McGonagall had to rush for a moment to catch up.

As they walked, Merlin wordlessly transformed back into ‘Professor Emrys.’

“Arthur doesn’t particularly like ‘old me,’” he explained, “but I find this face is much more effective when I’m trying to get things done.”

“Indeed,” said McGonagall, still staring at him as if baffled by his very existence, but she tended to adapt quickly. Merlin grinned.

“How’s it going, then?” said Merlin when he reappeared in the dormitory.

“Christ!” Arthur cried, nearly jumping out of his skin. “Must you?”

Merlin just laughed—and then laughed harder when he saw the stunned face of Seamus Finnegan, who had apparently joined them in the meantime.

“Good work back at the bridge,” he told the boy, hoping to calm him slightly. “Quite a pyrotechnics display that was.”

That didn’t seem to help, as Finnegan’s face just continued to grow redder, so Merlin morphed back to his natural form.

“Stop doing that!” said Arthur.

“But I ache!” Merlin complained, flopping down onto Harry’s sloppily made bed.

Harry shook his head and turned back to the silvery stag that was still standing in the middle of the room.

“You almost had it that last time,” he said. “I thought I saw a shape for a second. You probably have the right memory in mind, but maybe if you try to make the wand motion a little sharper…”

Merlin summoned a book to float above his face to pass the time—a paperback that seemed to be trending in Muggle bookstores lately. Off to the side, Ron, Hermione, and Seamus practiced the wand movements along with Harry.

He fiddled idly with his bookmark as he read, trying to remember when he had started this book; he could hardly recall any of it.

“AHA!” Arthur cried suddenly.

Merlin’s book fell on his face.

And then: “Oh, bloody hell.”

“What?” said Merlin, scrambling to his feet as he fumbled with the book. “What is it?”

Arthur scurried to the side as Merlin tried to see, blocking his Patronus from view. Merlin could see its silvery glow from behind his back.

“Unbelievable,” Arthur continued muttering. “This is just great. Harry, how do you make it go away?”

To Merlin’s left, Hermione was sniggering uncontrollably, but Harry seemed lost.

“Erm,“ said Harry, staring in confusion at whatever was behind Arthur. Merlin tried to skirt around him, but Arthur blocked him again. “I’m not sure,” said Harry. “I’ve never had that problem. Try to be sadder, I guess?”

“Is that a—“ said Seamus.

“Shut it!” said Arthur, putting himself in Merlin’s way again.

“Oh, come on,” Merlin whined, “what is it? It’s got to be good, I can tell. It’s not touching the ground… Is it a ferret? Or—or a bee? Do you have it in your hand?”

“Harry,” Arthur growled, backing away from Merlin. “It’s not going away.”

“Er—“ Harry stammered.

“Ooh, is it one of those ‘giant baby rat’ things?” said Merlin gleefully. “No, I’d be able to see that…”

“Merlin,” Arthur said, trying for a warning tone. “Mind your own business.”

Merlin rolled his eyes and, in the blink of an eye, Apparated across the room—going for the uncomfortable but quick alternative to Transportation so Arthur wouldn’t catch on.


Arthur whirled around, but as he did so, the Patronus escaped from his grasp and flew up onto a bedpost.

“It’s just a bird,” said Merlin, watching it curiously. “Nothing wrong with that…”

Hermione whispered something to Ron, whose eyes widened.

“Wha—“ Merlin eyed the bird more closely—then burst into delighted laughter. “Oh, no!” he cried, laughing even harder at Arthur’s enraged expression. “It’s a merlin!”

Arthur crossed his arms. “Yeah, I realised that, funny enough.”

“This is amazing,” Merlin cackled as the bird preened its feathers.

“Hilarious,” said Arthur.

“I never knew I was so important to you,” Merlin continued happily.

“Yeah, you did,” Arthur muttered irritably. And then, louder: “And yours isn’t any better, it’s a dragon! You know, like Pen-dragon?”

Merlin snorted. “I am the last Dragonlord, Arthur, I’m pretty sure it has something to do with that. But it’s okay, it can be for you too.”

Arthur just muttered a few more curses as the Patronus slowly faded away. Merlin attacked him with a hug and was quickly shoved away, but his grin didn’t fade.

“Thanks, Harry!” he said. “I knew you’d get through to him. God knows he never listens to me.”

“Do you ever shut up?” said Arthur.

“No,” Merlin grinned, “thanks for asking. You lot ready for the end-of-term feast?”

Harry sighed, looking back at his packed trunk. “I suppose.”

“Come on, then,” said Arthur. Merlin rolled his eyes when he punched Harry in the arm.

“You should probably sit with me at the staff table,” said Merlin as they headed downstairs. “And just so you know,” he added with a grin, “I’m never letting this go.”

That night, the students were in bed barely an hour after the feast. Everyone at Hogwarts was exhausted for one reason or another, Merlin included.

Unfortunately, exhaustion did not always entail sleep—especially for someone with as many memories as Merlin. He lay there for a few hours as they swam and circled in his mind, but eventually he gave up on sleep entirely, donning a cloak and navigating out of his chambers by the light of the moon, careful not to wake Arthur. He nearly knocked over a vase on the way, of course, but his magic caught it quickly, and he replaced it on the end table without further incident.

As he drifted silently through the empty halls, past sleeping portraits and empty classrooms and memories of children that were no longer here, he felt rather like a ghost that was no longer meant to be in this world. Sometimes, he just felt more like a ghost or a creature than a man. Not always; just sometimes.

“Emrys,” said a quiet voice.

Helena drifted through the wall beside him, smiling her usual sad smile. “I see you’re back to your midnight strolls,” she said. “I can’t decide if it’s creepier when you wander aimlessly around the grounds in the dead of night or lurk in empty hallways like some kind of ghoul.”

Merlin rolled his eyes. “Isn’t it past your bedtime?”

“The dead don’t have bedtimes,” she replied lightly.

“Well, neither do the undead,” Merlin muttered.

Helena huffed at him. “Stop being dramatic. You’re the least dead person I know.” He felt her hand pass through his as she stood beside him. “You’re life itself.”

Merlin scoffed. “Now who’s being dramatic?”

Helena ignored him, drifting slowly away in the direction of the Astronomy Tower. “You’d better not disappear this time,” she warned him.

But she was gone before he could think of a snarky reply. Was he getting predictable in his old age? Oh, well. He’d get her back for that later. For the time being, he let the sudden feeling of age sit within him as he wandered to a large, darkened window and perched on the sill, watching the stillness of the forest but sensing all the life within its depths. He wondered once again if he belonged out there or in here.

Behind him, there was an abrupt scraping of shoes on stone. Merlin turned to see Harry’s hazy form beneath his Invisibility Cloak, standing stock-still and holding his breath.

Merlin smiled. “Hello, Harry. You remember I can see you, right?”

Harry let out his breath and shook his head slightly. “Yeah. I suppose I thought that might have changed. I didn’t want to bother you… I’ll just—”

“Two people can look out the same window, Harry,” said Merlin before the boy could run off. He indicated the large stone ledge beside him. “Sit down if you like. You never bother me.”

Harry gave him a strange look, but he sat nonetheless. After a moment, he took the cloak off and folded it beside him. He was looking studiously away from Merlin, as if wanting to say something, so Merlin stayed still and silent.

After a short moment that probably seemed very long, Harry blurted, “You fought in World War One, didn’t you?”

Merlin was momentarily surprised he even knew the name, before remembering he was raised by Muggles.

“Yes,” he said, thinking back on the friends he had lost and gained. “I fought in a lot of wars.”

Harry fell silent again before letting out a sound of frustration. “How do you deal with it?” he asked. “I mean, how do you… move on with your life?”

“Slowly,” said Merlin, looking away from the window and into his eyes. “One day at a time. You get on a train, you unpack… you do homework, you enjoy the warm weather… Maybe you replay everything that happened, over and over, in quiet moments when your brain can’t stand the silence, and wonder what you could have done differently. But you can’t do that forever, because all that’s already over. And one day you’ll keep those memories in a box to visit like old photographs, because they were your adventures, your friends… your home that you protected.”

Harry didn’t look as if he quite believed him, but he nodded all the same.

“And you?” he asked quietly. “Will you remember us?”

Merlin smiled. “Always.” He looked around at the portraits on the walls, at all the people remembered by their students, teachers, and friends. “But it’s not time for you to be remembered yet,” he said. “It’s your turn to roam the world. Use that time however you see fit; it belongs to you.”

Harry met his eyes. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, maybe I will.”

Chapter Text

“Mind if we sit here?”

Harry jumped, looking up from his and Ron’s game of wizard chess when the compartment door slid open.

“Merlin!” said Fred and George happily.

Merlin quickly shut the door behind him and Arthur.

“Don’t tell the whole train!” he half-whispered.

Hermione moved closer to Harry to allow Arthur space to sit.

“‘Course you can sit with us,” said Ron. “I think there’s space…”

“Could you take a look at our new Decoy Detonator?” George asked Merlin as he and Fred moved apart to give him space to sit.

“When you drop it, it runs away and creates a diversion,” Fred explained.

“Cool,” said Merlin, sitting down between them and examining the little machine. “There were so many times I could’ve used one of these…”

“You managed just fine on your own,” Arthur scoffed. “I can’t even count how many times you stole my keys.”

Merlin grinned. “Sorry,” he said, unconvincingly. “Anyway, what sort of diversion does this create?”

“A loud bang—”

“—and a lot of smoke.”

“Makes sense,” Merlin agreed. “That could result from a lot of things, especially machinery. It doesn’t seem like your usual sort of invention, though. Are you developing a new product line?”

“Yeah, actually,” said George, fiddling with something on the horn. “We’re working on a few defence products.”

“Like Shield Cloaks,” said Fred. “Turns out, some Ministry workers can’t even cast a proper shield spell.”

“Umbridge’s unfortunate presence gave us the original idea.”

“And You-Know-Who, obviously.”

“Good idea,” said Merlin. “I bet these will do well. It seems to have all the kinks worked out already too, although it’s hard to tell without setting one off. How are the plans for a brick-and-mortar store coming along?”

“We weren’t going to say anything yet…” said George, sharing a glance with his brother.

“But,” Fred continued with a grin, “we managed to rent out a space in Diagon Alley, starting in June!”

“Diagon Alley?” said Harry. “How’d you manage it?”

“Well, with your generous investment, of course,” said Fred.

“And a bit of luck,” said George.

“Plus all the sales you made during the year, I imagine,” Merlin added. “Harry, I didn’t know you invested in their business.”

“It was just—“ Harry began.

“Just his Triwizard Tournament winnings!” Fred exclaimed.

“I didn’t need—“

“Ludo Bagman ripped us off,” said George. “Last year. That was all of our savings; we would’ve been doomed without Harry.”

Fred nodded. “Yeah, Harry, stop by our store anytime, we’d love to have you.”

“Does Mum know?” asked Ron apprehensively. “You know how she was about those mail orders…”

“She will soon!”

“Bloody hell.”

“Don’t worry,” said Merlin with a grin. “I’ll come over and help you negotiate if you want.”

“Thank Merlin,” said Fred, a phrase which they were apparently now using ironically. “She’d kill both of us in a minute, but you’d be fine.”

There was a quick rap on the glass that signaled the trolley, and the lot of them rushed to the door to buy Cauldron Cakes, Pumpkin Pasties, and Chocolate Frogs.

Hermione sighed, folding up her copy of the Daily Prophet. “Everything in here is about Voldemort now, even if half of it’s wrong. It seems someone’s managed to convince them it’s all real, at least. There’s even a photograph of some of the Hogwarts rubble in here—who knows how they came by that.”

“I may have missed a spot,” Merlin shrugged. “Oh, well. It’ll give Filch something to do. As for the rest of it, they’ll get their facts straight soon enough. They have all the time in the world now, thanks to Harry.”

“Stop giving me all the credit,” said Harry as he sat back down with a pile of sweets. “It’s your fault my name’s mentioned in there almost more than Voldemort’s.”

“Yeah, I get it,” said Merlin with a grimace. “But after what they put you through this year, the least they can do is sing your praises for a week or two. You’ll go back to your ‘normal’ level of fame before long, trust me.”

“You, on the other hand…” said Fred with a grin, handing Merlin a Chocolate Frog card with his own supposed face on it.

“Bloody hell,” Merlin sighed. “You’d think they’d get over it already.”

Harry laughed. “Well, you just saved the world again. I think they’ve got their priorities straight there.”

You saved the world,” Merlin insisted. “I helped. And last time, as you know, I couldn’t even save this prat.”

“Hey!” said Arthur. But his indignation caused his Chocolate Frog to escape from his hands again. Merlin plucked it off the window and handed it to him.

“It’s not alive,” he reassured Arthur at the look he got. “Just charmed.”

“Anyway,” said Ron with his mouth full, “are you coming back to teach next year?”

“That’s right!” said Harry. “The curse is probably broken now that Voldemort’s gone!”

“I don’t know… I’ve never really been that great of a teacher.”

The compartment exploded into protests.

“You’re the best we’ve had!” Hermione argued.

“Except maybe Lupin,” said Harry.

Ron nodded. “Yeah, he was good too.”

“No, you should come work with us!” said Fred. “We pay better.”

“Or we will, at least,” George added.

“You can’t steal him!” said Ron hotly.

“Summer just started an hour ago,” Merlin interrupted. “Everybody relax, we’ll figure it out later.”

Harry sighed, still trying to avoid thinking about the Dursleys for as long as possible.

“You’ll come visit us all, right?” he asked, hoping Merlin wouldn’t just disappear off the face of the earth again. “Even Privet Drive?”

“‘Course I will!” said Merlin, but his grin was a little too mischievous for Harry’s liking. He obviously had something planned—and that was usually either very good or very annoying.

“Bloody hell!” said Arthur suddenly.

“What’s the matter?” said Hermione.

Arthur glared at Merlin and chucked his Chocolate Frog card in his direction. “It’s you, apparently,” he said. “I swear, Merlin, you’re absolutely everywhere!”

Merlin grinned sheepishly.

As the train began to slow in the approach to King’s Cross, Harry seriously contemplated remaining in the compartment until September, wondering what would happen if he refused to leave.

“Come on, Harry,” said Merlin, levitating the students’ trunks for them. “We’ve got a bit of a surprise for you.”

They bustled out of the train in a group, descending into the flurry of activity on the platform. When the ticket inspector signaled to them that it was safe to walk through the magical barrier between platforms nine and ten, Harry glanced warily at Merlin before going through.

On the other side, a number of bizarre-looking individuals were waiting in a tight group, all dressed in what barely passed for Muggle clothing. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley stood in front, both of them wearing a strange assortment of nightclothes. Behind them stood Lupin and Tonks, the latter now sporting bubblegum-pink hair. She drew fewer odd looks than Moody, though, who looked just as sinister with his bowler hat pulled low over his magical eye as he would have without it.

Mrs. Weasley rushed forward to hug her children tightly. “Oh, how are you all? I wanted to bring you back with us, but Dumbledore insisted you take the train with everyone else… And you, Harry, you must be so tired after all that…”

“We’re all right,” said Harry as she squeezed him.

“Hello, Harry,” said Lupin as Mrs. Weasley moved on to Merlin.

“Hi,” said Harry. “I didn’t expect… what are you all doing here?”

“Well,” said Merlin when Mrs. Weasley finally released him, “we thought we might all have a little chat with your aunt and uncle. And then we have somewhere to be… but you’ll see in a minute.”

“I dunno if that’s a good idea,” said Harry quickly.

“Oh, I think it is,” Moody growled. “That’ll be them, will it, Potter?”

He jerked his thumb over his shoulder, magical eye evidently peering through both the back of his skull and the fabric of his bowler hat. Harry and Merlin both leaned to the left to see where he was pointing, and sure enough, there were the three Dursleys—who looked positively appalled at the sight of Harry’s reception committee.

“Ah, Harry!” said Mr. Weasley, turning from Hermione’s parents, whom he had been greeting enthusiastically, and who were taking it in turns to hug Hermione. “Well—shall we do it, then?”

“Yeah, I reckon so, Arthur,” said Moody.

He and Merlin took the lead across the station toward the place where the Dursleys stood, apparently rooted to the floor. Hermione disengaged herself gently from her mother to join the group as Arthur (swordless, for once) followed them rather awkwardly.

“Good afternoon,” said Merlin pleasantly. “You might remember me, my name’s Emrys.”

Uncle Vernon clearly did, as he turned a deeper shade of puce and glared at Merlin in particular (as well as the rest of the group). He chose not to say anything, however; perhaps partly because the Dursleys were outnumbered two to one. Aunt Petunia kept glancing around, looking both frightened and mortified as she glanced furtively around the platform. Dudley, meanwhile, seemed to be trying to look small and insignificant, a feat at which he was failing extravagantly.

“We thought we’d have a few words with you about Harry,” said Lupin pleasantly.

Uncle Vernon’s mustache seemed to bristle with indignation. Possibly because the bowler hat gave him the entirely mistaken impression that he was dealing with a kindred spirit, he addressed himself to Moody.

“I am not aware that it is any of your business what goes on in my house—”

“I expect what you’re not aware of would fill several books, Dursley,” growled Moody.

Merlin snorted.

“Anyway, that’s not the point,” interjected Tonks, whose pink hair seemed, for some reason, to offend Aunt Petunia more than all the rest put together, for she closed her eyes rather than look at her. “The point is, you’ve been horrible to Harry—”

“—and make no mistake, we always know about it,” added Merlin.

“Yes,” said Mr. Weasley, “even if you won’t let Harry use the fellytone.”

“Telephone,” whispered Hermione.

“And if we get any hint that you’ve been continuing on that path, you’ll have us to answer to,” said Moody.

Uncle Vernon swelled ominously. His sense of outrage seemed to outweigh even his fear of a bunch of oddballs.

“Are you threatening me, sir?” he said, so loudly that passersby actually turned to stare.

“Yes, I am,” said Moody, who seemed rather pleased that Uncle Vernon had grasped this fact so quickly.

“And do I look like the kind of man who can be intimidated?” he barked.

“Hm…” said Merlin thoughtfully, stepping closer and peering into his face so intently that Uncle Vernon actually leaned back.

“Yes,” Merlin finally said, golden sparks flickering dangerously in his eyes. “I’d have to say you do.” With that, he shifted quite suddenly back into his older form.

Uncle Vernon leapt backward, colliding painfully with a luggage trolley, but none of the passers-by seemed to have noticed anything at all.

Merlin regarded him placidly for a moment before reaching out and poking him in the chest, singing a hole in his clothes.

“And we’re not only talking about Harry,” he said calmly. “You aren’t doing your son any favors, either.”

Uncle Vernon’s mustache twitched again. “Us—mistreat Dudders?” he began furiously. “What d’you—“

Merlin held up a hand, and Uncle Vernon clicked his mouth shut automatically, although Merlin had cast no spell.

“I thought…“ Aunt Petunia began timidly, trailing off. But when Merlin turned to her and did not interrupt, she continued, “I thought you needed those wand things to do—er—magic.” She whispered the last part as if the word itself were capable of summoning evil.

Merlin laughed. “Oh, no. It makes things easier for some people, certainly, but personally, I prefer to go without them. But you already knew that. After all, didn’t Harry here inflate your sister-in-law a few years ago?”

Aunt Petunia went white. “H-how do you know about that?”

“Were you spying on us again?” Uncle Vernon demanded.

“Not at all,” said Merlin pleasantly. “Petunia here was just thinking about the incident. I can read minds, you see.”

Still cowering, Dudley covered his eyes, and then his ears, as if trying to keep his thoughts from escaping.

Uncle Vernon, however, seemed certain this was a trick, for some reason. “Oh, yeah?” he challenged. “What am I thinking, then?”

Merlin rolled his eyes. “You’re thinking ‘This pompous old fool thinks he can insult me in front of my family and then play a couple of magic tricks to scare us, I’ll show him.’ Or something to that effect.”

Uncle Vernon’s magenta expression indicated that he had most likely just heard his thoughts repeated back to him verbatim. Merlin frowned slightly and shifted back into his normal body again, causing Aunt Petunia to put a hand to her heart.

“I’m even older than you think, you know,” he said. “Immortal, in fact.”

Aunt Petunia gasped.

Merlin smiled at her. “That’s how I knew about the boy from Spinner’s End, and that letter you wrote to the school… I was there.”

She was shaking now, glancing between him and her husband, who looked suspicious.

“I don’t remember you…” she murmured.

“That’s because I can also become invisible,” said Merlin cheerfully. “Or very small.” In the same light tone, he continued, “You clearly didn’t listen to Albus when he told you to take care of Harry as if he were your own son, but we’re a little different, he and I… And I don’t tolerate harm to children, no matter the reason.” He glanced at Arthur. “Even if I really ought to just leave it alone. Arthur can tell you about that, it’s rather a fault of mine.”

“I helped you the last time,” said Arthur with a shrug. “You were right.”

“Anyway,” said Merlin, walking away toward the exit, “I’m sure you’ll be relieved to know you three will be going home alone today.”

The Dursleys shared confused looks; Harry stared curiously at the Order as they started to follow Merlin out.

“Well?” said Merlin, beckoning to Harry. “Are you coming or not?”

Harry took a hesitant step forward, glancing between him and the Dursleys. “Where are we going?”

“Grimmauld Place, of course,” said Merlin as the group started to follow him. “I’m not about to let you live with these nutcases.”

Harry beamed. “You mean—Are you serious?”

“Nope,” said Merlin, “but your godfather is.”

Harry ran after him without a second thought. Behind him, he thought he heard Lupin mutter, “Great. This again.”

Chapter Text

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.”

“I’m hungry!”

“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.

“Or Arthur.”

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.”

“Professor Emrys!”

A running and shouting figure interrupted them, panting all the way down from the school… ah. Filch.

“Professor Emrys!”

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!”

“Merlin, please.”

“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.

“Yeah, obviously.”

And, with their newest friends in tow, the king followed his sorcerer, just as he always would.